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).


July Mistakes

So. I never posted what I hoped to accomplish reading for July. Whoops and whoops. To tell you the truth, I got busy with other things. What other things I couldn’t tell you. It’s not the thing keeping me up at night. Besides, if I’m truly honest no one reads this blather anyway. In my mind the “you” that I address is really me, myself and moi; our own whacked out sense of conformity. Let’s face it, my reviews are as uninspiring as dry toast carelessly dropped in sand. It’s obvious something needs to change. I just haven’t figured out what that something is or what the much needed change looks like. Not yet at least. I need a who, where, what, why, and how analysis to shake off the same as it ever was. It’ll come to me eventually.
But, enough of that and that and that. Here’s what July looked like for books and why:

Fiction:

  • Killing Floor by Lee Child – in honor of New York becoming a state in July (Child lives in New York).
  • Alligator by Lisa Moore – in honor of Orangemen Day in Newfoundland.
  • Forrest Gump by winston Groom – on honor of the movie of the same name being released in the month of July.
  • Aunt Julia and the Script Writer by Mario Vargas Llosa – in honor of July being the busiest month to visit Peru.
  • Accidental Man by Iris Murdoch – in honor of Murdoch’s birth month.
  • Blood Safari by Leon Meyer – in honor of Meyer’s birth month.
  • By the River Piedra I Sat down and Wept by Paulo Coelho – in honor of July being Summer Fling Month.

Series continuation:

  • Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Yes, I am behind.
  • Blood Spilt by Asa Larsson.
  • Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope. Confessional. Even though there are two more books in the Barsetshire Chronicles I am putting Trollope back on the shelf for a little while. The stories are not interconnected and I am getting bored.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm. I only started this. It will be finished in August.

What startles me as I type this list is I didn’t finish any nonfiction in July. I started the Holocaust memoir but haven’t finished it yet. No nonfiction. Huh.


Forrest Gump

Groom, Winston. Forrest Gump. New York: Pocket Books, 1986.

Reason read: the movie Forrest Gump was released in July of 1994.

It seems ridiculous to write a book review for a story everyone knows so well….or I should say they think they know. I must refrain from making the typical comparisons of what scenes were different in the book from the movie, what details were kept the same…You get the picture. I’m sure someone else has written that blog. Anyway, on to the plot:
Forrest Gump goes through life as an accidentally brilliant idiot who can say he attended Harvard, saved Chairman Mao from drowning, visited the White House twice, thwarted plans to be eaten by cannibals, and even took a trip to space with an orangutan courtesy of NASA. These are just some of the crazy adventures Gump experiences. He manages to be a part of history’s most significant moments, both good and bad. I particularly liked the scene with the president who said, “I am not a crook!”
It is not a spoiler to say I was annoyed with Jenny just as much in the book as I was the movie.
And speaking of comparisons, I will say this about comparing the book to the movie, though. Gump in the book is a far coarser character. Forrest in the movie is so sweet compared to the foul-mouthed man-child in the novel. That took a little getting used to. Meh.

Quotes to quote, “I outrunned him tho cause that is my specialty but let me say this: they aint no question in my mind that I am up the creek for sure” (p 50) and everybody’s favorite throughout the book, “…and that’s all I got to say about that” (p 65). Another, “There are just times when you can’t let the right thing stand in your way” (p 94).

Author fact: From also wrote A Storm in Flanders which was on my Challenge list (already completed).

Book trivia: the book is very different from the movie, but Gump’s lovable character shines through either way.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Forrest Gump because it is the more well known of Groom’s work.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War I Nonfiction” (p 251). As an aside, I deleted Forrest Gump from my master list of Lust books because it didn’t belong in the chapter about World War I. Plus, Forrest Gump is not nonfiction.


December Didn’t Disappoint

I may not be happy with my personal life in regards to fitness, health, and so on, but I am definitely satisfied with the number of books I was able to check off my Challenge list for the month of December. Special thanks to my kisa who did all the driving up and back and around the great state of Maine.

