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archives: 2006: jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec 2005: jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec : 2004: jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec : 2003: jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec : 2002: jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec : 2001: may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec

book sections @ papers: Atlanta Journal-Const. : Austin Chronicle : Boston Globe : Charlotte Observer : Chicago Sun-Times : Miami Herald : NYTimes : Philly Daily News : SacBee : Seattle Times : SF Gate : Guardian : Independent : The Age : NZ Herald :

misc. reading: : The Book Standard : Conversational Reading : Elegant Variation : reviews of books : Welcome to the hinterlands : Typeface : Reading matters : KY not just for lube anymore

12.30 Rudyard Kipling & Paul Bowles

12.29 Elsa Gidlow

12.23 Donna Tartt & Norman Maclean

12.20 Elsie de Wolfe , Elizabeth Benedict, & Hortense Calisher

12.19 Jean Genet, Constance Garnett, & Eleanor Hodgman Porter

12.17 John Kennedy Toole, Bertha Harris

12.16 Margaret Mead, Noel Coward, & Jane Austen

12.15 Edna O'Brien & Muriel Rukeyser

12.14 Ruth Margarete Roellig, Shirley Jackson & Amy Hempel

12.13 James Wright

12.12 Anna Seward

12.11 Grace Paley & Jim Harrison

12.10 Emily Dickinson

12.9 John Milton

12.8 James Thurber & Mary Gordon

12.7 Tom Waits & Willa Cather

12.6 Sylvia Townsend Warner

12.5 Christina Rossetti, Calvin Trillin, Joan Didion, Margaret Cho, and James Lee Burke

12.3 Anna Freud, Robert Louis Stevenson, Kate O'Brien, and Joseph Conrad

12.2 T. Coraghessan Boyle, Maria Callas, & Ruth Draper


Thursday, December 22, 2005
last minute book buying, etc.

Making time for reading wasn't as impossible as I thought. I banished thoughts of cleaning and de-cluttering my home and knitting presents, but instead, sat and read most of last night. I was deep into The Untelling and wanted to finish. It was good, of course. I liked Jones's subtleties and how she illustrated class differences between Aria and her roommate. Otherwise, the story is about the complex relationships between mother-daughter, sister-sister, and man-woman.

After reading the Washington Post story about Yiyun Li I requested her collection of short stories from the public library. It should fall into my greedy hands within a day or so. The post-christmas week is a time I look forward to because knocking out 5-8 books during the downtime is usually a cinch. I don't know that I'll do it this year, as I'll be in Atlanta toward the end of next week and must devote my time to humans and not books.

Rather than sugarplums dancing in my head, I have book titles nudging my noggin. Earlier this month it was intimated I might get a substantial gift card to B&N. And so the list of CDs and books grows. While shopping for something for my sister I found A writer's Paris which I coveted, but did not buy for myself. Then too, I wanted to keep the Elements of style illustrated for myself instead of giving it to Jessica. Then yesterday at the university bookstore I happened upon a twenty-five percent off table of books. There I bought three books; two I'll give to Jessica. I don't think she'll like Little friend, which I checked out but never actually read oh so long ago .Wonder when you'll miss me might appeal to her, but I haven't read it so I can't say. But, the Story of Lucy Gault should thrill her since she's deep into this Irish roots thing.

My new favorite word is vicar. Having the occasion to say it aloud is rare. But, it popped up in a memoir I began last night: Annabel: An unconventional life. There was a connection of sorts that slipped my mind, but now I remember. Nico Londonderry is her sister-in-law. A few days or weeks ago Fresh Air did a spot on Nico. Annabel writes about her life of privilege as Lady Annabel and childhood spent at a variety of estates owned by her family. She attended a boarding school and wrote about how dismal the experience was. It was always cold and the food was poor. Her sister Jane was one of Queen Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting at her 1953 coronation and her grandmother wrote a lovely children's book called The Magic Inkspot (1928) that I find no evidence of whatsoever.

