Chasing Che

Symmes, Patrick. Chasing Che: a Motocycle Journey in Seach of the Guevara Legend. Vintage Departures, 2000.

Reason read: celebrating the last full month Che Guevara was alive (he died in early October 1967).

There is so much mystery surrounding the life and times of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. His 1952 road trip from Argentina through Chile and up to Bolivia somehow changed him in radical ways. Patrick Symmes wanted to know more about that fateful trip, so why not trace Che’s footsteps and take the same exact journey? Che was on a motorcycle. Symmes would be on a motorcycle. Symmes drew not only from Guevara’s memoir, Notas de Viaje, as his guide, he was fortunate to have the road diaries of Guevara’s traveling companion, Alberto Granado, as well. [As an aside, often times, Notas de Viaje and Testimony: With El Che Across South America would contradict one another. I found it interesting that, more often than not, Symmes tended to believe Guevara over Granado.] Many people will be inspired to retrace the journey of someone else; to follow in their geographic footsteps, but Symmes takes his adventure to another level, searching out the exact places and people Che met along the way. His motto was “Be Like Che.” Would these same people remember the vibrant and charismatic young man? What could Symmes learn from them? By doing this, Symmes was able to meet with remarkable individuals, like Che’s former girlfriend who could not talk about Ernesto, the lover; Douglas Thompkins, the millionaire who bought up Patagonian land to preserve an ancient way of life; and even everyday people who kept Symmes rolling through the miles and navigating the harsh South American landscape. Symmes learned to tolerate drinking yerba mate and having discussions about Nazis in Argentina. He suffered dog bites, cracked ribs, barbed wire, and road spills. Most importantly, Symmes was able to be like Che. When Che mooches off individuals Symmes is able to apply the same tactics with somewhat similar success. The result of Chasing Che is more than a memoir and a travelogue, it is a love letter to one of the most influential people of the twentieth century.

Author fact: Symmes has his own website.

Book trivia: I wish there had been photographs.

Setlist of sorts: “Happy Birthday”, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and Rage Against the Machine.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Chasing Che.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “In the Footsteps Of…” (p 100).


Villains Who Snapped My Back

Nazzareno, A.H. The Villains Who Snapped My Back. 2022.

Reason read: As a member of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, I occasionally review books. Mostly memoirs and first novels.

Villain or villains is Nazzareno’s favorite word. Never mind it is in the title of his medical memoir and in the title of almost every chapter. He uses it to describe a postal route, ghosts, drudgery, a devil’s march, various entities, word repetition, cartoon characters, culprits, his commute, and sheep…to name a few. A cackle is villainous. There are assassin-dream villains. Look out for the wrath of villains. They consume his existence. Villains rig the game, villains mutate, villians play tricks, villains effed with his world, villains just show up, villains take extended coffee breaks, villains toss dynamite, villains are picking pocks, villains are catching up, villains get cocky, villains collaborate, villains are addicted, villains are made from mattresses, villains are subtle and insiduous. They are shaped like sausages. Hmmm…There is a number one villain (and I’m still trying to figure out how that one outranks all the others) yet Nazzareno asks at one point, “who are the villains?” I thought he knew because there seem to be so many of them. He would like to disband the villains, evade the villains, use Mormons and marijuna to deter villains; I could go on and on.
I have lost all sense of time when I read Nazzareno. The timeline bounces and stories are jumbled. Casinos, mattresses, a car accident, repotting a tree, snowmobiling in Maine with the in-laws, buying different vehicles. A random turkey on his mail route. Maybe he is trying to figure out just when the back problems started. Was it the car seat not being comfortable enough or that time he slid off the roof when trying to avoid an ice dam? Or the time he had to bury the cat in the yard? If I had a dollar for every time he mentioned the student loan…
Odly enough, my favorite parts are when he is describing his beloved southwest. I felt for him when a goverment job lands him and his partner in Virginia, or hvaing to shovel snow off a roof in Massachusetts, far away from the deserts of Arizona. If you know a happy place, be there now.

