Levels of guilt for not enjoying books that everyone else does

17 July, 2018

Toast: The Story of a Boy's HungerToast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger by Nigel Slater

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Levels of guilt for not enjoying books that everyone else does.

Whenever I start to read a book that everyone seems to like and several of my friends write glowing reviews about and I absolutely loathe, I feel guilty. I feel that there is something wrong with me.

There is a scarcely-conscious ranking in my mind of how guilty I have to feel about disliking a book. At the top of the scale are the much-lauded cultural icons I really, really loathe, like Virginia Woolf. Lots of guilt there.

At the bottom of the scale are the popular authors people rave about that I feel I should have enjoyed more but really didn’t, authors like Kate Atkinson, Liane Moriarty, Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Nigel Slater is somewhere around the middle on this scale.

The authors I don’t feel guilty about loathing their books are the ones force-fed to me in school, Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy come to mind.

Then there are those authors who, no matter their immense popularity, I cannot persuade myself that what they wrote had any discernable merit like C.S. Lewis, L. Frank Baum and Dr. Seuss. I don’t feel guilt with them, I feel resentful that I am supposed to like them and people make out they cannot understand how I not only don’t like them but can’t appreciate their great and lasting value and how could I deprive my kids.

(I got trolled endlessly for disliking The Lorax, well over a 100 comments, but quite a lot got deleted by the sock puppet inventing various identities to troll me with.)

So Nigel, I didn’t like this book. I don’t like you on tv either. And yes I feel guilty you look like such a warm and friendly dude, but like… well, no chemistry, no literary chemistry at all,

Reviewed July 16, 2018

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Letting Ana Go or how insurance companies stop poor anorexics suffering from a lingering death

9 July, 2018

Letting Ana GoLetting Ana Go by Anonymous
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anorexia is the medium that carries the message in this book. It’s not what kills the teenage diary writer, although she does die from it.

This book is built from cliches. One builds on another. Perhaps cliches are new and fresh to teenagers but those with years of reading behind them can see the next one coming.

The teenage diary writer, ‘Ana’ is from a newly-broken home. Her mother is fat, her father’s new girlfriend is thin with big boobs He gives her a car instead of love. Her best friend is, at her mother’s encouragement, losing weight to get the lead part in a ballet. So they diet together. Best friend’s brother whom she’s known forever becomes a boyfriend, must be because of the way she looks, right? Then there is the sports coach who pays lip service to protecting the girls from anorexia. An only-second-best friend who is of course jealous, A size 2 dress that has to be got into, ana-mia sites online with seductive girls showing their ribs and boy-hips etc. It’s a life where the only control Ana feels she has is over her own body and the better it looks (to her) the more the world will love her.

The author is such a fake. She pretends that she is protecting her more vulnerable readers by never setting less than healthy limits. She starts ‘Ana’ and Jill off on 1,750 calories a day and has them reduce it to 1,250, it never goes beneath 1,000. The anorexics I knew were restricting themselves to 400 and 600 calories. The amount of food described in the diary does not add up to anything like 1,000 calories a day. Then there is the obsessive exercise and laxatives. The name of the tea in the book, Ballerina, is also a genuine slimmer’s tea that is based on senna pods, a laxative. My grandma had two glasses by her bed at night, one for her teeth and one full of senna pods and water to keep her regular!

Eventually ‘Ana’ overdoes it and collapses. Hospital etc follows but she cannot be kept in for long because the insurance won’t cover it. She comes out and is determined to be healthy, but soon the lure of anorexia, of control, gets her again. More doctors. But they cannot help, nor can she be an inpatient because she doesn’t have the insurance cover, even though her mother is a nurse in the same hospital. It’s the same with therapists, there is no money to pay them, no insurance that will cover them, just group therapy which isn’t intensive enough.

Meanwhile her wealthy ballerina friend Jill has also collapsed from her extreme dieting. She is whisked off to an expensive clinic that specialises in teenage anorexics.

I could go on, but you get the picture. At the end ‘Ana’ dies and Jill lives. They both suffered from anorexia but ‘Ana’ couldn’t afford or get insurance to cover the treatment. Jill’s wealthy family had the means to get the care that would heal their daughter.

What killed ‘Ana’ was that medicine in the US is primarily a high-profit business, care and healing have to be purchased. If you can’t pay, only the minimum is provided. Insurance companies are like a legalised mafia. Pay them ‘protection’ money and they will help you out when you need it. To a point. Further than that point they’ll cut you off or… kill you. ‘Ana’ was too needy she had to die.

I’ve seen this book ascribed to the infamous Beatrice Sparks of Go Ask Alice fame. She didn’t write it. Sparks would have been in her 90s when it was written – how much youth culture would she have been familiar with then – and dead a few years before it was published. She was also an ultra-conservative who saw everything in black and white. One step on the wrong path and it doesn’t matter what you do, you are doomed. This book wasn’t like that. Also although it wasn’t well written it wasn’t hilariously bad as Beatrice Sparks’ books are.

3.5 stars rounded down because the efforts at including steamy romance were puerile.

Rewritten July 2018 on a quick reread.

