Reading and watching

by anneMoore on October 30, 2019

Apologies for neglecting this site. I read all the time but recommend only what I like. I pile each “winner” on my desk until I get to three.

I’ll start with two non-fiction, which read like thrillers…

She Said, by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey

I read three national papers daily. I’d read every thing out there — much of it written by Kantor and Twohey — about the investigation into predation by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, and with it the swift fallout for other powerful men in media. As a victim of sexual assault and workplace stalking, each revelation — Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Les Moonves — felt like a win for women. 

Did I need to read the book? Yes. It’s the vital testament that sparked a movement.

Kantor and Twohey, who’d never worked together before, become a formidable team at The New York Times as they piece together a damning portrait of a serial predator protected — ironically — by settlement agreements he’d made with victims. It’s a comfort to know that these reporters were fully supported by colleagues and superiors at the Times, and appropriately lauded. The two shared the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service with Ronan Farrow.

Catch and Kill, by Ronan Farrow 

This is a parallel investigation of predation by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, told by Hollywood royalty (Mia Farrow mother, Woody Allen father, Frank Sinatra may have fathered him). Kudos to Farrow, whose investigative work is questioned and held up repeatedly by NBC executives. Fascinating.

When NBC won’t run his piece — they say it’s not up to their standards — Farrow takes it to The New Yorker, where it’s eventually published. At the same time, Farrow and the women sharing their stories are stalked by Black Cube operatives (former Israeli intelligence agents) employed by Weinstein. Crazy.

Brooke Nevils’ account of workplace rape and sexual abuse by Matt Laurer broke my heart. 

On to fiction…

The Dutch House, by Ann Padgett

This is the story of Maeve and her brother Danny (the narrator), who live in the Dutch House, a magically beautiful manor in the Philadelphia suburbs. Their mother abandons them to do charity work in India; their attentive father and loving housekeepers raise them in understated luxury. Father remarries and dies; with that, their stepmother banishes the two. They’re smart, educated and resourceful, so the siblings eventually thrive. This book is a love letter to New York City, Columbia University, the Upper West Side, and the uniquely entrancing Dutch House. How this story wraps up is achingly sad, complex, and moving. I loved this read.

On to movies…

I knew I’d like Pedro Almodovar’s Pain & Glory, and I did. The story flows, its colors — blue and red — inform and delight. This is the director’s life: poverty, creativity found and lost, sexuality, drug abuse, celebrity. A wonderful film. Rarely am I sympathetic to heroin users…

I didn’t think I’d like The Joker and mostly loved it. Again, the color! Joaquin Phoenix dancing on a Bronx stairway is an image I’ll never forget. The movie is violent, but the violence is understandable. 

Another film I deeply enjoyed, when I wasn’t sure I would, is Judy. What a life, and so much of it fraught. Renee Zellweger becomes Judy Garland. Hers is a knock-out performance. Too, I appreciated the film’s structure, which gave us Judy’s early days as a teen actress but mostly focuses on the last few months of her life, when she’s performing in London. 

Closing with mindless tv….

I blame Trump and all the shouting on television news for my consumption of Modern Love. They’re half hour vignettes based on The New York Times column. The best (People magazine ranked them differently) is “When the Doorman is Your Main Man”. Runner up is “Hers was a World of One,” about a gay couple who take in the homeless pregnant woman who will bear their child. Andrew Scott, aka the hot priest from Fleabag, plays the reluctant father to be.

And then there’s the critically damned Mrs. Fletcher. It’s a seven episode series based on the Tom Perrotta book, which I devoured. The series has been universally panned. No matter: for me, the first episode went down like warm soup on a cold day. I know that’s cliché. So is the show.

Thanks for reading…

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End-of-summer reads

by anneMoore on September 11, 2019

I wait all year for summer. I did as a child, growing up in suburban New Jersey. Summer meant freedom from coats and boots and car culture. I rode my bike to the pool, swam and raced all day, ate a deli-sandwich downtown. With my mom we bought peaches and tomatoes from the farm stand. 

