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Carissa Green Reads

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.

Currently reading

Look Homeward, Angel
Thomas Wolfe
In Between the Sheets, and Other Stories
Ian McEwan
Chicago Poems
Carl Sandburg
Chekhov Four Plays
Anton Chekhov, David Magarshack
The Gay Science: with a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs
Walter Kaufmann, Friedrich Nietzsche
A Kierkegaard Anthology
Robert W. Bretall

A different type of reading problem

The Chaperone - Laura Moriarty

Laura Moriarty's "The Chaperone" is the story of Cora, a Wichita, Kansas matron who volunteers to chaperone teenaged Louise Brooks for a summer in New York City, and the reverberations of the journey change her life forever. (Sounds like a good blurb for a movie, doesn't it? Guess why I picked up this book . . . )


I really enjoyed the novel, but it had a flaw that, although not deal-breaking, was distracting, to be honest. The typesetting on the novel was just strangely done. Of course, we all know that the space between words and sentences, and even individual letters in a manuscript is variable. When typesetting was a hand-done art, craftspersons did this work to the best of their human eyes. 


Now that these things are computerized, I do not necessarily expect "better," for art is subjective, but I do expect that it will not be noticeable. In "The Chaperone," there were many places where it seemed there was almost NO space between words -- often between sentences. And this wasn't a "fit it on the line thing"; sometimes this even happened on short lines, where another five words would have fit perfectly well. 


It was just weird, and a big quality control fail, in my opinion, for Riverhead Books (a Penguin imprint). 



Quick Take: The Middle Child

The Lion in Winter - James Goldman

Oh, Geoffrey.


The poor, put-upon Duke of Brittany is one of my favorite middle children in all of literature. 


Over-thinker, unlucky pawn, forever to be disappointed, but how hard he tries, how passionately he rages . . . 



The Novelist as Soothsayer

Super Sad True Love Story - Gary Shteyngart

Gary Shteyngart is getting plenty of good attention this spring for his new novel, "Lake Success." But remember this one, from 2010, "Super Sad True Love Story?" 


This novel was a comedic take on an alternate near-future world, in which people eschew face-to-face interaction in favor of communicating on personal electronic devices (apparats, with umlauts over all three as, if you please). People become "media" stars, making their living by broadcasting themselves doing pretty much anything online. The United States' economy is collapsing, and society is at the mercy of money or resource-holding countries such as Norway and China. 


Here's one detail that didn't strike me as so prescient when I first read the novel but now is screaming out at me: The U.S., in this novel, has a broken government and is losing an ill-advised, unpopular war in -- wait for it -- Venezuela. 


Let's not go there.



Anthology Analysis: Donald Hall's Contemporary American Poetry

Contemporary American Poetry (Penguin Poets) - Various Authors, Donald Hall

The first "new" book of poetry I read this year was Donald Hall's "Contemporary American Poetry," acquired last fall for a quarter at a garage sale. (Read more about that "haul" here: http://carissagreen50.booklikes.com/post/1838747/book-haul-summer-turns-into-fall.)


The volume is stuffed with canonical poets of the mid-20th century - 39 in total. And, in the Preface to the Second Edition, Hall curiously brags that he included two black poets. Further:

"A few years ago, Karl Shapiro made some remarks about lily-white anthologies which made me angry, for the usual reason one gets angry: because the remarks were accurate. A world of black poetry exists in America alongside the world of white poetry, exactly alike in structure -- with its own publishers, bookstores, magazines, editors, theologists, conferences, poetry readings -- and almost entirely invisible to the white world.  Like the rest of the black world. The world of white poetry has practiced the usual genteel apartheid of tokenism: Here is praise for Langston Hughes, here is  Pulitzer Prize for Gwendolyn Brooks; now we've done our liberal bit, let's go back to reading "The New York View of Books.


"The world of black poetry seems to be thriving. I find it hard to judge these poems, as if I were trying to exercise my taste in a foreign language, which I am. Here I am printing two poets almost wholly unknown to the white world, Dudley Randall and Etheridge Knight. (I asked LeRoi Jones, who refused.)" 


Fifty years later, of course, no liberal thinker would talk thusly about the literary world, so perhaps it is unfair to point out the recently-deceased Mr. Hall's cloddishness here. But man of our our African-American literati would say that there world is not yet fully fair to the merits of their works. 


