Sunday, May 10, 2020

Comfort Reading

I'm experiencing a lot of reading cycles during this time.

First, "Fuckedupness". I wanted anything new and fresh to read, and if it had a twisted element, so much the better.

Next came the "Good Girl" phase. I strove to be diligent and finish the TBR stack on my coffee table. This is how the month of April went.

Now it is May. After hitting a brief (but they never feel brief, do they??? They feel like endless falling on jagged rocks!) slump, I am in a phase that I'm surprised didn't show up earlier: Comfort Reading.

Yes, it's true. I'm reading my 20-year-old yellowed, taped copy of The Complete Tightwad Gazette once again. Amy Dacyczyn would be proud that I haven't replaced it.

Although some of the advice is obsolete, and much doesn't pertain to my life anymore, I can't tell you how good it makes me feel to dive back in and revisit these pages: Bread crumb cookies! Refrigerator stew! Tightwad courtship! Dumpster diving! Jamie's plum-colored boots!

Before she became famous for frugality, Amy Dacyczyn was a graphic designer. Every page still looks great. I love her illustrations. I sort of had a crush on her husband and (literal) tightwad-in-arms, Jim, because let's face it: the way Amy drew him, Jim was a snack.

I don't know how long I'll be in the Comfort Reading stage, but I'm obviously having a good time.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

April, 2020. Fourth Month, Four Books

O, my fellow bookworms. I am compelled to tell you about my dreams. For a couple of nights, people were working on books in my R.E.M. state. In the first dream, the pandemic was finished, and Mario and Chris Cuomo decided to co-author a book. For some reason, they were still in Chris Cuomo's basement.

The next night, I dreamed that Alex Trebek and his wife, Jean, had moved to a seaside village in South Korea, and Alex was working on a book. What makes the second dream feel very Squeeeee! and I clairvoyant? is that a couple of days after my dream, Alex Trebek announced that he'd written a book which will be published in July of this year.

Since then, I've been trying to think before bed who I'd really like to write a book, but nothing has come of it in spite of my dogged planning. Isn't that the way it always goes?

During my waking hours, these are the four books I finished in April:

1. The Mirror & The Light - Hilary Mantel. The 16th century is so far back in time, but Mantel makes it feel so current, maybe even more than she intended. Real life seemed to explode on the page: Henry VIII reminded me of a prominent political figure. The plague was a constant threat. Someone sent Thomas Cromwell a leopard. As in the first two books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, I admire how Mantel seems to get completely into Cromwell's brain. It's not just what he thinks in response to others (although these internal musings are often funny) but also the elaborate machinations. Keeping all those balls in the air at the same time took so much concentration that he underestimated his enemies. Cromwell's sudden downfall and last days are difficult reading. Mantel's trilogy ranks up there with my favorite historical fiction.

2. Who Was Nikola Tesla? - Jim Gigliotti. Much to my surprise, this turned out to be my favorite in the Who was...? series so far. So well-written. A terrific balance of the inventor's accomplishments and eccentricities.

3. Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer - Carol Sklenicka. The author of this biography also wrote the Raymond Carver one, which was published back in 2009. Both are first-rate. I had a wrong idea about Alice Adams as a writer. I thought she was frothy and shallow and snooty, and avoided reading her work. I feel terrible about that now. She was none of those things, and passionately dedicated to her craft. I put all of her novels on my wishlist. Thanks so much to Carol Sklenicka for a beautiful and perceptive portrait.

4. Janis: Her Life and Music - Holly George-Warren. This biography of Janis Joplin was so enjoyable, so readable! Yes, Joplin was a hellraiser and took a lot of drugs and drank a lot of Southern Comfort, but George-Warren also documents how Joplin was ambitious about her music career. She emerges as having been ahead of her time. All biographers have themes. Sometimes they work and sometimes they choke the narrative, but Holly George-Warren chose hers with an expert eye. I recommend this biography wholeheartedly.

Speaking of biographies, did you see that Benjamin Moser's biography of Susan Sontag won the Pulitzer Prize in that category? I squealed like a fangirl.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Bybee's Endless Wishlist: April, 2020

I bought this blank journal back in 2009, thinking that it would be the next volume of What I've Read, but somehow, it became my Wishlist.

