Saturday, December 03, 2022

Cov-ember

 This post was originally meant to be all about how I rocked Nonfiction November, and I did, but of course I must mention how, on the last day of the month, COVID-19 kicked me in the ass with its hobnailed boots. And my little (!) Spawn, too!!!  So now we're in quarantine. This is difficult to write, so I'd better move along. Brain fog is real, and my fingers are not obediently flying to the proper keys.

1. Who Was Georgia O'Keeffe? - Sarah Fabiny. Nonfiction. My favorite part was when Georgia went down to Mexico to meet up with her good friend Frida Kahlo.

2. The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck. Novel. Audiobook. Loved the narration. I can't think of his name, but he played the assistant principal on Boston Public.

3. Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz - Gail Crowther. Nonfiction. Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. Boston, 1958. Where's my time machine?

4. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - John Berendt. Nonfiction. Audiobook. I'm mad at myself for sidestepping this brilliant book for -oh god- three decades! Novels are so jealous they cry because this book has got so many juicy characters, terrific atmosphere, a murder mystery and magic. Like so many people who have read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, I have added visiting Savannah to my bucket list. Give it a go, if you haven't already. The audiobook version is superb.

Looks like only four books, but not really. I got 150 pages into Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver and was absorbed, but had to turn it back into the library before finishing. There's a waiting list.

I'm slowly and enjoyably working my way through Heather Clark's excellent biography Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath. Esquire just put out a list of 50 of the best biographies of all time. Red Comet is on it, and that's damn right.

I need to stop writing now. See you for December and the year-end wrap-up.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Socktober

 


For some reason, I've lost a lot of socks lately. And they all belong to my Disney Princess collection. Of course I only lose one out of a pair, so on any given day, you can find me wearing Jasmine on one foot and Mulan on the other. Or Ariel. Somehow, I've been able to hold on to both Belles. Must be part of my bookworm powers at work, because I also still have both Fuck Off I'm Reading socks.

Speaking of reading, I finished five in October, and I didn't tell anyone to do...that. File under restraint.

1. Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama - Bob Odenkirk. Memoir. Better Call Saul is my new favorite show, so I was eager to read this book. The library has it, but it was checked out, so I got a wild hair and bought it, knowing that it was going to be spectacular. Um...kinda jumped the gun on that one. It's not spectacular. It's not even good. It's like Mr. Odenkirk was mumbling in his sleep and someone sat by his bed and transcribed. At various points in the book, he says himself that it's not very good, and whether or not he was being self-deprecating, he's right.

2. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak. Novel. I read this for book group. Audiobooked it, and it was wonderful. Actually, this was my second reading, but it was so many years ago -- that first year or so that I was in Korea.

3. I'm Glad My Mom Died - Jennette McCurdy. Memoir. At first, I didn't want to read this book because of the title, but everyone kept saying how good it was. And they were right! McCurdy is  a great writer and she certainly had enough material to work with. I can't count how many times my jaw dropped. This is one of the best memoirs I've ever read.

4. Daisy Jones and The Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid. Novel. I read this back in 2020 (I think) and really liked it. Then Sarah, the coordinator of the book group mentioned that the library had it in audiobook form, and it was one of the best she'd ever listened to. Mental note to myself: When Sarah speaks... All of the voice actors were on point, and Jennifer Beals as Daisy Jones was incredible. Now, thanks to this book, I've got a Fleetwood Mac thing going on.

5. Little Man, What Now? - Hans Fallada. Novel. This German novel was published in 1932, shortly before Hitler came into power. The economy in Germany is dismal, but Johannes (Sonny) gets his girlfriend Emma (Lammchen) pregnant, so they take a deep breath and plunge into matrimony. Sonny struggles with horrible and petty bosses, sketchy housing and infuriating red tape from government agencies. The Nazis are in evidence, but part of the background noise. This part of the book is well-done. There are also several colorful characters Sonny and Lammchen meet along the way, and Fallada gets sidetracked by them the way Richard Llewellyn got sidetracked away from Ernie Mott and his Ma in None But the Lonely Heart. Still, a pretty good read. I felt invested in the two main characters and their challenges, and wish that Fallada had written a sequel so we could see if Sonny and Lammchen's fortunes improved or not. My copy is a British English translation; I'd have preferred American English, but that's a minor quibble.

