Monday, July 02, 2018

My 100-Book Resolution: Midyear Check-In

If only...if only I weren't so constantly beguiled by the shiny and new books dangled above me like a mobile over a baby's crib, perhaps I would have made more progress on this resolution list.

Actually, I'm surprised that I've read or made attempts at 20 of them. Almost 21, when I finally finish the gargantuan The Letters of Sylvia Plath Vol. I. These efforts are highlighted in red.

I'm feeling ambitious once again, but to say that I'm going to hunker down and blow through this list while ignoring everything else would be foolish. Still, I'm wondering: Just how much of a dent I can put into the 100 before December 31? My bookworm blood is fairly singing.

I'll do another check-in at the end of September.

1. Caroline: Little House Revisited - Sarah Miller (fiction)

2. Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (fiction)

3. Helter Skelter - Vincent Bugliosi (nonfiction)

4. Songs for the Missing - Stewart O'Nan (fiction)

5. The Cooler King - Patrick Bishop (nonfiction)I

6. Ride the Pink Horse - Dorothy B. Hughes (fiction)

7. Pachinko - Min Jin Lee (fiction)

8. Our Souls at Night - Kent Haruf (fiction)

9. The Witches - Stacy Schiff (nonfiction)

10. The Great Influenza - John M. Barry (nonfiction)

11. The Nix - Nathan Hill (fiction)

12. Unfamiliar Fishes - Sarah Vowell (nonfiction)

13. Drama - John Lithgow (nonfiction)

14. I'll Be Right There - Kyung-Sook Shin (fiction)

15. The Aquariums of Pyongyang - Kang Chol-Hwan (nonfiction)

16. Testament of Youth - Vera Brittain (nonfiction)

17. Gilligan's Wake - Tom Carson (fiction)

18. Vein of Iron - Ellen Glasgow (fiction) DNF almost right out of the gate. The writing style jarred. It seemed cloying and overly dramatic.

19. None But the Lonely Heart - Richard Llewellyn (fiction)

20. Underground - Haruki Murakami (nonfiction)

21. Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink - Elvis Costello (nonfiction)

22. Upstairs Girls - Michael Rutter (nonfiction)

23. Wishful Drinking - Carrie Fisher (nonfiction)

24. The Sellout - Paul Beatty (fiction)

25. White Trash - Nancy Isenberg (nonfiction)

26. Earth - Emile Zola (fiction)

27. From Scratch: Inside the Food Network - Allen Salkin (nonfiction)

28. A Taste for War: The Culinary History of the Blue and the Gray - William C. Davis (nonfiction)

29. M Train - Patti Smith (nonfiction)

30. Clockers - Richard Price (fiction)

31. Bust Hell Wide Open: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest - Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr. (nonfiction)

32. Destiny of the Republic - Candice Millard (nonfiction)

33. The Devil All the Time - Donald Ray Pollock (fiction)

34. Saint Mazie - Jami Attenberg (fiction)

35. The Letter - Kathryn Hughes (fiction)

36. The Woman in Cabin 10 - Ruth Ware (fiction)

37. All the Missing Girls - Megan Miranda (fiction)

38. LaRose - Louise Erdrich (fiction)

39. The Dead Republic - Roddy Doyle (fiction)

40. Pox - Michael Willrich (nonfiction)

41. The Orchardist - Amanda Coplin (fiction)

42. Soaring with Vultures - Dan Kelly (fiction)

43. The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry (fiction)

44. The Living - Annie Dillard (fiction)

45. The Tree of Man - Patrick White (fiction)

46. Heads in Beds - Jacob Tomsky (nonfiction)

47. Rainbow's End - James M. Cain (fiction)

48. What Happened - Hillary Rodham Clinton (nonfiction)

49. The Hard Blue Sky - Shirley Ann Grau (fiction)

50. October, 1964 - David Halberstam (nonfiction)

51. A Mother's Reckoning - Sue Klebold (nonfiction)

52. James Baldwin: A Biography - David Leeming (nonfiction)

53. West with the Night - Beryl Markham (nonfiction)

54. The Getting of Wisdom - Henry Handel Richardson (fiction)

55. The Nutmeg Tree - Margery Sharp (fiction)

56. No Sweat - Michelle Segar (nonfiction)

57. Mary Olivier: A Life - May Sinclair (fiction)

58. All the Rage - Courtney Summers (fiction)

59. The Art of Discarding - Nagisa Tatsumi (nonfiction)

60. The Warmth of Other Suns - Isabel Wilkerson (nonfiction)

61. Traveling Sprinkler - Nicholson Baker (fiction) DNF. Got halfway through this short novel and had to quit. Blather.

62. Three Many Cooks - Pam Anderson, Maggy Keet, Sharon Damelio (nonfiction)

63. The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead (fiction)

64. The Sympathizer - Viet Thanh Nguyen (fiction)

65. All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr (fiction)

66. Martin Dressler - Stephen Millhauser (fiction)

67. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love - Oscar Hijuelos (fiction)

