September Sorrows

What can I say about September? It sucked. There. I did have something to say after all. It sucked because I didn’t diverge or divulge. I like epiphanies that flash like light bulbs and bring about great catapults of change. None of that happened. I barely did anything worth mentioning except a great trip to Colorado. Then Jones died. That really sucked. What else? I didn’t run at all. That also sucked. My uncle started hospice care and do I dare mention September is the anniversary month for my grandmother, father, and high school friend’s passings. An ugly and sucky month all the way around. Silver linings: my 14th wedding anniversary and two opportunities to hear Natalie Merchant sing. Then! And then there were the books. I can’t forget the books! Here they are:

Fiction:

  • Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden (EB & print)

Nonfiction:

  • Most Offending Soul Alive by Judith Heimann (EB & print)
  • Life and Times of Miami Beach by Amy Armbruster (print)
  • The Workshop: Seven Decades of ther Iowa Writers’ Workshop edited by Tom Grimes (print)

Series continuations:

  • Fuzz by Ed McBain (print and EB)
  • Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall (AB & print)
  • The Spring of the Ram by Dorothy Dunnett (print)
  • Holding the Dream by Nora Roberts (EB)
  • Tandia by Bryce Courtenay (print & EB)

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Where Eagles Dare Not Perch by Peter Bridgford (EB) – finally, finally finished it!

 


Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop

Grimes, Tom, ed. Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop: 43 Stories , Recollections, & Essays on Iowa’s Place in Twentieth-Century American Literature. New York: Hyperion, 1999.

Reason read: Grimes celebrates a birthday in September. Read in his honor.

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop became a national institution in the early 1950s, but before that, as early as the late 1890s, the Workshop was designed to teach “verse making.” The University of Iowa wanted to cultivate writers with something creative to say. They developed the first creative writing program in the country and it continues to be one of the best. Why? Obviously, it is the writers who come out of the program. Then there’s this: “Unsurprisingly, a psychological survey of the Iowa Workshop showed that 80 percent of writers in the program reported evidence of manic-depression, alcoholism, or other lovely addictions in themselves or their immediate families” (p 9).

Stories:

  • Chip off the Old Block by Wallace Stegner.
  • And In My Heart by R.V. Cassill. Best line: “As if the arrow at the heart could listen to the merely human cry that protests its flight” (p 55).
  • The Comforts of Home by Flannery O’Connor.
  • The Illegibility of This World by Richard Stern. Best line: “Fear gets so loud, I can’t sleep” (p 118).
  • The Fisherman Who Got Away by Thomas Williams.
  • Offspring of the First Generation by Bette Pesetsky.
  • The Hustler by Walter Tevis.
  • Put Yourself in My Shoes by Raymond Carver.
  • Saints by Bharati Mukherjee.
  • Dunkleblau by Clark Blais.
  • Falling in Love by Andre Dubus.
  • The Last Generation by Joy Williams.
  • A More Complete Cross-Section by John Casey.
  • A Sorrowful Woman by Gail Godwin.
  • Thirty-Four Seasons of Winter by William Kittredge.
  • Mouses by Thom Jones. “I’m embarrassed to admit that I was a little afraid to confront the consequences” (p 247).
  • A Solo Song: For Doc by James Alan McPherson.
  • Paper Latern by Stuart Dybek.
  • Work by Denis Johnson
  • His Dog by Ron Hansen
  • A Woman’s Restaurant by T. Coraghessan Boyle.
  • Aren’t You Happy For Me? by Richard Bausch.
  • Blessed Assurance: a Moral Tale by Allan Gurganus.
  • Long Distance by Jane Smiley.
  • Alma by Jayne Anne Phillips.
  • White Angel by Michael Cunningham.
  • Mundo’s Sign by Bob Shacochis.
  • The Story of My Life by Kim Edwards.
  • Birthmates by Gish Jen.
  • The Year of Getting to Know Us by Ethan Canin.
  • The Zealous Mourner by Marly Swick.
  • The Commuter by Colin Harrison.
  • Planting by Kathryn Harrison.
  • The Sutton Pie Safe by Pinckney Benedict.
  • Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry by Elizabeth McCracken.
  • Out of the Woods by Chris Offutt.
  • Open House by Charles D’Ambrosio.
  • Lilacs by Abraham Verghese.
  • A Hole in the Sheets by Susan Power.
  • Brownsville by Tom Piazza.
  • Pipa’s Story by Lan Samantha Chang.
  • Buckeye the Elder by Brady Udall.
  • Speaking in Tongues by ZZ Packer.

