Dinner with Persephone

Storace, Patricia. Dinner with Persephone. Pantheon Books, 1996.

Reason read: January 6th is the Fest of Theofania celebrating the baptism of Christ and a celebration of a return to light.

I have always wanted to visit Greece. The landscapes, the weather, the food. Sigh. All of it has me spellbound. But. But! But, the more I read of Storace’s Dinner with Persephone, I am not sure about the culture. I definitely do not agree with some of the attitudes towards women and marriage. Women are inferior to men. Sexual condescension is a thing. The accepted violence of smacking a wife or daughter around and how it is glamorized in television and movies is concerning. There is an ambivalence towards arson, too which I found odd.
Beyond the confusing side of Greek culture, I enjoyed learning about the icons of the region: a blue eye talisman hanging from an old woman’s neck, the juicy red jewels of pomegranates, the fable of Dionysus and the plant. To be sure, there is a lot of religious talk in Dinner with Persephone. The people Storace talk with mention the Virgin Mary as if she is a next-door neighbor they bumped into while going for coffee. Children bring up events dating back to the Ottoman Empire as if it were yesterday. It is only a perception but it seems religion is worked into nearly every conversation.
There is a subtle, almost secretive sultriness to Storace’s writing. I can’t put my finger on why I think that. The language is tedious at times, but more often sensuous.

P.S. I have not given up on the food of Greece. There is this one dish I am dying to try: zucchini blossoms filled with feta cheese, egg, and fresh mint. Yum.

Quotes I liked, “As I travel here, I am losing the illusion that I know where I am” (p 156),

Author fact: Storace has published a book of poetry and has received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award for her work.

Book trivia: This would have been a fantastic book to include photographs. Sorry to say that there are none.

Playlist: “Kyrie Eleison”, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “Let’s Take a Walk on the Moon”, “Denial”, Mozart, Bach, Hayden, Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn’s “Wedding Recessional”, Elton John, “This Land is Your Land”, “The Dream After the Dance”, “Roll Out the Barrel”, “Greece Will Never Die”, Katie Grey, Patsy Cline, and “Carmen Sylvia Waltz”.

Nancy said: Pearl called Dinner with Persephone an excellent choice.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Just So Much Greek To Me” (p 120).

Flying Carpet

Halliburton, Richard. The Flying Carpet. City Garden Publishing Company, Inc., 1932.

Reason read: Richard Halliburton celebrated a birthday in January. Read in his honor.

Richard Halliburton was a self-described vagabond of the clouds. In Flying Carpet he brings Moye Stephens Jr. along as pilot/captain and mechanic. Their journey takes them through the far reaches of North Africa and East Asia. They followed Alexander the Great’s path into Egypt, over Alexandria and through Babylon. They stop for a month or two in ever location and submerge themselves in the culture. Like on the island of Borneo, trying to impress the tribal chief with a plane ride. My favorite section was when they visited the Taj Mahal, calling it “the one perfect thing on earth.”
A tough portion of Halliburton’s memoir is his treatment of “Negros” and the buying of young slaves. He explained it away by saying his grandfathers were slave owners in Tennessee. He bought two ten year old children to wash dishes and fight the overpopulation of bats in Timbuctoo.
Halliburton seemed like a fun guy to hang out with. He brought a portable record player and liked to dance. He was bold enough to compete for the love of a woman with whom he could not communicate. He opted to live as a prisoner in Teheran “just to see” what it was like.
As an aside, Flying Carpet was the name of the plane Richard Halliburton flew.
As an another aside, I wonder what Halliburton would think of the traffic jams of Mount Everest today. In Halliburton’s time it was forbidden (“irresistible, unattained, and inviolate”). In 1920 Nepal and Tibet had staunchly refused foreigners. Only the Dalai Lama was able to allow English climbers to enter from the Tibetan side. That might have been the beginning of commercial tourism. Halliburton and Stephens were finally allowed to gain access to the airspace around Everest (at 18,000 feet) only because they impressed the Mararajah of Nepal.

Quotes to quote, “To my great annoyance and disappointment, he did not drown” (p 114), “Because it is monstrous, merciless, demanding the utmost of one’s energy and effort” (in answer to why climb Mount Everest), and “A head is a head, and its sex is of no consequence when it has been dried and smoked, and hangs from a ceiling at home” (p 327).

Author fact: I am reading five of Halliburton’s books. I cannot wait to learn more about this fascinating adventurer!

Book trivia: The Flying Carpet includes a few photographs of Stephens and Halliburton’s journey. While there are very many, they are cool.

Playlist: “Happy Days were Here Again”, Ravel’s “Bolero”, “St. Louis Blues,” Schubert’s Serenade “Song of India”, Hymn to the Sun – Coq d’Or, “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”, “Falling in Love Again”, “St. Louis Blues”, and “What Good Am I Without You?”

Nancy said: Pearl called Halliburton’s style of writing “you-are-there” prose. I agree completely.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Where in the World Do These Books Belong?” (p 260).

