Writer’s House in Wales

Morris, Jan. A Writer’s House in Wales. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2002.

Reason read: for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading challenge. I needed a book for the category of transgender or nonbinary author. Jan was James until the 1970s. I love how Morris makes mention of her transition and how the Welsh have “kindly pretended that nothing ever happened” (p 59). The way it should be.

Everyone loves a funky house. Trefan Morys is as unique as they get: imagine a converted old stone barn with wood beams and a slate roof. Now imagine this: the horse stalls converted into two rooms, both being floor to ceiling libraries (because “the Internet is no substitute” for a good book). Model ships, strategically scattered everywhere. More books piled on the floor. I picture this house being cozy yet drafty with its upstairs view of the wild Irish sea; cozy yet sprawling with all of its secret nooks and crannies.
Confessional: I grew up surrounded by houses with charming names. Not the last names of owners, but fanciful [names] such as Treetops, Fairhaven, and Inkspot. Trefan Morys as the name of Morris’s house in Wales seems perfect.
Morris’s focus is not just on her house, but on her country’s people as well. She speaks of geographic history and how Indigenous Wales continues to struggle to keep an identity in the face of a barrage of British influence.
The hidden bonus is learning more about Morris as a person and not just a Welsh author who changed gender. She has a sense of humor. She has a partner who has stuck with her throughout it all. She is fearless: Morris is not one to back down from a challenge, climbing Everest to write about Edmund Hillary’s ascent, for example. Then there’s Ibsen, the cat. It’s all so charming.

There were so many lines I liked. It was extremely hard to narrow it down to just a few, but here are the ones I connected with the most: “I always think of music as means of communication across the continents and the ages” (p 97), “Music also seems to me one of life’s great reconcilers, an instrument of universal good” (p 98),

Author fact: Morris had a cat named Ibsen. Perfect. But…I should also tell you Morris is better known as a historian. The Pax Trilogy is also on my list.

Book trivia: I would have loved to see photographs of Trefan Morys. It just sounds like the perfect house. I did find a picture in a recent edition of ‘The Guardian’ and it only left me wanting more.

Nancy said: Pearl said A Writer’s House in Wales is “distinguished by [Morris’s] keen eye for detail, her fine writing, and her enthusiasm for her subject” (Book Lust To Go p 248).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Wales Welcomes You” (p 248).


Uniform Justice

Leon, Donna. Uniform Justice. New York: Penguin, 2004.

Reason read: to end the series started in September in honor memory of plans to go to Italy. Fukc covid.

When we return to the Venetian world of Commissario Guido Brunetti he has found himself mired in the apparent suicide of a military cadet found hanging in a dormitory shower. It should be an open and shut case, but there is something about the death that doesn’t sit right with Brunetti. Moro’s father resigned from Parliament after Mrs. Moro was shot in an apparent hunting accident. Now Mr. Noro’s son is dead. Is this retribution for his meddling in a corrupt investigation? As usual, Brunetti”s boss, Vice-Questore Patta, is eager to move on. Looks like a suicide, smells like a suicide, so it is a suicide. Hog-tied by political play, Patta would rather Brunetti poke his nose elsewhere. Brunetti is forced to bend the rules in order to solve the mystery. It reminded me of how Brenda would stop at nothing to get a confession on one of my favorite television shows, The Closer.
Aside from the intriguing character of Guido Brunetti, Leon always illustrates Venice in a way that is mouth-watering and fills this reader with the yearning to pack her bags.

Author fact: Donna Leon was once a teacher.

Book trivia: Uniform Justice is #12 in the series, but the last one I will be reading for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl said Uniform Justice is a “particularly good one.”

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


Hideous Kinky

Freud, Esther. Hideous Kinky. New York: Penguin, 1993.

Reason read: Morocco’s Independence Day is November 18th.

