Reid, Melanie. The World I Fell Into: What Breaking My Neck Taught Me About Life. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2021.
Reason read: This is the September offering from LibraryThing’s Early Review program.
Here is the coincidental thing about reading The World I Fell Into by Melanie Reid. It came at the same time I was finishing up Inside the Halo by Maxine Kumin. Two very similar stories about an accident involving a horse and breaking bones in the author’s neck and/or back. Maxine had to wear a halo device to keep her neck and head stabilized while her bones fused. Melanie, at 52 years old, was paralyzed from the chest down. Both of them went through extensive rehabilitation to learn to live with their injuries. Both of them have a form of writing as a successful career (Maxine is a poet and Melanie is a journalist). Both of them are mothers with complicated relationships. Their lives post-accident is where their stories truly diverge.
Where Melanie’s story diverges from Maxine’s is at the “happily ever after” part of the story. Maxine makes a near-full recovery from her accident while most of The World I Fell Into is about the loss of life as Melanie once knew it. When one reviewer called it “lacerating” they weren’t wrong. Reid’s journey to acceptance is a painful one to travel.
As an aside, I am 52 years old. One of the most heartbreaking moments, for me at least, was when Reid asked for one of her 10k race shirts. She thought of it as a symbol of who she was and who she would return to being. When she fully realized she would never run again she grew so embarrassed she threw it away. Another moment was when she wrote about her skin yearning for moisturizer. She deserves someone who would carefully, lovingly take the unwieldy jar with its impossible lid and once opened, with that same care and love, rub the cream into her skin. Then I thought, who am I kidding? I want that intimacy for myself.
Author fact: Melanie has won awards for her journalism.
Book trivia: The World I Fell Into includes some black and white photographs of Melanie pre and post accident and was originally published in the UK in 2019.
Playlist: Sister Sledge’s “We are Family,” “Heartbeat” by Nicole Scherzinger and Enrique Inglesias, “Sex is On Fire” by Kings of Leon, “Human” by the Killers, and musicians Janis Joplin, Roy Orbison & Bruce Springfield.
Race, Peggy. Desiree: the Music of My Soul. Texas: Black Rose Writing, 2021.
Reason read: as a member of LibraryThing I review books for the Early Review program. This is the August 2021 selection.
There is no doubt in my mind Peggy Race has had her share of heartbreak. This is how one dog was able to mend her heart and put her on a path of purpose. Losing her second husband of only nine months to a freakish accident, Peggy was lost. Dogs became her lifeline. One dog in particular became her saving grace.
Confessional: this took me a really long time to read. The language is extremely flowery, for lack of a better way to describe it. The overuse of the word “as” became obsessively distracting. I became acutely aware of every time it was used as an adverb, conjunction, or preposition. It just seemed to be everywhere. Additionally, every sentence with “ing” as a suffix was equally distracting. There seem to be a formula to Race’s writing because “like” imagery was everywhere: “Like a film reel…” “Like the waters of Katrina…” “Like a blank chalkboard…” “Like a soundtrack of songs…” “Like a fresh coat of paint…” I could go on and on. I loved the story. I loved Peggy’s devotion to puppy mill dogs and her volunteerism brought me to tears at times. I just couldn’t synch with her writing style.
As an aside, I am addicted to a voyeuristic show called “Murder, Suicide, Accident.” Each episode is dedicated to a person’s questionable death. There is a certain formula to the show. Someone finds the body and from all outward appearances it looks like either a suicide or an accident. Enter the medical examiner, pathologist, and autopsy reports. Suggestable evidence points to something quite different happened. Experts agree something isn’t sitting well with the evidence. At the same time loved ones are interviewed and their words support a particular slant – “She was depressed and mentioned suicide to me.” “They were fighting a lot right before he died. She threatened to leave. The cops were called a few times.” “She was always getting hurt and was very accident prone.” The viewer starts to make judgements on the nature of death until there is a killer’s confession, suicide note, or irrefutable evidence pointing to an accident. Terry’s death could be featured on this show. Family would argue Terry was an expert rider. Would he work in a closed garage with a motorcycle running? Would he intentionally kill himself leaving his worldly belongings to an ex-girlfriend only nine months after marrying Peggy? Both of these actions seen short-sighted and slightly daft.
