Reading: 2017 Revisited

I don’t do “best” lists, because reading is so personal, thus, what follows is a revisit with some of the books that moved me, gave me some relief from the year that was, and maybe, even, some hope. Two absolute requirements for any book to land here: First, when looking over my GoodReads list, the number of stars didn’t matter so much as whether or not I remembered vividly the experience of reading the book; Second, part of that memory must be of the book having given me some comfort.

2017. A year in which my worst fears about the world, about the people with whom I share this planet, fears I have had since childhood about the bullies always winning, fears that those who play dirty and ugly will triumph over those of us who won’t or can’t behave in inhuman, immoral, disrespectful ways, fears that there are many, many people too stupid or venal or hypocritical or bigoted themselves to see through the venal, bigoted hypocrites plundering the world and mocking those many, many fools who’ve gullibly fallen for their b.s. and, too, sneering at the rest of us who are on to them but can’t seem to stop them; all of these fears interfered (interfeared?) with my ability to enjoy and focus on reading.

Still, I managed to finish reading 145 books, which is only a portion of the number I began, but this was not the year to screw with me: If I didn’t like the first 30-50 pages, I didn’t continue. I mean, hell, life is already dark enough, and the national disgrace seems determined to get us blown to nuclear smithereens, so who has time or joy enough to waste on books that don’t resonate for you?

So here, in an order as random as my rambling, discursive, babbling blog-writing, are those books I read in 2017 which I remember vividly and which brought me comfort and joy.

Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk, Kathleen Rooney

This is one of those books I know I will read again and again. It felt as if Kathleen Rooney knew me personally and was telling a story especially for me. I keep this in my room, in my stack of special books I must have near me at all times. A feeling not unlike reading Helene Hanff, with that passion for NYC. Loved. [Here is the link to my original review.]

Less, Andrew Sean Greer

Oh how I loved this book. Many reasons; great writing, happy ending, LGBTQ characters without tragedy or sturm und drang, I recognized myself in its aging (well, aging for a gay man) character, and I laughed and I cried and I felt seen and most of all, it made me think and reconsider what shape love might take and whether or not it’s still possible for someone of my advanced years and not so advanced looks, finances, or prospects. Gorgeous. Please, please read it. [Here is the link to my original review.]

Running, Cara Hoffman

Gut level writing, so new, so unlike anything else I’ve ever read, so beautiful and complicated and true and gorgeous and resonant; I was, as I said in my original write-up, gobsmacked. How often do you come across a book that is unlike anything you’ve ever read before, and yet, still extremely readable? A unique voice, a brilliant mind, and I cannot wait to hear more from this author. [Here is the link to my original review.]

Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, His Majesty’s Hope, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, (Maggie Hope Mysteries #3, #4, & #5) Susan Elia MacNeal

I love Maggie Hope. What a fantastic character. What wonderful plotting. What fascinating historical detail. What wit. What emotion. What compelling pacing and structure. I have in my possession Volumes 6 and 7, but I am forcing myself to wait because what do I do when I’ve no more? EXTRA BONUS: I followed Susan Elia MacNeal on Twitter, as I often follow authors whose work I admire and enjoy, and I send them thanks for their work. Most authors respond with a sincere thanks. Every so often, a conversation begins and a new reader-author bond is made, and that is magic to me, and quite the gift when an author busy with creating work to delight us all can take time to interact and chat. Susan Elia MacNeal is one such person of whom I have become fond outside the writer/reader relationship. And should I ever manage another trip to her city, we have a promised coffee (or drinks, or both) meet-up planned. [Link to my original review of Princess Elizabeth’s Spy] [Link to my original review of His Majesty’s Hope] [Link to my original review of Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante]

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Lee Mackenzi

This book is categorized as Young Adult, and while I get the need for categorization as far as marketing is concerned, this book is as delightful and certainly as mature (whatever that means) as many, many adult literary fiction novels — and HUGELY more fun, and despite its historical time period, far more modern of sensibility than many books nowadays. Ripping good read and I am eagerly awaiting its sequel.  [Here is the link to my original review]

I just don’t find this cover design at all appealing — from color choices to lettering to the piercing arrows.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne

This book took me by surprise. Though it had been recommended to me, it’s cover art was so uninteresting I couldn’t bring myself to pick it up. Shallow, I admit, but compelling cover design is very important; it’s when the first impression happens and if the cover is lackluster, doesn’t in any way give some flavor of what the words hold, well, then the author has been done a disservice. Truly in this case because this was a fantastic read, one of those I could not put down. [Here is link to my original review]

Unforgivable Love, Sophfronia Scott

Dangerous Liaisons re-told, set in 1940’s Harlem, composed by a writer of exquisite and extraordinary gifts. I devoured this novel like a chocolate-peanut butter pie (I just had one last night, well, half a one — no, I’m not kidding. Would that I were.) Much seduction, scheming, and sensuality, all beautifully written in short, fast-paced chapters which leave you wanting more. Page-turner, I believe is what they call it. Oh, and speaking of friendly authors who interact with readers on Twitter, Ms. Scott is another who takes time out of her busy life to do so. Great writer. Great person. Can’t wait for her next novel. [Here is link to my original review.]

