Wednesday, April 30, 2008


The word today is astrakhan which appeared on p 260 of The Houses in Between, by Howard Spring. This is a word I have been coming across for years and never looked up, knowing only that it had something to do with coats and hats. Since I read a lot of historical fiction, it must have been quite the rage at one time.

According the Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition it is a noun meaning:
1. a loosely curled fur, made from the pelt of very young lambs originally bred near Astrakhan (a city & port in SW Russia, on the Volga River delta near the Caspian Sea.)

2. a wool fabric with a pile cut and curled to look like this.

So definition two would not exactly be a fake fur, but a man made wool creation similar to the real thing.

My sentence: His matching astrakhan coat and hat were inappropriate outer wear for Los Angeles but definitely gave him a Russian air.


The Seems, the Glitch in Sleep, John Hulmer and Michael Wexler, Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2007, 272 pp

This is a first novel in a series which will be called The Seems, written by two authors who have been best friends for their whole lives. It is for ages 10 and up, grades 5 and up and is a delightful creation of another world, The Seems, the world behind our world which created and is responsible for existence as we know it.

The hero is Becker Drane, 12 year old normal boy from a small New Jersey town, whose curiosity and openness to adventure land him the job of "fixer" in The Seems. Fixers are special, highly trained individuals who live in the world but are called for missions whenever there is a glitch. Becker Drane's first mission is to repair a glitch in sleep.

Wonderful, imaginative, full of adventure, humor and not a little wisdom. I thought it was just great. What I am never sure about on these books for kids is if the kids will like it. But I loved The Borrowers as a kid and this is on the same level of imagination.


Today's word is helical which I read on page 61 of Ruined by Reading by Lynne Sharon Schwartz.

Helical is an adjective meaning of, or having the form of, a helix, or spiral. It comes from the Latin word helix, a kind of ivy, spiral, which comes from the Greek word for spiral from the Greek helissein, to turn around.

My sentence: I have straight hair but I always wished it was helical.

Thanks to AtoZ, the anonymous commenter who never fails to contribute a sentence. Anyone else want to join in?


Love Walked In, Marisa De Los Santos, Dutton, 2005, 307 pp

Am I lowering my standards or is chick lit getting better? I had a good time reading this book. Cornelia is 31 years old, single and managing a coffeehouse in Philadelphia. She can't figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. In walks who she thinks is the man of her dreams. They start dating and all is wonderful except the sex.

Pretty soon in walks Clare, an 11 year old girl whose mother has just gone missing. Now Cornelia really falls in love. Eventually the reader finds out how all these people are connected, there are ups and downs and revelations and complications all the way to the obligatory happy ending.

The writing is fine, the insights are true and delivered gracefully. I grew to love the characters and to feel like I was involved in their lives. I could see being a friend of Cornelia. Clare is a believable 11 year old who has had to face a bit too much in her young life but has great strength. In another chick lit touch, De Los Santos has a movie moments thing going on which I thought was cleverly done.

A good read, emotionally satisfying and fairly real: no one gets everything she wants but some get what they deserve. OK, I will have a music moment: sounds like a Rolling Stones song.

Monday, April 28, 2008


The Fall of Optimum House, Alice Zogg, Aventine Press, 2007, 252 pp

This is the fifth mystery by my friend Alice Zogg. It is set in California near Big Bear Lake and involves a modeling school/health resort where suspicious activities have been going on. The owner has sought the help of Private Investigator RA Huber. Eventually there are murders.

For the first time, Alice has written in 3rd person which opens up her style to good effect. Also RA Huber has hired an assistant, a young woman from New Orleans, who likes to be called Andi, though her name is Antoinette LeJeune. She is a high-spirited motorcycle riding kind of girl who goes to Optimum House posing as a modeling student.

Andi brings energy and humor to the story: there is a hilarious incident when she goes for an eyebrow waxing and some funny moments with the dietitian. As usual I was not able to figure out who the killer was due to Alice's excellent plotting skills.

I always like reading an author's work from earliest to most recent books and I am very much enjoying watching the growth of Alice Zogg as a mystery writer. Even though she writes for her own enjoyment rather than for fame or fortune, she keeps honing her skills and every new book is a step up from the last.

