Dinner with Persephone

Storace, Patricia. Dinner with Persephone. Pantheon Books, 1996.

Reason read: January 6th is the Fest of Theofania celebrating the baptism of Christ and a celebration of a return to light.

I have always wanted to visit Greece. The landscapes, the weather, the food. Sigh. All of it has me spellbound. But. But! But, the more I read of Storace’s Dinner with Persephone, I am not sure about the culture. I definitely do not agree with some of the attitudes towards women and marriage. Women are inferior to men. Sexual condescension is a thing. The accepted violence of smacking a wife or daughter around and how it is glamorized in television and movies is concerning. There is an ambivalence towards arson, too which I found odd.
Beyond the confusing side of Greek culture, I enjoyed learning about the icons of the region: a blue eye talisman hanging from an old woman’s neck, the juicy red jewels of pomegranates, the fable of Dionysus and the plant. To be sure, there is a lot of religious talk in Dinner with Persephone. The people Storace talk with mention the Virgin Mary as if she is a next-door neighbor they bumped into while going for coffee. Children bring up events dating back to the Ottoman Empire as if it were yesterday. It is only a perception but it seems religion is worked into nearly every conversation.
There is a subtle, almost secretive sultriness to Storace’s writing. I can’t put my finger on why I think that. The language is tedious at times, but more often sensuous.

P.S. I have not given up on the food of Greece. There is this one dish I am dying to try: zucchini blossoms filled with feta cheese, egg, and fresh mint. Yum.

Quotes I liked, “As I travel here, I am losing the illusion that I know where I am” (p 156),

Author fact: Storace has published a book of poetry and has received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award for her work.

Book trivia: This would have been a fantastic book to include photographs. Sorry to say that there are none.

Playlist: “Kyrie Eleison”, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “Let’s Take a Walk on the Moon”, “Denial”, Mozart, Bach, Hayden, Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn’s “Wedding Recessional”, Elton John, “This Land is Your Land”, “The Dream After the Dance”, “Roll Out the Barrel”, “Greece Will Never Die”, Katie Grey, Patsy Cline, and “Carmen Sylvia Waltz”.

Nancy said: Pearl called Dinner with Persephone an excellent choice.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Just So Much Greek To Me” (p 120).

Digging Up Mother

Stanhope, Doug. Digging Up Mother: a Love Story. Da Capo Press, 2016.

Reason read: Do you ever feel like your life is too uptight or that you don’t laugh enough at stupid stuff? I was definitely feeling too severe and too closed minded. So when a friend practically threw Digging Up Mother on my desk, I thought to myself “Self! What the hell? Read the damn book.” Definitely not on the Lust Challenge List. Definitely not. This is my 2023 proverbial show-the-panties, thumb-the-nose, and stick-out-the-tongue moment. Deal with it.

How do you navigate the unchartered waters of assisted suicide when it is your own mother who wants to die? Stanhope compares this “adventure” of killing his mother to planning a wedding: at least you know where to start. First, take mother to your house. Second, find a boatload of alcohol…
But Digging Up Mother isn’t all about Dear Mommy Dearest. Think of it as a fast-paced memoir of how Stanhope got his start in life. But. But! But, also think of it as a love story. His mother was his biggest fan, and for many years, his best friend. She supported him through every moment of his life, whether he wanted that support or not. I think I can safely call Digging Up Mother crude and caring and, dare I say? beautiful.
P.S. I hope Bingo is well.

A line I liked, “Everything horrible in life was money in the bank on stage” (p 151). Here’s one more, “Anyone who says that suicide is never the answer hasn’t heard all of the questions” (p 179).

Author fact: Stanhope is from Worcester, MA. Right down the road from me.

Book trivia: Johnny Depp wrote the foreword. Yes, that Johnny Depp. Are you surprised?

Setlist: The Chamber Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today”, Cheap Trick, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, Tom Jones’s “Delilah”, Pink Floyd’s “Mother”, “In the Flesh”, and “Nobody Home”, Suspicious Minds”, Cop Killer by Ice T., P. Diddy, Limp Bizkit, Yakety Sax”, and “You’re Too Good To Be True”. True story. When I was in grade school a friend of mine and I choreographed a dance routine to that last song. I still remember some of the moves.

