Hijuelos. Oscar. The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1989.
Reason read: March is Music month.
Delve into this book if you want a cultural education in Cuba and its music. Taking place in the 1950s, two Cuban brothers emigrate to the United States with big dreams of conquering the music scene. Cesar Castillo looks back on his life, playing mambo music with his brother, Nester and having a small spotlight in the fame arena after a guest appearance on an episode of I Love Lucy. I read this book on the heels of the Netflix documentary about Desi and Lucy so it seemed as if the couple was everywhere. Confessional: I couldn’t really get into this book. The parts where Desi Arnez makes an appearance were my favorite and, as the story went on, I began to skip scenes that involved sex or Nestor pining over “Beautiful Maria.” I grew weary of the repetition. I did appreciate all the references to music of the era.
Author fact: Hijuelos was honored with the 1985 Rome Fellowship in Literature of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
Book trivia: The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love was made into a movie starring Antonio Banderas in 1992.
One of the best aspects of Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love is the musical education you will get. Singers, composers, pianists, violinists, and lyricists from Catalan, Dominican, Cuban, Columbian, and Puerto Rican backgrounds flood the pages of Mambo.
Playlist (because this is a book about music, there was a lot to mention.): Musicians and composers – Alberto Beltran, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, Beny More, Cesar Nestor, Desi Arnaz, Enric Madriguera, Ernesto Lecuona, Fletcher Anderson, Glorious Gloria Parker, Maurio Bauza, Mongo Santamaria, Miguelito Valdez, Manny Jimenez, Nelson Pinedo, Nat King Cole, Noro Morales, Paul Whiteman Orchestra, Olga Chorens, Ornette Coleman, Rene Touzet, Tito Rodriguez, and Vincento Valdez.
Songs: “Acercate Mas,” “Besame Mucho,” “Beautiful Maria of My Soul,” “Cielito Lindo,” “Frenesi,” “Hong Kong Mambo,” “In the Still of the Night,” “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” “Moonlight Becomes You,” “Mambo de Paree,” “Mambo Nine,” “Mambo for a Hot Night,” Mambo Number Eight,” and “Twilight in Havana.”
Nancy said: Pearl included a sentence about the plot for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called Cuba Si!” (p 68)
Casares, Oscar. Amigoland. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009.
Reason read: November 1st is Day of the Dead in Mexico.
Welcome to the elderly world of brothers Don Fidencio and Don Celestino. Sustaining through years of stubborn memory are so long ago fabled events that the brothers cannot come to an agreement of truth. At the center of their debate is the brothers’ grandfather and a terrific century-old tale of kidnapping, murder, scalping, a ranch called El Rancho Capote, and a bear in a circus. The story is so fantastic, and each memory is so faulty, it has taken on a life of its own. So much so that Don Celestino’s much younger paramour (and housekeeper), Soccoro, convinces the brothers to take a trip to Mexico to settle the debate once and for all. Soccoro and Don Celestino spirit Don Fidencio away from his nursing home without medications, identification, or money. The both heartwarming and heartbreaking problem is time is running out for both cantankerous men (Don Fidencio is over ninety). The moral of Amigoland is when you tell a story long enough it becomes fact, even if your memory is faulty.
As an aside, I would not know anything about the game of Bunco (mentioned in Amigoland if it weren’t for a friend of mine. She plays Bunco with a group of women once a month.
Author fact: Casares is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop
Book trivia: Amigoland is Casares’ first novel.
Playlist: Narcisco Martinez
Nancy said: Pearl called Amigoland “warm and funny.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Postcards from Mexico” (p 183). As an aside, Pearl could have included Amigoland in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Maiden Voyages.”
Canin, Ethan. Blue River. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1991.
Reason read: Iowa became a state in December. Ethan Canin is a member of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.
Author fact: Canin is also the author of best selling novel, Emperor of the Sun, which is not on my challenge list. I did, however, finish Palace Thief ten years ago to the day.
