Bonus Book Review: Dorothy L. Sayers: The Centenary Celebration

Since I do not own a copy of Dorothy L. Sayers: The Centenary Celebration, this entry qualifies as a bonus review.

  • Title: Dorothy L. Sayers: The Centenary Celebration
  • Edited by: Alzina Stone Dale
  • Year Published: 1993 (Walker and Company New York)
  • Year Purchased: N/A
  • Source: This book is on loan from my dear Momma.
  • About: Let me begin my confessing that I have, at most, read one Dorothy L. Sayers book. I cannot be sure, because it was a long time ago and I have nothing to compare it against. Did it feature Lord Peter Wimsey? Likely, as I know it was a mystery novel. I have a near perfect memory when it comes to everything I’ve read as an adult. Thousands upon thousands of books, and I remember them all. Except, it seems, the one in question. Perhaps I am thinking of something else, and have never really held a Sayers book in my hands. I specialize in dead female writers-not as weird as it sounds, rest assured-but remained in near total darkness about one of the quintessential queens of mystery until a couple of weeks ago. Continue reading

A Year in Books/Days 228-229: Frontier Madam/Amedeo Modigliani


  • Title: Frontier Madam The Life of Dell Burke, Lady of Lusk
  • Author: June Willson Read
  • Year Published: 2008 (A Two Dot Book)
  • Year Purchased: 2012
  • Source: Half Price Books
  • About: I really wanted to like this book. It has elements that make it ideally suited to my weird tastes. The narrative focuses on an interesting period and place little discussed elsewhere, and the heroine is something else: strong, fearless, unconventional, and largely forgotten. All things that make my heart flutter with anticipation. If the whole was as good as any of the components were in life, it would be a great read. Instead, it is unsatisfactory. Not bad or shoddy, but oddly flat, simplistic and bloodless. Dell Burke was a girl from a solid working class background, with a loving family but few prospects. A tale as old as time, of course. She turned a pragmatic foray into prostitution into a decades-long career as a powerful, wealthy, fair, civic-minded madam in Wyoming. The contents of her life could probably fill several books. Unfortunately, the lady was something of an enigma. The material for an interesting, complex biography just isn’t there. What we are given is a civic history of Lusk, Wyoming filled with third and fourth hand anecdotes about its most notorious resident. Many of the brief stories are entertaining, but they add little to the flow and structure of the book. The passages of imagined dialogue, which are mercifully few, are stilted and unbelievable: a great idea poorly executed. The conjecture used to fill in the gaps between anecdotes and facts is boring and without colour. I wish I had bigger things, nicer things, to say about this book, but the story is paper-thin. The biographer tries hard. Hailing from the same part of Wyoming as her subject, she is genuinely connected to the legend of Dell Burke. It’s obvious that she is excited to share this remarkable woman with the rest of the world. Perhaps that is the problem: whilst the shell of the legend is intact, the substance of the real woman is long gone. There’s nothing left but a disjointed jumble of local in-jokes worn threadbare and a vague memory woven into the collective subconscious of the town’s residents. It’s no wonder that this book reads like a padded-out pamphlet for an annual town festival in Lusk. Continue reading