Conversations Across America

Loya, Kari. Conversations Across America: a Father and Son, Alzheimer’s, and 300 Conversations Along the TransAmerican Bike Trail that Capture the Soul of America. XK Productions, 2022.

Reason read: as a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I occasionally review books. This was a December pick that I am just getting around to reading now.

Father and son embark on a 73 day, 4,200 mile adventure from Virginia to Oregon,
My favorite part in the entire book was when Kari’s life rolled by as if it were a memory from a movie.
From the moment I opened Conversations on my laptop I regretted not having the coffee table version Kari mentioned. Some of the landscape photography is absolutely gorgeous. However, here is what you need to know two-thirds of the book are photographs of ordinary people with their accompanying “stories.” Some of the stories are interesting or even heartfelt, but a great deal of them are exclamations about Merv’s age or the number of miles they are trying to bike. Wow is a common refrain.
My only detractor? The sheer volume of stories or conversations overshadowed the beauty of the father/son narrative. I tracked how many pages were dedicated to Loya’s personal journey compared to the pages of “conversations” and the ratio was 1:3. Additionally, the same “conversation” is in the narrative so I felt like I was reading the passages twice.
My favorite section of the book was the end where Loya included a partial list of the gear they carried, their itinerary of the different stages, and the half-time report about dogs and meals.

As an aside, were there really 2,000 filing cabinets? The bit about the trampoline was funny. I also felt Loya was a little judgmental about AT hikers. That’s acceptable if he has hiked the Appalachian Trail in its entity himself and can make a comparison based on his experiences.

Author fact: Kari was trying to sell his home in New Jersey while trying to bike across America with his father.

Book trivia: there is a ton of beautiful photography in Conversations.

Playlist: “New York” by Frank Sinatra, Chariots of Fire, Beach Boys, Def Leppard, Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, Quincy Jones, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Vivaldi, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Jack Johnson (Hawaiian music).

Home is the Road

Glancy, Diane. Home is the Road: Wandering the Land, Shaping the Spirit. Broadleaf Books, 2022.

Reason read: this is an Early Review I couldn’t start until the holidays were over. Once I delved into it, I couldn’t put it down.
Glancy is a road warrior. Traveling by automobile is her thing. She can cover great distances in a single day. She should have been a long haul trucker. To pass the time she dreams while she is awake and aware. Kansas for a film festival. A conference in Arkansas. A book festival in Missouri. She travels to places where they even name the ditches. I believe Home is the Road was born in its entirety on such a journey. Glancy’s writing is akin to lyrical rap, spoken word, essays, poetry, scripture: all of it fragmented and in a storytelling language. Her imagery is astonishingly beautiful. Her reflections are jumbled. Like trying to mediate while the mind scatters thoughts like escaped marbles from a bag. She is discuss motherhood, fracking in West Texas, or Eminem as B-Rabbit, but the backbone to her tales is twofold – her profound religious beliefs and her heritage. Caught between two cultures, she never quite belongs to either.
Her migrant wanderings started when, as a small child, her father would transfer jobs and move the family from place to place. Her restlessness is deep rooted to the point where she is a loner, but never completely alone.
As an aside, when Glancy talked about depression at the end of a long-mile journey. Is it similar to the sadness I feel when ending a particularly difficult road race? After months and months of training and after the finish line has been crossed, I find myself asking now what, what’s next?
Another similarity: Glancy sees large trucks on the highway as herds of animals. I see the road as the ocean floor. Lots of traffic are schools of fish, all traveling in the same direction, darting in and out of lanes. Big double-rig trailers are whales slow on the incline and police cars are sharks, waiting to pounce. Cars waiting to join the flow are eels popping out of hiding places.

A last aside: I took the first and last sentences of Home is the Road just to see how they matched up: “My life began in travel – a wayfarer not on foot, but in a car. An act of disobedience (pages 3 and 209 respectively).

Author fact: As soon as Glancy started talking about making a movie I wanted to see what was produced and if it was possible to see it. I immediately went to IMDB and learned Glancy won an award for writer of the year for a screenplay, which is not the film she wrote about. in Home is the Road.

Playlist: “Amazing Grace”.

All Over But the Shoutin’

Bragg, Rick. All Over But the Shoutin’ .Vintage Books, 1997.

