Third Helpings

Trillin, Calvin. Third Helpings. New Haven: Ticknor & Fields, 1983.

Reason read: to finish the Tummy Trilogy started in March in honor of National Food Month.

Trillin is at it again with a third and final installment of the Tummy Trilogy; another series of essays all about his idea of good eating. Third Helpings starts with Trillin’s belief that Spaghetti Carbonara should be the national dish at Thanksgiving. It’s a quirky idea, but I get his point. Fourteen essays follow.
The more I read Trillin, the more I admire his wife and her ability to travel to strange lands to eat even stranger foods without complaint, but my favorite character was Mrs. Rome. The list of food she sampled between pages 97-99 is very impressive. It is no wonder she gained nine pounds on that trip!

Irony: the last chapter of Third Helpings is about Crescent City, Florida. I guess there used to be a big catfish festival along the St. John River. At the time I was finishing Third Helpings I was in Florida, not far from Crescent City.

Author fact: According to IMDB, Calvin Trillin is also an actor. What the what? He was in Sleepless in Seattle. Mind blown.

Book trivia: Third Helpings is the final book in the Tummy Trilogy, but Trillin has also written a memoir about his father and a few books about his wife, Alice. None of those books are on my Challenge list.

Playlist: “Oh Marie,” “Tell Me That You Love Me,” “The Streets of Laredo,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “Moon Over Miami,” and “Let’s Go To the Hop.”

Nancy said: Pearl called Trillin’s essays “treasures.”

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


Personal Finance QuickStart Guide

Rochard, Morgen. Personal Finance QuickStart Guide: the Simplified Beginner’s Guide to Eliminating Financial Stress, Building Wealth, and Achieving Financial Freedom. ClydeBank Media, 2020.

Reason read: as a member of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, I was chosen to receive this e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Honestly, from the moment I downloaded this book I was rubbed the wrong way. I am not a big fan of “gotcha” moments. The first thing I was confronted with when starting to read Personal Finance QuickStart Guide was the words “Free Digital Assets” followed by “must be a first time Audible user; $15/mo. easy cancel anytime.” I read that to mean there was free content available to the reader, but said reader had to sign up for Audible (new subscribers only!) and a credit card would automatically be charged $15 every month unless one remembered to cancel the subscription in time. And! And. And, when they have to say “easy” cancel anytime, I’m thinking maybe it’s not all that easy. So. There’s that. Back to the review:

Rochard organized Personal Finance into two parts: Part 1 is an attempt to jump start personal finance improvement and learn how to navigate the financial world so that investment options become easier to understand. Part 2 is to confront financial problems and overcome them with confidence.
To fully review this book I had wanted to put into practice all of the advice and suggestions Rochard put out there – just to say what worked and what didn’t. I didn’t have time. For the most part, it all seemed like common sense. For example, take the very first scenario in the book: if you are going to drop down to one income and not change your expenses, you most definitely are headed for disaster. I did take note of the resources Rochard cited and do plan to read them for further information. [As an aside, when I lost my job for five months in the early stages of Covid my husband and I immediately suspended some luxuries, looked into every cost saving measure we could; even considered making hard decisions about retirement plans. It seemed like the right thing to do. Actually, it was the only thing to do at the time.]


Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years, Vol II

Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Yeas, Volume Two. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1926.

Reason read: to continue the series started in February in honor of Lincoln’s birth month.

When we delve back into Sandburg’s volume two of Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years Lincoln is now in his forties. He is a family man. His political life is becoming more and more entangled with his career as a lawyer. His direct, plain-speaking, and honest approach has people trusting him and he soon has a following of stump-speech fans. In the courtroom, his ability to deliver calm closing arguments that sway even the toughest juries has people wanting him to run for President of the United States. As Sandburg eloquently put it, “His words won him hearts in unknown corners of far-off places” (p 155). His role as a leader of our country is starting to come into shape.
[As an aside, it was interesting that I was reading about town gossip while at a salon getting my hair cut. There is no better place to hear tongues wagging than in a salon (except maybe in a bar).]

Author fact: Carl and his wife were married just shy of 60 years.

