“Place, Memoir, Journey” Workshop, This Saturday & Sunday

Self’s primary purpose in coming here to Mendocino is to teach a workshop. A travel writing workshop. A workshop on writing about place. About a physical location. Something that exists. And damn self is going to make the students write as hard as they can. Write write write write write write, dear students. The funny thing about travel writing is: you’re writing about place, but you’re also writing about memory. And damn we will mine those memories to the max, dear students! Especially those of you who arrive in Mendocino from far away. From, say, Louisville! So, in order to prepare the students for this wonderful two-day hard writing weekend, self has been immersing herself in manuscripts. She’s looked at Zack Linmark’s Leche, which is tremendously inspiring for voice work. And she’s reading Tony Robles’s about-to-be-published manuscript Cool Don’t Live Here No More, which is amazing for being about a specific place that he loves so much: San Francisco, South of Market (which may be disappearing under the onslaught of construction and high-tech companies moving in)

She’s also reading the absolutely heartbreaking memoir by Sonali Deraniyagala, Wave. Deraniyagala lost her entire family in the tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004. She lost her parents, her husband, and her two sons. And everyone told her: You’re so lucky you survived! Which just goes to show, people are stupid when it comes to pain. They either don’t feel it, or they feel it but they don’t want to feel it so they fight it and end up doing things like telling a woman whose entire life has been wiped out in one day: Thank the Lord you survived!

She’s also reading Thomas Lynch, who’s a poet but also an undertaker and also a memoir writer. She’s reading Nandini Dhar’s Lullabies are Barbed Nations. She wishes she had something by Atul Gawande and Abraham Verghese but after all, she could not bring her whole personal book collection to Mendocino. She’s still reading Roberto Bolaño and on the basis of the individual sentence, he is amazing. She thinks he has one sentence that goes on for two pages (Translator Natasha Wimmer, self salutes you) She will include the first page of her story “Rufino,” because it’s so far the only one of her short stories that mentions Neil Young. And Luisa Igloria’s poem “Oir” from her collection The Saints of Streets. And that’s as far as she’s taken her reading list at the moment. Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

2666: “Dream-Like, Epic, Worldly” Says a Reader on Amazon

p. 11 of 2666 by Roberto Bolaño:  “The three met again at a German-language literature colloquium . . . ”

Self is feeling restless. At first she wasn’t sure if she’d wandered into the right novel. Why oh why are we following a bunch of academics as they attend one conference after another and expound on their love of the artist Archimboldi?

Hurry up! She doesn’t have all day!

At first she was rather intrigued by the fact that post-humously famous Bolaño chose to open a 900-page novel with a minute dissection of academics who keep bumping into each other at conferences. Way to go, Bolaño! Self found the tone sly, rather dryly humorous.

But after 11 pages, the novel’s action hasn’t moved forward an inch. We are still in the same milieu: the academic conference (handled very well, but still. There is a reason people refer to universities as ivory towers) And there are 890 more pages to go.

The next book on her reading list is Denis Johnson’s Read the rest of this entry »

Heartbreaking: Colm Toibin

Self is just a few pages from the end of Brooklyn.  This is truly a great novel. Self’s heart aches for Eilis, the young Irish woman whose story this is.


She’s emigrated to New York but returns to Ireland for the funeral of her sister, who died suddenly of a heart condition. Apparently, the world is such a small place. Her doings in Brooklyn have already circulated in the Irish town she is from, chief among which is the fact that she’s begun dating an Italian American.

“Oh, don’t try and fool me!” Miss Kelly said. “You can fool most people, but you can’t fool me.”

“I am sure I would not like to fool anyone,” Eilis said.

“Is that right, Miss Lacey? If that’s what your name is now.

“What do you mean?”

“She told me the whole thing. The world, as the man says, is a very small place.”

Eilis, who up to then had been vaccilating about whether to return to New York, and who was starting to see a local man, immediately books passage and starts packing (and in the meantime, self’s heart is breaking into a million little pieces).

A few times after the hours that followed she was tempted to carry up a tray with tea and biscuits or sandwiches to her mother; her mother’s door remained closed and there was not a sound from the room.

Apparently, Eilis’s mother, too, had heard.

Naturally, Eilis is shunned by everyone.  Self quite understands why Eilis can no longer stay in Ireland, but feels terrible on her behalf.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


Colm Toibin Sentence of the Day

Self has now read almost 50 pages of Brooklyn and can state definitively that she has no idea — none — what those people are going on about, the ones who say Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn is flat, dull, slow, and that he fails utterly at catching the feminine point of view etc etc etc

Because she’s been entranced from the get-go.

It’s even been making inroads into her reading of Hunger Games fan fiction which, if you know how much fan fiction self usually reads daily is saying a lot, lol.

Eilis, who when we last encountered her on p. 29 was sent rudely packing when she informed her employer she was leaving for America, now has to endure everyone being happy that she is going away, while she herself feels sick with anxiety and trepidation. On p. 46, she’s in a tiny cabin “deep in the belly of” a ship, she vomited into the corridor, she has to share a bathroom with occupants of another cabin who appropriated it for themselves and never unlock the door that leads to her cabin, but the worst thing about all this is that Eilis realizes “that she would never be able to tell anyone how sick she felt.”

And with all this came the feeling that she had done something wrong, that it was somehow her fault that Georgina had gone elsewhere and that her neighbors had locked the bathroom door, and her fault that she had vomited all over the cabin and had not succeeded in cleaning up the mess.

