Notes on books I’ve been reading and things I’ve been watching on screens large and small for the past month or so.
So many books, so little time.
Because my interests are wildly eclectic, I’m usually reading two or three totally different books at the same time. Lately the pile of books in-progress—which sounds better than “unfinished”–has gotten ridiculously high.
The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick:
This is one I did finish. Cynthia Ozick is a writer of great depth—but, unfortunately, not as much breadth. She’s published mostly short stories and essays; I usually run into her work in The New Yorker. The Shawl is a novella in two parts, about a Holocaust survivor who lost her baby daughter, brutally, in a concentration camp. It’s pretty rough stuff—but like a lot of Holocaust writing, inspirational in its own way. The Shawl is short enough to read in one sitting; just be in the right emotional space to deal with it.
Smart Women by Judy Blume:
I don’t know why, but breezy novels about women of my generation grab me by the throat, no matter how badly they’re written; once I start one of these I can’t put it down until I finish (I finished this in about ten minutes). I wouldn’t call Blume’s writing trashy—she’s written some decent young adult fiction, and she’s definitely a cut above the likes of Danielle Steele and Jackie Collins—but she isn’t exactly fine literature either. Still, if you take Smart Women for what it is, it’s a fun and harmless escape.
The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory
by Kenny Fries: I’m always happy when free books from publishers arrive in the mail; I must be on Kenny Fries’ mailing list because I reviewed his two previous books (see Writing on Disability). I’ve only read the first 30 pages of this so far, so I might check in again when I’m done, but my first impression is that, since writing Body, Remember Fries has developed a stronger and more distinct voice. I may be projecting, but it seems to me that, through the act of writing, he’s becoming more comfortable talking about his disability. Fries has good insights and writes well, so I’m glad to see his contribution to the literature on disability growing.
Time Bites by Doris Lessing:
Doris Lessing is my literary guru; one of these days I’m going to devote an entire post to her—hopefully while she’s still alive (she’s 88 now). Time Bites is a collection of essays and reviews, some previously unpublished. Topics are all over the place, from Jane Austen to censorship to an acceptance speech for a literary prize. Gems of Lessingese are scattered throughout. For instance, an essay on Censorship she writes:
The most powerful mental tyranny in what we call the free world is Political Correctness, which is both immediately evident…and as invisible as a kind of poison gas…manifesting as a general intolerance…This began as a sensitive, honest and laudable attempt to remove the racial and sexual biases encoded in language, but it was at once taken over by the political hysterics, who made of it another dogma.
When Lessing speaks, I listen.
Most Recent Anthologies I’m In, or Shameless Self-Promo:
5 Minute Erotica, edited by Carol Queen:
This collection is almost four years old, but I haven’t read everything in it yet. My story is Chemistry, and is, as the title of the anthology suggests, a quick wham-bam-thank-you- ma’am. There are 35 of these, by the famous and infamous alike: Cecilia Tan, Sage Vivant, Thomas Roche, Rachel Kramer Bussell, to name a few. I’d say it’s great jack-off material, but most of these stories go deeper–though there’s nothing wrong with jack-off material either.
The Essential Hip Mama: Writing from the Cutting Edge of Parenting, edited by Ariel Gore: A collection of writing from my favorite parenting zine, hipmama, this is also a few years old, and I’m still making my way through. My contribution is Anonymous Was a Mother, found on this blog. These are honest, juicy, and validating reads for any contemporary mother–or for those who, like me, are recovering from active motherhood. Especially recommended: I Don’t Wanna Be a Mother Anymore! By Opal Palmer Adisa; and everything by Gore, especially the hilarious Yo Mama’s Day Book, which appears in every issue of the zine.
My Body of Knowledge: Stories of Illness, Disability, Healing, and Life
edited by Karen Myers and Felicia Ferlin: This one’s hot off the press, so you know I’ve only made it to page 52. The first chapter of Perfectly Normal actually leads off this collection of writing that tells the experiences of people living with chronic illnesses such as cancer, Crohn’s, Lyme disease, and AIDS. Along with lesser known writers, the late Molly Ivins is represented, as well as a doctor or two. Dustin Michael’s description of an asthma attack is harrowingly accurate—I’ve had my own lung problems, and related to it all too well. They say we’re all only temporarily able-bodied—so read, and learn.
National Poetry Month just ended, and I’m grateful for the jump-start I got from the Poets Academy, who e-mailed a poem every day in April. I got back into reading poetry, which I haven’t done in years. I’d never presume to review or even analyze poetry, so I’ll just list the books I’m reading:
Stanley Kunitz: The Collected Poems
Billy Collins: The Art of Drowning
The Other Side of the Postcard, an anthology edited by devorah major, San Francisco’s 2004 Poet Laureate. (Full disclosure: I’ve got a poem in here.)
It’s rare for me to remember something read online, but this story totally knocked me out: Engraved on Styrofoam by Lauri Griffin was the winner of a short fiction contest sponsored by Mom Writers Literary Site. They’re running another contest, with a deadline of May 7th, so hurry over and read the story, then the contest guidelines.
The Big Screen:
The Best Years of Our Lives: I’ve been hearing about this film all my life but never saw it, so when I found out it was on KQED last week, I made sure to catch it. I am so glad I did; no era of film compares to the 30s and 40s. The stories are meaningful, the acting superb, the dialogue zesty and profound. Winner of seven Academy Awards, including best picture, director, actor, and screenplay, The Best Years Of Our Lives is about domestic life after World War II. It focuses on three war veterans (Fredric March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell ) When released in 1946 it was considered highly controversial.
The Sopranos: I don’t get HBO, except for last season when I splurged on the first six months deal, so I undergo all kinds of machinations to watch The Sopranos. Of this last season I’ve only gotten to see the third episode so far, but from its focus on Uncle Junior and, of course, Tony, I’m predicting the end will involve two big funerals. The entire cast will show up, including those who’ve been whacked in past seasons: they’ll be waiting for the dead on the other side of the tunnel. (I hope I won’t be too embarrassed by this prediction!)
Finally, a bit of somewhat heartening news: Since the Iraq war started, the number of African-Americans joining the military has dropped by half. This has cheered me up considerably.