May Has Her Reasons

This is the first month since September that I don’t have some kind of race looming. It feels weird to not worry about the run. I guess I can concentrate on the books:

Fiction:

  • Landfall: a Channel Story by Nevil Shute – in honor of the month the movie was released.
  • Main Street by Sinclair Lewis – in honor of Minnesota becoming a state in May (AB).
  • Bruised Hibiscus by Elizabeth Nunez – on honor of the Pan Ramjay festival held in May.
  • Adrian Mole: the Cappuccino Years by Sue Townsend – in honor of Mother’s Day.

Nonfiction:

  • Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer – in honor of the failed Mount Everest climb in May 1994.

Series continuations:

  • Jade Island by Elizabeth Lowell – to continue the series started in April in honor of Lowell’s birth month.
  • Warding of Witch World by Andre Norton – to continue the series started in March to honor the month of Norton’s passing.

Something new! I just discovered archive dot org! They are brilliant! I have been able to find a bunch of the books I have on my Challenge list, including two for this month. That means I will be able to leave the print at home and still read on my lunch break!


I Will Bear Witness Vol. 2

Klemperer, Victor. I Will Bear Witness: a Diary of the Nazi Years 1942 – 1945. Translated by Martin Chalmers. New York: Random House, 1995.

Reason read: Victor Klemperer was born on October 9th. This is the second volume of his journal.

In the first installment of I Will Bear Witness Klemperer spent a great deal of time worrying about his health and borrowing money from one of his siblings. He stressed constantly about being in debt and dying of a heart attack. He didn’t know which was worse. In the second installment, as the Gestapo power grows crueler and crueler, Klemperer’s worries shift from paying the bills to getting enough food to eat and being “arrested” or called to the concentration camps. He is helpless with despair as he hears of dogcatching soldiers who are actually hunting Jews. Terror reins when friends are arrested and then shot “trying to escape”, and worse. Those unwilling to meet an unpredictable fate take matters into their own hands by committing suicide. In the face of all this uncertainty, little by little Klemperer and his wife lose simple creature comforts. When they move into their third and smallest apartment Victor is shocked by the lack of privacy; the promiscuity of everyone living so close to one another. Then the bombs fall. This is probably the most revealing of Klemperer’s diaries. How he and his wife escape is nothing short of miraculous. I held my breath through every page.

As an aside, I wish Klemperer would have shared his thoughts on I,Claudius by Robert Graves. It’s on my Challenge list.

Author fact: Using the confusion following the Allied bombing of Dresden, Klemperer and his wife escaped.

Quotes to mention (and there were a few since Klemperer was so profound). First, early on: “The feeling that it is my duty to write, that it is my life’s task, my calling” (p 12). Then later,  “Religion or trust in God is a dirty business” (p 110), “But the inheritor of today is the evacuee or murder victim of tomorrow” (p 167), and “” ().

Book trivia: I Will Bear Witness is also known as To the Bitter End and is actually the second volume in a three-volume set. I am not reading the third installment, The Lesser Evil (1945 – 1959). In fact, it was never mentioned in Book Lust at all.

Nancy said: Nancy said Klemperer was “one of the best observers whose records we have of those terrible, and ordinary, years inside Germany” (p 131).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Journals and Letters: We Are All Voyeurs at Heart” (p 130). Note: There is a typo in the index for both volumes of I Will Bear Witness. Both are indexed as I Will Beat Witness.


I Will Bear Witness

Klemperer, Victor. I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933 – 1941. Translated by Martin Chalmers. New York: Random House, 1998.

Reason read: Klemperer was born on October 9th in 1881. He started keeping a diary at 17 years of age. I Will Bear Witness was read in his honor.

