First NYTBR Post in Forever: 15 December 2013

Do not look a gift horse in the mouth.  It’s been nearly a year since this issue came into self’s hands. She has since suspended her New York Times Book Review subscription (in case dear blog readers were wondering. It was just too depressing seeing the book review in her mailbox every week, and not being able to read for months and months and months.)

It just so happens that the By the Book interview is with Michael Connelly, and he has many, many interesting book recommendations, which include the following:

  • Act of War:  Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo, by Jack Cheevers
  • The Public Burning, by Robert Coover
  • The Little Sister, by Raymond Chandler

This issue also has the list of Ten Best Books of 2013, and since self is well aware that time is a river, and self is disappearing quick, she has to be choosy about which of the Ten she really really wants to read, and it is these:

In Fiction

  • Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner
  • Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
  • Tenth of December: Stories, by George Saunders

In Nonfiction

  • Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sheri Fink
  • Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala

One of the highlights of this issue is a review (by Anthony Doerr) of Brown Dog: Novellas, by Jim Harrison.  Self doesn’t know why exactly but she’s loved Jim Harrison for a long long time. His books are violent, they are pungent, they are precise, and they are very, very funny.

And here’s a round-up of a burgeoning sub-genre, the cookbook as memoir:

  • Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland, by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau
  • Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, by Abigail Carroll
  • Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers and Food, by Peggy Wolff

And here’s a sub of a sub-genre, the fate of elephants in America:

  • Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked-Tailed Elephant, P. T. Barnum, and the American Wizard Thomas Edison, by Michael Daly
  • Behemoth:  The History of the Elephant in America, by Ronald B. Tobias

And one about elephants in Africa:

  • Silent Thunder, by Katy Payne

Finally, much thanks to Rivka Galchen and Pankaj Mishra for recommending (in the end-paper, Bookends) two books by authors self hasn’t yet read:

  • My Struggle, by Norwegian writer Ove Knausgaard
  • Zibaldone, by Giacomo Leopardi

Whew! Finally self has arrived at the end of a monster post. Stay tuned.

 

 

Foolish Things

  • As a result of dropping by the Robert Frank exhibit at the Cantor Art Center on the Stanford Campus yesterday, self got it into her head that she would very much like to own a Leica.
  • After leaving the Robert Frank exhibit, self fully intended to go to Aquarius in Palo Alto and watch Rory Kennedy’s “Last Days in Vietnam.” But she did not.  Instead, after filling up with gas, she went home.  And today — alas! — that film is no longer showing.
  • Self hasn’t looked at her story “The Peacock.”  Not once.  Not since it was workshopped at Squaw. She has no idea what to do with that story. It just sits there, like a lump on a log. Taking up space in her computer. In her store of unfulfilled projects. She wanted it to be a memoir about her and Dear Departed Sister-in-Law Ying. She wanted it to be desperate and lonely, the voice of a soul lost in the Cambodian wilderness after failing to connect with the splendor that is Angkor Wat (Dear blog readers, do you know that there’s a RAFFLES HOTEL IN SIEM REAP???)
  • Self has wanted to replace the desert of the front lawn with trees — perhaps olive trees — to screen her house from the busy street. But she’s remained staring at that patch of bare, weed-choked dirt for 10 years. It sounds really lame to keep bringing up the drought.

Ugh, ugh, girl. Why can’t you just do? Why must you always be re-hashing the old, or rehearsing for the future? To what end?

How quickly you forget: just yesterday, you got word from Witness that a piece you sent them eight months ago is going to be in their Translation issue.

As for somehow missing “Last Days in Vietnam,” “Gone, Girl” is showing in the Redwood City Century 20 and she heard from a friend who read the book that it’s actually pretty good. Self is not a Ben Affleck fan — seems he is pretty much a control freak with his wife, and no doubt he took care to present himself in the best possible light in this new role — but what the heck? Maybe she just wasn’t in the mood for another hard-hitting documentary yesterday, maybe she should just try and ignite a new respect for Ben Affleck? She did like “Argo” a lot. He’s not a bad director.

