Caught in the Rain, Musings on Technology, & a Quotation from Anna Gavalda’s “Life, Only Better

Andie MacDowell in the rain (Four Weddings and a Funeral)

Andie MacDowell in the rain (Four Weddings and a Funeral)

Remember the scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral in which Carrie/Andie MacDowell shows up soaked in the rain to apologize to Charles/Hugh Grant  for ruining his wedding? After Charles spotted Carrie in the church and learned she was separated from her husband, he  jilted Duckface at the altar–and who could blame him?

It was one of my favorite movies of the ’90s.  Two gorgeous, charming people in love: Charles meeting Carrie at a friend’s wedding, and the attraction immediate, though Charles almost bumbles their secret tryst at an inn (he can’t get away from a talkative fellow wedding guest),  and though they finally work out the logistics of losing the other guest and sleeping together, the witty, vivacious Carrie gets engaged to someone else.  Still, they keep meeting at weddings and elsewhere.  They tell each other how many people they’ve slept with:  Carrie, 32, Charles, 9.

And, naturally, the two get together in the end.  The truth? I preferred his friend Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas), who admits she’s in love with Charles, but she’s the sidekick who doesn’t get the guy.

Oddly, it’s the rain scene that sticks in my mind. It’s jut raining so damned hard in that movie!

I got caught in the rain today.

It was unromantic.

I went out on my bike to pick up new bifocals and then amused myself at  the Hy-Vee by discovering I can once again read small print on labels. I emerged with a bag of groceries, knowing exactly the nutritional value of each item,  and…

The rain was pouring!  If felt like water needles!  People huddled under the awnings!  Cars lined up with their windshield wipers squeaking!   Boldly I hopped on my bike, unwilling to spend more time at the  stores, and rode home  through sheets of rain.

I thought, Hm, if I were in England, I’d have an umbrella.

Was it like Four Weddings and a Funeral?  No.

The rain was like this, only I didn't have a rain poncho!

I didn’t have a rain poncho!

Life, Only Better by Gavalda 51XbUwW3ScL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_AM I A LUDDITE?  Not exactly.  But  I often mark passages that trash technology.

In the French wrtier Anna Gavalda’s two new novellas in Life, Only Better, the despair of twenty-something characters is related to their disillusionment with technology.  In the first novella, 24-year-old Mathilde wittily explains that, yes, she is still an art history student, but she actually works full-time for her brother-in-law drumming up business for his digital design agency: she targets a company by leaving negative comments under pseudonyms in Google forums, tweets, tags, yelps,  and pins until businesses  hire her brother-in-law to redesign their website.  Then, after the companies have spent some money,  she reverses the process with positive reviews.

Naturally, such work makes a person cynical.  She’s pretty and smart, but she has no relationships.  Her dates don’t work out.  She despises her roommates, twin sisters who still go home frequently to see their parents.  They have spent a lot of money on renovations on the apartment, and entrust her with their share  of the money to pay the landlord while they go away for the weekend.   But she leaves her bag with all the money at a cafe, and her terror  of the consequences is the beginning of a meaningful change.

When Jean-Baptiste, a fat, smelly assistant chef, returns the bag with everything intact, she doesn’t know what to think of him.  But she knows from things he says that he looked at the information on her  phone (she is mortified to think he read her texts) and an old love letter written by an ex-boyfriend, a poet.  After their brief rendezvous, the chef leaves hang-up calls in the middle of the night (which I think is creepy), but finally she picks up and accepts an invitation to a meal at his house at midnight the next night  (after he gets off work).  Alas, the phone number she writes down is illegible, so the romance, if that’s what it, is star-crossed. But she searches for him, because, let’s face it, he’s honest (she thinks) and he’s the most real person she’s met in a while.

She compares seeking real relationships with the illusory bread and circuses of technology.

