Friday, October 04, 2013

September, 2013: The Wow Continued - NONFICTION

When I get worried, I get obsessive, and then it's time to make a chart.

During September, I felt a little fainthearted about reaching my reading goal (126), but then I got my nerve back.  I just finished #98, but October promises to be full of distractions: The Busan International Film Festival runs from October 3-12, midterm exams are just around the corner from that, and my beloved St. Louis Cardinals are in the playoffs.  On the other side of the balance sheet, my bookwormiest friend Teri is coming to visit (she's an inspiration and an excellent source of moral support and her enabling skills are beyond compare!), Dewey's Readathon is coming up and there's a holiday (Hangul Day, in which Koreans celebrate their alphabet) next week.

Here's what I read in the way of nonfiction in September:

1. Society's Child: My Autobiography - Janis Ian.  When Mom and I went to Nashville, we went on one of those bus tours of stars' homes.  Since it was summer, all the trees and bushes were in full leaf and it was difficult to see the homes as the bus whizzed past.  Then the driver said that we were about to drive by Janis Ian's house.  Great!  I sat up and got my camera ready:

I love all the colors on and around this house.  The aqua chairs on the front porch make me feel so happy. The bus driver thought Janis Ian had some color blindness issues.  Shut up and drive, Dude.

After returning from Nashville, I recalled that Ian had written her autobiography a few years earlier. I wasted no more time. It's a brilliant read. Ian has had an interesting life -- probably much more interesting than she would have liked at the time.  As much as I enjoyed reading it, I regret not experiencing Society's Child as an audiobook; Ian plays and sings at the beginning of each chapter.  She went on to win a Grammy for Best Spoken Album.

2. Meeting Jimmie Rodgers - Barry Mazor.  The important lesson that I took away from this book was that Jimmie Rodgers influenced practically every musician in every genre and that influence is still felt today. After an attention-getting introduction about Johnny Cash and Louis Armstrong performing "Blue Yodel #9" on The Johnny Cash Show, Mazor lays out the evidence with scholarly precision.  He also throws out some tasty tidbits.  For example, Ernest Tubb started out as a Jimmie-clone back in the mid-30s, even getting some of Rodgers' clothing from his widow.  Tubb yodeled his heart out until a tonsillectomy put the kibosh on that and he had to develop his own style.  Another fun fact: Jimmie Rodgers has serious admirers and imitators as far away as Africa.  A less-tasty tidbit was reading about Roy Acuff's apparent jealousy and rude dismissive remarks during a tribute show.  Mazor has some leaps that verge on lunacy, but he's always fun.  I forgot exactly how, but he connected Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Star Wars' Han Solo to The Father of Country Music.  Towards the end of the book, there's a chapter about how women artists have responded to and interpreted Jimmie Rodgers' songs.  The end of each chapter of Meeting Jimmie Rodgers includes a dazzling discography.

3. Coming Clean - Kimberly Rae Miller.  Internet and blogging personality Kimberly Rae Miller's memoir of growing up as the only child of hoarders in extreme clutter and filth, and her attempts to come to grips with what she comes to realize is a disorder.  Her love for her parents shines through, and although it's clear that she is often frustrated, she doesn't wallow in self-pity.  I was reminded, as many other readers were, of  The Glass Castle.

4. A Widow's Story - Joyce Carol Oates. In 2008, Oates' husband of 47 years, Raymond Smith, was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia.  He died a few days later of a secondary infection that he'd picked up in the hospital.  Joyce Carol Oates was thrown into confusion and grief, which she details in this memoir.  I should not have read reviews at Amazon and Goodreads of A Widow's Story, because people reacted in much the same way as they did to The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, another searing masterpiece of heartbreak.  The readers said things like Oates was a name-dropper, that she seemed too self-centered, they criticized her for some of the things she did in those rawest early days after Ray was gone, and one person actually whined that they hadn't really learned anything.  This kind of thing makes me want to reach into my computer and slap these people silly while swearing at them.  Pay no attention.  Both of these memoirs are fine and brave and good.

5. Three Cups of Deceit - Jon Krakauer.  I never read Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson.  I saw him on Oprah back in 2005 or 2006, and there was something about the way he spoke that made me uncomfortable, although he seemed quite noble.  Oprah interrupted him, which should have been a relief, but she also made me uncomfortable because it seemed as if she was trying to out-noble Mortenson with her plans for a school in Africa.  Evidently Jon Krakauer got an uneasy feeling even before Mortenson's mission became world-famous.

6. The Elements of Style - William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.  Now that I've read The Elements of Style, I'm actually afraid to write my reviews because I can see all the bad writing spewing forth as I tap the keyboard.  Being able to recognize is half the battle, but still. I feel self-conscious. The authors are able to turn limp and bedraggled writing examples into the equivalent of a neatly made bed with crisply starched bed linens.  Who's gonna bounce a quarter off of my prose?

1 comment:

Susan said...

I have The Year of Magical Thinking, but not read yet because I'm afraid I will get too sad. I have to be prepared for it. You had an amazing year so far of reading, book-twin! and so much non-fiction. Wow is right. I'm amazed when I get to 10 non-fiction in a year! - ok, not proud of it, but facts are facts....I don't think I've reached 10 nonfiction in year yet. So I would be amazed! You are awesome.