I’ve been reading a lot since June. Not only because of the pandemic, but I’ve suddenly come across an abundance of extra time to use. I read for many reasons, including enjoyment. I have advocations. I intend to use my time well.
This blog started out as a place to write about music that I’m listening to. Then the blog moved on to add playlists from my radio show. “Community Noise” has always intended to be a multi-faceted entity, and now I’m adding arts in general – whatever I’m working on. I have no idea how long this will continue.
Nick Hornby has a column in The Believer , where he enumerates every book he’s purchased and every book he’s read since the previous issue. I have not kept up with him, but invariably he acquires more books than he reads. When I used to read his column, it was informative to see so many book titles and author names.
For this posting, I’ll describe some of things I’ve been reading in recent weeks. It will be incomplete, but I will highlight things I enjoyed. I’ll try to do this monthly, but who knows. Consider this post an experiment.
Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton by Diane Wood Middlebrook
This book is background reading for one of my writing projects. It turns out, even if I didn’t have the writing assignment, it would be a good book to read. Billy of course, was a jazz performer coming out of Oklahoma and Kansas in the 1940s and 1950s. Upon his death in 1989, it was discovered he was a woman – disguising his sex to ensure he could get work in the music business. Enjoyable reading, this book is a well-researched story of Billy Tipton, his family and career, and her family and upbringing. Plus, there’s a lot of good history of music, about how jazz moved from the Midwest to the West Coast via Nevada casinos. Interesting.
I got to Walter Mosley through two different avenues: he has a good on-line lecture series, and his name was on a Black author’s reading list that I scanned recently. Over the past few weeks, I’ve read three of his excellent books.
I read his novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, the first in his Easy Rawlins series of mystery / private detective books. And I read his anthology of short stories, The Awkward Black Man. There is value in reading authors that are not like you, do not look like you, do not have the same beliefs or backgrounds as you. If you haven’t figured that out recently, reading Walter Mosley is a good place to start. Mosley’s characters all have skin color, dark brown, cocoa brown, olive. I have never seen “mulatto” used in a book by a white author, but it’s important for Mosley’s characters to identify who they are, maybe or African descent, or Caribbean, or a Black-Korean mix. I love the rainbow of brown skin tones, but I never knew before that it was OK to say that.
Typically a novelist, Mosley has short stories, and he has a book, Elements of Fiction, about writing. I took a photo of a glorious passage – but check out more of his work!
The novella I was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn is a fictional account of how Amelia lived her final days – several months – on a deserted island, alone with an irresponsible, alcoholic navigator, who turns out to be a gourmet cook. Luckily, they landed upon a Pacific atoll abundant in food sources.
There are beautiful prose here, telling a wondering, loving and cold-hearted story. Incidentally, I found this in a Little Free Library, along with Hemingway, Camus, and Joyce, as I was finishing up a photoshoot in Ravenna Park, Seattle. Mendelsohn’s work might be the ace of the four, but so far, the only one of the four finds that I’ve read.
Zoetrope: All-Story is a quarterly literary journal. I have been a subscriber for most of two decades now. Every issue has a different guest designer, which ensures entirely new graphical arts in my hands every 3 months; and Francis Ford Coppola retains movie rights for every new short story published. Also, the journal will occasionally retain rights for a short story that later became a movie, for example, Cornell Woolrich’s “It had to be Murder” appeared in the Fall 2014 issue. Originally published in 1942, this is the story that later motivated Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
The Fall 2020/2021 issue (vol.24 no.4) includes a great story by Elizabeth McCracken, “Nothing, Darling, Only Darling, Darling”. About newlyweds on their honeymoon, childhood friends, getting married in their late 30’s, the story has companionship, relationship blah, and cohabitating insights. It’s funny and charming.
Any good newsstand or bookstore will have All-Story in their magazine racks. Check it out!
I re-read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It must be 15 years or so since I first read this book; I didn’t like it then, but decided I needed to try again. It’s a quick story about people that I normally don’t like and don’t want to read about, written by somebody that really didn’t like these people, so it turns out to be a nice little book. I can testify Fitzgerald is an elegant writer, as advertised.
But his heart was in a constant, turbulent riot. The most grotesque and fantastic conceits haunted him in his bed at night. A universe of ineffable gaudiness spun itself out in this brain while the clock ticked on the washstand and the moon soaked with wet light his tangled clothes upon the floor.
I think I wasn’t open to his writing style the first time I read him, but I understand that truth now, and look forward to reading more of him. I have a collection of his short stories, from the same trip to my local independent bookstore. Stay tuned.