Italian Days

Harrison, Barbara Grizzuti. Italian Days. Worldenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.

Reason read: there once was talk of going to Italy in September or October. Read in memory of that aborted excursion. Also, some people celebrate Italian Heritage Month in October. Read in the offchance that is a thing.

From the very first few pages I knew I was going to enjoy Italian Days. Harrison is funny, witty, smart, and even a little sarcastic at times. She peppers her prose with interesting personal annectdotes about her connections to Italy. Sometimes it is about motherhood or her marriage. She comes alive when writing about her daughter Anna. Other times she talks of old lovers and new friends with such a sensuality there is an undertone of sexuality to her confessions, as if to say “I know I am beautiful. What of it?”
Harrison’s observations about Italian people and places are spot on. She has a running commentary on everything from feminism in Milan to artificial insemination by an unknown donor. She enjoys movies and references them from time to time.
It is obvious Harrison has an appreciation for the words of others who have written so beautifully about Italy’s charms. There are lots of quotes from Stendhal, Ruskin, George Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, and Henry James, but mostly Italian Days is a thoughtful blender concoction of cultural, spiritual, historical, and personal observations. Art, science, food, family, architecture, memories, religion, philosophy, and society swirl on every page. You’ll pick up a little Italian in the process. My favorite phrase was “qui sono felice” or “Here I am happy.”
Interesting that Piazzare Loreto bears no recognition of Mussolini’s demise.
As an aside, since Italian Days was published in 1989 I have to wonder if Milan is still as dependent on America as some seemed to think.
Thanks to Harrison’s descriptions of Italy there are a few places I would like to go: the church of Santa Maria Sacravia with its basalt stones; Rome, the city of Saints Peter and Paul (does anyone else think of Josh Ritter’s “Girl in the War” when hearing those names?); the Capuchin Cemetery to “cultivate a taste for the memento mori” (p 300). I now want to see the statue of David just to see his curiously small…ears.

As an another aside, remind me never to try the chocolate panforte – Harrison’s description of it sounds absolutely awful. Who would want to eat a spongy rock impregnated with gravel? On the other hand, when I go to Italy I want to try every flavor of gelati and I want to find the final resting place of Patrician Cecilia, the virgin patron saint of music and musicians. Supposedly, she is buried in a catacomb on the Appian Way.

Favorite lines: First, this is the one that made me laugh, “I have never but once had the occasion to threaten to knock someone’s pearls down her throat” (p 5). Then came, “It is very hard to be charming in a foreign language” (p 13), and “I have always wanted to live in an enclosed world, but when I did, I wanted to get out” (p 348). Spoken like a true cat. Meow.

Author fact: Everyone has their “thing” that makes them nervous. It was interesting to learn Harrison does not like masks or puppets.

Book trivia: there is a nice section of black and white photographs.

Setlist: Bach, Prince, Ben Webster, Ethel Merman, Mario Lanza, Tina Turner, Mozart, Vivaldi, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, “Once There Were Three Marys”, “Amapola, My Pretty Little Poppy”, “O Sole Mio”, “Arriverderci Roma”, “Be Silent Mortal Flesh”, “Edelwiess Forever”, Frank Sinatra’s “New York”, “Agnis Dei”, “Puff the Magic Dragon”, “If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus”, “Day is Done”, “Little Boxes”, “Love Walked In”, “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild”, “Jesus is My Friend”, “Tea for Two”, “Ave Maria”,

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Italian Days other than to outline what the book is about.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ciao, Italia” (p 46).

Chasing Che

Symmes, Patrick. Chasing Che: a Motocycle Journey in Seach of the Guevara Legend. Vintage Departures, 2000.

Reason read: celebrating the last full month Che Guevara was alive (he died in early October 1967).

