Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1974.
Reason read: Pirsig’s birth month is in the month of September.
When you are traveling across the country on a motorcycle, you have more than enough time to analyze the world around you in ways you wouldn’t if you chose to passively ride in a car or fly by plane. Pirsig takes his love of motorcycle maintenance and equates it to examining the way we live. If you excuse the didactic moments that seem holier than thou, he even shares opinions on how to live that life a little better. These philosophical monologues are referred to as Chautauquas. Under the guise of a summer trip across America with an unknown protagonist (common knowledge it is Pirsig himself), his son, Chris, and two companions, Pirsig delves into the life of Phaedrus (his past self), meditation, and philosophy. He uses his friend, John, to illustrate the difference between the mindful exploration and ignorant bliss. While the unnamed narrator (Pirsig) constantly tunes his machine, John prefers to not know anything about how his engine runs. This equates to the two men seeing the world differently. The author learns to care deeply for anything that involves his life while John prefers to let a mechanic do all the maintenance in life. The narrator is anxious to teach John his ways and patiently waits for his motorcycle to break down so he can be the hero and enlighten him. For me, the book gets interesting when John and his wife go they separate way. The narrator and his son are left to travel the rest of the journey alone. The reasoning of temperate reason versus dark passion is fascinating.
Quotes I liked, “Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive” (p 187), “The real purpose of scientific method is to make sure Nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you don’t actually know” (p 256), “The dog has a certain relationship to the wolf the shepherd may have forgotten” (p 412), and “I’m hanging onto my temper now” (p 497).
Author fact: Pirsig also wrote Lila: an Inquiry into Morals. I am not reading it for the Challenge even though it is the sequel to Zen. Zen is the only book I am reading.
Another author fact: Pirsig wrote instruction manuals for a living, but went home every night to work on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This reminded me of Joan Didion and how she would work at Vogue during the day but come home at night to work on her own novels.
Book trivia: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a work of fictionalized autobiography.
Nancy said: Pearl called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a classic; highly readable and indispensable.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Beckoning Road” (p 19).
Bangs, Richard and Christian Kallen. Rivergods: Exploring the World’s Great Wild Rivers. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1985.
Reason read: June is National River Cleanup Month.
Rivergods balances adventurous text from Bangs and Kallen with gorgeous photography. Christian Kallen and Richard Bangs bring many of the most powerful, yet mostly unheard of, rivers to life as they describe trying to raft or kayak each one. By traveling all corners of the globe, they are able to meet indigenous peoples in South America, Australia, Africa, and Asia. By studying their anthropologies, they learn a little about each culture including head hunting and cannibalism. Each river teaches them about the power of Mother Nature and the real dangers of trying to tame her.
As an aside, when I started running with Dr. Tommy Rivs, one of the things he taught me early on was about Islamic religion. In accordance with the beliefs of Islam, no humans or animals can be portrayed or duplicated by man. All art such as tile work, tapestries, and carpets must be of geometric shapes and flowers. It was cool to see Bangs and Kallen talk about it in Rivergods.
Lines to like, “It was like trying to admire a beautiful painting after having been mugged” (p 108). I wish I could quote all of the reviews from the back cover of Rivergods. Admiration, humor, and maybe a little envy are evident in the reviewer’s words.
Author fact: Richard Bangs has a pretty cool website here. Christian Kallen coauthored another book with Bangs called Riding the Dragon’s Back.
Book trivia: Rivergods is oversized and full of gorgeous photography.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Rivergods.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Water, Water Everywhere” (p 252).
Trillin, Calvin. Third Helpings. New Haven: Ticknor & Fields, 1983.
Reason read: to finish the Tummy Trilogy started in March in honor of National Food Month.
Trillin is at it again with a third and final installment of the Tummy Trilogy; another series of essays all about his idea of good eating. Third Helpings starts with Trillin’s belief that Spaghetti Carbonara should be the national dish at Thanksgiving. It’s a quirky idea, but I get his point. Fourteen essays follow.
The more I read Trillin, the more I admire his wife and her ability to travel to strange lands to eat even stranger foods without complaint, but my favorite character was Mrs. Rome. The list of food she sampled between pages 97-99 is very impressive. It is no wonder she gained nine pounds on that trip!
Irony: the last chapter of Third Helpings is about Crescent City, Florida. I guess there used to be a big catfish festival along the St. John River. At the time I was finishing Third Helpings I was in Florida, not far from Crescent City.
