Tuesday, January 07, 2020

2019 Resolution: Book Bingo Blackout


I'm never sure whether this challenge is called Book Blackout Bingo or Book Bingo Blackout. Both sound fine to me. I've got another year to get it straight, since I liked this challenge so much I'll be returning for 2020 Book...well, you know.

Although I enjoyed this challenge, I was not completely successful. No blackout for me!  I attribute this to my own poor planning.

Let's unpack this board and see what happened in Bybee Book Bingo:

EDGAR AWARD FIRST NOVEL: Did not complete this category. All year, it skulked up there in the top left corner, accusing me. I'm sorry, Edgar Award!

HEROINE: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Both sisters were heroines.

PALATE CLEANSER: Best American Food Writing, 2018. I'd just read a self-help book and a weird Jim Thompson novel, so this was a palate cleanser in all senses of the phrase. Favorite essay was about a food writer who visits Pawhuska, Oklahoma to see Ree Drummond's (The Pioneer Woman) empire....or tourist trap, depending on your viewpoint.

GENRE BENDING: The Government Lake by James Tate. This is a book of poetry, but it reads like surreal flash-fiction.

GEN X AUTHOR: Gail Honeyman, author of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine gets the nod here. She was born in 1970.

ODD COUPLE: Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee. The blurb on the back of this delectable trip across the USA says it best: "American food is a story of mash-ups. Immigrants arrive, cultures collide, and out of the push and pull come exciting new dishes and flavors." Lee tells their stories with delicacy and gusto, as only a chef could.

CLASSIC I'VE NEVER READ: Did not complete. Late in the year, I grabbed a copy of Black Beauty, but didn't care for it enough to finish. I also bailed on Frankenstein and Tess of the D'Urbervilles. I took several swings at this category but whiffed. No joy in Mudville.

PUSHING BOUNDARIES: Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie & Clyde.

EXPLORE: The Volcano Lover by Susan Sontag. The titular character is always out looking for treasures around Pompeii.

PLACE NAME: If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin.

LIFE HACK: Nomadland by Jessica Bruder. Finances got you down? Give up paying rent and take to the road in a camper.

UNBELIEVABLE: Maurice in A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne. This guy, like Tom Ripley, gets away with the most heinous acts. My jaw was dropped on practically every page.

GREEN: What Is... The Story of Frankenstein? A nonfiction book for young readers that explains the history behind Mary Shelley's creation, The picture on the cover shows the Boris Karloff incarnation, And yeah. He's green.

FIRE: The Library Book by Susan Orlean. The 1986 fire features prominently in Orlean's look at the history of the Los Angeles Public Library.

BIRTH: Celia has a baby in Middlemarch.

ROMANTIC: Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin.

LANGUAGE: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. Many Korean words and phrases.

LGBTQ: Elevation by Stephen King. A lesbian couple are featured in the storyline.

SOUTH PACIFIC: Did not complete this category. Poor planning on my part.

NOVELTY BOOK: Spam: A Biography.

FOLKTALE: Did not complete this category. Starting to feel sad.

MAP: The Pioneers by David McCullough. The endpapers are a map of Ohio Territory.

DEEP DIVE: I read six books by or about Susan Sontag.

UNRULY WOMAN: Love and Ruin by Paula McLain. Ernest Hemingway's third wife, Martha Gellhorn, was also a writer and a war correspondent. Of course, after she was Papa's woman, she was supposed to stay home and let him have the adventures. She basically told him to stick it in his ear!

LOST AND FOUND: My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl. Reichl was editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, which folded. Through cooking and time with friends and family, she seeks to find the next phase in her career.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Let's Just Kiss and Say Goodbye: The 2019 DNF Files

I was cleaning my Goodreads shelf, and found all these DNFs from last year. I considered leaving them there and bridging them over to 2020, but no.  If it's meant to be, I'll bring them back:

1. Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy.

2. In America - Susan Sontag.

3. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley.

4. The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History - Katherine Ashenburg.

5. Black Beauty - Anna Sewell.

As always, I feel bad for abandoning a book (except for that time I threw Atlas Shrugged out the window into the shrubbery, and that other time when I turned my back on Villette after a long struggle with the audiobook and a print copy and a Kindle version).  This year, there were no hostile feelings towards these books; I just couldn't make my brain settle down to them.

