Ragtime

Doctorow, E.L. Ragtime. Plume, 1996.

Reason read: Emma Goldman was born in June. Read in her memory.

Rich in historical fiction, Ragtime will parade past its readers men like Sigmund Freud, Winslow Homer, Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Theodore Dreiser, and Booker T. Washington.
All walks of life thrive within the pages of Ragtime. The sideshow freaks of the Barnum and Bailey circus, the curse of the Egyptian mummies, the advent of the Model Ford, the destruction of Tammany Hall, sexual fainting was a thing, segregation was strict in parts of the country, there was human trafficking by a different name, Robert Peary’s quest for the Arctic, L.L Bean boots, the Stanford White shooting, Charles Dana Gibson was asking the eternal question, the anarchist Emma Goldman, even Emiliano Zapata. At the center of this turn-of-the-century drama is ten years of one family. Their business is fireworks and flags and while they are profitable in business, they are poor in happiness. Everyone is undergoing personal strife. It isn’t until a seemingly abandoned black child wanders into their midst, followed by the depressed mother and musician father when things start to perk up.

Best lines: none because I am too lazy to seek permission. Blah, blah, blah.

Author fact: E.L. stands for Edward Lawrence.

Book trivia: Ragtime was made into a move starring James Olson in 1981. Of course I haven’t seen it.

Playlist: with a name like Ragtime you know music will be mentioned. Al Jolson, Scott Joplin’s “Wall Street Rag” and “The Maple Leaf”, Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody”, John McCormack’s “I Hear You Calling Me”, and “The Liberty Bell March”.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Ragtime except to describe a little of the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “American History: Fiction” (p 22)


Ghosts of Walter Crockett

Crockett, W, Edward. Ghosts of Walter Crockett: a Memoir. Islandport Press, 2021.

Reason read: as a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I review books from time to time. I chose this one because it takes place in Portland, Maine. A city know and love very well.

Let me be upfront and honest. Crockett’s words will make you wince. If you have an alcoholic in your life, his words will ring truer than you can to admit. If you have poverty in your life, his words will ring truer than you can to admit. If you have ever had to struggle on the dark side of town, his words will ring truest of all. Crockett might not be the most elegant of writers, but he is one of the most honest and engaging authors I have read in a long time. He does not shy away from his own faults and failures. The moral of the story is that everyone has a story. I hope he keeps writing. I think he has more to say.

As an aside, there was a lot I could relate to in Ghosts of Walter Crockett. I have stood on dirty, moldy carpets in dark, dank homes where the smells of blood, shit, vomit and mold fought for dominance in my nose. I have eyed hardened piles of crap and wondered which of the eighteen animals was responsible at the same time trying hard not to let the possibility of human involvement creep into my mind.
Even more specific, I have spent a great deal of time in Portland, Maine. I knew it before it became boutiques and big time. I know some of the establishments Crockett referenced. I dated someone who graduated from Chevrus (this guy also pledged Sigma Nu). I know Togus as my grandfather died there. Even more personal: my father quit school after the eighth grade, but instead of hitching from Maine to New York City, he did the south to north route. My mother never got her license to drive either.

Playlist: Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady Tonight”, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind”, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”, “Jail House Blues” by Elvis, “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin, “Rags to Riches” by Tony Bennett, and the Beatles’ classic, “Let It Be”. Jonathan Edwards, Irish Rovers, Carole King, Elton John, Rolling Stones, the Cars, Aerosmith, and James Taylor.


Snapper

Doyle, Roddy. The Snapper. Penguin Books, 1992.

Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of St. Patrick’s Day and Ireland.

