Monday, January 30, 2012

Twelve To Start 'Twelve Part One

I read 12 books this month.  I'm pretty happy, but I always wish I could read faster and more.  My friendly reading rivals, Teri and Chris, are galloping away from me.  They're riding their books (well, Teri is on her Kindle) like the most seasoned of jockeys. The lines of type are like their reins.  All I can see is dust.  

Oh, stop it, Bybee.  Stop your sobbing.  Bookworms don't cry-yi-yi. I wonder if Frankie Valli likes to read.  What would he think of my January books?

1. The Wide House - Taylor Caldwell.  I've decided that Caldwell reminds me of a mix of Ayn Rand and George Eliot.  Like Rand, she loves her crank philosophies and her characters are fond of speechifying.  Thankfully, she is more like Eliot, because these characters feel fairly real and she's capable of juggling several storylines and bringing them to a satisfying finish.  The Wide House was like Middlemarch Lite.  Written in the early 1940s, I could totally see it as a movie from that excellent era of moviemaking.  Good stuff from the TBR shelf.  I can hardly wait for April and I can dive off of this hot tin roof that is the TBR Double Dare and into the Taylor Caldwell I've got waiting so patiently for me -- Captains and the Kings and Wicked Angel.

2. The Stranger/The Outsider - Albert Camus.  The story of Mersault, a young man from colonial Algiers who is long on sensation and short on emotion.  A day at the beach turns out to be no day at the beach.  Camus was influenced by James M. Cain, so the first part of The Stranger is gritty and noir-ish, but it was the second part, after Mersault's arrest, that really grabbed me.  I was disappointed in the final scene in the novel, for it seemed crudely jury-rigged to prove a point, but he won me back again with that searing final sentence.  The Cure wrote and recorded a song about the pivotal scene in the novel.  From the TBR shelf.

3. The Lonely Polygamist - Brady Udall.   I scented some John Irving influence in this novel about a man with four wives and 28 children (circa the late 1970s) and it smelled great!  Good on Brady Udall for staying with the character of Golden Richards and fleshing him out and making him a fully sympathetic character.  Although the story is also told from the viewpoint of Rusty, Golden's wayward young son, and Trish, the fourth wife, there's none of that choppiness that works so well in cinema but  not always so well in novels.  Udall takes his time with the characters and the book is big, sprawling and warm and full of humor, sadness and surprises.  This book barely made it onto the TBR shelf; I decided that I had to read it in the waning hours of 2011.  I'm so glad I did.  Highly recommended.

4. The Bad Seed - William March.  Stephen King made a list of villainous characters, and scary little Rhoda Penmark made it into the top five!  That's pretty good for someone not much older than that number.  How old is Rhoda, anyway?  In the 1957 Penguin edition I read, she was 10 years old, but I keep reading reviews that mention her age as eight.  When did her odometer get reset?  She's also brunette, but who could ever forget Patty McCormick's blonde braids in the 1956 movie version?  Potato chip reading -- one chapter called for another.  From the TBR shelf.

5. Now In November - Josephine W. Johnson.  Hmmmm.  I don't recall ever seeing a title drop in the first three words of a book. This is the 1935 Pulitzer fiction winner.  Johnson wrote Now In November when she was in her early 20s.  This Depression-era novel about a family who is forced back onto the mortgaged family farm after the father's business in the city fails reads like John Steinbeck and Emily Dickinson got together for a writing rendezvous that Willa Cather popped in on at intervals.  Johnson's writing about nature also makes me think of Gerard Manley Hopkins and sprung rhythm.  

Life on the Haldmarne farm is bleak and difficult, and during the ten years that the story covers, they barely manage to eke out on the side of survival.  Arnold, the father isn't cut out for farming, and the land, never good to begin with, gets worse with a long and cruel drought (spelled "drouth" here).  Kerrin, the eldest daughter, is always angry and wild-acting.  If readers don't pick up that she's a little off in the upper story from the first pages, there's a really good hint when she compares the father to mad King Lear and remarks that she likes Goneril the best of the daughters.  Marget (the narrator)  and Merle, the younger daughters, work hard on the farm while trying to find consolation in the nature around them. 

 In the year of the drought, a young man named Grant comes to the farm as a hired hand.  He connects easily with the family, and also introduces the father to modern agricultural realities as he takes part in a dairy strike to protest the rising cost of milk.  All three daughters are affected by his presence.  (Fun fact:  The man Josephine Johnson met and married a few years after Now In November was published  was also named Grant.)  This novel wrings at your heart because you realize that when it was written, the Depression, the Dust Bowl and hard times were so far from over.  From the TBR shelf.

6. Ronald Reagan:  A Graphic Biography - Andrew Helfer (story), Steve Buccellato and Joe Staton (art).  A mixed bag.  I admired Helfer's scrupulous research, but thought that he got bogged down in tedious detail when describing Ronald Reagan's ascent into politics.  The cynical tone worked well for me, though, and the accompanying art was brilliant.  From the TBR shelf.

7. The Year of the Flood - Margaret Atwood.  I waxed eloquently here.  Well, I probably just waxed.

8. Something Good - Robert Munsch.  So I say to Robert Munsch, "Look, Bob -- I'm old, I'm friggin' old, I truly am."  I tell him that I can't be reading all these kiddie books that are 24 pages in length.  I tell him that I need to be filling in my gaps in the classics with fattish tomes like Tristram Shandy and Bleak House.  Check out my stern visage, dude!  But does Bob listen?  No.  Pretty soon I'm snorting with laughter and Bob's like, "Yeah, we got 'er on the go again.  Aboat time."

[to be continued...]


fantsmacle said...

A diverse list. 12 books, and you are working the strenuous SCH schedule! I better turn it up a notch.

Kathleen said...

I'd love to read The Bad Seed. That's one I haven't thought about for awhile but at some point I know it was on my TBR.

Unruly Reader said...

I think Frankie Valli would say that when you're doing all that reading, the "Silence Is Golden."

Susan said...

The Bad Seed! oooh! I read that book long ago, after my mother said it scared her silly, the movie. It is very creepy, and even though I love my children, I'm always aware that they aren't angelic. Says something about me,doesn't it? lol

love the eclectic reading!!!