Teaser Tuesdays: Women Lovers, or The Third Woman by Natalie Clifford Barney, ed. and trans. by Chelsea Ray

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.

Teaser

woman lovers
This was a fun, thought-provoking one: short, and simultaneously animated (if one were to read the novel alone, for enjoyment) and dense (if one were to read all the introductory materials and take an academic stance).

I couldn’t choose, so here are two teasers.

First, to outline pithily the opinion of our protagonist (a thin veil for the author herself):

(Couples) were the first bourgeois!

So boring!

Or more dramatically:

Chopped into bits, our feelings were still twitching, even though they were deprived of the very thing that gave them life.

I love the imagery: feelings not only made physical, but made to physically suffer.

Keep your eyes open for Women Lovers.


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

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (audio)

book thiefI need to give up the audiobooks for a while. I know I’ve been saying this, but The Book Thief is the extreme case. I may have started listening to this in, like, March.

And I had some trouble getting involved at first, but how can I criticize, when I’ve listened so infrequently and over such a long time? My bad, Zusak. Slowly but surely, I was pulled into the world of Liesel Meminger, who is (about) ten when we meet her. Her mother immediately deposits her with a foster family at the start of World War II. Liesel’s story is about the war and its effects on one child, her family and the town where she lives. Unusually, it is narrated by Death; and he is a weary one indeed, especially in 1930’s and ’40’s Germany.

I found out some time into my listening that the print version of those book includes illustrations. It is probably worth getting the print version for this reason!! I wish I had. Also, my poor perspective has been noted, but I think it may be true that the book opens a little slowly: Death reflects, and sets up Liesel’s circumstances, for perhaps a little too long before entering Liesel’s head and the intimacies of her life and struggles. Death develops as a character, too, but it is really in Liesel’s childlike, but wise and somber mind that this book becomes most absorbing and affecting.

This is barely a review. Go read someone else’s review – like this one from The New York Times, not entirely raving, or one of these, the first of which notes that slow-to-start observation I made. I made the mistake of listening to the audiobook when I think the print would have been better, and going toooooo sloooooowly. But I can see from here that this is an intriguing perspective, and witty in several ways.

And wouldn’t you know, I just found out while writing this that there’s a movie too, as of 2013. It looks a little prettier and more sentimental than my impression of the book (just from the trailer); but it also looks beautiful, and moving. I will want to see that next. The movie never accomplishes what the book does, because of the limitations of the form (time, for one thing), but sometimes the movie is a fine thing in itself.

The Book Thief: worth more than I put into it.


Rating: 7 and a half stairs down to the basement.

book beginnings on Friday: Origins of the Universe and What It All Means by Carole Firstman

origins of the universe

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

I’ve just begun a new memoir, about the author’s relationship with her decidedly eccentric father, a gifted biologist with poor social skills. It’s a little playful with formats within the book, and ranges from the personal to the broad. It’s called… Origins of the Universe and What It All Means.

What a title, right? Wait til you see the opening page. I’ve zoomed in, but this is the entire content of page one and chapter one:

one

“In the beginning there was darkness.”

Don’t worry, though, it’s justified & appropriate for this book. Do I have your attention now? Stay tuned…

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

movie: Annie (1982)

annieCaught this one on television just by accident, and it served as a good reminder – that nostalgia or sentiment can count for so much, and is entirely relative and individual in its effects.

I recently reviewed Stand by Me, which I found just so-so. I watched it to better appreciate a book (review still forthcoming) about the author’s attachment to that movie, and I found that the movie did less for me, although I could imagine how it might have felt to see it for the first time at twelve, or nine, or so. Well, perhaps for me that movie is Annie. I was born in the same year that this film was, and it’s the first musical I remember seeing, and I recall its impact well. I probably sang these songs 1,000 times, and I’m pretty sure I sang one or two (“Maybe”, “Tomorrow”) in show choir, as well. I knew every line as it was spoken.

