Baghdad without a Map

Horwitz, Tony. Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia.

Reason read: Baghdad was bombed in March 2003. Read in memory of that event.

Baghdad in the mid 1980s was such a volatile place to be. For Tony Horwitz to be bombing around (pun totally intended) Arabia was insane. There he was, in a land where even local weather reports and maps were banned. Think about it. As a left handed, Jewish stringer, he was not the most popular person to be wandering about those parts of the middle east. He met many people who exclaimed, “Death to America!” before gushing about Disneyland or Hollywood. Despite the dangers and hatreds, his narrative is more than slightly tongue-in-cheek and a lot more than a little funny. He scoffs at roadblocks manned by a 7′ cardboard soldier (while the real military gets stoned on qat). He makes light of millions of crushing fanatics at Khomeini’s funeral. He jokes about not being able to find his wife cloaked in a chador. At the same time as being funny, he is keenly observant. One of my favorites notes – while middle eastern air travel is not the safest; the oxygen masks made be missing, but at least passengers know which direction they should bow their heads in prayer thanks to a “Mecca indicator” on the ceiling of their aircraft.

As an aside, I love it when the knowledge lens gets a little wider. Through reading Martin Mosebach’s The 21, I gained a broader perspective of the Coptic Christian community. So when the Coptics were mentioned in Baghdad Without a Map the reference wasn’t a foreign concept.

Quotes to quote, “The history of modern Baghdad reads like Macbeth, only bloodier” (p 113), and “A man could play Rambo for less money than he paid for a week’s worth of qat” (p 37).

Author fact: Sadly, Tony Horwitz died last year at the age of sixty years young. Heart attack, I think.

Book trivia: There are no photographs included in Baghdad Without a Map. Bummer.

Nancy said: Pearl said her favorite line in Baghdad without a Map included Horwitz’s humor and insight.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” (p 113). It’s funny Pearl included Horwitz’s book in this chapter because he ended up going back to the middle east again…so maybe it in his mind it was always a good idea. No regrets.


Making Tracks

Weber, Matt. Making Tracks: How I Learned to Love Snowmobiling in Maine. Yarmouth, Maine: IslandPort Press, 2019.

Reason read: Christmas gift from my mother oops! sister!

Making Tracks thoughtfully combines a love of snowmobiling with an obvious respect for Maine, marriage, and mother nature. Part memoir, part comedy, Matt playfully tells stories and shares black and white photographs of his adventures riding with family and friends all over the great state of Maine. Despite the casual language, Matt is incredibly informative for beginners or those experts seeking advice on adventure riding in Maine. A list of resources is included. [As an aside, because the references include websites, it is always best to do your homework and make sure the links are still available.]

The title is a little misleading. Matt never hated to ride a snowmobile so the loving to ride came quite easily. He implies he was forced to love it when in actuality, his love of riding grew.

Favorite part: Tarzan. Without a doubt, Tarzan. My husband and I once found Tarzan hopelessly stranded amid sand and seaweed on a beach at low tide. His leash had gotten tangled around mid-sized rocks and no matter how he struggled, he couldn’t break free…and the tide was coming in, as it is bound to do twice a day. We did what any pet lover would do, and even though he didn’t need to, a grateful Matt repaid us in sea critters. Yum. Can’t refuse those things! But back to Making Tracks. It was touching to learn of Tarzan’s life, beginning and end.

Author fact: Confessional – Matt is “my” island neighbor when I am home-home. I have to wonder how differently I would view his book if I could have situational amnesia and forget my favored prejudice. True, Matt and I do not have a friendship per se; we have never had a meal together and we aren’t even friends on social sites, but I also know if my mother needed anything, anything at all, I could call Matt. He is just that kind of guy.

Second confessional: Weber’s book got me through a near two hour wait at the DMV. I was waiting to renew my license to get the all-important “real” identification card when their system ominously “went down.” Anxious employees wrung their hands and with eyes downcast, admitted it could be “hours” before it came back up. A few people who couldn’t stomach that kind of wait quietly gathered their things and slipped out the door. Me, I had no choice but to stay.

Book trivia: Making Tracks is super generous with photographs and includes a section on resources. I said that already. Meh.


January Jinxed

January is a month of great indecision. I can’t decide if I want to say more…
If there is one thing I can say for the January books, it is that most all of the fiction made mention of great music. Some musicians I knew, some I didn’t. Some songs I knew, some I didn’t. I had fun looking it all up though.

