Monday, August 22, 2016

Mockingbird Takes Flight

Ever hear of literary terrorism?  Me neither until I read this book.  (Should I worry that I used the T word in a public post?). Oh well....

After The Museum of Extraordinary Things, I needed a softer book, a palette cleanser.  In the end, the Alice Hoffman book proved too much for me. "Oddly fascinating" was how one book group member described it.  For me, it was lack of relief from the grueling day to day nastiness in the character's lives.  I simply needed a breather (no pun intended for of those of you who read the book.)  Heck, Shakespeare knew that after a significant battery of hate, trauma and drama he had to toss in a couple drunken gatekeepers, or a jester telling silly riddles to lighten the mood.  

Anyway.....this young adult novel is filled with good, old fashioned mischief.  A trio of junior high kids - very literary savvy junior high kids - have been given a summer reading list which includes To Kill a Mockingbird. Painful cries of fellow students echo throughout the town and our three Mockingbirdists devise a plan to make the novel as appealing as possible.

In short order, the book becomes a rare bird when the trio sets out to hide all existing copies found in their town's bookstores and library.  The plan takes off nationwide.  TV coverage.  Police intervention.  All sorts of twists and turn and conspiracy theories abound from this supply and demand prank.

In between caper planning, there's a mom with cancer, an undisciplined wiener dog, and a time love story.  

Luke, my favorite UPS guy brought me two great Arc's last week - although I wish he had held one back so I didn't have to decide which to put on the TBR pile.  Nick Butler's Hearts of Men landed there when I opted to read Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson.  I put Wilson in the Great Quirks file along with Brady Udall.  Wilson wrote The Family Fang, about grown children, Child A and Child B, who live with mental peculiarities thanks to being forced to participate in their parents' weird and often dangerous performance art pieces.  In his new novel, families take center stage again.  

All I know so far is that Dr. Grind is experimenting with a new Utopian society.  Ten children are being raised collectively by a group of adults without anyone knowing who, within the group, are the birth parents of any of thechildren.  I am guessing that suspicions and jealously will begin to arise.  Will some of the adults want to "own" specific children?  What if there's a bad seed in the group.  Or a genius?  Or an artist?  Will anyone want to claim the "average" kids?  

Maybe the book will go in a totally different direction, but so far, I am finding it "oddly fascinating".

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Return of Jay Gatsby

Sidetracked again.  I suppose the time has come for me to consider the pile of want-to-read books simple suggestions, rather than as a plan.  That relieves me of the weekly task of looking at the pile and arranging and rearranging based on my mood, the time of year, customer suggestion or super cool cover art.  Letting books subtly slip into my psyche, or just blatantly hitting me on the head to be read will be my new approach.  For now.

On Saturday, the Masques, our long lived community theatre group sent me info on their 2016-17 season featuring "Company," "Arsenic and Old Lace" and "The Great Gatsby".  You can tell from the picture at the top where this led me.  The first and only time I read that book was in high school, when some altruistic, well-meaning new lit teacher attempted to get us middle America kids to embrace the story of Nick, Jay and Daisy.  Vaguely I recall parroting some lecture facts back to her on an essay exam (she was fond of essays), but realistically, this book had nothing I could relate to no any characters I understood.  Then, of course there was the challenge of the historic context.

Many things made sense to me as I read it this weekend, including why my bright eyed teacher thought it would be a good idea to put it in our hands.  In less than 200 pages, Fitzgerald hits all the right notes, and had I been ready examine those notes, maybe I would have actually read the book and not have flunked the unit test. But heck, at 16 I was not in tune to elegant language, nor did I comprehend the depth and significance of the symbolism throughout.  Oh, maybe I picked up on the billboard, the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckelberg  watching ominously over the city, but I sure didn't pick up on the ideas that the artwork had been uncared for, suggesting that the American Dream had fallen into ruin.  

Reading this, I began to visualize the wonderful time Masquers will have with this production.  Crafting the lavish, art deco setting, along with costumes befitting both the old money and the nouveau riche of 1925 will challenge our local designers, but they have proven many times over they are up to the task.  I can hardly wait to see the characters moving about what is sure to be a edgy lighting plot.  In my mind I have cast the show...I wonder how close I will be?  Sadly, this show isn't until spring, so I will practise patience.

