The Numbers

DATE: 3/23/15
Titles Finished Total

  • Books: 869
  • Poetry: 74
  • Short stories: 32

Total for 2015: 29 titles
Titles left to go (all combined): 4,753
Next count: 4/23/2015


Bob Marley, My Son

Booker, Cedella Marley. Bob Marley, My Son. Lanham: Taylor Trade Publication, 2015.

The story of Nesta Robert Marley has been told many times over. Documentaries about his tragically short life abound. Even this book, Bob Marley, My Son has been published twice before (under a different title). Ms. Booker’s biography of her son starts with her own beginnings, I think, in order to put Marley as a man into perspective. His father, “Captain” was a white man 40 years his mother’s senior and while Captain and Cedella were legally married Marley never really knew his biological father all that well. Such a trend would continue for Marley as he fathered his own families. What comes through the strongest in Bob Marley, My Son is Booker’s never-ending love and devotion to her son. She embraced nearly everything he did, if not the different women in his life. His music and even religion had the power to change people, starting with his own mother. One of the impressive elements of Bob Marley, My Son is how stoic Booker remains throughout the entire story. Right up through Bob’s death his mother carries a steadfast composure.

Truest quote of the book, “But a crying man will melt the hardest woman’s heart” (p 28). So true (at least for me anyway).
Full disclosure: this is not an early review in the traditional sense. This was published in the United Kingdom in 1996 and reprinted in 2008 under the hardcover title of Bob Marley: An Intimate Portrait by His Mother.

Reason read: As part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing.

Author fact: Ms. Booker passed away in 2008.

Book trivia: Bob Marley, My Son includes two sections of really great photographs.


Art of Lee Miller

Haworth-Booth, Mark. The Art of Lee Miller. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

Reason read browsed: I was fascinated by Lee Miller’s art after reading Lives of the Muse by Francine Prose.

Lee Miller was a beautiful woman. She spent a great deal of time in front of the camera, first as a model for her father and then as a muse for countless others. But it is Miller’s work behind the camera that is the most captivating. There is no doubt in my mind she was ahead of her time as photographer. She liked to take chances. This is especially apparent when she went to Germany to photo-journal the events of World War II. For a woman to be in the thick of it is one thing. Hundreds of women contributed to the war effort by being nurses and so forth. But for a woman to capture the haunting and often disturbing pictures that Miller did, it’s quite another. She oscillated between tongue-in-cheek and shocking. Her photography gently fanned over the ruins of burnt out buildings, horrific operations and ladies’ fashions. “Remington Silent” is one of my favorites if for nothing more than the subliminal message Miller sends. Her expose in Vogue (New York, 1945) screams absurdity as she compares German children to the burned bones of prisoners…
However, I feel this need to surprise has always been there (find the picture of the severed breast from a radical mastectomy to see what I mean). Even in her portraits Miller had the ability to send mixed messages.


Broom of the System

Wallace, David Foster. Broom of the System. Read by Robert Petkoff. New York: Hatchette Audio, 2010.

Odd. Outlandish. Offbeat. Quirky. Inventive. Crazy. These words and more drifted through my head as I read Broom of the System. Meet Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman. She is looking for her great-grandmother who has gone missing from a Shaker Heights nursing home. When twenty-five other inmates are unaccounted for, all hell breaks loose, in an undefined kind of way. That’s the “plot” even though it is buried under pages and pages of other seemingly unrelated ramblings and doesn’t surface that often. But, don’t worry – the ramblings? they are all connected. You’ll meet Rick Vigorous, Lenore’s obsessed boss; Judith Prietht, a nosy coworker; Spatula; Alvin Spaniard; Sigurd and Blanchard Foamwhistle; the gymnast Kopek Spasova; Candy Mandible; Mindy Metalman, Peter Abbott (who must descend the tunnel to fix a cable – get it?) and many, many others. There’s a cockatiel named Vlad the Impaler who quotes the Bible and talks dirty. He gets his own religious talk show. There’s Norman Bombardini who orders nine steak dinners in one sitting. People think he’s trying to eat himself to death; Mr. Bloemker who frequents a Gilligan’s Island themed restaurant with an extremely lifelike blow-up doll (which explodes – a really funny scene). Don’t forget the Antichrist, Lenore’s brother with the wooden leg complete with built-in drawers for drugs. I could go on and on. There is a love triangle, a love square, therapy sessions and competition between baby food companies. I feel like I have covered the whole book but really, I haven’t even scratched the surface.

By the way, Robert Petkoff does an amazing job with all the different character voices. Norman Bombardini and Vlad were my favorites.

Reason read: Ohio was founded on March 1st, 1803.

Author fact: Broom of the System is Wallace’s first book.

Book trivia: This is a long book, nearly 500 pages long.

