Morrison, Toni. Jazz. Alfred A Knopf, 1992.
Reason read: while it is not accurate, I read Jazz in honor of May being music month.
Joe and Violet are in the business of beauty. Joe sells cosmetics door to door and his wife is a home-visiting hairdresser. Usually a straight up and dependable man, Joe falls in obsessive love with a teenager named Dorcas. His passion for Dorcas forces him to kill her. At her funeral, in a fit of jealous insanity Joe’s wife, Violet, attempts to slash the dead girl’s face while she lay in her coffin. Violent Violet then goes home to free all of her pet birds. Her rage makes her human. The smartest character in the book is the City. I like the way the City makes people think they can do whatever they want and get away with it. The culture is full of passions, both right and wrong. Jazz will also take you back to July 1917, a time when Grandmother True Belle (great name) was afraid of Springfield, Massachusetts. (Kind of funny since I work in that urban area and sometimes I, too, am afraid of Springfield, Massachusetts.) Morrison’s vivid descriptions of culture are breathtaking.
Lines I loved, “Can’t rival the dead for love” (p 15) and “Two dollars will get you a woman on a store-bought scooter if you want it” (p 46). I have no idea what that means.
Playlist: Wings Over Jordan
Author fact: Princeton University could boast that Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison was on their payroll.
Book trivia: Jazz is part of the Dantesque Trilogy: Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise X.
Nancy said: Pearl used the words “jazzy syncopation” to describe Jazz.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African American Fiction: She Say” (p 12).
Corriveau, Art. Housewrights. Penguin Books, 2002.
Reason read: April has a week dedicated to librarians.
The early 1900s. It is an age when nature is stepping aside for the steamroller that is science. A father with twins so identical even he can’t tell them apart shows up in eight-year-old Lily’s Vermont yard, looking for carpentry work. Unabashed and unconventional, Lily takes to the boys and they can’t help falling in love with her as only little boys can when a girl can climb a tree faster or shows no fear diving into a pond from a great height.
Fast forward ten years and one of the twins, Oren, comes calling. He has never forgotten Lily. Eighteen years old, Lily now works as a librarian in the same town she never left. Did she stay where she was just so Oren or Ian could find her? Oren came back first. They marry, build a house and settle into the community as husband and wife. Soon after brother Ian arrives in town after surviving the horrors of the First Great War. He is a shell-shocked sleepwalking mess and Lily feels the old pull towards him; with Oren’s blessing she welcomes Ian into their home. The three set up house as if time has stood still and they are once again children, locked in the play of deep friendship. Only now with adult alcohol to go with the games and music and loud laughter. It isn’t long before their unconventional arrangement becomes the talk of the town.
More than a story about conformity and appearances, Housewrights is a lesson in identity and acceptance. It is about changing with the times and making peace with the past.
Quote to quote, “She also knew not to trust everything men said when they were drinking” (p 4). Good girl. I should note, there were many, many more passages I could quote. This just set up a premonition perfectly.
Book trivia: Housewrights has a pretty accurate account of how maple syrup is produced and how a house brought from a catalog is put together.
Author fact: Housewrights is Art Corriveau’s first novel. It should be made into a movie.
Playlist: “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” “The Wedding March,” and “The Gentlemen’s Waltz.”
Nancy said: Pearl did not say much about Housewrights.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Libraries and Librarians” (p 138).
Prose, Francine. A Changed Man. New York: Harper Collins,
Reason read: Happy New Year! January is traditionally the month to turn over a new leaf. Read in honor of resolutions. I also read this for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge (category: a book that gives you hope for the future).
