Sunday, December 31, 2023

First Lines: December 2023 edition


In December I finished 6 books, including a set of essays,

a murder mystery, a serious novel, and some lighter fare.



Book 1

“All of them?  Even the children?” The fireplace sputtered and crackled and swallowed his gasp.  “Slaughtered?”



Book 2

The Plight of Cats in South Australia

Domenica Macdonald, anthropologist, resident of Scotland Street, and wife of Angus Lordie, portrait painter and long-standing member of the Scottish Arts Club, sat in the kitchen of her flat in Scotland Street. 


Book 3

My novel Turtles All the Way Down was published in October of 2017, and after spending that month on tour for the book, I came home to Indianapolis and blazed a trail between my children’s tree house and the little room where my wife and I often work, a room that depending on your worldview is either an office or a shed.



Book 4

08:05 Hampton Court to Waterloo

Until the point when a man started dying right in front of her on the 8:05, Iona’s day had been just like any other.

Book 5

It’s the year 50 BC.  All of Gaul is occupied by the Romans… Well, not all of it.


Book 6

1: The Hurricane

There was an old Jew who lived at the site of the old synagogue up on Chicken Hill in the town of Pottstown, Pa., and when Pennsylvania State Troopers found the skeleton at the bottom of an old well off Hayes Street, the old Jew’s house was the first place they went to.




The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

The Brutal Telling (Chief Inspector Gamache #5), by Louise Penny.  336 pages. Published 2009.

There are some clever sentences, as usual, in this Louise Penny murder mystery.  I was not able to concentrate enough to follow every minute detail of the solving of the crime.


Book 2

The Peppermint Tea Chronicles  (44 Scotland Street #13) by Alexander McCall Smith

256 pages.  Published 2019.

An enjoyable light read.  Takes place in Scotland.  No surprise that there is tea drinking.   Perhaps also not surprising that there is a surreptitious acquisition of a puppy. 


Book 3

The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet

John Green.  293 pages • first pub 2021.

Thoughtful essays with equal parts worry and love.  I greatly appreciated these and will be coming back to read them again sometime.  Thanks to CP and HH for recommending this book to me.



Book 4

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley. 352 pages.  Published 2022.

(First published in Great Britain as The People on Platform 5). 

Fun, poignant, light novel.  Interesting, diverse, and likable set of characters. 



Book 5

Asterix Volume 10 (3 stories in 1 volume). Written and illustrated by Albert Uderzo. Comic book.  148 pages. Published in 2023 in English by Papercutz.  Originally published in 1987, 1991, and 1996.  Translated by Joe Johnson.   

Fun.  I first encountered these comic books in French in my 20s, and loved the puns and drawings.  They are full of politically incorrect stuff, but perhaps less so in these later versions, which were written by one of the comic book genius duo Goscinny and Uderzo.   René Goscinny died in 1977; Albert Uderzo continued writing/illustrating until 2011, and died in 2020.



Book 6

The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store, by James McBride.  400 pages.  Published 2023. 

Fascinating characters and stellar plot, with a sizable amount of deep tension for me, but the plot and the humor overrode my tension.  The feeling I had when I was about ¾ of the way through was the same anticipatory feeling I had as I reached the climax of McBride’s The Good Lord Bird.  And I won’t say more than that.  Recommend.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

First Lines: November 2023 edition

Below are the first lines of the books I finished reading in November.  My ability to retain what I read was low.  After all, we had an election and its aftermath to deal with.   My favorite candidate won, which is good and actually rather overwhelming to consider. 


Book 1

A Stranger’s Gaze

Bombay February 1921

On the morning Perveen saw the stranger, they’d almost collided.



Book 2

In October there were yellow trees.  Then the clocks went back the hour and the long November winds came in and blew, and stripped the trees bare.  


Dusk falls in North Park
November 18, 2016

Book 3

Toward the northern reaches of the Appalachian Mountains, at the point where the East Coast ends and the great American Midwest begins, three rivers meet. 


Book 4

Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body.



Book 5

The morning was wet and it must have been raining all night, for a pool of water had seeped under the back door of Miss Selbourne’s cottage.



Book 6

The Civil Rights Movement was one of the most dramatic periods of American history, marked by rapid and profound change.  During this short span of time – from the 1950s to the 1970s – African Americans led the fight to free this country from the vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow.  African American women played significant roles at all levels of the Civil Rights Movement, yet too often they remain invisible to the larger public.


The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

The Widows of Malabar Hill (Perveen Mistry #1)  by Sujata Massey. 

400 pages.  Published 2018.

The book takes place in 1917-1921 in British India, mostly in Mumbai (then known as Bombay), and introduces the interesting character of Perveen Mistry, the first woman lawyer to work as a solicitor in India.   It’s a murder mystery, but also provides a description of some of the distinct cultures of that time and place: Parsi, Muslim, including women living in complete isolation (purdah), British, Hindu.  I look forward to reading the next in the series. 


Book 2

Small Things Like These  by Claire Keegan.  187 pages.  Published 2018.

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

I quite enjoyed this novella for the introspection of the main character.  To me it had a feel that it takes place longer ago than the year in which it was set - 1986 in Ireland.  The mix of sadness at past life, current struggle to commit to doing the right thing, and joy at arriving at doing the right thing, in spite of the cost, was poignant.   Recommend.

I read this for book club for our December gathering.  It is great to have a short and well-written book for December.  If you, Dear Reader,  know of any other well-written books that take place in winter-time, please let me know.


Book 3

Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance, by Mark Whitaker.  448 pages, but the text itself is not quite that long.  Published 2018.

