Sunday, September 19, 2021

Mid-September, 2021: Way Late To The Office Party

 A few days ago, I became acquainted with the concept of "batch blogging". It's like "batch cooking", but with blogs. Apparently, it's a thing. Apparently, closer to home, The Spawn does it with his comic book blog. Now I feel as if there is a lack in me because I can't squeeze out multiple posts at one sitting to be scheduled at tidy intervals. Just getting one blog entry out is like warring with the last smears of toothpaste at the end of the tube. Is it because I have nothing to say? No, of course not. I am intrigued, and think I might try out the concept with a mini-post. Okay, enough with all this throat-clearing!

What I Read:

Who Was Frida Kahlo? - Sarah Fabiny. Biography. Kahlo figures prominently in my current audiobook, The Lacuna, so I wanted to read more about her. Fabiny paints a portrait of Kahlo that is as rich and emotional as Frida's art. She does a great job of discussing the symbolism in Kahlo's paintings, and is candid about Frida's health and relationship struggles. The illustrations by Jerry Hoare give this volume in the series an added richness and cohesiveness. So glad I bought this!

What I DNFed:

What She Ate - Laura Shapiro. Nonfiction. This was such a clever idea, combining women's lives with the food they ate, but it just didn't come together for me. I read three out of the six profiles: Dorothy Wordsworth, Helen Gurley Brown, and Barbara Pym. I struggled to the finish with Pym, and decided to take What She Ate off the table. I like the concept and can't stop thinking about it. I wonder if there is some way someone else could give this idea a try.

What I'm reading:

American Cheese - Joe Berkowitz. Nonfiction. I'm not very far along yet, but enjoying every cheese-filled reference. Joe B. has just had his Eureka! moment at the fancy cheese-tasting, and now he's branched out into making his own cheese at home with mixed results: So-so, needs improvement and distinctly horrible. He's also sampling the best and building his "cheese memory palace" cube by savory cube. I'm relating to this book remarkably well, considering that my own cheese tastes are beyond unsophisticated and I've only been in one cheese shop in my entire life. This was in The Netherlands in the 1970s, and my parents sampled several cheeses before coming out of there with a small wheel of I know not what, but remember that it was unpleasantly pungent and we ate it for months. Anyway, can't wait to take another bite out of American Cheese.

The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver. Novel. This book may turn out to be my favorite read for 2021. I love the panorama of disparate settings in the United States and Mexico and I'm in awe of how Kingsolver wove together a story that encompasses world events stretching from the 1920s revolution in Mexico to hideous McCarthyism in the 40s and 50s. Like Zelig, Kingsolver's main character, Harrison Shepherd is a witness to all of it. I'm also fascinated by her creation-within-a-creation -- Shepherd's historical fiction novels, set in long-ago Mexico. Her "book reviews" of his work are so convincing, I found myself wanting to put them on my wishlist. As I mentioned above, Frida Kahlo features prominently in The Lacuna, and she does something so memorable and heroic for Shepherd and his art while he appears to be doing the same for her and her art, that when it was revealed, I nearly burst into happy tears while driving down the road. I'm not finished with The Lacuna yet, and I'm not sure I want to be.

Warhol - Blake Gopnik. Biography. Not going to lie; this one is hard going. Gopnik did an incredible amount of research -- so much so that his end notes couldn't be published in the print volume because it would tack on hundreds of more pages to this already hefty tome. He seems determined not to let any of the research go to waste, jam-packing tangents, incidentals, and minute details into the story of Warhol's life. There is also a fair amount of speculation about Andy Warhol's inner psyche followed with sensible realizations that there is always going to be a barrier that even the most thorough biographer can never cross. For even the most devoted to biography fans, all of this is daunting.  I'm not giving up, though!

What I Want To Read (And Watch!):

Billy Summers - Stephen King. Novel. I'm hoping to audiobook this one.

