Man Booker 2013. The winner is: Eleanor Catton

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Congratulations, Eleanor!

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Seems my guess was the kiss of death for Jim Crace and NiViolet Bulwayo. Sorry about that, you two. Especially to Jim Crace. That man should not stop writing, almost as much as I should, in order to protect the innocent. I’m upset with him for his insistence he’s done. He wants to fish, he says. To relax and fish. Well, maybe he’ll change his mind one day.

Speaking of, have you read a book by him yet, have you? We had this discussion (I did, at least) a few weeks back. Everything he’s written is touched by God Himself. Read all his books, write reviews of him in all the places and maybe he’ll see them and feel all nostalgic and weepy about the terrible feeling of facing the blank screen (or notebook, I can’t recall offhand what he said). I would email him again and instruct him to get back to work but I’m afraid he’ll develop Sebastian Barry complex and begin to look at me askance. Truth is I am the most innocent thing. A bit excitable (only about books, otherwise I pretty much just stare into space) and passionate (ditto) but not at all scary.

Convincing? Should I revise?

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luminariescatton2Lots and lots of copies of the book I couldn’t get through.

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But the point – lost long ago, in a fit of wildly careening writing – is the Big Prize went to the one novel I tried to get through and couldn’t! Huzzah…?

What’s wrong with me? It’s not a bad book. Not bad bad, I mean. The fault was in not giving it enough undivided attention, I’m almost certain. I’m sort of bad, that way. It’s well-written and about the intriguing and new-to-me subject of the gold rush in New Zealand:

It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky.

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Sounds lovely when you put it that way, doesn’t it? Well, as far as I know it’s still on my Kindle (I have a free eBook from the publisher, which will disappear when they decide to “archive” it), so I’ll get back on it or die trying. With Moby Dick still ongoing. And that doorstop Tudors.

At least Henry’s dead now, (the VIII, not some random Henry) finally, and Elizabeth’s primed for crown and sceptre, once that pesky Edward gets out of her way. I’d grown tired reading about Henry and his sadism. What an @$$hole, really! Boiling people alive? Dismembering, chopping off heads, hanging and burning? Not to mention the destruction of all those beautiful churches and the illuminated manuscripts. Did you know they used those gorgeous works for toilet paper? Turns my stomach. Ten centuries destroyed in one fell swoop, Ackroyd wrote, and I wanted to weep.

Why the fascination with the Tudors? Shame on us all. While the kind, caring rulers are gathering dust in their marble sarcophagi we’re lusting after the Tudors, because a hot little minx or three and a few messy beheadings make a good story, I suppose. Better we should forget the ulcerous old bastard and look to Elizabeth I. She had her own moments but she is a female role model, of sorts.

Because who needs a king? Not that one, that’s who.

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elizabethiThis one, that’s who.

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Back to the Bookers, sorry. I get prattling and things go awry, then I don’t feel like working on segues and here we are.

I knew I was off my game this year, as I told you in my last post. My prediction for either Jim Crace or NoViolet Bulawayo didn’t materialize but I had an unsettled feeling I wasn’t quite getting it. My intuition didn’t sense it as strongly this year. Something was off-kilter: my Karma or what-not. For so many years I’ve been nailing it. Not so 2013. Sigh.

I’ll get back to the Catton, with a dose of Melville and Ackroyd on the side. And, well, okay a dash of Joyce Carol Oates’s My Sister, My Love, my creepy pleasure of the moment. It’s based on the JonBenet Ramsey case, if you remember that child murder from years and years ago, about the beautiful six year old whose mother whored her up like a slutty Barbie doll, entering her in beauty pageants (do not start me on that rant). Still unsolved, unbelievably. And just now I read this article, from two days ago saying the slaying indictment, which was never prosecuted (?!), may be unsealed.

You can’t hear it but I’m making a disgusted sound at the thought of how wrong the world is right now, for JonBenet and so much else. Now my forehead’s hitting the desk. You can’t see my desk – THANK GOD – but it’s very 1990s and I want to burn it. The drawers tend to fall out when you open them. It’s an optional feature I chose. In another 100 years it will come back into style, complete with a charming patina of coffee cup rings and stray ink marks.

This would be it for this time but I didn’t direct you to my review of Nicholson Baker’s Traveling Sprinkler, published on the New York Journal of Books website. It’s a  little rambling but they took it, so phew! Relief making the deadline is all I can say. Strike that. I could say much more but I have to go start dinner. Plus, if you’ve read this far I feel badly on your behalf.

Now my work here is done, for this time. I’d meant just to talk about my Man Booker fiasco but then things got away from me. Woe is you!

Ta, loves. And keep reading.

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Reading catch-up: October 2013

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The Man Bookers, 2013

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The days are winding down. Not long to go now. Six days until the big winner is announced.

As for my own progress, I tried so, so hard to get through Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. It’s well-written but I found it so bloated with extraneous detail and repetitive material I was forced to throw in the towel. Yes, I did like that at first, considering I was having so much trouble recalling who was who and Catton’s tendency to repeat herself was a plus. But that got to be old.

I have so many other eBooks on the go from NetGalley something had to give. So I put The Luminaries aside for Peter Ackroyd’s Tudors. Yes, another book about Henry VIII. It’s a weakness.

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Lahiri’s publisher sent me a copy of The Lowland, which I’ll try to fit in. And I really want to read Ozecki’s book, too. and NoViolet Bulwayo’s.

Lots of ambition, little time.

I have a feeling it will come down to Jim Crace’s Harvest and Bulawayo’s We Need New Names. So, barring any last minute change of mind, I’m thinking one of these. Either Crace’s to keep him writing or Bulawayo’s to honor a new writer whose book sounds wonderful. SOUNDS WONDERFUL. Notice I haven’t even READ IT. Which stops me from expressing an opinion, oh, never.

I also have the sneaking feeling I may be WRONG in my prediction this year. Disconcerting. If I’m wrong, will you still respect me in the morning?

Will see soon enough.

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Moby Dick. I think I’ve been covering my progress with it pretty well. And it continues…

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John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley. Did I mention I’m reading it? In case I didn’t, I’m reading it.

It’s Steinbeck in a camper/pick up truck, his big poodle Charley and a journey across America. It’s my health club (elliptical and stationary bike) read and it’s funny and interesting to read about America from several decades ago, what’s changed and what hasn’t.

HINT: Most hasn’t.

Its light prose (with deeper insights) makes a good accompaniment to sweating and swearing.

