Everything All at Once

Catudal, Steph. Everything All at Once. Harper Collins, 2023.

Reason read: Team Rivs!

Celebrity is a weird thing. I first learned of Tommy “Rivs” Puzey when my husband bought me a new treadmill and it came with a free subscription to some training thing called iFit, a catalog of pre-recorded training/workout videos. I was a once-upon-a-time long distance runner, sidelined by injury and in desperate need of a comeback. Running was my therapy, truly the only way I could clear the mental fog caused by the everyday world that could cloud my wellbeing. One of my first workouts was with a strange, very tall, bearded man who walked and ran on tiptoe and called himself Rivs. He always wore a hat, tripped a lot and had many sayings that would soon become mantras (don’t get dead being one of my favorites). In addition to giving great advice about getting back into running, Rivs talked geology, anthropology, architecture, physiology, linguistics and history like a soft-spoken nutty professor. He couldn’t run by a plant without naming it or sometimes tasting it. I learned more about Portugal by running “with” Rivs than had I been there with a flag-yielding group tour guide. Aside from his didactic nature, I couldn’t help but be drawn in by Rivs; a guy who tries to eat an unripe olive straight from the tree (bitter!), or licks rocks to taste for salt, or is humble enough to not edit out the part when he falls on his ass while running down a steep hill. (Stay vertical!) Kind and considerate. In one session, calling himself rude, he actually apologized for eating a persimmon he knew his viewers could not taste. Who does that? I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I tried to finish every series Rivs shot (except Japan eludes me to this day). So, when I got the news Rivs was deathly ill (good old Instagram) I was floored. Like millions of other avid fans, I followed his case and condition as best as social media would allow. Once he was well enough to reach out to the world, we all, from every corner of the earth, anxiously awaited the words “not today.” We willed the words Not Today to show up every. single. day. I know I would feel a sense of despair when a few days would go by without those two simple words that held so much weight. I found myself praying for a complete stranger. And I am one of the faithless.
Then came Steph. Beautifully broken but brave Steph. As his wife, she became the lifeline for us Rivs fanatics. Team Rivs. She filled us in on treatments and prognosis. Her words were the balm despite the potential for permanent bruising. I fell in love with her lyrical fragility. Her words were at once stark and orchestral. A single cello note held low and sweet in orchestral medical chaos.
But, oh how I digress. Steph’s book, Everything All at Once, is what I’m here to talk about.

Reading Everything All at Once, it is as if Steph Catudal takes off all of her clothes, stands before you, and shamelessly points out every emotional battle scar she has ever acquired over the years. In the vehicle that is Everything all At Once and without fear she describes the historic places where her childhood cut and coming of age left invisible burn marks. With total honesty she appears to leave nothing out. The rage, the rebellion, the overwhelming urge to self-destruct. She courageously shows you her biggest wound: how she coped with the pain of losing her father to cancer. She embraced drug-fueled recklessness as a mechanism to forget; a secret seething rage. She didn’t know who she was without the destructive behavior of addiction. Her healing is a story in itself but wait, there is more. Her youth is only a preface to a bigger disaster of the heart. When her husband of twelve years develops a cancer so rare only ten other people had its diagnosis (and didn’t survive), Steph acquires the ultimate damaging scar only love can inflict. He is expected to die. How many times can medical professionals and hospital chaplains tell you this before you believe it? Expect it? Steph had to wish end of life in order to be in the same hospital room as her husband. I don’t want to spoil the rest of the book. I spent way more time explaining its importance than reviewing it. In a nutshell, Steph is a rare bird, rising from the ashes of a past that should have killed her. Instead, she emerges stronger, more resilient, and dare I say, even more badass?

As an aside: as soon as I read these words from Steph, I knew I wasn’t crazy for having a connection to Rivs, a complete stranger: “Once Rivs let you in, it was almost impossible not to love him. To not be changed by him.” I want to tell Steph this: you don’t have to be let in. You don’t have to know Rivs at all. You can be a stranger, a nameless and faceless fan on a treadmill, listening to him babble on about bitter olives and basalt tile and it will have an inexplicable impact on your life. Losing weight, trying to get fit, recovering from illness, striving for mental health, keeping the demons at bay. Whatever the reason for getting on the treadmill, it’s personal. Rivs somehow reaches through the technology with humble grace and holds you up, keeps you going. Eyes Up. Without telling you he tells you; you are not alone.

Playlist: Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” and Mason Jennings

Queen Victoria

Strachey, Lytton. Queen Victoria. Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1921.

Reason read: Queen Victoria was born on May 24th, 1819. Read in her honor.

