Reading: Novels read from my sick bed

Once again, I’ve let myself get a bit behind. Though it’s only been six days since my last book blog, I have read five books: M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin Mystery: Love, Lies and Liquor; Christopher Bollen’s The Destroyers; Christina Henry’s Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook; Dickson & Ketsoyan’s Blind Item; and Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

Those of you who know me, know I’ve been struggling with some medical issues since January, and, despite my hope the most recent doctor visit to discuss the results of yet more biopsies and blood tests would supply some answers, alas, no. I continue to be a medical mystery, and await the August 1 return of the senior partner in the practice now seeing me because it has been decided he needs to take over the case. In the meantime, the mysterious stomach ailment that started all of this (I think) three years ago, has returned. Yesterday, it was as horrible as it has been since the initial bout, and I was so dehydrated from my body purging itself, I nearly ended up in the hospital. Then, as mysteriously as it hit, it stopped. So, this morning I am feeling achy, still dehydrated, and full-on self-pitying that I am so rarely WELL.

However, PLUS SIDE, I am so exhausted from this string of illnesses, and, too, fighting severe depression brought on by my inability to accept the state in which this country finds itself and daily flabbergasted that the entire tr*mp brigade is not in prison and Hillary Clinton not yet rightfully in place as President, other than things I absolutely MUST do, the majority of the little energy I have left for life is devoted to escaping into books. So, about one a day. And here they are.

Love, Lies and Liquor (Agatha Raisin #17), M.C.Beaton, Paperback, 256pp, August 2007, Minotaur Books

The fact that I am on the seventeenth adventure of Ms. Raisin should give some indication of my fondness for these charming, English village cozies. Agatha is a combination of crusty snarker, certain she is right about everything, and an insecure, self-doubter who too often compromises herself for the affections of unworthy men. Honestly, I’m a trifle impatient with her continued near-obsession with her ex-husband, but she seems with each volume to grow wiser, and I long for the installment in which she is completely over him, and, I hope, he murders someone and she gets him locked up. But, much fun here, and you know when Agatha loses a scarf on page 18, it’s sure to end up around someone’s neck before long.

The Destroyers, Christopher Bollen, Hardcover, 496pp, June 2017, HarperCollins Publishers

I picked this up because Garth Greenwell who wrote one of my favorite books ever, What Belongs to You, blurbed it. Too, I had read the author’s earlier novel, Orient, and found it to be more good than bad, and the kind of book about which I found myself saying, “I can’t wait until this writer’s second or third book.” The Destroyers was also more good than bad, but the things that bothered me about Orient, also bothered me about this. I appreciated that the trendy word “thrum” which seems to be required in every new novel nowadays, did not appear until page 300. I also appreciated learning a new phrase on page 380: horror vacui; which means a fear or dislike of leaving empty spaces, especially in an artistic composition. I’m thinking Mr. Bollen might suffer from that very thing, for there is so much here, so very much, 496 pages worth of muchness, and while I was overall entranced with the plotting and the quality of the writing, as with Orient, there was a rip-roaring beginning and a furiously paced ending, there was an awful lot of middle during which too little happened or happened too many times. In short, the once-wealthy but now disinherited and in trouble Ian travels to the still wealthy — and, of course, troubled — Charlie, a childhood friend, seeking help. Charlie takes Ian into his Greek island of Patmos business, a boat chartering service for the entitled which is not what it seems. Nearly every character is — per the title — destructive in one way or another, variously entitled, deceptive, delusional, dishonest, purposefully ignorant of circumstances, hubristic, angry, violent, and, in summary, not unlike metaphors for the culture in which we are all drowning, where even the best of us are too often missing the point and the mark. Flawed. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike this, I just wish I had liked it more and I think I would have had there been less of it; because some of the writing is so insightful and incisive, when I got the more languorous sections I was disappointed they lacked the sharpness, the pacing, and the beauty of the more spectacular and energetic portions.

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook, Christina Henry, Paperback, 304pp, July 2017, Berkley Books

I’ve a personal connection to Captain Hook’s backstory as I have twice played him in productions of the musical, Peter Pan. When I was an actor I spent INCREDIBLE amounts of time writing and developing histories for my characters, and with Hook, I was once directed by a psychopath whose main goal as a director was to keep everyone in the cast off-balance and in fear of him, so much so that both the actress playing Peter Pan and I — who he DAILY told everything we were doing was wrong and adjust to this, which we would, and then the next day he would say THAT was all wrong — ended up a week before the show having representatives tell him he was NO LONGER allowed to speak to us directly, but had to give our notes to our reps who would relay them to us as they saw fit. The next time I did the show, I was in essence NOT directed at all, but allowed to do whatever I wanted. I was an actor — whatever I wanted didn’t necessarily serve the show, and while the audience loved me, it wasn’t really Hook up there. What both times had in common was that you can’t play a villain and think they’re a villain — you’ve got to understand why they are doing what they do and why they think it’s the right thing to do, or okay — even if their reasoning is psychotic.

All of which is to say, I was interested in how an author would do for Hook what Gregory Maguire has done for Oz’s Wicked Witch and so many other classic characters. As in Wicked, this telling turns the villain to hero and the hero to villain. Pan is an awful, sociopathic soul-vampire and there is much death and horror here. Nicely written, interesting turn, but it felt to me like there was a lot more that could have been explored.

As in — what purpose does it serve to just flip the story so Hook is mostly right and good and Pan is nearly all wrong and evil? A more interesting approach maybe if there was good and bad in both of them. I don’t know, I suppose that I am weary of living in a world where we are increasingly divided, forced to choose sides, and disbelieve in heroes at all — and so eager to redeem villains. The writing here is good — although, again, we’ve the trendy words “clamber” and “thrum” — seriously, is there something contractual forcing authors to use those words?

