Agony and the Ecstasy

Stone, Irving. The Agony and the Ecstasy: the Biographical Novel of Michelangelo. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1961.

Reason read: September is the month of the Italian holiday Feast of St. Gennaro.

I enjoyed the biographical novel of Michelangelo very much. The great master became flesh and blood before my very eyes: from early childhood Michelangelo was audacious. He could get his master to pay for his apprenticeship when it should have been the other way around. He could connive the mortuary key from a priest so that he could do the unthinkable – dissect corpses; all to better understand the muscles and bones that make up human body. He steals another man’s mistress because he could. He count strand up to a Pope and not take no for an answer. His loves were passionate: while he loved three women dearly, his art meant more than anything. He believed he was freeing his subjects from their marble prisons. He battled Pope Julius II who insisted Michelangelo work in every medium except marble. He was capable of emotional outbursts of jealousy and despair like when his competition with Leonardo da Vinci became too much or when the woman of his dreams held him at arms length and never offered him more than a hand to kiss…
He was such a tragic figure, but I also enjoyed getting to know Michelangelo as a physical human being; learning that he was ambidextrous while chiseling his sculptures. When his right hand grew tired of driving the chisel he would simply switch hands to keep working. The fact he became an architect at age seventy was astonishing.

Quotes I liked, “Strange how his heart could stand empty because his hands were empty” (p 169), “I need my complete self-respect” (p 439), and “Michelangelo’s ears were plugged with the bubbling hot wax of anger” (p 369). Oh! And the countless times Michelangelo said, “I’ll put my hand in fire” when he was extremely confident he could accomplish something.

Author fact: Irving Stone also wrote The Origin, a biographical novel about Charles Darwin (also on my Challenge list).

Book trivia: at the end of The Agony and the Ecstasy Stone includes a bibliography, glossary, and the present locations of Michelangelo’s works (present for 1961).

Nancy said: Pearl called The Agony and the Ecstasy a “great biographical novel. I would have to agree!

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ciao, Italia” (p 48).


The Shining

King, Stephen. The Shining. Read by Campbell Scott. New York: Recorded Books, 2005.

Reason read: Stephen King was born in the month of September. Read in his honor.

The magic of King’s writing is this could be the story of any family anywhere. This sad tale is so middle America, it could be about you if you look in the mirror long and hard enough. Jack Torrence is a man struggling to be something other than a drunk with writer’s block. Fired from his Vermont teaching job after he is found guilty of assault, Jack takes a job in Colorado as caretaker for a massive mountainside hotel during the off season. How hard can it be to watch over a hulking, empty hotel when it is closed for the winter in the middle of nowhere? With only his wife and son to keep him company, Jack hopes to use the mountainside solitude to secure a spot more firmly on the sobriety wagon and break through his writer’s block. Only, this is no ordinary hotel and it’s not really empty. It lives and breathes tragedy and hones into each family member’s deepest and darkest secret. Paranoias of each family member are amplified and personified. Because Jack was accidentally and drunkenly violent with their son, Danny, wife Wendy sees Jack as a growing threat. She grows increasingly nervous for their safety. Jack in turn grows more and more resentful of Wendy’s distrust. Meanwhile, poor Danny (‘Doc’) has the gift of telepathy (the Shining) so he knows his parents have every right to be suspicious. Disaster is right around the corner for all of them.
As an aside, when you have The Shining read to you, you start to hear the psychological breakdown of each character.

Confessional: I can remember reading this book in high school. Here’s the weirdest part. What sticks in my head most is not the plot or even the characters. What I recall most is whenever I was sufficiently frightened enough I would stop reading and do push ups until I felt brave enough to continue.

So. In addition to listening to this on audio, I was also reading it as an e-book. Someone classified the book as “advice on parenting.” Funny.

Author fact: Stephen King was born in the same hospital as my nephew.

Narrator fact: Campbell Scott is great at the spooky voices. Not so much at the gender specific voices. Wendy sounded exactly like Jack.

