Boyden, Amanda. I Got the Dog. New Orleans: Lavender Ink, 2020.
Reason read: an Early Review from LibraryThing.
At turns Boyden is tender and sweet, sassy and sarcastic, funny and melancholy. There is heartache and humor underneath the solid layer of honesty. She twists and turns from childhood memories to adult turmoil with as much ease as I imagine she does swinging on her beloved trapeze. I loved her fierce attitude. It’s a bit rambling in places. You get the general idea she is heartbroken over her divorce, but at the same time celebrates breaking free while remembering seemingly unrelated bits of her past.
As an aside, who else Google Arcade Fire’s performance at Jazz Fest to find Boyden (and friends) dancing on stage in paper mache bobble heads? All I could picture was Natalie Merchant swaying under the weight of a ginormous puppet head as she sang “You Happy Puppet” on July 4th, 1989. Performance art at its best.
Here’s the strange thing – out of all the Early Review books, this is one of my favorites. For some reason I have a hard time articulating why.
Forgrave, Reid. Love, Zac: Small-Twon Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2020.
Reason read: as a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I was asked to read and review Love, Zac.
The entire time I was reading Love, Zac I was asking myself why this book wasn’t written sooner. It is not Forgrave’s fault for coming to the table with Zac’s story after the fact; when it was too late to save Zac himself. I believe this is the kind of book that could save lives if the right people read it at the right time and read it the right way. Don’t look at it as one kid’s story; one instance of a brain injury gone wrong. Don’t diminish the damage by arguing Zac didn’t even play football in college. Read it for what it is, a plaintive cry, a demand to take a harder look at a hard hitting sport. There is no denying the fact an epidemic of football-induced concussions ruin lives long after the game is over. Forgrave writes in a manner that is straight to the heart; a punch to the gut.
Love, Zac was advertised as a book every parent should read. I am not a parent. I am not a coach. But, here is the irony. I sit with Love, Zac on my knees while my husband shouts “hit ’em!” at the television. Opening day of the NFL’s 2020 season in a pandemic.
Johnson, Kristie Robin. High Cotton: Essays. Clearwater, Florida: Raised Voices, 2020.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, this was the July 2020 selection.
While Johnson’s book is categorized as a collection of essays, her crystal clear voice trills bright honesty and makes this a captivating memoir on multiple levels: what it means to be an African American woman in the volatile twenty-first century (in addition to being the sixth generation of a family who can be trace their ancestral past to slavery in Deep South Georgia). Adding to the cultural, economic, and societal battles, Johnson is a woman with personal strife: family addictions, histories of abuse, teenage pregnancy, and ever-constant poverty. How does one explain a manicure while buying food on welfare? Why does one even need to explain? There, in a succinct nutshell, is reality of millions. Other realities include the ever-constant reminder that racism and gender bias are alive and well in our country.
My only complaint? Because the essays were so autobiographical in nature I wanted more structure in the way of chronology.
Confessional: I read On Being Human by Jennifer Pastiloff at the same time and I have to admit, their stories were so similar that I would sometimes confuse the two.
Confessional two: No. More of a question: why does one have to be a rape “victim” in order to acknowledge the bravery of an accuser coming forward? Better yet, why would acknowledging the bravery of Cosby’s accusers force one to “unearth” one’s uncomfortable truth? Couldn’t Kristie stand on the side of women who allege they fell prey to a man of wealth and power (regardless of their (or her) skin color)?
Durrell, Gerald. Garden of the Gods. New York: Penguin books, 1978.
Reason read: to “finish” the series started in May. Finish is in quotes because there are more books in the series, but I am not reading them for the Challenge.
Durrell has again dug back into his childhood and the four year stint on the Greek island of Corfu for the next installment of his memoir series. This time sister Margo’s relationships and brother Leslie’s gun obsession take more of a center stage but don’t worry, Gerald’s “pets” still abound. He still has plenty of stories regarding the mishaps involving animals. Another constant is all of the Durrell children continue to lie to mother and she continues to eat it up, no questions asked, just like one of Gerald’s baby birds.