68. Elbow Room - James Alan McPherson (fiction)

69. The Optimist's Daughter - Eudora Welty (fiction)

70. The Confessions of Nat Turner - William Styron (fiction)

71. All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren (fiction)

72. Journey in the Dark - Martin Flavin (fiction)

73. In This Our Life - Ellen Glasgow (fiction)

74. Years of Grace - Margaret Barnes (fiction)

75. Scarlet Sister Mary - Julia Peterkin (fiction)

76. One of Ours - Willa Cather (fiction)

77. Mary Poppins - Travers (fiction)

78. 101 Dalmatians - Dodie Smith (fiction)

79. My Brilliant Career - Miles Franklin (fiction)

80. Ironweed - William Kennedy (fiction)

81. Hard Times - Studs Terkel (nonfiction)

82. The Group - Mary McCarthy (fiction)

83. Turtles All the Way Down - John Green (fiction)

84. Loving Robert Lowell - Author??? (nonfiction)

85. The Wine Lover's Daughter - Anne Fadiman (nonfiction)

86. Home - Marilynne Robinson (fiction)

87. A Storm of Swords - George R.R. Martin (fiction)

88. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo - Amy Schumer (nonfiction)

89. Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen (nonfiction)

90. The Letters of Sylvia Plath - Sylvia Plath (nonfiction)

91. The Forsyte Saga - John Galsworthy (fiction)

92. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning - Margareta Magnusson (nonfiction)

93. Coming To My Senses - Alice Waters (nonfiction)

94. Fasting and Feasting: The Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray - Adam Federman (nonfiction)

95. The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters - Laura Thompson (nonfiction)

96. Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell - David Yaffe (nonfiction) DNF. Found the book overwritten which seemed to distance the reader from the subject. I wish that JM had written her own memoir.

97. The Reporter Who Knew Too Much - Mark Shaw (nonfiction)

98. Home is Burning - Dan Marshall (nonfiction)

99. The Lost Art of Housecleaning - Jan Dougherty (nonfiction)

100. Pippi Longstocking - Astrid Lindgren (fiction)

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Midyear Check-In

I neglected poor Blob for the month of June, but other than that, how am I doing with reading goals? Pretty well so far. Back in January, I set a goal of 57 books. I've read 37, a nice mix of fiction and nonfiction. Some interesting reading trends. Why so much true crime?

Here they are, with brief comments when the bookworm spirit moves me:

1. Caroline: Little House Revisited (fiction) What an interesting idea; to rework Little House on the Prairie from Ma's point of view.

2. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (nonfiction) I laughed, but I felt worse after reading it.

3. Rotten Ralph (children's literature) For me, Ralph is Everycat.

4. The Great Influenza (nonfiction) One of my more challenging reads this year.

5. The Cooler King (nonfiction)

6. The Girls in the Picture (fiction) I love me some Old Hollywood.

7. Off the Cliff (nonfiction) I want to know everything, everything about Thelma & Louise. Does that make me weird?

DNF: Reckless Daughter (biography) The writing style achieved the opposite effect and put Joni Mitchell at a remove. I reluctantly and regretfully took this one back to the library.

8. Our Souls at Night (fiction) This one hit closer to home than I expected. Age and illness get us all in the end, but even knowing that, we should vigorously pursue life. And damn the neighbors.

9. Pachinko (fiction) One of my favorites. I looked forward to reading this multigenerational family saga of Koreans living in Japan and I was not disappointed.

10. Swearing Is Good for You (nonfiction) I was really f@#%ing bored.

11. Ten Days in a Mad-House (nonfiction) Nellie Bly was a cool customer. This one's old, but in no way has it aged or lost its savor.

12. Helter Skelter (nonfiction) Unpleasant, but rewarding. I'm glad I finally read this true crime classic.

13. The Six: The Lives of The Mitford Girls (nonfiction) An ardent portrait of a family that I'm glad I had the opportunity to finally learn about. A fun and absorbing read.

