Blue Plate

Christensen, Kate. Blue Plate Special: an Autobiography of My Appetites. Anchor Books, 2013.

Reason read: this was a gift from my sister. I think I have said it before, but I will say it again. I read everything she sends my way.

Truth. The tongue can hold memories longer than the heart; sometimes even longer than the mind. Childhood delicacies like soft boiled eggs and Tapioca pudding could bring author Kate Christensen back to six years old, much the same way a steaming hot bowl of Cream of Wheat with melting swirls of butter and sparkling brown sugar still can for me in my middle age. The thread of food is woven in and out of Christensen’s story, sometimes as a integral character and other times as supporting cast, pivotal moments are remembered as meals.
I have a lot in common with Kate. I can remember feeling exactly like her when, at seven years old, the best present in the world was to have a space, separate from the house, in which to hide from the world; a place to call my own. Another similarity was when she shared that she salivated at the thought of the breakfasts in Little House on the Prairie. I, too, had food envy.
There were a lot of unexpected aha moments while reading Blue Plate. It is strange how the trauma of events in childhood can inform decisions in adulthood without us knowing how or why.

Quote I really liked, “Now and again he paused, a venerable, wheezing monument, and the audience could not have told whether he was in pain, asleep, swimming, about to spawn, or merely taking a breath” (p 49).

Playlist: Artie Shaw, Anita O’Day, Alison Krauss, Anne Murray, Blood Sweat and Tears, the Beatles, Benny Goodman, Bach, Bee Gees, Bob Marley, Chicago, Cat Stevens, the Clash, Carole King’s “Tapestry”, the Dead, Donna Summer, Elton John, Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Costello, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”, Flying Cowboys, “I am Woman” by Helen Reddy, “Home in Oasadena”, Jayhawks, Joan Baez, Joan Armatrading, Led Zeppelin, “A Love Supreme”, Mingus, Monk, “Moonshiner”, Mozart’s “Requiem Mass” and “Laudate Dominum”, the O’ Jays, Olivia Newton-John, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky”, Rickie Lee Jones, Rolling Stones, Supertramp, the Specials, Sly & the Family Stone, Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”, Schubert’s “C Major Quartet”, “Star of the County Down”, “Top of the World”, Talking Heads, Vassar Clements, Wings, and War.

Author fact: Christensen has written a bunch of stuff and here is the really cool part. I was introduced to her writing thanks to my sister. What I have come to realize is that I have two other novels on my Challenge list. I will be reading In the Drink and Jeremy Thrane. Because I am a geek about schedules, I am reading both books in the month of July (in honor of New York becoming a state).

True Crime Solved

Moore, M. True Crime Solved: 27 Solved Cold Cases That Bring Closure to Disturbing Crimes. True Crime Seven, 2023.

Reason read: As part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I occasionally review books…duh. This book was a February choice.

Why are people so fascinated with crime? with serial killers? with unsolved cases? It must be a thing because there is a whole television network dedicated to people doing really bad things to other people and we love it. I’m no different. I requested this book out of curiosity.
Twenty-seven chapters for twenty seven crimes. Most of the time, the chapters are named for the victims, but every once in a while they showcase either the location of the death (Bear Brook) or the killer(s) like the Duval brothers or the killer clown.
Small piece of advice – parse the reading of these stories out over time. I read True Crime Solved in its entirety on a flight back to New England from Mexico. Each short chapter falls into a repetitive pattern: the crime, the policework at the time, the advent of technology revealing the name of the murderer, conviction and verdict of the trial. Every once in a while some unique or interesting piece of information would be introduced, like the teenage genealogist who helped authorities with a case or the fact that NY laws did not allow local authorities to test DNA against databases like Ancestrydotcom. Not all cases had closure like the title of the book suggests (like Butterfield was charged with the murder but chapter doesn’t mention if he was actually convicted). Other than small typos like weird capitalization or spelling issues, this was a fun read. My only wish was that it was not so formulaic.

As an aside, I had a difficult time adding this to my catalog. There are dozens of crime books on the publisher website but none really matched this particular title. Meh.

Fear Itself

Mosely, Walter. Fear Itself. Read by Don Cheadle. Hachett Book Group, 2003.

Reason read: to finish the series started in January in honor of Mosely’s birth month.

Fearless Jones is at it again, getting his friend Paris Minton in trouble. Since we last saw Minton he was trying to rebuild his life after his bookstore was burned to the ground and he was beaten and shot at in Fearless Jones. Now, in Fear Itself Minton has been able to rebuild his bookstore and get back to a quiet life, thanks to a settlement from the last book. He still doesn’t want trouble, but yet Fearless soon finds a way to get Paris in the thick of it. This time, the wealthiest woman in Los Angeles is missing her nephew. She tricks Fearless into looking for him and Fearless pulls Minton into the mystery. You will meet a whole host of strange characters in Fear Itself. There are so many plot twists I almost needed a flow chart to keep everything straight.
Confessional: I want to sit across from Paris Minton and have him tell me stories about his collection of books.