I can safely say most everyone knows about Doyle’s first novel, The Commitments. It was made into a pretty good movie and had a phenomenal soundtrack. I am willing to bet more people know the music than the book or the movie combined. The Snapper is like an episode of Seinfeld where a whole lot of nothing happens to an ordinary group of people. The plot centers around the fact Jimmy Rabbitte’s sister is pregnant. If you remember Jimmy Rabbitte, Jr., he was the guy who started the band, the Commitments. He wanted to be a manager of someone famous in the worst way. Remember how, in The Commitments he was always practicing his interview? In The Snapper his dreams have changed slightly. Still looking for fame, he now wants to be a disc jockey. But enough about Jimmy Jr. This time he isn’t the lead character. He is firmly in the background while his sister, Sharon Rabbitte, takes center stage as a twenty year old unwed mother-to-be. Like The Commitments, the dialogue carries the story. Family members and friends all try to guess the baby daddy. I felt bad for Sharon’s highly emotional and confused father. One day embarrassed about who knocked up his daughter, the next reading everything he can about what she is going through. The Snapper gives a spot-on account of the good, bad, and ugly elements of pregnancy.

Author fact: Doyle has also written books for children.

Book trivia: The Snapper is the next book in the trilogy, but can easily read on its own. Aside from the Rabbitte family, there is nothing to tie The Snapper back to The Commitments.

Playlist: Jennifer Rush’s “Power of Love,” “The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music,” “Just a Spoonful of Sugar,” Bon Jovi, Curiosity Killed the Cat, Tina Turner, Victor Sylvester, Alison Moyet’s “Is This Love,” Alexander O’Neil’s “Fake,” and James Brown’s “Living in America.”

Nancy said: Pearl thinks of Doyle when she thinks of Irish fiction.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Irish Fiction” (p 125).


Face the Fire

Roberts, Nora. Face the Fire. Jove Books, 2002.

Reason read: to finished the trilogy started in February in honor of Valentine’s Day and love and romance and cheesy chick lit.

To recap the trilogy: Nell came to Three Sisters Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, looking to escape an abusive husband (a la Sleeping with the Enemy). She found a sisterhood of witches with Ripley and Mia and true love with Ripley’s brother. In the second installment, Ripley, the witch with the biggest chip on her shoulder needed to chill out. She found true love with a witch researcher. In Face the Fire, it is Mia’s turn to find her true love. The only problem is, her true love is someone who walked away from her many years ago, leaving deep scars and a toughened exterior. While I appreciated the fact Mia’s story ran through the earlier installments, I was disappointment when she decided she could have a sexual relationship with long lost love, Sam. Like the other plots in the Three Sisters Island trilogy, there is an element of evil that must be vanquished before anyone can live happily ever after.

Book trivia: Face the Fire is the last book in the trilogy.

Playlist: “Sea of Love” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say much about Face the Fire except it was out of chronological order in Book Lust.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p 203).


Monsters

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.”


In My Father’s Court

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).


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Smith, Betty. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005.

Reason read: I needed a book for the Portland Public Library 2022 Reading Challenge in the category of “A book that makes you feel hopeful for the future.” I don’t know why, but this one does.

It was pointed out that in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn nothing happens. There is no over-the-top drama involving sex, violence, or rock and roll. Instead, A Tree is a simple and honest story about what it means to be human. Harsh realities about poverty, crime, alcoholism, life, and death are not ignored or sugarcoated. I would argue that something does happen in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. A little girl comes of age. In the summer of 1912 Francie Nolan was a scrappy eleven year old. At the time, her best friend was a tree that seemed to like poor people. By the end of the story, Francie has lost her father, gained a baby sister, managed to find her way to college, and started to date. It is a story of hope.
One of my favorite moments was when Francie understands for the first time she can read and the fact she would never be lonely again. Books would be her companions for any circumstance. Another favorite scene was when Francie graduates and she receives roses from her deceased daddy. It broke my heart.

Confessional: The scene when Katie is playing the piano with the children bothered me. Neely starts to sign and it is noted his voice is starting to change. It is then that Francie remarks, “You know what Mama would say if she were sitting here now?” Where did she go? She was just playing the piano. I think Smith meant Johnny. Johnny was the one who was missing from the scene.

Signs of the times, “He was a boy, he handled the money.” The candy store was a boys store and Francie had to wait outside while her brother bought her candy.

Phrasing I adored, “ground-down poor” and “helpless relaxation.”

