December Books

I opted out of the cutesy title for this blog because…well…I simply wasn’t in the mood to come up with anything clever. What was December all about? For the run it was a 5k that I finished in “about 30 minutes” as my running partner put it. I also ran a mile every day (from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day). I think I’m satisfied with that accomplishment the most because I ran even when we were traveling, even when we were completely swamped with other things going on, even when I didn’t feel like lifting a finger. Despite it all, I still ran at least one mile.

Enough of that. In addition to running I read. Here are the books finished in the month of December. For some reason I surrounded myself with some of the most depressing books imaginable:

Fiction:

    • Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild – read in two lazy afternoons
    • Fay by Larry Brown – devoured in a week (super sad).
    • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (AB/print) – confessional: I started this the last week of November fearing I wouldn’t conquer all 600 pages before 12/31/17 but I did. (again, super sad book).
    • Wanting by Richard Flanagan (really, really sad when you consider Mathinna’s fate).
    • Between the Assassinations by Avarind Adiga (sad).
    • The Beach by Alex Garland (again, sad in a weird way).
    • God Lives in St. Petersburg and Other Stories by Tom Bissell (the last of the sad books).
    • Nero Wolf of West Thirty-fifth Street: the Life and Times of America’s Largest Detective by William Stuart Baring-Gould.

Nonfiction:

  • Iron & Silk by Mark Salzman – read in three days. The only real funny book read this month.

Series continuations:

  • Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha by Dorothy Gilman – read in the same weekend as Ballet Shoes.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Brain Food: the Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power by Lisa Mosconi (started).

For fun:

  • Hit Reset: Revolutionary Yoga for Athletes by Erin Taylor.

God Lives in St. Petersburg

Bissell, Tom. God Lives in St. Petersburg and Other Stories. New York: Pantheon Books, 2005.

Reason read: In recognition of the Decembrist uprising on December 26th, 1825.

God Lives in St. Petersburg is comprised of six short stories:

  • Death Defier – Two journalists are stuck in war torn Afghanistan and taken captive. Favorite line, “He disliked such emotional nudism” (p 21).
  • Aral – A biologist falls prey to a former KGB officer with a grudge. Best lines, “Hunger stumbled, heavy-footed, inside her stomach” (p 64).
  • Expensive Trips Nowhere – A hiker’s marriage is challenged when his wife develops a bond with their Kazakhstan guide. Best sarcastic line, “Jayne had stabilized into a teeth-clenched toleration of Douglas’s parents, Park-and-Seventieth gentry who never understood why their son had settled for “some mousy midwestern girl” (p 96).
  • The Ambassador’s Son – Alec is a spoiled ambassador’s son with a penchant for finding trouble. Favorite line, “Finally we had arrived at the shores of his unfaithfulness” (p 145).
  • God Lives in St. Petersburg – a teacher finds himself in a terrible situation with a student.
  • Animals in Our Lives – while walking around a zoo, a married couple watch their marriage disintegrate.

Bissell thrives on the theme of entrapment. Every story centers around a character’s inability to get away from an unpleasant situation. Whether it be ugly people, bad drugs or heartbreak.

Author fact: Bissell also wrote Chasing the Sea which is also on my Challenge list. I’ll be reading that in May 2047…if I am lucky.

Book trivia: Be prepared. There is a twinge of sadness to every story.

Nancy said: Nancy admitted Bissell hasn’t written a peace corps memoir but she thinks his experiences “certainly informed several of his other books” (p 176).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go from the chapter called “Peace Corps Memories” (p 175). There is nothing specifically about the Peace Corp or remembering it in the book though.


December Whatnot

Here’s something of a shocker. I am running a 5k during the first week of December! Actually, it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise because I mentioned signing up for it in the last post…just yesterday. But. But! But, enough about the first week of December. Let’s talk about the last week of December! I am looking forward to a week off from work with nothing to do except read, read, read. Another opportunity to gorge on books is a six hour car ride when I won’t be driving. A perfect opportunity to finished a shorter book! And speaking of books, Here is the list:

Fiction:

  • God Lives in St. Petersburg and Other Stories by Tom Bissell ~ in honor of a day in December as being one of the coldest days in Russian history.
  • Fay by  Larry Brown ~ in honor of December being Southern Literature Month.
  • Fearless Treasure by Noel Streatfeild in honor of Streatfeild’s birth month. Actually, no library would lend Fearless Treasure without charging an ILL fee so I am reading Ballet Shoes instead. Good thing I wasn’t looking forward to reading fantasy!
  • Wanting by Richard Flanagan ~ in honor of Tasmania’s taste fest which happens in December. To be honest, I don’t know how I made this connection.
  • The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis ~ in honor of Willis being born in December. Confessional: this is a huge book so I started it a little early (AB & print).
  • The Beach by Alex Garland in honor of Thailand’s Constitution Day observance in December.

