David Bowie had a reading list?

Heck, yes! Superstar musician and brilliant performer David Bowie was a prolific reader. As a matter of fact, it is said that he took all 400 books in his then-collection when he went on location to film “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”

That set a pattern of taking a travelling library on tour and Bowie said: “I had these cabinets – it was a travelling library – and they were rather like the boxes that amplifiers get packed up in. . .  because of that period, I have an extraordinarily good collection of books.”

When Vanity Fair asked him “What is your idea of perfect happiness?” he responded simply “reading.”

In 2013, Bowie posted his 100 favorite books on his public Facebook page. The list is a characteristically eclectic list featuring everyone from Junot Diaz and George Orwell to Angela Carter and Muriel Spark.

To find the complete list, look no farther than his official site. I can think of no better tribute on this one year anniversary to The Thin White Duke than to delve into the list, and then into one of the books.

Martin Vargic’s Map of Literary Genres

I stumbled upon an incredibly clever Map of Literary Genre’s by 17-year old Martin Vargic, and the more I looked at it … well, my heart fairly skipped a beat!

You may see it here:

Huffington Post Books Article Here

The article points out that Vargic maps based on how we live, as opposed to where.

Just look at it! Young Adult is across the Character Sea from Children, where Mother Goose is due north of L. Frank Baum. On the coast of the Dystopian Sea is Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card and Jules Verne.

I could spend hours looking at this! Well done, my young man!

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Summary:

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

My take: 5 looks
Delightful! Simply delightful!

A woman in post-WWII New York, with a penchant for non-fiction, becomes pen pals with a stoically formal British antiquarian bookseller in London.

Helene Hanff is a spitfire, to say the least. Her correspondence is shockingly glib, informal, and playful with Frank Doel of Marks & Co Booksellers in London.

She has very specific taste, and he is able to find and send what she requests. The entire bookshop comes to care for Helene and look forward to her correspondence. However, when she discovers that England is still under heavy post-war rationing, she ups the ante and begins to send boxes and boxes of items available only on the black market in London.

The first letter in the book is dated October 5, 1949, and continues through the years to the final letter, dated October of 1969. The correspondents are most often Helene and Frank, but others in the shop, as well as Frank’s wife, also pen a few missives. The love affair that these two share is a deep and committed one, and keeps the flame of their relationship alive for 20 years. And no, not a love affair with one another, but with books. The love of books is a compelling force!

A few of my favorite passages:

“…anything he liked I’ll like except if it’s fiction. I never can get interested in things that didn’t happen to people who never lived.” hh

“I personally can’t think of anything less sacrosanct than a bad book or even a mediocre book.” hh

“Have you got De Tocqueville’s Journey to America? Somebody borrowed mine and never gave it back. Why is it that people who wouldn’t dream of stealing anything else think it’s perfectly all right to steal books?” hh

“I go through life watching the English language being raped before my face.” hh

“I am going to bed. I will have hideous nightmares involving huge monsters in academic robes carrying long bloody butcher knives labelled Excerpt, Selection, Passage and Abridged.” hh

Highly, highly recommended.

Etched in Sand by Regina Calcaterra

Summary:
Regina Calcaterra’s memoir, ETCHED IN SAND, is an inspiring and triumphant coming-of-age story of tenacity and hope.  
Regina Calcaterra is a successful lawyer, New York State official, and activist. But her early life was quite different. She and her four siblings survived a painful, abusive childhood only to face the challenges of the foster-care system and occasional homelessness in the shadows of Manhattan and the Hamptons.
A true-life rags-to-riches story, ETCHED IN SAND chronicles Regina’s struggle to rise above her past while fighting to keep her brother and 3 sisters together through it all.

Beautifully written with heartbreaking honesty, ETCHED IN SAND is an unforgettable reminder that regardless of social status, the American Dream is still within reach for those who have the desire and determination to succeed.

My take: 4 looks

What a heartbreaking story. And the fact that it’s true makes it all the more so. Regina and her siblings defied all odds to become stable, loving family members in their own right. Regina took her healing a step farther and became an attorney who joined the government with the idea of enacting change for children in foster care.

While this is an unflinching look at life of abuse and neglect, it doesn’t wallow in self pity. It also doesn’t make excuses. While the mother of these children was probably mentally ill, she was in control enough of her faculties to make cruel and selfish choices, and was smart enough to manipulate the system.

The look at the foster care system is not a pretty one. Turned away more times than helped, the caseworkers portrayed here were squarely on the side of the mother, and very rarely took the author’s complaints and warnings seriously. This was an example of a broken system that did not look out for the welfare of the children.

I normally would not have read this book, but it was a choice in my F2F bookclub; and, I am a better person because of it.

Recommended.

The Great Santini by Pat Conroy

Summary:
The moving portrait of a son’s struggle to escape the iron fist of his volatile military father.

Marine Colonel Bull Meecham commands his home like a soldiers’ barracks. Cold and controlling but also loving, Bull has complicated relationships with each member of his family—in particular, his eldest son, Ben. Though he desperately seeks his father’s approval, Ben is determined to break out from the Colonel’s shadow. With guidance from teachers at his new school, he strives to find the courage to stand up to his father once and for all.

Inspired by Conroy’s own relationship with his father, The Great Santini is a captivating and unflinching portrayal of modern family life and a moving story of a son becoming a man.

My take: 2 looks

***SPOILERS***

This was a heartbreaking book to read. Knowing that it was based on Pat Conroy’s own childhood made it that much more morose.