Conversation with my erudite colleagues taught me a new word today: pulchritude. It was used to describe the loveliness of young men, but means comely or pleasing to the eye.

Friday, December 16, 2005
sis declares a major

Reading? What's that? No time for reading at this point in the month. There's too much knitting to be done. And cleaning, and cooking, and wrapping of presents. In fact, there's a NYTimes article about giving books as gifts. Other than that the only news having much of anything to do with reading is that my 19 year old sister declared a major after finishing her first college semester as an undeclared/undecided student. It's English. She said she might as well do something she's good at and likes. Then she commented that she might end up a librarian like her big sis. She can expect an abundance of reading and writing in her English coursework.

Oh, now I read a bit at work yesterday. I'm in the research stage for an entry I'm writing for an encyclopedia. I'm madly taking notes from Virginia C. Fowler's book about Nikki GIovanni.

Thursday, December 15, 2005
writer's library comes home

Edith Wharton's 2,600 volume library was sold to the Mount, Wharton's estate in Mass. for $2.6 million. It's a perfect boon for Wharton scholars all whom eagerly await their chance to rifle thorough the collection. And, a new Wharton biography is in the works as well:

Hermione Lee, a prominent scholar at Oxford University, who is preparing a new Wharton biography, called the library "a form of writer's autobiography" in the 1998 foreword of a catalog of the collection prepared by Mr. Ramsden.

The Mount plans to make back the $2.6 million loaned them from an anonymous businessman by allowing plain folks to adopt a book. While the adoption fee for Wharton's copy of The Decoration of Houses is $1 million, other volumes can "adopted" for a mere $1,000.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005
year of magical thinking

Plowed through Year of magical thinking last night. Didion's writing is enjoyable. I like her style. The subject of the book, death, grief, and mourning, was a real downer. Then there was a lot of medical terminology, too. The book chronicles the death of her husband and the hospitalization of their daughter Quintana. One of the bits that I connected with, that I can't quote exactly since I don't have the book in my possession anymore, was something about how books and information succored her when she was in a state.

Now I'm seventy pages into The Untelling by Tayari Jones. Set in Atlanta, Aria teaches teenaged girls to read. She rents a house with her best friend and has a nice boyfriend, a locksmith.Then, she gets pregnant. That's where I am now. She's figuring out the right words and moment to tell Dwayne.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005
library thing & then some

Sometime ago I crossed paths with Library Thing but didn't think much of it. Since then I determined that having a catalog of my personal library would be so helpful. I won't buy duplicate copies of books I already own; I can keep track of which books I've loaned; which books I've borrowed. Last night I got a small bit of reading done, but only in the wee hours of the morning after spending the greater part of the night entering ISBNs into Library Thing via my tablet. That wasn't quick. Thus far my library catalog includes 274 titles. Those were just the books in the floor that I can't squeeze onto the shelves. This is my ongoing project that may not be completed for months. I hope I'll be charged with fervor and rid myself of the un useful ones.

Over the weekend I inhaled True pleasures: A memoir of women in Paris. The author is Australian and she strolled Paris for all it's markers; the ones that say Colette lived here, here's Edith Wharton's home, etc. I never determined how long she stayed; a month, a few weeks? Certainly it's part memoir as she interjects her reasons for visiting Paris and how it made her feel. She talked about changing jobs and trying to find a new direction and about bad relationships. But most of the book is about the other women of Paris: Coco Chanel, Marie Antoinette, Edith Wharton, Gertrude Stein, etc. She spent more time investigating and writing about women of old times and not so much modern women. Come to think of it, perhaps it was evenly balanced. She details their lives and finds succor in their choices.