Playlist: “Thank God for Kids,” “God Bless the USA,” “I will Remember You,” “Have You Ever Been in Love,” “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.
Author fact: Race has written other books about rescuing dogs.
Book trivia: there were no photographs in my copy of Desiree.
Line I hope is kept in the final publishing, “Plowing through the uncultivated boundaries of my heart, I managed the feelings that came with loss” (p 6). That is what you do, isn’t it? You keep charging through unrefined emotions, just trying to keep your sh!t together.
Bahrampour, Tara. To See and See Again: a Life in Iran and America. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999.
Reason read: The Portland Public Library Reading Challenge has a category called “a book by an Iranian or Iranian American author.”
Tara Bahrampour was eleven years old at the height of the Islamic Revolution. As the bullets flew over garden walls, she and her family escaped Iran to the Pacific Northwest with one suitcase each. Old enough to remember her Iranian culture, but young enough to embrace America’s freedoms, Bahrampour balanced two very different lifestyles in her heart and mind. Having an Iranian father and American mother partially helped Bahrampour navigate the divide while she was young. When Bahrampour returns to Iran for a wedding, she is the first in her family after fifteen years to do so. The perspective from a twenty-six year old woman blossoms from remembered street games and childhood toys into the realities of the treatment of women, ceremony surrounding meals, and the strict regime after the Islamic Revolution. She is understandably nostalgic for the Tehran of her youth but fiercely protective of her Americanized viewpoints and attitudes. At first Bahrampour is naïve to the changes of her homeland’s rule and is shocked when she has trouble repossessing her American passport or when she hears stories of people escaping the military by wearing sheepskin and crawling over the border with a herd of sheep. Reality sets in when she is detained for talking to two blond tourists. As a Moslem Iranian woman officials fear her morality could be in danger. In the end, aside from rebuffing marriage proposal after marriage proposal, Bahrampour comes to an understanding about where she belongs. The Iran of her youth has left an indelible mark on her memory. At the core, it is who she is no matter where she goes.
Quotes to quote, “Everyone was so dazzled with what they wanted Iran to be that they missed seeing what it was” (p 248) and “…if that is how it is with loss – that you never really let go of the thing you are missing” (p 356).
Author fact: Bahrampour has written for predominantly New York-based publications. To See and See Again is her first memoir.
Book trivia: Each chapter is introduced with a black and white photograph. Nothing more, nothing less.
Playlist: “Love Story,” “Grease is the Word,” “You’re in My Heart” by Rod Stewart, “Barbara Ann” by the Beach Boys, “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA, “Slip-Slidin’ Away” by Paul Simon Iron Maiden, Slayer, Boney M., Supertramp, REO Speedwagon, the Bee Gees, “Carry on Wayward Son,” “I am a Woman in Love,” Chris Isaak, Michael Jackson’s Thriller,” “Tavern in the Town,” “Cider Through a Straw,” Ace of Base, Metallica, Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, and of course, Bahrampour’s mother, Karen Alexander.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about To See and See Again except to describe the plot.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Iran” (p 107).
Kamkwamba, William and Bryan Mealer. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. New York: Puffin Books, 2015.
Reason read: Recognizing the Malawi cabinet crisis of August 1964.
William Kamkwamba was no ordinary child from Malawi. He had imagination, ambition, and a curiosity that couldn’t be kept down even when his family couldn’t afford to send him to school. His drive was to improve his family’s situation after a severe drought left the landscape barren and his community on the brink of starvation, but really he loved to learn. He loved school so much he found a way to sneak into classes after he had been kicked out for nonpayment. Once found out he resorted to borrowing books at the library. One particular physics textbook resonated with him. Using money from a wealthy friend and the knowledge gained from reading and scrounging for supplies anywhere he could find them (flip flops, his father’s bicycle, melted PVC pips, the spring from a ball point pen…) Kamkwamba set out to build a windmill. His first invention in 2001 was modest, creating enough power to light a lightbulb. From there, Kamkwamba went bigger – big enough to charge cellphones and light his parent’s living room. The bigger the windmill, the more he could power. Soon his ambition went beyond his family and friends to extend to his entire community of Wimbe and he attracted the attention of powerful people. Doors opened across the world for Kamkwamba.
