December’s Comfort

December started with an overnight to New York City. This is going to sound strange coming from a girl from a small town in Maine, but I love, love, love the Big Apple. I love the grit and congestion. I love all the food choices (pizza!). Of course I also love the fact I can leave it!
We were there to see Natalie Merchant receive the John Lennon Real Love Award at Symphony Space. A fantastic night! Since we rattled down to the city via rails I was able to get a lot of reading done. Here is the proposed plan for the rest of the month:


  • The Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia (EB) – in honor of December being the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “best month to travel to. [location” books but I guess not.
  • A Long Way From Home by Connie Briscoe (EB) – in honor of Briscoe’s birth month being in December.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – for Christmas.
  • Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – in honor of the month Eeyore was born.


  • A People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons (P) – in honor of the history of the Constitution. Yes, I know I read this some years ago, but I can’t find the review anywhere, so I am reading it again.
  • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton (EB) – in honor of de Botton’s birth month being in December.
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (EB) – in honor of Bryson’s borth month being in December.
  • Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich (EB)- in honor of Berlin’s Tattoo Festival which takes place in December every year.
  • Saddest Pleasure by Moritz Thomsen – in honor of Brazil’s first emperor.

Series Continuations:

  • Without Fail by Lee Child (EB) – started in July.
  • The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset (EB) – started in October.

November Accomplished

I wanted to rename November Nope the second I published it. I don’t know why I always have a pessimistic view of the month before it has even started. I think I need an attitude adjustment! For starters, I finished the books I set out to read for the month:


  • The Sporting Club by Thomas McGuane.
  • The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak.


  • Four Corners by Kira Salak.
  • Israel is Real by Rich Cohen.
  • Silverland by Dervla Murphy.

Series continuations:

  • Master of Hestviken: the Snake Pit by Sigrid Undset.
  • Echo Burning by Lee Child.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Teaching Empathy by Suzanna Henshon, PhD.

Snake Pit

Undset, Sigrid. The Master of Hestviken: The Snake Pit. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.

Reason read: to continue the series started in October with The Axe.

In this installment of the Master of Hestviken series readers get to know Olav Audunsson’s past as he has returned home to Hestviken; most importantly, how his mother died when Olav was only a month old, which explains how he came to live with Ingunn’s family. Speaking of Ingunn, when we left her in The Axe she had given her illegitimate child (Eirik) away to be fostered and went with Olav to his family home. Happily ever after? Not really. Olav is tortured by the fact he cannot seek absolution for the slaying of Ingunn’s baby daddy. No one can make even the connection between Teit and Ingunn because it was Teit who disgraced Ingunn. Meanwhile, Ingunn as of late is either pregnant, miscarrying, or otherwise deathly ill. In fact, for a good portion of The Snake Pit Ingunn is very sick. Towards the end of the book after the successful birth of her daughter Cecilia (finally!) she lies bedridden for over three years, crippled by some mysterious paralysis. Yet, through it all, despite it all, deep down Olav still loves her.

As an aside, one has to forgive Undset’s language. In this current culture struggling with equality and inclusion, the reader must stoically ignore the misogynistic behavior and attitude of Olav towards his wife, the one he anticipates “will be in his power” because she is “weak.” Quite a bit of gender bashing occurs.

Author fact: Undset also published a diary called Return to the Future (also on my Challenge list).

Book trivia: Snake Pit is the shortest installment of the Master of Hestviken series. Additionally, characters from Undset’s other series make a small appearance at the end of Snake Pit. Lavransdatter’s father helps Olav get home to his wife.

Nancy said: Pearl said Snake Pit was a masterpiece.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Norway: Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).

Kristin Lavransdatter: the cross

Undset, Sigrid. Kristin Lavransdatter: the Cross. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1939.

Sadly, the third and final volume of Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter called “The Cross” was just as melancholy as the last volume, if not more so. Spoiler alert! Everyone dies. The end.

We when catch up with Kristin in “The Cross” she now has seven children. Kristin’s brother-in-law, Simon, still pines for Kristin and it becomes painfully obvious when his only child becomes deathly ill and Kristin is there to care for his dying son. He dreams of Kristin caring for him rather than his family. It is obvious to everyone but they pretend to know nothing. Meanwhile Kristin and Erlend’s relationship continues to sour despite having a large family. Simon’s never ending love for Kristin and Erlend’s lost inheritance drive a wedge between the couple. They quarrel so badly Erlend moves out (just like a modern day spat). Oddly enough it is Simon (on his death bed) who convinces them to reconcile long enough to have an eighth child.
At this point in the story I am depressed by how many people have died off and how miserable Kristin is that I gave up reading. To make matters worse, my calico went missing last night. She trusts me so I thought the sound of my voice would draw her out of the woods. I read Kristin to her. Since it didn’t work I couldn’t bear to read it anymore.

BookLust Twist: for the third and final time – from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through Fiction” (p 79) and from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Norway: Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).

Kristin Lavransdatter: the mistress of Husaby

Undset, Sigrid. Kristin Lavransdatter: the Mistress of Husaby. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1939.

This is part two of the saga of Kristin Lavransdatter. As with part one I feel I am missing something with part two. I still wish I had the newer translation to refer to. Oh well.