Ideas of heaven: A ring of stories was a finalist for the National Book Award. They were unlike most stories I normally read. First, they seemed longer, but maybe it's because each story followed the character's whole life. They seemed more like biographical sketches, really. Silber's themes include religion/spirituality, father son relationships, and what else? Ashes. Ashes appeared several times. The first was about a woman who wanted to be a dancer but then failed. She married a Frenchman, then they were estranged and she returned to him. Then she went to Paris and took yoga and then taught it. This lead to her immersion in Tibetan meditation and she directed her anger at her former dancer teacher. "The High Road" was familiar. I read it either in Ploughshares or O. Henry Prize Stories 2003. It is about a dancer who played small parts on stage but never attained the level of success he dreamed of. He falls for a tenor who sings the songs written by his lover who died from AIDS. He stalks him a bit and then gets angry when his attentions are rebuffed. Third story is set in sixteenth century Venice and is about a woman who defies tradition. She doesn't marry. She takes lovers. She writes poetry. Then she dies. The next story is about a couple who meet, fall in love, have a child, and then she leaves him. Eventually she takes the child to live in London and the father leads a lonely existence and gets into meditation and buddhism. Then the boy returns to live with him in California for a while. "Ideas of Heaven" was my favorite of the stories. It's about a woman missionary in China at the end of the nineteenth century. She and her family experience the Boxer Rebellion/Uprising. The last story is set in Paris. The narrator lives, marries, has a child, and then learns to deal with grief. The stories are linked. Alice from the first story ends up with the narrator of the last story and he had a fling with Peggy, the mother who leaves her partner and takes her child to London.

Thursday, December 8, 2005
tragedy in memoir

Once in a house on fire was a good memoir. Ashworth's writing was right on. Her descriptions were powerful. Her characterizations were apt. But how would I know about that? She grew up in Manchester, England. After her father drowned in a puddle she and her sisters lives changed. Her mother worked as a nursing aid in an old folks home. There was little money. She didn't eat in a restaurant until she was fifteen or sixteen and it was around that time that she went to the cinema for the first time. She was born in 1969, so it's not a problem of historic era but of deprivation. Her first step-father beat her mother. They moved to Vancouver for a spell, then returned to Manchester. Ashworth's friends at the comprehensive school she attended weren't allowed to visit in her neighborhood; it was so poor, so scary. Her biological father was half Italian and half Maltese, so she and her younger sister were olive-skinned with dark hair. All the kids called them Pakis. Then there's the second step-father. He wasn't too bad until after he returned from prison and couldn't get work.

A few pages into it I wondered why I read these kinds of memoirs. She was abused by her two step-fathers. She and her sisters were practically malnourished. It was a hard childhood; not much of a childhood. Although a perfect childhood is rare, it seems that today's memoirs are so sensational... that's not the Ashworth's approach; she's matter-of-fact. But unless one was starved, beaten, molested... what else? Unless you survived wretched circumstances to make something of yourself... That's the American Dream, the American story, but Ashworth grew up in Britain. She went to Oxford and Yale. Ultimately these memoirs attest to strength of character and will. I'm not sure that luck plays any part in this. And children are so resilient. They put up with so much and still thrive.

The Edna St. Vincent Millay biography was wonderful. I read on it several evenings and over the weekend as well before finishing 'cause it was a thick one. I bought a Mary McCarthy book, the one she wrote on Florence, a week or so ago. I've read the first chapter, maybe. But I'm not enjoying it. It put me in mind of another book I picked up a year or so ago, Our hearts were young and gay. I read it instead. It's a travel memoir written in 1954 of two girls' experiences traveling to England and through France in the 1920s. First of all, it was amazing that their parents let them venture out alone. The writing was witty. The girls' adventures were somewhat tame, but great fun; reminiscent of a more naive time. Both girls wore their passports and money in a sporran-like bag under their clothes. Their dancing partners were frightened or confused when the boys felt the object flapping against their legs. Then there's the time in a small French town that the girls spend the night at a brothel. One of their mothers gave them the name and address; she got it from some travel society that keeps their finds a secret so that only the "right" people benefit from that information. Oh, and the pension they lodged at in Paris had bedbugs. There were a great number of misunderstandings which lent their adventures a zany aspect. However, it was entertaining and also valuable for its historical perspective. How often do folks travel by train anymore?

