Still Reading Pham Thi Hoai’s “Nine Down Makes Ten,” Begun Two Weeks Ago

Will self’s life ever settle down?  Will she ever be able to curb the impulse to travel?  Or will she continue in this comical way, never being at peace for, as her Tita Ateta Gana, a very wise woman, once prophetically said after listening to self tell a hair-rising story about delivering Sole Fruit of Her Loins in Stanford Hospital, after 17 hours of labor:  “Everything happens to Batchoy.”  She didn’t know how prophetic she was!

Will she be able to get through 200 pages of Don Quijote tomorrow, in order to avoid her overdue fine getting any bigger?

Is she really planning to take Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady with her to Venice, in hardcover, even though it takes up approximately 1/4 of her suitcase?

Is it good not to worry about clothes when one is traveling?

Will $150 worth of pain medication be all that Bella The Ancient One needs to survive the next two weeks?

Can self make it to Trieste?

Can she sit 13 hours in an airplane, in an economy seat, without her neck absolutely killing her?

Will she ever be able to finish anything she starts?

Two weeks ago, she began reading Vietnamese writer Pham Thi Hoai’s story in Another Kind of Paradise:  Short Stories From the New Asia-Pacific, edited by Trevor Carolan.  My, that story had her in stitches!  She was absolutely entranced.

It is written in very dense paragraphs (translated from the Vietnamese by Peter Zinoman), but the tone is wicked sly.  It’s about an unnamed woman’s various lovers.  Self reads about Lover # 8:

The eighth man had the hair of a poet, the face of a poet, and a soul especially given over to poetry.  Such qualities are found only in people who have a lot of time and no concrete obligations in life.  When engrossed in the rising and falling of his watery waves, and once acquainted with his passionate love of writing —  swiftly, without semicolons — I began to understand that the most worthwhile obsession is an obsession that is actually independent of the object of fixation.  The object is only borrowed as a pretext, a means, an environment, through which or in which the obsessed person can project his own eternal and essential hunger, thus fulfilling the requirements of death — the dissolution of the ego for something, anything, that exists independently outside of one’s self.  Perhaps that obsession should be controlled.  At some point the most mundane catalyst, a skirt or a fallen leaf, is enough to provoke a series of captivating chain reactions, while at another time much more important objects will inspire only an absurd indifference.

Here, by the way, are a list of things that have remained constant in her life:

  • Her undying commitment to Apple, especially her MacBook Air
  • Her love of blogging, and her corresponding need for the internet.  Dear Cuz Maitoni once aked self:  “Must you always take it upon yourself to entertain the whole world?”  That is such a very pertinent question, Dear Cuz!  Self knows not why.  On this question, she is drawing an absolute blank.
  • Her conviction that she is absolutely made to travel: no matter how unsure she is about her cooking, or her housecleaning, or even the value of her writing, she has only to plan a trip when  —  VOILA! — happiness and confidence descend, and she can brave anything, even the worst bad hair days.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Books of The Economist, 16 March 2013 and The New York Review of Books, 27 September 2012

Self has Don Quijote so much on the brain (it’s overdue at the Library: she better hurry up) that she even sees a theme in the latest book list:  it seems to be a list of Quijotic Endeavours.  After you read the capsule descriptions, see if you don’t agree, dear blog readers:

  • A first novel, Ghana Must Go, by Talye Selasi (Penguin Press):  A brilliant medical student from Ghana becomes the scapegoat in the death of a 77-year-old “Boston socialite, wife, mother, grandmother and alcoholic.”
  • The “agony” of Iraq, described by Toby Dodge in Iraq:  From War to a New Authoritarianism:  “The collapse of the Iraqi state” allowed ‘ethnic entrepreneurs’ — “political manipulators of sectarian fears —  to flourish.”
  • An artist talks about his process in The Lost Carving:  A Journey to the Heart of Making, by David Esterly (Viking):  Esterly’s medium is wood.  His inspiration was a 17th century woodcarver who went by the name Grinling Gibbons.  When “a fire at Hampton Court Palace damaged a series of Gibbon carvings . . .  Mr. Esterly was chosen to recreate” one of them, a “seven-foot-long cascade of fruit and flowers . . .  This book is the story of the year it took him to do it.”

And, from The New York Review of Books of 27 September 2012, two very interesting reviews:  the first by Jerome Groopman, reviewing God’s Hotel:  A Doctor, A Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet (Riverhead) and the second by Ezra Klein, reviewing The Obamas, by Jodi Kantor.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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