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).
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.
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).
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.
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).
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).
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?
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)
Eisner, Will. Will Eisner’s New York: Life in the Big City: The Building. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1987.
Reason read: to continue the series started in January.
So much tragedy and human heartache surrounding one building: the story of Monroe, a man trying to save all the children of New York after an accident involving a young boy changes his entire life; PJ Hammond and his singular obsession to buy the building he grew up in; the love affair between Gilda and poor poet, Benny in the shadow of the building (until Gilda goes and marries someone else for money); and Antonio Tonatti, the man who loved to play music in front of the majestic building until it was torn down. One building, so many stories. It’s as if the giant structure made of glass and steel stood guard over all these lives.There is one final story which ties all the other stories together. It’s bittersweet and beautiful. Quintessential New York.
Author fact: Eisner has a comic Hall of Fame award named after him.
Book trivia: Look carefully at the illustrations. Characters come back from other stories.
Nancy said: The Building is included in a list of books about New York that Pearl has enjoyed.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “New York City: A Taste of the Big Apple” (p 151).
Eisner, Will. Will Eisner’s New York: the Big City: New York. New York: D.C. Comics, 1981.
Reason read: Will Eisner passed away in the month of January. Read in his memory.
Every time I think of New York I cannot help but also think of Natalie Merchant’s song, “Carnival.” How could I not? It’s an homage to a great city of contradiction. Her line, “A wild-eyed mystic prophet, on a traffic island, stopped and he raved of saving me” evokes so many conflicting emotions. Thanks to my nephew being born in New York City, I got to waken a dormant love for the Big Apple. Sights, smells, and sounds that are often times distasteful to some (like my husband), fill me with inexplicable energy and ambition. I want to run Central Park like I live on the upper west side. It’s as if New York’s grit and grime are tangible forms of strength and tenacity that speak loudly to me. In New York, Will Eisner captures perfectly the stark reality of the big city’s silent and subtle struggles. You can smell the stench of all corners of New York, hear the frenetic activity in every sentence. But, look and look again very carefully. There is power in what isn’t said. Look at the illustration of the people riding the subway. You can almost hear the rattle of the rails; and when the train grinds to a halt during a blackout there’s that one guy who doesn’t change expression. As the minutes tick by, the people around him slowly start to panic while he stoically stares ahead. There truly is always that one guy and if you were on that train, you would see him. This is a portrait of an important city doing unimportant things, all lovingly expressed in a series of vignettes; the constants of New York: Avenue C which connect the East side to West, the importance of stoops, the sentinels of the City (hydrants, mailboxes, traffic signals, lampposts, windows, and sewers), and the people. You can read the entire thing in minutes, but that only means you have time to read it again and again and again.
Best quotes, “The big city is after all a hive of concrete and steel in which living things swarm. Depositing, in the course of their lives, the residue of their existence, in the countless garbage cans that sit dumbly amid the swirl” (p 41).
Author fact: Will Eisner popularized the term “graphic novel.”
Book trivia: After New York the tribute to New York continues with The Building, City People Notebook, and, Invisible People.
Nancy said: Pearl said she really enjoyed New York.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “New York City: A Taste of the Big Apple” (p 151).
Pipher, Mary. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. New York: Ballantine, 1995.
Reason read: as part of a New Year’s resolution for a friend, I am reading this with a few other books about raising daughters.
Reviving Ophelia takes personal stories of girls and connects them to larger cultural issues. While written in the mid-nineties, and a little out of date in places, for the most part Dr. Pipher still delivers sound advice, often sharing tidbits about herself along the way. Pipher is a child of the 1950s, and even though the writing is over thirty years old, her stories still hold up. Who hasn’t been “untrue” to themselves, lying about their level of hunger, downplaying grades, pretending to like a style of music or fashion to impress someone else? Peggy Orenstein addresses eating disorders in Schoolgirls in much the same way as Pipher. At times, the stories of girls with overwhelming desires to be thin were so similar I would forget which book, Pipher or Orenstein, I was reading. Reviving Ophelia is different from Schoolgirls in that Pipher is drawing from actual therapy sessions while Orenstein visited two different middle schools and interviewed children in a different atmosphere.
Quote to quote, “My relationship with my mother, like all relationships with mothers was extremely complex, filled with love, longing, a need for closeness and distance, separation and fusion” (p 102). Sounds very familiar. One other line to like, “Strong girls may protect themselves by being quiet and guarded so that their rebellion in known only by a few trusted others” (p 266).
