Sunday, March 11, 2018

Blob is 14

My blog, or as my mother calls it, "Blob" is 14 years old today! Loving the changing voice and the little caterpillar mustache, Blob.

As it happens, I've read 14 books this year so far:

1. Caroline: Little House, Revisited - Sarah Miller.  Fiction. This novel follows the text of Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, except it's from Ma's point-of-view. Perfectly captures the hardships, dirt and tedium of traveling in a covered wagon. While Caroline was pregnant! With Carrie! And she told Charles (Pa) she was expecting when he broached the idea of moving west, and he was still like, let's go. A must for Bonnetheads.

2. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House - Michael Wolff.  Nonfiction. Why did I read this? I felt icky and in need of a shower. I was laughing and grimacing and shaking my head sadly.

3. Rotten Ralph - Jack Gantos.  Fiction. I read this picture book last year and promptly forgot. But Ralph wouldn't let me forget. He clawed his way onto both my 2017 and 2018 lists.

4. The Great Influenza - John M. Barry. Nonfiction. A look back at the 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic. Spanish, my butt. According to Barry, the outbreak may have had its origins in Kansas. Riveting read.

5. The Cooler King: The True Story of William Ash: Spitfire Pilot, POW, and WWII's Greatest Escaper - Patrick Bishop. Nonfiction. Fans of The Great Escape will enjoy this book. Even more action, escapes, and excitement than the classic movie!

6. The Girls in the Picture - Melanie Benjamin. Historical fiction. A delicious read, set in the infant days of Hollywood.  Frances Marion and Mary Pickford join forces and make movies, while setting the boys-only club back on its heels. Great atmosphere.

7. Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge - Becky Aikman. Nonfiction. Everything from the writing of the script all the way to the sensation the movie caused. Wow, they had a hard time getting the film made. One of those passing-through-the-eye-of-a-needle things. I'm glad it got made; it's one of my favorites. I'm also glad Becky Aikman wrote this book.

8. Our Souls at Night - Kent Haruf.  Fiction. A beautiful, deceptively simple novel about two aging people, neighbors in a small town making a connection, beginning in an unexpected way.

9. Pachinko - Min Jin Lee.  Fiction. A multi-generational saga about Koreans living in Japan, and the different ways each family member deals with a country they love but doesn't love them back. It's absolutely absorbing, like a good K-Drama.

10. Swearing is Good For You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language - Emma Byrne.  Nonfiction. What the hell -- I'll be honest. Too damned little bad language and too effing much neuroscience shit. Not my favorite read of the year. There. I feel better. I typed this while wearing my pink socks with middle fingers printed all over them.

11. Ten Days in a Mad-House - Nellie Bly.  Nonfiction. Nellie Bly was a cool character. Going undercover to investigate conditions at Blackwell Island's Lunatic Asylum for Women, she practiced being "crazy" for just one night, making faces at herself in the mirror. Everyone bought it, including a judge and several doctors. This book was published in 1887, but Bly's prose seems quite fresh.

12. Helter Skelter: The True Story of The Manson Murders -  Nonfiction. Vincent Bugliosi. One of the classics of the true crime genre. An unsettling read. The crimes were horrifying and senseless, but Bugliosi keeps coming and coming, tireless in his quest to find the motive and put Manson and his family at the scenes.

13. The Six: The Lives of The Mitford Girls - Laura Thompson. Nonfiction. Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah Mitford were six sisters from the English upper class whose lives were irrevocably and sometimes catastrophically affected by politics and war. The author is a serious fangirl, and during this utterly yummy read, she made one of me, too. A tad repetitive, but not a problem because I needed that to keep straight which was the Fascist, which was the Communist and which one wrote novels, and who was the duchess? Who had a crush on Hitler? 

