Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bukowski Night

Since I moved to Busan almost two years ago, my friend Val has been after me to go to the Wordz Only event. Since she doesn't live here, I made up flimsy excuses not to attend.  I imagined (One! Two! Three! Four! Five! Imagination working overtime!) going and sitting alone and feeling bashful, awkward and decrepit as the spotlight shined like the sun and moon combined on the talented but haughty and exclusive Busan equivalent of the Algonquin Round Table.

Val gave up trying to persuade me or perhaps she was just taking a break.  Whichever it was, in that interval a notice came up on Facebook that the next Wordz Only would have a theme: It would be Charles Bukowski night!  My timidity and reserve melted.  Bukowski Night!  O Hank!  I would be there.  Furthermore, I was going to read something.  If invited. I would not intrude. (introversion + being from the Midwest = hellish repression)

Last Saturday, I prepared for the evening by showering (probably not very Bukowskian) and watching a bit of Barfly.  I also practiced the short poem I would read.  Damn my voice!  I needed to borrow someone else's larynx.  Something deep, husky and velvety-raspy.

Oh, that's right:  In all these years of blogging, most of you have never heard me speak.  In pitch, intonation, and even syntax, I sound a lot like Sarah Vowell, AKA Violet from The Incredibles.  Don't get me wrong; I love Sarah Vowell to bits, but for Bukowski Night, it just wouldn't go.  Oh, well.  I'd jockey for a position under the air-conditioning vent on the subway. Maybe I'd develop bronchitis en route.

The event was being held in the perfect venue -- a bar.  Anywhere else would have been absurd at best and dishonest at worst.  HQ Bar. Not as dive-y as I'd hoped, but I'd seen it from the outside the previous Sunday morning, and with the full and bursting trash bags nestled against its base, it looked and smelled every bit the shithole Bukowski would have required.  It pleased me.

 Walking in, I ordered a glass of red wine (should have been beer, should have been rye, should have been scotch and water...oh well).  I almost said, "Hey, Barkeep!" when I asked for a refill, but I didn't.

So...awkward for a little while, but then K, the longtime organizer of Wordz Only came in, and I screwed my courage to the sticking-point and introduced myself and he was really nice!  He asked if I was going to read!  I told him about Val starting a Wordz Only in Cheonan as a tribute (tributary?) to the one in Busan, and he really liked that.  K. didn't wear a beret!  He didn't blow cigarillo smoke in my face!  He was playing Tom Waits before the event started!  I was starting to relax and enjoy myself.  I ordered a plate of french fries so I wouldn't get too stinko and do something stupid like start singing He's Me Pal then throw up on the floor.  That would be a little too Bukowskian.  There's such a thing as overstating your theme.

Each reading was better than the last.  Some people read Bukowski, and others riffed off of Bukowski, and their efforts weren't half-assed.  I was impressed.  Literary!  Erudite!  Articulate!  I was falling in love.  One guy read Raymond Carver's You Don't Know What Love Is: An Evening with Bukowski.  Smitten doesn't even cover it. I wanted to freeze time and have it be Bukowski Night at the HQ Bar for all eternity.

So what did I read?  I decided to read something by Al Purdy, a Canadian poet Bukowski admired: "I don't know any good living poets, but there's this tough son-of-a-bitch up in Canada that walks the line."  I could feel all the Canadians in the room filling up with happiness as I read Purdy's poem:

Home-Made Beer
I was justly annoyed 10 years ago
in Vancouver: making beer in a crock
under the kitchen table when this
next-door youngster playing with my own
kid managed to sit down in it and
emerged with one end malted—
With excessive moderating I yodelled
at him
          ”Keep your ass out of my beer!”
           and the little monster fled—
Whereupon my wife appeared from the bathroom
where she’d been brooding for days
over the injustice of being a woman and
attacked me with a broom—
With commendable savoir faire I broke
the broom across my knee (it hurt too) and
then she grabbed the breadknife and made
for me with fairly obvious intentions—
I tore open my shirt and told her calmly
with bared breast and a minimum of boredom
          ”Go ahead! Strike! Go ahead!”
Icicles dropped from her fiery eyes as she snarled
          ”I wouldn’t want to go to jail
           for killing a thing like you!”
I could see at once that she loved me
tho it was cleverly concealed—
For the next few weeks I had to distribute
the meals she prepared among neighbouring
dogs because of the rat poison and
addressed her as Missus Borgia—
That was a long time ago and while
at the time I deplored her lack of
self-control I find myself sentimental
about it now for it can never happen again—
Sept. 22, 1964: PS, I was wrong—

I think it went well; I tried not to hurry in my nervousness.  I was on a microphone, and I could hear my Sarah Vowell voice, but I just decided to rock the squeak.  

