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.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Blob is 14

My blog, or as my mother calls it, "Blob" is 14 years old today! Loving the changing voice and the little caterpillar mustache, Blob.

As it happens, I've read 14 books this year so far:

1. Caroline: Little House, Revisited - Sarah Miller.  Fiction. This novel follows the text of Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, except it's from Ma's point-of-view. Perfectly captures the hardships, dirt and tedium of traveling in a covered wagon. While Caroline was pregnant! With Carrie! And she told Charles (Pa) she was expecting when he broached the idea of moving west, and he was still like, let's go. A must for Bonnetheads.

2. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House - Michael Wolff.  Nonfiction. Why did I read this? I felt icky and in need of a shower. I was laughing and grimacing and shaking my head sadly.

3. Rotten Ralph - Jack Gantos.  Fiction. I read this picture book last year and promptly forgot. But Ralph wouldn't let me forget. He clawed his way onto both my 2017 and 2018 lists.

4. The Great Influenza - John M. Barry. Nonfiction. A look back at the 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic. Spanish, my butt. According to Barry, the outbreak may have had its origins in Kansas. Riveting read.

5. The Cooler King: The True Story of William Ash: Spitfire Pilot, POW, and WWII's Greatest Escaper - Patrick Bishop. Nonfiction. Fans of The Great Escape will enjoy this book. Even more action, escapes, and excitement than the classic movie!

6. The Girls in the Picture - Melanie Benjamin. Historical fiction. A delicious read, set in the infant days of Hollywood.  Frances Marion and Mary Pickford join forces and make movies, while setting the boys-only club back on its heels. Great atmosphere.

7. Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge - Becky Aikman. Nonfiction. Everything from the writing of the script all the way to the sensation the movie caused. Wow, they had a hard time getting the film made. One of those passing-through-the-eye-of-a-needle things. I'm glad it got made; it's one of my favorites. I'm also glad Becky Aikman wrote this book.

8. Our Souls at Night - Kent Haruf.  Fiction. A beautiful, deceptively simple novel about two aging people, neighbors in a small town making a connection, beginning in an unexpected way.

9. Pachinko - Min Jin Lee.  Fiction. A multi-generational saga about Koreans living in Japan, and the different ways each family member deals with a country they love but doesn't love them back. It's absolutely absorbing, like a good K-Drama.

10. Swearing is Good For You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language - Emma Byrne.  Nonfiction. What the hell -- I'll be honest. Too damned little bad language and too effing much neuroscience shit. Not my favorite read of the year. There. I feel better. I typed this while wearing my pink socks with middle fingers printed all over them.

11. Ten Days in a Mad-House - Nellie Bly.  Nonfiction. Nellie Bly was a cool character. Going undercover to investigate conditions at Blackwell Island's Lunatic Asylum for Women, she practiced being "crazy" for just one night, making faces at herself in the mirror. Everyone bought it, including a judge and several doctors. This book was published in 1887, but Bly's prose seems quite fresh.

12. Helter Skelter: The True Story of The Manson Murders -  Nonfiction. Vincent Bugliosi. One of the classics of the true crime genre. An unsettling read. The crimes were horrifying and senseless, but Bugliosi keeps coming and coming, tireless in his quest to find the motive and put Manson and his family at the scenes.

13. The Six: The Lives of The Mitford Girls - Laura Thompson. Nonfiction. Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah Mitford were six sisters from the English upper class whose lives were irrevocably and sometimes catastrophically affected by politics and war. The author is a serious fangirl, and during this utterly yummy read, she made one of me, too. A tad repetitive, but not a problem because I needed that to keep straight which was the Fascist, which was the Communist and which one wrote novels, and who was the duchess? Who had a crush on Hitler? 