Book trivia: I think everyone is familiar with Jack Nicholson’s performance in the horror classic, but what people forget is that legendary Stanley Kubrick adapted The Shining to film.

Nancy said: absolutely nothing.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the benign chapter “100 Good Reads: Decade By Decade (1970s) (p 178).


Foundation and Earth

Asimov, Isaac. Foundation and Earth. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1986.

Reason read: to finish the series started in January in honor of Asimov’s birth month.

The hunt is on for planet Earth. Former Councilman of the First Foundation Golan Revize sets out with historian Janov Pelorate and a woman named Bliss. It is centuries after the fall of the First Galactic Empire and the future of humankind lies in the ability to form a new empire. But where? Golan is convinced neither the First Foundation nor the Second are stable enough for success. Instead, he hangs his hope on using Gaia. Before that can happen he must find Earth, the planet that has been lost for thousands of years. It is not going to be easy. In some cultures of the galaxy, it is a superstition to utter the word, ‘Earth.” One must say ‘the Oldest’ instead.
Interestingly enough, even though Bliss is a friend and a helper, she is without paperwork, and she is not part of the travel log. As a result, problems regarding immigration arise. She is seen as “entertainment” for the two men who are the only ones accounted for on the spaceship.
Foundation and Earth is heavy with philosophical questions like, is a toe tapping in time to music part of the action, acting as an in-time accompanying drum beat or a response to the action of music being played?

Quote I liked, “It’s easy to deduce something you already know” (p 53).

Author fact: Asimov wrote more than 440 books during the course of his career.

Book trivia: Foundation and Earth is the last book in the Foundation series.

Nancy said: nothing specific about Foundation and Earth.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).


Murder with Puffins

Andrews, Donna. Murder with Puffins. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2000.

Reason read: a book that takes place on Monhegan Island? How could I resist?

I will be 100% honest. I couldn’t finish this book. I couldn’t suspend reality high enough to believe anything about Murder with Puffins. It’s not the author’s fault in the least. I just know too much about Monhegan Island. I know for a fact no one would make the trek out to this remote island without making sure they have a place to stay, especially in the off-season. Everything is extremely limited so it’s not like you can pivot easily if your original plans don’t work out. It’s not as simple as hopping back on the boat either. Meg and Michael are looking for a romantic hideaway and they chose Meg’s aunt’s cabin on Monhegan. It is supposed to stand empty at this dismal, rainy time of year. Except this time Meg parents, brother, neighbor and aunt are all in residence. How could Meg not know that? The island is crawling with birders so there isn’t a single room available elsewhere… Then there is the islander who scares people off with shotguns and winds up dead. Someone Meg’s father is accused of murder and it’s up to Meg to clear his name. It’s a fun story. I couldn’t concentrate on the entertainment of it all because reality kept getting in the way. Oh well.

Author fact: Andrews wrote an apparently better book called Murder with Peacocks. Obviously, not on my Challenge list since Murder with Puffins is not either.

Book trivia: an additional hangup I had about this book ended up being the chapter titles. They are really corny. Here are a few: “They Shoot Puffins, Don’t They?” or “Round Up the Usual Puffins.”


Tripwire

Child, Lee. Tripwire. New York: Berkley Books, 1999.

Reason read: to continue the series started in July in honor of New York becoming a state. At the time of publication, Lee Child lived in New York City.

Jack “No Middle Name” Reacher is back. This time as a Key West pool digger. He digs polls by hand, as unlikely as that sounds, and enjoys his anonymity and unfettered lifestyle. Physical labor and an on again-off again girlfriend agree with him until one day the peace is shattered. A strange private investigator all the way from New York comes nosing around, asking questions about Jack. The plot thickens when this same PI is found murdered only hours after snooping into Jack’s life. By now, if you read the other books in the series, you know Jack isn’t one to shrug and turn back to his daily routine. Compelled to figure out who has been asking about him and why (never mind who killed the private investigator), Jack makes his way back to New York and into a past he thought he had put behind him.
Tripwire takes Jack back to Vietnam and old war memories resurface. He visiting the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command center in Hawaii looking for answers. Of course he isn’t alone. Along for the ride is his former command officer’s daughter because someone wants her dead…

Confessional: I had the honor of visiting JPAC and touring one of the labs where the identification of bones was in progress. Reading Child’s description of the white bones laid out on shiny steel tables brought back memories of my own.

