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).
Pope, Hugh. Dining With Al-Queda: Three Decades Exploring The Many Worlds of the Middle East. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2010.
Thirty years is a long time and while I don’t think Hugh Pope spent all of tho0se thirty years researching his book, Dining with Al Qaeda, I think the thirty years gave him plenty of time for him to collect the juicer antidotes. Pope covers everything from culture to society to politics and of course, war. Even though Pope’s experience begins in 1980 there isn’t a logical layout to the format of the book and chronological order is almost nonexistent, making the text feel disjointed and, in some places, messy. However, despite being a seasoned journalist with the Wall street Journal, Pope takes on a tone of conversation and casual – something he admittedly was striving for. To further lighten the mood Pope included revealing photographs (all taken by him).
Reason read: Osama Bin Laden was assassinated on May 2, 2011.
Book trivia: The title, Dining with Al-Qaeda is a hook to draw the reader in. There is much more to the text than chowing with a terrorist.
Author fact: Pope wrote a book called Turkey Revealed that made the New York Times “notable” list.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “A Mention of the Middle East” (p 143).
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.
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).
Jong, Erica. Fear of Flying. New York: Signet, 1973.
I think I started this book about eight different times, starting when I was 16 or 17. As a kid I always misunderstood the cover art – a naked woman under an unzipped… something. I thought she was in a body bag which, now that I think about it, doesn’t really make sense because if that were the case, she would have been sideways in the bag. Therefore she shouldn’t fit. Having no idea what the book was actually about back then I didn’t know it was a man’s unzipped fly. Now I say, “but of course!” The takeaway from Jong’s Fear of Flying is the underlying message of freedom (especially freedom from fear). To fly is to be free and this is one woman’s story about wanting that ability to become unfettered and free. Her sexuality and psychology are just metaphors for the deeper meaning of feminism and a woman taking control of her life…like a man. Yes, there is sex and lots of it but that’s not what Fear of Flying is all about.
Favorite lines, “A little girl who was neither bitchy nor mealy-mouthed because she didn’t hate her mother or herself” (p 46),
Reason read: May is considered the “Birds and Bees” month so let’s talk about sex.
Author fact: Erica Jong has a sexy website here. I love the colors and the use of multimedia – very eye catching.
Book trivia: According to Jong’s website, Fear of Flying was her first published book.
Reason read: from Book Lust in the chapter called “I am Woman – Hear Me Roar” (p 120).
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).
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).
Ostrom, Thomas P. The United States Coast Guard and National Guard: a History from World War I to the Present.Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2012.
My father was in the Coast Guard. I have a lot of respect for the men and women who serve in this branch of the military. They are more than glorified harbor masters, as I’ve heard them called. They are some of the bravest individuals I have ever met. So, I was waiting to love The United States Coast Guard and National Defense. I was looking forward to enjoying every page of it, maybe for my father’s sake. When that didn’t happen I was disappointed. From the very beginning The United States Coast Guard was bogged down with details. With no clear plot or chronology it was confusing and more than a little didactic and chaotic. The history jumped around a lot. Tidbits of information proved to be very interesting but they were buried under mountains of statistics and dry prose. I was also distracted by all the unnecessary parenthetical information. I don’t want to give up on The United States Coast Guard and National Defense so I’ll keep picking it up. I’ll let you know when I finally finish it.
Douglas, William O. Of Men and Mountains. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1950.
William Douglas loved the outdoors. There is no mistaking that. He also had an enthusiasm for sharing that love with others. From a young age Douglas found a friendship with the mountains outside his home in Washington state. The mountains of Adams and Rainier became his getaway retreats. As he states in his forward (p x) to Of Men and Mountains, “I learned early that the richness of life is found in adventure.” Amen to that. His book combines the history of the mountains with Douglas’s lifelong enthusiasm, making it an infectious read. He covers the mountain adventures of his entire life, from boyhood to adulthood and I wanted to get out and hike immediately after hearing them.
Favorite quotes: As someone who walks a lot I appreciated Douglas’s love of hiking. “It was good to take long steps and feel the stretching muscles at the backs of my knees” (p 54).