14.  The Warmth of Other Suns - Isabel Wilkerson.  Nonfiction. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, the white South clamped down on black people, eradicating all of their rights. This situation became increasingly untenable and downright dangerous. Black people wanted the hell out, which led to The Great Migration, from the Jim Crow South to northern cities like New York, Chicago, Detroit and many others. The Great Migration lasted from the early 1900s to the mid 1970s. Weaving a brilliant narrative from oral histories, Wilkerson follows the lives of three people: Ida, who left with her family in the 1930s, George, who fled for his life during the 1940s, and Robert, who set out to be a doctor in California in the 1950s. These stories are backed up with impeccable research. 

Saturday, January 06, 2018

All Together Now: What I Read in 2017

Here are the 61 62 (see explanation at the end of this post) books I read in 2017.

Favorites are in blue. Unfavorites are in green. Wow! books are in larger font.

Nice mix of fiction and nonfiction.

1. Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep - Michael Schulman (nonfiction)

2. $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America - Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer (nonfiction)

3. The Green Mile - Stephen King (fiction)

4. In the Great, Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown - Amy Gary (nonfiction)

5. The Art of X-Ray Reading - Roy Peter Clark (nonfiction)

6. Captains and the Kings - Taylor Caldwell (fiction)

7. Brief Histories of Everyday Objects - Andy Warner (graphic novel)

8. Parade's End - Ford Maddox Ford (fiction, audiobook)

9. The Heavenly Table - Donald Ray Pollock (fiction)

10. The Princess Diarist - Carrie Fisher (nonfiction, audiobook)

11. Van Gogh: The Life - Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (nonfiction)

12. My Name is Lucy Barton - Elizabeth Strout (fiction, audiobook)

13. Eileen - Ottessa Moshfegh (fiction)

14. The Vegetarian - Han Kang (fiction)

15. Textbook - Amy Krouse Rosenthal (nonfiction)

16. Cruel Beautiful World - Caroline Leavitt (fiction, audiobook)

17. Patricia's Secret - Ruth Daggett Leinhauser (fiction)

18. A Touch of Stardust - Kate Alcott (fiction, audiobook)

19. Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved By Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother - Kate Hennessy (nonfiction)

20. Revival - Stephen King (fiction, audiobook)

21. How I Became a North Korean - Krys Lee (fiction)

22. Unfinished Desires - Gail Godwin (fiction, audiobook)

23. Consider the Fork - Bee Wilson (nonfiction)

24. Between Them - Richard Ford (nonfiction)

25. Flora - Gail Godwin (fiction)

26. The Power of Habit - Charles Duhigg (nonfiction, audiobook)

27. Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders (fiction, audiobook)

28. My Life with Bob - Pamela Paul (nonfiction)

29. The Mandibles - Lionel Shriver (fiction, audiobook)

30. Beartown - Fredrik Backman (fiction)

31. The Couple Next Door - Shari Lapena (fiction)

32. 32 Yolks - Eric Ripert (nonfiction, audiobook)

33. Finding Fish - Antwone Quenton Fisher (nonfiction, audiobook)

34. Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 - David Sedaris (nonfiction)

35. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body - Roxane Gay (nonfiction)

36. Rules of Civility - Amor Towles (fiction, audiobook)

37. Les Miserables (manga)

38. The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton (fiction)

39. Tex - S.E. Hinton (fiction)

40. A Kiss Before Dying - Ira Levin (fiction)

41. Everybody's Fool - Richard Russo (fiction, audiobook)

42. The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well - Meik Wiking (nonfiction)

43. Talking Pictures - Ann Hornaday (nonfiction)

44. The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides (fiction, audiobook)

45. Goodbye, Things - Fumio Sasaki (nonfiction)

46. Melissa - Taylor Caldwell (fiction)

47. Who Were The Three Stooges? - Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso (nonfiction)

48. A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles (fiction)

49. See What I Have Done - Sarah Schmidt (fiction)

50. A Good Marriage - Stephen King (fiction, audiobook)

51. Harriet Tubman - Kem Knapp Sawyer (nonfiction)

52. You Don't Have to Say You Love Me - Sherman Alexie (nonfiction)

53. I'll Be Damned - Eric Braeden (nonfiction)

54. A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara (fiction, audiobook) hatelove and lovehate this novel!

55. Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis - Ed Sikov (nonfiction)

