Pastiloff, Jennifer. On Being Human: a Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real, and Listening Hard. New York: Dutton, 2020.
Reason read: in the interest of self reflection I thought I would read this book.
There is no doubt Pastiloff is a talented writer. She executes words and sentiments like an executive chef whipping up a ten course meal using only the best ingredients. To continue the cheesy analogy, her ability to accomplish goals and banish self-loathing is nothing short of delicious. I hunger for that soul discovery/recovery as well. I want it for myself like craving a hot cranberry maple scone on a Sunday morning…but I digress.
Back to Pastiloff’s On Being Human. I can’t say why this took me forever to read. I started it in July. Yes, July. Only now, at the end of December am I wrapping it up. My one complaint? Pastiloff’s chronology was all over the place. If this was meant to be a collection of short, chopped up essays I could understand the disjointedness of it all. As a memoir, jumping from one timeframe to another, one awakening or realization to the next, was a little confusing. Aside from that little critique, I loved On Being Human. What can I say that hasn’t already been said about this gigantic best seller? Nothing. It is vulnerable. It is lovely. It is broken and brave and beautiful. Just read it if you haven’t already.
Author fact: Jennifer has her own website and other socials here.
Book trivia: There are no photographs included in On Being Human, but if you look up Pastiloff on her website you will find a beautiful human. It is hard to imagine her being hung up on how she looks, but that’s what makes On Being Human that much more honest. Good looking people have insecurities as well.
Skelton, Helen. Wild Girl: How to Have Incredible Outdoor Adventures.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, this was the July pick.
The premise of Wild Girl is to inspire young women (or more accurately, young girls) to get outside and have grand adventures. The subtitle would have you believe this is a guide to teach girls exactly that, how to have those big adventures albeit on a much smaller scale than Skelton’s. (Make sure to ask your parents, she advises.) Upon closer inspection, Wild Girl reminded me of FaceBook in brag book form. It seems to be more of an illustrated memoir about Ms. Skelton’s own epic experiences, complete with several smiling photos in every chapter. There is no doubt she is an A type woman: athletic, attractive, adventurous, amusing, ambition, and without a doubt, aspiring. For every chapter (focused on a single event across the globe) there are eighteen to twenty pages dedicated to Skelton: where she went (South Pole, for example), what sport she performed (snowboard, kite skiing, snow biking), how long she was gone, the temperatures and weather she experienced in each region, what she packed for gear, how she prepared and/or trained, a snippet of a diary, really cute illustrations, and last but not least, several photographs of her performing her wild adventure. Only two pages are reserved for giving girls ideas or advice about how to have their own “epic” adventure (like having a snowball fight). The subtitle should have been how to inspire incredible outdoor adventures. Dream big! If I can do it, you can too!
Confessional: The coolest part of Skelton’s book is the two pages in each chapter dedicated to women who made names for themselves doing similar adventures. They get a mini biography and an illustration of their likeness.
Book trivia: There are well over fifty photographs of Helen in this slim book. The final printing will have them all in color! Very cool.
Kuklin, Susan. In Search of Safety: Voices of Refugees. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2020.
Reason read: this is an Early Review from LibraryThing. Although I am hardly reading anything these days, this was too important to ignore.
In Search of Safety is comprised of five refugee stories from five different parts of the world yet all have two common threads. All five stories are of individuals seeking safety despite varying circumstances. They all end up in the United States in, of all places, Nebraska.
Fraidoon from Afghanistan, Nathan from Myanmar, Nyarout from South Sudan, Shireen from Northern Iraq, and Dieudonne from Burundi. Each refugee demonstrates remarkable courage, strength and, above all, trust to journey to America. In Search of Safety is compassionate and Kuklin is respectful in telling each harrowing story. The book’s hidden strength is the amount of information in Part VI: Notes and Resources.
Book trivia: there is a great number of touching photographs and (in the published edition) maps.
Kennedy, Kate. More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Maine Women. Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 2005.
Reason read: to satisfy a Portland Public Reading Challenge category: Maine history.
More Than Petticoats is a series of biographies focusing on historically significant women by location. I believe every state in the country has a book and some states, like California, have a second volume. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge, I read More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Maine Women. Thirteen biographies of some women you might know and others you may not recognize: Marguerite-Blanche Thibodeau Cyr, Kate Furbish, Abbie Burgess Grant, Lillian M.N. Stevens, Sarah Orne Jewett, Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby, Lillian “La Nordica” Norton, Josephine Diebitsch Peary, Florence Nicolar Shay, Marguerite Thompson Zorach, Florence Eastman Williams, Sister R. Mildred Barker, and Margaret Chase Smith. From 1738 – 1995. I love Maine’s rich history. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Sarah Orne Jewett, Franklin Pierce. I could go on and on.
