Bailey, Blake. A Tragic Honesty: the Life and Work of Richard Yates. New York: Picador, 2003.
Reason read: Yates was born in February. Read in his honor.
Does anyone remember the silent film star Louise Brooks? I didn’t know a thing about her until Natalie Merchant wrote a the biographical song, Lulu. I imagine Richard Yates’s life was viewed much the same way. A good handful of people (myself included) probably didn’t know his work until Blake Bailey wrote about his tragic life.
And what a tragedy it was. Yates was an extremely intelligent man plague with insecurities that were held at bay only by a beautiful dame or a tall drink. Sadly, Yates was addicted to both and the uncontrollable addiction to the latter drove away the even the most devoted former. Underneath it all Yates was a devoted father, a talented writer, and a lost soul. I will look forward to reading Easter Parade.
Be forewarned: there came a point in the narrative when I felt there was nothing more to Yates’s biography than loneliness, illness, loneliness, alcoholism and more loneliness. Starting around the 1970s Bailey churned out episode after drunken episode of alcoholic excess peppered with mental illness and trips to the psych ward. Truly depressing stuff…especially as Yates grew weaker and weaker and more pathetic.
I wasn’t a fan of the footnote on nearly every other page method. I realize Bailey wanted to expound on details in a more personal voice and chose to do so at the bottom of the page but to me the practice was the equivalent of someone next to you whispering commentary while you are trying to watch a movie. The quips and comments are interesting but disruptive to the main narrative.
Confessional: I think it is most difficult to read a biography when you are completely unfamiliar with the subject. I have Yates on my Challenge list (of course I do), but I haven’t read him yet. I have to admit I am worried about how much knowing Yates’s personal life will color my opinion of his craft. But, from everything I have read I needn’t worry. Yates wrote autobiographically 97% of the time.
As an in-the-weeds aside, I wonder if a college writing teacher ever accused Yates of being “slickly professional” the first time he was able to articulate close-to-the-bone “fiction.” Before you ask, yes, this happened to me when I finally steered away from pure imagination and put real-life experience on paper. I found myself marching into a professor’s office, hand clutching my Somebody in tow…
Quote to quote just for the imagery, “Sometimes the hacking and vomiting would go on for hours before his lungs were clear enough to light a cigarette and get on with his work” (p 182).
Author fact: Bailey is better known for his biographies of Cheever.
Book trivia: There is a great clump of black and white photos included in A Tragic Honesty. I especially like the picture of Yates and Martha being interviewed. There is something endearing about them together.
Nancy said: Pearl hopes A Tragic Honesty will “revive interest in Yates’s spare and crystalline prose” (More Book Lust p 145). To a point, Pearl is right. I looked forward to reading Easter Parade more so because of Bailey’s biography.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Literary Lives: the Americans (p 144).
I will make a return to racing in two weeks. My last public run was in July. I’m not ready. Simply not. March is also two Natalie Merchant concerts. A return to my favorite voice. Here are the books:
- Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais – in honor of March being a rainy month. Dumb, I know.
- Topper by Thorne Smith – in honor of Smith’s birth month being in March.
- Giant by Edna Ferber – in honor of Texas becoming a state in March.
- Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam – in honor of March being the month the U.S. finally pulled out of Vietnam.
- Cherry: a Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard by Sara Wheeler in honor of March being the month Apsley ended his depot journey.
- Gemini by Dorothy Dunnett – to finally finish the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
- Blackout by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza – to finish the series started in February in honor of the Carnival festival in Brazil.
- Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
- The Moor by Laurie R. King – to continue the series started in January in honor of Mystery Month.
- Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – still reading
- Sharp by Michelle Dean – still reading
- Calypso by David Sedaris – needed for the Portland Public Library reading challenge.
- Living with the Little Devil Man by Lina Lisetta – written by a faculty member.
- Hidden Southwest edited by Ray Riegert – for my May trip.
- 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz – for my May trip…and the 2020 Italy trip.
What to say about this month? It was epic in a myriad of ways. First and foremost, I turned half a century old. I don’t mind the number; I am not bothered by the age. Never the less, friends and family gathered for a party to remember. And. And! And, I re-upped my commitment to running. It’s been slow but I have to admit something here – my breathing has been effed up. I have a scheduled appointment for early March so…I continue to read.
Here are the books:
- Take This Man by Frederick Busch. (EB & print)
- Good Night Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning by Alice Walker. (EB)
- Crossers by Philip Caputo. (EB and print)
- Alone in the Crowd by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. (EB and print)
- Tragic Honesty by Blake Bailey. (print only)
- Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. (AB, EB and print)
- A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King. (EB and print)
- Caprice and Rondo by Dorothy Dunnett. (print)
- Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov. (EB)
- A Fine and Bitter Snow by Dana Stabenow. (EB and print)
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- How to be a Patient by Sana Goldberg.
- Corregidora by Gayl Jones (reread).
- Exploring the Southwest by Tammy Gagne.
- Calypso by David Sedaris (started).
- Sharp by Michelle Dean (continuing)
- Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (continuing)
Dunnett, Dorothy. Caprice and Rondo. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.
Reason read: to continue the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
It is now the winter of 1474 and Nicholas de Fluery is still married to Gelis. While they are still somewhat estranged they still partner to raise their son, Jordan. Their biggest problem is Nicholas keeps wracking up the enemies, making it difficult to protect his wife and son. He’s off in Poland questioning his next moves while Gelis is digging up the dirt on Nicholas’s past. Does this new information hurt or help her marriage?
In this particular installment of the House of Nicollo series, puzzles are the underlying theme.
I have to admit, I am getting a little sick of Nicholas. He has switched allegiances so many times even his friends do not trust him. His relationship with women is getting tiresome as well. The good news is that someone within his circle betrays him badly enough that it leads to the reconciliation with Gelis. By the end of Caprice and Rondo they have joined forces to support one another.
Author fact: Dunnett was also a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Library of Scotland.
Book trivia: this is the penultimate book in the series and sets up the final act of identity for Nicholas as he believes he is a surviving twin.
Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Caprice and Rondo.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Though Fiction” (p 79).
Weiner, Jonathan. The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. Read by John McDonough. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2017.
Weiner, Jonathan. The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.
Reason read: February is Feed the Birds Month.
Islands are the perfect laboratory for studying a species. In the case of the Galapagos archipelago, the islands are isolated like a fortress; no one can easily arrive or depart. Princeton University biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant, along with their daughters, take a small group of scientists to help them investigate Darwin’s finches. By the beak of the finch they are able to track an evolutionary journey through time. Beak of the Finch is an extraordinary account of survival of the fittest as it happened then; as it is happening right now. Our world is constantly evolving and adapting and we aren’t done yet.
Word to the wise – listen to this on audio. John McDonough does a fantastic job. Weiner’s writing may be approachable science, but McDonough’s reading makes it all the more enjoyable.
As an aside, I love books I like to describe as “rabbit holes.” They take me to knowledge I never would have learned otherwise. I think people describe the internet that way sometimes. In this case, I learned that when a finch is ready to mate its beak turns black. Who knew? Also, at one point Weiner was describing the weather and mentioned El Nino which in turn made me wonder about the name El Nino. I had never really thought about its origin before. Turns out, El Nino means “the child” in Spanish and the storms are named as such because they tended to arrive around Christmastime.
Author fact: Weiner also wrote Time, Love, Memory: a Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origin of Behavior (which I have already read) and His Brother’s Keeper: a Story from the Edge of Medicine, also on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: Beak of the Finch won a Pulitzer. Another piece of trivia is that Beak of the Finch is full of great illustrations like the one of the iguana on page 104.