No matter how you dress it up, this is a hard book to read. Mainly because hindsight is 20/20 and we know what a travesty the Nazi years truly were to the German-Jewish people. Today, more than ever, reading Klemperer’s journals are valuable lessons in fortitude, courage, and grace. Despite everything he remained committed to documenting his world around him…even as it slowly fell apart. I see similarities to modern day America. At first the indignity was small, a blip: the loss of admittance to his library’s reading room. No Jews allowed. Then, the indignities became too big to ignore – the loss of his teaching position at the university, then use of the beloved automobile, then they had to move from their new dream house. Every creature comfort was slowly stripped away. His typewriter, tobacco, even new socks. Can you imagine smoking blackberry tea or filling an application for used socks? What is so admirable is, in the face of all this humility, Klemperer still recognized and drew attention to the civility his enemy occasionally displayed.

From the very beginning, although he was only 52 years of age at the start of I Will Bear Witness, Klemperer was convinced he had not long to live. He made comments like, “I no longer think about tomorrow” (p 15), and “My heart cannot bear all this misery much longer” (p 17). He was sure his heart would give out any day. It was if each passing birthday came as a shock to him because he could see the future of Germany’s political landscape. How would he survive it? Yet, every day he strove to improve his life and that of his wife of 45 years. Buying land, building a house, learning to drive a car, taking Eva to her beloved flower shows, keeping a diary and continuing to write throughout it all. These are the little triumphs of Klemperer’s life.

Confessional: Because his sentences were so choppy, it took me some time to get into the rhythm of his words.

Favorite line, “The man is a blinkered fanatic” (p 41). One guess who he was talking about! Another line I have to mention, “I do not know whether history is racing ahead or standing still” (p 79). This, after Hindenburg’s death. The magnitude of the implications! One last quote to quote, “It cannot be helped, one cannot live normally in an abnormal time” (p 227).

Author fact: In the end Klemperer’s heart did betray him. He died of a heart attack in 1960 when he was 79 years old.

Book trivia: This is truly trivia, but I love, love, love the photograph of Eva and Victor Klemperer on the spine of I Will Bear Witness. Both are standing behind their beloved automobile with smiles on their faces. Victor is hunched in such a way he actually appears to be laughing. He has an impish look on his face.

Nancy said: Klemperer was “one of the best observers whose records we have of those terrible, and ordinary, years inside Germany” (p 131).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Journals and Letters: We Are All Voyeurs at Heart” (p 130).


Any Human Heart

Boyd, William. Any Human Heart. Read by Simon Vance. Blackstone Audio, 2011.

Reason read: Most people start a journal in January. this is one giant journal.

The journals of Logan Mountstuart tell of his long and colorful life as an art dealer, writer, lover, spy, prisoner, and sometimes cad. Spanning December 10th, 1923 to October 5th, 1991 we watch as the 20th century unfolds. What makes Any Human Heart so enticing is the inclusion of real events (World War II, the death of JFK,  and the first moon walk, to name a few) and real people, especially from the worlds of art and literature; people like Picasso and Hemingway.

You know the saying, you can’t judge a book by its cover? Well, let it be said, you can’t judge a book by its length either. I was convinced I would have to slog through 500 plus pages half paying attention. Wrong. This was delightful. Devious, but delightful.
There was one review that stuck with me as I was reading Any Human Heart. The New York Times said you could almost forget Logan Mountstuart is not a real person. His journal entries are convincingly honest. I couldn’t agree more.

Lines I liked, “I have no home but all the ingredients of home” (p 181), “You think it begins to diminish with time, the pain, the it comes back and hits you with a rawness and freshness you had forgotten” (p 301), and “As I write this I feel that draining, hollowing helplessness that genuine love for another person produces in you” (p 422). In the end, I loved Logan specifically for this line.

Note: because this was such a long audio book I was afraid I wouldn’t finish listening to it in time. I had to simultaneously read the print version to get through it faster.

Book trivia: this was made into a PBS television series. It aired in 2011.

Author fact: Boyd also wrote Brazzaville Beach, also on my list. Can’t wait to read it.

Nancy said: “wonderful reading” but she said that about the entire chapter and not just Any Human Heart.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Just Too Good To Miss” (p 132).