All the people whose readings I had enjoyed came up to me after Wordz Only was finished said they liked the poet/poem I'd chosen.  K. shook my hand and asked me to come to the next event.  I was so happy.  Too happy; I had to get away before I burst from it. 
 So how do you like that???  I'm mere months from leaving Korea, leaving Busan and I finally find what I feel like is *my* tribe.  It figures. Shoulda listened to Val.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Readfall, Fallread

Today, I was inspired by Jilllora  from Somewhere In A Book.  At the beginning of last summer, she composed a summer reading list for herself.  Then she checked back with herself to see how it had turned out. I thought:  I like making lists...I want to do that for fall!  Sadly, I realized that the first day of fall was yesterday.  Too late?  My hackles rose at the idea of missing out and indignation drove me to pull it all together now and today.  I think I may have strained something, but here goes in no particular order:

1. Eve's Ransom - George Gissing. (novel)  Currently in progress.  There's something about Gissing's work that just feels so right for reading on the subway.

2. Insomnia - Stephen King. (novel)  Currently in progress.  It's hardly an original thought, but fall is the perfect season for a King novel...

3. Joyland - Stephen King. (novel) ...or two.

4. Van Gogh: The Life - Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. (biography)  I have such great memories of reading their biography of Jackson Pollack and then watching the Ed Harris movie.  Or maybe the movie was first; I'm not sure.

5. Madame Chic at Home - Jennifer L. Scott.  (nonfiction)  This one is due to drop into my Kindle on October 7.  Maybe with the time difference, I'll get lucky and it'll arrive on the 6th.

6. Fun Home - Alison Bechdel. (graphic novel)  Even though Bechdel will never read this blog, I feel compelled to reread Fun Home to salute and celebrate her for winning that MacArthur Genius grant.

7. The Optimist's Daughter - Eudora Welty. (novel)  I shouldn't be reading from my Pulitzer collection; I should be packing it up!  Oh well.

8. Godric - Frederick Buechner. (novel)  I meant to read about this 12th century holy man and mystic last summer but got sidetracked by Maya Angelou.

9. Lost Memory of Skin - Russell Banks. (novel)  I have two Banks novels I want to read -- this one and The Sweet Hereafter.  Couldn't decide, so I tossed a coin.

10. Black Water - Joyce Carol Oates. (novel)  Fall is also good for JCO novels, but not just any fall day.  It has to be the sort of day that starts out chill but invigorating then sharply turns bleak and lusterless.

11. Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin. (novel)  Because of the TV show, I am interested in this novel, but I'm also reading it as a way to bond with The Spawn.

12. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - Mark Twain. (novel)  I've tried to read this book twice and gotten distracted both times.  I'm sure if Mr. Clemens were here, he'd tell me to pull my head out and get 'er done.  Yessir, I'm thinking during the Readathon.

OK, that's it.  I may have gotten too ambitious. On December 21, we can all check back and see what got read and what went by the wayside.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Not Waving but Blogging

I have thoughts, and I have books.  Sometimes worlds collide:

1. I'm having problems settling into a new book since I finished The Lost Art of Dress.  Brilliant read.  Look at those elegant women from the early-to-mid 20th century in their suits, hats and gloves.  Now, look at us in our workout clothing and sleepwear.  Whither did we go, and how did we get here in terms of fashion?  How did we stray so far from the principles of art so lovingly and rigorously set in stone by the "Dress Doctors"?  At one point, it was our DUTY to society to be well-dressed round the clock.  Author Linda Przybyszewski connects all the dots for her readers.  It seems we lost our way somewhere around 1965, thanks to Mary Quant, the designer of the miniskirt.  One gets the feeling that Przybyszewski would like to have a stern word with Quant about that, then take Germaine Greer to task for her somewhat illogical notion that women can't be taken seriously and look presentable all at once.  The Lost Art of Dress has double the weight of authority because the author (can I just say LP, at this point?  I break out in a cold sweat every time I type that last name) is not only a historian, she sews, thus she is fluent in the language of patterns and fabrics.  This is one of the books I regret reading on the Kindle, because it's chock-full of the most sumptuous illustrations that my small electronic screen could hardly do justice.  I will be rereading a hard copy, and I hope it's soon.  Meanwhile, go out and read The Lost Art of Dress so I have someone that can rave along with me.  If you don't feel like delving into the 400-page tome, check out LP's blog.

