Sunday, May 12, 2019

On Mother's Day

I lost my mother a month ago today. At the time of my last post, her health began to go south with a sickeningly rapid trajectory downward. She died on April 12 at 6:15 a.m.

I've still been reading, but the process of grief can be cruel and specific and I can't quite focus my mind on recounting what I've read.

In her honor, I'd like to re-post a blog entry I wrote a few years ago. Mom was no bookworm, but she knew I was a big fan of the "Little House" series, so she buckled down and read all the books, detailing her progress in a series of emails.

 She continued to refer to the books for the rest of her life, and although she didn't mention it in her emails, she was indignant about the part in The Long Winter in which Pa goes over to visit Almanzo and his brother and eats pancakes then returns home and eats the meager meal Ma has prepared, never letting on that he had pancakes while he was out. Our revisiting of this usually revolved around our trips to IHOP.

My mom was a champion at shopping and bought me countless gifts over my lifetime, but this was one of the best I ever received. I can imagine her snort and the skeptical raised eyebrow in response to that statement.

Thank you again, Judy Sue Stouffer Thomas 1938-2019.

Mom's a Bonnethead!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Fourteen So Far In Nineteen

What did you read in January, Bybee?

1. Elevation (novel) - Stephen King. Uncle Stevie was phoning it in with this short novel, but I appreciate him always.

2. Nomadland (nonfiction) - Jessica Bruder. Journalist Bruder, in sympathy and solidarity, follows a group of people, mostly senior citizens who have taken to the road to avoid homelessness. Depending on where you are in life, you will either read this book as horrifying, heartbreaking, or hopeful. I found it hopeful.

3. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (novel) - Gail Honeyman. This one was a surprise. I thought it was going to be chick-lit, but it was so much more.

4. The Nightingale (novel) Kristin Hannah. Two sisters work for the Resistance during World War II in Nazi-occupied France. Quelle cinematic! I couldn't put it down. Kristin Hannah is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors.

5. If Beale Street Could Talk (novel) - James Baldwin. Gritty, sad, and wise. James Baldwin's 1974 novel about Tish and Fonny, in love and in jail (Fonny) and expecting a baby, has been made into a movie, and I can't wait to see it. The trailers look like both cast and crew internalized the book and captured the very soul of it on film. I read it back when I was a teenager, but of course it was infinitely more beautiful and devastating this time around.

6. My Life in Middlemarch (nonfiction) - Rebecca Mead. The author has been reading and rereading Middlemarch since she was in high school. I admire her triangulation in this work: She examines George Eliot's life, especially the writing Middlemarch part.  She breaks down the book into its various sections and looks at the characters. She also compares her life to the characters' and Eliot's. It's so rich and satisfying, and put me in the mood for my every-ten-years reread of Middlemarch.

And February???

7. Clock Dance (novel) - Anne Tyler. In the midst of bad news, it was comforting to sit down with a new Anne Tyler novel. I can't explain it, but it's like being home sick from school with all the creature comforts such as Lipton chicken noodle soup, the living room couch and a soft old afghan. Clock Dance feels like vintage Tyler. She makes it look so easy, but there's some careful, masterful writing going on here.

8. Becoming (nonfiction) - Michelle Obama. I audiobooked this one, and so glad I did! Becoming is great, but even more so with Michelle Obama's voice in my ears. I love and respect her even more than I did before, which was considerable.

9. Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why it Still Matters (nonfiction) - Anne Boyd Rioux. A scholarly and ardent fangirl examination of Louisa May Alcott's enduring classic. Rioux looks at the novel (is it really one, or two?) and the movie and TV versions. She also examines how and where the book is still being read and the history of its readership. Surprise! Males as well as females read and enjoyed the novel in its earlier days of publication. There's something for everyone in Little Women, as well as this enjoyable tribute.

10. The Library Book (nonfiction) -Susan Orlean. In 1986, the downtown Los Angeles Public Library caught fire. Susan Orlean follows the search for a possible arsonist, and also goes back more than one hundred years to its roots and some of the more colorful characters who influenced its growth, then flashes-forward to what it's like to work within such a large system. She also muses on the future of libraries and their place in communities. I am eager for my son, who works for a large library system, to read this one so we can discuss it.

