Monday, August 02, 2021

Twelve in July

 Twelve books in one month! That's a lot for me. True, many of them were Who Was...? books, but I read a nice variety of fiction and nonfiction. And my ears, my lucky, lucky ears. Here's to the audiobooks!

So here's my tasty list for July:

1. Who Is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson? -James Buckley, Jr. Nonfiction.

2. The Mayor of MacDougal Street - Dave Van Ronk. Memoir.

3. Cheeky: A Head-to-Toe Memoir -Ariella Elovic. Graphic Novel.

4. The Night Watchman - Louise Erdrich. Novel.

5. Who Is RuPaul? -Nico Medina. Nonfiction.

6. Who Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? - Kirsten Anderson. Nonfiction.

7. Who Is Aretha Franklin? - Nico Medina. Nonfiction.

8. Little Bird of Heaven - Joyce Carol Oates. Novel. Audiobook.

9. Who Is Elton John? - Kirsten Anderson. Nonfiction.

10. Who Was Andy Warhol? -Kirsten Anderson. Nonfiction.

11. Who Is Judy Blume? -Kirsten Anderson. Nonfiction.

12. Shuggie Bain -Douglas Stuart. Novel.

Notes:

I've got to hand it to Louise Erdrich. I didn't particularly enjoy the first part of The Night Watchman, but I stayed with it, and ended up enjoying it tremendously. Erdrich is an author that kind of sneaks up on you. I'm going to try more of her novels.

I knew who RuPaul is, but only superficially, so I was glad to read Who Is RuPaul? and learn more about him. It's a frank book that dives deeply into Queer culture. In fact, there is a defensive little note from the publisher on the inside cover. Nico Medina wrote Who Is RuPaul? and Who Is Aretha Franklin? (published before Franklin's death in 2018) . Although he, like the other authors in the Who Was..? series are working within a rigid framework, Medina's honest, thoughtful, and delicately emotional writing seems to transcend the constraints. After reading these two books, I am pumped to binge-watch seasons of RuPaul's Drag Race and head out to the movies on August 13 to see the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect.

Joyce Carol Oates and Louise Erdrich seem to be opposites in how they draw readers into their fictional worlds. Erdrich moves slowly and deliberately. Oates picks the reader up and flings them into her (usually) bleak landscape with a boot on the backside for good measure. Her characters and plots seem fueled on some sort of fever or drug, then they wind down significantly --almost peter out-- in the last act. In contrast, halfway is the point at which Erdrich, while not necessarily picking up speed, gains momentum. Her various, seemingly unrelated strands of story start to come together and make sense and not just sense -- a beautiful pattern, a satisfying ending.

I've never been a big fan of Andy Warhol's art, but I've always been intrigued by his philosophy and approach to art, so when The Spawn told me there was a Who Was...? book about him, I asked him to reserve it at once. I was not disappointed. Who Was Andy Warhol? joins my list of favorites in this series. I was inspired to go and check out The Andy Warhol Diaries (BIG heavy book, coffee table caliber, a real chunky monkey) which is so much fun to read: Gossip, name-dropping, minute details. It's like dipping into a box of candy. I want to drape my walls in tinfoil! I want to dye my hair glittery-silvery silver!

Since we're on the subject of Andy Warhol, right now seems like a good time to insert this story of Things I Kick Myself For. Once upon a time, back in the early 1980s, a neighbor of my parents gave me an Amy Vanderbilt cookbook from the late 1950s. As a cookbook, it was rather user-unfriendly. Short and chunky, it was not easy to prop up and open on a kitchen counter while cooking. The type was also small, and there were no photographs of how the dishes should look after preparation. It was also heavy on etiquette and  multiple forks. Waaay too much for a young and nervous cook, BUT the simple drawings interspersed throughout the volume were illustrated by *Andrew* Warhol! For years, I guarded it closely, but somehow in all the moves, both domestic and international, I lost this book. Kick. Kick. Kick.

Anyway.

Who Is Judy Blume? was a sentimental read. I was never a fan of Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. Eleven-year-old me thought she was absolutely nuts to want a bra and her period. However, Blume's story of teenaged first love, Forever was of extreme interest to sixteen-year-old me. I studied that book. Around the same time, I read Blume's adult novel Wifey. I remember feeling proud of myself for getting the joke about the pervert who keeps appearing in the title character's front yard to masturbate and leave. Sandy calls the police. As they leave, she says she remembers one more thing: the guy was right-handed. Or was it left-handed? I'm not sure anymore, but I thought it was uproariously funny. Who Is Judy Blume? compounded my sentimental feelings by doing a sidebar about a book series Judy loved as a young girl: The Betsy-Tacy books! I was very squeee! Laura Ingalls always held the top place in my heart followed by Jo March, but Betsy and Tacy were a solid third.

And what can I say about my last and most favorite read of July, Shuggie Bain? It broke my heart, as Tracey Ullman would say, in 17 places. Poverty and alcoholism and bad love choices and closed-mindedness set in Thatcher-era Glasgow reminded me of Roddy Doyle's Dublin. I loved the cadences of the Glaswegian (?) dialect, but I was forced to stop reading more than once to look up Scottish slang. I loved and felt sorry for Shuggie's family. I thought his father, Shug, was the villain of the piece until his mother, Agnes, took up with Eugene. At that point, Agnes had my full sympathy. Also, there's a long-past vignette with Agnes's father and mother that I had to read over and over in shock because I JUST KNEW I was not really reading what I had just read. Which, of course, is a long way of saying a very WTF moment. When the novel ended, I did not want to leave the remaining characters. I had a sincere sense of loss. I'm late to the party, but I'm so happy that Douglas Stuart won the Booker for Shuggie Bain. I can't wait to read his next novel.

2 comments:

Jeane said...

I was not really into Judy Blume- I really liked the frank voice, but didn't get the main character's attitudes towards things like puberty, either. I think I enjoyed the Fudge books better. However I did like Betsy-Tacy! and like you I'm always so delighted to find my favorite books mentioned in books I'm reading- especially when they're also beloved by the author or characters.

Sam Sattler said...

That's quite a month's reading. I agree with you on your assessment of the style differences between Erdrich and Oates. I used to read everything that Oates wrote but grew tired of the air coming out of so many of her stories before she reached the end. I much prefer Louise Erdrich's work these days.