Vincent Nolan wants to be a changed man. Once a Neo-Nazi and a self-described “punk storm-trooper rapist,” Vincent is looking for redemption in the eyes of Meyer Maslow, a Holocaust survivor. I didn’t quite believe the situation. Why wouldn’t Maslow be more suspicious of Nolan? How does he trust this guy wants to change just…like…that? Is he really A Changed Man? How has Vincent become a moral hero overnight? On the flip side, I am also suspicious that no one at Brotherhood Watch would be worried for Vincent’s safety…if he really is a changed man. He just left a very dangerous, cult-like organization. Think gangs. Wouldn’t ARM want retaliation? Wouldn’t Vincent’s cousin be looking for him after Vincent stole his truck, prescription meds, and Soldier of Fortune magazine, and then left his little hate club?
The only parts I found believable were the times when someone was jealous of someone else (and this happens a lot): Brotherhood Watch donation coordinator, Bonny, was jealous of her ex-husband’s new wife (very appropriate) and she was jealous of her ex-husband’s importance in society (As a cardiologist, he saves lives. What does she do?); Maslow was jealous of Elie Wiesel’s “Holocaust” fame, then he was jealous of Vincent’s “changed man” fame; Vincent was jealous of the Iranian prisoner’s story getting more attention than his own transformation and he was also jealous of Timothy McVeigh’s limelight. Yes, that Timothy McVeigh. Threaded through A Changed Man is the real-life drama of the Oklahoma City bombing and the subsequent execution of McVeigh. It allows Prose to show both sides of a tragedy. The Jews were ecstatic when McVeigh was put to death while the neo-Nazis mourned and honored their hero. As an aside, Prose made Vincent look a lot like McVeigh for added creepville.
Overall, A Changed Man might be heavy on subject (Holocaust survivor, neo-Nazis, etc.) but super light on drama complete with a Hallmark-like ending.
Quotes to quote, “Becoming a white supremist for the free lunch seems even sleazier than joining because you believe that the white race is an endangered species, or because you like wearing camouflaged gear and the boots” (p 18), “Vincent’s not in the mood to explain about Raymond wanting him dead” (p 182).
Playlist: Mick Jagger, Billy Joel, Otis Redding, Tina Turner, Ricky Martin, Marc Antony, Tito Puente, Iron Fust, Al Green’s “Love and Happiness,” Beethoven, Stravinsky, Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue,” “Pomp and Circumstance,” and “The Wedding March.”
Nancy said: Pearl said A Changed Man was in the stack of books by her side of the bed.
BookLust Twist: from the introduction of More Book Lust (p x).
Kirchner, Bharti. Pastries: a Novel of Desserts and Discoveries.
Reason read: December is traditionally when a whole lot of baking goes on.
Meet Sunya. She owns a small bakery in Seattle, Washington where the star attraction is her one-of-a-kind decadent chocolate creation, Sunya Cake. Only these days head baker Sunya has lost her mojo for any kind of sweet creation. Every recipe she attempts ends in distraction and disaster. For a baker not being able to bake, that must be like a writer suffering from writer’s block. However, Sunya has more to worry about than her own failing skills. She is on the rebound from a bad break-up (the lowest of lows: a friend stole her man); her business is about to go head-to-head with a bigger, glitzier bakery (think of a chain similar to Cheesecake Factory), there is a nasty critic stoking the fires of competition, Sunya’s employees are unreliable and fickle; her shop’s lease looks like it won’t be renewed due to financial instability. To top it all off as if that wasn’t enough, Sunya suffers from latent abandonment issues and an ever-growing identity crisis. The mystery of her father’s sudden departure from the family haunts Sunya despite the fact she was only two days old at the time. Even though she is of Indian descent, Sunya best identifies with Japanese culture, but who is she really underneath it all?
Through all this, Sunya’s character is honest and believable. She isn’t above ratting out her competition to the food inspector (pun totally intended). She harbors enormous jealousy for the woman who stole her boyfriend (as mentioned before, someone she used to call her friend). She definitely has relationship issues thanks to the mystery of her father leaving her. Even sexy movie director Andrew has trouble convincing Sunya he is interested in more than just her chocolate cake.
