A Literary Blog
about Books (and the occasional film) How
they affect us. How they shape our lives. Note:
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Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Stars in My Eyes Last year about this time, you will recall, I tried to predict the Oscar winners. I based my selections
on having seen almost all of the movies nominated and/or those that most appealed to my quirky, “different” eclectically
erratic and often erudite tastes. But, sadly, the flicks and stars that I really liked and predicted to get the gold walked
away empty-handed. This year, rather than embarrass myself once again, I am forgoing my star-studded seer status…No
choices listed here, folks. Sorry to disappoint…
But…that being said…I really, really, really
want Meryl Streep to win “Best Actress” for her startling scary performance as the wicked, vile witch in Into
the Woods, although I just know it will go to Julianne Moore in Still Alice who so eloquently portrayed a brave
English professor in the throes of the angst, trauma, and drama of early onset dementia. Regardless of who wins this year,
I will be avidly watching, forgoing the last episode of Downton Abbey Season 5 (which, I have to confess, I’ve
already seen on DVD. Twice.)
Seventy-six years ago in 1939, Gone With the Wind received eleven Oscar
nominations, capturing Best Picture. Vivian Leigh was awarded Best Actress and Hattie McDaniel, in a historical breakthrough
for black actresses (and actors), won Best Supporting Actress for her delightfully poignant role as Mamie. Sadly and unfortunately,
Clark Gable lost his bid…But the number of Oscars accrued was indeed a monumental “sweep” for what has
become one of the most favorite and most watched movie in our modern era of filmmaking. All the more so, since it was produced
during the first full year of color movies – The Wizard of Oz being the first full-length feature to, um, feature
Technicolor in all its glory.
So, imagine, if you will – and which I easily can – being an aspiring
young scriptwriter on the set of GWTW and coming face to face with its audaciously arrogant producer, David O. Selznick. Imagine
meeting and coming under the protective wing of Carole Lombard (who was not in the movie, but as Clark Gable’s mistress
and later wife played an important role in its successful production) and writing a few of its scenes. Imagine being there
first hand as the burning of Atlanta (filmed in one take) rages on a Culver City back lot; watching as Scarlett declare, “I
will never be hungry again!”; and being privy to the more intimate details of one of the most famous Hollywood romances
– that of Gable and Lombard…Oh, what fun that would be!
I can more than imagine it, as I have lived
my dream job through the pages of A Touch of Stardust, a most delightfully “celeb” novel written
by a talented author who, as luck would have it, has real-lie connections with the characters in her stunning novel, which
was just released today. Kate Alcott, the author, is the pseudonym of novelist Patricia O’Brien who married into the
iconic Mankiewicz family. She cleverly weaves into this grand story never-before-secrets and stories from the Golden Age of
Hollywood to more than just delight and entertain. It is an behind-the-scenes elucidating look into the workings – and
trappings – of Tinseltown.
I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing A Touch of Stardust just
before Christmas this past year – truly a gift indeed! – for www.authorexposure.com. My comments were posted yesterday, just in time for you to savor and whet your appetite for this year’s awards…Enjoy!
Compare and Contrast Remember back in high school when we had to write those dreadful book reports? Groans all around in remembrance!
But, in retrospect, to me they were back then excellent training for my task of reviewing books today. Especially the ones
where we had to “compare and contrast” two characters in a novel; significant parallel plot events; even, as in
this case, comparing and contrasting two different books I recently reviewed. Both of which, I must state, I thoroughly enjoyed
reading. No penny dreadfuls here.
There is at first sight nothing similar between Jonathan Odell’s Miss
hazel and the Rosa Parks League (a new, rewritten rendering of his earlier The View from Delphi) and A Memory
of Violets by Hazel Gaynor who last year brought us the blockbuster novel, The Girl Who Came Home.
At second sight, though…
Hazel’s name is in the title of Jonathan’s book! Both titles contain
the name of a flower. Both are set in the 1900s. Both stories deal with freedom and class prejudice in significant historical
eras: one is set in the deep South during the Civil Rights Movement; the other in London at the turn of the last century.
One is about the plight of flower sellers; the other the plight of black domestics.
Both are written by very
talent writers who each deal in his/her own way with what it means to love, to be a family, a friend, and, most importantly,
with the value of sisterhood – in all of its defining, often disparate forms and characteristics. Both, of course,
are great reads and are best-seller list bound.