I will also practise looking at my book pile, patting the top book, tossing off a "harrumph" like sound...and moving on.  No adjustments.  I will wait for next week's book to fall from the sky, but first I have to finish The Museum of Extraordinary Things for our book discussion on Friday...that is unless I get sidetracked.

By the way, never noticed this before...If you look closely at the most frequently used Gatsby cover - the one with the eyes and will see people in the pupil of each eye.  I suppose my sophomore English teacher pointed that out to us, but who had time to be bothered with that when great novels like Love Story was begging to be read?

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, August 8, 2016

More Extraordinary Things

If you searched for last week's post, you came up empty.  To be honest, I am still working my way through this Alice Hoffman novel and haven't yet settled in on how I feel about it.  Two stories, which will certainly intertwine at some point, focus attention in different directions, although there are parallel themes.  Both Eddie and Coralie have peculiar relationships with their fathers.  At first, Coralie's father appears overprotective, even smothering, but as her story evolves, she discovers that he may not be all that he seems.  Eddie, on the other hand, leaves his distances himself from his deeply religious father'house to work for a man with questionable scruples.  In doing so, Eddie turns his back on his religion, creating darkness between him and his father.  At least that is what Eddie thinks.

Let me back up a little.  Coralie's father runs a museum of oddities and he is prepping her to be a living mermaid.  In his teens, Eddie worked for a man who sent young boys out to recover information on missing people, in whatever way they could.  Eventually, Eddie becomes jaded by his life searching in and out of beer halls and brothels; after meeting a hardened photographer Eddie begins photographing the seamy side of life.

This is where I think the stories will begin to merge somehow.  A young woman goes missing after the famous 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York.  Eddie is hired to find the young girl for her distraught father.  About the same time, while on one of her late night mermaid training swims, Coralie becomes entangled with the corpse of a girl; her father quickly hires a man to transport the body back to his workshop where he creates many of his museum exhibitions.  

Right now, I can't say if this is a love it or leave it book for me.  Hoffman's writing is mesmerizing and artful. The story makes me uncomfortable.  At times I feel like I am peeping on the very private lives of people so flawed they will never find a place in my "normal" world.   Should I pity them or should I admire the strength with which they move through life knowing they will always be dramatically different physically, emotionally  intellectually and perhaps ethically?  I'm not sure at all, but I will keep reading in hopes of finding that one line, or that one idea between lines that brings it home for me.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Tails and Tales

A terrible ratting-tatting woke me around mid-night  - sounds like hail on the skylight, or gunshots.  The attack lasted way too long to go unchecked. Figuring the sight of me in mismatched pajamas would scare off intruders, I bravely checked around the house and in the basement.  Nothing, yet the noise continued. Rhythmic, so I ruled out gunshots. But it kept getting louder.  Noting it seemed to be close to the head of my bed which is on an outside wall, I grabbed a flashlight to check outside. By this time I was too annoyed to be scared any longer.  

I arrived at the side of my house in time to see the remains of a mouse being chewed violently by the air conditioner fan.  Believe me, I have never been a fan of the mouse family, but this was an awful sight. Mystery solved and I figured once the execution was complete, the noise would end.  Wrong.  The little guy's tail dangled just within reach of the fan blade and clicked with each spin.  In time, the sound ended, mostly likely due to the appendage being clipped off.  

So, if I make less sense than normal, blame the beast.

One of my book discussion groups has chosen this book for August (yup, Steve, I know that earlier I reported the new book to an Alice Munro piece.  I stand corrected.).  Needing to finish The Bolter  for an on-line group, I didn't get far with this one.  But, aren't blistering hot days (and below freezing days) perfect for binge reading?)  The haunting cover drew me in and the first few pages hold promise.  

Young Coralie opens the story explaining her life as the daughter of a freak show exhibit owner in Corney Island in the 1920's.  Even though her father refers to both the living and preserved curiosities as "wonders', he forbids Coralie to look at them.  With great respect and sadness, she reveals how the working individuals hide themselves in public since there are no laws to protect them for harassment, and worse, from attack.  She looks upon them with near reverence, saying that their differences tell us they have been touched by God.  

I can't help but think about a troubling movie called Freaks which featured real life circus exhibits, and of course, last year's installment of American Horror Story:Freak Show.  I think these types of roadside attraction have begun to fade away which is good.  However, they have been replaced by the train wrecks offered to us by Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, and the enigmatic Kim and Kanya et al.  I can't figure out the popularity of these shows, but I will say they - and their popularity - frighten and unsettle me.