There is so much mystery surrounding the life and times of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. His 1952 road trip from Argentina through Chile and up to Bolivia somehow changed him in radical ways. Patrick Symmes wanted to know more about that fateful trip, so why not trace Che’s footsteps and take the same exact journey? Che was on a motorcycle. Symmes would be on a motorcycle. Symmes drew not only from Guevara’s memoir, Notas de Viaje, as his guide, he was fortunate to have the road diaries of Guevara’s traveling companion, Alberto Granado, as well. [As an aside, often times, Notas de Viaje and Testimony: With El Che Across South America would contradict one another. I found it interesting that, more often than not, Symmes tended to believe Guevara over Granado.] Many people will be inspired to retrace the journey of someone else; to follow in their geographic footsteps, but Symmes takes his adventure to another level, searching out the exact places and people Che met along the way. His motto was “Be Like Che.” Would these same people remember the vibrant and charismatic young man? What could Symmes learn from them? By doing this, Symmes was able to meet with remarkable individuals, like Che’s former girlfriend who could not talk about Ernesto, the lover; Douglas Thompkins, the millionaire who bought up Patagonian land to preserve an ancient way of life; and even everyday people who kept Symmes rolling through the miles and navigating the harsh South American landscape. Symmes learned to tolerate drinking yerba mate and having discussions about Nazis in Argentina. He suffered dog bites, cracked ribs, barbed wire, and road spills. Most importantly, Symmes was able to be like Che. When Che mooches off individuals Symmes is able to apply the same tactics with somewhat similar success. The result of Chasing Che is more than a memoir and a travelogue, it is a love letter to one of the most influential people of the twentieth century.

Author fact: Symmes has his own website.

Book trivia: I wish there had been photographs.

Setlist of sorts: “Happy Birthday”, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and Rage Against the Machine.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Chasing Che.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “In the Footsteps Of…” (p 100).

Wanderlost

Patton, Natalie Toon. Wanderlost: Falling From Grace and Finding Mercy in All the Wrong Places. Paraclete Press, 2022.

Reason read: As a reviewer for LibraryThing’s Early Review Program, I was chosen to read Wanderlost.

Confessional number one: I couldn’t help but think of Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love the entire time I was reading Wanderlost. In a nutshell: Woman goes through difficult divorce. In order to heal she needs a spiritual overhaul and so travels as far away from her American life as her wallet can handle. Woman finds love and comes to find home in her heart. The end. Both women are funny and a tiny bit scandalous. Both have a deep understanding of religion, history and culture. Both develop friendships and relationships which sustain them and even mature them. One might complain about the heavy emphasis of religion in Wanderlost, but all signs point to this being about faith, losing and gaining it: the church on the cover, the religious publishing company that made Wanderlost possible, and Toon’s own description of the book, “once-golden girl finds herself kicked out of church…” From all of these clues one might perceive a religious theme. Confession number two: when Patton dives into the subject of religion, her tone turns didactic. she loses the personal (and humorous) voice and becomes a lecturer.

Confessional: because I am not deeply religious, I couldn’t understand why Patton’s mom could get a divorce and not be rejected by her church. Dad smoked pot before it was acceptably legal. How did Natalie’s church of choice not care about these transgressions?
Another confessional: I couldn’t decide if I liked the use of brand names. While it lent an authenticity to time and place, it alienated me when I wasn’t familiar with the product.

Author fact: Patton has a cat named Genghis Khan, according to the back cover of Wanderlost.

Book trivia: every chapter is a title of a song but not every song gets credit.

Playlist: “Amazing Grace”, Bad Company, the Beatles’ “Let It Be”, Brandi Carlile’s “the Story”, Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself”, Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”, Cat Steven’s “Moon Shadow” and “Morning Has Broken”, “C’est La Vie”, “Don’t Stop Believin'”, “Daylight and Darkness”, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five”, Emmy Lou Harris, Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind”, “Fairest Lord Jesus”, Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days are Over”, Gilberto Gil, Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain”, AURORA’s “Into the Unknown”, Hootie’s “Hold My Hand”, “Hark! The Heralds Sing”, “I Came to the Garden Alone”, “In a World of My won”, “Jingle Bells”, Joni Mitchell’s “River”, John Denver’s “Country Roads”, Marisa Monte, “Mary Did You Know?”, Nora Jones’s “Don’t Know Why”, “On the Road Again”, Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, “Roll another Number”, “Strangers in the Night”, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, Tom Jobin, U2, “Wayfaring Stranger”, and “Who’ll Stop the Rain”,

Angry Wind

Tayler, Jeffrey. Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel. Houghton Mifflin Co., 2005.

Reason read: so this is a stretch, but there is a sand castle building competition during the month of June somewhere in the world. I can’t remember why I know that. Sand is needed to build a castle and there is a lot of sand in Angry Wind.