Now that I live in Chicago I savor summer even more. Winters are hard, bitterly — often dangerously — cold. Summer provides early morning walks to the lake, outdoor yoga at the Zoo, lap swims in the sun, reading in my back yard. 

Too, summer is my time at Pythonga. Others enjoy spring fish and autumn hunting. For me, late July through Labor Day there is a time for sun, swims, saunas, walks, hikes. Always, Pythonga is a place for me to read, at length, uninterrupted.

I was in Pythonga over Labor Day for summer’s last blast. (As I write this it’s 85 degrees and humid in Chicago.) Our friends hosted a canoe race and beach picnic; we played Scrabble and Giant Jenga at night; we hosted a pizza and cocktail party. The water was too cold for long swims but when we were hot from a hike or the sauna it was fun to jump in — and out! 

Here’s what I read and enjoyed:

If This is a Man, The Truce, by Primo Levi.

As a young Jewish man in fascist Italy, Levi was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. These books are the story of his unlikely survival in the camp, as it was emptied, and during the journey home. It’s a classic (first published in 1958, recently reissued) because Levi takes us into every day life in the camp and elsewhere: how what when they ate, where they slept, how they bathed. We understand the labor, the cold, the ill-fitting shoes, the flimsy clothing. Illness is a ticket to the infirmary, its warmth, its clean sheeted beds — and survival, when others who are weak are sent to the gas chambers. 

Levi lives — how? The journey home is also fraught. Will he and his Italian mates ever return? 

Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers

My friend Deborah and I were returning to our Old Town neighborhood from a long lakefront walk. Deb lamented that “no one has yard sales anymore.” Just steps after she mentioned it, we came upon a yard sale in a garden on Wells Street. A young couple was ridding what they could: they were heading to London School of Economics. Among the dresses and wrapping paper and coasters, we found books. I grabbed A Month in the Country, by J. L. Carr, for Deborah, who’d never read it. She pulled Zeitoun for me; I’d missed it. 

Glad I got to it. Eggers rarely disappoints and this one’s a doozy, deeply reported and fluidly told. It reads like a novel. It’s the story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian immigrant in New Orleans. He’s married, a father, a painting contractor and owner of rental buildings. When Hurricane Katrina overwhelms the city, Zeitoun stays, sleeping on his garage roof, canoeing flooded streets so that he can help trapped residents and dogs. (His wife and children evacuated.) A Muslim, he sees this work as divine; he has been chosen. He won’t leave. Then he and his friends are arrested for looting, they’re jailed, and held — by whom? Do they think he’s a terrorist? Why can’t he make a phone call? 

The Stranger in the Woods, the Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, by Michael Finkel

A Pythonga friend pressed this book in my husband’s hands. “There’s something about this that reminds me of you.” A hermit? Upon reading this entrancing tale, I know what she meant. That’s because FInkel explores the value and history of being alone as he tells the hermit’s fascinating tale.

For 27 years, Christopher Knight lived in the Maine woods. He stole all of his needs — food, clothing, batteries, booze — from nearby summer homes and camps. This book is the story of his capture and re entry into the every day world. 

I thought this would be a creepy read; it’s not. It’s enlightening. 

Ah, summer: I’ll miss your healing rays, your bounty.

 

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Reads in a favorite place

by anneMoore on August 28, 2019

We all have a favorite place to read. Mine is Pythonga, where there’s quiet and comfy chairs and few obligations. 

Here’s what I read last trip. 

Other Men’s Daughters, by Richard Stern

I’ve never read such a sympathetic story of a failed marriage. It broke my heart. 

This book is set in the 1960’s, in Cambridge. Our brainy narrator, Dr. Merriwether, describes “…the foam of the street…the kids, the young, girls, boys, the hippies, freaks, heads, the beauties and transfigured uglies from all over the world in every state of dress and undress…what is this terrific need to look special? Is it so hard to be anyone now? Why so much noise?” 

Yes, it is a summer like no other, and while Dr. Merriwether’s wife and children are away in Maine, he and a student fall in love. His marriage is already in shambles; his wife’s grievances are understandable. It’s the children he can’t give up— they’re all so well drawn that I didn’t want to give them up. These are smart, funny people caught in a sad situation.

