Shah, Tahir. The Caliph’s House: a Year in Casablanca. New York: Bantam Dell Books, 2006.
Reason read: Morocco’s independence was obtained in November.
Everyone has a story of an event in their lives; how they met their sparkling spouse, how they came into their fascinating occupation, how they started an odd hobby for which they are extremely passionate. The most interesting stories are the ones that are life changing; an abrupt 180 degree turn from where they used to be. A hobby turning into a business so they can quit their dead end job, for example. Tahir Shah has such a story in The Caliph’s House. The London based travel writer was looking to move to Morocco. Tired of grey weather and bland food, he wanted to get back to the culture of his ancestry. After many false starts a classmate of his mother’s contacted him out of the blue in 2004 with an offer he couldn’t refuse: the sale of Dar Khalifa, the once home of a Caliph, a spiritual leader of Casablanca. Even though this is a story about living through a house renovation it goes beyond tiles and plumbing. Shah explores what it means to buy and restore a house in a post 911 society. Morocco struggles to be a paradise of tolerance. At the same time, Shah becomes intimately and intensely aware of “how things get done” when he hires a man of ill repute to be his right hand man. Encounters with thieves, possible murderers, even the mob are the norm. But, it is the exorcism that readers all wait for with breath held. Who in their right mind would slaughter a goat in every room of a mansion-sized abode?
Most startling takeaway – even Casablanca has a mafia.
Quote to quote, “There was a sadness in the still of the dusk” (p 1). Yes! I have always felt the melancholy amid the gloaming, especially on Monhegan. I can’t explain it.
Some funny quotes, “We were both blinkered by our upbringings” (p 105), “The nervous man pulled the lid off one of the toilets and fishes out half a dozen samples of cedar” (p 294), “But it was the first time I had hired a troupe of exorcists, and I didn’t know the protocol” (p 314), and “I like my meat to be anonymous, severed from its connection to life” (p 318). Don’t we all?
Author fact: Shah has a few videos on YouTube, including one of a tour of Dar Khalifa that is pretty cool. He talks about having to placate the Jinns and how he ended up having a grand exorcism with twenty-four exorcists.
Book trivia: the illustrations by Laura Hartman Maestro are wonderful, but what is most impressive is the assumed photograph of Dar Khalifa.
Nancy said: Pearl just describes a tiny bit of the plot.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “So We/I Bought or Built a House In…” (p 210).
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- The Race of Scorpions by Dorothy Dunnett (EB/print). Detailed.
- Finding the Dream by Nora Roberts (EB). Cute but glad the series is over.
- 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.
Lessing, Doris. African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe.New York: Harper Collins, 1992.
Reason read: to celebrate Lessing’s birth month in October.
Even though Doris Lessing was born to British parents in Iran and didn’t move to Southern Rhodesia until she was six, Lessing called the African continent her homeland. She spent twenty-four years there until she moved to London, England. African Laughter is a very personal memoir about four trips back to Zimbabwe after being exiled for twenty-five years.
Interestingly enough, the title African Laughter comes from Lessing’s joy of hearing Africans laugh. “The marvelous African laughter born somewhere in the gut, seizing the whole body with good-humoured philosophy” (p 80).
Confessional: there were times when I got lost in Lessing’s chronology. An example: Lessing is visiting her brother and describing a scene languishing on the verandah. Her brother’s two Alsatians (popular dogs as pets in Africa) are lounging nearby. One dog in particular, Sheba, hungers for Lessing’s female attentions. Lessing then seamlessly goes on to describe how Sheba finally attached herself to her male owner only to be strangled to death in some loose wire at the end of a fence. Because she doesn’t reference two periods in time I wasn’t sure when this happened. Subsequent mentions of poor Sheba are depressing, knowing her sad demise.
Lines I liked, “All writers know the state of trying to remember what actually happened, rather than what was invented, or half invented, a meld of truth and fiction” (p 72) and “With a library and perhaps some sympathetic adult to advise them, there in nothing in the world they cannot study” ( p 206).
Author fact: Lessing was born in Iran in 1919.
Book trivia: African Laughter has some great insight into other books Lessing has written, like The Golden Notebook.
Nancy said: Nancy mentioned African Laughter as one of the books she found “engrossing” after she had written the “Dreaming of Africa” section in Book Lust.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Zipping Through Zimbabwe/Roaming Rhodesia” (p 268).
Morris, Jan, ed. The Oxford Book of Oxford. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.
Reason read: Morris’s birth month is in October. Read in her honor.
The grand and illustrious Oxford University. What can you aay about an institution which has its foundation firmly planted in the Middle Ages? Jan Morris carefully selected the best documentation across history to give readers an accurate portrayal of one of the world’s oldest and respected institutions. Using a comprehensive inclusion of journal entries, letters, poetry, newspaper articles, institution records and recollections, memoirs and memories Oxford University from 1200 – 1945 is exposed and celebrated.
