Little Life

Yanagihara, Hanya. A Little Life. Penguin Random House, 2015.

Reason read: two reasons really. One, because I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of “A book published in the last ten years [I] think will be a classic.” Two, because my sister sent this in the mail. If you know the book then you know it is over 800 pages. I can’t believe she mailed it to me. I (selfishly) would have waited until she was in town if the roles were reversed.

To be one hundred percent honest, A Little Life disturbed me though and through. While on the surface the story follows the lives of four college friends, they all have serious issues that border on all-out tragedy. Living in New York and trying to make a go of different careers, it is terrifying to watch their weaknesses chew them up and spit them out one by one. At the same time, there is something unnervingly beautiful about their friendships despite vastly different upbringings. At the center is Jude. Beautifully broken Jude. At times I wanted to hurl his story out the window in seething frustration. He doesn’t want to talk about his life. He is a mystery. He can’t talk about his parents of ethnic background for fear of betrayal. He can’t navigate stairs and needs an elevator. He cuts himself to the point of suicidal. He’s not white and doesn’t mention his childhood. He’s always in pain, wearing leg braces or using a wheelchair. His injury is not from an accident but something deliberate. He is a glutton for punishment beyond human sanity. He went to same law school as his friend Malcolm’s dad. He is the most beautiful of the group; and the most sly. He doesn’t like to be touched. Yet, he is a loyal-to-the-core friend. Like a many-layered onion, the reader peels back the mystery that is Jude. When you get to his core you’ll wish you hadn’t. The abuses he suffers are so numerous and varied; each one more horrifying than the next that you have to ask yourself, how much trauma can one soul take?
Jude’s loyal and loving friends:
Willem: He is always hungry. He is good looking but not as beautiful as Jude. He is from Wyoming and both of his parents are dead. He’s not a big drinker or drug user. He works in a restaurant and his brother, Hemming, is disabled. He’s also an actor who, in the beginning, gets mediocre parts. His fame is a source of wonderment.
J.B (Jean-Baptiste): Like Willem, he is always hungry. He lives in a loft in Little Italy and works as a receptionist. He fancies himself an artist that works with hair from a plastic bag. His mother pampers him ever since his father died. Internally, he competes with his peers. He is sleeping with Ezra and has an artist studio in Long Island City. He is the proverbial “I don’t have a drug problem” denying man. He can’t give up his college days. They all can’t.
Malcolm: He never finishes his Chinese takeout, but he always orders the same thing. He lives with his parents and has a sister named Flora. He is taking a class at Harvard.
Digging into the meaning of friendship there was one concept that had me rattled. The potential for friends to outgrow one another. I have experienced it and Dermot Kennedy wrote a whole song about it, but I don’t think anyone has written about it so eloquently as Yanagihara.
Here is another confessional: this took me ages and ages and ages to read. There is a lot going on with many, many characters. Like extras in a movie, these people don’t amount to much, but at the time they were introduced I couldn’t be sure. I wanted to commit every single one to memory, but the parade of people was dizzying: Andy, Annika, Adele, Ana, Avi, Alex, Ali, Charlie, Carolina, Caleb, Clement, Clara, Dean, David, Dominick, Ezra, Emma, Fina, Findlay, Gabriel, Gillian, Harold, Hera, Henry, Isidore, Jansz, Jason, Jackson, Joseph, Jacob, Julia, Kerrigan, Lawrence, Luke, Lionel, Liesl, Lucien, Laurence, Merrit, Massimo, Marisol, Meredith, Nathan, Oliver, Peter, Phaedra, Pavel, Robin, Richard, Roman, Rhodes, Sally, Sonal, Sullivan, Sophie, Topher, Thomas, Treman, Zane. I could go on and on.

Quote to quote, “He could feel the creature inside of him sit up, aware of the danger but unable to escape it” (p 138).

Playlist: Haydn Sonata No. 50 in D Major.

Author fact: Yanagihara graduated from Smith College. Too cool.

