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 While the statistical data might be a little out of date, the rest of the narrative is sharp, funny, and in some cases, spot on.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).


The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Dispossessed. London: Orion Publishing, 2002.

Reason read: Le Guin died in January of this year. I just had to squeeze in one of her books in 2018 to honor her memory.

Shevek, a physicist, is researching something he calls his Ground Temporal Theory. He wants to unite his mother planet of Anarres with the sister planet, Urras. Anarres is an anarchist planet that has become isolated. Shevek’s people are in exile. With his invention of instantaneous communication, Shevek could potentially change society. Unfortunately, his own planet of Anarres is at war, making it impossible for him to progress on his Principle of Simultaniety. Hoping to find a more accepting atmosphere he travels to Urras where he is somewhat accepted. There he lectures, builds a relationship, and fathers a child while working on his theory, working towards free exchange between Urras and Anarres. Little does Shevek know but he has fallen into a trap.
As an aside, the range of different internal societies was interesting. For example, “propertarians” believe in the ownership of something whereas other societies don’t. On the planet Urras Shevek encounters a woman who enthralls him completely, but he can’t help but make feminism comparisons between her and the women on his planet of Anarres.

Probably my favorite part was when Shevek meets Takver. The attraction was instantaneous and Shevek came alive after meeting her. He has been awakened to a whole new life. This life leads him in interesting directions.

I always like it when I can play “six degrees of separation” between books. This time, in The Dispossessed there is a Dust with a capital D; a literal Dust that is consuming and controlling. Meanwhile in The Golden Compass the Dust, again with a capital D, is mysterious and confusing.

Line I liked, “It is hard, however, for people who have never paid money for anything to understand the psychology of cost, the argument of the marketplace (p 79).

Author fact: Le Guin has written fiction, science fiction, short stories, poetry, nonfiction, and has acted as editor on several projects.

Book trivia: The Dispossessed won a Hugo Award in 1975. 

Nancy said: Pearl considers The Dispossessed a “great read” but she did not say anything more than that (Book Lust p 215). Additionally, Pearl makes no mention that The Dispossessed is part of a series (Hainish Cycle #6). 

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).