New books!: a Confessional

 

“When you steal from the library, you are preventing anyone else from reading that book, and the very notion makes me want to drop you in the Void.”

  • Piers Anthony

 

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been, oh, a week since my last confession. The sin’s the same, which should make it easier doling out penance.

I miss my books. Those poor orphan children of mine are sitting, boxed, in a storage unit back in Illinois, keeping the bulk of my furniture and other bits and bobs company. Fortunately, I am living with a man who has a healthy number of books himself and enjoys the used book hunt as much as I. I won’t run out anytime soon, but temptations there are a-plenty.

Sure, you have a nice collection, but you don’t have this book, or that book, which I desperately need before someone else snatches it away.

Yes, NEED!

What I’ll do with the books and other possessions left behind in the move will be decided when it must. Meantime, I’m trying to restrain myself from buying too much – and failing miserably. But something has to fill that void.

I try and schedule Amazon deliveries for when Chris isn’t here. It’s not that he doesn’t get it, but the money’s tight. I’m living off my own savings; it’s not like I’m draining his account. But with mounting bills it’s taking away funds perhaps more rightly earmarked for household expenditures. Compounding the guilt, this morning we found out Chris’s car needs hundreds of pounds worth of repairs. It’s always the unexpected the comes back to bite you in the arse.

I could argue what’s mine is his, but our reading projects don’t match. I’m concentrating on early Scottish female novelists, as well as modern stuff I can count as research, helping inform the fiction I’m writing. I need examples of how other writers use unreliable narrators to create suspense. The best way to learn is by example.

So, yeah. Legit.

I’d rather he didn’t hear the SMACK of books coming through the letter slot and hitting the mat. It just makes me uneasy. Next week he’s on break from classes and I have two more on the way. My palms are already sweaty.

At least he’s fine shopping at bookshops like this one in Glasgow, which we visited together yesterday:

 

Nirvana

 

Holy mother of god and all the saints

 

He’s clearly an enabler.

Did he buy books here? Why, yes. Yes, he did. So the books popping through the letter slot have nothing to do with him. Details.

Anyway, here’s yesterday’s haul:

 

Penguins and Brunton and Oliphant, oh my!

 

This may be a bit difficult to read, I realize. Here’s a bit of help:

 

The Sailors Return & Beany-Eye by David Garnett

Scottish Short Stories

The Valleys of the Assassins by Freya Stark

Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker

Dr Johnson & Company by Robert Wilson Lynd

Lady Hester Stanhope by Joan Haslip

Ten Years Under the Earth by Norbert Casteret

The Southern Gates of Arabia by Freya Stark

England Made Me by Graham Greene

If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino (book group read)

Mary Brunton: The Forgotten Scottish Novelist by Mary McKerrow

Autobiography and Letters by Mrs Margaret Oliphant

 

I consider my penance to be reading these, lest they go to waste. And before the next group arrives. But really. I’m going to slow down.

Really.

Honestly.

Would this face lie?

 

 

Daily Scotland: Settling In

 

The familiarity gained from last year’s three-month stay in Scotland’s shortened the re-acquaintance process with life here. It already feels familiar walking to the market to pick up simple things like milk and bread. There’s a small shop, a mini-mart we’d call it in the States, five minutes away. The nearest supermarket’s further than I can walk. A taxi would add a lot to the cost of buying just a few items, but there’s the British equivalent of Walmart anchoring the local mall. In that mall is, among other things, a Waterstones. I can take a taxi there when I have a longer list of needs than just vanilla and cake pans.

In preparation for making two pies with apples from the tree directly behind the house, I mistakenly bought “sponge” flour in place of self-rising, to go along with the folly of “caster” sugar in place of regular granulated, for my coffee. Thank God Chris put me in my place as far as caster sugar, since “no restaurant would ever serve caster sugar for my coffee.” As far as I can tell, caster sugar is more coarse than granulated, not so coarse as what we’d call “crystal” sugar, which is decorative. That’s used on top of baked goods to make them look more appealing and fancy, I guess you’d say.

 

We don’t have so many choices for baking ingredients in the States. There’s brown sugar, powdered sugar, granulated, and crystal sugar. As for flour, there’s self-rising, standard flour with no baking powder or baking soda (if you need to add specialized amounts), wheat flour, specialty flours made with other grains for the gluten-intolerant, but as far as I know, that’s it. For sponge cake, we’d use regular self-rising. If it needs a finer texture, we’d run it through a sifter. British bakers, you’re much more sophisticated.

Today I was looking at the flour and sugar I bought to stock the pantry, thinking as long as I had these maybe I should just bake a sponge cake. Exploring the kitchen cabinets for other critical ingredients, I found he had none. Add those to the list for a trip to the shopping mall. Heaven forfend I should have to go shopping, but what does what one must.

 

Lots of excitement two days ago, when the remnants of a hurricane barreled through southern Scotland. Growing up in the Midwest I’ve seen huge thunderstorms, but never an actual hurricane. Fascinating watching detritus hurtle past the windows, like a Scottish-set The Wizard of Oz. I half expected the Wicked Witch of the West to cycle by. I’m glad it came through so early in autumn. The leaves have only just begun changing; I’m crossing my fingers there’s no tree-baring repeat nearer peak color. I’d love to drive up into the Highlands for spectacular photos.

