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

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.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Wonky Donkey

What can you say about such a beguiling and complex hero? 

He's a donkey of few words (Hee Haw) but he manages to convey so much meaning. 

He's lanky and good-looking, but secure enough in himself to appear to others as a bit stinky-dinky. 

He's also in touch with his emotions: when he hasn't had his morning coffee he's cranky and if he feels like getting up to mischief by eating someone's tantalizing patched undershorts, well, he's only equine, right? Just sync up some country music for him (I'd like to think traditional country rather than modern, but that's just me) and he'll be as fine as a honky-tonk on a Saturday night.  

The injuries to his leg and eye (which are never fully explained, adding to his mystique) add rather than detract from his appeal. Furthermore, his grit in continuing down that road each day give him the rough-hewn and larger-than-life stature of a John Wayne or a Clint Eastwood. 

Once encountered on the page, Donkey is unforgettable and belongs in the literary pantheon alongside Mr. Darcy and Heathcliff.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

November, Two

I finished only two books in November, but I swear that I was reading my eyeballs out. Early that month, I finally received my copy of Letters of Sylvia Plath Vol. 2. Like Vol 1, it's gargantuan, although a slightly slimmer version (1000-ish) of the hefty (1400+) predecessor. Also, it's not the sort of book you can just whip through. At least, I can't. After so many years of reading her words heavily edited by others, I finally get to see what Plath says, unedited. Even if she's going on about rugs and such, I will read it because it's her own damn voice at last.

Here are the two books I did manage to finish in November:

1. The Camerons - Robert Crichton. 1972 novel about turn-of-the-20th-century Scottish coal miners. Like family sagas? Fish-out-of-water stories? Social justice? Strong women characters? Men in kilts? This one's for you. Very well researched and crafted and robustly told story.

2. The Nix - Nathan Hill. This sprawling masterpiece from 2016 has everything. I'm surprised that it didn't get a nod for the Pulitzer. There's a dizzying array of topics: ghosts, video games, 1968 Chicago riots -- among other things -- that the novel could conceivably sink under its own weight. But it doesn't! Everything is gorgeously woven together. I listened to the audiobook and the narrator, Ari Fliakos, is more than equal to the challenge and the madness of all these characters and their obsessions. He was a brilliant, inspired choice to perform Nathan Hill's prose.

Monday, November 12, 2018

What I Read Way Back When In October, 2018 And It Was All Nonfiction

1. The Obesity Code - Jason Fung, M.D. (nonfiction)
 Last month, I talked about a book I read about intermittent fasting called Eat Stop Eat by Brad Pilon. Like Pilon, Jason Fung is Canadian. Fung is, by training a doctor specializing in kidney disease, and seeing so many of his patients with complications led him to get his Sherlock on and trace back the path of how we can or do end up this way. Long story short: Insulin makes us fat, and it's not how much we eat, it's how often we eat. If we would permit ourselves longer periods of fasting and/or shorter eating windows, we wouldn't produce as much insulin and we would enjoy better health. Also: diets don't work because our bodies are smart and adaptable. If you try to make a change, your body is onto your shenanigans in no time, and don't you forget it! Also: it's not our fault! Food is in our faces 24/7, and the food industry wants to make sure it really is in our faces all the time. There is a lot of science, but Fung breaks it down into manageable chunks and with startlingly fun examples. My favorite: "Diet is Batman. Exercise is Robin." I'm oversimplifying a compelling read. Try it for yourself.

 2. Dead Wake - Erik Larson. (nonfiction)
 I feel embarrassed that I knew nearly nothing about the Lusitania, except than it sank sometime around the beginning of World War I. As The Devil in the White City, Larson cuts back and forth with cinematic sharpness between four stories: The Lusitania's last journey and the many stories of the passengers and crew; the U-Boat captain and crew intent on making a quota of tons of ships sunk; British intelligence, who see very clearly their chance to influence history; and finally, newly widowed, grief-stricken President Woodrow Wilson finding new love. To be sure, Wilson's story isn't as gripping as the other events unfolding. I'm sure Larson included it to give readers a pause to catch their collective breath. I started this one on audiobook and became so impatient for the end that I ran to the library and got out the print copy.