Fiction:

  • Sanctuary by Ken Bruen (EB & print). Music: Philip Fogarty, Anne Lardi, Rolling Stones, Snow Patrol, Johnny Duhan.
  • The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat (EB & print).
  • Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland (EB & print). Music: Lucinda Williams, Slim Dusty, Nick Cave, The Warumpi Band, Ry Cooder.
  • The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett (EB & print). Music: Charles Tenet.
  • Graced Land by Laura Kalpakian (EB & print). Music: Elvis, Elvis, and more Elvis.
  • The Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel (print). Music: Leonard Cohen, Beethoven, and the fictional heavy metal band, Panda Bear Soup.
  • The Passage to India by E.M. Forster (EB & print).

Nonfiction:

  • Barcardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten (EB & print).

Series continuations:

  • Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset (EB & print).
  • The Persuader by Lee Child (EB & AB).

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Fine, Thanks by Mary Dunnewold (EB). Music: Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, Mose Allison, Talking Heads, Aaron Copeland (can you tell, Dunnewold really likes music!).

Fine, Thanks

Dunnewold, Mary. Fine, Thanks: Stories from the Cancerland Jungle. Texas: Black Rose Writing, 2019.
Release date: 10/24/19.

Reason read: this was a November pick for the Early Review Program from LibraryThing. I haven’t posted one of these in awhile (didn’t get chosen for October, forgot to make a selection for December, and November – this one -only came just recently).

My very first surprise takeaway from reading Fine, Thanks is how calm and pragmatic Mary is while describing her relationship with breast cancer. How is this possible when she went went a healthy mammogram to a “cancer everywhere” magnetic resonance image less than a year later? From discovery, treatment, and recovery there is a smattering of humor, a touch of sarcasm, more than a healthy strain of emotional bravery, and yes, to be expected, anger. For the most part, she is detailed and detached in such a way that a reader can relate in the abstract if he or she has never experienced breast cancer, or nod knowingly if it has been a nightmare reality. I have to wonder how many people diagnosed with any stage of breast cancer have whispered a sage yesyesyes at every truthful, clear-headed, powerful sentence Dunnewold wrote? Even when she points out the obvious I found myself making note of my emphatic agreement. For example, it is common sense that people would pay more attention to something when it relates to them directly. The greater the relationship the more one is willing and apt to sit up and take notice. But when Dunnewold points that out it becomes something different. Yes. She writes like a storytelling river; at times a crashing torrent of yelling words and roiling feelings. At other times her words are a gentle trickle of quiet and graceful acceptance.
Confessional: My favorite moment was not the height of her bravery during diagnosis or even treatment, but rather when she ended her search for religion. Odd as that may seem, it’s true. Her viewpoint awoke something deep within me. Not in the jolting sense of an abrupt aha moment. there was no visible lightning strike. But rather in the slow dawning of discovery; the way that a patch of sunlight plods across the carpet illuminating a slight discoloration in the pile never noticed before. A subtle stain. Oh. Ohhhh…now I see. There were a few of those moments.
Second favorite part – the laugh out loud moment or as I call it, the “snort coffee out the nose” moment was when Dunnewold described the “unanticipated side effect of cancer” in conjunction with pie crust. She owes me a cup of coffee.
As an aside, what is it about animals? I was f.i.n.e. with the ending of Fine, Thanks. I could close the book with a sigh of satisfaction…until I got to the epilogue. Having just helped my sister adopt a dog named Rubie…ugh.


Saddest Pleasure

Thomsen, Moritz. The Saddest Pleasure: a Journey on Two Rivers. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Greywolf Press, 1990.

Reason read: In honor of Brazil’s first emperor. His coronation was on December 1st, 1822.

When we catch up to Martin Moritz Thomsen Titus in The Saddest Pleasure he is now sixty-three years old. Depending on which review you read, Thomsen either was asked to leave the Ecuadorian farm he co-owned with partner, Ramon, or he just up and left. Either way, in the beginning of The Saddest Pleasure he sets out to travel to Amazonian Brazil via two rivers. Along his journey he tries to reconcile difficult memories of a contentious relationship with his father, while wrangling with the effects of aging and mourning the loss of the farm he shared with Ramon. He seems sarcastically obsessed with being a farmer and very reluctant to admit he is a writer because farming seems the more noble profession. In fact, in my opinion, the entire book is more of a look back at the should haves, could haves, and would haves of his life. A lot of cantankerous regret is interspersed in the memory. He calls travel the saddest pleasure, but I would say the saddest pleasure was reading this book.

Line I loved, “I have lived too long with poor people to sit now in the middle of all this jewelry and the electronic crapola and the whores and the gangsters who want to own it, eating overpriced food, listening for eight hours straight to Muzak’s plastic masturbatory music not to feel a profound disorientation” (p 21).
Here’s another, “Starved for protein, crippled by malnutrition, they have lost about 20% of their intelligence” (p 84).

Author fact: Thomsen lived another ten years after The Saddest Pleasure. I surely hope he found happiness in that remaining time.