She says,

Isn’t Facebook fantasy?  And, and OkCupid, and Meetup?  And all those ridiculous social websites.  All those miserable cauldrons where you stir your loneliness in between two advertisements, all those “likes, ” all those networks of imaginary friends, monitored communities, penniless, sheeplike, paying fraternities connected to wealthy servers… what is that?

We’ve all been there.

The second novella is less suspenseful.  Yann, a quiet 26-year-old man, has fewer highs and lows, but consistently feels empty and worthless.  He has a  a dead-end job:  after dreaming  of being a brilliant designer, he landed a job demonstrating programmable vacuum cleaners, talking refrigerators, and other electronic gizmos.  He is in a sad relationship with a controlling woman he will never love.  But he doesn’t realize this until he spends an evening with neighbors who are obviously very much in love, so much in love that it hurts him.  He decides to take a chance he would never otherwise have taken.

I very much enjoyed these novellas, especially Mathilde.  And, by the way, this is my third book by a  Women in Translation  this month.  My second French book of the month (after Colette’s The Pure and the Impure).

Women in Translation Month: Antonina by Evgeniya Tur

Evgeniya tur antonina 9780810114074-usMany bloggers are participating in “Women in Translation Month, “an annual reading event in August established three years ago by translator-blogger Meytal Radzinski.

I must confess, much of my reading in translation consists of rereading 19th-century French and Russian classics by men. But I recently read Colette’s The Pure and the Impure, an uneven collection of essays about gender and sexuality. (I wasn’t keen on it.)

In  honor of WIT, I also made a special point of reading a few women writers I’d never heard of.  I especially loved Antonina, a novella by the Russian writer Evgeniya Tur (1851-1892), translated by Michael R. Katz.

Tur was a fan of the Brontes and Turgenev:  Antonina is partly a retelling of Jane Eyre, partly a feminist riff on Turgenev’s Diary of a Superfluous Man and An Unfortunate Woman.  Published in 1851, Tur’s brilliant novella is part of The Niece, a four-part novel (which I have not been able to find.  Does anyone know if it has been translated?)

The prose is plain and unembellished, though whether that is the Russian or the translation, who knows?  but I loved it and found the story utterly absorbing.  Antonina recounts the tale of her life, beginning with her miserable childhood, which is followed by a brief blossoming and independence, and then a complicated marriage. As a child, she is very like Jane Eyre, though her persecutor is her stepmother, not her aunt. To make the novel more poignant, her papa and stepmother, unlike Jane Eyre’s relatives, work as a tutor and governess. After her rich German immigrant father, a widower, loses all his money, they move into the Venin household.  His second wife, Madame Stein, resentful of her fall from wealth to governess, is a monster to Antonina.  When Antonina stands up to the taunting and ridicule of the Velin children (think John Reed, only the chief tormentor is a girl, Katya),  her stepmother locks her in the closet or feeds her on bread and water.  Her father tries to intervene, but he is weak.

Eventually Antonina’s father leaves her with Madame Stein:  only when he is dying does he write and ask them to join him in Moscow Then Madame Stein returns to the Velins and marries Milkot, a tutor with whom she has long conducted a flirtation.  She informs Antonina he is her new stepfather.

God help Antonina!  He is a sadist:   if she fails to learn fast enough, he beats her.

“Have you learned it all?”

If I hadn’t managed to do so, he sometimes gave me a reprieve of half an hour, which, however, was totally useless, because I couldn’t learn anything when I felt so tormented by fear and anxiety….   At the first mistake he would look at me with his terrible, cold eyes that caused me so much trepidation, my thoughts became muddled, my memory refused to serve me, and very often I would make another mistake.

“Be careful!”  he would warn me.

And if she failed, he would call her stepmother and say, “We’ve earned a reward today!” (i.e, a punishment.)


Evgeniya Tur

Like Jane Eyre, Antonina stands up to her oppressors:  she gets away.  She becomes a governess–anything is better than the stepparents–and is much loved by the family, who take her on visits to friends and even to balls.   She and  a rich young man, Michel, fall in love, though their relationship is not consummated. But gossip is spread, she becomes an outcast, and nighmarishly is dragged back to live with her stepparents. This isn’t the end of her unhappy life, but she becomes numb.  After losing Michel, she loses her sexual desire.