Esther Freud tells her autobiographical fiction through the eyes of a child. An emotionally untethered mother decides to leave dreary England for the exotic culture of Marrakech, Morocco with two young girls in tow. For money they rely on the kindness of strangers, selling homemade dolls by the side of the road, sewing clothes, and other small ventures. Occasionally and unpredictably, Lucy and Bea’s father would send money from London and they would eat well for awhile. While mother is exploring mysticism and unconventional relationships in the interest of self improvement, Bea and Lucy invent ways to not miss home and their father. Bea, being the elder, wants to replace London in Marrakech with school and stability. Lucy is young enough to want a replacement for the father they left behind. She sets her hopes on some interesting characters.

Quote that resonated with me, “She was the only person I knew who could turn off their ears like shutting an eye.” You, Esther Freud, have not met my mother.

Edited to add: there is a scene in Hideous Kinky that brings me back to a memory of my sister. I can’t unstick it from the walls of my mind. Maybe sharing it here will loosen the gluey nostalgia. One sister wants desperately to play with the other. She begs and begs until the other finally, reluctantly, and with great exasperation agrees. Pride steps in and the lonely sister stubbornly decides “too late!” I was the sister not wanting to play. Shut up in my bedroom with a good book, I clearly remember my sister’s little fingers poking under the door as she pleaded to please play with her. When I finally relented I flung open my bedroom door to find she had defiantly moved on. Touché, sister of mine!

Author fact: Freud is the great granddaughter of Sigmund. The celebrity degrees of separation doesn’t stop there. Freud is also the daughter of painter Lucien Freud.

Book trivia: Hideous Kinky was made into a movie in 1999 starring Kate Winslet. Nope. Haven’t seen it.

Nancy said: Pearl said absolutely nothing about Hideous Kinky.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “North African Notes” (p 158).


Darkest Road

Kay, Guy Gavriel. The Darkest Road. New York: Arbor House, 1986.

Reason read: to finish the series started in September in honor of Fantasy month.

This is the conclusion of the Tapestry series. Rakoth Maugrim, the Unraveller, is busy assembling his armies for battle. Everyone knows magic must prevail…but will it? It all comes down to the decision of young Darien. Darien, who was born of Darkness and Light; half mortal, half god; good versus evil and so on and so forth. Darien still struggles with his identity. Because his mother insists on giving him space to work out his issues he feels lost and unloved. There is a lesson to be learned from this. Darien is left to his own devices, not because he isn’t loved, but because he is trusted to do the right thing on his own. Which side will be his? Enter Lancelot to be his protector from both sides of identity. There is a whole lot more that goes on in The Darkest Road. All the typical battles and trysts; atypical alliances and love affairs. The humans are in there, too.

Author fact: My next Kay book for the Challenge is The Last Light of the Sun, but I also have Under Heaven and The Lions of al-Rassan to read.

Book trivia: This is the last book in the Tapestry series.

Nancy said: Pearl mentions The Darkest Road in her list of critically acclaimed fantasy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).


Chronicle of Death Foretold

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. A Chronicle of a Death Foretold. New York: Vintage, 2020.

Reason read: needed for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading Challenge for a book that takes place in one day. I would say since this is a journalistic interview that takes place in one day, this qualifies…even though the story he is recounting takes place over a span of time.