Right now, I'm heavily into Nonfiction November, and already eager to blog about that!

Monday, October 10, 2022

Six In September

 Three audiobooks and three paper books! I like the symmetry:

1. Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions - Amy Stewart. Novel. Audiobook. Christina Moore's narration is simply the best. Trust me.

2. Dust Bowl Girls - Lydia Reeder. Nonfiction. Audiobook. A barnstorming women's basketball team from a small Oklahoma college were trailblazers with a forward-thinking male coach who made them into champions. Their accomplishments were astonishing. I love how their story is told in such a sweet and conventional style, mostly through their own recollections. The juxtaposition gives the story a warmth and immediacy. Cameos featuring Babe Didrickson, who was handed one of her few defeats by our title heroines, and First Lady Lou Henry Hoover, who frowned on women playing any kind of sports. I was reminded of the movie A League of Their Own.

3. True Biz - Sara Novic. Novel.  A groundbreaking novel about Deaf culture, and the very real threat of extinction by the well-meaning hearing community, armed with imperfect technology. Thought-provoking. The ending seems open-ended. I'm hoping for a sequel.

4. Everybody Thought We Were Crazy - Mark Rozzo. Nonfiction. Actors Dennis Hopper and Brooke Hayward got married after a whirlwind romance in 1961. They quickly discovered they shared a love for modern, often unconventional art. For a brief time, everyone flocked to their home from Hollywood royalty to Andy Warhol to The Velvet Underground to The Byrds. Hopper also finds that he has a talent for photography. A dizzying look at Pop Culture. A fun read.

5. Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit - Amy Stewart.  Novel. Audiobook. I can't stop listening to this series, and I am not a series person. Miss Kopp gets better and better with each novel.

6. The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven - Nathaniel Ian Miller. Novel. In the 1910s and 20s, the title character feels like a misfit in Swedish society. He goes to work as a miner, and gets seriously injured. After that, he decides to go farther north and live as a hermit, hunting and trapping. Although he's awkward and unpolished, people warm to him, and life hands him a few surprises. The novel seems a little uneven, but I enjoyed Sven and his cohort and his many adventures.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

August, 2022: Pendulum Swings

 What a month for reading! I made so many happy discoveries. 

But first, a Val story:

I had a complete Little House set. Val borrowed it. One day, she came to my door looking like a thundercloud.

"I'm reading The Long Winter now," she said. "And I'm really mad at Pa." Was she seething?

"Almanzo and his brother invited Pa for pancakes, and he sat down and ate with them. THEN he went home and ate that wee bit of food Ma fixed. And he never let on about eating those pancakes! What was it? Two stacks? Really shit behaviour."

I decided to try and defend Pa. "Well, he was getting out there every day in the blizzards and such, tending to the livestock --"

"I'm sorry," said Val. "It's just shit that he did that. Never said a word."

"My mom noticed it, too," I said. "She criticized him."

"And she's right," Val said.

***

Okay, so where was I? Reading in August. July was decidedly non-fictiony, and last month, the pendulum swung back the other way. I really love how my reading sorts itself out now, without my help.

1. A View of the Harbour - Elizabeth Taylor. Novel. Many thanks to my book blogging buddy Care for sending me this novel. I've wanted to read Elizabeth Taylor (not the actress) for years, and she was definitely worth the wait. First published in 1947, A View of the Harbour takes place in a coastal village called Newby where nothing goes completely unnoticed. Taylor seems to have had a lot of fun with this book. One of the characters, Beth, is writing a novel that spans the length of this novel. Also like Taylor, she is sharp and observant, but seems oblivious that her husband and her best friend are carrying on an affair. The novel is witty, wry and so meta. Although the book is more than 70 years old, it feels very fresh. Elizabeth Taylor is one of my favorites now.

