Women’s Review of Books, vol. 51 No. 1 (January/February 2014)

Self really loves the Women’s Review of Books.  She devours each issue passionately.

The latest one to arrive in her mailbox is vol. 51 No. 1.

Here are a sampling of the books reviewed:

  • Book of Ages:  The Life and Chronicles of Jane Franklin, by Jill Lepore:  Reviewer Martha Saxton describes it as “original, affectionate, and smart.”
  • The Riddle of the Labyrinth:  The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, by Margalit Fox, a book “about the writing on tablets unearthed in Knossos, Crete, in the first years of the twentieth century and about the crucial contribution of Alice Elizabeth Kober, a classics professor at Brooklyn College, to their eventual decipherment decades later.”  The review is by Susanna J. Sturgis.
  • The review by Mako Yoshikawa of two new collections of linked stories: Horse People, by Cary Holladay and The News From Spain:  Variations on a Love Story, by Joan Wickersham.  Yoshikawa describes Horse People as “beautiful” and “engrossing,” and calls The News from Spain “wise and wonderful.”
  • The Girl Who Loved Camellias:  The Life and Legend of Marie Duplessis, by Julie Kavanagh, is about the life of “the Parisian courtesan” who fled “poverty, abuse, and the depredations of old men” and whose genius lay in always presenting “the beautiful appearance, the polished surface, the opera box, the pink champagne, the fine sensibilities and insatiable appetites.” The review is by Carole DeSanti.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

2013 Top Ten Books of the San Francisco Chronicle

Of the five fiction, the one by Donna Tartt leaves self cold.  Self was excited about Rachel Kushner’s until she discovered it was set in the “heady 1970s.”  Self has lived through the 1970s, and the word “heady” really does not apply.  Here are the three self wants to read:

  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra (Hogarth):  The SF Chronicle calls it “an astounding debut novel . . .  told with great empathy . . . “
  • The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride (Riverhead):  Self has read two previous books by this author, and liked them both.  The SF Chronicle says:  “It might seem like an absurd set-up — a satirical yarn about a cross-dressing freed slave boy fighting alongside John Brown — but McBride pulls it off in this hoot of a novel . . . “
  • Tenth of December:  Stories, by George Saunders (Random House):  Ever read CivilWarLand in Bad Decline?  Self thought that book was a game-changer.  In one stroke, changed the landscape of the contemporary American short story, which until then had been Raymond Carver/Lydia Davis.  She will read anything by George Saunders.  Anything.

Of the Nonfiction, self skips over the story of The Black Russian, as she doesn’t find nonfiction about Russia as compelling as fiction about Russia, who knows why.  And though Jesmyn Ward’s book (self heard) is a powerhouse, she wants to delve into something other than “poverty and violence.”  And the third book she skips, by Eric Schlosser, is about nuclear accidents.  And since there’s not much self can think of to stop nuclear accidents (other than banning nuclear power), she thinks reading Schlosser’s book might just be an exercise in frustration.

Here are the two nonfiction self would like to read:

  • Book of Ages:  The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, by Jill Lepore (Knopf):  Because Ben Franklin had a sister.  And it’s high time people found out.
  • Thank You For Your Service, by David Finkel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux):  “Much has been written about the lingering effects of war on American soldiers who have come home, but Finkel’s narrative of time spent with these men and their families has a singular emotional depth.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Grand: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

Self chose these three photos to interpret this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge:  Grand.  They are all Grand (i.e. Awe-inspiring), but for very different reasons.  The first was taken with her cellphone, which perhaps accounts for it’s odd shape.

Apple Store, University Avenue, Downtown Palo Alto, the Sunday After Steve Jobs Passed Away

Apple Store, University Avenue, Downtown Palo Alto, the Sunday After Steve Jobs Passed Away

Kanlaon, Negros Occidental

Kanlaon Volcano, in Dear Departed Dad’s home province of Negros Occidental

Lydia Davis signed 2 copies of her COLLECTED STORIES: one for self, the other for Niece G

Lydia Davis signed 2 copies of her COLLECTED STORIES: one for self, the other for Niece G

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Awesome Book Titles: The NYTBR of 15 September 2013

The Pile of Stuff is humongous!  Actually humongous!

There are issues of The New York Times Book Review dating as far back as September!

But self cannot bring herself to end her subscription, which she’s kept up for over a decade.

