Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Yeas, Volume Two. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1926.
Reason read: to continue the series started in February in honor of Lincoln’s birth month.
When we delve back into Sandburg’s volume two of Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years Lincoln is now in his forties. He is a family man. His political life is becoming more and more entangled with his career as a lawyer. His direct, plain-speaking, and honest approach has people trusting him and he soon has a following of stump-speech fans. In the courtroom, his ability to deliver calm closing arguments that sway even the toughest juries has people wanting him to run for President of the United States. As Sandburg eloquently put it, “His words won him hearts in unknown corners of far-off places” (p 155). His role as a leader of our country is starting to come into shape.
[As an aside, it was interesting that I was reading about town gossip while at a salon getting my hair cut. There is no better place to hear tongues wagging than in a salon (except maybe in a bar).]
Author fact: Carl and his wife were married just shy of 60 years.
Book trivia: Best part of the book was when Lincoln was having a conversation with a goat. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, thinking of tall, gangling Abraham bending low to converse with an animal.
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 176).
Richter, Conrad. The Awakening Land Trilogy: the Trees. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1991.
Reason read: Ohio became a state in the month of March. Additionally, The Trees was published on March 1, 1940. Finally, I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of a group working towards a common goal. This is a family working towards surviving and establishing a homestead in the wilds of Ohio.
The Luckett family: Father Worth, Mother Jary, and children Sayward, Genny, Achsa, Wyitt, Sulie, and hound Sarge, find their way to the deep woods of Ohio after being driven out of Pennsylvania by famine in 1795. Hoping for a new life, they discover they are in a foreign land of multiple misunderstandings. The family has trouble cultivating the soil so food is scarce. Hunting even the smallest of animals keeps them fed. Worth values this lifestyle and admires the “woodsy” people. Illness hovers over them constantly until finally mother Jary is taken by consumption. The Luckett family misunderstands the neighboring native tribes and as a result, distrust and fear them in equal measure. [As an aside, I had to admit it broke my heart when Wyitt spies on them violently skin a wolf alive for his pelt. When they let the poor creature flee into the woods it was difficult to read of such cruelty.] Other tragedies befall the family but somehow Sayward, the main character, shows true grit and that “woodsy” spirit her father so admired.
Author fact: in his forward Richter thanks “scores of helpful librarians” for helping him research his book. Yay for my profession!
Book trivia: The Trees is the first book in a trilogy called Awakening Land Trilogy.
Nancy said: Richter’s series needs to be read in order, starting with The Trees.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: the Literary Midwest, Ohio” (p 25).
Alvarez, Julia. In the Time of Butterflies. New York: Penguin, 1995.
Reason read: On November 25th, 1960 Patria Mercedes Mirabal (36), Minerva Mirabal (31), Maria Teresa Mirabal (25), and Rufino De La Cruz (37) were murdered. True story. Read in their memory.
Julia Alvarez framed In the Time of Butterflies around one truth: On November 25th, 1960 three sisters, known as “las mariposas,” died under very suspicious circumstances in the Dominican Republic. While their Jeep was found at the bottom of a steep cliff, their injuries told of a much different and violent death. Before their murders these courageous women were no ordinary citizens of the Republic. After being radicalized at University three of the four sisters defiantly joined an underground movement to overthrow the country’s tyrannical leader, Rafael Leonides Trujillo. Imprisoned for their activities, the women failed to see the warning signs when they are suddenly freed without fanfare. They don’t think anything amiss when their imprisoned husbands are moved to a more remote prison, forcing the sisters to travel a deserted mountain road to visit them. The story begins with Dede, the surviving Mirabal sister, who feels almost a sideshow freak. Every year on the anniversary of her sisters’ murders, some reporter comes calling to hear the sad tale. Because the narration of In the Time of Butterflies is told from the perspective of each sister, character development happens seamlessly. They take turns releasing their passions and convictions, sometimes in first person, sometimes in third.
In the Time of Butterflies is an extremely exquisite and tragic tale. As Dede says, “If you multiply by zero, you still get zero, and a thousand heartaches.”
Lines to linger over (and there were a bunch), “It took some doing and undoing to bring me down to earth” (p 120), “The kissing was bringing on waves of pleasure she feared would capsize her self-control” (p 204), “Even so, my voice threw sparks” (p 261) and lastly, “But if she had a ghost in her heart, she didn’t give out his name” (p 271).
Author fact: Alvarez also wrote How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents which I thought was on my Challenge list, but the only Alvarez I am to read is In the Time of Butterflies. Bummer.
Book trivia: While the deaths of the Mirabal sisters and their driver is a fact, Alvarez admits to filling in their personalities with her imagination.
