Monday, May 28, 2012

Reading is sexy L

(image: Interior of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County “Old Main” Building, photographer unknown, 1874)

5. Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow This is a novel, inspired by the real-life Collyer brothers, who despite being 'to the manor born'; filled their Fifth Avenue home with everything from a Model T, to newspapers and booby traps, hoarding compulsively. Doctorow though both humanizes his protagonists and takes liberties with the facts, extending their lifetimes by decades, and having his fictional Homer and Langley stay living in their decaying, but palatial home, with a view of Central Park. Though Doctorow's Homer and Langley are distinctly outsiders, and neither fit in society, nor live in entirely healthy ways, they do have a series of adventures, and form relationships with others, largely without leaving home. One reviewer called it a sort of stationary road novel. It is a story of brotherly love. Homer slowly looses his eyesight as a young man. He has time to memorize his home and his neighbour hood, so he can get around, and is able to play piano by memory or ear. His brother goes off to war (WWI), gets gassed and does not come back the same. He will never again truly fit in with society and will retain a strong pacifist streak and distrust of government. In some ways Langley is Homer's keeper, taking care of his disabled younger brother. In some ways Homer is Langley's keeper, moderating his anti-social (or anti-societal) tendencies and compulsive collecting and quixotic quest to distill news to produce a perpetual newspaper with a single edition for all time. Each is the one person to truly understand the other. Despite their largely reclusive lives they know love (a young border and music student), family (through their black maid from New Orleans and her trumpeter grandson), and loss. They see their country's history through two world wars, the jazz age complete with an unfortunate bootlegger/gangster acquaintance, and are personally affected by the internment of the Japanese in the second world war, or the Vietnam war protests and hippies at their doorstep and in their homes. Though ultimately, their home and lives become mad and unlivable, they are always drawn humanely, as essentially good, compassionate men. It's quite fascinating.

6. Cathedral by Raymond Carver I read Carver because Haruki Murakami told me too. (He also told me to read Dostoyevsky). In fact, one of the stories in this collection I had read in Murakami's 'Birthday' anthology. The stories are taught, and often sad. They seem sort of male to me, though there are some female protagonists - there is something curt, and emotionally apart. There are some details which have remained quite vivid. Perhaps I just don't like reading about heavy drinkers. Perhaps it the stories contained a sort of grittiness I didn't want to read. The writing is good but didn't quite resonate with me.

7. Evangelista's Fan by Rose Tremain This collection of short stories was more my thing. They are clever, and as with 'The way I found her' the stories are filled with characters who strike me as real. They are also unexpected: an immigrant watchmaker post-Napoleonic wars who cannot abide a Napolitan degree that 18 years didn't happen; the Dauphin's herald at the Battle of Agincourt; to a diner waitress and her songwriter boyfriend in Nashville; to a retired couple near Niagara, Ontario and how they end their respective lives (which is not a sad story, more quixotic). Also like 'The way I found her', one story is downright terrifying. She knows how to write a life with a hint of fairytale, our contemporary stress and struggles or a thriller. This is a good book.

8. Oranges Aren't the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson I've read several of her novels, but not the award-winning first novel patterned moreorless on her early life, as an adopted girl to a strange and powerful born-again Christian woman and her husband. The girl does not fit in at school, where the other children are scared of her stories of hell, and her mother doesn't see fit to wash her gym slip since she'll just dirty it again. Her mother is so occupied with her faith and her duties following the church's missionary missions, she for instance mistakes the girl's deafness (due to infection) for rapture and does nothing about it. So she sort of suffers from a combination of an overpowering, yet still neglectful, mother, an invisible father, and the mother's intolerance. And then, she falls in love with a girl.  

9. Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson. If you aren't reading Jenny Lawson (aka "The Bloggess", Like Mother Theresa, Only Better), you really should. Live is short and we could all do with a laugh. I started reading her blog when a friend pointed out her famed BeyoncĂ© the giant metal chicken post (a purchase which was not towels, to satisfy her husband's demand that she not buy any more towels on pain of death), and I found myself, hours later, having read as many of her archives as I could. She really is laugh out loud funny. I love her particular brand of insanity; she swears like a sailor, has very little by way of filter for her thoughts, and has quixotic hobbies like painstakingly decorating a Gothic dollhouse with scenes like one in which a taxidermied duckling is posed as a vampire-killer. Her memoir tells how she came to be this way. Humour is how she's learned to cope with life. She's had some very real pain to deal with (debilatating social anxiety, depression, self-harm, and assortment of psychological issues to tackle, arthritis, and a series of miscarriages) - any of which might have caused her to give up. Her memoir is frank and open story of growing up one of two daughters of a taxidermist father (with unusual ideas about appropriate care and uses of animals, dead and alive), in rural Texas, where her inventive mother had to use bread sacks and newspaper in lieu of winter boots, her marriage, her time in HR (the only people paid to look at porn), and her health struggles and it made me laugh until I scared my cat.  

10. Highly Inappropriate for Young People by Douglas Coupland and Graham Roumieu. I pointed out that Draw had written approvingly of this book and how both writer Coupland and illustrator Roumieu* (whom RJH knows, and I've met, but only briefly) were given credit as authors, so RJH gave me the book for my birthday. The stories are like modern-day fairytales about very bad and downright evil personages (some of whom are an Incredibly Hostile Juice Box -one might even say homicidal, a Hobo Minivan with Extremely Low Morals and an Undead Substitute Teacher). The deceptively simple ink and water colour wash illustrations actually increase the level of dementedness. These are indeed 'Highly Inappropriate for Young People' and filled with young people who meet truly inventive horrible fates.

11. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro is a book of beautifully crafted stories which never take the expected route and yet always seem more true.

{Series so far: books read, more books read, books read, books read continues, more books read, I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII,XIX, XX, XXI, XXII, XXIII XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX, XXX, XXXI, XXXII, XXXIII, XXXIV, XXXV, XXXVI, XXXVII, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XL,XLI, XLII, XLIII,XLIV, XLV, XLVI, XLVII, XLVIII, XLIX} *Surprisingly normal-seeming