Thursday, November 29, 2012

Okay, Maybe Just One More....

With Thanksgiving in mind, I took a detour into a quick nonfiction read about the foods of our childhood, Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods That Changed The Way We Eat by Carolyn Wyman. This book is easily read in an afternoon, colorful, glossy, lots of pictures, and a ton of fun, trivial history about products we all remember from back in the day. We're talking Kool-Aid, Tang, Pillsbury, Jello, Green Giant, and a slew of other ones you'd recognize in an instant.

author Carolyn Wyman

It's hard not to get nutty for nostalgia during the holiday season, when so much time is spent around friends and family you either can't see during the rest of the year, or you're avoiding (hey, we all have those people in our lives lol). But what better time to indulge in a fun book like this. Check out all the cool stuff Wyman teaches you that you didn't really need to know, but now that you do, you can have something to throw into those awkward pauses when someone else says something mind-blowingly inappropriate and fight-inducing:

  • The story behind why Dinty Moore stew cans used to have a thumbprint on the lid
  • How sci-fi writer Gene Wolfe helped design the machine that makes Pringles (thank you!!)
  • How the Pringles shape helped inspire the shape of the Sydney Olympic Stadium
  • Jolly Green Giant, Tony The Tiger, Pillsbury Doughboy, Charlie The Tuna and the Keebler Elves were all designed by the same ad agency, Leo Burnett
  • Philadelphia Cream Cheese is not made in Philly, but do try their 3 Step Cheesecake anyway --- like you'd want to turn away cheesecake either way, right!
  • Who knew the inventor of Jell-O was a wee bit of a hottie back in his day!

And here's a little something not mentioned in the book, just my own observation, is it just me or does the 1936 incarnation of the Jolly Green Giant bear a bit of a resemblence to Jerry O'Connell?!

A really entertaining part of this book are the "Unauthorized Uses" sidebars, relating the not-endorsed-by-the-manufacturers uses for the products. Some of my favorites:

Coffemate Non Dairy Creamer :  clothes whitener (mixed with water makes a soaking solution), dry erase board cleaner, OR mixed with 2 parts hot water can be turned into liquid creamer

Tang: can be used to shampoo greasy hair, clean toilet bowls or dishwashers, wart treatment (Tang & water paste with a Band-Aid over it)

Kool-Aid: recreate your favorite discontinued flavors! Sharkleberry is 1/2 tsp each of Lemonade, Orange, Strawberry with 1 cup sugar and 1/2 gal of water. Sunshine Punch = 1 pack Orange + 1 pack Lemonade with the sugar and water. Wyman says you can find other flavor formulas at KoolAid Usernet Group.

Carnation Instant Breakfast: Did you know you can make ice cream from this stuff? Yep, mix 1 packet with 1 cup milk, put in a plastic container, stick in freezer until it's about half-frozen, still a little soft. Take out, throw into your blender, hit pulse until it looks like ice cream. This is just for a single serving so if you have friends around, you'll either have to do the math on that one or send them on their way before trying this ;-)

There's a good amount of quick and easy recipes in this book but the one I must say all of us need to try at least once (honey, I think I see another baked goods testing day in your future ;-P) is the Better Than Sex Cake (Better Than Sex?? You know we have to test that!!)  featuring one of my faves, Cool Whip! Or as we , thanks to Family Guy, like to say in our house, "Coo WHHip". Recipe link below pic. Enjoy!! 

Better Than Sex recipe

One Last Helping Of Harvest

Funny how you find yourself recovering from Thanksgiving excitement only to find yourself right up on Christmas craziness! The Fall / Winter transition with the holidays and all is my favorite time of year but yea... leaves me with a slight but constant weariness lol. My fatigue blended with a holiday helping of sinusitis left me with energy to do little more than delve into my books and my Kleenex box for a few days.

I opened up this book Harvest Moon by K.C. McKinnon (the penname of writer Catherine Pelletier) thinking it's a short read, should be a good, chill break from the more politically themed books I've been tearing through recently. Harvest Moon is the story of Maggie McIntyre, a forty-something whose husband does the mid-life crisis and runs off with his assistant. About to be a divorcee, Maggie herself runs off to re-start her life in the small Canadian town where she spent summers as a teenage girl. She hopes to reconnect with her first love, Robert Flaubert.

Apparently a movie version of this book was made a few years back,
I didn't see it but came across something about it when I was writing up this post.
Doesn't surprise me, this book reads like a Hallmark movie lol

I was pretty underwhelmed by this one. The story wasn't awful, I really liked the Canadian setting, but it didn't feel like the characters were developed enough to make the kind of epic love McKinnon was trying to create all that believable. I would say this had more the feel of a short story or novella. One reason I have a hard time getting into short stories is the length prohibits the kind of in-depth character development I really enjoy in novels. That was sort of the feeling I got here. The little bits of Robert's letters didn't really tug at my heart, they just sounded like a clingy teenage boy pushing too hard to have more than fun summer flings. A girl is suppose to make a forever decision that early in life? Calm down boy! Everyone thinks they "know" it's love with the first one, doesn't always make it so. Young Maggie isn't convinced it's forever love until years later when her marriage to another man flatlines and she starts to ask what if. She moves back to this town in Canada and sadly finds that Robert died a few years back from a heart attack. Within days of her arrival back in town, Maggie finds herself caught up in a romance with Robert's 20 something son, of all people.