I have to wonder if the family was as fun loving and accepting of the practical jokes and antics as they seem to be? What kind of household welcomes perfect strangers into their home as guests? Especially ones with no intention of leaving? And speaking of guests, what mother would put up with dead birds falling at her feet while she tried to entertain a prominent guest?
All in all, exaggerated antics aside, Garden of the Gods is a charming and funny book.
Best quote, “My first fear was that my beautiful horns might be broken, my second, that my brother might be dead” (p 527).
Author fact: the internet is littered with a myriad of pictures of Durrell. He looks more comfortable with his animal friends than the humans.
Book trivia: the American version of Garden of the Gods was published as Fauna and Family in 1978.
Nancy said: Pearl wasn’t as enamored with Garden of the Gods as Durrell’s first book. The sequel is “not up to the joyful perfection of the first book” (Book Lust To Go, p 70), but she does admit that it is humorous.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Corfu” (p 70).
Baldwin, Monica. I Leap Over the Wall: Contrasts and Impressions After Twenty-Eight Years in a Convent. New York: Rinehart & Company, 1950.
Reason read: Easter is one of the most religious holidays I know. During this pandemic crisis my family had a zoom meeting in order to be together. Read Baldwin in recognition of Easter.
Like the title implies, Monica Baldwin spent twenty-eight years of her life in a Roman Catholic convent. She had thought she wanted to give her life to God until one day…she didn’t. So after twenty-eight years, she left. Just like that. The first order of business “on the outside” was for Baldwin to find suitable clothes for the outside world. The second critical task was to secure suitable employment. The first was easier than the second considering England was in the midst of World War II. Baldwin struggled as a gardener, a matron at a camp for female munitions workers, a canteen cook, and a librarian. At heart she was always a writer. I Leap Over the Wall was meant to be a journalistic memoir, contrasting and comparing the structured life of being a nun to the haphazardness of the outside. Readers get a sense of how structured Baldwin’s life had been on the inside: the day to day duties of a novice and even the caste-like division of the monastic houses. Despite this structure, something she thought she needed, Baldwin knew from the very beginning that entering the convent was a mistake. It took her twenty-eight years to seek rescript from the Vatican.
Author fact: I find it really interesting that Baldwin entered the convent soon after the start of World War I and emerged during World War II.
Book trivia: My copy of I Leap Over the Wall was inscribed “Elinor E. Parker February 1, 1950 Brooklyn, N.Y.” I have no idea who Elinor was or how her book ended up in the attic of my parents.
Nancy said: Pearl said she was entranced with Baldwin’s book because it was a world she would never know.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: the Family of the Clergy” (p 86).
Horwitz, Tony. Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia.
Reason read: Baghdad was bombed in March 2003. Read in memory of that event.
Baghdad in the mid 1980s was such a volatile place to be. For Tony Horwitz to be bombing around (pun totally intended) Arabia was insane. There he was, in a land where even local weather reports and maps were banned. Think about it. As a left handed, Jewish stringer, he was not the most popular person to be wandering about those parts of the middle east. He met many people who exclaimed, “Death to America!” before gushing about Disneyland or Hollywood. Despite the dangers and hatreds, his narrative is more than slightly tongue-in-cheek and a lot more than a little funny. He scoffs at roadblocks manned by a 7′ cardboard soldier (while the real military gets stoned on qat). He makes light of millions of crushing fanatics at Khomeini’s funeral. He jokes about not being able to find his wife cloaked in a chador. At the same time as being funny, he is keenly observant. One of my favorites notes – while middle eastern air travel is not the safest; the oxygen masks made be missing, but at least passengers know which direction they should bow their heads in prayer thanks to a “Mecca indicator” on the ceiling of their aircraft.