11. The Dwelling Place (novel) - Catherine Cookson. I don't think I'm going to read any more Catherine Cookson. I hate that she writes with great depth and knowledge about a particular time and station in England and creates complex, compelling characters, then seemingly tosses it all away and throws characters under the bus (or carriage wheels, in this case) because she must have her creaky, cringe-y, old romance novel plot. Boo.

What about March? In like a lion...???

12. An American Marriage (novel) - Tayari Jones. I couldn't help comparing this novel to If Beale Street Could Talk, and I mean that as highest praise. Both books feature men of color mistakenly and unfairly for the same crime. Both have the same level of searing honesty. Both broke my heart. I hope An American Marriage wins the Pulitzer for fiction this year.

13. Dopesick (nonfiction) - Beth Macy. An examination of how the opioid epidemic began in Appalachia and spread throughout the country. It's sickening to read about the greed of the pharma reps and salespeople, the mostly-guileless medical professionals, the cluelessness of the government concerning recovery, and the overwhelming hardship of addicts and their families left to pick up the pieces after the disaster perpetrated by these insidious drugs.

14. Rin Tin Tin: The Life and The Legend (nonfiction) - Susan Orlean. I was always a little afraid of German Shepherds, so as a child, I was more of a Lassie person than a Rin Tin Tin one. I really enjoyed this look at the canine legend who was born on a French battlefield near the end of World War I, and his rise to Hollywood stardom, then his resurgence as a television icon. Orlean also surveys the humans devoted to Rin Tin Tin in all his incarnations who never doubted that they were part of an everlasting mystique.

What are you working on now?

Unsheltered (novel) - Barbara Kingsolver.   Two lives, one house, 130 years apart. I love the storylines and the structure. It may because I'm reading Middlemarch right now, but I'm getting enjoyable whiffs of the novel in the 19th century sections.

Middlemarch (novel) - George Eliot. I've been working on the book since early February, but in this reread, it's slow going. I still love it, but I'm not as engaged as I was the previous two times. Hoping this will change. I'm only 20% in, so there's time.

The Story of a Marriage (novel) - Andrew Sean Greer. This short novel is surprising, with all its layers. Greer won the Pulitzer for Less, which felt very slight to me. The Story of a Marriage is dreamlike, ruminative and complex.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Happy 15th Birthday, Blob!

Oh Blob, my sweet bloggy-blog,

 You probably feel as if you aren't getting much love or attention lately. Even though you are an adolescent, I'm sure you still care.  I care as well. We'll get through this. After all, haven't we gotten through going on two decades together?

We've gone through major life events and upheavals. We've gone through a name change or two. (Well, you have.) We've gone through international travel and living abroad. We've gone through Readathons and book clubs and libraries and bookstores and reading in every conceivable location. (That bar was difficult. The shower still eludes me. The year of Zola on the subway makes me smile.)

As for the sheer amount of books themselves in all their guises, how many do you think we've read since March 11, 2004?  You don't know? I do, because I keep track. How does this number grab you?


Happy birthday, Blob. I hope we read 1,376 more.  A million more.


*Edited, because I was looking at the wrong year.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Jan-Mar, 2019: Not Blogging, But Reading

I want to blog. Really, I do, but I'm having the most terrible time with it. Unpacking all the reasons why would look like self-pity and probably tax your patience.

I thought perhaps if I came here and admitted it straight out, my blogging mojo would be returned to me, with or without a stern lecture delivered by a steely-eyed muse. Here's hoping.

I have been reading, though. I promise. So far, for 2019, 11 books are in the books. Good stuff. I hope to catch up here soon. Maybe this fragile, skittery post will break this block.

Here's what's in progress on my bedside table:

1. Rin Tin Tin - Susan Orlean.

2. An American Marriage - Tayari Jones.

3. Middlemarch - George Eliot

and, in the car:

4. Dopesick - Beth Macy

Saturday, January 05, 2019

My 2018 100-Book Resolution: A Critical Look Back

Even on my worst day, with electrodes hanging out, I'm *still* infinitely better-looking than your crazy 2018 Reading Resolution list.

What a freaking mess!

24 out of 100. Yikes.

My rationale for building such a big list seemed sound to my twelve-months-younger self. I'd have room to wander and all types of books to try. I'd read the list and thus cull my shelves.

