Little Life

Yanagihara, Hanya. A Little Life. Penguin Random House, 2015.

Reason read: two reasons really. One, because I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of “A book published in the last ten years [I] think will be a classic.” Two, because my sister sent this in the mail. If you know the book then you know it is over 800 pages. I can’t believe she mailed it to me. I (selfishly) would have waited until she was in town if the roles were reversed.

To be one hundred percent honest, A Little Life disturbed me though and through. While on the surface the story follows the lives of four college friends, they all have serious issues that border on all-out tragedy. Living in New York and trying to make a go of different careers, it is terrifying to watch their weaknesses chew them up and spit them out one by one. At the same time, there is something unnervingly beautiful about their friendships despite vastly different upbringings. At the center is Jude. Beautifully broken Jude. At times I wanted to hurl his story out the window in seething frustration. He doesn’t want to talk about his life. He is a mystery. He can’t talk about his parents of ethnic background for fear of betrayal. He can’t navigate stairs and needs an elevator. He cuts himself to the point of suicidal. He’s not white and doesn’t mention his childhood. He’s always in pain, wearing leg braces or using a wheelchair. His injury is not from an accident but something deliberate. He is a glutton for punishment beyond human sanity. He went to same law school as his friend Malcolm’s dad. He is the most beautiful of the group; and the most sly. He doesn’t like to be touched. Yet, he is a loyal-to-the-core friend. Like a many-layered onion, the reader peels back the mystery that is Jude. When you get to his core you’ll wish you hadn’t. The abuses he suffers are so numerous and varied; each one more horrifying than the next that you have to ask yourself, how much trauma can one soul take?
Jude’s loyal and loving friends:
Willem: He is always hungry. He is good looking but not as beautiful as Jude. He is from Wyoming and both of his parents are dead. He’s not a big drinker or drug user. He works in a restaurant and his brother, Hemming, is disabled. He’s also an actor who, in the beginning, gets mediocre parts. His fame is a source of wonderment.
J.B (Jean-Baptiste): Like Willem, he is always hungry. He lives in a loft in Little Italy and works as a receptionist. He fancies himself an artist that works with hair from a plastic bag. His mother pampers him ever since his father died. Internally, he competes with his peers. He is sleeping with Ezra and has an artist studio in Long Island City. He is the proverbial “I don’t have a drug problem” denying man. He can’t give up his college days. They all can’t.
Malcolm: He never finishes his Chinese takeout, but he always orders the same thing. He lives with his parents and has a sister named Flora. He is taking a class at Harvard.
Digging into the meaning of friendship there was one concept that had me rattled. The potential for friends to outgrow one another. I have experienced it and Dermot Kennedy wrote a whole song about it, but I don’t think anyone has written about it so eloquently as Yanagihara.
Here is another confessional: this took me ages and ages and ages to read. There is a lot going on with many, many characters. Like extras in a movie, these people don’t amount to much, but at the time they were introduced I couldn’t be sure. I wanted to commit every single one to memory, but the parade of people was dizzying: Andy, Annika, Adele, Ana, Avi, Alex, Ali, Charlie, Carolina, Caleb, Clement, Clara, Dean, David, Dominick, Ezra, Emma, Fina, Findlay, Gabriel, Gillian, Harold, Hera, Henry, Isidore, Jansz, Jason, Jackson, Joseph, Jacob, Julia, Kerrigan, Lawrence, Luke, Lionel, Liesl, Lucien, Laurence, Merrit, Massimo, Marisol, Meredith, Nathan, Oliver, Peter, Phaedra, Pavel, Robin, Richard, Roman, Rhodes, Sally, Sonal, Sullivan, Sophie, Topher, Thomas, Treman, Zane. I could go on and on.

Quote to quote, “He could feel the creature inside of him sit up, aware of the danger but unable to escape it” (p 138).

Playlist: Haydn Sonata No. 50 in D Major.

Author fact: Yanagihara graduated from Smith College. Too cool.

Book trivia: Little Life is Yanagihara’s second book.

Kafka on the Shore

Murakami, Haruki. Kafka on the Shore. Translated by Philip Gabriel. Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

Reason read: I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of a book whose author is someone I identify with. Murakami is a runner. I’d like to think I am, too.