Line I liked, “When you come right down to it, there’s nothing like a fire for putting the spunk back into a body” (p 41).

Author fact: I think Mosely’s other series featuring Easy Rawlins is more popular.

Playlist: Beethoven’s 5th.

Book trivia: This is actually trivia about the audio version – audio not only includes music, but the characters belch like a real performance.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about the Fearless series other than to say is was something Mosely wrote.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Walter Mosely: Too Good To Miss” (p 168).

Lungfish

Gillis, Meghan. Lungfish. Catapult, 2022.

Reason read: This was a Christmas gift from my sister. I read everything she sends my way.

Have you ever seen a race horse struggle to restrain its awesome power? Or a runner who can easily put the pedal to the metal, but has hold back in an effort to race smart? This is the way I felt reading Lungfish. Deceptively simple passages in incredibly short chapters made me want to speed-read; to buzz through the sentences at a hundred pages a minute. To do that would be to miss the scenery of gorgeous language flashing by. To not slow down and savor the smart language would be to deprive myself of one of the best books of the year. Yes, I know it’s only early 2023. But. But! But, that’s my prediction and I’m sticking with it.
Lungfish oozes mystery. There is a hinting of things. What is wrong with Paul? The use of the word “better” implies there is something worse. You shouldn’t think of the word ‘trickery’ that could at play, yet you do. You do. Is the narrator asking Paul to improve a behavior? Be a better person? Or is it his health? The possibility he could be better at something hangs heavy. Especially when a word like perfunctory is used to describe a kiss between two people in a relationship. Then consider the act of hiding from the law. Questioning what happens when the executor arrives. What is that all about? The narrative does not speak in linear terms, only winding and twisting innuendo, slippery as seaweed newly exposed by the outgoing tide. Early on there is an unexplained sadness that permeates the entire story, the way a thick fog will dampen a wool sweater to a newfound heaviness. You want the fog to lift, the sunshine to come streaming in, and loud laughter to break the silence.
Instead, we as readers circle the plot in a strange swaying dance, like a slow moving game of musical chairs. Only when the song comes to an abrupt halt, we grab for the final sentence and wait for the silence to end so we can read on. Careful not to slip on the seaweed of secrets.

Lines I loved, “He puts his hands on my shoulders, from behind, and I sit like a stone” (p 123). Unmoving. Unfeeling, Cold, Hard. Colorless. These are the words of a stone. Here’s another, “The box contained three sets and I’d used them all, in part because I didn’t trust the way I peed on them” (p 165). O can relate to the permeation of doubt that becomes pervasive.

Playlist: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones.

James Brooke of Sarawak

Hahn, Emily. James Brooke of Sarawak: a Biography of Sir James Brooke. Arthur Baker, Ltd., 1953.

Reason read: I am reading this as a follow-up to by . had a whole section on James Brooke.

As a young age, James Brooke had a unique life. After he inherited a small fortune, he was interested in buying ships and starting new colonies. He imagined being able to save the souls of the Malays, but really he wanted an entire country to call his own. His confidence went out before him like a high school bully in na├»ve full swagger. From the beginning, Brooke was expecting Sultan Omar Ali to draw up papers – a deed of possession for Brooke to govern Sarawak, just like that. Once in charge Brooke was able to bring order to Sarawak. He established a council of state, an army, national flag, and a constitution. Twenty-four years after the fact he was finally recognized for his feats. He died four years after that. The end.
Hahn draws her biography of James Brooke from letters and journals that have survived time. A surprising tidbit of information was that Brooke was a mama’s boy. But after thinking about his spoiled attitude, I don’t know why I was so surprised by his letters home. Brooke never married, although there is the mystery of Ms. Angela Burdett-Coutts and the broken engagement…
I found it interesting that Hahn seemed to be, most of the time, sympathetic to Brooke. She writes with a conversational tone that is not dry or dull, but is more in defense of most of his actions and questionable character. She almost needs you to like Brooke as much as she apparently does. She uses words like “poor” and “unfortunate” to describe Brooke. She blames the reformers for having contradicting opinions about murder – almost calling them hypocrites for being against Brooke killing people of Borneo saying, “…we must try to understand how he could have acted as he did in various matters…” (p 223). Actually, if you must know, I questioned Hahn’s choice of words often. Consider this sentence, “the fate of the Middletons makes a horrible and somewhat embarrassing story” (p 213). Tell me. What is so embarrassing about absolute terror and the undeniable urge for self preservation? Mrs. Middleton remained hidden while her children were being murdered. I find the next scenario more of an “embarrassment” – a man was charged with guarding a plank but accidentally shot himself in the head. But I digress…

Quote I liked, “Strong men were proud of being able to weep like babies” (p 36). What kind of culture encouraged men to show emotion? That is practically unheard of in our society! Here’s another line I liked,

Author fact: Hahn also wrote China To Me, a Partial Autobiography. This was also on my Challenge list. I have already finished it.

