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.

 

 

Catching Up: Books of The Economist, 15 March 2014

No more apologies!  Self is going to get to the every single back issue of The Economist (Her subscription is good until next year), by hook or by crook!

Here are the books she wants to read, after perusing the Books and Arts section of 15 March 2014:

The Hard Thing About Hard Things:  Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, by Ben Horowitz:  Self chooses this book to read because part of it is a blow-by-blow of how a business failed.  The author’s advice for prospective entrepreneurs?  “If you are going to eat shit, don’t nibble.”  Mr. Horowitz took his company public, but alas his timing was poor, for the terrorist attacks on 9/11 hit just a short time later.  Mr. Horowitz goes into “wartime” mode.  Read how he does it.

The six-volume, 3,500-page autobiography by Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle (The first three have been translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett):  The Economist calls it “the most exhaustive account of a modern life ever written.” Mr. Kanusgaard turned out this magnum opus by writing 20 pages a day, “baring bits of his soul to a timetable, coping, on the one hand, with the growing fury of his family and, on the other, with the ever-present fear of failure.”  Not until almost at the end of the review is Proust even mentioned, but Proust was in the back of self’s mind from the moment she began reading it.  Like Proust, Knausgaard is obsessed “with the mechanics of memory: he claims that he does not have a good memory until he starts writing.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition, June 21-22, 2014

It is the 100th anniversary of the start of The Great War, as self was being constantly reminded when she was in the UK, a few weeks ago.

Those kinds of commemorations seem to get lost in the welter of American politics — Are we going back into Iraq?  What should/can we do about Putin?  — but the Review section of the June 21-22, 2014 Wall Street Journal is entirely devoted to articles about the Great War.  On p. C3, at the bottom right corner, is a tiny article by Amanda Foreman on “The Poets of Devastation.”

All the familiar names are there:  Rupert Brooke (gorgeous), Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon.

After a few mentions of these poets’ iconic works, Foreman delivers the meat and potatoes:

“. . .  the war poets’ greatest contribution wasn’t their rediscovery that war is truest hell, but their reinvention of poetry as a democratic mode of expression.”

She mentions the “broadening of the canon” with works like Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.

“. . .  there is no other war in history,” Foreman writes, “. . . with the exception of the Trojan War, whose poetry has so shaped a nation.”

(Self thinks the Vietnam War definitely served a similar function for American literature.  Think Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War.  Think Frances Fitzgerald’s Fire in the Lake.  Think Michael Herr’s Dispatches.  Think Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.  Think Robert Stone)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

NYTBR 12 January 2014: Self Will Not Read Any Review That Describes a Main Character as “Beleaguered”

Even though self suspended her subscription to the NYTBR, she still has a pile of back issues to get through.

Perusing the 15 January 2014 issue, self sees that NYTBR editors have not lost any of their interest in Russia or its writers:  There are reviews of a new novel by Lara Vapnyar (partly about a Soviet youth camp), as well as a translation of Michael Shishkin (famous in Russia).

In the By the Book interview, Sue Monk Kidd named the following as “books with spiritual themes”:  Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson; The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver; The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy; and Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton. Asked which books “we all should read before dying,” she responds with:  Night, by Elie Wiesel, What is God? by Jacob Needham, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Self finds herself skipping over several reviews, for several reasons, one of them being that when a reviewer describes a novel’s main character as “beleaguered,” self quickly loses interest.  Also, right now, self has no interest in reading books about “ornery old men” who drink and smoke themselves “to death” because she doesn’t consider either of these activities even remotely tempting.

She is interested in the books Sue Monk Kidd is “reading these days”:  Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter, Dear Life, by Alice Munro, Sister Mother Husband Dog, by Delia Ephron, and Edith Wharton’s Three Novels of New York:  The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, and The Age of Innocence.

Self loves discovering new women writers, and this issue of the NYTBR introduces her to Elizabeth Spencer (“Spencer’s great gift is her ability to take ordinariness and turn it inside out, to find focus in a muddle.”)

