about : me : contact : I read : others read : Reviews of books
In birthdays today: N. Scott Momaday
Wordsmith's W.O.T.D.: potvaliant /POT-val-iant/ adjective:
1. Showing courage under the influence of drink.
Take The Johnny Depp Quiz!
Today's 2.20 birthdays:
Kurt Cobain, Robert Altman, Ellen Gilchrist, & Ansel Adams
Amy Tan (1952) & Carson McCullers (1917) share the same birthday
Toni Morrison is 73 today
Today is Chaim Potok's birthday.
Wordsmith's word of the day:
\OR-uh-tund\ adjective :
1. Strong, clear, rich (as in voice or speech).
2. Pompous, bombastic.
Birthday of Lydia Marie Child (2.11)
Merriam-Webster's word of the day: pukka \PUK-uh\ adjective : genuine, authentic; also : first-class
My political compass:
Economic Left/Right: -6.75
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -5.08
(thanks to rebecca's pocket)
That's right, today (2.9) is
Alice Walker's birthday
Of Mice and Men was published today (2.6) in 1937
2.2: James Joyce is 110
SC Book Festival
Friday, February 27, 2004
Sins of the seventh sister is so clever. I'm so glad I started reading it the other night. I wanted to read more, but had to sleep sometime. It's a raucous story of a wealthy West Virginian family, told from the point of view of the youngest son Huston Curtiss III, who goes by Hughie. It begins sometime in the present, with an introductory chapter written by Hughie. He's in his eighties and one of his oldest friends is Stella, a renowned singer. She tells him that he must tell the story of her life. But he say's that their lives are so intertwined that he'll have to tell his own story as well. You see, Hughie's mother took Stella, then known as Stanley, into their home after Stanley was released from some kind of rehabilitative orphanage where he lived after he slit his father's throat with a straight razor. So from the very beginning, it's a dramatic and comedic story. The author has a brilliant way with words, and other than spending way too much time taking about the architecture of the family's house and barn, every paragraph is yummy. Hughie's mother is a crack-shot. They had to dis-invite her to the turkey shoot each season because she won every contest. THey presented her with the prize and told her "You're the best man here." She wounds this KKK fellow who's setting fire to a black family's home, and then stands trial for attempted murder. She gets off with a display of her fine marksmanship in the courtroom, where it is proven that if she intended to kill the Klucker, he'd be dead. I'm at a point in the aftermath of the trial, when things have calmed down just a bit. But, I'm waiting for things to heat up once again. There is no information available about the author. It reeks of pseudonym.
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
I only meant to start Laura Moriarity's The center of everything last night. Thought I would read a chapter or two, turn out the light, and get a good night's sleep. Nope. That's not what happened. Actually, I really like it when books grab hold of me and don't let go. That seems like such an infrequent occurrence anymore. Evelyn is a character to love. She's ten and lives in Kansas with her mother. This family drama follows her through to her senior year in high school. Evelyn is special in that she's intelligent and gifted in all her subjects, especially math. She and her mother live in public housing. Evelyn doesn't know her father, and her mother is estranged from her own father because of Evelyn's illegitimacy. And then her mother has another illegitimate child who is severely disabled. Even though her circumstances seem dire, eventually things work out the way they are supposed to. Moriarity (not the one who directs the American Poetry Archive at San Francisco State) got a $400,000 advance for this novel; deservedly so! The only problem I found with the book was the characterization of Evelyn's mother; it was uneven. Otherwise, one of my favorite books this year.
But, before I read Center..., I tried Garbo laughs, but it failed to engage me. I've got a review of Death's acre: Inside the legendary forensics lab The Body Farm where the dead do tell tales early next month, so I need to get cracking on reading the book.
Oh, and I got a package from Amazon yesterday, but haven't opened it yet. Who says I cannot delay my gratification?
Monday, February 23, 2004
Laudatory article about Isadora Duncan at the Guardian today. Which reminds me: Must read Isadora Duncan biography that's collecting dust on my shelf. Also at the Guardian, something about the growth of books & publishing that curses the synopsis as a wretched and overused tool of satan. And the Plain Dealer quotes Norman Mailer as he cries, "Novels are in trouble today..." Guess it's because "fiction matters most to women." So while women read most fiction, men still dominate the world therefore, male writers of literary fiction still remain firmly ensconced within the canon.