And if she’d managed to watch “Last Days in Vietnam” yesterday, she would have missed seeing the San Francisco Giants’ nail-biting victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. She would have missed seeing the way the two teams went head to head all the way to the 9th inning. She would have missed that sweet, game-ending homer.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The 48 Laws of Power, pp. 12 – 15

  1. A man spared the guillotine is a grateful man indeed, and will go to the ends of the earth for the man who has pardoned him.
  2. Since honesty rarely strengthens friendship, you may never know how a friend truly feels.
  3. There is almost a touch of condescencion in the act of hiring friends that secretly afflicts them. The injury will come out slowly: A little more honesty, flashes of resentment and envy here and there, and before you know it your friendship fades. The more favors and gifts you supply to revive the friendship, the less gratitude you receive.
  4. Ingratitude has a long and deep history. It has demonstrated its powers for so many centuries, that it is truly amazing that people continue to underestimate them.
  5. The problem with using or hiring friends is that it will inevitably limit your power. The friend is rarely the one who is most able to help you; and in the end, skill and competence are far more important than friendly feelings . . . keep friends for friendship, but work with the skilled and competent.
  6. A person who has something to prove will move mountains for you.
  7. Without enemies around us, we grow lazy. An enemy at our heels sharpens our wits . . .
  8. Never let the presence of enemies upset or depress you — you are far better off with a declared opponent or two than not knowing where your real enemies lie.
  9. A man of power . . .  often has dirty work that has to be done, but for the sake of appearances it is generally preferable to have other people do it for him; friends often do this best, since their affection for him makes them willing to take chances.

Haruki Murakami Food Hit List

Two days ago self had to return Alan Furst’s Dark Star to the local library. She was 3/4 of the way through, and two weeks overdue, and someone had put a hold on it, boo.

And self realized it was really a very good book.  Probably the best spy story about pre-World War II she’s ever read.

But she had to return the book. And she felt it would be disrespectful to rush through the last 50 or so pages. Or to take a peek at the end. So she simply returned it to the library, unfinished.

So, onward!

She’s reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Strangely, though this book is static where Furst’s was anything but, she feels much more tension in Murakami’s book.

(She’s also been reading Catherine Dunne’s The Things We Know Now. And re-reading Hunger Games: Catching Fire. And she’s wondering about that new Liam Neeson movie.)

Well, it’s been a long time since she’s read Murakami.  There was a year of her life when it seemed she read nothing but.

So it’s interesting that Murakami appeals to her once again.

And this time, she has a sure-fire way to make sure she remembers what she reads.  She’ll list down every single food Murakami mentions, and throw in page #s.

There are much worse games to play. Thank you, Katniss.

  • p. 1:  “boiling a potful of spaghetti”
  • bottom of p. 2: “a glass of water”
  • bottom of p. 9: the narrator’s wife is “picking out fish bones” from her dinner plate — so obviously they must have had fish for dinner.
  • p. 10: The narrator rips open “a plastic pack of tofu.”
  • p. 14: The narrator removes “a lemon drop” from his pocket and starts sucking on it. It fills his mouth with “sticky sweetness.”
  • p. 17: A girl about fifteen or sixteen offers the narrator “a cold drink”: beer
  • p. 18: The narrator has somehow managed to fill his mouth with another lemon drop, even though earlier he had spit the original lemon drop onto the ground, and in between then and p. 18, there’s been nary a mention of his retrieving another one from his pocket. But all is forgiven when the girl offers the narrator a Coke.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Books of The Economist, 22 February 2014 (Can Self Be Any More Behind in Reading

First, a novel. There is usually only one fiction review in each issue of The Economist. This one is in a box — the fact that it is means it must be special.

The Undertaking, by Audrey Magee (Atlantic Books) :

  • The best elements of this novel are intrusions of war into the domestic sphere.
  • A German soldier named Peter Ferber enlists the service of a marriage bureau and weds a girl he has never met in order to get home leave.

Next, a book about climate change:

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert (Henry Holt) :

  • As the climate warms, catastrophe looms. Yet it is oddly pleasurable to read Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, which offers a ramble through mass extinctions, present and past.  Five such episodes in the past have 450 million years have wiped out plant and animal life on huge scales.

Finally, a biography of an American poet whose name seems to be popping up everywhere these days:

E. E. Cummings:  A Life, by Susan Cheever (Pantheon)

  • It was only in New York that he felt free. Surrounded by writers such as Marianne Moore and Edmund Wilson, and photographers such as Walker Evans, he spent over 40 years in Greenwich Village, living in the same apartment.
  • He wrote nearly 3,000 poems, two novels and four plays, as well as painting portraits.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Today, in the Huntington Library

The moment you step into the Huntington Gardens, you are surrounded by the heady scent of roses. The path from the parking lot to the visitors entrance is lined with rose bushes.

Here is a list of things self saw in The Huntington Library (San Marino, CA) today:

  • The Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, opened to the monk’s tale, with eight red wax seals lining the bottom of the page
  • An early edition of one of Shakespeare’s Folios.  On the wall, directly above it, a quote which ended with “Doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love.”
  • A copy of Missions in the New World by Francesco Severio Clavigero, published in Venice, 1789
  • the “elephant edition” of John James Audubon’s Birds of America (This book was almost as tall as herself; she’s not kidding)
  • Henry David Thoreau’s journal, which became the basis for Walden. The quote above it:  “I wished to live deliberately.”
  • Jack London’s manuscript for White Fang, 1905. The quote above it:  “He was a silent fury.”