Reason read: A friend sent this to me.

Rick Bragg needs you to understand three things about his life: One, he grew up with a strong mother. Two, his family was poorer than dirt. I don’t know what’s more poor than dirt, but Bragg will never let you forget he grew up less than dirt with words like white trash, ragged, welfare, slums, poverty, raggedy, and did I mention poor? Three, he’s southern to the core, despite moving to New York City. Maybe it’s this last point that makes it okay for him to use words like Eskimo. To be fair, we are a society becoming more and more sensitive to slights, real and perceived. But, I digress.
Bragg travels the world seeing atrocities far worse than growing up in poverty or having a delinquent dad or a drug-addled brother. His ability to tell stories from a compassionate point of view draws a great deal of attention and eventually, fame.
It is funny how when we are on the cusp of carrying on traditions from childhood we say we will do things differently than our parents. “I will not be my father. I will not be my mother.” Yet, at the same time we are just like them without trying. Bragg spent a lifetime trying not to be his father, but at the end of All Over But the Shoutin’ he is compelled to write his long-gone father a few words.

Author fact: Bragg won a Pulitzer as a reporter for the New York Times.

Book trivia: All Over But the Shoutin’ is a national best seller and has a few black and white photographs.

Playlist: Elvis, “Closer Walk with Thee”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “Boilin’ Cabbage Down”, Faron Young, Little Jimmy Dickens, Bill Monroe, Carlos Santana, Mother Maybell Carter, “Saturday in the Park”, Hank Williams, George Wallace, “Faded Love and Winter Roses”, “Dixie”, “Just As I Am”, “My Daddy’s War”, Beethoven, Johnny Horton, “Silent Night”, Eagle’s “The Long Run”, “Jesus Loves Me”, “Amazing Grace”, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and “Uncloudy Day”.

Italian Days

Harrison, Barbara Grizzuti. Italian Days. Worldenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.

Reason read: there once was talk of going to Italy in September or October. Read in memory of that aborted excursion. Also, some people celebrate Italian Heritage Month in October. Read in the offchance that is a thing.

From the very first few pages I knew I was going to enjoy Italian Days. Harrison is funny, witty, smart, and even a little sarcastic at times. She peppers her prose with interesting personal annectdotes about her connections to Italy. Sometimes it is about motherhood or her marriage. She comes alive when writing about her daughter Anna. Other times she talks of old lovers and new friends with such a sensuality there is an undertone of sexuality to her confessions, as if to say “I know I am beautiful. What of it?”
Harrison’s observations about Italian people and places are spot on. She has a running commentary on everything from feminism in Milan to artificial insemination by an unknown donor. She enjoys movies and references them from time to time.
It is obvious Harrison has an appreciation for the words of others who have written so beautifully about Italy’s charms. There are lots of quotes from Stendhal, Ruskin, George Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, and Henry James, but mostly Italian Days is a thoughtful blender concoction of cultural, spiritual, historical, and personal observations. Art, science, food, family, architecture, memories, religion, philosophy, and society swirl on every page. You’ll pick up a little Italian in the process. My favorite phrase was “qui sono felice” or “Here I am happy.”
Interesting that Piazzare Loreto bears no recognition of Mussolini’s demise.
As an aside, since Italian Days was published in 1989 I have to wonder if Milan is still as dependent on America as some seemed to think.
Thanks to Harrison’s descriptions of Italy there are a few places I would like to go: the church of Santa Maria Sacravia with its basalt stones; Rome, the city of Saints Peter and Paul (does anyone else think of Josh Ritter’s “Girl in the War” when hearing those names?); the Capuchin Cemetery to “cultivate a taste for the memento mori” (p 300). I now want to see the statue of David just to see his curiously small…ears.

As an another aside, remind me never to try the chocolate panforte – Harrison’s description of it sounds absolutely awful. Who would want to eat a spongy rock impregnated with gravel? On the other hand, when I go to Italy I want to try every flavor of gelati and I want to find the final resting place of Patrician Cecilia, the virgin patron saint of music and musicians. Supposedly, she is buried in a catacomb on the Appian Way.

Favorite lines: First, this is the one that made me laugh, “I have never but once had the occasion to threaten to knock someone’s pearls down her throat” (p 5). Then came, “It is very hard to be charming in a foreign language” (p 13), and “I have always wanted to live in an enclosed world, but when I did, I wanted to get out” (p 348). Spoken like a true cat. Meow.