Book trivia: The Villains Who Snapped My Spine includes an illustration of he Cursed Lincoln.

Author fact: Nazzareno is represented by a grainy image at the end of the book.

Playlist: Modest Mouse, Mozart, “The Minute Waltz”, and Matt Bellamy’s “Exogenesis: Symphony”.


Time Traveling to 1982: Reliving a Very Special Year

Hayward, Duncan. L. Time Traveling to 1982: Reliving a Very Special Year. Independent Publisher, 2022.

Reason read: I was 13 in the summer of 1982. I experienced my first true love that year. It was my last full year at home before I went to boarding school. I chose to review this book for the Early Review program because in my mind, 1982 was indeed a special year.

Confessional: I was looking forward to reading Time Traveling to 1982 because there are times I wish I could time travel back to the year of my first romance, my last year living at home, my first year of being a teenager. I can remember nearly everything about that year: the politics, the fashion, the food, the music (especially the music), and the sports. The only elements of entertainment I wasn’t “up” on were movies and television because I grew up without either.
Time Traveling was a disappointment. I was hoping for a thorough “reliving” of 1982. That would include fashion trends (hello neon), food (diet coke and onion soup mix, anyone?), sports of both genders (Steffi Graff!), along with the arts: books, music, theater, movies, dance. Beyond being more inclusive, I wished Time Traveling included more personal anecdotes. Why was 1982 a special year to Hayward? Beyond writing this for a friend turning forty, what does the author hold dear about 1982? I just had a thought. Was Hayward so selective because everything mentioned in Time Traveling was important to this friend and to hell with the rest of it?
What I did appreciate was the photography and the attempt at being international. I say attempt because, again, the thoroughness was just not there. Why include certain countries and exclude others?
Did this satisfy my desire to return to 1982? Partly. I had a good laugh remembering Ozzy’s antics with a bat and cried when reminded of James Brady getting shot in the head during the assassination attempt on President Regan (a detail not mentioned in Hayward’s recap of 1982). I was only thirteen but both of those events had a lasting impact on me. I felt sorry for the bat and the brain damaged Brady.


To Begin Where I Am

Milosz, Czeslaw. To Begin Where I am: Selected Essays. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001.

Reason read: for the Portland Reading Challenge I needed a book from an Eastern European author.

I read To Begin Where I Am in stages.
Part One: These Guests
Part Two: On the Side of Man
Part Three: Against Incomprehensible Poetry
Part Four: In Constant Amazement

Czeslaw makes me question the meaning of history. I struggle with what becomes history and what is lost when memory fades. I guess it is a similar theory with stuff. What becomes a rare antique versus junk? The balance of life is all about contradictions and opposites. The history that flavored Milosz’s prose is World War II, the Holocaust, and exile.
The more enjoyable fragments of memory include traveling during spring break after law exams, being in nature, and the poignant portraits of his friends, mixed with descriptions of their political ideals.

As an aside, when when I was reading about the things that amazed Czeslaw I was reminded of when Kisa and I got married. We asked people to read and write something for the ceremony. My uncle stood up and talked about how different things amazed him. He mentioned cars and trees. I am pretty sure he was trying to say that the fact I found someone to marry was one of those “amazing” things.

Quotes to quote, “To kill a superphysical hunger, the best thing in a hike” (p 60), “True, from time to time one of us dropped out, shipped off to a concentration camp or shot” (p 121), “Identity crisis are thresholds in everyone’s life on which we can smash ourselves to pieces” (p 174),

Author fact: Milosz won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Milosz also wrote Issa Valley, which is on my Challenge list, and the Captive Mind, which is not.

Book trivia: Milosz’s essays range from a single page to over one hundred pages.

Nancy said: Pearl said To Begin Where I Am is an “entrĂ©e into the mind of an extraordinary thoughtful thinker” (Book Lust p 187).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Polish Poems and Prose” (p 187).