Author fact: According to IMDB, Calvin Trillin is also an actor. What the what? He was in Sleepless in Seattle. Mind blown.
Book trivia: Third Helpings is the final book in the Tummy Trilogy, but Trillin has also written a memoir about his father and a few books about his wife, Alice. None of those books are on my Challenge list.
Playlist: “Oh Marie,” “Tell Me That You Love Me,” “The Streets of Laredo,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “Moon Over Miami,” and “Let’s Go To the Hop.”
Nancy said: Pearl called Trillin’s essays “treasures.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food for Thought” (p 91).
Trillin, Calvin. American Fried. New York: Noonday Press, 1983.
Reason read: March is Food Month
American Fried takes its readers from Kansas City (okay, mostly Kansas City) to New York to Louisiana and beyond on a culinary journey of “good eats” as Guy Fieri would say. Trillin approaches the subject of food and eating with humor and, dare I say, a little sarcasm? He takes a few jabs at the notion French cuisine is superior to all others. He is not one for “fine” dining and he is a man who takes his cream cheese seriously. Pardon the pun, but each essay is loaded like a baked potato: full of fun tidbits.
Not to point out the obvious but American Fried is a little dated. The price of a steak in the mid-1970s is drastically different than today.
As an aside: have you ever seen the show, “Somebody Feed Phil” on I-Forget-Which-Channel? At the end of each episode Phil Skypes with his family and shares a delicacy with them over the screen. Phil’s wife is great and while reading American Fried I wondered if Alice was anything like her.
As another aside, rugelach is Trillin’s favorite pastry. It’s very high on my list, too.
Line I liked, “Hallucinations people suffer when gripped by the fever of Hometown Food Nostalgia” (p 10-11).
Author fact: American Fried was first published as “Adventures of a Happy Eater” in 1974.
Book trivia: American Fried is the first book in the Tummy Trilogy. My edition of American Fried has a new foreword.
Nancy said: Pearl said Trillin “approaches food with humor and much gusto” and called the essays “a treasure” (Book Lust p 91).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food For Thought” (p 91). Interestingly enough, all three of Trillin’s books were left out of the index.
Bryson, Bill. Notes From a Small Island: an Affectionate Portrait of Britain. New york: Harper Perennial, 1997.
Reason read: Bill Bryson was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.
There is a definite pattern to Notes From a Small Island. Bryson travels across the British countryside in a haphazard way. Randomly taking trains, busses, ferries and even on foot, he wanders through towns checking into hotels and then checking out the sights all the while making comments as he goes. This book will make you release a stray snide giggle or two. You may even, heaven forbid, laugh or snort out loud. Honestly, at times you won’t be able to help yourself. Bryson is snarky and silly; at times absolutely hilarious. If you smile even just a little at this, “It really ought to be called the nice Little Gardens Destroyed By This Shopping Centre” you know what I mean. I think in British terms they would have called Bryson cheeky and maybe even a little snobbish about his views of architecture, country cuisine, and Wordsworth, just to name a few. (Why he has such a problem with Wordsworth I’m not sure.) He does love the region although at times it is hard to tell. Eventually, the reader will start to realize Bryson’s humor often comes at the expense of somewhere or someone. As an aside, people thought my ex-boyfriend was terribly funny until they realized he was just being terrible. Bryson is the same way.
Quotes I found especially funny, “He’ll make a face like someone who’s taken a cricket ball in the scrotum but doesn’t want to appear wimpy because his girlfriend is watching…”
Author fact: I find Bill Bryson so be so worldly in character that for some odd reason the fact he is from Iowa amazes me.
Book trivia: Notes From a Small Island was made into a television series in 1999. It had six episodes and only lasted one season.
Nancy said: Pearl said Notes From a Small Island would be “the single best book I know of to give someone who is depressed…” (More Book Lust p 36-37)
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Bill Bryson: Too Good To Miss” (p 36).
This March will mark my eighth time running the St. Patrick’s Day Road Race. When I lived in town I would watch the runners race by, seemingly effortlessly. I could spy on them from my third floor apartment; while I sipped coffee I wondered what it would be like to able to run six miles
knowing believing I couldn’t run a single one. Look at me now, Dad.
Here are the books I’m reading for the month of March:
- Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear – in honor of International Women’s month and to check off a category from the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge list (a cozy mystery).
- Miss Mole by E.H. Young – in honor of Young’s birth month.
- The Calligrapher by Edward Docx – in honor of March is Action Hero month.
- On the Night Plain by J. Robert Lennon – in honor of Yellowstone National Park.