14. The Warmth of Other Suns (nonfiction) Everyone should read this book about the Great Migration in which African-Americans fled the South, but skip the last chapter in which author Isabel Wilkerson defends her research and writing choices. She didn't have to! The book is brilliant!

15. The Getting of Wisdom (fiction) An Australian classic from 1910. A coming-of-age story. Laura -- oh God, you just cringe for her!

16. The Stranger in the Woods (nonfiction) The story of the "hermit" who alternately annoyed and terrorized campers in rural Maine for almost three decades. Well-written and researched. Really enjoyed this one.

17. Turtles All the Way Down (fiction) John Green's latest didn't exactly thrill me, but I was interested in the OCD aspects of the book.

18. Pippi Longstocking (fiction) I was surprised at how much I remembered of this Swedish children's classic. Loved it just as much as when I was nine.

19. World Enough and Time (fiction) Based on the real life "Kentucky Tragedy" of the 1830s. A long read, but the writing is gorgeous, even when Robert Penn Warren fell into melodrama and couldn't get up. One of my favorites for the year.

DNF Traveling Sprinkler (fiction) What a bunch of disjointed blather. I was terribly disappointed. Nicholson Baker is capable of so much better.

20. In This Our Life (fiction) One of my Pulitzer fiction reads. I didn't like it at all. There would be a bit of dialogue, then after that, the character would go into his or her head for about a page, then someone would speak, and then muse about what he or she had just said. It was torture.

21. Not My Father's Son (memoir) Alan Cumming is not only a good actor, he can flat write. A favorite read.

22. October, 1964 (nonfiction) I loved the story of the Cardinals and the Yankees as they met up for the World Series.

23. Life Plus 99 Years (memoir) A self-serving piece of crap by Nathan Leopold (as in Leopold and Loeb). Definitely shaped with more than one eye on the parole board. There is also a preface by Erle Stanley Gardner, the author of the Perry Mason mysteries, arguing for Leopold's release!

24. Compulsion (fiction) The lightly fictionalized version of events in the Leopold and Loeb case. Much better writing than Life Plus 99 Years. Quite psychological. I was reminded of another fictional take on a real crime, An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser.

25. The Crime of the Century: The Leopold & Loeb Case (nonfiction) A straightforward telling of events.

26. The Teammates (nonfiction) A deceptively simple story of three teammates going to visit a fourth, who is dying, but David Halberstam has an eye for the color, as gold prospectors say.

27. Less (fiction) This year's Pulitzer winner. I didn't think I'd love it -- was still smarting about Lincoln in the Bardo -- but I actually did.

28. Wishful Drinking (memoir) I really miss Carrie Fisher.

29. Bust Hell Wide Open: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest (nonfiction) A striking portrait and vigorous defense of the famous Confederate general.

30. Woe To Live On (fiction) I finally FINALLY got this novel read! Set in Missouri, there were many towns referenced that are right around here. Gorgeous prose. The last lines are so beautiful and heartbreaking, I didn't know what to do. I finally took a picture of the page with my phone.

31. Destiny of the Republic (nonfiction) The true story of how James A. Garfield was assassinated by a madman (also his story), but Garfield's doctors were the real killers. Excellent pacing. This book is so good. Go out and read it right now.  No, seriously. NOW.

32. The Optimist's Daughter (fiction) This short novel, a Pulitzer winner from the early 1970s, reminded me of Anne Tyler, but much more muted.

33. Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer, 1953 (nonfiction) Details the real-life events depicted in the first half of The Bell Jar. Through interviews with the other guest editors of Mademoiselle, the reader sees the vibrant girl who loved fashion and Dylan Thomas before she became trapped in her own dark legend. This book had a strange effect on me. I went out and bought Plath's favorite lipstick shade, Cherries in the Snow by Revlon. Can't believe it's still available!

34. Calypso (essays) David Sedaris's latest. The title essay is already on its way to being a classic. I laughed so much at it, I broke out into a sweat with rivulets and everything. David's father's aging and his sister Tiffany's suicide darken the prose, and I hate it when Hugh and David argue. Somehow, it feels like mom and dad fighting. Still, I didn't want the book to end. I will be reading it again this year. Join me.

