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.

 

 

 

The Chang-rae Lee Version of Dystopia

This is from the review of On Such a Full Sea, Chang-rae Lee’s new novel.  The review appeared in the January 27, 2014 issue of The New Yorker.  The reviewer was Joanna Biggs.

“More and more we can see that the question is not whether we are ‘individuals,’ Chang-rae Lee writes in On Such a Full Sea (Riverhead), his new, dystopian novel.  “The question, then, is whether being an ‘individual’ makes a difference anymore.”  It seems doubtful, in Lee’s somber future.  Afflicted by swine- and bird-flue epidemics, and a profound change in the climate, America, now known simply as the Association, has split into three separate social groups.  At the top sit the Charters, a small professional class that has controlled the country’s remaining resources and withdrawn into gated villages.  Catering their dinner parties and keeping their cars perpetually waxed are the ‘service people,’ who live in the land beyond, known as the counties.  ‘You better have it while you have it’ is the motto of the bartering, hardscrabble life there.”

District 12, anyone?  The twist is that the oppressed classes are “workers whose ancestors arrived from New China a hundred years earlier.”

Biggs then cites a list of dystopian narratives (which fortunately or unfortunately do not include anything YA), starting with “the math genius D-503, in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, who begins by designing the spaceship INTEGRAL . . .  to the fireman Guy Montag in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 who starts out as a kerosene-wielding book burner and ends up harboring what may be the last copy of the Bible,” to Winston Smith, the “mid-ranking employee” of the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984.

Self has read most of Chang-rae Lee’s novels.  She’s read Native Speaker, Aloft, and A Gesture Life.  Of all his novels that self has read to date, her favorite is still A Gesture Life.  Harrowing.  She’ll never forget it.

What she likes most about Lee’s writing is the quietness of the voice.  The restraint masks sheer agony.  All his main characters are tightly wound but restrained, almost to the point of lunacy.  Feelings are to be distrusted.  They are acknowledged only under great peril.  Which makes him sound, on the surface, like Kazuo Ishiguro.  But self finds Chang-rae Lee’s characters, almost all of them, to be deeply emotional and passionate individuals.  If they do harm, it is mostly to themselves.

She does have a copy of On Such a Full Sea, signed by the author himself after a reading he gave in Berkeley.  Self is sorely tempted to tote it along to Ireland, but it’s hardback.  And self has sworn she’s not going to burden herself with more than a handful of books this time.  The fee for mailing the books back home will be exorbitant, if what she paid after Hawthornden is any indication.  Oh what to do, what to do!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Implications of Feminine Curiosity: Reading the Women’s Review of Books (Mar/Apr 2014)

Jan Clausen reviews Curious Subjects:  Women and the Trials of Realism, by Hilary M. Schor (Oxford University Press, 2013).  Clausen writes that Schor takes “curiosity” — specifically women’s curiosity — “to mean several different things” and then cites several fascinating examples, such as:

Isabel Archer (from The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James) — Self actually tried re-reading last year, before she went to Venice, but soon tired of James’s labyrinthine sensibility.  But now she thinks she might try giving it another whirl, especially after reading “while severely constrained by a social order productive of endless marriage plots,” the characters “gain access to a crucial measure of choice in deciding the marriage question — an outcome with distinct advantages for their development as conscious subjects, even when, as for Isabel, the wedded state brings misery.”

The Bloody Chamber, “Angela Carter’s feminist retelling” of the Bluebeard tale, showing “how the bride’s defiance of her husband’s injunction against entering the locked room becomes the crucial occasion of curiosity, affording a true knowledge of self and situation.”

Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot, feature “brides whose costly access to authentic subjectivity is won by way of their disastrous marriages.”

Louisa Bounderby, née Gradgrind, who chucks “her heartless capitalist keeper in Dickens’ Hard Times

Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, “a Creole riff on the Bluebeard story that functions in relation to Jane Eyre as both prequel and (post) colonial critique.”

Self also discovers (in another review) that Claire of the Sea of Light, Edwidge Danticat’s new novel, grew out of a short story published in the anthology she edited for Akashic Books, Haiti Noir (2010).  Self now adds Haiti Noir to her reading list.

