The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

le Carre, John. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. Ballantine Books, 1963.

Reason read: while The Spy Who Came In from the Cold didn’t win an Academy Award, Richard Burton was nominated for his role as Alec Leamas. The Oscars are usually presented in March.

I had heard a lot of great things about John le Carre’s novels. Growing up, I can remember one or two titles floating around the house. I definitely think The Spy Who Came In from the Cold was one of them.
You know the story: someone is very close to retiring, getting out of the game, but there is one last job they need to do. After they complete this one final task, whatever it is, then they are out. Fini. Except, you know that’s not how it ends up. The job is always more complicated and/or dangerous. Something always goes sideways and the end is horribly wrong. The spy Who Came In from the Cold is no different. Alec Leamas is nearing the end of his career as a British agent. He wants out but die to a fabricated “problem” with his pension, he has one last mission in East Germany. All he has to do is spread rumors about an East German intelligence officer. After that, he can “get out of the cold” comfortably. Of course, nothing goes to plan. I knew this book was going to be trouble when, within 15 pages four people would die in quick succession.
Heads up: keep in mind this was written in a time when men were allowed to be sexist. It never occurs to Leamas that he might have to work for a woman.

As an aside, I love when books give me a connection to Monhegan however small. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold mentions the Morris Dancers. They performed on Monhegan every summer for years and years.

Line that made me think, “At first his colleagues treated him with indulgence, perhaps his decline served them in the same way as we are scared by cripples, beggars and invalids because we fear we could ourselves become them; but in the end his neglect, his brutal, unreasoning malice, isolated him” (p 23).

Author fact: le Carre died in 2020 and according to his Wiki page, his death was unrelated to Covid-19.

Book trivia: The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is the sequel to Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality. I only have the former title on my Challenge list, but once again I have read these books out of order. Ugh.

Playlist: “On Ilkley Moor bat t’ at”

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned le Carre as someone to read if you are into spy novels. She also called The spy Who Came In from the Cold remarkable.

BookLust Twist: from a few places. First, Book Lust in the chapters called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1960” (p 175) and “Spies and Spymasters: the Really Real Unreal World of Intelligence” (p 223). Second, in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Berlin” (p 36).

Rum Diary

Thompson, Hunter S. The Rum Diary. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Reason read: to celebrate Eugenio Maria de Hostos, philosopher who campaigned for education for women. His life is celebrated on the second Monday in January in Puerto Rico. Additionally, for the 2023 Portland Public Library Reading Challenge, I needed a book with a person on the cover.

Paul Kemp, fresh in from New York, begins writing for the Daily News in San Juan. Throughout the entire Rum Diary he comes off as a bumbling and stumbling alcoholic cad who never really writes very much. He spends a great deal of time eating hamburgers at Al’s, chasing women, playing on the beach, getting into various troubles, and of course, drinking gallons of rum. Paul works off a tangle of conflicting emotions through an alcoholic haze. Rum on the island act as a currency.
Thompson’s portrait of Paul Kemp seems three quarters finished. Underneath the swagger and swaying, there lies a decent soul, but you never really understand Paul.
As as aside, I have never been to San Juan so I don’t know why this is a thing, but there seems to be a peculiar animosity towards stray dogs on the island.

Confessional: Reading Doug Stanhope’s Digging Up Mother at the same time as Hunter S. Thompson’s Rum Diary was like a lesson in debauchery. Even though Stanhope’s memories were thirty years later than Thompson’s, the attitudes were much the same. Here’s another trivial similarity – Johnny Depp starred in Thompson’s movie. He also wrote the foreword for Digging Up Mother.

Best lines, “Arriving half-drunk in a foreign place is hard on the nerves” (p 12).

Author fact: Thompson is better known for his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Book trivia: Rum Diary was made into a movie starring Johnny Depp.

Playlist: Braham’s Lullaby and “Maybellene”.

Nancy said: Rum Diary is an “exuberant” picture of the drinking life in Puerto Rico. She’s not wrong.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean (Puerto Rico)” (p 57).

Clockers

Price, Richard. Clockers. Houghton Mifflin, 1992.

Reason read: New Jersey became a state in December and I needed a book with a one-word title for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Dig down. Dig beneath the slang and bravado and you will find a gritty story about two very different human beings trying to survive the poverty stricken streets of New Jersey and New York. Rocco Klein has been a homicide detective for too long. He has seen it all and maybe he is too jaded because, as of late, the drug deaths he encounters inch him closer and closer to a yawning apathy. It might be time to retire. That is, until he meets young, barely out of his teens, Victor Dunham. Victor seems to be too innocent to be readily and eagerly confessing to a murder. Klein knows better. Who is Vincent covering for? Could it be his always in trouble drug-dealing brother? The cat and mouse game cops and crook play makes for an adventure (albeit a little long).
As an aside: Clockers is code for drug runners. Cocaine dealers, to be more specific.

