Notes of a Native Son

Baldwin, James. Notes of a Native Son. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.

Reason read: November is National Writing Month. I chose Notes of a Native Son under the category of essays.

I have to start off by saying Notes of a Native Son was way too short. I felt that Baldwin could have kept writing and writing. His essays held such clarity and truth they could have been written last year, last month, or even last week. Ranging from an analytical commentary of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to remembering the time he was jailed in Paris for allegedly stealing a bedsheet, Baldwin expresses his place in society with the utmost frankness. The most tender of moments came when writing about his father, a man with which he had a complicated relationship.

Quotes to quote about hate, “Hate is a very fertile yet dangerous place from which to draw creativity” (p 37), and “I imagine that one of those reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain” (p 91). So true.
Another line I liked, “This seals the action off, as it were, in a vacuum in which the spectacle of color is divested of danger” (p 45).

Author fact: Did you know Baldwin was a preacher for three years, from the age of 14 to 17, or that he was a waiter at 22?

Book trivia: Baldwin talks about writing his first novel. It was interesting to hear about the process.

Nancy said: Pearl said Baldwin is an essayist not to miss.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Essaying Essays” (p 80).


The World I Fell Into

Reid, Melanie. The World I Fell Into: What Breaking My Neck Taught Me About Life. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2021.

Reason read: This is the September offering from LibraryThing’s Early Review program.

Here is the coincidental thing about reading The World I Fell Into by Melanie Reid. It came at the same time I was finishing up Inside the Halo by Maxine Kumin. Two very similar stories about an accident involving a horse and breaking bones in the author’s neck and/or back. Maxine had to wear a halo device to keep her neck and head stabilized while her bones fused. Melanie, at 52 years old, was paralyzed from the chest down. Both of them went through extensive rehabilitation to learn to live with their injuries. Both of them have a form of writing as a successful career (Maxine is a poet and Melanie is a journalist). Both of them are mothers with complicated relationships. Their lives post-accident is where their stories truly diverge.
Where Melanie’s story diverges from Maxine’s is at the “happily ever after” part of the story. Maxine makes a near-full recovery from her accident while most of The World I Fell Into is about the loss of life as Melanie once knew it. When one reviewer called it “lacerating” they weren’t wrong. Reid’s journey to acceptance is a painful one to travel.
As an aside, I am 52 years old. One of the most heartbreaking moments, for me at least, was when Reid asked for one of her 10k race shirts. She thought of it as a symbol of who she was and who she would return to being. When she fully realized she would never run again she grew so embarrassed she threw it away. Another moment was when she wrote about her skin yearning for moisturizer. She deserves someone who would carefully, lovingly take the unwieldy jar with its impossible lid and once opened, with that same care and love, rub the cream into her skin. Then I thought, who am I kidding? I want that intimacy for myself.

Author fact: Melanie has won awards for her journalism.

Book trivia: The World I Fell Into includes some black and white photographs of Melanie pre and post accident and was originally published in the UK in 2019.

Playlist: Sister Sledge’s “We are Family,” “Heartbeat” by Nicole Scherzinger and Enrique Inglesias, “Sex is On Fire” by Kings of Leon, “Human” by the Killers, and musicians Janis Joplin, Roy Orbison & Bruce Springfield.


Desiree

Race, Peggy. Desiree: the Music of My Soul. Texas: Black Rose Writing, 2021.

Reason read: as a member of LibraryThing I review books for the Early Review program. This is the August 2021 selection.

There is no doubt in my mind Peggy Race has had her share of heartbreak. This is how one dog was able to mend her heart and put her on a path of purpose. Losing her second husband of only nine months to a freakish accident, Peggy was lost. Dogs became her lifeline. One dog in particular became her saving grace.
Confessional: this took me a really long time to read. The language is extremely flowery, for lack of a better way to describe it. The overuse of the word “as” became obsessively distracting. I became acutely aware of every time it was used as an adverb, conjunction, or preposition. It just seemed to be everywhere. Additionally, every sentence with “ing” as a suffix was equally distracting. There seem to be a formula to Race’s writing because “like” imagery was everywhere: “Like a film reel…” “Like the waters of Katrina…” “Like a blank chalkboard…” “Like a soundtrack of songs…” “Like a fresh coat of paint…” I could go on and on. I loved the story. I loved Peggy’s devotion to puppy mill dogs and her volunteerism brought me to tears at times. I just couldn’t synch with her writing style.

