Black Tents of Arabia

Raswan, Carl R. The Black Tents of Arabia: My Life Among the Bedouins. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1935.

Reason read: The movie, Lawrence of Arabia, was released in December of 1962.

Raswan spent more than twenty years with different Bedouin tribes of Arabia. He went along with them hunting, raiding, battling and surviving as they migrated across the unforgiving arid desert. He submersed himself in the Ruala tribe, learning their customs and traditions on an intimate level. This intimacy and his passion for Arabian horses helped him escape enemy clutches when they were ambushed more than once. How he managed to avoid certain death was beyond me.
Raswan’s language has the ability to take the reader on his adventurous journey. In Black Tents of Arabia he had a way of describing sights and sounds that brought his wild experiences to life. Here’s one of my favorites, “In our tumble-down car there were now no less that seven men: Ibrahim, Ali, two Bedouin rafiqs, two soldiers, and myself; also a gazelle, a greyhound, and two hens. We were packed like sardines: we had to hold on to anything that we could and change grips when the hand threatened to go to sleep. But with thirteen arms interlaced (Ibrahim’s free arm controlled the steering-wheel) we prevented the car from falling apart, nor could any passenger fall out without the knowledge of the others” (p 122).

Quote I needed to quote: Here’s an example of romance in the desert. Faris says to his love, “The blade of my dagger reminds me that I shall never be at peace until the slender blossom bends before the storm of my love” (p 61).

Author fact: Raswan took all of the photographs featured in Black Tents of Arabia.

Book trivia: There are a generous number of photographs in Black Tents of Arabia. I counted over 65 photographs and they are remarkable.

Nancy said: Pearl said Black Tents of Arabia is “a hymn of joy and affection for the nomadic life” (p 25).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called Arabia Deserta” (p 23).


Unicorn Hunt

Dunnett, Dorothy. The Unicorn Hunt. New York: Vintage Books, 1999.

Reason read: to continue the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month. 

If you are keeping track, it is now mid 15th century and the world, especially Europe, is standing on the doorstep of modernism. Our hero Nicholas has a new name. He is now Niccolo de Fleury. If you remember from Scales of Gold he married Gelis (the woman who had a love-hate relationship with him). She might have had a child with his archenemy, Simon de St. Pol. Gelis, instead of seeking revenge for Nicholas supposedly killing her sister, is now angry with him for having a child with her. You would think Nicholas would be used to this kind of incrimination from vengeful individuals, especially the women in his life! He believes that Gelis really had his child and like a fabled unicorn, he’s on the hunt to find this child. But, does it even exist?
Despite all this Nicholas tries to be all business. Instead of gold like in the last book, he is also on the hunt for silver in Tyrol. Upon hearing rumors of treasure in Alexandria Nicholas is off again on a feverish fast paced adventure. This time, he is not the fun-loving nice guy of past books. He has an edge to him that borders on asshole. He also has special powers to divine precious metals (?!). Many readers didn’t care for this new personality or the plot, as it is utterly strange and complex. Myself, I am getting tired of him being imprisoned and tortured in every book. The betrayals don’t phase him at all.

Quote to quote: “Henry had often thought of killing his grandfather, there was so much of him, and Henry disliked all of it” (p 3). This, coming from a seven year old.

Book trivia: This is book V of the House of Niccolo series and the list of characters in The Unicorn Hunt is amazingly long.

Nancy said: this is another of Dunnett’s books Pearl said “it would be a shame” to miss out on” (More Book Lust p 80).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through Fiction” (p ).


Cry of the Kalahari

Owens, Mark and Delia. Cry of the Kalahari: Seven Years in Africa’s Last Great Wilderness. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Press, 1984.

Reason read: Mark and Delia Owens were married in the month of December. Read this in honor of their anniversary.

In 1974 Mark and Delia headed to Africa to start a research project just one year after their wedding day. Cry of the Kalahari is the story of their seven years in the Kalahari Desert. Taking turns, they share their experiences living with brown hyenas, lion prides, and unpredictable jackals, among many other animals. Because most of the animals have never seen humans before they are neither threatened or antagonized by Mark and Delia’s presence. At face value, Cry of the Kalahari is romantic and idealistic.

Admittedly, I have a few issues with Cry of the Kalahari, beginning with the trivial. One, how many times they mentioned the temperatures being 120 degrees in the shade. You are in the Kalahari desert! What did you expect?
Two, their so-called research. They went to Kalahari not really sure what they wanted to work on. When they discovered there was little known about the brown hyena they set about to learn all they could about the species, then they added jackals, and yet after Bones, a male lion, was murdered by hunters they changed their focus to protecting all wildlife of the Kalahari. By the end of the book their focus had widened to include wildebeest. How they received funding for such vague and vast research is beyond me. However, the couple is quick to point out Cry of the Kalahari is not detailed report of their research. That will show up elsewhere they promised.
My third issue is probably the most personal. They claimed over and over they didn’t want to interfere with the wildlife because it would change the validity of their research. They cried as animals starved to death outside their food-laden tent. Yet they had no problem performing a makeshift surgery on Bones, a lion who had broken his leg, or smearing motor oil on Blue, another lion who suffered from parasites. Most likely both of these animals would have died without human intervention. Essentially, the Owenes actions disrupted the circle of life in the Kalahari.

As an aside, the description of the cheetah hitting the wire fence at 70 miles an hour is heart breaking.

Author(s) fact(s): The Owenses are no strangers to the media spotlight. They have been on numerous talk shows. 

Book trivia: there is a generous selection of color photographs in Cry of the Kalahari, along with a smaller section of black and whites.

