What Future for Ukraine? (Letter to the Editor, The Economist, 26 February 2022)

I read your article on the situation in Narva, a town in Estonia close to the border with Russia (“Who’s next?” 5 February). Today’s 80% ethnic Russian majority is not the result of a “legacy” of Narva belonging to the Russian empire and then to the Soviet Union. In fact, at the end of the 1930s the overwhelming majority of Narva’s inhabitants were ethnically Estonian. The demographic change was made first in 1944 by Soviet carpet bombing that destroyed 95% of buildings and forced survivors to flee. The Soviets then did not allow Estonian citizens to return to their hometown, which had become part of a new Soviet military uranium mining complex.

Native Estonians were not considered trustworthy to live in that area. They were replaced by people resettled from the Soviet Union. Today’s Russian majority was created by local ethnic cleansing.

A reader
Tallinn, Estonia

WSJ Readers Respond to “President Trump Responds on Pennsylvania”


Although I can appreciate the value of your newsletter printing letters from writers of various views, it seems extremely important to vet these letters for truth, fact, and veracity. Yet you publish a letter from former President Trump, who doesn’t accept truth and fact. He continues to destroy our institutions and norms to advantage himself.

The decision to publish his letter was a mistake. It is not “cancel culture” to refuse to print false allegations and lies. It is important to support cold, hard facts. Because Mr. Trump’s assertions of “rigged” elections and “corruption” are so damaging to the fabric of a democratic society, a response to these fabrications from these editors is necessary.

Wall Street Journal, Letters to the Editor, Weekend, Oct. 30-31, 2021


If Democrats rigged the 2020 election employing the nefarious tactics alleged by President Trump, why didn’t Democrats apply the same dishonest devices to win more of the 435 House and 35 Senate races? The hundreds of Republican incumbents and challengers who lost their races haven’t complained to the Federal Election Commission or file lawsuits. Had Democrats possessed the power to rig elections in 2020, they surely would have used it to secure sufficient seats to avoid the congressional deadlock that plagues the American people today.

Wall Street Journal, Letters to the Editor, Weekend, Oct. 30 – 31, 2021

The Response to the NYTBR Review of Alix Ohlin

Self had been expecting a response of some kind to the William Giraldi review of two books by the Canadian writer Alix Ohlin.  She thought, while she was reading it (in the Aug. 19 issue of the NYTBR):  No way are the publishers going to take this sitting down!  Basically, the review trotted out the names of a whole slew of eminent writers, and showed how Ohlin failed to measure up.  Self thought it was a rather pointless exercise.  She is sure, if someone compared self’s writings to that of Alice Munro, she would come up very, very short.

Today, while self was perusing the 2 September 2012 issue of the NYTBR, she saw, in the Letters to the Editor, a response to the Ohlin review by someone from Santa Barbara, California.  Not the publisher, not the author’s editor, not even someone who knew Ohlin personally, but someone who had read Ohlin’s first novel and enjoyed it.

According to the letter-writer:

. . .  readers are served a steaming bowl of vitriol . . .  that even includes petty complaints about the books’ titles.  While faulting Ohlin for the purported wretchedness of her metaphors, he squeezes out such memorable phrases as “flies around like kites in a waning zephyr,” “stiffened in a morgue of mentation” and “the cosmos takes on a coruscated import.”  He notes that the word “weird” is “the most worthless word in English.”  His preferred descriptions include “insufferable,” “appalling,” “abysmal,” “bland,” “obscene,” and “enervated.”

I don’t care to imagine the small, stale world Giraldi appears to inhabit, but I did enjoy spending time with the characters Ohlin invented for her novel.  Unlike the self-portrait painted by the reviewer, these individuals were vital, complex and engaging.

Wonder when that response from the publisher will be coming.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Cloudy, 3rd Thursday of July 2012: Reading The NYTBR

Self is going to have to make this quick.

She’s got a huge stack of other magazines to read through, and her on-line creative writing class has just started.