As an aside, I am addicted to a voyeuristic show called “Murder, Suicide, Accident.” Each episode is dedicated to a person’s questionable death. There is a certain formula to the show. Someone finds the body and from all outward appearances it looks like either a suicide or an accident. Enter the medical examiner, pathologist, and autopsy reports. Suggestable evidence points to something quite different happened. Experts agree something isn’t sitting well with the evidence. At the same time loved ones are interviewed and their words support a particular slant – “She was depressed and mentioned suicide to me.” “They were fighting a lot right before he died. She threatened to leave. The cops were called a few times.” “She was always getting hurt and was very accident prone.” The viewer starts to make judgements on the nature of death until there is a killer’s confession, suicide note, or irrefutable evidence pointing to an accident. Terry’s death could be featured on this show. Family would argue Terry was an expert rider. Would he work in a closed garage with a motorcycle running? Would he intentionally kill himself leaving his worldly belongings to an ex-girlfriend only nine months after marrying Peggy? Both of these actions seen short-sighted and slightly daft.

Playlist: “Thank God for Kids,” “God Bless the USA,” “I will Remember You,” “Have You Ever Been in Love,” “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.

Author fact: Race has written other books about rescuing dogs.

Book trivia: there were no photographs in my copy of Desiree.

Line I hope is kept in the final publishing, “Plowing through the uncultivated boundaries of my heart, I managed the feelings that came with loss” (p 6). That is what you do, isn’t it? You keep charging through unrefined emotions, just trying to keep your sh!t together.


Testament of Friendship

Brittain, Vera. Testament of Friendship. New York: Seaview Books, 1981.

Reason read: I dropped the ball on finishing Brittain’s trilogy. I was supposed to read this in August. Woops.

As both Carolyn G. Heilbrun and Vera Brittain noted in her introduction and preface respectively, the recording of a friendship between women is rare. Both Heilbrun and Brittain cited the Biblical relationship between Ruth and Naomi as being one of the few female friendships not only documented but widely accepted. Brittain set out to record her sixteen year friendship with Winfred Holtby and produce a detailed biography of a woman who died too soon, “She seemed too vital and radiant a creature for death to touch” (p 1). Indeed. It is stunning to think what Holtby could have accomplished when you think she was writing poetry by the age of eight and by age eleven was published. [Okay, okay. So her mother paid to have the poems published.] She was the Charlotte Bronte of her time. On a personal note, I think women should celebrate their friendships more often. This prompted me to reach out to friends I’ve known for nearly 40 years.

Author fact: Brittain was the author of 29 books. I am only reading the three Testament books for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Testament of Friendship does not contain any photographs. Too bad.

Setlist: “Fight the Good Fight,” “Give Me the Moonlight,” “Because,” “Until,” and “K-K-K-Katy.”

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Testament of Friendship except to say that it continues the trilogy Brittain started with Testament of Youth.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Living Through War” (p 154).


Moneyball: the Art of Winning an Unfair Game

Lewis, Michael. Moneyball: the Art of Winning an Unfair Game. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2004.

Reason read: the World Series is held in October every year. Read in honor of baseball’s biggest moment.

On the surface, Moneyball is about the Oakland Athletics baseball team. They don’t have enough money to buy the big name players and yet they keep winning. Their manager, Billy Beane, is working some kind of statistical magic. What is his secret to success? As Lewis takes his readers on a strange journey into the world of armchair pitchers and amateur baseball theorists I couldn’t help but think of a Dungeons and Dragons meets sports enthusiast group of geeks. This is truly a book with a dual audience. Moneyball, for obvious reasons, appeals to the sports fanatic, but the nerd with a mathematical slant can geek out as well. To win one must understand sabermetrics.

Author fact: Speaking of geeking out. I had a moment when I found out Lewis is married to Tabitha Soren.

Book trivia: Moneyball was made into a movie in 2011 starring Brad Pitt. You guessed it. I haven’t seen it.

Nancy said: Pearl said Moneyball turned her into an Oakland A’s fan.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 700s” (p 71).


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1974.

Reason read: Pirsig’s birth month is in the month of September.

