October Reads

Picadilly Jim  (1917)  P. G. Wodehouse’s descriptions delight: a comfortable stoutness, a face that had been “edited and re-edited” by a boxing career, affected imitation geniuses, the art of raising eyebrows, dazzled by the glamour of incivility. And my favorite from this book: 

…her mouth had the coldly forbidding look of the closed door of a subway express when you have just missed the train. It bade you keep your distance on pain of injury. 

I first met Ogden Ford, “a fourteen-year-old boy of a singularly unloveable type”, in The Little Nugget; the kidnappers are ready at the end of the book to pay the family to take this son of a millionaire back. In Picadilly Jim there is another scheme by family members to get him kidnapped again. The main character pretends to be someone else who is pretending to be himself. Five stars, pure joy.


Moby Dick  (1851)  I read my husband to sleep every night with Herman Melville’s classic, in preparation for seeing Jake Heggie’s opera, Moby Dick, in San Francisco. We have officially abandoned Moby as a read aloud together. I plan to continue reading about cetology, or study of whales, and the story of Ahab’s vengeance.   I keep thinking this is a re-read, but I can’t be sure. There are gems, but the pace is slow.


Kitchen Sonnets and Lyrics of Domesticity (1931)  Ethel Romig Fuller, poetry editor for The Oregonian and Oregon’s third poet laureate, writes poetry that glorifies the common things of life. She sees cleaning as creating beauty. Fuller sees poetry in hanging the wash on a clothesline, beauty in canning, tidied calm in ironing, and a happy heart in washing windows.  She glorifies the common stuff of life.  A Song of Home speaks of happy hearts and tallying every blessing.  While a few of the poems made my modern head wince, overall I was inspired to devour those dust bunnies in the corners and love the blessing of making a home beautiful.

Are petitions less fervent, if one only asks
As one works, for strength for finishing tasks?


Skylines (1952) Ethel Romig Fuller — The poet turns her eye to nature: the rivers, the mountains, the sea, the seasons of life in the Pacific Northwest. Infused with joy and sorrow, she writes of the surgery of grief, a fugutive beauty, of “binning” the summer. 


Sea is a great hunger pressed
To a full white mother breast,
Where it ravens till the tide
Of appetite is satisfied;
Where it slumbers till the shore
Aches with plenitude once more.


Spot the Book Title (2007) Simon Drew — A Collection of Cryptic Nonsense and Pointless Hidden Meanings. A fun puzzle book, so visual that it is hard to describe using only words. Here’s an example under “The Plays of Williams Shakespeare”:  comma + pot of tea + o + carousel + oars.   There is no page at the end of the book with answers. If you must have a puzzle solved, you send a check to Drew’s charity. He explains, “This is not a payment: it is a fine for giving up.” 

My Reading Life (2010) Pat Conroy — He reads, he writes, he journals, he talks, he listens. From the time I could talk I took an immense pleasure in running down words, shagging them like fly balls in some spacious field.  He honors the mother who hungered for art, for illumination, for some path to lead her to a shining way to call her own. She lit signal fires in the hills for her son to feel and follow

I think I like Pat Conroy because we share the same writing weaknesses: sentimental, often disastrously so; I was over-dramatic, showy with adjectives, safe with form, weak on verbs, over-reliant on adverbs. I love his love for words, but ache at the estrangement that still exists in his personal life. One side of me would love to read 200 pages a day like he does, but I would have to isolate myself from people—more than I already do— in order to achieve that goal. 

A Chain of Hands (1993, posthumously), Carol Ryrie Brink — Ironic, on the last day of Daylight Savings Time, with the gripes about the change, to read this phrase: day-by-day satisfaction of daylight and dark. This book only makes sense if you have read several other CRB titles first.


Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age (2008) Maggie Jackson  The premise of this book is simple. The way we live is eroding our capacity for deep, sustained, perceptive attention — the building block of intimacy, wisdom, and cultural progress. Jackson writes about a culture of skimming, new ways to disconnect from others, attention splicing, the dangers of multitasking, detachment, untethering, outsourcing memory to gadgets. The structure of the book did not make sense to me, but I found much to ponder.


The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture (2011)  David Mamet — Conversions fascinate me. “I used to think…” is my favorite dinner party prompt. Mamet, former voice of Liberals, becomes the voice of Conservatives. The chapters don’t appear to build on one another; it feels like reading a collection of essays. Mamet’s Judaism informs his perspective and sits under every page of the book. He is blunt, articulate, and controversial. And he quotes Anthony Trollope.

My interest in politics began when I noticed that I acted differently than I spoke, that I had seen ‘the government’ commit sixty years of fairly unrelieved and catastrophic error nationally and internationally, that I not only hated every wasted hard-earned cent I spent in taxes, but the trauma and misery they produced…



3 thoughts on “October Reads

  1. Well, I think you better send me the address for his charity…I just sat here with a list of Shakespeare’s plays, and I cannot think of what “comma + pot of tea + o + carousel + oars” could possibly be.  Merry Wives of Windsor?  HELP!  I am going crazy!This guy could get rich on me.Love your list,Di

  2. Thanks for the note and the prayers on Facebook yesterday. I just got caught up in a debate tournament, of all things, with my son and didn’t have any internet access until late evening. I like your conversation starter, “I used to think . . .” I think I’ll borrow it.

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