I am so so late to the party, but after reading Mindy Kaling's book Why Not Me? last month, I finally became interested in watching The Office. One night after work, I found it on Comedy Central. The network typically runs shows all evening until ten o'clock. The first couple of episodes I watched didn't thrill me. Then, in the middle of a season 3 episode, Jim pranks Andy by hiding his phone (with its annoying ringtone of Andy's a cappella rendition of Rockin' Robin) in the ceiling, and it hit me. Now I love the show, and have been sporadically working my way through the series. At some point, I'll go back and start at the beginning. The Spawn found a library book about The Office in our local library system and it's on the way, so I'm eager to read it. My thoughts so far: The Jim and Pam romance doesn't really interest me, although I like both characters individually, especially Jim's never-ending arsenal of workplace pranks. I'm drawn to Dwight, Andy, Michael, Kelly, Meredith, Stanley, Phyllis, Oscar, Kevin, and the HR guy, Toby. Oh, and Angela, the crazy cat person. As for Ryan, played by B.J. Novak -- not sure about him yet.

 I could go on, but I really need to click this post into existence, warts and all.

Monday, September 06, 2021

Leafing August; Paging September

What I read: 

Who Is Dolly Parton? - True Kelley. This book is a treasure. Very well done. True Kelley covered a lot of ground in the meager 108 pages allowed her in this series. Not a lot of distracting sidebars for filler. I know it sounds mean, but I quite enjoyed the shade thrown in Porter Wagoner's direction. And...road trip, anyone? Dollywood???

Why Not Me? Mindy Kaling. I audiobooked this one, read by Mindy herself. I love how she's outrageous and unapologetic. My favorite line in the book is when she's talking about doing a rewrite for the pilot of The Mindy Project and she says she feels like Kal Drogo while working on a strict deadline. I feel like binge-watching alllll the episodes of The Mindy Project.

The Andy Warhol Diaries - Andy Warhol, Pat Hackett, editor. Whee! What a ride. Nearly 900 pages. Have I mentioned that SO MANY PEOPLE are mentioned in the diary? I'm boring friends and family now, I fear. When they mention a celebrity, I say something like, Oh, here's what Andy Warhol said about X. Even better than his name-dropping was the times he got meta and wished to be acquainted with other diary keepers so that they could appear in each others' diaries. So anyway, I am finished with his diary, but I'm not through with Andy Warhol. (See below.)

What I'm reading:

The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver. I'm audiobooking this novel, read by the author. I am surprised to find out that Kingsolver is a very talented narrator. Now this feels like what historical fiction should feel like. Harrison Shepherd, a young man (fictional character) with a Mexican mother and an American father winds up working in the home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo as a cook right about the time Leon Trotsky, in exile and running from Stalin for years, comes to live with them. It's intelligent and expansive. The descriptions of Mexico are intoxicating, and appeal to all the senses. The historical characters all seem very much alive, and Frida in particular jumps off the page, or in this case, out of my car stereo.

What I DNF'ed 

What She Ate - Laura Shapiro. Nonfiction. Shapiro looks at six women: Dorothy Wordsworth, Rosa Lewis, Eleanor Roosevelt, Eva Braun, Barbara Pym, and Helen Gurley Brown and examines each of their relationships to food. I'm not always convinced in these essays that food is the key to them, as Shapiro would like the reader to believe. Even if she could have successfully persuaded me, I was more often than not asleep while she meandered through the essays. I'm so disappointed. I love biography and I love reading about food and the part it plays in people's lives, but this book just didn't engage me.

What a tasty stack I found at the bookstore:

Who Was Frida Kahlo? - Sarah Fabiny. The Lacuna sent me in search of Frida's appearance in the Who Was...? series. Very much looking forward to reading it.

American Cheese - Joe Berkowitz. This nonfiction look at my favorite dairy product was on my wishlist. Guy walks into an upscale cheese store during a cheese sampling, experiences something like cheese nirvana and goes off on a cheese odyssey. I can't wait to start reading and get into the Gruyere as well. 

Fresh Off the Boat - Eddie Huang. Also from the wishlist. I was beguiled by the recent sitcom of the same name and would like to see how close it stayed to Eddie Huang's memoir. 