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Does it Fart, or why orangutans sleep alone

6 July, 2018

Does It Fart?: The Definitive Field Guide to Animal FlatulenceDoes It Fart?: The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence by Dani Rabaiotti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Silent but deadly farts are the worst kind. The terrible, eye-watering smell that you try and pretend you aren’t reeling backwards from, the sort where the Queen tightens her lips and gives side-eye to Prince Philip when she lets one loose. But they aren’t really deadly. No one has died from being farted on.

However, the beaded lacewing, a pretty insect is a ferocious carnivore as a larva. When hungry it directs the tip of its abdomen to a termite’s head and toots out a deadly gas cloud. One to three minutes later the termites will just lie on their backs with their legs waving around. Fresh food. That’s a really silent but deadly.

Something truly disgusting. Cockroaches can not only run around when beheaded they can fart too. They are world-class farters and not only feast on human food, they fart over it as well.

Whether or not a creature farts depends on the design of it’s intestinal tract and if it eats fibre. Most creatures do, but octopuses do not, and no one is sure if bats do. Orangutans, clever beasts, seem to enjoy farting and like to make raspberry noises as counterpoint to their toots, especially when lying in their nests at night. Yes, they sleep alone.

19 Weeks

28 June, 2018

19 Weeks19 Weeks by Emily Steel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had such a horror of abortion that before I lost my virginity, I went on the pill. At 16, I didn’t want to even contemplate raising a child. But there was something else. I grew up across the road from a Down’s Syndrome child. His sister was my friend. The boy wasn’t high-functioning and the mother had no life, he needed constant attention. I never wanted to have to decide between having an abortion and that kind of life.

And that was the same issue for the author. She hadn’t been happy in her pregnancy, sick all the time and feeling that her body was rejecting it. It hadn’t felt like her first pregnancy when was carrying her now-two year old son. When Down’s Syndrome was discovered at a scan, she knew she didn’t want the life that would entail. But neither was she keen on a late abortion.

She had it over a traumatic two days. And felt better in herself immediately, but there are always going to be strong feelings for us all about late abortions. It doesn’t feel like a foetus, a bunch of cells anymore, but a little baby, a little, little baby. Then there was the wondering if people would accept her, what she had done. There was no support for her, she felt that she was the only woman in the world to have done this and bear the burden alone.

J’m neither for or against abortion. I don’t believe it is a moral issue. I don’t respect religions set up and run by men which always means the control of women in one form or another. (All of them). I don’t believe the government has the right to make decisions about my body, my womb. It is up to every woman to decide for herself and in civilized countries, she can do exactly that.

I would never have had an abortion. That said, I was never tested. But I would hold the hand of any woman who wanted support during an abortion. It would be her choice, the same as having any other elective surgery. My role would just be to be there.

Some people go too far though. I had a weekly cleaner, a Guyanese Indian woman who said she had at least six, maybe more. She said her husband didn’t like birth control so she couldn’t go against him, but as she didn’t want any more children, she would have an abortion. That tested my attitude.

The author wrote a brilliant play, a monologue. The identification of so many women with her situation entirely took away the feeling she was the only one in the world, there were others, and those who hadn’t been in that position, understood it more now, and sympathised. So writing the play was therapy too.

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The Altar of My Soul: The Living Traditions of Santeria

16 June, 2018

The Altar of My Soul: The Living Traditions of Santeriaby Marta Moreno Vega

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Voudoo has many names and variations – voodoo, santeria, candomble and, locally for me, obeah. And in my experience it has several types of practitioners. The first are usually Christians as well. Their belief in obeah is somewhat clandestine and usually reserved for trying to get more money, trying to get back a lover who is with someone else and revenge. So long as the spells, or ‘work’ is confined to other believers, it has quite a lot of success.

The second kind are very Afrocentric (this does not mean racist). They cast aside their religion and deny their entire logical and scientific education for one where there is an unseen world with a multitude of gods who can be influenced to change people and the future with the right rituals. They often give themselves African names. It is almost the politics of rejection (as is rastafarianism) and seems to be based on a conscious decision and not faith. To me, the author falls into this category.

The third group are fervent in their beliefs and reject all other religions. These people are not uncommon in Trinidad, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Cuba and Santo Domingo.

Haitians are different. They may or may not be fervent believers, may or may not practice Christianity, but for them it has been the only means of having their voice heard under their many repressive dictators. Taking to the streets as ‘horses’ for the gods who have taken over their bodies, they can say what they want, express anything they feel without fear of the police or politicians, all of whom are afraid of the retribution that might come their way from mambos and houngans, the priests of vodou.

I had a customer once, a young lady from St. Lucia, she ordered The Pentacles of Solomon and several other obeah books. She got deported before she could pick them up. (at this time the importation of dolls from Jamaica and Haiti were also banned. Not Barbies, we understood). The Pentacles of Solomon has many extracts from the psalms and bits resembling kabbalah and also Hebrew words. And that’s where it fell down. We can all tell a real word from gobbledegook in English, so can I in Hebrew and some of these words were meaningless, ergo the spells are meaningless too.