Nancy said: Pearl called In the Time of Butterflies “heartrending.”
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction Around the World” (p 113) and in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean: Dominican Republic” (p 52).
Keith, Harold. Rifles for Watie. New York: Harper Collins, 1987.
Reason read: Veteran’s Day is November 11th, 2020. Read in honor of Civil War veterans long dead and gone but never forgotten.
One of the most interesting aspects of Rifles for Watie is that it is told from the perspective of multiple groups in and around the American civil war of April 1861 – April 1865. Keith visited actual battle locations to get a sense of the varying conflicts and not just the well known ones related to violent battle. Poverty, wealth, prejudice, pride, religion, gender, tribal feuding, slavery, freedom. Right or wrong, all of these issues collide.
Keith used diaries, journals, and personal letters to give Rifles for Watie first person authenticity. To personalize it even further, he used interviews conducted for his thesis. Between the years of 1940 and 1941 he visited with twenty two veterans and listened to their nostalgic reminiscing. These oral histories captured the large and small personal sacrifices of war. Ever in their debt, Keith was careful to give all twenty two individuals credit saying, “my obligation to all their memories is very deep” (Introduction, Rifles for Watie p 12). While General Watie and James G. Blunt were a real-life historical figures, the character of Jeffrey and the other soldiers in Rifles for Watie are Keith’s imagination; I would like to think of them as a creative combination of all the men Harold Keith interviewed.
My favorite segment was when Jefferey was having a passionate argument with Lucy. Every side of the conflict is laid bare; because there are more than two sides to every truth. Good guys aren’t necessarily all that good. Bad guys aren’t that bad. Dogs are just dogs.
An aside: My sticking point. Early on in Rifles for Watie Jeffrey’s family is violently attacked by rebel bushwhackers. The family manages to fend off the raiders, but not before the bushwhackers threaten a much more violent return. I was confused as to why Jeffrey would leave his family knowing they barely survived the first vicious attack. Yes, it gave Jefferey the impetus to join the war to fight the rebels, but what about his defenseless family back in Kansas? No matter. When he is home on furlough all seems fine and there is no mention of bushwhackers ever returning.
Author fact: Keith was dedicated to the state of Oklahoma where he was born, raised, lived, and died.
Book trivia: Rifles for Watie won a Newbery Award in 1958.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Rifles for Watie except that it explores one of the least well-known aspects of the Civil War.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction for Kids of All Ages” (p 114).
Gjelten, Tom. Bacardi and the Long fight for Cuba: the Biography of a Cause. New York: Viking Press, 2008.
Reason read: January 1st is Triumph of the Revolution Day in Cuba.
Think about this for a second. The Bacardi business started in 1862. When you think “rum” what brand comes to mind first? Exactly.
My favorite takeaway from Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba is how brilliant the Bacardi Moreau family has been at business marketing and self promotion. Early on they knew how to tap into supply and demand during Prohibition. They understood the importance of moral advertising in Puerto Rico, removing women from their posters, for example They knew when to exploit the World’s Fairs happening around the world in places such as Charleston, St. Louis and as far away as Paris. They were involved in any major event that would draw attention. [As an aside, I just finished watching the Tim Burton movie, “Big Eyes” and I couldn’t help but think of mastermind Walter Keane as he exploited his wife’s artwork anyway that he could.] Bacardi treated their employees well with profit sharing as early as 1916. When they couldn’t go to the marketing, the marketing came to them in the form of public figures, such as Ernest Hemingway who put the name Bacardi in his book, Islands in the Stream.
Deeply tied to the Cuban cause, as patriots the Bacardi struggled to make a real difference, but as producers of high quality libations, they flourished. Their drink, the daiquiri was a nod to Cuba Libre. But Cuba was not its own. In 1898 it was either Spain or U.S. flags that were flown. When Spain was no longer in control it was like making deals with devil. The U.S. swoops in and changes everything. Infrastructure is improved but the locals are confused. Then along comes Castro…even he cannot ignore the Bacardi name which causes major trouble for the Bacardi name. Let me stop there. Read the rest of this biography of a beverage.
Last comment: my favorite trivia is the fact that Emilio and Elvira wanted to bring back a mummy from Egypt for the Bacardi museum. It needed to be taxed as “dried meat” in order to make the journey back to Cuba.
Line I liked, “Then he would be left alone with his own soul” (p 79), “the people of Santiago had never before seen a Cuban flag flying over their own city hall” (p 91).
Author fact: Gjelten, at the time of Book Lust To Go’s publication was a reporter for NPR. According to NPR’s website, he’s still there.
