Monday, November 17, 2014

In the Middle of Everything

Still doing NaNoWriMo, but feeling less frenzied.  One thing about this experience: I sleep soundly at night.  After I empty out all my words, I fall into bed (onto futon, to be exact) at midnight or one a.m, read for ten minutes, conk out and I don't know a thing until the alarm goes off at 8:02 the next morning.  After this is over, maybe I should keep a novel on the go all the time.  Nah.

Predictably, my reading has taken a hit.  I'm now in the middle of six books, and can't seem to finish a single one.  I just drift like a tumbleweed from book to book to book then stall.  The list includes:

1. Insomnia - Stephen King.  I'm mad at myself for this.  I should be reading King.  I would absorb his aversion to adverbs by osmosis.

2. Van Gogh biography.  He was driving me absolutely nuts, so what did I do??  I picked up...

3. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. She spends pages and pages and pages castigating herself for her writer's block.  It was too much of an echo of my own life these days.  I got that Van Gogh feeling, but pressed on. She really annoyed me when she dealt with her writer's block by breezing through three or four Henry James novels in a week while working full-time teaching at Smith.  I liked her dream about meeting Marilyn Monroe, though and how so much of her journal ends up in The Bell Jar, but still. Had to give up.

4. The Slaves of Solitude - Patrick Hamilton.  I don't know.  I love post WWII fiction, I love England, I love Hamilton, I love his prose -- but I froze up and couldn't finish.

5. How To Get A University Job in South Korea - Jackie Bolen.  It's important for me to finish this one and get a review up on this blog.  My Korean adventure is nearly over, but maybe someone else's is beginning.

6. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing - Marie Kondo.  This is my current subway read.  I wish I could hire Kondo to fly from Tokyo to Busan and we could sort out my possessions "in one go", as she blithely puts it. I could use someone to hold my hand during this process.  Now that I just wrote that sentence, I'm annoyed with myself for writing it. Aren't I an International Woman of Mystery?  Pooh.  A true IWOM would never have picked up so much stuff in the first place.

Finally, I had a dream that all my book blogging buddies -- The Relentless Reader, Bookfool, Sam from Book Chase, Michelle from A Reader's Respite, Susan from You Can Never Have Too Many Books, Susan from Pages Turned, Sandy from You've Gotta Read This! and Unruly Reader -- got together and came to Korea to visit me.  Except they got the wrong city.  They came to Gumi instead of Busan, then they realized their mistake and headed towards Seoul!  NO!!!  I had just caught up with them as the dream ended.  Wondering what it means.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Why Did I Ever?

Day 6:
Why did I ever NaNoWriMo?  An orangutan fingerpainting the kitchen baseboards with grape jam could accomplish so much more.  It's supposed to be write, write, write... and I'm all, edit, edit, edit, write, edit...

This peculiar sort of misery is even more interesting than the novel itself.

Here's my theme song:

On the bright side, turns out that nothing can stop me from reading.  My newest literary obsession is Patrick Hamilton.  I was so impressed with Hangover Square that I went right to The Slaves of Solitude.  I want to read Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, but it's not out on Kindle.  What a great title.  In fact, with a title like that, who needs the accompanying book?

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Bybee's Booktober

October was very much Booktober for me!  I started the month feeling oh-so-nonfictiony, but when I got to the middle, I went on a novel reading binge that still seems insatiable.

My "bridge book" that took me out of October and into November is a novel I've been wanting to read for several years, Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton.  Now that I've gotten past that ponderous spoiler of an introduction by J.B. Priestley, I'm enjoying Hamilton's precise, slightly chilly prose.

I'm stalled with the van Gogh biography. Vincent practically jumps off the page as presented by his biographers, Naifeh and Smith, but to modern eyes, it's obvious that he was bipolar and it's painful to watch him crash through life. I needed a rest.

 I'm also experiencing slow engagement with Stephen King's Insomnia, although I have no complaints about his writing.  It's not you, Uncle Stevie.  It's me.

