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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

D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of WWII
Stephen E. Ambrose
Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad
M.T. Anderson
The Path Between the Seas
David McCullough
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

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. 



Literary Mysteries: The Case of the Unsatisfying Ending

The Wife - Meg Wolitzer

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! 



Notes from the Backlist: Lay Back the Darkness

Lay Back the Darkness: Poems - Edward Hirsch

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."



Reading List Alert!

How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry - Duke University, Edward Hirsch

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! 



This is how I holiday . . .

Pym - Mat Johnson

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. 



Summer Reading List 2018

Pete Rose: An American Dilemma - Kostya Kennedy First Love, Last Rites - Ian McEwan The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket - Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Kopley Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld, Keith Thompson Three Tall Women - Edward Albee Homegoing - Yaa Gyasi The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Brontë

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:

The list.


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? 



Living the Liberal Arts

Testament of Youth - Vera Brittain

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." 



"Arguments can always be found to turn desire into policy."
The Guns of August - Barbara W. Tuchman

--Barbara W. Tuchman "The Guns of August"

"Which is what the inter-text is: the impossibility of living outside the infinite text -- whether this text be Proust or the daily newspaper or the television screen: the book creates the meaning, the meaning creates life."
The Pleasure of the Text - Roland Barthes, Richard Miller

The Pleasure of the Text 

by Roland Barthes