Resilient Photo Challenge

summer-palace

 

This week’s Photo Challenge at the Daily Post is the word “resilient.”  This photo is my interpretation of this word.  It was taken at the Summer Palace outside of Beijing, China.  As the world’s oldest continuous civilization, China exemplifies “resilience” to  me.

 

Back to the Classics 2017

I am reblogging Books and Chocolate’s Back to the Classics 2017 Challenge.  This is my way of announcing (for posterity) that I hereby join this challenge.  Bring. It. On.
Are you in?

It’s back! Once again, I’m hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge.  I hope to encourage bloggers to discover and enjoy classic books they might not have tried, or just never got around to reading. And at the end, one lucky winner will receive a $30 (US) prize from Amazon.com or The Book Depository!

Here’s how it works:

The challenge will be exactly the same as last year, 12 classic books, but with slightly different categories. You do not have to read 12 books to participate in this s

  • Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing

And here are the categories for the 2016 {I think she means 2017} Back to the Classics Challenge:

1.  A 19th Century Classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899.

2.  A 20th Century Classic – any book published between 1900 and 1967. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later, such as posthumous publications.

3.  A classic by a woman author.

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. (You can also read books in translation for any of the other categories).

5.  A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also.

6.  An romance classic. I’m pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot.

7.  A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads.

8.  A classic with a number in the title. Examples include A Tale of Two Cities, Three Men in a Boat, The Nine Tailors, Henry V, Fahrenheit 451, etc.

9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  It an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name. Examples include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, White Fang, etc.

10. A classic set in a place you’d like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc.

11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. Any award, just mention in your blog post what award your choice received.

12. A Russian Classic. 2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author.

And now, the rest of the rules:

  • All books must be read in 2017. Books started before January 1, 2017 do not qualify. All reviews must be linked to this challenge by December 31, 2017. I’ll post links each category the first week of January which will be featured on a sidebar on this blog for the entire year.
  • You must also post a wrap-up review and link it to the challenge no later than December 31, 2017. Please include links within your final wrap-up to that I can easily confirm all your categories. Also, it is OK to rearrange books to fit different categories in your wrap-up post — for example, last year I originally planned to use Journey to the Center of the the Earth in the Fantasy/SciFi/Dystopian category, but then I decided to count it as an Adventure Classic. Most books count count toward several categories, so it’s fine if you change them, as long as they are identified in your wrap-up post.
  • All books must have been written at least 50 years ago; therefore, books must have been written by 1967 to qualify for this challenge. The ONLY exceptions are books published posthumously.
  • E-books and audiobooks are eligible! You may also count books that you read for other challenges.
  • Books may NOT cross over within this challenge. You must read a different book for EACH category, or it doesn’t count.
  • Children’s classics are acceptable, but please, no more than 3 total for the challenge.
  • If you do not have a blog, you may link to reviews on Goodreads or any other publicly accessible online format. For example, if you have a Goodreads account, you could create a dedicated list to the challenge, and link to that with a tentative list (the list can change throughout the challenge).
  • The deadline to sign up for the challenge is March 1, 2017. After that, I will close the link and you’ll have to wait until the next year! Please include a link to your original sign-up post, not your blog URL. Also, make sure you add your link to the Linky below, NOT IN THE COMMENTS SECTION. If I don’t see your name in the original Linky, YOU WILL BE INELIGIBLE. If you’ve made a mistake with your link, just add a second one.
  • You do NOT have to list all the books you’re going to read for the challenge in your sign-up post, but it’s more fun if you do! Of course, you can change your list any time. Books may also be read in any order.
  • The winner will be announced on this blog the first week of January, 2018. All qualifying participants will receive one or more entries, depending on the number of categories completed. One winner will be selected at random for all qualifying entries. The winner will receive a gift certificate in the amount of $30 (US currency) from either Amazon.com OR $30 worth of books from The Book Depository. The winner MUST live in a country that will receive shipments from one or the other. For a list of countries that receive shipments from The Book Depository, click here.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up at the linky below! I’ll be posting my list of possible reads for 2017 in the next couple of days. Happy reading!

2016 in 12 Pictures

Paula at Lost in Translation suggested a challenge:  post 12 photos from 2016 that represent your year.  I am joining her challenge.  My photos represent places I visited in 2016.  (None were international and most were within a few hours of driving distance from my home.) It’s a nice way to close out the year.

