Powers, Richard. The Time of Our Singing. Picador, 2004.
Reason read: Richard Powers was born in the month of June. Read in his honor.
Writing a review for this book was difficult considering our current national climate. Is it fair to bring a child into this world, knowing full well his or her life will be an uphill, hurtful, and potentially lethal journey? With Roe V. Wade being overturned, this is a burning question for me. In The Time of Our Singing it is 1939 and David Strom, a German Jewish white man meets and falls in love with an African American young lady from Philadelphia. Should they have an interfaith relationship? Could they succeed in a biracial marriage? What hardships would their children have in a world consumed with the hate and segregation and World War II? Is it blind faith to assume their offspring will thrive beyond race with the help of music? So many questions that kept me reading all 600+ pages to the very end. Time of Our Singing also tells the story of David and Delia’s children. Jonah, Joseph, and Ruth come of age during the early Civil Rights movement and the turmoil of racial unrest follows them through adulthood. Jonah and Joseph go the route of music and fame, while Ruth veers violently in the opposite direction. Over time, they cannot ignore their color or where they came from. Through music comes recognition and redemption.
What I liked the most was the clever writing in that there are hints of a disaster: a photograph that has escaped being burned. What a black boy from Chicago doesn’t know about deep south segregation. How hatred can burn like an inferno until it explodes in disaster.
Lines I liked, “Music was there lease, their deed, their eminent domain” (p 9), “She beat at the recipe with a force her daughter couldn’t fail to read” (p 131), “Death mixes all races” (p 145), “The puppet refused to sit up and speak” (p 495), and “Race’s worst injuries are color-blind” (p 553).
Author fact: Pearl really likes Richard Powers. He has his own chapter in Book Lust. For the Challenge I am reading five more books by Powers and I have already read Gain and Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance. Due to their length, I don’t think I finished either one.
Book trivia: Time of Our Singing is a hefty 600+ pages.
Playlist: Musicians: Andre Watts, Bach, Brahms, Cole Porter, Cherubini, Charlie Parker, Camilla Williams, Duke Ellington, Dvorak, Dorothy Maynor, Dizzy Gillespie, Debussy, David Strom, Delia, Doors, Eartha Kitt, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Ginger Kiltie, Hayden, Holst, Ice Cube, Josquin Absalom, Jules Bledsoe, Jim Morrison, Leontyne Price, Marian Anderson, Mimi, Mendelsohn, Mozart, Miles Davis, Pucci, Paula Squires, Phillipa Duke Schuyler, Robert McFerrin, the Supremes, Schubert, Tallis, and Wreckin’ Cru
Songs: “Alto Rhapsody”, “America”, “Asleep in the Deep”, “Auf Ewigkeit”, “Ave Maria”, “Ave verum corpus”, “Balm in Gilead”, “The Boy’s Magic Horn”, “By the Waters of Babylon”, “Come Again, Sweet Love Doth Now Invite”, “California Girls”, “Deceit Holds the World in Its Domain”, “Dance of the Seven Veils”, “Down by the Salley Gardens”, “Elija”, “Fascinating Rhythm”, “Floral Bandit”, “From the New World”, “German Dance #1”, “Go Down Moses”, “Good Vibrations”, “Gospel Train”, “Honeysuckle Rose”, “I Hear a Symphony”, “I’m a Believer”, “Ladonna e mobile”, “Lord God of Abraham”, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, “Marching to Freedomland”, “Miller’s Beautiful Daughter”, “My Soul is Anchored to the Lord”, “Motherless Child”, “O Mio Fernando”, “On That Great Gettin’ Up Morning”, “Ol Man River”, “Prelude to a Kiss”, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, “Se La Face Ay Pale”, “Satin Doll”, “Swanee River”, “Star Spangled Banner”, “Saint Matthew Passion”, “Sussestille”, “There’s a Rainbow Round My Shoulder”, “Time Stands Still”, “Trampin'”, “Trout”, “Turkey in the Straw”, “Werther”, “We Can Work It Out”, and “You Are My Sunshine”
Nancy said: Pearl dedicated a whole chapter to Powers so she had a lot to say about the author. Not so much about The Time of Our Singing.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Richard Powers: Too Good To Miss” (p 191).
Doctorow, E.L. Ragtime. Plume, 1996.
Reason read: Emma Goldman was born in June. Read in her memory.
Rich in historical fiction, Ragtime will parade past its readers men like Sigmund Freud, Winslow Homer, Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Theodore Dreiser, and Booker T. Washington.
