Ben Jelloun, Tahar. The Last Friend. Translated by Kevin Michel Cape. New York: Penguin Books, 2007.
Reason read: Ben Jelloun was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.
In 1950s Morocco, schoolboy Ali meets Mamet (Mohammed) for the first time after a school yard fight. Their personalities and views on life could not be further apart. They are opposite in every way. Mamet has to fight every aspect of his life: rebelling against the Communist party sexually; betraying his religion with food and drink; ignoring his culture by committing adultery. To compensate for feeling inferior he is full of unnecessary bravado. Yet, their differences make them curious friends. Best friends at that. Without knowing it, they protect each other time and time again. Over the span of thirty years and many trials and tribulations, their relationship deepens into a profound bond; one even their wives find hard to accept. It is as if Ali and Mamet’s separate relationships orbit around their singular connection. Despite moving apart Ali and Mamet remain close until a misunderstanding and an even larger betrayal comes between them.
The lines I loved, “Friendship begins with sharing secrets” (p 16), “I discovered that ideology indoctrination can bind even an intelligent mind” (p 26), “In friendship, as in love, everyone needs an element of mystery” (p 51), and “I found myself walking down a boulevard under a cold sun, considering different scenarios to protect our friendship from the tragedy of death” (p 154).
As an aside, I never thought of Bob Marley as a misogynist.
Author fact: Ben Jelloun also wrote This Blinding Absence of Light which I read almost a year ago.
Book trivia: There is a scene in a Bette Midler movie where a mother picks a horrendous fight with her daughter in order to force her daughter to live her best life. While the fight is extremely painful to the daughter, she is able to pick up the pieces and move on. The final scene of the movie is of her getting married while her mother watches from a distance. I don’t remember the name of the movie, but The Last Friend could be a movie with a similar scene…
Nancy said: Pearl doesn’t say anything about The Last Friend specifically, but she mentions the translation by Linda Coverdale is “superb.” I didn’t read that version.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “North African Notes: Morocco” (p 161).
Brashares, Ann. The Second Summer of the Sisterhood. New York: Delacorte Press, 2003.
Reason read: to finish the series started in May in honor of Birds & Bees month.
Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bridget are back for another summer wearing “The Pants.” Carmen continues to be a brat. I think she is supposed to be seen as the fiery Puerto Rican. In The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants she threw a rock through a window because she was mad at her dad for having a girlfriend and starting a new family. In Second Summer of the Traveling Pants it’s her mom’s happiness she can’t bear to witness.
Tibby’s situation was a little more believable. Away at college and desperate forget a friend who died of leukemia, she shuns her old life and adopts the crappy attitudes of a couple of loner kids in her class. This, I know a little something about. Sadly, I am guilty of changing my personality to impress new people.
Bridget is away in Alabama, working for her estranged grandmother and trying to escape an unfortunate event in The sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Gram thinks Bridget is a lonely girl named Gilda and with Bridget’s weight gain and dyed hair Grandma is easily fooled.
Lena has the simplest yet most complicated story. After leaving Greece she couldn’t stand to be away from Kostos so she broke up with him. Doesn’t make sense, but that’s perfect teenage logic for you. Who hasn’t done something dramatic thinking it was the only choice? Kostos accepts the breakup until he sees Lena and professes his undying love for her…until something else happens.
All four girls have moments when The Pants don’t work for them. The magic just isn’t there and they have to rely on growing up to see the solution. the real magic happens when they begin to see their mothers as human beings.
Author fact: Brashares has also written nonfiction. None of it is on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: Second Summer did not do as well as Sisterhood. Sequels are a hard nut to crack.
Nancy said: Pearl included Second Summer of the Sisterhood in a list of “teen-pleasers.”
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23).
Huneven, Michelle. Jamesland. New York: Random House, 2003.
Reason read: October is Mental Health Awareness month.