Digging Up Mother

Stanhope, Doug. Digging Up Mother: a Love Story. Da Capo Press, 2016.

Reason read: Do you ever feel like your life is too uptight or that you don’t laugh enough at stupid stuff? I was definitely feeling too severe and too closed minded. So when a friend practically threw Digging Up Mother on my desk, I thought to myself “Self! What the hell? Read the damn book.” Definitely not on the Lust Challenge List. Definitely not. This is my 2023 proverbial show-the-panties, thumb-the-nose, and stick-out-the-tongue moment. Deal with it.

How do you navigate the unchartered waters of assisted suicide when it is your own mother who wants to die? Stanhope compares this “adventure” of killing his mother to planning a wedding: at least you know where to start. First, take mother to your house. Second, find a boatload of alcohol…
But Digging Up Mother isn’t all about Dear Mommy Dearest. Think of it as a fast-paced memoir of how Stanhope got his start in life. But. But! But, also think of it as a love story. His mother was his biggest fan, and for many years, his best friend. She supported him through every moment of his life, whether he wanted that support or not. I think I can safely call Digging Up Mother crude and caring and, dare I say? beautiful.
P.S. I hope Bingo is well.

A line I liked, “Everything horrible in life was money in the bank on stage” (p 151). Here’s one more, “Anyone who says that suicide is never the answer hasn’t heard all of the questions” (p 179).

Author fact: Stanhope is from Worcester, MA. Right down the road from me.

Book trivia: Johnny Depp wrote the foreword. Yes, that Johnny Depp. Are you surprised?

Setlist: The Chamber Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today”, Cheap Trick, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, Tom Jones’s “Delilah”, Pink Floyd’s “Mother”, “In the Flesh”, and “Nobody Home”, Suspicious Minds”, Cop Killer by Ice T., P. Diddy, Limp Bizkit, Yakety Sax”, and “You’re Too Good To Be True”. True story. When I was in grade school a friend of mine and I choreographed a dance routine to that last song. I still remember some of the moves.

Conversations Across America

Loya, Kari. Conversations Across America: a Father and Son, Alzheimer’s, and 300 Conversations Along the TransAmerican Bike Trail that Capture the Soul of America. XK Productions, 2022.

Reason read: as a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I occasionally review books. This was a December pick that I am just getting around to reading now.

Father and son embark on a 73 day, 4,200 mile adventure from Virginia to Oregon,
My favorite part in the entire book was when Kari’s life rolled by as if it were a memory from a movie.
From the moment I opened Conversations on my laptop I regretted not having the coffee table version Kari mentioned. Some of the landscape photography is absolutely gorgeous. However, here is what you need to know two-thirds of the book are photographs of ordinary people with their accompanying “stories.” Some of the stories are interesting or even heartfelt, but a great deal of them are exclamations about Merv’s age or the number of miles they are trying to bike. Wow is a common refrain.
My only detractor? The sheer volume of stories or conversations overshadowed the beauty of the father/son narrative. I tracked how many pages were dedicated to Loya’s personal journey compared to the pages of “conversations” and the ratio was 1:3. Additionally, the same “conversation” is in the narrative so I felt like I was reading the passages twice.
My favorite section of the book was the end where Loya included a partial list of the gear they carried, their itinerary of the different stages, and the half-time report about dogs and meals.

As an aside, were there really 2,000 filing cabinets? The bit about the trampoline was funny. I also felt Loya was a little judgmental about AT hikers. That’s acceptable if he has hiked the Appalachian Trail in its entity himself and can make a comparison based on his experiences.

Author fact: Kari was trying to sell his home in New Jersey while trying to bike across America with his father.

Book trivia: there is a ton of beautiful photography in Conversations.

Playlist: “New York” by Frank Sinatra, Chariots of Fire, Beach Boys, Def Leppard, Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, Quincy Jones, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Vivaldi, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Jack Johnson (Hawaiian music).

Vinland the Good

Shute, Nevil. Vinland the Good. William Morrow & Co, Inc. 1946.

Reason read: Shute’s birth and death month is January. Read in his honor and memory. I also needed a book for the Portland Reading Challenge. The category is a book that is under 150 pages long. Vinland the Good is 126 pages.

This is the historical fiction story of Leif Ericsson and his quest to discover new lands. Cleverly hidden in a history lesson at a boy’s boarding school, teacher Callender describes Leif’s life’s adventures. Callender is back after six years to teach U.S. History and finds a clever way to keep the students engaged despite the headmaster’s disapproval. [Spoiler: there is a section of the story where Leif warns Thorgunna to keep her ladies away from Leif’s men. It is hinted that Leif worries the men could rape the fair maidens. Thorgunna replies that Leif gives sound advice because her ladies have been without variety…]
Vinland the Good comes to us in the form of a treatment for a script as if Shute planned it as a movie or theater production. Stage directions and props describe each scene before narratives begin. Themes in Vinland the Good include forgiveness (when King Olaf lifts Leif’s stigma of being the son of an outlaw and teaches Leif the art of shipbuilding) and the spread of Christianity. You could also call Vinland the Good a tragic love story as Leif and Thorgunna’s relationship blossoms into love and loyalty.