 

 

The places depicted include Minneapolis, MN; the North Shore of Lake Superior (MN);  Holcombe, WI;  Plymouth, MA; Boston, MA; Louisville, KY; Washington, DC; Cable, WI; Baxter, MN; New Ulm, MN; Chicago, IL.

I’d love to see your 12 photos!

Trademark Louise Erdrich: Humor

In the past few weeks, I have been binging on Louise Erdrich’s novels.

(Erdrich is the acclaimed Ojibwe author of so many books I can’t keep track–maybe 16 novels?   If you are unfamiliar with her work, here is a review of her latest novel by the New York Times. It serves as a good introduction to her work.)

These are the novels I have recently read (or re-read):

  • Love Medicine (1984)
  • Tracks (1988)
  • The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (2001)
  • The Plague of Doves (2008)
  • The Round House (2012)

Several years ago, I also read her Crown of Columbus, and I am now starting to read her Bingo Palace (1994).

It would be an understatement to say that I am a fan of her work. The woman is a literary goddess.  Each of her novels creates a world unto itself.  However, most of them are connected to each other as well.  She focuses on a small (fictional) area of North Dakota and many of the same families are featured in each work.   In terms of her style, each work is unique.  Nonetheless, certain themes and stylistic traits recur throughout her work.  Taken together, the combination of these traits add up to a distinct Erdrich voice or “trademark.”

In this short series, I want to focus on a few elements of her voice, the things that mark her as distinct. Today I am focusing on her sense of humor.  In general, I would not classify Erdrich as a comic writer.  Taken as a whole, her fiction veers more towards the lyrical, the tragic, or even magical.   However, her vision is consistently punctuated with episodes of broad comedy.  Often the comedy is physical, even slapstick.  The humor provides some relief from the sadness of much of her writing, but it also expresses her view of the world—one in which the tragic and the comic cannot be neatly separated.

One example of trademark Erdrich humor can be seen in her first novel, Love Medicine.  In this work, Lipsha Morrissey accidentally walks in on his grandfather having an adulterous tryst in the laundry room at the senior center with his old flame, Lulu Lamartine.  In the context of the entire work, Grandfather Nector Kashpaw’s yearning for Lulu is portrayed as poignant, sad, touching.  In this particular scene, though, the perspective is one of broad comedy:

“There they were. And he was really loving her up good, boy, and she was going hell for leather.  Sheets was flapping on the lines above, and washcloths, pillowcase, shirts was also flying through the air, for they was trying to clear out a place for themselves in a high-heaped but shallow laundry cart.  The washers and dryers was all on, chock full of quarters, shaking and moaning.” (196)

This was an awkward scene for Lipsha to witness, to say the least.  But the awkwardness turns to hilarity when a wig is added to the equation:

“The Lamartine wore a big curly light-brown wig.  Looked like one of them squeaky little white-people dogs.  Poodles they call them.  Anyway, that wig is what saved us from the worse. . . . Turned out, though, in the heat of the clinch, as I was trying to avert my eyes you see, the Lamartine’s curly wig jumped off her head.  And if you ever been in the midst of something and had a big change like that occur in the someone, you can’t help know how it devastates your basic urges.  Not only that, but her wig was almost with a life of its own.  Grandpa’s eyes were bugging at the change already, and swear to God if the thing didn’t rear up and pop him in the face like it was going to start something.  He scrambled up, Grandpa did, and the Lamartine jumped up after him all addled-looking.  They just stared at each other, huffing and puffing, with quizzical expressions.”  (197)

This sort of broad comedy intermingles with scenes of great sadness and even tragedy throughout her works.  We can see another example of her slapstick humor in her 2012 novel The Round House.  This novel focuses on the rape and attempted murder of the narrator’s mother (Geraldine).  The perpetrator is known, but cannot be punished by the legal system because of complex and blatantly unjust issues of jurisdiction on Native reservations.  Not surprisingly, the overall tone of this novel is serious, even grim.  Still, Erdrich manages to interject scenes of pure slapstick, such as this one, in which a teenage boy  named Cappy confesses to a Catholic priest that he has been having sex with his girlfriend—in the church basement.  The confession does not go as well as expected though.  Father Travis, an ex-Marine, was in excellent physical condition and had a temper.  Rather than forgiving Cappy, he explodes in anger and starts chasing him:

“There were arcane sounds—the slide of the priest’s window, the whispering back and forth—then the explosion.  Father Travis burst from the wooden door of the confessional and would have caught Cappy if he hadn’t rolled out from under the curtain and half crawled, half scrambled along the pew.  Father ran back, blocking the exit, but already Cappy had sprung past us, hurdling the pew toward the front of the church, landing on the seats with each bound in a breathtaking series of vaulting leaps that took him nearly to the altar.”  (232)

The ensuing chase scene lasts for three full pages of slapstick adventure reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner.

