Quote of the Day: André Dubus III

Because this I know of life’s difficult times: there is always a time for them to begin and a time for them to end, and the man who knows this knows he must thank God for each day he has suffered because that is always one day closer to the sun, the real sun.

House of Sand and Fog (published 1999!)

This is a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful novel. Which means self probably won’t finish reading it until next year. Really, she’s poring over each paragraph.

Stay tuned.

WIT’S END: A Novel About a Novelist and Her At-Loose-Ends Niece

Self is on pp. 172 – 173 of Karen Joy Fowler’s Wit’s End.

She has been enjoying it, not least because the characters are Democrats (They wear their political affiliations on their sleeve. But of course they do: they live in Santa Cruz, CA).

A character owns a pair of dogs named Stanford and Berkeley. Self almost dropped the book because of that but she’s so glad she didn’t.

Anyhoo, the book makes her all sorts of nostalgic for Santa Cruz, CA. For its wooden roller coaster and its Boardwalk and its blue and pink cotton candy and the Ripley Believe It Or Not hall of funhouse mirrors.

Sample dinner conversation between a famous mystery writer and her niece, Rima:

“I remember once when you were about four years old. We went out to eat and you told the waitress you wanted a petite filet mignon. She just about dropped her pencil.”

“I was always saying something cute after you left. Hardly a day went by.”

“This puts the Democrats in very good shape for 2008.”

“There’s even corn in the toothpaste now. Did I mention that?”

Something wet landed on Rima’s ankle. Stanford was drooling; it brought her back to the moment.

Regarding that petite filet mignon: when self still lived in Manila, Dearest Mum’s youngest brother married a nineteen-year-old. The first time self met the prospective bride was at dinner in San Mig Pub in Greenbelt Park. And the teen-ager ordered — steak tartare. Dearest Mum was so impressed she couldn’t stop talking about it.

Until that moment, self had never laid eyes on a steak tartare. And she’s never had a yen to order it, either. That means self will probably end her days without ever tasting this singular delight, boo.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Karen Joy Fowler: WIT’S END

This novel was published seven years ago, but it’s about a 2006 mid-term election.

That shows you how long self hangs on to reviews of books she’s adding to her reading list. She will go to a bookstore, armed with her file of New York Times Book Review clippings, she will first search the shelves and then end up asking for help from a bookstore staff person, and that person will look at self’s clipping, then his/her eyes will wander down to the date at the bottom of the page, and they will say (which has happened on at least three separate occasions), in a very offended tone: “Ma’am, this review is dated 2010.” Subtext: Are you freaking nuts?

The last novel she inquired about was Sara Gruen’s Ape House.

What can she say? She’s been living la vida loca for a very, very long time. So long that hyperactivity seems to be the norm.

In an incredible stroke of luck, self is reading Fowler’s Wit’s End the week after the elections. It would seem that, in 2009, there was the same kind of zeitgeist roiling around northern California. Because while reading Wit’s End, it could be 2016. She doesn’t even have to change a single word in a few passages, it reads like 2016:

  • Well, Ohio hadn’t delivered the complete Democratic rout that had been predicted.

A few pages later:

  • “How about that election,” the sushi chef said.

It’s been really hot in San Francisco (Ha, ha, ha — she’ll never complain about San Francisco coolness again! It’s sweltering hot. Like Global Warming with a capital G. W.) Self went to the Ferry Building to cool off. And overheard a woman say: “I’m still traumatized over those election results.”

And then, a few steps further, a vendor was calling out “Sea Salt! Sea Salt!” He beckoned to a young couple passing by and said: “Young lovers, this might be your last shot at happiness! Have a taste!”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Sentence of the Day: Kate Walbert

Caroline discovers her mother’s blog during one of those middle-of-the-night nights when she can no longer sleep and thinks that she should just read, or go online and research Dora Maar, for Christ’s sake, her daughter Dorothy announcing earlier on the telephone that she had been studying the poems of Picasso’s sad, troubled mistress and that she would like to be known, henceforth, as Dora.

A Short History of Women, p. 205

Reading Life 2016

October 2016

  1. Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission (history), by Hampton Sides
  2. A Short History of Women (novel) by Kate Walbert

September 2016

  1. The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine (nonfiction), by Ben Ehrenreich
  2. Brazillionaires (nonfiction), by Alex Cuadros

August 2016

  1. Northanger Abbey (novel), by Jane Austen
  2. Swimming Studies (memoir), by Leann Sharpton
  3. The Course of Love (novel), by Alain de Botton
  4. The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Sketches (travel book, poetry), by Matsuo Basho
  5. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone (essay collection), by Olivia Laing

July 2016

  1. The Green Road (novel), by Anne Enright
  2. Girl Waits With Gun (mystery), by Amy Stewart

June 2016

  1. The Girl on the Train (novel), by Paula Hawkins
  2. My Brilliant Friend (novel), by Elena Ferrante

May 2016 Read the rest of this entry »

Quote of the Day: Kate Walbert

“Alexandra said that I had inherited Mum’s will, not to mention her temper, and that this could either float me in good stead or kill me. I think I’ll float.”

A Short History of Women, by Kate Walbert

The Reading List: Kate Walbert

Self is doing some adjustment to her reading list.

She was reading Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, which is a big, fat book, and, what with one thing and another, it got to be hard to focus. She’s been reading nonfiction for the last two months and wanted a little change. So she decided to reserve Jesse James for a less hectic time and began reading Kate Walbert’s A Short History of Women, a novel.

The novel isn’t written in chronological order, but thankfully the dates of the period covered in each chapter are right there in the Table of Contents.

