Willis, Connie. Impossible Things. New York: Bantam Books, 1994.
“Ado” is a super short story about an English teacher trying to get her class to study Shakespeare. The problem is this, every play is contested by some watchdog group. Mortician International takes offense to the word, “casket” in Act III, Students Against Suicide protest Ophelia’s drowning, and so on. Even the students are allowed to refuse to learn a subject. Willis prefaced the story with an explanation, “political correctness is getting out of hand” (p 115).
“At the Rialto” had me laughing from the very first pages. Dr. Ruth Baringer is a quantum physicist attending a chaos conference in Hollywood, California. Only she can’t even check into her room because her name isn’t in the registry. In fact, nothing is where it’s supposed to be. Rooms where lectures are supposed to be occurring either have talks on channeling or stand empty. To make matters worse there is a colleague who is hell bent on trying to distract Dr. Baringer from attending a single lecture even if it is the wrong one. The chaos is just trying to attend the conference on chaos.
Reason read: June is National Short Story month.
Author fact: Oddly enough I couldn’t find an award for Impossible Things which seems entirely impossible because Willis has won awards for nearly everything else she has written.
Book trivia: Impossible Things is made up of eleven stories of which I only read two.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Connie Willis: Too Good To Miss” (p 247).
Chaon, Dan. Among the Missing. New York: Ballantine Books, 2001.
Two short stories from Among the Missing:
“Big Me” is the creepy tale about a boy who thinks he sees his adult self in a substitute teacher at his school. Andy fantasizes about being a detective and spends his spare time torturing confessions out of cats and breaking into people’s homes. When he snoops around the home of his teacher he discovers a photograph of a boy who looks a lot like him. Soon Andy is keeping a journal of his adult self’s life as if it were his own.
Best quote, “Sometimes I think: if no one knows you, then you are no one” (p 52).
“Something to Remember Me By” is the even creepier tale about a man whose best friend had disappeared when they were fourteen. Even though it’s fifteen years later Tom still feels the guilt. The missing boy’s parents have inserted themselves into Tom’s life as if to keep the memory of their own son alive. Seeing them makes Tom feel guilty. What drives Tom’s guilt is the fact he knows more about his friend’s disappearance than he’s letting on. And, to add to the guilt he knows he can never tell.
Reason read: June is national short story month. Hence, a whole bunch of short stories.
Book trivia: Among the Missing is a National Book Award finalist.
Author fact: Dan Chaon has a website and the main page is his blog which appears to be links to reviews. So, not really his blog…theoretically. You can check it out here, if you want.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Short Stories” (p 220).
Michaels, Lisa. Grand Ambition. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001.
The year is 1928. America is spellbound by adventurous feats like the one of Charles Lindbergh’s first transatlantic flight. Amelia Earhart is in the news with her own daring flight. It’s only natural that a man by the name of Glen Hyde, interested in running whitewater, would want to set some records of his own.
Grand Ambition starts with the first person narrative of Reith Hyde, father of Glen Hyde. Reith sets the ominous tone and the sense of foreboding. Keeping track of his son and new wife’s progress down the rapids of the Colorado River he knows they are late reaching their next point. Surely, something is wrong…
Glen, 30 and Bessie Hyde, 23 are a true life ambitious and adventurous newlywed couple who dared to go down the rapids of the Grand Canyon in a homemade boat in late 1928. Glen, an experienced boater, wanted to be the fastest man to complete the journey. Bessie was romanced by the idea of being the first woman to do the same even though she was a novice. They were almost at the end when something went horribly wrong and they were never heard from again. Lisa Michaels takes to task telling their heroic story, imagining what they went though and their ultimate demise. Interspersed between the adventure is the personal history of Bessie and how she came to meet Glen, fall in love with him and find herself boating down the rapids of the Colorado River. On the other side of the story is the search for Glen and Bessie. Glen’s desperate father, Reith, will stop at nothing to find his son.
As I was reading this I couldn’t help but think of my friend and the book he wrote about his own adventure down in the Grand Canyon. I wondered if he saw the same rock formations, the same rapids untouched by time.
Lines to remember, “…she had been a brief accident of his early twenties made into holy law…” (p 21), “Death didn’t miss you because you stood still” (p 44), and “Love is another country” (p 195).
Reason read: June is adventure month. Knowing this always makes me feel like I should be living an adventure, not reading about one.
Author fact: Grand Ambition is Michael’s debut novel.