What I want to read:

Warhol - Blake Gopnik. A biography of Andy Warhol published in 2020. The last time I did a deep dive like this was with Susan Sontag. (Surprisingly, Sontag didn't appear anywhere in Andy Warhol's diary. New York City did, multiple cab rides did, Annie Leibowitz did, but no Sontag. Hmm. It just feels as if they should have crossed paths. Or am I coming at this with too much of a Midwestern point-of-view?)

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Read 'Em And Weep: Mid-August, 2021

 There was reading, but no weeping. I promise. It's just allergy season.

What I read:

Who Was Juliette Gordon Low? - Dana Meachen Rau. Another standout in the Who Was..? series. Juliette Gordon Low a.k.a. Daisy (and sometimes Crazy Daisy for her impetuous nature) to her friends and family jumps off the pages. Being a one-time Girl Scout, I thoroughly appreciated this book. Using the cookies as a ratings marker, I give it 10 boxes of Thin Mints. As for Dana Meachen Rau, she should have the Writer badge sewn on her sash straightaway.

Best Food Writing 2003 -Holly Hughes, editor. Unlike some years with this series, I found 2003 to be an uneven mix of good and  ho-hum. I did enjoy Nigel Slater's "Kit", an assessment of kitchen essentials; "Travels with Captain Bacon", which involved a road trip through Kentucky and Tennessee in search of the most perfect part of the pig, in my opinion; "Sustaining Vision" by Michael Pollan, which already grabbed my attention when I read it in The Omnivore's Dilemma; "With Pancakes, Every Day is Sunday" Hell YES!; "Grilling, Short and Sweet" by John Kessler, who Asian-grills rather than Texas-barbecues again HELL YES; Kathleen Brennan's "Cajun Pig Party" which follows the Louisiana back country action all the way from Sue the pig's last snorts and squeals to the after-dinner dancing; Robb Walsh's "Say Cheez", in which he explores the debate about what cheese or Cheez truly completes a perfect Philly Cheesesteak; Andrea Strong's fond look back in "Ode to Sloppy Joe, a Delicious Mess". The origin stories are as messy as the dish itself; "Bread Winner" by Susan Choi who serendipitously meets up with a true sandwich artist on her daily trip to her neighborhood deli; and "The Culinary Underground" by John T. Edge about a couple in Mississippi who serve lunch out of their modest home every weekday.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers - Katherine Boo. Care asked me in a recent postcard if I'd read this book. When I replied, I forgot to tell her I had not, then I found the audiobook, and now I have and it was beautiful, brilliant, devastating first-rate reporting. The author spent several years following the up and down (mostly down) fortunes of a handful of people in Annawadi, a slum in Mumbai, located near the airport. It reads (or in this case, listens) like a novel, but the onionlike levels of corruption that Boo peels back again and again are frustratingly and wrenchingly real.

What I'm reading:

The Andy Warhol Diaries - Andy Warhol, edited by Pat Hackett. Since Warhol dictated his entries over the phone to Pat Hackett, they have a sort of unreflective flatness. Then it hit me that Warhol was yet again well ahead of his time. Except for the character count, they're tweets! My favorite diary entry so far: I had so many dates for tonight, but I decided to stay home and dye my eyebrows. It was a refreshing change from all that name-dropping.

The Spawn brought home a series of books called "Food Dudes" which are juvenile nonfiction offerings that tell the story behind iconic American foods and beverages: M&Ms, Oreos, Gatorade, Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, Heinz Ketchup, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Hershey's chocolate, to name a few. I don't know why, but I'm just not feeling this series. Overall, the writing seems a little dull.

In a similar vein, The Spawn also brought home a huge stack of books --Toy Trailblazers-- that chronicle iconic American toys: American Girl Dolls, Barbie, Lincoln Logs, My Little Pony, Rubik's Cube, Hot Wheels, and Monopoly are examples. I've just started reading the one about the young woman who became a sensation on YouTube for getting creative with slime. This series' writing seems a little more lively.