Great lines, “At least with enemies, you knew what they were right up front” (p 8),”But the coffee didn’t pour itself, so nothing had come of it” (p 40). Yup. I’ve had those days, too.

Author fact: Richard Price wrote the screenplay for The Color of Money.

Book trivia: Clockers was made into a movie in 1995 and directed by Spike Lee. Of course I have not seen it.

Playlist: Wilson Pickett’s “International Playboy”, the Impressions’ “It’s All Right”, Kool and the Gang, “Ninety-Nine and a Half Just Won’t Do”, “I Found a Love”, the Rolling Stones, James Brown, and “One Love”.

Nancy said: Pearl said Price’s novels are hard to define.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Jersey Guys and Gals” (p 129).

Remake

Willis, Connie. Remake. Bantam Books, 1995.

Reason read: Willis was born in the month of December. Read in her honor.

Remake is captivating. Imagine moviemaking of the future where technology allows you to alter endings to your favorite movies. Don’t like Johnny Depp starring in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Want to see Ryan Reynolds as the lead instead? With just a keystroke, you can change any detail you want. Live-action filming is a thing of the past. Every little detail can be turned upside-down with a little techno-photoshopping. Nothing is real anymore. Which is unfortunate for one na├»ve young woman named Alis. All she desires is a dance with Fred Astaire up on the silver screen. She knows all of Ginger’s moves and like Alice in Wonderland, believes the right combination of eat-me and drink-me drugs will get her there. Caught up in love with Alis, Tom muddles his way through fixing bad alterations, all the while offering Alis her face on all the great dancers who danced with Fred. Alis doesn’t want a photoshopped image of herself on Ginger’s body. She wants the real deal.
As an aside, I loved how Willis thought. Here’s a twist: when bona fide actors are maliciously altered into snuff films, litigation ensues. Either that, or the wronged actor becomes a popular porn star.

Author fact: Even though Connie Willis has written a ridiculous number of books, I only had ten on my Challenge list. I have read all but three, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Passage, and Unchartered Territory.

Book trivia: there is an insane number of movies mentioned in Remake. I don’t know if they are all real or not, but I took the liberty of listing them all. You’re welcome.

  • 3 Sailors and a Girl
  • 42nd Street
  • African Queen
  • Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • All About Eve
  • American in Paris
  • Anchors Aweigh
  • An Affair to Remember
  • Annie Get Your Gun
  • Arsenic and Old Lace
  • Athena
  • Babes on Broadway
  • Back to the Future
  • Bell, Book and the Candle
  • Belle of New York
  • Bells are Ringing
  • Ben-Hur
  • Beverly Hills Cop
  • The Birds and the Bees
  • The Blue Max
  • Born to Dance
  • The Boyfriend
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • Brigadoon
  • Broadway Melody of 1940
  • Broken Blossoms
  • By the Light of the Silver Moon
  • Camelot
  • Camille
  • Can-Can
  • Carefree
  • Carousel
  • Casablanca
  • Cat Ballou
  • The China Syndrome
  • Chorus Line
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Collector
  • The Color Purple
  • Dance
  • Days of Wine and Roses
  • Death Wish
  • Double Indemnity
  • Dr. Zhivago
  • Dumbo
  • East of Eden
  • Educating Rita
  • Fantasia
  • Field of Dreams
  • Flying Down to Rio
  • Follow the Fleet
  • Fools
  • Footlight Parade
  • Footloose
  • For Love or Money
  • Frankenstein
  • Funny Face
  • Gaslight
  • Gay Divorcee
  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
  • Giant
  • Gigi
  • Girl Crazy
  • Godfather
  • Godfather II
  • Gold Diggers of 1933
  • Good News
  • Goodbye Mr. Chips
  • Graduate
  • Great Expectations
  • Greed
  • Gunga Din
  • Guys and Dolls
  • Hallelujah Trail
  • Harvey Girls
  • Hats Off
  • Hello Dolly
  • High Road to China
  • High Society
  • House of Wax
  • How the West was Won
  • How to Marry a Millionaire
  • I Killed Wild Bill Hickok
  • I Love Melvin
  • In the Good Old Summertime
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • Into the Woods
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • The Kid from Brooklyn
  • Let’s Dance
  • Little Miss Marker
  • Lost Horizon
  • Lost Weekend
  • Love Story
  • Magnificent Seven
  • Maltese Falcon
  • Mame
  • Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
  • Man with the Golden Arm
  • Meet Me in St. Louis
  • Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
  • Music Man
  • My Fair Lady
  • Ninotchka
  • Notorious
  • Now Voyager
  • An Officer and a Gentleman
  • Oklahoma
  • Oliver
  • On the Town
  • One Touch of Venus
  • Painting the Clouds with Sunshine
  • Palm Beach Story
  • Party
  • Pennies from Heaven
  • Phantom Foe
  • Phantom of the Opera
  • Philadelphia Story
  • Pinocchio
  • Plainsman
  • Postcards from the Edge
  • Pretty Woman
  • Psycho
  • Public Enemy
  • Purple Rose of Cairo
  • Purple Taxi
  • Rear Window
  • Rebel Without a Cause
  • Rio Bravo
  • Rising Sun
  • Risky Business
  • Saratoga Trunk
  • The Searchers
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  • Seven Year Itch
  • Shadowlands
  • Shall We Dance
  • She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
  • She’s Back on Broadway
  • Showboat
  • Silence of the Lambs
  • Singing in the Rain
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Sleepless in Seattle
  • Small Town Girl
  • Snow White
  • Some Like It Hot
  • Somewhere in Time
  • Spellbound
  • Stagecoach
  • Stage Door
  • Starlift
  • Star is Born
  • Star Trek
  • Star Wars
  • Strike Up the Band
  • Summer Holiday
  • Swingtime
  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Tea for Two
  • Ten Commandments
  • Terminator
  • Thief of Bagdad
  • There’s No Business Like Show Business
  • Thoroughly Modern Millie
  • Three Little Girls in Blue
  • Three Little Words
  • Time After Time
  • Thin Man
  • Too Much Harmony
  • Top Hat
  • Topper
  • Towering Inferno
  • the Trouble with Angels
  • Two Weeks In Love
  • Valley of the Dolls
  • Vernon and Irene Castle
  • West Side Story
  • What’s New Pussycat
  • Where the Boys Are
  • White Christmas
  • Wings
  • Wizard of Oz
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Yankee doodle Dandy
  • You Can’t take It With You