I am always reading about the journeys of foreigners deliberately visiting war zones because, as they say, they’ve “always wanted to visit the area”. Never mind that the country in question is under rebel attack or that the natives hate “you people”. With the help of drivers, translators, and fixers, these fearless authors describe how they reluctantly hand over bribes along with precious passports, visas, and other important documents as if they trained a lifetime for such a vulnerable event. I am always reading from the perspective of the cavalier authors who have to wait for permissions to be granted, roadblocks and barriers to be cleared, bribes to be bestowed upon the greedy; all to be allowed safe passage. These people who somehow just know things will work out in their favor. I am never on the other side where the viewpoint is of the bandit, the enemy, or the political bigwig with all the power and hatred to let a traveler pass. However, I thoroughly Tayler’s description of getting past these same people. Some of the episodes are funny. As an aside, I loved the white-out people. Dab, dab, dab.
Tayler has a keen eye for society, no matter how archaic. The tradition of slavery: the Bellas being captive but not. Female circumcision as a tradition of misconception that cannot be logically argued away. The varying cultures make everyone suspicious of one another. I was relived when Tayler recognized he couldn’t change these cultures, but he argued against them just the same.
Confessional: an army of people helped Tayler cross five countries. I was pleased when he recognized all the people who had helped him as kind and generous.

Book travesty – someone decided to mark up a library copy of Angry Wind. I get the impression this person didn’t like Tayler’s opinion of Bush, especially when describing how the President came into power by force and manipulation. The notations are almost like a one-sided conversation, daring Tayler to say more. He or she actually calls Tayler a nitwit at one point! The more the writing went on, the more taunting the scribbler became.

Lines I liked, “My barren eschatological speculations left me with no hope of…” and “But the desert is really about….”. Oops. I don’t have permission to quote these remarkable lines. I take them back.

Author fact: Tayler also wrote Facing the Congo, River of No Reprieve, Glory in a Camel’s Eye, and Murderers in Mausoleums. All of these books are on my Challenge list. And! And. And, I just have to say, when I first saw Tayler’s author photo I thought I was looking at Simon Cowell.

Book trivia: I was hoping for some photographs….

Playlist: Stevei Wonder, “Silent night”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “Feelings”, and “Hey, Jude”.

Nancy said: Pearl said Angry Wind is “a thoughtful description” and Tayler writing is powerful, fluent, and meaningful.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “The Sahara: Sand Between Your Toes” (p 192). As an aside, I don’t always make mention of this, but Angry Wind is the first book I am reading for this chapter.

Roads to Santiago

Nooteboom, Cees. Roads to Santiago: a Modern-Day Pilgrimage Through Spain. Translated by Ina Rilke. Harcourt Press, 1992.

Reason read: there is a festival in Madrid in May.

Prepared to be swept away by Nooteboom’s luxurious descriptions of Spain. Everything seen through his lens is treated with lavish prose. I could see the styles of Roman and Gothic architecture as if I were standing in front of each structure. Renaissance and Baroque art come to life with vivid reality. I now want to visit the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela with its pillars marked with fingerprints. While Nooteboom subtitles his book “a modern-day pilgrimage” we look in on the 8th century in a time of Beatus, King Silo, and the Carolingian Empire. Nooteboom draws parallels between Antigone of Sophocles and the Spanish state after Euzkadi ta Askatsuna targeted violence. We dance between historical and modern Spain with personal anecdotes thrown in for good measure. Aside from the beautiful writing, Nooteboom included stunning black and white photographs. Too bad they are not in color.
Sadly, I cannot quote anything from Roads to Santiago without contacting the authorities first. I don’t have time for that.

After reading Picasso’s War it seems impossible that some people would long for the days of Francisco Franco.
As an aside, I always like drawing comparisons to Natalie Merchant. Any mention of Andalusia or Majorca make me think of her music as she has songs about both.

Author fact: Nooteboom has written a great deal over the years. I am only reading Roads to Santiago for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Is there a different subtitle? I must be reading a different edition. From Book Lust To Go it should be “Detours and Riddles in the Lands of History of Spain” and not “A Modern-Day Pilgrimage Through Spain.”

Playlist: Handel’s “The Messiah”.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Roads to Santiago.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the incredibly simple chapter called “Spain” (p 220).

From Mumbai to Mecca

Trojanow, Ilija. From Mumbai to Mecca. Translated by Rebecca Morrison. Armchair Traveller, 2007.

