Happy new year! I still have three more days of Christmas in which to finish up my holiday correspondence, but other than that I’m back, and so are most of those around me. Sanguinity and I had a good few days with her parents– I’m not usually one for posting photos of presents I receive, but check out the awesomeness from my in-laws:
I’m still working on my list of books that I read in 2016. I’ll post a link to it when it’s done, but in the meantime here are
Ten Top Picks from 2016
Beware the Power of the Dark Side! by Tom Angleberger. Children’s, 2015. An authorized novelization of Return of the Jedi. By contract, Angleberger had to use all the movie dialog exactly as it was performed– but he makes use of authorial asides, retcon, and description to set his own pace and tone. A fun reading experience for someone who knows the film well and is also interested in how books are put together. And it must have been a blast for him to write, as a longtime fan!
Tumbling, by Caela Carter. YA, 2016. Audiobook narrated by Emily Eiden. Follows six girls at a fictional US Olympic Trials meet. I learned a little more about gymnastics, and the drama was satisfying without becoming over-the-top soap opera. The narrator had “young” speech patterns like vocal fry.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers. Fiction, 2014. Space opera featuring a small cast of varied species, on a long-term work assignment in space. Fun!
The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness. YA, 2015. For every story of outsider high school kids fighting supernatural powers, there’s a townful of regular kids trying to figure out their regular lives. Each chapter begins with a paragraph or two about the “indie kids” and what their TV show plot would be… then the rest of the chapter is the regular kids’ story, with only occasional intersections with the supernatural plot. The regular kids and their friendships were well-drawn, too. Best book I read this year.
Lucy and Linh, by Alice Pung. YA, 2016. Lucy gets a scholarship to the fancy Melbourne girls’ academy, where her race, low-income family, and immigrant background ensure she is very much alone. She observes the political machinations at school and tries to navigate her new social milieu and its repercussions at home. I loved her relationship with her baby brother, and her mother’s quiet speech about the value of their close family. Pair with both Counting By 7s and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks.
The Cosmopolitans, by Sarah Schulman. Fiction, 2016. A retelling of Balzac’s Cousin Bette (which I haven’t read), set in the Village in the late 1950s. A middle-aged white single woman’s dearest friend is the gay black man who lives across the hall, but when her ambitious cousin shows up, all the relationships shift. The characters have to re-interpret the past and learn new patterns. Beautifully stylized, with themes familiar from following Schulman’s career. This version of French Realism lets Schulman take her time and lovingly develop all the details of 1958 New York and the characters’ inner lives.
Ludell, by Brenda Wilkinson. Children’s, 1975. Ludell lives in Georgia in 1955, a poor black kid in an all-black community. No school lunch program yet– the teachers sell hot dogs, soda and candy at lunchtime. Blue jeans for girls are just coming into fashion. Great details. I liked the immersion in black culture and the dialect (“nem” for “and them”). The dialog tags had a lot of shouting and yelling that reminded me of the Harriet the Spy books. The rest of the trilogy was also good. I hope to write a Wikipedia article about this author.
Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang, art by Sonny Liew. Comics, 2014. The Green Turtle was the first superhero drawn by a Chinese American artist, Chu F. Hing, during WWI. He wanted to make the Green Turtle Chinese, but his editor wouldn’t let him. So Green Turtle’s face is hardly ever visible, and never in full. Shadow Hero is Yang’s origin story for Green Turtle, set in a California Chinatown in the 1930s. Hank’s mother hilariously pushes him into pursuing a career as a superhero, but the society he’s in is corrupt and dangerous, with the tongs influencing city politics. Wonderful, can’t believe I waited so long to read it.
Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed, by Virginia Hamilton. Children’s, 1983. Takes place over two days on a black family’s farm in Ohio, when Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio play broadcast. I marveled at how much of the book followed ordinary events in the children’s lives, without an apparent plot thrust. I can see why I didn’t read more of her books as a child, but now I am eager to. The description of being a kid walking a beam and knowing you won’t fall is perfect.
Alone in Antarctica, by Felicity Aston. Memoir, 2014. Aston’s account of her trip as the first woman to ski solo across Antarctica, coast to coast. Adept at describing the mental and emotional challenges without melodrama, alternating with the landscape. I appreciated that it didn’t fill in with a lot of back-story from her life. I felt for her in many of the episodes she described because I had experienced a milder version while hiking and camping– the “almost there syndrome,” the uncertainty about routes, the repeated struggle to get out there and get going each day despite discomfort. Similar to Helen Thayer’s adventure reports, which I also love.
It’s cold and windy here this week, so I’m reading Debbie Clarke Moderow’s Fast Into the Night, an Iditarod memoir that I hope will make Portland’s winter feel balmy by comparison.
Yesterday on the bus I started reading Sarah Schulman’s The Cosmopolitans, newly out from CUNY’s Feminst Press. It is a beautiful book! Just the right size, with black endpapers and that nice porous book paper. I can’t name the typeface, but it’s nearly identical to the one in my copy of Harriet the Spy (1964), and Cosmopolitans is set in 1958.