Kafka on the Shore is a mystery. Exactly who is Kafka Tamura? In the beginning of the story all we know is that Kafka isn’t this boy’s real name and he is a teenage runaway. Why he left his father is a mystery. All we know is that life with dad was terrible. Somewhere out there is an adopted sister (six years older) and a mother; both who have been missing for years. Is there a connection? Why did his mother disappear with the adopted daughter and not take her natural born son? Who is Crow? An imaginary friend who lives in an alternate metaphysical reality?
Nakata is an aging simpleton. His backstory is even more of a mystery. As a child he was involved in the Rice Bowl Hill Incident of 1944. A group of school children were allegedly hypnotized after seeing a silver duralumin object glint in the sky. Most of the children woke up soon after the incident but Nakata stayed in a coma. As an adult, Nakata finds cats with master skills and is able to predict weird phenomena like fish and leeches falling from the sky. Word of warning: Nakata gets involved with a strange character. His scene with the cats is highly disturbing to an animal lover. but then again, I am the kind of person who needs to change the channel because I can’t bear those uber-long ASPCA commercials with the sad music.
At some point these two characters come together metaphorically, but their journey to this point is like a winding labyrinth full of unusual characters like Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders and a stone Nakata must talk to. Kafka on the Shore will take you through a modern Oedipus Rex tragedy.

As an aside, I liked the characters of Oshima and Hoshino. Oshima drives Kafka two and a half hours over the mountains to a place to stay saying, “it’s a straight shot, it’s still light out, and he has a full tank of gas.” Only, in reality it is a five hour drive, it won’t be light out when he gets home and that tank of gas will be long gone. Hoshino goes to remarkable lengths to help Nakata with his mysterious quest, even quitting his trucking job to be a chauffeur. That is the true definition of a selfless friend.

Lines I liked, “He wasn’t sure why, but striped brown cats were the hardest to get on the same page with” (p 71), and “Why do hundred of thousands even millions of people group together and try to annihilate each other?” (p 359).

Author fact: I have three other of Murakami’s books on my Challenge list: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and A Wild Sheep Chase but there are plenty more out there.

Setlist: Cream’s “Crossroads,” Duke Ellington, Beethoven’s “Ghost,”, Beatles’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” , Berlioz, Beach Boys, Hayden, Led Zeppelin, Liszt, Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” and “Sexy Motherfucker,” Radiohead’s “Kid A,” Rolling Stones, Rubinstein, Heifetz and Feuermann Trio, Schumann, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, Wagner, Schubert’s Sonata in D Minor, Wagner, “Si, Mi Chiamano Mimi,” Mozart’s “Posthorn Serenade,” “Edelweiss,” and “As Time Goes By.”

Nancy said: Pearl said the plots to Murakami’s novels are not easy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Japanese Journeys” (p 116).

Invisible Man

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Vintage, 1995.

Reason read: February is National Black History Month.

Invisible Man’s nameless southern protagonist forces the reader to run the gamut of emotions: by turns we are frightened, touched, shocked, amused, even pitying and hopeful. When we first meet him, he lives on the hem of society in an unused part of the basement of a building for whites. He steals shelter and electricity like a boogeyman. He is truly invisible. There comes a point in time when he tries to reach the light by going to college only to be expelled after being accused of offending a white man. Invisible again. Through various trials and tribulations this nameless young man finally makes it to New York where he is confronted with the reality of his race. His lack of identity allows him to be mistaken for someone else. As he becomes more and more invisible, the more and more I wanted him to rage against it. The problem is, when you are a young black man trying to escape the white man’s thumb in the 1940s, rage is the last emotion you are allowed to express. Every endeavor leads him closer to destruction. Like a horror movie, I wanted to read Invisible Man with one eye closed against all the gross misunderstandings prejudice and racism can bring.

Quote to quote, “The light is the truth, and truth is the light” (p 7).

Author fact: Ellison was a literary scholar and essayist in addition to a novelist.

Book trivia: Modern Library called Invisible Man one of the top 100 novels of all time. Others have used words like monumental and epic to describe it. It won a National Book Award in 1953.

Playlist: Louis Armstrong’s “What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue?” Dvorak’s New World Symphony, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Old Man river,”

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Invisible Man except to include it in a list of one hundred good reads.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1950s” (p 177).

On Death and Dying

Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. Scribner Classics, 1969.

Reason read: February is Psychology month. Also, I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of a book published in the year I was born. There you go.