The biography of Queen Victoria opens with the unhappy life of Princess Charlotte who is in the care of her father. She is betrothed to a man of her father’s choosing but has fallen in love with a married man. O the scandal! As a result Charlotte is exiled to Windsor Park. When all the other suitors fall away due to her absence she ends up marrying Prince Leopold and having a baby girl. Thus begins Victoria’s royal lineage. Victoria became queen in 1837 at the age of eighteen. Much like any new political leader, there were high hopes for Queen Victoria’s honest and scrupulous rule: the abolishment of slavery, the elimination of crime, and the improvement of education. Funny how some things never change.
This was a time when impulsive marriages could be made void with the stroke of a pen and uncles could fancy their nieces for matrimony. All marriages were open political and economical strategies. Marriage could alter friendships between entire nations. With arranged marriages it is usually the bride who feels trapped. Not so with the wedding of Albert and Victoria. It is the groom who does not want to go through with it. Too bad Victoria ended up marrying someone who wasn’t all that popular. She had to deal with a “foreign” husband who could not be accepted by her ruling nation. After Albert’s death, widowed at forty-two years old, she tried to bolster Albert’s reputation posthumously. What she succeeds in accomplishing is a nation in love with her. She becomes one of the most adored royalty of all time.

As an aside, Queen Victoria’s reaction to her husband’s death reminded me of my mother in the years after my father’s passing. Victoria puts Albert on a pedestal and worships his memory with grandiose gestures. My mother did the same thing. Saint and savior, my father could do no wrong once he was gone. Here is an example of Victoria’s “loyalty” – “Within those precincts everything remained as it had been at the Prince’s death; but the mysterious preoccupation of Victoria had commanded that her husband’s clothing should be laid out afresh, each evening, upon the bed, and that, each evening, the water should be set ready in the basin, as if he were still alive, and this incredible rite was performed with scrupulous regularity for nearly forty years” (p 404). Interestingly enough, this tidbit of information does not have a source. It comes from “private information” whatever that means.

Quotes to quote, “Cold and formal in manner, collected in speech, careful in action, he soon dominated the wild, impetuous, generous creature by his side” (p 3) and “…the dragon of his dissatisfaction devoured with dark relish that ever-growing tribute of laborious days and nights; but it was hungry still” (p 285)..

Author fact: Strachey also wrote Eminent Victorians which is on my Challenge list. Strachey’s full name is Giles Lytton Strachey.

Book trivia: Queen Victoria is dedicated to Virginia Woolf and also includes some black and white portraits of Victoria. The first portrait of Victoria is when she was seventeen years old. The final portrait is of Victoria at seventy-eight. Confessional: unfamiliar with British fashion, I never knew what was on Victoria’s head. It blended in with her hair so well that I always thought she had a mohawk hairstyle.

Playlist: “God Save the Queen”, “Come Holy Ghost”, “Hallelujah Chorus”, Hayden, Mendelssohn, “Rock of Ages”, and the National Anthem.

Nancy said: Pearl said Strachey produced one of the better biographies of Queen Victoria.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Queen Victoria and Her Times” (p 191).

Crack in the Edge of the World

Winchester, Simon. Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906. Narrated by Simon Winchester. Harper Collins, 2005.

Reason read: San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge opened on May 27th, 1937.

From soup to nuts, Simon Winchester’s Crack in the Edge of the World tells the complete story of the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 with humor, intelligence, and clarity. He begins with the humble birth of the city coupled with the scientific explanation for earth’s volatile nature.
Curiously, when talking about other disasters which have wiped out entire regions Winchester mentions Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but only hints at the destruction of a large portion of Manhattan after the attacks of 9/11. And speaking of the attacks on the World Trade Center, I imagine that witnessing the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake was similar to east coast residents watching the events of 9/11 unfold on their smartphones and television sets. If you were not suffering personal tragedy and your barometer for compassion was at an all-time low, you looked upon the destruction with awe and a strange but removed fascination.
My favorite post-disaster response. The post office was the hero of my childhood, keeping me connected to friends and family miles away. San Francisco’s post office employees made and all-out effort to save their building. As a result they were able to resume service two days after the earthquake. The postmaster understood the importance of communicating with loved ones; an early version of “marked safe.”

Edited to add: I had to come back in here to add this! How could I forget that Winchester quoted Natalie Merchant! She wrote about the San Andreas fault on her first solo album, Tigerlily.

Quote to quote, “But generally speaking, so far as their respective quiddities are concerned, great cities always recover” (p 313).

Author fact: I have a total of eight Winchester books on my Challenge list. I have read three of them so far. Crack in the Edge of the World is my favorite at present.

Nancy said: Pearl said Crack in the Edge of the World was one of the best – if not the best – books about the great earthquake.