Nonfiction:

  • Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman ~ in honor of Mark Salzman’s birth month being in December.
  • Nero Wolf at West Thirty Fourth Street: the life and times of America’s Largest Private Detective by William S. Baring-Gold ~ in honor of Rex Stout’s birth month.

Series continuations:

  • Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Buddha by Dorothy Gilman ~ to continue the series started in September in honor of Grandparents’ month.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • I was supposed to receive Jam Today by Tod Davies last month but hasn’t arrived yet. Maybe I’ll get it this month.
  • I am also suppose to receive Pep Talk for Writers by Grant Faulkner by Dec 29th, 2017. We’ll see about that!

For fun:

  • Hit Reset: Revolutionary Yoga for Athletes by Erin Taylor ~ because I’m still trying keep running.

If there is time:

  • Between the Assassinations by Avavind Adiga ~in honor of Vivah Panchami
  • Black Alibi by Cornell Woolrich ~ in honor of Woolrich’s birth month

Riot Days

Alyokhina, Maria. Riot Days. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2017.

Reason read: This is the August book for the Early Review program for LibraryThing. Riot Days is to be published on September 26th, according to Amazon’s website.

A word of caution before reading this blog or Alyokhina’s Riot Days: we both use strong language. Case in point: Alyokhina uses the see-you-next-Tuesday word not even ten words into Riot Days. Forgive me, but I draw the line at the c-word. No clue why.

Riot Days is sharp, choppy and biting. Words fly off the page like the staccato of machine gun fire. Even the illustrations are crude and unpolished; but all are perfect for the message Alyokhina wants to relay. The facts are such – in February of 2012 members of an all-girl punk band smuggled an electric guitar into an Orthodox church in Moscow to perform a “Punk Prayer” in protest to Putin’s regime. Alyokhina and another member of the band were finally arrested and sentenced to two years in a penal colony. Alyokhina’s side of the story is interspersed with the court proceedings as if to say,  “look how reality can get twisted; this is what happens when you have convictions; you get convicted.” This is a quick but extremely worthwhile read. I don’t know how it will look when it is published, but my copy ends abruptly…with her freedom.

As an aside, I had a chance to check out Pussy Riot’s videos on YouTube. All I can say is wow.

Quote I hope stays in the book, “Right after our ‘Punk Prayer’ performance, I took the metro to my son’s kindergarten – it was noon” (p 29).


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. One Day if the Life of Ivan Denisovich. New York: Signet, 1963.

Reason read: May is supposedly one of the best times to visit Russia.

Ivan Denisovich Shukhov (#S 854) is a prisoner in a Stalinist work camp in Siberia with only two years left on his sentence. This is one day in his life, from reveille to lights-out. It has been called extraordinary and I couldn’t agree more. Ivan is the very picture of bravery, hope and above all, survival. Solzhenitsyn relentlessly reminds the reader of the Siberian bitter winters by using variations of words like frost, ice, snow, chill, freeze and cold over 120 times. Added to that is the constant lack of warmth (mentioned another 25 times). While Solzhenitsyn is reminding readers of the cold, Shukov is stressing the importance of flying under the radar; avoiding detection and unwanted attention. Whether he is squirreling away food or tools he is careful not to rock the boat. He knows his fate can be altered in the blink of an eye or the time it takes for a guard to focus on him.

Lines to like, “No clocks or watches ticked there – prisoners were not allowed to carry watches; the authorities knew the time for them” (p 32) “The thoughts of a prisoner – they’re not free either” (p 47) and “As elated as a rabbit when it finds it can still terrify a frog” (p 118).

Author fact: Solzhenitsyn served in the Russian army & was accused of making anti-Stalin remarks. He was sent to prison and after Stalin’s death, pardoned. Later still the Soviet Union revoked his citizenship so he moved to Vermont. Go figure.

Book trivia: One Day was published as s short story in 1962 in a Soviet literary magazine and was seen as a social protest. This is his first published novel.

BookLust Twist: from two places: Book Lust in the chapter called “Russian Heavies” (p 210) and from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Siberian Chills” (p 205).


Changing It Up January

A new year deserves new things; new ways of thinking and new ways of doing. Here is the list I promised in December. Instead of separating the list into “finished” and “still to go”, I thought for this go-round I would just cross off the titles I finished. This system will force me to stay on top of the books I add, but we’ll see…Just testing something…

As an aside, I gave up completely on Robert Jordan. Sorry.

