Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Clinton at Powells, The Yellow Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee, The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris and The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Apparently, even former President Clinton can't resist the allure of the wonderful Powell's City of Books. I know that this wonderful bookstore is a mecca for me as a bibliophile, and I make my pilgrimage there at least twice a year.

Clinton Campaign Trail Runs Through Powell's Books
Yesterday, former President Bill Clinton "made a surprise stop http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz28365729 at Portland's famous Powell's Books http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz28365730" before heading to Vancouver,
Wash., to campaign for Hillary, KATU reported, adding that Clinton "was
joined by Ore. Gov. Kate Brown at the bookstore just after 4 p.m. and
stayed for about an hour, browsing and greeting shoppers." Governor
Brown announced yesterday she is officially endorsing http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz28365731 Hillary Clinton for president.

Clinton bought a copy of A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of
Franklin Roosevelt, 1905-1928 by Geoffrey C. Ward, and "was also gifted
a copy of Peter Stark's Astoria, a book about settling Astoria, Ore. in
the early 1800s," KATU noted.

The Yellow Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee is a wonderful bookish memoir from a gentleman who has worked in bookstores, worked as a book rep and has had a strong love of books his whole life. As a fellow bibliophile, I was hoping that Buzbee was as good a storyteller as he is a reader/bookseller, and I was not disappointed. Though it's a small paperback book, YL Bookshop is beautifully rendered both inside and out. Though it is non fiction, Buzbee manages to make his stories in the trade as fascinating as fiction. Here's the blurb:In The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Buzbee, a former bookseller and sales representative, celebrates the unique experience of the bookstore - the smell and touch of books, getting lost in the deep canyons of shelves, and the silent community of readers. He shares his passion for books, which began with ordering through The Weekly Reader in grade school. Interwoven throughout is a historical account of the bookseller's trade - from the great Alexandria library with an estimated one million papyrus scrolls to Sylvia Beach's famous Paris bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, which led to the extraordinary effort to publish and sell James Joyce's Ulysses during the 1920s. 
If you love the history of books, and are fascinated by the whole process of creating them, you will love the tidbits that reveal the history of literature sprinkled throughout this book. I was also surprised that this book is actually over 12 years old, though it's not as dated as one might think. Buzbee's choice of books for discussion and for passionate readings of his own throughout his life provide insight into his life, as well as seducing readers into buying copies of Steinbeck's oeuvre. (Having been a fan of Steinbeck's work since childhood, I didn't need any encouragement in that department. But it was great to read of someone else's devotion to America's Bard). For bibliophiles and those who worship at the altars of books in bookstores and libraries, this book is for you. For those who are just interested in the history of printing and some behind the scenes of life as a bookseller, this book is for you, too. When I find a book that I love that has wonderful prose, I often take sticky-note arrows and mark passages that I want to transcribe into my journal later on. It's a testament to Buzbee's skills as a writer that his book has a fringe of multi colored sticky arrows all along its edge, awaiting transcription. A solid A, with a recommendation, as above, to book lovers everywhere.

