Friday, March 05, 2021

Fiona Friday


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Monday, March 01, 2021

In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway


You're going to start thinking I read nothing but short stories, soon, after three collections in a row. This is the last one for a while, since I have screwed up and forgotten to read my daily short story for about a week. And, the collection I'm reading is a thick one that I'm not in love with. I may even ditch it and put it in the donation pile. 

In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway was Hemingway's first collection of short stories, published when he was still a fresh young thing at 25 years of age. It's a unique book. It starts with a vignette called "On the Quai in Smyrna" It's such a confusing bit of writing that I had to look it up online to see what on Earth was happening. And, it turns out that was a deliberate approach. 

From Spark Notes:

["On the Quai at Smyrna"] begins the collection by disorienting the reader. Ernest Hemingway makes this story by confusing by never establishing the setting or the characters. All he gives is a series of impressions and memories. This disorientation actually serves to orient the reader to the tone and flow of the stories to come. 

So, after looking that up I thought, "Great, I'm not going to understand a word of this book," but that did not turn out to be the case at all, although there were some stories that didn't make a lot of sense to me. The vast majority were his Nick Adams stories, which start with a young Nick accompanying his father to a childbirth and another with his father getting frustrated over the local Native Americans refusing to do a job for him. 

In the latter, the doctor wants the natives to hack up a tree that floated over to the Adams' property to prevent ending up with a rotting log on his shore. The doctor treats the local natives in exchange for odd jobs and thinks they're just trying to get out of doing work when one of the natives says he can chop it but there's a lumber company logo on the log and it's technically stealing, making the doctor rethink the job. Later, you follow Nick to war and around Europe and home, where he spends time in the woods. Not all of the stories are about Nick Adams but a good portion of them are and I thought they were surprisingly mature for such a young writer. 

In between the stories are more vignettes, often but not always war scenes. 

There's also a story about a jockey and his son and how the jockey becomes corrupt that I thought was pretty fabulous: "My Old Man". I marked a quote from that particular story and started to type it up before realizing that apparently I marked it because it had an offensive ethnic slur (used very casually) and that I probably flagged it to remind myself that there were numerous times I grimaced reading these stories because of similar words/racial slurs that were offensive. So, bear that in mind if you read it. 

Recommended but not a favorite - I am pretty much in awe of how skilled Hemingway's writing was at such an early age. But, while I appreciated the skill, I didn't love the stories. What I loved the most about In Our Time was the glimpse of Hemingway's early writing. It was particularly fascinating to find that everything Hemingway wrote was so very Hemingway from the beginning: bullfights, fishing, war, heaving drinking, frustrations with women. I've now read his first book and his last (unfinished novel) along with a few in the middle. Yep, Hemingway was just Hemingway, once and forever. 

©2021 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Fiona Friday - The KitNip Box is not entirely for the cats

In 2019, I got a single KitNip Box for the kitties for Christmas. In 2020, I got them a Christmas KitNip Box and let the subscription continue because it gives me such joy watching them excitedly roll in the catnip toys and, in this case, flop on the crinkle pad. And, joy can be thin on the ground, these days. We have to find it where we can.

Unfortunately, there was a good bit of boxing over this particular toy. Isabel won. She's fierce.



©2021 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler


A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler is a collection of short stories about Vietnamese and Vietnamese-Americans. As you can see from the cover image, it won the Pulitzer Prize back in the 90s. I have to wonder if that would be possible, today, as almost all of the stories (there is at least one exception but I think only one written from the perspective of a white man) are written from the point of view of the Vietnamese person either left behind when the Communists arrived or now living in the U.S. And, of course, Robert Olen Butler's name is all the clue you need to know that he is not Vietnamese. 

I think I would have felt dramatically different about these stories when they were newly published. While I found them a little on the heavy side, for the most part I liked the glimpse into what it's like living in a community of immigrants, remembering home, dealing with past trauma, trying and failing to whip up excitement for a game from the home country in a fully American child. Some of the stories were moving or hypnotic or deep. Some were choppy or weird or confusing. There was one story I really did not like, about a woman who was a prostitute in Vietnam and then the US and just wanted to be an American wife. Something about it didn't sit right with me. 

