Milosz, Czeslaw. To Begin Where I am: Selected Essays. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001.
Reason read: for the Portland Reading Challenge I needed a book from an Eastern European author.
I read To Begin Where I Am in stages.
Part One: These Guests
Part Two: On the Side of Man
Part Three: Against Incomprehensible Poetry
Part Four: In Constant Amazement
Czeslaw makes me question the meaning of history. I struggle with what becomes history and what is lost when memory fades. I guess it is a similar theory with stuff. What becomes a rare antique versus junk? The balance of life is all about contradictions and opposites. The history that flavored Milosz’s prose is World War II, the Holocaust, and exile.
The more enjoyable fragments of memory include traveling during spring break after law exams, being in nature, and the poignant portraits of his friends, mixed with descriptions of their political ideals.
As an aside, when when I was reading about the things that amazed Czeslaw I was reminded of when Kisa and I got married. We asked people to read and write something for the ceremony. My uncle stood up and talked about how different things amazed him. He mentioned cars and trees. I am pretty sure he was trying to say that the fact I found someone to marry was one of those “amazing” things.
Quotes to quote, “To kill a superphysical hunger, the best thing in a hike” (p 60), “True, from time to time one of us dropped out, shipped off to a concentration camp or shot” (p 121), “Identity crisis are thresholds in everyone’s life on which we can smash ourselves to pieces” (p 174),
Author fact: Milosz won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Milosz also wrote Issa Valley, which is on my Challenge list, and the Captive Mind, which is not.
Book trivia: Milosz’s essays range from a single page to over one hundred pages.
Nancy said: Pearl said To Begin Where I Am is an “entrée into the mind of an extraordinary thoughtful thinker” (Book Lust p 187).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Polish Poems and Prose” (p 187).
Croggon, Alison. Monsters: a Reckoning. Melbourne: Scribe, 2021.
Reason read: as a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing I occasionally review books (mostly nonfiction).
Part memoir, part commentary on the world at large, Croggon centers Monsters squarely on one of the most difficult topics of them all: family. We all have had something of a family whether we like it admit it or not. Using an irreparable relationship with her two sisters as the threat through Monsters creates the tease to keep readers engaged. We all want to know what really happened with her family. Who is the real monster? More often than not, Croggon places the blame squarely on herself with statements like I’m the bad one, I am a monster, I am a blasphemy. The woe is me attitude was tiresome. Her research into her genealogy makes one question: how responsible are we for the sins of our fathers? What about our grandfathers? Great grandfather’s grandfather? Are we, in the 21st century, beholding to catastrophes committed in the 13th? While Croggon’s essays are thought provoking, I don’t think they tell a cohesive story relevant to the mystery of her dysfunctional family dynamics.
One other observation: Croggon spends a great deal of Monsters quoting other people:
Herman Melville, Frans de Waal, A.L. Rowse, Peter Ustinov, Rachel Dolezal, Ruby Hamad, Clara Thompson, Helene Cixous, Ursula K. Le Guin, Oyeronke Oyewumi, Carl Linnaeus, Angela Saini, Friedrich Nietsche, Gillian Rose, Olwen Hufton, Alex Wright, August Strindberg, Robin Bernstien, Mircea Eliade, Ijoema Oluo, Elaine Scarry, John Berger, Wallace Stevens, Graham Robb, Edward Said, Guilane Kinouani, Alice Walker, Camile Paglia, Margaret Atwood, Heather Rupp, Kim Wallen, Sylvia Plath, Sandor Ferenezi, Naomi Wolf, Colin Burrow, St. John of Patmos, Bibi Bakare-Yusat, Mircea Eliade, Dr. Spock, A.L. Rowse, among others. Was this to demonstrate how well read Croggon is or a subliminal effort to back her arguments? She does say she wouldn’t know where she would be without books.
Final thought. I this would have been a more enjoyable read, at least for me, if Croggon didn’t beat herself up so much. I grew weary of her self-accusing herself of crimes committed, calling herself a monster repeatedly, of having no hope, often announcing her traitor status, always being in the way, or being too late.
Author fact: Croggon has won awards for her writing.
Book trivia: Monsters is categorized as a memoir.
Playlist: Antony and the Johnsons, “You are My Sister.”
Singer, Isaac Bashevis. In My Father’s Court. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1966.
Reason read: January is the month most people embark on keeping a journal. Read In My Father’s Court in honor of memoirs.