I read a number of reviews on this book screaming "ICK!" over this but honestly it's not the worst plotline I've ever come across. It's not incestual, it's just kinda weird and unusual, out of the norm. The idea of the relationship with Robert's son didn't bother me -- I actually read a similar storyline in Emmeline by Judith Rossner --  but the forced "I've loved you so long even though I just met you" sentiment was a bit much. Robert naming his son Eliot because Maggie's favorite author was T.S. Eliot (before she discovers Yeats) even though Eliot's not her son (that WOULD be  exponential ICK!!) -- see what I mean about clingy? .... Eliot romancing Maggie with Neil Young's "Harvest Moon".... the whole book was on schmaltz overload -- though I admit, I do kinda like that song, mainly because it reminds me of my mom playing and singing to the record when I was a kid :-)

TYPO! "Eliot had begun to fidget, the toe of his book kicking now against the broken shards of coffee cup..."


Another thing I found funny, the pic of the Harvest Inn reminded me a little bit of the opening shot of the 1970s British comedy series, Fawlty Towers

The book did remind me of a great T.S. Eliot poem though, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock".
Bit of a cumbersome title but definitely a beautiful poem. It's a little long, you can read the whole thing here, but here is an excerpt, just to give you an idea:

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats        5
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question….        10
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,        15
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,        20
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Love Me Some Lincoln!

All this election year hoopla has inspired me to check out books on past presidents and their leading ladies. Here I visit one of my favorites, Abraham Lincoln, who, according to a few biographies I've read on the guy, hated being called Abe. Whatever name you want to give him now, this man undeniably had a way with talking simply but strikingly. Not saying the guy was perfect or that every decision he made was brilliant... how could you say that about anyone? But man, to read back on even basic letters he wrote to people, one can find some touching, inspiring words! Most recently, I've read Abraham Lincoln: Theologian Of American Anguish by Elton Trueblood. Gotta say, the title alone intrigued me. Considering the title, I actually didn't get into this book for any Christian reasoning. I looked at it as another sort of history book. And it did not disappoint!

I had the Carl Sandburg Lincoln books when I was a kid {sadly, they got ruined while in storage at my parents' place years ago :-( } but had never come across this title before. This copy I have now was actually in a box of books one of my friends had pulled from a house that he helped clear out. He nearly threw them in the dumpster but I got the box from him, realizing when I got home that I had an autographed copy! Always a bonus :-)

author Elton Trueblood - from
"David Elton Trueblood (1900–1994) was a noted 20th-century American Quaker author and theologian, former chaplain both to Harvard and Stanford universities."

At only 141 pages, this is a pretty easy, entertaining read -- easily done in an afternoon or evening lounging at home (if you're so lucky to have those :-D ). I didn't find the writing overly preachy but definitely informative, regardless of your faith. Some of the cool stuff Trueblood discusses:

  • Lincoln was the first President to establish an officially / federally recognized Thanksgiving Day. Lincoln originally encouraged 4 nationwide fasting and reflection days throughout the year but upon suggestion from a Quaker friend, decided one nationally recognized holiday for everyone was the way to go -- Lincoln wanted the day to be non-denominational, just a day where everyone could stop, collaborate and listen... jk.. couldn't resist... nah, he wanted people to stop, reflect, and be thankful and humble for their blessings, acknowledge their misguided actions but appreciate the lessons learned from them. 
  • Even though Lincoln was down for having a Thanksgiving Day, he actually pushed to keep legislation in session during Christmas. In fact, Lincoln had official work-related letters dated on Christmas Day! While he was a man of faith personally, he never outwardly subscribed to any one particular religion or followed any one church's religious holiday schedule. He found things he liked in several faiths. Even the night of his assassination, the night he was attending the theater with Mrs. Lincoln, was a Good Friday. 
  • Terms that are so commonly attached to American Government today, such as "Under God", recited by schoolchildren everywhere with the Pledge of Allegiance,  and "In God We Trust" lead back to Lincoln. Trueblood talks of how "Under God" does not appear in the first draft of The Gettysburg Address, leading one to believe it was something Lincoln ad-libbed in the moment and added in later when it was reprinted in the papers of the day. And it was Lincoln's administration who popularized the phrase "In God We Trust", a phrase we instantly associate with the National Treasury now. 
Abraham Lincoln
"Abraham Lincoln was not a religious leader in the conventional sense. Certainly he was not  professionally religious and he had no formal theological training. What he knew about prayer came not from books but from experience, much of  it agonizing. He was no flaming prophet like John the Baptist, nor was he an ecstatic arouser of men's emotions, like the Mahdi. He was, instead, as Horace Greeley said, 'a plain, true, earnest, patriotic man, gifted with common sense.'"

This book definitely had me thinking about our presidential election this year. Think about how many people on either side  of this election said that the opposing candidate winning would be the worst decision a voter could make. How many, on either side, said the opposing candidate would bring the country to ruination? Well, take a look at what was being said of Lincoln during one of his election years:

"Had we any respect for Mr. Lincoln, official or personal, as a man, or as President-Elect of the United States, his career and speeches on his way to the seat of government would have cruelly impaired it. We do not believe the Presidency can ever be more degraded by any of his successors, than it has been by him, even before his inauguration." ~ The Baltimore Sun

Or the 1864 New Year's edition of The Crisis:

The people of the North owe Mr. Lincoln nothing but eternal hatred and scorn. There are  500,000  new made graves; there are 500,000 orphans; there are 200,000 widows; there is a bottomless sea of blood, there is the Constitution broken; there are liberty and law -- liberty in chains and in a dungeon; thieves in the Treasury, provost marshals in the seats of justice, butchers in the pulpit -- and these are the things which we owe Mr. Lincoln.