56. Annie Oakley -Chuck Wills (nonfiction)

57. Unf*ck Your Habitat - Rachel Hoffman (nonfiction)

58. Gunnar's Daughter - Sigrid Undset (fiction)

59. Grant - Ron Chernow (nonfiction)

60. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder - Caroline Fraser (nonfiction)

61. That Was Then, This is Now - S.E. Hinton (fiction)

Now on to 2018! Happy Book Year!

Edited to add: (!!!)
Oh my! I must be losing my bookworm edge. My Spawn, the most excellent bookworm (and only bookworm) I ever created, reminded me that I read Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos last summer. I forgot to write it down. Yikes. I'm torn between feeling ashamed for forgetting and feeling pumped that it's really 62 books, which ties me with my 2016 total. Guess I'll go with the latter.

Monday, January 01, 2018

My 100-Book Resolution

This year, instead of making resolutions about reading, I'm just going to build a list of 100 books I'd like to read.

At the end of the year, I'll compare this list with the list I actually read.

And laugh.

In no particular order:

1. Caroline: Little House Revisited - Sarah Miller (fiction)

2. Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (fiction)

3. Helter Skelter - Vincent Bugliosi (nonfiction)

4. Songs for the Missing - Stewart O'Nan (fiction)

5. The Cooler King - Patrick Bishop (nonfiction)

6. Ride the Pink Horse - Dorothy B. Hughes (fiction)

7. Pachinko - Min Jin Lee (fiction)

8. Our Souls at Night - Kent Haruf (fiction)

9. The Witches - Stacy Schiff (nonfiction)

10. The Great Influenza - John M. Barry (nonfiction)

11. The Nix - Nathan Hill (fiction)

12. Unfamiliar Fishes - Sarah Vowell (nonfiction)

13. Drama - John Lithgow (nonfiction)

14. I'll Be Right There - Kyung-Sook Shin (fiction)

15. The Aquariums of Pyongyang - Kang Chol-Hwan (nonfiction)

16. Testament of Youth - Vera Brittain (nonfiction)

17. Gilligan's Wake - Tom Carson (fiction)

18. Vein of Iron - Ellen Glasgow (fiction) DNF almost right out of the gate. The writing style jarred. It seemed cloying and overly dramatic.

19. None But the Lonely Heart - Richard Llewellyn (fiction)

20. Underground - Haruki Murakami (nonfiction)

21. Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink - Elvis Costello (nonfiction)

22. Upstairs Girls - Michael Rutter (nonfiction)

23. Wishful Drinking - Carrie Fisher (nonfiction)

24. The Sellout - Paul Beatty (fiction)

25. White Trash - Nancy Isenberg (nonfiction)

26. Earth - Emile Zola (fiction)

27. From Scratch: Inside the Food Network - Allen Salkin (nonfiction)

28. A Taste for War: The Culinary History of the Blue and the Gray - William C. Davis (nonfiction)

29. M Train - Patti Smith (nonfiction)

30. Clockers - Richard Price (fiction)

31. Bust Hell Wide Open: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest - Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr. (nonfiction)

32. Destiny of the Republic - Candice Millard (nonfiction)

33. The Devil All the Time - Donald Ray Pollock (fiction)

34. Saint Mazie - Jami Attenberg (fiction)

35. The Letter - Kathryn Hughes (fiction)

36. The Woman in Cabin 10 - Ruth Ware (fiction)

37. All the Missing Girls - Megan Miranda (fiction)

38. LaRose - Louise Erdrich (fiction)

39. The Dead Republic - Roddy Doyle (fiction)

40. Pox - Michael Willrich (nonfiction)

41. The Orchardist - Amanda Coplin (fiction)

42. Soaring with Vultures - Dan Kelly (fiction)

43. The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry (fiction)

44. The Living - Annie Dillard (fiction)

45. The Tree of Man - Patrick White (fiction)

46. Heads in Beds - Jacob Tomsky (nonfiction)

47. Rainbow's End - James M. Cain (fiction)

48. What Happened - Hillary Rodham Clinton (nonfiction)

49. The Hard Blue Sky - Shirley Ann Grau (fiction)

50. October, 1964 - David Halberstam (nonfiction)

51. A Mother's Reckoning - Sue Klebold (nonfiction)

52. James Baldwin: A Biography - David Leeming (nonfiction)

53. West with the Night - Beryl Markham (nonfiction)

54. The Getting of Wisdom - Henry Handel Richardson (fiction)

55. The Nutmeg Tree - Margery Sharp (fiction)

56. No Sweat - Michelle Segar (nonfiction)

57. Mary Olivier: A Life - May Sinclair (fiction)

58. All the Rage - Courtney Summers (fiction)

59. The Art of Discarding - Nagisa Tatsumi (nonfiction)

60. The Warmth of Other Suns - Isabel Wilkerson (nonfiction)

61. Traveling Sprinkler - Nicholson Baker (fiction)

62. Three Many Cooks - Pam Anderson, Maggy Keet, Sharon Damelio (nonfiction)

63. The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead (fiction)

64. The Sympathizer - Viet Thanh Nguyen (fiction)

65. All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr (fiction)

66. Martin Dressler - Stephen Millhauser (fiction)

67. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love - Oscar Hijuelos (fiction)

68. Elbow Room - James Alan McPherson (fiction)

69. The Optimist's Daughter - Eudora Welty (fiction)

70. The Confessions of Nat Turner - William Styron (fiction)

71. All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren (fiction)

72. Journey in the Dark - Martin Flavin (fiction)

73. In This Our Life - Ellen Glasgow (fiction)

74. Years of Grace - Margaret Barnes (fiction)

75. Scarlet Sister Mary - Julia Peterkin (fiction)

76. One of Ours - Willa Cather (fiction)

77. Mary Poppins - Travers (fiction)

78. 101 Dalmatians - Dodie Smith (fiction)

79. My Brilliant Career - Miles Franklin (fiction)

80. Ironweed - William Kennedy (fiction)

81. Hard Times - Studs Terkel (nonfiction)

82. The Group - Mary McCarthy (fiction)

83. Turtles All the Way Down - John Green (fiction)

84. Loving Robert Lowell - Author??? (nonfiction)

85. The Wine Lover's Daughter - Anne Fadiman (nonfiction)

86. Home - Marilynne Robinson (fiction)

87. A Storm of Swords - George R.R. Martin (fiction)

88. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo - Amy Schumer (nonfiction)

89. Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen (nonfiction)

90. The Letters of Sylvia Plath - Sylvia Plath (nonfiction)

91. The Forsyte Saga - John Galsworthy (fiction)

92. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning - Margareta Magnusson (nonfiction)

93. Coming To My Senses - Alice Waters (nonfiction)

94. Fasting and Feasting: The Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray - Adam Federman (nonfiction)

95. The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters - Laura Thompson (nonfiction)

96. Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell - David Yaffe (nonfiction) DNF. Found the book overwritten which seemed to distance the reader from the subject. I wish that JM had written her own memoir.

97. The Reporter Who Knew Too Much - Mark Shaw (nonfiction)

98. Home is Burning - Dan Marshall (nonfiction)

99. The Lost Art of Housecleaning - Jan Dougherty (nonfiction)

100. Pippi Longstocking - Astrid Lindgren (fiction)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

An Abashed Look Back at 2017 Reading Resolutions

It's so fun to look back at my 12-months-younger self with a bemused eye. Cringeworthy, but fun:

I would like to read 55 books in 2017. 
I read 61. I won't finish #62, The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry before midnight on the 31st.