3. The Laid Back Guide to Intermittent Fasting - Kayla Cox. (nonfiction)
A young mother with three children who is in her early 30s, Kayla Cox struggled with her weight, and diets and exercise worked, but never permanently. After an unflattering photo* on Facebook and a few paradigm shifts, Cox discovered intermittent fasting and decided to incorporate it into her life in a way that would feel effortless but still get results. After much patience and experimentation, she found that walking six miles a day and OMAD (one meal a day) in the evenings helped her lose 80 pounds. Her YouTube channel, Six Miles to Supper, is about a year old and has inspired people of all ages. I have picked up some useful tips about walking for my arsenal.  The Laid Back Guide to Intermittent Fasting is full of sensible advice: Find what works for you and don't get in a hurry. If you veer from your plan, do so with intention. No forbidden food. Kayla also allows herself a cheat day every week so that she doesn't get too caught up in perfectionism. (I think it's a good idea because it keeps the body confounded!)  My favorite quote is one that she borrowed from the Navy SEALs: "Slow is smooth and smooth is fast."

Common Bonds in October's Reading:

The Obesity Code and The Laid Back Guide to Intermittent Fasting both deal with eating windows.

* I really feel Kayla's pain about the photo! Two years ago, during the primaries, I went to vote and a reporter from my hometown newspaper asked for my name and if she could photograph me. I said sure, proud to be seen doing my civic duty. After voting, I hung around for a moment, waiting to have my picture made, but the reporter was off talking to someone else. That evening, I saw myself in the online edition of the paper. Or, more accurately, I saw a horrifying medley of ass and double chin, bent over the table, signing my voter registration card. Of course, the picture was captioned with my name spelled correctly. Yikes.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Nine and Nine

These are the nine books I read in September:

1. Homesick for Another World - Ottessa Moshfegh. Short story collection, and the best one I've read in years. Make that decades.

2. Girl [Maladjusted] - Molly Jong-Fast. Slight but saucy memoir written when Jong-Fast was in her 20s. I first became aware of her on Twitter where her posts are lively, pungent and frequent, just the way I like them.

3. Eat Stop Eat - Brad Pilon. One of the pioneers of intermittent fasting. A lot of science, but if you struggle with that sort of writing, as I do, it's worth the effort.

4. Educated - Tara Westover. This memoir of a girl from a strict, survivalist Mormon family who went from almost pure ignorance to study at Cambridge had me nearly breathless with horror at close intervals. Every time she went back to the mountain to see her family, I was screaming, "Don't go there! Stay away!" Educated has all the tension of a well-executed novel, which is probably why many readers doubt Westover's veracity. I don't doubt her. The details are extremely specific, and Westover is painstaking in her exploration of memory, comparing her own experiences with her siblings'. Don't miss this one. Excellent read.

5. Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber and the Making of a Legendary Film  -Don Graham. I bought this book because I like behind-the-scenes gossip about moviemaking, and also because the dust jacket is extraordinarily gorgeous. The 1955 movie's main claim to fame is that it was James Dean's last appearance on film. I started watching Giant after reading this book, but had to pause after an hour. It feels really slow and ponderous. Thumbs-up to Graham's look at it, though. I would like to read the novel, although Edna Ferber is kind of a mixed bag for me.

6. Humans of New York - Brandon Stanton. A wonderful book-long photo essay that shows occupants of New York beautifully captured, shining out their humanity and truth. A visual feast.

7. Unbecoming - Rebecca Scherm. I liked this novel better than I thought I would. Kept getting enjoyable whiffs of Gillian Flynn and Patricia Highsmith. The ending was a little disappointing, but overall, a good read. I like being surprised out of my assumptions.

8. Heroes of the Frontier - Dave Eggers. After what has been a rotten year, Josie hurls herself into the Alaskan wilderness with her two young children in tow. I'm not sure what Eggers is trying to accomplish in this novel, because Josie's journey is more about good luck than good management. Maybe a modern spin on Jack London? In spite of my puzzlement, I did enjoy the book; I even enjoyed Eggers' sometimes long-winded rantiness via Josie about the modern world.

9. Can You Ever Forgive Me? - Lee Israel.  In the spirit of Catch Me If You Can, Israel cool and unrepentant, recounts her stint as a literary forger when her career of writing bestselling biographies suddenly tanked. I can't help admiring her creativity and audacity. This episode in her life has been made into a movie starring Melissa McCarthy; I MUST see it. I also want to check out Israel's biographies of Tallulah Bankhead and Dorothy Kilgallen.  A fast, entertaining read.

Common Bonds:

Giant was based on an Edna Ferber novel.  Ferber was one of the literary lions Lee Israel forged in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Educated and Heroes of the Frontier: Raw, sometimes unforgiving wilderness terrain.

Homesick for Another World and Can You Ever Forgive Me? Moshfegh and Israel have similar hardboiled, audacious writing styles.