Setlist: “Abba Dabba Honeymoon”, “Anything Goes, “Buckin’ the Wind”, “Crazy Rhythm”, “I Only Have Eyes for You”, “Moonlight Lullaby”, “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”, and “You are My Lucky Star”.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Remake.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Connie Willis: Too Good to Miss” (p 247).

Dune

Herbert, Frank. Dune. Ace Trade, 2005.

Reason read: Herbert began his career as a novelist in November 1955. I also needed a book with a one-word title for the Portland Public Library’s Reading Challenge.

At the center of Dune is a drug known to be a truth seeker called Melange. It acts as an extension of human youth and has the ability to produce multidimensional awareness, the foresight ncessary for space navigation, increased mental abilities, and vitality in the form of being able to diagnose illnesses and treat them accordingly. Quite the wonder drug and in obvious high demand. It is the proverbial fountain of youth and very addictive, as one might suspect. It is mined on the planet of Arrakis, otherwise known as “Dune” the desert planet. As mentioned earlier, Melange gives people the ability to change metabolism with each wound or injury, making survival that much easier when faced with a poisoned blade which makes an appearance frequently.
When it comes to the subject of breeding, I was reminded of The Handmaid’s Tale. Jessica, Paul’s mother, was “ordered” to give birth to a girl but ultimately disobeyed to give her husband a son. Mothers can chose the gender of her child. Imagine that. Another simularity to Handmaid is the idea of a strict caste system society.
Dune is the kind of book that drives me crazy. Suspensor lamps and glowglobes abound. WTF are they? Despite the “otherworldly” details, there is a fundamental truth within Dune. Water is precious in the desert. After the drought we just endured last summer, I can relate. In Dune people can be killed for the fluid in their bodies.

Confessional: how hated would I be if I said I never had the desire to read Dune? Everyone knows how I feel about science fiction in general, but there was something detracting about the vibe I got from the movie and (I say this with one eye open, cringing), I’ve never been a fan of self-centered Sting. There. I’ve said it. Sand worms aside, I wasn’t looking forward to Dune. I wasn’t even sure I would get through the requisite 50 pages. I opted for the audio version which was fantastic. I now want to see the movie. Imagine that!

Lines I connected with, “Dreams were predictions” (p 4). I believe that as well. Here is another phrase I liked, “sift people to find the humans.” I feel like I do that on a daily basis.

Author fact: Herbert based everything in Dune on magic mushrooms.

Book trivia: my audio version included a whole cast of characters. Instead of just one person reading the story, it was acted out by a bunch of people. In addition to that, sound effects were fantastic.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything in particular about Dune.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 215).

Brooklyn

Toibin, Colm. Brooklyn. Scribner, 2009.