Who Is Dolly Parton? - True Kelley. I'm still reading, and I already love this book. Bonus points to True Kelley for mentioning "Joshua", the song that made me a Dolly fan so many, many years ago.

Strange reading coincidence: Dolly Parton and Andy Warhol crossed paths! He's name-dropped her three times already in the diaries, and I'm only on page 186.

What I want to read:

I went to the bookstore today and cast a longing eye upon Billie Jean King's autobiography.

Vernon Gravely, who wrote Promise Unfulfilled, a biography of actor Robert Morris, has written a historical book about boxing. It will be out in the early fall.




Sunday, August 08, 2021

Welcome To My Reading Week: Aug 1-8, 2021

 What I read:

None But The Lonely Heart - Richard Llewellyn. Novel. Published in 1943, this was Richard Llewellyn's follow up to his smash bestseller How Green was My Valley, one of my all-time favorites. None But The Lonely Heart was just...ok. Set in London and written in stream-of-consciousness except for conversations and making excellent use of Cockney English, the novel follows Ernie Mott who is "nineteen, nigh on twenty" and not sure about what he wants to do with his life. Then there's Ernie's Ma, who runs a furniture shop/pawnbroker business with shady dealings on the side, but she wants Ernie to be a solicitor or something respectable. She even buys him three new suits to better help him fake it till he makes it. Sadly, Ernie is not interested in anything that takes hard work. I liked Ernie and Ernie's Ma, but then Llewellyn dropped a staggering amount of Dickensian characters into the book, and I became lost and confused and finally bored. I could scarcely keep my mince pies (rhyming slang!) open. But I persisted and was satisfied with the end of the novel, because it was back to Ernie and Ma, then finally, Ernie. In spite of input from every possible quarter, he doesn't really learn or grow, but that's just how it is sometimes. I don't need my characters to Grow and Change in order for me to love them.

The Personal Librarian - Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. Novel. Audiobook. It's a hard-driving history lesson! It's a soap opera! I like to learn and I like my soaps, so it's all good, but what really drew me into The Personal Librarian was Belle daCosta Greene's big secret. The historical sections seemed really heavy on exposition, but perhaps that's an ongoing challenge with historical fiction. The writer(s) have to get that in somehow, but it seems so artificial to do it in conversation. If only there were some device with which you could get a perfect blend of historical and fiction without the abrupt shifts in tone. Even though I chafe a bit at this genre, I could not stop listening to The Personal Librarian. Robin Miles is an excellent narrator, and I enjoyed listening to both authors' insights in the afterword. I did like the novel, I'm glad to have experienced it, and I do recommend it to historical fiction fans, lovers of Gilded Age history, readers who are drawn to strong female characters as well as characters with secret lives.

What I'm reading now:

The Andy Warhol Diaries - Pat Hackett, editor. Over a period of eleven years (1976-1987), Andy Warhol kept a diary in a rather unconventional way. Every day or so, usually in the mornings, he would place a phone call to his secretary, Pat Hackett, and dictate the entry over the phone. Hackett would tape and transcribe the calls. She had to edit the entries down when she put a volume together in the interest of having a manageable tome. So far, the entries seem routine -- Where Warhol went (usually to a party) who he saw (a dazzling yet exhausting list of major and minor celebrities from all fields of endeavor) and how much he paid for cab fare or visits to a newsstand. Sometimes he goes to the doctor. Occasionally, he muses about a book he's read (usually a celebrity's tell-all). I'm dipping into the book a few entries at a time. 

What I want to read:

Paths of Glory - Humphrey Cobb. This 1935 novel is based on the 1957 Stanley Kubrick movie of the same name. I saw the movie about 30 years ago while I was in the hospital after a surgery. I remember seeing the movie and having the impression that it was great, but couldn't remember anything but one scene towards the end. I watched it again last week (awake, unmedicated) and yeah, I was right. It's a masterpiece. When I found out it was based on a novel, I set my intrepid library scout, The Spawn to finding it for me. So far, no luck. I'm even more drawn to the book since I recently discovered that when it came out, William Faulkner slammed it. If Faulkner didn't like it,  this is certainly the book for me. Plus, it was written and published in the 1930s, my very favorite time in American literature.

