Episode 395 – My Mexican Bookshelf, Part 2

I read several more books from our landlord’s shelves in January and February. He certainly has an eclectic collection here!

The Jefferson Key, by Steve Berry. Take a conspiracy that dates back to the Founding Fathers of the United States, add a cipher created by Thomas Jefferson, a secret society, a retired Justice Department operative, and a cast of good guys and villains worthy of Dan Brown’s most convoluted plots, and you have a real page-turner. Plus… pirates! Be forewarned though: like a lot of suspense novels featuring US security fores, there is a lot of violence.

At Random, The Reminiscences of Bennett Cerf, by Bennett Cerf. I quite enjoy memoirs (as opposed to biographies written by someone other than the book’s subject ) – with the exception of the recent profusion of tell-all “poor me” self-exposés by famous people. This particular one, from Chris’ bookshelf, caught my eye because Bennett Cerf was the co-founder of Random House Publishing, where Ted spent over 30 years in the I.T. department, going from contract programmer to I.T. Director of the Canadian division of what is now Penguin Random House. Bennett Cerf died in 1971, before getting a chance to “polish” the life anecdotes collected here, but nonetheless they really show the kind of person he was, and the cast of characters in his life story reads like a who’s who of the 20th century literary world.

As I was reading, though, I had to keep reminding myself that the reminiscences were written in the 1940’s through 1960’s – otherwise the constant references to grown women as “girls”, and the behaviours we’d now consider unacceptable (not that current celebrities don’t still engage in them) would have made for jarring reading.

Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust, 2003 translation by Lydia Davies. Well… now I understand completely what’s meant by “stream of consciousness”. The next time Ted accuses me of writing a run-on sentence, this is the book I’ll refer to; sentences can go on for a full 10 or 12 line paragraph, punctuated only by comma after comma. It’s honestly quite hard to read. The descriptions, while often beautiful, are so long and convoluted that by the end you’ve forgotten what exactly was being described. Was it the house? The garden? The walk from the house to the garden? The specific hawthorn bush? It all begins to blur. The narrator’s inner thoughts just go on and on, uninterrupted even as topics change. Am I glad I persevered? Well, now I can say I’ve read some Proust, but I won’t be going back for more in a hurry. It was all a bit too introspective and self-centred for my taste.

In Such Good Company, by Carol Burnett. This was EXACTLY what I needed after reading Proust: a gentle chatty book of stories told by someone so modest, so self-deprecating, and so grateful for the people around her that it reminded me why watching her TV show was always such a fun experience. The chapters are quite short; a bit like having a satisfying conversation with a friend, but that only lasts long enough for a cup of coffee. As I devoured the book in one sitting, I kept thinking it would be a great book to pick up and just read one chapter, end up smiling, and go on with your day knowing another chapter was waiting.

Ted found this (plus Romeo and Juliet, and King Arthur’s Legend) while we were reorganizing our landlord’s bookshelves (with his permission!). It’s an easy, shortened version of the familiar story, in English on the left side of each page, and Spanish on the right. It’s intended for kids learning English, with footnotes explaining English expressions and pronunciation, but it works almost as well for me!

The Quiet Girl, by Peter Høeg. In the tradition of truly strange Scandinavian novels, this thriller stars a Danish circus clown of a kind you’ve never met before, with almost an supernatural ability to hear music in everything. His involvement in solving the kidnapping of a child with some very interesting abilities of her own makes for a weird and fascinating story full of nuanced characters who maintain a sometimes fluid relationship with the concepts of good and evil.

The Artist’s Wife, by Max Phillips, is the story of Alma Mahler, wife of Gustav Mahler (one of my favourite composers), told in her own words from “the beyond” after her death. She knows she’s beautiful and talented, and yet somehow she sees herself over and over again in the role of “muse” to male musicians and painters, of which Mahler is only the first. What could possibly go wrong? Phillips has written her as a cold, unfeeling, conniving, social climbing, loose-moraled, child-neglecting, anti-Semitic, alcoholic shrew. I wonder.

Stone Cold, by David Baldacci. Sometimes you just want a dose of casino action, con artists, mobsters, corrupt politicians, ex Navy Seal hit men, secret identities, revenge killings, Russian spies, and a few Mission Impossible type escapades. This delivers.

The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The untold story of Nonna Bannisyer. These diaries of the only survivor of a wealthy non-Jewish Russian family were only revealed to their author’s husband and the world 50 years after her emigration from Europe to Louisiana. Nonna Bannister’s eye-witness accounts, ranging from reminiscences of her happy early childhood through unspeakable horrors and sorrow during the war make compelling reading. The fact that she lived her adult life having forgiven those who destroyed her family is remarkable, as is her awareness that finally sharing her story reveals important aspects of the kind of history the world should never repeat.


  1. Will you return to Merida next winter? Any plans for this summer? I have been reading several blogs on the current Viking Neptune WC but they do not come close to you and Ted. I believe you two have several books in you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No plans to return – we’re too old to go back to places (except Germany, and Vienna LOL) when there are so many we haven’t been to yet.
      Summer with our family in BC (we have to re-establish residency for health care), but interspersed with Ireland,hosting European relatives, Alaska, and Morocco before a Christmas market cruise, Hawaii, and a slow month in San Diego. Hoping for Japan next spring! No books, but lots of words and pictures!!


  2. Steve Berry is one of my favorite authors, although I have not yet read his latest. I enjoy his sorting out at the end about what is real and what is literary liberty.

    Your comments on Proust reminded me of my feelings about Nathaniel Hawthorn- way to wordy!

    Liked by 1 person

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