Saturday, October 03, 2015

Library Sale-ing

This is the first time I have ever tried to write a blog post on my phone.  It feels unnatural, but here we go:    

 Just got back from the county library book sale. I got there early, but apparently fourteen other people had the same idea. When the doors opened, they RAN. They took those tables the way the Allies took the beaches on D-Day. They had already filled cartons while I was still trying to get to the fiction.  It was an education. I tried to see what they were going after, but the titles were mere blurs.  It was like Supermarket Sweep!

The audio book table?  Forget it! Some big old bearded hoss in overalls had the aisle blocked and he wasn't budging.

I came away with six books.  Four dollars. I had budgeted twenty for the event, but the selection in the wake of the biblio locusts was only so-so.

1. Man in the Woods- Scott Spencer. (Novel)

2. O Pioneers! - Willa Cather. (Novel)

3. Babbitt - Sinclair Lewis.  (Novel)

4. Cult Baseball Players - Danny Peary, editor.  (Nonfiction)

5. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - John Berendt. (Nonfiction)

6. Secrets of the Tsil CafĂ© - Thomas Fox Averill. (Novel) 

Thursday, October 01, 2015

No Such Book?

Last night, I dreamed that I was taking a sociology class.

To break the ice on the first day, the professor decided that the international students in the class would introduce themselves. No Americans. I thought I might play the "I lived abroad for 10 years, doesn't that make me kind of international?" card, then decided I wasn't a hog for attention.

Just as I made up my mind to sit tight, an older male student from South Africa came up to the podium. Instead of introducing himself, he held up a doorstop of a book. "I must recommend this book to everyone," he said. He began describing it, but his accent was thick and the plot seemed really convoluted. Everyone's eyes were glazed over by the time the bell rang.

I wanted to know more about the book, so I felt lucky when I saw that the South African student had left it behind. I picked it up and toted it to the student union, and opened it as I drank a coffee.

The book seemed to be a novel. It had a tooled leather cover and gilt-edged pages, and the first half of the book was in an alphabet I didn't recognize. Greek or Russian, perhaps. The second half of the book was in English, and I saw that it was a novel with Rocky and Bullwinkle, except they were detectives and it was very noir, suspenseful and full of foreboding.

My interest was piqued. I had to read the book immediately, but knew that giving it back to the South African guy was the right thing to do. I would write down the title and get my own copy. I squinted at the cover and the title page. Shit! The title was in that strange alphabet! Oh well, I would Google it. After all, how many noir detective novels could there be about Rocky and Bullwinkle?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Books in My Hand and a Bookstore on My Horizon

Reading, I've been reading...What was that Nora Ephron said about using reading to manage her ADHD? Yes, I think so very much.

Here's what the past couple of weeks have looked like in my Read World:

Missoula - Jon Krakauer.  In his latest book, Krakauer turns his attention to an epidemic of reported rapes at the University of Montana. This book made me so angry, because things have not changed much at all since I was a college student. Unlike any other crime, blame falls on the rape victim, rather than the attacker. In these cases, the alleged attackers were university athletes, for whom every excuse seemed to be made. I hope that Missoula is read widely by everyone and starts a conversation that will continue.

Behind the Falls - Brenda Ernst Zalegowski. This YA novel was recommended to me by my enabler, Teri. Noah, a 16-year-old who suffers from chronic anxiety, moves with his parents to his father's hometown. After being homeschooled since kindergarten, he starts attending the small high school, because his well-meaning parents hope to get him ready to go to college. Noah seems to settle in both academically and socially, but incidents and accidents wreak havoc on his emotional stability. This novel is so full of angst, it may be the most perfect YA book ever written. A little lengthy and the characters have a tendency to monologue, but it all rings true and I have not been able to stop thinking and wondering about them.

The Good Wife - Stewart O'Nan. My Stewart O'Nan spring became summer and now it's my Stewart O'Nan autumn. This is such a great way to spend your reading days.  You know who else thinks so? Stephen King!  Uncle Stevie! O'Nan's gritty yet hopeful 2005 novel (not to be confused with the TV show bearing the same title) follows a young upstate New York couple through the arrest, trial and long incarceration of the husband. Patty, the title character, is a good wife, but that's reductive. She is so much more than that. I have read eight of O'Nan's novels at this point and they're all brilliant, but this one especially with its heart and guts. Highly recommended.

Stand By Your Man - Tammy Wynette.  Last weekend, I saw the musical of the same name based on Wynette's life, and the next day, I rushed to the city library for a copy of her 1979 memoir. What a great read -- a rags-to-riches story full of anecdotes about all those men, no-good and otherwise that she hooked up with, and all against the backdrop of Nashville. Wynette was only in her mid-30s when she wrote this book and would live just 20 more.  I felt sad knowing that she would die at 55 and there was so much pain still to come.

