A Year in Books/Day 36: Shadows, Fire, Snow

  • Title: Shadows, Fire, Snow The Life of Tina Modotti
  • Author: Patricia Albers
  • Year Published: 1999 (Clarkson Potter/Publishers)
  • Year Purchased: 2002
  • Source: Barnes & Noble clearance rack
  • About: Tina Modotti, though little recognized today, was a woman of many talents: she worked as an actress, artisan, photographer (which is her main claim to immortality) and communist revolutionary. Her fierce abilities, ideals and passions took her from her native Italy to the shores of America, Mexico and Russia.
  • Motivation: I love strong, artistic, intelligent women. Her photography is stunning, never-to-be-forgotten.
  • Times Read: 2
  • Random Excerpt/Page 32: “Meanwhile, the military debacle had cut off communications with the family in Italy, leaving Tina, Mercedes, and Giuseppe frantic with anxiety. Was Tina also experiencing guilt that she had been absorbed in playacting as her loved ones suffered? If so, it was not the last time she would anguish over the thought of art making in the face of human affliction.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10

    English: The white Iris (tina modotti)

    Image via Wikipedia

A Year in Books/Day 34: A History of Ireland

  • Title: A History of Ireland
  • Author: Mike Cronin
  • Year Published: 2001 (Palgrave)
  • Year Purchased: 2001/2002
  • Source: History Book Club
  • About: A compact, well-written account of the last 900 years of Irish history.
  • Motivation: I could read history tomes all day, every day. This volume is one of many I own on the Emerald Isle.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 15: “Following the favourable reaction from the Irish kings, Henry called an Irish synod together at Cashel. The synod brought the Irish Church
    Drawing by Albrecht Dürer of Irish soldiers.

    Image via Wikipedia

    back into line with the greater Church and enacted reforms which addressed Papal concerns. Through his actions, Henry brought a level of peace to Ireland which had been absent for years, reformed the Church and won the approval of the majority of the different native kings.”

  • Happiness Scale: 9

A Year in Books/Day 31: Ernest Hemingway A to Z

  • Ernest Hemingway in Milan, 1918

    Image via Wikipedia

    Title: Ernest Hemingway A to Z

  • Author: Charles M. Oliver
  • Year Published: 1999 (Checkmark Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2004/2005
  • Source: Unknown book seller, Upstate New York
  • About: Every knowable fact about Hemingway, contained in one large volume. With photographs.
  • Motivation: I’m of 3 or 4 minds about Hemingway the writer, and many more about Hemingway the man. However, since I write about dead writers, I knew this would be a useful reference tool. I also love-love!-any kind of encyclopedia.
  • Times Read: Cover-to-cover-1/as reference-countless
  • Random Excerpt/Page 348: “In criticizing her husband’s writing, Catherine Bourne says, in ‘The Garden of Eden’ , that a wastebasket is “the most important thing for a writer”. She later burns his stories and the reviews of his second novel in a wastebasket.”
  • Happiness Scale: 8

A Year in Books/Day 30: The Medieval World Europe 1100-1350

  • Title: The Medieval World Europe 1100-1350
  • Author: Friedrich Heer
  • Year Published: 1961/This Edition: 1998 (WELCOME RAIN)
  • Year Purchased: 2000/2001
  • Source: Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller Company
    English: A medieval page presumably from a Boo...