In the introduction to the European Classics edition (Northwestern University Press), Jehanne Gheith tells us Antonina was highly praised by critics.  Turgenev said, “These pages…will remain in Russian literature,” but the novella has not been republished in Russian since 1851 (as of 1996, when this edition was published in the U.S.).  It is very difficult to find her books.  The name Evgeniya Tor is transliterated as Eugene Toor at the Internet Archives, where you can download a free nineteenth-century translation of her novel, The Shalonski Family:  A Tale of the French Invasion of Russia.  (I have not read this.)

Gheith also writes that most Russian women’s prose works of the nineteenth century have “shared the fate of Antonina….It is difficult even to find works by Russian women–in Russian or in English.”

It was very lucky that I found this stunning book!   The only other novel by a Russian woman I can think of is The Slynx.   If you know any other Russian women’s novels, please tell me.

Visiting the Book Vault in Oskaloosa, Iowa


                The Book Vault in Osakaloosa

Today we drove to Oskaloosa, Iowa, a small town (population:  11,568). Why?  Well, this morning I was reading The Indie Bob Spot, a retired teacher’s blog about his trips to independent bookstores around the country.  Indie Bob says The Book Vault, a 10-year-old independent bookstore in Oskaloosa, is “not only one of the best in Iowa but one of the best in the midwest.”

My husband sighed and went so far as to say Indie Bob must be writing for money.  (No, no, no, no:  I know enthusiasm when I see it! )   The real reason we went:  the store is housed in a renovated bank, built in 1892.  We love historic buildings.  The best renovated bank ever is in Willa Cather’s hometown, Red Cloud, Nebraska.

Why is there a bookstore in such a small town?  It is owned by The Musco Corporation, a sports lighting company, which, according to Indie Bob,   “takes seriously the importance of having a vibrant, educated community and backs this bookstore, in part, due to the attractiveness of its presence when looking at prospective employees.” (That DOES sound PR-ish, doesn’t it?)

I walked into the store and loved the space. It is a three-story building (two open to the public), with rooms that run the length of the building, a vaulted ceiling, wooden floors and tile floors, balconies, and books in the bank vaults!

And the small collection is beautifully-curated, with a strong fiction and biography section, an Iowa books section in a vault, a fabulous cookbook section, and a test kitchen in the back. On the balcony are SF, children’s books, Y.A. books, and a few used books.

book vault front floor seen from above IMG_6045

I found many books on my TBR  list (but of course could not buy them all):   I am dying to read award-winning Jonis Agee’s new novel, The Bones of Paradise, “a multigenerational family saga set in the unforgiving Nebraska Sand Hills in the years following the massacre at Wounded Knee.” Agee is VERY good.  I also long to read Garth Risk Halberg’s City on Fire, now in paperback.  And I considered a “Rediscovered Classic” published by Chicago Review Press,  Gwen Bristow’s  1959 historical novel, Celia Garth, about a dressmaker during the American Revolution who becomes a patriot spy.  (No idea if Bristow, a journalist-turned-novelist, was any good: perhaps she’s like Edna Ferber?)

And the mysteries are in a vault!  I think that’s the funniest thing ever.

The Mystery of the Book Vault:  Uh, the mysteries ARE in the vault!

The Mystery of the Book Vault: the mysteries ARE in the vault!


sugar_creek_chronicleWHAT DID I BUY?  In the Iowa section, I found a new book published by University of Iowa Press, A Sugar Creek Chronicle: Observing Climate Change from a Midwestern Woodland, by Cornelia F. Mutel, a science writer.  She alternates journal entries of of a year of observations in the Iowa woods where she and her husband live with  memories of explorations of nature in Wisconsin when she was growing up and information about climate change.   It is beautifully written, and I am loving it.

I also bought an SF novel, Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, winner of the Quill Award.