As an aside, I love it when the knowledge lens gets a little wider. Through reading Martin Mosebach’s The 21, I gained a broader perspective of the Coptic Christian community. So when the Coptics were mentioned in Baghdad Without a Map the reference wasn’t a foreign concept.
Quotes to quote, “The history of modern Baghdad reads like Macbeth, only bloodier” (p 113), and “A man could play Rambo for less money than he paid for a week’s worth of qat” (p 37).
Author fact: Sadly, Tony Horwitz died last year at the age of sixty years young. Heart attack, I think.
Book trivia: There are no photographs included in Baghdad Without a Map. Bummer.
Nancy said: Pearl said her favorite line in Baghdad without a Map included Horwitz’s humor and insight.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” (p 113). It’s funny Pearl included Horwitz’s book in this chapter because he ended up going back to the middle east again…so maybe it in his mind it was always a good idea. No regrets.
Weber, Matt. Making Tracks: How I Learned to Love Snowmobiling in Maine. Yarmouth, Maine: IslandPort Press, 2019.
Reason read: Christmas gift from my
mother oops! sister!
Making Tracks thoughtfully combines a love of snowmobiling with an obvious respect for Maine, marriage, and mother nature. Part memoir, part comedy, Matt playfully tells stories and shares black and white photographs of his adventures riding with family and friends all over the great state of Maine. Despite the casual language, Matt is incredibly informative for beginners or those experts seeking advice on adventure riding in Maine. A list of resources is included. [As an aside, because the references include websites, it is always best to do your homework and make sure the links are still available.]
The title is a little misleading. Matt never hated to ride a snowmobile so the loving to ride came quite easily. He implies he was forced to love it when in actuality, his love of riding grew.
Favorite part: Tarzan. Without a doubt, Tarzan. My husband and I once found Tarzan hopelessly stranded amid sand and seaweed on a beach at low tide. His leash had gotten tangled around mid-sized rocks and no matter how he struggled, he couldn’t break free…and the tide was coming in, as it is bound to do twice a day. We did what any pet lover would do, and even though he didn’t need to, a grateful Matt repaid us in sea critters. Yum. Can’t refuse those things! But back to Making Tracks. It was touching to learn of Tarzan’s life, beginning and end.
Author fact: Confessional – Matt is “my” island neighbor when I am home-home. I have to wonder how differently I would view his book if I could have situational amnesia and forget my favored prejudice. True, Matt and I do not have a friendship per se; we have never had a meal together and we aren’t even friends on social sites, but I also know if my mother needed anything, anything at all, I could call Matt. He is just that kind of guy.
Second confessional: Weber’s book got me through a near two hour wait at the DMV. I was waiting to renew my license to get the all-important “real” identification card when their system ominously “went down.” Anxious employees wrung their hands and with eyes downcast, admitted it could be “hours” before it came back up. A few people who couldn’t stomach that kind of wait quietly gathered their things and slipped out the door. Me, I had no choice but to stay.
Book trivia: Making Tracks is super generous with photographs and includes a section on resources. I said that already. Meh.
January is a month of great indecision. I can’t decide if I want to say more…
If there is one thing I can say for the January books, it is that most all of the fiction made mention of great music. Some musicians I knew, some I didn’t. Some songs I knew, some I didn’t. I had fun looking it all up though.
- Sanctuary by Ken Bruen (EB & print). Music: Philip Fogarty, Anne Lardi, Rolling Stones, Snow Patrol, Johnny Duhan.
- The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat (EB & print).
- Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland (EB & print). Music: Lucinda Williams, Slim Dusty, Nick Cave, The Warumpi Band, Ry Cooder.
- The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett (EB & print). Music: Charles Tenet.
- Graced Land by Laura Kalpakian (EB & print). Music: Elvis, Elvis, and more Elvis.
- The Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel (print). Music: Leonard Cohen, Beethoven, and the fictional heavy metal band, Panda Bear Soup.
- The Passage to India by E.M. Forster (EB & print).
- Barcardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten (EB & print).
- Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset (EB & print).