Book trivia: Little Life is Yanagihara’s second book.


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.


The Van

Doyle, Roddy. The Van. Penguin, 1997.

Reason read: to finish the trilogy started in March in recognition of St. Patrick’s Day.

The Van picks up pretty much where The Snapper left off. Daughter Sharon is now a new mom with a toddler, Gina. Jimmy Rabbitte’s house is getting too small even though some of his children have moved out. A baby can do that. Unemployed and bored, Rabbitte babysits Gina until his best friend, Bimbo, loses his job. Suddenly as men of leisure they have all the time in the world to play endless games of pitch and putt, ogle teenage girls and roam the bars drinking and trying to pick up women (or as they say, “chasing women who had “fine sets of lungs” and “their arses fit nicely on the stool; there was noting flowing over the sides” p 266). It isn’t until Bimbo buys a van with the hopes of turning it into a burger food truck that the two men start to have a purpose for getting up in the morning. They have no idea what they are doing and in the end it nearly destroys their friendship. By turns funny and desperate, The Van was my least favorite of the series.

Favorite parts: Jimmy Sr.’s boredom takes him to new heights. I laughed when he tried to understand the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins…and when he gets a library card.

Author fact: I have one last Doyle book to read, A Star Called Henry.

Book trivia: The Van is the final installment in the Barrytown trilogy. The cover illustration is weird…until it isn’t. It is a weird perspective of Jimmy, Bimbo, and their van. The view is of the underside of the van as if you are looking up from underwater, but at a floating angle.

Playlist: Bob Geldof, “New York, New York”, Kylie Minogue, The Cure, “Mighty Quinn”, “Teddy Bears Picnic”, Megadeath, Anthrax, The The, UB40, “Nearer My God to Thee”, “Hippy Hippy Shake”, and Georgia Satellites.

Nancy said: Pearl called the whole Barrytown trilogy humorous.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Irish Fiction” (p 125).


Stress

Estleman, Loren D. Stress: a Novel of Detroit. Warner Books, 1996.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January when Michigan became a state.

There is always some kind of special assignment in an Estleman book. This time, it’s a cop going undercover in the STRESS (Stop The Robberies Enjoy Safe Streets) unit: a plain clothes undercover commando unit accused of using less than law abiding tactics to take crime off the streets. Charlie Battle, nephew to a pro wrestler from an earlier book, tries to make sense of the violence. I like the way characters reminisce about incidents and characters described in earlier books. Their memories tie past books together because the plots are not continuous. The real constant is the biography of the Motor City and the cars on its streets. You can also count on Estleman to make reference to real people and historical events (like Jane Alpert and the New York City bombings in 1969). Mix in gun dealers and a child abduction and you have a different story altogether.

As an aside, Estleman must have had fun with the fashions of the 1970sd with all of its corduroy, wide lapels, crushed velvet, and bell bottoms.

Quote to quote, “If being rich meant having to listen to live music all the time, Kubicek would just as soon take his $300 a week and an eight-track player” (p 3). Thanks, but no thanks!

Book trivia: Stress is the fifth book in the series.

Author fact: Estleman is an authority on American West history.

Playlist: Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower”, Tennessee Ernie Ford, “Sixteen Tons”, Stevie Wonder, James Brown’s “Mama Don’t Lie”, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, “I Could Have Danced All Night”, “Thank you Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin”, and Elvis.

Nancy said: Pearl called the entire series sweeping and gritty.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest – Michigan” (p 25).


Gaining Insight

Utley, F.K. Gaining Insight: the Edge of Wisdom.

Reason read: Dr. Utley was a mentor to me during my early library days. He strongly encouraged me to get my Masters in Library and Information Science degree. I will be forever in his debt for literally handing me my career.