Author fact: Mary Pipher has her own website here. Her blog, while brief, is beautiful.
Book trivia: Pipher does not include photographs in her book.
Nancy said: Pearl said Pipher should be read with The Body Project (Bromberg), Schoolgirls (Orenstein), and Queen Bees & Wannabes (Wiseman) as they are all about “teenage girls’ problems with both society and themselves” (More Book Lust p 227).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Two, or Three, are Better Than One” (p 226).
Wiseman, Rosalind. Queen Bees Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boys, and the New Realities of Girl World, 3rd Ed. New York: Harmony Books, 2012.
Reason read: a woman’s new year’s resolution is to be a better mother. I’m not that woman, but she made me think of these books. Read in her honor.
Written for parents as a tool for understanding their daughters, Queen Bees offers insights from children and teens to supplement Wiseman’s sound advice. Wiseman’s first job is to offer suggestions for what kind of guidance a mother can give her daughter surrounding all kinds of situations, usually related to peer to peer friendships and other critical relationships in a girl’s life. Occasionally, she addresses the dads, too. More often than not, Wiseman will offer sample “scripts” of what to say in various situations. It is here that I found Wideman to be a little idealistic in more than a few places. See here: “Get inside her head and then you’ll understand where she is coming from and how to help her” (p 8). That is like saying create world peace and you will end gun violence. Don’t all parents want to know what is going on inside their child’s head? Wouldn’t knowing her true thoughts give parents at least some of the tools they need to help her? Additionally, some of the quotes from children seem a little suspect; a little too good to be true. Wiseman ignores the impact emotion has on an action. Sometimes logic is compromised by uncontrolled feeling; so much so that the right thing to say cannot come out. In truth, there are so many suggested dialogues that I found them a little tedious.
As an aside, I grew up with only two other girls in my entire school from 6th to 8th grade. and one of them was my little sister. I didn’t have the confrontations and drama that most girls in Queen Bees encountered. However, when I got to high school I had the social immaturity of a fourth grader. I was a pleaser and didn’t know how to voice my own opinion, or be my own person. I cringed to read about my own misguided actions and beliefs.
Quotes I liked, “There has never been an age limit on being mean” (p 5). Yup. First quote that really got me, “I had already learned that having a relationship was more important than how I was treated within it” (p 15). Been there, done that. Sadly. It’s called lying to yourself.
Author fact: Wiseman started off teaching young girls self defense and progressed to classes on self esteem and confidence.
Book trivia: Wiseman updates Queen Bees every five years. For example, this latest update included advice about emerging technologies.
Nancy said: Pearl said Wiseman should be read with The Body Project (Bromberg), Reviving Ophelia (Pipher), and Schoolgirls (Orenstein) as they all “address teenage girls’ problems with both society and themselves” (More Book Lust p 227).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Two, or Three, are Better Than One” (p 226).
Seife, Charles. Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea. New York: Viking, 2000.
Reason read: another choice relating to New Year’s resolution. Everyone wants to reset the clock. Zero symbolizes just that.
No other number can do so much damage, so says Charles Seife. He tells you this as he is explaining the Golden Ratio, how Winston Churchill is equal to a vegetable, and how you can make your very own wormhole. Mathematics, religion, philosophy, art, engineering, history: they all connect to zero. Mathematics is a more obvious element, but take religion: Shiva, one of the three gods in the Hindu triumvirate, represents nothing because Shiva’s role is to destroy the universe in order to perpetually recreate it. Seife goes deep to illustrate the importance of the zero and how, historically, it created as well as calmed chaos. Zero is historical and humorous, informative and even a little emotional.
Lines I liked, “To add insult to injury, the ultimate Pythagorean symbol of beauty and rationality, was an irrational number” (p 37) and “But the sand reckoner was destined to meet his fate while reckoning the sand” (p 52).
As an aside, does everyone know the music of Josh Ritter? I couldn’t help but think of his song, Lark, when reading Zero because he mentions “Golden ratio, the shell.”
Author fact: Seife has an M.S. in Mathematics from Yale University. Are you surprised?
Book trivia: Zero is the only book I know that starts with the chapter 0 instead of a preface or introduction.
Nancy said: Pearl lures you in and makes you curious about Zero when she says, “[Seife] offers a mathematical proof that Winston Churchill is equal to a carrot” (p 256). Okay, you got me.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zero: This Will Mean Nothing To You” (p 256).
