Teaser Tuesdays: Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

alone

What an intriguingly written, disquieting, riveting tale this is. I’ve only just begun it, but I’m fascinated. The story itself is rather magnetic; and on top of that, I find the writing curious and remarkable. For an example, check out this paragraph of characterization:

Given what Parley Burns did and what happened to him in the end, Connie never tired of mulling over what kind of person he was deep down. He wasn’t handsome, she told me, but he was distinguished and very attractive to lonely women. Something fashionable, almost feminine in his manner unsettled and excited them – a sensitivity channeled into the dry-bed of bachelorhood. Yet he was far from dry. He was an intricately wired man. The smell of eggs turned his stomach.

The smell of eggs!

And no, we don’t yet know what he did. Are you drawn by this, as well?

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes by Janet Malcolm

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

silent

Having been impressed by Janet Malcolm’s Iphigenia in Forest Hills, I knew I wanted to read what I thought was her biography of Sylvia Plath (and, secondarily, husband Ted Hughes). I am not a great scholar of Plath, but I’ve read The Bell Jar twice, and some of her poetry, and I thought the combination of subject and biographer sounded very promising.

I was wrong, though; this isn’t a biography of Plath, but rather an examination (even an exposé) of biography as a genre, using Plath as an example. How interesting! I was still on board, having been interested in some of the problems of biography (and autobiography, and especially, memoir) for some time. Also, I just finished Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?, as you know, and she muses (and her mother muses) on some of the problems of memoir, too. So this is all welcome.

I’ll just share an example from Malcolm’s opening pages that struck me, and that helps to define her understanding of the problem.

The transgressive nature of biography is rarely acknowledged, but it is the only explanation for biography’s status as a popular genre. The reader’s amazing tolerance (which he would extend to no novel written half as badly as most biographies) makes sense only when seen as a kind of collusion between him and the biographer in an excitingly forbidden undertaking: tiptoeing down the corridor together, to stand in front of the bedroom door and try to peep through the keyhole.

Putting aside Malcolm’s use of the male pronoun (shame on you!)…

Part of me, of course, wants to protest on behalf of the Truly Good Biographies out there; but I know exactly what she means. So on the one hand: we read history for some lofty purposes, don’t we? And history includes biographying certain history characters, doesn’t it? Need we be voyeuristic to want to learn about Susan B. Anthony or Major Taylor? I say, no. But oh, then there was my reading of Jaycee Dugard’s book, which made me feel just dirty. And I get the point with someone like Plath, too: she is a literary figure, but admittedly, a certain part (probably a large part) of her fame relates to the lurid details of her failed marriage and her suicide. We’re fascinated with these things. And, as Malcolm will go on to outline, another defining aspect of Plath’s case – and what makes her different from Susan B. Anthony or Major Taylor (and like Jaycee Dugard) – is that the other players in her story are still alive (or were when this book was published). They are still vulnerable to injury from the conclusions a biographer might draw, about Who To Blame; and naturally conclusions of this sort will be drawn, in such a tale of suicide and woe. Point taken, then.

Stay tuned for what looks like a stimulating read.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

wildFrom essay #3, “Tawny Grammar.”

I always liked libraries: they were warm and stayed open late.

(Here in Houston we might point out instead that libraries are cool.)

Oh, if only this were still the case. City and county budget cuts mean that libraries are decidedly not open late any more, at least not where I come from. Do you have a local public library that stays open late? Speak up!

Keep up with my reading of this essay collection:

  1. “The Etiquette of Freedom”
  2. “The Place, the Region, and the Commons”
  3. “Tawny Grammar,” coming soon.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

cormorant

Warning: slight raunchiness follows.

I wanted to share these lines because they are so perfectly Miriam (and/or Wendig). I realize they tell you nothing about the plot of this story, but that’s okay. I’ll tell you that other stuff later; for now, check out the style.

“…I always wondered if maybe you had a thing for the bearded taco.”

