Monday, May 02, 2016

April: 30 Days, 7 Books Part 1

If only it could be the other way around!
30 books in 7 days. Think of it.

April was a good reading month. Nice mix of fiction and nonfiction, page and audio. Two of my reads left me feeling sweetly twangy, pleasantly steeped in traditional country music.

 And!!! The nerdy Bonnethead part of me sparkled and shone like Ma's house after she and Pa took Mary off to college, leaving Laura, Carrie and Grace behind and they decided to do the fall housecleaning.

1. The Nest - Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney.  (novel) The title object refers to a substantial nest egg left to four siblings who are slated to get the payout when the youngest hits her forties. Meanwhile, the oldest son, who is a career wastrel, has his biggest screw-up to date, and the children's (!) mother takes the money and uses it to smooth over the scandal. Someone (I wish I could remember who...someone at Book Riot, perhaps?) theorized that this novel, intentionally or not, is a modern retelling of Charles Dickens' Bleak House. Thanks a lot, Bookworm. Now I've got to read Bleak House. Meanwhile, I don't know if it is or not, but I don't care. The Nest is a smart novel, a briskly told story that touches on many aspects of modern life without making the common mistake of coming off like a checklist. I am already looking forward to Sweeney's next book and I'm sure there will be a movie version of The Nest.

2. Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter - Kate Clifford Larson. (nonfiction) For years, the eldest daughter of Joseph and Rose Kennedy was carefully hidden from public view. As her brother JFK's political star rose, rumors abounded: She was a teacher in the Southwest. She was in a convent. Finally, the truth started to come out: Rosemary was mentally handicapped. Then, years after most of her family was dead, more horrors and skeletons emerged from the closet. From the moment Rosemary was born, the world was a hostile place. To placate a doctor's ego, her birth was delayed, resulting in a loss of oxygen which led to brain damage. To make matters worse, she was born to parents for whom image and success was everything. When her erratic behavior threatened that, Joe Kennedy...well, he was an evil bastard, and Rose not much better. The heroine in this story is Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Rosemary's younger sister and founder of Special Olympics. I audiobooked this one, and while it was well done, it was painfully sad to listen to.

3. Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty - Diane Keaton. (memoir) I've always liked Diane Keaton's work, so I was disappointed in this memoir, which reads like a scattered first draft. The parts in which she talked about Woody Allen made me uncomfortable. She is complimentary and loyal. I understand and appreciate that, but then again, Woody Allen. This was my least favorite read for April. The title says it all. I've heard that her earlier memoir was good, so I might try that one.

4. High Lonesome World: The Death and Life of a Country Singer - Babs H. Deal (novel)  My history with this novel goes back a few years. I remember seeing the paperback in our home. Someone gave it to my non-reading parents who further disdained it because "it wasn't real". I tried to read it, but I was still in elementary school and found the shifting viewpoints confusing. Somewhere in all our moves, that copy of High Lonesome World disappeared. I remembered it when the Hank Williams biopic came out, and tracked it down on Amazon.

 At the beginning of High Lonesome World, published in 1969, Wade Cooley, a wildly popular country music singer is found dead in the backseat of his baby blue Cadillac while he is being driven to a show he must perform at on New Years Day. If you're thinking Hank Williams, you're right.

 High Lonesome World takes place in the small (fictional) town of Bellefonte, Alabama over three days' time, as the citizens of that community wait for their hometown hero to be brought back on the midnight train and laid to rest. Wade's life and death is examined through the eyes of his manager, a close musician friend (inspired by Porter Wagoner, judging by description), the old man who taught Wade how to play the blues, and somehow knew he was dead before the news hit Bellefonte; Wade's ex-wife and his current wife, the current wife's angry father, a past lover, a musician in Wade's band, his mother, the undertaker, the publisher of the local newspaper, and an academic who is doing his thesis about Wade's music.

As pointed out above, all of this is a very thinly disguised account of Hank Williams' life and death, so it was interesting and even fun to tie the slight alterations to the real thing. In the acknowledgements, Deal makes a point of naming everyone that helped her, and that list reads like a Grand Old Opry cast list. She goes on to specially thank Mr. and Mrs. Henry Cannon. That went over my head for a moment, then my country music upbringing kicked in and I thought: Oh wow. (or words to that effect) That's Minnie Pearl! 

