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).