I would like to finish Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow in 2017. As of today, I'm 4% in. Well, I didn't make much progress with old George, but let's talk about that other man on the money, Grant!

I would like to read 3 Pulitzer Fiction novels.
I read zero. Aught. Naught.

I would like to continually have an audiobook on the go while I'm driving around. 
I finished several audiobooks this year, so that was a good idea. Then I discovered the Broadway Channel...

(which leads to...) 

I would like to listen to/read more audiobooks this year.
17! audiobooks! Zing! Boom!

I would like to watch or listen to a bunch of musicals this year. Forget Top 40, forget country. Nothing satisfies like a musical.
I found the Broadway Channel! I just sang that to myself Ethel Merman-style.

I would like to read that new Eugene O'Neill biography. 
Didn't get around to Eugene or any other playwright.

I would like to read some Korean literature. 
How could I overlook Korean literature? NOOO! I miss my former home so much. Edited to add: I actually kept this resolution! I read The Vegetarian by Han Kang.

I would like to read The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. 
I listened to an FMF novel -- not this one -- and while it was good, it just felt like forever. I'm going to need a couple of years to recover before I set out with him again.

I would like to read Earth by Emile Zola.
I didn't get around to Zola this year. Quel dommage!

I would like to read a Stewart O'Nan novel.
I didn't read O'Nan, but I kept obsessively scanning the New Shelf at the library for a new novel by him. There's lots on his backlist that I haven't gotten to yet.

I would like the bulk of my reading to be 19th and 20th century books.
For the most part, I snuggled down with the 21st century and could not be budged. 


Well shoot. I had a feeling I wasn't done yet. Two more book wishes floated to the top today while I was walking. I've heard things like that can happen.
Float, float, float your goal/Gently down the stream...

I would like to read The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. Maybe an audiobook? 
I didn't fulfill this resolution, but still think it's a good idea.

I would like to get back to that Vincent van Gogh biography I left off reading while on the subway back in 2013 or 2014. 
I did do this! So glad I returned to this book minus my subway seat.

For my 2018 resolutions, I'm planning a big, bold move. I want to build a 100-book reading list, and let my idealistic bookworm hang out for all the world to see. Then of course I'll make fun of my starry-eyed self in the wee hours of 2019. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Gunnar's Daughter

After several weeks, Grant's hold on me slackened, and almost immediately, another book caught my eye: Gunnar's Daughter, by Sigrid Undset.  Undset is best known for her trilogy of novels about Kristin Lavransdatter, the story of a woman living in 14th century Norway. Gunnar's Daughter was written nearly 20 years earlier, in 1909, and takes place in 11th century Norway and Iceland.

What a great discovery! The title character, Vigdis Gunnarsdatter, is badass. Wrongheaded, but badass. Undset wrote a character that was far ahead of her time, but Vigdis doesn't feel like an anachronism. She is both heroic and human. Strong and wise but flawed. This novel is short, but it packs a punch. It succeeds because Undset's scholarship is strong. Her lifelong study of Norse history is evident, and she obviously worked damned hard to get the language just right. Vocabulary and syntax -- it all shows up as pitch-perfect even in an English translation. My mind boggles as how much better it must be in Norwegian.

Another reason the novel worked so well is because of Vigdis' story. She is the victim of sexual assault. Her assailant is Ljot (pronounced "Yot"), an Icelandic Viking she was strongly attracted to. Vigdis wanted to proceed with courtship carefully and intelligently, but Ljot was childish and churlish. Sadly, he too feels quite modern. After Ljot rapes Vigdis, her rage knows no bounds. Over the course of several days, I went from Gunnar's Daughter to the current headlines and back again. It all felt like one story.