As an aside, my sister takes pictures of a water fountain close to her library. I now know the history of the girl: the Women’s Christian Temperance Union dedicated the fountain to Lillian M.N. Stevens. Very cool.
Confessional: I want to visit Abbie Burgess Grant’s grave. According to Kennedy, Grant is buried in the Forest Hill Cemetery in South Thomaston. Her final resting place should be easy to find. Her headstone is the one with the lighthouse.
I also want to visit Sarah Orne Jewett’s house in South Brunswick. I hear it’s open to the public. I should just go on a Maine Women vacation.
Canales, Viola. The Tequila Worm. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2005.
Reason read: another selection for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.
I have to admit it was the title of this book that first drew me in. I have never eaten the worm from a tequila bottle, but I have often wondered about it.
Sofia is someone I wish I had known in my own coming of age days. She is joyful, kind, and true to herself. Even at such a young age she knows an opportunity when she sees it and isn’t afraid to be ambitious enough to reach for it. Growing up in a barrio in Texas, Sofia cherishes her family traditions but wants to spread her wings. When she earns the opportunity to go away to a reputable boarding school she jumps at the chance. There she learns more about her culture by being without it. This is a heartwarming story about embracing differences and the power of family.
What to tell you? I spent February in a tailspin of old memories. To blame it on one singular event would be too simplistic. As they say, it’s complicated. Very. In other news I have been running! Successfully, I might add. February saw 40 miles conquered. Here are the books planned and completed:
- Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez (EB & print).
- Little Havana Blues edited by Julia Poey and Virgil Suarez (EB & print).
- The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber (EB, AB & print).
- The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (EB & print).
- All Deliberate Speed: reflections on the first half century of Brown v. Board of Education by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr (EB & print).
- Barrow’s Boys by Fergus Fleming (EB & print).
- Rome and a Villa by Eleanor Clark (EB & print).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- The 21: a journey into the land of the Coptic martyrs by Martin Mosebach (just started reading).
Leisure (print only):
- Migrations: Open Hearts, Open Borders: The Power of Human Migration and the Way That Walls and Bans Are No Match for Bravery and Hope by ICPBS.
- Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock.
- Morning Star by Nick Bantock.
- The Museum at Purgatory by Nick Bantock.
- Alexandria by Nick Bantock.
- The Gryphon by Nick Bantock.
Bantock, Nick. Alexandria: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Unfolds. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2002.
Reason: What a wicked game to play to make me feel this way. – Chris Isaac.
You all know the star couple of the early 1990s, Griffin Moss and Sabine Strohem, but do you know Matthew Sedon and his lovely paramour, Isabella de Reims? Matthew and Isabella are caught in that can’t-connect world Griffin and Sabine know all too well. Separated by continents, absence is making the heart turn passionate. Matthew struggles to keep his mind on archaeology dig in Egypt while Isabella attempts to study in France. Both encounter evil signs of nemesis Viktor Frolatti who seems bound and determined to keep them apart.
As always, Bantock’s art is stunning. Bold colors, violent insinuations, and passionate designs decorate every postcard, letter, envelope and stamp exchanged. As always, the voyeuristic thrill of opening someone’s mail cannot be ignored.
Bantock, Nick. Gryphon: in which the extraordinary correspondence of Griffin and Sabine is rediscovered. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2001.
Reason read: I have flung myself so far down the rabbit hole I can’t find my way home. Maybe I’ve lost sight of what home means. I don’t know. After revisiting Griffin & Sabine and Sabine’s Notebook I realized I couldn’t stop with The Golden Mean. I couldn’t stop. At all. I couldn’t stop. For nothing. I guess you could say it was all for nothing.
In Gryphon we move on from Griffin and Sabine to Matthew and Isabella, another pair of star-crossed lovers. Don’t worry, G & S are still there, just in a murkier role. Sabine needs help from archaeologist Matthew, but the meaning behind her request is all smoke and mirrors. As with all the other books in the series, the art is amazing, even if the story has gotten a little too cloaked in mystery.
Best line in a letter, “I’ve tried to escape from the realm of your skin, by concentrating on your voice, but that only leads to your mouth and then I’m back where I started” (Matthew to Isabella).
International Centre for the Picture Book in Society, ed. Migrations: Open Hearts, Open Borders. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Studio, 2019.