Fiction:

  • The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (EB/print).
  • Any Old Iron by Anthony Burgess.
  • Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund.
  • This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun.
  • Time Machines: the Best Time Travel Stories Ever Written edited by Bill Adler, Jr.

Nonfiction:

  • The Black Tents of Arabia: (My Life Among the Bedouins by Carl Raswan.
  • Lost Moon: the Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger.
  • The Female Eunuch by Germain Greer.
  • Stet: a Memoir by Diana Athill (EB and print).
  • Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owens (EB and print).

Series continuations:

  • Unicorn Hunt by Dorothy Dunnett. Confessional: I did not finish this.
  • The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (EB/print/AB).

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

Light Infantry Ball

Basso, Hamilton. The Light Infantry Ball. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1959.

Basso takes an entire South Carolina community and brings it to life during the Civil War era though the story revolves around John Bottomley. He has been educated in the North (New Jersey) and had plans of becoming a writer when family duty obligates him to return to his family’s rice plantation. His life during this time is one of isolation because he is in love with a married woman and no one can understand his “pro-North” views. It doesn’t help that he is confused about his feelings concerning slavery. He grows more and more aware of his surrounding society as time goes on especially when it comes to the married woman. Later, after a stint in government, Bottomley finally joins the military to aid in the war. Guilt had finally gotten to him. Parallel to these life changes is the story of Bottomley’s brother and his mysterious disappearance after a murder.

Lines I liked, “He worked long, read much, and spoke little” (p 22), “…he had the sense of a door being thrown wide open and of looking into a stale, closed-off room strewn with the debris of a hundred bitter quarrels dragged across the years” (p 252-253) and finally my favorite, “War was war, yes, but even in war there were civilized standards to maintain” (p 324).

Reason read: Basso was born in September.

Author trivia: Basso wrote 15 books before his death. I am only reading a handful of them.

Book fact: The Light Infantry Ball is a prequel to The View From Pompey’s Head.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Hamilton Basso: Too Good To Miss” (p 32).


To Kill a Mockingbird

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Warner Books, 1982.

This is another one of those times when I have to ask who doesn’t know the story of Scout Finch? I’m sure many, many people refer back to the movie and that classic trial scene, but tell me, who doesn’t know Atticus Finch at least?

The story is told from the viewpoint of six year old Scout Finch, a tomboy living in Alabama during the Great Depression. She is looking back on her coming of age, remembering the year when all innocence was lost. Scout and her brother, Jem, are typical children growing up in the segregated deep south. Their widowed father, Atticus, is a county lawyer appointed to defend a black man accused of attacking and raping a white teenager. This is on the periphery of Scout’s life. She is more concerned with the monster who lives nearby. In the neighborhood lives a recluse of a man few have seldom seen. He is the subject of gossip and rumors and legends because his existence is such a mystery. Naturally, the neighborhood children grow up being afraid of him. Scout doesn’t understand this is a prejudice equal to the racial prejudice displayed in her town against her father for defending a “nigger.” As the trial draws near the community begins a slow boil until it erupts in violence. While the ending is predictable the entire story is so well written it should not be missed or forgotten. Read it again and again.

Favorite lines: “Matches were dangerous, but cards were fatal” (p 55) and something Atticus says at the end of the book, “Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I’ve tried to live so I can look squarely back at him” (p 273).

Postscript ~ There is a scene when Scout and Jem are taking to their black housekeeper’s church. The congregation sings “When They Ring The Golden Bells” by Dion De Marbell. All I could hear in my mind was Natalie Merchant singing the same song off Ophelia, last track.

Reason Read: September is Southern Month, whatever that means.

Author fact: Harper Lee has never wanted the attention To Kill a Mockingbird has afforded her. She shuns the limelight and has never written anything since.

Book trivia: To Kill a Mockingbird was made into an Oscar winning movie in 1962.

