Saturday, January 25, 2020

JANUARY READING GROUP UPDATE



A great line up of books to discuss this month:

Tiny Book Club:
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Molly's Group:
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Carol's Group:
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One Book At A Time:
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Bookie Babes:
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I have already met to discuss the first four titles. I can attest that those made for good discussions.
Have you read and/or discussed any of these novels? Did you discuss any others lately that worked well for a reading group?


Saturday, January 18, 2020

TOP 25 BOOKS READ IN 2019


Once again, it was hard to choose only 25 of all the wonderful books I read last year. I made a short runners up list. Not all of these were published in 2019 but all were read during the year.
Starred titles indicate books reviewed on the blog.

*Bowlaway, Elizabeth McCracken
*Chimes of a Lost Cathedral, Janet Fitch
*Daisy Jones & the Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid
*Disoriental, Negar Djavadi
*The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin
*Juliet the Maniac, Juliet Escoria
*Little Big Man, Thomas Berger
*The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill
*Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, T Kira Madden
*The Loved Ones, Sonya Chung
*Lost Children Archive, Valeria Luiselli
*Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem
*The Neverending Story, Michael Ende
*The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead
*Once Upon A River, Diane Setterfeld
Palm Latitudes, Kate Braverman
*Sometimes a Great Notion, Ken Kesey
*Stone Upon Stone, Wieslaw Mysliwski
*Sula, Toni Morrison
*The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E Harrow
*The Testaments, Margaret Atwood
*The Time of Our Singing, Richard Powers
*Trust Exercise, Susan Choi
The Vexations, Caitlin Horrocks
*Washinton Black, Esi Edugyan

Runners Up
*The Blue, Nancy Bilyeau
*A Kind of Freedom, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
No Walls and the Recurring Dream, Ani di Franco
*The Prisoner of Heaven, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
*Sisters In Law, Linda R Hirshman
*Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
*Wintering, A Novel of Sylvia Plath, Kate Moses

Happy Reading in 2020!
 


Saturday, January 11, 2020

BOOKS READ IN DECEMBER




Happy New Year! My holiday break went a bit longer than planned. I spent the last week in December reading enough books to make my yearly goal of 156 books. It was glorious reading that many books in one year but keeping up with the reviews of them became more time consuming than I had predicted and writing on my own book went completely dead by about May.

So I spent the first week of the New Year figuring out what changes I needed to make. I decided that my own writing must take priority and my reading should be focused on the lists of My Big Fat Reading Project because that is the main research for my book. I considered giving up entirely on the blog but I treasure the relationships I have made through it. So for now, here is the plan: Read primarily from My Big Fat Reading Project and for my reading groups. Write reviews for my own edification as relates to my writing. Post here about once a week, mostly lists such as the books I read each month, the Reading Group Update and possibly the occasional review of books that I especially love.

One day a week I will visit the bloggers I follow and leave comments when I truly have something to say. (I hope this is enough to keep in touch.) Write at least five days a week (that also includes research and revision as I go.)  If you want to see what I am currently reading you can follow me on Goodreads or Twitter. Thank you in advance for understanding.

Stats for December: 13 books read. 11 fiction. 8 by women. 3 from My Big Fat Reading Project.
2 historical. 4 thrillers. 1 mystery. 1 memoir. 1 biography. 1 picture book.

Countries I visited: Brazil, Great Britain, Greece, France, Poland, USA.

Authors new to me: Kate Braverman, Ani DiFranco, Lili Anolik, Caitlin Horrocks, Julie Otsuka, Simms Tabak

Favorites: Palm Latitudes, No Walls and the Recurring Dream, The Vexations

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How did your reading go in December? Have you read any of these? 


Monday, December 23, 2019

HOLIDAY BREAK








HAPPY SOLSTICE
HAPPY HOLIDAYS

I am taking the rest of the year off from the blog. Be back in the New Year.

May the trees be with you!

Friday, December 20, 2019

SULA


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Sula, Toni Morrison, Alfred A Knopf, 1973, 136 pp
 
Toni Morrison, one of my top three favorite authors, passed away in August of this year. She was 88 years old. She had won the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and wrote eleven novels. I have read them all. Now I am rereading: The Bluest Eye, her first novel, earlier this year and now Sula, her second.
 
I first read Sula in 2001. It was September of that momentous year of the terrorist attacks, from which America and the entire world is still reverberating. For me, that was a moment that announced the last gasp push back of patriarchal power; they are still gasping, they will not go down easily or they may take the planet down with them. Toni Morrison fought that power all her life through her support of important writers and through her novels.

