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 “entrée 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.”


Ghosts of Walter Crockett

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

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

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

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

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


Picasso’s War

Martin Russell. Picasso’s War: the Destruction of Guernica, and the Masterpiece that Changed the World. Dutton, 2002.

Reason read: the bombing of Guernica happened on April 26th, 1937. Read in honor and memory of the lives lost that day.

On May 11th, 1937, only two weeks after the insurgent Nazi Condor Legion bombed Guernica, Spain, Pablo Picasso commenced painting his famous masterpiece. While Picasso’s War celebrates Picasso’s work of art, “Guernica,” it also paints a biography of Picasso, the passionately flawed man. Picasso who couldn’t stay faithful to one woman; Picasso who saved everything ever given to him. As an aside, these two details make me believe I would have never gotten along with him. As a painter, his art was as polarizing as cilantro. In 1981 the famous painting still had to be protected from terrorists with armed guards.
Coincidentally, Martin was standing in from of “Guernica” on September 11th, 2001.
As an aside, I love books that make me want to explore more. I looked up Picasso’s cartoons “Dream and Lie of Franco” because of Russell’s book.
The biggest surprise for me was learning of Herbert Southworth, an unsung hero of the Guernica saga. He had a clerical job at the Library of Congress and he was convinced he could get to the bottom of who actually bombed Guernica. Despite denials, he needed to convince the American public of Franco’s threat to Democracy.

Author fact: Martin also wrote Beethoven’s Hair which was a bestseller. I am only reading Picasso’s War for the reading Challenge.

Book trivia: I wanted photography in Martin’s book. If nothing else, just a picture of Picasso’s famous Guernica for reference.

Playlist: Beatles and Joan Baez.

Nancy said: Pearl said Picasso’s War was “wonderfully readable” (Book Lust To Go p 90).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Guernica” (p 89).


Namaste the Hard Way

Brown-Warsham, Sasha. Namaste the Hard Way: a Daughter’s Journey to Find Her Mother on the Yoga Mat. Health Communications, 2018.

Reason read: I was supposed to receive Namaste the Hard Way back in 2018 as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing. The book never arrived, but the entry stayed on my spreadsheet. I had this urge to clean up unfinished entries.

In a nutshell, Namaste the Hard Way is a very candid look at what it means to lose your parent at a young age and never fully recover from the trauma. Brown-Warsham admits that she finds herself closest to her mother’s spirit when she is practicing yoga. But. But, it is more than that. When Brown-Warsham becomes a mother she finds a different connection to her mother. Her marriage is a means to connect with her mother. Any familiar path Brown-Warsham takes is one that leads her to memories of her mother. Her vulnerability and honesty was touching. Confessional: the entire time I was reading Namaste the Hard Way I was filled with a sense of envy. Brown-Warsham lost her mother to cancer at a young age and yet she has something tangible to bring her mother’s memory into sharp focus: yoga. I lost my father halfway through my twenty-third year. The smell of motor oil and scorched metal from arc welding can bring back memories my father, but unless I hang out all day in a repair shop, I can’t evoke the nostalgia as easily as Brown-Warsham can. All she has to do is practice yoga.

It was surreal to read about Kripalu, it being just down the road from me and, and! And. I know people who used to work there.

Lines I liked, “Running is not for sissies” (p 149). When Sasha started talking about running I practically stood up and cheered. I am not a practicing yogi (aside from what is recommended after a super hard run), but when she talked abut shedding blood at the chaffing points of her sports bra I said a silent “yes!” in agreement. I concur! Best line about running, “I’ve given up the running I so loved because I’d never forgive myself if the baby were jostled and had shaken baby syndrome or if he or she fell out of the warm, safe sac into my underpants because I attempted to run seven miles” (p 198).

Playlist: “Eye of the Tiger,” “Kiss,” “Thriller,” “You Light Up My Life” by Debbie Boone, “Like a Virgin” by Madonna, James Taylor, and the “Wiffenpoof” Yale Song.


In My Father’s Court

Singer, Isaac Bashevis. In My Father’s Court. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1966.

Reason read: January is the month most people embark on keeping a journal. Read In My Father’s Court in honor of memoirs.

In his “Author’s Note” Singer explains his thoughts behind In My Father’s Court. He wanted readers to know he thought of it as memoir; “belles-lettres about a life that no longer exists” (p xi). I would say In My Father’s Court is a sentimental collection of essays about memory. It is the first of his many autobiographical writings. Looking back at one’s childhood is sometimes painful, sometimes awe inspiring, but always full of nostalgia. Singer is sweet remembering his family’s history.

Line I liked, “There are in this world some very strange individuals whose thoughts are even stranger than they are” (p 3). Amen to that.

Author fact: Singer is a Nobel prize winner.

Book trivia: In My Father’s Court was first published as a series of connected stories.

Playlist: “The Sons of the Mansion,” and “Welcome, O Bride.”

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about In My Father’s Court.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 181).


Lost in Place

Salzman, Mark. Lost in Place: Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Reason read: China is a big influence on Salzman. There is a spring festival that takes place in China at the end of January/beginning of February. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge I needed a book for the category “An older book by a favorite author.”

Salzman can take an ordinary upbringing and turn it into a tragic comedy full of deep sighs and tears of laughter. What were American boys in the mid 70s obsessing over? Sex, drugs and rock and roll…and Bruce Lee. Picture Mark Salzman at thirteen listening to Ozzy Osbourne and practicing flying kicks just like his idol. Only add a bald wig, cello lessons, and an obsession with all things Chinese while living in the suburbs of Connecticut, and you have the makings of an incredibly sweet and hilarious memoir. This should have been a movie.

Line that made me laugh, “Man, you know the world is a confusing place when you’re a boy and your dad tries to get you to switch from self-defense to ballet” (p 112).
Most profound line, “We all crave certainty, we dream of serenity, and we want to discover our true identities” (p 266).

Author fact: Salzman is one of my favorite authors. I have already read Iron and Silk and The Soloist. I have two others on my Challenge list.

Playlist: Aerosmith, Aldo Parisot, Bach, the Beatles’s “Michelle,” Black Sabbath, Boy George, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chick Corea, Chopin, Duane Allman, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Hendrix, Jan Hammer, Jaco Pastorius, kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Ozzy Osbourne, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon,” Ravi Menuhin, Stanley Clark, Ted Nugent, Talking Heads, Ten Years, Van Halen, The Who, Weather Report, Yo Yo Ma, “The Candy Man,” and “Dreamweaver,”

Nancy said: Pearl called Lost in Place funny and self-deprecating and totally irresistible.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Mark Salzman: Too Good To Miss” (p 194).


The World I Fell Into

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.


Desiree

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.


To See and See Again

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).