Reading Log: August 2019

Books acquired: none

Books read: “What to Eat,” Marion Nestle; “American Fried,” “Alice, Let’s Eat,” “Third Helpings,” Calvin Trillin

Happy September, readers! Welcome to our monthly books chat, here at the end of beach reading season. We don’t seem like a beach-reading-season crowd, but ehh, it seemed like something to say.

All the books I read in August had to do with food. How many books, though? It depends on how you count.

You’ll see four named above and only three in the photos. That’s because “The Tummy Trilogy” is, as the name suggests, three, three, three books in one. But when I bought it, I already owned one of the books individually, unread.

You could say accurately that I read two: “What to Eat” and “The Tummy Trilogy.” On my personal list of unread books, I listed all three “Trilogy” titles individually. So I’m saying, also accurately I believe, that I read four. To bolster my case, I switched from the “Tummy” paperback to the “Alice, Let’s Eat” hardcover at the appropriate time before returning to “Tummy” for the third book.

Book lovers will be arguing about this for years, I predict. (Note: Not really.)

Now, let’s dig in.

“What to Eat” (2006): Fair and sensible advice by America’s best-known nutritionist based largely on what you’ll find aisle by aisle in your supermarket. Marion Nestle advocates for food with fewer ingredients, less added sugar and fewer chemicals; thus, in the scheme of things, Coke is better than no-cal versions, butter better than margarine. While I learned a lot in reading this, it’s also true that of the probably 10,000 facts in these 500-plus pages, I’ve retained about a dozen. But they may serve me in good stead.

“The Tummy Trilogy” (1994): “I’m a specialist; I just eat,” Trillin says of why he doesn’t cook. This collects his three books about food — published in 1974, 1978 and 1984 — all of which I found equally enjoyable. The New Yorker writer travels far and near to investigate catfish, crawfish, country ham, pan-fried chicken and other regional favorites, often with commentary from his wife and daughters, with frequent laudatory mentions of his native Kansas City. This is as much domestic comedy as it is food writing. His youngest’s finicky tastes inspired the last piece, “Just Try It.”

Where did I buy these three, er, four (or is it five?) books? “Tummy” came from Changing Hands Books in Tempe, Arizona, in 2009, “What to Eat” from Borders in Montclair in 2008 and “Alice” from I’m not sure where circa 2007.

Will you let us know what you read in August in the comments? Provide your own count of your total, please. I’m worn out.

Next month: a few cc’s worth of titles.

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  • DebB

    In last month’s thrilling cliff-hanger, I mentioned that I had purchased Mary Stewart’s The Moonspinners and would read it this month. And I did indeed! Isn’t it terrible that I read it so early in the month that I have to look through it to remember it? So much going on this month….

    The Moonspinners is the story of a young British woman on holiday in Crete who discovers two nice-guys-disguised-as-ruffians hiding in the hills, one seriously injured. She spends the rest of the book helping them, avoiding dastardly murderers, thieves and smugglers, and (naturally!) falling in love. Overall a pretty enjoyable read!

    Later in the month I read Mary Stewart’s Thunder on the Right, the story of a young British woman on holiday (of course) in the Pyrenees. She’s there to meet her cousin but discovers that she has been killed in an auto accident. But wait, maybe not. She spends the rest of the book searching for answers and her cousin, avoiding murderous nuns and kidnappers, and (naturally) falling in love. Again, overall a pretty enjoyable read!

    That’s my two for the month!

    • davidallen909

      Thanks for counting them for me! And for participating, not to mention resolving that cliffhanger.

    • Terri Shafer

      Deb, I read The Moonspinners years ago and don’t remember much about it, so I’m glad for the refresher. I especially like the part about “nice-guys-disguised-as-ruffians!” I like Mary Stewart and may have to read another one of hers soon 🙂

      • DebB

        Definitely do, Terri!