Book trivia: Best part of the book was when Lincoln was having a conversation with a goat. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, thinking of tall, gangling Abraham bending low to converse with an animal.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about either volume of Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1920s” (p 176).


The Blessing

Orr, Gregory. The Blessing: a Memoir. San Francisco: Council Oaks Books, 2002.

Reason read: April is National Poetry Month. Gregory Orr is known for his fantastic poetry.

This is Gregory Orr’s painful memoir of not only the terrible moment when he shot his brother to death in a hunting accident, but the uncharacteristic way he and his family, tight lipped and stoic, dealt with the pain. Only one week after the tragedy the Orr children were back in school as if nothing happened. Gregory was in the seventh grade at this point. When Orr’s father uprooted the family and took them to Haiti, Gregory, as an adult, is able to look back at the episode and as delve briefly into Haiti’s turbulent political history and conflicting cultures (a mention of Castro and Papa Doc Duvalier) as a perfect comparison to his own family’s unsettled time. It is unbelievable, but even more tragedy followed the Orr family after arriving in Haiti. Once in full adulthood, Orr tries to make sense of his past and his responses to all of its shocking heartache. For example – when his mother died, none of her children were invited to the funeral. Father, a man Gregory once worshiped and wanted all to himself, is later described as having “not a nurturing bone in his body.” What father gives bottles of amphetamines as going away presents to his son while he carrying on a relationship with a girl barely older than Gregory? All of this sounds like a book unbearable to read. It is not. In the end, Gregory is able to find his way through the maze of mixed emotions and come out with the determination to become an accomplished poet.

Lines to ponder, “We were grateful to let something so mysterious and disturbing pass out of memory” (p 85), “Violent trauma shreds the web of meaning” (p 134), and “Poems are discrete artifacts of language that prove someone’s imagination and linguistic gifts have triumphed over disorder in a definitive, shaped way” (p 144-145).

Playlist: “Ti Oiseau,” “Greensleeves,”Somnambule Ballad,” “Keep Your Eye on the Prize,” “Aint Gonna Study War No More,” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Birmingham Jail,” “We Belong to a Mutual Admiration Society (My Baby and Me),” “We shall Overcome.” Fats Domino, Chubby Checker, Bob Dylan.

To look up: To Die in Madrid: a documentary on the Spanish Civil War and the sculptor, David Smith.

Author fact: Orr also wrote The Caged Owl which is also on my Challenge list. It will be interesting to read the poetry now that I’ve read the memoir. Will I see hints of Orr’s personal life in his lines of poems?

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

Nancy said: Pearl included The Blessing in her list of “beautiful and moving memoirs by poets.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Prose By Poets” (p 194).


Cheaper by the Dozen

Gilbreth, Jr., Frank B. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Cheaper by the Dozen. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1948.

Reason: April 1st is known as April Fools Day. Cheaper By the Dozen is a foolish story.

The parents of Frank and Ernestine make an interesting couple. She is a psychologist and he is a motion study engineer. Together, they work to make processes more efficient for various business and by default, their twelve children are efficiency aficionados. Why twelve children? As Mr. Gilbreth explains, they were “cheaper by the dozen.” It’s a running joke in the family. Be forewarned, the family has a lot of running jokes.
An example of making a process more efficient: Mr. Gilbreth evaluated surgeons during operations to make their procedures go smoother.
While the bulk of Gilbreth’s story is humorous, it must be said that at the time of writing no one thought it politically or socially incorrect to call a Native American a “red indian.”
I don’t want to give too much away, but the birth control scene was hysterical. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud more than once. And I don’t think it is a spoiler alert to say that I loved the ending. Mother Gilbreth steps fearlessly into her husband’s shoes and carries on the family business. Brilliant.

Favorite dad line, “Some simpleton with pimples in his voice wants to talk to Ernestine” (p 220).

Author fact: Frank and Ernestine are siblings and wrote the book together.

Book Audio trivia: my copy of the audio book was narrated by Dana Ivey and had music before each chapter.
Book trivia: Cheaper by the Dozen was made into a movie more than once. Myrna Loy starred in the first version. My music connection: Josh Ritter has a song called Myrna Loy and the print version was illustrated by Donald McKay.

