February’s Finale

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:

Fiction:

  • 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).

Nonfiction:

  • 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.

February Fixed

I am consistently running (yay). My head is finally screwed on straight – somewhat (yay). Things are not perfect but I can say February is mostly fixed.

Fiction:

  • The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber – in honor of Charles Dickens and his birthday being in February. Weird, I know.
  • Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez – in honor of my childhood.
  • Little Havana Blues: A Cuban-American Literature Anthology edited by Virgil Suarez and Delia Poey – in honor of Cuba’s reformed constitution.
  • The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley – in honor of February being friendship month.

Nonfiction:

  • Rome and a Villa by Eleanor Clark – in honor of Clark’s birthday.
  • All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half Century of Brown v. Board of Education by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. – in honor of February being Civil Rights month.
  • Barrow’s Boys: A stirring Story of Daring, Fortitude, and Outright Lunacy by Fergus Fleming – in honor of Exploration month.

Leisure:

  • Making Tracks by Matt Weber – a Christmas gift from my sister.

Farthest North

Nansen, Dr. Fridtjof. Farthest North: the Incredible Three-Year Voyage to the Frozen Latitudes of the North. Edited by Jon Krakauer. New York: Modern Library, 1999.

Reason read: Peary’s birth month is in May. From one traveler to another…

Nansen’s journey, from June 24th, 1893 to April 7th, 1895, took him to the farthest reaches of the North Pole. Blessed with the support of the Norwegian government and the King of Norway, Nansen set sail with ample provisions, able men and strong sled dogs. Farthest North is Nansen’s first person account of the adventure, complete with journal entries and fantastic photography and drawings. A word of warning to the animal lovers: Nansen’s no-nonsense approach to killing various animals is harsh. I had a hard time with how he described shooting a curious seal.
Aside from his expedition, Nansen was a fascinating character. He invented a new type of sled for traversing the Arctic terrain. He was a biologist who worked with nature. His theory for success was to allow his ship, the Fram, to become trapped in the ice. The Fram was built to withstand the pressures of the ice floes and move with the fluctuations so as not to be torn apart. However, while Nansen was smart about the construction of the Fram, he was not so clever concerning the rising tides that ended up swamping his boats at one point of the expedition.
To keep busy during the ice entrapment, Nansen established a music factory, repairing much loved instruments. By default, Nansen’s love of forward progress transferred to his crew. To keep busy for the sake of industry, when the ship’s doctor didn’t have patients to see he set up a book binding business to care for the well used library.
Even though he failed to reach the true North Pole Nansen was the first one to cross Greenland successfully.

As an aside, I love a scientist who uses the technical word, “ugh.”

Favorite lines, “A good library was of great importance to an expedition like ours, and thanks to publishers and friends, both in our own and in other countries, we were very well supplied in this respect” (p 33), and “You can hear the vibrations of your own nerves” (p 228).

Author fact: Nansen won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with displaced victims of World War I. He was considered a great humanitarian.

Book trivia: Farthest North includes a biography of Nansen as well as an introduction to the text by Roland Huntford and three maps of Franz Josef Land.

Nancy said: Pearl said Farthest North would “fit the bill for armchair travelers” (p 233).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “To the Ends of the Earth: North and South (the Arctic)” (p 233).


Spring Pages

I will be traveling for part of May so who knows how many books I’ll be able to read for this month. Here is the list I will attempt:

Fiction:

  • Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson – in honor of May being Wilson’s birth month.
  • Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs – in honor of Graphic Novel month being in May.
  • Mariner’s Compass by Earlene Fowler – in honor of May is Museum Month.
  • Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor- in honor of May being Music Month.
  • Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters – in honor of the first Thursday in May being Prayer Week.
  • Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian – in honor of my father’s birth month. As a kid he read this book.
  • Five Children and It by E. Nesbit – in honor of May being Nesbit’s birth month.

Nonfiction:

  • Farthest North by Fridtjof Nansen – in honor of Peary’s birth month being in May. From one explorer to another.

Series continuations:

  • Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in January in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
  • Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope – to continue the series started in honor of Trollope’s birth month in April.

Cherry

Wheeler, Sara. Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard. New York: Random House, 2002.

