Shields, Carol. The Box Garden. New York: Open Road Media, 2013.
Reason read: Carol Shields was born in June. Read in her honor.
In a nutshell, Box Garden paints an uneasy picture of a grown woman returning home to attend the wedding of her elderly mother. Charleen lives a very unsettled life. Divorced. Single mom. Dating. Strained relationships with everyone around her. She lives a sparse life by choice and seems incredibly fragile. However, when confronted with a series of intensely emotional situations, Charleen emerges as a surprisingly strong and capable woman.
As an aside, the very first thing that struck me about The Box Garden was the uncomfortable realization Charleen Forrest’s mother could have been my mother. I found myself highlighting passages that struck a chord with me. Every missed opportunity for a kind word, a hint of compassion. It was unnerving.
Author fact: Even though Shields was born in the United States, she is considered a celebrated Canadian author.
Book trivia: The Box Garden is one of Shield’s less popular titles.
Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about The Box Garden.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Carol Shields: Too Good To Miss” (p 197).
Young, E. H. Miss Mole. New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1985
Reason read: Miss Mole was supposed to be this quick, under 300 page easy read I could bang out in a week’s time. Instead it turned out to be a slog I put down and then forgot to pick back up…for eight weeks. Oops.
Confessional: In the beginning, I didn’t care for Hannah Mole. In the beginning I was questioning myself, was I supposed to like Hannah Mole? Possibly not, since this was included in the More Book Lust chapter called “Viragos.” After finishing the book and with careful consideration, I think I am supposed to see Hannah as an independent, plucky, middle aged woman who barges through life with integrity, wit and humor. She had a prejudice against nonconformist ministers, tells small lies (don’t we all?), and keeps secrets. The more Miss Mole’s personality blossomed, the more I admired her. Plucky! As my grandmother used to say.
As an aside, I don’t know why Hannah Mole would subject herself to being a companion for a succession of crotchety old women. As a middle aged spinster, she starts working for Reverend Corder. It seems as if she has traded in her difficult women for a pompous ass.
Line I liked, “I was wondering if the best wives are the ones who are not married” (p 41).
Author fact: Miss Mole is considered Young’s best work.
Book trivia: Miss Mole won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1930.
Nancy said: Pearl said Miss Mole was a virago you should not miss.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust from, as I’ve said several times over, the chapter called “Viragos” (p 227).
Durrell, Gerald. Birds, Beasts, and Relatives. New York: Penguin Books, 1978
Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of Humor month in April.
Birds, Beasts, and Relatives is one of those books that keeps the party going. As the second book in the Corfu trilogy, Birds includes stories previously untold in My Family and Other Animals. While the Durrell family only spent four years on the Greek island of Corfu, Gerald was able to dig around in his memory and find always humorous, and sometimes outrageous, and obviously exaggerated situations to share…much to his family’s chagrin. These stories usually involved young Gerald coming across some wild animal and insisting it become part of the family as an honorary pet (such as an owl, given to Gerald by an eccentric Countess). Interested in his natural surroundings, Gerald was guided by biologist and fellow naturalist, Theodore. It was Gerald’s keen observations about his world that held my attention.
Author fact: Durrell was a television personality and the subject of a few documentaries.
Book trivia: Birds, Beasts, and Other Relatives was actually Durrell’s twelfth autobiographical book. It is followed by The Garden of the Gods, which is also on my list.
Nancy said: Pearl included Birds, Beasts, and Relatives in a list of books which made her laugh out loud. Laughing is very good these days. In Book Lust To Go Pearl says Birds, Beasts, and Relatives is not up to “the joyful perfection of [My Family and Other Animals], but is no slouch” (Book Lust To Go p 70).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Tickle Your Funny Bone” (p 220); and from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Corfu” (p 70).
Parkin, Gaile. Baking Cakes in Kigali. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.
Reason read: the Rwanda genocide happened on April 6th, 1994. Read in memory of that event.