Undset also expertly and subtly adds another layer of tension. The story is set in the Saga Age, where the Vikings had their own gods and beliefs, but Christianity is starting to have some influence, but has not completely taken root yet.

It's difficult to believe how this book has been overlooked and considered merely a warm-up for the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy. Gunnar's Daughter, in spite of its brevity, deserves just as much respect. It is a novel whose time has come. Highly recommended.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Meet The New Post; Same As The Old Post

All of this may sound familiar:

I'm still reading and enjoying Grant by Ron Chernow and excluding all other books from my life until I'm finished.

I'm still doing NaNoWriMo. Now the writing is starting to feel unwieldy and that scares me. Then I remember that it's OK to let it get out of hand this month. Next month I can edit.

 Mom is still in the nursing home. The doctor wants her to stay through Christmas. Maybe it will help to break this crazy cycle of home/hospital/nursing home.

But what's new?

I'm dreaming of a Bonnethead Christmas! No, not the tin cup and the penny this time. Took a run through the local bookstore today and there are so many new and delectable books, fiction and nonfiction, about Laura and her world.

There's a million things I haven't done, but getting a 2018 calendar isn't one of them. Hamilton is going to grace my wall for a second year.  As soon as I saw it, I didn't hesitate; I exhibited no restraint.

After a certain notorious monster died recently, I decided that I'm finally ready after many years to read Helter Skelter. Some other library patron had the same idea, so I'm on the waitlist.

Recently, I discovered the Broadway channel on satellite radio and I am in love. Problem: I'm listening to show tunes during my commutes to work and the nursing home and that's messing with my resolution to always keep an audiobook on the go. I don't know if I'll start another one before the end of the year but if I do, it will be The Nix by Nathan Hill.

Because I am listening to the Broadway channel so much, I am dreaming books into musicals almost every night. A Little Life. Lincoln in the Bardo. Grant. Even my own fledgling...there was a showstopper called Squawk the Squawk. That's all I can remember. Bye-bye, Tony Award!

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Words Fall In, The Words Fall Out

...but they don't play pinochle in my snout. I think. I hope. Where's a mirror? I've always been rather fond of my nostrils.

The words fall in (Part I):

I'm still reading Grant by Ron Chernow. 25% finished. I thought I might mix it up and read Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, but Grant won't let me cheat on him! I feel guilty contemplating other books. I downloaded a biography of James Baldwin that was the special of the day on Amazon, but I haven't opened it yet. Grant, why do you do this to me??? Hamilton and Washington were cool when I wandered off for a month or two or three.

The words fall in (Part II):

I'm still in the first-stage giddiness regarding my crush on The Restricted Section.  Never knew there was so much beer in the world.  Or bookstores and library sales in Springfield. I'm having a great time catching up on all of Megan and Sue's videos.

The words fall out (Part I):

With Mom back in the nursing home and my working 40-plus hours a week, I suddenly had an epiphany that absolutely nothing in my life is conducive to writing a novel. Too late now! I am having fun discovering new characters (a 100-year-old female business tycoon showed up on Wednesday. I was totally charmed) and having my friend choose her own character names. It's true that the words are falling out of me reluctantly, so on those days, I resort to elaborate outlines and Q and As about what I'm truly trying to accomplish in each section. This seems to be the way I go about novel-writing; I recognize some of the same tactics from Even if the Sky Falls Down. One of my characters is trying to take over all of Chicken Diary, so I promised her that she could have her own novel. I worried that I'd be doing both simultaneously (she's that overbearing!) but she's shut up for now.

The words fall out (Part II):

I have a couple of audiobooks I'm ready to pass on to someone else. Both are novels. The first one is The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. I shied away from it for years, then it ended up being my favorite of his novels. The other one is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, about which I have so many mixed feelings that I could be in a bartender's recipe book. If you're interested in either or both, let me know and we'll work out the details.