WOW. Sound familiar? I'm recalling something about history and repetition... Imagine, Lincoln ever being considered the worst president in history! But in his time, there were people that honestly saw it that way. Just as now, there are people that things couldn't be worse. Trueblood makes a good point regarding the President and the press:

 During his first year as President, Lincoln was faced with public criticism of a bitterness which is hard to believe. All men in public life are forced to bear abuse, but few have faced it as much as Lincoln faced it day after day. The writers in the newspapers could sound smart because they did not have the responsibilities of decision, and they could sound bold by enunciating extreme positions which they were not required to implement. Lincoln, by contrast, in order to maintain integrity had to reject extremes because he was sworn to be faithful to the welfare of the entire nation. 

Reading about Lincoln, and how he solidified his stance on slavery (in part, finding support in the Bible verse Matthew 25:40 -- 'Inasmuch as ye have it done unto one of the least of my brethren, ye have done it unto me'), it makes me ponder how Lincoln would view our president now. What would he say about the hateful, racist things said about the guy? What would be his words of wisdom to bring people together and pull their heads out of their asses? Would they listen? Regardless of what you might think of our president as a person or a leader, the amount of blatantly racist, uneducated, uninformed comments I've seen thrown his way just off of his race... I've found it utterly ridiculous that with all the information in the world now, people can still choose to remain so f-n stupid when it comes to race and respect for fellow human beings in general. But I was warmed by one story in particular in this book, regarding Lincoln and Quaker Eliza Gurney.

widow of  English Quaker Joseph Gurney and friend of Abraham Lincoln

During the Civil War, Eliza Gurney became concerned for the mental health of Lincoln, what with the stress of brother versus brother out there killing each other and him being held largely responsible. Gurney rounded up three of her fellow Quakers (John M. Whithall, Hannah B. Mott and James Carey) and walked over to the White House to visit him -- back in the days when it was still cool to just walk up to the front door like you were taking over some mail that got mistakenly delivered to your house. Gurney explained that they were not there to request anything of the strained president, but instead offered their spiritual support and friendship. They came in, did a prayer circle with the president. They only intended to stay 15 minutes or so, but Lincoln found himself so lifted and refreshed by being given the opportunity to share the weight of his burdens with genuinely concerned friends that he asked them to stay longer, do some more praying, more talking. One of the Quakers later wrote that at one point, there was a moment of silent prayer where the tears were just rolling down Lincoln's face. Lincoln was so moved by the day and the generosity of these people that he asked Eliza to continue to write to him so that he may continue to talk out his fears and have a friend / Friend to pray over him (a sort of unofficial therapist, maybe?). You just don't hear these kinds of stories that often these days. But it was sweet to picture what a gift this must have been to Lincoln.

"Lincoln was grateful for the confidence of those who supported him so loyally in his difficult task, but he was deeply sobered by the fact that almost two million of his fellow countrymen had voted against him." ~~ Elton Trueblood

Another vintage Lincoln book I highly recommend if you can find a copy is Lincoln: His Words And His World, published by Country Beautiful in 1965. My copy pictured below:

This book explores the man behind the presidency through his letters and speeches. Heavily illustrated, it offers a wealth of info on him that's easy to read in sections. Might be a bit of a treasure hunt involved finding a copy though -- I was given this copy when I was a kid and it's the only one I've come across in person. I'm sure there's gotta be some out there on Amazon and Ebay though :-) But hey, that's half the fun of a collectible library right? The hunt!

And, seeing as how this is a book blog, I thought I'd share the list from Trueblood's book of
Lincoln's Top 5 Most Influential Reads:

  1. The Bible
  2. The plays of Shakespeare
  3. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  4. The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
  5. Life of Washington by Mason Locke Weems 

No beach reads for that guy!  :-P  I take that back, Robinson Crusoe is kind of a beach read... of a different sort lol.... see ya next time to talk about Lincoln's missus!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Heaven... I'm In Heaven :-)

I figured I'd title this post Heaven because I have been in some pretty major book bliss here lately AND the two books I want to talk about this time around deal with characters in Heaven. But before I get to those books -- check out my recent scores!!

A few days ago:

LOVE that the Dollar Store sells books! I've found some great ones there in recent months!
 (not just these, but previously too) -- That Evanovich one was one I grabbed for my mom, she loves the Stephanie Plum series. That Love Pirate one sounds dirty but it's actually about Jesse James' son -- the original 1800s one, not one of the slew of celebrities calling themselves that now -- tells the story of how he turned out after the murder of his father. Love me some history books :-) Grand Total here $7

 Clearance tables at Barnes and Noble -- do not miss checking out the red sticker deals! It's 50% off marked price so most of these only cost $2-3 a piece. Total was about $17 I think, with tax. I'm usually the book geek around here but the HG Wells and Jules Verne BDBs (Big Damn Books) were ones my hubby grabbed for himself. Hehe... passing on the illness one shopping trip at a time :-P

And, just today:

Went by the Goodwill to look and see about options for stuff my mom needed, didn't really find what I was looking for for her, thought I'd just glance real quick and see if any titles on my to get list popped out at me. Damn if even my quick glance turned out to be a stretch of time!  Found some great stuff though! About $15 worth here. Those two on the bottom are a couple I picked up at the Dollar Store today while I was picking up some cleaning & beauty product basics.  My husband's reply: "I think you're the only person left in NC who hasn't read Cold Mountain yet." In my defense, it's been on my list awhile, just haven't gotten to it -- and I DID see the movie lol. 

