Tuesday, July 18, 2017

All Around My Reading Week

Eeyore and me.

Last week was all over the bookworm place. I had the sweetest book hangover that I did not want to get over; revisited a lifelong favorite; stalled and stumbled around in a novel that I read a long time ago, according to my 1990s book journal; meandered into a sequel without reading the prequel; flung myself with abandon into a new and promisingly scrumptious read; and flung (with a curse) a 1950s classic(???) as far as I could without getting myself thrown out of the county library.

No, it didn't all happen in this order. Yes, I am fond of the word "flung".

Sweetest book hangover:
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. I loved this book so hard that I both audiobooked and printed-paged it. Can't remember exactly what I said in my last blog post, but double that. I'm in awe: How did Towles convey through prose, the satiny, silvery effect of old movies while making 1938 feel as immediate as 2017? New York! Walker Evans! The days are just packed; I have tons of new things to feel obsessive about.

A lifelong favorite:
Recently, I bought the 50th anniversary edition of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I don't recall when I first read this book. Sixth grade? Seventh grade? I remember the mod-looking cover where the greasers are looking tough (and tuff), slouching and leaning nonchalantly on one another's shoulders. Not a big fan of the movie when it finally came out. Tom Cruise as Two-Bit? Noooooo. What struck me during this reread? I didn't remember the fever pitch of emotion that permeates the novel. Sandy, Sodapop's girlfriend is sent away to live with her grandmother when she turns up pregnant -- that went right over my head during my first few readings. DX gas stations! Full service! Times have changed. I felt much more empathy for Darry, Ponyboy's oldest brother, who is trying to keep the family together since their parents were killed in a car wreck. Otherwise, everything was the same: Cherry Valance still annoyed me, Johnny and Dally broke my heart, Two-Bit made me laugh, and Ponyboy? He digs okay.

Stalled and stumbled around:
 I started Clockers by Richard Price a few weeks ago, but I'm having trouble getting into it. The novel seemed familiar, so I rummaged back through my first book journal, and there it was, one of the first books of 1994. Not ready to give up on it yet -- the cadences of the novel are jumpy and jerky, much like its urban setting, and I can't settle in, but I will. It's good.

Flung myself with abandon:
After Rules of Civility, I became a one-track bookworm. Happily, Amor Towles published Rules back in 2011, which means that enough time had elapsed for him to craft another treasure, which I promptly found: A Gentleman in Moscow (2016) takes place in Russia, 1922. Count Alexander Rostov has written a poem that has put the Bolsheviks' noses out of joint. Instead of execution, he is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol Hotel. I've only just started this novel, and I want to be put on house arrest with lots of coffee and sandwiches and chocolate while I read uninterrupted. So far, no luck on that part. Oh, come on, world! I've been a bad, bad girl!

Meandered into a sequel:
For my audiobook, I'm listening to Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo. At first, I was having some trouble getting into the story and feeling as if I should have read Nobody's Fool first. This is not my first outing with Russo. I read The Risk Pool, which didn't excite me, and Pulitzer Prize-winning Empire Falls, which I did like. Russo is like the male Anne Tyler: quirky characters, strange situations against the backdrop of everyday life and the bigger questions about life, love, suffering and death. I'm on disc 4 and finally settling in. Hell, I may go on a Richard Russo binge read.

Flung with a curse:
I haven't flung a book since I hurled Atlas Shrugged out of a window back in 2005 in Korea! The projectile in question this time was Marjorie Morningstar, a 1955 novel by Herman Wouk. For a few days after, all I could say was: "Umm, no. Hell no." The book may be a brilliant snapshot of New York in the early 1930s, but Herman Wouk is a bit tone-deaf, writing from the female point of view. When the male characters are given voice, they're just cringe-y. Milton Schwartz needs to be hung out on the line with Angel Clare. I thought this book might be a classic, finely aged like wine or cheese, but it's aged badly -- more like dairy or vegetables. I cursed and flung and I'll never be sorry.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Missing May? Missing June?

In all these years, I have never missed so much time blogging. Nothing to do but jump back in and tell you what I'm reading and not reading currently:

Rules of Civility - Amor Towles. Novel.  This book follows the changing fortunes of Katey Kontent during the year of 1938. This is so gorgeous and rich. I'm audiobooking, and can hardly stop listening. One chapter calls for another. Towles is a master of atmosphere. THE master! Christmas is several months away, but I want to go ahead and put in my order for a time machine to take me back to New York in the late 1930s. Meanwhile, I'm happily enjoying Rules of Civility. I could eat it with a spoon; it's that good. Let there be a movie!

