Reading: April Books, Or, at least the first four

The real constant in my life since I was quite young has been my love of and retreat into reading. Books have always been my go-to; they are the source from which I learned about the world, determined who and what I wanted to be, they informed my consciousness, became the language in which I was most fluent, and literature remains that which I have in common with those people I love, trust, and enjoy the most.

Now, having officially reached my late fifties (please do not inform my Grindr friends of this), in all likelihood more than half of my life is gone, nothing about which bothers me even a little except I will eventually run out of time to read. Too, both my dear aunt and my amazing mom were attacked by macular degeneration and so had their reading curtailed; these two things, the running out of time and possible loss of vision, have made me very picky about what I will read.

I determine what’s next on the list, from the pile, from the library, from The Curious Iguana [my much loved indie bookstore – CLICK HERE], by reading blogs and book-columns/reviews, speaking to trusted friends, the Twitterati, and browsing in bookstores and on-line. The first book this month was one I’d never have heard of were it not for the brilliant and delightful Bethanne Patrick, who you might know as The Book Maven [click HERE], creator of #FridayReads. She suggested it to me and this just proves what great taste she has in books and what fantastic taste I have in people. Here goes.

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Here In Berlin, Cristina Garcia, Hardcover, 224pp, October 2017, Counterpoint LLC

This novel is unlike any other I’ve ever read. It is unique of voice, or, rather, voices, because it is a mosaic of many monologues as recorded (heard? imagined?) by the narrator, the never named Visitor. She, a Cuban who hates her mother and learned the German language during an earlier stay, gives us a guided tour through the haunted city of Berlin, with its horrific past, its much storied inhabitants, many of whom carry dark secrets and sins, and the still-present ghosts of what horrors there were perpetrated and atrocities committed and ignored and suffered and still echoing.

This concatenation of detail doesn’t have a conventional plot, but its cumulative impact is of a whole, there is an emotional through-line one feels, or, rather, experiences. By the novel’s conclusion you couldn’t say, “First this happened, then that, resulting in this, and …,” nor describe the arc of a single main character; rather, there are thirty-plus stories of mostly unconnected people, but those stories together, taken as a whole, become one compelling and hefty history, the sum of its parts a surprising, brilliant cohesion of a particular city, time, way of life. Cristina Garcia does a breathtakingly subtle (oxymoronic, that, but exactly what I mean) job of synthesizing Berlin’s past and present, beauty and repugnance, and its pleasures and horrors into a discordant, atonal symphony which will leave you moved, horrified, astounded, and — as all very good books do — wiser for having thought thoughts you’d never have thought without reading the work.

And, too, reading it now is particularly chilling, near terrifying, as some of the stories concern those who watched as others were targeted, treated as sub-humans, murdered by the millions. Some of these characters did nothing, or collaborated, and as the world, now, becomes more and more dangerous, less and less kind, and minorities are increasingly targeted, again, denied equality, again, it is necessary to remember the lessons of history and stand up, speak out, fight back, RESIST.

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Next up, a book not recommended by anyone but myself. With my mother turning 90, and I, myself, nearing 60, the experience of aging — well, how others are coping with and experiencing aging — is of great interest to me. I read about this book somewhere (I can’t remember, which is part of MY experience of aging) and thought it might offer me some insight, maybe some comfort, certainly some stories with which I ought be able to identify.

Happiness Is A Choice You Make: Lessons From A Year Among the Oldest Old, John Leland, Hardcover, 256pp, January 2018, Sarah Chrichton Books

What started as a New York Times year-long series morphed into this book. John Leland, 57 and with an aging mother of his own with whom to deal — and I should mention I am 57 with a 90-year-old mother — learns through the course of a year spent visiting regularly with very different elderly individuals just how much the quality of one’s life experience has to do with the attitude with which one approaches it. He touches on the institutional problems of aging in this country, also the tendency of some in the medical field to dismiss and discount the elderly as those who will soon die anyway and so tend to take the stance of “let’s limit treatment” — which is infuriatingly true in all too many cases; and too, the author touches on the lack of resources, the problems with Medicare, the dissolve of family-care that once existed as the responsibility of caring for the elderly shifts to the state.