In his “Author’s Note” Singer explains his thoughts behind In My Father’s Court. He wanted readers to know he thought of it as memoir; “belles-lettres about a life that no longer exists” (p xi). I would say In My Father’s Court is a sentimental collection of essays about memory. It is the first of his many autobiographical writings. Looking back at one’s childhood is sometimes painful, sometimes awe inspiring, but always full of nostalgia. Singer is sweet remembering his family’s history.
Line I liked, “There are in this world some very strange individuals whose thoughts are even stranger than they are” (p 3). Amen to that.
Author fact: Singer is a Nobel prize winner.
Book trivia: In My Father’s Court was first published as a series of connected stories.
Playlist: “The Sons of the Mansion,” and “Welcome, O Bride.”
Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about In My Father’s Court.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 181).
Baldwin, James. Notes of a Native Son. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.
Reason read: November is National Writing Month. I chose Notes of a Native Son under the category of essays.
I have to start off by saying Notes of a Native Son was way too short. I felt that Baldwin could have kept writing and writing. His essays held such clarity and truth they could have been written last year, last month, or even last week. Ranging from an analytical commentary of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to remembering the time he was jailed in Paris for allegedly stealing a bedsheet, Baldwin expresses his place in society with the utmost frankness. The most tender of moments came when writing about his father, a man with which he had a complicated relationship.
Quotes to quote about hate, “Hate is a very fertile yet dangerous place from which to draw creativity” (p 37), and “I imagine that one of those reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain” (p 91). So true.
Another line I liked, “This seals the action off, as it were, in a vacuum in which the spectacle of color is divested of danger” (p 45).
Author fact: Did you know Baldwin was a preacher for three years, from the age of 14 to 17, or that he was a waiter at 22?
Book trivia: Baldwin talks about writing his first novel. It was interesting to hear about the process.
Nancy said: Pearl said Baldwin is an essayist not to miss.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Essaying Essays” (p 80).
Trillin, Calvin. Third Helpings. New Haven: Ticknor & Fields, 1983.
Reason read: to finish the Tummy Trilogy started in March in honor of National Food Month.
Trillin is at it again with a third and final installment of the Tummy Trilogy; another series of essays all about his idea of good eating. Third Helpings starts with Trillin’s belief that Spaghetti Carbonara should be the national dish at Thanksgiving. It’s a quirky idea, but I get his point. Fourteen essays follow.
The more I read Trillin, the more I admire his wife and her ability to travel to strange lands to eat even stranger foods without complaint, but my favorite character was Mrs. Rome. The list of food she sampled between pages 97-99 is very impressive. It is no wonder she gained nine pounds on that trip!
Irony: the last chapter of Third Helpings is about Crescent City, Florida. I guess there used to be a big catfish festival along the St. John River. At the time I was finishing Third Helpings I was in Florida, not far from Crescent City.
Author fact: According to IMDB, Calvin Trillin is also an actor. What the what? He was in Sleepless in Seattle. Mind blown.
Book trivia: Third Helpings is the final book in the Tummy Trilogy, but Trillin has also written a memoir about his father and a few books about his wife, Alice. None of those books are on my Challenge list.
Playlist: “Oh Marie,” “Tell Me That You Love Me,” “The Streets of Laredo,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “Moon Over Miami,” and “Let’s Go To the Hop.”
Nancy said: Pearl called Trillin’s essays “treasures.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food for Thought” (p 91).
Trillin, Calvin. The Tummy Trililogy: Alice, Let’s Eat. New York: Farrah, Straus and Giroux, 1994.
Reason read: to continue the series started in March for Food Month.
Calvin Trillin has an ever-patient wife. In Alice, Let’s Eat Mrs. Alice Trillin practically steals the show in every chapter she appears. She has great wit. As an example, I loved her “Law of Compensatory Cashflow.” My husband has the same law: if you save a bunch of money by not buying something, you are free to use that savings on something equally as frivolous. At the time of writing, an in-flight meal cost $33. Trillin packs his own “flight picnic” so he can spend the “saved” money somewhere else, maybe on an oyster loaf. Much like American Fried, Alice, Let’s Eat is a collection of humorous essays all about eating and finding the best food across the globe.
As an aside, I need to look up Steve’s Ice Cream in Somerville to see if it still exists.
Sound track: “Hello, Dolly.” Musically related, Trillin visited Owensboro and I couldn’t help but think of Natalie Merchant coving the song, “Owensboro.” No one knows who wrote the old folk song, but it’s a good one.
Author fact: I wanted to find some fact that was “Alice” related. I learned that Trillin and his wife were married just shy of 40 years. She passed away in 2001, just four years shy of their fortieth anniversary.
Book trivia: Alice, Let’s Eat can be read independently of any other book in the Tummy Trilogy.