She also loves Diane Johnson, who happens to have written a memoir (Flyover Lives: A Memoir).

Having come — finally! — to the end of this post, self realizes that blogging about The New York Times Book Review is an exceedingly intricate and time-consuming activity, because it involves making a list, and a list involves — naturally — exclusion, which then causes her Catholic guilt to rear its annoying head.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

RW Excerpt of the Day From BLGF p. 463: Belgrade I

Twice it happened to me, before I married you, that people who were close friends of mine wrote inquiring how I was and what my plans were, and I had to write back to them telling that an extraordinary calamity had befallen me, something almost as extraordinary as that a wicked stepmother had sent me out into the woods in winter with instructions not to come back till I had gathered a basket of wild strawberries, and infinitely agonizing as well. On neither occasion did I receive any answer:  and when I met my friends afterwards each told me that she had been so appalled by my news that she had not been able to find adequate words of sympathy, but that I was not to think she was anything but my friend and would be till death.  And indeed both women are still my friends. It, however, only gives me a modified pleasure, it presents me with the knowledge that two people know me very well and enjoy my society but are not inspired by that to do anything to save me when I am almost dying of loneliness and misery, and that this unexhilarating relationship is likely to persist during my lifetime.  —  Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, p. 463 (“Sarajevo VIII”)

RW’s style here reminds self so much of Lydia Davis.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

IN THE SHADOW OF MAN Friday Quote of the Day (p. 72)

Some things self finds slightly disturbing:  The first time Goodall tries to get close to the chimpanzees, they avoid her.  By the time her sister joins her, 18 months later, the chimpanzees are far less skittish.  And by the time a professional photographer, Hugo van Lawick, joins Goodall to film a documentary on the chimpanzees, they “took a relatively short time to accept” him.  One (who the author named “David Graybeard”) would even “leave his group and come to see whether by any chance we had a banana.” (p. 72)

So by now, self thinks it is safe to say that all the chimpanzees in that area of Tanzania are thoroughly acclimated to interacting with humans, receiving bananas and what-not.

Is that good?  Is it really possible to “domesticate” a wild animal like a chimpanzee?  What happens when you run out of bananas?

Here are the names of the first set of chimpanzees that Goodall befriends:  David, William, and Goliath.  They start visiting camp regularly.  Goodall “soon discovered that they loved chewing on cloth and cardboard; sweaty garments, presumably because of their salty flavor, were the most sought after.”

What happens eventually is that — as self could have predicted — Goodall and van Lawick begin to form an attachment to one another (Put two young, unmarried people in the same tent in the Tanzanian rain forest, and see what happens!).  It was all the doing of Goodall’s patron, Louis B. Leakey who, not content with a) getting the National Geographic Society to fund Goodall’s research; and b) getting her accepted to Cambridge University (“Louis had managed to get me admitted to Cambridge University to work for a Ph.D. in ethology, the study of human behavior.” — p. 63), must also find her a husband.  Leakey enthusiastically wrote to a friend of Goodall’s — before Hugo van Lawick and Jane Goodall had even met — that he had “found someone just right as a husband for Jane.”

Oh!  So very Hunger Games!

Who knew the renowned archaeologist would take such an interest in Goodall’s private life!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Jane Goodall on the Wonders of Solitude in an East African Jungle

Self was unable to focus on her book all day.  Whether it was because she had been conned into thinking it would be a good use of her free time in the morning to send entries to various contests, she knows not.  Afterwards, she could have kicked herself.  Contests are so futile.  Why waste any more time on them?  She should have just focused on her writing.  Then she wouldn’t be feeling what she is feeling right now — a sense of utter futility.

Oh, well.  No use crying over spilt milk, as the saying goes.

After The Man came home, self found her senses quite alert.  So now she’s catching up on the reading she was unable to do, earlier in the day.

