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).
I don’t have writer’s block. I have writer’s apathy. I have nothing to say. Here are the books already underway for November:
- The Sporting Club by Thomas McGuane – in honor of the Mackinac bridge being built in November of 1957.
- The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak – I needed an author with my same initials for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.
- Four Corners: a Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea by Kira Salak – in honor of November being a decent time to visit PNG…if you are into that sort of thing.
- Israel is Real: an Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History by Rich Cohen – in recognition of Resolution 181.
- Silverland: a Winter Journey Beyond the Urals by Dervla Murphy – in honor of Murphy’s birth month.
- Master of Hestviken: the Snake Pit by Sigrid Undset – to continue the series started in October. I needed a translated book written by a woman. Voila!
- Echo Burning by Lee Child – to continue the series started in July in honor of New York becoming a state.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Teaching Empathy: Strategies for Building Emotional Intelligence in Today’s Children by Suzanna Hershon, PhD.
I don’t even know where to begin with September. It was the month from hell in more ways than one. The only good news is that I was able to run twice as many miles as last month. That counts for something as it saves my sanity just a little bit more than if I didn’t do anything at all.
Here are the books:
- In the City of Fear by Ward Just
- Jim, The Boy by Tony Earley
- The Shining by Stephen King
- Thank You and OK! by David Chadwick
- Foreign Correspondence by Geraldine Brooks
- Ayatollah Begs to Differ by Madj Hoomin
- Agony and Ecstasy by Irving Stone
- Tripwire by Lee Child
- Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- My Life on the Line by Ryan O’Callaghan
Chadwick, David. Thank You and OK!: An American Zen Failure in Japan. New York: Penguin/Arkana, 1994.
Reason read: Japan celebrates Respect for the Aged Day on September 18th.
I love how Chadwick opens his preface. It all starts with not getting a calendar for Christmas one year and feeling lost come New Year’s day. In that case, why not go to Japan? In truth, Chadwick had been studying the Zen life since the 60s. He went back to Japan in the mid 80s to reestablish his training.
Thank You and OK! covers a four year period in Texan Chadwick’s life and there are two threads to his story: his stay at Hogoji monastery and his life with his second wife Elin in modern Japan. As an aside, one needs to pay attention to dates to orientate oneself to each story but it isn’t hard to do.
My biggest take-away from reading Thank You and OK! is just how different are the details when the bigger picture is the same. What I mean by that is Japan and the United States both have vending machines, but you can buy hot sake out of one in Japan. Japan and the United States both have weird insects, but in Japan their centipedes are over a foot long and are poisonous. Counting the months of pregnancy even differ. In the States we start with zero. In Japan they start with one. That’s oversimplifying the case, but you get the idea.
Lines to make me nod, “I’ve always been hesitant to get physical with insects” (p 12), “we didn’t talk while we ate but everybody slurped the bejeezus out of the noodles” (p 49), and “I can never control what I say anyway, things just come out” (p 52).
Unrelated fact I did not know before reading Thank You and OK!: the author of the song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” committed suicide.
As an aside, I wonder how many people picked up the tip about asking for directions to an imaginary place as a way of checking out the scene without paying for it and tried it for themselves?
Author fact: Chadwick is a self professed Texas-raised wanderer, college dropout, bumbling social activist and hobbyhorse musician.
Book trivia: no fun photographs of Japan. Bummer.
Nancy said: Pearl indicated Thank You and OK! was one of the best gaijin accounts.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Japanese Journeys” (p 118).
Madj, Hooman. The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: the Paradox of Modern Iran. New York: Anchor Books, 2008.
Reason read: the Iran-Iraq War of 1980.
Iran, a land of contradictions and gross misunderstanding. Madj shares historical facts and personal reflections revealing a side of Iran and Iranians few westerners get to see. Does he want to clear up misconceptions? He understands there is a widespread lack of thoughtful acceptance of middle eastern culture. The United States especially is not on solid ground with their relationship is an understatement. The two sides are polarizing when there is so much more to understand. How can westerners reconcile dead camels on display, their throats slit for religious sacrifice? Other illogical points to consider: Birth records in Iran were instituted in 1930. Also, the chador was illegal for women to wear in the 1930s. Interestingly enough, the Shah was persuaded not to enforce this law until it was finally changed in 1941. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 promised to do away with class. Even the employees of the President dress the same as the man who poured their tea. In contrast, Madj says “When American…politicians may often come from ordinary backgrounds their lifestyles usually change dramatically when they have reached the pinnacle of power, they are long removed from their more humble roots” (p 17). This doesn’t happen in Iran.
Madj sits comfortably in a dual cultural identity, western (educated in both England and the United States) and middle eastern as the son of an Iranian diplomat and the grandson of a professor of Islamic philosophy. It’s as if he wants us to understand him as much as he wants to explain Iranian culture. Take the practice of ta’arouf, for example. He recognizes that it is an exhausting and sometime ridiculous practice similar to an over-polite chess match. Or customary gestures of hello: in the United States you thrust out your right hand to grasp someone else’s right hand (and shake vigorously), but in Iran you instead place your right hand over your heart as a gesture of respect. It’s the little things…
Quote that struck me, “Just as one doesn’t have to be religious to feel and appreciate the emotion of a gospel signer, one doesn’t have to be devout to feel the emotion of Muslim religious music, and Shia chants reach into a place deep in the Iranian soul, formed by centuries of cultural DNA and the certain Persian knowledge that the world is indeed a wicked place” (p 87).
Author fact: Madj is a writer of short fiction and has his own website here.
Book trivia: Majd includes some really great color photographs.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about The Ayatollah Begs to Differ.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Iran” (p 108).