I long to do this one day, to take off and visit small town America, writing about what I seem and who I meet. I’ve seen a lot of my country – more than the average American – but never just for the sake of analyzing it and writing about it. It’s always been rush, rush, rush from one site to another. In other words, your standard family vacation. But the difference is we didn’t spend a lot of time in the little places, off the beaten path. We did drive, which is rare in these days after the invention of the Big Silver Bird, so we were at least old school in that way. I want to take off with no destination in mind (Steinbeck did have a map, I have to qualify), just rambling, writing and taking pictures.

Some day? Probably not. That’s how life goes.

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Peter Ackroyd’s Tudors. Looks like it was released this week, so I’m hoping NetGalley doesn’t yank it away from me. It’s a really long tome, written in Ackroyd’s smooth, readable prose. Finally I’m getting the hang of who Cardinal Wolsey was, as well as Cromwell and a few other historical figures who’ve been muddled in my mind.

From Amazon:

Above all, however, it is the story of the English Reformation and the making of the Anglican Church. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, England was still largely feudal and looked to Rome for direction; at its end, it was a country where good governance was the duty of the state, not the church, and where men and women began to look to themselves for answers rather than to those who ruled them.

I bought the first volume in Ackroyd’s new history of Britain series, Foundation, which covers the period from its earliest beginnings up to the Tudors. Tudors goes along well with my having just read Russell Shorto’s Amsterdam (read it! it’s phenomenal!) as it deals with religious liberalism and what was coming out of that Dutch culture at the same time Henry was having his religious “issues”. Serendipity.

For the sake of continuity, I may have to purchase Tudors as well. How can I own a partial set of books?

Heresy (irony intentional).

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PURCHASES…

Alright…

Aside from dips into this ‘n that, this covers the bulk of my recent reading. I’m in my usual panic, looking at my overflowing bookshelves upon bookshelves upon bookshelves added to what’s coming out every day (damn the fall publication titles!). I purchased the new Barnes, Levels of Life, which I’ve been waiting for forever, since it was of course published in the UK first. I had that on Amazon pre-order.

And the new Drabble Pure Gold Baby. Same thing.

And a few others. OKAY. QUIT TWISTING MY ARM. On my crazy weekend away with my galpal I visited Boswell Book Co. in Milwaukee, WI. Aside from a plush Charles Dickens doll (I know…), these jumped into my arms:

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I’ve lost my copy of Christopher Morley’s classic The Haunted Bookshop. And look how pretty this edition is (top)!

Then, A.J.A. Symons’s The Quest for Corvo:

Amazon:

One day in 1925 a friend asked A. J. A. Symons if he had read Fr. Rolfe’s Hadrian the Seventh. He hadn’t, but soon did, and found himself entranced by the novel—”a masterpiece”—and no less fascinated by the mysterious person of its all-but-forgotten creator. The Quest for Corvo is a hilarious and heartbreaking portrait of the strange Frederick Rolfe, self-appointed Baron Corvo, an artist, writer, and frustrated aspirant to the priesthood with a bottomless talent for self-destruction. But this singular work, subtitled “an experiment in biography,” is also a remarkable self-portrait, a study of the obsession and sympathy that inspires the biographer’s art.

I had to. Plus, you’ll note the Bargain Book sticker, thanks very much.

Finally, Read Me: A Century of Classic American Book Advertisements by Dwight Garner

Because how often do you run across books like this? AND, another Bargain Book.

Don’t judge me…

Trouble is, I feel like I’m missing one. Ah, well. Neither here nor there.

Then, a partial pile of review books lately arrived:

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Gosh, I’ve missed several other review copies, I realize now, including a paperback copy of Crace’s Harvest (I had the hardback for review). I’ll put those on the accompanying Bluestalking Tumbler Blog. Problem solved.

It’s nice reminding myself what I’m reading. I rely on my blog a lot for that but even that’s a struggle. A written book journal would go a long way toward helping me keep up at a glance, now, wouldn’t it. Making mental note. That’s what this blog was originally meant to do but I can’t seem to keep things organized enough even with that. The books just KEEP ARRIVING! Strange how that happens.

Back soon. In the meantime, read on, my loves! Read on! And don’t spare the horses.

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Photo credit: Dennis Camp Photography

Photo credit: Dennis Camp Photography

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My Nemesis, Moby Dick

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It’s taken me a very long time getting back to Moby Dick. In college I tried, oh how I tried, to make it through the book without falling asleep. And I’m not sure that’s a comment on the novel myself, as much as my exhaustion having so much to read and so little time, especially as I again last night – very late – read Chapter One and was entranced by the language and the humor.

Yes, humor!

In college I “read” the book and wrote a paper on it, all without having actually gotten through it to any appreciable extent. I no longer remember how far I did make it but I testify it was nowhere near far enough to write a paper on it with any degree of coherence. How did I do it? I read about the book, dipped into some of the key scenes and received a respectable B on the paper.

The professor, as back story, despised me. I don’t mean in an adolescent accusation way, either. It was full-out hatred. What makes it all the more pathetic is she was – and is, she’s still doddering along – a nun, who ought to have known better than to piss off God by hating me. The situation was, I had recently broken up with the son of a family she turned out to be friendly with and she thought I was no better than the village whore because of it. Actually, the buffoon played me for a fool and dumped me but she may not have realized that.

Neither here nor there.

All this made getting past her with a B felt all the sweeter. The old hag. She’s the same woman who had the audacity to tell me later, in a meeting we scheduled regarding another assignment, I should get out more and perhaps I’d meet a nice young man to marry. I kid you not. And, at the time, I was engaged. What did all this have to do with the assignment and/or meeting? Absolutely nothing.

In any event, that’s the back story of my experience with Moby Dick and I am just now getting back to the book. I’m Irish. I hold grudges. It’s a simple truth. And that nun must be 110 by now, I can’t believe she’s still in the land of the living. I thought she was near death when I was in college so it’s a mind-blower she’s kept alive this long. Only the evil die incredibly old?

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I became all the more keen on reading Moby Dick after visiting Melville’s House in Pittsfield, MA, back in 2007. It was the year our vacation, strangely enough, allowed time for my Dead Author Tour. I consider it strange because I’m the only reader of classic literature in my family and my kids have next to no patience being force-marched from author’s home to author’s home. Why they humored me I don’t know to this day but I’ll take it.

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I love photographing things authors would have touched, original items from the house. Imagine his hand turning his doorknob. Such a mundane occurrence to him but such a poignant reminder he existed to me.

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IMG_1055-2Melville’s barn, from his house.