Them: A Memoir of Parents is filled with photos, and that's a plus. I can't recall how little I read of it last night before sleep claimed me. I know nothing about the book's subjects. I got it because it's new and my public library had a copy and I've seen advertisements for it here and there. Obviously, it's the story of a person's parents. Only these parents were movers and shakers. The mother was Tatiana du Plessix Liberman a famous milliner. That's an exciting plus, given my love of hats and yearning to learn the millinery arts. Here's a bit about her from the opening pages:

Beyond being a renowned milliner, Tatiana was also one of a small handful of professional women who were looked on as New York City’s most commanding fashion presences—others were editor Diana Vreeland, designer Valentina, and Hattie Carnegie’s chief stylist, Pauline Potter, later Pauline de Rothschild. Yet Tatiana was by far the least orthodox trendsetter of those three, and no canon of fashion did she transgress more violently than Diana Vreeland’s decree "Elegance is Refusal." One might say that Tatiana perfected the art of too-muchness: the great hunks of fake jewelry she flung on herself included eight-inch-wide imitations of pre-Columbian breastplates, four-inch stretches of rhinestone bracelets, candelabras of paste earrings, and—her most famous logo—a massive dome ring of quasi-rubies resembling the top of a bishop’s crozier.

And then the step-father was Alexander Liberman, a fashion journalist and magazine editor at Condé Nast. He was an artist or photographer, too?

Wednesday, December 7, 2005
is anything necessary?

Funny to hear Maureen Dowd referred to as a cross between Lauren Bacall and Dorothy Parker. For some reason I bought her book. It was a spontaneous purchase and I thought to give it as a gift to someone. But now I wonder that she'd like it.

Thursday, December 1, 2005
reader, I ruined it & more about Mina

Earlier this week I was unable to write about what I was reading because I had a bit of a minor accident. It involved a water bottle that had the gumption to open it's nozzle and drip its contents (water, thankfully) steadily into the bottom of my regular tote bag. Lots of things got wet and several items are probably ruined. But, I'm sticking with them anyway in hopes that they will recover. This book though... I have my doubts about it. It's actually still a bit damp. I ought to do something to it before the rot sets in. This has got to be one of the only books I've been so careless with. The Djuna Barnes biography got slightly damp as well, and some of its pages are wimpled or wavy, but the book survives and is not as bad as some returned to the public library; there's still lots of loaning left in its life.

Is there anything else?

Only that once I have a notion, or book or person, in my head, letting that slip by the wayside is difficult. In an effort to follow up on Mina Loy, I borrowed a book from another library called Mina Loy: Woman and poet. Trouble is, it's a collection of essays presented by the National Poetry Foundation. So mostly it's criticism and analysis, not a fine biographical sort of thing. I shall have to return to the dread "breakthrough biography of Loy" Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy. Damn those metaphysics. I hate struggling through books.

Now desiring this book: Elizabeth Peyton. She's a painter of portraits.

It's time for the Bad Sex Award. The competition was stiff, or so they say.

Now in its 13th year, the prize, which only targets literary fiction, aims "to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it." The winner, who will be announced on December 1 at the In & Out Club in London, is awarded a semi-abstract statue representing sex in the 1950s and a bottle of champagne, if he or she turns up.

Tom Wolfe won last year. What say it's another man who wins this year? Perhaps it's just that men cannot write sex, or they go against their better judgment and decide to put it out there, for all to see. And this is a subversive way of pointing this out and singling out the offenders for ridicule.

Ta dah! Seattle is the nation's most literate city. But it's not because they read. What is literacy then? Nobody cares anymore, that's what. Seattle got the award because its residents have access to and use Internet resources. There's more: Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and San Francisco round out the top five. The study aims to rate cities not on whether their citizens can read, but whether they do. But then how is that measured when they're only looking at Internet use? Sounds fishy to me.

Somewhere recently I came across this Frost poem, but it was not a book of poetry. And, I liked it.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice

Then, too, Jerry does his part to enamour me to poets like Gary Snyder and William Carlos Williams.