2. I was so looking forward to The Biography of a Prairie Girl (1902) by Eleanor Gates.  This novel is more than 100 years old.  It was free. It's obscure.  It's got some of my favorite words in the title.  All things to make me happy on the subway.  Six stops along the way, I had to give it up.  Not only did I stop reading, I deleted it from my Kindle with a flourish.  I tried, but reading those two chapters was the equivalent of wading in the ocean wearing several layers of winter clothing.  Not every old story is a lost jewel waiting to be plucked by mine hand.  Some books are meant to stay obscure.

3. I enjoyed most of Marcus Samuelsson's memoir Yes, Chef.  In the culinary world, he stands out as a figure of interest -- an Ethiopian orphan adopted by a Swedish family who turns out to have an affinity not just for cooking, but a compulsion to create his own dishes.  After internships in Switzerland and France, Samuelsson found a home in New York City.  His restaurant, The Red Rooster, located in Harlem celebrates "comfort food" and "the roots of American cuisine" as well as Samuelsson's multicultural palate.  I'm intrigued by his story and admire his determination and drive.  However, the memoir starts to alternately sag and bloat in the later chapters. The writing becomes labored and repetitious.  I was also distracted by some elements in his personal story.  I recommend the book with -- sorry, I can't stop myself -- reservations.

4. A trip to the Busan Book Swap gave me a chance to unload some of my books (the task of shipping the Bybeeary back to the United States looms larger and larger).  Of course, I couldn't come away empty-handed.  I found a 2012 novel called The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan.  Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, another "magnificent transatlantic ocean liner" called The Empress Alexandra is attacked at sea in the early days of World War I.  The main character, Grace, a 22-year-old bride, is placed into an overloaded lifeboat by her husband.  The passengers' grim ordeal goes on for weeks, and as starvation and rough weather set in, things get interesting.  I'm only halfway through and enjoying the dark and often sardonic tone against the backdrop of the desire for survival slowly chipping away at the facade of civilization.  I don't pay much attention to cover blurbs anymore, but my interest was piqued when I saw that Hilary Mantel AND Emma Donoghue both gave The Lifeboat a thumbs-up.

5. He's rude and obnoxious with a potty mouth and a juvenile sense of humor.  He's also my ESL/EFL hero.  He's English Teacher X, and although his posturing is such that you would guess he had absorbed the pedagogy by pillowing his head on a random textbook he found while sleeping in the gutter, he's demonstrated time and again that he really knows his stuff.  In this latest offering, Grammar Slammer: How to Explain the Hard Stuff and Impress Difficult and Demanding Students, ETX offers succor to the clueless ones who stumbled into this job on the way to seeing the world.  With a strange combination of hand-holding and picking readers up and hurling them through the door of knowledge, ETX's erudition shines through, like pure bourbon in a dirty glass.  He (maybe She?) covers everything from nouns and verbs, through present and past tense and ways to indicate the future, present perfect, past continuous, mixed conditionals, modals --it's all there.  If ETX's examples aren't always hilarious, they are unquestionably snortworthy.  More concise than a CELTA or DELTA class, not to mention much cheaper and more entertaining.

6. [Looking sheepish] After all these years of being a reader, I'm finally working on something of my own, and I've realized that it's hard work.  Slow going.  On bad days, I feel like I'm stumbling down a dark hallway with meat hooks instead of hands, fumbling for a light switch while trying not to vomit.  On the good days, I feel like a chimpanzee who has plunged her hands into a bucket of Jello letters and is throwing them onto pieces of paper or maybe the wall and the floor.  You've really got to have a strong stomach for this.  We'll see how mine holds out.

Monday, September 08, 2014

On My Mind Monday

Happy Monday.  It's Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving.  I've eaten all the little rice cakes, so now I'm going to blog about 4 things that are on my book mind at present:

1. I remember how I first heard of Joan Rivers (and Melissa, too, come to think of it):

I was in middle school.  My parents, my brother and I had gone out for dinner one evening.  We were on our way home when my mother suggested that we stop at 'Dirty' Walt's bookstore -- so called because of the "Over 18" section in the back.  At that time, I was into humor books.  I saw one called Having A Baby Can Be A Scream.  I liked the picture on the front of a huge cartoon baby cradling a grown woman holding a baby bottle:

My mother raised her eyebrows.  "Why do you want that?!"

