May Has Her Reasons

This is the first month since September that I don’t have some kind of race looming. It feels weird to not worry about the run. I guess I can concentrate on the books:

Fiction:

  • Landfall: a Channel Story by Nevil Shute – in honor of the month the movie was released.
  • Main Street by Sinclair Lewis – in honor of Minnesota becoming a state in May (AB).
  • Bruised Hibiscus by Elizabeth Nunez – on honor of the Pan Ramjay festival held in May.
  • Adrian Mole: the Cappuccino Years by Sue Townsend – in honor of Mother’s Day.

Nonfiction:

  • Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer – in honor of the failed Mount Everest climb in May 1994.

Series continuations:

  • Jade Island by Elizabeth Lowell – to continue the series started in April in honor of Lowell’s birth month.
  • Warding of Witch World by Andre Norton – to continue the series started in March to honor the month of Norton’s passing.

Something new! I just discovered archive dot org! They are brilliant! I have been able to find a bunch of the books I have on my Challenge list, including two for this month. That means I will be able to leave the print at home and still read on my lunch break!


War Child

Jal, Emmanuel. War Child: a Child Soldier’s Story. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009.

Reason read: Sudan’s civil war ended in January.

Jal is a typical boy, revering the warriors in uniform who stand before him and looking up to the fighter pilots who banish the enemy from the sky. As a small child he dreams of joining the military to fight the good fight. What is different about Jal is that he is not a pampered American boy playing with G.I. Joe dolls in the backyard in suburbia. Jal is a seven year old boy in war-torn, desert arid Sudan; his family is always on the run from the guns and violence. As he witnesses the deaths of family and friends, Jal’s reverence and admiration for the military grows until, from a place of hatred, comes the desire for violent tortuous revenge. He wants to follow in the footsteps of his father, a commander in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Jal hungers to go to school to be a soldier. His singular focus is to kill the enemy; and kill them, he does.

Don’t let the simplicity of Jal’s language fool you. His story is tragic and harsh. His manner might be sparse but it is straight an arrow, truth-telling writing. Consider this phrase, “gulping down pain like hot knives…” (p 86).

Quotes I had to quote, “Fear will always win against pain, and all I had to do was run” (p 32), “I knew I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees and beg a jallaba for mercy” (p 136), and “I had lived with hatred for so long that it was part of me, bleached into my bones and scarred onto my heart” (p 212).

Author fact: Jal becomes an accomplished rapper. He mentions War Child in this video for Amnesty International (around the 3:20 mark). The fact Natalie Merchant is also in this video is purely coincidental! 😉

Book trivia: Don’t expect photographs of young Jal toting an uzi or an AK47. His words are description enough. As an aside, Jal’s story prompted me to see the documentary about him and seek out his music.

Nancy said: Nancy said she could go on for pages “about the terrifyingly sad political accounts of bravery, pain, atrocities, and, unaccountably, hope, as they appear in recent nonfiction about Africa” (p 8) and mentions Jal’s book as an example.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa the Greenest Continent” (p 7).


January’s Time

This year, more than ever, I am struck by time’s marching; the relentless footfalls of days and weeks passing by. I know that is mortality speaking, but it rings eerie in my mind nonetheless. Not helping the doom and gloom is the first book on my list, On The Beach by Nevil Shute. I wanted a different book from Shute but there isn’t a library local enough to loan it to me.

Here are the planned books for January 2018:

Fiction:

  • On The Beach (AB) by Nevil Shute (previously mentioned) – in honor of Shute’s birth month.
  • Clara Callan by Richard Wright – in honor of Sisters Week being in January.
  • Tea From an Empty Cup by Pat Cadigan – in honor of January being Science Fiction Month.

Nonfiction:

  • Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals by David Laskin – in honor of January 26th being Spouses’s Day.
  • War Child: a Child Soldier’s Story by Emmanuel Jal – in honor of the end of the Sudan civil war.
  • Travellers’ Prelude: Autobiography 1893-1927 by Freya Stark – in honor of Freya Stark’s birth month.
  • Practicing History by Barbara Tuchman (AB) – in honor of Tuchman’s birth month.

Series Continuations:

  • Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle by Dorothy Gilman – started in September in honor of Grandparents’ Day.

For the Early Review program for LibraryThing:

  • Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power by Lisa Mosconi, PhD (finishing).
  • Pep Talk for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo by Grant Faulkner (also finishing).

On the Beach

Shute, Nevil. On the Beach. Read by Simon Prebble. New York: Recorded Books, 1991.

Reason read: Nevil Shute was born and died in January; read in his honor.

Preoccupation with The Bomb. Nuclear war. Alphaville wrote Forever Young thinking about the bomb. Randy Newman sneered about dropping the bomb…boom goes London. Shute takes it one step further. The nuclear bombs of World War III  have been dropped and as far as anyone knows, the entire northern hemisphere has been completely wiped out. There’s not a soul alive above the equator. It’s only a matter of time before winds blow the deadly radioactive fallout to New Zealand and Australia. For naval officers Peter Holmes and Dwight Towers stationed in Melbourne it is their job to pilot a submarine to the northern hemisphere to seek out survivors and make predictions about their own mortality. Will the deadly dust reach them in a year? A month? A week? No matter the time frame for surely they will all die. It’s a bleak read, there’s no doubt about that, but the characters are worth it. For Dwight Towers, originally from Connecticut, knowing he will never see his wife and children again is a hard pill to swallow. For young and beautiful Moira Davidson drinking her denial is the best policy. Others seek solace in the suicide pill or carrying on as if nothing tragic is going to happen. I found myself asking what would I do in this situation?

Author fact: Shute has his own fan webpage here.