As an aside, I had a penpal from Malawi. He was killed in a car accident.
Author fact: William Kamkwamba received a degree from Dartmouth.
Book trivia: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind became a NetFlix documentary.
Playlist: Dolly Parton, Black Missionaries, Billy Kaunda, and “Silent Night.”
Nancy said: Pearl called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind “heartwarming (but not soppy) and inspiring.” She also gave a shout out to librarians and libraries.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 7).
Guibert, Emmanuel, Didier Lefleve, and Frederic Lemercier. The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders. New York: First Second, 2009.
Reason read: Afghanistan gained its independence from British rule in July 1919.
I didn’t know what to expect when I read a review of The Photographer, calling it a “photographic graphic novel.” It is quite unique and simply put, amazing. In three parts, The Photographer tells the story of how the aid workers of Medecins Sans Frontieres, smuggled across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan disguised as women in chadri, provided medical support to small communities during conflict. Didier Lefleve, a French photojournalist, traveled with the group to Zaragandara during the Afghan-Soviet War of 1986. In this district of Yaftali Sufla MSF establishes a field hospital while staffing a second one. The final part is Didier Lefleve’s nearly disastrous solo departure from Afghanistan. As the tagline for MSF reads, “We go where we are needed most,” The photographs and journal of Lefleve tell the entire story in intimate detail. It is a powerful print documentary.
It seems impossible for there to be humor in The Photographer, especially when you read of children with their eyes apparently glued shut and paralyzed by shrapnel, but it exists. One word: peaches. I confess. I giggled. That’s all I can say about that.
Most amazing fact: despite the reality they are fighting the Russians, Afghan doctors are able to obtain x-rays for patients, disguised as English speaking colleagues. they send men who are too old to be conscripted. No one suspects the men of being part of the resistance.
As an aside, I have supported MWF (known by the American subsidiary as Doctors Without Borders), for years. I first learned of the organization when Natalie would invite members to speak about their work during a set break in her concerts. I shared Natalie’s pride when they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. I appreciated learning about Juliette Fournot, the woman who started the US arm of Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Author facts: Emmanuel Guibert is an accomplished graphic novelist. I am only reading one of his works. Didier Lefleve died way too young at only 49 years of age. Frederic Lemercier was the mastermind behind the layout and coloring of The Photographer.
Book trivia: The English translation of The Photographer was publisher in 2009. Lefleve didn’t live long enough to see it. He passed from a heart attack in 2007.
Playlist: Michel Jonasz
Nancy said: Pearl called The Photographer “one of the best books” she read in 2009.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires” (p 3).
MacDonald, Betty. Onions in the Stew. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott, 1954.
Reason read: to finished the series started in April in honor of Humor Month.
In truth, Onions in the Stew can be read independently of any other Betty MacDonald memoir. All three are very different from one another. Onions in the Stew tells of the period in MacDonald’s life when she and her children, with her second husband, buy a house on Vashon Island in Puget Sound. It starts off as a humorous commentary on island living but morphs into the trials and tribulations of raising two teenager daughters who just have to rebel against everything you want for them. By the end of it, the reader can’t help but sigh. MacDonald blends just the right amount of laugh-out-oud funny with sweet poignancy. This was my favorite of the three memoirs by far.
Author fact: MacDonald might be better known for her Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories for children, but Onions in the Stew was delightful.
Book trivia: Onions in the Stew is another memoir about Betty MacDonald’s life. The Egg and I and The Plague and I are two others. These do not necessarily need to be read in order to be fully enjoyed.
Playlist: “Tangerine,” “Rock of Ages,” “You’re Mine, You,” “Embraceable You,” “Sweet Lorraine,” “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” “Paper Moon,” Frank Sinatra, Frankie Laine, Billie Holliday, and King Cole.
Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Onions in the Stew as one of those books that will be so funny you will fall off your chair from laughing.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Tickle Your Funny Bone” (p 218).
Orr, Gregory. The Blessing: a Memoir. San Francisco: Council Oaks Books, 2002.
Reason read: April is National Poetry Month. Gregory Orr is known for his fantastic poetry.