 

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver 

How did I miss this one? Published in 1988, this is a saga about colonialism told by the wife of a Christian missionary and their four daughters. I came to it because it was chosen by the Columbia University book club, which I recently joined. What a choice!

It’s 1959. Preacher Nathan Price uproots his family from Georgia for the Belgian Congo. They bring with them cake mixes and pinking shears, things useless in the bush. The mother and girls (one is mute and crippled) learn to survive; the father is interested only in spreading salvation. They live in peril, but it’s not until one of the girls dies that mother and daughters flee.

The story could have ended there for me, but there’s decades more and much to learn about the history of the Congo, the hardship of war, the science behind the crippled daughter’s full recovery. It’s important to note that women tell this story.

 

Fleishman is in Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner 

This is a laugh out loud read about excess in and around Manhattan. There we find Toby Fleishman, a newly separated doctor who has jumped back into sex: his phone is aglow. It’s a lot of smutty fun until his ex, a talent agent, drops out of sight after leaving their two children at his place. Where did she go?

Toby adores his little ones, and has always been the parent who shows up for school events, etc. Still, it’s summer, the kids are at loose ends, and they’re upset: where’s mom?

This tale is narrated by a female friend of Toby’s, who used to write for men’s magazines before chucking it all to raise her kids in New Jersey. It’s a clever device, because she can take us places other than Toby’s bitter mind. 

Toby’s dark world view can be funny but wears thin and his ex’s “woes of the working women” complaint is tired. Otherwise, this book kept me entertained.

 

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea, by Alyssa Mastromonaco

Okay, I didn’t read this in my favorite place. I read it while I was having minor surgery for skin cancer. That said, it kept me engaged over two stressful days. Thank you, Alyssa.

Here’s her charming story: an internship with Bernie Sanders leads to work for John Kerry — there’s soul sucking jobs in between — which leads to a job with Barack Obama, when he was a senator. From there she works on his campaign — the title of the book comes from an event she insisted he go to, when it was sleeting — and on to the White House. The pace is relentless and her stomach is in knots for a decade. She meets the Pope, the Queen of England, travels the world.

This is a coming of age story within an historic presidency. She has a bumpy but eventually happy ever after, which felt right after flying so high. Hers is a clear, distinctive voice; writers of memoirs should take a look. 

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Summer Reads

by anneMoore on July 15, 2019

Happy summer! I’ve been traveling, reading, watching tv, going to movies and plays. Here’s some I’ve enjoyed.

Machines Like Me, by Ian McEwan. I’m that reader who always pre-orders McEwan. He provides an interesting read even if I don’t like or don’t believe in a character or situation. (i.e., Atonement, Saturday.) This newly published book may be his most daring. McEwan scrambles time: we’re in a future where one can buy a household robot and a past in which Alan Turing is alive and Margaret Thatcher is in power. It’s an “alternative 1980s London.” There, our main character Charlie, who has a history of poor financial decisions, has just blown the last of his inheritance on Adam, a male robot. Charlie programs him with the help of Miranda, Charlie’s upstairs neighbor and love interest. Where this goes is thoughtful, frightening, hilarious, rich and very, very moving. This was one of those reads I wasn’t sure I liked until I loved. 

Breaking and Entering, by Joy Williams. Published in 1988, this is a read that I often loved; passages broke my heart. Other riffs bored or irritated me. Like life? Here’s the story: Willie and Liberty, a young couple, break into vacation homes in the Florida Keys, stay awhile, move to the next. Liberty keeps rescue dog Clem with her always, and cares for Little Dot and Teddy, two young children ignored or abused by their parents. Children given up or away, or lost, is the sad through line of this book. Williams’ writing is a wonder: the dialogue is crisp, the action is both languid and fraught. 