My biggest problem with the book, though, was that I couldn't get past the fact that they weren't written by an "own voices" author. Robert Olen Butler apparently worked as a translator during the Vietnam War and here is a quote from the book's cover:

Butler's achievement is not only to reveal the inner lives of the Vietnamese, but to show, through their eyes, how the rest of us appear from an outside perspective.
                                                    — Madison Smartt Bell

I mean, how can you say a white guy wrote authentically from the perspective of a Vietnamese? It just bugs me. He may have known enough people from his experience in Vietnam or from hanging around with them in the US to run those stories past some of those who own the authentic voices. But, if he did, it's not mentioned in the book. 

Recommended but not a favorite - The writing is often lush and lovely, sometimes a little kaleidoscopic. I can see why A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain was a prize-winning book. But, it was weighty (in an emotional way) and I was bothered by the fact that it was not a Vietnamese American who wrote it. So, I gave it a 3.5/5 rating at Goodreads, above average but not a book I loved. 


©2021 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy is a short story collection that started out so strong I didn't want to read just one story per day so I let myself often go for two stories a day and then toward the end I just plowed my way through the latter half. 

I think if there's a common thread in Both Ways, it's about longing for something, particularly love, but not always getting what you want. 

What surprised me was how much tension Meloy managed to inject into what seemed like perfectly mundane situations. For example, in "Travis, B.", a loner who works doing labor on various ranches wanders into an adult education classroom just to be around other people and finds himself besotted with the teacher. They start going to the cafe after class but both know it can come to nothing. And, she's a little afraid of him. He's a little afraid of himself, as well.

He got afraid of himself that winter; he sensed something dangerous that would break free if he kept so much alone. [p. 3]

So, when she doesn't show up to teach class and he tracks her down, the tension crackles. 

In "O Tannenbaum" a family picks up a couple who oddly are named Bonnie and Clyde. Wife Pam is nervous. They could be axe murderers! She has a child to think about. Husband Everett seems to be pushing his wife's buttons and knowingly taking risks, even inviting the couple to their home to help put up the Christmas tree, which Bonnie said she's never done before. The tension comes not only in the fact that they don't know if the story Bonnie and Clyde tell about a broken ski and a missing car is true or not but also in Everett's clear attraction to Bonnie while Bonnie and Clyde are not, shall we say, in perfect harmony. 

Recommended - Maile Meloy's writing is very disciplined, with no wasted words, and she does such a bang-up job of building tension that I found myself wanting to read more by her, in spite of the fact that I eventually grew a little weary of this collection because there were a few too many stories of adultery for my taste. I looked her up and discovered that she has a YA trilogy that begins with a book called The Apothecary. I'm still holding to my commitment not to buy books (or check them out from the library) so The Apothecary went straight onto the wish list and I'll be watching for it in 2022. 

©2021 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Monday Malarkey

Our week in a nutshell:



That's a sleet drift. We had sleet for nearly 24 hours, followed by a full day of snow flurries that melted into the sleet and formed a solid block of ice. The third day we had snow most of the day (big, fluffy flakes) but again, it just solidified. And, then I think we had a day off followed by freezing rain. At any rate, we were stuck indoors for 6 days. When I went outside to take photos it was so slippery that I had to put a towel down over the ice to get close to the icicles I wanted to photograph. On Saturday, we took a drive and, although it was in the 40s and the ice was melting, even on the highway there were still shady stretches where it was down to one clear lane. It was kind of a tense drive, actually. We enjoyed getting out of the house but were glad to get home. 


Recent arrivals:


Not a thing. I do have one pre-order winging its way to me but due to the winter storm, Saturday of this weekend was the first time we received mail since the previous Saturday and there were no books. Delivery by USPS and UPS was so thoroughly shut down due to ice on the roads (trucks couldn't get up the off ramps because they were so icy and locals actually went out to feed the stranded truckers) that there weren't even any tracking updates till Saturday and I still have at least one outstanding order for which tracking hasn't been updated. I imagine the backlog is something. We also still haven't had trash service.

We were very fortunate. Our refrigerator got up to 70°, one night (it's temperamental but not broken), so we lost most of our fresh food but we had plenty of canned and frozen and our power never even blinked. In advance of the storm we cleaned the kitchen, bought groceries, cooked ahead, and did literally all the laundry because we've been through ice storms that knocked out power and water (not at the same time) in the past and knew exactly what we needed to do to prepare. We were undoubtedly in better shape than a lot of folks stranded at home. It was a little weird not doing laundry or running the dishwasher or vacuum cleaner (to prevent rolling blackouts — I also unplugged the computer and other things we didn't absolutely need plugged in). I'm playing laundry catch-up, today. 


