Wanderlost

Patton, Natalie Toon. Wanderlost: Falling From Grace and Finding Mercy in All the Wrong Places. Paraclete Press, 2022.

Reason read: As a reviewer for LibraryThing’s Early Review Program, I was chosen to read Wanderlost.

Confessional number one: I couldn’t help but think of Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love the entire time I was reading Wanderlost. In a nutshell: Woman goes through difficult divorce. In order to heal she needs a spiritual overhaul and so travels as far away from her American life as her wallet can handle. Woman finds love and comes to find home in her heart. The end. Both women are funny and a tiny bit scandalous. Both have a deep understanding of religion, history and culture. Both develop friendships and relationships which sustain them and even mature them. One might complain about the heavy emphasis of religion in Wanderlost, but all signs point to this being about faith, losing and gaining it: the church on the cover, the religious publishing company that made Wanderlost possible, and Toon’s own description of the book, “once-golden girl finds herself kicked out of church…” From all of these clues one might perceive a religious theme. Confession number two: when Patton dives into the subject of religion, her tone turns didactic. she loses the personal (and humorous) voice and becomes a lecturer.

Confessional: because I am not deeply religious, I couldn’t understand why Patton’s mom could get a divorce and not be rejected by her church. Dad smoked pot before it was acceptably legal. How did Natalie’s church of choice not care about these transgressions?
Another confessional: I couldn’t decide if I liked the use of brand names. While it lent an authenticity to time and place, it alienated me when I wasn’t familiar with the product.

Author fact: Patton has a cat named Genghis Khan, according to the back cover of Wanderlost.

Book trivia: every chapter is a title of a song but not every song gets credit.

Playlist: “Amazing Grace”, Bad Company, the Beatles’ “Let It Be”, Brandi Carlile’s “the Story”, Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself”, Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”, Cat Steven’s “Moon Shadow” and “Morning Has Broken”, “C’est La Vie”, “Don’t Stop Believin'”, “Daylight and Darkness”, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five”, Emmy Lou Harris, Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind”, “Fairest Lord Jesus”, Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days are Over”, Gilberto Gil, Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain”, AURORA’s “Into the Unknown”, Hootie’s “Hold My Hand”, “Hark! The Heralds Sing”, “I Came to the Garden Alone”, “In a World of My won”, “Jingle Bells”, Joni Mitchell’s “River”, John Denver’s “Country Roads”, Marisa Monte, “Mary Did You Know?”, Nora Jones’s “Don’t Know Why”, “On the Road Again”, Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, “Roll another Number”, “Strangers in the Night”, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, Tom Jobin, U2, “Wayfaring Stranger”, and “Who’ll Stop the Rain”,


The Rabbi’s Cat 2

Sfar, Joann. The Rabbi’s Cat 2. Pantheon Books, 2008.

Reason read: to continue the series started in June in honor of cats.

At the end of The Rabbi’s Cat, the unnamed cat had lost the ability to be understood by humans. The affliction still remains in The Rabbi’s Cat 2. One might say Sfar’s message in The Rabbi’s Cat 2 is how to ask a question. How best do you respond to a growing hate? What is the best course of action to avoid or defuse it?
My favorite character, besides strong-willed Zlabya, was Malka of the Lions. He and his lion are traveling scammers. They travel from town to town saving villagers from the “ferocious” lion until one day the people are no longer afraid of the aging feline. Despite being elderly, Malka can still exude power. [When he delivers an open-handed slap to the mayor I was reminded me of Will Smith’s attack on Chris Rock at the Oscars.] The adventure doesn’t end there. There is this one snake who wants to bite someone. Anyone. Then the story takes an ominous turn when a seemingly dead Russian is found in a crate of books shipped to Zlabya’s husband.
Sfar attacks deeper subjects in The Rabbi’s Cat 2. The argument that art is forbidden; representation is prohibited: “Hey wait! You can kill each other after dinner. And in the meantime, we’d do well to talk quietly and see if it’s necessary” (p 102). Please do not miss Sfar’s subtle humor. The cat’s farts is hilarious.
The dedication right before “Part II Africa’s Jerusalem” made me think this section was intended to be a separate book.
And can we talk about the ending? It feels a little abrupt. I felt like it could have kept going.