Book trivia: I always love it when an author can include the pictures they describe in the text. Gjelten does this a few times and it is always wonderful to see what he captures his attention, to see the pictures through his eyes. Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba includes a good number of black and white photographs.
Nancy said: Pearl called Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba “fascinating.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean” (p 52).
Bennett, Ronan. The Catastrophist: a Novel. New york: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Reason read: Bennett celebrates a birthday in January.
The underlying theme of this political thriller is the mistiming of love. One is already more ready than the other to give into the insecurities of love…until they are not. Compared over and over to Graham Greene, Bennett’s Catastrophist is character driven and full of political intrigue. Irish novelist James Gillespie tells the story of his journey to the Belgian Congo to follow his Italian girlfriend, Ines. As an ambitious journalist, she is covering the Congolese struggle for independence. Once the passion of her life, now she has little time or patience for James. Meanwhile, his romantic pendulum has swung in the other direction, clinging to a newfound
adoration obsession for Ines. I found their relationship to be shallow and self-serving. But, no matter. James gets caught up in the politics and befriends all the wrong people, pushing Ines further away. When she takes up with another man, it appears all hope is lost for reconciliation with James…and yet, James is blindly willing to go to unbelievably remarkable lengths to show his devotion.
Line I really, really liked and just had to quote, “The apartment reeked of our estrangement” (p 160). One more, “He was too absorbed in disguising his own failure, from me, from himself” (p 206).
Author fact: Bennett has written a plethora of other books, but I am only reading The Catastrophist for the Challenge. Additionally, I read somewhere that Bennett had trouble with the law throughout his life, including accusations of murder, armed robbery, and conspiracy.
Book trivia: this should be a movie. There is certainly enough sex and violence to make it a thriller. There was talk of making a movie, but I’m not sure it ever got off the ground.
Nancy said: Pearl called The Catastrophist a “political thriller” and suggested it should be read with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African Colonialism (fiction)” (p 15).
Danticat, Edwidge. The Farming of Bones. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.
Reason read: Danticat’s birth month is in January. I may have mentioned this before, but she is barely a month older than me.
Danticat has one of those voices that just spills over you in a warm ooze. Be warned, though. She does not shy away from the harsh realities of extreme violence spurred on by dictatorial blind hatred. It begins slowly and subtly; almost a foreshadowing. A Haitian man, walking down the side of the road, is struck and killed by an automobile driven by a man rushing to get to the birth of his grandson. Consider this – the Haitian’s corpse is unceremoniously thrown into a deep and dark ravine to cover up the accident. The Dominican Republican man continues his hurried journey home without a second glance. Days later said-same grandson dies in his sleep and is given an elaborate vigil, an orchid painted casket, and ceremonial burial of grandeur. These two families, the hit and run victim and the newborn babe, share the same level of shock and grief but only one is allowed to fully demonstrate their pain. The Haitian man doesn’t even get a pine casket.
This is just the beginning of Danticat’s tale as we follow Haitian servant Amabelle Desir as she works in a wealthy Dominican Republic household. Life seems to be perfect considering the circumstances and her position in life. She is passionately in love with a cane worker she plans to marry and her employer was once a childhood playmate. They get along and Amabelle is treated well. Enter Domincan Republican dictator Rafael Trujillo and his plan to wipe out the entire Haitian population by mass genocide. Those who can not flee fast enough are subject to horrific torture before being hacked or burned to death. Amabelle’s world is turned upside down when she is separated from her love as she tries to escape the massacre.
The ending was perfect. I won’t give it away, but in order for this book to mean something there was no other ending possible.
Quotes I just have to quote, “Wherever I go, I will always be standing over her body” (p 205), “But some sorrows were simply too individual to share” (p 252), and “You may be surprised what we use our dreams to do, how we drape them over our sight and carry them like amulets to protect us from evil spells” (p 265).
Author fact: Danticat won the American Book Award for The Farming of Bones.
Book trivia: The Farming of Bones is Danticat’s second novel.
Nancy said: Pearl called The Farming of Bones “very political.” Because of the nonfiction elements to the story I would definitely agree.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Contrary Caribbean: Paradise and Pain” (p 55).
