Friday, June 27, 2008

Cheever Biography

There's a biography of John Cheever scheduled to be published in 2009 by Knopf and excerpts are beginning to appear in various magazines. I've read two in the last few weeks. The first in the current issue of The Believer and the second in a free publication (distributed in several countries) called Vice. Judging from the excerpts this is "car wreck publishing" - the kind of stuff you know you should look away from but just can't tear your eyes off of.

It's no secret John Cheever was an alcoholic and the excerpts I read were filled with one sad anecdote after another detailing his out of control drinking. I come from a family of Olympian-class alcoholics myself and even I, who have witnessed every kind of binge, heard every pathetic excuse for having a drink, seen real car wrecks, and stood by hospital beds watching family members detox, was impressed/appalled by Cheever's drinking.

This biography, simply titled "Cheever" by Blake Bailey, appears well-written but I worry every time this kind of thing comes out that the life of the artist will begin to overshadow the work. Which would be a shame in this case because Cheever was truly a wonderful writer. I plan over the next few weeks to reread some of his stories, dip into his novels, maybe even reread some. I want to fix his prose in my memory again, want to replace gossip with art.

First line for The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever: "St. Botolphs was an old place, an old river town."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Austen's Latest Convert

The man about the house has just finished reading Pride and Prejudice. Judging by how quickly he read it, I'd say he liked it a lot. I quite enjoyed coming into the room to find him reading Jane Austen. An annoying man once bragged to me that he had never read Austen because he considered her "a girl's writer." He then went on to list all the other writers he had never read for, presumably, this same reason. I remember the Bronte sisters' names being mentioned, maybe Woolf, I forget who else. At the time it made me quite angry. Now I feel sorry for him. Imagine life without all those great books. Lucky for me my guy is one of those modern, sensitive types, too smart to divide the world of books into girls' and boys' writers. And lucky for him.

Monday, June 23, 2008

New Munro Story

There is a new Alice Munro story in the current issue of The New Yorker. You can read it online here. What are you waiting for? Alice Munro is a much better writer than I am. Go!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Julie Hecht

In the May issue of The Believer magazine I read an interview with Julie Hecht, a writer I had never heard of before then. It was an intriguing interview - she was smart, funny, odd and not overly in love with the modern world. I decided I liked her and added her to my list of people I wished were my friends. Then I ordered two of her books online: her first book of short stories, Do the Windows Open? and her novel, The Unprofessionals. She has also written a book about Andy Kaufman and has just released her second book of short stories, Happy Trails to You (which I am having a hard time finding). The books arrived and I devoured them. I wish I could think of someone to compare her to because she's tough to describe. The stories in Do the Windows Open? are linked, as they are told in the first person by the same unnamed narrator. A woman in her forties who is a photographer. Though that hardly matters. These are rambling, delicious, funny stories about modern life. Actually, I've never come across anything in print that sounds so much like the voice inside my own head. If you, like me, are alarmed by the lack of manners, intelligence, beauty and clothing you encounter every time you leave the protective shell of your book-lined abode, then Julie Hecht may be a writer you enjoy.

The Unprofessionals, her novel, is told by the same narrator as Do the Windows Open? and also has a character from that collection, but this is a darker book. This time the story centers on the friendship between the photographer, now in her late forties, and a young man she has known since he was a boy. They share a dismay about the way the modern world is. Both get through the day with the help of drugs: prescription in the case of the narrator, heroin in the case of the young man. It's a funny, sad, profound book. Julie Hecht is a unique, and I think, brilliant writer. I will definitely keep searching for her new book.

First line from The Unprofessionals by Julie Hecht: It was the second month of living without a soul and I was getting used to the feeling.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Best of the Booker - Vote

Best of the Booker is a contest to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Booker Prize. Judges have already whittled the field down to six books and now the public is invited to cast their vote. You've got until July 8th to make your pick. The winner will be announced July 10th. Click here to vote. (Rumour has it only a few thousand people have voted so far. Only a few thousand people worldwide care enough about literature to vote? C'mon people! If you don't want to be lumped in with the illiterate masses click that link now and vote!)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Don't Faint

Don't faint but I finally figured out how to make a link list. Remember how my computer kept blocking the pop-up window that allows me to create a link list, and all sorts of other cool things? Well, apparently if you hold down the Ctrl button the window appears. I just figured that out and feel pretty darn proud of myself. So, I've started a list of lit blogs and will be adding to it. If you have a lit blog and want to be added just leave me a message and I'll be happy to do so.

just shocking

We've been out looking at real estate lately and it is just shocking how many people own no books. I mean NO books. Not a one. This has started to disturb/fascinate me so much I no longer look at all the things I am suppose to look at, I just walk through looking for a book - I've given up hoping for a bookshelf.

