Saturday, January 18, 2020

Little Women New and Old

A friend and I went to see the new Little Women film directed by Great Gerwig earlier this week. During the course of my life, I believe I have seen all the movie versions, and as both a child and adult, read the novel many times. Who knows how I got my hands on it in second grade, but I did. I read it and loved it. Maybe a few years later, I was over the moon to discover Little Men and Jo's Boys by Louisa Alcott also existed, and that my beloved story continued. Like many other readers, Jo was always my favorite character. She is so very feisty in this new adaptation!

When you approach a movie based on a book you love, you are hoping for the best. But often you don't get the best, you know? Perhaps you have seen t-shirts with the slogan "Never Judge a Book by its Movie" and other variations on that idea. Anyway, overall, I was pleasantly surprised at this new take on Alcott's novel, though at first glance, I had to adjust to the casting. I always think of Jo as having dark hair and she (as played by Saoirse Ronan) didn't. Meg had the dark hair. Sisters Amy and Beth looked much like the characters I have in my head. Laura Dern did not look like Marmee, their mother. But the acting was so on point, I got used to these new versions of the characters. Meryl Streep aced it as Aunt March.

What I loved: how in the first scene, the camera makes sure we see the ink stains on Jo's fingers. Also: the love, rivalry and scrappiness of the sisters and how they tumbled together, hugging and resting together in heaps or fighting each other tooth and nail. So many scenes matched my memories of the book: how Jo accidentally burned Meg's hair and also how she had her own hair chopped off to sell so she could take Beth to the convalesce at the seashore. I adored the scene where Beth finally plays Mr. Laurence's fine piano, the one his deceased daughter used to play; he steals down the stairs to hide and listen. He starts out as a gruff fellow, but as the movie goes on, he softens before our eyes. A final scene where Jo and Professor Bhaer embrace under his big umbrella in the rain and the train station: perfect!

Other casting that took me a bit of time to accept: Professor Bhaer should have been roly-poly instead of slender, but oh, what eyes he had for Jo! Teddy/Laurie seemed a bit undernourished, but his acting was up to the task, especially during the scene where he tells Jo how he has always loved her (and yet, of course -- she turns him down, as she is so fiercely independent a gal).

The costuming was gorgeous, both the plain spun kind and the fancier outfits, especially those that Amy wore during her sojourn in Europe. But in my mind, the sisters' everyday clothing was too fine. They did not look much impoverished.

Towards the very end of the movie is a scene for lovers of the art of book printing. Shown was the type being set, the cover being covered in leather and embossed, the pages sewn together by hand, etc. Wow!

I've had a realization that reading Little Women at such a young age set me on a lifelong path of reaching out for historical fiction, not that I really thought of it as a separate genre back then. Such titles as Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Strawberry Girl and Houseboat Girl by Lois Lenski were early favorites. As a teenager, I read all the Pearl S. Buck books. Although these days, I do read a lot of contemporary fiction, I also continue to reach for plenty of historical fiction. In a way, historical fiction is a form of Social Studies for me. I like learning and dreaming about how people lived during other times. As it was in childhood, so it is now. Voila!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Favorite Reads, 2019

Ask Again, Yes (Scribner, 2019) by Mary Beth Keane. Two NYC cops raise families right next door to each other in the suburbs. What began as a simple friendship becomes more complex as children are born, marriages change their tenor and one unbearable tragedy affects everybody and everything. Multiple points of view enhance both characterization and empathy. Literary -- yes, but not pretentious in any way.

God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Long Star State (Knopf, 2018) by Lawrence WrightThis is the best book I ever read about my adopted state. Texas with all its eccentricities comes alive. Notable Texans such as Molly Ivins, Willy Nelson, John Graves and Donald Judd jump right off the page. Regional highlights, awful politics, and funny tales galore! Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wright succeeds as as master storyteller and true Texan.

The Gown (William Morrow, 2018) by Jennifer RobsonGive me a book about commoners rather than the rich and/or royal any day. I loved going behind the scenes with Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers of Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown. The period following WWII in England has always fascinated me. The pluck and can-do spirit of the Brits is well portrayed here.

