Category Archives: Literary

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I recently re-read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, and was very happy to become reacquainted with the following passage (so happy that I am sharing it with you now).

One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching ’round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be!
Good gracious, it’s Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and–
Just How the Camel Got His Hump,
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There’s Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole–
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!


The Mail

Ever since I was about 11 or 12 years old, I have been excited by the prospect of receiving mail.  In high school, when I had 30 or 40 penpals, my penfriends and I used to say that we were “chained to our mailboxes.”

This week, I have been waiting on packages–3 books and a DVD.  Two of the books are advance review copies–one from Random House and one from Chronicle Books, and the other two are items I ordered from Ebay and from an international seller.  I wondered which would be the first to arrive.  Every day this week I’ve anxiously anticipated the sound of the mail dropping through the slot.  Was there a thud?  Or just the little flutter and smack of bills and circulars?  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday there were no thuds, or if there were, they were teases–items for our neighbors or for Ezra or for Rainer.  Today, about twenty minutes ago, there was a thud.  For me.  This is what arrived.

Rapture by Phyllis Hastings

Rapture by Phyllis Hastings

I hear your shock.  Of course, the moment it arrived I read the first few pages, but then I had to put it down.  1:  I have work to do.  Oh, and 2:  There was another thud! (Yes, the 2nd thud came later.  I think the mailman delivers the lighter items first and then goes back to the truck to collect and deliver any larger or more oddly-shaped packages before moving on to the next part of his route.)  This also arrived today, from Random House:

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman, Advance Reader's Edition

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman, Advance Reader’s Edition

The copy of Rapture was the item I ordered from Ebay.  So, two down and two to go.

Happy Friday!

Follow-Up #2: The Last Picture Show

LPScoverLast weekend I read the Larry McMurtry novel upon which the film The Last Picture Show is based.  The film follows the book pretty closely–even, in many cases, down to fairly significant stretches of word-for-word dialogue, and I found that I was able to fly through the book in one evening.  The book gives some very slightly different shadings to some of the characters, and there are a few scenes that aren’t in the film, but I think the filmmakers made a lot of smart choices in terms of what to retain and what to leave out.  The performances and the movie as a whole are lifted up rather than diluted by the space those deletions provide.  Someone could have made a different movie out of the book, and maybe even another good one, but I really can’t find any fault with Peter Bogdanovich’s interpretation.  If you love one–either the book or the film–but haven’t yet experienced the other, you have nothing to be worried about.  One does not ruin the other in either direction.

Oh!  And I failed to mention one other notable early Timothy Bottoms film, 1973’s The Paper Chase.  That one is airing on TCM this coming Wednesday at 6PM EST.

Book Reaction: O, Africa! by Andrew Lewis Conn

Expected Publication:  June 10, 2014

Do you ever read a book and feel like maybe you’re not getting it, or it’s just not for you, or you’re reading it at the wrong time and maybe if you read it some other time you’d like it more?  I felt that way quite a lot as I read O, Africa! 

Marketing for the book describes it thus:  “Moving from the piers of Coney Island to Africa’s veldt, and further to the glitter of early Hollywood, O, AFRICA! is an epic tale of self-discovery, the constraints of history and prejudice, and the stubborn resolve of family and friendship in the face of tragedy.”  Quotes on the back cover call it a comedy.

What to make of this book? As I read it, I felt like the tone kept shifting. One minute it was stylized nostalgia (a bit fluffy and cartoonish), the next it was raw and dark, then it was a sort of ugly and off-putting comedy, and then it was pulling away to make bigger philosophical statements—some more profound than others. It certainly is, as the marketing promises, an ambitious novel, and I can see it engendering good conversation among readers. Still, I can’t quite say that I enjoyed it.

That the brothers’ fascination with movie making is sparked by D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation is huge. You could say that they are in some ways trapped by the views of their time, and the book ends with the statement that the brothers “try to forgive themselves at last for being in concord with their era,” but the sexism and racism in the book still make me uncomfortable. I have read plenty of books in which characters experience sexism and racism. I think the problem here is that the author’s own voice paints characters and situations in sexist and racist ways.

A lot can be forgiven when a book has great characters. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really like any of the characters in O, Africa! Maybe I would like them more if they were drawn with greater depth and subtlety. Even the most appealing among them, like King Mishi, aren’t quite successful because they feel like caricatures. Intimate relationships among characters are developed mostly in terms of sex and power, and the reader doesn’t see much beyond that.