So, yes, it was an interesting enough read, but, for me, for reasons I don’t fully understand, it didn’t feel complete, deep enough, or quite on-point. And I will leave it at that.

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Next up, a book I added to my library-reserve list ages ago, pre-publication, when Buzzfeed touted it as one of 2018’s 33 Most Exciting Books.

Tangerine, Christine Mangan, Hardcover, 389pp, March 2018, Ecco

I confess, when I went to pick this book up from the library, I very nearly didn’t sign it out because it was blurbed by someone I cannot tolerate thanks to their self-satisfied, professorial blatherings, and more importantly, their recent stance of privileged-racist dismissal of legitimate concerns about offensive-minority stereotyping in writing. But, 2018 is the year I am trying to be a bigger person (while dieting to become a smaller person) and so, well, I didn’t want to hold the author responsible for the blurbs used by the publisher, thus, I signed it out and decided I’d give it a fair shot and wow, I’m so glad. I gobbled this page-turner like salted caramel chocolates. (That diet thing is getting me a little crazy.)

It does rather closely hew to Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mister Ripley, which fact has been used both to praise and pillory this debut novel, and I did jot a note to myself as I was reading it: Yes, very familiar, but also very well done, and isn’t all good noir a re-working and take on all the noir that’s gone before?

So, I give it a 4 star. And I look forward to Christine Mangan’s next novel, which I imagine will display her gifts to even better effect now that she’s gotten out of her system what feels somewhat like an exercise in “write a piece in the style of your favorite author”. Still, like I said, very readable, entertaining, and worth 4 stars.

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The Female Persuasion, Meg Wolitzer, Hardcover, 456pp, April 2018, Riverhead Books

I liked this book very much; in some ways it reminded me of Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room, although far less angry and contrived, and much better written. I’m confused as to why Meg Wolitzer isn’t categorized with Eugenides and Chabon and those other heralded male literary fiction writers — I suspect it is because she is of the female persuasion.

I’m an idiot — I had forgotten when I started this that Meg Wolitzer had written about this very thing in 2012 in the New York Times Book Review. CLICK HERE FOR A LINK FOR THAT BECAUSE I DON’T NEED TO SAY IT, AND CAN’T SAY IT THIS WELL.

So then, it’s still, sadly, perhaps even more true that men — particularly white, heterosexual cis-men — wield most of the power in the world and get most of the kudos and labeled as purveyors of literary fiction. Now, in particular, when the desperate last gaspings of racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and all the other bigoted phobias and isms have risen to elect a moron and his fascist cohorts to power, it is essential — life-saving, even — that voices like Meg Wolitzer’s are heard by everyone, not ghettoized by a culture & power-structure that devalues everyone and everything not white-hetero-cis-male.

In The Female Persuasion, the author explores fundamental, foundational issues of identity, friendship, the burden of truth and the morality of its fungibility, parenthood, childhood, aging, and being “other than” in a world where the standard is white-heterosexual-cis-male. Meg Wolitzer does this with her usual deftness of prose and very specific, “a-ha I have felt that very thing” moments in a plot framed around the interaction between the lives of a Gloria Steinem-like icon of modern-era feminism, Faith Frank, and the next generation Greer Kadetsky, awakened into second-wave feminism by being assaulted by a serial-abuser-frat-boy and then hearing Faith speak at her college. Their relationship is as complicated, loving, disappointing, enraging, and essential as the relationship between first wave and second-wave feminism — a process not unlike a child having to turn against her parents on the journey to becoming them.