There is so much I could say about Gaining Wisdom. Dr. Utley tries to end every section with a pearl of wisdom gleaned from the span of his life, but I gained more by what he didn’t say. Always the gentleman, Utley conveys the unfairness of inequality. For example, in the mid 1950s women could accompany their husbands on a job interview, but men couldn’t be in the delivery room while their wives gave birth to their children. I’ve never accompanied a man to his job interview and I’ve never been pregnant so this is something that never received much thought.
However, there were so many other elements of Gaining Wisdom I connected with: the descriptions of old stone walls and rusted barbed wire fences (There is a trail not to far from here I currently sit where you can find a ginormous tree with barbed wire running straight through the middle of its trunk.); the heating of well-drawn water on the stove for washing children and dishes; the walk to and from school.
As an aside, cutting grass with a scythe reminded me of a scene in Anna Karenina.

On a personal note, I was surprised to learn just how many times Dr. Utley cheated death, starting with childhood illnesses. A head-on car collision as a newlywed starting the cheating of death as an adult. Then came a heart attack, being held up at gun point during a bank robbery, and cancer (three times!).

Playlist: “How Great Thou Art.”


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.


Jazz

Morrison, Toni. Jazz. Alfred A Knopf, 1992.

Reason read: while it is not accurate, I read Jazz in honor of May being music month.

Joe and Violet are in the business of beauty. Joe sells cosmetics door to door and his wife is a home-visiting hairdresser. Usually a straight up and dependable man, Joe falls in obsessive love with a teenager named Dorcas. His passion for Dorcas forces him to kill her. At her funeral, in a fit of jealous insanity Joe’s wife, Violet, attempts to slash the dead girl’s face while she lay in her coffin. Violent Violet then goes home to free all of her pet birds. Her rage makes her human. The smartest character in the book is the City. I like the way the City makes people think they can do whatever they want and get away with it. The culture is full of passions, both right and wrong. Jazz will also take you back to July 1917, a time when Grandmother True Belle (great name) was afraid of Springfield, Massachusetts. (Kind of funny since I work in that urban area and sometimes I, too, am afraid of Springfield, Massachusetts.) Morrison’s vivid descriptions of culture are breathtaking.

Lines I loved, “Can’t rival the dead for love” (p 15) and “Two dollars will get you a woman on a store-bought scooter if you want it” (p 46). I have no idea what that means.

Playlist: Wings Over Jordan

Author fact: Princeton University could boast that Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison was on their payroll.

Book trivia: Jazz is part of the Dantesque Trilogy: Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise X.

Nancy said: Pearl used the words “jazzy syncopation” to describe Jazz.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African American Fiction: She Say” (p 12).


Positively 4th Street

Hajdu, David. Positively 4th Street: the Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina, and Richard Farina. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.

Reason read: May is music month. This is a proper book about music.

All it takes is one moment to allow your greatness to shine. Quarterback Tom Brady knows that without Drew Bledsoe getting hurt he wouldn’t have had the chance to prove himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks of NFL history. The band Imagine Dragons knows that without the lead singer from Train getting sick they wouldn’t have played the festival that changed their lives practically overnight. Joan Baez discovered that when she took part of someone else’s time to perform at the Newport Folk Festival she was given the opportunity of a lifetime. I enjoy a biography when the world of another human opens up to me and I discover that I probably would have liked them as an everyday person. When Joan Baez was quoted as saying she was afraid to take music lessons because she thought she would discover that she wasn’t all that good I liked her a little more. She had a sense of humor and wit to boot. But Positively 4th Street is not just about Joan Baez. Hadju takes us into the world of her sister, Mimi, and the influential men in their lives, Bob Dylan and Richard Farina. I have to admit, I knew next to nothing about Mimi and Dick before this book. Now I feel I have some catching up to do (musically). I think it’s incredibly tragic that Farina died on the same day his only book was published and his wife celebrated her 21st birthday.

As an aside, Joan was referred to as the Virgin Mary of music. This made me think of Natalie Merchant and how she was referred to as the Emily Dickinson of music. Why do men have to come up with these strange labels for women artists?