“For the record,” Miriam says, “I’m a supremely vulgar human being and even I think bearded taco is a disgusting term. My vagina is a beautiful flower, thank you very much, not a pube-shellacked burrito. Ugh.”

Well done, Miriam.

Also, aren’t the covers on these books amazing? Go here for a large version – which still doesn’t let you see additional detail on the back cover. Good stuff. Keep up the good work, Author Wendig and Cover Designer Joey Hi-Fi.

Teaser Tuesdays: Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

last night

This lovely novel set in Chicago’s jazz scene in the 1960′s stars a heartbreaking ten-year-old girl, backed up by her mother, a self-absorbed but sympathetic aspiring singer. Their relationship is rendered perfectly.

Mother’s feelings are the curb I walk, trying to keep my balance, and I get tired of it, being careful, and mad at her at the same time. But then she takes my hand and smiles at me.

And on the next page,

When she notices me, all the times she doesn’t notice me get erased.

We learn a great deal there, don’t we? The rest of the book is written with equal skill, and the mother is far more complex than these lines might indicate. Do check it out.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

mad and bad

The Mad and the Bad exemplifies “hard-boiled.” It is both spare and opulent, and very bloody and French.

Stiff-backed, glass in hand, he left through the side-door, and Julie hesitated for a moment before pouring herself a brandy which she downed, standing, in a single gulp, reminded of a time when, freezing cold at dawn, she would stand at a bar and wash down black coffee with four shots of calvados at the start of a day of wandering, tears, fatigue, and despair.

I am not always pleased by that many clauses (you know I prefer semicolons to commas!) but I like this lengthy sentence and its evocations. Freezing cold at dawn with black coffee and booze, tears and despair? It’s almost a cartoon of noir. Almost.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar by Martin Windrow

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

owl

Sorry; I know I gave you the beginning just the other day. But I couldn’t help myself.

Talk about charming. If this isn’t British and eccentric and oddly, wryly funny enough for you… well, it is for me.

Mumble found herself frantically flapping and back-pedalling on top of (the paper towel roll), riding the ever-diminishing cylinder like a lumberjack on a rolling log until both of them fell off the end of the table. She seemed to find my helpless laughter irritating (one can take umbrage so much more convincingly when one has a lot of feathers).

That final parenthetical kills me.

Martin Windrow kept a Tawny Owl as a… companion, I think, more than pet, for something like 15 years. It is an interesting story and I think I’m going to recommend it. Stay tuned.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Teaser Tuesdays: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

mr. mercedes

A new Stephen King! HOORAY! I think it will be as excellent as I hope it will be.

Hodges eats this diet of full-color shit every weekday afternoon, sitting in the La-Z-Boy with his father’s gun – the one Dad carried as a beat cop – on the table beside him. He always picks it up a few times and looks into the barrel. Inspecting that round darkness.

He can really paint a scene in a few words, can’t he? I won’t say too much more; the book will be out in just a few weeks and I think I’ll be able to recommend it.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

wild

From essay #2, “The Place, the Region, and the Commons,” I wanted to share a Thoreau reference.

Thoreau says in “Walking” that an area twenty miles in diameter will be enough to occupy a lifetime of close exploration on foot – you will never exhaust its details.

And it rather makes sense. We travel far and wide, but if we only made our world smaller and noticed it more, we’d be satisfied with less space. This is an observation also made by Harold Fry in another book I’m reading; he’s a fictional character, but I think that’s okay.

Teaser Tuesdays: Laidlaw by William McIlvanney

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

laidlaw

Laidlaw was originally published in 1977, and is back in this new reissue, due out in June. McIlvanney has a unique style, literary and lyrical but also gritty and dark. I liked these lines for their nuance and contradictions…

The entry was dank. The darkness was soothing. You groped through smells. The soft hurryings must be rats. There was a stairway that would have been dangerous for someone who had anything to lose.

…by which I mean, Hemingway, right? Short sentences and a lots of sensory detail; and an almost tongue-in-cheek overdoing of the tension in that final line. I like it. Stay tuned.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

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