One more unsettling note, I recently received an ARC (Advance Reader copy) of Anthony Bourdain's new cookbook to be released in October.  As expected, he includes many international recipes, lots of appetizing ideas.  But, why on earth does he introduce each chapter with photos of dead chicken parts?   Really. The book is filled with photos of chicken feet, chicken legs, some with feathers, some with the dimply skin exposed.  Somewhere you will find a picture of a salad or a noodle but not accompanying the recipe for roast chicken with lemon and butter.  Nope.  There we get two chicken feet, innards , the chicken head and neck along with a butcher knife.  Appetizing.  There's a guy in full camo with a rifle, a burning wishbone, and next to the recipe for sausage gravy with biscuits we have an creepily lit picture of Bourdain himself, dripping white gravy like a rabid dog.  Oh, did I mention the dusting of f-bombs throughout the narratives?  It will be interesting to see if his intended audience gets behind this unconventional offering.

Thanks for stopping by.  

Monday, July 18, 2016

Three Special Ladies

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a curious Britcom called Mapp and Lucia (pronounced in the Italian tradition - LuCHEEa).  At first I didn't know what to make of the two battling divas, but by the third episode, I had decided to embrace them and dedicate myself to a summer filled with their competitive and devious antics.  Well, wouldn't you know, Mapp and Lucia was not a series, rather was a simple, three part adaptation of Benson's books - and from the reviews I read, the adaptation was not well received.  It was the second attempt to bring these two women to life; neither worked.  

Still, I was intrigued and decided to follow up by reading one of the books upon which the TV show was based.  Not far enough to say much, other than the style is as ostentatious as the characters, and from what I can tell, Mapp and Lucia each have been given the dignity of separate novels and don't appear to intersect as the show did.  

This is what I know so far...comedy of manners in the tradition of Sheridan and Goldsmith plays set in English village society of the 1920's and 1930's.  Lucia dominates the art scene in Riseholm, setting villagers straight on what they should and should not embrace when it comes to music, painting, flower arranging and interpersonal relationships.  She indeed regards herself as the center of all that is important in the village, acting as her own spin doctor and  staging opportunities for the masses to speculate about her and her motivations. 
The author's father was Archbishop of Canterbury.  E.F. Benson amused himself with associations the likes of Henry James and Oscar Wilde.  He published over 100 books but is best known for the collection of characters occupying the pages of his many Mapp and Lucia novels.  More next week.

Sigh.  Fine Print on a Monday has one less reader today.  Pat Chermak took her final bow early Sunday morning.  Pat was quick to contact me if FPoaM didn't appear by the time she was up and ready to read it.  I explained that if I wasn't deep enough into a book sending out a basically empty, vapid post seemed silly.  "Just one paragraph.  That's all we need."  Didn't want to disappoint so I tried to follow the one paragraph rule when I could.  Pat was an insatiable reader and frankly, I was often embarrassed to say "No"  way too often when hit with her barrage of  "Have you read....?'.  I'll miss you Patsy Ann....

Monday, July 11, 2016

Orphan Train Surprised Me

I have done my share of book blasting in the past, and if ever there was a book worthy of a big blast, Orphan Train is it.  Clearly, Christina Baker Kline knows my list of novel no's and applied them all just to annoy me.  First, there is the contrived framework.  Molly, a young woman, tossed from foster home to foster home, finds herself doing community service hours by helping an elderly woman clean her attic. Together they open boxes and the story of Vivian's orphan train experience emerges.  A straight forward telling of Vivian's  story might have been more effective, especially since the juvie girl is painfully underdeveloped and the parallels between her life and Vivine's come off trite and contrived.

Several underdeveloped characters wander through the novel, adding to the overall weakness of presentation resulting in logic gaps.  Then there's the portaging metaphor, and that old "it's the journey, not the destination" message.

Despite all that, along with flaws piled upon flaws, I must say that I liked the book.  It has stuck with me. Vivian's resilience - probably more stubborn than resisilant - makes this 90-ish storyteller a powerful protagonist. Success stories like hers were likely few; her success, no matter what the circumstance, is due to who she is and the choices she makes no matter how hard.

I learned so much from this book which is something I never expected.  Anchoring the simple story is the solid foundation of time in history I knew little about, a time filled with suspicion, poverty, class division, and social systems that failed due to blind eyes. 