In short, every element is thoughtfully designed. I looked for a colophon or Note on the Type. There wasn’t one, but there was “A Note on Style” about the book’s connections to Balzac’s Cousin Bette (1846) and Baldwin’s Another Country (1962), neither of which I’ve read yet. The end reads:
I also try to evoke the era [of Cousin Bette] through slight allusion to the Britishized American English that dominated commonly read translations at the time. Whether the source was Flaubert or Dostoyevsky, these novels often sounded, in English, like they were being recited by Katherine Hepburn. And so, that tone, in a way, represents the period for American readers.
I am already in love with this book’s attention to detail. And I will be sad if a day comes when print books of this quality are too rare to check out from the public library and carry around on the bus.
I went and looked at the rest of Feminist Press’ catalog and picked out Louise Meriwether’s Daddy Was a Number Runner (2002, original 1970) to read next.
Speaking of matters typographical, I no longer believe that one space after periods is the only way. This article changed my mind.
In other news, the water is on in the Keller Fountain!
And zoe_1418 was in town for a conference, and took sanguinity and me to breakfast and autographed my copy of her coloring book, Mindful Mosaic. I highly recommend coloring in a book designed by a friend, as it feels cozy and collaborative.
The little birds are back to tapping on the bathroom window. Since they will no longer be nesting in the walls of the house and demonstrating how about-to-fall-apart everything is, it isn’t nearly as irritating as last year! My in-laws gave me a birdhouse and some nesting material to hang up, so I hope the birdies will move into that instead.
Now reading: The Eighth Day by Dianne K. Salerni
Yesterday I was looking forward to reading my book after work. I’d missed out on my usual bus reading time, because on Tuesday I drove to work for the first time since I started my job in 2008, so that Sang and I could go to the suburban Powell’s in the evening and see Atul Gawande. And yesterday we drove across town for breakfast with Sang’s parents, who were on their way home from a reunion, and then parked on campus again. Such decadence. Actually, driving to work was completely tedious, even with the radio. I am relieved that I’d actually much rather ride the bus (since it’s way cheaper and greener).
But yesterday I walked through the pouring rain to the Stott Center before six p.m. to get seats for Sang and me for Winona LaDuke’s talk at seven. Sang was tutoring until 6:45, so it was just me and my book and my notebook on our two little white plastic folding chairs.
The Eighth Day is about a boy who turns twelve and suddenly starts experiencing a day between Wednesday and Thursday. No one else is there, the first time this happens. AWESOME, right? I love extra-time tropes! Except, they are always ruined. Nicholson Baker’s Fermata, so icky. I remember liking Jane Louise Curry’s Parsley Sage, Rosemary, and Time, but it turns out it’s a time travel book. Where is the book about a character stopping time and catching up on studying, getting a little extra rest and tidying up the house? It’s like that wouldn’t make a good story or something, sheesh.
Anyway, this one turns into an Arthurian thing, with descendants of Merlin and the Pendragon and others in various factions, and for some reason it’s a bit of a trudge. It felt weird to be reading a Merlin story in a hall full of Indigenous Studies and Sustainability people. I overheard greetings in Chinuk Wawa nearby!
I’m glad I went to hear Winona LaDuke. I look up to her for finding a way to live as an activist and a leader without giving up on doing the cool stuff that’s important to her, her way. Growing corn and teaching the kids at her grandkids’ school how to braid it, and also running for vice president. Last year she and other Anishinaabe and Lakota riders traced the routes of three proposed oil pipelines, on horseback. Sometimes I feel like being an activist consists of going to a lot more meetings, ugh, and it’s good to see that it can be much more. Sang said on the way home that she’d been worried it would be like two hours of listening to Mo from Dykes to Watch Out For… but it wasn’t at all.
Celebrity dinner party: Winona LaDuke, Eileen Myles, Sarah Schulman.
Reading now: Stagestruck, by Sarah Schulman.
I got the dreaded TOO MANY RENEWALS message on this one. I renew everything about once a week, so 100 renewals is a couple of years it’s been sitting on the library-book shelf. Like every other time I looked at it, I asked myself whether–although I love Sarah Schulman!–I wanted to read a whole book of her complaining how Rent ripped off her work.
The answer is yes, yes I do. She has so much heart. She is a truth-teller. And this book excerpts and recaps her theater reviews of the mid-90s and all the what it was like that has been her torch to carry.
In case Pagefever is wondering whether to read it… it does completely, completely dis Rent. But it’s some great Rent gossip, too. Make your call.
Just finished: Kill Switch, by Chris Lynch.
Wow, surprised how many terrible reviews this got on Goodreads! It’s YA, short and pretty violent. A boy about to go off to college is caring for his grandfather whose dementia is getting worse. Da is starting to say some pretty weird stuff about his job, which maybe wasn’t for the USDA after all? And some scary co-workers are coming around to check up on how much he’s talking.
If you like the family dynamics in Holly Black’s Curse Workers series and don’t mind the absence of the curses and magic part, you might like this. I did.
Waiting for: Dinny Gordon, Sophomore, by Anne Emery.