Reason read: October is festival month in Ireland. Time to celebrate the green isle. I also needed a book with a one-word title for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Colm Toibin writes with such clear sincerity one can easily walk in young Eilis Lacey’s shoes as she navigates entry into adulthood. Unable to find decent employment in rural Ireland, she is taken under the wing of Father Flood, an Irish priest who has emigrated to the big city of Brooklyn, New York; the land of opportunity. Father Flood has seen Eilis’s talents and believes she will do well in America. Leaving behind her widowed and weak mother and vivacious sister, Eilis slowly makes a life for herself in her strange new city. Even though she is naive she finds work, starts college for a career in book keeping, and even finds a nice Italian boy with whom to fall in love. But, Brooklyn is not Ireland. It’s not even close to feeling like home. No one is her true family. When she is called back to Ireland following a family tragedy, it is no surprise that Eilis falls comfortably back into old routines. Only this time she is a different, more confident young woman. Both worlds feel right to her. Both worlds are home but which one will she chose?

I found myself identifying with Eilis in small insignificant ways. I wear makeup when I need a little extra courage. I think my sister is the coolest person on the planet.

As an aside, I found myself humming “My sister Rose” by 10,000 Manaics after every reading of Brooklyn. It could have been sung from the perspective of Eilis Lacey.

Author fact: Toilbin has written a bunch of other books. I am reading a total of four of them for the Book Challenge.

Book trivia: Brooklyn was made into a movie in November 2015.

Nancy said: Pearl explained that Brooklyn was in the Ireland chapter of Book Lust To Go because the first and last parts take place in a “beautifully evoked” small Irish town (p 111).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Ireland: Beyond Joyce, Behan, Beckett, and Synge” (p 110).

Haunting of Hill House

Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House. Pengin Horror, 2013.

Reason read: October is the time for spooky stories. I also needed a story where the house is central to the plot for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge. This fit the bill.

Any story endorsed by Stephen King is going to be a thriller. At least, one would think. Such is the case with The Haunting of Hill House. I was thrilled with it. Jackson is masterful at making an old mansion come alive in subtle, yet ominous ways. For starters, the house is built all wrong. Jackson obviously understood that symmetry is the key to desired beauty, so to make something ugly it has to be confusing with uneven angles that defy logic. Sightlines would not make sense. Doors have to lead nowhere. Staircases turn inhabitants around to the point of dizzying confusion. Despite all this, a certain Dr. Montegue has heard all the rumors about Hill House and cannot wait to investigate the so-called haunted house. He has been waiting for a house like this all his life. His “guests” Eleanor Vance and Theodora (first name only Theodora) join him and the heir to Hill House, Luke Sanderson, in a quest to search out the ghosts and paranormal activity.
Rules of the house: try not to close any doors, keep lights on at all times, don’t try to leave the house at night, never get separated and/or try to do everything together. It goes wothout saying, they all fail at one or all of these commands at one time or another. Hill House starts to show its personality when it first drops the tempature. The colder the room, the closer the threat. Then it tries to get the group to break up by masterfully turning them against one another. Eleanor is the obvious weakest link. She feel empty before even coming to Hill House. The death of her mother weighs on her and guilt threatens to strangle her at every quiet moment. Guess who falls prey to the house?

As an aside, my father-in-law was not a fan of neither the book nor the movie. I’m not sure why. Since it’s October, I watched both versions of the remake. I can’t tell you which one I liked better. The 1963 version was more true to the novel, but the 1999 version was scarier (people actually die in the latter version).

Author fact: Jackson died in North Bennington, Vermont. Just up the road from me.

Book trivia: The Haunting of Hill House was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1959. It was also made into a kooky little movie in 1963.

Nancy said: Pearl had lots to say about The Haunting of Hill House. She said it cemented Jackson’s reputation (despite two bad movies). She called it a classic that has been “scaring people” since it was first written. She also said it was a “superb” example of the range horror fiction.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice, once in the chapter called “Ghost Stories” (p 100) and again, in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 217). A little redundant.

Prince of Tides

Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides. Bantam Books, 1986.

Reason read: the memory of how Conroy described summers in the south has always stayed with me. Read in honor of the end of summer.

