Wicked Pavilion

Powell, Dawn. Novels 1944 – 1962: The Wicked Pavilion. New York: Library of the America, 2001.

Reason read: Powell was born in November. Read in her honor. Powell also died in the month of November. Also read in her memory.

The first word that comes to mind when I think of The Wicked Pavilion is snarky. To flesh that out, it is a snarky satire about New York in all its glory. This is the second postwar satire Powell published and with every intent, laid bare all of Greenwich Village’s shortcomings. Set mostly in Cafe Julien, Pavilion’s characters are all hot messes. Unsuccessful in romance and unsuccessful at success they spend a great deal of time whining and complaining to and about each other.

Quotes I really liked, “We get sick of our clinging vines…but the day comes when we suspect that the vines are all that hold our rotting branches together” (p 697) and “She was never to be spared, Ellenora thought, a little frightened at the role he had given her of forever forgiving him and then consoling him for having hurt her, inviting more hurt by understanding and forgiving it” (p 720). Such a hopeless situation.

Author fact: Powell also wrote My home is Far Away, The Locusts Have No King, and The Golden Spur. All of these titles are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: According to the chronology in Novels 1944 – 1962, Powell begins work on Wicked Pavilion in 1950 but doesn’t publish it until four years later (p 950 – 952).

Nancy said: Pearl just said Gore Vidal wrote an essay about the works of Dawn Powell for David Madden’s Rediscoveries and Rediscoveries II (both on my Challenge list) which is how Pearl came to include them in More Book Lust.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Book Lust of Others” (p 33).


August Gusted

When I look back at August my first thought is what the hell happened? The month went by way too fast. Could the fact that I saw the Grateful Dead, Natalie Merchant (4xs), Trey Anastasio, Sirsy, and Aerosmith all in the same month have anything to do with that? Probably. It was a big month for traveling (Vermont, Connecticut, NYC) and for being alone while Kisa was in Charlotte, Roanoke, Erie, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Colorado. And. And, And! I got some running done! The treadmill was broken for twenty days but in the last eleven days I eked out 12.2 miles. Meh. It’s something. Speaking of something, here are the books:

Fiction:

  • African Queen by C.S. Forester
  • Antonia Saw the Oryx First by Maria Thomas
  • Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object by Laurie Colwin
  • Strong Motion by Jonathan Frazen
  • Beauty by Robin McKinley
  • Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes

Nonfiction:

  • American Chica by Marie Arana
  • Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge
  • Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson

Series continuation:

  • Die Trying by Lee Child
  • Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov

Early Review cleanup:

  • Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm
  • Open Water by Mikael Rosen

All-of-a-Kind Family

Taylor, Sydney. All-of-a-Kind Family. Read by Suzanne Toren. New York: Dell Publishing, 1951.

Reason read: April is the month for Sibling Recognition but I could have read it for Library Week since the first scene is Sarah losing a library book and having to work out a repayment system with the kindhearted librarian.

There are five children to keep track of in All-of-a-Kind Family: Gerdie, Sarah, Henny, Ella, and Charlotte. Each child has a wonderfully illustrated distinct personality. Together they make their way through turn-of-the-century New York City and all it has to offer whether it be a trip to the carnival atmosphere of Coney Island or around the corner to Papa’s shop.
Taylor does a wonderful job including a primer of Jewish customs around the holidays. It does not come across as didactic or religiously heavy. Instead, there is a heartfelt pride in the rituals. It’s not a spoiler to say the children have two surprises at the end of the book.

As an aside, I was transported back to my childhood when two of the sisters were standing before the great candy counter, peering through the glass, trying to decide what to buy with just a penny. I can remember similar days, my nose pressed against the glass, trying to decide how my precious money could be stretched to buy both Swedish fish and Red Hots. Zimmie, with his long folded downy white hair covered arms would stand patiently behind the counter waiting and waiting for me to decide. Probably cursing me all the while.

Author fact: Taylor has written a whole series on the All-of-a-Kind-Family. I wish I had more of them on my list.

Book trivia: my edition was illustrated by Helen John.

Nancy said: Pearl said All-of-a-Kind Family includes a “lovely chapter” on what happens when Sarah loses a library book.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Libraries and Librarians” (p 138). To be fair, the library is hardly in the book and the librarian rarely makes an appearance, but her character is essential to the story!


November Numbness

“Live a life steeped in experiences.” That’s what my tea bag therapist said this morning. I’m not sure what to make of that advice, considering I have been passing each day as if waiting for something, but not exactly sure what.