Respected as a skilled baker in her new Rwandan community, Angel Tungaraza also acts as a voice of reason and likes to solve her customer’s problems whether they ask for her help or not (think of a bartender or hair dresser; someone who can listen to one’s woes and offer advice for the sheer sake of chitchat). Drawing from her life in Tanzania, she manages to help her friends and neighbors in unique ways. Angel isn’t without her faults, though. She protects her reputation fiercely and can come across as snobbish when she doesn’t approve of the cake someone else has baked or designed. If the customer chooses colors and styles that are “boring” in Angel’s opinion she secretly scoffs at them. She also carries a secret shame; one that she cannot even admit to herself.
Throughout Baking Cakes in Kigali I was comparing Angela to Angela Lansbury in “Murder, She Wrote.” Only instead of murders, Angel Tungaraza muddles her way through issues such as adultery, ritual cutting, equal rights for women, and racial prejudices; tackling the aftershocks of societal catastrophes such as AIDS and the Rwandan genocide.
Author fact: Parkin also wrote When Hoopoes Go to Heaven which is not on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: Many, many people compared Baking Cakes in Kigali to Alexander McCall Smith’s series.
Nancy said: Pearl called Baking Cakes in Kigali “charming.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 8).
Durrell, Gerald. My Family and Other Animals. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1956.
Reason read: April is Humor month. If this makes me laugh through any part of Covid-19 I say bring it on!
Gerald Durrell wanted to write a serious book about the animals he encountered as a ten year old child on the the island of Corfu. Instead, his sense of humor and wacky family kept getting the better of his memories from 1935 – 1939. Instead of just documenting the creatures of his childhood, My Family and Other Animals is a hilarious memoir with some pretty unbelievable (obviously exaggerated) moments. How is it possible that eldest son, Lawrence, convinces his widowed mom to pack up their London home and transplant a family of three kids and a dog to the Greek island of Corfu? This same mom not only tolerates the critters Gerald brings into the house, but accepts them as bona fide pets. Insects, lizards, turtles, birds all join the Durrell family with hilarious results.
Best quote to quote, “I forgot about the eminent danger of being educated, and went off with Roger to hunt for glowworms in the sprawling brambles” (p 52). Typical kid.
Author fact: the list of books Durrell has written is extensive. I am only reading the Corfu trilogy.
Book trivia: My Family and Other Animals is part of a trilogy. I am reading all three for the Challenge.
Nancy said: Pearl mentioned My Family and Other Animals as one that made her laugh out loud.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Tickle Your Funny Bone” (p 220).
Unsworth, Barry. Rage of the Vulture. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982.
Reason read: March is (or was) a good time to visit Turkey. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “good time to visit” reasons, but I guess there was one straggler. Oh well.
As an aside, I am always daunted by books with lists of characters. It’s as if the author is warning the reader, “I have included so many people you won’t be able to keep up.” One character I could not wrap my empathy around was Captain Robert Markham. He’s not very lovable as the main protagonist. He doesn’t connect with his ten year old son except to see him as a rival for his wife’s affections. It’s as if he doesn’t know what to do with his boy, Henry. This fact is not lost on the kid. Meanwhile, Robert treats his wife as an ornamental yet extremely fragile vase he parades out and places front and center during social occasions. His saves his sexual appetite for Henry’s governess. He all but rapes this poor girl because he has told her his truth; his Armenian fiance was raped and murdered twelve years earlier at their engagement party. What happens when all these secrets are revealed and Markham’s world starts to unravel? It’s an interesting dilemma.
Lines that got me (and there were a lot of them so I will try to keep this to a minimum), “He seemed to live behind some contrived fence, as ill or afflicted people do” (p 22), and “He would silence this voice of consolation which sought to make his apostasy trivial” (p 231).
Author fact: Unsworth also wrote Sacred Hunger which is also on my list.
Book trivia: I could picture this as a movie.
Nancy said: In Book Lust To Go Pearl recommended Rage of the Vulture as a book written by a non-Turkish writer. In More Book Lust Pearl mentions Rage of the Vulture as a historical novel and describes the plot.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Turkish Delights: Fiction” (p 239). Also in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through Fiction (p 79).