Author fact: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has such clarity it is impossible to ignore its autobiographical nature. Rumor has it, Smith originally wrote the story as a memoir but her publishers urged her to fictionalize it to reach a wider audience. Could they not handle the truth?

Book trivia: My edition had a foreword by Anna Quinlan. She compared Francie to Jo March, Betsy Ray, and Anne of Green Gables. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was also published in an Armed Services edition. The wartime copy was specially sized to fit in a soldier’s rucksack.

Playlist: because Francie’s father is a singing waiter there were lots of great tunes mentioned in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: “There are Smiles That Make You Happy,” At the Darkstrutters’ Ball,” “When You’re a Long, Long Way From Home,” “My Wild Rose,” “Hello, Central, Give Me No Man’s Land,” “You’ll find Old Dixieland in France,” There’s a Quaker Down in Quaker Time,” Ted Lewis’s “For When My Baby Smiles at Me,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” (a song I can remember my mother singing while she vacuumed), “Molly Malone,” “The Soldier’s Chorus,” “When I Get You Alone Tonight,” “Sweet Rosie O’Grady,” “She May Have Seen Better Days,” “I’m Wearin’ My Heart Away for You,” “Ave Maria,” “Beautiful Blue Danube,” “At the Devil’s Ball,” “My Sweetheart’s the Man in the Moon,” “Kerry Dancers,” “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” Harrigan, That’s Me,” “The River Shannon,” “Holy Night,” “Star Spangled Banner,” “Schubert Serenade,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Call Me Up Some Rainy Afternoon,” Handle’s “Largo,” Dvorak’s “New World Symphony,” Verdi, Walter Wildflower, “O, Sole Mio,” “Some Sunday Morning,” “Auld Lang Syne,” “Silent night,” “Annie Laurie,” “Last Rose of Summer,” “Sweet Adeline,” “Down By the Old Mill Stream,” “A Shanty in Shantytown,” “When You Wore a Tulip,” “Dear Old Girl,” ” I’m Sorry I made You Cry,” “Over There,” “K-K-Katy,” “The Rose of No Man’s Land,” “Mother Macree,” and “The Band Played On.”

Nancy said: Pearl called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn a “classic coming-of-age” story.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Girls Growing Up” (p 101).


Tangerine

Bloor, Edward. Tangerine. New York: Scholastic Signature, 1997.

Reason read: I needed a one-word title for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Tangerine, Florida seems like a strange and dangerous place to live. Constant lightning strikes in the afternoons, continuous underground muck fires, and resulting sinkholes plague the community. That’s not all. Prized koi fish are mysteriously disappearing from the community pond. Swarms of mosquitos are so thick, trucks with choking pesticides spray daily as if on war patrol. Multiple houses need fumigating because of termites. Then the robberies begin…and the vandalism and graffiti.
Paul Fisher and his family have recently moved to this unstable area and all middle-schooler Paul wants to do is make the soccer team. Despite having a disability (he is legally blind), he is an excellent goalie. He just needs a chance. Since all eyes (pun totally intended) are on Paul’s older brother, Eric, the high school football star destined for greatness, that chance seems slim. Everyone adores Eric so why does Paul fear his brother so much?
Tangerine stuns the reader with harsh realities usually missing from young adult novels. Publishers Weekly said “it breaks the mold” and I agree one hundred percent. Confessional: some scenes were so harsh I found myself catching my breath.

Line that gave me pause, “Eric was as phony as he needed to be” (p 57). Little did I know how telling that line would be.

Author fact: Bloor has written a bunch of books but I am only reading Tangerine for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Tangerine is Bloor’s first novel. My edition has an introduction from Danny DeVito.

Playlist: “Try to Remember.”

Nancy said: the only thing Pearl said specifically about Tangerine is that it is more appropriate for boys than girls.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23).


Monkeys

Minot, Susan. Monkeys. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2000.

