Monday, June 15, 2020

Black Lives Matter: Fiction and Nonfiction

Regarding my last post:

I don't apologize for my intense visceral reaction. It's the only reaction that is sane, but after a few days, it reeked of self-indulgence. Sitting around shivering and despising my white pelt is only meaningful if there is follow-through, and not just as the cause of the week. Also, if you're busy with self-hatred, you can't focus outward. You aren't able to listen, learn, study and grow.

This article was helpful to me.

Support Black booksellers! I was pleased to see Tulsa represented.

Finally, here's a list of Black writers or subjects of books from my reading journal. Maybe these recommendations will be helpful to someone. If you think a book doesn't belong on the list, please let me know.

1. Caucasia - Danzy Senna. (YA Novel)

2. Bud, Not Buddy - Christopher Paul Curtis. (Novel for younger readers)

3. Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston. (Novel)

4. Don't Look Back: Satchel Paige in the Shadows of Baseball - Mark Ribowsky.  (Biography)

5. A Wish After Midnight - Zetta Elliott. (YA Novel)

6. Beloved - Toni Morrison. (Novel)

7. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot. (Nonfiction)

8. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass - Frederick Douglass. (Memoir)

9. 12 Years a Slave - Solomon Northup. (Memoir)

10.Get On Board - James Haskins. (Juv. Nonfiction)

11. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou. (Memoir)

12. Gather Together in My Name - Maya Angelou. (Memoir)

13. The Street - Ann Petry. (Novel)

14. Native Son - Richard Wright. (Novel)


Monday, June 08, 2020

Postcard From Slumpville

Hello from Slumpville! Wish you were here! No, I don't.

Except for excerpts from The Tightwad Gazette, I haven't read anything for a week.

A white police officer killed a black person. Again.

Who am I to be sitting around, enjoying a book?

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Comfort Reading

I'm experiencing a lot of reading cycles during this time.

First, "Fuckedupness". I wanted anything new and fresh to read, and if it had a twisted element, so much the better.

Next came the "Good Girl" phase. I strove to be diligent and finish the TBR stack on my coffee table. This is how the month of April went.

Now it is May. After hitting a brief (but they never feel brief, do they??? They feel like endless falling on jagged rocks!) slump, I am in a phase that I'm surprised didn't show up earlier: Comfort Reading.

Yes, it's true. I'm reading my 20-year-old yellowed, taped copy of The Complete Tightwad Gazette once again. Amy Dacyczyn would be proud that I haven't replaced it.

Although some of the advice is obsolete, and much doesn't pertain to my life anymore, I can't tell you how good it makes me feel to dive back in and revisit these pages: Bread crumb cookies! Refrigerator stew! Tightwad courtship! Dumpster diving! Jamie's plum-colored boots!

Before she became famous for frugality, Amy Dacyczyn was a graphic designer. Every page still looks great. I love her illustrations. I sort of had a crush on her husband and (literal) tightwad-in-arms, Jim, because let's face it: the way Amy drew him, Jim was a snack.

I don't know how long I'll be in the Comfort Reading stage, but I'm obviously having a good time.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

April, 2020. Fourth Month, Four Books

O, my fellow bookworms. I am compelled to tell you about my dreams. For a couple of nights, people were working on books in my R.E.M. state. In the first dream, the pandemic was finished, and Mario and Chris Cuomo decided to co-author a book. For some reason, they were still in Chris Cuomo's basement.

The next night, I dreamed that Alex Trebek and his wife, Jean, had moved to a seaside village in South Korea, and Alex was working on a book. What makes the second dream feel very Squeeeee! and I clairvoyant? is that a couple of days after my dream, Alex Trebek announced that he'd written a book which will be published in July of this year.

Since then, I've been trying to think before bed who I'd really like to write a book, but nothing has come of it in spite of my dogged planning. Isn't that the way it always goes?