  1. Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan (DNF)
  2. In a Strange City by Laura Lippman
  3. By a Spider’s Thread by Laura Lippman (AB)
  4. Recognitions by William Gaddis (DNF)
  5. Maus by Art Spiegelman
  6. Lady Franklin’s Revenge by Ken McGoogan
  7. Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao* by Junot Diaz (AB)
  8. Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
  9. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  10. Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan
  11. ADDED: A Good Doctor’s Son by Steven Schwartz
  12. ADDED: Drinking: a Love Story by Caroline Knapp
  13. ADDED: Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day by Philip Matyszak
  14. ADDED: Nero Wolfe Cookbook by Rex Stout
  15. ADDED: Treasure Hunter by W. Jameson (ER)
  16. Maus II by Art Spiegelman (Jan)
  17. Wild Blue by Stephen Ambrose (Jan)
  18. Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore (Jan)
  19. Greater Nowheres by David Finkelstein/Jack London (Jan)
  20. ADDED: Alma Mater by P.F Kluge (Jan)
  21. Good Life by Ben Bradlee (Feb)
  22. Underworld by Don DeLillo (Feb)
  23. Her Name Was Lola by Russell Hoban (Feb)
  24. Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton ((Feb)
  25. Fires From Heaven by Robert Jordan (Feb)
  26. Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce (Feb)
  27. At Home with the Glynns by Eric Kraft (Feb)
  28. Polish Officer by Alan Furst (Feb)
  29. Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan (Mar)
  30. Chasing Monarchs by Robert Pyle (Mar)
  31. Murder on a Kibbutz by Batya Gur (Mar)
  32. Bebe’s By Golly Wow by Yolanda Joe (Mar)
  33. Lives of the Muse by Francine Prose (Mar)
  34. Broom of the System (David Wallace (Mar)
  35. Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan (Apr)
  36. Two Gardeners by Emily Wilson (Apr)
  37. Royal Flash by George Fraser (Apr)
  38. Fifties by David Halberstam (Apr)
  39. Binding Spell by Elizabeth Arthur (Apr)
  40. Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan (Apr)
  41. Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan (May)
  42. Flash for Freedom! by George Fraser (May)
  43. Murder in Amsterdam by Ian Buruma (May)
  44. Petra: lost city by Christian Auge (May)
  45. From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman (May)
  46. Jordan by E. Borgia (May)
  47. Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill (May)
  48. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (May)
  49. Flash at the Charge by George MacDonald Fraser (May)
  50. Castles in the Air by Judt Corbett (Jun)
  51. Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (Jun)
  52. Thirty-three Teeth by Colin Cotterill (Jun)
  53. Millstone by Margaret Drabble (Jun)
  54. Winter’s Heart by Robert Jordan (Jun)
  55. Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan (Jul)
  56. Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill (Jul)
  57. Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme (Jul)
  58. New Physics and Cosmology by Arthur Zajonc (Jul)
  59. Grifters by Jim Thompson (Jul)
  60. Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (Jul)
  61. Snow Angels by James Thompson (Jul)
  62. Ararchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill (Aug)
  63. Flashman’s Lady by George MacDonald Fraser (Aug)
  64. Possession by AS Byatt (Aug)
  65. In the Footsteps of Ghanghis Khan by John DeFrancis (Aug)
  66. What Just Happened by James Gleick (Aug)
  67. Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (Aug)
  68. Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill (Sep)
  69. Flashman and the Redskins by George MacDonald Fraser (Sep)
  70. Queens’ Play by Dorothy Dunnett (Sep)
  71. Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood (Sep)
  72. Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (Sep)
  73. Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Sep)
  74. Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman (Oct)
  75. Merry Misogynist by Colin Cotterill (Oct)
  76. Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett (Oct)
  77. Flashman and the Dragon by George MacDonald Fraser (Oct)
  78. Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carman (Nov)
  79. Love Songs from a Shallow Grave by Collin Cotterill (Nov)
  80. Flashman and the Mountain of Light by George MacDonald Fraser (Nov)
  81. Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett (Nov)
  82. Andorra by Peter Cameron (Nov)

DNF = Did Not Finish;AB = Audio Book; ER = Early Review

So, right off the bat I see something I don’t like. When I add new books they don’t get their “day in the sun” so to speak. I add them to the list and then cross them off immediately. That doesn’t seem fair.


Eugene Onegin

Pushkin, Alexander. Eugene Onegin: a Novel in Verse. Translated by Walter Arndt. New York: Dutton, 1963.

