Unbearable Lightness of Being

Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Translated by Michael Henry Heim. Harper Row, 1984.

Reason read: I honestly don’t remember why.

My favorite scene was when Tereza and Sabine spend time together. An odd friendship blossomed between wife and lover as they photograph each other in the nude.

I love it when books intersect one another. I am finishing up Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and learn that the dog in The Unbearable Lightness of Being is named after Karenin. The Unbearable Lightness of Being reminded me of another book as well, Orchard. I found myself asking the same question about morality. What form of “cheating” is worse, emotional infidelity or physical betrayal in the form of fornication? Is there something to be said for complete and utter loyalty? Either way, I didn’t like any of the characters so that made The Unbearable Lightness of Being all the more difficult to enjoy.

Quote that spoke to me, “and he knows that time and again he will abandon the house of his happiness.”

Author fact: People sell tee shirts with Milan Kundera quotes on them. I wonder what he would think of that.

Book trivia: The Unbearable Lightness of Being was published in the New Yorker as a serial.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Unbearable Lightness of Being Kundera’s best known novel. She also called it a “stellar example of literary erotica” (Book Lust p 218).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in two chapters. The Unbearable Lightness of Being shows up in the chapter called “Czech It Out” (p 70) and in “Sex and the Single Reader” (p 218). She is not wrong.


Orchard

Watson, Larry. Orchard. Random House, 2003.

Reason read: Wisconsin became a state in May.

Don’t be fooled by the simple plot. This is more than a story about a husband and wife. This is a historical piece. [The reader will drop in on 1947 and 1954 and learn about emerging technologies, and my favorite – how to be unladylike (chew gum, smoke, drink alone, swear or sweat).] It is a cultural commentary on what it means to be a foreigner in a strange land, language barriers and all. This is a heartbreaking romance. It is what happens when grief complicates a marriage, misunderstanding about propriety tangles it, and opportunity finally destroys it. The grief of losing a child to an avoidable accident serves as the catalyst for a downward spiral for all involved. Orchard begs the question who is the bigger betrayer, the one who builds an emotional obsession or the one whose carnal desires explode in a single act? Is emotion infidelity more of a sin than a physical one? Larry Watson is becoming one of my favorite authors.
I have read a few reviews that mention this scene, for better of for worse. I myself held my breath when Sonja went to the barn to shoot the family horse. the scene was only seconds long but I seemed to be suspended in dread forever.

Favorite lines (and there were quite a few), “You wanted stillness, but not the repose of a cadaver” (p 5), “Desperation did not enter one room of a family’s house and stayed out of others” (p 18), “Thus do our own fantasies cripple us” (p 39).

As an aside, I am sorry I read a review which mentioned Andrew Wyeth’s Helga paintings and the similarities to Watson’s Orchard. Now I cannot reconcile Sonja’s face as her own now that I see Helga in my mind’s eye.

Author fact: I am also reading Montana 1948 by Larry Watson.

Book trivia: This should be a movie.

Playlist: Nat King Cole’s “Pretend”, Eddie Fisher, “O Mein Papa”, and, “Joy to the World”.

Nancy said: Orchard is not given any special treatment by Pearl.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (p 21).


Anna Karenina

Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Penguin Books, 2000.

Reason read: Russia celebrates Victory Day in May.

Who doesn’t know the tragic story of Anna Karenina? When the story was complete I found myself asking does Anna our deserve pity? Many see her love for another man other than her husband as a tragedy. Indeed, Anna’s husband only cares about how society will view him in regards to her infidelity. Karenin is weak, cold and completely unlikable. However, there was another far more appealing couple. I found Konstantine Levin’s relationship with Kitty far more enthralling and far more tragic. As an aside, when I first picked up Anna Karenina I wondered to myself what made this story nearly one thousand pages long. The more I got into it, the more it became clear Tolstoy could spend entire chapters on the threshing of fields, the racing of horses, croquet competitions, and philosophical tirades about Russian society. Condensed down, Anna Karenina is simply about unhappy relationships; specifically an unhappily married woman who has to chose between her duty as a mother and her emotional attachment to a lover. We all know how that turns out.

Quote to quote: “Alexi Alexandrovich smiled his smile which only revealed his teeth, but said nothing more” (p 228).

Author fact: Tolstoy bears a striking resemblance to the Hermit of Manana.

Book trivia: according to practically everyone, the translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky is the edition to read.

