God of Small Things

Roy, Arundhati. God of Small Things. Random House, 1997.

Reason read: God of Small Things won the Booker Prize, a prize that is normally awarded in October.

The God of Small Things opens with a lush description of the monsoon season of Ayemenem and the statement, “Baby Kochamma was still alive” (p 4). The simple statement hooks your breath back into your lungs while your mind jumps the rail, “what do you mean still alive?” Still? As in to imply not supposed to be of this earth? As reader, be prepared to bounce between time and space. In one chapter we will cremate a woman, in the next she will be alive and flirting.
Rahel and Estha, twins who are separated after tragedy. Death is a tragedy. Divorce is one, too. But lack of social standing is the most tragic of them all. Like a pervasive black and choking smoke, the ancient Indian caste system hangs dark and poisonous in the air. The ongoing separation of Paravan and Brahmin, touchable and untouchable, inhaled through nostrils and accepted as common as air to breathe. I was reminded of Dr. Seuss and his star bellied Sneetches. But like all unfair systems, the order of life doesn’t always work when there is a tilt, an upset in the balance. Especially when opposites attract. I don’t know how to review this book without giving too much away so I speak in circles. Jusr read it.

Quotes to quote, “On their shoulders they carried a keg of ancient anger, lit with a recent fuse” (p 67). I love it when writers take the intangible, like anger, and make it something touchable. Here’s another, “Shadows gathered like bats in the steep hollows near her collarbone” (p 154). One more: “They were not arresting a man, they were exorcising fear” (p 293). If that doesn’t say it all about racism…

Author fact: Roy studied to be an architect. she decided to write a book. God of Small Things is her first novel and wouldn’t you know it? she wins the Booker Prize.

Book trivia: I watched a short Ted video on why one should read God of Small Things. I don’t know if the makers of the video had this intention but I thought it was cute.

Nancy said: Pearl said God of Small Things was “simply glorious.”

Playlist: Elvis Presley, Handel’s Water Music, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, “The Sound of Music”, “Baby Elephany Walk”, “Colonel Bogey’s March”, Little Richard, “Ruby Tuesday”, “My Favorite Things”, “So Long Farewell”,

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “India: a Reader’s Itinerary” (p 125). Also from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Scenes from Sri Lanka” (p 197).

Italian Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sense of Sight

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

Reason read: October is Art Appreciation Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Man Who Ate Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forty Words for Sorrow

Blunt, Giles. Forty Words for Sorrow. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001.

Reason read: Stories about serial killers scare me. Maybe it is the thought that once a person kills it can become easier and easier for them to do. Maybe Sting was onto something when he sang, “murder by numbers, it’s as easy as one, two, three.” For Halloween, I chose to read Forty Words for Sorrow. In addition, I needed a book with an emotion in the title for the Portland Public Library Reading challenge.

The title comes from a comparison to the Eskimo language. If there are forty words for snow, surely somewhere out there there are forty words that mean sorrow. John Cardinal is a flawed small town Canadian cop fixated on solving the mystery of the disappearance of a teenager girl. Maybe it was the thought of his own daughter that originally drove him, but Cardinal’s obsession to solve the case depleted department resources and ultimately got him transferred out of homicide and into the burglary and petty crimes division. Meanwhile, another teenager goes missing. Then another. Suddenly, Cardinal’s obsession, thirteen year old Katie Pine’s remains are found. Maybe he was onto something after all? Is this the work of a serial killer? This time John is back on the case with a rookie for a partner (is it Lise or Lisa?) who might be investigating him.
This all would be a typical story of a dedicated office with an I-told-you-so attitude but Cardinal is a cop with a complicated life and a dirty secret his partner is determined to uncover. Can he solve the crime(s) before his personal life crashes down around him? His daughter is attending Yale on illegal funds, his wife’s mental instability has landed her in an expensive in-patient hospital, and yet another individual has been found murdered. John asks again, is there a serial killer operating out of the tiny town of Algonquin Bay? Can Cardinal close the case before his colleagues close in on him?
Not a spoiler alert: I appreciate that Blunt leaves the ending open. Cardinal’s crimes are not wrapped up in an all-is-forgiven-because-you-are-a-hero bow. There is room for Cardinal to make a comeback and face his demons.