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More on Melville and Moby Dick forthcoming.

Man Booker Shortlist 2013

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And then there were six…

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  • Eleanor Catton – New Zealand

  • Jhumpa Lahiri – UK/US

  • Colm Toíbín – Ireland

  • Ruth Ozecki – Canada/US

  • Jim Crace – UK

  • NoViolet Bulawayo – Zimbabwe

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From The Telegraph:

The Books:

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

The only debut novel on the shortlist. The 31-year-old Zimbabwean author tells the story of Darling who lives in a shanty called Paradise.

Judges said: “In the course of our epic readathon we met many, many child narrators, an exhausting number of child narrators, but none stood out quite like Darling.”

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

New Zealander Catton, 27, is the youngest author on the shortlist. Her debut novel, The Rehearsal (2008), was longlisted for the Orange Prize.

The book features Walter Moody, who is drawn into a mystery when he attempts to make his fortune in New Zealand’s goldfields.

Judge Natalie Haynes, a classicist and critic, added: “When an 823-page book turns up in a parcel, a sinking sensation could occur to a person who is trying to read a book a day while doing the things that pay their mortgage, but within about six pages of the book I felt like I’d got into a bath.”

Harvest by Jim Crace

Hertfordshire-born Crace, 67, the oldest author on the shortlist, has been writing fiction since 1974. Quarantine (1997) was previously shortlisted for the Booker.

The book charts, over the course of seven days, the destruction of an English village and its way of life after a trio of outsiders put up camp on its borders.

Crace has said the book will be his last work of fiction.

Judges said Harvest continued to “haunt” them after months of reading, adding: “When you think about the eruption of strangers into this enclosed world, the resentment caused by these outsiders, you begin to get a glimpse of some of the troubling debates in modern life.”

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

London-born Lahiri, 46, lives in the US and holds UK and US citizenship. She has written four works of fiction including The Namesake, which was adapted into the film of the same name.

The Lowland, featuring the lives of two once inseparable children raised in Calcutta, is a novel about entangled family ties.

Judges said: “This is a novel about distance and separation … a novel about the impossibility of leaving certain kinds of past behind.”

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Canadian-American writer Ozeki, 57, was ordained as a Zen Buddhist priest in 2010 and is the author of three novels.

A Tale For The Time Being, which features cyberbullying and a 105-year-old Buddhist nun, centres around a mystery that unfolds when the protagonist, Ruth, discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of her beach home.

Judges said: “It’s a Zen novel if such a thing is possible. It’s about dualities at every level – East to West, cruelty and kindness, forgetting and remembering, and releasing and enclosing.” The book is “incredibly clever, incredibly sweet and big-hearted”, they added.

The Testament Of Mary by Colm Toibin

Irish author Toibin, 58, is the author of five novels, including The Blackwater Lightship (1999) and The Master (2004), which were both shortlisted for the Booker.

“A woman from history (is) rendered now as fully human” in the book, which features Mary, “living in exile and fear, and trying to piece together the events that led to her son’s brutal death”.

Judges said the book was a “beautifully crafted, passionate story that most people think they already know”, which the author “turns into something wonderfully fresh and strange”.

Judges admired “the power of Mary’s voice” and said it was a short novel but one that “lives long in the memory” with a narrative that ranges over a lifetime in just over 100 pages.

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My take:

I’ve read The Harvest and pronounce it positively masterful. It’s very dark and grim, a sepia-toned portrait of Medieval Britain and the conversion from an agrarian economy to the wool trade. Sound dull? Oh, no. The plot is menacing and riveting. More about the loss of livelihood of former serfs, narrated by one living amongst them but shunned for being born “outside,” it draws a picture of the basic inhumanity of man when faced with impending poverty and homelessness.

It is anything but dull.

I’ve reviewed the book, then interviewed Crace and was impressed with his candor and the cut of his jib. He says this is his last novel of his writing career. Read all his books to understand what a travesty this would be. A Booker win could change that. Part of me pulls very strongly for Crace.

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I’m currently reading The Luminaries. It’s a sprawling, many-charactered novel set during the gold rush in Australia. It’s a HUGE tome and it’s difficult keeping the characters straight. Fortunately, Catton knows this and repeats who each one is, from what profession and how s/he relates to the story frequently enough the reader can rest a bit easier. It starts slowly but builds very well. Its Booker potential lies in its entertainment factor, partially. I’m finding parts of it funny, in a low-key way. It has the quality of being a sort of comedy of errors at times. And then there’s the mystery element, who killed whom for gold and how will the whole thing come together? In more than 800 pages.

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Knopf/Random sent me a copy of The Lowlanders, bless them! Haven’t had a chance to even open the cover yet but I’m reading as fast as I can…

The others I don’t own but can remedy easily enough. Well, save the $ issue. Can’t take that lightly.

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Remember how I said I wasn’t going to get sucked into the Booker race this year? I’ve been sucked into the Booker race this year. ‘Tis a pity she’s a book whore.

Particularly tight race this year. I’m torn between believing the committee wants Jim Crace to keep writing, and the quality of his book is stellar, but competition is fierce. I am pleased by the diversity, though, and happy to see writers of partial US citizenship in the running. Toíbín, The Telegraph fails to say, is currently Mellon Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, right here in the U.S. So I’ll claim him, just a little.

The winner? Still leaning toward Crace. What can I say? But I’ll keep reading.

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Dear Mr. Washington…

gwashingtonHe was our first president and one of the greatest generals ever to don the uniform. Before that he was kind of a whiny and very rich brat.

Prior to our trip to Philly, D.C. and the lovely Appalachians late in July I’d already been reading a very long – but fascinating – bio of our first president. It wasn’t preparation for the trip, as that came about at the last minute with minimal planning beyond booking hotels but because I felt I’m undereducated on my country’s history. Beyond what I learned in school, have seen on the History Channel and heard from my history-obsessed older son, it dawned on me I know very little about how our country came to become what it is. Washington being the first, well, it was inevitable I’d start with him. How serendipitous that turned out to be, considering our decision to head East and visit the historic roots of America.

I had a preconceived image of George Washington as the tall, assured figure the history books described. Imagine my surprise reading about the inauspicious beginning of his career. He had the chutzpah to insert himself into commanding positions without permission, taking advantage of the disorganized nature of the American Colonies and lack of very thorough British planning. This part I admired; forcing one’s way into positions of power being quite impressive and “taking the bull by the horns.” I’ve always seen that as a particularly American trait, the determination to do or die, to assert oneself and pursue a dream. You can get a long way being pushy. And Americans are that, for good or ill.