Getting all caught up in the Kathleen Hale brouhaha that broke out full-force the weekend of the Readathon, I noticed on Goodreads that the author she cited as her main influence was Louise Fitzhugh.  I got all excited and was primed to break out my copy of Harriet the Spy and do a line by line reading which would "explain" Hale.  Luckily for you, I took a deep breath and the feeling passed.

I've committed myself to doing NaNoWriMo.  If I don't try to write a novel at this time in my life when I have almost no distractions, I don't know if I ever will.  I've built up a lot of anxiety about this and I hope I can use that energy to be productive.  If done properly, my reading for the month should go down considerably. Maybe not, though. I'll still keep my subway commute time and pre-sleep time for reading.

So, anyway.  Here's what I read in Booktober.  Got off to a rocky start, then things improved like crazy:

1. You Are What You Wear - Jennifer Baumgartner. Nonfiction.  Initially, I was pretty harsh about this book. I wanted it to be another Lost Art of Dress or Alison Lurie's The Language of Clothes and was disappointed when it wasn't.  Lesson learned: Don't go overboard with reading expectations. Still, for it to have been written by a Ph.D., it seems awfully slight.

2. At Home with Madame Chic - Jennifer L. Scott. Nonfiction.  I first discovered Jennifer L. Scott on YouTube through my love of minimalism and admiration of the French way of living.  I liked it that she edited her videos tightly until the last "um" was bleached out, and seemed to be able to stick with a chosen topic. Her first book, Lessons From Madame Chic is about how her 6 months as an exchange student in Paris living with a French family changed her life.  In the latest book, Scott builds from that foundation and discusses how to live a high-quality life at home, no matter what your income level. She has many helpful examples and suggestions that can be adapted to one's own lifestyle. A generosity of spirit  and intelligent, clear thinking pervades these pages. My favorite part is where Scott and her husband have a knee-jerk reaction that they must move after having children and accumulating more stuff, even though they had perceived that location as their dream home only a few short years before.  Thoughtfully and carefully, they sit down and figure out a way to fall in love with their current home all over again. Since Scott has young children, this book is geared towards young mothers, but older readers such as myself will find things to love about At Home with Madame Chic.

3. The Storm in the Barn - Matt Phelan. Graphic novel. A young boy growing up in the Dust Bowl America of the 1930s struggles to make sense (largely through myth) of the land's desolation and find his place on a farm where there are no crops and no chores. The use of dull dirt colors and empty panels will make readers feel choked and parched and hopeless. The jackrabbit hunt is bloody and graphic, but Phelan imposes a control on the violence that makes the event seem even more shocking.  I thought it was interesting that Dad looks like Henry Fonda as Tom Joad.

4. That Was Then, This is Now - S.E. Hinton.  YA novel. If this novel were to be written today, I believe Mark would be the POV character, and rightfully so. He's much more interesting than his lifelong friend and foster brother Bryon, who narrates That Was Then.... Mark is edgy and flawed, and the only thing about this novel that doesn't seem dated.  I keep thinking of the iconic quote from Hinton's first novel, The Outsiders, "Stay gold...". In That Was Then... much is made of Mark's golden aura -- his hair, his eyes, his easy manner, but his gold is corrupt, tainted, tarnished. I don't know if Hinton intended to extend her gold metaphor, or if fans have perceived it continuing from the first book to the second book, but it is there and I'm sure more than one reader has been left with a feeling of uneasiness although they may not know exactly why.

5. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks - E. Lockhart. YA novel.  I love how E. Lockhart took the formulaic stories of a boarding school girl, a high achiever, Cinderella year, brains and beauty, popular boyfriend and shook them all up and slammed them down on their ears.  Frankie, who at 15, has just grown from gawky adolescent to stunner has a boyfriend who is in a secret fraternity, but she can't join because she's a girl. Annoyed beyond reason (her father was in the fraternity, so she could have been a legacy), but with marvelous precision to her method and madness, she finds a window of opportunity to anonymously take over and shows the guys, whose legendary hoaxes were actually quite lame, how it's really done.  I love the feminist subtext, but even better, Frankie is such a great evil genius.

