I read widely from many genres. Perhaps this blog will feature fewer ratings and reviews, but I certainly intend to write about my reading life - it's the subject I most find myself wanting to talk about.
One week from today, I'm going to see Tracy K. Smith give a reading. That's not the breaking news - I've been planning it for months.
The news is, today she was named the new U.S. Poet Laureate. I was excited before. Now I'm on Cloud 9.
I'm also in the process of reading both "Life on Mars" and "Ordinary Light." Both so, so good.
I've been on a bit of a reading slump in the month of May.
Oh, I'm still reading every day. But instead of having 3-5 books going on in various categories, I've mostly just been reading Philippa Gregory novels. To mixed effect. (You can read more about that in my last post here: http://carissagreen50.booklikes.com/post/1566197/in-her-head.) And always a poem, or two or three, every day (mostly).
I suppose it's partly an end-of-school-year thing. Lots of energy gets invested in the last weeks of April and beginning of May when you work in academia, regardless of your job. I also read like a champion in February-March, preparing for our university's Writers Conference, completing a personal project, and working my way through August Wilson's Century Cycle, one of my 2017 reading marathons.
Being in a slump with relatively low reading energy and focus was frustrating, because good things continued to happen in my reading life. A friend sent me his new novel (look for a column on that soon). An interlibrary loan request fell through, so our local library just purchased the book and reserved it straight through for me, which was nice. Another friend published a new middle grade novel. There's a writer's conference with free public readings coming up in my area in June.
But now it's Memorial Day Weekend, the official summer kick-off, and time to publish my Summer Reading List for 2017. You can read the "app" list on BookLikes here: http://booklikes.com/apps/reading-lists/792/summer-reading-list-2017. Each book fits a category that I've been working with for the last several years of these lists, and I'm going to walk you through my choices below:
1. An Ian McEwan novel - "Nutshell." McEwan is one of my favorite living authors, and "Nutshell" is his fall 2016 release - too late for last summer's list. Last summer, I read "The Comfort of Strangers" from far into his backlist, and it was firmly in the "Ian Macabre" phase of his career. I'm happy to get back to his more current oeuvre.
2. A Michael Chabon novel - "Moonglow." One of my other favorite living writers. I went to the Cities back in December for Chabon's book signing. I've saved the book for this summer because, except for graphic novels and screenplays, I'm pretty much completely caught up with his published books.
3. A recent "big" book - "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. I just can't be the last person on planet earth to read this important, beloved book. Plus: Oprah movie.
4. A classics I have neglected - "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Bronte. Saw that Bronte biopic on PBS earlier this spring and realized I had completely neglected poor Anne.
5. A YA / Middle Grade book - "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio. Film releasing soon (always read the book first). My boss' kids loved it. Who didn't love it?
6. A play - Finish August Wilson's Century Cycle, so the last play, "Radio Golf," will stand for that.
7. A baseball book - "Slouching Toward Fargo" by Neal Karlen. Last year, I discovered a cool website called the Casey Awards, which honors the best baseball books of each year. These kinds of "best of" lists are one of my true loves, and from it, I found a book that not only fulfills the "baseball" part of my summer but also relates to the region of the country in which I live.
8. A recommendation from a friend - "The Luminaries" by Eleanor Catton. Both my aunt, who read it before her NZ adventure, and my friend D., who included the book in his students' syllabus last year, said I'd like it. Say no more.
9. The book from last year's list that didn't get read - "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" by Susanna Clarke
Not on the list, but coming up quickly, will be "Life on Mars" and possibly another work by Tracy K. Smith, who is reading in my area on June 21. Poetry (always) and plenty more to be determined. Won't you read along with me?
I've been on a kick with Philippa Gregory novels lately. They've taken the place in my reading schedule of the "bath book" - mass-market historical romances that I read in the bathtub in the morning. I've finished the Cousins' War cycle and traveled into the Tudors. I may read a few more before drifting away from her again, or perhaps not.
I really like a few things about Gregory's novels; equally, there are a few things that I don't like so much. She's wonderful with character - especially women. She gives a historical voice to females who often either had no public voice or whose public image was shaped by men over the centuries. She gives the plots and machinations of Renaissance politics great atmosphere.
When reading Gregory, one must remember that she's playing fast-and-loose with history, and some of her choices regarding characters who are historic figures and their motivations have absolutely no documentation. These are historical FICTION, not History with a capital H. But they're pretty fun and easy to digest.
What I don't like - often her stories feel remarkably passionless. She covers so many years - decades even - of time in a novel it feels like driving through history at 55 mph. And her writing style sometimes confounds me. That was the case in "The Constant Princess," the story of the young years of Katherine of Aragon.
