The Big Picture: Slowly Coming Together

Self has spent the last eight years working intermittently on a World War II novel. She would occasionally make forays into the Hoover Archives and spend the day there, reading memoirs.

Once, she requested an item, some memorabilia an American soldier stationed in the Philippines had taken back to the States with him. She was amazed when a librarian actually came out to talk to her. “We can’t bring the box out here to the reading room. But we can let you take a look at the contents if you follow me.”

So of course she followed the librarian. And he took her a level below. And there were people in an office staring at her. And someone asked, “Is this she?” And the librarian said yes. Then they took out a box and stood back while self looked in it. And, damn. Samurai swords. What?

She was the first person ever to request that particular item, and she’d done it simply on a hunch. Because the man was an American soldier, a survivor of Bataan and Corregidor.

Self never knows where her curiosity will lead her. It sure does lead her to some interesting places.

She knows what happened on Bataan and Corregidor. Of course. She is from the Philippines. She’s been to Corregidor, looked at the American gun emplacements, seen the flag of Japan flying alongside the flag of the Philippines on the quay. She’s walked the maw of Malinta Tunnel, which is said to be haunted.

She read the transcripts of the trial of General Yamashita, responsible for the overall defense of the Philippines, who the Americans convicted of war crimes and hanged in Los Baños (Yamashita’s lawyer was a very young and inexperienced American who knew the only reason he’d been assigned the defense of the general was because he was not expected to win. At the death sentence, the lawyer cried)

But, damn. Hampton Sides. Thank you for laying it all out so vividly. In command of the Japanese Imperial Army was Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma.

Ghost Soldiers, pp. 56 – 57:

There was little point in occupying the Philippines if the Japanese Navy or merchant marine could not freely use the docks and wharves of Manila Bay, the finest natural harbor in Asia. Yet one could not control Manila Bay without controlling Corregidor. Fixed with cannons that could fire twenty miles, honeycombed with deep tunnels and lateral shafts, Corregidor was stuck like a steel bit in the mouth of Manila Bay. The island was shaped like a tadpole, its squirmy tail pointing off toward Manila, its bulbous head aimed at Bataan.

There was only one way for Homma to take Corregidor, and that was for him to move his forces into southern Bataan, array his artillery pieces high along the southern flanks of Mount Mariveles, and rain unmerciful fire down upon the island, softening it up until an amphibious assault could be reasonably undertaken.

It is an axiom of Euclidean geometry that two points cannot occupy the same space, and therein lay Homma’s problem. Before he could move his forces into southern Bataan, the surrendered Americans and Filipinos (80,000 men, approximately) would have to be moved out . . . the Bataan prisoners would have to be hastily cleared away — swept off the stage, in effect, so the next act could begin.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

“Americans Will Talk All Day”

Really?

Pardon, self was not aware.

“Americans will talk all day, but they are terrible listeners . . . ”

— Paul Theroux, Deep South

Finally, 232 Pages Into THE FOREVER WAR

We encounter the first American diplomat who speaks “perfect Arabic.”

This is pretty sad. It’s Robert Ford, the American Embassy’s chief political officer. Self looked him up. The Wikipedia page has rather skimpy information. He was a graduate of Johns Hopkins. That’s where he picked up his “perfect Arabic”? She always knew Johns Hopkins was a great school. She wonders if Stanford University offers Arabic? It has to, now, one would think.

Self is still pondering her previous post, about the Blackwater security people who were killed in Falluja, two of whose charred bodies were strung from a bridge over the Euphrates.

Whoever did it knew they were coming. But there was not the slightest trace of apprehension among the Blackwater people in that destroyed car. Either they were just masking their fear, or they had no choice, or they were really that arrogant.

Filkins describes Falluja as “a bomb factory.”

Come to think of it, self is pretty sure she’s read another book by Filkins. All she can remember is the AC/DC moment, hardly anything else. So, nothing prepared her, really for The Forever War. This is such a good book.

She has read soooo many books about Iraq. But the only other one she can remember with any clarity is Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in The Emerald City — nice euphemism for the Green Zone in Baghdad.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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.

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