  • Hugh C. McBride

    I read seven books in August, which brings my reading total to 49 for the first eight months of the year. Here last month’s summary:

    * 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami) — Stuck in a taxi amid standstill traffic on a bridge, late for an appointment she absolutely cannot miss, a woman takes the driver’s advice and climbs down a service ladder to reach the surface street. Over the next few days, she notices anomalies both small (police are carrying different guns than she remembers) and not-so-small (there’s suddenly a second moon). On thing that hasn’t changed: The woman remains a hired assassin who kills rapists, child abusers, and other such undesirables. This plot alternates with one about a mysterious teen girl who writes an odd story that a publisher convinces a part-time teacher and frustrated writer to fraudulently revise into an award-winning tale.The frustrated writer starts seeing two moons, too. And, decades ago, he may have shared an elementary classroom with the future assassin for a few weeks, though they never spoke to each other. This book was one odd ride, but it kept me spellbound.

    * LIGHTS ALL NIGHT LONG (Lydia Fitzpatrick) — A teen boy from a tiny Russian town near the Arctic circle wins entry into an exchange program that sends him to live with a religious family in Louisiana. Just prior to the boy’s departure for the US, his older brother is arrested for murder. The younger brother tries to navigate life in the small-town south while trying to find a way to exonerate his brother from afar. A compelling read.

    * ARCHIE: 1941 (Mark Waid) — This is the first in a series of decade-specific Archie books that put the characters in real-llfe situations, instead of the timeless/escapist plots they typically follow. In this one, Archie & Reggie enlist to fight in World War II. Jughead struggles with not being part of the war effort. Veronica deals with being the daughter of a war profiteer, and Betty wonders if the love of her life will survive combat. This was a solid read, & the latest in a series of innovative paths the Archie crew has wandered down over the years. Future books are set to address the birth of rock & roll (50s) and the counterculture (60s). Just as long as none of the gang becomes a cocaine-fueled securities trader in the 80s, I look forward to what comes next.

    * THE SILENT PATIENT (Alex Michaelides) — A woman murders her husband for no apparent reason, then spends years refusing to speak another word. Now a new therapist at the facility where she’s lived since the murder thinks he can get through to her. Page-turning psychological thriller with a big twist.

    * CITY OF SAVIORS (Rachel Howzell Hall) — The fourth entry in the Detective Elouise “Lou” Norton series, and the strongest one yet. The case involves a hoarder who may have been murdered by members of a church who were eager to get their hands on his life insurance policy. At the same time, Det. Norton is dealing with PTSD in the aftermath of the violent ending to the previous novel in this series. Powerful characterization of the impact of trauma, and how the demands of being a police officer can both increase a person’s exposure to trauma & preclude her from seeking the help she clearly needs.

    * LADY IN THE LAKE (Laura Lippman) — In 1960s Baltimore, a surprise dinner guest prompts an upper class white housewife to leave her husband, move to a downscale part of town, and attempt to launch a journalism career. Assigned to assist an advice columnist, she spends her spare time trying to solve the case of a black woman whose badly decomposed body was found in a fountain in the middle of lake in a city park. In the process, secrets are unearthed, surreptitious alliances are revealed, and lives are disrupted.

    * TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN (John Green) — Powerful portrayal of a teen girl who lives with extreme anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The narrative also involves a mystery of a missing man, a potential romance, and a strong-but-strained best-friendship. Plus a car named Harold. Tremendous story, wonderfully told. An excellent end to my reading month.

    • davidallen909

      Good show, Hugh. I’ve seen 1Q84 and found the book’s design and heft appealing, and of course the author is acclaimed, but I had no idea what it was about. (My recollection is that the back cover summary, if it exists, revealed nothing.) You make it sound fascinating. Please, write summaries of my own books!

      I had held it against John Green that he’d titled his 2017 book “Turtles All the Way Down” because that phrase was the title of a 2014 song I liked by Sturgill Simpson. But I just checked Wikipedia and it’s a very old expression, possibly dating to 1638, and involves Hindu philosophy. Mr. Green will be humbled to learn I’ve now forgiven him.