And she encounters this quote from, of all people, Norman Mailer, in a review by Rachel Somerstein of Fools, Joan Silber’s short story collection (W. W. Norton, 2013):

Short fiction “has a tendency to look for climates of permanence — an event occurs, a man is hurt by it in some small way forever” while “the novel moves as naturally toward flux.  An event occurs, a man is injured, and a month later is working on something else.”

Self is amazed that she encounters the quote from Mailer –  the most uber-macho of macho writers — in the Women’s Review of Books.

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.

DIVERGENT Quote of the Day

Self crawling along through Divergent.

Apologies, dear blog readers.  She knows a lot of people checked in on her previous Divergent posts, and the movie’s opening next week already, and Sole Fruit of Her Loins wants to see it.

But the weather’s been soooo beautiful.

And she’s still having all sorts of car problems.

Today, she’s on p. 59, and the beginning of teen fiction territory. Mild spoilers ahead:

I see a few hands stretching out to me at the edge of the net, so I grab the first one I can reach and pull myself across.  I roll off, and I would have fallen face-first onto a wood floor if he had not caught me.

“He” is the young man attached to the hand I grabbed.  He has a spare upper lip and a full lower lip.  His eyes are so deep-set that his eyelashes touch the skin under his eyebrows . . .

Our heroine makes it into the Dauntless headquarters:

People are everywhere, all dressed in black, all shouting and talking, expressive, gesturing.  I don’t see any elderly people in the crowd.  Are there any old Dauntless?  Do they not last that long, or are they just sent away when they can’t jump off moving trains anymore?

Further along, Tris (formerly — in her pre-Dauntless existence — called “Beatrice”) gets to try her first hamburger.  Members of the oh-so-meek Abnegation faction are referred to as “Stiffs” by the Dauntless.

“You’ve never had a hamburger before?” asks Christina, her eyes wide.

“No,” I say.  “Is that what it’s called?”

“Stiffs eat plain food,” Four says, nodding at Christina.

“Why?” she asks.

I shrug.  “Extravagance is considered self-indulgent and unnecessary.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Multi-Tasker: Resuming DIVERGENT

Very exciting doings in self’s life:  yesterday, she had just dropped off her car at the mechanic (It failed the smog test, boo) and was finally sitting down to dinner when she heard — or rather, felt — this awful hard thing pop out of her mouth.  She looked in dismay at her hand:  she was holding a tooth.  A tooth!  A tooth!  A tooth!  And she hasn’t even finished paying for two implants she had done a year ago!

She called the dentist and the dentist said, Can you come over right now?  And self said:  I can’t.  My car’s in the shop.

Make no mistake, the part of her mouth that once held the wayward tooth hurts.  Throbs.  Self wonders if she can survive the weekend.  She decides to douse herself with vodka.  No, brandy!  Good thing she just came from Costco and bought a huge bottle of brandy for $13.99!  That was very forward-thinking, self!

Dr. Oz is on TV. Which makes self feel twinges of guilt for not trying harder to look for her high-cholesterol medication.  She thought she packed it in the bag for Seattle, but when she arrived at her destination, it wasn’t anywhere. Then she got so distracted, she never bothered ordering a refill, so it’s about two weeks since she’s taken anything. And yesterday, when she saw her doctor, she told him she was going to be in Ireland in May, and he said she should have her cholesterol checked before she leaves, and then self remembered that if she doesn’t resume her medication, her cholesterol will be high.  So she told the doctor she’d get back on the medication, and stay on it, and then — after a month, say — she’d have the blood test.  And he just looked at her and self could practically read his mind:  I am so tired of this woman.

Anyhoo, Dr. Oz is on TV, and self was perusing the Clarkesworld Magazine website because, as dear blog readers well know, science fiction is her new “thing.”

Oh, there have been scattered forays here and there:  her ZYZZYVA story, “Extinction,” and her New Orleans Review story, “Thing.”  Her “Isa” story on Eunoia Review.  But lately, she’s been having sustained bouts of science fiction writing, and she loves it.  Loves it, loves it, loves it.  In her stories, her characters can be green or blue, scaly or moss-covered, six-eyed or blobb-y.  They don’t need to be attractive in the human sense.  In fact, they’re mostly physically repellent.  What does this mean.