 I thought a lot about why we keep what we do and how a life with less could bring greater clarity.  I thought about how importatant it is to know we can rely on the kindness of strangers, and how important it is to be that stranger whenever possible. I wondered how many people I know are or have been broken and have chosen to stay strong and not prop themselves up on the crutch of disaster.  Lots to think about.

Final thought?  Simple book.  Huge impact. word for the events of the past week...just sad.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Anyone Want to Help Me Write a Play?

Script reading season has begun.  I have decided not to do an adult fall show at UW-Manitowoc, but I will direct a children's play for January.  Of all the projects I sign on for, the kid's show tops the list.  The Manitowoc Public School bus in all their kindergartners and some first graders as well.   A few day care centers join in the fun, along with some groups of challenged and fun-loving adults.  Seeing (and hearing) the theatre filled to bursting with wiggly little ones clarifies why I do this.

For many, our show is the first live performance they have ever seen and some aren't quite sure what they're watching.  After last years production of Snow White, a young girl stopped me, hands on hips and asked, "Now, were those puppets up there, or real people or what?"
"What do you think they were?"
"And that mean lady, she looked like my principal (student was correct in that discovery) and sometimes she didn't look like her."
"Don't you think that Mrs. Burish is at work taking care of your school."
"Sure,  Now, about those puppets..."

Another little boy told me that our show was the best "movie" he had ever seen. Throughout the show, teachers did their best to capture wee ones attempting to run down isles and up steps to check on poor Snow White.  "I warned you,' one little guy shouted as she bit into the apple and then fainted. We saw tears when the show was over and everyone headed back to the buses.  Most rewarding are the comments we hear after the fact about kids going back to school, building simple sets with chairs and boxes, throwing a towel-cape around their necks and revving up their creative motors to put on their own rendition of our show.

Finding a script isn't easy.  Many are roughly written, with sloppy story arcs and lots of name calling.  Really, does Red Riding Hood have to be called a "brat"?  There's lying, abduction and murder.  Not right for our audiences.  Really, the wolf eats LRRH and grandma?  Of course, the production notes give no indication of how to depict that on stage...just the simple stage direction saying "wolf eats RRH."  The same goes for Pinocchio's nose which grows somehow in front of the audience.  I generally read about fifteen scripts before I come up with one that fractures the story in the right places, giving it a fresh, playful spin.  Is it too much to ask for tap-dancing billy goats?  How about stepsisters that aren't ugly but have eccentric personalities instead?

After a fortune spent on scripts and a weekend of reading, I have nothing.  I will take one more stab at it, but my gut tells me this is the year I will write my own little script.  I'm thinking about "Red Riding Hood: The Wolf Tells All."  Anyone want to brainstorm with me?

Monday, June 20, 2016

An Early Apple Harvest

If this lush cover doesn't have you rushing out to buy or -better yet - visit an orchard to pick apples for apple butter, pies, and sauce, you will do so after reading Chevalier's intense portrait of apple growers in the 1800's.  My first thought was "How tedious".  That was speculation about the book itself, not about the business of apples.  But, my first bite sealed the deal, so to speak, and I found myself learning about hardship and determination, and the struggle to survive each and every day.  I leaned how easy my life really is.

Often, Tracy Chevalier uses art as the starting point for her work.  Who hasn't read and loved The Girl with a Pearl Earring?  But there is no fine art in this book.  Instead, she writes about the art of apple growing. Yes, there is science to it as well, but James, the surly, abusive orchardist, invests knowledge beyond botany to cultivate the 50 trees he must have on his land in order to be considered a permanent resident of the swampland in Midwest Ohio.  That is where his family wagon got stuck in the mud, and that is where they settled.  

This slow plotted book sure has stuck with me despite the he main characters being totally unlikeable.   In fact, identifying James as the protagonist is questionable since he acts in antagonist ways all too often.  On the other hand, his wife, Sadie, drinks too much hard cider, and has such anger built up that her greatest joy comes from plotting and carrying out attacks on his apple orchard even though doing so will harm her and the children as well as James.  Children die, spouses cheat...there are fights and murders and prostitutes and Johnny Appleseed.  

With him comes news of giant redwoods and the miracle that accompanies coaxing life from humble seeds. Chevalier researched.  Even the story of her research placed at the end of the book is fascinating.  Thank you to my friend, Johanna, for suggesting this book that I never thought I would like.