Playlist: “stumbling,” “Limehouse Blues,” “Last night on the Back Porch,” “Charlie, My Boy,” I’m forever Blowing Bubbles,” “You’ve got to See Mama Every Night or You Can’t See Mama at All,” “Me and the Boy Friend,” “Clap Hands, Here Comes charlie,” “Jadda Jadda Jing Jing Jing.”

Nancy said: Pearl said Cheaper by the Dozen remains one of the funniest books ever.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Humor” (p 166).


The Amateurs

Halberstam, David. The Amateurs: the Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1985.

Reason read: Halberstam’s birth month is in April. Additionally, the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge has the category of a group working towards a goal. This time it’s a team of amateur rowers trying to qualify for the 1984 Olympics.

An interesting look at a little-known sport. Even though Halberstam’s story centers around the mid-1980s not much has changed with the popularity of rowing. People can name basketball stars, football greats, even Olympic marathon runners and sprinters, but not many can name one let alone all of the members of the last Olympic crew team. I never thought about crew being a faceless sport; a sport that is not very camera friendly. Think about it – to photograph the action accurately you cannot focus on any one particular face. I never thought about it that way. As an aside, I was doing an iFit hike with a trainer named Alex Gregory. He casually mentioned he was a rower on the U.S. Olympic team and retired in 2016. See? I had no idea who he was. Additionally, I recently finished a different iFit walk around Boston and the Charles River. The trainer talked about Harvard, rowing, and competition. Sure enough, a team of eight rowed by. It was cool to see the sport I had been reading about as I worked out.
Halberstam digs deep into this relatively unknown sport to reveal how for athletes like Tiff Wood, the seeds of a competitive spirit were planted in childhood by these rowers’ families: emulating older brothers or spurred on by critical fathers wanting to win, win, win. Encouragement was expressed by failure, (“better luck next time”), and compliments were reserved for the fastest times and first place wins. Reverse psychology at play. The Amateurs is a veritable who’s who of the 1980s rowing world. The dozens of names bogged down the writing and made it difficult to remember who was supposed to be in which boat. I catalogued all the names of the rowers and coaches but I am sure I missed a few:

  • Andy Fisher
  • Andy Sudden
  • Al Shealy
  • Bill Hobbs
  • Bill Purdy
  • Blair Brooks
  • Bob Ernest (C)
  • Bobby Pearce
  • Brad Lewis
  • Bruce Ibbetson
  • Buzz Congram (C)
  • Charley Altekruse
  • Charley Bracken
  • Chris Allsopp
  • Cleve Livingston
  • Dan Goldberg
  • Dave Potter
  • Dick Cashin
  • Ed Chandler
  • Eric Stevens
  • Frank Cunningham (C)
  • Fritz Hobbs
  • Fritz Hageman
  • George Pocock
  • Gordie Gardiner
  • Greg Montessi
  • Gregg Stone
  • Hans Svensson
  • Harry Burk (C)
  • Harry Parker (C)
  • Jim Dietz
  • Joe Biglow
  • Joe Bouscaren
  • Joe Burk (C)
  • Joe Ratzenburg (C)
  • John (Jack) Frackleton
  • John Kelly, Jr.
  • John Von Blon
  • Karl Adam (C)
  • Kris Korzeniowski
  • Larry Klecatsky
  • Mad Dog Loggins
  • Mike Ives
  • Mike Livingston (C)
  • Pat Walker
  • Paul Enquist
  • Paul Most
  • Pertti Kappinen
  • Peter Raymond (C)
  • Peter-Michael Kolbe
  • Ricardo Ibarra
  • Richard Davis (C)
  • Ridgley Johnson
  • Rudiger Reiche
  • Sean Colgan
  • Steve Klesing
  • Stuart McKenzie
  • Sy Cromwell
  • Ted Nash (C)
  • Ted Washburn (C)
  • Tiff Wood
  • Tony Johnson (C)
  • Uwe Mund
  • Uyacheslav Ivanov
  • Vasily Yakusha


As another aside, I was too young to remember Jimmy Carter boycotting the United States’ participation in the 1980 Olympics. What a disappointment to all those athletes!
A third aside,

Author fact: Halberstam has written a good many books. Nancy Pearl has dedicated a whole chapter to his work. I think I am reading twenty for the Book Lust Challenge.