Reason read: Even though Monkeys isn’t about animals, I am reading it in honor of the television series “All Creatures Great and Small” first airing in the month of January. In addition, I needed a one-word title for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Monkeys was the term of endearment Rosie Vincent called her large brood of seven children. Cheerful and sometimes silly, Rosie was the glue that held this chaotic family together. When she is tragically killed the children are left to deal with their grief. Sometimes they are forced to parent an alcoholic father who can’t focus on his responsibilities (but manages to remarry in a year). As a stand alone novel of vignettes Monkeys may seem disjointed and fuzzy; not very well thought out, but when you consider Monkeys as a transparent autobiography, it makes way more sense. Minot herself has six siblings. Her mother was killed at a train crossing, exactly like Rosie Vincent. The first story (told in first person) could very well be Minot herself reliving her childhood memories. The rest of the stories are in third person and might be true events about her siblings.
As an aside, it would be interesting to read Monkeys along with with the works of her sister (The Tiny One) and brother (The Blue Bowl) for comparison.

One quote to quote, “One evening, Mum asked her to promise she wouldn’t commit suicide until she was eighteen” (p 81).

Author fact: At last check, Minot lived in Maine.

Book trivia: Monkeys is Minot’s first fiction.

Playlist, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”

Nancy said: Pearl said that Monkeys was one perspective on growing up in a large, dysfunctional New England Catholic family.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “All in the Family: Writer Dynasties” (p 5).


The Sound and the Fury

Faulkner, William. Novels 1926 – 1929: The Sound and the Fury. The Library of America, 2006.

Reason read: December is Southern Fiction month. Luckily, this is the last Faulkner I have to read.

I wish I could say I adored The Sound and the Fury. I feel like I have an obligation to at least like Faulkner’s writing style because it is so close to another author I actually love, James Joyce. Faulkner appears to be heavily influenced by the Irish author.
Even though Sound got easier and easier to read as I went along, I couldn’t like the characters. Getting into the minds of the three Compson brothers didn’t help. Benjamin, Quentin, and Jason’s narratives all blur together and become one complicated and tangled stream of consciousness. I learned early on that the trick to Faulkner is to remember chronology is of little importance, the duplicity of names can be confusing, and for The Sound and the Fury, you must be comfortable with themes of mental illness, incest, and suicide. Virginity is a commodity in southern fiction. The moral of the story is every tree has a few secret nuts.

Lines I found myself liking: “She approved of Gerald associating with me because I at least revealed a blundering sense of noblesse oblige by getting myself born below the Mason and Dixon, and a few others whose Geography met the requirements (minimum)” (p 947), and “Honeysuckle is the saddest odor of all, I think” (p 1007). Not a line, but I liked the random illustrated eye.
As an aside, I would like to see the Sound and the Fury movie. I think I might understand the plot a little better if I did.

Author fact: Faulkner skipped the second grade and his surname used to be spelled without the ‘u.’

Book trivia: the appendix includes 46 years of Compson history, some helpful and some not so much.

Nancy said: Pearl called all of Faulkner’s novels “enduring.” Just how they endure, I don’t know.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern Fried Fiction” (p 205).


Spartina

Casey, John. Spartina. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.

Reason read: Read in respect for the December storms that batter the New England coastline.

Rhode Islander Dick Pierce suffers from a throat-strangling envy of the rich people who flock to his touristy seaside town of Narragansett every summer. His mistress calls it “class-rage.” Money, or the lack of it, makes Dick an ornery man. Most of the time he is able to control his disdain for the wealthy nonsense, but every once in awhile his temper will flare. It is difficult for him, as a year-rounder, to make a back-breaking living as a commercial fisherman while watching his neighbors folic in the house his family used to own. With a wife and two sons to support Dick knows he needs to captain his own vessel to bring in a better profit. He can’t make ends meet crewing for someone else. His saving grace is a 50-foot boat he calls Spartina he has been slowly building in the back yard. Now all he needs is an engine. Desperation to put Spartina in the water leads Dick down a dangerous path of foolish choices and regrettable actions. Drugs, adultery, theft. Nothing is off limits when a man is driven.
Confessional: I couldn’t decide if I liked the main character.

Author fact: Casey has a very intimate knowledge of boats, down to the very last detail. He is from Worcester, just down the road from me.

