Blogs: Books & literature

What is it that makes a rollicking good regency romance? I think it takes more than a crowded ballroom and characters who feel pressure to produce an heir or avoid being a spinsterit takes the tension between love and sexual attraction. It occurred to me recently that if you take the songs Some Enchanted Evening and Fever, you have the perfect formula for great regency romance. You get fated love ("you will see a stranger...your true love across a crowded room") and sexual fervor ("you give me fever when you kiss me"). 

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare is on Kirkus Review’s list of best fiction of 2014 and features a feisty heroine matching wits with the duke who refuses to leave the castle she has inherited. No crowded ballrooms, but definitely some sexual fervor. 

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict bookjacketIn Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Courtney Stone wakes up one morning in an unfamiliar bed. Strangers in old-fashioned clothes enter. Who are these people? They all have body odor. 

Rude Awakenings bookjacket

In Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict,  Jane Mansfield awakens in a room that has bars on the window. There is a strange man in the next room, and she has no chaperone. 

To quote Austen (Mansfield Park), I found these companion novels about women who have mysteriously swapped lives and bodies to be “nothing but pleasure from beginning to end.”  I appreciated the dialogue, chuckled over the situations, wondered if they’d find love, and found myself prompted by these books to contemplate women’s roles and opportunities in the 19th and 21st centuries.

 

Sex and the Austen Girl, a video series based on the books, captures the humor of these novels.

 

 
 
 

There are a lot of writers out there. Portland alone seems to have one slouching in every coffee shop or slumped on a bar stool or monotoning into a microphone... have you ever been to Wordstock? Willamette Writers? With so much competition for publishers’ and readers’ attention, what’s a person to do who has a story to tell, and wants to share it with everyone?

The writer’s life is by no means easy; first there’s the writing part - -how to write the story? Where to find the time? Should I subscribe to Poets & Writers magazine? What’s that word for….? Do I need Facebook to be a writer? But if I’m on Facebook promoting my writing, when will I ever find time to write?

Then there’s publication - -get an agent? Focus on small presses? Self-publish?

And then the boogie men that infect the hopes and confidence and resolve of any would-be (or accomplished!) author -- self doubt, loneliness, writer’s block, disappointment, poverty, envy, obscurity. Too many barbarians at the gate! It’s enough to make a person ask, ‘is it worth it?’

Of course, it could always be worse... you could want to be a poet.

Sometimes we take comfort in the idea we’re not the only ones suffering for -- or because of -- a dream. That is, if you’ve contemplated giving up on writing, you’re not alone.

Should you give up? Here's some company:

Or should you keep going?

“But the writing life can be such a lonely, solitary existence! How can I connect with others who feel the way I do, and feel like I’m not alone?”

And even if you “make it,” and get your book published, it doesn’t mean you’ll be any more famous than before you got your work out there -- at least not during your lifetime! Can you handle that?:

Check out these well-regarded titles you probably never heard of:

And these works it would be laughable to call obscure:

Local or community resources, for support, writing groups, education, and even workspace:

Or maybe you just need to nurture your craft by getting away from your daily life long enough to think, use your imagination, to write -- to breathe! and maybe a requisite chore or two:

 -- by Kass

cover of walking in rainI found a single remaining copy Of Walking in Rain by Matt Love on the shelf of a coffee shop in Manzanita. It was high summer, but I couldn’t resist its pull, the feel of the paper, the promise of reading it on a rainy day in autumn. There was no price tag and the cashier seemed baffled as to what to charge. I had a $20 bill in my pocket and offered that. A signed copy for $20? Done.

It sat on my bookshelf the rest of the summer. And it was an unusually hot, long, and dry summer too. By the time the rains came and leaves began to change colors and fall, it was November. At last. Historically I have been a sun worshipper, but have long had a love affair with rain. Especially stormy downpours. The sun brings out the super efficient doer in me, while the rain gives me a reason to take a breath, pause, reflect.

This is Matt Love’s contemplative musings on rain. Will it make you a lover of rain?

Notes to Mr. Love:

p.s. Counting Crows have some of the best rain songs around and none were mentioned.