Bull Meechum is a mean man. He sets out to hurt others, and if he isn’t successful doing it with words, he will do it physically. I kept looking for a redemption here. In books like this, where difficult relationships are portrayed, there is a moral, allegory, metaphor, something that the reader takes away with them at the last page. I searched and searched for such a quality in this one and could come up with only one thing: this was a purge for Conroy.

With that said, I despised this man. His antics at the beginning of the book with the cream of mushroom soup set up his maturity level, and everyone knows that a pubescent boy has no self-control. That is what Bull was mentally: a surly, spoiled, over-compensating teenager. To find abuse of new recruits a form of entertainment is sad enough, but to intentionally get your son drunk on his birthday over his objections, yell taunts at him during basketball games, and run “military exercises” in your home with a real sword is just over the top.

Likewise, I found the wife willfully weak and enabling. She was a strong Southern woman one minute, and lamenting to the verge of whining about what her life used to be, and what it had become. The excuses she made for her husband’s bad behavior were infuriating and the fact that she didn’t protect her children was inexcusable the next. I agonized over the children and the lasting effects the verbal and physical abuse would have on their lives.

The ending frustrated and annoyed me. I wanted Bull to live into old age, to become ineffectual and to see himself replaced with the next generation of Marine. Likewise, I wanted to see his children leave home and never look back. To have him die just after the prime of his life was beyond the pale for me, and robbed me of any redeeming value of the novel.

It is well written, and easy to read. However, feeling that this is merely a publishing of a document that Conroy’s therapist may have had him write as part of therapy, I can’t recommend it.

Driving with Dead People by Monica Holloway

Summary:
Small wonder that, at nine years old, Monica Holloway develops a fascination with the local funeral home. With a father who drives his Ford pickup with a Kodak movie camera sitting shotgun just in case he sees an accident, and whose home movies feature more footage of disasters than of his children, Monica is primed to become a morbid child. Yet in spite of her father’s bouts of violence and abuse, her mother’s selfishness and prim denial, and her siblings’ personal battles and betrayals, Monica never succumbs to despair. Instead, she forges her own way, thriving at school and becoming fast friends with Julie Kilner, whose father is the town mortician. She and Julie prefer the casket showroom, where they take turns lying in their favorite coffins, to the parks and grassy backyards in her hometown of Elk Grove, Ohio.

In time, Monica and Julie get a job driving the company hearse to pick up bodies at the airport, yet even Monica’s growing independence can’t protect her from her parents’ irresponsibility, and from the feeling that she simply does not deserve to be safe. Little does she know, as she finally strikes out on her own, that her parents’ biggest betrayal has yet to be revealed. Throughout this remarkable memoir of her dysfunctional, eccentric, and wholly unforgettable family, Monica Holloway’s prose shines with humor, clear-eyed grace, and an uncommon sense of resilience. Driving with Dead People is an extraordinary real-life tale with a wonderfully observant and resourceful heroine.

My take: 3 looks
Very nicely written, but a bit too long for my taste. I think the same story could have been told as poignantly in fewer pages.

This book is, at its heart, about the horrors of childhood with an abusive father and emotionally absent mother. The tales of growing up are difficult to read and the fact that this is a memoir make the words, actions and denial even more bone-crushing. The aftermath of living in this environment proves to be a difficult one to rise above, only two siblings facing the issues head-on to try to move past the hurt and betrayal.

This is a raw, painful and real story that will make you want to protect the children and beat the hell out of the adults.

Recommended.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Summary:

This true story about the love between a spiritual mentor and his pupil has soared to the bestseller list for many reasons. For starters: it reminds us of the affection and gratitude that many of us still feel for the significant mentors of our past. It also plays out a fantasy many of us have entertained: what would it be like to look those people up again, tell them how much they meant to us, maybe even resume the mentorship? Plus, we meet Morrie Schwartz–a one of a kind professor, whom the author describes as looking like a cross between a biblical prophet and Christmas elf. And finally we are privy to intimate moments of Morrie’s final days as he lies dying from a terminal illness. Even on his deathbed, this twinkling-eyed mensch manages to teach us all about living robustly and fully.

My take:

It took me one day to read this book and it was a WOW book. While there are a few things with which is disagree regarding spiritual ideas, but core of this book, if taken to heart, could change a reader for the best.

I liked the layout of the book, first of all. I liked that there was a prologue, then the chapters were numbers based on the number of week it was in their meeting sequence. Then there were short interim parts between the chapters which were written in italics. They either told of a time in the past that would set up the next chapter, highlighted something going on at the time of the next chapter, or it reflected on the next chapter, but at a later time. I liked the writing style very much.

When I was finished with the chapter that detailed the last of Morrie’s three interviews with Ted Koppel on Nightline, I decided to put the book down and look for the interviews on YouTube.

There were all three interviews on YouTube, all in one sequential file, in nine parts. It was very moving, touching, funny, sad, poignant. Morrie was so right: Once you know how to die, you know how to live. I think he was very right.

While I am sorry to see someone like Morrie die, it makes me wonder how many other Morries are out there, and what impact they are having on lives around them. On the other hand, and not so optimistic, is the question of how many Morries there are out there who are dying alone, without anyone with whom to share the lessons they have learned throughout their lives.

My review: 5 stars, and listed as a favorite
Wonderful, wonderful. So much to be learned and put into practice from a man who has lived a full life and embarks to make sure he dies a full death. Death really separates the wheat from the chaff of life, and Morrie had much of it down before his diagnosis. After his diagnosis, he simply honed his life more quickly. A great tale of friendship, redemption, life lessons and living with as few regrets as possible. This one will stay on my shelf, ready to be read again and again.