Friday, May 06, 2022

April, 2022: So Very Triggered

I'm really pleased with my April reading. A couple of books really triggered me, but like Kafka or someone said (and I'm wildly paraphrasing), we *should* read books that pierce us and chop like axes into where our deepest feels reside. Strangely, those visceral reactions still come as a shock, even more than a half-century after I burst into tears and threw Jane Eyre across the room after reading the first chapter.

1. The Devil All the Time - Donald Ray Pollock. Novel. I'm so annoyed with myself. Five years ago, my friend Mary M. told me, nearly ordered me to read this book. I dutifully bought it and stored it on my main fiction bookshelf in the living room for yes, half a decade. So finally, it jumps off the shelf and into my hands and for the next day-and-a-half, I could not leave it alone. Brilliant hillbilly noir. Like almost everyone else, I was reminded of the Coen brothers and Jim Thompson. The next time Mary M. makes a recommendation, I won't be so skittish.

2. French Braid - Anne Tyler. Novel. Did I walk? No, of course not. I ran to the bookstore. My excuses for buying a book as opposed to waiting for a library copy were threefold: 

First excuse: It's Anne Tyler, duh.
Second excuse: The bookstore almost fell into oblivion and was rescued at Christmastime last year. Use it or lose it.
Third excuse: I was feeling hard done by because of my poor smashed-up car. 

I won't say French Braid is my favorite Anne Tyler, but I'll always remember it for getting under my skin. Like most of her novels, French Braid deals in slightly dysfunctional family dynamics. But what got me was a cat who is in the novel for only about a dozen pages. I adored him, and then. Well, let's just say that one of the characters didn't adore him, and didn't change her mind about him, not ever. I had tears in my eyes. Desmond! For days, I kept grabbing up the Spawn's and my cat, Starman, and hugging him and saying Desmond, Desmond. I recounted this plot point to anyone who would listen and even voiced my dissatisfaction on Twitter. The Spawn's response: Ob-la-di, Ob-la-dah.

3. Ocean State - Stewart O'Nan. Novel. In Rhode Island, a teenage love triangle goes horribly wrong. Lots of atmosphere. Pitch-perfect cadences of modern life. Ocean State reads like a pulpy true crime book and I was also getting whiffs of Joyce Carol Oates, but a more controlled JCO. Another book that I couldn't put down. O'Nan is a master. Now I have to wait another two years for his next book to come out. Damn.

4. Crying In H Mart -Michelle Zauner. Memoir. It was bound to happen: My homesickness for Korea and my grief over losing my mother all came crashing together in a single volume. Zauner, the lead singer for Japanese Breakfast, writes achingly and vividly about taking care of her mother in the few short months between her cancer diagnosis and death interspersed with memories of their trips to Korea to visit family once every two years, and their shared love for Korean food and culture. Then after her mother is gone, Michelle has to negotiate the grief and the guilt and figure out how to deal with it. She travels. She makes a lot of kimchi. She visits family in Korea. She writes. She performs with her band. And it's all so true and exquisite and heartbreaking. Crying In H Mart was my favorite read for April. I want everyone to read it, and I want an H Mart that is closer than Chicago. Yes, I bought this book. Could not resist the red cover and the ramen noodles that make the H in the title.

5. Who Was Charles Schulz? - Joan Holub. Nonfiction. A serviceable, workmanlike portrait of the beloved creator of the Peanuts comic strip.

6. What Was The Harlem Renaissance? - Sherri L. Smith. The Harlem Renaissance was rich, complex, and exciting. That era from the nineteen-tens through the 1930s just exploded with art in all forms. It's too much to cover in one of the volumes in this series. The Harlem Renaissance just cannot be constrained into the 108-page format. Still, Sherri L. Smith provides a great jumping-off point for readers of all ages to learn more about this dynamic time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

March, 2022: Sideswiped

The last day of March found me as an unwilling and unwitting participant in a fender-bender. Doesn't that sound like too cute and trivial of a phrase? The impact really REALLY rattled my cage. I think it rattled all the words out of me. But up till then, March was a stellar month, especially for reading. I can't think why it decided to give me the finger on its way out. 

What I read:

And Never Let Her Go - Ann Rule. Nonfiction/True Crime.

The Lincoln Highway - Amor Towles. Novel. (audiobook)

Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco - Alia Volz. Memoir/Cultural History.

Mrs. March - Virginia Feito. Novel.

The Dressmaker - Kate Alcott. Novel.