This is Gregory Orr’s painful memoir of not only the terrible moment when he shot his brother to death in a hunting accident, but the uncharacteristic way he and his family, tight lipped and stoic, dealt with the pain. Only one week after the tragedy the Orr children were back in school as if nothing happened. Gregory was in the seventh grade at this point. When Orr’s father uprooted the family and took them to Haiti, Gregory, as an adult, is able to look back at the episode and as delve briefly into Haiti’s turbulent political history and conflicting cultures (a mention of Castro and Papa Doc Duvalier) as a perfect comparison to his own family’s unsettled time. It is unbelievable, but even more tragedy followed the Orr family after arriving in Haiti. Once in full adulthood, Orr tries to make sense of his past and his responses to all of its shocking heartache. For example – when his mother died, none of her children were invited to the funeral. Father, a man Gregory once worshiped and wanted all to himself, is later described as having “not a nurturing bone in his body.” What father gives bottles of amphetamines as going away presents to his son while he carrying on a relationship with a girl barely older than Gregory? All of this sounds like a book unbearable to read. It is not. In the end, Gregory is able to find his way through the maze of mixed emotions and come out with the determination to become an accomplished poet.
Lines to ponder, “We were grateful to let something so mysterious and disturbing pass out of memory” (p 85), “Violent trauma shreds the web of meaning” (p 134), and “Poems are discrete artifacts of language that prove someone’s imagination and linguistic gifts have triumphed over disorder in a definitive, shaped way” (p 144-145).
Playlist: “Ti Oiseau,” “Greensleeves,”Somnambule Ballad,” “Keep Your Eye on the Prize,” “Aint Gonna Study War No More,” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Birmingham Jail,” “We Belong to a Mutual Admiration Society (My Baby and Me),” “We shall Overcome.” Fats Domino, Chubby Checker, Bob Dylan.
To look up: To Die in Madrid: a documentary on the Spanish Civil War and the sculptor, David Smith.
Author fact: Orr also wrote The Caged Owl which is also on my Challenge list. It will be interesting to read the poetry now that I’ve read the memoir. Will I see hints of Orr’s personal life in his lines of poems?
Book trivia: There are no photographs in Orr’s memoir.
Nancy said: Pearl included The Blessing in her list of “beautiful and moving memoirs by poets.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Prose By Poets” (p 194).
Gilbreth, Jr., Frank B. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Cheaper by the Dozen. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1948.
Reason: April 1st is known as April Fools Day. Cheaper By the Dozen is a foolish story.
The parents of Frank and Ernestine make an interesting couple. She is a psychologist and he is a motion study engineer. Together, they work to make processes more efficient for various business and by default, their twelve children are efficiency aficionados. Why twelve children? As Mr. Gilbreth explains, they were “cheaper by the dozen.” It’s a running joke in the family. Be forewarned, the family has a lot of running jokes.
An example of making a process more efficient: Mr. Gilbreth evaluated surgeons during operations to make their procedures go smoother.
While the bulk of Gilbreth’s story is humorous, it must be said that at the time of writing no one thought it politically or socially incorrect to call a Native American a “red indian.”
I don’t want to give too much away, but the birth control scene was hysterical. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud more than once. And I don’t think it is a spoiler alert to say that I loved the ending. Mother Gilbreth steps fearlessly into her husband’s shoes and carries on the family business. Brilliant.
Favorite dad line, “Some simpleton with pimples in his voice wants to talk to Ernestine” (p 220).
Author fact: Frank and Ernestine are siblings and wrote the book together.
Book Audio trivia: my copy of the audio book was narrated by Dana Ivey and had music before each chapter.
Book trivia: Cheaper by the Dozen was made into a movie more than once. Myrna Loy starred in the first version. My music connection: Josh Ritter has a song called Myrna Loy and the print version was illustrated by Donald McKay.
Playlist: “stumbling,” “Limehouse Blues,” “Last night on the Back Porch,” “Charlie, My Boy,” I’m forever Blowing Bubbles,” “You’ve got to See Mama Every Night or You Can’t See Mama at All,” “Me and the Boy Friend,” “Clap Hands, Here Comes charlie,” “Jadda Jadda Jing Jing Jing.”
Nancy said: Pearl said Cheaper by the Dozen remains one of the funniest books ever.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Humor” (p 166).
Halberstam, David. The Amateurs: the Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1985.