6. A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940 - Victoria Wilson. Biography.  I understand that a biographical subject doesn't exist in a vacuum; they were part of a larger world. But I also think there's a recent trend in biography to cast the net too wide.  It doesn't come across as the author being learned; it comes across as the author not wanting to waste any of his or her research. I enjoyed reading about Barbara Stanwyck (a lifelong bookworm! A book a day!) and her world: Brooklyn, Broadway and finally, Hollywood.  I even enjoyed the in-depth looks at her directors and co-stars, husbands and lovers. The transition from pre-Code to Code pictures was interesting, as well as filmmakers' attempts to circumvent the Code.  I understand that Stanwyck had strong beliefs about politics, but the pages and pages (and pages) about American politics got to be mind-numbing. That's not why I picked up this book.  In spite of the tendency of this project to be a tad overstuffed, I am very much looking forward to the next volume of Stanwyck's biography.

7. Dispatches From the Edge - Anderson Cooper. Memoir.  Cooper writes movingly about losing his father and then his older brother at an early age.  He also discusses his struggle to outdistance his pain by always traveling and looking for news to cover in places of suffering like Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and war and famine in Somalia.  A short memoir, but even though it's brief, it packs a lot of punch.

8. The Homesman - Glendon Swarthout. Novel.  Set in 1800s Nebraska, a small community has had several incidents of pioneer women losing their minds over a variety of arduous conditions.  The circuit minister has set up a system for helping these women by appointing a "homesman" to escort them across the Missouri River to Iowa, where they can be sent farther on home to their families. When the current group of husbands prove to be unwilling or unfit to take the women back east, lone female homesteader Mary Bee Cuddy steps up and volunteers for the job. She soon realizes that she can't manage the women and the danger alone, and finds a dubious assistant in the unlikeliest of places. Entertaining read and a slightly different take on the western genre. The movie version of this movie is going to be released soon.  I. CANNOT. WAIT.

9. Stoner - John Edward Williams. Novel.  In a novel that spans the first half of the 20th century, William Stoner goes to the University of Missouri to study agriculture with his father's encouragement and somehow finds his destiny as a literature professor while bumbling through a required freshman English class. His life, both in and out of work is constantly going wrong, and the girl he marries without really getting to know her is all of the battiest females in 20th century literature all rolled up into one. Depressing, but beautifully written. Extra points for recognizable Missouri landmarks.

10. The Girls - Lori Lansens. Novel.  What really struck me about this novel was not that it was about cojoined twins, but the Canadian-ness of it. I liked The Girls a lot more than I thought I would. Lori Lansens is like Miriam Toews, but with more substance.

11. Best American Comics 2012 - Francoise Mouly, editor. Graphic novel anthology.  Francoise Mouly should edit this series every year. Her turn as guest editor produced the sharpest, most attractive volume ever.

12. Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma - Kerry Hudson. Novel. Gritty novel about growing up in council housing in and around Aberdeen, Scotland. Hudson makes an interesting narrative choice is having Janie Ryan narrate what she observes around her from the very moment she emerges from the womb.  According to Janie, who is descended from fishwives, the first words she hears are part of a profanity-laden, end-of-labor invective.  Hudson's writing is compelling and a little rough around the edges. Certain sections of the novel seem less developed than others, and a good deal of energy leaves the book when Janie's ma is not present.  But I would absolutely and emphatically hate it if these flaws were removed; I don't think the novel would have the same power and impact.  I can't wait to read Kerry Hudson's follow up novel, Thirst. If you're a fan of The Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle, you'll appreciate Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float...