But then, when things didn’t go his way (which was by far most of the time) his reaction was to high-tail it, running back home to Mt. Vernon, from which he’d fire off petulant letters to various high-profile figures, complaining no one understood him. Then he’d complain his rank was too low, that the Brits were – surprise! – paid more and given higher positions. He was long on words, short on action. Despite the fact he knew little about military strategy and was a screw up. Apparently, he figured he’d learn that on the job, which eventually he did, of course.

For reasons I still can’t fathom, the Powers That Be kept calling on him despite the fact he was, quite frankly, a bumbler. For instance, he accidentally killed a French diplomatic delegation coming to make peace for having taken over the fur trade, sneaking up on them as they slept, unarmed and innocent. As you may imagine, this caused quite a ruckus from the French, leaving the British with a lot of explaining to do. While that was going on, the justifiably incensed French demanding justice, away to Mt. Vernon he ran, beating a hasty retreat, leaving behind cannons and other provisions he may as well have gift wrapped, topping them with bows. Because he had no exit strategy the loss of life and provisions was great.

Not that it was all his fault. He was head of the Colonial army, the British General Braddock leading the “Red Coats,” the military might of the world unused to guerrilla warfare. Once the British sharpshooters realized they were sitting ducks who may as well have been wearing targets on their chests, for an army of French and their Indian allies who shot at them from behind trees, they turned and bolted. This left both Washington and Braddock slack-jawed, wielding their swords in vain, their orders to turn back and fight like men ignored. To make matters more humiliating, afterward they realized they’d also inadvertently killed the colonial volunteers sent into the woods, hired to protect them from just this sort of eventuality.

It was a nasty business.

Washington remained a rather pathetic military figure for so many years I’m  not quite sure how he came to be elected head of the Continental Army. Even in that position he made so many mistakes, caused the loss of so many lives, unless he was paying someone wads of cash – or tobacco, for a while our greatest currency – the mind boggles. But then, once he figured out what he was doing we all know how that one turned out. Not that there weren’t complaints, even the threat of mutiny. Still, luck remained on his side.

As a farmer and businessman he was incredibly successful. It was Mt. Vernon he loved most of all, perhaps more than his wife Martha. He’d snapped her up after she became the most wealthy widow in the Colonies, though his heart was and would always be with the wife of one of his best friends and benefactors.

After he’d known Martha only a handful of hours he proposed and she accepted. Score! Along with her and her children from her first marriage came loads more land, a large amount of which he used to buy and rent out the rich valley lands in the Shenandoah region. In this way he was a very shrewd man and this was how he earned a large portion of his wealth.

Not university educated, he was an autodidact, learning about farming and raising animals from reading books. Detail-oriented and a quick study, he directed his slaves (!) to carry out his well-planned methods of everything from planting an orchard and flower garden to earning money in the blacksmith trade. Once he deduced the fact tobacco crops ravaged the soil,he began rotating his crops, the first planter to ever do so, Instead, he turned to wheat, built a mill and sold grain. He was shrewd, that man, which is how he earned his money.

P1020617George Washington’s beloved Mt. Vernon (front)

P1020588Mt. Vernon (back)

Washington was a reader of the most popular fiction of the time, as well,  writing British booksellers asking that they send over whatever was popular and worth reading. Smollett was a particular favorite. He did the same with everything, from purchasing “the most fashionable” china to his pretty, frilly shirts and fabric for Martha to use for clothing the family. London merchants must have loved the man. Here’s my money. Pick out stuff and ship it to me. A proprietor’s dream customer: an American dripping with money who trusted their taste.

I haven’t reached the post-Revolutionary point in the book but it’s so well-written and researched I feel confident recommending it. I’m at around the 3/4 mark and unless the author does something devastating I’m so glad this was the bio I started with. Will I read more about GW? Possibly, but then again I have an awful lot of presidents to learn about.

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For now, this one’s fantastic:

randallwashingtonGeorge Washington: A Life by Willard Sterne Randall

  • File Size: 1814 KB
  • Print Length: 636 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: New Word City, Inc.; 1 edition (June 28, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00DPFKME6

I’m reading it on my Kindle. And it’s available at Amazon for $ 2.99, one of the best bargain price books I’ve bought.

I wasn’t sent this book, or any information about it, for review. I bought it myself and write about it because it’s impressed me and I recommend it.

Anyone who’s read another bio of the man – or seen a good video – please let me know. I’d appreciate it.

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Hodge Podge of Books

 

Busy reading for review and even a bit for optional review. I always manage to squeeze in a little of both. That's what they call "life balance." Others may insist this is actually keeping your house clean, exercising, running errands and reading. But I'm not others. Work and pleasure; pleasure and work. And the occasional meal and bit of sleep.

Here's my current "balance:"

 

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Release Date: October 2, 2012

[Review copy from publisher.]

 

PenumbraA gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore

"The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore."

I'm afraid you'll have to hang out 'til sometime in Septemberish for more, as well as an interview with author Robin Sloan .

 

There Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty by Sebastian Barry

Penguin Books, (reprint edition, 1999)

[My personal copy, signed by the man himself.]

EneasmccnultyMe? Reading Sebastian Barry? I know, how unusual.  I've just heard such great things about him. Partly here on my blog but he seems to have caught on quite well in other places, too.

I've been in contact with Mr. Barry again and also reading every bit of interview material I can lay hands on; what I've learned about the man could almost write his autobiography. I'm not sure what he hasn't been asked, ad nauseum, which makes the fact I may have landed an interview with the great man (yes!) an incredibly intimidating experience – though, of course, that's not the only reason it ties my stomach in knots.

As an interviewer, you want to inform your readers about some of the basics but as an interviewer who's read what others have asked, I want to delve into uncharted waters, digging out questions that surprise him. In this case it's so terribly difficult, since so many have gotten there before me. So, if I do get the chance to query Mr. Barry don't expect the same old stuff. For that you can check out the dozens of previous interrogaters.

As for the actual book I'm currently reading, The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, like the rest of his novels, is based on family history and the period of The Troubles in Ireland. Eneas, after having serve in World War I, joins "the British-led police force, the Royal Irish Constabulatory." That doesn't sound exceptional until you think about the time period. The Irish uprising is ripping the country apart in a brother-against-brother virtual civil war with England and amongst themselves. The Irish for the Republic have turned into a mafia. Anyone perceived as having helped support the English, no matter how inadvertantly, is – with few exceptions - slaughtered, cut down wherever they're found. And if a man tries to leave Ireland he's followed, to the ends of the earth, and executed, "justice" exacted for the love of country.

