Call It Sleep

Roth, Henry. Call It Sleep. New York: Penguin Classics, 2006.
Roth, Henry. Call It Sleep. Read by George Guidall. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 1994.

Reason read: The Yom Kippur War in October.

[For my own state of mind I really should ban reading overly sad books with traumatic endings.] Told from the perspective of six year old David Schearl, Call It Sleep relates the hardships of immigrant life in turn of the century gritty New York City. In the prologue, David and his mother arrive from Austria to join her abusive and angry husband. This is the of the few times the narrative is outside little six year old David’s head. The majority of the story is a stream of consciousness, skillfully painting a portrait of inner city life from a child’s point of view.
As an aside, in the beginning I questioned why David’s father would abhor David to the point of criminal abuse. It took awhile to figure out why.
But, back to little David. His young life is filled with fear. He is overwhelmed by language differences between Yiddish and English, overly sensitive to the actions of his peers, clings to his mother with Freudian zeal. I found him to be a really hopeless child and my heart bled for him. While most of the story is bleak, there is the tiniest ray of hope at the end. The pessimists in the crowd might have a negative explanation for what David’s father does, but I saw it as a small gesture of asking for forgiveness.
As another aside, Roth’s interpretation of the Jewish Austrian dialect was, at times, difficult to hear in my hear. Listening to George Guidall was much easier.

Quotes I liked, “Go snarl up your own wits” (p 157), “David’s toes crawled back and forth upon a small space on the sole of his shoe” (p 186), and “…clacking like nine pins before a heavy bowl of mirth they tumbled about the sidewalk” (p 292).

Author fact: Henry Roth is often confused with Philip Roth. I’m guilty of doing it a few times. The real Author Fact is that Henry Roth didn’t write another novel after Call It Sleep until he was 88 years old, sixty years after Call It Sleep was first published.

Book trivia: Call It Sleep was Henry Roth’s first novel, written when he was under thirty.

Nancy said: Nancy simply explains a little of the plot of Call It Sleep.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Jewish American Experience” (p 133).


Power of One

Courtenay, Bryce. The Power of One. New York: Ballantine Books, 1989.

Reason read: Courtenay’s birth month is in August.

Confessional One: I accidentally ordered the childrens’ book version of The Power of One. Before I realized my mistake I was already half way through it.
Confessional Two: the version for children needed to be returned before I was finished so I jumped over the the adult full length story. I’m glad I did.

Confessional Three: The Power of One started a little slow for me. Maybe because I started with a book for children? At times I thought it contained magical realism. Once the story picked up I was thoroughly engrossed.

Known only by the derogatory name of Pisskop, a child is born in South Africa and in the shadow of Hitler’s rise to cruel power. In 1939 Pisskop seems destined for demise. He was born of the wrong color, white. He spoke the wrong language, English. He was raised by a woman of the wrong color, black. His own mother all but nonexistent. Pisskop knew fear, cruelty, humiliation and abandonment all before he turned six years old. Through a series of unremarkable events Pisskop is led to the people and opportunities that would bestow courage and grit on the young boy. Harry Crown, who renames Pisskop, Peekay. Hoppie Groenewald, who offers Peekay a green sucker at their first fateful meeting (a gesture Peekay will always remember). Doc, who becomes a mentor and a father figure for Peekay. Geel Peet, who takes Peekay’s boxing skills to another level. Because of these early relationships, Peekay gains confidence and courage, vowing to overcome his color, his speech, his pitiful upbringing. In his dreams he survives to become the welterweight champion of the world.

Lines I liked: “Man brutalized thinks only of his survival” (p 215), “The indigo night was pricked with sharp cold stars” (p 257), “The photograph captured the exact moment when I understood with conviction that racism is a primary force of evil designed to destroy good men” (p 265), and one more, “You either disappear into a plebian background or move forward to where most others fear to follow” (p 472).

Author fact: Courtenay was born in South Africa.

Nancy said: nothing specific, besides plot, about Power of One.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Africa: A Reader’s Itinerary” (p 3).