- Pandora’s Star by Peter Hamilton – in honor of sci-fi month.
- All Elevations Unknown: an Adventure into the Heart of Borneo by Sam Lightner, Jr. – in honor of the first time Mount Kinabu was ascended (March 1851).
- Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horwitz – in memory of the March 2003 bombing of Baghdad.
- Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland – to continue the series started in January in honor something I can’t remember.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- The 21: A Journey into the Land of the Coptic Martyrs by Martin Mosebach (started in February).
What to tell you? I spent February in a tailspin of old memories. To blame it on one singular event would be too simplistic. As they say, it’s complicated. Very. In other news I have been running! Successfully, I might add. February saw 40 miles conquered. Here are the books planned and completed:
- Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez (EB & print).
- Little Havana Blues edited by Julia Poey and Virgil Suarez (EB & print).
- The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber (EB, AB & print).
- The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (EB & print).
- All Deliberate Speed: reflections on the first half century of Brown v. Board of Education by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr (EB & print).
- Barrow’s Boys by Fergus Fleming (EB & print).
- Rome and a Villa by Eleanor Clark (EB & print).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- The 21: a journey into the land of the Coptic martyrs by Martin Mosebach (just started reading).
Leisure (print only):
- Migrations: Open Hearts, Open Borders: The Power of Human Migration and the Way That Walls and Bans Are No Match for Bravery and Hope by ICPBS.
- Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock.
- Morning Star by Nick Bantock.
- The Museum at Purgatory by Nick Bantock.
- Alexandria by Nick Bantock.
- The Gryphon by Nick Bantock.
Clark, Eleanor. Rome and a Villa. New York: Atheneum, 1962.
Reason read: Eleanor Clark died in the month of February. Read in her memory.
Even though the last time Clark visited Rome the year was 1974, you cannot help but daydream of traveling to the ancient city when you read Rome and a Villa. I started a mental checklist of everything I hoped to see, should I get there myself: the 124 steps of Santa Mana Aracoeli beside the Campidoglio, feral cats scattering in the rain, the Piazza Vittorio, the famous Trevi Fountain which was funded with a second tax on wine, and capable of moving 80,000 cubic meters of water per day.
Clark even opened my eyes to the Roman influences here in the United States: Penn Station in New York City; how it was designed with the Baths of Caracalle in mind.
Beyond architecture and tourist draws, Clark paints pictures of influential individuals like Julius Caesar and Hadrian. She meanders with her narrative and is sometimes difficult to follow, but worth it if you can stick with her.
Author fact: Clark was a native of Connecticut, right down the road from me. Her dust jacket photograph reminds me of a great-aunt I used to know.
Book trivia: Rome and a Villa was illustrated by Eugene Berman. They’re pretty spectacular.
Nancy said: Pearl said Rome and a Villa is for the traveler. I think it would be interesting to reread Rome and a Villa after a trip to Rome, just to compare notes.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Roman Holiday” (p 188).
December was the whirlwind it always is. Exams, hiring, and personnel evaluations at work. Christmas cards and wrapping gifts at home. Celebrations with families and friends. The bestie and I had a great time on the last weekend before Christmas shopping. Yes, you read that correctly. We braved the stores on the Sunday before Christmas and had a blast. Kisa and I traveled to South Deerfield, Peaks Island, and Rockland for the holidays. Rockland was an unexpected twist, but it gave us more time with the mom. I didn’t get to all the books on my list. I couldn’t get a hold of the Seuss book to save my life. I should have known better. And, I wasn’t in the mood for Milne. Imagine that. The November Early Review never arrived. No big surprise there. That makes three for the year that didn’t show up. Here are the other books:
Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia
Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
Long Way from Home by Connie Briscoe
Art of Travel by Alain De Botton (AB)
Before the Deluge: a portrait of Berlin in the 1920s by Otto Friedrich
People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons
Saddest Pleasure: a journey on two rivers by Moritz Thomsen
Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (AB)
The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset
Without Fail by Lee Child
Thomsen, Moritz. The Saddest Pleasure: a Journey on Two Rivers. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Greywolf Press, 1990.
Reason read: In honor of Brazil’s first emperor. His coronation was on December 1st, 1822.