Finally, now that I'm finished with The Personal Librarian, I need a new audiobook for my commute to work. Tomorrow, during my day off, I'm going to wander over to the public library in Warrensburg where they have a tasty array of titles, both fiction and nonfiction. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, August 02, 2021

Twelve in July

 Twelve books in one month! That's a lot for me. True, many of them were Who Was...? books, but I read a nice variety of fiction and nonfiction. And my ears, my lucky, lucky ears. Here's to the audiobooks!

So here's my tasty list for July:

1. Who Is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson? -James Buckley, Jr. Nonfiction.

2. The Mayor of MacDougal Street - Dave Van Ronk. Memoir.

3. Cheeky: A Head-to-Toe Memoir -Ariella Elovic. Graphic Novel.

4. The Night Watchman - Louise Erdrich. Novel.

5. Who Is RuPaul? -Nico Medina. Nonfiction.

6. Who Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? - Kirsten Anderson. Nonfiction.

7. Who Is Aretha Franklin? - Nico Medina. Nonfiction.

8. Little Bird of Heaven - Joyce Carol Oates. Novel. Audiobook.

9. Who Is Elton John? - Kirsten Anderson. Nonfiction.

10. Who Was Andy Warhol? -Kirsten Anderson. Nonfiction.

11. Who Is Judy Blume? -Kirsten Anderson. Nonfiction.

12. Shuggie Bain -Douglas Stuart. Novel.

Notes:

I've got to hand it to Louise Erdrich. I didn't particularly enjoy the first part of The Night Watchman, but I stayed with it, and ended up enjoying it tremendously. Erdrich is an author that kind of sneaks up on you. I'm going to try more of her novels.

I knew who RuPaul is, but only superficially, so I was glad to read Who Is RuPaul? and learn more about him. It's a frank book that dives deeply into Queer culture. In fact, there is a defensive little note from the publisher on the inside cover. Nico Medina wrote Who Is RuPaul? and Who Is Aretha Franklin? (published before Franklin's death in 2018) . Although he, like the other authors in the Who Was..? series are working within a rigid framework, Medina's honest, thoughtful, and delicately emotional writing seems to transcend the constraints. After reading these two books, I am pumped to binge-watch seasons of RuPaul's Drag Race and head out to the movies on August 13 to see the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect.

Joyce Carol Oates and Louise Erdrich seem to be opposites in how they draw readers into their fictional worlds. Erdrich moves slowly and deliberately. Oates picks the reader up and flings them into her (usually) bleak landscape with a boot on the backside for good measure. Her characters and plots seem fueled on some sort of fever or drug, then they wind down significantly --almost peter out-- in the last act. In contrast, halfway is the point at which Erdrich, while not necessarily picking up speed, gains momentum. Her various, seemingly unrelated strands of story start to come together and make sense and not just sense -- a beautiful pattern, a satisfying ending.

I've never been a big fan of Andy Warhol's art, but I've always been intrigued by his philosophy and approach to art, so when The Spawn told me there was a Who Was...? book about him, I asked him to reserve it at once. I was not disappointed. Who Was Andy Warhol? joins my list of favorites in this series. I was inspired to go and check out The Andy Warhol Diaries (BIG heavy book, coffee table caliber, a real chunky monkey) which is so much fun to read: Gossip, name-dropping, minute details. It's like dipping into a box of candy. I want to drape my walls in tinfoil! I want to dye my hair glittery-silvery silver!

Since we're on the subject of Andy Warhol, right now seems like a good time to insert this story of Things I Kick Myself For. Once upon a time, back in the early 1980s, a neighbor of my parents gave me an Amy Vanderbilt cookbook from the late 1950s. As a cookbook, it was rather user-unfriendly. Short and chunky, it was not easy to prop up and open on a kitchen counter while cooking. The type was also small, and there were no photographs of how the dishes should look after preparation. It was also heavy on etiquette and  multiple forks. Waaay too much for a young and nervous cook, BUT the simple drawings interspersed throughout the volume were illustrated by *Andrew* Warhol! For years, I guarded it closely, but somehow in all the moves, both domestic and international, I lost this book. Kick. Kick. Kick.

