Thursday, March 12, 2009


(photo right: Wedding Day, 2 September 1989)






All four by Ilene Beckerman -- incredibly clever and full of wisdom! They may appear to be slight gift / cartoon - books, but don't be fooled! Lots of humor and sadness and sage advice here. For example, “If you have to stand on your head to make somebody happy, all you can expect is a big headache.” I ordered all of mine from amazon used, and guess what -- one of them is inscribed by the author! Lucky me!

Update ~ Summer 2014
just read the latest installment


WE'RE JUST LIKE YOU ONLY PRETTIER: CONFESSIONS OF A TARNISHED SOUTHERN BELLE Celia Rivenbark: I can't say it any better than Haven Kimmel (see below, in 2004: A GIRL NAMED ZIPPY): "I laughed so hard reading this book, I began snorting in an unbecoming fashion." Yuk yuk yuk.

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA Lauren Weisberger: fast & fun in a totally disgusting way, but then that's the point, isn't it? A good airplane book and the movie is great -- we rented it recently and watched it all the way through twice (and with the help of my hairdresser, I did my best to emulate that hairstyle of Meryl Streep).


JESUS LAND Julia Scheeres: She is so brave it will break your heart. I had to keep reminding myself that the events of her childhood were taking place in 1984 -- not 1964. To think these terrible things were happening to her when I was living in Indiana myself, just a few miles up the road at Notre Dame. I was reminded somewhat of ZIPPY's childhood descriptions, many of which were more like the 50s or the 60s than the 70s -- even though she is 10 years or so younger (not older!) than I am. Maybe life in rural Indiana is just more backward than we guessed. Certainly I was no city kid or worldly in any way; my parents may have even been a bit old - fashioned for the times . . . and yet even in St. Charles County, we were raised to understand contemporary politics and popular culture. We knew about Barbie & the Civil Rights Movement.

Warning: to be placed in the proper context this book requires an encompassing view of religious practice in America. Despite the title, JESUS LAND is NOT at all about the weirdness of Christianity or even about the weirdness of fundamentalist / evangelical / conservative / backward / Midwestern / etc. etc. etc. / Christianity. It is simply about how WEIRD the author's parents were and how their skewed way of being in the world deeply hurt their children.

In this way, JESUS LAND is similar to Barbara Kingsolver’s POISONWOOD BIBLE. If you read that one awhile back, you'll remember that it wasn't really about Christian missionary work being hurtful in itself -- it is about how the mother & daughters in the family were damaged by the way the father implemented his own peculiar notions of practicing religion.

Back to JESUS LAND, if you're from West Lafayette, Indiana, I think you'll like it for all the local references, e.g. how the author just wants to go shopping at Tippecanoe Mall, like a 'normal' person'; how she goes swimming at the 'Kingston' Pool [Happy Hollow] and rides her bike around Grand View Cemetery (there on Salisbury) with her brother; how hard it was to transfer from Lafayette Christian Academy to Harrison High, and so forth. You do have to pinch yourself occasionally to remember that she's writing about the mid - 80s and not the mid - 60s . . . but then maybe Indiana has always existed in a bit of a time warp!

THE ASSAULT Harry Mulisch: a heart - breaking Holocaust memoir, set in Amsterdam. I think this is the first time that Ben, Sam, Gerry, and I have all read the same grown - up book!

GILEAD Marilynne Robinson: Despite all the acclaim for HOUSEKEEPING a few years back, I really loathed that novel, so I was prejudiced against GILEAD from the start but glad in the end that I opened my mind to it. Deeply introspective on the big issues, life death family generations and so forth, and informative on the abolitionist movement in Kansas, of which I knew nothing.

WE ARE ALL FINE HERE Mary Guterson: The cover photo (check on amazon) is the perfect metaphor – the elegant tea scene – the tea going all over the table. A short, sweet novel about finally growing up, turning away from the past, and giving birth to one’s self. Also, some clever allusions to WIZARD OF OZ. Which brings me to . . .