Author fact: Everyone has their “thing” that makes them nervous. It was interesting to learn Harrison does not like masks or puppets.

Book trivia: there is a nice section of black and white photographs.

Setlist: Bach, Prince, Ben Webster, Ethel Merman, Mario Lanza, Tina Turner, Mozart, Vivaldi, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, “Once There Were Three Marys”, “Amapola, My Pretty Little Poppy”, “O Sole Mio”, “Arriverderci Roma”, “Be Silent Mortal Flesh”, “Edelwiess Forever”, Frank Sinatra’s “New York”, “Agnis Dei”, “Puff the Magic Dragon”, “If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus”, “Day is Done”, “Little Boxes”, “Love Walked In”, “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild”, “Jesus is My Friend”, “Tea for Two”, “Ave Maria”,

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Italian Days other than to outline what the book is about.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ciao, Italia” (p 46).

Over 80

Reynolds, Marilyn. Over 80: Reflections on Aging. New Winds Publishing, 2022.

Reason read: I am a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing. This is a selection for the month of September.

There are a myriad of reasons why I want to hang out with Marilyn Reynolds. First and foremost, she is funny AF. Secondly, she boycotts In-N-Out Burger because they donate to the Republican party. Thirdly, she is a realist. If you want proof, just read her chapter on her perspective of firsts and lasts (first couch she bought with a husband, last sex she’ll ever have…). And. And! And, if that wasn’t enough, she swears like a sailor. I laughed out loud when she considered taking up vaping.
I can only imagine that Over 80 is a lot like Over 70 in that it features essays about getting older and I have to wonder if that is true, could you string them together to make a disjointed autobiography of sorts? Reynolds is a realist I can appreciate. She became a writer (and a funny one at that) when she discovered there weren’t enough “real” books for students. She wanted to satisfy a need to see honest and relatable situations for the students in her classroom. It reminds me of my father saying “if you don’t like the way something is done, do it yourself!” My only complaint, if I were to dredge one up, is that Over 80 ends abruptly. Because I was reading the e-version I didn’t have a sense of when the story was coming to a close.

Marilyn’s playlist: “Sweet Leilani”, “Three Little Fishes”, “Jeepers Creepers”, “Jingle Bells”, “Happy Birthday, “Hokey Pokey”, Aloha Oe”, “Ode to Joy”, “The Little White Duck”, “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?”, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood”, “Roll Me Over in the Clover”, “Spirit of Life”, “So Long It’s Been Good to Know You”, Bing Crosby’s “Blue Hawaii”, Burl Ives, Beethoven, Chopin, Arthur Rubenstein, Harry Owens, and Hilo Hattie.

Woman Warrior

Kingston, Maxine Hong. Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Everyman’s Library, 1976.

Reason read: California became a state in September. Woman Warrior was also published in September.

Kingston is a master at weaving first, second, and third voices into a memoir filled with anicient Chinese folklore and cautionary tales about womanhood. I felt a lot of sadness in Woman Warrior. The tragedy starts early in as Kingston describes her mother, a former Chinese doctor, telling a horrifying tale about an aunt giving birth to a sexless child in a pigsty and then committing suicide with that baby; drowning together in a well. There was such shame in this pregnancy, “To save her inseminator’s name she gave a silent birth” (p 14). So much contradiction in culture! There is a crime to being born female and yet there is the story of the fierce woman warrior, the legend of the female avenger. My favorite parts were when Kingston addresses the difference between American-feminine and Chinese-feminine.

Quotes to quote, “No one supports me at the expense of his own adventure” (p 50),

Author fact: I could have read this book in honor of Kingston being born in October.

Book trivia: Woman Warrior won the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything about Woman Warrior except to say that it was published before The Joy Luck Club but didn’t captivate the world like Tan did.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Asian American Experience (p 26).

Chasing Che

Symmes, Patrick. Chasing Che: a Motocycle Journey in Seach of the Guevara Legend. Vintage Departures, 2000.

Reason read: celebrating the last full month Che Guevara was alive (he died in early October 1967).