Colors become brilliant in Scotland later than the Midwest – between late October and early November. Colorful leaves are long gone by November in Chicago, and it’s not particularly stunning where I lived. Two charming possibilities in the Highlands are Aberfeldy and Pitlochry. I picked them out while researching hamlets with bookshops. These two fit the bill. Right next to each other in Perthshire, they’re approximately an hour and a half away. Chris mentioned Perthshire as a beauty spot. Cross fingers the weather cooperates.

 

I can’t escape without admitting the number of books I’ve bought so far – in just over two weeks. It’s not staggering – well, maybe to a non-reader – but decent. Charity shops netted me a few finds, but Amazon.co.uk has been no slouch, either. Considering a blog devoted to Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, I found several here and there. Edinburgh is his home town; no worries about finding all the volumes.

I may have picked up a sequel to Cold Comfort Farm I never realized existed, as well as the same Bloomsbury edition of The Brontës Went to Woolworths I used to own, once upon a pre-Scotland purge. Then, there’s Claire Tomalin’s autobiography, a book by an up and coming Edinburgh author named Sam McColl, Alexander McCall Smith’s first book in The Sunday Philosophy Club series, a book about bookshops, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for a book discussion group meeting in Edinburgh. And no, you may not see my Amazon shopping cart.

 

Speaking of the book group, I attended my first meeting last evening at a lovely little cafe called Nom de Plume on Broughton St. in Edinburgh. Jean Brodie provoked a brilliant discussion, and I was very interested in hearing what actual Scots thought about this iconic title written by one of their iconic writers. All sorts of fascinating points were brought up, lots of bits and pieces I’d never have picked up on my own. This is the wonder of book groups.

 

I’m looking forward to the weekend, hoping it brings travel – weather permitting. A Scottish author and friend recommended a couple of abandoned sites I’m keen to see. One’s an old manor, the other a railroad tunnel no longer in use. The manor sounds delightfully creepy, though potentially dangerous. There are beams perilously near falling, and a staircase in the same condition. She warned of drop offs, so if you don’t hear from me again, you’ll know why. It’s Chris’s chance to wander off, whistling innocently.

I’m still working out adding photos without the Windows snipping tool, and I have some lovely ones to show. If I must, I’ll post those separately. If you see photos in this post, I was successful. Yay!

If not, they’re coming. Gives you a reason to keep living.

 

Yup, still breathing.

 

April brought violets.

 

Thanks to all who’ve sent notes asking if I’m still alive. Sorry I wasn’t able to reply to all, but I’m popping in to reassure you I haven’t yet left this earthly plane. For some of you, hopefully that’s what you’d hoped to hear. For the rest of you, I know lots of Scottish swear words and insulting phrases. But I’ll let you slide this time.

Time really gets away from you. This year’s halfway over already, can you believe it? I’d been blogging religiously through most of it, then life reared its head. I had things to attend to, and everything plummeted into the roiling pit of despair.

I pretty much read nothing the entire month of April. I slowly returned to reading this month, but just couldn’t summon the energy to write about it. Welcome the tail end of May, when finally I rear my curly red head.

Once I’ve gathered the few books I’ve not shared about, I’ll do my best to form sentences summarizing thoughts. Then I’ll get myself back on track, as I’d done so well the early months of 2018.

Lots of personal things going on right now, like the continuing search for a librarian position. As I’m willing to go nearly anywhere in the U.S., it’s both easier and tougher. Try hunting for a job in a country of over 300 million people occupying gawd knows how many thousands of square miles.  Narrowing it down is tough, even eliminating areas I’d never want to live. Sift the remainder, and that’s still an awful bit pile.

Uprooting again will be an undertaking, once I do find that mythical job, though not nearly as tough as last year’s wee jaunt to Scotland. I never filled up my new home, anticipating the wanderlust itch was still great with me. I’m not sure the furniture I’m left with wouldn’t be best sold off, new things bought at my destination, considering the cost of moving. But that’s jumping ahead.

Meanwhile, time to get back to life’s plans – both big and small. I aim to post about books over the coming weekend. I may not blow you away with what I’ve read, but I sure as hell will with books I’ve bought and received for review. Still buying back some I sold before I moved away last year, and, as always, adding some everyone would agree are necessary.

Until then.

 

March in Review: Much more reading, many more books. That’s more like it.

I had faith March wouldn’t let me down, unlike my crappy January and February. Lie: I had no such faith, but told myself things could hardly go further south. And there were no Olympics, no television distracting me. The TV reverted to its usual function: background noise for napping and covering the surface of my TV stand, while looking impressively large.

Size matters, friends.

Of course, March brings out my Irish. It’s also my birth month, meaning I have an excuse to binge buy books. This year, March threw in a nasty virus, gratis, getting me three days off work in which I was too sick even to read.

Still, I managed to fit in a few.

I’d hoped to take a short vacation in March. SPOILER: that didn’t happen. I was too ill, no desire to leave the warmth of my home and comfort of my sofa. It’s still cold here in Chicago. Distressingly so. On this April 1, it’s the coldest it’s been in years, hovering around freezing.

Will spring ever come. I’m beginning to wonder.

Books Read March 2018:
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (for library classics book group)

I’ve been putting off reading this one since the upset wrought by the first few minutes of the Kubrick film. Not a fan of random violence and rape, I wrote this off as not for me.

It’s about a young man literally addicted to violence, the leader of a pack which wreaks nightly havoc on an English town. The first part was difficult to read, partly for the made-up language Burgess creates (which wore on me) and constant, gratuitous violence. The second part is much more interesting, once main character Alex is finally arrested for his crimes, and re-programmed, for lack of a better term.