Introduction to the Whole Food Plant Based Lifestyle to Restore Your Health

Rieder, Stefan. Introduction to the Whole Food Plant Based Lifestyle to Restore Your Health: How 5 Healthy Habits Can Transform Your Life, Regain Your Mind and Reward You With Youthful Longevity. Digital File, 2022.

Reason read: I am a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing. This is an early spring review.

Confessional: I usually like to test out a diet before writing a review. Since this is a lifestyle change, you would have to wait for a long time before I was able to say if the book did anything it promised.

Right off the bat, I have comments about the title. First, what a mouthful, especially with the even longer subtitle! Second, I’d like to think Rieder was not only thinking pie in the sky results (the reward of “youthful longevity”), but also tongue-in-cheek humor (“regain your mind”, implying you lost it some time ago).
A few negatives: reading this on a phone was note enjoyable; the announcements of a free gift more than once was a little gimmicky; I wished that there were recipes included in the sample diet menu; some portions of the book were geared towards men; most of the information was what I would consider common sense.
Now for the positives: even though reading the whole book on a phone was not particularly fun, I appreciated the shopping lists being at my fingertips as I don’t go anywhere without my phone. The list made going to the grocery store very convenient. No excuses! The e-gift ads were easy to scroll past. The list of resources gave other places for recipes and more information. Authors should write what they know. Rieder is male, so it makes sense he would offer more advice to his gender. Previously I said most of the information is what I would consider common sense. Not all. I did learn a few things. Probably my best compliment for Introduction to the Whole Food Plant Based Lifestyle to Restore Your Health is how much I appreciated Rieder’s attitude. He is clearly very passionate about eating healthy, his enthusiasm for helping others was inspiring, and his personal story was touching. I know I will turn this book into a reference I will refer to from time to time.

Author fact: Rieder wrote a guidebook for couples seeking adventure.

Book trivia: the e-version of this book is a little hard to read. I would have much rather reviewed a print version so I could take notes and bookmark pages.


Castle

Macaulay, David. Castle. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977.

Reason read: so in the month of June Kisa took me to a castle in Colorado. I’ll never forget Castle Marne because it is where we got engaged. Read Castle on honor of that memory.

Despite the fact the castle and surround community are imaginary, the construction of the castle itself, in 1286 Wales, is a realistic blueprint. A lot of detail went into explaining the process, complete with a layout of all the tools for a carpenter’s trade as well as the weapons of war. And speaking of war, I have to admit I had to look up the difference between a siege and an attack. I had heard them used interchangeably on the news. Thank you, Mr. Macaulay. All of the illustrations are spectacular. As an aside, I loved the little culprit sitting in the dungeon. Equally amusing was how they disposed of human waste. Yes, I have that kind of humor sometimes. I heard that Castle was also made into a documentary.

Author fact: Macaulay also wrote about the construction of cathedrals (which I already read), mills, pyramids, and mosques. I am reading about them all for the Challenge.

Book trivia: the dedication is to the past – farewell!

Nancy said: Pearl said all of Macaulay’s books are wonderful but Castle is her favorite.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Building Blocks” (p 38).


Angry Wind

Tayler, Jeffrey. Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel. Houghton Mifflin Co., 2005.

Reason read: so this is a stretch, but there is a sand castle building competition during the month of June somewhere in the world. I can’t remember why I know that. Sand is needed to build a castle and there is a lot of sand in Angry Wind.

I am always reading about the journeys of foreigners deliberately visiting war zones because, as they say, they’ve “always wanted to visit the area”. Never mind that the country in question is under rebel attack or that the natives hate “you people”. With the help of drivers, translators, and fixers, these fearless authors describe how they reluctantly hand over bribes along with precious passports, visas, and other important documents as if they trained a lifetime for such a vulnerable event. I am always reading from the perspective of the cavalier authors who have to wait for permissions to be granted, roadblocks and barriers to be cleared, bribes to be bestowed upon the greedy; all to be allowed safe passage. These people who somehow just know things will work out in their favor. I am never on the other side where the viewpoint is of the bandit, the enemy, or the political bigwig with all the power and hatred to let a traveler pass. However, I thoroughly Tayler’s description of getting past these same people. Some of the episodes are funny. As an aside, I loved the white-out people. Dab, dab, dab.
Tayler has a keen eye for society, no matter how archaic. The tradition of slavery: the Bellas being captive but not. Female circumcision as a tradition of misconception that cannot be logically argued away. The varying cultures make everyone suspicious of one another. I was relived when Tayler recognized he couldn’t change these cultures, but he argued against them just the same.
Confessional: an army of people helped Tayler cross five countries. I was pleased when he recognized all the people who had helped him as kind and generous.