And that’s where this book fails too. In the introduction the author, who has an MA in Education and a PhD in African studies,says, “In Judaism, practitioners sacrifice and cleanse with animals as we do,” Not for several thousand years have animals been sacrificed in Judaism and well the author knows it. She says she always draws these comparisons to show how our religions are similar, and hers is not so different as it may seem.

So now I can’t read the book. If such egregious inaccuracies or perhaps it is cynical manipulation, hoping for people’s ignorance is in the introduction, what hope for honesty and accuracy in the main body of the book?

Years ago I read Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn, a 10 star read, originally the PhD thesis of the author, Karen McCarthy Brown who converted to Vodou, herself! So when I came across this book, The Altar of My Soul, I was excited, now I’m disappointed instead.

Recommended, Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica, best book on Voodoo I ever read.

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Internal Medicine – Terrence Holt

12 May, 2018

Internal Medicine: A Doctor's StoriesInternal Medicine: A Doctor’s Stories by Terrence Holt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before there was effective chemotherapy, children with leukemia died quite quickly, it was not a painful death, but it was of course, devastating for the family. This is a story of a German oncologist come to the US, whose background is not entirely known. He was a researcher and experimented with chemotherapy on these children for whom there were no therapies. All the children died. One little boy bled to death over a period of two hours. Torture, trauma and even more devastation for the family than can be imagined.

In The Brothers Karamazov, there is a long poem where the Grand Inquisitor confronts Jesus.

‘My God,’ I remember saying. ‘It’s the Grand Inquisitor.’ All of a sudden I was thinking about Dostoyevsky. I’d never been able to make head or tail of that part of the book, but the question that introduces it had always stuck in my mind. It goes something like this: If you could usher in the Millenium—end all human suffering, forever and ever—if you could do that, but only by torturing to death a human infant, would you do it? Could you do it?

“I didn’t understand, when I read it the first time, if there was any point to the question: it just seemed another of Dostoyevsky’s grotesque Christian paradoxes. But that was before I met Schott, before I came face-to-face with someone who had also heard the question—and answered it.

The oncologist, Schott, is asked how many children he has experimented on and how many died. Many, many, but all died, except one, Schott tells him. Then two weeks later he hangs himself.

Much later, it is discovered that the one child that survived was Schott’s son. He did all his terrible works in the hope of saving all of them.

Now we call it “drug trials” and for those in the same position as the little boy, no effective treatment and an imminent mortality, it is a lifeline. Do you think that terrible things result from the chemotherapy sometimes, terrible tortuous deaths? I do, but they are considered an acceptable risk and they are never reported in the media.

This story resonated with me because there was an English guy here with a big Bertram fishing boat who caught tuna. He was a bear of a man with ginger hair and a bushy golden beard and a loud laugh. He had oesopheagal cancer. He bled out once and was saved. The second time over two hours he ex-sanguinated. All therapies had stopped working and he’d been sent home to die.

Next day, wrapped in a sailcloth, sailing out on his own boat, his wife watched as he was buried at sea.

This book is fictionalised short stories, very well written, of difficult situations the author as an internist experienced – a man who cannot be convinced he has cancer, a woman whose claustrophia takes precedence over the oxygen mask that will save her life, and other stories. It’s all very low key and there is much to make one think. A solid 4 star read.

One story in particular has me still thinking. The author is working in a psych ward with patients who eat garbage and needles. He comes to the same conclusion r. d. laing did, that the people are perfectly sane. It is their reactions to the situations that they find themselves in, these people in particular how they feel about their bodies, that they feel can only be solved by actions that are definitely not normal. This would equally apply to anorexia and Body integrity identity disorder (BIID). I wonder too, (I’m not at all pc) if it doesn’t also cover some people’s gender dysphoria? So because I’m still thinking on this, and that’s what the best books do, it’s 5 stars.

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Gratitude & Judaism v Christianity when discussing existential psychotherapy & neurology!

12 March, 2018

GratitudeGratitude by Oliver Sacks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very short book. I had read two of the essays before, this time I got the audio book and listened to them. Sometimes it is a different experience. Just four essays written by Oliver Sacks before he died. All the links are to the essays as they were originally published.

The first essay, Mercury or the Joy of Old Age is a brief meditation on what it will mean to him to be very old, 80.

The second essay, My Own Life on learning the cancer from his eye has metastised and is now terminal. It’s quite moving.

The third essay, My Periodic Table relates his life, and the treatment for his cancer to the elements.

The fourth essay, though, the last one, is the one that stands out for me. In part because I come from a similar background, in part because my flat in London is quite literally around the corner from Sacks’ family home, although by the time I arrived there, it was only a Jewish area in a very small way. It was now an eclectic mix of young professionals, Londoners, Jamaicans and Irish. Still there was a very good bagel shop…

It is also my favourite because of a quote I have loved for a very long time, it’s by Chaim Potok, from his novel The Chosen. The quote is peculiarly apposite as Sacks’ cancer started in his eye.

“Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much, if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye?

I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing; but the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing; but the man who lives the span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life.

It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning- that, I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here.”

The essay Sabbath is a perfect elucidation of that quote by a man who gave life meaning to many despairing people and after a long life well-lived, deserved his eternal rest.