Book trivia: Winchesters description of German photographer Genthe sparked an interest in his work.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “San Francisco” (p 196).

Brunetti’s Venice

Sepeda, Toni. Brunetti’s Venice: Walks with the City’s Best-Loved Detective. Grove Press, 2008.

Reason read: prepping for a grand trip to Italy. Venice is on the list. I cannot wait to walk the same streets as Lord Byron, Wagner, Goethe, and Proust. They all went to the San Marco district of Venice for inspiration. I must see the equestrian statue of Colleoni.

Brunetti’s Venice is a very clever book. Part travel guide to Venice and part homage to Donna Leon’s character, Guido Brunetti, Brunetti’s Venice is one hundred percent entertainment. Using direct quotes from each of Leon’s mysteries a reader can tour Venice through the eyes of Brunetti. Places like Murano become more vivid. Quoting from all Leon’s mysteries was a bonus for me. I am afforded glimpses of passages from books not on my Challenge list. It also gave me a chance to get to know Guido Brunetti better, as Sepeda writes just as equally about Commissario Brunetti the person as she does the island city of Venice.
As a travel book, the most appreciated information was the time it should take to walk each route using the detailed map. I have to wonder if the information has held up. Information like when restaurants are closed, how to visit a basilica, how to avoid the seedy parts of town. When Brunetti’s Venice went to press Sepeda said, “…today only three exist until the new bridge linking Piazzale Roma and the train station designed by the Spanish architect Calatrava is finished” (p 143). Well, is it finished? Are Venetians still suspicious of Sicilians?
Aside from wondering how current the information, I loved the idea of the great authors who have wandered around Venice: Charles Dickens, George Sand, Balzac, and Cocteau to name a few. Imagine Othello in Venice…
Confessional: I fell in love with Guido from the very first book. He is passionate, sensitive, and predictable. I loved that as a member of the law he lived in an illegal apartment; a structure without permits, blueprints, or statement of intent.

As an aside: Donna Leon admits to getting lost in Venice. Tommy Puzey guaranteed we would get lost during his Walk Italy series on iFit (so far we haven’t).

Quote to quote, “One of the secrets Paolo and Brunetti never revealed to anyone was their decades-long search for the ugliest Christ child in western art” (p 127). Can you just see them whispering to each other, rating the artwork across Venice?

Author fact: I heard a rumor that Sepeda has given guided tours of Brunetti’s Venice. She must really love Donna Leon’s books.

Book trivia: Sepeda uses arrows to indicate when it is time for walkers to move on. I felt it was unnecessary.

Playlist: Vivaldi

Nancy said: Pearl said it would be fun to recreate strolls described in Brunetti’s Venice.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter “Veni, Vidi, Venice” (p 240).

Hong Kong

Morris, Jan. Hong Kong. Vintage, 1997.

Reason read: for the Portland Public Reading Challenge I needed a book about a region that interests me. Hong Kong is a place I know little about.

Hong Kong is densely factual. Someone else described it this way and that was my ah-ha moment. I couldn’t put my finger on why it was such a slog to read. Morris spends an inordinate amount of time describing one of Hong Kong’s first modern structures but fails incite any passion about it. Her detached voice left me wondering what is the fascination with the area? She spent a long time describing a photograph of a building I wanted her to include it in the book. This, you will see, is a reoccurring pet peeve of mine. Morris’s photographs are uninspiring and grainy.
A word of warning. Hong Kong is outdated. I found myself wondering about the Hong Kong of today. Are there still more Rolls-Royces per head in the city?
At first I wasn’t sure I would enjoy Hong Kong. Aside from dated material, in the early pages, Morris jumps from pleasures of the flesh to pleasure of the palette to playing mah-jongg and the mythology of disturbing the spirits in the earth within several seemingly unrelated pages.
My take-aways: honey was a euphemism for sex for hire. Opium was a legally smoked drug until 1940. A deeper understanding of the art and logic of feng shui. At least I learned something.

Author fact: I have an astounding twelve books by Jan Morris on my Challenge list. She has written many more.

Book trivia: I don’t know why but I find it selfish when an author describes a photograph that they took but don’t share the image in the book. They would rather go through great lengths to describe it. As it was, the clump of pictures Morris chose to include were grainy, somewhat irrelevant and completely uninteresting. I am repeating myself.

Playlist: “One Stolen Kiss”, and “Deep in My Heart, Dear”.

Nancy said: Pearl said Hong Kong is filled with evocative writing.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Hong Kong Holidays” (p 118).