The theme for this book is crazy. Seriously. Every character has their own special brand of crazy. Alice Black think she’s going crazy after confronting a deer in her living room in the middle of the night. Former crazy talented head chef Pete Ross knows he’s going crazy after attempting suicide a few times for no apparent reason. Unitarian minister Helen Harland has her own brand of crazy dealing with a mean-spirited church administration who gave her a lukewarm performance evaluation. How these three meet and deal with their separate brands of crazy is the heart and soul of the story. They are completely different people and yet. Yet! Yet, they bond over the insanities (my word) in their lives.
Alice Black is trying to get over a breakup with a married man. As she struggles to make sense of the lies (“For sure I’m going to leave my famous-actress wife…”) she befriends Helen in the hopes of understanding the meaning of a frightened deer in her living room. Helen is desperate for any kind of friends and has a habit of pulling anyone and everyone, including the wife of Alice’s affair, into her orbit. She hopes they help her make sense of her life. Then there is divorced and messy Pete who still lives with his mother, who still lives under the thumb of his mother. Helen insists on keeping him in her crazy circle of friends.
At the center of all this drama is Alice’s great-great grandfather, William James, Henry James’s lesser known brother. He is the key to spiritual awakening, with the help of a crazy medium, of all three.
Quotes to quote, “Walking in such public areas made him feel more acutely the lunatic at large” (p 257) and “It counts as an honor to cut up a euthanized hippopotamus” (p 379).
Author fact: Huneven also wrote Round Rock, which is not on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: I could see this as a movie.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Jamesland but in the intro to the chapter she said some of the books “have unexpected depth” I think she was talking about Jamesland.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Just Too Good To Miss” (p 132).
Cook, Claire. The Wildwater Walking Club. New York: Voice, 2009.
This book was not on my list. Not indexed in Book Lust, More Book Lust or Book Lust To Go. It wasn’t on an Early Review list for LibraryThing. I didn’t request it from anyone, either. So. Here’s how I came to read this book. It just showed up on my doorstep. Just like that. Here’s the back story as far as I understand it: I have mentioned Just ‘Cause more than once in this blog (and even more in the other one) so, if you have been paying attention you know that Just ‘Cause is near and dear to my heart. It is a nonprofit organization that supports two different charities, the Virginia Thurston Healing Garden and the Massachusetts General Hospital Oncology Center. More organically, we are a group of women who walk 60 miles every year to raise money. Like I said, it’s very near and dear to my heart and soul. Along the 60 miles (over the course of three days) we women make amazing memories and cultivate fabulous friendships.
One such amazing friend calls herself “the other Heidi S” because there are two in the group. One Heidi is bad enough, but to have two, both with the same last initial….well, it’s an endless joke. This Heidi S and I *must* have spent some time talking books. There are so many different conversations that happen on the walk I can’t really be sure. But, this Heidi S sends Miss Stella Grace this book, The Wildwater Walking Club with no explanation. Completely out of the blue. I haven’t a clue. I really don’t remember having even the smallest of conversations about this book. We could have. I’m sure we did. Really, so much stuff is shared I can’t keep it all straight. (The one thing I do remember finding out is we both went to Pies on Parade for the first time last year…but that’s a story for another time.)
Anyway, in the mail arrives this cute package, tied up in brown string. It’s Claire Cook’s Wildwater Walking Club and I read it in three days. Bing Bang Boom Done. It’s cute. The plot is super simple. Noreen is a woman who just lost her job and her boyfriend all at once. Realizing she is a corporate has-been with no personal life and a little extra weight she decides to take up walking. Along the way she recruits two other women from her neighborhood. Before long they have formed a club, are planning trips and vandalizing the neighborhood together. Of course, it’s chick lit so you have to have a little man trouble called dating, a little mother grief and a lot of laughs. It’s a cute book from the woman who brought you Must Love Dogs (Okay everyone! Time for a collective “OH!).
I could relate to Noreen on a few levels. Her relationship with her mother is strained. She thinks mom is constantly comparing her marriage-less, childless life to her siblings (all married with children, all leading very full lives). Her job was all that she knew and until she was laid off she didn’t realize how much it was affecting her personal life. And the one thing I’ve always known, walking makes everything better on so many different levels.