How do you look someone in the eye and tell them they are dying? Sure, every single one of us is dying by increments every single day. Some of us will die tomorrow, without warning. No fanfare. But, how do you tell someone they will die in a month? In a week? Days? On Death and Dying is exactly that, a chance to talk to terminally ill patients; to have a candid talk about what it means to moving towards death sooner rather than later. Kubler-Ross and her students interviewed over 200 patients towards this end. I think it is safe to safe we know what emerged from this seminal work:
Stage One: Denial and Isolation
Stage Two: Anger – the “Why Me?” stage.
Stage Three: Bargaining – not a lot to say about this stage except to say it is very childlike in believing you can strike a deal with a higher power to avoid death.
Stage Four: Depression (the stage I think I would live within the longest).
Stage Five: Acceptance. This is the most difficult of all the stages to reach. Even after achieving acceptance, it is easy for the patient to revert back to an earlier stage such as anger or denial. Stage five is also difficult for the patient’s loved ones. How many families see a patient’s acceptance as resignation or a loss of will to live? One must remember there are defense mechanisms as well as coping mechanisms at play.
My biggest takeaway from reading On Death and Dying is how the more training and experience a physician had, the less ready he or she was to become involved in Kubler-Ross’s interviews. It is as if they lost the ability to see the patient as a human with a right to know their terminal future. We need to bring compassion back at every level of care.

As an aside, my husband could rattle off the five stages of grief as if he had sat in a Psychology class yesterday. He explained the anacronym I had never heard before, DABDA.

Quote to quote, “If a patient is allowed to terminate his life in the familiar and beloved environment, it requires less adjustment for him” (p 48).
Favorite quote, “Those who have the strength and the love to sit with the dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body” (p 276).

Author fact: Kubler-Ross died in 2004. As an aside, I cannot help but wonder what Dr. Kubler-Ross would have thought about Covid.

Book trivia: On Death and Dying has been translated into twenty-seven languages.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about On Death and Dying except to explain how the book was constructed.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 100s” (p 63).

Pasta Mike

Cotto, Andrew. Pasta Mike: a novella about friendship and loss. Black Rose Writing, 2021.

Reason read: as part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I was chosen to review this book.

As soon as I saw the mention of Talk Space in Cotto’s book, I knew this would be a hard read. While Pasta Mike is supposed to be fictional it reads as one hundred percent reality. The first person narrative makes the reader feel as though Cotto himself is sitting down and talking, talking, talking about his best friend, Mike. Like a one man play or a nonstop monologue, it read so real that I refused to believe any of it was imagination. Grief is a hard mountain to climb and Cotto does not shy away from the struggle or the damage that struggle can do. The writing flows easily and fast and, in my opinion, Pasta Mike was over too soon. Cotto could have filled one hundred more pages with memories of Mike.

Playlist: Frank Sinatra

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Cokinos, Christopher. Hope is the Thing with Feathers: a Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds. Jeremy A. Tarcher/Putnam, 2000.

Reason read: February is Feed the Birds Month. I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s the coldest part of winter?

Cokinos spent ten years researching the life and subsequent extinction of six birds: Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, Labrador Duck, Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, Heath Hen, and the Great Auk.
I find it terribly sad that no one knows the exact date of the demise of the Carolina Parakeet, but then again that’s probably true of many extinct species. Right? How do we really know when we have seen the very last whatever? Here are details from Hope is the Thing with Feathers that will stick with me for a very long time: the Heath Hen has been compared to the Greater Prairie Chicken for their myriad of similarities. Their mating sounds are practical identical. Is that why no one took the extinction of the Heath Hen seriously? Were they so abundant they fell victim to overhunting; were they that easy to massacre? Is that what happened to the Passenger Pigeon? The cruelty inflicted on these birds was difficult to read. Cokinos gets into the question of cloning. Can you clone a species which has gone completely extinct? Can we have a Jurassic Park moment on a less dangerous scale?
Besides hunting, another factor wreaking havoc on bird populations was deforestation. Singer Sewing Machine purchased the nesting grounds of Lord God birds. Then they sold the rights to logging companies who cleared the land, destroying everything in its path. This happened over and over again.