Book trivia: the history of Rhode Island is threaded through Spartina. It was unexpected to get a little lesson on the Narragansett tribe and their intended use of wampum.

Playlist: “Autumn Leaves,” “Yellow Rose of Texas,” “Maybe, Baby,” “Stars and Stripes Forever,” Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison.

Nancy said: Pearl said “You could do far worse than spend a reading life perusing books by Iowa’s distinguished MFA alumni…” (Book Lust p 107).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. First in the chapter called “Ecofiction” (p 78) and again in “Growing Writers” (p 107). Even though Pearl included this in a chapter called “Ecofiction” it didn’t rule the plot.


Unsheltered

Kingsolver, Barbara. Unsheltered. New York: HarperCollins, 2018.

Reason read: I needed a book for the Portland Reading Challenge in the category of “A book you have yet to read by an author you love.” Kingsolver is it.

Contrary to the title of the book, this is the story of one particular shelter – a house called Vineland that sheltered two different families over 140 years apart. A house that stood the test of time until it couldn’t.
Modern day: Willa and Iano’s marriage is unsheltered from harsh realities. Behind Willa’s every thought of Iano is a trace of disappointment. He doesn’t respect her privacy. He is hardly the breadwinning husband even though she is the out-of-work journalist. As a professor with adoring students and a history of infidelity, Willa cannot trust him. Adding to the stress Iano’s very ill father has come to live with them in their condemned (no longer sheltering) house. Then there is Willa’s son. Zeke has his own share of trouble. His live-in girlfriend has committed suicide, leaving him with a newborn son and a pile of debt. Helene was the one with the income while Zeke was a student at the Harvard Business School. Guess who is left to care for the newborn? This is the opening shot across the bow for Unsheltered. Kingsolver delves into so much (so much!) more as the story unfolds. Historical plot follows the life of real-life naturalist Mary Treat and her quest to study the world around her. Charles Darwin has page time and even the nomination of a tyrant for a President of the United Sates gets a mention. I don’t want to say anymore except that Kingsolver is a master of words.

Lines I loved, “The silence has extended beyond her turn to speak” (p 2), “Marriages tended to harden like arteries, and she and Iano were more than thirty years into this one” (p 37), “The dangerous allure of novelty might have sparked this torment, but in the eye of the storm they held on hard to the world they knew” (p 242).

Author fact: I follow Kingsolver on the insty and she takes breathtakingly beautiful pictures.

Book trivia: Despite loving this book it took me a really, really long time to read.

Playlist: Nikki Minaj, Beyonce, Steely Dan, David Bowie, Keith Jarrett, “Tea for the Tillerman,” “Into White,” “Moonshadow,” “Hard Headed Woman,” and “Wild World” by Cat Stevens.


Three Junes

Glass, Julia. Three Junes. New York: Pantheon Books, 2002.

Reason read: November is National Writing Month so I chose Three Junes in honor of the category of debut novel.

You start Three Junes by following widower Paul McLeod on a guided tour of Greece where he meets a woman who will change the course of his life. Six years later Paul’s passing brings his sons, Fenno, and twins, Dennis and David, to Scotland for his funeral. Fenno, a normally reserved New York West Village gay man, faces a family he barely knows while remembering a father he has always wanted to know better. Both of his brothers are married and living very different lives. The mourners who approach Fenno present difficult choices. For a good chunk of the book Fenno’s story is told in first person, bouncing back and forth in time as we follow his complicated relationships with cerebral friend, Mal, dying of AIDS and sexy photographer, Tony, who remains uncommitted despite near daily sexual encounters.
Speaking of Tony, he appears in the last chunk of the book as Fern’s lover. This relationship circles the story back to Paul, as Fern was Paul’s chance encounter in Greece. Artfully written, Glass plays with chronology and people’s emotions. You want unreachable resolutions and conversations that don’t or won’t happen.

Quote I liked, “There the letter ends, as if he wrote himself over the cliff” (p 55).

Author fact: Three Junes is a debut novel for Julia Glass.

Book trivia: “Collies,” the first section of Three Junes was originally a novella and earned Glass the 1999 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Medal for Best Novella.

