Sacco, Joe. Footnotes in Gaza. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009.
The first time you crack open Footnotes in Gaza you are taken aback by the powerful imagery. True, it is a graphic novel so it is supposed to be full of black and white squares full of images but keep this in mind, it’s nonfiction. It messes with your mind. You associate comics with the Sunday funnies…you know, comedy, light-hearted. So, to see images of war in a comic-strip format is confusing. But, your mind adjusts. From the very first pages you get a sense of what you are in for, “It is the story of footnotes to a sideshow of a forgotten war. The war pitted Egypt against the strange alliance of Britain, France and Israel in 1956″ (p 8). Footnotes in Gaza has a strange effect on the reader. More graphic than a dry newspaper account, Sacco’s illustrations shove the violence and hatred into the forefront. And, yet despite being less graphic than actual photographs, the images linger in your mind…
This is another book that sprung from a journalist assignment (see The Long Walk). This time, Joe Sacco was asked to visit the Gaza Strip for Harper’s Magazine.
Head snap quotes, “And this begins the aggravating mismatch pitting hapless cartoonist against wily ex-guerrilla” (p 41), “I cannot untangle the twining guilt and grief that envelope a person who survives what so many other did not; nor can I explain what might induce a traumatized individual’s to recall a brother’s death if he was not there – assuming he was not” (p 116) and, “We come up with some sufficiently earnest bullsh!t” (p 125).
Reason read: May is National Graphic Novel month…
Book trivia: Footnotes in Gaza is just one of Sacco’s graphic novels about the middle east.
Author fact: Joe Sacco is the creator of war-comics and should not to be confused with the hockey player who used to play in Denver, Colorado. Never mind.
Other stuff: hookah = hubbly-bubbly.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “A Mention of the Middle East” (p 144).
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!
Mengiste, Maaza. Beneath the Lion’s Gaze. Tantor Audio, 2010.
The first half of Beneath the Lion’s Gaze tells of the downfall of Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia and self professed king of kings, and the subsequent brutal rise of the Derg. Selassie’s rein as emperor was, at first, a positive and influential one. Then in the early 70s popular opinion shifted as gas prices rose, food shortages become more frequent, and middle class workers went on strike. Famine was widespread and public outcry was loud. Tensions came to a head when a splinter group of the military overthrew the government, taking the great and powerful Selassie with it. Peppered throughout the historical tale are the human interest elements centered around one family. Hailu, a physician loyal to Selassie is witness to the brutalities of torture while his wife quietly dies of congestive heart failure. He eventually is arrested after aiding in the death of a tortured prisoner. This prisoner, a brutalized teenage girl becomes a focus of mystery. The reader doesn’t know her significance to Hailu and Selassie until the end. Meanwhile Hailu’s sons are on either side of the political fence. His older son, a professor, is the sensible one. Married with a family, he tries to stay neutral in the conflict. Hailu’s younger son is caught up in student protests and eagerly hands out pamphlets stoking the fires out outrage. Both sides will eventually feel the effects of being under the powerful and violent thumb of the Derg
While her subject matter is tragic (there is a lot of vivid violence and torture), Mengiste writes with such lyrical imagery that it is easy to keep reading her words – like adding a spoonful of sugar to the medicine, or, in my world, like listening to Natalie Merchant’s “What’s the matter here?” It’s a song about child abuse with a really catchy, extremely danceable melody behind it.
Reason read: May 28th is traditionally celebrated as Derg Downfall Day to celebrate the end of the Derg in 1991.
Author fact: Beneath the Lion’s Gaze was Maaza Mengiste’s debut book. She has an interesting website that is also incredibly difficult to read (black backgrounds with white wording is almost never a good idea).
Book trivia: I am not going to spoil the ending of the book but I do want to say that Mengiste holds you in suspense until the bitter end. So much so that I found I had actually been holding my breath waiting for the resolution.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Ethiopia, Or As We Used To Say, Abyssinia!” (p 81).
Smith. Alexander McCall. Tea Time for the Traditionally Built.
What is that saying? The more things change, the more they stay the same. When we catch up to Mma Ramotswe and the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Mma Ramotswe is now still at the agency but she is now married to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. Her assistant, Mma Matekutsi is still at the agency (although there is no mention of her typing school) and she is engaged to a well-to-do furniture salesman. The big drama lies with Mma Matekutsi. She has a competitor, another woman trying to steal her fiance away with immoral tactics. Meanwhile, Mma Ramotswe’s home life is doing well with the exception of her beloved tiny white van. As it becomes older it gets harder and harder to fix. She soon begins to hide the troubles from Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni for fear he will tell her to get rid of it. It seems unusual for Mma Ramotswe to love the tiny white van as much as she does but she considers it part of the family and goes to great lengths to keep it around. The one “mystery” of the book involves an always-losing football team. The manager is convinced someone is a traitor and losing games on purpose. Mma Ramotswe has been hired to find the culprit, which of course, she does.
