Tuesday, January 18, 2022

2022: January, Fanuary

 Bookworms! I'm off to such a great start in 2022. Although the year has only just started, my reading journal is already full of such delectable reads. Even the cat, who is not much of a reader (that I've noticed), wants to knead his claws on the cover of said journal while purring rapturously and chew on the little red ribbon bookmark.

I'm discovering new writers and rediscovering old favorites. Making lists and wanting to do deep dives. January is Fanuary.

What I read: 

Taste: My Life Through Food - Stanley Tucci. Memoir. I knew this book was going to be great (I wrote it down 3 times in my wishlist journal) and I was right. In fact, it was even better than I had imagined. Beginning with the delicious meals his mother and extended family prepared...created when he was a child, through his days as a struggling actor and the delis and restaurants he frequented during that time in New York City, through movie shoots in foreign locales and discovering the local cuisine to his own development as a cook, it's all about the food. (An amusing refrain would occur when Tucci would talk about being away working on a movie and wouldn't mention the movie by name, but would go into mouthwatering detail about a terrific restaurant he discovered while on location.) His discussion of learning how to make a frittata perfectly led me to track down his movie Big Night, arguably the most perfect foodie movie ever made. I watched it twice. Can I just say...timpano? It's now on my EAT THIS  bucket list. Tucci even fed into my cheese fantasies: When he got married to his second wife, Felicity Blunt, instead of a wedding cake, they had a cheese platter! But then life dealt Tucci the most cruel and ironic blow: He was diagnosed with a tumor at the base of his tongue. Cancer in the salivary glands. Going through chemo and radiation caused him to feel nauseous at the mere scent of food. This went on for more than a year, but he slowly recovered and got his gusto for food back again. Even though I have just told you the whole book, you should still read and savor it. Enjoy the recipes. Watch Big Night. And don't cut up your spaghetti.

Who Were The Navajo Code Talkers? - James Buckley, Jr. Nonfiction. This book really appealed to the linguistics/language learning part of me.

Who Is Queen Elizabeth II? - Meghan Stine. Nonfiction. Too many pages devoted to Prince Charles, otherwise, enjoyable. Long live the Queen!

What Was The Plague? - Roberta Edwards. Nonfiction. A well-done retrospective of The Black Death that doesn't shy away from the grisly bits.

Billy Summers - Stephen King. Novel. Audiobook. Billy Summers, a hitman that only kills "bad people" signs up for one last job. While waiting to do the hit, he begins writing his own life story.  There is a lot of violence, but there is just as much humanity. This is a solid, action-packed road trip novel with none of King's usual horror or supernatural elements. Well, okay, there is a nod to the ruins of the Overlook, which sit across from one of Billy's hideouts. I'm eagerly waiting for the movie/miniseries version.

Matrix - Lauren Groff. Novel. The story of a woman who may or may not have been poet and fabulist Marie de France. This Marie, who is royal by blood and illegitimate by birth is exiled from the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine and sent to a rundown Benedictine abbey as its new prioress. Although she isn't at all religious and not at all inclined to monastic life, Marie turns the fortunes of the abbey around and makes it a success. Shrewd, sensual, and intelligent, her greatest gift is knowing how to harness female power to its fullest advantage. For a book set in the late 12th century, it feels modern without being a bit anachronistic. Matrix has made me a Lauren Groff fan, and I can't wait to explore her other novels.

What I'm reading:

Memoirs of Stockholm Sven - Nathaniel Ian Miller. Novel. Sven doesn't seem to be able to fit in anywhere in his native Stockholm. In his 30s, he goes north to work in a mining camp. After a near-fatal accident that puts an end to that particular career, he ventures farther north to learn how to be a trapper. At this point in my reading, he's started to make friends, and now he's got a dog!

The Fran Lebowitz Reader - Fran Lebowitz. Essays. Some of the essays feel quite dated. Intermittently funny. I'd rather get on YouTube and listen to Lebowitz talk for hours and hours rather than read her writing.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple. Novel. I joined a book group and this is our first read. According to my reading journal, I read this novel back in 2012 but don't remember much about it. We'll see how it goes.

Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain's Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour - Richard Zacks. Nonfiction. Audiobook. Mark Twain was a brilliant writer and performer, but had a genius for the bad decision when it came to business. At the age of sixty, he became bankrupt because of an investment in a printing press. His wife was determined that they would pay back the thousands owed to creditors, so Mark Twain reluctantly decided the best way to accomplish this was to "mount the platform" -- go on an extended speaking tour. 

What I want to read:

Fates and Furies - Lauren Groff. Novel.

Today Will Be Different - Maria Semple. Novel.