2. Lady Cop Makes Trouble - Amy Stewart. Novel. Audiobook. Many thanks to my book enabler Teri for recommending the Kopp Sisters series to me. I've been dancing around it for a long time. I saw the audiobook for this one, the second in the series and thought I'd plunge right in. What a delight! The lady cop of the title is Constance Kopp who is based on a real person -- the first female deputy sheriff in the United States. The stylish and retro book covers would dress up any bookshelf, but even better, author Amy Stewart has striven to write in a manner that convinces readers they are indeed back in the 1910s. Also, in Constance Kopp, I get a Mattie Ross (True Grit) kind of vibe.

3. My Year of Rest and Relaxation - Ottessa Moshfegh. Novel. Reread. I had such an urge to reread this book about a young woman who decides to sleep a year of her life away. The outrageousness of the plot and the characters (especially the shrink!) stayed with me, but this time I picked up on how it's really a novel about grief when you strip away the designer labels.

4. Bluebird, Bluebird - Attica Locke. Novel. Book group book. I liked the juxtaposition of the main character being a Texas Ranger and also being Black. These identities added some much-needed uneasy tension to a novel that creaked under the weight of constant information dumps that seemed the only way to advance the plot. I appreciated that Attica Locke didn't resort to predictable tropes. This is the first in a series, and I'm invested enough in Darren Matthews, who is very human and very flawed to come back and read another. Besides solving more crimes, he's got a hell of a lot of baggage to unpack, and I'm rooting for him.

5. Who Was Nelson Mandela? - Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso. Nonfiction. As usual, the writing team of Pollack and Belviso do not disappoint. Very well done.

6. Girl Waits With Gun - Amy Stewart. Novel. Audiobook. I doubled back and listened to the first book in the Kopp Sisters series. I cannot recommend these novels strongly enough. Cool and sturdy writing, much like Constance herself.

7. The Wicked Boy - Kate Summerscale. Nonfiction/True Crime. Book group book. In 1895, 13-year-old Robert Coombes stabbed his mother to death in East London, then calmly went off with his younger brother to a cricket match. Although the boys continued to live in the house with her corpse upstairs, it was not discovered until many days later, in a grisly state. Using contemporary sources, Kate Summerscale follows the tumult leading up to the trial, and explores the public's fascination and bewilderment about what could have led this "wicked boy" to commit matricide. Summerscale goes down plenty of rabbit holes in her research, but doesn't dwell there. She shares these side trips briefly, and efficiently ties them to the subject at hand. After the trial, Robert Coombes' story would seem as if it were at an end, but improbably, it's just beginning. It gets even better and more interesting. This is my favorite of all the book group books so far, and I've been after my bookwormish friends to check it out.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

The DNF Files: Let's Just Hiss and Say Goodbye


Meet Waverly (left) and Starman (right). They showed up for this installment of the DNF files. They've got opinions.

These are books started in 2022 that I could not, would not, shall not finish.

1. Who Was David Bowie?

Starman: I'm insulted that Bybee DNF'd this book. "There's a Starman waiting in the sky/he'd like to come and meet us/but he thinks he'd blow our minds..."
Waverly: One less book. Why the hell does she shelve right at the edge? How am I supposed to climb?

2. From Scratch: Inside the Food Network

Waverly: Oooh, Scratch. I like that.
Starman: For sure! Also Food. What's wrong with her?

3. Resistance Women

Starman: Resistance. Remember that time she put drops in my eyes?
Waverly: Hitler never met my back claws.

4. Murder on the Orient Express

Waverly: Hmmm, murder. Like what I did to that spider.
Starman: If you go on the train, you gotta ride in the cat carrier. No way.

5. Aru Shah and the End of Time

Starman: It's a YA book. I'm a YA cat.
Waverly: There's a bird. I'm intrigued.

6. The Secret History of Food

Starman: This is all stuff humans eat! So what?
Waverly: A long chapter about offal is needed.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

July, 2022: Reading. Seriously.