“If Henry Wingo had not been a violent man, I think he would have made a splendid father” (p 5). That sums up The Prince of Tides in a nutshell. Well, sort of. No. Not really. I want to say it is about loving someone so fiercely you love well beyond any pain they could bring you. The writing of Pat Conroy is so beautiful it is hard to believe the subject matter of Prince of Tides could be so dark. The damaged Wingo family will stay with you long after you have closed the massive 600-plus page book. Most affected is Savannah Wingo, the sister-twin of Tom, who speaks to the hidden ones, hallucinates angels hanging from lamposts and self-mutilates herself to stave off the voice of her father urging her to kill herself. In reality, the bad times roll in as constant as the South Carolina tide for all of the Wingos. The entire family experiences enough unimaginable terrors to last a lifetime. To name a few: a father badly wounded surviving the horrors of World War II with a little help from a priest; Grandpa’s black widow spiders used as a defense from a stalker intent on raping Lila, the Wingo mother; four stillborn children one right after the other, each kept in the freezer like porkchops until it was time to bury them in the backyard; a tiger trained to rip someone’s face off…Probably the worst offense is not Henry Wingo, a father who beats his wife and children. The inexplicable nightmare is Lila Wingo, a woman so hellbent on keeping a prestine and proud reputation she denies every horror. Is this southern living or a perpetual seventh circle of hell?
Savannah is only partially able to escape her violent past by moving to New York City. After her latest suicide attempt is very close to successful, Savannah’s therapist calls Tom, her twin brother, for insight into the Wingo family. In order to help Savannah Dr. Lowenstein needs to dig deeper into the entire family’s tumultuous history. What emerges is Tom’s own tragic story of coming of age as a souther male in an abusive household. In the beginning of Prince of Tides, the character of Tom Wingo was only slightly annoying with his “American Male” posturing. But by page 300 you realize after all that he and his family have gone through he is allowed to tell jokes when it hurts. He has survived by humor his entire life.
Conroy’s Prince of Tides is a strange love letter to the Southern way of life. It is a story of tenacity and tenderness.

As an aside, Savannah’s mysteries were so intriguing I kept a list:

  • Dogs howling
  • Spiders – the Wingo kids unleashed black widows on a man intent on hurting their mother.
  • White house
  • Caged tigers – Casaer the tiger.
  • Three men – three rapists
  • Woods – the forbidden property surrounding Callandwolde
  • Callanwold – the rich people’s mansion in Atlanta, Georgia. Soon became code for a stalker who attacked Lila and her family.
  • Rosedale Road
  • Taps for TPot
  • Brother’s mouth
  • Caesar – the tiger
  • Red pines
  • Gardenias – the flowers Lila wore in her hair
  • Giant – the 7′ man who tried to rape Lila
  • Pixie
  • Coca Cola – the owners of Coca Cola lived in Callanwolde
  • Seals – another of father’s gimicks
  • “a root for the dead men by the crow”
  • Talking graves
  • Snow angels

Haunting quotes to quote, “But there is no magic to nightmares” (p 7) and “We laugh when the pain gets too much” (p 188), and “Rape is a crime against sleep and memory; its afterimage imprints itself like an irreversable negative from the camera obscura of dreams” (483). There were many, many, many other lines I liked. Too many to mention here. Just go read the book for yourself.

Author fact: Pat Conroy also wrote Beach Music. It is not on my Challenge list, but I read it.

Book trivia: I think everyone knows the 1991 movie starring Nick Nolte and Barbra Steisand. In fact, this is one where a scene I vividly remember is NOT from the book.

Playlist: Bach, Vivaldi’s Chaconne, John Philip Sousa March, “Dixie:, “The Star Spangled Banner”, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, “Pomp and Circumstance”, the Shirrelles, Jerry Lee Lewis, and “Blessed Be the tie that Binds”.

Nancy said: Pearl called Prince of Tides the definition of dysfunctional, a chronicle of dysfuntional families, a good “if not necessarily instructive on what mothers ought not to do” (Book Lust p 160), and “an interesting portrait of therapists of all stripes…” (p 221).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in a ton of places. First, in the chapter called (obviously), “Families in Trouble” (p 82), “Mothers and Sons” (p 160), “100 Good Reads Decade By Decade: 1980” (p 179), “Southern Fiction” (p 222), and “Shrinks and Shrinkees” (p 221).

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Flagg, Fannie. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. McGraw Hill, 1987.

Reason read: August is Friendship month.

After reading Fried Green Tomatoes you will swear you just made a whole bunch of new and memorable friends. The characters will stay with you long after the last page. At the heart of Fried Green Tomatoes is the story of a friendship between two women. Mrs. Threadgoode, living out her old age in a nursing home, befriends Evelyn who is only there to visit her ailing mother. Held captive by the incessant chatter of Mrs. Threadgoode, middle aged and weary Evelyn is introduced to 1930s Whistle Stop, Alabama and its ecclectic community. The more Mrs. Threadgoode talks, the more Evelyn wants to know what happened next. She begins to visit more and more, bringing gifts each time. Between the present day nursing home and the flashbacks is Dot Weems and her weekly “Whistle Stop Bulletin” full of town gossip and humor. Despite its feel good narrative, startling examples of bigotry and violence are a reality. The very real thorns among the roses. But, back to the heart of Fried Green Tomatoes – the characters: Tomboy Idgie Threadgoode was by far my favorite. She is passionate, wild, and carries a great sense of humor and love in her heart.