I really did want more, but even I have limits.

And then we went next door to the huge coffeehouse, Smokey Row.

IMG_3855On the left is a photo of my coffee  and what I’m reading. Yup, I’m on my Kindle, so you won’t have the faintest idea what I’m reading.

Below is a photo of me at me at Smokey Row. Since a recent–ahem!–birthday,  I look exactly like my Aunt Frances, a consumer economist whom we all greatly miss.  The great thing about going older?  It no longer matters how you look.  It’s who you are.


And here’s a blackboard with a quote from Willa Cather,  in front of the Smokey Row entrance to The Book Vault.


Next to Smokey Row is a picturesque alley, which has plants, iron tables, and posters of historical figures from Oskaloosa.  The only one you’re likely to recognize is Phil Jones, drummer for Tom Petty.


I was fascinated  Virginia Knight Logan, who sounds like a Willa Cather character!  She was educated in Chicago, was a soprano with the New York Opera company, and then moved to Oskaloosa, where she taught music.  Her son,  Frederic Knight Logan,who  studied music in New York, was  known as “America’s Waltz King” and the composer of the “Missouri Waltz.”


A lovely day in a small town!

An SF Novel Longlisted for the Booker: David Means’ Hystopia

Hystopia David Means 51sgTORYDGL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

The perusal of the Man Booker Prize longlist is a summer ritual. We were jaded about the prize for a couple of years, but now we’re back. I’ve added a few of the longlisted books to my summer reading, and I highly recommend David Means’  SF novel, Hystopia, a trippy alternate history of the 1960s.

Means has constructed a flamboyant meta-1960s novel within a novel, framed by the fictional editor’s notes, including excerpts from notes of the  fictive author, Eugene Allen, a Vietnam vet, and  interviews with his friends and neighbors. The editor’s notes provide a pseudo-scholarly text that offsets the linguistic pyrotechnics of Eugene’s novel, published after Eugene’s suicide.

The editor explains,

The manuscript was found in the drawer in Allen’s room by his mother, Mary Ann Allen, who gave it to Byron Riggs, professor of English at the University of Michigan, who in turn passed it on to his good friend, the writer Fran Johnson, who subsequently sent the manuscript to her agent, who, with the permission of the Allen family, submitted it to publishers, who, as they say, went into a frenzied bidding war that had little to do with the so-called marketability of the novel itself because, as most admitted, openly, the book was hardly fit for the fiction market at the time (or any time) but was publishable because of the marketability of the so-called backstory: a twenty-two-year-old Vietnam vet sits at his desk and composes a fictive world that is—as the critic Harold R. Ross stated—“ bent double upon itself, as violent and destabilized as our own times, as pregnant and nonsensical.”

In Eugene’s novel, the U.S. is fractured by violence:  Kennedy has survived the assassination attempt and is in his third term as president, but his wave-by tours in an open car attract other would-be assassins.   Vietnam veterans are shipped to Michigan to be treated by the Psych Corps established by Kennedy to treat mental illness in general but especially to deal with the problem of returning Vietnam vets. The treatment, known as “enfolding,” combines a dose of a drug called Tripizoid with a reenactment of the traumatic events by actual actors, which results in “enfolding” the memories, i.e.,  amnesia about their tours of duty.  But the drug doesn’t work on everyone, and psychotic vets are terrorizing Michigan, which is burning as a result of fires started in Detroit and Flint during riots.

The novel centers on tracking down a rogue vet, Rake, a mass murderer.  He has recently kidnapped Meg Allen (the sister of Eugene, the author), from the mental health facility where she was being treated for her nervous breakdown after the death her soldier boyfriend Billy-T.

Early on , one of the heroes of the novel, Singleton, a Psych Corp agent, is listening to his boss Klein’s analysis of Rake.  There are references to  pop culture, acting, and “Brando syndrome.”