When you are traveling across the country on a motorcycle, you have more than enough time to analyze the world around you in ways you wouldn’t if you chose to passively ride in a car or fly by plane. Pirsig takes his love of motorcycle maintenance and equates it to examining the way we live. If you excuse the didactic moments that seem holier than thou, he even shares opinions on how to live that life a little better. These philosophical monologues are referred to as Chautauquas. Under the guise of a summer trip across America with an unknown protagonist (common knowledge it is Pirsig himself), his son, Chris, and two companions, Pirsig delves into the life of Phaedrus (his past self), meditation, and philosophy. He uses his friend, John, to illustrate the difference between the mindful exploration and ignorant bliss. While the unnamed narrator (Pirsig) constantly tunes his machine, John prefers to not know anything about how his engine runs. This equates to the two men seeing the world differently. The author learns to care deeply for anything that involves his life while John prefers to let a mechanic do all the maintenance in life. The narrator is anxious to teach John his ways and patiently waits for his motorcycle to break down so he can be the hero and enlighten him. For me, the book gets interesting when John and his wife go they separate way. The narrator and his son are left to travel the rest of the journey alone. The reasoning of temperate reason versus dark passion is fascinating.

Quotes I liked, “Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive” (p 187), “The real purpose of scientific method is to make sure Nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you don’t actually know” (p 256), “The dog has a certain relationship to the wolf the shepherd may have forgotten” (p 412), and “I’m hanging onto my temper now” (p 497).

Author fact: Pirsig also wrote Lila: an Inquiry into Morals. I am not reading it for the Challenge even though it is the sequel to Zen. Zen is the only book I am reading.
Another author fact: Pirsig wrote instruction manuals for a living, but went home every night to work on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This reminded me of Joan Didion and how she would work at Vogue during the day but come home at night to work on her own novels.

Book trivia: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a work of fictionalized autobiography.

Nancy said: Pearl called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a classic; highly readable and indispensable.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Beckoning Road” (p 19).


A Seat at the Table

Raphael, Amy. A Seat at the Table. London: Virago, 2020.

Reason read: I wanted to read this when it was first published in Great Britain in 2019 because I heard the interview with Natalie Merchant was pretty interesting. I ordered it on Amazon. Two years later, it finally showed up.

You hear stories by the hundreds about women in the music industry having a difficult time “making it.” This could be said for almost every male-dominated industry but it seems music has the hardest stereotypes to break. Musicians in general are supposed to be larger than life superstars. Sex symbols. Unobtainable idols high up on that stage. This was a role for men while women demurely sang backup or tapped a tambourine against a swiveling hip. Women as lead singers, guitarists, drummers, producers, DJs, and song writers were not to be taken seriously. Amy Raphael returns with a second book of interviews, tackling these subjects and more.
As an aside, I can remember a musician friend telling me she couldn’t let the fans know she was married to her bassist because it would “ruin the fantasy” for some followers (his and hers). Gulp. Natalie Merchant was badgered during her younger years in 10,000 Maniacs to wear tighter, sexier clothes. Nowadays, she’s getting grief about letting her hair go gray.

Playlist:

