Sentence of the Day: Rinker Buck

“I cannot enjoy my life unless I am overactive, or find a challenge that makes me ebullient.”

— Rinker Buck, The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

Self bought five books on this trip: five big, fat books. What was she thinking?

When she arrived in Cork, two days ago, she found that the platform exit was down a long cement ramp.

Of course, it was easy to roll two suitcases down a ramp.

What self completely failed to appreciate was that, if there is a downhill, there must be an uphill.

She decided to tackle this uphill ramp by finding the right attitude. That is, by sucking it up. About a quarter of the way, she stopped dead and had a most inconvenient thought: I will need a crane.

Then, an older woman in a black pantsuit turned and said, “Come on, give me the bags.” Self was all like, No! These are my bags! These are my punishment!

But the woman decided to pretend self was not protesting, and reached for the bigger of her suitcases.

All the way up the ramp self apologized. At the top, she reached for her big suitcase, absolutely dying with shame. The woman said, matter-of-factly, “I knew you’d never make it up that ramp.”

Meanwhile, it occurs to self that she cannot handle both these bags by herself when she needs to be off and on trains. Constantly.

But, since self has no choice, she decides that an attitude of cheerful denial is the best policy. After all, it’s always worked for her before.

The reason she knows it’s worked for her before is: she has never let go of the notion that suitcases, no matter how heavy, are no big deal. There is terrible disconnect here, but the importance of this notion, this notion of self-punishment followed by absolute self-reliance, is obviously something vital to self’s personality. Why, she has no idea. As vital notions go, this one’s pretty bruising.

Last year, she remembers being helped onto a London bus by the driver himself (No San Francisco MUNI driver would ever relinquish the steering wheel of a bus to help a batty woman. Self’s just saying) He reached down and grabbed her suitcase. After, he said: “I tell you, it must be really nice to leave home knowing you’ve brought all your books with you.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Battle in Robert Harris: p. 248 of Conspirata (Or, If You’re in the UK, Lustrum)

Cicero’s great enemy is Catilina. Catilina is dispatched, as self knew he would be (She’s read about Catilina’s dispatching in both SPQR and Tom Holland’s Rubicon). But, as Harris writes a few pages earlier, No victories in politics are permanent (This is a paraphrase; self has little time to be hunting up the exact page, as the day is almost done and she hasn’t met her day’s writing quota).

Still, Harris manages to make Catilina’s defeat exciting:

  • It was a terrible carnage and Catilina was in the thick of it all day. Not one of his lieutenants surrendered. They fought with the ferocious abandon of men with nothing to lose. Only when Petreius sent in a crack praetorian cohort did the rebel army finally collapse. Every one of Catilina’s followers, including Manlius, died where he stood; afterwards their wounds were found to be entirely in the front and none in the back.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Greek Philosophy in Robert Harris

The Stoics vs. Aristotle & Plato

pp. 199 – 200 of Conspirata (Lustrum in the UK; self has to make that distinction every time, it’s a bear)

Cicero delivers a speech to the Roman Senate, making fun of his colleague Cato:

For there was a man of genius called Zeno, and the disciples of his teaching are called stoics. Here are some of his precepts: the wise man is never moved by favour and never forgives anyone’s mistakes; only a fool feels pity; all misdeeds are equal, the casual killing of a cock no less a crime than strangling one’s father; the wise man never assumes anything, never regrets anything, is never wrong, never changes his mind.

Now I must admit when I was younger I also took some interest in philosophy. My masters, though, were Plato and Aristotle. They don’t hold violent or extreme views. They say that favour can sometimes influence the wise man; that a good man can feel pity; that there are different degrees of wrongdoing and different punishments; that the wise man often makes assumptions when he doesn’t know the facts, and is sometimes angry, and sometimes forgives, and sometimes changes his mind; that all virtue is saved from excess by a so-called mean. If you had studied these masters, Cato, you might not be a better man or braver — that would be impossible — but you might be a little more kind.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

CATO in Robert Harris (Conspirata, p. 92)

#amreading all Imperial Rome narratives

Until next week, when self begins Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

Robert Harris’s Conspirata (In the United Kingdom it’s got a different title: Lustrum) covers exactly the same ground as the books self just finished reading: SPQR by Mary Beard, and Rubicon by Tom Holland. So she knows how everything is going to end. But Harris is such a good writer (She read Fatherland, years ago: highly recommend) that self is giving Conspirata a go.