I've really gotta get my library renovation done lol. 

So about those books taking place in Heaven:

I started out with the YA (at least I think it's meant to be YA, the writing is entertaining but nothing super deep) novel Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin. Pretty quick read, short chapters but I like the story. Liz is just shy of her 16th birthday when she's hit by a car one day while riding her bike to the mall. She doesn't die instantly, but is in a coma. After some time, the family reluctantly chooses to take her off life support and Liz boards the cruise ship (no really, in this book the dead go to Heaven on a cruise ship) to Elsewhere (aka Heaven) where she meets up with her Grandma Betty, who died from breast cancer before Liz was born. 

Didn't always like how Zevin described Heaven -- called Elsewhere in this book -- but like I'm going to fault her for how she imagines Heaven?
I like how Elsewhere had daily activities, "observation decks" where you can view your loved ones back on Earth, and everyone had to have a job but it had to be a "calling" rather than just something to do for money. You had to work a job that made your soul happy. I like that idea. Even up there, everyone gets to stay busy. I loved how Zevin made Marilyn Monroe a psychiatrist there. Can't imagine where you'd find me, right? LOL. That's right, that would be one stellarly kept library up there! In Elsewhere, there are people who fish all day, people who take care of pets that have passed on and are new to Elsewhere (that's Liz's job there). Just the idea of aging backwards made me sad for some reason. 

There's one of those "interview with the author" segments at the end of this book where Zevin is asked "What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?" Her response: "Assuming they'd read Elswhere, they'd probably be surprised to know how much I don't care about the afterlife. The way I really feel about it is 'que sera, sera'."

"Out my window, you'll see a library built by Frank Lloyd Wright. People who know these things say it's better than any of the buildings he did on Earth. And Elizabeth, it's not just buildings. You'll find new works here by many of your favorite artists. Books, paintings, music, whatever you're into! I just went to an exhibit of new paintings by Picasso, if you can believe it!" Liz's Grandma Betty introducing her to Elsewhere

When I was talking to my husband about some of the stuff I was reading in this story, I was surprised and impressed that a YA novel could so easily bring us to having this really interesting dialogue about how we imagined what's out there. Would we see each other? Would we see our beloved critters? How 'bout the pets from our childhoods? So yeah, this is a fun, fast read for those that like a dash of paranormal in their library, and it'll even get you thinking about life up there. Do we continue to love our loves? Do we get new loves?

Love In Heaven

Right around the time I was finishing this book, I saw that one of my favorite old movies, an adaptation of one of my favorite old books, was being aired that evening, so I went and grabbed my copy of the book to read that afternoon. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by Josephine Leslie. This is the story of a widowed woman who decided to move out of the home of her husband's family and take her two children to live by the sea. She rents out a cottage formerly owned by Captain Daniel Gregg. Captain Gregg was rumored to have committed suicide and now haunts the house (he later sets the record straight about what really happened). The ghost-captain at first resists the presence of Mrs. Muir but they eventually come to an arrangement agreeable to both of them. Over the years, Captain Gregg becomes Mrs. Muir's best friend (aside from her housekeeper) and uses his skills from "the other side" to help her along in her life, while falling in love with her himself. Sweet, sweet story. Not to mention Captain Gregg's hilarious curses and outbursts at female silliness! Again, a very short read but perfect for a chilly day in! Get yourself a cuppa cocoa and settle in with this vintage paranormal romance


I've seen the film so many times, it's impossible for me to read the book and not put Captain Gregg's dialogue in Rex Harrison's voice :-P. The captain was a fun, salty character in the book but Harrison put a whole new element in it that just tickles me every time I watch the film. Not sure why but once the story made it to the silver screen, the son was not in the picture, only the daughter, played but a very young Natalie Wood. Gene Tierney was freakin' gorgeous as Mrs. Muir. But that fits because the character's name is Lucy, which the captain changes to Lucia, saying Lucy is more for women who whimper and whine and resort to the man for all answers but Lucia is for a strong and beautiful woman with life and spark in her veins. So you couldn't really have a real dowdy person playing Lucy / Lucia onscreen. 

Something interesting I learned watching the beginning credits of this film -- did you know Oleg Cassini designed Tierney's costumes for this film? Lucky girl! Tierney was actually married to the legendary fashion designer between 1941-1952

Rex Harrison as "The Ghost" Captain Gregg

Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison
“The Ghost And Mrs. Muir”, (1947)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Immortal Manhattan: Discussing FOREVER by Pete Hamill

Earlier, I was watching the movie Kate & Leopold on tv and all the history of NYC discussed in that movie inspired me to talk about this fantastic book I read recently, Forever by Pete Hamill. The book starts off in Ireland but the majority of it describes the history of NYC (specifically Manhattan, mostly), growing from a boggy, largely undeveloped area and going right up to the September 11 attacks, all seen through the eyes of an immortal man. I felt like the immortal storyline was just an easier way for Hamill to get all the history in there in a logical way without having a flood of characters for a reader to try to keep straight, but that didn't bother me in the least. The history is fascinating and it made for great storytelling. 

"All true stories are unhappy ones. That's the essence of the romantic." 
~ Countess de Chardon, a love interest of Cormac O'Connor. 

