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.




Waccamaw No. 12 (Fall 2013 issue) went live about two weeks ago, but self was so overwhelmed with the typhoon disaster in the Philippines that she couldn’t focus.

Self’s story, “Bridging,” which she began last year while doing a residency in Hawthornden, is one of the current issue’s fiction pieces.  The other stories are “Vostok vs. Belmont,” by Ned Balbo; “Liner Notes,” by Matthew Fiander; “In a Far Country,” by Khanh Ha; and “Fireworks,” by Charles Israel, Jr.

The nonfiction features “Glass House: The First Moment of Her Leaving,” by Hannah de la Cruz Abrams; “On Needing,” by Erin Grauel; “Halloween Glossary, D-H,” by Tom McAllister; “Corrida de Toros,” by Lane Osborne; and “Notes on Being a Mistress,” by Cynthia Schoch.

The poetry features “You Were Made for This Part,” by Paul Allen; “Priority Seating for People With Disabilities and Seniors,” by Agatha Beins; “Still Breathing,” by Jo Brachman; “In Vineland,” by Mark J. Brewin, Jr.; “Lottie” and “Pepsi” by Nickole Brown; “Operation I” by Michelle Chan Brown; “Apples or Waffles,” by Kathy Didden; “O Mary Lou” by Anthony DiMatteo; “My Lips Are Made of Wax, My Teeth are Furry Blades, and Other Lies,” by Karla Huston; “All That Happened,” by Donald Illich; “Faultline,” by Elizabeth W. Jackson; “Sometimes Winter Comes When You Least Expect It” and “The Bright Forever” by Terry L. Kennedy; “Entreaty” by Keetje Kuipers; “The Third Egg” by Diane Lockward; “Icarus at Lake Acworth” by Christopher Martin; “Crossing Peachtree” by Thorpe Moeckel; “Roadkill” and “The Astronaut” by Alan Michael Parker; and “Improvisation on Newsprint” and “Window Box” by Mike Smith.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Brian Komei Dempster’s First Poetry Collection: TOPAZ

Brian teaches in the Asian Pacific American Program at the University of San Francisco.  He edited the anthology Making Home From War:  Stories of Japanese American Exile and Resettlement (Heyday Books, 2011).  Topaz is his first published poetry collection.


Every war begins somewhere. The boundaries
are me: my face, smile, language, my job. No matter what I did

your father thought I was crossing him. Between
your apartment and mine, we stood a breath

apart, your mouth a border shutting out

gentler words. I grabbed you by the T-shirt
like a bag of rice, you pushed me back, a ball of heat

enveloping us. When a forest ignites, balding the hills,
who lit the match, who flung it into the bed

of pine needles? Out the accusations came, armed

Apologies, dear blog readers, but self can go no further.  This is the first third of the poem.  Buy Brian’s book!  The publisher is Four Way Books.

Stay tuned.

Inspired by Stephen King Interview in Vanity Fair, October 2013

Today, self lugged around the huge September 2013 issue of Vanity Fair, the one with Kate Upton and her magnificent, hydraulic chest on the cover.  She had to remind herself to turn it over so that it wouldn’t cause anyone to do a double-take.

The Proust Questionnaire is with Stephen King, one of her absolute faves.  One of the questions was:

Who are your favorite writers?

King responded:  Cormac McCarthy, John Le Carré, John Sandford, Margaret Atwood, Michael Connolly, Lee Child, Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith, Larry McMurtry . . .

The list causes self to think back.  Specifically, to the books she read in 2012.  Which ones stood out in her memory?

  • Caesar:  Life of a Colossus, by Adrian Goldsworthy
  • Atonement, by Ian McEwan
  • The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, by Jennifer 8. Lee
  • Human Smoke, by Nicholson Baker
  • The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker
  • How Doctors Think, by Jerome Groopman, M.D.
  • The Beautiful and The Damned, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Finder, by Colin Harrison (This one she read in, of all places, PARIS)
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Essays About Being a Woman, by Nora Ephron
  • The Last Empress, by Anchee Min
  • A Voyage Long and Strange:  Rediscovering the New World, by Tony Horwitz
  • Dreams From My Father, by Barack Obama
  • Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, by Rhoda Janzen
  • Loot:  The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World, by Sharon Waxman

So far this year, the most memorable books self has read are:

  • The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
  • Fiasco:  The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas E. Ricks
  • La’s Orchestra Saves the World, by Alexander McCall Smith
  • A Passage to India, by E. M. Forster
  • Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
  • The Quiet American, by Graham Greene
  • The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
  • Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
  • Little Heathens:  Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish
  • Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson
  • Don Quijote, by Miguel de Cervantes, in a translation by Burton Raffel
  • Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Human Factor, by Graham Greene
  • In Praise of Messy Lives, by Katie Roiphe