The best thing I can say about ACO is I finished it. Not a fan.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (Women’s Prize for Fiction, longlist)

The lovely Jesmyn Ward has written another moving story set in Mississippi, this one about a family ripped apart by the slow death of the matriarch from cancer. Told from shifting perspectives, including that of the ghost of a young black boy lynched decades ago, it’s a short and rich novel.

It deserves to be shortlisted.

Ruby by Cynthia Bond

This one, good God. Absolute brilliance, beginning to end. It’s been a while since I’ve read a modern book I believe has the staying power to become a modern classic. Ruby is it and then some.

The story, the brilliant and sensuous language, the characterization and use of magical realism… It’s huge in scope, so difficult to summarize.

The title character is born a beautiful young girl, her life of poverty dooming her to prostitution starting from a very early age. Having escaped the South for a privileged life with a relative in New York City, upon the death of a woman she’d loved she makes the fatal mistake of returning home. Ruby loses her mind, becoming feral, as she’s again pulled back into sexual abuse and violence.

Love enters, and Ruby resists, unable to believe anyone could truly love such a damaged, broken woman.

I can’t recall the last time I finished a book and wanted to turn back around and re-read it immediately. If I weren’t engaged in other projects, I’d have done so.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (Women’s Prize for Fiction, longlist)

Schmidt’s book is a novelization of the story of possible murderess Lizzie Borden, she of the axe murders of her father and step-mother.  Generally, I don’t care for historical fiction, but this was an exception. What bothers me about it is the inability to know what’s true and what’s imagination. I’d far rather read non-fiction, getting to the truth of the matter.

 

The Notorious LB

 

I enjoyed Schmidt’s approach, telling the story from different perspectives. And while the case remains unsolved, she lets the reader know what she believes truly happened. It’s what I’ve always believed, as well, minus a few suspicions on the details.

Though an enjoyable read, I’d be surprised if this one makes the shortlist.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar (Women’s Prize for Fiction, longlist)

Merchant shipman Jonah Hancock, one of his ships lost on a voyage, is handed a small, shrivelled “mermaid” as recompense. His only choice to help re-coup some of his losses is to display it as a curiosity, in PT Barnum fashion.

In the course of its travels, it lands in an upper class whorehouse, at which Mr Hancock meets the lovely courtesan and former mistress of a nobleman: Angelica Neal. Struck by her beauty, he’s lost.

Later, in order to win her love, she demands he bring her another mermaid, this one genuine. Believing it impossible, she believes she’s seen the last of him. When her fortunes change, however, Mr Hancock becomes much more desirable.

Ultimately, the creature Mr Hancock presents her with induces a terrible melancholy on everyone associated with it, begging the question what is the price to be paid when you get everything you think you want.

Not a candidate to win the Women’s Prize by any means, it’s an overly long book I nearly gave up at the 3/4 point. It meanders, interesting lesser characters never fully fleshed out. I finished it to find out what happens, and because I’d ordered it from Ireland and paid enough in shipping I didn’t want that to be for naught.

 

Books Bought March 2018:

In addition to a couple from the Books Read in March list (See What I Have Done and The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock), there were these:

Happy by Nicola Barker (Women’s Prize for Fiction, longlist)

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg (for review)

And these:

And, for my birthday:

 

Nothing new read for the Muriel Spark project, unfortunately, but I’ll resume that in April. I thought I owned a copy of The Bachelors – next up chronologically – but can’t find it anywhere. Hesitant to buy more books after my slutty indulgence this month, I may have to skip over it for the next, bite the bullet and order it, then read it out of sequence.

I hate doing that, but needs must. One last search of my library, then I’ll do what must be done.

 

Such was my March. I’m happy with what I managed to read, definitely happy with the stream of new books. April needs to be a less expensive month. I went a little crazy, and need to re-coup. Still searching for that elusive sugar daddy to support my habit. Ah, but rare as mermaids are they.

April will hopefully herald spring, lifting my mood. I’d be lying if I said the first quarter of the year hasn’t brought me down. Still too early to plant flowers in the Chicago area – we’ve had frost as distressingly late as May, in years past – a warm-up, at the least, would be more than welcome. At least the days are lengthening, so there’s that. Sorry not to be more perky. I just don’t have it in me at the moment.

Spring’s hope’s eternal.

 

Early February check in: Spark & Shelley & Bowie (and abject misery)

 

Screw April; February is the real Cruelest Month

 

February heard me telling it to sod off. It’s only the 10th, and it’s already wiped the floor with my pasty arse. Hell, so far all of 2018 hates my guts. Yes, I said I wanted an exciting year. But my definition of “exciting” is not being medicated with a variety of different pain killers.

Counting down to a life abroad, yes. That was exciting. This, not so much. GET IT RIGHT, 2018!

The fractured rib is old history. A week ago, I also broke a toe by accidentally kicking a wall while getting dressed (don’t ask). Ever broken a toe? Tried wearing shoes after? Every step is excruciating, like pardon me while I sob excrutiating. I’ve been clomping around in snow boots two sizes too big, just to walk at all. It’s not the best look.

And last night, a crown fell off my tooth, leaving an exposed root. You can’t put big snow boots on a tooth missing a crown. It hurts like son on a bitch. A friend recommended trying a temporary crown compound. Having no choice, I ventured out in a driving blizzard to find it. The plan was to shove this stuff in my tooth hole, then call my dentist the next morning for an emergency appointment. Satisfied the pseudo-crown wouldn’t fall out and choke me, I went to bed.