Other quotes I liked, “Good writers are ruthless, and willing to say anything” (p 377).

Author  Editor fact: Not surprising, Tom Grimes is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. At the time of The Workshop publication, he directed the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Southwest Texas State University.

Book trivia: There was only one story I had a problem with. Marly Swick in The Zealous Mourner has a detail about her character making a point of locking a bathroom door and yet, there is no mention of anyone UNlocking it when the husband stands in the doorway, blinking in the harsh light and announcing he has to pee.

Nancy said: Nancy suggested if you wanted to read up on more writers who spent time in Iowa to check out The Workshop.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 108).


Angry Island

Gill, A. A. The Angry Island: Hunting the English. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2005.

Reason read: Gill was born in the month of June; read in his honor.

From the very beginning you know you are going to laugh out loud at least once or twice while reading Angry Island. Right in the preface Gill starts off with, “Facts are what pedantic, dull people have instead of opinions.” Well okay! He later states “the national character of the English is anger.” At the time of this writing he was a food and travel critic so he was required to be a little…well…critical. It was expected of him. In The Angry Island his snarky essays cover all kinds of topics from language to war memorials, from sports and animals to drinking. Needless to say, he has a well-barbed opinion about everything. My big question is this, if he was born in Scotland and considers himself Scottish and hates England, why stay there? Why didn’t he move away? He has even less of an opinion about America but that (or Ireland or Australia) would have been an option for an English speaking bloke, especially one with a sharp tongue.

Other quotes I liked, “The purpose of an army must surely be to put itself out of business” (p 237),

Author fact: A.A. Gill is Anthony Andre Gill, born on June 28th. He died of cancer in 2016.

Book trivia: since Angry Island is a collection of essays I was surprised to find an index.

Nancy said: Gill’s essays are “filled with biting, sometimes snarky commentary about morals and mores of England” (Book Lust To Go p 78). I had to laugh when I read the word “snarky” because it’s a favorite of mine and it describes Gill perfectly.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Entering England” (p 76).


Practicing History

Tuchman, Barbara. Practicing History: Selected Essays. Read by Wanda McCaddon.  Ashland, OR: Blackstone Audio, 2009.

Reason read: Tuchman’s birth month is in January.

Right off the bat I have to admit some of my cds skipped while listening to the audio version of Practicing History so I missed some parts. Then, and this is even more embarrassing, I found myself tuning out from time to time. McCaddon’s voice had that Charlie Brown’s teacher effect on me.

Unlike Nero Wolfe of West Thirty Fifth Street by William Baring-Gould, which I believe should be read after completing the Rex Stout mysteries, Practicing History should be read before Tuchman’s other books. The first part of Practicing History, “The Craft,” is Tuchman’s way of explaining how she wrote her books without giving too much away. She makes it possible to look forward to reading The March of Folly and Proud Tower with anticipation.
The second part of Practicing History, called “The Yield” presents various topics from different articles she has written over the years (Japan, the Spanish Civil War, Woodrow Wilson and the Six-Day War in the middle east). The third and final part of Practicing History includes editorials on the Vietnam War, Watergate and how we can learn from history if one would only listen. We have a hard time doing that as a nation. Why start now?
Tuchman always writes with sharp wit and humor. Practicing History is no different and does not disappoint.

Favorite quote, “To a historian libraries are food, shelter, and even muse” (p 76). I like this sentence so much I thought I was going to stop there. But, then I found this one: “Women being child bearers, have a primary instinct to preserve life. Probably if we had a woman in the White House and a majority of females in Congress, we could be out of Vietnam yesterday” (p 264). Swap Vietnam for any war torn country in the middle east and that statement is true today.

Author fact: I have seven Tuchman books on my Challenge list. After finishing Practicing History I will be halfway through the list.

Book trivia: Because these are simply Tuchman’s essays there isn’t an index or bibliography to support the narrative.

Nancy said: Nancy said Tuchman explains her thoughts about her craft in Practicing History (p 225).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter, “Barbara Tuchman: Too Good To Miss” (p 224).


January’s Time

This year, more than ever, I am struck by time’s marching; the relentless footfalls of days and weeks passing by. I know that is mortality speaking, but it rings eerie in my mind nonetheless. Not helping the doom and gloom is the first book on my list, On The Beach by Nevil Shute. I wanted a different book from Shute but there isn’t a library local enough to loan it to me.