Otting, Laura Gassner. Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Yor Own Path and Live

Reason read: work

The emphasis of Limitless is this: do not be afraid to start your own business; do not be scared to leave the rat race of working for someone else; learn how to want to be your own boss. Most of the examples in Limitless are of high powered executives and/or people who can afford (literally) to take big risks. You never hear about the McDonald’s burger flipper who cashes it all in to open a soap store. Case in point – the lawyer who took an 80% pay cut to do something she loved. The other lawyer who quit her thriving practice to start a chocolate company in her kitchen (guess it wasn’t a galley kitchen with a one-burner stove). How many of us are called to lead an expedition to Mount Everest while working at Goldman Sachs? The example of the veterinarian who went from in-clinic appointments to home visits was the first real down-to-earth example with which I connected. That was a career adjustment I could get behind. Another observation: I would argue that gig-economy only works if a), you stored up enough reserves to see you through while you are trying to find your calling and b), you have a family network willing to support you during the paycheck gaps or c), you cobble together enough jobs to pay the bills without interruption.
The mantra is finding purpose. What if you don’t know your purpose so you wouldn’t recognize it if you saw it? The trick is to harness ambition. What if you have no idea how to do that? Of course the book ends with a bonus quiz, but in order to see the results or learn anything from them, you have to log into a website.

Book trivia: Limitless includes a list of books to read.

Why Read?

Edmundson, Mark. Why Read? Bloomsbury, 2004.

Reason read: April is National Library Month. Plus, I needed a short book for the Portland Public Library reading challenge. This fit the bill.

Why Read? is a compilation of the clever thoughts of others. Edmundson is constantly direct quoting, recalling or paraphrasing the intelligent works of Arthur Schoppenhauer, Ann Marlowe, Camille Paglia, David Denby, David Rieff, de Man, Edmund Burke, Friedrich Schiller, Foucault, Frye, George Orwell, Henry James, Harold Bloom, Heidegger, Herman Melville, James Edwards, Keats, Kierkegaard, Karen Armstrong, Jacques Derrida, JH van den Burg, Lionel Trilling, Marcel Proust, Marilyn Butler, Matthew Arnold, Martha Nussbaum, Milan Kundera, Oscar Wilde, the Marquis de Sade, Nietche, Paul Cantor, Paul Ricoeur, Sir Philip Sidney, Richard Rorty, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost, Robert McKee, Simon Frith, Stanley Fish, Socrates, Sigmund Freud, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Walter Jackson Bate, William B. Yeats, Wordsworth (among others), without a single footnote or bibliography, works cited page, or what have you. Sections on the connections to God, questioning God, and delving into the importance of critical thinking had me yawning. Is it deliberate that Edmundson’s examples of his students are mostly female? Just curious.
My favorite sections are when Edmundson was drawing connections to humanism – finding the deep parallels between individual reality and literary imagination. Can we identify with Hamlet’s situation? How does this relate to the here and now?

Author fact: Edmundson likes to start his book titles with the word why.

Book trivia: Why Read? is a very short book, but should not be read in one sitting.

Playlist: Keith Richards, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, and Britney Spears.

Nancy said: Pearl called Why Read? stimulating,

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed 800s” (p 76).

West of Kabul

Ansary, Tamim. West of Kabul, East of New York: An Afghan American Story. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.

Reason read: I can’t remember why I chose this book.

Ansary writes with a duality that matches his bicultural heritage. His words are at once graceful and blunt; elegant and funny. He calls his upbringing “straddling a crack in the earth”, but what he doesn’t tell you is that his ability to navigate both the American and Afghan cultures is nothing short of expert mountaineering. His siblings may have chosen a definitive side after September 11th, but Ansary decided to use his bicultural perspective in an effort to find a deeper truth. It all started with an emotional email fired off to friends and family after the fall of the World Trade Towers. The email is included at the end of West of Kabul, in case you were wondering.
The entire time Ansary was traveling around Tangier I was on edge. His experiences with the “guides” were troubling; as was the time he was duped about an upgrade to a sleeping car on a train. (By the way, I would like to see jovial and overly congenial Rick Steves navigate those kinds of harassments.) Even when Ansary traveled to city to city waiting anxiously for a letter from his girlfriend, I was on edge. Would she wait for him? You just have to read his memoir to find out.

Lines I liked, “But I never liked him much personally and neither did someone else, because Uthman was assassinated” (p 48), “Power is a social construct, right down to the kick-ass level” (p 157), “Traveling can erase everything except the present, and turn the present into a hallucination” (p 184).

As an aside, the killing of the sheep was really hard to read. I am such a wuss.

Author fact: Ansary is also an author of books for children. West of Kabul is the only book I am reading for the Challenge.

Book trivia: There are no photographs in Ansary’s memoir.