Book travesty – someone decided to mark up a library copy of Angry Wind. I get the impression this person didn’t like Tayler’s opinion of Bush, especially when describing how the President came into power by force and manipulation. The notations are almost like a one-sided conversation, daring Tayler to say more. He or she actually calls Tayler a nitwit at one point! The more the writing went on, the more taunting the scribbler became.

Lines I liked, “My barren eschatological speculations left me with no hope of…” and “But the desert is really about….”. Oops. I don’t have permission to quote these remarkable lines. I take them back.

Author fact: Tayler also wrote Facing the Congo, River of No Reprieve, Glory in a Camel’s Eye, and Murderers in Mausoleums. All of these books are on my Challenge list. And! And. And, I just have to say, when I first saw Tayler’s author photo I thought I was looking at Simon Cowell.

Book trivia: I was hoping for some photographs….

Playlist: Stevei Wonder, “Silent night”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “Feelings”, and “Hey, Jude”.

Nancy said: Pearl said Angry Wind is “a thoughtful description” and Tayler writing is powerful, fluent, and meaningful.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “The Sahara: Sand Between Your Toes” (p 192). As an aside, I don’t always make mention of this, but Angry Wind is the first book I am reading for this chapter.


Gaining Insight

Utley, F.K. Gaining Insight: the Edge of Wisdom.

Reason read: Dr. Utley was a mentor to me during my early library days. He strongly encouraged me to get my Masters in Library and Information Science degree. I will be forever in his debt for literally handing me my career.

There is so much I could say about Gaining Wisdom. Dr. Utley tries to end every section with a pearl of wisdom gleaned from the span of his life, but I gained more by what he didn’t say. Always the gentleman, Utley conveys the unfairness of inequality. For example, in the mid 1950s women could accompany their husbands on a job interview, but men couldn’t be in the delivery room while their wives gave birth to their children. I’ve never accompanied a man to his job interview and I’ve never been pregnant so this is something that never received much thought.
However, there were so many other elements of Gaining Wisdom I connected with: the descriptions of old stone walls and rusted barbed wire fences (There is a trail not to far from here I currently sit where you can find a ginormous tree with barbed wire running straight through the middle of its trunk.); the heating of well-drawn water on the stove for washing children and dishes; the walk to and from school.
As an aside, cutting grass with a scythe reminded me of a scene in Anna Karenina.

On a personal note, I was surprised to learn just how many times Dr. Utley cheated death, starting with childhood illnesses. A head-on car collision as a newlywed starting the cheating of death as an adult. Then came a heart attack, being held up at gun point during a bank robbery, and cancer (three times!).

Playlist: “How Great Thou Art.”


Positively 4th Street

Hajdu, David. Positively 4th Street: the Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina, and Richard Farina. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.

Reason read: May is music month. This is a proper book about music.

All it takes is one moment to allow your greatness to shine. Quarterback Tom Brady knows that without Drew Bledsoe getting hurt he wouldn’t have had the chance to prove himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks of NFL history. The band Imagine Dragons knows that without the lead singer from Train getting sick they wouldn’t have played the festival that changed their lives practically overnight. Joan Baez discovered that when she took part of someone else’s time to perform at the Newport Folk Festival she was given the opportunity of a lifetime. I enjoy a biography when the world of another human opens up to me and I discover that I probably would have liked them as an everyday person. When Joan Baez was quoted as saying she was afraid to take music lessons because she thought she would discover that she wasn’t all that good I liked her a little more. She had a sense of humor and wit to boot. But Positively 4th Street is not just about Joan Baez. Hadju takes us into the world of her sister, Mimi, and the influential men in their lives, Bob Dylan and Richard Farina. I have to admit, I knew next to nothing about Mimi and Dick before this book. Now I feel I have some catching up to do (musically). I think it’s incredibly tragic that Farina died on the same day his only book was published and his wife celebrated her 21st birthday.