Author fact: Giles Blunt and I share a birthday.

Book trivia: this could have been a movie.

Playlist: Backstreet Boys, Tupac Shakur, Puff Daddy, Aerosmith, Madonna, Pretenders, Bryan Adams, Neil Young, “Good Morning Little School Girl”, Bach, Pearl Jam, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, “Abide with Me”, Rolling Stones, Anne Murray, and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”.

Nancy said: Pearl said Blunt’s writing is gripping and that Forty Words for Sorrow was one of her favorites.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Canada, O Canada” (p 51).

Halfway to Schist

Bridgford, Peter. Halfway to Schist. Black Rose Writing, 2022.

Reason read: As a reviewer for the Early Review Program for LibraryThing I occassionally get to review books from people I like.

Using an escape to a remote Point au Baril fishing lodge as a means for recovery for a recent widower and his only teenage daughter, Bridgford sets the stage for exploration into how a mother’s suicide, an uprooted existence, and various difficult relationships impact a young girl’s life. Opal Ethelred “Red” Rogers has her whole life shaken time and time again. I agree with another reviewer that some “adult” reactions to Red’s experiences are unexpected, but the narrative rings true even if it is a little repetitious. The best part of Bridgford’s writing is the descriptive imagery. The use of scientific geologic terminology juxtaposed with gorgeous narrative was stunning. The deliberate placement of words was like carefully laying beautiful stones for an ornate patio. The end result is not only solid as rock, but beautiful as well.Told from the perspective teenage girl. Like how A Great and Terrible Beauty was about a girl who lost her mother at an any early, so does the first person protagonist, Red in Halfway to Schist; only, their widowed fathers take different paths when trying to decide how to care for their coming of age daughters. One father sends his daughter off to boarding school while Halfway to Schist’s father takes Red to a remote island to rebuild a derelict camp. Like all girls in a similar situation, Red dreams of her mother and tries to make the best of her post-mom life. That is where the similarities end. The father in A Great and Terrible Beauty disconnects from his daughter and the story turns into a fantasy. In Halfway to Schist Red and her father are emotionally synched and grounded in a very real universe. Father and daughter sigh at the same time, they hold their collective breath at the same time. Despite this closeness, the summer of 1955 brings an end to innocence and childhood. Serious events occur in Red’s young teenage life; too serious for someone so young. As an adult looking back, she is able to tell the story of a near rape, racial prejudice, and a murder with near unemotional stoicism.

As an aside, Bridgford was so specific about a pair of shoes I had to look them up: Converse Blue Lapel Bosey boots. They are actually pretty cool.

Neuromancer

Gibson, William, Neuromancer. Read by Robertson Dean. Penguin Audio, 2011.

Reason read: October was once dubbed Computer Learning Month. I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge under the category of speculative fiction. This also served as a book for the category of book with a one-word title.