The Mosquito Coast, by Paul Theroux. When I head to our summer lake house I bring fat books I missed in the past. This is one of those, and oh, how glad I am to have taken a chance on this classic. (It was first published in 1981 and later made into a movie starring Harrison Ford.) Allie Fox is iconclast, inventor, husband, father. Disgusted by wasteful consumerism in the U.S., he moves his family (teenage Charlie, the narrator, and three younger sibilings) to Honduras. Allie is obnoxious, daring, funny, brilliant: often I found myself agreeing with him. When natives and missionaries put their faith in God, Allie says, “Man is God.” In the jungle, Allie builds a home for his family and invents an ice machine for the better good. To see this come undone, and understand the boys’ rebellion, makes for a sad and thrilling read. 

Pretend I’m Dead, by Jen Beagin. This is a book that lives up to its striking cover: blue skies and fluffy clouds, a rubber-gloved hand holding an ashy cigarette. Our weary housecleaner is Mona, a 23 year old college dropout working in Lowell, Massachusetts. There she falls into a charming affair with a 40ish man, Mr. Disgusting, who’s a suicidal drug addict. In his farewell note, he urges Mona to go the desert, start over, take photos, join a healthy cult, get a gura. Mona does all of these things, and in the (very loopy) process, saves herself. 

I also enjoyed Micheal Wolff’s The Seige. I know it’s depressing to read about the Trump presidency but Wollf clarifies recent events and makes me laugh. I loved his Fire and Fury. This is more of the same.

Episodic television is a lot like reading a long book. Lately I’ve devoured the four seasons of Catastrophe and the two seasons of Fleabag. Both shows — funny, foul, moving — left me with “tv grief.” I wanted more.

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Travel: A Week in Paris, part 1

by anneMoore on May 15, 2019

Last spring, I was to join my friend JM in Rome. I was unable to go, because my mother died, and I traveled to Scottsdale to be with her during her last hours. Months later I realized I had a voucher from American Airlines, which I need to use or lose. At the same time, parts of my mother’s estate was disbursed: new money! I called my sister Mary Beth and floated the idea of Paris for her 65th birthday: I had the voucher, we had “mom” money. Voila! We were on our way. 

We traveled to Paris May 4 through 11. (The weather was atypically dreadful: cold, wind, rain.)

I’ve been to Paris a dozen times since I was 19. I know the city well and felt confident in my choice of a VRBO apartment in the 6th, on the border of the 5th. (55 Rue St. Andre des Arts.) Its owner, a food journalist, was a pleasure to deal with and met us at the apartment to ensure our understanding of the place. He allowed us early access (9 am) and arranged drivers to and from the airport (E50). 

Location, location, location. Also: quiet (in a noisy neighborhood), chic and cozy furnishings, a stand up shower with great water pressure and hot hot water. We walked everywhere, because “everywhere” is within walking distance. Too, we loved the vibrant neighborhood, a perfect mix of St. Germain de Pres style and Latin Quarter boho-ness.

Just outside our door: Le Colvert for dinner, Chez Le Libinais for takeout falafel and hummus, Cafe Laurent for after-dinner cocktails and jazz. 

Day 1 — Mary Beth’s birthday! Cafe au lait, then on to Musee Rodin. Note to readers: the garden is no longer free after the museum buildings close. It’s E12 to enter. The collection and gardens — the sun was out! — always dazzles me, as it displays his life’s work. Another plus: Cafe Rodin is a perfect lunch spot. (I kept googling “lunch nearby” — ha! Lunch, delicious, was right there.)

On to Musee de L’Orangerie for Monet’s large format water lilies series “Les Nympheas” and the museum’s permanent collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. Also a feature show, Franz Marc/August Macke: The Adventure of the Blue Rider, through June 17. This is a small museum that offers a dizzying collection of art. It’s not to to be missed, and never gets old. 

Later, we shared a pleasing birthday dinner at Cafe de l’Homme. Afterwards, the Place du Trocadero offered for an unbroken view of the Eiffel Tower.

To be continued….

Note: I pre-ordered museum passes for both of us, which eliminated waiting — Paris is a popular place and lines are long — and entry fees.