Next post: Book Blackout Bingo 2019


Wednesday, January 01, 2020

2019: Got My Kicks Reading 66



Nonfiction: 43
Fiction: 22
Poetry: 1
Audiobooks: 6

1. Elevation - Stephen King F
2. Nomadland - Jessica Bruder NF
3. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman F
4.The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah F
5. If Beale Street Could Talk - James Baldwin F
6. My Life in Middlemarch - Rebecca Mead NF


7. Clock Dance - Anne Tyler F
8. Becoming - Michelle Obama NF
9. Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters - Anne Boyd Rioux NF
10. The Library Book - Susan Orlean NF
11. The Dwelling Place - Catherine Cookson F

12. An American Marriage - Tayari Jones F
13. Dopesick - Beth Macy NF
14. Rin Tin Tin: The Life and The Legend - Susan Orlean NF

15. The Story of a Marriage - Andrew Sean Greer F
16. Unsheltered - Barbara Kingsolver F
17. Maid - Stephanie Land NF
18. Home Sweet Maison - Danielle Postel-Vinay NF
19. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning - Margareta Magnusson NF

20. My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life - Ruth Reichl NF
21. The Art of Discarding - Nagisa Tatsumi NF
22.  Love and Ruin - Paula McLain F
23. Hers: Design With a Feminine Touch - Jacqueline de Montravel NF

24. Buttermilk Graffiti - Edward Lee NF
25. Drinking: A Love Story - Caroline Knapp NF
26. Outer Order, Inner Calm - Gretchen Rubin NF
27. The Island of Sea Women - Lisa See F
28. One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way - Robert Maurer, Ph.D. NF
29. The Best American Food Writing 2018 - Ruth Reichl, ed. NF
30. Now and On Earth - Jim Thompson F

31. Food: A Love Story - Jim Gaffigan NF
32. Reborn: Journals & Notebooks 1947-1963 - Susan Sontag NF
33. As Consciousness Is Harnessed To Flesh: Journals and Notebooks 1964-1980 - Susan Sontag NF
34. The Volcano Lover - Susan Sontag F
35. Henry, Himself - Stewart O'Nan F
36. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo - Taylor Jenkins Reid F

37. Swimming in a Death Sea - David Rieff NF
38. The Escape Artists - Neal Bascomb NF
39. Daisy Jones & The Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid F
40. Incoming Assets - Stephanie Williams and Celestian Rince NF
41. The Trial of Lizzie Borden - Cara Robertson NF
42. Three Women - Lisa Taddeo NF
43. I'll Be Gone in the Dark - Michelle McNamara NF
44. After A While You Just Get Used To It: A Tale of Family Clutter - Gwendolyn Knapp NF

45. Sempre Susan - Sigrid Nunez NF
46. The Pioneers - David McCullough NF
47. Dancing Fish and Ammonites - Penelope Lively NF
48. The Government Lake - James Tate P
49. Happy All the Time - Laurie Colwin F
50. A Ladder to the Sky - John Boyne F
51. What Is the Story of Frankenstein? - Sheila Keenan NF

52. Bettyville - George Hodgman NF
53. Sontag: Her Life and Work - Benjamin Moser NF

54. What Do We Need Men For? - E. Jean Carroll NF
55. The Truth About Mary Rose - Marilyn Sachs F
56. The Grief Recovery Handbook - John W. James and Russell Friedman NF
57. The Sterile Cuckoo - John Nichols F
58. Talking to Strangers - Malcolm Gladwell NF
59. Dannemora - Charles A. Gardner NF
60. Blink - Malcolm Gladwell NF
61. Go Down Together - Jeff Guinn NF

62. Varina - Charles Frazier F
63. Born Round - Frank Bruni NF
64. Middlemarch - George Eliot F
65. Spam: A Biography - Carolyn Wyman NF
66. A Grief Observed - C.S. Lewis NF

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Sprinting Towards the Finish Line 2019


Wind in my hair! Apples in my cheeks! Sweat in my shoes! 

Yes, it's nearly the end of the year and I'm scrambling to finish three more books by midnight December 31:

Middlemarch - George Eliot. This is doable. I'm 73% in, and I have a 4-hour layover in Denver. Gotta finish. Must finish to make my own personal goal of reading Middlemarch every ten years since 1999.

Black Beauty - Anna Sewell. BB was my choice for the above challenge, BOOK BINGO BLACKOUT in the category Classic I've Never Read. Cakewalk, right? Should I say Caketrot? No, because it's really not. So far, the horses have really looonnnggggg conversations about all the ways humans can be cruel. I'm not even that far along in the novel yet; Black Beauty is still having a great life, if you can overlook that bit business. I've already had my big shock though: Black Beauty is male! I never realized.

