The Numbers

DATE: 2/23/15
Titles Finished Total

  • Books: 863
  • Poetry: 74
  • Short stories: 32

Total for 2015: 21 titles
Titles left to go (all combined): 4,761
Next count: 3/23/2015


Happy Birthday Benito

Here we are, three months into a new year of the Challenge. March marks month four. Weird, I know. Here are the books. You will notice a few additions. That’s because I found out that Batya Gur wrote a series and Murder on a Kibbutz is in the middle.

  1. Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan (DNF)
  2. In a Strange City by Laura Lippman
  3. By a Spider’s Thread by Laura Lippman (AB)
  4. Recognitions by William Gaddis (DNF)
  5. Maus by Art Spiegelman
  6. Lady Franklin’s Revenge by Ken McGoogan
  7. Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao* by Junot Diaz (AB)
  8. Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
  9. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  10. Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan
  11. ADDED: A Good Doctor’s Son by Steven Schwartz
  12. ADDED: Drinking: a Love Story by Caroline Knapp
  13. ADDED: Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day by Philip Matyszak
  14. ADDED: Nero Wolfe Cookbook by Rex Stout
  15. ADDED: Treasure Hunter by W. Jameson (ER)
  16. Maus II by Art Spiegelman (Jan)
  17. ADDED: The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat (AB)
  18. ADDED: In Xanadu by William Dalrymple
  19. ADDED: The Assault by Harry Mulisch
  20. Wild Blue by Stephen Ambrose
  21. Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore
  22. Greater Nowheres by David Finkelstein/Jack London
  23. ADDED: Alma Mater by P.F Kluge
  24. ADDED: Old Man & Me by Elaine Dundy
  25. ADDED: Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
  26. Good Life by Ben Bradlee
  27. Underworld by Don DeLillo
  28. Her Name Was Lola by Russell Hoban
  29. Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton
  30. Fires From Heaven by Robert Jordan
  31. Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce DNF
  32. Herb ‘n’ Lorna by Eric Kraft
  33. Polish Officer by Alan Furst – AB
  34. Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan (Mar)
  35. ADDED: Walden by Henry David Throreau
  36. ADDED: Reservations Recommended by Eric Kraft (Mar/Feb)
  37. ADDED: Selected Letters of Norman Mailer edited by J. Michael Lennon – ER (Feb -?)
  38. Chasing Monarchs by Robert Pyle (Mar)
  39. ADDED: Saturday Morning Murder by Batya Gur (Mar)
  40. Bebe’s By Golly Wow by Yolanda Joe (Mar)
  41. Lives of the Muse by Francine Prose (Mar)
  42. Broom of the System (David Wallace (Mar)
  43. Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan (Apr)
  44. ADDED: Little Follies by Eric Kraft (Apr/Feb)
  45. ADDED: Literary Murder by Batya Gur (Apr)
  46. Two Gardeners by Emily Wilson (Apr)
  47. Royal Flash by George Fraser (Apr)
  48. Fifties by David Halberstam (Apr)
  49. Binding Spell by Elizabeth Arthur (Apr)
  50. Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan (Apr)
  51. Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan (May)
  52. ADDED: Where Do You Stop? by Eric Kraft (May/Feb)
  53. Murder on a Kibbutz by Batya Gur (May)
  54. Flash for Freedom! by George Fraser (May)
  55. Murder in Amsterdam by Ian Buruma (May)
  56. Petra: lost city by Christian Auge (May)
  57. From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman (May)
  58. Jordan by E. Borgia (May)
  59. Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill (May)
  60. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (May)
  61. Flash at the Charge by George MacDonald Fraser (May)
  62. ADDED: What a Piece of Work I Am by Eric Kraft (Jun/Feb)
  63. Castles in the Air by Judt Corbett (Jun)
  64. Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (Jun)
  65. Thirty-three Teeth by Colin Cotterill (Jun)
  66. Millstone by Margaret Drabble (Jun)
  67. Winter’s Heart by Robert Jordan (Jun)
  68. Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan (Jul)
  69. At Home with the Glynns by Eric Kraft (Jul/Feb)
  70. Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill (Jul)
  71. Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme (Jul)
  72. New Physics and Cosmology by Arthur Zajonc (Jul)
  73. Grifters by Jim Thompson (Jul)
  74. Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (Jul)
  75. Snow Angels by James Thompson (Jul)
  76. Ararchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill (Aug)
  77. ADDED: Leaving Small’s Hotel by Eric Kraft (Aug/Feb)
  78. Flashman’s Lady by George MacDonald Fraser (Aug)
  79. Possession by AS Byatt (Aug)
  80. In the Footsteps of Ghanghis Khan by John DeFrancis (Aug)
  81. What Just Happened by James Gleick (Aug)
  82. Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (Aug)
  83. ADDED: Inflating a Dog by Eric Kraft (Sep/Feb)
  84. Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill (Sep)
  85. Flashman and the Redskins by George MacDonald Fraser (Sep)
  86. Queens’ Play by Dorothy Dunnett (Sep)
  87. Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood (Sep)
  88. Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (Sep)
  89. Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Sep)
  90. Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman (Oct)
  91. Merry Misogynist by Colin Cotterill (Oct)
  92. Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett (Oct)
  93. Flashman and the Dragon by George MacDonald Fraser (Oct)
  94. Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carman (Nov)
  95. Love Songs from a Shallow Grave by Collin Cotterill (Nov)
  96. Flashman and the Mountain of Light by George MacDonald Fraser (Nov)
  97. Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett (Nov)
  98. Andorra by Peter Cameron (Nov)