I keep going back to the hospital for x-rays and answering mind-throttling questions like, “when did you break your back? How long have you been having extremity nerve pain?” Nearly passing out from lack of comprehension, I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t, but at that moment I sat there in silence with a stuck-in-dumb expression on my face. Yes, my back hurts from time to time, but broken? Yes, I have been complaining about my hands and feet falling asleep, but pain? I was there to get my protruding rib cage scrutinized. Now they tell me it’s a nodule on my lung and abnormally high white blood cell counts. “Probably a viral infection,” the nurse said of my white blood cell count. This was before the nodule on my left lung (25% malignant cancer) was a reality via CT scan. Are the two related? Am I falling to pieces? Sure feels that way. In the meantime, I have buried myself in books:

Fiction (Lots of books for kids and young adults):

  • David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd (AB): a book for children, added in honor of Fantasy Month.
  • The Pinballs By Betsy Byars: another kids book added in honor of Adoption month.
  • Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko.
  • Martin Dressler: the Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser.
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (EB).
  • Foolscap, or, the Stages of Love by Michael Malone.
  • Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller.

Nonfiction:

  • She’s Not There: a Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan.
  • The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah.
  • Expecting Adam: the Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Magic by Martha Beck (AB)

Series continuation:

  • Scales of Gold by Dorothy Dunnett.

Martin Dressler

Millhauser, Steven. Martin Dressler. New York: Random House, 1996.

Reason read: November is a fascinating time to be in New York City.

Martin Dressler, the ambitious son of a cigar maker, has big dreams even as a young child. He starts by delivering cigars for his father and finds an ingenious  way to make profits soar. As a teenager, he starts his career employed as a young hotel bellhop. He catches the eye of the hotel owner and soon becomes his secretary and mentor. As a young man he falls under the spell of a mother and her two grown daughters while building hotels of his own. One daughter becomes his business partner when he delves into opening a chain of diners while the other daughter, Caroline, mystifies him with her silent, elusive personality. She reminds him of a girl he used to know…Strangely enough, he ends up marrying this shadowy, ghostly woman.
This is not a coming of age story. Readers watch as Martin goes through childhood and teenage years to adulthood without exposing friendships; it’s as if he doesn’t have any, puberty, or any other angst-y growing up tribulation. His personality is firmly grounded in business. There is a moment when Martin decides it is time for him to lose his virginity and almost without ceremony or fanfare, he visits a brothel. This becomes a matter of fact, once a week habit he continues into adulthood. Not much is made of sex either way. However, his wedding night is particularly uncomfortable.

What is especially fun to watch is late nineteenth century New York City growing up along side Martin. The street names change over the years. Buildings grow taller. Oil lamps are crowded out by electricity one by one. The Manhattan we know today competes with Martin’s metropolis of his dreams until they are both so large there isn’t room enough for the both of them. But, which New York lives on?

Quotes I found interesting, “She looked like a new painting, all wet and shiny, but already she was fading into the darkness between lamps” (p 138) and “Here in the other world, here in the world beyond the world, anything was possible” (p 292).

Author fact: at the time of publication, Millhauser taught at Skidmore College.

Book trivia: Martin Dressler won a Pulitzer Prize.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Martin Dressler in Book Lust, but in Book Lust To Go she hinted the book takes place in New York, but it’s not the Manhattan we know (Book Lust To Go p 236).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust from the chapter called “New York, New York” (p 170). Also from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Travel To Imaginary Places” (p 236).


November New

What do you do when the most inappropriate sentiment unexpectedly comes out of someone’s mouth? A confession that should never have left the lips of the confessor? Instead of thinking of the actions I should take I chose to take none. I do nothing. Distance makes it easy to ignore and deny. When I can’t avoid I read. Here are the books started for November:

Fiction:

  • Foolscap, or, the Stages of Love by Michael Malone – Malone was born in the month of November; reading in his honor.
  • Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko – in honor of November being Native American Heritage month.
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – November is National Writing month. Choosing fantasy for this round.
  • Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller – Routsong’s birth month was in November. Reading in her honor.
  • Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser – reading in honor of Millhauser’s birth place, New York City.

Nonfiction:

  • Expecting Adam: a True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic by Martha Beck – in honor of my mother’s birth month.
  • The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah – in honor of Morocco’s independence was gained in November.

Series continuation:

  • Scales of Gold by Dorothy Dunnett – to continue the series started in honor of Dunnett’s birth month in August.

Fun: nothing decided yet.

Early Review: I have been chosen to receive an early review but I will refrain from naming it in case it doesn’t arrive.

