Joan Didion and Eve Babitz – My Remembrances

This week the literary world lost two great writers, who introduced me to the strange and mythical land called California.

Eve Babitz died on December 17th at the age of 78. A week later, today, Joan Didion (who I wrote about more here) died at 87. They were very different writers (and I’m sure they were very different as people as well) but both wrote novels, essays, journalism and creative nonfiction.

I’m an east coast girl, through and through. I’ve never been to California (unless you count the airport, I’ve had flights that stop over there) but in Babitz I encountered the Los Angeles cultural scene in the 60s, 70s,and 80’s. The references to iconic artists, musicians, actors and writers made it seem like these were people you might encounter and chat with any time you stop for coffee. Didion’s California is coolly observed; a place that even in the 60s and 70s, was home to the vast cultural divides that many people only became aware of more recently.

I feel a bit weird about doing a single post for both of these ladies. Their work was often compared during their lifetimes because they were both female writers of the same generation working with similar genre and subject matter fairly often. I could contrast their lives and work too, there were many differences. It’s interesting that they both died this week. Didion was very aware that we frequently impose narrative and meaning on disparate events. I’m very aware that’s what I’m doing here, and I’m curious what she’d say about it.

This week the literary world lost two great writers, who introduced me to the strange and mythical land called California.

Eva Babitz died on December 17th at the age of 78. A week later, today, Joan Didion died at 87. They were very different writers (and I’m sure they were very different as people as well) but both wrote novels, essays, journalism and creative nonfiction.

I’m an east coast girl, through and through. I’ve never been to California (unless you count the airport, I’ve had flights that stop over there) but in Babitz I encountered the Los Angeles cultural scene in the 60s, 70s,and 80’s. The references to iconic artists, musicians, actors and writers made it seem like these were people you might encounter and chat with any time you stop for coffee. Didion’s California is cooly observed; a place that even in the 60s and 70s was home to the vast cultural divides that many people only became aware of more recently.

I feel a bit weird about doing a single post for both of these ladies. Their work was often compared during their lifetimes because they were both female writers of the same generation working with similar genre and subject matter fairly often. I could contrast their lives and work too, there were many differences. It’s interesting that they both died this week. Didion was very aware that we frequently impose narrative and meaning on disperate events. I’m very aware that’s what I’m doing here, and I’m curious what she’d say about it

Top Ten Tuesday: New To Me Authors of 2018

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

ttt-new

January 15: New-to-Me Authors I Read In 2018

41Krb0iOt7L._AC_US218_1. Laura Purcell- I really enjoyed The Silent Companions, and I look forward to reading Laura Purcell’s Victorian gothic follow up, The Poison Thread. Before she wrote gothic creepiness, Purcell wrote historical fiction, and I’m also interested in checking out her Georgian Queens duology.

 

 

51culgbrdcl-_ac_us218_2. Simone St. James-  I binged The Other Side of Midnight, An Inquiry Into Love and Death, Silence for the DeadLost Among the Living, and The Broken Girls. The Haunting of Maddy Clare is the only book that she’s written at this point that I haven’t read! Her historical gothic romantic suspense is a lot of fun.

 

 

51mxt4oifll-_ac_us218_3. Katherine Arden- I really enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale in 2018 and the two follow ups, The Girl in the Tower, and The Winter of the Witch are on my 2019 TBR.

 

 

 

51dir0tpoel._ac_us218_4.  Ruth Hogan- I really enjoyed Ruth Hogan’s The Keeper of Lost Things. Her follow up, The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes has really good reviews so far, so I hope to read it soon.

 

 

 

51dwdwqvoal._ac_us218_5. Vita Sackville-West- I’d heard of this author before but never read any of her work. I really enjoyed All Passion Spent, and I look forward to exploring some of her other novels like Family History and The Edwardians. 