And what’s even stranger is that I’d forgotten all about it til it came on television. I often read or do other things while Husband has the television on; but this movie brought my head up, and took me back. I hadn’t thought about it in years! but every word still echoed in my head. They’d been there all along.

This isn’t a movie review at all, is it. I’m just considering what a funny thing memory is – that we can forget we have them, but still store hours of dialog and lyrics in our heads; that associations with time and place and formative events can make us love a movie regardless of its objective worth. (And what is that, in art, anyway?) Annie didn’t get great reviews (only a score of 52% on Rotten Tomatoes), but I’m not even insulted when Roger Ebert writes, “It’s like some kind of dumb toy that doesn’t do anything or go anywhere, but it is fun to watch as it spins mindlessly around and around.” (That is one of the kinder lines in his review, actually.) Because I get that it is just the nostalgia that does it for me. (Although, to answer your wondering, Mr. Ebert, kids did like this movie. At least one did.)

More objectively, I find this movie a little saccharine, a little stiff and unrealistic in its characterizations, and a little flip about the real concerns of its Depression-era setting and treatment of children, etc. These are some of the standard criticisms, and they’re not wrong. But on the other hand, it’s relentlessly uplifting – if you’re up for that sort of thing – and the songs are undeniably catchy. Carol Burnett’s Miss Hannigan is perfectly wonderful, and she’s one of the characters I remember best. Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks gives a fine performance as well. It’s a movie not without its charms, although it is essentially sentiment, spitshine and song. But it made its impression on me. I’ve loved many musicals since, but this was the first.


Rating: 8 tap dances, from a purely subjective perspective.

Paraíso by Gordon Chaplin

Set in Mexican “Paradise,” this moody novel combines fantasy, noir and the complexities of every form of love.

paraiso

Paraíso is an atmospheric novel both realistic and rooted in fantasy, traveling from New York City to Baja, Mexico, and exploring the nuances of love in all its forms. Gordon Chaplin (Joyride) offers a cast of whimsical, imperfect, loveable characters that readers will not soon forget.

As children, they were almost preternaturally close. Their mother named them Peter and Wendy, perhaps an early sign of something odd in family undercurrents. As teenagers, they stole the family minivan and ran for Mexico, but they never made it, apprehended instead at the very point Huck Finn and Jim aimed for.

These episodes are visited in flashbacks, from a present in which Peter and Wendy have been estranged for a decade, over a mysterious family secret. Wendy has finally made it to the little Mexican town of Paraíso, on the Baja peninsula, where she finds herself at the intersection of love and peril. Peter fled New York City after the towers fell, seeking his lost sister. They circle one another as Paraíso nears its conclusion, joined by charismatic associates, friends and lovers. These include Wendy’s best friend, who has been the siblings’ go-between for years; a sinister half-Mexican auto mechanic; an artista from Mexico City; and a teenage girl Peter mentors at work. The momentum of this expertly paced noir fairy tale increases as it nears its denouement.

Gorgeous, vivid scenery and fascinating people enrich a story that is both eccentric and universal: how to love and how to handle betrayal.


This review originally ran in the July 5, 2016 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish news.


Rating: 7 letters.

movie: Walking Tall (1973)

walking tallIn this movie, Buford Pusser returns home, after a stint in the Marines and a career as a wrestler, to McNairy County, Tennessee with his wife and two children. The town has changed since he’s been away. Almost immediately, he gets beaten nearly to death at a bar where he busted the house cheating at craps. The sheriff wants nothing to do with the case, and tells him to drop it. Buford returns to the juke joint to beat the crap out of his attackers in turn; represents himself at trial for assault charges, and wins; and then goes on to run for sheriff, and win.

As the spunky new sheriff, Buford is determined to run the gambling, prostitution and illegal stills out of his home county. Corruption runs so high, however, that he is nearly a one-man crusade. He has a staff of deputies, a few of whom are loyal. But it’s uphill work.

