Three

Self picking her favorite reads so far, 2019. All three happen to be novels. They’re arranged according to the month she read them.

  • November Road, by Louis Berney – read February

The Setting: America post-John F. Kennedy Assassination

  • Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers – read March

Science Fiction

The Setting: Earth and Outer Space (The Future, of course)

  • Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday – read April

The Setting: America post 9/11 to the time of the First Gulf War

Bloomsbury Square, The Lamb, The First Gulf War

Asymmetry, p. 196:

One afternoon we were sitting in Bloomsbury Square, keeping half an eye on our charges, when Lachlan pointed toward the iron railings on the far side of the park and said that the original ones had been dismantled and melted down for ammunition during the Second World War. These new ones were shorter, and unlocked all day; square’s been open to the public ever since. I could not pass Bloomsbury Square after that without wondering where the old iron had ended up. On which fronts. In whose bodies. It was around this time that the avowal to do away with Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction was accelerating toward its first anti-climax. Blair had declared it time to repay America for its help sixty years earlier and pledged Britain’s commitment to sniffing out all remaining stockpiles of genocidal intent. Forty-eight hours later, Clinton announced that Iraq intended to cooperate; a month after that, UNSCOM reported that in fact Iraq was not cooperating, and lo, the British-American bombing began. I watched the Desert Fox airstrikes with Alastair, sitting in our usual spot in The Lamb, whose ceiling had been strung with Christmas bunting and the bar transformed into a lukewarm buffet of mince pies and a faux cauldron of brandy-spiked mulled wine.

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Bedford Place

The bioethics council operated out of the basement of a Georgian townhouse in Bloomsbury’s Bedford Square, a pretty oval garden popular at night with methadone addicts whose discarded syringes were a regular feature of my walk to work.

Asymmetry, p. 179

Self’s impression of Bedford Square (which she knows very, very well) is quite different. She hasn’t seen a single syringe.

Here’s the view from her room on Bedford Place, which overlooks the Duke of Bedford’s private garden.

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She has to pass Bedford Square every time she goes to the British Museum or the London Review Bookshop.

Stay tuned.

Life

We subleased a studio on Broadway and spent eight weeks doing very little other than exactly what we wanted to do, which is to say a lot of drinking coffee, eating waffles, taking long walks around the reservoir up and down Riverside Park and reading magazines cover to cover in the bath.

Asymmetry, p. 177

Asymmetry, p. 152

Currently reading Novella # 2 of this consistently surprising book.

Even though — what the hell — self has an inkling that the characters in the middle novella (Hussain, Zaid, etc) will turn out connected to Alice and Ezra and the Twin Towers — she’s still curious about how that will play out on the page. If Novella # 2 ends with a big AHA moment, she’ll take her hat off to Lisa Halliday.

Narrative shifts to first person.

  • I once heard a filmmaker say that in order to be truly creative a person must be in possession of four things: irony, melancholy, a sense of competition, and boredom. Whatever my deficiencies in the first three areas, I enjoyed such an abundance of the fourth that winter in Iraq that by the time we returned to New York I had eked out my first and only poetry cycle.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Asymmetry, p. 119

Alice and Ezra’s relationship seems so exhausting.

Their relationship is only possible because Alice is so very young, a real ingénue, like her namesake Alice in Wonderland.

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She had once counted twenty-seven different pill dispensers in that bathroom, vials with science-fiction names from Atropine to Zantac and a barrage of exclamatory imperatives: TAKE ONE TABLET DAILY OR EVERY SIX TO EIGHT HOURS AS NEEDED. TAKE ONE TABLET BY MOUTH AT BEDTIME FOR ONE MONTH THEN INCREASE BY 1 TABLET EACH MONTH UNTIL TAKING 4 TABLETS. TAKE 2 CAPSULES NOW THEN 1 CAPSULE EVERY 8 HOURS TILL GONE. ONE TABLET WITH A GLASS OF WATER ONCE A DAY. TAKE WITH FOOD. AVOID EATING GRAPEFRUIT OR DRINKING GRAPEFRUIT JUICE WITH THIS MEDICINE. DO NOT TAKE ASPIRIN OR PRODUCTS CONTAINING ASPIRIN WITHOUT THE KNOWLEDGE AND CONSENT OF YOUR PHYSICIAN. KEEP IN THE REFRIGERATOR AND SHAKE WALL BEFORE USING. USE CAUTION WHEN OPERATING A CAR. AVOID THE USE OF A SUNLAMP. DO NOT FREEZE. PROTECT FROM LIGHT. PROTECT FROM LIGHT AND MOISTURE. DISPENSE IN A TIGHT, LIGHT-RESISTANT CONTAINER. DRINK PLENTY OF WATER. SWALLOW WHOLE. DO NOT SHARE WITH ANYONE . . .

Self doesn’t know a single writer (and she knows many) who can afford this many prescriptions, even with medical insurance covering 80%.

Self wishes Alice would go off and find a man close to her age who doesn’t need to be taken care of.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Sentence: Milkman, p. 98

As for da, I remember third brother’s urgency and my own in asking for him, in pleading for him to be there, to be a man among men, doing normal men things, as he did manage to do years later when searching with the others for Somebody McSomebody’s brother’s head.

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Woe: Milkman, p. 97

Mammy! The heads! They took the heads! Where are the heads? Where’s Lassie, mammy? Where’s daddy? Have the brothers found Lassie? Where’s daddy? Where’s Lassie?

This novel, which won the Man Booker, fully deserved to win.

Graywolf Press has now given self two books that absolutely shattered her: this one, and the translation of Liu Xia’s poetry collection, Empty Chairs.

That is all.

Milkman, p. 39

Three sons are abandoned by their parents. It happens this way:

  • They had written a note, said the neighbours, but had forgotten to leave it; indeed primarily they had forgotten to write it and so had written it then forwarded it back from their undisclosed destination when they reached it, not deliberately undisclosed but because they hadn’t time or memory or understanding to put a sender’s address at the top. According to the postmark it was not just a country over a water, but a country over many, many waters. Also, they forgot their former address, the house they’d lived in for twenty-four years ever since getting married until twenty-four hours earlier when they left.

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Self: Guilt is a country. Sometimes in order to go forward, one must have a memory wipe.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

FOUR

Looking back, self’s February was LIT.

LIT.

She read two of her four Best So Far 2019 in February.

Currently, she’s reading Milkman and she loves it. It is so fraught.

April, BE LIT.

Stay tuned.

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