Schine, Cathleen. The Evolution of Jane. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.
It all starts when Jane’s mother thinks twenty five year old Jane needs a vacation to mend a broken heart. Jane has been left by her husband of only six months and while it has taken Jane only half that long to get over the abandonment she does not dispute her mother’s “quaint notion.” It is on this trip she has always wanted to take, to the Galapagos Islands, that Jane discovers her long-lost, once best friend, and cousin Martha is a guide. As Martha and Jane had fallen out of friendship Jane is baffled by this coincidence and is unsure how to proceed with her feelings and actions. She spends the entire vacation obsessing about the failed relationship.
The story itself jumps from the past to the present in an effort to explain Jane and Martha’s childhood friendship. Despite a mysterious family feud that split the rest of the family the two cousins were inseparable for a period of time. Until one day they weren’t. Jane’s obsession over what went wrong dominates the trip to the Galapagos. Even when her roommate tells her “let sleeping dogs lie” she can’t let it go.
Quotes I liked: “But I saw immediately that Martha was too familiar to meet for the first time” (p 13) and “I had traveled across two continents, from one ocean to another in order to be washed up on a beach with my next-door neighbor” (p 36).
Reason read: In honor of Charles Darwin’s birth month being in February. Simple enough.
Author Fact: Catherine Schine has an author page on LibraryThing with absolutely nothing on it.
Book Trivia: It was neat to find a New York Times review written by my favorite author, Barbara Kingsolver. She endorsed the book heavily because of its evolutionary and anthropological accuracies.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Galloping Through the Galapagos” (p 88).
December 2012 was a decidedly difficult month. I don’t mind admitting it was stressful and full of ups and downs. How else can I describe a period of time that contained mad love and the quiet urge to request freedom all at once? A month of feeling like the best thing on Earth and the last person anyone would want to be with? I buried myself in books to compensate for what I wasn’t sure I was feeling. And I won’t even mention the Sandy twins. But wait. I just did.
- The Wholeness of a Broken Heart by Katie Singer ~ in honor of all things Hanukkah. This was by far my favorite book of the month.
- Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner ~ in honor of Iowa becoming a state in December. This was a close second.
- The Tattered Cloak and Other Novels by Nina Berberlova ~ in honor of the coldest day in Russia being in December. I read a story every night.
- Big Mouth & Ugly Girl by Carol Joyce Oates ~ in honor of Oates being born in December. I was able to read this in one sitting.
- The Women of the Raj by Margaret MacMillan ~ in honor of December being one of the best times to visit India
- Rosalind Franklin: Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox ~ in honor of Franking being born in December
- Billy by Albert French ~ in honor of Mississippi becoming a state in December
- Apples are From Kazakhstan by Christopher Robbins ~ in honor of Kazakhstan gaining its independence in December.
In an attempt to finish some “series” I read:
- Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Vol 3 by Giorgio Vasari (only one more to go after this, yay!)
- Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
For audio here’s what I listened to:
- The Galton Case by Ross MacDonald ~ this was laugh-out-loud funny
- Bellwether by Connie Willis ~ in honor of December being Willis’s birth month
For the Early Review Program with LibraryThing here’s what I read:
- Drinking with Men: a Memoir by Rosie Schaap
And here’s what I started:
- Gold Coast Madam by Rose Laws
For fun: Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep.
Franklin, Tom. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. New York: William Morrow, 2010.
Confession: I couldn’t put this down. A friend from Germany was in town, someone I hadn’t seen in almost three years and all I wanted to do was read Crooked Letter. I don’t normally want to ignore friends!