December was the whirlwind it always is. Exams, hiring, and personnel evaluations at work. Christmas cards and wrapping gifts at home. Celebrations with families and friends. The bestie and I had a great time on the last weekend before Christmas shopping. Yes, you read that correctly. We braved the stores on the Sunday before Christmas and had a blast. Kisa and I traveled to South Deerfield, Peaks Island, and Rockland for the holidays. Rockland was an unexpected twist, but it gave us more time with the mom. I didn’t get to all the books on my list. I couldn’t get a hold of the Seuss book to save my life. I should have known better. And, I wasn’t in the mood for Milne. Imagine that. The November Early Review never arrived. No big surprise there. That makes three for the year that didn’t show up. Here are the other books:
Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia
Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
Long Way from Home by Connie Briscoe
Art of Travel by Alain De Botton (AB)
Before the Deluge: a portrait of Berlin in the 1920s by Otto Friedrich
People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons
Saddest Pleasure: a journey on two rivers by Moritz Thomsen
Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (AB)
The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset
Without Fail by Lee Child
Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything. Read by Bill Bryson.
Reason read: Bill Bryson was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.
When I first started reading A Short History of Nearly Everything I wanted to document every “history” Bryson exposed and explained. I thought it would be fun except for the fact I quickly lost track. Short History starts out simple enough: the history of the atom and an explanation of the inflation theory. In other words, the history of you and the universe respectively. Then there’s a deeper dive into the question of space, the galaxy and our place in the solar system. Somehow we moved onto inverse square law and the weight (literally) of the world. We explore volcanoes and earthquakes and the (un)predictability of natural disasters. Then there are the disasters that are not so quite natural which man insists on taking part like free diving. Then there are the bugs and so on and so forth.
Probably one of the best sections was about the struggle to make Pluto a planet. We determined we had four rocky inner planets, four gassy outer planets…and one teeny, tiny lone ball of ice.
The obvious drawback to reading something out of date is the predictions for the future are now obsolete.
what I have learned from reading Short History is not the what Bryson explains but how it’s explained. The telling is everything.
Quotes I just had to quote. Here is an example of Bryson’s humor, “Being you is not a gratifying experience at the atomic level” (p 5), and “Of course, it is possible that alien beings travel billions of miles to amuse themselves by planting crop circles in Wiltshire or frightening the daylights out of some poor guy in a pickup truck on a lonely road in Arizona (they must have teenagers, after all), but it does seem unlikely” (p 27).
Author fact: I poked around Bill Bryson’s FaceBook page. It’s pretty funny.
Book trivia: I am listening to the audio version read by Bill Bryson. Pearl may think that the book itself shouldn’t be missed, but I say the book actually read by the author shouldn’t be missed either.
Nancy said: Pearl has an asterisk next to A Short History of Nearly Everything as one Bryson book that especially shouldn’t be missed. I said that already.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Bill Bryson: Too Good To miss” (p 36).
Friedrich, Otto. Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1029’s. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.
Reason read: Berlin has a tattoo festival every year in Berlin.
There is a small possibility I will visit Berlin in the next year or so. It is hard to imagine the contrary Berlin of the 1920’s. Beautiful girls dressed in flapper style, kicking it up in glitzy cabarets (a la Louise Brooks, also known as Lulu) against a backdrop of war, and poverty, and influenza ravaged misery. One war was over while another bubbled just below the surface, waiting to burst forth.
The 1920’s was also a great period of scientific inquiry and wonderment. Britain and Germany had been on opposite sides of World War I, but astronomers were not concerned with that detail. Scientists on both sides were single-minded in their desire to study the eclipse. At the same time, the German government saw the benefit of using the new technology of moving pictures to show their propaganda films. Albert Einstein was in his prime.
The most fascinating thing about Before the Deluge is Friedrich’s interviews with people who could remember the height of the 20’s in Berlin. People who were aware events like if the Communists had voted in force, Marshall Paul Von Hindenburg would have never been elected to rule the German Republic. If the weather had been slightly better Hindenburg never would have appointed a young man named Adolf Hitler as Chancellor….
Quote that gave me pause: “Berlin in the winter is never a very cheerful place” (p 36). Even at Christmastime? I have to wonder.
Author fact: Friedrich went to Harvard (born in Boston).
Book trivia: There is a very cool fold out map several pages into Before the Deluge. Much better than inside the front cover of the book.
Nancy said: Pearl says, “you can’t get a better sense of Berlin between the wars than by reading Otto Friedrich’s Before the Deluge.” She then goes on to say it would be interesting to use Before the Deluge as a guidebook to present day Berlin. I don’t think so. Before the Deluge was first published in the early 1970’s. A lot has changed since then…
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the crazy simple chapter called “Berlin” (p 36). Imagine that.
December started with an overnight to New York City. This is going to sound strange coming from a girl from a small town in Maine, but I love, love, love the Big Apple. I love the grit and congestion. I love all the food choices (pizza!). Of course I also love the fact I can leave it!
