Short History of Nearly Everything

Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything. Read by Bill Bryson.

Reason read: Bill Bryson was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.

When I first started reading A Short History of Nearly Everything I wanted to document every “history” Bryson exposed and explained. I thought it would be fun except for the fact I quickly lost track. Short History starts out simple enough: the history of the atom and an explanation of the inflation theory. In other words, the history of you and the universe respectively. Then there’s a deeper dive into the question of space, the galaxy and our place in the solar system. Somehow we moved onto inverse square law and the weight (literally) of the world. We explore volcanoes and earthquakes and the (un)predictability of natural disasters. Then there are the disasters that are not so quite natural which man insists on taking part like free diving. Then there are the bugs and so on and so forth.
Probably one of the best sections was about the struggle to make Pluto a planet. We determined we had four rocky inner planets, four gassy outer planets…and one teeny, tiny lone ball of ice.
The obvious drawback to reading something out of date is the predictions for the future are now obsolete.
what I have learned from reading Short History is not the what Bryson explains but how it’s explained. The telling is everything.

Quotes I just had to quote. Here is an example of Bryson’s humor, “Being you is not a gratifying experience at the atomic level” (p 5), and “Of course, it is possible that alien beings travel billions of miles to amuse themselves by planting crop circles in Wiltshire or frightening the daylights out of some poor guy in a pickup truck on a lonely road in Arizona (they must have teenagers, after all), but it does seem unlikely” (p 27).

Author fact: I poked around Bill Bryson’s FaceBook page. It’s pretty funny.

Book trivia: I am listening to the audio version read by Bill Bryson. Pearl may think that the book itself shouldn’t be missed, but I say the book actually read by the author shouldn’t be missed either.

Nancy said: Pearl has an asterisk next to A Short History of Nearly Everything as one Bryson book that especially shouldn’t be missed. I said that already.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Bill Bryson: Too Good To miss” (p 36).


Saddest Pleasure

Thomsen, Moritz. The Saddest Pleasure: a Journey on Two Rivers. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Greywolf Press, 1990.

Reason read: In honor of Brazil’s first emperor. His coronation was on December 1st, 1822.

When we catch up to Martin Moritz Thomsen Titus in The Saddest Pleasure he is now sixty-three years old. Depending on which review you read, Thomsen either was asked to leave the Ecuadorian farm he co-owned with partner, Ramon, or he just up and left. Either way, in the beginning of The Saddest Pleasure he sets out to travel to Amazonian Brazil via two rivers. Along his journey he tries to reconcile difficult memories of a contentious relationship with his father, while wrangling with the effects of aging and mourning the loss of the farm he shared with Ramon. He seems sarcastically obsessed with being a farmer and very reluctant to admit he is a writer because farming seems the more noble profession. In fact, in my opinion, the entire book is more of a look back at the should haves, could haves, and would haves of his life. A lot of cantankerous regret is interspersed in the memory. He calls travel the saddest pleasure, but I would say the saddest pleasure was reading this book.

Line I loved, “I have lived too long with poor people to sit now in the middle of all this jewelry and the electronic crapola and the whores and the gangsters who want to own it, eating overpriced food, listening for eight hours straight to Muzak’s plastic masturbatory music not to feel a profound disorientation” (p 21).
Here’s another, “Starved for protein, crippled by malnutrition, they have lost about 20% of their intelligence” (p 84).

Author fact: Thomsen lived another ten years after The Saddest Pleasure. I surely hope he found happiness in that remaining time.

Book trivia: Some view The Saddest Pleasure as the completion to a trilogy about Moritz’s time in the Peace Corps. Living Poor was considered book one (also on my Challenge list), and Farm on the River of Emeralds was book two. Another interesting fact about The Saddest Pleasure is that it won the 1991 Governor’s Writers Award.
As an aside, my copy of Saddest Pleasure has an amazing cover illustrated by Alfredo Arreguin.

Nancy said: Pearl said she found Thomsen’s memoir “to be utterly enthralling” (Book Lust To Go p 43). She then went on to take up considerable real estate in the chapter quoting The Saddest Pleasure, as she admits, “the book is filled with quotable lines” (p 44). Yes, yes it is.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter simply called “Brazil” (p 43).


