Collins, Paul. Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books. New York:
Reason read: April is the month for National Library Week.
Wales’s little town of Hay-on-Wye, or just “Hay,” is known as the “Town of Books.” With 1,500 residences and forty bookstores, what better place for a writer to move from Manhattan? Collins writes about his time in the village as a writer, as a house hunter, and as a new father in a whimsical manner; lacing the prose with mini lectures on long-dead writers, dust jackets not doing their one job, and what it means when an author’s color photograph occupies the entire cover of a book. Collins has a sense of humor that is self-deprecating (just try not to giggle when he shares the story of inadvertently peeing on his manuscript of Banvard’s Folly). You find yourself wanting to have a cup of coffee with him just to hear more. My only complaint? No photographs.
Confessional: I love a book that makes mention of Wallace and Gromit!
Right away I knew I was going to have a hard time decided on what to quote. There were so many good ones from which to chose! Here are just a couple, “If you grew up in a rural area, you have seen how farmhouses come and go, but the dent left by the cellar is permanent” (p 2) and this is the quote that gave me the most stop and pause: “It is hard to know just how many times we have been exposed to a word, a face, an idea, before we have it” (p 8).
Author fact: Collins first wrote Banvard’s Folly (also on my Challenge list).
Book trivia: The Sixpence House is the title of the book but the Collins family doesn’t discover it until nearly 150 pages in. Paul and his wife don’t decide to make an offer for another ten ages. In the end they decide it needs too much work and abandon the purchase. I was expecting the book to be more about the trials and tribulations of two Americans trying to restore a long neglected and dilapidated house in Wales. Just another example of Don’t-Judge-A-Book-By-Its-Title!
Nancy said: Pearl called Sixpence a “loving memoir” and a “captivating account of books.” Note: what Pearl says about Sixpence House in More Book Lust is word for word what she says in Book Lust To Go.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Cozies” (p 57).
Edited to add: Sixpence House is also included in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Wales Welcomes You” (p 248).
I have a ridiculous number of books planned for this month. I have no idea what I was thinking.
- The Warden by Anthony Trollope – in honor of Trollope’s birth month being in April.
- City and the House by Natalie Ginsberg – in honor of April being Letter Writing month.
- All Souls by Javier Marias – in honor of Oxford Jazz Festival traditionally being in April.
- All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor – in honor of April being Sibling month and in honor of Library Week.
- The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs – in honor of John Muir’s birth month (and the fact we are visiting Arizona soon).
- Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins – in honor of Library Week.
- Hunting Season by Nevada Barr to finish the series read out of order.
- The Game by Laurie R. King – to finish the series started in honor of Female Mystery month.
- Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith – to finish the series started in honor of Smith’s birth month.
- The Council of the Cursed by Peter Tremayne – to continue the series started in honor of Tremayne’s birth month.
- Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- From Red Earth: a Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness by Denise Uwiemana.
I may not be happy with my personal life in regards to fitness, health, and so on, but I am definitely satisfied with the number of books I was able to check off my Challenge list for the month of December. Special thanks to my kisa who did all the driving up and back and around the great state of Maine.
- The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (EB/print).
- Any Old Iron by Anthony Burgess.
- Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund.
- This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun.
- Time Machines: the Best Time Travel Stories Ever Written edited by Bill Adler, Jr.
- The Black Tents of Arabia: (My Life Among the Bedouins by Carl Raswan.
- Lost Moon: the Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger.
- The Female Eunuch by Germain Greer.
- Stet: a Memoir by Diana Athill (EB and print).
- Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owens (EB and print).
- Unicorn Hunt by Dorothy Dunnett. Confessional: I did not finish this.
- The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (EB/print/AB).
Owens, Mark and Delia. Cry of the Kalahari: Seven Years in Africa’s Last Great Wilderness. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Press, 1984.
Reason read: Mark and Delia Owens were married in the month of December. Read this in honor of their anniversary.
In 1974 Mark and Delia headed to Africa to start a research project just one year after their wedding day. Cry of the Kalahari is the story of their seven years in the Kalahari Desert. Taking turns, they share their experiences living with brown hyenas, lion prides, and unpredictable jackals, among many other animals. Because most of the animals have never seen humans before they are neither threatened or antagonized by Mark and Delia’s presence. At face value, Cry of the Kalahari is romantic and idealistic.
Admittedly, I have a few issues with Cry of the Kalahari, beginning with the trivial. One, how many times they mentioned the temperatures being 120 degrees in the shade. You are in the Kalahari desert! What did you expect?
Two, their so-called research. They went to Kalahari not really sure what they wanted to work on. When they discovered there was little known about the brown hyena they set about to learn all they could about the species, then they added jackals, and yet after Bones, a male lion, was murdered by hunters they changed their focus to protecting all wildlife of the Kalahari. By the end of the book their focus had widened to include wildebeest. How they received funding for such vague and vast research is beyond me. However, the couple is quick to point out Cry of the Kalahari is not detailed report of their research. That will show up elsewhere they promised.
My third issue is probably the most personal. They claimed over and over they didn’t want to interfere with the wildlife because it would change the validity of their research. They cried as animals starved to death outside their food-laden tent. Yet they had no problem performing a makeshift surgery on Bones, a lion who had broken his leg, or smearing motor oil on Blue, another lion who suffered from parasites. Most likely both of these animals would have died without human intervention. Essentially, the Owenes actions disrupted the circle of life in the Kalahari.
As an aside, the description of the cheetah hitting the wire fence at 70 miles an hour is heart breaking.
Author(s) fact(s): The Owenses are no strangers to the media spotlight. They have been on numerous talk shows.