Friday, April 25, 2008


snell came from page 211 of The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley.

It is an adjective and a bit of Scottish slang with several meanings. In this context it means clever or smart. It comes from Middle English and before that from Old English when it was related to the German word schnell. (From Webster's New World Third College Edition.)

My sentence: Her snell style of writing gave her a distinct advantage when she started a blog.

I am eagerly awaiting some sentences from others. You can leave them in the comments. I will read them and smile!


Katherine, Anchee Min, Riverhead Books, 1995, 241 pp

Reading Dragon Bones by Lisa See and Brothers by Da Chen got me interested in the period of Chinese history that included Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution. Actually, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie was my first fictional introduction to the era. Katherine is from a female point of view and is most beautifully written.

Katherine is an American woman who comes to Shanghai to teach English. Her class consists of adults who grew up after the Communist revolution was a fait accompli and have never known any other kind of life. Oppression and complete suppression of personal feelings or desires has been their way of life. Freedom of any kind is just not an option.

Since Mao's death and the tentative "open door" policy of the government, the purpose of which is to bring money into a country of starving people, there has been a chink in the armor, a glimpse of Western ways and some workers are allowed to learn English so they can be more useful to their country. It is still not permitted to criticize China, the party or government leaders in any way.

The story is told by a 29 year old woman who has known only the Maoist teachings, hard work, abuse and loss. She is a member of Katherine's class, hoping to better herself for more income. Instead, she and her classmates find themselves awakening emotionally and sexually because of Katherine's free-spirited ways. They see her clothes, listen to her music and talk with her about American ways. They are thrown into great turmoil, The narrator (whose name is never said) becomes Katherine's friend and experiences love for another human being for the first time in her life.

The story is so intense, it was almost physically painful for me to read it. Anchee Min expresses what the life of the body, mind and spirit was like for Chinese people in the 1980s. She has been an actress in Chinese film, now lives in San Francisco and the bio says she is also a painter, photographer and musician. As a writer she is a magician. I absolutely loved this book.

Thursday, April 24, 2008



Today's word comes from page 192 of The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley.

Its definition, from Webster's New World Third College Edition, is a noun meaning either a suburb or a city district that was at one time a suburb. It comes from the French term faux bourg, literally false town which comes from Old French forsbourc, literally outside town, hence suburb.

My sentence: He was raised in a housing development that is now a faubourg of Chicago.

Sentence anyone?


The Book of Salt, Monique Truong, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003, 261 pp

I completely enjoyed my time in this novel because it was unique in many ways. Binh is a self-displaced Vietnamese living in Paris and working at 27 rue de Fleurus as cook for Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas. He fled Vietnam five years earlier in disgrace and constantly has the voice of his mentally abusive father ringing in his head. Who has not experienced that internalized critic, speaking up at odd times to remind you how badly you are doing?

Binh's search is for love, in Paris and throughout his life. He always had his mother's love and she inhabits The Book of Salt like a patron saint. As he roams the streets of Paris and the bridges over the Seine, Binh pieces together the story of his life so far through memory and what I loved was the way Truong's writing drew me into those memories as if I was Binh's mind.

Some years ago I read Charmed Circle, by James R Mellow, a book I had picked up in a used bookstore somewhere which told the story of Gertrude Stein's life. From that I was familiar with her salon in Paris, her life with Alice B Toklas and the many artists and writers with whom Stein surrounded herself. Reading The Book of Salt took me back to all that and Binh's witty descriptions of his "madame and madame" are priceless.

I could go on but I would like other readers to be as surprised and captivated as I was reading this book, which while never boring for a second, is more like a meditation than anything else. I checked and could not find any other books by Monique Truong. I wish there were.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I haven't posted a word of the day for a long time. I have tons of them saved up in a notebook.

Today's word is metonymy. I read it on page 38 of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, by Lewis Buzbee.

Definition: noun, a figure of speech in which the name of one thing is used in place of that of another associated with or suggested by it (Ex: "the White House" for "the President.") Derived from Late Latin metonymia from Greek metonymia from meta, other + onoma, onyma, name.

My sentence: Shall we take your ride or mine?

Feel free to contribute a sentence.