Quotes to quote: “He also played sad songs on his flute” (p 62), “…thus the titanic vanishing of the Passenger Pigeon concluded, finally, on the bottom of a cage in the middle of a city busy with commerce and worry about war” (p 267), and “We ought not underestimate the elegance of individual decisions coupled with communal actions – a bird seen, a refuge protected, a vote changed – especially as they accumulate one by one, the way barbs and barbules of a feather hold together” (p 334).

Author fact: Cokinos is an excellent researcher. The amount of time and effort that went into verifying the shooting of the past Passenger Pigeon was astounding.

Book trivia: the title of the book comes from the title of my favorite Emily Dickinson poem.

Playlist: Steve Lawrence, “Maple Leaf Rag,” and the sound of birds singing.

Nancy said: Pearl explains the plot of Hope is the Thing with Feathers.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Bird Brains” (p 40).

Motown

Estleman, Loren D. Motown. Bantam Books, 1991.

Reason read: to continue the Detroit series started in honor of January being the month Michigan became a state.

It’s 1966, thirty years later and a whole generation after Whiskey River. The times, they certainly are different. The Supreme Court now demands a search warrant to tap phones. Seatbelts are a thing. Dean Martin has a talk show. The American Steelhaulers Association is a very powerful labor union. What will they think of next? In the midst of all this, protagonist and ex-cop Rick Amery is down on his luck. Only 37 years old and he doesn’t have a stable place to live or a decent paying job. So when Big Auto comes calling to hire him to go undercover, it’s an easy decision. Plus, he loves, loves, loves cars. He loves cars. Did I mention he loves cars? His job is to spy on a safety organization. A guy named Porter is a big advocate of anything that will make the consumer stay a little safer in an automobile. He’s out to expose Big Auto’s shortcuts because they have started cutting back on safety to beef up horsepower, like making smaller brake drums to make room for a bigger engine.
Old characters from Whiskey River like Joey Machine are legends in Motown. Constantine “Connie” Minor is back as a lawn mower salesman having quit the journalism business twenty years before.
Like Whiskey River Estleman pays tribute to the auto and clothing fashions of the time: Sting Ray Corvettes, Volvo, Ramblers, Studebakers, Chevy Impala, Mercedes, VW Beetle, Corvair, Cobra, Camaro Z28, Excaliburs, denim, gaberdine, wool, mother of pearl, suede, silk, loafers, leather, wingtips and wide lapels.
True to the times, Estleman does not shy away from racism and often using language that wouldn’t be politically correct for this day and age: “Nigger killings off Twelfth Street aren’t exactly Commissioner’s priority” (p 48). Hard words to read, but a reality of the 1960s.

As an aside, I agree with Mike Gallente about boxed pasta when he explains, “Directions say 8-10 minutes but that’s at least 2 minutes too long” (p 209).

Lines I liked, “Napoleon was on Elba for only ten months, and he didn’t have TWA” (p 141), “Why don’t you just drop your pants and use a ruler?” (So Enid says on page 152). “Ouzo was slightly less treacherous than the Viet Cong” (p 231), and “He drove down the straight, smooth shotgun barrel of his thoughts, not paying attention to anything outside, trusting his hands on the wheel and his feet on the pedals to guide him scratchless through the physical world” (p 269).

Author fact: Estleman also wrote a mystery series starring a character called Amos Walker.

Book trivia: Motown takes place thirty years after Whiskey River.

Play list: “Blowin’ in the Wind,””House of the Rising Sun,” “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Summer in the City,” “The Quest,” Smokey Robinson, Sammy Davis Jr., Stevie Wonder, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” Cab Calloway, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Dean Martin, Eartha Kitt, Elvis, Little Richard, Petula Clark, Nancy Sinatra’s “these Boots Were Made for Walking,” the Supremes’s “Itching My Heart,”, Otis Redding, the Miracles, Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Beach Boys’s “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Freedom Road,” Lou Rawls, Little Anthony, “Praise Ye Lord,” the Temptations,” Barry McGuire, Pat Boone, and Frank Sinatra.

Nancy said: Pearl said to read Jitterbug after Whiskey River. I’m reading Motown because it was written directly after Whiskey River. Not sure if I’m right or not.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: the Literary Midwest (Michigan)” (p 26).

Perelandra

Lewis, C.S. Perelandra. Scribner, 2003.

Reason read: January is National Science Fiction month.