Playlist: Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Everly Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Led Zeppelin, B.B. King, Mozart, Ahmad Zahir, “Save the Last Dance for Me”, “Tell Laura I Love Her”,

Nancy said: Pearl said the first chapters of West of Kabul are fascinating. I am not sure what she thinks of the rest of the book.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Islamic World” (p 127).

Always Eat Left Handed

Bhargava, Rohit. Always Eat Left Handed:… and Other Secrets for Killing It at Work and In Real Life. IdeaPress, 2018.

Reason read: this was a work recommendation. Maybe because I am left handed?

Chapter titles are catchy like “Start Smoking.” He doesn’t literally mean start an unhealthy habit to get ahead in your career (although he started smoking for just that reason). He means be willing to take risks. He reminded me of the headmaster at my boarding school. His mantra was Take Risks, Take Risks. That has always stuck with me although I suck at heeding that advice. What if I am a healthy mix of taking and abstaining?
Chapters are punctuated with white illustrations on a black background. They are simple drawings on even simpler objects: an airplane window, a watch, toast with butter, an ipod playing music, a CV, Sharpie, jeans pocket, cauliflower, a high-heeled shoe, a pair of lips, a violin, a pile of books, a suitcase, cigarette, Lego, heart, eye crying, a string tied around a finger, Maybe this is a spoiler, but here are the corresponding lessons: choose your destiny, read books like choosing music for a playlist, read only what is important to you, take risks (did I already mention that?), and so on.

Playlist: Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran,

Birth of the Beat Generation

Watson, Steven. The Birth of the Beat Generation” Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters, 1944 – 1960. Pantheon Books, 1995.

Reason read: Allen Ginsberg died in April. Read in his memory.

We begin by exploring the phrase “beat generation.” Where it came from and what does it mean. What exactly is a Beat? Were these people a brand new class of genius? Or were they just plain crazy? Maybe it is a cultural thing, but I was alarmed at the behaviors of some members of the group. The violence, self-mutilation, sexual escapades. Whether it was the drugs or their need to be seen as over the top artistic, I don’t know.
Birth of the Beat Generation does not only delve into the core members of the original group. Watson takes you behind the curtain to meet the mothers, girlfriends, wives, and muses of the Beats, the less often talked about women of the generation. They had their own addictions and mental failings, but they always played second fiddle to the boys. Everyone seemed to searching for sexual identity. Everyone seemed to be one card short of a full deck. Everyone slept with anyone, regardless of actual preference. Celebrity was a beast to be chased, but once caught, extremely hard to tame. To be a Beat you had to be a libertarian, write confessional poetry, be open to mind-bending drugs, sexual liberation, and embrace pacifism.
Birth of the Beat Generation is not your average book. It has unusual dimensions. The photography is sprinkled throughout like Easter eggs. Quotes, a slang dictionary, and fun facts are written in the margins. I appreciated the flow chart of players, when they met, their relationships to one another, and the seriousness of their connections. The best margin information was what was on everyone’s book shelves. I found that fascinating.

As an aside, I learned of two new words today. I want to use them often – bewilderness (I visit that place whenever I am at a festival) and “alcoholized”.
As another aside, this is the second book in as many months where someone cuts off their own digit. There is an amputation scene in Little Bee and William Burroughs does his thing…
As yet another aside, and you knew this was coming if you know anything about me. How could I not think of the 10,000 Maniacs song, “Hey, Jack Kerouac” while reading Birth of the Beat Generation? Especially when Natalie sings, “Allen baby, why so jaded? Have the boys all grown up and their beauty faded. Billy, what a saint they made you.” That particular line took on a whole new meaning when I read about Burroughs and his wife, Joan, and a little game they played called William Tell. In an interesting twist of fate, I sat in a jury pool room, waiting for #70 to be called when I was reading the part about the perjury of the witnesses.

Quotes to quote, “The notion of the anti-hero as icon – the underworld beautified – had already been partly codified” (p 72).

Author fact: Watson has his own website here. He has written a handful of other books, but I am only reading The Birth of the Beats.

Book trivia: At the end of the book there is a chronology of what the Beats were up to at the same time as the rest of the world, including when Tupperware was invented.

Playlist: Charlie Parker, “The Red Flag”, “On the Line”, “Last Night the Nightingale Woke Me”, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Brahms Trio Number One, Thelonious Monk, Bach’s Toccata, Edith Pilaf, “Too Close for Comfort”, “You Always Hurt the One You Love”, Leadbelly, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky Suit, Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Lee Konitz, “My Funny Valentine”, “Just You, Just Me”, Cal Tjader, “Deep in the Heart of Texas”, Pat Boone, Wagner’s “Gotterdammerung”, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, Steely Dan, David Bowie, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Frank Zappa, and John Cage.