However, this novel is not in the least polemical — if you’re one of those who worry about that — and one of its sub-plots deals with Greer’s teenage love, Cory, a white-heterosexual-cis-male who while well on his way to all the entitlement, privilege, and power that designation gives him, turns away from it, not entirely by choice, and lives a much simpler yet equally valuable life — which Greer doesn’t at first understand. Well, neither does Cory. Their relationship in all its permutations is beautifully, painfully captured.

As is the relationship between Faith and her son, Lincoln, from which sprang one of those very “a-ha” moments about which I earlier wrote. Listen to this, while Faith is called by her son at a time inconvenient for her and they both do the juggling of attention and time which has marked their life together:

She missed his young, vulnerable, ownable self. You never knew when you were lifting your child for the last time; it might seem like just a regular time, when it was taking place, but later, looking back, it would turn out to have been the last. Lincoln’s increasing lack of neediness was hard for Faith sometimes, but it was also something of a relief to think that he was all right on his own. In this way, they were actually alike.

“Now tell me what’s going on with you,” she said to him.

“Another time. Go have your massage, Mom.”

She watched the phone go dark, then held it in her hand for a few more seconds. It was the closest she could get, these days, to holding Lincoln himself.

 

Put aside the emotional truth of that experience, the letting go, the dichotomy of a bond both dissolved from the solid it once was yet still a permanent hold, and examine the brilliance of Meg Wolitzer’s language which mirrors the emotions not just of this scene, but, too, one of the themes of the novel: the dichotomy inherent in love and relationships and becoming/discovering the self. See it in her  “increasing lack of neediness” and how it is both “hard for Faith sometimes, but it was also something of a relief….” This is glorious authorship, the sort of thing you can miss consciously but which enters into your soul and heart as you read, that sort of transparent artistry that makes literary fiction.

Which Meg Wolitzer writes. Really damn well.

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I’m going to stop here, where I have gone, the first four books of the month. There are at least four more to come which is behind the pace for March, but, I’ve been rather distracted by turning a year older; something by which I am not usually bothered but which, this year, has sent me on a look-deep-inside and re-evaluate adventure of self, as in:

self-examination
self-involvement
self-ishness
self-loathing
self-on-the-shelf.

Pay no attention to the man behind these 2000 words, just listen to the Wizard MiracleCharlie, who will be back soon. But for now, here I am, going.

The Music That Makes Me … Assimilated?

Listen to and watch this, right now. Please. I’ll explain later, thousands of words later, lol, but later. Trust me.

Every morning I wake up with some song in my head, often the selection seems to me entirely unconnected to anything going on in my life, as if my brain/soul is some cosmic jukebox into which my sleeping self drops a quarter and pushes selection buttons at random. This morning it was Liza Minelli ringing them bells — (which selection makes even less sense since immediately before waking I was dreaming about Denyce Graves in Candide, but, I’m getting ahead of myself again … so, first this —):

I was eleven years old when Liza With A Z, a television special directed by Bob Freaking Fosse! aired. By then, I was already obsessed with Liza and Judy and Fosse and Broadway and would quite literally weep with an aching to be a Broadway star. I was, then, absolutely sure I would be the next Judy Liza Barbra etcetera.

Eleven. Formative years. Important note: the first LP I ever received was the soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz, and when I got my first drop-down record player, the four LPs I requested and received along with it were Judy at Carnegie Hall, Liza Minelli’s The Singer, Barbra Streisand’s Funny Girl the Original Broadway Cast recording, and her first LP, The Barbra Streisand Album.

And, so, now here, all these decades later, while I some days regret that I never had the strength or nerve to live out my Broadway dream, what strength and nerve I did have was given and grown in me — a lot — from those albums and the others like them, that music of my life during my formative years which gave me an escape from the small-town existence in which I was trapped, where boys like me had nothing to look forward to except being labeled a freak, beaten up, and laughed at and avoided and losing, losing, losing during all of our lives.