A Year in Books/Day 227: Swearing

  • Title: Swearing A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English
  • Author: Geoffrey Hughes
  • Year Published: 1991/This Edition: 1998 (Penguin Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2003/2004
  • Source: A bookstore in Buffalo
  • About: A book about swearing sounds titillating, eh? Actually, the word titillating sounds titillating, but that’s another train of thought. If you think that this book is just an excuse by the author to use words like piss and fuck with impunity, like some naughty school-boy, you’re wrong. (You didn’t really think that, did you?) Swearing by Geoffrey Hughes is one of the many books that make up a larger-than-you’d-expect canon on the subject of the history of impolite language. This late 20th century work is one in a long line of books that date back hundreds of years. It’s a fairly sedate entry, but it offers a fascinatingly detailed history of the origins and subsequent variations of bad words in English. You don’t have to be word mad to be entertained by the fluid nature of profanity. It makes for seriously fun reading, even if the scholarly tone isn’t your normal cup of tea. The best part of the book revolves around religious oaths and how they have become bastardized (ahem) and watered down over the centuries. If you come across this book, it’s worth taking a gamble on; the worst thing that can happen is that you will have a more measured understanding of the words and phrases you use, and a richer vocabulary to inflict on the people around you.
  • Motivation: Words. I love them, in all of their magical, maddening, changing variety. I like to get to the bottom of why things are as they are, and discover, if at all possible, how or what they once were.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 22: “It might be useful to bring into play at this point two observations which raise swearing above the prosaic. G.K. Chesterton commented that ‘The one stream of poetry which is constantly flowing is slang.’ (From The Defendant 1901, cited in Partridge’s Slang (1960), p. 24). Louis MacNeice comes closer to our themes in his poem ‘Conversation’, 1929. ‘Ordinary men, ‘ he writes, ‘Put up a barrage of common sense to baulk Intimacy, but by mistake interpolate Swear-words like roses in their talk.'”
  • Happiness Scale: 9

A Year in Books/Day 226: The Decline of Sentiment

  • Title: The Decline of Sentiment American Film in the 1920s
  • Author: Lea Jacobs
  • Year Published: 2008 (University of California Press)
  • Year Purchased: 2011
  • Source: Half Price Books
  • About: I like film criticism that comes with a healthy side of broader cultural and intellectual analysis. It is, admittedly, how I approach the subject, and view the world in general. Before proceeding, know that this review comes with a Warning. Lea Jacobs’ writing is from the crumbling cracker school: dry and without any excess flavour. If you cannot reconcile yourself to the mere thought of reading 313 pages of humourless but acutely insightful commentary, or this review about it, then move on with your bad self. No, really. I won’t be offended. As long as you promise to come back for #227. We’re still cool, right? For the 3 of you left, where were we? Ah, yes. Her writing. If you’re passionate or curious about silent cinema, The Decline of Sentiment is worth your time. Your head will eventually fall into rhythm with her writing style, and by the end of the book you will have a more comprehensive view of the subject even if, like me, you have studied and written about it for years. Continue reading

A Year in Books/Day 225: Egon Schiele

  • Title: Egon Schiele
  • Author: Sandra Forty
  • Year Published: 2012 (TAJ Books International)
  • Year Purchased: New Year’s Day 2013
  • Source: Half Price Books
  • About: Another day, another review of a small book with generous appeal. Sandra Forty’s seven pages of text get the party started. With such limited space, she tells the Austrian painter’s story well and with much-needed concision. There’s no room for depth, but she does what needs to be done and does it admirably. The star of the book is, of course, Schiele’s art. There are eighty-two chronologically arranged plates, each one contributing to the riveting aesthetic harmony of one of the most astonishing artistic outputs of the 20th century. The reproductions may be tiny, but they are stunning.
  • Motivation: Egon Schiele is one of my favourite artists. I find inspiration from hundreds of sources: kooky, disparate, and not all word related. Art, photography, silent cinema, and fashion history all serve me well when, throwing off the shadows from my mind, I head out into the wider world in search of creative focus.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 4: “Furthermore, he subverted the usual approach to portraiture and instead explored unusual angles, asking his models to twist and turn into unconventional attitudes and stare back at the observer with baleful, unblinking eyes.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10+++
    Egon Schiele, Self-portrait, 1912

    Egon Schiele, Self-portrait, 1912 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    To learn more about the artist, and to see great examples of his work, head on over to the Egon Schiele Artsy page.

A Few Words About My Project 366

You may have noticed that I slacked off on 2012’s Project 366. Earlier today, I posted entry #224. Never fear, I’ll power through until the series is finished. Or will I? Yes, and then some. After #366 is up, the series will continue under  a different title. With 1000+ books (and rapidly growing) I have enough material to keep this baby rolling for years.