SPOILER ALERT!

She’s also reading Divergent (at a snail’s pace).  There was some nail-biting tension in Chapter 5, because Beatrice slashed her hand and let the blood drip over — not glass, not earth, not water — is there anything else?  Self, you dolt!  You’d better go back over the chapter and read from the beginning!

Beatrice’s blood falls on coals.

Coals.

Which means she has chosen –  self draws a blank.

She has to read into Chapter Six to learn that “coals” represent Dauntless.

Just before it is her turn to choose, Beatrice goes over her decision to remain in her parents’ faction, Abnegation (which means she will have to help her parents clean up after everyone else has left the room, how exciting):  “I can see it now . . .  I watch myself grow into a woman in Abnegation robes . . .  volunteering on the weekends, the peace of routine, the quiet nights spent in front of the fireplace, the certainty that I will be safe, and if not good enough, better than I am now.”

Self was just beginning to think how someone in Abnegation would be an extremely boring character to stick with for a 500-page novel when, of course!  She chooses something else.

It’s just like the moment when Katniss decides to shoot an arrow straight up into the force field dome, instead of into Finnick’s gorgeous face!  Totally unexpected and –  AARRGH!

Anyhoo, our plucky Beatrice chooses the Dauntless faction, and pretty soon we learn that she is so much shorter than everyone else in Dauntless because she can’t see past their shoulders.  Good thing the factions don’t have a height requirement.

But perhaps that’s precisely Veronica Roth’s point:  Short people can be dauntless, too!  Height, after all, is not a requirement for bravery!  Yay!  There’s still hope for self, who The Man opined is two inches shorter now than she was when he first met her, in grad school (She did ask her doctor about this, BTW, and it only seemed to exacerbate his exasperation.  Basically, his response was:  “Do your care?” Self’s response:  “Only if it means I’m getting hunchbacked!” At which the doctor just shook his head.)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

DIVERGENT, Chapter 5: The Choosing Ceremony

Self spent last night bawling — literally  bawling — over Hunger Games fanfiction.

In one fanfiction, Katniss is a maid in the well-off Mellark household.  In another, she is hired by Peeta’s father to help out in the bakery.  In others, Peeta is King Peeta and Katniss is a winsome country lass.  Self doesn’t like these fairy tale ones as much as the others, but sometimes self needs to read something relaxing, and it’s always a kick to imagine J-Hutch wearing a kingly crown. In all of the fanfiction, the socio-economic status reflects that of the characters in Suzanne Collins’s trilogy:  Katniss = poor.  Peeta = well-off.  Stage set for melodrama of the highest order.

And now to Divergent, Chapter 5.

The heroine, Beatrice, and her brother, Caleb, belong to the Abnegation faction (a very irritating faction, don’t ask).  But now they get to choose whether to stay in Abnegation or go to some other faction that’s a better fit for their skills and personality.

Usually the teens who are choosing opt to stay with their families’ factions.  In the case of Beatrice and Caleb, that would mean Abnegation.

A boy from Dauntless goes to the center of the room and makes his choice:  Candor.

His blood falls onto glass, and he is the first of us to switch factions.  The first faction transfer.  A mutter rises from the Dauntless section, and I stare at the floor.

They will see him as a traitor from now on.  His Dauntless family will have the option of visiting him in his new faction, a week and a half from now on Visiting Day, but they won’t, because he left them.  His absence will haunt their hallways, and he will be a space they can’t fill.  And then time will pass, and the hole will be gone, like when an organ is removed, and the body’s fluids flow into the space it leaves.  Humans can’t tolerate emptiness for long.

Wow, self loves the writing.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Home Again (post-AWP/2014)

Back home, self means.

Thank goodness it’s been raining, so she doesn’t have to worry about catch-up watering.

She pores over her AWP goodies, reluctant to put any of them away.

She watched bits of the Oscars yesterday, and was surprised at how subdued J-Law seemed.  Almost, tired.  Her eyes didn’t have last year’s sparkle.  She looked thin and elegant, but — Good Lord, self never thought there’d come a day when she’d welcome Miley Cyrus’s stubborn commitment to hi-jinks.