I listened to this as an audio book to and from work every day for a month. As an audio it was long and rambling. While there are solid characters and there is somewhat of a plot those details were lost on me. It was a joy just to listen to the language – even if on the surface it didn’t make sense. I know I missed a lot because I wasn’t reading the words (Case in point, the Great Ohio Desert otherwise known as G.O.D.). As I was listening I couldn’t help but picture Wallace at a party – one of those large, no one really knows anyone else, sprawling kinds of party. This is Wallace’s first go at getting published, so he wants to be noticed. He’s talking loudly for the benefit of the few people outside the circle, the ones apparently not listening to him. He keeps one eye on the people he wants to impress, hoping his witticisms will draw them into the cluster. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I found that Wallace was trying too hard to be clever. Every sentence was witty word play, full of idioms and literary tricks.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (Ohio)” (p 29).


Selected Letters of Norman Mailer

Mailer, Norman. Selected Letters of Norman Mailer. Edited by J. Michael Lennon. New York: Random House, 2014.

Letters can be so revealing, especially when the author is only writing for the intended audience of the recipient(s). There is a raw honesty about true character that comes through each missive. The Selected Letters of Norman Mailer is arranged in chronological order. Starting in 1940, Mailer is a student at Harvard writing to his parents, and like any typical kid he is constantly asking for money (“I have to pay for my meals not & I hate to starve myself” p 12). What comes through (besides his self described poverty) is how serious, even then, he was about his writing…even if he was a little pompous about how “easy” it was for him to get published. [As an aside, I had to laugh when I discovered his mom typed his stories for him.] With his wife, once he is in the army in ’45, Mailer is more intimate and revealing. He confides in her about World War II in a way he couldn’t with anyone else. What I found off-putting was how he treated her through these letters, the names he called her. But if she put up with it, or even liked it, who am I to judge? Hello? Have you read 50 Shades? But, that’s not the point of this review. I’m not here to talk about the man but the book. This is definitely something for the diehard Mailer fan. It does help if you have familiar with Mailer’s work, but you don’t have to be to enjoy Selected Letters. Lennon arranges Mailer’s missives to reveal a growing artist, youthfully cocky, intensely passionate and protective of his craft. Just read the letters in which Mailer defends the use of profanity and refuses to have it culled from The Naked and the Dead. From the 40s blossoms a writer sure of himself and the his place in the world.

I liked learning new things about Mailer and his writing. For instance, I didn’t know Naked and the Dead was a play and it has never been performed.

Reason read: As a member of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, I am reviewing Selected Letters. This, amazingly, is my 91st ER/LT book.

I love it when the books I chose to read in a given month are “interlocking.” For example, Wild Blue, Maus I, Maus II, A Good Life, Polish Officer, and The Assault all took place in and around the events of World War II. It wasn’t planned that way, but they all had that common theme. In January I finished Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore. Gilmore wrote a heart wrenching first hand account of his family. Now, as an Early Review award, I have read Norman Mailer’s Selected Letters. Mailer, of course, wrote¬†The Executioner’s Song about Mikal’s brother so I knew there will be letters about Gary.

Author fact: I chose this book because I am a diehard letter writer myself. Like Mailer, it is inconceivable to me to not answer a letter. It is for this reason I share a special kinship with Mr. Mailer.

Book trivia: Over 860 pages long, Selected Letters is quite the heavy book. The subject matter was so fascinating I didn’t notice the length. What I missed, though, was a hand written letter from Mailer. I don’t know why but I wanted to see what his handwriting looks like! Lennon could have included just one! He did include photographs of himself throughout the years.

As an aside: I enjoyed jotting down some of the books Mailer mentions in his letters. They include Of Human Bondage, Walden, Anna Karenina, Walk in the Sun, Passage to India, The White Tower and Ulysses to name a few.

 


Walden

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden or, Life in the Woods. New York: Signet Classic, 1980.

There are several words that come to mind when I think of Thoreau and his work, Walden. Right up front I have to say Walden is important, even necessary. Every student needs to read it at least once in his or her academic career, whether it be high school, college or as a postgraduate. As I said it’s important. But, there are other words that bubble to the surface as I read: didactic, preachy, bloviate. If Thoreau had kept his commentary restricted to his personal efforts to live a simple life and not generalized all of mankind it would have been a less frustrating read. At least for me. Case in point, Walden borrows an axe from a neighbor to build his house. He feels the need to point out “The owner of the axe, as he released his hold on it, said that it was the apple of his eye; but I returned it sharper than I received it” (p 32). His implication is, despite what the man said Thoreau cared for the instrument better than the owner. Couldn’t he just been grateful for borrowing the damned axe? As a former islander who lived on very little I know the importance of living simply. I just wish the reminder didn’t come as such a lecture.

As an aside, when Mailer read Walden he wasn’t impressed.

Reason read: Massachusetts became a state in February.

Author fact: Thoreau is probably better known for his work, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.

Book trivia: My copy of Walden included an afterword by Perry Miller and a revised and updated bibliography.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Walk Right In” (p 250).


Chasing Monarchs

Pyle, Robert Michael. Chasing Monarchs: Migrating with the Butterflies of Passage. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.

Robert Michael Pyle (I just like using his whole name) set out to answer three questions about monarch butterflies:

  1. How do they physically do the migrating that they do?
  2. Do they navigate or follow the wind? and lastly,
  3. Why do some monarchs end up in Mexico and others in California.