Flower and the Nettle

Lindbergh, Anne Morrow. The Flower and the Nettle: Diaries and Letters 1936 – 1939. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976.

The Flower and the Nettle is Anne’s return to the living. It covers 1936 to 1939. After the death of her first born son she and Charles take their second son, Jon, to England for an “indefinite” stay. They are literally driven out of their own country by the media’s insatiable need to photograph and question the family. First, it was Charles Lindbergh’s fame, then it was the kidnapping and murder of their first child. It is at a rambling rented cottage in England called Long Barn that Anne and Charles can finally relax and be themselves again. Jon is allowed to play freely on the lawn without massive hyper-vigilant supervision. Anne is able to concentrate on her writing. It is here that humor returns to her diaries and letters. She says things like, “It is so delicious” (p 30), and “living passionately in the present” (p 31). Later, after her third son Land is born, Anne and her family move to Illiec off the coast of France. This is the “flower” part of her life. The “nettle” is the approach of World War II and the ensnaring politics. Following Charles to Russia for business Anne vocalizes her discontent with the country. She uses words like dirty, hideous, mediocrity, drab, shoddy, third-rate and glum to describe such things as the poor middle class. She is quick to comment negatively on their fashions and complexions. This took me by surprise. What I needed to keep in mind is the intense scrutiny Anne and her family felt. The longer they stay away from America, the more “pro-Nazi” they are “villainized” as being.

One drawback of skipping a book in a series is the potential to not understand references made to that book in the next one. Because I didn’t read Locked Doors I didn’t grasp Lindbergh’s reference to a previous trip to Russia in 1933.

Favorite lines, “One gets so cramped in ordinary living” (p 76). A good excuse to get out there and do something extraordinary!

As an aside, looking at pictures of Long Barn I can’t help but think what a wonderful place! Don’t tell my husband, but it looks like my dream home! It would have been nice if Lindbergh had included maps of not only her travel destinations, but of the places she and her family lived in Europe.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January, in honor of Journal Month.

Book trivia: Maybe because The Flower and the Nettle is a longer book, there are more photographs. For the first time, Anne includes detailed pictures of the interiors of their residence. Long Barn looks like a place where I would like to live!

Author fact: At this point in Lindbergh’s life she considers herself a serious writer despite already publishing earlier.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Journals and Letters: We Are All Voyeurs at Heart” (p 131).


Locked Rooms and Open Doors

Lindbergh, Anne Morrow. Locked Rooms and Open Doors: Diaries and Letters 1933 – 1935.New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974.

Reason read: While I didn’t read this word for word, I wanted to peruse it to “keep up” with Anne. This should have been the next book in the series, after Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead, but for some reason Pearl doesn’t list it. At this point in Lindbergh’s life (1933-1935) she and her husband Charles are recovering from the kidnapping and murder of their first born son, Charles, Jr. They have a second son, Jon, who is now a toddler. Their big expedition is by seaplane crossing the Atlantic and exploring such places as Greenland and Africa. They are gone for nearly six months, but when they return they are faced with more tragedy. Sister Elizabeth passes away from pneumonia complicated by a heart condition and the kidnapping trial forces the Lindberghs to relive every moment of the tragedy of losing their son. It is at the end of Locked Rooms and Open Doors that Charles and Anne, in an effort to escape the public eye, leave the United States for England, a move that will prove controversial and have grave consequences.

Book trivia: Locked Rooms and Open Doors is the third book in Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s series of diaries and letters.

Author fact: At this point in Anne’s life she has become navigator, copilot, photographer, and log keeper for her husband. Her confidence and courage allows her to describe these expeditions with more color and detail.

BookLust Twist: none. This one was left out for some reason.


Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead

Lindbergh, Anne Morrow. Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead: Diaries and Letters 1929 – 1932.New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973.