- Professor Buckland, the legendary carnivore supposedly ate the one of the Kings of France’s carefully preserved heart.
- Theologian and president of Magdalen for 63 years, Martin Routh, was extremely funny.
Quotes to quote, “Proud Prelate, you know what you were before I made you; if you do not immediately comply with my request, by G-d I will unfrock you. Elizabeth.” (p 46), “I really think, if anyone should ask me what qualifications were necessary for Trinity College, I should say there was only one, Drink, drink, drink” (p 182).
Author fact: Jan also wrote under the name James and was transgender. She underwent sex “reassignment” in 1972, way before Bruce Jenner made it a television event.
Book trivia: The Oxford Book of Oxford has some great photographs of the buildings that make up Oxford. My copy had a stamp from the San Mateo Public Library which on the book pocket read, “Questions answered.” I wish they could tell me the one exception to Morris’s dedication!
Nancy said: The Oxford Book of Oxford “is a good place to get an overview of the city” (Book Lust To Go p 170). I would slightly disagree inasmuch that The Oxford Book of Oxford (EDITED by Morris) is predominantly about the institution and the colleges that make up Oxford rather than the city itself. I would like to think Pearl meant to include the travel book simply called Oxford written BY Morris. Maybe she did. At the end of the chapter she references Morris’s Oxford which is a different book and yet NOT in the index of Book Lust To Go.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Oxford” (p 170). See my ramblings in “Nancy said” for more.
Halleck, Leslie F. Gardening Under Lights: the Complete Guide for Indoor Growers. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2018.
Reason read: this book was sent as an Early Review for the LibraryThing program.
Right away, the first thing to notice about Gardening Under Lights is how gorgeous is the physical book. The colors, fonts and photographs are beautiful. The second thing to notice is Halleck’s humor and easy going language. The information is a mix of Let Me Break This Down For You and technical and expert information. The first chapter, Why Plants Need Light, offers a simple explanation for the premise of the entire book. From there, the information is thorough and detailed. Every aspect of growing plants is covered, from growing conditions to containers; from diseases to how deep to dig; from selecting the right lighting bulbs to sowing, watering, culling, cutting, rooting, transplanting, harvesting, and propagating. My favorite section was in the middle about edible plants like herbs (I struggle with cilantro bolting) and vegetables, but the section on diseases was a close second.
As an aside, I plan to loan this book to a friend and I have a suspicion I won’t get it back!
Roth, Hal. Always a Distant Anchorage. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1988.
Reason read: October is Library Friend month. I had to borrow this book from Byfield, Massachusetts; a town I have never heard of before.
Hal and Margaret Roth had an epic mission to sail around the world. Good thing they had the kind of relationship that could withstand being trapped together on a boat for nearly two years (46 months)! Their boat, Whisper, was a 10.7 meters long, black hulled fiberglass vessel that weighed 7.2 tons.
Their journey took them from the coast of Maine to Bermuda and the Virgin Islands, though the Panama Canal, across the South Pacific, winding through Tahiti and Fiji, crossing the Coral Sea and Australia, Bali, Africa, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, and finally back through the Atlantic and the Caribbean, ending in Somes Sound, Maine. The amazing thing is, Roth did not come from a sailing background. Luckily, he was a gifted writer and this is his account of that epic journey (with excerpts from Margaret’s journal thrown in). Weather, fishing, the mechanics of boats and sailing, the culture and customs of each community and port, getting to know and establishing relationships with other sailors, even being shipwrecked on coral reef and observing drug runners. Everything Roth writes about is fascinating. He loves the word “squally.”
As an aside, Roth’s description of Greece makes me want to visit even more.
Quote to giggle over: from Margaret’s journal, “I don’t know why men have to swear when they fix things” (p 81).
Another quote, “I don’t mind the prayers and the ritual washing that used up my buckets of fresh water, but I wished the pilot had made some sign to me that he was giving up steering” (p 219). One last quote, “What was life anyway but a collection of new timbers, the seasoning and shaping into a useful hull, the long voyage, a gradual collapse, and the final rotting away (p 303)?
Author fact: Roth also wrote We Followed Odysseus which I will be reading a few years.
Book trivia: the hand drawn maps are fantastic, but the photographs are great too! I wish there had been more of the couple. On the back cover there is a photograph I must describe because it is so intimate and lovely: Margaret is cradled between Hal’s legs. She is clutching his bare foot while he has one arm casually slung over her shoulder. His hand barely brushes her breast…
Nancy said: Always a Distant Anchorage is “the perfect choice for those who dream of one big voyage” (p 201).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “See the Sea” (p 201).