Eneas himself falls into the trap, having been witness to things beyond his control. Simply by being where he was and also refusing to participate in more violence, he's forced to flee, leaving behind his family and his beloved, Vivienne. Not that he doesn't fight for his right to stay. He's defiant and bold, leaving it 'ti lthe last minute before he sees there is really no recourse but to submit.

I could find a passage of unsurpassed beauty on any page, so I randomly turned to this expression of the ache for home:

 

"He sees the little bathing places of south Dublin, Sandycove, the Baths, the Forty Foot, places he barely knows, maybe visited the once in the old days when his mother would bring him to the capital… But his chest heaves with love, with peace, with pure need. It's the tobacco, the opium, of returning home. There might be angels standing on the rocky shores throwing out one after another bright ropes with grappling hooks to dig into and find purchase on his heart. One after another the arms rise like fishermen in the ancient like fishermen in the ancient days. Shortly he goes down riveted by his love, with the bolts of this love fastened into his skin…"

 

 

Other books in progress:

Fifty Shames of Earl Grey: A Parody by Fanny Merkin (a.k.a. Andrew Shaffer)

Be on the lookout for short review/author interview coming soon.

 

The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America by Martin Amis

Yes, my country takes a few slams but it's also clear there are a few compliments behind some of the blather. Amis amuses me no end; I can take the digs. In fact, I've made a few myself. If you read this, keep in mind he's married to an American and now lives in this country.

 

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

This must be one of the biggest books of the summer. I'm around 1/3 of the way in and finding the blurbs are overblown. I'm not sure what it is about some books, why writers and reviewers rally around them when they're nothing special, then ignore little gems that pass right under the radar. I'm so frustrated; it's so unjust.

 

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

Wonderful, wonderful so far.

 

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe (Nonfiction)

Got this ARC at Booktopia, Oxford, MS.:

"Mary Anne Schwalbe is waiting for her chemotherapy treatments when Will casually asks her what she’s reading. The conversation they have grows into tradition: soon they are reading the same books so they can have something to talk about in the hospital waiting room. The ones they choose range from classic to popular, from fantastic to spiritual, and we hear their passion for reading and their love for each other in their intimate and searching discussions.

A profoundly moving testament to the power of love between a child and parent, and the power of reading in our lives."

I'm in the midst of trying to connect with Will Schwalbe, to interview him but the book won't be published 'til October so that won't run for a couple of months or so.

 

 

In addition, still re-reading Pride and Prejudice – as my Guardian Top 1,000 Novels List read – as well as plugging away, slowly, at Ulysses. But this weekend won't see much reading getting done; my brother and his wife are coming a-visiting, which also means I need to get off this computer and "balance" my life by cleaning the place.

'Til next time.

Post-Easter reading blitz and domestic disasters

 

Hope you all had a lovely Easter. Sorry I had nothing of note to post. It's difficult keeping our heads above water right now, what with my father-in-law battling cancer, our water heater breaking and leaking all over the basement floor and our upstairs bathtub deciding to join the party and drip into our living room.

Re: the water heater, that's been replaced and so far all's well (save the bill). The bathroom has been completely ripped out (it needed it, anyway, as the decor was decidely 70s modern – Far out!) and it's down to bare walls and plywood flooring. The potential, the potential, yes that's already going through my head. Eighteen years of looking at that dog vomit yellow were eighteen years too many but other, more crucial projects kept getting in the way. 

The family room needs painting as well but may just have to hold out a while longer since the kitchen is in more serious need, what with the scratches on the sliding door trim, courtest of a certain two dogs, who shall remain nameless. Then there are the marks on the wall, which happen to match up perfectly with the tops of the kitchen chairs. Sounds like a case for Sherlock Holmes.

Right now it's that sort of seafoam green I associate with Martha Stewart (in fact, it's from her line of paints) and goes beautifully with the cabinets (birch), countertops (dark granite) and appliances (stainless). It was all the rage in the early 2000s, before Martha was sent up river for insider training. Whatever I choose will probably lean toward pastel again. Maybe a blue? An updated yellow? The mind boggles.

Since we probably aren't going on vacation this year, between worry over leaving the area too long and the need to conserve money since my daughter's starting college this fall (scream here), I'm thinking about taking a week's worth of vacation to repaint the kitchen. What larks, Pip! And what a wonderful way to spend my time off.

I'm sort of a slob when it comes to painting. I lack the crucial "painting along the top of the wall/below the ceiling" gene.  I can do walls, around woodwork and other things. But that ceiling line… I have shaky hands naturally, probably related to the fact my fight or flight sensor is set to Code Red.  Every, single time I paint I get a ceiling line that looks like an EKG report without a single flatline.

But ne'er mind all that. Let's shift to what I'm reading, which is becoming completely out of control again, SURPRISE.

First, Anne Tyler's latest The Beginner's Goodbye. I'm not a Tyler fan and I've felt inadequate about it a long time. Yet, nearly every time she comes out with a new book I'm all over it. Such is my utter determination to like something she's written, dammit!

In the case of her latest, so far it's actually not so bad. Not great, but, as some critics are wont to say, "readable." A more back-handed compliment's hard to find but I guess they mean it well.

TBG is about a new widower who, in his great sorrow, is trying to get his life back in order after the loss of his wife. I know from reading the blurb he's going to start seeing his late wife everywhere, so that's no spoiler. Guess I haven't gotten that far quite yet, though I'm just over the mid-point. Anytime Tyler's ready to let that start happening is fine with me.

The book's character-driven and to my surprise I haven't found any of them irritatingly quirky, the word so often used to describe Ms. Tyler's characters. The husband's a bit wacky but I suppose that's to be allowed, considering his current situation. But one complaint I have is this same character acts and speaks so much older than he is. I keep forgetting he's a 30-something, from the way he speaks in general and about himself, even if he does has a disability. I felt vindicated when I located this from Ron Charles, saying the same basic thing in his own review:

"Nothing about him suggests we’re in the company of a 35-year-old in the early 21st century; he seems dustier than the 60-year-old in “Noah’s Compass.” “That tickled me no end,” he tells us when he hears Dorothy talking. Confronted by an angry colleague, he exclaims, “Goodness.” Seeing his dead wife standing in the street, he says, “Dorothy, my dear one. My only, only Dorothy.” "

The novel's occasionally quite funny and tells a story of universal appeal but beyond that it's really quite superficial. I'd classify it a "beach read," or at the least a summer or book group. I'll probably forget it as soon as I close the cover. As entertainment it's not a total waste of time. It does that quite well.

