Agony and the Ecstasy

Stone, Irving. The Agony and the Ecstasy: the Biographical Novel of Michelangelo. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1961.

Reason read: September is the month of the Italian holiday Feast of St. Gennaro.

I enjoyed the biographical novel of Michelangelo very much. The great master became flesh and blood before my very eyes: from early childhood Michelangelo was audacious. He could get his master to pay for his apprenticeship when it should have been the other way around. He could connive the mortuary key from a priest so that he could do the unthinkable – dissect corpses; all to better understand the muscles and bones that make up human body. He steals another man’s mistress because he could. He count strand up to a Pope and not take no for an answer. His loves were passionate: while he loved three women dearly, his art meant more than anything. He believed he was freeing his subjects from their marble prisons. He battled Pope Julius II who insisted Michelangelo work in every medium except marble. He was capable of emotional outbursts of jealousy and despair like when his competition with Leonardo da Vinci became too much or when the woman of his dreams held him at arms length and never offered him more than a hand to kiss…
He was such a tragic figure, but I also enjoyed getting to know Michelangelo as a physical human being; learning that he was ambidextrous while chiseling his sculptures. When his right hand grew tired of driving the chisel he would simply switch hands to keep working. The fact he became an architect at age seventy was astonishing.

Quotes I liked, “Strange how his heart could stand empty because his hands were empty” (p 169), “I need my complete self-respect” (p 439), and “Michelangelo’s ears were plugged with the bubbling hot wax of anger” (p 369). Oh! And the countless times Michelangelo said, “I’ll put my hand in fire” when he was extremely confident he could accomplish something.

Author fact: Irving Stone also wrote The Origin, a biographical novel about Charles Darwin (also on my Challenge list).

Book trivia: at the end of The Agony and the Ecstasy Stone includes a bibliography, glossary, and the present locations of Michelangelo’s works (present for 1961).

Nancy said: Pearl called The Agony and the Ecstasy a “great biographical novel. I would have to agree!

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ciao, Italia” (p 48).


The Painted Desert

“…April is over. Will you tell me how long before I can be there?”
-The Painted Desert, 10,000 Maniacs

I will have that song playing in my head from now until June. Not only am I planning to be there, the trip cannot happen soon enough. But for the purposes of this post: April is over and here are the books accomplished:

Fiction:

  • The Warden by Anthony Trollope.
  • The City and the House by Natalia Ginzburg (EB & print).
  • Summer at Fairacre by Miss Read (EB).
  • Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding.
  • All Souls by Javier Marias (EB & print).
  • All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor (AB and print).

Nonfiction:

  • Sixpence House by Paul Collins (EB & print).
  • Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs.

Series continuation:

  • Hunting Season by Nevada Barr (EB and print).
  • The Game by Laurie R. King (AB/AB/print).
  • Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith (EB & print)
  • Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov (EB)

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Red Earth: a Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness by Denise Uwimana

For fun:

  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – Yes! I finally finished it!

City and the House

Ginzberg, Natalia. The City and the House. New York: Seaver, 1987.

Reason read: April is Letter Writing Month. The City and the House is epistolary.

Giuseppe leaves Italy for Princeton, New Jersey where his newlywed brother has promised him a teacher of Biology position. Cousin Roberta keeps him up to date on what has happened to his apartment since the new neighbors moved in. She also supplies very gossipy reports on the doings of Giuseppe’s movie-maker son, Alberico and exlover, Lucrezia. But, Giuseppe and Roberta are not the only ones in communication. Letters confirming and denying gossip and truth fly back and forth between various friends, lovers, and family. The different perspectives remind me of Michael Dorris’s Yellow Raft in Blue Water.
Confessional: In the beginning I had to keep a notebook of all the characters writing back and forth to one another; the correspondence of family members referencing other family members, neighbors, and friends all flowed back and forth like a storm-tossed tide. But like any written correspondence there are gaps in information and speculation fills those gaps. Is Lucrezia in love with Ignazio Fegiz? She can barely stand to write his name. Hints becomes reality. It was interesting to see the cycle of relationships, people moving back to one another while others move on entirely.

Quotes to quote, “Two people can get along very well without having anything to talk about (p 36) and “Once you’ve reached a certain age you realize that either you stand on your own two feet or you’ve had it” (p 70).

Author fact: Ginzburg was an Italian Communist.

Book trivia: The City and the House is Ginzburg’s last novel.

Nancy said: Pearl said if the literary technique of tales told in letters The City and the House is a good one.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Epistolary Novels: Take a Letter” (p 79).


Playing For Pizza

Grisham, John. Playing for Pizza. New York: Bantam Dell, 2007.

Reason read: the Verdi Fest in Parma is traditionally held in October.

When we first meet Rick Dockery he is laid up in a hospital bed after a nasty American Football Conference championship game collision. After this latest concussion third string quarterback Dockery’s career is more than over. His agent, Arnie, is told over and over no one will touch him with a ten foot pole. Don’t even ask. Like many athletes with a less than stellar career, but the passion to play, Dockery heads to another country to continue playing the game he loves so much. He arrives in Italy with the stereotypical chip on his shoulder. Where are the cheerleaders? In his mind, it’s only a matter of time before he’ll be back in the States, playing for the NFL…or so he dreams. What follows is Dockery’s slow acceptance of Italy, his education of what Europeans consider football, and (gulp) what true loyalty means. Grisham keeps the plot light and uncomplicated for a quick and easy read.