As an aside, Joan was referred to as the Virgin Mary of music. This made me think of Natalie Merchant and how she was referred to as the Emily Dickinson of music. Why do men have to come up with these strange labels for women artists?

Author fact: Hajdu wrote a bunch of books around the topic of music. I am not reading anything but Positively 4th Street for the book Challenge.

Book trivia: Positively 4th Street includes two sections of black and white photographs.

There is an insane amount of music mentioned in Positively 4th Street. Hang on to your hats!
Playlist (musicians): Alan Lomax, Almanac Singers, Animals, Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys, Beatles, Bobby Rydell, Bessie Jones, Burl Ives, Blind Boys of Alabama, Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Brownie McGhee, Burt Bacharach, Chuck Berry, Clarence Ashley, Carolyn Hester, Conway Twitty, Charles River Valley Boys, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Carl Perkins, Cole Porter, Chambers Brothers, Doris Day, Duke Ellington, Doc Watson, Everly Brothers, Eddy Arnold, Elvis Presley, Eric von Schmidt, Frank Sinatra, Frankie Valli, Frankie Avalon, Greenbriar Boys, George Wein, Hank Williams, Harry Belafonte, Horace Sprott, Hawks, James Field, Jimmy Reid, Joan Baez, John Cooke, John Sebastian, John Lee Hooker, Judy Collins, Josh White, Jean Ritchie, Jerry Lee Lewis, John Lennon, Kingston Trio, Kate Smith, Lead Belly, Lionel Hampton, Leonard Bernstein, Lesley Gore, Lotte Lenya, Little Richard, Levon Helm, Marianne Faithfull, Mel Torme, Mance Lipscomb, Muddy Waters, Mahalia Jackson, Mississippi John Hurt, Nat Cole, New Lost City Ramblers, Odetta, Oscar Brand, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Peter, Paul and Mary, Paul Simon, Pete Seeger, Peter Yarrow, Ricky Nelson, Robert Gray, Rudy Vallee, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Rolling Stones, Ringo Starr, Sleepy John Estes, Staple Singers, Sonny Terry, Teddy Wilson, Theodore Bikel, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Tom Rush, Van Morrison, the Weavers, Woody Guthrie,