With big snowstorms come very loud snow plows. Waking in the middle of the night to the ear-splitting sound of metal scraping cement, I peeked out to see at least four to five inches of white, fluffy, frozen are you even kidding me on my balcony. Tapping the  fake crown with my tongue, I jiggled it a tiny bit. A piece fell off. Trying not to panic, I told myself maybe it’s just a little extra material. Half an hour later, another piece fell off. Then another. HOLY MOTHER OF GOD! By morning, out it popped, right in my hand.

 

Snowmageddon: February 2018

 

You know those nightmares about your teeth falling out? How horrifying they are? That’s for a reason: it IS horrifying. Fortunately, my dentist was able to fit me in at 9 a.m. While working on my tooth, he said, “You know, to fix this right I’d need to remove part of your gum. Or you may lose the tooth.”

What.

Long story short, I’m sitting here now with a swollen, throbbing mouth, a temporary crown atop the gaping chasm, disposable sutures holding stuff together – stuff I really need to not picture in my mind’s eye right now. In a month, another two-hour appointment will find the permanent crown installed, one long nightmare ended.

You really do suck, February.

And 2018.

 

Spark & Shelley

 

Credit: The New Yorker

 

Muriel Spark’s bio of Mary Shelley nearly read, I went ahead and jumped into The Ballad of Peckham Rye. I couldn’t wait, sorry. I’m already ahead of heavenali’s reading schedule, but the way my luck’s going god knows what may happen to derail me. May as well take advantage while I’m upright and conscious.

Now this is the Muriel Spark I enjoy. I’m not ready to discuss it since I haven’t finished, but there’s a fascinating Scottish main character – Dougal Douglas – a very funny, very mischievous man. Up ’til now she hasn’t written any Scottish characters, not any central to the plot.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Why now, and why Dougal. And why Dougal Douglas, the humanities man.

I love village stories like this, character-driven tales of living in small towns. This one’s wonderfully funny; the taste of Memento Mori has been washed from my mouth – along with a lot of blood and some gum tissue. Sorry for that grotesque image. I’ve been so careful with it, haven’t I.

Sorry to the squeamish.

Anyway, I’m enjoying it immensely, and should finish over the weekend. I’ll talk about it then.

 

The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960)

 

As for Mary Shelley, my sympathy for her continues to grow. I didn’t realize she’d only had eight years with Percy. How sad she lost him so early, but then reading about his possible affairs with other women, I don’t see this as the grand romance I’d once imagined.

Of course it’s still sad he died tragically, even if he was kind of a mooch, as well as a lech. Kind of? Very much so. Not long before his death, he fell hard for first an Italian woman named Emilia, then a mutual friend of Mary’s. Only after he was gone did Mary learn the truth about the second woman. The first he didn’t bother concealing. She was his muse, of sorts, for a brief while. Now, what kind of man does that to his wife, especially one who’s given birth to and buried three of his children. Not just that, her devotion to him knew no bounds.

Did he love Mary? No doubt, of course he did. Still, that doesn’t give the spoiled genius another reason to act badly. I’m just not a fan of this man, am I. Let’s leave Percy for now.

What’s very saddening is how lonely she was after her husband died, how almost desperately she searched around for someone to love. A man whose love she rejected, but wanted to see her happy, tried pairing her with Washington Irving, of all people. Washington Irving, the American author of – among other things – “Rip van Winkle”. Sounds so odd, I can’t even say why.

The whole story is embarrassing, or would have embarrassed her, had she known. She really did seem to have a crush on Irving, and her would-be suitor knew it, so he showed Irving letters in which she’d “jokingly” made vague reference to her esteem for him. You know how 19th C letters go. Something as simple as, “Weren’t his boots so shiny, though! La! How well-dressed and mannered he is!” is like today’s “God, he has the tightest ass!”

SPOILER: It didn’t work out. Irving ignored it.

I’ll talk about the bio over the weekend, as well. Both books should be finished by then.

Bowie 100

 

Bowie 100 Read: The Fire Next Time

 

In Bowie reading, I already admitted Hawksmoor wasn’t to be. I bought a copy of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time to read for March. Thing is, I haven’t seen Duncan Jones actually discussing Hawksmoor. Maybe I’ve missed it on Twitter, but it hasn’t been obvious.

Mental note: CHECK, FFS.

If he hasn’t, and needs help with Baldwin, I wouldn’t mind stepping it up a bit. It is a short book, after all, Baldwin’s a masterful writer, and February (ahem) is Black History Month. A few discussion tweets wouldn’t kill me.

I honestly don’t know if I’ll continue reading the Bowie 100 if Duncan isn’t talking about what the books meant to his father. That was the interesting hook. But, again, I need to actually check on that.

I’ve been busy, what with bleeding and all.

Book Haul!

I still haven’t caught up with purchased, but here’s one recent haul:

 

 

I’m kind of also showing off my mid-century modern chair, too. And impeccable taste. But mostly, the books.

 

 

So, we have two Brontes, a Spark novel and work of criticism, and replacements of my Julian Barnes and Eudora Welty titles. Not in the detail are the wee Penguin books I love so much, and am slowly replacing.

 

This is what’s been keeping me so busy, not all of it pleasant. Truly, this year has been a downer.

I hope it turns around, I really do.

I’ll talk to you all this weekend, February willing.

 

Bookmarks: As the books come marching in.

 

My treasured little black Penguin editions. Found more this side of the pond!

