Category Archives: Great Books I Read

Sleepless Nights

A good book is an island of repose, a refuge, another world to escape to.

This is the captivating read that is presently distracting my gnawing nocturnal thoughts: The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert.

sleepless nights 2

And here an excerpt:

While Beatrix spoke, Alma stared. How could anything be as pretty and disturbing as Prudence’s face? If beauty were truly accuracy’s distraction, as her mother had always said, what did that make Prudence? Quite possibly the least accurate and most distracting object in the known world! Alma’s sense of disquiet multiplied by the moment. She was beginning to realize something dreadful about herself, something that she had never before been given reason to contemplate: she herself was not a pretty thing. It was only by awful comparison that she suddenly came to perceive this. Where Prudence was dainty, Alma was large. Where Prudence had hair spun from golden-white silk, Alma’s hair was the color and texture of rust – and it grew, most unflatteringly, in every direction except downward. Prudence’s nose was a little blossom; Alma’s was a growing yam. On it went, from head to toe: a most miserable accounting.

After breakfast was completed, Beatrix said, “Now come, girls, and embrace each other as sisters.” Alma did embrace Prudence obediently, but without warmth. Side by side, the contrast was even more notable. More than anything, it felt to Alma, the two of them resembled a perfect little robin’s egg and a big homely pine cone, suddenly and inexplicably sharing the same nest.

The realization of all this made Alma want to weep, or fight. She could feel her face settling into a dark sulk. Her mother must have seen it, for she said, “Prudence, please excuse us while I speak to your sister for a moment.” Beatrix took Alma by the upper arm, pinching her so firmly that it burned, and escorted her into the hall. Alma felt tears coming, but forced her tears to halt, and then to halt again, and then to halt once more.

Beatrix looked down at her one natural-born child, and spoke in a voice of cool granite: “I do not intend ever again to see such a face upon my daughter as the face I have just seen. Do you understand me?”

Alma managed to say only one wavering word (“But – “) before she was cut off.

“No outbreak of jealousy or malice has ever been welcomed in God’s eyes.” Beatrix continued, “nor shall such an outbreak ever be welcomed in the eyes of your family. If you have sentiments within you that are unpleasant or uncharitable, let them fall stillborn to the ground. Become the master of yourself, Alma Whittaker. Am I understood?”

sleepless nightswe are a mess 3

The Orchid Thief

“John Laroche is a tall guy, skinny as a stick, pale-eyed, slouch-shouldered, and sharply handsome, in spite of the fact that he is missing all his front teeth. He has the posture of al dente spaghetti and the nervous intensity of someone who plays a lot of video games.”

UK cover -
UK cover –

I devoured this book quite some time ago. Today it fell into my hands when I was looking for something else on my bookshelf. Remembering how I had enjoyed this unusual piece, a true story, I sat down and started reading parts of it again. It is a fascinating account of extreme people, who, to satisfy their obsessive passion for orchids, are willing to travel to the end of the world, wade through murky alligator infested swamps, wear the same muddy-soiled clothes for days on end, and get into trouble with the law. An intoxicating page-turner.

“Laroche tends to sound like a Mr. Encyclopedia, but he did not have a rigorous formal education. He went to public school in North Miami; other than that, he is self-taught. Once in a while he gets wistful about the life he thinks he would have led if he had applied himself more conventionally. He believes he would have probably become a brain surgeon and that he would have made major brain-research breakthroughs and become rich and famous. Instead, he lives in a frayed Florida bungalow with his father and has always scratched out a living in unaverage ways.

One of his greatest assets is optimism–that is, he sees a profitable outcome in practically every life situation, including disastrous ones. Years ago he spilled toxic pesticide into a cut on his hand and suffered permanent heart and liver damage from it. In his opinion, it was all for the best because he was able to sell an article about the experience (“Would You Die for Your Plants?”) to a gardening journal.

When I first met him, he was working on a guide to growing plants at home. He told me he was going to advertise it in High Times, the marijuana magazine. He said the ad wouldn’t mention that marijuana plants grown according to his guide would never mature and therefore never be psychoactive.


Just when you have finally concluded that he is a run-of-the-mill crook, he unveils an ulterior and somewhat principled but always lucrative reason for his crookedness. He likes to describe himself as a shrewd bastard. He loves doing things the hard way, especially if it means that he gets to do what he wants to do but also gets to leave everyone else wondering how he managed to get away with it. He is quite an unusual person. He is also the most moral amoral person I’ve ever known.”

Excerpts taken from here:

Hooked on a Book about Addiction

I don’t want it to end, but I can’t read slower either…

a million little pieces

by James Frey

Photo credit:

“Aged just twenty-three, James Frey had destroyed his body and his mind almost beyond repair. When he enters a rehabilitation centre to try to reclaim his life, he has to fight to determine what future, if any, he has. His lack of self-pity, cynicism and piety gives him an unflinching honesty – a fearless candour that is at once charming and appalling, searing and darkly funny.”

‘powerful and searingly self-critical … easily the most remarkable non-fiction book about drugs and drug taking since hunter s. thompson’s fear and loathing in las vegas … perversely uplifting, as a memoir, it is almost mythic’

‘a magnificent achievement and a fulfilling, unforgettable experience. frey’s brutally candid memoir has a youthful vigour and poetic tone that sets it above all previous addiction stories … an extraordinary and deeply moving book that will make you think about family, friendship, love, religion, death and perhaps most of all, the human spirit’
irish sunday independent

‘frey really can write. brilliantly. and if you don’t think so, f*** you’
evening standard

a million little pieces is as intense and perfectly detailed an account of a human quitting his drug and alcohol dependency as you are likely to read. and james frey is horribly honest and funny. he is unerring in his descent into a world where the characters need help in such extremely desperate ways. read this immediately’
gus van sant