Monday, August 15, 2016

Mid-August Finds Me

I hated the title of this post, then it struck me that it sounds like one of those novels from the 1910s that end up getting reprinted with great acclaim by something like Virago Press. So there it stands.

Mid-August finds me in the middle of several books again:

1. Burr - Gore Vidal. Novel.
This is my main read right now, and I'm enjoying it more than when I read it back in 2012. I can't help but wonder if Lin-Manuel Miranda had a look at Burr as well as the Ron Chernow biography of Hamilton, because I have come upon several passages in which I nearly burst into song. My most recent hum-along is The Room Where It Happens. I'm having a brilliant time!

2. Villette - Charlotte Bronte. Novel.
 I should give up, but I don't. I won't. I can't. I'm 18 chapters in! I predict a mad reading/listening rush to midnight on New Year's Eve. Bronte! Bragging! Rights!

3. Triptych - Joyce Cary. Novel.
Even with the new magnifier, the print in this book is putting me off. I don't know what I'm going to do. Hoping to finish at least the first book in the volume, Herself Surprised, but more and more, I'm just not feeling it.

4. Washington: A Life - Ron Chernow. Biography.
I had to switch to the e-reader edition because I got tired of lugging the physical book around. Also, there were print issues with this one, too. I am so irritated with my eyes for wavering and watering! Stop that, you two! I'll turn this head around, I swear I will!!!

5. The Emigrants - Johan Bojer. Novel.
Written in 1924 and translated into English the following year, this Norwegian novel is about a family leaving Norway and pioneering in North Dakota. Although I haven't gotten beyond the first chapter, this book pleases me on several fronts: It's old. It's about the emigrant experience. It's about pioneers. It's obscure.

6. Heroes of the Frontier - Dave Eggers. Novel.
I was captivated by What is the What, Eggers' novel based on the life of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Heroes of the Frontier seems very different so far -- it starts out with a dentist unexpectedly taking/whisking away her two young children on a vacation to Alaska. So far, I'm drawn in and asking the sorts of questions an engaged reader asks.

Mid-August finds me wanting something very much. I can't even say it here. Not now. But I want this particular thing BAD. On alternating days I'm:
1) hopeful
2) resigned
3) despondent
4) actively snarling and looking for rocks to throw at the "thing with feathers"

Some days, I'm all of those things in succession. Today was like that.

Mid-August finds me running out of shelving space in my bedroom. Time to cull the herd.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Bookworm Notes: The Fireman by Joe Hill

During July, I did a The Fireman readalong with Care and the usual suspects who make my online book loving life so agreeable.  I finished the book fairly quickly without doing a review or casting my impressions about on this blog. This is a job that needs to be done before I can move on and talk about other books in my life right now. But my short-term memory...yikes. Before everything about The Fireman fades away, I'm going to make a list:

1. I've only read this and Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. The Fireman is the one I prefer.

2. I went into this book feeling as if I would be reading a Stephen King book. That impression changed very little. The thing that makes it feel not like a King book is that when Hill's characters curse, it's not as creative or funny; it's the way real people curse, which is not as much fun on the page.

3. I know other readers brought up the title. Why that title? I guess The Nurse wouldn't have worked. Dragonscale would have made the book seem like fantasy. Well, I'm fresh out of ideas.

4. I had to stop reading and go listen to that Dire Straits song John and Harper kept referencing.

5. Back to Dragonscale. What a beautifully imagined disease and lovingly described.  An almost enviable condition. Very J.K. Rowling.

6. The book could have been a little shorter. Some of the scenes dragged.

7. I hated Jakob at first, and roared when Harper/Hill savaged his lame hidden novel, Desolation's Plough. (Nice extra jab...plough instead of plow) I felt as if this send-up was an affectionate shout-out to Uncle Stevie's On Writing. After a while, Jakob became so cartoonishly evil that I couldn't muster up anything but yawns for him.

8. The sheer bounty of references to other books, novels, authors, movies, songs, etc. made me so happy that I damn near glowed with Dragonscale. I am dreaming of the day when The Fireman is annotated. Please, O Publishing Gods, let it be soon! Don't make me wait too long.  I feel the stirrings of certainty that somewhere, this project is already underway.

9. Maybe it's because I'm under the influence of Hamilton, but I am seeing this book as a potential musical.

10. There's going to be a sequel, isn't there?

11. The supporting characters in the compound. I loved them, especially Renee (?) The characters' names are starting to slip away from me. The young girl/woman (name?) reminded me a bit of Katniss Everdeen and also of a character in one of King's recent novels. Doctor Sleep, I think it was. Carol was disturbing. Not over-the-top like Jakob, because the reader could uneasily understand her motivation.

12. Although The Fireman has a bleak setting and the world is in peril, the tone of the book is anything but bleak and flat. No Cormac McCarthy here. Instead, there is hope and humor. It seems odd in a dystopian horror novel, but I like it.

Monday, August 01, 2016

In Which I Am So Glad I Don't Owe the Whole Internet Ten Dollars

July 30. I did it. I finally finished Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. We were together 2 months and 2 weeks. Now there's an Alexander Hamilton-shaped hole in my life.

That last day, I read about 40%. There comes a point when you can't stop reading, you don't want to stop and you can't dissemble. Even my mother was getting the stony eff-off-I-am-reading look. When that didn't work, I used subtler, more effective methods: I started reading aloud from Alexander Hamilton, and she wandered off to play Candy Crush then take a nap.

 I continued to read and read. Tears from eyestrain streamed from my right eye. Tired of wiping it, I covered it instead and continued with my left.

But never mind my eye. Alexander Hamilton! What a story Ron Chernow brings to life! Best of men and best of biographers. By the end, I was shedding more than eyestrain tears. I was a wreck.

After a halfway decent interval, I took a deep breath and took up the next book I'd slated for myself, Fallen Founder, a biography of Aaron Burr. After twenty minutes or so, I was thinking oh hell no. The premise of Fallen Founder is that Aaron Burr, like Dr. Pepper, is terribly misunderstood. Deep down, he was really a swell guy. I didn't stick around to find out. I don't give a damn if he was a Mary Wollestonecraft fan, or if he was president of her fan club. He shot Alexander Hamilton! My wrathful feelings towards Burr may cool off at some point. I don't know.

After a couple of days, I decided to do a reread of Gore Vidal's novel about Burr. After all, Vidal's portrayal is that of a villain (although an entertaining one, I hate to admit) in his hoary old age who is just as much of a scoundrel as ever. Besides, I've been missing Gore Vidal lately. I wish he were alive to make savage and witty remarks about the current political scene. Even better, Ron Chernow likes Burr.

Time to listen to the musical again.

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?