 

Re-building my library is a whore’s paradise, I ain’t gonna lie. But it’s also terribly sad. Why? As I search the shelves of bookshops I see titles I used to own, but can’t afford to buy back. It would cost a fortune. Visions of grabbing a couple dozen of them, running out the door – pages whipping in the breeze as I flee – dance in my head.

What I need is a good distraction. A really good distraction. Anyone want to run interference for me?

It pays, buddy.

My collection of rare and out of print books was staggering. amassed over more than 20 years. Carefully culling them every few years  like a gardener his roses, I had myself a prime library. Some of my collectibles are in showcases at Half Price Books. I absolutely loathe their ridiculous buying policy. Books they bought from me for a dollar or two sit there with $ 1,000 price tags.

What the ever-loving freak.

I owned the complete Folio Library set of George Eliot’s works. At HPB they’re marked $ 300. I didn’t pay anywhere near that, and I’m pretty doubtful that’s what they’re worth (NOTE: I haven’t actually checked). Such a smarmy business practice. I could stand by my principles and boycott them, but then where would I shop? For the interesting, older, more eclectic stuff there is nowhere else to go.

Interesting, older and eclectic. Stick that on my shortlist of memoir titles.

 

Not the exact set, but same publisher.

 

Oh, for the time and luxury to have sold them myself. God, I could have made a small fortune. I miss bookselling sometimes. It’s crossed my mind I could give it another go, for a bit of side income, but it’s incredibly time-consuming. Not only is there the locating of inventory, but entering it into a database, packing and shipping is a pain in the arse. To run a bookshop, you need a partner.

Alas, I’m partner-less.

My ex-husband despised me for all the books lying around the house, the piles by the computer, the shelves upon shelves in the basement. One time, he gathered them up from around the house and threw them down the basement stairs. I happened to be standing there, but he wasn’t aiming directly at me. Not physically. It felt violating and awful. Pages were folded, dust jackets ripped, smaller books bent by behemoths.

To this day I’m sure he has no clue how hurtful that was. If he did, he wouldn’t care.

That foul thief Amazon drove my first venture out of business. I had a dear friend in Florida who partnered with me, each of us with our own inventory, but after a couple of years it became all too obvious we were spending way more than we made.

But God it was fun while it lasted.

 

One of my first book purchases back in the Colonies.

 

How should I show you my library? With pictures? Videos? A combination thereof?

Maybe I’ll do a combination of blog posts and vlogs (video blogs, if you’re scratching your head) (video blogs, even if you’re not). And Goodreads. I need to delete the stuff that’s gone and enter what I actually own.

I’d like to keep closer track of what I own. Already, they’re getting away from me. And each one has meaning. I don’t collect indiscriminately. Every book tells a story so much larger than what’s between the covers.

So little to do, so much time.

Strike that. Reverse it.

While it’s still manageable, I’d like to share what I own and why I own it. I smell a feature here. Or maybe it’s the dog.

WHERE IS THE DOG.

I like the idea of an irregular feature. I’ll show you mine without expecting you to show me yours. Wait. I’m getting ripped off.

Gather yourself, woman!

I need a couple more bookshelves, the perfect opportunity to start fresh arranging books and telling you about them. I’ll get those over the weekend, slap them together, and as soon as I can I’ll work on the first proper Bookmarks installment.

We have a plan.

 

Daily: Bits & Bob’s yer uncle

 

 

After a long stretch of feeling pretty okay, insomnia and that black dog depression reared their ugly heads once again. The all too familiar slide began before Christmas. I thought once the holidays passed I’d bounce back; a couple weeks later, I realized that wasn’t going to happen without intervention.

You can’t be proud when it comes to your health. I talked with my doctor, he prescribed a “nudge” medication, and I’m back to sleeping like a baby.

I can feel the slightest deviation in mood. My brain’s like a Stradivarius, without the market value. There’s no need to suffer when you don’t have to, especially when it compromises something as important as sleep.

 

* * * * * * *

 

Reading-wise, I’m accumulating a lot more books than I’m reading.

I know: GASP.

Five or six books joined my vintage Penguin pile (I’ll tell you later), along with publisher freebies and the fruits of several ill-advised visits to bookstores. I say “ill-advised” only because I’m carrying a balance on my credit card I’d theoretically very much like to pay off.

Among other things, I found this gorgeous copy of Alice in Wonderland, illustrated by Andrea D’Aquino:

 

 

Mistress Alice

 

The White Rabbit

 

The caterpillar & his hookah

 

ABSOLUTELY STUNNING.

* * * * * * *

What to do with five days off…

Poor me, I requested my birthday (March 28) and the four days following off work. Now I have to choose a destination. Don’t you even say Scotland.

Just NO.

One thing I neglected to consider: late March is prime spring break season. Anyplace warm will be packed with thousands of college kids vomiting their brains out in the streets. Outstanding. There goes Nola, for sure. Right before Easter, at the height of party season? Nice planning, idiot.

I need to pick a place kids don’t care about, far from the madding crowd. Something tells me they won’t be hunting things literary like I will. I know, I’m probably giving them short shrift. Of course American kids are erudite.

Nope. Can’t manage a straight face.

Here are the options I’ve chosen:

 

Native of Asheville, NC

Option One: Asheville, NC.

Asheville is on my shortlist of possible places to move. It’s roughly a ten-hour drive, so close enough I can zip back to the Chicago area to visit the kids with relative ease. It’s kind of in the South, along the Atlantic seaboard, so it’s milder. It’s also damned beautiful.

A towering figure in American letters – Thomas Wolfe – hails from Asheville, plus it’s roughly two short hours to gorgeous Charleston, right on the Atlantic. The drive there would be beautiful, and there’s plenty to see and do.