But, truth be told, just as depressing to me as the lack of writers of color in this anthology was the lack of women writers. Four, are included, all canonical: Levertov, Plath, Rich, and Sexton. Four. Four. Four. Ten percent. Not even Elizabeth Bishop made the list. Where are the women poets? They were writing.


In our post Gilbert-and-Gubar world, it's clear that who does the choosing and who is chosen matters. We can look back retrospectively and forgive, but we must not forget, going forward. 



Quick Take: The Aftermath

The Aftermath - Rhidian Brook

Without being too spoiler-y . . . 


At one point in this novel, the german architect, Lubert, tells the British boy, Edmund, that Edmund's mother, Rachael, reminds him of the actress Vivien Leigh. Lubert also says his wife loved the book and movie "Gone With the Wind," in which, of course, Miss Leigh played the infamous Scarlett O'Hara. 


This comparison is more than a throwaway detail. Rachael and Scarlett are both navigating their way through the rebuilding period immediately after a devastating war.


Scarlett is putting her life back together, materially, working hard to ensure she and those she loves survive, concentrating on rebuilding their physical lives.


Rachael is doing survival work Scarlett doesn't seem to have time to face: She is trying to put herself back together emotionally. 


"The Aftermath" is its own thing - certainly not a re-telling of the earlier book - but it's nice to recognize themes that cross cultures and times.





Books in the Family

Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines - Nic Sheff Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction - David Sheff

I always intended to read Nic Sheff's memoir, "Tweak," and his father, David Sheff's memoir, "Beautiful Boy," consecutively, and close together.

Around the time they were published, father-and-son did press together. I remember them on at least one of my favorite Public Radio shows - "Studio 360," or "Fresh Air," or "To the Best of Our Knowledge," probably, or maybe more than one of them. Their stories were so intimately intwined it just seemed like the right reading choice. 


I completely recommend this method for reading these books. One story informs the other. Emotion is heightened through both books. It's quite an intense experience. 


It's also kind of a fun little puzzle, matching up parallel scenes and characters between the two books, where names and details are changed a bit, for reasons, I'm sure. Even the acknowledgement pages have some interest. Both Sheffs thank "Armistead." How many "Armisteads" could there be in the greater Bay area? Has to be Armistead Maupin, right? And is this also Nic's honorary godfather? They don't say. Some little mysteries are even a bit more delicious when they aren't solved. 


However, there is one mystery I that I do not understand and wish I did: The mystery of the publishing world. Nic Sheff's book is published under the Ginee Seo imprint of Atheneum Books for Young Readers. I suppose it's fine for an older teen to read this book, but as it covers basically Nic Sheff's 19th through 22nd years, with extremely frank descriptions of drug use, sex, and violence, nothing about this says YA to me. Luck of the publishing draw? I guess. 



Rethinking . . .

Dumplin' - Julie Murphy

I got "Dumplin'" from my local public library recently because people raved about how fun both the book and the TV movie were. And I always read the book first . . .

Yes, the novel was quite fun. But it was also a bit disappointing, because the characters were all (or mostly) just a little bit too good to be true. And I think I'm not in a personal place right now to be much enchanted by a novel that is about not much more than the social problems of American (Texan, even!) teenagers. I've got my own problems and am pretty "over it." 


But I saw Murphy's follow-up, "Puddin," in the Target yesterday, and I couldn't resist - I read the flap copy.

It's a sequel.

It's a sequel featuring the relentlessly optimistic, probably clueless, sweet, overprotected, chubby girl and bullying target, Millie. It also features the one character in "Dumplin'" I pretty much loathed, the one-dimensional bitch, Callie (who, apparently, gets a last name in the sequel). 


A book for Millie. That, I might have to read. 



In Praise of the Misanthrope . . .

Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple

You know when I decided I loved Bernadette? Page 10:

"The only way to get to Antarctica is by cruise ship. Even the smallest one has 150 passengers, which translates into me being trapped with 149 other people who will uniquely annoy the hell out of me with their rudeness, waste, idiotic questions, incessant yammering, creepy food requests, boring small talk, etc. Or worse, they might turn their curiosity toward me, and expect pleasantry in return. I'm getting a panic attack just thinking about it. A little social anxiety never hurt anyone, am I right?"


Yep. Page 10. I love her. 



Book Haul: Lutheran Church Sale Edition

Elizabeth Alexander Inaugural Chapbook - Elizabeth Alexander

I don't buy many books these days, for reasons I've talked about before in this blog. But it doesn't mean that I don't hunt for treasures regularly.