Before the Deluge

Friedrich, Otto. Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1029’s. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.

Reason read: Berlin has a tattoo festival every year in Berlin.

There is a small possibility I will visit Berlin in the next year or so. It is hard to imagine the contrary Berlin of the 1920’s. Beautiful girls dressed in flapper style, kicking it up in glitzy cabarets (a la Louise Brooks, also known as Lulu) against a backdrop of war, and poverty, and influenza ravaged misery. One war was over while another bubbled just below the surface, waiting to burst forth.
The 1920’s was also a great period of scientific inquiry and wonderment. Britain and Germany had been on opposite sides of World War I, but astronomers were not concerned with that detail. Scientists on both sides were single-minded in their desire to study the eclipse. At the same time, the German government saw the benefit of using the new technology of moving pictures to show their propaganda films. Albert Einstein was in his prime.
The most fascinating thing about Before the Deluge is Friedrich’s interviews with people who could remember the height of the 20’s in Berlin. People who were aware events like if the Communists had voted in force, Marshall Paul Von Hindenburg would have never been elected to rule the German Republic. If the weather had been slightly better Hindenburg never would have appointed a young man named Adolf Hitler as Chancellor….

Quote that gave me pause: “Berlin in the winter is never a very cheerful place” (p 36). Even at Christmastime? I have to wonder.

Author fact: Friedrich went to Harvard (born in Boston).

Book trivia: There is a very cool fold out map several pages into Before the Deluge. Much better than inside the front cover of the book.

Nancy said: Pearl says, “you can’t get a better sense of Berlin between the wars than by reading Otto Friedrich’s Before the Deluge.” She then goes on to say it would be interesting to use Before the Deluge as a guidebook to present day Berlin. I don’t think so. Before the Deluge was first published in the early 1970’s. A lot has changed since then…

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the crazy simple chapter called “Berlin” (p 36). Imagine that.


People’s History of the Supreme Court

Irons, Peter. A People’s History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped Our Constitution. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.

Reason read: in celebration of the Constitution.

We begin, as they say, from the beginning. The year is 1787 and the controversies of the day are slavery and racial segregation, free speech and a woman’s right to end her pregnancy. What year are we in now? Aren’t we still battling against racial discrimination? Aren’t we still fighting for free speech and women’s rights? What’s that saying? The more things change, the more they stay the same? It is disheartening to think we have been railing against crooked judges since the beginning of the Supreme Court. Its inception had a rocky start. Rutledge was deranged and Wilson was jailed for debt, just to name a few examples. It makes you realize the abuse of power really is timeless. McKinley was able to place a brilliant conservative justice with an incompetent one. Sound familiar? Fear and intimidation has not changed. Since the beginning of the Supreme Court there have been men who serve as chief justice who cannot separate personal bias from judicial duty.
On the other hand, time marches on and some things do change. At the time of writing, Irons’s world consisted of a Supreme Court that had been mostly all white and mostly all old men. We have made some strides to having a diversified Supreme Court. So…there is that. Also, consider this: in the 1920’s a woman had her own minimum wage. Isn’t that special?
I could go on and on. Last comment:Even though this is geared towards a tenth grade reader, it is an important book. Everyone should take a stab at it. If not to see where we are going, but to see where we have been.

Author fact: Peter Irons called Howard Zinn a mentor. Additionally, Irons was arrested in 1963 for refusing to serve in the military. If you were a conscientious objector, you had to have a religion to cite as your reason for not fighting.

Book trivia: for the longest time A People’s History of the Supreme Court has been used as a law and history textbook across the country.

Nancy said: Pearl called A People’s History of the Supreme Court “readable” (p 136).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Legal Eagles in Nonfiction” (p 135).


A Long Way From Home

Briscoe, Connie. A Long Way From Home. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.

Reason read: Briscoe’s birth month is Devember. Read in her honor.