Nancy said: Pearl said if you were interested in learning more about James Brooke, try reading his biography by Hahn. Pearl hints that Brooke is not a likeable character. Maybe she disapproves of him murdering Borneons.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very straightforward chapter called “Borneo and Sarawak” (p 38).

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

le Carre, John. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. Ballantine Books, 1963.

Reason read: while The Spy Who Came In from the Cold didn’t win an Academy Award, Richard Burton was nominated for his role as Alec Leamas. The Oscars are usually presented in March.

I had heard a lot of great things about John le Carre’s novels. Growing up, I can remember one or two titles floating around the house. I definitely think The Spy Who Came In from the Cold was one of them.
You know the story: someone is very close to retiring, getting out of the game, but there is one last job they need to do. After they complete this one final task, whatever it is, then they are out. Fini. Except, you know that’s not how it ends up. The job is always more complicated and/or dangerous. Something always goes sideways and the end is horribly wrong. The spy Who Came In from the Cold is no different. Alec Leamas is nearing the end of his career as a British agent. He wants out but die to a fabricated “problem” with his pension, he has one last mission in East Germany. All he has to do is spread rumors about an East German intelligence officer. After that, he can “get out of the cold” comfortably. Of course, nothing goes to plan. I knew this book was going to be trouble when, within 15 pages four people would die in quick succession.
Heads up: keep in mind this was written in a time when men were allowed to be sexist. It never occurs to Leamas that he might have to work for a woman.

As an aside, I love when books give me a connection to Monhegan however small. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold mentions the Morris Dancers. They performed on Monhegan every summer for years and years.

Line that made me think, “At first his colleagues treated him with indulgence, perhaps his decline served them in the same way as we are scared by cripples, beggars and invalids because we fear we could ourselves become them; but in the end his neglect, his brutal, unreasoning malice, isolated him” (p 23).

Author fact: le Carre died in 2020 and according to his Wiki page, his death was unrelated to Covid-19.

Book trivia: The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is the sequel to Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality. I only have the former title on my Challenge list, but once again I have read these books out of order. Ugh.

Playlist: “On Ilkley Moor bat t’ at”

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned le Carre as someone to read if you are into spy novels. She also called The spy Who Came In from the Cold remarkable.

BookLust Twist: from a few places. First, Book Lust in the chapters called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1960” (p 175) and “Spies and Spymasters: the Really Real Unreal World of Intelligence” (p 223). Second, in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Berlin” (p 36).

Outlander

Gabaldon, Diana. Outlander. Read by Divina Porter. Recorded Books, 1997.

Reason read: Valentine’s Day is in February. Outlander is somewhat of a romance.

Modern day is 1945. War is afoot. Claire Randall is on holiday with her newly reunited husband, Frank. Both have been involved in the war, he as a soldier, she as a nurse. Scotland is a chance for them to reconnect, a second honeymoon of sorts. The couple finds useful ways to spend their time, him researching information on family ancestry and she looking for herbs and medicinal plants. While wandering around the Inverness countryside, Claire hears a tiny humming noise emanating from Scotland’s version of Stonehenge. Upon touching a buzzing stone, Claire faints then reawakens in 1743. So begins the journey of Claire Beauchamp that everyone knows so well. the burning question on everyone’s mind is how will she get back to modern day history professor and husband, Frank?
The real question to me is, after tangling with her husband’s ancestors, would she change her own present day life? On the heels of reading Kindred by Octavia Butler, I couldn’t help but make comparisons between the two time-travel novels. Butler’s Californian heroine, Dana, not only accepted her situation readily, but understood her purpose for being sent back to slave-era Maryland. Gabaldon’s English heroine, Claire, barely questions her jump back in time and seems to integrate herself into 1743 seamlessly. Dana finds a way to take her husband back in time with her while Claire not only leaves her modern day husband behind, but falls in love and marries a 1743 Scotsman. Claire’s main purpose, after some time, seemed to be her usefulness as a nurse and her knowledge of events in the future to save the clan who took her in. Neither Dana or Claire seem too anxious to return to their original place in time.

