Triumph!

Triumph!  Self can finally remove one piece from her humongous, ever-growing, overflowing Pile of Stuff:  The New York Review of Books Mar. 6, 2014 issue.

She read it cover to cover, backwards and forwards.  The only thing she skipped reading were the Letters to the Editor and the Classifieds.

And self was even able to compile a list of the books she is interested in reading (which she will probably get to six or seven years from now:  since the start of the year, her reading rate has sunk to the truly abysmal.  She’s still on the same Jhumpa Lahiri short story she began about 10 days ago)

Without further ado, here are the books self is adding to her reading list:

  • Gabriele d’Annunzio:  Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War, by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (The review, by David Gilmour, makes passing mention of Alberto Moravia’s L’amore coniugale :  Conjugal Love, which self now wants to read)
  • Lina and Serge:  The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev, by Simon Morrison (The review, by Orlando Figes, makes passing mention of two other books self is now interested in reading:  The Gambler, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and The Fiery Angel, by Valery Bryusov)
  • The Missionary’s Curse and Other Tales from a Chinese Village, by Henrietta Harrison (The review, by Ian Johnson, makes passing mention of Jesus in Beijing, by former Time journalist David Aiken. BTW, what a fabulous title)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

2nd Sunday of April (2014): Prokofiev and the Nostalgia of Returning

A new issue of The New York Review of Books has a very poignant essay about the Russian composer Prokofiev and how his decision to return to his native Russia proved so catastrophic, not to himself, but to his first wife, Lina, also a composer.

The two Russian emigrés met in Paris, but “in a way that Lina could not fully understand, he longed to go back to his native land, to renew contact with his childhood friends, with the Russian language, Russian songs.”

Lina had no point of reference for her husband’s longing beyond his sardonic, ill-tempered assessments of his Parisian competition and occasional declarations of weariness with life on the road.  His longing was existential — for a guild of like-minded composers, a support network, the inspiration that direct access to Russian culture, of the distant and recent past, had given him.

“. . .  only in his native land,” Prokofiev felt, “would he be recognized as Russia’s greatest living composer . . . At a time when interest in his music was declining in the West, he was seduced by the lucrative commissions he received from the Soviets for operas, ballets, and film scores, and . . . ” convinced himself that “to rescue his career as a theatrical composer, he needed to shift his sphere of operations from Paris to Moscow.”  There were danger signals about the Soviet regime’s tolerance for artists, but Prokofiev “thought his music was above all that.”

To make a long story short, he returned to Moscow with Lina, and at first they were treated like celebrities:  “He had a blue Ford imported from America and a chauffeur.”

Anyhoo, the move was hard on Lina and put a strain on their marriage.  Prokofiev left her and their two young sons for a much younger mistress, and during the war Lina and her children were left to fend for themselves.

The story becomes sadder when Lina was arrested, taken to Lefortovo prison, and tortured.

But, upon her release in 1956, she still served as a kind of cultural ambassador for Prokofiev, “donating papers to archives” and attending his concerts:  And never once did she mention her own ordeal in the camps — and what it cost her to survive.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

Noteworthy Today (First Wednesday of April 2014)

Self reached p. 266 of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, by Annette Gordon-Reed (Only 400 pp. more to go!)

Self is at the moment extremely bummed out about the fact that she read 58 chapters of what she thought was Everlark on fanfiction.net, and it turned out to be Katniss/Gale.  Boo. Well, the category did say “Angst.”  Self, you should know by now:  angst =  love triangle.  And just like that, three days of her life (24 hrs. x 3 = 72 hours) go up in smoke.  Self adores “dark Peeta” but abhors “dark Gale.” Dark Katniss is pretty much standard.

These are the books she’s read thus far in 2014:

  • In the Shadow of Man, by Jane van Lawick Goodall
  • Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West
  • The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, by Annette Gordon-Reed

Although this year she has set a record for extremely-slow-to-finish-reading, the three books she’s read so far have been — luckily — outstanding.  And all of them, it just so happens, are nonfiction.  What does that mean.

The next two books on her reading list are by Jhumpa Lahiri: the short story collection Unaccustomed Earth and the novel The Namesake.

Her retired priest friend in Dublin says he’s managed to get a fellow priest to agree to drive her to Tyrone Guthrie.  According to him, it’s a 2-hour drive north. OMG!  Self cannot allow it.  It would mean two hours worth of gas and whatever, each way.  These words from her friend the retired priest stick out in her mind:  wild and remote.  Wild and remote.  Gaaaah!  One more time: Wild and remote.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

 

Currently Reading: THE HEMINGSES OF MONTICELLO: AN AMERICAN FAMILY

America, 1773:

The enslaved community was generally nonliterate, but nonliterate does not equal non-observant and nonknowledeable.  Because they could not easily send each other letters, slaves developed a much remarked-upon ability to pass information from community to community while running errands for their masters, visiting spouses on other plantations, or on trips with masters as they visited their friends and family.  The Virginia colonists talked of revolution in their homes, committee meetings, and other venues, but there was not much that whites knew that the blacks around them did not know as well.