Whenever there is an unidentified narrator I always think of the Great and Terrible Oz, hiding behind his curtain. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold our narrator is not a Baum-inspired little man, but rather an unnamed friend of the murder victim, years after the fact recounting the downfall of Santiago Nasar. As the title of the novella indicates, everyone knew Santiago Nasar’s life was in danger, but no one did anything about it. “There had never been a death more foretold” (p 50). As an aside, this could be a commentary on our society today. Everyone feels outrage – yet no one is stepping up to do something (anything!) about it. Distraction dictates the assumption someone else will take care of it. Or they are hoping so.
On the eve of Angela Vicaro’s wedding her new husband discovers she did not come to their marriage bed a virgin. Oh the shame! Outraged and humiliated, he drags her back to her mother who beats her severely until she confesses. When Santiago Nasar is named responsible for Angela’s deflowering, her twin brothers speak of revenge. They speak long and loud before they actually seek it. Woven throughout the entire story is the theme of foreshadowing. Even Santiago missed the signs of his own demise illustrated by his ominous dreams. He even misses the note slipped under his door. Then there is the obvious. The twins brag openly about how they are going to kill Santiago. A shopkeeper tells the murderers to wait until later out of respect for the bishop. The drunkards talk of the upcoming murder. Police officers ignore everyone. The church ignores, too. The entire community ignores the talk. Was it the distraction of the arrival of a bishop? Was it communal judgment that Santiago was getting what he deserved?

Quotes to quote, “The smallest, touched by the breath of tragedy, began to weep” (p 23), and “Furthermore, the priest had pulled out the sliced-up intestines by the roots, but in the end he didn’t know what to do with them, and he gave them an angry blessing and threw them into the garbage pail” (p 76).

Author fact: Marquez was a journalist before becoming a prize winning author.

Book trivia: Chronicle of Death Foretold is based on true events with a few changes.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Chronicle, but Marquez was omitted from the index.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lines that Linger; Sentences that Stick” (p 140).


Reptile Room

Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events #2: The Reptile Room. Harper Perennial, 2004.

Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of Halloween and all things spooky.

The Reptile Room starts with a small recap of the first unfortunate event because it is important for the reader to know that Mr. Poe, a family friend from the bank, is still in charge of finding the Baudelaire orphans a suitable place to live. It is even more important to be reminded that Count Olaf escaped in the first Unfortunate book. When we meet back up with the children they have been shuffled off to their even more distance relative, Uncle Monty. Montgomery Montgomery is a world renowned herpetologist with a roomful of, you guessed it, snakes (hence the title of Book Number Two of the Series of Unfortunate Events). Of course, the snakes turn out to be the Baudelaire children’s downfall. I won’t say anymore than that.
True to form, the stylistic pattern for Lemony’s books is to constantly remind you to slam the book closed and not read another word; to go read another book if you want a happy ending. Dear reader, you also need to accept Lemony is going to define words every now and then. It’s all part of the schtick. It just is.

Lines I actually liked, “It is plenty difficult to wait for Halloween when the tedious month of September is still ahead of you” (p 27). Agreed. “You couldn’t tell how the Incredibly Deadly Viper looked, because the facial expressions of a snake are difficult to read” (p 67). Again, agreed.

Author fact: Last time I told you Lemony’s real name. This time I can tell you he was born in February.

Book trivia: I am reading an electronic version without illustrations so it’s only 78 pages long.

Nancy said: Pearl called the series “wonderful.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Not Only For Kids: Fantasies For Grown-Ups” (p 174).


Mindfulness in Plain English

Gunaratana, Bhante Henepola. Mindfulness in Plain English. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2002.

Reason read: During these crazy times I need to remember to breath; to be still. Read for me, myself, and moi.

The title of this book does not lie. Gunaratana offers a how-to for insight mindfulness in a straight-forward and easy-to-understand language. This is not the deeply didactic philosophy of mindfulness, but rather a deep dive into South and Southeast Asian Buddhism. The first order of business is to dispel the misconceptions surrounding mindfulness and meditation. For example, there is no magic to this vipassana style medication. You won’t levitate. Instead, you become grounded in morality, concentration, and wisdom. Speaking of concentration, you learn the concept of shallow concentration which seems contrary to successful mindfulness. In other words, you won’t lose yourself in mindfulness. Instead, you will train your mind to concentrate on a mental object, the breath being more convenient and ever-present. I am reminded of one of my favorite Natalie Merchant lyric from ‘Not in This Life,’ “Lately I’ve been satisfied by simple things like breathing in and breathing out.” Despite the easy language and thin volume, Mindfulness is a treasure trove of information.