Reason read: Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard was part of Robert Falcon Scott’s final trip to the Antarctic. Scott was born in March. Read in his honor.

This was the age when everyone wanted to get to a Pole. North Pole or South Pole, it didn’t matter. For Apsley Cherry-Garrard, his expedition was to the South Pole with Robert Falcon Scott (Scott’s second journey).
Antarctica fueled the competitive spirits of Robert Falcon Scott and his expedition as they constantly compared their experiences in the Antarctic to Shackleton’s and kept a close eye on reports of Amundsen’s progress a short distance away. I am not going to review the events of what happened during this particular expedition as everyone is well familiar with Scott’s demise. Let’s focus on Cherry.
After the expedition Cherry’s life was consumed by his experiences. His opinion of Scott changed several different times as the reality of what he lived through sharpened. The expedition gave him purpose in life (writing a book and lecturing about it) while haunting his sleep and stunting his ability to move on from it. He predicted that large government-funded science stations would pop up in the Antarctic. He specifically mentioned Ross Island as a location for such a station. Wheeler does a fantastic job painting a sympathetic portrait of a complicated man.
As an aside, I am trying to imagine the amount of gear one would take to the South Pole. It boggled my mind that Scott would ask Cherry to learn how to type and to bring two typewriters even though no one else knew how to use them.

As another aside, wouldn’t it be terrible to name your pony and then have to eat him later?

Quotes to quote, “If you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore” (Cherry’s own words, p 218) and “They decided to marry before gas masks were permanently strapped to their faces” (p 259).

Author fact: Wheeler is an Arctic explorer in her own right. I have of her books on my Challenge list: Evia, Terra Incognita, Too Close to the Sun, and Travels in a Thin Country.

Book trivia: Wheeler includes a modest set of photographs not only of the expedition but of Cherry’s childhood and later years. My favorite was of Cherry at one of his typewriters.

Nancy said: Pearl called Cherry a “great” biography.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “To the Ends of the Earth: North and South (Antarctica)” (p 235).


Arctic Grail

Berton, Pierre. The Arctic Gail: The Quest for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole, 1818 – 1909. New York: Viking, 1988.

This is a “take two” book. I started it in 2011 and didn’t finish it. Didn’t even come close. I think I borrowed it too late in the month of February and realized I couldn’t read all 600+ pages before the start of March. This time I was smart and ordered it before February 1st so that I could start reading it on the very first day of the month (which was a neat 25 pages per day).

The Arctic Grail: the Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818 – 1909 is exactly that – an extensive and wide angled look at the explorers who took on the quest to find the North West Passage between 1818 and 1909. A variety of influential characters are detailed, starting with Sir John Ross and William Edward Parry and ending with Frederick Cook and Robert Edwin Peary. Parry, probably the most unique of the group, was young (only 29), big into keeping his crew entertained with music, theater and even a newspaper. He was also deeply religious. “His greatest accomplishment was his understanding of his crew and his determination to keep them healthy in mind as well as body” (p 34). Other explorers were drawn to the Arctic despite wanting family lives. Several married just before embarking on trips that would take them away from their new brides for several years. The obsession to find the North West Passage was strong and unyielding. This obsession almost takes on a quality of mental illness for some of the explorers, risking the health and even lives of their ships and crew. When John Franklin goes missing his wife, Lady Franklin, becomes just as obsessed with finding him.

Favorite and/or intriguing lines, “The British Navy was never comfortable with dogs” (p 43) and “She devoured books (295 in one three-year period) – books on every subject: travel, education, religion, social problems…” (p 122) and the sentence that sums up the obsession, “He was..obsessed with the Arctic, a quality that more and more seemed to be the prime requisite for would-be northern adventurers” (p 345).

Reason read: in honor of the birth (and death) month of Elisha Kent Kane, one of the medical officers in the British Royal Navy who attempted to find lost Navy officer Sir John Franklin. He intrigues me because he was a crowned a hero despite the fact several of his crew revolted.

Author Fact: Towards the end of Berton’s life he admitted he had been a recreational pot smoker for over 40 years. He even went on a Canadian television station to “educate” people on how to roll a joint correctly. I Kid You Not. It’s on YouTube. Funny stuff.