Edward and Lawrence are brothers born six years apart. Edward is the younger, smarter, and more successful brother who married the very beautiful Elizabeth and together, they have a smart son. The Edward and his family live in a huge house in a great neighborhood. They have the perfect life thanks to Edward’s successful career as an ophthalmologist. Lawrence, on the other hand, was always the tough trouble maker; always mysterious, violent, and angry. While the entire story is told from the perspective of Edward, his narrative changes a third of the way through. He talks about his older brother until Lawrence comes to visit. Dressed in rags and looking like a homeless man, Lawrence’s arrival after ten years of silence is so completely unexpected and out of the blue Edward doesn’t recognize him. The brothers have been estranged to the point of strangling the relationship. This short reunion rattles loose memories for Edward. He spends the rest of the book talking to Lawrence, going back in time to relive their tumultuous childhood. The reader is left wondering, who is the traitor, who has the bigger sense of guilt?
Book trivia: the title comes from where the book takes place (in memories) – Blue River, Wisconsin. Current day is Santa Rosa, California.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Blue River; just that Canin is worth reading (as a distinguished MFA alum from the University of Iowa).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107), and again in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Oh Brother” (p 180).
Lennon, J. Robert. On the Night Plain. New York: Henry Holt, 2001.
Reason read: April is Sibling month.
Grant Person is a curious character. When we first meet this protagonist, he is leaving his Montana sheep ranching family for somewhere (anywhere?) else. His whole attitude is one of ambivalence. If the train stops he’ll get on board. If not, oh well. He’ll go back to his parents and brother as if nothing happened. He has no clear direction other than he would head due east towards New York. He ends up in Atlantic City, New Jersey for some time then wanders home again when he learns his mother has died.
When Grant returns, he is the exact opposite. He comes home to a sheep ranch barely surviving. After his mother’s death, his father runs away. His brother with dreams of being an artist has one foot out the door himself. By himself, Grant becomes singular in his focus to save the farm. It’s a stark story with barely any color or light.
There were a lot of lines I really, really like. “A smile seemed to think about appearing on Cotter’s face but it never arrived” (p 55),
Author fact: J. Robert Lennon also wrote The Funnies which I have already read for the Challenge. He also wrote a series which I am not reading.
Book trivia: I could see this being a movie.
Nancy said: In Book Lust Pearl jokes Lennon is successful at setting a tragedy of Greek proportions on a failing sheep farm on the Great Plains. In More book Lust Pearl included On the Night Plain as an example of brothers who have loved and hated one another.
BookLust Twist: Pearl liked this one. From Book Lust in the chapter called “Western Fiction” (p 240); also from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Oh, Brother” (p 180).
Banks, Russell. Affliction. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.
Wade Whitehouse could be an ordinary guy. He could be that small town, hard-working, have a beer with the boys, all-around nice guy. Except bad luck not only follows Wade like a hungry dog, it bites him when he’s down. No matter how caring Wade Whitehouse is on the inside, no matter how well-meaning he is, when things go wrong people know not to stand in his way. The smarter ones walk away. The entire tiny town of Lawford, New Hampshire knows Wade and his troubles. It’s no secret he has a mean streak that runs to the center of his very core. Alcohol and a nagging toothache only widen that streak until it takes over his whole being. In theory it’s not all Wade’s fault. Abused by his father during his formative years, Wade loses his wife, home and daughter when he himself turns violent. All he wants is more time with his daughter, a decent paycheck and a simple way of life. When none of these things come easily Wade sets out to unveil the truth and right the wrongs, using violence as the vehicle to do so. What makes Wade’s story so fascinating is that it is told from a younger brother’s perspective. Being in Massachusetts he is a comfortable distance from both his brother and the memories that have scarred him as well.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Oh, Brother” (p 180).
April is all about getting the garage ready for gardening. April is the confidence to pack winter clothes and get the snow tires off the car. April is leaving the heat off and taking off the sweater; driving with the windows down. The birds are getting louder and the mornings are coming earlier. I’m hoping to spend some time outside reading. Here are the books I hope to conquer:
- Affliction by Russell Banks~ In honor of two different times: March (Banks’s birth month) and April (National Sibling Week is in April).
- Truth and Bright Water by Thomas King ~ In honor of National Dog Month
- Downcanyon: a Naturalist Explores the Colorado River Through the Grand Canyon by Ann Haymond Zwinger ~ in honor of Earth Day and nature writing
- Belshazzar’s Daughter by Barbara Nadel ~ April (believe or not) is the best time to visit Turkey (weather-wise, political ramifications aside).