“Yes, Brando syndrome. I’ve thought of that. And Dean. Most of the dramatic types imagine themselves as inheritors of a great rebellious tradition and see no need to find a cause for their rebellions, so they lean toward Dean. Auden said, ‘It’s the insane will of the insane to suffer insanely.’ Something like that. It’s the same with actors. The line between what they’re presenting and their own inner life thins, if they’re weak of will, and the character they’re embodying becomes the body they’re presenting, something like that. When you consider the fact that Rake is a failed enfold and he has dramatic inclinations … I hope you’re listening to me, Singleton. We’re talking about grunt-level thinking, and to get to that you have to go to the random particulars, or the particulars that seem to map out the random.”

Work in the Psych Corps bureaucracy is dull:   Singleton, an “enfolded” Vietnam vet,  wants action.  He embarks on an illicit affair with Wendy, an agent recovering from the crippling of her  boyfriend in Vietnam.  (Psych corps agents are forbidden to “fraternize” with each other). The two of them spend much time trying to understand their emotional numbness:  Vietnam permeates every aspect of American life.   Then, one day a mysterious man approaches Singleton:  he identifies himself as the chaplain in Vietnam who used to give him “the good stuff” and gives  Singleton some blue pills.  Singleton begins to remember bits of his tour of duty, and the blue pills enhance the connection between him and Wendy.  And when Singleton gets a tip about Rake’s whereabouts, he and Wendy hit the road.

Meanwhile, Rake has inflicted his violence on more people.  Rake took Meg to the Michigan woods to stay with Hank, a Vietnam vet who  was once his sidekick. Hank is a reformed character who “enfolded” himself with a dose of Tripizoid while his  Mom-Mom tied him up:  he now he is a peaceful man of the forest, and wants to stop Rake without any more killing, but it’s like living with a time bomb.   He guards Meg while Rake goes out on sprees and teaches her how to behave to survive.   He understands Rake’s psychology but doesn’t want to go one-on-one with him.

Fabulous writing, long, loopy, druggy sentences, slightly reminiscent of Samuel R. Delany’s postmodern  SF classic,  Dhalgren, (only Hystopia is more comprehensible), or perhaps Hunter S. Thompson. (Actually, I may not know what Means read!)  Means also interviewed many Vietnam vets.

Here’s one of my favorite passages, describing Singleton and Wendy on the road:

For miles, as they continued north, the needle was still making a shish pop, shish pop, as it rode the eternal runout groove at the end of Fun House on the signal out of Flint, strong off the night sky until, finally, it merged with white static and became faint background sizzle while the state unfurled—the same stubbled fields and denuded trees and finless windmills and equipment left to rust—and then, finally, Johnny Cash pushed through, his voice weary and low to the ground as he sang a lament that seemed to match the landscape, speaking from within the prison walls to a train whistle out there.

This novel is Booker-worthy, as is Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton, which I wrote about here.

Are We “E”-Overwhelmed?, Do We Participate in Readalongs?, & Other Life and Death Questions

follow me A0a4PNJCUAA-OQFLory’s enjoyable post at Emerald City Book Review, “How do You Follow Other Blogs?”, made me realize that I don’t.   I am “e”-Overwhelmed by notifications of online book group schedules, catalogue sales,  Yahoo book group digests, alerts for newsletters, Goodreads author alerts, Twitter alerts (but I don’t have a Twitter account!), and links to dismaying  articles at my favorite “liberal” publications knocking even the Democrats off the pedestal (please don’t!), and political organizations demanding money. (I gave to Bernie.)

Anyway, I’m too muddled to pay much attention to “follow” notifications, but I do read blogs.  I have bookmarked at least a zillion.

Is anyone else in the e-Overwhelmed category?

2. How about readalongs?  I am happy to say that I have read and written about two books for the All Virago/All August event,  Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights (here) and Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins (here). (Karen of Kaggysbookishramblings let me know about the Virago edition of Eight Cousins.)  Naturally I have American editions, but I love the Viragos.  Here are the Virago covers beside my NYRB and LOA editions!