Help help help!  What has happened to that Funny Girl of yester-year?  Nicholas Hoult was by her side, looking neither happy nor unhappy.  Are these two really getting married?

Today, self does her usual thing:  Costco.  Laundry.  Scanning her e-mail for rejections.

She inadvertently let her car registration lapse, and it’s a smog test year, boo.

Perhaps now she can finally focus on finishing Divergent. She bought her copy months ago.

The heroine is named Beatrice (which is a nice name, though not as unique as Katniss).  She is still deep in the nest of her Abnegation family.  There is a really intriguing passage on p. 37 (end of Chapter 4):

I peer into his room and see an unmade bed and a stack of books on his desk.  He closes the door.  I wish I could tell him that we’re going through the same thing.  I wish I could speak to him like I want to instead of like I’m supposed to.  But the idea of admitting that I need help is too much to bear, so I turn away.

I walk into my room, and when I close my door behind me, I realize that the decision might be simple.  It will require a great act of selflessness to choose Abnegation, or a great act of courage to choose Dauntless, and maybe just choosing one over the other will prove that I belong.

Hmmm, that’s truly excellent writing.  It continues excellent through Chapter 5, when self has to stop to greet The Man.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Week Before AWP Exhaustion and Self Is Already Exhausted

So, what better way to lose herself for a few minutes, or even an hour, than in reading Hunger Games fanfiction?  She found a really good one today.  Dear blog readers will probably laugh but it is no joke:  one of self’s bookmarked sites is Mockingjay.net.

No, self will not go there.

Instead, she continues with Divergent.  Because the movie — well, the movie stars Shailene Woodley.  And self loves Shailene Woodley.  She’s loved her ever since The Descendants.

These are the young actresses self particularly loves:  Jennifer Lawrence, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt (well, she’s a bit older; still, self loves her), Jena Malone and Shailene Woodley.  Oh!  She also likes Felicity Jones.  She liked Natalie Mendoza in The Descent.  She likes Lilly Collins. And Lupita Nyong’o who was absolutely incandescent in 12 Years a Slave.

Where were we?

Oh yes, Divergent.

On p. 33, self finds out a little bit more about the world of the book:

The narrator’s father has returned from a hard day at work.  He is some kind of political leader.

The narrator explains:

The city is ruled by a council of fifty people, composed entirely of representatives from Abnegation, because our faction is regarded as incorruptible, due to our commitment to selflessness.  Our leaders are selected by their peers for their impeccable character, moral fortitude, and leadership skills. Representatives from each of the other factions can speak in the meetings on behalf of a particular issue, but ultimately, the decision is the council’s . . .  It has been that way since the beginning of the great peace, when the factions were formed.  I think the system persists because we’re afraid of what might happen if it didn’t:  war.

Self loses herself in conjecture.  To tell the truth, self belongs in a faction like Abnegation.  But she longs to break out of it because it is just, so, so — limp. For instance, p. 34:  “We aren’t supposed to speak at the dinner table unless our parents ask us a direct question, and they usually don’t.”

Members of Abnegation must be humble and self-effacing all the time.  They must not take pride in their looks or in their character or in their intelligence or in their creativity.

What. A. Terrible. Way. To. Be.

Self knows, because she spent — oh, about 80% of her life doing all those self-abnegating things.  And it did her not. One. Bit. Of. Good.

Until self suddenly had this mind-blowing revelation, courtesy of Manang Marilou of Bacolod:  Nobody cares if you are miserable.  So you might as well be happy.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Treasure 2: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge Theme, Treasure, made self remember the place that means most to her, as a writer: the neighborhood public library.

Today, she went there to return two books by Jhumpa Lahiri, which were overdue. And she never even got the chance to open them, as it took her aaaaages to get through Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West.

The Redwood City Public Library, Downtown Branch

The Redwood City Public Library, Downtown Branch

Self is in the library at least three times a week.  All the staff know her.  They even know she is a writer!

The site used to be a fire station.

The site used to be a fire station.

The book drop boxes, which self uses when the library is closed, are painted in cheerful colors.

The book drop boxes, which self uses when the library is closed, are painted in cheerful colors.

The last book self checked out of the library was a novel:  The Piano Teacher, by Janice Y. K. Lee.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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