Book trivia: there is a generous selection of color photographs in Cry of the Kalahari, along with a smaller section of black and whites.
Nancy said: Pearl was actually talking about another book written by the Owenses when she mentioned Cry. Interestingly enough, in relation to Cry Pearl said Mark and Delia were “expelled from Botswana” because of this book (Book Lust To Go p 267).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Zambia” (p 266). Confessional: I deleted Cry Of the Kalahari from the true list of books I needed to read for the Challenge because Cry does not take place in Zambia.
Athill, Diana. Stet: a Memoir. New York: Grove Press, 2000.
Reason read: Read in honor of Athill’s birth month being in December.
In the editing world, stet means “let it stand” when a copy-editor wants to rescue a deletion.
To explain this book, here are Athill’s own words, “All this book is, is the story of one old ex-editor who imagines that she will feel a little less dead if a few people read it” (p 5).
The first part of Stet reads like any other job related memoir, “here is how I came into my occupation and kept it for nearly fifty years.” Athill is careful to keep her private life out of the equation until she gets to part two. Here she dishes about her favorite authors who became quasi friends in the process. The story of Jean Rhys sadden me the most.
Confessional – the didactic history of the Caribbean Dominica bored me just a little.
Quotes I liked, “Even now I would rather turn and walk away than risk my voice going shrill and my face going red as I slither into sickening humiliation of undercutting my own justified anger by my own idiotic ineptitude” (p 58) and “Jean has been right – she was the only person who could make sense of the amazing muddle seething in those bags” (p 165).
Author fact: a Google search of Diana Athill’s name told me Athill will be 101 years old at her next birthday (on the 21st).
Book trivia: Sadly, there are no photographs in Stet.
Nancy said: the only thing Pearl said was Stet is an “interesting book about [Athill’s] career in the publishing industry” (p 163).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Me, Me, Me: Autobiographies and Memoirs” (p 163).
Beard, Terry. Squelched. Hybrid Global Publishing, 2018.
Reason read: as a member of LibraryThing’s Early Review program, this is the pick for September.
Terry Beard’s Squelched spends a great deal of time explaining how his voice was silenced (squelched) during his formative years. Grade by grade, he cites examples of all the times he had been a victim of domestic violence. From his grandmother telling him he shouldn’t be a lawyer to his parents not buying him the newest and fashionable of clothes. It gets a little tiresome to hear about the kids who had it better than he because, according to Beard, rich kids didn’t have the traits of compassion and kindness. Every time he was put down he never tried to prove anyone wrong. He lived down to their low expectations of him, describing his attitude as “rock and roll.”
A smaller issue was Beard’s timeline. It moved around a lot. For example, in the fifth grade chapter he talks about getting married, flying to Mexico City as a 12 year old, and driving a car even though he felt like a clown driving around in his parent’s station wagon.
Pet peeve: Beard’s pity-me childish attitude during Part One. He was constantly talking about his economic need. He sniveled about not being first string on the baseball field. He was a “bad boy” for being benched, but never mentioned if he had any talent. He bellyached when he didn’t have his grandmother to do his laundry or access to grandpa’s liquor hidden in the garage. His first mother-in-law’s one redeeming quality was that she smoked like President Roosevelt. His detailing of the formative years inched along while ten years of married were barely mentioned, probably because he subsequently got a divorce. He spent 84 pages on examples of how his was voice “squelched” and only 52 on how he found his voice. But, those 52 pages were the most entertaining.
One last comment is out of confusion. The last section of Squelched is titled “Speeches: A Sampling of Speeches Delivered at a Variety of Venues” and yet, the first, “Wet ‘n Wild” does not seem like a speech he would deliver. Would Beard really tell an audience Miss D.’s butt is bigger than the state of New York? I was a little confused.
Book trivia: Do not think of this book as a self-help, instructional guide to becoming a better public speaker. There is very little universal advice worth sharing to make this a guide for the masses. Even through the subtitle is directed at you, this is more of a memoir than anything else.
Bottom line: I had a hard time reading Squelched. Where Beard saw negativity I saw tough love. When people questioned him about his business ventures (“How will you make this work?”) the queries were not negative or positive. But Beard chose to see the questions as criticisms.
So, by the end of November I was a blathering mess, wasn’t I? I know I was. Mea culpa. Three xrays, five vials of blood taken, one CT scan, and two therapy sessions later, here are the updates. The protruding ribs are being blamed on chiropractic appointments even though I felt the rib cage move before I started see Dr. Jim. The nerve pain is being controlled by medication. The spot on the lung and possibly tumor…no results as of today. White blood cell count still elevated. Possibility of cancer…still a possibility.
But. But! But, enough of all that. Here are the books: I have a week off at the end of the month so I am anticipating it will be a good reading month. Here are the books planned:
- Any Old Iron by Anthony Burgess (EB) – in memory of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th.
- The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin – in memory of Le Guin passing in 2018.
- Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund – to honor Alabama becoming a state in December.
- The Female Eunuch by Germain Greer – to honor women’s suffrage law.
- Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owens (EB) – to honor the wedding anniversary of Mark and Delia.
- Lost Moon by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger – in honor of the moon landing.
- Stet: an Editor’s Life by Diana Athill (EB) – in honor of Athill being born in December.
- The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (AB) – to continue the series His Dark Materials, started in November in honor of National Writing Month.
- The Unicorn Hunt by Dorothy Dunnett (EB) – to continue the series Niccolo House, started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Squelched by Terry Beard.
If there is time:
- Black Tents of Arabia by Carl Raswan – in honor of Lawrence of Arabia.
- This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun – in honor of Jelloun’s birth month.