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).


A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains

Bird, Isabella. A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1960.
Bird, Isabella. A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains. London: John Murray, 1881.

Reason read: Colorado became a state on August 1st, 1876.

In what started as letters to her sister Isabella Bird paints vivid pictures of a very young Colorado as she travels from the Sandwich Islands to Estes Park, Colorado. Because the trip to the Hawaiian islands is so fresh in Bird’s mind, she can’t help but make interesting comparisons between the tropical island and the wild western plains. She even wears the same clothes in both climates. As with Bird’s other adventures, her courage and tenacity shine through her prose. Most memorable for me was the fact Bird would don a long skirt and ride polite side saddle in the company of men but alone she would wear pants and ride western style. Comfort, not propriety, was her ultimate goal.

As an aside, it is encouraging to think there is a wilderness in Colorado that still exists to this day; one that Isabella Bird would say looks exactly the same. How can one not think of Natalie Merchant’s Cowboy Romance?

Lines I liked, “Is common humanity lacking, I wonder, in this region of hard greed?” (p 27), “I longed to speak to someone who loved the mountains” (p 90) and “At this account of the ascent of Long Peak could not be written at the time, I am disinclined to write it, especially as no sort of description within my powers could enable another to realise the glorious sublimity, the majestic solitude and the unspeakable awfulness and fascination of the scenes in which I spent Monday and Tuesday (p 91).

Author fact: Bird was only 72 when she passed away. I like to think about the places she would have explored had she had more time. She was the first woman elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Book trivia: A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains was originally published in 1879. Colorado was only three years old at the time. The maps and illustrations are wonderful.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains but she mentioned that Bird was “one of the more dashing and irresistible travelers” (Book Lust p 143).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the simple chapter called “Lady Travelers” (p 142).


Clara Callan

Wright, Richard B. Clara Callan: a Novel. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002.

Reason read: January has a Sisters Week for some country.

Engaged. Engaged is the word I would describe how I read Clara Callan. I think I read it in four days. Despite its name, Clara Callan is actually about two women, sisters in fact. Clara is the elder, living in their deceased parents house in a small rural town outside Toronto. She is a no-nonsense serious schoolteacher who loves to play the piano, read and  write poetry; a perfect candidate for spinsterhood and self righteousness despite the fact she no longer believes in God. Since it is the 1930s and Clara is so mysterious, she is also fodder for constant gossip and worry in her village. Meanwhile younger sister Nora Callan has flown the coop to America and the Big Apple to seek fame and fortune as a radio star. Despite their vasts differences the sisters remain close, sharing letters to keep in touch. Clara’s journal rounds out the epistolary tale and fills in the gaps.
Probably my favorite subliminal element to Clara Callan is how Wright weaves current events into to the story. Nora, being in show business, complains of a bratty young man hanging around a pretty brunette. The talented brunette would go on to star in a little movie about a wizard from Oz. Or the radio program designed to sound like a real newscast scaring the bejesus out of everyone. Or the new sensational book, Gone with the Wind. It is very tempting to put together a list of every book Clara reads or every song she mentions.
The novel has a Bridges of Madison County kind of feel to the ending. I was a little disappointed with the tactic.

Favorite lines, “As we drew closer to the great city, we passed freight yards and apartment buildings that were so close to the tracks you could look in on people’s lives” (p 74) and “I wasn’t aware that I muttered in the morning, but I suppose I do” (p 223). That’s what happens when you live alone for so long. You lose track of your habits until someone else finds them again.
One more quote, “The innocuous and banal words of the defeated who hopes to stir just a spoonful of guilt into the heart of the marauder” (p 321). How many times have I been there myself? This was a painful line to read.

Author fact: Wright has written a bunch of books with interesting titles. Unfortunately, this is the only one on my Challenge list. Also, I just found out Wright died in early 2017.

Book trivia: Clara Callan is a 2001 winner of the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award.

Nancy said: Clara Callan “won every major Canadian literary award in 1991” (p 201).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Sibs” (p 199).


