Sunday, August 28, 2011

she walks in beauty: A Woman's Journey Through Poems

by Wendy

A close girlfriend of mine gave me this book when we met at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. this summer. On the ride home on the Metro, I thumbed through it in anticipation. I am a woman! I am halfway through my journey (If I live to be a hundred, which is likely considering the shelf life my body must have, considering all the processed food I eat)! I write poetry! This is perfect! A book of poems by and about women!

Except it's not. I read the first poem, "She Walks in Beauty." By Lord Byron. Yes, by a man. And he has plenty of company. Of the nearly 200 entries, approximately a third are written by men. Now, I have nothing against male writers, I just thought this book could have been a wonderful opportunity to showcase female poets exclusively, especially considering the subject matter.

The collection, selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy, promises to be, as Kennedy writes in the introduction, " . . . an anthology of poems centered around the stages of a woman's life . . .." And, aptly, she walks in beauty is divided into several sections, including, "Falling in Love," "Breaking Up," "Marriage," "Motherhood," "Work," and "Growing Up and Growing Old," among others. There are classic poems, such as "To My Dear and Loving Husband," by Anne Bradstreet and contemporary poems, such as, "PS Education" by Ellen Hagan. There is a nice diversity in the collection, with poems by Dominican-American Julia Alvarez ("Hairwashing," Woman's Work," and "Woman Friend"), African-American Parneshia Jones ("Bra Shopping"), Arab-American Naomi Shihab Nye ("My Friend's Divorce"), among others. There are humorous poems, such as Dorothy Parker's "Sympton Recital" and touching poems, such as Jo McDougall's "Companion." (One of my favorites.) There are poems about heterosexual love, lesbian love, motherly love, sisterly love, and yes, chocolate love. When I finished reading the last poem, I decided that, although I consider the title misleading, ultimately, Kennedy's book is a nice addition to my collection of poetry books.

by Jo Mcdougall

When Grief came to visit,
she hung her skirts and jacket in my closet.
She claimed the only bath.

When I protested,
she assured me it would be
only for a little while.

Then she fell in love with the house,
repapered the rooms,
laid green carpet in the den.

She's a good listener
and plays a mean game of Bridge.
But it's been seven years.

Once, I ordered her outright to leave.
Days later
she came back, weeping.

I'd enjoyed my mornings,
coffee for one;
my solitary sunsets,
my Tolstoy and Moliere.

I asked her in.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Latest stockpile

Granted, I haven't showcased my book purchases since early April, but I was so horrified once I'd gathered (most of) the newbies together for the above photo op, that I cancelled three Amazon pre-orders. I don't need to acquire books for awhile, even if I do have gift certificates.

(Please note that the first three titles tell a story.)

Left stack:

Jeanne Darst's Fiction Ruined My Family. These days I rarely try for books at LibraryThing, so I was delighted when I won a galley of this memoir. Should make a great tie-in with Reading My Father and Yossarian Slept Here.

Sarah Bakewell's How to Live. Talked myself out of getting this from the library, so that I wouldn't feel that I needed to rush through it.

Jacqueline Winspear's Among the Mad. From the free books shelf in the staff lounge. Guess I should read at least some of the earlier Maisie Dobbs' before I start this.

Harry Mulisch's The Discovery of Heaven. I'd hoped to read along with Iris back in June, but quickly realized it just wasn't the time for me to start a book this size.

Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg's Madison and Jefferson. Someone recommended David McCullough's biography of Truman to me today; I in return recommended Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton. I need to devote more actual time to biographies instead of merely intending to.

Amitav Ghosh's River of Smoke. I haven't even read Sea of Poppies yet!

Dale Peterson's The Moral Lives of Animals. A review copy.

David Lodge's A Man of Parts. My most anticipated book of the year. Why didn't I started this immediately? Now I'm planning to have an H.G. Wells month.

Middle stack:

Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean. The Slaves of Golconda will be discussing this on Sept. 30.

Jane Rogers' The Testament of Jessie Lamb. Made the Booker longlist so I thought I'd give it a try.

Stephane Audeguy's The Theory of Clouds. A French novel recommended at book club.

Felix J. Palma's The Map of Time. Steampunk. Another book for the potential H.G. Wells month.

Ron Rash's Saints at the River. Rash is my go-to for Appalachian fare.

Anne Enright's The Forgotten Waltz. Was surprised that this didn't make the Booker longlist. Have high expectations here since I loved The Gathering.

Tessa Hadley's The London Train. I like Hadley.

Kate Christensen's The Astral. Haven't read Christensen since The Epicure's Lament, which I loved. Another book I have high expectations for.

China Mieville's Embassytown. R. gave me this for Mother's Day.

Philip Hensher's King of the Badgers. Loved The Northern Clemency.

Right stack:

Tim Pears' Disputed Land. Lots of buzz about this at Book Balloon.

Jane Harris' Gillespie and I. I've not read Harris before.

Buck Brannaman's The Faraway Horses. A gift from C. for catsitting.

Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers. And we finally reach a book that I've read. I even read it immediately after receiving it! I'm pulling for the western to win the Booker! Plus, this has the best cover ever.

