Daily Diversion #241: Early Christmas Gift…

…to myself.

The Ballad of Joe Strummer

The Ballad of Joe Strummer by Chris Salewicz

“Authority is supposedly grounded in wisdom, but I could see from a very early age that authority was only a system of control and it didn’t have any inherent wisdom. I quickly realised that you either became a power or you were crushed.”-Joe Strummer

Some of My Favourite Literary Biographies, Part One

I own a sizable collection of literary biographies. These are some of my favourites:

  • Auden by Richard Davenport-Hines
  • The Secret Life of Aphra Behn by Janet Todd
  • Louise Bogan A Portrait by Elizabeth Frank
  • Truman Capote by George Plimpton
  • Secrets of the Flesh A Life of Colette by Judith Thurman
  • My Wars Are Laid Away in Books The Life of Emily Dickinson by Alfred Habegger
  • Herself, Defined H.D. and Her World by Barbara Guest
  • George Eliot A Life by Rosemary Ashton

Do you have a favourite?

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

New Year’s Day Book Hunt

My favourite New Year’s Day tradition doesn’t involve parades or football games or overindulging in sweets. For this girl, it is all about books. Shocking, no?

A pile 'o books and calendars.

A pile ‘o books and calendars.

This pile ‘o goodies is the result of my annual New Year’s Day Book and Calendar Hunt. As you can see, the 2013 edition was quite successful. I decided to by-pass literature in favour of selections from the genres of art, biography, and silent film. Here are a few of the highlights:

Egon Schiele by Sandra Forty

Egon Schiele by Sandra Forty

REASON: Egon Schiele is my favourite artist (in a three-way tie with Modigliani and Pissarro).

Frontier Madam The Life of Dell Burke, Lady of Lusk by June Willson Read

Frontier Madam The Life of Dell Burke, Lady of Lusk by June Willson Read

REASON: Who could pass up a book with a title like this? Continue reading

A Year in Books/Day 198: The Roosevelts An American Saga

  • Title: The Roosevelts An American Saga
  • Author: Peter Collier with David Horowitz
  • Year Published: 1994 (Simon & Schuster)
  • Year Purchased: Late 1990s
  • Source: An ex
  • About: This book is exhaustive; comprehensive; and any other applicable word over-used by critics and reviewers. To horribly paraphrase Joni Mitchell, after reading An American Saga I can honestly say that I have looked at the Roosevelts from both sides now. (*groan*) It’s a biography of the entire family, radiating from Teddy and FDR, to be sure, but giving flesh and voice to all of the members. Neither man, after all, was created in a laboratory; nor are the two lines of the family treated as barely associated branches, but as richly interconnecting pieces of a large and complex puzzle. This is a classic.
  • Motivation: I’ve been intrigued by FDR since that day in 6th grade history when I drew his name out of the assignment hat. My best friend, Jessy, was not so  lucky: she was forced to research Ronald Reagan, the then-sitting head of state. At least neither of us had the task of padding out a report on William Henry Harrison, which was probably an F waiting to happen. Small mercies, people. Small mercies.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 37: He was curious about how things worked. He captured insects, rodents, and other specimens and took them apart on makeshift dissecting tables, almost as if by opening them up for examination he might better understand what was wrong with his own machinery. He drew, catalogued, and described what he saw. At the age of eight, when his mother threw out the corpses of two mice he had stored in the icebox for future autopsy, he accused her, in a tiny indignant voice, of “defeating the ends of science.”

    English: William Henry Harrison: ninth Preside...

    English: William Henry Harrison: ninth President of the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Sorry, Will, but I’m glad I was assigned FDR as a book report subject back in the sixth grade. We’re still friends, right?

  • Happiness Scale: 9 1/2

Some Book Recommendations for When You are Stuck in a Car for Way Too Long

The lovely Elisa of Fun & Fabulousness-she of the impeccable eye-asked if I could recommend some books appropriate to read on a looong car ride. Specifically, five. Five books, so she can choose one for her trip.

Painting by Carl von Steuben

(Painting by Carl von Steuben)

I’m honored; naturally, I said yes! I promptly got to work. It was all downhill from there. What happened? Continue reading