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Category Archives: Reading List
It’s hard to start reading Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids without dwelling on her status as punk rock godmother, poet, legend. But it is really satisfying to see her talk about her humble beginning matter-of-factly, without glorification. She is just like us, but with the passion to keep making art no matter the circumstances.
This book is about passion. Partly about Smith’s desire to be a poet, partly a love letter to Robert Mapplethorpe, a beaded necklace-maker turned sculptor turned photographer. They found each other in New York in the 60s, and drove each other to create and create and create. That each understood the other’s artistic temperament is the glue behind their relationship.
The book dwells mainly on the years before Smith and Mapplethorpe “made it,” when they were living at the Chelsea Hotel, five dollars meant wealth and the social and art world revolved around Andy Warhol and his Factory. At times the story is terrifying – Mapplethorpe’s drug trips, living on barely any food but endless cups of coffee, sleeping in a room with no heat and no plumbing. But it’s hard not to admire Smith’s acceptance of these awful conditions, because she is so sure that one day things would change. Her work, her art, would change her circumstances. Eventually it did, but the turning point is glossed over. One day, Smith is working at a bookstore, the next, she is releasing her first album. More detail about that progression would be interesting and deeply satisfying. But Smith treats the acceleration of her career as routine, focusing instead on Mapplethorpe (and occasionally Janis Joplin, Lou Reed and Edie Sedgewick).
Above all, the focus is on art for art’s sake, on writing and drawing and just creating. Smith’s first book of poetry earns more words than her first recording session. Mapplethorpe’s life, and death, has more text than Smith’s marriage to Fred Smith. The book is powerful and moving, and I both couldn’t put it down and forced myself to put it down because I didn’t want it to end. Hopefully Smith comes out with another book about her journey in the music industry. Highly recommended.
Lee Siegel of the New York Times has a fascinating essay on the parallels between the politics of the Beat Generation and the Tea Party. Both are outsiders, both disaffected in their own way, but only the Beats would invoke a comparison to Dionysus, Greek god of wine and theater. Check it out here: The Beat Generation and the Tea Party.
Guess I really do need to read Allen Ginsberg’s Howl now. I’ve been meaning to for a while…
I admit I have a problem when it comes to books. Though my pasty skin can be mainly blamed on genetics, I’m sure my habit of reading for hours on end (inside or in the shade) contributes to my ghostly look. I also spend a lot on books, but I justify it to myself because I read most of them multiple times. I also like to decorate with books. But anyway.
I’ve been asked to give a short list of must-reads, so here are some books I’d drag with me to that desert island after the shipwreck (they would, of course, get priority on the plank of wood keeping me afloat. I can swim).
1. Everything Jane Austen wrote, but especially Pride and Prejudice, Northhanger Abbey, and her juvenalia (Lesley Castle, Lady Susan, Love and Freindship). And yes, it’s spelled that way on purpose.
2. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
3. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
4. Multiple works by Joyce Carol Oates – two of my favorites are Firefox and High Lonesome, a collection of short stories.
5. The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
6. The Portable Dorothy Parker by, well, Dorothy Parker
7. Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
8. Everything by Jasper Fforde
9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
10. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
What books could you never live without?
Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties, by Marion Meade
Dorothy Parker is my literary/verbal hero. She can flash and plunge a verbal dagger that makes you laugh while you bleed. I don’t usually want to verbally wound people – unless they really deserve it – but I covet her ability to play with words. So when I stumbled across Meade’s biography of Parker (as well as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edna Ferber and Zelda Fitzgerald), I pounced. Continue reading
A Garden of Earthly Delights, the first book of Oates’ Wonderland Quartet, tells the story of Clara Walpole, the daughter of migrant farmworkers. She is blonde and beautiful, and uses her looks and tenacity to escape her parents’ life and make one of her own. Clara values what she considers her independent spirit, but is almost completely defined by the men in her life. The book is divided into three parts, “Carleton” (her father), “Lowry” (a lover) and “Swan” (her son). These subtitles suggest that Clara is a secondary character, though the story revolves around her. She would not be able to leave her family in Florida, move to New York or achieve any sort of financial security without male help. Continue reading
One of the nice things about being out of school and unemployed (though unemployment is not a state I want to be in) is the oodles of time to read. At school, I was swamped with work, and could barely make it through 10 pages of a novel before falling asleep. And what I had to read for school took up the rest of my time. Though William Strunk’s The Elements of Style is a fantastic resource for journalists, it is not exactly an exciting read.
Anyway, I am using the time (when I am not job hunting) to read. I have just finished Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, and enjoyed it immensely. The next new book on my list is A Garden of Earthly Delights by Joyce Carol Oates. But first I have to finish Pride and Prejudice, which I’m reading for the umpteenth time.
It’s lovely revisiting books – I find that a good story never gets old. Along with Pride and Prejudice, here is a partial list of books I plan to revisit this summer: Continue reading