 Another Val story before we begin. This was one of her favorites. Every time it popped up in her Facebook memories, she'd repost it.

Val was moving yet again during her time in Korea. I was not particularly pleased because she would be moving out of my apartment building and over to a university way the hell out in the country and about 30 minutes away by train. Although I was dreading the day, I got caught up in the hustle and bustle of her packing.

About 9:30 pm, she decided that she would load some boxes into the boot of her little red Matiz automobile. Of course the boxes were terribly heavy, so she decided that we must get a trolley.

A what? I said.

A trolley.

I decided that she meant a dolly, but didn't say so. 

We looked around in the dark stairwell on the first floor for a trolley/dolly, but didn't see anything. Finally, we ran into a security guard. He didn't want to speak to us because of the language barrier, but Val neatly cornered him at the door of his guardhouse. She pulled out her phone and started typing into the translator.

She showed the guard the word on her phone and then said in Korean, "Please give me."

He looked at her like she was crazy. She nodded. I nodded, too. Finally, he sighed and got his flashlight and looked around in the hallways of our building. We followed. Then after a decent interval, he shook his head and started back to the guardhouse.

"Wait!" Val showed him her phone again. "I KNOW they have trolleys in Korea. I've seen them."

Dolly was trembling on the tip of my tongue, but I confess: Even though English is my native language, I've always had an inferiority complex about speaking American English around English English speakers. I usually throw in the linguistic towel and give Brits the win right away.

The guard sighed, mumbled something and repeated the walk, shining his flashlight up and down the corridors. Then he headed back to the guardhouse and settled in with his K-Drama. He offered up a final word in English: "Impossible."

We retreated to Val's apartment. "Maybe there's another word," she said, looking at her phone. "Oh, hold on. Uh-oh. Look." She showed me the phone. Turned out that her finger had landed on the wrong word, and we'd had the guard looking around in the gloomy stairwells for a troll.

I was really really glad then that I'd restrained myself from saying dolly.

"I'll try again tomorrow," Val decided. "If he'll even speak to me. The poor man."

***

1. What Are Castles and Knights? - Sarah Fabiny. Nonfiction.

2. The Witches - Stacy Schiff. Nonfiction. Schiff takes the reader into the world of Salem Village, 1692 to make us understand the time and place that created a toxic atmosphere where nearly everyone lost their damn minds and sent 19 innocent people to their deaths for witchcraft based on the word of a few shrieking teenagers. By the end, I felt claustrophobic and a little crazy, but mightily enjoyed counting up the many references to The Wizard of Oz that Schiff cleverly inserted.

3. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver. Novel. I shied away from this book for decades, and now I'm a little mad at myself, but not too much because I think maybe I just wasn't ready for this story of religion, culture clashes, and revolution (of all kinds) in the Congo (now Zaire) in 1959. It's a searing and illuminating book and Kingsolver's masterpiece. I am adding it to my favorite reads of 2022.

4. Who Was E.B. White? - Gail Herman. Nonfiction.

5. What Is the AIDS Crisis? - Nico Medina. Nonfiction. A careful, comprehensive look at the AIDS crisis from its very beginnings. The government's indifference was chilling, and Nico Medina pulls no punches. No bullshit. Well-executed.

6. Long Walk to Freedom - Nelson Mandela. Nonfiction. I audiobooked this one. Danny Glover's narration was interspersed with African national songs, crowd reactions in real time to events unfolding in apartheid South Africa, and speeches read in Mandela's own voice, which made for a moving listening experience. Since this was significantly abridged, I don't feel as if I got all the nuances or even the whole story, but the crux is there and it left me in a thoughtful mood, eager to learn more about Mandela and the ANC and the struggle for a more democratic South Africa.

