Sunday, November 13, 2016

In Which Books Make Me Happy...Well, Happier

Last month's posts were a work of cranky art, but I have a good excuse for my snarly behavior: I came down with a urinary tract infection and colitis all at once. Not elegant at all. No wonder I was having trouble reading. Recovery from the colitis has been a bit slow, hence my silence here. I'm still on a restricted diet. You would not believe the boringness, the blandness. The pickiest of 3-year-olds eat better than this. And coffee! I miss you; I mourn you.

Here's something peculiar: I was reading the new Shirley Jackson biography the weekend I fell ill. Late in the book -- in her life -- Shirley was plagued by colitis. I wasn't sure what it was, so I looked it up. Inflammation of the colon.  A couple of days later, my doctor informed me about what my very icky tests revealed. Colitis. The doctor seemed taken aback by my cheerful reaction:  "Oh! I know what that is!"

Anyway, here's what I've been reading since I last checked in here:

A Curious Man: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley - Neal Thompson. (biography)  Thompson has worked as a sports journalist, and his punchy prose style is a good match for Robert Ripley, who found his unique niche early on. I was expecting Ripley to be a little weirder and a little darker than he was, given his subject matter. I also liked the thumbnail sketches of the people who populated Ripley's world, his travels around the world, and the perspective of the time in history in which the cartoonist lived, and how that contributed to his popularity. Entertaining.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby. (memoir)  In his early 40s, Bauby, a successful magazine editor, suddenly suffered a massive stroke that left him with "locked-in syndrome". He was aware of everything around him, but completely paralyzed except for being able to communicate by blinking his left eyelid. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly -- his metaphor for his imprisoned body and his brain -- was dictated painstakingly by Bauby, blinking it out to an assistant. It's grim but also humorous at times. This is a book that is going to stay with me. Read it if you haven't yet. I heard the movie is also devastatingly well-done.

Germinal - Emile Zola. (novel)  I read this book about miners on strike back in 2013, when I was on my quest to read all 20 novels in the Rougon-Macquart series. The translation I read then was an older one by Havelock Ellis, and it was good, but the one I just finished by Roger Pearson! Damn! What a difference! The prose leaps off of the page and grabs the reader by the throat with a hairy, callused hand, just as Zola intended. From now on, I'm reading only the freshest translations of Zola. I must add that I had the exact same experience with my two readings of Nana.

Tampa - Alissa Nutting. (novel)  I stumbled onto this book because Goodreads kept reassuring me that I wanted to read it and would like it. Why? The novel is the story of middle school teacher Celeste Price who is a sexual predator hopelessly attracted to a specific type of young teenaged boy. Nutting tells Celeste's story coolly and fearlessly. It's like Lolita, except with a lot more graphic sex. Really not my type of read at all, but to my surprise, Goodreads was correct: I liked Tampa a lot. Celeste was irresistible, even at her very worst. She was smart and cutting, with tart and accurate observations about society and she was coldly unrepentant about her actions. It must have been difficult for Nutting to get into her character's head so completely. There was also a great deal of black comedy. Part of me is ashamed for enjoying the novel and part of me is pleased that I can still be surprised by how I react to a book.

At the present, I've got two books on the go: Hungry Heart, Jennifer Weiner's memoir, which is gorgeously appealing and readable, and Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. I know Washington was the father of our country, but as far as biographies go, he's no Alexander Hamilton. Still, I hope to finish this book by the end of 2016. Goodreads helpfully reminded me that there are about 48 days to go.  While I try to make sense of the events of the past week, I predict that I'll be reading more to try and recover a sense of equilibrium.


Sam said...

Happy to hear that you're at least a bit further up the road to recovery. I read that Washington bio a while back and my biggest problem with it was that the ARC was heavy enough to make my wrists sore. Had to pace myself because of that reason. I recently read my first Shirley Jackson work, The Haunting of Hill House, and I'm looking forward to more. Is the bio something I should consider?

Get well...we've missed your posts.

Unruly Reader said...

So glad you're on the mend. Dang -- what a deal!

I'm cracking up over your cheery response to your diagnosis, due to Jacksonian knowledge.

Hmmm... I've had my eye on the Chernow biography of Washington. Is it that Washington's life was less zingy than Hamilton's crazy ride? Or is the writing less lovely? That book's a big commitment, and I'm seeking guidance from a reader I trust.

Bybee said...

Hamilton jumps off the page...Washington comes across as far removed from readers of his biography. I'm chipping away, hoping for things to heat up.