When we catch up to Martin Moritz Thomsen Titus in The Saddest Pleasure he is now sixty-three years old. Depending on which review you read, Thomsen either was asked to leave the Ecuadorian farm he co-owned with partner, Ramon, or he just up and left. Either way, in the beginning of The Saddest Pleasure he sets out to travel to Amazonian Brazil via two rivers. Along his journey he tries to reconcile difficult memories of a contentious relationship with his father, while wrangling with the effects of aging and mourning the loss of the farm he shared with Ramon. He seems sarcastically obsessed with being a farmer and very reluctant to admit he is a writer because farming seems the more noble profession. In fact, in my opinion, the entire book is more of a look back at the should haves, could haves, and would haves of his life. A lot of cantankerous regret is interspersed in the memory. He calls travel the saddest pleasure, but I would say the saddest pleasure was reading this book.
Line I loved, “I have lived too long with poor people to sit now in the middle of all this jewelry and the electronic crapola and the whores and the gangsters who want to own it, eating overpriced food, listening for eight hours straight to Muzak’s plastic masturbatory music not to feel a profound disorientation” (p 21).
Here’s another, “Starved for protein, crippled by malnutrition, they have lost about 20% of their intelligence” (p 84).
Author fact: Thomsen lived another ten years after The Saddest Pleasure. I surely hope he found happiness in that remaining time.
Book trivia: Some view The Saddest Pleasure as the completion to a trilogy about Moritz’s time in the Peace Corps. Living Poor was considered book one (also on my Challenge list), and Farm on the River of Emeralds was book two. Another interesting fact about The Saddest Pleasure is that it won the 1991 Governor’s Writers Award.
As an aside, my copy of Saddest Pleasure has an amazing cover illustrated by Alfredo Arreguin.
Nancy said: Pearl said she found Thomsen’s memoir “to be utterly enthralling” (Book Lust To Go p 43). She then went on to take up considerable real estate in the chapter quoting The Saddest Pleasure, as she admits, “the book is filled with quotable lines” (p 44). Yes, yes it is.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter simply called “Brazil” (p 43).
de Botton, Alain. The Art of Travel. Narrated by Steven Crossley. Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2002.
Reason read: Alin de Botton was born in December. Read in his honor.
Travel isn’t always what it is cracked up to be. There is something about planning a trip that is inherently more delicious than actually taking the journey. Then afterwards when you get home, you find the time away did not live up to the expectation of all the planning. Alain de Botton invites you to travel in a way you have never considered before. When you finally arrive at your destination, he welcomes you to closely inspect your surroundings in ways you didn’t know you could or should; to see beyond merely looking. Upon reading Art of Travel he makes you want to stand in the spot where van Gogh’s little yellow house used to stand in Arles, France; where you’ll find yourself a little sad it was destroyed in World War II. I could go on and on with other examples, but I think it’s best to read the book.
Author fact: Alain de Botton is a philosopher so of course his book, The Art of Travel is going to get deep. If you ever get a chance, look Alain up on YouTube. His Day III video on the art of travel is hysterical in a panic-attack kind of way.
Book trivia: The illustrations and photographs in Art of Travel are stunning.
Nancy said: Pearl said The Art of Travel is an example of “delightful writing with lots of observations to mull over” (Book Lust To Go p 260).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Where in the World Do These Books Belong?” (p 260).
December started with an overnight to New York City. This is going to sound strange coming from a girl from a small town in Maine, but I love, love, love the Big Apple. I love the grit and congestion. I love all the food choices (pizza!). Of course I also love the fact I can leave it!
We were there to see Natalie Merchant receive the John Lennon Real Love Award at Symphony Space. A fantastic night! Since we rattled down to the city via rails I was able to get a lot of reading done. Here is the proposed plan for the rest of the month:
- The Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia (EB) – in honor of December being the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “best month to travel to. [location” books but I guess not.
- A Long Way From Home by Connie Briscoe (EB) – in honor of Briscoe’s birth month being in December.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – for Christmas.
- Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – in honor of the month Eeyore was born.
- A People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons (P) – in honor of the history of the Constitution. Yes, I know I read this some years ago, but I can’t find the review anywhere, so I am reading it again.
- The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton (EB) – in honor of de Botton’s birth month being in December.
- A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (EB) – in honor of Bryson’s borth month being in December.
- Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich (EB)- in honor of Berlin’s Tattoo Festival which takes place in December every year.
- Saddest Pleasure by Moritz Thomsen – in honor of Brazil’s first emperor.
- Without Fail by Lee Child (EB) – started in July.
- The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset (EB) – started in October.
I wanted to rename November Nope the second I published it. I don’t know why I always have a pessimistic view of the month before it has even started. I think I need an attitude adjustment! For starters, I finished the books I set out to read for the month:
- The Sporting Club by Thomas McGuane.