Clara starts off as a nearly eleven year old slave, owned by former president James Madison. As she grows up, she struggles to conform to the polite, obedient, and subservient ways of her mother and aunts, all house slaves in the Montpelier mansion. The inevitable and imminent death of President Madison means unclear futures for all of his slaves, field and house. Whispered questions like, ‘when he finally died would they be freed?’ ‘Could they stay on the plantation, especially if it is all they ever knew?’ scatter through hallways like runaway marbles on a tile floor. Would Madison’s slaves even have a choice? What no one saw coming was Madison’s awful stepson, Todd, taking over as Massa of Montpelier. His attraction to Clara sets off a terrible chain of events and life changes for everyone involved.
This is supposed to be the story of three generations of house slaves: Susie, Clara, and Susan. Susie is barely in the story, but Clara passes on her feisty nature to her daughter Susan. When Susan is sold away to satisfy a debt, readers follow her coming of age, growth into womanhood, and emerging sense of independence.
Aside from a great character story, A Long Way From Home is a fantastic historical fiction. Events of the Civil War described in detail color the fate of the south and give the story an interesting perspective.

Telling quotes, “These days, no one wearing a skirt at Montpelier ever slept alone when Mass Todd and his buddies were around” (p 70).

Author fact: According the back flap of A Long Way From Home Briscoe is a descendant of the slaves on the Madison family plantation. This story is her story.

Book trivia: I could see this made into a movie. It has an important story to tell so why isn’t it a movie?

Nancy said: Pearl said to consider A Long Way From Home for the reading list when considering African American fiction written by women.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African American Fiction: She Says” (p 16).


In the Wilderness

Undset, Sigrid. The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness. Alfred A. Knopf. 1962.

Reason read: So. I had this pen pal from Norway. We never met in person but became friends because of a mutual love for Natalie Merchant’s music. It was fun.

So. When we last left Olav Audunsson his wife, Ingunn, had finally died after a super long illness. Left alone with two children, a biological daughter, Cecelia, and an adopted son, Eiric, Olav struggles to rebuild his life. He is still overshadowed by immense guilt about past transgressions. Additionally, throughout The Snake Pit Olav was not well liked by his community. He didn’t make an effort to belong in any way. Now, awash in grief, Olav is drift in more ways than one, prompting him to travel to London, England for a bit. Upon his return he agrees to foster the young daughter of a dying friend. It’s this act which brings Olav back to life. This is enough to spur Olav on to fight for his homestead; to risk life and limb in a bloody battle against the Swedes. This might be somewhat of a spoiler alert, but Olav survives the bitter war but is gravely wounded in the face. His disfigurement lends Olav a somber grace he has not felt before.

Quote to quote, “He saw now it was not his suffering that destroyed the happiness of his life – a man may be happier while he suffers than when his days are good” (p 196). Amen.

Author fact: Undset was actually born in Denmark even though she is one of Norway’s best loved novelists.

Book trivia: In the Wilderness is the penultimate book in the Master of Hestviken series.

Nancy said: As with other books in the Master of Heskviken series, Pearl called In the Wilderness a masterpiece.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Norway: Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).


Aguero Sisters

Garcia, Cristina. The Aguero Sisters. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

Reason read: December is the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had removed the “best time to travel to [fill in the blank]” but I guess not.

The Aguero Sisters starts with a bang (pun totally intended). Ignacio and Blanca Aguero are a husband and wife naturalist team, slogging through the Zapata swamp shooting specimens for a U.S. based museum. Suddenly forty-four year old Ignacio turns the gun on his wife and pulls the trigger…The mystery of what really happened in the swamp on that day in 1948 doesn’t become clear until much, much later.
The rest of the novel follows the lives of Ignacio’s adult daughters and their very different lives. Constancia Aguero Cruz lives in New York, married to a tobacco shop owner with a daughter in Oahu and a son in Morningside Heights, New York. She has been kept apart from her sister in Cuba for as long as she can remember, but she doesn’t really know why. Reina was only six when her mother died. She still lives in Cuba as an electrician and mechanic and has many passions, seducing married men. She has a daughter, Dulcita, in Madrid, Spain. Interspersed between this current-day, third-person narrative is Ignacio’s first person account of his life, starting with remembering his parents, Reinaldo and Soledad Aguero. Through his accounts, the history of Ignacio and his daughters becomes clearer and clearer, like sediment settling in the bottom of a glass of murky water once the agitation of stirring has stopped.

Line I liked, “Reina stares out the window for hours trying to make sense of the density of stars” (p 39). Me too, Reina. Me too.

