Wednesday, November 14, 2018


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All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews, McSweeney's, 2014, 321 pp
Sometimes a novel has so much heart, is so full of love, humor and good cheer in the face of hard times, that when I finish reading it I feel I have been given a huge gift I didn't even know I needed or wanted. All My Puny Sorrows was such a novel for me.
In fact, words fail me as I try to figure out how to write a review. I have had the book on my shelves for some time. I put it as the October book for my own 2018 challenge to read a book a month from my last 12 years of TBR lists. I am so happy I did.

So I will just say that if you have ever had a gnarly sorrow in your life which seemed to have no solution or for which you could find no solace, you must read All My Puny Sorrows.

Monday, November 12, 2018


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Go, Went, Gone, Jenny Erpenbeck, New Directions, 2017, 283 pp (originally published in Germany by Albrecht Knaus Verlag, 2015; translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky.)
This reading group pick was an interesting look at another country's immigration problems. I had heard much praise for Jenny Erpenbeck's fiction and was glad to be introduced.
Set in Berlin, it is a ripped-from-the-headlines topic put into a fictional story. Richard, a retired classics professor, is at loose ends. His wife is no longer living and he feels without a project.

He notices some African refugees on a hunger strike outside the tent city where they have been living. Curious, he makes up a questionnaire and begins to interview individual refugees. Little by little, he becomes involved with several of the men, trying to help them. Naturally that forces him to learn about how his country is handling what has becomes something of a crisis.

Of course, the rulings and proceedings are a Kafkaesque maze of barriers for the refugees. They are not allowed to work without proper papers which are nearly impossible for them to get. Then the news makes these people look like moochers wanting handouts.

As Richard develops relationships with some of these men, the reader learns how much they have lost, how bored they are with nothing to do after being used to hard work in their home countries, and how the wars at home created by outside interference both political and business related have caused them to be forced to flee. It is enough to make your blood boil.

I recently read The Map of Salt and Stars, another angle on this mess. Richard with his classics knowledge does this cool thing of relating current turmoil to ancient history. Go, Went, Gone added even more understanding to realizations I have been having about how history is going.

It seems to me that the history of mankind on this planet is a continuous series of upheavals as peoples vie for resources, territory, and power. Sometimes there are periods of peace in one area or another, other times certain rulers amass enough power to control large areas for long periods of time. Thus advances are made in science, art and philosophy but eventually conflict erupts again, when the less powerful and the oppressed rise up.

It is as if the cultures of the world are contained in a vast Cuisinart. All gets churned, sliced and diced as new groups rise to power. Right now in the world that start button on the Cuisinart is being held down and nobody likes it. Yet the daily lives and stories of us all go on.

I didn't love Go, Went, Gone as much as I did The Map of Salt and Stars but it gave me more to think about. Jenny Erpenbeck is a wonderful writer and I will read her earlier novels.

(Go, Went, Gone is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Friday, November 09, 2018


I'm From Electric Peak, Bud Smith, Artistically Declined Press, 2016, 130 pp
Basically a novella from an indie press and indie writer Bud Smith, this was the April, 2016 selection from The Nervous Breakdown Book Club. I have been reading one book a month from the club in an effort to at least not fall further behind since I am maintaining my subscription there. The books come once a month and keep piling up on their own special stack on my shelves. 
I'm From Electric Peak is a gritty romp of a read that I would have been sorry to miss. Kody Green is an orphan, a teen who escaped from the Mayweather home for wayward youth. He is in love with Teal Carticelli and plans to talk her parents out of sending her to Italy after they forced her to have an abortion. Kody was the father.

The story is wild, the violence is so over the top that it takes on cartoon proportions, the love between Kody and Teal is epic. Soon they are on the run, stealing cars to keep moving, having bittersweet but harrowing adventures across the country.

One blurb on the back of the book put it in the genre of outlaw love stories and it does have a Bonnie and Clyde essence. I would put it in the genre of young loser dudes of America. I loved every page and read it in a couple hours. It is worth any number of nonfiction books on the "broken heart of America" as another blurb called it.

I don't think I will ever forget Kody and Teal.

Thursday, November 08, 2018


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The Messenger, Daniel Silva, G P Putnam's Sons, 2006, 334 pp
This thriller is #6 in Silva's Gabriel Allon series. I must say that each book so far has been more exciting than the last. 
Gabriel Allon is an art restorer but that is just his cover. He is a spy and also often an assassin for Israeli intelligence. In The Messenger, the evil entity is al-Qaeda. It appears that the organization is planning a more audacious attack on the Vatican that will top what they did at the World Trade Center. 