There is so much mystery surrounding the life and times of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. His 1952 road trip from Argentina through Chile and up to Bolivia somehow changed him in radical ways. Patrick Symmes wanted to know more about that fateful trip, so why not trace Che’s footsteps and take the same exact journey? Che was on a motorcycle. Symmes would be on a motorcycle. Symmes drew not only from Guevara’s memoir, Notas de Viaje, as his guide, he was fortunate to have the road diaries of Guevara’s traveling companion, Alberto Granado, as well. [As an aside, often times, Notas de Viaje and Testimony: With El Che Across South America would contradict one another. I found it interesting that, more often than not, Symmes tended to believe Guevara over Granado.] Many people will be inspired to retrace the journey of someone else; to follow in their geographic footsteps, but Symmes takes his adventure to another level, searching out the exact places and people Che met along the way. His motto was “Be Like Che.” Would these same people remember the vibrant and charismatic young man? What could Symmes learn from them? By doing this, Symmes was able to meet with remarkable individuals, like Che’s former girlfriend who could not talk about Ernesto, the lover; Douglas Thompkins, the millionaire who bought up Patagonian land to preserve an ancient way of life; and even everyday people who kept Symmes rolling through the miles and navigating the harsh South American landscape. Symmes learned to tolerate drinking yerba mate and having discussions about Nazis in Argentina. He suffered dog bites, cracked ribs, barbed wire, and road spills. Most importantly, Symmes was able to be like Che. When Che mooches off individuals Symmes is able to apply the same tactics with somewhat similar success. The result of Chasing Che is more than a memoir and a travelogue, it is a love letter to one of the most influential people of the twentieth century.

Author fact: Symmes has his own website.

Book trivia: I wish there had been photographs.

Setlist of sorts: “Happy Birthday”, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and Rage Against the Machine.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Chasing Che.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “In the Footsteps Of…” (p 100).

Villains Who Snapped My Back

Nazzareno, A.H. The Villains Who Snapped My Back. 2022.

Reason read: As a member of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, I occasionally review books. Mostly memoirs and first novels.

Villain or villains is Nazzareno’s favorite word. Never mind it is in the title of his medical memoir and in the title of almost every chapter. He uses it to describe a postal route, ghosts, drudgery, a devil’s march, various entities, word repetition, cartoon characters, culprits, his commute, and sheep…to name a few. A cackle is villainous. There are assassin-dream villains. Look out for the wrath of villains. They consume his existence. Villains rig the game, villains mutate, villians play tricks, villains effed with his world, villains just show up, villains take extended coffee breaks, villains toss dynamite, villains are picking pocks, villains are catching up, villains get cocky, villains collaborate, villains are addicted, villains are made from mattresses, villains are subtle and insiduous. They are shaped like sausages. Hmmm…There is a number one villain (and I’m still trying to figure out how that one outranks all the others) yet Nazzareno asks at one point, “who are the villains?” I thought he knew because there seem to be so many of them. He would like to disband the villains, evade the villains, use Mormons and marijuna to deter villains; I could go on and on.
I have lost all sense of time when I read Nazzareno. The timeline bounces and stories are jumbled. Casinos, mattresses, a car accident, repotting a tree, snowmobiling in Maine with the in-laws, buying different vehicles. A random turkey on his mail route. Maybe he is trying to figure out just when the back problems started. Was it the car seat not being comfortable enough or that time he slid off the roof when trying to avoid an ice dam? Or the time he had to bury the cat in the yard? If I had a dollar for every time he mentioned the student loan…
Odly enough, my favorite parts are when he is describing his beloved southwest. I felt for him when a goverment job lands him and his partner in Virginia, or hvaing to shovel snow off a roof in Massachusetts, far away from the deserts of Arizona. If you know a happy place, be there now.

Book trivia: The Villains Who Snapped My Spine includes an illustration of he Cursed Lincoln.

Author fact: Nazzareno is represented by a grainy image at the end of the book.

Playlist: Modest Mouse, Mozart, “The Minute Waltz”, and Matt Bellamy’s “Exogenesis: Symphony”.

Time Traveling to 1982: Reliving a Very Special Year

Hayward, Duncan. L. Time Traveling to 1982: Reliving a Very Special Year. Independent Publisher, 2022.

