Sunday, February 07, 2010

January: Reading & Reviewing Part 3

I feel like one of those marathon runners who finally stumble across the finish line a week after all the other participants have gone home. Maybe I should make a rule for myself that I can't go on to the next book until I've written a review for the one just finished.

11. An Angel At My Table (autobiography) - Janet Frame. Wow, Janet. Even her quirks had quirks. I'd had this on my TBR for over a year, but had put off reading it because it was the second of a three-volume autobiography. I'd still like to read the other two, but this one is where the real meat, the drama of her life is. I'll write more in a separate blog post since I did it as part of the book/movie challenge.

12. The Rough Guide To Classic Novels (nonfiction) - Simon Mason. As far as book-buying is concerned, this is the best-spent money for the month of January, because I'll be referring to this brilliant little gem over and over again for years. Mason's book could have been a real snoozer, but he shakes it up with recommendations from all over our big blue marble. He also runs the gamut from old to new. In addition, there's a thumbnail suggestion about "where to go next". Mason helpfully mentions the best edition or translation and just when you thought that it couldn't get any better, he gives you a movie tie-in analysis. This is my introduction to the Rough Guide series; I'm truly impressed.

13. Caucasia (novel) - Danzy Senna. This novel is also known as From Caucasia, With Love. It's the mid-1970s. Birdie and her sister Cole are the offspring of a biracial marriage. Cole resembles their African-American father while Birdie has her mother's light skin and Caucasian features. When the parents split, Birdie goes with her mother and Cole goes with her father. Birdie and her mother go underground, living on the run for a couple of years since Birdie's mother may face jail time for questionable activities. Senna keeps that element of the subplot deliberately murky.

Senna's style is compulsively readable, but I was distracted by the bad editing of the edition I read. Stupid, minor stuff that could have easily been cleaned up like referring to actress Hattie McDaniel as "Hattie McDowell", anthropologist Margaret Mead's last name was spelled "Meade", awkward grammar and there's a mild anachronism with the TV show What's Happening. I'm sure that this nitpicky stuff was cleared up in future editions. Another thing that annoyed me was that Birdie seems to be the only one in her family -- immediate and extended -- who has any brains or drive. (It must be a sign of age that I'm growing to despise The Tale Of The Plucky Child. Call me Curmudgeon.)

After finishing this novel for Talya's book group, I thought I was done with Danzy Senna, but I was wrong. As I told Talya in a recent message, I discovered a memoir Senna published last year called Where Did You Sleep Last Night? in which she struggles to untangle the skeins of her father's confusing history. I can't help but wondering how Danzy's story compares with Birdie's.


Unfocused Idiot said...

Well that settles it then, gotta buy the book.

Bybee said...

You mean the Classic Novels guide, right? You won't be sorry!

Christy (A Good Stopping Point) said...

I saw the movie An Angel at My Table which was awesome, but I haven't read anything by Janet Frame yet. I was going to tackle Faces in the Water this year.

The Rough Guide to Classic Novels sounds interesting too.

Unfocused Idiot said...


Eva said...

That Rough Guide book sounds so awesome!

Gilion at Rose City Reader said...

That Rough Guide book looks great. I could add it to my list for the Bibliophilic Book Challenge.

Charles said...

Do you still "LibraryThing"?

On one thread they're playing a game where you make up a very short story using at least five book titles. Here's my first posting there. You'll recognize the author and the novels I'm sure.

Message 130: CharlesBoyd

This will be my first post in this thread. How about an additional wrinkle? Five or more titles by the same author. Mine are by Don Robertson, a relatively unknown writer, but a fine one.

My girlfriend Victoria and I spent The Three Days by Antietam Creek. The River and the Wilderness were The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread. We showered at night under Paradise Falls. I was still frightened to really bare my soul to another woman, devastated as I still was by my former fiancee's betrayal, a painful memory I still think of as Miss Margret Ridpath and the Dismantling of the Universe. But in that pristine setting, my girlfriend and I found a Mystical Union and I proposed to Victoria at Nine. I'll ask my brother Harv to be best man. So please Make a Wish that this will be a true marriage of soulmates.

Bybee said...

It's brilliant -- I love it!