When I look back at August my first thought is what the hell happened? The month went by way too fast. Could the fact that I saw the Grateful Dead, Natalie Merchant (4xs), Trey Anastasio, Sirsy, and Aerosmith all in the same month have anything to do with that? Probably. It was a big month for traveling (Vermont, Connecticut, NYC) and for being alone while Kisa was in Charlotte, Roanoke, Erie, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Colorado. And. And, And! I got some running done! The treadmill was broken for twenty days but in the last eleven days I eked out 12.2 miles. Meh. It’s something. Speaking of something, here are the books:
- African Queen by C.S. Forester
- Antonia Saw the Oryx First by Maria Thomas
- Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object by Laurie Colwin
- Strong Motion by Jonathan Frazen
- Beauty by Robin McKinley
- Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes
- American Chica by Marie Arana
- Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge
- Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson
- Die Trying by Lee Child
- Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov
Early Review cleanup:
- Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm
- Open Water by Mikael Rosen
Last month (okay, yesterday!) I whined about how I have been feeling uninspired writing this blog. I think it’s because I haven’t really been in touch with what I’ve been reading. None of the books in July jump started my heart into beating just a little faster. “Dull torpor” as Natalie would say in the Maniacs song, Like the Weather. Maybe it comes down to wanting more oomph in my I’mNotSureWhat; meaning I don’t know if what I need or what would fire me up enough to burn down my yesterdays; at least so that they aren’t repeated tomorrow. I’m just not sure.
Hopefully, these books will do something for me:
- African Queen by Cecil Forester – in honor of the movie. Can I be honest? I’ve never seen the movie!
- Antonia Saw the Oryx First by Maria Thomas (EB/print) – in honor of August being Friendship month.
- Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object (EB/print) by Laurie Colwin – in honor of August being National Grief Month.
- Strong Motion by Jonathan Frazen (EB/print) – in honor of August being Frazen’s birth month.
- Beauty: the Retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley (EB/print) – in honor of August being Fairy Tale month.
- Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge (EB/print) – in memory of Florence Nightingale. August is her death month.
- American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood by Maria Arana (EB/print) – a memoir in honor of August being “Selfish Month.”
- If there is time: What Just Happened by James Gleick – in honor of Back to School month.
- Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov (EB/print) – the penultimate book in the Foundation series.
- Die Trying by Lee child (AB/EB/print) – the second book in the Jack Reacher series.
- Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm (started in July).
- Open Water by Mikael Sturm.
So. I never posted what I hoped to accomplish reading for July. Whoops and whoops. To tell you the truth, I got busy with other things. What other things I couldn’t tell you. It’s not the thing keeping me up at night. Besides, if I’m truly honest no one reads this blather anyway. In my mind the “you” that I address is really me, myself and moi; our own whacked out sense of conformity. Let’s face it, my reviews are as uninspiring as dry toast carelessly dropped in sand. It’s obvious something needs to change. I just haven’t figured out what that something is or what the much needed change looks like. Not yet at least. I need a who, where, what, why, and how analysis to shake off the same as it ever was. It’ll come to me eventually.
But, enough of that and that and that. Here’s what July looked like for books and why:
- Killing Floor by Lee Child – in honor of New York becoming a state in July (Child lives in New York).
- Alligator by Lisa Moore – in honor of Orangemen Day in Newfoundland.
- Forrest Gump by winston Groom – on honor of the movie of the same name being released in the month of July.
- Aunt Julia and the Script Writer by Mario Vargas Llosa – in honor of July being the busiest month to visit Peru.
- Accidental Man by Iris Murdoch – in honor of Murdoch’s birth month.
- Blood Safari by Leon Meyer – in honor of Meyer’s birth month.
- By the River Piedra I Sat down and Wept by Paulo Coelho – in honor of July being Summer Fling Month.
- Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Yes, I am behind.
- Blood Spilt by Asa Larsson.
- Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope. Confessional. Even though there are two more books in the Barsetshire Chronicles I am putting Trollope back on the shelf for a little while. The stories are not interconnected and I am getting bored.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm. I only started this. It will be finished in August.
What startles me as I type this list is I didn’t finish any nonfiction in July. I started the Holocaust memoir but haven’t finished it yet. No nonfiction. Huh.