Eugene Onegin is a novel in verse. There are eight chapters centered around two couples. Eugene and Tatyana are the main characters and Lensky and Olga support their story. Pushkin himself is narrator, an acquaintance in the story and a supporting character in his own right. Olga and Tatyana are sisters. So, now you have the groundwork for the story. The main event, if you will, is when Eugene, bored at a party, flirts with Olga relentlessly, This behavior offends Lensky to the point of no return and he challenges Eugene to a duel. What I find particularly annoying is, while both men are full of remorse, they go ahead with the duel and Lenksi dies (stupid male pride). Of course, there is a lot more to the story than just the duel and death. Eugene goes away for awhile and when he returns he reunites with Tatyana, realizing he is still in love with her. She, unfortunately, has moved on and married someone else. While she still has feelings for Eugene she opts to stay with her husband, leaving Eugene despondent.

Things that were a head-scratcher for me: there were a lot of references to the spleen and a lot of talk of feet.

Reason read: December is National Poetry month in the United Kingdom. I know, it’s a stretch, but I picked this up at a time when I didn’t have anything else to read.

Author fact: Pushkin took ten long years to write Eugene Onegin. Each section has a notation of a completion date.

Book trivia: Eugene Onegin was Pushkin’s favorite work.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Poetry: a Novel Idea” (p 186), and again in the chapter called “Russian Heavies” (p 210).


Dec ’12 was…

December 2012 was a decidedly difficult month. I don’t mind admitting it was stressful and full of ups and downs. How else can I describe a period of time that contained mad love and the quiet urge to request freedom all at once? A month of feeling like the best thing on Earth and the last person anyone would want to be with? I buried myself in books to compensate for what I wasn’t sure I was feeling. And I won’t even mention the Sandy twins. But wait. I just did.

  • The Wholeness of a Broken Heart by Katie Singer ~ in honor of all things Hanukkah. This was by far my favorite book of the month.
  • Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner ~ in honor of Iowa becoming a state in December. This was a close second.
  • The Tattered Cloak and Other Novels by Nina Berberlova ~ in honor of the coldest day in Russia being in December. I read a story every night.
  • Big Mouth & Ugly Girl by Carol Joyce Oates ~ in honor of Oates being born in December. I was able to read this in one sitting.
  • The Women of the Raj by Margaret MacMillan ~ in honor of December being one of the best times to visit India
  • Rosalind Franklin: Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox ~ in honor of Franking being born in December
  • Billy by Albert French ~ in honor of Mississippi becoming a state in December
  • Apples are From Kazakhstan by Christopher Robbins ~ in honor of Kazakhstan gaining its independence in December.

In an attempt to finish some “series” I read:

  • Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Vol 3  by Giorgio Vasari (only one more to go after this, yay!)
  • Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers

For audio here’s what I listened to:

  • The Galton Case by Ross MacDonald ~ this was laugh-out-loud funny
  • Bellwether by Connie Willis ~ in honor of December being Willis’s birth month

For the Early Review Program with LibraryThing here’s what I read:

  • Drinking with Men: a Memoir by Rosie Schaap

And here’s what I started:

  • Gold Coast Madam by Rose Laws

For fun: Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep.


Tattered Cloak

Berberova, Nina. The Tattered Cloak and Other Novels. Translated by Marian Schwartz. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

The Tattered Cloak is one of six novels in Berberova’s book of the same name. Well, she calls them novels. Each story is under 100 pages so ‘novella’ might be a better description. The six stories are as follows (with my favorites being the first two),

  • “The Resurrection of Mozart” ~ the  coming of World War II
  • “The Waiter and the Slut” ~ one woman’s tragic effort to stave off loneliness and growing old
  • “Astashev in Paris” ~
  • “The Tattered Cloak”
  • “The Black Pestilence” and,
  • “In Memory of Schliemann”

All stories are written in that traditional stark Russian way. Most of the stories leave you hanging in that, “and then what happened?” kind of way. For example in “The Resurrection of Mozart” the reader is left asking did they escape the war or did they wait too long?

Lines I loved: “…and Maria Leonidovna felt that he was about to tell her something she would remember for the rest of her life” (p 23) and “I feared life and I believed in it” (p 166).

Reason read: December 31st 1976 was the coldest day in Russia. I’m reading a Russian author to celebrate frigid Russia.

Author fact: Berberova emigrated to America after living in Paris.

Book trivia: None of the libraries in my immediate area had a copy of The Tattered Cloak. My copy came from the Brookline Public Library.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Russian Heavies” (p 210). Interestingly enough, Pearl calls the book The Tattered Cloak and Other Stories while my copy is The Tattered Cloak and Other Novels. I think Pearl’s title is more accurate but I have to go with what’s in my hand.