Book trivia: there are a few black and white photographs in the book.

Nancy said: Pearl said she noted her favorite Halberstam books with an asterisk. The Amateurs did not have an asterisk. Oh well. Overall, she said, she has never read a dull book by Halberstam. That’s good.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “David Halberstam: Too Good To Miss” (p 112).


Orchid Fever

Hansen, Eric. Orchid Fever: a Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy. New York: Pantheon Books, 2000.

Reason read: April is when everyone starts thinking about their gardens. Probably not orchids, though…I also needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of a true non-violent crime. Groundskeepers at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, call the exhibits the largest collection of horticultural loot and with words like racket, exploitation, trafficking, plundering, smuggling, and pirating I think I found the right book..

Hansen knows how to get the reader’s attention. Orchid Fever opens with a human body falling through a rain forest canopy. His guide, Tiong, seemingly fell out of the sky. Hansen was on the island of Borneo to see help build an upriver plant nursery for the Penan people. How is this for a cryptic meeting time and place: “The message was for them to meet us at the junction of the Limbang and Medalam rivers on the full moon of the fourth month of 1993” (p 8)?
He approaches his subject of orchid crime with a sense of skepticism at first. He calls these orchid-obsessed horticulturalists, “orchid people” as if they are some kind of alien race and yet, he travels the globe to meet them and start using words like racket, exploitation, trafficking, plunder, pirating, and smuggling to describe their behavior. Soon Hansen realizes these “orchid people” are so passionate about their orchids some can be driven to actual violence if provoked. It also seems that every time a legitimate researcher gets a shipment of orchids no matter how lawfully or innocently, that’s when the trouble starts. But orchids are not just for flower shows and smuggling. Hansen travels to Turkey and learns about how orchid ice cream is made from the tubers of a specific orchid. A flour made from the dried tubers creates a chewy, almost elastic texture. He also learns of the medicinal properties of orchids with such claims as the ability to heal a damaged spleen, prevent cholera and tuberculosis, facilitate childbirth, and improve sex life. Orchis in Greek does mean testicle…Along those lines, you will be introduced to the term ‘phyto-necrophilia.’ It is the “abnormal fascination or love of a dead plant material. Yes, it’s a thing. Hansen also travels to Minnesota, an area you don’t readily think of for orchids, to meet a man who tries to save orchids from being bulldozed in developing areas.

As an aside, I thought about Rex Stout’s Nero Wolf a lot while reading Orchid Fever.

Quotes to quote, “It was about this time that I got into the habit of taping my comp disks to the backs of cereal boxes in the kitchen cabinets” (p 68).
A sense of Hansen’s dry sense of humor, “We also called on Kemal Kucukonderuzunkoluk (pronounced Kucukonderuzunkkoluk), who operates one of the oldest ice creams stores in Maras” (p 97) and “Sitting at the table, an uneasy feeling came over me as I realized it was quite possible that I was the strange one” (p 234).

Soundtrack: Rockin’ Dopsie and the Cajun Twisters.

Author fact: Hansen also wrote The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer, Motoring with Mohammed and Stranger in the Forest. All three books are on my Challenge list and I am looking forward to reading them.

Book trivia: Each chapter is punctuated with a beautiful black and white illustration of an orchid.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Orchid Fever other than to explain the plot and say Orchid Fever compliments Susan Orlean’s book of the same subject, The Orchid Thief.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 300s” (p 62).


The Plague and I

MacDonald, Betty. The Plague and I. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1948.

Reason read: April is Humor Month.