During my waking hours, these are the four books I finished in April:

1. The Mirror & The Light - Hilary Mantel. The 16th century is so far back in time, but Mantel makes it feel so current, maybe even more than she intended. Real life seemed to explode on the page: Henry VIII reminded me of a prominent political figure. The plague was a constant threat. Someone sent Thomas Cromwell a leopard. As in the first two books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, I admire how Mantel seems to get completely into Cromwell's brain. It's not just what he thinks in response to others (although these internal musings are often funny) but also the elaborate machinations. Keeping all those balls in the air at the same time took so much concentration that he underestimated his enemies. Cromwell's sudden downfall and last days are difficult reading. Mantel's trilogy ranks up there with my favorite historical fiction.

2. Who Was Nikola Tesla? - Jim Gigliotti. Much to my surprise, this turned out to be my favorite in the Who was...? series so far. So well-written. A terrific balance of the inventor's accomplishments and eccentricities.

3. Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer - Carol Sklenicka. The author of this biography also wrote the Raymond Carver one, which was published back in 2009. Both are first-rate. I had a wrong idea about Alice Adams as a writer. I thought she was frothy and shallow and snooty, and avoided reading her work. I feel terrible about that now. She was none of those things, and passionately dedicated to her craft. I put all of her novels on my wishlist. Thanks so much to Carol Sklenicka for a beautiful and perceptive portrait.

4. Janis: Her Life and Music - Holly George-Warren. This biography of Janis Joplin was so enjoyable, so readable! Yes, Joplin was a hellraiser and took a lot of drugs and drank a lot of Southern Comfort, but George-Warren also documents how Joplin was ambitious about her music career. She emerges as having been ahead of her time. All biographers have themes. Sometimes they work and sometimes they choke the narrative, but Holly George-Warren chose hers with an expert eye. I recommend this biography wholeheartedly.

Speaking of biographies, did you see that Benjamin Moser's biography of Susan Sontag won the Pulitzer Prize in that category? I squealed like a fangirl.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Bybee's Endless Wishlist: April, 2020

I bought this blank journal back in 2009, thinking that it would be the next volume of What I've Read, but somehow, it became my Wishlist.

 (Somehow = I was going through a lofty, pretentious cycle, and suddenly, nothing would do for recording my reading posterity but a Moleskine journal.)

Wishlist is a great journal. The cover is black pleather, embossed with hieroglyphics.The endpapers resemble the cover. It's comforting just to hold it in my hand and rhythmically trace my fingers across the cover, so it shouldn't be a surprise that I've been holding it in my hand a lot more lately and filling its pages with titles I hope to read one day. Filling and filling and FILLING! Because I didn't buy/check out a single book this month! All that habit, all that longing went into an endless wishlist.

In no particular order, here is the list for April, 2020. Sometimes I made little notes to myself:

Miles Franklin biography. Author: ? (Saw at Seattle Public Library. Standing next to farting woman.)

Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood - Jennifer Traig.

A Journal of the Plague Year - Daniel Defoe.

Anna Kavan Books:
A Charmed Circle (1929)
Let Me Alone (1930)
The Dark Sisters (1930)
A Stranger Still (1935)
Asylum Piece (1940)
Change the Name ((1941)
I am Lazarus (1945)
Sleep Has His House AKA The House of Sleep (1947)
The Horse's Tale (1949)
A Scarcity of Love (1956)
Eagle's Nest (1957)
A Bright Green Field and Other Stories (1958)
Who Are You? (1963)
Ice (1967)
Julia and the Bazooka (1970) Published posthumously.

A Stranger on Earth: The Life and Work of Anna Kavan - Jeremy Reed. (biography)

Books by Patricia Bosworth:
Montgomery Clift: A Biography
Anything Your Little Heart Desires: An American Family Story (memoir)
The Men in My Life: Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan (memoir) Oh God...where is my time machine?

Lincoln on the Verge (nonfiction) Ted Widmer.

Redhead By the Side of the Road - Anne Tyler. 

The Plague - Albert Camus

Alex Trebek memoir (July, 2020)

Pale Horse, Pale Rider (novella) Katherine Anne Porter. (Takes place during the 1918 pandemic!)