Confession: when Dockery gets tangled up in a budding romance with a woman already involved in a seven year relationship I thought I would see more drama. Not so. I think that plot line was designed to introduce opera and not much else.

As an aside, Grisham’s descriptions Italy made me want to plan a visit. I made a list of every region and landmark he mentioned.

Funny quote, “Later he learned that Sly and Trey had been driven away by a drunk uncle who couldn’t find Parma” (p 101).

Author fact: Grisham makes a huge departure from his legal mysteries with Playing for Pizza but he didn’t go into it blind. Parma really does have a football team with a few American players.

Book trivia: Playing for Pizza is short enough to read in a weekend.

Nancy said: Nancy called Playing for Pizza “captivating” and described the plot a little.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Parma” (p 172).


Crazy Days of October

I don’t know where to begin with trying to explain October. From the beginning, I guess. It started with a trip home; a lovely week off with lots of reading accomplished. Then it was a New England Patriots football game followed by two Phish shows and a political rally for a state in which I do not live. If that wasn’t weird enough, I hung out with a person who could have raped or killed or loved me to death. Take your pick. Any one of those scenarios was more than possible. It was a truly bizarre month.
But, enough of that. Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • Playing for Pizza by John Grisham. Quick but cute read.
  • Call It Sleep by Henry Roth (AB/print). Sad.
  • The Chronoliths by Robert C. Wilson. Interesting.
  • Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (EB). Boring.

Nonfiction:

  • Oxford Book of Oxford edited by Jan Morris (EB/print). Only slightly less boring than¬†Bridge.
  • Always a Distant Anchorage by Hal Roth. Really interesting.
  • African Laughter by Doris Lessing. Okay.

Series continuations:

  • The Race of Scorpions by Dorothy Dunnett (EB/print). Detailed.
  • Finding the Dream by Nora Roberts (EB). Cute but glad the series is over.

Fun:

  • We Inspire Me by Andrea Pippins. Cute.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Gardening Under Lights by Leslie F. Halleck. When I set up the reads for October I didn’t include this because it hadn’t arrived yet.

I should add that October was a really frustrating month for books. I never really liked anything I was reading.


February Falling Up

I can only describe February as falling up because health-wise I am up on upswing. I’m still not really running yet (I’ve gone for four under-three-mile runs, but who’s counting?). I’m not really running but I haven’t fallen down either. Hence, falling up.

We had a snow day from work, I took a few days off for my birthday and we took a trip to New Jersey so I was able to get in a fair amount of reading. I spent President’s Day reading, too. Oh, and I almost forgot. I’m barely running so there’s that, too. Needless to say, I’ve been reading a lot. Weirdly enough, for all the reading I’ve done you would think there would be more books. Oh well. Speaking of the books, here they are:

Fiction:

  • Dead Room Farce by Simon Brett. Read in three days.
  • Captivated by Nora Roberts. Read on my iPad in four days.
  • Backup Men by Ross Thomas. Read in five days.
  • The Almond Picker by Simonetta Hornby.
  • Color of Money by Walter Tevis. Read in five days.

Nonfiction:

  • City of Falling Angels by John Berendt.
  • Full Steam Ahead by Rhoda Blumberg.

Series Continuation:

  • Beyond Euphrates by Freya Stark.

For Fun:

  • Ready, Player One by Ernest Cline.

City of Falling Angels

Berendt, John. The City of Falling Angels. Read by Holter Graham. New York: RandomHouse Audio, 2005.

Reason read: Read in honor of Venice Carnivale, which takes place in February.

Author fact: You might recognize John’s name as the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil which was a best seller and made into a movie.

When one thinks of Venice, the imagery of gondolas and waterways and brightly colored carnival masks usually come to mind. Venice itself is a complicated city and lends itself to an air of old world intrigue. John Berendt fell in love with the city the first time he visited. Upon a subsequent visit, Berendt arrived three days after a devastating fire has ravaged the grand a historic La Fenice Opera House. Rumors of arson swirl among the community prompting Berendt to put on his investigative persona and dig in the ashes of history. Eventually, through meeting a cast of colorful characters, he uncovers the truths and fictions surrounding La Fenice Opera House and Venice.
Special note: if you want to read City of Falling Angels, do yourself a favor and listen to it on CD and make sure to get the version with Berendt’s interview at the end. His explanation for the title of the book is eyeopening.

Narrator trivia: Holter Graham is also an actor for the big screen but I haven’t seen any of his movies.

Book trivia: The first thing that Berendt tells you about City of Falling Angels is that it is true. None of the names have been changed. It is truly a work of nonfiction.

Nancy said: Berendt’s book “explores contemporary Venice” and that he makes the city sound beautiful “despite its bureaucratic nightmares and dangers” (p 241). She even includes a quote she found especially evocative.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Veni, Vedi, Venice” (p 240).