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>Weekly Geeks #6: Pickle Relish, Mustard, Catchup!

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> This week’s Weekly Geeks comes exactly at the right time. Our task is to catch up on our reviews. Last month, I let my reviews for April slide so far into May you probably thought they were greased. Not this month, sports fans!

7 books this month. I tried to finish Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, which I’m enjoying immensely, but it’ll have to go on the June tally. The year’s half over and my dream of triple digits for 2008 is starting to seem improbable. My Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm is huddled in a corner, gnawing on her knuckles. Pipe down, T&CIB. Here are my reviews:

Oil! – Upton Sinclair. [A fine sprawling novel about the oil business, government and religion and how they’re all inextricably entwined and surprisingly dependent on each other. It’s also the story of how a Socialist is made. The odd juxtaposition of Sinclair’s shrewd and lucid explanations of the machinations of these institutions coupled with his boisterous exclamation-riddled narrative style make him seem like that professor in college who made you absolutely love your chosen subject or major, and who you idolized.

Oil! acted as a springboard for getting me interested in reading other things: Dragon’s Teeth (1943), Upton Sinclair’s Pulitzer prizewinner about Nazism; I’d like to reread The Jungle (1906?), also by Sinclair and the novel he’s best known for; In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck because of the labor disputes mentioned in Oil!;and, because of the religion angle, I’m fired up to reread Elmer Gantry (1927) by Sinclair Lewis, who, coincidentally, spent some time early in his career hanging with Upton Sinclair. (Bet that got confusing at times.) Many thanks to Kookiejar for bringing this novel to my attention.]

Anne Of Avonlea – L.M. Montgomery. [I reviewed this book in my previous post.]

Ex Libris – Anne Fadiman. [I love this book. Love. Love. Love. Did you ever want to just stand and give an author and her book an enthusiastic ovation? Fadiman discusses her life, love and relationship with books and how her parents, (both writers) shaped and influenced her life. If you haven’t read this book yet, seek it out. Speaking of her parents, I have a problem now. There’s a chapter in which Fadiman relates how her mother’s writing was plagiarized by John Hersey, and apparently, he went around doing this kind of thing all the time. After I read that, I was indignant and now I don’t want to read any of his stuff, but unfortunately, A Bell For Adano is on my Pulitzer pile. Musings Of A Bookish Kitty did an excellent review of this book — Literary Feline discussed each chapter in depth over three consecutive Sunday Salons. Go and find them and enjoy them — read her whole blog while you’re there; it’s time well-spent.]

Sunshine -Norma Klein. (re-read) [1973 weepie about Kate, a free-spirited young mother who was diagnosed with bone cancer– the same kind Terry Fox had. Kate is adamant that she doesn’t want her leg cut off — it’s not a sure thing that it will save her life — and also decides to halt chemo and radiation so that she can fully appreciate the time that she does have left, instead of living a little longer but being too weak and sick from the treatments’ side effects to interact with her family. Since her daughter, Jill, (age 2) is too young to remember her, Kate starts recording some tapes for Jill. Meanwhile, Kate’s husband, Sam is angry with her for refusing to do everything possible to save her own life. Chock-full of references to John Denver’s music and making love up in the mountains, Sunshine has a really strong 1970s feel to it. This novel is based on the true story of Jacquelyn Helton. The edition I read of this novel is part of a well-known series published here in Korea in which popular English-language novels are printed with English on one side of the page and Korean on the other. Notice that the book was written by NORMAN Klein!]

The Coldest Place On Earth – Tony Vicary. [This is a graded reader that tells about the Amundsen-Scott race to the South Pole back in the early 1910s. I wasn’t familiar with the story, but became captivated with Amundsen’s dogged resourcefulness as well as having the deepest sympathy for the hapless dreamer-adventurer Scott. The account I read was brief and illustrated with photos taken by both teams. I’m eager to read a longer, more in-depth book about the episode now. Any suggestions?]

Diane Arbus – Patricia Bosworth. [Diane Arbus (1923-1971) was an avant-garde photographer who was best known for her portraits of people who were unconventional in some way. She also had a gift for making normal seem freakish, an example being her famous photo of the twin girls. She even made baby Anderson Cooper look ghoulish. Her life story is less interesting than her art, (biographer Bosworth struggles valiantly, but there’s only so many ways you can say that your subject is odd or enigmatic) and the neurotic artsy fashion scene in1950s and 1960s New York City got a little old after a while.

The book is illustrated with photos from Arbus’ life, but the book would’ve been better if there had been photos of her photos since they’re discussed in so much detail. Unfortunately, Bosworth was restricted because Arbus’ estate controls her images strictly. (I did find a few on the web. At first glance, I felt slightly discomfited, even hostile towards her work, but then it grew on me with repeated viewings. Her photo of Eddie Carmen, “The Jewish Giant” and his parents is so bizarre, it’s almost funny.)

Patricia Bosworth is a talented biographer, and I really appreciated the in-depth looks at two of the people who were heavily involved in Arbus’ life: Her ex-husband, Allan Arbus, who is best known for his portrayal of Dr. Sidney Friedman on M*A*S*H, and her brother, Howard Nemerov, a respected American poet and critic.]

I Have The Right To Destroy Myself – Young-Ha Kim. [I have the right to gouge my eyes out. The best thing about this 1996 Korean novel is the title. Kim seems to be going more for a mood than plot and types rather than actual character development. Not my cup of soju.]

Unfinished Business: It pains like hell me admit this (stop keening and smiting your forehead, T&CIB!), but I also have a DNF for the month: Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I like the book and want to finish it, but life’s been a little herky-jerky lately, and doesn’t blend well with GGM’s beautiful, flowing, leisurely style. Misery loves company, though — coincidentally, my buddy and bookworm extraordinaire Pablo is stalled with Living To Tell The Tale, GGM’s memoir.

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