Book trivia: When On the Beach was first published in 1957 it was met with sour reviews. Too depressing they all said.

Nancy said: Nevil is “probably best known for On the Beach” (p 198).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obviously called “Nevil Shute: Too Good To Miss” (p 198).


Nod to November

What happened in November? I finished physical therapy. But really, PT is not finished with me. I signed up for a 5k in order to keep the running alive. As soon as I did that I needed x-rays for the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my hip and groin. Like stabbing, electrocuting pains. Diagnosis? More sclerosis and fusing. Yay, me! In defiance of that diagnosis I then signed up for a 21k. I am officially crazy.
Here are the books finished for the month of November:

Fiction:

  • A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (AB/print)
  • The Edge of the Crazies by Jamie Harrison
  • Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Beaufort by Ron Leshem

Nonfiction:

  • Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher

Series continuations:

  • No Villain Need Be by Vardis Fisher (finally finished!)
  • Mrs. Pollifax on Safari by Dorothy Gilman
  • Henry James: the Master by Leon Edel
  • I Will Bear Witness: the Nazi Years, 1942 – 1945 by Victor Klemperer

Early Review for LibraryThing: nothing. I jinxed myself by mentioning the book I was supposed to receive. Needless to say, it never arrived. So I never finished it. Ugh.


I Will Bear Witness

Klemperer, Victor. I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933 – 1941. Translated by Martin Chalmers. New York: Random House, 1998.

Reason read: Klemperer was born on October 9th in 1881. He started keeping a diary at 17 years of age. I Will Bear Witness was read in his honor.

No matter how you dress it up, this is a hard book to read. Mainly because hindsight is 20/20 and we know what a travesty the Nazi years truly were to the German-Jewish people. Today, more than ever, reading Klemperer’s journals are valuable lessons in fortitude, courage, and grace. Despite everything he remained committed to documenting his world around him…even as it slowly fell apart. I see similarities to modern day America. At first the indignity was small, a blip: the loss of admittance to his library’s reading room. No Jews allowed. Then, the indignities became too big to ignore – the loss of his teaching position at the university, then use of the beloved automobile, then they had to move from their new dream house. Every creature comfort was slowly stripped away. His typewriter, tobacco, even new socks. Can you imagine smoking blackberry tea or filling an application for used socks? What is so admirable is, in the face of all this humility, Klemperer still recognized and drew attention to the civility his enemy occasionally displayed.

From the very beginning, although he was only 52 years of age at the start of I Will Bear Witness, Klemperer was convinced he had not long to live. He made comments like, “I no longer think about tomorrow” (p 15), and “My heart cannot bear all this misery much longer” (p 17). He was sure his heart would give out any day. It was if each passing birthday came as a shock to him because he could see the future of Germany’s political landscape. How would he survive it? Yet, every day he strove to improve his life and that of his wife of 45 years. Buying land, building a house, learning to drive a car, taking Eva to her beloved flower shows, keeping a diary and continuing to write throughout it all. These are the little triumphs of Klemperer’s life.

Confessional: Because his sentences were so choppy, it took me some time to get into the rhythm of his words.

Favorite line, “The man is a blinkered fanatic” (p 41). One guess who he was talking about! Another line I have to mention, “I do not know whether history is racing ahead or standing still” (p 79). This, after Hindenburg’s death. The magnitude of the implications! One last quote to quote, “It cannot be helped, one cannot live normally in an abnormal time” (p 227).

Author fact: In the end Klemperer’s heart did betray him. He died of a heart attack in 1960 when he was 79 years old.

Book trivia: This is truly trivia, but I love, love, love the photograph of Eva and Victor Klemperer on the spine of I Will Bear Witness. Both are standing behind their beloved automobile with smiles on their faces. Victor is hunched in such a way he actually appears to be laughing. He has an impish look on his face.

Nancy said: Klemperer was “one of the best observers whose records we have of those terrible, and ordinary, years inside Germany” (p 131).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Journals and Letters: We Are All Voyeurs at Heart” (p 130).


In the Valley of Mist

Hardy, Justine. In the Valley of Mist: Kashmir: One Family in a Changing World. New York: Free Press, 2009.

Reason read: the Kashmir earthquake of 2005 happened in October.

Just to orientate you: Kashmir separates India and Pakistan. Both areas had been warring over this beautiful area for decades. Meanwhile, a separatist insurgent group within Kashmir also sought independence. By 1989 rising tensions finally gave way to major conflict. Justine Hardy wanted to tell the story of the innocent families living within the conflict. With their blessing, via In the Valley of Mist, she attempts to expose the corruption and controversy caught between three very different worlds. Everything, from manner of dress to religious convictions, are examined.

As an aside, I tend to count things when I get annoyed by something. This time it was how often Hardy referred to the region’s beauty, calling it pretty or sweet or beautiful. I think she wanted to emphasize it’s attraction to starkly contrast it with the ugliness of war and the utter destruction after the 2005 earthquake.

Author fact: Hardy was a British journalist of over twenty years who has written six books. I am reading just this one.

Book trivia: In the Valley of Mist has a great collection of photographs, most of them include the author’s handsome face.

Nancy said: In the Valley of Mist “takes place against a backdrop of Calcutta and a sea voyage” (p 213). I think Pearl was reading an entirely different book. For starters, Calcutta is nowhere near Kashmir (Calcutta is south of Kashmir by nearly 1,700 kilometers) and I didn’t see any “sea voyage” as a focal point. The jihad, the insurgency, the oppression of women. Those were the main points of In the Valley of Mist in my mind. True, the family Hardy spent time with lived on houseboats, but they were on the Dal lake, not the ocean.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia: India” (p 213).