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.
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.
Booklikes seems to be working much better this weekend - dare I say even at a normal speed? It makes me happy because I didn't want to abandon this blog for another platform (and believe me, I was close to that point).
I especially appreciate the social network aspect of this site. As I'm sure many of us do, I cross-post my writing here to my Facebook page. And although I know almost all of my 200+ FB friends in real life, my last half-dozen or so blog posts have received practically no response - no likes, no conversation, nothing.
My Booklikes friends, on the other hand, are completely unknown to me in the real world (I'm pretty sure one of you lives in the state to which I am adjacent), but you never fail to show my writing support.
Thanks, everyone. Here's to a smooth and productive 2017 for us readers and writers.
If you are a regular reader of this column, or a friend IRL who is used to my dogmatic proclamations, you know that I always make an honest effort to Read the Book First before seeing a movie.
Sometimes, that reading is so profound and hits me in such a visceral, emotional place I know the filmmakers could not possibly do justice to that experience. Let's face it, they're just going to F-it up.
Had one of those experiences recently with "A Monster Calls" by Patrick Ness. So grateful to my friend, L., for the recommendation and the affirmation of that recommendation by the trusted B. This book broke me a little bit. Yes, it's amazingly heavy-handed in its use of symbolism (http://carissagreen50.booklikes.com/post/1511966/knock-knock-symbolism-calling), but it touched a really primal place in me, so it worked. I ugly-cried over this one. Twice.
Add this one to the list that includes, for example, "The Giver" by Lois Lowry, "The Book Thief" by Marcus Zusak, and anything "Narnia." Filmmakers, your films won't measure up. You can only fail with these. They'll undoubtedly disappoint me and retroactively mar the book a little bit. Sorry, try again with something I love a little bit less.
According to my reading log, I read 83 new books in 2016. This doesn't include re-reads and the occasional book that eludes my cataloging madness. It was a pretty good year. Here are some highlights:
It was the year I read "War and Peace." Mostly just to be able to say I had. But I liked it. Not as much as I liked "Anna Karenina," but I did like it - especially poor Pierre. Tolstoy isn't kind to the big lug, but his progression through the story is fascinating. If you, too, want to honestly say you've read this big book, start around Memorial Day, commit to about a chapter a day, and you'll be done right around Labor Day (that's what I did).
Also missing from my reading log (because it wasn't my first time through), but still quite notable, was the fact I spent the first several months of the year reading the Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson aloud. I read the entire volume in college, and have dipped in and out many times since, but it's the first time in more than 20 years I've gone all the way through. And I put them out in the air with my voice. Very satisfying.
Three reading marathons, each in conjunction with seeing a favorite author read: Nine volumes of Sherman Alexie (and a total binge on his podcast with Jess Walter) before seeing him in February. Six volumes of Joy Harjo before seeing her in the summer, and four volumes of Michael Chabon before seeing him in December. I'm now almost a Chabon completist, with just the brand-new Moonglow, a couple of the movies, and graphic novels left. I also read Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe" in preparation for his visit to our university in March. Such a great year for author sightings. There were a few more, but not with accompanying book-binges. Thanks to my friend, C., for arranging the Alexie and Chabon trips for me!
When I went to Harjo's reading, I ran into an acquaintance from Graduate School, Denise Lajmodiere, and leaned she has had a book of poetry published. I got my hands on it in December, and it'll be read in 2017. Denise was visiting with her friend, Heid Erdrich, and I introduced myself and got to tell Ms. Erdrich how much I enjoyed her book, "The Mother's Tongue."
This was also the year I finally read Pat Barker's "Ghost Road" trilogy, as well as the actual collected poems of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Ticked off some more World War I books and this wonderful series I've neglected since learning about it in the '90s. Highly recommended.
For the record, here's a broad genre run-down of my logged titles:
Short stories/Poetry - 1
Mass-Market Romance - 17
Poetry - 10 (seems low, but several were longer "collected" volumes, plus I'm constantly re-reading poetry, and re-reads don't get logged.)
Short stories - 3
Literary and General Fiction - 21
Non-Fiction (could have been broken up into MANY sub-categories) - 19
Kids (YA and Middle-grade) - 5
Picture Books - 3
Memoirs - 2
What does 2017 hold? Well, I'm already working my way through August Wilson's century cycle, so plays are taking center stage in January. Other than that, all I can say is MORE. More books, more books, more books. Please.