Happy Monday. It's Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving. I've eaten all the little rice cakes, so now I'm going to blog about 4 things that are on my book mind at present:
1. I remember how I first heard of Joan Rivers (and Melissa, too, come to think of it):
I was in middle school. My parents, my brother and I had gone out for dinner one evening. We were on our way home when my mother suggested that we stop at 'Dirty' Walt's bookstore -- so called because of the "Over 18" section in the back. At that time, I was into humor books. I saw one called Having A Baby Can Be A Scream. I liked the picture on the front of a huge cartoon baby cradling a grown woman holding a baby bottle:
My mother raised her eyebrows. "Why do you want that?!"
"I think it's supposed to be funny," I said. "Like Erma Bombeck." My mother nodded.
I took the book home and read it, but all I vaguely remember is that the book was structured like a Q&A between Joan and her obstetrician. The doctor also doubled as straight man. Joan would ask a question about pregnancy. The doctor would give advice, and Joan would reply with a self-deprecating remark about her changing body or general health. Some jokes I got, and some were over my head. Since I wasn't allowed to stay up and watch The Tonight Show until I was in college, I never heard anything more about Joan Rivers until she became outrageously popular in the 1980s. I wonder if she was trying to tap into the Bombeck market with Having A Baby Can Be A Scream.
2. I just finished my fourth George Gissing novel, New Grub Street, which follows the fortunes of a group of friends and acquaintances who are trying to break into London's literary scene. Every time I finish a Gissing novel, I'm convinced I've read the best one. He's everything I want in 19th century literature -- he's Emile Zola and George Eliot combined. He's in the sweet spot.
3. Speaking of Gissing, he gave some of his characters the strangest names: Biffen, Whelpdale, Bevis, and my favorite, Everard Barfoot. Clementine Paddleford, the subject of my following read, Hometown Appetites, sounds like she'd fit right into Gissing's fiction. In reality, Paddleford was an American food writer from Kansas, born around the turn of the century. Although her impressive name has fallen into semi-obscurity, she was once quite famous (1930s-60s) for touring around the United States in search of new recipes featuring local comfort foods which she presented in her column (and later, book) How America Eats.
4. Clementine Paddleford got her start in journalism by writing for publications relating to home economics, which plays a large role in my current read, The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish by Linda Przybyszewski. A historian as well as a blue ribbon-winning dressmaker, Przybyszewski looks back at the "Dress Doctors" in home economics departments all over the country who took very seriously their job of instructing women of all ages how to dress beautifully and sensibly by adhering to the same principles found in art. So far, it's fun and fascinating reading. I'm also amused by and sort of in love with the cover:
That's my Monday mind. What about yours?