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.
Yesterday, I went to a movie on "opening night." I literally can't remember the last time I did that. There's a story behind that, but I won't share it now. Now's the time to talk about "If Beale Street Could Talk."
Frankly, I was more than a little bit surprised that this movie opened in my city. I'm not saying my city is a movie desert, but mostly what plays here are: 1. Superhero pictures. 2. Movies where the "plot" is a string of explosions, chase scenes, or people being hacked apart by sharp blades. 3. Animated movies - you know, for the kids.
So when "Beale Street" showed up in our local chain multiplex, I made sure I was there, as chances are it won't last long in our neighborhood. Support them when you get them.
I have read a number of James Baldwin novels, and I really love so many things about them - their lyrical intensity, their social conscience, their anger and passion.
Mostly, I love how Baldwin's novels seem to propel their characters through a string of progressively bad life events. It may seem like happiness is just beyond their grasp, but it never seems to get closer. I don't wish ill on Baldwin's characters - I *RECOGNIZE* the feelings they're going through. I've had different life situations than they, but more often than not, everything except my family is disappointing and difficult.
When the first screen image of the film was a long quote by Baldwin, I relaxed. I knew I was in good hands, and this adaptation would "work."
The characters in "If Beale Street Could Talk" are enveloped in a bubble of love, but that bubble is under constant attack by society and circumstance. The film is an extremely faithful adaptation. Barry Jenkins, through both his screenplay and directorial choices, preserves Baldwin's theme and tones, along with fantastic swaths of dialogue and narration and pretty much all of the plot. And he takes his time doing it, so you can really enjoy the journey.
Jenkins also uses some visual techniques to remind viewers that his story - and Baldwin's - is not just personal but political, a story of an individual family but illustrating what happens again and again to a particular group.
Of course, with any adaptation, there are omissions and condensation, and this is no exception. But what is there is pure Baldwin - right until the last two scenes. And I get it. Jenkins can't leave the film on the same level of ambiguity and despair that Baldwin leaves the novel. It just wouldn't "play." But is ending is completely plausible and true to the tone of the film and the themes of interest to Baldwin. I think Baldwin himself would have proposed a darker ending. But no matter.
Beautiful. Read the book. Then see the movie. You may be sad, but you will not regret it.
I have always meant to read something by Kent Haruf, by his reputation alone. When a film of his novella, "Our Souls at Night," was produced, it was the perfect "excuse."
This book is beautiful. It's a touching story about taking risks and building love and friendships - just at the point in life when one doubts it is even still possible.
The book reads quickly, like a prose poem. If I had been able to see the movie, it might have actually taken more time than the reading. Unfortunately, independent films rarely are played in my town, I don't have streaming services, and the film has not been released on DVD, because it's owned by a streaming service. Wah Wah.
But I want everyone to read this book. Two cool things (here comes the spoilers):
First, no quotation marks are used, but the book is full of dialogue. No, you don't get confused, because it's pretty perfectly constructed - a little play, of sorts.
Second, there's a "meta" chapter in the book! The characters talk about Haruf's other work, and give their own thoughts about being the subject of a (theoretical) book. Don't worry, it's not as weird and jarring as my description makes it out to be.
Read it! You won't be sorry. And I pledge to read more Haruf - soon!
Sometimes, when one reads non-fiction, it's tempting to skip the "Notes" - especially when the narrative has been as carefully crafted as Larson's. The great majority of novels don't need footnotes, and his nonfiction practically reads like a novel.
But in this case, read the "Notes" section. There's an Easter Egg, a tidbit, an anecdote, a diversion, or a little story on practically every page. Like DVD extras. Stuff that would be awkward in a fast-paced war journey but right in place in a giant list of whatnot.
If you've been following along at home: http://carissagreen50.booklikes.com/post/1788732/literary-mysteries-the-case-of-the-unsatisfying-ending
I took the Target-purchased copy, along with the library's book, to the reference librarian the other night.
"I checked out this book, and the ending was terrible," I said.
The poor woman looked at me with the "It's a half-hour before closing, and you're the 29th crazy person who has talked to me today."
So I let her off the hook: "Long story short," I said, "the library's book is missing almost 30 pages." I did leave the Target copy with her.
She couldn't have been nicer about the whole thing. We both hope the library can get a credit for their bad book, too.
Yesterday, I finished "The Wife," by Meg Wolitzer. Or - I thought I finished it.