Crooked Letter takes place in rural Mississippi bouncing between the early 1970s and the late 2000s. From the very first sentence you are pulled into something sinister. Hints of evil lurk between the lines. Larry Ott has always been strange. A social outcast since grade school Larry pulls outrageous stunts, desperate to be noticed; bringing snakes to school, scaring girls with a grotesque Halloween mask. When a pretty high school classmate disappears Larry is suspected of murder. Unbelievably, he is the last person to be seen with her. While her body was never found and Larry’s guilt couldn’t be proven, he remained the town’s only suspect. Fast forward 25 years and another pretty young girl has gone missing. When she is found, raped and murdered, on Larry’s property it seems like an open and shut case. Except, Larry has a silent almost forgotten ally – Silas “32” Jones, a former classmate and one-time secret friend. Secret because in 1970s deep south Mississippi pockets of racism were more than alive and well. It wasn’t acceptable for white Larry to be seen with black Silas. As Chabot, Mississippi’s only constable Silas sets out to learn the truth, even if it means digging up the ugly past. Tom Franklin is very thorough with descriptions of each character’s personal life . You are pulled into Larry Ott’s mechanic shop and can smell the grease just as easily as riding along with Constable Silas Jones as he works his investigation. This is a story first and foremost about friendship and guilt and forgiveness. It is also a story about the harsh realities of racism and poverty and the scars that run deep.
I only found one bothersome discrepancy. Larry Ott is described as 41 years old. Miss Voncille is described as a woman in her “early 50s.” That would mean at the very minimum there is a ten-year age difference between Larry and Voncille. But because they both attended the same high school Constable Silas asked Voncille if she knew Larry. Here’s the thing – Larry would have been a toddler when Voncille started high school. If their ages had been reversed it would have allowed for the “legend” of Larry and his weirdness to be played up – Voncille could have heard stories of Larry despite the fact he graduated ten years ahead of Voncille.
In a way I could relate to Larry, especially his obsession with books. His father didn’t want him “wasting” the day by reading either.
Best line I hope is kept, “When he left, Larry lay amid his machines, thinking of Silas, how time packs new years over the old ones but how those old years are still in there, like the earliest, tightest rings centering a tree, the most hidden, enclosed in darkness and shielded from the weather” (p 251).
I met someone today who blew me away. Picked me up, spun me around like a hurricane and got me going in the right direction again. As everyone knows it’s far too easy for me to be angry, to hate, to be glass half empty (and cracked). Far too easy for me to be Negative Nelly. Bitchy bitchy bitch bitch. Then came him and the hurricane. Here’s how it went. I complained, he came back with compassion. I bitched, his was a brighter view. I ranted, he rallied. I was negative, he said never say never. I smirked, he smiled. Back and forth we sparred.
Take this story – I have a hanger-on. Someone who just won’t go away. I was feeling cynical and snide. Loved to be evil, warming up to the hellish conclusion. When I was done I thought he would agree. I thought he would share in my negativity. Instead, he smiled. Smiled and offered me this HaveYouThoughtAboutThisWay? different angle. He cocked his head to the side and said, “from everything you told me I can’t see what the big deal is. I don’t know Your Problem so I can’t judge except to say I don’t see the problem.” It’s the “I don’t know…so I can’t judge…” part that got me. Why am I quick to say weird? Why am I eager to say wrong? Exactly what is the problem?
I’m sorry I have been so mean to you when you weren’t looking. I’m sorry I painted a bad picture when really you are a masterpiece. I’m sorry to have confused you with something sinister. I take it back.
To my new friend. Thank you for being compassionate. For being caring without knowing. For listening to me judge without a jury. While you drove me crazy with your “to be fair” sentence starters I see where you are coming from. And to be fair, I want to be just like you.
We are right in the middle of a messy divorce. Not that we want to be. We didn’t mean to put ourselves here – it just became part of the deal by default. But, in the grand scheme of things it has taught me a valuable lesson: stay away from drama. Run, don’t walk, from situations out of your control.
I learned of an on-coming train wreck last night. My first instinct was to jump from the track. My second was to stay and see what happens. High drama is always highly amusing. Except when there is the potential to get tangled up in it. I really, really don’t want to be involved. I was there before. I feel like I just got free of it. Why get in the way again?
Last night I ignored the signs and stayed on. Last night I wanted to believe. Today, I see things differently. Much differently.
