misc. reading: : The Book Standard : Conversational Reading : Elegant Variation : reviews of books : Welcome to the hinterlands : Typeface : Reading matters : bookedy southern scribe : nebraska press : nextbook : girlbomb: : bookgirl : Asheville Poetry Review : bookworld : kismet the blog :
4.31 Walt Whitman
4.30 Cornelia Otis Skinner & Countee Cullen
4.29 Nancy Cárdenas
4.28 May Swenson
4.27 Rachel Carson & John Cheever
4.25 Ralph Waldo Emerson & Raymond Carver
4.23 Jane Kenyon & Margaret Wise Brown
4.22 Harvey Milk, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Peter Matthiessen
4.20 Sigrid Undset
4.19 Lorraine Hansberry & Nora Ephron
4.17 Dorothy Richardson
4.16 Adrienne Rich
4.15 Katherine Ann Porter & Jasper Johns
4.13 Bruce Chatwin & Armistead Maupin
4.12 Florence Nightingale & Katharine Hepburn
4.11 Tamara de Lempicka & Mari Sandoz
4.9 Mona Van Duyn & JM Barrie
4.8 Edmund Wilson & Gary Snyder
4.7 Jenny Joseph
4.6 Olga Broumas & Randall Jarrell
4.5 James Beard, Kaye Gibbons, & Karl Marx
4.3 May Sarton Pete Seeger, & Miriam Ben-Shalom
4.2 Edith Somerville
4.1 Bobbie Ann Mason & Romaine Brooks
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Ta da! Started This book will save your life (2006) last night. It's set in Los Angeles. The story is about a man who is disconnected from humanity. He works from home, exercises at home, and rarely gets out. His only contact is with his housekeeper, who might be Hispanic. The story begins with his feeling a terrible pain. He calls 911. EMS workers rescue him and transport him to the hospital. Tests are done. They find nothing. He returns home. That's where I ended. My reading was so sad last night. I knitted for about four hours yesterday evening and so there was little time for reading. I was so tired. Yet reading in bed before I sleep is so much a part of my routine that I simply could not Not do it.
Another book I'll soon read is The whole world over (2006). I have a copy checked out from my library, but Julia Glass will be in Asheville (NC) for a book signing at Malaprop's 25 June, so it's probable that I'll attend that event and get my own copy, signed of course, as well. Apparently I missed her first novel Three junes (2002).Now that's on my list of books to read.
I so want Steve Almond's new collaboration with Julianna Baggott Which bring me to you (2006). But then there's his collection of short stories, too The evil B.B. Chow and other stories (2005), that somehow I missed. Have I mentioned how much I love Almond's writing? Oh my. I could read him everyday. He's not touring anywhere near me. Naturally I sent an email to Malaprop's asking them to book him, please. We'll see how that comes out.
In other exciting upcoming events at Malaprop's: Connie May Fowler will read from The problem with Murmur Lee (2005) 30 June, but I'll be out of town. The other event of interest to me is George Singleton reading from his new collection Drowning in Gruel (2006) 9 June. Attending that event theoretically presents no problems at this early date.
You'd think there might be a bookstore less than an hour away where I might attend author events. But no. That is not the case. And it's really a bane, though quite minor in the scheme of things, of my existence. I dream of a welcoming, erudite, independently-owned bookstore in my city.
Monday, May 22, 2006
There was an interesting book poll carried out. The search for the best novel in the past twenty five years is reported in the NYTimes. Here's the deal:
Early this year, the Book Review's editor, Sam Tanenhaus, sent out a short letter to a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages, asking them to please identify "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years."
The results are in, and Toni Morrison's Beloved got the most votes (15). The rest are: Undeworld (11), Blood Meridian & Rabbit Angstrom (tied at 8), and American Pastoral (7). The book review executed the same poll in 1965 and the winner was Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.
Finished Last of her kind (2006) this weekend. The end was anticlimactic. Yet, it seemed as though its resolution was fitting.