I was pleasantly surprised by Neuromancer. I think it is fair to say, and I’ll say it again for the cheap seats, people know I dislike science fiction. This one was different. Very different. Gibson writes with such color and texture. There is brilliance in every fast-paced sentence and word. Combined with a razor-sharp eye for descriptive detail, I was hooked. Take Gibson’s phrase “insect-calm” as an example. Think about it. Insects do not have readable facial expressions. Everything an insect does is without so-called emotion. [As an aside, right after I wrote that sentence someone dropped a dead praying mantis on my desk.] Example number two: consider Gibson’s ability to take the absolute absurd and make it so commonplace it becomes believable. Learn his lexicon and a whole new world will reveal itself to you. Holographs abound. People run around with vaginas on their wrists. Aftershave does smell metallic. Really.
Our hero, Henry Dorsett Case, is a typical down-and-out character driven by guilt and addiction. He used to be the best data thief out there until ex-employers sabotaged and nearly destroyed his nervous system. Nowadays he’s broken beyond belief and mourning the fact the bad guys killed his girlfriend for revenge. He connection to life is only through his work. Sounds like a Hollywood movie. One that has tried but failed to get off the ground. Case has become literally a thing for hire. Paired with Molly Millions (aka Rose Kolodny, Cat Mother, and Steppin’ Razor), Case is blackmailed into working for an ex-military mercenary in need of a ROM module. I’m going to stop there.

Author fact: gibson has written a ton of other stuff but I am only reading Neuromancer and Pattern Recognition for the Challenge. I find it amazing that Neuromancer was Gibson’s debut novel.

Book trivia: Neuromancer has a huge impact on society. It became a movie (of course) as well as a video game and inspited hundred of science fiction “cyberpunk” writers. It is rumored the word “cyberspace” was coined by Gibson.

Nancy said: Pearl said to read Neuromancer as the book that started cyberpunk.

BookLust Twist: for all of the high praise, I am surprised Neuromancer is in only one Lust book, Book Lust in the sole chapter called “Cyberspace.com” (p 69). After some thought, I have decided Pearl was right to only include Neuromancer once. If you read the wiki page about the novel, you will see many, many people were interested in bringing Gibson’s book to the stage in the form of an opera or to the big screen as a movie. None of these endeavors panned out for one reason or another.

Left Hand of Darkness

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. Ace Books, 1969.

Reason read: October is Fantasy month. Also, I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge for the category of book published in the year you were born.

To read the classic Left Hand of Darkness is to discover a completely different way of thinking. To understand just how advanced Le Guin’s vision was in 1969 you need to consider at that time, in 1969, where society stood in regards to technology, human sexuality, and cultural constraints. When she describes electric vehicles with their super quiet hum and the gender fluid planet of Winter/Gethen, it feels very 21st century. Interestingly enough, the role of “pervert” on Gethen is assigned to what we would consider normal (assigned) gender today. I find that extremely interesting. As an aside, is it still true that Earth is freewheeling and without tact? I think so.
Mr. Ai (artificial intelligence?) is on a mission to bring an alliance between Gethen and Ekumen. The only thing I have in common with misogynist Ai in that I also like sour beer. His “friendships” are based on need and slim tolerance.
The message of Left Hand of Darkness is the tiny spark of hope despite all the darkness that surrounds us. It is worth rereading over and over again. As both authors of the foreword and afterword of the anniversary edition mention, there is something new to discover each time.

Author fact: Le Guin died in 2018.

Book trivia: this is a reread for me. I read it in high school as well as grade school.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Left Hand of Darkness.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 215).

Farmer Giles of Ham

Tolkien, J.R.R. Farmer Giles of Ham: The Rise and Wonderful Adventures of Farmer Giles, Lord Tame Count of Worminghall and Knight of the Little Kingdom. Embelished by Pauline Baynes. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976.

Reason read: October is Fantasy Month. I also needed a book for the category of “Book I wish I had read as a child” for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Farmer Giles (aka Aegidius Ahenobarbus Julius Agricola De Hammo) lives in a kingdom where giants and dragons occasionally terrorize the community. Normally one to mind his own business and not get involved, Farmer Giles is seen as a hero after he chases off a giant terrorizing the village and squashing livestock. After such accidental bravado, it is only natural that the village appoint Farmer Giles as the one to slay a greedy dragon (worm) when it comes calling on Ham. With a talking dog and an overworked mare, Giles accepts the challenge. The result is as humorous as it is childish. This is a book for children of all ages, after all.

