Mondays: Quote of the Day (3 February 2014)

Self just can’t get over having to type year “2014.” It feels momentous because of Philip Seymour-Hoffman.

By sheer coincidence, the story self has been reading in The New Yorker of 20 January 2014, by Akhil Sharma, begins this way:

As far back as I can remember, my parents have bothered each other.  In India, we lived in two concrete rooms on the roof of a house.  The bathroom stood separate from the living quarters.  The sink was attached to one of the exterior walls.  Each night, my father would stand before the sink, the sky above him full of stars, and brush his teeth until his gums bled.  Then he would spit the blood into the sink and turn to my mother and say, “Death, Shuba, death.”

“Yes, yes, beat drums,” my mother said once.  “Tell the newspapers, too.  Make sure everyone knows this thing you have discovered.”  Like many people of her generation, those born before Independence, my mother viewed gloom as unpatriotic.

The title of the story is “A Mistake.”

Self fervently wishes that 2014 will turn out to be a good year.  She did finally do some things she’d been wanting to do for months:  she decided to visit Sole Fruit of Her Loins this coming weekend, and she signed up for yoga classes (which have been extremely fun).

And while yesterday turned out to be a terrible day for Peyton Manning, it was good for California because it rained steadily (at last! Though we’ll need lots more to get through the drought).  Self and The Man caught the Oscar-Nominated Short Films (Animation) at the Aquarius, and afterwards had coffee around the corner at La Boulange.

Of the short animation films, self’s favorite was Feral, directed by Daniel Sousa.  The Man said it was “too dark,” but self liked that it was.  The one she found the most corny was Room on the Broom, an entry from the UK which featured some very heavy hitters doing voice work: Gillian Anderson, Sally Hawkins, and Simon Pegg.

Which brings us back to Philip Seymour-Hoffman.  Self found out while perusing the web, late last night, and it was terrible.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Reading from the Pile of “Stuff” : The New Yorker, 9 September 2013

This morning, self is reading “The Return,” an essay by David Finkel, about “the traumatized veterans of Iran and Afghanistan” :

If war is accidental, so is what happens afterward.  Two million Americans have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Most of those who have come back describe themselves as physically and mentally healthy.  They move forward.  Their war recedes.  Some are even stronger for the experience.  But studies suggest that between twenty and thirty percent of returning veterans suffer, to varying degrees, from post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental-health condition triggered by some type of terror, or a traumatic brain injury, which occurs when the brain is jolted so violently that it collides with the inside of the skull, causing psychological damage.  Every war has its after-war:  depression, anxiety, nightmares, memory problems, personality changes, suicidal thoughts.  If the studies prove correct, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created roughly five hundred thousand mentally wounded American veterans.

The article focuses on the experiences of a war veteran named Nic.

“Nic had been taking forty-three pills a day –  for pain, for anxiety, for depression, for nightmares.”  His pregnant wife wonders:

“Were there fewer pills now?  Was he still having flashbacks?  Thrashing around in his sleep?  Sleepwalking into closets, looking for his rifle?  Could he start telling her what had happened during the war?  And could she tell him about what was happening to her?  The other night she dreamed that she had given birth , and for some reason she took the baby and put it into a pressure cooker.  Could she tell Nic that soldiers aren’t the only people who have nightmares?”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Reading THE NEW YORKER in Bacolod

Hotels have become sort of like her home.  She tends to really fall in love.  With the rooms, with the order.  With the awareness that people are always just outside.  Not shut off from each other, like they are in the States.

In this particular room, which is several floors above the street, it is never completely silent.  There is the dry hum of the airconditioner and, starting at the crack of dawn, and returning in the late afternoon, the random crowing of roosters.

There’s the noise of traffic:  horns and noisy car engines.

(The karaoke, however, is really getting out of hand.  Couldn’t there be at least one person who can carry a tune?)

In her suitcase, as she was hastily packing for this trip, she tossed a number of magazines she grabbed from her Pile of Stuff.  There were back issues of One Story (The story she just finished reading, in Issue 181, was about polar bears and ice floes and a father wondering whether he really needed to tell his daughter he was gay.  The descriptions were so exacting and beautiful) and a couple of New Yorkers.