Here’s a speech by Cato which self thinks is fascinating for what it reveals of the character (Also, it is interesting that millions of youths around the world see the name Cato and think immediately of that blonde bully in The Hunger Games):

Never be moved by favour. Never appease. Never forgive a wrong. Never differentiate between things that are wrong — what is wrong is wrong, whatever the size of the misdemeanour, and that is the end of the matter. And finally, never compromise on any of these principles. “The man who has the strength to follow them — is always handsome however misshapen, always rich however needy, always a king however much a slave.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Self’s Life in Books

In 2013, she read a total of 30 books.

In 2014, to her great disappointment, she managed to read only 7.

Thus far, in 2016, she’s read 18 books. Oh happy happy joy joy.

2013 was a great year for her reading life.

She read:

  • Bicycle Diaries, by David Byrne
  • Anna Karenina
  • Don Quijote
  • Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses
  • Mildred Armstrong Kalish’s Litte Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression
  • Sister Carrie
  • The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
  • The Quiet American, by Graham Greene
  • Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
  • The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
  • City of Thieves, by David Benioff
  • The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michae Connelly
  • Henry M. Stanley’s How I Found Livingstone in Central Africa

In 2015, self’s great reads were:

  • Silas Marner
  • Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin
  • The Act of Love, by Howard Jacobson
  • Middlemarch, by George Eliot
  • Bad Behavior, by Mary Gaitskill

This year, self’s favorite books have been:

  • The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins (which she just realized she’d already read five years ago: She didn’t remember a thing!)
  • Anjelica Huston’s second memoir, Watch Me
  • The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Matsuo Basho
  • Swimming Studies, by Leanne Shapton

She’s struggling through Northanger Abbey. Really struggling. But she is determined to finish it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Sentence of the Day: From THE GREEN ROAD

Self has loved all the books she’s read so far this year. Some are lighter reads than others, but in general she’s been really lucky in her reading choices. Here are the books she’s read so far in 2016:

  • Road Dogs, by Elmore Leonard
  • The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins
  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Leo Tolstoy
  • Candide, by Voltaire
  • Watch Me, by Anjelica Huston
  • My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante
  • The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
  • Girl Waits With Gun, by Amy Stewart
  • The Green Road (currently reading), by Anne Enright

This is a sentence from Enright’s novel. Two “boys,” Dan and Billy, are walking together on a clear Manhattan night, just “after rain.” One of the boys is out of the closet, the other not really:

  • The boys’ winter coats were both open to the mild night, their long scarves hung down, blue and green.

And that’s it! There’s the sentence. Hope you like it as much as self did.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay night.

 

Get Out of There, Rachel!

Such is self’s empathy for The Girl on the Train‘s Rachel that she can’t help feeling protective about her.

SPOILER ALERT

Rachel (self feels like screaming) do NOT, Do NOT go into that man’s house!

As if to prove that the problems of self and Rachel do not count for a hill of beans in this crazy world, Rachel never disappoints: she goes into the man’s house.

Given her vulnerability and her need and her alcohol dependency, it’s a wonder she’s remained alive this long. Seriously.

“Come and sit down,” the man says. “Have a drink.”

No, Rachel, do NOT accept a drink from that man!

There’s something unkind about the set of his face (Rachel thinks). The contempt that I saw on Saturday morning, after we slept together, is still there.

Rachel takes a drink. In the very next breath: Outside, I can hear shrieking —

“Sit the fuck down.”

Self knew it! She knew it was a set-up! (Quick check of how many pages till the end. About 50. Maybe in those 50 pages Rachel can get to her cell phone and call the police? Maybe in those 50 pages Rachel will find a weapon of some sort and kill HIM? Maybe in those 50 pages the reader will learn that Rachel is actually a karate black belt? Before she turned into an alcoholic, that is? Maybe the man will turn out to be harmless? Maybe the reader will learn that “Sit the fuck down” is meant as a term of endearment?)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

GIRL ON THE TRAIN Quote of the Day

This novel is pitch perfect. Absolutely pitch perfect. If Hawkins were ever to offer a master class on switching points of view, self would sign up!

Here we are in Rachel’s head:

  • It’s an odd thing to say, but I think this all the time. I don’t feel bad enough.

Oh no oh no oh no is something bad going to happen to Rachel? Worse, is she going to do something bad to herself?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN: Train of Thought

Self wants it to NOT be Rachel.