Quote I liked, “It ran through the realm like fire and lost nothing in the telling” (p 40). That’s the sign of a good rumor. Note to self: beyond being a hero, it is good to be a darling.

Author fact: Everyone knows Tolkien for his Lord of the Rings series. I have to admit, I had never heard of Farmer Giles of Ham until Book Lust.

Book trivia: Farmer Giles of Ham is hailed as a book for children but I have to agree with one reviewer that it is a book for all ages. At only 64 pages it is a quick read.

Nancy said: Pearl said Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham has one of her favorite quotes about the possibilities of fantasy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213). As an aside, I am really putting a dent in this chapter this year.

Brooklyn

Toibin, Colm. Brooklyn. Scribner, 2009.

Reason read: October is festival month in Ireland. Time to celebrate the green isle. I also needed a book with a one-word title for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Colm Toibin writes with such clear sincerity one can easily walk in young Eilis Lacey’s shoes as she navigates entry into adulthood. Unable to find decent employment in rural Ireland, she is taken under the wing of Father Flood, an Irish priest who has emigrated to the big city of Brooklyn, New York; the land of opportunity. Father Flood has seen Eilis’s talents and believes she will do well in America. Leaving behind her widowed and weak mother and vivacious sister, Eilis slowly makes a life for herself in her strange new city. Even though she is naive she finds work, starts college for a career in book keeping, and even finds a nice Italian boy with whom to fall in love. But, Brooklyn is not Ireland. It’s not even close to feeling like home. No one is her true family. When she is called back to Ireland following a family tragedy, it is no surprise that Eilis falls comfortably back into old routines. Only this time she is a different, more confident young woman. Both worlds feel right to her. Both worlds are home but which one will she chose?

I found myself identifying with Eilis in small insignificant ways. I wear makeup when I need a little extra courage. I think my sister is the coolest person on the planet.

As an aside, I found myself humming “My sister Rose” by 10,000 Manaics after every reading of Brooklyn. It could have been sung from the perspective of Eilis Lacey.

Author fact: Toilbin has written a bunch of other books. I am reading a total of four of them for the Book Challenge.

Book trivia: Brooklyn was made into a movie in November 2015.

Nancy said: Pearl explained that Brooklyn was in the Ireland chapter of Book Lust To Go because the first and last parts take place in a “beautifully evoked” small Irish town (p 111).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Ireland: Beyond Joyce, Behan, Beckett, and Synge” (p 110).

Haunting of Hill House

Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House. Pengin Horror, 2013.

Reason read: October is the time for spooky stories. I also needed a story where the house is central to the plot for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge. This fit the bill.

Any story endorsed by Stephen King is going to be a thriller. At least, one would think. Such is the case with The Haunting of Hill House. I was thrilled with it. Jackson is masterful at making an old mansion come alive in subtle, yet ominous ways. For starters, the house is built all wrong. Jackson obviously understood that symmetry is the key to desired beauty, so to make something ugly it has to be confusing with uneven angles that defy logic. Sightlines would not make sense. Doors have to lead nowhere. Staircases turn inhabitants around to the point of dizzying confusion. Despite all this, a certain Dr. Montegue has heard all the rumors about Hill House and cannot wait to investigate the so-called haunted house. He has been waiting for a house like this all his life. His “guests” Eleanor Vance and Theodora (first name only Theodora) join him and the heir to Hill House, Luke Sanderson, in a quest to search out the ghosts and paranormal activity.
Rules of the house: try not to close any doors, keep lights on at all times, don’t try to leave the house at night, never get separated and/or try to do everything together. It goes wothout saying, they all fail at one or all of these commands at one time or another. Hill House starts to show its personality when it first drops the tempature. The colder the room, the closer the threat. Then it tries to get the group to break up by masterfully turning them against one another. Eleanor is the obvious weakest link. She feel empty before even coming to Hill House. The death of her mother weighs on her and guilt threatens to strangle her at every quiet moment. Guess who falls prey to the house?