Lines I loved, “A real friend tells you that your worries aren’t so bad, that you’ll be okay and you should make the most of each moment” (p 10) and “I love you because there has to be someone who loves you” (p 47). Couldn’t we all think that way?

Author fact: Sfar has written more Cat stories, but I am only reading two for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl said if you are looking for a change of pace, read Sfar’s Cat books.

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


Name of the Rose

Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose. Everyman Library, 2006.

Reason read: Religion = Easter. Easter = Religion.

Author fact: Eco looks every part the crime writer. He could even star in his own crime movie thriller.

If you can ignore the reviewers who point out historical inaccuracies, The Name of the Rose is a great postmodern murder mystery set in 1327. How many debut novels can boast of a serial killer thriller set in that medieval era? The book opens with Brother William of Baskerville and his scribe, Adso of Melk, traveling to a wealthy North Italy monastery to attend a heresy hearing. Soon after their arrival strange deaths start piling up, a total of seven in all. William of Baskerville (with an obvious nod to Sherlock Holmes) must catch the killer before the entire monkhood is murdered. This was a reread for me.

As an aside, the image of a man murdered and drowned in a vat of pig’s blood has stayed with me since the first time I read the book.

Book trivia: The Name of the Rose was Eco’s first novel and it was made into a movie in 1986, starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater. If that wasn’t enough, The Name of the Rose was also brought to life on the theater stage, as a radio program, in video games, and even referenced in music. A miniseries also came out in 2019. I’ll have to look that up.

Nancy said: Pearl said The Name of the Rose “simply should not be missed” (More Book Lust p 87).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: the Family of the Clergy” (p 86).


I Leap Over the Wall

Baldwin, Monica. I Leap Over the Wall: Contrasts and Impressions After Twenty-Eight Years in a Convent. New York: Rinehart & Company, 1950.

Reason read: Easter is one of the most religious holidays I know. During this pandemic crisis my family had a zoom meeting in order to be together. Read Baldwin in recognition of Easter.

Like the title implies, Monica Baldwin spent twenty-eight years of her life in a Roman Catholic convent. She had thought she wanted to give her life to God until one day…she didn’t. So after twenty-eight years, she left. Just like that. The first order of business “on the outside” was for Baldwin to find suitable clothes for the outside world. The second critical task was to secure suitable employment. The first was easier than the second considering England was in the midst of World War II. Baldwin struggled as a gardener, a matron at a camp for female munitions workers, a canteen cook, and a librarian. At heart she was always a writer. I Leap Over the Wall was meant to be a journalistic memoir, contrasting and comparing the structured life of being a nun to the haphazardness of the outside. Readers get a sense of how structured Baldwin’s life had been on the inside: the day to day duties of a novice and even the caste-like division of the monastic houses. Despite this structure, something she thought she needed, Baldwin knew from the very beginning that entering the convent was a mistake. It took her twenty-eight years to seek rescript from the Vatican.

Author fact: I find it really interesting that Baldwin entered the convent soon after the start of World War I and emerged during World War II.

Book trivia: My copy of I Leap Over the Wall was inscribed “Elinor E. Parker February 1, 1950 Brooklyn, N.Y.” I have no idea who Elinor was or how her book ended up in the attic of my parents.

Nancy said: Pearl said she was entranced with Baldwin’s book because it was a world she would never know.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: the Family of the Clergy” (p 86).


Brothers K

Duncan, David James. The Brothers K. Read by Robertson Dean. New York: Dial Press, 1996.

Reason read: April is National Sibling month. April is Easter. April is spring training month for baseball. April is Humor month. The Brothers K has all these elements and more.

