I have a big red chaise with rolled arms, two throw pillows, and a wooly sheepskin over the back. I call it my throne, and it's my favorite place to read: Here are the books that have been keeping me company over the last two months.
Blue Nights is marketed as the book Joan Didion wrote about her adult daughter's death, but that's not entirely accurate. Blue Nights is really about the aftermath of her daughter's slow decline and death, which came on the heels of her husband's sudden death. Didion explores a number of topics in this memoir of a difficult period in her life. She reflects on the past, her daughter's adoption, her life as a working mother, the family's unconventional life, and her daughter's sometimes fragile mental state. She quietly rails against modern medicine and frankly comes to terms with her own age and frailty and fears. She does this with lyrical and literary prose, unflinchingly staring down the worst of it all while remembering the best. This book earned a well-deserved place on many of the Best of 2011 lists.
I recently went to an exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art that included a series of black and white photographs of Elvis Presley, taken just before he hit it big. At the time, Elvis was known and a following, but he could still walk the streets unrecognized and still lived at home with his parents in Memphis. The photos captured him on the cusp of national and international fame, just before his persona eclipsed his life and music.
I was mesmerized by the black and white photographs and the story they told. Elvis had died when I was a young teenager. I remember hearing the news on the radio when I was riding in the car with my boyfriend on a hot day in August, heading to his house for supper where the topic of conversation would include Elvis's death. It meant little to me at the time. I was only vaguely familiar with Elvis and his music; he was a caricature of middle-aged has been to me. After the exhibit at VMFA, I was determined to improve my pop cultural literary and learn more about the King of Rock n Roll.
I stopped in the gift shop and bought Elvis: American Idol (Book Brick), a fun and easy-to-read look at Elvis Presley's life. There are quotes, photographs, anecdotes and Elvis trivia on every page. It's the perfect light overview of Elvis's history and yet contains more than 300 colorful pages. It was interesting to learn how Elvis went from being an innovative singer and musician who fused gospel, rhythm, blues, and country to a movie star and stage act. It made me a little sad to read how Elvis, the charismatic, sexually-charged bad boy of early rock and roll was "re-packaged" to be more "family friendly" and pushed to star in an endless string of insipid Hollywood musicals. He could not advance as a musician once he became a movie star, and he couldn't advance as an actor because of typecasting. This book takes a mostly light-hearted look at Elvis, but I can see the darkness between the lines. I'm interested in learning more about Elvis as an artist, as a Southerner, as a superstar.
Finally, my friend Sherry gave me the Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence series as a gift. They are picture books for adults and tell the story of a mysterious connection and passionate romance between two people on opposite sides of the world. The star-crossed lovers are separated by more than physical geography, they appear to be operating in different dimensions or parallel universes. The books track their correspondence and unfolding relationship. The two lovers are both artists, and each page shows the front of a custom postcard they created and the message on the other side. Some of the pages feature envelopes and inside the envelopes are real letters! It's a bit like a pop-up book for grown-ups. Reading the series is a sensual experience. The artwork, the envelopes, the handwriting--it's all so beautiful.
It's also intriguing. At the center of the story of Griffin and Sabine is a mystery. How are they connected? Will they ever meet? Are they indeed in different dimensions or is this a story of madness, of love imagined by a desperate man falling into insanity? The whole series is a kind of riddle, and the elaborate illustrations as well as the text hold clues. The trilogy, first published in the '90s, was a runaway success. I understand there is a second trilogy that follows the same characters, published about ten years later. I'll have to check that out.
If you're interested in any of these titles, here are the links: