What a great month! In spite of packing and moving house and unpacking, I was able to sink into reading for hours on end and successfully continue with the TBR challenge. I'm glad this challenge has forced me to finally experience these beauts that have been on my shelf for so long:
1. The Man With The Golden Arm - Nelson Algren. This novel was the first winner of the National Book Award. Polish-Americans on the rough side of Chicago just after World War II. The title character is Frankie Machine (Majcinek), a card dealer who was wounded in the war and came back with a taste for morphine. Gritty subject matter with a jazzy inflection. Is this an audiobook? If not, I have a suggestion for the perfect narrator: Tom Waits. There's also a movie version starring Frank Sinatra as Frankie Machine. Good cast, but the script is a little hammy-handed.
2. View From The Cellar - R.W. Watkins. I rhapsodized about Watkins in the previous post. By the time I was done with his fond and searching look at The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane, I was all fired up to reread...
3. The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane - Laird Koenig. At 214 pages, this suspense novel packs a hell of a punch. It's lean and mean and elegant. It's like Shirley Jackson at her best. I want to join forces with R.W. Watkins to give this book (and the almost-as-cool movie) a much-deserved renaissance.
4. I Want That! How We All Became Shoppers - Thomas Hine. So glad I got this disappointing book on sale for only a dollar.
5. Mr. Popper's Penguins - Richard and Florence Atwater. I keep thinking not about the book, but about plucky Florence Atwater who carried on with her husband's penguin story after he had a stroke and could neither speak nor write. She rewrote parts of it and submitted it to a couple of publishers before it was finally accepted. Mr. Popper's Penguins went on to win a Newbery Honor medal in 1939.
6. How Did I Get Here From There? - Claire Rayner. This was a book I almost tossed aside, unread. I'm so glad I had a change of heart and got to learn about this fascinating person.
7. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down - Anne Fadiman. A huge culture clash between a Hmong family who immigrated to Merced, California and the local medical community over how to treat an epileptic little girl. Anne Fadiman presents the little girl's -- Lia Lee -- story and in alternate chapters, provides background history about the Hmong. Fascinating. Brilliant book.
8. Life's That Way - Jim Beaver. Beaver, a character actor, is best known for his roles as Ellsworth in Deadwood and Bobby in Supernatural. He's also a fine writer. Life's That Way had its beginnings as an e-mail journal that he kept for a whole year, beginning when his wife, actress Cecily Adams was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Jim Beaver's writing is sad and wise and wry. In my mind, I could hear his actual voice. If this had been an audiobook, I would have bawled even harder.
9. Get Carter - Ted Lewis. AKA Jack's Return Home. Jack Carter returns from London after several years to attend his brother's funeral. It's being said that his death was an accident, but Jack has his suspicions which get bigger as thugs and small-time crooks in the area try to strong-arm him into paying his respects and getting on the next train out. Jack's not exactly the docile type, though, and God help the men (and women) who stand in his way. A gritty look at the seedy side of northern England. The movie, starring Michael Caine as Carter, is even better.
10. Who Was Elvis Presley? - Geoff Edgers. A juvenile biography of The King. Edgers took a cue from Peter Guralnick and couldn't hold back his scorn about Elvis' movie career. Other than that, it's a pretty balanced look at the entertainer with interesting side notes about the world and culture he came from and was living in.
11. So Big - Edna Ferber. Winner of the 1925 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I liked this story of Selina Peake DeJong, a gambler's daughter who married a dim bulb of a Dutch-American farmer and settled on the outskirts of Chicago. Even beaten down by poverty and hard work, she never loses her capacity to appreciate beauty and for self-expression. Although she wants and gets the best for her son, Dirk, she's a little bewildered and appalled when he gives him his dream of being an architect to get rich quickly as a bond salesman, since she also knows there is beauty in struggle. For me, Ferber is the female Sinclair Lewis. They both have such sturdy, Midwest American styles. No one could mistake them for writers from anywhere else. I didn't care for a later effort of hers, Saratoga Trunk (1941), but I really enjoyed So Big and look forward to reading more of her work. Edna Ferber appears briefly as a character in the Dorothy Parker biopic Mrs. Parker and The Vicious Circle (1994). Lili Taylor gives an intriguing performance as Ferber, slightly awkward around the Algonquin Round Table wits who ridicule her for her overtly dogged approach to writing.
Work started up again on Monday, but I'm happy about teaching the Children's Literature class again this semester. I'm making each student in the class select a Newbery winner to read and report on as part of their final grade. I noticed today that one girl was carrying Rabbit Hill (the 1945 winner), which I've never read. Maybe I can work in a Newbery or two on my own during the Readathon in April.