Anyhoo, she is as usual very short on time, so she does a quick browse-through of aforementioned issue of the NYTBR, and is so excited to discover (from reading the “By the Book” interview with Richard Dawkins) that he recommends a book called Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, because self absolutely needs to have guidance in this area.  And Dawkins recommends another book that self thinks would really help her in her social interactions:  Avoid Boring People, by the eminent Nobel-Prizewinning molecular biologist James D. Watson.

Dawkins also mentions that he has not interest in reading Pride and Prejudice because “I can’t get excited about who is going to marry whom, and how rich they are.”  But self IS greatly interested in the topic, so she adds Pride and Prejudice to her reading list (She read it decades ago; it’s definitely time for a re-read!)

This issue of The NYTBR also has a funny story about Gary Kamiya, and it turns out he is a pack rat, just like self.  His new book has a fabulous title:  Cool Gray City of Love:  49 Views of San Francisco.

This issue’s Fabulous Author Photo (There’s always at least one, in every issue) belongs to Chinelo Okparanta.  Kudos for not only having a Fabulous Author Photo, but for actually being exotic, Ms. Okparanta!  She migrated to America from Nigeria at the age of 10, and the first part of her book, Happiness, Like Water: Stories — the “more powerful” part, according to reviewer Ligaya Mishan — is set in Nigeria.

There is also another fabulously titled book:  an essay collection called Sister Mother Husband Dog (Etc.) by one of the fabulous Ephrons (Nora passed away recently, but thank goodness she had writing offspring like Delia Ephron to perpetuate the legacy).

At the very back of the issue is a section called “The Shortlist,” and here are four International Thrillers, which includes The Kill List, Frederick Forsyth’s latest, and Masaryk Station, which sounds like it ought to be by Martin Cruz Smith but is actually written by David Downing.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Currents: What Self Is Interested in Reading Now (19 October 2013)

  • a translation from the French by a writer whose name self encountered for the first time only a few hours ago:  Daniel Arsand.  The novel is Lovers.
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis
  • Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott (perhaps self’s favorite book of her childhood. Other than The Hobbit)
  • a book about the terrible things that happened in a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina:  Five Days at Memorial, by Katy Butler
  • a story collection by Tom Barbash:  Stay Up With Me
  • a memoir, by Amanda Lindhout, of what happened after she was kidnapped and held for ransom in Somalia:  A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
  • A Thousand Pardons, a new novel from Jonathan Dee (Malcolm Gladwell recommended it in the By the Book interview)
  • Janet Malcolm’s Psychoanalysis:  The Impossible Profession
  • James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice
  • James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity
  • Tim Parks’s 2011 memoir, Teach Us to Sit Still

(The list is made up of books reviewed in the September 8, 2013 and October 6, 2013 issues of The New York Times Book Review.)

Self is still on The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin.  Sometime in the near future, she’s going to switch gears.  She’s just added Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago and Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum, to her reading list.  Let’s just hope she doesn’t wind up reading them during the Christmas holidays: it might result in the blog developing a rather schizophrenic feel.  Especially if she starts interspersing images of holiday festivity with images of human cruelty.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.

Memory and Nostalgia: “Sutil” in The Threepenny Review

The Threepenny Review, Fall 1995

The Threepenny Review, Fall 1995

Still one of self’s favorite pieces.  It begins:

I was last home for my father’s funeral.  I say “home” even though I am an American citizen now, sworn in with a twenty-piece Navy band in the grand ballroom of the Marriott Hotel on Fourth and Mission in San Francisco.  Yet, “home” for me was always that other place, that city James Hamilton-Patterson describes as “a parody of the grimmer parts of Milwaukee.”

I’ve never been to Milwaukee, so I can’t tell whether this is true or not, whether Manila really is like a parody of a city in the far north of this country (or at least what I imagine to be the far north, in a general region of the country I associate with heavy snow and Laverne and Shirley).  But that it is different from here, of course.  It is the differences I loved.

When I was last home, which was for my father’s funeral, I slept with my mother in the big wooden four-poster in my parents’ bedroom.  This bed, handed down from my grandfather, was familiar and reassuring.  It was of heavy wood, a wood that doesn’t exist today in any Philippine forest, having been cut to extinction.  It may have been called “molave.”  I am not sure of this, as I am not sure of so many things about my culture, which I think I received very young, too young really to understand context or value.


Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Heat: Last Friday of June 2013

They say it will reach 104 degrees in some areas of the Bay Area.  For the past two days, self has been running the sprinklers and turning on the soaker hoses.  Also, hand watering.

It was son’s first week of work at the company that hired him for the summer.

Last night, he was so tired he didn’t even eat dinner, just went straight to his room and slept.

This morning, self looks out the window, decides to read something before starting to write.

Ta-DA!  The book she pulls from the shelf happens to be Beth Alvarado’s short story collection, Not a Matter of Love (New Rivers Press, 2006).

And what do you know, there’s a story in it about heat.  The story is “Phoenix.”  Here’s how it begins:

Not even June and it was a dog-dancing day.  Asphalt sticky as gum.  Gloria had heard it was so hot in Phoenix that rubber gaskets were melting, windshields falling out; some were simply shattering as the glass expanded from the heat.  Birds were probably passing out in the trees.  Electricity use spiking off the grids.  If the cicadas would give it up for one minute, if traffic would come to a halt, she was sure she’d be able to hear the pumps sucking the artesian wells dry.  Then Tucson would collapse into the hollow earth left behind.  It was that hot, apocalyptically hot, hot enough to believe the sun could fry her and everyone else like so many grasshoppers in a cast-iron skillet.

Point of view belongs to Gloria, a mother who is picking up her daughter, Danika, after school.  Complication appears in Paragraph 3:

In fact, Danika’s resemblance to her father scared the shit out of Gloria.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Author Photos, and Other Matters of Great Importance

Self received a message from Anvil Press of the Philippines, who published her third collection in 2009 (Don’t worry; you’ve never heard of it):  They owe her royalties of 3,000 pesos (about $73)

Whoopie!!!  Her first set of Anvil royalties!  She feels so, so validated!!!

She also heard, via La Hagedorn, that Anvil is putting out a Philippine edition of Manila Noir, just out Read the rest of this entry »

Tra-La, Tra-La, a New NYTBR Post (from Issue 3 March 2013)

The “By the Book” interview is with Garry Wills.  In keeping with his stature as a heavyweight intellectual, his recommended tomes are mostly tremendously serious books, for example:  Through the Eye of a Needle, by Peter Brown; David Balfour, by Robert Louis Stevenson; and The Acts and Monuments, about the upheavals of Reformation England, by John Foxe.

The Fun Parts, a collection of short stories by Sam Lipsyte, endorsed by Currently Famous Short Story Writer Ben Fountain

Schroder, a novel by Amity Gaige (Self realizes she’s already read a chapter of this novel; it was in One Story)

A couple of novels by chick-lit writer Lucinda Rosenfeld, including the just-published The Pretty One:  A Novel About Sisters.  According to reviewer Emily Cooke, “None of the women have the lives they once envisioned, and they won’t let one another forget it.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

NYTBR 10 February 2013

Short list, because self has to cook dinner tonight!  Oh, what to do, what to cook, when to start, how much time to devote to standing before stove, etc etc

The cover of this issue of the NYTBR is a review of Karen Russell’s new collection of short stories, Vampires in the Lemon Grove.  Self hates Karen Russell.  She and her publisher always come up with the best titles.  It’s not fair!  Reviewer Joy Williams extols collection to High Heaven.  OK, OK, self will read.

Katherine Boo is interviewed in “By the Book,” and she has recently read the following:

  • Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Self will overlook how much she detests that title, simply because, after all  –  well, a recommendation by Katherine Boo.  Self means, come on!)
  • Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her (Self also has problems with this title, but –  Self!  CUT IT OUT!)
  • Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (Self’s been itching to read this for several months, and not just because of the title)
  • Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis (What’s this book about, self wonders?  She loves the title)

There are other books, many others, self wants to read, but since she is TOTALLY OUT OF TIME, the last books she will  mention are two by David Shields:  How Literature Saved My Life and Reality Hunger (She likes the titles of both).  The reviewer, Mark O’Connell, declares:  “Shields seems interested in only those things –  works of art, people, ideas –  in which he can see himself.  This, of course, is as much a device for literary self-representation as it is an advanced form of narcissism”  which makes him seem, according to O’Connel, like a “high-functioning solipsist.”  Since self doesn’t have time to look up solipsist, but assumes it’s not a favorable thing, she now really wants to read Shields’ books.

Alas!  Farewell for the next couple of hours, dear blog readers!

Stay tuned.

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