A Face Like Yours (novel) -Frances Cha- (Takes place in South Korea)

Novels by women published in the 1930s:
Not So Quiet - Helen Zenna Smith. 1930. Novel about WWI female ambulance drivers.
The Shutter of Snow (1930) -Emily Holmes Coleman. (A woman spends time in a mental hospital after the birth of her baby)
Women Against Men (trio of novellas) (1933) -Storm Jameson-
Novel on Yellow Paper - Stevie Smith (1936)
South Riding - Winifred Holtby (1936)
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (1937) -Winifred Watson-

If It Bleeds -Stephen King

Alice Adams Novels:
Careless Love AKA The Fall of Daisy Duke (1966)
Families and Survivors (1974)
Listening to Billie (1978)
Rich Rewards (1980)
Superior Women (1984)
Second Chances (1988)
Caroline's Daughters (1991)
Almost Perfect (1993)
A Southern Exposure (1995)
Medicine Men (1997)
After the War (2000) (posthumously published)

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 (novel) - Cho Nam-Joo

Guts (memoir) - Kristen Johnson (Tammy on Mom)

I'm Your Huckleberry (memoir) -Val Kilmer

Old Lovegood Girls (novel) -Gail Godwin-

My Sister, The Serial Killer -Oyinkan Braithwaite- (novel)

Year of Wonders (novel) - Geraldine Brooks- (Plague Novel. 1688?)

Ecstasy & Me: My Life as a Woman (memoir) - Hedy LaMarr -

The King of Confidence (nonfiction) - Miles Harvey (James Strang, Mormon sect leader 1840s?)

The Betrayal of the Duchess (nonfiction) -Maurice Samuels

Charles Jackson biography by Blake Bailey: Farther and Wilder

Home Work - Julie Andrews (memoir)

My Dark Vanessa (novel) Author ???

Ducks, Newburyport (novel) - Lucy Ellmann (keep an eye on Care's progress reports)

Kopp Sisters series (novels) - Amy Stewart-

LBJ - Caro

 An odd and interesting list. Maybe a little demented. You can see patterns in the old bookworm brain. I sent my spawn the photos and he wrote back: "Is this your Mothers' Day gift list?"

Next post: What I read in April.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

March 2020: Worrying and Reading

I don't know what to make of these days. I've had three coronavirus dreams in the past week, so I obviously puzzle over it awake and asleep.

The book I read two years ago, The Great Influenza by John M. Barry seemed so fresh in my mind when the news about a possible epidemic started appearing in January. I remember I read the book because it was the 100th anniversary of what was the 1918 flu pandemic. It was a difficult but rewarding read. In these past few weeks, I've never been so glad to have read a book, because I felt it gave me a bit of warning/preparation.

Although I've been worried, (and on one particular evening, downright panicked), I also have felt grounded and secure in knowledge, thanks to Barry's book. This grounding has been a source of comfort in a time when all kinds of confusing information and indifference and even derision have been swirling around everywhere, and especially while I was being styled as a worrywart and a killjoy through February and March. That last (long-winded!) sentence might strike you as full of anger, and you'd be right.

 I have to admit that I have sometimes let myself wonder if this was my grief and anxiety of the past year somehow made palpable. Something about all of this brings out my dark, superstitious side, something severe and medieval. Is it the cognitive dissonance? In this age of advanced technology, we seem to be flailing; we don't have all the answers; we have to resort to ancient methods like social distancing and self-isolation to cope.

This seems gloomy, but I also know I've got reasons to be thankful. I've been talking more often with that bookworm I made (with the assistance of another bookworm) back in 1984. During his time off, he's been binge-reading books from the Who Was...? series. I also feel as if imminent catastrophe has reawakened--jolted awake -- part of my brain, and I'll be damned. It still works. In addition, I was grappling with an issue, and circumstances have provided a much-welcomed hard reset. There's coffee and books and book bloggers, most of them going through the same thing, so I'm still connected to my bookworm universe, perhaps even more tightly and significantly than ever.

Would it be weird to be thankful for Tiger King? My brain seems to crave and fully respond to fuckedupness that isn't a virus. I first noticed this response in some of my reading for March.

Only three books for the month! I'm having trouble concentrating. Other people are falling into books to escape, and reading more than ever. Which one are you?