The Library of Lost and Found (Park Row, 2019) by Phaedra Patrick. Library volunteer Martha pours her heart and soul into helping others, but is not much appreciated. After a book of fairy tales inscribed to her by the grandmother she thought had died comes into her life, Martha starts to chase down their family history. Root for underdog Martha to come into her own and you will be rewarded.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019) by Lori Gottlieb. This is an insider's look at what goes on in the sacred space of a therapist's office. After a breakup, Gottlieb goes into therapy herself. And we get to know a few of her clients in depth. Riveting! If you have any fascination with psychology, this book is a must read.

The Most Fun We Ever Had (Doubleday, 2019) by Claire Lombardo. Wow, this was a big fat family drama that I did not want to end. A family physician and his wife adore each other. They have four daughters whose happiness in love and life is not as easily achieved. Plus, there is the inevitable sibling rivalry. The Sorenson family is messy, haphazard and delightful.

Olive Again (Random House, 2019) by Elizabeth Strout. For all who loved Olive Kitteridge (Random House, 2008), ooh-la-la, here she is again. She has aged, her husband has died and Olive is a bit less of a curmudgeon than in the first novel (at least I thought so). Sometimes she is even kind! The townsfolk of Crosby, Maine are also center stage at times, as this is a novel told in stories. Nice to meet our old friend Olive again, no matter how prickly she is.

The Spies of Shilling Lane (Crown, 2019 by Jennifer Ryan. Mrs. Braithwaite runs away from small town life once her husband has divorced her. WWII is on, and her daughter has gone missing. Thus Mrs. B. hightails it to London and undertakes an extensive investigation. A light-hearted and entertaining historical mystery.

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say. (Random House, 2018) by Kelly Corrigan. Corrigan, at age 50 is slammed with realizations she spins into wisdom right before our eyes. The simplest words or phrases we use with family and friends are examined. Phrases such as "tell me more" or "good enough" are the take off points for short chapters. For me, one of the most profound chapters related to the times when it is important not to speak, instead sharing the intimacy of silence.

To the Bright Edge of the World (Little Brown, 2016) by Eowyn Ivey. In 1885, an Army colonel is sent to explore the Wolverine River valley in Alaska. Newly married, he keeps a journal so that should he die, hopefully his wife will have it as a keepsake. Back in Washington Territory, his wife keeps a diary and takes up the new art of photography. A suspenseful, top notch historical novel.

9 out of 10 of my favorites here were written by authors who happen to be female. Hmmm, I think that's more than usual, though I do love so-called "women's fiction". Two nonfiction and eight novels this year, about an average ratio. Sometimes nonfiction books seem long winded to me; there are many subjects I would rather read and essay or article about than a book. Fiction gives me parallel worlds I can escape to. Both fiction and nonfiction can be thought-provoking. I am grateful to Harris County Public Library for providing access to so many of my choices in books.

Happy holidays!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

To quote Kelly Corrigan, "this book is about the things we say to people we love (including ourselves) that make things better." This is complex topic, yet those words we need to say in even the trickiest situations are often simple, such as yes, no, good enough or tell me more. Each chapter in her memoir is titled with one of those words or phrases. I took my time reading Tell Me More (Random House, 2018). That's just the way I am with most nonfiction versus novels, which I tend to tear through.

For me, reading a new book by Corrigan is like visiting an old friend. Our relationship started with The Middle Place (Voice/Hyperion, 2008), a book about cancer, both hers and her father's that somehow ends up being life-affirming, humorous and endearing. Her relationship with her father, who she calls "Greenie" is one every daughter might wish for -- affirming, loving, supportive. I somehow missed reading Glitter and Glue (Ballantine, 2014), a memoir about her parents, most especially her mother. I want to read it as soon as possible. Lift (Hachette, 2010) was written as a letter to her two daughters. I found it to be a poignant and wise memoir of motherhood. And so you see, all of this author's books are about family life. In the hands of Corrigan, that is rich land to cultivate.

This time around, Corrigan mixes things up. Some of the chapters are about parenthood, marriage, others about the loss of her friend Liz, and also of course, Greenie. (I don't think she could write a memoir he doesn't appear in, as he was a person she "adored to the point of absurdity.") When you get right down to it, this book is all about the author herself. You really get into her head! Often  puzzled, crazed, awed, and also deeply caring, at age 50 she is slammed with realizations she spins into hard-earned wisdom right before our eyes. "It's Like This," the first chapter concentrates on that saying, quoting a meditation teacher. She translates that into thoughts about body mind and soul, including: "Hearts don't idle; they swell and constrict and break and forgive and behold because it's like this, having a heart."