The soundtrack and original cast recording I curated (and the books I read) for my life during those years quite literally saved my life. In fact, when at 15 the noise of other people’s hatred of me had drowned out my music, and I tried to kill myself, when I survived, rather than counseling, my Mom (who was doing the very best she could, had called the family doctor about what to do, took me to him, and he said “buck up” — which she knew couldn’t be enough — but who else did she have to turn to?) asked me what I wanted — as in, a gift — and I asked for the LP and sheet music of Barbra Streisand’s A Star Is Born, which, sweetly, my Mom got me and said, “Please don’t do that again.”

How did I end up teaching young people? Talking to those who’d suicide attempted. Making a safe place for those who, like me, had life soundtracks at odds with the majority culture, who heard different songs, sang different tunes, didn’t fit in. I was asked, so often, by those kids and their parents, my advice about how to sing their different songs.

I am no longer in the advice business, but if I ever again happened to find myself being asked by someone young, “Charlie, what should I know about life?” I would skip the sharing of moral advice, save the warnings about labeling and assuming, resist offering the exhortations about forgiveness being a step too late since it involves having judged in the first place and — not to quote the bible (against which I would also not bother to preach, so to speak, letting go the illumination that it is now and has always been a novel of parables, by this time twisted and rewritten and bastardized and used by the patriarchy to gain power and control and shame the masses) but, “Judge not lest ye…” and so forth — although it does say something about the state of the world right now that many a so-called “christian” has tried to amend this edict by saying it is a favorite quote of the ungodly who misunderstand that it actually means you can only judge once you have removed the mote from your own eye, i.e. become holy like whatever preacher is taking it upon himself (and let’s face it, while hypocrisy has no gender, it is most often and most ably practiced by men, most especially men who call themselves deeply religious and godly) to tell you you’re a heathen.

But, where was I before I started this rant? Oh, right, claiming I would refrain from all that advice and, instead, give this warning:

BE CAREFUL WHAT MUSIC YOU LISTEN TO IN YOUR FORMATIVE YEARS, FOR IT WILL BE, FOREVER AFTER, THE SOUNDTRACK OF YOUR LIFE.

No shit. This morning I semi-woke at 5a.m. in a fever dream, the crux of which was I was trying to get my friends (who I couldn’t remember once I really woke, so I guess it was some of my pals from other planes of existence with whom I frolic while slumbering on this level of being) as super excited as was I to discover Denyce Graves was playing the Old Woman in Candide coming up at the Kennedy Center. (It actually is happening in May, which I was emailed by Kennedy Center because, apparently, they get me.) I was — in this dream — getting quite red-faced explaining how fantastic this was, spouting trivia about Irra Petina playing the role in the original with Barbara Cook as Cunegonde, and how it was also played in a later revival by Andrea Martin, but most recently and most fun for me, by Patti LuPone, and had they ever HEARD the song I Am Easily Assimilated, because while Barbara Cook’s concert version of Glitter and Be Gay from the show was what prompted my purchase of the Original Broadway Cast recording, and had long been my theme song, now I was the Old (Wo)man and Assimilated rather neatly sums up my life-theory. And Candide was full of brilliance because Leonard Bernstein and added lyrics by Dorothy Parker and later, Stephen Sondheim, and had they ever heard of John Latouche who introduced Paul and Jane Bowles to one another, and was friends with Ned Rorem, Frank O’Hara, Tennessee Williams — can you imagine — and wrote beautiful, beautiful songs some of which Barbra Streisand recorded, and I especially loved her version of his Lazy Afternoon —

And had they ever HEARD Denyce Graves sing because — well, here, in case YOU haven’t:

Isn’t that amazing? And imagine her doing this! (And enjoy Miss LuPone, I mean, WOW!)

More of the fantastic, right? Yes. And so, after I’d had some coffee, and written my first-thing-in-the-day-before-anything-else daily journal pages, I went to YouTube, as I often do, to watch whatever song was playing on my cosmic jukebox when I wakened. And while I’m there, and checking my daily sites, inevitably I am led to another song or story. This morning it was Noah Galvin singing a song from Dear Evan Hansen with Parkland Shooting survivors at From Broadway With Love: A Benefit Concert for Parkland, and I — being me and without walls around my heart — started sobbing.