Blind Item, Kevin Dickson & Jack Ketsoyan, Hardcover, 352pp, June 2017, Imprint

Meant to be a roman a clef written by Hollywood insiders about a small-town girl, comes to Hollywood, falls for a star, he falls for her, betrayal by friends, venal, drug-using, sex addicted, beautiful people with secrets and lies and — you get the picture. Fast read. But, in truth, it made me miss Harold Robbins and Jaqueline Susann and Jackie Collins and, especially, Dominick Dunne’s thinly veiled, scandalous trash-fests. On the other hand, in a world full of People Magazine, tabloids, TMZ, tr*mps spreading their filthy behavior and hateful, bigoted, class-warfare malaise over the country, 24 hour news, and the taste for scandal and icon-destruction this country has developed, how can a novel compete? And, honestly, though I rarely say anything like this — and I apologize — but it’s really poorly written.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman, Hardcover, 327pp, May 2017, Viking-Pamela Dorman Books

Once again, a book being touted as wacky and quirky and funny strikes me rather differently. It is clear from the beginning that Eleanor is far from fine and her quirkiness is pathological. Which is not to say the book is not beautifully written. The voice is unique, often mesmerizing, and, yes, her turns of phrase and seemingly Aspberger’s behavior make for laughs — but, shameful (for me) laughing because she is so clearly not well. You will see the ending coming a mile (or 300 pages) away. Nonetheless, I read it in one day. It was compelling and I look forward to the author’s future novels.

And, there you have it, my five books in six days. See you soon. Love and Light. Here I am, going.

 

 

 

Reading: 33 Books Of My Summer

From June 1 to August 31 I moved for the third time in four years, did six (or was it seven?) house and pet-sitting gigs, visited the doctor repeatedly for a gastrointestinal disorder that has been going on for three years, and read 33 books.

And you know what? I hate moving but I love my new apartment, love living with my sister, am grateful for the house and petsitting jobs, and today visited a gastroenterologist who seems to be determined to help me, which would be enough in itself, but, too, he is almost a dead-ringer for Raza Jaffrey—

 

— after whom I have lusted since I first saw him wasting himself on Katharine McPhee on SMASH, (FULL DISCLOSURE — I was ALWAYS Team-Ivy, and have seen Megan Hilty in multiple Broadway shows as well as in concert — a lot — twice in one night, in fact, when she did THIS —

–holy shit I love her so MUCH! And I am scheduled to see her again with my dear Team-Ivy and gastrointestinal distress cohort, A, in December — I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, A!!!!) and, my dears, to have the luxury of a life in which I can read 33 books over the course of a summer — I am NOT complaining, in fact, I am expressing my gratitude to the universe and to you people for reading me.

And, since this is SUPPOSED to be about the books I have read this summer, ha, here I am, going, offering short summaries of my summery-reads arranged by date read.

Think TwiceTHINK TWICE (Rosato & Associates #11) by Lisa Scottolinethis was my first Lisa Scottoline and I wonder how I have missed her up until now? On the other hand, grateful I now have a lengthy backlist to savor. Well done, fast paced, nicely plotted, moves like a bullet-train.

THE ASSISTANTS by Camille PerriA fast read about those living privileged lives which are not privileged enough; explores in a satirical way the damage done by sexism and classism, but, almost admires the capitalist destruction of self. Torn about it. But, funny, well structured, and, again, very fast.

THE NEST by Cynthia D’Aprix SweeneyMore privileged people dissatisfied with their level of privilege. Why are all the “summer reads” this year so obsessed with the haves who feel they haven’t enough and act execrably because of it?

MOST WANTED by Lisa ScottolineMy second Lisa Scottoline read since “discovering” her earlier in June. This, a plot involving sperm donor being a serial killer and mother-to-be determined to get to the truth of it all. It moves. It goes. It does what you want it to do and gives you what you want. I like that in a sperm donor and a book.

Our Young ManOUR YOUNG MAN by Edmund WhiteI have read almost everything Edmund White has written from A Boy’s Own Story to City Boy to The Joy of Gay Sex to the Proust and Genet biographies. He is a part of my history, a part of the history of all gay men of my generation. He broke ground. He pushed. He pulled. He succeeded. He failed. He blazed trails. And I will honor him and every word he writes for as long as he writes.

THE GIRLS by Emma Cline I liked this. I marvelled at the insight of an author so young, in particular her ability to capture the feeling of the late sixties and early seventies, and the lamenting, ennui, and patina of regret & disappointment coloring the remainder of the lives of survivors of the radicalism & extreme believing of the time. That said, not quite sure it was worth all the summer-buzziness it got, but, there it is. I have come to think nearly all buzzy-books have more to do with who is marketing them as opposed to how well they read, if that makes sense.

Then and NowTHEN & NOW: A MEMOIR by Barbara CookIt’s Barbara Cook, who is such a part of my life, so integral to my experience and the stories of who I am, it is as if she is a close, personal friend. She is that sort of talent, that sort of love, and so whatever she sings, says, offers, acts, writes will always be a five-star event for me.

THE CHILDREN by Ann Leary Fast summer read. I found the ending a bit less than satisfying and the characters’ traits seem sometimes pasted on and pat rather than earned and true, but, all hail a writer who has a plot and moves things along and doesn’t indulge in MFA-fuckery.

THE DEADLY DANCE (Agatha Raisin # 15) by M.C.Beaton

I love Agatha, and in this episode she begins her own detective agency, which has given her a welcome increase in the bite and spark which was very much on display in earlier installments and which had faded into a less interesting near-nastiness in the last couple — although I still loved visiting with her in those, too. But, hoorah for this turn!