 (Somehow = I was going through a lofty, pretentious cycle, and suddenly, nothing would do for recording my reading posterity but a Moleskine journal.)

Wishlist is a great journal. The cover is black pleather, embossed with hieroglyphics.The endpapers resemble the cover. It's comforting just to hold it in my hand and rhythmically trace my fingers across the cover, so it shouldn't be a surprise that I've been holding it in my hand a lot more lately and filling its pages with titles I hope to read one day. Filling and filling and FILLING! Because I didn't buy/check out a single book this month! All that habit, all that longing went into an endless wishlist.

In no particular order, here is the list for April, 2020. Sometimes I made little notes to myself:

Miles Franklin biography. Author: ? (Saw at Seattle Public Library. Standing next to farting woman.)

Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood - Jennifer Traig.

A Journal of the Plague Year - Daniel Defoe.

Anna Kavan Books:
A Charmed Circle (1929)
Let Me Alone (1930)
The Dark Sisters (1930)
A Stranger Still (1935)
Asylum Piece (1940)
Change the Name ((1941)
I am Lazarus (1945)
Sleep Has His House AKA The House of Sleep (1947)
The Horse's Tale (1949)
A Scarcity of Love (1956)
Eagle's Nest (1957)
A Bright Green Field and Other Stories (1958)
Who Are You? (1963)
Ice (1967)
Julia and the Bazooka (1970) Published posthumously.

A Stranger on Earth: The Life and Work of Anna Kavan - Jeremy Reed. (biography)

Books by Patricia Bosworth:
Montgomery Clift: A Biography
Anything Your Little Heart Desires: An American Family Story (memoir)
The Men in My Life: Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan (memoir) Oh God...where is my time machine?

Lincoln on the Verge (nonfiction) Ted Widmer.

Redhead By the Side of the Road - Anne Tyler. 

The Plague - Albert Camus

Alex Trebek memoir (July, 2020)

Pale Horse, Pale Rider (novella) Katherine Anne Porter. (Takes place during the 1918 pandemic!)

A Face Like Yours (novel) -Frances Cha- (Takes place in South Korea)

Novels by women published in the 1930s:
Not So Quiet - Helen Zenna Smith. 1930. Novel about WWI female ambulance drivers.
The Shutter of Snow (1930) -Emily Holmes Coleman. (A woman spends time in a mental hospital after the birth of her baby)
Women Against Men (trio of novellas) (1933) -Storm Jameson-
Novel on Yellow Paper - Stevie Smith (1936)
South Riding - Winifred Holtby (1936)
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (1937) -Winifred Watson-

If It Bleeds -Stephen King

Alice Adams Novels:
Careless Love AKA The Fall of Daisy Duke (1966)
Families and Survivors (1974)
Listening to Billie (1978)
Rich Rewards (1980)
Superior Women (1984)
Second Chances (1988)
Caroline's Daughters (1991)
Almost Perfect (1993)
A Southern Exposure (1995)
Medicine Men (1997)
After the War (2000) (posthumously published)

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 (novel) - Cho Nam-Joo

Guts (memoir) - Kristen Johnson (Tammy on Mom)

I'm Your Huckleberry (memoir) -Val Kilmer

Old Lovegood Girls (novel) -Gail Godwin-

My Sister, The Serial Killer -Oyinkan Braithwaite- (novel)

Year of Wonders (novel) - Geraldine Brooks- (Plague Novel. 1688?)

Ecstasy & Me: My Life as a Woman (memoir) - Hedy LaMarr -

The King of Confidence (nonfiction) - Miles Harvey (James Strang, Mormon sect leader 1840s?)

The Betrayal of the Duchess (nonfiction) -Maurice Samuels

Charles Jackson biography by Blake Bailey: Farther and Wilder

Home Work - Julie Andrews (memoir)

My Dark Vanessa (novel) Author ???

Ducks, Newburyport (novel) - Lucy Ellmann (keep an eye on Care's progress reports)

Kopp Sisters series (novels) - Amy Stewart-

LBJ - Caro

 An odd and interesting list. Maybe a little demented. You can see patterns in the old bookworm brain. I sent my spawn the photos and he wrote back: "Is this your Mothers' Day gift list?"

