Bookends/ The Joy of a Quiet Afternoon

Two days since Thanksgiving ended.  Though self had no one over, the clatter in her head can be quite deafening, a clatter the sole other occupant in this house is always happy to add to.  Every day brings a new spurt of instructions, whether it’s when to mail bills or covering windows with cardboard.  Mother-in-law said it best:  “My son is such a character.”

Now he has stepped out, without any prior warning: A friend of his from Ateneo, Randy, came over.  Self imagined both would want to watch the games.  But suddenly, after she’d bought all manner of chips and snacks and drinks and ham and what-have-you, she arrived to find the two men preparing to go out.  What is self going to do with all this food?  She’ll send it home with Randy, probably.  It’s either that or scarf on chips for days on end.

Anyhoo, after self watered a bit, she settled down in the tiny room she calls her “Office.”  This has all her memorabilia, all her saved literary magazines, all her knick-knacks.  Through the French doors, she can look right into the backyard:

The View From Self's "Office": What a Gorgeous Day!

The View From Self’s “Office”: What a Gorgeous Day!

These bookends were from a consignment store in San Carlos, whose name is eluding self.  It's on Laurel Street.

These bookends were from a consignment store in San Carlos, whose name is eluding self. It’s on Laurel Street.

The Rabbit keeps her literary magazines upright.  One Story faces out.

The Rabbit keeps her literary magazines upright. One Story faces out.

Now self settles down to tackle a huge pile of back issues of The New York Times Book Review.  There’s a “Let’s Read About Sex” issue, and the October 20, 2013 issue, which has more than the usual number of “Women’s Literature” reviews.  Self is bored reading about sex in the staid NYTBR.  It would be much more fun reading books about sex if she were reading something like Rolling Stone.  So she goes for the October 20, 2013 issue.

A short story collection by T. C. Boyle is reviewed in this issue.  Self really loves T. C. Boyle so she is happy to read the review (and would read anything by him, regardless of whether the review was good or bad).  There’s a review of a novel about the forty-ish Bridget Jones, and a review of a Scandinavian novel in which a traumatized woman is plagued by the conviction that her husband is guilty of a heinous crime (Don’cha just love those traumatized women in Scandinavian novels who are so . . . so noir-ishly fragile in temperament!  After all, there can never be another Lisbeth Salander.  That’s over.  That’s done.  Now it’s back to the Scandinavian women of an Ingmar Bergman movie)

Of the four crime novels reviewed by Marilyn Stasio in this issue (Sunday, October 20, 2013), two are set in Florence.  How absolutely fabulous!  That’s Florence, Italy, in case you were wondering.  The third is set in Manhattan (It’s by Jeffery Deaver, who writes about Manhattan like nobody’s business).  And the last one is set in a small town in Connecticut — but in 1956.  Self likely won’t get to the Connecticut novel, as she is easily confused by mysteries that happen in the recent past (Mysteries about the way, waaaaay past are much easier on her nerves.  At least, everything’s different, not like the ones set in the 1950s, where self keeps forgetting the decade and then wonders why she is so confused)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

To Read (Five Summers From Now, Probably)

Here are self’s selections from the big, fat New York Times Book Review Summer Reading issue.  It’s sad, really, but self only came up with a handful of books.  She decided that, given the snail’s pace at which she’s been reading lately, from now on she has to exercise maximum discretion in adding books to her reading list:

two by Patricia Highsmith:  People Who Knock on the Door and Deep Water (recommended by Alexander McCall Smith)

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe (Self finds the title exceedingly corny, but this one was recommended by Joy Williams)

Lady at the O. K. Corral:  The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp, by Ann Kirschner (reviewed by Sara Wheeler, who says the book “deftly conjures the thrill and squalor of frontier boomtowns and mining camps.”  Sold!)

two new mysteries:  The Square of Revenge, by Belgian author Pieter Aspe, and The Body in the Piazza, by Katherine Hall Page (reviewed by Marilyn Stasio)

three classic travel books:  Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands are Blue, by Paul Bowles; Falconry in the Valley of the Indus, by Richard Burton; and The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles (mentioned by Chris Wallace in the end-paper essay, “Literary Excursions,” about “the adventure-memoirists of earlier generations.”)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Currently Reading: Second Sunday of December (2012)

It is a beautiful, sunny day.  Jennie and son have decided to sleep in.  Just as well, for they have a long drive ahead of them:  they are heading back to Claremont today, boo.