Every time I read a science fiction of Lewis’s I can’t help but think of The Wardrobe series and how it could have easily been written in an even more fantastic manner. Instead of an unknown land beyond a wardrobe, the children could have landed on a completely different planet in a completely different universe. But I digress…
Perelandra is a Planet of Pleasure (Venus) where strange desires give way to shameless naked beauty much like the Garden of Eden. Meanwhile, Evil is trying to create a New World Order. Sound familiar? Religion is heavy-handed and ever present in Lewis’s work. Perelandra is either orgasmic or hellish; hideous or beautiful. The colors are vibrant and throbbing: gold and green oceans and silver flashes across the sky. That was the element of Perelandra I liked the best. The imagery was fantastic.
Here’s a stereotype: Ransom needs to travel naked like so many other time travelers. I guess clothes are hard to transmute through time and space.

Author fact: I don’t think I have mentioned this before, but Lewis was an academic.

Book trivia: Perelandra was also called Voyage to Venus.

Nancy said: Pearl put Perelandra in the category of fantasy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).

Dickey Chappelle

Garofolo, John. Dickey Chappelle Under Fire: Photographs by the First American Female War Correspondent Killed in Action. Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2015.

Reason read: I was supposed to review this book as part of the Early Review Program with LibraryThing way back in 2015. The book never arrived, but the entry lingered still on my spreadsheet in an irritating way. In an effort to clean up loose ends, I decided to read and review it. I’m glad I did.

This book will haunt you. Made up primarily of Georgette Louise Meyer, aka Dickey Lou Chappelle’s amazing wartime photography, her eye on humanity will move you to tears. As she journeyed around the world, from the Pacific theater of World War II to the rice paddy fields of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, her images captured a raw humanity more seasoned photographers failed to notice. By her own standards, her photography skills weren’t perfect, but nor did she care. Her fighting spirit shimmered in the images. I had never heard of Dickey Chappelle before reading this book. In truth, it was someone else’s final photograph of Dickey that will make Ms. Chappelle, the woman and not the photographer, unforgettable to me.

Author fact: John Garofolo used to be in the entertainment industry.

Book trivia: Dickey Chappelle was slated for a stage production. Not sure what happened to the idea.

Rebecca

Du Maurier, Daphne. Rebecca. Harper, 1938.

Reason read: as a “romance” I chose Rebecca for Valentine’s Day. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge, I chose it for the category of a book where a house is featured predominantly. Manderley is that house.

I took Rebecca to Florida for a five day trip and in that short time I devoured the entire book from start to finish. I can see why it has never gone out of print. Rebecca is a true psychological thriller that doesn’t need blood and gore to make it creepy. Even though the ghost of Rebecca never makes an appearance, you can feel her presence in every scene. In a nutshell, a young and inexperienced traveling companion falls in love with a much older widower while vacationing in Monte Carlo. Before meeting him, she heard all the rumors about how his wife tragically drowned in a sailing accident less than a year prior. She has heard all about his palatial estate, Manderley, handed down from generation to generation. Rather than travel on to New York as a companion, Mr. de Winter asks our unnamed heroine for her hand in marriage. And so begins the adventure. No one really likes the new Mrs. de Winter and Rebecca’s ghost seems to be everywhere thanks to Mrs. Danvers, the former Mrs. de Winter’s personal assistant. Danny just won’t let Rebecca die. While Rebecca does not make an appearance anywhere in the novel, her presence is felt everywhere.

As an aside, I wish Daphne Du Maurier was still alive to answer questions about Rebecca. Actually, I have questions about both the book and the character. The first Mrs. de Winter fascinates me.

Author fact: Du Maurier won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century with Rebecca.

Book trivia: My edition of Rebecca included a note from the editor, an author’s note, and the original epilogue.

Nancy said: in Book Lust Pearl said Rebecca is an annual read for some fans. In More Book Lust Pearl mentioned liking the opening line to Rebecca.

Setlist: Destiny’s Waltz, the Blue Danube, Merry Widow, Auld Lang Syne, Good Save the Queen.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p 203). From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lines That Linger; Sentences That Stick” (p 140). Lastly, from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cornwall’s Charm” (p 71). You can always tell when Pearl likes a book. She mentioned it either a bunch of times in one Book Lust or it makes its way into all three.

Dance Upon the Air

Roberts, Nora. Dance Upon the Air. Jove, 2001.

Reason read: Valentine’s Day is in February. Read Dance Upon the Air in honor of love.

