Friday, August 21, 2015

Welcome To My Reading Week

I've got several books on the go, so I feel like a juggler running out of hands:

1. Change Your Clothes, Change Your Life - George Brescia. This is my fluff for the week. I can't help being attracted to fashion, and I only just figured out why.  It's the narrative. When they're telling you what to wear, the very best have a narrative about where you could wear this thing, and what you'd be doing. If they just say 'wear this', it leaves me cold. George Brescia hovers more towards the 'wear this' with flashes of narrative. I love what he has to say about color and form, but his insistence that heels are all-important if one is to be truly stylish...yeah, no. George, why don't you cram your tootsies in an impossibly tiny toe box? [This is really strange: Just now, as if my mother had known what I was writing about, suddenly woke up and started recounting her trousseau  from 1958 in detail! Wow. By the time she got to her red linen going-away suit, I wanted to go back and read The Lost Art of Dress.]

2. True Grit - Charles Portis. Audiobook, read by Donna Tartt.  THIS.  It's even better than I had hoped. Tartt is a superb reader and her love for the book shines through. I can't wait to get up in the mornings and do my walk so I can listen. Right now, I'm at the part where Mattie, Rooster and LaBouef are waiting to ambush Lucky Ned Pepper's gang at the sod dugout.

3. Emily, Alone - Stewart O'Nan. This is the sequel to Wish You Were Here. I love O'Nan's precise slices of life. I'm going to be so cranky when I run out of his novels. But wait! There's a nonfiction book that he co-authored with Uncle Stevie! Squeeeeees all around.

4. Discardia - Dinah Sanders. I've just started this book about turning your bouts of organization into a holiday called Discardia. I guess I'm hoping for another version of Marie Kondo to love.

5. And So We Read On - Maureen Corrigan. Corrigan discusses how she gradually fell in love with The Great Gatsby and makes her argument for why it is THE Great American Novel. She's preaching to the choir in my case.  I've also just started this book, but I've fallen into it like a warm bath. Or jumped into it the way Zelda and Scott used to jump into fountains. Good stuff.

It's nice to be in such a congenial reading mood and have so many great choices on the go. Once I finish these, here's what's next up in the queue:

Missoula - Jon Krakauer
Snow Angels - Stewart O'Nan
Last Night At the Lobster - Stewart O'Nan

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Grabbing a Book and Holding On

Books! Take me away! Take me away like a Calgon bath, which is not a bad idea in itself.

I think I wrote in my last post that my first attempt at book group turned out to be a wash, but I have a new hope: According to the message board at my new place of employment, there is a non-fiction book club! Keep your fingers crossed.

Mornings still find me walking and audiobooking. Since I started this routine, I've finished three books: Bossypants - Tina Fey, Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls - David Sedaris and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? - Mindy Kahling. My current book is Yes Please by Amy Poehler. I've enjoyed laughing so early in the day, but the books are starting to overlap a little. The comedy universe is a small and cozy one. I'm going to change it up. Do I go back to self-improvement or onto a classic novel?

While I was reading Finders Keepers by Stephen King, I was able to block out the world for a few enjoyable hours. I was appalled by Morris Bellamy, the bookworm who goes off the deep end when he feels as if his favorite author (sort of a mashup of Salinger and Updike that King has imagined so precisely while having, I am guessing, a great deal of fun) has caused his most famous character to 'sell out",  But while I was repulsed by Bellamy, I understood him, too, and even felt sorry for him. I was impatient when he was out of the novel and attention was turned to other characters. Finders Keepers is also a treasure trove for bookworms. When one of the characters references one of Zola's characters, I was all yes oh yes oh yes. Even better, there's a whiff of Shawshank.

Yesterday, I read Rick Geary's graphic novel The Beast of Chicago (about H.H.Holmes, the serial killer who terrorized Chicago during the 1893 World's Fair) in the strangest place: I was sitting in a nail salon in a nearby Walmart while the massage chair kneaded my back and a cute Chinese guy soaked, scrubbed and pumiced my feet then cut and filed and finally painted my toenails a soft metallic pink. You'd have to try out this combination yourself to get the full effect of the weirdness. Then, tonight, I was talking about this book with a true-crime fan and we were complaining (okay, it was downright bitching, I confess) that no one in Hollywood has even BOTHERED to make a movie about H.H. Holmes. Or the bloody Benders, for that matter.  Or the very excellent Manhunt. Then I looked at my Facebook news feed and discovered that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are going to collaborate on a film adaptation of The Devil in the White City.  More weirdness and much squeeeee! Can the bloody Benders be far behind?

I am still having a Stewart O'Nan summer. I'm reading Wish You Were Here, a novel about an extended family's final summer at their vacation home on Lake Chautauqua.  It's slow going, but a rich and rewarding read. I love the way Stewart O'Nan is so completely invested in his characters. When I finish Wish You Were Here, I'll move to the sequel, Emily, Alone.

It's past midnight, and there goes another day, but I can't go to sleep without reading a few pages.