Born With Teeth - Kate Mulgrew. Memoir.

What Were The Salem Witch Trials? - Joan Holub. Nonfiction.

Half-Empty - David Rakoff. Essays/Memoir. (audiobook)

My very favorite read for March was Home Baked. No one recommended it to me; I found it while browsing the shelves at the library. It's perfect. If I see this book in a bookstore, I will buy it. Alia Volz expertly weaves her own family history into the larger canvas of 1970s and 1980s San Francisco. Her writing is beautiful and audacious just like her mother, Meridy Volz who popularized selling marijuana brownies. She first got San Francisco stoned in the 1970s, then used the brownies to bring pain relief to AIDS patients in the 1980s.  I know that Home Baked will be one of the re-reads of my life.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Blob's 18!


Today my blog is 18 years old. I always like to mark the occasion of Blob's birthday because: 

1. It seems incredible that I should have written or even done anything for 18 years straight.

2.  I'm really fond of baked goods. 


Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Fishtailing Out of February OR I Don't Think Snow

 Yeah, I'm done with winter. You'd think that my being a December baby and my birth kicking off Snowmageddon 61-62 that I would love a snow globe world, but no. And where do I live? The Midwest! I want to castigate myself for my geographical shortsightedness, but my teeth are chattering too badly. Let's talk about books instead.

What I read:

Who Were Stanley and Livingstone? - Jim Gigliotti. Nonfiction. A dual biography of the internationally famous British scientist who went missing and the intrepid American journalist who set out to find him.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple. Novel. I really wasn't getting along with this book at all. It seemed brittle. Glib. Overly aware of its own cleverness. Then I read somewhere that Semple wrote for Arrested Development, and that helped. I began to see Elgie, Bernadette, Bee, and the other characters as extensions of the Bluth clan. But I have one last hangnail annoyance: Why doesn't the title have a question mark? I should have brought that up in book group. (More about book group later. Favorable impression!)

Chasing the Last Laugh - Richard Zacks. Nonfiction. I went down a sad little rabbit hole after finishing this book. I found articles online about a woman named Susan Bailey who had memories as a child that led her to believe that she was the secret great-granddaughter of Mark Twain, and even wrote a book about it. I was pleased because I'd always felt bad that Mark Twain's direct descendant line died out back in 1966 when his granddaughter, Nina died (presumably) childless. But then some Twainite who was really into genealogy wrote a lengthy paper disproving Susan Bailey's claims, and that seemed to put an end to the discussion. Feeling deflated, I ranged between Well, thanks for clearing that up and You asshole.

Garbo - Robert Gottlieb. Biography. Not just a biography, but an exhaustive one. I don't think I'll ever really be able to enjoy a biography again if the biographer isn't madly obsessive. This beautiful volume explores Garbo's early life and career in Sweden, and analyzes her US film career in great depth. There is also a large section of impressions by her contemporaries and much discussion of her abrupt departure from films and into a life where safeguarding her privacy became Job One. From reading Garbo, I got some good ideas for the wishlist. (See below.)

What I'm reading:

The Lincoln Highway - Amor Towles. Novel. Audiobook. I'm not sure how I feel about Towles' latest book. Right now, it's meandering along. Of course, it's meandering with purpose, but still meandering.  I'm engaged enough to be worried/curious about how things will turn out for the main characters, but I did swear at the narrator when the book made another hard left in the narrative. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think The Lincoln Highway will replace Towles' earlier novel Rules of Civility in my affections.

And Never Let Her Go - Ann Rule. True Crime. This is about the 1996 murder of Anne Marie Fahey, a 30-year-old woman who was an administrative assistant to the governor of Delaware. She was involved with Thomas Capano, who was wealthy, successful and also in the upper echelons of politics and business. Although married with four children, he was reluctant to let Anne Marie pursue a future without him. When his charm didn't work, he killed her. This is the first Ann Rule book I've read since Bitter Harvest, and I'd forgotten how she has a tendency to overwrite, but it's so compelling. I can't stop reading.

What I want to read:

What Were The Salem Witch Trials? - Joan Holub. Nonfiction.

Aru Shah and The End of Time - Roshani Chokshi. YA Fiction. This is the next pick for book group. Not really my cup of tea, but I enjoyed my first book club meeting in years, and want very much to continue. The leader, Sarah, is enthusiastic and well-prepared. I knew her when she worked at Reader's World. When we talked, it was like cartoon characters who have big hearts dancing in their eyes, except in our case, it was books dancing.