"I think it's supposed to be funny,"  I said.  "Like Erma Bombeck."  My mother nodded.

I took the book home and read it, but all I vaguely remember is that the book was structured like a Q&A between Joan and her obstetrician.  The doctor also doubled as straight man.   Joan would ask a question about pregnancy.  The doctor would give advice, and Joan would reply with a self-deprecating remark about her changing body or general health.  Some jokes I got, and some were over my head.  Since I wasn't allowed to stay up and watch The Tonight Show until I was in college, I never heard anything more about Joan Rivers until she became outrageously popular in the 1980s.  I wonder if she was trying to tap into the Bombeck market with Having A Baby Can Be A Scream.

2. I just finished my fourth George Gissing novel, New Grub Street, which follows the fortunes of a group of friends and acquaintances who are trying to break into London's literary scene.  Every time I finish a Gissing novel, I'm convinced I've read the best one.  He's everything I want in 19th century literature -- he's Emile Zola and George Eliot combined.  He's in the sweet spot.

3. Speaking of Gissing, he gave some of his characters the strangest names: Biffen, Whelpdale, Bevis, and my favorite, Everard Barfoot.  Clementine Paddleford, the subject of my following read, Hometown Appetites, sounds like she'd fit right into Gissing's fiction.  In reality, Paddleford was an American food writer from Kansas, born around the turn of the century.  Although her impressive name has fallen into semi-obscurity, she was once quite famous (1930s-60s) for touring around the United States in search of new recipes featuring local comfort foods which she presented in her column (and later, book) How America Eats.

4. Clementine Paddleford got her start in journalism by writing for publications relating to home economics, which plays a large role in my current read, The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish by Linda Przybyszewski.  A historian as well as a blue ribbon-winning dressmaker, Przybyszewski looks back at the "Dress Doctors" in home economics departments all over the country who took very seriously their job of instructing women of all ages how to dress beautifully and sensibly by adhering to the same principles found in art.  So far, it's fun and fascinating reading.  I'm also amused by and sort of in love with the cover:

That's my Monday mind.  What about yours?

Monday, September 01, 2014

Booklight in August

I was pleased to be able to realize two reading goals this month: Finish the Maya Angelou memoirs and finally read The Well of Loneliness.

1. Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas - Maya Angelou. (memoir)  In the third volume of her memoirs, Maya, now in her early 20s, gets a job in a music store and meets a Greek-American who she is married to briefly.  After her divorce, she makes her living as a performer.  Her big break comes when she joins the cast of Porgy and Bess, which embarks on a European tour.

2. The Heart of a Woman - Maya Angelou. (memoir)  Maya meets a dazzling array of 20th century icons: Billie Holiday, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King.  She also begins to develop her skills as a writer as she moves to New York City and joins the Harlem Writer's Guild. After working for Dr. King for a while, she falls in love with a South African freedom fighter, Vusumzi Make. She and her son move with him to Cairo.  When Maya and Make separate, she goes on to Ghana.

3. All God's Children Need Travelling Shoes - Maya Angelou. (memoir) The story of Maya Angelou's years in Ghana. Among other things, she ponders on the differences between Africans and African-Americans. During this time, she tours in a revival of the Jean Genet play The Blacks, and goes to Germany and Italy. While in Berlin, there is a horrible, yet almost hilarious scene in which she and a Jewish friend have breakfast with a wealthy German family that is unashamedly racist.

4. A Song Flung Up to Heaven - Maya Angelou. (memoir) This volume takes place in the years between the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.  In an eerie coincidence, both men asked Maya Angelou to come work for them.  In both cases, she accepted, but postponed for personal reasons.  In the times during the postponements, both men were killed.  I read this book on Kindle, but it is probably best experienced on audiobook.  Narrated by the author, it won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album.

5. Mom & Me & Mom - Maya Angelou. (memoir) - Maya Angelou's tribute to her mother, Vivian Baxter, "Lady B".

6. Financial Peace Revisited - Dave Ramsey. This book seems like a warm-up for The Total Money Makeover.  

7. Food Rules: An Eater's Manual - Michael Pollan.  Pollan boils down his previous writing into a list of rules for sane and healthy eating.  This small volume would be ideal for your Readathon stack.

8. The Well of Loneliness - Radclyffe Hall.  (novel) This classic and groundbreaking novel about lesbianism from 1928 is a bit melodramatic, but gets so many things right.  Although there is nothing graphic like one sees in Lady Chatterley's Lover, The Well was banned probably because of Hall's insistence that "inverts" are born, not made.  Also, Hall maintains that people like her should be able to live openly and proudly.  She asserts that their time will come, and the novel ends with a demand for sooner, rather than later.  I'm so glad this book was written and wasn't completely quashed.  I imagine it's been a comfort to many generations of readers.