Gregory's novels, for me, are most successful when they use a first-person point of view, and as a reader you spend the entire book inside the main character's head. "The Constant Princess" inexplicably shifts from third-person to first person, with only a change in typeface. The first-person sections are not diary entries. They are not testimony, nor are they letters. They are not even extended thought bubbles, as scenes happen within them. It's just the author wanting to have the best of both worlds - the ability to live in an omniscient world and to be inside her character's thoughts.
However, there were things about "The Constant Princess" that I really, really loved. First and foremost, I naively have spent my whole life believing Katherine of Aragon's testimony that she and Arthur Prince of Wales never consummated their marriage. Henry was the bad guy. Why would Katherine ever lie?
Why, indeed? Could I never see before how much was at stake for her before? This novel not only removed that blinder, but Gregory chooses to give them a passionate, tender love story, making his death even more poignant. It was by far the most compelling part of this novel, and I was moved.
I would love to read a Catalina/Arthur love story again - this time at a slightly higher level of presentation.
I've decided to add some new shelf tags to my blog.
Firstly, inspired by "Lincoln in the Bardo," (which I have not yet read) I'm going to add a shelf called "What the Heck," or, "WTF?" This shelf will be dedicated to books whose premise, or plot, or characters are weird enough for me to say, "What the heck did I just read?" And that's usually a good thing.
Top of the list: Mark Helprin's "Winter's Tale." Also on the list (or soon to be): Nabokov's "Pale Fire" - perhaps the ultimate WTF novel. Probably some stuff by my beloveds Chabon and McEwan. You get where I'm going here.
"Winter's Tale" also reminds me of another tag that's important to my literary life and needs to be added: "New York Stories." I've only visited the city once (what a trip), but it's held a huge place in my reader's imagination throughout my life. I need to remember to tag my New York Stories as I read them.
My friend, Kurtis Scaletta's new book, "Rooting for Rafael Rosales" is released today.
The launch party celebration for his newest middle-grade novel is today (Tuesday, April 25, 2017) at Red Balloon Bookstore, Minneapolis, so if you're in the Twin Cities, get on out. Bring your younger friends. Buy a copy or two. Donate one to your local school library. You know, support my friend AND literature.
While you're at it, look up Kurtis Scaletta's backlist. His books are great reads for the younger set, and I've enjoyed them, too.
I always set my reading goal for new books (not counting re-reads) in a year at 52 - a nice number that represents a book a week.
Usually, I go over and end up around 60-70. Last year, I came THIS CLOSE to 80.
Well, I'm officially half-way to my 52 book goal, with just under a third of the year passed. And the summer reading season is still a month away.
Could this be my 80 book year? It's been a long time . . .
Booklikes was kind enough to tell me that my connection to Facebook has expired. But it won't reconnect. So I have that going for me.
Particularly frustrating since I'm pretty sure that my IRL friends only read my blog if it is cross-posted to FB.
I usually don't much care if I'm one of the first to read a new release.
In fact, it's quite rare when that happens. I often go years before I "get around to" reading a book (although the release of a film adaptation can move a title forward quickly).
But a rather unusual thing happened to me in the past month: I actually read a new title BEFORE its release date. Mai Der Vang, the newest Walt Whitman Award winner, appeared in our city in March, and her publisher, Graywolf Press, sent copies of her book, "Afterland," in advance of the official release date. My colleague, Paul, loaned me his copy when he was finished with it, and I dove in with gusto.
Vang is a Hmong-American writer, and this collection speaks to the experiences of the diaspora that has occurred in the decades since the Vietnam war. The imagery is rich, the use of language creative and powerful.
But my best compliment is that the book is truly a collection, an organized, thoughtful representation of an overarching theme, rather than a compilation of individual poems. This is not surprising, because Graywolf-released poetry books generally have this kind of care in editing.
So there - early adopter. Stay tuned - another opportunity may soon be coming my way.
You all have fun today marching for science.
I'm marching for literature.
Check that: I'm having a sit-in for literature.
Oh, OK. I'm staying home to read.
NoViolet Bulawayo recently appeared in my city. (I took this picture on my iPod.)
She read, of course, from "We Need New Names," and I learned something very important about the book: How the main character's name sounds. Of course, if you've read the book, you know her name is Darling. To my Midwestern ears, that's a distinctly two-syllable word, with the accent on the first syllable, a true trochee, in poetic terms. "Dar," like car; "ling," like swing. I suppose if you live in other parts of the country, you might say it differently: "dah-ling," "darlin'," etc.
For Ms. Bulawayo, who still carries a strong accent of her native Zimbabwe, Darling's name is almost a spondee. She gives a little bit less stress to the first syllable, so technically, it's an iamb, but both syllables get quite a bit of stress. And to my ears, it sounded very close to the name "Darlene." I heard "Dar-LING." So now I know.
Her reading was beautiful. The book was fascinating. And she answered my question in the q&a! Can't wait for more from her.
Generally, I post a "Notes on Adaptation" column after seeing the adaptation, but this one's going to be a little bit different.