As an aside, when I mentioned to a friend that I had started Outlander her eyes lit up as if I had just handed her a million dollars. “Oh, I love that book” she gushed. I could tell she wanted to say more , but I hushed her with a “nope, nope. nope.”

Author fact: Gabaldon, at the time of publication, was also a professor. cool.

Book trivia: There is a certain craze surrounding Outlander. My husband cannot wait for me to watch the series. Even though there is a movie of the same name, they are not one and the same.

Playlist: “Up Among the Heather”.

Nancy said: Pearl classified Outlander as paranormal. She also calls it the best of the five (at the time) books in the series.

BookLust Twist: Pearl favored this one. From More Book Lust in the obvious chapter of “Time Travel” and again in Book Lust in the chapter “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p 203) and “Romans-Fleuves” (p 208).

Travels of Jaimie McPheeters

Taylor, Robert Lewis. The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters. Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1958.

Reason read: February is national history month and Travels of Jaimie McPheeters is a historical fiction.

Although The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters is grounded in fiction its bibliography indicates Taylor made extensive use of letters, memorandums, maps, memoirs, guidebooks, journals, and sermons to give the novel sincere authenticity. In a nutshell, it is the adventures of young Jaimie McPheeters as he journeyed with his father to seek gold in the mid 1800s. [As an aside, I could not help but think of Natalie Merchant’s song “Gold Rush Brides” when I read The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters.] The story has everything: clashes with Indian tribes (including kidnapping, torture and murder), gambling, religion (Mormonism and the question of polygamy), humor, weather, and the hardships of the trail. This was the wild west; a time when at plate passing someone could offer a live rattlesnake in lieu of money. Confessional: I didn’t know if I liked audacious Jaimie McPheeters when I first met him. My favorite parts were the interactions he had with his father. The interesting conversation about Latin and who killed the dead language was one of my favorites. Taylor has an interesting way of using words. The words ‘pranced’ and ‘shotgun’ usually do not go together in the same sentence.
A word of warning: speaking of language, it is a bit dated with derogatory and racist words.

Line I liked, “When one set of sense lies down on the job, another reports in and takes over” (p 18). This quote hit a little too close to home, “It went along very much like a dentist trying to pry out a wisdom tooth that had got wrapped around the jawbone” (p 101). I have a wisdom tooth that is sitting too close to my jaw bone.

Author fact: Taylor was first a journalist before becoming a Pulitzer winning author.

Book trivia: It is my personal opinion that The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters would have benefitted from a few maps, but it won a Pulitzer without them.

Nancy said: Pearl said she would buy The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters for a history buff in her family.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday List” (p 114).

Guermantes Way

Proust, Marcel. “The Guermantes Way.” Remembrance of Things Past: In Search of Lost Time. Vol. 5 Reanslated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff. Illustrated by Philippe Jullian. Chatto & Windos, 1960.

Reason read: to continue the series started in November in memory of Proust’s death month. Obviously, I skipped a month.

As Proust’s narrator grows up his narrative becomes drier and less whimsical. There is a larger focus on French society and the titles within it. We move beyond intimate portraits of individuals, but Proust is careful to let his narrator grow through the people he meets and the obsessions he develops. TI was struck by the genius of lines well delivered. For example, “Perhaps another winter would level her with the dust” (p 275). In the end I found myself asking, how do you cope with a love that is held only by the games one plays? Is this a form of emotional hostage-taking? What will become of one so enamored with another?

Author fact: Proust spent a year in the army.

Book trivia: I have to admit even though I am three books into the Remembrance of Things Past series, I get confused about the different published titles. Someone said Guermantes Way is also called In Search of Lost Time: Finding Time Again. What the what?

Nancy said: Pearl did not mention Guermantes Way specifically.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romans-Fleuves” (p 208). In all fairness, the individual titles of Remembrance of Things Past were not mentioned at all.

36 Views of Mount Fuji

Davidson, Cathy N. 36 Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan. Plume Book, 1994.

Reason read: In January Japan celebrates Coming of Age. I also needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge for the category, “a nonfiction set in a country that interests me.”

Davidson spent a year with Japan with her husband, Ted. Together, they have jobs teaching English while trying to learn all things Japanese. They make friends who help them with their quest. During this time of total immersion, Davidson becomes intimate with Japanese customs, so much so that when she and Ted are faced with tragedy and their Japanese friends break with tradition for their sake, Davidson is embarrassed and uncomfortable for them. This break from normal protocol touched me. Davidson went back to Japan a total of four times with varying lengths of stay. She and Ted contemplated a move to Japan only to decide the language barrier was too great to conquer. This bothered Davidson. Her inability to learn the language bothered her and shattered her confidence so much so she had to put the books she had written in front of her to reaffirm she is a smart woman.
I promise you, you will walk away with a deepened appreciation for Japanese culture. I did not know Tokyo is chaotic and disorganized in purpose. Streets are unnamed to anonymize people’s addresses. How do things get delivered?