Last Night at the Lobster - Stewart O'Nan. This is actually a reread -- the first Stewart O'Nan novel I ever read. Since I am obsessive about reading everything he has written, I had to visit this one again. A wistful slice-of-life look at the closing of a Red Lobster restaurant a few days before Christmas (and during a big snowstorm) and the small staff and their manager that comes in and works that last shift. An interesting look at the ways different people behave when they know they are at the end of something. A short novel that reveals more than many long tomes. I was inspired to reread  Lobster because it's Stewart O[Nan, but also because a beloved restaurant in Sedalia, Patricia's, closed their doors this week after 30 years.

This weekend will find me on my way to Tulsa to visit The Spawn, and he has promised to take me to yet another used bookstore. I also hope to revisit the bookstore by Macy's where there were all those obscure Pulitzer novels. There's a gleam of anticipation in my eye even as I glance worriedly at my credit card. Someone hold me back, but not too hard.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

DNF: Discardia

I think I've finally burned myself out on books about organizing. I really hate this, because for so many months, they have soothed and comforted me. I have read them on a train, I have read them on a plane...

A couple of nights ago, I was reading Discardia by Dinah Sanders. I was reading in bed, right before going to sleep. Suddenly, I noticed an anxiety blooming out of nowhere. My heart was beating fast and I was biting the inside of my cheek. As I read on, it seemed as if too much information was coming at me too quickly and I needed to put up mental hands to shield myself; to dodge the onslaught. Finally, all the words turned into gibberish, and I had to quit.

Turning off my Kindle, I drifted into an uneasy sleep that was patchy and full of discomforts that came at me in a sort of cha-cha-cha rhythm: Hot/thirsty/need to pee. Hot/thirsty/need to pee...

In one of the intervals when I could sleep, I dreamed that the apartment was clean. Gleaming and beautiful.  Free of clutter. I invited people over, showing them around. I marveled at each room as they oohed and ahhed. As I ushered them into my bedroom, I noticed a foul smell. Noisome! (I've always wanted to use that word.) Somehow a dog dropping as long as my foot (shoe size 8) had attached itself to my shoe and I was leaving long feathery streaks of poo in my wake. The smell was overpowering and my eyes were watering for a couple of reasons. No one seemed to notice. I was frantically trying to figure out how to get to the Febreeze when I woke up sweating.

After all that, I just couldn't go back to Discardia.  It's not Dinah Sanders; it's me. My predilection for cleaning and organizing books is broken.  Irretrievably? I'm not sure. At this point, I think not even Marie Kondo could save me.


Sunday, September 06, 2015

So We Read On

This was one of my favorite reads for August. What's not to love?  Maureen Corrigan! The Great Gatsby! Fitzgerald biography! Literary criticism! Cinderella!

Cinderella? Wait, what?

Part of the charm of So We Read On is the Cinderella story of how The Great Gatsby lingered in near-obscurity from its 1925 publication and seemed to be stuck there at the time of F. Scott Fitzgerald's death at 44 in 1940, only to be come wildly successful as The Great American Novel, a staple of Hollywood and high school and college courses alike.

 Gatsby went to the "ball", which in this case was World War II. By some fluke, (probably its brevity) Gatsby ended up on a publication list of "funny little paperbacks" -- classic books designed by the military to be comfortably carried by soldiers. These books were meant to distract them from the tedium and strain of battle. Talk about a captive audience. When the war ended, the book's reputation continued to grow, and there's still no stopping it.

The Great Gatsby's 70-year victory lap is just one of the great things about So We Read On. Maureen Corrigan discusses how Fitzgerald came to write the novel and how he scrupulously overplanned and plotted and edited the galleys so heavily that they had to be reprinted. As a result, the book is a joy to reread because readers can find something new each time. After this, I had to reread Gatsby myself, which I did via audiobook. What an inspired choice. Although I was fully aware of the luminosity of Fitzgerald's language,  I never quite realized that it's meant to be read aloud. O the savor...

Anyway, this is what I found: Tom Buchanan is from Chicago! It's true that he's from an exclusive neighborhood, but this nasty brute is from the stockyard capital of the world. Is that an accident? I don't think so! It's another Fitzgerald master stroke!  (I'm sure that over the years, some esteemed literary critic has noticed this as well. I have no illusions. But still.)

Back to Corrigan: I love her argument that Gatsby is a "hard-boiled" novel.  It is! Daisy is a femme fatale! So true.