But, first there will be brunch!

Self keeps herself occupied by reading.  Her current book is Ruth Rendell’s The Monster in the Box.

Self’s first Ruth Rendell mystery was Thirteen Steps Down, and it was absolutely fascinating, a novel told from the point of view of a murderer.  The main character (the murderer) did not have as spectacular a psyche as, say, Hannibal Lecter or others of his ilk, but was rather a run-of-the-mill sad sack who had no idea that he was capable of murder —  that is, until he finally went and did it (more out of pique than, even, of anger).  Self would never have thought she would be quite so engaged.  Anyhoo, after that book, self added Rendell to her list of favorite crime writers, a list that includes Henning Mankell, Karin Fossum, Morag Joss, and Arnaldur Indridason (She also recently added a new name to the list:  Colin Harrison, whose thriller The Finder self read in Paris, during the few days she spent in a friend’s apartment, in July)

The Monster in the Box is again about a twisted soul, but this time we are in the point of view of a decent man, a recurring character in Rendell’s books, an Inspector Wexford.  Self has not yet been able to pinpoint his age, as —  despite her best efforts —  she is still only on p. 76 (and she began the book about a week ago).

But that’s OK!  Because self finished the novel she is reviewing, and she worked hard on her novel-in-progress, and son came two days ago with Jennie, and various other exciting things happened, which will keep on happening, self is sure, until the end of the holidays.

Casting a glance at the blurbs on the back of the book, self finds this by P. D. James:  “She has transcended her genre by her remarkable imaginative power to explore and illuminate the dark corners of the human psyche.”

Hear, hear!

And here’s something from Marilyn Stasio, the crime columnist for the New York Times Book Review:

“Ruth Rendell is my dream writer.  Her prose style, so intricate in design and supple in execution, has the disquieting intimacy of an alien touch in the dark.”

Again, hear, hear.  Turning, now, to one of self’s recent posts, she finds that a lot of people are viewing the post about  Naguib Mahfouz, the one in which she quoted from an issue of The Economist (September 2, 2006).  It is quite clear, after re-reading that obituary, that Mahfouz was a writer of place.  Quoting from The Economist:

. . . he was born, in 1911, in Gamaliya, a 1,000-year-old quarter whose densely packed and labyrinthine lanes were overhung by balconies that blotted out the daylight.  By the time he was six his father, a local merchant, had done well enough for himself to join the flight of Cairo’s burgeoning middle class to the airier, more modern parts of town.  But Mr. Mahfouz never lost his love of the Old City.  Many of his most pungent novels were set there and drew their titles from it:  Zuqaq al Midaq (Midaq Alley), Al Sukariya (Sugar Street).

Truly, your earliest memories never fail you.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

NYTBR: 2 September 2012 (Pile of Unread Magazines Growing Again, Aaargh!)

Here’s the short list of most interesting reviews (or, reviews that made self most excited to read the books being reviewed):

