Looking Back: Books of January (2010)

First, J. D. Salinger has died.  Coming clean: Self never read Catcher in the Rye.  But of course, the book is/was everywhere, mentioned in every single anthology of American literature self has ever perused or taught.

Then, she heard that Elizabeth Edwards is finally divorcing John Edwards.  This news made self sad, because even though she didn’t like JE, she knew Elizabeth loved him.

Self lived in Tacitus for fully a third of January.  But she closed the book at last a few days ago (of course in the wee hours of the morning!). The book didn’t so much end as stop –  self didn’t actually get to see the end of the reign of Nero. Too bad, as she was fervently hoping he would meet an end as satisfyingly cruel as the ones he imposed on his helpless Roman subjects. But the rest of Tacitus’ manuscript is lost. This is a mystery some novelist (preferably on the level of Iain Pears) should be able to weave into a fascinating novel!

Then she zipped through Ben Fountain’s Brief Encounters with Che Guevarra, and liked his first story the best (about a young American who is captured by some revolutionary guerrillas).  Interestingly enough, there were a few stories set in Haiti (stories far removed from Edwidge Danticat’s) and even a story set in today’s Burma.  Self found the stories’ greatest value to be in offering her a chance to experience these countries through the eyes of Americans (and what a strange experience that sometimes was).

Then self turned to Lynne Cox’s Grayson, and she was entranced, though the book was too short, for it took self barely a day to read (It was only 140 pages).

And now self has begun a big whopper of a book, Marilyn French’s In the Name of Friendship.  The book is about four women who range in age from 30 to 76.  All lead interesting, productive lives, and all met in the Berkshires.  Since none of these women seem to have financial concerns on their minds, they are able to live fully in their intellects.  Or at least, that is what it seems like to self, who’s read only to p. 27.

Self is always fascinated with books that depict how artists live.  Especially, artists who seem under no financial constraints.  So, here’s a passage about one of the women, an artist, who is married to another artist, Tim.  While the woman works in her studio, she thinks of her husband:

Funny, Tim hadn’t come in today.  Most days he came into the house for something to eat or to replenish his coffee jug . . .  He would go out to his studio early, around ten, with his thermos of coffee and some fruit.  He usually came back around two for lunch, but maybe today he’d taken his lunch out with him.  He had a little fridge out there.  Most days he worked until afternoon, then drove into town, did errands at the hardware store or the post office or just meandered around, looking at junk in antique shops, picking things up and laying them down again.  Some days he didn’t paint at all, but drove down to the city to see his dealer or have drinks with a friend.  He was self-sufficient.

So that’s how a self-supporting artist lives! Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Early Mel Gibson: “The Road Warrior”, “The Year of Living Dangerously”

It is another beautiful day.  Last night, for no good reason, self found herself watching two early Mel Gibson movies:  “The Road Warrior” and “The Year of Living Dangerously.”

Mel was sooo handsome.  Though of late she has heard him described as a “Hollywood pariah,” she finds it comforting that he has never stooped to anything like plastic surgery (unlike Dennis Quaid and Steve Martin, both of whom have what self refers to as “cat-eye-syndrome”).

Anyhoo, “The Road Warrior” put her in mind of “The Book of Eli,” which led her to look up the latter’s Rotten Tomatoes rating.  40!! (As of today, moved up somewhat, to 47%) Shocking!!  What is up with that??

Self watched most of “The Road Warrior” and saw definite parallels between the Read the rest of this entry »

Fast Reads, Writers, Other Sundry Thoughts

This evening, self was at Stanford.  She had to ask a rather tweedy professorial type where the Humanities Center was, and he didn’t know.  Turned out, he was standing right in front of it.

Maxine Hong Kingston, what a wonder you are.  65, but look 25.  Your mother lived to be 103 (Self may be using the past tense rather loosely; she thinks in all probability Kingston’s mother is still with us), San Francisco sent a census taker to your mother’s house to verify her age (as they do for all people who reach the age of 100!).  If your mother’s age is any indication, you said, you have at least 30 more years of life left in you.   As your rate of production seems to be “about one book a decade,” that means you can reasonably expect to write about three more books.  AND, you read for an hour and a half without visibly tiring.  How do you do that?  You even sang the parts of your manuscript that called for song.  (In contrast, self reads for half an hour and starts to slur her words.)

After the reading, self couldn’t help turning to the young woman seated next to her and saying, “She makes me feel so  –  lazy.”

While Kingston was reading, a young woman sat next to her and translated in sign language.  Self was fascinated by this young woman, whose face seemed to mimic every expression on Kingston’s face.  And, do you know why self thinks Anna Kendrick’s performance in Up in the Air was the best thing about that movie?  Because she projected that private school sense of entitlement so well.  And the woman doing sign language for Kingston was the spitting image of Anna Kendrick.  In fact, there were Anna Kendricks scattered all over the audience.  That’s how she knows Kendrick nailed it.

