I read Dear Genius: The letters of Ursula Nordstrom, and it sent me on a kids book spree. Nordstrom was the children’s book editor at Harpers for years and years, and was instrumental in changing the direction of children’s books. Her letters are charming and eloquent, and offer an interesting view into the process of being an editor. She edited many of the great authors and artists, including Maurice Sendak. EB White, and Shel Silverstein. Her letters to Sendak are my favorites. She also edited Louise Fitzhugh who wrote Harriet the Spy. I read Harriet when I was little, and bought it about 4 months ago to reread it and then never did. So after I finished Dear Genuis, it was on to Harriet the Spy.
The first paragraphs of Harriet blew me away, because I could remember vividly my thoughts when I first read them. Harriet is playing by the roots of an huge tree, and I remember thinking that it was just like the one I played by at school. That would put my reading it the first time at about 2nd or 3rd grade- I would have been six or seven. That explains a lot to me about why I never reread it- I hated the end of it passionately, and reading it again this time, I kind of agree with my six year old self. I love Harriet and her honesty. She’s a little confused girl with little to no parental guidance, who is just trying to figure out the world around her. Ultimately she gets caught and punished for thinking the same things that all her friends are thinking, and thats what I hated and still kind of hate.
The spree continued with Sideways Stories from Wayside School and Wayside School gets at little Stranger, both by Louis Sachar. I love these books, they’re silly and witty and make me laugh. Those were followed by volumes 6-9 of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, a series that I’m enjoying more and more the farther I get into them. A deeper conspiracy is starting to unfold, and a mystery that I can’t wait to discover the answer to.
I diverged from the kid lit kick for a day and read Daughters of Memory by Janis Arnold, a book sent to me by booksfree that I didn’t remember ordering, but I’m very glad that I did. It’s the story of two sisters, told from each one’s point of view in alternating chapters. On the surface it’s the story of what abuse does to people; it’s also a look at truth and perception. The two sisters, Claire and Macy, have distinctly different versions of the same events, but you come away with the certainty that both accounts are true. It’s an interesting addition into my pondering on the difference between the search for reality and the search for truth. While it was painful to read I couldn’t put it down, the writing is excellent and the characters true and sadly consistent.
After that I had to read something lighter, so I reluctantly jumped into A Series of Unfortunate Events Vol 9. I say reluctantly because I only own up to vol 9, and the series so far is only up to vol 10, so very soon I’m going to be caught up. That saddens me.
Current total: 76
Just Finished: A Series of Unfortunate Events Vol 9 by Lemony Snicket
Reading Now: Fast Talking Dames by Maria Di Battista
I bought The Funnies by J. Robert Lennon a couple of months ago, and it went into the to-read pile, a stack that gets added to whenever I buy too many books at once. Most of the time those books end up staying there while I move on to new purchases- single purchases that I can read and move on from, with no feelings of guilt about the strays I brought home and am didn’t chose to read first. I picked it to read now because it’s premise seemed to fit in with my thought process of late- the intersection of fiction and reality.
The book is about the Mix family, a dysfunctional family made more wrong by the fact that they were famous for being the subject of The Family Funnies, a cloyingly sweet newspaper comic clearly similar to Family Circus. The father, and artist of the strip, has died, and the family which has spread as far apart as it can is forced to come back together. Tim, the narrator of the book, discovers that his inheritance is the comic strip and all revenue stemming from it- IF he is able to take over drawing it. In the process of learning how to do that, he learns more about his family members, and why his father chose to portray them as he did.
Pierce, the second to youngest child, is schizophrenic and dear, and never makes an appearance in the strips although he claims he is in every one. The realizing of the truth of that statement is the beginning of Tim’s ephiphany, and through the fiction that his father created he is able to see not only the truth about his father, but about himself and his past. It brings home again that we use fiction to create the world as we wish it to be, and that through fiction we are able to see truth- if not reality.
I got sucked up into this book more than I thought I would be, and I really love these characters, as bruised as they are. There’s a beauty and sweetness to them despite their dysfunction, and that is what their father saw and tried to capture in his perennially young subjects. Each strip was a love note to them, a testament to how he saw them, rather than just how he wished they were.
Before The Funnies I read Rap Factor by Delacorta for what has to be going on the 50th time. As far as I’m concerned, Delacorta can do no wrong.
Just Finished: The Funnies by J. Robert Lennon
Up Next: Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom
I finished Reading Lolita in Tehran, and it’s in my top 3 of the year. I absolutely loved it. So many beautiful thoughts about fiction, and the potential it has in our lives. I don’t have the words at the moment to express all my thoughts on the subject, I need to keep thinking about it.
Today I read Geisha of Gion, by Mineko Iwasaki. She is the geisha that Memoir of a Geisha was written about, and this book is her response to the falsehoods she feels that that book propogated. I can see why she felt the need to do so- the two books hardly have a connection to each other. I read Memoir a number of years ago, but I could hardly believe that they were about the same person. I feel like I should read Memoir again to actually compare, but I also feel a weird loyalty to Iwasaki- if she was so upset by the book I feel like I shouldn’t read it again. Ah well, we’ll see if it makes it back to the top of the pile.
But it does bring up an interesting connection to Reading Lolita. In Iran the women in the reading class felt that they were forced to live a fiction, that they could not be true to themselves, and that their every movement was politically charged. The geisha also live in a world where every movement is deep with meaning, and Iwasaki expresses that she feels that she has to act in a way that is not true to herself, at least in the beginning. But more than that, she had a fiction created of her life through this other book. It’s just an interesting mix of fictions and narratives happening. And both women, Nasifi and Iwasaki, felt the need to free themselves from the fictions created for/about them by writing their own narratives of their lives.
I really enjoyed Geisha of Gion, and felt as much amazement at the reality of her life and it’s complete difference from mine, as I did about Nafisi’s account of life in Iran. The incredible amount of stress and responsibility that she took upon herself at such a young age is overwhelming, but the grace and optimism she maintained is inspiring.
Ok, a followup to that previous thought about Iwasaki being upset about the fiction made about her life. As the comment posted about this post stated, since it was fiction, obviously it wasn’t going to match up to her life. She knew if was going to be a fictionalized account going in, and would have to know things would be changed, and it would be naive of her to expect different. I agree with that. I think that her major problem with the book however, (as evidenced in her author’s note), isn’t that he took liberties with her life story, but that he changed the point of it. Memoir panders to the fiction that others have created about geisha, that they are part of a larger sex trade, that it’s terribly oppressive to the women involved. Iwasaki makes it clear that geisha are seperate from prostitutes, that they serve a completly different purpose, and that she enjoyed her career. He takes the grace of her career and her art, and turns it into something sordid. His fiction doesn’t have a core of reality, and I think thats what spurred her to write her own book.
Just Finished: Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki
Next Up: The Funnies by J. Robert Lennon