What’s so brilliant about the writing is that self understands this woman perfectly. Self means, she understands how a woman who’s been deprived of the use of a bathroom during a trans-atlantic voyage, a woman who is never on the receiving end of any kindness whatsoever, assumes the burden for everything that goes wrong. And self does mean everything. Of course, the poor girl. Still, such women do exist.

BTW, that vomiting scene is written in such excruciating detail that self feels she ought to honor the fact that she spent half an hour reading about hurling by writing that scene into her fan fiction. She has to be very careful, however, which character does the vomit. Peeta? Nah. Katniss? Nah. Gale? Nah. Haymitch? Hmmm, now there’s a likely candidate!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Sentence of the Day: BROOKLYN, by Colm Toibin

p. 29:

There was no day that passed without an event.

Starting BROOKLYN, by Colm Toibin

With great, truly superhuman effort, self forced herself to finish reading Silas Marner.

Part of the reason she was so reluctant was — aside from the fact that George Eliot is simply great — she didn’t think she’d be able to get into Brooklyn. The reviews she read on-line led her to think it might be meandering and somewhat dull.

But, that just goes to show how very idiosyncratic self’s tastes in reading are. Because the minute she began reading Brooklyn, she was completely entranced.

An excerpt (pp. 28 – 29):

“Well, I just came to say that I’ll be going to America in about a month’s time,” Eilis said. “I’m going to work there and I wanted to give you plenty of notice.”

Miss Kelly stood back from the counter. “Is that right?” she asked.

“But I’ll be here on Sundays of course until I go.”

“Is it a reference you’re looking for?”

“No. Not at all. I just came to let you know.”

“Well, that’s lovely now. So we’ll see you when you come home on holidays, if you’ll still be talking to everyone.”

“I’ll be here on Sunday,” Eilis said.

“Ah, no, we won’t be needing you at all. If you’re going, you’re best to go.”

“But I could come.”

“No, you couldn’t. There’d be too much talk about you and there’d be too much distraction and we’re very busy on a Sunday, as you know, without that.”

“I was hoping I could work until I left.”

“Not here you can’t. So be off with you now.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


Dear blog readers, self is trying her best to finish Silas Marner because it is getting quite ridiculous how often she feels the itch to post about this or that absolutely amazing sentence and oh BTW the last author she expected to be enthusing over in the first month of 2015 is George Eliot who has been dead quite a long time, and writes about rural England which is not exactly the most exciting territory (Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn which she hauled over all the way from Redwood City is feeling quite neglected in her suitcase, because it’s the next book on her reading list and she would hate to have hauled it all this way for nothing)

Without further ado, the sentence:

When we are treated well, we naturally begin to think that we are not altogether unmeritorious, and that it is only just we should treat ourselves well, and not mar our own good fortune.

See what she means?

Now do you see what she means?

It’s like every page is written by Ann Landers, but witty!

Oops! Sorry for drawing parallels between Ann Landers and George Eliot!

And then, one more:

Everything comes to light . . . sooner or later. When God Almighty wills it, our secrets are found out.

Back to the book.

Stay tuned.


SILAS MARNER Quote of the Day (Last Monday of January 2015)

“Well, Master Marner, it’s never too late to turn over a new leaf, and if you’ve never had no church, there’s no telling the good it’ll do you.”

Silas Marner, Everyman’s Library edition, p. 94

SILAS MARNER, a Bit Further Along




Two gentlemen/brothers, Dunsey and Godfrey — two more profligate brothers self has never met — are the engines of the locomotive that is Silas Marner.

One (Godfrey) asks the other (Dunsey) to sell a fine horse for him (Why? Dunno. Just. Because).

Dunsey, after selling the animal, decides to go chasing after the hounds. On said fine horse. He wants one last ride before turning over the horse to its new owner. And, as you know, riding such a handsome creature is akin to driving a Jaguar or a Porsche: you feel like taking risks.

The horse dies before Dunsey gets very far.


Close your eyes and stop reading if you’re squeamish.

Dunsey “staked” the horse. That is, he followed the hounds over a hedge bristling with wooden spikes, just beyond which was a deep pit.

As Godfrey explains (with an air of breathtaking matter-of-factness), Dunsey directed the horse to “take a fool’s leap,” and the horse was “staked and killed.”

Yup, uh-huh, that’s right, her thoughts exactly.

Apparently, this is a common enough occurrence that Godfrey does not feel compelled to elaborate.

Now, hold on a minute: why construct a hedge, fill it with more sticks than a porcupine, and top it all of by putting a deep ditch right after it? It sounds absolutely barbaric.

And now self quite pales at the realization that dozens and dozens of horses were probably similarly “staked” (and George Eliot was genius for realizing the novelistic potential of such an event).


Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


This Great Novel: SILAS MARNER, p. 63 (Everyman’s Library Edition)

Silas Marner, where have you been hiding all of self’s life? You’d think self would have encountered this book in high school or something.

Never mind. It’s just as well she’s encountering it for the first time at her advanced age. If it were force-fed to her in high school, she might have developed a revulsion towards all things George Eliot.

She was under the misconception she could finish this book in a week or so (Only 205 pages! If she were operating up to snuff, she’d have polished this off in a matter of days!)

Here’s her great Silas Marner sentence of the day:

Our consciousness rarely registers the beginning of a growth within us any more than without us: there have been many circulations of the sap before we detect the smallest sign of the bud.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

« Older entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,090 other followers