Friday, January 29, 2010


Right before the beginning of the year, I had a *click* moment when I realized that I could go to graduate school. But what to study? I spent several months working on my decision. Even though I was still unsure about things, I felt calmer and this is reflected in my reading. There's not so much LitAmnesia for 1998. By the fall of that year, I had begun an MA-TESL course. The work was challenging and sometimes overwhelming at times, but I was happy and excited. Reading for pleasure took a back seat, but that was okay.

1. The Silent Woman (nonfiction) - Janet Malcolm. Exploring poet Sylvia Plath's life, Malcolm interviews Plath's friends and acquaintances during those last years of her life and makes some interesting observations about the nature of biography.

2. Our Noise (novel) - Jeff Gomez. First published as a serialized zine. Excellent portrayal of Generation X. Twenty-something slackers living in the town of Kitty, Virginia. Coffeehouses, thrift stores, flashbacks to the 1980s, a zine called g*df*ck -- what's not to love?

3. Lady Chatterley's Lover (novel) - D. H. Lawrence. I read this book while house-sitting for a friend. She had a waterbed and it seemed like the perfect place to read LCL. I loved Mellors' Yorkshire accent (once I got my eye adjusted to reading the thorny dialect) but I hated that he was the one who made all the pronouncements about love and sex, men and women when Connie probably knew as much (or more) than he did. Love the story, anyway. This is Lawrence's best-known and most controversial novel and I'll argue that it's also Lawrence at his best.

4. In Cold Blood (novel) - Truman Capote. Such a strange combination -- a violent subject coupled with Capote's meticulous, almost delicate prose. Adds to the chill and horror of what happened at the Clutter farmhouse in Kansas on that night back in 1959.

5. Look For The Woman (nonfiction) - J. Robert Nash. A historical encyclopedia of women who were famous (infamous) criminals.

6. Birthday Letters (poetry) - Ted Hughes. After Sylvia Plath committed suicide in 1963, her widower, Ted Hughes began a series of poems chronicling the story of their relationship. This book was published shortly before Hughes' death in 1998.

7. Reviving Ophelia (nonfiction) - Mary Pipher, Ph.D. According to Pipher, so many things can get adolescent girls off track during this crucial part of their development and mess them up permanently regarding their feelings of self-worth. Instead of leaving them to their own devices and also open to traps like boys and sex and the media with its warped messages about body image, they should be encouraged to do volunteer work or sports or similar things in which they can repeatedly prove their capability and develop their gifts with will counteract those other influences and build self-esteem. I highly recommend this book to everyone who knows a girl in this age bracket. It would also be helpful for women who are still carrying unnecessary baggage around.

8. Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulumia (memoir) - Marya Hornbacher. The part I remember most vividly is when Hornbacher was making herself throw up so much that the weight of her vomit burst the pipes in her uncle's home. Hornbacher offers as a quick aside that the same problem exists in girls' dormitories and sorority houses at universities all over the US.

9. Cold Mountain (novel) - Charles Frazier. Set during the Civil War, Inman struggles to get back to his true love, Ada, who is experiencing challenges of her own after her father dies. I love Frazier's use of old-fashioned words and phrases while maintaining a modern style.

10. A Patchwork Planet (novel) - Anne Tyler. Barnaby is an ex-juvenile delinquent who still hasn't gotten his life together at the age of 29. He works for an agency called Rent-A-Back which does errands for senior citizens. His well-to-do family is frustrated with him, and his 7-year-old daughter really doesn't know what to make of him. I would love to hear the audiobook version of this novel, which is read by David Morse, an actor that I always enjoy watching.

11. NixonCarver (novel) - Mark Maxwell. An amusing, quirky fantasy about the former president being good buddies with poet/short story writer Raymond Carver. They have long conversations about just about everything. This novel actually made me like Nixon a little better. Lovely portrait of Carver.

12. Fasting: The Ultimate Diet (nonfiction) - Allan Cott, M.D. Yes, it is.

13. High Fidelity (novel) - Nick Hornby. This was my introduction to Hornby's work. Rob Fleming works in a record store and makes lists about music and his life. Since this book takes its title from an Elvis Costello song, I had the nicest earworm going on as I read.