John Sayles' A Moment in the Sun. Could I get this read in a month if I read nothing but? Jeez, it's huge.

David Foster Wallace's The Pale King. Need to read the essays and short stories first.

Joe Scco's Footnotes in Gaza. Another freebie from the staff lounge. I have Palestine in progress.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Books read in July

by Susan

I always like the Nick Hornby-style end-of-month posts outlining that month's reading and I'm trying to develop the habit of writing down my impressions, instead of simply appreciating when others do.

Here's what I completed in July (now that we're in the second week of August), with the most recent first:

William Styron's Lie Down in Darkness

Beautiful, alcoholic Peyton Loftis, the sole remaining daughter of the estranged Milton and Helen Loftis, kills herself in New York; her remains are brought home by train to the Virginia Tidewater to be buried. The dark humor of Peyton's funeral procession is interrupted by flashbacks revealing just how deep the dysfunction runs in this mid-20th century family. Everyone feels a victim; everyone behaves badly. Always.

The last chapter is an unholy Quentin Compson/Septimus Smith amalgamation, told in a Molly Bloom narration style. It comes across as more derivative than influenced by, although the fact that Styron managed  a novel like this at a mere 26 years of age is awfully impressive. Wendy and I decided to read this after finishing Alexandra Styron's memoir, Reading My Father, back in June. I'm glad I read it and I'll definitely be reading more Styron, but I think I'd better space them out since they're so dense and dark.

Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf.

By now it should be a well-established fact that I have issues where thrillers, particularly thrillers dealing with the occult, are concerned. I can't suspend the little voice inside my head which pipes a persistant "This is stupid" refrain, although I will periodically give one a try.

 So you may be surprised by what I say now: I loved this.

(Granted, at least theoretically I've always been in the werewolf camp, even before my friends and I perfected The Werewolf and The Repossessed Werewolf facial expressions/hand gestures back in high school--yes, yes, we were immature for our age. Not that I ever read much about them or saw many werewolf movies, but just the fact that they were not vampires put me on their side. And we won't even get into how I was known for my wolf howl back in elementary school.)

I thought This is stupid only once while reading about werewolves and vampires and those who hunt them/rescue them and I fully intend to read the sequel. I was too busy enjoying Jacob Marlowe getting from I still have feelings but I'm sick of having them. Which is another feeling I'm sick of having. I just . . . I just don't want any more life to I've stopped abstracting. This is love: You stop bothering about the universal, the general, get sucked instead into the local and particular: Theory and reflection are delicate old uncles bustled out of the way by the boisterous nephews action and desire. Themes evaporate, only plot remains.

Mary Doria Russell's Dreamers of the Day

This isn't of the same caliber of The Sparrow or Doc, but it served my purpose, which was to learn a bit more about how the modern Middle East came about, and have a bit of fun in the process. Plus, it has a dead narrator, a device I always get a kick out of. Caught a whiff of Kevin Brockmier's The Brief History of the Dead in the afterlife, but I don't know if Russell intended it.

Stephen Budiansky's The Bloody Shirt: Terror After the Civil War.

A bald fact: more than three thousand freedman and their white Republican allies were murdered in the campaign of terrorist violence that overthrew the only representatively elected governments the Southern states would know for a hundred years to come. Among the dead were more than sixty state senators, judges, legislators, sheriffs, constables, mayors, county commissioners, and other officeholders whose only crime was to have been elected. They were lynched by bands of disguised men who dragged them from cabins by night, or were fired on from ambushes on lonely roadsides, or lured into a barroom by a false friend and on a prearranged signal shot so many times that the corpse was nothing but shreds, or pulled off a train in broad daylight by a body of heavily armed men resembling nothing so much as a Confederate cavalry company and forced to kneel in the stubble of an October field and shot in the head over and over again, at point-blank.

I knew from growing up in the South that generations had been taught a glossed over version of Reconstruction: Yes, the KKK caused problems but things wouldn't have been nearly so bad if it hadn't been for the carpetbaggers; let's move right along to the next chapter in the text and then we'd all go see Gone With the Wind a couple of times the next time it played at the theater and take it as holy writ. Budiansky talks about this, in case your formative years went lighter on the mythology than my own. Otherwise, the situations described in this book were revelatory.

And heartbreaking.

I'll leave it at that.

Linda Grant's We Had It So Good

My first Grant, and one of the books expected by many to at least be longlisted for the Booker; I loved it and wish it had been. My older siblings were first-wave baby boomers, same as the characters here, while I came along 15 years later at the tail end of the generation, and this all seemed very true to the times. But even more, I loved the book for its exploration of how the stories we're told by our families that we accept as truth are often anything but.

Brad Watson's Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives

I finished the titular story in this collection of stories in early July, although I started the book back in the spring. Some I enjoyed quite a bit, others left little impression, perhaps because I was at the height of my kitchen remodel mania during May and June. This was a PEN/Faulkner finalist, but one the book blogging community seems to have overlooked. Give it a try when you're in the mood for something a bit weird.

A bang, not a whimper

  Two months into L.'s retirement, and I'm finished with the stockpiling of books. No more book purchases! Or at least, no purcha...