Admittedly, some bits (for example: Micah raving that he’s been “subjected to a hot shave,” or thugs busting out in what is essentially a song and dance number) are funny—if sometimes ludicrous and/or offensive. But when one character says, “When audiences laugh, it’s never wrong,” I have a feeling the author is acknowledging that sometimes maybe it IS wrong.

The book does make some fine if not earth-shattering comments on the dangers of cultural imposition and the expanded reach of powerful media and new technologies. I appreciate the points about the nature of film and time, and despite one plot element that I found hokey, I was satisfied with the ending.

So, final analysis? There’s a lot to chew on, but it doesn’t always taste very good.

Book Reaction: The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury

Sometimes when I read an author’s first novel, I find myself noticing the author’s effort–sometimes a first novel feels labored, and sometimes it just doesn’t work. Barely a quarter of the way through The End of Vandalism, though, I realized that I trusted this author. I wasn’t distracted by the author’s attempt to craft the novel, I was just reading and enjoying it. This is not an ordinary first novel.

I enjoyed the map at the front and the list of characters at the back, and actually found myself referring to them frequently for at least the first half of the book.

Often when I read a book that reviewers describe as “funny,” I see what they’re talking about, but I’m not actually all that amused. Reading this book, though, I really did spontaneously laugh out loud at certain passages. I keep going back to the description of Marie Person (“woman in pickup”), on pages 84-85 of my copy.

The driver of the truck was a sunburned, overweight woman named Marie Person. She was in her sixties and drove leaning forward, forearms curved to the wheel, shoulders gently rolling in a red-and-white-checked shirt. Marie was one of those eccentrics who travel the lonely highways of monotonous states and almost seem to have been hired by the tourism department to enliven the traveler’s experience. These people have certain things in common. Often they hold a patent, or have applied for one but are being blocked by lawyers, or have some other reason to correspond frequently with Washington, D.C. Sometimes the stamped and addressed letters ride beside them, fanned out on the car seat, which is usually a bench and not a bucket. They travel at midday or late at night. They cross desolate stretches for vague and shifting reasons that often have to do with animals. They need a vaccine for Skip the pony or special food for Rufus the cat to get his urine flowing again. They are going to look at a calf in Elko named Dream Weaver or Son of Helen’s Song. They know everyone in the low-roofed diners along the way, but no one seems to know them. This they account for by giving the details of some unpopular stand they have taken that made everyone furious but was after all the right thing to do. Their surnames are not traceable to other surnames you have heard.

Much of the book is made up of funny little everyday happenings and amusing situations, but then it takes a more somber turn. This is when Drury really impresses me, sure-handedly taking the characters he’s been showing in a folksy and sometimes comical light and putting them through a crisis.

Four out of five stars.  Recommended.

Donna Tartt at Wellesley Books

On Friday night, I attended a reading for the publication of Donna Tartt’s new (finally) novel, The Goldfinch.  The reading took place in a basement room lined with shelves of used titles. I got there early–I’d been afraid that I could get stuck in rush hour traffic, so I gave myself a lot of time. I ended up in a prime spot–front row. The tabletop lectern was situated in front of a section of children’s titles about dogs and horses. One prominently displayed title (cover facing out) was called Junie B. Jones Has a Peep in Her Pocket. That is not, however, how I read the title at first (if it’s not obvious, switch out the vowels in the word “Peep”).

Donna Tartt is a small woman. If you’ve seen her or seen pictures of her among other people, you probably know this. She looks basically the same as she did in pictures from ten-plus years ago. Her eyes are startlingly clear, and she has a crooked front tooth. I kept trying to figure out her voice. There is, unsurprisingly, a little bit of Mississippi in there, but I found her accent relatively subtle. The tone of her reading almost reminded me (bizarrely) of David Sedaris at first. It’s not that it was particularly comic; there was just something about her pacing and the sound of her voice. As she continued to read, that impression fell away.

For any reading of a book that has just been published, it must be a challenge to select a passage to read. Tartt read a section in which the main character, Theo, learns of his mother’s death. It’s difficult to form an impression of a novel based on a small segment read out of context and in a semi-arbitrary setting, but I became more impressed with the characterizations and descriptions as the passage progressed.

What I enjoyed far more than the reading, though, was the Q&A that followed. Tartt answered questions about her writing process, how she works through periods of “writer’s block,” and the role her southern upbringing has played in her development as an author. She mentioned Tolstoy and talked about how to have a unique voice as a contemporary writer.

