From Robert Falcon Scott’s Diary of His Journey to the South Pole, 1912

Self loves nonfiction.

She loves memoir, and of all the different types of memoir she loves reading, travel books are her favorite.

A short list of travel writers self has read and admired (by no means definitive):

Sybille Bedford (A Visit to Don Otavio: A Traveler’s Tale From Mexico); Mary Morris (Nothing to Declare); Wilfred Thesiger (Arabian Sands); Redmond O’Hanlon (Into the Heart of Borneo); Eric Newby (A Short Walk In the Hindu Kush); Piers Paul Read (Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors); Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness); Rebecca West (Black Lamb and Grey Falcon)

The diary of Robert Falcon Scott is extremely excruciating because it is simply a mundane list of daily chores (including, of course, a record of the freezing temperatures) but one has to remember that the man and everyone mentioned in his diary dies, in a matter of weeks.

So here we are, reading things like:

“Bowers photographing and Wilson sketching.”

“Evans looked a little better after a good sleep . . . ”

“. . . with plenty of horsemeat we have had a fine supper . . . ” (at a place with the dreadful name Shambles Camp)

“. . . lucky to have a fine day for this and our camp work . . . ”

But one can’t help reading the diary for possible clues as to how this expedition could have been saved: if they had not wasted valuable time going back for a teammate who was clearly on the point of death. If they had not been in general so slow. But they were all exhausted and so of course they were slow.

On February 4, they had food for 10 more days and 70 miles to go. It had taken all that they had to go 8 1/2 miles one day, so 70 more miles seems just on the border of possibility.

Ugh.

Closing out this post with another picture of Lake Louise from last Saturday.

May 16, 2015

May 16, 2015

Stay tuned.

Masters of Style: A List

Self is teaching a two-day class on travel writing this weekend.

The great thing about teaching is, it makes you ponder your own predilections.

Because unless you yourself are very clear about the kind of writing you favor, you will never, in self’s humble opinion, be able to communicate anything worthwhile to your students.

These are the writers whose books have stayed longest in self’s head and heart. Some have only written one book. Doesn’t matter. The point is, their names have become part of self’s font of inspiration.

Debra Ginsberg * Kyoko Mori * Chang-rae Lee * Annie Ernaux * Tim Parks * Ron Carlson * Alison Moore * Mo Yan * Thomas Lynch * V. S. Naipaul * Gish Jen * Deborah Digges * Paul Theroux * Kathryn Harrison * Jason Elliott * W. G. Sebald * Nina Berberova * Peter Hessler * Michael Herr * Ruth Reichl * Tony Horwitz * Elmore Leonard * Brian Hall * Nicholson Baker

(Aaargh, list is getting long! Perhaps she’ll do a Part 2 later)

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

NYTBR Holiday Books Issue (2013)

Did self ever mention how humongous her PILE OF STUFF is? LOL. Self has no clue how it got that big.

Nevertheless, she is making inroads.

Today, she finally gets to the huge December 2013 issue of The New York Times Book Review.

It is, naturally, full of reviews of interesting books self wants to add to her reading list. And it has the annual “100 Notable Books List.” A couple of selections from that list:

Fiction

  1. Bleeding Edge, by Thomas Pynchon (Penguin, $28.95)
  2. The Color Master: Stories, by Aimee Bender (Doubleday, $25.95)
  3. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra (Hogarth, $26)
  4. Dirty Love, by Andre Dubus III (Norton, $25.95)
  5. Duplex, by Kathryn Davis (Graywolf, $24)
  6. The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride (Riverhead, $27.95)
  7. The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer (Ecco/HarperCollins, $26.99)
  8. The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton (Little, Brown, $27)
  9. A Marker to Measure Drift, by Alexander Maksik (Knopf, $24.95)
  10. Submergence, by J. M. Ledgard (Coffee House, $15.95)
  11. Want Not, by Jonathan Miles (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26)
  12. Woke Up Lonely, by Fiona Maazel (Graywolf, $26)

