Tuesday, August 04, 2020

May, 2020 Reads

With a bit of a calendar flip, you're into the time slip and nothing will ever be the same...

Here's what I read long, long ago in May, 2020:

 The Brooklyn Follies - Paul Auster. Novel.
This was the very last 2  books I bought while living in Korea. A new English used bookstore called Ebony & Ivory had opened in Cheonan, and I couldn't find it and couldn't find it. Complained to my bookworm buddy Paul Cunningham and he took me there. I picked up The Brooklyn Follies and he commented that it was decent. I also purchased Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy Hughes. I was charmed by The Brooklyn Follies. It feels kind of Damon Runyonesque but more for 21st century sensibilities. A large portion of the book takes place in a bookshop in New York City. Brooklyn. I think the novel was probably meant as a valentine to the last days before 9/11.

 Songs for the Missing - Stewart O'Nan.  Novel.
The story is not new, unfortunately. A young woman, just weeks away from going off to college for her freshman year, goes missing. While heartbreaking and horrifying, O'Nan concentrates on the grim, practical tasks that fall to her family, then the endless waiting for closure. Told in a matter-of-fact, muted style. It was even more effective than if there had been outbursts of emotion on every page. I almost DNF'ed it. A difficult read, but very well done.

Who Was Abigail Adams? - True Kelley. Nonfiction/Biography.
Abigail Adams is most famous for being the wife and mother to two U.S. presidents, but the voluminous amount of correspondence with John Adams she left behind shows that she was so much more. She was considerably more forward-thinking than the Founding Fathers, for she opposed slavery and supported women's rights. Raise a glass to the first Second Lady as well as the second First Lady! Damn, I feel as if I need to go and listen to 1776 again.

The Lost Landscape - Joyce Carol Oates. Memoir.
Oates writes with great respect and affection about her mother and father, Carolina and Fred Oates, and the positive impact they had on her life. Except for an early chapter (bizarre, humorous) about a chicken that toddler Joyce was attached to, this doesn't feel like an Oates book. Love and sunlight seem to radiate from every page.

Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years - Julie Andrews. Memoir.
This second volume of Andrews's memoir picks up as she is pregnant with her daughter, Emma and on her way to meet with Walt Disney about Mary Poppins. Since Andrews is expecting, she tells Disney and figures she's out of the running. Disney tells her that it's okay, they'll wait. The rest is of course, Hollywood history. Home Work covers a large portion of her Hollywood career and meeting and falling in love with director Blake Edwards, and their blended families. Much of the book involves traveling from location to location and all their homes -- Julie makes it sound quite stressful. Also interesting were allusions about her slightly dysfunctional birth family that make me want to read Home, the first volume of her memoir. Also looking forward to volume 3.

Redhead By the Side of the Road - Anne Tyler. Novel.
How do I love Anne Tyler? Let me count the ways. I love that every novel takes place in or around Baltimore. I love her quirky main characters with their real hearts and hurts -- they aren't just billboards for quirk. I love the up-to-the-moment feel of each book. I love the messy warmth and confusion of her families when they get together. I love the sideways, gentle, homely and often spot-on way the characters speak. I love it when the main character ruminates, and I love the unexpected character who is often a foil for the main character. All of this and more showed up in Redhead By the Side of the Road, Tyler's latest novel. Micah Mortimer, 40ish, is a self-employed tech expert who goes through life at a slight remove, trying not to make any mistakes. (I loved his ongoing commentary with Traffic God. I could relate.) But it's never that simple in a Tyler novel. His girlfriend breaks up with him for a careless remark, and a young man (the son of an his college girlfriend) who's convinced that Micah's his father shows up at his door one day. Being in the Tylerverse is never a bad thing, but it was even better in 2020. Speaking of 2020, Will Anne Tyler produce a book set during this time?

My Dark Vanessa - Kate Elizabeth Russell. Novel.
Vanessa goes away to boarding school in 2000 when she's about 15, and is drawn into an inappropriate relationship with her English teacher. They continue to communicate years after high school, and his unhealthy influence over her life finally gets some much-needed cracks in it when another student (by now it's the twenty-teens) armed with better knowledge about predatory behavior and more support brought about by changing attitudes decides to bring charges against the teacher. Vanessa slowly begins to realize that the teacher manipulated her skill in interpreting literature, urging her to apply nuance to a situation that should not ever be nuanced at all. Although My Dark Vanessa was an uncomfortable and often infuriating read, I read it all in one sitting.

Next: June, 2020

Friday, July 31, 2020

When You Can't Say Something Nice: The DNF Files

I wrote a lengthy introduction to this list of books I've DNF'ed so far this year. I said that even though the books didn't agree with me, I'd try to say something positive, but then I somehow deleted what I'd written with a swipe of my meaty forearm. Now I don't feel quite so nice. 

1. Normal People - Sally Rooney. Novel.
I grew bored with Connell and Marianne. Hate to admit it. I love reading about Irish people. It also occurred to me that I might be too old for this book, and that was just feckin' depressing.

2. The Dirt on Clean - Katherine Ashenburg.  Nonfiction.
A history about how people have reconciled their hatelove and lovehate about hygiene through the ages. Fun, quirky premise, but too many margin notes! As much of that as there is text. Drove my eyes and brain batty.