  1. Dominique Browning’s review of Tan Twan Eng’s novel, The Garden of Evening Mists.  Very smart of Ms. Browning to begin her review with a description of “the mesmerizing allure of a classic Japanese garden” —  such is self’s addiction to all things Japanese, and to all things having to do with gardening, that the mere mention of “classic Japanese garden” has self all agog with excitement.
  2. Alexander Rose’s review of Ben MacIntyre’s latest book, Double Cross:  The True Story of the D-Day Spies (Self has a confession to make:  all a reviewer has to do is mention Ben MacIntyre, and self is sooo there.  She’s read three of his books, and even taught one in Foothill English 1B, for heaven’s sake!)
  3. Randy Boyagoda’s review of Crusoe: Daniel Defoe, Robert Knox and the Creation of a Myth, by Katherine Frank.  He writes self’s favorite kind of review:  the one that begins with quotes from the author whose book is being reviewed.  Self appreciates the generosity of the reviewer to a fellow writer.  So, in the first paragraph of his review, Boyagoda uses not one, not two, but three quotes from the esteemed Ms. Frank.  And each one is pretty good, though this is self’s favorite:  “That’s his secret:  Crusoe is Anyone and Everyone.  He is you and he is me.”
  4. Judith Martin’s review of The Age of Desire, by Jennie Fields.  First of all, it has self feeling so much empathy for the book’s subject, the author Edith Wharton.  In a classic paragraph, Ms. Martin writes:  “There could hardly be a more apt theme for a novel of manners than the struggle of a prominent and respectable lady to disguise her inflamed feelings in order to meet the conventions of society.  It is not only her frantic yearning for her lover that is portrayed here, but the fallout expressed in her irritation with her husband and her editorial assistant for unknowingly getting in the way.”  Very well-written review.
  5. Marilyn Stasio’s column:  Stasio always makes self want to read the mysteries she reviews, and in this case self is particularly excited to read these two:  Ruth Rendell’s latest, The St. Zita Society (Self never knew, until she read Stasio’s column this afternoon, that Ms. Rendell was a “responsible member of Parliament”!), and Anne Perry’s latest, A Sunless Sea (Great title, Ms. Perry!)
  6. And finally, bravo to Martin Amis, for making self remember that her first encounter with Anthony Burgess was a film review in Newsweek of A Clockwork Orange.  There was a picture accompanying the review, which showed Malcolm McDowell in his fiendish operatic make-up, and wearing a top hat.  And she couldn’t wait to see the movie, though she was much too young to gain admittance.  Years later, when she saw it, she was scarred.  And also elated.  Both those feelings at once.  Well, perhaps she was more elated.  For years afterward, she couldn’t get the voice of Malcolm McDowell, turning rhapsodic over “good old Ludwig van,” out of her head.  She nearly named Sole Fruit of Her Loins Ludwig van.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

New in Crime, NYTBR 19 August 2012

You see how self has caught up with her “pile of stuff,” dear blog readers?  She’s now only two weeks behind in her reading of the NYTBR.

Most of the 19 August 2012 issue is boring stuff (like Martin Amis’ new novel, which is about a lout, what else is new).  But self takes heart from the fact that Marilyn Stasio reviews a new thriller by Norwegian crime writer Karin Fossum.

Last year, or was it two years ago, self’s life seems on such a hectic trajectory lately that she loses track, she read Fossum’s The Indian Bride and was transfixed (to know just how transfixed, read self’s review of same).

Fossum’s new book is about a creepy teen-age sadist who thinks of ever more inventive and dangerous ways to torture other children.  Oyy, self knows that sounds exceedingly dark.  But you should see what Stasio has to say about Fossum’s other thrillers:  The Water’s Edge is about “a sympathetic pedophile” (!!) and When the Devil Holds the Candle is about monstrous “old people.”

Another mystery Stasio reviews is Michael Koryta’s The Prophet, and although self is irritated by the fact that the book has the same title as the other book by Khalil Gibran, she wants to read Koryta’s because it is “about two estranged brothers,” one of whom is “a practiced bail bondsman but an inept private investigator” who “unintentionally delivered” a teenage girl “into the hands of her homicidal stalker.”  Yikes!  Dark to the nth power!  Just self’s cup of tea.

(Of further interest in this NYTBR is a review of a book that sounds like “Hurt Locker” circa London 1940:  The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows, by Brian Castner.  And a slashing attack by a male reviewer of a young, female writer, an attack that lays her out, a killing blow.  Self will leave reviewer and reviewed un-named.  Suffice it to say, the publisher will not be long in responding, self is sure)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Recommended by Joan Rivers, and Other Choice Bits From The NYTBR of July 22, 2012

Joan Rivers is one of self’s favorite people: Self is NOT, absolutely NOT kidding.