September Sorrows

I don’t post a lot of personal stuff on this side of the writing. Not usually. Typically, I leave all that other blathering on JustCauseICan. I may write about the run or the island, a brief sentence here or there, but of little else…except for today. When you lose someone you adore it is hard to focus. That is precisely my problem today. I am shattered by grief and only put back together again by words. So, I must read. Here are the books planned for September. I hope they heal:

Fiction:

  • Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden – to remember Hurricane Ivan as it wreaked havoc on my 2004 September wedding.

Nonfiction:

  • The Most Offending Soul Alive: Tom Harrisson and His Remarkable Life by Judith M. Heinmann – in honor of Harrisson’s birth month being in September.
  • Life and Times of Miami Beach by Ann Armbruster – in honor of Hurricane Irma.
  • Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop: 43 Stories, Recollections, and Essays on Iowa’s Place in Twentieth Century American Literature edited by Tom Grimes – in honor of Grimes’ birth month being in September.

 

Series Continuations:

  • Fuzz by Ed McBain – to end the series started in July in memory of McBain’s passing.
  • Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall – to end the series started in August in honor of Rajiv Ratna Ganghi, India’s youngest Prime Minister’s birth month.
  • Spring of the Ram by Dorothy Dunnett – to continue the series started in honor of Dunnett’s birth month (August).
  • Holding the Dream by Nora Roberts – to continue the series started in honor of August being Dream Month.
  • Tandia by Bryce Courtenay – to end the series started in August in honor of Courtenay’s birth month.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

Confessional: I am still reading Where Eagles Dare Not Perch by Peter Bridgford.


Perks of Being a Wallflower

Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Gallery Books, 1999.

Reason read: May is considered “Birds and Bees Month” and oddly enough (or coincidentally?), some schools chose to teach their sex ed at this time. Spring is the time for renewal!

This is one of those books you can read cover to cover on a rainy afternoon but be forewarned, once you hit the last page you will flip back to page one and start all over again. At least I wanted to…Even though this was, “best for teens” as Nancy Pearl says, I loved it.
Charlie is a typical shy teenager on the eve of his first day as a freshman in high school. With a strong desire to unburden his life he’s writing letters, diary style, to an unknown person he has chosen out of the phone book. Why he writes these letters we’ll never know, but what emerges is a portrait of a sensitive kid just trying to make it in the world. Like a diary we are privy to his coming of age, his intellectual growth, his emerging personality. As I got to know Charlie better and better I found myself constantly sucking in my breath, willing him to not get hurt. I came to care about him that much. Even though the ending is a clear as an oncoming rain storm I didn’t want to believe in its terrible beauty.

Lines to mention, “Then, I turned and walked to my room and closed the door and put my head under my pillow and let the quiet put things where they are supposed to be” (p 26), “So I guess Zen is a day like this when you are part of the air and remember things” (p 43), and the sentence that sums up Charlie the best, “I was just quiet and I watched him” (p 60). Typical wallflower behavior.

As an aside: Every book that Bill asks Charlie to read is a favorite of mine and when Charlie makes Patrick the mixed tape I knew every song (except I though he could have added more. Who ever heard of a mixed tape with only 13 songs?)

Author fact: Chbosky also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of rent.

Book trivia: Perks was made into a movie which I haven’t seen…yet.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23)


A Good Doctor’s Son

Schwartz, Steven. A Good Doctor’s Son. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1998.

First and foremost, I could not put this down. I came to care about David Nachman. Even worse, I really worried about him. I think I read this book in one week’s time. Told from the retrospective first person, David Nachman, at nine years old in 1960s Pennsylvania, wanted to become a doctor like his father. Stoic and gentle, Dr Nachman did not discriminate patient care at a time when crosses were burning on some front lawns and the whites were moving out to the suburbs. You get the point – he was a good doctor and a good man. David wanted to be just like him. However life had other plans for young David by the time he reached his teens. Desperate to fit in, David joined a group of fellow teenagers for nights of gambling and crude sex jokes. Inwardly shy, it really wasn’t his thing but he wanted to belong somewhere so he played along. One terrible mistake changed his course of history forever. At a time full of protest and war, David has his own inner conflict to contend with. Now in his forties, David recounts his coming of age years in a slow and careful cadence. While his remembrances are gentle, it is impossible to ignore the growing undercurrent of guilt.