Author fact: I had to look this up to confirm Fannie Flagg was an actress, screenwriter, director, comedienne, as well as author.

Book trivia: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe was made into a well-known movie starring Kathy Bates as Evelyn and Jessica Tandy as Ninny Threadgoode.

Playlist: Art Tatum’s “Red Hot Pepper Stomp”, Bessie Smith’s “I Aint Got Nobody”, “Big Rock Candy Mountain”, “Buffalo Gal, Won’t You Come Out Tonight?”, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, Hank Williams, “I’m going Home on the Morning Train”, “I’m in Love with the Man in the Moon”, the Inkspots, “In the Baggage Car Ahead”, “Jingle Bells”, “Life is Just a Bowlful of Cherries”, “Listen to the Mockingbird”, “Nola”, “On the Good Ship Lollipop”, “Red Sails in the Sunset”, “Sheik of Araby”, “Smoke Rings”, “Stars Fell on Alabama”, “Sweet By and By”, “Tuxedo Junction”, “Wedding March”, “When I Get to Heaven, I’m Gonna Sit Down and Rest Awhile”, and “White Birds in Moonlight”.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Fried Green Tomatoes as another book exploring women’s friendships.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Women’s Friendships” (p 247). Also in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern Friend Fiction: Alabama” (p 205).

Anna Karenina

Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Penguin Books, 2000.

Reason read: Russia celebrates Victory Day in May.

Who doesn’t know the tragic story of Anna Karenina? When the story was complete I found myself asking does Anna our deserve pity? Many see her love for another man other than her husband as a tragedy. Indeed, Anna’s husband only cares about how society will view him in regards to her infidelity. Karenin is weak, cold and completely unlikable. However, there was another far more appealing couple. I found Konstantine Levin’s relationship with Kitty far more enthralling and far more tragic. As an aside, when I first picked up Anna Karenina I wondered to myself what made this story nearly one thousand pages long. The more I got into it, the more it became clear Tolstoy could spend entire chapters on the threshing of fields, the racing of horses, croquet competitions, and philosophical tirades about Russian society. Condensed down, Anna Karenina is simply about unhappy relationships; specifically an unhappily married woman who has to chose between her duty as a mother and her emotional attachment to a lover. We all know how that turns out.

Quote to quote: “Alexi Alexandrovich smiled his smile which only revealed his teeth, but said nothing more” (p 228).

Author fact: Tolstoy bears a striking resemblance to the Hermit of Manana.

Book trivia: according to practically everyone, the translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky is the edition to read.

Nancy said: Interestingly enough, Leo Tolstoy is not in the index of Book Lust To Go because she does not mention the author of Anna Karenina. Instead, she mentions Pevear and Volokhonsky as translators and they are indexed in Book Lust To Go. In other Lust books she called Anna Karenina “great” and “a classic”.

BookLust Twist: I have always said, the more Pearl mentions a title, the more I know she loved, loved, loved the book. I’m not sure, but Anna Karenina might be Pearl’s most often mentioned book. It is included in all three Lust books: from Book Lust in the chapters “Families in Trouble” (p 82) and “Russian Heavies” (p 210), of course. From More Book Lust in the chapters “Lines that Linger; Sentences that Stick” (p 140), “Men channeling Women” (p 166), and “Wayward Wives” (231). Finally, from Book Lust To Go in the chapter “Saint Petersburg/Leningrad/Saint Petersburg” (p 194). I will add that Anna Karenina also takes place in Moscow.

Snapper

Doyle, Roddy. The Snapper. Penguin Books, 1992.

Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of St. Patrick’s Day and Ireland.

I can safely say most everyone knows about Doyle’s first novel, The Commitments. It was made into a pretty good movie and had a phenomenal soundtrack. I am willing to bet more people know the music than the book or the movie combined. The Snapper is like an episode of Seinfeld where a whole lot of nothing happens to an ordinary group of people. The plot centers around the fact Jimmy Rabbitte’s sister is pregnant. If you remember Jimmy Rabbitte, Jr., he was the guy who started the band, the Commitments. He wanted to be a manager of someone famous in the worst way. Remember how, in The Commitments he was always practicing his interview? In The Snapper his dreams have changed slightly. Still looking for fame, he now wants to be a disc jockey. But enough about Jimmy Jr. This time he isn’t the lead character. He is firmly in the background while his sister, Sharon Rabbitte, takes center stage as a twenty year old unwed mother-to-be. Like The Commitments, the dialogue carries the story. Family members and friends all try to guess the baby daddy. I felt bad for Sharon’s highly emotional and confused father. One day embarrassed about who knocked up his daughter, the next reading everything he can about what she is going through. The Snapper gives a spot-on account of the good, bad, and ugly elements of pregnancy.