GRACE: A NOVEL by Natasha DeonThe writing was well-calibrated in that “I’ve been workshopped a lot” sort of way, but I found it difficult to follow the time-jumping narration, its back and forthing, perhaps because its voices were all too much the same, needing more individuation. And I thought it went on longer than it needed to. And it was very hard to take, its tragedies were painful to bear.

THE UNDERGROUND MAN (Lew Archer # 16) by Ross MacdonaldMy first Macdonald, though this is 16th in Lew Archer series. It transcends the faux-detective-noir-ish sort of genre: he is a true pro at this, a master. The plot was twisty, the characters well-defined, the writing phenomenally evocative. Had I not read Eudora Welty’s review of it, and known her fondness from MEANWHILE THERE ARE LETTERS — the brilliant collection of the correspondence between the two — I’d have missed Mr. Macdonald’s work.

They May Not Mean to But They DoTHEY MAY NOT MEAN TO, BUT THEY DO by Cathleen SchineI loved this book. Quite the brilliant exploration of the love, guilt, manipulation, anger, joy, forgiveness, and insanity of being family. The insight into an octogenarian main character was a refreshing change of pace from the usual senior character portrayals in fiction. Read this if you have parents. Or kids. Or, a family.  ONE OF MY TOP SUMMER PICKS.

THE GIRLS IN THE GARDEN by Lisa JewellWell constructed, suspense-thriller-ish novel, fast read with a young adult vibe, great for a hot summer day. Again, though, maybe a little more media-buzzed/hyped than warranted.

SWEETBITTER by Stephanie DanlerA very fast read & well done, the writing is lovely, here and there one comes across a stunning insight, but, in the end, it felt cheated and posed, like one of its major characters, Simone. Somehow not all it was pretending to be, a little pretentious and too much muchness. Still, I do recommend you read it, but, again, buzzy-hype warning.

Some Enchanted EveningsSOME ENCHANTED EVENINGS: THE GLITTERY LIFE AND TIMES OF MARY MARTIN by David Kaufmanmy dear aunt, Sissie, adored Mary Martin, and thus, so did I. She was and is a legend, the likes of which we won’t see again. Annoyed this book did things like call Rose in GYPSY Mama Rose, and misspell Minnie in HELLO, DOLLY! as Mini. Sloppy for a book about musical theatre. And the author seemed determined from the outset to prove that Mary Martin really wasn’t as nice as she pretended to be, making sure to find lots of people who had issues with her. A bit bitchy, I think, but, still, I devour anything with old-Broadway gossip so, I loved it, though it felt somewhat disrespectful to do so.

THE INNOCENTS (Quinn Colson #6) by Ace Atkins

I didn’t read the first 5, nor have I read any previous Ace Atkins, but this was a great noir. Dark, full of uncomfortably real, small-town, small-mind ignorance and hate to which Quinn Colson stands up. I liked it. Fast read. Well done.

MODERN LOVERS by Emma StraubThis is an easy read, short chapters, many interesting characters, well constructed. What kept me from 4-starring was its lack of exploration of the possibility of happiness outside coupledom, or, the absence of an examination of how that cultural assumption might be a kind of bigotry/hindrance. But, as far as buzz-hype-y summer books, this one came rather closer to deserving the noise than did most of the others.

Excellent LombardsTHE EXCELLENT LOMBARDS by Jane HamiltonI am a fan of Jane Hamilton; reading her is akin to hearing a great & beloved friend share a personal story. I enjoyed this book very much, until the last few pages, by which I was a bit confused and then felt abandoned, as if the story had no ending, as if I’d been left hanging. I needed (wanted?) more closure, which is perhaps more about me than about the book, and even with that I am saying ONE OF MY TOP SUMMER PICKS.

CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK (Amelia Peabody #1) by Elizabeth PetersI liked this but I did not love it the way I expected to. I expected to because so many of my Twitterati pals love this series. I will probably try the next one at some point and see if it grows on me.

TRYING TO FLOAT: COMING OF AGE IN THE CHELSEA HOTEL by Nicolaia RipsFurther proof one should wait until one is older to write a memoir. I expected from copy and write-ups it would be about characters in the hotel, but, not really. It was about a young girl’s journey, which is fine, but not how it was marketed.

AN INNOCENT FASHION by R.J.HernandezI began to suspect about halfway in this novel of mordant wit & fashion publishing industry insider roman a clef surface, was a much deeper look at society, class, and the illusions and delusions of millenials (and all of us) which would turn out to have a less than happy ending. I think, in fact, it is one of the saddest stories I have read in some time. Well written, yes, but ultimately bleak.

ROBERT J. PARKER’S KICKBACK (Spenser #43) by Ace AtkinsI am newly addicted to Ace Atkins. He is smart, witty, and moves a story. Things happen and the voices in which he writes always interest and amuse and compel. Nice work.  

BELGRAVIA by Julian Fellowes I wanted it to be Downton Abbey. It wasn’t. A bit predictable and it felt, to me, and I’m sorry to be negative, calculated: a formula written for reasons other than the author being compelled to tell a cracking good tale.

IMAGINE ME GONE by Adam HaslettA family, a history of mental illness, well written. Moved when I read it, three weeks later I had forgotten the plot and had to read reviews to remind myself. Maybe the intense relationships/actions within a family destroyed by depression caused me to block it out. Maybe not.  Nice cover design.

LOST GIRLS: AN UNSOLVED AMERICAN MYSTERY by Robert KolkerRecommended by a number of people I follow on Twitter. I found it confusing — the structure and jumping about was extremely difficult to follow — and, finally, it felt as if the whole enterprise was without thesis or point, really. As in, whatever he meant to do, didn’t — for me — get done. And I think it would have benefitted from stronger editing.