Light on Snow, Anita Shreve, Little Brown and Company, 2004, 305 pp

I haven't read a book by Anita Shreve for several years. I forgot that while she is not great, she is actually quite a good author. What I like is the way she allows her characters to be what they are: noble, flawed, contradictory, each one, without a lot of explanation.

I was a bit shocked and leery because I started the book after lunch and was done by dinner, but it seemed OK because enough of the whole story was there. Twelve year old Nicky lost her mother and little sister to a car accident at the age of eight. Her inconsolable father moved them away from all people they knew and any familiar scenes or activities to an isolated New England farm house.

One day while on a walk on snowshoes through the woods, they find an abandoned baby and take it home. Soon enough the mother shows up. Nicky is infatuated with the whole thing and eventually her tiny grief stricken life opens up again. I could be critical about a few things but why bother? It is a good story, it is believable and shows the harm we do when we try to hide secrets. Certainly worth a few hours of immersion in someone else's life.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Well hello. I know that I went missing for awhile here at Keep The Wisdom. I have been traveling and writing but mostly reading. I've probably lost the few readers I had, but I might as well keep going.

So without further ado, here is the final installment of books I read from 1952.

Voyage of the Dawntreader, C S Lewis, HarperCollins Inc, 1952, 248 pp

Lucy and Edmond (and their disgusting cousin Eustace) go to Narnia and join King Caspian on a voyage to the End of the World. They find several Narnians who had attempted the voyage earlier and had become enchanted; naturally the kids face dangers and free these trapped travelers.

I think the idea here is that they are traveling towards heaven or infinity. Cousin Eustace improves his personality and Reepicheep, the Chief Mouse, is the only one who gets to stay. Lucy and Edmond learn that this will be their last visit to Narnia because they are getting too old.

I liked this volume of the Narnia series. The story keeps moving and the descriptions of the End of the World are beautiful and entrancing. I recall liking it also when I was young. I wonder what comes next.

Charlotte's Web, E B White, HarperCollins Publishers, 1952, 184 pp

I cannot recall how many times I read this book as I was growing up, but it was several times. I read it again for the first time as an adult because it was published in 1952 and a new movie version had just come out.

It is still a wonderful story. What was new to me was the character of Charlotte, whom I did not remember as such a motherly person. I also noticed that Fern, the girl who originally saved Wilbur, quickly gets relegated to sitting on a stool in the barnyard and plays no further part in the story except to watch. Finally, in my memory, the story ended at the fair with Charlotte's death. How odd that the descendants of Charlotte who represent that life goes on and Wilbur's long happy life at the farm left little to no impression on me as a child. I guess I really loved Charlotte back then.

PULITZER: The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk. Already reviewed in Books Read From 1952, Part One, as it was the #2 bestseller in 1952.

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD: From Here to Eternity, James Jones. Already reviewed in Books Read From 1951, Part One, as it was the #1 bestseller in 1951.

NEWBERY MEDAL: Ginger Pye, Eleanor Estes, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1951, 250 pp

Ginger Pye is a dog who belongs to Jerry Pye, ten year old son of the Pye family. In a small town in New York State, the Pye family is close knit, not particularly well off, but happy. Jerry has a sister named Rachel and a three year old uncle named Bennie.

The three children worked hard to get Ginger Pye, who cost $1.00 and then lost him. The search for their beloved puppy goes on for many months and becomes a mystery complete with an unsavory character, clues and a villain. The kids are smart and intrepid. I liked the depiction of an earlier more innocent time when children could move about their environment on their own and have big adventures.

CALDECOTT MEDAL: Finders, Keepers, William Lipkind, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 28 pp

The Caldecott Medal being an award for illustration, this is a picture book. Two dogs dig up a bone together and can't decide who should get it. They go asking other animals and people, who never give them an answer. Finally a bigger dog tries to take the bone away, they defend the bone together, then eat it together.

There is definitely an original look to the illustrations by Nicholas Mordvinoff. The title phrase, finders keepers is never used in the text of the story which seemed odd to me.

This completes the books I read for 1952. Soon, by this weekend I hope, I will have the next installment of Reading For My Life posted. I plan to spend either Saturday or Sunday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this coming weekend, seeing some authors speak and just hanging out with book lovers. Meanwhile I will post some reviews of current fiction I have been reading.