Nancy said: Interestingly enough, Leo Tolstoy is not in the index of Book Lust To Go because she does not mention the author of Anna Karenina. Instead, she mentions Pevear and Volokhonsky as translators and they are indexed in Book Lust To Go. In other Lust books she called Anna Karenina “great” and “a classic”.

BookLust Twist: I have always said, the more Pearl mentions a title, the more I know she loved, loved, loved the book. I’m not sure, but Anna Karenina might be Pearl’s most often mentioned book. It is included in all three Lust books: from Book Lust in the chapters “Families in Trouble” (p 82) and “Russian Heavies” (p 210), of course. From More Book Lust in the chapters “Lines that Linger; Sentences that Stick” (p 140), “Men channeling Women” (p 166), and “Wayward Wives” (231). Finally, from Book Lust To Go in the chapter “Saint Petersburg/Leningrad/Saint Petersburg” (p 194). I will add that Anna Karenina also takes place in Moscow.


Friends and Heroes

Manning, Olivia. Friends and Heroes. New York: New York Review Books, 1966.

Reason read: to finish the series started in June in honor of the Bosnian War.

When we catch up with the newlyweds, Guy and Harriet Pringle, they have escaped the Balkans to Athens, Greece. World War II is ramping up. Mussolini is ever encroaching yet the Greeks refuse to believe the Italians could invade them. No! Not them! In the midst of a global conflict, the Pringle marriage is also at conflict. Harriet still hungers for Guy’s attention. It’s a little off-putting how needy she is. Having escaped Bucharest Harriet believes her husband will finally put her first. She is not the outsider in Greece as she was in the Balkans. However, Guy continuously lives for the undivided attention of his students no matter where he is relocated. As an unemployed lecturer, he fills his time putting on plays with his admiring students and friends. He is so preoccupied with their rapt attention he doesn’t notice or care that his wife slips away for long walks. In truth, he often encourages it. His continual pawning her off to other companions soon leads to her actively seeking out a new crush. The Pringle marriage is so trying that I wanted her to go with the man who seemed to love her back.
This being the third installment of the Balkan Trilogy, many characters remain. Yakimov and his greed end up in Greece. I found his character to be an exaggerated caricature: always hungry and riling people. But speaking of characters, Manning is able to make all of her characters give a political commentary on World War II without having the rely of detailed descriptions. It is all in their dialogue.

Quotes to quote, “He only had to arrive to take a step away from her” (p 654), “No one would dance while friends and brothers and lovers were at the war” (p 657), and “She told herself that animals were the only creatures that could be loved without any reservation at all” (p 962).

Author fact: Manning lived the life of Friends and Heroes. She and her husband spent the war years in Rumania before escaping to Greece and then Egypt.

Book trivia: Friends and Heroes could be a stand-alone novel, but is best read as the finale of the Balkan Trilogy.

Playlist: “Tipperary,” “Yalo, Yalo,” “Down By the Seaside,” “Clementine,” “Bells Rang Again,” and “Anathema,”

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Friends and Heroes. It’s not mentioned at all.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Reads, Decade by Decade (1960s).


Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Lawrence, D.H. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. New York: Signet Classics, 1959.

Reason read: Let’s talk about sex.

You know a book is trouble when it’s published privately in Italy in 1928 and again in France a year later. It wasn’t published openly to the masses until 1960 when it was promptly banned across the world. The United States, Canada, Australia, India, and Japan all found fault with it. Finally, when it was at the center of a 1960 British obscenity trial, things came to a head. No pun intended. Not really.
Who doesn’t know this story? Lady Chatterley is an attractive upper-class woman married to an equally handsome man who happens to be paralyzed from the waist down. Connie is young, spoiled, and has certain…needs. Her husband says he understands, but a man and wife’s varying perceptions of the same marriage are striking. Clifford Chatterley doesn’t really understand the resentments of his wife. A poignant scene is when Connie watches a mother hen protect her eggs and feels empty. She wants a child. She wants a lover. She finds solace in the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors, who lives on the grounds. His cottage is a short distance from the estate…It is the classic tale of class differences. Lawrence goes a bit further by exploring themes of industrialism (Clifford wants to modernize mining with new technology) and mind-body psychology (the struggle between the heart and mind when it involves sexuality, especially when it is illicit in nature). The ending is ambiguous, as typical of Lawrence’s work, but it ends with hope.

As an aside, I would have liked more insight from Connie’s sister, Hilda. Hilda helped Connie have her affair even though she sided with Clifford Chatterley. Another aside, I have often wondered how many people self-pleasured themselves with Lady Chatterley or her lover. Wink.