SWEET LAMB OF HEAVEN by Lydia MilletNot for me. I read books from every genre, and I am fine with authors playing with those, but this seemed an ill-conceived mish-mash of indecision about what it ultimately wanted to be and say, what story it meant to tell, and I ended up feeling disappointed and annoyed.

YOU WILL KNOW ME by Megan AbbottAnother hot-buzzy-summer read, especially because it came out during Olympics season and was set in competitive gymnastics milieu. I worked around competition parents for many years; those kids, those teachers, those parents, nuts and totally capable of murder. Fast read. Fun. Sad. The real crime is the ruination of kids for distorted, so-called American dream.

DAMAGED (Rosato & DiNunzio #4) by Lisa Scottoline –  Obviously, this summer I became a fan of Ms. Scottoline’s. Her plotting, pacing, and characters are reliably fine and this novel also offered lots of relevant information about the foster care system; and, perhaps slightly unbelievable but much welcome happy endings for everyone. I’m good with that.

THE LOST GIRLS by Heather YoungI wanted to like this more than I did. I wish I had an in-depth understanding of why it didn’t capture me as it ought, but I don’t. Taking nothing away from the writing, which really was quite good, but somehow I knew too early what was going to happen & I felt a bit emotionally manipulated, and maybe by August 21, when I read it, I was exhausted by so many “buzzy” summer reads being just not nearly as fun and hype-worthy as I’d been press-repped into believing they’d be. Which is maybe why my next book was —

perfect paragonTHE PERFECT PARAGON (Agatha Raisin #16) She is one of my reliable loves, Agatha Raisin, as is her fabulous author, M.C.Beaton. I have all of the books, up through 25 waiting to be read (I’m saving up for 26 and soon to be released 27) but am rationing myself. It’s a real comfort knowing 17 awaits me when next I need a visit with someone on whom I can count, and my dear Agatha is always SUCH A DELIGHT!

UNDER THE HARROW by Flynn BerryA promising debut; I like being unable to tell whether or not the narrator is reliable; I thought the ending was a bit unearned, as in, perhaps too facile. But so admire the ability of authors to build mysteries, what a gift.

Penny, Louise A Great Reckoning 2A GREAT RECKONING (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #12) by Louise PennyI cannot briefly express my love for this book, for all the Gamache books, for the artistry of Louise Penny, so, check my blog earlier this week for a complete review, just click here: A GREAT RECKONING — my appreciation. ONE OF MY TOP SUMMER PICKS.

PARADISE LODGE by Nina StibbeThis was — sorry to use such overused words — a charming and delightful read. Funny. Touching. Lovely tale of a fifteen-year-old young person coming into her own while working in a home for the elderly. Truly enjoyable.

So, there it is. I’ve managed to write about 33 books in under 2500 words, which, if you know me at all, must be some sort of miracle at work. Oh, right, I am, after all, MiracleCharlie. One day I’ll talk about how I got that name, but for now, here I am, going, off to finish reading an old Nabokov I’d missed and a new Tama Janowitz memoir which is — so far — delighting me. Happy Labor Day, dear ones. Much Love and Light and HAPPY READING!

 

 

 

Reading: April and May Reads

{I know, though it has been a month since I posted, this is my second post TODAY. All about reading. Otherwise, life is a bit complicated at the moment and so I am trying to mind my peace, as in, shut up, Charlie, say nothing until the urge to whine has passed. Much love, dears. Much love.}

Bad Charlie, waiting a month between posts. Eleven books since last I summarized, but one of those, Rafe Posey’s The Book of Broken Hymns, I have written about at length. Great length. Two thousand words length. Let me sum that one up for you: Read It Now. (Or, read about it here.)

Onward.

Fishbowl

Click on cover for link

I have been lucky enough to align myself with a few people who funnel me Advance Reader Copies. The latest was a very buzzy August release, Fishbowl, by Bradley Somer. Ian, the goldfish, plummets from the 27th-floor balcony of a highrise and on his way down, the stories of some of the building’s residents are woven into the descent. Don’t be put off by the word “quirky” being used in the reviews of this novel, it’s not a cute gimmick but rather a clever abstracting of the detached society in which we live, with our glimpses and our graspings and our gaping need to connect. Its denouement relies on a reality-stretching amount of coincidence, but that didn’t bother me. I think there is a place for books – for stories – where fortunate synchronicity plays a role; realism is overrated. Give it a read. It’s fast. It’s fun. It’s kind.

Speaking of fun, this past month has suffered rather a dearth. After having gone more than a decade with nary a doctor visit, one more visit to the local clinic and I’ll be considered a resident. Although, I’ve been chastised and semi-banned. You see, I’ve been performing a Camille-esque hacking since mid-April, along with an oft-morphing menu of other symptoms I shall spare you, except for the latest addition of having had to sleep sitting up for the past week, and having now visited the clinic three times without benefit of following up with my “primary care physician”, I’ve been told by the clinic that I MUST see my regular doctor. If only. I have tried to see my regular doctor but appointments are doled out with a stinginess the Grinch might envy. Should one manage to maneuver through the gauntlet and be “seen” it has always been the case that one is being seen by an assistant or a nurse practitioner or some other someone NOT  my primary care physician, a person about whose gender, age, appearance, I am completely clueless.

Where was I? Oh, right, additionally, this chronic near-fever and fatigue has affected my brain. I’ve been doing a lot of light reading rather than diving into literature requiring thought. I’ve not a lot of energy for metaphor, or reality, and a junkie-like need for predictability. So, I’ve done a lot of Harlan Coben  (Just One Look, and Deal Breaker) and John Sandford (Hidden Prey and Gathering Prey) both of whom always give me exactly the continuing characters or twisty-plot suspense that ends with the triumph of good over evil – mostly – I expect. It’s comforting.

