Thursday, May 30, 2013

An Author a Day for 30 Days: Day 30

Well this is it. This is our last post for our “An Author a Day for Thirty Days” idea. Hindsight? Well, this wouldn’t have been so taxing had it not followed directly on the heals of “Thirty Days of Good and Cheap Books,” which followed “Thirty Days of What You’re Not Reading.” That’s sixty ninety continuous days of posting, which means we overextended ourselves by about eighty-eight days.  Admit it, those first two days were pretty great.

So this is it. My last chance to really stick it to Liz, to make her green with envy that I chose an author, a great author, that she failed to recognize. No problem.

Last week I ripped through Claire Messud’s new novel (right now Liz is saying “shiiiiiiiitttt!"). The Woman Upstairs is a little piece of perfection; it’s a showstopper. [Dammit! I was going to write about this book next week! It's amazing.] In short, the novel is about a lonely woman who 'falls in love' with a family. Her relationship to them is all encompassing and awakens her sexually and artistically. The book’s editor promised that this would read ‘like a house on fire,’ and I have to agree, this was really difficult to put down, even more difficult to stop thinking about. It’s a rare book that makes it nearly impossible to start reading a different book, to move on.  This is one of those books.

The Emperor’s Children was my introduction to Clair Messud, a novel about a group of friends struggling with their lives (searching for something better) in the months leading up to the terrorist attacks on September 11th.

I think of Claire Messud in the same way I think about Philip Roth, Jennifer Egan, Martin Amis, Marilynne Robinson, or Mary Gaitskill. These are a handful of serious writers, really smart, serious writers capturing exactly what is relevant in the world at that exact moment. These are the books and these are the writers you really want to be discussing while guzzling that bottle of wine at book group. Writers like Messud pack layer on layer of what the kids in the 70’s called, ‘some deep shit, man.’

Hey, just realized that Clair Messud has written a couple of novellas. Maybe we should do “Thirty Days of Novellas!” Liz?

[...Shut up Gianna.]

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An Author a Day for 30 Days: Day 29

I just drove seven hours after selling to two stores, and that included the Oklahoma tornado disaster areas. I'm exhausted, and I have a cold, and I feel pretty rotten, and (expletive) Gianna is on vacation, and this whole topic was her idea anyway. Fine. I'm turning today's blog over to Zorro.
The quality of this blog is greatly improved tonight because
I took over.

Purrrrrrrrrr. Excuse me while I stroll across the keyboard.  a;dfjqoiuewrlkjnmvcx k. 

I prefer books that are wide enough for sitting upon, and preferably in a place I can knock onto the floor. If that's not enough to go on, though, I like a book about a cat. Or a book in which people die. Or just a whole lot of bad things. Purr fuckers! Let's face it, The Cat in the Hat is stupid without the cat, and The Master and Margarita is a snooze without the giant devil kitty, and I Could Pee on This is just another excrement poetry book without the cat.  

The greatest poet of the 20th Century's most auspicious work is all about cats. It's the greatest work of literature in the English language. It spawned the standard for all Broadway shows. "I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats?" Pfft. Nothing's better than cats. Or nothing is better than T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Greatest work of literature of all time. 

[Zorro, that's a bit of a stretch.]

Keep yapping, human victim. You were too tired to write your blog, so this is my show. Ooh! Rubber band! I can chew on that!

Proof that humans wish they
were like us. Also, that they
are freaky scary.
My cat pals include Old Deuteronomy (which, coincidentally, is the only Biblical book I know), and Mr. Mistoffelees, and the Rum Tum Tugger, and my hero Macavity, who is a criminal mastermind. We felines are a proud bunch, and we are set on world domination. Also, Mr. Eliot offers some great suggestions for cat names, in case you just received a kitten and are thinking that "Fluffinella" is a good cat name.

[Hey! Your predecessor was named Fluffinella, and she was a great cat.]

Silence, human victim! Think how great that cat would have been if she'd been named Macavity. "Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity, For he's a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity."

[I really want a nice cat.]

I really think there's a strong chance that you're going to cure your case of the vapors with a bloodletting tonight.

[Help? ....Anyone??]

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

An Author a Day for Thirty Days: Day 28

[Yeah, today is my day, but I feel lousy and Gianna had already written this post since she was going on vacation. I'm ashamed to say I'm slacking. --Liz]

So this author a day thing is winding down so the pressure is on to find writers that we have somehow missed. I am heading to the beach for a few days, no phone, no television, no internet, no people. I will be in total isolation for nearly a week, so I needed to find a really good book to keep me occupied. Okay, that was an exaggeration. I will have access to a phone. The condo also comes with a flat screen television and complementary wifi. My point is, I want to bring a good book or two. The plan is to bring a new book and to re-read something because I rarely do that and thought this was a great excuse.

Scouring the shelves of my home yesterday I spied my small collection of Harry Crews books and knew immediately that I would choose one to re-read on vacation. It’s been years since I’ve read him and my memory at this stage is foggy at best, so it will be like reading him for the first time. I thought I would recommend a few books for you if you haven’t had the dark creepy pleasure of a Crews novel.

It's no secret that I love a novella so my suggestion for an introduction to Crews is The Car, about a man who dreams of doing something important, something huge, and settles on eating a car. This is probably the most accessible and certainly the least violent Crews novel. It’s also as funny as it is original. This is the book I am going to bring on vacation to re-read.

My favorite Crews book is his slim memoir, A Childhood: The Biography of a Place. Crews is often accused of going overboard in his novels, the violence and insanity of it all, but you can’t really appreciate his novels without reading about his life growing up in poverty living on tenant farms in Georgia. This is a must read for anyone who loves southern literature.