Book trivia: With Arctic Grail cataloged at 672 pages long this book was very heavy to carry around. I left it in the office and made sure I read 30-40 pages every lunch break.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Here Be Dragons: The Great Explorers and Expeditions” (p 110).


Undaunted Courage

Ambrose, Stephen E. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

This is not your ordinary retelling of the Lewis and Clark expedition. This is not the regular, run of the mill, same old story. Undaunted Courage is a different perspective of the story often told in the history books. While elements of the expedition are rehashed like interactions with the Native Americans, obstacles relating to weather, terrain and health, and supply management (how could they not?) Ambrose focuses mostly on the collaboration between Commander in Chief Jefferson and Captain Lewis. He tries to get inside the head of Meriwether Lewis to portray thoughts and feelings beyond what was written in the surviving journals and notes, thus making the text more conversational in tone. Because President Jefferson considered the expedition to be Lewis’s gig Clark is mentioned where necessary and never becomes a focal point of the story. To make sure the reader is completely aware this is a Lewis story Ambrose continues it beyond the famous expedition and details Lewis’s devastating suicide.

Favorite lines, “Lewis took his advice and became a great hiker, with feet as tough ass his butt” (p 30), “It was always cold, often brutally cold, sometimes so cold a man’s penis would freeze if he wasn’t quick about it” (p 191), and a startling observation about Lewis, “My guess is that he was manic-depressive” (p 312).

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Lewis and Clark: Adventurers Extraordinaire” (p 137).


Short Walk in the Hindu Kush

Newby, Eric. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. New York: Penguin, 1986.

I think the most endearing aspect of A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush is the fact that Eric Newby readily admits he had no idea what he was doing when he and a friend decided to explore the Nuristan mountain range in Afghanistan. With very little training and an unclear vision of what was in store, Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush is little more than a witty, humorous journal. Yet, almost by default it offers intelligent, observant insight into Afghan cultures and terrains few Westerners have ever experienced. Newby begins his tale with the idea of exploring the Hindu Kush mountain range. Recruiting his friend Hugh, they “practice” climbing by scrambling up and down a rock face in Wales. There they learn the tools and of trade and suddenly they are experts. From there, with tongue-in-cheek humor, Newby delightfully journals their subsequent adventures in northeastern Afghanistan.

Best funny lines: “He sounded almost shocked, as if for the first time he had detected in me a grave moral defect. It was a historic moment” (p 30) and “I smothered an overwhelming impulse to ask him why we had come this far to find out something he already knew, but it was no place for irony; besides, the view was magnificent” (p 149).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Armchair Travel” (p 24).


September 09 is…

Because I’m still up to my eyeballs in this hiring thing I have a huge, ambitious list but I doubt I’ll actually get to all of them. I ended up with two classics, though:

  • The Reivers by William Faulkner ~ in honor of Southern Gospel month
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka ~ in honor of (supposedly) the best time to visit Kafka’s homeland, the Czech Republic
  • The Johnstown Flood  by David G. McCullough ~ in honor of hurricane season (and we’ve already had two blow up the coast)
  • Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler ~ in honor of “real character” month (guess I’ll have to elaborate on that during the review. Even I’m not sure what I mean by that!
  • Out of the Blue: the Story of September 11, 2001 From Jihad to Ground Zero by Richard Bernstein ~  need I say why?
  • Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby in honor of National Travel Month

 

For LibraryThing Early Review – just got word that I received one for September. Yay. I won’t name the book until it  actually shows up on my doorstep. I’ve had two no-shows so far and nothing is more disappointing that planning to read an exciting book and not have it arrive! 😦

For fun ~ nada. Although I heard Monhegan made it into Yankee magazine. I’ll have to check that out at some point.


August ’09 Was…

For the sake of sanity I have to recap the entire summer. Summer as we think of it in terms of the calendar, not the temperature. June. July. August.
June can only be thought of as a dark and hellish tunnel. In that case, July was the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. As a result, August was not only getting out of the dark and hellish tunnel but moving as far, far away from it as possible. August was an amazing month!