Spam: A Biography - Carolyn Wyman. I'm reading this for Novelty Book in BOOK BINGO BLACKOUT.  It's a compilation of history, trivia, cartoons, recipes, and articles about an interesting foodstuff. Put together in a patchworky manner that hearkens back to the days of 'zines, it's fun, and like it's subject, tolerable in short doses. I'm determined to finish, and perhaps even try one of the recipes.

I'll return to BOOK BINGO BLACKOUT at the beginning of the year to discuss my outcomes and to look with fresh eyes upon a whole new bingo board of challenges.

Meanwhile, Merry Readmas and Happy Book Year!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Angry At You...And Your Books, Too???


I heard something both intriguing and disturbing this week: An acquaintance of mine (I'll call her 'Reedy'; she's wonderfully, quirkily bookwormy) and I got together. Over coffee, we were having a lively conversation about books we'd recently read, books on our wishlist and books we were looking forward to coming out next year. We were both especially Squeeeeee! about The Mirror and the Light, the final book in the Wolf Hall trilogy by Hilary Mantel.

I told Reedy about finding some sort of orangey-red sauce in my recently library read, Born Round by Frank Bruni, and how I would ordinarily be a little bit eww, but under the circumstances, it seemed forgivable. She asked if I smelled the page to try and figure out what the previous reader had been eating. Uh, no. She said she always does that. Except when she sees Cheeto fingerprints, which is all the evidence you really need.

The conversation flowed on with the coffee, and I mentioned wanting to read City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Body by Bill Bryson (I got the latter for my birthday last week).

Reedy made a disgusted face. "I'm not going to read either one of those. I wouldn't read them if you paid me."

"Why not?"

"My cousin gave them to me. And I'm mad at her."

Well. Relatives can be all over the board, but if they're generous with books, you can overlook a few things! Can't you? I know I could.

"Reedy, you can't be mad at the books. They didn't do anything."

"I don't care. They sat there on the shelves, just glaring out at me and I kept getting more and more repulsed when I looked at them. I couldn't even stand them in the house. I felt like throwing up."

I didn't like the sudden and ominous appearance of past tense verbs. I tried to ignore them: "Bring the books to me. I don't know your cousin."

"I don't have them anymore," said Reedy.

"Oh my God." I was having terrible visions. "Reedy, you didn't throw them away, did you?"

"Of course not. I'm not crazy. I donated them to the Salvation Army. But there are copies in every fucking bookstore around here. I see them everywhere I go. Even Walmart. Ugh."

I thought I was going to cry, or something next-door to it. "I wish you'd brought them to me. I would have even given you some money for them."

"I don't care. I did you a favor. Those books had her nasty mojo all over them."

So, anyway. I'm torn between annoyed at missing out on free new books and genuine fascination at this quirky(?) behavior. I don't understand, and I promise that if I'm ever mad at you, I may be snarling with contempt, but for your books, there'll be nothing but the utmost tenderness in my heart.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

The Reading: October/November 2019

October was a slow month; I only finished two books: Sontag, the biography of Susan Sontag by Benjamin Moser (Which seemed to say as much about the biographer as it did about his subject, but that's not a criticism. I like mulling about these fraught kind of relationships.) and Bettyville by George Hodgman, which, as I predicted, broke my heart. I had no business reading about elderly parents and adrift, middle-aged children at this point in my life, but I couldn't not read it. Anyway, two books, but the weightiness felt like ten.

November was much more productive. It truly turned out to be a banner Nonfiction November (Hi, Unruly Reader!) with tiny whiffs of novel.

The fiction, first. Interestingly, these were both rereads from many years ago. Some sort of nostalgia bug must have been gnawing on my entrails:

The Truth About Mary Rose - Marilyn Sachs. A 1973 juvenile novel. The plot, which involves Mary Rose, named after an aunt who died as a child in an apartment fire. Her obsession and hero-worship of the original Mary Rose is less interesting than the look back into the 1970s at New York City and people trying on new ideas like women being dentists and men being full-time homemakers. I always liked Sachs' work, as a young reader. It felt real, honest and gritty.

The Sterile Cuckoo - John Nichols. Did you ever revisit a novel and then wish you hadn't? I remember loving this one, but why? I hated the leaden prose, and the blockhead narrator, Jerry. The characters are supposedly having fun and high jinks at college, but it's stifling, airless. No oxygen can get in, Only the wistful, frustrating Pookie kept me from bailing. This is a book that has aged badly. I propose a rewrite. From Pookie's POV.

The nonfiction!

