The Most Offending Soul Alive

Heimann, Judith M. The Most Offending Soul Alive: Tom Harrisson and His Remarkable Life. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 19997.

Reason read: Tom Harrisson’s birth month is September. Read in his honor.

Tom Harrisson lived from 1911 to 1976 and was, as Heimann puts it, “an adventurer who lived among cannibals.” That in and of itself is enough to write a book about but Tom was also a man who even as a child loved to push buttons. He had an ongoing battle with hierarchy and thrived on seeing what he could get away with on a daily basis. In his adult life, often drunk and disorderly, it was his brilliant mind that made him forgivable to most people; everyone except his own father. His brilliance is the only reason I can think of for his friend to turn a blind eye when Tom begins a blatantly obvious affair with the friend’s wife. Aside from “stealing women from their men” as the Grateful Dead said, Tom’s passion was researching flora and fauna and traveled to such places as Sarawak and New Hebrides to study new species. Later, when he met the cannibals, he became interested in sociology and became an expert at observing culture. Even though the rest of The Most Offending Soul Alive isn’t as interesting Heimann goes on to colorfully detail the rest of Harrisson’s  life, ending with his fatal accident in January 1976. While not much else has been written about Harrisson otherwise, I feel that Heimann’s is a bias laden, no-stone-left-unturned kind of biography.

Author fact: Tom Harrisson was a neighbor of Heimann’s on Borneo.

Book trivia: The Most Offending Soul Alive is chock full of interesting photographs.

Nancy said: Judith Heimann’s biography “brings him [Harrisson] to vivid life” (Book Lust To Go p 39).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Borneo and Sarawak” (p 38).


Spring of the Ram

Dunnett, Dorothy. The Spring of the Ram: Book Two of the House of Niccolo. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.

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

The Spring of the Ram is book two in the House of Niccolo series. Judith Wilt, in her introduction recaps the first book, Niccolo Rising to orient those who have missed out. When we rejoin Nicholas de Fleury he is now nineteen years old and married to the owner of the dye shop for which he had apprenticed. As a budding entrepreneur this is a well played move. In terms of intelligence and cleverness, Nicholas is certainly showing his mettle. His business sense is growing; and as head of an army he is becoming well traveled and worldly. The is an era when trade and exploration are burgeoning. Art and politics are duplicitous, and sensuality and relationships are used as weapons against human emotion. In the opening chapter Nicolas’ eleven year old step-daughter, Catherine, is seduced by his arch rival. He chases Catherine only to find she is in love with her captor and is perfectly content to marry him “when she is a woman” which is after he first menstrual cycle.
Niccolo’s personality is as entertaining as they come. His bad boy ways earn him a reputation known far and wide as reckless and daring. Entering Florence, he aims to secure the Silk Road, the only accessible trade route to the East. That is his singular quest for the rest of The Spring of the Ram.

Quotes to quote: “She didn’t miss Noah; not at all; except when she needed someone to take out her dog” (p 145) and “Her features were build on the thigh bones of mice; her eyes lay fronded in fish pools, their lids upper and lower like mollusks” (p 168). Errr…okay.

Author fact: Dunnett passed away in 2001.

Book trivia: Even if you have read Niccolo Rising Judith Wilt’s recap is a nice setup to The Spring of the Ram and shouldn’t be skipped.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up History Through Fiction” (p 79).


Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop

Grimes, Tom, ed. Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop: 43 Stories , Recollections, & Essays on Iowa’s Place in Twentieth-Century American Literature. New York: Hyperion, 1999.

Reason read: Grimes celebrates a birthday in September. Read in his honor.

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop became a national institution in the early 1950s, but before that, as early as the late 1890s, the Workshop was designed to teach “verse making.” The University of Iowa wanted to cultivate writers with something creative to say. They developed the first creative writing program in the country and it continues to be one of the best. Why? Obviously, it is the writers who come out of the program. Then there’s this: “Unsurprisingly, a psychological survey of the Iowa Workshop showed that 80 percent of writers in the program reported evidence of manic-depression, alcoholism, or other lovely addictions in themselves or their immediate families” (p 9).

Stories:

  • Chip off the Old Block by Wallace Stegner.
  • And In My Heart by R.V. Cassill. Best line: “As if the arrow at the heart could listen to the merely human cry that protests its flight” (p 55).
  • The Comforts of Home by Flannery O’Connor.
  • The Illegibility of This World by Richard Stern. Best line: “Fear gets so loud, I can’t sleep” (p 118).
  • The Fisherman Who Got Away by Thomas Williams.
  • Offspring of the First Generation by Bette Pesetsky.
  • The Hustler by Walter Tevis.
  • Put Yourself in My Shoes by Raymond Carver.
  • Saints by Bharati Mukherjee.
  • Dunkleblau by Clark Blais.
  • Falling in Love by Andre Dubus.
  • The Last Generation by Joy Williams.
  • A More Complete Cross-Section by John Casey.
  • A Sorrowful Woman by Gail Godwin.
  • Thirty-Four Seasons of Winter by William Kittredge.
  • Mouses by Thom Jones. “I’m embarrassed to admit that I was a little afraid to confront the consequences” (p 247).
  • A Solo Song: For Doc by James Alan McPherson.
  • Paper Latern by Stuart Dybek.
  • Work by Denis Johnson
  • His Dog by Ron Hansen
  • A Woman’s Restaurant by T. Coraghessan Boyle.
  • Aren’t You Happy For Me? by Richard Bausch.
  • Blessed Assurance: a Moral Tale by Allan Gurganus.
  • Long Distance by Jane Smiley.
  • Alma by Jayne Anne Phillips.
  • White Angel by Michael Cunningham.
  • Mundo’s Sign by Bob Shacochis.
  • The Story of My Life by Kim Edwards.
  • Birthmates by Gish Jen.
  • The Year of Getting to Know Us by Ethan Canin.
  • The Zealous Mourner by Marly Swick.
  • The Commuter by Colin Harrison.
  • Planting by Kathryn Harrison.
  • The Sutton Pie Safe by Pinckney Benedict.
  • Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry by Elizabeth McCracken.
  • Out of the Woods by Chris Offutt.
  • Open House by Charles D’Ambrosio.
  • Lilacs by Abraham Verghese.
  • A Hole in the Sheets by Susan Power.
  • Brownsville by Tom Piazza.
  • Pipa’s Story by Lan Samantha Chang.
  • Buckeye the Elder by Brady Udall.
  • Speaking in Tongues by ZZ Packer.

Other quotes I liked, “Good writers are ruthless, and willing to say anything” (p 377).

Author  Editor fact: Not surprising, Tom Grimes is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. At the time of The Workshop publication, he directed the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Southwest Texas State University.

Book trivia: There was only one story I had a problem with. Marly Swick in The Zealous Mourner has a detail about her character making a point of locking a bathroom door and yet, there is no mention of anyone UNlocking it when the husband stands in the doorway, blinking in the harsh light and announcing he has to pee.

Nancy said: Nancy suggested if you wanted to read up on more writers who spent time in Iowa to check out The Workshop.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 108).


Where Eagles Dare Not Perch

Bridgford, Peter. Where Eagles Dare Not Perch. Castroville, Texas: Black Rose Publishing, 2018.

Reason read: the July pick for the Early Review program for LibraryThing.

In a nutshell: the American civil war changed people. In Where Eagles Dare Not Perch Zachary Webster, a sharpshooter in the Civil War, has honed his skills to become a numbed-to-life killing machine. In battle he thrives on ramping up the death toll. On furlough in Maine he discovers his naive girlfriend, Catherine Brandford, has been seemingly sweet on another. Anger takes over but Zachary doesn’t commit a crime of passion when killing his enemy. He first stalks the man like prey, corners him, and in the end gives no thought to leaving the man to bleed to death in the snow. Early on Bridgford wants you to know revenge begets revenge. The victim’s brother, a “tattooed giant” of a man, goes on the hunt for Zachary. Just as ruthless as Zachary, Jedediah Stiller has his own tale of horror to contend with. He ends up playing a cruel game that has him fighting for his life. Despite this agony he hungers for pain; to feel it and inflict it in equal measures. Above all, he knows he must find Zachary. Catherine Brandford also knows and fears this acutely. With her bumbling innocence, she embarks on a quest to get to Zachary first, but she too runs into her own private hell. Who will find Zachary first? When will the hunter become prey? The rest of Where Eagles Dare Not Perch is one big cat and mouse game with a lot of gratuitous violence for everyone involved thrown in.

Do you know my number one sign of a good book? When the plot doesn’t do it, it’s when I find myself cringing as I remember characters long after I have turned the last page and closed the book. It is one thing for an author to make you feel something for the characters while you are in the  midst of the tale, but it’s quite another to make you think about those same characters when you are finished. That’s not to say I really liked any of Bridgford’s people; not Zachary or Jedediah or even Catherine. The more important revelation I must stress is that I believed them. I believed the hate. I believed the hurt. I believed the need for revenge on all levels. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say I even believed the ultimate forgiveness…

Confessional: electronic books are not as popular as the print so I knew I would have a really good chance of getting Where Eagles Dare Not Perch when requesting it through LibraryThing.
Confessional Two: I *might* have a little bias. I know of Bridgford somewhat. He taught school on the island where I grew up and he ended up marrying my sister’s college friend.

Book trivia: There was one final scene that I thought was a bit much. It was almost as if Bridgford didn’t know how to wrap up the tale. He ended up including a bizarre couple who ooze more hateful hate than anyone you have previously met. I thought it was an unnecessary grand finale.


Life and Times of Miami Beach

Armbruster, Ann. The Life and Times of Miami Beach. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Reason read: Hurricane Irma blew into town on September 10th, 2017.