As an aside, in this day of careful avoidance of cultural appropriation, how can someone be offended by Taco Tuesday and not see Davidson’s efforts to build an exact replica of a Japanese house in North Carolina as completely different. Is not that the same thing on a much grander scale?

Best lines I liked, “I was in Japan to see, to experience, to learn, to understand” (p 12) and
“This place was how my life felt: one breath away from disaster” (108).

Author fact: Davidson at the time of writing 36 Views of Mount Fuji was a professor of English at Duke University.

Playlist: “Singing in the Rain”, “One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater”, “Weemaway”, Edith Piaf, “Leader of the Pack”, Red Sails at sunset”, Jo Stafford’s “Shrimp Boats Are a Coming”, and “Mashed Potato Time”.

Nancy said: Pearl included 36 Views of Mount Fuji as an example of “the best gaijin account.” She also called it “thoughtful” (Book Lust To Go p 117).

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

Bay of Noon

Hazzard, Shirley. The Bay of Noon. Little, Brown and Company, 1970.

Reason read: the Battle of Oranges takes place in February.

There is a secret in Bay of Noon. My eyes did a double read when the words “I am in love with my brother” floated past my face. Did narrator Jenny mean what I think she meant? Is that the secret every reviewer alludes to when writing about Bay of Noon? Hazzard drops hints like pebbles disturbing tranquil waters.
In addition to being a story about a woman fleeing a dark secret, Bay of Noon is about the power of friendship. In the end, the reader is left with this question: do years of disconnection matter if the bonds of relationship are stronger than any prolonged length of time?
Confessional: None of the characters were likeable to me and maybe that was the point. I really did not care for Justin. His refusal of plain speak was annoying. Circumventing addressing matters of the heart the way he did would make me walk away. What I did love was the vivid descriptions of the Mediterranean. It made me hunger for all things Italy.
Bay of Noon has been called a romance novel and I guess in some ways it is, but I didn’t like any of the couples and I never really felt any of them were actually in love.

Author fact: Hazzard was Australian but wrote a great deal about Naples.

Book trivia: Bay of Noon was originally published in 1970 but found life again after being republished in 2003. It was shortlisted for the Lost Man Booker Prize in 2010.

Play list: Hazzard has many opportunities to mention songs of musicians by name through all of the dancing, signing, and listening to the radio, but she doesn’t.

Nancy said: Pearl called Bay of Noon “most likely autobiographical” (Book Lust To Go p 148).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the simple chapter called “Naples” (p 146).

The Wedding

West, Dorothy. The Wedding. Read by Robin Miles. Books on Tape, 2021.

Reason read: February was the month Massachusetts became a state. The Wedding takes place on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts.

Dorothy West is a master of character development. Every member of the Martha’s Vineyard Oval community is meticulously realized by their actions and reactions to events surrounding them and by the subservient relationships they keep: black and white, man and wife, neighbor and stranger, parent and child, landlord and tenant. Strangely enough, there is harmony in the contrasts.
It is the wedding of beautiful Shelby Coles. Her engagement to a white jazz musician from New York City has her family in turmoil. Lute McNeil would like nothing better than to steal Miss Coles for his own. He already has three young daughters by three different white women, but in his obsessive mind Shelby would make the perfect mother for his biracial children. Even though the Oval is comprised of black middle class residents, the question of belonging is pervasive. The standard assumption that blonde hair and blue eyes means white race. Everyone uses color to get what they want. Example: the preacher uses the image of white children in danger of hurting themselves around a derelict barn in order to get a white man to give him a horse that was of no use to him. The preacher is really after the barn wood.
Dorothy West forces her characters to face the question of identity. The end of The Wedding will leave you hanging. Would Shelby have given Lute a chance if tragedy had not intervened? Were Shelby’s sisters right in their warnings about misguided infatuation?

Author fact: Dorothy West was 85 years old when she wrote The Wedding.

Book trivia: West was known for her short stories. The Wedding is only one of two novels West wrote in her lifetime.

Playlist: “Swing Lo Sweet Chariot” and “Motherless Child”.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about The Wedding other than to indicate it takes place on Martha’s Vineyard.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very simple chapter called “Martha’s Vineyard” (p 141). No big stretch there.

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).