Other lines worth mentioning, “she is the first to admit she has a low threshold for disorder” (p 27), “My sense of smell is heightened by hunger” (p 205), and “A confidence in her walk is what gives birth to lust” (p 233).

Author fact: Like her characters, Garcia grew up in Havana and New York.

Book trivia: Garcia does a fantastic job fleshing out the characters of The Aguero Sisters. So much so that I felt it necessary to take notes on all the details.

Nancy said: Pearl included the Aguero Sisters as one example of wonderful novels being turned out by Cuban emigres.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Cuba Si!” (p 68).


Without Fail

Child, Lee. Without Fail. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2002

Reason read: to continue the series started in July in honor of New York becoming a state…never mind the connection. Just go with it.

When we catch up to Jack Reacher this time, he is in Atlantic City. But, not for very long. He somehow finds himself in Washington D.C., approached by a Secret Service agent who needs his help. Another damsel in distress. This one has ties to his dead brother, so how can he say no? Agent M.E. Froelich wants, errr no, needs to test the holes in her security detail guarding the newly elected vice-president, Brook Armstrong. She tells Reacher she’s just a girl playing in a competitive man’s world and those resentful men? They’re all out to get her; prove she’s horrible at her job. What Reacher doesn’t know is this isn’t really a test. No one is bitter about Froelich’s position. Instead, Vice President Armstrong has been receiving very real death threats. Now Reacher is in it deep and he can’t back out. He needs to figure out who is behind the threats before the vice president is assassinated. The clock is ticking…

A few annoyances. This is the first time I have to agree with Pearl. She said you didn’t need to read the Reacher series in order. I agree because in Without Fail Reacher asserts he has never owned anything. Not true. In Echo Burning he unloaded a house previously left to him by a military mentor. In truth he owned that.
Second annoyance. Froelich. She is Joe Reacher’s former lover. She is definitely not over the breakup (as he left her) and even less over Joe’s death. She talks a tough talk but every other second she’s bringing up Joe. She weirdly blames Jack for everything. As a member of the secret service I thought she would be a little tougher than that.

Author fact: Did I ever mention that, according to Child’s website, he also is 6’4″ just like his character, Jack Reacher? Hmmmm…

Book trivia: Without Fail is the sixth book in the Reacher series.

Nancy said: Nothing specific about Without Fail.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lee Child: Too Good To Miss” (p 42).


Art of Travel

de Botton, Alain. The Art of Travel. Narrated by Steven Crossley. Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2002.

Reason read: Alin de Botton was born in December. Read in his honor.

Travel isn’t always what it is cracked up to be. There is something about planning a trip that is inherently more delicious than actually taking the journey. Then afterwards when you get home, you find the time away did not live up to the expectation of all the planning. Alain de Botton invites you to travel in a way you have never considered before. When you finally arrive at your destination, he welcomes you to closely inspect your surroundings in ways you didn’t know you could or should; to see beyond merely looking. Upon reading Art of Travel he makes you want to stand in the spot where van Gogh’s little yellow house used to stand in Arles, France; where you’ll find yourself a little sad it was destroyed in World War II. I could go on and on with other examples, but I think it’s best to read the book.

Author fact: Alain de Botton is a philosopher so of course his book, The Art of Travel is going to get deep. If you ever get a chance, look Alain up on YouTube. His Day III video on the art of travel is hysterical in a panic-attack kind of way.

Book trivia: The illustrations and photographs in Art of Travel are stunning.

Nancy said: Pearl said The Art of Travel is an example of “delightful writing with lots of observations to mull over” (Book Lust To Go p 260).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Where in the World Do These Books Belong?” (p 260).


Female Eunuch

Greer, Germain. The Female Eunuch. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1971.

Reason read: Women’s Suffrage Law was passed in December.

In the 1970s this was a landmark book supporting feminist ideals. While the statistical data might be a little out of date, the rest of the narrative is sharp, funny, and in some cases, spot on. Even today. Through her seminal work Greer will take you through a sometimes sarcastic, sometimes sad, and always intelligent journey regarding every aspect of a woman’s world in the 1970s. She begins with the obvious, the female body and moves onto soul, love and hate. She ends with a powerful chapter on rebellion and revolution.

