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>February: Short Month, Short Reviews

>I know that I said back in the 1990s sometime that I wanted an engrossing career, but teaching is a jealous bastard. It wants every little scrap of me. When I go deep to read, ponder and write, it catches me and yanks me back up by my hair and exposes me to the mental equivalent of harsh florescent light and the cacophony of a construction site. It’s the first day of the semester, and teaching has already covered the nap of my mind like a nest of prickly burrs. I’m not going gently into that good classroom, am I? Vacation, I will miss you like hell, mourning those shapeless hours in which day and night were when I damn well said they were.

Since I’m feeling too frenzied and distracted to write proper reviews, flirty little capsule looks at the ten I read for February will have to do for now.

1. Mother Love, Deadly Love – Anne McDonald Maier. This true-crime book is about the infamous case in 1991 of a Texas mother who was ready to kill in the name of cheerleading. The mom, Wanda Holloway, was obsessed with her daughter becoming a high school cheerleader, so she unsuccessfully attempted to put a hit out on the mother of one of her daughter’s rivals. Crazy stuff. As with most true-crime books, the author tends to put too much of her own scornful opinion into the pages. A quick, fun read if you’re in that special mood for equal parts of ludicrous and horrifying.

2. Book Lust To Go – Nancy Pearl. My bookish heroine and girl-crush kicks smartly into armchair traveling mode, recommending both fiction and nonfiction from all over the world.

3. The Custom of the Country – Edith Wharton. I’ll do a proper review of this 1913 novel later. For now, just know that this is my new favorite Wharton novel. It’s like The Age of Innocence with the corset strings tied not quite so tightly. Highly recommended. Now go read it.

4. To Paris Never Again – Al Purdy. I’m going to write a proper review of the last collection of poems Al Purdy published during his lifetime. After being away from poetry for so long, I’m really developing an affection for it again, thanks to Al.

5. Freedom – Jonathan Franzen. I never get these things right, but here goes: I predict that Jonathan Franzen will win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year.

6. Your Right to be Beautiful – Tonya Zavasta. I can knock down the ageing process and kick it in the groin if I start eating a raw food diet comprised mostly of fruit and vegetables and generous daily helpings of seaweed. Apparently my love for caffeine, chocolate and the more-than-occasional French fry is what’s making me look like I use a contour map for a pillow.

7. Adventures With The Buddha – Jeffrey Paine (ed.) Since at least the last part of the 19th century, Westerners have been travelling to Asia to seek peace and spiritual fulfillment and writing about it. This book is a sampling of those writings. I found the excerpts quite choppy, but still entertaining.

8. The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton. This novel about New York Society in the 1870s shows the strong influence that Henry James had on Edith Wharton, but Wharton is supple where James is often not, and she never gets buried under a ponderous mass of prose. Her writing is powerful and there is so much going on under the surface that The Age of Innocence is now one of the novels that I will revisit over the years. I also watched the 1993 movie, or, I should say in this case, motion picture.

9. Carrie – Stephen King. This story of a misfit-turned-prom-queen-turned-avenger seems so literary. Weighing in at a trim 253 pages, here’s none of the Dickensian bloat that plagues some of King’s later books. I haven’t read this one since it was first published, and gobsmacks me to realize that this was a first novel. Even readers who don’t like horror or Stephen King should read Carrie and check out the 1976 Brian DePalma movie of the same name as well.

10. Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir – Graham Roumieu. Wow, I really went off the rails after the Wharton book. This delightfully, grubbily illustrated no-holds-barred memoir written in Biglish (Bigfoot English) is so much fun. Nasty, silly, profane, a gross-out fest, an encyclopedia of yuck — I can’t praise it highly enough.

Sigh. That was really fun, but work beckons, inflaming my sighness. I feel kind of like Merle Haggard: Is the best of the free life behind me now? Are the good times really over for good?

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