Category Archives: Literary Stuff

Maxin’ & Relaxin’: Summer Reading

2014 summer books list
Every summer I have visions of simply collapsing into a lawn chair, lemonade in hand and reading, reading, reading from morning until night, stopping only to eat ice cream.

While the reality is far different, I start off the season with an ambitious list. I tend not to focus on “beach reads” but on books I’ve meant to read and anything that seems like it might be good to get lost in on a hot afternoon.

2014 Summer Reading List

The Musts:
Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov; I’m currently reading this and every time I turn a page I ask myself why I’ve never read this book before. Awesome Russian novel with a “supernatural” bent, especially great if you’re a fan of…

Haruki Murakami: Norwegian Wood, Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (will be published in August)

The Goldfinch by Donna Taart; after experiencing bitter disappointment over The Little Friend, her 2002 novel, I’m going to give her another try after her Pultizer win!

Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel; I’ve read articles about Hilary Mantel that have been fascinating but never any Mantel books. If I love it, I’ll definitely read the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies.

Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books. I read Atkinson’s Life After Life this winter and wish I could rediscover it this summer – it would make a great summer read to get engrossed in while sitting on the porch with no one bothering you. Luckily, Atkinson has written many other books, and her detective novels with Brodie are highly praised.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem – Joan Didion; I simply haven’t read enough Didion and that’s a hole that needs to be filled.

Couples – John Updike; in a recent New Yorker review of the new Updike biography, I learned that it wasn’t all WASPy angst in Updike’s world. Maybe I had him confused with Cheever? In any case, this novel about infidelity in the 1960s is supposed to be more frothy and soap opera than his other work.

The Feminine Mystique – Betty Friedan; not anyone’s idea of a beach read, but I’m curious after not having picked up this groundbreaking work since middle school when I discovered that feminism was a thing.

Memos: The Vogue Years – Diana Vreeland; a read through the entertaining memos Vreeland wrote while helming Vogue in the 60s. Frothy, fun, frenetic.

Super Sad True Love Story – Gary Shteyngart; been promising Keith I’d read this for years – it’s his favorite Shteyngart novel and, he promises, a winner on all front.

Side Orders (Sprinkle into main list generously)

Vampires in the Lemon Grove – Karen Russell
The Double – José Saramago
The Gift – Lewis Hyde
There’s a Road To Everywhere Except Where You Came From: A Memoir – Bryan Charles
The Vacationers – Emma Straub (the closest thing on my list to a beach read)
A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki
Dangerous Rhythm: Why Movie Musicals Matter – Richard Barrios (this is also going to be my summer of musicals!)

Research

I’m working on writing some fiction that involves the devil, which gives me a good excuse to read how other writers have imagined him and find out his history. Thus, Master and Margarita, as mentioned above, but also:
Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin
The Devil: A Very Short Introduction – Darren Oldridge
Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World – Jeffrey Burton Russell

 

 

Murakami Used to Pour Drinks: A T-Shirt Tribute

Before Haruki Murakami was a novelist (I would argue one of the greatest novelists of our time) he owned a jazz club in Tokyo called “Peter-Cat” or “Peter-Cat Jazz“. It was named after his cat. Although the club is no longer there, Keith and I thought it would be fun to make a t-shirt for it. Here is our design:

Peter Cat Jazz t-shirt design

 

Working on getting some shirts printed up.

Harriet the Spy: Still Writing/Still Edgy at 61

In honor of Children’s Book Week and the 50th anniversary of Harriet the Spy (1964), by illustrator/author Louise Fitzhugh, I caught up with Harriet, prickly protagonist extraordinaire, to see what she made of herself in these intervening years.

Q&A with Harriet “The Spy” Welsch

Harriet the Spy at age 61Age: 61
Lives in: New York City, Upper East Side (not far from where she grew up on East Eighty-seventh Street
Education: The Dalton School, class of 1971, Wellesley College, class of 1976
Occupation: writer/novelist/noted satirist

So, for anyone who doesn’t know, you did become a writer. Tell us about your career.
Right after I graduated Wellesly in ’76 I wrote what ended up becoming a very famous article for Time Magazine called “Where Have All the Groovy People Gone?” It was my reaction to coming back to New York to live, after having grown up here in the 60s, and being hit by how absolutely ugly things had become.

So that single article launched your career?
The Time article got the attention of The New Yorker and its editor William Shawn, and he hired me as a staff writer. I might have been the youngest person to ever be hired as a staff writer. Me or John Updike, I’m not sure.

But I wrote for many magazines in the 80s and 90s. New York Magazine, Ms., Rolling Stone… I ended up doing some film criticism for The New York Times for a short time.

