Books this Update:
- The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin’, Bill Zehme
- Banquets of the Black Widowers, Isaac Asimov
- Sinatra: the Artist and the Man, John Lahr
- Blood of Flowers, Anita Amirrezvani
I began this week with a book I’ve not read since early 2005. Were I to commit such blasphemy as to name a favorite singer, I would name Frank Sinatra. I started listening to Sinatra in 2004 (beginning with “The Very Good Years” from Reprise) and quickly become an enthusiast, and not long after I began reading Sinatra biographies. One of them was The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin’. Anyone familiar with Sinatra knows that he was a man of singular style, who lived life passionately and in his own way. The Way You Wear Your Hat is not a biography. The author explores the way Sinatra lived — with chapters dedicated to style, women, and his drinking preferences. There are a lot of quotations from Sinatra and a lot about him. I easily recommend the book to anyone who is interested in Frank Sinatra, even vaguely so. It remains a favorite.
Next I read Isaac Asimov’s Banquets of the Black Widowers, the fourth book in his Black Widowers mystery series. The Black Widower books are all collections of Black Widower tales. Each tale is a short story — a mystery. They are all set in the same place: every month, a group of friends who call themselves the Black Widowers meet at a restaurant. Each month, the host brings a guest — and each month, without fail, a problem arises that has to be sorted out by the Widowers. The mystery is typically presented by the guest, but not always. I found this book to be altogether interesting. One story was a bit weak, but only the one. As is typical, Asimov provides chatty commentary at the end of each tale.
After this I went to another Sinatra biography, Sinatra: the Artist and the Man. There’s really not much to say: it’s a biography that presented its information in an organized way and told the story of his life. Half of the book is biography: the other half is page-sized pictures. The pictures are from his entire life and are of rather good quality.
Lastly I read The Blood of Flowers. I won this book during the summer in a contest hosted by a history blog I read frequently. The book is set in 17th century Persia. The author is an Iranian-American who wrote the book after she began wondering about the lives of the people who made the exquisite Persian rugs that she was familiar with: this book is an attempt to explore the lives of those people. The story is told in first-person through the eyes of an un-named narrator. You would think that it would be difficult for an entire novel to go by without a single named reference to the narrator, but Amirrezvani does it and does it well. I never realized that I never knew the name of the main character until I reached the author’s afterword. The young woman’s father dies, leaving her and her mother poor. They go to the then-capital city of Isfahan to seek out a male relative who will take them in. The narrator’s chief joy comes in knotting rugs, and her uncle happens to work in the royal rug-making workhouse. While he cannot formally teach her the craft at his workhouse, he does teach her at home. Most of the book is about the young woman’s life in Isfahan — the ups and downs. Folk stories are interwoven throughout. I rather enjoyed the book, and found it hard to put down at times. I especially enjoyed learning about 17th century Iran, or at least this author’s presentation of it. I recommend the book. Much to my amusement, Amirrezvani often describes Europeans as “farengi”, which inspired whichever Star Trek writer who created the Ferengi — a race obsessed with material wealth. This is not an association I made myself: I heard it years ago listening to an interview with one of Deep Space Nine’s producers, and he said that the race name came from this word. A selection from the book to pique your interest — a selection that alludes to the author’s inspiration for writing the book.
I will never inscribe my name in a carpet like the masters in the royal rug workshop who are honored for their great skill. I will never learn to knot a man’s eye so precisely it looks real, nor design rugs with layers of patterns so intricate that they could confound the greatest of mathematicians. But I have devised designs of my own, which people will cherish for years to come. When they sit on one of my carpets, their hips touching the earth, their back elongated, and the crown of their head lifted toward the sky, they will be soothed, refreshed, transformed. My heart will touch theirs and we will be as one, even after I am dust, even though they will never know my name.
Pick of the Week: Blood of Flowers, Anita Amirrezvani (And Asimov’s streak is ended!)
- Washington’s Rules of Civility, George Washington
- Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, Al Franken
- Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris
- Foundation’s Edge, Isaac Asimov