14.  The Warmth of Other Suns - Isabel Wilkerson.  Nonfiction. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, the white South clamped down on black people, eradicating all of their rights. This situation became increasingly untenable and downright dangerous. Black people wanted the hell out, which led to The Great Migration, from the Jim Crow South to northern cities like New York, Chicago, Detroit and many others. The Great Migration lasted from the early 1900s to the mid 1970s. Weaving a brilliant narrative from oral histories, Wilkerson follows the lives of three people: Ida, who left with her family in the 1930s, George, who fled for his life during the 1940s, and Robert, who set out to be a doctor in California in the 1950s. These stories are backed up with impeccable research. 

Saturday, January 06, 2018

All Together Now: What I Read in 2017

Here are the 61 62 (see explanation at the end of this post) books I read in 2017.

Favorites are in blue. Unfavorites are in green. Wow! books are in larger font.

Nice mix of fiction and nonfiction.

1. Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep - Michael Schulman (nonfiction)

2. $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America - Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer (nonfiction)

3. The Green Mile - Stephen King (fiction)

4. In the Great, Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown - Amy Gary (nonfiction)

5. The Art of X-Ray Reading - Roy Peter Clark (nonfiction)

6. Captains and the Kings - Taylor Caldwell (fiction)

7. Brief Histories of Everyday Objects - Andy Warner (graphic novel)

8. Parade's End - Ford Maddox Ford (fiction, audiobook)

9. The Heavenly Table - Donald Ray Pollock (fiction)

10. The Princess Diarist - Carrie Fisher (nonfiction, audiobook)

11. Van Gogh: The Life - Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (nonfiction)

12. My Name is Lucy Barton - Elizabeth Strout (fiction, audiobook)

13. Eileen - Ottessa Moshfegh (fiction)

14. The Vegetarian - Han Kang (fiction)

15. Textbook - Amy Krouse Rosenthal (nonfiction)

16. Cruel Beautiful World - Caroline Leavitt (fiction, audiobook)

17. Patricia's Secret - Ruth Daggett Leinhauser (fiction)

18. A Touch of Stardust - Kate Alcott (fiction, audiobook)

19. Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved By Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother - Kate Hennessy (nonfiction)

20. Revival - Stephen King (fiction, audiobook)

21. How I Became a North Korean - Krys Lee (fiction)

22. Unfinished Desires - Gail Godwin (fiction, audiobook)

23. Consider the Fork - Bee Wilson (nonfiction)

24. Between Them - Richard Ford (nonfiction)

25. Flora - Gail Godwin (fiction)

26. The Power of Habit - Charles Duhigg (nonfiction, audiobook)

27. Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders (fiction, audiobook)

28. My Life with Bob - Pamela Paul (nonfiction)

29. The Mandibles - Lionel Shriver (fiction, audiobook)

30. Beartown - Fredrik Backman (fiction)

31. The Couple Next Door - Shari Lapena (fiction)

32. 32 Yolks - Eric Ripert (nonfiction, audiobook)

33. Finding Fish - Antwone Quenton Fisher (nonfiction, audiobook)

34. Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 - David Sedaris (nonfiction)

35. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body - Roxane Gay (nonfiction)

36. Rules of Civility - Amor Towles (fiction, audiobook)

37. Les Miserables (manga)

38. The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton (fiction)

39. Tex - S.E. Hinton (fiction)

40. A Kiss Before Dying - Ira Levin (fiction)

41. Everybody's Fool - Richard Russo (fiction, audiobook)

42. The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well - Meik Wiking (nonfiction)

43. Talking Pictures - Ann Hornaday (nonfiction)

44. The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides (fiction, audiobook)

45. Goodbye, Things - Fumio Sasaki (nonfiction)

46. Melissa - Taylor Caldwell (fiction)

47. Who Were The Three Stooges? - Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso (nonfiction)

48. A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles (fiction)

49. See What I Have Done - Sarah Schmidt (fiction)

50. A Good Marriage - Stephen King (fiction, audiobook)

51. Harriet Tubman - Kem Knapp Sawyer (nonfiction)

52. You Don't Have to Say You Love Me - Sherman Alexie (nonfiction)

53. I'll Be Damned - Eric Braeden (nonfiction)

54. A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara (fiction, audiobook) hatelove and lovehate this novel!

55. Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis - Ed Sikov (nonfiction)