“Cappy had those good shoes, but so, I noticed, did Father Travis.  He wasn’t running in sober clerical blacks but had perhaps been playing basketball or jogging before he dropped in to hear confessions.  The two sprinted hotly down the dusty gravel road that led from the church into town.  Cappy boldly crossed the highway and Father Travis followed.  Cappy cut through yards he knew well and disappeared.  But even in his cassock, which he’d hoisted and tucked into his belt, Father Travis was right behind him heading toward the Dead Custer Bar and Whitey’s gas station.  We marveled at Father’s pale thick-muscled calves blurring in the sun.” (233)

I am not a Catholic, but I am pretty sure that’s not how confession is supposed to work.

Certainly, Erdrich is not the only writer who combines humor and tragedy.  Many southern writers, for example, are famed for their tragic-comic vision.   William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor come to mind.  I think Erdrich’s humor is particularly broad, even cartoonish.  The combination of this slapstick humor with serious, even tragic, themes is one of the more striking elements of Erdrich’s voice.

I will discuss other elements of her voice in future posts.  Stay tuned!

erdrich-novels

At the Patriots’ Diner

 

This is my entry in Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers Flash Fiction Challenge.  The story has to be 100 words or fewer, based on this photo prompt by Roger Bultot.  Give it a try yourself!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These pancakes are soggy.  The eggs are cold.  There is something on this fork!  Get me another cup of coffee, would you, sweetheart?  What?  You don’t have avocado to go with the hamburger?  We have been waiting here for hours!  Is everyone here incompetent?  Give us a smile, honey.  You’d be pretty if you smiled.  This burger is overcooked.  Nice ass on that one.  I asked you for coffee an hour ago. Come on, honey.  Smile.  I meant it as a compliment.  Look, Kath!  That man just fell flat on his face.  How did that happen?

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My Bracelet

-The Friday Fictioneers is a flash fiction challenge hosted by Rochelle at Addicted to Purple.

friday-fictioneers

This week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt is this photo taken by Jean L. Hays:

trading-post

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This is my story in response to the prompt.  (It is exactly 100 words.)

My Bracelet

The young women giggled as they browsed through the shop where I worked as a cashier.  Much of the stuff was junk, but the jewelry section featured handmade originals.  One of them, a bead bracelet, was mine.

This was the first piece of jewelry I had ever tried to sell. I used crescent and honeycomb turquoise beads. I was proud of the results.

Blondie picked up my bracelet and wrapped it around her wrist.  “Do I look like Pocahontas?”

“John Smith would go wild!”  They laughed.

I felt my cheeks burning.

“Do you two plan on buying anything?” I asked.

*************

P.S. I just realized the prompt I used is way out of date.  It was from November.  I’m not sure how I managed to make that mistake!  Oops. Better luck next time.

 

Gullfoss Falls

gulfoss

Google Streetview of Gullfoss Falls.

“Wow, look at that view!”  Katrina said to her sister, Meg.  They were standing on the observation deck overlooking the Hvita River cascading down the two tiers of Gulfoss Falls.

“Beautiful!” Meg agreed.  After a pause, she added, “I am surprised, though, that so many people are walking down that path, so close to the edge of the cliff.”

Katrina sighed but did not say anything.   She was used to her sister’s fear of heights, of water, of nature.  She peered through her binoculars to get a closer look.   Dozens of people strolled along the path, entranced by the view.  Some of them were lovers, holding hands.

Then, Katrina noticed something and gasped.

“”What is it?” Meg asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Katrina replied, putting away her binoculars. “I’m just ready to get going.”

Katrina had spotted Meg’s husband, Brian, walking along the path, holding hands with Meg’s best friend Colleen.


149 words

This has been an edition of What Pegman Saw, a Google Maps inspired flash fiction prompt.

Give it a try yourself!

 

Confessions of a Bad Book Blogger

Book List from 2016

Ummm….so it appears that 2016 has come and (almost) gone.  It seems that I forgot that I had a book blog for most of the year.  I did not stop reading, but I stopped writing.  Oops.