Self spent most of today reading a story by a writer she had never read before:  Rivka Galchen.  It was in The New Yorker of 7 January 2013 and was so heartbreaking and funny and sad.

The Briefly Noted section of the same issue has some pretty wonderful sentences.  In fact, she’d really like to quote the entire review of The Richard Burton Diaries, but then, just to be fair, she’ll feel constrained to quote the other three short reviews, which are equally fine.  Here are glimpses:

From the review of The Richard Burton Diaries, edited by Chris Williams:

Although the diaries have been trimmed, they are still too long:  even the most curious may exhaust their interest in years of rugby scores, dinner menus, and notes on who drank what the night before.  Amid the ephemera, however, is a captivating story of misplaced success:  Burton was a voracious and astute reader who nurtured unfulfilled literary ambitions.  Even his greatest acting triumphs were a blow, representing “the indignity and the boredom of having to learn the writings of another man.”

From the review of My Last Empress, by Da Chen

In the last days of the Chinese Empire, Pickens, a New England blueblood, arrives in the Forbidden City to tutor the young emperor, bidden by the ghost of a lost childhood love, the “darling, darling Annabelle.”  In the lantern-lit corridors, Pickens finds not Annabelle but her seeming doppelganger, a mixed-blood girl chosen as the emperor’s child bride.  Bemoaning her confined existence in a palace filled with treacherous eunuchs and concubines, she bewitches the tutor . . .  The story of contorted and entangled love excavates the depth of corruption and bureaucratic rot in a palace that has long ago become a ghost of its former self.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Nicholson Baker on The New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog via NYTBR

Bottom of p. 4, The New York Times Book Review of Sunday, 25 August 2013:


I look on the Internet, and there’s a lot of stuff, but it doesn’t seem any different to me than it felt like when I used to go to a newsstand and there was Elle magazine and professional-wrestling magazines and highbrow magazines, men’s fashion, women’s fashion, comics, just that . . .  blast of everythingness that comes at you.  Well, that’s what comes out of the computer screen now.  It’s very similar in its . . .  texture to what the newsstand, let’s say, at Harvard Square felt like back in the day.

–  Nicholson Baker, on The New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog

Back to Humongous Pile of Stuff

From the Briefly Noted section of The New Yorker of 27 May 2013 (Self doesn’t know why; this got pushed to the very top of her Pile of Stuff):

She skipped the featured book review because it was about Dan Brown’s latest.  She heard some fiddle-daddle that Manila was in there somewhere as the Gate of Hell.  Yawn.  The real Manila, as anyone who’s lived there knows, is too surreal to Read the rest of this entry »

And Since Self Seems To Be in the Mood For Discussing Movies –

Here’s something by Anthony Lane, The New Yorker movie critic, in the double issue of Aug. 12 & Aug. 19, 2013.  Self has probably missed any number of good reviews (which is how she describes reviews she agrees with, LOL) in the past few months.  The summer Read the rest of this entry »

The Life Unlived: Adam Phillips’s MISSING OUT Reviewed in The New Yorker (Feb. 25, 2013)

Self’s Pile of Stuff is such a mess!  None of her magazines are arranged in chronological order.  Anyhoo, today she is reading The New Yorker of Feb. 25, 2013, the Joan Acocella essay on Adam Phillips.

Phillips, according to Acocella, is “Britain’s foremost psychoanalytic writer.” (How come self never heard of him before?  Clearly, there are large gaps in her reading, especially of contemporary British books).  The main idea of Phillips’s Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life seems to be this:  “Instead of feeling that we should have a better life, he says, we should just live, as gratifyingly as possible, the life we have.  Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up for bitterness.  What makes us think that we could have been a contender?  Yet, in the dark of night, we do think this, and grieve that it wasn’t possible.  And what was not possible all too easily becomes the story of our lives . . . ”  In other words, “our lived lives might become a protracted mourning for, or an endless trauma about, the lives we were unable to live.”

The first chapter is “On Frustration” :  “Frustration makes people real to us,” he says, “because, in our lives, they are usually the sources of it.  Indeed, frustration makes reality itself real to us.”