13. Lost Memory of Skin - Russell Banks. Novel.  The Kid's story is a sad one, with generous helpings of absurdity. A novel that dares to pose the uncomfortable question: Where can registered sex offenders make their homes if they can't live within a certain radius of children, schools or any other place where there might be minors? Are justice and common sense sometimes in conflict?  What is the line that must be crossed for a person to be truly declared a sex offender?  Fans of The Sweet Hereafter will be pleased to see Delores Driscoll make an appearance in this book.

14. The Sweet Hereafter - Russell Banks. Novel.  Banks' 1991 novel about a small community in upstate New York that is changed forever when a school bus accident kills several children. Different characters take turns with the narrative. Banks is brilliant, but bleak. Two of his novels in a row made me want to hide under my desk with a blanket over me. The movie based on this book is supposed to be even better than the novel.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bookworm in Busan: Gukdo Art Cinema

When I'm not reading, I enjoy watching a movie, which is actually another form of reading, isn't it?

One of my favorite places in Busan is the Gukdo Art Cinema.  It was difficult to find, (the map is unsatisfactory; I got lost several times and asked a half-dozen people) but well worth it.  GAC is a hidden gem for those who crave something other than big-budget action movies.  Every week, GAC brings in several films from different countries and usually shows one right after another.

Here are some directions I hope will be easy to understand.  (I've got some accompanying pictures, but am having trouble uploading them.  When I get them uploaded, I'll add them to this post.)

Directions to Gukdo Art Cinema:

1. Go out of Exit 3 at Dayeon station.  Immediately do a 180, walk a few steps and follow the sidewalk to your left, around the corner.

2. Stay on this sidewalk, walking for about 5 minutes.  You'll pass a lot of restaurants and a couple of hotels and a PC room.  The last thing you'll see is a big tire shop.

3. You will come to a huge intersection where you will see the U.N. Memorial statue.  Cross at the crosswalk.

4. Veering slightly to your right, cross at the next crosswalk.  It looks like a narrow red road framed in crosswalk/zebra crossing lines.

5. Walk along the sidewalk.  The sidewalk curves around the big parking lot of the Busan Museum. The U.N. Memorial statue should be on your right side.

6. Follow the curving sidewalk on around until you get to a crosswalk.  Cross here.

7. When you are on the other side, turn and go to your left.  Walk until you run out of sidewalk.  You will see a Hankook car repair place.

8. Turn right, and stay on the same side of the street, opposite the Busan Cultural Center.  Walk down until you see a coffee shop called MOZART.

9. Turn right at MOZART.  Make sure you are on the same side of the street as MOZART.

10.  After MOZART, you'll see a bricked archway.  That's not it.  Right after that, there's another entrance with  ART HALL written over it.  That's the place.  Go down the steps and into the small cinema lobby.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

All Day and All of the Night

Last Update!

End of Event Meme:
  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Hour 9 settled my hash for a while.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?  Roddy Doyle's quartet of novels about the Rabbitte family of Dublin -- The Commitments, The Snapper, The Van and The Guts.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?  No
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?  Firming up deadlines. Switching out hosts.
  5. How many books did you read? 2
  6. What were the names of the books you read?  Dispatches From The Edge by Anderson Cooper and The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most?  The Homesman.
  8. Which did you enjoy least?  Both books were first-rate.
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?  N/A
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?  I'll be in a different place next spring, where people will be puzzled and/or offended that I would take 24 hours 'just to read books', but I am a bookworm, and bookworms always find a way.  I'm cooking up a scheme even as I write this.

5th Update:
Only 90 minutes left.  Powered by a chocolate bar, I just finished The Homesman, a deserved Spur Award winner back in the late 1980s.  All that reading's got me hungry.  I'm thinking about my homemade chili.


4th Update:
Mid-event survey:

1. What are you reading right now?  The Homesman, by Glendon Swarthout. 

2. How many books have you read so far?  I'm on book #2.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?  The Homesman is a little twist on the pioneer stories I love, and there's a strong female lead character, so I'm looking forward to finishing it.  Supposed to be a movie version soon.  Great!

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?  Conditions are ideal, but I got k.o.'ed by The Sandman for 5 hours.  I chafe at my limitations...oh well, this means I'll be sharp when others are weeping with fatigue.