35. Birthday Letters (poetry) I'm still reading the monster-sized Letters of Sylvia Plath Vol. I, and I was trying to enlarge my focus, or something like that. I recognized that many of the poems, written by Ted Hughes and addressed (most of them) to Plath riff off of the poems in Ariel. Although some of them are like candid snapshots. He even mentions the red lipstick.

36. In Cold Blood (fiction? nonfiction?) I never know how to categorize Capote's book. Still the gold standard of true crime writing. Horrific events + Capote's delicate prose = an unsettling experience.

37. No Ordinary Time (nonfiction) A beautiful and sympathetic portrait of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during WWII.  I audiobooked this one. It was slightly abridged, which was annoying, but the late Edward Herrmann was reading, which was everything.

I just counted, and I believe that my nonfiction reading is ahead of my fiction reading. Unusual.

Next post: Not done with my midyear reflections. I'm going to take a look at my 100 Book Resolution and see if I've stuck to it and if I've put any sort of dent into it.

Friday, May 25, 2018

If The Book Isn't There, I'm Not There

Where am I? Doesn't matter; I've got a book on the go. Here's what with me right now:

At home:

The Collected Letters of Sylvia Plath - Sylvia Plath. This one doesn't get much farther than the patio because it's heavy. 1400 + pages. Four-and-a-half pounds. Not easy to read in bed or in the recliner. My best spot is at a desk or table where I can lay the book. I've had it for a little over a week and it's already showing signs of wear and tear...well, not tear. More like splash from a frozen strawberry lemonade. As for the contents, it's fascinating to read Plath unedited. Even the seemingly minor details.

A Book of American Martyrs - Joyce Carol Oates.  I've only just started this book. I keep it on the table in the kitchen, reading bits while waiting for coffee to brew or toast to pop up.

In my purse:

My Kindle. I started Tess of the D'urbervilles, but I'm stalled. I think it's because I know I'm going to be furious with all the men in Tess's life.

A paperback copy of The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty.  Of course there must be a paper book if something were to go wrong with the Kindle, right? I had to find a skinny book. My new purse is a lovely gift from my mom, but it is narrow at the opening and widens towards the bottom. It's a triangle! Not the best shape for toting books around, but that makes me more creative about finding my reads.

In the car:

My current audio book, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard. I like to find errands to run unaccompanied so I can enjoy listening to this book. The narrator, Paul Michael, is particularly good. He has a firm, resonant Midwestern timbre for the fated James A. Garfield, a fine, peppery Scottish accent for the restless genius inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, and a flat, whiny Snidely Whiplash tone for Charles Guiteau, Garfield's assassin who was both a master manipulator and batshit crazy. Author Millard has structured a compelling narrative within an elegant prose style that feels scholarly but doesn't feel overstuffed with research.

For future audio encounters, I'm hoping the new Stephen King book, The Outsider, as well as David Sedaris's newest Calypso, will be journeying back and forth to the grocery store with me soon.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

RIP Mr. Roth

I thought Philip Roth would keep writing and living forever. He had an intensity for me that other writers didn't, even though I liked most of them much better. Philip Roth gave me an uneasy feeling that crept into my dreams. Here's an example from back in 2009:

My Strange Philip Roth Dream

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

My Semi-Detatched Readathon

I was all ready for the 24 hour Readathon last Saturday.


The Teammates - David Halberstam

Less - Sean Andrew Greer

Bust Hell Wide Open - Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr.

The Crime of the Century - Hal Higdon


Big soft pretzel with cheese

Toffee bar with pecans



Coca-Cola with lime, extra ice

But...yeah. I couldn't get away for any meaningful length of time. Clearly, my Saturdays are not my own anymore.

What a showing. A few minutes here and there. A few pages, a couple of quick tweets. Maybe a total of fifty pages. Some of the snacks didn't get into my belly until it was all over.

Damn it, I want my Readathons back! I used to read 3-4 books per Readathon, and posted my progress for nearly every hour. My snacks were a thing of joy and beauty forever.

24 hours of reading is such a small thing to want. A tiny indulgence. For the uninitiated, it's a ludicrous thing; I understand that. I love it and I miss it. On some level, I even need it. At this point, I would even settle for a half-marathon.

I tried to be brave on Twitter and put a good face on it, but I feel thwarted.

Thwarted. Think about the sound of that word. It's an arrow released from the bow that misses the mark and lands somewhere in Hell's half-acre.