Author fact: Kirchner also wrote The Bold Vegetarian: 150 Inspired International Recipes which was on my Challenge list even though I didn’t need to read it.
Book trivia: this should be a movie.
Playlist: Bach, Brahms, Pearl Jam, and Andres Segovia.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Pastries.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fiction for Foodies” (p 88). See why The Bold Vegetarian shouldn’t have been on my Challenge list?
Vuong, Ocean. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. New York: Penguin Press, 2019.
Reason read: Are you holding onto your hats? Are you sitting down? I’m going off the Challenge list for this one. Why? Basically, I will read everything my sister recommends. Why? She’s cool and she doesn’t waste her time with boring books.
Is it enough to say that On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is heartbreakingly beautiful? I could go on to elaborate: the language is harsh yet poignant, stark yet lush, truthful yet magical. Little Dog writes a letter to his mother to…what? Explain his choices? Tell her how her life has shaped his? Make a declaration of love to the world around him? His motives are unclear, but the language stirs the heart. For example, the imagery of a lighthouse: seen as both shelter and warning. Could a woman be both monster and mother?
Lines I loved: “We sidestep ourselves in order to move forward” (p 53). If I were a lecturer and I had actually coined that phrase I would repeat it and ask the audience to let the words sink in. There is more truth in those eight little words than I care to admit. One more to quote, “Maybe we look in mirrors not merely to seek beauty, regardless of how illusive, but to make sure, despite the facts, that we are still here” (p 138).
Book trivia: this should be a movie. Seriously. For something completely random, Vuong thanked Frank Ocean. I am wondering if this is the same Frank Ocean Dermot Kennedy thanked for the song, “Swim Good.”
Author fact: According to the back flap of On Earth… Vuong lived in Northampton in 2019. I am not a stalker so I don’t know if that’s still true. If it is, this author is less than 30 minutes from me. Cool. In a more widely (undisputed) fact, Vuong is a poet which is abundantly obvious in On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.
Playlist: Khanh Ly, Neil Young, 50 Cent, Etta James, Curtis Jackson, Chopin, Justin Timberlake, Miles Davis, Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love?,” Led Zeppelin’s “Get Rich, or Die Tryin’,” “His Eye Is On the Sparrow,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”
Lawrence, D.H. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. New York: Signet Classics, 1959.
Reason read: Let’s talk about sex.
You know a book is trouble when it’s published privately in Italy in 1928 and again in France a year later. It wasn’t published openly to the masses until 1960 when it was promptly banned across the world. The United States, Canada, Australia, India, and Japan all found fault with it. Finally, when it was at the center of a 1960 British obscenity trial, things came to a head. No pun intended. Not really.
Who doesn’t know this story? Lady Chatterley is an attractive upper-class woman married to an equally handsome man who happens to be paralyzed from the waist down. Connie is young, spoiled, and has certain…needs. Her husband says he understands, but a man and wife’s varying perceptions of the same marriage are striking. Clifford Chatterley doesn’t really understand the resentments of his wife. A poignant scene is when Connie watches a mother hen protect her eggs and feels empty. She wants a child. She wants a lover. She finds solace in the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors, who lives on the grounds. His cottage is a short distance from the estate…It is the classic tale of class differences. Lawrence goes a bit further by exploring themes of industrialism (Clifford wants to modernize mining with new technology) and mind-body psychology (the struggle between the heart and mind when it involves sexuality, especially when it is illicit in nature). The ending is ambiguous, as typical of Lawrence’s work, but it ends with hope.
As an aside, I would have liked more insight from Connie’s sister, Hilda. Hilda helped Connie have her affair even though she sided with Clifford Chatterley. Another aside, I have often wondered how many people self-pleasured themselves with Lady Chatterley or her lover. Wink.
Lines I liked, “What the eye doesn’t see and the mind doesn’t know doesn’t exist” (p 18) and “If I could sleep with my arms round you, the ink could stay in the bottle” (p 282). Sigh. So romantic.