Book trivia: Some view The Saddest Pleasure as the completion to a trilogy about Moritz’s time in the Peace Corps. Living Poor was considered book one (also on my Challenge list), and Farm on the River of Emeralds was book two. Another interesting fact about The Saddest Pleasure is that it won the 1991 Governor’s Writers Award.
As an aside, my copy of Saddest Pleasure has an amazing cover illustrated by Alfredo Arreguin.

Nancy said: Pearl said she found Thomsen’s memoir “to be utterly enthralling” (Book Lust To Go p 43). She then went on to take up considerable real estate in the chapter quoting The Saddest Pleasure, as she admits, “the book is filled with quotable lines” (p 44). Yes, yes it is.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter simply called “Brazil” (p 43).


Silverland

Murphy, Dervla. Silverland: a Winter Journey Beyond the Urals. London: John Murray, 2006.

Reason read: Murphy was born in the month of November. Read in her honor.

Silverland is a well detailed account of Dervla Murphy’s slow train trip across the barren Russian landscape via BAM, the Baikal-Amur Mainline. When I say slow, I mean slow. Like 20 miles an hour slow. She prefered it this way. As she traveled she recounted the history and statistics of BAM, mourning the loss of Siberian and Ewenki cultures, stoically observed societal norms (the tragedy of “vodka orphans” strikes a chord), and waxed about political change; all the while struggling to communicate with the people she met. The language barrier sometimes prevented her from embarking on heavy and/or controversial debates or more importantly, finding out the location of her beloved bicycle, Pushkin. She is very knowledgeable about the country’s history and could hold her own throughout her extensive travels.

My favorite parts of Silverland occurred when Murphy painted a romantic image of the Siberian countryside. For example, as she rides the rails she observes steam from hot springs meeting a shaft of sunlight and pronounces the region, “a magical silverland” (p 63).
Murphy is also a humorist, affectionately referring to her overburdened suitcase as “Dog” and “Pushkin” is her bicycle. I do the same thing.

I am always pleased when a book urges me to learn more. I admit I did not know what the word ‘fubsy’ meant. Nor had I heard of the Baikal-Amur Mainline before reading Silverland. My favorite new knowledge was that of Tynde’s “pear custom.” They give a departing guest one half of a pear, urging the guest to come back to eat the other half. We on Monhegan give flowers to departing guests. If the flowers wash ashore, the guest will also return.

Quotations to quote, “I am not so far out of my tree to advocate for the elimination of motor vehicles” (p 52) and “…dawn is the best time to arrive in an unknown city” (p 87).

Author fact: Murphy was born in Ireland. A more interesting fact I learned after reading Silverland is Murphy had three granddaughters and eight pets at the time she embarked on the Siberian journey.

Book trivia: Silverland has a great set of black and white photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl nothing specific about Silverland. She did mention this was Murphy’s second trip to the region.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Siberian Chills” (p 205).


Four Corners

Salak, Kira. Four Corners: Into the Heart of New Guinea: One Woman’s Solo Journey.
Salak, Kira. Four Corners: One Woman’s Solo Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2001.

Reason read: November is supposedly a really good time to visit Papua New Guinea, if you enjoy that kind of dangerous travel.
Confessional: I started reading the uncorrected proof of this memoir before receiving the published version.

There is no doubt Kira Salak is a strong woman. As an eleven year old kid her father taught her how to handle a gun. She remembers her father encouraging his young daughter to aim between the eyes. All her life Kira considered herself tough, wanting to be a soldier, a warrior of Green Beret quality. For all of her courage, time and time again while reading Four Corners I was struck dumb by her seat-of-her-pants travel style in Papua New Guinea. Salak travels beyond the outer reaches of civilization because she has an inexplicable calling to do so. It seems incredulous one could be so naive about everything, including basic survival skills for the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Salak goes into the region without a clear plan or even a way to support herself should the missionaries and locals refuse to ensure her safe passage regardless of the money and/or gifts she has to offer. She’s a creative writing student with no concrete connection to why she is there. Other reviewers of Four Corners called Salak “lucky.” She is that and then some!

I love it when a book makes me curious about other things. After reading Four Corners I had to research Well’s morlocks and Christian’s mutineers.

Quotes I had to quote, “Sometimes our lives are chosen for us, and we have about as much control over the matter as we do the situation we’re born into” (p 13), “Living is nothing but an attempt to champion the choice you’ve made” (p 148), “I am looking at hate, a hate so deep it’s palpable” (p 168).

Author fact: Salak has her own website and the photos I was hoping to see in Four Corners can be found here.

Book trivia: I was hoping for pictures (since the cover is so interesting) but none were included. See comment above.

Nancy said: Pearl had a different title for this book, Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea. Pearl also said “for a goodly dash of [great beauty and danger] try Four Corners (Book Lust To Go p 150).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the super simple chapter called New Guinea (p 150).