Because Rachel evokes so many feelz in self.

And Rachel’s point of view is the one we’re inside of, mostly.

Somewhere near the halfway point of Girl on the Train, self reads an Anna point of view. Self is usually impatient with multiple point of view narratives: she thinks the switching around is really just a lame excuse for the author not to come up with a tight plot. Like the switch is nothing more than an extended tease. But self really relishes the point-of-view switches in Girl on the Train. The novel presents us with a great puzzle and a great unreliable narrator and the only way the reader can figure out what’s really going down is to hear from all the characters.

Anna (Tom’s current wife) describes seeing Rachel. It’s a scene that we’ve seen earlier, narrated from Rachel’s point of view. All along, self has thought of Rachel as a well-meaning, deluded drunk. Just your typical messed-up anti-heroine. Self absolutely loathes Tom. His diatribes, his abandonment of Rachel. Of course, we aren’t that sympathetic with Anna, Tom’s current wife.

Then, suddenly, we’re inside Anna’s head, Anna watching Rachel. And it is a little un-nerving to read Rachel as giving a sort of sneer at Anna. The sneer of a woman who is absolutely in control of her actions, if not of her emotions. Could Rachel be pulling a fast one on the reader? (And how on earth is Emily Blunt going to play this character, Emily Blunt who is so immensely likeable even when bitchy, as she was in The Devil Wears Prada?)

What’s really interesting is that, despite the fact that Anna is the Other Woman, and of course we would not expect her to have a sympathetic view of Rachel, when she describes sneering Rachel, it makes the reader question her liking of Rachel, instead of making us dislike Anna more.

Why does this happen?

Each switch in point of view is a surprise. In other words, the patterns are unpredictable: we don’t have a uniform order for the switching. It’s not Anna, followed by Rachel, followed by Megan, then back to Anna, followed by Rachel, followed by Megan etc etc

But each switch does carry the story forward. And readers find themselves becoming detectives, constantly testing new theories of who did what.

And such is self’s curiosity that she sometimes cannot wait to resume reading, she grabs the book (which is always in her tote) even if it only means reading a few paragraphs more.

She thinks her seatmate on the plane who much preferred Daniel Silva to Paula Hawkins was so, so wrong.

The Girl on the Train resembles The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, another mystery that asks: Who did it?

The central character has some flaw that makes it difficult for her/him to be taken seriously. In TCIOTDITN, it’s the narrator’s Aspergers. Here, it’s the fact that Rachel is alcoholic and depressed and given to mood swings. Yet, they doggedly persist in their “investigations.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Against All Odds: Really Enjoying THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

Self thinks she read somewhere that Emily Blunt is starring in the movie.

And self adores Emily Blunt.

Self has taken a peek at the end; the reviews say there’s a surprise ending. And she can’t take the suspense of spending one or two weeks with a book, identifying with this or that character, and then being blind-sided. She just can’t.

Anyhoo, there’s a missing woman. And the other woman, the one who’s been watching her on the train, has fabricated quite a story for her. Now that the woman’s life is news, the woman who made up stories can finally find out how close to the mark she was:

Megan has no family in the area. Both her parents are deceased.

Megan is unemployed. She used to run a small art gallery in Whitney, but it closed down in April last year (I knew Megan would be arty).

Scott is a self-employed IT consultant (I can’t bloody believe Scott is an IT consultant)

The story reminds self a little of the first-person piece she read in The Guardian, some years back: Sarah Hepola and her alcoholic blackouts. Self has seen drunk people, many times. But it somehow feels more raw in England. Her last experience with full-on drunkenness was riding back to London on a train from Cambridge, on a Saturday night. And holy cow, it wasn’t just the drunkenness, there was weed smoking and general loudness and belligerence. And self sat miserably in her seat for two hours and wondered why the conductor never came by to ask for tickets. (Stupid: why would a conductor put himself/herself through that on a Saturday night, on a train full of drunk people?)

After she got off the train, her nerves were rather frayed. She decided to take a cab instead of the underground. She said a little about the train to the cabbie and he shrugged: “Young people,” the cabbie said. “Saturday night.”

Anyhoo, one of the women in The Girl On the Train is an alcoholic. The kind of alcoholic who comes home with bumps on her head and bruises on her thighs and no memory of what happened (“I feel excited. I feel afraid.”)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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