Lines I liked, “What the eye doesn’t see and the mind doesn’t know doesn’t exist” (p 18) and “If I could sleep with my arms round you, the ink could stay in the bottle” (p 282). Sigh. So romantic.

Author fact: Lawrence went into self-imposed exile because he refused to stop writing about the human condition. His critics couldn’t handle the truth and often banned or censored his work. Lady Chatterley is rumored to be autobiographical in some places.

Book trivia: The genre for Lady Chatterley’s Lover is literary erotica and yet some libraries (including my own) catalog this in the juvenile section. True story. I happen to be reading the Signet Classic edition which is the only complete unexpurgated version authorized by the Lawrence estate. According to the back cover, “no other edition is entitled to make this claim.”

Nancy said: Pearl included Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the list of “stellar” examples of literary erotica.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Sex and the Single Reader” (p 218).


A Change in Altitude

Shreve, Anita. A Change in Altitude. New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2009.

Reason read: Shreve’s birth month is in October. Read in her honor.

I love Shreve’s work. I love how at the end of every book she always leaves the reader slightly unsettled, as if there is more to the story. She refuses to wrap up the ending in a solid “Hollywood-happy” resolution.
Margaret and Patrick are newlyweds; only married for five months and yet I personally found their relationship flat and dispassionate. He, a doctor, travels around Kenya in exchange for research data on equatorial diseases. She, an out of work photographer, hopes to freelance around Nairobi and capture landscapes unfamiliar to her American eye. Together Patrick and Margaret join two other couples in an effort to climb Mount Kenya. Almost immediately, there is an imbalance to their chemistry. Margaret’s feminist sensibilities were threatened when she couldn’t earn her keep with a job and now she can’t keep up with the mountaineering climb. The others continuously leave her behind. Her companions have a much easier go at it. She is further insulted when the men in the group display subtle attitudes of sexism towards her. Arthur repeatedly claims he will take care of her while Wilfred casually refers to the women in the group as “girls.” Her climbing partners are snobbish; questioning the Masai tribe that has been around for centuries. All the while Margaret doesn’t fit in and stays quiet. She has something to prove but does little to promote her capabilities. Oddly, it is only after tragedy strikes is she then able to find her voice. This tragedy will carry consequences long into the future; long after Margaret finds a photography job with a controversial newspaper; long after Patrick and Margaret have new troubles in their marriage.
I couldn’t get a read on Margaret. It was weird, but I found her to be a bit unemotional. She was strangely calm when the couple’s only car is stolen or when she is attacked by fire ants. [The fire ant scene made me itch for days.]

As an aside, there were several things I needed to look up after reading A Change in Altitude. The breed of dog called “Rhodesian Ridgeback” for one. Mount Monadnock for another.

Author fact: Shreve spent some time in Nairobi, Kenya and even climbed Mount Kenya. This definitely helped with her descriptions of the area, if not the characters.

Book trivia: A Change in Altitude is Shreve’s 16th book.

Nancy said: Pearl called A Change in Altitude one of her “favorite” Shreve books.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Kenya” (p 123).


Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object

Colwin, Laurie. Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object. New York: Viking Press, 2001.

Reason read: August is Grief Awareness month and there is oh so much grief in this book.

How do you love an individual who constantly flirts with the potential for death? How do you behave in a relationship or a partnership with someone who has a history of self destructive behavior such as this: breaking his collarbone after being thrown by a horse, snapping his leg after skiing, or gouging his shoulder after rock climbing (more like rock falling)? How does a marriage survive such reckless disregard for staying together? The answer is it really doesn’t. But Elizabeth Bax is attracted to James Dean. She likes the bad boys.
She knew she had every right to worry when Sam, her daredevil husband of five years, went for “one last” sail before an autumn squall picked up. Sam’s brother Patrick was already calling the coast guard knowing full well something bad was about to happen or more likely, already had. It is not a spoiler to tell you Sam died. What follows is an in depth examination of the human heart and how it tries to put itself together after being shattered. Shine On is a short book that asks the question is grief coupled with love a betrayal?

Lines I liked, “He had squashed his recklessness down to an ironic sort of caution that was a slap in his own face” (p 3), “You have to commit experience to your heart and let it change you..” (p 178).

Author fact: Colwin died at the very young age of forty-eight after suffering a heart attack.

Book trivia: This is a super short book. You could read it in a weekend.

Nancy said: Pearl said not to miss Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object even though the chapter was about Colwin’s books on food.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the interesting chapter called “Food for Thought” (p 91)…except Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object has absolutely nothing to do with food.