So, here are some random items of interest in The NYTBR of 17 June 2012:

A Letter to the Editor makes self want to read Roland Chambers’s The Last Englishman, about the adventure writer Arthur Ransome.

An interview with Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert makes self want to read:  Robert Hughes’ Rome; Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and its just-published sequel, Bring Up the Bodies; Bill Clinton’s My Life; and the complete series of L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz.

Alex Witchel’s review of Michael Frayn’s satirical novel Skios makes self want to read that book, as well as Frayn’s 1999 Booker Prize shortlisted novel Headlong.

Marilyn Stasio’s Crime column makes self want to read all the books she mentions:  Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Tom Piccirilli’s The Last Kind Words, Charles Todd’s An Unmarked Grave, and Simran Singh’s Witness the Night.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

NYTBR, 6 May 2012

Sigh.  Self will never get caught up with the NYTBR.  She’s leaving soon for Scotland!!!

(She’s bringing her laptop and her iPad, fear not, dear blog readers.  She might be reduced to blogging every couple of days instead of several times a day, but she will blog.  Not about her fellow artists, of course, that would be a serious violation of their privacy, but she is sure she will have plenty to say about the scenery)

Now to the NYTBR.  There is a very interesting review of The Passage of Power:  The Years of Lyndon Johnson, fourth in a series on LBJ by Robert Caro. (Self gulps:  Who can conceivably devote so many books to studying just one man’s life?)  This volume spans just five years, but they are tumultuous ones:  the narrative begins just before the 1960 presidential elections, and ends a few months after the Kennedy assassination.  Even more interesting:  the review was written by Bill Clinton.  Yes, Bill Clinton, the erstwhile president.  The man is a constant source of surprise.  And now she feels real affection for him because, wasn’t he the last President to come up with a balanced budget?  Or, didn’t the U.S. at that time have a surplus of something like a trillion dollars?

Anyhoo, self always reads the NYTBR Letters to the Editor.  She always gleans such interesting nuggets of information from them.  Below is an amusing letter from a reader in Iowa City:

Andrew Delbanco, in his review of Marilynne Robinson’s new essay collection, When I Was a Child I Read Books (April 22), writes that she “grew up in Idaho and now lives in Iowa — places where, as she puts it . . . ‘lonesome’ is a word with strongly positive connotations.”

The essay he’s quoting is very explicitly a meditation on the American West, to which Iowa cannot be said to belong.  His lumping together of two states separated by more than a thousand miles is surprising for a scholar of American studies but completely typical of the coast-centric insularity whose extent I’ve realized recently in moving to Iowa from Maryland.

Well put, oh dear NYTBR reader Jacob P from Iowa City!

Stay tuned.

Letter to the Editor, Feb. 4, 2012 Issue of The Economist

The reader wrote in from San Francisco.

    SIR — Reading about how near-starvation diets and vigorous exercise can boost longevity (“Worth all the sweat,” January 21st) brought to mind a remark by Clement Freud: “If you resolve to give up smoking, drinking and loving you don’t actually live longer — it just seems longer.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Surprise, Surprise!

It is very sad that self did not get to see Udaipur, but self is sure she will get to see it, some other time.

More important, self learned after arriving in New Delhi, a few weeks ago, that she felt very much at ease among Indians.  That is, self discovered that there were many similarities between the people she met in India and the people she knows back in California and the Philippines.  Self learned that Indians eat several times a day —  almost as often as Filipinos.  And their food is not strangely exotic —  in fact, it is bloody delicious!  And since food is practically her # 1 issue whenever self visits a foreign country, the food issue not being an issue helped self relax right away.  Plus, the open-air markets remind self very much of Manila’s Divisoria.

