Monday, September 09, 2013

Summer Reading Part 2


Anybody Can Do Anything - Betty MacDonald.  This follow-up memoir to The Egg and I starts off with Betty sending a letter home to her widowed mother and siblings saying that she's not happy being a chicken farmer's wife.  Her intrepid sister, Mary Bard, writes back telling her to leave and move back home to Seattle.  Betty replies that it's 5 miles to the bus stop, and she doesn't have transportation and she's got two babies.  Mary sends a telegram reminding her that the Russians crossed Siberia.  Betty gets to packing.  She arrives back in the city as its citizens are still reeling from the effects of the Depression.  Most of the book is comprised of Mary determinedly finding mostly unsuitable jobs for Betty.  Anybody Can Do Anything struck a chord with me in these times when jobs are disappearing.

The Plague and I - Betty MacDonald.  This is the sequel to Anybody Can Do Anything.  Betty and her family survive the Depression and Betty gets a steady government job complete with her own desk and a co-worker that coughs all over her every day for months.  TB much?  Soon after, Betty manifests symptoms, but carries on (like chain-smoking) as usual and doesn't consult a doctor until she develops an unrelated ailment -- a hemorrhoid.  A place is found for her at a TB sanatorium, where she's told by the director that she doesn't have to pay for treatment, that perhaps she can pay for someone else's when she is better.  (My 21st century self was very impressed about this.)  Betty's rest cure is strictly administered, and in another instance of how health care is different now, the staff at the sanatorium didn't discuss procedures and progress with patients.  If patients wanted information, they were sharply rebuffed. An interesting look at a past chapter in American health care.

The Disappointment Artist - Jonathan Lethem.  Novelist Lethem's aunt, children's author Wilma Yeo, figures prominently in the title essay, so I had to read this book.  Wilma Yeo was related by marriage to one of my great-great aunts, and she was always so good to this aunt and the aunt's sister.  I was always proud that we sort of had a writer in the family and wanted to meet Wilma Yeo, but never got the chance.  "The Disappointment Artist" is about a time when Yeo attended a writing workshop and the writer in charge was a horrid man who did everything he could to discourage fledgling writers.  Yeo's response was to found the Kansas City Writers Group, acting as a mentor and critic.  The other essays in the book deal with Lethem's pop culture obsessions.  I responded to Lethem's writing style, so now I'm interested in finding a copy of The Fortress of Solitude.

An Atheist in the FOXhole - Joe Muto.  Muto was the guy who was the Fox 'mole' for Gawker, although his identity was quickly discovered, and he was fired from Fox News, a job he had held for 8 years.  I wasn't overly impressed with Muto, but enjoyed the 'falafel' story about Bill O'Reilly and also the way Muto cut back and forth from his imminent bust back to how his adventures at Fox first began.

The Lost Weekend - Charles Jackson.  The classic story of an alcoholic on his latest binge.  I'm so used to the arc of the drunkard story in which the last chapters involve some self-realization, followed by a series of AA meetings and a period of sobriety.  Don Birnham never gets that far.  It's fascinating and horrible and occasionally embarrassing to witness his lying, machinations and overall pathetic behavior.  It's worse than just being a witness because the reader is in his mind.  I'm not surprised that this book is semi-autobiographical; people are usually only that harsh and unflinching about themselves.  Dark, bitter, bleak, brilliant.


ettible said...

I loved Chronic City, and a friend of mine counts You Don't Love Me Yet as a favourite. I think Lethem might just be good.

Bybee said...

I have a copy of You Don't Love Me Yet. I'll try it!

Betty MacDonald Fan Club said...

Betty MacDonald is beloved all over the world.
Betty MacDonald fan club got fans in 40 countries.
Wolfgang Hampel, author of Betty MacDonald biography interviewed Betty MacDonald's family and friends. Betty's sister Alison Bard Burnett is as witty as Betty MacDonald and shares the most interesting information.