My resolution for 2017 is to be better about logging what I read so I don’t end up in the situation I’m in now, wondering what I did all year long.

In a half-hearted attempt to make up for my deficiencies, I am presenting a list here of some of the books I recall reading and liking this year.  I only include the ones I read for the first time this year.  (I also re-read a lot of books for teaching purposes.)  I am not including ones I started but did not finish.  I am also not including some of the mystery/thrillers that I sometimes binge on but then forget about.  (Love em and leave em is my motto.)

Here’s to another year of reading!

  • Herodotus, The Histories.  This one was a doozy that took forever to read, and I read it more than once.
  • Amy Tan, Valley of Amazement.  Multi-generational family saga set partly in China, partly in the U.S.
  • Kevin Powers, Yellow Birds.  Beautifully written novel about Iraq war.  Move over, Hemingway.
  • Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beasts.  Fascinating nonfiction book about an American ambassador in Berlin during the 1930s, with the rise of Hitler.  This was my introduction to the creature known as a Nazi slut.
  • Lauren Slater, Welcome to My Country.   Nonfictional essays about mental illness. Slater is both a psychologist and a person with mental illness herself.  Beautifully written.
  • Karen Russell, Swamplandia.  Novel about a family reeling from the loss of their wife/mother.  Wonderful style– bordering on fantasy, but not quite.
  • Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer.   Novel about a Vietnamese man who works as a double agent during the Vietnam War.  Really smart, insightful look at the U.S.
  • Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  Novel about a Dominican-American young man.
  • Colm Toibin, Brooklyn.  Novel about a young Irish immigrant to the Brookyn in the 1950s
  • Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You.  Did blog post on this book earlier this year.
  • Louise Erdrich, Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse.   blogged about this.
  • Francine Prose, Lovers at the Chameleon Club.  Wonderful novel about a French woman who ends up working for the Nazis.
  • Julie Schumacher, Dear Committee Members.   Hilarious satire of life in a university English Department.
  • Dave Eggers, The Circle.  Novel about a dystopian future (present?).  Technology run amok.
  • Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King.  Death of a Salesman in Saudi Arabia.
  • Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale.  novel about two sisters in Nazi-occupied France.
  • Ann Tyler, A Spool of Blue Thread.   novel about disappointments of family life.
  • George Packer, Assassin’s Gate.  nonfiction account of disastrous American occupation of Iraq.
  • Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time.  Blogged about this novel earlier this year.

 

What have you read this year?  Let me know in the comments section!

 

“Hillbilly Elegy,” J.D. Vance

J. D. Vance’s grandmother (“Mamaw”) was tired of her husband (“Papaw”) coming home drunk night after night. Fed up, she told him that if he came home drunk again, she would kill him. One week later, Papaw came home drunk.  Vance tells us in his memoir Hillbilly Elegy that,

“Mamaw, never one to tell a lie, calmly retrieved a gasoline canister from the garage, poured it all over her husband, lit a match, and dropped it on his chest.  When Papaw burst into flames, their eleven-year-old daughter jumped into action to put out the fire and save his life. Miraculously, Papaw survived the episode with only mild burns” (43-44).

jd-vance-hillbilly-elegy-life-in-holler

This depiction of violence in hillbilly culture is nothing new.  Poor white people (a.k.a. hillbillies, rednecks, white trash, trailer trash, po ‘buckra—with their propensity towards violence and addiction–have long been fodder for humor in American popular culture.  The butt of countless jokes, poor whites have been featured over the years in TV shows ranging from The Beverly Hillbillies to Honey Boo-Boo.  At first glance, it might appear that Vance’s book is one more example of derisive humor at this group’s expense.  However, this is not the case.  Despite their failings, Mamaw and Papaw are the heroes of Vance’s memoir.  A graduate of Yale Law School, Vance claims he owes his successful rise out of the rustbelt to his violent, deeply flawed, yet fiercely protective grandparents.

J. D. Vance grew up in Middletown, Ohio—a rust belt town that at one point was prosperous because of the local steel mill, Armco. His family moved there in the 1950s from Jackson, Kentucky, and he refers to himself and his entire family as “hillbillies.” Although they no longer live full-time in the mountains, Vance claims, his clan still proudly bears the marks of a distinct Appalachian culture.  Hillbilly Elegy is Vance’s attempt to analyze this culture in order to explain why his people are suffering so much today.

