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? 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Farewell, Mary Shanahan

She was tall and terrifying. She stalked through the classroom, always somehow finding students who were unprepared for her classes. She fired questions rat-a-tat. Students dodged and weaved and tried to keep up. As for leading students to understanding, she would go along with that for a while, then she would pick a class up collectively and throw it through the door of knowledge.

She was Mary Shanahan, and she was one of my undergraduate professors when I was an English major at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma.

 I thrilled to her hauteur, her theatrical style of teaching. I idolized her and feared her and came out of her classes trembling and wrecked from trying to keep up with her forehand smash tennis-match style lectures. I swore each semester that I would not return, and the following semester found me front and center.

Shakespeare (16 plays in 16 weeks). English Literature, I and II. Bloomsbury. She cracked me open as a learner; I've never been the same.

I don't read what Mary Shanahan read, but she changed how I read. I pay fierce attention. I am obsessive about sussing out meaning.

Mary Shanahan died in Wisconsin last month on May 11. I found out last week, and it was hard news to take. I had hoped to see her again one day and bask in her steely gaze.

Paying tribute here feels small and pale and incomplete, so I want to read something in her honor. Perhaps Bleak House (at one time, she had a cat named Lady Dedlock) or a novel by her especial favorite, Virginia Woolf.

Go here to see Mary Shanahan remembered beautifully and properly, as was her due.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Movies for Bookworms: Genius (2016)



This movie is being released in the US on Friday, and I'm worried that it won't make it to Sedalia. Or Warrensburg. Will I have to drive to Columbia or Kansas City to see it? Will I have to wait months and months and months for the DVD release???

 I LOVED THE BOOK. MUST SEE THE MOVIE.

C'mon, Sedalia. Good Sedalia....nice Seddy-Seddy...

Look, Sedalia, if you don't dig the English major aspect of it all, please take into account that it's got a powerhouse cast.  Colin Firth is Maxwell Perkins! This is all my swoony bookwormish dreams come to life. Surely I can't be the only one in a town of 20,000.

Nobody flies or turns color as far as I know, but...please.

Oh, please.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

May 2016 Reading

 May was a 6-book month. Much to my surprise, most of these are library books!

1. Let the Hurricane Roar - Rose Wilder Lane. (novel) Okay, I've read Laura and I've read Rose and of course Laura/Rose. When it comes to storytelling, Laura wins. Rose's writing feels a touch perfunctory. I imagine her fixated on word count. LTHR feels very light and frothy compared to Laura's look at difficult times early in a marriage, The First Four Years.

2. American Rust - Philipp Meyer. (novel) A gritty tale of two young men who want to make something of their lives and instead get in way over their heads. Meyer's honest, stark writing reminds me of Stewart O'Nan, one of my favorites. Meyer wrote another, longer novel. I think it's called The Lucky Son. I want to read it.

3. The Paris Wife - Paula McLain. (novel) Based on events in the lives of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley. I ate this novel up with my English major spoon. I cooed with appreciation when literary giants and even literary medium-sized people popped up. I'd been shying away from this book because I hadn't cared for some other fiction I'd read in this genre (the books about Rose Wilder Lane, Shirley Jackson, and Zelda Fitzgerald). I was wrong to hesitate. The Paris Wife was so well done. McLain has a light touch.

4.  Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen - Mary Norris. (nonfiction, memoir) I rhapsodized about this book a couple of blog posts ago. I would like to add that I stand with Mary Norris in her support of the serial (Oxford) comma. I have an issue with commas, but I've got that particular rule down and don't appreciate those who would do away with it.

5. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? - Jeanette Winterson. (memoir) I've always been attracted to adoption stories because along with the writer, I find myself trying to tease out what makes us what we are. Nature? Nurture? Circumstances? Something in us that has nothing to do with parents, or does it have everything to do with parents because it's a trait or tendency that's shown up in a different form in another generation? Jeanette Winterson ponders her extremely strange upbringing by her religious zealot adoptive parents, especially the mother (always referred to as Mrs. Winterson after she threw Jeanette out at 16) but she can't repudiate them because she feels as if she wouldn't have acquired the tools she needed to be successful if she had been kept by her more conventional birth mother, who she finds after a long, maddening, circuitous search. The title comes from Mrs. Winterson's Parthian shot to Jeanette. Now I need to read some of Winterson's fiction.