Almost from the beginning, I knew I was in trouble with this resolution. It was not elegant; it lacked order. It's so weird it almost defies description, but I'll take a run at it: It's like a drunken Frankenstein (the monster, not Victor) wearing snowshoes and boxer shorts tap-danced it out in the middle of the sodden, muddy pasture during a heavy rainstorm.

Each time I returned to the list, I didn't feel like reading. I only felt like cringing.

And speaking of Frankenstein, why didn't I include it on the list?

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Reading Resolution

 For my 2019 bookish resolution, I've decided to have fun and sharpen my focus with Unruly Reader's Book Bingo.

Happy Book Year and see you in the stacks!

Update, Jan. 13:

1. Elevation - Stephen King - LGBTQ

2. Nomadland - Jessica Bruder - Life Hack

3. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman - Gen X Author

Update, Jan. 18:

4. The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah - Heroine

Update, Jan. 21:

5. If Beale Street Could Talk - James Baldwin - Place Name

Monday, December 31, 2018

Readjoice: 2018 Is In The Books

Here are the 77 books I read in 2018.

Not a bad number; I only pledged 57 on Goodreads!

Fiction, nonfiction, picture books, graphic novel, a book of essays, a play, poetry, letters. Lots of audiobooks. A couple of DNFs.

Reading trends: True crime, Sylvia Plath, Ottessa Moshfegh, Movies, Intermittent Fasting, Memoirs, Pulitzer fiction

1. Caroline - Sarah Miller. (novel)

2. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House - Michael Wolff. (nonfiction)

3. Rotten Ralph - Jack Gantos (picture book)

4. The Great Influenza - John M. Barry (nonfiction)

5. The Cooler King - Patrick Bishop (nonfiction)

6. The Girls in the Picture - Melanie Benjamin (novel)

7. Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge - Becky Aikman (nonfiction)

Reckless Daughter - David Yaffe (biography of Joni Mitchell)

8. Our Souls at Night - Kent Haruf (novel)

9. Pachinko - Min Jin Lee (novel)

10. Swearing is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language - Emma Byrne (nonfiction)

11. Ten Days in a Mad-House - Nellie Bly (nonfiction)

12. Helter Skelter - Vincent Bugliosi (nonfiction)

13. The Six: The Lives of The Mitford Girls - Laura Thompson (nonfiction)

14. The Warmth of Other Suns - Isabel Wilkerson (nonfiction)

15. The Getting of Wisdom - Henry Handel Richardson (novel)

16. The Stranger in the Woods - Michael Finkel (nonfiction)

17. Turtles All the Way Down - John Green (novel)

18. Pippi Longstocking - Astrid Lindgren (novel)

19. World Enough and Time - Robert Penn Warren (novel)

Traveling Sprinkler - Nicholson Baker (novel) so bad. not writing but typing.

20. In This Our Life - Ellen Glasgow (novel) omg, hated. this. book.

21. Not My Father's Son - Alan Cumming (memoir)

Vein of Iron - Ellen Glasgow (novel) Totally breaking up with Glasgow.

22. October, 1964 - David Halberstam (nonfiction)

23. Life Plus 99 Years - Nathan F. Leopold (memoir) what a self-serving piece of crap.

24. Compulsion - Meyer Levin (novel)

25. The Crime of the Century: The Leopold & Loeb Case - Hal Higdon (nonfiction)

26. The Teammates - David Halberstam (nonfiction)

27. Less - Andrew Sean Greer (novel)

28. Wishful Drinking - Carrie Fisher (memoir)

29. Bust Hell Wide Open: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest - Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr. (nonfiction)

30. Woe To Live On - Daniel Woodrell (novel)

31. Destiny of the Republic -Candice Millard (nonfiction)

32. The Optimist's Daughter - Eudora Welty (novel)

33. Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer, 1953 - Elizabeth Winder (nonfiction)