Next post: What I read in April.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

March 2020: Worrying and Reading

I don't know what to make of these days. I've had three coronavirus dreams in the past week, so I obviously puzzle over it awake and asleep.

The book I read two years ago, The Great Influenza by John M. Barry seemed so fresh in my mind when the news about a possible epidemic started appearing in January. I remember I read the book because it was the 100th anniversary of what was the 1918 flu pandemic. It was a difficult but rewarding read. In these past few weeks, I've never been so glad to have read a book, because I felt it gave me a bit of warning/preparation.

Although I've been worried, (and on one particular evening, downright panicked), I also have felt grounded and secure in knowledge, thanks to Barry's book. This grounding has been a source of comfort in a time when all kinds of confusing information and indifference and even derision have been swirling around everywhere, and especially while I was being styled as a worrywart and a killjoy through February and March. That last (long-winded!) sentence might strike you as full of anger, and you'd be right.

 I have to admit that I have sometimes let myself wonder if this was my grief and anxiety of the past year somehow made palpable. Something about all of this brings out my dark, superstitious side, something severe and medieval. Is it the cognitive dissonance? In this age of advanced technology, we seem to be flailing; we don't have all the answers; we have to resort to ancient methods like social distancing and self-isolation to cope.

This seems gloomy, but I also know I've got reasons to be thankful. I've been talking more often with that bookworm I made (with the assistance of another bookworm) back in 1984. During his time off, he's been binge-reading books from the Who Was...? series. I also feel as if imminent catastrophe has reawakened--jolted awake -- part of my brain, and I'll be damned. It still works. In addition, I was grappling with an issue, and circumstances have provided a much-welcomed hard reset. There's coffee and books and book bloggers, most of them going through the same thing, so I'm still connected to my bookworm universe, perhaps even more tightly and significantly than ever.

Would it be weird to be thankful for Tiger King? My brain seems to crave and fully respond to fuckedupness that isn't a virus. I first noticed this response in some of my reading for March.

Only three books for the month! I'm having trouble concentrating. Other people are falling into books to escape, and reading more than ever. Which one are you?

1. Updike - Adam Begley. (biography)  Not just a biography, a literary biography, and best of all, footnotes on practically every page! Nice balance between the life and the work, and he's not too reverential. It made me want to reread the Rabbit Angstrom books. I'm totally in love with Adam Begley's style as a biographer. Excited to have discovered him. I can't wait to read his recent tome about Harry Houdini. Happy with myself for finding Updike for one dollar at Dollar Tree, but peeved that I put it away for almost two years.

2. Who Was...Jesse Owens? - James Buckley, Jr. (biography) The only thing I knew about Jesse Owens was that he competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and his stellar performance made Adolf Hitler eat his words about the superiority of white people. James Buckley, Jr. does a great job of filling in the gaps. When discussing Jesse's family's move to Ohio when he was a child, I was pleased to see a sidebar about The Great Migration. He lived a varied and full life after the Olympics, and Buckley doesn't shy away from discussing controversy where Owens is concerned. The Who Was...? series is substantial, satisfying reading because the authors don't write down to their younger audience. They might have to downplay some of the particulars to keep things G-rated, but they tackle difficult or complex topics honestly.

3. Darling Rose Gold - Stephanie Wrobel (novel) I can't say enough positive things about this compact psychological thriller debut novel. Wrobel uses the case of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her mother as a jumping-off point, then gives the facts a neat little twist. It's darkly funny and well-told. Got enjoyable whiffs of Shirley Jackson, Patricia Highsmith, Gillian Flynn. I loved everything, even the acknowledgments. The cover is stunning. I devoured Darling Rose Gold in a couple of sittings. Could not put it down. An excellent distraction (see above comments about Tiger King). I hope it's not too long before Wrobel's follow-up novel.

I've also been working my way through The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel for several weeks, and while I am finding it entertaining, the multiple characters and machinations and the sometimes opaque writing style don't always lend themselves to my current state of mind. Still, I'm hoping to finish this book in a few days. I almost said 'by the weekend', but really. What's the difference anymore?

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

You're Sixteen, You're Beautiful, & You're Mine

Happy 16th birthday, Blob!