Alev HaShalom, rest in peace, Oliver.


message 1: by Will
WillBeautiful. I read these NYT essays online just after finishing his autobiography and thought they were some of the most moving pieces he had ever written.

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message 2: by Choko
ChokoGreat review, thanks!

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message 3: by Caroline
CarolineWhat a wonderful review…

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message 4: by Kalliope
KalliopeI was eyeing this recently… Glad to encounter your review.

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message 5: by Forrest
ForrestThis review is inspiring!

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Petra XKalliope wrote: “I was eyeing this recently… Glad to encounter your review.”

The links to all the essays are there, so you can read the book like that. A freebie with no review required! If you do, I hope you enjoy them.

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Amy (Other Amy)Fantastic review, Petra. I will definitely be reading these when I get a quiet moment.

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message 8: by [deleted user]
Great review there, Petra

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Petra XThanks all. I really appreciated all those lovely comments.

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message 10: by [deleted user]
I’m sorry, when i commented i forget to like it.

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Iris PLovely review Petra, enjoyed it very much…

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message 12: by Michael
MichaelI love the wisdom you’ve found to answer toe Potok quote. Reminds me a bit of my favorite Leonad Cohen line: We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky. Still, the problem of suffering looming so large isn’t really answered, but as one of the largest unsolved problems from Job on down that’s quite understandable.

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Petra XMichael wrote: “Still, the problem of suffering looming so large isn’t really answered…”

I think suffering and pain have to be defined before answering the ‘problem’. Potok differentiates ‘pain’ as in the world. Well there is plenty of that. ‘Suffering’ is something personal. He puts ‘suffering’ up against ‘meaning’. Meaning, in the context of the quote is being successful at something, not a one off, but something that takes time and effort that has made a difference in the world. (Perhaps raising children successfully, perhaps discovering a cure for cancer). That would make us happy. And that offsets the suffering.

The pain of the world doesn’t need to be addressed because it is just part of the human condition, I think Potok means, and we can lift ourselves above it by giving life meaning.

Does that make sense? I know what I want to say but I don’t think I have expressed it well enough.

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message 14: by Michael
MichaelPetra X wrote: “Michael wrote: “Still, the problem of suffering looming so large isn’t really answered…”

I think suffering and pain have to be defined before answering the ‘problem’. Potok differentiates ‘pain’…”

Seems a germ of somethimg fresh yet connected to a long line of efforts to formulate why we are on Earth. Part of what people struggle for to account for resilience (Rabbi Kushner and Frankl before they invented the word). Lot of good juice from writers near their end sometimes, when their back is against the wall and they don’t want to go gentle into that good night. I got a lot of good clarity like that from Hitchen’s Mortality. Other writers get less clear and more mystical or hyperbolic. Grief over another’s loss, impending or in the aftermath, leads writers to look at the puzzle of life and death and suffering in a burst of creativity as well. Thinking of Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Harding’s Enon.

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message 15: by Petra X (last edited Dec 04, 2015 06:41AM) rated it 5 stars
Petra XChaim Potok, a Rabbi, was saying (to me) in this quote nothing with deeper meaning. That is the genius of the quote. It is clear and precise.

Christianity and Judaism are two completely different paths. Christians think there should be just one. That is part of their purpose and reason for being here. Jews think it is just one path and Christianity another (and Islam etc. others) and they can all run alongside each other. Perhaps this is because more than anything Jews started off as, and remain, a tribe who live in a certain (and endlessly obsessive way) and tribes can coexist with others.

It is very Christian to ask ‘why are we here’ and therefore to look for the purpose of their existence (and meaning) in life. I know that is an essential part of Christian life and it generally comes out as ‘to serve’, to convert people to also being Christian, to get them to ‘see the light’, to find the reason God put them here. The corollary is that if you see the light you will not be punished in the hereafter with all those that do not recognise Jesus, but will be ‘saved’ and lived for all eternity.

But there is nothing like this in Judaism. It is a much more existential take. There isn’t an aferlife to be saved for, so Jewish philosophy doesn’t include the why are we here, how do we divine our God-given purpose and what do we need to do to save ourselves and others?

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message 16: by Michael
MichaelPetra X wrote: “Chaim Potok, a Rabbi, was saying (to me) in this quote nothing with deeper meaning. That is the genius of the quote. It is clear and precise. Christianity and Judaism are two completely different …”

Fascinating. Thanks for taking the time for the synthesis. Was always fascinating how Sachs could parse how his patients made meanings through the distortions of the altered neural experience. I never thought of how his Jewishness might have affected his lens. I loved to get some of his family origins from “Uncle Tungsten” and think I will enjoy these essays. I keep thinking about the characters who come to your bookstore looking a certain books to inform their search for meaning on quirky paths.

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Petra XMichael wrote: “..how his patients made meanings through the distortions of the altered neural experience. I never thought of how his Jewishness might have affected his lens…”

I think his Orthodox upbringing did. Christianity is directed towards salvation and earning an afterlife through believe in Jesus, Fate, “things happen for a reason” and “God never sends you more than you can bear” and the idea of being tested or being here for a purpose are all foreign to Judaism.