Orenstein, Peggy. Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap. New York: Anchor, 1995.
Reason read: as part of a mother’s new year’s eve resolution I am reading this in solidarity.
Peggy Orenstein started her Schoolgirls project after reading a report by the American Association of University Women, “Shortchanging girls, Shortchanging America” in her daily newspaper. Inspired, she set out to probe deeper into this cultural chasm and ended up writing Schoolgirls.
Orenstein’s approach to her project was to visit two ethnically polarized middle schools and observe the behaviors of young girls, specifically eighth graders, from all walks of life. She even singled out specific children to learn more about their personal lives. She witnessed girls with declining confidence, girls with conflicting responsibilities: do I stay at home and take care of my younger siblings or do I go to school where I’m not learning much? Do I quit school to get a job to support my family? Orenstein shed light on challenges all girls face no matter their socio-economic backgrounds: self-image and eating disorders, sex, teen pregnancy, and harassment, cliques and bullying, and dipping academic success. One element of young girls’ lives not addressed was the advent of technology: texting, social media platforms, webcams.
Author fact: Schoolgirls has its own webpage here.
Book trivia: The re-issue of Schoolgirls features a new foreword.
Nancy said: Pearl said Orenstein should be read with The Body Project (Bromberg), Reviving Ophelia (Pipher), and Queen Bees & Wannabes (Wiseman) as they are all about “teenage girls’ problems with both society and themselves” (More Book Lust p 227).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Two, or Three, are better Than One” (p 227).
Brumberg, Joan Jacob. The Body Project. New York: Random House, 1997.
Reason read: Mothers have a special New Year’s Resolution. I’m not a mother, but I know one who has made some good promises to the new year. Read in her honor.
The Body Project is centered on female adolescence and body image. Probably the most fascinating aspect to The Body Project is Brumberg’s collection of diaries she used as research for the narrative. She could draw on the experiences of Victorian era girls as if she had interviewed them just yesterday. She is able to compare perceptions throughout the ages and the changing times. There is special attention paid to how mothers relate to their daughters. Take for example, menarche and menstruation. When mothers teach their daughters about the process they talk about how to “take care of it” meaning the bleeding, but rarely do they explain why the blood is happening in the first place. Brumberg cites a distinct disconnect between menstruation and fertility. Mothers even do not fully explain what is physically happening to their daughters’ bodies.
It’s as if Brumberg needs to be that mother figure for young girls. The Body Project has a whole chapter on acne: pimples and blackheads, calling it the plague of youth or a sign of poverty. Not only is the history of the treatment of acne covered, but how marketing took advantage of the plight of teenagers with unclear skin. Eye opening for me was when Brumberg addressed masturbation and the misconception it causes acne. I have to admit, I never heard of that. Wasn’t the theory you would go blind?
Another body project is more well known – the desire to be thin. One girl didn’t want to attend Mount Holyoke for fear of gaining weight. She had heard the food was quite good but her goal was to lose weight, not gain it.
A word of warning: Brumberg focusses mainly on middle class girls and all of her reporting is from mid-nineties statistics. Despite that, it is an interesting read.
As an aside, before I even cracked open the pages of The Body Project I said to myself, I bet you anything Brumberg is going to mention Madonna and within 50 pages, boom! There was Madonna.
Another aha moment, I did not know the Girl Scouts of America was the first group to systematically teach menstruation to young girls.
As another aside, Brumberg discusses the changing age of consent and the need for girls to be “sexy” at younger and younger ages. Kisa and I were watching a video from an emerging all-girl band and wondering how old they were. I predicted some of them hadn’t experienced menarche yet for they didn’t look a day over ten or eleven years old. Their seductive poses were well beyond their ages.
Quote worth quoting, “…A body is a proxy for the self…” (p 128).
Author fact: at the time of publication, Brumberg was a professor at Cornell University teaching Women’s History and Women’s Studies.
Book trivia: This is specific to my copy of The Body Project. It looks as though an animal chewed through a chapter for there are claw marks and several pages have gaping holes.
Nancy said: Pearl said to read Brumberg with Reviving Ophelia (Pipher), Queen Bees and Wannabes (Wiseman), and Schoolgirls (Orenstein) as they all “address teenage girls’ problems with both society and themselves” (More Book Lust p 227).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Two, or Three, are Better Than One” (p 226).