Tried to read a collection of Robert Aikman's short stories over the weekend, but his formal tone put me off, and I could not force myself to read it. Also, it was late. And I was tired. Went to the library on Saturday and picked up three books, that hopefully I'll find time to read very soon, but my obsession with knitting is really taking away from the time I spend with books. The books? They are: Center of everything, Garbo laughs, and American daughter gone to war. Interesting site, this GoogObits, though it hasn't been upadted in ages.
Though last night on the Actor's Studio, James Lipton interviewed Johnny Depp, and I had to watch. Depp referenced several books he's found useful on method and other schools of acting. And now I can't recall which one piqued my interest. I think it was How to stop acting.
Friday, February 20, 2004
I couldn't resist. The other day I bought JCO's book about writing, Faith of a writer: Life, craft, art. I read the first few pages at the store to decide whether it was palatable. And, I know this is silly, but what clinched my decision was the book cover. The outside is perfectly respectable, but the inside sports aqua and orange like the Dolphin's colors, only just a few hues to the left or right. So really, it was the bright creamy inside all along.
Bust also featured an article about librarians. It was pretty good, but I can't recall all its details this morning. It referenced a lot of librarian websites that break the stereotype like: Lipstick Librarian, BellyDancing Librarian, Jessamyn's site, and the Modified Librarian.
A few days ago, after flipping through the Dictionary of Literary Influences: The Twentieth Century, 1914-2000, and finding very few women represented as subjects, I decided to burn the book. No, too dramatic. In all likelihood, I would never do such a nasty thing. Though, no doubt, it would be pretty liberating; like biting the hand that feeds. The dictionary though, is still a fine piece of work, but I was perturbed that there were more male entries than female. Out of the women writers though, I selected a few whose work I hadn't read much of, with the intention of adding their titles & collections to the ever-growing list in my head of books to read. I used to keep a physical list, actually several, and I always for got about them and found them months later. Then I would go through and scratch off some of the books I somehow, incredibly ended up reading without reminding from the list. I still come across them, bits of paper that I've written authors and titles on, which only become lost in piles of other notes to self. I'm making a point of reading work by Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, Colette, Flannery O'Connor, and Eudora Welty.
Wharton is already a favorite. Ethan Frome was so chilling. I may have to read it again. I own a very nice edition of it. As I recall it is covered in pale green cloth. And it's how I came to love the name Ethan. Before that my exposure to the name was limited to Ethan Allen and Ethan Hawke. Sometimes those two aren't enough to make one love the name, regardless of how fine the furniture is, or the acting/directing/writing.
Thursday, February 19,
All my gay friends live in gay-friendler places that I, so my vocabulary is pitiful when it comes to cultural terms like stem, trannyboy, and boydyke. But, an article at the SFGate explains the nuances.
I can't believe that Texas has a poet laureate: romanticism & ranching.
Bill W. gets the velveteen treatment in a new biography. His identity is one of those mysteries I pondered whenever I'd go to conferences or on cruises, or anywhere that large numbers of people would convene. There'd always be a notice that the Friends of Bill W. would be meeting at 7:30 on the Lido deck, or whatnot.
And all hail the newly christened "Campaign for Reader Privacy." Wait, I thought librarians already handled that? Here we are all working at cross-purposed toward the same goal. It's no wonder that nothing gets accomplished in this country.