    Image via Wikipedia


  • About: A modern, scholarly classic that remains enjoyably readable whilst sparing no attention to detail.
  • Motivation: I felt a need to brush up on my Medieval European history. No, really.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page: “Our contemporary European societies, both Western and Eastern, in many ways continue to live on their medieval inheritance. History is the present, and the present is history. When we look more closely into the crises and catastrophes, the hopes and fears of our own day, whether we know it or not we are concerned with developments whose origins can be traced back directly or indirectly to their source in the high Middle Ages.”
  • Happiness Scale: 9

A Year in Books/Day 27: Vera

  • Title: Vera [Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov]
  • Author: Stacy Schiff
  • Year Published: 1999/This Edition: 2000 (Modern Library Paperback Edition)
  • Year Purchased: 2002/2003
  • Source: Barnes & Noble Clearance Rack
  • About: Vera Slonim Nabokov was never a writer. Nor, as far as it is known, did she ever harbor that ambition. She was, by a series of disturbing historical circumstances, something of a professional refugee. Although she held a number of jobs, the impossibility-and ultimate imprudence-of separating Vera from her husband and their famous 52-year-marriage jumps starkly from the page. To her husband and posterity’s great good fortune, she quietly trespassed outside the bounds of musedom: it is every bit as impossible to separate Vladimir from his wife and her contributions to his psyche and soul and, eventually, his literature.
  • Motivation: Nabokov, Nabokov, Nabokov! So fantastic, revolutionary, disquieting (eh, I know his opinions on women writers and still I return to his words). This was a literary biography by proxy, in a way, as I knew it would be. The upshot was becoming acquainted with the enigmatic Vera.
  • Times Read: 2
  • Random Excerpt/Page 24: “Some things were to be insisted upon, on the other hand. Vera Slonim learned a great number of lessons from her father, only one of which was how to how to hold a thirteen-year-grudge, a lesson she would put to good use.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10
    Signature of Vladimir Nabokov

    Image via Wikipedia


A Year in Books/Day 26: Door Wide Open

  • Title: Door Wide Open Jack Kerouac & Joyce Johnson A Beat Love Affair in Letters 1957-1958
  • Author: Introduction and commentary by Joyce Johnson
  • Year Published: 2000 (Penguin Books)

    Signature of Jack Kerouac

    Image via Wikipedia

  • Year Purchased: 2003/2004
  • Source: Unknown
  • About: When 21-year-old novelist Joyce Johnson (then Glassman) embarked on a relationship with Jack Kerouac, she met all of the surface requirements of non-conformity. In her letters, she made a calculated, mighty effort to match her peripatetic lover’s passionate, friendly detachment; as if writing it down made it so. But her commentary, written in her sixties, reveals the truth of a young woman desperately trying to break free of the gendered emotional conventions of the 1950s.
  • Motivation: I love the intimacy, and sense of immediacy, found in the personal letters of famous people (especially writers and artists). When the correspondence is between one of the leading-and most controversial-icons of his time and one of the few women artistically associated with the Beat Generation, then I’m extra intrigued.
  • Times Read: 2
  • Random Excerpt/Page 45: “The need and love Jack finally declared obliterated from my mind any consideration of the consequences of the earthquake. Nor did I take sufficient note of the fact that Jack had written this letter, so different in tone from all the others, during one of the few periods in recent years when he was completely sober. I only knew there suddenly seemed to be a profound change in our relationship. Here were the feelings, the “real” feelings, he had always held back.”
  • Happiness Scale: 8

A Year in Books/Day 25: Beginning Again

  • Title: Beginning Again An Autobiography of the Years 1911 to 1918
  • Author: Leonard Woolf
  • Year Published: 1963/This Edition 1975 (A Harvest/HBJ Book)
  • Year Purchased: 2002/2003
  • Source: Barnes & Noble clearance rack
  • About: The third installment of Woolf’s 5-volume autobiography covers the early years of his marriage to budding novelist Virginia Stephen and the start of their famous Hogarth Press. Famous spouse Leonard Woolf gave more than a name to his famous wife. He was complex, fascinating and incredibly well-respected in more than one field.
  • Motivation: Although I am a fan of Virginia’s writing, and find her character and life more than a bit riveting, I have always been drawn to the deep, intellectual and exacting nature of her husband. He was also a damn fine writer.
  • Times Read: 2
  • Random Excerpt/Page 16: “I was born an introspective intellectual, and the man or woman who is by nature addicted to introspection gets into the habit, after the age of 15 or 16, of feeling himself, often intensely, as ‘I’ and yet at the same time of seeing himself out of the corner of his eye as ‘not I’, a stranger acting a part upon a stage.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10