Upon her return, self found answers to several questions that had lately pre-occupied her.  To wit :

  • Is Mitt Romney still the most likely Republican candidate to run against Obama?  Ixnay!  Rick “the vest” Santorum has surprisingly trumped Mitt “the hair” Romney!  Santorum cleaned up in three states!  Wow!  As recently as a month ago, self could never have anticipated such a remarkable development!
  • Is Silicon Valley still a “happening” place?  In a Letter to the Editor written by a Los Altos resident and published in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, William Burke calls Silicon Valley “the heart of enterprise and inspiration of the world, home of Apple, HP, Cisco, Google, Facebook and many more.”  Wow, let’s be proud, San Francisco Bay Area residents!  Moreover, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco just declared Proposition 8 (ban on same-sex marriages in California) “unconstitutional,” which means there will likely be many dramatic about-faces and hand-wringing in the months/ years to come, at least until the issue is addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court.  More material for blog!  Fabulous!
  • Is President Noynoy of the Philippines still a Mama’s Boy?  Ooops, self meant:  Is Noynoy ever going to get married?  Apparently, the answer is yes!  The love interest had a photograph on p. 1 of Philippine News.  She is, of course, very pretty.  In the Philippines, 87.8 % of the time, appearance = destiny.
  • Does Bella still have all her marbles?  Self is happy to report:  yes!  Exhibit A:  when self crept into the house, the Ancient One lifted her head and began wagging her tail in a most vigorous manner.
  • Are there any upcoming movies self is interested in seeing?  Yes!  Self just saw a preview for a Ryan Reynolds/ Denzel Washington thriller, and another for a Jonah Hill/ Channing Tatum comedy, and yet another for the “Prometheus” movie, starring Sam Worthington and Liam Neeson (Self thinks Worthington looks so much better when his hair is long)
  • What is current Sam Worthington vehicle “Man on Ledge” like?  It has Elizabeth Banks!  Yes!  And Ed Burns!  And that guy from “Hurt Locker” who is suddenly all over the place —  no, not Jeremy Renner, the other guy!  The one who played the uptight dude!  Anthony Mackie!
  • Is America going bananas over the upcoming holiday, Valentine’s?  Yes!  Her neighbor two blocks down the street has hung paper hearts on her gate, and heart-shaped sugar cookies are stacked near the entrance of Safeway.  Today the talk shows were focused on a “Valentine’s Day” theme.  Such as:  how to keep your bouquet of tulips looking fresh, tips from a Sunset Magazine editor.
  • Does the house need a good sweeping?  Of course!  Even with the Ancient One being kept in the San Carlos Pet Hospital (until two nights ago), there are gigantic fur-balls nestled in the corners of the living and dining room.
  • Did self get to watch “Justified” Season 3 Episode 4?  Yes, she did, and though she loves the lackadaisical criminals, and the comedic mayhem, and the face and stance or maybe just about everything of Timothy Olyphant, self thought last night’s episode dragged just a wee bit.  Dewey gets stuck in the neck with a syringe, at least two times.  Both times, self was expecting him to wind up in a body bag, which he does.  But SPOILER ALERT! not permanently.  Neal McDonough, as this season’s potent Evil One, gets to utter some lines of Quirky Bad Guy dialogue.
  • Since self has read six novels in a row since the start of 2012, will her next book be yet another novel?  Ixnay!  Self began delving into Adrian Goldsworthy’s Caesar:  The Life of a Colossus.  Although she has yet to arrive at any bloody parts, and is stuck on a page which describes in minute detail the power held by the Roman Senate, she is sure that very dramatic scenes are there, simply lying in wait.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Prompted by Previews of “Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close”

While self was waiting for “Justified” Season 3, Episode 1 to come on, she caught the preview of a movie called “Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close,” which has Tom Hanks playing a father who is caught in his office in one of the towers, on that terrible day.

It so happens that self is on a closet-cleaning binge.  At the back of one of her closet drawers, she found newspapers from that week: The New York Times of Sept. 12, Sept. 13, and Sept. 14. She uncreased the folds, and contemplated.