Reason read: This was an Early Review from LibraryThing that I didn’t receive. I was curious about it so after publication I borrowed it from the local public library.
Coming from a place of spoiled privilege, I need more books like Migrations in my life, despite its deceiving simplicity. Growing up, my parents were not wealthy, but they provided. I always had a roof over my head, a safe and comfortable place to call home. It is hard to think of what life would be like without a secure or reliable place to live. The reality is we live in a world where thousands and thousands of people are displaced every single day.
With it’s beautiful hand painted art, illustrators of children’s books from all over the world took part in contributing postcards to the project. The layout of Migrations reminded me so much of Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine.
Bantock, Nick. The Museum at Purgatory. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
Reason read: I am on another one of my cat kicks. Meh. Can’t be helped. Can’t be stopped. I’m just going with it.
Meet Non, Curator of the Museum at Purgatory. First, pay attention to his name. Non, the absence of anything and everything. He facilitates the acquisition of collections in that place between heaven and hell. Wait for it. Non is dead, too. He curates the collections of other dead artists, archaeologists, and collectors while they all figure out where they are ultimately going to end up, Heaven or Hell.
If you are familiar with Bantock’s work, you know his books are always filled with explosive art and imaginative words that only fuel curiosity to cult-like proportions. I am a fan of everything, and I mean everything, he does.
Favorite rooms: It’s a tie between the Gazio Room, with it’s shrines and navigational boxes, and the Delancet Room, full of lost post. As an ardent letter writer, I think Delancet has the slight edge over Gazio. Just saying.
Book trivia: I love the dedication for The Museum at Purgatory.
I am consistently running (yay). My head is finally screwed on straight – somewhat (yay). Things are not perfect but I can say February is mostly fixed.
- The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber – in honor of Charles Dickens and his birthday being in February. Weird, I know.
- Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez – in honor of my childhood.
- Little Havana Blues: A Cuban-American Literature Anthology edited by Virgil Suarez and Delia Poey – in honor of Cuba’s reformed constitution.
- The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley – in honor of February being friendship month.
- Rome and a Villa by Eleanor Clark – in honor of Clark’s birthday.
- All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half Century of Brown v. Board of Education by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. – in honor of February being Civil Rights month.
- Barrow’s Boys: A stirring Story of Daring, Fortitude, and Outright Lunacy by Fergus Fleming – in honor of Exploration month.
- Making Tracks by Matt Weber – a Christmas gift from my sister.
Andrews, Donna. Murder with Puffins. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2000.
Reason read: a book that takes place on Monhegan Island? How could I resist?
I will be 100% honest. I couldn’t finish this book. I couldn’t suspend reality high enough to believe anything about Murder with Puffins. It’s not the author’s fault in the least. I just know too much about Monhegan Island. I know for a fact no one would make the trek out to this remote island without making sure they have a place to stay, especially in the off-season. Everything is extremely limited so it’s not like you can pivot easily if your original plans don’t work out. It’s not as simple as hopping back on the boat either. Meg and Michael are looking for a romantic hideaway and they chose Meg’s aunt’s cabin on Monhegan. It is supposed to stand empty at this dismal, rainy time of year. Except this time Meg parents, brother, neighbor and aunt are all in residence. How could Meg not know that? The island is crawling with birders so there isn’t a single room available elsewhere… Then there is the islander who scares people off with shotguns and winds up dead. Someone Meg’s father is accused of murder and it’s up to Meg to clear his name. It’s a fun story. I couldn’t concentrate on the entertainment of it all because reality kept getting in the way. Oh well.
Author fact: Andrews wrote an apparently better book called Murder with Peacocks. Obviously, not on my Challenge list since Murder with Puffins is not either.
Book trivia: an additional hangup I had about this book ended up being the chapter titles. They are really corny. Here are a few: “They Shoot Puffins, Don’t They?” or “Round Up the Usual Puffins.”
Kingsolver, Barbara. Flight Behavior. New York: HarperPerennial, 2012.
Reason read: I love, love, love Kingsolver’s writing. Challenge be damned!