Author fact: Hajdu wrote a bunch of books around the topic of music. I am not reading anything but Positively 4th Street for the book Challenge.

Book trivia: Positively 4th Street includes two sections of black and white photographs.

There is an insane amount of music mentioned in Positively 4th Street. Hang on to your hats!
Playlist (musicians): Alan Lomax, Almanac Singers, Animals, Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys, Beatles, Bobby Rydell, Bessie Jones, Burl Ives, Blind Boys of Alabama, Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Brownie McGhee, Burt Bacharach, Chuck Berry, Clarence Ashley, Carolyn Hester, Conway Twitty, Charles River Valley Boys, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Carl Perkins, Cole Porter, Chambers Brothers, Doris Day, Duke Ellington, Doc Watson, Everly Brothers, Eddy Arnold, Elvis Presley, Eric von Schmidt, Frank Sinatra, Frankie Valli, Frankie Avalon, Greenbriar Boys, George Wein, Hank Williams, Harry Belafonte, Horace Sprott, Hawks, James Field, Jimmy Reid, Joan Baez, John Cooke, John Sebastian, John Lee Hooker, Judy Collins, Josh White, Jean Ritchie, Jerry Lee Lewis, John Lennon, Kingston Trio, Kate Smith, Lead Belly, Lionel Hampton, Leonard Bernstein, Lesley Gore, Lotte Lenya, Little Richard, Levon Helm, Marianne Faithfull, Mel Torme, Mance Lipscomb, Muddy Waters, Mahalia Jackson, Mississippi John Hurt, Nat Cole, New Lost City Ramblers, Odetta, Oscar Brand, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Peter, Paul and Mary, Paul Simon, Pete Seeger, Peter Yarrow, Ricky Nelson, Robert Gray, Rudy Vallee, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Rolling Stones, Ringo Starr, Sleepy John Estes, Staple Singers, Sonny Terry, Teddy Wilson, Theodore Bikel, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Tom Rush, Van Morrison, the Weavers, Woody Guthrie,

