Monday, June 30, 2014

June Reading: Leaps and Bounds

Whoaaaaaaa! 17 books this month.  What happened?  This has got to be tied to my recent resolution to DNF with impunity.  Or it could be that I read a few short books.  Either way, it was a great reading month in both quantity and quality.  New books, new discoveries.  There's nothing like being a bookworm.

1. Gather Together in My Name - Maya Angelou.  This is Angelou's life from age 17 to 20.  A lot of activity during these years, a lot of missteps, but she owns it all.  I must get the other volumes of her memoirs.

2. Plainsong: For Female Voices - Wright Morris.  This is a forgotten classic. Find it. Read it.

3. Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850 - Susan Campbell Bartoletti.  A lucid, moving account of those terrible years in Ireland.  For younger readers, but don't let that stop you.

4. Blankets - Craig Thompson. I first thought this graphic memoir was going to be like Stitches, with evil, creepy parents.  So glad I was wrong!  Offbeat story of growing up and first love.

5. Veggies Not Included - Christine Leo.  Her rather unconventional method helped her lose 130 pounds and keep it off, and that's because she's put a hell of a lot of brain work behind it.

6. Highway with Green Apples - Suah Bae.  This is a long short story (47 pages) translated from Korean.  I wrote a review of it here.

7. Medicine Men: Extreme Appalachian Doctoring - Carolyn Jourdan.  There's already a lot of great material here, with the oral histories of the Appalachian doctors and their patients, but at times, Jourdan gets in the way of her own objective with her overly folksy manner.  As a reader, I felt vaguely insulted when, in the middle of a funny, interesting narrative, she broke in and said something along the lines of, I was doubled over with laughter. As if the readers might not be getting it.  Still, it was a fun read that kept me occupied during a few subway rides.

8. Radical Frugality: Living in America on $8,000 a Year - Nic Adams.  Difficult and Spartan, but not impossible.  I enjoyed the lists of the cheapest states and towns/cities.

9. The Odd Women - George Gissing.  What I like best about Gissing is how he illustrates how his characters fit (or don't fit, in some cases) into the society they are part of.  This novel, published in 1893, follows a group of women who are unmarried by fate or by choice. Gissing also turns his attention to one woman who didn't want to struggle along, settled for marriage and got a husband that makes Mr. Casaubon from Middlemarch look like a picture of mental health. Gissing throws his readers some curve balls, but I respect an author who has confidence that his audience can keep up with him.

10.  The Street - Ann Petry.  This novel of a single mother in 1940s Harlem struggling to give her 8-year-old son a better life is a combination of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth and Native Son by Richard Wright with a few of Sherwood Anderson's 'grotesques' from Winesburg, Ohio sprinkled in.  Another forgotten/neglected classic.

11. Gentleman Jim - Raymond Briggs.  In this graphic novel, Jim, a janitor, decides to change careers after 20 years.  His Walter Mitty-like daydreams and befuddled notions of how to proceed and Jim's wife, the most perfect straight man ever, make this a hilarious read.

12. The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr - Nicolas Debon.  A short graphic biography of the 19th century strongman from Quebec.

13. Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China - Jen Lin-Liu.  The author went from America to China in search of her family's roots.  Her explorations led her into the world of cooking.  She went from reviewing restaurants to attending a cooking school in Beijing, to working as a noodle intern, then to working in the kitchen of  a high-end restaurant in Shanghai.  Eventually, she opened her own cooking school, Black Sesame Kitchen in Beijing.  Thanks to my friend Nancie for giving me this book.  I'm looking forward to reading another offering by Lin-Liu called On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome with Love and Pasta.

14. Shirley - Susan Scarf Merrell.  This novel reminds me so much of Call Me Zelda -- imaginary person becomes intimate friends with well-known literary figure.  I have to stop reading these types of books because they irritate me.  Too much of the imaginary person and not enough of the other. Who am I kidding? I can't stop; they are like candy.  Shirley is odd and brilliant like the author herself.  I love all the details sprinkled in from the Oppenheimer biography of Shirley Jackson and the psychological needling.

15. How to Start Out or Over on a Shoestring - Annie Jean Brewer. I have fond visions of Annie Brewer going toe-to-toe with Amy (The Tightwad Gazette) Dacyczyn in a frugal-off.

16. The Nether World - George Gissing.  In this novel, written a few years before The Odd Women, Gissing depicts the lives of several different families living in the slums of London.  He is sensitive to the subtle differences of poverty.  Some of the characters are managing with a job or renting out rooms and some are so poor they are compelled to pawn their clothing.  Most of the characters want something better for themselves, but scarcity leads to bad decision making and schemes gone wrong.  Really depressing, but I loved it.

17. The Price of Salt - Patricia Highsmith.  What's not to like about this 1952 classic?  Snapshots of New York City in the late 1940s.  An unconventional (for that time) couple.  A road trip. Romance. Suspense. Highsmith's dry sense of humor -- the couple succumb to passion in Waterloo. So much smoking and drinking and drinking and drinking.  The smart and literate writing demands and deserves an instant reread.  I have to get back into reading Patricia Highsmith's work.

7 comments:

Unruly Reader said...

Another possibility for your candy list: The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin -- the fictional memoir of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I've read everything she (Lindbergh) wrote, so I went in with skepticism, but I'm actually liking Benjamin's portrayal.

bibliophiliac said...

The Street is on my Classics Club list, and seeing your mini review reminded me I need to read it this summer.

Susan Bybee said...

O Unruly One,
You are so cruel. Thank you.

Bibliophiliac,
Good! I can't wait for someone else to read The Street so we can talk about it. I'm still gasping!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Aww, I loevd Blankets. So good! I haven't read the second memoir, Gather Together in My Name, by ANgelou and now I want to get my hands on it. I loved the first volume.

Susan Bybee said...

Melissa,
I keep going to Amazon and hovering my finger over the 'buy' button for Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas, the 3rd volume.

Susan said...

I've been trying to find the Oppenheimer biography of Jackson for a little while now. Then you casually throw an aside about it in the review of the fictional bio!! lol

That was quite some reading you did in June, book-twin. And I have not read (nor heard of many) any of them, so I'm busy looking them up now! Except fog George Gissing, I've heard of him! lol Glad he is your new crush, although I haven't read him so can't see if he is worthy of you!
:-)

Susan Bybee said...

Book-twin,
O Yes, he is worthy of my crush. I am dazzled.

I guess the Oppenheimer bio is out of print. Haven't looked at prices on it lately.