November Numbness

“Live a life steeped in experiences.” That’s what my tea bag therapist said this morning. I’m not sure what to make of that advice, considering I have been passing each day as if waiting for something, but not exactly sure what.

I keep going back to the hospital for x-rays and answering mind-throttling questions like, “when did you break your back? How long have you been having extremity nerve pain?” Nearly passing out from lack of comprehension, I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t, but at that moment I sat there in silence with a stuck-in-dumb expression on my face. Yes, my back hurts from time to time, but broken? Yes, I have been complaining about my hands and feet falling asleep, but pain? I was there to get my protruding rib cage scrutinized. Now they tell me it’s a nodule on my lung and abnormally high white blood cell counts. “Probably a viral infection,” the nurse said of my white blood cell count. This was before the nodule on my left lung (25% malignant cancer) was a reality via CT scan. Are the two related? Am I falling to pieces? Sure feels that way. In the meantime, I have buried myself in books:

Fiction (Lots of books for kids and young adults):

  • David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd (AB): a book for children, added in honor of Fantasy Month.
  • The Pinballs By Betsy Byars: another kids book added in honor of Adoption month.
  • Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko.
  • Martin Dressler: the Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser.
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (EB).
  • Foolscap, or, the Stages of Love by Michael Malone.
  • Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller.

Nonfiction:

  • She’s Not There: a Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan.
  • The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah.
  • Expecting Adam: the Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Magic by Martha Beck (AB)

Series continuation:

  • Scales of Gold by Dorothy Dunnett.

Martin Dressler

Millhauser, Steven. Martin Dressler. New York: Random House, 1996.

Reason read: November is a fascinating time to be in New York City.

Martin Dressler, the ambitious son of a cigar maker, has big dreams even as a young child. He starts by delivering cigars for his father and finds an ingenious  way to make profits soar. As a teenager, he starts his career employed as a young hotel bellhop. He catches the eye of the hotel owner and soon becomes his secretary and mentor. As a young man he falls under the spell of a mother and her two grown daughters while building hotels of his own. One daughter becomes his business partner when he delves into opening a chain of diners while the other daughter, Caroline, mystifies him with her silent, elusive personality. She reminds him of a girl he used to know…Strangely enough, he ends up marrying this shadowy, ghostly woman.
This is not a coming of age story. Readers watch as Martin goes through childhood and teenage years to adulthood without exposing friendships; it’s as if he doesn’t have any, puberty, or any other angst-y growing up tribulation. His personality is firmly grounded in business. There is a moment when Martin decides it is time for him to lose his virginity and almost without ceremony or fanfare, he visits a brothel. This becomes a matter of fact, once a week habit he continues into adulthood. Not much is made of sex either way. However, his wedding night is particularly uncomfortable.

What is especially fun to watch is late nineteenth century New York City growing up along side Martin. The street names change over the years. Buildings grow taller. Oil lamps are crowded out by electricity one by one. The Manhattan we know today competes with Martin’s metropolis of his dreams until they are both so large there isn’t room enough for the both of them. But, which New York lives on?

Quotes I found interesting, “She looked like a new painting, all wet and shiny, but already she was fading into the darkness between lamps” (p 138) and “Here in the other world, here in the world beyond the world, anything was possible” (p 292).

Author fact: at the time of publication, Millhauser taught at Skidmore College.

Book trivia: Martin Dressler won a Pulitzer Prize.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Martin Dressler in Book Lust, but in Book Lust To Go she hinted the book takes place in New York, but it’s not the Manhattan we know (Book Lust To Go p 236).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust from the chapter called “New York, New York” (p 170). Also from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Travel To Imaginary Places” (p 236).


November New

What do you do when the most inappropriate sentiment unexpectedly comes out of someone’s mouth? A confession that should never have left the lips of the confessor? Instead of thinking of the actions I should take I chose to take none. I do nothing. Distance makes it easy to ignore and deny. When I can’t avoid I read. Here are the books started for November:

Fiction:

  • Foolscap, or, the Stages of Love by Michael Malone – Malone was born in the month of November; reading in his honor.
  • Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko – in honor of November being Native American Heritage month.
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – November is National Writing month. Choosing fantasy for this round.
  • Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller – Routsong’s birth month was in November. Reading in her honor.
  • Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser – reading in honor of Millhauser’s birth place, New York City.