BookLust Twist: I can always tell when Nancy Pearl really loves a book. She’ll mention it even in a chapter it doesn’t belong in. In Book Lust it is in four different chapters, “Girls Growing Up” (p 101), “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade: 1960s” (p 178), “Southern Fiction” (p 222), and “What a Trial That Was!” (p 244). To Kill a Mockingbird is also mentioned in More Book Lust in the chapter called “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover” (p 238). Pearl is comparing Donna Tartt’s character, Harriet Dufresne (in The Little Friend) with Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.


A Good Man Is Hard to Find

O’Connor, Flannery. Collected Works. Sally Fitzgerald, ed. Library of America, 1988.

A Good Man is Hard to Find is a compilation of ten short stories by Flannery O’Connor. In order they are “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, “The River”, “The Life You Save might Be Your Own”, “A Stroke of Good Fortune”, “A Temple of the Holy Ghost”, “The Artificial Nigger”, “A Circle in the Fire”, “A Late Encounter with the Enemy”, “Good Country People”, and “The Displaced Person.” All ten stories have three significant things in common: a Southern twang, underlying religious tones and lots of interesting and deep characters with problems, some problems more obvious and serious than others. The title, A Good Man is Hard to Find comes from the first short story in the compilation (my favorite) and is a phrase first uttered by a restaurant owner outside of Atlanta, Georgia. He is discussing a serial killer on a rampage last seen somewhere in Florida. The rest of the stories center mostly in the rural areas surrounding the south, especially Atlanta, Georgia.

Favorite lines: From “A Good Man in Hard to Find” – “the trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of them sparkled” (p 138).
From “The River” – “He seemed to be mute and patient, like an old sheepdog waiting to be let out” (p 155).
From “The Life You Save Might Be Your Own” – “She was ravenous for a son-in-law” (p 177).
From” “A Stroke of Good Fortune” – “…in a voice of sultry subdued wrath” (p 184. Okay, that wasn’t a complete sentence but I liked the wording. From “Good Country People” – “She took all his shame away and turned it into something useful” (p 276).

Author Fact: Flannery O’Connor continues to inspire people in all forms of artistry. Just Google her name and see the interesting things that pop up.

Book Trivia: A Good Man Is Hard to Find was referenced in an 1994 episode of the Simpsons.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Grit Lit” (p 106).


Heartbreak Hotel

Siddons, Anne Rivers. Heartbreak Hotel. New York: Pocket Star Books, 2004.

Margaret Deloach (Maggie to her friends) is a good girl, a good, smart Southern girl who has everything going for her. She is popular and beautiful, a sister in the Kappa sorority and pinned to the ever handsome Boots Claiborne. Much is made of Maggie’s looks, her clothing, her sense of style. It isn’t until Maggie meets Hoyt Cunningham, a childhood friend of Boot’s, that Maggie’s moral compass and intelligence is exposed and challenged. Everything comes to a head when Maggie witnesses the brutal recapture of a black inmate from the county jail in Boot’s hometown. What makes this story so interesting is Heartbreak Hotel is a coming of age story set in the Civil Rights era South. It is lush with description, brimming with trouble. It is easy to see why it was a New York Times best seller.

While Maggie is admirable throughout the entire saga of Heartbreak Hotel I did have one small question. *Spoiler Alert* Maggie writes an opinion piece about segregation in Alabama. It coincides with the entrance of the state university’s first black student so racist tensions are already running high. Maggie’s piece strikes out at her finance’s family and the only way of life they had ever known for generations and generations. My question is this, how in the world did Maggie think she could write a front page article criticizing Boots and still have him as her husband? There is one scene that I find Maggie’s character to be completely unbelievable. Maggie’s column has made the front page only Boots hasn’t seen it yet. He has been away for a family funeral. When he returns they go to his fraternity for a party where Maggie is hopeful no one will mention the article to him. She even thinks she has a chance to tell him about it and “have a laugh over it.” I don’t know what she was thinking when everything up to that point indicates he will have a royal, violent meltdown.