A very good line, “Until you hear the whole story, until you dig deeper, and listen, she thought, you know only a tiny part of the goodness of the human heart” (p 60).
Reason read: This concludes my time with Mma Ramotswe and her friends. I started the series back in January with The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency in honor of Mystery month. I am sad to be ending this journey because I fell in love with the series.
Book trivia: Tea Time for the Traditionally Built isn’t the end of the series. It goes on but unfortunately I won’t be along for the ride.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Botswana” (p 42).
Warner, William W. Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay. New York: Penguin Books, 1988.
This book is everything you have ever wanted to know about crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay. Seriously. It’s an extensive look at the watermen who make their living hauling up blue crabs. More than a science tutorial on the quick and aggressive critters, it is also a lesson in personality – the type of individual who makes a living hauling in crabs. The illustrations by Consuelo Hanks are phenomenal.
Here’s the thing. This book completely reminded me of the men and women who fish off of the coast of Monhegan Island. They love their life on the water just as much and love their way of life even more.
Funny line, “Getting up at two o’clock is unnatural for city folk” (p 151).
Reason read: William W. Warner passed away on April 18th 2008 from complications related to Alzheimer’s. I know it sounds gruesome but as soon as I learned this I thought of my uncle and wondered if Warner choked to death.
Author fact: William W. Warner won a Pulitzer for Beautiful Swimmers.
Book trivia: Beautiful Swimmers has gorgeous illustrations by Consuelo Hanks. Definitely worth checking out…as I mentioned before.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Chesapeake Bay” (p 59).
Frost, Robert. “the Road Not Taken.” The Road Not Taken and Other Poems.New York: Dover Publications, 1993.
This is such a simple poem with such a complex meaning! But, having said that, how many people have used this poem to explain the things that they have done; the decisions they have made? My uncle read this poem at his brother’s funeral. His message was clear – my father, seven years his junior, chose a much different path than him or even the rest of the family. My father chose love over money. Happiness over family. My uncle offered this poem as an explanation for why they weren’t close as brothers but I also think he was (finally) voicing how proud he was of that courageous decision “to take the road less traveled.” It’s the last line that drives the point home. It has made all the difference. I know it did in my father’s short life.
Reason read: National Poetry Month. Need I say more?
Author fact: Robert Frost is one of the best known, best loved poets. We also associate Frost with New England but he was born in California.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Travelers’ Tales in Verse” (p 237).
Teasdale, Sara. “The Long Hill.” The Collected Poems of Sara Teasdale. Cutchogue, New York: Buccaneer Books, 1996. p 152.
“The Long Hill” made me laugh and scratch my head all at once. As an avid walker I know what it’s like to anticipate the crest of a hill, to look forward to arriving at the top, only to miss it. Not sensing the highest point defies logic. Surely one would know when he or she has reached it! You expect grandeur to be at the pinnacle. Sara just shrugs and says she might as well continue down.
But there is also contradiction to her poem. She describes the beaten track and yet the hem of her gown was getting caught on brambles. No wonder she missed the top. She was too busy trying to free her gown! And why wasn’t she walking the beaten track? Wouldn’t she has noticed the top of the long hill if she had been paying attention?
Reason read: another poem for National Poetry Month…
Author fact: Sara Teasdale writes a great deal about New York. I’ll be reading more of her material at a later date.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Travelers’ Tales in Verse” (p 237). This poem marks the end of the chapter.
Hiestand, Emily and Ande Zellman, editors. The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.
I read this book with bias because I love Boston. It is my favorite city when compared to New York, Denver or San Diego. Hands down, bar none. I love everything about Boston and I love it for everything it isn’t. In The Good City Emily Hiestand and Ande Zellman compile essays from fifteen different writers who have or had a connection with Beantown. Some writers returned to the city with a change of heart, like Susan Orlean. Other have never left and staunchly stand by the historic city. It shouldn’t be read like travel guide although, I admit, I jotted down notes for the next time I’m there: Isabella Stewart Gardiner’s Museum, the Christian Science Center, to name two.
Boston is the destination after a long journey of self discovery. It looks back on history and looks forward with robotics.
Reason read: Reading in honor of the Boston Marathon, which took place place yesterday, on April 15th.
Author fact: Technically, I should be writing a fact about all 15 essay contributors but I’ll suffice it to say Susan Orlean and John Hanson Mitchell are two authors I am reading again for the challenge.