Playlist (songs):
A
“All the World Has Gone By”, “Always Something There To Remind Me”, “A Swallow Song”, “Amazing Grace”, “Annie Had a Baby”, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, “Another Country”, “All I Really Want to Do”, “All My Trials”,
B
“Blue Suede Shoes”, “Ballad of Donald White”, “Black is the Color”, “Ballad of Peter Amberley”, “Bob Dylan’s Dream”, “Boots of Spanish Leather”, “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down”, “Ballad of Hollis Brown”, “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Birmingham Sunday”, “Bye, Bye Love”, “Ballad in Plain D”, “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”, “Bringing it All Back Home”, “Brown-Eyed Gril”, “Ballad of a Thin Man”,
C
“Car, Car”, “Cumberland Gap”, Careless Love”, “Come Back, Baby”, “Chipmunk Song”, “Cocaine”, “Celebration for a Gray Day”, “Corrina, Corrina”, “Chimes of Freedom”, “Catch the Wind”,
D
“Dopico”, “Diamonds and Rust”, “Death of Emmett Till”, “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind”, “Don’t Weep After Me”, “Drive It On”, “Down on Penny’s Farm”, Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”, “Dog Blue”, “Donna, Donna”,
E
“El Preso Numero Nueve”,
F
“Farewell to Bob Dylan”, “Falcon”, “Field Near the Cathedral at Chartres”, “Farewell”, “Freight Train Blues”, “Fare Thee Well”,
G
“Gates of Eden”, “Glory, Glory”, “Good Night, Irene”, “Girl From the North Country”, “Gospel Plow”, “Green Historical Bum”,
H
“Hard-Loving Loser”, “Homeward Bound”, “Hold On”, “Henry Martin”, “Hard Travelin'”, “House of the Rising Sun”, “Hard Times in New York”, “He Was a Friend of Mine”, “Hard-Loving Loser”, “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance”, “Hound Dog”,
I
“I am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger”, “If I Had a Hammer”, “I Don’t Believe You [She Acts Like We Never Have Met]”, “Island in the Sun”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “I Was Young When I Left Home”, “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”, “It’s Alright Ma”, “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry”, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, “I Came to Jesus”, “I Once Loved a Lass”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, “It Aint Me Babe”,
J
“John Riley”, “Jordan River”, “Jonny’s Gone to Hi-Lo”, Judy’s Turn to Cry”, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”,
K
“Kitty”,
L
“Lay Down Your Weary Tune”, “Lord Franklin”, “La Bamba”, “Lowlands”, “London Waltz”, “Long Ago, Far Away”, “Lord Randall”, “Leaving of Liverpool”, “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, “Ludlow Massacre”, “Love is Just a Four-Letter Word”, “Like a Rolling Stone”,
M
“Miles”, “My Back Pages”, “Mixed-Up Confusion”, “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind”, “Mary Hamilton”, “Masters of War”, “Man of Constant Sorrow”, “Maggie’s Farm”, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “My Little Red Book”, “Michelle”,
N
“Nottamun Town”, “No More Auction Block”,
O
“One-Way Ticket”, “Old Blue”, “Only Pawn in Their Game”, “Once I Knew a Pretty Girl”, “On the Banks of the Ohio”, “On Top of Old Smokey”, “O What a Beautiful Morning,” “Overseas Stomp”, “Only a Hobo”, “Once I Had a Sweetheart”, “Oh Boy”, “Once in Love with Lyndon”, “One Too Many Mornings”,
P
“Pastures of Plenty”, “Pack Up Your Sorrows”, “Poor Boy Blues”, “Pal of Mine”, “Patriot Game”, “Poor Miner’s Lament”, “Puff the Magic Dragon”,
R
“Roll On Columbia”, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie”, “Rake and Rambling Boy”, “Reno Nevada”,
S
“Sweet Sir Galahad”, “Sail Away Ladies”, “Sound of Silence”, “Sally Ann”, “Scarborough Fair”, “Silver Dagger”, “So Soon in the Morning”, “Song to Woody”, “Swing and Turn Jubilee”, “Standing on the Highway”, “Surfaris’ Wipe Out”, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, “She Belongs To Me”,
T
“Talkin’ New York”, “This Life is Killing”, “This Land is Your Land”, “Talkin’ Hava Negeilah Blues”, “Tom Dooley”, “Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues”, “Tomorrow is a Long Time”, “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”, “Troubled and I Don’t Know Why”, “There But for Fortune”, “To Ramona”, “Turn, Turn, Turn”,
V
“Virgin Mary Has One Son”, “V.D. Blues”,
W
“Wild Mountain Thyme”, “Watermelon Man”, “What You Gonna Call Your Pretty Little Baby”, “Who Killed Davey Moore”, “Wimoweh”, “With God on Our Side”, “Wagoner’s Lad”, “Wild Colonial Boy”, “When the Ship Comes In”, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, “Wildwood Flower”,
Y
“Your Cheating Heart”, “Young Blood”, “You’re No Good”, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feelin'”, “Yesterday”.

Nancy said: Pearl experienced a musical trip down memory lane when she read Positively 4th Street.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The 1960s in Fact and Fiction” (p 178).


Ghosts of Walter Crockett

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

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

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

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

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


Roads to Santiago

Nooteboom, Cees. Roads to Santiago: a Modern-Day Pilgrimage Through Spain. Translated by Ina Rilke. Harcourt Press, 1992.