Can self tell you how moved she was to see handwritten letters by Charles Dickens, displayed in the same room as Thoreau’s journal and Jack London’s handwritten manuscripts? She imagines the writers’ hands moving across the paper in methodical fashion.  Knowing that these keepsakes survived makes her feel very worship-ful. Also, the fact that she’s seeing them on 9/11, and most of the paper that got blown about that day (retrieved from as far away as Long Island — how they made it across the water is a mystery) were office memos, scrawled-over office calendars, graphs, worksheets — ordinary, human things.

Paper is fragile; thoughts aren’t.

Where is she going with this?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

Self’s Belated Discovery of Alan Furst

She hasn’t even finished reading Dark Star, but oh it is so delicious, to lose oneself in that carefully constructed world.

So here she goes, trolling the net for articles and interviews.

This article in New York Magazine mentions: Dark Star, The World at Night and The Polish Officer.

She doesn’t think she’s been this gaga over an American writer since —  Martin Cruz Smith? When she read Gorky Park.

Here’s an interview with Furst in a site called Crime Time.

And now, self must continue reading.

Stay tuned.

DARK STAR, by Alan Furst

Book Jacket, Inside Flap:

1937. Paris. Moscow. Berlin. Prague.

Oooh, self likes!

The next book on self’s reading list after she finishes this one (Hopefully, she will finish this one. Her brain is a little limp right now. She had to return Richard Price’s Lush Life to the Redwood City Library after trying and failing to get past p. 75, for three months) is Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, which she hopes isn’t as depressing as Norwegian Wood. Then she’ll tackle a Donna Leon Inspector Brunetti mystery (which are all set in Venice, and why she didn’t manage to read one last year before she was actually in Venice is yet another mystery), then Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone (Mr. Fallada doesn’t have to rub it in: Self knows she will die alone. She’s still alive, but it feels as if she’s alone. Alone in her head, that is. Then self starts wondering where her final resting place will be. Not Manila, as it’s simply too polluted. Not Bacolod Memorial Park, because she doesn’t have a plot there. The plots must be expensive. Not Redwood City, her current abode, because no one will visit. She’ll be in a vase, The Man will mis-lay the vase, and then someone will buy their house from son and in cleaning out the garage, will discover the vase, and her ashes will be tossed out, so the vase can be used for something else. Niiiiice!)

Mr. Furst — HALLELUJAH — is a very good writer. Even though Dark Star is labeled a thriller, there is tons of atmosphere. There are urine-soaked allies, and ships moving through storms, and indifferent captains, and all that Bourne-type stuff.

In one scene, our hero (a man named Szara, who so far hasn’t shown any tendencies towards criminality, but whose backstory at this point in time — p. 12 — is still opaque) encounters a mysterious woman. It is always nice to have the option to hang out with mysterious (and also good-looking) women while waiting in some European city to receive one’s next assignment. This is what Tom Cruise does all the time in those Mission Impossible movies:

Szara liked women and they knew it.  All he wanted to do, as the tension left him, was chatter, maybe make her laugh. They were just people, a man and a woman, but she wasn’t buying.  Whatever this was, he thought, it was not an arrest. Very well, then a continuation of the business he did with the NKVD from time to time.  Every journalist, every citizen outside the Soviet Union, had to do that.

The NKVD must be something like the Soviet KGB. Perhaps a precursor?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Sharing the Love: Last Sunday of August (2014)

Today, while self was poking around in her closet, she came upon a binder where she lists all the literary magazines she’s submitted to, organized per year.

She’s decided to share the 2014 list right here, right now. Because it is so onerous keeping that information to herself.

It’s probably as amazing to self as it is to her readers that there are so many. In truth, in the last few years, she has become rather manic about submissions. Looking back at the long trajectory of her writing life, there were many years when she’d send out to just a handful of magazines. She must be making up for lost time.

And, let’s not kid ourselves, the internet has made a huge difference. Now, it’s so easy to just press a button that says “Submit.” Whereas when she first started sending stuff out, every piece had to be printed out, photocopied, slapped into an envelope, then metered at a post office. Frankly, who had the time?

    • Agni
    • Alaska Quarterly Review (Having serious financial problems, may close)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Listmania: Six Recently Bookmarked/ 12 Existing Tags

    *     *     *     *

    Naomi Watts *  Oliver Stone * Owen Wilson * Patrick Leigh Fermor * Paul Theroux * Peter Sarsgaard * Pico Iyer * Rebecca West * Ruth Rendell * Sarah Waters * Siquijor * Tom Hiddleston

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