In this story, the main character, Cormac O'Connor (orphaned at an early age by the violent deaths of both parents -- the same man responsible for both deaths) is taught of his Celtic heritage (the legends, beliefs, etc) by community elder / magic woman Mary Morrison. Of his parents' death, Mary tells Cormac that those who do not avenge injustice are not allowed into the Otherworld (afterlife / heaven / whatever you want to think of it as) after they die. Cormac grows into a man and commits himself to tracking down the whereabouts of the man responsible for killing his parents, his travels taking him to New York, where the evil nobleman has reestablished himself. On the trip over, Cormac befriends Kongo, an African man bound for the slave markets, sneaking him and his tribal members extra food.  Years down the line, Cormac and his friend end up fighting together in a pre-Revolutionary War battle where Cormac technically gets killed but is brought back to life by Kongo and a special Otherworld friend and told he now has immortality as long as he never leaves the island of Manhattan. He must find his true love (they give him a description of her). Then and only then will he be eligible for entrance into the Otherworld (that part kinda bugged me -- you find the love of your life and then you gotta break it to her that you needed her to basically get some sort of ethereal handstamp into your afterlife?? )

So the history of the area (nearly 300 yrs of it) is then taught to the reader through the eyes of Cormac  -- fires, epidemics, the infamous New York gangs like the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery B'hoys, Tammany Hall and Bill Tweed (who, in the story, becomes a close friend of Cormac's). The descriptions of the "Crown vs. Republic" fights, the hunts for those against one side or the other at times eerily reminded me of the Salem Witch Hunts in their fervor. So, a TON of history covered here. And it's also yet another one in the pile of stories where all the redheads are the "free with her body" types. Ugh. This stereotype hounds me and yet makes me laugh, being a redhead myself. :-P

Hey, one interesting tidbit from the novel I didn't realize -- Henry James' Portrait Of A Lady published same time as OK Corral fight? Never would have put those two historically together before but there you have one of the reasons I love historical fiction. You're having fun with these characters and then they go through something or get connected to some time that you suddenly remember from then on. You remember the event and the details from the book because you loved the character ... almost like word association in a way. Sort of. Pretty cool stuff :-)  Oh, and if you're wondering about the revenge aspect of the story, how it carries over centuries,  Hamill throws in the ol' "oh you don't just have to kill him but every male in his line for it to count" element. So a few of the nobleman's heirs and descendents pop up here and there throughout time to challenge Cormac to keep his promise, though after a century or so he understandably loses his bloodlust and just wants to move on already.

"Manhattan Night" desktop wallpaper... preeetty!

In the reading group guide published in this book, there is a reprint of an interview with Time Out New York Hamill did with Mark Miller where Hamill said part of his inspiration for the novel was Diego Rivera's fresco painting "Dream Of A Sunday Afternoon In Alameda Park". Hamill said he "thought it was amazing how he {Rivera} simultaneously captured different times". Hamill also mentions that he initially finished the novel on September 10, 2001. Of course, how could one write a novel about basically the entire span of NYC history and not include the attacks? 

On September 10, 2001, I finished the book. My plan for the next day was to go to Balthazar and celebrate. But then everything changed. It was nine straight days of work for the Daily News. There was no electricity for four or five days below Worth Street, so at night, walking home, it looked like the nineteenth century. It was kind of beautiful. On my first day off from the News, I told my book editor, 'I need to write more'. I couldn't have a New York novel that had the 1835 fire and the cholera and smallpox epidemics, and not include September 11. It wasn't too hard though. I already had O'Connor living in Duane Street with his apartment looking out over the World Trade Center, where his girlfriend works. It's weird; I finished the novel again on September 9. ~~ author Pete Hamill.

The 9/11 scene was really hard for me to read. I knew it was coming, I knew it involved a fictional character but it's a moment in history I experienced myself so I couldn't help but have my own personal memories of that day flash back at me. So I warn readers who haven't read this yet, brace yourself for that bit at the end! It may be fictionalized but for those of us who weren't babies at the time, it's near impossible not to remember our reality of it. 

I was a little bothered by the ending. Before even starting the novel, I thought to myself, "The main guy is an immortal, hunting down someone as immortals do, and the book stops around the 9/11 attacks... okay, pretty sure I know how he's going to end it..." And sure enough! Arrrr, frustrating. For the time and attention I invested in the characters, I wanted a better wrap up. Didn't have to be happy, just less phoned in! Even so, this has been added to my list of favorites simply because I loved the character of Cormac -- his love of books, his friendships with real historical figures, his adventures even within the limitations of Manhattan. I felt bad for him when he grew to have such wanderlust for the rest of the world. All these elements made me treasure my time reading this book. I read one review somewhere that said this most likely wouldn't appeal to anyone not natively from New York. Not so. I've yet to set foot anywhere in the state, but I was still enamored with the historical stories of that place. Watching Kate & Leopold again and thinking of this book, I would have loved to see old New York, as Hamill describes it with the "chimney pots and slate roofs blue after the rain". And oh my, the chance to have seen the World's Fair the year they tricked out Central Park! Ahh well...

long view of "Dream Of A Sunday Afternoon In Alameda Park" by Diego Rivera1947-48,  Fresco in Alameda Hotel in Mexico Cty

close-up of center of fresco

This book won't be for everyone There is quite a bit of gruesome, violent action, vengence killings, not written for the squeamish. The novel also covers a lot of material, historically speaking, just over 600 pages worth so if you like breezy, quick reads this may not be your thing. This is for those of you (or us, as I'm one of them) who love a good, gritty, detail rich epic. Reading this book, I was thinking this would make a pretty amazing movie or video game even. Come to find out, there's a good deal of interest in this book among tv show producers! The 2008 Fox tv series New Amsterdam (only ran for 8 episodes) had a plotline that was suspiciously similar to Forever (though the African American characters were changed to Native American, and the main character was made a modern day cop instead of a writer but the same, almost verbatim immortal plotline of Hamill's was there). Peter Hamill himself called out the show's producers for the crazy similarites but of course they were like "no, we didn't know anything about your book, this is all us..." C'mooon! More recently, Robert Redford has expressed interest in turning this book into a television series. Word is he's still shopping around for a network to buy it.. well, if all else fails, he might have some shot at that indy channel... what was it... Sundance? ;-)

'Til then, if you like a "movie like that book" kind of thing, there are a number of options... Highlander series, Boardwalk Empire series (technically New Jersey, but similar feel) or this gritty classic (as much as a Dicaprio film can be a classic lol) -- Gangs of New York.