Author fact: Lawrence went into self-imposed exile because he refused to stop writing about the human condition. His critics couldn’t handle the truth and often banned or censored his work. Lady Chatterley is rumored to be autobiographical in some places.
Book trivia: The genre for Lady Chatterley’s Lover is literary erotica and yet some libraries (including my own) catalog this in the juvenile section. True story. I happen to be reading the Signet Classic edition which is the only complete unexpurgated version authorized by the Lawrence estate. According to the back cover, “no other edition is entitled to make this claim.”
Nancy said: Pearl included Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the list of “stellar” examples of literary erotica.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Sex and the Single Reader” (p 218).
Strout, Elizabeth. Olive Kitteridge. New York: Random House, 2008.
Reason read: In Rockland, Maine, there is a festival dedicated to lobsters. Read Olive Kitteridge in honor of the critters.
Comprised of thirteen short stories with varying narratives, Strout cleverly tells the story of Olive Kitteridge. Olive is lurking in most of each connecting tale. Sometimes characters gossip about her, like in the story called “Winter Concert.” In the first story “Pharmacy” Olive’s husband, Henry Kitteridge, doesn’t seem to have a happy life since he retired from his old fashioned pharmacy. Olive is presented as a woman who doesn’t suffer fools easily. She shows the world an angry and proud face most of the time. I think they call it “Yankee stoicism.” Other stories:
- “Incoming Tide” – Olive is present when a woman tries to commit suicide.
- “The Piano Player” – Angela O’Meara plays the piano for ungrateful guests.
- “A Little Burst” – Olive’s only son is getting married to a woman she doesn’t like.
- “Starving” – Harmon is starving in his marriage while he befriends a girl with anorexia.
- “A Different Road” – a couple are victims of a crime by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- Winter Concert” – A couple attends a concert where the wife learns of her husband’s secret rendezvous.
- “Tulips” – bitterness.
- “A Basket of Trips” – a death cuts a marriage short.
- “Ship in a Bottle” – a girl is stood up on her wedding day.
- “Security” – Olive tries to visit her son in New York; a story about expectations.
- “Criminal” – the story of a neurotic kleptomaniac.
- “River” – My favorite story of the the bunch. Olive is a widow and learning to be polite.
Author fact: Strout also wrote Amy & Isabelle and Abide with Me. Both are on my Challenge list. I read Amy & Isabelle in 2007 and I read Abide with Me in 2013.
Book trivia: Olive Kitteridge won a Pulitzer in 2008.
Playlist: “Good Night, Irene,” “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “The First Noel,” “We Shall Overcome, “”Fly Me to the Moon,” “My Way,” “Feelings,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” Beethoven, “Fools Rush In,” “Whenever I Feel Afraid,” Phish, Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, “Some Enchanted Evening,” “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” and Debussy.
Nancy said: Pearl said Olive Kitteridge would be an excellent choice for a book club.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the curious chapter called “The Maine Chance” (p 135).
Murdoch, Iris. Bruno’s Dream. New York: Dell Publishing, Co., 1969.
Reason read: Murdoch was born in the month of July (7/15/1919); read Bruno’s Dream in her honor.
Someone once said Murdoch’s books are full of passion and disaster. Exactly! At the center of Bruno’s Dream is the complication of family and all the confusing dynamics that can happen between members. The lust and the hate and everything in between spill out of Murdoch’s stories. The relationships surrounding protagonist Bruno are sticky, web-like, and ensnaring (pun totally intended as Bruno is a philatelist and arachnologist of sorts). Much like a spider in a web, he lays bedridden and dying, waiting for people to come to him. Most loyal to Bruno is Nigel. Of all the characters Nigel is the simplest. Throughout the story he remains uncoupled despite his best attempts. Knowing Bruno doesn’t have long to live, he urges Bruno’s estranged son, Miles, to visit his dying father. Son and father have been apart since Miles married an Indian woman much to Bruno’s disapproval. After the death of his first wife Miles remarries but his father has never met the second wife, Diana, due to the prejudicial falling out. Diana’s sister, Lisa, complicates Miles’s household when she arrives and Miles can’t help but seduce her. When it comes to women, Miles is a very busy man. More loyal to Bruno than his own son is son-in-law Danby, once married to Bruno’s daughter, Gwen. Gwen died before the reader picks up the story. As an aside, if you would like to keep track, three wives have died: Bruno’s wife, Miles’s first wife, and Danby’s wife. Danby at some point carried on a secret affair with Adelaide, Bruno’s nurse, but doesn’t stay faithful to her. Adelaide and Nigel’s twin brother also have an affair. Lots and lots of partner switching.