Now, your assignment is to read my comments, buy a copy of each novel, and do a little leisurely “comparing
and contrasting” on your own. Once again, written book reports are not necessary. But your reading enjoyment factor
will be graded.
* Incidentally, A Memory of Violets marks a major milestone for me: It’s the 100th
book I’ve read and reviewed since I started this labor of love less than four years ago…Here’s to 100 +more!
Stark Trek This has been, so far, a very stark, yet wet and cold winter. And today, Punxsutawney Phil, that enigmatic
groundhog (a gopher, actually) saw his shadow. So now, according to him, we are in for another six weeks of winter. Ahem,
folks…I beg to tell you that even if “Phil” had not seen his shadow, it’s still six weeks until March
20, this year’s Spring Equinox. To be honest, I can’t wait. Please! Bring on the warmth. Bring on the sun! And
yet, oh woe, as I am writing this on yet another cold, dreary late Monday afternoon, it’s starting to snow. Pardon the
intended pun, but I’ve had my fill of cold weather.
Well, at least I am safe and warm in my humble
abode (as I hope you are, too!), crammed with books and basset and mewling cat who doesn’t understand why he can’t
be out sunning himself on the deck. “Too cold,” I tell him. “Even for you…” as he stops staring
out the French doors and slinks away to find a patch of heat in front of the fire. As for FrankieB…Well, his job is
to nestle under the raggedy quilt on the couch as he tries to keep it from levitating. To be out in the nasty weather these
days is, to me, unthinkable.
And even more unfathomable is walking in it…Yet that is exactly what 83
year-old Etta does after leaving Otto, her husband, a note and shouldering his rifle. Out the door she goes into the starkness
of the northern backwoods. She’s off to find the ocean, on the other side of Canada, nearly 3,200 kilometes away from
their Saskatchewan farm. Image being all alone, with the barest of provisions, in the near dead of winter…at that
age…trekking cross the stark countryside in search of…What?
And then along comes James…
Not to give away what I’ve come to realize is the bare essence of Emma Hooper’s first novel, Etta and Otto and Russell and James (but I think I am about to, anyway), I’ve often heard that animals, especially those in the wild, leave their packs,
herds, pods, and familiar groupings when they sense that their time has come. They wander off alone in search of the “perfect”
place to take their last breathes. I read somewhere that even Native Americans did this…and so, again with the ***SPOILER
ALERT***, this seems to be precisely what aging Etta does. Although the canny author with her uncanny writing ability does
not actually tell us this is so. Only James…howls. But before he does, there’s a whole novel chuck full of four
wonderful people (James included), each with their own powerfully rich story to tell.
Intrigued? You should be.
Now, please warp drive your way over to www.authorexposure.com to read my review of this intriguing literary offering while I (sun)beam myself over to the couch and join the animules for
a bit of communal warmth. Brrrrrr!
Words of Wisdom I was an ardent fan of the New York Times Sunday Book Review with its myriad redundant best
seller lists until I realized that the books listed were just that: best sellers, not necessarily best readings.
There is a distinct difference. Not all books that sell well read well or are ofany significant literary merit. But the editors
and reviewers of the NYTSBR want us to think otherwise. After all, aren’t they the end-all and be-all authorities
of the Literary World? To me, they are not.
Let me put this another way: Not all best selling books are best
reading; not all best readings are best sellers. Any thoughtful, discerning reader knows that.
Take a gander
at the more recent best seller lists and you’ll find more schlock and sensationalism than sensible and salutary writing.
These are books of which publishers report highest sales, not highest regard for literary talent and/or satisfaction. It’s
like reading a stock market report of B-rated worthless dollar bonds, without any knowledge of the companies who issued the
There are, of course, rare exceptions to this. Take, for example, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth a bold, sweeping literary offering by Christopher Scotton. This past Sunday a review of it by Daniel Woodrell was posted
in the NYTSBR. A decent review of a decent novel, although it (the review) breaks, like most reviewers for the New York
Times do, the cardinal rule of reviewing: Do not give away the plot. Woodrell’s review was so chuck full of spoiler
alerts that I wondered half-way through why I even bothered to read the novel in the first place (besides being asked to by
my editors at AE). There it is, in black and white, every last plot twist and character analysis originally conceived and
brilliantly written by Scotton – told second hand.