All walks of life thrive within the pages of Ragtime. The sideshow freaks of the Barnum and Bailey circus, the curse of the Egyptian mummies, the advent of the Model Ford, the destruction of Tammany Hall, sexual fainting was a thing, segregation was strict in parts of the country, there was human trafficking by a different name, Robert Peary’s quest for the Arctic, L.L Bean boots, the Stanford White shooting, Charles Dana Gibson was asking the eternal question, the anarchist Emma Goldman, even Emiliano Zapata. At the center of this turn-of-the-century drama is ten years of one family. Their business is fireworks and flags and while they are profitable in business, they are poor in happiness. Everyone is undergoing personal strife. It isn’t until a seemingly abandoned black child wanders into their midst, followed by the depressed mother and musician father when things start to perk up.
Best lines: none because I am too lazy to seek permission. Blah, blah, blah.
Author fact: E.L. stands for Edward Lawrence.
Book trivia: Ragtime was made into a move starring James Olson in 1981. Of course I haven’t seen it.
Playlist: with a name like Ragtime you know music will be mentioned. Al Jolson, Scott Joplin’s “Wall Street Rag” and “The Maple Leaf”, Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody”, John McCormack’s “I Hear You Calling Me”, and “The Liberty Bell March”.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Ragtime except to describe a little of the plot.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “American History: Fiction” (p 22)
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Vintage, 1995.
Reason read: February is National Black History Month.
Invisible Man’s nameless southern protagonist forces the reader to run the gamut of emotions: by turns we are frightened, touched, shocked, amused, even pitying and hopeful. When we first meet him, he lives on the hem of society in an unused part of the basement of a building for whites. He steals shelter and electricity like a boogeyman. He is truly invisible. There comes a point in time when he tries to reach the light by going to college only to be expelled after being accused of offending a white man. Invisible again. Through various trials and tribulations this nameless young man finally makes it to New York where he is confronted with the reality of his race. His lack of identity allows him to be mistaken for someone else. As he becomes more and more invisible, the more and more I wanted him to rage against it. The problem is, when you are a young black man trying to escape the white man’s thumb in the 1940s, rage is the last emotion you are allowed to express. Every endeavor leads him closer to destruction. Like a horror movie, I wanted to read Invisible Man with one eye closed against all the gross misunderstandings prejudice and racism can bring.
Quote to quote, “The light is the truth, and truth is the light” (p 7).
Author fact: Ellison was a literary scholar and essayist in addition to a novelist.
Book trivia: Modern Library called Invisible Man one of the top 100 novels of all time. Others have used words like monumental and epic to describe it. It won a National Book Award in 1953.
Playlist: Louis Armstrong’s “What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue?” Dvorak’s New World Symphony, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Old Man river,”
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Invisible Man except to include it in a list of one hundred good reads.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1950s” (p 177).
Baldwin, James. Notes of a Native Son. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.
Reason read: November is National Writing Month. I chose Notes of a Native Son under the category of essays.
I have to start off by saying Notes of a Native Son was way too short. I felt that Baldwin could have kept writing and writing. His essays held such clarity and truth they could have been written last year, last month, or even last week. Ranging from an analytical commentary of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to remembering the time he was jailed in Paris for allegedly stealing a bedsheet, Baldwin expresses his place in society with the utmost frankness. The most tender of moments came when writing about his father, a man with which he had a complicated relationship.
Quotes to quote about hate, “Hate is a very fertile yet dangerous place from which to draw creativity” (p 37), and “I imagine that one of those reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain” (p 91). So true.
Another line I liked, “This seals the action off, as it were, in a vacuum in which the spectacle of color is divested of danger” (p 45).
Author fact: Did you know Baldwin was a preacher for three years, from the age of 14 to 17, or that he was a waiter at 22?
Book trivia: Baldwin talks about writing his first novel. It was interesting to hear about the process.
Nancy said: Pearl said Baldwin is an essayist not to miss.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Essaying Essays” (p 80).
Barry, Lynda. The Good Times are Killing Me. New York: Harper Perennial, 1988.
Barry, Lynda. The Good Times Are Killing Me. Canada: Drawn & Quarterly, 2017.
Reason read: January is Barry’s birth month. Read in her honor.
This is a unique book that took me all of two days to read. When it ended so abruptly I thought there was some kind of scanning mistake (I was reading it as an ebook). I was startled. So much so that I borrowed a print version just to make sure I didn’t miss out on something. Then I read it again. And again.