– The Hemingses of Monticello:  An American Family, by Annette Gordon-Reed

Thus Far, 2014

  • There are times when self feels fanfiction may just save her life.
  • The Hunger Games cannot be called a rip-off of Japanese movie Battle Royale because the Japanese movie didn’t have a boy who bakes.
  • In late February, self attended her first AWP Conference since 2009.  It was really excellent, discovering the Pioneer Square area:  Davidson Galleries, Glass House, Grand Central Bakery, Occidental Park and chess board, the Globe bookstore.  She has got to return to Seattle.
  • The AWP Book Fair is the coolest thing to have happened to her so far this year
  • She loves the soundtrack of Frozen and has been listening to it over and over in her car.
  • Listening to Angela Narciso Torres read always makes self feel like crying.
  • The Man can still make a mean callos.
  • Her most visited local farmers market is the one in Belmont.  She loves Heidi’s Pies (in business for 47 years: the bakery’s on El Camino in San Mateo)
  • The members of her writing group are the most unheralded fabulous writers in the whole US of A.
  • The service in Ling Nam (South San Francisco) is still terrible.  But The Man adores their goto with tokwa’t baboy. And who can blame him.
The Goto (which The Man always orders with Tokwa't Baboy) from Ling Nam, South San Francisco

The Goto (which The Man always orders with Tokwa’t Baboy) from Ling Nam, South San Francisco

  • She sweats.  A lot.  Self is beginning to worry that the yoga is responsible for unleashing something unspeakable and mystifying.
  • She can’t stay up past 10 p.m. anymore.  That’s why she hasn’t posted about Justified and Saturday Night Live for so long.  But, if she gets to sleep by 10 p.m., she doesn’t suffer from insomnia.
  • The new Bay Bridge is soooo beautiful.
  • She can’t read anymore.  It is terrible.  She’s only on her third book —  The Hemingses of Monticello, by Annette Gordon-Reed — since the start of the year.  The other two she started this year were In the Shadow of Man, by Jane Goodall, and Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West.  Strange, she used to be able to tear through at least 60 books a year.  At this rate, by the end of 2014, she’ll be lucky to finish 12.
  • Her 1998 Altima may be ready to give up the ghost.  After spending 1K at the mechanic, the engine sounds worse, and it has so far failed three smog tests.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Reading List Goes a Wee Bit Bonkers

Self has been reading The Hunger Games trilogy at night — an hour before bedtime, she selects a section of about 50 pages or so. She’s read each book about 10 times since the Catching Fire movie.

She made a wee bit of headway in Divergent.

She also trotted around with her, to coffee bars, the issue of One Story with B. J. Novak’s story (Yes, it’s that B. J. Novak, the one who co-wrote The Office with Mindy Kaling)

This morning, she began reading a new One Story story, Laura Spence-Ash’s “The Remains.”

She had minimal contact with the neighbors.  She waved once to John.  One of his boys — they’ve gotten so tall! — was pushing a lawn mower around their front yard.

She saw that all her clematis were still alive.  The one that used to be against John’s fence, until he replaced the fence and hacked it down, is still alive.  But struggling.  It probably won’t survive the year.  Now, it’s nothing but a clump of dead brown twigs, with small green shoots at the bottom.  It used to cover almost half the fence, and every spring for a dozen years it put forth the most magnificent, white flowers.  If it dies, self doesn’t think she’ll have either the time or the patience to grow another clematis to that size.

Let’s see, what else did she do this weekend?  She returned Black Lamb and Grey Falcon to the library (took nearly a month of her life) and began a new book, The Hemingses of Monticello:  An American Family, by Annette Gordon-Reed.

She scanned one of her bookshelves and pulled out a wee pocketbook called Envy.  It’s a dictionary.  Inside are definitions for:

  • acidity (Noun): The measure of bite or acidity in one’s tone
  • acidulous (Adjective):  A way of speaking that sounds bitter or sharp
  • adulation (Noun):  Extreme praise, admiration, or flattery, especially of a servile nature
  • allege (Verb):  To accuse someone of something — usually wrongdoing — without proof.

There’s a quote from Bertrand Russell:

Envy consists in seeing things never in themselves, but only in their relations.  If you desire glory, you may envy Napoleon, but Napoleon envied Caesar, Caesar envied Alexander, and Alexander, I daresay, envied Hercules, who never existed.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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.

The Reading List in Flux

Rebecca West’s sentences are like architectural monuments.  They’re so heavy and self can’t make sense of some of the more ornate (literary) flourishes.  And because self doesn’t want to spend the next month or so reading a book whose contents she will probably forget as soon as she closes the covers, she might as well move to the next book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, by Annette Gordon-Reed, who is a professor of Law at New York Law School.

Have spent most of the winter reading non-fiction (In the Shadow of Man, How I Found Livingstone in Central Africa — both enthralling books)  The trend continues with The Hemingses of Monticello.

Next up are two books by Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth and Namesake.  To rest self’s weary brain, self is also reading concurrently: the YA novels Divergent and Catching Fire.