The Lincoln Highway - Amor Towles. Novel.

Little Big Man - Thomas Berger. Novel.

Stanley Tucci cookbooks

Happy Go Lucky - David Sedaris. Essays.

What I DNFed:

Who Was David Bowie? I paged through this book, but had to say no because the author didn't mention Bowie's appearance on Bing Crosby's Christmas special and their strange though excellent duet of "Peace On Earth/The Little Drummer Boy". Also Labyrinth wasn't mentioned. The Goblin King? Really? Another thing I would have liked to have seen discussed was Bowie's interview with MTV, calling them out for not playing Black artists. I know the writers in this series have to stick with the constraints of the 108-page limit, but that's leaving too much out. Cut some of those dreary sidebars!

Friday, December 31, 2021

2021: A Beautiful Stack of Nonfiction

I can't believe how much nonfiction I read this year! Of course all those Who Was...? books swelled my numbers, but still.

1. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck - Mark Manson. Self-help.

2. Who Was Lucille Ball? - Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso. Biography.

3. Who Was Mark Twain? - April Jones Prince. Biography.

4. Atomic Habits - James Clear. Self-help.

5. Essentialism - Greg McKeown. Self-help.

6. Always Young and Restless - Melody Thomas Scott. Memoir.

7. Solutions and Other Problems - Allie Brosh (graphic novel) Memoir.

8. Who Was Catherine the Great? - Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso. Biography.

9. Who Is Kamala Harris? - Kirsten Anderson. Biography.

10. Who Was Walt Whitman? - Kirsten Anderson. Biography.

11. Eat A Peach - David Chang. Memoir.

12. Who Were The Beatles? -Geoff Edgers. Biography.

13. Who Were The Brothers Grimm? - Avery Reed. Biography.

14. Eleanor - David Michaelis. Biography. 

15. Who Was Levi Strauss? - Ellen Lebrecque. Biography.

16. Who Was Julia Child? - Geoff Edgers and Carlene Hempel. Biography.

17. Who Was Milton Bradley? - Kirsten Anderson. Biography.

18. Who Was Davy Crockett? - Gail Herman. Biography.

19. Who Was Benedict Arnold? - James Buckley, Jr. Biography.

20. Shrill - Lindy West. Essays.

21. The River of Doubt - Candice Millard. History.

22. The Witches Are Coming - Lindy West. Essays.

23. Blitzed - Norman Ohler. History.

24. What Is The Panama Canal? - Janet B. Pascal. History.

25. Who Was Norman Rockwell? - Sarah Fabiny. Biography.

26. What Is The Story of Alice in Wonderland? - Dana Meachen Rau. Literary History.

27. Who Is Ken Jennings? - Kirsten Anderson. Biography.

28. Me & Patsy Kickin' Up Dust - Loretta Lynn. Memoir.

29. Still Woman Enough - Loretta Lynn. Memoir.

30. Who Is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson? - James Buckley, Jr. Biography.

31. The Mayor of MacDougall Street - Dave Van Ronk. Memoir.

32. Cheeky: A Head-To-Toe Memoir - Ariella Elovic (graphic novel) Memoir.

33. Who Is RuPaul? - Nico Medina. Biography.

34. Who Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? - Kirsten Anderson. Biography.

35. Who Is Aretha Franklin? - Nico Medina. Biography.

36. Who Is Elton John? - Kirsten Anderson. Biography.

37. Who Was Andy Warhol? - Kirsten Anderson. Biography.

38. Who Is Judy Blume? - Kirsten Anderson. Biography.

39. Who Was Juliette Gordon Low? - Dana Meachen Rau. Biography.

40. Best Food Writing 2003 - Holly Hughes, ed. Essays.

41. Who Is Dolly Parton? - True Kelley. Biography.

42. The Andy Warhol Diaries - Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, ed. Diaries.

43. Who Was Frida Kahlo? - Sarah Fabiny. Biography.

44. American Cheese - Joe Berkowitz. Food.

45. The Office - Andy Greene. Entertainment.

46. Inside Peyton Place - Emily Toth. Biography/Literary History

47. Fresh Off The Boat - Eddie Huang. Memoir.

48. Grandma Pottymouth's Fast as Fuck Cookbook - Peggy Glenn. Cookbook.

49. The Boys - Ron Howard and Clint Howard. Memoir.

50. What Is The Story of Dracula? - Michael Burgan. Literary History.

51. Dancing At The Pity Party - Tyler Feder (graphic novel) Memoir.


You make me feel like a natural bookworm: 
Always Young and Restless, American Cheese, The Boys, Lindy West, Grandma Pottymouth, The River of Doubt, Blitzed, Fresh Off The Boat, Cheeky, Loretta Lynn, The Andy Warhol Diaries, Eleanor, The Mayor of MacDougall Street