Haviland, Virginia, ed. The Openhearted Audience: Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1980.
Reason read: Pearl included this in the chapter called “Your Tax Dollars at Work” and tax filing time is normally April. Read in memory of normalcy.
Openhearted Audience is a collection of essays (actually lectures given in observance of National Children’s Book Week, (in November) at the Library of Congress) by authors who primarily write books for children:
- Pamela Travers who wrote the Mary Poppins series (which is not on my list).
- Maurice Sendak who wrote so many good books (everyone knows Where the Wild Things Are). None are on my challenge list, though. I liked what he had to say about New York, “Now, the point of going to New York was that you ate in New York” (p 32). Amen.
- Joan Didion who wrote Miami, which I finished for the challenge and Play It as It Lies which will be read later. she wanted to know what it means to write for children as opposed to adults. Is there stigma attached to writing for a less developed intelligence?
- Erik Haugaard who made the point about sharing art. I have often wondered why it is important to us that people first agree, then like, our recommendations where art is concerned. the fact we can find ourselves offended when one doesn’t share our opinions, or worse, dislike the recommendation mystifies me. Even though we didn’t produce the art, write the book, or make the movie, we feel rejected somehow; as if the art we presented were our own.
- Ursula K. Le Guin who wrote The Wizard of Earthsea (her first book for children).
- Ivan Southall who said “Life is more than blunt reaction” (p 87).
- Virginia Hamilton who won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1969.
- Jill Paton Walsh who won the Whitbread Literary Award in 1974.
- Eleanor Cameron who talks of dreams.
- John Rowe Townsend who was both a critic and a children’s writer.
Author Editor fact: Haviland interviewed Sendak. I wonder what that experience was like because he seemed like a curmudgeon.
Book trivia: Openhearted Audience is full of great illustrations.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything about this selection. In fact, she didn’t pick it. A librarian from Illinois sent Pearl a list of government documents people should read and Openhearted Audience was included.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust as mentioned before in the chapter called “You Tax Dollars at Work” (p 239).
Creech, Sharon. Love That Dog. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2001.
Reason read: April is Dog month.
Watch a boy learn to love writing poetry. At first he comes across as aloof, retorting that only girls are into poetry. Don’t tell anyone I can write, he begs the teacher, Miss Stretchberry. Little by little, poem by poem, Jack’s confidence as a poet grows. It is extremely clever how Creech uses well known (and loved) poets to reach into young Jack’s mind and pull out confidence. Even though this book is only 80 pages long, every single word is golden.
As an aside, the adult in me immediately clued into Jack’s tense changing when writing about his dog, Sky. I had that sense of foreboding that only comes from a loss of innocence. Adulthood taught me to expect the worst.
Best line of all: “I think Robert Frost has a little too much time on his hands” (p 20).
Author fact: Creech is a Newbery Medal winner for a different book. Her list of published titles is impressive, but I am only reading Love That Dog.
Book trivia: This seems like a book for children, but adults could learn a thing or two from Jack.
Nancy said: the only thing Pearl said specifically about Love That Dog is that it is suited for boys and girls equally.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 21).
Lennon, J. Robert. On the Night Plain. New York: Henry Holt, 2001.
Reason read: April is Sibling month.
Grant Person is a curious character. When we first meet this protagonist, he is leaving his Montana sheep ranching family for somewhere (anywhere?) else. His whole attitude is one of ambivalence. If the train stops he’ll get on board. If not, oh well. He’ll go back to his parents and brother as if nothing happened. He has no clear direction other than he would head due east towards New York. He ends up in Atlantic City, New Jersey for some time then wanders home again when he learns his mother has died.
When Grant returns, he is the exact opposite. He comes home to a sheep ranch barely surviving. After his mother’s death, his father runs away. His brother with dreams of being an artist has one foot out the door himself. By himself, Grant becomes singular in his focus to save the farm. It’s a stark story with barely any color or light.