A Year in Books/Day 24: Beneath the Diamond Sky

  • Title: Beneath the Diamond in the Sky Haight Ashbury 1965-1970
  • Author: Barney Hoskyns
  • Year Published: 1997 (Simon & Schuster Editions)
  • Year Purchased: 2001/2002
  • Source: Barnes & Noble clearance rack
  • About: A history of the ascent of the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco into the world’s greatest, if short-lived, hippie mecca. It is equal parts text and photos.
  • Motivation: Although my Mom was a hippie, and I have a natural kinship for this subject, I bought the book for a friend then living in the Bay Area. I decided to read it before popping it into the mail. I did, and ended up keeping it for my collection!
  • Times Read: 2 (with another reading on the horizon)
  • Random Excerpt/Page 31: “Kesey, thirty-one, married with three children, had already begun to assert himself as the charismatic ringleader of an anarchic post-beatnik scene around Palo Alto. A rugged, curly-haired farm boy from Oregon, he had arrived at Stanford University on a creative-writing fellowship in 1958, later moving into the artsy-boho enclave that was Perry Lane and helping himself to samples of LSD and mescaline during the Veterans’ Hospital tests. It was while working as a night attendant on the hospital’s psych ward that he conceived the idea for ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’.
  • Happiness Scale: 9
    Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, California, USA

    Image via Wikipedia


A Year in Books/Day 23: Leave Her to Heaven

  • Title: Leave Her to Heaven
  • Author: Ben Ames Williams
  • Year Published: 1945/This Edition-1947 (The Sun Dial Press)
  • Year Purchased: 1990/1991
  • Source: The Columbus Public Library, Library Sale
  • About: This melodramatic tale shows the unstable Ellen Berent’s twisted devolution from lovely, beguiling and charming young woman into a jealous, devious and vindictive murderess.
    English: Screenshot of Gene Tierney from the f...

    Image via Wikipedia


  • Motivation: I caught the 1945 film adaptation on television at 16. It stars the gorgeous, under-rated Gene Tierney, Vincent Price and Cornel Wilde. I found this book at the bottom of a pile of $1.00 clearance books at the annual library sale a couple of years later.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 72: “She knew better than Harland how serious this might be; nevertheless perversely she delayed to clean up their picnic ground; prolonging in every possible fashion these pregnant hours. She gathered the paper in which his lunch had been wrapped, burning it in the embers of the little fire, wetting down the ashes till not even steam arose.”
  • Happiness Scale: 6 (writing)/7 (plot)

A Year in Books/Bonus Full-Length Review: The Outermost House*

With its breathtakingly evocative retelling of a year spent living on a remote Cape Cod beach wedded to solid and careful craftsmanship, ‘The Outermost House’, first published in 1928, is an indispensable classic. It contains a treasure-trove of amateur naturalist Beston’s descriptions of the local terrain and animal-life, especially the many species of migrating birds, set side-by-side with his lush and emotional reactions to the never-still life force unfolding around him. It is sated, brim-full, with the author’s uncanny yet non-judgmental wonder at his milieu. Beston dwells magnificently on the minutia of his surroundings, firing his awed and reverent accounts of the movements of the tides and peregrinations of diverse animal species with soaring, deft prose. From the changing sound of the surf to the ages-old tragedy of ship-wreck, ‘The Outermost House’ is a vivid and vigorous representation of the rhythm of coastal life in its many forms. It is a broad yet hypnotically intimate account of the primitive and plenary pageant of life that was even then slipping into the confines of the modern world. Beston’s lovely and enduring masterpiece never bows to sentimentality but maintains an instinctive and sympathetic understanding of the enigmatic ordering of nature.


*First published in the Atomic Tomorrow, February 2005.