As an aside, my father-in-law was not a fan of neither the book nor the movie. I’m not sure why. Since it’s October, I watched both versions of the remake. I can’t tell you which one I liked better. The 1963 version was more true to the novel, but the 1999 version was scarier (people actually die in the latter version).

Author fact: Jackson died in North Bennington, Vermont. Just up the road from me.

Book trivia: The Haunting of Hill House was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1959. It was also made into a kooky little movie in 1963.

Nancy said: Pearl had lots to say about The Haunting of Hill House. She said it cemented Jackson’s reputation (despite two bad movies). She called it a classic that has been “scaring people” since it was first written. She also said it was a “superb” example of the range horror fiction.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice, once in the chapter called “Ghost Stories” (p 100) and again, in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 217). A little redundant.

The Castle

Kafka, Franz. The Castle. Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir. Everyman’s Library, 1992.

Reason read: While this is not “The Verdict”, I am reading The Castle in honor of the month “Verdict” was written.

Do you remember the story of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet following the trail of a woozle? They think the woozles are multiplying because their own footprints are multiplying as they circle the tree? The absurdity of following your own footprints without conclusion – that is exactly what reading The Castle is like. K. is a land surveyor who thinks he has been hired to do a job for the Castle only for some inane reason he cannot gain entry. Barriers abound everywhere. How can he measure and estimate if he cannot visit this very important castle? K. is literally thwarted at every turn. No matter how hard he tries, no matter how many schemes he concocts, he never does any surveying for anyone. On a deeper level, it seems Kafka is trying to tell us K. abandons his home for a quest for meaning.
Beside the strangeness of K.’s insistence to do a job he obviously wasn’t hired for, there are other bizarre moments: K. randomly throwing snowballs at people or calling both assistants by the same name because he cannot tell them apart (and why does he need assistants when he can’t do the job in the first place?). All of a sudden he is engaged to Herr Klamm’s lover, Frieda. They are given classrooms as a place to live as they are hired to take care of the school and vegetable garden, only they have to vacate the room if a class is in session. Of course a class is going to be in session and heaven forbid K. is left alone with the cat! So many absurdities that I’m back to the analogy of Pooh and Piglet.
As an aside, listen to a song by Josh Ritter called “The Torch Committee”. In the lyrics, Josh lists rules and regulations that are reminiscent of the hoops K. must go through in order to gain entry to the castle. If K. is not dealing with the Control Official or Department A, he is negotiating with Town Council or the Superintendent or the Mayor.

Author fact: I also read The Trial by Kafka as part of the Book Lust challenge.

Book trivia: of course The Castle was made into a movie. It has also been a radio program and a graphic novel. For another thing, translation matters! For the first time I have paid attention to the words translators pick: annoyed versus exasperated, defend versus vindicate, quickly versus hastily. What a difference the choise of a word makes!

Nancy said: Pearl said Kafka had a “frightening view” of Prague.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Czech It Out” (p 70).

Beowulf

Anonymous. Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001.

Reason read: Another Halloween story.

Everyone raves about Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf and I have to wonder, is it just the translation or could the accompanying gorgeous illustrations and photography have something to do with it? Everyone knows the story of Beowulf the mighty warrior from an English lit class. As a poem, it is the courageous story of a man who learns of a King’s annual nightmare. A monster named Grendel destroys fifteen knights a year without fail and has been doing so for the past twelve years. Beowulf, upon hearing this sad tale, takes it upon himself to vanquish Grendel only to face Grendel’s vengeful mother. Yeah, he kills her, too. Then there’s the fire-breathing dragon (think Bilbo Baggins) who tragically wins over Beowulf. In truth, I had forgotten the graphic violence of men being mauled by the monster Grendel. The clash is pretty dramatic. It would make a great movie. Wait. Knowing my knowledge of movies…it probably is.

