Mayday, Mayday!

The entire world has changed seemingly overnight. No, that’s not true. COVID-19 had been brewing and building for months and months. Festering and threatening overseas. We knew it would come our American way, and yet. Yet! Here we are. I have been laid off from my job; have been quarantined for 40 plus days; have not seen the inside of a store of any kind; have not driven a car or talked face to face with another human being besides my Kisa. For over a month, I have been separated by screens and paranoia. I couldn’t even say goodbye to one of my closest friends for fear of contamination before he stole across borders towards a new home. Words like FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, Hangout, and Live Stream rule my daily existence. My insanity has been kept in check by these words, walking 8-9 miles a day, writing letters, and finishing chores I always said I would get to but never did (sewing ripped clothes, making curtains, hanging art, you name it). The one activity I haven’t done much of is…read.
Nothing bothers me more than someone saying, “think of all the time you have to read!” They mean well but they just don’t know. When I was a kid I spent a lot of time reading. When I could get away with it, my nose was constantly in a book. In the dead of winter, when the summer tides of friends had gone out, I was left with my sister and a handful of kids close in age. Close, but not quite. Dead low tide was a boy one year older. A girl three years younger. A boy two years older. A boy four years younger. No one exactly shared my birth year. I found myself turning to friends within the pages of books. Lots and lots of books. Lots and lots of friends. My dad was not a fan of these relationships. He viewed fiction as leisure or worse, laziness. “Get outside! Get some fresh air!” was his constant bark from early October through May. His bark was so biting I grew up fearing fiction was a form of loafing; something to never to be caught doing in broad daylight. I remember smuggling Nancy Drew under my shirt when I went to the school bathroom; ducking under covers with a flashlight to join Bilbo on his great adventure; climbing trees with Stephen King clenched in my teeth. Hiding to hang out with a paperback became normal.
In 2006 when I started the BookLust Challenge, I thought I had slayed the old insecurities. I thought I could spend time with a book without guilt. For fourteen years I held onto this belief as a private gospel…until I got laid off and I couldn’t sit on the couch with a book. All the old feelings of leisure, loafing, laziness came flooding back. Guilt. I realized I only read when I was killing time, waiting for something else. Constructive book devouring? I don’t know. For years, I could juggle reading 5-6 books at a time and finish 10 in a month. But! That was when I was on hold with a vendor, bored in the boardroom, waiting in line at the grocery store, fighting nerves in the doctor’s office, sitting as a passenger on long car/train/plane/boat rides. Reading kept me from waiting for anything. Take all the time you need while I finish this chapter…
I have been out of work for one month, collecting unemployment equal to my take-home pay and yet I’ve only managed to finish two books. I guess I could try to tell myself I am waiting to go back to work, but that’s too abstract for my too literal mind. Mayday! Mayday, I can’t read.

I always said I will die before I officially finish the reading Challenge. Now I know it to be true.


September Psycho

I don’t even know where to begin with September. It was the month from hell in more ways than one. The only good news is that I was able to run twice as many miles as last month. That counts for something as it saves my sanity just a little bit more than if I didn’t do anything at all.

Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • In the City of Fear by Ward Just
  • Jim, The Boy by Tony Earley
  • The Shining by Stephen King

Nonfiction:

  • Thank You and OK! by David Chadwick
  • Foreign Correspondence by Geraldine Brooks
  • Ayatollah Begs to Differ by Madj Hoomin
  • Agony and Ecstasy by Irving Stone

Series continuations:

  • Tripwire by Lee Child
  • Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • My Life on the Line by Ryan O’Callaghan

Ethel and Ernest

Briggs, Raymond. Ethel and Ernest: a True Story. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

Reason read: May is Graphic Novel month. I read that somewhere.

This is Raymond Brigg’s story of his parents as a couple from the moment they met until death did them part. Simplistic in graphic novel form but powerful in message. What started off as an accidental communication for the couple kicked off a poignant romance that lasted fifty years. Brigg’s loving tribute continues through his parents’s courtship and marriage, his mom giving birth to him at 38 years old (their only child), the war and the political aftermath, the ravages of aging, and finally each of their deaths. What makes the retelling so heartwarming is Brigg’s ability to communicate parental emotion. Every fear, hope, happiness and expectation they felt towards their son was delivered and exposed in loving detail.

Author fact: Briggs was removed from his parents (evacuated during the war for safety) when he was five years old.

Book trivia: Ethel and Ernest is a graphic novel.

Nancy said: Pearl called Ethel and Ernest a “touching story” (Book Lust p 103).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Graphic Novels” (p 103). Interestingly enough, the title Ethel and Ernest and author Raymond Briggs are missing from the index.


Hole in the World

Rhodes, Richard. A Hole in the World: an American Boyhood. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.

Have you ever walked across really, really hot sand in your bare feet? There you are, stinging and ouching all the way across the incredibly hot terrain. But! It’s a pain you don’t want to give up because of where you are and where you going. Your destination is that blissful blanket by the sea and it will be lovely (why else are you there?). You know the pain will only last as long as you as are hot-stepping across the sand. That brief agony is the way I felt about Hole in the World by Richard Rhodes. It was unpleasant reading, even hurtful reading but I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to get to the good part, that blanket, if you will. It’s the story of Richard Rhodes growing up in an abusive household.  I know he heals from his traumatic childhood. I know the abuses he suffered didn’t last forever. There is light at the end of the dark tunnel of boyhood. But, it is a book worth reading. His words haunted my heart long after I put it down.

