Reading: 3 Months, 25 books – I suck as a book-blogger

Since July, when last I blogged about my reading, I’ve finished 25 books, and gotten my first library card in 30 years, the getting of which has changed my reading habits – again. With library access, I am more likely to try something new, take a chance on a recommendation about which I’ve doubts, choose to try something not 100% my usual-thing. When I am paying for books, I need be cognizant that my declining years are fast approaching and even a cardboard box has upkeep costs. So, I’m trying to buy only those things I know I am going to want to keep for long, slow reading, or re-reading, or to write in, or, too, classics I have long meant to acquire, and, of course, those written by Twitter-pals (or, you know, authors I stalk) who I know could use the sales.

So, I will try not to bore you with needlessly long recaps of all 25 books I’ve finished (you could follow me on GoodReads – click here – if you really want to know; in fact, DO, because I only have 21 friends there) but, I do want to talk about some at least a bit.

Raybourn, Deanna

Click on cover for details about the book.

One of my goals this year was to read across genre, outside my comfort zone. I spend so much time advocating for all sorts of equality, it struck me as hypocritical that I was pooh-poohing whole categories of writing. So, now, I try to “get around” as they used to say in high school – and play with all the groups.

I continued my exploration of romance writing (because, god knows, real-life romance is completely out of the question), tasting two supernatural-sort-of-other-world-beasty-creature novels; Wicked as They Come by Delilah S. Dawson and Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison. They were kicky enough and fun, but, I think, much to my surprise, I’m more of a regency guy. I’m number 2 in library-line for Deanna Raybourn‘s (follow her here on Twitter, she’s a delight) newest, A Curious Beginning, and am eager to get to that.

dangerous fiction

Click on cover for more information.

Speaking of Twitter-folk-I-follow; new pal, Barbara Rogan (follow her here on Twitter, she’s pretty delightful too) wrote a literary-world mystery which I enjoyed immensely and am hoping is the first in a series: A Dangerous Fiction: A Mystery. I loved its insider knowledge of the publishing world and its clever plotting and vivid characters.

I also allowed myself two more in the Agatha Raisin series; #13: Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate; and #14: Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House. If you’ve not yet become addicted to M.C.Beaton’s delightful Agatha, quick, drop everything and get started.

I like my series – as you can tell – they are comfort books — like grilled cheese sandwich and tomato-basil soup between covers — full of friends and characters to whom I can return, authors who will deliver what I expect with well-wrought prose and fast-paced, interesting plotting. So, I read a John Sandford and a Harlan Coben and a Rhys Bowen (from Her Royal Spyness series) and an Alan Bradley (from his Flavia de Luce series) too.

Nature of the Beast

Click cover for more information about book.

And, speaking of series, if I had to choose a favorite (and I can’t, because books and authors are like my children, my dear ones, I love them all in different ways for different reasons) I might choose The Inspector Gamache world gifted to us from the brilliant Louise Penny.  The latest installment is The Nature of the Beast, the eleventh book featuring Inspector Gamache and I am crazy for him and all the others who live in Three Pines. Especially Ruth. I feel as if I, too, live there, or, rather, am privileged to visit each time Ms. Penny blesses us with another episode. You must start from the first because you really do develop relationships with these characters and feel as if you live among them; you cry with them, you grow with them, you ache for them, you love them. This is truly a beautiful and wondrous reality Ms. Penny has crafted, full of imperfect, fantastic, annoying, delightful, cantankerous, giving, sad, glorious, mysterious, needy, funny, human folks – like you, like me, like family.

I also read my first Lawrence Block, about whom many have raved. I liked it. I will be reading another. Has he made regular status yet? Not sure.

And another series first, Tagged For Death: A Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery #1 by Sherry Harris. I envy people with the ability to invent these worlds and work the outlines required for these cozies but I guess garage sales just aren’t my things. I’m going to stick to the ones about bookstores – which is no reflection on the author, rather, I don’t like candy with nuts either – doesn’t mean nuts aren’t tasty to lots of people.

Grasshopper Jungle

Click on cover for more info about book.

I also read my second, third, and fourth Andrew Smith novels. I had read Grasshopper Jungle a while ago and quite enjoyed it. Then, I met a dear friend of Duchess Goldblatt, Anne, who works on Mr. Smith’s books. She spoke so highly of him and I adored her so much, I determined to read more of his work. I started with Winger and moved immediately into its sequel, Stand-Off.  Both take place in boarding schools – with which I have been obsessed ever since my mother refused in my youth (fourth grade) to allow the nuns and priest of St. Peter’s to send me away to Jesuit school (can you imagine what I’d be now, had I gone? Thank you, Mom.) – and fall into the YA Genre. I am not YA, but I enjoy YA, and I think Mr. Smith a very gifted fellow. And what a great name. The books move incredibly quickly, loads of plot and interest, and I find the dialogue to be true to the way my nieces and nephews near that age speak. I followed these up with the first in a series of his, The Marbury Lens. So, Mr. Smith wins the prize in this installment for most books by one author. If you’d ask me to recommend one, I’d say my favorite of them was Grasshopper Jungle.

