Sunday, July 17, 2016

Nothing But Hamilton

Here I am at mid-month, awash in Hamiltonia.

 Although I've been working on Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton since May 15, I didn't really catch fire till now when I finally got the soundtrack to the musical and in very quick succession, Hamilton: The Revolution, the libretto by Lin-Manuel Miranda chock-full of his thoroughly entertaining, slightly nerdy notes. I polished it off like candy or potato chips. Delicious. The soundtrack is in constant rotation on my devices and in my brain.

Taking a deep breath, I jettisoned some of my reads, returning the Dylan Thomas and Hildegard Knef biographies to the library. I've cleared the decks, and it's nothing but Alexander Hamilton's biography until I'm finished. I'm at 41% now, and I should be done by the end of this month. Bet you ten bucks.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Six On The Go?

Sometimes, I can't get into a reading groove, and I wander from book to book to book. This is one of those times. Blame it on my swoony malaise...malaise-y swoon? after reading Encounter with an Angry God.  I've fallen and I can't get up; I'm in the middle of six books:

1. Hamilton - Ron Chernow. I'm 33% in after nearly two months, but that will change. I'm listening to the Broadway musical, and the spark has been reignited. I'm eager to jump back in and finish. No quitting this one because I'm not throwing away my shot! I am not throwing away my shot!

2. Villette - Charlotte Bronte. I'm about 21% into this audiobook after a couple of months. Not terribly compelled. This is going to be all about grit and discipline. I want to finish. I want Bronte bragging rights.

3. Triptych - Joyce Cary. This book consists of three short interconnected novels: Herself Surprised, To Be A Pilgrim and The Horse's Mouth. I read two of them nearly 30 years ago, but don't remember much. Right now, I'm in the first few pages of Herself Surprised, and it's pretty sprightly, but I'm having trouble getting back to it.

4. The Fireman - Joe Hill. I'm reading this with Care and a cast of favorite book bloggers as part of the #FiremanAlong. I'm halfway through; the excitement is carrying me along. I guess you could say I'm on fire.

5. Dylan Thomas: A New Life - Andrew Lycett. I've been reading and reading and Dylan is only just 20 years old and seems more like a snot-nosed adolescent than a great poet in the making, but I know he is a fledgling genius, so I'm waiting patiently. I did page through all the photos and skip to the index to see if that anecdote about Shirley Jackson is in there. It is. Hope I haven't spoilered anything.

6. The Gift Horse - Hildegard Knef.  Hildegard Knef was a German film actress who appeared in a couple of American films as Hildegard Neff. This memoir (1970) seems to be about growing up and getting into acting during Hitler's regime. I'm reading a library copy. I am not sure what attracted me to the book; it just beckoned to me during one of my romps in the biography section. Perhaps I first read about it on the Neglected Books blog.

Anyway, six books. Yikes.

What's the most you've had on the go at one time?

Friday, July 01, 2016

June, 2016 Reading

Six books again this month, and only one of them didn't resonate with me. As far as richness in reading goes, I feel amply rewarded for June.

1. Crossing to Safety - Wallace Stegner. (novel) As far as Stegner's novels go, nothing can equal my wild affection for The Big Rock Candy Mountain or Angle of Repose, but this story of the friendship of two couples over three decades is right up there. There are so many mistakes Stegner could have made with this story, but he didn't, and he drops into the novel through his POV narrator to explain this, and it works, it really works.

2. Brooklyn - Colm Toibin. (novel) Eilis can't find anything but crap jobs in Ireland in the 1950s, so her older sister and a priest living in New York who is a family friend arranges for her to emigrate to Brooklyn and study accounting. Along the way, she falls in love with Tony, an Italian plumber. Everything is going well until she receives unexpected news from Ireland. Eilis seems to react passively to everything happening to her, but Colm Toibin has got her POV down perfectly because she is a bookkeeper, an accountant. She takes everything in and tots it up and figures out which column it goes in. Then she acts or reacts. It is a quiet sort of novel, but very honest. When I first read Brooklyn, I thought, "Oh is that all?" but as the days passed, it really sank in for me, and I find myself almost a month later recalling scenes and thinking about the characters.

3. A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy - William B. Irvine. (nonfiction) My life has changed a great deal since early 2015, and I'll be truthful and admit that I haven't enjoyed all the changes. My attitude often needs a kick in the pants. This book appeared to me at exactly the right time. Stoic philosophy flies in the face of nearly everything modern, but I can't think of anyone who wouldn't benefit from a dose. Irvine beautifully explains the roots of stoicism, how the ancients put it into practice and how we can apply it to our lives. Most helpful to me has been negative visualization and managing my worry by performing "triage" on the things I can and cannot control.

