Thursday, April 27, 2017

In Which I Went to Lone Jack

Lone Jack MO.  This was important -- bucket list important -- and I kept putting it off for years.


Lone Jack, a town a few miles outside of Kansas City, was the site of an 1862 Civil War battle. One of the most famous characters in fiction lost his eye there: Rooster Cogburn from True Grit.

I haven't been having very much fun lately, but for one afternoon, I got to take a literary vacation of sorts.

Friday, April 14, 2017

My Bookshelf's Back


O my bookshelf. I'll never let you go again. 

Friday, April 07, 2017

2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Check Out My Prediction

The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is something I look forward to every year. Since there are no nominations announced in advance, I dizzy myself with speculation: Will the committee go with a crowd-pleaser, or go delightfully obscure? A book that takes place on American soil or in another country? The possibilities are endless. I usually get it wrong, but I don't mind. A new book will soon be nestled on my Pulitzer Fiction shelf.

Here's my prediction for this year:


So far, this has been my favorite read of 2017.  This is the latest novel I'm pestering people to read:

It's 1917. After their hapless father dies, or goes to "the heavenly table" as he terms it, three brothers, Cane, Cob, and Chimney Jewett decide to ditch their downtrodden life and try their luck as bank robbers. They've been inspired by a beat-up dime novel called The Life and Times of Bloody Bill Bucket and although they know it by heart, they still refer to it while they're on the lam.  This is the starting point for their encounters with what seems like hundreds of other characters, including Ellsworth and Eula Fiddler, who have a son, Eddie, who may or may not have joined the Army to fight in the Great War...in Germany? Where's Germany? What's this war supposed to be about?

I don't know how Donald Ray Pollock kept this huge cast of characters and their crossings and interactions straight. Maybe a flow chart? A timeline? And what of his writing? He has a distinctive voice, but he also reminds me of the two Mac Daddies (Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy). McMurtry because of the journey, and legend-building and the influences of the past, and the past and present bumping up against one another. McCarthy because of well, the journey again, and the sudden, sickening, ugly violence that pops up with increasing regularity. But Pollock is funny as well, and not above the occasional stupid joke. There's also a feel of Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor, but a cheerful Faulker or O'Connor. Finally, I was reminded time and again as I read of Canadian author Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers, which makes me think of Steinbeck, and yes, this is what fiction should do to you -- make you feel connected and woke. (Part of me wants to correct that to awakened.)

I finished this novel in early March, and I'm already ready for a re-read. Maybe audio this time. Read/Listen with me so we can talk about it. A LOT.

Did I mention how cinematic The Heavenly Table feels? I don't know if it could work on the big screen because there are so many characters, but if it does become a movie, I am there. I will even pay full price and forget to stand just so under the light in the ticket line so that my gray hair is shown to best advantage. Maybe a miniseries? That would work for me.

So that's my Pulitzer Fiction Wishful Prediction. I think my chances are pretty good this year. We'll know on Monday.

Many thanks to my friend Mary for bringing not only The Heavenly Table but Donald Ray Pollock to my attention.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

There, There Now

My wrist is nearly healed, so I'm back to typing with both hands. The right-side shift makes me wince a bit, but it's nothing I can't handle, she said bravely.

I've read so much these past couple of months, but blogging...it's like I'm locked up, locked in. Part of this is because of the wrist, and part of it is because Mom is working on her third week in the hospital. A double feature this time out: The usual touch of pneumonia coupled with an abscess gone way WAY wrong. The details are so horrific, I can't even type them here. Both you and Mom would never forgive me. Stephen King might...well, yeah, but he doesn't read this blog.

Even with all of this, I MUST get back to blogging. As I've done before when stuck, I'll try to do short entries until I'm comfortable again. Tonight (it's 12:40 a.m.), I'll talk about what I'm reading currently:

1. Washington: A Life - Ron Chernow. I'm glad I didn't give up on this biography. I'm 10% into the book and am starting to see and appreciate the human side of the most formidable icon in American history. He's so much more than that lifeless looking unfinished painting by Gilbert Stuart.