Reason read: May was the month I used to walk sixty miles for a grassroots nonprofit to raise money for cancer research and holistic patient care. Read Mumbai to Mecca to remember the journey.

Those of us curious about what happens during a Hajj, the pilgrimage to the holy sites of Islam, can be thankful Trojanow made the journey. He writes with such beauty and grace, it is easy to get caught up in his descriptive words. Take the ritual of wazu, for example. There is a precise way to wash before any kind of prayer. At the end of the complicated process, one is supposed to feel calm, as if in a meditative state before prayer. I felt almost zen-like just reading about the process. I enjoyed learning about the Mumbai tea ceremonies and had a good laugh when Trojanow lost his sandals after a prayer session. Like any good travelogue, there is a decent mix of historical and personal.

As an aside, okay, I admit it. as I read about Trojanow losing his sandals, I was thinking of the episode when Carrie lost her $400 shoes when she attended a no-footwear party for a friend.

Favorite lines: It is too bad I need to seek permission to quote anything from Mumbai to Mecca because Trojanow is witty and lyrical, all at the same time. There were dozens of lines I liked and half a dozen more I would have shared here.

Author fact: Trojanow is a German citizen and I am reading two other books by him.

Book trivia: in Book Lust To Go Ilija Trojanow’s book is cataloged as having a subtitle: A Pilgrimage to the Holy Sites of Islam. My copy doesn’t have the subtitle and depending where you look, inside cover or spine, the title is either From Mumbai to Mecca or just Mumbai to Mecca.

Nancy said: Pearl said From Mumbai to Mecca is bound to be a classic.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “A is for Adventure” (p 3).

Travels in a Thin Country

Wheeler, Sara. Travels in a Thin Country: Journey Through Chile. Modern Library, 1994.

Reason read: Chile’s independence was gained in April 1818. Although the official date of celebration is September 18th every year. Note: I could have started this earlier because Wheeler’s birthday is in March.

I think our desire for travel can be summed up by one of Wheeler’s first sentences in Travels in a Thin Country, “Our collective ignorance appealed to my curiosity” (p 3). It’s the reason most of us want to travel, to abolish an innate ignorance of the world around us. I admired Wheeler’s bravery for jumping into a journey down Chile’s entire length, all the way to the Antarctica end, without a solid plan in place. Her travel is motivated mostly by the seat of her pants and held up by the kindness of strangers. Interwoven in the adventure is a strong sense of political and cultural history of the region. I wanted photography to back up Wheeler’s gorgeous descriptions of the people and landscapes she traveled through. On a personal note, I found it vaguely romantic that Wheeler tried to travel in a jeep for nearly her entire journey. Her trusted loyalty to Jeep could have been a commercial.

As an aside, I had to look up where in New York Southampton is located even though I had a grandmother who lived on Long Island. Because Wheeler said upstate New York she had me doubting my geography. How sad is that?

Favorite lines, “we rubbed our favorite arguments threadbare” (p 189) and “there were two men in the bar, drunk beyond all sense of time and place” (p 261).

Author fact: I’m sorry that I looked up Wheeler on the web. I found several sites that made mention of the abuse she allegedly suffered at the hands of her husband all because she admitted she had an affair. For me, that painted an unfair picture of Ms. Wheeler. Unfair, because the entire time I was reading Travels in a Thin Country, as she was describing the travels to different places with different men, sharing jeep rides and tents, I had to wonder if she was sleeping with them along the way. As the pages went on, I couldn’t help but notice that most of her traveling companions were men even if women were in the picture.

Book trivia: Travels in the Thin Country is Wheeler’s second nonfiction. I am also reading Terra Incognito, Too Close to the Sun, and An Island Apart for the Challenge.

Playlist: Ry Cooder, Edith Piaf, Fine Young Cannibals, Pink Floyd, Violetta Parra, Beethoven, Claudio Arrau, Talking Head’s “We’re on the Road to Nowhere,” “Jingle Bells,” “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music,” “Bach’s St. Matthew Passion,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and “Take Heart, Joe, My Love,”

Nancy said: Pearl called Travels in a Thin Country a treat and the best travel account she could find of Chile.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “It’s Chile Today” (p 144).

Everything but the Squeal

Barlow, John. Everything but the Squeal: Eating the Whole Hog in Northern Spain. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

Reason read: March is food month.