To say this is the saga of one family in the Pacific Northwest state of Washington would be only somewhat accurate. To call The Brothers K a book about baseball and religion would also be somewhat accurate. Papa Hugh “Smoke” Chance was a talented enough pitcher to be drafted into the minor leagues and was on his way to the majors. Mama Chance was an extremely devout Seven Day Adventist. Baseball and religion. As with any parents of influence, their themes are the backbone of The Brothers K. Arguably, there is a great deal of sports play by play and religious fervor, as other reviewers have pointed out. What saves The Brothers K from being long winded and tedious is narrator and youngest son, Kincade Chance. His humor and sharp wit keep the plot from getting too bogged down. Interspersed with his story is older brother, Everett’s school essay and biography about the family patriarch.
Despite there being six children in the Chance household, only eldest Everett, middle brother Peter, and next to youngest brother Irwin have significant stories. Kincade doesn’t share very many details about himself and even less about his science obsessed twin sisters, Winnifred and Beatrice. Everett grows up to be an outspoken politician against the Vietnam War. Peter becomes the perpetual student; first studying at Harvard, then Buddhism in India. Irwin’s tragic story is that he sent to Vietnam and forever changed.

As an aside, I have a friend who always says “darn tootin'” whenever he is absolutely sure of something. Until The Brothers K I had never heard anyone else say that.

Author fact: Duncan also wrote River Why and My Story as Told by Water, both on my Challenge list.

Book Audio trivia: Robertson Dean’s reading of The Brothers K is fantastic.

Nancy said: Pearl called Brothers K “engrossing” (“Brothers and Sisters”),
“well-written and interesting” (“Families in Trouble”), and a novel “complicated by the whole Oedipal shtick” (“Mothers and Sons”).

BookLust Twist: You can always tell when Pearl likes a book. It will show up in a bunch of different places. For Brothers K it is indexed in Book Lust in three different chapters, “Brothers and Sisters” (p 46), “Families in Trouble” (p 82), and “Mothers and Sons” (p 160).


Barchester Towers

Trollope, Anthony. Barchester Towers. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2005.

Reason read: to continue the series started in April in honor of Trollope’s birth month.

I will be 100% honest. I couldn’t get into Barchester Towers despite the fact it’s supposed to be Trollope’s most popular novel and many organizations have it on their “Top 1000 books to read.” Yes, it is satirical and it has it humorous parts. I just couldn’t get into any of the characters. I suspect my lack of enthusiasm centers around the fact the novel is focused on religion and the war between the high and low churches. The bishop has died and a new one needs to be appointed. There’s a lot of infighting about how that will be resolved.
The best element of Barchester Towers is the return of Septimus Harding. His daughter, Eleanor, is now a widow and eligible to remarry. The second best character was Mr. Stanhope, a member of the clergy. He has been in Italy for twelve years “recovering” from a sore throat and catching butterflies.

Quote I liked, “They had never, therefore, poured into each others ears their hopes and loves…” (p 252).

Author fact: According to Pearl, Trollope was a postman by day and an author in his spare time. He wrote whenever he could.

Book trivia: My copy contained both The Warden and Barchester Towers.

Nancy said: Pearl’s favorite Trollope is the entire Barchester series.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Barsetshire and Beyond” (p 15).


June Not Jumping

This has become a morbid joke but I’m not going to the island so there is no chance of me jumping off anything this month. There is time for books, though. Here’s the list:

Fiction:

  • Book of Reuben by Tabitha King – in honor of June being the month when a lot of people (my sister included) like to get married.
  • Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – in honor of Suicide Prevention Day being in June in some states.
  • Sun Storm by Asa Larsson – in honor of Larsson’s birth month being in June.

Nonfiction:

  • Soldiers of God by Robert Kaplan – in honor of Kaplan’s birth month being in June.
  • From a Persian Tea House by Michael Carroll – in recognition of Khomeini’s death in the month of June.

Series continuations:

  • Because of the Cats by Nicholas Freeling – to continue the series started in May.
  • Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the never-ending series started in January.
  • Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope – to continue the series started in April.
  • Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian – to continue the series started in May.