(Raining in Baltimore and Amy Hit the Atmosphere)

p.p.s. Also, I carry an umbrella and refuse to feel guilty about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"But what¹s underneath it all? What is missing is a surgeon who has the courage to examine the tissue and declare: gentlemen, this is cancer, and it is not benign. What is cancer? It¹s something that changes all the cells, which causes them to grow in a haphazard manner, outside of any previous logic. Is a cancer patient who dreams the same healthy body that he had before nostalgic, even if before he was stupid and unlucky? Before the cancer, I mean. First of all, one would have to make quite an effort to re-establish the same image. I listen to all the politicians and their little formulas, and it drives me insane. They don¹t seem to know what country they are talking about; they are as distant as the Moon. And the same goes for the writers, sociologists and experts of all sorts."
-from Pasolini's final interview, conducted a few hours before he was murdered at the age of 53
Cover of In Danger - Pasolini

Italian poet, filmmaker, essayist, utopian, provocateur and queer libertine, Pier Paolo Pasolini lived relentlessly in his quest to envision and produce a world where art never confirms but always wrenches new ways of living and desiring.

Part of me feels that any attempt to do justice to Pasolini's work would simply and silently replicate the work itself.  Perhaps all we can do is situate the films, the poems, the essays, the life itself, in a specific historical conjuncture - 20th century Italy as it staggered from fascism to embattled republic including serious challenges from the PCI (Italian Communist Party) - and then allow them to do the talking.  Pasolini brought all of his trenchant intelligence, tenderness, hatred and sincerity to bear on everything and anything that smacked of middle-class quietism.  Born into a social milieu that primarily offered despair and isolation, Pasolini kicked against the pricks, staking ground to be abandoned as soon as comfort loomed.  In Danger: A Pasolini Anthology is a choice and tight collection - ostensibly zeroed in on Pasolini's political musings and provocations.  But to say that everything was political for Pasolini would be cliched and an understatement.  If you find In Danger bracing and inspirational, please do yourself a favor and try to check out everything Pasolini touched (there are a decent handful of texts and DVDs in the MCL collection for starters).

Last summer 13 year old Mo'Ne Davis, whose fastball has been clocked at 71 miles per hour, was the first Little Leaguer to get on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Have you seen her pitch? Amazing!

Did you know that just 42 years ago girls were not allowed to play Little League?

I learned this and more in the book Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX, the law that changed the future of girls in America. The book is well written and full of startling facts, great photos and cartoons. Did you know that U.S. Representative from Oregon Edith Green was the author of Title IX? I didn't. 

A few more facts to get you thinking about life for females in the U.S. before Title IX:

  • In the 1970's a school district spent $250,000 a year on boys' sports teams and only $970 on the one sport offered to girls.
  • In the 1970's University of Michigan spent $2.6 million on men's sports and $0 on women's sports.
  • Before Title IX, many law and medical schools limited the numbers of women they would admit.

Oh, the difference Title IX has made in the lives of women and girls in the U.S.

 

From Freely Espousing
by James Schuyler

"a commingling sky

                      a semi-tropic night
                      that cast the blackest shadow
                      of the easily torn, untrembling banana leaf

or Quebec! what a horrible city
so Steubenville is better?
                          the sinking sensation
when someone drowns thinking, “This can’t be happening to me!”
the profit of excavating the battlefield where Hannibal whomped the Romans
the sinuous beauty of words like allergy
the tonic resonance of
pill when used as in
“she is a pill”
on the other hand I am not going to espouse any short stories in which lawn mowers clack.
No, it is absolutely forbidden
for words to echo the act described; or try to. Except very directly
as in
bong. And tickle. Oh it is inescapable kiss."

Schuyler Selected Poems Cover

I first encountered - and eventually fell in love with - James Schuyler's poetry in a college bookstore in the late 1980s.  Periodically browsing the oh-so tiny "Poetry" section for incoming delights, I found Schuyler's Selected Poems but was initially repelled by the goopy watercolor painting that spanned the entire front cover (the packaging too seemingly reminiscent of some kind of sentimental/inspirational poems collection).  I eventually returned to read the author bio and immediately purchased the book as soon as I realized Schuyler was a member of the so-called New York School of Poets (Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery are perhaps the biggest stars of this loose historical/geographical conjuncture). Like O'Hara (a sometime roommate), Schuyler's poetry often comes off as conversational, improvisatory, delicate.  And like O'Hara and Ashbery, Schuyler was as influenced by the contemporaneous art world (he was a curator at MOMA for a brief period in the late 1950s and an art critic during much of the first half of his adult life). 