Jews aren’t even allowed to question an afterlife being as we cannot know, all that is said is “eternal rest” .* Everything else is continually questioned and there is no authority, any rabbi or none is an authority. So Jews are entirely of this life.

The questioning of everything starts very young perhaps as soon as we can read. Sitting in the synagogue following the passage of the Torah being read in the Chumash is kind of boring. The passage is printed in Hebrew and English and the bottom of the page is Rashi, who interprets the passage word by word. Later, in Cheder (Hebrew school analagous to Sunday school but four nights a week plus Sundays) Rashi will be d questioned and other viewpoints including the students own will form part of the discussion. There is never a right answer, not even Rashi’s. It’s the arguments that count, you believe something means whatever it does to you. I think that’s where Sacks was coming from.

*There is the somewhat mythological resurrection that will happen ‘some day’ but this appears to have arisen in medieval times. Also there is plenty of belief in the afterlife among individuals no doubt derived from the desire that all is not lost with loved ones after death and influenced by popular culture.

I’m an existentialist, I don’t believe in any religious stuff at all. I just know it because of my upbringing. But in a non-religious way I did apply it to my son, maybe that’s why he’s become a lawyer. (Argumentative!)

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Mother of God

10 March, 2018

Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western AmazonMother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon by Paul Rosolie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was very eager to read this book as I had spent three months up the Amazon living in a settlement of Caboclo Indians. These are mixed race from the rubber boom of the 19th century. They hadn’t gone to the cities to live but remained in the jungle intermarrying with those they called ‘the painted men’. They had no contact with tourists of any kind and I was the first non-Indian to have visited them.

How I got there was I was sailing around the world with three friends and when we got to Brazil, they all went to Rio de Janeiro and I thought it was my one and only chance to go up the Amazon. Over the next month I went first to Belem, then Santarem ending up in Manaus. I spent a few weeks working out how to avoid the tourist routes and arranged tours. I was in a travel agency when the guide, an Indian, said he was going back home for three months and did I want to come? We negotiated a price and then after a fantastic two day journey sailing on river boats, canoes, a bus (it got stuck at a pot hole big enough to sink it in which Victoria Regina lillies 6′ across were growing) and finally walking we got to Lake Amañas in Amazonas.

40 or so people lived around this lake which was so big it took a river motor boat 2.5 hours to sail around. A few people lived in houses on stilts, one with the most beautiful parquet floor a la William Morris I have ever seen, but most on floating houses. I lived in the latter. The dish-washing and toileting arrangements involved holes in the sweet-smelling wood floor with pirañas waiting to clean the plates or receive… offerings.

My days were filled with fishing with seine nets and leaky pirogues, hunting with spears and dogs, music on tiny little guitars and panpipes and visiting the people who lived around the lake. I was most impressed by the medicine man who was as graceful and beautiful as a ballet dancer and who applied sound hygenic and herbal principles to his work, he wasn’t a shaman. I learned how to catch crocodiles in my bare hands although I only did it once (it was enough!)

So when the author writes about his trips into the jungle, I’m not exactly ignorant and he is writing to impress with things he says are unique but in fact are quite everyday.

The Amazon rises and falls 40′ a year from the melt-water of the snow in the Andes. This means that the forest can be flooded for part of the year, then it is known as igapo, and trees quite tall can look like little bushes when you manoeuvre your leaky canoe around them. I arrived when the waters had gone down considerably and on dry land there was a small tree with a dead and stinky anaconda draped from not far above the ground, over the top and down to the ground again. It was bigger than anything in the Guinness book of world records and eclipsed the author’s biggest ever 25′ one. The author said he fantasised that if he had taken a picture it would have been on the front cover of Time. Judging by the size of the tree the dead one I saw was between 35-45 ft. long. The Indians I was with said that it was a big snake, unusual but not unique and that they left it there as a warning to other snakes not to come near.

Another thing was when the author described the ‘rarely-seen landscape of floating islands’ by moonlight. These floating islands were common on the lake where the river flowed very slowly through. They vary greatly in size from a small rug upwards. They are made up of matted grass roots, the beautiful water hyacinth and small bushes. I was told you can’t walk on them, although the big ones will support your weight because they are full of biting ants. Also, in the daytime, crocodiles hide under them for the shade.

Once, when I was visiting the medicine man I tied up my canoe to the bank but when I came back an hour or two later I found myself land-locked by a huge island, the size of a football pitch. All you can do is push it with the paddles, it’s a heavy job, until it starts to part and move off slowly. They are never stationary for long.

The last example I want to write about is his encounter with ‘rare, fast-moving’ morpho butterflies. So rare apparently that his Indian friend takes a leaf to wrap up a dead one the author found in a parcel. I was out hunting one day with the medicine man’s son. We had two dogs with us and spears and found ourselves in a beautiful little glade with a small pool in the middle and sunlight shafting down from high up above the canopy. There were morphos everywhere! Although the author says they were very fast fliers, these ones were taking it easy. Their huge, hand-size wings, glimmering and shining all the blues a sky can be, as they glided around the glade sometimes settling on us. One brushed my cheek with a wing and left a drift of angel dust. It was like an enchantment.

