Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On Fire

I am not on fire. But these poems I read side by side have little flames in them: take a look here, in a brief compare/contrast piece at Escape Into Life, where I continue to read and review and select poetry, even as the world goes up in flames around me. In some places, that's true, alas, and in the current political climate in the the USA, that's figurative. Sigh.... The poems, provided (with the poets' permission), are by Donna Vorreyer and Jeannine Hall Gailey, both, by now, returned to my stolen/absent/disappearing/reappearing blogroll. (Did it go up in [Russian] flames?)* And whose books I read and reviewed at EIL, as well. Here and here.

I hope you got to see that gorgeous big yellow harvest moon. The harvest is going on around here, corn and beans, with some good weather for it, and for the grasshoppers. I have spent time outside, reading, of course, and also gazing at a praying mantis who lives in the back yard. And, at night, gazing up at that moon.

Tonight I believe there is a Cubs game and a debate. I'm debating what to do...

*See Cranky Doodle Day blog explanation here.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Textbook Amy

Three things: 1) I am cranky 2) I lost my blogroll 3) I love this book that is not exactly a memoir, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and I need to return it to the library. That is not why I am cranky! I am a little bit cranky because I lost my blogroll here at blogger (Did the Russians steal it when they hacked America?!) and will be gradually reconstructing it... Sigh...

But I am mostly cranky because of the news I wake up to every morning and hear all around me, and all the political crap & comments going on. I may vote early just to help shut it out, but I do love voting on election day, which is November 8!!

But this book certainly cheers me up and gives me great faith and joy in the human race. Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal is an interactive book, and you can text her--words and photos--by doing what she says while reading the book, or later, and you can see what people have contributed at her official website for such things, here!* Have fun.

*It is a busy, ever-changing-because-interactive website, so it loads slowly. Be patient, not cranky!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Angels and Florists

Dear hearts, I've been busy, performing in the annual cemetery walk as Jennie Thompson, a social worker, dubbed locally as the Angel of the West Side, who died in 1924. The other day, during a performance, I caught a fainting student, so maybe I have earned the nickname! I get to wear a silvery gray 1920s-style dress as well as low heels while performing 12 to 15 times a day, so that might earn me a halo, too. But when I come home to rest and recover, I am still reading! And still reading memoirs.

I am in love with Patricia Hampl and must now seek out her poetry, after reading The Florist's Daughter. Her dad was a florist in St. Paul, Minnesota. Here is a random coincidence. Jennie Thompson had a kind of "flower ministry," using a particular extra donation to her charitable organization (a day nursery and settlement house) to take flowers to mothers whose children had died.

I found an excerpt from another of Hampl's memoirs in Writing Women's Lives, edited by Susan Cahill, a book I'd heard about for years but finally got hold of at the library! That is truly wonderful. And I read Graham Greene's memoir, A Sort of Life. We discussed Sunny's Nights, by Tim Sultan, this summer at my book group, sort of a memoir of a bar, like The Tender Bar, by J.R. Moehringer, which we'd enjoyed in a previous year. Very soon I'll get back to novels, starting with Kent Haruf's Our Souls at Night.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Making Toast

I’m on a memoir kick. I read The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr, because I had read & enjoyed two of her bestselling memoirs, Lit and The Liars’ Club, and it was new at the library, but I got my own copy so 1) I wouldn’t deprive patrons of their chance to check it out and 2) I could write in it. So far, what I am writing in it is little checkmarks beside the memoirs I have already read in her lovely list at the back. Here is my already-read list, checked off Karr's list:

Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Cheever, Susan. Home Before Dark.
Crick, Francis and James Watson. The Double Helix.
Dinesen, Isak. Out of Africa.
Didion, Joan. The Year of Magical Thinking.
Fey, Tina. Bossypants.
Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat, Pray, Love.
Harrison, Kathryn. The Kiss.
Hemingay, Ernest. A Moveable Feast.*
Keller, Helen. The Story of My Life.
King, Stephen. On Writing.
Lopate, Philip. Against Joie de Vivre.*
Macdonald, Helen. H is for Hawk.
Martin, Steve. Born Standing Up.**
McCourt, Frank. Angela’s Ashes.
Pirsig, Robert. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Smith, Patti. Just Kids.
Welty, Eudora. One Writer’s Beginnings.
Wiesel, Elie. Night.
Wolff, Tobias. This Boy’s Life.

*recently re-read, as well
** from the Ongoing Library Book Sale (pity/envy me, as I am daily exposed to this…!)