In the chapter "No Words at All," Corrigan writes about volunteering at the NICU of her local hospital, where she sits and holds the babies, letting them rest in her arms. The sleep and comfort they find there is of course much needed."Close silence -- that's all they need," a staffer whispers. That silence that can be so sacred is well portrayed here. This concept is ratified when her daughter asks her for silence on the ride home from school. She has talked enough all day. And thus Corrigan comes to revere the way two people "can hold each other without touching and cheer each other without saying a word."

Corrigan can be self-deprecating in the extreme, perhaps to put us at ease. She battles extra pounds. She examines troubling memories of her adolescence. She sometimes has a hard time with apologies. "I Was Wrong" was one of my favorite chapters. I think Tell Me More is a book for all ages. I think it has great potential for book club discussions. The chapters are relatively short and to the point. If you read it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

A Collage Miscellany

I am taking an online screen printing course with Linda Germain. There is a steep learning curve. I have yet to make a proper print that is all silk screened. Linda had us printing on old book pages as we began our lessons. I found myself enjoying the tinted book pages as a collage substrata. This process felt a bit like art journaling. They were quick, and raher improvisational. I used all kinds of mono-printed papers from my stash. Since collage is my primary art form, it proved a relief from the steep silk screening learning curve. I can only take so much inky mess before I'm ready to return to paper and adhesives!

This one is my favorite. The feather image was made with a wooden printing block, and others via gelli printing, along with some store bought tissue and Lakota papers.

I fell for this cheery bird stamp one day when I was at Texas rt Supply. I keep a dictionary on hand to tear up and here I selected the page with the definition of feather (in the blue circle).

I am always looking for ways to use my collection of black and white paper images. Many of them come from Dover clip art books.

This one actually contains screen printed papers, all done with latex paint on silk in embroidery hoops. I couldn't resist putting some of the shapes into this composition. The photo is not the best, just taken with my phone. Later on I will get a proper scan at Office Depot, where some months ago it made my day to learn their color copiers now scan to flash drives. My scanner is not big enough for this 12 x 12" collage. I think it has a midcentury vibe.

Screen printing involves a lot of materials -- tons of duct tape for the frames, the silk, the ink of course, as well as screen filler and drawing fluid. So I'll see how into it I get as time goes on, but for now, it is fun to play with all the methods Linda Germain shares with us. I have access to the 20 lessons for 6 months. At first I tried to keep up every week day. But life has a way of interfering with art, and I decided not to put too much pressure on myself. We also have a private Facebook page for the folks taking the course. It is fun to share images, ask questions and get support.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Lone Star Literature: From the Red River to the Rio Grande edited by Don Graham

Lone Star Literature (Norton, 2003), edited by Don Graham, kept me entertained for many weeks. Some pieces were nonfiction, such as Stephen Harrigan's excellent essay entitled "What Texas Means to Me". Most were fiction. And I have to admit that for a few of the pieces I wasn't 100% sure if they were tall tales or true tales!

Since I read this slowly, it would be challenging to write a detailed review. I believe there was good representation of our state, divided into four sections: The West, The South, The Border and Town and City. Most absurd: Donald Barthelme's "I Bought a Little City", wherein the narrator buys Galveston and makes a mess of his ownership. Most enjoyed: a karmic tale by Naomi Shihab Nye, "Tomorrow We Smile". Generally I related to the women's fiction more than the men's tales, though there is special place in my heart for Larry McMurty's The Last Picture Show, from which a section is represented here. Carolyn Osborn's wonderful "My Brother is a Cowboy" tells the tale of of a young woman marginalized and held down by her brother, father and mother until she finally manages to escape from under their thumbs.

I can not keep all the books I've collected. This was a "rainy day book" -- one I brought home years ago as a backup for times when I ran out of library books to read. But after I dropped two library books in to my bath waters (embarrassing for a retired librarian) and had to pay replacement fees, I got smart and started taking non-library books with me into my baths. And that is how I finally got around to slowly reading Lone Star Literature. Now I can pass it on to other readers...