The whole operation moved upstairs for the signing, so Donna got a much finer table, warmer and more flattering lighting, a backdrop of richer wood bookcases, and a flute of champagne. I’ve been sick, so I wasn’t on top form, but I did sneak in a question as she was signing my book. I asked her if she’d ever taught–I was EATING UP everything she said during the Q&A and found her very inspiring. She said that she had, but only for about a month. The job became too big–too much, she said.

On my way out, a shopper stopped me to ask about the book and about Donna Tartt. I’m still always a little surprised when people–especially people in bookstores, who I imagine are readers–are unfamiliar with Donna Tartt.

Some Things I Love

Kim did a post like this, and I’ve been wanting to do one myself. Mine will be sillier than hers because some of the things I love are pretty silly.

Kashi Heart to Heart Oat Flakes and Wild Blueberry Clusters

So yummy–tastes like a really good blueberry muffin.


Guru: The Indian Caterer

Oh my, this is incredibly good Indian food–fresh and delicious, not run of the mill. And so cheap!!! And it’s practically around the corner from our house.


The Strand Bookstore

It’s sprawling, it’s packed with books, it’s a Manhattan classic right in Union Square.
They’ve kept up with the times–they have an excellent web site on which I’ve discovered a bunch of books–and at the same time they’ve maintained a sort of old school presence in their main store. The last few times I’ve been in New York, I’ve spent hours there–sometimes over multiple visits. The last time I was at the main store, I went to collect some books I’d ordered online. Of course, I had to browse, and ended up adding a few to my pre-ordered stack. They sell new and used, remainders, review copies, and rare books. They have a great art section on the second floor, and there’s a sizable children’s section that I’ve never really properly investigated. Their prices are generally very good. Their book bags are awesome, too. If their onesies came in slightly more appealing patterns, Rainey would already have one.

Arrested Development

Ez and I don’t watch a lot of television, but we do watch a lot of DVDs. Like many people, we missed Arrested Development when it first aired. That was our loss. We just finished watching the whole series on DVD and we love it! Funny stuff. I’m sure we’ll see the film, though I’m a LITTLE worried that it won’t live up to the series.

Casa Silva Sauvignon Gris 2006

We tasted this wine at Dave’s Fresh Pasta and we really like it. It’s got this sort of tangy, almost effervescent quality.
My computer has been unreliable of late–hardware problem, we think–so I’ll end this post here. I’ll have to make this a series as I think of other things I like enough to blog about them.

Friday timestamp

It’s a pretty cold day, but it’s supposed to warm up this weekend. It should be a good weekend for walking around, which I am very much looking forward to doing. Ezra’s birthday was Monday, and though we grabbed a bite to eat, I’m hoping to properly celebrate my sweetie’s birthday this weekend. So we’ll have reasonable weather for that–in February, no less!

Moments ago I was the lucky recipient of a fishy cat bath. Thank you, Suki. I love you, too.

I don’t have much to do for work today. I’m waiting for a lot of things to come in from authors and clients. I did get a new project recently, and I have a feeling a bunch of work will be arriving on my doorstep all at once. Typical!

A Mercy I’m reading Toni Morrison’s latest novel, A Mercy. I like it, but I’m already almost 75% of the way done with the book and I feel as though it’s just getting started. I guess it’s sort of a novella. It feels a bit like a very long short story. I’ll have to see how it goes before I give a final verdict. I am enjoying it. It definitely pulls in a lot of Morrison’s typical themes and devices–a triad of women, female friendship, a woman’s (potentially–we’ll see what happens>) destructive love/attraction to a man, naming and identity, the creation of a self and an identity (especially after slavery strips away an existing past/identity), etc. That makes it fun for me, with all of the bits and pieces from my thesis still bumping around in my head. I have a feeling this book won’t be as satisfying as a book like Song of Solomon. It just doesn’t seem like it’s going to go that far–it hasn’t engrossed me that much yet. But I still think it’s pretty good and maybe easier to get into than any of Morrison’s novels since Jazz.

If you want to have a look at what I’ve read and am reading, my little home at Goodreads is a good place to start (a lot of you probably already know about it). You can find me and my books there, and I update it pretty frequently. Everybody should join, methinks! It’s easy (I swear) and free and I enjoy seeing what people are reading!