Sobbing, as usual for me, has many levels. This, some of the reasons, the horror at where the world is now, in particular this country so full of hate, so divided, so controlled by people who — despite the constant assassinations of children (and others) continue to think guns should be easier to get than a driver’s license — and worse, that all these thousands of years in humanity’s evolution we still haven’t gotten over wanting to beat and kill and hate and war — and, on top of that weep, the daily disbelief about who is president and who is in power and while all that ugly contributed to my sobbing, too, the joy that Noah Galvin and so many others can now — unlike when I was in my formative years — be openly gay. Plus, the youth of this country standing up and saying “NO” to the bullshit politicians and bigots. And, especially, the beautiful lyrics and message of the song, “YOU WILL BE FOUND.”

And, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE.” Because, sometimes, I confess, still, I feel terribly alone. As in, who is full of John La Touche and Candide and all the other arcane, obscure music of my life crowding my consciousness so much that there is little room for anything new. I mean, it gets lonely here in my head/soul, even with the jukebox playing that esoteric score of my life, which seems, now, mostly to be about the past.

On top of all of which, hearing this song, this new Broadway song sung by an openly gay actor, I was taken back to that my first stereo feeling, and thinking how, were I in formative years now, listening to this would be phenomenal, beautiful, a path to curating a soundtrack to get me through the difficult days, to let me know I belong, to help me through what felt like (and still, some days, FEELS LIKE) all the losing, losing, losing hearing a different sort of song brings you (me, anyway) and so, I decided to make donuts. Because, along with telling the formative years child asking for advice to carefully curate their music, because they will wake up in their 50s with the songs they listen to today playing, and playing, and playing, I would also say:

LEARN TO COOK, BECAUSE FEW THINGS ARE MORE PLEASING THAN BEING ABLE TO TRANSLATE THE LOVE YOU HAVE IN YOUR HEART FOR YOUR DEAR ONES INTO THE SHAPE OF A DONUT (or a meal, or…)

And there it is. My morning (and life) so far. Which started with music; Denyce Graves in a dream and Liza ringing bells and continued with me writing this, really quickly, in between the donut making. And titling it after one of the songs from the Broadway Funny Girl which was cut from the movie because they were — unlike the Broadway production — able to get the rights to My Man, which I loved, but, well, I was trained early to be a Broadway snob and so I think this much superior — and so then, in conclusion and goodbye-ing you for now, this: Barbra Streisand from the Original Broadway Funny Girl with The Music That Makes Me Dance. NOTE: This version is a scratchy live recording of her final performance on Broadway and I chose it because its in the moment aliveness is unequalled by the official album version.

So, dear ones, here’s wishing you a life-score of unparalleled joy and light and love and soaring ballads. And donuts And not so much losing, losing, losing.

And here I am, going. And hoping, really, that I will be found.

 

Reading: March Review; 11 Books, 1 Five Star, And DIDION!

I love Joan Didion, this is a long-established fact about which I have endlessly droned, and I intend to continue that here, but I’ll save it for the end. First, this …

Somehow, since last I blogged, an entire month has passed in which eleven books have been read, one of which I loved, two of which I thought artfully done and compelling reads, and eight of which I found from no better than they ought to be to meh, not so much. And so, since I am working on a writing project with a partner who is waiting for scene drafts, I am going to spend my lit-ergy here on only those reads which gave me real pleasure, beginning with the one Five Star read of the month, a treasure from the early 20th century by Beverley Nichols, a writer brought to my attention by a dear, dear Twitter friend, sobriquet of Vickie Lester, who was kind enough to find and send me a gorgeous, sweet-smelling 1932 edition!