 

Rules for Others to Live By; Comments and Self-Contradictions, Richard Greenberg

My only non-fiction work included on this list — this really wasn’t the year for any more reality than that with which one had to contend daily from news of the world and our national disgrace’s latest travesty — and it is by Richard Greenberg, Tony Award winning author of the play, Take Me Out, which I saw and for which I will be forever grateful to Mr. Greenberg; not just because the play was genius, but, too, because it afforded me the opportunity to be twenty or so feet away from the staggeringly perfect performance of Denis O’Hare and the equally staggeringly perfect and nude body of Daniel Sunjata. These are debts I cannot repay.

Daniel Sunjata in Take Me Out (I took out, so to speak, the private parts)

Speaking of which, this book was recommended to me by a dear friend, Pamela, who has given me many existential gifts and joys, too, so it is fitting she would have brought this little gem to my attention. This collection is full of beautifully sculpted lines, laughs, tears, and personal truths and journeys made and observed keenly, described with precision and an a-ha level of intelligence and insight. I recognized myself in his angst and his joy, and I highly recommend you get this gem and find yourself in its pages. You will. [Here is link to my original review]

Woman No. 17, Edan Lepucki

Edan Lepucki, with this follow-up novel to her last, California, has become one of my pre-order/purchase authors. I know I will want her books on my shelves, in my possession, a place fewer and fewer writers warrant as I age. This timely book explores the ways in which we create ourselves in the modern world, inventing social media personae, treating life as if we were appearing in a reality show. It is both prescient and terrifying in exploring the consequences of personal delusion and deceit, and once again displays a laser-like insight into the ways in which people think, love, live, and lie, that is — in my humble reader’s opinion — Edan Lepucki’s special gift. [Here is link to my original review]

So, there are eleven books I enjoyed in the past twelve months. Here are a few more about which I either didn’t write, or wrote very little because the authors are best-sellers and so much has been written about the books already, I didn’t think I had anything to add. But, in no particular order I also enjoyed:

Anything Is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout

Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng

Glass Houses, by Louise Penny

Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay

There were also some disappointments in reading this year, mostly having to do with books so many other people loved which left me cold. Or, lukewarm at best. I am always in those situations plagued by my insecurity about my lack of intellectual heft, worrying I’m just not smart enough to get what it is everyone loves. This is often accompanied by hubris along the lines of, “Well, they’re all in the same little circle of MFA – literary fiction insiders club, and I’m brave enough to say the emperor has no clothes, or, anyway, the clothes aren’t that nice.”

But I shut up about those. I don’t write about books I don’t like, and I try, even when I am not a fan of something, to keep in mind it was made by someone with an honest, heartfelt effort, they’ve offered a piece of who they are on the page for us. I try to honor that, even when the pages don’t particularly thrill me. There is enough put-down in the world, I don’t wish to add any more.

So, I thank you for taking this ride with me. I thank those of you who read me for doing so, and those of you who read books along with me, I am grateful for you, and those of you who write and edit and publish and publicize and sell the books we read, I bless you for the gifts you bring to the world. So grateful. You do the work of angels, because I am not the only one in the world whose life has been made infinitely better by having books, loving books, living inside the world of books.

Particular special thanks to my favorite independent booksellers at The Curious Iguana,[click here and visit them — and drop in if you are anywhere nearby, ever — so worth the trip]  where Marlene has made a haven for we Frederick (and surrounding areas, and drop-in tourists, and DC weekend trekkers) readers and book lovers. As Marlene and staff are well aware, when I am low, or when I am happy, or when I am anywhere near the neighborhood, I drop in and babble and gossip and compare notes and all that sort of thing, until I remember, “Oh, this is a business and they have work to do and actual customers to wait on!” Love to you all.

And so, now, having done my year-end list, off to begin a new year of reading. And here I am, going.

Horror Stories … existential variety …

gif jessica langeI’m not quite as caught in the undertow as I was  in yesterday’s post “Homes, Housepets, Husbands, and Heartaches Not My Own; A How Not To Manual” [click it] but, warning, still not as perky as I might be. Trying. Really, I am.