Made me think: 
Atomic Habits

Yes, I cried:
  Dancing At The Pity Party

Give me back my time:
  The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, Eat A Peach, Best Food Writing 2003, Inside Peyton Place

Levi Strauss, Walt Whitman, Norman Rockwell, Essentialism

Favorite Who Was...? books: 
CATHERINE THE GREAT!!! Benedict Arnold, Juliette Gordon Low, Davy Crockett, The Story of Dracula, RuPaul, The Rock, Elton John, Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo, Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton, Julia Child, Milton Bradley, The Beatles and The Brothers Grimm

DNF Sorry/Not Sorry files: 
What She Ate, Philip Roth biography

DNF We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when files: 
Doorstop-sized Andy Warhol biography, How To Change Your Mind

My first nonfiction book for 2022 will be Taste by Stanley Tucci, and it's a mouthwatering way to ring out the old and ring in the chew...I mean...new.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

2021: Audiobooks In My Ears

I'm almost gleefully smug at how easy it was to add twelve books to my reading total this year. All I had to do was get in the car and drive. Alone. In this way, I could participate with my books, yelling out things like "Oh no, oh no!" "You TELL him!", an assortment of obscenities, and lots of raucous laughter.

1. The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas. Novel.

2. The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead. Novel.

3. All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr. Novel.

4. Little Bird of Heaven - Joyce Carol Oates. Novel.

5. The Personal Librarian - Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. Novel.

6. The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver. Novel. 

7. The Casual Vacancy - J.K. Rowling. Novel.

8. Baby Teeth - Zoje Stage.

9. Behind the Beautiful Forevers - Katherine Boo. Nonfiction.

10. Why Not Me? - Mindy Kaling. Memoir.

11. A Carnival of Snackery - David Sedaris. Diaries, Humor. 

12. The Splendid and the Vile - Erik Larson. Nonfiction.


I was vastly entertained by the books and their narrators. The only one that I would unlisten to if I could is All the Light We Cannot See. I found the fragmented structure of the novel frustrating and unnecessary. 

Little Bird of Heaven started out strong but seemed to run out of gas towards the end. I still liked it, though.

I was delighted that The Hate U Give and The Underground Railroad both had the same narrator, Bahni Turpin. She's so good. I'm going to look for more audiobooks with her name on them.

Barbara Kingsolver read The Lacuna herself. She's a talented reader.

David Sedaris read A Carnival of Snackery himself, and I loved the inspired choice of Tracey Ullmann for the UK/Australia entries.

I thought Gabra Zackman made some great narrative choices in the psychological thriller Baby Teeth. I was glad that she didn't make Hanna's voice too little-girlish, instead she went with a flat tone that added to the character's menace. I was also glad that she softened Alex's accent, not making him sound too Swedish. After all, he had lived in the United States for twenty years.

The book I'm driving down the road with right now is Billy Summers by Stephen King, and because of its length, it will be the one that travels with me into 2022. Audiobook + automobile = no limits to my reading enjoyment.

Monday, December 27, 2021

2021: A Beautiful Stack of Fiction

1. News of the World - Paulette Jiles

2. These Happy Golden Years - Laura Ingalls Wilder

3. The Long Winter - Laura Ingalls Wilder

4. Little Town on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder

5. The Pull of the Stars - Emma Donoghue

6. The Four Winds - Kristin Hannah

7. Hamnet - Maggie O'Farrell

8. The Night Watchman - Louise Erdrich

9. Shuggie Bain - Douglas Stuart

10. None But the Lonely Heart - Richard Llewellyn

11. Peyton Place - Grace Metalious

12. Getaway - Zoje Stage

13. Wonderland - Zoje Stage

14. The Talented Miss Farwell - Emily Gray Tedrowe


It's pretty clear that I was in need of some comfort reading early in 2021. Sometimes nothing will do but to get your Bonnethead on. Team Laura to the rescue.

Happy author discoveries: Paulette Jiles, Maggie O'Farrell, Douglas Stuart, Zoje Stage (!), and Emily Gray Tedrowe.

This author never disappoints: Emma Dongohue, Louise Erdrich

What's another term for Guilty Pleasure? The reason I'm asking is because some book bloggers are all huffy about this phrase, saying that no guilt should be attached to reading. But there's still that slightly naughty and satisfying feeling, the feeling of wallowing in gooey delicious escapism. The FUCK, YEAH! feeling. All of which is to say: Peyton Place by Grace Metalious.

