Pulling that old switcheroo. Self started reading Karen Cheung’s The Impossible City when she got a notice that Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories that Make Us was due and could not be renewed: someone put a hold on it.
It was October of 1991 and I found myself staring dumbfounded at a large wooden shipping crate through a chain link fence in Jaffa. The crate had my name on it. It contained 144 boxes of books that I had shipped from the States months earlier, and in different circumstances I would have been happy to see it, but today I wasn’t. I had been told that very morning that it was still ninety miles away in the Port of Haifa, waiting for custom clearance. Now it was in Jaffa, and ominous rain-clouds were sweeping in from the nearby sea, but I was as powerless to get my stuff out of there as to stop the imminent downpour. I imagined rainwater soaking the thin paper of thousands of used books I had collected for the past nine months, the ink of the print bleeding into shapeless blots.— “How I Became a Bookseller”, Essay # 2 in the collection The Bibliomaniacs: Tale from a Tel Aviv Bookseller, by J. C. Halper
Self finally finished The Peloponnesian War! It took ages — like, 10 days. Those cunning Greeks just seemed to bleed out by the end, crushed by centrifugal force.
She’s beginning a new book, A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind.
She’s never read Siri Hustvedt before, but this book was on many “Best of the Year” lists, and she was intrigued.
Since she found The Peloponnesian War truly exhausting (and she hopes Hustvedt isn’t), she’s decided to make it easy on herself and attack the longest essay first, The Delusions of Certainty. There’s an argument about life and death and oh well — is summer brain really colonizing self’s mind? The first sentence was not a grabber, but further down the first paragraph she encountered this:
What constitutes death is also unclear, although once a corpse begins to putrefy, all doubt vanishes.— from the essay “coming in and going out”
The North Americans had enormous reserves ready for deployment, and the British had experimented with anthrax on a remote Scottish island, massacring flocks of sheep and goats.
* * * *
The first gas attack in history overwhelmed the French troops entrenched near the small town of Ypres, in Belgium. When they awoke on the morning of Thursday, April 22, 1915, the soldiers saw an enormous greenish cloud creeping towards them across no-man’s land. Twice as high as a man and as dense as winter fog, it stretched from one end of the horizon to the other, as far as the eye could see. The leaves withered on the trees as it passed, birds fell dead from the sky; it tinged the pastureland a sickly metallic colour . . . Six thousand canisters of chlorine gas” were released that morning at Ypres.When We Cease to Understand the World, pp. 24 – 25
This anthology was required reading in son’s high school English.
The front cover:
The back cover:
A Conversation with Emily Bernard
Author of Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine
Moderated by Edvige Giunta and Meilli Ellis-Tingle
Tuesday, April 20, 6 p.m.
Emily Bernard is the author of Black is the Body: Stories from My Mother’s Time and Mine, which was named one of the best books of 2019 by Kirkus Reviews and National Public Radio. Black is the Body won the 2020 Los Angeles Times Christopher Isherwood Prize for autobiographical prose. Emily’s previous works include: Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; and Some of My Best Friends: Writings on Interracial Friendship, which was chosen by the New York Public Library as a Book for the Teen Age; and, with Deborah Willis, Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs, which received a 2010 NAACP Image Award. Her work has appeared in: O the Oprah Magazine, Harper’s, The New Republic, newyorker.com, Best American Essays, Best African American Essays, and Best of Creative Nonfiction. She has received fellowships from the Alphonse A. Fletcher Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the MacDowell Colony, the Vermont Arts Council, and the W. E. B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University. Emily was the James Weldon Johnson Senior Research Fellow in African American Studies at Yale University. She is the Julian Lindsay Green and Gold Professor of English at the University of Vermont, and a 2020 Andrew Carnegie Fellow. Emily lives in South Burlington, Vermont with her husband and twin daughters.
Free with RSVP.
The books below took her through a tumultuous year. Books are listed in the order in which she read them:
- Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, by Jia Tolentino
- Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang
- Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory, by Rafael Bob-Waksberg
- The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison
- I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
- The Run of His Life: The People vs OJ Simpson, by Jeffrey Toobin
- TheChildren of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
- Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
- Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty
- Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey
- Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us, by Frans de Waal
- Caliban’s War, by James S. A. Corey
- Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, by Robert Kolker
- Abaddon’s Gate, by James S. A. Corey
- The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, by David Wallace-Wells
- Cibola Burn, by James S. A. Corey
- Her Protector’s Pleasure, by Grace Calloway
- The Snakes, by Sadie Jones
- The Shadow King, by Maaza Mengiste
- First: Sandra Day O’Connor, by Evan Thomas
- Colonel Chabert, by Honorée de Balzac
- The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal
- In West Mills, by De’Shawn Charles Winslow
- Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy, by Larry Tye
- Your House Will Pay, by Stephanie Cha
- Heaven, My Home, by Attica Locke
- Bread and Salt: Stories, by Valerie Miner
- The Prince of Mournful Thoughts, by Caroline Kim (Winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize)
- Life of a Klansman: A Family History in White Supremacy, by Edward Ball
From Hometown Foods: Essays on Filipino Food:
Quiet, bucolic Silay used to have a lot of gambling for high stakes going on behind the walls of those gracious houses. Some, I was told (I never saw them) had sophisticated warning, hiding and escape systems built into them in case of an unlikely raid — unlikely because of pakikisama, because important officials were among the gamblers, because it was an important part of the community lifestyle. Tales were told and zarzuelas were written about jewelry, land titles and car registrations flung on the gambling table; of haciendas lost in a night of gaming; of marriages sacrificed at the mahjong, panguingue or monte tables, or at the cockpit.
For these gamblers, I was told, were developed for kalan-unon (kakanin) for which Silay is famous, and the accompanying institution, the manug-libud (accent on ug and ud). The kalan-unon are portable — they can be eaten without getting up from the gambling table, and they used to be made by the best cooks in Silay — maiden aunts, young wives, mothers, girls, many from the best families. The food was taken around by the manug-libud (“libud” means to take from place to place, usually to sell) to homes with or without gambling, to restaurants and schools, in large round baskets covered with cloth and carried on their heads.
Are there any chefs from Silay in the Bay Area? Are there any Filipino restaurants in Redwood City? How about Half Moon Bay? Just wondering.
Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.
The Prize was announced by the L. A. Times on April 17.
Read about other prizes in the full article here.
What the judges had to say about Emily Bernard’s book:
- In 12 connected essays, Bernard captured her experience with race in Black Is the Body: Stories From My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time and Mine. The panel of judges that awarded Bernard the Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose said: “With deceptively simple and luminous prose, Emily Bernard invites us to inhabit her life as she poses perilous questions seemingly as simple as ‘when is a doll just a doll,’ and pushes ever deeper refusing easy solutions. This is a beautiful, important collection of essays.”
Kudos to this beautiful writer, as well as to the other nominees and winners, including the great Walter Mosley, winner of the Robert Kirsch Award for Lifetime Achievement. Mosley, who now resides in New York City, is the “author of more than 43 books.” He is best known “for his mystery series featuring detective Easy Rawlins, a private detective in south-central Los Angeles.”
Stay safe, dear blog readers. And buy books.