- The Persuader by Lee Child (EB & AB).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Fine, Thanks by Mary Dunnewold (EB). Music: Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, Mose Allison, Talking Heads, Aaron Copeland (can you tell, Dunnewold really likes music!).
Dunnewold, Mary. Fine, Thanks: Stories from the Cancerland Jungle. Texas: Black Rose Writing, 2019.
Release date: 10/24/19.
Reason read: this was a November pick for the Early Review Program from LibraryThing. I haven’t posted one of these in awhile (didn’t get chosen for October, forgot to make a selection for December, and November – this one -only came just recently).
My very first surprise takeaway from reading Fine, Thanks is how calm and pragmatic Mary is while describing her relationship with breast cancer. How is this possible when she went went a healthy mammogram to a “cancer everywhere” magnetic resonance image less than a year later? From discovery, treatment, and recovery there is a smattering of humor, a touch of sarcasm, more than a healthy strain of emotional bravery, and yes, to be expected, anger. For the most part, she is detailed and detached in such a way that a reader can relate in the abstract if he or she has never experienced breast cancer, or nod knowingly if it has been a nightmare reality. I have to wonder how many people diagnosed with any stage of breast cancer have whispered a sage yesyesyes at every truthful, clear-headed, powerful sentence Dunnewold wrote? Even when she points out the obvious I found myself making note of my emphatic agreement. For example, it is common sense that people would pay more attention to something when it relates to them directly. The greater the relationship the more one is willing and apt to sit up and take notice. But when Dunnewold points that out it becomes something different. Yes. She writes like a storytelling river; at times a crashing torrent of yelling words and roiling feelings. At other times her words are a gentle trickle of quiet and graceful acceptance.
Confessional: My favorite moment was not the height of her bravery during diagnosis or even treatment, but rather when she ended her search for religion. Odd as that may seem, it’s true. Her viewpoint awoke something deep within me. Not in the jolting sense of an abrupt aha moment. there was no visible lightning strike. But rather in the slow dawning of discovery; the way that a patch of sunlight plods across the carpet illuminating a slight discoloration in the pile never noticed before. A subtle stain. Oh. Ohhhh…now I see. There were a few of those moments.
Second favorite part – the laugh out loud moment or as I call it, the “snort coffee out the nose” moment was when Dunnewold described the “unanticipated side effect of cancer” in conjunction with pie crust. She owes me a cup of coffee.
As an aside, what is it about animals? I was f.i.n.e. with the ending of Fine, Thanks. I could close the book with a sigh of satisfaction…until I got to the epilogue. Having just helped my sister adopt a dog named Rubie…ugh.
Thomsen, Moritz. The Saddest Pleasure: a Journey on Two Rivers. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Greywolf Press, 1990.
Reason read: In honor of Brazil’s first emperor. His coronation was on December 1st, 1822.
When we catch up to Martin Moritz Thomsen Titus in The Saddest Pleasure he is now sixty-three years old. Depending on which review you read, Thomsen either was asked to leave the Ecuadorian farm he co-owned with partner, Ramon, or he just up and left. Either way, in the beginning of The Saddest Pleasure he sets out to travel to Amazonian Brazil via two rivers. Along his journey he tries to reconcile difficult memories of a contentious relationship with his father, while wrangling with the effects of aging and mourning the loss of the farm he shared with Ramon. He seems sarcastically obsessed with being a farmer and very reluctant to admit he is a writer because farming seems the more noble profession. In fact, in my opinion, the entire book is more of a look back at the should haves, could haves, and would haves of his life. A lot of cantankerous regret is interspersed in the memory. He calls travel the saddest pleasure, but I would say the saddest pleasure was reading this book.
Line I loved, “I have lived too long with poor people to sit now in the middle of all this jewelry and the electronic crapola and the whores and the gangsters who want to own it, eating overpriced food, listening for eight hours straight to Muzak’s plastic masturbatory music not to feel a profound disorientation” (p 21).
