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.



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.

Split-Second Story 4: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

Today’s edition of “Split-Second Story” comes to you from Oxford, England, where self spent the day on the grounds of Christ Church, one of Oxford’s largest colleges, founded by King Henry VIII in 1532 (Self watched a 15-minute video at the Visitor Center).

Here are a few things she learned from the video:

The chapel is Norman, built in the 11th century.

Saint Frideswide, “England’s first saint,” became renowned for her chastity by rejecting the advances of an amorous king.  Since the king was absolutely relentless, Frideswide took refuge in the woods of Oxfordshire, and became the center of a cult of devotees which included Catherine of Aragon.

And now to the pictures which, of all the dozens she took today, feel most evocative of “story-in-a-single-frame”:

A knight in full armor lies in state in Christ Church Chapel, Oxford.

A knight in full armor lies in state in Christ Church Chapel, Oxford.

Self saw ducks feeding on bread crumbs left by visitors.

Self saw ducks feeding on bread crumbs left by visitors.

Father Haslam, Dublin native:  He is 92, self knew him in the Philippines. He is here regaling the waitress with a story.  He is a fabulous raconteur.

Father Haslam, Dublin native: He is 92, self knew him in the Philippines. He is here regaling the waitress with a story. He is a fabulous raconteur.  We were dining at St. Kyran’s in Ireland.

A Poem from TAKING MESOPOTAMIA, by Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis’s collection, Taking Mesopotamia (Oxford Poets, 2014), is such a powerful book.

It is part memoir, part excerpts from family history, part interview, everything written out in the tersest of poetry.  From the Preface, self learned that Jenny’s father, Second Lieutenant T. C. Lewis, participated “in the Mesopotamian campaign of World War I as a Second Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion, the South Wales Borders, now the Royal Regiment of Wales.”

The Hawthornden reunion with two of her fellow writers (who self hasn’t seen since June 2012, but who remained in touch) in Hawthornden was at the British Museum, April 27, when Joan and self caught Jenny’s passionate and altogether mesmerizing reading (She’s the ex-girlfriend of Michael Palin, and self kept looking around the theatre on the off-chance she’d get to see this Monty Python regular in the flesh. But no dice.)

Here’s the poem “October 1916″:

Two lots of mail from home with some letters
for me, at last, giving news from Glamorgan.
Mother unwell for the past few weeks, although
she puts on a brave face as usual. Sister Betty is
still on her drive to collect wool for the knitting
of balaclavas: I said they’ll be back to front no doubt!
Here we are stuck in the desert while their lives
keep on almost as usual there in dear old Wales
except it’s now a place where there are no young
men and people tell each other no news is good news.

Self makes a promise: Next time she is in London, she will make it a point to visit the Imperial War Museum.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


Woods, Annaghmakerrig, Spring

Woods, Annaghmakerrig, Spring

Written by Gerald of Wales (12th century), translated by John O’Meara:

Shortly before the coming of the English into the island a cow from a man’s intercourse with her —  a particular vice of that people — gave birth to a man-calf in the mountains around Glendalough.  From this you may believe that once again a man that was half an ox, and an ox that was half a man was produced. It spent nearly a year with the other calves following its mother and feeding on her milk, and then, because it had more of the man than the beast, was transferred to the society of men.

1st of May (2014): Drama and Poetry, Southampton

It’s the first of May, and self is spending a few days in Southampton with Joan McGavin, who she met two years ago in Hawthornden.

Joan and her husband are professors at the University of Winchester and are two of the kindest, warmest people on the whole planet.

Joan is the Hampshire Poet 2014, and is busy organizing all sorts of workshops, plus a literary festival in September.

Last night, Joan took self to a play presented in a PRISON, dear blog readers.  The prison’s official name is Her Majesty’s Royal Prison of Winchester.  The play, about conscientious objectors during World War I — it’s the centennial of The Great War, after all — was performed by actual prison inmates.  The Mayor of Winchester was in attendance, and he wore a great gold chain around his neck. Self had never seen the like.  Not, at least, in America.

There is a very strong historical role played by this particular prison in World War I.  Read about it in The Huffington Post.