June ’12 was…

I had high hopes for June. Unreasonably so, I think. I don’t know what I was thinking when I decided the difference of a day would make everything better. What’s May 31 into June 1st other than Thursday into Friday? One day into the next? Silly me. June was a few things – a return to the run, a funeral heard around the world, a trip to an exotic island…

Here is the book list:

  • A River Runs Though It and Other Stories by Norman MacLean ~ in honor of river cleanup month. I can see why they made the first short story into a movie, but why not the other two? They were equally as good as the first. I read this in five days.
  • Death of Ivan Ilich by Leo Tolstoy ~ in honor of June being the best month to travel to Russia…that is, if you even want to travel to Russia. I guess you would need the desire before you decided the best time to go…I read this over three lunch breaks.
  • Kristin Lavransdatter: the Bridal Wreath by Sigrid Undset ~ again, chosen for the best time to travel somewhere. In this case, Norway. Note: this is only part one of a three part story. I will be reading the rest in July and August.
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus ~ in honor of I honestly don’t remember what. Something celebrating Algeria, I’m sure. This was deceptively simple to read. Read over five lunch breaks.
  • The Duke of Deception by Geoffrey Wolff ~ read in honor of June being family month. Some family!
  • Damage by Josephine Hart ~ in honor of Father’s Day…well, sort of.

Two Early Review books came in, courtesy of LibraryThing:

  • Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports by Tim Noakes, MD. I didn’t finish this in time to consider it an official June read, but at least I started it in June.
  • Who Should I Be? a Novel From Life by Sheila Heti ~ this was slightly delusional but I loved it.

    One audio book on cassette while I worked out:

  • D-Day by Stephen Ambrose ~ in honor of well, D-Day – June 6th 1944. Duh.

I should also note that I had an audio book for the flight to HI. I listened to July’s selection for the entire trip to and from the islands.


Dr. Zhivago

Pasternak, Boris. Dr. Zhivago. New York: Pantheon, 1997.

At the heart of Dr Zhivago is a simple love story. The only problem is the love story involves the lives of more than just two people. Loyalty struggles with passion on a regular basis throughout the entire plot. The central thread of the story is these romantic relationships and how far people will go, literally and figuratively, to be together. Yuri Zhivago is married to someone he considers more of a friend but falls in love with the beautiful Larissa (Lara). Lara is married to a World War I soldier and when he goes missing she enters the war as a nurse to look for him. Surrounding these romantic struggles is the political unrest of Russia. Dr. Zhivago is laden with the events of the February and October Revolutions, the Russian Civil War and World War I. Lenin’s Bolsheviks, socialism, and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union dictate the plot and almost bury it beneath the political rhetoric.

Book Trivia: One of the most fascinating things about Dr. Zhivago is how it’s publication, exposure and subsequent recognition came about. Written at a time of political unrest in the Soviet Union it had to be smuggled to Italy where it was published in both Italian and Russian. Even after Pasternak was awarded the Noble Prize for literature he was unable to accept the award for fear of exile from his beloved country.

Author’s son Fact: When Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature he was forced to decline acceptance of the award. Years after his death his son was allowed to travel to Sweden to collect it.

Confession: I saw this as a movie way before I read the book. I remember two things from the movie: everything was very white and looked really cold and Julie Christie was a Barbie doll.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Russian Heavies” (p 210).


Guns of August

Tuchman, Barbara. The Guns of August. New York: Dell, 1971.

My copy of The Guns of August is a squat, 576 page, dirty, and torn paperback. It has been taped several times over and written in much, much more. Nothing drives me more nuts than a library book with someone’s scrawl all over it. Donated or not, it never should have gotten into the collection that way. But, back to the actual book.

The Guns of August is nothing short of impressive. It should have won a Pulitzer for history but because Pulitzers for history can only be handed out for U.S. history, it got one for nonfiction. Same diff in my book. It was a national best seller, John F. Kennedy referred to it on more than one occasion as the end all-be all for political strategy and it was made into a movie. In other words, the critics have weighed in – it’s a good book.

Lines that (oddly) made me laugh: “Systematic attention to detail was not a notable characteristic of the Russian Army” (p 78).
“Messimy telephoned to Premier Viviani who, though exhausted by the night’s events, had not yer gone to bed. “Good God!” he exploded, “these Russians are worse insomniacs than they are drinkers”…” (p 109).

BookLust Twist: In More Book Lust in the chapter, “Barbara Tuchman: Too Good To Miss” (p 225). Indeed.
Confession: because of the length of The Guns of August I read it for the entire month of January.