Playlist (songs):
A
“All the World Has Gone By”, “Always Something There To Remind Me”, “A Swallow Song”, “Amazing Grace”, “Annie Had a Baby”, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, “Another Country”, “All I Really Want to Do”, “All My Trials”,
B
“Blue Suede Shoes”, “Ballad of Donald White”, “Black is the Color”, “Ballad of Peter Amberley”, “Bob Dylan’s Dream”, “Boots of Spanish Leather”, “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down”, “Ballad of Hollis Brown”, “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Birmingham Sunday”, “Bye, Bye Love”, “Ballad in Plain D”, “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”, “Bringing it All Back Home”, “Brown-Eyed Gril”, “Ballad of a Thin Man”,
C
“Car, Car”, “Cumberland Gap”, Careless Love”, “Come Back, Baby”, “Chipmunk Song”, “Cocaine”, “Celebration for a Gray Day”, “Corrina, Corrina”, “Chimes of Freedom”, “Catch the Wind”,
D
“Dopico”, “Diamonds and Rust”, “Death of Emmett Till”, “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind”, “Don’t Weep After Me”, “Drive It On”, “Down on Penny’s Farm”, Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”, “Dog Blue”, “Donna, Donna”,
E
“El Preso Numero Nueve”,
F
“Farewell to Bob Dylan”, “Falcon”, “Field Near the Cathedral at Chartres”, “Farewell”, “Freight Train Blues”, “Fare Thee Well”,
G
“Gates of Eden”, “Glory, Glory”, “Good Night, Irene”, “Girl From the North Country”, “Gospel Plow”, “Green Historical Bum”,
H
“Hard-Loving Loser”, “Homeward Bound”, “Hold On”, “Henry Martin”, “Hard Travelin'”, “House of the Rising Sun”, “Hard Times in New York”, “He Was a Friend of Mine”, “Hard-Loving Loser”, “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance”, “Hound Dog”,
I
“I am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger”, “If I Had a Hammer”, “I Don’t Believe You [She Acts Like We Never Have Met]”, “Island in the Sun”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “I Was Young When I Left Home”, “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”, “It’s Alright Ma”, “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry”, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, “I Came to Jesus”, “I Once Loved a Lass”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, “It Aint Me Babe”,
J
“John Riley”, “Jordan River”, “Jonny’s Gone to Hi-Lo”, Judy’s Turn to Cry”, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”,
K
“Kitty”,
L
“Lay Down Your Weary Tune”, “Lord Franklin”, “La Bamba”, “Lowlands”, “London Waltz”, “Long Ago, Far Away”, “Lord Randall”, “Leaving of Liverpool”, “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, “Ludlow Massacre”, “Love is Just a Four-Letter Word”, “Like a Rolling Stone”,
M
“Miles”, “My Back Pages”, “Mixed-Up Confusion”, “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind”, “Mary Hamilton”, “Masters of War”, “Man of Constant Sorrow”, “Maggie’s Farm”, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “My Little Red Book”, “Michelle”,
N
“Nottamun Town”, “No More Auction Block”,
O
“One-Way Ticket”, “Old Blue”, “Only Pawn in Their Game”, “Once I Knew a Pretty Girl”, “On the Banks of the Ohio”, “On Top of Old Smokey”, “O What a Beautiful Morning,” “Overseas Stomp”, “Only a Hobo”, “Once I Had a Sweetheart”, “Oh Boy”, “Once in Love with Lyndon”, “One Too Many Mornings”,
P
“Pastures of Plenty”, “Pack Up Your Sorrows”, “Poor Boy Blues”, “Pal of Mine”, “Patriot Game”, “Poor Miner’s Lament”, “Puff the Magic Dragon”,
R
“Roll On Columbia”, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie”, “Rake and Rambling Boy”, “Reno Nevada”,
S
“Sweet Sir Galahad”, “Sail Away Ladies”, “Sound of Silence”, “Sally Ann”, “Scarborough Fair”, “Silver Dagger”, “So Soon in the Morning”, “Song to Woody”, “Swing and Turn Jubilee”, “Standing on the Highway”, “Surfaris’ Wipe Out”, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, “She Belongs To Me”,
T
“Talkin’ New York”, “This Life is Killing”, “This Land is Your Land”, “Talkin’ Hava Negeilah Blues”, “Tom Dooley”, “Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues”, “Tomorrow is a Long Time”, “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”, “Troubled and I Don’t Know Why”, “There But for Fortune”, “To Ramona”, “Turn, Turn, Turn”,
V
“Virgin Mary Has One Son”, “V.D. Blues”,
W
“Wild Mountain Thyme”, “Watermelon Man”, “What You Gonna Call Your Pretty Little Baby”, “Who Killed Davey Moore”, “Wimoweh”, “With God on Our Side”, “Wagoner’s Lad”, “Wild Colonial Boy”, “When the Ship Comes In”, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, “Wildwood Flower”,
Y
“Your Cheating Heart”, “Young Blood”, “You’re No Good”, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feelin'”, “Yesterday”.

Nancy said: Pearl experienced a musical trip down memory lane when she read Positively 4th Street.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The 1960s in Fact and Fiction” (p 178).


Great and Terrible Beauty

Bray, Libba. A Great and Terrible Beauty. Ember, 2003.

Reason read: May is birds and bees month. A Great and Terrible Beauty is a book written for teenagers. I think you can figure it out from there.

Even though this is a book best for teens I found myself enthralled with the story of Gemma. After her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, Gemma is sent to an finishing school in London. Everyone is saying her mother died of cholera because the truth is far more scandalous for the Victorian era. Despite taking place in Victorian England, Gemma’s boarding school could be in western Maine in the 21st century. The cattiness of school girls is as timeless as it is universal. In short, there will always be a crew, a posse, a clique, or gang. Some group of individuals designed to alienate and torture others. The names of these groups will change, but for the outsider the unfathomable desire to belong to one of them will never change. The act of self-mutilation in an effort to feel “something” is timeless, as well. Cutting in an effort to feel something is also represented in the story. The title of the book comes from the great and terrible beauty of power. There is an unspoken responsibility when bestowed with power. Gemma has the power to visit another realm; one filled with beautiful visions and terrible evils.