Reason read: I was 13 in the summer of 1982. I experienced my first true love that year. It was my last full year at home before I went to boarding school. I chose to review this book for the Early Review program because in my mind, 1982 was indeed a special year.

Confessional: I was looking forward to reading Time Traveling to 1982 because there are times I wish I could time travel back to the year of my first romance, my last year living at home, my first year of being a teenager. I can remember nearly everything about that year: the politics, the fashion, the food, the music (especially the music), and the sports. The only elements of entertainment I wasn’t “up” on were movies and television because I grew up without either.
Time Traveling was a disappointment. I was hoping for a thorough “reliving” of 1982. That would include fashion trends (hello neon), food (diet coke and onion soup mix, anyone?), sports of both genders (Steffi Graff!), along with the arts: books, music, theater, movies, dance. Beyond being more inclusive, I wished Time Traveling included more personal anecdotes. Why was 1982 a special year to Hayward? Beyond writing this for a friend turning forty, what does the author hold dear about 1982? I just had a thought. Was Hayward so selective because everything mentioned in Time Traveling was important to this friend and to hell with the rest of it?
What I did appreciate was the photography and the attempt at being international. I say attempt because, again, the thoroughness was just not there. Why include certain countries and exclude others?
Did this satisfy my desire to return to 1982? Partly. I had a good laugh remembering Ozzy’s antics with a bat and cried when reminded of James Brady getting shot in the head during the assassination attempt on President Regan (a detail not mentioned in Hayward’s recap of 1982). I was only thirteen but both of those events had a lasting impact on me. I felt sorry for the bat and the brain damaged Brady.

Nein, Nein, Nein!

Stahl, Jerry. Nein, Nein, Nein!: One Man’s Tale of Depression, Psychic Torment, and a Bus Tour of the Holocaust. Akashic, 2022.

I honestly do not know where to begin when trying to describe Nein, Nein, Nein! For starters, did anyone else catch that the title of the book comes from a memory of having sex with a German girlfriend who liked dirty talk with a Jew? Full confession: I didn’t know the name Jerry Stahl before reading Nein and admittedly, after looking at his Wiki page, am only somewhat familiar with his work (as in I’ve never seen the shows, but have heard of them. Does that count?).
So anyway, the plot of Nein: what better way to get yourself out of a suicidal funk than take a holocaust bus tour? Stahl can write, there is no doubt about that. He is witty, cynical, sarcastic, and even dare I say, lyrically halarious? But he wanders like a drunk man in Walmart at 3am; one who can’t remember what he wanted to buy in the first place. I found myself asking why? most of the time. Why the reminiscence of the German girlfriend with the foul mouth? Why wax poetically about Trump as if he is the next Adolf reincarnate? Why so many references to Trump at all? Why meander through memories of a heroin haze? Maybe because all the ramblings are part of what prompted the trip in the first place.
The only way I can really describe Nein is to liken it to a 10,000 Maniacs tune, “What’s the Matter Here?” It’s got a catchy beat and soon you find yourself toetapping or even all-out dancing to a song about child abuse. Same with Nein. Stahl gets you giggling even though he’s telling you his trip to Auschwitz is an effort to avoid killing himself. You smile because it’s so uncomfortable. Maybe the squirm factor is exactly what Stahl is going for. In brief and far-between moments, Stahl is poignant. There are sentences about his vulnerabilities I sincerely hope he keeps.
As an aside, Stahl’s writing also reminded me of this incredibly funny friend I have. He’s always ON, if you know what I mean. He is a laugh a second, always coming up with the boomerang retort, the witty reply, and oh so funny remark. You’re laughing so much you don’t remembner to breathe. It’s exhausting trying to keep up with his comedic timing because it never stops. Stahl is like that. Always on.

Stahl’s playlist: Stray Cats, Al Green, “YMCA”, Wagner, Neil Diamond, Sid Vicious’s “Belsen was a Gas”, Sex Pistols, Lou Reed’s “Heroin”, Dauchau, Deko Dauchau, Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, and Under Dogs’s “East of Dauchau”.

Author fact: Stahl wrote the television show ALF while on drugs.

To Begin Where I Am

Milosz, Czeslaw. To Begin Where I am: Selected Essays. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001.

Reason read: for the Portland Reading Challenge I needed a book from an Eastern European author.