 


Crazy Days of October

I don’t know where to begin with trying to explain October. From the beginning, I guess. It started with a trip home; a lovely week off with lots of reading accomplished. Then it was a New England Patriots football game followed by two Phish shows and a political rally for a state in which I do not live. If that wasn’t weird enough, I hung out with a person who could have raped or killed or loved me to death. Take your pick. Any one of those scenarios was more than possible. It was a truly bizarre month.
But, enough of that. Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • Playing for Pizza by John Grisham. Quick but cute read.
  • Call It Sleep by Henry Roth (AB/print). Sad.
  • The Chronoliths by Robert C. Wilson. Interesting.
  • Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (EB). Boring.

Nonfiction:

  • Oxford Book of Oxford edited by Jan Morris (EB/print). Only slightly less boring than Bridge.
  • Always a Distant Anchorage by Hal Roth. Really interesting.
  • African Laughter by Doris Lessing. Okay.

Series continuations:

  • The Race of Scorpions by Dorothy Dunnett (EB/print). Detailed.
  • Finding the Dream by Nora Roberts (EB). Cute but glad the series is over.

Fun:

  • We Inspire Me by Andrea Pippins. Cute.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Gardening Under Lights by Leslie F. Halleck. When I set up the reads for October I didn’t include this because it hadn’t arrived yet.

I should add that October was a really frustrating month for books. I never really liked anything I was reading.


The Transcriptionist

Rowland, Amy. The Transcriptionist. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2014.

Lena is a transcriptionist for New York’s newspaper, the Record. She sits in a lonely room transcribing stories for reporters who call in with all kinds of different stories. Lena’s personal story centers on the mystery of an unknown woman mauled to death in a lion’s den at the Bronx zoo. Three things capture Lena to the point of obsession: the woman is blind, this was an apparent suicide, and Lena thinks she met this woman before. While Lena is fascinated with the story, no one else is. She is shocked by her employer’s complacency. No one cares why this unknown woman did what she did, so Lena sets out to discover the truth. In the process Lena rattles life as she knows it. The proverbial bars of the cage have been flung open.
My one fault with the book – there were a few unbelievable scenes. I am assuming the lion didn’t maul the woman’s face and her autopsy photo is the one the newspaper used for the article. Here’s why: because if no one knew her identity they couldn’t have used a picture from an earlier time. Another bothersome moment – Once Lena learns the identity of the suicide victim, she knows where she lived and that she had a sister. Lena takes it upon herself to visit the woman’s apartment (walks right in!). There, in the decease’s apartment, is a recording of the truth. Wouldn’t the sister have found that first? Wouldn’t there have been a more thorough investigation? It’s not every day that a blind woman swims across a moat to reach a lion’s sanctuary and then lets one (a lion named Robert) devour her.
The best part of the book is the message it sends. Everyday news stories swirl around us and roll off our consciousness like beads of oil on water. Nothing sinks in or settles on our souls. That goes for the consumers of the news as well as the people who create it. We all need to rattle cages and break free from complacency.

Reason read: I am a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing

Author fact: This is Rowland’s debut novel.

Book trivia: Publish date: May 13th, 2014.


Day the Falls Stood Still

Buchanan, Cathy Marie. The Day the Falls Stood Still. Read by Karen White. Ontario: Tantor, 2009

Bess Heath is a seventeen year old junior at her private boarding school when her father is laid off from the Niagara Electric Company. After returning home for the summer she realizes nothing remains the same. Now that her father is unemployed, her mother must take on seamstress work to make ends meet and Bess and her sister, Isabel learn to chip in. Bess becomes an accomplished seamstress and slowly builds up her own list of customers. Once Bess meets Tom Cole her life takes another drastic turn. The rest of the story is a love story on multiple levels that spans Bess’s formative years. She falls in love, learns about death and the value of family. She also discovers what it means to be torn between two loyalties. Tom, because of his relationship with nature, is in direct conflict with the Niagara Hydra-electric. Bess has a long standing history with the power company and has a love-hate relationship with the whirlpool at the base of the falls. Both have a deep personal history with the temperamental river. Together, theirs is a story of triumph over tragedy.

Even though this was an audio book I could barely “put it down.” I loved Buchanan’s writing style. You can’t help but fall in love with Bess.

Reason read: March 29, 1848: it was cold enough to make Niagara Falls freeze, hence the day the falls stood still.

Author fact: Buchanan has her own website here.

Book trivia: The Day the Falls Stood Still is Cathy Marie Buchanan’s first novel.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called simply “Niagara Falls” (p 156). Can’t get any easier than that.


City in the Sky

Glanz, James and Eric Lipton. City in the Sky: the Rise and Fall of the World Trade Center. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2003.