Best quote, “LEIF (Heavily) Thorgunna, as one goes through life one has to make the best decisions that one can, and work on them” (p 70). Amen to that.

As an aside, I love any book that uses the word ‘gloaming’ in some manner.

Author fact: I have read five of the twenty four Nevil Shute books on my list. He has written a bunch more.

Book trivia: Even though a map is included on the free and pastedown endpapers, there are no other illustrations. Bummer.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Vinland the Good.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Nevil Shute: Too Good To Miss” (p).

Confessional: this doesn’t happen to me often. I am proud of the fact that my Book Lust Challenge is very organized. I would like to think I have every book cataloged; so it came as a shock to learn Vinland the Good was NOT cataloged in LibraryThing. It was in all of my spreadsheets (TwistList, MBL list, ToGo list, and Schedule list), but somehow I missed the most important place of all, LibraryThing.

Home is the Road

Glancy, Diane. Home is the Road: Wandering the Land, Shaping the Spirit. Broadleaf Books, 2022.

Reason read: this is an Early Review I couldn’t start until the holidays were over. Once I delved into it, I couldn’t put it down.
Glancy is a road warrior. Traveling by automobile is her thing. She can cover great distances in a single day. She should have been a long haul trucker. To pass the time she dreams while she is awake and aware. Kansas for a film festival. A conference in Arkansas. A book festival in Missouri. She travels to places where they even name the ditches. I believe Home is the Road was born in its entirety on such a journey. Glancy’s writing is akin to lyrical rap, spoken word, essays, poetry, scripture: all of it fragmented and in a storytelling language. Her imagery is astonishingly beautiful. Her reflections are jumbled. Like trying to mediate while the mind scatters thoughts like escaped marbles from a bag. She is discuss motherhood, fracking in West Texas, or Eminem as B-Rabbit, but the backbone to her tales is twofold – her profound religious beliefs and her heritage. Caught between two cultures, she never quite belongs to either.
Her migrant wanderings started when, as a small child, her father would transfer jobs and move the family from place to place. Her restlessness is deep rooted to the point where she is a loner, but never completely alone.
As an aside, when Glancy talked about depression at the end of a long-mile journey. Is it similar to the sadness I feel when ending a particularly difficult road race? After months and months of training and after the finish line has been crossed, I find myself asking now what, what’s next?
Another similarity: Glancy sees large trucks on the highway as herds of animals. I see the road as the ocean floor. Lots of traffic are schools of fish, all traveling in the same direction, darting in and out of lanes. Big double-rig trailers are whales slow on the incline and police cars are sharks, waiting to pounce. Cars waiting to join the flow are eels popping out of hiding places.

A last aside: I took the first and last sentences of Home is the Road just to see how they matched up: “My life began in travel – a wayfarer not on foot, but in a car. An act of disobedience (pages 3 and 209 respectively).

Author fact: As soon as Glancy started talking about making a movie I wanted to see what was produced and if it was possible to see it. I immediately went to IMDB and learned Glancy won an award for writer of the year for a screenplay, which is not the film she wrote about. in Home is the Road.

Playlist: “Amazing Grace”.

Salt

Kurlansky, Mark. Salt: a World History. Penguin Books, 2003.

Reason read: Mark Kurlansky was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.

Salt. Everyone loves salt. Some people even crave salt. After reading Kurlansky’s book on the subject I am better versed on all things salt. I am ready for a trivia game about salt. I now know salt is associated with fertility in some cultures and that Egyptians salted their mummies before burial. I know almost no geological area is without salt. Salt has been used as a currency. There is salt in gun powder. Salt is responsible for soy sauce’s humble beginnings. The difference between creating alcohol and a pickle is salt. I never thought about how salt is the only rock people willing eat in great quantities or how every fluid in the body contains some percentage of salt. I could go on and on. Kurlansky takes his readers on a historical journey through epic wars like the American Revolution, the Civil War and beyond, all the while keeping salt as the main ingredient. You will never look at a shaker of salt the same way again.

Author fact: I have six Kurlansky titles on my Challenge List. Salt is the penultimate book left to read.

Book trivia: Salt is a best seller and chock full of photographs and illustrations. There is one photograph of bamboo piping used to carry brine. At first glance the structure looked like a rickety old wooden roller coaster ride at Coney Island.

Nancy said: Pearl said “After reading Salt you’ll never take that not-so-simple condiment for granted again” (Book Lust p 141). She’s not wrong. Pearl says a bit more, but I’ll let you discover her humor on your own.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Mark Kurlansky: Too Good To Miss” (p 141). This is the penultimate book on my Challenge list.

Cat Who Came for Christmas

Amory, Cleveland. The Cat Who Came for Christmas. Little, Brown and Company, 1987.