DNF = Did Not Finish; AB = Audio Book; ER = Early Review


Reservations Recommended

Kraft, Eric. Reservations Recommended. New York: Crown Publishers, 1990.

Meet Matthew Barber (also known as B.W. Beath). Toy designer by day (as Matthew), restaurant critic by night (as B.W.). He’s 14 months out of marriage and living in a building where the elevator barely works. His apartment has a mysterious smell and no matter how many holes they punch in the wall or carpets they pull up, maintenance cannot pinpoint its origin. Maybe it’s all in Matthew’s head, as are so many other things. Despite being a funny and intelligent reviewer, Matthew himself is fussy, slightly paranoid, embarrassed easily. He can be rude, naive and more than a little foolish. He’s always imagining himself to be someone he’s not (especially around the ladies) and relies more and more on his restaurant reviewer persona to cope with social situations. But, what happens when those personalities become indistinguishable? What happens when you not only talk to yourself, but answer back?

Confessional: I was a little taken aback when I read the inside flap of Reservations Recommended. Words like sardonic, dark, wicked, nasty, chilling, violence, and squalor were not expected; especially not after reading Herb ‘n’ Lorna.

Reason read: to continue the “series” started with Herb ‘n’ Lorna begun in February in honor of Kraft’s birth month and Valentine’s Day. To be fair, this isn’t a series in the traditional sense. Each book in the Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy “series” can be read separately. In fact, when I read the description for Reservations Recommended I was confused. I will admit I did a little digging to figure out where was the connection between this book and Peter. Turns out, the protagonist in Reservations is a school mate of Peter Leroy’s. Ah. So, in fairness this isn’t about Peter Leroy’s adventures, or his experiences or his observations. We never meet Peter at all.

Author fact: Kraft is a former chairman of PEN New England.

Book trivia: While Herb ‘n’ Lorna was “sweet” this can only be described as “dark” because Matthew is a little sinister.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Eric Kraft: Too Good To Miss” (p ). But, you knew that already.


A Good Life

Bradlee, Ben. A Good Life: Newpapering and Other Adventures. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

To read A Good Life: Newpapering and Other Adventures is like sitting down with Mr. Bradlee and having a cup of coffee and a glazed doughnut. Easy. Warm. Inviting. And, depending on how sticky the doughnut (or Bradlee’s situation) potentially very funny. I imagine sitting in a chair that is overly comfortable and subsequently difficult to get out of. He unfolds his life with in twinkle in his eye and you can tell he looks back on his experiences with warmth and humor. Speaking of unfolding his life, one of the elements of Bradlee’s biography that I appreciated the most was the fact he did not go too far back into his family’s genealogy. I did not need to know where his great-great-great-great grandparents came from to appreciate Bradlee’s own beginnings. Before you are even 100 pages into the story, Bradlee is twenty years old, married and in the Navy (in fact, his wedding and entry into the Navy happened on the very same day). He moves quickly through his rise in journalism and subsequent employment with Newsweek & the Washington Post. Just as decisively he describes his marriages, first to Jean Salton, then to Tony Pinchot and finally, Sally Quinn. Probably one of the more intriguing sections of A Good Life wasn’t Watergate as you might expect, but rather Bradlee’s time with John F. Kennedy as friend and reporter before and during Kennedy’s Presidential career. [As an aside, I didn’t make the connection that it was Bradlee’s sister-in-law who was rumored to have had an affair with the President. (Rumor has it she was murdered to cover up the scandal.)] I don’t have Conversations with Kennedy on my list, but I wish I did. If it’s anything like Good Life, I’m sure it’s an interesting read.
But, back to the review. As expected, Bradlee spends a great deal of time talking about President Nixon, Watergate and the work that went into uncovering the lies. This is where Bradlee slows history down and works through the details methodically. But, he also shares some other not-so-crowning Post moments again, there is that honesty about all he reveals.