Let's not and say we did, except I did, and now I want to say I did not: 
If I could unread a book, there would be two on my fiction list this year: The Four Winds and None But the Lonely Heart. Kristin Hannah got overly melodramatic (the time and setting is already bleak; no need to crank it up) with The Four Winds and also got on my nerves with jarring 21st century dialogue coming out of her early 20th century characters' mouths. Richard Llewellyn began with a thoughtful character study of Ernie Mott and his Ma, then decided to out-Dickens Charles Dickens during long and boring tangents.  So many "colorful" characters were painfully stuffed into this book. Uh, Mr. Llewellyn, it's a novel, not a clown car nor a pair of Spanx.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Muddle of December

       More than two weeks passed like an exclamation point. Trying not to get caught up in the insane whirlwind that is Christmas, but it's nearly impossible to resist. Tomorrow, I'm going to do all my holiday shopping in one swell foop. The next day will be devoted to assembling things for the big meal on Christmas Day. After that? All is calm. I mean it.

What I read:

Wonderland - Zoje Stage. Novel. 

What is The Story of Dracula? - Michael Burgan. Nonfiction.

The Talented Miss Farwell - Emily Gray Tedrowe. Novel. 

Dancing at the Pity Party - Tyler Feder. Graphic Novel, Memoir.

A Carnival of Snackery - David Sedaris. Humor, Diaries. Audiobook.

What I'm reading:

Billy Summers - Stephen King. Novel. Audiobook.

Kings Row - Henry Bellamann. Novel.

What I want to read:

Taste - Stanley Tucci. Memoir

What I'm watching:

The Office, Season 6

YouTube clips of Fran Lebowitz

This post is short and feels almost uncommunicative, but I'm also working on the year-end roundup of books. 77 so far.

Merry Readmas and Happy Book Year!

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

So Long, November

Good news from the hometown! We were in danger of losing our only bookstore. The owners wanted to retire, and were having trouble finding a new owner. The store even put up liquidation signs. I would have had to drive an hour to Kansas City or an hour to Columbia just to go to a bookstore. Yikes. But all is well. The bookstore has a new owner and he takes over on December first. This feels like such a gift. 

Today is the last day of November. Yesterday, I had the funniest feeling: There was something about November 29 that I knew was significant, and I couldn't place it. You know when Peter Parker says his spidey-sense is tingling? Well, it was like that, except it was a bookworm thing. Finally, right before I went to bed, I got it: Mark Twain's birthday! What a relief.

Speaking of Mr. Clemens, the library has The Autobiography of Mark Twain in audiobook. Lots and lots of listening hours. I want to commit to it, but its so long and checkout times are so short -- only two weeks and you can only renew three times. I guess I could shrug off the overdue notices and turn it back in when I'm damn well good and ready, but I actually like being a good library citizen. 

So, anyway: Since I was last here, the angry scribble in my left eye (yes, it's called a floater, but that reminds me of what happens to your poo when you eat too much fast food) seems less pronounced, but it's always a cloudy day on that side. But the right side is nice and clear and I'm driving again, which feels wonderful. My time in the car with my audiobook is the coziest time of the day. Who says you can't get hygge with it going down the highway at 65-70 miles per hour?

What I read:

Fresh Off The Boat - Eddie Huang. Memoir. My favorite parts of this book were Huang's exuberant and evocative descriptions of food. Lots of energy in this memoir. I enjoyed it more than an earlier food-related memoir this year: David Chang's Eat A Peach.

Grandma Pottymouth's Fast as Fuck Cookbook - Peggy Glenn. Cookbook. Since I didn't learn to cook until I was an adult, preparing meals has always been about ease. The way I measure that is by how many swears I used to get the food from ingredient to table. Grandma Pottymouth delightfully plays into all of that. Her recipes are easy to follow -- I don't think any of them are more than a page -- and helpful ("Spread that shit on the cookie sheet") and she swears so I don't have to! I haven't tried all the recipes. Some feature pine nuts, and I don't go there. Enchilada Casserole was delicious. The inelegantly named Slop was all right. Even Granny herself admits that it's just okay the first night, but gets better in leftover form. I'm not sure about that. My very favorite recipe is Sweet Potato and Chicken Get Married on a Ranch (Dressing, That Is). Brilliant, unconventional combination of sweet potato, chicken pieces, onion, and a packet of ranch seasoning mix. Baked in the oven. Oh my God, the aroma. The taste. I want some right now!