 

Harper Lee and Truman Capote

Option Two: Alabama!

A literary loop in Alabama, now that’s not a bad idea.

Yes, I said Alabama.

Harper Lee was from Alabama. Truman Capote visited her in Monroeville every summer, as a child. Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald owned a home in Montgomery, where Zelda was born.

The state’s actually blessed with literary connections. And losing Republican senators.

 

Burlington, VT

Option Three: Swoon.

New England. Lovely, lovely New England. Choices here are limitless. So limitless I can’t choose. What an awful problem to have.

But… And this is a very big but… It’s six hours further than Asheville. Thirty-two hours driving in the space of five days? I love road trips, but holy mother of gawd.

 

Sweet home, Chicago

Option Four: Staycation in Lovely Chicago.

I don’t take enough advantage of living next to this beautiful city. All the architecture, the Newberry Library, the Art Institute… It’s true you neglect what’s right under your nose.

And I don’t mean your mouth.

Hotels are expensive in the city, sure. But no more than I’d be paying on long road trips, not to mention gas – and wear and tear on the car. Of course, it’s also minus Asheville and Alabama and New England.

Blimey.

If you were me, which would you pick?

My generally crappy week in review: reading and other complaints

Books mentioned in this post:

Muriel Spark – The Comforters

Muriel Spark – Robinson

Muriel Spark – Memento Mori

AJ Finn – The Woman in the Window

Peter Manseau – The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost

Michael Wolff – Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

All the Louis Penny

Charles Dickens – Nicholas Nickleby

Peter Ackroyd – Hawksmoor

Martin Stannard – Muriel Spark

 

A combination of seasonal depression, big changes at work, and a slew of exaggerated, looming negative thoughts combined to bring back insomnia with a vengeance.

The general rule is I tire myself out mentally every day, so when my head hits the pillow I’m out like the dead. A couple nights this week I lay wide awake until 3 or 4 in the morning, dropped off abruptly, then woke an hourish later, up for the duration.

At that point, you may as well say screw it.

I made good use of time knocking out household tasks that wouldn’t piss off the neighbors who share walls with me, enjoyed a decent breakfast, and treated the dog to extra outdoor adventures.

Of course, I felt like shit by evening.

What’s nagging me is a confluence of small things blown out of proportion by virtue of an ongoing battle with depression. That’s how it works. Grounding is a practice useful to combat insomnia. Lying in bed, notice and be grateful for the warmth, the roof over your head, the food in your kitchen, the clothes on your back. You’re safe, nothing’s going to happen in that moment. Then, the next moment, then the next. I’ve had days it’s been necessary to practice that moment by moment for hours, very dark days in the grip of a serious and dangerous slide into the pit. I’m not there anymore, thankfully. It’s not that dark.

Routine is equally important. Rituals are a good thing, training mind and body that sleep is preceded by set steps.

I know all these things, but threw them out the window.

 

Memento Mori (1959)

Moving on … Reading!

In Muriel Spark news, after recently finishing her first novel The Comforters and second astonishing Robinson earlier in the week, I’m working on her third novel, Memento Mori. Funny, when you think about it. I had this grim week, and the literal translation of memento mori is “remember you can die.”

Uplifting, that.

I won’t talk a lot about it now, but thus far it’s extraordinarily depressing, wickedly sniping at older people. It deals with, among other things, the dismissive way they’re treated, and the horrors of dementia.

I need to see where she’s going with all this before I decide if I’m enjoying it. Then, I’ve not been reading it with full attention. Once I’ve finished I’ll go back through and re-read parts I haven’t granted full justice.

Sometimes that happens. Readers get it.

In general Spark news, I asked the incomparable Ian Rankin which were his favorites of her novels. Here’s his reply:

 

The undeserved IT book of 2018

 

Also knocked off this year’s Gone Girl, the big-ass book and film adaptation combo of 2018. SPOILER: Unimpressed.

It’s an extremely fast read, very unsubtle and undemanding. A thriller needs to be razor-sharp, lean and menacing. The Woman in the Window is none of these. Yes, it’s a great premise. A woman with agoraphobia spies on her neighbors, sees a horrific crime, and no one will believe her because she’s a drunk who mixes heavy depression medication. Her erratic behavior soon brands her as unreliable.

It would have been a wise move to leverage that a bit more than Finn did, to do so with stronger writing.

 

I know what I saw.

 

 

The problem was the plot played on a loop, dragging on without much advancement for more than 100 pages. It should have been at least that many pages shorter.

Good thrillers aren’t repetitive. Hence “thrill.” They’re lean and mean, menacing and horrifying. Finn never quite managed to hit these notes, though I’ll grant him at least one decent revelation. Despite a promising start, the main character’s love of old thriller movies hinting at use of Hitchcockian understatement, it didn’t deliver.

The writing wasn’t bad. It was actually better than average, and his outline has merit. It just lacked urgency, for which major points are deducted. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, and I should have been. I wasn’t cringing, worried about the main character’s safety more than a brief moment. I should have been.

I haven’t even touched on the worst part. The denouement is related flatly, almost in monotone. Don’t set up a book with the promise of nuance then deliver bland prose. The last 75ish pages twisted and turned so quickly it was like watching a tennis match, after not much happening for ages. While you want twists in a thriller, you also want more development, more doubt put into the reader’s mind this could be true, before yanking the rug out from under again.

Stephen King loved it? Gillian Flynn? I gotta read this! Sigh. It’s all part of the game.