What impressed - and continues to impress - me so about Schuyler's poetry is the way straightforward evocations of the quotidian explode and reframe experience, but never fully leave the specific material moment.  His work is never simply celebratory or feel-good.  A brief encounter with Schuyler's poetry might too easily suggest trivial evocations of simple moments. The attentive reader though is faced with a tendency for things and language to fall apart.  I believe that it's always important to historically situate a writer's work and we can see the same kinds of destabilization in Schuyler's poems that are omnipresent in TV's Madmen and the world of white-collar professionals in the late 1950s/early 1960s - the as yet unrealized economic and social rot at the heart of urban white middle-class existence.

Allan Karlsson is a self-taught explosives expert and a charming resident of a Swedish nursing home.  He has no use for politics nor religion, but will readily accept any reasonable invitation to a fine meal, provided there’s no dull chatter of communism or any other ism.   So how did he come to find himself suspected of murder and on the lam with a pair of known criminals, a hot dog vendor, and a runaway elephant? 

It’s simple really.  He climbed out of his window in pursuit of a good vodka.  It’s his 100th birthday after all and after decades spent blowing up bridges and haphazardly falling in and out of favor with world leaders such as Truman, Franco, Mao, and Stalin, doesn’t he deserve as much?

The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is the perfect faux snow day book. Cuddle up with a quilt, a hot vodka toddy, and share some laughs with this wonderfully irreverent centenarian.

For other amusing titles to keep you entertained when the possibility of wintry weather interrupts your plans, check out this list.

Miles from Nowhere bookjacketI love to travel and when I do I like to feel fairly confident that I will return in one piece. So when I want to do some seriously adventurous travel, I naturally turn to books. Longest walk bookjacketHere are a couple of my favorites:

In the spring of 1978, Barbara Savage and her husband hopped on their bikes, leaving their comfortable home in Santa Barbara, California on the first leg of their journey around the world. Along the way, they encountered maniac drivers in south Florida; experienced the extreme poverty, squalor and disease of rural Egypt; and learned that in India what appears to be a toilet could actually be shower. Miles from Nowhere is a really engaging account and one of the few books I have read for a second time.

The Longest Walk Along with his Japanese girlfriend, Englishman George Meegan began walking north from Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. This was in 1977. By the time he had taken his final step in September of 1983, he had covered over 19,000 miles, married his girlfriend Yoshiko, become a father twice, met an American president, and traveled to the shores of the Beaufort Sea at the northernmost tip of Alaska. Definitely not something I would try to emulate -- but what a story!

I think it was in the late 1980s when I became a Remedios Varo admirer. It might be that her close relationship with Frida Kahlo and Leonora Carrington made me aware of her contextual Celestial Pablum by Remedios Varoexistence. Born in Spain in 1908, this surrealist artist was strongly influenced by her father, a hydraulic engineer, her second husband Benjamin Beret a French dadaist, and her friend André Breton.

When living in Paris she was forced into exile during WWII and settled down in Mexico City. She found refuge in Mexico until she died in 1963. Graduated from the prestigious San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid, she created around 150 art pieces, 110 of them created in Mexico using oils on masonite panels she prepared herself. Her art is full of ambiguous characters; the elements of her painting are mostly biographical, and her art is allegorical, humorous, fantastic, and oriented to science, the spiritual and the psychological.  

From the very beginning I was fascinated and intrigued with her peculiar style and wanted to know who she was. Back in the days before the internet, information was very limited so I couldn't pursue my research; but I held in my mind some images of her artwork that I saw in books and postcards. Then one day, I was reading the newspaper and discovered that the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City would be hosting one of her exhibitions -- what an opportunity! I went and spent and entire afternoon contemplating her creations and trying to digest every single image. Among my favorite paintings were "Celestial Pablum," "Creation of the Birds," and "The Cats Paradise." Her potential and her creative mind were not recognized as she deserved; you probably won't find much information about her. For me, the afternoon I spent in the company of this forgotten surreal artist will always remain in my mind. Learn more about her work in The Magic of Remedios Varo.

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