Other quotes I liked: “It is in solitude that man can come to know both his heart and his mind” (p 90) and “The experience had a deep meaning for me, as only those who have known stark terror and conquered it can appreciate” (p 108).
Reason read: Mount Everest was first climbed in the month of May hence a book about a mountain read in May. Incidentally, Everest claimed another life this week.
Author Fact: In addition to being a wilderness enthusiast Douglas was a judge in his spare time.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” (p 64).
Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Ivy Books, 1989.
Yeah, yeah. I know what you’re thinking. This should be a reread for me at this stage of the game. Believe it or not, I’d never read it before. Nor have I seen the movie. It bears repeating. I didn’t know this story. At all. Surprised? Don’t be. There are a lot of books I need to catch up to. I have a lot of words to chase. Still.
So. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. In a word, magical. In two words, thought provoking. In three, very well written. In four, impossible to put down. I’ll stop there but you get the point. I liked it.
I feel a little redundant writing about a book that has been around for so long. Everyone knows it either through reading it (hey, it did spend nine months on the best seller list) or from seeing the movie. I’m the only who has been living under a rock! But, anyway:
The Joy Luck follows the lives of three immigrant Chinese women who had started up a Mahjong club called Joy Luck in 1949. (There is a fourth founder but she dies before the book starts.) When the fourth founder dies from an brain aneurism her adult daughter is invited to join the group. Each chapter is a vignette, alternating between the Chinese mothers of the group and their American-born daughters. Through memories, parables, heritage and tragic history the visuals and dialogues make each character come alive.
One of the elements that makes The Joy Luck Club so fascinating is that it is structured like the game Mahjong the Joy Luck Club plays. To be fair, I had to do a little research about mahjong because I wasn’t sure how it is played. After learning how the game is set up it dawned on me it was the identical design of Tan’s book.
Four parts that are divided into four sections totaling 16 different slices of story.
Personal joke: “…Ted introduced me to all his relatives as his girlfriend which, until then, I didn’t know I was” (p 124). Been there!
Book Trivia: The Joy Luck Club was translated into over 30 different languages, was a best-seller for nine months and was made into a movie in 1993 starring Tsai Chin. Chin also starred in Memoirs of a Geisha, another book on my list.
Author fact: Amy Tan co-authored a book with one of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver, in 1994 called Mid-Life Confidential: The Rock Bottom Remainders Tour with Three Cords and an Attitude .
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Asian American Experience” (p 26).
Hahn, Emily. China to Me: a Partial Autobiography. Philadelphia: The Blakiston Company, 1946.
I always love it when my own library has something from my Challenge list. I have to be honest. I didn’t think I would see China to Me on our shelves and I’m not sure why.
People pick up China to Me for different reasons. Some look for a travelog, something to give an accurate picture of the politics and society of mid-war China (it was published in 1944). Some look for a personal account of an outspoken feminist American living in Shanghai and Hong Kong and beyond. I picked it up because I heard Hahn was like Isabella Bird, a gutsy traveler who was not afraid to live outside the conformity of her time. After reading most of Hahn’s partial autobiography I have to disagree somewhat. Hahn’s autobiography has been criticized as being a little self-indulgent. I agree. She frequently drops the names of then-prominent Chinese society (most who mean nothing to us in the 21st century). Whereas Bird lingers over flower and fauna, Hahn belabors relationships she had. I was distracted by all the name references. I am sure in the 1940s the individuals were impressive to know but that society has long since lost its luster in the 60+ years since. Another complaint about Hahn is her apparent little regard for the welfare of her born-out-of-wedlock child. While in the Japanese prison camps she seemed more concerned with herself than the individuals around her. Despite Hahn’s apparent selfishness she writes with clever humor and keen insight. In addition her life as a concubine and mistress to a spy was interesting enough to write about!
Favorite quotes: “As long as I had a column that wasn’t news, so that our readers wouldn’t be distressed by having to think, it was all right” (p 11).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called ” Lady Travelers” (p 143). Also, from More Book Lust in the chapter called ” “Living Through War” (p 155). Mentioned a third time in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “China: The Middle Kingdom” (p 60).
Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women. New York: Scholastic, 1987.
