Friday, July 13, 2012

May and June Storytellers: Two Months of Books

I've hit a wall. I have piles of inviting books waiting for me. I plan on getting to them, I do! More often lately, though, on my prime reading time on the bus ride back to New Jersey from New York City (going in I read the newspaper) I feel like listening to music, but those are storytellers in another form, right? I thought about an article on one of my favorite singers, Natalie Merchant, in The Seattle Times, "as teenager she studied folk music from the British Isles and Ireland, and learned to embrace song as storytelling."

..."When people give birth, when people get married, when they're ailing and when they die ... Our culture developed song," Merchant observed.

Do you ever hit a reading wall, despite your love of books? I watched a documentary on the French actor Maurice Chevalier. I had no idea he was an author, and it was noted that because he was such a reader, he was able to be a great writer. I always see the correlation between avid readers and great writers, whether they are bloggers, songwriters and novelists. The more I read, the more I want to write. The creative spark is infectious. Overall, my life feels better when I'm reading. I plan on hitting the books again.
So this is what it is, my tiny reading list for the past two months (I haven't had many blog entries lately either, probably related to a distracted mind). I have a lot to say though! My May and June storytellers: Let's discuss!

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, by Alison Arngrim, 50 cents, garage sale. As an online reviewer put it, "At last, a Nellie Oleson tell all!" What a lucky find! You never know where your next storyteller will find you. Don't let the title put you off (I'm not a fan of curse words, never mind in the title!) I couldn't get over how much I enjoyed this book. Ms. Arngrim is an engaging, witty storyteller. I actually felt a void after reading this. You'll want to be at least a fan of the Little House on the Prairie series to enjoy her anecdotes. Above all, she is an inspiration as an AIDS advocate (best friend and former cast mate Steve Tracy who played Percival Dalton passed away of the disease). She also candidly shares her story of being molested by a family member starting at a very young age and her fight to get an incest exception law off the books (can you believe the laws in California were more lenient if a relative molested you?) This was my favorite storyteller.

Lunch in Paris, by Elizabeth Bard, free, the library, about Bard's relocati. How did I find out about it? Searching for keyword "Paris" on Anthropologie's site. Embarrassing, but the truth. There's a suspicious number of 'Americans who go to France to find themselves' books, and an even more suspicious number willing to spend their leisure time reading this (me!) Some pet peeves: I don't want to know when you first slept with your husband (our too much information age), how she kept making fun of her husband's tap dancing classes (watch a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film and see the appeal), and her attitude about things like American tourists wanting to eat early dinners and not late when the French dine. She also got very snippy about her mother's visits, even demeaning a gift her mom brought her. Often in this book, I wanted to scream out, "Get a job already!"

This was an easy read and engaging, but it will be one of my more forgettable books over time. The recipes do look mouthwatering. I did like how she debunked some of our envy over the French healthcare system. When her father in law gets sick, she writes frustratingly about the lack of second opinions and other treatments available to them. Seeing another doctor would be almost an insult to your current doctor. No flying to the Midwest for some experimental treatment.

And there's our national obsession with the French thin woman. She talks about being at a dinner party when she's asked if she wants a small or normal piece and she says normal, and she's asked again if she's sure. She takes the small and talks about the series of small decisions French women make like these. Point made, but American or French, our cultures seem to be overly fixated on weight.

I don't understand the wanting to be thin versus healthy, no more than I understand wanting to be wrinkle free in your 40s and older. Weight loss seems to me always associated with vanity issues. I hate weight loss compliments. I'm a size 14 and when I've lost weight in the past it's usually due to stress, but hey the most important thing was I was thinner, right?  The only time I did lose weight for dietary adjustments was when I was eating vegan vs. vegetarian (for ethical issues), since I was cutting out so much cheese and lots of sweets which were off limits. When I lose weight, I immediately get compliments, so I look so horrible before? Oh the horror stories, readers, the "when are you due?" comments, almost all from women who should know better. I've lost count and stopped crying in the car afterwards when people have asked me. After a fun happy hour sharing sangria with some friends after work, going home at Port Authority some woman was going to let me go because she thought I was expecting, and when I told her I wasn't, she said, "You're not?" Lovely! Then there was the time I saw a former neighbor who said, "Wow, you put on a lot of weight!" What discrimination and comments do others get, I can just imagine. Frankly put, I think people should think more about the factory farms their cheap meat comes from, the pesticides on their food, and how much a farmer earns before issues like my thighs or bloated stomach (or theirs). Do people like Ms. Bard or others spend as much energy wondering or caring how their foie gras was produced as they do about the secret to French women being thin? I had a great beach day this weekend and know that no one there cared how beach body ready I wasn't. I look at pictures of myself a decade ago at a size four and think - too thin, not enough curves. As Forrest Gump would say, that's all I've got to say about that.

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 99 cents, the Goodwill in Paramus, NJ. This book sounded so me - gardens, England, a children's classic tale - but as an adult, I really was disappointed by this.  It was tough to follow Mandy by Julie Andrews, another book about an orphan in England and a secret garden that was one of my favorites from this year. I really disliked how overly focused the story became on Colin, and think the line "Master Colin!" is the worst ending for a book I've ever read. I agree with many online reviewers describing it as "boring." I just wish there had been more story here, or less pages. I do appreciate the message of children connecting with nature when now they are always connected to a device, which I'll never get. I always say politicians do not scare me, marketers do. They run our country. I don't even see kids coloring at restaurants, they're looking at some glowing screen. Is Crayola still in business? I hope so.

I've finally been spending time in my own garden doing my own "coloring" I guess you could say. I really went to town when the local garden center had their annual 40 percent off storewide sale earlier this month. A sampling below. Did you ever see the Keeping Up Appearances episode when Mrs. Bucket (Bouquet) has an indoor-outdoor luxury bbq for the garden center king and her car is loaded with plants and Richard can barely see? That's what I looked like driving on Route 17!

I've been a fan of Tori Amos, another favorite sonic storyteller, for years, but only really listened to and explored the lyrics of Datura, off of To Venus and Back, this year. Gardens have really been in my life this year, in the written page and in real life. Do you know many of the names of what resides in your garden? I know so very little about my own. The lyrics of Datura, according to Wikipedia, "are derived from the plants that were found in Amos' garden. A list of the plant names was handed to Amos by her gardener. Apparently most of the plants in her garden had died, except for Datura."

I hope you get out into a garden, your own or a public one, this weekend.

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