Favorite lines: “And so reading remained one of Maggie’s small and constant rebellions” (p 11). I loved this line when I first read it and didn’t realize how much of a premonition it was to the tail end of the story. Another favorite line, “She passed a day in fitful, drugged sleep, in which deep snoring alternated with wild incoherent sobbings about guilt and blood and chewing gum and blonde whores and God” (138). That, my friends, is the epitome of a breakdown. Brilliant.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Southern-Fried Fiction: Alabama” (p 206). Alabama became a state in the month of December but I chose to read Heartbreak Hotel in September as another Back to School honor book. I had a few days left in the month and this book was lying around the house so I read it.


Optimist’s Daughter

Welty, Eudora. The Optimist’s Daughter. New York: Random House, 1972.

Southern story broken into four distinct sections.
Part I – Laurel McKelva Hand comes from Chicago to care for her elderly father after eye surgery. Judge McKelva subsequently dies and Laurel is left to deal with her young, silly stepmother, Fay. Part I sets the tone for Laurel and Fay’s strained relationship.

Part II – Laurel and Fay bring Judge McKelva home for the wake and funeral where Laurel is heartily welcomed and supported by her friends and community. Fay’s family comes from Texas and brings out the worst in Fay. Part II illustrates southern charm and manners.

Part III – Laurel has to come to terms with her father’s new, young wife. As silly as she is, Laurel’s father adored her. Laurel also has to come to terms with the death of her mother ten years prior.

Part IV is all about Laurel’s introspective growth and acceptance of the future. The burning of her mother’s letters and the letting go of the breadboard are very significant.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in two different chapters. First, from “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade:1970s” (p 178), then in “Southern Fiction” (p 222).

PS ~ I liked knowing a little about the authors I read. It was fun to discover Welty had connections to Smith and was a Guggenheim fellow (just like Robert Michael Pyle).


View From Pompey’s Head

Basso, Hamilton. View From Pompey’s Head. New York: Doubleday, 1954.

For the longest time I pictured someone standing on someone else’s head whenever I read the title of this book. I figured whoever Pompey was he must have had one hell of a headache. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Pompey’s Head as a place, but southernly speaking that makes sense. South Carolina has Hilton Head. Georgia has Pompey’s Head or so Hamilton Basso has created it.

View From Pompey’s Head was a best seller and made into a movie the year after it was published. It’s smart and sexy with enough drama to make it interesting on the big screen. Anson is a stuck-in-a-rut lawyer in New York City. Married with a family he is trying to make his way in the big city despite being a small-town southern boy who hasn’t been home in 15 years. It’s not that he was running away from Old Pompey, Georgia – but trying to outgrow it. That’s his story on the surface, anyway.
Through a series of coincidences Anson has a work assignment that returns him to his old stomping grounds. A client of his law firm is being sued for embezzlement. Royalties from an author have gone missing. It looks bad for the firm because the client is dead and can’t defend himself and what is worse, all evidence points to his guilt. Anson, having ties to the author’s remote hometown, is picked to try to get to the bottom of the mystery.

I think it’s important to mention first that View from Pompey’s Head was a best seller and was made into a now hard-to-find movie.

BookLust Twist: In Book Lust twice. Once in the chapter called, “Hamilton Basso: Too Good to Miss” (p 33 & 34), and once in “Southern Fiction” (p 222). Yes, I read two from this category. Sue me.


September 09 was…

September 2009 was…Back to school. I spent the first part of the month concentrating on hiring for the library and avoiding tragedy. Kisa and I took a much needed vacation – first to Fenway park (go Red Sox!) and then to Baltimore for a little getaway. September is the month I will always mourn my father, but now I add Mary Barney to the list of tears. As I have always said, everything bad happens in September. This year was no different. As you can tell, I buried myself in books.

