A Very Long Post About Whales

This morning, self is continuing to read the Tuesday New York Times. Self discovers an article about whales in the Science section. She learns that blue whales are “the biggest animals to have ever lived,” that they “reach 160 tons — the same mass as about 2,000 grown men or 5 million grown mice.”

Self wonders how the writer came up with the figure of 2,000 and wishes she were better at math.

The article points out that “it takes a lot of food to build such giant bodies,” which is a statement self can only agree with. What’s surprising to her is the next sentence: what little the whale experts know comes “primarily from dead animals or from a few people standing on a ship seeing whales come to the surface.”

Which surely is an exaggeration, because if the only opportunities scientists have for studying whales is when their carcasses wash up on a beach, or when they go on one of those boats that one can rent in Monterey during whale-watching season, then that would mean scientists have only a little more knowledge than self. And self knows nothing, nada. She only knows what she knows about whales from the news stories of whales that get lost and wander up the Sacramento River to the Delta. Or from the time when, during her honeymoon (in the Jurassic Period) she went on a whale-watching cruise (this was February) and the boat she and hubby were in managed to sidle alongside the barnacle-encrusted back of a very small whale, practically no bigger than a dolphin.

Then, self reads that the biggest enigma about whales is Read the rest of this entry »

NYTBR 9 December 2007: Ten Best Books of the Year Issue

And, self will not list the Ten Best Books. For that would be almost too easy, too obvious. And no one has ever accused self of taking the path of least resistance. In fact, self is so wrong-headed that she often discerns the path of most resistance, and follows that path. Which is perhaps why she is still languishing in the purgatory of the “emerging”, after 25 years of writing stories.

So, self will ignore the “Ten Best” list. And will focus instead on the new books which were actually reviewed in this particular issue. Without further ado, here are the books self is interested in reading after perusing the 9 December 2007 issue of The New York Times Book Review:

(1) After reading Christopher Sorrentino’s review of David Peace’s novel, Tokyo Year Zero, based on the historical case of Kodaira Yoshio (aka “the Japanese Bluebeard”) :

David Peace’s novel, Tokyo Year Zero

(2) After reading Cormac O Grada’s review of Peter Duffy’s The Killing of Major Denis Mahon: A Mystery of Old Ireland:

Peter Duffy’s The Killing of Major Denis Mahon: A Mystery of Old Ireland

(3) After reading David Haglund’s review of William Boyd’s collection of essays and criticism, Bamboo:

William Boyd’s Bamboo

(4) After reading George Saunders’ end-paper essay, “Soviet Deadpan” :

anything by Daniil Kharms, whose writing Saunders describes this way:

Kharms’s stories are truly odd, as in: at first you think they’re defective. They seem to cower at the suggestion of rising action, to blush at the heightened causality that makes a story a story. They sometimes end, you feel, before they’ve even begun. Here, in (Matvei) Yankelovich’s translation, is the entire text of “The Meeting”:

Now, one day a man went to work and on the way he met another man, who, having bought a loaf of Polish bread, was heading back home where he came from.

And that’s it, more or less.

Got to love it, dear blog readers. Got to love a writer with the audacity to call a piece like that a story! Self can just imagine the reaction if she tried to hand in a piece like that to John L’Heureux, or Nancy Packer. She would be hooted out of workshop, for sure!

So, This Is How It Works

Yesterday, self received a package in the mail, from ex-classmate Lucy in Houston. Inside was a sweatshirt, the logo said:

Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel.

Self laughed and laughed. She e-mailed Lucy, Thanks! Response: silence. Self thinks: Uh-oh. Perhaps this wasn’t a joke. Perhaps Lucy is trying to communicate her annoyance to self, and chose to do it this way rather than confront self directly. Self is suddenly consumed with guilt. She actually feels like slinking into a corner.

Not for long, however: self is truly incorrigible. Today, even while she awaits more news of beloved sister-in-law’s prognosis, here she is already composing a story. And the story begins this way:

Ma — a zone of seeming emptiness

Christmas intruded itself. Suddenly, everyone on the street was hurrying past, their faces tight and closed. They skirted her, careful to avoid even brushing her lightly with the flaps of their sleeves. Conscious, with that innate instinct city-dwellers have, of the wild and the unruly. She doesn’t think she looks so different, really. But her insides had fallen to pieces that morning. With the news, the terrible news. Leukemia, yes. And now who would she tell, who should she tell, about this vast secret: her ex-husband, snug at home (It was Sunday morning, after all– perhaps breakfast in bed with the new wife: “Strawberries and cream, my dear? I’ll pour.”)

Or should she tell her mother, Read the rest of this entry »

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