Perusing the two lists, the authors self might describe as her favorites are:  Nicholson Baker, Jerome Groopman, Anchee Min, Tony Horwitz, Gretchen Rubin, E. M. Forster, Hilary Mantel, Graham Greene, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Theodore Dreiser, Miguel de Cervantes, Leo Tolstoy, and Katie Roiphe.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

In Honor of the Day: War Literature or Matters Related Thereto

Below, books self has recently read that touch on some aspect of war.  The list contains a mix of fiction, memoir, and nonfiction:

102 Minutes:  The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn

Agent Zigzag, by Ben Macintyre

A Life in Secrets:  Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of World War II, by Sarah Helm

A Long, Long Way, by Sebastian Barry

Atonement, by Ian McEwan

Dunkirk:  Fight to the Last Man, by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore

Eichmann in Jerusalem, by Hannah Arendt

Falling Through the Earth, by Danielle Trussoni

Homecoming, by Bernhard Schlink

Human Smoke, by Nicholson Baker

Imperial Life in the Emerald City, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Legacy of Ashes:  The History of the CIA, by Tim Weiner

Loot:  The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World, by Sharon Waxman

Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson

Sepharad, by Antonio Muñoz Molina

The 9/11 Commission Final Report

The Annals of Imperial Rome, by Tacitus

The Assault, by Harry Mulisch

The Bookseller of Kabul, by Asne Seierstad

The Coming of the Third Reich, by Richard J. Evans

The Emperor’s Children, by Claire Messud

The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell

The Quiet American, by Graham Greene

The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink

Virgil’s The Aeneid, translated by Robert Fagles

Katie Roiphe on Joan Didion (Fascinating)

Self has been reading In Praise of Messy Lives:  Essays, by Katie Roiphe, for the past three days.  She must say, she finds the book fascinating.

Here’s Roiphe on the Didion style:

Didion seems at first glance to be revealing so much about herself because of her mental fragility.  Certain temperamental qualities of hers — her paranoia, her morbid sense of impending disaster, and her distrust of all stated realities —  were particularly suited to the 1960s and ’70s.  Take the moment in The White Album when she writes about the “attack of nausea and vertigo” that led her to a psychiatric clinic.  On the surface, this might seem like an intimate revelation about her inner life.  And yet she ends the passage with “such an attack does not now seem to me an inappropriate response to the summer of 1998.”  This is typical Didion.  It’s as if her body were a finely tuned instrument for channeling the jittery mood of the country in flux.  Her sense of doom, of highly calibrated alarm, is always in the service of some larger point; her stunned disbelief is always a commentary, on the times, on a murder, on the water supply, on Hawaii, on the bewildering state of California.  It is never simply emotion for the sake of emotion.  There is no pleasure in frankly exhibitionistic exposure; there is none of the blinkered narcissism of some of our more recent personal writing.

Exhibit A and Exhibit B:

Her crying in Chinese laundries becomes “what it’s like to be young in New York.”  New York becomes “an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself.  In the end, for all the spare, vivid details about her walking down the street peering into the windows of brownstones, about drinking gazpacho when she is hungover, the essay is about moving to New York and about being young —  not about Joan Didion moving to New York and being young.”

*          *          *

Completely unrelated:  A Selective List of Authors Whose Acquaintance Self Made for the First Time in 2012:

  • John Burnham Schwarz, novelist
  • Owen Sheers, novelist
  • Adrian Goldsworthy, historian of classical antiquity
  • Jerome Groopman, M.D., medical writer
  • Colin Harrison, mystery writer
  • Jesse Kellerman, mystery writer
  • Barack Obama
  • Rhoda Janzen, memoirist
  • Jeanette Walls, memoirist

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Personal Library 9

It is pouring!

After valiantly braving the rain to proceed to: a) dimsum in Belmont; and b) Trader Joe’s in San Carlos, to get more Glucosamine for The Ancient One, self and The Man retired.

Self did wander the backyard in a purple lounging robe with gold thread (a relic from Dearest Mum), and a rain poncho (a relic from sole fruit of her loins) and old loafers.  She checked which plants looked like they might be beat, and which ones looked like they might emerge, Herculean, during the spring.