Reason read: December is the month for Christmas

Every December I look for a few books that are lighthearted and funny. The Cat Who Came for Christmas fit the bill for the most part, being both a memoir about a specific stray cat coming into Cleveland’s life and a didactic nonfiction containing interesting facts about cats. Here are a few examples: Cleveland delves into the theory of a cat having nine lives; he provides names of politicians and rulers who either loved or detested cats; he shares the dirty secrets of animals shelters, testing on animals (ouch), and price gouging of veterinarians. He shares stories of his work with animals rights organizations. It is not just a warm and fuzzy story about a cat named Polar Bear. But let’s be fair. Polar Bear is the star of the show. The full blown, complete sentence dialogues Cleveland would have with his cat are hysterical.
Cleveland is in good company of famous people who enjoyed cats: Mark Twain, Colette, Walter Cronkite, and Robert De Niro to name a few.

Quote to quote, “You do not, after all, have to walk a wife (p 6).

Author fact: Cleveland likes to drop names. He was good friends with Cary Grant and George C. Scott.

Book trivia: the advance praise for The Cat Who Came for Christmas is star-studded. Bea Arthur, Walter Cronkite, Norman Cousins, and even Doris Day all give a glowing review. See what I mean about the name dropping?

Nancy said: Pearl said many people enjoyed The Cat Who Came for Christmas.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Cat Crazy” (p 51).

All Over But the Shoutin’

Bragg, Rick. All Over But the Shoutin’ .Vintage Books, 1997.

Reason read: A friend sent this to me.

Rick Bragg needs you to understand three things about his life: One, he grew up with a strong mother. Two, his family was poorer than dirt. I don’t know what’s more poor than dirt, but Bragg will never let you forget he grew up less than dirt with words like white trash, ragged, welfare, slums, poverty, raggedy, and did I mention poor? Three, he’s southern to the core, despite moving to New York City. Maybe it’s this last point that makes it okay for him to use words like Eskimo. To be fair, we are a society becoming more and more sensitive to slights, real and perceived. But, I digress.
Bragg travels the world seeing atrocities far worse than growing up in poverty or having a delinquent dad or a drug-addled brother. His ability to tell stories from a compassionate point of view draws a great deal of attention and eventually, fame.
It is funny how when we are on the cusp of carrying on traditions from childhood we say we will do things differently than our parents. “I will not be my father. I will not be my mother.” Yet, at the same time we are just like them without trying. Bragg spent a lifetime trying not to be his father, but at the end of All Over But the Shoutin’ he is compelled to write his long-gone father a few words.

Author fact: Bragg won a Pulitzer as a reporter for the New York Times.

Book trivia: All Over But the Shoutin’ is a national best seller and has a few black and white photographs.

Playlist: Elvis, “Closer Walk with Thee”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “Boilin’ Cabbage Down”, Faron Young, Little Jimmy Dickens, Bill Monroe, Carlos Santana, Mother Maybell Carter, “Saturday in the Park”, Hank Williams, George Wallace, “Faded Love and Winter Roses”, “Dixie”, “Just As I Am”, “My Daddy’s War”, Beethoven, Johnny Horton, “Silent Night”, Eagle’s “The Long Run”, “Jesus Loves Me”, “Amazing Grace”, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and “Uncloudy Day”.

Black Country Music

Royster, Francesca T. Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions. University of Texas, Austin, 2022.

Reason read: I am a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing. Every once in a while I review something.
On the surface, Royster will give you musical biographies of Tina Turner, Darius Rucker, Charlie Pride, Beyonce, Valarie June, Rhiannon Giddens, and Lil Nas X. Delving deeper, Royster takes you behind the curtain and into the dark heart of country music. A place where some songs sung by white people are most likely referring to slavery, the KKK, or white supremacy. The Black country community is singing about much the same things, but from a different and more significant reality. Royster’s research in Black Country Music is thorough. She makes mention of more musicians than I have ever heard of. A near complete list is at the end of this review. The analysis of mistrel traditions was fascinating. Royster’s self-prescribed goal of writing Black Country Music was to capture the heart and emotion of Black country music and, in my opinion, she succeeded in finding that revolution for which she was listening.
In all honesty, Royster gave me more questions to ponder. As a musician, does the sound you chose to create identify you as a person? Do you have to “be” country music or heavy metal in order to perform that particular sound or can you go where the money is? Can you “be” pop if that is what sells? What about if you “cross over” or collaborate with someone outside your prescribed genre? Are you defined by the instruments you use or the tenor of your voice?

As an aside, I questioned the meaning behind the kiss between Wllie Nelson and Charlie Pride. I have never thought about Willie or Charlie in a bromance kind of way, so it was an interesting slant to question the nature of a gesture fraught with potential intimacy. Another aside: I watched the video for “Wagon Wheel” and I got a completely different take than Royster. While, yes, there is one part where Darius is kept from entering a bar, but I felt it was because he wasn’t paying the cover and the bouncer had no idea Darious was the entertainment for the night. That happens all the time. Royster also makes frequent mention of the women Darius’s videos being pale skinned. Surely she has seen his wife? The women in both “Wagon Wheel” and “If I Told You” videos look a lot like his partner, Beth.

