July Reading Theme: Proper Nouns

One-third of the way through July, and I have barely made a dent in the stack of proper noun books I’ve been so excited to read. I have mostly focused on geographic proper nouns (Istanbul, Aberdeen County, California, Sicily, etc.) though a few names that I couldn’t resist have crept in (Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, for example; also Mrs. Dalloway’s Party, and Casanova Was a Book Lover).

But mostly I am focusing on proper nouns in terms of location. High Tide in Tucson. RFD Vermont (bonus points since I’m visiting Vermont this fall). My favorite potential theme read is Greene on Capri (being a double theme read, for Greene and Capri)—a memoir by Shirley Hazzard, which also seems like bonus points since I’ve not read her but have wanted to for years.

And while I have all these really good books just waiting for me, I have hit the reading slump of the decade. Okay, perhaps an overstatement. Everything I’m reading suddenly seems to be a slog. A chapter in Oliver Sacks (An Anthropologist on Mars—I so want to skip ahead to the last chapter, which is focused on Temple Grandin—but I tried, and I just couldn’t do it); Naomi Klein’s new book; two poetry books that I have going, and the recent fiction book I finished.

The one thing that has totally captured me is Anya’s Ghost, a graphic novel which I finished today.

The dog days of summer. I’m not sure if it’s the heat or just other stuff going on, but I seem to find myself drawn to graphic novels, comics, mysteries, and memoir. My usual heavy fare of politics, economics, and science feels a burden. For the nonce.

(A summer interlude of Lumberjanes, Ms. Marvel, Xena: Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Red Sonja does have a high appeal. I think I will give in.)

The June theme of celestial objects didn’t cover as much space as I expected. I encountered the moon (3 times), a galaxy, a world, Earth, the universe (twice), the sun, a star, and a satellite. Mars is so intense that it is hanging on into July. My favorite theme read was The Universe Versus Alex Woods, a novel that I read compulsively, and it so captured me that I regretted that it was from the library because I wanted to underline several bits.

Dog days. Sometimes the reading is iffy. Give yourself wiggle room. Sink into a genre. Read a few comic books. Reread a childhood favorite.

Oh dear. I’ve just thought of a childhood favorite that I haven’t read yet (but happens to be sitting on my shelf): Anne of Green Gables. Another double theme read. Hmmm.

The dog days are starting to get a lot more interesting!

Advertisements

February Reprise

snowFebruary was about books, cooking, and a bit of music. February was not about winter, as Minneapolis has had little snow to speak of this year. Many places have had more than their fair share of snow this year. I wish we could take some of it off their hands!

AckermanI read 19 books in February, almost evenly divided between poetry (7), fiction (6), and nonfiction (6). The standout book for the month was One Hundred Names for Love, by Diane Ackerman. It’s a memoir recounting the years following her partner’s (author Paul West) stroke—the slow but steady improvement; the challenges in being a caretaker (on many levels); and also the everyday joys and frustrations encountered when you find yourself all of a sudden in a completely different life. I learned so much about strokes and the potential for regaining lost skills and language from this book that I would recommend it to anyone who knows anyone that’s had a stroke. It is also a love story in the finest and truest sense.

Appropriately enough, the reading theme for February was love. It was a fine theme (particularly for fiction) and I found plenty of books on my shelves that fit the bill. The biggest reading disappointment of the month was Haruki Murakami’s The Strange strangeLibrary. I generally love Murakami’s fiction and was totally looking forward to this short, illustrated book. The anticipation was the best part. The book itself was done in 30 minutes (my reading of it, not the writing of it!) which is not a problem, except that my reflection upon completing the book was something along the lines of “well that’s 30 minutes that I’ll never get back.” In contrast, when I finished The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I wanted to turn back time so that I could read it all over again for the first time. Rereads are nice, but there’s nothing like reading a book that you truly love for the first time.

But by all means, give The Strange Library a go. (I wouldn’t start here if you’ve never read Murakami though.) I’d love to hear from someone who read it and loved it!

