Remains of the Day

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day. Read by Simon Prebble. Tantor Audio, 2012.

Stevens is a dignified butler who has been given some well deserved time off from his American employer, Mr. Farraday. Mr. Farraday has also given Stevens the use of his vehicle (including fuel), urging Stevens to take a road trip. But, Remains of the Day isn’t really about the vacation of Stevens, but rather the memory lane Stevens end up traveling down. On his driving tour Stevens thinks back over his years as a butler first with Lord Darlington and then with Mr. Farraday after Farraday purchases Darlington Hall and its contents, including the servants (“the whole experience” as he says). Heavy on Stevens’s mind is his he spent working with housekeeper Miss Kenton and his strained relationship with his now deceased father. All three were employed together with Lord Darlington. I have to admit, as an emotional person, the passing of Stevens’s father and how Stevens reacts was somewhat disturbing. If you read the book, pay attention to when Stevens tells a guest the doctor has been called. The guest thinks Stevens has called the doctor for his ailing feet (for he had just asked Stevens for bandages) and Stevens lets him think as much even though his father has just died, the real reason for the call.
Remains of the Day is more flashbacks than present day story. Stevens takes you on a journey to discover what it means to have dignity. He reveals a world where being proper is more important than having sentiment. He explores the meaning of loyalty not only to an employer, but to oneself.

Reason read: This is a companion read to A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee (which does not take place in Sri Lanka. See BookLust Twist for further details) but August is the bets time to visit Sri Lanka, or so I am told.

Author fact: This is Ishiguro’s third novel.

Narrator trivia: this is the second audio book I have listened to narrated by Simon Prebble. The first was Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

Book trivia: Remains of the Day was made into a movie in 1993 and starred Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. It received eight Academy Award nominations. Not too shabby. This is definitely one I want to put on my list to see.

BookLust Twist: Mentioned more than one in Book Lust and then again in More Book Lust. In Book Lust in the chapter called “Companion Reads” (p 65) – which is why I am reading Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee at the same time. Also, in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade (1980s)” (p 179). Remains of the Day is also from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Sri Lanka: Exotic and Troubled” (p 212). Interestingly enough, Remains of the Day has nothing to do with Sri Lanka and is only mentioned in this chapter to describe the style of another book.

As an aside, I plan to go through all Book Lusts (Book Lust, More Book Lust and Book Lust To Go) to see how many books have nothing to do with the chapter they are mentioned in. I am curious to see how many books that eliminates – not that I won’t read them…


Briar Rose

Yolen, Jane. Briar Rose. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2002.

Don’t let this book fool you. It may be young adult. It may be a quick read, but the subject matter and the crafty way in which it was written is absolutely brilliant. On her deathbed, Grandma “Gemma” makes youngest granddaughter, Becca, promise to learn the story of Gemma’s past. She claims to be the real Briar Rose. Along with her two older sisters, Becca has heard the fairy tale of Briar Rose/Sleeping Beauty all her life. It’s the only bedtime story Gemma would ever tell. Now Becca believes there is some similarities between the princess and her very own grandmother. Could Gemma really be Sleeping Beauty? Keeping the promise she made to her grandmother and with the help of a journalist friend, Becca sets out to uncover the mystery. The clues take her to Poland, specifically Chelmno, Hitler’s extermination camp during the Holocaust. Becca meets Josef Potacki and the pieces fall into place. Woven throughout Becca’s story is Gemma’s bedtime story and Josef’s story of survival. The present and past mesh together to tell a deeply moving tale of courage and love.

Quote that grabbed me, “It was hard not to be sacrificed when the other man was the one in power” (p 173).

My only gripe? The brand name dropping to indicate one of the sister’s wealth. Vuitton. Mercedes. Ferragamo. The sisters themselves factored so little in the story it would have suffice to say the mink coat wearing one was extremely wealthy and couldn’t be bothered with her grandmother’s mystery.

As an aside, There was a part in Briar Rose where I was reminded of Dave Matthews, “A hundred years is forever when you’re just a little kid.” See if you can find that place in the book.

Reason read: this was thrown on the August list because I needed something short to take to Colorado with me, but ended up reading it over the weekend…just before leaving! Read in honor of a Polish Music Festival that takes place in August.

Author fact: I don’t know where to begin with Ms. Yolen. Right away, I could tell she knew my part of the world (the mention of Cabot Street in Holyoke was the first clue but Jessie’s House, School Street, and the Polish Club were dead give aways). But, once I visited her website I was blown away. She has won too many award to mention here. Just visit her site for yourself.

Book trivia: Briar Rose won the Mythopoeic Society Fantasy Award and was nominated for a Nebula in 1993.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 183).


Toronto

Charles Rawlings-Way and Natalie Karneef. Toronto: City Guide. Melbourne: Lonely Planet, 2007.

