Tuesday, August 30, 2011

America's Queen

I did it! I've finally finished the last book on my list. Of course I saved the longest nonfiction for the end--America's Queen: The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Sarah Bradford. 450 word-packed pages. A fan of all things of the Mad Men era, I was surprised to find that I really didn't like dear old Jackie O. At least in the biography, she came off as self-centered, frivolous, and profligate with money. She did seem to be a devoted mother, however. The Kennedys, frankly, came off as horrible people too. Everyone seemed to be sleeping with everyone! Jack with Jackie's sister Lee, Jackie--after Jack's death--with Bobby, Lee with Aristotle Onassis, and later, of course, Jackie with Aristotle.

I was interested in reading about Jackie because, in high school, a family friend used to tell me he knew what I would do when I grew up: the Jackie O. job. I knew this meant something in publishing, but it wasn't until I read this biography that I realized how accurate he was. Jackie was an editor and I work in sales and marketing, but she worked on a number of illustrated art books and museum catalogues, which is exactly what I work on. It was during her publishing career, in fact, that she seemed the most likable. She worked hard on her books and didn't put on airs in the office, making her own phone calls and getting her own coffee. It also seemed to be the period of her life when she was happiest. She was in her most stable relationship and seemed to love her work.

Now that I'm done with "the list," I've been whipping through some (relatively) current fiction--Little Bee, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, The Forgotten Garden--and look forward to wandering into a bookstore and picking up some random book that strikes my fancy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Billy Budd

Herman Melville's Billy Budd very nearly made it onto my unfinished list. And really, looking back, I don't think that would have been such a bad decision. My first mistake was that I tried to read this at the gym. Melville has not been optimized for elliptical reading. The direct opposite of Hemingway, he uses about 10 words for every 1 he really needs. When nothing has really happened in the first 30 pages of a 100-page book, something is wrong. I gave up trying to read on the run, but felt like I should pick it up again under more studious conditions. After all, it was only 100 pages.

So I finished it. But that's about all I can say. I got lost in the wordiness of it all and never really cared about what was going on. There was a mutiny. On a ship. Billy Budd was framed. Or maybe he did it and was rightly punished. But I think it was the former.

Needless to say, I no longer have any inkling to read Moby Dick. I loved Melville's short story "Bartleby, the Scrivener," but now I think we must part ways. Only one book to go on the list! A biography of Jackie Kennedy. Of course I left a thick nonfiction book to the end. And there are lots of words on every page! It will take me a while--I think I will need to intersperse some fiction. It is summer, after all!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Road to Yesterday

The volume of short stories by L. M. Montgomery, The Road to Yesterday, instantly transported me back to childhood when I raced through the entire Anne of Green Gables series. Set in the small village where Anne and Gilbert Blythe have settled to raise their family, the stories concern the people surrounding the Blythes. Anne and Gilbert make cameo appearances here and there, but they are mostly mentioned in passing. Most of these mentions, however, occur in the form of snide remarks. It is quite blasphemous, in fact, the way the townspeople talk about the family--she is too clever for her own good and acts superior, he is accused of being too flirtatious with his nurses. One suspects most of this is mere jealousy, but it is hard to read for a devoted fan of the original series!

The events in the stories are familiar fare to fans of Montgomery's work--hard-luck orphans who suddenly find themselves in fortuitous circumstances, old maids finding love late in life, and serendipitous mistaken identities. They are a little more worldly than the original Anne books, with a couple involving illegitimate children and parents in jail, but they are charming stories nonetheless.

One story includes an appearance by Walter Blythe, the son who resembled his mother's spirit the most. I instantly remembered the moment in the series when he is killed in World War I. It is the first book I remember crying openly at. While these stories aren't quite as good as the novels in the series, the mere chance at seeing these beloved characters again makes it worth it.