Confessional: I have always believed the power of music can make statements, move emotions, and mobilize a revolution. I am a lyrics junkie. I love picking apart what people say in music. I am not a fan of “ooh baby, baby” or a great deal of repetition. How many times can you hear “little pink houses” in one four minute song? So, when Royston talked about Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” my eyes were opened wide to a different side of the story. Much like how for years have tried to figure out what Phil Collins was trying to say in “In the Air Tonight”, I couldn’t wrap my brain around Lynrd Skynyrd. To be fair, their music is not high on my list of pleasurable listening so it’s not like I listened closely or sought them out to solve the mystery.
Another confessional: I had never heard of the subgenre of Atlanta-based trap drums.

Playlist: Aaron Neville, Alice Randall, Amythyst Kiah’s “Black Myself” and “I’ll Fly Away”, , Al Green’s “For the Good times”, Al Jolson, Allison Russell’s “You Are Not Alone”, Anderson.Paak’s “Lockdown”, Ariana Grande, Beatles’s “Get Back”, Bela Fleck, Bessie Smith, Beyonce’s “Daddy Lessons” “Sorry”, “Hold Up” “Black Parade”, and “All Night”, Billy Ocean’s “Suddenly”, Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart”, Billy Whitlock, Birds of Chicago, Blanco Brown’s “The Git Up”, Bob Dylan, Bobby Womack, Boyz to Men, Brad Paisley, Breland’s “My Trusk”, , Brittany Howard, “Brown Girl in the Ring”, “Brown Sugar”, BT’s “RM”, Cameo’s “Word Up”, and “She’s Strange”, Cardi B., Carla Thomas’s “Call Me a Fool”, Carolina Chocolate Drops’s “Leaving Eden”, “One Dollar Bill”, and “Texas Easy Street”, the Carter Family, Charlie Daniels Band, Charley Pride, Chase Rise, the Chicks’s “Long Time Gone” and “Goodbye Earl”, Childish Gambino, Chris Stapleton, Clint Black, “Country Honk”, Commodores, Cowboy Troy, “Cripple Creek”. Con Funk Shun, Crystal Gayle, Cupcake, Da Butt, Daddy Yankee, Dan Emmett, Darious Rucker’s “It Won’t Be Like This for Long”, “Wagon Wheel”, “Homegrown Honey”, “Southern Style”, “If I Told You”, “Going to Hell”, “Drinkin’ and Dialin'”, “Beer and Sunshine”, “Why Things Happen”, “History in the Making”, “Alright”, and “Don’t Think I Don’t Know About It”, DeFord Bailey’s “Fox Chase”, DeLila Black, Diana Ross, Diplo, Dolly Parton, Dom Flemons, Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, Drake, Eagles’s “Desperado”, Earth, Wind and Fire, “Electric Slide”, Elizabeth Cotten, Elvie Thomas, Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley, Emmett Miller, Etta Baker’s “Railroad Bill”, and “Carolina Breakdown”, Fiddlin’ John Carson, Francesco Turrisi, Freddy Fender’s “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”, Garth Brooks’s “Rodeo”, Geeshie Wiley, “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”, George Jones, George Wallace, Glen Campbell, Grace Jones, Gus Cannon, Hank Snow, Hank Williams’s “Lovesick Blues”, Harry Belafonte, Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Let Her Cry”, “I Just Want to Be With You”, and “Hold My Hand”, Horace Weston, Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, Isley Brothers’s “Shout”, Jake Blount, James Brown, James Taylor, Jay-Z, Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.”, Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Jett Holden, Jim Reeve’s “This World Is Not My Home (I’m Just Passing Through)”, Jimmie Allen, Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”, Jimmie Rogers, Joe Thompson, Johnny Cash, Jump Jim Crow, Justin Bieber, Kara Kater, Kamara Thomas’s “My Kentucky”, Kansas, Kanye West’s “Spaceship”, “Keeping it on the One”, Keith Richards, Kendrick Lemar, Kenny Rogers, Khalid’s “Talk”, Kid Rock, Kris Kristopherson, the Kronos Quartet, “Lady Marmalade”, Laura Love, Leadbelly, Lewis Capaldi’s “Somebody You Loved”, Leyla Hathaway, Leyla McCalla’s “I Knew I Could Fly”, , Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road”, “Monero (Call Me By Your Name)”, and “That’s What I Want”, Lil Wayne, Lilli Lewis, “The Loco Motion”, “Lil’ Liza Jane”, Linda Martell’s “Color Him Father” and “Bad Case of the Blues”, Lionel Richie’s “Stuck on You”, “Little Sally Walker”, Lizzo’s “Juice”, Lynette Williams, Lynryd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”, Ma Rainey, Mac Davis, Madonna, Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear’s “Down in Mississippi”, “Mama’s Been Cryin’ Long”, Mariah Carey, Marty Robbins, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”, Mason Ramsey, Master Juba, Mavis Staples, Megan Thee Stallion, Mel Tillis, Merle Haggard, “Merry Mack”, Merry Clayton, Mick Jagger, Mickey Guyton, Mills Brother’s “If I Don’t Care”, Miko Marks’s “Freeway Bound”, Miley Cyrus’s “Slide Away”, Millie Jackson, “Moon Meets the Sun”, Muddy Waters, Mumford and Sons, Nas, Neil Young’s “Southern Man”, Nelly, Nina Simone, Nine Inch Nails, Oakridge Boys’s “Elvira”, Odetta, Our Native Daughters, Parliment Funkadelic’s “Mothership Connect”, Patsy Cline, Patti Labelle, P.J. Morse’s “Bayou Song”, Phil Spector’s “River Deep – Mountain high”, Polly Johnson’s “The Three Maids”, Porter Wagoner, Prince, Queen Esther, Ray Charles, Radney Baker, Reverend Gary Davis, Rhiannon Giddens’s “Mama’s Crying Long”, Rick James, Rico Nasty, Rissi Palmer’s “Country Girl”, Rita Coolidge, RMR, Robert Johnson, “Rock Lobster”, Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May”, Rolling Stones’s “Honky Tonk Women”, Ronnie Van Zant, Roy Clark, Roy Orbison, Shawn Mendez and Camilla Cabello’s “Senorita”, “Shortnin’ Bread”, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Solange Knowles’s “Almeda” and “Binz”, Star De Azlan, Stevie Wonder, Styx, Sule Greg Wilson, Swamp Dogg, Taj Mahal’s “Colored Aristocracy”, Tammy Wynett, T.I., Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits”, “Help Me Make It Through the Night”, “A Fool in Love”, “Private Dancer”, “Proud Mary”, and “Funky Worm”, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”, Tom T. Hall, Toots Thieleman, Toshi Reagan, Tracy Chapman, Valerie June’s “Shotgun”, “The No Draws Blues”. “Workin’ Woman Blues”, “Tennessee Time”, “Astral Weeks”, “Somebody to Love”, and “Organic Moonshine Riots Music”, Vince Staples, Virginia Minstrels, “Watch Me [Whip/Nae Nae]”, Waylon Jennings, Whitney Houston’s “You Give Good Love” Willie Nelson, Woody Guthrie, Yo Yo Ma, Yola, “You are My Sunshine”, “You Don’t Know Me”, Young Thug, and “Your Cheating Heart”.