Edna Arkins is a child is trying to grow up in the tumultuous 1960s. Her white neighbors are fleeing her urban Seattle neighborhood as other ethnic groups take up residence. She herself is white and doesn’t understand their prejudice. Told from the first person and using music as her Polaris, Edna struggles to work out her rapidly changing adolescence. In response to confusing and callous adult racism Edna forges a taboo relationship with a Black girl named Bonna. She thinks Bonna is beautiful. What is most captivating about Edna is her awkwardness and honesty as she navigates through changing relationships. I wanted Bonna and Edna to conquer the world together. I wanted them to break down just one barrier; to get one adult to accept and understand their friendship. My fervent hope for a happy ending made the truth that much more difficult to swallow.
Lines I liked, “I could always tell the difference between God and a streetlight” (p 11), and “Like all it was was any black girl slapping any white girl who had mouthed off to her, something that happened every single day and would just keep on happening, world without end” (p 139).
Author fact: Barry in known for her graphic novels.
Book trivia: The last section of The Good Times are Killing Me includes a thirty-four page “music notebook” full of biographies of famous and not-so famous musicians and styles of music. The illustrations are fantastic.
Nancy said: Pearl said Good Times are Killing Me touches on the themes of childhood and adolescence.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Graphic Novels” (p 103). Confessional: I deleted Good Times are Killing Me from my list because it is not a graphic novel. Pearl could have included it in the previous “Girls Growing Up” (p 101).
Naslund, Sena Jeter. Four Spirits. New York: William Morrow, 2003.
Reason read: Alabama became a state in December.
Stella Silver, at five years old, stands with a gun in her hand. Her father, over her shoulder, teaches her how to pull the trigger. He wants her to know “what happens to a bullet fired” (p 4). Welcome to Four Spirits. Sena Jeter Naslund sets out to tell the story of a group of ordinary people trying to live their lives in the deep south during one of the most tumultuous times in our country’s history, the early 1960s. Amid the pages of Four Spirits you will meet civil rights activists, racists, musicians, students, families. You will watch relationships fall apart while others thrive. Sacrifices made, lives taken, hope clung to, and most importantly, resilience take root. There is power in courage as the characters of Four Spirits will show you. Five year old Stella grows up to be a passionate intelligent young woman whose world is rocked when President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Texas. But, she is just one character in a host of others who will break your heart. Amidst the turmoil and violence, people went about doing ordinary things, trying to live ordinary lives.
This is a tough book to read. For me, the domestic violence between Ryder and his wife was the hardest to take in, but be warned, his violence as a Ku Klux Klan member is far worse. The Klan is one of those realities of Birmingham, Alabama; their existence is something you wish you could pretend was not part of the historical fabric of our nation, but there they are.
As an aside, it gave me great joy that Ryder was afraid of Dracula.
I always seem to find Natalie connections. There is a reason why she wrote Saint Judas (Motherland album).
Lines I liked: “There’s a seed in me and it’s starting to grow” (Gloria says on page 89) and “Admiration and gratitude collided in her heart and scattered throughout her body” (p 68).
Author fact: Four Spirits takes place in Naslund’s home city of Birmingham, Alabama.
Book trivia: You get the sense Four Spirits is about four actual women when you read the dedication” Addie MacCollins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. They were killed on September 15th, 1963 in a Baptist church.
Nancy said: Pearl explained that Naslund “intersperses her fictional characters with real ones” (More Book Lust p 207).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern Fried Fiction” (p 205).
I may not be happy with my personal life in regards to fitness, health, and so on, but I am definitely satisfied with the number of books I was able to check off my Challenge list for the month of December. Special thanks to my kisa who did all the driving up and back and around the great state of Maine.
- The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (EB/print).
- Any Old Iron by Anthony Burgess.
- Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund.
- This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun.
- Time Machines: the Best Time Travel Stories Ever Written edited by Bill Adler, Jr.
- The Black Tents of Arabia: (My Life Among the Bedouins by Carl Raswan.
- Lost Moon: the Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger.
- The Female Eunuch by Germain Greer.
- Stet: a Memoir by Diana Athill (EB and print).
- Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owens (EB and print).
- Unicorn Hunt by Dorothy Dunnett. Confessional: I did not finish this.
- The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (EB/print/AB).
French, Albert. Billy. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.
This is in every way the wrong kind of book to be reading at Christmas time. It’s full of racism, prejudice, violence and hate. Ten year old Billy makes a huge mistake. With twelve year old friend, Gumpy, Billy explores a local pond only to be confronted by the owner of the pond’s daughter, an older girl named Lori and her cousin. Lori is a mean white girl who doesn’t take too kindly to black boys splashing in “her” pond. The situation gets out of control and the entire novel spirals into death and disaster. It’s tragic for both families involved; for the entire community for that matter. Sadly, it’s also typical of Mississippi in 1937.