After seeing the trailer for the film "Paterson" three or four times (in various theaters), I wanted to see this film about a poet. Being a faithful reader and sometimes writer of poetry made the urge even stronger.
So I read William Carlos Williams' collected "Paterson" (more about that in another post), and I sought out something by Ron Padgett, the poet who contributed work to the film "Paterson."
I have access to three libraries, two community, and one university. Among those three, only one had any Padgett books (the university), and the only one of Mr. Padgett's books they had was "Tulsa Kid."
"Tulsa Kid" was published in 1979, and I wish any of my local libraries would have had a more recent volume, because this one was an immature work. I guess that's all there is to say about it.
Except to note that it is doubtful the film "Paterson" will ever be shown in my city.
When you ask me, "What are you doing tomorrow?" if I say, I'm going to read, it means I plan to read FROM a book, or possibly several books. I might not have a particular goal in mind.
But if I say, "I'm going to read a book," it means I'm going to start a book in the morning and try to carve out enough time to read it straight through to the end. I usually manage it. More often than you'd think.
Just to clarify.
This book opens with a three-paragraph Prologue that is a prose poem musing on the mystical nature of the city. It is soaringly lyrical and a little bit metaphysical.
It doesn't quite prepare you for the epic oddity that is this novel, but it sure is a beautiful beginning.
A friend recently posted on social media some thoughts on water motifs in feminist and proto-feminist fiction. George Eliot's "The Mill on the Floss" certainly deserves a high spot on a short docket of such books.
Poor Maggie Tulliver has been singled out for her looks and headstrong disposition since childhood. And as fate sinks her family, her first priority is to be able to take care of herself. Her second priority is to be a credit to her family and honor her friends with kindness. She is open to love, but not at the expense of her selfhood and values.
Eliot does not submerge Maggie's fate - the final line of the novel is also its epigraph - and her fate is foreshadowed again and again. She ultimately is drowned by two men, her emotionally negligent and abusive brother, Tom, and her cousin's manipulative lover, Stephen.
There are a few place in the novel where Maggie could chart either an easier or more manipulative course for herself, but she remains true to her values. And she lives in a society that does not recognize or honor those values.
Carol Gilligan examines Maggie's plight in her famous work of feminist criticism, "In a Different Voice." Gilligan certainly helps us understand why Maggie can't overcome her circumstances and change the tides of her life.
A proto-feminist classic novel and a modern classic of feminist criticism both deserve a spot on everyone's reading lists.
Daisy Goodwin's novelization of her "Victoria" miniseries ends with the engagement. So last Sunday's episode was the first "off book" installment. It covered the prenuptial negotiations and the wedding itself.
Now, I don't expect adaptations like this to be perfectly historically accurate - although I do appreciate it when filmmakers get the easy things right. I've already complained about Lord Melbourne's hair - the famous historical blond here portrayed with Rufus Sewell's iconic dark curls instead.
But Sunday's episode bent history in a way fewer people will catch - and is certainly disappointing. Like it or not, Goodwin's Victoria is a bit of a snippy brat - or bitch, if you feel she's outgrown the appellation of brat. And when she's discussing her wedding plans with the ladies-in-waiting, she is asked who will walk her down the aisle. Necessary, because the story must explain why "Uncle Leopold," kind of the Belgians, and the close male relative we've seen in all the episodes previous, can't do it. Victoria tells her ladies she supposes her "Uncle Sussex" will have to do it - even though the last time she saw him he was wearing a funny cap and rouge (what?).
Snark, snark, snark. It fits Goodwin's characterization, but is it historical? I'm no expert in the period, but from what I understand, "Uncle Sussex," - Prince Augustus, Duke of Sussex - a younger brother to Victoria's late father, was a nice man and perhaps the actual Victoria's favorite uncle. He basically stayed above the fray as the Hanover brothers raced to make legitimate marriages and produce heirs after the death of poor Princess Charlotte and her baby. Perhaps because he was one of the youngest - but still.
Was the historical Victoria so unkind to a purported favorite? I hope not. Was the remark true to the adaptation. Yes, I guess it was. Was I disappointed to hear it? I certainly was.
So the first trailer for the new "Handmaid's Tale" has been out for a couple of weeks. And it does look pretty darn good.
I don't need to repeat myself, but I'm a strong believer in ALWAYS READING THE BOOK FIRST. Why? Because films are always an interpretation of a primary text. As is your own reading. Reading is interpretation. Make your own interpretation, then see someone else's.
Here's where this comes into play in a major way, especially with something that is probably going to be uber-popular (speculative fiction usually is, and people know Margaret Atwood and "Handmaid's Tale" are much-beloved): People will watch the show first; that will be their primary text, and if they bother, they will compare their interpretation of the book to the film as if the film were primary. Or they won't bother to read the book (even worse) and think they KNOW the book, even though what they know is the filmmakers' interpretation.
For readers like me who believe in the primacy of the text, this is annoying, to say the least.