I don’t know how someone can find humor in having tuberculosis, but then again, I’m not Betty MacDonald. She can find the funny in just about everything. This serious illness has come late to Betty. She is almost thirty, already married and divorced and a mother to two small children. Everything about tuberculosis is a mystery to her. The Pine’s list of treatments includes a long list of rules for new patients: no reading, no writing, no talking, no singing, no laughing, no plants, no flowers, no outside medications, no talking to other patients’ visitors, no personal clothes, and most damning of all, no hot water bottles. The goal is rest, rest, rest. When Betty first arrives at the sanitarium she doesn’t know if being cold all the time is a sign her disease is worse than others. Then she realizes it is cold all the time…for everyone. There is a great deal made of analyzing one’s sputum – determine color and measuring exactly how much is expelled. Betty wishes she had a more ladylike disease such as a brain tumor or a hot climate disease like jungle rot.
Despite the rules, the constant cold, and the overbearing Charge nurse, Betty makes friends and finds something to laugh at the entire time. How she leaves The Pines was a bit of a surprise to me but I’ll leave that for you to read.

As an aside, even though she doesn’t figure into the plot extensively, Gammy is a hoot.

Quotes I loved, “I was sure that I could be more intelligently cooperative if I knew what I was doing” (p 71).
Most realist quote, “I am neither Christian enough nor charitable enough to like anybody just because he is alive and breathing” (p 89 – 90) and “This simple pleasure was denied me, however, for I had been advised by the authorities that wandering in the grounds before breakfast meant just one thing – S.E.X.” (p 237).
Quote that distressed me, “He laughed, punched me in the stomach and ordered a sedative (p 111). What?

Playlist: “Hills of Home,” “Sonny Boy,” “My Buddy,” “Boy of Mine,” “Wind Through the Olive Tree,” “Tea for Two,” “Night and Day,” “Body and Soul,” “Judy,”
Christmas setlist: “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” “Joy to the World,” ” Silent Night,” “Adeste Fideles,” “We three Kings of Orient Are,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Once in Royal David’s City,” “O Holy Night,” “Away in a Manger.”

Author fact: MacDonald also wrote Onions in the Stew and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Both are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: The Plague and I follows The Egg and I but can be read separately. Onions in the Stew is the third book in the memoir vein.

Nancy said: Pearl included The Plague and I in her list of books she considers so funny they will having you falling off your chair, but didn’t say anything specific about the book.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Tickle Your Funny Bone” (p 217).


Alice, Let’s Eat

Trillin, Calvin. The Tummy Trililogy: Alice, Let’s Eat. New York: Farrah, Straus and Giroux, 1994.

Reason read: to continue the series started in March for Food Month.

Calvin Trillin has an ever-patient wife. In Alice, Let’s Eat Mrs. Alice Trillin practically steals the show in every chapter she appears. She has great wit. As an example, I loved her “Law of Compensatory Cashflow.” My husband has the same law: if you save a bunch of money by not buying something, you are free to use that savings on something equally as frivolous. At the time of writing, an in-flight meal cost $33. Trillin packs his own “flight picnic” so he can spend the “saved” money somewhere else, maybe on an oyster loaf. Much like American Fried, Alice, Let’s Eat is a collection of humorous essays all about eating and finding the best food across the globe.

As an aside, I need to look up Steve’s Ice Cream in Somerville to see if it still exists.

Sound track: “Hello, Dolly.” Musically related, Trillin visited Owensboro and I couldn’t help but think of Natalie Merchant coving the song, “Owensboro.” No one knows who wrote the old folk song, but it’s a good one.

Author fact: I wanted to find some fact that was “Alice” related. I learned that Trillin and his wife were married just shy of 40 years. She passed away in 2001, just four years shy of their fortieth anniversary.

Book trivia: Alice, Let’s Eat can be read independently of any other book in the Tummy Trilogy.

Nancy said: Pearl called Alice, Let’s Eat a treasure.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food For Thought” (p 91). Curiously, Alice, Let’s Eat was not included in the index of Book Lust.


Ghost Soldiers

Sides, Hampton. Ghost Soldiers. Anchor Books, New York: 2001.