Book trivia: Don’t think of this as a travel guide because it’s not. Think of it as a compilation of writers expressing their feelings about a city that moved them in one way or another.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the catchy chapter called “Boston: Beans, Bird and the Red Sox” (p).
Postscript. How awful. On the day I am supposed to post this Boston is recovering from a bombing attack. There are no words to describe what I feel right now. I do know this – Boston is a tough and gritty town. We WILL get through this.
Kipling, Rudyard. Mandalay. Rudyard Kipling’s Verse: Definitive Edition. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1940. p 416.
“Mandalay” is like a song with a chorus. It could easily be set to music. Even the subject matter, a soldier imagining his Burma girl pining away him, is appropriate for a ballad. He is still in lonely London. In my mind’s eye this poem is visually stunning.
Reason read: Poetry month. Need I say more?
Author fact: Kipling has long been a childhood favorite of mine. I can remember wanting to meet Mowgli just so I could hang out with the animals.
BookLust Twist: Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Travelers’ Tales in Verse” (p 237).
Masefield, John. “Sea-Fever.” Salt Water Poems and Ballads. Illustrated by Chas. Pears. New York: The MacMillan Campany, 1916. p 55.
As a girl who grew up
by the sea no, surrounded by the sea as only small island living can be, I loved everything about John Masefield’s Salt Water Poems and Ballads. The version I picked up was published in 1916 and had the inscription, “Evelyn, from Cerisi (?) Estelle – Christmas 1916.” Awesome. The illustrations are beautiful (my favorite is on page 73). The particular poem I was to read, “Sea Fever” evoked so many different memories for me. What comes across the strongest is there is a real need to be on the water; a need that cannot be denied. Just give me a ship the narrator cries. It’s all he needs. From that he hears the gull’s cry and tastes the salt wind.
Favorite line, “I must go down to the seas again.” Let me repeat it. I MUST go down to the seas again. Amen.
Reason read: Last time I checked April was National Poetry Month…still.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Travelers’ Tales in Verse’ (p 237).
Chesterton, Gilbert Keith. “Lepanto.” Louis Untermeyer, ed. Modern British Poetry. New York: Harcourt Brace & Howe, 1920.
The real Battle of Lepanto took place in 1571. Chesterton’s poem reads like an army marching to war even though the real battle was fought on the high seas. The cadence is like a chant and the words pulsate with feeling. It’s a regular as the tide moving in and out. Don John of Austria.
Favorite words, “dim drums throbbing.” Don’t you just love it? In urban times it would be someone honking their girl down from the apartment, a cranked up bass stuck in traffic a few miles away.
Reason read: April is National Poetry Month.
Author fact: G.K Chesterton was a journalist, a novelist, an essayist, a publicist, a lyricist, and a poet all in one.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Travelers’ Tales in Verse” (p 237). Here, Pearl seemingly makes a mistake. She calls the poem “Lepants” when everything I’ve read called it “Lepanto.”
De La Mare, Walter. “The Listeners.” The Collected Poems of Walter De La Mare. London: Faber and Faber, 1979. p 84.
Have you ever read this poem before? I mean, really read it? Read it out loud and see what happens. It’s full of mystery. Who is this grey-eyed stranger banging on a door by the dim light of the moon? What does he want? His horse waits patiently while he continues to “smote upon the door.” He has kept his word but what did he promise and to whom? Lastly, who is listening? Who hears this exchange between the grey-eyed mystery man and the door he bangs upon? It’s definitely a favorite poem for the month of April!
Reason read: April is still National Poetry Month.
Author fact: Walter is best known for his poem “The Listeners.” I can see why.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Travelers’ Tales in Verse” (p 237).
Martin, Gerald. Gabriel Garcia Marquez: a Life. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2008.
This is going to sound horrible but I read the biography of Gabriel Garcia Marquez before reading a single word written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I have a bunch of different books by Garcia Marquez on my challenge list but his biography came up first. It’s sad to say I never read anything of his in high school or even college. You would think, I being a huge John Cusack fan, that I would have at least read Love in the Time of Cholera! (If you have no idea why I made that connection go rent Serendipity or High Fidelity.)
Surprisingly, this is one of my favorite biographies read so far. It has to be the subject matter. Like other biographies that spend an inordinate amount of time setting the stage (political and socially) or produce pages and pages of mini biographies of the subject’s great-great-great grandparents Martin does bog down with those details in the beginning. His focus is not primarily on Gabriel Garcia Marquez but rather the myriad of family members from both his mother’s and father’s sides of the family. I got lost trying to keep the just cousins straight. Forget about all the drama that went with them! But, aside from that reading about Marquez’s life was fascinating. Martin took 17 years to research his subject and it shows.