34. Calypso - David Sedaris (essays)

35. Birthday Letters - Ted Hughes (poetry)

36. In Cold Blood - Truman Capote (novel)

37. No Ordinary Time - Doris Kearns Goodwin (nonfiction)

38. The Good Daughter - Karin Slaughter (fiction) so disliked this book. I want my time back!

39. A Raisin in the Sun - Lorraine Hansberry (play)

40. Kitchens of the Great Midwest - J. Ryan Stradal (novel)

41. Letters of Sylvia Plath, Vol I 1940-1956 - Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil, eds. (nonfiction)

42. Killing and Dying - Adrian Tomine (graphic novel)

43. Lover of Unreason - Yehuda Koren, Eilat Negev (nonfiction)

44. Born a Crime - Trevor Noah (memoir)

45. The Bell Jar: A Novel of the Fifties - Linda Wagner-Martin (literary criticism)

46. Dad is Fat - Jim Gaffigan (memoir)

47. Priestdaddy - Patricia Lockwood (memoir)

48. Heartbreak Hotel - Anne Rivers Siddons (novel)

49. My Year of Rest and Relaxation - Ottessa Moshfegh (novel)

50. Conviction - Juan Martinez (nonfiction)

51. 90s Bitch - Allison Yarrow (nonfiction)

52. The Road to Little Dribbling - Bill Bryson (nonfiction)

53. Fast Diets for Dummies - Kellyann Petrucci, Patrick Flynn (nonfiction)

54. Amy Falls Down - Jincy Willett (novel)

55. Homesick for Another World - Ottessa Moshfegh (short stories)

56. Girl [Maladjusted] - Molly Jong-Fast (memoir)

57. Eat Stop Eat - Brad Pilon (nonfiction)

58. Educated - Tara Westover (memoir)

59. Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber and the Making of a Legendary American Film -Don Graham (nonfiction)

60. Humans of New York - Brandon Stanton (nonfiction)

61. Unbecoming - Rebecca Scherm (novel)

62. Heroes of the Frontier - Dave Eggers (novel)

63. Can You Ever Forgive Me? - Lee Israel (memoir)

64. The Obesity Code - Jason Fung, M.D. (nonfiction)

65. Dead Wake - Erik Larson (nonfiction)

66. The Laid Back Guide to Intermittent Fasting - Kayla Cox (nonfiction)

67. The Camerons - Robert Crichton (novel)

68. The Nix - Nathan Hill (novel)

69-77 are December's reads. Except for one, I haven't posted about these yet:

69. You Can Sleep in Your Car, But You Can't Drive Your House to Work - Sutton Parks (memoir) Sutton loses everything because of drinking and immature behavior. He joins AA and moves into his car and attempts to get perspective. An interesting account, but it could have used one last stern rewrite. I looked for Parks on social media and he hasn't updated in a year. I hope he's OK.

70. The Wonky Donkey - Craig Smith, Katz Cowley (picture book) Thank you, Scottish Granny for introducing me to the Wonky Donkey. I hope with all the hits your video got that you were able to bring out an extra figgy pudding at the holidays.

71. In Such Good Company - Carol Burnett (memoir) Audiobook, read by the author. So much fun to listen to Burnett reminisce about her show. I felt as if I were sitting at her feet, basking in the warmth of her voice.

72. Montana, 1948 - Larry Watson (novel) A stripped-down but brilliant novel that reminded me of Richard Ford's work.

73. Letters of Sylvia Plath, Vol 2, 1956-1963 - Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil, eds. (nonfiction) The last six months of letters will rip your heart right out of your chest. I never wanted a time machine so badly.

74. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath (novel) I've read this before, but this time I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Maggie Gyllenhaal. There were lines I was so familiar with, but never realized the humor until I heard them read aloud. Great performance by Maggie G.

75. Year of No Clutter - Eve O. Schaub (memoir) I like books about clearing out clutter and I love memoirs, but this was a hard go. It felt as difficult as Schaub's dogged efforts to tame her "Hell Room". There is a video on YouTube of her process.

76. The Great Alone - Kristin Hannah (novel) I was so looking forward to reading this book all year and I was not disappointed. On the contrary, I was swept up in the story of a family attempting to homestead in Alaska during the 1970s. Kristin Hannah paints a picture of an Alaska that is both terrible and beautiful. The women were magnificent in the novel. I can't say too much; I'm still processing it and I don't want to blurt out any spoilers! One more thing: I was strongly reminded of Educated, the memoir by Tara Westover. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has made this observation.

77. Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook - Alice Waters (memoir) A difficult read. Alice Waters is a sensory person. She seems to have 'talked' this book, but words aren't her strong suit.  She is charming but flitting and fleeting and maddeningly vague at times. I really felt her ghostwriters' struggle to get the essence of Alice down on the page; I bet it was like herding cats.