Oh, I did get one good chuckle when a character commented that a "dead body in a hotel  room isn't good for business."  I expect that is a universal truth.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Lovely Little Visitors...and more

"Is that poetry?" Nina asked, flipping through one the inviting, fun-size editions of Hummingbird that she spotted on my counter.  "Why, yes it is," I responded piquing her interest even more.  "I love poetry", she said.

And so, I gave her a copy and explained how she could submit her own writing.  Cliff, Hummingbird's editor, stops by once a year to drop off the freshest edition of this charming poetry collection.  We chat, and he reminds me to share the poetry books as I see fit.  

Phyllis Walsh founded Hummingbird in 1990 and Cliff keeps its spirit alive and lively with two volumes each year.  Short forms, mainly haiku, fill the pages, but some poems stray from the perceived strict rules of the deceptively simple Japanese poetry.  As poetry should, these touch all levels of life and emotions - some are light-hearted, while others startle and inspire despite their brevity.

You can subscribe to Hummingbird by contacting CX Dillhunt at 7129 Lindfield Road, Madison Wi. 53719.  $10/year or $18/two years.  This is also the address you can send submissions to.  Info at the back tell us "While we admire the short poem in its many formalized incarnations, we are also drawn to experimental and contemporary forms and non-forms. We're looking for work that expands out understanding of the short poem."  So, writer friends, have at it!

I can't close today without commenting on the events in Orlando, although there will be many whose words will resonate with greater clarity and eloquence than mine.  In the next days and weeks, we will witness much head shaking and and be bombarded with powerful rhetoric.  My hope is that now...after Columbine, after Peducha, after Sandy Hook, after Orlando, after too many others...the rhetoric will end and action will be taken. When will the gun lobby open its ears and eyes to the painful cries of anger, fear, frustration and sorrow that we experience far too often?  When will our political leaders stiffen their backbones stand up against whatever it is the NRA holds over them  and do the right thing to protect people against the continued physical and emotional threats that exist at the end of assault weapons?  Of course this isn't a single part solution, but when, I wonder, will be the right time to begin making changes?  Let Orlando be the last time.

What am I reading?  At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier.  I joined a second book group - just five of us - and this is our first discussion title. Chevalier strays from her familiar art related themes by taking us to the life of early settlers in Ohio.  Main characters are a driven, abusive husband and his vindictive, conniving wife.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, June 6, 2016

And the Tony Goes to......

Sunday night's Tony Awards will surely be an all Hamilton celebration.  How great to see a show with substance and significance racking up record ticket sales.  The show's creator and star has announced that he will be moving on soon, resulting in astronomical ticket prices for his final performances.  I won't pretend to understand the economics of B'way; what I do know is that B'way stars are generous artists, giving time and sharing talent freely with many deserving groups.  They work hard to keep the dream of a thriving, artistic community alive.  Beyond the individual contributions to schools and social programs, Broadway as a whole supports outreach and education programs, among them being Broadway Cares, EQUITY Fights AIDS.  There is richness and hmainity to the theatre experience that spreads far beyond the borders on NYC. 

The latest example of the crossover  influence of the performing arts is the rebirth of interest in Ron Chernow's book.  I lifted the comments below from my daily communication from my trade association.

"Lately I cannot escape references to the Broadway musical Hamilton. From mentions on podcasts to small talk at the salon, that name is on many people's lips. So, I thought I'd go back to the book responsible for all of the hubbub and name Ron Chernow's biography Alexander Hamilton this month's book buyer's pick.

"Hamilton's fascinating life is deftly made real by Chernow's superior writing skills. The resulting 832 pages offer an even-handed look at how important Hamilton was in the formation of our country. What I love most about the rekindled popularity of this book is that its brains and newly found street cred make it a book the whole family can enjoy."

Perhaps watching the Tony's on Sunday night will inspire me to attempt the daunting task of reading this book. In the meantime, because I liked Shotgun Lovesongs so very much, I picked up Nick Butler's short story collection, Beneath the Bonfire.  The two stories I have read so far could not be more different.  The first one shocks a time or two with adult themes and scenes, while the second tenderly captures  a quiet snapshot  moment shared between a grandfather and grandson.  Butler sure has range.  You can catch Nick reading, discussing and signing next Monday, 6:00 at the Manitowoc Public Library.

Thunder. Lightening.  Blowing. Rain.  I guess most of you will be staying in today and not stopping by to visit.  That means I'll have to do some real work for a change.

LaDeDa Bev