“A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and that is one part rapture” (p 1). This is the very first sentence in Flight Behavior. The thing about Kingsolver’s writing is that she has the ability to look at the human condition and give it emotions and intelligence. How many of us have been slightly excited about ruining our lives in some manner? There is a certain buzz about the brain when the potential for destruction shows itself. Like imagining yourself hurtling out of a speeding vehicle, your hand reaching for the latch…
Dellarobia is a young housewife trapped by circumstance: uneducated, having only graduated from high school; untraveled and naive, never setting foot outside her backwoods county. She is rooted in place with two small children, always bowing down to the criticisms of an overbearing mother-in-law who still has her son wrapped around her little finger. Dellarobia’s entire life has been one pitfall after another. Marrying her high school boyfriend after he gets her pregnant locks her into the only relationship she’s even known. Poverty has kept her stuck in a never ending cycle day in and day out. So when the opportunity for small indulgences dance into view, she takes them in the form of hopeless crushes and fantasies of infidelity. She was on her way to meet her newest flame; on her way to finally overstepping that boundary of no return when something scared her into going back. Vanity had forced Dellarobia to leave her glasses behind when she hikes up a mountain to meet her illicit love interest. Through the blur a burning fire appeared, changing her life forever.
Lines I loved (out of a million), “Plenty of people took this way out, looking future damage in the eye and naming it something else” (p 1), and “If she could pretend ice cream flavored breakfast snacks did not cause obesity, he might overlook the less advantageous aspects of lung cancer” (p 169).
Author fact: Kingsolver is partly responsible for my love affair with the southwest. Because of her I dream of visiting Arizona.
Book trivia: I read a lot of interviews where readers are disappointed with Kingsolver’s didactic storytelling. Get over it, people! Kingsolver is like that rock musician who needs to tell you about Amnesty International or Planned Parenthood, or how our current political landscape sucks. When the public builds a celebrity a soapbox high enough to see over all the bullsh!t he or she going to stand on that soapbox to say something important to them. How could they not?
Blond, Becca and Aaron Anderson. Arizona, New Mexico & the Grand Canyon Trips: 58 Themed Itineraries, 1005 Local Places to See. Oakland, California: Lonely Planet, 2009.
Reason read: Planning a trip to the Southwest this spring.
This has got to be one of the coolest travel books I have seen in a long time. There are fifty-eight themed itineraries (as the title suggests), but it’s the unique theme of each itinerary that is the real showcase. This guidebook takes into consideration practically every lifestyle imaginable. Do you want to hike the Grand Canyon exclusively? There’s a rim to rim itinerary for such an excursion. Do you want to go on an epic art tour in New Mexico? Maybe you are into beer and wine tastings? There are trips for that and that and that. Maybe you want to specifically look at Arizona architecture or follow its music scene. Like I said, there is a tour for those interests as well.
That being said, as with any tour book you definitely want to double check that the hotels and restaurants mentioned in the book are still operational. Additionally, prices for anything are bound to be different ten years after publication, but the canyons, buttes, deserts, and mesas aren’t going anywhere.
Another nice feature of this tour book is the time it will take to do each tour (providing you stick to the mileage they have laid out and avoid lengthy detours). They also suggest the best time to go, where you start and end up, and if you want to link on trip to another, which ones work the best. It made me want to take a year off and try every itinerary back to back. Of course there are detailed maps to help you plan such a thing.
Final thought: the photography included is spectacular. Then again, I think all desert photography is gorgeous.
Dean, Michelle. Sharp: the Women Who Have Made an Art of Having an Opinion. New York: Grove Press, 2018.
Reason read: this was a gift from my sister. Of course I have to read it!
Ten women: Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm. What do all these women have in common, besides writing and being female? They all had sharp tongues and were not afraid to speak their minds. Michelle Dean sets out to give a mini biography of each “sharp” woman, make connections between them, and illustrate why they made her sharp list.
As an aside, I was confused by Dean’s treatment of Zora Neale Hurston in the West & Hurston chapter (p 59). It was obvious Hurston was not to be included as a “sharp” woman, so why include her as a connection to Rebecca West? Why include her in the chapter’s title? West and Hurston did not have much in common. In fact, the introduction of the Hurston material at the end of the chapter is clunky at best. Dean makes the lukewarm transition thus – Rebecca West had been out of her league covering a trial involving a lynching. Admittedly, Black journalist Ida B. Wells would have been more suited to the cause and, oh by the way, another Black writer who understood the state of prejudice and racism of the 1940s was Zora Neale Hurston. Dean then goes on to dedicate three pages to Hurston’s life and writing without much connectivity to Rebecca West or to the rest of the book. As a result those three pages end up sounding like an abbreviated and unintentional detour.
Additionally, were there absolutely no sharp women of color Dean could have included in her book; no one for more than a token few pages? I find it hard to believe there was not one woman of color who raised her voice loud enough to be heard by Dean.
Author fact: Dean won the 2016 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing.
Book trivia: This would have been a much richer book if Dean had secured permission to include one photographic portrait of each personality. As it was, only six of the ten sharp women made the cover. The other four were relegated to the back.