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).


To Heaven and Back

Neal, Mary C. To Heaven and Back: a Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again.Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2011.

I was supposed to deliver this book to my mother. My aunt bought a copy for all of her sisters and it was my charge to make sure my mother got hers. Of course I had to read it before passing it along. I read it twice.
I am not a religious person. I lost my faith when my father passed away. Unfortunately there is very little anyone can do to make me believe in Heaven, Hell, or even God at this moment. I do believe in spirits and angels and a reason for everything. I think my father is still with me in weird ways, but I do not believe in the Bible.
Having said all that, I had a deep appreciation for Dr. Neal’s story. While it is centered around a religious faith there were moments that resonated with me; passages that moved me to tears. Dr. Neal was kayaking in Chile when she had a terrible accident and technically drowned. she was pinned under water way longer than a person should/could survive. While she was dead she experienced heaven and Jesus holding her. She believed she was spared because her purpose in life on Earth wasn’t finished. Throughout the rest of To Heaven and Back Dr. Neal recounts different moments where her presence saved the life of someone else or God’s presence had a hand in guiding her to make the right decision. Even after her son is tragically killed she found a spiritual way to push through the pain. It is an uplifting story of inspiration.


August ’12 was…

August was a little of this and a little of that. Some people will notice I have made some changes to the book challenge – some changes more noticeable than others. For starters, how I review. I now add a section of why I’m reading the book. For some reason I think it’s important to include that in the review. Next, how I read. I am now adding audio books into the mix. I am allowing myself to add an audio book in “trapped” situations when holding a book and keeping my eyes on the page might be an inconvenience (like flying) or endanger someone (like driving). I’m also making a effort to avoid wasting time on books I don’t care for (like Honore de Balzac). One last change: I am not as stringent about reading something within the month. If I want to start something a little early because it’s right in front of my face then so be it.
What else was August about? August was also the month I lost my dear Cassidy for a week. I spent many a night either in an insomniac state or sitting on the back porch, reading out loud in hopes the sound of my voice would draw my calico to me. The only thing it yielded was more books finished in the month of August. She finally came home one week later.
Anyway, enough of all that. I’ll cry if I continue. Onto the books:

I started the month by reading and rereading Tattoo Adventures of Robbie Big Balls by Robert Westphal. This was the first time I read and reviewed a book after meeting the author. I wanted to get it right. I also wanted to make sure I was an honest as possible about the situation. Everything about this review was unusual. For the challenge:

  • After You’ve Gone by Alice Adams ~ I read this in three days and learned a valuable lesson about Adams’s work: read it slowly and parse it out. Otherwise it becomes redundant.
  • Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin ~ I read this in ten days, tucking myself in a study carrell and reading for an hour everyday.
  • Fahrenheit 541 by Ray Bradbury ~ an audio book that only took me nine days to listen to.
  • Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum ~ read with Wicked by Gregory Maguire. I took both of these to Maine and had oodles of car-time to finish both.
  • We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich ~ this was probably my favorite nonfiction of the challenge. Rich’s Maine humor practically jumped off the page. I read this to Cassidy.
  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder ~ I read this in three days, again hiding myself away in a study carrell.
  • Ten Hours Until Dawn by Tougis ~ another audio book. I’m glad I listened to this one as opposed to reading it. Many reviewers called it “tedious” and I think by listening to it I avoided that perspective.
  • The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson ~ I read this in two days (something I think I thought I was going to get to in June).
  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque ~ I read this in honor of World War I ending. I also read it in one night while waiting for Cassidy to come home.
  • The Lives of the Saints by Nancy Lemann ~ also read in one night. In honor of New Orleans and the month Hurricane Katrina rolled into town.
  • Kristin Lavransdatter: the Cross by Sigrid Undset ~ finally put down the Norwegian trilogy!

For the Early Review Program with LibraryThing:

  • The Most Memorable Games in New England Patriots History by Bernard Corbett and Jim Baker. This was supposed to be on my list a year ago. Better late than never.
  • Sex So Great She Can’t Get Enough by Barbara Keesling. This took me an inordinate amount of time to read. Guess I didn’t want to be seen in public with it.

Bridge of San Luis Rey

Wilder, Thornton. The Bridge of San Luis Rey. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc., 1966.

Warning! This review is with spoiler!!

The premise for The Bridge of San Luis Rey is fascinating. In a nutshell an Italian monk by the name of Brother Juniper was not only witness to a terrible tragedy, he was mere moments away from sharing the same horrific fate. An ancient bridge in Lima, Peru collapses just as five travelers have set out across it. Instead of suffering a kind of survivors guilt, Brother Juniper is instead encouraged to pursue his study of theology, using the tragedy to demonstrate scientific reason as to why his life was spared. Being a man of the cloth he wants to prove it was divine intervention that caused him to avoid such an unfortunate demise. More importantly, he can finally prove the five victims (who weren’t so “lucky”) shared a common fault and their deaths were part of a larger plan. In other words, luck had nothing to do with it. The other option, less likely in the eyes of Brother Juniper, was it was a simple, random accident. Brother Juniper devotes his life to researching the private lives and documenting the secrets of the five victims, in a search for commonality. All in the hopes of proving the collapse was considered an act of god, a shared destiny. This would be something Brother Juniper could finally attach his scientific study of theology to. The five unfortunate travelers are:

  1. Dona Maria, the Marquesa de Montemayor and her companion,
  2. Pepita.
  3. Estaban – a twin grieving the loss of his brother and, before crossing the bridge, about to set sail with a sea captain.
  4. Uncle Pio, the actress Camila’s maid, singing master, coiffeur, masseur, errand-boy, reader, banker, coach, writer and tutor.
  5. Don Jaime, Camila’s son

In the end, Brother Juniper was burned at the stake along with his “research” on the five victims of the bridge collapse. He was charged with heresy.

Favorite quotes: “The Marquesa would even have been astonished to learn that her letters were very good, for such authors live always in the noble weather of their own minds and those productions which seem remarkable to us are little better than a days routine to them” (p 15).
“All families lived in a wasteful atmosphere of custom and kissed one another with secret indifference” (p 16). And another, “You see its the ocean you want” (p 67).

Can I just say I love the titles of the first and last chapters? “Part One – perhaps an accident” and “Part Five – perhaps an intention.”

Note: I should have started reading this book on July 20th, the day “the finest bridge in all of Peru” collapsed. Who knew?

Book Trivia: Bridge of San Luis Rey was made into a movie on three different occasions. It has also been interpreted as an opera and a play.

Reason read: August is the last month for students to travel before heading back to school. I chose Peru as the destination for the last adventure of August.

Author Fact: Thornton Wilder won a Pulitzer for The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Peru(sing) Peru” (p 177).