4. Never Tell A Lie - Hallie Ephron. (novel) This thriller about a pregnant woman whose husband is suspected in the disappearance of an old school friend of theirs was less than thrilling for me. Everything felt farfetched and soap-opera-ish.

5. Encounter with an Angry God - Carobeth Laird. (memoir) THIS O THIS. Back in the nineteen-tens and early 1920s, Carobeth Laird was married to legendary ethnographer John Peabody Harrington for seven years. Although he was doing brilliant work in the field, studying nearly-extinct Native American languages, he was more than somewhat challenged in the social niceties. Jaw-droppingly challenged. Carobeth put up with a load of crap as his wife and as his assistant in the field. Eventually, she fell in love with one of their language informants, and the narrative changes to a beautiful and tender love story. Even better, Encounter with an Angry God was written from the distant vantage point of a half-century, when Carobeth was in her 70s, which gives it an added richness. It was published in 1975, when she was 80. She wrote it all up in the way she might have filed a report from the field. Gorgeous. This book is unbelievably good. Ever since I finished it, I've had book hangover, in which nothing else I read really suits me. I want to read it over again. I'm a little incoherent because I'm so much in love with Encounter with an Angry God. For a more measured but equally enthusiastic response, read this review at Neglected Books.

6. Vinegar Girl - Anne Tyler. (novel) I like to see Anne Tyler getting out and having a bit of fun. Vinegar Girl is her riff on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. Since it is Anne Tyler, the story is set in Baltimore and all the characters are endearingly quirky. Her version can be appreciated by both those who have and haven't read the original play. Good stuff.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Reading Flashback: The Women's Room by Marilyn French

From my diary, 1979:

Just finished The Women's Room. I feel cold and sick all over. I'm never getting married.

After that pronouncement, I reasoned to myself that Marilyn French's 1977 novel took place during the 1950s through the 1970s. Those were the Bad Old Days, weren't they? Men these days wouldn't dare to be so caddish, would they?

Yes, of course they would, and example after example has come down through the years, thankfully, hardly any of them personally affecting me.

 My first thought, even after all this time is: "Whoa! This is like The Women's Room!"

I had this thought again when the news about the Stanford swimmer/rapist was splashed all over social media along with his despicable father's horrible letter as well as the judge who gave that guy the lightest little knuckle rap of a sentence.

And I thought: These are the Bad Old Days.

When The Women's Room was first published, it was a bestseller, but it was also sneered at as being too soap-opera-ish and of course the old, tired, dismissive "shrill".

From what I remember: It's searing. It's scene after scene after scene of men behaving like assholes. Men from every walk of life being disappointing at least and harmful at most. This novel is anguish and white-hot rage. Things are grim, then there's a glimmer of hope, then the door slams shut. All is dark and comfortless.

My original copy of The Women's Room is long gone, read to shreds. I went to the library and checked their copy out a few days ago. I want to revisit the novel and see if it's what I remember after almost 4 decades.  I know that it can't affect me in the exact same way because I've changed from a 17-year-old girl to a fiftysomething woman. Will it still make me cold and sick? I'm almost afraid to start. But I must.

Is The Women's Room read at all today, or largely forgotten? Did any of you read this book? What was your reaction? 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Farewell, Mary Shanahan

She was tall and terrifying. She stalked through the classroom, always somehow finding students who were unprepared for her classes. She fired questions rat-a-tat. Students dodged and weaved and tried to keep up. As for leading students to understanding, she would go along with that for a while, then she would pick a class up collectively and throw it through the door of knowledge.

She was Mary Shanahan, and she was one of my undergraduate professors when I was an English major at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma.

 I thrilled to her hauteur, her theatrical style of teaching. I idolized her and feared her and came out of her classes trembling and wrecked from trying to keep up with her forehand smash tennis-match style lectures. I swore each semester that I would not return, and the following semester found me front and center.

Shakespeare (16 plays in 16 weeks). English Literature, I and II. Bloomsbury. She cracked me open as a learner; I've never been the same.

I don't read what Mary Shanahan read, but she changed how I read. I pay fierce attention. I am obsessive about sussing out meaning.

Mary Shanahan died in Wisconsin last month on May 11. I found out last week, and it was hard news to take. I had hoped to see her again one day and bask in her steely gaze.

