Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fiction, Fiction, Made the Right Pulitzer Prediction

Too bad there's no end zone in literature.  I need to do my victory dance.

You can't blame me for being a little giddy.  A couple of days ago, I predicted that Donna Tartt would win the fiction Pulitzer.  I'm a bit startled to be right; maybe I'm starting to get the hang of this after all these years.  Last year, I almost called it, but that was probably the Korean connection giving me a lucky half-guess.

I haven't read The Goldfinch yet.  I got these terrible buying twinges today when I woke up and heard the news, so I quickly sent a Facebook message to my spawn:

Me:  The Goldfinch!  Mother's Day!  Hint, hint!

Spawn: I thought you wanted Rainbow Rowell's book [Landline].

Me:  Oh, God...I'm torn!  Did you already pre-order RR's book?

Spawn:  No.

Me:  I'm trying not to order any books...Kindle or paper.  So difficult.

Spawn:  OK

Me:  xoxo

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Book Buying Diet Update

Three weeks!  So far...not too bad.  I still get twinges*, of course.  The other book bloggers are so mean, dangling pretty new pages in front of me!  Wah!

Of course, I need to turn that way of thinking around, and trust that if I don't get the book right away, it won't disappear from the face of the Earth.  I just need to add it to my Wish List and believe that I'll see it again at a book swap, a library or as a gift.

I've channeled my book buying 3 ways since March 21.  I've managed to keep myself in books, and I've even figured out how to appease my One-Click craving.

I. The BEL (Busan English Library)**
1. The Great Gilly Hopkins - Katherine Paterson
2. Pearl Buck in China  - Hilary Spurling
3. The Wapshot Chronicle - John Cheever
4. What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank - Nathan Englander
5. I Love You, Beth Cooper! - Larry Doyle

II. The Busan Book Swap
1. Lost Memory of Skin - Russell Banks.  Score!  I circled this book for a year, and I have been rewarded for my restraint.
2. Duma Key - Stephen King
3. The Railway Man - Eric Lomax

III. Free Clicking***
1. The Monk - Matthew Gregory Lewis
2. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - Mark Twain.


* I'm really going to be twinge-y this week when the Pulitzers are announced.  My Pulitzer Fiction guess is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, but, as always, I'd like to see Joyce Carol Oates win.

** BEL has a 5 book limit and a 2 weeks' checkout time.  I feel so Spartan.

*** One-Clicking for books that cost $0.00!  An elegant solution -- why didn't I think of it before?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Finishing February

The Food of a Younger Land was the first book I read in February. Here are the others. Except for one book, it was a great month for reading:

American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee - Karen Abbott.  Sounds like the title got stalled in a committee meeting.  Abbott tries to shoehorn too much into a narrative that skips around and involves too many people. It's almost like two nonfiction offerings glued together in an unwieldy fashion -- perhaps also in a committee meeting?  An ambitious mess.

Dear Coca-Cola - Terry Ravenscroft - Letters of inquiry and complaint written as pranks to huge corporations such as the one in the title, KFC and Cadbury, among others.  Ravenscroft usually receives a response (usually an apology, a free sample or a coupon).  He then pushes back with a reply that is more absurd than his original letter and sometimes gets several more replies until someone in Marketing or PR figures out he's having a joke on them.  Short, fun read.

Doctor Sleep - Stephen King.  This was the perfect sequel to The Shining.  Again, Uncle Stevie reins in his powers and doesn't splash all over the page for pages and pages.  While The Shining evoked memories of Shirley Jackson at her best, Doctor Sleep, for all its undead and gore, had decidedly Dickensian flourishes.  Since Abra has got a huge case of the shining, I'm sure readers will see her in a future novel.

Albert Nobbs - George Moore.  Albert Nobbs is a hotel waiter in late-nineteenth century Dublin with a *big* secret.  Being a novella from the school of Realism, there's hope and then heartbreak.  This book was an exciting discovery for me, and I raced out to find other George Moore novels.

Wheat Belly - William Davis, M.D.  According to Dr. Davis, wheat isn't what it used to be.  It's been genetically modified to grow shorter and more uniformly.  While this was a win for farmers, it seems to have affected our health.  For starters, he cautions that eating wheat products is like sitting down with the sugar bowl in front of you and plunging in with a serving spoon and that leads to obesity and a myriad of mild to serious health problems.  Being highly addictive as well as everything else, Davis believes that if we would just give up wheat cold turkey, we'd  lose weight as well as  all these maladies.  I'm trying, but he's right: wheat products are addictive.  I've never smoked -- bread is my cigarette.