Two lines I liked, “Your mind is not a cage” (p 128) and “What kind of girl am I to enjoy a kiss I’ve seized so boldly, without waiting to have it asked for and taken from me, the way I should?” (p 210).

Author fact: according to the author bio, Libba is a cat person. Cool.

Book trivia: A Great and Terrible Beauty is the first of three books in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy. I am not reading Rebel Angels or The Sweet Far Thing. Too bad because I liked A Great and Terrible Beauty.

Playlist: “God Save the Queen”.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about A Great and Terrible Beauty other than to indicate it is best for teenage girls. I would disagree. Boys need to know about prejudices against women. Gemma’s brother is a prime example of what was (and still is) wrong with our society. Girls, females, women are not supposed to be pretty objects for men to own no matter the century. We can’t erase how long it took women to have a vote or to play professional sports, but we can educate our boys, males, men to make better choices when it comes to the representation and treatment of women. [Stepping down from soap box now…]

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23).


Ghosts of Walter Crockett

Crockett, W, Edward. Ghosts of Walter Crockett: a Memoir. Islandport Press, 2021.

Reason read: as a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I review books from time to time. I chose this one because it takes place in Portland, Maine. A city know and love very well.

Let me be upfront and honest. Crockett’s words will make you wince. If you have an alcoholic in your life, his words will ring truer than you can to admit. If you have poverty in your life, his words will ring truer than you can to admit. If you have ever had to struggle on the dark side of town, his words will ring truest of all. Crockett might not be the most elegant of writers, but he is one of the most honest and engaging authors I have read in a long time. He does not shy away from his own faults and failures. The moral of the story is that everyone has a story. I hope he keeps writing. I think he has more to say.

As an aside, there was a lot I could relate to in Ghosts of Walter Crockett. I have stood on dirty, moldy carpets in dark, dank homes where the smells of blood, shit, vomit and mold fought for dominance in my nose. I have eyed hardened piles of crap and wondered which of the eighteen animals was responsible at the same time trying hard not to let the possibility of human involvement creep into my mind.
Even more specific, I have spent a great deal of time in Portland, Maine. I knew it before it became boutiques and big time. I know some of the establishments Crockett referenced. I dated someone who graduated from Chevrus (this guy also pledged Sigma Nu). I know Togus as my grandfather died there. Even more personal: my father quit school after the eighth grade, but instead of hitching from Maine to New York City, he did the south to north route. My mother never got her license to drive either.

Playlist: Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady Tonight”, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind”, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”, “Jail House Blues” by Elvis, “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin, “Rags to Riches” by Tony Bennett, and the Beatles’ classic, “Let It Be”. Jonathan Edwards, Irish Rovers, Carole King, Elton John, Rolling Stones, the Cars, Aerosmith, and James Taylor.


Roads to Santiago

Nooteboom, Cees. Roads to Santiago: a Modern-Day Pilgrimage Through Spain. Translated by Ina Rilke. Harcourt Press, 1992.

Reason read: there is a festival in Madrid in May.

Prepared to be swept away by Nooteboom’s luxurious descriptions of Spain. Everything seen through his lens is treated with lavish prose. I could see the styles of Roman and Gothic architecture as if I were standing in front of each structure. Renaissance and Baroque art come to life with vivid reality. I now want to visit the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela with its pillars marked with fingerprints. While Nooteboom subtitles his book “a modern-day pilgrimage” we look in on the 8th century in a time of Beatus, King Silo, and the Carolingian Empire. Nooteboom draws parallels between Antigone of Sophocles and the Spanish state after Euzkadi ta Askatsuna targeted violence. We dance between historical and modern Spain with personal anecdotes thrown in for good measure. Aside from the beautiful writing, Nooteboom included stunning black and white photographs. Too bad they are not in color.
Sadly, I cannot quote anything from Roads to Santiago without contacting the authorities first. I don’t have time for that.