 

 

 

51qphks8hyl-_ac_us218_6. Eve Babitz- I really liked Eve Babitz’s essay collection Eve’s Hollywood and autobiographical novel Sex and Rage.  I hope to read some of her other books like LA Woman, Black Swans, and Slow Days, Fast Company.

 

 

 

51uywe9mfql-_ac_us218_7. Julia Brannan- I enjoyed Brannan’s Mask of Duplicity, and I hope to read her follow ups in her Jacobite Chronicles series.

 

 

 

51islkdgaql-_ac_us218_8. Bee Ridgway- I really enjoyed Bee Ridgway’s The River of No Return. That was written in 2013, but it definitely leaves off on a cliff hanger, with teasers for a sequel. In 2014 Ridgway released the novella The Time Tutor, which was a prequel. Since then, there’s no word of a sequel though. I don’t know if I want to invest any more time in this until there is!

 

51aacv7edrl._ac_us218_9. Kat Howard- I enjoyed Roses and Rot, and I look forward to reading A Cathedral of Myth and Bone and An Unkindness of Magicians.

 

 

 

I realize that all these writers are female, which was a coincidence. It was not my intention when I made the list!

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Beach/Pool Reads

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

June 19: Books to Read By the Pool/At the Beach (This can also serve as your summer TBR)

For me, a “beach/pool read” is a very special kind of light read. It has to engage me enough so that I can disappear into it for a while, but it also can’t get me too stressed about the characters, or too emotionally involved. If I’m reading it by a pool or the beach I should be able to put it down and go for a swim. I should also be able to realize that I need to reapply sunscreen before I look like a tomato. But the purpose of a beach/pool read is entertainment first and foremost. These are books that have qualified.

41uc1zr7dzl-_ac_us218_1. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell- Set during the dark ages of the internet, this is about an office that has recently gotten online. Two female coworkers have developed the habit of chatting via email all day. They don’t know that the company has hired an internet security officer, or that he’s fallen in love with one of them thanks to reading her emails.

 

 

419byxeainl-_ac_us218_2. Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple– This book is composed mostly of emails, documents, and other communications that help Bee, a young girl, find her mother, who has gone missing. Bee earned a trip to Antarctica thanks to straight A’s on her report card. But the agoraphobic Bernadette finds the prospect of such a trip difficult. This book is a satire that takes aim at helicopter parents, technology, and the notion of “genius”. It’s clever in places and made me giggle, but not care too much about what happened.

 

51yon8-7k2l-_ac_us218_3. Searching For Grace Kelly by Michael Callahan– This is set in NYC’s Barbizon Hotel For Women, where, in the 1950’s secretaries, models, and editors lived side by side while searching for success. Famous residents include writers like Sylvia Plath (who write about it in The Bell Jar, under the name “The Amazon”), Joan Didion, Eudora Welty, and Edna Ferber. It was also home to performers such as Grace Kelly, Ali McGraw, Liza Minelli, Gene Tierney, Elaine Stritch, and Joan Crawford. This book follows three fictional residents: Laura, a college student who plans to work at Mademoiselle for the summer; Dolly, who comes from a blue-collar background and attends secretarial school, and Vivian, a British gal who believes that the Barbazon’s rules were made to be broken. Very similar in many ways to Fiona Davis’ The Dollhouse.

515oqah-rtl-_ac_us218_4. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid– For anyone who loves old movies this is for you. Evelyn Hugo is a Hollywood legend. A gorgeous Oscar winner whose personal life has made headlines for decades, for both her films and her tempestuous personal life, marked by seven (yes, seven) marriages. But at the age of 79, Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the whole truth about herself, her husbands, and her life. She hires Monique, an unknown journalist to write her biography. Evelyn reveals the secrets that she’s kept hidden to save her career and protect the people she loves. She tells about the deception that’s haunted her for decades, and she tells Monique about the true love of her life, the one she was unable to marry.