If, in the letters and journals of Bring Me a Unicorn Anne Morrow Lindbergh was a fresh-faced college girl, she is now a daring pilot and adventurer in Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead. The year 1929 begins with Anne and Charles’ engagement. At this stage in her life she is quickly learning about the down side of being a celebrity (thanks to Charles and his airplane adventures). The couple can’t go anywhere without a throng of reporters following their every move. Anne has to be careful of what she writes to friends and family for fear of it getting out to the press and misconstrued. Charles and Anne even wear disguises to the opera. But, Anne still carries her enthusiasm with her. She continues to miss her siblings and mother madly (she never addresses her letters to her father) while she travels about the world. All this enthusiasm comes crashing to the ground at the end of 1931 when she loses her father and then again, in early 1932, when her son, Charles Jr., is kidnapped and found months later murdered. It is heartbreaking the way she refers to her son as, “the stolen child” as if she cannot bear to call him by name or even claim to be his mother. Throughout the rest of the book, Anne’s grief is heartbreaking. She tried to end on a happy note with the birth of her second son, Jon and the wedding of her sister, Elisabeth.

Quotes to take away: “I leaned on another’s strength until I discovered my own” (p 2). Speaking of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, “It took me by the teeth and shook me as a dog a rabbit, and I could not get over it” (p 56).  A line I can relate to, “I am wild, wild, wild to get home” (p 100). A line I cannot relate to, “After ten weeks of negotiation and contact with the kidnapper and the handing over of the demanded ransom, the dead body of the child was found in the woods a few miles from our home” (p 209).

Reason read: I read Bring Me A Unicorn in honor of January being Journal month. Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead continues the series.

Author fact: There is one degree of separation between Anne Morrow Lindbergh and myself! I had a small thrill on my second day of reading Hour of Gold when surprise, surprise! Anne mentions Monhegan Island! She is recounting all of the stops on her honeymoon with Charles and says, “Monhegan Island in here somewhere” (p 45). Judging by the dates of letters, she was there sometime between June 1 and June 7th, 1929.

Book trivia: Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead picks up where Bring Me a Unicorn left off. The next book in the sequence is Locked Rooms and Open Doors which I will not be reading. This period, from 1933 – 1935 will be skipped. Sad.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Journals and Letters: We Are All Voyeurs At Heart” (p 131).

PS ~ Even though Locked Rooms and Open Doors is not on my list I have decided to borrow it, just so I can look at the pictures and feel “caught up” for when I read Flower and the Nettle.


Bring Me a Unicorn

Lindbergh, Anne Morrow. Bring Me a Unicorn: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1922 – 1928. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972.

Bring Me a Unicorn is the first in a series of autobiographies by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. It covers her life from 1922 to 1928. I have to say Anne’s writing is delightful. I admire how brutally honest she is with herself. Her letters home are typical of any college kid, “sorry this is so rushed…I have been frightfully busy!” She is also typical in her growing interest in Colonel Lindbergh. She feels she is not in his league but mentions him more and more in her diary entries. You could see her attraction grow until she finally admits that she loves him. The photographs are great. They represent (visually) what was happening in Anne’s world at that present time.

Quotes from Anne I liked (letters): “You’re popular, clever, pretty, attractive, capable, and will be a big bug!” (p 5) Sent to her sister. I have no idea what “big bug” means. Here’s one from her diary: “A heavenly day: no deck tennis, no unnecessary people, no bores” (p 31).
The quote I could relate to the most: “Why is it that you can sometimes feel the reality of people more keenly through a letter than face to face?” Exactly. I feel that way, too.

Reason read: January is Journal month. Maybe it’s the New Year’s Resolution thing, but people start more journals in January than any other month.

Author fact: Anne was fearless. Although it wasn’t very ladylike she had an interest in aviation even before marrying Lindbergh.

Book trivia: Bring Me a Unicorn is the first part of Lindbergh’s autobiography. Hour of Gold, hour of Lead is the second.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Journals and Letters: We Are All Voyeurs At Heart” (p 131).