Book trivia: I could see this being a really cool movie, but it’s not.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Adventure By The Book: Fiction” (p 7). Also from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “AZ You Like It” (p 31). As an aside, Grand Ambition is indexed as just Ambition in Book Lust To Go.
Boyd, Martin. When Blackbirds Sing, a Novel. London: Abelard-Schman, 1962.
When Blackbirds Sing is the last installment in the Langton quartet. We rejoin Dominic as he journeys back to war, re-enlisting at the start of World War I. Leaving his wife in Australia to tend to their sheep farm he heads back to England and reconnects with an old flame, Sylvia.
After killing a man and witnessing the atrocities of war Dominic has sobered of all immoral actions and indiscretions. He returns home to Australia a changed man inside and out.
I can honestly say I enjoyed this book much more than the last three (none of which I completely finished). Still, everything about Boyd’s quartet was old and stuffy. The series is supposed to depict the early 1900s but the writing seems older and more staid than that.
Reason read: to finish the series started in April – April being the best time to visit Australia.
Author fact: Boyd was better known for his book Lucinda Brayford.
Book trivia: The jacket cover for When Blackbirds Sing is hideous.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Australian Fiction” (p 29).
Braun, Lilian Jackson. The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern. Read by George Guidall. New York: Recorded Books, LLC, 1990.
Jim Qwilleran is a reporter for “The Daily Fluxon.” He has led a simple life until he is asked to write for “Gracious Abodes,” a magazine specializing in interior decorating of lavish homes. Qwilleran is paired with David Lyke, an interior designer who leads him to all the fashionable homes he has put on his designer touch. Oddly enough after each cover story is published something terrible happens at the featured home. First, there is the home of George Tait. His expensive jade collection is stolen and his wife dies of an apparent heart attack. Then, house number two is raided for being a brothel after it is featured on the cover of “Gracious Abodes.” At the third residence there is a murder…Qwilleran keenly watches the behavior of his Siamese Cat, Koko, to figure out the mystery.
“Reason read: June is National Cat Month…or something like it.
Book Trivia: Get the audio version and listen to George Guidall read the character of David Lyke. It’s hysterical.
Author fact: Braun passed away two years ago which is a shame because I really think I would have gotten along with her. Her descriptions of cat behavior are spot on!
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Cat Crazy ” (p 52). Incidentally, Pearl says this particular “Cat” book is her favorite.
McCullough, David. The Path Between the Seas: the Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914. Read by Edward Herrmann. New York: Simon & Schuster Audio, 2003.
One might think that the historical retelling of the construction of the Panama Canal would be as dry and boring as five day old stale bread but David McCullough makes the process from start to finish fascinating. Being one of the seven man-made wonders of the world, the Panama Canal is an example of ingenuity, technology and sheer grit at its best. What is not as well known is all the controversy that surrounded the who, what, where, when of the project (everyone knew the why – sailing around Cape Horn was not only time consuming but it was also extremely dangerous. McCullough maps out every step of the process from the vision birthed in 1870 to the triumph of the first successful trial lockage of September 1913. From the French preliminarily attempts to the eventual success of the United States, every trial and tribulation is accounted for. The book version has wonderful photography while the audio version is entertaining for long car rides.
Reason read: Even though the French started construction much earlier I chose to focus on America’s involvement with the Panama Canal. U.S. construction on the Panama Canal started in May. On my dad’s birthday, as a matter of fact. Full disclosure – I hadn’t planned on it, it I listened to the abridged version of Path Between the Seas. Bummer.
Book trivia: Path Between the Seas won a National Book Award.
Author fact: David McCullough is better known for his biography of John Adams (it won a Pulitzer).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Presidential Biographies” (p 192). I know you are scratching your head because this book doesn’t really have anything to do with a biography of a president. This is, in fact, one of the those, “I don’t really need to read this book” books because it’s mentioned as an aside. Pearl is talking about David McCullough’s biography of John Adams but adds he is the author of Path Between the Seas. I should have started a category called “unrelated to the chapter” and kept track of how many books Pearl throws into the mix; books that have nothing to do with the topic she is covering. I have a feeling all three Lust books would be a lot shorter.
Ferre, Rosario. The House on the Lagoon. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1995.
The House on the Lagoon is a clever story within a story. At the center it tells the tale of Quintin and Isabel Mendizabal. Isabel is trying to become a writer. The House on the Lagoon is her latest project. Multigenerational and historical it sounds a little too much like Quintin and Isabel’s own ancestors and personal history. Quintin, being a historian, finds Isabel’s manuscript and he simply cannot leave it as fiction. He has to edit the historical details and set the record straight. The more he edits the more he realizes the truth about his own marriage. Her unhappiness and his sense of betrayal create a powerful cauldron of simmering disaster.
