Friday, September 21, 2012


“The way you make your life, the love you put into it—that’s God.”
--Black Water (page 73)

The Chappaquiddick incident/scandal has always fascinated me, I think in part because of the nature of the the accident - a girl drowned in the car below and the question remains could she have been saved(?) - and because Chappaquiddick – one need only to say the word – represents another Kennedy scandal.  The Chappaquiddick incident is interesting as well because it has woven itself into the cloth of American identity – kind of like O.J. Simpson - and there’s an argument to be made that Teddy Kennedy would never become President because of Chappaquiddick.

(Picture of the Chappaquiddick accident scene)

Joyce Carol Oates (JCO) is an author I always thought I should read one day.

(Photograph of Joyce Carol Oate by Murdo Macleod for the Guardian)
Rather conveniently, in 1992 JCO wrote a novella called Black Water: The Senator, The Girl, The Accident which is, by extension, the Chappaquiddick story.  I say by extension because the story doesn’t take place in 1969 – when the Chappaquiddick incident occurred – but many years later.
I don’t know when I bought the book, but it’s been in my library for years.  I notice I tried reading Black Water once before, but quit for some reason: I got up to Chapter 8, page 20.

I finished the novella on September 21, 2012.  At 154 pages, it was just enough.  The story is pretty much the crash and as Kelly Kellecher (the fictional Mary Joe Kopechnee) slowly drowns, waiting for The Senator (who could only be Teddy Kennedy) to save her, the reader is given a glimpse of Kellecher’s life (her childhood, her time at Brown, that morning, day, evening, etc), which becomes a symbol for gender, class and race to an extent—to put it simply.

Kellecher, it’s said, is also only of average beauty, compared to her friend at least, and is self-conscious, but who isn’t--this, I think, is important to the overall meaning of the story.  It should also be noted that the two – The Senator and The Girl – were on their way, rather excitedly (eagerly even), to have sex when The Accident occurred.
(Late 15th Century Painting of "LUST" by
Jheronimus Bosch called: Table of Mortal Sins)


I enjoyed reading JCO (and Black Water: The Senator, The Girl, The Accident) that I think I’ll read Blonde: a Novel, JCO’s Marilyn Munroe story.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Useless Information?

(Picture of the first Ferris Wheel)

Thanks to Erik Larson I can tell a group of people (over drinks), without help from Google (or Wikipedia), that George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. - I'll say George Ferris, Jr. instead - invented the Ferris Wheel  in 1893 for the Chicago World's Fair (aka, the World's Columbian Exposition ).  He, Mr. Ferris, invented the Ferris Wheel, in part, because  the Chicago World's Fair needed something - something that wasn't a "tower" - that  would out-do the Eifel Tower, which was constructed four years earlier for the Paris Exposition in 1889.
A teacher I had in university said "good writing evokes the senses" and I never forgot it.  Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America evoked all the senses, especially my sense of smell and site (and Larson eerily evoked my sixth sense at the end of novel).
I finished the The Devil in the White City on June 28, 2012.  I’m a slow reader because I make a point of reading every word in every book I read.  In horror, I understand there are some readers who skim and/or skip ahead which strikes me as a form of cheating.  Despite being a slow reader, I read this book rather quickly because I couldn’t put down. 
(Picture of Dr. H.H. Holmes)

The Devil, in The Devil in the White City, is Dr. H.H. Holmes, a “charming” serial killer, who constructed a temple, so-to-speak, to practice his evil craft of murder.  Some have speculated that he may have killed as many as 200 people, but no one knows for sure.  The White City is the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 (officially known as the World's Columbian Exposition in celebration of Columbus’ discovery of the New World 400 years earlier).
(Picture of the Chicago World's Fair, 1893)

Chicago of 1893 was a dirty and smelly city:  horse manure piled on the streets and it wasn’t uncommon to see a dead horse floating in its waterways.  Larson captures the era, both the horror and the beauty, of Chicago’s gilded age (America’s version of Victorianism) in such detail that pictures are not needed.  I say this because at one point during my reading I thought there should have been more pictures: pictures of the architecture, pictures of the construction of the Chicago World’s Fair, pictures of Holmes’ temple of horror.  I was wrong. 
(Dr. H.H. Holmes' House of Horror.  Built specficially for murder.)