Reason read: I read somewhere that March has a “Hug a G.I. Day” so I put this on the list. Even though I already had two books for this category, I am also reading Ghost Soldiers for the Portland Public Library’s Reading Challenge for the category of a book where a group works toward one goal. In this case, a group of 121 soldiers work towards rescuing 513 prisoners of war.

A group of 121 personally picked soldiers are called into action. Their mission: to march thirty miles to rescue 513 prisoners of war; survivors of the Bataan Death March. Sides is thorough in his storytelling. Side by side narratives of the rescued and the rescuers. One minute the reader is with the Rangers, planning the daring rescue; the next getting to know the prisoners of war. All the while the Japanese are launching deadly attacks and no one can predict their next erratic move. Using reliable documentation to recreate the drama, diaries, scrapbooks, oral recollections, interviews, correspondence to loved ones, and autobiographies make for an intimate feels-like-you-are-there narrative.
For me, the most moving exploit of the Rangers was when they had the villagers assist them in building an airstrip in one night (a mere five hours) to evacuate a critically wounded doctor. It brought me to tears to think of every man, woman, and child working their hardest in the dead of night to create an airstrip in the jungle for a complete stranger.
An interesting side story is the one of Claire Phillips, aka “High Pockets” working as a spy disguised as a cabaret owner. After she is exposed as a traitor, Sides seemingly ends her story but there is a postscript to her tale.

As an aside, I had to laugh when the deaf soldier was in the latrine during the raid. He missed the entire event; never heard Rangers calling for him; never noticed how quiet the camp was once everyone left.

Quotes I enjoyed, “But you would be amazed at what you can take if you have to” (p 306). Spoken by Robert Body about the march to freedom.

Playlist: Amazing Grace, Home on the Range, Don’t Fence Me In.

Author fact: Sides wrote many other books but I’m not reading any of them.

Book trivia: Ghost Soldiers has a decent collection of photographs including a group of the surviving Prisoners of War and Rangers fifty-five years later. Sides also lists every man held as a prisoner of the Cabanatuan camp. It’s pretty sobering to see all the names compiled on two pages.

Nancy said: Pearl calls Ghost Soldiers a “dramatic story.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War II Nonfiction” (p 253).


American Fried

Trillin, Calvin. American Fried. New York: Noonday Press, 1983.

Reason read: March is Food Month

American Fried takes its readers from Kansas City (okay, mostly Kansas City) to New York to Louisiana and beyond on a culinary journey of “good eats” as Guy Fieri would say. Trillin approaches the subject of food and eating with humor and, dare I say, a little sarcasm? He takes a few jabs at the notion French cuisine is superior to all others. He is not one for “fine” dining and he is a man who takes his cream cheese seriously. Pardon the pun, but each essay is loaded like a baked potato: full of fun tidbits.
Not to point out the obvious but American Fried is a little dated. The price of a steak in the mid-1970s is drastically different than today.
As an aside: have you ever seen the show, “Somebody Feed Phil” on I-Forget-Which-Channel? At the end of each episode Phil Skypes with his family and shares a delicacy with them over the screen. Phil’s wife is great and while reading American Fried I wondered if Alice was anything like her.
As another aside, rugelach is Trillin’s favorite pastry. It’s very high on my list, too.

Line I liked, “Hallucinations people suffer when gripped by the fever of Hometown Food Nostalgia” (p 10-11).

Author fact: American Fried was first published as “Adventures of a Happy Eater” in 1974.

Book trivia: American Fried is the first book in the Tummy Trilogy. My edition of American Fried has a new foreword.

Nancy said: Pearl said Trillin “approaches food with humor and much gusto” and called the essays “a treasure” (Book Lust p 91).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food For Thought” (p 91). Interestingly enough, all three of Trillin’s books were left out of the index.


Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years

Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years, Volume One. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1926.

Reason read: February 12th the is birthday of President Lincoln. Read in his honor.