"Cormac noticed as the years passed that New Yorkers shared a sense that whatever had changed, they could do nothing about it. A kind of optimistic fatalism. Reformers arrived with golden promises and left in disgrace and impotence...He never met anyone who yearned for the city before the arrival of the Croton water, the city that smelled of shit. Nor did anyone protest the triumph of electricity, except those Uptown women who longed for the softening glow of gaslight. If the past had been reasonably happy, as New York had been before the collapse of 1893, the new present was drowned in permanent mourning, a lot of it dishonest, driven by a longing to return to the lost past. Cormac had gone through all that too many times. He had seen reputations blaze and then end up as burnt offerings. Heroes too often turned into scoundrels. Banks and corporations and newspapers ruled the city, and ended up as a handful of dust. Even language had term limits. In long separate eras, Cormac heard people use words like "fiddlesticks" and "groovy," and then one morning, as if a secret referendum had been passed, the words vanished. Nobody, of course, ever ran a referendum against the word "bullshit". That was a word and an emotion as permanent as the rivers. But the past had tremendous power here for the very simple reason that it was an American city that actually had a past... he knew the treacheries and dangers of nostalgia. He was, after all, Irish. 'To hell with the past,' he says out loud in the darkened Studio, gazing at the misty towers before him... And yet.. And yet, there were moments, here in the loft, when he longed to see the lost city of chimney pots and slate roofs, all blue after rain. He wanted to stand in woods where wolves still howled. He wanted to sit in the Polo Grounds and look at Willie Mays. At such moments, here, or in Madison Square, or at other odd moments in banal places, it was as if the bars of the mental cage had turned elastic and the past had forced its way out. Anything could set it off: the fragment of a tune, a glimpse of sun on cobblestones in a forgotten street, an accidental encounter with a building where he once knew a woman and loved her, even if she did not love him back."

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What Kind of Book Reader Are You? A Diagnostics Guide - Entertainment - The Atlantic Wire

Pretty entertaining article! I especially like the recommended reads sections like The Book Buster (someone who bends back spines or leaves them bent open everywhere) "Read whatever you want, but buy a Kindle" or The Cat "This one looks nice and flat"

Slowest Reader Ever

I'd say I'm a blend of "The Bookophile" and the "Delayed Onset Reader #1"
:-). What about you?

What Kind of Book Reader Are You? A Diagnostics Guide - Entertainment - The Atlantic Wire

Sir Edward John Poynter - An Evening at Home

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Book Travels - Destination: Africa

I've read a few books this month that all focus on areas of Africa - a couple of meh reads and one I enjoyed more than I expected. So, first the ones I added to my resale box (my resale box is for reads that I don't feel a need to add to my permanent collection, so I pile them up for trade or resale value, periodically trading a stack of my "meh" reads for a few new "oh I heard good things about this one!" reads. ;-)


1) The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo -- allegorical (at least I understand it's suppose to be allegorical) story of a shepherd boy who has a dream / premonition that he is to travel to the pyramids in Egypt in search of a treasure. It doesn't seem to be strongly defined what is meant by "treasure" but in reading you get the sense it's of a metaphorical nature. In the process of his journey, he learns lessons about life, love, himself, etc. There are a few basic ideas you've heard countless times, just retold in a different way here: Sometimes you have to risk what you have to get what you want; It's about the journey, not the destination; Live in the moment... that sort of thing. This isn't a bad read, I just didn't find it as mystical and life changing as so many led me to believe it was suppose to be. In fact, parts of it just had me thinking of Aladdin and The Cave of Wonders :-P

2) The Pyramid by Ismail Kadare. The Pharoah Cheops initially decides he wants to buck tradition by not having a burial tomb built for him. His royal advisors go to great lengths explaining the social and cultural importance to the Egyptian people as a whole, keeping this tradition alive. Cheops eventually decides he will have a pyramid. In fact, he commands that his pyramid be the "highest of all, most majestic". Over the course of the story, the reader sees Cheops become increasingly obsessed with the construction of his pyramid, to the point of madness. Later, Cheops' son, Chephren, goes on to have a similar infatuation with the Sphinx. Kadare also gives a story behind the pornographic grafitti that actually has been found in some of the pyramids. In theory, this story sounds awesome, right? Well, something fell flat for me. I've always loved Egyptian history but a book winning a prestigious literary award is no guarantee it's a brilliant read for everyone. This felt like the equivalent of one of those "action" movies where there's a bunch of dialogue and talk of showdowns but very little actual action going on. Only here, there wasn't even much dialogue. There were just descriptions of people having conversations. SNORE. 

