Already Read 2020: January

 

You’ve seen those “How Many of These Books Have You Read?” quizzes that populate the Internet? You click on the titles and the little people inside the website tally them and tell you what percentage you’ve read. I’m sure their purpose is to make me feel inferior.*

Some do more than count. One calculated my age. Imagine my surprise/embarrassment/shame when I learned that, based on the number clicked, I’m in my twenties.

Boy, did they get that wrong.

But the fault is mine—I haven’t been reading much as I should.

To remedy that, on January 1, 2020, I resolved to read more** books.

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Book Report

In January, I read the following:

The Bloody Bead, co-written by Helen Currie Foster and Manning Wolfe, part of the Bullet Books Speed Reads*** collection. When sweet Miss Cherry goes missing, garbageman Juan Agosto reports his suspicions to his older sister, Teresa, a police officer. The investigation that follows provides a suspenseful read. And a fast one—like the other Bullet Books, it’s a novella, designed for busy people who want short reads. Or, for that matter, idle people who want short reads.

No spoilers here, but I will say there are some things Juan Agosto would prefer not to find in a garbage bin.

***

Broke,***** by Kaye George. In this third volume of the Immy Duckworthy series, wannabe private eye Immy moves out of the double-wide where she and her daughter, Nancy Drew, have been living with Immy’s mother, retired librarian Hortense.  The three-story house Immy rents—the one she can afford on what she earns as (real) PI Mike Mallet’s secretary—looks like it’s about to fall down, and some parts of it are. But it’s filled with antique furniture. Plus a room filled with dusty old books. Plus a ghost. Plus, on the third floor,  something that doesn’t belong there at all.

Immy’s policeman boyfriend, Ralph, is his same, dependable self, but the gorgeous Vance Valentin proves a formidable competitor, sort of. Also present are pet pig Marshmallow and Larry Bird, the vicious hen.

And then there’s the body.

***

The Whole Family: A Novel by Twelve Authors, edited by Elizabeth Jordan. This collaborative novel, conceived by author and editor William Dean Howells, concerns the effect an engagement has on an entire family. The book comprises twelve chapters, each by a different author. Each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character. Chapter I, written by Howells, introduces Mr. Talbert, the father of the prospective bride, and alludes, briefly, to the others in his household. One of these is Mr. Talbert’s sister, described as “a lady of that age when ladies begin to be spoken of as maiden.”

Here’s where the fun begins.

Chapter II, entitled “The Old Maid Aunt,” was written by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. Mrs. Freeman was forty-nine when she married a man seven years younger than she. One critic reports that Mrs. Freeman didn’t appreciate the phrase maiden lady, so she scrapped the stereotype.

The aunt she created is young, attractive, and vibrant. And she has a past—she and the prospective groom have recently engaged in a flirtation—or something. We don’t know exactly how serious the relationship was, but it was serious enough to make the visiting groom turn white when he sees her— and to catch the first train out of town. To complicate things further, the Talbert’s new neighbor had once threatened to shoot himself if the aunt wouldn’t marry him. Neighbor’s wife is not amused.

In other words, Mrs. Freeman hijacked the plot.

The rest is a romp, with each character—the bride, her mother, her grandmother, her teenage sister and pre-teen brother, her older brothers and their wives, the groom, and others—weighing in with their own descriptions of events, opinions of other characters, and plans to help fix things. There’s a lot to fix and they are oh, so helpful.

The Whole Family was published in 1908, so, compared to contemporary novels, it begins slowly. When the maiden aunt appears in Chapter II, however, things pick up considerably.

An Amazon note: One Amazon reviewer, who gave the book four stars, writes, “I would say they [the authors] did very well , except for one, who’s chapter was so rambling and unintelligible I had to just scan the paragraphs to get any sense out of it. But, all in all, it was a good book.”*****

My note: The “unintelligible” chapter was written by Henry James. With all due respect to Mr. James, don’t feel bad if you have trouble getting sense out of it. It’s been said that Mr. James “chewed more than he bit off.” (Attributed to Oscar Wilde, Mrs. Henry Adams, and the author’s brother William) All in all, it’s a good book.

#

* Important to consider when deciding how inferior to feel: Lists vary according to the whims and biases of the makers. Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Winnie the Pooh show up on all the lists I’ve examined. The Twits appears on just one.

** Goals and objectives should be quantifiable, and this one isn’t, but I’ll deal with that later. The way I’ve been going, more might mean three.

*** As I’ve mentioned before, numerous times, I co-wrote a Bullet Book, too. See the sidebar.

**** Read my review of Choke, the first Immy Duckworthy mystery, here.

***** I would link directly to the review, but when I do, an enormous picture of the book cover appears on this page.

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The authors: Helen Currie Foster, Manning Wolfe, Kaye George, William Dean Howells, and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

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So that’s January. According to Kindle, I’m now 40% through Elizabeth George‘s A Banquet of Consequences.

17 Must-Read Books*

Gertrude Stein

  said,

  ” To write is to write is to write is to write

is to write is to write is to write.”

 She spoke the truth.

 Email. Blog posts. Blog comments. Email. Manuscripts. Introductions. Blog posts.
Email. Email. Email.

 What happened to reading?

 I shall find out.

  ***

 Pennebaker. The Secret Life of Pronouns.

  Connolly, ed. Books to Die For.

Howells. Annie Kilburn. (Again)

  James. Portrait of a Lady. (Again)

 Wharton. The Custom of the Country. (Again)

  The House of Mirth. (Again)

   Zelvin. Shifting Is for the Goyim.

   Kaufman. The Writer’s Guide to Psychology.

   Duhigg. The Power of Habit.

   Ratey. Spark. (Again)

Castle. Murder by Misrule.