Anyway.

Who Is Judy Blume? was a sentimental read. I was never a fan of Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. Eleven-year-old me thought she was absolutely nuts to want a bra and her period. However, Blume's story of teenaged first love, Forever was of extreme interest to sixteen-year-old me. I studied that book. Around the same time, I read Blume's adult novel Wifey. I remember feeling proud of myself for getting the joke about the pervert who keeps appearing in the title character's front yard to masturbate and leave. Sandy calls the police. As they leave, she says she remembers one more thing: the guy was right-handed. Or was it left-handed? I'm not sure anymore, but I thought it was uproariously funny. Who Is Judy Blume? compounded my sentimental feelings by doing a sidebar about a book series Judy loved as a young girl: The Betsy-Tacy books! I was very squeee! Laura Ingalls always held the top place in my heart followed by Jo March, but Betsy and Tacy were a solid third.

And what can I say about my last and most favorite read of July, Shuggie Bain? It broke my heart, as Tracey Ullman would say, in 17 places. Poverty and alcoholism and bad love choices and closed-mindedness set in Thatcher-era Glasgow reminded me of Roddy Doyle's Dublin. I loved the cadences of the Glaswegian (?) dialect, but I was forced to stop reading more than once to look up Scottish slang. I loved and felt sorry for Shuggie's family. I thought his father, Shug, was the villain of the piece until his mother, Agnes, took up with Eugene. At that point, Agnes had my full sympathy. Also, there's a long-past vignette with Agnes's father and mother that I had to read over and over in shock because I JUST KNEW I was not really reading what I had just read. Which, of course, is a long way of saying a very WTF moment. When the novel ended, I did not want to leave the remaining characters. I had a sincere sense of loss. I'm late to the party, but I'm so happy that Douglas Stuart won the Booker for Shuggie Bain. I can't wait to read his next novel.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Welcome To My Reading Week: Early July, 2021

 Okay, let's do this. I've got my Belle (Beauty and the Beast) socks on and my reading journal at my side. Here's a look at my read life from July 1-11:

What I read:

Who Is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson? - James Buckley, Jr. Nonfiction. I know that I complained about the 50-page offerings in the Who Was...? series, but this one felt just right. Not rushed at all. I enjoyed reading about how Dwayne Johnson grew up with a father and grandfather who were famous wrestlers, and how Dwayne tried to become a successful pro football player before following in the family business and finding success in the WWE. Despite its brevity, the book did justice to Johnson's charm and charisma.

The Mayor of MacDougal Street - Dave Van Ronk. Memoir. Recently, I watched Inside Llewyn Davies, a Coen brothers movie that came out a few years ago, while I was living in Busan. It was one of the films featured at the Busan International Film Festival, but I couldn't get a ticket to see it. The story of a folksinger going through a rough patch in Greenwich Village in 1961, the title character is loosely based on Dave Van Ronk who seemed to know everyone and everybody across several musical genres, including a new kid from Minnesota called Bob Dylan. Van Ronk died in the middle of working on this memoir, so parts of it feel a bit disjointed, and while his musical insights are illuminating and entertaining, those sections are a bit rambly. Ditto for his political views. Still, I'm glad to have read The Mayor of MacDougal Street. (Many thanks to The Spawn for tracking down both the book and the movie for me.) Dave Van Ronk was a hilarious guy with a trenchant sense of humor, and his chapter about a cross-country trip from NYC to LA with a fellow musician and a 12-year-old kid in tow makes up for the unevenness of some of the other chapters. One big surprise: Dave Van Ronk was also heavily into science fiction fandom. What if he was at a convention I attended in San Francisco back in the early 1990s? My heart beats a little faster to imagine it. By the way: If anyone is working on a time machine, please consider sending me to Greenwich Village, 1958-1961. Thank you.