Friday, June 13, 2008

I wouldn't but maybe you would...

Yesterday I was browsing in a bookstore, just trolling down the fiction aisle the way you do when you're not looking for anything in particular, and I bumped into this woman around the letter R. She pointed to the row of Tom Robbins titles and said, "I slept with him once. Or at least, I thought I did."

"Really." (I was intrigued.)

"Yeah, it was years ago at a party. There were lots of book people there. It was loud and I didn't realize until afterwards his name was John Robbins, not Tom."

How do you respond to that?! So I said, "Better luck next time." Then I moved on to the letter S.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Maytrees

The Maytrees is Annie Dillard's second novel. Before reading any further you should know I am a huge Annie Dillard fan. That said, I, of course, loved this novel. I love everything Annie Dillard writes and if I lived near her I would surely be arrested for snooping through her trash (can you be arrested for that?) because I am so desperate to read anything she cares to write down. So now you know. Don't bring your complaints about Dillard here. The Maytrees are Toby and Lou, a married couple, and the novel tells the story of their life, together and apart.

Time for another confession: I really hate writing book reviews. I hated writing them in school and managed to forget that until I started this blog. I don't even like reading book reviews. Bores me to tears to read someone suck the life out of a book by writing ridiculous things they hope will make themselves sound smart and perceptive. I have not yet resolved how I am going to tell you about the books I read without writing a book review but I'm working on it. About The Maytrees let's just say the characters did some wonderful things that made me want to reach out and hug them and they did some not so wonderful things that made me want to slap them. Let's add that the passages about the dunes on Cape Cod (a place I have never been) seemed so real I could smell the salt air and when I put the book down I had to shake out my socks to shed the sand between my toes. Saying those sorts of things will get you a failing grade on a book report in school, but will make an author float away on a cloud of happiness. Lord only knows what it will do for a blog reader.

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. First line: The Maytrees were young long ago.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Saturday at the Small Press Book Fair

On Saturday I was determined to go to the Small Press Book Fair, cold or no cold. So I loaded my tote bag up with Kleenex and headed downtown. And it was great. I got there about an hour after it opened and the room (it was held in the gym of a community centre) was buzzing with book lovers. I wandered around talking to people and reading cool stuff and wishing I had a lot more money than I did. I bought some zines and magazines, a cool patch with a bicycle on it (the wheels are shaped like hearts) and a t-shirt that says "I wanna be Wednesday Addams when I grow up". It was only five bucks and I thought it was such a deal, but then when I got home and looked at it more closely I saw that it actually said, "I wanna be Wednesday Addams when grow up". Spot the mistake? It's missing an "I". Oops! A typo on my chest. Makes for a change, they are usually in my manuscripts. I still like it and have been wearing it around. The rest of the weekend I tried to take it easy - always easier said than done - but I'm definitely feeling better now, in case you were worried.

Friday, June 6, 2008


Ugh, I've managed to pick up a cold. Right as we are switching from colder than normal temperatures to a heat wave. Now I get to sweat while constantly blowing my nose. The upside is, a cold is a good excuse to do nothing but lie around and read.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Orange Prize

I was happy to see Rose Tremain won the Orange Prize for her novel, The Road Home. Though I haven't read it (yet) I've long been a fan of Tremain's and have often thought she doesn't get as much attention as her work deserves. I loved Music and Silence (which won the Whitbread) and Restoration (which was shortlisted for the Booker). So, congratulations to Rose Tremain! If you haven't discovered her yet, look her up the next time you're wandering the aisles of your favourite bookstore.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I love it when

Don't you love it when you recommend a book and the person loves it?! I recommended Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides to a friend and he devoured it! That makes me feel so good. It's like setting someone up on a blind date and they wind up getting married. Okay, maybe not quite that good, but good.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Echoing Grove

I finished reading The Echoing Grove by Rosamond Lehmann the other day. It's a Virago title I picked up at a used bookstore. Published in 1953 it has a very simple plot: two sisters, one man; one sister is married to him, the other is having an affair with him. Though Lehmann manages dazzling tricks with time in this novel and often writes strikingly beautiful sentences, I just couldn't get into the story. Nothing ever seemed to happen beyond the love triangle. I even contemplated not finishing the book, but soldiered on. From the foreword (written by Jonathan Coe) I learned people tend to strongly like or dislike this novel. I am more in the later camp than the former. I am glad, however, that I read the foreword because I learned about the affair Lehmann had with Cecil Day Lewis. Day Lewis was married when he met Lehmann during the second world war and remained so for their nine year affair. But then in 1949 he met an actress named Jill Balcon and cast off both his wife and Lehmann to marry her. Amazing, huh? I don't give a hoot about Hollywood gossip but I love reading about bed hopping among the literati.