Still haven’t gotten past p 3 of Divergent  During this scene, the heroine is riding on a crowded bus with her brother, Caleb. And this is what ensues:

He also inherited my mother’s talent for selflessness.  He gave his seat to a surly Candor man on the bus without a second thought.

The Candor man wears a black suit with a white tie — Candor standard uniform.  Their faction values honesty and sees the truth as black and white, so that is what they wear.

Must say, self loves that description of the Candor man wearing “a black suit with a white tie” —  Very clever, Veronica Roth!

And now to Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy.  The two District 12 victors, Katniss and Peeta, must engage in combat again.  Katniss has formulated a rather weird plan that Peeta shoud live, not her:

The beauty of this idea was that my decision to keep Peeta alive at the expense of my own life is itself an act of defiance.  A refusal to play the Hunger Games by the Capitol’s rules.  My private agenda dogtails completely by my public one. And if I really could save Peeta . . .  in terms of a revolution, this would be ideal. Because I will be more valuable dead. They can turn me into some kind of martyr for the cause and paint my face on banners, and it will do more to rally the people than anything I could do  if I was leaving.  But Peeta woud be more valuable alive, and tragic, because he will be able to turn his pain into words that will transform people.

Methinks Katniss sounds a little “mental” in the above passage, but perhaps her 17-year-old-ness makes her susceptible to such large and fantastic notions as “Peeta would be more valuable alive, and tragic . . . “

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Books Self Wants to Read (After Reading the WALL STREET JOURNAL of 23-24 November 2013)

The Books section of the The Wall Street Journal of Saturday/Sunday, 23 – 24 November 2013 (Self bought it at the airport in Miami, when she and The Man were waiting to board their flight home), was extraordinary.  So many great reviews!

For weeks, self has been wanting to post the list of books she decided to add to her reading list, after reading the issue.  Finally, this evening, while self waits anxiously for Sleepy Hollow to begin, the opportunity arrives.

Without further ado, the list of books that most intrigued self when she read the reviews in the 23-24 November issue of The Wall Street Journal :

Kafka:  The Years of Insight, by Reiner Stach (Princeton University Press):  The reviewer, Gaddy Giddins (What. A. Name) writes, of Stach’s book:  “He locates Kafka in the world, illuminates his secual dread, documents the withering threat of tuberculosis, goes beyond the letters to breathe life into his women . . .  He also details autobiographical elements in his fiction, effectively dramatizing the birth of The Castle.

Farther & Wilder, by Blake Bailey (Knopf):  It’s about Charles Jackson, who was primarily famous as the author of The Lost Weekend, “perhaps the best novel ever written about an alcoholic . . .  He tackled touchy subjects like “the death by inches of a marriage” (in The Fall of Valor) and “perversion and violence” (The Outer Edges).

American Mirror:  The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux):  Self has been fascinated every since she saw the Norman Rockwell exhibit in Sacramento, last year.

Gettysburg:  The Last Invasion, by Allen C. Guelzo (Knopf):  “Mr. Guelzo gives us not just the strategy and a withering assessment of the leading characters but the screams of the wounded and the stench of bodies, both alive and dead.”

Catastrophe 1914, by Max Hastings (Knopf):  “Provides both a background to the war and a gripping account of the first five months of fighting.”

The Guns at Last Light, by Rick Atkinson (Henry Holt):  the final book of Mr. Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy, which “followed the fortunes of America’s sons from their first unsteady steps in North Africa in 1942, through the savage fighting up the leg of Italy, and now finally . . .  onto Normandy’s beaches and forward to the River Elbe, Berchtesgaden and Czechoslovakia in May 1945.”

Countrymen, by Bo Lidegaard (Knopf):  “a beautifully told account of how over 14 days in 1943 almost all of Denmark’s Jews were saved.  Their fellow Danes simply smuggled them on small boats to neutral Sweden.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Day Before Thanksgiving 2013

Self is reading her UCLA Extension students’ work (This is not work; it is fun).

They had to hand in their final assignments yesterday, and self has to send feedback over the next few days.

Since it is just herself and The Man at home (Sole Fruit of Her Loins is attending a swing dance contest in Palm Springs, and Jennie is driving home to Las Cruces New Mexico), self does not feel any pressure at all to have a Thanksgiving table laid out.  She did, however, buy a prime rib roast; The Man says he will barbecue it in the backyard.

She has looked at the movies currently showing and is very excited to see that Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” has arrived at Palo Alto Square.  Moreover, “All is Lost” is still showing, as is James Gandolfini’s last movie (whose name self is blanking on at the moment; it’s a romantic comedy with Julia Louis-Dreyfus)

She looks over her reading list and adds a couple more books:  Annette Gordon-Reed’s The Hemingses of Monticello:  An American Family; a novel about Guatemala by Sylvia Sellers-Garcia, When the Ground Turns In Its Sleep; Alix Kates Shulman’s 1972 autobiographical novel, Memoirs Read the rest of this entry »

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