The Painted Desert

“…April is over. Will you tell me how long before I can be there?”
-The Painted Desert, 10,000 Maniacs

I will have that song playing in my head from now until June. Not only am I planning to be there, the trip cannot happen soon enough. But for the purposes of this post: April is over and here are the books accomplished:

Fiction:

  • The Warden by Anthony Trollope.
  • The City and the House by Natalia Ginzburg (EB & print).
  • Summer at Fairacre by Miss Read (EB).
  • Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding.
  • All Souls by Javier Marias (EB & print).
  • All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor (AB and print).

Nonfiction:

  • Sixpence House by Paul Collins (EB & print).
  • Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs.

Series continuation:

  • Hunting Season by Nevada Barr (EB and print).
  • The Game by Laurie R. King (AB/AB/print).
  • Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith (EB & print)
  • Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov (EB)

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Red Earth: a Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness by Denise Uwimana

For fun:

  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – Yes! I finally finished it!

Partisans

Laskin, David. Partisans: Marriage, Politics, and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Reason read: January 26th is Spouse Day. Read in honor of the many different couplings in Partisans.

This is like a good gossip story. At the center are six women who ruled their lives without thought of public image or reputation. They were writers who lived before the age of feminism and railed against its confines. It was a compliment to be told “you write like a man.” They were allowed to have egos, be promiscuous, vicious, betraying…all without a second thought. If feminine wile got you somewhere, so much the better. These were the New York Intellectuals who slept with men indiscriminately, married or otherwise. At their center is the Partisan Review and everyone who was associated with the magazine. Probably the best known, Mary McCarthy sleeps with the editor of PR before marrying writer Edmund Wilson. Then there’s Jean Stafford who wrote for PR while married to Robert Lowell. When the two divorced Lowell went on to marry another PR insider, Elizabeth Hardwick. Allan Tate was married to Caroline Gordon but had an affair with Elizabeth Hardwick. Are you keeping track? Other intellectuals include Hannah Arendt and Diane Trilling. They had their own dramas as well.

Quotes to quote, “They certainly had no sense of sisterly comradeship; and yet they were keenly aware of what and how other women writers were doing and where they stood” (p 191).

Author fact: Laskin has written a bunch of other books. I am only reading Partisans for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Partisans includes a bunch of black and white photographs. Mary McCarthy dominates the selection with five photographs but Robert Lowell is a close second with four images. That would make sense with Mary McCarthy being the most successful out of the whole group.

Nancy said: Partisans “explores connections and differences among writers who were associated with Partisan Review magazine” (p 110). As an aside, I’m not sure why she mentioned Delmore Schwartz. Delmore was barely a blip in the story compared to other notables such as Elizabeth Bishop or Randall Jarrell.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Group Portraits” (p 108).


Art and Madness

Roiphe, Anne. Art and Madness: a Memoir of Lust Without Reason. New York: Doubleday, 2011.

From the start I struggled to find the purpose of this snapshot-in-time memoir. In the beginning there is a brief mention of Roiphe at age 11 but most of the book is confined to the 50s and 60s; Roiphe’s artistic coming of age. There is a parade of authors mentioned, name drops like Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Salvador Dali and on and on. Despite a yo-yo’ing time line across the decades there is a constant in Roiphe’s dedication to holding her male counterparts up for success. It was an era when use and abuse of women was the norm and Roiphe takes it all in stride. As she says, she was the muse instead of the writer. Throughout Art and Madness Roiphe illustrates a different side of motherhood as she shamelessly bares the truth about toting her daughter all over predawn New York to answer the drunken beck and call of prominent men. But, with destruction comes the need to rebuild. In the end, Roiphe finds a self-proclaimed redemption. The muse becomes a writer in her own right.

Confessional: Art and Madness was something I would pick up and read voraciously for a day or two at a time. Yet, when I put it down weeks would go by before I would pick it back up again. I read it sporadically, compulsively, and yet, not obsessively. I have no idea why because it really was fascinating.


Edith Wharton: a Biography

Lewis, R.W.B. Edith Wharton: a Biography. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.

I had always know Edith Wharton was gifted even as a child. I think I was 16 the first time someone told me she was of my age when she first published. What they failed to tell me was that her literary voice fell silent for over a decade after that. I thought she had published all along and as a result I have always been impressed by her lifelong success.

Beginning with Wharton’s genealogical background and ending with her funeral R.W.B. Lewis’s  Edith Wharton: a Biography is at once both extensive and entertaining. Wharton begins her life as Edith “Pussy” Jones, the daughter of a socially well-to-do family. Her life is surrounded by all the things the culture of 1870s cherished – multiple family estates, social gatherings with citizens of good standing and trips abroad to places like Italy and France. With access to letters, diaries and manuscripts Lewis is able to give animated details to Wharton’s upbringing and subsequent literary career. It is no wonder he won a Pulitzer for his work. It also is easy to see how Wharton was drawn to a writing career when you consider the wealth of influences in that era: Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, William Vaughn Moody, Charles Dickens, Gustave Flaubert, and George Eliot to name a few. What is amazing is her inability to stay the course of confidence. The slightest criticism could send her career out of commission for months at a time.

On a personal note – because Edith’s marriage failed and she never had kids there was on and off speculation about her sexuality. Rumors ranged from lesbian to frigid and everything in between. Edith did her best to remain privately passionate despite the talk, but I think, in the end, there was some overwhelming desire to prove something to her critics. At least, that is the explanation I am taking away with me when it comes to the incestuous, slightly pornographic appendix C.

Favorite Edith Wharton realization: During World War I, otherwise known as The Great War, Edith started up charities to help displaced refugees and war victims. Some if her tireless crusades were taken up by the Red Cross when they became too much for her.

Favorite passages: “She had learned from Bernhard Berenson…to take a professional librarian’s attitude towards her own private library, and the disposition of books..” (p 4).
“…but at this stage it was almost as important for her that the young Bar Harborites excelled at the art of flirtation” (p 39).

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter, “Literary Lives: The Americans” (p 144).