Wednesday, May 08, 2024

And That Was April, Twenty Twenty Four

Only three books read in April:

1. Crazy Rich Asians - Kevin Kwan. Novel. Audiobook. So much satire and so much fun. Alamak!

2. Who is Taylor Swift? -Kirsten Anderson. Nonfiction. this book goes from Taylor's birth in 1989 and alllll the way through 2023 and mentions almost all of her hit songs and her boyfriends. Somehow, Travis Kelce doesn't show up at all. Not even a shadowy drawing of a football player wearing a red jersey with 87 on the back. Interesting!

3. Knife -Salman Rushdie. Memoir. Rushdie writes about the 2022 knife attack in which he was stabbed 15 times and lost an eye. The book follows his recovery and reactions to the attack, including a long, imaginary dialogue with his 24-year-old assailant, who seems to have gotten the half-baked idea from watching a few YouTube videos. A year after the assault, Rushdie defiantly returns to the venue and does the reading he had prepared when calamity struck. This gives the book a nice shape, but I'm sure he is still getting over this horrific event. I admire his toughness and resolve.
My completed reading seems scant, but behind the scenes, I've been working on two books:

The Sunne in Splendour - Sharon Kay Penman. 1982 historical fiction about The Wars ofu the Roses, and particularly about Richard III. It's very long and just as compelling. I wonder if George R.R. Martin read it before he started the Game of Thrones series. I'm often reminded of GoT as I'm reading. After finishing The Sunne in Splendour, I plan to tackle Penman's five-book series about Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II and their sons.

Emma - Jane Austen. Novel. I read this back in college, but I didn't really "get" Austen until many years later. I'm familiar with the "mystery" in the novel, so it's fun to search out the clues Jane Austen sprinkles in. Emma is my favorite of all her books. I still have Mansfield Park left to read, but don't know if I'm feeling that brave yet.

Thursday, April 04, 2024

March Madness

Yes, it's true. I could not come up with a more clever title. There were no basketballs, polished gym floors, hoops, or three-point shots involved in the making of this post. 

Six books for the third month in a row. A respectable number.

 So much for my thinking that I could go a whole year reading nothing but nonfiction. It's just not so. I need novels. Novels need me?

 1. Lilac Girls - Martha Hall Kelly. Historical novel. Audiobook. I was almost halfway through this novel before I realized that several of these characters were actual people. Up to that point, I was quite engaged in the book, but that revelation had me sitting straight up for the rest. Caroline Ferriday is a rich New York socialite who devotes endless days to helping French refugees at the dawn of WWII. During the war, she raises funds for care packages for French orphanages. After the war, she spearheads a campaign to help women who were in German concentration camps get surgery to repair injuries inflicted on them by Nazi doctors at the camp who were bent on ghoulish experimentation. Kasia is a young Polish political prisoner. Herta is one of the Nazi doctors. Eventually, their stories intertwine. I'm really mad at myself for sidestepping this book for at least three years. It was so well done. The audiobook is incredible. Three different actors portray these women, and the one who narrated Kasia's part had me teary-eyed more than once. I admired Caroline, and despised Herta with the heat of a thousand suns. 

 2. Akin - Emma Donoghue. Novel. There are two stories here, and one gets completely overshadowed by the other. Not my favorite Donoghue novel, although when she seems to falter, she's still really good. I read this for book group.

 3. Class - Stephanie Land. Memoir. Land starts Class where her previous memoir, Maid left off, and concentrates on Land's senior year at the University of Montana, where she is pursuing a BA in Creative Writing, and is hoping to be accepted to the MFA program there. She's also still working cleaning houses and raising her kindergarten-age daughter as a single mother living below the poverty level. As graduation draws near, her life is further complicated by an unplanned pregnancy. She gets more than her share of raised eyebrows and well-meaning  but judgmental advice from classmates and faculty. And, as always, she does ongoing battle with a social services system that borders on Kafkaesque. Stephanie Land's writing is intense. One of her professors said "relentless", and I agree, but only in the best sense. What I like best about both her memoirs is that she's not afraid to portray herself as complex and contradictory. Looking forward to a third memoir.

 4. The Vaster Wilds - Lauren Groff. Historical novel. A young girl, a servant to a minister and his wife is on the run in the 1630s from the diseased and failing settlement of Jamestown. The reader is made to understand that the girl has committed some sort of crime. Her life in the wild is brutal, but through flashbacks, we see that her whole life has been difficult, and seems to have prepared her. given her the mental toughness needed for this latest hardship.