As far as reading goes, I'm browsing a small book called Oxford spy; Wed at pistol point, which is a brief biography of the other Lottie Moon. There's one who's fairly famous in Southern Baptist circles, she was a missionary to China, or some other third-world country. The Lottie Moon I'm reading about was a spy for the COnfederacy. But actually, the Lotties were cousins. The lesser-known Lottie and her sister Ginnie, were the only spies who were sisters, in any war, I believe. Whether you think it right or wrong, their fervor and rabidity for the Cause was remarkable. Passion and commitment like that to something larger than oneself interests me. But neither were redeemable in the end, because they clung to their white privilege and racists beliefs. While their war exploits are fascinating, I think it's funny that separately, they traveled to Hollywood because they wanted to be actresses. I'm sure there's more to the story than what's written and preserved in records. Amazing, there's a Zebra Historical Romance called Innocent deceptions inspired by Lottie Moon and other southern spies like Belle Boyd.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Last night I read You're a bad man, aren't you? It's a collection of short stories, and I mean short. Some were one page. I can't remember where I first heard of the book, or author, but I'm sure it had something to do with the memoir she's writing about her adventures in Porn Valley. Oh yes, actually, I think it was at Identity Theory. I read this. But I think I forgot about her, and her book, until I was ordering something from Amazon two weeks ago. While checking out, or at some point the process that I remember not, the page read: people who liked this book also shopped for this one. And it was Breslin's. So I ordered it. $7 is not a bad price for a paperback from a small press. And, I got at least that much enjoyment from the book. I laughed my ass off, in fact, it's visibly eight pounds trimmer this morning. As much as I enjoyed it, there were stories that were very strange.
This is not a book I'd recommend to anyone I know. I'm sure that if I shared this collection with anyone that I know, that they would probably never speak to me again, or suddenly become very concerned about my mental health. I thought my husband was as freaky as I am, but when I read parts aloud to him, he looked scared, and I'm sure is now wondering what exactly he married. There's a lot of masturbation, sex with modified mannequins, references to midgets, suitcase-pimps. The other thing, was that fifteen minutes later when I read another part aloud to Ian, he asked "Is that the same story?" I told him no, and showed him how short most of the stories were. So, I guess his comment is a good indication that Breslin's strong narrative is prevalent throughout the collection, but also that her topics are very similair. I'm not sure about one of the techniques that she used. Very few of her characters had names. It was he, or she, or the girlfriend, or the pornographer, or the midget, or the mother. So yeah, I felt very distanced from the characters, more like I was watching a grainy film than reading a short story.
There's a fascinating article on the commercialization of childhood via the Harry Potter franchise over at Jump Cut.
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
Just got my Identity Theory newsletter this morning and there's a link to something by Susannah Breslin, you know, the author of the collection of short stories I just got last week. Only she's written about something, er, gross: coprophagy. I felt nauseated before reading this, so here I am chowing down on my delish homemade chicken pot pie, and I have to read about shit eating!? It doesn't go down well at all.
I read Amy Bloom's "The Story" last night. I don't know how to describe it. Only, it was surprising. To quote someone else's review, the story's "unreliable narrator, a bookkeeper and widow in Connecticut, is learning how to write fiction."
Monday, February 16, 2004
Being a librarian has its frustrations, but since I'm not at a public library, mine are fewer. Imagine, having to pander to all the public's base reading tastes! Okay, so that was all a put on, really. I'm not one of those pompous, arrogant librarians who try to foist literary fiction on their patrons, nor do I think that it's my job to infuse the plebes with taste for the finer things; say the difference between Kid Rock and Miles Davis. The latest Public Lending Right (PLR) statistics from the UK are out. And they say that folks just like their mysteries, than you very much.
I can't say I've ever read a more dull book column than this. Oh, yeah Will Manley's column in American Libraries is crap as well. At some point, it is important to assess exactly how relevant you are nowadays. And, I fear he hasn't been relevant since I read and enjoyed his column in library school, say oh about ten years ago?
Well crap, I wouldn't read Ulysses if you paid me to. But, his descendants are sueing Dublin over a festival celebrating the work.
And the news that authors write brilliant reviews of their own work at Amazon came as no surprise to me. They were routed due to some glitch of machinery over the weekend. The article states that the "reader reviews are one of the most popular features of Amazon's sites," and that "authors applaud the democracy of allowing reader to voice their opinions." Yes, it's great, but conversely, many reviews I've read don't help me out a lot. A lot of the "democratic reviewers" have no idea what to review about a book. They just tell that they liked it, which is a lot of what I do here, but people aren't reading this site with intent to buy something here. For the most part, the fiction reviews are okay, but it's rare that I find a well-written review of a non-fiction book at amazon. Anyway, it's interesting to learn about how writers are using amazon as a marketing tool. Besides writing brilliant reviews of their own books, and having their family and friends come along on the bandwagon, they also manipulate the alternate recommendations and lists of favorite books with their own prominently placed at the top. I guess I'm naive. But then, if I had a book out, no doubt I'd be doing all the same things to make sure it got all the play it could.