The author left the Amazon and went to India. He became just the sort of bleeding heart white liberal that infest the Caribbean sitting on committees to preserve the natural environment or even taking it back and not giving a damn about how the locals are supposed to make a living. They’ve made their pile, they’ve got a house and family ‘back home’ now they want to see a paradise preserved for their winter homes.

Conservation is important. Good conservation is taking necessary progress into account and negotiating a way through that. When that isn’t done, people will remain not just poor when they can see they needn’t be, but bitter and seek to take what they can. Poaching, burning, corrupt politicians (and huge foreign conglomerates) are their weapons.

So what finally got me to put the book down was this sentence that shows the attitude of the author that he finds elevated and admirable and I find beyond irrelevant:

“What is it about our species that allows us to watch sitcoms and argue over sports while cultures and creatures and those things meek and green and good are chopped, shot and burned from the world for a buck? “

All creatures are not meek and good, but his point is, as is with a lot of propaganda, if you can’t work it through the facts, then go for the emotions, guilt-trip ’em. It is implied that we should get off our lazy arses and fill our days and evenings with meaningful work towards conserving the wildlife of this planet just like he does, no time for levity, frippery or going to the pub.

This is a bit like blaming people for the problems of pollution and Garbage on the planet when really it is industry, from cafes on up, that are responsible for over 95% of it. As long as it’s the individual doing their best to be green, we will get swallowed by a massive wave of communal self-congratulation and governments, industry, banks and businessmen will continue on in their own sweet way, destroying the planet for money. This should not be an emotional issue as it is sold, it certainly isn’t to industry or the banks. So that sentence of his and its import made me dnf this book.

Now it could be that if I didn’t know the Amazon so well, didn’t live on a beautiful island where conservation and progress are in opposition but forever butting up in the middle, that I would have enjoyed this book. Instead I found it to be ego-driven with the author’s great delight in being such an interesting person. He wasn’t. His adventures weren’t spectacular to me and the unique events were commonplace.

Two stars. One extra because it was quite well-written.


This was how I got up the Amazon with the The Forsyte Saga.
This is how to catch crocodiles in your bare hands and where floating islands play a part.

Stamboul Train

25 February, 2018

Stamboul TrainStamboul Train by Graham Greene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like Greene, I liked that the book was entertaining, social commentary and political all at the same time, a hallmark of Greene novels. What I didn’t like and what really upset me, is the marking out of someone as Jewish. Rant follows! If you are not Christian, not White or not able-bodied you might well identify with it.

I have no idea if anyone else in the story, in many, many stories, newspaper articles, tv reportage, online news sites, are Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist or White. But Jews, Jews have to be identified. Especially if they are in finance, although in Greene’s story, he wasn’t. Bankers and other financiers who are not Jewish are not identified by their religion, only Jews. Are there more Jews in banking than any other industry? No. In London there is a joke that on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, you can’t catch a taxi. Who would think of mentioning that a taxi driver was Jewish?

It isn’t necessarily anti-Semitism in any shape of form, but something of the Nazi doctrine remains (yes, I know it dates back to Roman times but this is the 21stC and we know about genetics now) that Jews, whether they are from Zimbabwe, Eastern Europe or Malaysia are all really one race and no one should forget that and all that the writer wants to imply (usually negative stuff).

That’s some baggage there for all of us born Jewish whatever religion or philosophy we actually espouse.

It is no longer considered polite or politically-correct to point out that some woman is actually a transgendered pre-op male. ie. A man. We have to rightfully consider not only their feelings but that (unless you are going to sleep with them) it really doesn’t matter anyway. But somehow being Jewish does.

I am a redhead with green eyes (see my profile pic). I have been married twice, once to a White Catholic and once to a Black, Anglican guy from the island. When people write books or newspaper articles, they don’t mention things like my first ex was White or a Catholic or my second was Anglican. My present partner is White and an atheist. They would probably mention that my second was Black and definitely that I was Jewish.

Why is Catholic not important? Why is Anglican not important? Why is atheist not important? Why is Black important? Why does my mixed race son who looks White have to have it pointed out in articles that he is Black, and Jewish, do people think he might pass as a White Christian which is somehow wrong, somehow fooling people if it wasn’t pointed out?


message 1: by Hanneke
HannekeYou are quite right to point that out, Petra. It is certainly very strange that it gets mentioned and not if you are of a different denomination.
Mia (Parentheses Enthusiast)I haven’t read this but definitely have noticed the phenomenon. It’s really prevalent with race in fiction, I’ve found—it’s always assumed that the protagonist in an English-speaking country is white, even if their skin colour is never mentioned, but people of colour are always identified by their “chocolate skin” or their “cinnamon skin” and all manner of other identifiers.
message 3: by Greta (last edited Feb 23, 2018 06:18PM)
GretaI’m glad someone finally draws attention to this. It bothers me too. If it’s not relevant, there’s no need to mention race, religion, skin color or whatever. I recently read a memoir written by an “Arab-American” man. The description and half of the reviews mentioned this, although it wasn’t in the least relevant, so I didn’t mention it in my review, and referred to him by his name, like we normally do. What also annoys me, is that women in fiction are mostly referred to by their looks, and to which guy they belong : “A clever detective and his beautiful assistant” ; “an average guy and his beautiful girlfriend”; “a charming man and his beautiful wife”. It makes me so angry sometimes that I want to (ab)use my power as a librarian and change the description 🙂

Petra XGreta wrote: “It makes me so angry sometimes that I want to (ab)use my power as a librarian and change the description 🙂 …”

I don’t see that as an abuse of power. Do it!

