Final Book Review

Summer is officially over for me.

Classes started last week, and I wanted to have this written before but work assignments, early homework assignments, and adorable French girls who stayed with me a week prevented it. And then Isaac came along, canceling work and classes, and I am using this time to not only catch up, but also to get some work done (FYI, this was written before all my power went out for almost 100 hours and I had no internet).

The week before school starts is NOLA Experience. This is a program run by Tulane that lets freshmen come a week early and spend that time touring New Orleans and its surrounding areas. They volunteer, learn history, see sights, but most importantly, establish a love for this city that they will hopefully carry with them for the rest of their lives. Any program that does that gets gold stars in my book. Hands down it is one of my favorite events to shoot. It is also the most exhausting and physically taxing. For a whole week I run from site to site, shooting mainly outdoors in New Orleans in August. This year, I photographed everything from alligator farms, food banks, and City Park, to urban gardens, haunted history tours, and bike tours in the Lower 9th Ward. All of this was for the most part enjoyable, but all a signal that summer is ending (just not the weather).

So, here is how I did on my summer goals. I did get a lot of research done on the Mascot. I hope I got enough legwork done to sustain me for the rest of the year, as I will not have as much free time.

Fannie kept her eyes on me the whole time

At one point in the summer, I decided to swim across a river. When I realized I had my last chance, I did it on an empty stomach, slightly hung over, in the rain, choppy waters, while it was getting dark. The whole swim took me about 35 minutes and was a little over 1/2 of a mile. My friend John trailed beside me in a boat with my faithful dogs watching over me. The water was warm and I could handle everything but the fish brushing against me, which completely freaked me out and made me swim even faster. And of course, when I reached the dock I immediately cut the bottom of my foot on a barnacle. But I did it, and it motivated me to get scuba certified – finally.

About halfway there. I am the dot in the middle left.

Food goals – not really. I think because of my wrist I was not able to cook as much as I wanted. Or at least that is the excuse I am going with. I did, however, make some roasted chickpeas, pistachio vinaigrette, and asparagus pesto. Plus, I got a new juicer for my birthday so I gave my old one to a friend and have been experimenting with new recipes. I would like to conquer paella this year, but will enlist my friend Kelly to help me.

Book goals. Did it! I successfully read a book a week, although I didn’t read any the entire time I was in Seattle. Too much to do!

BOOK EIGHT: American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare. The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee by Karen Abbott. As mentioned in a previous post, I had earlier read Abbot’s Sin in the Second City. Her recent writing was even more eloquent and poignant than her last work. For example:

On Sunday, April 26, 1970, the ambulance comes once again. Paramedics bind her to the stretcher and hoist her up, and the doors shut heavily at her feet. She is alive, Gypsy tells herself. Still in the ring, standing and taunting, still refusing to retreat to her corner. June will drop everything and meet her halfway, as always, bringing violets and forcing her to eat and knowing better than to cry. She wills her ears to hear the wail of the sirens, her face to feel the soft pressure of the mask that gives her air. It grows darker behind the lids of her closed eyes and her own breath tease her, letting her catch the tail end of each inhalation before slipping out of reach. Her body begins working in reverse, exhaling, exhaling, exhaling, giving everything it has, taking nothing in return. With her knowledge, but never her permission, it relents at last.

What an astonishing paragraph! Breathtaking. Here’s the problem – although it comes toward the end of the book, the entire story is told in a non-linear format. Each chapter jumps back and forth to different characters, different places, different decades. Despite being exquisitely written, it’s jarring. Too jarring…. though I am a huge fan of the non-linear. HUGE!

Quentin Tarantino, despite his sometime saturation of hipness, is a master of non-linear storytelling. Master. He never loses you, but always surprises you. And at the end of any of his movies, he leaves you not only satisfied but also surprised. His foreshadowing, sometimes subtle and quite often times undectable, is always perfectly fluid. And it’s only at the end of the story, after being thoroughly entertained by his deceptive vignettes do you realize the intricacy and importance they brought to the plot. (And a side note, I’m very anxious for his new film “Django Unchained” and not just because my dog is named Django, but because the trailer looks amazing. Leonardo Dicaprio who I think is a fine actor and a pupil of Scorsese, looks like for the first time in a long time, he’s breaking from the specific archetype that he plays under Scorsese – and looks like he is playing a magnetic, complex character. And also – who more magnetic and more complex than Jamie Foxx. So, yea, I am excited). But I digress… Back to Karen Abbott.

While I once again appreciated her elegant writing style, who let her use this approach? Oh, Random House that’s who. Maybe she felt after the success of her critically acclaimed last book that she needed to try something different, to challenge herself. To me it looked like she took some extremely well written and researched chapters and threw them up in the air, letting them fall where they may. It was not suspenseful, it was annoying and I felt it detracted from her accomplished skills. With that said, overall, I enjoyed the book. How could I not with such magnificent writing, but I hope with her next book she does not try to impress with a new “style” and stick to what she does best – write. It’s enough, trust me.