Author fact: Doyle has also written books for children.

Book trivia: The Snapper is the next book in the trilogy, but can easily read on its own. Aside from the Rabbitte family, there is nothing to tie The Snapper back to The Commitments.

Playlist: Jennifer Rush’s “Power of Love,” “The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music,” “Just a Spoonful of Sugar,” Bon Jovi, Curiosity Killed the Cat, Tina Turner, Victor Sylvester, Alison Moyet’s “Is This Love,” Alexander O’Neil’s “Fake,” and James Brown’s “Living in America.”

Nancy said: Pearl thinks of Doyle when she thinks of Irish fiction.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Irish Fiction” (p 125).

Commitments

Doyle, Roddy. The Commitments. Vintage Contemporaries, 1989.

Reason read: The Commitments takes place in Dublin, Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day is in March. Plus, I needed a book about music for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Having never seen the movie of the same name, I had no idea what to expect from the book. Much the same way “The Full Monty” made me laugh out loud, so did The Commitments. It’s a fun read. A lively group of young unemployed men and women want to be a band. They want to be famous and rake in the money, but they don’t know what it takes. When they hire a manager the first thing he tells them is that they will be a soul band. The then instructs them to stretch themselves to find out what “soul” means to them: the streets? The act of getting outside one’s self? What they learn is that relationships are hard and people are complicated. Doyle takes us through the first installment of the Barrytown trilogy with humor and grit.

Quote to quote, “For a few minutes the Commitments broke up” (p 64). Aint love grand?

Author fact: Doyle has won the Booker Prize.

Book trivia: Despite The Commitments being more of a novella at 154 pages, it was made into a movie in 1991.

Playlist (and there is a lot): Animal (from the Muppets), Al Green, BB King, Big Joe Turner, the Byrds, Bruce Springsteen, Berry Gordy, BP Fallon, Blood Sweat and Tears, the Beatles, Booker T and the MGs, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Charlie Parker, the Crystals, Depeche Mode, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton, Eddie Floyd, Eddie and the Red Hots, Echo and the Bunnymen, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Frank Sinatra, the Four Tops, George Michael, Gladys Knight, George Jones, Herbie Hancock, Human League, Isaac Hayes, John Coltrane, Joey Irish Fagan, Jackie Wilson, Jethro Tull, Joe Rex, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, Little Richard, Lamont Dozier, the Monkees, Madness, Madonna, Martha Reeves, Marvin Gaye, Microdisney, Martha and the Vandellas, Otis Redding, Phil Lynott, Peter Tosh, Percy Sledge, the Ronettes, Roxy Music, Rolling Stones, the Shangra-Las, Simple Minds, Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Steve Cropper, Sam Cooke, the Strangles, Stevie Wonder, Screaming Blue Messiahs, Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel, the Specials, Tina Turner, U2, Wilson Pickett, and Yoko Ono.
Songs: “Anything Goes,” “Bells of Rhymney,” “Chain Gang,” “Dancing in the Streets,” “Get On Up,” “Knock on Wood,” “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “I Thank You,” “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” “Louise,” “The Lord is My Shepard,” “Masters and Servants,” “My Girl,” “Morning Has Broken,” “Moon River,” “Night Train,” “Out of Sight,” “Papa Got a Brand New Bag,” “Relax,” “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” “Sex Machine,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Stoned Love,” “Tracks of My Tears,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Walking in the Rain,” and “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.”

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned the “Barrytown Trilogy” as an example of humorous Irish fiction even though she feels on the whole, fiction coming out of Ireland is sad.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Irish Fiction” (p 125).

Rebecca

Du Maurier, Daphne. Rebecca. Harper, 1938.

Reason read: as a “romance” I chose Rebecca for Valentine’s Day. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge, I chose it for the category of a book where a house is featured predominantly. Manderley is that house.

I took Rebecca to Florida for a five day trip and in that short time I devoured the entire book from start to finish. I can see why it has never gone out of print. Rebecca is a true psychological thriller that doesn’t need blood and gore to make it creepy. Even though the ghost of Rebecca never makes an appearance, you can feel her presence in every scene. In a nutshell, a young and inexperienced traveling companion falls in love with a much older widower while vacationing in Monte Carlo. Before meeting him, she heard all the rumors about how his wife tragically drowned in a sailing accident less than a year prior. She has heard all about his palatial estate, Manderley, handed down from generation to generation. Rather than travel on to New York as a companion, Mr. de Winter asks our unnamed heroine for her hand in marriage. And so begins the adventure. No one really likes the new Mrs. de Winter and Rebecca’s ghost seems to be everywhere thanks to Mrs. Danvers, the former Mrs. de Winter’s personal assistant. Danny just won’t let Rebecca die. While Rebecca does not make an appearance anywhere in the novel, her presence is felt everywhere.