There were lots and lots of quotations to chose from. Here are some of my favorites, “In any case brain weight is irrelevant, as was swiftly admitted when it was found to operate to male disadvantage” (p 93), “Most likely a sued Other Woman would have to ask her husband undertake payments for her” (p 118), and “Genuine chaos is more fruitful than the chaos of conflicting systems which are mutually destructive” (p 234).

Author fact: Greer is extremely funny. However, when she admitted to being groped in Female Eunuch it prompted me to do a little more digging about her life. I was a little surprised by her 2018 thoughts regarding punishment for convicted rapists. It’s an example of how Greer thinks, always pushing boundaries.

Book trivia: Female Eunuch is chock full of various quotations, the most being from Mary Wollstonecraft’s oft-quoted work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (also on my list).

Nancy said: Pearl called The Female Eunuch an influential political book from the early ’70’s” (p More Book Lust p 121).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “I am Woman – Hear Me Roar” (p 121).


Time Machines

Adler. Jr., Bill. Time Machines: the Greatest Time Travel Stories Ever Written. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1998.

Reason read: December is Star Man month and that makes me think of time travel.

Time Machines is made up of twenty-two really diverse short science fiction stories all centered on time travel or time machines.

  • A Shape in Time by Anthony Boucher – Agent L-3H is hired to prevent marriages until she fails to seduce her man. This story has one of my favorite quotes, “Temporal Agent L-3H is always delectable in any shape; that’s why the bureau employs her on marriage-prevention assignments” (p 1).
  • Who’s Cribbin’ by Jack Lewis – someone from the past is stealing a young sci-fi writer’s work. Who is the plagiarist?
  • The Business, As Usual by Mack Reynolds – a 20th century souvenir hunter visits the 30th century.
  • The Third Level by Jack Finney – Somewhere in the bowels of Grand Central Station there is another level which will take you to 1894 New York.
  • A Touch of Petulance by Ray Bradbury – what happens when you meet your future self and he tells you you will murder your wife.
  • The History of Temporal Express by Wayne Freeze – what if you could go back in time to meet a deadline you previously missed?
  • Star, Bright by Mark Clifton – a widower’s child, abnormally bright, learns how to transport herself through time but her father isn’t as smart. Interestingly enough, someone drew a Mobius slip in the book possibly to illustrate the phenomenon of a one-sided plane.
  • The Last Two Days of Larry Joseph’s Life – In This Time, Anyway by Bill Adler, Jr. – Two roommates watch as their third roommate quietly disappears.
  • Three Sundays in a Week by Edgar Allan Poe – Two lovers get around the stipulation they can only marry when there are three Sundays in the same week.
  • Bad Timing by Molly Brown – an archivist in the 24th century falls in love with a woman from the 20th century but he’s a bumbling idiot when it comes to time travel. As an aside, this story reminded me of the movie, “Lake House.”
  • Night by John W. Campbell – a pilot testing out an anti-gravity coil has an accident and he needs the help of aliens to get home.
  • Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt – a crazy story about a man who has two deaths.
  • Rotating Cylinders and the Possibility of Global Causality Violation by Larry Niven – what if time travel doesn’t work?
  • What Goes Around by Derryl Murphy – a ghost from the future comes to help a washed up actor.
  • You See, But You Do Not Observe by Robert Sawyer – Sherlock Holmes visits the future to find alien life.
  • Ripples in the Dirac Sea by Geoffrey A. Landis – a man tries to flee his own destiny by using a time machine but keeps returning to the same moment when he is to die.
  • The Odyssey of Flight 33 by Rod Serling – an airplane en route to New York curiously picks up speed and somehow lands 200 million years ahead of schedule.
  • Fire Watch by Connie Willis – not read (on Challenge list elsewhere)
  • What If by Isaac Asimov – not read
  • There and Then by Steven Utley – not read
  • Wireless by Rudyard Kipling – not read
  • The Last Article by Harry Turtledove – a sad tale about the nonviolence moment being unsuccessful against the Nazis of World War II.

Author Editor fact: Adler has written a few books of his own (including a short story in Time Machines.

Nancy said: Time Machines was in a list of other books about time travel the reader might enjoy.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Time Travel” (p 220).


This Blinding Absence of Light

Ben Jelloun, Tahar. This Blinding Absence of Light. Translated by Linda Coverdale. New York: New Press, 2002.