Nancy said: Pearl called Alice, Let’s Eat a treasure.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food For Thought” (p 91). Curiously, Alice, Let’s Eat was not included in the index of Book Lust.
Trillin, Calvin. American Fried. New York: Noonday Press, 1983.
Reason read: March is Food Month
American Fried takes its readers from Kansas City (okay, mostly Kansas City) to New York to Louisiana and beyond on a culinary journey of “good eats” as Guy Fieri would say. Trillin approaches the subject of food and eating with humor and, dare I say, a little sarcasm? He takes a few jabs at the notion French cuisine is superior to all others. He is not one for “fine” dining and he is a man who takes his cream cheese seriously. Pardon the pun, but each essay is loaded like a baked potato: full of fun tidbits.
Not to point out the obvious but American Fried is a little dated. The price of a steak in the mid-1970s is drastically different than today.
As an aside: have you ever seen the show, “Somebody Feed Phil” on I-Forget-Which-Channel? At the end of each episode Phil Skypes with his family and shares a delicacy with them over the screen. Phil’s wife is great and while reading American Fried I wondered if Alice was anything like her.
As another aside, rugelach is Trillin’s favorite pastry. It’s very high on my list, too.
Line I liked, “Hallucinations people suffer when gripped by the fever of Hometown Food Nostalgia” (p 10-11).
Author fact: American Fried was first published as “Adventures of a Happy Eater” in 1974.
Book trivia: American Fried is the first book in the Tummy Trilogy. My edition of American Fried has a new foreword.
Nancy said: Pearl said Trillin “approaches food with humor and much gusto” and called the essays “a treasure” (Book Lust p 91).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food For Thought” (p 91). Interestingly enough, all three of Trillin’s books were left out of the index.
Scanlin, Tommye McClure. The Nature of Things: Essays of a Tapestry Weaver. Dahlonega, Georgia: University of North Georgia Press, 2020.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing.
I chose this book because I want more art and, by default, more artists in my life. I know absolutely nothing of weaving, how to or otherwise, so I suspect I read this differently than say, someone who makes his or her living by weaving tapestries. I read this simply as an admirer of a beautiful textile.
Scanlin calls her book a collection of essays, but I prefer to think of it as a memoir: the emergence of an extremely talented artist. Told mostly through the lens of photography and illustrations, Nature of Things explodes with color and creativity. Remove the visuals and the early narrative would probably not survive.
The final part of the book moves away from memoir and becomes a primer for learning the basics of weaving, complete with a glossary, clear diagrams, and a list of resources.
As an aside, I was surprised by how much I had in common with Scanlin. what inspired her in Nature of Things are the very same things that catch my attention: trees, crows, rocks, shadows, flowers, feathers, ferns, even the fine winding tendrils of vines.
Note: According to the back cover of Nature of Things, it has been on sale for well over a month now. I received my copy on October 29th, 2020.
Johnson, Kristie Robin. High Cotton: Essays. Clearwater, Florida: Raised Voices, 2020.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, this was the July 2020 selection.
While Johnson’s book is categorized as a collection of essays, her crystal clear voice trills bright honesty and makes this a captivating memoir on multiple levels: what it means to be an African American woman in the volatile twenty-first century (in addition to being the sixth generation of a family who can be trace their ancestral past to slavery in Deep South Georgia). Adding to the cultural, economic, and societal battles, Johnson is a woman with personal strife: family addictions, histories of abuse, teenage pregnancy, and ever-constant poverty. How does one explain a manicure while buying food on welfare? Why does one even need to explain? There, in a succinct nutshell, is reality of millions. Other realities include the ever-constant reminder that racism and gender bias are alive and well in our country.
My only complaint? Because the essays were so autobiographical in nature I wanted more structure in the way of chronology.
Confessional: I read On Being Human by Jennifer Pastiloff at the same time and I have to admit, their stories were so similar that I would sometimes confuse the two.
Confessional two: No. More of a question: why does one have to be a rape “victim” in order to acknowledge the bravery of an accuser coming forward? Better yet, why would acknowledging the bravery of Cosby’s accusers force one to “unearth” one’s uncomfortable truth? Couldn’t Kristie stand on the side of women who allege they fell prey to a man of wealth and power (regardless of their (or her) skin color)?
Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac: and sketches Here and There. Read by Cassandra Campbell. New York: Penguin Audio, 2020.
Reason read: Turtleback Zoo opened in the month of June. Read to honor a place that I used to love to visit. This zoo always treated their animals with such care. It has been years since I lasted visited. It could be completely different now.