I do see Arab-American from the point of view that very large numbers of Americans, it seems to me, want the prefix as in African-American, Italian-American etc.

“The beautiful glamour model turned up for the meeting dressed in a form-fitting and revealing red Victoria Beckham bandage dress to give evidence against Harvey Weinstein”

Why not, “against fat, ugly, Harvey Weinstein wearing a navy Brooks Brothers suit that bulged at the seams”?

LOL it would be funny wouldn’t it if men were described like that.

message 5: by Ivonne
Ivonne RoviraIt’s amazing how many novels from the 1920s through the 1950s have gratuitous mentions of Jews. It’s jarring to 21st century readers. As you noted, they don’t randomly identify people as Catholics or other Christian denominations.
message 6: by Lyn

Lyn ElliottI agree that allocating labels to mark Jews, blacks, Muslims as different, at best, is intrinsically racist, no matter what the context or the outcome.

message 7: by Jonathan

JonathanEarly Agatha Christie books often have negative, stereotyped Jewish characters too. Come the late 30s they disappeared, hopefully due to some feelings of compassion and remorse. Books help us remember what people who were other than white Christians had to deal with – and read about. Still winds me up too though!

 message 8: by Ina
Ina Cawlthe old Jewish stereotype and most people who believe in it have never met or befriended Jewish person.
being Somali i get a glimpse of when your identity is stereotyped into something negative

Petra XJonathan wrote: “Early Agatha Christie books often have negative, stereotyped Jewish characters too. …”

Agatha Christie was a racist, homophobic, classist and very anti-Semitic. She was a horrible, horrible person. Her depictions of Jews were invariably nasty, she wrote about servants as “simple” and “vapid”. In 1939, despite being told that the word was offensive (in the Uk, even back then) she called a book, Ten Little Niggers. This was later changed to Ten Little Indians and eventually became, And Then There were None.

Petra XIna wrote: “being Somali i get a glimpse of when your identity is stereotyped into something negative”

Agatha Christie was vile about Muslims, Arabs and anyone not white too, Agatha Christie – ten racist moments.

Ina, if you came to the US you would get more than “a glimpse” of what it means to be Black and Muslim, it would be full in your face.

message 10: by Petra X (last edited Feb 24, 2018 05:07AM) rated it 4 stars
message 11: by Greta (last edited Feb 24, 2018 05:21AM)

GretaPetra X wrote: “Greta wrote: “It makes me so angry sometimes that I want to (ab)use my power as a librarian and change the description 🙂 …”

“The beautiful glamour model turned up for the meeting dressed in a form-fitting and revealing red Victoria Beckham bandage dress to give evidence against Harvey Weinstein”

Why not, “against fat, ugly, Harvey Weinstein wearing a navy Brooks Brothers suit that bulged at the seams”?

LOL it would be funny wouldn’t it if men were described like that.”

Laughing. You should be a librarian and change the book descriptions. You definitely have more imagination!

Greta wrote: “Laughing. You should be a librarian and change the book descriptions. You definitely have more imagination! …”

It substitutes for having a life!

message 13: by Ina

Ina CawlPetra X wrote: “Ina wrote: “being Somali i get a glimpse of when your identity is stereotyped into something negative”

Agatha Christie was vile about Muslims, Arabs and anyone not white too, Agatha Christie – ten…”
i really know that,this is not the best time to be black and Muslim in Western world as you would feel the racism in the airport before even before you even enter the country

message 14: by Greta

GretaPetra X wrote: “Greta wrote: “Laughing. You should be a librarian and change the book descriptions. You definitely have more imagination! …”

It substitutes for having a life!”

Ah, but you’re larger than life, Petra!

Petra XGreta wrote: “Ah, but you’re larger than life, Petra! …”

On a diet!


Jackie, Janet & Lee: The Other Side of Camelot

23 February, 2018

Jackie, Janet & Lee: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Janet Auchincloss, and Lee Radziwill -- The Other Side of CamelotJackie, Janet & Lee: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Janet Auchincloss, and Lee Radziwill — The Other Side of Camelot by J. Randy Taraborrelli
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a 21 hour audio book and I dnf’d it at 75% because it is life-sapping listening to such a shallow book about vapid women who put money first with nothing that couldn’t have been and perhaps was, written in something like the Daily Rag – DailyMail.co.uk of course or the Enquirer. Except the book does expose the media-whipped up spin of the adulation of the undeniably beautiful Jackie as utterly misplaced. She was a gold-digger pure and simple. And a cunt.

The awful writing (this is a biography not chicklit) and worse narration – Hundreds of sails like a host of butterflies composing a backdrop for the party. One guest gasped and said, “I don’t believe it. It’s not real. It’s being produced by Walt Disney.” But it was just another example of the Auchincloss style.Janet Auchincloss knew that the cruise were scheduled and she had guessed that they would arrive in time to help decorate her daughter’s wedding. It did! And in her chosen colours: white on blue. (Narrator gives an excited sort of giggle at “In her chosen colours.”