3. Pox- Michael Willrich. Nonfiction.
Around the turn of the 20th century, there was a big outbreak of smallpox across the United States. Sort of like now, there were people dedicated to listening to science, and people dedicated to listening to NOBODY. Aaaaarrrrgh! I had to put Pox aside. Couldn't deal with the stupid outside my door coupled with stupid from 120 years ago.

4. The Plague - Albert Camus. Novel.
Although there were poignant penciled notes throughout the book written by a past reader (1994) to future readers (me, 2020) about how great the book is and how awesome we are as readers to appreciate it, I couldn't respond in turn and stopped reading during the first chapter. Didn't care for the translation. But I feel as if I'll try The Plague again someday. Meanwhile, this copy is back on the library shelves waiting for that next ardent reader.

5. The One Thing - Gary Keller. Nonfiction/Self-help.
The premise of Keller's book: Find out the one thing in your life that really interests and excites you and do that. Forget about trying to be good at several other things. Just immerse yourself. I'm not sure Keller's one thing is writing. I found his style jumbly and disorganized and for a short book, it was overly long. I bailed halfway, but I will say three nice things: I liked the premise, I liked the part about Olympic champion Michael Phelps, and I liked the discussion of willpower as a renewable resource rather than a firm character trait.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Black Lives Matter: A Look Back

I'm looking back at my reading journals to see what Black writers I read. I can only go back to 1990. I'm not doing this retrospective to say, "Oh, look how aware I was!" or "Oh, look at what a wretched one-dimensional reader I was!" It's just a look back, bookworm warts and all.

1990: Zero books by Black writers.

1991-1992: I wasn't keeping track these years.

1993 - 1998 Journal: One book by a Black writer. Mary: An Autobiography by Mary E. Mabane. There was also a note on a wishlist at the back of the book to read the 1948 novel The Living is Easy by Dorothy West.

From what I remember about the Mebane autobiography, Mary Mebane was discouraged by practically everyone she met in her life: Black, White, male, female, young, old, rich, and poor. Still, she persisted. She succeeded. She kicked ass and took names and wrote her two-volume life story. The sequel to Mary: An Autobiography is called Mary, Wayfarer, which I haven't read but always thought that the title was melodic.

1999-2009 Journal: Fourteen books by Black writers.

Three on the wishlist:
The Uncalled by Paul Laurence Dunbar (with the Dewey Decimal number listed: 823 D898a)
The Living is Easy (1948) by Dorothy West
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

1. A Lesson Before Dying - Ernest J. Gaines. Novel.

2. The Motion of Light in Water - Samuel R. Delany. Memoir.

3. The Broke Diaries - Angela Nissel. Humor.

4. Go Tell It on the Mountain - James Baldwin. Novel.

5. Quicksand - Nella Larsen. Novel.

6. Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison. Novel.

7. The Color of Water - James McBride. Memoir.

8. Passing - Nella Larsen. Novel.

9. Malcolm X - Randy DuBurke. Graphic Biography.

10. The Measure of a Man - Sidney Poitier. Memoir.

11. The Known World - Edward P. Jones. Novel.

12. Dreams From My Father - Barack Obama. Memoir.

13. Native Son - Richard Wright. Novel.

14. Black Boy - Richard Wright. Memoir.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Black Lives Matter: More Fiction and Nonfiction

I read a tweet the other day, and while I can't remember it exactly, I'll give you the gist: Reading about the lives of POC is so interesting and absorbing that when you go back to reading conventional (white) fiction, it's quite dissatisfying.

That's how I feel. Everything feels a little less robust and flavorful. I suppose after a while intensity dies down and everything evens out, but I don't want that to happen.

Here are more titles that I've read 2010-2020. We're up to the summer of 2014.  I could not stop reading Maya Angelou. Craving her voice in my mind's ear, one memoir called for another.

15. Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas - Maya Angelou. Memoir.

16. The Heart of a Woman - Maya Angelou. Memoir.

17. All God's Children Need Travelling Shoes - Maya Angelou. Memoir.

18. A Song Flung Up to Heaven - Maya Angelou. Memoir.

19. Mom & Me & Mom - Maya Angelou. Memoir.

20. Bad Feminist - Roxane Gay. Essays.

21. Yes, Chef - Marcus Samuelsson. Memoir.

22. TrailBlasian: Black Women Living in East Asia - T.K. McLennon, ed. Essays.

23. Cooked - Jeff Henderson. Memoir.

24. Finding Fish - Antwone Quenton Fisher. Memoir.

25. Hunger: A Memoir of (MY) Body - Roxane Gay. Memoir.

26.Who Was Harriet Tubman? - Kem Knapp Sawyer. Juvenile Biography.

27. The Warmth of Other Suns - Isabel Wilkerson. History (of the Great Migration).

28. A Raisin in the Sun - Lorraine Hansberry. Play.

29. Born a Crime - Trevor Noah. Memoir.

30. If Beale Street Could Talk - James Baldwin. Novel.

31. Becoming - Michelle Obama. Memoir.

32. An American Marriage - Tayari Jones. Novel.

33. Who Was Jesse Owens? - James Buckley, Jr. Juvenile Biography.

34. Red At The Bone - Jacqueline Woodson. Novel.

35. Not Without Laughter - Langston Hughes. Novel.

...TO BE CONTINUED...except in reverse. I'm up to date, so I'm going to revisit my earlier book journals.

So. 35 in 10 years. Between three and four a year. I'm pleased with the richness of this list, but I can do better.

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)

TO BE CONTINUED...

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.