Reason read: Halberstam’s birth month is in April. Additionally, the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge has the category of a group working towards a goal. This time it’s a team of amateur rowers trying to qualify for the 1984 Olympics.
An interesting look at a little-known sport. Even though Halberstam’s story centers around the mid-1980s not much has changed with the popularity of rowing. People can name basketball stars, football greats, even Olympic marathon runners and sprinters, but not many can name one let alone all of the members of the last Olympic crew team. I never thought about crew being a faceless sport; a sport that is not very camera friendly. Think about it – to photograph the action accurately you cannot focus on any one particular face. I never thought about it that way. As an aside, I was doing an iFit hike with a trainer named Alex Gregory. He casually mentioned he was a rower on the U.S. Olympic team and retired in 2016. See? I had no idea who he was. Additionally, I recently finished a different iFit walk around Boston and the Charles River. The trainer talked about Harvard, rowing, and competition. Sure enough, a team of eight rowed by. It was cool to see the sport I had been reading about as I worked out.
Halberstam digs deep into this relatively unknown sport to reveal how for athletes like Tiff Wood, the seeds of a competitive spirit were planted in childhood by these rowers’ families: emulating older brothers or spurred on by critical fathers wanting to win, win, win. Encouragement was expressed by failure, (“better luck next time”), and compliments were reserved for the fastest times and first place wins. Reverse psychology at play. The Amateurs is a veritable who’s who of the 1980s rowing world. The dozens of names bogged down the writing and made it difficult to remember who was supposed to be in which boat. I catalogued all the names of the rowers and coaches but I am sure I missed a few:
- Andy Fisher
- Andy Sudden
- Al Shealy
- Bill Hobbs
- Bill Purdy
- Blair Brooks
- Bob Ernest (C)
- Bobby Pearce
- Brad Lewis
- Bruce Ibbetson
- Buzz Congram (C)
- Charley Altekruse
- Charley Bracken
- Chris Allsopp
- Cleve Livingston
- Dan Goldberg
- Dave Potter
- Dick Cashin
- Ed Chandler
- Eric Stevens
- Frank Cunningham (C)
- Fritz Hobbs
- Fritz Hageman
- George Pocock
- Gordie Gardiner
- Greg Montessi
- Gregg Stone
- Hans Svensson
- Harry Burk (C)
- Harry Parker (C)
- Jim Dietz
- Joe Biglow
- Joe Bouscaren
- Joe Burk (C)
- Joe Ratzenburg (C)
- John (Jack) Frackleton
- John Kelly, Jr.
- John Von Blon
- Karl Adam (C)
- Kris Korzeniowski
- Larry Klecatsky
- Mad Dog Loggins
- Mike Ives
- Mike Livingston (C)
- Pat Walker
- Paul Enquist
- Paul Most
- Pertti Kappinen
- Peter Raymond (C)
- Peter-Michael Kolbe
- Ricardo Ibarra
- Richard Davis (C)
- Ridgley Johnson
- Rudiger Reiche
- Sean Colgan
- Steve Klesing
- Stuart McKenzie
- Sy Cromwell
- Ted Nash (C)
- Ted Washburn (C)
- Tiff Wood
- Tony Johnson (C)
- Uwe Mund
- Uyacheslav Ivanov
- Vasily Yakusha
As another aside, I was too young to remember Jimmy Carter boycotting the United States’ participation in the 1980 Olympics. What a disappointment to all those athletes!
A third aside,
Author fact: Halberstam has written a good many books. Nancy Pearl has dedicated a whole chapter to his work. I think I am reading twenty for the Book Lust Challenge.
Book trivia: there are a few black and white photographs in the book.
Nancy said: Pearl said she noted her favorite Halberstam books with an asterisk. The Amateurs did not have an asterisk. Oh well. Overall, she said, she has never read a dull book by Halberstam. That’s good.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “David Halberstam: Too Good To Miss” (p 112).
Hansen, Eric. Orchid Fever: a Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy. New York: Pantheon Books, 2000.
Reason read: April is when everyone starts thinking about their gardens. Probably not orchids, though…I also needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of a true non-violent crime. Groundskeepers at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, call the exhibits the largest collection of horticultural loot and with words like racket, exploitation, trafficking, plundering, smuggling, and pirating I think I found the right book..