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?  Can't think of anything.  It's all good.


3rd Update:
SEVEN hours in?! Really!  I haven't read anything since my last update.  I haven't slept, either.  Just puttering around and charging my Kindle, which I forgot to do before we got started.  I also ate an apple. Now the Kindle is showing a green light, so back to reading.


2nd Update:
4 hours done.  I just finished Dispatches From the Edge.  Not an easy read, so I'm not sure what to read next.  I've got to make a decision soon, because I'm starting to feel the familiar tiredness. My mind and body are telling me to go for the pajamas.  They're telling me the softness, most snuggly pair.  No, I won't do it.


2.5 hours in.  Page 125 of Dispatches From the Edge.  It's not a long book and it's written in straightforward language, but Cooper's themes are personal loss, war, natural disasters, starvation, and disaster, so it's not the sort of book one breezes through.  I decided to stop and make myself some tea, which somehow became hot chocolate.


OK, now it begins!  Here's the opening meme from the Readathon hosts:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?  Busan, South Korea.  It's 9 pm, straight up!

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?  Not sure yet.  I'm beginning with Anderson Cooper's memoir "Dispatches From the Edge".

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?  Apples...and chocolate.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!  Oooh, having an attack of shyness.  Don't know what to say!  I'm a longtime Readathoner, since the days of Dewey.  I still miss her.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?  I've been having trouble staying awake the last few Readathons, so I banned pajamas and a pre-Readathon hot shower this time.  And bananas.   Maybe that'll help. ETA: I'm also doing updates on Twitter for the first time @susanandbooks

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Which Coco Bio?

I don't know what comes over me, or why.  Book madness, I suppose.  Bookstruck, as if I'd stood and stared at the spines on the shelves for too long without blinking.

Somehow, I got it in my head today that I wanted, no, that I must read a biography of Coco Chanel.   I went charging off into the internet only to find that there are a great many books about her.  A dazzling array.

Now I'm confused: Which bio should I buy-o?

Maybe I should just dab on some perfume and lie down until this mood passes.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Readathon My Mind

It's getting closer and closer...the Readathon is almost here!  Next weekend.  Awkward start time for those of us in Asia, but you know what?  After all these years, I'm starting to develop an affection for beginning at 9 pm on Saturday night.  When I move back to the USA next spring, it won't feel natural to pry open my concrete eyelids at what?  5 am?  On a Saturday?  That's some hardy stuff.  I'll have to get in touch with my inner pioneer.

Meanwhile, that will be then and this is now.  This time,  I'm going to change up how I do the Readathon.  This may hurt, but I've decided to provide myself with healthy snacks.  It's funny; just as I put this down, the longing for combination pizza pierced my soul.  There's a growling -- oh wait, that's my stomach.  Since this is something that doesn't come easily, I'm taking suggestions for healthy snacks.  Don't get too California with me, because it has to be a snack that is procurable, and there's only so much healthy that this poor body can take. Thanks in advance.

My other big change for the Readathon is that I'm not going to do a bit of it in pajamas.  Pajamas are sleepwear and sleepwear leads to sleep in most cases.  I have found myself nodding but not reading as early as 2 am (remember my awkward start time?) and it could be that I'm just a little too comfortable.

 Ditto for the pre-Readathon shower and shampoo.  Although clean hair makes it feel as if the words are getting into my brain so much more efficiently, there seems to be a relaxing side effect that comes back to haunt me when I wake up from an unexpected snooze with my nose in a book tent.

I had considered going in the opposite direction and dressing up as if I were going to work (even shoes, jewelry and makeup) but that seems too extreme.  Besides, if my beloved St. Louis Cardinals are still in the championship race, I'll need to wear my baseball shirt.

As always, what to read?  What are other people going to read?  I made a reading list for fall, but am feeling the urge to deviate from it.  Saturday morning will probably find me at the Busan English Library making a stack.