Friday, September 30, 2011

Author Birthday: Truman Capote

From today's Writer's Almanac:

Today is the birthday of the writer Truman Capote (books by this author), best known for the short novel Breakfast at Tiffany's and the groundbreaking work In Cold Blood, with which he single-handedly created a new literary genre — the nonfiction novel. Capote was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1924, his parents divorced when he was four, and he was sent to live a mostly lonely and solitary existence with some elderly aunts in Alabama. In his mid-teens, he went to live with his mother and her new husband in New York City but didn't adjust well to city life and ended up dropping out of school when he was 17 to take a job with The New Yorker. This was effectively the start of his professional writing life, and within a few years Capote was writing for a number of publications.

With his literary success came social celebrity, and the young writer's talents were often overshadowed by his now-famous flamboyance and eccentricities. Capote's artistic genius was well matched by his penchant for glittering high society, which lionized him in return, and he was seen at all the best parties, restaurants, clubs, and social circles.

While Capote was a society darling before the publication of In Cold Blood, it was really that book that cemented his place among society's elite. In Cold Blood was an instant success, selling out immediately, becoming one of the most talked-about books of its time and bringing its author millions of dollars and a level of fame rarely experienced by a literary author. In Capote's own words, In Cold Blood was "a solution to what had always been my greatest creative quandary. I wanted to produce a journalistic novel, something on a large scale that would have the credibility of fact, the immediacy of film, the depth and freedom of prose, and the precision of poetry."

Capote had apparently attempted something similar as a child. In a 1957 interview with the Paris Review, he discussed his first foray into nonfiction, when he had been a member of the Mobile [Alabama] Press Register's Sunshine Club, originally lured in by the free Nehi and Coca-Cola and also by the short-story writing contest with the prize of a pony or a dog. As he said, "I had been noticing the activities of some neighbors who were up to no good, so I wrote a kind of roman à clef called 'Old Mr. Busybody' and entered it into the contest. The first installment appeared one Sunday, under my real name of Truman Streckfus Persons. Only somebody suddenly realized that I was serving up a local scandal as fiction, and the second installment never appeared. Naturally, I didn't win a thing."

When Capote was around 12, the principal at his school announced to his family that the boy was "subnormal," and that it would be only humane to send him to a special school "equipped to handle backward brats." Understandably, Capote's family took umbrage at this, and in an effort to prove the principal unequivocally wrong, they "pronto packed me off to a psychiatric study clinic at a university in the East where I had my IQ inspected. I enjoyed it thoroughly and — guess what? — came home a genius, so proclaimed by science. I don't know who was more appalled: my former teachers, who refused to believe it, or my family, who didn't want to believe it — they'd just hoped to be told I was a nice normal boy. Ha ha!" For his part, his genius scientifically proven, Capote took to staring in mirrors, sucking in his cheeks and naming himself Proust, or Chekhov, or Wolfe — whoever was his idol of the moment. It was around this time that the boy started writing in earnest. His mind "zoomed all night every night," and he felt it must have been several years before he slept properly again.

Genius or no, Capote understood the only way to improve was to do the work and keep doing it, again and again, because "Work is the only device I know of [for improving one's technique]. Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Banned Book Week: The Bluest Eye

It's hard to believe Toni Morrison's beautiful writing in The Bluest Eye has been banned or challenged, yet this list from the ALA places it at number fifteen. In celebration of Banned Books Week, many bloggers are participating in a Virtual Read-Out by posting videos of themselves reading excerpts from their favorite banned book. I'm not quite brave enough for a vlog, but would still like to share two passages I loved from The Bluest Eye.
"The gray head of Mr. Yacobowski looms up over the counter. He urges his eyes out of his thoughts to encounter her. Blue eyes. Blear-dropped. Slowly, like Indian summer moving imperceptibly toward fall, he looks toward her. Somewhere between retina and object, between vision and view, his eyes draw back, hesitate, and hover. At some point in time and space he senses that he need not waste the effort of a glance. He does not see her, because for him there is nothing to see. How can a fifty-two-year-old white immigrant storekeeper with the taste of potatoes and beer in his mouth, his mind honed on the doe-eyed Virgin Mary, his senses blunted by a permanent awareness of loss, see a little black girl? Nothing in his life even suggested that the feat was possible, not to say desirable or necessary."   p.48 
"We walked quickly at first, and then slower, pausing every now and then to fasten garters, tie shoelaces, scratch, or examine old scars. We were sinking under the wisdom, accuracy, and relevance of Maureen's last words. If she was cute - and if anything could be believed, she was - then we were not. And what did that mean? We were lesser. Nicer, brighter, but still lesser. Dolls we could destroy, but we could not destroy the honey voices of parents and aunts, the obedience in the eyes of our peers, the slippery light in the eyes of our teachers when they encountered the Maureen Peals of the world. What was the secret? What did we lack? Why was it important? And so what? Guileless and without vanity, we were still in love with ourselves then. We felt comfortable in our skins, enjoyed the news that our senses released to us, admired our dirt, cultivated our scars, and could not comprehend this unworthiness. Jealousy we understood and thought natural - a desire to have what somebody else had; but envy was a strange new feeling for us. And all the time we knew that Maureen Peal was not the Enemy and not worthy of such intense hatred. The Thing to fear was the Thing that made her beautiful, and not us." p.74