Fact-checking – “In the fall of 1966, Jamie Auchincloss was studying at Cambridge in London.” Cambridge University is a couple of hours away on the train, about 70 miles.

Yet again, Jackie dumps a man because he isn’t rich enough although she as Jack Kennedy’s widow is very wealthy herself. – “Jackie was with the architect Jack Warnecke for two and a half years. They were going to marry although a date had not been set. He ignored his business for Jackie, lavishing her with everything she wanted. He phoned her to tell her that he was in a little trouble, he owed the bank about $1M (about $8M now). He said if they were going to get married she should know. He ended the phone call by saying, “I love you.” She replied, “Goodbye for now, Jack. And that was that.

Why Jackie is a world-class cunt – Lee “Princess Radziwill” – a title she insisted upon although her husband had actually given up his many years before they were married, had been having an extra-marital affair with Ari Onassis for over six years. Naturally there were tabloid and Enquirer articles and photographs. Ari never stopped having an affair with the opera singer Maria Callas. Lee had not discussed her affair with either her mother (who knew and had been to see Ari) or Jackie. Therefore when Jackie was deep in vodka and wondering if she should have finished with Warneke over money when she “loved” him, was invited to Skorpios by Ari she could pretend to herself that she wasn’t really having an affair with her sister’s boyfriend as she hadn’t been officially “told” about it.

(When Ari started to seriously court Jackie, he dumped Lee by merely never being available to her or returning her calls. Lee was naturally very upset but what could she do when she’d called out her husband on his affaire? They were all a bunch of phenomenally wealthy, entitled assholes. The veneer of charm and manners doesn’t actually cover up their gutter behaviour towards each other)

Jackie was unkind to her sister in other ways too, like not even once going to the theatre to see Lee’s debut as an actress, screwing Peter Beard who again was

Jackie sells herself, cash up front. – As the gentleman said to the beautiful girl, ‘Would you spend the night with me for a million dollars?’ Yes, she replied. Right he said, now we’ve established what you are, let’s get down to a sensible price. Or up.

Jackie, maintaining the same fiction that she didn’t know Ari was her sister’s lover, married Ari. But before she did, she got her in-laws, the Kennedy’s to get her a premarital settlement of cash down, $20M (in today’s money) and $1M for each of her children. Having sold herself she then refused to discuss it as talking about money was “unsavory”. Ari continued his affair with Maria Callas and Jackie continued spending on “nice” things.

Queen of the Fakes, supremo of the golddiggers, Janet Auchincloss, – Janet had kept her alcoholic, gambler of a first husband and father to Jackie and Lee away from John Kennedy’s inauguration (and also stopped him from giving away his daughter and her wedding to Kennedy) primarily because she thought he might be interviewed and give away who Janet really was. Ashamed of her ‘common’ Irish Catholic forebears, she had invented an English and French history for her family, one where her family had never been in trade. Her second husband, whom she was with for 39 years, was impotent. She had to weigh up phenomenal wealth against real love and sex. But money was her passion.

Maternal disapproval: Jackie loses her virginity but does not gain a boyfriend
– When she found out that Jackie had lost her virginity in an elevator to a one-night stand, she was upset, not just that her daughter would do such a thing, but do it with a man who wasn’t truly wealthy. When this was pointed out to Jackie, she saw sense. No point in contacting the man again.

Janet’s bible, authored by Psalms Kalu He says, in the blurb, “The fact that you are poor is evidence that you are not a good Christian!”

Notes on reading and how I was fooled by Jackie’s “class” – I always thought that Jackie was the epitome of elegance and class. But then “class” depends on whose defining it. I mean a gracious, well-mannered balanced bearing that is welcoming to all. Like Princess Diana had. But a lot of people define class as being at the top of the social tree and having a lot of money and a facade of being gracious and well-mannered etc. From this book I see that Jackie didn’t have the first but the facade of the second fooled me.

Notes on reading and how exactly Jackie dumped her first fiance because although rich, her mother said he wasn’t rich enough – Jackie was engaged to Jack Husted and he had been invited to the Auchincloss’ for a party. Janet, Jackie’s mother, had ascertained that he had no family money and “only” earned $17,000 a year (about $160,000 in today’s money). She said to Jackie that if she married him she would never be able to travel and live well. So Jackie when taking her fiance to the airport, slipped off her engagement ring and put it in his pocket. As Jack later said, she was icy cold and never spoke to him again. But Jackie felt bad about this and so, good Christian that she was, went to church to pray to know if she’d done the right thing.

So why am I giving this awful book 2 stars? One because it at least fascinated me enough I listened to three-quarters of it, and one because there was an ah-ha moment in the book, at least for me. My mother didn’t love me but adored my brother. Janet loved both Jackie and Lee, but not equally, Jackie always came first, and Lee said (paraphrasing) that if you didn’t receive praise for your accomplishments and looks when you were young, you were forever after inclined to doubt compliments and never quite believe in yourself. So true.