As an aside, I have to laugh when Gunaratana advised not to sit in any one position for more than twenty minutes. Please! I can’t sit comfortably in any position for more than five, maybe ten minutes tops.

Quotes I loved, “Life seems a perpetual struggle, an enormous effort against staggering odds” (p 9), “What we face every day is unpredictable” (p 53), “Distraction cannot be seen as distraction unless there is some central focus to be distracted from” ( 77), and “Somewhere in the process, you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy” (p 82). Amen.

Author fact: Gunaratana was ordained as a monk at the age of twelve. Twelve! I shudder to think what I was doing at the age of twelve.

Book trivia: I can tell this book helped many people. My copy was dog-eared and heavily underlined.

Nancy said: Pearl said there was useful information in Mindfulness in Plain English. She goes on to say “Gunaratana’s book is much less theoretical, vis-a-vis Buddhist philosophy and psychology…but more practical and systematic in its presentation of technique” (Book Lust p 255).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zen Buddhism and Meditation” (p 255).


Rifles for Watie

Keith, Harold. Rifles for Watie. New York: Harper Collins, 1987.

Reason read: Veteran’s Day is November 11th, 2020. Read in honor of Civil War veterans long dead and gone but never forgotten.

One of the most interesting aspects of Rifles for Watie is that it is told from the perspective of multiple groups in and around the American civil war of April 1861 – April 1865. Keith visited actual battle locations to get a sense of the varying conflicts and not just the well known ones related to violent battle. Poverty, wealth, prejudice, pride, religion, gender, tribal feuding, slavery, freedom. Right or wrong, all of these issues collide.
Keith used diaries, journals, and personal letters to give Rifles for Watie first person authenticity. To personalize it even further, he used interviews conducted for his thesis. Between the years of 1940 and 1941 he visited with twenty two veterans and listened to their nostalgic reminiscing. These oral histories captured the large and small personal sacrifices of war. Ever in their debt, Keith was careful to give all twenty two individuals credit saying, “my obligation to all their memories is very deep” (Introduction, Rifles for Watie p 12). While General Watie and James G. Blunt were a real-life historical figures, the character of Jeffrey and the other soldiers in Rifles for Watie are Keith’s imagination; I would like to think of them as a creative combination of all the men Harold Keith interviewed.
My favorite segment was when Jefferey was having a passionate argument with Lucy. Every side of the conflict is laid bare; because there are more than two sides to every truth. Good guys aren’t necessarily all that good. Bad guys aren’t that bad. Dogs are just dogs.

An aside: My sticking point. Early on in Rifles for Watie Jeffrey’s family is violently attacked by rebel bushwhackers. The family manages to fend off the raiders, but not before the bushwhackers threaten a much more violent return. I was confused as to why Jeffrey would leave his family knowing they barely survived the first vicious attack. Yes, it gave Jefferey the impetus to join the war to fight the rebels, but what about his defenseless family back in Kansas? No matter. When he is home on furlough all seems fine and there is no mention of bushwhackers ever returning.

Author fact: Keith was dedicated to the state of Oklahoma where he was born, raised, lived, and died.

Book trivia: Rifles for Watie won a Newbery Award in 1958.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Rifles for Watie except that it explores one of the least well-known aspects of the Civil War.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction for Kids of All Ages” (p 114).


Nature of Things

Scanlin, Tommye McClure. The Nature of Things: Essays of a Tapestry Weaver. Dahlonega, Georgia: University of North Georgia Press, 2020.

Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing.

I chose this book because I want more art and, by default, more artists in my life. I know absolutely nothing of weaving, how to or otherwise, so I suspect I read this differently than say, someone who makes his or her living by weaving tapestries. I read this simply as an admirer of a beautiful textile.
Scanlin calls her book a collection of essays, but I prefer to think of it as a memoir: the emergence of an extremely talented artist. Told mostly through the lens of photography and illustrations, Nature of Things explodes with color and creativity. Remove the visuals and the early narrative would probably not survive.
The final part of the book moves away from memoir and becomes a primer for learning the basics of weaving, complete with a glossary, clear diagrams, and a list of resources.