Sorry this review is so short. I really couldn’t wait to finish this book. It was so sad I didn’t pay attention to thought provoking lines. Mea culpa.
Reason read: Mississippi became a state in December and Billy takes place in Mississippi…
Author fact: Billy was Albert French’s first book.
Book trivia: This book will tear your heart out.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern-Fried Fiction” (p).
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Warner Books, 1982.
This is another one of those times when I have to ask who doesn’t know the story of Scout Finch? I’m sure many, many people refer back to the movie and that classic trial scene, but tell me, who doesn’t know Atticus Finch at least?
The story is told from the viewpoint of six year old Scout Finch, a tomboy living in Alabama during the Great Depression. She is looking back on her coming of age, remembering the year when all innocence was lost. Scout and her brother, Jem, are typical children growing up in the segregated deep south. Their widowed father, Atticus, is a county lawyer appointed to defend a black man accused of attacking and raping a white teenager. This is on the periphery of Scout’s life. She is more concerned with the monster who lives nearby. In the neighborhood lives a recluse of a man few have seldom seen. He is the subject of gossip and rumors and legends because his existence is such a mystery. Naturally, the neighborhood children grow up being afraid of him. Scout doesn’t understand this is a prejudice equal to the racial prejudice displayed in her town against her father for defending a “nigger.” As the trial draws near the community begins a slow boil until it erupts in violence. While the ending is predictable the entire story is so well written it should not be missed or forgotten. Read it again and again.
Favorite lines: “Matches were dangerous, but cards were fatal” (p 55) and something Atticus says at the end of the book, “Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I’ve tried to live so I can look squarely back at him” (p 273).
Postscript ~ There is a scene when Scout and Jem are taking to their black housekeeper’s church. The congregation sings “When They Ring The Golden Bells” by Dion De Marbell. All I could hear in my mind was Natalie Merchant singing the same song off Ophelia, last track.
Reason Read: September is Southern Month, whatever that means.
Author fact: Harper Lee has never wanted the attention To Kill a Mockingbird has afforded her. She shuns the limelight and has never written anything since.
Book trivia: To Kill a Mockingbird was made into an Oscar winning movie in 1962.
BookLust Twist: I can always tell when Nancy Pearl really loves a book. She’ll mention it even in a chapter it doesn’t belong in. In Book Lust it is in four different chapters, “Girls Growing Up” (p 101), “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade: 1960s” (p 178), “Southern Fiction” (p 222), and “What a Trial That Was!” (p 244). To Kill a Mockingbird is also mentioned in More Book Lust in the chapter called “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover” (p 238). Pearl is comparing Donna Tartt’s character, Harriet Dufresne (in The Little Friend) with Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan. Cross Creek. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1942.
Cross Creek is an examination of place, first and foremost. The early pages remind me of conversations tourists have had with us Islanders; as natives who have stubbornly defended our “inconvenient” and “curious” ways of life. Cross Creek is a rural parse of Florida where alligator, snake and toad hunting is the norm. The bugs bite more than the snakes and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is in the thick of it all. Set in the early 1940s when racial inequality was at an all-time low Rawlings’s story is cringe inducing and belly splitting. Her employees are one step away from slaves and she views them as such. Poverty is a way of life in Cross Creek and yet Rawlings embraces it. Her humor outweighs the poor and the prejudice. If you need proof, read the chapter called “A Pig is Paid For” (p 97). How Rawlings blithely explains the pleasure of shooting her neighbor’s pig is funny.
Cross Creek is full of one-liners. Here are a few to illustrate what I mean. “Madness is only a variety of mental nonconformity and we are all individuals here” (p 2), “It is always bewildering to change one’s complete way of life” (p 18), and “I do not understand how any one can live without some small place of enchantment to turn to” (p 37). My favorite line comes after Rawlings conquers her fear or snakes, “I had done battle with a great fear, and the victory was mine” (p 174).
Author Fact: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is a big deal to the people of northeast Florida. In 1983 Universal Pictures released a movie of her life. In 2007 her home at Cross Creek was declared National Historic Landmark (for $6 you can enter the national park named after her and have a guided tour of her house). In 2008 the United States Postal Services released a Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings commemorative stamp.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads: Decade By Decade (1940s)” (p 177), and also in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Florida Fiction” (p 89), which is misleading because Pearl is including Rawlings in the chapter because of The Yearling, which is fiction and mentions Cross Creek which is not.
Childress, Mark. Crazy in Alabama. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993.
