One of the lovely things about being in grad school is getting a winter break again. And UT in particular has a really long one (maybe a little too long honestly.) But it gave me plenty of time to read, which I didn’t do enough of during the fall semester. (When most of your work is reading it’s hard to relax with a good book.) Here’s what I got through:
I bought this at the Texas Book Festival and its bright yellow cover was calling to me from the shelf ever since. Part backstage gossip and part academic history Petersen expertly twines dishy details about, for example Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor’s friendship or James Dean’s obsession with Marlon Brando, with insights into the societal fascination with and condemnation of female sexuality or the power we give to the Hollywood system to shape what is “acceptable.”
Doesn’t that sort of hit you like a ton of bricks? Well that’s how so much of this book is. So beautifully crafted and lyrical that I had to stop to catch my breath at multiple points. It’s also heartbreaking and beautiful. Krauss deftly connects multiple narratives of love and loss and creation through literature and the energy of urban community. (If it weren’t for this post, this one would have been a Five Star Book. It deserves a longer write up.) Thanks to Victoria for the recommendation!
I wrote before (also in my Texas Book Fest post) about how moved I was to see Taylor talk about this book of poems, which are about her family and the frustration and sadness she felt as a white descendant of Thomas Jefferson that the archival record ignored his black descendants. We talk a lot about archival silence in my grad program, and I am so inspired by her act of creation rather than the despair I so often feel facing questions like this. This isn’t an easy book, but it’s a brilliant one.
I saw Brown read along with Taylor, and I highly recommend reading their books together too, because in a lot of ways they are addressing the same questions about race and oppression and what the Hell we (good people who are trying to make things better) are supposed to do now. Brown’s book is steeped in the violence he has witnessed/experienced as an African-American gay man in America and so it at times gets pretty bleak, but it’s also full of love. And that love made me cry, because he, aside from anything else, is a genius of a poet. (This also would have been and deserves to have a Five Star Book post all its own.)
On a much lighter and far less important note, this is a 1950s detective novel about a cop who after being injured in a previous book decides to investigate the case of whether or not Richard III killed The Princes in the Tower. Based completely on a very shallow understanding of history, and a slightly more developed sense of the political climate that Shakespeare wrote his Richard III in, I’ve always been inclined to believe that Richard gets a bad rap. This may have something to do with the way Bayard portrayed him in The White Queen, and the fact that in that ridiculous (and fun) miniseries he is part of one of the more likable couples, but Tey – through her injured, prejudiced against Irish, Scotch, and Welsh people detective – lays out a pretty good case that he was framed by Tudor era historians trying to prop up their patron monarch. Also it’s a quick read.
This book combines a few things I love: voyeuristic glimpses into the lives of famous people, a look at how people work, and snark filled commentary from celebrities about how other celebrities live. It’s probably best read in quick bits, each entry at a time, because even though it was interesting after a while they started to run together, but if you like this from the nuts and bolts – how did they get started/through rough patches – parts I also recommend Meg Biram’s “GSD” series with female entrepreneurs and Lifehacker’s “How I Work” series.
Julia sent this to me for my birthday in August, and I read bits of it all through the term, but once break started I sat down and plowed through. Those of you who know me know that I don’t drive, and I choose walking as my main mode of transportation, but before reading this book I always thought of it more of a choice not to drive rather than a positive. In other words I didn’t feel like I was actively choosing to be a walker rather than a passenger, but this book made me rethink a lot of things. It also made me want to go walking. Like across the country. Or across another country. It’s part history, part manifesto, part feminist lament, part environmental and civic planning outcry, part appreciation for the pleasure of a well-kept garden path. Should be required reading for all walkers.
I’m still working on Yeats’s anthology of Fairy and Folktales, a gift from my Dad, and hopefully I’ll get through at least a book this semester…but if not I always have the next break.
(For my thoughts on Henry V see my earlier post.)