The Life and Times of Miami Beach would make a good coffee table book; one of those gorgeous to look at and flip through (even if you don’t have the time to read) books. The photography (in both black and white and color) is spectacular.
We begin in 1900. Miami Beach was nothing but spits of sand and swamp. By 1915 keen-eyed entrepreneur Carl Fisher looked at the bug and alligator infested mangroves and said resolutely why not? Why not create a vacation hot spot out of an uninhabited peninsula? In the beginning business was slow. Marjory Stoneman Douglas wasn’t impressed with a tourist season that was only two months long.
By the 1920s Miami Beach was a real estate developer’s dream. Hotel growth exploded with expensive, over-the-top, grandiose places to stay. Prohibition was a joke as rum runners smuggled alcohol in disguised as fish and shipped it inland marketed as grapefruits or tomatoes. Swim suits could be rented for twenty five cents.
In the 1930s the big names wanted to be seen in Miami Beach. Names like Firestone, Ford, Maytag, Honeywell, Florsheim, Hoover, and Hertz. Eleanor Roosevelt and Charles Lindbergh came to visit.
In the 1940s Miami became a haven for military men.
By the late ’50s and early ’60s Miami Beach’s identity was changing again with visits from tourists from all over. Over two million people were flocking to the Beach paradise. Jackie Gleason, the Beatles, Debbie Reynolds and Desi Arnaz (to name a few) added to the publicity.
Armbruster ends her coffee table book with the wrap up “1970s to present” present means the ’80s). The last chapter is a quick four pages dedicated to Miami Beach’s flagging economy and reputation and its rebirth and redevelopment.

As an aside, Phish had a New Year’s Eve run in Miami Beach a few years ago. I didn’t attend but I heard the show was epic.

Author fact: Armbruster has no outward connection to Miami. According to her bio she was born in Michigan, raised in Ohio, and studied in New York. My guess is that someone she is related to has the connection to Miami.

Book trivia: The Life and Times of Miami Beach can be called a gorgeous book with over 200 photographs and illustrations.

Nancy said: Nancy didn’t say anything specific about Armbruster’s book.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the obvious chapter called “Miami and Environs” (p 145).


Babylon Rolling

Boyden, Amanda. Babylon Rolling. New York: Pantheon Books, 2008.

Reason read: Hurricane Ivan roared through the eastern seaboard in September 2004. I should know because it disrupted my wedding.

Five very different New Orleans families on Orchid Street are under a microscope in Boyden’s second book, Babylon Rolling. A careless accident will initially bring these neighbors into focus, but it’s the threat of intolerance that tightens their connections to one another.
Ed and Ariel with their two children (impossibly named Miles and Ella), are newly transplanted from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He’s a stay at home dad while she is a GM for a hotel. There is trouble in the marriage. Sharon Harris has all she can handle with her two trouble-making boys, Daniel aka “Fearious” and Michael aka “Muzzy.” Both are druglord wannabes. Cerise and Roy Brown are trying to live in peace with their grown daughter Maria. Racist Philomenia Beargard de Bruges keeps an eye on the street while her husband, Joe battles colon cancer. Then there are the Guptas who have moved into the largest house on the block. Their presence is barely felt in the plot.

One of the least liked elements of Boyden’s writing is her character stereotypes. The voice of each community member vibrates with an exaggerated edge, especially the “thugs” and African Americans. Dialogues sound forced and even comical at times. Confessional: the only character I liked was Cerise. She was the only normal one of the bunch.

Quotes I liked enough to mention, “Ed needed to work on his acceptance of overweight humans” (p 14) and “Her duties at this point in the marriage are very clearly defined, such that she has to do next to nothing for him should she not want to” (p 187).

Author fact: Boyden’s first novel was Pretty Little Dirty which is not on my Challenge list but sounds like it was a success.

Nancy said: Babylon Rolling features “a large cast of exquisitely drawn characters” (Book Lust To Go p 155).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “News From N’Orleans” (p 155).


Case of the Man Who Died Laughing

Hall, Tarquin. The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing. Read by Sam Dastor.

Reason read: to finish the series started in August in honor of Rajiv Ratna Gandgi being born in August.

Vish Puri is India’s most Private Investigator. Confidentiality is his watchword. His bread and butter cases mostly consist of background and character checks for betrothed couples. In a culture where prearranged marriages are the norm it is critical for parents to know they have chosen wisely for their offspring. Other cases involve revealing hoaxes or frauds, but every once in awhile a case with more significance comes along. Such is the case of the man who died laughing. A prominent scientist while in a laughing class was seemingly murdered by the Hindu goddess Kali. She appeared to be floating above the crowd brandishing a huge sword. Many thought it was a supernatural occurrence because Kali was devoid of strings or wires. She really seemed to be hovering above the crowd. Lucky for India that Puri retained a kernel of skepticism. Along with his trusty team, Facecream, Tubelight and Flush, Puri is on the case.

Author fact: I love with when people or places connect. One of the most influential books I read earlier this year was by Emmanuel Jal who was mentored by Emma McCune. Tarquin Hall did a profile on Emma when he was a news reporter.

Book trivia: Hall started writing the Puri series in 2008. There are two others after The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, but I’m not reading them.

Lines I liked: none enough to quote this time.

Nancy said: nothing special.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia” (p 212). Here’s what happens when the title of a book is incorrectly indexed in Book Lust To Go: Somehow The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing was indexed as The Man Who Died Laughing. Alphabetically under M instead of C which meant that I had to change four different spreadsheets.