Started Carry me down (2006) yesterday and thought I'd wrap it up that afternoon, but there were distractions and I have 105 pages to go. John is eleven and is very tall for his age. He's a loner. He lives in Ireland with his mom, dad, and grandmother. His father is a ne'er do well; a member of MENSA who can't get it together. John is close to his mother and critical of how sloppily his grandmother eats and drinks. He develops a facility for detecting lies and he writes to Guinness book of world records several times to share his gift with them. His goal is to enter their record book and be rich and famous via his gift; maybe work as a spy for an intelligence agency someday. They leave the grandmother's house for a Dublin tenement. John's lie-detecting skills increase, but he also finds himself lying more and more. That's sort of where I left off. The tone is dark and stark. I'm enjoying it, but don't have any warm fuzzy feelings about it. The author created a memorable character with many quirks. Other than that, I'm rather at a bit of a loss on how best to describe this book.
Friday, May 19, 2006
Since I hate hearing a book described as a cross between this and that, I'll go ahead and perpetuate that trend anyway. Last of her kind (2006) is a cross between Prep (2005) and American woman (2003) with a little bit of, what was the name of that book I loathed?, Veronica (2005). And here's why: Our narrator, Georgette George escapes her working-class, abusive home and attends college at Barnard in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Her roommate, Ann, is fabulously wealthy, yet she scorns her parents and what they symbolize. Ann was one of those 60/70s activists who was the only white person in the African-American studies courses. She marched, she protested, she was arrested. She accused George of superficiality. So there's a quirky class dynamic going on that I quite like reminiscent of Prep (2005). Another aspect of the book is it's excellent portrayal of that time, those mores, and how the decade achieved mythic proportions. Nunez thoroughly introduces the cultural and social upheaval to those who may be unacquainted with hippie lit .American woman (2003) is set in the same period; though the left coast, deals with the same politics, and it focuses upon and follows a long-term friendship between two women. Veronica (2005) shares the same setting, NYC, the same focus on female friendships, and same industry: fashion. All the books I mentioned, except for Prep--because my memory is shoddy-- concentrate on their friends. The story is the narrator's but not her's alone because she marks the events of her life so much by her friends' actions. I haven't gotten to the action yet. But there's a murder in 1976. Ann is involved. It seems the book leads up to the how and the why. Then too, we learn about George's sister Solange who runs away from home, George's relationships, her children, her career, etc.
With all that said, I really love this book. That decade and issues of identity and friendship always interest me. The writing is fabulous. It's to the point, not too floral or florid, or any of those f-words. George is engaging and easy to relate to. Our take on gender relations is similar; she points out inequalities between men and women, but isn't rabid about it. She's earnest. A reader. A poet. I identified with this:
I have heard my passionate love of reading denounced as an addiction, a vice, a cowardly avoidance of the challenges, dangers, excitements, and even duties of real life (160).
Sigh. I know at least one other reader whose hands this book will pass into because it's too good not to share. Why not make it yours?
I bought Letters to a young artist (2006) today.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Yesterday afternoon I selected which volunteer opportunity I wanted to participate in Tuesday, June 27 in New Orleans. The American Library Association has their annual meeting there this year and librarians attending had their choice of almost a dozen ways to spend a day, Friday or Tuesday, helping out. There are 900 of us volunteering. I picked the Habitat for Humanity opportunity. I'm looking forward to this more than attending my meetings at the conference; can't wait to get dirty.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Powell's newsletter in my inbox this morning clued me into their interview with A.M. Homes. She recommends Richard Yates; he's one of her favorite authors. Surprisingly, my library owns several of his titles, so I may have to try one on for size. And, I don't know who this "we" is that she speaks of with "we've all had a crush on Holden Caulfield." Not I. Ewwww. What a fake. What a poseur that Holden was. He was very affected.
Homes' new book is This book will save your life (2006). It was sent over to my library from the one in Kingsport. Then curiously returned to them without notifying me that it was here. I've got it coming over again and it should arrive this afternoon. I wonder about my library karma. Is it bad? Surely it is not. I don't hesitate to say that not all circulation departments are as together as the one at my public library which rarely makes these kinds of mistakes. I suspect it was on purpose. There. It's out in the open: circulation staff in my library plot against me. Homes is one of my favorite authors. I revel in her brand of quirk. Bring it on. Guess that's pretty old school. Just bring it. She is completely stunning; breathtakingly beautiful.
Then there's Nellie Taft. I'm still reading about her. She loved defying her parents by slipping off to the beer halls of Cincinnati to drink with the working class. She was always ambitious and planned to marry a man who would make it to the White House. And she was intelligent, the smartest female, maybe smartest person, among her siblings.