Sandburg’s portrait of Abraham Lincoln is detailed, expressive, poignant, and at many times, repetitive and rambling. In the Prairie Years Sandburg, despite filling the book with long and meandering passages, has an overall lyrical language which is to be expected from a writer who is a talented poet first and foremost. He introduces our nation’s sixteenth president as being a captivating and complicated human being long before Lincoln entered the White House. Sandburg starts Lincoln’s story by portraying him as a quiet and sensitive child whose dreams were very important to him; catching the symbolisms of life at an early age. Later, as an adult, Lincoln would see his dreams and symbolisms as a connection to his future. As a teenager, learning became Lincoln’s obsession. He was said to always have a book in his hand; that he was constantly reading. I have an image of him studying big law books while plowing his father’s fields. All that book reading didn’t mean Lincoln was a soft sissy, though. Lincoln was the Superman of his day. As Sandburg frequently points out, because Abe was so tall and strong with “bulldog courage,” people were constantly challenging him to foot races, wrestling matches, and fist fights: anything to prove their strength against him. Sandburg seems proud to report most times these challengers lost.
In the midst of industry’s wheels just starting to turn, slavery was seen as a profitable business. At the same time, at the age of twenty-three, Lincoln’s political wheels were just starting to turn as well. He wasn’t interested in drinking or fishing. He wanted to continue to learn the law. He became a postmaster so he could have access to newspaper. In the first installment of Sandburg’s biography, we learn Lincoln grew into a complicated man with many sides. Lincoln the storyteller, always telling jokes and stories. Lincoln the neighbor, ready to help a friend, stranger, or animal in need. Lincoln the silent and sad, afraid to carry a pocketknife for fear of harming himself. Sandburg quotes Lincoln as once saying, “I stay away because I am conscious I should not know how to behave myself” (p 22).

Just think of the contemporaries of Lincoln’s day! John Marshall, Daniel Webster; Andrew Jackson was President, Edgar Allan Poe had just been thrown out of West Point and decided to become a writer, Charles Darwin started his journey on the Beagle, Johnnie Appleseed was starting to walk about with seeds in his pockets…

I have come to the conclusion I would have liked to have known Abraham Lincoln, even before he became President of the United States. He had a quick wit and an even faster sense of humor. I would have been drawn to his melancholy, too.

Lines I loved, “Days when he sank deep in the stream of human life and felt himself kin of all that swam in it, whether the waters were crystal or mud” (p 77).

Author fact: Carl Sandburg is better known as a poet. However, he did win a Pulitzer in History for Abraham Lincoln: the War Years (which I am not reading for the Challenge. Go figure.

Book trivia: Abraham Lincoln is a six volume set. I am only reading the first two volumes.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about either volume of Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1920s” (p 175).


City People Notebook

Eisner, Will. Will Eisner’s New York: Life in the Big City: City People Notebook. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1989.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January.

I am starting to notice a pattern with Eisner’s work: there is a level of subtle tragedy in every story in Will Eisner’s New York. One example – in City People Notebook the throngs of people moving down the bustling sidewalk do not give notice to the man in terrible distress, apparently having a heart attack until he lies prostrate on the sidewalk, dead. It’s a terrible image.
Despite the sadness there is some humor (Hotel LaSleaze where a man assumes he has anonymity and takes out an escort). I especially liked the smell shock. The city smells so bad you don’t recognize when it is on fire.
The same street has many different personalities: empty, angry, sad. Eisner studies the relationship between people and these streets. He calls it an “archaeological study of city people.” The lonely people, the suspicious people, the harried people. They all flow through the streets on their way somewhere. All the while they are unaware of the environmental factors of time, smell, rhythm and space. There is a certain cadence to the city – the element of speed through a maze; a certain cacophony of emissions.

Author fact: Eisner died in January 2005.

Book trivia: Eisner offers up a new introduction for City People Notebook in his compendium.

Nancy said: Pearl lists City People Notebook as one of the books about New York City she really liked.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “New York City: a Taste of the Big Apple” (p 151).


Maximize 365

Sherry, Kristin A. Maximize 365: A Year of Actionable Tips to Transform Your Life. Texas: Black Rose, 2021

Reason read: chosen for the Early Review Program for LibraryThing.