Author fact: Lee Child has crazy blue eyes.

Book trivia: Michael Connelly has endorsed Tripwire.

Nancy said: nothing specific except to say you don’t need to read the Reacher series in order.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Lee Child: Too Good To Miss” (p 41).


Jim the Boy: a Novel

Earley, Tony. Jim the Boy. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2000.

Reason read: September is back to school month for some.

There is a sweetness to the story of ten year old Jim Glass. In the prologue readers learn Jim was born a week after his father passed of a heart attack while working in the fields. Even though he never knew his father, young Jim is not without male guidance as he is surrounded by three protective uncles. His mother’s brothers keep an eye on Jim as well as their too-young-to-be-a-widow sister, Cissy.
Earley colors Jim the Boy‘s characters with real life angst and everything that goes with it. For Jim it’s immature prejudices and naive hubris amidst competition and companionship with classmates. Growing up in depression era North Carolina, Jim assumes that his house in town is better than those of the mountain boys yet learns differently when he visits a friend with polio. Meanwhile, his mother Cissy struggle to do what is right by Jim. In her heart she wants to remain faithful to a man dead ten years despite needing to give Jim a true father from which she feels he should learn life’s harder lessons.
One of my favorite parts of the story was when the uncles wake Jim in the middle of the night to witness electricity coming to their little town. While light bulbs chased away the shadows. At first Jim was excited but then he felt the change made the world a little darker; an interesting perception for a boy so young.

Author fact: Earley is also an author of a collection of short stories not on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Jim the Boy is the first in a series about North Carolina boy, Jim Glass.

Nancy said: Pearl called Jim the Boy a coming of age tale.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Mothers and Sons” (p 160), and again the the chapter called “Southern Fiction” (p 222).


Thank You and OK!

Chadwick, David. Thank You and OK!: An American Zen Failure in Japan. New York: Penguin/Arkana, 1994.

Reason read: Japan celebrates Respect for the Aged Day on September 18th.

I love how Chadwick opens his preface. It all starts with not getting a calendar for Christmas one year and feeling lost come New Year’s day. In that case, why not go to Japan? In truth, Chadwick had been studying the Zen life since the 60s. He went back to Japan in the mid 80s to reestablish his training.
Thank You and OK! covers a four year period in Texan Chadwick’s life and there are two threads to his story: his stay at Hogoji monastery and his life with his second wife Elin in modern Japan. As an aside, one needs to pay attention to dates to orientate oneself to each story but it isn’t hard to do.
My biggest take-away from reading Thank You and OK! is just how different are the details when the bigger picture is the same. What I mean by that is Japan and the United States both have vending machines, but you can buy hot sake out of one in Japan. Japan and the United States both have weird insects, but in Japan their centipedes are over a foot long and are poisonous. Counting the months of pregnancy even differ. In the States we start with zero. In Japan they start with one. That’s oversimplifying the case, but you get the idea.

Lines to make me nod, “I’ve always been hesitant to get physical with insects” (p 12), “we didn’t talk while we ate but everybody slurped the bejeezus out of the noodles” (p 49), and “I can never control what I say anyway, things just come out” (p 52).

Unrelated fact I did not know before reading Thank You and OK!: the author of the song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” committed suicide.

As an aside, I wonder how many people picked up the tip about asking for directions to an imaginary place as a way of checking out the scene without paying for it and tried it for themselves?

Author fact: Chadwick is a self professed Texas-raised wanderer, college dropout, bumbling social activist and hobbyhorse musician.

Book trivia: no fun photographs of Japan. Bummer.

Nancy said: Pearl indicated Thank You and OK! was one of the best gaijin accounts.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Japanese Journeys” (p 118).