November ’12 was…

I don’t know what makes me feel this way, but November arrived and left before I knew it.  It felt like it was one of those elusive party-goers who pops in for a quick hello and is gone before anyone else knows. Something I would do. We had a fit of snow to add insult to New Jersey/New York injury. My neighborhood survived just fine but mother nature had it in for my old stomping grounds in the worst way.

My routine of reading during my lunch break hasn’t changed. I’ve come to look forward to camping out in the stacks, listening to students pass my study carrel. It gives me perspective. This month I seemed to read nothing but really short, easy to read books.

  • Good Thief’s Guide to Paris by Chris Ewan ~ a continuation of the series I started last month. I think I read this over a weekend.
  • Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Vol 2 by Giorgio Vasari ~ a continuation of the series I started last month.
  • Breakfast with Scot by Michael Downing ~ in honor of national adoption month. This was cute. I was able to read it in one day.
  • Camus, a Romance by Elizabeth Hawes ~ in honor of Camus being born in the month of November. I took my time with this but still managed to finish it in two weeks.
  • Scar Tissue by Michael Ignatieff ~ in honor of national Alzheimer’s month. Read over a weekend, I was glued to the words because almost a year ago I lost my uncle to dementia. This really hit home.
  • Before the Knife: Memories of an African Childhood by Carolyn Slaughter ~ in honor of November being a good time to visit Africa. Or so they say. Another quick, weekend read.
  • Edward Lear in Albania: Journals of a landscape Painter in the Balkansby Edward Lear ~ in honor of November being the best time to get to Albania (which I never thought of doing). This took me three weeks to get through.
  • The Cold Light of Mourning by Elizabeth Duncan ~ in honor of Dylan Thomas living in Wales. Don’t ask. It’s a long story. Read in four days.
  • The Viceroy of Ouidah by Bruce Chatwin ~ in honor of November being a good time to visit Africa (yeah, yeah I read two books for the same reason). This was really short. I was  able to read it over four lunch breaks.
  • Corregidora by Gayl Jones ~ in honor of Jones’s birth month. Another short (but difficult) read. Read this in one day.
  • The Akhenaten Adventure by P.B. Kerr ~ in honor of November being Fantasy convention month. Read this over two lunch breaks. Really cute.

For audio books I listened to:

  • Churchill, a Life by Martin Gilbert ~ in honor of Churchill being born in the month of November. A few trips to the eastern part of the state allowed me to finish this sooner than I thought.
  • The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers ~ for the fun of it. This was hard to listen to simply because of the heavy dialogue.
  • Complications: a Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande ~ in honor of National Health Month. This was only six cds long so it was a great way to finish out the month.

What else was November about? I got to see a pretty exciting Patriots game thanks to my husband. I also got to stay home alone and read for an entire Sunday thanks to another Patriots game. Staying local for Thanksgiving definitely allowed for more reading time, too.


It Must Be

Barnes, Scott P. It Must Be…(A Grand Canyon Trip): Drawings and Thoughts From a Winter Trip From Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek (December 19, 2010 – January 2, 2011). Charleston: 2011 [ISBN 9780615444055].

In the interest of full disclosure I must admit this upfront. Scott is a dear friend of mine. Gawd, that makes me (and him!) sound ninety years old. Let me rephrase. Scott has a piece of my heart, forever and always. As you might have guessed we were lovers, best friends, roommates, and even classmates at one point. We have 25 years of history. He is, and will remain, the only “ex” with whom I can have an intelligent conversation. To be more blunt, he is the only ex I talk to. Period.