There are certain books in the world you can’t help but try to read all in one sitting. They draw you in and you can’t find your way out of the pages until you reach the final words of The and End. A Sand County Almanac is one such book, especially as an audio read by Cassandra Campbell. Hour after hour would rush by as I got lost in Aldo’s world. I could hear the calling of the birds in the fields, the rattle of dried leaves in the oak trees signifying winter is on its way, and the gurgling rush of the stream as it stubbed its toes on rocks worn smooth. Leopold’s observations were so warm I couldn’t help but think if he were alive today, he and Josh Ritter would be friends.
Author fact: Leopold smoked. Okay, so it’s not the most enlightening fact, but it shocked me nonetheless. I like my naturalists without vices.
Book trivia: Barbara Kingsolver wrote the introduction to Sand County Almanac.
Nancy said: Pearl called A Sand County Almanac a “beautifully written classic.” Another interesting point. Pearl points out a section I found particularly intriguing. As Leopold saws through a fallen oak on his property he recounts historical moments the tress has lived through, ring by ring. Pearl called this section “transcendent” and I couldn’t agree more.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 500s ” (p 70).
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).
What to tell you? I spent February in a tailspin of old memories. To blame it on one singular event would be too simplistic. As they say, it’s complicated. Very. In other news I have been running! Successfully, I might add. February saw 40 miles conquered. Here are the books planned and completed:
- Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez (EB & print).
- Little Havana Blues edited by Julia Poey and Virgil Suarez (EB & print).
- The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber (EB, AB & print).
- The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (EB & print).
- All Deliberate Speed: reflections on the first half century of Brown v. Board of Education by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr (EB & print).
- Barrow’s Boys by Fergus Fleming (EB & print).
- Rome and a Villa by Eleanor Clark (EB & print).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- The 21: a journey into the land of the Coptic martyrs by Martin Mosebach (just started reading).
Leisure (print only):
- Migrations: Open Hearts, Open Borders: The Power of Human Migration and the Way That Walls and Bans Are No Match for Bravery and Hope by ICPBS.
- Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock.
- Morning Star by Nick Bantock.
- The Museum at Purgatory by Nick Bantock.
- Alexandria by Nick Bantock.
- The Gryphon by Nick Bantock.
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).
Sedaris, David. Calypso. Read by David Sedaris. New York: Hatchett Audio, 2018.
Reason read: I am participating in the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge again this year. One of the categories is “A book nominated for an award” and Calypso by David Sedaris was nominated for an Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year for 2019.
If you are not familiar with David Sedaris’s writing, please do me a favor and stop reading this review. Do yourself a favor and run out and buy yourself a copy of any one of his books. Really. Any book Sedaris has written would be good. It really doesn’t matter with which one you start your introduction.
But probably the best way to experience Sedaris is to hear him read his own work. He has a comedic timing that is impeccably smart. Coupled this with his sarcastic wit and he will have you laughing and crying at the same time. I don’t know how he makes feeding a defrosted human tumor (his own) to a snapping turtle funny, or his mother’s alcoholism, or his sister’s suicide but really truly, he does. You find yourself in awe of how he chooses to see each situation. That viewpoint translates into a keen sense of the bigger picture and the world around him. From fashion from Japan to trash picking in England, Sedaris invites you to never see life the same way again.
Line I wish I had written, “…We stayed until our fingerprints were on everything” (from The Perfect Fit).
What can I say about September? It sucked. There. I did have something to say after all. It sucked because I didn’t diverge or divulge. I like epiphanies that flash like light bulbs and bring about great catapults of change. None of that happened. I barely did anything worth mentioning except a great trip to Colorado. Then Jones died. That really sucked. What else? I didn’t run at all. That also sucked. My uncle started hospice care and do I dare mention September is the anniversary month for my grandmother, father, and high school friend’s passings. An ugly and sucky month all the way around. Silver linings: my 14th wedding anniversary and two opportunities to hear Natalie Merchant sing. Then! And then there were the books. I can’t forget the books! Here they are:
- Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden (EB & print)
- Most Offending Soul Alive by Judith Heimann (EB & print)
- Life and Times of Miami Beach by Amy Armbruster (print)
- The Workshop: Seven Decades of ther Iowa Writers’ Workshop edited by Tom Grimes (print)
- Fuzz by Ed McBain (print and EB)
- Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall (AB & print)
- The Spring of the Ram by Dorothy Dunnett (print)
- Holding the Dream by Nora Roberts (EB)
- Tandia by Bryce Courtenay (print & EB)
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Where Eagles Dare Not Perch by Peter Bridgford (EB) – finally, finally finished it!