As Ron Charles said later in his review:

"Even die-hard fans of Tyler’s work should probably let this one float by."

Err… I'm not a fan to begin with. That's not very good news, now, is it.

 

  Beginnersgoodbye

 

Spurious

Next, a very strange, shorter novel called Spurious by Lars Iyer. The whole thing's a sort  of dramatic monologue between the unnamed narrator and W., a man never at a loss for words. If you aren't into dark, philosophical sorts of  books run away from this one very quickly. I'm around halfway and wonder if I should continue on or just drop it. Though I tend to lean toward darker books, for some reason this one's making me feel slightly uncomfortable and squirmy. It isn't bad. Not at all. It's funny and reads very quickly but it gives me a sort of Russian Novel Depression Disorder. (RNDD):

 "Idiocy, that's what we have in common. Our friendship is founded upon our limitations, we agree, and doesn't travel far from them.

We're full of joy, W. says as we walk back from the supermarket, that's what saves us. Why do we find our failings so amusing? But it does save us, we agree on that; it's our gift to the world. We are content with very little: look at us, with a frozen chicken in a bag, and some herbs and spices, walking home in the sun. The gift of laughter, I say – 'The gift of idiocy,' says W."

 From Steven Poole from Guardian.uk:

"It is near to the end of days, shortly before the appearance of a "stupid Messiah". Two British men, employed somehow in academia, muse on their lack of success and incapacity for real thought while drinking too much gin. "We are Brod and Brod, we agree, and neither of us is Kafka." Sometimes they travel to a conference, and drink too much there instead. One of the friends insults the other with spectacular, relentless cruelty. The insultee also has to deal with a damp problem in his flat that gradually assumes apocalyptic proportions of sweating metaphor."

This is a very well-written book by an assured writer. It's just that I'm a depressive to begin with and nothing here makes me feel any better. Not that it should but, at the least, I'd like there to be a reason for all the downer, dark comedy and not just show-offy "look how smart I am" quips.

Maybe, as one commenter replied to Poole's review:

 "…not something that Americans generally appreciated. A lot of the American reviews seem to have missed the point!"

 I can't comment back to him either way, since comments on the post have already been closed, drat it. It's true we in the States often don't get British humoUr and vice versa I assume. I tend to adore it, that dry sort of wit, and in fact it's my own style. But even I run up against a wall now and then. Maybe I've done that here?

I'll give it another go before I throw my hands up in despair.

 

Quickies – In Progress:

 

Sister by Lupton:

Compelling, if a bit over-written at times.

Marriage Plot by Eugenides:

Late night, pre-sleep Kindle read. Funny, funny and more funny.

This Burns My Heart by Park:

Free Review Book for bookgroup moderation at BookBrowse.com.

1984 re-read:

Another Kindle read, for Classics Book Group discussion at my library.

Religion for Atheists by de Botton:

Free review book. Compelling ideas I, so far, agree with.

 

Reviews actively working on or just finished:


Thecove

The Cove by Ron Rash for BookBrowse.com

Published 4/10/12 (today!)

 

Soamesdiary

(UK cover)

A Daughter's Tale: The Memoir of Winston Churchill's Youngest Child by Mary Soames

for Library Journal

Pub. 7/12

 

Carry on! As you were.

 

 

 

 

Sunday Salon: March 18, 2012

 

Sundaysalon

 

A big part of me wants to use today's platform to go on a tirade against all the callous people I've dealt with over the past few weeks  but what good would that really do. Eveyone falls into the Deep Pit at one time or other and the fact I live on a ledge far enough down I can barely see a pinpoint of light puts me in a category with loads of other people, therefore unexceptional. It's cool and damp here, like a cave, so could be worse. I hate the heat, and sometimes the sun, so maybe it's here I'm best suited. Dare to poke your head out, expecting others to be compassionate despite the fact I've developed the huge, freakish eyes of those who dwell in the dark, and you'll be used as a stepping-stone for the "above" people who are bigger, therefore better, than you. If you're one of these people, you'll know who you are from the bit of sting you feel, the acknowledgement of your shame. Ah, but that's assuming you have a conscience.

And that's how my life life's been going. Enigmatic, maybe, but a shot back over the bow to a few people who more than deserve it and are fortunate I haven't named them. A pox on you and I will not let you ruin this week as well.

Now, let's talk about books.

First off, the Frank Delaney interview. God that went well! I did a good enough job picking the questions, he blew me away with his answers. It's of course up here on Bluestalking, as well as in the Chicago Tribune Local edition. Hoping Library Journal will pick it up, too. I review for them and have asked pretty please. It may be upcoming.

Funny aside that made that in some ways embarrassing debacle (trust me) a bit less painful, I received an email from a publicist/marketing person re: Mr. Delaney's answer to my question about technology and what impact it will have on book publishing. He went into his feelings on book blogs and how much he loves them. She sent me a note, along with a ton of other bloggers I'm sure, praising him for his stance on literary bloggers. From  my own interview, of course, without her realizing it! Made me laugh. Flattering, too, of course, as she enjoyed the interview.

I'm planning to post separately re: the recently announced Orange Prize Longlist, so I'm not ignoring that but just delaying it a bit. Building the suspense and all that, right?

Riiiiiight.

 

Religionforatheists

Received this review copy out of the blue and they couldn't have picked a more willing blogger. I've long struggled with my complete lack of religious belief, though positive views on some things about religion/associated with religious belief, only no one's yet written anything I've found helpful on the topic. Most spew venom (SEE: Hitchens, Christopher – may he rest in peace) or, on the other side, make me want to put my finger down my throat and vomit. But Alain De Boton is, so far, hitting this particular nail right on its very  head. Loving it. He writes so well. I really do enjoy his work.

 

 

Another funny coincidence, I'm an advisor to a nonfiction publishing house and the latest author pitch they sent me for evaluation was so similar to De Boton's book it could have been its companion. I really hope they accept it for publication. It's a book I think is sorely needed in this literary genre that's been nothing but abused by those with a slanted agenda.

Still working on The Last Storyteller. A bit hard reading this after the aforementioned negative experience interviewing him (not him, personally, but…) but the beauty of it… Swoon-worthy. Sorry to sound like a broken record but no other nationality writes so well as the Irish. Except the gems of the U.S. South, and many of those authors' ancestors hailed from Ireland. Scotland, as well. And England. But, so far as I can tell yet, mostly Ireland, as did parts of my own family. I had two red-haired, blue-eyed grandfathers of Irish extraction, whose genes somehow hopped over all my other exclusively brown-haired and eyed relations to settle upon me. Statistically improbable but my blue-eyed, auburn-haired daughter is mightily grateful.