14. Backtalk: Four Steps To Ending Rude Behavior In Your Kids (nonfiction) - Audrey Ricker, Ph.D and Carolyn Crowder, Ph.D. The authors give simple but not easy advice to follow: Recognize backtalk when you hear it (includes eye-rolling and put-upon sighing) and let the child know you recognize it, figure out a consequence for the backtalk, apply the consequence, then disengage from the rude behavior. There's also a chapter for dealing with backtalk in adult children!

15. Fasting: A Neglected Discipline (nonfiction) - David R. Smith. This book discusses fasting as a spiritual practice to be used in conjunction with prayer.

16. Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (nonfiction) - Kathleen Norris. When Norris became interested in church again as an adult, she found the vocabulary of religion a little off-putting because it was often confusingly abstract. This book describes in her calm, lucid and always excellent prose how she was able to make meaning of this language in her own spiritual journey.

17. The Everlasting Story of Nory (novel) - Nicholson Baker. A fun book about life through the eyes of a nine-year-old. As always with Baker's books, it was too short -- I wanted more!

18. Helen and Teacher (biography) - Joseph P. Lash. A starchily dignified and restrained joint biography of Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan.

19. The Fermata (novel) - Nicholson Baker. And everyone thought Vox was dirty! The main character finds a way to pause time and uses this power to undress women and look at them then redress them before starting time again. Very junior high, but Baker keeps it lively and interesting.

20. Fool For Love (play) - Sam Shepard. A half-brother and sister in a rocky love relationship deal with all of their issues in a tacky motel in the Mojave Desert. In spite of everything, I was bored and not propelled to go out and read any more Shepard plays. Too bad -- I really want to like his writing because I really like his acting. Plus, even though he's in his 60s now, he's still really hot.

21. A Widow For One Year (novel) - John Irving. LitAmnesia. Damn. I thought I had it whipped.

22. Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Woman Behind The Legend (biography) - John E. Miller. A little dry and academic in tone, but an interesting mother-daughter portrait of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane. Apparently things weren't always smooth between Laura and Rose. Miller doesn't believe that Lane rewrote her mother's books, but anyone who has read The First Four Years and the other books in the series can see the marked difference. After reading this, I had to make a pilgrimage to Laura's home in the Ozarks, less than two hours from where I lived.

23. Genie: A Scientific Tragedy (nonfiction) - Russ Rymer. Heartbreaking true story of "Genie" who was abused by her father in a particularly odd manner -- nearly from babyhood, he kept her alone in a room tied to a potty chair. No one was allowed to communicate with her and he only "spoke" to her in grunts and growls. Family Services finally got wind of this and rescued Genie when she was a young teenager, but it was too late for her to acquire language except for a word croaked out here and there and some birdlike noises. Interested in this 20th century "wild child", scientists competed to study Genie and test their theories. No one was really focused on getting her the help she needed. Finally, after a court battle, she was returned to her mother who put her in a home for mentally disabled adults. There is also a PBS documentary of this case which features footage of Genie.

24. Anne Sexton: A Biography (biography) - Dianne Wood Middlebrook. Quite controversial, because Middlebrook was allowed access to tapes and notes from Sexton's sessions with her psychiatrist.

25. Interlanguage Phonology: The Acquisition of A Second Language Sound System (nonfiction) - Georgette Ioup and Steven Weinberger, eds. Graduate school reading.

26. How Languages Are Learned (nonfiction) - Patsy M. Lightbown and Nina Spada. More graduate school reading about second language acquisition.

27. Approaches and Methods In Language Learning (nonfiction) - Jack C. Richards and Theodore S. Rodgers. Historical overview at different ways to learn language. they run the gamut from boring (Grammar-Translation Method) to completely whack (Suggestopedia).

28. The Multilingual Self: An Inquiry Into Language Learning (nonfiction) - Natasha Lvovich. Lvovich, a native of Russia, began studying French when she was young. Because she only used it in an art/culture context, it never really felt like a true second language as English did a few years later when she emigrated to the US with her family and had to operate in English on every possible level. Lvovich also briefly discusses her young daughter's language issues -- the girl's first language is Russian, which they spoke at home, but the daughter didn't like it and was constantly code-switching into English. She told her mother that she "felt ugly" when she had to speak in Russian. Interesting and extremely readable firsthand account of second language learning. You don't have to be an ESL/EFL teacher or a linguistics expert to enjoy this book.

29. Marry Me (novel) - John Updike. Updike returns to one of his favorite themes -- adultery -- in this novel. As much as I enjoy Updike, I felt as if I'd read this book before.

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