Ferre’s writing is grand. She writes about a time when grand patriarchs presented their heirs with gifts such as steamships weighing eight thousand tons each. A time when segregation had an unsettling effect on Puerto Ricans. Not used to inequality they worried about the color of their skin not being as pure lily white as their northern neighbors.
Quotes I loved, “If you wanted to know who someone’s relatives were, you only had to visit your grandmother slumbering in her rocking chair, wake her up, and ask her to whisper you her secrets” (p 22), and “A sovereign with shoulders spread like infantry battalions, strong cavalry thighs, and eyes so blue they made you want to sail out to sea” (p 27). Wow. Can you hear me licking my lips right now? Last one – “It wasn’t an easy victory; she had to fight for her bed as if it were a castle under siege” (p 83). Poor woman!
Reason read: In honor of Cinco de Mayo, a little Latin American fiction.
Author trivia: According to Amazon, Ferre was First Lady of Puerto Rico (1970 – 1972) while her father was governor after her mother passed away in 1970.
Book fact: This has nothing to do with House on the Lagoon per se, but my copy was underlined, notated and dog-eared. Someone definitely loved this book more than they should!
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Latin American Fiction” (p 144).
Boyd, Martin. Outbreak of Love. New York: Penguin Books, 1984.
Throughout earlier Boyd books (Cardboard Crown, etc) we have been following the Langton family. In Outbreak of Love we focus on Diana. She has been married for twenty-three long years to egotistical and stuffy musician named “Wolfie.” Wolfie is an adulterer and it’s this unfaithful behavior that brings the drama to the book. Diana, of course, finds out and decides she needs an interesting relationship of her own. Of course there is the requisite high society blah, blah, blah such as who is going to invited to so and so’s ball and have to sit next to the bore.
Quotes that caught me, “Will we have a little love first, or will we go straight out to tea?” Wolfie’s mistress asks. Here’s another, “It shook my egoism, but I was not prepared to abandon reason” (p 53).
Oddly enough, I read this one better than the last two Boyd books. I don’t really know what I meant by that except to say my attention didn’t wander as much.
Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of the best time to go to Australia (March/April).
Author fact: Boyd was born in Switzerland.
Book trivia: This is the third book in the four-book series called The Langton Quartet.
BookLust Twist: Book Lust in the chapter called “Australian Fiction” (p 29). Here’s a laugh – Pearl lists all four books in the quartet but she mixes up the order in which they should be read. She lists When Blackbirds Sing before Outbreak of Love. According to the back cover of Outbreak of Love, When Blackbirds Sing is the last book of the quartet.
O’Brien, Tim. In the Lake of the Woods. Read by L.J. Ganser. Grand Haven, Michigan: Brilliance Audio, 2011.
This is many different stories rolled into one. It is the story of an abused childhood. It is a vicious Vietnam War documentary. It is a quiet mystery. It is a love-with-abandon story and a tangled tragedy. John Wade is an Vietnam vet who lost the election for a seat in the U.S. Senate. The campaign was a complete disaster prompting John to take his wife, Kathy, to a secluded cabin in Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, so that he might lick his wounds in private. After a week away from the world Kathy inexplicably disappears. Using flashbacks to John’s childhood, college days, tour in Vietnam & relationship with Kathy, John’s psychological history is revealed. As a young child his father taunted him about his weight, teased him relentlessly about his obsession with magic. John learned at an early age to hide his feelings by imagining mirrors in his head, mirrors that reflected the world he wanted to live in and how he wanted people to treat him. In college his obsession with his future wife Kathy was like a sickness. He would spy on her incessantly, claiming he loved her too much to leave her alone. He would not spend hours doing this, but entire days. Then there was Vietnam. His enduring love of magic prompted the soldiers in his company to nickname him “Sorcerer.” This, along with the mirrors still in his head, allowed John to become someone else during the atrocities of war. He believed his violent actions were not his own because they belonged to Sorcerer. Throughout dating in college and during the political campaign as man and wife Kathy and John’s relationship was never on the same page. He spied. She needed space. She wanted children but when she became pregnant he convinced her to abort. He loved the campaign trail. She wanted off it. But did that mean John had something to do with her disappearance? O’Brien introduces a kernel of doubt when he describes Kathy lost in the maze of rivers beyond Lake of the Woods. The boat is missing after all…
My one complaint? The “evidence” involving quotes from wars other than Vietnam. I know why O’Brien did it. He wanted to show that the atrocities of war were not limited to the actions of soldiers involved in the My Lai massacre. It was overkill (pardon the pun).