First world existential issues: my internet connection here where I am house/pet sitting is iffy and odd and disconnects me frequently. Being frequently disconnected feels oddly, terrifyingly symbolic. I’ve been disconnecting myself – as it were – anyway, and other than yesterday’s blog, pretty much hiding out in my own weirdness. Too, one of the doggies here has wakened today – and did I mention they make me get up at 4:30-5:00 a.m. here? – with stomach issues. Gwennie didn’t eat her breakfast, has chewed a lot of grass, shat on the rug, and has stomach-growling going on the volume of which challenges mine from a few weeks ago. I sympathize, Gwennie. She is on my lap, passing gas and gastro-gurgling as I type.

Life is hard right now. There is a lot of Continue reading

How’s It Going to End?

  • I’VE BEEN BUSY (sort of)

Sorry about the lack of new entries. I don’t want to jinx it by speaking too much of it – I am having some success with my writing efforts. Not, mind you, at achieving publication, but, rather, at the actual act of composing. I’m not sure I even care much anymore if anyone ever reads any of it. I used to think I knew who were the regular readers of this blog, but, conversations of late – real and virtual – have made me realize that I was once again wrong.

I am wrong so often, it doesn’t even surprise me anymore. And I am also – final-ish-straw time – no longer phased, hurt, even bump-in-the-road-shocked when people I thought were listening to me turn out not to have ever much heard anything I actually said.

People are busy. And I guess I’ve never been much fun. It’s a Tom Waits sort of morning.

  • MY BABY IS ALL GROWN UP AND GOING TO LAW SCHOOL (and a genius)

In other news, the child on whom I happily showered massive love through his formative years, he who has always been so kind, so there (here) and never once sold me up the river; he has scored ridiculously well on the LSAT. I am wonderfully happy for him and hope when he goes to law school he has Annalise Keating for a professor. And a lover who is not a murder suspect. Or crazy. His luck with women has been rather . . . well, he is a magnet for crazy. Thus, our long-standing devotion to one another. Speaking of, ever since our night of too-much-wine more than a week ago . . .

  • I’VE BEEN SICK (sort of)

Yes, though I’ll spare you the details, I have been experiencing some sort of intestinal disorder for eleven days now. Its initial strike the day after Mr. Soon-To-Be-Lawyer and I over-imbibed is what prompted my decision to – again – quit drinking. So, I have. But, alas, the dysentery-like-mystery-illness has yet to subside.

Good news, I’ve lost six pounds. And while I frequently feel slightly nauseated and have a minor-league headache, I do not have any fever and mostly, have an appetite – although any sort of food ingestion quickly involves a visit to a restroom, INSTANT availability of which is non-negotiable, LOL.

My approach to all things medical: Wait. It will go away. So, I’m hoping.

  • AND AMERICAN HORROR STORY … my weekly Jessica fix …

And while hoping, I am doing my writing and watching my programs. Last night’s AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW – as always, loved. I am devoted. It’s fashionable for the hip and the reviewers and the arty types to do all sorts of cavilling and complaining and carping about Mr. Ryan Murphy on blogs and Twitter and such. Fuck ’em. Jealous of his empire. Jealous that he’s living his dream. Why don’t they all shut the hell up and expend their energy on making their own art rather than denigrating his? People are such assholes.

Segue there. Last night’s episode featured a near-naked Thor as trick for Dennis O’Hare’s character. I’ve never been a fan of superhero genre types, so, Thor was pretty and all (and count on Ryan to give us hot-man-ass — BUT WHEN DO WE SEE EVAN NAKED THIS YEAR? HMMM?) but I have had a thing for Denis O’Hare since I saw him on Broadway in Take Me Out, where he was virtually the only cast member who didn’t get naked. If he’s typecast in AHS, I seem to have missed something special.

AHS Freak O'Hare & Thor

And, in addition, we got another Jessica cabaret number:

And Frances Conroy -which is enough in itself – and Patti LaBelle doing a turn as Woody Woodpecker. Yes. That. And Finn Wittrock.

AHS Freak Finn

He may well be my new imaginary lover. I didn’t like the way Evan Peters looked at Emma Roberts last night. If he can’t understand that she is no good for him, well, I won’t wait forever. Except, maybe I will — I mean, look:

ahs evan crazyEvan Peters Coven 4Evan Peters Coven 3Evan Peters Coven 2

I forgive you, Evan. Until I see Wittrock’s ass. And I trust Ryan Murphy. I think we have the same taste in men. Which never ends well … or, never has so far. But . . .

HOW’S IT GOING TO END . . .

I have no idea. And, you know what, this illness – which is sort of dehydrating and a bit tiring – is nicely metaphorical for my recent feelings about life; Doesn’t much matter what I put into it, same ridiculous, endless shit is the result.

Things to do. Must run.