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Recent Reads

by anneMoore on April 3, 2019

If you’re like me and read everything good, then bad, about blood-testing entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes you might think you don’t need to read John Carreyou’s Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start Up. You do. The story is soooo crazy and Carreyou tells it like a thriller. Founded in 2003 after she dropped out of Stanford, Holmes sold her finger-prick blood testing idea — it was never a reality — to investors, Walgreen’s, Safeway grocery stores. She loaded her board with statesmen such as Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Mattis. By 2014, she was on The Forbes 400 list of America’s richest people with an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion: her 50% stake in Theranos was valued by investors at $9 billion. It was all a fraud. Carreyou’s reporting, for The Wall Street Journal, unmasked her.

Speaking of fraud, here’s a link to avoid plagiarism.

My friend Suzanne pressed me to read Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. I’m glad she did. It’s a work whose magnificence sneaks up on you. At first it seems like a well written story about a group of college friends, two of whom —  Bobbi and Frances — perform poetry together. Bobbi and Frances befriend a cool older couple, Melissa and Nick, who may be having marriage troubles. The story seems a bauble until Frances and Nick, a film star, fall into an affair. I know this sounds pedestrian but Rooney’s characters are witty, smart, dimensional. I didn’t see the end coming; it made sense and kind of broke my heart. 

Speaking of cheaters, check out this site.

The Library of America recently issued a collection of two Ann Petry novels, The Street and The Narrows. Do read her if, like me, you haven’t. The Street tells the story of Lutie Johnson, a pretty black woman who takes a small apartment in Harlem, on 116th Street, in the hopes of giving her young son a better life. The super tries to rape her, the madam at the window offers work, a band leader fools Lutie into believing her singing will lift her out of poverty. This is the story of a street and its people. No happy endings here.

I’m a loyal reader. If I loved a book, I’m likely to read the author’s others. (And vice versa: if I hate a book I’m stingy on second chances.) Mrs. Caliban, by Rachel Ingalls, was a favorite of mine last year. It tells the story of an unhappy wife who falls in love with a sea creature who has escaped from a nearby institute. In Binstead’s Safari the action is (a little) more firmly grounded in reality, but also concerns a miserable marriage and a woman’s journey out of it. Millie follows her sourpuss husband, an academic, to London and then to Africa, where he will study lion myths. Millie blossoms in London, and takes a lover in Africa. Is Millie more than a woman? Is she a lion god? A deliciously smart, funny, tragic read. 

I’m enjoying Benjamin Dreyer’s guide to clarity and style Dreyer’s English and lapping up Eleanor Perényi’s More was Lost, a memoir of her youthful marriage, in 1937, to a Hungarian baron.

 

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Travel: A week in Morocco

by anneMoore on March 7, 2019

I traveled to Morocco mid February. My understanding of the country came from fictions by Paul Bowles, travel articles, the movie Casablanca. A friend pressed in my hands a contemporary tale, The Caliph’s House, a memoir by Tahir Shah (which I loved and recommend). Reading Shah’s story — invisible spirits, outrageous corruption — I thought, “I won’t have to live there, I’ll just be visiting for a week.”

What a week.

We began in Casablanca, a colonial city built by the French in the 1930s. In Shah’s book the port city is mysterious and charming. We didn’t find that: it seemed dirty and crowded. That said, our morning tour of its mosque, among the world’s largest, was a visual and cultural highlight.  

From there, we traveled to Volubilis for a tour of its Roman ruins. Never have I had so much access to such a large swath of antiquity. We walked beside mosaic floors, climbed among pillars and arches. A must for anyone going to Morocco.

On to Fez, where we checked into the Sahrai Hotel, modern hospitality set on a hilltop a ten minute drive from the old city. It was our favorite hotel: chic rooms, a pool and jacuzzi, a hip rooftop bar. 

In Fez I felt the journey really take off. First we visited Dar Batha, a 19th century palace turned museum. Lush gardens, mosaic walkways. From there we entered the El Bail market, which has functioned continuously since 800 AD. We visited weavers, carpet sellers, makers of leather goods. (Note photo of huge vats, where hides are dyed.) Our guide asked us to stick together, follow him closely and not stop — everyone wants to sell you something. He led us to his places where we could calmly buy textiles, carpets, leathers. (Yes, we haggled. It’s necessary and fun.) The next day we toured World Heritage site synagogues, the now public grounds of the Royal Palace and Art D’Agile pottery workshop. 