1. Updike - Adam Begley. (biography)  Not just a biography, a literary biography, and best of all, footnotes on practically every page! Nice balance between the life and the work, and he's not too reverential. It made me want to reread the Rabbit Angstrom books. I'm totally in love with Adam Begley's style as a biographer. Excited to have discovered him. I can't wait to read his recent tome about Harry Houdini. Happy with myself for finding Updike for one dollar at Dollar Tree, but peeved that I put it away for almost two years.

2. Who Was...Jesse Owens? - James Buckley, Jr. (biography) The only thing I knew about Jesse Owens was that he competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and his stellar performance made Adolf Hitler eat his words about the superiority of white people. James Buckley, Jr. does a great job of filling in the gaps. When discussing Jesse's family's move to Ohio when he was a child, I was pleased to see a sidebar about The Great Migration. He lived a varied and full life after the Olympics, and Buckley doesn't shy away from discussing controversy where Owens is concerned. The Who Was...? series is substantial, satisfying reading because the authors don't write down to their younger audience. They might have to downplay some of the particulars to keep things G-rated, but they tackle difficult or complex topics honestly.

3. Darling Rose Gold - Stephanie Wrobel (novel) I can't say enough positive things about this compact psychological thriller debut novel. Wrobel uses the case of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her mother as a jumping-off point, then gives the facts a neat little twist. It's darkly funny and well-told. Got enjoyable whiffs of Shirley Jackson, Patricia Highsmith, Gillian Flynn. I loved everything, even the acknowledgments. The cover is stunning. I devoured Darling Rose Gold in a couple of sittings. Could not put it down. An excellent distraction (see above comments about Tiger King). I hope it's not too long before Wrobel's follow-up novel.

I've also been working my way through The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel for several weeks, and while I am finding it entertaining, the multiple characters and machinations and the sometimes opaque writing style don't always lend themselves to my current state of mind. Still, I'm hoping to finish this book in a few days. I almost said 'by the weekend', but really. What's the difference anymore?

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

You're Sixteen, You're Beautiful, & You're Mine

Happy 16th birthday, Blob!

I know. Every year, I'm WOW and WOW again, but this number feels significant. Puts me in the mood for reminiscing:

So there I was back in 2004, not waving, but reading. I was at a crossroads. Life was interesting. No, it was frustrating. When I wasn't reading madly to escape, I self-soothed in other ways, mostly spending hours online with a group whose focus was tips on saving money. Penny-pinching.

Somewhere in with all the advice about home canning and dryer lint from these Amy D wannabes, someone mentioned blogs. What's that? What a funny word. It sounded like a body function, like fart or burp.

A blog, the person went on to explain, was a web log.  A weblog. An online room of one's own in which you could write about anything you liked. An online diary, of sorts. It could be public where anyone in the world could see it, or it could be set to private, and no one would ever see it but you. And yes, penny-pinchers, it was FREE.

I was all in, and a blog was born. Right away, I decided mine would be all about books. Soon after, I found out that you could author as many blogs as you liked, so I began one about earworms that quickly died after a post or two. I still often wonder how the earworm one would have shape-shifted if I'd stuck with it.

I set myself one rule: Every single blog entry must have something to do with books. Life might intrude, but books had to be present, if only in a peripheral glimpse. I think I've only broken that rule once or twice. I should have set more rules, because sometimes, I got unbearably pretentious. Lofty. Snobby, even. But I think it's all balanced out. After all, how far up in the air can your nose stay when your mother refers to your form of literary pursuit as "blobbing"?  She, like me, obviously picked up on the sound of the word.  But it was all in good nature and affection. In phone calls, after asking about my life, my week, my kid, my job, she would then say: "So how's Blob?" "Oh, fine." And Blob it was and Blob it is. A little lopsided, but always aspiring to bookwormy goodness.

Thanks to Blob, I've met so many wonderful bookworms. We've traded recommendations and actual books. We've inspired each other with reading challenges. One year, I signed up for seven! Whew. I was giddy.

So Blob, have another piece of birthday cake; we're sticking around for another year. Thank you to my book blogging friends for making me a better and more thoughtful reader, and although she'll probably never see this, my ardent thanks to that long-ago penny-pinching person who described what blogs were so succinctly.