Friday, March 12, 2021

Happy 17th, Blob: Blob's Endless Wishlist

 March 11th was my blog's (affectionately known as Blob) 17th birthday. I didn't forget; I've just been distracted with moving and unpacking.

Cake's good anytime, right? Get that frosting knuckle-deep and all tardiness can be forgiven, or at least, that's my plan.

To celebrate this year, I thought that instead of looking back at the past and how Blob came to be, we'd look into the hazy future, glimpse a book-lined horizon, and take another peek at Blob's Endless Wishlist. 17 books, one for each year. Snort. Yeah, right. There are so many more than 17. Restraint is not my middle name:

The "Dolphin" Letters [Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick duking it out at the end of their marriage. Robert Lowell being his usual, um, self and using Hardwick's letters verbatim in his poems without her permission.]

Blitzed [Nonfiction. Nazis on speed]

River of Doubt [Theodore Roosevelt's perilous journey down the Amazon, 1913-1914. I must get around to this book!]

Home - Julie Andrews. [first volume of her memoirs]

Fire Season - Phillip Connors [recommended by my IRL bookworm buddy, Teri Pre AKA The Enabler]

Jack - Marilynne Robinson

The Vanishing Half - Brit Bennett [I got this for Christmas!]

Ottessa Moshfagh book. [New novel. 2020 Title?]

Becoming Duchess Goldblatt [Because Care loved it. I think she gave it like a gazillion slices of pie]

The Talented Miss Farwell - Emily Gray Tedrowe

Dancing at the Pity Party - Tyler Feder [Spawn read this graphic novel. Said good things about it]

Winners and Losers - Martin Quigley [1961 novel. Recommended by Nancy Pearl]

Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Fremont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War - Steve Inskeep. [History]

Burnt Sugar - Avni Doshi

The Discomfort of Evening [Int'l Booker Prize winner]

The End of Vandalism - Tom Drury [Novel. 1994. Recommended by Nancy Pearl. A love (picture of triangle): Dan Norman, the sheriff of Grouse County, Tiny Darling, a mostly inept thief, and Tiny's wife, Louise]

The Fountain Overflows - Rebecca West [1957, novel]

Adrienne Rich biography

The Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War and Everest

Waste: One Woman's Fight Against America's Dirty Secret - Catherine Coleman Flowers

We Keep the Dead Close - Becky Cooper [Is it disconcerting to anyone else that this author has such a sprightly name and her book's subject matter is rather grim?]

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

Divorcing - Susan Taubes [Novel. 1969.]

American Cheese: An Indulgent Odyssey Through the Artisan Cheese World - Joe Berkowitz

Eggshells - Catriona Lally [short stories? novel?]

Shuggie Bain - Douglas Stuart

Eat a Peach - David Chang [Chef. Memoir]

Hamnet - Maggie O'Farrell

3 Martini Lunch [Fiction? Nonfiction? ETA: This is about Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton hanging out. No wonder it went on the wishlist!]

Pull of the Stars - Emma Donoghue

Eleanor - David Michaelis [biography. Madly circling this one at bookstores these days]

Requiem for a Dream - Herbert Selby, Jr. [Novel. 1978.]

Sunday, March 07, 2021

February's Reads: Bring Out The Laura. Bring Out The Self-Help

So yeah, February. I was feeling a bit wild and scrabbly in the brain, and we won't even TALK about how much Imodium I ate. It's really true what they say about the gut being the second brain. Sometimes it's nothing but a bully and muscles the brain out of its rightful position.

But enough of the crap chronicles. Things are better now. 

So anyway: I moved. 17 miles west. New apartment. Cat-friendly. It's got a lovely, cottage-y feel. 

I've finally unpacked alllllll the boxes and the very newest incarnation of the Bybeeary is in place. No, that's not exactly true. What I mean to say is that the books have been flung onto the shelves and want a good rearranging.

Even with all the craziness that comes with a move, I still found time to read. Three books. I staggered and fell into the books and with baleful stares, dared anyone to pull me out before the appropriate time.

Atomic Habits - James Clear. Nonfiction.

These Happy Golden Years - Laura Ingalls Wilder. Fiction.

The Long Winter - Laura Ingalls Wilder. Fiction.

I liked Atomic Habits because it's self-help, and the message about small changes bringing about big changes reminded me of Kaizen, which soothed and entertained and inspired me two years ago. In a way, it was like a re-read. The two Wilder books, of course, were actual re-reads. I was especially feeling The Long Winter during February's Deep Freeze. March has started out much the same: I read another self-help book, The Essentialists and another Little House book, Little Town on the Prairie, but I think the spell is broken. 