A scholar joined us at a Dar Anebar private dinner. We peppered her with questions about women and girls in Moroccan society, the importance of family, the Moroccan economy and culture. Fascinating. 

So many things surprised me: that there’s a green landscape of rolling hills and mountains. That they prepare (my least favorite) vegetables — cooked carrots and eggplant —in such a way that I served myself twice. That there is poverty but, seemingly, little homelessness because there is a surplus of substandard housing ( and family is paramount?)

From Fez, we traveled to Meknes for its market and ramparts, then on to Rabat, the nation’s capitol. We stopped for lunch at Villa Mandarine, which is also a small hotel. Its gardens, interiors, food and service would lure me back. In the afternoon we toured the remnants of mosque destroyed in an earthquake, now a city park. We walked the Kasbah of the Udayas, a 12th century walled neighborhood on the Atlantic Ocean’s Barbary Coast. There’s a reason movies are filmed there. 

On to Marrakesh! 

We had a garden lunch at La Paix. Then on to Yves St. Laurent Museum (a must) and its next door attractions, the Jardin Majorelle and its Berber Museum.

We stayed at hotel Le Naoura, which we liked for its close to the markets location and its pool. We can recommend dinner at Al Fassia.

In the morning we toured the 16th century Baddi Palace. Words fail me. Its scale is something I’ve never experienced. Lunch at Riad Lotus Privilege may have been our best meal. In the afternoon we shopped a souk, stopping at Maison du Caftan for clothing and Khalidoun Art for rugs. The next day we toured the Musee de Tapis. Splendid.

A day trip to the Atlas Mountains took us to a Berber tea ceremony and an outdoor lunch at Kasbah Beldi, which is also a resort. That pool…

Morocco dazzled me. By the end I suffered visual overload. It’s that rich. 

Please note: I would not have made this trip on my own. (I may in the future.) I traveled with a group of eight delightful Americans and shared rooms with Georgia Dent, my always up for an adventure sister in law. We had a professional, brainy guide (we adored him), a dedicated driver and his assistant who kept us hydrated and helped with luggage. Most of our (authentic, delicious) meals were pre-arranged. This was an Abercrombie & Kent tour sponsored by the Mattatuck Museum, handled by Largay Travel. One kerfuffle with Air Morocco. Other than that, a seamless trip. 

 

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Happy new year, happy reading

by anneMoore on January 14, 2019

Merman sex? In the hands of Rachel Ingalls, yes yes yes. Mrs. Caliban is her 1983 (newly reissued) short novel about Dorothy, a sad suburban housewife who harbors and falls in love with Larry, a sea creature escaped from a nearby lab. Why so sad? The death of a young son, a miscarriage, an unfaithful husband. Into this world comes messages from the radio: “It’s all right, Dorothy, It’s going to be alright.” And then Larry shows up in her kitchen during a dinner party. From there the tension never lets up: will he be caught? Will Dorothy and her husband reunite? There’s so much to like in this slender read. It’s unforgettable.

Unabated grief and an unlikely love are described in Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend, which won last year’s National Book Award. A writer mourns her friend and mentor, who committed suicide. Wife Three asks her to take his dog. The writer objects: she’s a cat person! The lease for her tiny Manhattan apartment prohibits dogs! She takes the dog — an aging Great Dane named Apollo— and adjusts her life. The landlord moves to evict her, friends stage an intervention, she becomes a magical thinker. Something good is sure to happen, because she loves the dog, because she loved her friend. Within these pages are wise and beautiful passages about writing, the teaching of writing, grief, the love of and for dogs. “Finally he places one of his massive paws, the size of a man’s fist, in the center of my chest and lets it rest there…he must be able to feel my heart.”