WICKED Gregory Maguire: I did pick this one up and put it down a few times for the first 50 pages or so, but after that it just got better & better until I couldn't wait to finish! His imaginary worlds and vocab are very clever, not to mention his philosophical / psychological discourse of Good vs Evil -- very thought - provoking! Then went to see the musical -- good (especially the costumes!) but not great. The show focuses on the fun side of the book with merely a nod to the philosophical side.

I do hope to read Maguire’s sequel SON OF A WITCH, but not sure when. Some of his earlier novel titles look great also -- MIRROR, MIRROR. CONFESSIONS OF A STEPSISTER, and so forth. As you can tell, they are all based on the re-writing of well - known fairy tales and children's stories. He's actually done a lot of kid - lit & juvenile fiction; but I'd say that his "grown - up" fairy tale books are really meant for either audience. WICKED is similar to HARRY POTTER, particularly in the middle section of the book when the main characters are all students at a magical medieval kind of college in manner of Hogwarts, where they take classes in sorcery, etc.

Also, have on hand the original WIZARD OF OZ (an illustrated copy -- but full text -- that we bought for Ben when he was little). I remember trying to read it back when I was in Junior High and discovering that it was quite different from the movie -- which was by that time firmly embedded in my mind. I know I had an elaborate plan to read the entire series (I seem to recall that L. Frank Baum wrote a dozen or so "OZ" books). But to tell the truth, I can't recall if I ever even finished the very first book. I am now 50 pages into it, and I must confess that it doesn't ring any old bells in my brain -- so it's probably time that I give it its due!

DOGS OF BABEL Carolyn Parkhurst: a very sad serious intriguing mystery, with a very sensitive subplot on the issue on depression. Even though it's fiction, it reads like true crime -- not only the mystery of the main character's death, but also a distressing subplot about organized criminal animal abuse. While reading this novel, I couldn’t stop thinking of that sentimental old song “Honey (I Miss You)" that Bobby Goldsboro sang on the radio in 1968.

It's almost as if the main character of the novel, Lexy, and Honey are the same heroine. In addition to Honey's delight in simple pleasures and her imploring personality, both of which made me think of Lexy, there is also the Christmas Eve puppy (in the song) and Lorelei (Lexy's big dog); Honey sits up late watching sad, silly things on TV (and crying by herself), something Lexy also does (as we know, because of her call to the psychic).

The biggest similarity is what I now feel free to interpret as Honey's depression. In the 60s, of course, we thought this was a song about a woman dying young of cancer. I always assumed that when the narrator "came home unexpectedly and found her crying needlessly in middle of the day," she had just received a bad diagnosis; but now I'm thinking that she was suffering from depression. The very next line is about her death (maybe suicide rather than cancer?). And it happens one day when he "was not at home. Maybe Honey jumped out of a tree, the way Lexy did when her husband was at work.

MY FATHER HAD A DAUGHTER Grace Tiffany: I knew Grace at Notre Dame, and her novel beats SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE any day, plus it's brimming with insightful critical analysis, woven right into the plot and the text! She's written a few others -- you can check on amazon.

ALL OVER CREATION Ruth Ozeki: not as good as MY YEAR OF MEATS (one of my all - time favs), but a good look at the issue of potato farming and chemical pesticides. You won't feel much fondness for the characters, but a lot of the back – to – the – land description will surely stay in your mind.



All by Al Franken
All I can say is "Al Franken for President."
His campaign slogan -- "I'm serious!" -- is the best!

FREAKONOMICS Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner: a very uneven collection of essays, some quite good; others struck me as slap - dash. Same with Malcolm Gladwell's BLINK.

1 comment:

  1. Comments From Friends

    Cate: Love your book list -- still reading it. So glad you document all of this. You are a documentor. When people ask you what you do just tell them that. What's that? I document things silly. I am the observer.

    Theresa: I am not nearly the avid reader you are, but I noticed you liked the few books that I have read and/or have plans to was interesting to hear your comments. if I need a new book to add to my list (probably unlikely as the stack is already high next to by bed), I know where to look!!!

    Ann: First, I love your blogs. The picture of the lights on your porch is so pretty! Your list of books and movies is fabulous. I'm going to look it over again and read some of your favorites over spring break. Thanks for sending the links to me.