Reason read: This one was chosen a little off schedule. I needed something for the Portland Public Library 2018 Reading Challenge for the category of a book that has won an International Dublin Literary Award.

This book was a hard, hard , hard read. Based upon true events, it is the story of an inmate of the Tazmamart Prison. Aziz was a soldier who took part in a failed assassination attempt on King Hassan II of Morocco. Hassan ordered his political enemies to be held in an underground desert concentration camp where they were kept in 6 x 3′ cells devoid of light or proper ventilation. Aziz and twenty-one other prisoners locked away without proper food or sanitary conditions. Many men went insane or died from uncontrolled illnesses and starvation. After nearly two decades in captivity, only four survived their experience. Because Ben Jelloun takes Aziz’s experiences and fictionalizes it with a first person narrative the story becomes even more intimate and heartbreaking.
If you are ever wallowing in your own pathetic cesspool of pity, try barricading yourself in a darkened room with only a hole to piss and crap in, a ceiling less than five feet from the floor, no heat or air conditioning with only a bucket of water too filthy to drink and starchy food too filled with maggots to eat. Or, if you are short on time just read this book. Your little life can’t be as bad.
Here is the heart of the story, “The hardest, most unbearable silence was that of light” (p 51).

Lines that stopped me short (and there were a lot of them), “What does a man think when the blood of other men runs down his face?” (p 6), “I felt death making itself at home in his eyes” (p 12), “Strangely enough, becoming time’s slave had set him free” (p 29), “It was a question of chance: you tell yourself you have plenty of time, you save a few books for later…and forget to read them” (p 68), “That night I tried again to sleep on the bed. It was just too comfortable for me” (p 181).

Author fact: Ben Jelloun has also won the Prix Maghreb award in 1994.

Book trivia: This Blinding Absence of Light won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2004.

Nancy said: Pearl said This Blinding Absence of Light is “a difficult, soul-destroying read” (p 162). Interestingly enough, someone on Wikipedia said prisoners were not “actively” tortured. I find this really interesting. The decision to withhold light and food IS a form of active torture. True, these people were not tortured with acts resulting in pain but they faced starvation to the point of eminent death. I’m guessing the author of the Wiki page has never been hungry to the point of starvation; has never gone without light; has never experienced confining and unsanitary conditions for an extended period of time or faced the threat of scorpions stinging them in the dark. As Ben Jelloun said, “the entire body had to suffer, every part, without exception” (p 3).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “North African Notes: Morocco” (p 162).


Any Old Iron

Burgess, Anthony. Any Old Iron. New York: Washington Square Press, 1989.

Reason read: the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December. We remember the event every December 7th.

If you are familiar with A Clockwork Orange please put that out of your head when you read Any Old Iron. This is a completely different style of book (and somewhat easier to read; less cringe-worthy). Having said all that, you will need to hang onto your seats because in Any Old Iron Burgess will take you on a fifty year journey through history at breakneck speed. Along this journey you will travel with two families, one Welsh-Russian (told in third person), the other Jewish (told in vague and ghostly first person). You will careen through World War I, the founding of Israel, the sinking of the Titanic, and World War II, just to name a few historic events. All the while you are submersed in the Welsh, Russian, and Jewish cultures of these two larger than life families.
The title comes from word play as King Arthur’s sword also factors into the plot (as an aside, there is an old British music hall song of the same name of which I admit, I was less familiar).
Maybe I am making a generalization, but the thing about multi-generational sagas than span fifty years is that you tend to get attached to certain characters as you watch them age. I know I did.

Confessional: I had a “Natalie” moment when the aunt says of some illustrations they were “pornography in the manner of Alma-Tadema” (p 96). Thanks to the poem “If No One Ever Marries Me” I knew exactly what family the aunt (and Burgess) was referencing. Although Burgess could have meant Pre-Raphaelite Lawrence or his second daughter, Anna, who was also an artist.

Lines I liked, “I am no metallurgist, merely a retired terrorist and teacher of philosophy” (p 3), “Perhaps everybody was mad and war was the great sanitizer” (p 96), and “None had been taught to look at a map as a picture of human pain” (p 188).

Author fact: Burgess is probably most famous for A Clockwork Orange. As an aside, I had to watch ACO for a film class. It haunted me for weeks months. I couldn’t get the fear of not being able to close my eyes out of my psyche.