Another book set in New York: The Dakota Winters, by Tom Barbash, which I read hungrily. It’s the New York of the early 1980s that I remember, and Barbash nails it. Here’s the story: Anton Winter is back in the city from a Peace Corps tour that nearly killed him. His father, tv talk show host Buddy Winter, is off the air, recovering from a nervous breakdown. Will Anton get his father a new show? Should he get his father a new show? The Winters are a delicious family: mother Emily is campaigning for Ted Kennedy, brother Kip is a teen tennis star. They live in the Dakota apartment building, and yes, John Lennon is part of their world. This is Anton’s story, of a young New Yorker exploring the city — its clubs, restaurants, women — and becoming his own man.

Finally, a book that I thickly dog-eared: John Berger’s And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos. (Thank you, Evan Dent.) Love and absence are among Berger’s themes, which was fitting, as I read this political/personal prose/poem on the plane ride home from Arizona, where I’d been emptying my late mother’s home. “How to measure/a season/against/the calendar of your absence?” Or “Put your garden to my cheek/your five fingered garden/in another city/to my cheek.” Berger writes about art, about nature, about social injustice. He’s a deep dive. Read him.

Happy new year, happy reading. And kudos to this free plagiarism-check site — cuz no one likes a cheater.

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Reading: A Heavy Lift

by anneMoore on October 31, 2018

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. I’m blaming that on Trump (I blame him for everything: locking myself out of my house, walking into a glass door, the mess on my desk). Blame — praise? — goes to another president, Grant, whose 959 page biography by Ron Chernow kept me from reading anything else for three months. When I’d put it down — in any life there’s some dull spots — I felt like I was cheating on Grant. What a man! 

We all think we know a lot about Grant: as a general, he won the Civil War for the north. He served twice as president. He lost all his money to a charlatan. He’s buried beside his adored wife, Julia Dent Grant, at a tomb that overlooks the Hudson River. 

There’s so much more. Grant suffered greatly as a young man after attending West Point and fighting in the Mexican-American war. (He was such an ace horseman that, when needed, he could ride sideways into battle.) His early misfortune came from drinking too much and being swindled. At one point he had so little money he had to choose between food and a night’s sleep. Later, in St. Louis, he sold fire wood door to door. Men who’d served with him during the Mexican War were astonished by his fall. 

From there, we follow him and the country into the Civil War. The man who had failed in every day life dazzled in the military. I’d forgotten so much of the war and its battles that these pages riveted. Too, the reign of Andrew Johnson was a fresh reminder that Trump is not the first despot in this nation. Another appreciation: throughout his military and political career, Grant fought for blacks’ rights. It’s a sadness that his work to ensure voting rights is still under attack. 

Finally, Grant spends his later life in New York City, where he loses a fortune and suffers from throat cancer. I wept reading the pages of his last gruesomely painful days and the throngs of people who stood outside his home to honor him. 

If you’re up for a good long read, I highly recommend. 

When I was “cheating” on Grant (so heavy I couldn’t take it out of the house) I picked up and read others, including:

Michelle McNamara’s I’ll be Gone in the Dark, a masterful telling of the hunt for the Golden State Killer (rape/murder/burglary) who terrorized communities in northern and southern California for more than a decade in the ’70s and ’80s. Yes, this read gave me nighthmares. He raped more than 50 women and murdered at least 13; McNamara brings us into these crimes. Even so, I couldn’t put this book down. (Wait: I did! For Grant.) McNamara’s obsession with the case is the work of an investigative reporter. We are with her as she meets with and works alongside retired detectives who can’t shake the case. McNamara died before she’d finished the manuscript (husband Patton Oswalt, a comedian, hired writers to piece it together) and before the perpetrator — finally! — was arrested, in April of this year. 

The Battle of Lincoln Park by Daniel Kay Hertz is another unsettling read. It’s the story of gentrification in my neighborhood. He begins in the 1940’s with the people who always settle first: artists. From there, white professionals in the ’50s and ’60s transformed Victorian housing stock into single family homes, displacing apartment dwellers. At the same time, areas of the North Side were bulldozed (Clark Street, North Avenue, Larrabee Street, the area that is now Oz Park ) to create middle-class housing and green space. Forced out: black, Puerto Rican, Appalachian whites, independent shop keepers. When I first picked up this book I thought “battle” was hyperbole. Nope: murder, firebombs, death threats. I love the green of Oz Park: at what cost? An important piece of history and an engaging read. 