There is a scene in some chick-flick movie. Of course I don’t remember the name of it. Bette Midler plays a meddling mother. She loves her daughter too much to be of any good to her. In the end she picks a fight to end the relationship. She does it on purpose to put some distance between her and her daughter. It’s painful – but necessary. Something she must do. At the time I didn’t understand the ending. Thought it was stupid and unnecessary. A royal WTF? Now, I get it. I am at that point. I get the point. All I want is for you to be happy. I’ve said it a thousand times. You mean the world to me. Butbutbut, I refuse to be part of the approaching drama. There is no way I can be involved and be accused. Again. If I can’t live my passions out in the open without having them distorted and distrusted I don’t want to have them at all. I refuse to defend what I hold dear.
Don’t hate me for pulling a Bette.
We spent forever initialing and signing until it was time to go home. All I kept thinking about were the trees. I mean, we are in the 21st century, are we not? Will we ever get to that paperless (or even less paper) society? Never mind.
When we got home it was nearly 9:30 at night and I was no mood to walk anywhere. Treadmill be damned. Training schedule be damned. I have been walking. Just not blogging about it. Nothing very exciting to say when it comes to walking, sad to say. Some days I care about mileage and I churn and burn. Other days I want to walk and read. Leisurely. Like this morning. This morning it was walk, read and drink coffee. My husband almost didn’t want to give me a cup until I reminded him, “honey. I’m walking.”
But, anyway. Back to last night. I got a phone call. And this is what I’m talking about when I say this is the way it should be. It should be this: a friend should be able to put it all into perspective without even trying. A friend knows what to say – exactly what to say – that makes it all make sense. Such is the conversation I had last night. I had residual drama on the brain. Things that were sort of bothering me in a lingering, lamentful sort of way. Not in an insomnial, oppressive, rant-on-the-way way, but still there nonetheless. Like I said, residual. Like smudges on a glass. I was eager to wipe the drama clean and when I was finished, without even trying, the conversation cleared the air. Everything took on a new perspective – the way it should be.
So I learned a lesson. Even when things seem petty and unparticular it is always best to talk them out. In the light of a brand new day and put before a brand new ear persepctives can change.
Thanks for the phone call. Eerie to think, but I was just thinking I needed the “phone a friend” option and there you were. I am scared of this. It almost seems to big to bear; a skeleton in every (large) closet, an issue around every joist. To make matters worse, it’s all in my head.
Thanks for the stories. That “been there, done that” reassurance goes a long way – Especially on this road I am traveling. Speaking of traveling, I hope you got there safe. But, back to me – it’s all about me, you know. This eventoops, I mean PROCESS is such a roller coaster. I’m not a lawyer but I’m beginning to see the power of negotiating. Can I negotiate a whole new house (kidding!)?
So begins a new day of the waiting game. When I get the scoop, you’ll be the first to know. Have the cell phone handy because I’ll probably give you an earful.
Me, myself & moi
A couple of years ago I had a dream about my death. Two friends were dragging me across a field to lay me in a field of daisies. They talked about me as if I had wronged them by leaving them. Here’s the freaky part. When they let go of me – to drop me off in my final resting place – when my head hit the ground – I woke up. This is what I wrote afterwards:
Here I am. Stuck on the wrong side of sleep yet again. A dream startled me awake and that’s simply all it took. I’m reduced to prowling the cyberworld once again. I won’t go into details because even though my dream was troubling I don’t want to read into it anymore than my psyche already has. I will say this, it has me thinking about human perception. Friends and death. When do you know you have a friend? Really, truly know someone is your friend? Is it based on how many comments they leave you on MySpace? Is it weighed by how many times they call your cell phone? Is it the amount of concern they show you in times of trouble? Is it by their reaction to you when you are falling down drunk? I am losing my grip on what constitutes a real, honest to goodness friend.
the death perception is easier to figure out. It’s easier to define because my trouble is a single ponderance – why does a person lose all they love then they die? At what point does a person go from being Dear Uncle Joe to “the body” they must do something with as quickly as possible? Why is it that we are a society that can;t get rid of the dead fast enough? I know I have questioned this before. In other cultures they take turns washing and dressing and sitting with their dearly departed. It’s a rare society that will not say “that’s not Aunt Julie anymore.” Our society means it when we say “She’s gone.”
So how are friends and death connected? Simple. Friends, when I die please don’t be so quick to get rid of the vessel that has housed my soul. Hang out for a little while, tell me ghost stories, play the music I love to hear, laugh about what I’ve lost because you know wherever I went I can’t find my keys.
“Grave digger, when you dig my grace could you make it shallow so that I can feel the rain?” ~ David J. Matthews
I think what I was really asking was this: please don’t drag me across a friend and leave me to push up the daisies.
Hello my friend. I would like to bombard you with the number twenty-two. That is my wish for you. I would make you embrace it as your own. Twenty plus two. Think of it this way: Twenty-two is your magic number. It holds the key to letting go. It’s the permission to move on (not that no one needs to give you premission…except yourself). I am tempted to call you on every twentieth day and say (with authority, of course), “let one slide, let one slide…” I could send you a bottle of cheap azz tequila, make you have a shot – one for each hand – then, one for me, too. After that, maybe then you could let one slide.
One down, five to go.
Think of them as demons:
This weekend was a chance to help. Myself. Saturday was all about carving a pumpkin to make me happy. Sunday was walking 5 miles for Baystate’s Rays of Hope Breast Cancer Charity Walk then having good girl time (as opposed to bad?)…
I am making a vow to walk the Rays of Hope every year. I may not walk as part of a team again (too much pressure to want to stay together), but I will definitely make this an annual thing. I will never, ever call attention to myself for the hurts I have faced but I am proud of the healing just the same. This walk was just what I needed. Maybe a certain someone will want to join me next year (what do you say, Smiley?)… So, anyway, this is a picture of me waiting for the rest of the team to arrive. I sat on my car and watched the others roll in. I won’t admit to how ridiculously early I really was, but it gave me a chance to watch walkers unite, hug, cry. Out came the pink ribbons, the pink balloons, the pink hats, the pink face paint (yes, yours truly smudged hers within moments of application), pink pink pink. Everywhere. I own so much black I actually had to go out and buy the pink shirt in the pic!
This was a day of coming together for the cause. Coming together period. I didn’t think of anything me, myself or moi. I wore no name except for that of my Team. I was not one person but an army of ones walking. I think that’s what knocked me silly on this Sunday. Running, you run for yourself. You lose the crowd. Everyone spreads out and becomes their own warrior. Walking binds you to the footsteps in front of you. Makes you move as a group. We were pretty in pink, proud in pink, perfect in pink.
S~ Thanks for hanging out later. While we didn’t talk about this walk all that much, it was nice to have that gabby, girly time. After the day I just had, it was perfect.
I had a funny
thoughtquestion yesterday. It came out of someone else acting tougher than need be. When is it okay to say you need? When is it okay to lean on someone else for support even though you know damn well you can do it all by yourself? If my father had his way for my life he wouldn’t have wanted me to need anyone for anything. “Figure it out for yourself” he would have said. Be tough, be strong. Be blahblahblah.
I have this friend. This amazing friend who I sometimes complain to, bitch to, vent to, rant to. She listens with every fiber of her being and then tells me what I already know. I need her in my life to keep me sane. I may think I’m having an insane moment; a very insane moment, but she’ll reel me back in and tell me what’s logical about my lunacy. I don’t need her yet I do.
I have this husband. This wise-azz, smart, sensible husband who I sometimes whine to, cry to. I ask him permission to buy spooky signs, giant pumpkins and haunted villages. I need him in my life to keep my budget grounded. I may think I can afford every ghost, cat, witch and skull that comes along but he’ll reel me back in and tell me what’s illogical about my yearnings. He tells me what I already know. I don’t need him yet I do.
I have this life. This funny, crazy, vulnerable life which I sometimes think isn’t worth bothering with. I see black clouds and glass-half-empties all the time and often I find myself asking what’s the point? It’s then that I realize I need this life just the way it is, just the way it turned out. I can look you in the eye and say it. I need you.