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.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Finally, the Sweet Pea!

All summer I have been waiting for the sweet pea to blossom, and suddenly this morning I saw it! Pale pink blossoms on tall, sturdy, winding stems. I planted it by the fence and also gave it some supporting posts, but it really wanted to wind around other greenery, which, at the fence, tends to be Sweet Autumn Clematis, also beginning its bloom, and deadly nightshade, which, despite its purple beauty, I tend to pull out, due to its deadly berries. This is one of the fine Wikimedia images of Sweet Pea, full credit here.)

Also, finally, it's raining! Got in my last early morning swim before the rain! More on the joy of swimming and swimming in the rain here.

Today I will take back to the library The Man of My Dreams, by Curtis Sittenfeld. Very sweet & honest. I located Prep in Young Adult Fiction, so that's next. Returning to young adulthood, but I was never in prep school, so there will be plenty to learn. (No frogs were harmed in the making of this blog post.) I get cranky listening to the news these days, so it's Cranky Doodle Day in the blog. I agree with those calling for journalists to report the news (not so much the news about the news) and get at the truth of things. I'm sad about America today but excited about the future of America as it could be guided by a woman who knows how to get things done. The woman of my dreams.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Dog Days

The heat and humidity of central Illinois hovers over August, the fair, the start of school...but, for now, I am still swimming in the early mornings, and still reading up a storm. After Eligible, I read Sisterland, also by Curtis Sittenfeld, borrowed from the library for a train trip. I learned about psychic powers, twins, and earthquakes.

Earlier, on vacation, I read Rosemary: the Hidden Kennedy Daughter, nonfiction by Kate Clifford Larson, a sort of sister-and-brotherland experience. Without psychic powers or earthquakes. But with Presidents and First Ladies....

And now, back to Sittenfeld, I am immersed in American Wife, reading it well after its scandalous timeliness in 2008, as it is a novel about a First Lady who strikingly resembles Laura Bush. So now I am learning about...a fictional Laura Bush. And enjoying the story and how it is unfolding. Two sentences have arrested me so far. "My grandmother assumed my loyalty, and this, surely, is the reason she got it." Yes, I am loyal to those who assume my loyalty, but I guess I've learned that it doesn't go both ways, alas. I've assumed that some people were loyal to me, who weren't. That's been a wake-up call that keeps ringing.

This same grandmother tells the main character, "We have to make mistakes. It's how we learn compassion for others." That's true for me, too! My mistakes awaken compassion in me as now I finally understand the behavior of others! And, mostly, forgive them. Even that loyalty thing!

I have already been to the beach this summer, the Lake Michigan beach, and there may be a weensy bit more of that, but today I went to the virtual beach via the art of Kazaan Viveiros. With dogs, via Dog Days 2016 at Escape Into Life.

Friday, July 29, 2016

What Will Keep Us Alive

I finished Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld, and can now pass it along to my daughter. It's great summer reading, and, yes, we watched a season or two of The Bachelor together. I guess this is the lip print bookcover. I am, of course, re-watching Pride and Prejudice, the mini-series, the Colin Firth version, and will be tempted to re-watch the more recent film version, also good. But I did picture Colin Firth as Darcy as I read Eligible. Because I can't help it.

Soon, I can borrow Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the movie, from the library. Yes, I read that book, too. It was funny and surprisingly close to the original. Plus zombies. It certainly contains skills on what will keep us alive in the zombie apocalypse.

But my summer reading also includes a lot of poetry, and I am catching up on my poetry reviewing over at Escape Into Life.

Today there's a review of Kristin LaTour's wonderful book, What Will Keep Us Alive (Sundress Publications, 2015). I have a rabbit like that in my own back yard. (Minus the carrot candle.) That fabulous art is called Night Watch by Maggie Taylor.

More gushing: Letters to Colin Firth, by Katie Riegel, also a Sundress book!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Eligible Cheese

I am reading Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld, and it is indeed hilarious, as everyone has said. On page 88, I found Lydia saying, "The casomorphins in cheese are as addictive as opium," which explains why I ate so much smoked gouda yesterday afternoon, right? And also set me on one of my crazy Internet searches for the Internet's version of the truth.

I found this, from Yum Universe, which confirmed Lydia Bennet, who is totally CrossFit but also silly and uncensored in Eligible, and made me scared that I had addicted my babies to morphine by breastfeeding them.

Science News undid my worries a bit, but made me want pizza.

And the Huffington Post proclaimed that "Eating Cheese Isn't Even a Little Bit Like Smoking Crack Cocaine"---pause...well, I wouldn't know...---alongside the image of a woman bonding with the devil's disarticulated white tongue. Oh, wait, that's cheese.

All of which makes it a Fat Tuesday in the blog, even though it's Wednesday. And probably you already knew all about the cheese thing as I am often late to the party. And probably brought cheese.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Is Russia Hacking Me?


I ask because I have not posted here for over a week--I was Internet-free off in Michigan with family wamily--but today my blog was viewed by more than 1000 people in Russia. So, clearly, this must be connected to the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Right? Probably I clicked on some Hillary thing, and her campaign is definitely sending me emails. Sigh...

Actually, this Russian blog attention has happened over the past week, so I should have heeded earlier warnings, as reported by CNN. Only, I didn't get any. Should I have been sending money to Hillary's campaign? Sorry, I don't have any!

Aside: Russia, you are hacking up the wrong tree here. Yes, I intend to vote for Hillary Clinton, but I have no actual power, except the power of a single vote, which, actually, is a lot. And I intend to use it. But please don't hack me. I don't want to be hacked. Feel free, though to read my blog, and to admire the Mashtroshka image posted by Fanghong at Wikipedia/Wikimedia. And my actual family wamily of living dolls!


More info here, in the New York Times. Geez Louise, it's just like the Cold War. Only now it's the Clod War, featuring Putin and Trump. Darn it, and I was all mellowed out from Michigan...other than having the Trump Follies on in the background last week. And, of course, there was worse news, so the weeping woman is still weeping.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Swimming in the Rain

This morning I went swimming in the rain! Well, it wasn't raining when I left home, and it sprinkled a few drops during my first lap or two but then stopped. But as my lap swim continued, the sky went darker and darker. We don't have to get out unless there is lightning...and, rumble, rumble, flash, there was some! Day cleared up till early evening, when there was another downpour. My sympathies to those with branches down, or worse, around town. Happy for those of you with the rainbows.

Meanwhile, I've posted a review--a sort of reading interaction--about global warming, climate change, extreme weather, and poetry over at Escape Into Life. It's about Scar, by Carrie Etter, a long poem in chapbook form. It takes place in Illinois. In Normal, Illinois!

Also check out Neatorama and Ddjvigo T-Shirts for this cool "Just Singing in the Rain" image by ddjvigo! And/or check out Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in Singing in the Rain! And, wherever you Go, watch out for Pokemon!


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