As an aside, I was surprised by how much I had in common with Scanlin. what inspired her in Nature of Things are the very same things that catch my attention: trees, crows, rocks, shadows, flowers, feathers, ferns, even the fine winding tendrils of vines.
Note: According to the back cover of Nature of Things, it has been on sale for well over a month now. I received my copy on October 29th, 2020.


Hannah Coulter

Berry, Wendell. Hannah Coulter. New York: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005.

Reason read: Stick with me for a second because this will seem strange. I put Hannah Coulter in the November transgender category for the simple reason Keith does an amazing job writing in a woman’s voice.

There is a simple grace to the plot of Hannah Coulter. There is a simple grace to the character of Hannah Coulter, as well. You won’t find major conflict. You won’t tremendous disaster or upheaval. No crazy mood swings or dramatic tantrums. Hannah is simply an elderly Kentucky farmer nearing the end of her life, sharing her life story with an unknown audience. She has survived two husbands and the changing of her community, but really what she truly wants to talk about is love. Love as a parent, grandparent, farmer, Port William resident, and, most importantly, the wife of a tormented veteran. It is this last love that brings a change of tone to Hannah Coulter. It’s as if the entire book was written to support the chapter of Okinawa. Hannah tries to make sense of the war; to put it into a context she can understand. “You were living, it seemed, inside a dark cloud filled with lightning and thunder; thousands of tons of explosives, bombs and shells, machine gun and rifle fire” (p 169). Hannah puts it into a perspective the reader can understand. It is easy to forgot about the involuntary reactions of the body during fear and pain. Based on the animated and passionate voice, Berry seems to be the veteran in the two pages describing the Battle of Okinawa. He is that puzzle piece that completes the picture but doesn’t quite fit the space; as if the jigsaw didn’t cut the angles correctly.
Much like a yoga instructor asking practitioners to “breathe through their heart’s center,” I am asking readers of Hannah Coulter to read with heartfelt intention; to inhale the words gently and with a deliberate pace. It is well worth the effort.

As an aside, the imagery of the landscape and the people reminded me of a Josh Ritter song.

I could have quoted lines from Hannah Coulter for days upon days. The writing is that beautiful. Here are a few of my favorites, “You can’t give yourself over to love for somebody without giving yourself over to suffering” (p 171), “It was a time between times, almost a no time” (p 172), and “It was not a look a woman would want to look back at unless she was ready to take off her clothes” (p 219). I love how the subdued passion just smolders with that one sentence.

Author fact: Berry is able to channel Hannah’s voice in part because he is a Kentucky farmer.

Book trivia: Hannah Coulter is not the only book to feature the Kentucky town of Port William.

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Hannah Coulter.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust from the chapter called “Men Channeling Women” (p 166).


Diving Pool

Ogawa, Yoko. The Diving Pool: Three Novellas. New York: Picador, 2008.

Reason read: Japan celebrates a national Cultural Day on November 3rd.

Comprised of three novellas:

  • The Diving Pool
  • The Pregnancy Diary
  • The Dormitory

Here is what you need to know before you dive into Ogawa’s work. At the height of tension the story ends. Period. If you don’t care for cliffhangers you should make up your own endings or just don’t read Diving Pool at all. It’s that simple. Ogawa’s writing is like a subtle psycho-killer movie. Instead of the monster being front and center, there is absolutely nothing tangible to confront. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up, not because a blood-dripping ghoul is staring you down, but because there is nothing to see. The darkness is a wisp of toxic smoke, a hint of danger darting in the corners of your periphery. In Ogawa’s stories it is what isn’t being said that is far scarier than the certainty. In the title story Jun admits he is aware of the protagonist’s cruelty. Then what? You don’t know what happens next. In “The Pregnancy Diary” a sister gives birth to a child who may, or may not, have a birth defect. In the last story, “The Dormitory” a cousin hasn’t been seen for days and the manager of his dormitory always has an excuse for his absence. After you have read these stories you are left without resolution and without resolution your imagination questions the reality.

