June Thunder

So June went by lightning fast, as I expected. Had good shows with Imagine Dragons and Dead and Company. Spent quality time with family and friends. Ran next to nothing for miles. But, the books! Thanks to not running (still) and all the travel I was able to get a lot of reading done…

Fiction:

  • Confessing a Murder by Nicholas Drayson (EB & print)
  • Stories of Alice Adams by Alice Adams (EB & print)
  • Afterlife by Paul Monette (EB & print)
  • Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason (AB)

Nonfiction:

  • Six Days of War by Michael Oren (print) – confessional: did not finish
  • Cactus Eaters by Dan White (print)
  • I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallman (print)
  • Mindfulness Meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn (AB)

Series continuations:

  • Pearl Cove by Elizabeth Lowell (EB & print)
  • Envoy From Mirror City by Janet Frame (EB & print)

Short Stories:

  • “Xingu” by Edith Wharton (EB)
  • “Verlie I Say Unto You” by Alice Adams (EB)
  • “Roses, Rhododendrons” by Alice Adams (EB)

For fun:

  • Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously YOU by Julie Foudy

Cactus Eaters

White, Dan. The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind – and Almost Found Myself – On the Pacific Crest Trail. New York: Harper Perennial, 2008.

Reason read: June is National Hiking Month.

Pure fun. From the comfort of my couch I took great pleasure in reading about Dan White’s adventures while hiking the 2,650+ mile Pacific Coast Trail from Mexico to Canada. With his girlfriend Allison for companionship Dan’s account is in turn both funny and didactic. He can be snarky and scholarly in a single sentence. What starts out as an avoidance of the real world turns into a journey of self reflection and maybe, just maybe, a little growing up.
What makes Cactus such a pleasure to read is this is Dan’s account of the first time he hiked the PCT. He has no idea what he’s doing, despite reading up on it in the months leading up to the hike. He isn’t a seasoned through-hiker expertly navigating arid blazing hot deserts. He isn’t a blase professional warding off bear visits with a ho hum attitude. He is cocky in his naivete.

All time favorite line, “I could not stop the racing thoughts about Todd the Sasquatch somewhere out there, tearing up the foothills while exuding massive amounts of man sweat” (p 63).

Author fact: I could tell from the songs White enjoyed singing while on the PCT that he is about my age. An internet search revealed he was born just a few years before me.

Book trivia: The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,650 miles long and covers three countries and yet White doesn’t include a single map or photograph. To be fair, his camera didn’t have film in it for part of the trip and he did include one illustration of a journal entry.

Nancy said: Nancy dedicates 25% of the chapter to describing the plot of Cactus Eaters, but not much else.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Hiking the (Fill in the Blank) Trail” (p 94). Confessional: this the second book I am reading from the chapter and I just now noticed while Pearl mentions the four major long-distance trails in the Americas, she only recommends four books. Three of them are about the PCT and the final one is about the Appalachian Trail. Why bring up the Continental Divide or the American Discovery Trail if you aren’t going to include a book or two about them? There certainly was room for a few more recommendations for the chapter.


I Dreamed of Africa

Gallman, Kuki. I Dreamed of Africa. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.

Reason read: Read in honor of Gallman’s birth month.

This has got to be one of the most heart wrenching yet uplifting books I have ever read about one woman’s life experiences in Africa. After divorcing her first husband Kuki marries the widower of a friend (Kuki survives the same car accident that her friend did not). Paolo convinces Kuki and her young son to move to Kenya, a far cry from the life of privilege in Italy. There, Kuki and her son, Emanuele Pirri-Gallman, fall in love with the land, the animals, and the people of Ol Ari Nyiro. Even after Paolo is killed in a tragic accident, Kuki is determined to stay in Africa. Pregnant with his child, Kuki buries Paolo at the ranch and continues to carry out their dreams. Three years later, even after her seventeen year old son dies of a lethal snake bite, Kuki is even more determined to stay on the ranch. She buries Ema next to Paolo and slowly, through grief and time, finds new purpose to her life.

Author fact: So. I was poking around the internet and found out just last year Kuki had been shot twice while trying to defend her land. What the what???

Book trivia: Gallman includes a bevy of beautiful photographs, mostly in color, of her world. Some of the pictures are drop dead gorgeous. Some of the pictures are drop dead tragic, as well.

Nancy said: Nancy included Kuki’s I Dreamed of Africa because it was one example of a writer writing about her life in Africa following World War II (p 76) although the war is never part of Kuki’s story.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Dreaming of Africa” (p 76).


June Lightning

June is going to go by lightning fast. For starters, there is a concert in Bangor, Maine that I cannot wait for! Then, a concert at home. After that, a week later, an art show reception for my talented sister’s work. Then, a vacation with my best friend (Maine for the third weekend in a row). I will have many opportunities to read. Hence, the huge list:

Fiction:

  • Confessing a Murder by Nicholas Drayson – in honor of the first month of boating weather (EB & print).
  • Stories of Alice Adams by Alice Adams – June is short story month (EB & print).
  • Afterlife by Paul Monette – in honor of gay and lesbian pride month (EB & print).
  • Jar City by Arnaldur Andridason – National Icelandic Day is in June (AB).

Nonfiction:

  • Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Middle East by Michael B. Oren – the Six Day War started in June.
  • Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind and Almost Found Myself by Dan White – June is national hiking month.
  • I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallman – in honor of Gallman’s birth month.
  • Mindfulness Meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn – in honor of Zinn’s birth month.

Series continuations:

  • Pearl Cove by Elizabeth Lowell – to continue the series started in April in honor of Lowell’s birth month.
  • Envoy From Mirror City by Janet Frame – to finish the series started in April in honor of New Zealand’s Anzac Day.