This plot is based on a true story, and here I’ll confess that my interest is not in this movie in its own right. Instead, I am fascinated by the larger debate this movie is a part of: the legend and history of Sheriff Buford Pusser, in its various representations. I first heard of Pusser and Walking Tall in a couple of Drive-by Truckers songs. (Regular readers may recall this is my favorite band.) In “The Buford Stick,” I heard the perspective that Buford Pusser was a crooked sheriff and a bully, messing around with a system that had worked just fine before he came along, thank you. Or, from the lead-in to “The Boys From Alabama”:

We’re gonna take you up to McNairy County, Tennessee
Back in the days when Sheriff Buford Pusser ran things around there
Sheriff Buford Pusser was tryin’ to clean up McNairy County, Tennessee
From all them boot leggers that was bringin’ crime and corruption
And illegal liquor into his little dry county
And for his troubles he got ambushed, and his wife was murdered, and his house got blown up
And they made a movie about it called “Walkin’ Tall”
This is the other side of that story

And that’s what I knew about the movie.

One of the many things I love about the Truckers is that they are unafraid to look at the complexity of the real world, its ugliness, and they don’t turn to the easy out of choosing sides: they are neither consistently pro-establishment nor anti-authority, because it’s not that clear-cut, is it. In the case of Sheriff Buford Pusser, with these two songs, they experiment with the perspective of McNairy County’s criminal element – or, to put it another way, “a hardworking man with a family to feed.” In other songs and other cases drawn from real life, the Truckers continue to question corruption in positions of authority.

The movie shows Pusser in an on-balance-positive light; among other things, he pushes (not always gracefully) for civil rights for the black residents of McNairy County. But even in this portrayal, there are disturbing glimpses: he is not a fan of rights for the (alleged!) criminals he pursues, and I didn’t enjoy the scene when he is arresting a prostitute and slaps her ass. This history, like so many in life, was probably pretty complicated, with good guys and bad guys on both side of the law – or, good and bad within each guy.

I love this stuff: layers, ambiguity, and especially the intersection of art (movies, songs) and deeply serious real life. This is probably a great example of the interdisciplinary nature of life. (Even a teaching opportunity!) Literature and other creative, fictional forms comment on life, which responds to literature.

So I found the viewing experience engrossing, for reasons outside the movie itself. The movie itself is fine, and interesting; it certainly paints a picture of a time and place. And I think even without a backstory that it should provoke some consideration: like, just how “good” are the good guys? A social study, to be sure. I’d recommend this for any number of audiences.


Rating: 8 routine matters.

The Art of History: Unlocking the Past in Fiction & Nonfiction by Christopher Bram

A succinct survey of history in both fiction and nonfiction offers advice for writers and readers.

the art of history

Christopher Bram takes on the broad subject of what history has to offer literature–and vice versa–with The Art of History: Unlocking the Past in Fiction & Nonfiction.

Beginning with memories of a high school English teacher, Bram celebrates the interest and value of reading and writing history. His thesis is that history need not be written in dry, textbook form: in both fiction and nonfiction, a talent for storytelling and a keen eye for just the right details, in the right quantity, can render the near and distant past in enthralling fashion. “Details,” he says, “are the raisins in the raisin bread.” He examines works including Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, David McCullough’s The Path Between the Seas and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and topics ranging through war, slavery in the United States, comedic perspectives and the blending of lines between fiction and nonfiction. An author in both disciplines, Bram does not claim objectivity: he is clear about his love for Toni Morrison’s Beloved and his disregard for Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, among others.

Books in “The Art of” series inspect craft from a perspective seemingly for writers and critics, and Bram offers good advice: “In both fiction and nonfiction, writing well means knowing what to leave out.” But The Art of History works for readers as well, as in an appendix of Bram’s recommended reading. Exploration, appreciation and instruction combine in this slim, accessible study of literary history and historical literature.


This review originally ran in the July 5, 2016 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish news.


Rating: 6 details.
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