6. The Cowboy and the Cossack - Clair Huffaker. (novel) This western is sort of an eastern, which makes it rather appealing, although Huffaker relied heavily on  stock types that readers could easily recognize. I can overlook that because the fish-out-of-water aspect is so much fun -- cowboys from Montana do the ultimate cattle drive all the way to Russia and pair up with a band of outlaw Cossacks rebelling against the Tsar. There are wolves and Tartars! So glad my best IRL bookworm buddy, Teri, discovered this obscure little oddity and brought it to my attention.

Not Finishing, But Reading:

Alexander Hamilton - Ron Chernow. (biography) I'm only 25% into this enjoyable, entertaining doorstop of a biography. Hamilton leaps off the page. I understand why Lin-Manuel Miranda was beguiled.

Villette - Charlotte Bronte.  (novel)  Another long read, but I'm audiobooking it and glad I made that choice. The only time it's a little awkward is when Charlotte/Lucy starts rattling off in French for pages. I muddle through listening for the occasional, familiar word, but I long to smack some jaws until English syllables start rolling out again. I'm 18% into this one, and determined to finish Villette. And oui! It's pronounced Vee-ette! I've been saying Vill-ette all these years! Ahem. Anyway.  After that, I'll work on Tenant of Wildfell Hall, then I'll feel good about ignoring the remaining gaps in my Bronte sisters reading.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Snack! Goes the Bookworm


What I'm reading now:

Alexander Hamilton - Ron Chernow
The Cowboy and the Cossack - Clair Huffaker
Villette - Charlotte Bronte

What I'm eating now:
What am I not eating?

Let me back up a little.

As you know, the night time is the right time to be with the book you love. Anytime from eleven to midnight will find me crawling into bed with my Kindle, earphones, and assorted library books or paperbacks from my very own Bybeeary. Everything I could want or need, right?

Well lately, I have felt the need....the need for feed.

I am not a bedtime snack kind of person. I prefer to have dinner at six or seven then game over till breakfast. But these past few weeks, I've been going in search of chips, cookies, crackers, mixed fruit and nuts, chocolate...I'm sure there is something I'm forgetting. Oh, right, once there was pie. After the snack, I finally settle down and read for thirty minutes to an hour before falling asleep.

I try to fight this urge to chow down. Some nights I win, but those victories are getting fewer and farther between. Not surprisingly, my clothes are getting a bit tighter.

Why this change? Is it a sign of a weak character? Is it just knowing that the snacks are there and available? Is it menopause putting one last whipping on me?

I think I have finally figured out the answer:

I'm not hungry. I'm tired. I'm staying up too late then trying to fit my reading in on top of that. By that time, my brain wants a boost, a quick boost, which translates to something sweet or salty or both. Crunchy. Yes, God help me, crunchy.

Does this make it OK to snack? It's all for books and reading -- what could be nobler? I can't possibly go to sleep without reading; that would just feel wrong. An early bedtime? Nah. Being able to stay up as long as I damn well want is one of the few perks I've truly enjoyed during these last 3-plus decades of adulthood.

I suppose my best solution would be to prepare for the snack attack and have some healthy snacks on hand like fruit or yogurt. Veggies.

I could also grudgingly agree to give into Mr. Sandman for a while then wake up feeling fine after a short nap, able to sink my teeth into a few chapters at 3 a.m.

I could also drink water while reading. I don't think I would last long, but when I woke up, I would get in more reading time while relieving my protesting bladder.

It's 11:45 p.m. now. I am putting off going to bed, even though I want to get back to The Cowboy and the Cossack for a chapter or two, then finish off the night reading about Alexander Hamilton. But the Cheetos are looming large. Every time my mouth falls open in a yawn, they see an opening.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Between Mary & Me



Dear Mary Norris,

Right from the beginning, you've got me agonizing about punctuation. Should I have used a colon in my salutation? What about that comma? I'll just admit that commas are my bete noire. Yes, there should be that caret thing over the first e in bete.

Even with all my personal issues, I loved your book. You have replaced Lynne Truss in my affections of that kind. You're wittier than English Teacher X. I feel as if you and I could talk over lunch in a way that I wouldn't be comfortable with Strunk & White.

After finishing Between You & Me, I could feel the essence of it inside me. I was walking carefully, even delicately so that I wouldn't disturb it as it settled. And then. Then I walked into the local Salvation Army store (the back room is full of books) and agghhh! BAG'S FOR SALE! TOY'S 50% off....I could go on, but no. I looked at the BOOK'S and left. What can you say in a situation like that? You can't.