Currently reading, simultaneously, two more from Karr’s list:

Merton, Thomas. The Seven Storey Mountain. (already in my house)
Chast, Roz. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (borrowed from the library today!)

They balance each other nicely, one being by a Trappist monk and the other by a Jewish cartoonist. One is making me laugh out loud.

May have read, but clearly must re-read:

Nabokov, Vladimir. Speak, Memory. (on my parents’ bookshelf; if I read it in my youth, along with Lolita, which I do remember, I did not “get it”)
Crews, Harry. A Childhood: Biography of a Place and Blood and Grits.

Not on her list, but I have read them:

Ian, Janis. Society’s Child.
Norris, Kathleen. The Virgin of Bennington, etc. (The Cloister Walk is on Karr’s list, but I don’t seem to have it in the house here with the others I inherited from Grif, who loved Norris.)

Plus, a bunch of actor memoirs: Helen Hayes, Gene Tierney, Diane Keaton, Marian Seldes, Susan Strasburg, Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Claire Bloom, Sandy Dennis, Elizabeth Ashley. Alas, I think my parents gave me some of those memoirs to try to steer me gently away from a life in the theatre, but I was stubborn, and/or to let me know what I was getting myself into.

One thing I’ve read that is mentioned but not on Karr’s list, is a memoir she refers to as basically a bunch of lies, Pentimento, by Lillian Hellman. Karr prefers Mary McCarthy. I have read McCarthy’s novel, The Group, but must now read Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, on Karr’s recommendation, and, fittingly, after Merton. But maybe a little while after….

Because I am sort of a book addict/hoarder, I also purchased from the Ongoing Library Sale (the actual quarterly book sale is this weekend, and I helped to set it up in hopes of inoculating myself from buying anything) the book Making Toast, by Roger Rosenblatt, a beautiful sad memoir of a sad, sad year, the year his daughter died at 38, and he and his wife moved in with their son-in-law to help raise the kids. I am sure somebody told me about this, because when I saw it there on the shelf, I knew I had to have it. I thought it was someone from the library’s Book Talk group, but…no? Or someone from my monthly Book Club? Suzie? Or my mom, who would have read it early on in The New Yorker? I don’t know, but it is lovely.

More on memoir later, no doubt……

But for now, this coincidence. On page 28 of Roz Chast’s memoir of taking care of her parents, she provides a cartoon of her dad attempting to make toast. “Now, let’s see… You put the bread into one of these compartments… How do you know which one? Do you put the bread in first?? Or do you press this little lever down first???”

In Rosenblatt’s book, making toast is the one thing he does know how to do. (My heart is still breaking for him.)

Chast continues about her dad’s daily ineptitude (he has his reasons!): “He was bad at opening packages, like cookies or cereal. You could tell which ones he’d tried to open, because they were always torn in some strange way, as if a raccoon tried to get into them.”  

Believe me, I identify. With the father and with the raccoon.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Castle Cross The Magnet Carter

What a good book! I wouldn't be surprised if this one wins the Pulitzer Prize in 2017 (but I don't know much about the timing/nominating process for that). Though it starts in the 1940s, it is a book for our times, showing us what happened in the United States from then right up to now(ish), now when the violence of race conflict that had gone underground has re-emerged. The Castle Cross The Magnet Carter is a book about American social and political history, race conflict, civil rights, labor rights, deaf culture, gay culture, and being human. Written by a woman playwright, Kia Corthron, its central characters are two sets of brothers--one set black, one set white. We see them in the circumstances of their families and the changing culture of America after World War II and through the violent civil rights era to the moment of now. We need to read it now, so we don't ever let some of what happened here (in this book and in this country) ever happen again.

This is a challenging read, with many characters and incidents to keep track of. A wonderful thing about its narrative voices (in chapters from various perspectives) is that it reads/looks the ways it sounds, like speech. Black and white speech from the American South and Midwest, moving north and west and east, through the years, though schooling, and through the education that is life. And this is all the more remarkable because some of the characters speak with their hands! I learned that "the sign language" was called just that before getting "standardized" into American Sign Language, which was sort of white American sign language. The title resonates beautifully throughout--coming from the Magna Carta, the Great Charter of our political liberties and basic rights, as it is heard by a particular young boy: "I like that! I like the Magnet Carter!" Another marvelous thing is that in the immersion into characters I cared about, I 1) became them 2) did not know sometimes whether I was white or black (but then, suddenly, I did) and 3) came to understand how terrible, terrible, difficult things can happen and how people can survive them, or not.

Visit the book via the publisher, Seven Stories Press, here, where you can see/hear Corthron read from her work! And/or read the first chapter here, at the author's website.
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