April Snow Job

As we move into April I am not confident we won’t get another 26″ snow storm. If we ever joked in the past about not being able to predict the weather, now it is impossible. It’s no laughing matter. My rose bushes, right now struggling under the weight of frozen water, could tell you that. But never mind the weather. Let’s talk about the month of April. April is another 10k for cancer. I’m hoping to break the hour time since I was five seconds away in March. April is also Easter. April is my sister’s birth month. April is also books, books and more books…of course:

Fiction:

  • ‘F’ is For Fugitive by Sue Grafton ~ in honor of Grafton’s birth month. Technically, I should have read all the “alphabet” books by Grafton one right after the other, but I didn’t have that system when I read “A” is for Alibi. I think it goes without saying I do now.
  • The Diplomatic Lover by Elsie Lee ~ in honor of Lee’s birth month. I am not looking forward to this one even though it looks like a quick read.
  • A Celibate Season by Carol Shields ~ in honor of April being Letter Writing Month. This is so short I should be able to read it in one sitting.

Nonfiction:

  • Henry James: the Untried Years (1843 – 1870) by Leon Edel ~ in honor of James’s birth month. This first volume chronicles James’s childhood and youth.
  • Coming into the Country by John McPhee ~ in honor of the Alaska trip I’m taking in August.

Series continuations:

  • The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons ~ this is to finish the series started in January, in honor of Science Fiction month. I liked Endymion the best so I have high hopes for The Rise of Endymion. I am listening to this on audio and reading the print because I know I will never finish the 575+ pages by April 30th.
  • Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves ~ this is to finish the series started in January, in honor of Shetland’s fire festival, Up Helly Aa. This is another one I should be able to finish in a day or two.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul

Extra (for fun):

  • Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara- ~ my sister sent this in my belated birthday package. Whatever she recommends I usually end up liking whether it be music or books. For those of you who really know me – I know what you’re thinking. Yes, my birthday was in February. I got the birthday package over a month later. It’s what we do.

If there is time (since three books are really, really short):

  • Another Part of the Wood by Kenneth Clark ~ in honor of National Library Week
  • The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez ~ in honor of April’s Mathematics, Science and Technology Week
  • Lost Upland by WS Merwin ~ in honor of well, you know the song…April in Paris. Cheesy, I know.

Selected Letters of Norman Mailer

Mailer, Norman. Selected Letters of Norman Mailer. Edited by J. Michael Lennon. New York: Random House, 2014.

Letters can be so revealing, especially when the author is only writing for the intended audience of the recipient(s). There is a raw honesty about true character that comes through each missive. The Selected Letters of Norman Mailer is arranged in chronological order. Starting in 1940, Mailer is a student at Harvard writing to his parents, and like any typical kid he is constantly asking for money (“I have to pay for my meals not & I hate to starve myself” p 12). What comes through (besides his self described poverty) is how serious, even then, he was about his writing…even if he was a little pompous about how “easy” it was for him to get published. [As an aside, I had to laugh when I discovered his mom typed his stories for him.] With his wife, once he is in the army in ’45, Mailer is more intimate and revealing. He confides in her about World War II in a way he couldn’t with anyone else. What I found off-putting was how he treated her through these letters, the names he called her. But if she put up with it, or even liked it, who am I to judge? Hello? Have you read 50 Shades? But, that’s not the point of this review. I’m not here to talk about the man but the book. This is definitely something for the diehard Mailer fan. It does help if you have familiar with Mailer’s work, but you don’t have to be to enjoy Selected Letters. Lennon arranges Mailer’s missives to reveal a growing artist, youthfully cocky, intensely passionate and protective of his craft. Just read the letters in which Mailer defends the use of profanity and refuses to have it culled from The Naked and the Dead. From the 40s blossoms a writer sure of himself and the his place in the world.

I liked learning new things about Mailer and his writing. For instance, I didn’t know Naked and the Dead was a play and it has never been performed.

Reason read: As a member of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, I am reviewing Selected Letters. This, amazingly, is my 91st ER/LT book.

I love it when the books I chose to read in a given month are “interlocking.” For example, Wild Blue, Maus I, Maus II, A Good Life, Polish Officer, and The Assault all took place in and around the events of World War II. It wasn’t planned that way, but they all had that common theme. In January I finished Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore. Gilmore wrote a heart wrenching first hand account of his family. Now, as an Early Review award, I have read Norman Mailer’s Selected Letters. Mailer, of course, wrote The Executioner’s Song about Mikal’s brother so I knew there will be letters about Gary.

Author fact: I chose this book because I am a diehard letter writer myself. Like Mailer, it is inconceivable to me to not answer a letter. It is for this reason I share a special kinship with Mr. Mailer.