There were a lot of lines I really, really like. “A smile seemed to think about appearing on Cotter’s face but it never arrived” (p 55),
Author fact: J. Robert Lennon also wrote The Funnies which I have already read for the Challenge. He also wrote a series which I am not reading.
Book trivia: I could see this being a movie.
Nancy said: In Book Lust Pearl jokes Lennon is successful at setting a tragedy of Greek proportions on a failing sheep farm on the Great Plains. In More book Lust Pearl included On the Night Plain as an example of brothers who have loved and hated one another.
BookLust Twist: Pearl liked this one. From Book Lust in the chapter called “Western Fiction” (p 240); also from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Oh, Brother” (p 180).
Docx, Edward. The Calligrapher. Boston: Houghton Miffler Company, 2003.
Reason read: March is hero month. The hero in The Calligrapher is a dead poet.
I love books that have the ability to suck you into its pages. I started reading The Calligrapher and before I knew it 75 pages were devoured before I next looked up.
Onto the plot: Jasper Jackson is a classy cad. He knows his wine. He knows his fish. He knows fashion. He knows his classical tunes. As a professional calligrapher, he knows the poetry of John Donne intimately. He also cheats on women who are already labeled “the other woman.” He can’t have a monogamous relationship to save his life…until he meets gorgeous-girl Madeleine. She is everything he has ever wanted in a partner: smart, funny, sarcastic, gone from home a lot as a travel writer, and of course, so beautiful everyone stops to stare wherever she goes. Miss Perfect. Jackson is willing to give up every other fling and sexual conquest for this girl. He has met his match in Maddy. He even takes her to meet his grandmother. No other woman has had the honor. Unfortunately, the other broken hearts Jasper has trampled on to get to Madeleine just won’t go away. He needs to deal with those messes before he can come clean. But. Is it too late?
Quotes I really liked, “Time cleared its throat and tapped its brand new watch” (p 43), and “Curious how the empty eyes of a dead fish could beseech a person so” (p 224).
As an aside, I have never thought about them before, but vellum and parchment and how they’re made. Calf and sheep, respectively. Ugh.
Author fact: Docx has written a bunch of other stuff. None of it is on my list, though. Bummer. As another aside, I checked out his list on LibraryThing and was a little taken aback by the photos. He’s one of those authors who has a hunch he might, just might, be good looking.
Book trivia: This should be a movie starring Hugh Grant. Oh wait. He already did one of those cad-turned-sensitive-guy movies for Nick Hornsby.
Nancy said: Pearl made comparisons to A.S. Byatt and she described the plot. That’s it.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dick Lit” (p 78).
Winspear, Jacqueline. Maisie Dobbs. Narrated by Rita Barrington. Hampton, NH: BBC Audiobooks America, 2005.
Reason read: March is International Women’s Month. I am also reading this for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading Challenge. The category is “a cozy mystery.” I took “cozy” to mean a mystery without violence; no bombs exploding or crazy gun fights. Nothing fast paced; no cars screaming around corners on two wheels. Maybe “cozy” includes a sleeping cat or a steaming cup of tea.
Nancy Pearl should have included Maisie Dobbs in her list of characters she would like to befriend because I would like to hang out with Ms Dobbs myself. Maisie is one of those can’t-do-wrong girls that everyone, men and women alike, fall in love with. She is smart, pretty, loyal, and keenly perceptive.
We first meet Maisie Dobbs in 1910. After her mother dies, Maisie, at the age of thirteen, takes a job as a maid for Lady Rowan Compton. Living in the Compton mansion is a far cry from her father’s humble costermonger home and inquisitive Maisie can’t help but explore every richly decorated room, especially the well stocked library. Night after night she is drawn to sneaking down the stairs and taking advantage of the massive collection. When discovered, Lady Rowan does not seek punishment. Rather, recognizing a talent for learning, rewards Maisie with extensive tutoring from family friend, Maurice Blanche. Blanche is a private investigator who uses psychology and acute observation to solve mysteries. Maisie becomes his apprentice and subsequently takes over the business after Blanche’s retirement. One case takes Maisie back to her days as a volunteer nurse during the Great War. The plot takes a turn down memory lane as Maisie’s wartime ghosts are revealed. A second mystery concerning the love of Maisie’s life emerges.