Reason read: there is a festival in Madrid in May.

Prepared to be swept away by Nooteboom’s luxurious descriptions of Spain. Everything seen through his lens is treated with lavish prose. I could see the styles of Roman and Gothic architecture as if I were standing in front of each structure. Renaissance and Baroque art come to life with vivid reality. I now want to visit the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela with its pillars marked with fingerprints. While Nooteboom subtitles his book “a modern-day pilgrimage” we look in on the 8th century in a time of Beatus, King Silo, and the Carolingian Empire. Nooteboom draws parallels between Antigone of Sophocles and the Spanish state after Euzkadi ta Askatsuna targeted violence. We dance between historical and modern Spain with personal anecdotes thrown in for good measure. Aside from the beautiful writing, Nooteboom included stunning black and white photographs. Too bad they are not in color.
Sadly, I cannot quote anything from Roads to Santiago without contacting the authorities first. I don’t have time for that.

After reading Picasso’s War it seems impossible that some people would long for the days of Francisco Franco.
As an aside, I always like drawing comparisons to Natalie Merchant. Any mention of Andalusia or Majorca make me think of her music as she has songs about both.

Author fact: Nooteboom has written a great deal over the years. I am only reading Roads to Santiago for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Is there a different subtitle? I must be reading a different edition. From Book Lust To Go it should be “Detours and Riddles in the Lands of History of Spain” and not “A Modern-Day Pilgrimage Through Spain.”

Playlist: Handel’s “The Messiah”.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Roads to Santiago.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the incredibly simple chapter called “Spain” (p 220).


From Mumbai to Mecca

Trojanow, Ilija. From Mumbai to Mecca. Translated by Rebecca Morrison. Armchair Traveller, 2007.

Reason read: May was the month I used to walk sixty miles for a grassroots nonprofit to raise money for cancer research and holistic patient care. Read Mumbai to Mecca to remember the journey.

Those of us curious about what happens during a Hajj, the pilgrimage to the holy sites of Islam, can be thankful Trojanow made the journey. He writes with such beauty and grace, it is easy to get caught up in his descriptive words. Take the ritual of wazu, for example. There is a precise way to wash before any kind of prayer. At the end of the complicated process, one is supposed to feel calm, as if in a meditative state before prayer. I felt almost zen-like just reading about the process. I enjoyed learning about the Mumbai tea ceremonies and had a good laugh when Trojanow lost his sandals after a prayer session. Like any good travelogue, there is a decent mix of historical and personal.

As an aside, okay, I admit it. as I read about Trojanow losing his sandals, I was thinking of the episode when Carrie lost her $400 shoes when she attended a no-footwear party for a friend.

Favorite lines: It is too bad I need to seek permission to quote anything from Mumbai to Mecca because Trojanow is witty and lyrical, all at the same time. There were dozens of lines I liked and half a dozen more I would have shared here.

Author fact: Trojanow is a German citizen and I am reading two other books by him.

Book trivia: in Book Lust To Go Ilija Trojanow’s book is cataloged as having a subtitle: A Pilgrimage to the Holy Sites of Islam. My copy doesn’t have the subtitle and depending where you look, inside cover or spine, the title is either From Mumbai to Mecca or just Mumbai to Mecca.

Nancy said: Pearl said From Mumbai to Mecca is bound to be a classic.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “A is for Adventure” (p 3).


Color

Finlay, Victoria. Color: a Natural History of the Palette. Ballantine Books, 2002.

Reason read: April is fashion month and whenever I think of fashion, I think of color.