Nancy said: Pearl commented on the same thing I did. She called the extra information in the margins cunning.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Beats and Their Generation” (p 17).

My Race Against Death

Rao, Shoba. My Race Against Death: Lessons Learned From My Health Struggles. Indie Books, 2023.

Reason read: as a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing I review interesting books.

Rao is fearless. Her need-to-know personality forced her to research the cause of her three different cancers and kidney failure so that she could erase the Why Me pity party from her vocabulary. She needed logic to trump random bad luck. When she found the protein called tumor protein p53 that acts as a tumor suppressor and found a software to read MRI scans, she became my hero. Her ability to stare each death sentence in the eye and not flinch was astounding. She had faith in logic, science, and technological advancements. The downside of such an analytical brain telling the story is that Rao comes across as detached, without much personality. Rao is fearless. Well, except when it comes to cats. Everything she explains is matter of fact. Memories are in fragments. The glimpses of her heart came during the advice section of her book. Her tone becomes warmer when talking about the future. [As an aside, I was reminded of Carrie in Sex and the City when she and the Russian were discussing Samantha’s cancer. Carrie was extremely upset when he compared Samantha’s situation to a friend who did not survive.]

As another aside, when I was reading the part when Rao’s doctor told her not to Google her diagnosis and she does, I was also watching an old episode of This Is Us when the doctor tells Kate’s family not to Google her diagnosis. It is human nature to peek into darkness, not matter how many monsters could potentially be hiding under the bed.

Book trivia: the illustrations are strange. The girl on the toilet is childlike compared to the portraits.

Making the Low Notes

Harrison, Bill. Making the Low Notes: A Life in Music. Open Books, 2023.

Reason read: as a member of LibraryThing’s Early Review Program, I sometimes review interesting books. This is one of those books.

Bill Harrison always wanted to be a musical Clark Kent…but with an accordion? Nope. A double bass. Something more sexy than the accordion…but not by much. Harrison knows how to laugh at himself and make his readers feel like they are in on the joke. His conversational tone makes his memoir more of a chat over a beer in a quiet bar. You lean closer to hear the confessions of his youth; the early days trying to make his way as a professional musician. Word to the wise. Don’t fall in love with Bill Harrison. He is not here to tell you much about his personal life. A monumental life event like meeting his forever partner and getting married will make barely a footnote. His emergency hospital stay gets more page time than any other momentous occasion. He is all about the music. He admits as much from the very beginning. The most meaningful chapter in the whole book (for me) was the last chapter when Harrison drew comparisons between music and therapy.

As an aside, I always love it when a book makes me connect to my own personal life in some way. When Harrison mentioned a 1966 Ford Galaxie 500 I had to laugh. A friend of mine removed the seats from same said vehicle and used them as couches in his garage. I have a picture of this friend, well into his teens, laughing with his brother on his new “couch.” Fond memories.
And you know I had to draw a connection to Natalie Merchant. Harrison mentions a version of “But Not For Me” but I’m sure Natalie did it better.

Book trivia: the inclusion of photographs was a nice surprise for an early review.

Like any decent, self-respecting book about music, there should be a lot of name-dropping of famous musicians as well as well-known songs. Here is the playlist. First, the people:
Al Hirt, Albert Ayler, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Artie Shaw, Bach, Beatles, Beethovem, Benny Golson, Benny Goodman, Bill Evans, Black Sabbath, Blind Faith, Bobby Hutchinson, Buddy Rich, Bunky Green, Cab Calloway, Carol Kaye, Carpenters, Cecil Taylor, Charles Mingus, Charlie Haden, Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Chick Corea, Chick Webb, Chopin, Christian McBride, Clark Terry, Cole Hawkins, Cole Porter, Count Basie, Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dave Brubeck, Dave Holland, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Dvorak, Earl Hines, Ed Blackwell, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Eric Dolphy, Fletcher Henderson, Frank Zappa, Freddie Hubbard, Gary Karr, Handel, Graham Nash, Greg Osby, Glenn Miller, Henry Eccles, Herbie Hancock, Herbie Nichols, Ing Rid, Jaco Pastorius, Jack DeJohnette, James Jameson, James Moody, Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull, Jim Hall, Jimmy Lunceford, Joe Henderson, John Abercrombe, John Coltrane, John Lennon, Karl Berger, Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Leland Sklar, Leonard Bernstein, Lester Young, Liberace, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Max roach, McCoy Tyner, Melissa Manchester, Miles Davis, Milford Graves, Mountain, Mozart, Ornette Coleman, Patsy Cline, Paul Chambers, Paul McCartney, Pharrell Williams, Phil Wilson, Police, Ray Brown, Ray Charles, Ringo, Rob Amster, Rolling Stones, Ron Carter, Ron Kubelik, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Sam Rivers, Santana, Sonny Rollins, Stanley Clarke, Steppenwolf, Steve Coleman, Stevie Wonder, Stewart Copeland, Swan, Talking Heads, Tchaikovsky, Thelonious Monk, Tom Fowler, Tommy Dorsey, Tony Williams, Three Dog Night, Traffic, Vince Guaraldi, Wayne Shorter, Willie Pickens, Woody Guthrie, Woody Herman Band, and I am sure I missed some people.