The book I did enjoy:

So, some of you may remember awhile back when I did a post on Joy Adamson and her husband of Born Free fame. This is a biography of their friend, neighbor and fellow wildlife conservationist, Joan Root. Root was born in 1936 to an English father and a white South African mother. Root grew up helping her parents with their safari touring company. It was while giving one of these tours that she met her husband, wildlife documentary filmmaker, Alan Root. Alan and Joan went on to develop quite a filmography of well loved documentaries, some narrated by notable voices such as Orson Welles, David Niven, and James Mason. Alan and Joan also developed Balloon Safaris, Ltd., the first tourist balloon company offering tours over Kenya and Tanzania.

Joan Root with her critters

Much like when I was reading the stories of Joy Adamson's adventures in the wilds of Africa, I was impressed by what badasses the Roots were. Joan's photos make her seem so fragile and slight of frame but this woman woke up one night to being bit by one of the deadliest varieties of scorpion -- her only response was "a quiet 'oh', swallowed two aspirin and went back to sleep", woke up the next morning and went back to work; she also took puncture wounds TO THE FACE from a hippo's canine teeth, nearly having her eye gouged out (her husband had part of his calf muscle on his right leg ripped open by same hippo-- which he later had to get skin grafts for, as well as having his foot and ankle caught between the hippo's molars); she worked through having myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disorder; in later years, after she and Alan split, she bravely took on poachers in her community and put a task force together to fight them, even though by then she was in her "golden years".  As for Alan, he would sometimes risk his or Joan's personal safety in order to get an amazing shot for his educational documentaries (such as when they provoked a cobra just to get a clear shot of its venom spraying through the air on film -- another ballzy moment for Joan -- some of the venom hit her eyes. She simply wiped it away and "asked if reshoots were needed" WOW!). In one instance, Alan ended up losing an index finger because he took a bite to the hand while educating some people on puff adders. Also on their list of amazing was the fact that these two were the first people to ever fly over Mt. Kilimanjaro in a hot air balloon! What the views up there must be like!

Joan and Alan Root

The Roots had a number of familiar faces they counted as friends -- not only the Adamsons, but also Mary & Louis Leakey (the Roots also had a safari photography business with the Leakeys' son, Richard, who later went on to head up the Kenya Wildlife Conservation Dept.) They gave Dian Fossey the first tour of the area that would be her gorilla study base camp. In fact, the site was an area first used by the Roots when they did a study of their own of gorillas in the wild. Alan also filmed some of the gorilla chase scenes for 1988's Gorillas In The Mist starring Sigourney Weaver as Fossey. Speaking of films, Joan Root served as one of the animal handlers on the set of Out Of Africa. There was also a Jackie O. story I had never read anywhere else before: Alan Root once gave a balloon ride to Jackie, Caroline and John Jr. (the kids were teenagers at the time). Caroline and John rode with one of Alan's balloon operators in one balloon while Alan and Jackie rode in another. Alan's balloon got caught in a grass fire, ran into a phone line and flipped over. Everyone feared for Jackie O but she ended up walking away from the crash with just a bruised foot!

Sadly, like Joy Adamson and Dian Fossey, Joan was murdered in 2006 (just weeks before her 70th birthday) for reasons connected to her conservation work. This book not only gets into the important work the Roots were doing but also the why and how behind the demise of their marriage (the way this woman handled how wrong her husband did her and how she managed to have a friendship with him years later is remarkable btw) and the details behind Joan's murder. The way Mark Seal describes what Joan's final moments might have been like were terrifying. I can only imagine how horrific it must have felt to have been an older woman, living primarily alone save for her animals and a couple of staff members, and as Seal explains, to have to face a death that in hindsight was possibly avoidable. Or maybe it wasn't avoidable, but maybe it just would have been delayed. Hard to say.  Seal writes that Root's murder was most likely a $100 contract hit. How sad is that, that such a life can be snuffed out and made nonexistent in the blink of an eye.

There were a few parts in this book that got a little dull but this book is definitely worth reading, if only to hear the story of this brave woman. Inspiring character, unbelievable strength inside and out.

Though it has nothing to do with Africa, I also recently read Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan, about a woman (Is it Marlo? Is it not?) who takes a walkabout with a tribe of Aborigines through the Australian Outback, and in the process learns about what's important in life, what's important to her, philosophical thoughts on modern society, modern medicine, etc. This book had some controversy some years back about whether it was fact or fiction. Marlo herself says in the intro that it's a factual story that's fictionalized to protect the true identities of the Aboriginal people she traveled with. I've since read elsewhere that others say she made the whole thing off and pissed off a bunch of Australian natives in the process. Who knows. Either way, I wasn't much impressed with it. I was interested in the story of the native people because I've read similar books which I really love, in particular Tales Of A Shaman's Apprentice by Mark J. Plotkin, a fascinating nonfiction read. Mutant Message fell waaaay short of such a book. I got so annoyed with Morgan's self-important tone that I just said "I'm over this" and went on to something else in the old TBR pile. Best to find out for yourself though. You may love it. To be fair, I'm hard to impress when it comes to anything that falls in the New Age / self-help arena. I'll admit, I'm pretty skeptical about such books, but every now and then I find one that speaks to me. Hence, Tales Of A Shaman's Apprentice having a permanent spot on my shelves!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

YAAY OLYMPICS.... and... now what?

A few days late posting this, been battling a cold this past week.... on the mend now, so we're back on!

Everyone come down from their Olympic high? Man, the U.S. had a pretty impressive run, huh! 104 precious metal necklaces -- Woot Woot! Though there are a number of sports there that still baffle me (the kind of sports that it seems like people strive to perfect but only perform at the Olympics), I still look forward to seeing what happens in Rio.

