Foreign Correspondence

Brooks, Geraldine. Foreign Correspondence: a Pen Pal’s Journey From Down Under to All Over. Thorndike, Maine: Thorndike Press, 1998.

Reason read: International Reading Day is on September 8th.

Brooks started writing to pen pals when she was ten years old. [As an aside, I think I was around the same age when I formed my letter-writing habit.] Finding all of Brooks’s pen pal letters prompted her to wonder if she could find their authors some thirty some odd years later. Where were these forty-something year olds? Who were they now as adults and what lives were they living? Before she launches on her journey to find lost relations, Brooks spends some time remembering her own childhood and how each pen pal played a part in it. As a kid she yearned to get away from boring Australia with its lack of culture and panache. As a good girl, she recalls her fear of her father’s lack of participation in Catholic worship and how it might send him to hell and yet she herself wanted to be a rebel; “to kiss boys, take drugs, be hauled by the hair into a police van at an antiwar protest” (p 78). She remembers wanting to expand her religious horizons with the letters she would write and receive. Those pen pals would bring Brooks full circle by reminding her of her roots and just how far she has come as an adult.

Quote I liked, “We have grown older together, trapped in the aspic of our age gap” (p 59) and “It’s unfortunate to arrive at an Arab summit in Casablanca only to find that your underwear is touring sub-Saharan Africa without you” (p 142).

Author fact: According to Brooks’s memoir, she had a budding acting career early in life.

Book trivia: Brooks includes touching photographs of her family as well as the pen pals who shaped her life.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned an interview with Brooks. I had to ask the Seattle Channel if they could rerelease the video because it was over ten years old. I am happy to say they consented and even though the interview didn’t mention Foreign Correspondence I enjoyed it very much. As an aside, the interview focused on People of the Book (not on my list).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Australia, the Land of Oz” (p 26).


September Summer

It feels like it’s still summer. Never mind the nights are getting somewhat cooler. Never mind that we are back in school. Never mind there is a seasonal hurricane ripping its way up the eastern seaboard. Never mind all that. I’m still in summer mode. I started the month off by a good 3.24 run. Yes!
Here are the books planned for the month:

Fiction:

  • The Shining by Stephen King – in honor of King’s birth month.
  • In the City of Fear by Ward Just – in honor of Just’s birth month.

Nonfiction:

  • Thank You and OK!: an American Zen Failure in Japan by David Chadwick – in honor of September being Respect for the Aged month.
  • Foreign Correspondence: a Pen Pal’s Journey From Down Under to All Over by Geraldine Brooks – in honor of International Reading Day.
  • The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: the Paradox of Modern Iran by Hooman Majd – in memory of the Iran-Iraq War of 1980.

Series continuation:

  • Tripwire by Lee Child – to continue the series started in July
  • Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov – to continue finish the series started in January.

Early Review:

  • My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me and Ended Up Saving My Life by Ryan O’Callaghan. If you have been keeping score, I started this last month.

For fun:

  • The Miracle on Monhegan Island by Elizabeth Kelly – because of the title.

Tragic Honesty

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).


Foolscap, or, the Stages of Love

Malone, Michael. Foolscap, or, the Stages of Love. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1991.

Reason read: Malone celebrates his birthday in November. Read in his honor.

Meet Theo Ryan, the product of the union between a famous actor and singer. Despite his parents’s lime lights, all he wants to do is quietly teach Renaissance drama at a North Carolina university and write in his spare time. All that goes out the window when he agrees to write the authorized biography for Joshua “Ford” Rexford, an insanely popular playwright, womanizer and drunk. Nothing about Theo Ryan’s life will ever be the same after Rexford infiltrates his quiet existence. Suddenly, Theo is an actor, a singer, and he’s about to unleash his own work of art on the world, a fantastic play he’s kept private for years…
Quote I liked, “Atop the Coolidge Building Dean Buddy Tupper, Jr. stood at his post by the huge window, watching his enemies below” (p 94).

A digression: Winifred Throckmorton is a retired Oxford don. I just finished reading The Oxford Book of Oxford edited by Jan Morris. Interestingly enough, my opinion of Ms. Throckmorton was slightly tainted by this fact.
Another aside, Malone has a character who raps his overly large ring on his desk to emphasize a point. I have to wonder if the writers from “House of Cards” stole that.

Author fact: Over and over I have read that Malone writes a completely different book every time. what you loved in a previous book might not show up in the next book, but somehow you end up loving the next book just the same.

Nancy said: Nancy did not say anything specific about Foolscap in Book Lust. In More Book Lust Pearl describes the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern Fiction” (p 222). Also, from More Book Lust in the chapter “Michael Malone: Too Good To Miss” (p 160).


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.


Pep Talks for Writers

Faukner, Grant. Pep Talk for Writers: 50 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Create Mojo. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. 2017.

Reason read: an Early Review for LibraryThing.

Confessional: part of the reason why I requested this book is because of the publisher alone. I admit it, Chronicle is one of my favorites.

