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What Are You Reading?Winter 2010


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#16 bart

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 05:29 PM

I took a break from my favorite topics to read Joan Schenkar's new biography, The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Llife and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith. I've only read two of her books (both of them in the Ripley series), but Highsmith -- Tom Ripley, too -- frequented streets and places in the West Village and elsewhere in an around New York City that I knew very well in my youth. Although her days there were in the 40s and 50s, many of the people and places she knew were legends when I came of age the following decade.

For someone who was crochety, rude, self-centered, secretive, and sometimes paranoid in her old age, Highsmith certainly managed to leave behind a lot of material about her personal life, all of which Schenkar seems to have absorbed. It's more than I wanted to read. But Highsmith herself continued to fascinate right to the end, even when I wanted to throttle her.

#17 sandik

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 11:52 PM

Through the magic of the Internet sandik:



This is the one of the strongest vocal performances of this song I have ever heard her give. While it was a disappointment to her fans that she only released one album between 1979 and 1996 (and performed live fewer than a half dozen times between 1980 and 1994), the time off preserved her voice to the point that she sounds better at 63 than she ever did during the 1970s.


Oh thank you for the link -- this was great! I was sorry to have missed her talk, and especially to have missed this...

#18 vagansmom

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Posted 03 February 2010 - 09:06 AM

I'm reading Alberto Moravia's The Conformist and rereading Beowulf because a student I tutor is in the midst of it.

PeggyR, I've read The Raj Quartet one and a half times. Never finished the second run through as I got bogged down in schoolwork. I'd like to go back and reread them all again, especially in the current political climate.

#19 MakarovaFan

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 06:33 AM

I just finished Alison Weir's "The Lady In The Tower", a superb, highly detailed and moving book about the last days of Anne Boleyn's life. Highly recommended!

#20 Quiggin

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Posted 05 February 2010 - 11:38 AM

I have a copy of the Patti Smith book coming -- to be lent by a friend who says he loved it because of the period it covers, the vanished world of the lower east side and the last real bohemia which finally ended about 1985. It was just the point both of us moved to New York and you did feel something was over, that you were passing through the same setting still slightly warm with remnants of artworks of the seventies, at least down on the Bowery and in SoHo.

I'm still reading Javier Marias' Your Face Tomorrow, part 1, very stop and go but with brilliant meditative stretches, like reading Montaigne. It's about M15 and M16 and spying and the rarified world of Oxford and the Spanish Civil War. In real life Marias' father was falsely denounced by a fellow academic, a friend, and as a result couldn't teach again.

Here's a snippet-view of Sir Peter Wheeler talking -- he's based on Marias' friend the scholar Sir Peter Russell. Marias published Your Face Tomorrow in three parts so that his father and his friend, who were both very frail, could at least read a part of the novel:

When youíre young, as you know, youíre in a hurry and always afraid that youíre not living enough, that your experiences are not varied enough, you feel impatient and try to accelerate events, if you can and so you load yourself up with them, you stockpile them, the urgency of the young to accumulate scars and to forge a past, itís so odd that sense of urgency. No one should be troubled by that fear, the old should teach them that ... At the end of any reasonably long life however anodyne and grey and uneventful, there will always be too many memories and too many contradictions, too many sacrifices and omissions and changes, a lot of retreats, a lot of flags lowered and a lot of acts of disloyalty, thatís for sure ... Too much accumulation. Too much vague material collected together, too much for one story, even for a story that is only ever thought .. Not to mention the infinite number of things that fall within the eyeís blind spot ...



#21 Ed Waffle

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 07:59 PM

Just finished "Thomas Hardy" by Claire Tomlin which I found quite good. She (and everyone else who writes about Hardy, it seems) praises "Thomas Hardy, A Biography Revisited" by Michael Millgate which is 625 pages of pretty densely typeset pages but I think I will hold off on that one. Tomlin concentrates on Hardy's poetry which I am beginning to "get" or at least enjoy. Hardy had quite a life--began as the son of a domestic servant, toward the end was the host to the Prince of Wales and his retinue for a luncheon. He lived to his eighty-seventh year but what was really telling is who he knew.

He was invited to dinner with Tennyson when Tennyson was Poet Laureate and who complimented him on "A Pair of Blue Eyes". Hardy was a witness at the wedding of Harold MacMillian (the grandson of his publisher) who, decades later, became Prime Minister so he was involved with some of those who personified both the Victorian period and the post-war period. He was friend and, to some extent, mentor to T. E. Lawrence, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon and other very 20th century writers.

One lovely stanza from "Snow in the Suburbs" which Tomlin writes "dates back to the freezing winter...of 1880":

The steps are a blanched slope,
Up which, with feeble hope,
A black cat comes, wide-eyed and thin;
And we take him in.
-----

Still reading At Swim Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill a maddening but very, very good novel of Ireland in 1916.

#22 sandik

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 09:43 PM

Hardy was a witness at the wedding of Harold MacMillian (the grandson of his publisher) who, decades later, became Prime Minister so he was involved with some of those who personified both the Victorian period and the post-war period.


What a span!