As an aside, I have to wonder if this was ever made into a movie? Think about it. The battles full of violence…the claw of Grendel’s as a trophy. What a great prop for the big screen!

Lines I liked, “But it was mostly beer doing the talking” (p 37),”He is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain, limping and looped in it” (p 65). Even though hasped and hirpling are not used in everyday vocabulary, you can envision the monster in sever pain.

Author fact: No one has ever been given credit for writing Beowulf although hundred of people have translated it.

Book trivia: Heaney’s translation won the Whitbread Award.

Nancy said: Pearl said Heaney’s translation of Beowulf beautiful.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Poetry: a Novel Idea” (p 186).

The World I Fell Into

Reid, Melanie. The World I Fell Into: What Breaking My Neck Taught Me About Life. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2021.

Reason read: This is the September offering from LibraryThing’s Early Review program.

Here is the coincidental thing about reading The World I Fell Into by Melanie Reid. It came at the same time I was finishing up Inside the Halo by Maxine Kumin. Two very similar stories about an accident involving a horse and breaking bones in the author’s neck and/or back. Maxine had to wear a halo device to keep her neck and head stabilized while her bones fused. Melanie, at 52 years old, was paralyzed from the chest down. Both of them went through extensive rehabilitation to learn to live with their injuries. Both of them have a form of writing as a successful career (Maxine is a poet and Melanie is a journalist). Both of them are mothers with complicated relationships. Their lives post-accident is where their stories truly diverge.
Where Melanie’s story diverges from Maxine’s is at the “happily ever after” part of the story. Maxine makes a near-full recovery from her accident while most of The World I Fell Into is about the loss of life as Melanie once knew it. When one reviewer called it “lacerating” they weren’t wrong. Reid’s journey to acceptance is a painful one to travel.
As an aside, I am 52 years old. One of the most heartbreaking moments, for me at least, was when Reid asked for one of her 10k race shirts. She thought of it as a symbol of who she was and who she would return to being. When she fully realized she would never run again she grew so embarrassed she threw it away. Another moment was when she wrote about her skin yearning for moisturizer. She deserves someone who would carefully, lovingly take the unwieldy jar with its impossible lid and once opened, with that same care and love, rub the cream into her skin. Then I thought, who am I kidding? I want that intimacy for myself.

Author fact: Melanie has won awards for her journalism.

Book trivia: The World I Fell Into includes some black and white photographs of Melanie pre and post accident and was originally published in the UK in 2019.

Playlist: Sister Sledge’s “We are Family,” “Heartbeat” by Nicole Scherzinger and Enrique Inglesias, “Sex is On Fire” by Kings of Leon, “Human” by the Killers, and musicians Janis Joplin, Roy Orbison & Bruce Springfield.

House of the Spirits

Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits. New York: Everyman’s Library, 2005.

Reason read: read in honor of the ghosts…just in time for Halloween.

The House of the Spirits begins with a letter to a hundred year old grandfather. Meet the del Valle family. Clara del Valle has paranormal powers as every magical realism book must have. Clara predicts her sister’s death by poison and is traumatized into muteness by the autopsy (wouldn’t you if you saw your sister cut open?). The generational story goes on to include more crimes against humanity in the form of adultery, rape, whippings, curses, maiming, and murder. Balanced with all that grief is an undeniable love story. Passion abounds between the harshness.
As an aside, my favorite character of them all was Rosa de Valle. Born with green hair she is thought to be a mermaid and was murdered early in the story.

Author fact: Allende write a letter to her 99 year old grandfather and The House of the Spirits was born.

Book trivia: I always find it really interesting when novels (or art of any kind) that end up being huge successes are at first rejected. Allende and Van Gogh have that in common.

Nancy said: Pearl said The House of the Spirits offers “a picture of Chile that’s suffused with love (and a bit of magic)” (Book Lust To Go p 115).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Magical Realism” (p 148) and from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “It’s Chile Today” (p 114).