I did a ton of cooking in February and learned a lot about braising. So far I’ve done a beef brisket (good), Boston butt (pork shoulder, very good), and next up are turkey legs. There was a recent article in the Star Tribune about braising vegetables, so I might try that after the turkey. I am starting to have Dutch oven greed. I want to have two Dutch ovens so that I can braise two things at once!

I did a goodly bit of playing my clarinet in February too. After figuring out that I simply couldn’t remember all the notes, I realized I could check out instruction books from the library, so I’m working my way through Level 1. It’s a lot of fun, and I’ve learned enough notes that I can play several (short) songs now. Mostly they are silly songs and a large number of Christmas songs, but I’ve found a couple that I will continue to work on to improve my technique.

I’m having trouble with the fingering on the highest and lowest notes. I can’t figure out if I’m reading the chart wrong or if I’m just doing it wrong, or if there’s something wrong with my clarinet. I wish my memory would jog a little bit!

I’ve also continued with the haiku project which has now been running for well over a year. Here are a couple of my favorites from February:

sun shining on snowcardinals
eight cardinals in the dogwoods
winter sentinels
(2-3-15)

everything’s slippery
you are wet like a woman
such a naughty pear
(2-18-15)

And of course President Obama continues to receive his weekly missives—I sent him postcard #35 last week.

One other thing: We discovered a new television series (new to us) and have become rather obsessed with it: Last Tango in Halifax. I got the first two seasons from the library, and we stayed up until 3:00 in the morning watching episode after episode. They are currently filming Season 4 in England, but we’re still waiting on Season 3 here in the States. Anticipation!

Double Feature

Shall we DanceA couple of weeks ago I was searching the library database for the movie, Shall We Dance. There are two versions, the Japanese version from 1996 (the one I was primarily looking for) and a U.S. version from 2004 (which I was willing to settle for). The library had neither of those, but did have a completely different Shall We Dance, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Why not, I figured? I do love a good dance, after all.

For a movie called Shall We Dance, it did not have so very much dancing in it, and in my opinion, not nearly enough! Only towards the end was there a lot of dancing. And yes, it was worth the wait. All I have to say in addition is that Fred Astaire looks much better with Ginger Rogers than without her.

For those of you wondering, the Japanese Shall We Dance got the highest Rotten Tomatoes Rating (91% approval), followed by Fred and Ginger (86% approval rating), and the U.S. version (46% approval rating, in spite of Susan Sarandon).

Strictly ballroomIn my search for Shall We Dance, I also ran across Strictly Ballroom. Not exactly the same thing, but sometimes things get tough when you rely on the library, and you settle. But I remembered liking this when I watched it years ago (it came out in 1992), and it got a 95% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

It was as good as I remembered (though I had forgotten it’s Australian). Lots of dancing (and some really excellent dancing at that). Lots of tango. But what I liked most about it was the message: A life lived in fear is a life half lived. Since I don’t want to give anything away, I will merely say it’s an absolutely lovely romantic comedy with all the good things—I laughed, clapped, and cried. Did I mention that the dancing is exceptional? A totally fun movie.SB dancing

Spellbound: A Tale of Two Movies

hitchcockFor the last several months, we’ve been slowly moving our way through the Alfred Hitchcock oeuvre (so far we’ve seen 10, a small dent). We’ve been doing this primarily through the library, and it’s slick as can be: You go online, look for the movie you want, and the library system searches all the libraries in the county and has it delivered to your library of choice. Seriously. Is this not almost like magic?

Most recently I ordered Spellbound. I was running errands with a friend, so grabbed the movie, checked it out, ran back out to the car and tossed it on the floor as we continued errands. But it was a new Hitchcock movie, which neither Hal nor I had seen and we were both looking forward to, so I kept glancing down at it on the floor. And I kept seeing children. Children do not feature heavily in most Hitchcock films. I felt a tinge of concern. I picked it up off the floor. No mention of Hitchcock. Oh, 2002. Was Hitchcock still even alive in 2002? He was old when I was little. (No. He died in 1980.) I look closer. This is about a spelling bee. Eighth graders. A documentary. Words.