Down The Garden Path, Beverley Nichols, Hardcover, 303pp, 1932, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc

Called one of the most amusing gardening writers of all time, oft compared to Noel Coward, arch of style, imperious of manner, and dead-funny with a rapier wit able to capture the foibles and faults of others with an eviscerating bon mot, Nichols is exactly my cup of tea — I take my Earl Grey black, over-steeped, with two dashes of cayenne — strong and with a kick.

This is one of those books you ration, so taken by its prose, tone, and style, you want to inhale it all in one sitting but knowing the deliciousness is finite, you force yourself to stop after one short chapter (or two, or three), savoring and saving, so it lasts as long as possible. His prose is delightfully of its time, so much smarter (I think) and cleverer than we are today, and wittier. He is also marvelously acid at times, but in a backhanded, subtle sort of way. So much in this to make you smile and wish you’d said it, or, better, had known him while he was saying it. Listen:

The flowers last for a fortnight if you cut them in the bud. And they send out such a perpetual stream of fragrance that you will long to rush about the house waving scarves and doing spring songs, protruding your lips and breathing with suspicious violence.

And:

Are you bored? Indeed, I hope not. For the flower’s sake, not for my own. At the risk of out-winnying the pooh, it must be admitted that I always think flowers know what you are saying about them.

Now though, I hasten to caution you, pulling sentences from the whole is a fool’s game (which is, of course, why I am playing it) when writing is what it ought to be, which is, of course, a whole, lucid and complete, made up of myriad thoughts and words and silences skillfully composed into this thing called a book. To pull one sentence or paragraph is like isolating one brush stroke from a masterpiece by Caravaggio and expecting someone to be able to get the impression of the whole glorious painting. It simply won’t do. So, you must read this book.

Then, of course, you will be in the same sad boat I’m in, starving for more. Luckily, this is the first of a trilogy, in addition to which Mr. Nichols wrote many other gardening/house restoration books, some mysteries, and various and sundry other literature, all of which one must find in used editions, many of which are awfully pricey. Still, I’ve bookmarked them from various sellers, planning to accumulate one by one, like some people collect Blue Royal Delft pieces at what would seem to others ridiculous cost. And you there, don’t think about beating me to it — damn, I ought not have told you how marvelous is this book. I take it back, you must NEVER read a book by Beverley Nichols for it will do nothing for you but make you a sad, wanting thing like I am, eager to scrape together the next couple of tens and send off for another volume of his genius, and harken back to a better (no, it probably wasn’t better but right now any OTHER seems better than today) time in history.

P.S. I love you Vickie Lester. Great thanks for sending me this and bringing Beverley Nichols to my attention.

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The next two books about which I’m going to talk hardly require my two cents being tossed into the discussion, both have been widely advertised, publicized, praised, and are selling like crazy, one thanks to Oprah choosing it for her book club, and the other thanks to the author’s well-deserved reputation and back-catalogue of really good writing. Let’s start with the Oprah choice, first of the two four-star reads.

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones, Hardcover, 320pp, February 2018, Algonquin Books

With 19,000 ratings and 2600 reviews on Goodreads, as well as 750 reviews on Amazon, 88% of which were four or five-star approvals, not to mention a five-star recommendation from my local-indie bookseller, Marlene at The Curious Iguana [click here for Marlene’s Iguana!], anything I say would be redundant. But, that never stops me.

This is a beautifully written allegory for what it is like to be “other” in America when “other” is defined as anything or anyone not cis-heterosexual-white-moneyed-male. But far from being polemical, the tale is wrapped in a frighteningly insightful narrative which will be recognizable to anyone who has ever loved and lived, helplessly, the tragedy of personal relationships going awry, love fading or morphing into something unsustainable, uncomfortable, unhealthy, unrewarding, and causing one to suffer the guilt and anger and regret of feeling failed, less than, wrong, unwanted, unaccepted, rejected, “un” in general until one’s foundational idea of self is shaken, beliefs brought into question, and one’s world torn asunder.