Hiroshima

Hersey, John. Hiroshima. Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.

Reason read: There is a day in November that is celebrating in Japan called “Cultural Day.” Read Hiroshima to celebrate the day. I also needed a book with a one-word title for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge of 2022.

Isn’t it strange that in times of intense tragedy (like your country being at war), that one could be lulled into a false sense of security just because of the Boy Who Cried Wolf syndrome? When the village of Hiroshima was bombed many people didn’t heed the warnings. Even those responsible for alerting others to oncoming attacks didn’t see it coming or want to believe it. As a common citizen, what are you supposed to do when the system you are taught to trust gives the “all clear” signal? How are you supposed to react to false alarm no. 42,364?
Hiroshima follows the lives of six Hiroshima bombing survivors from the moments before the blast on August 6th, 1945 at 8:15 a.m. to the aftermath of the following year: Miss Toshiko Sasaki, Dr. Masakazu Fujii, Mrs. Hatsyo Nakamura, Dr. Terufumi Sasaki (no relation to Miss Toshiko), Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, and Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto.
Fair warning: you will be privy to excruciating details about their injuries and subsequent health issues. People with no outward visible wounds had a delayed response to radiation sickness with symptoms difficult to fathom. Your heart will break to read of their confusion when trying to understand what happened to them. Theories and rumors about the “strange weapon” abounded. For example, for a while people assumed powdered magnesium was dumped on power lines, creating explosions and subsequent fires. Survivors believed they were doused with gasoline from airplanes high above them. As an American, born nearly twenty-five years after the attack, I hung my head in shame to read of the atrocities.
The edition of Hiroshima I read included a section called “Aftermath” and carefully detailed the rest of lives of the six survivors; how they lived out their remaining years. A few thrived after the attack, but most didn’t.

I like to learn things new when reading outside my comfort zone. The Japanese culture of families who move into their loved one’s hospital to care for them during an illness was fascinating. Family is everything. A decent burial for a loved one is far more crucial than adequate care for the living.

Quotes to quote, “…they could not comprehend or tolerate a wider circle of misery” (p 40).

Author fact: when I was reading up on John Hersey, I discovered his style of storytelling journalism was in its infancy and John was an early adopter of the method.

Book trivia: Do not let the size of the book fool you. While this is a short read (less that 200 pages), it packs a wallop. My 1988 edition included an additional chapter written forty years after the original.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Hiroshima.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1940” (p 175).

Maine in America

Belanger, Pamela J. Maine in America: American Art at the Farnsworth Art Museum. The Farnsworth Art Museum, 2000.