War is a constant character throughout Maisie Dobbs, whether the reader is looking back to Maisie’s volunteer work as a nurse in France, or looking ahead to the mysterious retreat for disfigured veterans. The psychology of war is ever present.
Favorite line, “Dawn is a home when soft veils are draped across reality, creating illusion and cheating truth” (p 249).
Author fact: Winspear wrote a ton of books but I am only reading Maisie Dobbs for the Book Lust Challenge.
Book trivia: Maisie Dobbs is Winspear’s first novel and won an Edgar Award.
Nancy said: Pearl said Winspear does a outstanding job of conveying post-World War I English society. I would also add Winspear does an outstanding job of conveying post traumatic stress and other debilitating effects of war.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).
Faber, Michael. The Crimson Petal and the White. Narrated by Jill Tanner. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2004.
Faber, Michael. The Crimson Petal and the White. New York: Harcourt, 2002.
Reason read: Charles Dickens was born in the month of February. Read in his honor because Pearl compared Michael Faber to Dickens.
If you look at the panoramic picture, Crimson Petal and the White is a study of stark differences in 1870s London, England. Wealth and poverty. Employment and unwaged. Health and disease. Adam and Darwin. Men and women. Pious and deviant. Sane and deranged. Amidst all of this contradiction, we follow nineteen year old prostitute, Sugar. Desperate to lift herself out of the proverbial and literal gutter, Sugar prides herself on knowing how to please a man in more ways than just sexual; with great wit and cunning she appeals to a gentleman’s intellect. Men know to ask for her by name as she instinctively knows their every desire and willingly delivers. Is it an act? When left alone, she serenely spills venom in the form of writing a novel about a sex worker serial killer. She relishes every dagger plunge, every rat poisoned ravaged breath, every weak and begging man at her heroine’s mercy. Is this where the original Aileen Wuornos was born?
Nevertheless, for all outward appearances Sugar knows a thing or two about job security and makes herself indispensable to one wealthy man, perfume magnate, William Rackham. She becomes the “other woman” who has an ear for a man’s business troubles, as well as his family woes, and sexual discord. She takes great care to learn his business, then learn his life. All the better to insert herself into every corner.
The curious thing about Faber’s characters is that I didn’t care one way or another about them for most of the book. I wasn’t bothered by Rackham keeping a prostitute mistress (a la Pretty Woman). I didn’t feel bad for his young and mentally fragile wife, Agnes. I found Rackham’s brother, Henry, annoying. In the beginning, I only rooted for the cat, Puss. That changed neat the end of the book, but I can’t tell you why. Just read the book. Better yet, listen to the audio. The narration is great!
Lines worth mentioning, “Nothing, he finds, causes more inconvenience than a death, unless it be a marriage” (p 473).
Author fact: Faber has also written some short story collections, not on my Challenge list. As an aside, his brooding author photo reminded me of not one, but two ex-boyfriends.
Book trivia: Crimson is a hefty 800+ pages long and is often compared to Franzen’s The Corrections or Charles Dickens. Sundance made The Crimson Petal and the White into a series.
Nancy said: Pearl basically spells out the plot, but my favorite part is when she uses the word “guttersnipes.” Brilliant.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “A Dickens of a Tale” (p 72).
Clark, Eleanor. Rome and a Villa. New York: Atheneum, 1962.
Reason read: Eleanor Clark died in the month of February. Read in her memory.
Even though the last time Clark visited Rome the year was 1974, you cannot help but daydream of traveling to the ancient city when you read Rome and a Villa. I started a mental checklist of everything I hoped to see, should I get there myself: the 124 steps of Santa Mana Aracoeli beside the Campidoglio, feral cats scattering in the rain, the Piazza Vittorio, the famous Trevi Fountain which was funded with a second tax on wine, and capable of moving 80,000 cubic meters of water per day.