Hansen knows how to get the reader’s attention. Orchid Fever opens with a human body falling through a rain forest canopy. His guide, Tiong, seemingly fell out of the sky. Hansen was on the island of Borneo to see help build an upriver plant nursery for the Penan people. How is this for a cryptic meeting time and place: “The message was for them to meet us at the junction of the Limbang and Medalam rivers on the full moon of the fourth month of 1993” (p 8)?
He approaches his subject of orchid crime with a sense of skepticism at first. He calls these orchid-obsessed horticulturalists, “orchid people” as if they are some kind of alien race and yet, he travels the globe to meet them and start using words like racket, exploitation, trafficking, plunder, pirating, and smuggling to describe their behavior. Soon Hansen realizes these “orchid people” are so passionate about their orchids some can be driven to actual violence if provoked. It also seems that every time a legitimate researcher gets a shipment of orchids no matter how lawfully or innocently, that’s when the trouble starts. But orchids are not just for flower shows and smuggling. Hansen travels to Turkey and learns about how orchid ice cream is made from the tubers of a specific orchid. A flour made from the dried tubers creates a chewy, almost elastic texture. He also learns of the medicinal properties of orchids with such claims as the ability to heal a damaged spleen, prevent cholera and tuberculosis, facilitate childbirth, and improve sex life. Orchis in Greek does mean testicle…Along those lines, you will be introduced to the term ‘phyto-necrophilia.’ It is the “abnormal fascination or love of a dead plant material. Yes, it’s a thing. Hansen also travels to Minnesota, an area you don’t readily think of for orchids, to meet a man who tries to save orchids from being bulldozed in developing areas.
As an aside, I thought about Rex Stout’s Nero Wolf a lot while reading Orchid Fever.
Quotes to quote, “It was about this time that I got into the habit of taping my comp disks to the backs of cereal boxes in the kitchen cabinets” (p 68).
A sense of Hansen’s dry sense of humor, “We also called on Kemal Kucukonderuzunkoluk (pronounced Kucukonderuzunkkoluk), who operates one of the oldest ice creams stores in Maras” (p 97) and “Sitting at the table, an uneasy feeling came over me as I realized it was quite possible that I was the strange one” (p 234).
Soundtrack: Rockin’ Dopsie and the Cajun Twisters.
Author fact: Hansen also wrote The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer, Motoring with Mohammed and Stranger in the Forest. All three books are on my Challenge list and I am looking forward to reading them.
Book trivia: Each chapter is punctuated with a beautiful black and white illustration of an orchid.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Orchid Fever other than to explain the plot and say Orchid Fever compliments Susan Orlean’s book of the same subject, The Orchid Thief.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 300s” (p 62).
MacDonald, Betty. The Plague and I. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1948.
Reason read: April is Humor Month.
I don’t know how someone can find humor in having tuberculosis, but then again, I’m not Betty MacDonald. She can find the funny in just about everything. This serious illness has come late to Betty. She is almost thirty, already married and divorced and a mother to two small children. Everything about tuberculosis is a mystery to her. The Pine’s list of treatments includes a long list of rules for new patients: no reading, no writing, no talking, no singing, no laughing, no plants, no flowers, no outside medications, no talking to other patients’ visitors, no personal clothes, and most damning of all, no hot water bottles. The goal is rest, rest, rest. When Betty first arrives at the sanitarium she doesn’t know if being cold all the time is a sign her disease is worse than others. Then she realizes it is cold all the time…for everyone. There is a great deal made of analyzing one’s sputum – determine color and measuring exactly how much is expelled. Betty wishes she had a more ladylike disease such as a brain tumor or a hot climate disease like jungle rot.
Despite the rules, the constant cold, and the overbearing Charge nurse, Betty makes friends and finds something to laugh at the entire time. How she leaves The Pines was a bit of a surprise to me but I’ll leave that for you to read.
As an aside, even though she doesn’t figure into the plot extensively, Gammy is a hoot.
Quotes I loved, “I was sure that I could be more intelligently cooperative if I knew what I was doing” (p 71).