Friday, July 24, 2015

My My July

How do people 'bookworm' in the United States? It's such a distracting place! So much is coming at people all at once, over and over. I'm still reading (with both eyes and ears) but it's by sheer force of will. I will be a bookworm, dammit! I will!!!

Here's what I'm reading now:

Bossypants - Tina Fey. Audiobook. I could've read this a few years ago, but someone told me that the audiobook was the way to do it. Thanks, whoever you are! (Teri?) That was good advice! Even better: I've finally made (early morning!!!) exercise and reading fit together. Was it that hard? Well, awkward is the word. I feel like a chimp at my first fire.

Wish You Were Here - Stewart O'Nan. My Stewart O'Nan summer nearly floated out to sea, but I reeled it back in. There is also going to be a Stewart O'Nan autumn.

Coco Chanel - Justine Picardie. This book is gorgeous. So many photos. Drool.  I love how Picardie is so obsessed with Chanel and she's not afraid to let it show.

Here's what I just finished reading:

Hissing Cousins (Sorry, blanking on co-authors, and I'm not going to stop to look because I will finish this blog post; I will be a blogger again, dammit! I will!!!...wait! I've got it: Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer. Whew.) - A puckish biography of Eleanor Roosevelt and her first cousin, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who was Theodore Roosevelt's oldest child. Cleverly and clearly written and no history is left behind. I loved this book so much!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up - Marie Kondo. I've read it twice on my Kindle. I bought a copy for my bookshelf of greatest hits. For my third outing with Ms. Kondo, I audiobooked it. Round and round the apartment complex I went, sweaty and illuminated. This book never gets old. There's something so dear and fresh, even in repeated readings. Excuse me. I need to go fold the things in the dryer.

Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight - Peter Walsh. I've already been thoroughly Kondo'ed, so this book felt a little repetitive and there wasn't that piquant charm. Still, I appreciated his breaking it all down step by step. I took one of his flow charts to heart. There's also a soft spot in my heart for his old show Clean Sweep.

Here's what I'm not going to read:

Go Set a Watchman - Harper Lee. I'm not going to go into all my reasons here, but I will say that the book has made me feel uncomfortable from the moment last year that all of this came to light.

Here's what I'm going to read pretty soon:

What To Do About Alice? - Barbara Kerley. A children's nonfiction book about Alice Roosevelt that was the genesis for Hissing Cousins. My library lost/misplaced their copy, and I got all Veruca Salt and decided that I must have it NOW!!! I'm expecting a package from Amazon in a couple of days.

I know this post looks like my bookworming is still full speed ahead, but that's not what it feels like. My book group dream went belly-up earlier this month, so I've got to start from scratch again. Carving out a life here often feels more like the space is being carved for me and I must find a way to fit in it. I have to believe that bookworm power will prevail.

Friday, July 03, 2015

My Stewart O'Nan Summer

West of Sunset - Stewart O'Nan.  Instead of the predictable Gatsby-era take, O'Nan explores the last three years of F. Scott Fitzgerald's life, when he was employed in Hollywood as a scriptwriter. This book hit all my happy buttons: Scott hangs with Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley, and even better, Humphrey Bogart is his neighbor. Also, seen through Scott's eyes during brief visits, Zelda comes to life even more thoroughly than she did in the famous biography of her by Nancy Milford. O'Nan so accurately conveys the weird combination of tenseness and tedium that goes with spending time with someone experiencing mental problems. This is O'Nan's latest novel (published early in 2015) and although I haven't made it through all of his works yet, I have a feeling that this is his best one.

The Night Country - Stewart O'Nan. One Halloween night, five teenagers riding around in a car are in a fatal accident. Three die, one suffers severe brain damage and the other is unharmed. The novel properly begins on the first-year anniversary as the ghosts of the three dead teenagers follow the actions and thoughts of the unharmed teenager, who has survivor's guilt; the mother of the brain-damaged survivor, and the cop who was there when the accident happened. There's that same slice-of-life quality that made Last Night at the Lobster so good, but it's also quietly chilling with flashes of sharp, dark humor, like a Shirley Jackson novel.  The ending reminded me of a Coldplay song and I wanted to weep. Weighing in at less than 225 pages, this 2003 novel by O'Nan would be a great read for the R.I.P. Challenge.

The admiration continues. Next up: Wish You Were Here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

That Time I Got a Little Weird and Misery-like with an Author

I had a wonderful time with the Misery read-a-long, sponsored by one of my favorite book bloggers, Care. 

There was no way I couldn't participate. Misery is my very favorite of all of Uncle Stevie's novels, one that I have recommended for years, sometimes several times a year. I had only read Misery once, back in the late 80s, when the paperback version came out, so I was startled to see how much of the book I remembered with such clarity. Annie Wilkes, yikes. What a creation. A three-year-old (I think. At what age do children employ and enjoy expressions like "doody"?) in a crazy-strong woman's body. Did Stephen King have preschoolers around the house during the writing of this novel? He got the language, the cadence so right.