Nonfiction

  1. The Barbarous Years, The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600 – 1675, by Bernard Bailyn (Knopf, $35)
  2. The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood, by Roger Rosenblatt (Ecco/HarperCollins, $19.99)
  3. The Faraway Nearby, by Rebecca Solnit (Viking, $25.95)
  4. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sheri Fink (Crown, $27)
  5. A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout (Scribner, $27)
  6. Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death, by Katy Butler (Scribner, $25)
  7. Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery, by Robert Kolker (Harper, $25.99)
  8. Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures, by Mary Ruefle (Wave Books, $25)
  9. Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance, by Carla Kaplan (Harper, $28.99)
  10. Thank You for Your Service, by David Finkel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26)
  11. This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital, by Mark Leibovich (Blue Rider, $27.95)
  12. Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala (Knopf, $24)

There’s also:

  • The Most of Nora Ephron, a collection of her essays (Knopf, $35)
  • A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London, and New York, by Anjelica Huston (Scribner, $25)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Monday Pile of Stuff: New York Review of Books, Dec. 13, 2013

The Pile of Stuff is mythic: it contains missives from — who knows — years back.

This morning, the first thing self pulls out of it is a New York Review of Books from Dec. 19, 2013.

Self adores poetry in translation, here’s one on NYRB p. 34, a Charles Simic translation of Radmila Lazic’s Psalm of Despair (Following is the opening verse):

PSALM OF DESPAIR

by Radmila Lazic

I dwell in a land of despair
In the city of despair
Among desperate people
Myself desperate
I embrace my desperate lover
With desperate hands
Whispering desperate words
Kissing him with desperate lips

And here are a few of the books reviewed in the issue:

Levels of Life, by Julian Barnes (Knopf, $22.95) — “It is, not surprisingly, a marvel of flickering Barnesian leitmotifs . . . ” (Reviewer Cathleen Schine)

American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell, by Deborah Solomon (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28)

Undisputed Truth, by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman (Blue Rider, $30)

My Lunches with Orson: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles, edited and with an introduction by Peter Biskind (Metropolitan, $28)

Orson Welles in Italy, by Alberto Anile, translated from the Italian by Marcus Perryman (Indiana University Press, $35)

This is Orson Welles: Conversations between Peter Bogdanovich and Orson Welles

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

First NYTBR Post in Forever: 15 December 2013

Do not look a gift horse in the mouth.  It’s been nearly a year since this issue came into self’s hands. She has since suspended her New York Times Book Review subscription (in case dear blog readers were wondering. It was just too depressing seeing the book review in her mailbox every week, and not being able to read for months and months and months.)

It just so happens that the By the Book interview is with Michael Connelly, and he has many, many interesting book recommendations, which include the following:

  • Act of War:  Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo, by Jack Cheevers
  • The Public Burning, by Robert Coover
  • The Little Sister, by Raymond Chandler

This issue also has the list of Ten Best Books of 2013, and since self is well aware that time is a river, and self is disappearing quick, she has to be choosy about which of the Ten she really really wants to read, and it is these:

In Fiction

  • Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner
  • Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
  • Tenth of December: Stories, by George Saunders

In Nonfiction

  • Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sheri Fink
  • Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala

One of the highlights of this issue is a review (by Anthony Doerr) of Brown Dog: Novellas, by Jim Harrison.  Self doesn’t know why exactly but she’s loved Jim Harrison for a long long time. His books are violent, they are pungent, they are precise, and they are very, very funny.

And here’s a round-up of a burgeoning sub-genre, the cookbook as memoir:

  • Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland, by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau
  • Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, by Abigail Carroll
  • Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers and Food, by Peggy Wolff

And here’s a sub of a sub-genre, the fate of elephants in America:

  • Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked-Tailed Elephant, P. T. Barnum, and the American Wizard Thomas Edison, by Michael Daly
  • Behemoth:  The History of the Elephant in America, by Ronald B. Tobias

And one about elephants in Africa:

  • Silent Thunder, by Katy Payne

Finally, much thanks to Rivka Galchen and Pankaj Mishra for recommending (in the end-paper, Bookends) two books by authors self hasn’t yet read:

  • My Struggle, by Norwegian writer Ove Knausgaard
  • Zibaldone, by Giacomo Leopardi

Whew! Finally self has arrived at the end of a monster post. Stay tuned.

 

 

WACCAMAW No. 12

Waccamaw No. 12 (Fall 2013 issue) went live about two weeks ago, but self was so overwhelmed with the typhoon disaster in the Philippines that she couldn’t focus.