  • Jessica Curry
    • Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
  • Maggie Rogers
    • Alaska
    • Better
  • Emmy the Great
    • First Love
    • Virtue
    • Second Love
    • Constantly
    • Three Cities
  • Dream Wife
    • F.U.U.
    • Somebody
  • Natalie Merchant
    • Tigerlily
    • Motherland
    • Texas
    • What’s The Matter Here?
  • Lauren Mayberry
    • The Bones of What You Believe
    • Love is Dead
  • Poppy Ajudha
    • Love Falls Down
    • Spilling Into You
    • Tepid Soul
    • She is the Sum
  • Kalie Shorr (from Portland, Maine)
    • Fight Like a Girl
    • He’s Just Not into You
    • Two Hands,
  • Tracey Thorn
    • Eden
    • Missing
    • A Distant Shore
    • Walking Wounded
    • Temperamental
  • Mitski – who had the best quote, “In a way I am always in translation” (p 234).
    • Bag of Bones
    • Lush
    • Retired from Sad, New Career in Business
    • Bury Me at Makeout Creek
    • Puberty 2
    • Be the Cowboy
  • Catherine Marks
  • Georgia
    • Come
    • Georgia
  • Clara Amfo
  • Alison Moyet:
    • Winter Kills
    • Nobody’s Diary
    • Situation
    • Don’t Go
  • Hole:
    • Miss World
    • Softer Softest
  • Debbie Harry:
    • Heart of Glass
  • Christine and the Queens:
    • Girlfriend
    • iT
    • Be Freaky
  • Ibeyi:
    • Deathless
    • Ash
    • River
    • Mama Says
    • Ghosts
    • No Man is Big Enough for My Arms
  • Nadine Shah:
    • Love Your Dum
    • Fast Food
    • Stealing Cars
    • Holiday Destination
  • Kate Tempest:
    • Everybody Down
  • Other (my apologies if I missed someone):
    • 10,000 Maniacs
    • A – Anita Mui, Archie Marsh, Annie Lennox, Ani DiFranco, Anna Calri, Adele, Aztec Camera, Alanis Morrissette, Al Jarreau, Al Green, Amy Winehouse
    • B – Backstreet Boys, Blondie, Best Coast, Billy Bragg, the Beach Boys, Bjork, Bob Dylan, Britney, Belle & Sebastian, Bon Iver, Bright Eyes, The Beatles, Blak Twang, Bahamadía, Bikini Kill, Beck, Billy Boy Arnold, Beyoncé, Buzzcocks, Brian Eno, Buju Banton, Biggie Smalls, Blur, Breeders, Beethoven, Bridget St. John, Buena Vista Social Club, Bob Marley, Bauhaus, Boomtown Rats, Britney Spears, Big Star, Bonnie Tyler
    • C – Cardi B., Connie Traverse, Carly Rae Jepson, the Cure, Cocteau Twins, the Clash, Cole Porter, Christina Aguilera, Confucius MC, Chester P., Cream, the Cranberries, Cat Stevens, CHVRCHES, Crowded House, the Carpenters
    • D – Dixie Chicks, Diane Cluck, Dr. Feelgood, D’Angelo, Depeche Mode, David Bowie, DELS, Damon Albam, Diana Ross, Daft Punk, Debbie Harry, Daniel Johnston
    • E – Elastica, Elephant Man, Ella Fitzgerald, Erykah Badu, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Edie Piaf, Everything but the Girl
    • F – Faces, Foals, the Fureys, Ferry Lawrenson, Fairport Convention, Feminist Frequency, Florence Welch, Fungazi, Faye Wong, Fiona Apple, Faith Hill, the Frames
    • G – Guns ‘N Roses, Ghostface Killah, Green Day, Gustav Holst, Gravediggaz, Genesis, Glen Hansard, Gang of Four
    • H – Harlocks, Hot Chocolate
    • I – Ian Drury
    • J – Jeff Buckley, John Bonham, Jarvis Crocker, Jack the Lad, Jah Shaka, Jack White, Jimi Hendrix, Jaco Pastorius, Joni Mitchell, Jill Scott, Jacques Brel, Joanna Newson, Jesus and Mary Chain, Janis Joplin, Jimmy Cliff, Joy Division, Joan Jett
    • K – Karen Dalton, the Killers, Karen O, Kimya Dawson, Keith Jarrett, Kate Bush, the Kinks, Kathleen Hanna, Kelly Rowland, Kanye West, Kwes, Kelela
    • L – Laura Branigan, the Lettermen, Leftfield, Lauryn Hill, Leslie Cheung, Leonard Cohen, Liam Gallagher, Led Zeppelin, Lily Allen, Le Tigre, Luther Vandross
    • M – Missy Elliot, My Bloody Valentine, M.I.A., Marine Girls, Metallica, Mary J Blige, Mo Def, Moldy Peaches, Mariah Carey, Miles Davis, Michael Jackson, Meshell Ndegocell, Madonna, Mirah, Mos Def, Melanie, Michael Stipe, Meg White, The Microphones, Marvin Gaye, Marvelettes, Massive Attack, Micachu, Martin Gore, Mozart
    • N – N.E.R.D., Nick Cave, Nirvana, Nadine Shah, Nina Simone, New Order, New Christy Minstrels, Nick Drake
    • O – Orange Juice, Organized Konfusion, Outkast
    • P – Paramour, Pussycat Dolls, the Pretenders, Peter Tosh, the Police, Paul Simon, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Platters, Pharoahe Monch, Pantera, Poly Styrene, Prince, Pharrell Williams, Patti Smith, Pixies, P!nk, Pussycat Dolls, PJ Harvey, Paul Weller, Pig Bag
    • R – Reba McEntire, Ringo Starr, Rebecca Black, Rolling Stones, Radio Head, Ryan Adams, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Robbie Williams
    • S – Slipknot, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Solange, Shania Twain, St. Vincent, Sound of Rum, Stone Roses, Spice Girls, Selena Gomez, Smashing Pumpkins, Sleepers, Skinnyman, the Supremes, Style Council, the Shirells, Sade, Sandy Denny, Sleater-Kinney, Steely Dan, the Shangri-Las, Sujan Stevens, Sonic Youth, Status Quo, the Smiths, Sugababies, the Saturdays, Spear of Destiny, the Slits, Solange Knowles, Serg Gainsbourgh, Sigrid
    • T – Tom Robinson Band, Tallest Man on Earth, Talking Heads, Taylor Swift, Tina Turner Tchaikovsky, Tracy Chapman, Take That, T-Rex, Tegan and Sara
    • U – U2
    • V – Vince Clark, Vampire Weekend, Vivaldi, Velvet Underground
    • W – White Stripes, Wilko Johnson, Wolf Alice, Weezer, Whitney Houston, the Who
    • X – X-Ray Specs, XTC
    • Y – the Young Marble Giants, Yazoo, Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs

To See and See Again

Bahrampour, Tara. To See and See Again: a Life in Iran and America. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999.

Reason read: The Portland Public Library Reading Challenge has a category called “a book by an Iranian or Iranian American author.”

Tara Bahrampour was eleven years old at the height of the Islamic Revolution. As the bullets flew over garden walls, she and her family escaped Iran to the Pacific Northwest with one suitcase each. Old enough to remember her Iranian culture, but young enough to embrace America’s freedoms, Bahrampour balanced two very different lifestyles in her heart and mind. Having an Iranian father and American mother partially helped Bahrampour navigate the divide while she was young. When Bahrampour returns to Iran for a wedding, she is the first in her family after fifteen years to do so. The perspective from a twenty-six year old woman blossoms from remembered street games and childhood toys into the realities of the treatment of women, ceremony surrounding meals, and the strict regime after the Islamic Revolution. She is understandably nostalgic for the Tehran of her youth but fiercely protective of her Americanized viewpoints and attitudes. At first Bahrampour is naïve to the changes of her homeland’s rule and is shocked when she has trouble repossessing her American passport or when she hears stories of people escaping the military by wearing sheepskin and crawling over the border with a herd of sheep. Reality sets in when she is detained for talking to two blond tourists. As a Moslem Iranian woman officials fear her morality could be in danger. In the end, aside from rebuffing marriage proposal after marriage proposal, Bahrampour comes to an understanding about where she belongs. The Iran of her youth has left an indelible mark on her memory. At the core, it is who she is no matter where she goes.

Quotes to quote, “Everyone was so dazzled with what they wanted Iran to be that they missed seeing what it was” (p 248) and “…if that is how it is with loss – that you never really let go of the thing you are missing” (p 356).

Author fact: Bahrampour has written for predominantly New York-based publications. To See and See Again is her first memoir.

Book trivia: Each chapter is introduced with a black and white photograph. Nothing more, nothing less.

Playlist: “Love Story,” “Grease is the Word,” “You’re in My Heart” by Rod Stewart, “Barbara Ann” by the Beach Boys, “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA, “Slip-Slidin’ Away” by Paul Simon Iron Maiden, Slayer, Boney M., Supertramp, REO Speedwagon, the Bee Gees, “Carry on Wayward Son,” “I am a Woman in Love,” Chris Isaak, Michael Jackson’s Thriller,” “Tavern in the Town,” “Cider Through a Straw,” Ace of Base, Metallica, Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, and of course, Bahrampour’s mother, Karen Alexander.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about To See and See Again except to describe the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Iran” (p 107).


Lindbergh

Berg, Scott A. Lindbergh. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1998.

Reason: Charles Lindbergh died in the month of August – read in his memory.