But, wishing is the theme for part two. Kristin has now learned to be careful of what she wishes for. When we pick up the story in The Mistress of Husaby or The Wife (depending on your translation), Kristin is fat with pregnancy and miserable. She spends a fair amount of her time crying and daydreaming about how life would be back home. Her imagination fills in the gaps of what her mother would be doing or her father would be saying at that exact moment. Meanwhile Kristin’s relationship with Erlend is not the carefree wine and roses marriage she imagined it would be. Erlend is careless with his property and political actions and while Kristin’s opinion of him changes he never loses his passion for her. They are a couple out of balance. They go on to have several more children, though. In an ironic twist, Simon, Kristin’s former fiance marries Kristin’s 14 year old sister but gets Erlend out of politically trouble because he still loves Kristin.
It is in this section of the story that the relationship of Kristin’s parents receives more attention.

Favorite line: The advice given to Erlend. “But I will pray to St. Olav to cleave me in two halves with his axe the day I see you stand upon those long legs of yours, look man or woman straight in the face, and answer for the mischief you have wrought in your light-mindedness” (p 312). How many people have wanted to say that to his or her wayward friend?

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through Fiction” (p 79) and from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Norway: The Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162). PS~ I know I mentioned the twist in the review for part one but it made sense to say it again. Look for it in part three as well.

June ’12 was…

I had high hopes for June. Unreasonably so, I think. I don’t know what I was thinking when I decided the difference of a day would make everything better. What’s May 31 into June 1st other than Thursday into Friday? One day into the next? Silly me. June was a few things – a return to the run, a funeral heard around the world, a trip to an exotic island…

Here is the book list:

  • A River Runs Though It and Other Stories by Norman MacLean ~ in honor of river cleanup month. I can see why they made the first short story into a movie, but why not the other two? They were equally as good as the first. I read this in five days.
  • Death of Ivan Ilich by Leo Tolstoy ~ in honor of June being the best month to travel to Russia…that is, if you even want to travel to Russia. I guess you would need the desire before you decided the best time to go…I read this over three lunch breaks.
  • Kristin Lavransdatter: the Bridal Wreath by Sigrid Undset ~ again, chosen for the best time to travel somewhere. In this case, Norway. Note: this is only part one of a three part story. I will be reading the rest in July and August.
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus ~ in honor of I honestly don’t remember what. Something celebrating Algeria, I’m sure. This was deceptively simple to read. Read over five lunch breaks.
  • The Duke of Deception by Geoffrey Wolff ~ read in honor of June being family month. Some family!
  • Damage by Josephine Hart ~ in honor of Father’s Day…well, sort of.

Two Early Review books came in, courtesy of LibraryThing:

  • Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports by Tim Noakes, MD. I didn’t finish this in time to consider it an official June read, but at least I started it in June.
  • Who Should I Be? a Novel From Life by Sheila Heti ~ this was slightly delusional but I loved it.

    One audio book on cassette while I worked out:

  • D-Day by Stephen Ambrose ~ in honor of well, D-Day – June 6th 1944. Duh.

I should also note that I had an audio book for the flight to HI. I listened to July’s selection for the entire trip to and from the islands.

Kristin Lavransdatter

Undset, Sigrid. Kristin Lavransdatter: the Bridal Wreath. Translated by Charles Archer. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1922.

The first thing I have to point out is there were two things going against this book (for me, anyway). One is sheer size. The entire novel is a trilogy, well over 1,000 pages. Add another sixty pages if you want to include the author’s notes. And the print is small. Real small. The second “negative” is that it is a translation, originally written in Norwegian. It seems I never do well with translated works. It’s almost as if the translator, no matter how hard he or she tried, lost something essential to the flavor of the book. I can’t explain it other than something always gets lost in translation. I know that’s cliche of me to say, but in this case I mean it literally, 100%. Note: I just found out that there is another, more recent translation that seems to be superior to the one I read. Darn.
Having said all that I should also point out (again) Kristin Lavransdatter has three volumes: The Bridal Wreath, the Wife and the Cross. I decided to read The Wreath in June, The Wife in July and The Cross in August. My chances of actually finishing the thing are much better when broken out this way. Another confession: while this might be a lengthy tale it’s also very good and easy to read.

I read this book because a) June is the best time to visit Norway and if you haven’t guessed by my tirade, the author is Norwegian; and b) June is the best month to get married (or divorced) in and Kristin is about the marriage of Kristin…eventually. The book starts with “The Bridal Wreath.” Kristin is a very young child traveling with her father across Norway. In true 14th century fashion Kristin is betrothed to a wealthy, reputable man in a neighboring town. As Kristin grows up she becomes increasingly rebellious, so much so that when she is nearly raped her community has doubts about who is telling the truth. As a result her family decides to send Kristin away to a convent to hide out until the rumors die down. While at this convent she falls in love with the dashing Erlend, a man who has reputation problems of his own. Excommunicated by the Catholic church because of an affair with a married woman, Erlend manages to seduce Kristin as well. Before they can be married Kristin becomes pregnant. The title of this section of Kristin Lavransdatter is in regards to the wreath wears on her wedding day. It is supposed to signify virginity but Kristin wears it with shame, too embarrassed to tell anyone it is a lie.

Author fact: Undset was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928.

Book Trivia: Kristin Lavransdatter was made into a movie in 1995.

BookLust Twist: FromĀ More Book LustĀ in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through Fiction” (p 79)’, and Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Norway: The Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).