Quotes I loved: “The prunes were on the menu because my mother was preoccupied by our bowel movements” (p 24), “…loved the camaraderie, even if the odd asshole reared his ugly head every so often” (p 76), and “I didn’t just unclutter my mind. I emptied it, and found peace” (p 394).

Reason read: February is scholastic journalism month.

Author fact(s): This first one is more about the Bradlee men than author Ben – 51 Bradlees, starting in 1795, went to Harvard. Impressive. The second fact is that Ben Bradlee died at the age of 93 just a few short months ago (October 2014).

Book trivia: Note to self (and Pearl): This would have been a good book to read along side Katherine Graham’s Personal History. They go hand in hand.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Fourth Estate” (p 93).


Underworld

DeLillo, Don. Underworld. Read by Richard Poe. New York: Recorded Books, 2003.

Even though this is a long book I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. From the prologue I was hooked. By the way, everyone loves the prologue best. But the book as a whole, I don’t know how to describe it. It’s a stand-alone novella in itself. I guess I could equate Underworld to a bumble bee ride. At times the plot flies over time and space, flitting from one character to another without really touching down long enough to establish foundation. But, there there are other times this bee lands, spends an inordinate amount of time digging around one particular scene and rooting among the details; rolling through the dialogue and repeating itself a lot. Diverse yet nitty gritty. If you get to the part when Nick is trying to talk to his wife while she watched a movie you’ll see what I mean. Excruciating! I found their dialogue painful.
As a whole, Underworld is a biography of 20th century American culture, flayed and dissected and analyzed. Guts and all. It’s 50 years of society spanning the country, from Arizona to New York and points in between. It’s 1951 and fifty years beyond. There is no real plot. There is no real point other than to show the complexities of the times we live in.

Reason read: February is National History Month and Underworld is chock full of history, real and imagined.

Author fact: Although Don DeLillo is mentioned five times in Book Lust I am only reading three of his books, Libra, White Noise and of course, Underworld.

Book trivia: Underworld is a huge book – over 800 some odd pages long. I had to borrow an audio recording and a print version just to finish it within the month!
Audio trivia: I just had to mention this since it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a library do this: the Westborough Public Library warned me, “the cost to replace this item is $109.75 Please handle carefully!” Why not make it an even $110? Just saying.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “American History: Fiction” (p 22).


Herb ‘n’ Lorna

Kraft, Eric. Herb ‘n’ Lorna. New York: Amazon Encore, 2010.

I like beginnings that come out of nowhere and give the reader a resounding slap. Picture this: it’s the preface and our hero, Peter Leroy, gets a boner at his grandmother’s funeral. It’s worse than that because he’s not hunkered down in a pew. While up in front of fellow mourners, delivering the eulogy, he has to find a way to shift his painfully positioned penis without anyone noticing. Talk about uncomfortable! Sounds like one of those dreams when you are standing in front of the class naked, trying to recite the Gettysburg address. If I were a boy I would be cringing to read all this in such detail; instead I’m a giggling girl.
Kraft is well…crafty when it comes to Herb ‘n’ Lorna. It’s the cleverly told biography of the title’s namesakes told from the point of view of their grandson, Peter. He fills in the gaps with an “interview” with an old friend of his grandmother’s. Herb and Lorna were not your average grandparents and their life together was far from ordinary despite outward appearances to the contrary. Herb was a salesman with a passion for tinkering. He liked gadgets and he liked inventing. Lorna was an artist, skilled at carving. Independent of the other they both became involved in the creation of “course works”, little trinkets depicting erotic sex acts disguised as charms or jewelry or buttons or pocket watches. For example, Lorna carved buttons which subsequently were secreted into Red Cross care packages; sent to “cheer” the troops during the war. Herb upon receiving one such button, took these course goods a step further and gave them movement through mechanical engineering. They both picked up the trade from an uncle. They both used this secret work as a means to make extra money. How they got away with living parallel lives without the other finding out seemed a little unbelievable at times.
What makes Herb ‘n’ Lorna such a joy to read is the characters themselves. They are complicated and endearing and their relationship sticks with you long after the last page is read. And I agree with the author, read the preface!