Esther Waters - George Moore.  When I went in search of more George Moore, I found that I had Esther Waters tucked away on my Kindle.  I can really see Zola's influence in this novel.  Esther is a young girl from a highly religious background who goes into service at an estate connected to a horse-racing stable.  She is seduced, then abandoned, then loses her post because of her pregnancy, although her employer is sympathetic to her circumstances. (In the middle of Esther's troubles) there is lots and lots and LOTS of talk about horse-racing -- another nod to Zola)  Things get grim for a while, but Esther is no tragic Fantine.  Modern readers can relate to her -- she simply carries on, supporting her son, then one day...  Highly recommended.

Yeah, this WAS a great reading month!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Dreaming in Literature: Buttonholes?!

I woke up shaking from this afternoon nap:

In my dream, I had somehow landed in Walnut Grove or De Smet, Dakota Territory.  Anyway, I knew for sure I was in Laura-land.  I didn't know what else to do, so I went to school.  They were all on lunch recess.  There was Laura.  She was a teenager.  She didn't look like Melissa Gilbert.  She looked like this.

After all the girls found out that I wasn't living with my ma or pa, Laura decided that I needed a job.  "You can make buttonholes for Miss Beadle," she told me.

I thought Miss Beadle taught school, but I didn't say anything.  Maybe she sewed on the side.

Laura had everything arranged in minutes.  "You can start right away.  I've got chores, but Ma will be over to check your buttonholes."

Problem:  I had no idea how to make a buttonhole, and not even a ghost of an idea of how to begin.  Scissors?  Thread?  All of the other girls knew how to make buttonholes, except Nellie Oleson, who said she didn't care to know.  I didn't want to admit that I was anything like her.  

Suddenly, I was upstairs at Miss Beadle's, and I had a pile of shirts to buttonhole before suppertime.  Feeling nervous, I dropped the thimble several times.  I was still working out on which finger to wear the thimble, when Laura sent a message that Ma was busy but Mary would be over to check my buttonholes.

Mary?  Mary was blind, but obviously she knew her way around a buttonhole, too.  I could hear her climbing the stairs.  I was frantically looking for a shirt that had been finished.  She wouldn't be able to tell if I had done it myself or not, and that would give me time to figure it all out.  

Not a stinking shirt in that whole room had a single finished buttonhole, and Mary was getting closer.  I panicked and decided to sneak out on Mary and go ask Nellie's advice.  Maybe she wasn't so bad after all.  She couldn't be any worse than buttonholes.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Food of a Younger Land - Mark Kurlansky

Bless Mark Kurlansky's food-nerdy heart!  One day, he was rummaging around in the Library of Congress, and he found a WPA writing project that had been started in the last days of the Depression.  The idea of this project, 'America Eats' was meant to include reportage from all over the country that chronicled American's daily -- and special days -- fare.

 Notes, articles, recipes and other miscellanea were gathered for a few years, then the project was abandoned at the beginning of WWII in a half-finished state.  There it lay for 70 years until Mark Kurlanksy came along.  Following the outline, he sorted through the materials and put together this book.  It's an uneven result.  Some regions are woefully under-represented and others have too much repetitive material.  Still, it's great that this document finally saw the light of day.  Here are my reading notes:

NYC luncheonette jargon from the 1930s.  So much fun...and the automats!  Snappy essay, beautiful prose.  Makes me want to go back in time and eat at one.

New England:  Lots and LOTS of discussion about the proper way to make clam chowder.  I have my own opinion, but reading the various recipes insisting that their way is the only right way makes for a good time.

Eudora Welty weighed in from her home state of Mississippi with recipes for barbecue, catfish, gumbo and mint juleps.  This is the only example of her food writing on record, and it's excellent.

Arkansas' food section was pretty much like I thought it would be: Squirrel stew and poke salad.

Frowns all around!!!  I'm in the southern section now.  The African-Americans are well-represented, but the stupid 1930s interviewer had to put their recipes and remarks into dialect writing.  Also, there are way too many racist remarks about behavior, and the gauzily fond reminiscences of slaves and plantations are sickening.  I am very ugh and can't wait to get into another part of the country!

The Middle West.  NO MISSOURI?!  What. The. Hell.  Nebraska seems over-represented.  Best article was the one about preparing food for the threshers (from Iowa?).

The far west and the southwest regions have been the most entertaining.  An Oregonian writer's rant about mashed potatoes reads like the best of Dorothy Parker's writing.  The grunion run in California was also amusing.  I wonder if they still do it.

Except for that southern section (where the reader is also mint julep-ed to death), The Food of a Younger Land was a fun and fascinating read.  Kudos to Mark Kurlanksy for taking on the task.  As he points out in the introduction, it's a good thing the original project was able to capture these regional recipes.  As Kurlanksy points out in the introduction, nowadays, the cuisine lines are less demarcated because of the preponderance of chain restaurants and fast food.  'America Eats' 2014 -- wonder what kind of book would that be?