As an aside, I felt that nearly everyone in Bruno’s Dream was crazy. I didn’t really care for any of them.
Interesting lines, “The television had been banished with its false sadness and its images of war” (p 5), and “The flake of rust, the speck of dust, the invisible slit in the skin through which it all sinks down and runs away” (p 27). I’m not even sure I know what Iris is talking about here.
Author fact: Iris is not Murdoch’s true first name. It’s Jean. Like myself, she chose to go by her middle name.
Book trivia: Bruno’s Dream is Murdoch’s twelfth book and was short listed for the Booker Prize.
Nancy said: Pearl placed an asterisk by Bruno’s Dream to indicate it’s one of her favorites.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Iris Murdoch: Too Good To Miss” (p 161).
Manning, Olivia. The Balkan Trilogy: the Great Fortune. New York: Viking Penguin, 1960.
Reason read: the first Yugoslav conflict of the 1990s started in June.
The year is 1939 and Europe is seething with the threat of war. Germany has just invaded Poland and shows no signs of stopping. At the heart of The Great Fortune is newlyweds Guy and Harriet Pringle. Having just arrived in Bucharest, Harriet is shy and unknowing while her gregarious husband is back on old familiar stomping grounds. As an English professor and lecturer he knows multitudes of friends, students, colleagues, and old lovers alike. Driven by the political and military headlines of the day, The Great Fortune details civilian reactions: the chatter over coffee in cafes, the arguments behind bedroom doors, gossip in the streets. The blasé expatriate community regards the approaching Germans as a trifling that won’t affect them.
I am not sure why, but Manning’s first book of the Balkan Trilogy took me a long time to slog through. I didn’t connect with the characters; thought Yaki was downright annoying.
As an aside, the 1939 Hispano-Suiza was a sexy car. It looks like something Al Capone would have driven around in.
Author fact: Manning lived in Bucharest. Her experiences shaped the Balkan Trilogy.
Book trivia: The Balkan Trilogy and the Levant Trilogy form a single narrative called the Fortunes of War. I heard a rumor that the entire trilogy is autobiographical.
Playlist: Chopin, and Beethoven.
Nancy said: absolutely nothing about Great Fortune.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade: 1960” (p 175). Actually, to be fair, the individual books that make up the Balkan Trilogy were left out of Book Lust.
Seth, Vikram. The Golden Gate: a Novel in Verse. New York: Random House, 1986.
Reason read: April is National Poetry Month. I also needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge under the category of a novel in poem form.
This is an early eighties story of a group of people living in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridget in San Francisco. John is a successful but lonely executive looking for some kind of love. His ex-girlfriend-turned-loyal-good-friend, Janet Hayakawa, takes pity on him and places an ad in the personals (a la Rupert Holmes: if you like Pina Coladas). As John goes on bland blind date after bland blind date he finds ways to avoid second encounters with each woman until he meets Liz. It’s practically love at both sight for both of them…until he moves in with her and meets her cat. Competition with a pet is not easy.