Here’s another, “Starved for protein, crippled by malnutrition, they have lost about 20% of their intelligence” (p 84).
Author fact: Thomsen lived another ten years after The Saddest Pleasure. I surely hope he found happiness in that remaining time.
Book trivia: Some view The Saddest Pleasure as the completion to a trilogy about Moritz’s time in the Peace Corps. Living Poor was considered book one (also on my Challenge list), and Farm on the River of Emeralds was book two. Another interesting fact about The Saddest Pleasure is that it won the 1991 Governor’s Writers Award.
As an aside, my copy of Saddest Pleasure has an amazing cover illustrated by Alfredo Arreguin.
Nancy said: Pearl said she found Thomsen’s memoir “to be utterly enthralling” (Book Lust To Go p 43). She then went on to take up considerable real estate in the chapter quoting The Saddest Pleasure, as she admits, “the book is filled with quotable lines” (p 44). Yes, yes it is.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter simply called “Brazil” (p 43).
Murphy, Dervla. Silverland: a Winter Journey Beyond the Urals. London: John Murray, 2006.
Reason read: Murphy was born in the month of November. Read in her honor.
Silverland is a well detailed account of Dervla Murphy’s slow train trip across the barren Russian landscape via BAM, the Baikal-Amur Mainline. When I say slow, I mean slow. Like 20 miles an hour slow. She prefered it this way. As she traveled she recounted the history and statistics of BAM, mourning the loss of Siberian and Ewenki cultures, stoically observed societal norms (the tragedy of “vodka orphans” strikes a chord), and waxed about political change; all the while struggling to communicate with the people she met. The language barrier sometimes prevented her from embarking on heavy and/or controversial debates or more importantly, finding out the location of her beloved bicycle, Pushkin. She is very knowledgeable about the country’s history and could hold her own throughout her extensive travels.
My favorite parts of Silverland occurred when Murphy painted a romantic image of the Siberian countryside. For example, as she rides the rails she observes steam from hot springs meeting a shaft of sunlight and pronounces the region, “a magical silverland” (p 63).
Murphy is also a humorist, affectionately referring to her overburdened suitcase as “Dog” and “Pushkin” is her bicycle. I do the same thing.
I am always pleased when a book urges me to learn more. I admit I did not know what the word ‘fubsy’ meant. Nor had I heard of the Baikal-Amur Mainline before reading Silverland. My favorite new knowledge was that of Tynde’s “pear custom.” They give a departing guest one half of a pear, urging the guest to come back to eat the other half. We on Monhegan give flowers to departing guests. If the flowers wash ashore, the guest will also return.
Quotations to quote, “I am not so far out of my tree to advocate for the elimination of motor vehicles” (p 52) and “…dawn is the best time to arrive in an unknown city” (p 87).
Author fact: Murphy was born in Ireland. A more interesting fact I learned after reading Silverland is Murphy had three granddaughters and eight pets at the time she embarked on the Siberian journey.
Book trivia: Silverland has a great set of black and white photographs.
Nancy said: Pearl nothing specific about Silverland. She did mention this was Murphy’s second trip to the region.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Siberian Chills” (p 205).
Salak, Kira. Four Corners: Into the Heart of New Guinea: One Woman’s Solo Journey.
Salak, Kira. Four Corners: One Woman’s Solo Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2001.
Reason read: November is supposedly a really good time to visit Papua New Guinea, if you enjoy that kind of dangerous travel.
Confessional: I started reading the uncorrected proof of this memoir before receiving the published version.
There is no doubt Kira Salak is a strong woman. As an eleven year old kid her father taught her how to handle a gun. She remembers her father encouraging his young daughter to aim between the eyes. All her life Kira considered herself tough, wanting to be a soldier, a warrior of Green Beret quality. For all of her courage, time and time again while reading Four Corners I was struck dumb by her seat-of-her-pants travel style in Papua New Guinea. Salak travels beyond the outer reaches of civilization because she has an inexplicable calling to do so. It seems incredulous one could be so naive about everything, including basic survival skills for the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Salak goes into the region without a clear plan or even a way to support herself should the missionaries and locals refuse to ensure her safe passage regardless of the money and/or gifts she has to offer. She’s a creative writing student with no concrete connection to why she is there. Other reviewers of Four Corners called Salak “lucky.” She is that and then some!