 5. The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen Age 83 1/4 - "Hendrik Groen". Novel. Audiobook. Set in The Netherlands, Hendrik and his friends, old-age pensioners in a retirement home, get tired of the tedium of the place and start the Old-But-Not-Dead Club in which each member arranges an outing per month for all of them. Hendrik also buys a motorized scooter and explores the area around the home. He is an avid reader of the news, especially when it pertains to senior citizens. His observations are concise, witty, and sometimes pretty savage. His diary follows a whole year, one of great change as he and his friends face up to their physical limitations and still have good times. Derek Jacobi as narrator was an inspired choice, although I sometimes had problems with his vocal dynamics. When Hendrik shouts, he shouts, he lets it all out, but when he was saying witty, caustic things half under his breath, I would often not catch it. When the book ended, I found myself missing these characters.

 6. The Guest - Emma Cline. Novel. After inviting her to spend the summer with him at his house in the Hamptons, Alex's much-older, rich boyfriend suddenly cuts her loose right before Labor Day, having his assistant get her a ticket back to New York City. But Alex has burned all of her bridges back in the city, and has grown accustomed to life among the rich, so she decides that no, she just won't return to NYC. Her plan is to hang around then show up at Simon's (the boyfriend) Labor Day party. By then, she hopes he will reconsider and they'll have a lovely reunion. During the five days Alex is adrift, she taps into her considerable grifting skills, then immediately embraces her genius for the bad decision. I was horrified by Alex, but enjoyed The Guest so much. Really loved the Patricia Highsmith feel of it. And OH MY GOD THAT ENDING! What happened? I went back over the last chapter a few times, looking for clues and developing theories. I'm glad I don't know for sure. I admire Emma Cline for making readers figure it out.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

It Was 20 Years Ago Today: Happy Birthday, Blob!

 20 years old! Surely this is forever in blog years. 1,184 posts. 

Here's that first blog entry dated March 11, 2004. Strangely, I remembered it as being a lot more interesting:


I'm a sucker for a good first line, but suddenly, I've got an attack of shyness and don't know where to begin. Earlier this week on the BBC website, there was a quiz on first lines in books. I got 6 out of the 10 -- blew an easy question by over thinking it. After the quiz, people were invited to write their own first line. I'll post mine here:

"Reminiscences just aren't for me. Over the years, I've found that looking back only aggravates my whiplash."

Actually, that's true and not true. When it comes to books, I'll reminisce till the cows come home. The book is the hook that throws my past into sharp relief for me. Recite a title and I can tell you when I read it, where I lived, what was going on in my life and other increasingly useless minutiae.

I'm crazy (not an understatement) about reading, but I like any kind of interaction with books. I'm really involved with right now, and have been "releasing" my books" into the wilds" of Central Missouri.

I recently applied for a part time job at a local bookstore, but didn't get the job. After many years, the manager is probably adept at recognizing unrestrained book lust. During the interview, when she asked if (!) I liked(!) to read, my response tone was somewhat similar to the Cookie Monster's. When asked about customer service, the fervor dissipated and I was once again mild-mannered Bybee, maybe a little vague: "Oh yes, customers. Well, they're uh, important, I guess." Naturally, this translated to: I'll wait on them if I'm not in the middle of a good chapter.
But never mind the bookstore. There's also the local library. And there's my own library, which would be an impressive start to any bookstore.


What the what?! I talked about loving books but didn't mention a single one! I talked about Bookcrossing??????? Good God, y'all. However, that was right on about enjoying any sort of interaction with books.

If I rewrote that first entry right now, I'd cut that first part about the book quiz and writing my own first line, and start with: "The book is the hook". AND THERE WOULD BE TITLES AND AUTHORS! AND CHARACTERS!!! I would also call the blog "The Book Is The Hook".

I do remember the sting and burn of not getting that local bookstore job. Good reflection and self-awareness in recognizing where I went sideways at the interview. 

Egad, that last bit about "never mind the bookstore". Way to trail off and fade out of my first blog post.