To research the history of color is brilliant like a box of sixty-four. Who, for example, has thought about from where ochre originated? According to Finlay, ochre is the first color(s) of paint. I did not know that and to be totally honest, nor have I ever thought about ochre in this way. [My only thoughts in ochre were to be confused about what shade of yellow, red, or brown it is supposed to be.] Did you ever wonder what the HB on a pencil meant? Hardness and blackness. How about the origin of the phrase, “cut through all this red tape”? Who knew? Apparently, Finlay. That’s who. She took the time to travel the globe looking for answers about color: Australia for ochre, England for black and brown, China for white, Chile for red, Italy for orange, India for yellow,…I wanted to make a map of all her travels. On the heels of reading Travels in a Thin Country I couldn’t stop comparing Sara Wheeler’s adventure to that of Victoria Finlay.
There is a fair amount of humor in Color. To see what I mean, find the section where Finlay describes the interesting practice of boiling cow urine after the bovine have been fed a steady diet of mango leaves for two weeks straight.

As another aside, I got a little excited when I saw Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s name in the index. My Natalie connection is that she put Lawrence’s daughter’s poem, “If No One Every Marries Me” to music. I need to thank Finlay for bringing the artist Joseph Mallord William Turner to my attention. ‘Waves Breaking Against Wind’ is a painting I identify with in a strong way.

Author fact: At the time of publication, Finlay was living in Hong Kong (according to the dust jacket).

Book trivia: Color includes a section of photographs…in color! I guess black and white wouldn’t necessarily work for a book about color…

Playlist: Bach

Nancy said: Pearl said she would buy Color for a textile designer.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 116). In the index Color is incorrectly listed on page 1216.


Love Thy Neighbor

Maass, Peter. Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War. Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.

Reason read: History books state the Bosnian War started in on April 6th 1992 despite earlier acts of violence.

April 1st, 1992. My father was five months and twenty days away from dying. On that day, Serbians commenced their brutal attack on Bosnia. I think I might have done damage to my psyche to read about Bosnia and Guernica in the same month…To wipe out an entire community or ethnicity for absolutely no reason other than pure dominance is unfathomable.
Line that gave me pause, “There was even a slip of paper from the library saying they didn’t posses any overdue books” (p 86). Imagine giving up everything you own, including items you don’t, like books borrowed from the library. The business of the bureau for ethnic cleansing demanded Bosnians claim they handed over all worldly possessions to a Serbian. This act does not encompass the horrific violence, but rather the senseless humility.
About the violence. Most of the time I found myself twisting and twitching in my chair, wanting to turn away from the sentences of torture Maas wrote. I am one of those fat and happy and white privileged people who blissfully and ignorantly cite misunderstanding when it comes to the war in Bosnia. I was oblivious to the death and destruction with the exception of what the U.S. media decided or cared to reveal to me. What baffles me the most is that, like the Hutu and Tutsi, Serbs and Bosnians at one time got along like neighbors and family. Another war similarity from forty years earlier, like Franco denying the bombing of Guernica, Serbia denied the bombing of Bosnia was their responsibility. Death and destruction is not a macabre mirage and yet they do refuse see or own it. The practice of modern warfare with age-old atrocities was hard to read. Reporters and journalists had the luxury of escaping Sarajevo – taking a break was not an option for its entrapped residents. Maas takes his time to carefully humanize the narrative by inserting personal anecdotes from his own life.

Quotes to quote, “They didn’t wear normal uniforms, they didn’t have many teeth, and they didn’t want us there” (p16), “At the time, I didn’t think there was anything strange about flying through the air with 35,000 pounds of feta cheese” (p 23), “If surrealism had not existed, Bosnia would have invented it” (p 28).

Playlist: Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way,” Ringo Starr, Guns N’ Roses, Edith Pilaf’s “Je ne regrette rien,”Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run,” Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” Ella Fitzgerald, Mick Jagger, Louis Armstrong, Ike and Tina Turner.

Author fact: Maas has written a bunch of other books, but I am only reading Love Thy Neighbor for the Challenge.

Book trivia: As an aside, it is a shame the public library from which I borrowed Love Thy Neighbor had to plastic cover the book. The original material would have felt good to hold.

Nancy said: Peter said Love Thy Neighbor “expose(s) the horror of life during wartime in the former Yugolavia” and Maas is more “visceral” about his writing (Book Lust p 31).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Balkan Specters” (p 31).


Picasso’s War

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

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

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

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

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

Playlist: Beatles and Joan Baez.

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

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