Books finished since last Malarkey:


  • A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler
  • In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
  • Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead
  • The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox

This has been a disappointing month, both in quantity and enjoyment level, so far. But, I haven't disliked anything badly enough to DNF; I just haven't fallen massively in love with anything I've read. I'm about ready to trash February and move on to March, but the book I started last night is an improvement.

Currently reading:


  • The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart


I set Milkman aside completely and didn't read a single page of it, last week. Not sure if I'll return to it or not. I remember exactly what's happened so I don't think I'll have any trouble resuming the reading but it's just exhausting. I need actual chapters and paragraph breaks. I'll have to think about it. In the meantime, Coyote Sunrise was calling to me and so far it's the first book I've fully enjoyed reading, this month, so we'll see how that goes. 


Posts since last Malarkey:



In other news:

I managed to finish Season 1 of Stargirl but not The Flight Attendant before our son's HBOMax subscription expired. Stargirl was fun. And, I was enjoying The Flight Attendant, but it had a few too many flashbacks to the bloody dead guy. Husband hates blood and gore — which I don't enjoy but tolerate if the story is good enough — so I had to keep turning off the TV when he walked into the room. For the same reason, we started watching Harrow (Australian series about a forensic pathologist) and didn't even last a full two episodes. It was too gory and not compelling enough to be worth the yuck.

So, we're back to watching Chuck from the beginning and our new daily thing for the last couple of months has been watching Good Morning, Britain at the end of the day. I particularly enjoy it when they're talking about the US because I like seeing a British perspective on American events. It was great fun watching Piers Morgan get riled up about our Insurrection and his belief that his former buddy should be convicted and prevented from ever running for office again. So emphatic. He also told Sarah Palin that she sounded "bonkers" when he tried to get her to say the presidential election was free and fair but she kept saying, "There were all kinds of shenanigans" then wouldn't elaborate. 

In movies, I watched Outbreak (1995), the old hemorrhagic fever movie starring Dustin Hoffman. It held up well except for one thing: The doctors saying, "We might not ever see another brand new virus in our lifetimes!!" Of course, new viruses emerge all the time so that was silly. But, otherwise it was a pretty solid movie with plenty of tension and, I thought, better than the more recent Contagion (2011), which I viewed recently and found forgettable. 

Mid-week, husband and I watched Letters to Juliet (2010), which we've never seen, before. A friend posted on Facebook about viewing loads of romance movies on Valentine's Day and most were old favorites of mine. But I'd never heard of Letters to Juliet and I figured if she liked all those other movies I liked, it must be good. Well, no. Husband's review of the movie: "That's not even good enough for The Hallmark Channel." My review of the movie: "Meh." But, I did cry when Vanessa Redgrave found her long-lost Italian love. 

Another movie we watched was Broken Arrow (1996). And, I say "we" but Huz walked in and out of the room. He'd sit for a while and then wander off. I thought it held up very well. John Travolta's character is a bit overdramatized, in my humble opinion, but it was every bit as entertaining as the last time I saw it and I didn't feel like it was outdated in any way. 

I also watched The Outsiders but unfortunately my DVD was probably a pirated copy because it was missing some scenes, crucially the beginning scene with Ponyboy coming out of the theater and getting attacked by the Socs. Bummer. Fortunately, I did see that bit when I tried to find to find the movie on YouTube. I guess I may have to pay for a digital download. I'm old enough that I have a very low digital download mental maximum but this time it was clearly a mistake to go for the DVD instead of the download. Oh, well. Live and learn. 

In the midst of all this, I've been doing a 100-day art challenge. Some days, I had to put on 3 layers before I warmed up enough to paint (we kept the temp in the house at 67°) and I don't always do much, since most of what I'm doing involves building up layers of paint and collage. But, I have so far done something every day for 21 days. Very fun! 

Wow, this was a long post! We had such an eventful week. My heart is with Texans still dealing with the aftermath of last week's storm and fingers are crossed that something will be done to prevent a repeat of the horror. We know we had it easy, here. 

©2021 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Fiona Friday - Laundry Fi

Always with the laundry. The cats have been doing a bang-up. job of finding all the best piles of clothing and blankets during our winter storm. Also, human laps (much appreciated — cats make great portable heaters). 


©2021 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.