Paying tribute here feels small and pale and incomplete, so I want to read something in her honor. Perhaps Bleak House (at one time, she had a cat named Lady Dedlock) or a novel by her especial favorite, Virginia Woolf.

Go here to see Mary Shanahan remembered beautifully and properly, as was her due.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Movies for Bookworms: Genius (2016)

This movie is being released in the US on Friday, and I'm worried that it won't make it to Sedalia. Or Warrensburg. Will I have to drive to Columbia or Kansas City to see it? Will I have to wait months and months and months for the DVD release???


C'mon, Sedalia. Good Sedalia....nice Seddy-Seddy...

Look, Sedalia, if you don't dig the English major aspect of it all, please take into account that it's got a powerhouse cast.  Colin Firth is Maxwell Perkins! This is all my swoony bookwormish dreams come to life. Surely I can't be the only one in a town of 20,000.

Nobody flies or turns color as far as I know, but...please.

Oh, please.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

May 2016 Reading

 May was a 6-book month. Much to my surprise, most of these are library books!

1. Let the Hurricane Roar - Rose Wilder Lane. (novel) Okay, I've read Laura and I've read Rose and of course Laura/Rose. When it comes to storytelling, Laura wins. Rose's writing feels a touch perfunctory. I imagine her fixated on word count. LTHR feels very light and frothy compared to Laura's look at difficult times early in a marriage, The First Four Years.

2. American Rust - Philipp Meyer. (novel) A gritty tale of two young men who want to make something of their lives and instead get in way over their heads. Meyer's honest, stark writing reminds me of Stewart O'Nan, one of my favorites. Meyer wrote another, longer novel. I think it's called The Lucky Son. I want to read it.

3. The Paris Wife - Paula McLain. (novel) Based on events in the lives of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley. I ate this novel up with my English major spoon. I cooed with appreciation when literary giants and even literary medium-sized people popped up. I'd been shying away from this book because I hadn't cared for some other fiction I'd read in this genre (the books about Rose Wilder Lane, Shirley Jackson, and Zelda Fitzgerald). I was wrong to hesitate. The Paris Wife was so well done. McLain has a light touch.

4.  Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen - Mary Norris. (nonfiction, memoir) I rhapsodized about this book a couple of blog posts ago. I would like to add that I stand with Mary Norris in her support of the serial (Oxford) comma. I have an issue with commas, but I've got that particular rule down and don't appreciate those who would do away with it.

5. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? - Jeanette Winterson. (memoir) I've always been attracted to adoption stories because along with the writer, I find myself trying to tease out what makes us what we are. Nature? Nurture? Circumstances? Something in us that has nothing to do with parents, or does it have everything to do with parents because it's a trait or tendency that's shown up in a different form in another generation? Jeanette Winterson ponders her extremely strange upbringing by her religious zealot adoptive parents, especially the mother (always referred to as Mrs. Winterson after she threw Jeanette out at 16) but she can't repudiate them because she feels as if she wouldn't have acquired the tools she needed to be successful if she had been kept by her more conventional birth mother, who she finds after a long, maddening, circuitous search. The title comes from Mrs. Winterson's Parthian shot to Jeanette. Now I need to read some of Winterson's fiction.

6. The Cowboy and the Cossack - Clair Huffaker. (novel) This western is sort of an eastern, which makes it rather appealing, although Huffaker relied heavily on  stock types that readers could easily recognize. I can overlook that because the fish-out-of-water aspect is so much fun -- cowboys from Montana do the ultimate cattle drive all the way to Russia and pair up with a band of outlaw Cossacks rebelling against the Tsar. There are wolves and Tartars! So glad my best IRL bookworm buddy, Teri, discovered this obscure little oddity and brought it to my attention.

Not Finishing, But Reading:

Alexander Hamilton - Ron Chernow. (biography) I'm only 25% into this enjoyable, entertaining doorstop of a biography. Hamilton leaps off the page. I understand why Lin-Manuel Miranda was beguiled.

Villette - Charlotte Bronte.  (novel)  Another long read, but I'm audiobooking it and glad I made that choice. The only time it's a little awkward is when Charlotte/Lucy starts rattling off in French for pages. I muddle through listening for the occasional, familiar word, but I long to smack some jaws until English syllables start rolling out again. I'm 18% into this one, and determined to finish Villette. And oui! It's pronounced Vee-ette! I've been saying Vill-ette all these years! Ahem. Anyway.  After that, I'll work on Tenant of Wildfell Hall, then I'll feel good about ignoring the remaining gaps in my Bronte sisters reading.