 The only aspect of the novel that got on my nerves was that the intellectual characters were a tad too pretentious and did some heavy-handed, ham-fisted philosophizing. (There is one exception: Deal does a sly send-up of the academic getting hooked on country music by repeatedly listening to Miller's Cave by Hank Snow and tying it to every literary and philosophical conceit under creation.) The characters with a 'simpler' view of life were much more moving and believable, not to mention palatable. I'm really pleased that I rediscovered this novel and hope that I have brought some small attention to it.

I was going to discuss the other three books I read in April, but this post is getting way too long, and I need space and time to burble enthusiastically about The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Strangers on a Train, and The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Shut The Book Up: The DNF Files

I struggled with a couple of books recently and had to give them up.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey. As much as I loved the glimpse of Randle Patrick McMurphy's undershorts (boxers with white whales, given to him by an English major he was sleeping with, he said), I got so annoyed and then depressed with the misogyny.  My sympathies were with Nurse Ratched, and I suggest that someone write a novel telling her side of the story.

It Can't Happen Here - Sinclair Lewis.  I feel bad about this one. I adore Lewis' novels, and enjoy a bit of dystopia. I was all primed to curl up on the sofa with this book and a couple of news channels murmuring (?) in the background. Don't know exactly why I stalled. Pretty sure it's not a forever thing, like the Kesey book.

The bad news: I feel like a bookworm slob when I DNF.
The good news: Both books came from the library.

Have you DNFed lately? Do you hate it as much as I do?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Welcome To My Shelf

Congratulations to the newest Pulitzer fiction winner Viet Thanh Nguyen! I look forward to procuring The Sympathizer, adding it to my collection, and of course reading it in the near future.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Pulitzer Fiction, What's My Prediction?

I have read almost no fiction published this past year, but I still have to guess. It's too much fun to miss out on. It's Pulitzer Day! Where's my party frock? Where are my book-shaped earrings? What about cake?

Without really knowing what I'm talking about, here are my two predictions (in no particular order:)

Whether one of these books or another up for consideration wins the fiction award, I'm looking forward to the announcement, then adding the winner to my Pulitzer fiction shelf.

The suspense is so gorgeous, with the always-added tension that the fiction committee might decide not to make an award this year, which happens from time to time.

Monday 2 pm CT can't come soon enough!

What's YOUR (probably much more knowledgeable) Pulitzer fiction prediction?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Cradled in Bybeeary

The books are off of the shelves, the shelves are in the garage, but somehow, all's right with the world.

 I'm not just being a good sport; I slept so well last night with all the books in the same room. This is what feels normal.

The beginning of the process. Books all over the bed. Not a bad feeling at all!

Top shelf - Fiction.  Bottom shelf - Nonfiction. The top is still a work in progress.

Books along the length of my desk. If need be, I could squeeze in another book on the left side. Hooray for bookends!

I hadn't planned to put books here, but the space potential suddenly leaped out at me. Off to the store for another set of bookends. Jewelry box on the left. I love this piece of furniture. My great-grandparents bought it soon after they married in 1916.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Bybeeary in Boxes? Am I Tough Enough?

Okay, so once upon a time, about 6 weeks ago, we moved and my new bedroom didn't have enough room for all my shelves (I put the Pulitzer collection in my bedroom), so these shelves were placed into the spare bedroom, along with a lot of other furniture that doesn't fit.

Mom has a lot of furniture. Much of it is in the garage we are still renting at our previous place. She is quite attached to her many pieces: "I could tell you stories about that one!" "I can't let that go!" "That table is a friend!" "That was your great-grandmother's!" "Your great-great grandfather built that  table for your grandmother and gave it to her for her 16th birthday!"  

Now she has a brand-new friend: A custom-built solid oak desk/TV stand. The rather large new friend went into her bedroom and the piece she was using went into the spare bedroom.

Even though there's all this furniture, we would like to get one more thing: a small bed, daybed or futon for guests. Right now, there's no room for this sort of thing.  I am feeling frustrated, because at some point, there will be guests, and it irks me to see the spare bedroom so non-functional, basically a dumping ground.

It's no good to ask Mom to part with some of her stuff, or even shuttle it to the rental garage. In fact, she would like to get more out of that garage and sort a second layer of furniture...I couldn't really listen.

So I brooded and brooded. I made the Brontes look like Gretchen Rubin. 