She did not march or join demonstrations. She wrote from the viewpoint of a woman of color. I like to think she "womansplained"...to women, to men (if they would listen), to the whole world (if they would read.)

In fact, during September 2001, I read four of her novels. I was mightily impressed but I can see on rereading, that I missed a lot of her deeper meanings. Sula is about female friendship, always a fraught endeavor, susceptible to irreparable change, especially during and after puberty.

Yet I don't think there is ever any deeper or more unconditional connection in life than childhood friendships between girls. It is hardly about words. It is just a communion of souls, a recognition, a pact. I got that on the first reading. What I got this time was the complexity of issues: sex, men, marriage, children and of course racism.

Morrison, in her usual incredible prose, captures all this. She hits economics, generations of women and mothers, longing for both freedom and safety, morality and mortality.

I read some reader reviews where I often came across women who found Sula, the character, hard to understand or accept. I think as we grow and age and experience the stages of life, many of us realize that we have a bit of Sula in ourselves, no matter how much we try to bury or ignore or fight against the kind of woman she was.

Monday, December 16, 2019

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN


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Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem, Random House, 1999, 311 pp
 
I wanted to read this before I saw the movie, which came out a few weeks ago. I have always meant to read Jonathan Lethem and now I wish I had started earlier. Born in 1964, he is a generation behind me but he is of the generation of much fiction I love.
 
Four orphans in pre-gentrified Brooklyn are picked out by small time gangster Frank Minna to do "errands" for his "limo service" and "detective agency." Soon they become Minna's Men, his comrades in crime.

Lionel Essrog, one of those orphans, feels he is the closest to Minna. His nickname, created by Frank, is Freakshow because he suffers from Tourette's Syndrome. His barking, counting and outbursts of fractured language, make him one of the most endearing orphans in literature. I am a sucker for orphan stories. It all started for me with Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden

When one of Frank's capers goes wrong ending in his murder, Lionel's obsessive nature drags him into real detective work. He MUST find who murdered the only father figure he has known.

The scene of the evening Minna is killed became seared into my mind. According to my husband, who has already seen the movie and is now reading the book, it is reproduced exactly at the beginning of the film.

So yes, this is a riff on the classic detective novel, but actually it is a coming of age tale as great as David Copperfield, a tale of a city as gritty as John Fante's Ask the Dust, as intricately plotted as anything by Raymond Chandler, all combined to blow your mind.

Lethem does it with a scintillating display of language that goes beyond words. He can write six really intelligent things in one paragraph without ever losing his rhythm.

Now to see the movie and better yet to read as much as Lethem as I can over the coming months.

Friday, December 13, 2019

FOX


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Fox, Dubravka Ugresic, Open Letter Books, 2018, 308 pp (translated from the Croatian by David Williams and Ellen Elias-Bursac)
 
This was my translated literature pick in November. For the third time in one month I found myself reading auto-biographical fiction. The first person narrator in Fox is, I am quite sure, Dubravka Ugresic herself. This is an author I have long wanted to read, who came onto my radar through various literary sites where I lurk as she began to receive acclaim a few years ago due to seven of her works being translated into English.
 
The author has lived in self-imposed exile from Croatia ever since the breakup of Yugoslavia. The result of her criticisms of nationalism there left her branded as a traitor.

Fox is thus biographical, following the life of an author living in exile in the Netherlands and including sections about writing process, attending literary conventions and speaking engagements, and returning for a heartrending episode to her Croatian home town. She uses the mythic figure of the fox as trickster to great effect throughout the novel, making the case for authors who travel across cultures. The through line asks the illusive question, "How do stories come to be written?"

Though I felt somewhat adrift in the long first chapter, A Story about How Stories Come to Be Written, I discovered as I read further that it was a brilliant set up for the rest of the book. I grew accustomed to her sly humor. Most of all, I reveled in the ways she pans the entire international publishing world. She is so bold I worried she might be accused of being a traitor to her own profession!

Currently I am making the progress of a snail through Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, as that author travels through Yugoslavia in 1938. Her travels begin in Croatia and she relates the history and mixture of cultures there: Roman Empire, Slavic, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish. Reading Fox, I felt I had the long and troubled background to Dubravka Ugresic's current concerns. It was one of those delightful events of synchronicity that happen to readers.