- South Wind Through the Kitchen by Elizabeth David ~ April is National Food Month
If there is time:
- Last Amateurs: Playing for Glory by John Feinstein ~ April is Youth Sports Safety Month
And of course, April is National Poetry Month so as usual I am trying to read as much poetry during this time frame as I can. I can’t go without saying Natalie Merchant is releasing “Leave Your Sleep” this month – a collection of poetry centered around children and childhood. Natalie once said it was poetry written for, about, and by children. I guess that sums it up nicely. One poem she included on her album was one I already read for the Book Lust Challenge: “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.
For LibraryThing and the Early Review Program I have an interesting (and well-timed) nonfiction: Fundamental Weight Training by David Sandler. I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m hoping it will be user-friendly and very informative.
Banks, Russell. Continental Drift. New York: HarperPerennial, 2007.
This book was spellbinding.
Thing on LibraryThing: Russell Banks really knows how to tell a good story. On the surface, it’s about Bob Dubois and his downward spiral. Bob is a New Hampshire man who seems to have it all: a wife, two kids, a decent job, a house, a boat to take out on the weekends and even a girlfriend on the side. His problem: greed. He is a man who compares himself too often to the people around him: his brother, his best friend. He doesn’t let go of grudges or jealousies all that easily. Feeling like the man who has nothing to lose, he gives up everything to move to Florida for a “fresh start.” His tale is just the vessel for Banks to describe a society fueled by the overwhelming need for more and more. Excess is not enough. Bob soon learns the meaning of “good enough” when his life spins out of control.
One of my favorite parts is about halfway through the book, the two brothers, Bob and Eddie, are trying to have a conversation. Each one takes a turn to say something then the other responds. Only they aren’t talking about the same thing. Bob is trying to explain to Eddie that he (Eddie) needs to take away a handgun because Bob doesn’t understand himself anymore. He’s afraid of what would happen if the gun stays in his possession. Eddie responds that he has ulcers and his epilepsy has come back. Bob says he doesn’t want to kill anyone and Eddie reponds that he hates fukcing his wife. It’s comical and sad.
My favorite quotes:
“He’s never skied on water before; in fact, he’s never skied on any kind of surface, despite having been raised where people drive from cities hundreds of miles away just so they can spend a few hours careening down mountains on slats strapped to their feet” (p150). Having gone to school in “ski country” yet never skied, I can identify with this!
“She and her father never speak of the event again, not to each other and not to anyone else. There’s nothing to say about it to each other that is not already fully understood, so they remain silent about it, almost as if it never happened” (p 176). Can’t you just see this scene in a movie?
“There’s a mixture of passivity and will that he does not understand. They risk everything, their homes, their families, forsake all they know, and then strike out across the open sea for a place they’ve only heard about” (p 340). What struck me about this quote is where it’s coming from: Bob. Doesn’t he realize he’s just like them?
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust and the chapter “It Was a Dark and Stormy Novel” (p 129). Pearl isn’t kidding. I’m surprised this hasn’t been made into a movie yet.
Dexter, Pete. The Paperboy. New York: Random House, 1995.
For the longest time I have been concentrating on books that begin with the letter ‘A’ such as About Time, Animal Dreams, and Awakening. As if getting through the A titles would be the most reasonable thing to do first. When The Paperboy by Pete Dexter showed up at my library I felt it was a sign to read it. Especially since it’s on The List and academics don’t keep books like The Paperboy around. I listen to signs.
The Paperboy is an intriguing first-person tale about two brothers working to prove the innocence of a man convicted of murdering Moat County Sheriff Thurmond Call. As Hillary Van Wetter sits on death row, looking as guilty as a child with his hand caught in the cookie jar, Jack James and his journalist brother Ward investigate the events leading up to the murder. They get help along the way from Van Wetter’s girlfriend – an apparent death row groupie – as well as other interesting characters.
All the evidence leads towards Van Wetter’s innocence until one day it doesn’t. Instead of all hell breaking loose purgatory unfolds, unwinds for the brothers, slow and sinister like a boa constrictor unfurling itself from a tree limb. Things go from bad to worse until dark becomes death. I couldn’t put it down for three days straight. Even though I saw Ward’s suicide coming the instant he wanted to know more about swimming it still took me by surprise when it finally happened.
BookLust Twists: From Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust and More Book Lust. In Book Lust in the chapter “First Lines to Remember” Pearl draws attention to Dexter’s first line, “My brother Ward was once a famous man”‘ (p.86) and in More Book Lust in the chapter called “O Brother!” (p180).