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Happy Fall

Fall is here! It's a bright, sunny morning in central New York, but the air has a definite chill. Leaves are changing, pumpkins and mums are everywhere, and apple-picking season is in full swing. I finally enjoyed my first pumpkin spice latte of the season, and my traditional raw apple cake was a hit at Friday's dinner party. This is definitely my favorite time of year.

It's been a slow week on the reading front though. In fact, that pumpkin spice latte break was the only time I spent with The Bluest Eye all week. Toni Morrison's writing is both beautiful and haunting, and I'm looking forward to reading more.

My progress on The House of the Seven Gables picked up midweek as I decided to try the audio version. The book requires more concentration that I am able to muster at the end of the day and I found myself reading each sentence two or three times, frustration growing by the page. The audio helped me get into the rhythm of the story, and now it's easier to read in the evening after I've been listening in the car.  If you're interested in reading along, there is still plenty of time. Frances and Audrey are co-hosting a group read of The House of the Seven Gables on October 14.

This afternoon, I'll read The Bluest Eye and watch some football. Later we'll have dinner at my sister's house and celebrate my nephew's 16th birthday. I'll close with a scary thought a friend posted on facebook this morning - three months from today is Christmas! Happy Sunday...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Raw Apple Cake

Years ago, my sister gave me a recipe for Raw Apple Cake. It came from the Four Sisters Inn Cookbook -a souvenir from her California Wine Country vacation. Since then, this cake has come to signal the beginning of fall for my family. Yesterday we hosted a dinner party and, by coincidence, served the raw apple cake on the real first day of fall. It was just a good as we remembered!

Raw Apple Cake
(from Four Sisters Inn Cookbook)

4 cups grated tart apples, firmly packed
1/4 cup oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup wheat flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix apples, oil, vanilla, eggs, and sugars.  In a separate bowl, stir together flours, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and nuts. Gently fold into the apple mixture and stir until moistened. Pour into a lightly greased 9 x 13 pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone with a food-related post to share: Book reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button, head over to Beth Fish Reads, and link up anytime over the weekend.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday Intro: The Bluest Eye

Quiet as its kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father's baby that the marigolds did not grow. A little examination and much less melancholy would have proved to us that our seeds were not the only ones that did not sprout; nobody's did. Not even the gardens fronting the lake showed marigolds that year. But so deeply concerned were we with the health and safe delivery of Pecola's baby we could think of nothing but our own magic: if we planted the seeds, and said the right words over them, they would blossom, and everything would be all right.

It was a long time before my sister and I admitted to ourselves that no green was going to spring from our seeds. Once we knew, our guilt was relieved only by fights and mutual accusations about who was to blame. For years, I thought my sister was right: it was my fault. I had planted them too far down in the earth. It never occurred to either of us that the earth itself might have been unyielding. We had dropped our seeds in our own little plot of black dirt just as Pecola's father had dropped his seeds in his own plot of black dirt. Our innocence and faith were no more productive than his lust and or despair. What is clear now is that of all of that hope, fear, lust, love, and grief, nothing remains but Pecola and that unyielding earth. Cholly Breedlove is dead; our innocence, too. The seeds shriveled and died; her baby, too.

There really is nothing more to say - except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.

by Toni Morrison

The prologue, all in italics, has completely captivated me. Banned Book Week is September 24 - October 1. The Bluest Eye is listed at number 15 on ALA's Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books. I hope to post a review sometime next week. How will you mark Banned Book Week?

Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Sunday Salon: So Much to Talk About

Good morning! This is my first Sunday Salon since the end of July - the leaves are changing, the morning temperatures hover around 40, and it's time to accept the fact the summer is over. My sweaters and fleece made an appearance last week... yesterday I even wore socks. All I need now is a pumpkin spice latte.

The girls have settled into their college routines. Daughter #1, a senior, seems to be involved in just about everything, while the twins, first years, are making friends and getting used to college life in general. Twin B lives at home and commutes to a nearby college, so we have at least another year before achieving 'empty nester' status.

August, packed with travel and moving kids around, was a slow reading month, but things have certainly turned around in September. I've finished five books so far (unheard of by mid-month for me), including three 5 star and one with a 4 1/2 star rating! Am I getting soft in my rating or choosing books more wisely? Definitely the latter...

As you can tell from recent reviews, I've discovered Stewart O'Nan. His quieter, character-driven novels have quickly made him a new favorite. He'd long been on my 'authors to read' list. but Nan's review of Emily, Alone convinced me the time had finally come. Since the book is a sequel, I decided to read Wish You Were Here first. That novel was a perfect end-of-summer read for Labor Day weekend, and I followed up immediately with Emily, Alone. (Listen to this NPR interview to hear O'Nan talk about Emily). After that, I couldn't resist Last Night at the Lobster. I rated that one 4 1/2 stars but, the more I think about it, it should have been 5. If you're interested in O'Nan, this short novel would be the perfect starting point.

My reviews:
Wish You Were Here
Emily, Alone
Last Night at the Lobster

My audiobook selections have veered toward mysteries this month. Friday I posted thoughts on Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin - definitely a favorite this year. Yesterday I finished What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman and loved that, too. Lippman has so many other books to choose from. Can you recommend another title?

I've started participating in Devourer of Books Friday Sound Bytes feature. Jen posts an audiobook review and invites others to link up. It's a another great source for audio reviews and an excellent community-builder, too.

I'm currently reading The House of Sevens Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Frances and Audrey are hosting a group read (in conjunction with Carl's R.I.P challenge) with posts scheduled for October 14. After two chapters, I've decided it requires my full concentration... definitely not a book to read when I'm tired!

Banned Book Week is coming up September 24. In perusing ALA's top 100 banned/challenged books list, I noticed The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison at #15. Since I've never read Morrison (collective gasp!) and own the book, it seems like the perfect time to begin. Do you plan to read a banned book next week?

Today we are celebrating my mother's birthday, so there won't be much time for reading. I need to clean the house and make lasagna now, but will be back this evening for some blog hopping. After a long summer, I look forward to catching up with everyone. It's good to get back to The Sunday Salon!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (audio)

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter: A Novel
by Tom Franklin
Narrated by Kevin Kenerly
Blackstone Audio, 2010
9 hours 30 minutes

Synopsis (from the publisher):

In a small Mississippi town, two men are torn apart by circumstance and reunited by tragedy in this resonant new novel from the award-winning author of the critically-acclaimed Hell at the Breech.
Larry Ott and Silas “32” Jones were unlikely boyhood friends. Larry was the child of lower middle-class white parents, Silas the son of a poor, single, black mother - their worlds as different as night and day. Yet a special bond developed between them in Chabot, Mississippi. But within a few years, tragedy struck. In high school, a girl who lived up the road from Larry had gone to the drive-in movie with him and nobody had seen her again. Her stepfather tried to have Larry arrested, but no body was found and Larry never confessed. The incident shook up the town, including Silas, and the bond the boys shared was irrevocably broken.
Almost 30 years have passed. Larry, a mechanic, lives a solitary existence in Chabot, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion, the looks of blame that have shadowed him. Silas left home to play college baseball, but now he’s Chabot’s constable. The men have few reasons to cross paths, and they rarely do - until fate intervenes again.
Another teenaged girl has disappeared, causing rumors to swirl once again. Now, two men who once called each other friend are finally forced to confront the painful past they’ve buried for too many years.

My thoughts:

When it comes to atmospheric appeal, you just can't beat southern fiction and, believe me, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter offers plenty. But atmosphere is only the beginning here. The characters are extremely well-drawn, the plot had my emotions rising and falling like a roller coaster, and, best of all, the writing is superb. As an added bonus, the novel also raises larger social issues that beg to be discussed. This is literary mystery at it's finest!

I began listening to Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter on my iPod, sometimes before falling asleep. It became obvious early on that bedtime was not the optimal listening time for this particular title, so I burned CD's and started listening in the car. I couldn't get enough and found myself looking for excuses to drive around.