For the first time in the series, that I can recall, Gabriel teams up with the CIA. I read the book right around the time that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in Saudi Arabia. A certain high-powered Saudi businessman features in the story, so even though it is now 12 years since the book was published reading it was like going behind the news of today.

As always, Silva presents his Israeli-centered viewpoint on world events but this time I really felt the series moving towards the present.

(The Messenger is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Tuesday, November 06, 2018


Reading groups are slim for me this month. But first a recap of last month's meetings:
My somewhat dysfunctional One Book At A Time group ended up not meeting in October so we will discuss Sunburn this month. I have already read, loved and reviewed that one, but I have no idea how the members will react to the book.
New Boy got mixed reactions at Tina's Group; every gradation from loved it to hated it and some in between. The one male member thought it was brilliant to set Othello in a middle school. His wife found it boring and it never caught on for her. So of course we had a great discussion.
The Underground Railroad almost destroyed many of the Bookie Babes due to its grim subject matter and one member just could not get with the underground railroad being a real thing in the book. Another great discussion. We all got super involved with the heroine and found her amazing.
The Tiny Book Club found much to ponder from reading Jenny Erpenbeck's Go Went Gone, about African refugees in Berlin. I will be reviewing that one soon.

Now for November I only have one other group meeting:

Bookie Babes:
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Have you read History of Wolves? If you are in one or more reading groups, what are you discussing in November? 

Sunday, November 04, 2018


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Bye Bye Blondie, Virginie Despentes, The Feminist Press, 2016, 245 pp (originally published in France, 2004, by Editions Grasset & Fasquelle; translated from the French by Sian Reynolds.)
I first learned about this contemporary French author in 2015 when I read Apocalypse Baby, a novel she published in France in 2010. Wow! I was an instant fan. Bye Bye Blondie is an earlier novel of hers and was not quite as wild as Apocalypse Baby, which is not to say it was not wild.
We first meet Gloria roaming the streets in the rain after a violent fight with her boyfriend during which she almost killed him. She is in her forties, she is now homeless and suffers from attacks of extreme rage. She finally reaches one of her few remaining friends who agrees to put her up temporarily.

Then comes the back story of her tumultuous and rebellious teen years. She spent some time on a mental ward to which she was committed by her parents. In part, this is a story of the cruelty of mental health treatment and the lasting effects of it on her life. Basically the treatment turned her from a wild young girl into a mentally ill young girl.

While in the asylum she met her soulmate Eric, also the great love of her life. They remained a couple after being released and led the way in their middle class French town for all the disaffected youth: drugs, 90s punk bands, counter culture on high volume. The relationship did not survive.

Now Eric is a successful, rich TV star and when Gloria runs into him at a party, the love between them reignites. He brings her to Paris where she lives with him in a luxury she had never known and basks in his loving care. But her wounds are too deep. It is wrenching to read about her attempts to fit into "normal" society and her periodic descents into the rage she has carried for so long.

Yet I kept hoping for her, that she could find peace of mind and happiness without sacrificing her independence. In some ways this is a romance, but a feminist romance. It seems to be a hopeless story. In other ways it is a testament to the uses of rage and violence when a woman refuses to be quelled, molded and deceived.

Gloria takes the path that Elena Greco restrains herself from taking in My Brilliant Friend. She also reminded me many times of Mathilde in Fates and Furies, and of many other heroines I have loved in fiction. Despentes writes with even more power than Ferrante or Groff. The brutal details are probably more than some readers can stomach, but when a woman goes full tilt with her demons and determination the results are not pretty. 

Ultimately though, Bye Bye Baby is a testament to love, to a woman finally admitting to herself that emotional safety can be found and acceptance of love does not have to equal captivity. Quite a triumph of great writing and great perception.

(Bye Bye Blondie is available in the paperback English translation by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Thursday, November 01, 2018


Even though I took a four day vacation during which I read a total of 86 pages, I still managed to read 12 books. As usual it was a good mix but I fell down on reading for My Big Fat Reading Project. I did read three translated books.

Stats: Fiction: 11. Big Fat Reading Project: 1. Written by women: 8. Mystery: 1. Drama: 1. Translated: 3. Thriller: 1.

Authors new to me: Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar, Laura Lippman, Bud Smith, Jenny Erpenbeck, Miriam Toews.

Countries I visited: United States, Syria, France, Israel, Germany, Canada.

Favorites: The Map of Salt and Stars, Sunburn, Bye Bye Blondie, All My Puny Sorrows.
Least favorite: Flood.

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How was your reading in October? Which were your favorite books? Have you read any of the ones I read?