 

Read this in place of The Woman in the Window…

 

No one will ever know what I went through to secure those negatives. The world can never appreciate it. It changed the whole course of my life.  – Mathew Brady

 

In recent nonfiction, The Apparitionists is an utterly fascinating book about the early history of photography as well as its use in spiritualism: the hoax perpetrated by a certain group of 19th century photographers purported to have the ability to capture images of the dead in photos of the living.

It also covers Mathew Brady, famous Civil War photographer, and his peers, explaining how they got the images they did. Shockingly, many of the images we’ve grown to associate with the Civil War dead were staged. Some were live soldiers posed dramatically, borrowed from the war then sent back to fight. Begs the question if any of them wound up legitimate subjects later in the war.

Gruesome thought.

 

Photographer Mathew Brady

 

Photojournalists of the time were attempting to convey the war’s true horror and devastation. Those without family or friends on the front lines saw only lists of the dead. In cities like New York, especially, it was an irrelevant, far-off happening. Photos brought everything home.

It’s gripping, packed full of fascinating detail. Love the photos, as well, though being a proof copy they’re not the sharpest. I expect I’ll be back to it this evening.

 

Playing on desperation of the grieving

 

The principle of the thing

 

God, I hate seeing that face on my blog.

Do I think this is totally nonfiction? No. Do I believe it’s politically motivated? Absolutely. But I hate this man with a vengeance. He tried to censor the book, threatening to sue to stop publication. Then the publisher moved up the release date…

Superb!

I don’t know that I’ll read it. We all know he’s unbalanced, stupid, inept, a lech. I see enough of him in the daily news. I bought the book because he didn’t want me to, because it’s my First Amendment right.

I have enough on my reading plate. It can sit on my Kindle.

 

Cha-ching!

 

This is what happens when you hobnob with editors and other literary folk. I regularly bump into Louise Penny’s US editor on Twitter, largely because we share the same political views. I mentioned I’d owned several Penny titles, but had to sell them when I moved to Scotland. She said, well, then, let me fix that.

Swoon!

If you’re bookish you won’t ask the question. The answer: when I can get to her.

Etc.

Some books have slipped by the wayside, as tends to happen when you’re a greedy binge reader. I didn’t make this month’s meeting of the classics group at my library, and hadn’t finished Nicholas Nickleby, anyway.  I intend to, mind. I’m largely enjoying it, though unusually frustrated by some of the side-track plotting.

Also languishing are Hawksmoor, for the Bowie read, and Stannard’s bio of Muriel Spark, which I’m reading but slowly.

Then there are two books I’m overdue in reviewing. Glasgow Review needs a date from me regarding a book I’ve had since my summer in Scotland, and NYJB hasn’t asked, but I owe them one immediately, as well. It’s timely, so I need to get off my arse. Another in the NYJB queue awaits, partially read but nowhere near reviewed.

 

That’s a wrap on the basics of my reading week. I have today’s New York Times sitting beside me, which is a good slow simmer guilty pleasure. Unfortunately, I also have a headache from hell (allergies), and work I need to get done.

Ah, but it feels good firing off a summary post.

Next post will likely be personal again. Much to say that doesn’t fit well in the scope of a bookish theme. Until then, good news is the days are lengthening and I have so much exciting stuff ahead.

x

Merry Booksmas! Books I’m gifting to me this year.

Nice stack.

Let’s face it: no one knows which books I want at the holidays. Used to be I owned thousands and no one could tell what I didn’t already have. Now that my library’s so small, it’s what haven’t you already read...

Plus, I only exchange gifts with my kids, so there’s that. They figure I pick up anything I really want, anyway. Mostly, they’re right.

There were so, so many books I wanted to buy, but unfortunately there are annoying bills like rent and food to be paid. 2017 was not cheap, not that I’m saying I regret a penny. I just don’t have an awful lot of disposable income right now to feel comfortable splashing out.

But it’s Christmas, right?

Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? Are there no new books to crack open and smell?

Oh, there are:

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

I didn’t pay much attention to this year’s Man Bookers. Usually I’m all over it like orange on Trump, but this year I was pre-occupied and hardly noticed the long or short lists. I’ll admit I was a bit surprised when I heard an American had won it for the second year in a row. But I won’t go into the politics of that and how irksome I find it. I’ve had enough politics this year to last me the rest of my life, thanks very much.

Elmet sounds delicious:

The family thought the little house they had made themselves in Elmet, a corner of Yorkshire, was theirs, that their peaceful, self-sufficient life was safe. Cathy and Daniel roamed the woods freely, occasionally visiting a local woman for some schooling, living outside all conventions. Their father built things and hunted, working with his hands; sometimes he would disappear, forced to do secret, brutal work for money, but to them he was a gentle protector.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

You have been taught that you are unclean, that you are not holy, that your body is impure and could never harbour the divine. You have been taught to despise everything you are and to long only to be a man. But you have been taught lies. ‘

– The Power

 

 

 

This year’s Baileys Women’s Prize winner has huge praise from Margaret Atwood emblazoned on the cover. Margaret. Atwood.

Oh please, like I wasn’t buying this one.

Incidentally, did you catch The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu? I watched all but the last episode in Scotland; I’m pissed as hell I had to leave and missed the ending. I may have to subscribe for the free trial just to see that.

Mrs Osmond by John Banville

John Banville writes like an angel, and this book extends the story of Isabel Archer from Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. I may need to re-read Portrait, as well. Do I re-read it before, or after?

A quandary.