 My only regret is that I don't have quotes to include here. I stopped the audio many times to savor an especially beautiful or insightful passage... it would have been hard to select just one or two to share.

A note on the audio:
Kevin Kenerly, a narrator I was unfamiliar with, is excellent. His southern drawl was perfect (to my northern ears), with just the right edge in suspenseful sections, yet never melodramatic. Kenerly's reading added so much to the overall feeling and atmosphere - I could practically feel the humidity in his voice.

source: purchased

My rating:

Bottom line:
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is one of my favorite audios of the year - truly a must-listen!

Jen at Devourer of Books is collecting audiobook reviews every Friday for her Sound Bytes feature. Stop by and read her review, then click over to see what others have posted. Feel free to link up your own audiobook review, too.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Last Night At the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan

Last Night at the Lobster
by Stewart O' Nan
Viking, 2007
146 pages
source: borrowed

In a nutshell:
This novella takes a close look at The Red Lobster in New Britain, CT- employees, customers,and operation - on it's final night of business.

My thoughts:
Last Night at the Lobster is the third O'Nan novel I've read in as many weeks, and my first impulse upon finishing was to immediately begin the fourth. Once again, there is not a lot of action, but the reader really gets to know and understand the characters.

In this case, the primary focus is on the manager, Manny DeLeon. It's four days before Christmas, a snowstorm is raging, and Manny is determined to keep up appearances and finish the evening like any other....except it's not just any evening. It's the final night of operation for the Red Lobster. The location is 'underperforming' and parent company Darden has decided close down the Lobster and transfer Manny to a nearby Olive Garden, where he will be downgraded to assistant manager.

I loved the behind-the-scenes aspect of this novel. The kitchen tension, corporate guidelines, staff interactions, customer descriptions, and jack-of-all-trades manager provide the reader with insight into the chain restaurant business. O'Nan must have spent many research hours at Red Lobsters.

Last Night at the Lobster is also infused with a feeling of loss. Of course, there is the loss of the restaurant, but Manny is also mourning the recent loss of his abuela as well as his break-up with Jacquie (an employee). At the same time, he must come to terms with his current relationship and impending fatherhood.

By the way, I decided to forgo a fourth O'Nan novel and begin a group read of The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. As Amy said on twitter, "O'Nan will be waiting for you, like a good friend." I like that...

A favorite passage:
"He tramps out to the end of one wing where Dom's and Roz's cars sit in exile and works back toward the Lobster, the illusory movement of the colored string through the front doors and the glow from the windows and the candlelit faces of people eating inside all suddenly, surprisingly beautiful to him, as if he's still stoned. He rests for a moment to appreciate the vision and hears, in the hush, at a distance, the frantic whizzing of a car spinning its wheels. In the storm light, the restaurant looks warm and alive and welcoming, a place anyone would want to go. It looks like a painting, and he feels proud, as if this is his work, and in a way it is, except it's over, like him and Jacquie, lost, gone forever. Is that why he loves it so much?" page 40-41

My rating:

Bottom line:
Stewart O'Nan is fast becoming a favorite author. If you aren't familiar with his work, this little book is a perfect introduction.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday Intro: The House of the Seven Gables

"Half-way down a by-street of one of our New England towns, stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst. The street is Pyncheon-street; the house is the old Pyncheon-house; and an elm tree of wide circumference, rooted before the door, is familiar to every town-born child by the title of the Pyncheon-elm.  On my occasional visits to the town aforesaid, I seldom fail to turn down Pyncheon-street, for the sake of passing through the shadow of these two antiquities; the great elm-tree, and the weather-beaten edifice."

The House of the Seven Gables
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

September signals the beginning of Carl's R.I.P. Challenge (Readers Imbibing in Peril). New for the sixth year is the Peril of the Group Read. Along with Carl's offerings, Frances and Audrey have teamed up to host The House of the Seven Gables group read. We will post our thoughts on Friday October 14, then discussion will take place in the comments section all weekend long.

Although I wasn't a huge fan of The Scarlet Letter, group reads are always appealing and The House of the Seven Gables has been on my reading list for some time. Does the first paragraph appeal to you? Would you like to join us? Sign up with either Audrey or Frances... all are welcome!

Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile be the Sea.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand

by Lauren Hillenbrand
narrated by Edward Herrmann
Random House Audio, 2010
14 hours

In a nutshell:
"A WWII story of survival, resilience, and redemption"
Read the publisher's full summary here.