    Tartt. The Goldfinch.

   Saylor. A Twist at the End.

   Cain. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

   Edgerton. Lunch at the Picadilly. (Again)

   De Becker. The Gift of Fear.

   Hallinan. The Fear Artist.

  ***

   Where to begin?* Probably not with the Agains. They sing their siren songs, but I mustn’t answer.
Wouldn’t be prudent.

  Quiet. That’s the one. In the past three weeks, I’ve had a lot of contact with humans and
too much bustling.

  I’m just wo-ahn out.

  It’s crawl-under-a-rock time. With a book.***

   ‘Night.

   ***

  *Experts (says an article on the web) say readers are attracted to lists with numbers in the titles. We’ll see.

  **I have other possibilities. These are the ones I can see without getting up and crossing the room.

  ***I started this post last night but fiddled so long with it that I didn’t have time to read.
I’m still fiddling with it.

  But tonight . . .

***

I love WordPress, but sometimes we disagree about formatting, mostly about position of photographs and about spacing. What I see here on the edit page isn’t always what both of us see on the published page. I have done my darndest to make it do what I tell it to do. At this point, I don’t care. If the post looks funny, please just read it and ignore the WordPress deficiencies. My deficiencies you are welcome to notice and even to point out.

“I should wash him!”

“Well, then,” returned my aunt… “Now, here you see young David Copperfield, and the question I put to you is, what shall I do with him?”

“What shall you do with him?” said Mr. Dick, feebly, scratching his head. “Oh! Do with him?”

“Yes,” said my aunt, with a grave look, and her forefinger held up. “Come! I want some very sound advice.”

“Why, if I was you,” said Mr.Dick, considering, and looking vacantly at me, “I should—” The contemplation of me seemed to inspire him with a sudden idea, and he added, briskly, “I should wash him!”

“Janet,” said my aunt, turning round with a quiet triumph, which I did not then understand, “Mr. Dick sets us all right. Heat the bath!” ~ Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Bleak House where Dickens wrote David Copperfi...
Bleak House, Broadstairs, England, where Dickens wrote David Copperfield--Image via Wikipedia

During our (brief) study of Paradise Lost, a high school senior said, “Do you actually read this stuff when you’re home at night?”

Actually, and emphatically, No. I read Dickens.

Today marks Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday, and I’m determined to get my greeting in before I have to add the word belated. That means finishing this in 21 minutes, a daunting task when William is curled up in my lap, trying to control the touchpad and the space bar, and licking my hands. And deleting things. The deleting is bad, but the licking is worse. Ick.

Speak of the devil. He just deleted the paragraph above. I got it back.

Anyway.

When I was twelve, I checked out a copy of David Copperfield from the bookmobile and fell in love. Peggoty, Barkis, Aunt Betsey Trotwood, Mr. McCawber, Little Emily, Dora, Agnes, Uriah Heep, Mr. Dick, King Charles’ head, even the nasty little pug. I followed up with A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend, Dombey and Son…I haven’t read all his books, but I also haven’t given up the idea that someday I’ll be able to say I have.

Author and editor William Dean Howells said that Dickens wasn’t so much a novelist as a caricaturist, and paid homage to Dickens by creating in Annie Kilburn a wrong-headed character who is always trailed by his wife and a passel of children (a la Mr. McCawber) and who frequently speaks of his Growlery (a la Mr. Jarndyce of Bleak House).

I like Howells’ novels and think his comment about Dickens has its merits. But I couldn’t care less. Finding that Dickensian gentleman in Howells’ book delighted me. It was like finding an old friend.

Note that although I banged out twenty pages of lit. crit. on Annie Kilburn, I don’t remember that gentleman’s name. I never wrote a word about Dickens, except perhaps on an undergrad exam, but I can recite names from a string of his novels.

I’ve often thought that certain artists give such pleasure to so many, it’s a shame they have to leave. John Gielgud, Scott Joplin, George Gershwin, Lew Ayres, Katharine Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, Mark Twain, P. G. Wodehouse, Edith Wharton, Agatha Christie, Emily Dickinson, Victor Borge, Mary Cassatt…They’re keepers. They should be allowed to stay with us, acting, playing, reading, painting, composing, writing.

Charles Dickens is a keeper. But in his absence, books fill his place.

The clock tells me that once again my birthday card will be stamped belated.

But I don’t think the recipient will care.

Happy 200th birthday, Mr. Dickens, and many more.

***

Photo by Heron on 3rd October 2005. Released into the public domain.

Summer Reading

Henry James, by John Singer Sargent (died 1925...
Image via Wikipedia

For the past two days, I’ve had an intense compulsion to read something by Henry James.

My first response was to lie down and hope it went away.

It didn’t.

So I watched Wings of a Dove for the fourth time. That wasn’t enough.

Today I searched Netflix for more film adaptations of James’ work. Most are on DVD rather than streaming, so I watched The Bostonians for the second time.

My yen for James remains. What to do, what to do.

My objection to James isn’t that he, as Mrs. Henry Adams observed, “chewed more than he bit off,” but that I can’t always tell what he’s chewing.

James is subtle. I am not.

Solution: Read more James.

Sigh.

One possibility remains: Instead of wanting to read Henry James, perhaps I just want to read something containing compound-complex sentences.

Whose compound-complex sentences, I don’t know.

Not Edith Wharton’s. Not William Dean Howells’. Not E. M. Forster’s.

But I’m going to do my best to find out.

Because I have a feeling that after I finish with Henry, I’ll move on to his brother William. A Pluralistic Universe. An American lit. professor recommended it to me. After I’d read Varieties of Religious Experience. In 1972.

I’ve never gotten around to it.

What a shame if I were to open a book and accidentally engage a brain cell.

At least not until cooler weather.