I'm now reading a biography of James Baldwin on my Kindle, but I might not finish because I haven't yet located my Kindle charger. I know I put it somewhere...

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Remember January? What I Read


Aaaargh, too many weeks without a blog post. Unexpected life changes. I want to say that it's exhilarating, and it is, but yeah. Gotta admit that there's also that temptation to ask what fresh hell is this.

Today is a snow day, so I want to take advantage of being in and tell you about my reading in January. As usual, I started off the year with grand intentions. 

Books I have started, but haven't finished:

A Promised Land - Barack Obama

Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

Testament of Youth - Vera Brittain

These aren't DNFs, not at all. This is rich, rewarding reading, but my brain, this brain I've had since I was a small girl, is skittering like a pat of butter in a hot skillet. I'm dipping into each book and making single-digit progress daily. With any luck, in a few months I'll finish them all around the same time and Goodreads will stop scolding me for being behind. Go suck an egg, Goodreads! Did you ever have life fall on you? Of course not; you're a...what's the word I'm looking for? "Social media cataloging website". Thanks, Google.

Anyway, here's what I *did* complete in January:

1. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck - Mark Manson. Nonfiction. I was annoyed and disappointed by this book. The writing style seemed disjointed and blathery. I was reminded of late evenings/early mornings in bars. Not drunk enough and in complete misery thanks to the blabby (and usually male, but not always) drunk who has pinned me in the corner where I've gone to hide. They tell me in painful detail about how intelligent they are, and how they've got life all figured out. Then they tell me again. And again. And AGAIN. There's not enough alcohol in the world. I can fairly feel the bruises blooming all over my cerebellum from this onslaught. No, just no.

2. News of the World - Paulette Jiles. Novel. I saw the movie and read the book within a week of each other, so it's hard for me to separate the two. I will say that the movie adaptation is wonderful. I am impressed with Jiles' research into the Old West. I like her slightly severe, pared-down style of writing, and am eager to read other novels by her. 

3. Who Was Lucille Ball? 

4. Who Was Mark Twain?

You know I'm happily addicted to the Who Was...? series, but some of them fall a little flat for me. In the cases of Lucille Ball and Mark Twain, it seems like they are too large and complex to be reduced to the formula of the series.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

The Reads of December

 For some reason-- holiday spirit? -- I was in an amiable reading mood during December. I met my goal of 59 books, then tacked on another one. 60 isn't a big number, but its roundness pleases me.

Also: I finished Ducks, Newburyport! Still can't thank Care enough for bringing this book to my immediate attention, and then...and then...she brought it to my mailbox!

So here's what I read in December. I'll do the numbering to reflect how many books I'd read so far:

56. Ducks, Newburyport - Lucy Ellmann. Novel. This is my favorite read of 2020. It just fit the zeitgeist so well.

57. Who Was Jules Verne? - James Buckley, Jr. Nonfiction. More and more, I'm fascinated with this series, especially the editing. What gets mentioned. What doesn't get mentioned. What kinda-sorta gets mentioned. Kinda-sorta showed up in Jules Verne's story and distracted me to no end. I ran to Google without stopping. Later in his life, Verne was enjoying the fruits of his successful writing career buying homes and building boats and hosting Nellie Bly as she was recreating a trip around the world in 80 days. Suddenly, Verne's nephew shows up in the book and shoots Uncle Jules in the leg. The pain and the recovery are addressed in full, but the nephew disappears, just as abruptly as he appeared. WHY? WHY DID HE SHOOT HIS UNCLE? Google revealed more: the nephew was apparently nuts, and put in a mental asylum. Also: he shot at Uncle Jules TWICE. He missed the first time, then the second shot got Verne in the leg. I don't see why this information couldn't have been shoehorned in. In addition, there was some read-between-the-lines stuff about Jules Verne's son being a disappointment to his father.

58. Who Was Bruce Lee? - Jim Gigliotti. Nonfiction. I liked this biography of Bruce Lee so much! I hardly knew anything about the martial arts master and actor who shattered Asian stereotypes on film.

59. Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, The Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy - Leslie Brody. Nonfiction. As soon as I found out this book was out, I was one big long red scream of WANT! Luckily, the planets aligned; my birthday was also in December, and my friend was casting about for ideas for a present. So many interesting revelations in this biography! Like Gloria Vanderbilt (at roughly the same time) Louise Fitzhugh was at the center of an acrimonious child custody battle in Memphis. She found out all the details as a teenager, when she worked a summer job at a newspaper. She fled the south as soon as she could, and went to New York City. She lived openly as a lesbian, and was remarkably well-connected in artistic and literary circles. My eyes nearly popped out when I read that one of her partners was Constance Ford, who played Ada on Another World for decades. In spite of the richness of detail and the thoroughness of Leslie Brody's research, Fitzhugh comes off as elusive -- there were no diaries, so the reader doesn't quite get intimacy, immediacy with this fascinating woman. Kudos to Leslie Brody for first-rate spy work.

60. The Autobiography of Malcolm X - Malcolm X/Alex Haley. Nonfiction. Based on interviews Alex Haley conducted with Malcolm X for about five years, Haley organized and edited his material into a cohesive autobiography, which he explains in an extended epilogue.  Both are fascinating: Haley's collaboration with Malcolm X, as well as the actual the story of Malcolm X, who rose from poverty in the south to being a hustler in the larger northern cities like Detroit and New York, then after he was arrested and sent to prison for ten years, turned from an embittered convict to an educated, eloquent follower of Elijah Muhammad, and upon his release from prison, a leader in the Black Muslim movement, then after being cast out, finding larger truths after a pilgrimage to Mecca, then returning to America and living as a marked man. He was constantly questioning and growing and evolving and Haley captures it all in the interviews. This book has motion. It fairly pulsates. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

A Nod Back at November

 Way back in November, I plugged away at Ducks, Newburyport and completed four other books. I'm not going to finish Ducks by my birthday, but I'm on page 820, so I'm cruising into that last marathon mile. This novel will be part of my personal landscape forever.

Here's what else I read:

1. Who Was Nellie Bly? -Margaret Gurevich. Nonfiction. Nellie Bly died a little over a century ago, but judging by this biography, she'd be perfectly at home in 2020 and on social media and probably TikTok, too. She was brash, audacious and full of confidence, taking on assignments like getting herself admitted to a mental asylum, and traveling around the world in less than 80 days. But Bly wasn't just some feathery influencer. She got things done, like shining a merciless spotlight on the conditions in the mental asylum. I'm glad that she hasn't fallen into obscurity. On the contrary, author Margaret Gurevich writes so vividly that Nellie Bly fairly leaps out of the book at the reader.

2. Waterland - Graham Swift. Novel. I can't imagine what possessed me to read this book. Actually, I can. Paging Nancy Pearl! Everyone's favorite librarian has been tweeting out favorites from her backlist, and I've been avidly taking notes. It pains me to say so, but even Nancy sometimes comes up with a clunker. How to describe this book? It's like Hardy and Lawrence and Melville all got together and got drunk and decided to slop out a novel together, each taking a turn ham-fisting the quill pen. Then, that guy who wrote Goodbye, Mr. Chips dropped by and they invited him in for a pint. Oh God No. Just no.

3. The Queen's Gambit - Walter Tevis. Novel. My favorite read for the month. I was intrigued, seeing reviews of the Netflix series, and when I saw that the book was only 2 bucks on Kindle Amazon, I had to give it a go, and it did not disappoint. Just the opposite. It was a lovely mashup of Jane Eyre and The Lost Weekend and every great sports novel. Did I mention a bracing shot of feminism? The chess matches are described in detail, and I know almost nothing of the game, but Tevis makes readers feel as if they're quite knowledgeable. A quick, fluent read that delivers. I've been nagging people to read The Queen's Gambit. Consider yourself nagged. In return, you can nag me to binge watch the Netflix series.

4. Who was Theodore Roosevelt? - Michael Burgan. Nonfiction. Theodore Roosevelt was a larger-than-life character, and my admiration and sympathy goes out to author Michael Burgan who had to contain his life in the conventional 106 pages of this series. The reader can almost see the seams bursting. It's a lively read, but I was disappointed that because of the constraints, Roosevelt's near-fatal 1913 trip down the Amazon barely got two sentences. Oh well, it only makes me more determined to read River of Doubt by Candace Millard, which deals solely with the perilous journey. It's been on my wishlist for a couple of years now, ever since I audiobooked her fascinating book about James A. Garfield's assassination. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

There You Go, October Part 2

 As I was saying in my last post, I read 5 books in October. There was also a DNF:

3. Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family - Robert Kolker. Nonfiction. I was fascinated by this book for the same reason I was drawn to The Devil in the White City.  I'm sure there's a proper name for this technique, but I call it "the two-track narrative". On one track, you have a large (12 children!) seemingly picture-perfect family living in Colorado. As the children (10 boys and 2 girls) get older, darkness begins to dominate this sunny portrait. Exactly half of the children, once they reach adolescence, begin to show signs of schizophrenia. Questions emerge. Blame is assigned. Ignorance and misinformation abound. Treatment is substandard and almost as injurious as the disease. On the other track, Kolker traces the origins of schizophrenia appearing in medical journals. Doctors and scientists struggle to understand the disease. Success happens in fits and starts, but understanding slowly lurches forward in time to help the surviving boys, now in their 60s and 70s. Kolker is an amazing journalist. His in-depth examination of the non-afflicted children, as well as their mother and father is poignant. He is also palpably sympathetic to the scientists going in the right direction, but facing roadblocks. Hidden Valley Road is packed with so much information, but the book is a clear, smooth, fairly fast read. Highly recommended.

4. The Able McLaughlins - Margaret Wilson. Novel. The 1924 Pulitzer Fiction winner hasn't aged as well as some of its contemporaries. The storyline seems stale and soap-opera-ish to modern readers, and has embarrassing notes of melodrama. There's one character/one chapter that is so well-done that it feels as if they were accidentally dropped into this clunker. The use of occasional flash-forwards is interesting, but awkward. I finally decided that the Pulitzer judges must've been drunk that year. 

5. Dust Tracks on a Road - Zora Neale Hurston. Memoir. Here's what I wrote on Goodreads:

Frustrating and fascinating. Dizzying mashup of lovely lyrical writing and sometimes starchy academic writing. Quicksilver. Can't be pinned down. Always a sense of playfulness. Alice Walker was right: Zora Neale Hurston was a genius of the South. Speaking of Walker, the last chapter of The Color Purple seem like a loving homage, an echo, a conversation with the last lines in Dust Tracks on a Road.

And... This is...this was? the DNF:

Everything is Figureoutable - Marie Forleo. Self-help. I can't help but feel a little sorry for self-help book writers. They happen onto a choice bit of advice, and it's so pure and pristine that it can be distilled down to one sleek and shining phrase. Then for some reason, they take this thing of beauty and decide to strrrrrrreeeeeeecchhhh it out into a whole book. Sometimes it works, as with Eat Stop Eat, Brad Pilon's book about intermittent fasting, and One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer, Ph.D. Sometimes, it very decidedly does not work as in Gary Keller's The One Thing and Marie Forleo's Everything is Figureoutable. Keller's book suffers from the stretch problem and not very good writing. Forleo's writing is also bad, but more than that, it feels dishonest, glib, and self-promotional. There's something about the tone in her writing that causes me to associate her with Rachel Hollis, and that's not a good thing. Anyway, my takeaway from Forleo's book is to just treasure her mom's sound advice (everything is figureoutable) and discard the rest.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

There You Go, October Part 1

 Five books in October. An okay month, but I'm still going to have to haul eyes to make my goal of 59 books by the end of the year.

1. Poets In Their Youth - Eileen Simpson. Memoir. Eileen Simpson was married to poet John Berryman, and they were acquainted with other poets, troubled in various degrees: Delmore Schwartz, Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell and Theodore Roethke. Because Berryman couldn't/wouldn't agree to a normal family sort of life, Simpson gave up the idea of having children and trained to be a psychotherapist. Eventually, she left Berryman, but remained on civil terms with him and his friendly rivals. As a result, Poets In Their Youth is less a gossipy tell-all than a compassionate, forgiving examination with an extra remove of having been written well past the time that she and the poets of the title were acquainted. Although she wasn't a poet, novelist and short-story writer Jean Stafford, who was married to Robert Lowell, is a fascinating presence.

2. Who Is Ruth Bader Ginsburg? - Patricia Brennan Demuth. Biography. I sought this out and read it shortly after RBG's death, and it tore me up. Ended up reading it twice. I even had a dream in which I popped in on Marty Ginsburg, and he was composing the most beautiful sonnet for RBG for their anniversary. Even in dreams, everyone is ardent about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and why not? She was ardent about people and expressed it so clearly and lucidly through changes she made in unjust laws, not just for women, but for everyone. It will be a long time -- but please, not too long -- before the law is in such good, capable hands again.