56. Annie Oakley -Chuck Wills (nonfiction)

57. Unf*ck Your Habitat - Rachel Hoffman (nonfiction)

58. Gunnar's Daughter - Sigrid Undset (fiction)

59. Grant - Ron Chernow (nonfiction)

60. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder - Caroline Fraser (nonfiction)

61. That Was Then, This is Now - S.E. Hinton (fiction)

Now on to 2018! Happy Book Year!

Edited to add: (!!!)
Oh my! I must be losing my bookworm edge. My Spawn, the most excellent bookworm (and only bookworm) I ever created, reminded me that I read Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos last summer. I forgot to write it down. Yikes. I'm torn between feeling ashamed for forgetting and feeling pumped that it's really 62 books, which ties me with my 2016 total. Guess I'll go with the latter.

Monday, January 01, 2018

My 100-Book Resolution

This year, instead of making resolutions about reading, I'm just going to build a list of 100 books I'd like to read. When I finish or DNF the book, I'll highlight it in red.

At the end of the year, I'll compare this list with the list I actually read.

And laugh.

In no particular order:

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)

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)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

An Abashed Look Back at 2017 Reading Resolutions

It's so fun to look back at my 12-months-younger self with a bemused eye. Cringeworthy, but fun:

I would like to read 55 books in 2017. 
I read 61. I won't finish #62, The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry before midnight on the 31st.

I would like to finish Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow in 2017. As of today, I'm 4% in. Well, I didn't make much progress with old George, but let's talk about that other man on the money, Grant!

I would like to read 3 Pulitzer Fiction novels.
I read zero. Aught. Naught.

I would like to continually have an audiobook on the go while I'm driving around. 
I finished several audiobooks this year, so that was a good idea. Then I discovered the Broadway Channel...

(which leads to...) 

I would like to listen to/read more audiobooks this year.
17! audiobooks! Zing! Boom!

I would like to watch or listen to a bunch of musicals this year. Forget Top 40, forget country. Nothing satisfies like a musical.
I found the Broadway Channel! I just sang that to myself Ethel Merman-style.

I would like to read that new Eugene O'Neill biography. 
Didn't get around to Eugene or any other playwright.

I would like to read some Korean literature. 
How could I overlook Korean literature? NOOO! I miss my former home so much. Edited to add: I actually kept this resolution! I read The Vegetarian by Han Kang.

I would like to read The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. 
I listened to an FMF novel -- not this one -- and while it was good, it just felt like forever. I'm going to need a couple of years to recover before I set out with him again.

I would like to read Earth by Emile Zola.
I didn't get around to Zola this year. Quel dommage!

I would like to read a Stewart O'Nan novel.
I didn't read O'Nan, but I kept obsessively scanning the New Shelf at the library for a new novel by him. There's lots on his backlist that I haven't gotten to yet.

I would like the bulk of my reading to be 19th and 20th century books.
For the most part, I snuggled down with the 21st century and could not be budged. 


Well shoot. I had a feeling I wasn't done yet. Two more book wishes floated to the top today while I was walking. I've heard things like that can happen.
Float, float, float your goal/Gently down the stream...

I would like to read The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. Maybe an audiobook? 
I didn't fulfill this resolution, but still think it's a good idea.

I would like to get back to that Vincent van Gogh biography I left off reading while on the subway back in 2013 or 2014. 
I did do this! So glad I returned to this book minus my subway seat.

For my 2018 resolutions, I'm planning a big, bold move. I want to build a 100-book reading list, and let my idealistic bookworm hang out for all the world to see. Then of course I'll make fun of my starry-eyed self in the wee hours of 2019. Stay tuned.