As an aside, I wish Daphne Du Maurier was still alive to answer questions about Rebecca. Actually, I have questions about both the book and the character. The first Mrs. de Winter fascinates me.

Author fact: Du Maurier won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century with Rebecca.

Book trivia: My edition of Rebecca included a note from the editor, an author’s note, and the original epilogue.

Nancy said: in Book Lust Pearl said Rebecca is an annual read for some fans. In More Book Lust Pearl mentioned liking the opening line to Rebecca.

Setlist: Destiny’s Waltz, the Blue Danube, Merry Widow, Auld Lang Syne, Good Save the Queen.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p 203). From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lines That Linger; Sentences That Stick” (p 140). Lastly, from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cornwall’s Charm” (p 71). You can always tell when Pearl likes a book. She mentioned it either a bunch of times in one Book Lust or it makes its way into all three.

Memoirs of a Geisha

Golden, Arthur. Memoirs of a Geisha. New York: Vintage Books, 1997.

Reason read: Confessional – this is a reread for me. My sister loaned this book to me back in 1997 and I haven’t given it back. However…my rule is if I can’t remember the ending of the book, I have to reread it for the Challenge. So, in honor of Japan’s Culture Day on November 3rd, I am rereading Memoirs of a Geisha.

The concept of Memoirs of a Geisha is brilliant. One of Japan’s most celebrated geisha decides to tell her life story from the beginning. Even as a very young child Chiyo Sakamoto was smart. She knew her mother was dying of cancer and her father was too elderly to support her future. A chance encounter with Mr. Tanaka Ichiro put Chiyo and her older sister on a much different trajectory than if they had stayed in their poor seaside village. At nine years old because of her startling gray-blue eyes, Chiyo is sold into a geisha house. There she is forced to live like a 18th century scullery maid, catering to the glamorous geisha of the house. Another chance encounter, this time with a wealthy businessman nicknamed the Chairman, leads Chiyo to becoming one of the most famous geisha in all of the Gion geisha district.

Line to like, “I was just a child who thought she was embarking on a great adventure” (p 96).

Author fact: Golden started his Japanese journey studying the culture’s art.

Book trivia: Everyone knows Memoirs of a Geisha was a national best seller and was made into a movie in 2005. What people may not remember is that Memoirs of a Geisha was Golden’s debut novel. Pretty spectacular.

Nancy said: Pearl compared Memoirs to Snow Country as a romantic portrait. In the More Book Lust chapter “Men Channeling Women” (p 166), Pearl includes Memoirs in a list of good books.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Japanese Fiction” (p 131), and More Book Lust in the chapter called “Men Channeling Women” (p 166). As an aside, Memoirs of a Geisha could have been included in the chapter called “Maiden Voyages” as it is Golden’s first novel.

Out Stealing Horses

Petterson, Per. Out Stealing Horses. New York: Picador, 2003.

Reason read: Petterson is a Norwegian writer. An old friend of mine lives in Norway and was born in October. Read in her honor even though we haven’t spoken in a long time.

Trond Sander, at 67 years old, is a simple man living alone with his dog, Lyra, deep in the Norwegian woods. He likes the quiet. He loves the solitude. It’s as if he has run away from memories. In reality, he has done just that. Trond lost his sister and wife in one month three years prior. That was when he stopped talking to people. His silence is profound until he meets a stranger in the woods near his cabin. Only this stranger carries the very memories Trond has been trying to escape. Lars is a member of a family with entangled deep tragedies and Trond knows them well. Petterson is able to move Trond from past to present with remarkable grace. Trond as a teenager versus Trond, the aging adult in Norway’s breathtaking landscape. Like any good drama, there is violence, illicit love, abandonment, and atonement with surprises along the way. I hope the movie is as spectacular as the book.

Lines I liked, “When the record ends I will go to bed and sleep as heavily as possible without being dead, and awake to a new millennium and not let it mean a thing” (p 5) and “A shipwrecked man without an anchor in the world except in his own liquid thoughts where time has lost its sequence” (p 195).

Author fact: I am reading three of Per Petterson’s novels: In the Wake, In Siberia, and Out Stealing Horses.

Book trivia: Out Stealing Horses was made into a movie Just last year in 2020. It looks really good.

Playlist: Billie Holliday

Nancy said: Pearl had a lot to say about Out Stealing Horses. Along with the general plot she said the writing is spare and restrained. The plot emerges slowly and should not to be missed. She also mentioned the translation as being beautiful and the cover as evocative.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Norway: the Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).