The book was really good. Compelling story and excellent sentence-level writing. I enjoyed it a lot. Until I got to the end. The ending was a let-down, frankly, and disappointing compared to the rest of the book. It ended on a quote. Which if you've read as many novels as I have over the years is odd, but not unheard-of. But the quote, although cutting, did not resolve the situation between the characters arguing. But there you go: The end. No more pages. Literally.
Literally.No.More.Pages. It ended at the bottom of a page - which sometimes happens - and there were no more pages in the volume. Page 192, if you're keeping track at home. No more endpapers. No advertisements. No author bio. Odd, but I suppose it's a quickie movie tie-in, so whatever.
But it bugged me: Why did the book end so unsatisfactorily? I Googled some reviews today, and everyone talked about the "big twist" at the end. Big twist? Hmm. There was no big twist. A bunch of clues, but what I thought those clues were leading to didn't happen. And then I got suspicious . . .
Maybe I really didn't get to read the whole book.
So I went sleuthing. The internet tells me the book should have been more than 200 pages. Mine (the Public Library's, actually) was 192. Hmm. But the book cataloging site is notoriously inaccurate much of the time. Still not proof. I needed to see another copy of the book.
After work. Campus bookstore = no copies. Local bookstore = no copies. Target. Bless you, Target. Had the book. 219 pages of story. An author bio. The usual useless book club questions. So I bought it.
And finished the book. And the "twist" I saw coming WAS there. (Really, if you've ever read Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own," and paid attention to the clues Wolitzer gave throughout the manuscript, you know it's coming. But it's a double-twist. The end-end is sort of predictable. It could have gone two other ways, but it went the way it went. Much better. As a reader, I didn't love the ending, but I was satisfied that the story was over. Wrapped up and finished. Good job, Meg Wolitzer.
So what next? I'm going to take the bad copy and the Target copy to the library later this week. I hope the library can get a refund from their distributor, and I will offer them my copy, if they wish to have it. I don't have a lot of storage space for books, and this one isn't a "keeper" for me.
I'll update you if anything interesting happens!
For those who enjoy poems that interpret/reinterpret, muse upon, or retell Greek myths (who doesn't - I wrote a few myself in younger days), Edward Hirsch's 2003 volume, "Lay Back the Darkness," is one of those books.
Also of particular note is a sequence, "Two Suitcases of Children's Drawings from Terezin, 1942-1944."
I have been obsessed with reading lists ever since I was a kid. All the Newberry winners on a bookmark? Yes, please. "100 Essential Novels?" Sign me up.
I'm much more critical of reading lists these days, now that I have read more widely and studied literature for so many years. But that's part of the fun. (Don't get me started on PBS's "Great American Read" thing. Seriously. What's going on there? Never mind. Another post.
I read Edward Hirsch's "How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love With Poetry" recently, in anticipation of seeing him read at the Northwoods Writers Conference in Bemidji, MN. It was last night - he was wonderful - witty, self-depricating, erudite. Wonderful.
I recommend the whole book unreservedly, but the first essay, "Message in a Bottle," I'm sure will stand as a classic statement about poetry in and of itself.
Now, to get to the point: The book closes with the 24-page "A Reading List and the Pleasure of the Catalog." Having read this book, and other Hirsch volumes, I know he's both a scholar and an artist. I was afraid, even at my age and stage of self-education, that I'd be out of the conversation.
I am so satisfied to say that yes, I found many books on Hirsch's list that I have read. Thank goodness. I'm "in the conversation," as we used to say in graduate school. Of course, there are hundreds of volumes on Hirsch's list I haven't read - so off to the library!
Fair warning: This blog entry is a self-serving, straight-up non-humble brag.
Three-day holiday weekend in the summer, you say? Challenge accepted.
Read a novel start-to-finish on Saturday.
Read a novel start-to-finish on Sunday.
Started a book of short stories on Monday morning. (Gotta pace short stories, or they all run together.)
Finished a book of art history essays I've been picking at since February on Monday morning.
Will read a couple of poems from the "Staying Alive" anthology Monday afternoon.
Might - just might - start a new book Monday evening.
Yep, that's how I do it. Feels good.
I'm well behind pace in my reading this year. I always say I "average" a book a week, for 52 or so books a year, but I usually exceed that by a fair margin. This year, I'm quite slow. Only 16 so far - even though at least two were "doorstops."
So two weeks ago, when I realized I hadn't even considered my summer reading list, I was worried. But when I finally sat down to compose it, the list came flowing straight out. Easy-peasy, less than an hour's contemplation, for sure.