I know. Every year, I'm WOW and WOW again, but this number feels significant. Puts me in the mood for reminiscing:

So there I was back in 2004, not waving, but reading. I was at a crossroads. Life was interesting. No, it was frustrating. When I wasn't reading madly to escape, I self-soothed in other ways, mostly spending hours online with a group whose focus was tips on saving money. Penny-pinching.

Somewhere in with all the advice about home canning and dryer lint from these Amy D wannabes, someone mentioned blogs. What's that? What a funny word. It sounded like a body function, like fart or burp.

A blog, the person went on to explain, was a web log.  A weblog. An online room of one's own in which you could write about anything you liked. An online diary, of sorts. It could be public where anyone in the world could see it, or it could be set to private, and no one would ever see it but you. And yes, penny-pinchers, it was FREE.

I was all in, and a blog was born. Right away, I decided mine would be all about books. Soon after, I found out that you could author as many blogs as you liked, so I began one about earworms that quickly died after a post or two. I still often wonder how the earworm one would have shape-shifted if I'd stuck with it.

I set myself one rule: Every single blog entry must have something to do with books. Life might intrude, but books had to be present, if only in a peripheral glimpse. I think I've only broken that rule once or twice. I should have set more rules, because sometimes, I got unbearably pretentious. Lofty. Snobby, even. But I think it's all balanced out. After all, how far up in the air can your nose stay when your mother refers to your form of literary pursuit as "blobbing"?  She, like me, obviously picked up on the sound of the word.  But it was all in good nature and affection. In phone calls, after asking about my life, my week, my kid, my job, she would then say: "So how's Blob?" "Oh, fine." And Blob it was and Blob it is. A little lopsided, but always aspiring to bookwormy goodness.

Thanks to Blob, I've met so many wonderful bookworms. We've traded recommendations and actual books. We've inspired each other with reading challenges. One year, I signed up for seven! Whew. I was giddy.

So Blob, have another piece of birthday cake; we're sticking around for another year. Thank you to my book blogging friends for making me a better and more thoughtful reader, and although she'll probably never see this, my ardent thanks to that long-ago penny-pinching person who described what blogs were so succinctly. 

Thursday, March 05, 2020

The Snob Questionnaire

I found this snob questionnaire on BookTube, where I like to lurk. Yes, lurk, because I will never have the b-- the nerve to do my own videos. Even if I were talking about books! Even if I do sound just like Sarah Vowell! (I've been told) No, just no. Shudder.

But I do like these questions, though!  I'm always grappling with my own snobbish tendencies and I have an Inner Bookworm Snob who will never be happy until pillow shams are replaced with Henry James novels. So here we go:

1. ADAPTATION SNOB: Do you always read the book before you see the movie?

No, not always. Usually. It's about a 70%-30% thing with me. Examples of movies I saw first include Fight Club, The Green Mile, and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

2. FORMAT SNOB: You can only choose one format in which to read books for the rest of your life. Which do you choose: physical books, ebooks, or audiobooks? 

I enjoy all the formats, but physical pleases me the most of all. I love the way the actual book feels in my hand, (even the chunky mass market paperbacks) I like being able to turn back and forth quickly if I need to re-familiarize myself about a character's relation to other characters or a salient plot point, I enjoy seeing my progress measured by the bookmark, and oh yes! Bookmarks!

3. SHIP SNOB: Would you date or marry a non-reader?

Hell no! My past relationships have mostly been dumpster fires of varying degree, but these gentle people possessed and enjoyed some sort of personal library.

4. GENRE SNOB: You have to ditch one genre -- never to be read again for the rest of your life. Which one do you ditch?

I could live with seeing science fiction in my rearview mirror.

5. UBER GENRE SNOB: You can only choose to read from one genre for the rest of your life. Which one do you choose?

Now I'm really starting to chafe from the confines of this list! I'm pretty sure I would choose biography/memoir, but I also love novels. In fact, the book in my high-beam TBR headlights right now is The Mirror and The Light by Hilary Mantel. But if I truly have to get all Quarterflash and harden my heart, biography/memoir wins.

6. COMMUNITY SNOB: Which genre do you think receives the most snobbery from the bookish community?

I'm guessing that romance doesn't get a lot of respect because the snobbery is rooted in misogyny. Although I'm not a big fan, I hope this is changing.