Book trivia: Over 860 pages long, Selected Letters is quite the heavy book. The subject matter was so fascinating I didn’t notice the length. What I missed, though, was a hand written letter from Mailer. I don’t know why but I wanted to see what his handwriting looks like! Lennon could have included just one! He did include photographs of himself throughout the years.

As an aside: I enjoyed jotting down some of the books Mailer mentions in his letters. They include Of Human Bondage, Walden, Anna Karenina, Walk in the Sun, Passage to India, The White Tower and Ulysses to name a few.

 


Happy Birthday Benito

Here we are, three months into a new year of the Challenge. March marks month four. Weird, I know. Here are the books. You will notice a few additions. That’s because I found out that Batya Gur wrote a series and Murder on a Kibbutz is in the middle.

  1. Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan (DNF)
  2. In a Strange City by Laura Lippman
  3. By a Spider’s Thread by Laura Lippman (AB)
  4. Recognitions by William Gaddis (DNF)
  5. Maus by Art Spiegelman
  6. Lady Franklin’s Revenge by Ken McGoogan
  7. Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao* by Junot Diaz (AB)
  8. Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
  9. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  10. Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan
  11. ADDED: A Good Doctor’s Son by Steven Schwartz
  12. ADDED: Drinking: a Love Story by Caroline Knapp
  13. ADDED: Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day by Philip Matyszak
  14. ADDED: Nero Wolfe Cookbook by Rex Stout
  15. ADDED: Treasure Hunter by W. Jameson (ER)
  16. Maus II by Art Spiegelman (Jan)
  17. ADDED: The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat (AB)
  18. ADDED: In Xanadu by William Dalrymple
  19. ADDED: The Assault by Harry Mulisch
  20. Wild Blue by Stephen Ambrose
  21. Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore
  22. Greater Nowheres by David Finkelstein/Jack London
  23. ADDED: Alma Mater by P.F Kluge
  24. ADDED: Old Man & Me by Elaine Dundy
  25. ADDED: Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
  26. Good Life by Ben Bradlee
  27. Underworld by Don DeLillo
  28. Her Name Was Lola by Russell Hoban
  29. Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton
  30. Fires From Heaven by Robert Jordan
  31. Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce DNF
  32. Herb ‘n’ Lorna by Eric Kraft
  33. Polish Officer by Alan Furst – AB
  34. Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan (Mar)
  35. ADDED: Walden by Henry David Throreau
  36. ADDED: Reservations Recommended by Eric Kraft (Mar/Feb)
  37. ADDED: Selected Letters of Norman Mailer edited by J. Michael Lennon – ER (Feb -?)
  38. Chasing Monarchs by Robert Pyle (Mar)
  39. ADDED: Saturday Morning Murder by Batya Gur (Mar)
  40. Bebe’s By Golly Wow by Yolanda Joe (Mar)
  41. Lives of the Muse by Francine Prose (Mar)
  42. Broom of the System (David Wallace (Mar)
  43. Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan (Apr)
  44. ADDED: Little Follies by Eric Kraft (Apr/Feb)
  45. ADDED: Literary Murder by Batya Gur (Apr)
  46. Two Gardeners by Emily Wilson (Apr)
  47. Royal Flash by George Fraser (Apr)
  48. Fifties by David Halberstam (Apr)
  49. Binding Spell by Elizabeth Arthur (Apr)
  50. Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan (Apr)
  51. Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan (May)
  52. ADDED: Where Do You Stop? by Eric Kraft (May/Feb)
  53. Murder on a Kibbutz by Batya Gur (May)
  54. Flash for Freedom! by George Fraser (May)
  55. Murder in Amsterdam by Ian Buruma (May)
  56. Petra: lost city by Christian Auge (May)
  57. From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman (May)
  58. Jordan by E. Borgia (May)
  59. Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill (May)
  60. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (May)
  61. Flash at the Charge by George MacDonald Fraser (May)
  62. ADDED: What a Piece of Work I Am by Eric Kraft (Jun/Feb)
  63. Castles in the Air by Judt Corbett (Jun)
  64. Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (Jun)
  65. Thirty-three Teeth by Colin Cotterill (Jun)
  66. Millstone by Margaret Drabble (Jun)
  67. Winter’s Heart by Robert Jordan (Jun)
  68. Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan (Jul)
  69. At Home with the Glynns by Eric Kraft (Jul/Feb)
  70. Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill (Jul)
  71. Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme (Jul)
  72. New Physics and Cosmology by Arthur Zajonc (Jul)
  73. Grifters by Jim Thompson (Jul)
  74. Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (Jul)
  75. Snow Angels by James Thompson (Jul)
  76. Ararchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill (Aug)
  77. ADDED: Leaving Small’s Hotel by Eric Kraft (Aug/Feb)
  78. Flashman’s Lady by George MacDonald Fraser (Aug)
  79. Possession by AS Byatt (Aug)
  80. In the Footsteps of Ghanghis Khan by John DeFrancis (Aug)
  81. What Just Happened by James Gleick (Aug)
  82. Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (Aug)
  83. ADDED: Inflating a Dog by Eric Kraft (Sep/Feb)
  84. Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill (Sep)
  85. Flashman and the Redskins by George MacDonald Fraser (Sep)
  86. Queens’ Play by Dorothy Dunnett (Sep)
  87. Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood (Sep)
  88. Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (Sep)
  89. Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Sep)
  90. Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman (Oct)
  91. Merry Misogynist by Colin Cotterill (Oct)
  92. Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett (Oct)
  93. Flashman and the Dragon by George MacDonald Fraser (Oct)
  94. Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carman (Nov)
  95. Love Songs from a Shallow Grave by Collin Cotterill (Nov)
  96. Flashman and the Mountain of Light by George MacDonald Fraser (Nov)
  97. Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett (Nov)
  98. Andorra by Peter Cameron (Nov)