Remember this? Yeah, it is even bigger now.

Remember this? Yeah, it is even bigger now.

A Year in Books/Day 224: Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life

  • Title: Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life
  • Author: Jennifer Worick
  • Year Published: 2001 (A Running Press Miniature Edition)
  • Year Purchased: December 2012
  • Source: Fred Flare
  • About: Nancy Drew’s best quotes, sorted into eight self-help type categories: Survival Strategies; Dating: A Primer; Sleuthing 101; The Delicate Art of Etiquette; Wilderness Tips; On Being a Lady; Powers of Observation; Accoutrements. Whatever your feelings about the Nancy Drew series are, you’ll think these out-of-context quotes are hilarious. If you don’t, well, that’s a bigger mystery than anything the girl detective ever solved.
  • Motivation: Tiny books practically scream, “I’m a stocking stuffer.” I bought two copies of this book for just that reason, plus a third to keep.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Pages 103 and 94: “Never lose your girlish glee when your dad buys you a ticket to Hong Kong.”/”If a bleeding, screaming man runs from shore and starts swimming frantically toward your boat, you should probably help him out. He might be escaping from cruel employers.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10

    Wacky advice that fits in the palm of your (husband's) hand.

    Wacky advice that fits in the palm of your (husband’s) hand. Instagram.

A Year in Books/Day 223: Swanson on Swanson

  • Title: Swanson on Swanson
  • Author: Gloria Swanson
  • Year Published: 1980/This Edition: 1981 (Random House/Pocket Books)
  • Year Purchased: Mid-1990s
  • Source: Antique Barn, Ohio State Fair
  • About: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”-George Bernard Shaw. Every Hollywood memoir should come with the preceding GBS quote as a disclaimer. That, or the generic perception is reality. Either will do. With that out of the way, we could get down to the important business of enjoying good Tinseltown autobiographies for what they are: damn fun entertainment. Underneath the ego and the stage-managed pathos, these one-person exercises in reputation preservation usually contain heaping amounts of self-deprecation, humor, and memorable industry anecdotes, with the self-subjects somehow, through a strange, magical process, coming across as down-to-earth and larger than life; normal and privileged; lucky and talented; flawed and beautiful. Continue reading

A Year in Books/Day 222: Queen of the Wits A Life of Laetitia Pilkington

  • Title: Queen of the Wits A Life of Laetitia Pilkington
  • Author: Norma Clarke
  • Year Published: 2008 (Faber and Faber Limited)
  • Year Purchased: September, 2012
  • Source: My mom bought it for me in Ireland.
  • About: If emotions could flash across time, whether born of sympathy or distaste, then Laetitia Pilkington would be knocked over by waves of righteous indignation sent her way from 21st century readers of Norma Clarke’s compelling biography. It would be all too easy to write off what happened to the 18th century writer and wit as just another example of the appalling, often violent double standard facing women of the time. It’s not that simple. She was a pet favourite of Jonathan Swift, a precocious young writer, budding intellectual, wife, mother, and beloved daughter. Whether she had an affair or not (and it is hard to tell if her explanation was pure cheek or plain truth) doesn’t matter within the context of her place and time; the fact that her ill-tempered husband, a curate with literary ambitions, was allowed to carry on dalliances without punishment or even censure, whilst she was publicly castigated as a whore, is the central theme of what became an extended nightmare for his wife. Continue reading

A Year in Books/Day 221: Bill Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors

  • Title: Bill Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors
  • Author: Bill Bryson
  • Year Published: 1991/This Edition: 2009 (Anchor Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2012
  • Source: The Book Loft, Columbus, Ohio
  • About: Any book written by Bill Bryson is worth the cover price. In fact, I’d pay double the cover price for most of his books, including this one. The only fault I can find is with myself, and why I didn’t buy Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors sooner. Continue reading