2. Consider the Fork - Bee Wilson. Really struggling with this book, and I can't put my finger on why. Wilson devotes each chapter to the history of a particular kitchen gadget. Sounds like it should be great fun, but the prose seems quite dense. It's not a long book, but  I've been at it for weeks now. I'm determined to finish.

3. A Touch of Stardust - Kate Alcott. This is part of my keep-an-audiobook-on-the-go-at-all-times project. What a fun, frothy gem. The setting is 1939 Hollywood, the backdrop the filming of Gone with the Wind. Carole Lombard and Clark Gable are characters. It's not all classic Hollywood, though. Talk of the war in Europe is in the air, and something is brewing with Julie Crawford's Jewish boyfriend, Andy Weinstein, who is David Selznick's right-hand-man. Julie, an aspiring screenwriter, is the main character. She is Lombard's personal assistant, and like Lombard, she is from Fort Wayne, Indiana. I'm not sure if the mash-up of Old Hollywood insider gossip and the dark story that seems to be on the horizon is really going to work, but for now, I'm thoroughly entertained. I could eat this book with a spoon, it's so delectable.

So that's my Read Life right now. For my next blog post, I'll work backwards, so I don't forget everything. On the other hand, I may leap so far forward that I pull my reading hamstring. Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Blob is 13!


Happy 13th birthday, Blob! I can't believe you've been my very own sweet darling book blog since 2004! What do you mean "Whatever"?  And what's with the eye roll?

Here's some economy-sized Clearasil. No, you can't drive the car. Not even to a bookstore or a library. Okay, I'm really, really mean.

 Look, I found a picture of myself when I was 13! No, dinosaurs did not roam the earth. Yes, there were books. Not scrolls or hieroglyphics on a cave wall somewhere.

Well, yes, I was a bookworm when I was 13. No, I didn't read "a bunch of stupid shit". Maybe some, but hey. At least I was reading. Let's hop in the time machine and I'll show you 13 glimpses of my bookworm self at 13, would you like that? Spare me the theatrical sighs. Corny? Really? Whatever:

1. When I was 13, I enjoyed the horror genre, which led me to a book called Carrie by a new author named Stephen King.

2. My mom liked nurse romance novels, so I bonded with her by reading a lot of Arlene Hale.

3. Science class was boring, so I read books behind my science textbook. Every day, I would bring a book and every day, Mrs. Briley would catch me reading and confiscate it. She never gave them back, either. I got smart...smarter and started bringing school library books. She must have had at least 50-100 books in her desk by the end of the year.

4. I liked books about gypsies and Roma culture. I thought a caravan might happen by and ask me to join their carefree life. No science or math classes. I wanted to be ready.

5. I read The Outsiders for the first time. Two-Bit was my favorite character and I pronounced Socs as Socks rather than so-shez. I also felt a sense of urgency. S.E. Hinton wrote the novel at 16, and I only had 3 more years to write something timeless...maybe something about gypsies?

6. A girl in my class convinced me to read the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. She said they were the best books EVER. They were very good, but not in the same league as the Little House series. I'm still grateful to this girl, even though we fell out a little bit later.

7. I enjoyed Reader's Digest Condensed Books, but the illustrations always disappointed.

8. A cute boy in my class told me that I would like a novel about horses. I wanted him to LIKE ME like me so I read it. I forget the title. I didn't like the book. I don't remember the boy's name.

9. My brother got the bright idea to throw my mass-market paperback copy of Gone with the Wind from our third-story apartment window. I screamed. My parents laughed for a long time. When they finally recovered, they ordered my brother to go downstairs and fetch the damn thing.

10. My library card number at the post library was 778.

11. I checked out Lady Chatterley's Lover because I had heard it was a dirty book. I couldn't make heads or tails of it. Back to the library it went. Then I found a racy novel in my parents' room written at about fourth-grade level. I was very Ewwwwwww! for days.