Dust Bowl Girls - Lydia Reeder. Nonfiction. Women's basketball. Barnstorming. 1930s. Must read. I've been needing a Dust Bowl-themed palate cleanser since I read the abysmal The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah last year.

Change Lobsters and Dance - Lilli Palmer. Memoir. An excerpt from Palmer's memoir was featured in Garbo. I loved her clear and lively writing.

James Harvey wrote about film, and in Garbo, Robert Gottleib included Harvey's gorgeous essay about Camille. I immediately wanted to go find all three of his books:

Watching Them Be: Star Presence on the Screen From Garbo to Balthazar

Romantic Comedy in Hollywood

Movie Love in the Fifties

It's supposed to snow again tomorrow. I see myself curled up on the couch with a book and a chai tea latte.

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

End of January, Beginning of February, 2022: Too Many Books On The Go

What I read:

Fates and Furies - Lauren Groff. Novel. The story of a marriage from both the husband's and the wife's decidedly different points of view. I loved this book; I ate it up like candy, probably because the second half resembled a soap opera.

The Fran Lebowitz Reader - Fran Lebowitz. Essays. That was a hard go, but Fran, I love you. Truly I do. You are the Dorothy Parker this generation needs and deserves.

Murder Book: A Graphic Memoir of a True Crime Obession - Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell. Graphic memoir. I liked this book so much! Campbell examines why she and her mother are true crime fans, and revisits the cases that most resonated with her (Zodiac, Ted Bundy) gives a generous shout-out to authors and podcasters, and looks at how the narrative has changed since more women are now telling the stories of the crimes. Unsettling, thoughtful, and strangely funny at times. I am now inspired to read more true crime.

What I'm reading: 

Too many books on the go. I'm reading like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower.

Chasing The Last Laugh: Mark Twain's Raucous, Redemptive, Round-the-World Comedy Tour - Richard Zacks. Nonfiction. Audiobook. Mark Twain and his family have been in India for what feels like forever. I'm eager to see them hop to another country.

Memoirs of Stockholm Sven - Nathaniel Ian Miller. Novel. I think I know why I've stalled on this book. Takes place in the Arctic region, and I'm simply too cold for that right now.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple. Novel. I am really trying with this novel, because it is my first book group book in a looong time, and I really want to be in a book group again. Next Monday night's the night! I'm going to wear my book earrings that my friend Becka gave me!

Garbo -Robert Gottlieb. Biography. It's gorgeous, with photos of Garbo scanned right into the text, but it's printed on coated paper, like a coffee table book, which makes it heavy as hell to hold up in bed at night or carry around.

Kings Row - Henry Bellamann. Novel. Arrgh, this novel is giving me a headache with its rusty prose style and labored psychological stylings. Still, I can't give it up.

What I want to read:

Little Big Man - Thomas Berger. Novel.

And Never Let Her Go - Ann Rule. True Crime/Nonfiction.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

2022: January, Fanuary

 Bookworms! I'm off to such a great start in 2022. Although the year has only just started, my reading journal is already full of such delectable reads. Even the cat, who is not much of a reader (that I've noticed), wants to knead his claws on the cover of said journal while purring rapturously and chew on the little red ribbon bookmark.

I'm discovering new writers and rediscovering old favorites. Making lists and wanting to do deep dives. January is Fanuary.

What I read: 

Taste: My Life Through Food - Stanley Tucci. Memoir. I knew this book was going to be great (I wrote it down 3 times in my wishlist journal) and I was right. In fact, it was even better than I had imagined. Beginning with the delicious meals his mother and extended family prepared...created when he was a child, through his days as a struggling actor and the delis and restaurants he frequented during that time in New York City, through movie shoots in foreign locales and discovering the local cuisine to his own development as a cook, it's all about the food. (An amusing refrain would occur when Tucci would talk about being away working on a movie and wouldn't mention the movie by name, but would go into mouthwatering detail about a terrific restaurant he discovered while on location.) His discussion of learning how to make a frittata perfectly led me to track down his movie Big Night, arguably the most perfect foodie movie ever made. I watched it twice. Can I just say...timpano? It's now on my EAT THIS  bucket list. Tucci even fed into my cheese fantasies: When he got married to his second wife, Felicity Blunt, instead of a wedding cake, they had a cheese platter! But then life dealt Tucci the most cruel and ironic blow: He was diagnosed with a tumor at the base of his tongue. Cancer in the salivary glands. Going through chemo and radiation caused him to feel nauseous at the mere scent of food. This went on for more than a year, but he slowly recovered and got his gusto for food back again. Even though I have just told you the whole book, you should still read and savor it. Enjoy the recipes. Watch Big Night. And don't cut up your spaghetti.

