Know Your November

I am trying to move into this month without cracking up or breaking down. I’ve lost the run temporarily and even a small interruption sets me back. You know it is with a mental stability that isn’t quite that solid. I don’t want to say anything more than that.

Here are the books. Nonfiction first:

  • Living Poor:  a Peace Corps Chronicle by Moritz Thomsen – in honor of the month Ecuador’s civil war for independence ended.
  • Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn – (AB) in honor of the holidays and how much they can stress you out. I’m reading this and listening to it on audio.
  • The Fifties by David Halberstam – in honor of finishing what I said I would.
  • Baby Doctor by Perri Klass – in honor of National Health Month.

Fiction:

  • Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton –  in honor of National Education Week. This should take me a lunch break to read.
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – in honor of Gaiman’s birth month.
  • Advise and Consent by Allen Drury – in honor of November being an election month (and is it ever!).

Series Books:

  • Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright – (EAB = electronic audio book) to continue the series started in September in honor of Enright’s birth month.
  • A Toast To Tomorrow by Manning Coles – to continue the series started in October in honor of Octoberfest.
  • Love Songs from a Shallow Grave by Colin Cotterill – to END the series started in May in honor of Rocket Day.

Best Nightmare on Earth

Gold, Herbert. Best Nightmare on Earth: a Life in Haiti.New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1991.

I love reading books that hold hands. The Comedians by Graham Greene is mentioned a bunch of times in Hebert Gold’s Best nightmare on Earth. Because I had read (inadvertently) The Comedians before Nightmare I knew what Gold was talking about. I could relate and it just worked out that way. Funny how Pearl didn’t call these two books “companion reads” because they seem like they were meant to read together.
Herbert Gold discovered Haiti on a Fulbright Scholarship. This was to be the beginning of an addiction to a hellish paradise. For the next forty years Gold traveled between the States and the Caribbean trying this craving. Through Best Nightmare on Earth Gold does his best to explain this curious attraction while holding nothing back. He peels back the layers of politics and corruption to reveal exotic grace and mystery. Papa Doc (both father and son) rule the land while voodoo rules all. Gold’s descriptions of the violence, the celebrations, the loves and losses are as vivid as the realities of greed and poverty.

Favorite quotes, “Despite my yearning for privacy, I also needed sociability, the opening and the shutting of the mouth to utter companionable sounds” (p 112), “Wasn’t running something that human beings took up in hostile environments, in worlds of desert hunting and forest seeking, chasing animals, preening for partners, sometimes being chased?” (p 191), and “Proud despair is the mood of everyone” (p 199).

Author Fact: Herbert Gold was a member of the Beat Generation and dear friends with Allen Ginsberg.

Book Trivia: For those wanting to know more about Haiti (the good, the bad and the ugly) Best Nightmare on Earth is almost always listed in the bibliography.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Contradictory Caribbean: Paradise and Pain” (p 55).


The Comedians

Greene, Graham. The Comedians. London: The Bodley Head, 1966.

When The Best Nightmare on Earth: a Life in Haiti didn’t come fast enough I grabbed The Comedians off the shelf in our own library. It fit with the purpose: to celebrate December as the best time to vacation in the Caribbean.

The Comedians starts out at sea. A small handful of passengers are traveling to Haiti; notably Mr. Brown, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. Because of their common names there is an air of mystery to their characters. Curiously, their first names are never revealed. As Mr. Brown (telling the story) points out, they could be anyone. Although, as the reader will discover, they are not. they are comedians, pretenders. Mr. Smith is a United States Presidential candidate on the “Vegetarian platform” of 1948. He arrives in Port-au-Prince with his wife looking to start a vegetarian center. Mr. Jones is a shady character with a dubious past. He appears to be on the run from British authorities and full of tall tales. Nothing he says is believable. Mr. Brown, as narrator, is a man without a country. He owns a failing hotel and is having an affair with a South American Ambassador’s wife. His existence is on the fringe of life. He’s always forgetting that the phones work.
All three men are ruined souls, barely playing out their parts. The backdrop for The Comedians is the real-life tyrannical and violent Papa Doc and his shadowy secret police, the Tonton Macoute. Jones, Brown and Smith are vehicles to introduce the reader to the poverty, the voodoo, the political unrest, and the eventual yet unsuccessful uprising of the rebellion army.