Reason read: a gift from a dear friend.

There is something to be said for the romance of the sea, especially when that sea is off the coast of Maine. The art of the Farnsworth is nostalgic and home all at once to me. It has been cool to learn more about my hometown. I never knew there was a failed art school on the island. Not all of the art in Maine in America focuses on the ocean or even Maine. Places like Glouster, Massachusetts and the wilderness of New Hampshire are appropriately represented. Thanks to Maine in America I think of the creation of art differently. I never thought about how artistis perferred different weathers for different sceneries and landscapes. It will be interesting to return to the Farnsworth Museum and view the art in a different way.
As an aside, I also have to wonder, where did Samuel Peter Rolt Tricott live on Monhegan? What about the Robert Henri House? I am fascinating to think there were different roads on Monhegan that are now completely obscured by overgrowth.

I have a degree of separation to Rockwell Kent besides growing up in a neighboring house. He took painting classes at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island. My grandmother has a connection to Shinnecock as well.

Italian Days

Harrison, Barbara Grizzuti. Italian Days. Worldenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.

Reason read: there once was talk of going to Italy in September or October. Read in memory of that aborted excursion. Also, some people celebrate Italian Heritage Month in October. Read in the offchance that is a thing.

From the very first few pages I knew I was going to enjoy Italian Days. Harrison is funny, witty, smart, and even a little sarcastic at times. She peppers her prose with interesting personal annectdotes about her connections to Italy. Sometimes it is about motherhood or her marriage. She comes alive when writing about her daughter Anna. Other times she talks of old lovers and new friends with such a sensuality there is an undertone of sexuality to her confessions, as if to say “I know I am beautiful. What of it?”
Harrison’s observations about Italian people and places are spot on. She has a running commentary on everything from feminism in Milan to artificial insemination by an unknown donor. She enjoys movies and references them from time to time.
It is obvious Harrison has an appreciation for the words of others who have written so beautifully about Italy’s charms. There are lots of quotes from Stendhal, Ruskin, George Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, and Henry James, but mostly Italian Days is a thoughtful blender concoction of cultural, spiritual, historical, and personal observations. Art, science, food, family, architecture, memories, religion, philosophy, and society swirl on every page. You’ll pick up a little Italian in the process. My favorite phrase was “qui sono felice” or “Here I am happy.”
Interesting that Piazzare Loreto bears no recognition of Mussolini’s demise.
As an aside, since Italian Days was published in 1989 I have to wonder if Milan is still as dependent on America as some seemed to think.
Thanks to Harrison’s descriptions of Italy there are a few places I would like to go: the church of Santa Maria Sacravia with its basalt stones; Rome, the city of Saints Peter and Paul (does anyone else think of Josh Ritter’s “Girl in the War” when hearing those names?); the Capuchin Cemetery to “cultivate a taste for the memento mori” (p 300). I now want to see the statue of David just to see his curiously small…ears.

As an another aside, remind me never to try the chocolate panforte – Harrison’s description of it sounds absolutely awful. Who would want to eat a spongy rock impregnated with gravel? On the other hand, when I go to Italy I want to try every flavor of gelati and I want to find the final resting place of Patrician Cecilia, the virgin patron saint of music and musicians. Supposedly, she is buried in a catacomb on the Appian Way.

Favorite lines: First, this is the one that made me laugh, “I have never but once had the occasion to threaten to knock someone’s pearls down her throat” (p 5). Then came, “It is very hard to be charming in a foreign language” (p 13), and “I have always wanted to live in an enclosed world, but when I did, I wanted to get out” (p 348). Spoken like a true cat. Meow.

Author fact: Everyone has their “thing” that makes them nervous. It was interesting to learn Harrison does not like masks or puppets.

Book trivia: there is a nice section of black and white photographs.

Setlist: Bach, Prince, Ben Webster, Ethel Merman, Mario Lanza, Tina Turner, Mozart, Vivaldi, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, “Once There Were Three Marys”, “Amapola, My Pretty Little Poppy”, “O Sole Mio”, “Arriverderci Roma”, “Be Silent Mortal Flesh”, “Edelwiess Forever”, Frank Sinatra’s “New York”, “Agnis Dei”, “Puff the Magic Dragon”, “If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus”, “Day is Done”, “Little Boxes”, “Love Walked In”, “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild”, “Jesus is My Friend”, “Tea for Two”, “Ave Maria”,

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Italian Days other than to outline what the book is about.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ciao, Italia” (p 46).

Sense of Sight

Berger, John. Sense of Sight. Pantheon Books, 1986.