August was music (loved the Avett Brothers and had a great time at Phish). August was homehome with my best boys. August was also a group of good, good books:

  • The Moviegoer by Percy Walker ~ interesting story about a man watching life go by rather than living it.
  •  Turbulent Souls: a Catholic Son’s Return to his Jewish Family by Stephen J. Dubner ~ this was fascinating.
  • The Professor and the Madman: a Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester ~ another fascinating nonfiction with great illustrations.
  • The Mutual Friend by Frederick Busch ~ a novel about Charles Dickens that I couldn’t really get into.
  • Those Tremendous Mountains: the Story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition by David Freeman Hawke ~ another nonfiction, this time about the Lewis and Clark Expedition (like the title says).
  • Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Expery ~ all about war-time aviation.

For the Early Review Program:

  • Sandman Slim: a Novel by Richard Kadrey ~ absolutely crazy good book.
  • Off the Tourist Trail: 1,000 Unexpected Travel Alternatives ~ an amazing travel book! Really beautiful!
  • Finished reading Honeymoon in Tehran by Azadeh Moaveni ~ part political, part personal, this was great.

For fun:

  • My First 100 Marathons: 2,620 Miles with an Obsessed Runner by Jeff Horowitz ~ funny and informative, too!
  • Running and Being by George Sheehan ~ funny and sarcastic and informative all at once!

Those Tremendous Mountains

Hawke, David Freeman. Those Tremendous Mountains: the Story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1980.

Confession time: I thought I would be bored to hell and back by this book. History was never my strong point, even if I was supposed to relate to it. Ancestry or not, I couldn’t relate to anything historical. Those Tremendous Mountains was a different story. I was really amazed by how much I enjoyed it. To say that I loved every page wouldn’t be far off the mark. Hawke blends the diaries, notes and sketches of Captains Meriweather Lewis and William Clark with his own narrative to create a lively and creative account of the famous duo’s expedition. It is not a dry retelling of the trials and tribulations of traversing  daunting mountain ranges. It is a portrait of desire, courage, friendship and loyalty. Thanks to a very specific and detailed charge by Thomas Jefferson to count every tree, flower, river, animal, and weather condition along the journey and both Lewis and Clark’s insatiable desire and curiosity to discover the world around them they documented thousands of species never seen before, making their expedition that much more famous than those gone who had before them. Their curiosity for every new plant and animal they encountered gave them a wealth of information to send back to the President. Hawke also carefully portrays Lewis and Clark as humanitarians with a keen sense of diplomacy when dealing with the Native American tribes they encountered. Knowing they would need help crossing the Rockies Lewis and Clark made sure to have plenty of gifts for the natives. Bartering for the things they needed came easier with a show a respect rather than force. 

Probably my favorite parts in the book were the displays of friendship between Lewis and Clark. While President Jefferson continuously called it Lewis’ expedition, Lewis insisted Clark was his equal and it was their expedition. Even after Jefferson downgraded Clark’s rank from captain to second lieutenant Lewis the men on the expedition “never learned of his true rank and always called him Captain” (p 51). Probably my favorite lines comes at the end: “By then the trust  between them was complete and remained so to the end” (p 248). 

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust n the chapter called ” Lewis and Clark: Adventurers Extraordinaire” (p 136).


Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek

Cunliffe, Barry. The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek. New York: Walker & Co,. 2001.

I have to admit that this little 178  page book took me by surprise. If the photographs and maps were removed it would be shortened to 166 pages. Take out the “further reading” section and all the quoted text and you would be left with only 156 pages (approximately) which meander just as much as Pytheas’s exploration. A good chunk of those remaining pages have large segments on periphery details like tin smelting and the electrostatic qualities of amber. Unfortunately for ancient history enthusiasts there isn’t much to refer to for first hand accounts of the travels of Pytheas. Unlike Cook or Columbus, the writings of Pytheas did not survive to present day. All that is left are the numerous documents either quoting Pytheas or written about Pytheas. Such as this book.

Favorite lines: None.

BookLust Twist:  From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Here Be Dragons: The Great Explorers and Expeditions” (p 111). Note: On The Ocean by Pytheas is also mentioned in this chapter. For obvious reasons I won’t be reading it.