A couple of Saturdays ago, the Lutheran church one street over from my home had their annual rummage sale. This is a massive event. Sure, I combed through the book tables when I was there. A few interesting things, but only one book that I wanted as a "keeper." Of course, it's poetry - a little chapbook version of Elizabeth Alexander's 2009 inaugural poem.

I love Elizabeth Alexander, and I love her publisher, Graywolf Press. And I LOVE getting this little gem for fifty cents! It's a great addition to my little collection that includes Maya Angelou's inaugural poem, plus volumes by Auden and Rich. 

What else did I buy? Two crossword puzzle books for my dad. They're nothing special, but he'll get a dollar's worth of enjoyment out of them anyway. And, a vintage Lionel Trains manual. Not a bad way to spend $2, total, at a community fundraiser. 



Book Haul: Summer Turns into Fall

Contemporary American Poetry (Penguin Poets) - Various Authors, Donald Hall

I don't buy many books these days. Over the 23 years I lived in a pretty small apartment, it was clear that at the rate of reading of a little over one new book a week, storing books would be a real challenge. Also, once something acquires a memory for me - especially a good memory, as books so often do - it's really hard for me to let go of them from my life.


I try to limit my book-buying these days to just a few a year. Poetry - they're usually skinny, so you can fit a lot of them on a shelf. The catalog book, if I see a really great art exhibit or visit a new museum. If one of my friends publishes, I try to buy the book. Occasionally a book from a signing or reading. A book with a such a profound memory or reading experience attached to it that I want to be a "keeper."


However, this past September I bought a whole bag of books, unexpectedly, on the spur-of-the-moment. What the heck happened? Well, here we go:


During the summer, I spend weekends with my folks at an RV park in north-central Minnesota. Sometimes, we go around to garage sales in the area, looking for treasures. We did just that on the last weekend of my summer year. And the last sale we went to was in a yard not far from a small state university. Where, apparently, a kindred spirit was selling her collection. She was planning a move to New York, she said, and couldn't take it all with her.


A quarter per book. And books that said, "Take me home. She loved us. Now you love us." And at a quarter a book, plus 10 cents for a cute cream-and-magenta tote bag (fragrance gwp that went unwanted and unused) I did not resist. 


Here's what I got! 

  • The anthology "Contemporary American Poetry," edited by Donald Hall. That's become my first poetry read of 2019. I'll be making a separate post about it later. 
  • A hardcover anthology, "Charlotte and Emily Bronte: The Complete Novels," published by Grammercy. (Sorry, Anne, you didn't make the cut, apparently.)
  • The Oxford World Classics paperback edition of "A Memoir of Jane Austen," written years after her death by a nephew. Been on my list to read for years, that one.
  • "The Best American Poetry 2000," guest editor that year was Rita Dove.
  • "Conde Nast Traveler Book of Unforgettable Journeys: Great Writers on Great Places," which I believe was a Penguin original several years ago. 
  • "Edmund Bertram's Diary," by Amanda Grange. Yes, it's Jane Austen fan-fiction, I suppose, but I will love it at least 25 cents worth, I'm certain.


See? I found a kindred reading spirit.


Would I have gone out and purchased all of these at full price? Absolutely not. Would I have paid a dollar each for these? Perhaps, but not all at once. Will I read them all? Certainly. 


So thank you, kindred reading spirit. May your reading life be blessed in the future. 



Notes on Adaptation: Beale Street Update

If Beale Street Could Talk - James Baldwin

For those of you who responded to my co-review of the novel and film "If Beale Street Could Talk," http://carissagreen50.booklikes.com/post/1834550/notes-on-adaptation-beale-street-update

here's a little update: The film played in my town one week. 


One week. Damn, I'm glad I went on the first night. 

In the meantime, Aquaman and Bumblebee are still going strong.



Notes on Adaptation: If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk - James Baldwin

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.




Thoughts on the Novel: Our Souls at Night

Our Souls at Night: A novel - Kent Haruf

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!

"There will always be an England, and I am so very glad."
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania - Erik Larson

- Erik Larson, "Dead Wake" 

Notes from the Backlist: Read the Notes

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania - Erik Larson

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. 



Update: The Case of the Unsatisfying Ending (Possibly The End)

The Wife - Meg Wolitzer

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.