Tuesday May 16, 2006
I had the best time reading Ted Kooser's The poetry home repair manual: practical advice for beginning poets (2005). It was so easy to read and understand. He inspired me to write poetry and he explained a few things I always wondered about. Like what is a sestina? Oh, there's a lot more, but since I took so long to read it... my short-term memory fails me now. I didn't want the book to end. And, this is definitely a great book to give to aspiring poets, or prose writers, for that matter. His advice was sound. His examples illustrated his points. Okay so all of that is a given, right? This was an excellent book. It left me with a sweet feeling in my heart and mind. Now I'll have to read the book he wrote with Steve Cox Writing brave and free: encouraging words for people who want to start writing (2006). So yeah, I just ordered three copies of the first and two of the second from University of Nebraska Press.
After going on and on about Elizabeth Spencer I finally started her memoir last night. It was slow to start and was chronologically arranged. I decided not to read it after all, but will read her fiction. Then I started a biography of Nellie Taft; the wife of our twenty-seventh President, if you didn't remember. The writing zipped right along, but I got stuck somewhere when Grover Cleveland was mentioned and the Republican Party. Yuck, so this is going to be a book about politics? I'll slog through. Obviously the reader/I need to know a bit of background, a bit of context for understanding Nellie Taft's life. What drew me to the book was it's subtitle: The unconventional first lady in the ragtime era. She was progressive and favored partial suffrage for women (!). She smoked, drank, and gambled, too. And the author's description of how conflicted she was made her sound like quite a character:
She often wanted many things that were impossible to have at the same time: privacy and recognition, beautiful possessions without the obligation of any permanent home, derivative power yet the right to veto her husband's decisions. She loved to smash precedent, but she also highly valued tradition. She thrived on her independence, yet took refuge in her family. Intellectually progressive in her notion of civil racial equality, she could out-snob the worst of snobs. She was known for both her ability to laugh at danger and for her utterly humorless attitude. She was adventurous and curious while also cautious and conservative, lavish yet frugal; she was fully certain of her own capabilities but often overwhelmed by insecurity and frequently found herself seeing the value of both sides of the argument.
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
This morning I'm reading the June 2006 issue of House & Garden. Sometimes its content is a bit too chi-chi for me, but occasionally there are one or two small bits of inspiration that I cull from it. First, there's an awesome bird poster featured. We think the world of birds is available from the giftshop at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
What really excited me was the article about the new Miriam Matthews Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. That's in South Central LA on the site of a market destroyed by the 1992 riots. The exterior and interior photos show a truly lovely and inventive use of space. The photos in the magazine do the construction justice, whereas the ones via the library system fail to show the building's true glory. The colorful mural designed by Robin Strayhorn on its facade looks muddy in that photo. What I liked best was the library's "open-plan interior framed by angled posts and beams of Parallam, a recycled wood-chip composite."
Gail Godwin's Queen of the underworld(2006) was excellent. It is the first of her work that I've read and it is based on her first years out of j-school when she worked for the Miami Herald. Set in 1959, the novel follows Emma Gant on her first week in Miami. Hailing from the mountains of western North Carolina, Gant went to Chapel Hill. Her main goal was getting away from her physically abusive step-father. She luxuriates in the attention of her older married lover who owns a nightclub in Miami. She learns her way around the news desk by day and meets Cuban expats during the evening; her hotel is almost entirely filled with Cubans fleeing Castro's usurpation. The writing was impeccable. The story flew by. The characters were quite real. And Godwin's attention to historical detail provided a rich context for her character's experiences. But somehow I found Gant's maturity a bit unbelievable. Her nonchalance about her affair with a married man, as well as the abuse suffered at the hands of her step-father seemed glossed over, unexamined. Those bits of her life just were, no explanations at all. And, it didn't end like a typical novel does. I'm not sure how to explain it. There was no tidy wrapping up of parts. There was no "expected" resolution, no "happily ever after." And that, I like.
What I'm loving this minute is The poetry home repair manual: practical advice for beginning poets (2005). It's by Ted Kooser, our poet laureate, and his writing style is plain and simple and delightfully uncontrived. Whether one writes poetry or not, it's a wonderful introduction to the genre and practice of writing poems. He writes:
Though it can be a lovely experience to write a poem that pleases and delights its author, to write something that touches a reader is just about as good as it gets (7).