I can't imagine a better way to finish out summer and segue into autumn than to pair a reading of So We Read On with The Great Gatsby.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Welcome To My Reading Week

I've got several books on the go, so I feel like a juggler running out of hands:

1. Change Your Clothes, Change Your Life - George Brescia. This is my fluff for the week. I can't help being attracted to fashion, and I only just figured out why.  It's the narrative. When they're telling you what to wear, the very best have a narrative about where you could wear this thing, and what you'd be doing. If they just say 'wear this', it leaves me cold. George Brescia hovers more towards the 'wear this' with flashes of narrative. I love what he has to say about color and form, but his insistence that heels are all-important if one is to be truly stylish...yeah, no. George, why don't you cram your tootsies in an impossibly tiny toe box? [This is really strange: Just now, as if my mother had known what I was writing about, suddenly woke up and started recounting her trousseau  from 1958 in detail! Wow. By the time she got to her red linen going-away suit, I wanted to go back and read The Lost Art of Dress.]

2. True Grit - Charles Portis. Audiobook, read by Donna Tartt.  THIS.  It's even better than I had hoped. Tartt is a superb reader and her love for the book shines through. I can't wait to get up in the mornings and do my walk so I can listen. Right now, I'm at the part where Mattie, Rooster and LaBouef are waiting to ambush Lucky Ned Pepper's gang at the sod dugout.

3. Emily, Alone - Stewart O'Nan. This is the sequel to Wish You Were Here. I love O'Nan's precise slices of life. I'm going to be so cranky when I run out of his novels. But wait! There's a nonfiction book that he co-authored with Uncle Stevie! Squeeeeees all around.

4. Discardia - Dinah Sanders. I've just started this book about turning your bouts of organization into a holiday called Discardia. I guess I'm hoping for another version of Marie Kondo to love.

5. And So We Read On - Maureen Corrigan. Corrigan discusses how she gradually fell in love with The Great Gatsby and makes her argument for why it is THE Great American Novel. She's preaching to the choir in my case.  I've also just started this book, but I've fallen into it like a warm bath. Or jumped into it the way Zelda and Scott used to jump into fountains. Good stuff.

It's nice to be in such a congenial reading mood and have so many great choices on the go. Once I finish these, here's what's next up in the queue:

Missoula - Jon Krakauer
Snow Angels - Stewart O'Nan
Last Night At the Lobster - Stewart O'Nan

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Grabbing a Book and Holding On

Books! Take me away! Take me away like a Calgon bath, which is not a bad idea in itself.

I think I wrote in my last post that my first attempt at book group turned out to be a wash, but I have a new hope: According to the message board at my new place of employment, there is a non-fiction book club! Keep your fingers crossed.

Mornings still find me walking and audiobooking. Since I started this routine, I've finished three books: Bossypants - Tina Fey, Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls - David Sedaris and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? - Mindy Kahling. My current book is Yes Please by Amy Poehler. I've enjoyed laughing so early in the day, but the books are starting to overlap a little. The comedy universe is a small and cozy one. I'm going to change it up. Do I go back to self-improvement or onto a classic novel?

While I was reading Finders Keepers by Stephen King, I was able to block out the world for a few enjoyable hours. I was appalled by Morris Bellamy, the bookworm who goes off the deep end when he feels as if his favorite author (sort of a mashup of Salinger and Updike that King has imagined so precisely while having, I am guessing, a great deal of fun) has caused his most famous character to 'sell out",  But while I was repulsed by Bellamy, I understood him, too, and even felt sorry for him. I was impatient when he was out of the novel and attention was turned to other characters. Finders Keepers is also a treasure trove for bookworms. When one of the characters references one of Zola's characters, I was all yes oh yes oh yes. Even better, there's a whiff of Shawshank.

Yesterday, I read Rick Geary's graphic novel The Beast of Chicago (about H.H.Holmes, the serial killer who terrorized Chicago during the 1893 World's Fair) in the strangest place: I was sitting in a nail salon in a nearby Walmart while the massage chair kneaded my back and a cute Chinese guy soaked, scrubbed and pumiced my feet then cut and filed and finally painted my toenails a soft metallic pink. You'd have to try out this combination yourself to get the full effect of the weirdness. Then, tonight, I was talking about this book with a true-crime fan and we were complaining (okay, it was downright bitching, I confess) that no one in Hollywood has even BOTHERED to make a movie about H.H. Holmes. Or the bloody Benders, for that matter.  Or the very excellent Manhunt. Then I looked at my Facebook news feed and discovered that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are going to collaborate on a film adaptation of The Devil in the White City.  More weirdness and much squeeeee! Can the bloody Benders be far behind?

I am still having a Stewart O'Nan summer. I'm reading Wish You Were Here, a novel about an extended family's final summer at their vacation home on Lake Chautauqua.  It's slow going, but a rich and rewarding read. I love the way Stewart O'Nan is so completely invested in his characters. When I finish Wish You Were Here, I'll move to the sequel, Emily, Alone.

It's past midnight, and there goes another day, but I can't go to sleep without reading a few pages.