What I'm reading:

The Night Watchman - Louise Erdrich. Novel. At first, I didn't like the latest winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and complained about it bitterly in a couple of letters to my bookwormy friends Care and Teri. But once I got to the 170-page mark, I settled in, or Louise Erdrich settled in, and now I like it much better. 

Little Bird of Heaven - Joyce Carol Oates. Novel. I'm audiobooking this one, and I love it. Typical JCO dark and depressing and sharp with an upper New York State setting to match the bleakness of the narrative. I never thought of listening to Oates on audiobook before, but it's an inspired match. I feel a little crazy after my commute, but in a good way.

Cheeky: A Head-to-Toe Memoir - Ariella Elovic. Graphic Novel. If Elovic never does another book in her whole career, and she will, because she's only 30, she will have performed a valuable service to female humanity. This funny, frank, charming, whimsical, eye-opening memoir is her effort to change the conversation with herself about her body self-consciousness from "Imperfection!" to "I'm perfection!" I'm already halfway through Cheeky and loving every single page of it. I think it's already influencing my thinking, because I winced when a friend took a selfie of herself and her pet and asked us to excuse her unmade-up face, which is absolutely beautiful as it is. Anyway, I hope Cheeky gathers a wide audience, and I wish it could have somehow been around back in the 1970s and 1980s. There's that time machine longing again.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

June, 2021 Reading and An Ambitious Plan

 Eleven books in June! That's a really good total for me. I must credit The Spawn, who checks out books I'm interested in on *his* card, then when I need them renewed, he encourages me to finish quickly. Okay, yeah his tone gets a little snotty, but who can argue with results?

1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Fiction. I audiobooked this one, and I'm so glad I did. The narrator of the book, Bahni Turpin, is a treasure. She also narrated the previous audiobook I listened to, The Hate U Give. I was totally invested in all these characters. I was continually making excuses to go to the car. (Car time = audiobook time) The Underground Railroad is dazzling. Brilliant. Historical fiction meets fantasy meets alternative history with nods to figures in popular culture. Whitehead's writing is ...well, I already said dazzling and brilliant. If you were here, sitting in my purple chair, I'd be shouting dazzling! brilliant! at you until you went and found your own copy or threw something at me. The Underground Railroad feels almost as if it should be a pop-up book. That's what it did to my brain.

2. Blitzed - Norman Ohler. Nonfiction. Translated from German, Ohler examines how the Nazis were into drug use. In fact, they were the ones who invented methamphetamine! From the late 1930s to the end of WWII, almost everyone from 18 to 80 was speeding into history. It definitely explains the rapidity of Hitler's army taking over Europe and striding on into Russia. Meanwhile, Hitler, who didn't smoke, drink or eat meat, was turned into an addict by his personal physician. There's also some not-surprising and disgusting information on how new variations on their pharmaceutical concoctions were tested on prisoners in the work camps. An eye-opening read! I'll never look at WWII the same.

3. What Is The Panama Canal? - Janet B. Pascal. Nonfiction. An educational, informative look at all the false starts and missteps as well as political machinations that went into the building of the Panama Canal. Again, Tim Foley's illustrations add to the narrative.

4. Who Was Norman Rockwell? - Sarah Fabiny. Nonfiction. Rockwell's not one of my favorite artists, but I firmly acknowledge his importance in American art history. The book was a bit of a snooze for me, mostly because of my marginal interest.

DNF Philip Roth - Blake Bailey. Biography. I read about 150 pages before giving up. Not sad. Not sorry.

5. The Four Winds - Kristin Hannah. Novel. I read this book quickly, because that's the pace Kristin Hannah sets for her readers. I wanted to love this book, and I didn't. The writing seemed flat. It was also heavy on the melodrama, which she really didn't need to employ in the bleak Dust Bowl setting. The 1930s characters have modern speech inflections, which took me out of the story several times. Speaking of the characters, they are either sterling good or bad with no redeeming qualities. Did I mention that it's a bit repetitive? A former lawyer, Hannah writes as if she's presenting a case for a jury trial rather than a nuanced novel for readers to absorb and enjoy.