Read before, I may be too critical of Banville. After. Definitely after.

I don’t always get along with sequels and prequels and riffs on classic literature. But John Banville. Exceptions are made to all my rules.

Miss Jane by Brad Watson

The potency and implacable cruelty of nature, as well as its beauty, is a trademark of Watson’s fiction. In Miss Jane, the author brings to life a hard, unromantic past that is tinged with the sadness of unattainable loves, yet shot through with a transcendent beauty.

Yep.

Huuuuge buzz surrounded this novel, which doesn’t always mean much, but when it’s a proven writer like Brad Watson, it kinda does.

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Several people said this novel should have taken the Booker Prize this year. Yeah, even when I’m not paying attention, I’m paying attention.

When it comes to books.

Midwinter in an English village. A teenage girl has gone missing. Everyone is called upon to join the search. The villagers fan out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on what is usually a place of peace. Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed.

As the seasons unfold and the search for the missing girl goes on, there are those who leave the village and those who are pulled back; those who come together and those who break apart. There are births and deaths; secrets kept and exposed; livelihoods made and lost; small kindnesses and unanticipated betrayals. An extraordinary novel of cumulative power and grace, Reservoir 13 explores the rhythms of the natural world and the repeated human gift for violence, unfolding over thirteen years as the aftershocks of a tragedy refuse to subside.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Never read any Ng, but I follow her on Twitter and she’s very likable. She tweeted a lot as she was writing this book, enough that I started wondering why I’m following her if I haven’t read her books.

Let’s remedy that.

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

I had this book in my hand so many times at Barnes & Noble. I didn’t buy it previously for no other reason than I’m not buying a lot of books this year, especially expensive new ones. And especially not when I can go a-begging and get them for free.

I was in an indie bookshop, saw it sitting there, and thought oh, okay, what the hell. It’ll be a fast and probably fairly forgettable book, but entertaining nonetheless. Plus, I was helping out a local indie.

Win/win.

As I was posting this, I remembered one work of NF I’d wanted very badly and hadn’t managed to snag from the publisher. If Amazon’s still promising pre-Christmas delivery…

Well.

We’ll see.

I’m being very good to myself this year. I think I deserve it. But then, I think I do every year. Never let it be said I’ve hidden my preference for myself under a bushel. After all, if you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will.

True words.

I’m hoping to get off (be good) at least one more post before year’s end, on the topic of my 2018 plans. Mostly reading, but if I’m in the right mood I’ll talk about other stuff, too. Safest to stay with reading, but when am I ever safe.

Anyway. Get out there and buy yourselves some books! Chop, chop. Time’s a-wasting.

A little book therapy goes a long way.

I miss the good old days when I had me a rich husband to pay for my subscription to the Sunday New York Times. There’s nothing on earth like a thick slab of newsprint slamming onto your driveway once a week, leaving a rectangle-shaped imprint in the asphalt. Even once I peeled off the sections I didn’t give a crap about, there was still enough reading material to keep me busy more than half the week.

Spoiler: It’s the Book Review section I lusted for most.

The lousy bastards keep sending me tempting half-price offers, and good lord I yearn, but post-Scotland my coffers are a whole lot emptier thanks to something called no income. I’ve been cutting costs across the board. My home is furnished with mostly thrifted stuff – high quality thrift, mind, I have a reputation to uphold – and I don’t even have TV service. My cell phone plan’s the lowest available, as is my internet. No no no, don’t say “in that case, you have extra money sitting around…”

I was kind of thinking that, then I remembered something: there are libraries. Libraries subscribe to newspapers.

Libraries are free.

Well, paid for via property taxes, which I don’t pay directly since I’m renting. But, you know.

I was sorely disappointed with the last two weeks’ NYTimes Books section. Usually satisfying for this lusty wench, it just wasn’t doing it for me.  But then, the attention span isn’t there, either.

SEE: disaster, recent.

If I’d read the entire Sunday paper, the slick adverts would have gotten my full attention. Lately, most days find me sitting here on the sofa, eyes wide from hours spent scrolling through Pinterest for hacks on rental-friendly, sexy fixes for all the ugly bits in my house, empty water bottles littering the faux wood (SEE: Fake) floor beside me.

I’m ridiculously focused on decor. When I’m not out relentlessly hunting for something to throw on my walls, I’m home staring at things other people have. It’s a sickness, but mostly a safe one. And it’s a whole lot cheaper than drugs. But dear god don’t bring up the subject around me or I’ll tell you how much I spent on every, single fecking square inch of my house.

Everything above the bookshelves, FORTY-FIVE DOLLARS!

I had better luck with the most recent Bookmarks Magazine. If you don’t know it, you need to look it up. While not comprehensive, it does a damn good job gathering newly published and soon-to-be released titles, gives brief blurbs, and assembles excerpts from some major review venues. They give a star rating – 1-5 – based on how positive the reviews are.

I likes it.

And I found me a few titles to beg for, I mean check out:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to go a-whoring.

It’s not a bad idea forcing myself to crawl to the library and read the Sunday New York Times. Gets me out of the house, and gives me a reason to get dressed and brush my hair. It has the added benefit of being where people are, sitting amidst others riffling through pages and drinking coffee. The sound of pages turning is soothing to me.

Hey, is there an app for that?

If I get restless, there’s always the decorating magazines. If I’ve had no luck soliciting publishers to get those books above, you know I hear libraries have those, too.

But I just may subscribe to Bookmarks. A girl needs something in her mailbox besides junk.

No, that’s not a euphemism.