And, I'm not the only one running out of shelf space. I got my Virginia Gazetteer yesterday and also a collection of short stories You're a Bad Man, Aren't You? Why a gazetteer? Because I love maps, and I've been places in Va., that I can't remember how to get back to. Hopefully my new tool will serve me well. This morning another book was on my doorstep, in a sturdy box that protected it from the snow. It was the Dictionary of Literary Influences: The Twentieth Century, 1914-2000. I quickly turned to the three entries I wrote and pointed out my name to Ian. It's still sitting in the kitchen, though I'll have to find a slot for it in my growing personal reference collection.
Thursday, February 13, 2004
The funniest thing I've seen all day are the Barbie porn photos by ICHIRO. They're over at Nerve; called Plastic Fantastic. The shots are professional, with the lighting from above; very artistic. I never realized just how orgasmic the expressions on their plastic molded faces are.
Thursday, February 12, 2004
Seems that the Nannies are in deep doo-doo. Success went to their heads. And their reported $3 mill. deal went south.
No reading, just browsing the new Interweave Knits I got in the mail yesterday. The pink sweater on the cover is super-sweet and lovely. If I was an advanced knitter, I might whip it up in another sorbet color, maybe green or blue. And I tried a recipe in the latest Real Simple; it was their crock pot version of coq a vin. I used some dry sherry that's been in the fridge for ages. Smelled delish, but haven't had a bite of it yet.
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Viola! Finished Almost French last night. Learned that you really must be rude to Parisians, otherwise they don't respect you. That Parisian women don't like each other because they consider each other rivals. That owning a dog makes you acceptable and approachable. Turnbull's witty rebuffs are usually along the lines of "You are a dickhead," only in French, and I didn't think to share the translation here. But really, it was such a lovely book. I feel like I learned so much about French social codes. And that if I were to live in Paris, or anywhere else in France for an extended period, that I'd just learn not to take things personally, accept being ignored, learn to love tension, and revel in being rude. And with officials, if you can charm them, come up with a good excuse, be inventive, you know ,then they'll let you off scot free. In one book I read about France, it said that those people are not friendly, they don't speak first because in their culture because to do so would be to admit that one is inferior; the inferior person speaks to the superior person first. I can be the Queen of Reserve. I'll practice.
Journal writing is therapeutic, so they say.
The strangest desire came upon me last night: French tip manicure. I want pretty nails since they're all the same length.
I'm always eager to read about research grants at libraries, but what on earth would I investigate at the Truman Library? The only President for whom I admit to any fondness for is Jimmy Carter, oh and I can't forget Bill Clinton, how did he slip my mind? Just something about those southern democrats; je ne sais quoi?
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
I tried to read the passion of Reverend Nash, only it didn't take. It seemed promising, but I couldn't force myself to carry on. Sigh. It's so dramatic, all this forcing oneself to read or not to read. Double sigh. What I did do, was to pick up books scattered around my home and renew my dedication to finishing them. First on that list is Almost French (LOVE the au book cover, though the us ed is not so bad), a memoir of an Australian expat living in Paris. I'm just past half-way through it, somewhere in chapter twelve. Turnbull's observations on Parisian culture are good to know. She discusses how the French believe that it is every person's responsibility to look their best at all times, both for themselves and others. The big no no, is wearing shorts in the summer. Or jogging pants.
I've got Elizabeth Moon's The speed of dark to read as well. One of the very last library books, besides the ones I've picked up on macrame. And I won't really read those at all. They're mostly for pictures. Maybe I've read her before, maybe not. I'm almost thinking that I own this one but it's on a high shelf and I haven't seen it in a while. Anyway, Moon writes science fiction and this one features a character whose pattern recognition skills are primo. This guy is Lou, and he is autistic. And this one takes place in 21st century America, so I'm sure there's nothing to spacey about it. It could be a good cross-genre book for Moon.