I read a number of buzzy novels about which I’d heard from Twitter-folk. Stephanie Clifford’s Everybody Rise, which I liked but from which I expected more being as it had a Sondheim lyric for a title. Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits With Gun was fun-ish, and clearly a set-up for a series, but, again, I expected more. H.S. Cross’s Wilberforce was one I almost gave up on, but didn’t because it was about boarding school – and you know, I have that thing — but I found it about a third too long and a quarter too obtuse and what I wanted was far less. I also could have used less of the forced Southern-y, eccentric charm heaped onto Annie Barrows The Truth According to Us – which had a great title, anyway. And, Jules Moulin’s Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes was fast and sort-of sexy and completely rom-com-y and ready for filming and completely unbelievable but I didn’t care, happy ending, hot guy loves me sort of okay, never gonna happen but what the hell this is what I want to believe in sometimes alone in my big old bed in my fifties – if I was Goldilocks, this one was just right.

I’ve had some huge disappointments in the past few months (I’m not JUST talking about my life) and learned what DNF means – Did Not Finish. Three very huge, touted books for which I had waited and wanted and pre-ordered and dove into just flabbergasted me. I could not finish Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, Larry Kramer’s The American People, and Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. NOW PLEASE UNDERSTAND – I am not denigrating the authors, I am sure the failure is mine – but Giant I found just too slow and repetitive to make it past page fifty; American People was in need of massive cutting – or so I thought – I had real difficulty following who was who and what was what when and why any of it was going on; and clearly I am an ignoramus for not liking A Little Life – it keeps winning award after award and many a genius loves it, but, for me, it was so relentlessly dark, hopeless, brutal, as to be unkind – I felt violated, I felt some of it was uncalled for, the unceasing ugliness of it was too much for me – no matter how lovely the prose. Life is hard enough without reading 700 pages of agony and sorrow and abuse. I just couldn’t.

I did and could do the first in the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novel series, My Brilliant Friend. Again, it must be me, but despite Mr. Wood in The New Yorker, and loads of TwitLit people I respect and admire, and NPR, and on and on, LOVING this book, this series, I could just barely stay awake and stick with it. I finished it, but won’t be reading books two through four.

For pure, solid, reliable, take-me-away fun, I picked up a P.G.Wodehouse, The Inimitable Jeeves. Loved. Laughed. Smiled. Was taken away – as I wanted to be.

being mortal

Click on cover for more information.

I did some non-fiction too. A memoir-ish quick read, The Whipping Boy, by Allen Kurzweil, also much about boarding school and the lifelong effect of having been bullied there. (Having typed that, I’m a BIT concerned about just how many of these 25 books had to do with boarding schools. Hmmm.) A hilarious collection of essays by Isaac Oliver called Intimacy Idiot – he is a gay man who has had many of the same experiences as have I and I wish I had written this. Truly funny. Not so funny, but absolutely brilliant, Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. No doubt part of my appreciation of this book is that I’m in my fifties, my Mom is in her eighties and we’ve been to the emergency room once after a fall, and for surgery this past week to clear an artery, and regularly visiting offices of all kinds of doctors, and, too, had recently to move her from one assisted living place to another where she is far less autonomous and far less happy and I am guilt ridden and terrified and cannot understand how we, as a nation, do not have better systems in place to care for those near death. Read this book. Now.

As fate would have it, I also read Being Mortal because I was pretty sure I was dying. I’d lost 15 pounds in three weeks, no one seemed to be able to tell me what was wrong, all my body could manage was to expel, never contain, and, during that illness of my own, I found out my Mom needed a surgery that had a high probability of causing a stroke – although the probability of stroke without the surgery was 99% – so, yes. Well, Mom survived and should (fingers crossed) be back in her own room tomorrow night and I was cured – until yesterday, when apparently the parasite that had taken up residence in my intestine and was meant to be evicted by a combination of anti-and-probiotics, returned. Ha, along with my boarding school theme, I guess my Guts are home to a bunch of nasty parasite-plebes causing me GREAT DISTRESS.

So, I will try to write about books more often and before I finish another twenty-five. But these GutMonsters are trying to kill me, and they wear me out pretty badly, pretty quickly. I was out today for about an hour and when I got home, bam, down for the count. Got back up, made dinner, did the dishes, finished this. So, not going to surrender but, jeesh, whatever this is – it needs to go away.

Love and Light kids. Happy 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.