Nancy said: In Book Lust Pearl describes the plot to Beak of the Finch. In More Book Lust she has a whole chapter (of only three books) dedicated to Weiner and says specifically of Beak of the Finch, “about evolutionary biology as played out on an island in the Galapagos” (More Book Lust p 233). Finally, in Book Lust To Go Pearl says Beak of the Finch is “wonderfully written, extremely readable, and a superb example of the best kind of popular science writing” (Book Lust To Go p 88).
BookLust Twist: Nancy loves this book. It is indexed in all three Lust books: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Bird Brains” (p 39), in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Jonathan Weiner: Too Good to Miss” (p 233) and again in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Galloping Through the Galapagos” (p 88).
Caputo, Philip. Crossers. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.
Reason read: Arizona became a state in February.
Be prepared to go on an epic journey crisscrossing time when you read Crossers. Caputo will seize you by the scruff of your psyche to take you back and forth from the New York of September 11th, 2001 to the wild west of the early 1900s. You will bounce from the dirty roads of rural Mexico to the tranquil streets of Connecticut. Characters from all walks of life will march across the page: ruthless drug lords and crusty wild west outlaws; graceful artists and desperate illegal aliens. At the center of the story is one man, Gil Castle. Consumed by grief after losing his wife in the 9/11 attacks, Gil retreats to his generations old family’s ranch in a remote corner of southwest Arizona. There he joins his uncle and cousin and tries to rebuild his heart while mending fences, tending cattle, and fighting off mules and murderers. In this respite he thought he could escaped the senseless violence of the terror attacks, but when the present day ancestors of ancient ghosts come seeking revenge for something his grandfather had done, Gil realizes his own family’s past has a dark and dangerous story to tell and he will pay the price.
The line that gripped me, “The interregnum of fear that had gripped him on the train had passed; as grief, the true monarch of his heart, resumed its oppression” (p 32).
Author fact: Caputo also wrote Horn of Africa, which is also on my list.
Book trivia: This could have been a movie.
Nancy said: Pearl said “There are many good reads, both fiction and nonfiction, about an important but bleak subject: the hazards of illegally crossing the Arizona-Mexico border. Two of the best novels I’ve discovered are Philip Caputo’s Crossers and…” (Book Lust To Go p 31).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “AZ You Like It” (p 30).
King, Laurie R. A Monstrous Regiment of Women. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.
Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Mystery month.
When we last left Mary Russell, she was a young woman on the verge of partnering with the incomparable Sherlock Holmes. She had a razor sharp wit, blistering fast powers of observation and deduction which rivaled those of Holmes.
Now in A Monstrous Regiment of Women Mary’s adventures as Holmes’s sidekick continue. She progressively hones her skills as a super sleuth while advancing her academic studies in Oxford. A chance encounter with an old friend leads Mary to Margery Childe, a enthusiastic leader of an organization called the New Temple of God, a bizarre combination of post World War I suffrage activities and feminist Christianity. Childe’s approach to feminism and religion draws Mary into the membership but when a series of murders claim the lives of wealthy female volunteers, Mary cannot help but wonder if she has stepped into a trap. She more than fits the profile of the previous victims: wealthy young woman dedicated with their minds, hearts and purses to the cause.
Best line to quotes, “I knew every movement and gesture of the man, the lines and muscles of his face that were more familiar than my own, the mind that had moulded mine, and I knew that when his thoughts returned from the contemplation of that particular gaze and with a few deft words unearth the topic I’d been trying so desperately to divert him from” (p 71), and “It is very difficult to think with the end of a revolver in one’s face” (p 243).
Author fact: King is still writing about Mary and Sherlock. You can check out her page here.
Book trivia: A Monstrous Regiment of Women covers a little over one month of Mary’s life with Sherlock.
Nancy said: Pearl lets readers know Mary Russell becomes Holmes’s partner in A Monstrous Regiment of Women.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms Mystery” (p 169).