3. Are you better than other people because you read literary fiction? Yes. I learned all about it in Alison Flood’s article, “Literary Fiction Readers Understand Others’ Emotions Better Study Finds,”  at The Guardian.  It seems that David Kidd and Emanuele Castano at the New School for Social Research in New York did a study of 1,000 participants and found that readers of literary fiction understand other people’s emotions better than others  (and pop fiction does not improve our understanding).    Although I love to read classics and literary fiction (and pop), I find that, though I may understand the emotions of Henry James’ characters , I do not understand human beings’ emotions at all!  And my best friend shattered me when she said of Henry James, “There may have been people like that once, but there aren’t any more.”  Oh my goodness, and I love Isabel Archer!

4. Is there enough “Cli-Fi” to read in this year of new record global temperatures?  Science fiction writer Paul di Fillipo at The Barnes and Noble Review says yes.

Earlier this summer — in a year marked by new record global temperatures — I toured some of the more exotic, outré, and far-fetched works of “Anthropocene fiction” that envisioned how humanity might imprint its often lethal image onto our home planet — even distorting other planets and the whole cosmos at large. After such visions as entire worlds clad in steel, and a solar system whose components were juggled about and reprocessed, the simple notion of Greenhouse Earth — the scenario where an unintentional and relatively tiny incremental change in average world temperature brings vast environmental and geophysical disasters and sociopolitical and cultural disruption and mass mortality — is now hardly science-fictional at all. Climate change is indeed the stuff of daily headlines, to an extent than when we encounter a recent front-page feature in The New York Times reporting on “climate refugees” in the USA and South America, the pairing of those two terms requires little in the way of explanation.

He recommends several novels and new anthologies.

What have we done to our beautiful planet, turned into a hell of our own making?

A Caffeinated Readathon: Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins, Eve Babitz’s Eve’s Hollywood, David Means’ Hystopia, and Jonathan Franzen’s Purity

alcott loa work, rose in bloom, etc. 41hRjni4-DL

The Library of America edition.

I had a caffeinated readathon on Sunday. Too little sleep, too much coffee, and I read parts of four books, but finished only my comfort book, Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins.

It  started when I woke up on Sunday at 3:45 a.m.  I thought it was near dawn, and realized I would be up in time to watch the men’s Olympic marathon.


WHY WAS I AWAKE?  The marathon didn’t start till 7:30.  There was no possiblity that Bob Costas was working at 3:45, even Brazil time.

So I got up and I played String with the cats–this involves swinging a string , and my cats are so lazy that after a while they lie on the floor and bat at it.  (They learned this from the oldest cat, who is their street-wise role model in all things).

Then I read for several hours.  Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Whitman Classics edition, with cover illustration by Robert

My original Whitman Classics edition from the ’60s!

Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins.  A few years ago I bought a Library of America volume of Louisa May Alcott’s work, edited by Susan Cheever, one of Alcott’s biographers.  This is a superb collection of Alcott’s children’s and adult writing, and includes the novels Work (known as “the adult Little Women”), Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom, and “Stories and Other Writings.”

Alcott is witty and  her dialogue is rambunctious, her best books are so fast-paced they can be inhaled, and her female characters are never,  as Jo says in Little Women, “affected, niminy-piminy chits.”  In Eight Cousins, the heroine, Rose Campbell,  an orphan, is a bit “niminy-piminy” at first, when fresh from boarding school, she is living on the “Aunt Hill,” with her great-aunts Plenty and Peace Campbell, both spinsters, who don’t  how to raise a teenager.  In the neighborhood live four other aunts, three of whom are the mothers of Rose’s seven male cousins, and each has her own ideas about bringing up girls.  Aunt Myra, a gloomy hypochondriac whose daughter Caroline died as a child (poor Myra and poor Caroline!), is convinced Rose is not long for this world and doses her with pills. Fortunately, Rose’s guardian, Uncle Alec, a charming doctor, returns from sea and  throws out the pills and forbids Rose to drink the  coffee which was supposed to calm her nerves.  He has brought back a chest of gifts from the exotic East to bribe her with, though that word is never used:  Soon she is drinking fresh milk in a special wooden cup that is supposed to make everything taste better,  substituting colorful sashes for the tight fashionable belt, wearing beautiful loose dresses,  running (the Olympics marathon next?),  gardening, and even camping (God help her!).  Endearingly, she befriends and “adopts” the teenage maid, Phebe, who was raised at an orphanage. And the girls have fun together and prove to be equal in intelligence, as we learn when Rose later helps her with her writing.  (Phebe surpasses her in arithmetic, due to keeping accounts.)