Further on genetics, it's my belief one reason the literature of the American South is so astounding owes itself to Irish immigrants settling there. When that light bulb went on I thought, "I am so original! I shall write a book!" #Turns out I'm not the sole soul to have noticed this connection, not that this means another book – from a different viewpoint – would be amiss. I simply wouldn't have the time, despite the inclination. A scholarly paper, perhaps? A long article? I think I have a few hours free in late 2018. I'll throw it in the pot, where a nice stew's already bubbling away.

 

Storyteller

 

And I'm not quite sure what to make of this:

 

A Rap Tribute to James Joyce by Frank Delaney

 

Otherwise, reading away for review, book clubs I've been asked to run online, prize candidates and a shameful amount of library books I checked out because a review comes under my  nose and I can't NOT pounce.

Especially dangerous are all those lovely literature blogs listing outstanding books read recently. If they're short I tell myself, "Surely I can fit in this ONE!" Trouble is, it's never just one.

Here's one:

 

 

Alisonwonderland

Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith

 

Amazon:

"After Alison Temple discovers that her husband is cheating on her, she does what any jilted woman would do—she spray paints a nasty message for him on her wedding dress and takes a job with the detective firm that found him out. Being a researcher at the all-female Fitzgerald’s Bureau of Investigation in London is certainly a change of pace from her previous life, especially considering the characters Alison meets in the line of duty. There is her boss, the estimable Mrs. Fitzgerald; Taron, Alison’s eccentric best friend, who claims her mother is a witch; Jeff, her love-struck, poetry-writing neighbor; and last, but not least, her psychic postman.

Clever, quirky, and infused with just a hint of magic, Alison Wonderland is a literary novel about a memorable heroine coping with the everyday complexities of modern life."

I thought you'd agree.

And:

 

 

Spurious

Spurious by Lars Iyer

 

 

"A tiny marvel of comically repetitive gloomery…. [A] wonderfully monstrous creation."  
Steven Poole, The Guardian

"Viciously funny."
San Francisco Chronicle

"What could be more fun than laughing at intellectuals? This, Lars Iyer's first book, sprang from his blog, Spurious, which sprang from his career as a philosophy lecturer at Newcastle University. I'm still laughing, and it's days later. But who, exactly, am I laughing at?"
—The Los Angeles Times

"Ought to be unreadable, but manages to be intelligent, wildly entertaining, and unexpectedly moving instead."
The Millions

 

YUM! 

 

# How Celtic Culture Invented Southern Literature by  James Cantrell



Bleak House, Various and sundry.

My hands were itching to talk books with you all week but my wishes were thwarted due to a Typepad glitch. Seems the goodly blogging platform had quite a taste for all things Bluestalking. Not only would it not let me save new posts, it ate the last two I wrote as well and of course I hadn't backed them up because nothing like this has happened in forever. And I hope it had galloping indigestion to match my level of irritation.

Appealing to them via Twitter did me no good, a tactic that's served me well in the resolution of other consumer complaints, most recently in the replacement of a brand new sofa with a mangled underside. If there's one thing you never want it's a mangled underside and I was certainly having no part of that, especially when it's literally just been brought through the door. The store refused to replace it, offering instead to "fix" it. Unacceptable. Telling over a thousand followers of my woes got immediate attention. The store tweeted me within minutes and I had a phone call to schedule a re-delivery/switch the next business day. Now that is customer service, even if I had to lean on them to get it. Let them push me around? I think not.

That explains, in more detail than you needed, my relative internet silence over the past few days. But today I'm having another go, cautiously optimistic my computer won't blow up or my underside become mangled. If it does, I'm relying on all of you to Tweet it to the world.

 

In Progress:

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Yes, yes I was supposed to have finished it for last Wednesday's book discussion but that didn't happen. It was nearly impossible reading Dickens at the galumphing pace required, but luck was with me and no one else save our brave facilitator had finished, either. In fact, I'd gotten the furthest of us all, save the one person who finished but was unable to attend. Victory! Well, of sorts.

Consensus was the book was very, very long. A wise conclusion considering how much paper is between the covers. As to the story itself, opinion was a bit more mixed. Keeping all gazillion characters and plotlines straight proved a difficulty not worth the effort for some, roughly half I would say. One gentleman, after reading only the first few pages, saw fit to pick up the Cliff Notes instead, eschewing the original for the shortcut. What's discouraging is he seemed to have as good a grip on things as I did, having finished roughly 85%. Then again, he wasn't obliged to read the vast quantity of words with which I grappled. So there.

 

Bleakhousecliffnotes

We spent an awful lot of time asking each other, "What was the name of the _____ family's friend's servant?" and trying to untangle everyone with a similar name to another character. Partly because of this, if you haven't read Bleak House (or have but still aren't sure exactly what was happening) it's almost impossible spoiling the plot for you. The question would be, which plot are you even talking about, since there are so many. Of course they all funnel into the main plot regarding Esther Summerson (and cousins Richard and Ada), Lady Dedlock and the ongoing court case Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, in one way or other. It's always baffling how Dickens will manage to bring it all together by the end, yet always he does, minus a few characters who wander off but in some ways that's for the best, for the sanity of the reader.

 

So, what does BH say about Dickens and the Victorians? Jarndyce v. Jarndyce illustrates opinion about lawyers and court cases hasn't changed at all since the Victorians. Lawyers are generally nasty, self-serving creatures and court cases convoluted and dull. Shock horror!

As for the innocents, they so often suffer, sometimes losing their lives in unjust and unnecessary circumstances. Innocents include those with mental disabilities, children and those from the lower social order in general. BH is particularly sharp in the anger it directs at do-gooders, Mrs. Jellyby being a prime example, the woman so concerned with a village in Africa she doesn't notice anything happening in her own home. And I do mean anything. And Mr. Jellyby! If there's a better example of deep clinical depression in all of Victorian fiction I haven't read it.

Poor Mr. Jellyby, forever sitting with his head against a wall.

So, what of charity, to Dickens? Certainly not much of merit, extending past temporarily alleviating the suffering of those at hand. But even in that case, using Jo and his illness as an example, charity can backfire, leaving the best-intentioned permanently blemished. Going out of your way to help take care of your fellow wo/man doesn't fare well at all in BH.