Because City in the Sky was written just two short years after the horrific events of September 11, 2001 and the spectacular collapse of the World Trade Center towers it is easy to accuse Glanz and Lipton of jumping on the 9/11 bandwagon and capitalizing on an unprecedented tragedy. But, the events of 9/11/2001, specifically the seemingly impossible collapse of the towers doesn’t appear in the narrative until the very end – practically the last chapter. Instead, Glanz and Lipton start from the very beginning. They present the key players and historical events in a tightly written account of how the World Trade Center went from an ambitious idea to an iconic city in the sky. To read City in the Sky is to witness the conception, birth, life and ultimate death of a New York City and world icon. Just like the Rockefeller ancestors before him, David Rockefeller harnessed his ambition and went head to head with shop keepers, politicians and naysayers to build an architectural masterpiece.

Reason read: September 11th, 2001. Need I say more?

As an aside – I had to ask my cousin for clarification on this since I saw the name “Boody” several times in the index. He confirmed that my father’s second cousin was Irving Rickerson Boody. Rick’s father was Irving. The connection to the World Trade Center? Irving (senior) founded the first company to occupy the World Trade Center. Hmmmm.

Quotes that stuck with me, “But common sense does not always prevail in New york” (p 47).

Book trivia: City in the Sky includes some great photos, including one of the directory for the WTC. Boody was on the 11th floor in suite # 1103.

Authors fact: Glanz and Lipton both worked for the New York Times at the time City in the Sky was published.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Building Blocks” (p 37).


Suzy’s Case

Siegel, Andy. Suzy’s Case. New york: Scribner, 2012.

Suzy’s Case is a rolling stone. After the plot gets a little push the action gets faster and faster. Enter Tug Wyler, personal injury and medical malpractice lawyer who defends mostly small time crooks and big shot criminals. When asked to beg off a no-win case for a colleague Wyler finds himself reluctantly giving it a second look for unprofessional reasons. When Suzy, a young sickle cell patient, is left severely brain damaged after a freak stroke every professional told her mother there was no evidence of hospital malpractice. Every expert involved swore off the case except Suzy’s determined mother. If it weren’t for her good looks and ever better figure Wyler would have been walking away as well. As an excuse to get closer to Suzy’s beguiling mother Wyler declares there is a case and suddenly the game is on. Murder and mayhem ensue. Wyler’s life is even endangered three different times.
It took me a few chapters to warm up to Siegel’s main character, Tug Wyler. It was if Siegel was trying too hard to make Wyler a complete personality without letting the character development happen organically. It’s almost too much too soon. Wyler comes across as a hybrid of jerk and sensitive guy. He is wisecracking and womanizing and less than ethical in his tactics to win a case. He’s almost a cliche lawyer; the kind you love to hate. But, in the end you root for him because, after all that, he’s one of the good guys.

Reason read: Blood is thicker than water.

Author fact: Suzy’s Case is Andy Siegel’s first book.

Book trivia: Don’t be put off by the author’s photo on the dust jacket! Although, you’ll end up doing what I did – staring at the picture trying to determine how much Tug Wyler is in Andy Siegel and vice versa.


American Ground

Langewiesche, William. American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center. Maryland: Recorded Books, LLC, 2003.

There is something so impressive when an author is given “unrestricted access” to his or her subject. To me, it inspires endless possibilities. When I found out Langewiesche was given “unrestricted access” to the cleanup after 9/11 I was excited. American Ground is the story of the physical breakdown, piece by piece, of the World Trade Center (hence the use of the word “unbuilding” in the subtitle). Probably the most fascinating part of American Ground was the unbelievable “territorial war” between the firefighters and the police, each believing their dead was more important than the other. There was a great disunity between the groups as the clean up continued. At the same time there were shining examples of people who selflessly went above and beyond to not honor find the missing but to honor the dead.

Reason Read: September 11, 2001 is a day that will live in infamy. I don’t know of a soul who doesn’t know what I’m talking about when I say “nine-eleven.” I think it’s obvious why I chose this book for September.

Author Fact: William Langewiesche writes for the Atlantic Monthly where American Ground was first published in three parts.

Book Trivia: The audio version of American Ground was read by Richard M. Davidson, a professional actor.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “9/11” (p 171). Simple enough.