Favorite lines, “His slang, I was to find, was always a little out of date as though he had studied it in a dictionary of popular usage, but not in the latest edition” (p 12), “Perhaps it was only my nerves that lent him an expression of repulsive cruelty” (p 120), and my favorite, “Like some wines our love could neither mature nor travel” (p 308).

Author fact: Graham Green was born Henry Graham Green and was bipolar.

Book Trivia: The Comedians was made into a movie in 1967 starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and James Earl Jones among others.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called The Contradictory Caribbean: Paradise and Pain (p 55).


Echo House

Just, Ward. Echo House. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997.

Covering three generations equaling 90  years of politics and power struggles, Ward Just follows the lives of the Behl family starting with Adolph and Constance Behl and their quest (notice I said their quest) for the White House. Adolph’s son, Axel and grandson, Alec continue the saga with their own political ambitions (although Alec goes the legal route becoming a lawyer). Supporting them, and sometimes leaving them, are the women who forever loved them, loved power and had ambitions of their own. Ward Just includes an entire host of Washington characters as well as well-known political events through history. At the center of it all is the Behl family mansion, Echo House. Built to be the next White House it is the scene of secrets of all kinds. Dirty secrets, family secrets, secrets told, secrets kept, secrets that help, secrets that hurt. While nothing terribly exciting happens it’s what doesn’t happen that makes Echo House such fun to read.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Ward Just: Too Good To Miss” (p 135), and from the chapter, “Politics of Fiction” (p 189).


Honeymoon in Tehran

I wish I knew what happened with this review. I knew I started writing it last winter…or at least I think I did! We were right in the middle of buying a house and suddenly the pages of purchase and sales agreements became more important than the pages of Honeymoon in Tehran. Nevertheless, here I am now…months and months later, long after publication writing the review. What’s what saying? Better late than never!

Moaveni, Azadeh. Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran. New York: Random House, 2009.

Three words pop out at me when thinking of ways to describe Honeymoon in Tehran: political, cultural and fashionable. I thoroughly enjoyed Moaveni’s blend of sly personal commentary mixed with sharp political reporting. She tells it like it is without sparing the reader her own controversial viewpoints – quite the daring feat considering the scrutiny and censorship her topics are subjected to. Sprinkled amid pages of Iranian politics are tidbits of Moaveni’s personal life (pilates, friends and underground music scenes – to name a few). In the beginning it is a carefully balanced portrayal of life in Iran for a young female journalist, but then Moaveni meets and falls in love with Arash. An unplanned pregnancy speeds up already considered wedding plans. Suddenly, Moaveni’s portrayal of life in Tehran involves more than just herself as she is faced with raising a son and nurturing a marriage. Her decision to move to England is not surprising.
Critics have called Honeymoon in Tehran a sequel to her first book Lipstick Jihad but readers shouldn’t feel it necessary to read Lipstick Jihad before Honeymoon in Tehran. Honeymoon in Tehran is a completely readable book on its own. Moaveni makes enough references to Lipstick Jihad to fill the reader in.


Noblest Roman

Halberstam, David. Noblest Roman. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961.

Noblest Roman is Halberstam’s first book. It is also one of the only two works of fiction he wrote. He would go on to prefer writing nonfiction after One Very Hot Day. It makes me wonder about the artistic preference. Why switch from fiction to nonfiction – never to go back again? It’s like the musician who prefers classical music after years of performing heavy metal. Or the watercolor painter who switches to pencil halfway through his career.

Okay. I’m off track.

Noblest Roman takes place in the south (Mississippi) and is a sly commentary on state level elections and the crookedness that comes about in small, rural communities – especially when bootlegging and prostitution are involved. I found the plot to plod and character development to be contradictory. Everything moved too slow for my taste and while one might argue that is the southern way, I found myself sleeping at the wheel too often. It is curious to note that Noblest Roman was inspired by true Mississippi events. Maybe Halberstam wasn’t that far away from nonfiction after all.

Favorite lines: “He changed the subject from Little Bilbo’s woman because listening to the old man talk about her was almost as bad as listening to her in person” (p 10). Had to laugh at that one.
“By all rights he should have been tired and unshaven and rumpled, but he looked fresh and rested. The campaign did not show on him” (p 49).
‘”I’m an old man, Angelo. Before I had a wife. Now I have a wife and a doctor”‘ (p 106).

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


Off the Run and All Over the Place

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On Tuesday I put in a quiet 3.7 mile run on the treadmill. No gerbil jokes, no blogging about it, no fanfare. Just a quiet run for quiet me. I was feeling good enough to almost put in another one on Wednesday but the presidential (and final) debate was on and I was feeling political. How could I not be after the last debaucle – errr, debate? Have you ever seen such one-sided moderating in your life? Sheesh!