Short stories for National Short Story Month:

  • “Shadow Show” by Clifford Simak
  • “The Answers” by Clifford Simak
  • “The Life and Times of Estelle…” by Sherman Alexie
  • “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie
  • “Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield
  • “At the Rialto” by Connie Willis

May Flowers Books

I can’t even begin to describe May. My first time to the Southwest. My first time traveling with family. Many different firsts. But, enough of that. Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • The Man in Gray Flannel by Sloan Wilson
  • Mariner’s Compass by Earlene Fowler
  • Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor
  • Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
  • Five Children and It by E. Nesbit

Nonfiction:

  • Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs
  • Farthest North by Dr. Fridtjof Nansen

Series Continuation:

  • Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
  • Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters

Spring Pages

I will be traveling for part of May so who knows how many books I’ll be able to read for this month. Here is the list I will attempt:

Fiction:

  • Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson – in honor of May being Wilson’s birth month.
  • Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs – in honor of Graphic Novel month being in May.
  • Mariner’s Compass by Earlene Fowler – in honor of May is Museum Month.
  • Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor- in honor of May being Music Month.
  • Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters – in honor of the first Thursday in May being Prayer Week.
  • Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian – in honor of my father’s birth month. As a kid he read this book.
  • Five Children and It by E. Nesbit – in honor of May being Nesbit’s birth month.

Nonfiction:

  • Farthest North by Fridtjof Nansen – in honor of Peary’s birth month being in May. From one explorer to another.

Series continuations:

  • Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in January in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
  • Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope – to continue the series started in honor of Trollope’s birth month in April.

Absolution By Murder

Tremayne, Peter. Absolution By Murder. New York: New American Library, 1997.

Reason read: read in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

To set the stage for Absolution by Murder: Sister Fidelma mysteries are set during the medieval mid-seventh century. At this time in history there is the well-known debate between the Celtic Christian and Roman churches in the Northumbria region. Its king stages a debate to determine the supreme authority and religious doctrine. The heroine of the series, Sister Fidelma, is an advocate of the ancient law courts of Ireland. But, when the Abbess of the Columban order is murdered Fidelma takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of who killed her friend.
Readers will get a lesson in the differences between blessings at the Trinity versus Columban church. Picture the sign of the cross: is it Celtic with the first, third and fifth fingers raised? Or is it Roman with only the thumb, fist and second fingers? The hand gestures are different yet both are valid forms of worship.

Lines I liked: I will not quoting anything because the author didn’t allow any part of the publication to be reproduced for any reason without the consent…blah blah blah. Instead, I will outline a scene I liked. Because of the time in history Tremayne needed to illustrate a world-is-flat kind of ignorance. Because the science of a solar eclipse was not widely understood in the seventh century, some took its occurrence as an omen something terrible was about to happen. In this case superstition rang true because soon after the eclipse people started to die.

Author fact: Peter Berresford Ellis  is Peter Tremayne’s real name. He started his writing career as a reporter.

Book trivia: Absolution by Murder is the first Sister Fidelma mystery. Nearly thirty more follow.

Nancy said: Pearl said you have to be in certain mood to enjoy Tremayne mysteries and that “those committed to reading the series in order” should start with Absolution by Murder.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Ireland: Beyond Joyce, Behan, Beckett, and Synge” (p 112).


Appealing to April

I have a ridiculous number of books planned for this month. I have no idea what I was thinking.

Fiction:

  • The Warden by Anthony Trollope – in honor of Trollope’s birth month being in April.
  • City and the House by Natalie Ginsberg – in honor of April being Letter Writing month.
  • All Souls by Javier Marias – in honor of Oxford Jazz Festival traditionally being in April.
  • All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor – in honor of April being Sibling month and in honor of Library Week.

Nonfiction:

  • The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs – in honor of John Muir’s birth month (and the fact we are visiting Arizona soon).
  • Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins – in honor of Library Week.

Series continuations:

  • Hunting Season by Nevada Barr to finish the series read out of order.
  • The Game by Laurie R. King – to finish the series started in honor of Female Mystery month.
  • Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith – to finish the series started in honor of Smith’s birth month.
  • The Council of the Cursed by Peter Tremayne – to continue the series started in honor of Tremayne’s birth month.
  • Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in honor of Asimov’s birth month.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • From Red Earth: a Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness by Denise Uwiemana.