As for your title, right away, I was bathed in a warm, rosy, nostalgic glow. It takes me back to the time someone actually praised me for saying "Gerald and me" instead of "Gerald and I". Gerald was my co-worker, and I was explaining that I didn't know if I had a certain holiday off because "The boss didn't say anything to Gerald and me." This person nearly choked up, he was so grateful. (That should be a semicolon between up and he, right?) If my usage of grammar and punctuation were (unreal conditional!) cooked pasta flung at the wall, there would be a fair number of strands on the floor. Anyway, no one since then has praised me for inflecting pronouns correctly. I serve them up and wait expectantly, but no joy.

Speaking of things not always being quite right, let's talk about page 69. You have an error! I was horrified for you but pleased that I found it. I can't decide if you did it deliberately and the person who finds it gets a plum of a prize. You called Becky in Vanity Fair Becky Thatcher instead of Becky Sharp...or is that Sharpe? I can't remember. I just know that B. Thatcher is Tom Sawyer's girlfriend.

Can I choose my prize? If so, can I have a job at The New Yorker? I always spell "traveller" with two l's, even when spellcheck admonishes me, as it is now.

Here is my favorite part of Between You & Me: When a writer used the term "star fucker" in an article and a reader wrote in to complain not about the vulgarity, but the absence of a hyphen. I was smiling until my cheeks hurt at the thought of receiving correspondence like this on a regular basis. I'm really happy for you.

This is my favorite quote from the chapter about swearing (F*ck This Sh*t):

You cannot legislate language. Prohibition never worked, right? Not for booze and not for sex and not for words. And yet no one wants to be pummeled constantly by four-letter words. If we are going to use them, let's use them right. Profanity ought to be fun. I love the title of this chapter and thought I should spell out those words uncensored -- swag it out! But I like it even better with the blessed euphemism: the asterisks standing in for the vowels are interior punctuation, little fireworks inside the words.

There's so much more, but I must stop somewhere before I resort to emojis.

No wait: Your trip to the Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum in Logan, Ohio. Awwww! I love it! I want to go, too!

I borrowed your book from the library and I hate the thought of having to return it next week. Between You & Me will most likely become part of my permanent collection when I next visit a bookstore. Thank you for writing it and providing grammar and punctuation nerds such as myself a couple of blissful hours of entertainment. If there is a reward for spotting the wrong Becky on page 69, please let me know here.

Sincerely your fan,
Susan Bybee


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Ponyboy at the Movies


I woke up this morning with bookworm brain, which is not a bad thing at all.

Running through my mind was the first (and last) lines of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I don't have a copy of the book, so I must paraphrase. Ponyboy says that he has two things on his mind: Paul Newman and a ride home from the movie theater. Right after that, he gets jumped by the evil Socs, and Paul Newman is forgotten.

I first read this book in 7th grade and went on to read it many more times. Like most of my early reads, I internalized the book, but even though I love movies almost as much as I love books, it never occurred to me to wonder which Paul Newman movie Ponyboy had just seen. Somewhere out there in the world are stay-gold devotees of the novel that have probably gathered every last obsessive detail about the setting, the plot, and the characters. Perhaps the question has already been answered, but that's not going to stop me from playing detective.

Since The Outsiders was published in 1967, I assume that the time frame is current. I'm also trying to put myself in a Greaser state of mind and try to think which Paul Newman movie would have impressed Ponyboy so much that he wasn't mindful of the danger around him.

I wish so hard that it had been Cool Hand Luke, but I don't think so, because both appeared the same year.  The Hustler came out in 1961, and that's too early because Ponyboy refers to The Beatles often, which means the novel is set after 1963. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came out at the other end of the decade, and that would have been too late. That means that it was probably Harper, a movie in which Newman plays a smooth private eye.

Now I need to get a copy of The Outsiders and see if I can figure out which movie Two-Bit, Johnny, Ponyboy and Cherry Valance (and Dally, briefly) saw a few nights later. I remember they went to the movies and Bob, the nastiest Soc, was a malevolent presence, but what was the movie?

I'm off to the library with a side trip to the store for some microwave popcorn.

***

UPDATE:

From S.E. Hinton herself, via Twitter:  Hud.

Hud! 1963. Paul Newman is the title character, a dissolute younger son of a rancher. I didn't even consider this movie, because he plays such an unsympathetic character, but by Greaser standards, Hud is both tough and tuff. As Ponyboy points out, both are compliments.