Reason read: October is Art Appreciation Month

To read Sense of Sight is to jump into a world of essays on various topics, each one taking you on a journey for the senses. You will discover Albrecht Durer is an interesting looking guy. Berger tells us he is the first painter to be obsessed with his own image. A ride on the Bosphorus can be somewhat romantic if you are patient and watchful. Manhattan, seen as a chaotic paradox and a land of severe contradictions, will astound you. [As an aside, while reading about Manhattan I was simultaneously reminded of Natalie Merchant’s “Carnival” and Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City with their displays of weak and strong, poverty and wealth, intimacy and strangeness, darkness and light. One of my favorite quotes comes from Berger’s essays on Manhattan, “Manhattan is haunted by the dead” (p 65). And to think the essay in question was written in the mid-1970s. What would Berger think of the dead after 9/11 attacks?]
But. I digress. Back to Sense of Sight. I wish Berger were standing before me. I would ask if it is true the body of the Duchess of Alba was exhumed and her skeleton compared to the Goya paintings (according to Google, it is very much true). Talk about the scrutiny of art! And speaking of Alba, Durer’s conceit was on display in Sense of Sight whereas Maja dressed and indressed evokes a curiosity within us. Because Berger does not provide her image like he did for Durer, are we prompted or subliminally urged to look her up? If so, does that mean we have been artfully played into Berger’s cunning trap of intrigue? He talks of Maja undressed and dressed in such great detail we might not need the investigation if we are to trust our imaginations. But we will want to all the same. In reading Sense of Sight the reader is treated to a mini biography of Claude Monet (did he really love the sea? why do I only think of ponds and lilies?), learn of a hotel that once serves as the interogation and death and torture headquarters during World War II, and come to the realization that poetry is anguish.
Sense of Sight made me think. I have always wondered when a painting is truly finished. What prompts an artist to put down the paint brush for the final time? And this – when a person is no longer with us, are they no longer real? If they become just a memory does what was once tangible become a figment of our imagination?

As an aside, I made this comment in my notes “why can’t it be a social commentary on this is how life is at this very moment? Why can’t we say this is how we do things now?” I have no idea what I was talking about except to say it is under the quote, “heroizing the farm laborer.”
Another aside, I am fascinated by the idea that nomadic people took their art with them. Of course.

Lines I liked, “The nomadic land is not just an image, it has history” (p 55), “The finction of painting is to fill an absence with the simulacrum of a presence” (p 212),

Author fact: Berger also wrote Ways of Seeing and About Looking in addition to Sense of Sight. I just have About Looking as my last Berger book to read.

Book trivia: Sense of Sight includes photographs. That’s how I know Albrecht Durer is an interesting looking guy.

Nancy said: Pearl said Sense of Sight was an extension of Ways of Seeing.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the simple chapter called “Art Appreciation” (p 25).

The Man Who Ate Everything

Steingarten, Jeffrey. The Man Who Ate Everything: and Other Gastronomic Feats, Disputes, and Pleasurable Pursuits. Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.

Reason read: November is the month the U.S. celebrates Thanksgiving…whatever that is to you. All I know is that it is a day people eat a lot of food and it seemed appropriate to read a book with the title The Man Who Ate Everything. I also needed a book for the category of a book about food that wasn’t a cookbook for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Even though The Man Who Ate Everything was published over twenty years ago, I have to think some of the truths Steingarten uncovered about food and the consumer industry are still true. Prices and other forms of economic data might be outdated but doesn’t Heinz still rule the ketchup competition? Is there still a Wall Street branch of McDonald’s at 160 Broadway, two blocks north of Trinity church? Steingarten will amuse you on a variety of topics from the safest time to eat an oyster, the chemical makeup of the best tasting water and the discussion of Campbell’s soup recipes to instructions on how to produce perfectly mashed potatoes and french fries (is it the potatoe, the oil, the salt, or the technique?). Even Jane Austen gets a mention into his book. You will pay more attention to the waitstaff in a fancy restaurant after you read The Man Who Ate Everything.
One surprise while reading Steingarten. His quest to be thin. I have a hard time picturing any man looking attractive and healthy at a mere 116lbs. Okay, except maybe Prince.
On a side note, after fifty plus years on this planet, I have finally learned the secret to removing the metalic taste of canned tomatoes, or at least I think I have. I didn’t try the trick.

As an aside, when I was finished reading The Man Who Ate Everything I had so many more questions than answers. What did Steingarten do with the thirty plus brands of ketchup he and his wife sampled? Why have I never heard of 80% of these brands? Are the phone numbers he listed now out of date? (Probably.) What would happen if I tried to call a few of them? Is there any truth to that claim that chlorine in water inhibits the growth of yeast? It gives me enough pause for me to want to try spring water in my dough next week.

Line I liked, “My mind feels at half mast” (p 113). Brilliant.

Author fact: Steingarten started out as a lawyer. At the time of publication he wrote for Vogue. Confessional: when I first saw Jeffrey’s name, I thought he was the cute man married to Ina Garten. Close, but nope.

Book trivia: My copy of The Man Who Ate Everything has a photograph of a piece of bread with a bite taken out of it. The slice is a very close up shot and makes me hungry.

Playlist: “There Will Never Be Another You”, “Love Potion #9”, and Madonna.

Nancy said: Pearl called Staingarten’s column “entertaining.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food for Thought” (p 91).