Most realist quote, “I am neither Christian enough nor charitable enough to like anybody just because he is alive and breathing” (p 89 – 90) and “This simple pleasure was denied me, however, for I had been advised by the authorities that wandering in the grounds before breakfast meant just one thing – S.E.X.” (p 237).
Quote that distressed me, “He laughed, punched me in the stomach and ordered a sedative (p 111). What?
Playlist: “Hills of Home,” “Sonny Boy,” “My Buddy,” “Boy of Mine,” “Wind Through the Olive Tree,” “Tea for Two,” “Night and Day,” “Body and Soul,” “Judy,”
Christmas setlist: “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” “Joy to the World,” ” Silent Night,” “Adeste Fideles,” “We three Kings of Orient Are,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Once in Royal David’s City,” “O Holy Night,” “Away in a Manger.”
Author fact: MacDonald also wrote Onions in the Stew and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Both are on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: The Plague and I follows The Egg and I but can be read separately. Onions in the Stew is the third book in the memoir vein.
Nancy said: Pearl included The Plague and I in her list of books she considers so funny they will having you falling off your chair, but didn’t say anything specific about the book.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Tickle Your Funny Bone” (p 217).
Sides, Hampton. Ghost Soldiers. Anchor Books, New York: 2001.
Reason read: I read somewhere that March has a “Hug a G.I. Day” so I put this on the list. Even though I already had two books for this category, I am also reading Ghost Soldiers for the Portland Public Library’s Reading Challenge for the category of a book where a group works toward one goal. In this case, a group of 121 soldiers work towards rescuing 513 prisoners of war.
A group of 121 personally picked soldiers are called into action. Their mission: to march thirty miles to rescue 513 prisoners of war; survivors of the Bataan Death March. Sides is thorough in his storytelling. Side by side narratives of the rescued and the rescuers. One minute the reader is with the Rangers, planning the daring rescue; the next getting to know the prisoners of war. All the while the Japanese are launching deadly attacks and no one can predict their next erratic move. Using reliable documentation to recreate the drama, diaries, scrapbooks, oral recollections, interviews, correspondence to loved ones, and autobiographies make for an intimate feels-like-you-are-there narrative.
For me, the most moving exploit of the Rangers was when they had the villagers assist them in building an airstrip in one night (a mere five hours) to evacuate a critically wounded doctor. It brought me to tears to think of every man, woman, and child working their hardest in the dead of night to create an airstrip in the jungle for a complete stranger.
An interesting side story is the one of Claire Phillips, aka “High Pockets” working as a spy disguised as a cabaret owner. After she is exposed as a traitor, Sides seemingly ends her story but there is a postscript to her tale.
As an aside, I had to laugh when the deaf soldier was in the latrine during the raid. He missed the entire event; never heard Rangers calling for him; never noticed how quiet the camp was once everyone left.
Quotes I enjoyed, “But you would be amazed at what you can take if you have to” (p 306). Spoken by Robert Body about the march to freedom.
Playlist: Amazing Grace, Home on the Range, Don’t Fence Me In.
Author fact: Sides wrote many other books but I’m not reading any of them.
Book trivia: Ghost Soldiers has a decent collection of photographs including a group of the surviving Prisoners of War and Rangers fifty-five years later. Sides also lists every man held as a prisoner of the Cabanatuan camp. It’s pretty sobering to see all the names compiled on two pages.
Nancy said: Pearl calls Ghost Soldiers a “dramatic story.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War II Nonfiction” (p 253).
Pastiloff, Jennifer. On Being Human: a Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real, and Listening Hard. New York: Dutton, 2020.
Reason read: in the interest of self reflection I thought I would read this book.
There is no doubt Pastiloff is a talented writer. She executes words and sentiments like an executive chef whipping up a ten course meal using only the best ingredients. To continue the cheesy analogy, her ability to accomplish goals and banish self-loathing is nothing short of delicious. I hunger for that soul discovery/recovery as well. I want it for myself like craving a hot cranberry maple scone on a Sunday morning…but I digress.
Back to Pastiloff’s On Being Human. I can’t say why this took me forever to read. I started it in July. Yes, July. Only now, at the end of December am I wrapping it up. My one complaint? Pastiloff’s chronology was all over the place. If this was meant to be a collection of short, chopped up essays I could understand the disjointedness of it all. As a memoir, jumping from one timeframe to another, one awakening or realization to the next, was a little confusing. Aside from that little critique, I loved On Being Human. What can I say that hasn’t already been said about this gigantic best seller? Nothing. It is vulnerable. It is lovely. It is broken and brave and beautiful. Just read it if you haven’t already.