Who Were The Navajo Code Talkers? - James Buckley, Jr. Nonfiction. This book really appealed to the linguistics/language learning part of me.

Who Is Queen Elizabeth II? - Meghan Stine. Nonfiction. Too many pages devoted to Prince Charles, otherwise, enjoyable. Long live the Queen!

What Was The Plague? - Roberta Edwards. Nonfiction. A well-done retrospective of The Black Death that doesn't shy away from the grisly bits.

Billy Summers - Stephen King. Novel. Audiobook. Billy Summers, a hitman that only kills "bad people" signs up for one last job. While waiting to do the hit, he begins writing his own life story.  There is a lot of violence, but there is just as much humanity. This is a solid, action-packed road trip novel with none of King's usual horror or supernatural elements. Well, okay, there is a nod to the ruins of the Overlook, which sit across from one of Billy's hideouts. I'm eagerly waiting for the movie/miniseries version.

Matrix - Lauren Groff. Novel. The story of a woman who may or may not have been poet and fabulist Marie de France. This Marie, who is royal by blood and illegitimate by birth is exiled from the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine and sent to a rundown Benedictine abbey as its new prioress. Although she isn't at all religious and not at all inclined to monastic life, Marie turns the fortunes of the abbey around and makes it a success. Shrewd, sensual, and intelligent, her greatest gift is knowing how to harness female power to its fullest advantage. For a book set in the late 12th century, it feels modern without being a bit anachronistic. Matrix has made me a Lauren Groff fan, and I can't wait to explore her other novels.

What I'm reading:

Memoirs of Stockholm Sven - Nathaniel Ian Miller. Novel. Sven doesn't seem to be able to fit in anywhere in his native Stockholm. In his 30s, he goes north to work in a mining camp. After a near-fatal accident that puts an end to that particular career, he ventures farther north to learn how to be a trapper. At this point in my reading, he's started to make friends, and now he's got a dog!

The Fran Lebowitz Reader - Fran Lebowitz. Essays. Some of the essays feel quite dated. Intermittently funny. I'd rather get on YouTube and listen to Lebowitz talk for hours and hours rather than read her writing.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple. Novel. I joined a book group and this is our first read. According to my reading journal, I read this novel back in 2012 but don't remember much about it. We'll see how it goes.

Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain's Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour - Richard Zacks. Nonfiction. Audiobook. Mark Twain was a brilliant writer and performer, but had a genius for the bad decision when it came to business. At the age of sixty, he became bankrupt because of an investment in a printing press. His wife was determined that they would pay back the thousands owed to creditors, so Mark Twain reluctantly decided the best way to accomplish this was to "mount the platform" -- go on an extended speaking tour. 

What I want to read:

Fates and Furies - Lauren Groff. Novel.

Today Will Be Different - Maria Semple. Novel.

The Lincoln Highway - Amor Towles. Novel.

Little Big Man - Thomas Berger. Novel.

Stanley Tucci cookbooks

Happy Go Lucky - David Sedaris. Essays.

What I DNFed:

Who Was David Bowie? I paged through this book, but had to say no because the author didn't mention Bowie's appearance on Bing Crosby's Christmas special and their strange though excellent duet of "Peace On Earth/The Little Drummer Boy". Also Labyrinth wasn't mentioned. The Goblin King? Really? Another thing I would have liked to have seen discussed was Bowie's interview with MTV, calling them out for not playing Black artists. I know the writers in this series have to stick with the constraints of the 108-page limit, but that's leaving too much out. Cut some of those dreary sidebars!

Friday, December 31, 2021

2021: A Beautiful Stack of Nonfiction

I can't believe how much nonfiction I read this year! Of course all those Who Was...? books swelled my numbers, but still.

1. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck - Mark Manson. Self-help.