I seem to be in a constant Texas state of mind. Now I am slowly, reading God Save Texas: a Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright. Not being a native, there is always plenty of history and commentary to catch up on! I shocks me to realize I have lived here for almost 4 decades now. I will always feel like a New Yorker, but there's plenty of Texas in me as well.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Read at Whim! and Other Favorite Quotations

I enjoy collecting quotations from books, online sources and out and about in the world. I often think I will use quotations in my artwork, but rarely do. Perhaps you have noticed that illustrated quotations seem to have become a "thing" over the last ten years or so. There are many mass produced quotation-based objects to be found in the American marketplace. I don't know about you, but I get sick of being told to Live, Laugh and Love, etc. every time I walk through Michaels or Target.

In any case, here are a few recently collected quotations, a hodgepodge 
with no particular theme in common:

Read at whim!

There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful 
than the risk it took to bloom.

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.

The acceptable and unacceptable are both acceptable.
 - Lao Tzu

One should never underestimate the power of books.
 - Paul Auster, The Brooklyn Follies, Henry Holt, 2005.

We only fail when we do not try.
- Sister Monica Joan, on Call the Midwife, Season 6, episode 2.

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there 
is any reaction, both are transformed.

Vocatus atque non vocatus Deus aderit. 
(translation from Latin: Called or not called, God will be there.)
- This saying comes from a collection of adages collected by Erasmus, and came to my attention because it is inscribed over the doorway of the Houston Jung Center. Carl Jung had this inscription carved over the doorway of his house in Switzerland. It can also be seen on his tomb.

I took this photo of a piece of calligraphic art at a friend's home in Idaho. She is Catholic and I am Unitarian Universalist. Yet this quotation resonates with me. Walk your talk, more or less... Actually, I appreciate people who do not preach their beliefs unless called upon to do so. As a child growing up Catholic, St. Francis of Assisi was one of the few saints I really knew about. I loved images of him surrounded by birds and other creatures, protecting animal kind.

Wisdom comes from many sources!

(photo at top -- fabric art seen in an antique store in Rosenberg, TX)

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, And Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

I cannot stop thinking about this book and recommend it to anyone who has ever been in therapy or thought about seeing a therapist. Maybe You Should Talk To Someone... is such an inside look at what goes on in the sacred space of a therapist's office. In some ways, the book reminded be of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, though I am not exactly sure why -- perhaps because it starts with Lori Gottlieb falling apart after a painful and abrupt breakup with her Boyfriend (I love the way she capitalizes this word, making it archetypal). And so she sets out to reinvent herself and get to the bottom of many problems, also including her health and creative writing projects .

When she chooses a male therapist (Wendall) to see post-breakup, I thought that was a brave step. Often women prefer to talk to other women about their romantic lives. She comes to respect and adore Wendall. So did I. I also loved all the stories about Lori's patients. There is plenty to learn about what goes on in a therapist's mind, their feelings, quandries and boundaries.

I copied out a few passages to keep in my commonplace notebook. Here is one, quoting Lori's thoughts about what she learned from Wendall: 

"You can't get through your pain by diminishing it, he reminded me. You get through your pain by accepting it and figuring out what to do with it. You can't change what you're denying or minimizing. And, of course, often what seem like trivial worries are manifestations of deeper ones." - page 336

Also this (Lori's thoughts):

"Everyone wages this internal battle to some degree: child or adult? Safety or freedom? But no matter where people fall on these continuums, every decision they make is based on two things: fear or love. Therapy strives to teach you how to tell the two apart." - page 234

At SUNY Albany, during my first semester of grad school for library science, I had doubts about my career path. Mostly I was in shock about the number of term papers I needed to write (using a typewriter, no less). After talking to an academic counselor, I was given the Strong Campbell Interest Inventory test. The takeaway: I had much in common with these three occupations: opera singers, librarians and therapists. I could not sing, so opera singer was out. I have always been interested in the psychological problems we human beings have, but thought being a therapist might at times be burdensome. And thus I decided library science was the right direction for me! After all, librarians at times practice bibliotherapy, giving the customer just the right book or movie they needed. We are also often in situations where we must practice empathetic listening.

As for therapy, there have been key times in my life when talking to a therapist was just what I needed. And I always felt better after a session. Let me just say that things came up and self clarification followed.

For an in-depth interview with the author, listen to or read the NPR interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.