Philip Weiss is also looking for love after his wife, Claire Cabot, left him and their young son, Paul. When Philip tries a different sort of love he is confronted with conflicting feelings. Morality, religion, and society’s attitudes guide his choices. These are just a few of the characters in Golden Gate. As the reader, you get to delve into their work, their relationships, their responsibilities. It’s all about human connections. Attitudes towards homosexuality. The loss of love. The ridiculous fights you can have in the throes of love. The fact it is one giant poem is just icing on the cake. I was captivated until the (surprising) end.
It took Vikram thirteen months to finish The Golden Gate.
As an aside, I like the names of the cats: Cuff, Link, and Charlemagne.
Line I liked, “Their brains appear to be dissolving to sugary sludge as they caress” (p 52). Isn’t that what true love is all about?
Playlist: “Apple of My Heart,” Brahms, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Mozart, Schonberg, Grateful Dead. “Beat It” by Michael Jackson.
Author fact: Seth also wrote A Suitable Boy which is on my Challenge List.
Book trivia: Even the Dedication and Acknowledgements are in verse.
Nancy said: Pearl called Golden Gate funny and warm.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. First in the chapter called “California, Here We Come” (p 49), and again in “Poetry: a Novel Idea” (p 186).
Anshaw, Carol. Lucky in the Corner. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2002
Reason read: April is National Dog Month.
In a word, Lucky in the Corner is about relationships. Okay, two words: complicated relationships. Nora and Fern have a strained mother-daughter relationship. Nora had Fern at a young age essentially defying her own deep rooted lesbian reality: she first kissed a girl at age twelve. Now, in a romantic relationship with sophisticated Jeanne, Nora is trying to find common ground with defiant Fern. Her daughter is the type of girl to get a tattoo just to piss off a parent.
Fern works as a psychic knowing full well this too is something her mother will never understand. To be fair, Fern has an uneasy relationship with her mother because she can never quite trust Nora will always be there for Fern. She has felt her mother could disappear at any second, exactly like a not-quite-there hologram. Call it her psychic abilities but Fern senses her mother’s betrayals before they happen. Beyond navigating a complicated relationship with her mother, Fern is also coping with a breakup, the changing relationship with her best friend (who is now a mother herself), and the peripheral relationships with her mother’s girlfriend, Jeanne and Fern’s cross dressing uncle, Harold. The only relationship not changing too much is the one Fern has with her dog, Lucky.
Quote to quote, “One of the most excellent things about him is that he is able to let observations roll to a comfortable spot on the side of the road” (p 203).
- Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,”
- “Turn the Ship Around” by David Marquet,
- Della Reese’s “Someday,”
- “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin,
- “Different Drum” by the Stone Poneys,
- Lena Horne’s version of “Stormy Weather”
- “If It Makes You Happy” by Sheryl Crow,
- “Book of Love,”
- The Supremes’ “Stop in the Name of Love,
- “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee,
- “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” by Teresa Brewer,
- Rage Against the Machine,
- Yo-Yo Ma,
- Judy Garland.
Author fact: Anshaw has written a bunch of other things. I am only reading Lucky in the Corner.
Book trivia: this should be a movie.
Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Lucky in the Corner as having a character who is either gay or lesbian.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Gay and Lesbian Fiction: Out of the Closet” (p 93). Lucky in the Corner is also mentioned in “Great Dogs in Fiction” (also from Book Lust p 104).
Dickey, Eric Jerome. Liar’s Game. Rockland, MA: Wheel Publishing, Inc., 2000.
Reason read: Read in recognition of Black History month being in February. Also, I needed a book for the Portland Public Reading challenge for the category of a book written in multiple perspectives.