#23 Quiggin

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Posted 11 February 2010 - 09:05 PM

He [Hardy] was friend and, to some extent, mentor to T. E. Lawrence, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon and other very 20th century writers.


Including Auden. Thanks, Ed, for sending me back to my copy of Thomas Hardy Selected Poems (which I bought in all places Fresno California!) and these wonderful lines ---

"Close up the casement, draw the blind, shut out that stealing moon ..."

"The Roman road runs straight and bare As the pale parting-line in hair Across the heath ..."

&

"What past can be yours O journeying boy Towards a world unknown ... "

"A little boy with a violin At the station before the train came in ... As the fiddle began to twang, and the man in the handcuffs suddenly sang With grimful glee: 'This life so free Is the thing for me!' ..."

&

Coming up Oxford Street: Evening

"The sun from the west glares back,
And the sun from the watered track,
And the sun from the sheets of glass,
And the sun from each window-brass..."

which leads perhaps, through Auden, to Elizabeth Bishop's Letter to N.Y.:

"and coming out of the brownstone house
to the gray sidewalk, the watered street,
one side of the buildings rises with the sun
like a glistening field of wheat.

"Wheat, not oats, dear I'm afraid
if it's wheat it's none of your sowing..."

#24 papeetepatrick

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Posted 11 February 2010 - 10:06 PM

which leads perhaps, through Auden, to Elizabeth Bishop's Letter to N.Y.:

"and coming out of the brownstone house
to the gray sidewalk, the watered street,
one side of the buildings rises with the sun
like a glistening field of wheat.

"Wheat, not oats, dear I'm afraid
if it's wheat it's none of your sowing..."


Pretty good, and probably doesn't lead to Georgia O'Keeffe's

'I just think New York's wonderful
It makes all the European cities look like villages'.

My sentiments exactly, and I consider it a poem even if she didn't.

Which then reminds me, though may not lead elegantly, as with Quiggin's, to Joan Didion's 'New York was no mere city. It was instead an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself.'

Didion wrote a marvelous essay in 'The White Album' on o'Keeffe's evening star that she used for a number of water colours. They are two of a kind, but I don't know if they lead to each other. With the 'don't tread on me' attitude firmly entrenched in either, they might not like the idea. I don't even know if they met. I've memorized parts of 'The White Album', especially the page about the party that Janis Joplin came to 'at the big house on Franklin Avenue', so I'm reading these again in my mind right now. The opening long essay says that the 'big house' would be demolished (this was written in the late 60s or 70s), but it wasn't, because I've been to it. I asked her about it at a reading and she told me it was still there and gave me the number afterward. It still had panel trucks that scared her to the point of writing down their license plate numbers and storing them in a drawer, but I didn't think the house was that big.

#25 Quiggin

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 12:05 AM

Patrick:

the party that Janis Joplin came to 'at the big house on Franklin Avenue


Iíll have to read the White Album again -- it always is checked out or missing at the library. The house on Franklin may have been Preston Sturgesí -- big perhaps in comparison to the little guest house where a gardener friend used to live - or big in comparision to the little cottages on surrounding streets called exotically Heliotrope or Poinsettia. Joan Didion seems both to want to throw herself into the sixties and yet stay aloof. Too bad there isnít more about Janis Joplin (though thereís the nice detail about her ordering Benedictine & Brandy) or Morrison. Interesting that both Didion and Elizabeth Bishop interviewed Kathleen Cleaver in San Francisco, bodyguards and security and all.

#26 papeetepatrick

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 09:20 AM

Patrick:

the party that Janis Joplin came to 'at the big house on Franklin Avenue


Iíll have to read the White Album again -- it always is checked out or missing at the library. The house on Franklin may have been Preston Sturgesí -- big perhaps in comparison to the little guest house where a gardener friend used to live - or big in comparision to the little cottages on surrounding streets called exotically Heliotrope or Poinsettia. Joan Didion seems both to want to throw herself into the sixties and yet stay aloof. Too bad there isnít mbourbon1ore about Janis Joplin (though thereís the nice detail about her ordering Benedictine & Brandy) or Morrison. Interesting that both Didion and Elizabeth Bishop interviewed Kathleen Cleaver in San Francisco, bodyguards and security and all.


Pretty sure it wasn't, although across the street the house she described as having been lived in 'by one of the Talmadge sisters' is still there too. She talks about the house again, but less mysteriously, in 'Where I Was From', which I thought excellent, but searing in the part about Lakewood (which I then went to see in late 2003. Lakewood does feel almost like a ghost town with the loss of McDonell Douglas, which is what the story is, it's only a Green Line stop or two away from the Watts Towers, which I'm crazy about.) Actually, that first long essay is still steeped in what she referred to as her 'bad attitudes and wrongthink', although it comes across as very poetic. I find her extremely funny, one of those people who is funny naturally, often without knowing it. Since she's so physically tiny, the house may have seemed literally big, but those little cottages on Poinsettia do look like from sets of 40s movies--still. They're adorable, and are indeed smaller, but there's a diminutive look to this house, which has been well-renovated and nicely restored, even though it's two-story. But definitely small in comparison to not only the smallest ranch-style places on Canon Drive between, say, Sunset and Santa Monica, or those mini-manses on the residential part of Rodeo, and really anything above Sunset on Roxbury or Rexford, etc.. And I also remember some houses even on Franklin itself, and maybe Camino Palmero, which were considerably larger. Not small, but strangely compact and the only reason I mentiioned this was because it seemed something of a metaphor for her constant upset and 'staring at nothing' that she kept talking about, a real paranoia that was sometimes based on real threats, though. To such degree, that her babysitter told her she had a 'death aura'. Didion wrote 'we sat and chatted about why this might be so', which is pretty funny to me. I would have fired her.