Meanwhile, self is reading Ben Fountain’s collection, Brief Encounters With Che Guevarra.  She’s reading really fast (compared to when she was reading Tacitus).  After only two days, she’s already arrived at the final story.  It’s the title story, so she’s expecting a knockout.

She also heard a little bit of Obama’s speech (in the car, on the way to the Kingston reading).  The parts she listened to were very good.  Especially the parts about how he has faith that the country will pull through.  And about how the 30 billion dollars that bailed out the banks (and which the banks will be required to give back), will be used to facilitate loans to small businesses.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

2nd Most Gorgeous Day of 2010

Self simply cannot describe her emotions today:  it is so overwhelming, the sight of actual sun.  Tonight is the Maxine Hong Kingston reading at Stanford.  Ah, another trip down memory lane.  Looking up the reading venue on the Stanford map, she sees that it is quite close to something called the “New Guinea Garden.” Also, it is a short walk from White Plaza.  Perhaps self will head over a little early so she can drop by the Stanford Bookstore.

The magnolia tree she planted in her backyard a few weeks ago is leaning very far to the side, but hubby claims that it “looks OK,” self suspects because he is reluctant to do his manly duty and prop it up with a stick or something.  Come to think of it, he’s been making himself extremely scarce in the garden of late, there must be all manner of exciting things going on in the sports world:  NFL playoffs, and so forth and so on.  Self still can’t believe Roddick flamed out of the Australian Open.  He should have won that game, that game against Cilic.

Anyhoo, at least self is probably having a better day than Roddick.  She was driving home from her morning stint at the Writing Center when she saw that –  Hallelujah! –  the building they are erecting on the site of the old Kentucky Fried Chicken place on El Camino near Whipple is:  another KFC!  Considering that KFC is self’s faaavorite fastfood, this discovery made self go all happy happy joy joy, happy happy joy joy.

Let’s see, in honor of this gorgeous day, self treated herself to a solitary lunch at Higuma.  And  –  goodness gracious! –  what has happened to that place since she was last there, over a year ago?  It was so crowded, she was lucky to find a seat!  Most of the tables were occupied by groups of office people, predominantly men.  The table directly in front of self were all men, and they talked about their wives in fondly semi-derogatory terms.  Self glanced studiously at her New York Times Book Review.

Then, in the mail today, a copy of Michelle Cruz Skinner’s new collection, from Bamboo Ridge Press.  Self contributed a blurb:  she sees now that Zack did, too, as well as one of her favorite short story writers, Ron Carlson.  Here’s what Ron Carlson had to say about Michelle’s collection, In the Company of Strangers (very nice title, that!):

Michelle Cruz Skinner shows us again that exile sometimes captures the body and sometimes the heart; she writes closely about love and life in a family, and we see that distance, longing, and desire all can contribute to the things misplaced in translation.

Very nice.  And now self becomes extremely graceful to the people who blurbed her books:  Zack, David Henry Hwang (though he probably doesn’t remember, it was so long ago), fellow Stanford classmate Ehud Havazelet (Ehud remembers!) and Jessica, the wondrous Jessica.

And now self begins to wonder what might have happened to the short story she submitted to Bamboo Ridge, almost a year ago?  Has it been lost?  Rejected without her knowledge?  Who knows?  It is embarrassing to have to follow up.  Never mind!  The day is simply too gorgeous to dwell on possible rejections.

(Did anyone see “Caprica” last night?  Woo-hoo, the birth of AI!  Not to mention Eric Stoltz.  How very, very fab.)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Tiger and Elin: The Play, Scene I

Bear with self, dear blog readers. The following is not a factual account, merely a fanciful re-imagining of what might have led to Tiger jumping into his SUV barefoot and skedaddling away from his house, the night he hit the fire hydrant, caused $30,000 worth of damage and got charged with a measly two points on his driver’s license. (What follows is rather rough, self still fiddling with the dialogue.)

Tiger: Honey, Read the rest of this entry »

Early Announcement: USF Panel of Emerging Asian American Women Writers

The University of San Francisco Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program has put together a very exciting panel of Emerging Asian American Women Writers as part of their Spring 2010 Readings.  The writers are:

  • Anita Amirrezvani, author of the novel The Blood of Flowers
  • Kathryn Ma, author of the collection All That Work and Still No Boys, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award
  • Barbara Jane Reyes, winner of the Academy of American Poets’ James Laughlin Award for her second collection, Poeta en San Francisco
  • Shawna Yang Ryan, author of the novel Water Ghosts

Panel will Read the rest of this entry »

“The Book of Eli” : Denzel Kicks Major Butt

Self is always in a good mood when she returns home from watching a deeply satisfying action movie.  Which “The Book of Eli” definitely is.

(Moreover, she got to watch yet another preview of “Clash of the Titans.” Self really cannot get enough of hearing Liam Neeson say that classic line:  “Release the Kracken!”  To put the absolute icing on her cake, self also discovered that Jude Law and Forest Whitaker are together in a sci-fi action movie called “Repo Men.”)