You say you just want to be a part of the Crews cult following already and want one book where you can get a real flavor of the man? Sure, jump in and read Classic Crews: A Harry Crews Reader. This collection includes the aforementioned novella, The Car and the novel, The Gypsy Curse. This book also included his memoir and several essays.

Crews is a mix of Flannery O’Connor and Hunter S. Thompson but, if you like Daniel Woodrell, Barry Hannah, or even Larry Brown, you should read Crews.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

An Author a Day for Thirty Days: Day 27

I will freely admit that I was late to the Don DeLillo party. The problem with being late to the DeLillo party is that it’s a daunting task to begin. He’s quite prolific, so knowing where to begin is key. Now, having said that, I have no idea what book is best to start with; I will just tell you how I jumped in. Let’s take a deep breath because brothers and sisters…we are diving in.

White Noise was the first novel I read by DeLillo because when I came out to a co-worker as not having read any of his books, this was the one that was recommended. I wish I read this in a book group because there are dozens of great topics for discussion, such as conspiracy theories, violence, twenty-four hour media cycles, and our obsession with consuming goods.

Now, what I did next was panic because I had been living on this planet for nearly forty years and had only read one DeLillo book, and now realized it was a huge mistake and  needed to get a move on. I chose Libra because it was the next novel he wrote and at that time I thought, oh hell, I’ll just finish this guy’s library. Libra imagines the life of Lee Harvey Oswald and what may have led up to the assassination of JFK. If you like a little conspiracy CIA plot in your books, this is excellent.

Next I chose Mao II which is about a reclusive writer (think Salinger) who spends his life writing a novel he refuses to finish (once published it will cease to be art).  Themes of violence and commercialism abound; this is my favorite DeLillo book.

Writing this, I realize that all of these books are really great for book groups--tons of stuff to discuss, all incredibly relevant. So in my opinion these are all good jumping off places for DeLillo and it’s a safe bet you will read more than one of his books. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

An Author a Day for Thirty Days: Day 26

Gianna is on vacation in Florida, so I feel a bit liberated to say whatever I want on the blog post today. Like, have I ever mentioned that Gianna has this habit of sending me pictures of wildlife and beg me for identification? I think she's under the impression that I'm a nature expert. Also, she's scared of bugs. Do you see what sort of hell I live in?

Anyway, as for my author of the day, today I thought I'd talk about Kay Redfield Jamison. Jamison, a psychologist, is one of the most eloquent writers in that profession, and her books offer incisive examinations of topics like creativity and mental illness (Touched With Fire) and suicide (Night Falls Fast).

Jamison is best known for her memoir, An Unquiet Mind. Before everyone wrote a memoir of their mental illnesses, there was An Unquiet Mind. Kay Redfield Jamison began suffering manic episodes while in college, but even though she was studying mood disorders and psychology, she didn't recognize her own condition. After securing a faculty position at UCLA, though, she suffered a complete psychotic break. Jamison details her struggles with a condition that threaten her professionally and personally. She loses a husband, and she is at risk of losing her clearance to work in the research facilities that drive her professionally. This was in the early 70's, mental illness was even more stigmatized than it is today, and she was also a woman in a male-dominated profession. She talks about her suicidal moments and the struggle to stay on her medication when the allure of the manic high lurks. Her book is full of courage, beautiful writing, and wisdom, and this book challenged the public perception about mental illness.

Kay Redfield Jamison's latest book is Nothing Was the Same. When Jamison's husband Richard, a scientist, dies from cancer, she is thrown into an all-consuming grief. Her husband had been her support when she'd suffered both manic highs and lows, and he'd inspired her and loved her and challenged her. The guy was super-smart, kind, and loving. He would have squashed Gianna's bug for her. Without him, Jamison must cope with the void of losing a loved one and fight the darkness to which she's particularly susceptible. Again, Jamison blends her professional knowledge and personal experiences to provide insights into the grief that most people will endure at some point in their lives. I read this book shortly after my mother died, and while I have never known the loss of a spouse, I still found that her grief related to what I was experiencing. She's an incredible writer and wise counselor and I admire her greatly.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

An Author a Day for Thirty Days: Day 25

So this is a little bit of a cheat because I have written very briefly about Tim O’Brien, but I failed to mention that not only is he in my top five favorite writers ever and I have read every single book he’s written, but I actually have a little anxiety that he won’t write another book. I do; I think about it every few weeks. I check the interwebs to see if there is anything on the horizon and then recalculate how long it’s been since his last book (it's been eleven years). That’s a long time. And yes, I’ve done the math; it’s the longest he’s ever gone between books. Let’s stop talking about it, I'm stressing out. 

You haven’t read Tim O’Brien? Okay, okay…don’t panic. Let me get you started with a few must-reads. I can’t believe you haven’t read Tim O’Brien. If you don’t start soon, you won’t be caught up when he finishes his new book (positive thinking never hurts).

If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home is a slim but powerful memoir not only about O’Brien’s tour in Vietnam but how tortured he was about reporting for duty.  Many people read the novel, The Things They Carried as a replacement of Combat Zone and it does duplicate a bit, but I prefer reading Combat Zone first anyway.  These books are incredibly relevant today; I hope you will give them a chance if you haven’t read them yet.

Going After Cacciato is my favorite war novel. It tells the story of a soldier who goes AWOL and begins walking from Vietnam to France. The novel portrays the surrealism and confusion of war; it will take your breath away. This is a perfect book.

July, July is a really great novel about the thirtieth college reunion graduates, class of 1969. This novel is different for O’Brien in that it has a large cast of characters whose stories are told in flashbacks. 

So those are four really wonderful books, but I could easily recommend the novels In the Lake of the Woods or Nuclear Age too. Full disclosure… I did not care for his novel, Tomcat in Love. See, I am not totally blinded by love!