      • Doug Evans

        (Nerd glasses on.) I’m guessing both the song and the book title come from an anecdote told by Stephen Hawking in his book “A Brief History of Time,” in which he tells the story (included in David’s Wikipedia link above) of an astronomer who gives a talk about the cosmological view of the solar system, after which a woman stands up and tells him he’s wrong, the world is a flat plate supported on the back of a turtle, and when he somewhat condescendingly asks her what’s holding up the turtle, she says, “You’re very clever, young man, but it’s turtles all the way down!” The story was around long before Hawking, as he himself makes clear, but I feel pretty confident in feeling that Hawking’s book popularized the story. It’s a funny anecdote, and it has a lot to say in a short space about the difference between science and faith, but mostly: I read Hawking’s book way back when (way over my head, despite his best efforts to dumb it down), and the only sentence I remember from the book after all those years is, “It’s turtles, all the way down!” So, though I have no proof for this: I’m going to state that both Sturgill Simpson and John Green are Hawking fans, and they both have good taste. (Nerd glasses off.)

        • Hugh C. McBride

          (Doug Evans Response Glasses On)

          One of the characters in the John Green book does, indeed, recount a cosmological conversation between a woman of a certain age and a man of certain scientifiic expertise that ends with the woman yelling “it’s turtles all the way down!”

          I can neither confirm nor deny that Mr. Hawking was mentioned in said recounting.

          (Doug Evans Response Glasses Off)

    • Terri Shafer

      Hugh, I like your list of books this month! You were so brave to tackle 1Q84 — it’s so long! I have looked into it but never decided to actually read it. I have read “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki & His Years of Pilgrimage” and “The Strange Library” (a short story) by him. He has an unusual style, I may have to give him another try!
      I have read “Turtles All the Way Down” and liked it. And I also plan to read “The Silent Patient.” It sounds intriguing. I like a good twist!
      Good month for you! Hope you read some good ones in September 🙂

    • Doug Evans

      Nicely done, Hugh! You make 1Q84 sound really intriguing, but I’m almost as intrigued by the Archie book. Question: are the books going to continue chronologically, so the characters in the 1950s book will be older versions of the ones in the 1940s book? Or will each book reset, and they’ll be teenagers in each decade? I kind of like that second option, and since they’ve been teenagers in the comics for almost 80 years, it wouldn’t be that hard to buy into.

  • Terri Shafer

    I like your theme this month, David. But I never could figure out how many books you read!! 😉
    I love Calvin Trillen!! But haven’t read any of the ones you read. I read “Floater” in 1981! 😮 I guess I should try some others of his!

    I did get to several this month. I read a few that I was needing to mark off my list and some for a Goodreads Bingo Challenge I’m working on. So some of these fit into those categories:

    SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY by Edgar Lee Masters, 1914, 150 pages
    This was really different. It is fairly short. All I can say is “Look into it and see for yourself.” It’s probably that it is not a genre that appeals to me as much.

    THE STORY OF ARTHUR TRULUV by Elizabeth Berg, 2017, 240 pages
    I got my picture taken with this author on Saturday!!! She visited the Olney Public Library, and it was really fun to get to know her — very friendly 🙂
    This is a feel good book about an older man who helps out a young high school girl in trouble, along with the help of another elderly neighbor lady, and they become a kind of family. I enjoyed it as a light, easy read.