Probably my favorite aspect of the biography is the parallels Martin makes between Marquez’s life and his art. Martin doesn’t miss an opportunity to make note of people in Marquez’s life who eventually became characters in his books later. I have a deeper understanding of where the soul of One Hundred Years of Solitude came from.
Favorite quotes, “A whispy costeno moustache appeared on his adolescent lip and was left to wander where it would” (p 108), and “Acquaintances remember him always drumming his fingers on the table as we waited for his lunch , or on anything else to hand…music always wafting through him” (p 145). Guess my husband has something in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez…always drumming on something.
Reason read: Gabriel Garcia Marquez was born in March.
Book trivia: Gabriel Garcia Marquez: a Life includes great photography. GGM’s first year picture was adorable.
Author fact: According to Martin’s Wiki page his biography of Gabriel Garcia Marquez was the first full biography to be published in English. Interesting.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Hail, Columbia!” (p 91).
Kelly, Clara Olink. The Flamboya Tree: Memories of a Mother’s Wartime Courage. New York: Random House, 2002.
This is a short memoir. Some would say too short. Clara Olink Kelly is just four years old when her family is torn apart by the Japanese invasion of the Pacific Island of Java during World War II. Clara’s father is forced to work on the Burma railroad while Clara’s mother is left to care for two small children and a pregnant with a second son. It isn’t long before the Japanese commandeer their home and the entire family is transferred to a concentration camp, Kamp Tjideng. There Clara spends four long years enduring extreme crowding, starvation, illness and unspeakable filth. In addition she witnesses horrific abuse and violence that would haunt her for the rest of her life. The one piece of home that keeps them going is a small painting of a red flamboya tree. This painting, because it was never abused or destroyed by the Japanese, became a symbol of strength for the family. It goes wherever they go. The other symbol of strength is Clara’s mother. The beautiful thing about The Flamboya Tree is that throughout the entire story Clara’s respect and admiration for her mother never waivers. It is a lovely tribute to a mother who did everything she could to protect her children and survive the harsh conditions.
Powerful line, “She still had the audacity to hold her head high” (p 61).
Reason read: To recognize Nyepi, the Balinese Day of Silence. Last year it was celebrated at the end of March.
Author fact: Do a search for Clara Olink Kelly and she pops up on the website IMDb because she appeared on the Rosie O’Donnell show in 2002. Do an image search for Clara Olink Kelly and you will discover she looks just like her mother.
Book trivia: There is a study guide for The Flamboya Tree: Memories of a Mother’s Wartime Courage and the first question is, “would you have tried to escape?” What a loaded question!
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Indicative of Indonesia” (p 104).
Smith, Alexander McCall. Tears of the Giraffe. Read by Lisette Lecat. Prince Frederick, Maryland: Recorded Books, 2003.
If you read No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency you will appreciate the fact that Tears of the Giraffe picks up right where No. 1 Ladies left off. Someone on another review site called this next book in the series “utterly seamless” and I couldn’t agree more. At the end of No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni has just proposed to Mma Ramotswe and surprisingly she accepted despite having refused once before. Tears of the Giraffe starts off with the happy couple planning their life together, downsizing their maid staff (which doesn’t prove to be a simple matter), deciding who moves into whose house, obtaining an obligatory engagement ring…But it isn’t long before the story resumes Mma Ramotswe’s detective work. The very first case is an odd one. An American mother has come back to Botswana looking for her adult son who had disappeared from a farming commune ten years earlier. While she had thoroughly looked for her son ten years ago (when he first went missing) the recent death of her husband from prostate cancer has renewed the mother’s need for closure in all aspects of her life. It’s this case that threads through the entire book. The rest of the cases are small and are solved quickly. Tears of the Giraffe really focuses more on character development. Mma Ramotswe’s secretary has a bigger part as does Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. In an interesting twist Mma Ramotswe makes her secretary a partner in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni makes Mma Ramotswe a mother. I won’t say anything more than that.
Reason read: This continues the story of Botswana’s number one ladies detective, Mma Precious Ramotswe (started in No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency) in honor of female mystery month being in January.
Author Fact: According to the back of the cd case Alexander McCall Smith has written over 50 books. I’m really disappointed I won’t be reading Forensic Aspects of Sleep. As an insomnia that one sounds fascinating to me.
Book trivia: This is the second book in the Mma Ramotswe series and deals with Mma Ramotswe on a more personal level.
BookLust Twist: From both Book Lust to Go and More Book Lust. Book Lust To Go includes it in the chapter called “Botswana” (p 42) and More Book Lust mentions it in the chapter “Ms. Mystery” (p 170).