51zs47eoayl-_ac_us218_5. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion– Don Tillman is a professor of genetics. He’s a creature of habit and struggles to understand social cues. He’s never really considered romance for these reasons. But when a friend tells him that he’d make a wonderful husband, he thinks that statistics indicate that there’s someone for everyone out there. So he embarks on The Wife Project; an evidence-based quest for his soul mate (who will be punctual and logical and absolutely not a smoker or a drinker).  Rosie Jarman is definitely not the woman for Don. But she needs his help. She’s trying to find her father, and Don’s skill as a DNA expert is required. So Don’s Wife Project takes a backseat to Rosie’s Father Project. The unexpected relationship that Don and Rosie strike up makes Don realize that what he actually wants is very different from what he thinks he wants.

518ktztx7ol-_ac_us218_6. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty– Cecilia finds a letter from her husband with instructions that it should be opened only if he dies. Cecilia opens it, while her husband is very much alive, and learns a secret that has the potential to destroy their marriage, their family, and even the lives of their children. You might make a guess regarding the nature of the secret going into the book. But you’re probably wrong! I found myself wondering what I’d do in Cecilia’s situation, and how I’d justify either choice.

51qphks8hyl-_ac_us218_7. Eve’s Hollywood by Eve Babitz–  Eve Babitz has had an interesting life to be sure. She’s been an artist, a muse, a journalist, a novelist, and a party girl. In this collection of essays that’s part memoir and part fiction, she changes some names to protect the innocent, but there’s a very strong sense of Babitz’ native LA throughout. Her father was a violinist who worked on movie scores. Her mother was an artist. Her godfather was Igor Stravinsky. She attended Hollywood High and knew lots of famous people. She’s got some interesting stories to tell.

51wn17e1xil-_ac_us218_8. Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel– Three decades in the life of a fairly dysfunctional family, this novel centers around Julie. It consists of letters and emails that her family writes her, that range from loving to passive aggressive to laugh out loud funny. We get Julie’s intellectual father who is Very Concerned that Julie will never reach her potential. We also get Julie’s mother, a therapist who is perhaps a little too aware of what her daughter is going through psychologically, and Julie’s little sister, who makes some questionable decision. But non-family members send Juliet their missives too. That gerbil she killed when she was a little kid sends her an angry letter from the gerbil afterlife. The container of hummus in the fridge calls to Julie when she’s hungry at an awkward moment. The book is funny because there is a lot of truth in it, about families at their best and their worst. At about 200 pages it’s also a quick read.

61mtmxfnoql-_ac_us218_9. In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware– Nora gets an invitation from her former best friend, Clare, to attend Clare’s bachelorette weekend in the English countryside. Something happened between Nora and Clare years ago, something that caused them to lose touch. But thinking that Clare wants to bury the hatchet, Nora accepts the invite. Then she wakes up in the hospital, unable to remember how she got there. The action flashes back and forth between the weekend in Clare’s aunt’s cabin, and the hospital, where an increasingly frightened Nora tries to piece together what happened, how someone ended up dead, and why there is a police guard outside her hospital door. This is a very fluffy whodunnit. It’s good for a beach/poolside read because it’s fun and entertaining, but you can also put it down, enjoy yourself for a while and not be too eager to keep reading to find out what happened.

51slyxywlxl-_ac_us218_10. Windfall by Penny Vincenzi– In the 1930’s, Cassia has spent the past seven years as a doctor’s wife, despite having medical training herself. But when she inherits a large amount of money from her godmother, Cassia is able to hire a nanny and resume her medical career. But Cassia’s husband isn’t happy about his wife’s new independence, and her windfall threatens to destroy her family. She also starts to suspect that her newfound inheritance might not be what it seems. It might even have a few strings attached.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Book Quotes

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

March 6: Favorite Book Quotes

I don’t know if this list is 100% accurate. But these were the top ten that I thought of.

51hq1svllxl-_ac_us218_1. “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

-From Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Because some things are just so true.