From the moment Charles Lindbergh watched the Aeronautical Trials at Fort Meyer in June of 1912, he was hooked on planes and flying. Watching the maneuvers sparked his young mind’s imagination. Fast forward fifteen years and May 21st, 1927 is a date for the record books. It is the date Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, nonstop between America and Europe.
As an aside, I think it’s fantastic that Lindbergh made the Spirit of St. Louis trip in 33 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds. That’s one for the numerophiles. From that moment on Lindbergh became a global sensation. Like a folk hero, dozens of songs and poetry were written for and about him. A dance was created in his name. People wrote books and plays about his achievement and clamored to have a piece of his fame for their very own. For men and women alike, touching him was like experiencing nirvana. To talk to him was like seeing the face of God. He was that famous.
But Charles Lindbergh was not just a pilot. Flying aside, he became interested in finding a way to transplant body organs safely. He became interested in Anne Morrow, enough to marry her and have a son. Thus began Lindbergh’s second bout with unwanted notoriety. When his first born son was kidnapped and killed the entire world was rapt with the horrific drama. Every update had people sitting on the edge of their seats. How could this happen to a famous colonel? When the tragedy had come to its terrible conclusion Lindbergh wanted to give up all aspects of aviation. It all led to publicity. The fame and notoriety got to be too much. Then came the Louise Brooks-like slide into scandal. The world was positioned for another Great War and this time Lindbergh was making headlines for all the wrong reasons. He had been enamored with the Germans for their ingenuity for a long time, but siding with them at this tumultuous time was the absolute wrong move. Berg’s biography of Lindbergh is thorough and compelling through the good, the bad and the ugly.

As another aside, Berg reports Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Morrow, was a “prime exemplar of someone who devoted her life to public service through volunteerism.” That’s all well and good, but if my annual income from only interest and dividends from stocks and bonds was approximately $300,000 (in 1930s dollars), I too would be spending a great deal of time volunteering. If I didn’t need to punch a time clock to pay my bills what else could I do with the hours of my day?

Author fact: Berg was the first and only writer to have been given unrestricted access to the Lindbergh archives.

Book trivia: Lindbergh includes three sections of black and white photographs.

Playlist: “Star-Spangled Banner,” “Marseillaise,” “When Lindy Comes Home,” “Der Lindberghflug,” “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” and “Eternal Light,”

Nancy said: Pearl points out Lindbergh contains a beautiful and moving chapter on Lindbergh’s flight.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Flying Above the Clouds” (p 89).


Leadership Essentials You Always Wanted to Know

Picardi, Carrie. Leadership Essentials You Always Wanted to Know. Vibrant Publishers, 2021.

I should preface this review by saying I read Leadership Essentials on my phone. I have no idea what the print version will look like. The very first thing I noticed about Leadership Essentials is that it is a very short book. It’s made even shorter by pages of expert reviews, a page of author information, a page for acknowledgements, a page of a table of contents, and a few blank pages thrown in for good measure. The second thing to jump out at me was the discount code for three books for the price of two. That set the tone for me. It’s all about the sale.
As an author fact, Picardi is also a professor which is apparent when she presents learning objectives as deliverables for her book. I thought that was a nice touch – here is what I promise you will get out of this book. Not many “self help” books do that. What I didn’t appreciate were the quizzes – at least on the phone. When I went to find the answers (using the outside link) I was confronted with someone wanting to chat with me. There was no clear way to find just the answers so I gave up. I also gave up reading the book entirely because, at least on the phone, it wasn’t user-friendly. Picardi gives sound advice on how to be a good leader. I just found the delivery method to be lacking.

Book trivia: Leadership Essentials is part of a self learning management series.


The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Kamkwamba, William and Bryan Mealer. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. New York: Puffin Books, 2015.

Reason read: Recognizing the Malawi cabinet crisis of August 1964.

William Kamkwamba was no ordinary child from Malawi. He had imagination, ambition, and a curiosity that couldn’t be kept down even when his family couldn’t afford to send him to school. His drive was to improve his family’s situation after a severe drought left the landscape barren and his community on the brink of starvation, but really he loved to learn. He loved school so much he found a way to sneak into classes after he had been kicked out for nonpayment. Once found out he resorted to borrowing books at the library. One particular physics textbook resonated with him. Using money from a wealthy friend and the knowledge gained from reading and scrounging for supplies anywhere he could find them (flip flops, his father’s bicycle, melted PVC pips, the spring from a ball point pen…) Kamkwamba set out to build a windmill. His first invention in 2001 was modest, creating enough power to light a lightbulb. From there, Kamkwamba went bigger – big enough to charge cellphones and light his parent’s living room. The bigger the windmill, the more he could power. Soon his ambition went beyond his family and friends to extend to his entire community of Wimbe and he attracted the attention of powerful people. Doors opened across the world for Kamkwamba.