When one thinks of a pep talk a didactic three hour seminar or an intense workshop that goes on for days usually does not come to mind. Instead one thinks of an arm-around-the-shoulder delivery of friendly words of encouragement. Cheer leading in the form of an overly optimistic You-Can-Do-It! attitude. That is exactly what you will get with Pep Talk for Writers by Grant Faulkner. 52 pep talks with a little infomercial about the National Novel Writing Month built in for good measure (more on that later). Faulkner’s advice giving approach is friendly, unassuming, and at times even comical. All he really wants to do is unblock your creativity and get you back to writing something… anything. This is the type of book you can buzz through quickly the first time around and then return to for slower savoring when you have more time..like when you are really truly stuck. Faulkner even designs his book that way. In the back lists the problems you might be having and the pages to flip to for possible resolutions. There is no heavy scrutiny of writing technique, no prose bogged down with researched factoids. The advice is simple, bordering on common sense. Be prepared – he draws a lot from what other writers do. Name dropping is a favorite pastime of Faulkner’s.
Now, about that infomercial: Faulkner does mention the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) of which he is the Executive Director many, many, many times. So much so that I was surprised he didn’t include information inviting writers (and wannabes) to get involved with NaNoWriMo next November.

Author fact: Grant Faulkner is the executive director of National Novel Writing Month. I said that already.
As an aside, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Said that already, too.

Book trivia: 52 chapters implies 52 weeks of writing advice. If you can’t get rid of your writer’s block in a year’s time there might be something else going on with you. Just saying.


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).

December Missed

Woops! December left us without me writing about the reading. Not sure how that happened (other than to say “life”), but anyway – here’s what was accomplished for December:

  • Beth Shaw’s Yoga Fit by Beth Shaw (an Early Review book for LibraryThing)
  • Cod by Mark Kurlansky
  • Flashman and the Angel of the Lord by George MacDonald Fraser
  • How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
  • The Man Who Was Taller Than God by Harold Adams
  • Ringed Castle by Dorothy Dunnett

Here’s a belated look at January 2016 (already started, as you will see):

  1. Flashman and the Tiger by George MacDonald Fraser (the LAST book in the series on my list)
  2. Always a Body to Trade by K.C. Constantine (already read in honor of January being National Mystery month. Read this in a day)
  3. Blue Light by Walter Mosley (already read in honor of Mosley’s birth month. Another quick read)
  4. Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett (the LAST book in the Lymond Series). It bears noting I am also consulting The Prophecies by Nostradamus (translated by Richard Sieburth) while reading Checkmate.
  5. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya (an audio book in honor of New Mexico becoming a state in January)
  6. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (in honor of Nabokov’s wife, Vera. Pale Fire is dedicated to her and her birthday is in January)
  7. Up, into the Singing Mountain by Richard Llewellyn (to continue the series started last month).

I have been chosen to review a book about the photography of Dickey Chapelle but since it hasn’t arrived yet I can’t put it on the list. I was also chosen to review Liar by Rob Roberge, but I don’t expect that one until February.

On a personal note: December ended with writing to 12 complete strangers. I am really hoping one or two of them become pen pals.


In the Words of E.B. White

In the Words of E.B. White. Martha White, ed. Cornell: Cornell University Press, 2011.

It is hard to believe I started this blog/book review four years ago. This was a gift from someone in my family (mother or sister, I can’t remember) and I’ve picked it up and put it down several times. It’s not the kind of book you can read straight through, nor would you want to. It’s meant to be savored in bits and pieces.

Martha is Elwyn Brooks White’s granddaughter. She begins In the Words of E.B. White with a lovely introduction to who E.B. was to her, as a paternal member of her family. What follows are sections of E.B.’s writings on a variety of topics from aging and animals to writing and the weather and everything in between. These quotations were culled from a variety of places: essays E.B. wrote for the New Yorker, personal letters to friends, even introductions to books written by other people. Martha White left no stone unturned when looking for ways to quote her grandfather. So, pick up this book when you need E.B.’s thoughts on love or spiders or commerce, but expect to find a biography of the man hidden in humor and wit.


Drinking with Men

Schaap, Rosie. Drinking with Men: a Memoir. New York: Riverhead Books, 2013.

One of the very first things you will notice about Drinking with Men is that it is 100% unapologetic. Schaap makes some pretty decent arguments for finding a bar to call your own…even if you are a single woman (stereotypes be damned). Then all of a sudden it hits you, Schaap can really write. She is funny, sarcastic, and above all, a great storyteller. In most cases the introduction to anything is an invitation to yawn. I am not ashamed to say most of the time I skip an introduction to everything. Not this time. Schaap’s introduction is almost a warning, as if to say “Hang on because I am about to tell it like it is. I. Like. To. Drink.” and she tells it with such ease that you keep reading and keep reading. You don’t realize you have let dinner burn, the cats have moved out and your husband has ordered and finished the pepperoni pizza all on his own.

I try not to dabble with discrepancies but when reading about her friend Ed I couldn’t help but notice she intermittently called him Al. Was that something I failed to find the explanation for or what? Truth be known I didn’t go back to see what I missed. I just kept reading.