Because I just finished Dinny Gordon, Freshman, of course! These are malt-shop books from 1959 (Freshman) and 1961 (Sophomore) about a high-school girl getting excited about being an intellectual, and also navigating the social and dating scene. I loved the part where she spent her winter break in the library, all cozy and working on her Pompeii project!
After reading a couple of academic articles on the series, I’m thinking I’ll skip the Junior and Senior volumes, which sound like they have too much Bad Boyfriend material that I would just find frustrating.
If you like Betsy-Tacy or The Luckiest Girl, Dinny Gordon would probably suit you fine.
Current bus book: Dangerous, by Shannon Hale
Current bathroom book: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
Current bedside book: Sport, by Louise Fitzhugh
Current audiobook: Fire, by Kristin Cashore (will it ever end?!)
Hmm, I’m starting to develop a theory of why I don’t seem to get much done from day to day.
These are the books I’ll be adding to my Librarything collection this year, along with the description I jotted down for each one when I put it on my running list of books read. They’ll bring the collection to 99 books I love–although more are represented, because I let one book stand for a series and sometimes for a whole author.
What my LibraryThing additions don’t reflect is that this was a wonderful year for rereading. Lots of Mary Stoltz. The Ramona books plus Henry and Beezus and Henry Huggins. His Dark Materials. Zahrah the Windseeker. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For.
Also, I combined picture books, poetry, comics, and graphic novels into one category, 22 books (including rereads), yet no new Librarything additions are in that category.
Just finished: Sarah Schulman’s The Gentrification of the Mind, a mix of personal stories, history, and analysis. It was like the perfect book for me. Gentrification and its amnesia, the unacknowledged trauma of the AIDS epidemic and its echoes in the present, intersectionality, the pitfalls of making art in a time of consumerism and erasure.
The core of the book is the intersection between the AIDS epidemic and gentrification in New York City. Brutally concrete connections, like men dying and their apartments going to market rate as their lovers are evicted because they couldn’t get on the lease. And broader parallels of displacement and homogenization, infecting minority, artistic, and queer cultures until people think it’s normal that art is about money in New York, and gay politics are about marriage, and the institutions of power are immutable.
I want to turn around and read it again, but it’s due at the library. I expect I’ll eventually buy a copy, but it’s published by a university press and expensive. (“Gentrification of Our Literature” chapter in action, I guess.)
This book comes closer than anything else I’ve read to articulating the amnesiac, normalizing aspects of whiteness and gentrification that are difficult to get at, though its discussions are brief. And beyond that, there are personal and tangential (except not) stories that link to my own memories and preoccupations:
I love that this tribute is here even though Schulman and Acker were not best buds, but “friendly acquaintances.” Acker had reviewed Schulman’s novel in The Village Voice, out of the blue. “There was nothing in it for her, believe me. I had no currency, no connections. I couldn’t help her in any way. She just liked my book and she said so–how ungentrified of her.” Schulman went to her house and looked at her bookshelves: “She would read every book by an author. She had more curiosity that way than most people. She had read every book by Norman Mailer, which I remember really striking me as he was entirely irrelevant to everyone else I knew.”
[a side note: when I was a student at Reed, Kathy Acker and Craig Lesley came to campus on the same evening, and did separate readings. I felt like the literary landscape was laid out for me right there. At the time I was like, Acker’s way is my way. I am very different now.]
I know teachers who face these issues, or mostly try not to think about them because they don’t seem solvable. As for her MFA years, Schulman estimates that about nine of her students had real talent…and she would have helped them anyhow, without the job. In most arts, the MFA system has been part of the machinery of gentrification.
The book bugged me in places. New York is the center of the universe, with a distant satellite called San Francisco. I don’t think Sarah Schulman would have the time of day for me, assimilated as I am and living in omg Oregon. She’s dismissive. Her take on LGBT parenting is ridonkulous, though I think she knows it. (“Very few children actually grow up to make the world a better place. Personally, I don’t feel that creating new victims, perpetrators, and bystanders is the great social ooh-and-aah that it is made out to be.”)
But. She remembers what it was like, and her stories feel like the opposite, the ungentrified opposite, of name-dropping. There’s just something about hearing someone speak the truth.
Reading Now: Triggers, by Robert J. Sawyer, my go-to author for mental popcorn, and I mean that in the best way. Also just started Silas Marner via emails from DailyLit, so I’m continuing my love affair with George Eliot.
About to Read: Sarah Schulman’s Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences is waiting for me at the library.
This is far from the first time I’ve meant to participate in the Wednesday reading meme, but the first time I’ve gotten as far as starting a post. Yay me! In the twelve minutes remaining in my lunch hour:
What I’m Reading: Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes.
What I’ve Just Read: Three Among the Wolves, by Helen Thayer. I love reading about her adventures; she is quiet and tough. Here she spent a year observing wolves, along with her husband and their dog Charlie. Charlie was able to act as their ambassador and interpreter to some extent.
What I’m Reading Next: Something due soon at the library. Maybe Brian Doyle’s Mink River, maybe Sarah Schulman’s The Gentrification of the Mind.