Others? Yes, I purposefully selected Sins of the seventh sister and placed it on my bedside table. I shall read it this week, or weekend. West Virginia, the KKK, and a matriarch called Billy-Pearl. What else can you ask for from a novel?
And, it was as if Valentine's Day came early this week, I got a bulky package from Library Journal. I thought my editor had forgotten me since it has been a month or so since receiving my last bundle of books to review. I got two to review compositely. Ceramic trees of life: Popular art from Mexico and Infinitas Gracias: Contemporary Mexican votive painting. Both are filled with glorious color photos and they both have that yummy new book smell about them as well. I could sniff and sniff all day. Oops, wouldn't want to cop to a book high.
Monday, February 9, 2004
Finished Our lady of the forest this weekend. It was good. I'm not raving about it though. Something didn't quite do it for me. It's the story of an abused girl who runs away from home and becomes a transient mushroom forager in Washington state. She see's the Virgin Mary and thousands flock to the forest for this Marian event. Guterson captures the despair within the town really well; they've a depressed economy since all the logging has dried up. Now they've got a prison where all the former loggers are employed. The ending wasn't what I was expecting, and that's always good. A+, primo ending. And the weird thing is, I was rooting for the redemption of the bad guy. Guterson makes the most monstrous person deserving of the reader's sympathy.
Also tried to read the book of salt, but I had little patience for it. It is about a Vietnamese man who cooks for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Tolkas while they live in Paris. It flips and flops back and forth in time and place and is basically the story of the cook's life. It's sad that I couldn't read it because it came highly recommended, but I felt as though I was doing a lot of wading, wading through prose, and I hadn't the energy for it.
Next I read American woman. It was fairly good. Really dense words and writing, but quite palatable. It is the early 70s and Jenny, a Japanese-American has been in hiding ever since her lover was imprisoned for blowing up federal buildings. She helped him, too. The bombs were set in protest of the Vietnam War. There's a new cadre in town, but this revolutionary group kidnapped a wealthy heiress, ala Patty Hearst. She joins them in robbing a bank. The 12 members of the cadre flee to L.A. where all but three, perish in a house fire after the police have come to raid their digs. Somehow Jenny ends up taking care of the threesome, one man, two women, one of whom is the heiress, while they are in hiding from the fuzz. It was an interesting tale, but an anticlimactic ending. Good, solid writing, though. I'd read Choi again.
I think at this point in my reading I thought I'd try Hazards of good breeding again, and I read another chapter in it, but I was so thoroughly divorced from the narrative that I could not get back into the groove.
I'm still ambivalent about the Floating world. It was very fragmented and dreamy. This one was the story of Liza, a dancer and literature student who moves to Tokyo to study dance and literature there. She's immersed in that culture and begins to lose herself. I had to encourage myself to keep reading this one, too. I thought it would be easy to sink into this world of geisha, maiko, hostessing, butoh, and sushi eaten from the body of a live, nude woman. But, it wasn't as seductive as I hoped it would be. And, the story shifts point of view several times, which isn't all that jarring, except that it's supposed to be Liza's story, not anyone else's. The writing was good though, no complaints there, and very imaginative.
And then, somehow, the best was saved for last. What I loved was so brilliant that I couldn't put it down. I was up until 2 or 3 this morning because I simply had to finish it. At first, I thought this book would be a real sleeper. It was slow to start, but it tricked me that way. By the time all the bad things started happening, I was hooked. The narrator is an art historian who also teaches at Columbia or NYU, one of those. His best friend is an artist who lives in the loft above him. They're both married, and it's basically a story of the friendships between the four. They each have a son, who are like brothers. It sounds kind of boring, and I admit that I wasn't expecting much from it. I figured I'd read the first twenty pages or so and then put the book down. But I did not. The writing was so accessible, yet complex. And, wow, it was just heartbreaking. So well done though. I don't want to write more about the plot because it might spoil it all. Oh, okay, to quote something or other ont he book jacket, it's part family novel, part psychological thriller. I'm sure that's why I loved it so much. Sometimes you have to read through a lot of books to find one shining star.
So the best thing is that now I've returned almost all of the library books that I have checked out over the past few months (the ones I just read had lengthy loan periods), and I don't feel the pressure of having to read anymore for a while. Perhaps I can turn to my own shelves and read the books I've bought that have sat and sat and sat.