A month ago, she tried to write a story about 9/11, the same story she’s been trying to write for 10 years. She finally chopped it to four pages and sent it out. She happened to send it to Wigleaf, together with “Stonehenge/Pacifica,” and they chose the latter piece. But self still has hope that the other piece will find a home. It’s called “Wavering,” and it’s about a man whose wife saved his life that day, but not in the way you’d expect.

So, she takes a look at the Poets & Writers magazine, the one with Joan Didion on the cover. P & W calls her “America’s Most Resilient Writer.” Self wonders whether Didion herself would appreciate the appellation. Why “Most Resilient”? Why not just “The Best”? But perhaps it is a tribute, to be a “resilient” writer. Self supposes it must be, for writing is a tough, tough business. For every “Writer Under 40” who gets into The New Yorker, there are thousands, thousands who end up being lawyers, program assistants, nurses, teachers.

Self remarked to the husband, after watching the preview of “Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close” :  “Of all the places in the world that the terrorists could have chosen for their strike, they ended up choosing the one city that probably has more writers per square foot than any other city in the world.”

Is it chance? Fate? Who knows. That one event has spawned circles and concentric circles of angst, despair, neurosis that will last decades. Perhaps, even, centuries.

Self has read some good 9/11 writing (And some really terrible 9/11 writing). Among the good, Claire Messud’s novel, The Emperor’s Children. As well as Will Self’s short essay in his collection, Psychogeography. As well as Colum McCann’s short piece, “Dessert,” in The New Yorker issue that commemmorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  McCann’s essay and the nonfiction book 102 Mintues:  The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers have touched her more than anything.

Here, in Poets & Writers, are some more 9/11 literature, recommended by a Pennsylvania reader who wrote a Letter to the Editor:

  • Rebecca McClanahan’s “And We Shall Be Changed:  New York City, September 2001” (Kenyon Review, Summer/Fall 2003)
  • Donald Morrill’s The Untouched Minutes, a memoir “written almost exclusively in the third person” (University of Nebraska Press, 2004)
  • David Foster Wallace’s “The View From Mrs. Thompson’s,” an essay in the Oct. 25, 2001 issue of Rolling Stone
  • Mary Cappello’s “Moscow 9/11” in Raritan, Summer 2002
  • Art Spiegelman’s graphic memoir In the Shadow of No Towers (Pantheon Books, 2004)

Lost in the “Genre Ghetto”

Letter to the New York Times Book Review from a reader in Hollywood, California:

To the Editor:

Christopher Buckley refers to certain major works by Vonnegut as “sci-fi(esque).”  If Cat’s Cradle is “sci-fi(esque),” then Farewell, My Lovely is “mystery(esque)” and Shane is “western(esque).”  I had hoped we were long past the Canticle for Leibowitz days when publishers could persuade critics to treat science fiction with the respect granted to other forms of literature only by pretending it wasn’t science fiction.

Perhaps Buckley was trying to protect Vonnegut posthumously from the sci-fi label he’d avoided in life for fear of exactly that kind of “genre ghetto,” as Buckley puts it.  But surely in this century the secret life is no longer necessary.  The cat and the cradle are out of the bag, and it should be gladly and admiringly acknowledged that Kurt Vonnegut was a man of many parts —  including a writer of science fiction.

(Fab Skyline prof Liza Erpelo tells self that only outsiders refer to “science fiction” as “sci-fi.”  To insiders, it’s always science fiction.  Which suddenly reminds self that she’s seen Buckley before: at the now-on-hiatus Foothill Writers Conference)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

So Many Things To Do, Like Perusing the 9 October 2011 NYTBR

It is a gorgeous Monday.  There are so many things self needs to do before she can settle down for the serious business of the day:

First, she has to return her old HTC Droid to Verizon, for she complained so much about it that they mailed her a brand new one, last week.  And because self was having a hard time transferring over all her settings, she procrastinated and procrastinated —  that is, until yesterday, when she was the recipient of a thoughtful txt message from Verizon Powers-That-Be, that informed her that unless she returned her defective phone today, they would charge her $500 for the new phone they had sent her.  YIIIKES!  People, don’t you know that self only gets paid at the most $50 per story?  Where is your compassion?