- The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak.
- Four Corners by Kira Salak.
- Israel is Real by Rich Cohen.
- Silverland by Dervla Murphy.
- Master of Hestviken: the Snake Pit by Sigrid Undset.
- Echo Burning by Lee Child.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Teaching Empathy by Suzanna Henshon, PhD.
Murphy, Dervla. Silverland: a Winter Journey Beyond the Urals. London: John Murray, 2006.
Reason read: Murphy was born in the month of November. Read in her honor.
Silverland is a well detailed account of Dervla Murphy’s slow train trip across the barren Russian landscape via BAM, the Baikal-Amur Mainline. When I say slow, I mean slow. Like 20 miles an hour slow. She prefered it this way. As she traveled she recounted the history and statistics of BAM, mourning the loss of Siberian and Ewenki cultures, stoically observed societal norms (the tragedy of “vodka orphans” strikes a chord), and waxed about political change; all the while struggling to communicate with the people she met. The language barrier sometimes prevented her from embarking on heavy and/or controversial debates or more importantly, finding out the location of her beloved bicycle, Pushkin. She is very knowledgeable about the country’s history and could hold her own throughout her extensive travels.
My favorite parts of Silverland occurred when Murphy painted a romantic image of the Siberian countryside. For example, as she rides the rails she observes steam from hot springs meeting a shaft of sunlight and pronounces the region, “a magical silverland” (p 63).
Murphy is also a humorist, affectionately referring to her overburdened suitcase as “Dog” and “Pushkin” is her bicycle. I do the same thing.
I am always pleased when a book urges me to learn more. I admit I did not know what the word ‘fubsy’ meant. Nor had I heard of the Baikal-Amur Mainline before reading Silverland. My favorite new knowledge was that of Tynde’s “pear custom.” They give a departing guest one half of a pear, urging the guest to come back to eat the other half. We on Monhegan give flowers to departing guests. If the flowers wash ashore, the guest will also return.
Quotations to quote, “I am not so far out of my tree to advocate for the elimination of motor vehicles” (p 52) and “…dawn is the best time to arrive in an unknown city” (p 87).
Author fact: Murphy was born in Ireland. A more interesting fact I learned after reading Silverland is Murphy had three granddaughters and eight pets at the time she embarked on the Siberian journey.
Book trivia: Silverland has a great set of black and white photographs.
Nancy said: Pearl nothing specific about Silverland. She did mention this was Murphy’s second trip to the region.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Siberian Chills” (p 205).
Salak, Kira. Four Corners: Into the Heart of New Guinea: One Woman’s Solo Journey.
Salak, Kira. Four Corners: One Woman’s Solo Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2001.
Reason read: November is supposedly a really good time to visit Papua New Guinea, if you enjoy that kind of dangerous travel.
Confessional: I started reading the uncorrected proof of this memoir before receiving the published version.
There is no doubt Kira Salak is a strong woman. As an eleven year old kid her father taught her how to handle a gun. She remembers her father encouraging his young daughter to aim between the eyes. All her life Kira considered herself tough, wanting to be a soldier, a warrior of Green Beret quality. For all of her courage, time and time again while reading Four Corners I was struck dumb by her seat-of-her-pants travel style in Papua New Guinea. Salak travels beyond the outer reaches of civilization because she has an inexplicable calling to do so. It seems incredulous one could be so naive about everything, including basic survival skills for the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Salak goes into the region without a clear plan or even a way to support herself should the missionaries and locals refuse to ensure her safe passage regardless of the money and/or gifts she has to offer. She’s a creative writing student with no concrete connection to why she is there. Other reviewers of Four Corners called Salak “lucky.” She is that and then some!
I love it when a book makes me curious about other things. After reading Four Corners I had to research Well’s morlocks and Christian’s mutineers.
Quotes I had to quote, “Sometimes our lives are chosen for us, and we have about as much control over the matter as we do the situation we’re born into” (p 13), “Living is nothing but an attempt to champion the choice you’ve made” (p 148), “I am looking at hate, a hate so deep it’s palpable” (p 168).
Author fact: Salak has her own website and the photos I was hoping to see in Four Corners can be found here.
Book trivia: I was hoping for pictures (since the cover is so interesting) but none were included. See comment above.
Nancy said: Pearl had a different title for this book, Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea. Pearl also said “for a goodly dash of [great beauty and danger] try Four Corners (Book Lust To Go p 150).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the super simple chapter called New Guinea (p 150).