I always read romance novels with a grain of smirk. I can get easily irritated by fluffy characters and airy dialogue. For example, Dance Upon the Air: who hires a complete stranger at first sight, lends them money, gives them a house, and puts them in charge of a business inside a ten minute conversation? A witch, that’s who. Of course. Having another character point out this generosity weirdness doesn’t make it any more believable until you remind yourself (again) that Mia Devlin is a witch and she’s totally comfortable giving a stranger control of her bookstore bakery. She more than knows what she’s doing when stranger “Nell” shows up in her bakery and announces she knows how to bake, run a business, and charm the socks off everyone she meets.
Nell is on the run. But, this is a romance novel so of course there is the hunky (and very single, of course) sheriff of the island who knows Nell is not Nell. However, he’s sexually attracted to her (of course he is) so he’s not about to scare her off with his suspicions. There needs to be the overly tough, slightly rebellious sister who is, by the way, a cop (of course she is).
In a nutshell: strange woman shows up on a small island where everyone will talk. She’s hiding out from an abusive husband who thinks she’s dead. She is so charming that by the time deadly hubby figures out where she is, the entire island is behind her. The plotline of Dance Upon the Air totally reminded me of the movie Sleeping with the Enemy, but I would have to think there are hundreds of victim-runs-away-from-abuser-to-start-a-new-life stories out there. Don’t forget the witches.

Author fact: Roberts has at least three pennames.

Book trivia: Dance Upon the Air is the first book in the Three Sisters trilogy. I am reading all three for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about the Three sisters Island trilogy except to list the three books. More on that later.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p ). Again! I am always irritated with myself when I don’t do the homework before starting a series. Pearl lists the books in the trilogy out of chronological order. Of course she lists the last title of the series first. Like a blind sheep, I borrowed the last book first. Bah, bah.

Death of a Much-Travelled Woman

Wilson, Barbara. Death of a Much-Travelled Woman. New York: Open Road, 1998

Reason read: to “finish” the series started in January.

Cassandra Reilly is back! She is still very much the translator, the “accidental, expatriate, dyke detective.” This time her adventures are contained in nine short stories from around the globe and there is a crime of some sort (mostly murders) in every one. Of interest, Wilson occasionally makes a serious commentary on the perceptions of what it means to be a feminist and the rights of lesbians as legally married couples.

  • Death of a Much-Travelled Woman
  • Murder at the International Feminist Book Fair
  • Theft of the Poet
  • Belladonna
  • An Expatriot Death
  • Wie Bitte?
  • The Last Laugh
  • The Antivariaat Sophie
  • Mi Novelista

Author fact: Barbara Wilson also writes under the alias Barbara Sjoholm.

Book trivia: This is the third Cassandra Reilly book in the series.

Nancy said: Pearl included Death of a Much-Travelled Woman in her list of contemporary series featuring female sleuths.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).

David Copperfield

Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

Reason read: Dickens was born in the month of February. Read in his honor.

David Copperfield is a classic: character driven and autobiographical in nature. Dickens illustrates the varying sides of human nature; how we all have faults. His portrayal of young David as a naïve child is brilliant. I could picture the boy being unreasonably afraid of a large bird because he acted just as I had when confronted with a gigantic angry fowl; or when Copperfield was bored at church and nearly falling asleep, slipping off his pew; or when he didn’t realize the adults were openly discussing him. His innocence is at the heart of his personality. As David matures and enters adulthood he learns relationships often fail and the motive of some people are not always pure at heart. Malicious people are everywhere. In the end (and I do mean the very end) Copperfield finds true happiness.

As an aside, I heard that the audio book read by Richard Armitage is very good. I didn’t listen to it.

Author fact: I read somewhere that Dickens was born in Landport, Portsea, England. What the what? That sounds like a very interesting place.

Book trivia: David Copperfield is the eighth novel of Dickens and it is his favorite story. Maybe because it is a thinly veiled autobiography?

Nancy said: Pearl said the opening line of David Copperfield was a classic that had slipped her mind.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Lines that Linger, Sentences that Stick” (p 140).

Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years

Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years, Volume One. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1926.

Reason read: February 12th the is birthday of President Lincoln. Read in his honor.