Playlist: “Flowers of Scotland,” “Gone Away,” Gome to the Ground,” “Skye Boat Song,” Lotte Lehman, Pavarotti, Streisand, Bee Gees, Gershwin, Porter, Jerome Kern, Gene Kelly’s “‘S Wonderful,” Kenny Rogers, Stravinsky, Copeland, Hendrix, Holiday, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by Bob Dylan, Elton John’s “Daniel,”, Maria Callas’s “Violetta,” Bette Midler, Van Morrison, Lyle Lovett, “100 Years From Today,” and “And If I Were Like Lightning.”

Nancy said: Pearl included Three Junes in her list of “wonderful books.”

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Maiden Voyages” (p 158).


House of the Spirits

Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits. New York: Everyman’s Library, 2005.

Reason read: read in honor of the ghosts…just in time for Halloween.

The House of the Spirits begins with a letter to a hundred year old grandfather. Meet the del Valle family. Clara del Valle has paranormal powers as every magical realism book must have. Clara predicts her sister’s death by poison and is traumatized into muteness by the autopsy (wouldn’t you if you saw your sister cut open?). The generational story goes on to include more crimes against humanity in the form of adultery, rape, whippings, curses, maiming, and murder. Balanced with all that grief is an undeniable love story. Passion abounds between the harshness.
As an aside, my favorite character of them all was Rosa de Valle. Born with green hair she is thought to be a mermaid and was murdered early in the story.

Author fact: Allende write a letter to her 99 year old grandfather and The House of the Spirits was born.

Book trivia: I always find it really interesting when novels (or art of any kind) that end up being huge successes are at first rejected. Allende and Van Gogh have that in common.

Nancy said: Pearl said The House of the Spirits offers “a picture of Chile that’s suffused with love (and a bit of magic)” (Book Lust To Go p 115).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Magical Realism” (p 148) and from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “It’s Chile Today” (p 114).


Everything That Rises Must Converge

O’Connor, Flannery. Everything That Rises Must Converge. New York: The Library of America, 1988.

Reason read: September is Southern Writers Month.

Flannery O’Connor’s short stories are like the crack of the whip dangerously close to your head. Sometimes humorous, sometimes peculiar, often times violent, but always breathtakingly true. Imagine the nervous laughter that bubbles up when you realize that whip has missed your face. You laugh because you want it to be a skillful miss as opposed to a clumsy mistake. Imagine the quirkiness of characters who are dangerously misunderstood. There is always something a little sinister about O’Connor. She enjoys the abrupt turn of events that take her readers by surprise. She holds us witness to the good, the bad, and the ugly of humanity.
Everything That Rises Must Converge is a compilation of nine short stories:

  • “Everything That Rises Must Converge” – we start with the discomfort of a mother’s obvious prejudice.
  • “Greenleaf” – a fight over property and propriety.
  • “A View of the Woods” – a punch to the gut when you least expect it.
  • “The Enduring Chill” – another tale about an overbearing mother.
  • “The Comforts of Home” – mother and son disagree about taking a brash girl into their home.
  • “The Lame Shall Enter First” – a widower tried to take in a second son with horrible results.
  • “Revelation” – another story heavy on the racism.
  • “Parker’s Back” – a man obsessed with tattoos
  • “Judgement Day” – an elderly and racist father is terrified of dying in New York City.

Quotes I liked, “There was a continuous thud in the back of Asbury’s head as if his heart and got trapped in it and was fighting to get out” (p 565), and “Behind the newspaper Julian was withdrawing into the inner compartment of his mind where he spent most of his time” (p 603), and “In addition to her other bad qualities, she was forever sniffing up sin” (p 655).

Author fact: Flannery O’Connor died too young at the age of thirty-nine. Imagine the books and stories she could have written had she lived to a hundred!

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Everything That Rises Must Converge in “Growing Writers” or “Southern Fiction” but she did mention O’Connor as a great fiction-writer and a classic.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. Once in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107), and again in the chapter called “Southern Fiction” (p 222).