The challenge for John Barlow in Everything But the Squeal is to consume every single part of the pig from tail to snout and everything in between; a veritable “porco-graphic tour” as John states. He faces every consumption with humor and more than a little snarky defensiveness, “when they’re starving , pigs will occasionally eat eat other, but so do we when our airplanes crash in inhospitable places” (p 21). This is also a travelogue as John has promised to eat the pig geographically as well, “in situ” as he put it.
More than a travelogue about eating pork, Everything But the Squeal is a memoir about marriage and family. What more tolerant vegetarian wife would tote their newborn son around northern Spain while her husband goes on a quest to devour an entire pig? But wait, there is more. Everything but the Squeal is historical, describing the past cultures of the Galacian people. It’s an abbreviate biography of Manuel Fraga (Minister of Tourism in 1962 and founder of the Popular Party in the 1980s). It’s even a love letter to his son. The direct comments he makes to Nico are endearing.
Here is how a documentary can ruin your eating habits. After watching “My Octopus Teacher” I no longer can stomach seeing any cephalopod on a menu. Here’s how words can ruin your eating habits. I won’t eat Slim Jims because I do not understand what “mechanically separate chicken parts” means. Thanks to Everything But the Squeal I now have to be on the lookout for MRM – mechanically recovered meat… um…whatever that means…and I won’t even describe the pig slaughter scene.
A byproduct of reading Everything But the Squeal was a slow picking up of tidbits of the language. I learned that morrina means a profound longing for the native land; something that is more powerful than a teenager at boarding school suffering from homesickness.
As another aside, I think I want to try my hand at making Galacian Red Sauce. I am sure there is more to it than evoo, paprika, garlic, onion, bay leaves and lemon, but you had me a paprika and sold me on lemon. As another aside, I don’t think I have ever been confronted with the description of offal as often as I have this month.

Quotes to quote, “The delights of home are never stronger than when you’re not there” (p 93). Obvo.

Author fact: Barlow has written other books. Everything but the Squeal is the only one on my Challenge lust.

Book trivia: Barlow talks about taking pictures but doesn’t include them in the book.

Playlist: “Y.M.C.A.,” “Brazil,” Grateful Dead, Barbra Streisand, Julio Iglesias, and Jerry Garcia.

Nancy said: Pearl called Everything but the Squeal “mouthwatering” (Book Lust To Go p 219).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Spain” (p 218). Can’t get any simpler than that.

Eat Pray Love

Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. Viking, 2006.

Reason read: March is Women’s History Month. Celebrating Gilbert this time.

Does everyone picture Julia Roberts when they hear the words eat, love and pray in that order? I know I do. I haven’t even seen the movie and yet that is exactly what goes through my head. Admittedly, before I even started reading the book I had a preconceived notion of what the storyline would be: a woman of means takes a year off from her crash-and-burn American life to find herself in the beyond beautiful countries of Italy, India and Indonesia. She spends four months in Italy eating her way through the wine-soaked landscape. She spends another four months in India meditating and losing the weight she gained in pasta. After paying a bribe, she spends the last four months of her year away on the Indonesian island of Bali being courted by the culture and in the end, a man. A year of seemingly easy leisure produced Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. But. But! But, my cynicism ends there. Gilbert is a skilled storyteller. Even if my synopsis is pretty accurate, Eat, Pray, Love is a highly entertaining read. I enjoyed every second of it.

Author fact: I have two other Gilbert books on my challenge list: Stern Men and The Last American Man.

Book trivia: Confessional – I have been calling this book Eat, Love, Pray for months now. I can’t even get the title right.

Best line ever, “…showing you the way, scaring off thieves and demons, brining you confidence and protection” (p 148).

Playlist: Count Basie, Eagles, Neil Young, Ray Charles, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder, and Kenny Roger’s “Coward of the Country,”

Nancy said: Pearl said Gilbert became famous for writing Eat Pray Love.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter “The Maine Chance” (p 136). As an aside, Eat, Pray Love shouldn’t in this chapter. It has nothing to do with the state of Maine.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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).

Rivergods

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).

Third Helpings

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).

American Fried

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.

Notes From a Small Island

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).

March Same As It Ever Was

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:

Fiction:

  • 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.

Nonfiction:

  • 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.

Series Continuations:

  • 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).