I do hope the second post was better, but now I'm afraid to look. Instead, I'm going to catapult 20 years into the future and talk about what I read in February, 2024:

1. Friends, Lovers, and the Big, Terrible Thing (memoir) -Matthew Perry. Reading this memoir after Matthew Perry's death was an eerie experience. For those who read it before he died, it probably landed as a rueful survivor's tale, cautiously feel-good. On the other side, it reads as a stark warning, along the lines of Sir Gawain's "I know that I will not live a fortnight".

2. What Is The Story of Romeo and Juliet? (nonfiction) -Max Bisantz. Give me a break. How does a person write a 108 page book about the most famous star-crossed lovers in the world, detailing all their incarnations back to the beginning, and never once mention Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film version? Even the 1936 version with ancient Leslie Howard and geriatric Norma Shearer playing the ill-fated teenagers got a mention. Boggles the mind. Still shaking my head. 

3.  Granny Smith Was Not An Apple (nonfiction) -Sarah Glenn Fortson. And that's right. She was Maria Ann Smith, an immigrant from England to Australia during the 19th century, who worked as an apple orchardist in both countries. She discovered an apple in Australia that was green and never turned red and was quite tart. She got to grafting, and finally produced an apple that was green but tart and sweet and perfect for pies. I thought of my book blogging friend Care while I was reading this informative and entertaining children's book.

4.  Eligible (novel) - Curtis Sittenfeld. A fun and frothy retelling of Pride and Prejudice, updated to the twenty-teens, and set in Cincinnati. I went into this one with some trepidation, but ended up liking it very much. The audiobook version read by Cassandra Clare adds to its sparkle.

5. Where the Crawdads Sing (novel) - Delia Owens. Read this one for book group. The nature writing in the novel is lovely, but the rest of it doesn't rise to that level. Skip the book and just watch the movie version, which is a bit more palatable.

6. I Must Be Dreaming (graphic novel) - Roz Chast. Since I've been keeping a dream journal off and on almost as long as I've been doing this blog,* I actively sought out Roz Chast's latest book about her dreams. To my surprise, we have a lot of the same dreams, like "Old and Pregnant", "I'm suddenly in charge of an infant", and "I can't find my hotel". In her book, she details dreams about Danny DeVito, Elizabeth Taylor and Henry Kissinger. At the end, she recommends some books about dreams and dreaming, including The Mind at Night by Andrea Rock, which has been on my TBR for about a year. Like Chast, I think it's cool that our brains generate these strange, kooky things while we sleep, and a graphic novel with dreams? So so cool. 

*In keeping with the theme of my blog, I have a series of intermittent posts labeled "Dreaming in Literature". 

Thursday, February 01, 2024

Oh, Jan

 I read six books in January. I was on the verge of the verge of finishing two more books, but then I fell asleep and the calendar page fluttered to February. They will do that, won't they?

1. The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion - Fannie Flagg. Novel. Audiobook. I read this for book group. I went in, fully prepared to dislike it, but this tribute to the WASPS and their gutsy contributions during WWII absolutely charmed me, and filled me with the deepest respect. 

2. Being Henry: The Fonz and Beyond - Henry Winkler. Memoir. Winkler's memoir is a good one to read in conjunction with Ron and Clint Howard's The Boys. Winkler is quite a bit more introspective, though.

3. Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend - Karen Blumenthal. Nonfiction. Audiobook. Written for the Young Adult set, but the author didn't write down to her audience. Every bit as good as Go Down Together, the quintessential book about the pair.

4. Who Was Salvador Dali? - Paula Manzanero. Nonfiction. I think it's really difficult to capture the full flavor of the enjoyable weirdness that was Dali, but I loved the anecdote about Dali walking an anteater in the Paris Metro.

5. The Witches of Worm - Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Novel. I do wish I'd saved this novel for October. Troubled latchkey child Jessica adopts a newborn kitten she names Worm who seemingly talks to her and tells her to act out in school and at home. Excellent dark, moody atmosphere, although Worm scared me a lot less than Jessica's feckless mother and the mother's douche boyfriend.

6. Child Star - Shirley Temple. Autobiography. So very glad to be done with this book! I've been wrestling with it since July. July 13, to be precise. Child Star covers Temple's life from birth to approximately her late twenties. Her life was fascinating, her research was impeccable, but her writing is stodgy. She wrote the book long after she had entered political life, and it definitely shows.

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

2023 DNF


This was a book group selection, and although I started out well, I was out by the 100-page mark. There was a scene involving rats on the attack, and I could not, would not continue. Call me squeamy.  I'd DNF this a thousand times if it were possible.