Sandburg’s portrait of Abraham Lincoln is detailed, expressive, poignant, and at many times, repetitive and rambling. In the Prairie Years Sandburg, despite filling the book with long and meandering passages, has an overall lyrical language which is to be expected from a writer who is a talented poet first and foremost. He introduces our nation’s sixteenth president as being a captivating and complicated human being long before Lincoln entered the White House. Sandburg starts Lincoln’s story by portraying him as a quiet and sensitive child whose dreams were very important to him; catching the symbolisms of life at an early age. Later, as an adult, Lincoln would see his dreams and symbolisms as a connection to his future. As a teenager, learning became Lincoln’s obsession. He was said to always have a book in his hand; that he was constantly reading. I have an image of him studying big law books while plowing his father’s fields. All that book reading didn’t mean Lincoln was a soft sissy, though. Lincoln was the Superman of his day. As Sandburg frequently points out, because Abe was so tall and strong with “bulldog courage,” people were constantly challenging him to foot races, wrestling matches, and fist fights: anything to prove their strength against him. Sandburg seems proud to report most times these challengers lost.
In the midst of industry’s wheels just starting to turn, slavery was seen as a profitable business. At the same time, at the age of twenty-three, Lincoln’s political wheels were just starting to turn as well. He wasn’t interested in drinking or fishing. He wanted to continue to learn the law. He became a postmaster so he could have access to newspaper. In the first installment of Sandburg’s biography, we learn Lincoln grew into a complicated man with many sides. Lincoln the storyteller, always telling jokes and stories. Lincoln the neighbor, ready to help a friend, stranger, or animal in need. Lincoln the silent and sad, afraid to carry a pocketknife for fear of harming himself. Sandburg quotes Lincoln as once saying, “I stay away because I am conscious I should not know how to behave myself” (p 22).

Just think of the contemporaries of Lincoln’s day! John Marshall, Daniel Webster; Andrew Jackson was President, Edgar Allan Poe had just been thrown out of West Point and decided to become a writer, Charles Darwin started his journey on the Beagle, Johnnie Appleseed was starting to walk about with seeds in his pockets…

I have come to the conclusion I would have liked to have known Abraham Lincoln, even before he became President of the United States. He had a quick wit and an even faster sense of humor. I would have been drawn to his melancholy, too.

Lines I loved, “Days when he sank deep in the stream of human life and felt himself kin of all that swam in it, whether the waters were crystal or mud” (p 77).

Author fact: Carl Sandburg is better known as a poet. However, he did win a Pulitzer in History for Abraham Lincoln: the War Years (which I am not reading for the Challenge. Go figure.

Book trivia: Abraham Lincoln is a six volume set. I am only reading the first two volumes.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about either volume of Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1920s” (p 175).

Riddley Walker

Hoban, Russell. Riddley Walker. New York: Summit books, 1980.

Reason read: Hoban’s birth month is in February. Read in his honor.

I wanted to like Riddley Walker. I really, really did. The problem is that I am not a science fiction consumer by any means. This book will demand your entire attention and hijack your time, thanks to a language that at first blush just looks like horribly spelled English. It’s trickier than that and way more brilliant. I didn’t have the time or inclination to get into it beyond fifty pages. The story opens with Riddley becoming a man at twelve years old. In post-apocalyptical English Kent, civilization is starting over from tribal scratch. Men carry spears and need to relearn skills like rediscovering fire in order to survive. Once man’s best friend, dogs are now killing machines that roam the streets in packs. Riddley finds symbolism in everything.
As an aside, the salvaging of iron reminded me of the opening scene of the movie “The Full Monty.” Aha! A movie I have seen! 😉

Lines I managed to like, “I don’t think it makes no differents where you start the telling of a thing” (p 8). Too true.

Author fact: Hoban was inspired to write Riddley Walker after seeing medieval wall art in a cathedral.

Book trivia: Riddley Walker won a few sci-fi awards and was nominated for a Nebula in 1981. It was also the inspiration for many plays. The movie “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” used themes from Riddley Walker.

Nancy said: Pearl had a lot to say about Riddley Walker. She starts by calling it one of the best of the postapocalyptic genre of novels. She then goes on to say she “doesn’t know of another novel that could arguably be called science fiction which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award as well as the Nebula Award” (More Book Lust p 115). She finishes her praise by offering a suggestion for understanding the language: read it out loud, as her mother did.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Russell Hoban: Too Good To Miss” (p 114). This book finishes the chapter for me.