She noticed that most of the reviews of the book cited the lack of chronology as a problem, so she decided two things: (1) to read the chapters in chronological order, and (2) to read each chapter as if it were a stand-alone story.

Pursuing this plan of attack has been most helpful. Self has gotten through the chapters that take place in 1898, 1899, and 1914.

SPOILER ALERT!!!

The story begins with a young woman in Cambridge, who has a deep dark secret involving a childhood best friend and what happened to the friend. It almost got too depressing for self, since she likes to keep her spirits up. Also, the woman goes on a hunger strike to call attention to the need to give women the vote. And in the family tree at the front of the book, this woman’s life goes from 1880 to 1914. So it was pretty overwhelming to read, especially since:

The book opens with the woman very near death, in a hospital. We are told she has two young children.

We learn she had an affair with a young man at Cambridge, a man who stopped seeing her when he got roughed up while creeping through Cambridge late one night to see her. Perhaps the two events are unrelated, but it’s pretty hard to read them as anything but. To make matters worse, the two bump into each other again when he is already a successful man of politics, and they rekindle the affair even though he is married and she’s a single mother. Then he leaves her again. Then she decides to go on the hunger strike. Which is so — AAAARGH!

Here is a section from the recently deceased woman’s daughter’s point of view:

I ducked into the kitchen to keep Nurse and Penny company. And what of them? Nurse will marry the milkman, Michael, and settle with him in Wales to live a perfectly miserable life. Children and children. Chores. Michael will drink in the way men do and one thing will lead to the other. Penny will take her cardboard box and take a train east. She’ll disappear like our father did, long before we can even remember him. He fancied himself Lord Byron, Mum said, though he was only a sir and that sir a result of money changing hands.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Height of Self-Indulgence: Reading

Self has been reading Austen all day. You know, there must be worse things in life than for a woman to say, “I spent all day at home, reading a novel.”

A week or so ago, self bought an enormous book (It weighed about 15 lbs.) about Anne of Cleves because she wanted to know more about the medieval age (Also, it was on sale: originally $149.99, it had been reduced to $29.99). And she trotted that book with her all over and gave herself a crick in her neck.

Also, the year she went to Berlin to participate in a conference sponsored by the House of World Cultures, she lugged another enormous book (Her copy was hardcover): Claire Tomalin’s Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self.

This morning, she is still reading Northanger Abbey. She’s grown quite fond of it, during the past week. The heroine, Catherine Morland, is so forthright, so inclined to say exactly what she is thinking, and so good. Her only failing is the fact that she has quite an imagination.

SPOILER ALERT

The events near the end of Northanger Abbey have self scratching her head. First, there was this really strange intrusion of the Gothic element, 3/4 of the way through. Catherine was invited to Northanger Abbey by her new best friend, Eleanor Tilney, and she spent a few blissful days there. In her room was an enormous wall tapestry, and Catherine’s imagination ran wild: she started imagining there was a secret tunnel behind the tapestry, which then reminded self that she had just finished reading Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass, and in that YA novel, the heroine does find a secret tunnel, and wouldn’t you know it’s behind a tapestry in her room. Coincidence? Self thinks not.

Anyhoo, self decided to re-read the Tor.com article by Jo Walton, Not Born To Be a Heroine.

She has a different take on Northanger Abbey from Walton, but Walton says something really interesting about Jane Austen:

It’s also easy for us to read her books as romance novels, forgetting that Austen was pretty much inventing the genre of romance novels as she went along, and by Emma she had pretty much got tired of doing them. If she’d lived longer she’d probably have invented more genres. I was going to joke that she’d have got to SF before retirement age, but seriously genre as such wasn’t what she was interested in. She was interested in ways of telling stories, ways that hadn’t been tried before.

Self really feels for Catherine Morland, especially when her former best friend Isabella Thorpe turns out to be a conniving monster (garbed in sweet perfume) and she is informed by her hosts at Northanger Abbey that she must leave the abbey the very next day, unaccompanied, at 7 a.m. She is so stunned that all she can do is cry.

This poor girl has no idea what hit her, and about her plight self can only say: Never ever accept an offer of hospitality ever. Not even if it’s extended by a rich family with an enormous house. Because the power imbalance is simply too great.

People are capricious. Rich people more so than others. The same people who welcomed Catherine Morland with open arms, just 10 days prior, have suddenly turned cold.

Our heroine does find her way safely home, however, and this is what her mother tells her:

It is always good for young people to be put upon exerting themselves; and you know, my dear Catherine, you always were a sad, little shatter-brained creature; but now you must have been forced to have your wits about you, with so much changing of chaises and so forth; and I hope it will appear that you have not left anything behind you in any of the pockets.

Oh, the charm of such an utterance! The scandal of being turned out of a house by the very same hosts who had invited her there, only a short time ago, is thereby reduced to the level of a learning experience.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

WIP: Island of Dreams

18th century Madrid:

“You have a noble countenance, my son,” the Bishop said, finally.

“My father is a lawyer, Your Reverence,” Matias said.

“You have a noble countenance! You were born in Murcia? Who was your father?” the Bishop said, gesturing to his nose.

“My father is a merchant. He was born in Murcia but his parents are Basque. From Pamplona. My mother’s family, on the other hand — they have been rooted in the province for hundreds of years.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Catherine Morland Muses on Henry Tilney

This week, self is teaching her writing students about different narrative techniques, like for example musing. Of which Northanger Abbey has many excellent examples.

Northanger Abbey, Chapter XIV:

It was no effort to Catherine to believe that Henry Tilney could never be wrong. His manner might sometimes surprise, but his meaning must always be just — and what she did not understand, she was always ready to admire . . . The whole walk was delightful, and though it ended too soon, its conclusion was delightful too . . .

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

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