Yes, of course she would 'both to want to throw herself into the sixties and yet stay aloof.' How else cover the hippies in Haight-Ashbury without going nuts, as she describes having to take ups and gin to write 'Slouching Toward Bethlehem', but manages not to drop acid when offered, due to 'instability'. The page about the party is a brilliant prose-poem because it focusses on all the eccentricities of rock musicians (developed further in the one on the recording sessions of the Doors she went to): 'Musicians never wanted ordinary drinks', but always things like 'tequila neat' or 'champagne cocktails'. But also that they refused to ever keep bourgeois time at any cost, so she has those passages about 'first we must roll a cigarette, and we must have Vegetables Vindaloo' and 'many rum drinks' (who else would think to describe an obnoxious drunk like that?) and 'somebody would be going to the Montecito'. Actually, my 'memorization' is not perfect, but the details are still vivied, as in 'Chynna Phillips' when still a baby, things like that. But her aloofness is legend, and although when you meet her, she is exceptiionally warm and adorable, many of her detractors do constantly talk of 'snobbism', etc. But she really made that house on Franklin come to life, the way Chicken Delite guys would just walk in the door unnannounced.

I've liked all of Didion's books, and have read them all, some several times, but 'The White Album' is one of my favourite of all books, and had a great influence on me. I think her last novel 'The Last Thing He Wanted' is the best of the novels, but after what she's been through with the loss of all her family, it often seems unlikely she'll ever write another novel. Although we'll get the occasional NYReview of Books piece.

I've been to five readings, from about 1998 through 2005, and her reading is funny too; she reads all of her texts in a monotones, as if she's bored to death with them.

#27 Ed Waffle

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 10:14 AM

I bought the Everyman's Library Joan Didion volume "We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction" which includes everything up to but not including "The Year of Magical Thinking". At just under 1,100 pages it perfect for someone who is entranced by her prose to simply wallow in for an afternoon.

Didion can write about almost anything and make it interesting--perhaps not the subject matter as such but make the essay worth reading because she constructs sentences as well as anyone writing in English that I have read. She talked about typing out Hemingway's stories to see how sentences worked.

My favorite is "Salvador" which conveys the chronic dread created by the possibility of violence from unpredictable and unstable armed men.

#28 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 14 February 2010 - 03:00 AM

Just finishing "Netochka Nezvanova"-(by Mr. Dostoyevsky :thumbsup: ). This was his very first publication, and although never completed, the themes and issues which dominate his later novels are all here: the extreme suffering of the individual, the recurrent questions on spirituality, the inspiration of madness and above everything, the position of the main character on the expiation of sin. It is a little book, but very intense...too much at times.

#29 richard53dog

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Posted 07 March 2010 - 10:23 AM

I just finished Alison Weir's "The Lady In The Tower", a superb, highly detailed and moving book about the last days of Anne Boleyn's life. Highly recommended!


Thanks for the recommendation on this. It came in last week to the the library where I work and I'm going to try to grab it as soon as it's cataloged.

Right now I'm reading Tchaikovsky by Roland John Wiley. It's tough going, there are alternating chapters of chronological events and the technical analysis of the music written during those events. My own background in music is limited; I can read music but just barely so much of the detail here goes over my head.

It's also very heavily peppered with source citations which are noted in a complex way. Also a lot of details are presented in bullet point, which seems a bit unusual for a biography.

All this is to say that I'm probably not the real target audience for this volume. Still, I can skim over parts and focus on a lot of very rich detail. I'm finding Wiley's analysis of "missing" documentation, (i.e. letters and other correspondence) which Modest and other "groomers" made disappear also interesting.

At this point I'm in the last five years of Tchaikovsky's life and so I'm getting swept along in that.....

#30 Ray

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Posted 07 March 2010 - 12:24 PM

Right now I'm reading Tchaikovsky by Roland John Wiley. It's tough going, there are alternating chapters of chronological events and the technical analysis of the music written during those events. My own background in music is limited; I can read music but just barely so much of the detail here goes over my head.

It's also very heavily peppered with source citations which are noted in a complex way. Also a lot of details are presented in bullet point, which seems a bit unusual for a biography.

All this is to say that I'm probably not the real target audience for this volume. Still, I can skim over parts and focus on a lot of very rich detail. I'm finding Wiley's analysis of "missing" documentation, (i.e. letters and other correspondence) which Modest and other "groomers" made disappear also interesting.

At this point I'm in the last five years of Tchaikovsky's life and so I'm getting swept along in that.....


I'm going to look at this, and the series's bio of Schubert as well. Thanks!


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