Favorite lines, “Perhaps it’s because he’s falling through time, to a place there words can never reach,” “When we grow up, we find ways ti hide our anxieties, our loneliness, our fear and sorrow,” and “The baby haunted the shadows that fell between us.” Can’t you just feel the ominous chill between the lines?

Author fact: Ogawa also wrote Hotel Iris (on my Challenge list) as well as The Housekeeper and the Professor (finished).

Nancy said: Pearl had a couple of mistakes on this title. She called it “Divining Pool” (both in the chapter and the index), and she referred to Yoko Ogawa as a male.
About The Diving Pool she said it was like The Housekeeper and the Professor, “delicate and retrained” (Book Lust To Go p 117).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Japanese Journeys” (p 116).


The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Lofting, Hugh. The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed. New York: Duke Classics, 2012.

Reason read: Confessional! This was a complete and utter mistake! Pearl said any of the Doctor Dolittle books would be good to read and the only one she specifically mentioned (twice) was The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. But! It was indexed as the title Doctor Dolittle. Oh well. This was a fun little read which ultimately introduced me to the good doctor.

I would like to have known a real Doctor Dolittle. I can just imagine his house with its goldfish, dogs, rabbits, cats, mice, squirrels, hedgehog, cows, chickens, pidgins, horse, lambs, duck, pig, parrot, and owl…to name a few. You would think all of these animals would get in the way of Doctor Dolittle taking care of human patients when in reality, he preferred the animals to the people. When he learned to communicate with his furry and feathered friends it was game over. He gave up trying to cure the two-legged folks and concentrated on his true friends.
It is pretty high praise to be compared to Lewis Carroll. Hugh Walpole does just that to Hugh Lofting in his introduction to The Story of Doctor Dolittle.

As an aside, I would like to think Hugh Lofting influenced twentieth century pop culture. Dave Matthews sings about a “monkey on a string” and Shel Silverstein told of a crocodile with a toothache. Can you see Dave and Shel sitting down with Doctor Dolittle? I can.

Line I liked a lot, “Dogs nearly always use their noses for asking questions” (p 23).

Author fact: Lofting wrote the Dolittle stories for his children while he was stationed overseas in the form of illustrated letters. He dedicated Dolittle to “all Children. Children in Years and Children in Heart.” Very sweet.

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing at all since she didn’t specifically put this book on her list.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Do in the chapter called “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” (p 190). Since “Doctor Dolittle” was in the index not as a proper title, I corrected it to read The Story of Doctor Dolittle.


Wicked Pavilion

Powell, Dawn. Novels 1944 – 1962: The Wicked Pavilion. New York: Library of the America, 2001.

Reason read: Powell was born in November. Read in her honor. Powell also died in the month of November. Also read in her memory.

The first word that comes to mind when I think of The Wicked Pavilion is snarky. To flesh that out, it is a snarky satire about New York in all its glory. This is the second postwar satire Powell published and with every intent, laid bare all of Greenwich Village’s shortcomings. Set mostly in Cafe Julien, Pavilion’s characters are all hot messes. Unsuccessful in romance and unsuccessful at success they spend a great deal of time whining and complaining to and about each other.

Quotes I really liked, “We get sick of our clinging vines…but the day comes when we suspect that the vines are all that hold our rotting branches together” (p 697) and “She was never to be spared, Ellenora thought, a little frightened at the role he had given her of forever forgiving him and then consoling him for having hurt her, inviting more hurt by understanding and forgiving it” (p 720). Such a hopeless situation.