Now the song list: “Achey Breaky Heart”, “Bad Bad Leroy Brown”, “Beer Barrel Polka”, “Billy Boy”, “Billie’s Bounce”, “Billie Jean”, “Blue Danube Waltz”, “Brick House”, “Brown Eyed Girl”, “But Not For Me”, “Celebration”, “Chicken Dance”, “Christmas Song”, “Close to You”, “Dayenu”, “Day Tripper”, “Dick and Jane” “Do-Re-Me”, “Do What You Like”, Edelweiss, “Donna Lee”, “Ein Heldenben”, Ein Kleine Nachmusik, “Electric Slide”, “Faith of Our Fathers”, “Feelin’ Alright”, “For All We Know”, “Freebird”, “Giant Steps”, “Gimme Some Lovin'”, “Girl From Ipanema”, “Gloria’s Step”, “Good-night Ladies”, “Hang On Sloopy”, “Happy”, “Hava Nagila”, “Hello Dolly”, “Hokey Pokey”, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”, “I Will Survive”, “In the Summertime”, “Jingle Bells”, “Joy to the World”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “Just the Two of Us”, “Just the Way You Are”, “Kind of Blue”, “La Bamba”, “Lady of Spain”, “London Bridge”, “Louie Louie”, “Manteca”, “Margaritaville”, “Marines Hymn”, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”, “Night in Tunisia”, “O Christmas Tree”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “Old MacDonald”, “Old time Rock and Roll”, “Politician”, “Popular”, “Proud Mary”, “Satin Doll”, “Saving All My Love for You”, “So What”, “Some Other Time”, “Sonata in G Minor”, “Song for the Newborn”, “Stablemates”, “Stayin’ Alive”, “String of Pearls”, “Stripper”, “Sweet Caroline”, “That’s What Friends are For”, “There Is No Greater Love”, “Time After Time”, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, “Twist and Shout”, “Two-Part Inventions”, “Walkin’ After Midnight”, “Wind Beneath My Wings”, “Yankee Doodle”, “You are the Sunshine of My Life”, and I am sure I missed some songs.

Three Cups of Tea

Mortenson, Greg and David Oliver Relin. Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace – One School at a Time. Penguin Books, 2006.

What started as a quest to climb K2 became a much loftier goal for Greg Mortenson when he decided to become humanitarian extraordinaire. Fueled by losing his father early to cancer and losing his sister early to epilepsy, Mortenson knew he had to find a way to help the children of Baltistan obtain some semblance of an education. This would be his life’s work. This would be his tribute to the family members he lost too soon. It didn’t hurt that missionary work was imprinted on his brain when, as a newborn, his parents packed him up and relocated from Minnesota to Tanzania. Furthermore, Mortenson’s father founded Tanzania’s first teaching hospital, giving Mortenson big shoes to fill. This is the story we are led to believe when we first crack open Three Cups of Tea. Mortensen is too good to be true. If he wasn’t saving a woman from death during childbirth, he was building a vocational center for women. If he wasn’t building schools in record time, he was buying desks, teachers’ salaries, and books. If he wasn’t getting an American cataract surgeon to offer free surgeries, he was sending another doctor for specialized training or digging wells for the village of Skardu. Is there anything Mortensen can’t do that didn’t involve his broad shoulders or big hands?
One of my favorite parts of Three Cups of Tea is Relin’s mention of two other world travelers who happen to be women, Isabella Bird and Dervla Murphy.
As an aside, here is what really irks me. Relin (remember him? the other author credited with writing Three Cups of Tea?); he readily admits he wrote Three Cups of Tea; that they were his words, but Mortenson had lived the story. Why doesn’t Relin get more credit? Why doesn’t he go on a book tour and lead Mortenson around like Exhibit A in show-and-tell? Is it because an investigation described Three Cups of Tea as fabricated and most likely an outright lie? Many of the reviews I read either praised Mortenson for his humanitarian work or vilified him for misappropriation of funds and exaggerating his experiences. The reviews talk about the person more than the actual writing. I admit, I got a little flack for reading Three Cups of Tea because of the scandal.