Resolutions Past and Passed Gas


Above is my resolutions list for 2023. I'm afraid that I didn't make much headway, but it is fun to see the reach and the fullness and optimism that was there for me at the beginning of the year.

Wolf Hall trilogy again: No (regretfully)

Who was? Who is? Yes

Read Canadian Literature: No

Read a Bulwer-Lytton novel: No

Only read literary biographies: No

Finish "Bronte" project: No

No Self-Help: I read How to Keep House While Drowning and loved the hell out of it.

Read PKD: No

Finally get around to Heart of Darkness: No

Finish Tess of the D'Urbervilles: YES THANK GOD and F#@k Angel Clare!

Read MacBeth: No

Read We: No

Rearrange bookshelves into Dewey Decimal Order: OMG, Past Self, don't make me laugh. No, and they're worse than ever.

Read in the car before work: Yes

Read A Girl of the Limberlost: No

Reread The Bell Jar: No

Stick to wish list: Bwahahahahahaha

Buy local: Yes

Read Icelandic Lit: No

1920s Lit: No

Finish Kopp Sisters: No. (sad face)

More science: No

Popular culture: I don't remember what I thought I meant.

2023 Nonfiction

 When did I become such a nonfiction girl? The answer starts from decades back. In second grade and part of third grade, I was an avid reader of fairy tales. Then in third grade, the girl sitting in front of me told me about Helen Keller, and I found myself in the biography section on Library Day that week. Once I was there, I saw other names I recognized Daniel Boone! Geronimo! Florence Nightingale! Amelia Earhart! and that began my second bookish obsession. The Little House series, that beautiful and problematic bonnet string tangle of fiction and fact, was still two years in my future.

 As an adult, Tracy Kidder seems to have been the author that helped open the nonfiction door wide for me. Two years in graduate school led to reading that was almost exclusively nonfiction, and added polish and confidence to my reading self. (Surprisingly, I found myself swooning over tomes about linguistics. Steven Pinker. Sigh.) 

Age has also helped because I've acquired a good amount of background knowledge about  historical and cultural events, so everything feels connected in some way. Is schemata the word I'm looking for?

 I'm convinced that 2024 will be yet another year in which nonfiction dominates my reading.

Let me also mention the Who Was...? books, because they are very much a part of my reading list. The Spawn is always finding new books in the series for me to read. (My current one is about Salvador Dali.) The series can be uneven -- a little bit like the little girl with the curl -- some are very very good (World War I) and some are horrid, (Hello, Kitty) but I'm always eager to have a new one in my hands. I wish that those books had been around for eight and nine-year-old me.

So anyway, below is list of nonfiction read in 2023. I've noted my favorites in green.

1. The Man Who Invented Christmas

2. Who was Michelangelo?

3. Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book

4. Who is Shaquille O'Neal?

5. Starring Steven Spielberg

6. Ducks

7. Spare

8. Last Rampage

9. Hey, Kiddo

10. The Year of Less

11. Who was Alex Trebek?

12. Who was Maria Tallchief?

13. The Rainbow Comes and Goes

14. Who is LeBron James?

15. What is the Story of Nancy Drew?

16. Forget the Alamo

17. Ice Cream Man

18. Library Girl

19. A Perfect Fit

20. Blast Off!

21. The Brilliant Calculator

22. What was The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921?

23. Happening

24. All You Can Ever Know

25. Shy

26. What is the Story of Anne of Green Gables?

27. What was World War I?

28. Who was Frank Sinatra?

29. Who was Jim Thorpe?

30. Scrappy Little Nobody

31. Sharp

32. Napoleon vs. The Bunnies

33. Jerry Changed the Game!

34. Who is Simone Biles?

35. Who is Nathan Chen?

36. The Wager

37. Good Books for Bad Children

38. What is the Story of the Headless Horseman?

39. Five Days at Memorial

40. Who is Harry Styles?

41. What Do We Know About the Winchester House?

42. Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy

43. Who was Betty White?

44. You Could Make This Place Beautiful

45. What Do We Know About the Children's Blizzard of 1888?

46. Hollywood: The Oral History

47. Madly, Deeply

48. Abridged Classics

49. How to Keep House While Drowning

50. The Man Who Loved Books

51. Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte

52. What was The Donner Party?