Anyhoo, we arrived home very late, past 10 p.m.  When Joan’s husband learned we hadn’t yet had dinner, he stepped out and got food-to-go from a Chinese take-out place around the corner.  The chow mein was delicious!  We had it with a bottle of French wine!

Self has been hugely enjoying her stay in England.  Can’t believe she’s been here a week already!  Time is just flying by!

Joan is teaching a workshop this July, in Normandy:

Joan is teaching a poetry workshop July 11-15  in Normandy

Joan is teaching a poetry workshop July 11-15 in Normandy

The workshop, including tuition and accommodations, is 380 British pounds (US $640).

Self, looking over Joan’s teaching materials, finds a book by Mary Oliver.  She opens to the chapter on Imagery.  Oliver writes:

The language of the poem is the language of particulars.  Without it, poetry might still be wise, but it would surely be pallid.  And thin.  It is the detailed, sensory language incorporating images that gives the poem dash and tenderness.  And authenticity.  Poems are “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” said Marianne Moore.

What a wonderful image!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Mystery of Stonehenge

Self did it, she actually did it.  Crossed another iconic monument off her “Must Visit” list.

Thinking and comparing Stonehenge to other sacred sites she’s visited — like Chichen Itza; like Teotihuacan; like Angkor Wat; likeDharamsala; like Jerusalem; like Bethlehem — she thinks it is the simplest, and also the most mysterious.  What would the ancient Romans have thought when they stumbled upon it, thousands of years ago? Below, just a few of self’s niggling questions.

What is the deal with the ancient Brits and circles?  While Mayans and Egyptians have their pyraminds, the Brits have their circles.

Why did they find a child’s body accompanied by a dog’s head with four nails driven into its skull?

Who built it, and how were they able to carry stones quarried from many miles away?  How did they set in place the 40-ton lintels?

Why was the site chosen?

What was it used for?

How much manpower was required to lift those heavy stone pillars, and were they all volunteers or were some — or most — of them slaves or conquered peoples?

Who built the barrows surrounding Stonehenge, all around the Salisbury Plain (all within clear view of the massive stones)?

It is a powerfully cold and remote site.  They closed the National Highway that used to bring gawkers within yards of the monument (for which we can all be truly grateful).  The wind whipped self’s lips to shred, even in late April.  The guide said the tours go year-round.  So, the tours in December must be positively arctic.  On the good side, there must have been only two dozen visitors at the stones when self’s group arrived, in late evening (There is only one tour that arrives in the late afternoon:  Pat Shelley’s.  Highly recommended.  You get the setting sun and the shadows.  Bring a down parka and gloves and wear boots.  The sheep shit dot the meadows)

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, 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.




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

Abandoned: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

Cactus Hall, in Santa Fe Resort, Barangay Granada, Bacolod

Cactus Hall, in Santa Fe Resort, Barangay Granada, Bacolod

Self’s grandfather, Generoso Villanueva, built Santa Fe Resort in the 1930s.  It was the first resort ever built in the central Philippines.  It is still operational today.

The English Cemetery, Just Outside Dharamsala.  The graves are mostly those of soldiers who lost their lives in battles and skirmishes and quelling uprisings.

The English Cemetery, Just Outside Dharamsala. The graves are mostly those of soldiers who lost their lives in battles and skirmishes and quelling uprisings.

Self went to India in January 2012.  She wasn’t prepared: physically, emotionally, spiritually.  It was an exhausting trip.  But this English cemetery just outside Dharamsala reminded her that time is fleeting, everything melts away.

The Old Bacolod Airport:  Abandoned for a newer one in Silay

The Old Bacolod Airport: Abandoned for a newer one in Silay

Coming home to Bacolod was a special experience:  vendors sold kalamayhati, self’s favorite childhood treat.  One time, when she’d been gone for a couple of years, she heard a porter mumble under his breath:  “Si Inday Batchoy.”  (“It’s Ma’am Batchoy”) — “Batchoy” is self’s nickname.  Everyone, even her college professors in the Ateneo, referred to her by that name.  Only here in America is she called “Marianne.”

Batchoy is the name of a famous Visayan soup.  It could also be a short version of the Tagalog word “tabachoy” meaning fat, chubby.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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