Favorite dangerous line, “I was tickling a dragon’s tail” (p 170).

Reason read: April is National Child Abuse Prevention month.

Author fact: Richard Rhodes went on to write The Making of the Atom Bomb for which he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Book trivia: Heads up vegetarians and animals lovers! There is a decent-sized section dedicated to the description of the slaughter of farm animals. It’s graphic and detailed but nothing disturbed me more than when Rhodes is forced to kill a cat.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 116).


West of Then

Smith, Tara Bray. West of Then: a Mother, a Daughter, and a Journey Past Paradise. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Tara Bray Smith’s story is haunting. Her childhood and subsequent adult relationship with her mother is tragic. What unfolds before you is a young woman’s story about an almost always drug-addicted and sometimes homeless mother who was constantly abandoning her children. Karen had four children with four different men. Luckily for her second oldest, Tara grew up with some sort of stability with her pot-smoking father and his second wife, Debbie. Tara spends most of the book looking and finding and looking again for her mother. What is especially hard to take is that after you have gotten through the 319 pages you realize nothing has really changed. I am not ruining the end of the story by saying nothing gets resolved. There is no ending. Interspersed are stories of Hawaii, past and present, cultural and historical. It’s this writing that makes the entire book come alive.

As an aside – I don’t know if this was intentional or not but Bray does a good job of making her mother out to be an absolute whore and not in the literal sense but in the derogatory sense. She subtly names no less than 14 different men Karen was having some sort of revolving door romantic relationship with throughout the book. Neil, Ron, Owen, Kirk, Eric, Stan, Terry, Ray…and so on. I found it distracting.
The drawbacks to reading a book with no set chronological order or apparent plot is it is really easy to lose your place. I don’t use bookmarks because usually, I can remember what’s going on in the story enough to pick up where I left off. With the chronology as jumbled as it was I found the search for her mother disorientating. Maybe that was the point.

Lines I liked: “He has his studies; I have my missing mother” (p 117) and “The desire for something sweet makes you stupid” (p 243).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Hawaii: memoirs” (p 94).


No Instructions Needed

Hewitt, Robert G. No Instructions Needed: An American Boyhood in the 1050s.

Okay. I have to get this off my chest. I was curious about the publisher for No Instructions Needed so I did a simple Google search. On my first run-through I found an ArbeitenZeit Media website with design and content credit going to Robert G. Hewitt. On my second attempt to find other authors published through ArbeitenZeit Media I found Gail Hewitt and L.G. Hewitt. Did I stumble across a family-run vanity publication? Am I writing a review as a vehicle for marketing purposes? Does that mean no one else would publish their work? That bothers me because when a writer finds someone who is willing to publish his or her words it’s as if that publisher is saying, “I believe in your craft.”

Robert G. Hewitt learned of the demise of his high school and was flooded with memories from his boyhood. As a salute to his youth he wrote No Instructions Needed, a collection of remembrances of the 1950s complete with cute illustrations. Everything from Christmas to Hewitt’s first car is covered with great nostalgic fondness. As mentioned by other reviewers, nothing really happens in No Instructions Needed. The memory lane is not paved with problems and the end result is a simple, yet pleasant read.


Pushing September Out


I decided to push September out the door a little earlier than any calendar would suggest. Yeah, yeah. I have three more days, but who’s counting? Certainly not me. It’s been a hard month.

Truth be known I am always itching for October 1st. My Halloween has 31 days. My thrill time lasts all month. Better than Christmas. Don’t ask me why. I think it started when I was a kid. Mom would make these outrageous costumes (extremely elaborate, creative, funky…but on a frayed shoestring budget – we’re talking tinfoil and spray paint). My all-time favorite was a gigantic pumpkin made out of coat hangers, a bed sheet and lots of paint. I barely fit through doors, couldn’t sit down all that well and my face itched for days on end, but man! it was a cool costume. Another time sis and I were Miss Piggy and Kermit the frog. I remember being embarrassed by the ginormous breasts and blue eye shadow. We were a sight to see! Us kids would pile into the back of a pickup truck and bounce all over the island looking for treats while the older boys played tricks. Scary all the time they were worse on Halloween. Dusk brought eerie shadows to our faces as we tried to peer into plastic bags for goodies. Whoopie pies spilled from my mother’s kitchen as big as your fist. Apple cider simmering on the wood stove.

These days I don’t run around wearing orange and green paint pretending to be a vegetable from the patch. If I’m lucky I will get my kisa to take a walk among the trick or treaters so I can count the goblins. Every year someone on my block plays Nightmare Before Christmas on the side of his house. Candles glow from jack-o-lanterns on every stoop. Leaves crunch beneath our feet. There is some sort of magic in the air. I can’t really explain it. The sugar shacks start up their boils and put on breakfast feasts.
What I need to do now is find my way to the basement, locate the big box marked “Halloween”, drag it up to the living room, and unpack my spooky friends. Who cares if it’s still September? Who cares if I’m in the wrong month. It’s time to get back to the right state of mind.