Author fact: Powell also wrote My home is Far Away, The Locusts Have No King, and The Golden Spur. All of these titles are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: According to the chronology in Novels 1944 – 1962, Powell begins work on Wicked Pavilion in 1950 but doesn’t publish it until four years later (p 950 – 952).

Nancy said: Pearl just said Gore Vidal wrote an essay about the works of Dawn Powell for David Madden’s Rediscoveries and Rediscoveries II (both on my Challenge list) which is how Pearl came to include them in More Book Lust.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Book Lust of Others” (p 33).


Bastard of Istanbul

Shafak, Elif. The Bastard of Istanbul. Read by Laural Merlington. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Audio, 2007.

Reason read: I needed a book by an author with my initials for the Portland Public Library 2019 Reading Challenge.

This is an example of getting so caught up in a book that you forget to take notes while reading. I finished this a week ago and never wrote a single note. Which means I didn’t capture favorite lines either. Bummer.

Two teenage girls with more in common than they think. Asya, born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey is surrounded by an eclectic family of overbearing, opinionated women with not a man in sight. Asya rages against her current life and past history because she thinks she doesn’t have an identity she can believe in. Nothing is of permanence. She has never known her birth father, she cleaves herself to a relationship with a married man, and calls her mother auntie, like the other three of five women in her household. Two grandmothers round out the chaotic family household.
Meanwhile, Armanoush is of Armenian descent, living in Tuscon, Arizona. She, too, is struggling to make sense of her roots as her stepfather is Turkish. There is no avoiding the historical significance of having an Armenian father and Turkish stepfather. This stepfather happens to be Asya’s uncle as well.
When Armanoush decides to visit Asya and her family for answers, the past rolls back in like a tsunami, taking down everything in its path. As I mentioned before, this is a captivating story and it will sweep you away with its twists and turns.

Author fact: Shafak also wrote The Forty Rules of Love which is on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: This should be a movie.

Nancy said: Pearl said The Bastard of Istanbul is one of three novels of note. Specifically, BoI is “engrossing.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Turkish Delights” (p 240). I don’t know if anyone else was reminded of this when they read the title of this chapter, but I immediately thought of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion the Witch, and the Wardrobe. If I ever meet Pearl again, I will have to ask! Because if she meant the reference as I thought it, it is subtle and clever and I love it.


Israel is Real

Cohen, Rich. Israel is Real: an Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009.

Reason read: Resolution 181 is a United Nations resolution passed in November 1947 calling for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. As an aside, Natalie Merchant sang a song about Resolution 181. Of course she did.

Like a slingshot pulling back for the attack, Cohen pulls us back in history to preface Israel as a reality. You expect Israel is Real to be a dry, potentially boring account of Jewish history when in reality Cohen is the storyteller with the sparkle in his eye. It is as if he is telling you a bedtime story by an open fire; urging you to lean in and listen close. He makes historical figures seem like old friends, historical events seem like he participated in them.
As an aside, my least favorite part of reading Israel is Real was stopping to read the extensive footnote at the bottom of nearly every page. While the footnotes contained interesting information, it was like hitting every single red light and getting behind every student – laden school bus on the way to work.

I plan to visit Rome in the next year or so. This line gave me pause, “In choking Jerusalem, Rome was the brain come to stop its own hear, the body come to kill its own soul” (p 25).

Someone asked me how I supported diversity and before I could control my mouth I blurted out, by not making an issue out of it. In retrospect, I think I was trying to say my workplace doesn’t discriminate but more importantly, doesn’t notice how or oven if someone is different. So, when Cohen pointed out Superman has a Jewish name (Kal-El being the Hebrew word for strength) and was created by two teenage Jews, I didn’t have an Ah Ha moment. It just made sense.

Author fact: Rich Cohen has his own website here.

Book trivia: Israel is Real includes a small section of black and white photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl called Cohen’s Israel is Real “illuminating and provocative” (Book Lust To Go p 144).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “A Mention of the Middle East” (p 143).