She’s on p. 50 of In the Shadow of Man, Jane Goodall’s account of the time she spent in Tanzania, studying chimpanzees.  Goodall is now in her late 70s, but apparently still quite active.  In the photographs that accompany this book, she looks to be very young, possibly only in her 20s.  She lived in a small village with no other white person around, and it isn’t clear to self whether she even speaks the local language.  Here’s a passage describing her solitude:

As the weeks passed, however, I accepted aloneness as a way of life and I was never lonely.  I was utterly absorbed in the work, fascinated by the chimps, too busy in the evenings to brood.  In fact, had I been alone for longer than a year I might have become a rather strange person, for inanimate objects began to develop their own identities:  I found myself saying “Good morning” to my little hut on the Peak, “Hello” to the stream where I collected my water.  And I became immensely aware of trees; just to feel the roughness of a gnarled trunk or the cold smoothness of young bark with my hand filled me with a strange knowledge of the roots under the ground and the pulsing sap within.  I longed to be able to swing through the branches like the chimps, to sleep in the treetops lulled by the rustling of the leaves in the breeze.  In particular, I loved to sit in a forest when it was raining, and to hear the pattering of the drops on the leaves and feel utterly enclosed in a dim twilight world of greens and browns and dampness.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Last Monday of December 2013, Still Reading HOW I FOUND LIVINGSTONE IN CENTRAL AFRICA

This morning, on account of that no-good cough, which has persisted in self’s lungs since a week ago (but which also gives self a very, very good excuse not to cook, there’s always a silver lining etc etc), self was able to read a few more pages of How I Found Livingstone in Central Africa, the epic account by Henry M. Stanley of his long quest searching Africa for the vanished explorer.  It is indeed a very, very riveting book.  Obivously, since Stanley’s bills were being paid for by the New York Herald, he took copious and careful notes, which he sent back to the newspaper for serialization.  For which we readers must be exceedingly grateful.

In addition to Stanley’s book, however, self is also re-reading (for maybe the 10th time) the second book of The Hunger Games Trilogy, Catching Fire.  Also, she has located on tumbler approximately 4,200 sites that ship “Delly Cartwright.”  Who is Delly Cartwright, one may well ask?  She is a minor character in Mockingjay, the third book of The Hunger Games Trilogy.  She appears in about five pages.  Anyhoo, it is both thrilling and daunting to see how many permutations of Delly Cartwright there are on Tumbler:  everywhere from animé versions to photos of the following young (blonde) actresses:  Anna Sophie Robb, Elle Fanning, Chloe Moretz, and so forth.

But, back to the Stanley book.  Here’s a quote, from pp. 148 – 149:

Listen, children of Unyamwezi!  The journey is for tomorrow!  The road is crooked and bad, bad!  The jungle is there, and many Wagogo lie hidden within it!  Wagogo spear the pagazis, and cut the throats of those who carry mutumba (bales) and ushanga (beads)!  The Wagogo have been to our camp, they have seen your bales; to-night they seek the jungle:  tomorrow watch well, O Wanyamwezi!  Keep close together, lag not behind!  Kirangozis walk slow, that the weak, the sick, and the young may keep up with the strong!  Take two rests on the journey!  These are the words of the Bana (master).

There is, you know, such a Biblical rhythm to this speech.  It goes on for quite a bit longer, but self must stop here so that she can focus on getting well.

Stay tuned.

The NYTBR, 16 June 2013

Congratulations to the following writers/contributors, who made this issue of the NYTBR worth reading (Although self is still canceling her subscription):

Elaine Blair * Jeannette Walls *  Donovan Hohn * Justin Cronin *

Elaine Blair’s review of What Do Women Want?  Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, by Daniel Bergner was the title page review.  Blair’s review made self want to read Bergner’s previous book, The Other Side of Desire.  See, it is so interesting that a man is responsible for doing all this research into female desire.  Self fully expected that a woman scientist would produce the first comprehensive look at this fascinating topic.  But then, why can’t it be a man?  Men, after all, are just as affected by feminine desire as women are!  Onward.