Clockers - Richard Price. Novel. I read this book when it was new, but it didn't knock my socks off the way it is now. Alternate chapters explore the lives of drug dealers in (fictional) Dempsey, New Jersey, and the police that are trying to catch them red-handed. I don't know for sure, but I suspect that The Wire owes everything to Clockers.

The DNF files: I recently bailed on The Road to Jonestown, a biography of cult leader Jim Jones by Jeff Guinn. The writing was crisp, the research impeccable, but Jim Jones made my skin crawl. I bet that I would have the same reaction to another book by Guinn about Charles Manson.  My failure to engage with The Road to Jonestown led me to start something new in my book journal. I now duly enter the books that made me cry uncle. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

In Which I Went to Lone Jack

Lone Jack MO.  This was important -- bucket list important -- and I kept putting it off for years.

Lone Jack, a town a few miles outside of Kansas City, was the site of an 1862 Civil War battle. One of the most famous characters in fiction lost his eye there: Rooster Cogburn from True Grit.

I haven't been having very much fun lately, but for one afternoon, I got to take a literary vacation of sorts.

Friday, April 14, 2017

My Bookshelf's Back

O my bookshelf. I'll never let you go again. 

Friday, April 07, 2017

2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Check Out My Prediction

The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is something I look forward to every year. Since there are no nominations announced in advance, I dizzy myself with speculation: Will the committee go with a crowd-pleaser, or go delightfully obscure? A book that takes place on American soil or in another country? The possibilities are endless. I usually get it wrong, but I don't mind. A new book will soon be nestled on my Pulitzer Fiction shelf.

Here's my prediction for this year:

So far, this has been my favorite read of 2017.  This is the latest novel I'm pestering people to read:

It's 1917. After their hapless father dies, or goes to "the heavenly table" as he terms it, three brothers, Cane, Cob, and Chimney Jewett decide to ditch their downtrodden life and try their luck as bank robbers. They've been inspired by a beat-up dime novel called The Life and Times of Bloody Bill Bucket and although they know it by heart, they still refer to it while they're on the lam.  This is the starting point for their encounters with what seems like hundreds of other characters, including Ellsworth and Eula Fiddler, who have a son, Eddie, who may or may not have joined the Army to fight in the Great War...in Germany? Where's Germany? What's this war supposed to be about?

I don't know how Donald Ray Pollock kept this huge cast of characters and their crossings and interactions straight. Maybe a flow chart? A timeline? And what of his writing? He has a distinctive voice, but he also reminds me of the two Mac Daddies (Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy). McMurtry because of the journey, and legend-building and the influences of the past, and the past and present bumping up against one another. McCarthy because of well, the journey again, and the sudden, sickening, ugly violence that pops up with increasing regularity. But Pollock is funny as well, and not above the occasional stupid joke. There's also a feel of Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor, but a cheerful Faulker or O'Connor. Finally, I was reminded time and again as I read of Canadian author Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers, which makes me think of Steinbeck, and yes, this is what fiction should do to you -- make you feel connected and woke. (Part of me wants to correct that to awakened.)

I finished this novel in early March, and I'm already ready for a re-read. Maybe audio this time. Read/Listen with me so we can talk about it. A LOT.

Did I mention how cinematic The Heavenly Table feels? I don't know if it could work on the big screen because there are so many characters, but if it does become a movie, I am there. I will even pay full price and forget to stand just so under the light in the ticket line so that my gray hair is shown to best advantage. Maybe a miniseries? That would work for me.

So that's my Pulitzer Fiction Wishful Prediction. I think my chances are pretty good this year. We'll know on Monday.

Many thanks to my friend Mary for bringing not only The Heavenly Table but Donald Ray Pollock to my attention.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

There, There Now

My wrist is nearly healed, so I'm back to typing with both hands. The right-side shift makes me wince a bit, but it's nothing I can't handle, she said bravely.

I've read so much these past couple of months, but blogging...it's like I'm locked up, locked in. Part of this is because of the wrist, and part of it is because Mom is working on her third week in the hospital. A double feature this time out: The usual touch of pneumonia coupled with an abscess gone way WAY wrong. The details are so horrific, I can't even type them here. Both you and Mom would never forgive me. Stephen King might...well, yeah, but he doesn't read this blog.

