Recommendations 3/28/2021: Beverly Cleary and Larry McMurtry, R.I.P.

Two giants have passed.

We learned of the passing of two giants of literature on the same day, Beverly Cleary and Larry McMurtry.

Lest we think this is not big news, their obituaries made the cover of the New York Times.

Larry McMurtry had a long career as a writer of many popular books, including Terms of Endearment and The Last Picture Show, but it is Lonesome Dove, which will endure for the foreseeable future and beyond. It’s a book I recommend often, even to people who have little interest in Westerns, because it is one of those books that will swallow you whole while you’re reading it. When you reach the end, you’ll have the experience of not just closing a book, but exiting another world, an entire existence.

McMurtry had a fascinating life trajectory, including as an award-winning screenwriter, and notably, a collector and seller of “antiquarian” (used) books. I won’t repeat what you can read in the Times obituary, but it’s worth reading I full.

As wonderful as Larry McMurtry’s books were, it is the passing of Beverly Cleary which personally resonates more.

I read The Mouse and the Motorcycle and its sequel, Runaway Ralph, probably 60 times each. When I rode my Big Wheel, I would make motor noises like Ralph on his motorcycle. Pb-pb-b-b-b. Pb-pb-b-b-b. The Beezus and Ramona books are obviously all-time classics, particularly for Gen Xers like me who were raised on the works of Cleary and Judy Blume.

The Times obituary is thorough and fond, but the writer Laura Lippman flagged a discordant note in the opening paragraph.

In a follow-up tweet, Lipman notes:

Lippman is right, of course, and it’s interesting to note how the gendered language passed through the Times editorial process without being flagged and changed. Perhaps, as is custom for notable figures who are getting on in years, Cleary’s obituary was prewritten and not updated to reflect the current times.

Or maybe we haven’t made us much progress on these issues as we would wish. I read the Cleary obit after seeing Lippman’s tweet, so I can’t claim I would’ve noticed the characterization on my own. The portrayal of spirited young women as “bratty” or spirited grown women as “strident” (or worse, “bitchy”) rather than “forceful” or “powerful” remains common.

The treatment of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez in some circles is an object example. The entire public life of Hillary Clinton another. We could go on and on and on. There is a great chapter in Kate Manne’s Entitled about the impossible needle women must thread when it comes to seeking the highest elected offices, like the Presidency. Manne discusses the public perception of men’s “entitlement to power” which paints their striving for office as natural, ordained. Women, on the other hand, must be “communal,” but in behaving communally, they don’t look like politicians who can win in the rough and tumble of politics. When women seek agency and power without apology - essentially the story of Ramona - they are marked as defective. Men have no such burden.

Put another way, who is more accurately described as “bratty,” Ramona Quimby, or Ted Cruz?

I feel fortunate that I did not grow up with a gendered view on reading. When I was a young boy, a girl protagonist didn’t bother me because no one had told me it should. And yet, I’m almost fifty-one years old, and the product of a lot of exposure to a world that’s decided Ramona Quimby being spirited and mischievous is “bratty,” rather than “clever.”

Thanks to Laura Lippman for a reality check, and Rest in Power Beverly Cleary and Larry McMurtry.

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Housekeeping

Welcome to denizens of the commentariat of The Morning News Tournament of Books who have joined us after seeing a notice I posted there. For those who haven’t checked it out yet, the tournament is heading into the Zombie Round on Monday, with the champion crowned on Wednesday.

This week’s column is about Amazon’s encroachment into everything and how if we’re not careful, we’re going to give up freedom of choice for all that convenience.

All links to books on these posts go to The Biblioracle Recommends bookshop at Bookshop.org. Affiliate income for purchases through the bookshop goes to Open Books in Chicago. We’re up to $22.20 in earnings for the year.

The more readers we gather together in our little haven of person-to-person book recommendations, the more fun we can have, so please share this post if you’re enjoying the content so far. If you haven’t signed up yet, there’s a button for that too.

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And of course, if you want a recommendation, the Biblioracle is always open for business. Just click this box right here for instructions:

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On to the recommendations!

1. Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman
2. Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker
3. Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
4. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
5. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Diane L. - Aurora, IL

On Twitter, I’ve been seeing ads for an HBO Max series about the life of Isabelle Allende, which looks interesting, and also reminds me that I should be recommending her novel, The House of Spirits, to more people. Diane is one of those people.

1. The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel
2. The Night Portrait by Laura Morelli
3. Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
4. The Trespasser by Tana French
5. Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

Lulu W. - Glencoe, IL

Clearly a bent towards suspense. I’m wondering if Lulu has dipped into classics of the form, like Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith.

1. The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
2. A Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
3. The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington
4. The Devil and Webster by Jeanne Hanff Korelitz
5. Dawn by Octavia Butler

Dan H. - Palos Heights, IL

In the Tribune column, I don’t really share tidbits like this, but true story, I went to graduate school with Adam Johnson and he had a really big pickup that came in handy when you had to move big stuff around. Jonathan Dee is a bit of an under the radar novelist, but I really dig his books, and keep looking for folks who might connect as well. For Dan, I’m recommending The Locals.