It’s been a while since I had any thoughts on a weekend, and I almost didn’t have any this weekend either. These posts are meant to be a place to remind myself that this is a blog. Perhaps if I were a bit more consistent . . .
To get two things out of the way: First, I’m going to avoid the main thing that is on my mind, as it’s been on all of our minds for two months. Second, I have links to various things below, like other articles or posts on my blog, but I also have affiliate links.
The Pulitzer Prize
You may have heard that the Pulitzer Prize winners were announced earlier this week. I was surprised to find that I had already read this year’s winner. Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys is based on a real, prolonged tragedy at a Florida reform school. It’s an important story. Interestingly, in Yahdon Israel’s piece for Vanity Fair Whitehead said that after writing about slavery in his most recent novel, The Underground Railroad (which also won the Pulitzer, making Whitehead the fourth author to win the fiction prize twice), he didn’t want to “deal with such depressing material again.” The election of Donal Trump compelled him to do so anyway. I really liked The Underground Railroad, and I rushed to read The Nickel Boys. I admit to being a bit disappointed, though. I think I went in expecting, from Whitehead’s back catalog, something a bit less straightforward and heavy. My own preconceptions and expectations led me astray here, as I think it’s a fine book. I’m thrilled Whitehead won again.
Two other books were named finalists: Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House and Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School. I like Patchett’s work, and I have a copy of The Dutch House I’ve been meaning to read. I am not sure about Lerner, though. A few weeks ago his New Yorker story “The Media” left me completely befuddled and, worse, uninterested. Surely, though, surely The Topeka School is nothing like “The Media.” I’d love to learn your thoughts!
This year’s Pulitzer Prize for Poetry went to Jericho Brown’s The Tradition, with finalists for Mary Reufle’s Dunce and Dorianne Laux’s Only As the Day Is Long: New and Selected Poems. I haven’t read any of these. I haven’t read any of the last year’s books of poetry. A few things have happened over the last week that reminded me how much I used to value contemporary poetry.
First, sadly, Eavan Boland died. In 2003, I remember going to buy her latest collection, Against Love Poetry, and I was immediately taken back to one in particular called, of all things, “Quarantine.” If you google that you can find it. On Twitter, I saw a lot of lovely posts about Boland’s work as well as several folks sharing their favorite poems. Second, soon after, Nancy Pearl tweeted a poem by Stephen Dunne, which took me back to his 2000 collection Different Hours, winner of the Pulitzer. I loved that collection so much.
Nancy Pearl often tweets contemporary poems, and I’m realizing how much I’m missing. I don’t know yet if this will lead to a change in my life — time and head space are factors here, after all — but I do want to have my eyes and ears open so that I can find even a few collections that mean as much to me as the ones above did nearly twenty years ago.
I think I’ve said it on here before, but it’s been a while for sure. John Self and his blog Asylum were what got me to launch The Mookse and the Gripes in July 2008. I have always loved following John’s thoughts on books, whether on his blog, on a beloved old forum, on Twitter, or anywhere else, especially lately since he’s a literary journalist full time now!
This past week Penguin UK posted a feature he wrote about Evelyn Waugh called “Beyond Brideshead: Why Evelyn Waugh Needs to Be Reclaimed as Our Funniest Writer.” It’s a lovely article and a nice reminder. John and KevinfromCanada got me to read my first Waugh back in the early days of this blog. I started with Brideshead Revisited (which I actually love a lot), went to The Loved One, and then A Handful of Dust (which John champions, and which I agree is the best of the three I read). But I haven’t read any since! Maybe it’s time to pull more Waugh off the shelf.
John also published a really nice interview with Richard Ford at The Irish Times. I don’t know Ford’s work well. I’ve never read any of the Bascombe books, and I have to be honest but his reaction to criticism made me wary to read any of his stories. This interview, though, showed a different side, and one that I admit I found quite compelling.
In my fantasy, I have a lovely vegetable garden with lovely pathways, surrounded by flowers and tastefully lined with shrubs. I’m not that person yet. The two or three gardens I’ve planted in the last decade have all fizzled to one degree or another. Only my herbs seem to make it.
We’ve spent the last couple of years, though, planning and learning so that our yard might be able to host such a garden, and this year we find ourselves near the finish line! We finally have the plots laid out and the vegetables are planted. We still need to bring in rock and then figure out the right ways to make it all perfect, but I already love spending time out there. We planted nearly three weeks ago, and so far everything is coming in healthy. This weekend I got the peppers planted (because I hope the weather keeps warming up). Our four sons have helped us a lot this year, and at least one of them seems to have taken a genuine interest that compels him to tend the garden often. We have our evenings on the porch, but now we also have them in the garden. This really is my favorite time of year.
How are things on the site?
I said in a weekend thoughts post last year that spring is the time I wake up to this stuff. I read more. I communicate more. I’m more optimistic. I don’t know just why, but my job doesn’t seem quite as overwhelming in the spring. At other times of year, though, it can do just that. That’s what happened last fall. All is well, and work is great, but there are seasons when it takes all my focus, and so you can see a significant drop off of Mookse and Gripes productivity last September.
Work is not the only distraction, of course. I’ve said it enough here, but it’s true enough: my kids are getting older. I find I don’t have as much quiet time as I used to, and that’s okay. My wife and I are raising four sons, and I think they’re awesome. If I sit down to read and they’re awake, I’ll most often find myself looking at something they’re doing. It can be frustrating at times, but for the most part I don’t feel I missed an important opportunity to read or write. It’s just the way things are now.
Today, for example, we played games, we worked together in and out of the house, we ate together, we watched a movie, we checked out the garden, and we played some more. We even read together while snacking on some treats. They finally went to their rooms, oh, about an hour ago, and I’ve been able to sit and write this.
I’m going to wind down here and perhaps finish Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, which I’d never seen before and which I’m enjoying, for the most part. The part I’m not? Well, suffice it to say I’m thrilled Capra started working with James Stewart. Gary Cooper plays the wise innocent with a degree of stupidity. I always feel Stewart does it with wisdom. For example, when Cooper wonders why people can’t just be nice to each other, he seems naive and genuinely confused. When Stewart delivers similar lines you feel like he’s given it a lot of thought, knows the reasons, and is asking a rhetorical question in his mission to bring others to some deeper understanding. Anyway, I will either finish that or read some of Andrés Nueman’s Fracture or Pamela Frankau’s A Wreath for the Enemy. Last thought: I hadn’t heard of this book or even of Pamela Frankau until a recent episode of Backlisted. If you’re not listening to Backlisted, you’re missing out . . .
I hope you’re having a great weekend, where ever you are!