12. Here's a book that kept me entranced and entertained for hours on end. I came away with the idea that no film made after 1945 was worth seeing:


13. 778 was invited to volunteer in the post library's summer reading program. I started off shelving books in the children's section, then was asked to shelve in the adult section. After admitting that I didn't understand how to do the nonfiction, the assistant librarian kindly and quickly explained the Dewey Decimal System. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, I felt as if my brain grew three sizes that day.

Monday, February 13, 2017

i have no wrist but i must blog


not spraining, but fracturing...on groundhog day, of all days. i woke with some trepidation on the 3rd.

at first, i was going to wait until i could type properly, but that's another whole month. to HELL with that. if bauby could blink out all of the diving bell and the butterfly, then bybee can tap out a left handed post.

 my brain doesn't like this one bit. well, boo effing hoo, brain.

so yeah, my wrist, the floor. it was the convergence of the twain, as in the poem by thomas hardy, which is actually about the titanic and the iceberg. you see what i'm saying, of course.

you can't keep a good bookworm down, or even a mediocre one for long. here's what i've read/been reading this year.

1. her again: becoming meryl streep. nonfiction. michael schulman. i loved this look at the genesis of an acting genius. i eagerly await a volume 2.

2. $2.00 a day: living on almost nothing in america. nonfiction. kathryn j. edin and h. luke shaefer. bleak, but necessary reading. recommend pairing this with hillbilly elegy.

3. the green mile. fiction. stephen king.  uncle stevie delivers the goods in this depression era mashup of weird tales and charles dickens.

4. in the great, green room: the brilliant and bold life of margaret wise brown. biography. amy gary. i love the title, but the way it was written left me cold. i've got more to say about this book, but i need both wrists.

5. the art of x-ray reading. nonfiction. roy peter clark. fun, educational. clark profiles several writers and their greatest hits and shows why the prose is so effective. he really breaks it down and inspires. favorite chapters- shirley jackson, nabokov, flannery o'connor, sylvia plath. the whole book was a delight.

ok...so that was january. i haven't yet finished a book in february. here's what i'm working on.

parade's end by ford madox ford. i chafed against this novel for the longest time, but now it owns me. so very glad i audiobooked this one. finally on the last book of the omnibus, last post. i think what finally swayed me was the realization that christopher tietjens is played by benedict cumberbatch. that's MUCH better.

consider the fork - bee wilson.  wilson explores technology in the kitchen through the ages. fun stuff.

captains and the kings. novel. taylor caldwell. i couldn't resist... only 54 cents today feb 13th on amazon. kindle edition. caldwell always puts me right. she's my go-to when i'm off-kilter.

margaret wise brown: awakened by the moon.  biography. author???????????  i was so disillusioned with the new mwb bio that i had to try the older one. so far, so good.

chernow biography of george washington. slow going.

i need to stop typing now.

Friday, January 13, 2017

F This, I'm Getting A Bookshelf

Last year, I decided to be noble and not take up so much space in the spare bedroom with my bookshelves. That space was needed for a twin bed or a futon for overnight guests.

Long story short, I moved the shelves out to the garage where they hold canned goods. The books are lined up along the tops of my dresser, desk and nightstand. The excess books are stored in plastic boxes under the bed.

The spare bedroom still has no twin bed or futon for visitors. Come to think of it, there have been no visitors.

Meanwhile, new books are coming into my life, or perhaps the old ones are breeding, and my bedroom is overrun. Books are stacked up, and while I love a book pile more than most, there's also that overwhelmed feeling.

My first thought was to go through the Bybeeary and cull out some titles, but I don't want to cull and I don't want to stash any more books away under the bed or out in the garage. I love my books and I want them on display. I long to see them on a shelf once more, standing up proudly and vertically with their spines neatly aligned.

Soon, very soon, the spare bedroom will house the Bybeeary again. I'll direct any overnight visitors to the living room couch.