Also, I returned to my very favorite series, M.C.Beaton’s Agatha Raisin. This month I managed to limit myself to one adventure with Agatha, number 12, Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came. Great fun, as always, to visit with the sassy, sophisticated, flawed, needy, wishful, aging not completely gracefully, determined, angry, loving, lonely Ms. Raisin. (She reminds me of me in many ways. Except, she has an English cottage and I’m a few months away from living in an appliance carton under a bridge.)

Continuing in the series series, I sampled a new cozy, reading Number 1 in the Lighthouse Mystery Series by Eva Gates (pen name of Vicki Delany) , titled By Book or By Crook. Heroine Lucy Richardson leaves her job as librarian at Harvard to return full-time to the beach community where she spent the best summers of her youth. She gets a job (and an efficiency apartment – everybody has an income, a primary care physician, and a delightful home of their own but me!) at the local library, a converted lighthouse and murder happens. I liked it well enough, but, must everyone have a helpful cat? I’ve known a lot of cats in my days and none of them managed so much as to warn me off the perfectly horrid men with whom I’ve a habit of up-hooking, let alone saving me from being murdered. So, really? Enough with the feline super-powers.

My friends (look how I can still use the plural of that – well, give me time) have asked, “Did you figure out who the killer is?” No. I didn’t. I don’t even try. I can’t even figure out a man is married. I don’t “figure” – I just live. And read. Cat-free. I don’t read cozies for the challenge; I read cozies for the cozy.

This month’s Young Adult choice was Tommy Wallach’s We All Looked Up. An asteroid is hurtling toward the earth, we are all going to die. I feel as if I keep reading this story. It was nicely done. It has its own soundtrack. I’m in a mood, though (in case you hadn’t noticed) and I say enough with the threats of disaster, blow the mother up. I’m ready. I can’t seem to stop coughing so, what the heck. I keep reading Young Adult literature, waiting to get that obsessive-reading-jones I used to get as a child (Harriet, the Spy, and anything by Roald Dahl) where I couldn’t stop and at the end, started again. It isn’t happening for me. Not yet. Not with Young Adult books. Of course, it’s a fact that I am not young, and it’s probably true that I am not adult, so, perhaps I should give this genre up?

Because I did find real joy this month (in addition to Rafe Posey) in two non-fiction offerings, both far beyond my skill-set to describe. I’ll do my best.

LoiteringI begin with Loitering: New and Collected Essays by Charles D’Ambrosio [CLICK HERE].  I have not felt this way about a book since first I read Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. (You really ought to read Phillip Lopate’s New York Times review, CLICK HERE) First of all, Mr. D’Ambrosio used words I had to look up. Although I spend hours (days, even) researching words and their origins in dictionaries when I write (it is my very favorite procrastination, this obsession I have with getting to the roots of words to use those that are layered in meaning in my fiction, even though I KNOW maybe one person will EVER consider how long I spent choosing each word) I rarely need to consult a dictionary when reading. Nothing makes me happier as a reader than to be immersed in an arrangement of thoughts which shape is making me think and see in new ways; add to that the introduction of a new word, a word that like a perfect-jigsaw piece is exactly right for the circumstance being limned, and I’m giddy with its unwrapping like Christmas Morning. There is so much greatness in this book, so much insight and honesty, so much literate shaping of experience into the question I ask every day, “What is this shit I’m doing and why the fuck am I doing it?” I get the feeling from D’Ambrosio that we are kindreds in this way, that he and I live on the outside of everything and everyone and every place, looking in, trying to make sense, knowing we will never belong, loitering on the edges and wishing we could – knowing we can’t – connect. The second I finished – I put aside the next in my “TO BE READ – ESSAYS” pile and started this one over. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Please, if you never listen to anything else I say, get this book now.

Life Among the SavagesFinally, my Twitter-inspired read of the month, another non-fiction, although of a very different ilk. In 1953, Shirley Jackson – who I always thought of as author of dark, terrifying fictions – published a memoir called Life Among the Savages [CLICK HERE].

Confession, other than The Lottery, which I read for a short-story class, I have never read Shirley Jackson.

My interest was the result of Benjamin Dreyer’s expression on Twitter of his admiration for Ms. Jackson’s work. Mr. Dreyer (here he is on Twitter) is the sort of erudite, witty, delightful, well-read, bon mot-tossing sophisticate I have always wanted to be. And if I couldn’t be him, I would stalk him. And I do. So, when he said “Shirley Jackson, Shirley Jackson, Shirley Jackson!” I asked my dealer, Marlene at The Curious Iguana [CLICK HERE], to get me some.

WHY DID I WAIT ALL THESE YEARS? Ms. Jackson’s adventures relocating to the country from Manhattan, raising children and husband, learning to drive, re-starting a stubborn furnace, having babies and, oh, how I long for those days – talking about smoking as casually as one talks now about sipping a glass of water – well, I was taken back in time to a kinder, gentler, funnier, and, I think, much simpler place where life’s adventures were ever so much better. Or, so it seems now from here, on the downside and always in despair about what I’ve missed.

It is fascinating to me that a writer whose fiction focused on the lurking dangers in life, the hidden terrors, those things below the surface waiting to grab at one as one walked by in the dark, would manage in memoir to illuminate the light and love and good and humor in the traumas of daily getting-by.

And the voice. Her technique, her sentences, her rhythms, her syntax, her lovely, lithe prose is unparalleled. Maybe I am just terribly dense,  stupid, and out of things and maybe the rest of the literate world has long been reading and re-reading Shirley Jackson and talking about her but WHY WHY WHY WHY have I only just now, here at the end of me, found her?

Well, let’s look on the bright side (if Shirley Jackson could do it, so can I) – I’ve the rest of her oeuvre to which to look forward. And don’t you know, Marlene has been asked to order it for me already!

Oh, Mr. Dreyer, I owe you a debt. Thank you.

