Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Women Who Love Books + My Yen for Yates

Today’s post was inspired by my July 11 appearance at the Women Who Love Books (WWLB) book club. Actually, this group of readers who live in Lincolnwood and in Chicago’s Peterson Park neighborhood doesn’t have a name, but I gave them one for the purpose of this blog. My friend and booster Beverly Fischmann Steinberg is a member of the WWLB club and proposed my memoir “The Division Street Princess” as it’s monthly selection.

I’ve been a book club member in the past but this was my first experience as the guest author. My longtime friend Ruth Gilbert joined me in reading passages from the book and in the discussion that followed. I had a wonderful time being the center of attention, answering thoughtful questions about my book, and revealing secrets about publishing and marketing. It’s obvious this group’s devotion to reading justifies the tag I’ve given them.

The special event sent me musing about books and their place in my life, in my home, and about my favorite author. As evidence of my love for books, I’m revealing a list of sites in our home (my husband Tommy is an enthusiastic reader, too) where I stash books currently being read. In my backpack, “Family History” by Dani Shapiro; powder room (also known as the Library, as in “I’m going to the Library.”) “Stories,” T.C. Boyle; living room coffee table “Queen of the Oddballs" Hillary Carlip; upstairs bathroom, “Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules” David Sedaris; and nightstand, “Gardenias” by Faith Sullivan.

Tommy is a fan of mysteries and historical novels; Buddy patiently waits for someone to put down his book or her camera and pay attention to their pup.

The Library

You can meet talented and ingenious writer Hillary Carlip in person on Thursday, July 20, 7:30 p.m. at the Bookslut Reading Series to be held at Hopleaf bar, 5148 N. Clark St., 2nd Floor, 773-334-9851. Hillary’s book is a special treat. For verification, read my review on her Amazon page.

As you can see, I enjoy a variety of writers and genres, but I confess to a passion for Richard Yates, whom I discovered November 14, 2003 in an article in the Chicago Reader. Written by J.R. Jones and titled “Out of the Wreckage,” the nearly 5,000-word piece reveals Yates’ “compassion for life’s losers that made his stories heartbreaking,” and describes Yates’ most well-known book, “Revolutionary Road” (1961) that “peers…into the anguished soul of middle-class America in the 1950s.”

Richard Yates

Jones’ intriguing write-up (perhaps Yates’ four-pack-a-day cigarette habit and his frequent themes of failed dreams reminded me of my dad) sped me to bookstore shelves. After relishing “Revolutionary Road,” I went on to read all of Yates’ novels and short stories available at the time, as well as a 2003 biography by Blake Bailey, “A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates.”

Although Yates was praised by critics; and “Revolutionary Road” was a finalist for the National Book Award, his short stories were regularly published in major literary magazines, and four Yates’ novels were Book-of-the-Month club selections, he never sold more than 12,000 copies of any one book in hardcover. Along with this dismissal by the general reading public, Yates is considered a tragic figure because he suffered from alcoholism, tuberculosis, emphysema, and bipolar disorder. He died in 1992 at the age of 66 never fulfilling his own dreams of happy family and successful career.

Yates may be an odd choice for my muse, but I became so enamored of his work that I selected lines from his short story “Saying Goodbye to Sally” to be on the epigraph page for “The Division Street Princess.” Somehow, this quote evokes my feelings about revisiting my childhood: “He stood watching until after she’d gone inside, and until the tall windows of one room after another cast their sudden light into the darkness. Then more lights came on and more, room upon room, as Sally ventured deeper into the house she had always loved and probably always would – having it now, for the first time and at least for a little while, all to herself.”

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