I read To Begin Where I Am in stages.
Part One: These Guests
Part Two: On the Side of Man
Part Three: Against Incomprehensible Poetry
Part Four: In Constant Amazement

Czeslaw makes me question the meaning of history. I struggle with what becomes history and what is lost when memory fades. I guess it is a similar theory with stuff. What becomes a rare antique versus junk? The balance of life is all about contradictions and opposites. The history that flavored Milosz’s prose is World War II, the Holocaust, and exile.
The more enjoyable fragments of memory include traveling during spring break after law exams, being in nature, and the poignant portraits of his friends, mixed with descriptions of their political ideals.

As an aside, when when I was reading about the things that amazed Czeslaw I was reminded of when Kisa and I got married. We asked people to read and write something for the ceremony. My uncle stood up and talked about how different things amazed him. He mentioned cars and trees. I am pretty sure he was trying to say that the fact I found someone to marry was one of those “amazing” things.

Quotes to quote, “To kill a superphysical hunger, the best thing in a hike” (p 60), “True, from time to time one of us dropped out, shipped off to a concentration camp or shot” (p 121), “Identity crisis are thresholds in everyone’s life on which we can smash ourselves to pieces” (p 174),

Author fact: Milosz won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Milosz also wrote Issa Valley, which is on my Challenge list, and the Captive Mind, which is not.

Book trivia: Milosz’s essays range from a single page to over one hundred pages.

Nancy said: Pearl said To Begin Where I Am is an “entrĂ©e into the mind of an extraordinary thoughtful thinker” (Book Lust p 187).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Polish Poems and Prose” (p 187).

Wanderlost

Patton, Natalie Toon. Wanderlost: Falling From Grace and Finding Mercy in All the Wrong Places. Paraclete Press, 2022.

Reason read: As a reviewer for LibraryThing’s Early Review Program, I was chosen to read Wanderlost.

Confessional number one: I couldn’t help but think of Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love the entire time I was reading Wanderlost. In a nutshell: Woman goes through difficult divorce. In order to heal she needs a spiritual overhaul and so travels as far away from her American life as her wallet can handle. Woman finds love and comes to find home in her heart. The end. Both women are funny and a tiny bit scandalous. Both have a deep understanding of religion, history and culture. Both develop friendships and relationships which sustain them and even mature them. One might complain about the heavy emphasis of religion in Wanderlost, but all signs point to this being about faith, losing and gaining it: the church on the cover, the religious publishing company that made Wanderlost possible, and Toon’s own description of the book, “once-golden girl finds herself kicked out of church…” From all of these clues one might perceive a religious theme. Confession number two: when Patton dives into the subject of religion, her tone turns didactic. she loses the personal (and humorous) voice and becomes a lecturer.

Confessional: because I am not deeply religious, I couldn’t understand why Patton’s mom could get a divorce and not be rejected by her church. Dad smoked pot before it was acceptably legal. How did Natalie’s church of choice not care about these transgressions?
Another confessional: I couldn’t decide if I liked the use of brand names. While it lent an authenticity to time and place, it alienated me when I wasn’t familiar with the product.

Author fact: Patton has a cat named Genghis Khan, according to the back cover of Wanderlost.

Book trivia: every chapter is a title of a song but not every song gets credit.

Playlist: “Amazing Grace”, Bad Company, the Beatles’ “Let It Be”, Brandi Carlile’s “the Story”, Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself”, Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”, Cat Steven’s “Moon Shadow” and “Morning Has Broken”, “C’est La Vie”, “Don’t Stop Believin'”, “Daylight and Darkness”, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five”, Emmy Lou Harris, Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind”, “Fairest Lord Jesus”, Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days are Over”, Gilberto Gil, Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain”, AURORA’s “Into the Unknown”, Hootie’s “Hold My Hand”, “Hark! The Heralds Sing”, “I Came to the Garden Alone”, “In a World of My won”, “Jingle Bells”, Joni Mitchell’s “River”, John Denver’s “Country Roads”, Marisa Monte, “Mary Did You Know?”, Nora Jones’s “Don’t Know Why”, “On the Road Again”, Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, “Roll another Number”, “Strangers in the Night”, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, Tom Jobin, U2, “Wayfaring Stranger”, and “Who’ll Stop the Rain”,

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.”