    FIDELITY by Wendell Berry, 1992, 200 pages
    I so enjoyed these stories by Wendell Berry. I think it is a good one to start with if you want to begin reading Berry’s writings. These five short stories, although separate, somehow combine to give a kind of background of the different characters that are included in his books and tell how they are all related and connected. I had previously read “Hannah Coulter” and did not enjoy it, although Berry seems to get rave reviews from so many. But I think I did not understand the connections and the community that is the foundation of his tales. After reading this book, I would be happy to read, and also recommend, Wendell Berry’s writings 🙂

    EDUCATED by Tara Westover, 2018, 352 pages
    I just got back from Book Club where we discussed this one — it is kind of controversial. “Is this really believable?” “Is this a reliable narrator?” Well, it is nonfiction, and this probably is the way she remembers it. But I, and some of the members of our club, had trouble with it. However, I do realize that the main idea is that a person can be raised in a very closed off environment, but after becoming Educated, the whole world is opened up for one to decide one’s own beliefs. I didn’t really care for it much, but it’s been on the best seller list for about a year and a half!! Go figure 😉

    MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli, 1990, 184 pages
    I loved this children’s book about a boy who can do almost anything better, faster, smarter than any other kid, but has no family and no place to call home. While looking for a home, he becomes involved with a neighborhood that is split in two: one half black and one half white. His capability to be happy with both groups of people, and his special abilities, enable him to bring them together as one community. It is written in a very cute and entertaining way that appeals to a variety of ages. I loved it!

    THE GARDEN OF EDEN by Ernest Hemingway, first published in 1986, 248 pages
    No, I didn’t like it. It was just strange. It was easy to read but didn’t really go anywhere. I do realize that it was left unfinished at Hemingway’s death, so that might have had something to do with it. But I’m not sure how much difference it would have made :/

    SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS by Arthur Ransome, 1930, 315 pages
    I loved this tale of four siblings who set out on an adventure “with a minimum of parental advice and interference” and enjoy a summer outing, camping on an island in a nearby lake. They pretend to be on a desert island in the Pacific (though somehow the Amazon River is close by) and are excited to deal with the local “natives,” “pirates,” and finding buried treasure. They always stay in character as “Captain,” “First Mate,” “Able Seaman,” etc. and the “natives” (mother and other neighborly adults who supply them with food) go along with them in playing their parts.

    The children are given a fairly long leash by their parents as they sail around on their own (sometimes at night) and cook their food on an open fire. But it’s really fun, and it’s the way we all would have liked to have lived our childhoods, if allowed. Lots of freedom! This is a good summer read. And if you really like it, there are 11 more books!! 🙂

    LEONARDO DAVINCI by Walter Isaacson, 2017, 600 pages
    An amazing man who lived a life of curiosity and creativity that yielded magnificent masterpieces and incredible information to us.

    THE MASTER AND MARGARITA by Mikhail Bulgakov, Adapted by Heidi Stillman, 2010, 1 hour, 45 minutes audio book
    This is an LA Theater Works production of a very strange story. I’m glad I listened to this play, because now I know that I don’t want to read the real book!! 😉

    IVANHOE by Sir Walter Scott, 1819, 624 pages
    I enjoyed this book, and even though the language was so different from the way we speak now, it was pretty easy to follow. I did not realize that this is the original Robin Hood story and was the influence of all the Robin Hood stories that have come after! I am glad to have finally read this one!

    • DebB

      I know that I read Spoon River Anthology, or at least part of it, in either Jr or Sr high school. And I sort of remember liking it, but don’t remember anything about it. Maybe I’ll try it again and see what I think now. And Ivanhoe sounds like something I’d enjoy, too!

    • Hugh C. McBride

      Wow – this is a fantastic collection of books for the month!

      As with DebB, I have a vague memory of spending some with with Spoon River Anthology, Pretty sure I either read some of it when i was a student or taught part of it during my days at the front of the classroom.

      Also, I keep seeing glowing references to EDUCATED, but I’ve not been motivated to pick it up. I’m going to take your review here as validation of my decision to look elsewhere for reading material.

    • davidallen909

      An author at the Olney Public Library? I don’t remember that happening even once when I lived there!

      I would hope one day to read Ivanhoe. Like Hugh and Deb, I read a few Spoon River poems in school. You might be interested in Hilary Masters’ Last Stand, a slim biography of the writer by his son. His dad had a good poetic gimmick and flailed at every duplicating its success. (I read the bio for a college class.)