When I finished The Devil in the White City I couldn’t find another book that was as gratifying.  Everything seemed so dull.  Nonetheless, I was able to find two books – one non-fiction and one fiction – that I’m enjoying:
Paris 1919:
Six Months that Changed the World
(by Margaret McMillan)
As a lover of history, I’ve wanted to read this book for a number of years.
The Queen's Fool
(by Phillippa Gregory)

I love the cover this book and I can’t help but wonder: who is the most butch-male, the most masculine man too have read this book?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Capote and The Boy in the Closet

 Unless you’re in school, rarely do you take time to read books that you don’t take pleasure in reading. 
For instance, I tried picking up a book I read in University (but didn't finish),  that I didn’t like originally, thinking ‘now that I’m older maybe I’ll appreciate it: maybe I’ll appreciate it because (1) its about slavery, therefore it must be good my liberal/commie sentiments told me; and, (2) it won the Man Booker Prize.  I have this naive belief that every book that wins the Man Booker Prize has got to be good.
I was wrong on both accounts and I’ve vowed never again to make an attempt to read Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger , regardless of my age.  In fact, I donated the book to the Winnipeg Public Library, secretly slipping it into their return shoot in order that I never make another attempt to read the book again.
The last few books I read have been quite compelling and, in short, good reads:
In Cold Blood:
A True Account of a Multiple
Murder and Its Consequences
(by Truman Capote)
Originally, I had no interested in reading this book and the only reason I picked it up was because someone selected it for the book club I’m in; therefore, I was compelled to read it.
Picking up and starting In Cold Blood was hard, but reading and finishing it was not difficult at all.
Given some research I did, I now understand why In Cold Blood is considered a classic:
 It’s a classic not only because it's well written and suspenseful (even though you know the outcome), but also because the book fathered (or mothered) a new genre of literature called the New Journalism.  Joan Didion, an author I discovered on accident and love, is a daughter of this genre (or maybe she’s an aunt?).  Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream are definitely sons of this genre (the New Journalism).  That being noted, I think it is fair to say that the New Journalism is now old (maybe even old fashioned).   This begs the question, do 'blogs' fall under the umbrella of the New Journalism (and therefore fashionable again)?

Sarah's Key
(by Tatiana de Rosney)
Similar to Capote’s In Cold Blood, there are two storylines in Sarah's Key.  And similar to Capote’s In Cold Blood both storylines in Sarah’s Key are equally fascinating.
Storyline 1:  It’s 1942 and Paris, France is occupied by the Nazis. 
Storyline 2:  It’s 2002, Paris, France and an expatriate journalist (from the USA) is investigating the occupation.
Storyline 1:  French Jews are rounded-up, not by the Nazis, but by the French authorities and a child is left behind.
Storyline 2:  The journalist discovers that her husband’s family is connected to the 1942 round-up (of French Jews).
One reviewer compared Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key to William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice (which I tried to read, but couldn’t finish). 
 When I’m older, I think I’ll try picking up Sophie’s Choice again and see what happens; maybe, I'll appreciate it more as an older adult. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Children’s Book is Alright

My goal for reading the four books I received for Christmas 2010 has failed save for one book: A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book. 
(Book cover of A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book.)

Reading is an investment in time and can be rated in degrees of pleasure; and, if time and pleasure can be calculated, The Children’s Book can be measured more in time rather than pleasure, but not by much; indeed though, the balance was off for the book took me a long time to read despite the pleasure it afforded.
For instance, it took almost 200 pages, of an almost 900 page book, for me to care about any of the characters.  I suspect this is because (1) there was no central character that one gets to know and love (or hate) and (2) because there were so many characters, I couldn’t remember who was who.
(Picture of A.S. Byatt)

By the end of The Children’s Book, I was left with two questions:
1.       What was the central plot; and,
2.       What was the point?
I think I can answer the first question, in theory.  The underlying plot can be understood in terms of a time period, the Edwardian Era.  It was an era of transition – like the 60s and 70s say – that saw the end of Victorian sentimentality and hinted at what would become Modernism.  The Edwardian Era ended quite suddenly with the onset of World War I, where, worse than in a Shakespeare tragedy – spoiler alert – many of characters in The Children’s Book die, which leads me to my second question: what was the point?  Too which, I have no fundamental answer. 
I have to confess Byatt’s The Children’s Book took me a long time read; so long in fact, that I’m too embarrassed to note, but, I'll note this:  I finished the book on July 4th, 2010.  I always make a point of writing the date I finished a book on the back of the front cover.

In conclusion, I think I would say, if you like "the classics" - whatever that means - and if you take pleasure in character driven novels, then you will like Byatt’s The Children’s Book.
(Picture of Hilary Mantel and Wolf Hall) Photo: EPA

Currently, I’m reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall which was a book club recommendation.  The club is called The Booker’s Club and Wolf Hall was my recommendation.