As an aside, I had a penpal from Malawi. He was killed in a car accident.

Author fact: William Kamkwamba received a degree from Dartmouth.

Book trivia: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind became a NetFlix documentary.

Playlist: Dolly Parton, Black Missionaries, Billy Kaunda, and “Silent Night.”

Nancy said: Pearl called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind “heartwarming (but not soppy) and inspiring.” She also gave a shout out to librarians and libraries.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 7).


Playing Ball on Running Water

Reynolds, David K., Playing Ball on Running Water: the Japanese Way to Building a Better Life. New York: Quill, 1984.

Reason read:

Morita psychotherapy is Japan’s answer to Freud. There are so many different takeaways from Playing Ball on Running Water. How about this: live life. Don’t think about it or talk about it. Just live life. How about that for simple?
Think about this philosophy: you can never step into the same river twice. As you can tell, this short book resonated with me in more ways than I expected. I struggle with procrastination (otherwise known as avoidance) and social anxiety. Reynolds addresses both. On a personal level the strange phenomenon is once I address the issue I had been previously avoiding I am pleasantly surprised at how easy completion turned out to be. Like going to a party for example. I dread the arrival, but on the way home I’ll reflect on the event, and ultimately be pleased with myself that I went. My takeaway is to be as present as possible. Sometimes, paying very close attention and staying focused will clear the mind. A tea ceremony, for example, is set at a very deliberate pace. There is no rushing the event and each moment is well-practice, providing a safe space for familiarity.
The second half of Playing Ball on Running Water is a series of short stories that illustrate the Moritist principles. The entire book is constructed to help the reader play ball on running water.
As an aside – another interesting aspect of awareness is the art of combining different foods to make unusual meals for variety. Would peanut butter and pickle sandwiches count?

Lines I liked, “When our attention is alert to notice what reality has brought to us in this moment and to fit ourselves to it by doing what needs to be done, we are living fully during each of those waking hours” (p 56), “Risk and struggle are essential to life” (p 60), and “…I know that these tactics for playing ball on running water are helpful for the extremely sensitive person” (p 96).

Author fact: Reynolds lived in Japan for awhile and spent time in Zen Buddhist and Tendai Buddhist temples.

Book trivia: Playing Ball on Running Water is less than 180 pages but it took me almost a month to read.

Nancy said: Pearl called Playing Ball on Running Water nontechnical, practical, and compelling.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the presumptuous chapter called “Help Yourself” (p 109).


Burning Blue

Cook, Kevin. The Burning Blue: the Untold Story of Christa McAuliffe and NASA’s Challenger Disaster. New York: Henry Holt, 2021.

Reason read: as a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I occasionally win books to read and review.

If someone asked, you probably couldn’t remember where you were on January 28th, 1986, but if the question was phrased a little differently I know you can: “Where were you when NASA’s space shuttle Challenger exploded?” Say the name Christa McAuliffe and everyone knows her name. Personally, I know exactly where I was when the tragedy occurred: high school, in the Vortex, cozying up to a guy named Jim. I remember hiding my face when the plumes of white smoke arced across the sky. No escaping the tragedy.
As outsiders witness to the unforgettable horror, we all have preconceived notions of what really happened that day. Cook takes the Challenger tragedy and puts a face to all who were impacted. Christa and her fellow space travelers were not the only souls lost on 1986’s twenty-eighth day. It is obvious from the level of personal detail, Cook researched the entire event and those leading up to it very carefully and was extremely thorough with every detail. All in all, it is a well-told tale. In truth, as the pages went by I had a hard time reading it. Just knowing every chapter would take me closer to the time of McAuliffe’s demise made it hard to continue. As an aside, I felt the same way about reading Anne Frank’s diary. This is a story that doesn’t have a Hollywood ending. It is strange how NASA provided some resistance to the Challenger accident investigation and even stranger that simple 0-ring problems were reported for years and no one listened when Sally Ride leaked the information.
Here’s what I fully believe: Rumor has it Reagan was going to cut funding if the shuttle didn’t launch on January 28th, 1986.
An added eeriness to McAuliffe’s story is just how often people alluded to the dangers as she trained for the event. It was if there were signs trying to tell her not to join the launch.