Self’s story, “Bridging,” which she began last year while doing a residency in Hawthornden, is one of the current issue’s fiction pieces.  The other stories are “Vostok vs. Belmont,” by Ned Balbo; “Liner Notes,” by Matthew Fiander; “In a Far Country,” by Khanh Ha; and “Fireworks,” by Charles Israel, Jr.

The nonfiction features “Glass House: The First Moment of Her Leaving,” by Hannah de la Cruz Abrams; “On Needing,” by Erin Grauel; “Halloween Glossary, D-H,” by Tom McAllister; “Corrida de Toros,” by Lane Osborne; and “Notes on Being a Mistress,” by Cynthia Schoch.

The poetry features “You Were Made for This Part,” by Paul Allen; “Priority Seating for People With Disabilities and Seniors,” by Agatha Beins; “Still Breathing,” by Jo Brachman; “In Vineland,” by Mark J. Brewin, Jr.; “Lottie” and “Pepsi” by Nickole Brown; “Operation I” by Michelle Chan Brown; “Apples or Waffles,” by Kathy Didden; “O Mary Lou” by Anthony DiMatteo; “My Lips Are Made of Wax, My Teeth are Furry Blades, and Other Lies,” by Karla Huston; “All That Happened,” by Donald Illich; “Faultline,” by Elizabeth W. Jackson; “Sometimes Winter Comes When You Least Expect It” and “The Bright Forever” by Terry L. Kennedy; “Entreaty” by Keetje Kuipers; “The Third Egg” by Diane Lockward; “Icarus at Lake Acworth” by Christopher Martin; “Crossing Peachtree” by Thorpe Moeckel; “Roadkill” and “The Astronaut” by Alan Michael Parker; and “Improvisation on Newsprint” and “Window Box” by Mike Smith.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Brian Komei Dempster’s First Poetry Collection: TOPAZ

Brian teaches in the Asian Pacific American Program at the University of San Francisco.  He edited the anthology Making Home From War:  Stories of Japanese American Exile and Resettlement (Heyday Books, 2011).  Topaz is his first published poetry collection.

STORM BREAKS

Every war begins somewhere. The boundaries
are me: my face, smile, language, my job. No matter what I did

your father thought I was crossing him. Between
your apartment and mine, we stood a breath

apart, your mouth a border shutting out

gentler words. I grabbed you by the T-shirt
like a bag of rice, you pushed me back, a ball of heat

enveloping us. When a forest ignites, balding the hills,
who lit the match, who flung it into the bed

of pine needles? Out the accusations came, armed

Apologies, dear blog readers, but self can go no further.  This is the first third of the poem.  Buy Brian’s book!  The publisher is Four Way Books.

Stay tuned.

Inspired by Stephen King Interview in Vanity Fair, October 2013

Today, self lugged around the huge September 2013 issue of Vanity Fair, the one with Kate Upton and her magnificent, hydraulic chest on the cover.  She had to remind herself to turn it over so that it wouldn’t cause anyone to do a double-take.

The Proust Questionnaire is with Stephen King, one of her absolute faves.  One of the questions was:

Who are your favorite writers?

King responded:  Cormac McCarthy, John Le Carré, John Sandford, Margaret Atwood, Michael Connolly, Lee Child, Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith, Larry McMurtry . . .

The list causes self to think back.  Specifically, to the books she read in 2012.  Which ones stood out in her memory?

  • Caesar:  Life of a Colossus, by Adrian Goldsworthy
  • Atonement, by Ian McEwan
  • The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, by Jennifer 8. Lee
  • Human Smoke, by Nicholson Baker
  • The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker
  • How Doctors Think, by Jerome Groopman, M.D.
  • The Beautiful and The Damned, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Finder, by Colin Harrison (This one she read in, of all places, PARIS)
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Essays About Being a Woman, by Nora Ephron
  • The Last Empress, by Anchee Min
  • A Voyage Long and Strange:  Rediscovering the New World, by Tony Horwitz
  • Dreams From My Father, by Barack Obama
  • Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, by Rhoda Janzen
  • Loot:  The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World, by Sharon Waxman