Dickens has been called out before re: his depiction of women as either saints or whores. BH is filled with examples of saints – the "angels" in the house – with only one true "whore" in Lady Dedlock. She pays the price of her transgressions, in cruel ways. To be fair, so does the man who was the other half of that relationship, but he's largely shrouded in mystery. We know how he dies – destitute and alone – and there's a suggestion it was intentional, but Dickens shows us every bit of Lady Dedlock's agony.

 

Ladydedlock

The saint above all saints in BH is Esther Summerson, a character who may – I'm warning you – drive you barking mad by mid-book. She's exaggeratedly kind (and I really don't think it's intented ironically). Her interaction with Ada made me feel vaguely nauseous. There's friendship, then there's over the top and saccharine. But even the saints don't escape some very steep trials.

 

 

Did Dickens hate women? Oh, I don't know. There's lots written about it. I can tell you he treated his wife with callous indifference and almost surely had an affair with a beautiful actress. He also had a sort of crush on his dead sister-in-law, practically throwing himself in her grave when she died. Not sure what all that proves, if anything.

Ask me more later in the year. I'll know better by then.

Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock, BBC – 2005

 

Dickens at 200

Serendipitous Bleak House was the January read in our classics book group, considering the Inimitable's 200th birthday is coming up February 7th.

Martin Chuzzlewit is next up for me, in my personal celebration of all things Dickens. MC and the recent Claire Tomalin bio. This will be my first foray into MC and I know nothing about it – one reason I'm looking forward to the experience.

After MC I honestly can't say I'll have the luxury to fit in another Dickens novel in 2012, since I am attacking Ulysses starting Bloomsday this year (June 6). I'm allowing the rest of the year to read that one properly, relying heavily on true Irishman Frank Delaney and his podcasts on Ulysses to minimize my inevitable confusion.

To celebrate properly I'd need to take a trip to Dublin. I'm cheating myself by not doing so and I think I'll put that on my official Bucket List. There's a pub out there, somewhere, that has a stool with my name on it, and a few barrels of Guinness to get together a good drinking game to go along with a public reading of the book. One swallow for every swear should have me under the table in less than two hours. Change that to every sentence longer than a page and I'll be out in half that time. Of course it's likely I'd wake up with a shamrock – or worse – drawn on my forehead and my hair matted in who knows what.

Yes, onto the Bucket List it goes.

 

 

Bloomsdaydublin

From an article in The Guardian

 

 

A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry

Heartrendingly gorgeous and I'm in no hurry to finish, as Sebastian Barry hasn't written all that many novels. I do so love his writing and this in no way involves a massive crush of an adolescent nature, mixed with a great appreciation of his lyricism and unfailingly gorgeous writing.

I'm further along but reluctantly so. It's difficult reading about the horrors of war and I've grown so fond of Willie Dunne it's hard seeing inhumane events through his eyes. Right now I'm just past the point at which he realizes his last letter offended his father, though he's not positive why. And as for the lovely Gretta… I just don't trust that one. Great looking or not, I have a feeling Willie could have chosen better than herself with the green eyes.

 

 

Samsavage

Author Sam Savage

 

Glass by Sam Savage – Currently reading for review.

I have loved Sam Savage's writing since his first novel, Firmin:

"Savage's sentimental debut concerns the coming-of-age of a well-read rat in 1960s Boston. In the basement of Pembroke Books, a bookstore on Scollay Square, Firmin is the runt of the litter born to Mama Flo, who makes confetti of Moby-Dick and Don Quixote for her offspring's cradle."

Publishers Weekly

I interviewed him following the publication of that novel, now that I think of it. Such a dear man.

Glass is about a widow asked to write a new introduction for the re-issue of her late husband's book but actually more about her life, memories and adjustment to being alone. What's sweetly poignant is there's a rat in this novel, as well, though the standard mammal who isn't able to read and express himself in words. Loads more than this is poignant but it was the rat that really got to me.

Between Firmin and Glass there was The Cry of the  Sloth:

"Living on a diet of fried Spam, vodka, sardines, cupcakes, and Southern Comfort, Andrew Whittaker is slowly being sucked into the morass of middle age. A negligent landlord, small-time literary journal editor, and aspiring novelist, he is—quite literally— authoring his own downfall. From his letters, diary entries, and fragments of fiction, to grocery lists and posted signs, this novel is a collection of everything Whittaker commits to paper over the course of four critical months."

– from Amazon.com

I love books that rip out my heart, dice it to bits and toss it onto a plate. Even better are those with a wicked dark sense of humor involving books, readers and/or writers. Sam Savage manages to hit my soft spots in every, single book he writes. He's not nearly as well known as he should be.

Read him. Do.

 

Restoring Grace by Katie Fforde – Reading for librarian group.

Nope, I'm not one for conventional romance and my last reading round up covered the reasons I chose this when forced to read outside my genre comfort zone: British, ancient home and single women living together, making a go of it sans men. Oh, and the Irishman, coming to woo the owner of the ancient home…

 Shush.

 

Losing It: In Which An Aging Professor Laments His Shrinking Brain by William Ian Miller

From the good people at Yale U.P. and it's basically about what it says. It makes a good NF read to pick up while the rest of the family's watching t.v.  I can read NF with noise going on around me but not fiction. Not without a rise in blood pressure that's not worth it, I should say.

 

Coming Soon:

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers – next read for classics group.

Love this book, can't wait to re-read, so you know it must be a heart-ripper. Also planning to squeeze in McCullers's unfinished autobiography, an Amazon purchase I allowed myself last week, though my fondness for the Amazon Daily Deal eBook has me well on my way toward addiction. Funny how I managed to side-step making an actual resolution about book buying this year. Or, not so much funny as frightening.

 

Reviews:

In between reads for BookBrowse, LibraryJournal and Booklist. Then there are the various and sundry review books, otherwise known as The Great Horde, including Barry Unsworth's latest The Quality of Mercy.

Also checked out from the library: How it All Began by Penelope Lively and Secrets of the Sea by Nicholas Shakespeare. Re: the latter, right now I can't recall what it's about or why I ordered it. Must have had some good reason. Funny, the ILL books that wind up on my desk are usually of this ilk. I either can't remember requesting them or why.

 

As usual, I'm obviously bereft of great reading material. All my time is wasted on breathing, eating and sleeping until such time as I can find my way back to reading. They say Americans are reading less and less every year, though whether that includes Tweets and McDonald's game pieces I don't know.

I smell another government study that needs funding! Perhaps I'll drop past Twitter and mention it.

 

 

Twitterbird