9. Landline - Rainbow Rowell.  (novel) Over the course of three novels, Rowell wrote characters that are funny, lively, engaging, attractive and alive.  Then there's Landline.  Oh, Rainbow.

10. Bad Feminist - Roxane Gay.  I read this book of essays to take out the bad taste after reading Landline.  Roxane Gay is a marvelous writer.  Her mastery of the essay makes me want to fall at her feet.  In addition to feminism, she also covers race, gender, entertainment and Sweet Valley High.  I was hooked from the first page, but she truly won me over when she wrote about her participation in Scrabble tournaments.

On to September!  For starters, I'm back with George Gissing, reading his 1891 novel, New Grub Street.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Of reading in July and changing my spacing habits and not blogging for...how long?

When I went to the Missouri State Fair in 2013, I really wanted to try a fried Oreo, but I couldn't bring myself to go up to the window and order one because of the unnecessary apostrophe on the sign. Instead, I took a picture.

Then I went and stood in line for this gorgeous cinnamon roll. I can't remember anything about the sign.

Hello Blob,

It's been a while, I know. It's not you; it's me. A couple of days after my last post, I had a disappointment that bordered on humiliation. I didn't cry, but my ears burned a fierce red as I sat on the futon and wondered if I should ever write anything again. If I had the right to sully people's eyes...well, that kind of thing gets tiresome quickly. Being somewhat sensible, I took a break, and now I'm back. Since you're a forgiving Blob, this is the part where you might say "I'm glad/you're back/don't explain." Too late; I already did. Sorta.

xoxo Bybee

From now on, I'm going to try to remember to space once and not twice after a period. My very scary typing teacher from high school, Mrs. Peggy Bowman, trained me to two spaces back when Carter was president. One-spacing feels like an aberration. OK, enough. Here's what I read in July, and it's one of my weirder lists:

1. Poet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher - Joan Reardon. (biography)

2. An Abundance of Katherines - John Green. (YA novel)

3. In the Year of Jubilee - George Gissing. (novel)

4. Ella Enchanted - Gail Carson Levine. (Juvenile or YA novel. I can't remember.)

5. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein. (YA novel)

6. Five Came Back - Mark Harris. (nonfiction)

7. Lessons from Madame Chic - Jennifer L. Scott. (nonfiction)

8. 1,000 Outfits from Just 30 Pieces - Wendy Mak. (nonfiction)

9. The Tidy Closet - Marie-Anne Lecoeur. (nonfiction)

10. Looking for Alaska - John Green. (YA novel)

Favorites: In the Year of Jubilee; Code Name Verity; Five Came Back; Lessons from Madame Chic; Looking for Alaska.

I'll be back in a couple of days to talk about my great month of reading in August.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A BEL for Susano

I'll never stop appreciating The Busan English Library.  When I was there on Saturday, I saw a sign that they've just had their 5th birthday.  I've been here almost two years.  Hmmm. So was it a Field of Dreams thing?

On Saturday, I was in one of those amiable moods in which I wanted every book I touched.  In keeping with library policy, I had to hold it to five, so this is what I brought home:

1. Ella Enchanted - Gail Carson Levine.  I polished this one off as soon as I got home.  I read it because an old friend of mine read it for a YA literature class.  I was curious when she said her classmates complained about the invented languages.  I liked that part and the rest of it as well, but the friendship/budding romance between Prince Char and Ella got a little tiresome.  There's a movie version as well.  I should check it out. Yeah, maybe. Someday.

2. will grayson, will grayson - John Green and David Levithan.  I really wanted Looking for Alaska, but it's John Green.  I'll take what I can get!

3. I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive - Steve Earle.  There's no way I could pass up a book with the title of a Hank Williams song for its title.  Not to mention that the author is one of my all-time favorite badass country singer-songwriters.

4. Godric - Frederick Buechner.  A novel based on the life of a 12th century holy man.  It was nominated for a Pulitzer back in 1981, but I think that's the year it would have been up against A Confederacy of Dunces.  Nobody puts Ignatius J. Reilly in a corner!

5. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein.  I've been watching a lot of book vlogs on YouTube lately,  This Printz Honor book set during WWII is getting a lot of love from YA vloggers.

I can't decide which book to read next.  They all look good.