I love it when a book makes me curious about other things. After reading Four Corners I had to research Well’s morlocks and Christian’s mutineers.
Quotes I had to quote, “Sometimes our lives are chosen for us, and we have about as much control over the matter as we do the situation we’re born into” (p 13), “Living is nothing but an attempt to champion the choice you’ve made” (p 148), “I am looking at hate, a hate so deep it’s palpable” (p 168).
Author fact: Salak has her own website and the photos I was hoping to see in Four Corners can be found here.
Book trivia: I was hoping for pictures (since the cover is so interesting) but none were included. See comment above.
Nancy said: Pearl had a different title for this book, Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea. Pearl also said “for a goodly dash of [great beauty and danger] try Four Corners (Book Lust To Go p 150).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the super simple chapter called New Guinea (p 150).
I don’t have writer’s block. I have writer’s apathy. I have nothing to say. Here are the books already underway for November:
- The Sporting Club by Thomas McGuane – in honor of the Mackinac bridge being built in November of 1957.
- The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak – I needed an author with my same initials for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.
- Four Corners: a Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea by Kira Salak – in honor of November being a decent time to visit PNG…if you are into that sort of thing.
- Israel is Real: an Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History by Rich Cohen – in recognition of Resolution 181.
- Silverland: a Winter Journey Beyond the Urals by Dervla Murphy – in honor of Murphy’s birth month.
- Master of Hestviken: the Snake Pit by Sigrid Undset – to continue the series started in October. I needed a translated book written by a woman. Voila!
- Echo Burning by Lee Child – to continue the series started in July in honor of New York becoming a state.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Teaching Empathy: Strategies for Building Emotional Intelligence in Today’s Children by Suzanna Hershon, PhD.
- The Master of Hestviken: the Axe by Sigrid Undset.
- October Light by John Gardner.
- Jamesland by Michelle Huneven.
- The Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows by Patrick Chamoiseau.
- Isabel’s Bed by Elinor Lipman.
- Wyoming Summer by Mary O’Hara.
- Obsession with Butterflies by Sharman Apt Russell.
- Running Blind by Lee Child.
Early Review for LibraryThing
- Lou Reed: Notes From the Velvet Underground by Howard Sounes.
O’Hara, Mary. Wyoming Summer. New York: Doubleday, 1963.
Reason read: October marks the month O’Hara passed away. Read in her memory.
Wyoming Summer unfolds as a love letter to the wild west. Originating from O’Hara’s journals, it tells the story of her life on a Wyoming ranch. She loves her horses, her dude-ranch summer camp for teenage boys, and even a wayward bull who keeps getting loose and raising hell across the prairie. Her music, milking cows, and marriage to husband Michael help keep her grounded, for it isn’t an easy life on the range. Setbacks come in the form of unpredictable weather, failing crops, and rejection letters and yet O’Hara finds perfection in all of it.
People will probably recognize O’Hara’s book, My Friend Flicka, more readily than Wyoming Summer. I enjoyed the small introduction of acquiring the horse at the end of Wyoming Summer. A glimpse of things to come as My Friend Flicka is also on my Challenge list.
Author fact: O’Hara was also an accomplished pianist and composer.
Book trivia: I wish there were pictures but sadly, there are none to be found.
Nancy said: Pearl said Wyoming Summer isn’t really set in Wyoming but the small sections that are make us feel as though we are really there. Did she and I read different books? I felt that a great deal of Wyoming Summer took place in Wyoming. The dude-ranch camp, the farming, the raising of horses…I didn’t count the pages but I felt it was significant enough to call it Wyoming Summer.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “WY Ever Not?” (p 262).