Then it hit me that I am part of the problem in that spare bedroom. Those two bookshelves eat up a lot of wall space! They are also the only pieces of furniture over which I have any say. If I take out my bookshelves, the stuff on the opposite wall can be shifted and then there will be space for a bed/daybed/futon.

But then there's the bookworm part of me: 
Take out the shelves? Put the books in boxes? 
 At these moments, it's difficult to put my Kondo where my mouth is.

All the books wouldn't have to go into storage. There's a nightstand in my room with two shelves. My turtle collection is there, but I could move it and stick in quite a few books. Then I could get some bookends and make a line of TBRs across my desk. The other books I would lovingly store in  plastic containers that would fit under my bed. I won't get rid of anything; I went through that ordeal during the international move.

Yikes, this goes against my grain, but on the other hand, I want to live in a home that looks nice and is fully functional. I'm up for the challenge. I'm quailing on the inside, but determined to apply some creative thinking and artful maneuvering to make this a success. Am I bookworm tough? Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

March Was A Six-Book Month

1. The Boys in the Boat - Daniel James Brown. (nonfiction) Damn, this guy can write! I'm mad at myself for shying off of this book for several months. This is the true story of the scrappy University of Washington rowing crew that made it to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Another example of specimens from The Greatest Generation. Even better: Hugh Laurie's father makes a cameo as part of the British team! Such a great read. Damn, this Daniel James Brown can write. Okay, I already said that. Can't wait to read his next book.

2. Mess - Barry Yourgrau. (nonfiction) Barry, a writer and artist living in New York City, was a hoarder. Or was he? His apartment was messy, and when he wouldn't let his longtime girlfriend in, things got a bit tense. He decided to make a Project of his cleanup, which involved research. His writing style is sly, hip, witty -- I loved all of that. What annoyed me was his constant refrain that he took pictures of his mess. The book has no pictures! [Edited to add: Correction -- there is ONE picture. While duly doing his research about hoarders, Barry found out that he has an unfortunate?A hilarious? resemblance to the King of all Hoarders, Langley Collyer.] Also the bit about his girlfriend's pseudonym got a bit grating. I actually cringed whenever she appeared in the book. Use your real name or go park yourself somewhere less messy, girl.

3. Lucky - Alice Sebold. (memoir) When Sebold was a freshman in college, she was brutally beaten and raped one night when she was coming home from a party. This was only the beginning of her ordeal, as she has to deal with the police and her family and friend's reactions. I felt profoundly upset, especially at an unforgivable question her father asks her, right to her bruised and bloodied face, and I wasn't sure I could continue reading. Glad I hung in there, because her calm and cool testimony at the trial when the defense attorney is trying to make her look bad, was inspiring. Maybe that's the wrong word. I'm thinking of something like that, but much, much fiercer.

4. Chocolates for Breakfast - Pamela Moore. (novel) Published in 1956 when the author was just 18 years old, this novel has aged very well.  The book follows two years in the life of Courtney Farrell, ages 15-17 while she negotiates life on two coasts, disinterested parents and a cast of seedy and/or pathetic characters. It's brilliant in its frankness and tackles subjects that one assumes were off-limits in the mid-50s. Because of Moore's tragic and early end, it was tempting to read Chocolates for Breakfast as a sad road map. Happily, I got caught up in the story and didn't do that very often. This is a lost classic and it's good that it's been rediscovered. Now I want to know if Sylvia Plath read it when it came out. I have a strong sense that she did.

5. Ten Thousand Streets Under the Sky - Patrick Hamilton. (3 novellas, published as one novel) I'm still puzzled how Hamilton could be such a lush but still so observant. I suppose alcohol heightened his powers. Of course, this trilogy was written early on and published in 1935. This overlapping narrative of three young people who work at or frequent a pub called "The Midnight Bell" reminded me of both Dickens and Zola, except with Hamilton, there is no padding, no wasted words. He chronicles what he sees and gets right to the point. His other career as a playwright stood him in good stead. Highly recommended.

6. The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea - Yukio Mishima. I'll be honest; I didn't know what I was getting into. I only knew that I have loved the very title of this book for years and was fascinated and repelled by the author. And now? The novel reminded me of Lord of the Flies and The Stranger. The translation is impeccable, one of the best I've ever read. Although the story is off-putting, I couldn't stop reading and it's whetted my appetite for more Japanese literature. Not Murakami, though. I must explore and take suggestions.