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris is, I would guess, her third or fourth book based in Norse mythology. This book is a cheeky first person memoir from the most lambasted god in the Norse pantheon, Loki the trickster god, the one who always causes everyone trouble. Here's the blurb:
This novel is a brilliant first-person narrative of the rise and fall of the Norse gods—retold from the point of view of the world’s ultimate trickster, Loki. A #1 bestseller in the UK, The Gospel of Loki tells the story of Loki’s recruitment from the underworld of Chaos, his many exploits on behalf of his one-eyed master, Odin, through to his eventual betrayal of the gods and the fall of Asgard itself.
 Publisher's Weekly: Harris (Chocolat) reinterprets the Norse Völuspá (which she incorporates into her story as “The Prophecy of the Oracle”) from the point of view of Loki, evoking the voice of a narcissistic celebrity memoir while retaining a timeless folktale aesthetic. Loki emerges as Wildfire from the realm of Chaos to rescue, trick, and infuriate Odin and the inhabitants of Asgard. The troublemaker antihero narrates the personality flaws of the gods, gives post-facto justifications for his own actions, and admonishes the reader to “never trust anyone.” But underneath the braggadocio and wit runs a story with psychological meat, that of the permanent outsider craving the comfort of approval, seeking revenge on those who disrespect him, and trying to save his own skin as he ponders the relationships among free will, forced obligations, and the inevitable. Those familiar with the traditional stories will find Harris’s approach knowledgeable and respectful but fresh enough to be much more than a modernized retelling, while readers without the background will find this version of Loki an easy enough storyteller to follow for the first time. 
Having read 13 of Harris' other books, (and I loved all but two) I wasn't surprised at the wonderful witty prose or the plot that twists and turns with ease, yet still manages to be coherent and smart. What did surprise me was how I began to empathize with Loki, the ultimate anti-hero, and how different his view of Thor and Bragi and Odin are from the views that we're used to seeing in the Avengers movies, with the handsome Chris Hemsworth playing the god Thor. Here's a sad Trickster god who is an automatic outsider, and who is constantly betrayed by everyone around him. Yet for all that, there are many hilarious moments and a number of battles told from a POV that those who love myths and legends need to hear. Another solid A, with a recommendation to any fans of classic Norse mythology and folk tales.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore is the April book for my Tuesday night book group at the MV Library. It's a non fiction account of the origins of Wonder Woman, one of the few female superheroes in existence in comic books and on the screen. I was looking forward to reading more about the origins of Diana Prince and the Wonder Woman that I'd watched on TV, portrayed by Lynda Carter, growing up (I was disappointed in that there was only one brief mention of the show, and it was completely dismissive). Unfortunately, we don't even get to the creation of the comic book superheroine until nearly 200 pages into the book. Prior to this, the "secret history" is basically a recounting of the life of William Moulton Marston (Wonder Woman's creator) and his three wives, plus their grounding in the women's rights movements from the turn of the century on. Reading like a women's history text combined with a cautionary tale, Lepore seems fascinated by Marston's living arrangements, and the four children he produced via two women in his life, both of whom outlived him and lived together until their deaths years later (one of the women who lived with him had had a hysterectomy and was unable to have children). Lepore also seems fascinated by his "kink" of finding bondage erotic, enough so that he continually ties up Wonder Woman in nearly every comic she appears in. Marston comes off as something of a con man and a charming snake oil salesman who was able to get all these women to not only support him financially, but to keep his secrets over the years and to bolster his ego by getting him work and writing articles for women's magazines that favored him with expertise he didn't actually own. Here's the blurb:
A riveting work of historical detection revealing that the origin of one of the world’s most iconic superheroes hides within it a fascinating family story—and a crucial history of twentieth-century feminism
Wonder Woman, created in 1941, is the most popular female superhero of all time. Aside from Superman and Batman, no superhero has lasted as long or commanded so vast and wildly passionate a following. Like every other superhero, Wonder Woman has a secret identity. Unlike every other superhero, she has also has a secret history.
Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore has uncovered an astonishing trove of documents, including the never-before-seen private papers of William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman’s creator. Beginning in his undergraduate years at Harvard, Marston was influenced by early suffragists and feminists, starting with Emmeline Pankhurst, who was banned from speaking on campus in 1911, when Marston was a freshman. In the 1920s, Marston and his wife, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, brought into their home Olive Byrne, the niece of Margaret Sanger, one of the most influential feminists of the twentieth century. The Marston family story is a tale of drama, intrigue, and irony. In the 1930s, Marston and Byrne wrote a regular column for Family Circle celebrating conventional family life, even as they themselves pursued lives of extraordinary nonconformity. Marston, internationally known as an expert on truth—he invented the lie detector test—lived a life of secrets, only to spill them on the pages of Wonder Woman.The Secret History of Wonder Woman is a tour de force of intellectual and cultural history. Wonder Woman, Lepore argues, is the missing link in the history of the struggle for women’s rights—a chain of events that begins with the women’s suffrage campaigns of the early 1900s and ends with the troubled place of feminism a century later.
What is left unclear in Lepore's history is WHY these women all fell for Marsten, had his children and supported him when he seems to be such a lying jerk. There's more than a few sanctimonious whiffs of "All good women are really lesbians who just have to fake being heterosexual due to the morality and prejudices of the time" in this book, and while I honestly have no problem with homosexuality, I appreciate clarity vs innuendo, and Lepore never actually comes out and says that Marsten's wives were gay. The author also shows men in a jaundiced light throughout the book, and while I dislike sexism, prejudice and misogyny myself, I don't believe that all men are bad or are enemies of feminism (or if they are friends of feminism, that doesn't mean that they're con men/egotists like Marsten). Having taken more than a couple of women's history courses in college, I grew bored during the first half of The Secret History, and I was relieved when the book ended, sooner than I expected, due to a huge index in back for all of Lepore's footnotes. And while I appreciate knowing about the origins of Wonder Woman, I am still unclear as to whether or not she's a homunculus made of clay, or a real woman Amazon from a small fictional island. So I'd give this book a B-, and only recommend it to those who would like to know more about the women's liberation and sufferage movements and who have an interest in Wonder Woman comics from an academic viewpoint. This book is not an easy read.

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