And that, my friends, sums up my reading this past month. Sort of. And explains my absence. I am not feeling well. On many levels. And, too, I am trying to figure out what to do with the next part of my life – I need to figure out income and living arrangement – unless, of course, whatever it is this is that is keeping me down is going to put me down for good – with which I am okay.

Shit, I forgot to call the doctor and it’s three o’clock. At this rate, they won’t see me until 2017.

Love and Light, friends.

Reading: Recent Reads (and those in progress)

WARNING! This is not a foreword- this is a warning: I am trying to work on many projects – writing projects – which means I am forcing myself to be in front of my laptop for a certain amount of time, pecking and plucking away at the words, crazy with the effort to get the story told, to find the words, the rhythm, the way to say what is inside me DEMANDING to be said. In addition to the fiction projects, I’ve been trying to write a blog entry for days – it still isn’t happening. Here’s the thing – I am something of a mess at the moment. I am dysthymic – so I have ups and downs – and for whatever reason, right now, very down – and when I am like this, everything hits me the wrong way. I am currently terrified of a couple of things I am SURE are going to happen (they probably won’t – but being rational also flies the coop) and a few other things I think already have happened (they probably haven’t – but you can’t, I can’t, right now, convince me of this – not really) and to top it off – I have been pretty sick (for me) for about ten days. BeenRaybourn SILENT IN THE GRAVE to the doctor. Done the drugs. Getting better but still, not myself. Not myself. So, that’s the context for this book blog – I am not myself, and I am in a very bad place – mood/emotion wise. I am in that place where I hear the words, “And, I’m done,” over and over in my head, like a chant, like a mantra. This too, it will, it shall, it does, right? pass. Yes. Ok. Fair warning complete.

When last I briefed on my recent reads I had just started Deanna Raybourn’s “Silent in the Grave”, the first in her Lady Julia Grey series. Unlike most of my reading, I did this on an e-reader. I keep trying to like reading on a device, but, I have to say, I am just not very good at it. And while I liked the book – Ms. Raybourn skillfully took me out of my IRL-world to a different time, a fantasy, and for that I am grateful – I still think I’d have better liked the book had I been holding real pages in my hand.

After I’d finished my regency romance foray, I moved on to a recommendation from my friend, Sue. I take her advice quite seriously now since I ignored for years her insistence I read Ann Patchett’s “The Patron Saint of Liars” only to finally pick it up and become an evangelical fan of its brilliance. So, I looked forward to “Brother of the More Famous Jack” by Barbara Trapido. I was not as smitten with this as so many people (including Elizabeth Gilbert, who blurbed its front cover) – many of those people being authors citing it as one of their reasons for becoming a writer – seem to be. I kept thinking, “I should be liking this Beaton, Love from Hellmore,” and feeling guilty that I did not. Oh well, to each their own.

After that, I wanted some quick, reliable comfort and so turned to Continue reading

Reading: Recent Reads (and more Ann Patchett)

Trying to honor my promise not to allow twenty-plus books to accumulate before I blog about my reading again [click HERE for that LONG post from March 27 – Books Are My Religion and a Lesson from Ann Patchett], here is my Recent Reads round-up.

OLD RELIABLE GENRE FUN-BON-BONs

Again, I am a lover of genre reading. For me, a quick, fun, fast book from which I know what to expect is like sitting down with some really good chips, con queso, and salsa and digging in. I can’t do it all the time, but I must do it regularly because it tastes good and it’s great fun. I have visited with a number of my regulars of late.

CAUGHT by Harlan Coben and THE FOOL’S RUN by John Sandford were two of my not-so-guilty pleasures in the past few weeks. I’d go into plot summaries but you are either a Coben/Sandford type (which I now am) or you’re not (and I get that as I long eschewed both, myself – without ever having read one) so there’s little point in plot-precis; they are what they are. MY TRIGGER WARNING: Fool’s Run is from 1996 and about 2/3 of the way through there is casual use of the derogatory gay-slur “F”-word which very much upset me. I didn’t think it was required or character driven, so, you’re warned. BUT, I especially enjoyed the Coben, full of twists and surprises.

I also read another in the Agatha Raisin series, the tenth; AGATHA RAISIN AND THE FAIRIES OF FRYFAM. I’m a great fan of M.C.Beaton and this series though Continue reading

READING: Books are my religion . . .a lesson from Ann Patchett

A LONG INTRODUCTION . . .

Charlie Smith 3

I am inserting this picture, taken the day AFTER I posed with Ann Patchett, because in THAT photo I look HUGE and AWFUL — and so, I wanted to prove I am still a hipster cat-burglar who gyms it up 6 days a week.

Apologies (and thanks) to those asking if I’m okay and why my entries have been so infrequent. I’m immersed (not to say, drowning) in yet another edit of “LIBERTYTOWN” and, too, a couple of other writing projects which came banging at the doors of my brain/heart/soul, even as I hid away, weeping, whispering, “There’s no one home!” Somehow, the stories and words inside me, or, floating around me, or, something, will not let me do what I’ve been trying to do, which is to surrender to the fact that in the same way I was not a Broadway star, not the first American Pope, not someone who was ever going to be successfully in a love relationship, not someone with an actual income and home of his own, I was also NOT A WRITER. Which, is an overly long (SURPRISE!) way of saying, “I’M TRYING TO WRITE AND I CAN’T BLOG WHILE I’M DOING THAT!” I spent hours yesterday trying to finish ONE SENTENCE, and I never really did – it is slow going, my dears. In the meantime, I am reading. And, since this is sort-of, sometimes, supposed to be a Book(ish?) Blog – thought, “Ok, I’ll catch up with that!” So, here I am, going.

CATCHING (YOU) UP ON MY READING . . .