The Escape was:

  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka ~ I had completely forgotten how disturbing this book was!
  • The Reivers by William Faulkner ~ a southern classic that almost had me beat.
  • A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby ~ funny tale about a first-time expedition
  • Out of the Blue: the Story of September 11, 2001 From Jihad to Ground Zero by Richard Bernstein and the staff of  The New York Times ~ an unsettling journalistic account of what really happened on 9/11/01.
  • The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough ~ a nonfiction about what happens when mother nature meets bad human design.
  • Off Balance: the Real World of Ballet by Suzanne Gordon ~ a nonfiction about the ugly side of dance.
  • Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler ~ magical book about three very broken people (in honor of real character month).
  • A Student of Weather by Elizabeth Hay ~ Hay’s first novel – one I couldn’t put down it was that good! This was on the September list as “the best time to visit Canada.”
  • Native Son by Richard Wright ~incredibly depressing. I’m almost sorry I read it this month.
  • The View From Pompey’s Head by Hamilton Basso ~ a last minute pick-me-up, read in honor of Basso’s birth month (but also doubled as a “southern” read).

For LibraryThing and the Early Review program: Day of the Assassins by Johnny O’Brien. Geared towards teenage boys, this was a fun, fast read.

For fun, I read a quick book called Women Who Run by Shanti Sosienski . Since our flight to Baltimore was only 40-some-odd minutes I didn’t want to bring a lengthy read. This was perfect.


Reivers

Faulkner, William. The Reivers. New York: Vintage, 1990.

I’ve never had great luck with Faulkner. It takes me longer to read anything he has written because of his plots, character genealogies, and confusing dialogues. The Reivers was no different. Scottish for robbers, The Reivers blends a tangle of genealogies – everyone seems to have some blood link to someone else- with a complicated, detail packed plot and lots of run-on, rambling conversations. The Reivers is told from the point of view of eleven year old Lucius Priest. He gets involved in first the theft of Grandfather’s automobile, then after running away to Memphis, prostitutes, horse smuggling and the long arm of the law.  Then there is something about a stolen gold tooth. Trust me, it’s funny. In the beginning I found plot and dialog cumbersome. It took me several chapters to get into the cadence of Faulkner’s writing, but once I settled in and became familiar with his style it was highly enjoyable.

Moments I liked: “I’m sure you have noticed how ignorant people beyond thirty or fourty are” (p 5). I have no idea why this struck me as funny…I’m beyond 30 or 40!
“…they-we-would load everything into pickup trucks and drive two hundred miles over paved highways to find enough wilderness to pitch tents in; though by 1980 the automobile will be as obsolete to reach wilderness with as the automobile will have made the wilderness it seeks” (p 21).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Southern Fiction” (p 222). You don’t get more southern than Faulkner!

Incidentally, this was Faulkner’s last book. Somehow, I find that sad.


September 09 is…

Because I’m still up to my eyeballs in this hiring thing I have a huge, ambitious list but I doubt I’ll actually get to all of them. I ended up with two classics, though:

  • The Reivers by William Faulkner ~ in honor of Southern Gospel month
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka ~ in honor of (supposedly) the best time to visit Kafka’s homeland, the Czech Republic
  • The Johnstown Flood  by David G. McCullough ~ in honor of hurricane season (and we’ve already had two blow up the coast)
  • Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler ~ in honor of “real character” month (guess I’ll have to elaborate on that during the review. Even I’m not sure what I mean by that!
  • Out of the Blue: the Story of September 11, 2001 From Jihad to Ground Zero by Richard Bernstein ~  need I say why?
  • Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby in honor of National Travel Month

 

For LibraryThing Early Review – just got word that I received one for September. Yay. I won’t name the book until it  actually shows up on my doorstep. I’ve had two no-shows so far and nothing is more disappointing that planning to read an exciting book and not have it arrive! 😦

For fun ~ nada. Although I heard Monhegan made it into Yankee magazine. I’ll have to check that out at some point.