I'll go now and try to gather my hopes for October.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

What I Talk About When I Talk About Reading

I tried several times, but couldn't get this post off the ground. After a great deal of cursing and sweating, I decided to ask myself questions.

Did you notice that you were wrong again with your Pulitzer Fiction prediction?
Yes. There needs to be a new word for my level of perennial wrongness; it's truly breathtaking.

How do you feel about how it all shook out this year?
After my initial surprise, I hied myself down to the bookstore to order a copy of Less for my permanent Pulitzer shelf as well as my immediate future reading enjoyment. Can't wait to read it!

How about that biography winner?!
GASP!  Prairie Fires! I was completely delighted, and my joy was compounded upon realizing that I own a hardcover first edition. When I first read the book, I was struck by the brilliance of the research, construction and writing. There was not a wasted page; the editing is top-notch as well. I'll be reading Prairie Fires again soon and pestering my fellow bookworms to follow my good example. So glad the enigmatic Pulitzer committee saw things as I did.

Have you read any Pulitzer fiction winners lately?
Aaargh. I read the 1942 winner, In This Our Life. Not my favorite. I had high expectations because I loved the movie version starring Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland. This was a case of Hollywood improving on a book. The screenwriter took this bloated, analytical novel and using some sort of alchemy, got it in fighting trim. I understand why it may have won the Pulitzer, but it's aged badly.

What are you reading now?
A couple of weeks ago, I found a copy of Life Plus 99 Years by Nathan F. Leopold (of Leopold and Loeb infamy). Although it was an autobiography/memoir, the book seemed evasive. Dishonesty fairly oozed out of the prose. Of course it was written about the time Leopold became eligible for parole (Loeb was murdered about ten years after the pair went to prison), so he was writing with one eye on  a specific audience, casting himself in the best possible light. In the book, Leopold wrote about a visit from author Meyer Levin and Levin's plans to write a novel based on the murder case. Leopold went on to discuss the result, Compulsion (1956) in scathing terms. It was the only time in Life Plus 99 Years that his carefully constructed mask seemed to come off. Of course I had to read Compulsion, which is creepily good in that In Cold Blood sort of way although Meyer Levin lacks Truman Capote's delicate touch with the written word. I also checked out a detailed nonfiction account titled The Crime of the Century.

Do you plan to have fun, fun, fun! at the Readathon?
Yes! I'm so tired of missing the Readathon allllllll the time since I moved back to the United States. Plopping myself down somewhere reader-friendly next Saturday, I shall refuse to be moved. Unruly Reader is helping me to start out in fine style; she gifted me a copy of The Teammates by David Halberstam. I'll do an update or two here on Blob, but I'll mostly be doing quick check-ins on Twitter @susanandbooks and at Goodreads where I'm SusanInSedalia. I'll devote this week to figuring out the rest of my stack and snacks. Any suggestions?

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Pulitzer Prediction: Best of 2017 Fiction?

Tomorrow is Pulitzer Day, and as usual, I'm all a-flutter. Got that ceremonial feeling. Where's my evening gown and long white gloves? Where's my tiara? If I turn up the couch cushions, is there enough money for a trip to the beauty salon?

There's a spot on my Pulitzer fiction shelf carved out for the 2017 winner. What will it be? I have no idea. Actually, I never have any idea. That's what makes this so fun; the anticipation is heightened.

My prediction? For months, I've been staunchly backing Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. I don't know how it comes across on the page -- if it could wow the enigmatic committee -- but as an audiobook, it knocked me out. I cried while listening to the book (which was awkward, because I listen to my audiobooks in the car) then I cried again while describing the book to a friend while we were at the drive-in. He passed me tissues and onion rings and looked alarmed. Thinking back, I sort of  feel like weeping again, so Lincoln in the Bardo...yes, please, please, please.

That being said, there are a couple of other strong contenders. If the following books won, I not only could smile bravely, I could unreservedly feel pleased for them:

Pachinko - Min Jin Lee. I absolutely lost myself in this multi-generational family saga of Koreans struggling to make a good life in Japan. I have a copy of this excellent novel and would be proud to move it to the place of honor on my bookshelf.

A Book of American Martyrs - Joyce Carol Oates. In this case, I'm thinking more of JCO than her novel based on the abortion divide in America. I wish that she could lose her bridesmaid status regarding the Pulitzer fiction prize. She should have won for Black Water back in the early 1990s. Maybe 2018 is her year.

Twenty-four-and-a-half hours until announcements are made. I can hardly wait.