A favorite line, “A shard of California sun gleamed in the stuffed monkey’s scuffed plastic eyes…” (p 46). Mortenson’s memory or Relin’s imagination?

Book trivia: Three Cups of Tea won the Kiriyama Prize.

Author fact: Here’s what scandal can do to an innocent. Relin committed suicide after the facts of Three Cups of Tea were called into question.

Playlist: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”,

Nancy said: Pearl said Three Cups of Tea is popular. I am assuming this was true before the scandal. Pearl only credits Mortensen with the writing of Three Cups of Tea.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia” (p 212).

Blue Plate

Christensen, Kate. Blue Plate Special: an Autobiography of My Appetites. Anchor Books, 2013.

Reason read: this was a gift from my sister. I think I have said it before, but I will say it again. I read everything she sends my way.

Truth. The tongue can hold memories longer than the heart; sometimes even longer than the mind. Childhood delicacies like soft boiled eggs and Tapioca pudding could bring author Kate Christensen back to six years old, much the same way a steaming hot bowl of Cream of Wheat with melting swirls of butter and sparkling brown sugar still can for me in my middle age. The thread of food is woven in and out of Christensen’s story, sometimes as a integral character and other times as supporting cast, pivotal moments are remembered as meals.
I have a lot in common with Kate. I can remember feeling exactly like her when, at seven years old, the best present in the world was to have a space, separate from the house, in which to hide from the world; a place to call my own. Another similarity was when she shared that she salivated at the thought of the breakfasts in Little House on the Prairie. I, too, had food envy.
There were a lot of unexpected aha moments while reading Blue Plate. It is strange how the trauma of events in childhood can inform decisions in adulthood without us knowing how or why.

Quote I really liked, “Now and again he paused, a venerable, wheezing monument, and the audience could not have told whether he was in pain, asleep, swimming, about to spawn, or merely taking a breath” (p 49).

Playlist: Artie Shaw, Anita O’Day, Alison Krauss, Anne Murray, Blood Sweat and Tears, the Beatles, Benny Goodman, Bach, Bee Gees, Bob Marley, Chicago, Cat Stevens, the Clash, Carole King’s “Tapestry”, the Dead, Donna Summer, Elton John, Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Costello, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”, Flying Cowboys, “I am Woman” by Helen Reddy, “Home in Oasadena”, Jayhawks, Joan Baez, Joan Armatrading, Led Zeppelin, “A Love Supreme”, Mingus, Monk, “Moonshiner”, Mozart’s “Requiem Mass” and “Laudate Dominum”, the O’ Jays, Olivia Newton-John, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky”, Rickie Lee Jones, Rolling Stones, Supertramp, the Specials, Sly & the Family Stone, Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”, Schubert’s “C Major Quartet”, “Star of the County Down”, “Top of the World”, Talking Heads, Vassar Clements, Wings, and War.

Author fact: Christensen has written a bunch of stuff and here is the really cool part. I was introduced to her writing thanks to my sister. What I have come to realize is that I have two other novels on my Challenge list. I will be reading In the Drink and Jeremy Thrane. Because I am a geek about schedules, I am reading both books in the month of July (in honor of New York becoming a state).

True Crime Solved

Moore, M. True Crime Solved: 27 Solved Cold Cases That Bring Closure to Disturbing Crimes. True Crime Seven, 2023.

Reason read: As part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I occasionally review books…duh. This book was a February choice.

Why are people so fascinated with crime? with serial killers? with unsolved cases? It must be a thing because there is a whole television network dedicated to people doing really bad things to other people and we love it. I’m no different. I requested this book out of curiosity.
Twenty-seven chapters for twenty seven crimes. Most of the time, the chapters are named for the victims, but every once in a while they showcase either the location of the death (Bear Brook) or the killer(s) like the Duval brothers or the killer clown.
Small piece of advice – parse the reading of these stories out over time. I read True Crime Solved in its entirety on a flight back to New England from Mexico. Each short chapter falls into a repetitive pattern: the crime, the policework at the time, the advent of technology revealing the name of the murderer, conviction and verdict of the trial. Every once in a while some unique or interesting piece of information would be introduced, like the teenage genealogist who helped authorities with a case or the fact that NY laws did not allow local authorities to test DNA against databases like Ancestrydotcom. Not all cases had closure like the title of the book suggests (like Butterfield was charged with the murder but chapter doesn’t mention if he was actually convicted). Other than small typos like weird capitalization or spelling issues, this was a fun read. My only wish was that it was not so formulaic.

As an aside, I had a difficult time adding this to my catalog. There are dozens of crime books on the publisher website but none really matched this particular title. Meh.