Alcott understands boys so well, yet she had only sisters.  When Uncle Alec arrives unexpectedly, a “warning” is sent to the Campbell boys to prepare them for Uncle Alec’s presence at church.

It was evident that the warning had been a wise one, for, in spite of time and place, the lads were in such a ferment that their elders sat in momentary dread of an unseemly outbreak somewhere.  It was simply impossible to keep those fourteen eyes off Uncle Alec, and the dreadful things that were done during the sermon will hardly be believed.

My favorite of the cousins is Mac, the bookworm, and when he strains his eyes, has to wear an eye shade, and cannot reads, Rose is the best “nurse”:  she spends hours reading to him and entertaining him.  (Mac plays a big role in the sequel, Rose in Bloom. when they grow  up, but I won’t breathe a word about it.)  Anyway, Rose learns to hold her own with the boys:  when Charlie (known as Prince) and Archie stop speaking to each other–both have fallen into bad company, the one drinking too much, the other in debt for betting–Rose sets a good example and mediates.  They have an easier time talking to a girl about their problems than to each other.

Alcott moralizes more overtly in Eight Cousins than in Little Women or my favorite, An Old-Fashioned Girl. but Rose is not perfect, thank God.  When her fashionable frenemy, Annabel Bliss, tempts her to have her ears pierced, Rose cannot resist, even though she knows Uncle Alec will disapprove..  It hurts like hell–there is no numbing with ice cubes–and she plans to keep it secret for a while–but she has forgotten that her six-year-old cousin, Jamie, and his little friend Doodie were witnesses:  they were playing in the corner!  And they tell!  ( I couldn’t resist getting my ears pierced either, though, alas, I have a metal allergy!  No jewelry for this girl…)  Uncle Alec gives Rose a break, and she does wear little gold earrings/

pierced ears eight-cousins-annabel-bliss-and-rose-chapter-15


Eve's Hollywood 41LfGk35RaL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_2. Eve Babitz’s Eve’s Hollywood, which I learned about this from Jacqui Wine’s blog. Babitz’s autobiographical novel about coming of age in L.A. is witty and hilarious!

As a fan of Dancing with the Stars, I especially enjoyed the chapter about ballroom dancing in gym class.  When it rains,  Eve and the other girls are thrilled, because instead of changing into smelly gym clothes, they get to dance to records by Chuck Berry, etc.  They love it, but the  best dancers are the tough, cool Mexican girls.  Here is a description of one of their dances.

The Choke was a Pachuco invention. The Pachucos were what we called kids who spoke with Mexican accents whether they were Mexican or not and who lived real lives. The Choke looked like a completely Apache, deadly version of the jitterbug only you never thought of the jitterbug when you watched kids doing the Choke. There was no swing in the Choke, it was staccato. It was Pachuco, police-record, L.A. flamenco dancing.

3. Jonathan Franzen’s Purity.  What can I say?  It’s Jonathan Franzen, and it’s addictively readable.  I’m fascinated by the characters living in a squat, but it unfortunately breaks up when a wife leaves her husband.  I’ve only read 100 pages so far, but much more on this later.

