Friday, March 5, 2010

Killer Bees

Day 24 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project.

Jo is reading Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner, the first in a series of Victor Legris mysteries. It’s a historical mystery, taking place in Paris in 1889, during the World Exposition.

Reminds me of Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, taking place in 1893 at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This one is not a novel but speculative non-fiction based on historical facts, looking closely at the architecture.

Bees play a key part in Murder on the Eiffel Tower as the victims appear to die from bee stings.

I loved the book Bee Season by Myla Goldberg! It is not about actual bees. Instead, spelling bees. Since I love words and word origins, this was a great book for me, as letters and roots and languages and meanings whirl around in the main character’s head…

Which reminds me of Woman in Mind (December Bee), a play by Alan Ayckbourn. I just told you I can’t read plays, but I am reading this one because Julie wants me to. (Perhaps she wants me to be in it, as she is on the play reading committee for a local theatre.) Which reminds me of Trouble in Mind, a movie, and a Johnny Cash song. It’s used a lot as a title, in fact, for music, books, even a book of poems by Lucie Brock-Boido, whose name sort of bounces off the walls like words and letters in Bee Season.

Which was also made into a movie, not to be confused with Spellbound, a documentary about spelling bees, which I watched at the home of Lizabeth, from whom I have borrowed many excellent books! And isn't there also a play, maybe even a musical comedy, about spelling bees?

Of course, Spellbound is also a Hitchcock movie with Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck (my heart throb, Atticus Finch), a psychological thriller murder mystery. I don’t think there are bees in it. But there are bees in The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, and of course there is also a movie of that. I am not even going to attempt free association with killer bee movies and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

But I will say that Secret Life of Bees and Bee Season are books that came out close enough together that people got confused…as I am now…and that I sometimes find them near each other on the floor at Babbitt’s, waiting to be shelved, or to be picked up by people browsing. I don’t dare walk down the fiction aisle at Babbitt’s, or I will, as I did Tuesday, pick something up and put a yellow post-it on it, “Hold for Kathleen,” and then buy it, when I can rummage up the $6-8. Post-it-ed at the moment: The Wishbones by Tom Perotta and White Noise by Don DeLillo. These, though by men, and contemporary, and no doubt containing some humor and/or irony, are probably not “dick lit,” as defined earlier (via Internet searches), just as the bee books by women are not “chick lit.”

And now I should reveal that Victor Legris of the historical mystery series is a bookseller. So far people have told me they like mysteries for the suspense, the puzzle, the psychological insights, the great research into place and time period, the escapes into a world evil confronted by justice, etc., but if anything would draw me in to a mystery series, it would be this! The bookstore connection!

Keep those comments and book insights & recommendations coming!


Mike Peterson said...

I think dick lit is the most honest writing there is and the men who won't write it are cowards. But I'm one of them. Who wants to be thought a complete idiot? I love the quote from Philip Roth. It makes me cringe, but it's the way men think. Hell, it's the way women think!

Douglas Robillard said...

I just reread Julie Phillips' intriguing biography, JAMES TIPTREE, JR.: THE DOUBLE LIFE OF ALICE B. SHELDON. Under the Tiptree pen-name Sheldon wrote some brilliant, award-winning science fiction with a feminist slant. (See "Houston, Houston Do You Read," "The Women Men Don't See"; under the pseudonym Raccoon Sheldon,she published the absolutely horrifying short story "The Screwfly Solution"; and other noteworthy stories--one of my favorite SF authors). She maintained the pretense of being male until 1976 when she was "unmasked." Her insistence on a male identity created some awkward and poignant situations in her correspondence with Ursula K. LeGuin and Joanna Russ on feminist issues.

aka Simone said...

I'm pretty sure there IS a play about spelling bees and I'm pretty sure I saw you and your mom performing it at Heartland a few years ago. Did I dream it? I can't recall the name of the play.

Julie Kistler said...

Oh, and I think "The Secret Life of Bees" is women's fiction (as opposed to chick lit). I think the terms "women's fiction" and "chick lit" are marketing terms, but stem from film genres. "Women's fiction" (a broader term) is much like the "women's pictures" of yore, where the likes of Bette Davis or Joan Crawford dealt with blindness, cheating spouses, life on the "Back Street," children they struggled to support, identical twins who stole their husbands, etc. And "chick lit" is a direct descendant of "chick flicks," which usually means something Nora Ephron could've written, something with an adorable, feisty, sparkly heroine (played by somebody like Meg Ryan or Julia Roberts), with a "meet cute" and an even cuter hero (Tom Hanks? Hugh Grant?) and a snappy best friend who comes over to eat Cherry Garcia right out of the carton to commiserate after the cute hero has inexplicably dumped the adorable heroine. Or failed to meet her at the Empire State Building or whatever.

So, drama and angst and five hankies has generally been the "women's picture" and "women's fiction," while funny and light and very comtemporary has generally been "chick flick" and "chick lit."

And yes, "dick flick" came before "dick lit," too. Obviously! It rhymes!

Nick Hornby has a part in both, since "High Fidelity" as a book was totally "lad lit" and as a movie totally a "dick flick."

It doesn't matter much, really. Because it IS marketing and trying to find a demographic. I generally read outside my demographic, personally, although I just don't enjoy John Irving or John Updike or Philip Roth or Norman Mailer, all of whom seem to have a phallic-centric world view that doesn't include me. Oh well. I said the same thing (not appealing or enjoyable for me) about "The Time Traveler's Wife," which is, by the way, considered women's fiction even though the protagonist is male. Go figure!

Julie Kistler said...

I absolutely adore "Woman in Mind" and I hope you like it, too, whether it's ultimately chosen or not. I think Ayckbourn is amazing and very easy to read as playwrights go. (I adore Tom Stoppard's work, too, but reading his plays instead of seeing them on stage is hard work!)

The musical you're looking for is "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and it is adorable. I've seen it twice -- once in Chicago and once over in Peoria at the Civic Center theater -- and I loved it both times. It's about overachieving children, screwy children, screwy adults, and what it means to win and lose. Love!!

There's also a play called "Speech and Debate" that makes me think of "Putnam County Spelling Bee" + "Glee" - jazz hands. Karen Vaccaro directed "Speech & Debate" (written by Stephen Karam) for Urbana's Station Theatre, and I totally thought it was worth the drive. I kind of hope Karen decides to do it again for IWU or something. An overlooked gem, in my book.

Kathleen said...