DNF = Did Not Finish; AB = Audio Book; ER = Early Review


Beirut Blues

al-Shaykh, Hanan. Beirut Blues. Translated by Catherine Cobham. New York: Anchor Book, 1995.

In the beginning, reading Beirut Blues seems like being dropped in the middle of a multi-person conversation without knowing who is involved or what they are talking about. There is a tedium to filling in the gaps as you are reading. With “Dear —” it is obvious from the beginning someone is writing a letter. It takes a little deduction to figure out who is writing the letter and who is her intended audience. There is a lot to fill in within the lines. But, throughout Asmahan’s letters there is passionate reverberation and a running commentary on her beloved Beirut before, during and after the civil war. Most of these letters will probably never reach their intended audience and that fact adds another layer of mystery to them. One of the saddest letters to read is the one Asmahan writes to her grandmother. She focuses on her grandfather’s emotional and physical relationship romance with a much younger girl. It becomes startling clear when Asmahan sees the girl’s bruises and pictures her grandfather leaving them on his young lover. It’s a rude awakening to a different culture. Other poignant letters include ones to the war and to the land of Beirut. But, my favorite part was the end, when Asmahan has to decide whether or not to leave war torn Beirut for France to be with her married lover. It’s a scene rife with indecision and torn loyalties.

Probably my biggest gripe about Beirut Blues is the sheer number of people mentioned in Asmahan’s letters. I have kept a running list of the names dropped: Afaf, Ali, Aida, Bassam, Fadila, Fatima, George, Hayat, Hussein, Hasoun, Isaf, Jill, Jummana, Juhayna, Jawad, Kazim, Karki, Lalya, Munir,  Morrell,  Mustafa, Musa, Naima, Naser, Nizar, Nikola, Nadine, Ricardo,  Simon, Salim, the Spaniard, Suma, Safiyya, Vera, Yvette, Zaynab, Zemzem, Zakiyya (not counting grandmother and grandfather) and I know I have missed a few. To my ignorant American ears these names are confusing. For all I know they are not only the proper names of people but of places as well.

Line I liked, “My appeal, even my normal liveliness, must have deserted me” (p 64). Here’s another: “I expected some burning emotion to be rekindled between us, but the kiss ended quickly and there was no aftermath” (p 72). And another: “…instead you sing the reality you live” (p 135). Last one, “Coming to this school, having new shoes and a mother in America, seemed to put a gleam on my mind as if I had polished it with almond oil” (p 170).

Reason read: August 15th is the official Lebanese holiday Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Author fact: Another al-Shaykh book on my challenge list is Women of Sand and Myrrh. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Book trivia: This is a book that requires a little patience to read. There is no pulse pounding plot, nor dilemma a hero must solve before the last page.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Leavened in Lebanon” (p 130).