Oh, bummer! (Not that I don’t love words, I do. Or documentaries, I do. It’s the expectation thing. I was so looking forward to Hitchcock, and I got a spelling bee.) I called spouse to relate the bad news. Horrible disappointment, and then he suggested I look it up on Rotten Tomatoes just in case it’s really good. I checked, and this spelling bee got stellar ratings (98% positive). Since this was the bird that we had in the hand, we decided to watch it.

They were right! It was quite good. We both enjoyed it (not surprising since we both love words)spelling bee movie 2
and it was fascinating to get a look inside the world of the national spelling bee. They follow eight kids, and they all approach it differently and have different levels of support (and interest) from their families. As to the words: I consider myself to have a fairly decent and even above-average vocabulary. But the words in this bee? I had never heard of many of them. Not all, of course, but a lot more than I would have expected. Embarrassing. Humbling. And again, fascinating.

The same day I got home with the spelling bee Spellbound, I went back online and reordered Spellbound, this time making sure I had the Hitchcock version. It arrived, like magic, a few days later. Is it possible to go wrong with Ingrid Bergman? I don’t think so. We both loved it.

Ingrid BergmanHere are the other nine we’ve seen: The 39 Steps (1935); Rebecca (1940); Notorious (1946); Stage Fright (1950); To Catch a Thief (1954); The Trouble With Harry (1956); North by Northwest (1959);  Torn Curtain (1966); Frenzy (1972).

Most I’ve gotten from the library, but I’ve been surprised at how many of the Hitchcock films the library doesn’t have. I may have to cast a wider net. But for now, I haven’t exhausted the supply. Next up: Family Plot.

The Lure of the Library

Library cardI recently had lunch with my sister-in-law (who was also my best friend in high school) and I told her (rather proudly) that I had gotten my library card renewed. She looked at me somewhat aghast. She knows I love books and could hardly believe I had let my library card get out of date.

And three days later I had lunch with my friend Kathleen, and when I told her I renewed my library card, she looked at me in shock and said, “You’re going to get books from the library? Really? Wow. You? You’re going to the library?”

I am a reader. I love libraries—the look of them, the feel of them, the smell of them. And of course I love books. I often possess my books: I underline, star, bracket, argue, and write my thoughts in the margins. And some books that I think I will refer back to frequently, I index.

All of this possession is not acceptable in library books. (People still do, but not often. I did appreciate that someone corrected a word in a recipe in a memoir I read recently.) But yet and still, I will occasionally circle the typo that I run across (lightly, and in pencil). Why? Because I value accuracy and I value proofreaders. And if someone else chances on this text and notices the error, they might notice the ever-so-light indication that someone else has visited this space and noticed the same indiscretion.

library

But I have renewed my library card, and I am using it! First for Kitchen Congregationa book recommended by a friend that I was having a hard time finding; and then for an herb book I wanted to check out before buying.

MaupinAnd then I found out Armistead Maupin has a new book out (The Days of Anna Madrigal). I love this series and have read the first six books at least three times, and have loved the additions over the years. But I’m pulling in my spending horns and this is only out in hardcover. As a book lover on a budget, I decided to get it from the library (I am currently #54 so I will maybe get it in a week or two) and then buy it when it comes out in paperback. A bonus is that the paperback will match the rest of my Tales of the City books. (Well, it won’t match exactly, because I have some of the earliest versions of the books, but it will be in the spirit.)

And yet another book, The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can Eat, caught my attention when it was published in hardcover. I decided to wait and buy it in paperback (because I always bought my books). And now it is out in paperback, and I am thinking I’ve never read this author (Edward Kelsey Moore) and so maybe I should get this book from the library too. And it is now in transit.

And I’ve remembered I can get videos, so now I’m on the waiting list for the first season of Sherlock. I can see going on rolls of Katherine Hepburn or Nicole Kidman or Alfred Hitchcock down the road.

I’ve found a lot more than books since I got reacquainted with my library—including tax forms (federal and state and the most common schedules). And I’ve hardly explored it at all!

I will probably continue to buy nonfiction books that I want to argue with, underline, and index. But I’m pretty sure the library is back in my life to stay, and I won’t be a bit surprised if it starts making inroads in my nonfiction reading as well.