We were there to see Natalie Merchant receive the John Lennon Real Love Award at Symphony Space. A fantastic night! Since we rattled down to the city via rails I was able to get a lot of reading done. Here is the proposed plan for the rest of the month:
- The Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia (EB) – in honor of December being the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “best month to travel to. [location” books but I guess not.
- A Long Way From Home by Connie Briscoe (EB) – in honor of Briscoe’s birth month being in December.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – for Christmas.
- Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – in honor of the month Eeyore was born.
- A People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons (P) – in honor of the history of the Constitution. Yes, I know I read this some years ago, but I can’t find the review anywhere, so I am reading it again.
- The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton (EB) – in honor of de Botton’s birth month being in December.
- A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (EB) – in honor of Bryson’s borth month being in December.
- Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich (EB)- in honor of Berlin’s Tattoo Festival which takes place in December every year.
- Saddest Pleasure by Moritz Thomsen – in honor of Brazil’s first emperor.
- Without Fail by Lee Child (EB) – started in July.
- The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset (EB) – started in October.
O’Brian, Patrick. Blue at the Mizzen. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999.
Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of my dad’s birthday in May.
The Surprise had been a man-of-war vessel. It’s newest assignment as a research vessel was a hydrographical assessment. Captain Jack Aubrey has been charged with conducting a survey of Magellan’s Strait, the Horn, and the Chile coast. Additionally, Aubrey agreed to help Chile assert its independence from Spain. Aubrey just can’t stay away from a good political conflict and his decision has its consequences.
Blue at the Mizzen focuses a little more on the personal lives of Jack Aubrey and especially Doctor Stephen Maturin, which was a pleasant surprise. Jack’s brief romance with a married woman, his cousin Isobel was short lived, but Maturin’s was a little more substantial. As a widower, he travels to Africa where his birding adventure with fellow bird enthusiast Christine sparks a romance. While his proposal goes unaccepted in the heat of the moment, he continues to write to her from sea and his letters become a diary of sorts (extremely helpful with the narrative).
Of course O’Brian adds plenty of swashbuckling drama as well as international intrigue to his plot besides romance. At the end, Aubrey is set up to go aboard the HMS Implacable, hoist his flag “blue at the mizzen” and take control of the squadron. This will set the plot for the next Aubrey/Maturin saga.
Quote I laughed at, “…a damned awkward veering wind and as black as the Devil’s arse” (p 8).
Most truthful line, “The sea, if it teaches nothing else, does at least compel a submission to the inevitable which resembles patience” (p 154).
Author fact: I’m hearing rumors that O’Brian wasn’t a particularly nice guy, especially to his first wife.
Book trivia: Blue at the Mizzen was O’Brian’s last completed novel.
Nancy said: Pearl said the series was best read in order.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “Sea Stories” (p 217).
O’Brian, Patrick. Master and Commander. Read by John Lee. Santa Ana, CA: Books on Tape, Inc., 1991.
Reason read: for my dad. He was born in the month of May and he loved stories about sea adventures.
For starters, Master and Commander is an excellent lesson in naval warships. The dense nautical terminology will make your eyes go dry if you let it. There are many areas where the plot and dialogue altogether cease making it an arid read. Amidst the didactic seagoing vessel lesson 19th century Britain is at war with France’s brash Napoleon. Young Jack Aubrey has been promoted to commander of the sloop Sophie. Along as his right hand man is Doctor Stephen Maturin. He acts as ship medic and surgeon and together they fight enemies on the high seas. Aubrey and Maturin are as different as they come but they balance each other out and truly need one another. Their relationship is the cornerstone of the whole series.
For every adventurer Master and Commander is a must read. Every battle is played out in stunning detail. Life on a man-of-war could not be any more vivid.
Author fact: Patrick O’Brian was born Richard Patrick Russ.
Book trivia: Master and Commander is first in the series and definitely should be read before any of the others in the series.
Nancy said: Pearl called Master and Commander an “archetypal oceangoing adventure…[one] that [is] well loved by both men and women, and by those readers who have spent time on boats as well as those who have never set foot in a seagoing vessal on even stepped into a rowboat, kayak , or canoe.” She also mentioned O’Brian’s “reliable historical detail and evocative writing” (Book Lust p 217).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Sea Stories” (p 217).
I can’t even begin to describe May. My first time to the Southwest. My first time traveling with family. Many different firsts. But, enough of that. Here are the books:
- The Man in Gray Flannel by Sloan Wilson
- Mariner’s Compass by Earlene Fowler
- Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor
- Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
- Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
- Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs
- Farthest North by Dr. Fridtjof Nansen
- Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
- Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters