Bell Jar

Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2000.

Reason read: In June there are overnight Suicide Prevention Walks around the country.

Frances McCullough’s 1996 introduction to The Bell Jar calls it a twin to Catcher in the Rye as it was published on Rye’s twentieth anniversary.

I think it is safe to say The Bell Jar is a classic. Haunting and hurtful, you have to almost flinch away from the mental illness that descends on protagonist Esther Greenwood. Every time she fixates on a way to commit suicide you wonder, does she actually go through with it this time? Does she succeed? Then when you discover The Bell Jar is autobiographical it all makes sense and you think you know the answer.


There were so many different lines I wanted to quote. Because I connected to them so deeply, here are a few of my favorites, “There is something demoralizing about watching two people get more and more crazy about each other, especially when you are the only extra person in the room” (p 29), “There is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends” (p 53), “I thought if only I had a keen, shapely bone structure to my face or could discuss politics shrewdly or was a famous writer Constantin might find me interesting enough to sleep with” (p 87) and “I tried to speak in a cool, calm way, but the zombie rose up in my throat and choked me off” (p 129).

Author fact: Plath died at the young age of 30 on February 11th, 1963. She used the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas from time to time. The Bell Jar was published under the name Lucas,

Book trivia: The Bell Jar was rejected as being too juvenile the first time it was submitted for publication.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Bell Jar “painful.” I would agree.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Girls Growing Up” (p 102).


June Not Jumping

This has become a morbid joke but I’m not going to the island so there is no chance of me jumping off anything this month. There is time for books, though. Here’s the list:

Fiction:

  • Book of Reuben by Tabitha King – in honor of June being the month when a lot of people (my sister included) like to get married.
  • Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – in honor of Suicide Prevention Day being in June in some states.
  • Sun Storm by Asa Larsson – in honor of Larsson’s birth month being in June.

Nonfiction:

  • Soldiers of God by Robert Kaplan – in honor of Kaplan’s birth month being in June.
  • From a Persian Tea House by Michael Carroll – in recognition of Khomeini’s death in the month of June.

Series continuations:

  • Because of the Cats by Nicholas Freeling – to continue the series started in May.
  • Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the never-ending series started in January.
  • Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope – to continue the series started in April.
  • Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian – to continue the series started in May.

Short stories for National Short Story Month:

  • “Shadow Show” by Clifford Simak
  • “The Answers” by Clifford Simak
  • “The Life and Times of Estelle…” by Sherman Alexie
  • “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie
  • “Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield
  • “At the Rialto” by Connie Willis

The Good Times are Killing Me

Barry, Lynda. The Good Times are Killing Me. New York: Harper Perennial, 1988.
Barry, Lynda. The Good Times Are Killing Me. Canada: Drawn & Quarterly, 2017.

Reason read: January is Barry’s birth month. Read in her honor.

This is a unique book that took me all of two days to read. When it ended so abruptly I thought there was some kind of scanning mistake (I was reading it as an ebook). I was startled. So much so that I borrowed a print version just to make sure I didn’t miss out on something. Then I read it again. And again.
Edna Arkins is a child is trying to grow up in the tumultuous 1960s. Her white neighbors are fleeing her urban Seattle neighborhood as other ethnic groups take up residence. She herself is white and doesn’t understand their prejudice. Told from the first person and using music as her Polaris, Edna struggles to work out her rapidly changing adolescence. In response to confusing and callous adult racism Edna forges a taboo relationship with a Black girl named Bonna. She thinks Bonna is beautiful. What is most captivating about Edna is her awkwardness and honesty as she navigates through changing relationships. I wanted Bonna and Edna to conquer the world together. I wanted them to break down just one barrier; to get one adult to accept and understand their friendship. My fervent hope for a happy ending made the truth that much more difficult to swallow.

Lines I liked, “I could always tell the difference between God and a streetlight” (p 11), and “Like all it was was any black girl slapping any white girl who had mouthed off to her, something that happened every single day and would just keep on happening, world without end” (p 139).

Author fact: Barry in known for her graphic novels.

Book trivia: The last section of The Good Times are Killing Me includes a thirty-four page “music notebook” full of biographies of famous and not-so famous musicians and styles of music. The illustrations are fantastic.

Nancy said: Pearl said Good Times are Killing Me touches on the themes of childhood and adolescence.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Graphic Novels” (p 103). Confessional: I deleted Good Times are Killing Me from my list because it is not a graphic novel. Pearl could have included it in the previous “Girls Growing Up” (p 101).


January Come Lately

I try not to think about white rabbits running around with time pieces muttering about being late. Whenever I do I am reminded this is being written three days behind schedule. Nevertheless, here are the books:

Fiction:

  • Foundation by Isaac Asimov – in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
  • Lamb in Love by Carrie Brown – this is a stretch…All Creatures Great and Small first aired as a television show in January and there is a creature in the title.
  • The Good Times are Killing Me by Lynda Barry – in honor of Barry’s birth month.
  • A Cold Blooded Business by Dana Stabenow – in honor of Alaska becoming a state in January.

Nonfiction:

  • Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn – in honor of Australia’s National Day on January 26th.
  • The Turk by Tom Standage in honor of Wolfgang Von Klempelen’s birth month.
  • Freedom in Meditation by Patricia Carrington – in honor of January being National Yoga month.
  • Sibley’s Guide to Bird Life and Behavior by David Allen Sibley – in honor of Adopt a Bird Month. I read that somewhere…

Series continuations:

  • To Lie with Lions by Dorothy Dunnett – to continue the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
  • Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman – to continue the series started in November in honor of National Writing Month (Fantasy).

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim – I know what you are thinking. I am neither black nor a girl. I am a middle-aged white woman who barely remembers being a girl. I requested this book because I work in an extremely diverse environment and let’s face it, I want to be known as well-read, regardless of color.

For fun:

  • Sharp by Michelle Dean – my sister gave this to me as a Christmas gift. I wonder if she is trying to tell me something.

Call It Sleep

Roth, Henry. Call It Sleep. New York: Penguin Classics, 2006.
Roth, Henry. Call It Sleep. Read by George Guidall. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 1994.

Reason read: The Yom Kippur War in October.

[For my own state of mind I really should ban reading overly sad books with traumatic endings.] Told from the perspective of six year old David Schearl, Call It Sleep relates the hardships of immigrant life in turn of the century gritty New York City. In the prologue, David and his mother arrive from Austria to join her abusive and angry husband. This is the of the few times the narrative is outside little six year old David’s head. The majority of the story is a stream of consciousness, skillfully painting a portrait of inner city life from a child’s point of view.
As an aside, in the beginning I questioned why David’s father would abhor David to the point of criminal abuse. It took awhile to figure out why.
But, back to little David. His young life is filled with fear. He is overwhelmed by language differences between Yiddish and English, overly sensitive to the actions of his peers, clings to his mother with Freudian zeal. I found him to be a really hopeless child and my heart bled for him. While most of the story is bleak, there is the tiniest ray of hope at the end. The pessimists in the crowd might have a negative explanation for what David’s father does, but I saw it as a small gesture of asking for forgiveness.
As another aside, Roth’s interpretation of the Jewish Austrian dialect was, at times, difficult to hear in my hear. Listening to George Guidall was much easier.

Quotes I liked, “Go snarl up your own wits” (p 157), “David’s toes crawled back and forth upon a small space on the sole of his shoe” (p 186), and “…clacking like nine pins before a heavy bowl of mirth they tumbled about the sidewalk” (p 292).

Author fact: Henry Roth is often confused with Philip Roth. I’m guilty of doing it a few times. The real Author Fact is that Henry Roth didn’t write another novel after Call It Sleep until he was 88 years old, sixty years after Call It Sleep was first published.

Book trivia: Call It Sleep was Henry Roth’s first novel, written when he was under thirty.

Nancy said: Nancy simply explains a little of the plot of Call It Sleep.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Jewish American Experience” (p 133).


Power of One

Courtenay, Bryce. The Power of One. New York: Ballantine Books, 1989.

Reason read: Courtenay’s birth month is in August.

Confessional One: I accidentally ordered the childrens’ book version of The Power of One. Before I realized my mistake I was already half way through it.
Confessional Two: the version for children needed to be returned before I was finished so I jumped over the the adult full length story. I’m glad I did.

Confessional Three: The Power of One started a little slow for me. Maybe because I started with a book for children? At times I thought it contained magical realism. Once the story picked up I was thoroughly engrossed.

Known only by the derogatory name of Pisskop, a child is born in South Africa and in the shadow of Hitler’s rise to cruel power. In 1939 Pisskop seems destined for demise. He was born of the wrong color, white. He spoke the wrong language, English. He was raised by a woman of the wrong color, black. His own mother all but nonexistent. Pisskop knew fear, cruelty, humiliation and abandonment all before he turned six years old. Through a series of unremarkable events Pisskop is led to the people and opportunities that would bestow courage and grit on the young boy. Harry Crown, who renames Pisskop, Peekay. Hoppie Groenewald, who offers Peekay a green sucker at their first fateful meeting (a gesture Peekay will always remember). Doc, who becomes a mentor and a father figure for Peekay. Geel Peet, who takes Peekay’s boxing skills to another level. Because of these early relationships, Peekay gains confidence and courage, vowing to overcome his color, his speech, his pitiful upbringing. In his dreams he survives to become the welterweight champion of the world.

Lines I liked: “Man brutalized thinks only of his survival” (p 215), “The indigo night was pricked with sharp cold stars” (p 257), “The photograph captured the exact moment when I understood with conviction that racism is a primary force of evil designed to destroy good men” (p 265), and one more, “You either disappear into a plebian background or move forward to where most others fear to follow” (p 472).

Author fact: Courtenay was born in South Africa.

Nancy said: nothing specific, besides plot, about Power of One.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Africa: A Reader’s Itinerary” (p 3).


September Sorrows

I don’t post a lot of personal stuff on this side of the writing. Not usually. Typically, I leave all that other blathering on JustCauseICan. I may write about the run or the island, a brief sentence here or there, but of little else…except for today. When you lose someone you adore it is hard to focus. That is precisely my problem today. I am shattered by grief and only put back together again by words. So, I must read. Here are the books planned for September. I hope they heal:

Fiction:

  • Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden – to remember Hurricane Ivan as it wreaked havoc on my 2004 September wedding.

Nonfiction:

  • The Most Offending Soul Alive: Tom Harrisson and His Remarkable Life by Judith M. Heinmann – in honor of Harrisson’s birth month being in September.
  • Life and Times of Miami Beach by Ann Armbruster – in honor of Hurricane Irma.
  • Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop: 43 Stories, Recollections, and Essays on Iowa’s Place in Twentieth Century American Literature edited by Tom Grimes – in honor of Grimes’ birth month being in September.

 

Series Continuations:

  • Fuzz by Ed McBain – to end the series started in July in memory of McBain’s passing.
  • Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall – to end the series started in August in honor of Rajiv Ratna Ganghi, India’s youngest Prime Minister’s birth month.
  • Spring of the Ram by Dorothy Dunnett – to continue the series started in honor of Dunnett’s birth month (August).
  • Holding the Dream by Nora Roberts – to continue the series started in honor of August being Dream Month.
  • Tandia by Bryce Courtenay – to end the series started in August in honor of Courtenay’s birth month.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

Confessional: I am still reading Where Eagles Dare Not Perch by Peter Bridgford.