Playlist: Jefferson Airplane, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Queen, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, U2, “A Time for Us,” “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” “Rocky Mountain High,” Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” “We are The World, “Stars and Stripes Forever,” “God Bless America,” “Flying for Me” by John Denver, and “God Bless the USA.”

Author fact: Kevin Cook has written for the New York Times, Men’s Journal, GQ, etc., but the coolest fact is that he currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts. That’s just up the road from me.

Book trivia: The Burning Blue was scheduled to go on sale in June and should have 16 pages of photographs.


The Photographer

Guibert, Emmanuel, Didier Lefleve, and Frederic Lemercier. The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders. New York: First Second, 2009.

Reason read: Afghanistan gained its independence from British rule in July 1919.

I didn’t know what to expect when I read a review of The Photographer, calling it a “photographic graphic novel.” It is quite unique and simply put, amazing. In three parts, The Photographer tells the story of how the aid workers of Medecins Sans Frontieres, smuggled across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan disguised as women in chadri, provided medical support to small communities during conflict. Didier Lefleve, a French photojournalist, traveled with the group to Zaragandara during the Afghan-Soviet War of 1986. In this district of Yaftali Sufla MSF establishes a field hospital while staffing a second one. The final part is Didier Lefleve’s nearly disastrous solo departure from Afghanistan. As the tagline for MSF reads, “We go where we are needed most,” The photographs and journal of Lefleve tell the entire story in intimate detail. It is a powerful print documentary.
It seems impossible for there to be humor in The Photographer, especially when you read of children with their eyes apparently glued shut and paralyzed by shrapnel, but it exists. One word: peaches. I confess. I giggled. That’s all I can say about that.
Most amazing fact: despite the reality they are fighting the Russians, Afghan doctors are able to obtain x-rays for patients, disguised as English speaking colleagues. they send men who are too old to be conscripted. No one suspects the men of being part of the resistance.

As an aside, I have supported MWF (known by the American subsidiary as Doctors Without Borders), for years. I first learned of the organization when Natalie would invite members to speak about their work during a set break in her concerts. I shared Natalie’s pride when they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. I appreciated learning about Juliette Fournot, the woman who started the US arm of Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Author facts: Emmanuel Guibert is an accomplished graphic novelist. I am only reading one of his works. Didier Lefleve died way too young at only 49 years of age. Frederic Lemercier was the mastermind behind the layout and coloring of The Photographer.

Book trivia: The English translation of The Photographer was publisher in 2009. Lefleve didn’t live long enough to see it. He passed from a heart attack in 2007.

Playlist: Michel Jonasz

Nancy said: Pearl called The Photographer “one of the best books” she read in 2009.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires” (p 3).


Testament of Experience

Brittain, Vera. Testament of Experience: An Autobiographical Story of the Years 1925 -1950. Wide View Books, 1981.

Reason read: to continue the series started in May in honor of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. As an aside, Vera watched the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

At the start of Testament of Experience Vera is newly married and trying to juggle a relationship with a man she has only known for two years and a career as a writer and journalist. From her style of writing the reader can find evidence of Brittain maturing her focus since Testament of Youth. She no longer speaks of an entire generation experiencing war. On the brink of World War II and focusing on herself personally, she repeatedly feels the strain of inequality as she watches her husband enjoy a balance of employment and home life while she is expected to chose between relationships, motherhood, and a career. This only fuels her feminist fire as she hungers for a life she can put into words. She needs to experience life in order to have something to convey to the world. What does she write about if she cannot experience extraordinary things? As time goes by the threat of war becomes reality and as Brittain starts traveling, her life grows increasingly imbalanced. Living more often apart than together, her marriage to “G.” is a series of rendezvous when their careers allow. As an author she experiences the threat of rejection at the same time as the thrill of success as Testament of Youth becomes a best seller. Motherhood is a confusing conflict with her pacifist endeavors lecturing around the globe. As an aside, Vera’s advocacy for peace through her fortnightly Peace Letters attracts the attention of the Gestapo and as a result Testament of Youth was banned in Germany.

Author fact: Brittain wrote a fourth “Testament” book called Testament of a Generation which is not on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Testament of Experience is the sequel to Testament of Youth even though Testament of Friendship was published in between Youth and Experience.

Playlist: “Old Man Noah,” “The Bells of Hell,” and “Sweet Adeline,”

Nancy said: Pearl only called Testament of Experience a continuation of Testament of Youth. Nothing more specific.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Living Through War” (p 054).