All that being said, I found It Must Be to be a tease, disappointingly short. That was my very first thought upon seeing its size and opening its first pages. It was my last thought when I finished reading it the first time; well after I had seen and imagined its potential. My mind exploded with the possibilities for this slim missive. To say that I wanted more, more, more is a good thing. But, in the end I changed my mind about it all. First, let me back up and write a proper review:

At first glance It Must Be looks like a self-indulgent diary. One of those “vanity press” books when one wants to see themselves in print. In reality It Must Be is an unflinching look at our greatest natural resource, water. Specifically, the Colorado River. Hidden in the journal of a winter adventure down the Grand Canyon Barnes plays devil’s advocate and dares to ask about man’s wanton waste while recognizing we need water for work and for play beyond sustenance. It Must Be speaks to the naturalist, the avid boater, the ecologist, and the historian, but his most obvious audience is the artist. Brilliant color and detail explode from nearly every page. Canyon walls come alive in shades of red and blue, black and green, while the river’s ever-changing energy is captured in the same. While It Must Be is short and sweet (46 pages cover to cover) its final message is loud and clear, “how much do you need?”

Here are the places I thought could have had more “meat.” Barnes mentions Matkatamiba and Havasu Canyon as being highlights of the trip (p 22). I wanted to know why. What made these places worth mentioning? Also, I was intrigued by “mailboxes on page 37. Even though this is a “gimmick” that has been done in the past, I would have enjoyed a sample “note,” something to delicately lift from an envelope, unfold and read (think Nick Bantock). I had questions about these notes (beyond the obvious what did the notes say?), like ‘were the notes weathered and fragile?’ and ‘Were the notes dated and if so, how old was the oldest note?’ As I mentioned before, I thought It Must Be ended way too soon. I wanted more description. What was it like to have those majestic canyon walls crowned over your head? Maybe photographs instead of just a link. More visuals. More stories. Sights. Sounds. (Lights, camera, action!)
But, then again, no. Maybe not. Maybe the point was just what it was, a simple reflection on a meaningful trip. Maybe you as the reader are meant to hunger for more. Maybe the goal was not to satisfy a curiosity but to create one?

Favorite quotes, “Humans fool ourselves, so our desires must be” (p 2, if It Must Be had pages), “We cannot control what we don’t know” (p 10), and “The river must be allowed to flow” (p 30).
Favorite pages of art – 12, 20 & 33.

Author Fact: Barnes has a wicked sense of humor that is laced with sarcasm. It Must Be has hints of that bite.

Book Trivia: It Must Be is part journal, part retrospect, part sketchbook, part didactic, part lecture, and all heart.


Gift from the Sea

GiftsLindbergh, Anne Morrow. Gift From the Sea. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.

I have to say this is something every woman should read annually. The words and their meaning will change every single time and they will be different for every reader. In the simpliest of terms Gift From the Sea uses seashells, (whelk, moon shell, oyster) all gifts from the sea, as metaphors for life, vehicles for deeper thoughts. On vacation (ironically on an island, like me) Anne picks seashells and ponders religion, relationships, growing old, being young, nature, love and marriage…She picks at nagging thoughts like scabs, letting them bleed, revealing raw emotion and a tender heart. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“…I think best with a pencil in my hand” (p 9). I agree!
“…I have shed the shell of my life for these few weeks of vacation” (p 22). Since I was on vacation when I read that I had to smile because it happens to me, too.
“…social life is exhausting; one is wearing a mask” (p 32). Very true! Couldn’t have said it better myself.
“And since our communication seems more important to us than our chores, the chores are done without thinking” (p 100).

I read this in an afternoon. Gulls cried overhead, sea air salted my skin, waves crashed in the distance. It was the perfect setting for Gift from the Sea.

BookLust Twist: From the chapter called “Journals and Letters: We Are All Voyeurs at Heart” (p 130). I swear on everything holy I did NOT have More Book Lust with me when I wrote this review. I was still home without any of my Pearl books. So, I was incredibly surprised to read these words from Pearl, “Some of us still reread them yearly to remind ourselves of what’s important in this frantic world” (p 131). Pearl is referring to everything written by Lindbergh, but I had the exact same thought specifically about Gift from the Sea. Gift from the Sea is also in Book Lust in the chapter, “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade” (p 175).