Talk about crazy! This book drove me there! I called Made in America a book of multiple personalities. If that’s the case, Crazy in Alabama is a book of split personalities. Set in the 1960s, one half of the narration is dedicated to Lucille’s escapades in California. She’s seeking fame and fortune as a wannabe actress while on the run from the law with her husband’s decapitated head in a Tupperware container. The other half of the narration is from the perspective of Lucille’s nephew Peter Joseph (Peejoe). He’s in racially torn Alabama witnessing violence and civil unrest at its worst. While Lucille’s side of the story is insanely surreal, Peejoe’s is intensely serious. The disconnect between the two voices created a divide almost too big to ignore. Luckily, Childress pulls them together and makes the entire plot work…somehow.
Favorite lines: “She would miss her children but she had Chester’s head to keep her company” (p 37). Of course! Another favorite line, “My eye was the price I’d had to pay for seeing too much” (p 229). See the difference between Lucille and Peejoe’s worlds?
Author Fact: Mark Childress is also the author of three picture books for children.
Book Trivia: Crazy in Alabama was made into a movie starring Melanie Griffith in 1999. Haven’t seen it.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called Southern-Fried Fiction: Alabama (p 207).
More head in the sand, tail between my legs reading for the month. While it wasn’t an easy month I am happy to say it was better than October by a long shot!
- The Harmless People by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas ~ in honor of November being the best time to visit Africa. This was an eye opener. I will never look at people the same way again.
- The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Karen Elizabeth Gordon ~ in honor of Writing month. Information I will keep in mind but, because I’m a rebel, probably ignore. Case in point – this sentence!
- Balsamroot: A Memoir by Mary Clearman Blew ~ in honor of Montana becoming a state in November. This was more about a favorite aunt’s slow decline than about Blew’s own personal life.
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac ~ in honor of November being National Travel month. This was, I think, my favorite book of the month.
- The Healing by Gayl Jones ~ in honor of November being Jones’s birth month. This was the hardest one of the bunch to read. I’ve decided I don’t care for stream of consciousness!
- Ruby by Ann Hood ~ in honor of November being National Adoption month. This was a psychological book that had me pondering life’s bigger questions. It took me a weekend to read.
- Brothers and Sisters by Bebe Moore Campbell ~ in honor of November being the month of Campbell’s passing. Once I got passed the stereotypical characters this was a great book!
For LibraryThing and the Early Review program: Final Flight: The Mystery of a WWII Plane Crash and the Frozen Airmen in the High Sierra by Peter Stekel. This book had everything I could want in a nonfiction: truth and mystery embedded in a well told tale. It was great!
I don’t know what my problem is. As if September isn’t hard enough I have to go and read a series of really depressing books. First I read Out of the Blue by Richard Bernstein – about the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Then I read The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough- about the tragedy of May 31, 1889. Then I read Off Balance by Suzanne Gordon – about the tragedy of the world of ballet. Now I have read Native Son by Richard Wright – and even though it is fiction (unlike the other books) it is still a tragedy. I just couldn’t believe the trouble main character Bigger gets himself into.
I realize the point Richard Wright is trying to make is one of social injustice and how racism can lead innocent people down the wrong path. I realize there is a sociological lesson to be learned from Native Son. Bigger Thomas is portrayed as a 21 year old African American sent out to work for the white man so that his mother and younger siblings have a place to live. With the 1930s as the backdrop it is portrayed that the African American man of that era has a choice – either be a church-going, loyal and submissive type, or a jaded, violent, hardened criminal type. There is no chance for anything in between. Yet, Bigger tries. He is constantly trying. Unfortunately, he is haunted by a paranoid hatred of white people. His fear that they are always out to “get him” gets him in touble time and time again. He is constantly thinking the worst of everyone around him and that causes him to make terrible decisions. There is rape, murder and the death penalty in this book.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “100 Good Reads by Decade: 1940s” (p 177).
Cullen, Countee. “Incident.” On These I Stand: An Anthology of the Best Poems of Countee Cullen. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1927.
Don’t let the shortness of this poem fool you. It packs a punch. “Incident” can be defined as one of those defining moments I blogged about earlier – where one instance stays with you, shapes you, defines you. Written in the first person, “Incident” is about an eight year old boy visiting Baltimore. Even though he spends some considerable time there the only thing he can recall is being called “nigger” by another young boy. There is so much below the surface of this poem. The hurt seethes.
Incidentally, this poem comes from an anthology of poems personally picked by Mr. Cullen. He dedicates this particular one to Eric Walrond, a Harlem Renaissance writer. This is the second Countee Cullen poem on my list.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter “Poetry Pleasers” (p 188).