Why the editors (and readers) of the SBR tolerate this,
I do not know. Why bother buying a book if you get the gist through an often not-so-well written rehash of it in the Times?
More often than not, the reviews take away all the joy of discovering a new book, savoring each delicious anticipation, turning
each ink-scented page to see what comes next. Which is why I now read the review after I’ve read the book.
Makes my whole literary experience more enjoyable, which is the whole point of the endeavor. My heartfelt plea to the Times:
Please do NOT do this anymore. You are ruining it for prospective buyers and readers; for us authors; and for us reviewers
who have the decent sensitivity and integrity to know better.
That being said, this was the very first time
that I was “scooped” by the NYSBR. All of my other reviews for www.authorexposure.com (all 96) written over the span of three and a half years were posted (long) before the titles were even noticed by the Times.
That is, um, before their sales were high enough to warrant notice and listing on the, um, best selling lists. Some, of course,
did not even make the hallowed review pages. And most of these, rest assuredly, were of greatest literary merit. Which, in
some fashion, proves my point.
Anyway…Back to The Secret Wisdom of the Earth. I agree with the
Times reviewer (except for the blatant plot give-a-ways), including the “…tics that might grate and
… sometimes approximate and muddled … language.” But above this criticism, both of us found Scotton, albeit
a technology guru – not an author by vocation – quite a talented storyteller.
Before you read the
NYTSBR review, please read mine first. I think my comments will inspire you to buy, read, and enjoy the novel much
more than reading the rehash will.
Books on Wheels Fifteen years ago I moved to this larger townhome primarily because my first house
was burgeoning at the seams with books, videos, and CDs. This one has a whole wall of built-in shelves in the finished basement
– now overflowing – and the second library in a back bedroom is now overcrowded. As I look around the living room,
there are two stockpiles of books to read, review, and enjoy…Not to mention the backlog of old movies and television
shows I’ve just got to catch up on. Luckily, most of these are in my Netflix queue, not taking up any space. But…egads!
I am overwhelmed by the thought of moving
again…and have decided to eventually cull out some of the titles and start to list them on this site for your perusal,
hoping a few strike your fancy. I haven’t worked out the logistical details yet…but, as they say, “watch
In the meantime, I got to daydreaming about taking my collection on the road. How much fun
it would be to obtain a second-hand school bus or motorized camper. Loaded with books and jigsaw puzzles and videos and DVDS,
I would tour the countryside – FrankieBernard riding shotgun, of course – bringing books to borrow (for a small,
modest fee to cover expenses) to your door. Rather like the archaic milk person, wouldn’t you say? Only this time, the
nurturing would be in books…all kinds, genres, ilk, and nature of books…
Yes, I know it’s
an age-old idea whose time – and actual implementation – has long since past…When was the last time you
saw a Bookmobile or a Traveling Library? How sad. Back in the day before books could be ordered online, I lived for a few
short years in Kentucky. Every two weeks, on Saturday, like clockwork, the brightly painted (crimson red with yellow lettering)
Books-on-Wheels bus laden with all sorts of literary goodies would arrive in the parking lot of a small strip shopping mall.
What a treat to walk the few blocks from my small apartment to spend a hour or so perusing the new additions on the makeshift
shelves and to chat with the driver/librarian about the news of the day and the best-sellers she had that week; many of them
from her own collection. In my mind, it would be just as much a treat today as it was then…What an adventure that would
Much like the adventures of Bobby Musku in Mobile Library, a quirky little literary rendition by British author David Whitehouse. Here is a novel that is much more than what
meets the eye, proving once again that one definitely should not judge a book by its cover; in this case, it’s cartoonish
cover. For within its pages is the darker and more poignant side of what it really means to be a family…A definitely
good and often humorous read. What fun – and ironic – it would be to have a few copies of it in my own imagined,
er, mobile library, traveling around lending them to you…Chatting about your reactions when you return it…
But while I am currently physically unable – and a bit too old now – to do that, I did write a review
that, as a matter of a fact, was posted yesterday. When you get the chance – while I start culling and sorting, and
restacking – please roll on over to www.authorexposure.com and read my comments. I think you’ll find it a worthwhile addition to your own growing library.
J. McInerney is an author, poet, and librettist.
currenty published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of
children's musicals. Her titles include:
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members
of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A
Collection of More Spiritual Poems
We Three Kings
Beauty and the Beast
Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding
Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She
is currently working on her first novel.