Vincent Calvary Browne, Jr. is a Negro Black Man trying to date after divorce. His ex-wife cheated. Adding insult to injury, she left him taking their three year old daughter out of the country. Baggage, baggage, baggage. Dana Ann Smith is a single woman trying to land on her feet in Los Angeles after leaving heavy debts and an even heavier romance in New York. Baggage, baggage, baggage. When Vince and Dana meet they are immediately attracted to one another. They seem like the perfect fit. However, in an effort to present their best selves to one another they hide their secrets under a pile of lies and more lies. Sooner or later, those lies start to reveal themselves as the couple gets more and more involved and Dana’s ex arrives from New York. Can Dana see beyond Vince’s lie about never being married or having children? Can she respect him as a father with an ex-wife? Can Vince hear Dana over the warning bells about her debt? Can he trust she is truly over her rich and hunky ex? What makes Liar’s Game so much fun is the varying perspectives of the same story. As the saying goes, there are are always three sides to every story: his side, her side, and the truth. Dickey gives us all three.
A word of warning – the writing is a little dated. In today’s society, I don’t think many people would consider a cell phone a piece of technology for players.
I have to admit even though the sex scenes were a bit cliché it was refreshing to see a condom play a major role in the hot and heavy relationships. There is even a scene when the condom gets “lost.”
Simple but great lines to quote, “Hard living and bad loving ages a man” (p 2), “A smile is the shortest distance between two people” (p 6).
Author fact: Dickey died of cancer in January of this year. Sad.
Book trivia: I could see this as a movie or a daytime soap opera.
Nancy said: Pearl mentions Liar’s Game as another good example of fiction written by an African American male.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “African American Fiction: He Say” (p 13).
Dark, Alice Elliott. Think of England. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.
Reason read: Dark was born in December; read in her honor.
Confessional: I read this so fast I didn’t start a blog or take many notes. It’s like a bullet train that sped by me once I finished reading and jumped off.
Jane MacLeod’s life is chronicled in this short first novel from Alice Elliott Dark. We first meet nine year old Jane in rural Pennsylvania where she aspires to be a writer. Under bed covers and behind doors, she writes stories about her family. [Confessional: For a moment this activity reminded me of Harriet, the Spy. By comparison, Jane is more introspective and less mean.] Jane claims she can remember the moment she was born. She carefully watches her parents and their teetering-on-rocky relationship. As young as she is, Jane understands not all is perfect in their household. She can tell when her mother has had too much to drink and she listens closely when the adults
talk snipe at each other openly; when her parents forget they are not alone in the room. After a tragic accident, the story jumps many years and Jane is now far away from her family and living in London as a twenty-something writer. She has befriended a few artists, who encourage her poetic endeavors, and a married man who encourages her romantic ones. Fast forward a bunch of years and Jane is back in the States, now living in New York with a daughter of her own. Reunited with family, Jane comes full circle in her quest to understand the tragedy which separated them so long ago.
The title comes from Lady Hillingdon’s 1912 sad journal when she revealed she thinks of England whenever she must have unwanted sex with her husband. Yup. So there’s that. Jane’s mother uses the phrase whenever there is a setback of any size.
Lines I liked, “She was a slow burning shadow” (p 21), “She fought back by competing; if her mother made her feel small, she’d make herself even smaller” (p 32), “They stared at each other across a chasm of diverging logic, all the misunderstandings between them crammed between rings of the phone” (p32), and “Ghosts could cross water, after all” (p 184). There were dozens of other lines I would like to share, but this will have to do. Just read the book. Seriously.
Author fact: Think of England is Dark’s first novel.
Book trivia: when trying to search for Think of England the book, I kept coming up with K.J. Charles. I like that Dark is a little obscure.
Nancy said: Pearl called Dark’s writing “highly polished and controlled (but frequently emotionally charged” (Book Lust p 1).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very first chapter called “A…is for Alice” (p 1).
Docx, Edward. The Calligrapher. Boston: Houghton Miffler Company, 2003.
Reason read: March is hero month. The hero in The Calligrapher is a dead poet.
I love books that have the ability to suck you into its pages. I started reading The Calligrapher and before I knew it 75 pages were devoured before I next looked up.