My thoughts:
The best thing about book clubs is that they push me outside my comfort zone. Without the 'book club selection' mandate, Unbroken would not have made my reading list. Books dealing with combat, POW camps, torture, and tales of survival send me running in the opposite direction. 'War books' simply aren't for me... unless the focus is on domestic issues or the home front.

However, once I started listening to Unbroken, there was no turning away. Louis Zamperini's journey from juvenile delinquent, to Olympic runner, to WWII bombardier was captivating, but it's the survival story that will stick with me. Floating on a raft in the Pacific Ocean for weeks, plagued by sharks, starvation, and enemy aircraft, Zamperini's ingenuity and resolve were simply amazing.

Zamperini was eventually captured and taken as a prisoner of war. An astonishing 37% of POWs in the Japanese camps died, and the brutalities were described in great detail. I found this section difficult to handle... proceed with caution. Finally, I cheered at Louis' rescue and followed along his journey of recovery.

Hillenbrand's extensive research is very evident throughout the book.

Book club reaction:
Several weeks before the meeting, I realized I wouldn't be able to attend, but decided to finish listening to the book anyway. Reactions varied widely. Several members loved the book, while a couple others found it too disturbing to finish. I may have been in the second group had I been reading rather than listening.

A note on the audio production:
Edward Herrmann's narration struck just the right balance. It was riveting, without being overly dramatic. Searching through his multiple credits, I realized I'd listened to his narration of Couples by John Updike. A few of his other titles have now been added to my audible wish list.

source: purchased from

My rating:

Bottom line:
Recommended, with a caution for the squeamish

Jen at Devourer of Books is collecting audiobook reviews every Friday for her new Sound Bytes feature. Stop by and read her review, then click over to see what others have posted. Feel free to link up your own audiobook review, too.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan

Could it be, even for elderly people, that this was life - 
startling, unexpected, unknown?
-Virginia Woolf

I think Emily, Alone is one amazing book.

I wonder how a middle-aged man can know, and perfectly convey, the mind of an 80-year-old widow. Perhaps O'Nan spent years really listening to a mother, grandmother, or great aunt.

I'm glad I read Wish You Were Here first. Set seven years earlier, it provided the background necessary for a deeper understanding of Emily, her family, and their history.

I'm feeling slightly sad...although the book ends on a hopeful note, it's not exactly a cheerful novel. Of course, two daughters leaving for college, a cold, rainy Labor Day, and the unofficial end of summer may have contributed to my blue mood. Still, this quiet, introspective novel will not be for everyone.

I loved these quotes:
"The temptation was to mourn those days, when they were young and busy and alive. As much as Emily missed them, she understood the reason that era seemed so rich - partly, at least - was because it was past, memorialized, the task they'd set themselves of raising families accomplished" p.55
"Often, as she leafed through the sticky, plastic-coated pages, spotting herself with a frizzy perm or wearing a loud, printed blouse, she was struck by how long life was, and how much time had passed, and she wished she could go back and apologize to those closest to her, explain that she understood now. Impossible, and yet the urge to return and be a different person never lessened, grew only more acute." p. 65
"She fretted especially about Sarah and Justin, how they would turn out, and thought it unfair that she would probably not be around to witness it. She'd watched her own children grow up, maybe that was enough - as if one were allowed to see only so much of life, the future, like the past, necessarily hidden and mysterious." p.90
"Though they all lived alone, and preferred to, they were all worried about one another, equally. Why had it taken them so long to arrive at this point? Shouldn't it have always been that way?" p. 126
I will read more O'Nan.

I rate Emily, Alone:

Emily, Alone
by Stewart O'Nan
Viking, 2011
255 pages
source: borrowed from the library

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tuesday Intro: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

"What about a teakettle? What if the spout opened and closed when the steam came out, so it would become a mouth, and it could whistle  pretty melodies, or do Shakespeare, or just crack up with me? I could invent a teakettle that reads in Dad's voice, so I could fall asleep, or maybe a set of kettles  that sings the chorus of "Yellow Submarine," which is a song by the Beatles, who I love, because entomology is one of my raisons d'etre, which is a French expression that I know. Another good thing is that I could train my anus to talk when I farted. If I wanted to be extremely hilarious, I could train it to say, "wasn't me!" every time I made an incredibly bad fart. And if I ever made an incredibly bad fart in the Hall of Mirrors, which is in Versailles, which is outside of Paris, which is in France, obviously, my anus would say, "Ce n'etais pas moi!"
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
by Jonathan Safran Foer

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 should be the perfect time to read Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a book that seems to garner nothing but praise. Obviously it's told from the point-of-view of a child but, after reading the first paragraph, I'm not so sure it's for me.