Reason read: Minnesota become a state in May.
Book trivia: I am shocked this has never been made into a movie. Really. Another piece of trivia – this is the equivalent of an ear worm. I haven’t stopped pondering the possibilities since.
Author fact: There are a few autobiographical elements to In the Lake of the Woods.
BookLust Twist: You can always tell when Pearl loves a book. She either mentions it a few times in one Lust book or she mentions it in all of them. In this case In the Lake of the Woods was found in Book Lust in the chapter called “Vietnam” (p 238), twice in More book Lust in the chapters “Big Ten Country: the Literary Midwest (Minnesota)” (p 28) and “It was a Dark and Stormy Novel (p 128), and once in Book Lust To Go in the chapter “Vietnam” (p 246). Four mentions!
Rawicz, Slavomir. The Long Walk: the True Story of a Trek to Freedom. guilford, CT: Lyons Press: 1997.
The Long Walk came about because of a journalist for the London Daily Mail was writing a story on the Abominable Snowman. Ronald Downing was told Slavomir Rawicz had seen the creature. So what started as a story about a yeti gave birth to Rawicz telling his own seemingly incredible tale. Ronald Downing became the ghost writer for the project. The short story: Slawomir Rawicz was imprisoned by the Soviets after the invasion of Poland in World War II. After being sentenced to 25 years of hard labor Rawicz managed to escape and, along with seven other companions, supposedly made a 4,000 mile trek to India. I have some skepticism in my words because some say the story is not true.
True or not, time and time again I was amazed by Rawicz’s resolve even if it was only in his head and he had no witnesses. First, during his endless “trial” when he was questioned repeatedly about being a spy. I believe every word. A lesser man would have cracked under the pressure and finally given a false confession. Then, after being sentence to 25 years hard labor in a remote part of northern Siberia Rawicz never gave up believing he could survive his sentence. The idea for escape was planted after being summoned to fix a commandant’s radio. Unbelievably, the commandant’s wife subtly suggested it to Rawicz. The idea percolated gently while Rawicz worked out the details in his bunk at night. There were so many elements that needed to be in place. He needed men and he needed supplies. Then he needed the perfect storm, a blizzard, to cover his tracks. It reminded me of Shawshank Redemption when Andy Dufresne planned his escape from prison.
Whether Rawicz’s story is 100% true or not remains a mystery. There is no one to confirm his story. What remains is an incredible tale about an impossible journey made possible only by hope.
Lines that got me, “The Soviet Supreme Court was showing me a very cold and businesslike face” (p 18), “I was never allowed to meet any of the unfortunates” (p 26). How unfortunate.
Reason read: At the end of May I will be undertaking a long walk of my own. Definitely not as long or as arduous as Mr. Rawicz’s trek, but an honorable walk nonetheless.
Author fact: Rawicz died in 2004 and some say his long walk never happened. Boo hiss. I’d like to think his tale of courage is true.
Book trivia: A movie version of The Long Walk was made in 2010 starring Colin Farrell.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Armchair Travel” (p 25).
Boyd, Martin. A Difficult Young Man. New York: Penguin, 1984.
I have to admit this story lagged for me. It wasn’t as non-directional as The Cardboard Crown but it still couldn’t hold my attention for long periods of time. Shoot, I couldn’t get through ten pages without straying from the page. A fly crawling along a windowsill could capture my attention faster and hold it longer.
So, right from the start I need to tell you the “difficult young man” of the story is Dominic Langton, grandson of Alice (writer of the journal in The Cardboard Crown). Dominic’s story is being told by his younger brother, Guy. Dominic is indeed difficult and troubled and sort of a loose cannon. He kills a horse, after all. But, it’s also the story of a family who is discontent wherever they are. Bounding between England and Australia, the grass is always greener on the other side.
Interesting lines, “It was difficult to run a house that was being looted” (p 105). good point.
Reason read: to continue the Langton Quartet (in honor of April being a good time to visit Australia).
Author fact: According to Penguin books Boyd had a preoccupation with his family and out of that preoccupation rose the mostly autobiographical Langton Quartet.
Book trivia: This is the second book in the Langton Quartet. It should be read before Outbreak of Love.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “Australian Fiction” (p 29).
Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Everyman’s Library, 1992.
If there is one thing I cannot stand it’s writing a review for a classic, especially one that has been analyzed eight ways to Sunday. I mean, I honestly do not think I can add anything new or enlightening to what has already been said. Everyone knows the story of Achilles, right? Having said all that I wish I could pull out a quote from something I wrote in high school or even college. I’m sure I was much more profound in my narrow minded, get good grades, academic-driven youth. Probably the most meaningful element of The Iliad continues to be its grandeur. It is an epic poem of enormous scope with the dominant theme of mortality. According to most other reviewers, translation matters. Everyone has a favorite version. I honestly couldn’t say I felt one way or another about the Fitzgerald translation I read.
Reason read: April is National Poetry month.
Author fact: Homer was a speech writer. He excelled at persuasiveness.
Book trivia: The Iliad andThe Odyssey go hand in hand.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Poetry: A Novel Idea” (p 186).
Shannon, Mike. Diamond Classics: Essays on 100 of the Best Baseball Books Ever Published. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarlane & Company, Inc., 2003.
According to Shannon, one of the major purposes of Diamond Classics is to “function as a sort of “Reader’s Digest” of baseball books” (introduction, p xiii) and he is right. It is jam packed with information about all kinds of books about baseball. I think he covers every type of book from every perspective. The information is extensive. For starters there is the mandatory title, author, publisher, page numbers information (in other words the perfect citation). But it goes further than that. This is a great book for research purposes. Let’s say I wanted to write an essay on the great Jackie Robinson (since there is a new movie coming out about the legend). I could use Shannon’s Diamond Classics to compile all the relevant and useful baseball books that feature Jackie. But, wait! there’s more. Shannon reviews each book for writing style as well as content. He includes the critical reception to the book (if there was one). Shannon is careful to add other baseball books written by the same author. Even his reviews of photography books are descriptive and analytical. He includes books by seasoned sports writers, former athletes and even fans. And, and! And, everything is in alphabetical order…but of course.
Reason read: April 1st marked the first day of the official baseball season. Opening day saw the Red Sox beat the Yankees. Yay.
Author fact: Mike Shannon is a huge baseball fan. You can just tell by the many other books he has written on the subject.
Book trivia: It was cool to see some of the books I’ll be reading for the Challenge reviewed inDiamond Classics.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” (p 230).
Boyd, Martin. The Cardboard Crown. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. 1953.
This is the story of Alice Verso told through her grandson’s discovery of her diary. From its pages half written in French he is able to uncover generations of intricate and complicated relationships. Alice marries into the Langton family and brings the clan financial stability. But, despite this Alice discovers her husband is having an affair with a childhood friend named Hetty. Told across three generations and bouncing between Australia and England everything about this story was strange. As a reader, I couldn’t stay engaged with the story or the characters. There wasn’t a single person I connected with or cared about. It was the kind of story I often lost place with – meaning, when I put it down I couldn’t remember the last thing I read.
Favorite lines, “All history is a little false” (p 43), “If she could bring her prey to bed, she wouldn’t have cared if she had mutton fat in her hair and a smut on her nose” (p 46), and “We must accept that people do behave idiotically…” (p56). And the follow up to that quote, “Any idiot can reproduce himself” (p 112). Too true!
Reason read: April is the best time to take a trip to Australia.
Author fact: Boyd is one of Australia’s best loved authors. He was a talented poet as well.
Book trivia: The plot of The Cardboard Crown is “founded on fact” according to the author.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Australian Fiction” (p 37).
McGrath, Campbell. “The Golden Angel Pancake House.” Spring Comes to Chicago. Hopewell, New Jersey: Ecco Press, 1996. p 5.
I loved this poem. This has got to be one of my favorites read so far this year. It reminded me of Natalie Merchant’s song “Carnival” off her 1995 album, Tigerlily. In “Carnival” Natalie pays homage to New York City and I see Campbell McGrath doing the same thing for his hometown of Chicago in “The Golden Angel Pancake House” (which is a real restaurant, by the way). The imagery is amazing. I can just see this group of friends stumbling out of a bar at closing time. It’s way early in the morning and they are prowling the streets looking for a place to eat. The sights and sounds are chaotic and gripping. A freak show.
Favorite line, “a troupe of toothless, dipsomaniacal clowns.”
Reason read: It’s still April and I’m still reading poetry. Obviously.
Author fact: As I mentioned before McGrath is from Chicago.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Kitchen Sink Poetry” (p 139).