She has to clean up after The Ancient One, who is incontinent.  Self thinks it was brilliant of hubby to find a job just when Bella the Beagle decided to lose control of her bowel functions.  Every morning, he rouses self to say:  “There’s a mess of crap in the kitchen.  I’m late for work.  Gotta go!”  Sometimes self wants to pretend that the crap is really a pile of sweet-smelling lavender, so she can hum like Mary Poppins as she goes about the cleaning …

And then there’s the small of matter of polishing off the bag of Dandy shrimp-flavored chips which self opened a half-hour ago.

Having gotten all of that out of the way, self can then begin to post in earnest about the NYTBR of 9 October 2011, which she has just fished out from the very very back of the “pile of stuff” that she calls her pile of un-opened/un-answered mail.  Everything’s late, even the bills.  However, as there is no money in her account, and hubby is not inclined to add any more, as he says she is a “spendthrift” ($30 a week for groceries is being a spendthrift?), it actually works out better for self to procrastinate.

Once again, self digresses.  Deepest apologies, dear blog readers!

This issue of the NY Times Book Review is a very interesting one.  For starters, there’s a Letter to the Editor that maligns Roger Ebert’s looks, before he suffered his regrettable disfiguring jaw cancer.  The letter is by John Simon, who writes for The New York Times, and who maintains that Ebert’s looks, “even at their height,” were —  and then he finishes up, rather coyly, with “it would be ungentlemanly to comment.”

There is also a review (by Alan Riding), of the latest book on the Jonestown Massacre, Julia Scheeres’ A Thousand Lives:  the Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown.  Scheeres, Riding points out, “is well placed to write” about Jonestown because, “as rebellious teenagers, she and her adopted African-American brother were sent to a self-described therapeutic Christian boarding school for troubled youth in the Caribbean.”

There is also a book about an ugly episode in American history, the de-segregation of Little Rock Central High School.  In the photograph that accompanies the review (by Amy Finnerty), a demure African American girl in a white dress and shades tries to maintain her dignity while a white girl, face twisted in anger, taunts her.  What’s weird about this picture is, there’s a blonde woman who is partially out of the frame, who is looking at the African American girl and smiling.  Self cannot tell whether that is a smile of derision, or a smile of “You go, girl!” or a smile of I’m-just-smiling-because-there-are-photographers-present-and-I’m-told-I-look-prettier-when-I-smile. The book is an interview with the two women at the center of this drama:  African American Elizabeth Eckford, and the woman taunting her, Hazel Bryan.  It’s called Elizabeth and Hazel:  Two Women of Little Rock.

There is a book about a serial killer who preyed on Jews in the dying days of World War II (What, you mean to say, aside from being almost exterminated by the Holocaust, there were still Jews who were off-ed by a serial killer?  Apparently so).  The man operated by offering his Jewish clients a means to escape France.  And indeed his means of escape was to stick them in a vat of lime, and secrete their worldly goods in various safe houses around Paris.  All this was possible because, in 1944, the Jews of Paris were desperate, and no one was paying attention.  The book, Death in the City of Light:  The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris, was written by David King.

There is also a very interesting novel, by David Bergen, which is about what happens to a newspaper columnist who uses his own family as fodder for a regular column (For one thing, he describes his daughter’s boyfriend as “rabbit-like, soft and pale with a curious nose that twitched”).  Then, his own son is killed in Afghanistan.  Brilliant!  The review was written by Polly Morrice.  The novel is The Matter With Morris.

Finally, there is a new book by Jerome Groopman, whose writing self admires, but since she hasn’t gotten around yet to finishing his 2007 bestseller, How Doctors Think, she will content herself with finishing that earlier book.

Stay tuned.

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