An Innocent in Newfoundland

An Innocent in Newfoundland by David W. McFadden

The author takes us down the scenic roads of Newfoundland to remote little towns perched on cliffs above the Atlantic Ocean. The Trans-Canada Highway can take you across the province more quickly, but thankfully he stayed off the highway, showing us instead interesting, beautiful places we'd have missed otherwise. My favourite travel books are always those that take the reader into the real life of a place, which usually means away from the tourist attractions.

As much as I loved the descriptions of places, the heart of this book is in the conversations he has with people he meets in hotels, coffee shops, bars, etc. Connecting seems to be his superpower. He can talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime, always knowing what to say to put people at ease. It's a gift, one I've never possessed but greatly admire in an envious, maybe slightly resentful kind of way.

I've come across a few negative reviews of this book that accuse the author of mocking Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders but it didn't strike me that way at all. He will spell out words here and there to show us how they are pronounced on the island, but I think he's pointing out differences, not making fun. He seems to be genuinely interested in the people and their stories. The impressions I'm left with are of a place of spectacular beauty, and of people who are friendly, generous and open-hearted. I can see a lot of people adding Newfoundland to their travel goals after reading this.

What I love about travel books, other than being immersed in the culture of a place I'd like to visit but can't, is the history, the geography, and all the interesting little things there are to learn about a place. For example, I discovered that Newfoundland's official motto is "Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God." Having lived all my life in Atlantic Canada, and not very far away, I can't believe I didn't know that. It's a good motto!

And I learned about a Newfoundland passenger ferry, traveling between North Sydney, NS and Port aux Basques, Nl, being torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1942. The boat sank and 136 people were killed. That story led me to look up other enemy incursions into Canadian waters and so on, and so on. Every travel book I've ever read has been as much education as entertainment.

So. Entertainment, education, beautiful scenery, great people, a witty narrator - what more could you want? Definitely read this one. 

Be Frank With Me

 Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

I very much enjoyed reading this, even while wondering if it wasn't just a little far-fetched. I decided to ignore that voice and keep reading.

When New Yorker Alice, is sent to L.A. by her publisher boss, Mr. Vargas, to assist an author writing a long-awaited second book, she is warned that it's a "prickly" household. M.M. Banning, the author she'll be helping, will spend most of her time holed up in her office, leaving Alice to run the house and care for Banning's 9 year old son, Frank. 

Frank is what Mr. Vargas calls an "odd duck". He's highly intelligent, socially inept, an eccentric dresser, and will lay flat on the floor, stiff and uncommunicative, when overwhelmed by what's going on around him. He's quirky and endearing much of the time, but other times he's simply rude to people and not charming at all. Alice coped with it by indulging him much of the time, which I suppose was the easiest thing since she wouldn't be with him for very long. I wouldn't have had a clue how to relate to him. 

M.M. Banning, herself, is confusing. She seems to have two personalities - one with Alice and another with her son. While she's motherly, warm, and loving to Frank, to Alice she's cold and snarky, mean even. I couldn't figure her out, and eventually got so tired of her bad attitude I didn't want to. 

In spite of those negatives I liked the book. Frank is a fascinating character I came to care about and root for. There's another character, Xander, who has a brief romance with Alice but it's his beautiful bond with Frank that turns out to be one of the most affective parts of the story.

I gave this one four stars on Goodreads which was maybe half a star too much, but 3 didn't seem quite enough. 

Turning Pages

 Turning Pages by John Sargent

Interesting and quite funny at times, this look back at Mr. Sargent's career is told mostly through stories of the famous people he met and worked with and the books that caused a stir at the time. Also part biography, he talks about his childhood and growing up with divorced parents - the book opens with a story about him being thown from a bucking calf at his first rodeo at age 7. 

He worked for a number of well-known Publishers in different capacities, but it's the people he met and the books he worked on, some of them quite controversial, that make this really interesting. Names like Brittany Spears, Barack and Michelle Obama, John Grisham, Jeff Bezos, Edward Snowdon, Sarah Ferguson, and Moncia Lewinsky appear regularly. 

When his company published Fire and Fury, the book chronicling Donald Trump's first 100 days in the White House (as witnessed by a journalist who was there that whole period), the President himself ordered the company to "cease and desist". They published it anyway, because "A sitting president was attemptimg to subvert the First amendment, and freedon of the press was usually the first freedom suspended by authoritarion regimes." I haven't yet read that one, but knowing a bit about how it came to be has me curious. I'll see if my library has a copy.

Some of Sargent's writing is beautiful: "I was completely alone on the lift ride up. The craggy peaks and sheer faces of the Eastern Sierra cast shadows across the snow of their shoulders. The sun's angle deepend the furrows in the bark of the old ponderosa pines. The air was still, the sky a high-altitude blue. The silence of the mountains." There were other places it felt more contrived and sometimes a little self-indulgent. He toots his own horn a bit. 

This one is worth reading for the behind-the-scenes look at some of the titles and authors he was involved with. Some really interesting stories here.