 

 

51z5jz2frjl-_ac_us218_2. “The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.” —From Peter Pan by JM Barrie

I think this applies to a lot more than just flying. It’s really about taking risks. If we stop and think about all the things that could go wrong, we’d never do anything. Sometimes you have to just put all that out of your mind, and take a (metaphorical) leap.

 

51qphks8hyl-_ac_us218_3“…. my mother gave me a brown paper bag which I filled with caught butterflies so that by the time we were ready to go and the sun was ready to set in that Florentine filmy amber it gets down there at about 6 in the summer, I had caught a lot.

I’d wait until the car was all paced and we were just driving off and then I’d open the window, tear the bag quickly and watch the silent explosion of color fly out. “I’ll always remember this,” I thought, “forever.”

Then we’d go home and eat dinner I suppose, I don’t really remember.”

-From Eve’s Hollywood by Eve Babitz

I just read this book recently, and I marked this passage because it really stood out to me. I think that the language shows just how vivid the memory of the butterflies is, compared to whatever happened afterward. It’s how I often remember childhood. Certain memories are very clear, and others just fade away.

51aznmcwg9l-_ac_us218_4. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices.”

I think that this is very true. It is for me, at least. When terrible things happen I have this need to impose some sort of narrative as a way to give them meaning. If I can’t see the meaning at the moment, it just means that the story’s arc isn’t complete yet.

51-np75sehl-_ac_ul320_sr218320_5. “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” – From Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

 This is something that I try to think about. Often I’ll wake up in the morning and still be mad at myself for some mistake I made yesterday. I think it’s healthy for me to try to remember Anne’s words and regard each day as a fresh start.
51iyq4ny4ol-_ac_us218_6. “A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

-From The Twits by Roald Dahl

In my experience this is true. That’s not to say that a kind person who isn’t conventionally attractive will start to look like a movie star to me, but I notice the less attractive elements far less. Likewise, if someone isn’t very nice, then no matter how beautiful they may be, after a while I won’t see them that way.

 

51fkpmqzdyl-_ac_us218_7. “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” -From Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Something about Jane Eyre when she gets going, makes me want to scream “you go, girl!” I mean she’s not a character who you would expect to be able to assert herself that way or have that kind of self-confidence. It’s the Victorian era where women weren’t regarded as people in their own right. Jane less so than most, because she’s “poor, obscure, plain, and little.” She’s got no financial advantages, no connections in the right places, but she’s still able to stand up for herself and demand respect.

 

61ugxeeqibl-_ac_us218_8. “What I’m not sure about, is if our lives have been so different from the lives of the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.” -From Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

I think that ultimately this speaks to how privilege matters and how little it really means. One person may be regarded as better or “more” than another, and that brings real advantages. But ultimately, we’re all just feeling our way around the world. We all have limited understanding, and we all want something more.

51qe5e8fmtl-_ac_us160_9. “I tried on Claire’s double strand of pearls in the mirror, ran the smooth, lustrous beads through my fingers, touched the coral rose of the clasp. The pearls weren’t really white, they were a warm oyster beige, with little knots in between so if they broke, you only lost one. I wished my life could be like that, knotted up so that even if something broke, the whole thing wouldn’t come apart.” – From White Oleander by Janet Fitch

The necklace with the knotted pearls is a great image and it definitely seems to serve the metaphor for one’s life. To me, it seems that when something goes wrong in my life, it can be like a chain reaction. My attention goes to whatever went wrong, and then because I wasn’t paying attention to something else, that goes wrong. Obviously, it’s easier to knot beads than it is to compartmentalize in the same way.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_10. “He had looked at Jude, then, and had felt that same sensation he sometimes did when he thought, really thought of Jude and what his life had been: a sadness, he might have called it, but it wasn’t a pitying sadness; it was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn’t know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it.” -From A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I think that this is a beautiful expression of the human condition really. Life is tough. Everyone has struggles and problems. But we all keep pushing through regardless. It can be seen as sad, yes. But I think also beautiful.