Ann Pachett and Charlie

This is Ann Patchett after I told her I stalked another writer, and still, she bravely posed with me. She is a wonderful, lovely person – radiates warmth, wit, intelligence, and a glowing goodness.

Monday, March 23, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Ann Patchett. She was the featured speaker at Frederick Reads, and not only was she smart, charming, funny, brilliant, engaging, and fun, she gave book recommendations and said (far more eloquently) “Books are my religion.” Mine too. In the days since, procrastinating while I ought to have been editing, I ventured to her Parnassus Books site [click here], and from there, her blog [click here], and in doing so realized I’d not spoken about what I’ve been reading since January when Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You [click here], rocked me. I am still talking about it, talked about it and wrote down the title for Ann Patchett even. But, I have read 23 books since then, and here, in brief, we go, highlights only.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE LAST 23 BOOKS

M.C. BEATON’s AGATHA RAISIN SERIES

I am a huge fan of the Agatha Raisin mystery series, written by M.C. Beaton and edited by Hope Dellon of St. Martin’s Press. I read #6: Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist; #7: Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death; #8: Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham; and #9; Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden. Every visit with Agatha is like Continue reading

Zeitbites Monday: Gainful Un-enjoyment. Link me up.

My world is somewhat not in the greatest shape right at the moment, but, I know that there are much bigger problems in the world than my inability to find gainful employment, a literary agent, or, actually, a place and way to live. SO… if you know of someone looking for a caretaker, or a long-term house/pet sit, or a walker who can toss of the witty bon mots with the best of them — let me know. I’d prefer leaving the U.S. at this point.

Enough intro whining! I Tweeted this today– the joy of this child, already loving Sondheim — I defy you not to smile or weep or both from this — LOVE THIS KID!

SOOOOOO, moving on — if you people would JUST Continue reading

My Year in Reading, Sort of: 2014 Highlights

reading falneur

(HOLY HOLY HOLY — UPON PUSHING THE “PUBLISH” BUTTON, I WAS INFORMED THIS IS MY 700TH POST ON THIS BLOG?!?! SOMETHING ABOUT THAT STRIKES ME AS … STRUCK. LOL)

Reading is my passion.

I’ve found great comfort and solace in reading. Reading took me to worlds I longed to visit but could not otherwise reach. Reading educated me. Reading saved me by making me aware of  possibilities and lives and loves I could never have imagined on my own. Reading gave me New York, the Algonquin Round Table, the Bridesheads, Jane and Paul Bowles, Helene Hanff, gay men, Fran Lebowitz, Andy Warhol and Studio 54, the Beats, the Bloomsbury Group, the Violet Quill bunch, and, holy of holy, as is Stephen Sondheim to my musical theatre jones, so is Joan Didion to my reading addiction. I actually think that without Joan Didion — and all the others — I would have killed myself long ago. Truly, I think it is reading that has kept me alive.

I’m not sure how much a favor to me that has been but that is another blog.

BooksReading has been my escape. Reading has been my constant lover and friend, my companion through my entire life. My memory may be going but I can still tell you where I was, approximately how old I was, and what was going on in my life when first I read HARRIET, THE SPY and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH and DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE and Proust — okay, I’ve never actually finished Proust — but I can tell you all the times I bought new translations, new versions, why I did so, and what they looked like. I have in storage not one, but TWO CARTONS of versions of Proust and books about Proust. And I can tell you that I first read Joan Didion in Saturday Evening Post magazines I stacked and date ordered in one of the rooms in the abandoned wing of Libertytown, that room with the blackboard still on the wall left over from when the house had been an academy for wayward boys, that room I — the most wayward and lonely of boys — had Continue reading

Part 3: Existential Cozies, Comforts, and Joys

Well my little hall-deckers, if Christmas it must be, then the Yuletide ought always to be like last night! Maybe there is, after all, something to this keeping an account of my cozies, comforts, and joys. So, Part 3.

MEGAN HILTY

andrea and charlie

Me and my Andrea between shows. Big drinkers; me with a coffee, Andrea with a Coke. Yep. Whoo-freaking-hoo!

Big fan. First saw Ms. Hilty as Galinda in Wicked. Next saw Ms. Hilty as Doralee in 9 to 5: The Musical. Next, became rabid fan of Smash, founding member of Team Ivy. Then, my dear Andrea birthday-surprised me earlier this year with tickets to see Ms. Hilty in concert at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theatre. And then AGAIN, a few weeks ago, Andrea surprised me with tickets to see Ms. Hilty’s Christmas Concert at the Kennedy Center for last night’s 7:30 show. It was only yesterday afternoon that Andrea told me she had gotten tickets NOT ONLY to the 7:30, but, also, the 9:30. And so, the two of us, front row, aisle, house right — for the first show, somehow, despite it being sold out, we were the only people in the front row, and for the second show, the only OTHER person in the front row was a yawning, unkempt looking fellow in aisle seat, house left. I don’t know HOW Andrea gets these amazing seats, but, uhm, she always does.

About Ms. Hilty. Wow, the last time I saw her, my birthday concert (yes, MY BIRTHDAY concert), she was quite preggers. She delivered the girl-child, Viola, three months ago, and is back, better than ever. She can belt with the best of them but she is also able to quietly croon you to tears. She invests each song with its beginning, middle, end, telling the story with an expressiveness of voice and emotional depth I think is rarely equalled among current singers and Broadway performers. She really is a treasure. Listen to this — which she did last night in an arrangement of mostly guitar (as played by her husband, Brian Gallagher, more below).

And, MOST OF ALL, the relationship between Megan and her husband, Brian Gallagher, who plays guitar and sings with her during these concert appearances, is so freaking beautiful. I want to be one of them. The love they share just radiates from the stage, envelops you in its warmth and fairy-tale goodness. Ms. Hilty sang the song A Place Called Home from the Broadway musical version of A Christmas Carol, and she started weeping just introducing it and speaking of having found “the love of her life” and having a child. Not only was she crying, but as she sang it, so did Mr. Gallagher weep. Both shows. It wasn’t performance, it was life, and love, and so much Light on stage. Great show. If you’ve a chance to share some time with these people, you really ought to. And for me, being there last night (BOTH SHOWS!) with them and Andrea, so much comfort and joy.

COMFORTS, JOYS … quickies

  • And gas is really cheap right now, which is great, as I will soon be returning to Aftermath — where I love to be, which bucolic setting is twenty minutes from the gym. So, cheap gas is good.
  • And, thanks to a niece, found Starbucks Christmas Blend Keurig Cups for 8-something a box. This is a VERY good thing. I know it’s ridiculous, but I don’t think I could function without a Keurig.
  • And I have discovered (thank you TwitterLiterati) the Agatha Raisin mysteries by M.C. Beaton. Delightful fun. Happiness.
ford penis necklace

Tom Ford $800 Penis Necklace

  • And Tom Ford is selling what appears to be a gold phallic symbol. [See New York magazine article here.]  How cool is an $800 dick necklace? I’ll tell you how cool — Bill Donohue of the Catholic League [click here for the fucking moron] is upset about it. And, an idiot. I mean, who even THOUGHT this was supposed to look like a cross? I mean, now, every time I see a nicely arranged set of male genitalia, I’m going to connect it even more vigorously to my memories of my catholic youth — those years when my knees were hardened and trained to the tasks and sacraments for which the catholic church so lovingly prepared me. Thank you to the catholics for making me so good at so many things involving being on my knees … speaking of which ….
  • And, at the gym yesterday, a really good-looking guy came on to me in the showers. I have no idea why someone as good-looking as he was would come on to someone like me, I didn’t see any mistletoe hanging on the shower head — but — without going into details — this was not another one of my hallucinations. He actually, really and truly, did come on to me. I did not reciprocate nor respond except to politely indicate the gym-showers were not a location where I intended to frolic. Truth, I am still snotty and unwell — this cold thing — and it would have been not just dangerously undignified (and, possibly, illegal?) to fool around there but, too, I’d have been spreading cold germs. But, you know, HOPE —

SPEAKING OF HOT MEN … Russell Tovey is cheating on me …

russell tovey nude looking

Russell Tovey on top of the home-wrecker and fantasy-killer, Jonathan Groff

Andrea broke it to me last night that she’d seen a preview for Season 2 of HBO’s Looking and it seems as if Russell Tovey — who I claimed as my own YEARS ago when he was in The History Boys on Broadway — is continuing — in the plotline — to have sex with Jonathan Groff’s character. I am not happy about this. And, clearly, the universe and all the demons of hell sent after me because of my lapsed catholicism and ever-increasing atheism (wait, that doesn’t make sense, well, so what) have conspired to torture me because this morning, Russell is everywhere. He posted this one of himself:

Tovey, Russell Dec 2014

Tovey by Turner

CLICK HERE FOR the website Cocktails and Cocktalk, and a whole series of new hot Tovey photos.

And, as if that wasn’t enough to get me all … well, whatever it is a man my age (who, I hasten to add, was COME ON TO in the showers yesterday — WHILE NAKED) gets, then, I was assaulted by this photo to the left in my Twitter TL. An entire new set of Tovey photos. Dear god (in whom I do not believe) STOP!

SPEAKING OF GOD … final comfort and joy of the day …

Andrea. My dear, dear Andrea, she who allows me stays at Aftermath with her dear, dear Judah, yes, Andrea is a Pastor. Pastor Andrea. A person of the cloth.

I know, right? I can hear many of you exclaiming — as did my family and some other friends when I spoke of Andrea and they inquired as to details — “How is a Pastor friends with you?”

Well, here’s how. In a life you meet/have a very few people — if you are lucky, and I am INCREDIBLY lucky in this way — who “get” you. These people see you, who you are, at the soul, at the source, at the center of your Love and Light. They don’t judge you, they don’t try to change you, they don’t forgive or accept, they don’t have to — they KNOW you. They never see anything but the Love and the Light. If I believed in God — and when I did believe in God — it was that sort of seeing I thought defined God. My complicated cosmology didn’t have room for sin or hell or right or wrong — but, rather, had space only for the aim of seeing only the Love and Light at the source, at the core. Not saying there aren’t people who behave in heinous ways, saying, instead, the job of a God — the job, I think, of everyone, all life — is to believe PAST all of the heinous, to believe that — ultimately — the Love and the Light, no matter how distorted they may become, are all that are. All That Is, the truth of the Love and the Light. Everything else is illusion, temporary, words, labels, not important.

How does Andrea stay my friend? Because for Andrea, that is all there is. Andrea is what anyone who wants to do God’s work should be, a person who works always to live in and see in others that core of Love and Light, and believes in it — no matter how those others parse it or fuck it up or hurt themselves and others or fail at life — Andrea sees and encourages and cultivates and BELIEVES in the Love and the Light.

That’s faith. Faith. That’s God. And I am incredibly blessed and comforted and cozied and joyed and un-deserving of having found this late in life (although I hasten to add I was come on to when naked in the shower yesterday by a very attractive much younger man — ARE YOU LISTENING RUSSELL TOVEY?) a friend, a dear one, a treasure, like Andrea. Andrea, a Pastor who doesn’t measure me by whether or not I profess to believe in God; Andrea, who doesn’t measure me at all except by the glow of my Love and Light, and finds me to be friend-worthy. I love her. So much.

Here’s wishing all of you have an Andrea and such blessings as do I to count, and, my dears, at least one who sees your Love and Light like Andrea sees mine.

Love and Light kids.