The “By the Book” interview is a good one.  It’s with memoirist Jeannette Walls (There was one time the “By the Book” interviewee was Amanda Knox, she who was jailed in Italy for several years after being convicted of the murder of her roommate.  What on earth the NYTBR thought they were doing when they interviewed Amanda Knox about her favorite books is still a profound mystery to self)

Jeannette Walls’ favorite book “of all time” is The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene.

Recently, she was impressed by A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout, a memoir about Lindhout’s time spent “kidnapped in Somalia.”  In addition, Walls recommends the following memoirs:  In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, by Neil White; The Memory Palace, by Mira Bartok; Denial, by Jessica Stern; A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah; An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Redfield Jamison; Chanel Bonfire, by Wendy Lawless; The Center Cannot Hold, by Elyn Saks; After Visiting Friends, by Michael Haimey; The Kiss, by Kathryn Harrison (Self has read this one; it’s about Harrison’s affair with her father); My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor; Couldn’t Keep It to Myself:  Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution, edited by Wally Lamb.

The book that “had the greatest impact on” Walls when she was growing up was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Donovan Hohn reviewed The Riddle of the Labyrinth:  The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, by Margalit Fox.  It is wonderful to read that the “gentleman archaeologist who led the excavation at Knossos” on the island of Crete brought along for sustenance “two dozen tins of ox tongue, 12 plum puddings and a Union Jack.”  Hohn also brings up the term “hash marks” which then leads self to wonder how far we have come, from markings on an ancient tomb in Crete to Twitter.

Finally, there is Justin Cronin, who reviews “the world’s first 9/11 werewolf book,” Red Moon, by Benjamin Percy.  Here we are in a world where “lycans” (werewolves, for you non-initiates or total ignoramuses) are confined to a reservation on a “discouraging patch of permafrost in northern Scandinavia, currently under American military occupation to safeguard its valuable training resources.”  A majority of Americans goes about their business peaceably under “mandated medication — a mind-dulling silver-infused concoction wittily named Volpexx.” Sold!  How soon can self get her hands on this book?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

On This Day (Third Monday of December 2013)

It is a beautiful day.  The sun is shining.  Self spent the morning reading (Which makes this a Triple-Beautiful Day)

About mid-morning, she checked in to the blog and discovered that her post about How I Found Livingstone in Central Africa, by Henry M. Stanley, the book she is currently reading, was getting a lot of views.  Her friend Kyi re-tweeted it, etc

So self decided to see if she could pinpoint the exact date on which Henry M. Stanley arrived in Tanzania, found an old man who he thought must be Livingstone, and uttered the line, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

She got side-tracked (what else is new) by stumbling across a site called Finding Dulcinea, Librarian of the Internet.  Specifically, the feature called On This Day in History.

Today, Dec. 16, was the birthday of Dr. Margaret Mead, Cultural Anthropologist, who wrote Coming of Age in Samoa.

Today was also the day when “American Patriots” carried out the Boston Tea Party.

The sidebar to the piece on Margaret Mead has a list of women who were considered “Late Bloomers” (which is, BTW, the only time self has heard Mead referred to in this way).  And here’s the list (Isn’t it nice to know there is still a chance for us, female baby-boomers, to leave our marks?):

  • Helen Gurley Brown, editor of Cosmopolitan women’s magazine
  • Corazon Aquino, first female president of the Philippines
  • Georgia O’Keefe, painter
  • Helen Frankenthaler, abstract expressionist painter
  • Katharine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post
  • Mary Higgins Clark, suspense novelist
  • Julia Child, revolutionary cookbook author and TV host

And self never did get to find out what day it was when Stanley found Livingstone.  But she has every intention of finishing Stanley’s book, so this is something she can share with dear blog readers, eventually.

Stay tuned.

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