After reading Picasso’s War it seems impossible that some people would long for the days of Francisco Franco.
As an aside, I always like drawing comparisons to Natalie Merchant. Any mention of Andalusia or Majorca make me think of her music as she has songs about both.

Author fact: Nooteboom has written a great deal over the years. I am only reading Roads to Santiago for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Is there a different subtitle? I must be reading a different edition. From Book Lust To Go it should be “Detours and Riddles in the Lands of History of Spain” and not “A Modern-Day Pilgrimage Through Spain.”

Playlist: Handel’s “The Messiah”.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Roads to Santiago.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the incredibly simple chapter called “Spain” (p 220).


From Mumbai to Mecca

Trojanow, Ilija. From Mumbai to Mecca. Translated by Rebecca Morrison. Armchair Traveller, 2007.

Reason read: May was the month I used to walk sixty miles for a grassroots nonprofit to raise money for cancer research and holistic patient care. Read Mumbai to Mecca to remember the journey.

Those of us curious about what happens during a Hajj, the pilgrimage to the holy sites of Islam, can be thankful Trojanow made the journey. He writes with such beauty and grace, it is easy to get caught up in his descriptive words. Take the ritual of wazu, for example. There is a precise way to wash before any kind of prayer. At the end of the complicated process, one is supposed to feel calm, as if in a meditative state before prayer. I felt almost zen-like just reading about the process. I enjoyed learning about the Mumbai tea ceremonies and had a good laugh when Trojanow lost his sandals after a prayer session. Like any good travelogue, there is a decent mix of historical and personal.

As an aside, okay, I admit it. as I read about Trojanow losing his sandals, I was thinking of the episode when Carrie lost her $400 shoes when she attended a no-footwear party for a friend.

Favorite lines: It is too bad I need to seek permission to quote anything from Mumbai to Mecca because Trojanow is witty and lyrical, all at the same time. There were dozens of lines I liked and half a dozen more I would have shared here.

Author fact: Trojanow is a German citizen and I am reading two other books by him.

Book trivia: in Book Lust To Go Ilija Trojanow’s book is cataloged as having a subtitle: A Pilgrimage to the Holy Sites of Islam. My copy doesn’t have the subtitle and depending where you look, inside cover or spine, the title is either From Mumbai to Mecca or just Mumbai to Mecca.

Nancy said: Pearl said From Mumbai to Mecca is bound to be a classic.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “A is for Adventure” (p 3).


Feed

Anderson, M.T. Feed. Read by David Aaron Baker. New York: Random House Listening Library, 2002.

Reason read: May is considered Birds and Bees month and since teenagers have raging hormones I thought I would combine the two and read Feed.

Confessional: I am not a big fan of futuristic, dystopian novels. Feed is Anderson’s commentary of big corporation greed and its power over society in the form of extreme consumerism. Additionally, information technology and data mining are taken further by the invention of a brain-implanted feed network capable of scanning and collecting people’s thoughts and feelings and regurgitated back as commercials. Told from the first person perspective of Titus, we meet Linc (cloned after Abraham Lincoln), Marty (the guy with the Nike speech tattoo which causes him to insert the word Nike into every sentence), Loga (ex-girlfriend of Titus), Calista (the first girl to get lesions as a fashion statement) and Violet (Titus’s new girlfriend and the one to reveal the dangers of the feed). Violet is the most interesting of the group. As an underprivileged teen, she did not get a feed insert until she was older. This causes malfunctioning and Violet’s ability to “fight” the feed. Although it is a predictable ending, I appreciated Anderson’s reality of the situation.