BOOK NINE: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I wanted to reward myself with some old favorites during summer break, which I did. I have read this book many times and what more can I say about it? It’s brilliant. And while I am annoyed that everyone from Victoria Beckham to a redneck I saw at a fair yelling at his daughter has named their child Harper, no one can discount the power of this book – especially during the time period it was written. Oh, Harper Lee, how I would love to have lunch with you!

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.”


“’Hey, Boo,’ I said.”

Still makes me cry. Every time.

BOOK TEN: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. Speaking of rewards and crying. Like Mockingbird, I have read this multiple times and cried many times. I first read it in fourth grade and it put me in one of the most depressive funks. I went home and hugged my Saint Bernard Fritz for hours. He had neither the intelligence nor the loyalty that Old Dan and Little Ann possessed, but I loved that dog. He had heart.

I have many copies of this book, but in the Northwest last month I bought a hardback 1961 copy, which has a picture of Rawls.

He looks exactly like I pictured him to look. In the back book flap it reads:

Wilson Rawls was born on a small farm in the Ozarks. He spent his youth in the heart of the Cherokee nation, prowling the hills and river bottoms with his old blue tick hound – his only companion. His first writing was done with his fingers in the dust of the country roads and the sands along the river. He told his first stories to his dog, and it was not until his family moved to Muskogee, Oklahoma, and he could attend high school that he had access to real books.

And when Old Dan dies from a mountain lion, and Little Ann shortly after from grief – I still sob. I was reading it on the plane home, and knowing what was going to happen, I had to stop. I didn’t want to cry on the airplane.

BOOK TEN-AND-A-HALF: The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling. Okay, I did read something when I was on vacation. I got up early one morning, went out in the garden to forage for peas like I did every morning, and sat on the deck eating raw peas and reading this. Enjoyable and fun.

BOOK ELEVEN: To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian by Stephen Ambrose. I have read the accusations of plagiarism and falsification and this saddens me. This was the first book by Ambrose I have read. Told in a very casual style, he breaks from his role as a historian and gives you his opinion. A no-no but extremely interesting. What I enjoyed most about the book was how he talked about his research process – a lot came from simply blind luck or a twist in the road that led to his next project. I guess with the exception of Indiana Jones, one tends to think of scholars (especially of historians) pent up in a library. Ambrose lived history in a way that I found completely inspiring. Ambrose camped in the West, stayed on reservations, visited battlefields in the U.S. and all over Europe, hiked trails. He was a geek adventurer!

What I did find oddly disturbing was the suicide of his first wife Judy. While Ambrose’s prose is simple he does spend time bringing the reader in and letting them know exactly HOW he found inspiration. When he talks about Judy he basically spends the first couple of paragraphs describing what a misogynistic asshole (or a man of his time) he was to his “genius” wife: she quit in her junior and gave up her scholarship to marry him, put his career first while she put hers on hold, put him through graduate school by working full-time. When he got a job, she stayed home to take care of their two children. He never took her to movies or dinner, just to his colleagues’ houses for parties. Seven years later, when he was finally settled in his career and she was a mom, he allowed her to go back to school. Less than two years later she killed herself, or as he coolly put it “In 1966, after Judy committed suicide – she was a depressive – I married Moira Buckley.” Bam! Just like that. His wife, mother of his children, took her life and he married someone else – end of story. It was an extremely odd detachment and one I found tinged with cruelty. With that said, overall, I liked reading about his experiences, especially about his participation in making the D-Day Museum a reality. Very interesting.

Storyville Museum anyone?

BOOK TWELVE: Motives of Honor, Pleasure & Profit: Plantation Management in the Colonial Chesapeake, 1607-1763 by Lorena S. Walsh. Okay, I had to read this before class started and write a scholarly review but I am still counting this as a summer book. In short, an impressive amount of research but sometimes I felt like she was just vomiting information at me.

For the rest of the semester, I have to read a book a week (averaging 400 to 600 pages) and write a scholarly review of each. That is for one class. I am also reading books on the side just to “catch up” as well as continue my research on the Mascot. The way it looks right now, between both classes, I will probably be easily averaging reading 3 to 4 hours a day, over 1000 pages a week. And that doesn’t include the actual research and writing – on average about 5 to 10 pages a week. Both classes have big final assignments.

Well, at least my brain is prepped! Here is hoping I survive the rest of the year!

Out of everything – I am happy for the amount of time I was able to spend with my friends. And my biggest triumph of the whole summer happened at Dirty Linen Night. I met my friend Steph for drinks and then we met up with Trixie and family. Trixie pushed Louis around in the stroller until we got to an area where he could walk in the street. When she pulled him out of the stroller the independent boy reached up for his mother’s hand and then turned and reached for mine. My heart just about melted. Best memory of the summer.

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