And guess what? She is the interviewee in this issue’s “By the Book” feature. And her book recommendations are — hold on to your hats, dear blog readers! — as follows:

  • The Passage of Power:  The Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert A. Caro
  • a “four-volume history of English kings” by Thomas B. Costain:  The Conquering Family, The Three Edwards, The Magnificent Century, and The Last Plantagenets
  • Enter Talking, by Joan herself (her first book)
  • The Day of the Locust, by Nathanael West
  • Adventures in the Screen Trade, by William Goldman
  • Life Itself, Roger Ebert’s memoir
  • The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty
  • Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand

The Fiction Chronicle (this week’s reviewer:  Tom LeClair) contains two entertaining reviews:  The first is a review of An Uncommon Education, by Elizabeth Percer, which is about a young girl who “endures a secretive and lonely childhood until a boy named Teddy moves into the neighborhood.”  The second is a review of Drowned, by Therese Bohman, and even though the reviewer does not really like the book (He describes it as having an “aura of artifice”), self can never resist a book that sounds very much like that movie Elizabeth Olsen was in, the one where she sleeps with her older sister’s handsome Significant Other (played by Hugh Dancy) after escaping from a cult ?!!!  The movie was called Martha Marcy May Marlene and self totally missed it when it was showing in theaters, but that is definitely something she is adding to her Netflix queue.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Summer, 2012: Reading

A particularly single-minded raccoon got into the garbage last night, spreading the remains of several days’ dinners across the front lawn.  The Man either:  a) was too sleepy to notice as he left for work this morning; or b) assumed self would have plenty of time to clean it up.

Self is currently reading —  and going ever so slowly through — The Miracle at Speedy Motors, by Alexander McCall Smith (The recently concluded Connoisseur’s Marketplace in Menlo Park was a huge distraction.  Huge)

On the night table:

  • The Silver Swan, by Benjamin Black (recommended by Marilyn Stasio, NYTBR)
  • A Death in Vienna, by Frank Tallis (recommended by The Economist)
  • The Bin Ladens:  An Arabian Family in the American Century, by Stephen Coll (recommended by The NYTBR)
  • Ghost Wars, by Stephen Coll

(On TV —  self includes this just because — a re-cap of the Tour de France)

*     *     *     *

In addition, today self has set herself to write a story about vivisection.

*   *     *    *

A second rejection for a story she sent out before Hawthornden has arrived in her “in” box.  The first rejection was semi-nice (Editor made note of the story’s “sprightliness” — !!!)

This second one, self can’t decide whether it’s nice, semi-nice, or boilerplate.  So she includes it below, in its entirety:

Dear M,

Thank you for your submission THE ________  and your interest in ________ .  We read your story with interest.  Unfortunately, despite the evident merit of this piece, it didn’t feel quite right for us.  We wish you the best of luck placing this elsewhere.

Please do try us again.


The Editors

Which means, you know, that —  at least with regards this particular story —  self is close.  Very, very close.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

NYTBR 25 March 2012: Most Helpful Reviews

  • Harold Bloom’s review of Marina Warner’s Stranger Magic:  Charmed States and the Arabian Nights (Harvard University Press).  Self picked this review because of its subject:  15 stories from the Arabian Nights, deconstructed by Warner.  The review itself is dull.  Much time is spent telling the reader what the Arabian Nights are about, and there is some gobbledygook about an “occult Solomon,” but self will read anything that analyzes the Arabian Nights.
  • Marilyn Stasio’s column.  And especially her reviews of Lyndsay Payne’s The Gods of Gotham (Amy Einhorn/ Putnam), about Timothy Wilde, a “damaged hero” who “reluctantly joins the force after losing his employment, his savings and half his face in the great fire that engulfed part of the city” of New York in the summer of 1845; and her review of Simon Lelic’s The Child Who (Penguin), “a baleful look at the matter of murderous children.” (Self does think the second title is very odd)
  • Daniel Asa Rose’s review of Alex Gilvarry’s From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant (Viking):  “A Filipino-born fashion designer” named Boyet “innocently lands himself at Guantanamo as the first detainee captured on United States soil and decides to bring the place a little flair by removing the sleeves from his orange jumpsuit.”  Brilliant!  Self thinks that naming the hero BOYET is an especially nice touch (as she knows many Boyets, including the man who is currently her lawyer)
  • Cameron Martin’s short reviews in the Fiction Chronicle.  Martin shows a particular flair for the snappy first sentence:  “Iyer’s uproarious novel, the sequel to Spurious, follows the combative relationship between two British philosophers, W. and Lars, as they embark on an alcohol-soaked speaking tour of America, unable to persuade people to repent before an apocalypse they insist is imminent.” (about Lars Iyer’s Dogma, Publisher:  Melville House)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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