Sept ’12 is…

September 2012 started in Colorado. It was nice to disappear for a week! Here are the books:

  • Eleanor Roosevelt by Blanche Wiesen Cook ~ in honor  of Roosevelt’s birth month
  • American Ground: the Unbuilding of the World Trade Center by William Langewicshe ~ in remembrance of September 11, 2001. I will be listening to this on audio.
  • Tear Down the Mountain by Roger Alan Skipper ~ in honor of an Appalachian fiddle festival that takes place in September.
  • The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper ~ in honor of boys going back to school.
  • Ariel: the Life of Shelley by Andre Maurois ~ in honor of National Book Month.
  • Enchantress From the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl ~ in honor of a kid named Matt who was deemed a hero in September.

So. That’s the Challenge plan. For other books I have been told I won two Early Review books from LibraryThing but since I haven’t seen them I won’t mention them here. My aunt wants me to deliver a book to mom so I, of course, read it on the way home from Colorado so it’s already finished: To Heaven and Back: a Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again by Mary C. Neal, MD. It was an amazing book.


City of Light

Belfer, Lauren. City of Light. New York: Dial Press, 1999.

As a 36 year-old spinster Louisa Barrett is the headmistress of a well-to-do boarding school and she harbors a dark secret. While she is trusted and beloved by her community she is a contradiction in character. It’s this contradiction that makes her human and extremely likable. She worries about propriety and yet goes out of her way to create confusion about her personal life. She’s modern and yet knows her place in society when dealing with members of the opposite sex. At the height of Louisa’s tenure as headmistress Buffalo, New York is going through a metamorphosis. The husband of her late best friend owns a power plant that, by using nearby Niagara Falls, promises to light the entire region. Environmentalists are up on arms over the draining of the falls and suddenly people start dying. Somehow, Louisa finds herself in the middle of the mess. It’s her secret that has her tied to the drama.

City of Light is one of those books I like to call a “location” book. It brings the sense of a particular place to reality. For City of Light that place is Buffalo, New York and its famed Niagara Falls. Set in the early 1900s this is a period piece. A time when women barely held a place in society beyond practiced restraint and stiff decorum. City of Light is also an environment versus science debate as the development of a hydro-electric plant threatens to drain Niagara Falls of its rushing waters for the sake of lighting Buffalo and beyond. Set against the political and environmental debates of the era City of Light is also a mystery as two men are found dead under suspicious circumstances. It is hard to ignore they were both prominent men, connected to the power plant. Yet, no one can prove with absolute certainty they were murdered. Finally, City of Light is a nontraditional love story. Louisa learns the best way to love is to let go.

Favorite lines: “Love made me doubt myself” (p 24), “Magic had become science, science had become magic, everything was possible and the future was ours” (p 278), “…I wondered if Miss Love would attempt the challenging role of Marie Antoinette without her head; probably it was too much to hope for” (p 320).

Interesting word: “unmarriageable” Hm. I think it sounds like “unmanageable.” Wonder. Are they one in the same?
Statement that had given me pause the first time I read it – the air quality was better in electrified homes. Gaslights consumed oxygen; electricity did not. Interesting to think of what fuel consumed rather than what it put out into the air.

Author Fact: On her website Belfer names Jane Eyre as one of her favorite classics to reread.

Book Trivia: City of Light inspired a theater version. Interesting.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “American History: Fiction” (p 22).

PS ~As soon as I saw the map of Buffalo, New York my eyes scanned the streets looking for Pearl Street; the spot where I enjoyed an unforgettable grilled pear salad with drunken abandon in the post-concert buzz of too loud music.


Bintel Brief

A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters From the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward. Isaac Metzker, ed. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.

Despite its small size (214 pages), A Bintel Brief contains the very essence of Jewish-American New York. Between its pages the culture, society, ideals, hopes and dreams of immigrants struggling to call America their own come pouring out. As a section in the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper, the Bintel Brief was a section of letters to the editor, edited by Isaac Metzker. Many of the letters were based on ethical conundrums; people seeking advice on issues like relationships, work ethic, and the daily struggle to make ends meet. The writers of these letters placed a high value on the opinion of the editor, seeking his advice, his blessing, his approval. However, some are attempts at communication with a missing loved one; a calling out of sorts. The Bintel Brief was a vehicle for exposing mistreated spouses, publicizing petty family arguments, and searching for loved ones.

Author Fact: When Metzker was 20 years old he came to America as a stowaway.

Favorite photo: “Shopping on Hester Street, 1895” (p 10-11). Looking into those eyes I can almost touch the desperation.

Most striking letter: “This is the voice of thirty-seven miserable men who are buried but not covered by earth, tied down but not in chains, silent but not mute, whose hearts beat like humans, yet are not like other human beings….” (p 110). how can that not draw you in?

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “The Jewish-American Experience” (p 133).