I think it goes without saying that Little Women is a classic. Who doesn’t know the story of Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth? Okay, so female readers of all ages probably know it better than men but either way there is no denying it’s a classic! Plus, they made a movie out of it!
So. To repeat the obvious: This is the story of the March women – Mrs. March and her four daughters. Too old to be drafted into service, Mr. March enlists to be a chaplain in the civil war. While he is away Mrs. March and her girls keep a modest house house in Concord, Massachusetts. The story centers around the four daughters and their four very different personalities. Alcott was ahead of her time when she created the character of Josephine (“Jo”). Jo is an ambitious tomboy who cuts her hair and wants to be a unmarried writer. She is referred to as male by herself (saying she is the man of the house while Father is away) and by her father (who calls her “son”). It’s an interesting dynamic to the plot. The rest of the March women are as Victorian as can be. I try to refrain from seeing them as prissy. They are all very pretty and wishy-washy and have talent. As a aside, the storytelling reminded me of Anne of Green Gables.
Disclaimer: Alcott intended Little Women to the first of a two volume set (with Good Wives being the second). Because Good Wives is not on my reading list I didn’t read it with Little Women.
Author Fact: Louisa May Alcott is buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, MA. I wonder if I’ll have time to look her up while I am there in another week?
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Three-Hanky Reads” (p 236). Of course Pearl is referring to the part when Beth dies.
Latham, Jean Lee. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1955.
Read this in a day. May is National History month and while that alone was a good excuse to read Carry On I also chose to read it because of Kon-Tiki. Seemed like the perfect transition.
This was reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s account about growing up in the unorganized territories of the midwest in the Little House series; better known as historical fiction. I call it biographical with a little imagination thrown in. It covers the life of Nathanial Bowditch, navigator extraordinaire. While the details of his childhood and subsequent personal adult years are somewhat abbreviated for adults, the content is perfect for children. I appreciated the way Latham didn’t minimized or sugarcoat the tragedy in Bowditch’s life. Nor did she gloss over his relationships with his first wife Elizabeth, or Polly, his second. What does come across is Bowditch’s love of mathematics and the seriousness with which he applies it to navigating the high seas. He does not suffer fools easily but his passion for teaching is enthusiastic and patient.
Favorite lines: “Sometimes women get a little upset about the sea” (p 71). Well, can you blame them? Husbands were gone for months and even years. Sometimes they didn’t come home at all. Another line I liked “You know, you’re real humanlike – in spite of your brains” (p 86). Funny.
Book Trivia: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch won Latham a Newbery Medal.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction for Kids of All Ages” (p 114).
Heyerdahl, Thor. Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific By Raft. Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 1950.
I am still stuck on reading about the Pacific (islands and ocean) so I jumped this book up the list (was supposed to be read in August in honor of Ocean month or in June in honor of Monhegan becoming a plantation).
This was a lot of fun to read. I enjoyed everything about this adventure. Heyerdahl is a fabulous storyteller and really funny too. Although slightly inaccurate, Heyerdahl was convinced there was a connection between the peoples of South America and the population of the Polynesian (Easter/Tahitian) Islands. Building a raft made of the same materials the Incas would have used (balsa wood, bamboo and other natural elements), Heyerdahl and five companions spent 101 days crossing 4,300 nautical miles of the Pacific ocean in all kinds of weather to prove the point. The six men (five from Norway and one Swede) took turns cooking and steering and got along surprisingly well for a group of grown men stuck in the middle of the Pacific for almost four months. They endured raging seas, wild winds and all sorts of aquatic creatures that insisted on joining them on the raft. The episode with the squid jumping on board was especially disturbing.
The photography, while in 1940s black and white, is a helpful addition to the story. Imagining the size and heft of the raft would be difficult without it.
Favorite giggle moment: “Our neighborly intimacy with the sea was not fully realized by Torstein till he woke one morning and found a sardine on his pillow” (p 114).
Author fact: Heyerdahl was son to a master brewer and died of a brain tumor at age 87.
Book Trivia: Kon-Tiki was made into a documentary in 1951 for which it won an Academy Award. This is definitely going onto my “Must See” list.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Oceania” (p 165). Reason I read it: trip to Hawaii coming soon.