4. David Means’ Hystopia, nominated for the Man Booker Prize.  So far I love it: it is reminiscent of Samuel R. Delany’s very weird post-modern SF classic, Dhalgren.   Hystopia is an alternate history of the ’60s in which Kennedy survived the assassination attempt and is in his third term, Detroit and the rest of Michigan are burning because of fires that started in riots  in Detroit, and Vietnam vets are treated with a combination of drugs and reenacting their traumas that “enfolds” their traumas  and sometimes cure them but also causes amnesia.  Some rogue Vietnam vets  have not submitted to treatment or have not responded to it and are raising hell…  (Very well-written. So far this seems Booker-worthy!)

Going to Omaha for the Books!

We live in a small, beautiful city on the prairie.  Nobody knows it’s here; nobody understands why we live here. It’s not glam, but it’s Paradise in the summer, and  has livable urban neighborhoods near shops, almost no traffic, and everything you need to be a well-adjusted 21st-century American.   A woman who moved here from California observed  in line at Starbucks,  “I can live anywhere there’s a Starbucks and Target!”

But we do lack bookstores, except for B&N, so today we headed to Omaha, the nearest big city, to browse at Jackson Street Booksellers, a huge used bookstore, and The Bookworm.

Jackson Street Booksellers, Omaha

Jackson Street Booksellers, Omaha

First up:  I found an  irresistible Library of America volume with three of William Dean Howells’ novels, The Minister’s Charge, April Hopes, and Annie Kilburn.  Have you heard of these?  We have not, but I love Howells!

Ilka chase new york 22 bought in omahaAnd now for ’50s pop!  I could not resist this cover.  According to Kirkus, Ilka Chase’s 1951 novel New York 22 is “a chaise longue coverage of marital friction, feminine calculation and upper bracket racketing, this should have good rentals on the distaff side; and substantial sales to the gilded glamor fringe.”

There is very little about Chase online.   The daughter of Edna Woolman Chase, the editor of Vogue from 1914-1952, Ilka was a member of the Smart Set and an actress who starred in many Broadway plays, including the original Broadway version of The Women.  Ilka adapted her novel In Bed We Cry, the story of a self-made career woman in the cosmetics business.  And she had  her own  TV show called Fashion Magic!

I’ll be happy if this novel is readable in the style of a trashy pageturner like Faith Baldwin’s Skyscraper or Susann’s  Valley of the Dolls (a truly great trash classic!).  There’s hope:  The characters are drinking cocktails, and the heroine, Georgiana, leaves her husband and daughter  to chase a writer who is 12 years younger than she.

Here’s a quote chosen at random:

Georgiana sat in her office at Tang, her desk spread with manuscripts and correspondence waiting her attention, but she ignored them.  She was engrossed in reading the first review of Reams’s book, The Shadowed Path.  Reams had sailed according to schedule, but Barnstable had published it that week and Georgiana read the clippings with a sense of triumph and a sinking heart.  As she had expected, Reams was accepted into high company.  Thomas Wolfe,Hemingway, Faulkner, in reference and comparison–the great names dotted the columns.

I may save this for Thanksgiving:  I like to read old pop novels while the turkey is roasting.

C by Maurice Baring omahaNext up:  Maurice Baring’s C (1924).  I’ve never heard of it, but I do love a good novel about Edwardian house parties.  Goodreads says, “Baring’s homage to a decadent and carefree Edwardian age depicts a society as yet untainted by the traumas and complexities of twentieth-century living. With wit and subtlety a happy picture is drawn of family life, house parties in the country and a leisured existence clouded only by the rumblings of the Boer War. Against this spectacle Caryl Bramsley (the C of the title) is presented – a young man of terrific promise but scant achievement, whose tragic-comic tale offsets the privileged milieu.”

Last but not least,  Tama Janowitz’s A Certain Age.  I loved Janowitz’s new memoir, Scream (which I wrote about here), and look forward to reading this  modern retelling of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.

janowitz a certain age 1769009474

I bought nothing at the Bookworm today, because I had exceeded my limit at Jackson Street Booksellers.

And, by the way, here’s the sky  snapped from the car as we tooled down the highway:

Western Iowa off the highway