I skipped the parts about boxing (my eyes utterly glazed over – just could not absorb any of that material) and skimmed over the parts about baseball.  But I found the rest of it fascinating, including the chapter on journalist Evelyn Cunningham and the chapter on playwright August Wilson. 


Book 4

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  176 pages. Published 2015.

Second reading.  This time for book club. This is a short and meaty text – one long essay, really.  Published in 2015 and definitely still relevant.  Highly recommend.



Book 5

Bramton Wick, by Elizabeth Fair.  200 pages   First published 1952.

It took me a while to get going on this one.  Part of my problem was that each house in the village has a name.  It was hard to keep track, at first, of which family lived in each named house.  I enjoyed the characters in this light romance, which is part of the Furrowed Middlebrow collection of “Twentieth Century Women’s Fiction” (whatever that means).  Includes tea drinking and dogs.

Book 6

Lighting the Fires of Freedom:  African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement, by Janet Dewart Bell.  211 pages. Published 2018.

The book is a compilation of the author’s interviews with women who worked in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s to 1970s.  I picked this book because I wanted to read more about Diane Nash.  I learned that she is a woman of unequaled courage.  She recognized that when the first Freedom Rides met with violence, if the rides ended then “southern white racists would have believed that a Movement project could be stopped by inflicting a great deal of violence on it.  And if that message got sent, we would’ve had so many people killed after that.  It would’ve been impossible to have a movement about anything.  Voting rights, desegregation, or whatever.”   

While the nine women interviewed for this book were interesting and the actions they took inspiring, the interviews could have used more editing. The speaker would mention an event that I had no knowledge of, so I was unable to fully understand.  There was a fair amount of repetition.  Nevertheless, it was worthwhile to read the thoughts, in their own words, of these important and often overlooked women.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Thanksgiving Survey 2023 - Wheel - Responses

The subtitle for this survey should probably be "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles".  This year there were a vast multitude of responses from many family members.

Survey Question 1.

What is a type of wheel, or a specific wheel, for which you are thankful?

 Family responses:

A.  steering wheel

B. Wheeling, West Virginia.  Per wikipedia, the name comes from the Lenni-Lenape phrase 'wih link', which meant "place of the head". This name refers to a white settler who was scalped, decapitated, and his severed head put on display.

C. The wheels on my suitcase

D. The Wheel of Time, which I have enjoyed talking about with my spouse because it is their favorite fantasy series. 

E. I am quite thankful for the little hamster wheels inside my computer – I don’t know of any other way my computer would possibly work!

F.  The Wheel of Time book series. It will always be one of my favorites and my partner just finished the series recently. So now we can share in it together.

G.  I am thankful for wheels of cheese because they are large and delicious.

H.I am thankful for the two wheels I had on Mariah, who was the Raleigh bike I rode through Europe in 1953.  I never had a flat tire.

I. The cam in a ballpoint pen.

J. The bicycle wheels on my Christmas present.

K.  My Cheerios.

L.   I am grateful for the roller wheels inside the DS200 machine. which pull the voter’s ballot in so it can be scanned and counted.

M.  I am most thankful for the pottery wheel

N. The wheels on the bus. (Great kids song)

O.  Color wheel

P.  I am thankful for my car tires. I am able to get to work to provide for my family as well as go to fun places where we make great memories. 

Bus at American Visionary Art Museum
in Baltimore, MD

Survey Question 2.

What is the earliest wheel that you can think of?

I purposefully left the question vague - some answered about the earliest wheel in their own life, and others attempted to answer about the earliest wheel in history, or in the universe. Some of these things are not actually wheels, in my opinion.

 Family responses:

A.  bacterial flagellum

B.  The spiral wheel of the Milky Way.  It formed not long after the universe formed,

about 13 billion years ago -- even older than Wheeling West Virginia, which formed

in 1793.  Wheeling West Virginia rotates around the Milky Way

every 212 million years.

C. The "Wheels on the Big Rig" song we would listen to as kids

D. I'm feeling like the Sumerians made giant stone wheels, but I wasn't there.

E. The earliest wheel I can think of is the First Wheel. I can easily imagine that

some wheel was the first one, and if I can think about that wheel, then it’s

automatically the answer!

F. The solar system, everything spins around the center point, our sun.

G. The wheel of time represented by the circular Mayan Calendar

H. I think I have some perception of the wheels on the baby carriage that my

sister and I rode in.  They were big wheels.  The carriage was in the attic until

we sold it to an antique store.

I. Ea-nāṣir's copper wheeling and dealing.

J. The car wheel

K.  My Cheerios.

L.  Obviously, the earliest wheels in history were the ones on Fred Flintstone’s car.

M. The earliest wheel I can think of is an animal with radial symmetry- such as

jellyfish and other cnidarians- just spinning really fast 

N.  Chariot wheels.  ( in Prince of Egypt… a must see)

O.  Toy car

P.  The earliest wheel I can think of is a wooden wheel that was used a zillion

years ago. I’m not great with history 😂

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Thanksgiving Survey 2023: Wheel

This is the flat tire on my car
on Election Day 2017.
I was thankful when it was fixed.

Just what you all have been waiting for - the Common Household time-honored tradition of the Thanksgiving Survey!  Because another poll is what we all need.  This one is the twelfteenth survey (but the eleventeenth one that I have published on this blog).  Thanks to Rabbi E.M. whose Kol Nidre sermon provided inspiration for this year's theme.

Thanksgiving survey:  


1. What is a type of wheel, or a specific wheel, for which you are thankful?

2.  What is the earliest wheel that you can think of?

Please participate by giving your answers in the comments.  Happy Thanksgiving Preparation Week!

Ferris Wheel within miniature railroad