New Physics and Cosmology

Zajonc, Arthur. The New Physics and Cosmology: Dialogues with the Dalai Lama. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

I have to set the stage for this interesting book: Nine individuals participating in a five-day discussion set in Dharamsala, India as part of the Mind and Life Conference. To elaborate: Arthur Zajonc was there to present as well as facilitate a dialogue between the other members of the group: Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama; David Ritz Finkelstein; George Greenstein, Piet Hut; Thupten Jinpa; B. Alan Wallace; Tu Weiming; and Anton Zeilinger. The group included five physicians, a historian, two interpreters and the Dalai Lama. Their goal was an open dialogue without rules. Buddhism and science have something in common: fundamentally both are a system of thought and the idea is to question everything. The comments made by the Dalai Lama are the most interesting.

Reason read: July is the birth month of the 14th Dalai Lama.

Book trivia: the illustrations within New Physics and Cosmology are really helpful.

Author fact: Arthur Zajonc has his own website here: Arthur Zajonc

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 115). Pearl would buy this book for someone who is interested in Buddhism and physics.


Culture of Disbelief

Carter, Stephen L. The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialized Religious Devotion. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

The simplest way to sum of The Culture of Disbelief is this, it is the argument that society forces religious devotion to be kept private and should not to be displayed openly. Society discourages us from voicing a religious choice. Right from the beginning you are hit with a sentence that brings it all to light: “More and more, our culture seems to take the position that believing deeply in the tenets of one’s faith represents a kind of mystical irrationality, something that thoughtful, public spirited American citizens would do better to avoid” (p 7).

Reason read: Carter was born in the month of October.

Author fact: Stephen Carter and Natalie Merchant share the same birthday.

Book trivia: Blood transfusions is a major topic in Culture of Disbelief.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African American Fiction: He Say” (p 8). Here is yet another example of a title that shouldn’t have been included in this particular chapter. Yes, Stephen Carter is African American, but this particular work is not fiction.


A Bit of Wit, a World of Wisdom

Kurland, Yehoshua. A Bit of Wit, a World of Wisdom: Penetrating Thoughts That Open the Heart and Stir the Soul Through Humor. Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing, 2013

A Bit of Wisdom starts off a bit slowly. Before getting to the heart of the humor and wisdom there is the title page, dedication, memorials, table of contents, preface, acknowledgments, and introduction to get through. While each of these sections is not overly long I am betting many people will skip some if not all of them to get to the first chapter. Each chapter follows a format: starts with a joke and ends with a moral essay. Kurland believes education is easier through the universal language of humor. The only story I did not find a connection with was “Busted Story.” I felt it missed the mark somehow. My favorite story was “You’re Never Alone.” I could appreciate the idea that spiritual guidance is there if we need it.

Kurland previously published A Time to Laugh, A Time to Listen which sounds like another version of A Bit of Wit, a World of Wisdom.


God: a biography

Miles, Jack. God: a Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Jack Miles has an interesting concept. In order to write a biography on God he had to first consider him as a character in the Old Testament. He had to analyze the “character development” and bear witness to the relationships between God and the other primary “characters” of the Bible. One has to think of God and Lord as different. God takes on a variety of roles (including animal husbandry counselor). Miles’s philosophy is strong and pragmatically sound, even for an agnostic like me. It works. Somehow, it really works. Others must agree because God: a Biography won Miles a Pulitzer.

Favorite lines, “Our only identity is a lack of identity” (p 22), and “He is not just unpredictable but dangerously unpredictable” (p 46).

Confessional – I didn’t finish this. I got the gist of it after 100 pages. I think that was good enough.

Reason read: Easter has got to be one of the most religious holidays people celebrate. So, in honor of Easter and religion in general I am reading God: a Biography.

Author fact: As a former Jesuit priest Miles is no stranger to religious studies.

Book trivia: As I mentioned before Jack Miles won a Pulitzer for God: a Biography. What I didn’t mention was the date: 1996.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 200s” (p 65).