USF Book Club: Nov/Dec Selections

Howdy bookclubbers! Today we discussed Packing for Mars under a bright blue sky in the USF Garden and we choose our next two selections. We’ll meet in the seminar room of Gleeson Library (#209) for both of these meetings.

12-1 pm, November 11, 2011 (Friday): A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore (novel)

Gleeson has a copy of A Gate at the Stairs that you can request, but it will probably go fast so your alternatives are requesting it through Link+, getting it from the SF Public Library, or reading it on one of our iPads or our Kindle.

Just months after 9/11, college student Tassie Keltjin, the brilliant daughter of a Midwestern farmer, becomes a part-time nanny for an older white couple who have adopted an African American baby. Enjoying her delightful young charge and reveling in her love affair with her Brazilian boyfriend, Tassie has a growing suspicion that her employers are somehow off. When their identities, as well as her boyfriend’s, are blown, Tassie heads home, only to be hit with another, more devastating shock. Verdict: Moore uses the same kind of poetic precision of language found in her dazzling short story collections (e.g., Birds of America) to draw the reader into her long-awaited third novel (after Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?). The challenge for readers is to reconcile the beautiful sharpness of her language with two wildly improbable plot threads. — Library Journal

One of the librarians here at Gleeson got an advanced copy of A Gate at the Stairs two summers ago. I swooped it up from the pile in the staff room and read it on my vacation to New Orleans. Moore–of whom I was a big fan already, having read a handful of her books in undergrad–didn’t disappoint with this one. If I have the time, I will re-read it before book club.

12-1 pm, December 9, 2011 (Friday) in room 139 (the electronic classroom of Gleeson Library): Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Millford (biography)

**PLEASE NOTE date and location change**

Gleeson has a copy of Savage Beauty that you can request, but it will probably go fast so your alternatives are requesting it through Link+, getting it from the SF Public Library, or reading it on one of our iPads or our Kindle.

Millay (1892-1950) was a Jazz Age phenomenon, causing a sensation wherever she went; lines from her brief poem, “First Fig” (“I burn my candle at both ends/ It will not last the night… “) would become the rallying cry of a generation. She was notorious for her sexual unconventionality and (as Edmund Wilson put it) “her intoxicating effect on people… of all ages and both sexes.” How a lyric poet could have achieved such celebrity is the conundrum at the heart of Savage Beauty. Millay, as Milford depicts her, was a troubled genius who used her prodigious gift to propel herself out of rural poverty and into the center of her age. She carefully cultivated the reporters and patrons who took the “fragile girl-child” under their wing. But her delicate image masked a force of nature whose incendiary wit and insatiable ambition took the public by storm. Milford deftly links the lyric intensity of Millay’s work with her ravenous appetite for life. Whether tracing her ghoulishly close relationship to her mother and sisters, her years at the center of cosmopolitan life or her morphine addiction and untimely death, this account offers its readers a haunting drama of artistic fame. A true paradigm of literary biography, this finely crafted book is not to be missed. — Publisher’s Weekly

Cinda, a librarian at my old work, gave me this biography when I was 22. At first I was surprised to remember I had told her I was interested in it; then I filled with dread: another book to read. My my my! This book has probably influenced my pursuit of living the poet’s life more than any other… or well, until I read Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles when I was 26. Savage Beauty was such an influence I took it to the salon and instructed my stylist to cut off my long ponytail and give me an Edna St. Vincent Millay 1930s bob. I will definitely re-read this one for book club and I am sure I will shed a few tears along the way.

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