Chapter Two is “On Not Getting to It” :  Phillips maintains that “Perhaps understanding is one thing we can do with each other –  something peculiarly bewitching and entrancing — but also something that can be limiting, regressive . . .  The illusion of knowing another person creates the possibility, the freedom, of not knowing them; to be free, by not knowing them, to do something else with them” — free, that is to say, to “mistreat them.”

But, Acocella writes, “the error Phillips addresses most feelingly is our wish to be understood.  This, Phillips says, can be “our most violent form of nostalgia.”  It is “a revival of our wish, as infants, to have our mother arrive the instant we cry out from pain and hunger.”

Self, you must get this book!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The New Yorker, 11 March 2013 (Briefly Noted)

(Dear blog readers will of course have noticed that the New Yorker in question dates from March 2013:  self’s backlog of unread journals and magazines is truly getting serious)

Without further ado, here are the four books in the Briefly Noted section, and the reasons self wants to read all of them:

The Real Jane Austen, by Paula Byrne (Harper)

Self would read anything about Jane Austen.  Anything.  Even if it were something about her eating habits.  That said, here are the strengths of this particular biography:  “Byrne makes a strong case that earlier biographers misinterpreted as sincere letters lampooning heartbroken sentimentalism . . .  Byrne shirks chronological constraints, beginning each chapter with an object of special significance in the author’s life –  a shawl, a wooden lap desk –  on the premise that much of Austen’s fiction was ‘made real by a few carefully chosen things.’ “

Louis Agassiz, by Christoph Irmscher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Here we have a biography of a man who believed that “only whites were descended from Adam and Eve.”  Also, he was a fierce opponent of Darwinism.  Also, he was a Harvard professor.  Also, the biographer was his friend.  Also, also . . .  self is just curious to see how such a man deserves a biography.

Ten White Geese, by Gerbrand Bakker, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer (Penguin)

The novel is about “an Emily Dickinson scholar” who “has moved from Amsterdam to live on a rented farm in rural Wales.  An abundance of physical description gives the novel a peculiar texture, but it moves rapidly along: a card from her husband arrives; a boy stumbles onto her property and stays; a small flock of geese disappear one by one.  But at the farm, her primary relationship is with Dickinson and her work, which tries ‘to hold back time, making it bearable and less lonely too perhaps, by capturing it in hundreds of poems.’ “

City of Angels, by Christa Wolf, translated from the German by Damion Searls (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

“Billed as a novel, this work by one of the leading literary figures of East Germany is more like a journal — with a digressive, quotidian pace and recognizably autobiographical content.  In 1992-93, Wolf, who died in 2011, was a fellow at the Getty Center, and a narrator much like Wolf explores Los Angeles and mourns her lost country in the wake of Communism’s collapse . . .  Wolf uses the image of Freud’s overcoat as a metaphor for memory’s instability:  ‘the coat that keeps you warm but also hidden, that you have to turn inside out.’ “

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

OMG: Elena Ferrante, Unpacked (James Wood, The New Yorker, 21 January 2013)

You know, self was dithering about whether or not to extend her New Yorker subscription.  But after reading the James Wood review of Ferrante’s work, in the 21 January 2013 issue of The New Yorker, she is definitely extending.

The one novel by Elena Ferrante that self has read, The Days of Abandonment (published 2002) is — despite a downer of a title — very, very absorbing (Self forgets who did the translation).  Wood quotes the following passage from it:

I don’t give a shit about prissiness.  You wounded me, you are destroying me, and I’m supposed to speak like a good, well-brought up wife?  Fuck you!

Self thinks dear blog readers will agree:  Ferrante’s narrator is one angry dame.  Which is why self adores her.

Wood lists three other novels by Ferrante:  Troubling Love, The Lost Daughter, and My Brilliant Friend, all of which self has added to her reading list.

Furthermore, there is a mystery around Ferrante:  “What she looks like, what her real name is, when she was born, how she currently lives — these things are all unknown.”  This, in spite of what Wood calls “the effortful prying of the Italian press — Why have you chosen this privacy?  Are you hiding the autobiographical nature of your work?  Is there any truth to the rumor that your work is really by Domenico Starnone?”  Self had never heard of Domenico Starnone but that sounds like a man’s name and self is sure Elena Ferrante is not a man.

All Ferrante’s novels are narrated by women.  They cover (again quoting Wood):  “child abuse, divorce, motherhood, wanting and not wanting children, the tedium of sex, the repulsions of the body, the narrator’s struggle to retain a cohesive identity within a traditional marriage and amid the burdens of child rearing.  The novels present themselves (with the exception of the latest) like case histories, full of flaming rage, lapse, failure, and tenuous psychic success.”

Ferrante, a novelist after self’s own heart.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

A Review of Books About Insomnia (The New Yorker, 11 March 2013)

Since it is a very long time until the next season of Game of Thrones, self has been watching Season 2.  Believe it or not, she has gotten into such a rhythm with watching this show (The Man wants to know why self is so obssessed.  Channeling Ygritte, self tells him:  “You know nuthin’, The Man!” In other words, he better keep his trap shut if he doesn’t want to get plugged with so many arrows he ends up looking like a hedgehog, which was the sight presented by Jon Snow when he dazedly arrived at Castle Black in the final episode of Season 3!)

Anyhoo, it seems she can’t get to sleep at night unless she watches one episode, just before bedtime.  Last night, The Man (who is a Great Tease), played two back-to-back episodes for self, and this was a little bit too much, as then self found that instead of falling asleep at midnight, she was very jacked up.

But, enough with the digressions!  While plowing through her once-again-humongous Pile of Stuff today, Friday, self happened to come across an essay called “Up All Night:  The Science of Sleeplessness,” in The New Yorker of 11 March 2013.  She read the article straight through, from beginning to end, with only one break:  to go to the Redwood City Library and pick up a copy of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (It’s self’s first Hilary Mantel.  Isn’t that crrrrazy???)

One of the books reviewed, The Slumbering Masses, written by a UC Santa Cruz anthropology professor named Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer (What a fabulous name for a professor!), has this to say about our modern pattern of sleep:

Until a century and a half or so ago, Wolf-Meyer observes, “Americans, like other people around the world, used to sleep in an unconsolidated fashion, that is, in two or more periods throughout the day.”  They went to bed not long after the sun went down.  Four or five hours later, they woke from their “first sleep” and rattled around –  praying, chatting, smoking, or making love.  (Benjamin Franklin reportedly liked to spend this time reading naked in a chair).  Eventually, they went back to their “second sleep.”

As for self, she fell into the habit of wakefulness when she became a mother.  So that she would not waste a single minute of the nocturnal hours, she would read next to son’s crib.  When he woke, she would wake, and then read some more.  In this way, self managed to read many, many, many books, all the while son was an infant, and years and years beyond, up to today.

The Man is exactly the opposite:  he falls asleep instantaneously, and sleeps 10 hours at a stretch.  One minute he’s awake, the next –  Bang! –  he’s asleep.  Then he starts to snore.  Loud.  And this makes self so frustratingly envious that she is tempted to pinch The Man’s nose.  But she restrains herself.  She is not the type of person who pinches sleeping people’s noses.  Of course not!

She read somewhere that people who have insomnia live much shorter lifespans than other people.  Which means –  hello!  There is absolutely no time to waste, self!  Get cracking and finish your book!

Another book mentioned in the essay is Internal Time:  Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired, by Till Roenneberg, of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (Again, what a name.  Self can go years at a stretch without encountering one single outstandingly fabulous name, and suddenly, in one essay, she encounters two).  Here the professor categorizes people according to sleep habits.  Some people are larks, which means they are indefatigable early risers.  And other people are owls, which means they stay up all night.  According to the author of the essay, Elizabeth Kolbert (which has self wondering if it’s pronounced like Stephen Colbert’s name, but once again she digresses), “Teen-agers are owls, which is why high schools are filled with students who look (and act) like zombies.”  Self wonders how teen-agers graduate from being owls to being normal?  Or do some people stay owls for the rest of their lives?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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