This travel guide of Toronto is mostly black and white; a no nonsense kind of guide. It doesn’t need to show off with lots of glossy photos and trivial details. Only eight pages are dedicated to artistic shots around town and, in fact, is the only section that isn’t all that informative. The contents of the guide are well organized into various activities. If you are in town on business and only have time for finding restaurants, page 91 is where you want to start. I appreciated the little blue boxes with extra tidbits of information. In the History section (p 38) you will find a box that talks about the ghosts that haunt the Elgin Theatre and Old City Hall. Sign me up! The only drawback to this guide is the map section. Instead of a fold-out map showing the entire city, the maps are page by page like an atlas. There is overlap between downtown north and downtown south so that you can make the necessary connections but it would have been easier to have the map all on one page. But, to be fair, with everyone having gps on their smartphones, I doubt a printed map really matters anymore.

Reason read: Natalie Merchant performing in Toronto in May 2015.

Book trivia: I really enjoyed the inclusion of the subway map. Very cool.

 


Bloodlines

Conant, Susan. Bloodlines. New York: A Perfect Crime Book, 1992.

This is one of those quick reads that you almost feel like reading over again because it goes by so fast. Holly Winter is a writer who has a column about dogs. In her spare time she trains, shows and is obsessed with Alaskan malamutes. Be prepared for overkill. Holly is extremely passionate about dogs of all kinds and loathes puppy mills. When she discovers a malamute for sale at a pet shop she just knows the dog came from a puppy mill. Only going to investigate the malamute, Holly gets caught up in a mystery when the owner of the pet shop is brutally murdered and the malamute goes missing. Holly is straight out of Murder, She Wrote as she tackles solving the crime by tangling with tough guys and other shady characters.

Confessional: I get snagged by repetitiveness. If something occurs too often *in any situation and not just books* it sticks out like a throbbing thumb to me. In this case, Holly Winter’s condescending tone when she is explaining something. Here’s what I mean. These are direct quotes from the book:

  • “You know her? If you don’t know what I knew…”
  • “Maybe you don’t know the breed.”
  • “You may not realize.”
  • “Maybe you’ll understand. If not I’d better explain.”
  • “Doesn’t everyone know this? Maybe not.”
  • “In case you didn’t know…”
  • “If you know anything about obedience…”
  • “In case you’ve spent the last two years exiled…let me explain.”
  • “Before I tell you…I want to make sure that, in case you are a newcomer, you understand something…”
  • “In case you aren’t a specialist in AKC regulations, let me explain.”
  • “You probably don’t need a translation but just in case…”
  • “You do know about that, don’t you?”
  • “You do know how to read a pedigree, don’t you?”
  • “Stranger around here?”
  • “You know what a palindrome is, don’t you?”
  • “Have I lost you?”
  • “…in case I’ve lost you…”
  • “You know what an Elkhound is?”

And the list goes on and on. It happens enough times that it sticks out to me. The more it sticks out, the more I am aware of it…and it drives me crazy.

Reason read: Dog Day is August 26th.

Author fact: Conant won the Maxwell Award for Fiction Writing in 1991. By the titles of her books you can tell she is a huge dog lover.

Book trivia: While I was bogged down by how didactic Holly could be, other people complained about how “preachy” she was about puppy mills. For some reason that was more forgivable to me. People tend to write about what they know. It’s obvious Conant has strong opinions about puppy mills so she’s going to express those opinions through Holly.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “I Love a Mystery” (p 118).


Beirut Blues

al-Shaykh, Hanan. Beirut Blues. Translated by Catherine Cobham. New York: Anchor Book, 1995.

In the beginning, reading Beirut Blues seems like being dropped in the middle of a multi-person conversation without knowing who is involved or what they are talking about. There is a tedium to filling in the gaps as you are reading. With “Dear —” it is obvious from the beginning someone is writing a letter. It takes a little deduction to figure out who is writing the letter and who is her intended audience. There is a lot to fill in within the lines. But, throughout Asmahan’s letters there is passionate reverberation and a running commentary on her beloved Beirut before, during and after the civil war. Most of these letters will probably never reach their intended audience and that fact adds another layer of mystery to them. One of the saddest letters to read is the one Asmahan writes to her grandmother. She focuses on her grandfather’s emotional and physical relationship romance with a much younger girl. It becomes startling clear when Asmahan sees the girl’s bruises and pictures her grandfather leaving them on his young lover. It’s a rude awakening to a different culture. Other poignant letters include ones to the war and to the land of Beirut. But, my favorite part was the end, when Asmahan has to decide whether or not to leave war torn Beirut for France to be with her married lover. It’s a scene rife with indecision and torn loyalties.

Probably my biggest gripe about Beirut Blues is the sheer number of people mentioned in Asmahan’s letters. I have kept a running list of the names dropped: Afaf, Ali, Aida, Bassam, Fadila, Fatima, George, Hayat, Hussein, Hasoun, Isaf, Jill, Jummana, Juhayna, Jawad, Kazim, Karki, Lalya, Munir,  Morrell,  Mustafa, Musa, Naima, Naser, Nizar, Nikola, Nadine, Ricardo,  Simon, Salim, the Spaniard, Suma, Safiyya, Vera, Yvette, Zaynab, Zemzem, Zakiyya (not counting grandmother and grandfather) and I know I have missed a few. To my ignorant American ears these names are confusing. For all I know they are not only the proper names of people but of places as well.