Favorite lines: I have a few but I’m not sure if they’ll remain in the finished publication so I’ll refrain from exposing them. Weak, I know.

Reason read: Early review program for LibraryThing.

I am hijacking this review for a second: Now seems like a good time to add that I have decided to change how and when I read Early Review/LibraryThing books. Because their arrival to my doorstep is extremely unpredictable I am no longer going to confine myself to reading them within the month received. It just doesn’t work. What if I get a book on December 21st? the old system would have me trying to choke it down in nine days. Because it came in December I was of the mindset it needed to be read in December. Enough of that. Despite it’s arrival date I will take as long as I need to finish it. One rule stays true though – if there is a expected publish date I have to finish at least two weeks before.


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.


Nov ’10 was…

More head in the sand, tail between my legs reading for the month. While it wasn’t an easy month I am happy to say it was better than October by a long shot!

  • The Harmless People by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas ~ in honor of November being the best time to visit Africa. This was an eye opener. I will never look at people the same way again.
  • The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Karen Elizabeth Gordon ~ in honor of Writing month. Information I will keep in mind but, because I’m a rebel, probably ignore. Case in point – this sentence!
  • Balsamroot: A Memoir by Mary Clearman Blew ~ in honor of Montana becoming a state in November. This was more about a favorite aunt’s slow decline than about Blew’s own personal life.
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac ~ in honor of November being National Travel month. This was, I think, my favorite book of the month.
  • The Healing by Gayl Jones ~ in honor of November being Jones’s birth month. This was the hardest one of the bunch to read. I’ve decided I don’t care for stream of consciousness!
  • Ruby by Ann Hood ~ in honor of November being National Adoption month. This was a psychological book that had me pondering life’s bigger questions. It took me a weekend to read.
  • Brothers and Sisters by Bebe Moore Campbell ~ in honor of November being the month of Campbell’s passing. Once I got passed the stereotypical characters this was a great book!

For LibraryThing and the Early Review program: Final Flight: The Mystery of a WWII Plane Crash and the Frozen Airmen in the High Sierra by Peter Stekel. This book had everything I could want in a nonfiction: truth and mystery embedded in a well told tale. It was great!


The New Well-Tempered Sentence

Gordon, Karen Elizabeth. The New Well-Tempered Sentence: a Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed.NewYork: Ticknor & Fields, 1993.

This is the kind of book the coolest of cool professors would use in a writing class. The language is hip and humorous, the illustrations funny and fabulous. While Gordon lays down the law about when and where to use an exclamation point, a period, a comma, or semi colon, I don’t feel obligated to follow her to the letter (or period). I read The New Well-Tempered Sentence as merely suggestion; here’s what you can do, if you so chose (and obviously I don’t). Think Edward Estlin Cummings. Gordon is careful to use witty examples and whimsical illustrations to prove her points to go along with that hip and cool vibe. This is the essential reference book you have on your shelf and because it is so funky you are not ashamed to have it in plain sight.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Words to the Wise” (p 249). For this particular inclusion the chapter would have been more appropriate if called, “Words to the Wise About Writing Words” because Gordon’s book is all about punctuation.


June ’10 is…

June is a weird month for me. I might have a Monhegan plan. I’m not sure. The one thing I know about June is that there will be music. Plenty of music and books. As two constants in my life, I doubt anyone is honestly surprised by that remark. Music and books. For music it is the lovely Rebecca Correia at the Iron Horse in Northampton. June 11, 2010 at 7pm. That same weekend it is the eternally talented Sean Rowe at the DreamAway Lodge in Beckett. June 13, 2010 at 8pm…I think. There is Phish somewhere in there as well…I know, don’t say it.

For books it is:

  • Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brien ~ in honor of National Ocean month
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen ~ in honor of Adventure fiction month
  • Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron ~ in honor of Virginia becoming a state in June
  • Happenstance by Carol Shields ~ in honor of June being the most popular month to get married in…
  • Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy and Her World by Carol Brightman ~ in honor of Mary McCarthy’s birth month.

For LibraryThing’s Early Review program:

  • The House on Oyster Creek by Heidi Jon Schmidt

For the fun of it:

  • Master of Your Metabolism by Jillian Michaels

“Forgetfulness”

Collins, Billy. “Forgetfulness.” Sailing Alone Around the Room: New & Selected Poetry. New York: Random House: 2002. 29.

You know that point in a conversation when someone says something so true and indisputable all you can do is nod in emphatic agreement? “Forgetfulness” is that point in the conversation. How many of us read something, whether it be an article, book or poem and couldn’t remember who wrote it a week later? A week after that and now we can’t remember the title of what we read. We find ourselves saying stupid things like, “I read this great book about the tenth largest island in the world by…by..oh what was his name? Anyway, it was really interesting.” I also like Billy’s imagery of a brain making room for something else to remember. When a new address or phone number is added to the brain, the author or title of a book must come out. For every new piece of information stored, something older must come out and slip away. Who knows where it goes? Billy has the answer:
“…to a little fishing village where there are no phone lines” (p 29).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Kitchen-Sink Poetry” (p 138).