      I think there’s a Library of America anthology of all of Wendell Berry’s stories set in whatever fictional community he created (I’m too lazy to look it up).

    • Doug Evans

      Hokey smoke, Ivanhoe! Ivanhoe is, after Gulliver’s Travels, one of the longest-owned books in my Giant Stack of Unread Books, and is another book given to me as a gift (Gulliver’s was from my grandpa, Ivanhoe from my parents) that makes me feel guilty every time I look at it. I tentatively plan to get through it before the end of the year, after I get through some other books given to me as gifts that have been making me feel guilty for decades. I’ve already pulled it out from the Stack and put in on my nightstand, and here is everybody talking about it on the blog! It’s a sign, right? It must be a sign.

      • Terri Shafer

        The stars are definitely aligning, Doug! And they are calling out “Ivanhoe!” You gotta’ do it 😉

  • Doug Evans

    I read three in August!

    “Colonel Sun” by Kingsley Amis writing as Robert Markham (1968). This is the first-ever James Bond authorized-by-the-estate continuation novel after the death of the original author, Ian Fleming. Somehow, despite my having read all of the Fleming Bonds (before I started commenting on this blog) and the recent authorized-by-the-dead-author’s-estate sequel novels (I’ve shared about those on this blog), I’d never read this one. So last month I did. Entertaining! All Bond novels (and movies, to a degree) are trapped by their formula, and this was no different. Still, it was nice to visit Bond’s glamorized and hyper-violent world of espionage one more time. At least until the next movie/authorized book comes out.

    “A Dangerous Man” by Robert Crais (2019). The latest in Crais’ Elvis Cole (private eye) and Joe Pike (mercenary, friend of the afore-mentioned Elvis Cole) novels. Shenanigans occur in and around L.A. These are always fun and I enjoy keeping up with the series.

    “Sara’s Game” by Ernie Lindsey (2012). This was a not-particularly-good book chosen for the book club I’m in. A hard-working businesswoman receives a call that her kids are missing from school, runs out to her car, and finds a note on the windshield that reads, “Are you ready to play the game?” That sentence is about the most exciting thing to happen in the book. Over the top and unrealistic. It’s self-published on Amazon, which I’ve come to believe is a pretty good indicator of a book’s quality. Having said all of that: the guy that wrote this had an idea, wanted to share it with the world, and got it out there. That’s more than I’ve ever done book-wise. Nothing wrong with wanting to entertain people, and based on some of the reviews on Amazon, he succeeded in doing that.

    And that’s all that I read… I have a new work schedule starting this fall, which allows me to be home with my family in the evenings, which is great, but which has really slowed down my reading. You’d think being home more in the p.m. would increase my reading time, but that hasn’t proved to be the case. It will be interesting how all of this will play out in the months and years ahead. In the meantime… happy reading, everyone, and see you here next month!

    • davidallen909

      Three books is more in line with my own reading schedule, so it still strikes me as a good pace. But I may grow to miss your eight-reviews-in-a-row comments. Now, how did a self-published book on Amazon even get the attention of your book club? What a world we live in.

    • Terri Shafer

      I haven’t read any of yours this month, Doug. Although I have read a couple of others by Kingsley Amis (Lucky Jim & Ending Up) and I liked them.

      Good luck on finding time to read now that your job has changed. I bet you’ll find some time to sneak in some good reads! 🙂

  • Doug Evans

    Re David’s books: my sister purchased Calvin Trillin’s 1991 book “American Stories”, a collection of his articles, as a gift for me at a book signing (I think at Powells!), and she had him personalize it for me! It says, “Merry Christmas, Doug. Calvin Trillin.” Not as meaningful as one of David’s personalized inscriptions, but still fun.

    • davidallen909

      Nice, all around. That book is probably a collection of his New Yorker pieces, for which he traveled America; most of the food pieces are from that series.

    • Terri Shafer

      I’m so jealous!