Even with all of this, I MUST get back to blogging. As I've done before when stuck, I'll try to do short entries until I'm comfortable again. Tonight (it's 12:40 a.m.), I'll talk about what I'm reading currently:

1. Washington: A Life - Ron Chernow. I'm glad I didn't give up on this biography. I'm 10% into the book and am starting to see and appreciate the human side of the most formidable icon in American history. He's so much more than that lifeless looking unfinished painting by Gilbert Stuart.

2. Consider the Fork - Bee Wilson. Really struggling with this book, and I can't put my finger on why. Wilson devotes each chapter to the history of a particular kitchen gadget. Sounds like it should be great fun, but the prose seems quite dense. It's not a long book, but  I've been at it for weeks now. I'm determined to finish.

3. A Touch of Stardust - Kate Alcott. This is part of my keep-an-audiobook-on-the-go-at-all-times project. What a fun, frothy gem. The setting is 1939 Hollywood, the backdrop the filming of Gone with the Wind. Carole Lombard and Clark Gable are characters. It's not all classic Hollywood, though. Talk of the war in Europe is in the air, and something is brewing with Julie Crawford's Jewish boyfriend, Andy Weinstein, who is David Selznick's right-hand-man. Julie, an aspiring screenwriter, is the main character. She is Lombard's personal assistant, and like Lombard, she is from Fort Wayne, Indiana. I'm not sure if the mash-up of Old Hollywood insider gossip and the dark story that seems to be on the horizon is really going to work, but for now, I'm thoroughly entertained. I could eat this book with a spoon, it's so delectable.

So that's my Read Life right now. For my next blog post, I'll work backwards, so I don't forget everything. On the other hand, I may leap so far forward that I pull my reading hamstring. Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Blob is 13!

Happy 13th birthday, Blob! I can't believe you've been my very own sweet darling book blog since 2004! What do you mean "Whatever"?  And what's with the eye roll?

Here's some economy-sized Clearasil. No, you can't drive the car. Not even to a bookstore or a library. Okay, I'm really, really mean.

 Look, I found a picture of myself when I was 13! No, dinosaurs did not roam the earth. Yes, there were books. Not scrolls or hieroglyphics on a cave wall somewhere.

Well, yes, I was a bookworm when I was 13. No, I didn't read "a bunch of stupid shit". Maybe some, but hey. At least I was reading. Let's hop in the time machine and I'll show you 13 glimpses of my bookworm self at 13, would you like that? Spare me the theatrical sighs. Corny? Really? Whatever:

1. When I was 13, I enjoyed the horror genre, which led me to a book called Carrie by a new author named Stephen King.

2. My mom liked nurse romance novels, so I bonded with her by reading a lot of Arlene Hale.

3. Science class was boring, so I read books behind my science textbook. Every day, I would bring a book and every day, Mrs. Briley would catch me reading and confiscate it. She never gave them back, either. I got smart...smarter and started bringing school library books. She must have had at least 50-100 books in her desk by the end of the year.

4. I liked books about gypsies and Roma culture. I thought a caravan might happen by and ask me to join their carefree life. No science or math classes. I wanted to be ready.

5. I read The Outsiders for the first time. Two-Bit was my favorite character and I pronounced Socs as Socks rather than so-shez. I also felt a sense of urgency. S.E. Hinton wrote the novel at 16, and I only had 3 more years to write something timeless...maybe something about gypsies?

6. A girl in my class convinced me to read the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. She said they were the best books EVER. They were very good, but not in the same league as the Little House series. I'm still grateful to this girl, even though we fell out a little bit later.

7. I enjoyed Reader's Digest Condensed Books, but the illustrations always disappointed.

8. A cute boy in my class told me that I would like a novel about horses. I wanted him to LIKE ME like me so I read it. I forget the title. I didn't like the book. I don't remember the boy's name.

9. My brother got the bright idea to throw my mass-market paperback copy of Gone with the Wind from our third-story apartment window. I screamed. My parents laughed for a long time. When they finally recovered, they ordered my brother to go downstairs and fetch the damn thing.

10. My library card number at the post library was 778.

11. I checked out Lady Chatterley's Lover because I had heard it was a dirty book. I couldn't make heads or tails of it. Back to the library it went. Then I found a racy novel in my parents' room written at about fourth-grade level. I was very Ewwwwwww! for days.

12. Here's a book that kept me entranced and entertained for hours on end. I came away with the idea that no film made after 1945 was worth seeing:

13. 778 was invited to volunteer in the post library's summer reading program. I started off shelving books in the children's section, then was asked to shelve in the adult section. After admitting that I didn't understand how to do the nonfiction, the assistant librarian kindly and quickly explained the Dewey Decimal System. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, I felt as if my brain grew three sizes that day.