Still feeling sickly today though, but Mondays are never good.
Friday, February 6, 2004
Apparently the pen is mightier than the tongue, according to Boy George's newfound foe.
I'm finally operating at almost 60% after a nasty bout with a dreadful raw throat/clicky-ear/congestive nastiness thing. While I was down, I was not out and managed to read a collection of short stories, a novella, and then early this morning I finished up a full-fledged novel by Anne Tyler. Hurrah.
Leave it to Ms. Mentor to cheer me up. Nothing about books, but everything about discretion. Her best advice, as always, is Don't do it in the road. You'll frighten the horses.
I've got to read more broadly. I didn't recognize and of the books or writers mentioned as finalists for the Great Annual Literary Awards, a Canadian event.
Pleasurable reading this week was Julia Slavin's collection of short stories, The woman who cut off her leg at the Maidstone Club and other stories. Brilliant, clever, freakish, just my taste. I can't wait to read more. They were short, really, not any of those long boring spins through doom and gloom. Her macabre sense of reality seems so normal. She has the skill of Katherine Dunn, no doubt. And, I can totally understand the role that obsession plays in short fiction. It's such a powerful theme.
Then I finished up JCO's novella I lock the door upon myself. It was the story of Edith, whose true name was Calla. She's an odd character, certainly not of her early 20th century world. A bit of a wild thing, she disappears for days and roams the woods. She marries a man she hates, has three children that she cares nothing for. And then she meets her true love, a black man. They carry on and scandal abounds. Then they hop in a rowboat and plunge over the falls. A nice happy ending, of course.
Despite loathing the ending of the last Anne Tyler book I read, Ladder of Years, I wanted to read her new book, The Amateur Marriage. And I actually liked it. Couldn't wait to get back into it. Alright, there were a few tedious moments. But all in all, it was a decent read, much better, in fact, than most of what I end up reading. She's an excellent writer, no doubt about that, but I'm not always keen on her character's sensibilities. This novel is about Pauline and what was his name? Oh, Michael. They court just after the Pearl Harbor event. Michael goes off to war, but is injured in training. They marry. Are married for thirty-five years. Constantly argue. They have three children, one who runs off to San Francisco during the Haight-Ashbury halcyon days. A few years later, they hear that their daughter, Lindy, has been institutionalized and won't they come fetch her boy, Pagan? Pauline and Michael then raise Pagan. But then they divorce. And Michael remarries. Pauline never does. She feels like she never had the great love that was meant for her, and in the end, Michael realizes what he's lost in Pauline. She really needed him, and Anna, Miz Independent, his second wife, whom he's been married to for almost twenty years now, doesn't coddle his manly purpose like Pauline did. There was sort of a happy ending. A resolution of a kind.
I have a few other library books to read. But, I've been reading chapters about the Moon Sisters out of Women Who Spied for the Blue and the Gray and Spies for the Blue and the Gray. Lottie and Ginnie Moon were spies for the Confederacy. Apparently they were engaged to at least a dozen Union boys each, and they passed information contained in their suitor's love letters on to the proper Confederate intelligence agent. They smuggled drugs as well.
Monday, February 2, 2004
My reading is falling by the wayside. Although I did purchase two knitting books at Yarn Paradise. Rowan's Next big thing, contains lovely photos and patterns. And Jo Sharp's Village (book six) is just as nice. And, YP had a copy of Unexpected Knitting, which I browsed. And still want.
In totally unrealted new CD news, I heard an interview with Mindy Smith on Morning Edition the other day. Afterwards, I noted her name and the CD title as something to look into purchasing. Went to Best Buy this weekend, just browsing around with nothing in mind. And I was in the soundtracks when I saw Mindy's CD. It was providence. So I bought it. Also bought the soundtrack for the Virgin Suicides (for Heart & Styx & Al Green, yeah!). And, saw Monster which was stunning, stark, and moved me to tears.
Oh, I did read a magazine article called “A Tight-Knit Affair” which appeared in the (March 2004 issue of Country Home, page 136. There's still lots on my list though, and an ILL to pick up from the public library after work this evening.