7. SNOBBERY RECIPIENT: Have you ever been snubbed for something that you have been reading, or for reading in general?

Back in the 1980s, I expressed my enthusiasm and admiration for Shiloh and Other Stories by Bobbie Ann Mason, and was told by an older male in my book group that the book was crap, it had no redeeming message and the characterization was horrible. I weakly responded that the book felt real. The person doubled down on his original message, and I went "But...but --" before bursting into tears. The gentleman quit the book group in a huff a few months later because we wouldn't pick the book of his choosing, which was The Sunlight Dialogues by John Gardner. To this day, I frown at it when I see it on some library shelf. Sometimes I add a derisive sniff to the frown.

As for the second half of the question, I have gotten the withering "nose in a book" comment more than I care to remember. Damn right it's in a book! Where's your nose???

Well, that was fun. What's your SQ? What's your forever genre?

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

February, 2020 Reading: A Nice Mix

I always make a preliminary sketch in my mind of what my reading month will look like, and guess what? The end-of-the-month sketch hardly ever matches up! It's like drawing a picture of Brad Pitt and coming up with Laurel and Hardy. Of course I can't complain; I had a great reading month. Not as many books as I had hoped -- and I always hope for 10+ a mostly futile hope -- but a nice mix. Nothing I disliked or DNFed, which is always a bonus.

1. Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell. I think this may be my favorite Gladwell book so far. Gladwell takes a close look at people who became supremely successful in their fields. Are they one-of-a-kind special cases that sprang from nowhere? Gladwell investigates and finds that along the way, there were people and circumstances that helped these people achieve their zenith. It doesn't happen in a vaccuum. For example, with hockey players, the earlier you're born in the year, the better your chances are of ascending to the NHL. The Beatles played eight hour gigs night after night in Hamburg, providing them with the now-familiar 10,000 hours of practice to become experts. Same with Bill Gates. He went to an affluent high school with an involved PTA who bought computers, and he had the opportunity to spend thousands of hours getting to know them. What about Asians being better at math? Does it all go back to rice farming? And how is rice farming different that the farming generally done in the United States? And how does that impact our education system? A fun read. My brain always feels pleasantly hopped up after an outing with Malcolm Gladwell. I'm sorry it took me so long to discover him.

2. Me - Elton John. This is everything a memoir should be: Warm, gossipy, honest, funny, slightly self-deprecating. Also, I could actually hear Elton John's voice in my mind's ear. I'd been looking forward to reading Me for months, and it was such a treat. If I were to rank my reads for February, this would be number one.

3. LaRose - Louise Erdrich. I'm not sure and I'd have to look back through almost 30 years of keeping records of what I've read, but I think this is the first book I've read by Louise Erdrich. The novel begins with a tragedy that impacts two families, one family's attempt at atonement, and the ways they move through their grief. Erdrich's prose is as clear and clean as water. Her writing is heavily character-driven, which I love, but sometimes, LaRose seemed overly people-y; I had to turn back to earlier passages to remind myself about who this character was and how they were related to the main characters. Adding to my enjoyment, there was one section featuring the two male protagonists that reminded me of Raymond Carver. It took a while, but I'm now a Louise Erdrich fan. Looking forward to reading more of her novels. Many thanks to Unruly Reader for sending LaRose my way.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee. I revisited the classic novel for the first time since 9th grade English class, and it was like reading a whole new book. I honestly did not remember huge sections. This is probably because of the amount of time elapsed, and also because as a 14-year-old, I wouldn't have had as much background knowledge (don't educators refer to this as scaffolding?) to retain relevant and sometimes subtle interactions. Also, multiple viewings of the 1962 movie probably took its place. It's one of those circumstances in which I'm okay with that.

5. Patti LuPone: A Memoir - Patti LuPone. I enjoyed this book in much the same way I enjoyed Me. Patti LuPone is delightful. She makes you feel as exhilarated and exhausted as she is during the run of a musical. She's delightful (oops, already said that. oh well, it's true!) and bitchy and not at all shy about settling scores. She's definitely earned that privilege. I would welcome a second volume updated to include the musical War Paint, in which Christine Ebersole as Elizabeth Arden faces off against Patti LuPone's Helena Rubinstein.