And he appears so pleasant, too.
Friday, May 5, 2006
Sorry for the abrupt change. The orange background always unsettled me. I was unhappy with the link colors, too. Readers have been too nice to complain about it causing blood to gush forth from their eyes. Sorry. I've got a box of tissues. I'll share.
Alas, no reading again last night. But I spent my day doing bookish things. Accompanied Charles to Greeneville in big motor pool van to procure used books from Greeneville Public Library's annual used book sale. It's one of the biggest in East Tennessee, this side of Knoxville. Parking was unreal; finding a space, that is. The "pre-sale" began at 4.00 p.m. There was a line at fifteen past three. We joined it around 4.00 and the experience was akin to seeing a rock show, only it's unlikely Pentecostal families and women wearing wimples would come to see Kid Rock.
Line moved quickly. We entered building. "Warehouse," is a term I use lightly to describe that space. It may have been as big as my unfinished basement. There were empty rooms roped-off that should have been used to hold books. Hundreds of people crammed into that tiny space. The books were unfresh. So were the people. I checked myself, and it was not me. But they couldn't help it. There was no air conditioning, no air circulating. It reminded me of my last sauna event. It was an unpleasant experience and their books weren't that good. I gathered forty or fifty but then had to step outside for fresh air.
The other thing: I don't like crowds. I'm not anxious. I don't need to take a pill to get over it. I'm conservative with my personal space and don't like it violated every second, especially by strangers. I worried for the elderly. There were steps leading into the building and leading out. The heat and overcrowding could not have been good for them. Charles told me that a woman's blood sugar got very low and they had to lead her out.
Here's to a few hours or even thirty minutes set aside this weekend for reading. Martha put me on to a prolific sociologist whose work sounds exciting: Gary Alan Fine. He's featured in a wikipedia article. One book is about kitchens. The library has a recent Fine book called Everyday genius: self-taught art and the culture of authenticity (2004)
Thursday, May 4, 2006
Often I feel jealous of the attention bookslut gets. After all, I started blogging about books about a year before she did. But, there's an essential difference between what we do. I have to remind myself of this when my skin takes on a green tint; she relays news. I write about what I'm reading. So this is part of the reason why I rarely link to any breaking news stories about publishing or authors or writing anymore. Unless, that is, the story is something that I really like.
There's something about the art of writing book blurbs at cbc.ca. It's about how reckless and feckless those blurbs have become. Like "this book is beyond perfection," or "you'll want to lick it and sleep with it between your legs." Basically it doesn't matter what they say. It's whose name follows the blurb, kind of like a referral. If Anne Lamott likes this, then I shall, too. Or, oh, that awful Mr. _______ likes that; I'll pass. Essentially the point of a blurb to kindle interest in the book — and not the blurber.
No reading was done last night because Ian was home and since I'm the reference librarian, I got to "drive" the computer as we searched for accommodations along the eastern coast. Trouble is: we're traveling with another couple and they don't care where we go. Decisions. Stephanie mentioned St. Simon's Island. We checked and it seemed okay, but learning that Eugenia Price lived and wrote there increased my interest in going. EP was a West Virginian by birth and wrote historical romances set in the South.
But all of this does not give a clue to Elizabeth Spencer. Spencer is an award-winning southern writer and a professor of literature. That's about all I know. She is most known for her novella Light in the Piazza (1960). This weekend, I hope to learn more about her.
Wednesday, May 3, 2006
Oh, I know. There's a course on gay and lesbian literature offered this summer at etsu. I may take it. While looking at books on the syllabus (at amazon) I stumbled onto "That Furious Lesbian..." The copy I'm reading came from the University of the South. I believe I am the only person to open the book's pages other than the librarian who glued the date due slip in its back. It's that new and unblemished, unbent. I made it through the preface, acknowledgements, and into the first chapter before having to get to sleep. And silly me. I didn't even look to see who wrote the book. I assumed it was a woman. It is a man. But, he writes like a woman. Isn't that the most wonderful thing? Instead of throwing like a girl, writing like a woman?