Book trivia: Any Old Iron has been categorized as historical fantasy.

Nancy said: Pearl said “there are some moving sections about World War II” in Any Old Iron (Book Lust p 253).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War II Fiction” (p 253).


Four Spirits

Naslund, Sena Jeter. Four Spirits. New York: William Morrow, 2003.

Reason read: Alabama became a state in December.

Stella Silver, at five years old, stands with a gun in her hand. Her father, over her shoulder, teaches her how to pull the trigger. He wants her to know “what happens to a bullet fired” (p 4). Welcome to Four Spirits. Sena Jeter Naslund sets out to tell the story of a group of ordinary people trying to live their lives in the deep south during one of the most tumultuous times in our country’s history, the early 1960s. Amid the pages of Four Spirits you will meet civil rights activists, racists, musicians, students, families. You will watch relationships fall apart while others thrive. Sacrifices made, lives taken, hope clung to, and most importantly, resilience take root. There is power in courage as the characters of Four Spirits will show you. Five year old Stella grows up to be a passionate intelligent young woman whose world is rocked when President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Texas. But, she is just one character in a host of others who will break your heart. Amidst the turmoil and violence, people went about doing ordinary things, trying to live ordinary lives.
This is a tough book to read. For me, the domestic violence between Ryder and his wife was the hardest to take in, but be warned, his violence as a Ku Klux Klan member is far worse. The Klan is one of those realities of Birmingham, Alabama; their existence is something you wish you could pretend was not part of the historical fabric of our nation, but there they are.
As an aside, it gave me great joy that Ryder was afraid of Dracula.

I always seem to find Natalie connections. There is a reason why she wrote Saint Judas (Motherland album).

Lines I liked: “There’s a seed in me and it’s starting to grow” (Gloria says on page 89) and “Admiration and gratitude collided in her heart and scattered throughout her body” (p 68).

Author fact: Four Spirits takes place in Naslund’s home city of Birmingham, Alabama.

Book trivia: You get the sense Four Spirits is about four actual women when you read the dedication” Addie MacCollins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. They were killed on September 15th, 1963 in a Baptist church.

Nancy said: Pearl explained that Naslund “intersperses her fictional characters with real ones” (More Book Lust p 207).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern Fried Fiction” (p 205).


Lost Moon

Lovell, Jim, and Jeffrey Kluger. Lost Moon: The Perilous Journey of Apollo 13. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

Reason read: On December 18th, 2018 NASA scheduled a rocket launch.

Lost Moon reads like a drama. The language isn’t bogged down by rocket science verbiage even through at the time of publication Jim Lovell was a famous astronaut and Jeffrey Kluger was an adjunct instructor (in other words, two really smart men). You pretty much know what is going on at all times. Lost Moon is suspenseful even though factually you know how it all turns out in the end. You should know, if not through the news (because you lived it), then because of the movie of the same name (because it starred Tom Hanks and won a whole bunch of awards). Here’s a ten second recap: On April 11th, 1970 Apollo Lucky 13 lifts off into space. By April Lucky 13th an oxygen tank explodes and the crew abandons the mission and Odyssey and moves into Aquarius. Two days later, on April 15th, a battery explodes in Aquarius. A day later a helium disk bursts. A day later, six days after liftoff, Aquarius splashes down in the Pacific ocean.
One of the most interesting facts I learned after reading Lost Moon was the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space. Article five of the document talks about ensuring the safe return of space travelers clause. In the event of an unplanned or off-target landing in hostile territories the space traveler would be safe and not be punished, imprisoned, or held responsible for the emergency landing in their territory.
Second interesting fact – astronauts are “star sailors.” I like that a lot.

Author fact: Jeffrey Kluger is a senior writer at Time magazine. Jim Lovell was also a Navy captain.

Book trivia: There is a great section of photographs in Lost Moon. The cover is of the blast off. “Because of the incredible speed of your rocket, your trip is short.” If you don’t know, don’t ask!

Nancy said: Pearl said “though you may have enjoyed the movie, don’t miss the book…it brings  a new dimension to the now familiar account of heroism” (Book Lust p 158).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Moon’s My Destination” (p 157).