She also counted the books in her bookcases.  Here’s the latest tally:

Shelf # 3 in Dining Room Bookcase # 1:  50

335 + 50 = 385 Total books tabulated thus far

Selected Titles:  A Season of Grace, by N. V. M. Gonzalez;  Philippine Woman in America:  Essays, by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard; Parables of the Barrio, Vol. 1, Nos. 1 – 50, by Juan M. Flavier (This was a present from the in-laws);  Skin, Voices, Faces, by Danton RemotoThe Arctic Archipelago and Other Poems, by Luis H. FranciaPhilippine Vacations & Explorations, 2nd edition, by Jill Gale de Villa and Rebecca de Villa;  The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, by Aimee Bender; Wildlife, by Richard Ford;  What the hell for you left your heart in san francisco, by Bienvenido N. Santos;  Herstory, by Rosario Cruz Lucero;  Forbidden Fruit:  Women Write the Erotic, edited by Tina Cuyugan;  Trespassing Innocence:  Poems by Virginia Cerenio;  The Distance to Andromeda and Other Stories, by Gregorio C. Brillantes; Salvaged Poems, by Emmanuel Lacaba; The Way of Chuang Tzu, by Thomas Merton; Stone Field, True Arrow, by Kyoko Mori; The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner.

The Ancient One’s had a few little sprinkles, nothing close to the swimming pools of yesterday, for which self is deeply grateful.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition (Saturday/Sunday, Dec. 15 & 16, 2012)

Today self is peaceful and content.  Which means she is happy.

She managed to get a mani/pedi from Belle Nail Spa on Broadway.  She left before fingernails and toenails were quite dry, but she wanted to collect The Man and make it to the first screening of “Silver Linings Playbook” (Only $7 per ticket).  Despite all the hectic running around, she somehow managed to avoid getting the slightest nick on any of her fingers or toes.  Quelle magnifique!

Second, she really liked that movie.  Even though it only got a wan endorsement from Eric B. Snider.  And even though, OK, she’ll concede this point:  the odds are pretty slim that two people that good-looking, both emotionally damaged, live in that close proximity to each other . . .  OK!  So what!  Self knows this movie is totally in the land of make-believe!  She’d rather see Jennifer Lawrence end up with someone who looks like Bradley Cooper than with someone who looks like, like —  John C. Reilly?  Even though chances are the right man for her would look just like John C. Reilly? (Not to knock John C. Reilly —  self thinks he is a WONDERFUL WONDERFUL actor.  But given the choice between John C. Reilly and Bradley Cooper —  oh, NEVAH MIND!)

Jennifer Lawrence is a wonder.  This is the first movie where self actually believed in a Bradley Cooper character.  But, back to Jennifer Lawrence:  Self cried at the end!  She actually cried!  Something she hasn’t done in a movie theater since watching Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams in treacly The Time Traveler’s Wife!

And then, when she and The Man got home from the movie, she got to peruse the Wall Street Journal weekend edition and —  Holy Cow!  —  it’s the one where they list Books of the Year!

But it’s not Books of the Year that self wants to post about —  Ixnay!  (BTW, it took self almost an hour to speed-read the entire books section.  But more about that later)

They interviewed all kinds of celebrities to get their lists of favorite books of 2012.  Self found a few choices enlightening.  Also, she was surprised at WHOSE choices she liked the most.  And here’s the list of people whose book choices self found the most intriguing:

  • Judd Apatow, Director and creator of the phenomenon that is Seth Rogen:  He said he wanted to read Henry Wiencek’s book about Thomas Jefferson and his slaves, Master of the Mountains.  He also recommended Dave Eggers’s latest novel, Hologram for the King.
  • Craig Brown, British, writer of satirical columns:  He recommended Robert Caro’s latest installment of his life of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power (like almost every other person interviewed by the Wall Street Journal), and Mimi Alford’s tale of having sex with JFK when she was a White House intern, Once Upon a Secret.
  • Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking:  She recommended a first novel, The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller, and Jack Kennedy:  Elusive Hero, by Chris Matthews.
  • Joseph Epstein, essayist and cultural commentator:  He recommended a novel, Only Yesterday, by S. Y. Agnon, and Once Upon a Secret (also recommended by Craig Brown, see above)
  • Gary Giddins, author of Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams: He recommended Robert Caro’s book on LBJ, The Passage of Power; John Keats, a biography of the Romantic poet by Nicholas Roe; several classic westerns:  Saint Johnson and Goodbye to the Past, both by W. R. Burnett; a novel about telephone linemen, Slim, by William Wister Haines; That Winter, by Merle Miller, a “pre-Kerouacian group portrait of the disaffected generation of the postwar 1940s”; Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth and The Innocent; and Louise Erdrich’s The Round House.
  • Robert Harris, bestselling novelist:  He recommended Soldaten, a book by Sonke Neitzel and Harald Welzer, “based on secretly recorded tapes of German prisoners of war held in Allied camps during World War II.”
  • Thomas Keller, chef:  He recommended Killing Kennedy, by Bill O’Reilley and Martin Dugard, which “is not about a conspiracy.  It’s about how a presidential assassination can be at once a tragedy and a human-interest story.”
  • Ted Leonsis, Founder and Chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment:  He recommended The End of Illness, by David Agus, “a smart look at how to extend a life of vigor by playing offense with life.”
  • Joe Maddon, Manager of the Tampa Bay Rays:  He recommended Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth (Self has been meaning to get to these books, for quite a while), and the first two books of Follett’s Century trilogy, Fall of Giants and Winter of the World.
  • Hilary Mantel, Booker Prize-winning novelist:  She recommended The Yellow Birds, a first novel by Kevin Powers, an Iraq war veteran; and The Lifeboat, a first novel by Charlotte Rogan, “set in the summer of 1914″ and centering “on a shipwreck in the Atlantic.”
  • Karl Marlantes, author of What It Is Like to Go to War:  He recommended The Snake Eaters, by Owen West; Blackhorse Riders, by Philip Keith; Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails, by Anthony Swofford; and Westmoreland, by Lewis Sorley.
  • Sylvia Nasar, author of Grand Pursuit:  The Story of Economic Genius:  She recommended Gulag, by Anne Applebaum, a book which “takes readers back to the events that triggered the half-century long standoff between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.”
  • Arthur Phillips, author of The Tragedy of Arthur:  He recommended The Vanishers, by Heidi Julavits, The Sugar Frosted Nutsack, by Mark Leyner, Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, and A Partial History of Lost Causes, by Jennifer DuBois.
  • Marcus Samuelsson, chef:  He recommended This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz, and The Click Moment, by Frans Johansson.
  • Colm Toibin, novelist:  He recommended Edmund Spenser:  A Life, by Andrew Hadfield and Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power.
  • Jim Webb, senator from Virginia:  He recommended The Last Lion, by Paul Reid (the last installment of a trilogy begun by William Manchester, on the life of Winston Churchill), and Stilwell and the American Experience in China, by Barbara W. Tuchman.

Self is pretty sure she can get to these books in about five years.

Self was going to make a count of the men who recommended women writers, but, alas, today self is very — and she does mean VERY — short of time!  She thinks Jim Webb did.  Yup, he most definitely did.  And Arthur Phillips.  Yes, most definitely Arthur Phillips.  In fact, the good man recommended three books by women writers.  Good for you, Arthur! And Gary Giddins recommended Louise Erdrich.

(She won’t single out women who recommended women writers because — hey, just because!  Let’s get on with it, or self will never get free of this post!)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Fascination of the Story

It’s amazing but, in between bouts of family melodrama, self has actually found the time to crack open a few of the literary journals she toted along to Bacolod.

One of these is a very old issue of Manoa:  “The Mystified Boat: Postmodern Stories From China.”

Self doesn’t know why, but in addition to the fictional Greg Mortenson memoir Three Cups of Tea,  about whether Mortenson really did or did not build xx number of schools for young women in the farthest reaches of Afghanistan and/ or Pakistan, she also had the good luck to bring along fantastic books like the Obama memoir, Dreams From My Father:  A Story of Race and Inheritance (Five Stars!), a book which made her feel truly involved in the Obama win, and the Valerie Trueblood collection Marry or Burn.  She also brought along volume 28 of New Writing From Scotland, and this issue of Manoa, which appeared in the positively anti-deluvian period of 2003.

She took along the Manoa issue when she went to the bank to change dollars to pesos.  It’s a good thing she did, because she got passed along from one bank officer to another, and the whole process of changing $200 took almost an hour.  Self didn’t mind a bit, though, because she was able to finish the first story in Manoa, Ge Fei’s “A Date in Purple Bamboo Park.” She finished the whole story while seated in front of the desk for New Accounts, and she never looked up until she’d read the very last sentence.  And that story was simply stunning.

Today, she began the second story, Ma Yuan’s engrossing and deeply moving “The Master.”  She hasn’t finished reading the story yet, but here’s a paragraph towards the end:

I’ve saved the solution of the murder of the old man for the end.  I recall there was a yellow notebook, and a self-styled writer who tried to lead readers down the wrong road, who was even crazy enough to delve into his friend’s secret for the sake of writing a half-baked detective story.  Let’s get rid of that egotist.  He won’t appear in what follows.  Let’s just go back to where they discover the old man’s body.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Books of Self’s Recent Life (to April 30, 2012)


Books About 9/11:

  • Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children (This is a novel)
  • Lawrence Wright’s Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
  • Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower:  Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

Books About Iraq:

  • Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City

Books About World War II:

  • Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke:  The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization
  • Ben Macintyre’s Agent Zigzag:  A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal
  • Hugh Sebag-Montefiore’s Dunkirk:  Fight to the Last Man

Collected Essays:
Read the rest of this entry »

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