Slide Rule

Shute, Nevil. Slide Rule: the Autobiography of an Engineer. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1954.

Reason read: William Oughtred, the inventor of the slide rule, was born in March. Read in his honor.
Confessional: my father, being a man in love with boats and the ocean and nautical charts, taught me how to use a slide rule for navigation when I was really young. It was such a long time ago I doubt I could plot a course these days, though.

This is supposed to be Nevil Shute’s autobiography but I would say it is more a memoir about his career in aviation. He doesn’t delve into his personal life too deeply. There is nothing about his childhood, his marriage, becoming a father, or much of his writing career, for example. You don’t know much about his family life/childhood, how he met his wife, when he had children, or even how he became a writer in the first place. Slide Rule is more about Shute’s life in aviation; how he became a calculator for the firm of DeHavilland when they were designing rigid airships. What’s fascinating is his company was in competition with the government to build airbuses. After an airbus disaster Shute founded the company Airspeed, Ltd and had lukewarm success being profitable building private planes. At the start of World War II the nature of the business changed and Shute slowly started to withdraw emotionally from Airspeed. The memoir ends with him leaving Airspeed after being voted out by the board. Meanwhile, his career as an author was just starting to take flight.

Quotes I liked, “The happily married man with a large family is the test
pilot for me” (p 67), and “A man’s own experiences determine his opinions, of necessity” (p 140).
Author fact: Nevil’s full name is Nevil Shute Norway. He explains his reasons for using his Christian names alone in Slide Rule.

Book trivia: Slide Rule has a small sections of photographs, including a couple of the author.

Nancy said: Shute thought of himself as more of an engineer than a writer, according to Pearl.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Nevil Shute: Too Good To Miss” (p 198).


Infinite Hope

Graves, Anthony. Infinite Hope: How Wrongful Conviction, Solitary Confinement and 12 Years on Death Row Failed to Kill My Soul. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018.

Reason read: this came as an Early Review for LibraryThing.

I think the title sums up Anthony’s story. I am not spoiling the plot by saying he was wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit after his “accomplice” blatantly lied on the witness stand. The title sums up the story, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. What the title cannot convey is Graves’s spirit; his faith; his resilience to survive mentally and spiritually. Solitary confinement could have broken him. The mere fact he was on death row could have filled him with enough despair to shatter his hope in humanity. There were times Graves was angry. There were times he was afraid. But, he never lost the will to prove his innocence. Even after his freedom was restored, Graves did not stop fighting. See Author Fact below.

I need to talk about perception for a minute. There is a reality show called Cold Justice that “stars” Kelly Siegler. Have you seen it? When I first started watching the show I was disappointed more cold cases were not solved. Then I began to wonder if Ms. Siegler felt the pressure to close cases, not only for the sake of the victim and family, but because America was watching and judging… just as I was when I experienced disappointment. Did she get to the point she wanted to solve cold cases “by any means necessary” which in my mind meant find a suspect first and then build a wall of evidence around his or her guilt? This first question prompted another; when you find a viable suspect, do you spend all your energy and efforts trying to make the charges stick and never mind looking for other possible suspects?

As an aside – do yourself a favor and listen to “I’m Not the Man” by 10,000 Maniacs. I know lead singer Natalie Merchant is sometimes hard to hear, but pay attention to what she says at 0:38 seconds in, “He knows the night like his hand. He knows every move he made.” Just like Graves. Actually the whole song could be Grave’s story – an innocent man on death row. It’s haunting.

Author fact:  Graves is the cofounder of Join Hands for Justice.

Book trivia: This was too short! Less than 200 pages I know Graves had more to say and I would have listened.


War Child

Jal, Emmanuel. War Child: a Child Soldier’s Story. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009.

Reason read: Sudan’s civil war ended in January.

Jal is a typical boy, revering the warriors in uniform who stand before him and looking up to the fighter pilots who banish the enemy from the sky. As a small child he dreams of joining the military to fight the good fight. What is different about Jal is that he is not a pampered American boy playing with G.I. Joe dolls in the backyard in suburbia. Jal is a seven year old boy in war-torn, desert arid Sudan; his family is always on the run from the guns and violence. As he witnesses the deaths of family and friends, Jal’s reverence and admiration for the military grows until, from a place of hatred, comes the desire for violent tortuous revenge. He wants to follow in the footsteps of his father, a commander in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Jal hungers to go to school to be a soldier. His singular focus is to kill the enemy; and kill them, he does.

Don’t let the simplicity of Jal’s language fool you. His story is tragic and harsh. His manner might be sparse but it is straight an arrow, truth-telling writing. Consider this phrase, “gulping down pain like hot knives…” (p 86).

Quotes I had to quote, “Fear will always win against pain, and all I had to do was run” (p 32), “I knew I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees and beg a jallaba for mercy” (p 136), and “I had lived with hatred for so long that it was part of me, bleached into my bones and scarred onto my heart” (p 212).

Author fact: Jal becomes an accomplished rapper. He mentions War Child in this video for Amnesty International (around the 3:20 mark). The fact Natalie Merchant is also in this video is purely coincidental! 😉

Book trivia: Don’t expect photographs of young Jal toting an uzi or an AK47. His words are description enough. As an aside, Jal’s story prompted me to see the documentary about him and seek out his music.

Nancy said: Nancy said she could go on for pages “about the terrifyingly sad political accounts of bravery, pain, atrocities, and, unaccountably, hope, as they appear in recent nonfiction about Africa” (p 8) and mentions Jal’s book as an example.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa the Greenest Continent” (p 7).