Clark even opened my eyes to the Roman influences here in the United States: Penn Station in New York City; how it was designed with the Baths of Caracalle in mind.
Beyond architecture and tourist draws, Clark paints pictures of influential individuals like Julius Caesar and Hadrian. She meanders with her narrative and is sometimes difficult to follow, but worth it if you can stick with her.
Author fact: Clark was a native of Connecticut, right down the road from me. Her dust jacket photograph reminds me of a great-aunt I used to know.
Book trivia: Rome and a Villa was illustrated by Eugene Berman. They’re pretty spectacular.
Nancy said: Pearl said Rome and a Villa is for the traveler. I think it would be interesting to reread Rome and a Villa after a trip to Rome, just to compare notes.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Roman Holiday” (p 188).
Poey, Delia, and Virgil Suarez, eds. Little Havana Blues: A Cuban-American Literature Anthology. Houston: Texas: Arte Publico Press, 1996.
Reason read: the current Cuba reformed constitution was put into place in the month of February of last year.
Little Havana Blues is a unique anthology comprised of fifty poems, twelve short stories, three plays, and eleven essays. The introduction argues that Cuban-American literature is not new to the 1990s. Because most published works were in Spanish, the emergence of Spanish-English sheds a whole new light on the literature. The “Spanglish” culture reverberates through every single submission.
I have to admit, the oddest story is, “The Defector” by Ricardo Pau-Llosa, a fiction about a talking capybara who lives is a bizarre zoo.
Most interesting quote from “Memories of My Father” by Omar Torres, “I don’t know why a woman would want to get married; you’re either a housewife, an old maid or a prostitute” (p 363).
I have been reading a lot about Cuba lately. I feel that learning about Cuba’s rich and troubled history helped me appreciate the submissions in Little Havana Blues.
Author Editor fact: Virgil Suarez’s writing is included in Little Havana Blues.
Book trivia: Little Havana Blues was made possible through several different grants.
Nancy said: Pearl said Little Havana Blues is an “excellent introduction to many writers who are likely to be unfamiliar to mainstream American readers” (p 68).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Cuba Si!” (p 68).
Field, Joanna. On Not Being Able to Paint. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1957.
Reason read: Field was born in the month of February. Her birthday is one day before mine. Read in her memory.
On Not Being Able to Paint is divided into five sections, the first four all relating to Free Drawing. The fifth and final section is focused on painting. Words like “psychic creativity” and “moral education” are thrown around, which makes me think I’m in for the psychobabble
ride reading of my life. I wasn’t disappointed. There is a fair amount of deep psychology in On not Being Able to Paint. Even though the slim volume is less than 200 pages, it took me forever to read. In the end, I questioned if the obstacles which prevent one from painting are not the exact same “blocks” writers sometimes complain of experiencing when unable to write. Sure enough, Field is connecting free drawings with the self conscious.
As an aside, the first edition of On Not Being Able to Paint was written for educators. The second edition (my version) includes an appendix and Anna Freud’s foreword. I appreciated that Field was able to recognize that emotional drawing is not completely devoid of influence and that she shouldn’t be so fixated on depicting beauty for beauty’s sake.
Confessional: I was a bit disappointed by Field’s “art.” The illustrations were childlike and well, for lack of a better word, weird. As Field explains, and I said earlier, they are “free drawings” that helped her connect to the self conscious. I hope she was successful.
Quote to quote, “And the result was a sense of false certainty, a compulsive and deceptive sanity, a tyrannical victory of the common sense view which always sees objects as objects, but at cost of something else that was seeking recognition, something more to do with imaginative than with common sense reality” (p 76). Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Whatever that means!
Author fact: Joanna Field was the pen name of Marion Milner.
Book trivia: Illustrations are by Joanna Field, aka Marion Milner. Forward by Anna Freud.
Nancy said: Pearl said On Not Being Able to Paint was a later favorite of hers.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the cheating chapter called “The Book Lust of Others” (p 33).