Roy and Celestial, upwardly mobile African-Americans have been married 18 months when Roy is mistakenly but insistently identified by a white woman as her rapist, arrested, convicted on scant evidence, and sent to prison, in essence, for the crime of being Black in America. At first, Celestial waits for him, but eventually, as his prison sentence stretches to a period longer than the amount of time they spent married, reality takes on a new shape for both of them, rearranging the content of their souls and hearts, as well as the size and parameters of their dreams, and creating the sort of distance that grows between two people who spend more time imagining one another than being with one another, a an empty space that fills with questions, stories, wishes, regrets, and the stuff and people close at hand.

An American Marriage is a story about surviving that journey, about people who are flawed, full of doubt and certainty in equal measure, each of which can instantly become the other with a glance, a word, a breath, in a moment; and perhaps it is that Tayari Jones has done so brilliantly, to capture the inevitability of feeling both right and wrong at once, caught in the conundrum of should and want, must and can’t, and having to decide where on those spectrums to land, the fact that being human is to be faced with impossible choices which must be made, the consequences of which must be dealt with.

Caveat; while this book truthfully describes the bleak reality of American life today, it is not without hope. There is resolution, not happily ever after, but not despairing either.

And now, the second four-star read:

Sunburn, Laura Lippman, Hardcover, 290pp, February 2018, William Morrow

This is my fourth Laura Lippman read and she is, indeed, as everyone says, a master of the suspense/detective novel.

Beach town. Polly, escaping a life she no longer wants, Adam, a detective on a mission, meet, mesh, and conduct a Body Heat/The Postman Always Rings Twice sort of love-sex-affair. Neither is completely who they have told the other they are. Neither completely trusts the other. Neither can deny the passion and connection they have. Twists, turns, pieces of the past and the truth are slowly revealed, compellingly teased, and there are surprises and betrayals and necessary lies and questionable acts and everything you’d want in a 1940’s noir film starring Barbara Stanwyck, and all of it made believable.

This is a great read, very fast, beautifully structured, with artful, accomplished writing by an author at the peak of her powers. You’ll want to one-day/night it, so don’t start until you have a swath of time in which to go from front to back without interruptions like work, family, sleep.

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And now, Joan Didion.

I recently — at long last — joined the 21st century and got a subscription to Netflix. Wondrous, that. But I think the very most wonderful thing about it — although Grace and Frankie runs a close second (I am still bitter Lily Tomlin did not win the Oscar for her performance in Nashville) — is the documentary about Joan Didion made by her nephew, Griffin Dunne, called The Center Will Not Hold.

A sort of life story, a sort of tour of her work, a fantastic opportunity to listen to and watch Joan Didion speak and think. The way in which she gesticulates with her arms, these wide, swooping gestures seeming to be reaching into the ether to grab her thought and articulate it, and, too, to push away, ward off all the other-ness, effluvia, and detritus out there from which she wishes to be insulated, through which she cuts to expose the truth, brings to mind something not quite human, a seemingly delicate bird, but behind the fragility is a predator able to — if necessary — swoop in for the kill.

Watch it. You won’t be sorry. I’ve already done so three times, and will, no doubt so so again, just as I repeatedly re-read Play It As It Lays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and The White Album.

And, it has been brought to my attention there are Joan Didion tote bags. And T-shirts. Now, not only will I be saving up for additional Beverley Nichols books, but, of course and desperately, for Joan Didion swag.

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Now, speaking of other; about those eight other books I read, some of them were just fine but not fine enough that I feel like writing about them, and a few were just dreadful, and as a general rule, I don’t speak ill of writers because their lives are difficult and thankless enough that my not caring for their book doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it not to my taste, and so, why talk about that when there are so many books I do want to share with you?

Okay then, off to continue April’s reading — I’ve already finished one MARVELOUS book, Here In Berlin by Cristina Garcia which was recommended to me by the brilliant writer and book journalist, Bethanne Patrick, otherwise known as The Book Maven [click HERE to follow her on Twitter, and you MUST!] about which I’ll write soon, or, in April’s recap — who knows?