Onto the plot: Jasper Jackson is a classy cad. He knows his wine. He knows his fish. He knows fashion. He knows his classical tunes. As a professional calligrapher, he knows the poetry of John Donne intimately. He also cheats on women who are already labeled “the other woman.” He can’t have a monogamous relationship to save his life…until he meets gorgeous-girl Madeleine. She is everything he has ever wanted in a partner: smart, funny, sarcastic, gone from home a lot as a travel writer, and of course, so beautiful everyone stops to stare wherever she goes. Miss Perfect. Jackson is willing to give up every other fling and sexual conquest for this girl. He has met his match in Maddy. He even takes her to meet his grandmother. No other woman has had the honor. Unfortunately, the other broken hearts Jasper has trampled on to get to Madeleine just won’t go away. He needs to deal with those messes before he can come clean. But. Is it too late?
Quotes I really liked, “Time cleared its throat and tapped its brand new watch” (p 43), and “Curious how the empty eyes of a dead fish could beseech a person so” (p 224).
As an aside, I have never thought about them before, but vellum and parchment and how they’re made. Calf and sheep, respectively. Ugh.
Author fact: Docx has written a bunch of other stuff. None of it is on my list, though. Bummer. As another aside, I checked out his list on LibraryThing and was a little taken aback by the photos. He’s one of those authors who has a hunch he might, just might, be good looking.
Book trivia: This should be a movie starring Hugh Grant. Oh wait. He already did one of those cad-turned-sensitive-guy movies for Nick Hornsby.
Nancy said: Pearl made comparisons to A.S. Byatt and she described the plot. That’s it.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dick Lit” (p 78).
Kalpakian, Laura. Graced Land. New York: Grove Press, 1992.
Reason read: Elvis Presley was born in the month of January and if you couldn’t tell by the title of the book, Graced Land has an Elvis slant…big time. Read in his honor.
Emily Shaw, fresh out of college with a degree in social work, thinks she can heal the world Candy Striper style with her notes from her final Sociology class. Elvis has died five years prior and Emily’s first welfare client, Joyce Jackson of St. Elmo, California, is obsessed-obsessed-obsessed with the fallen idol. Joyce doesn’t need a Candy Striper. She needs to spread the work of Elvis. As she sits on her porch-turned-shrine to the king with her two daughters, Priscilla and Lisa Marie (of course), Joyce tells anyone who will listen how Elvis’s job was to sing, entertain, and look pretty, but his life’s work was to spread love, charity, and compassion. To make the world see Elvis as a humanitarian is a tall order considering many see his final years as a drug-addled, overweight has-been. Emily, instead of spending the prerequisite twenty minutes with Joyce on the first visit, ends up listening to Joyce and drinking the tea for three hours.
Later we learn how Joyce came to be such an Elvis fanatic. We leave Emily’s little life and follow Cilla’s childhood, describing how her mom was obsessed with Elvis since forever. I think the story would have held up better if Kalpakian had stuck with the story from Emily’s point of view, rather than brief first person narratives from Cilla. They didn’t serve much purpose other than to fill out Joyce’s personality as a mother. There is one critical scene that Cilla had to narrate, but I think Kalpakian could have found a different way.
But, back to the plot. Along the way, Emily learns Joyce is scamming the government by making money on the side. As a new social worker she needs to make a decision, turn Joyce in or give in to Elvis.
As an aside, I don’t know if Kalpakian did it on purpose, but a lot of the characters have alliterate names: Penny Pitzer, Marge Mason, Joyce Jackson…
Confessional: I had never heard of the Old Maid’s prayer before this book.
Author fact: Kalpakian also wrote Educating Waverly, also on my challenge list.
Book trivia: Real people and events from Kalpakian’s life make cameo appearances in Graced Land. Another interesting tidbit is that Graced Land was also published under the title Graceland.
Nancy said: Pearl said Graced Land is an example of a novelist using the facts of Elvis’s life to “explore themes of love, family, relationships, and even religious and socioeconomic issues” (Book Lust p 79).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Elvis On My Mind” (p 78).