2. Who Was Lucille Ball? - Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso. Biography.

3. Who Was Mark Twain? - April Jones Prince. Biography.

4. Atomic Habits - James Clear. Self-help.

5. Essentialism - Greg McKeown. Self-help.

6. Always Young and Restless - Melody Thomas Scott. Memoir.

7. Solutions and Other Problems - Allie Brosh (graphic novel) Memoir.

8. Who Was Catherine the Great? - Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso. Biography.

9. Who Is Kamala Harris? - Kirsten Anderson. Biography.

10. Who Was Walt Whitman? - Kirsten Anderson. Biography.

11. Eat A Peach - David Chang. Memoir.

12. Who Were The Beatles? -Geoff Edgers. Biography.

13. Who Were The Brothers Grimm? - Avery Reed. Biography.

14. Eleanor - David Michaelis. Biography. 

15. Who Was Levi Strauss? - Ellen Lebrecque. Biography.

16. Who Was Julia Child? - Geoff Edgers and Carlene Hempel. Biography.

17. Who Was Milton Bradley? - Kirsten Anderson. Biography.

18. Who Was Davy Crockett? - Gail Herman. Biography.

19. Who Was Benedict Arnold? - James Buckley, Jr. Biography.

20. Shrill - Lindy West. Essays.

21. The River of Doubt - Candice Millard. History.

22. The Witches Are Coming - Lindy West. Essays.

23. Blitzed - Norman Ohler. History.

24. What Is The Panama Canal? - Janet B. Pascal. History.

25. Who Was Norman Rockwell? - Sarah Fabiny. Biography.

26. What Is The Story of Alice in Wonderland? - Dana Meachen Rau. Literary History.

27. Who Is Ken Jennings? - Kirsten Anderson. Biography.

28. Me & Patsy Kickin' Up Dust - Loretta Lynn. Memoir.

29. Still Woman Enough - Loretta Lynn. Memoir.

30. Who Is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson? - James Buckley, Jr. Biography.

31. The Mayor of MacDougall Street - Dave Van Ronk. Memoir.

32. Cheeky: A Head-To-Toe Memoir - Ariella Elovic (graphic novel) Memoir.

33. Who Is RuPaul? - Nico Medina. Biography.

34. Who Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? - Kirsten Anderson. Biography.

35. Who Is Aretha Franklin? - Nico Medina. Biography.

36. Who Is Elton John? - Kirsten Anderson. Biography.

37. Who Was Andy Warhol? - Kirsten Anderson. Biography.

38. Who Is Judy Blume? - Kirsten Anderson. Biography.

39. Who Was Juliette Gordon Low? - Dana Meachen Rau. Biography.

40. Best Food Writing 2003 - Holly Hughes, ed. Essays.

41. Who Is Dolly Parton? - True Kelley. Biography.

42. The Andy Warhol Diaries - Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, ed. Diaries.

43. Who Was Frida Kahlo? - Sarah Fabiny. Biography.

44. American Cheese - Joe Berkowitz. Food.

45. The Office - Andy Greene. Entertainment.

46. Inside Peyton Place - Emily Toth. Biography/Literary History

47. Fresh Off The Boat - Eddie Huang. Memoir.

48. Grandma Pottymouth's Fast as Fuck Cookbook - Peggy Glenn. Cookbook.

49. The Boys - Ron Howard and Clint Howard. Memoir.

50. What Is The Story of Dracula? - Michael Burgan. Literary History.

51. Dancing At The Pity Party - Tyler Feder (graphic novel) Memoir.


You make me feel like a natural bookworm: 
Always Young and Restless, American Cheese, The Boys, Lindy West, Grandma Pottymouth, The River of Doubt, Blitzed, Fresh Off The Boat, Cheeky, Loretta Lynn, The Andy Warhol Diaries, Eleanor, The Mayor of MacDougall Street

Made me think: 
Atomic Habits

Yes, I cried:
  Dancing At The Pity Party

Give me back my time:
  The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, Eat A Peach, Best Food Writing 2003, Inside Peyton Place

Levi Strauss, Walt Whitman, Norman Rockwell, Essentialism

Favorite Who Was...? books: 
CATHERINE THE GREAT!!! Benedict Arnold, Juliette Gordon Low, Davy Crockett, The Story of Dracula, RuPaul, The Rock, Elton John, Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo, Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton, Julia Child, Milton Bradley, The Beatles and The Brothers Grimm

DNF Sorry/Not Sorry files: 
What She Ate, Philip Roth biography

DNF We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when files: 
Doorstop-sized Andy Warhol biography, How To Change Your Mind

My first nonfiction book for 2022 will be Taste by Stanley Tucci, and it's a mouthwatering way to ring out the old and ring in the chew...I