Finally, and I haven’t read all of it: Florida, by Lauren Groff. I wasn’t a fan of her celebrated novel Fates and Furies — it was overwrought, unbelievable and too long — but I’ve always loved her short stories, which run in the New Yorker. I’m instantly sucked in to her characters’ rich, dramatic, everyday lives. Her storytelling and use of language is fluid, first rate. The stories in Florida are a wonderful collection.

That’s all for now. Happy Halloween!

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Reading in Pythonga

by anneMoore on August 22, 2018

Two weeks in Pythonga’s quiet — and the kitchen’s cooking — left me with ample time to not only read but also read at length, for two and three hours at a time. Such a gift: to inhabit the magnificent cabin Harry built, to stretch out on the chaise Georgia designed and made, to curl up on the oversized chair and its ottoman in the upstairs reading nook. 

Here’s what I read, enjoyed, recommend.

Something Wonderful, by Todd S. Purdum. This is a must-read biography of composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II, who created the modern musical — among them Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. I’d seen a revival of Carousel when I was in New York earlier this summer, and was so taken by its story, music and staging that I bought the soundtrack and this book during intermission. What a treat to be in the hands of veteran journalist Purdum. He gives us their astonishing work, of course, but also their lives — often deeply troubled — in post-war New York. When people asked what I was reading, I’d say, “Something Wonderful.” 

High Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing, by Ben Austen. Another must read, if you care about Chicago, institutional racism, the future of black America. Austen, also a reporter, focuses on a 70-acre site on Chicago’s North Side, formerly an Italian slum, made over into 23 towers and some townhomes in the 1940s. The idea was a noble experiment: get the working poor out of miserable private housing and into bright, clean, functional public housing. Wisely, Austen tells the story of its demise through the lives of those who lived — and died, violently — there. 

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. I always bring a classic with me to Pythonga, since the unbroken time and quiet allows me to get into sometimes challenging texts. Shelley’s use of letters to get into the story is clunky, and her characterization of Victor Frankenstein’s loved ones is lacking: I didn’t know them well enough to care that his monster would kill them. That said, I gobbled this read, and found her man-made monster remarkably current. That he is cast out by all made me think of American black men, who were brought to the U.S. to work as slaves, then discarded and despised. As an English major, I’m not sure how I missed this seminal work.

In the Dark Room, by Susan Faludi. Wowza. In 2004, feminist writer Faludi receives an email from her estranged father, with the subject line: Changes. Her father has become a woman. Will she write his/her life story? She does, and it’s a doozy. As a young Jewish man, Steven Faludi (née Istvan Friedman) survives the Holocaust in Budapest and saves his parents by impersonating a guard sent to take them away. (Thereafter, he shuns them.) Steve is an accomplished filmmaker and photographer and first emigrates to Brazil, then New York, where he becomes a master remaker of photographs. Steve remakes himself over and over: as a Christian, as a repatriated Hungarian, and finally, as Stephanie. Most troubling was his and other transsexuals’ world view on women: weak and helpless.

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea. The last two days in the life of a dying Mexican-American patriarch. Oh, how I loved this read. Over two days we learn the oversized and messy life of Big Angel, his half-white half-brother Little Angel, the women and children in their midst. Big Angel keeps a running list of life’s pleasures: hot showers, driving, Perla pulling up her stockings, eggs frying in hot lard, tortillas — corn not flour!, Steve McQueen. I wept more than once reading his lists and the story of their immigrant lives. And just when I thought nothing dramatic would happen, a son lost to cross-dressing returns and saves them all. 

And finally, Grant, by Ron Chernow. I’m probably the only reader who was not delighted by Chernow’s bio of Hamilton, which, of course, became Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit musical. I thought it a slog. Not so Chernow’s telling of U. S. Grant’s life. I’m only 100 or so pages in, but I’m hooked by Grant’s fortitude, folly, love of family and country, disdain for slavery. 

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