Here are the planned books for January 2018:

Fiction:

  • On The Beach (AB) by Nevil Shute (previously mentioned) – in honor of Shute’s birth month.
  • Clara Callan by Richard Wright – in honor of Sisters Week being in January.
  • Tea From an Empty Cup by Pat Cadigan – in honor of January being Science Fiction Month.

Nonfiction:

  • Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals by David Laskin – in honor of January 26th being Spouses’s Day.
  • War Child: a Child Soldier’s Story by Emmanuel Jal – in honor of the end of the Sudan civil war.
  • Travellers’ Prelude: Autobiography 1893-1927 by Freya Stark – in honor of Freya Stark’s birth month.
  • Practicing History by Barbara Tuchman (AB) – in honor of Tuchman’s birth month.

Series Continuations:

  • Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle by Dorothy Gilman – started in September in honor of Grandparents’ Day.

For the Early Review program for LibraryThing:

  • Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power by Lisa Mosconi, PhD (finishing).
  • Pep Talk for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo by Grant Faulkner (also finishing).

Gastronomical Me

Fisher, M.F.K. The Gastronomical Me. New York: North Point Press, 1989.

Reason read: November is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness month.

This is a series of essays written about Fisher’s life between 1912 and 1941. She covers a wide range of topics; from the first time food became significant to her as a teenager in boarding school to her adventures as a newly married wife living in France. When she said goodbye to her Californian-American palate and encountered French cuisine it was like having an epiphany for Fisher. Her ears (and taste buds) were open to a whole new way of experiencing food and drink. Sprinkled throughout the stories are glimpses of Fisher’s personal history. Her relationship with sister Norah and brother David, the demise of her first marriage with Al, the slow death of her second love, Chexbres, and her awakening to a different culture in Mexico. At times I found Fisher’s language to be overly dramatic. I wondered if she spoke like that in real life.

Confessional: I found Fisher to be a bit snobbish. Every time she called someone stupid or simple for whatever reason, I cringed.

Quote I cared for, “Everyone knows, from books or experience, that living out of sight of any shore does rich and powerful things to humans (p 40).

Author fact: Fisher has written over thirty books. I have already read A Considerable Town for the Challenge and have two more to go. Another more basic piece of trivia is that M.F.K. stands for Mary Frances Kennedy.

Book trivia: Gastronomical Me has been called Fisher’s most autobiographical work and has been considered her best.

Nancy said: M.F.K. Fisher “expresses her love of good food and its importance in the lives of families and communities” (p 91).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food for Thought” (p 91).


Death, Taxes, and Leaky Waders

Gierach, John. Death, Taxes, and Leaky Waders: a John Gierach Fly-fishing Treasury. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Reason read: June is Fishing Month or something like that.

You all have heard the fishing story about the one that got away. Well, Death, Taxes, and Leaky Waders could be about the one that got away but is actually moreso about the one that got caught. And the other one that got caught. And the other one. Again and again. Leaky Waders is a ‘Best Of’ compilation from several different books already published. As a side note, I found the details about the types of flies and the technique to tying them to be a bit tedious. To an avid angler this definitely wouldn’t be the case, but I was far more interested in Gierach’s fabulous friendships (especially the one with his friend A.K.) and the adventures they found themselves taking across the country in search of the perfect fishing spot. The story about sitting through a tornado was funny.

Quotes to quote, “A trip is an adventure, and on an adventure things should be allowed to happen as they will” (p 77), “Creeps and idiots cannot conceal themselves for long on a fishing trip” (p 85), and my favorite, “Fishing and running – solitary exercises that are usually practiced in groups” (p 156). So true.

As an aside, I had to smile when Gierach described going through his mantra before a trip, “rodreelvestwaderscamera” so as not to forget anything. I smiled because it is very similar to my husband’s mantra of “phonewalletkeysreadingglassessunglasses” before he leaves for work.

As another aside, I have to disagree with Gierach. Dr. Juice looks nothing like Allen Ginsberg except to say they both have beards and glasses.

Author fact: Gierach wrote a whole bunch of other books about fishing. I have a couple more on my Challenge list. From what I understand there is a bunch of overlap with Death Taxes and Leaky Waders so the others (Sex, Death & Fly-Fishing and Another Lousy Day in Paradise) be quick reads.

Book trivia: Death, Taxes, and Leaky Waders was illustrated by Glenn Wolff.

Nancy said: Death, Taxes, and Leaky Waders is the best Gierach book to start with.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Gone Fishin'” (p 100). Simple enough.