But, back to the movie at hand.

“Mad Max” meets “The Road Warrior” meets “The Road” (or what the movie adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel should have been, anyway) = “The Book of Eli”

Mila Kunis:  gorgeous and spunky and kicks ass (Puh-lease try to lose the Valley Girl accent, though.  Puh-lease)

Denzel Washington:  still gorgeous and spunky to the nth power and wicked with a machete and also sounds believable quoting from the King James version of the Bible.  All in all, an action hero for the ages.

British actors in bit roles (mostly bad guys) also kick butt, where would Hollywood movies be without Brit actors to lend their acting talents to all the bad-guy parts in movies?  Self could have sworn that was Michael Gambon in one scene, playing one-half of a cannibal couple holed up in an old house in the middle of nowhere and listening to “You Can Ring My Bell” on a gramophone.  Also, Ray Stevenson (who self last saw in BBC series “Rome,” which –  how uncanny that self is now reading Tacitus’ The Annals of Imperial Rome, which keeps reminding her of that mini-series, and now she sees the guy who played Titus Pullo –  one of the major characters in “Rome” –  in “The Book of Eli”!  Is that synchronicity or what ???)

There is also a very amusing character called the Engineer, and he has a mechanical contraption on his head and has some of the best dialogue of the movie (especially in a scene where he asks Denzel if he has any chapstick and Denzel says “No, but I do have cat oil.  It’s fresh!  Great for the lips!”), and this role is played by Tom Waits.  Yup, the singer Tom Waits.

Also:  Holy-Cow-is-that-Jennifer-Beals-playing-blind-prisoner/Mom-of-Mila-Kunis and is that brilliant casting or what?

Score kicks butt.

Cinematography kicks butt.

Self isn’t sure if this is supposed to be an anthem for God-fearing Christians everywhere, but somehow that got lost in all the scenes where Denzel finishes off all the bad guys with one flick of his machete.

Why couldn’t the music of “Avatar” have been like this?  Talk about music setting the mood!

Three-and-a-half out of four stars.

Oh My Goodness, Can That Really Be — ?

It is!  It’s sun!

Sun sun sun!

Self dashes to the phone and calls the groomer.  She’s had enough of the stinky li’l crits, the doggy cushions giving off the unmistakable odor of wet fur.

And, for once, self’s sense of timing seems to have functioned flawlessly, for she chose today to meet a cousin for lunch at Little India on Main Street in downtown Redwood City (where an All-You-Can-Eat buffet that includes soup, salad, rice, chicken tikka masala, curried ground lamb, eggplant with lentils, and many many more ravishing and mouth-watering items costs only $9.95 per person).  And would you believe, the rain held off until self and cousin had reached home?  It started to pelt down just as self had literally begun to put one foot on the front porch.

Rain is a good omen.  That is what people say, at least, when it rains during a wedding.  And all the newscasts say how much California needed this rain.  Every year, self has to listen to reports of how low the water reservoirs are getting.  But now, apparently, they are already three-quarters full.

Hallelujah!  Of course, after that, the odor of wet dog that filled self’s nostrils as she sat in the living room was quite revolting.  Hence the precipitous call to the groomer.

Tomorrow is the weekend.  As per usual, self and hubby will see a movie, probably “The Book of Eli.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Latest Book Deals (Courtesy of Publisher’s Weekly)

Latest e-letter from Publishers Weekly has announcement of the following deals:

Fiction Debuts

  • Sam Hawken’s North Pass, “about the femicides in Ciudad Juarez where over 400 Mexican women have been murdered or gone missing since 1993,” to Serpent’s Tail
  • Laura Spinella’s Beautiful Disaster, a novel “in which a sheltered college girl’s life is forever altered by the motorcycle-riding stranger who blows into town followed by a trail of secrets,” to Berkley

Horror

  • Diana Rowland’s Secret of the Demon, part of a series that began with Mark of the Demon, “plus three books in a new urban fantasy series about a young woman who is turned into a zombie and takes a job as a morgue technician for easy access to brains,” to Daw

Thriller

  • Tasha Alexander’s next two novels, “featuring Lady Emily Hargreave and her husband Colin, whose adventures take them to glamorous and exotic locales in the service of Queen Victoria’s government,” to Minotaur
  • A novel by Allison Leotta, “sex crime prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, DC,” about “a 26-year-old lawyer determined to bring justice to men who brutalize the women they love,” to Touchstone Fireside

Historical Fiction

Naturally, there were other deal announcements, such as the one for Steve Martin’s new novel Woman One, about “the glamor and subterfuge of the fine art world,” but it’s not as if people like Steve Martin needed more publicity, my God.

Zeitgeist, January 2010 (An Extremely Shallow Post)

A woman in her 70s was pulled alive from the rubble of the Haitian capital yesterday. Anderson Cooper was on hand, and interviewed two doctors who self happens to think are extremely eyecandy-licious: Dr. Sanjay Gupta and a blond hunky Read the rest of this entry »

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