The fact I've been using the same nine categories for years, I'm sure, helps considerably. Three books for each month of summer. Things that make me happy and better-rounded. Plenty of room left for serendipity and other titles. Here goes:
1. A baseball book - "Pete Rose: An American Dilemma" by Kostya Kennedy. Reading a baseball book - fiction or non-fiction - is a summer tradition. Thanks, Casey Awards for the ready-made list.
2. A Michael Chabon book - "Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces." This was both tough and incredibly easy. I've read all of Chabon's books, except some very hard to get screenplays and graphic novels. Luckily, he has a new book out this month. It's an anthology of his magazine essays, in the mode of "Maps and Legends," but it's better than none!
3. An Ian McEwan book - "First Love, Last Rites." I've read all of McEwan's recent stuff, so I have to reach way back into the Ian Macabre phase, which I like less, but it needs to be done. At least there's a new McEwan adaptation coming out in theaters soon.
4. A Neglected Classic - "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket," Edgar Allen Poe's only novel. Not one that was really on my radar, but read entry five for more "why."
5. A recent "big" book - "Pym" by Mat Johnson. I have the opportunity to hear Johnson read in June, and I think it's time to read his novel, inspired by Poe's, as listed above.
6. A YA book - "Leviathan" by Scott Westerfeld. A steampunk, World War I revisionist novel? Yes, please.
7. A Play - "Three Tall Women" by Edward Albee. It's in revival on Broadway right now with Laurie Metcalf. You know I won't make it to Manhattan, so I'd better finally read it.
8. A Recommendation from a Friend - "Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi. My friend, Laura, suggested it. She didn't have to suggest very hard, because I was already meaning to read it. And she loaned me her copy!
9. The book I didn't read from last year's list - "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Bronte. There's one every year. This year's will probably be the Chabon, just because it's new and might be hard to acquire through library means.
Well, that's it. I'll post a list on the booklikes list app. Will you read along with me? What's on your list for Summer '18?
I work at a university. Over the past year, we've been working with a new strategic plan, as an organization, and the first, most vital point of that plan has been a discussion of liberal arts, a passion area for me. Far too much is happening, and there are far too many ideas to discuss here - plus, I want to tie this column directly to a book - so I'm going to narrow in.
I talk a lot with my students about the value of liberal arts (liberal, I remind them, in this case means "broad," not necessarily "left"). The specific, tangible benefits of liberal arts often need to be enumerated, because they're less obvious than in the professional or vocational disciplines. But every scholar of the liberal arts know that the intangible benefits of the education are where your heart goes.
Sometimes, in my reading, I run across some statement that makes me sit up and say, "Yes! This is liberal arts. This is what happens when you open yourself up broadly to the gifts of learning." I'm going to quote a few sentences from Vera Brittain's "Testament of Youth" here. Her moving memoir is a bildungsroman from a female (before the late 20th century, not a common thing at all), and a profound meditation on what happened to the youth of Britain, an entire generation decimated and affected primally and permanently by The Great War.
With students investing so much in their educations these days, words like these help us and inspire us to continue the good fight for liberal arts:
(If you're following along at home, this is from pages 30-31of the 1934 American edition, published by Macmillan.)
"I suppose it was the very completeness with which all doors and windows to the more adventurous and colourful world, the world of literature, of scholarship, of art, of politics, of travel, were closed to me, that kept my childhood so relatively contented a time. Once I went away to school and learnt--even thought from a distance that filled me with dismay--what far countries of loveliness, and learning, and discovery, and social relationship based upon enduring values, lay beyond those solid provincial walls which enclosed the stuffiness of complacent bourgeoisdom so securely within themselves, my discontent kindled until I determined somehow to break though them to the paradise of sweetness and light which I firmly believed awaited me in the south."
Sometimes, when I read a book, a particular actor who might certain a character gets in my head and totally takes over.
When I read "The Martian," it was absolutely Matt Damon as Mark Watney. Of course, that casting had already been announced. You can read more about my thoughts on that here: http://carissagreen50.booklikes.com/post/1264907/notes-on-adaptation-the-martian-casting-edition.
A while before "Gone Girl" went into production, Ben Affleck - but blonder and younger - totally took over Nick Dunne's voice as I read. You can read more about that here: http://carissagreen50.booklikes.com/post/766885/some-thoughts-on-gone-girl.
Yesterday, I read Andre Aciman's "Call Me By Your Name," which, of course, has been adapted into a highly-regarded movie. I hope to see the film still this awards season. But it's possible I'll have to wait, as our small-town movie theaters often don't bring in "art films." Or perhaps it came and went during the period I was completely distracted with my recent move and the holidays.
