Last month (okay, yesterday!) I whined about how I have been feeling uninspired writing this blog. I think it’s because I haven’t really been in touch with what I’ve been reading. None of the books in July jump started my heart into beating just a little faster. “Dull torpor” as Natalie would say in the Maniacs song, Like the Weather. Maybe it comes down to wanting more oomph in my I’mNotSureWhat; meaning I don’t know if what I need or what would fire me up enough to burn down my yesterdays; at least so that they aren’t repeated tomorrow. I’m just not sure.
Hopefully, these books will do something for me:
- African Queen by Cecil Forester – in honor of the movie. Can I be honest? I’ve never seen the movie!
- Antonia Saw the Oryx First by Maria Thomas (EB/print) – in honor of August being Friendship month.
- Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object (EB/print) by Laurie Colwin – in honor of August being National Grief Month.
- Strong Motion by Jonathan Frazen (EB/print) – in honor of August being Frazen’s birth month.
- Beauty: the Retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley (EB/print) – in honor of August being Fairy Tale month.
- Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge (EB/print) – in memory of Florence Nightingale. August is her death month.
- American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood by Maria Arana (EB/print) – a memoir in honor of August being “Selfish Month.”
- If there is time: What Just Happened by James Gleick – in honor of Back to School month.
- Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov (EB/print) – the penultimate book in the Foundation series.
- Die Trying by Lee child (AB/EB/print) – the second book in the Jack Reacher series.
- Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm (started in July).
- Open Water by Mikael Sturm.
Briggs, Raymond. Ethel and Ernest: a True Story. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.
Reason read: May is Graphic Novel month. I read that somewhere.
This is Raymond Brigg’s story of his parents as a couple from the moment they met until death did them part. Simplistic in graphic novel form but powerful in message. What started off as an accidental communication for the couple kicked off a poignant romance that lasted fifty years. Brigg’s loving tribute continues through his parents’s courtship and marriage, his mom giving birth to him at 38 years old (their only child), the war and the political aftermath, the ravages of aging, and finally each of their deaths. What makes the retelling so heartwarming is Brigg’s ability to communicate parental emotion. Every fear, hope, happiness and expectation they felt towards their son was delivered and exposed in loving detail.
Author fact: Briggs was removed from his parents (evacuated during the war for safety) when he was five years old.
Book trivia: Ethel and Ernest is a graphic novel.
Nancy said: Pearl called Ethel and Ernest a “touching story” (Book Lust p 103).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Graphic Novels” (p 103). Interestingly enough, the title Ethel and Ernest and author Raymond Briggs are missing from the index.
Wheeler, Sara. Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard. New York: Random House, 2002.
Reason read: Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard was part of Robert Falcon Scott’s final trip to the Antarctic. Scott was born in March. Read in his honor.
This was the age when everyone wanted to get to a Pole. North Pole or South Pole, it didn’t matter. For Apsley Cherry-Garrard, his expedition was to the South Pole with Robert Falcon Scott (Scott’s second journey).
Antarctica fueled the competitive spirits of Robert Falcon Scott and his expedition as they constantly compared their experiences in the Antarctic to Shackleton’s and kept a close eye on reports of Amundsen’s progress a short distance away. I am not going to review the events of what happened during this particular expedition as everyone is well familiar with Scott’s demise. Let’s focus on Cherry.
After the expedition Cherry’s life was consumed by his experiences. His opinion of Scott changed several different times as the reality of what he lived through sharpened. The expedition gave him purpose in life (writing a book and lecturing about it) while haunting his sleep and stunting his ability to move on from it. He predicted that large government-funded science stations would pop up in the Antarctic. He specifically mentioned Ross Island as a location for such a station. Wheeler does a fantastic job painting a sympathetic portrait of a complicated man.
As an aside, I am trying to imagine the amount of gear one would take to the South Pole. It boggled my mind that Scott would ask Cherry to learn how to type and to bring two typewriters even though no one else knew how to use them.
As another aside, wouldn’t it be terrible to name your pony and then have to eat him later?
Quotes to quote, “If you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore” (Cherry’s own words, p 218) and “They decided to marry before gas masks were permanently strapped to their faces” (p 259).
Author fact: Wheeler is an Arctic explorer in her own right. I have of her books on my Challenge list: Evia, Terra Incognita, Too Close to the Sun, and Travels in a Thin Country.
Book trivia: Wheeler includes a modest set of photographs not only of the expedition but of Cherry’s childhood and later years. My favorite was of Cherry at one of his typewriters.
Nancy said: Pearl called Cherry a “great” biography.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “To the Ends of the Earth: North and South (Antarctica)” (p 235).
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)
We are nearly one full week into February and I have yet to report what is on the reading list. I have to admit, my other (non-book) life got in the way. I was selected for jury duty for a trial that lasted three days, a friend was admitted to the hospital with atrial fibrillation for three days, an uncle was taken off hospice, and oh yeah, I turned fifty with my family and friends in attendance. The last week of January going into the first week of February was all a bit nutty. And. And! And, I am running again. So, there’s that. But enough of that. Here are the books:
- Good Night Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning by Alice Walker (EB)- in honor of Walker’s birth month.
- Take This Man by Frederick Busch (EB & print) – in memory of Busch’s death month.
- Crossers by Philip Caputo (EB & print) – in honor of Arizona becoming a state in February.
- Alone in the Crowd by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza (EB & print) – in honor of Brazil’s festival.
- Tragic Honesty by Blake Bailey (print) in honor of Yates’s birthday.
- Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner (AB) in honor of February being Feed the Birds Month.
- A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King (EB & print) – to continue the series started in honor of January being Mystery Month.
- Caprice and Rondo by Dorothy Dunnett (print) – to continue the series started in honor of Dunnett’s birth month being in August.
- Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov (EB) – in honor of Asimov’s birth month being in January.
- A Fine and Bitter Snow by Dana Stabenow (EB & print) – to continue the series started in January in honor of Alaska becoming a state.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- How to Be a Patient by Dr. Sana Goldberg (confessional: I started this in January and haven’t finished it yet).
- Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.