My off the cuff answers would be: 1) They train. 2) Both navigation and following the wind (I like to think of butterflies riding the jet stream), and 3) I think the ones who didn’t train hard enough for Mexico, when they reached CA, said, “close enough!” I know I would!

Much like Where Bigfoot Walks, Chasing Monarchs is all about chasing something elusive, something nearly impossible to track. Like Bigfoot, Chasing Monarchs is awash with lush descriptions of the landscapes Pyle traverses; this time British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, Nevada and California with a little dip into Mexico. I find it amazing Pyle was able to tag butterflies without hurting them. What I didn’t notice with Bigfoot is Pyle’s kaleidoscope use of colors. Here are a bunch of them from Chasing Monarchs: sage, umber, bronze, blonde, amethyst, yellow, ocher, brown, yellow, burnt sienna, apricot, coral, conch, mauve, french vanilla, buff, crimson, purple, chartreuse, beige, gold, green, cerise, emerald, indigo, jade, honey, cream, blue, copper, lime, olive, turquoise, chocolate, maroon, flesh, silver, lemon, rust, fawn, blueberry, pearl, ultramarine, wheat, cinnamon, rose, russet, persimmon, tan, and scarlet. Then there are the hyphenated colors: ham-pink, chalky-white, Mylar-blue, marine-blue, toast-brown, fox-red, fire-engine red, candy-apple red, matte-black, coal-black, and cat-black. And all the oranges: mandarin-orange, orange-juice, orange-yellow, oriole-orange, Halloween-orange, yellow-orange and lox-orange. I’m sure I’ve missed a few. One aspect of color that I didn’t appreciate is that Mr. Pyle needed to describe black folks. He doesn’t say, “I met up with so-and-so, a white woman from Omaha” but he will point out “the black family on the banks fishing.”

Reason read: March is supposedly insect month. Yay bugs!

Author fact: Pyle also wrote Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide which I read in September of 2010. I also learned that Pyle is a man who likes to name inanimate objects. His butterfly net is Marsha. His car is Powdermilk. He has an ornament hanging from his rear-view mirror named Danae.

Book trivia: Unfortunately, even though Pyle states that most people call all big and beautiful orange and black butterflies “monarchs” he doesn’t include any photographs to educate people on the differences. I would have liked some lush, vivid photographs! Even some illustrations would have been nice.

As an aside, I had been very excited to read Chasing Monarchs for some time now. Monhegan Island has annual migration of monarchs every late summer/early fall. As kids we used to watch their fiery orange and black wings beat against reedy pale green milkweeds by the dozens. Also, I would like to thank Mr. Pyle on clearing up a mystery for me. Monhegan has these weird orange spaghetti-like vines growing down at Pebble Beach. I have always wanted to look them up. I now know they are called Dodder weeds.

Convergence: Reading this was a natural extension of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 500s” (p 70).


Bebe’s By Golly Wow

Joe, Yolanda. Bebe’s By Golly Wow. New York: Dell Book, 1998.

Bebe (Beatrice Mae Thomas) is a single woman in her 40s looking for love. Isaac Sizemore is divorced firefighter father also looking for love. Only problem is Dashay Sizemore, Isaac’s thirteen year old sass of a daughter. This teenager has abandonment issues and expresses she not ready for mom to be replaced (despite the fact mom deserted the family) through rap songs. An interesting love triangle is in the works. This could get messy. Only, it doesn’t. Not really. This could be a story you see on the Hallmark Channel; something Lifetime for Women. It’s ending is predictable and sweet and the drama (violence, racism, addiction) along the way is quickly extinguished. Written in short, choppy sentences, this is a quick yet delightful read.

My only criticism? The inclusion of Sandra Mae Atkins, Bebe’s best friend, as a voice. Sandy’s side of the story seemed to pad the book for length. She didn’t have much to do with the relationship between Bebe and Isaac. For balance, Joe could have included L.A.’s gambling addiction from his point out view. That way, both friends of the couple shared their supporting stories.

Quotes I liked, “I’d rather put money between my knees and pee on it than give it away to a man I aint married to” (p 32), “It was stone-to-the-bone ugly time” (p 154), and “He left carrying a big sack of mad on his back” (p 233).

Okay. I’ll admit it. I didn’t understand the title until the very end.

Confessional – I did it again. I went and read reviews before even cracking open a page. Shame on me. In my own defense I did it to make sure I wasn’t reading a series out of order (that’s been happening to me a lot). As it turns out, Bebe is a repeat character, first introduced in He Said, She Said. Here’s the ironic thing. I thought I had already read He Said, She Said so I went ahead and ordered Bebe’s. Turns out, I haven’t read He Said but I’ve decided to read them out of order anyway. But, back to my mistake. Too many people said Bebe’s character was shallow and childish and unrealistic. And there was a problem with overuse of slang. Duly noted, but I tried not to let it influence me.

Reason read: Yolanda Joe was born in the month of March.

Author fact: Yolanda Joe also wrote He Said, She Said which is also on my list.

Book trivia: The Chicago Tribune called Bebe’s By Golly Wow “sassy.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African American Fiction: She Say” (p 12).


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