Nonfiction:

  • Expecting Adam: a True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday MagicĀ by Martha Beck – in honor of my mother’s birth month.
  • The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah – in honor of Morocco’s independence was gained in November.

Series continuation:

  • Scales of Gold by Dorothy Dunnett – to continue the series started in honor of Dunnett’s birth month in August.

Fun: nothing decided yet.

Early Review: I have been chosen to receive an early review but I will refrain from naming it in case it doesn’t arrive.

 


September Slipped Away

September was a cool month. On the 10th I ran a half marathon (2:10:16), was able to get to Monhegan (and introduce the island to some new people), and get to a lot of reading:

  1. Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill
  2. Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng
  3. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
  4. Consul’s Wife by W.T. Tyler
  5. Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry (AB)
  6. Life and Death of Edwin Mullhouse by Steven Millhauser
  7. Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright
  8. Best Game Ever by Mark Bowden
  9. The Trial by Franz Kafka
  10. Which Side Are You On? by Elaine Harger (ER)
  11. Which Side Are You On? by George Ella Lyon (for fun)

AB = Audio book
ER = Early review


Edwin Mullhouse

Millhauser, Steven. Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943 – 1954 By Jeffrey Cartwright. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972.

Reason read: September is National Child Month…or something like that.

Confessional: this totally reminded me of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany because Edwin reminded me of Owen.

Jeffrey Cartwright is six months older than Edwin Mullhouse so by default they have known each other pretty much all their lives. Jeffrey, with his perfect memory, has taken it upon himself to become Edwin’s biographer. His story is in three sections: the Early Years, the Middle Years, and the Late Years (when Edwin dies at age eleven). Jeffrey carefully documents everything from baby talk (“salivary sonatas” p 58) to grade school crushes. One of the disappointments of the story is the tedious repetition. It’s as if Millhauser wants to express the idea that to speak like a child is to be incredibly repetitious. Here is an example, “Before Karen was born, the grandmothers slept in the empty bed in the extra room, but after Karen was born the empty bed was moved into Edwin’s room and the grandmothers slept there. The empty bed was never moved back, and before Karen had a bed of her own, the grandmothers slept in Karen’s bed and Karen slept in the empty bed in Edwin’s room” (p 45). These two sentences exhaust me. In addition, Steven Millhauser writes with a great deal of detail. It is not enough to say a leg was dangling. It is important for you to know it was the right leg that was dangling and how it was dangling.
And it wasn’t just the repetition that got to me. The only hook to the plot seemed to be the knowledge that Edwin dies at the end of it. Eleven years old is too young to die so you keep reading to find out how he dies at such a young age.

Quotes to quote, “The fatal flaw of all biography, according to its enemies, is its helpless conformity to the laws of fiction” (p 100) and “A book is an intolerable pressure on the inside of the skull, demanding release” (p 257).

Book trivia: I wouldn’t necessarily call this book illustrated, but there is a cute drawing on page 21.

Author fact: Edwin Mullhouse (the character) and Steven Millhauser (the author) were both born in August 1973.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads Decade by Decade: 1970s” (p 177).


Septembering

I’m not exactly sure what September will bring. The renovations for the library are finally finished (with a crazy punch list, I might add). The backyard is complete minus the hot tub, fire pit and patio furniture (that’s stage II). I have a half mara in ten days so I’m anticipating a good run month. Here are the planned books:

  • Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill – to continue the series started in May in honor of Laos Rocket Day
  • Edwin Mullhouse: the life and death of an American Writer – to honor kids in September
  • Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng – Mao died of cancer in September.
  • Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry – Cold War ended in September
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka – September is the best month to visit the Czech Republic.
  • Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner – September is Southern Gospel month
  • Which Side are You On? by Elaine Harger – an Early Review from LibraryThing.