Reason read: I guess there are two reasons for reading Herb ‘n’ Lorna. Eric Kraft was born in the month of February, so that’s reason #1. Reason #2: Herb ‘n’ Lorna is cataloged as a romance at the Monson Free Library. Valentine’s Day = romance = Herb ‘n’ Lorna. I would go a step further and almost call it erotica. It certainly is naughty! ;)

Lines I liked: Oddly enough, even though I loved the book I never thought to quote anything from it.

Book trivia: There was a lot of inner debate about in what order I should be reading Kraft’s “voluminous fiction.” There is the way Pearl recommends: in the order the stories were written and published first (beginning with Little Follies. Then there is the order I chose: in order of the saga. The entire saga (according to Kraft) is first introduced in Herb ‘n’ Lorna. According to Kraft’s website, there is no wrong order and in fact you can start with any book you want.

Author fact: Eric Kraft’s website is as interesting as his writing. You can visit it here. There is a whole section dedicated to Peter Leroy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called ” Eric Kraft: Too Good to Miss” (p 141).


Polish Officer

Furst, Alan. The Polish Officer. Read by George Guidall. New York: Recorded Books, 2005.

Alexander de Milja has been offered a miraculous choice. With Poland on the brink of surrender to the Germans, he has a decision to make: stay in the Polish army as Captain and serve on the battlefield (a guaranteed suicide) or join an underground Polish resistance group Zwiazek Walki Zbrojnej. No brainer. His first mission is to secure a successful route for Poland’s Gold Reserve to the safety of England via a refugee train headed for Bucharest. Later, in Paris de Milja poses as a Russia poet. Still later he is a Slovakian coal merchant. This is at a time when the war was filled with uneasy partnerships and extremely unstable alliances. How anybody trusted anyone else is a mystery. Even though it was everyman for himself, de Milja infiltrated a variety of groups and formed key relationships which helped him keep his disguises believable. The women embedded in the resistance were the most interesting to me.

As an aside, reading this now is perfect timing. It fits in with Maus, Maus II, and The Wild Blue – all books about World War II I’ve read in the last two months.

Reason read: Furst’s birthday is in February.

Author fact: I have read in numerous places that Alan Furst is the “next” Graham Greene. I would agree they are similar.

Book trivia: As far as I know this hasn’t been made into a movie. If it isn’t, it should.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War II Fiction” (p 253).


Man Who Was Thursday

Chesterton, G.K. The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. [Auckland]: The Floating Press, 2009. ebook collection (EBSCOhost). Web. February 3rd, 2015.

There are so many reviews which comment on the religious allegory of this book so I will refrain from doing that, except to say I enjoyed the “dueling with the devil” scene the most. There are also many reviews that mention how weird the story gets. Agreed. Completely. This is one of those situations in a story where purpose overshadows plot because the whole thing is really quite ridiculous. In a nutshell, Gabriel Symes is an undercover detective who infiltrates an anarchist group (Council of the Seven Days) only to find that the entire membership, with the exception of its leader, is made up of undercover New Detective Corps members. Each member goes by a day of the week for an alias, hence the Council of the Seven Days. Symes has just been nominated as “Thursday”. As a collective week they are all trying to get at the elusive leader, “Sunday”. Except, they are all in the dark as to each others true identities. What I find curious is that when Sunday sniffs out a spy his fears are confirmed when the undercover policeman reveals he is carrying his membership card to the anti-anarchist constabulary. Wouldn’t you remove that piece of evidence, especially if you bother to go through the trouble of wearing an elaborate disguise? Gogol posed as a hairy Pole, accent and all. The Professor posed as an invalid old man with a huge nose. Turns out, all six policemen are carrying the tell-tale blue identification card. Not one of them thought to leave it at home. But, I digress. For most of the story it is a cat and mouse game with the good guys chasing the bad guys (until one by one, they find out they are all good guys). The theme of “who can you trust” is ongoing.

I found a who bunch of lines and phrases I wanted to quote. Here are a few of them: “Many suitcases look a like” (p 2), “Boisterous rush of the narrative” (p 5), “The poet delights in disorder only” (p 15), “It is new for a nightmare to lead to a lobster” (p 29), and one more, “If you want to know what you are, you are a set of highly well-intentioned young jackasses” (p 263).

Reason read: Anarchy plays a huge part in Man Who Was Thursday and the Russian Revolution happened in February. You make the connection.

Author fact: Chesterton also wrote The Best of Father Brown which is also on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: The Man Who Was Thursday was first published in 1908. I cannot tell you how cool it is to be reading this an e-book 107 years later. As an aside, this is my first Challenge book from Ebsco. Another small piece of trivia: Chesterton had a thing for the sea. He mentions it no less than a dozen times throughout The Man Who Was Thursday.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade” (p 175).


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