Book of Reuben

King, Tabitha. The Book of Reuben. New York: Dutton Books, 1994.

Reason read: June is the month most people get married and Book of Reuben is a study in relationships of all kinds, marriage and beyond.

Within the pages of The Book of Reuben twenty five years of a life unfold. We meet Reuben Styles as a typical hot headed teenager and follow his tumultuous life into adulthood. The natural progression of life: marriage, kids, work and looking after aging elders. Reuben meets Laura in high school and loves her from afar until finally she gives him a lukewarm chance at romance. At the same time Reuben learns the language of passion from an older woman.
It is not a spoiler alert to share that Reuben eventually convinces Laura to marry him, but truth be know, their relationship never really heats up and soon they are headed for divorce. When it comes to Laura’s character, I sincerely doubt King could have made Reuben’s wife more vile. At the height of her hatred of Reuben she is violent towards him, steals his money, has an open affair for the whole community to see, and tries to block Reuben from seeing his three children. Short of killing his mother or the family dog, there was little else she could do to him.

One of the even more most surprising elements to Book of Reuben is the extensive list of music references. Reuben is a walking jukebox of great songs. I wanted to make a soundtrack of what was playing on his radio.

As an aside, I read one review where someone said they didn’t understand the purpose of the widow and her children as a characters. Come again? I felt each one set the groundwork for Reuben’s personality. The widow taught Reuben the benefits of great sex, being a good lover, and what it felt like to have that fiery passion reciprocated. She cultivated a hot blooded male which made Laura’s frostiness all the more frustrating. With the widow’s troubled and strange son Reuben displayed an acceptance and kindness that solidified his reputation as a good guy…at least with this reader. I felt the purpose of the widow and her children were not for the plot, but rather for the character development of Reuben.

Author fact: Tabitha King is the wife of well-known horror author, Stephen King. They met at the University of Maine in the library.

Book trivia: The Book of Reuben was received with mixed reviews.

Nancy said: Pearl just described the plot a little.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Marriage Blues” (p 161).


May Flowers Books

I can’t even begin to describe May. My first time to the Southwest. My first time traveling with family. Many different firsts. But, enough of that. Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • The Man in Gray Flannel by Sloan Wilson
  • Mariner’s Compass by Earlene Fowler
  • Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor
  • Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
  • Five Children and It by E. Nesbit

Nonfiction:

  • Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs
  • Farthest North by Dr. Fridtjof Nansen

Series Continuation:

  • Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
  • Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters

Spring Pages

I will be traveling for part of May so who knows how many books I’ll be able to read for this month. Here is the list I will attempt:

Fiction:

  • Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson – in honor of May being Wilson’s birth month.
  • Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs – in honor of Graphic Novel month being in May.
  • Mariner’s Compass by Earlene Fowler – in honor of May is Museum Month.
  • Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor- in honor of May being Music Month.
  • Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters – in honor of the first Thursday in May being Prayer Week.
  • Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian – in honor of my father’s birth month. As a kid he read this book.
  • Five Children and It by E. Nesbit – in honor of May being Nesbit’s birth month.

Nonfiction:

  • Farthest North by Fridtjof Nansen – in honor of Peary’s birth month being in May. From one explorer to another.

Series continuations:

  • Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in January in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
  • Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope – to continue the series started in honor of Trollope’s birth month in April.

Sarah, Plain and Tall

MacLachlan, Patricia. Sarah, Plain and Tall. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.

Reason read: for the fun of it (because I wanted something super quick to read).

Book summary (taken from inside cover):When their father invites a mail-order bride to come live with them in their prairie home, Caleb and Anna are captivated by her and hope that she will stay.” Not exactly. Widower dad places and advertisement for a wife and Sarah answers. One of the first things she tells them is that she is “plain and tall.” What follows is delightful story about the lengths people will go to in order to banish loneliness. Anna and Caleb are hungry for a new mother and want to see their father happy again so they welcome a stranger with open arms. But, probably the most heartbreaking sacrifice is made by Sarah herself. She gives up the coast of Maine and the ocean for the prairies of the Midwest. I have no idea how she does it.
As an aside, I was glad to learn this is the first book in the Witting Family series. When I finished Sarah, Plain and Tall I didn’t want to leave them, especially Sarah.

Edited to add quote: “There is something to miss no matter where you are” (p 42). How could I forget putting this in the review? I love this!

Author fact: MacLachlan won a Newbery Medal for Sarah, Plain and Tall.