What Do We Need Men For? - E. Jean Carroll. Elle advice columnist Carroll goes on a road trip across America with her dog. She stops in towns with female names and asks women the title question. Answers vary. Meanwhile, readers are treated (probably the wrong word) to her list of the 21 Most Hideous Men she's ever known. Donald Trump is on the list, and he's not even the worst. I was amazed, sickened, uncomfortable. I recognized that I could make a similar list. Carroll gives the impression of triumphing over all of this, but it feels brittle. Brittle or not, I hope it's lasting.

The Grief Recovery Handbook - John W. James and Russell Friedman. I read this because I went to a Grief Recovery class. I misjudged the book early, thinking it would be all hippy-dippy, touchy-feely. Instead, it is dignified and restrained. There is a thoughtful and sensible balance between intellect and emotion, each receiving their due. Exercises in each chapter guide the reader through the grieving process. James and Friedman intelligently wrote the book to deal with any sort of loss in life. Recommended.

Talking to Strangers - Malcolm Gladwell. This was my first outing with Gladwell. What can I say? I like the play of his mind, the warp and weave of his thoughts. The cut of his jib. Talking to Strangers explores why we often get people's intent wrong, although we think we've studied them during our interactions and we're good judges of character. Apparently, we default to the premise that the person is being straightforward and truthful when they aren't. I didn't quite see how some of the chapters fit into the book, but I was intrigued, and left wanting more Gladwell.

Dannemora - Charles A. Gardner.  Gardner lives in upstate New York and worked in the prison system there, so he was a front line witness to the three-week manhunt for two escaped killers during the summer of 2015. His writing style is a little dry but his derision for the escapees and their feckless accomplice Joyce Mitchell, who flagrantly broke rules to help them shines through. His true scorn is reserved for Governor Andrew Cuomo, who seems to see the prison break as an opportunity to shore up his sagging PR. On the other hand, Gardner is unstinting in his admiration for the volunteers, supporters, and law enforcement who worked without rest in rough terrain to bring the ordeal to its end. 

Blink - Malcolm Gladwell.  Gladwell poses an interesting question and tries to solve it. How do we know what we know when we don't even know why we know? How can we make lightning-quick, accurate judgments? How could someone barely glance at a forgery and comprehend it is so wrong that they felt nauseated? Gladwell then gives various examples of what he terms as 'thin-slicing'. His writing is so addictive. I just want more, more, more.

Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie & Clyde - Jeff Guinn. This is the most comprehensive study of the 1930s outlaw pair. Guinn traces the two back to their dirt-poor origins in Texas where they were both born, within months of each other, in 1910. Both had families who had relocated from rural surroundings to West Dallas, a downtrodden area near Dallas proper. Back in those days, there was little hope of upward mobility, which was difficult for a couple of youngsters with ideals of romance and a dislike of being labelled. Before I read this book, I didn't realize how young Bonnie and Clyde were -- barely in their twenties. Guinn also covers in detail their fumbling attempts at crime in the beginning. Clyde excelled mostly at stealing cars and robbing armories. His bank-robbing skills weren't as developed. He and his gang spent most of their time knocking over small grocery stores just to meet their traveling expenses, stealing cars, and taking serpentine routes that always led back to West Dallas for family visits. Go Down Together is empathetic, readable and scrupulously researched, It was my favorite read for November.

Now it's December, and I'm finishing a memoir by Frank Bruni called Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater. Bruni has got me drooling with his descriptions of food, which are vast and contain multitudes (mostly of pasta, but trust me, the man leaves no scone unturned.) I'm reading a library copy, and I found some sort of food or sauce (reddish-orange) caked on page 54. Usually, I'm disgusted, but in this case, the previous reader has my complete understanding and forgiveness.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Bybeeary: Fiction and Nonfiction



It suddenly occurred to me this morning, before coffee, that I have lived in my newest place since June 1 and hadn't posted any pictures of the newest incarnation of the Bybeeary. So I'm fixing that today. Before coffee, as you can tell by the quality of the photos.

These two tall, slender shelves are on either side of my sofa.

The first picture is of the fiction shelf and the one below is the nonfiction. The fiction is alphabetical. The nonfiction is still a work in progress, except for the first one-and-a-half shelves: those are my books related to food.

On top of the fiction shelf is a pot that my mother made.

On top of the nonfiction shelf is decorative ball that reflects light. Next to it is a photo of my great-grandmother, taken around 1915. In the middle of the second shelf (which is the end of the aforementioned food section) is a cookie jar shaped like a stack of chocolate chip cookies.

 In the foreground on the right is a small drop-leaf table with some crystal on it. In the crystal bowl is my matchbook collection.

I'll go now (coffee) and let you zoom in on the book spines. Enjoy.