Line that lingered, “Either way…we wouldn’t talk about what was right in front of us” (p 13). How many families live like that, ignoring what is blatantly obvious and impossible to ignore?

Reason read: Pennsylvania became a state on December 12th, 1787.

Author fact: Schwartz wrote another book called Therapy but sadly it isn’t on my list. Another sad fact, another reviewer reviewed Schwartz (said he was an ass) in addition to giving his/her opinion of the book. It’s always cool when author AND book are great, but that doesn’t always happen.

Book trivia: Is this a movie? Because this should be a movie. I don’t know who would play David, but I see Richard Dreyfus as dad.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: the Literary Midwest: Pennsylvania” (p 140).


Girl in Landscape

Lethem, Jonathan. Girl in Landscape. New York: Double Day, 1998

Girl in Landscape has been compared to Nabokov’s Lolita which I have never read. As a result of my ignorance I was able to read Girl in Landscape without preconceived notions of what it was about. I’m glad I did. This was great in an extremely strange way. When you first meet old-for-her-age thirteen year old Pella Marsh and her family they are getting ready to go to the beach in what you or I would consider ordinary Brooklyn Heights, New York. Only planet Earth has become a post-apoplectic wasteland where exposure to the sun has become too dangerous without complicated protective gear. It has been decided the Marsh family will leave Earth for the Planet of the Arch-builders. Before they can leave Pella’s mother is stricken with a brain tumor and quickly dies. Pella, her father and two brothers must travel to the Planet of the Arch-builders without her. This is where things go from odd to downright bizarre. The Planet of the Arch-builders is sparsely populated with a few earthlings, a smattering of Arch-builder aliens and an overabundance of a creature called household deer. Pella’s father, a failed politician, has hopes of creating a lawful society on the Planet of the Arch-builders but soon discovers there is an ominous rift between the humans and the aliens. The plot gets darker and darker the deeper into the story you go.

The very first line to strike a nerve with me was in the first few pages, “Pella decided not to laugh today” (p 3). Another fatalistic thought, “She imagined slashing the tires” (p 87).

Postscript~ This is one of those books that annoyed me and it wasn’t the author’s fault. I have a real pet peeve when it comes to glowing reviews on the back of a different book. It’s obnoxious. It’s as if to say, “fukc the book you are reading now. This one is much better.” Yes, I will be reading As She Crawled Across the Table. Glowing review or not it is on my list. I’ll get to it just not right now. I’m reading Girl in Landscape now. I’m holding it in my hands. What do you have to say about it?

Reason read: Lethem was born in February.

Author fact: Jonathan Lethem has a website here.

Book trivia: Many people have said Girl in Landscape is dark and dreary but more people have said “go read it.” I agree with the latter.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Jonathan Lethem: Too Good To Miss” (p 145).


Little Town on the Prairie

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little Town on the Prairie. New York: Harper Trophy, 1971.

At this point in the “Little House” series Ma, Pa and the four daughters, Mary, Laura, Carrie and Grace, have moved to town so that Pa can finish the homestead. This is their second year in De Smet and the little homestead is growing. Pa’s farming abilities are increasing with the addition of chickens, corn, and a bigger garden. The town is growing as well. A church has been built and the community is getting together for Friday Literary nights at the school where games like spelling bees, charades and debates are held. At this time Mary is sent away to a college for the blind and Laura is nearly sixteen years old. She is on her way to becoming a school teacher. Her focus is on studying hard so that she will be ready for the career when she turns sixteen. Another step towards adulthood is the growing, albeit confused, attraction to Almanzo Wilder. His courtship is odd to her because she thinks of him as “old” and more of a friend of her father’s than hers.

Interesting quote: “A grown-up person must never let feelings be shown by voice or manner” (p 228).

When I was little I thought it would be amazing to live like Laura Ingalls. There was something so simple and so pure about her era. Although life during that time was harder, less convenient, there was more emphasis placed on doing the right thing, using resources to their fullest, not wasting a single thing. Another aspect of the time was the fashion. Everything was so structured around age! Carrie had to wear her hair in braids down her back (which caught on the buttons running down the back of her dress) while Laura, approaching adulthood could wear her braids on top of her head. She was proud of the weight on her head.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Great Plains (the Dakotas)” (p 107).