How did you get into writing novels?
Well, that was the goal from the beginning. I don’t think I’m any different from any other writer who has to make a living – you write for other people during the day and for yourself at night. Eventually, I was offered a book deal for Secrets, my first novel, and I took myself away to Montauk and finished the damn thing.

I find it delightful that you made good on your promise to publish a book titled Secrets.
Well, its subject matter is not at all what I thought it would be when I was 11. At age 11, I thought the best thing would be to tell other people’s secrets but it turned out that’s it’s much better to tell one’s own.  Secrets is a story about lesbian awakenings among a group of young women in Manhattan in the 1970s. Still in print.

And so it reflects your own experiences?
I hate to sound trite but “write what you know,” and all that… I had a lot of close friendships and relationships with women, really important women, that shaped my life. Some of them gay, some not.

Who are some of these women?
I became very close to Fran Lebowitz. We’re still close and talk on the phone every day and are considering writing a children’s book together. Renata Adler, obviously. I was friends with Ann Magnuson and that whole downtown crowd. Gloria Steinem and her circle.

Do you still write mean things about them in notebooks?
Always. I’m a modern day Cecil Beaton. There’s already a contract in place to publish my private journals posthumously, with all proceeds going to PFLAG. I think Diana Vreeland said it best when she said you need to give people what they don’t know they want.

When you were 11 you had no clue you were a lesbian?
I didn’t even understand that the Boy with the Purple Socks was gay, so to have that much introspection was just beyond me, I’m afraid.

Well, I have to ask: single or taken?
Very much taken with my long-time partner Vera Darkheart. She’s a sculptress and collage artist and my favorite person in the world.

What other stuff have you written?
I’ve written nine plays, all of which have been produced. The most famous is probably Christmas Dinner, an allegory of the Cold War as told by talking Christmas dinner foods. Five novels, countless magazine articles, essays, etc. One book of short stories. And my memoir, Diary of a Spy.

In that book you talk about how your father was a real spy…
Yes. He was a spy during the early part of the Cold War but then came home, somehow got into television, produced some very successful shows, married my mother and they had me blah, blah, blah… but it turned out he also had another family out on Long Island.

So you’re not really an only child?
No, I have two sisters and a brother. He was quite busy out on Long Island, as it turned out, and it absolutely wrecked my mother. She was a bit of a WASP, I’m not really sure that came through in Harriet the Spy, and she was devastated to find out that my father’s other family is Jewish. She literally died when she found out.

She died?
She dropped dead.

How old were you?
I was 28. One of my sisters showed up at my mother’s house and explained who she was and my mother didn’t believe her. So she called this other woman – Rena –  and they had a long talk and when my mother hung up the phone she had a major stroke and died.

How traumatizing. Is your dad still alive?
No, he died of lung failure when I was in my 40s. Our relationship was strained, to say the least.

Changing subjects, I notice that you dress pretty much the same.
I have no patience for shopping. I found this look as a kid and I just thought, “This works for me. It’s comfortable. I’m sticking with it.” I change brands sometimes but I remain true to jeans, a hoodie and sneakers. The big difference now is that my glasses are real – they have lenses in them.

People are going to want to know  – are you still friends with Sport and Janie?
Well, no, but I did run into Sport in maybe 1988? 1989? He went to the University of Michigan on a baseball scholarship but then didn’t…. you know, try to make it in the major league, or whatever it’s called, and became a CPA in Manhattan instead. Janie… I honestly have no idea. I hope she got into the sciences, but she was a troubled person, overall.

Let’s finish this off with some rapid-fire questions and answers.

Favorite New York restaurant?
La Grenouille, because of my mother.

Favorite TV show?
I’m re-watching all of Absolutely Fabulous.

Best place to shop?
When I do shop, I’m partial to the Housing Works Thrift on 2nd Avenue. Also like going to Foot Locker but not Lady Foot Locker.

Best book of 2014 so far?
I live mostly in the past. I haven’t read anything published this year.

Well, do you have any books on your bedside table?
Watchmen by Alan Moore, the plays of Rachel Crothers, the first Harry Potter book because everyone says I should read it but I keep falling asleep whenever I open it. I guess I’m not much for children’s literature.


About Louise Fitzhugh
Author photo of Louise FitzhughLouise Fitzhugh grew up in the South in a wealthy family but unhappy family (her parents divorced when she was two). She escaped to New York City, to become a painter, but made money as an illustrator. After starting in children’s lit with a collaboration with friend Sandra Scoppettone, she published her own first book, Harriet the Spy, in 1964. According to everything I’ve read, adults didn’t love it but critics and kids did. It was awarded a New York Times Outstanding Book Award in 1964. He works include published:

Louise died suddenly and at a young age – she suffered a brain aneurism at age 46. You can read more about her here (or there is this very insightful review of The Long Secret) and see if you can find shades of Harriet.