Whatever Annie's many faults though, you have to admit that she got Paul Sheldon to get up off his talent and tell a story properly. I loved the Scheherazade theme and the twin threads of creativity and destruction that run throughout. Stephen King has revisited the disgruntled fan angle in his latest novel, Finders Keepers, and I couldn't be more delighted. Being #7 on the waiting list is a little less delightful, but no disgruntled reader long as they keep the queue moving.

I thought I was all out of cringeworthy bookworm stories to share on this blog, but as I read Misery, an uncomfortable memory stirred. I didn't chop off any body parts or make anyone swallow their meds with dirty mop bucket water, but I did get a little intense. Maybe even creepy:

The year was 1995, and I had just read a first novel by a female writer that I'll refer to as A.S. On the back flap was her picture and a brief biography as well as something I had never seen before: An email address with a warm invitation to readers to contact her there. Email was something that was still relatively new in my life, and I was feeling quite cutting-edge as I composed a short note to A.S. saying how much I had enjoyed her work. Then I clicked 'send'. Sophisticated me.

Much to my surprise, A.S. wrote back! I remember seeing it early on a weekend morning and screaming and waking the whole house. So much for sophistication.

I don't have that email anymore, or even that email address, but as I remember, A.S. thanked me for my email and alluded to working on something new. I felt compelled to write back and thank her for thanking me, and thanks were unnecessary, because my god, she was a writer and I was unworthy. No, it didn't say that, but that was the general tone. I also asked about the work she had mentioned. She replied again saying that the new work would feature some of the same characters.

Now I must rinse.

 No, not really, but my reply was ill-considered. I not only blame myself, but the rapidity of our exchanges and the casual nature of email.

Again, I can't quote directly, but my lengthy reply advised her strongly (did I really have to say 'You'd better not...'?) not to switch from the first person narrative she'd used to third-person. I went on to explain that another author had done that (Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven) and I had been really upset, Actually angry and betrayed at being distanced from characters that I had taken to my heart. I wish I could forget, but I do remember using that rather intense language. I remember thinking that A.S. would be pleased by my insight and by the fact that I was more than a mere reader; I really got into books. I remember clicking 'send' with such conviction.

Guess what? A.S. never wrote back.

 I told someone what I'd written, and this person grimaced and said, "Oh, God, Susan.  Did you really? You didn't. Please say you didn't."

I read over what I'd written, and horrible realization set in. I sounded like Annie Wilkes before she picked up her ax!

Sick, clammy sweat covered me. The forehead-smiting began. For days it was a pattern: Read my stupid email, smite my forehead, Read, smite. Read, smite. Should I write and apologize to A.S. for being presumptuous? No, I couldn't even stand the click-click-click of my own typing; it brought on nausea. I finally deleted our whole exchange.

For years, I couldn't bear to see A.S.'s book in the odd library sale or used bookstore both here and abroad. When I came across it in my reading journal, I hurriedly flipped the page, feeling that same sickening feeling.

Finally after 20 years, I'm over it. I can rationalize: Sometimes ardent readers get a little carried away, and A.S. could probably appreciate that.  I'm just glad I got carried away in the days before social media.

Recently, I looked up A.S. on Amazon and saw that no novels followed that first one I admired so much. What about the new work she'd mentioned? Did I stop her creativity in its tracks with my tirade? That's ridiculous...or is it? I'll always wonder.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Contention by Paul Cunningham

Father's Day is less than a week away, I've seen many good lists of reading suggestions for the male bookworms in our lives. I would like to add one more:

It's getting good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads!

This novel is available in both paperback and ebook form.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

New Bookworm Crush: Stewart O'Nan

My last big author obsession was Emile Zola. It's been nearly three years, so I knew I was due to fall in love again.

A couple of years ago, I read Last Night at the Lobster, a short novel by Stewart O'Nan that follows the last evening of work for employees of a Red Lobster that is closing. The novel seemed so close to real life, as if O'Nan had just shown up like Tracy Kidder and hung out and reported what he saw and heard. When I started thinking that he hadn't really done anything, I realized that he had done something. It was one of those koan moments.

Flash-forward to last week. I was browsing the county library and I found a shelfload of Stewart O'Nan novels. Wonderful! I hadn't realized that he'd written so many. He's also written something with Stephen King. Uncle Stevie! How did that information elude me for so long?

Anyway, I checked out O'Nan's 2012 novel The Odds, which is about a couple who have been married 30 years. They have both recently lost their jobs and are on the brink of bankruptcy and divorce. In a bold move, the husband proposes that they liquidate the rest of their assets, take a "second honeymoon" to a hotel/casino in Niagara Falls (Canada) and make some seriously big bets. This is one of the best novels about marriage that I have ever read.

After finishing The Odds, I went on to an earlier O'Nan offering: Everyday People (2001). This is the one I'm reading now. This novel takes place in O'Nan's native Pittsburgh and describes the lives of several acquaintances in an African-American neighborhood. I've been reading with a critical eye this time, looking for and fearing any missteps or falsity on O'Nan's part, but so far, I've not been disappointed. It's a wrenching story, full of dignity and beautifully told.

I'm not sure which novel I'm reading next, but I am sure that this is going to be my Stewart O'Nan summer. Maybe it can be yours as well.