Shute, Nevil. On the Beach. Read by Simon Prebble. New York: Recorded Books, 1991.
Reason read: Nevil Shute was born and died in January; read in his honor.
Preoccupation with The Bomb. Nuclear war. Alphaville wrote Forever Young thinking about the bomb. Randy Newman sneered about dropping the bomb…boom goes London. Shute takes it one step further. The nuclear bombs of World War III have been dropped and as far as anyone knows, the entire northern hemisphere has been completely wiped out. There’s not a soul alive above the equator. It’s only a matter of time before winds blow the deadly radioactive fallout to New Zealand and Australia. For naval officers Peter Holmes and Dwight Towers stationed in Melbourne it is their job to pilot a submarine to the northern hemisphere to seek out survivors and make predictions about their own mortality. Will the deadly dust reach them in a year? A month? A week? No matter the time frame for surely they will all die. It’s a bleak read, there’s no doubt about that, but the characters are worth it. For Dwight Towers, originally from Connecticut, knowing he will never see his wife and children again is a hard pill to swallow. For young and beautiful Moira Davidson drinking her denial is the best policy. Others seek solace in the suicide pill or carrying on as if nothing tragic is going to happen. I found myself asking what would I do in this situation?
Author fact: Shute has his own fan webpage here.
Book trivia: When On the Beach was first published in 1957 it was met with sour reviews. Too depressing they all said.
Nancy said: Nevil is “probably best known for On the Beach” (p 198).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obviously called “Nevil Shute: Too Good To Miss” (p 198).
Skibell, Joseph. A Blessing on the Moon. Read by Allen Rickman. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2010.
Reason read: Halloween is a-coming and this is scary in a tickle your funny bone kind of way.
This is a startling Holocaust story. Right from the beginning the language grips you and grips you hard. Chaim Skibelski, a 60 year old Polish man, is shot along with hundreds of fellow Jews. He has been left to bleed out in a stinking heap. Murder doesn’t turn out to be very peaceful for Chaim. As a ghost-like entity caught between Life and The World to Come, he is condemned to roam with his former rabbi-turned-talking-crow, Rebbe. Together they are in an alternate afterlife trying to find purpose. That is the burning question. Why were they left behind? When Skibelski returns to his small Polish village he finds it overrun with non-Jews. They have moved into his house dragging their prejudices behind them.
Dear readers beware: while Skibell’s writing sometimes evokes magical imagery, the time frame is dark and tragic so definitely expect violence, destruction and decay. It is at once gory and gorgeous. The worms crawl in. The worms crawl out. Skibelski continuously bleeds from the bullet holes. His face is half missing. Corpses and his family and friends rot and stink and fall apart like a zombie movie. While listening to this on cd I was taken aback when Skibelski started to bleed from his anus. Fear not, dear readers. You get used to it. You will even learn to laugh at it.
In all honesty, I could see this as a Tim Burton film. There is sex and even humor amid the putrid. One of my favorite scenes was when Skibelski comes across a decapitated German soldier trying to kill him again. Yes, you read that right. Skibelski kicks the soldier’s head down a hill all the while arguing with the soldier about why he doesn’t need to die again. The dialogue is to die for (pun totally intended).
Author fact: Skibell has his own website here.
Book trivia: The audio version is read by Allen Rickman and he does a fabulous job. His comedic timing is perfect and I loved the voice of the crow.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter obviously called “Magical Realism” (p 148).
November was a very up and down, all over the place month. I started the month of November by worrying about breast exams and pap smears and ended it stressing about unanswered tests. I started the month worrying about Thanksgiving and ended it by wishing time with family would never end. In between I gave up my sirsy plate, rewrote an entire assessment plan, made a new friend, walked away from heartache, closed the door on an old chapter, and discovered a guilty pleasure. Speaking of guilty pleasures. For books it was:
- Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling ~ childrens book. I read the stories about the alphabet and the first letter. Very cute.
- Dingley Falls by Michael Malone ~ 560 pages of sexy, funny, soap-opera-like, over the top fun!
- An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey ~ a great reference tool for those who like Indian cuisine (yum!)
- Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill – Visions of Glory 1874 – 1932 by William Manchester ~ 900+ page biography on part of Winston Churchill’s life.
- The Plague by Albert Camus ~ in honor of Camus’s birth month (& a reread).
- Last Best Place: a Montana Anthology edited by William Kittredge and Annick Smith ~ just exactly what it sounds like, an anthology about Montana.
For the fun of it I banged out Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink in one night, thanks to a Phish show. If Kipling’s book is for children I would call Brink’s book for grade schoolers…
For LibraryThing & the Early Review program I finished Ostrich Feathers by Miriam Romm. There was a lot of heart and soul poured into the writing of this book! I also read and reviewed Penelope Holt’s The Apple. While both Early Review books covered the Holocaust (one nonfiction, one fiction) their styles were incredibly different. I found The Apple to be more soul-piercing, if that makes sense.
Note: Barbara Kingsolver came out with a new book on November 3rd. It has been torture not to run out and buy a copy for myself!
Holt, Penelope. The Apple. New York: York House Press, 2009.
Can I call this book righting a wrong? While it doesn’t go that far, I feel like it goes a long way to making a once-ugly story beautiful again.
The Apple is a love story based on “the Herman Rosenblat Holocaust Love Story.” If you don’t know anything about the Herman Rosenblat story The Apple is a sweet tale about how a young Jewish boy survives the Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwald. If you do know Rosenblat’s story The Apple becomes an explanation, a reasoning for the fabrication of a once-true (but not) romance during war; a story of love in hell. It give the lie a little more reason, if you will.
Rosenblat is a Holocaust survivor who claimed to have met his future wife during his imprisonment at Buchenwald. He was 15 and she was 9. He claimed she kept him alive by throwing an apple a day over the barbed wire fence, unbeknownst the to guards and other prisoners. Years later, supposedly reunited by a blind date, they fall in love and have been married ever since. Their story attracted the attention of the media and soon they were the darlings of the talk show circuit, including Oprah. Quickly, a book and movie deal were in the works. This amazing story needed to be told. Imagine everyone’s surprise when historians and holocaust survivors alike started crying foul. Details didn’t add up and soon Rosenblat was admitting he fabricated scenarios and embellished details. But, what of the wife? Surely she needed to corroborate the story in order to make it the romance of the century?
At times I found The Apple difficult to read. The subject matter is sobering, the details are intense. While it is considered a work of fiction, Hitler’s reign of terror really did happen. Concentration camps like Buchenwald and Treblinka existed as communities of torture and slavery. There is no denying the pain that Herman Rosenblat suffered and survived. Holt’s account of that time is raw and unflinching. Her writing is as strong as Rosenblat’s desire to bring a beautiful end to an otherwise painful history.
Romm, Miriam. Ostrich Feathers. New York: Gefen Publishing House, 2009.
I had a hard time getting into this book. Maybe it’s from all the head-in-the-sand burying I did about the subject matter in the past.
I have always said reading translations were difficult for me. I cannot help but question situations and details and wonder if they haven’t been distorted by the translation. Miriam Romm’s slightly autobiographical story of the search for her biological father takes her back to Poland where she befriends an elderly man she secretly hopes is her real father. Their conversations and efforts to uncover the truth of the past are mechanical and false sounding. I blame this on the translation. When Miriam laments that she is an orphan despite having a biological mother and sister I blame the translation for a loose interpretation of the word ‘orphan’. When Miriam contradicts herself about sources or when ages don’t add up I again, blame the translation. Chronological order is confusing as well.
But, probably the biggest obstacle I had to reading Ostrich Feathers was the lack of evidence her biological father even survived the Holocaust. It isn’t clear what detail led her to believe he hadn’t been murdered by the Nazis. What evidence did she have that would make her, an otherwise smart woman, cling to the improbability that this stranger was her father? It bothered me at the end when she suggests she used the old man to fuel a fantasy.
While Ostrich Feathers was written with obvious passion and intensity probably the best and most fascinating part of the story is Romm’s research abilities. The fact she was able to recover so much lost information and family history is really remarkable.
Confession: I was surprised “Carl” wasn’t included in the list of acknowledgements. Was he even a real person? Was his character created as a literary vehicle for telling the story?