Book club about ‘In the Country of Women’

The Los Angeles Public Library’s Edendale branch in Echo Park let me know that its new “Good Trouble” book club will discuss Riverside writer Susan Straight’s memoir “In the Country of Women,” subject of a recent column of mine, at 4 p.m. Oct. 21 — that’s this Wednesday — and that Straight herself will join them at 4 p.m. Oct. 28. All by Zoom, natch. Email Eden@lapl.org for the Zoom link.

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Column: Mitla Cafe fares well in tortilla tourney

San Bernardino’s legendary Mitla Cafe got to Round 4 of the Tortilla Tournament in the corn tortilla bracket before falling to the reigning champion in Costa Mesa, a nice showing for both Mitla and the 909. Anyway, this modest news hook provides a good excuse to write about Mitla, which I do in Sunday’s column.

Mitla (pronounced “Meet-la”) was the subject of a Restaurant of the Week post in 2015 and was overdue for a column now that I’m in the Sun and thus have a San Bernardino-area readership. (And in the Press-Enterprise with a Riverside-area readership, hence last Sunday’s column on Anchos Southwest Grill.)

So it was high time I went there and introduced myself. Because they’re not doing dine-in, I didn’t order food to go, unsure where I would eat it. As I drove away, I saw a shady park less than a block away. D’oh! Well, next time.

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Column: Colton board blinks on ‘Bluest Eye’ ban

The Colton school board has put “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison back on the district’s high school curriculum, six months after removing it. PEN America hails the decision. I do too, in my own way, in Wednesday’s column. (I’m honest and admit I haven’t read the book. But I’m all for free expression.)

I link within the column to the Colton reading list for grades 7 to 12; here the link. It may not strike some of you, or most of you, as anything out of the ordinary, especially if you had a California education. Friends have told me about reading, say, “Moby Dick” in high school. As someone with an Illinois education, in a small town, this list boggles my mind. No doubt many of the books are not taught, or only a few pages are photocopied and disseminated, but it’s still far beyond anything given to me to read.

The most ambitious book we read was Mark Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee,” and that was merely an option in an advanced English class, only two of us chose it, and the version we got was abridged!

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Reading Log: September 2020

Books acquired: “In the Country of Women,” Susan Straight; “Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick,” Lawrence Sutin

Books read: “In the Country of Women,” Susan Straight; “Juliet, Naked,” Nick Hornby; “She,” H. Rider Haggard

Welcome to fall! We’re in the home stretch of 2020, three-fourths of the way through what’s described as the most tumultuous year since 1968, and the way things are going, let’s hope we all make it.

At least the Reading Log soldiers on. What could be more vital, after all, than sharing what books we read?

I’ll start. Hey, it’s my blog. I read three books in September, all about women, although just one was written by a woman.

“In the Country of Women” (2019): Women don’t have Homeric odysseys in literature, Straight writes, but she sets out to tell a version of an epic involving the women in her family going back generations, who traveled from the Deep South, Canada and Europe, not always at their choosing, to end up in Southern California. A memoir that’s more about others than about herself, and addressed as much to her daughters as to us. We should all be so lucky as to have a gifted writer research our family tree.

“Juliet, Naked” (2009): A reclusive musician releases the demo versions of his classic breakup album of 20 years earlier, and its merits spark a fight between a couple whose relationship is in stasis: He’s an obsessive fan who thinks it’s brilliant, she’s not and says it’s a bunch of malarkey. The musician, it turns out, agrees with her. Not especially dramatic, and about 2/3 of the way through the story foundered for a bit, but thankfully it ends on an unexpected note. It’s heartening how a writer known for his lad books (“High Fidelity,” “Fever Pitch,” “About a Boy”) has turned his attention in recent years to writing from women’s perspective, and done so successfully (this male would say). He even casts a dim eye on the lad’s concerns, and reminds us that normal people are allowed to like music on normal, non-obsessive terms. We lads can always stand to hear that again.

“She” (1887): I knew little more than that the tribal ruler in question was addressed as “she-who-must-be-obeyed,” a phrase later employed by certain British men to describe their possibly battle-ax wives. My expectation here was that our adventurers would encounter a fearsome tribal chieftess who might only be brought to heel by a brutal hero. That proved very wrong. Ayesha is among the most beguiling characters of adventure fiction, and unlike almost all the rest of them, needless to say, she’s a woman. (And what a woman.) Sure, a bit fusty, given its Victorian origins, but imaginative and thrilling.

“She” would be my favorite of the month, although I could recommend all three.

I bought the Haggard omnibus in 2008 at St. Louis’ Patten Books (RIP); I will count each novel of the three contained within as its own novel (I mean, why not?) and hope to get to “King Solomon’s Mines” within the next year. “Juliet, Naked” was bought in 2011 at Borders Montclair (RIP). “In the Country of Women” was bought this month at the Barnes & Noble in Montclair; the chain was promoting the book in September, giving it its own display table. I don’t tend to read books that have their own display table and enjoyed the novelty.

I’ve already finished a book in October, one started back in May (!), so that’s a relief; two or three more will follow.

What did you read in September, folks? Let us know in the comments, as usual.

Next month: some earthy reading, dig?

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Column: Her messages are a sign of our times

Jo Ann Banks has been posting messages in her kitchen window throughout coronavirus, sometimes hopeful, sometimes frustrated. She was writing them for herself, but then “people walking by would introduce themselves …then I thought, this isn’t just for me.” I write her light box messages in my Friday column — one that you could say has been in the works for six months. Also, I could walk to this interview (for a story I found while out walking) and it’s not often I’ve been able to do that.

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