Anyway, I ignored the run thinking Thursday would be better. I argued with me and myself saying, the body needs a day of rest in between runs; the mind needs a day of rest in between worries. A day of rest would do us all some good. What I didn’t count on was putting in a 12 hour day at my work and then hanging out at Kisa’s work for another four. We left home around 6am and didn’t see our doorstep until well after 11pm. I’m sure poor Indiana thought we were putting her up for adoption. She certainly could claim abandonment these days!
I think of my mother. “Can’t you find someone else to push the buttons?” she says through the phone to my husband who is miles away, and “Geeze, they must not be doing a very good job if things keep breaking!” she mutters to me, right next to her. She sounds 97, all piss and vingar without a good thing to say. It’s no use arguing, trying to defend the technology I don’t understand. With a sigh I admit, “I don’t know, Ma. It’s television.” But, what I want to say is this, “It’s what made me fall in love with him in the first place; that tireless get-it-done work ethic. That commitment to working his azz off when everyone else has given up and gone home.”

So, I am happy to give up the run for another night. I’ll call it another day of rest even though it was work that kept me off the run.


His Excellency

IMG_0571Ellis, Joseph J. His Excellency: George Washington. New York: Afred A Knopf, 2004.

In honor of Presidents’ Day and Washington’s birthday. The LT review: Ellis writes in an easy, flowing style. Almost conversational in tone, Washington’s life comes alive as the pages turn. While not a great deal of evidence of Washington’s personal life has survived, Ellis does a fantastic job filling in the gaps with Washington’s military career and political rise to power. The text is supplemented by a few pages of photographs – mostly portraits Washington had commissioned of himself.

A few of my favorite quotes that make Washington seem less historical and more human. First, a  description of Washington as a 20-something year old man: “He was the epitome of the man’s man: physically strong, mentally enigmatic, emotionally restrained” (p 12).
A commnet on Washington’s unique military order: “…when a ranger…is killed in action, continue his salary for 28 days to pay for his coffin” (p 26).

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter “Founding Fathers” (p 91). Last month I read about Benjamin Franklin from the same chapter. Note to self: Self, don’t read anything from that chapter in March!


Ophelia Revisited

NatalieI go through phases. Musically obsessed, I will listen to one artist over and over again until something takes me off course. I am not exactly sure what dictates this audio gorging, but I’ve always been this way. Ask my mother and she’ll tell you about an ABBA cassette I wore out in the 7th grade. Get me hooked on something and I don’t give it up. Won’t give it up. Ever since kisa was able to get bootlegs of BubbleGum I have been in his audience for months now. Sometimes I’m the back, absently humming along. Other times I’m right up in the front row, screaming my heart out. Daily doses of BubbleGum. Two nights ago I watched Any Given Thursday back to back with a New York show from earlier this year, trying to reconcile 2002 with 2007. I still can’t believe it’s the same guy! Just last night kisa found a secret show, something recorded at 1am. Intriguing.
Recently though, thanks again to kisa, I’m back to my Natalie obsession. Almost like coming full circle. It started in 1998 and most recently came around again when my knight put a gigantic, humungous pair of headphones on my head and said something about Noise Blocking Technology. The latest. I couldn’t hear him. Not one word. “Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.” His mistake was pushing play and letting the cd spin. I couldn’t hear him, didn’t want to hear him… for Natalie had begun to sing.
I admit it. I have missed this voice. I have missed the anger, the passion that always bubbles up from somewhere secret when her lyrics hit me. Tonight I relived Live in Concert (1999). Natalie has always conquered the tough subjects in her songs. I could sense the rage simmering as Natalie sang, “there’s a world outside this room and when you meet it promise me you won’t meet it with your gun taking aim” (Gun Shy, 1987). She was talking to her baby brother about joining the military but all I could think about was Cho Seung-Hui. What made him meet his world with a gun taking aim – just days before the anniversary of Columbine? Would this tragedy get to Natalie as much as 4/20/1999 did? Would she write about Seung-Hui as she had about Harris and Klebold? Tell me. What makes someone’s hatred so untouchable, his alienation so absolute? When does taking aim become the only answer to desperation? I’m hoping Natalie explores the unexplicable because it’s time to hear her voice again, to hear her ask the tough questions.