Inspired by a combination of the works of Bob Sager and Zig Ziglar Kristin Sherry has come up with her own five forms of life-wealth: Health and Wellness, Spirituality, Relationships, Career, and Finances. Each chapter is dedicated to themes surrounding the five forms of life-health and each theme is only a page long. Sherry’s book is chock full of great advice although not all of it is hers. She has curated dozens of websites, YouTube videos, Tedx Talks, quotes, articles and books from other experts and compiled them in Maximize 365. I thought of her book as more of an encyclopedia for the learners and the curious; anyone interested in self-development but too busy and overwhelmed to find each resource individually.
There is truth to the information Sherry shares in Maximize 365. My favorite example would be something my husband and I started doing early in the pandemic: taking hikes in the woods. Described by the Japanese as Shinrin-yoku, or “taking in the forest” Sherry reports taking twenty-minute walks through nature several times a week as a way to stave off depression. It works.
Another element of Maximize 365 I could relate to was when Sherry describes being busy as a “status symbol.” That may be true, but it is also a generational thing. My mother and father worked seven days a week. Sitting and reading a book was seen as indulgent or lazy. Always doing something constructive was preferred. Books and sitting still were saved for bad weather or illness. To this day my mother cannot sit in one place for very long. I have inherited her sense of constant motion.

My biggest pet peeve: sometimes Sherry will refer to a book but not give the author credit.

Confessional: I skipped the religious piece because what if I am not a practicing Christian? What if my belief does not have a capital G god? What if my book of faith is not the Bible?
Another way to make Maximize 365 more inclusive is to remove the word “marriage” and call it life relationships or intimate partnerships. Some people cannot get married because of their sexual orientation or ethnic differences. What if someone wanted to work on their relationship skills as a parent?


Devil’s Highway: a True Story

Urrea, Luis Alberto. The Devil’s Highway: a True Story. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 2004.

Reason read: Read in honor of Arizona becoming a state in February even though Arizona is the bad guy in this story. I also needed a book with the topic of a group working towards a common goal for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Southern Arizona is an unforgiving territory but ask those in the know. The people of Veracruz would say Mexico is even more so. The risk of traversing southern Arizona’s blazing desert is worth it if it means getting out of a dead-end life in a violent country. As Natalie Merchant sings in ‘San Andreas Fault,’ “Go west. Paradise is there. You’ll have all that you can eat of milk and honey over there…it’s rags to riches over there.” The trick is to survive the journey. Enemies abound. Double-crossing smugglers. Keen-eyed border patrol. Camouflaged poisonous snakes. Lightning fast scorpions. None of these can hold a candle to the dangers of desert’s unrelenting heat. In May the temperature never dips below ninety degrees. In the daytime the sun gets so hot human bodies dry out and brains begin to boil. Through barely controlled rage, as if gritting his teeth, Urrea tells the harrowing story of twenty-six men who, in May of 2001, risk everything to make it to points north. The Devil’s Highway (or Path), as this stretch of southern Arizona desert is known, is notorious for being so dangerous even Border Patrol stays clear. Other reviews of Urrea’s book state that twelve of the twenty-six succeeded in making it to safety. I have an issue with this. To say that twelve made it to safety implies that they succeeded in arriving at their various U.S. destinations. They succeeding in disappearing into the fabric of nameless and faceless working-class communities across the country. Instead, they survived the desert, were nursed back to health and only to be regarded as witnesses for a criminal trial against their coyote and ultimately sent back to Mexico. There is more but I will leave it at that.

There were a lot of great lines to quote. Here are some of my favorites, “It was a forest of eldridge bones” (p 5), “As if the desert felt it hadn’t made its point, it added killer bees” (p 6), and “A magus can sit in his pickup and summon the Beast while eating a teriyaki bowl and Diet Coke” (p 13). Harsh realities.

Author fact: Urrea also wrote The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Into the North. Both titles are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: The Devil’s Highway is a best seller and came close to winning a Pulitzer.

Nancy said: Pearl mentions The Devil’s Highway would be a good read for a book group. She also said it has been “well reviewed.” Interestingly enough, Devil’s Highway is an aside in both chapters.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “AZ You Like It” (p 30), and again in the chapter called “Postcards From Mexico” (p 185)