Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Knopf 100--Day 16

57. If you asked twenty people at Random House to name their top twenty favorite books, I bet over half them place Plainsong by Kent Haruf on that list. It's a deceptively simple novel about the fictional town of Holt, Colorado, and it’s inhabitants. Through a few characters--Maggie, Victoria and the McPheron brothers, --Haruf moves you through this small town. Occasionally you will hear someone describe reading a book and becoming so engrossed that you forget it’s fiction, or you think just for a moment that you know the characters. That’s what Kent Haruf is able to do. He transports you to this lovely town and so expertly writes engaging characters, that you absolutely lose yourself. Plainsong, by the way, is actually a trilogy; it is followed by the Eventide, and Benediction. I envy anyone who hasn't read this trilogy yet, you're in for a really wonderful treat. 

58. "Paper Moon is one of the best movies ever made!" I once had a thirty second conversation with Peter Bogdanovich and that's what I chose to say. I think he was pretty impressed that I didn't shower praise on the obvious masterpiece, The Last Picture Show. Anyway, don't let that play over and over in your head, it's cool. Bogdanovich had a pretty frustrating career as a director actually; I like to blame it on his very odd life choices but we aren't going to talk about that. We are going to talk about the excellent book, Who The Hell's in It: Portraits and Conversations (the Ballantine paperback edition has a slightly different subtitle of Conversations with Hollywood's Legendary Actors). This book was a follow up to conversations with directors, but Bogdanovitch studied under Stella Adler (she's in the book) and was a reporter before he was an actor or a director, so this book really is perfect. Who the hell's in the book? Everyone. Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Lillian Gish, Sidney Poitier, River Phoenix, John Cassavetes, and Audrey Hepburn. I mean, it's a huge list, that's not even half. This book is an absolute must have for movie buffs. If you haven't seen Paper Moon...it's one of the best movies ever made!

59. What do Rita Dove, Charles Wright, Mark Strand, Jorie Graham, John Irving, and James Tate have in common? That's right! They're all Pulitzer Prize winning poets who were taught by Donald Justice. Well, okay, if you're going to be picky, John Irving isn't a Pulitzer Prize winning poet but he was taught by Justice and clearly adored him (read Hotel New Hampshire). Where to start with Donald Justice is easy--start anywhere: Collected Poems (2004) which was nominated for the National Book Award,  New and Collected Poems (1996) which was nominated for Pulitzer. Justice, by the way, would win his Pulitzer in 1980; you think he's going to let everyone else collect one?  Well, he probably didn't give much thought to these things, he was quiet, thoughtful, and incredibly modest. I will end with one of my favorite Justice poems, "On the Death of Friends in Childhood" which can be found in Collected Poems 

We shall not ever meet them bearded in heaven, 
Nor sunning themselves among the bald of hell; 
If anywhere, in the deserted schoolyard at twilight, 
Forming a ring, perhaps, or joining hands 
In games whose very names we have forgotten. 
Come, memory, let us seek them there in the shadows.

60. Nell Freudenberger came on the writing scene at the ripe old age of 25. She published a phenomenal book of short stories called Lucky Girls, which I loved. She continues the same theme of clashing cultures in her debut novel, The Newlyweds to great success. Amina, a  young woman from Bangladesh, searches for a mate on an international dating website where she meets a lonely man a decade older who pines for a family of his own. An arranged marriage of sorts follows and while this could easily fall into some dead end formula, Freudenberger nails this on every level. 

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