As an aside, definitely find the audio book read by David Aaron Baker. It is a spectacular performance.

The popularity of having lesions to the point of creating them reminded me of the Seuss book, Gertrude McFuzz, the story about the bird who wanted glorious tail feathers and got so greedy collecting them she could no longer fly.

Author fact: Anderson also write Thirsty which is on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Feed was a National Book Award finalist and winner of the Boston Globe Horn Book Award and the Golden Duck Award (Hal Clement).

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Feed except to include it in the list of sure teen-pleasers.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23).


Testament of Youth

Brittain, Vera. Testament of Youth: the Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900 – 1925. New York: MacMillan Company, 1937.

Reason read: The United States entered World War I on April 6th, 1917. Additionally, I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of historical event.

Confessional: this took me a long time to finish.

The world can thank Vera Brittain for keeping a detailed diary during World War I. Through her writings, Brittain is able to not only give a personal account of how the war changed her life, but the impact the conflict had on the world at large around her. When she says the war “smashed her youth” and “interrupted her personal plans” you get the sense of the level of personal destruction the violence left in its wake. She led a sheltered life in England, never leaving the country until she was twenty-one. She had both a brother and a fiancĂ© serve in the war. Through their letters and poems, how they were affected by the conflict represents how a good majority of the soldiers coped with battle. In order to feel closer to her brother and fiancĂ©, Vera volunteered to darn socks, but as the war dragged on, the desire to “do something more” led her to sign up as a probationer in a hospital. There she had an up close and personal view of war’s terrible price. There is a growing sense of dread when Brittain describes reading the list of casualties and not having a single word from loved ones. The war matures Brittain. At the start of the conflict she naively hoped Roland would suffer a war wound so they could see each other. After some time changing the dressings of the amputees Brittain realizes she couldn’t wish that kind of horror on anyone.
Brittain’s autobiography continues after the war has ended and the struggle to return to civilian life becomes a reality. She has lost everyone she loved, friends and family alike.

As an aside, it is unclear if Vera was agnostic before the war or if the tragedies in France solidified an already growing idea idea.

Quotes to quote, “Someone is getting hell, but it isn’t you – yet,” (p 150), “Truly war had made masochists of us all” (p 154), “Too angry and miserable to be shy any more, we clung together and kissed in forlorn desperation” (p 189), “The world was mad and we were all victims, that was the only way to look at it” (p 376) and “I was not the culprit, for I was still too deeply and romantically in love with a memory to have any appetite for sexual unorthodoxies, but I am not sure that I should have owned up if I had been” (p 328).
Here is the sentence that had the most profound effect on me, “I entirely failed to notice the assassination on the previous morning, of a European potentate whose name was unknown to me, in a Balkan town of which I had never heard” (p 85).

Author fact: Even though Brittain is best known for her autobiographies she was also an accomplished poet.

Book trivia: Brittain includes a great deal of poetry from several different poets. Testament of Youth was a Masterpiece Theater dramatic series present on PBS by WGBH in Boston.

Playlist: “Elizabeth’s Prayer,” “Jewel Song,” “Clair de Lune,” “Te Deum Patreum Colimus,” “L’Envoi,” “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” “If You Were the Only Girl in the World,” “We are Soldiers of the Queen, Me Lads,” “Good-bye Dolly, I Must Leave You,” “When the Heart is Young,” “Whisper and I Shall Hear,” “Distant Shore,” “Robert the Devil,” “Dreaming,” “The Vision of Salome,” “Elgar’s Lament for the Fallen,” Beethoven’s 7th Sonata, Verdi’s Requiem, Bram’s Requiem, “Sweet Early Violets,” “Down in the Forest,” “Auld Lang Syne,” “O Hel-, O Hel-“

Nancy said: Pearl called Testament of Youth “moving.” She also called it “One of the finest accounts ever written of World War I” (More Book Lust p 155).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War I Nonfiction” (p 251). Again in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Living Through War” (p 154).