Either way, I'm well aware that Armie Hammer plays the 24-year-old professor, Oliver, who becomes the obsession of the 17-year-old Elio. But Mr. Hammer was NOT the face and voice who completely invaded my reading.
Oliver was, for me, almost from his initial introduction, a (much) younger Jon Hamm - or perhaps a younger, '80s version of Hamm's "Mad Men" character Don Draper. Subtract 20 years and make him look a little bit more "ethnically Jewish" - maybe closer to the novelist Nathan Englander, for example - and that's who I saw.
Sorry, Armie Hammer. I'm sure I'll enjoy what you did with the character. But for now, you're my "alternate casting."
Has it really been six months since I've blogged? Yes, it has. And I've missed it. I was on pace to read 80 new books last year (I don't count re-reads in my annual log). But I ended up at 67. What happened?
Last blog post: July 1, which, coincidentally, is the date I took on new responsibilities at work. But the bigger change in life came in the fall, when I bought my first house and got caught up in moving. Weeks and weeks of sorting many, many years of stuff.
In fact, when I made the offer on my house, my Mom said, "You're going to have to give up reading for a while."
I laughed and said, "You're crazy, Lady. I can't give up reading."
I didn't give up reading, but I slowed to a painful, screeching crawl. In fact, from my closing date to the end of the year, I only finished four new books (and a couple of poetry re-reads). And three of those titles were from the James Patterson YA "Maximum Ride" series. You can read those as fast as you can turn pages.
Also, for the past few years, I've started January 1 by reading a book start-to-finish. Granted, I always chose a fast read: A play, a YA novel, etc. This year, I just finished the Maximum Ride novel that I couldn't stay awake to finish the night before. But it counts: 2018, one book finished.
So what did my 2017 reading year look like? I'm attaching this post to a Ravi Howard novel. He was my discovery of the year. He appeared at a summer writer's conference near me, and I read both of his novels in anticipation of that. I can't recommend them highly enough. Engrossing. Great. Read. Them.
I categorized the sixty-seven new reads and will list them below. My reading log doesn't include re-reads (and most of the poetry I read in a year ends up being re-reads. This year, I re-read a bunch of Kooser and Alexander, for example). The list below won't add up exactly, because some books get categorized in more than one area.
Non-fiction (too lazy to sub-categorize further): 13
YA: 9 (including five of the above-referenced Patterson Maximum Ride series)
Literary Fiction (my fave category): 11
Plays: 8 (I read all 10 of the August Wilson Century Cycle this year, but two of those were re-reads)
Mass-Market Romance: 13 (including a bunch of Philippa Gregory books)
Lit-Crit/Theory: 1 (slow year for that, I guess)
Poetry: 7 (all first-time reads in this number)
Short Stories: 1
Popular Fiction, not otherwise listed above: 3
Anyway, more blog posts coming soon. Some are ideas from 2017 I set aside, and some will be "fresh."
Independence Day weekend is here in the U.S., and Canada Day weekend celebrations are happening 100 miles north of my location. There are still a lot of summer weekends to fill with reading at the lake, on the beach, or just on your deck or balcony. And have I got a title for you . . .
My friend, Aaron Poochigian recently published "Mr. Either/Or," a novel in verse (Etruscan Press). Get it online from Powell's http://www.powells.com/book/mr-either-or-9780997745528/62-0 or have your favorite locally-owned, independent bookstore order it through Consortium.
Now, I know what you're thinking: "A novel in verse? How can that possibly be a summer weekend read, Carissa?" Okay, imagine this: A classic film noir (Act I), combined with a super-episode of "The X Files" (Act II), with characters that will make you miss "Alias," and a climax worth of a Marvel movie.
Mr. Either/Or is either an ivy-league college student soaking slacking his way through higher education, or he's a government spook, running business as a secret operative for some shady characters. Well, he's both. And this novel is a pretty rollicking adventure that makes full use of the classic landscapes of Manhattan.
You've never read a novel in verse? Don't worry, I had only read one before this myself (more about that in a future post). You don't read much poetry at all? Well, I won't chastise you for that here. Just let me say: Don't let it stop you.
If you're just getting started with poetry, read the novel sentence by sentence. Don't worry about things your Intro to Poetry teacher insisted you pay attention to - line endings, rhyme, rhythmic feet, caesuras (what the heck were those again?). Poochigian's sentences are not opaque, and you'll feel them fine.
What the verse does here is provide a be-bop jazzy soundtrack to the story. It highlights fun word play and pop-culture references. And most importantly, it keeps the pages turning.
Try "Mr. Either/Or" - you'll like it, and you'll be passing it around your campfire to other readers in your crowd before Labor Day.