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.
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.
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 . . .