Nancy said: Pearl was actually talking about another book written by the Owenses when she mentioned Cry. Interestingly enough, in relation to Cry Pearl said Mark and Delia were “expelled from Botswana” because of this book (Book Lust To Go p 267).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Zambia” (p 266). Confessional: I deleted Cry Of the Kalahari from the true list of books I needed to read for the Challenge because Cry does not take place in Zambia.


Subtle Knife

Pullman, Philip. The Subtle Knife. Scholastic UK, 2007.
Pullman, Philip. The Subtle Knife. New York: Listening Library, 2000.

Reason read: to continue the series started in November in honor of National Writing Month.

In The Golden Compass Pullman introduced his readers to the possibility of more than one universe. He hinted there were actually three – the one we were in currently, a completely different universe and a third being a combination of the two. In The Subtle Knife we experience those different worlds first hand as Lyra and her new friend, Will Parry, move between them to escape their enemies. In The Golden Compass readers were also introduced to daemons. Now, we learn that people without daemons are without free will. They lack fear and imagination so they make perfect soldiers for the evil Mrs. Coulter. In addition to Mrs. Coulter, the otherworld of Cittagazze hides other enemies. Soul-eating Specters haunt the streets while children run wild without daemons or parents and rule Lord-of-the-Flies style. 
As Lyra and Will travel from world to world they discover the Subtle Knife, a blade that can cut through anything. It’s power has yet to be fully understood.

Author fact: Pullman helped perform the audio version of The Subtle Knife.

Book Audio trivia: The Subtle Knife won an Audie Award in 2000. 

Nancy said: The Subtle Knife is an “epic battle btween good and evil” (Book Lust p 209).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romans-Fleuves” (p 209).


Stet: a Memoir

Athill, Diana. Stet: a Memoir. New York: Grove Press, 2000.

Reason read: Read in honor of Athill’s birth month being in December.

In the editing world, stet means “let it stand” when a copy-editor wants to rescue a deletion.
To explain this book, here are Athill’s own words, “All this book is, is the story of one old ex-editor who imagines that she will feel a little less dead if a few people read it” (p 5).
The first part of Stet reads like any other job related memoir, “here is how I came into my occupation and kept it for nearly fifty years.” Athill is careful to keep her private life out of the equation until she gets to part two. Here she dishes about her favorite authors who became quasi friends in the process. The story of Jean Rhys sadden me the most.
Confessional – the didactic history of the Caribbean Dominica bored me just a little.

Quotes I liked, “Even now I would rather turn and walk away than risk my voice going shrill and my face going red as I slither into sickening humiliation of undercutting my own justified anger by my own idiotic ineptitude” (p 58) and  “Jean has been right – she was the only person who could make sense of the amazing muddle seething in those bags” (p 165).

Author fact: a Google search of Diana Athill’s name told me Athill will be 101 years old at her next birthday (on the 21st).

Book trivia: Sadly, there are no photographs in Stet.

Nancy said: the only thing Pearl said was Stet is an “interesting book about [Athill’s] career in the publishing industry” (p 163).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Me, Me, Me: Autobiographies and Memoirs” (p 163).


Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-fifth Street

Baring-Gould, William S. Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-Fifth Street: the Life and Times of America’s Largest Detective. New York: Viking Press, 1969.

Reason read: Rex Stout was born in December. Read in his honor.

Right off the bat I need to tell you Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-Fifth Street is better read after you have consumed every Rex Stout mystery starring the portly private detective. I guarantee you will have many more ah-ha moments if you already know the cases. Baring-Gould fills his book with a mountain of facts but they are oddly assembled; a veritable mishmash of all things Nero Wolfe (and Archie Goodwin).  Everything from fashion, and facial tics to food and every case in between is scrutinized. It’s as if Baring-Gould combed the pages of every mystery, never missing a single detail, to build a character profile and biography of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.
Baring-Gould also has some interesting theories. I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that Baring-Gould thinks Sherlock Holmes fathered Nero Wolfe. He draws thought-provoking connections between Holmes and Wolfe, including the similar phrases they utter.

Author fact: Baring-Gould’s first claim to fame was his analysis of Sherlock Holmes. He was the editor of the Annotated Sherlock Holmes among other publications.

Book trivia: in addition to the floor plan to Wolfe’s ground floor apartment, Baring-Gould also lays out an impressive chronology of Nero Wolfe’s movements from his birth in 1892 or 1893 to The Father Hunt case in August – September of 1967.

Nancy said: Nancy recommends reading Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-Fifth Street… if “the Nero Wolfe bug bites you” (p 226).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe: Too Good to Miss” (p 226).


The Beach

Garland, Alex. The Beach. New York: Riverhead Books, 1997.

Reason read: Thailand’s Constitution Day is observed on December 10th.

The quick and dirty plot: Richard is a young and adventurous English traveler hellbent on moving around the fringes of the world with a brazen attitude. He boasts of exploring where others fear to tread. However, on his first night in Bangkok Richard’s whole world changes after he thinks he has seen everything. His meeting with Daffy, also known as Mr. Duck, is a fateful turning point for all involved. Daffy, a Scottish traveler, ends up committing suicide but not before he leaves Richard a map of a beach he called paradise. Intrigued and unable to ignore the siren call of adventure, Richard recruits a French couple to join him and find this hidden oasis. Compared to Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Garland takes us to the beach where a group of other tourists have created a commune, complete with an off-center leader and other misfits.

Author fact: this is Garland’s first novel.

No quotes to mention.

Book trivia: The Beach was made into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio in 2000.

Nancy said: nothing except to say The Beach takes place in Thailand.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Thai Tales” (p 226).