So far this year, the most memorable books self has read are:

  • The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
  • Fiasco:  The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas E. Ricks
  • La’s Orchestra Saves the World, by Alexander McCall Smith
  • A Passage to India, by E. M. Forster
  • Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
  • The Quiet American, by Graham Greene
  • The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
  • Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
  • Little Heathens:  Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish
  • Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson
  • Don Quijote, by Miguel de Cervantes, in a translation by Burton Raffel
  • Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Human Factor, by Graham Greene
  • In Praise of Messy Lives, by Katie Roiphe

Perusing the two lists, the authors self might describe as her favorites are:  Nicholson Baker, Jerome Groopman, Anchee Min, Tony Horwitz, Gretchen Rubin, E. M. Forster, Hilary Mantel, Graham Greene, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Theodore Dreiser, Miguel de Cervantes, Leo Tolstoy, and Katie Roiphe.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

In Honor of the Day: War Literature or Matters Related Thereto

Below, books self has recently read that touch on some aspect of war.  The list contains a mix of fiction, memoir, and nonfiction:

102 Minutes:  The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn

Agent Zigzag, by Ben Macintyre

A Life in Secrets:  Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of World War II, by Sarah Helm

A Long, Long Way, by Sebastian Barry

Atonement, by Ian McEwan

Dunkirk:  Fight to the Last Man, by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore

Eichmann in Jerusalem, by Hannah Arendt

Falling Through the Earth, by Danielle Trussoni

Homecoming, by Bernhard Schlink

Human Smoke, by Nicholson Baker

Imperial Life in the Emerald City, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Legacy of Ashes:  The History of the CIA, by Tim Weiner

Loot:  The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World, by Sharon Waxman

Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson

Sepharad, by Antonio Muñoz Molina

The 9/11 Commission Final Report

The Annals of Imperial Rome, by Tacitus

The Assault, by Harry Mulisch

The Bookseller of Kabul, by Asne Seierstad

The Coming of the Third Reich, by Richard J. Evans

The Emperor’s Children, by Claire Messud

The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell

The Quiet American, by Graham Greene

The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink

Virgil’s The Aeneid, translated by Robert Fagles

Katie Roiphe on Joan Didion (Fascinating)

Self has been reading In Praise of Messy Lives:  Essays, by Katie Roiphe, for the past three days.  She must say, she finds the book fascinating.

Here’s Roiphe on the Didion style:

Didion seems at first glance to be revealing so much about herself because of her mental fragility.  Certain temperamental qualities of hers — her paranoia, her morbid sense of impending disaster, and her distrust of all stated realities —  were particularly suited to the 1960s and ’70s.  Take the moment in The White Album when she writes about the “attack of nausea and vertigo” that led her to a psychiatric clinic.  On the surface, this might seem like an intimate revelation about her inner life.  And yet she ends the passage with “such an attack does not now seem to me an inappropriate response to the summer of 1998.”  This is typical Didion.  It’s as if her body were a finely tuned instrument for channeling the jittery mood of the country in flux.  Her sense of doom, of highly calibrated alarm, is always in the service of some larger point; her stunned disbelief is always a commentary, on the times, on a murder, on the water supply, on Hawaii, on the bewildering state of California.  It is never simply emotion for the sake of emotion.  There is no pleasure in frankly exhibitionistic exposure; there is none of the blinkered narcissism of some of our more recent personal writing.

Exhibit A and Exhibit B:

Her crying in Chinese laundries becomes “what it’s like to be young in New York.”  New York becomes “an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself.  In the end, for all the spare, vivid details about her walking down the street peering into the windows of brownstones, about drinking gazpacho when she is hungover, the essay is about moving to New York and about being young —  not about Joan Didion moving to New York and being young.”

*          *          *

Completely unrelated:  A Selective List of Authors Whose Acquaintance Self Made for the First Time in 2012:

  • John Burnham Schwarz, novelist
  • Owen Sheers, novelist
  • Adrian Goldsworthy, historian of classical antiquity
  • Jerome Groopman, M.D., medical writer
  • Colin Harrison, mystery writer
  • Jesse Kellerman, mystery writer
  • Barack Obama
  • Rhoda Janzen, memoirist
  • Jeanette Walls, memoirist

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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