Students of creative nonfiction should note that Hillbilly Elegy is an example of CNF that combines both the personal (memoir) with the public (sociological study of a particular demographic). Vance writes about his family in order to make a larger point about what it is like to grow up in a downwardly mobile subculture.  Vance explains that “Though I will use data, and though I do sometimes rely on academic studies to make a point, my primary aim is not to convince you of a documented problem.  My primary aim is to tell a true story about what that problem feels like when you were born with it hanging around your neck” (8).

Knowing that Hillbilly Elegy was an attempt to explain the problems of the white working class, I expected this memoir to be a tale of economic hardship for people who want to work hard, but simply cannot find employment; a tale of good, solid, morally upright folk who, through no fault of their own, simply cannot catch a break.  I was wrong.  Vance does mention briefly the devastating effects of the decline of good-paying factory jobs.  However, he argues that the decline of good factory jobs is only part of the problem.  The other problem, he asserts, is cultural.  To be blunt, he suggests that many of the “hillbillies” with whom he grew up suffer because of their own laziness, short-sightedness, prickly sense of honor, and tendency to blame others for their own problems.  As he states, this book “is about reacting to bad circumstances in the worst way possible.  It’s about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it” (7).

Vance explains that his grandparents (Mamaw and Papaw) grew up in the Appalachian mountains in a subculture known for his honor, fierce loyalty to family, and violence.  They moved to Ohio when they were still young, and Papaw found a good job at the local steel factory.   His grandparents lived a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle—at least, economically.  They never really developed mainstream, middle-class values.  They brought with them, though, their hillbilly lifestyle (complete with violent responses to any perceived slight), which they passed on to their own children.

Vance’s own parents were divorced when he was very young.  His mother went through a revolving door of relationships with men and eventually became addicted to drugs herself.  By his own reckoning, Vance would have been lost without the solid home base of his Mamaw and Papaw.  Despite their many shortcomings, they did provide him with a solid work ethic, a respect for education, and a stable home.   These things, Vance believes, are what helped him to succeed and what so many of his peers were lacking.

In some ways, Vance’s memoir reminds me of Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club.   Like Vance, Karr wrote about being raised in a hard-scrabble, working-class town in a deeply dysfunctional family.  Interestingly, both Karr and Vance recount memories in which their mothers try to kill them.  Karr, however, is less analytical.  She does not attempt to draw conclusions about the socio-economic group into which she is born.  Vance does.  For me, this attempt to combine memoir with socio-ethnic-economic analysis is both the strength and the drawback of Hillbilly Elegy.  I found Vance’s cultural analysis compelling and insightful.  He painted the portrait of a culture in pain, but did not pretend that the pain was all inflicted from the outside (globalization, immigrants, the government, or whatever).  This was refreshing.  On the other hand, I found his book less effective at portraying characters as individuals with unique personalities and motivations.  He does not have Karr’s gift at creating a strong voice or plumbing the depths of individual psyches.

Overall, I found Hillbilly Elegy excellent as an insider’s view of a particular sub-culture (rust belt hillbilly/working class white), with both its strengths and weaknesses.  Given Trump’s unexpected victory, some political pundits have been urging democrats to pay more attention to working class whites and their concerns.  Vance’s memoir is a good place to start.

 

Bonaparte, Iowa

bonaparte

This is my response to this week’s What Pegman Saw flash fiction challenge. K. Rawson posts a weekly challenge based on a Google Image.  The above photo is this week’s challenge: Bonaparte, Iowa.  The story has to have 150 or fewer words.

https://www.google.com/maps/@40.6979534,-91.8023562,3a,75y,331.

Good Parting

This was supposed to be our romantic getaway.  He said I would love Bonaparte, Iowa.  He said we would escape the stress of the city.  We would go antiquing.   We would buy pottery from local artists, eat wholesome food.  I believed him.

Just as I had believed him when we first met at Burke’s Used Bookstore.  He looked so handsome then, hunched over a paperback copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer.  He campaigned hard to win me.  Who could withstand such a siege of charm?

I believed him when he said he would really leave his wife this time.  But that was before he took me to Bonaparte, Iowa.  Before we stayed in the hotel room with the green paisley wallpaper and the stained roller shade in the window.   I realized in Iowa it would be good to part.

To enjoy stories inspired by the What Pegman Saw prompt or to submit your own flash fiction, visit the inLinkz button:

For guidelines and rules for the What Pegman Saw weekly writing prompt, visit the home page.