6. What Is The Story of Alice in Wonderland? - Dana Meachen Rau. Nonfiction. I'll be honest: Even as a child Alice and Wonderland seemed like too much of a muchness. I'm a Dorothy and Oz girl. 

7. Hamnet - Maggie O'Farrell. Novel. The story of Shakespeare's family, set during the 1680s, during a time of plague, and in the years before, when Shakespeare met Anne (Agnes, in this novel) Hathaway, who herself is a remarkable literary creation, as captivating as anything The Bard could have penned. I shied away from this novel for almost a year, and now I'm in equal parts mad at myself for doing so and thrilled that I finally read it, thanks to my book comrade, Care. Hamnet is haunting and mesmerizing. I would love to experience it as an audiobook. Believe the hype.

8. Who Is Ken Jennings? - Kirsten Anderson. Nonfiction. This is one of the short entries in the Who Was...? series, that number around 50 pages. Not a fan of the shorter books. They feel like filler. They feel like the book reports you do in 5th grade. I feel affection for Ken Jennings, dating back to his original 74 game winning streak. I appreciated the sidebar bio of Alex Trebek, but c'mon people! Give Alex his own full-length book!

9. Me and Patsy Kickin' Up Dust - Loretta Lynn. Memoir. To read a Loretta Lynn memoir feels like sheer love, because she's basically talking it. Her Kentucky cadences jump off the page. You can hear her voice. In this one, she discusses her friendship with legendary singer Patsy Cline, as well as her life and career around this time (early 1960s). One of Loretta's twin daughters, Patsy Russell, who was named after Patsy Cline, co-wrote this book with Loretta.

10. Still Woman Enough - Loretta Lynn. Memoir. Okay, yeah, I fell down a Loretta Lynn rabbit hole (oh oh lol I just made an Alice in Wonderland reference after talking shit about it a few paragraphs ago) but there are much worse things. Still Woman Enough was written after Loretta Lynn's husband of 48 years died, and she was free to talk more frankly about their rocky relationship. And talk she did! The framework of this book is going back and revisiting the movie version of Coal Miner's Daughter and what they got wrong and what they got right, and what happened after Loretta and Doolittle rode off into the sunset at the end of the movie. It was funny, it was beautiful, it was heartbreaking. I can't believe I've had this book for years, maybe decades and only now just got around to reading it.

11. All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr. Novel. This was my second audiobook for June, and I have mixed feelings about it. I admire the author's reach and grasp and how he knows and knows and KNOWS so much about science, so much about everything, but the book felt a little too tight, a little claustrophobic. The back-and-forth structure of the book between the characters and the skipping around in time was sometimes annoying, but worked in my favor when Disc 9 had a scratch and didn't play correctly and I realized that I didn't miss much between Discs 8 and 10. I appreciated knowing how all the characters ended up (GO Marie-Laure!) but I was more than ready to exit the novel with two more discs to go. I'm glad that I made the decision to audiobook this one, because I think I might have DNF'd an actual paper copy.

An Ambitious Plan

I realize that I never got back to blog about Part 2 of my May, 2021 reading. Days and weeks went by and my relationship to what I read, even though I truly enjoyed it, was getting fainter and fainter, and I felt colder and colder towards the material. This delaying and the resulting feelings was a cause for concern. If nothing else, Blue-Hearted Bookworm aka Blob, is my online book diary! I don't want impressions of my reading to get completely lost. I can imagine my Future Bookworm Self cursing my Present BS.

 It doesn't take a fully loaded bookshelf to fall on me for me to come to the conclusion that I need to update more often so that I don't have to struggle to reconnect with the essence of my feelings for the book. So: I'm going to try to do updates on Blob once a week, or at least once every ten days. I think my impressions will be fresher, but the books will still have time to settle inside of me. Let's see how it goes.