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Reading: The First Quarter

Ooops, not that kind of quarter.  Sorry.  Still got money on my mind.

I'm not off to a very fast start, but I'm sure things (like reading)  will pick up as more things (like books) get picked up during April, May and June.  Here's what I've read so far:


1. My Brother Sam is Dead - James Lincoln Collier. How about a spoiler title like that, huh!?  I liked this YA novel because it showed how not everyone was a revolutionary, loyalties could be divided even within families, and, in war, everyone loses. (fiction)

2. The Shining - Stephen King.  I love Uncle Stevie with all my heart, but sometimes it seems as if he's just slapping it down on the page.  Not so with The Shining.  Lots of action, lots of horror, but he reins in his prose, and that makes it all the more effective.  This is a novel Shirley Jackson would have been proud to have written. (fiction)

3. The Caine Mutiny - Herman Wouk.  The romantic subplot with Willie Keith and May Wynn was irritating.  I really hate it when I don't fully enjoy one of my Pulitzers.  Pout.  (fiction)

4. Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three - Mara Leveritt.  I'm still shaking my head at how these three boys got railroaded for a gruesome murder because the local lawmen were too stupid and lazy (and possibly inbred?) to investigate the crime properly. The judge should have been asked to step down from the bench.  (nonfiction)

5. My Name is Mary Sutter - Robin Oliveira.  It's 1861, and midwife Mary Sutter wants to be a surgeon.  She keeps getting turned away from medical schools because she's female.  Fortunately for her, the Civil War helps her get a foothold on her ambitions.  Gritty heroine, gory details.  Highly recommended.  (fiction)

6. Dolly's Dixie Fixin's - Dolly Parton.  Dolly put together a cookbook of her favorite down-home dishes.  So glad there's a shout-out to a long-time Missouri institution, Lambert's, "The Home of the Throwed Rolls".  Tasty recipes, and if there's a quicker way to do it, Dolly will tell you.  My only complaint is that there were no food pictures, just pictures of Dolly.  Luscious as she may be, she can't trump vittles.
Favorite quote: "As far as I know, any vegetable treated to cream and bacon drippings is a mighty good-tastin' one."  (nonfiction)

7. Before We Were Free - Julia Alvarez.  The last days of the Dominican Republic's Trujillo dictatorship, as seem through the eyes of  12-year-old Anita, youngest daughter of a family who is resisting the regime.  They've protected and shielded her, but as events spiral out of control, she must learn and adapt quickly. Bit of a nod to The Diary of Anne Frank.  Audiobook, beautifully read by the author. (YA fiction)

8. Hyperbole and a Half - Allie Brosch.  I love Allie Brosch's art.  She gives me Lynda Barry feelings, which is very very good.  And her writing!  No one has ever explained the various stages of depression more eloquently.  (graphic memoir)

I noticed that I got a little blathery when I discussed my February reads, so I was compelled to divide this post into three (January, February, March) so they wouldn't be overly long.  You're welcome. :)

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Book Diet

Not the one in which I would eat just books (although I once had a dog who had a taste for Cheever) and not this one, either, (although I am intrigued by the premise).

The book diet I'm speaking of is the one in which I turn away from the cornucopia that is Amazon.  I also need to run right out and avoid my local bookstore in Korea, Kyobo, and the local in my hometown, Reader's World.  Oh, and the beautiful little used bookstore in Busan!

I haven't bought a book since March 21.  I'm feeling crazy and forlorn.

I'm moving next year, March 2015.  MOVING moving, as in back to the States.  Yes, I'm repatriating, after ten years, and so are the books I've bought/been given.  I had already cleverly worked out that it was going to cost a lot of money to ship these overseas,

so I began buying e-books.  I mean, buying and BUYING.  Buy Hard with a Vengeance.

"My name is Bybee and I'm a One-Clicker."

 It's so easy.  Amazon gives me what I want, and my book desire is satisfied in a moment and forgotten. Then at the end of the month, my credit card painfully removes a huge chunk of money from my account.  Of course by that time, it feels like they're being unreasonable, and even a tad sadistic for no reason.

To return to the US in reasonable financial shape,  I need to rein in the spending and get a handle on my book compulsion.  It hurts like hell being stalwart and all that, but luckily, I have the Busan Book Swap and my beloved BEL, the Busan English Library as resources to fall back on.  They'll have to feel like book-shopping experiences.  I'm doing both this upcoming weekend, and none too soon, either.

This restraint doesn't feel at all natural.  It's like trying to get dressed using just my feet.