Will it be similar to Room I loved the audio, but don't think I would have appreciated the print version. Maybe it's just too soon for me to read another novel told from a child's perspective. I'll start a new book today, but can't decide whether this will be the one.

Have you read Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close? What did you think?

Tuesday Intro is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea.

Monday, September 5, 2011

My Life as a Book - 2011 Edition

Remember the fun we with My Life as a Book Meme in 2009? Well, today Melissa posted her answers to Pop Culture Nerd's new set of fill-ins for 2011. Of course, I couldn't resist. You know the drill - use only titles of books you have read this year to complete the following statements. Won't you join the fun?

One time at band/summer camp, I was: DISTURBING THE PEACE (Richard Yates)

Weekends at my house are: A MOVEABLE FEAST (Ernest Hemingway)

My neighbors are: EXCELLENT WOMEN (Barbara Pym)

My boss is: WAITING FOR COLUMBUS (Thomas Trofimuk)

My ex was: A TRAGIC HONESTY (Blake Bailey)

My superhero identity is: LADY SUSAN (Jane Austen)

You wouldn't like me when I'm angry because (I take):  NOTES ON A SCANDAL (Zoe Heller)

I'd win a gold medal in: SHADOW TAG (Louise Erdrich)

I'd pay good money for: THE BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN (Wallace Stegner)

If I were president, I would (write): THE REPORT (Jessica Francis Kane)

When I don't have good books (I),  WISH YOU WERE HERE (Stewart O'Nan)

Loud talkers at the movies should be: THE DEAD (James Joyce)

*Photo credit

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Author Birthday: Sarah Orne Jewett

From The Writer's Almanac:

Today is the birthday of Sarah Orne Jewett (1849) (books by this author). She was born in South Berwick, Maine, and she died there, too, 60 years later. She was deeply rooted in the region and its people. "My local attachments," she wrote, "are stronger than any cat's that ever mewed."

Her father was an obstetrician, and he often took her with him on his house calls; they would talk about the land and the sea on the way, and she would talk for hours with his patients and their families. She originally wanted to be a doctor herself, but she was in poor health, suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. She read voraciously when she wasn't out with her father. She attended the Berwick Academy and graduated when she was 16, but she considered her true teachers the fishermen and farmers and their wives, and they were her subjects when she began writing stories as a girl. She published her first story, "Jenny Garrow's Lovers," in Flag of Our Union when she was 18. Later, some of her sketches of the fictional New England town of Deephaven were published in Atlantic Monthly, and eventually collected into a novel, also called Deephaven (1877).

She never married, but she had a very close relationship with writer Annie Fields and her husband, Atlantic Monthly publisher James Field. After James died, Sarah and Annie traveled together extensively, and lived together in Boston for a large part of every year. Her strong regional writing would inspire Willa Cather, who called Jewett's novella The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896) an American classic on the level of Huckleberry Finn and The Scarlet Letter. Cather dedicated O Pioneers! (1913) to Jewett.

Jewett was injured in a carriage accident on her birthday in 1902, which put an end to her writing career. She was paralyzed by a stroke in 1909, and died a few months later.

The Art of the Novella Challenge may be over, but The Country of Pointed Firs is loaded on my iPad. I missed traveling to Maine this summer, and hope the combination of this novella with Thomas' vacation photos will prove to be the next best thing.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Art of the Novella Wrap-Up

The Art of the Novella Challenge officially drew  to a close yesterday. I read three novellas to reach the 'captivated' level.

Lady Susan was, by far, my favorite. The combination of Jane Austen's wit and the epistolary form will surely be a highlight of my reading year.  Tolstoy's novella was a reread, but Pevear and Volokhonsky's translation made it new again. The Dead was a wonderful surprise - a lovely story, beautifully written, and totally accessible. Perhaps it's time to rethink my position on James Joyce? Either way, don't expect to see Ulysses on my reading list any time soon.

 The challenge may be over, but I plan to read several more of these small treasures before the end of the year. On my shelf (or iPad):

  • May Day by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Devil by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett

Thanks so much, Frances, for coming up with this challenge, and thank you, Melville House, for assembling a fabulous collection of novellas. August has certainly been a memorable month!


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