Getaway - Zoje Stage. Novel. After I read Baby Teeth, nothing else would do but more Zoje Stage. Two sisters and their friend from high school go on a camping trip in the Grand Canyon. The younger sister and the friend have some unresolved baggage, and younger sister has also just missed being mowed down in a synagogue shooting back in Pittsburgh. The camping trip is meant to be a time of healing and reconciliation, but someone is following them and tampering with their supplies. Welcome to the camping trip from Hell. I really admire and appreciate Stage's writing. She works really hard to craft multifaceted characters and still keep the pace nice and brisk. She's also great at atmosphere. 

The Boys - Ron Howard and Clint Howard. Memoir. I devoured this memoir in happy, hungry gulps. Conversational in tone (much like a family reunion), The Boys details the meeting of Harold Beckenholdt and Jean Speegle, two theatre majors at the University of Oklahoma, who impetuously elope to New York to become actors. Harold changes his first name to Rance and the family name to Howard and in due time, they give birth to Ron and Clint who turn out to be quite literally, born actors. Jean gives up acting to care for the family. Rance gets bit parts here and there and the kids' careers go into the stratosphere with The Andy Griffith Show (Ronny, as Ron was then known) and Gentle Ben (Clint). Rance and Jean closely managed their sons' careers, but they weren't horrible stage parents, and Rance taught them how to act rather than just performing and parroting lines. There's just enough scruff on this memoir (swearing, Clint had problems with substance abuse, Ron clashed with his parents about his early attachment to his future wife, Cheryl) to keep it from being sickeningly wholesome. I enjoyed reading about Ron's early interest in what goes on behind the camera, and his development as a director. Damn good read. You couldn't go wrong giving this one as a Christmas gift.

What I DNFed:

How To Change Your Mind - Michael Pollan. Nonfiction. But I don't really mean it as a DNF. Just a "Well, it was overdue and I had to turn it back in to the library, and I'll take it up again later."

What I'm reading:

A Carnival of Snackery - David Sedaris. Diaries. Audiobook. I would read anything by David Sedaris, and his diaries are most certainly better than most. I love that Tracey Ullmann is reading the entries from England while David reads all the others. Still, these compilations of diaries make me uneasy. It's like Sedaris is getting rid of everything. Cleaning out his closets. Swedish death cleaning. I'm laughing, but also feeling an undercurrent of sadness.

Wonderland - Zoje Stage. Novel. This one is crazy with atmosphere. Kind of like Shirley Jackson and The Haunting of Hill House.

Kings Row - Henry Bellamann. Novel. Getting those enjoyable Peyton Place vibes.

What I want to read:

Taste - Stanley Tucci. Memoir. WANT

Where I want to go: 

Fulton, Missouri. Apparently, Kings Row = Fulton, MO c.1890s. The good people of Fulton were reportedly pissed when they read Kings Row and started recognizing people and locales.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Zoje Stage's books all feature Pittsburgh in one way or another. Her love for her city shines through.

What I'm watching:

The Office Season 5

And now, it's the first day of December. I can't wait to look back at all the good books I've read this year. So many great discoveries. And cheese!

Friday, November 12, 2021

Reading Roadblock: The Angry Scribble In My Left Eye

 I don't know any three-year-olds right now, so I haven't been hanging out with any lately. How then can I explain the dark scrawl, the angry scribble in my left eye? The scribble on top of flyspecks on a dirty window on a cloudy day.

Here's what the ophthalmologist believes: Some of the vitreous fluid (it's like jelly, baby) in my eye broke off and is floating around. There's also some blood in the eye. Eventually, the floaters will calm down and/or my brain will learn to ignore the scribble. I can't wait. 

This really puts a crimp in my reading. Really been struggling to finish Fresh Off the Boat, but if the book were a song, my eye would be the static drowning it out. Eddie Huang, I loved your funny, savage footnotes, but not so much anymore. Can barely see them.

Audiobooking? Yeah, not so much. I listen to audiobooks in the car, and guess what? I can't see well enough to drive. 

Speaking of audiobooks, funny story. The one I was listening to (before this eye thing happened allofasudden on Sunday afternoon) was How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. It's a historical view of LSD, magic mushrooms and the like. I was into the book so much that when my eye went wonky, I thought for a fleeting moment that I'd been so strongly influenced by my reading that I'd somehow sent myself on a trip. First cheese and now...this??? But alas, no mind-bending experience for me. Instead, it's like that Dorothy Parker anecdote in which the bartender asks her, "What are you having?" and Dorothy Parker replies, "Not much fun."

I can still watch television. Michael, Dwight, Jim, Pam, Kelly, Meredith and the rest of The Office are still hilarious through my scribbled-on eye.

I spy with my little eye the ophthalmologist again on Monday. Meanwhile, I remain blurrily, cloudily, speckly, and scribbly your Blue-Hearted Bookworm on pause.