Book trivia: Sarah, Plain and Tall was made into a movie starring Glenn Close and Christopher Walken.

Nancy said: Nancy said Sarah, Plain and Tall was good for both boys and girls.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 22).


January’s Time

This year, more than ever, I am struck by time’s marching; the relentless footfalls of days and weeks passing by. I know that is mortality speaking, but it rings eerie in my mind nonetheless. Not helping the doom and gloom is the first book on my list, On The Beach by Nevil Shute. I wanted a different book from Shute but there isn’t a library local enough to loan it to me.

Here are the planned books for January 2018:

Fiction:

  • On The Beach (AB) by Nevil Shute (previously mentioned) – in honor of Shute’s birth month.
  • Clara Callan by Richard Wright – in honor of Sisters Week being in January.
  • Tea From an Empty Cup by Pat Cadigan – in honor of January being Science Fiction Month.

Nonfiction:

  • Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals by David Laskin – in honor of January 26th being Spouses’s Day.
  • War Child: a Child Soldier’s Story by Emmanuel Jal – in honor of the end of the Sudan civil war.
  • Travellers’ Prelude: Autobiography 1893-1927 by Freya Stark – in honor of Freya Stark’s birth month.
  • Practicing History by Barbara Tuchman (AB) – in honor of Tuchman’s birth month.

Series Continuations:

  • Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle by Dorothy Gilman – started in September in honor of Grandparents’ Day.

For the Early Review program for LibraryThing:

  • Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power by Lisa Mosconi, PhD (finishing).
  • Pep Talk for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo by Grant Faulkner (also finishing).

Spring Sprung Titles

What to say about April? I ran my fastest 10k while ill (go figure). I met two new runners and may have convinced someone to at least try. I don’t know where this acceptance to run with others is coming from. To share a conversation I had with someone: I asked where she runs. She replied she doesn’t have my pace, “nowhere near it” were her exact words. I answered I don’t have that pace all the time either. Me & my pace visit from time to time but we don’t make it a thing. She laughed and I saw myself ten years ago talking to someone who face-times with friends while running. I worried about her relationship with pace. But, this blog is turning into a thing different from reading.

So, without further ado, here are the finished books:

Fiction:

  • Diplomatic Lover by Elsie Lee – read in one day
  • Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez – read in two days
  • Celibate Season by Carol Shields and Blanche Howard – read in four days (this book annoyed me and I kept having to put it down)

Nonfiction:

  • Lost Upland: stories of the Dordogne Region by W.S. Merwin – confessional: DNF (bored, bored, bored)
  • Coming into the Country by John McPhee
  • Henry James: the Untried Years by Leon Edel
  • Another Part of the Wood by Kenneth Clark – this was cheeky!

Series continuations:

  • “F” is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton (I’m calling this a continuation even though I read “A” a long time ago.)
  • Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons (AB + print so I could finish on time – today!)
  • Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves – another quick read (finished in four days)

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul

Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work

Gottman, John M. and Nan Silver. The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work. New York: Harmony Books, 2015.

Reason read: I have no idea.

I was hoping to be struck by lightning with this book. My marriage is pretty solid but I could always use improving in the relationship department (who couldn’t?). So I was a little worried when the first piece of advice sounded something like this, and I’m paraphrasing: if you can accommodate each other’s “crazy” side and handle it with caring, affection and respect, your marriage can thrive. Talk about a duh moment. Of course ANY relationship is going to benefit from caring, affection and respect. The advice gets better and as a result I do see my relationship differently. If I had had more time with the book I would have tried some of the quizzes and exercises. Maybe next time.


April Comes Quickly

I don’t know where March went. I’ve looked under calendars and in date books and I still can’t figure it out. The month went by so fast! Here are the books finished for March:

  • Naked Lunch by William Burroughs
  • The Assistant by Bernard Malamud
  • Family Man by Jayne Krentz
  • Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (AB)
  • The Brontes by Juliet Barker (DNF)
  • Means of Ascent by Robert Caro (DNF)
  • Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan (Fun)
  • In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White (would have been an Early Review book a long time ago)

On tap for April (besides a little Noodle 5k run):

  • A Considerable Town by MFK Fisher ~ in honor of April being the best time to visit France
  • The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman ~ for fun
  • Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi ~ in honor of gardening month
  • Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot ~ in honor of April Fools
  • Don’t Eat This Book by Morgan Spurlock ~ in honor of April being Food Month (AB)
  • The Grand Tour by Tim Moore ~ in honor of Harvey Ball passing in April