Author fact: Jennifer has her own website and other socials here.
Book trivia: There are no photographs included in On Being Human, but if you look up Pastiloff on her website you will find a beautiful human. It is hard to imagine her being hung up on how she looks, but that’s what makes On Being Human that much more honest. Good looking people have insecurities as well.
Lawrence, T.E. Seven Pillars: a Triumph. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1935.
Reason read: Lawrence of Arabia was born in December. Read in his honor.
The title of Seven Pillars comes from the Bible, in the Book of Proverbs. This is Lawrence’s personal narrative about the Arab revolt during World War I. A caveat: with all personal narratives come author perceptions that aren’t necessarily aligned with reality. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars is no different. He used unreliable sources in the form of diaries, journals, field notes, and most unreliable of all personal narratives, his memories. Yet, Lawrence goes to great pains to explain the process of his writing. In the spirit of artistic creation this is much appreciated.
I would be remiss if I didn’t draw attention to the full page portraits and illustrations that are beyond fantastic executed in plaster, oils, charcoal, pencil, and photograph . Lawrence makes special mention of the artist, Kennington, who worked for five years on the majority of the illustrations.
As an aside, Revolt in the Desert is an abridgement of Seven Pillars.
Quotes to quote, “All men dream, but not equally” (p 24), and “Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances” (p 29).
Author fact: All Souls College gave Lawrence “leisure” in 1919 – 1920 to write about the Arab Revolt during World War I.
Book trivia: Bernard Shaw critiqued Seven Pillars.
Nancy said: From Book Lust To Go Pearl said, “It goes without saying that any trip to Arabia should include reacquainting yourself with him” (p 23).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Arabia Deserta” (p 25).
Morris, Jan. A Writer’s House in Wales. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2002.
Reason read: for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading challenge. I needed a book for the category of transgender or nonbinary author. Jan was James until the 1970s. I love how Morris makes mention of her transition and how the Welsh have “kindly pretended that nothing ever happened” (p 59). The way it should be.
Everyone loves a funky house. Trefan Morys is as unique as they get: imagine a converted old stone barn with wood beams and a slate roof. Now imagine this: the horse stalls converted into two rooms, both being floor to ceiling libraries (because “the Internet is no substitute” for a good book). Model ships, strategically scattered everywhere. More books piled on the floor. I picture this house being cozy yet drafty with its upstairs view of the wild Irish sea; cozy yet sprawling with all of its secret nooks and crannies.
Confessional: I grew up surrounded by houses with charming names. Not the last names of owners, but fanciful [names] such as Treetops, Fairhaven, and Inkspot. Trefan Morys as the name of Morris’s house in Wales seems perfect.
Morris’s focus is not just on her house, but on her country’s people as well. She speaks of geographic history and how Indigenous Wales continues to struggle to keep an identity in the face of a barrage of British influence.
The hidden bonus is learning more about Morris as a person and not just a Welsh author who changed gender. She has a sense of humor. She has a partner who has stuck with her throughout it all. She is fearless: Morris is not one to back down from a challenge, climbing Everest to write about Edmund Hillary’s ascent, for example. Then there’s Ibsen, the cat. It’s all so charming.
There were so many lines I liked. It was extremely hard to narrow it down to just a few, but here are the ones I connected with the most: “I always think of music as means of communication across the continents and the ages” (p 97), “Music also seems to me one of life’s great reconcilers, an instrument of universal good” (p 98),
Author fact: Morris had a cat named Ibsen. Perfect. But…I should also tell you Morris is better known as a historian. The Pax Trilogy is also on my list.
Book trivia: I would have loved to see photographs of Trefan Morys. It just sounds like the perfect house. I did find a picture in a recent edition of ‘The Guardian’ and it only left me wanting more.
Nancy said: Pearl said A Writer’s House in Wales is “distinguished by [Morris’s] keen eye for detail, her fine writing, and her enthusiasm for her subject” (Book Lust To Go p 248).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Wales Welcomes You” (p 248).