Monday, December 28, 2020

2020 My Year in Books

2020 on Goodreads2020 on Goodreads by Various
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What can I say about my year in books? I read a lot in quarantine, but not as much as some of my Goodreads friends. The bulk of my reading was fiction, the better to escape during this pandemic year, but I managed some memoir, poetry and art books. I would like to see more classics on my list or at least books from the Twentieth Century other than the one John O'Hara and Annie Dillard. Hopefully, my addiction to the podcast will spur me on in 2021 with forgotten titles. I would also like to read more books in translation and look forward again to the groups on GR which offer great weighted suggestions.
My favorite books this year were Shuggie Bain and The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss. I was most affected by What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance. I enjoyed rollicking along with the writer in Writers & Lovers. The poetry of Dorianne Lauxmade a lasting impression. My most challenging read was Milkman but worth it in the end. The most unexpected treasure was The Hanky of Pippin's Daughterwhich reminds me to pay attention to the other titles from Dorothy, a Publishing Project. A Line Made by Walking and Index Cards: Selected Essays with her thoughts on reading were completely unexpected finds, very different but both introspective. The Writer's Library: The Authors You Love on the Books That Changed Their Lives was fun for a bookaholic particularly with my intention of reading backwards into the 20th Century.

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Shuggie Bain

Shuggie BainShuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"They were suspicious of this woman who wore lipstick in the early morning and unchipped nail polish the color of sex."
Five stars for the writing, the characterizations (especially mother and son) and the story. Beautiful but bleak, I slowed down mid-book for a time (holidays), but was soon under the Douglas Stuart spell again. My empathy was with little Shuggie abandoned by all to pursue his loyal love for his wasted, alcoholic mammy. The portrayal of public housing tenants in the Galway suburbs is raw with cruelty and need. The men have lost their jobs and drink, fight and fuck away their frustrations. The women scrabble and gossip while trying to feed their too-many babies. Shuggie Bain's mother Beautiful Agnes drinks up everything - food, filial love, belongings and men. But throughout the reader cares about these folks, their dismal stories with flashes of humor, and stays with them throughout the book for its exquisite language and train wreck of a tale, thankful that the author persevered for ten years and thirty rejections toward his Booker prize.

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Riding in Cars with Boys

Riding In Cars With BoysRiding In Cars With Boys by Beverly Donofrio
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The subtitle is "confessions of a bad girl who made good" and this memoir of a seventeen-year-old who gets pregnant in 1968, marries a drug-addled good-time boy and manages to raise her son as a single mother and get an advanced degree is all about voice. The writing is captivating, her characters are well-written but throughout it's Bev's voice that spurs you on and lets you now she will get through it all. And every spare moment she got, when not watching TV or playing with her kid or smoking dope, she read. It's a paean to the written word as much as chutzpah which gets her into a good college and a writing life.

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The Writing of Art

The Writing of ArtThe Writing of Art by Olivier Berggruen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not sure of my impetus in ordering this scholarly little book from the library. References within are made to Roland Barthes, to Douglas Cooper who helped the author's father amass a small collection of impressionists, and others such as Gertrude Stein. The author's offers short essays on Picasso, Paul Klee, Yves Klein, Ed Ruscha, Basquiat, Agnes Martin and Cy Twombly. With Pablo Picasso he focuses on the artist's work in theatre in June 1924 especially Mercure with music by Erik Satie(including the Feast of Bacchus). The section on Paul Klee discusses influences of a trip to Egypt while the Yves Klein piece focuses on Klein's travels in Japan. In talking about Ed Ruscha, the emphasis is on Wittgenstein Ludwig's "famous duck-rabbit paradox" to produce his word pictures like Cut Lip, Pool, Self, Promise, Cherry, Rodeo, Anchovy, Mint, Carp; his "emphasis on graphic design allows for traces of authorship to vanish." "Our cognitive understanding of the world is permeated by language." The chapter on Jean-Michel Basquiat(1961-1988) discusses his 1982 screen prints Anatomy & Tuxedo plus the untitled prints made in the Fred Hoffman studio. The chapter on Agnes Martin is entitled "The Lightness of Art" and examines her transition from grays to more seductive work in pastels. Finally, the part on Cy Twombly "The Summons to Living Things to Return Home" was not easily readable and challenged me, but I was pleased to be reminded of the work of these artists and expand my knowledge.
Also, noted the impressive work of the Berggruen Institute on thinking and prizes they award seen on YouTube.

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Friday, December 4, 2020

Index Cards

Index Cards: Selected EssaysIndex Cards: Selected Essays by Moyra Davey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Mood is all." A collection of essays and lists, fragments, random topics like The Fridge, Books, Analysis, Money, Times, Vivian Gornick, nostalgia, fear, pregnancy, hubris, illness, work and photography (her own as well as others). A section of the book takes place in Paris. Snippets pertaining to her four authors: Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin andJanet Malcolm And the crowning touch, her essay on The Problem of Reading.
"Reading is a favorite activity, a bulimic gobbling up of words as if they were fast food." So many identifications for me in this book. I keep dipping in and finding more to savor.

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