I would like to thank Helen Howell for the Seriously Cute Blogger Award, which she was kind enough to bestow on me recently. The condition of the award is that have to discuss five books, television shows and or other creative works I’ve consumed lately.
1. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. This heartbreaker of a picture book describes a school year in a middle grade. Set in the 1950s, it's told from the perspective of one of the popular girls in the class who goes along with the most popular girl in her campaign to tease and humiliate Wanda Petronski, a slow, shy and lonely immigrant girl. The favorite subject for ridicule is her threadbare dress, a faded blue that she wears every day. In response to the teasing, she says she has one hundred dresses at home, and, every day, she describes a different one and explains why she isn't wearing it. The narrator slowly comes to realize the cruelty of what she and the other popular girls are doing, but can't bring herself to fight the social pressures that make her continue. The end of the book is sharp, sad and masterfully told.
2. The Dead by James Joyce. A short story, one in a collection of his stories I've been reading. The story of a dinner party, told by one of the attendees. As the party unfolds, characters are illuminated, histories laid bare and futures charted. With just a few simple lines, Joyce creates people that live, breathe and walk. The plotting elements are simple: will this person show up to the party drunk, and if so, can his mother convince him to behave himself? Will the young men, clearly more interested in the young women than in the impromptu piano recital, be able to conduct themselves graciously, or will they embarrass the host? Why does that song sung by the up-and-coming tenor seem to affect the narrator's wife so deeply? This story is so simple on its face, and yet so complex and beautiful in its construction and narrative power.
3. Salt and Pepper, with Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford. Two hip, swinging owners of a hip, swinging nightclub in London's hip, swinging SoHo discover the body of a murdered secret agent. They get tangled up in a plot to overthrow the British government through nuclear blackmail, and have to save the day while continuing to be hip and swinging. Sammy Davis Jr. gets to sing, Peter Lawford gets to roll around in bed with a beautiful double agent. In every other scene, fresh cigarettes are lit, fresh drinks are poured and (for Sammy Davis Jr.) fresh outfits are stylishly worn. After watching this needy little screwball echo of the Rat Pack, starring the two least important members of the Rat Pack, I noticed that the executive producers of the movie were Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford, and I was not surprised. n.b. This is a movie, but I watched in on my TV via streaming Netflix, so I'm going to rule it eligible for the SCBA.
4. The Guns of Retribution by Icy Sedgwick. A gunslinging bounty hunter in the Old West is caught up in the dirty deeds of a corrupt sheriff. To save those nearest and dearest to him, he has to avoid killers, thugs and the unwanted sexual attentions of a dangerous woman. Later this month, I'm going to be posting a full review of this book, along with an interview of the author.
5. The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe. This is the third volume in the Book of the New Sun series, a complex and deeply interwoven science fiction tale. Set in the far, far future, Earth's sun has faded to a quiet red and human societies have spread to the stars and back again over and over. The narrator is a Torturer, an official societal role in the service of law and government. Through travels and challenges, he has come in contact with the highest rulers of the world, the lowest beggars and criminals, and visitors from beyond. Is there hope for the world, a way to revitalize Earth and make it a place where man can thrive again? Or are the old, old religious stories true, and the path for mankind leads to some New Sun? This is detailed, richly plotted high science fiction.
I'm pleased to pass this award on to Zoe E. Whitten (@Zoe_E_W) for her bracingly straightforward manner (and because "Seriously Cute Blogger" is surely not on her list of expected sobriquets) and to Jeff Posey (@Jeff_Posey) for his discussion of corporate communications.
===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.