Amazon allowed me to read the first page of Robert Schanke's introduction. She fascinated Truman Capote. Capote originated the precursor to six degrees of kevin bacon, International Daisy Chain. It's a card game (or is it?). The goal is to link one person to another with the fewest cards. de Acosta was the card to hold because she "knew" everybody. de Acosta was a playwright whose work was overshadowed by her sexuality and relationships with Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Isadora Duncan, and others. Now I remember the link: Last year I read The power of style: The women who defined the art of living well (1994). One of the women profiled was Elsie de Wolfe. They had acquaintances and friends in common. Yet, it's possible her name popped up elsewhere as well.
Tuesday, May 2, 2006
There are problems, it seems, with my allotment of server space. It could be days before new posts & pages are updated. For months now I've contemplated moving readingroom to another server and purchasing a domain; only, my domain is "taken" already. This may be the push I need. The problem is converting my archives. That seems to be an incredible impossibility, actually. I can keep them as they are...and link to them. Too many decisions.
Anyway, back to what's reading: The Hal Crowther book was good. I liked how short each essay was: Just enough to grab your interest but not too much to drag you down into the hog trough for a spell. He wrote about race and politics. There was one essay about baseball, Shoeless Joe. I skimmed the beginning, but didn't read the whole thing. Baseball fails to interest me. I often skip the baseball reading.
Haven't picked up the Elizabeth Spencer memoir from the public library yet. Will also get another Crowther book, Cathedrals of Kudzu: A personal landscape of the South (2000). That reminds me that I've not read any John Shelton Reed, and I should. What else? Oh to live in Chapel Hill. It seems to be the center of all things southern. Reading Crowther's book reminded me of all the good reading I used to do, but haven't done lately. Mostly I've read popular books, nothing deep, serious, and scholarly.
There was some confusion about The life all around me by Ellen Foster (2006) on my part. Somehow I crossed Ellen Foster with the narrator from Bastard out of Carolina (1992). Of course, it's been ten years since I read Ellen Foster (1987). Understandably, my memory was bad, lacking. I remembered all of the family members from BOOC and simply did not understand how it was that there was no family to take care of Ellen. Wrong story. Completely! Alas, it was not until at least two-thirds of the way through the book that I realized that. I read the book in an entirely new state of mind afterwards. But enough. You want to hear about this book. It was excellent. I loved it. I may even buy a copy. Or several, and give them to people. I will recommend it to everyone as one of the best books I read all year. So there were times when I had to read a sentence two or three times to understand it's meaning, but that's just how Ellen writes/thinks. I can't say "basically this sequel picks up where the other left off," because I can't remember the first book.
This one begins with a letter to a Harvard admissions officer circa 1974. Ellen write to him to ask for early admittance to Harvard. She is fifteen. She doesn't look forward to spending the next few years at her public high school. Her IQ is astronomical. She directed her own studies and spent most of her time in the school library. Her friends are the downtrodden and backward. Starletta is... well, I'm not quite sure. Maybe she's backward or she had a learning disability. And she's black. Then her friend who is a boy... is his name Luther or Arthur? It escapes me. But he is precious and backward and his perspective on life is uncommon and delightful. There's always a pile of tires burning in his yard. He talks about getting a constellation prize. Ellen lives with Laura, a good egg. There's a great day spent at the fair and other events. She travels to Baltimore and struggles with how because of her accent, her fellow students think she should be serving them a meal, or cleaning up after them. I may have to read it again. I'm not sure readers without context for the Carolinas or the South could "get" Ellen's oddball syntax.
Then what else? Oh, I'm reading a collection of southern-themed essays written by Lee Smith's husband. I had not heard of him prior to seeing his book. But that is my failing. He's a journalist, a syndicated columnist. He provokes conservatives and liberals alike. Gather at the river: Notes from the post-millennial south (2005) collects his variety. This is another book I might have to buy; yes, another library book. Libraries are great for test-driving books. Far too often, the public library does not purchase models to my liking and I shell out hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars on books each year. Okay, probably not more than one thousand. Despite most of the subjects only being about men or male subjects and despite his comment about "when the backlash against the patriarchy has run its course," (44) I'm actually enjoying the reading. He writes about literature; those southern writing luminaries like Thomas Wolfe, Eudora Welty, and Katherine Anne Porter. There's a bit about the intersection of music and film, a.k.a. O Brother Where Art Thou? But maybe I'll thank him mostly for turning me on to Elizabeth Spencer, whose work I was unfamiliar with prior to reading "Landmarks: The Three Graces." Her memoir Landscapes of the heart (1998) is next on my reading list.