In the spirit of the Olympics, I finally read this book that's been untouched on my shelf for quite awhile now : My Sergei by Ekaterina Gordeeva (who went by the nickname Katia). I originally got the book because I remember my mom and I watching Ekaterina and her husband skate on television when I was a kid. My mom loves watching figure skating ( I think I watched mainly because in my mostly tomboyish heart, I secretly wanted to have similar pretty, flowy dresses). I remember hearing of the tragic death of Sergei and being shocked at his young age. I even have a memory of watching some skating program (now that I think of it, it may have even been an Olympic performance of some couple) where they panned to Ekaterina sitting in the audience with, what seemed to my young self at the time, quite a sad, wistful look on her face (I think this was only shortly after Sergei's death). I was always curious about the backstory but you know how things go. Some books get pushed back time and again for more modern "must reads". So, in the spirit of the Olympics (though admittedly this may have been more appropriate to read for the Winter Games), I dedicated a couple days to this short read.

For those of you unfamiliar with this couple, they were a pretty familiar couples figure skating team back in the 80s and 90s. Originally from Russia, they did a number of tv specials before and after becoming two time Olympic Gold Medalists. They toured the world with friends and fellow skaters such as Scott Hamilton and Kristi Yamuguchi. Then suddenly in 1995, Sergei dropped on the ice while rehearsing a new routine with Ekaterina. Doctors were unable to save him, determining that he died from a massive heart attack (stemming from undetected coronary heart disease). He was only 28! Gordeeva now does shows to raise awareness for heart disease and the importance of heart health and has since remarried -- to none other than fellow Russian ice skating champion, Ilia Kulik

This book details the whole span of their life together, from the very first time they skated, through development of the friendship and later the courtship, her struggle with widowhood,  as well as the backstory stuff within a sport you never really think about as a spectator (such as one story where she tells of Sergei having a muscle injury that affected his ability to lift things, so she basically goes on a starvation diet to get as small as possible to give him as little weight as possible to struggle with, even though she was already super tiny naturally!). It also gives one the sense of what life was like in USSR Russia vs the United States in the same time period --- made me realize that no matter how bad we think we have it, it's really not as bad as it could be!

I was also struck by how young these two really were... to go through all that they did, I mean. Makes the story all the more heartbreaking to think of it. Your mid to late 20s... your life has barely begun. So sad. And yet there was such a beautiful love there. Maybe because it seems so immortalized when it happens so early in life. Ekaterina's description of the last night of Sergei's life, her own terror, was incredibly hard to read, thinking how panicked I would be myself in such a situation but later the story of the memorial show done for Sergei was memorably powerful. Though part of me did picture the ending of Ghost for a moment. :-)

I think that Sergei's soul now lives somewhere. In our religion, we have two very important days after a death: the ninth day and the fortieth day. From the day of the death until the ninth day, the deceased is still with us, and people will dream about him very clearly. Then on the ninth day the deceased starts his journey to the gates that open to Paradise or to Hell. God will decide where He wants this person. On the fortieth day, he leaves us. He's free. He now has his own spiritual life.  ~~ Ekaterina Gordeeva

Though it's clear by her writing (and by the fact that she's Russian, of course) that English is not Gordeeva's first language, some of the writing being awkward and slightly jarring in some places, maybe more simplified than what you're used to --  there's a still a pretty resonating story to hear here. Go back in time a bit, relive the fun as well as the struggles of the 90s. I know I miss those years :-).

Katia skating at Sergei's Celebration Of Life 
Music is Mahler's Symphony #5 IV Adagietto.
She describes this performance in the final pages of her book:

 I had always liked this music, which is sensitive and tender and also a little bit sad. Marina {Sergei and Katia's choreographer} told me that Mahler wrote this music when he was proposing to his wife; that, in fact, the music served as his proposal; that he gave it to her, and she sat down at the music and played it, and the music did his speaking for him. His wife immediately understood....When we first listened to it on the ice, she said to me, "I don't know what to do." Then we listened more and the music told us what to do. Marina said to me, "Imagine that you are skating with Sergei for the last time," Then, "Now you've lost him, you're missing him, you're looking for him and can't find him. You get on your knees and ask God why it happened. Your legs feel broken, as if they have no strength. You cannot move. Everything inside you feels broken too. You must ask God for some help. You must tell God you understand that life goes on, and now you have to skate. You must thank him for giving you Sergei for half of your life, the most beautiful time in your life. This is about how all people can get up from their knees in the face of adversity, can go forward, can have the strength to persevere. You can find someone to life for. You can have a life of your own now." ... As the time neared for my solo number, I thought about the words Sergei used to say to me when we were getting ready to skate. We always kissed each other before we skated, we always hugged and touched each other. Now, in the tunnel waiting to go on the ice, I didn't have anyone to touch or kiss. It was a terrible feeling to be standing there by myself. Only Dave, the tunnel attendant for Stars On Ice, was there watching, and I could tell he was thinking the same thing: How sad to see her standing here without Sergei. But then I thought of what Marina had said: Just trust Sergei, and he will help you...But as soon as the Mahler music started to play, and I skated out into the darkened arena, the bad feelings went away...
There's more to this but I will let you read it on your own. Hard to discount the idea of an afterlife after reading how her husband helped her get through the routine and how she never wants to do this number again, to maintain the special, otherworldly feelings she experienced with Sergei in those moments.

This book will also serve as a reminder to thank your spouses for the love they give you each day, never knowing if it may be the last.

Love you, sweet Finbar.