Line I liked, “My appeal, even my normal liveliness, must have deserted me” (p 64). Here’s another: “I expected some burning emotion to be rekindled between us, but the kiss ended quickly and there was no aftermath” (p 72). And another: “…instead you sing the reality you live” (p 135). Last one, “Coming to this school, having new shoes and a mother in America, seemed to put a gleam on my mind as if I had polished it with almond oil” (p 170).

Reason read: August 15th is the official Lebanese holiday Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Author fact: Another al-Shaykh book on my challenge list is Women of Sand and Myrrh. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Book trivia: This is a book that requires a little patience to read. There is no pulse pounding plot, nor dilemma a hero must solve before the last page.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Leavened in Lebanon” (p 130).


Nickel and Dimed

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2001.

What started out as an idea for an article for Harper’s quickly blossomed into a full blown New York Times bestselling book. In 1998 Barbara Ehrenreich set out to research how anyone lived on minimum wage and as she put it, “the only way to find out was to get out there and get my hands dirty” (p 4). So, at a time when welfare reform was sending millions of women back into the workforce, for three months writer-by-trade, PhD educated Ehrenreich joined the unskilled labor force to see what it was all about. The emphasis of the experiment might have been on surviving the economy of 1998 but a byproduct of that experiment was the truth that the further down the class ladder one lived, the more invisible one became. Ehrenreich tried her hand at being a waitress, a maid, a healthcare aide, and a Wal-Mart associate. It’s this last position that was a real eye opener for me.
In the back of my mind I wondered how “honest” Ehrenreich’s experiment really was. No matter how terrible her situation she always knew she could escape it and at times, she fell back on her “real” life. When she had a skin ailment she used her real life connections to get medication without seeing a doctor.

Personally, I have never been homeless although I know people who were, by choice. There was a time when I was without health insurance, but admittedly, at the healthiest time of my life. I have held several jobs at one time, not because I needed them, but because I wanted to make as much money as I could. I’ve never had a job that required a drug test of any kind. For all these reasons and more I couldn’t put myself in Ehrenreich’s shoes.

Reason read: Ehrenreich was born in August.

Author fact: Ehrenreich has her own website here.

Book trivia: Considering the subject matter, you would not think Nickle and Dimed would be funny in any way, but Ehrenreich writes with such sly humor that you can’t help buy crack a smile or maybe even giggle.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Guilt Inducing Books” (p 110).


Fordlandia

Grandin, Greg. Fordlandia: the Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2009.

This is the story of what happens when someone with a boatload of money gets a hair-brained idea: they can fund their outlandish dream but have no idea how to actually accomplish it. Henry Ford found success with his motor company and felt that this same success would translate well in a foreign country he knew little to nothing about. (After all, he had lots of advisers for that.) Suffice it to say, Ford started out with good intentions. He needed a new place to grow high quality rubber but that project quickly morphed and ended up growing into the more ambition dream of creating a civilized utopia in the wilds of an Amazonian jungle. Other well known companies set up the essentials of home away from home in places like Cuba and Mexico, but Ford wanted to create a brand new society. He envisioned shopping centers, ice cream parlors, sidewalks for the civilized townspeople to stroll upon, electricity, running water…all the comforts of middle America in a remote riverside section of Brazil. It’s ironic that Ford felt he was rescuing a vision of Americana so far from “home.” Of course, these visions were bound to fail. Ford ran into obstacles practically every step of the way. Clearing the land of massive tangle of jungle and vines wasn’t as easy as any of his advisors thought it would be. Engineers didn’t properly grade the roads causing washouts every time it rained….in a rainforest. The humidity would rust saw blades faster than the men could wear them out on the difficult bark of foreign trees. Keeping skilled labor on the job proved to be just as difficult. Diseases unfamiliar to mid westerners plagued the workforce. Prohibition wasn’t law in Brazil so those men who didn’t quit were often drunk thanks to rum boats moored on the river. Then there were the insects that plagued the crops. The list goes on. As you can imagine, all of this would lead to a breakdown. Of course this story can’t have a happy ending, but it is fascinating all the same.

Quotes I liked, “The Amazon is a temptress: its chroniclers can’t seem to resist invoking the jungle not as a ecological system but as a metaphysical testing ground; a place that seduces man to impose his will only to expose that will as impotent” (p 6),  and “At night vampire bats often worked their way past window screens to feed, and since their razor sharp incisors could painlessly pierce flesh, the Americans would sleep through an attack, awaking to find their toes and ankles bloodied” (p 197).

Reason read: Believe it or not, August is reported as the driest month in the Amazon. If you can imagine that.

Author fact: Grandin is a Guggenheim fellow.

Book trivia: Fordlandia has a bunch of really great photographs. My favorite is titled, “Making a High Cut on a Big Tree” (p 174).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Amazonian” (p 17).

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 260 other followers