7. Who Was Ponce de Leon? - Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso. Nonfiction. MAD RESPECT for how this book was written! It starts out like a conventional biography of Ponce de Leon, conquistador in the making, then it makes a wicked left turn that nearly had me scrambling for the Dramamine, and it essentially says: You know what?! This guy, none of these guys were heroes. None of them were admirable. They ruthlessly rode roughshod over native lands and territories and ruined millions of lives. They disrupted cultures. They enslaved and murdered people with weapons and disease! Then the authors take a tiny step back and allow that maybe Ponce de Leon couldn't help it; he was conditioned at an early age to believe that as an agent of Catholic Spain, he was on the side of right. Then they gather themselves again and they're like, nah, he's still awful. And that cute Fountain of Youth story? What a bunch of hooey cooked up to make him look deluded at worst and whimsical at best. 

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dI read 7 books in July. When I wasn't Who-Was-ing, I felt as if my reading had unexpected depth. Am I being and becoming? Is it just a stage I'm going through? Actually, two of the Who Was...? books I read went way beyond my expectations (What is the AIDS Crisis and Who Was Ponce de Leon) and handled the material in a manner that would create new levels of understanding in mature readers while introducing it to newer, younger reader1. What Are Castles and Knights? - Sarah Fabiny. Nonf

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

June, 2022: What I Read

 

 

Here's what I'm thinking about today: Val dressed up like a tomato (pronounced Toe-MAH-toe) for the Toecheon Tomato festival in South Korea. For the talent show portion, she wrote and sang a song to the tune of "Feelings" about all the delicious things one can make with tomatoes. She even worked in some Korean lyrics. Val was the hit of the show, and her tribute was not misplaced; the tomatoes from Toecheon are the best tomatoes I've ever eaten.

Sometimes, I want to turn this into a Val blog. She was (is!) a lot more interesting than all my bookworming about. But then I hear her voice asking me, as she so often did: "Are ye daft?" And the way she asked it -- always like she was sincerely wondering. My answers varied.

I know that somehow I must bring this back around to my own book Blob. 

Okay. 

Yes. 

June, 2022 reading:

1. My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business - Dick Van Dyke. Memoir. Audiobook, read by the author. Enjoyable, but a little on the bland side.

2. Who Is Jimmy Carter? -David Stabler. Nonfiction. VERY well done. Carter's life has had so many acts, there is a vigor in the portrayal of him at all junctures and well into old age.

3. Who Was Johnny Cash? -Jim Gigliotti. Nonfiction. The first part of the book is good, then it seems to lose some energy. I think it's hard to pin down the essence of Cash's mystique in a book for younger readers. The best description I've ever read of him is that he was kind of a cross between Abraham Lincoln and Elvis Presley.

4. Happy-Go-Lucky - David Sedaris. Humor, Essays. Most of the essays seemed familiar; I listened to A Carnival of Snackery not too long ago, but I can never get enough of Sedaris. His father's long, slow decline struck a chord.

5. Pretty Baby - Mary Kubica. Fiction. Audiobook. Suspenseful. I liked the multiple narrators and the Chicago setting.

6. Vinegar Girl - Anne Tyler. Fiction. Re-read. Book group read for July meeting. Anne Tyler is always comfort reading. This is her retelling of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. I want to go back and read Tyler's older titles, starting with A Slipping-Down Life or Celestial Navigation.

7. The Thorn Birds - Colleen McCullough. Fiction. Re-Read. Comfort reading. This time I was entranced by the description of Australia's many micro-climates. Paddy, Fee, Frank and even Mary Carson deserve their own novels. Meggie/Father Ralph had me rolling my eyes. Luke really struck me as a real bastard this time. Still find the Justine section of the book zzzz, although I recognize that Justine is the character McCullough most identifies with -- noticed they are approximately the same age.

8. Who Is Chloe Kim? - Stefanie Loh. Nonfiction. Usually I don't like the 50-page Who Was...? books, but this one was entertaining and well-paced. I didn't know much about Chloe Kim before reading this book, but now I look forward to following her snowboarding career.

The end of June meant that half the year was over, and out of the 39 books I had read so far, four emerged as favorites:

1. Taste - Stanley Tucci. Memoir.

2. Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco - Alia Volz. Memoir/Social History

3. Crying in H Mart - Michelle Zauner. Memoir.

4. The Leavers - Lisa Ko. Novel.