#amreading: THE FALL OF THE OTTOMANS, by Eugene Rogan

Rogan’s The Fall of the Ottomans is the first history/nonfiction self has been able to get into since May.

She’s on Chapter Five: Launching Jihad, p. 102

The Jihad does not come from the source you’d expect: It is December 8, 1914. Turkey’s Minister of War is a politician named Enver Pasha.

Rogen’s description of Enver:

Enver, an impetuous man, had made his career through bold, high-risk initiatives. A historic leader of the 1908 revolution, an architect of the 1911 Ottoman-led jihad in Libya, leader of the 1913 raid on the Sublime Porte who forced the prime minister to resign at gunpoint, and “liberator of Edirne” in the Second Balkan War, Enver believed in taking action and had little doubt in his own judgment and abilities.

Here’s a list of the other history self has read thus far in 2017:

  • Montcalm and Wolfe: The Decline and Fall of the French Empire in North America
  • The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  • SPQR
  • Rubicon
  • The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J. M. W. Turner

Self began Franny Moyle’s hefty biography of Turner a few days ago.

It begins at the end of his life, which is a little sad. The man lived with his common-law wife in a grotty part of London and no one knew he was Turner. Neighbors thought he was a retired sea captain and called him “Piggy.”

Come to think of it, self hates any biography that begins at the end. She thinks it’s a little bit of a cheat. But that’s the only quibble she has about the book so far.

She was in London just a month ago. Can you believe it? She went to the British Museum and saw an exhibit, Places of the Mind, British Watercolour Landscapes, 1850 – 1950: celebrating “the work of British landscape artists during the hundred years following the death of J. M. W. Turner.”

She’s not reading the Turner biography because of that exhibit. She follows a strict order in her reading list. She read about the biography two years ago, and it took her all this time to work through the books that came before. It’s amazing that she’s reading about Turner when the watercolour exhibit is still so fresh in her mind.

More amazing: the Mendocino Art Center contacted her about submitting a description for the writing workshop she’s teaching there, early next year. The Art Center has a lot of visual artists, and that’s what it’s known for. There’s synchronicity in the universe now.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

#amreading: THE THREE-YEAR SWIM CLUB, by Julie Checkoway

Self got this helpful reminder from Goodreads: You participated in the 2017 Reading Challenge. You have promised to read 30 books.

She’s on p. 326 of The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory.

The swimmers take part in the first post-war Olympics, which take place in a “positively dreary” 1948 London. They are welcomed to Wembley Stadium by this sign:

Welcome to the Olympic Games. This road is a danger area.

Over the scoreboard are these words (from Baron de Coubertin):

The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part. The essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.

Self is fascinated by the Chapter Detroit, Redux (1948) because the Europe it depicts is so starkly different. Plus, the opening ceremonies are July 29, and now is July 22. The anniversary is just one week away!

Among the difficulties of the time:

One practice pool was “open for practice to each of the thirty-seven nations for a mere two hours per day. The rest of the time they had to practice to distant pools . . .  In the end, the swim committee had to settle for having the teams practice in off-hours, during closing times . . . in more than twenty-three separate venues across the city.”

Very interesting.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

Finishing BARBARIAN DAYS

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life is a 500-page memoir. Self has got to admire William Finnegan’s nerve.

The pace is unrelenting but it’s so well-written that self can’t stop.

Questions, as she races through the final hundred pages:

  • Does anyone die? Because Finnegan is so good at describing close calls: his own (of course he can’t die, lol. The author never does) as well as others. So she naturally assumes all these close calls have to culminate in a close call that ends up being a final call. So far, p. 466, no one has. Lucky!
  • When is Finnegan going to stop? When is he going to decide that he’s too old to surf? How does this story end?
  • Finnegan gets a plum job with The New Yorker. How? It’s never fully explained. Self sincerely wants to know how a committed surfer becomes a New Yorker writer, without giving up surfing. Or, surfing as much as he seems to do. One minute he’s traveling the world in the search for the perfect wave, the next he’s a writer for the New Yorker? Self wished there was a brief explanation of how he landed it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Three to Add to the Reading List

The first book is one which self initially approached with skepticism because the publisher is an academic press (Oxford) and she still remembers how they mangled a biography of Aung San Suu Kyi and doesn’t think she has forgiven them yet.

But anyhoo, there’s a new biography of Angela Carter (and gives cause to the 13 March 2017 New Yorker to share the interesting fact that she has been “pigeonholed as a white witch”) and self wants to give The Invention of Angela Carter, by Edmund Gordon, a go.

The next two books she’s adding to her reading list are from the Briefly Noted section (other books in the Briefly Noted section: The Schooldays of Jesus, by J. M. Coetzee, and A Book of American Martyrs, by Joyce Carol Oates): a biography called, simply, Jonathan Swift, by John Stubbs, and This Close to Happy, Daphne Merkin’s “memoir of struggling with depression.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

BARBARIAN DAYS: Sri Lanka

This memoir is like Jack Kerouac, but much much more enthralling. The author and his buddy, Bryan, go all around the world, living hand-to-mouth, and experiencing culture from the bottom. Only young Americans would be so laissez faire.

But, enough of digressions. Below, an excerpt from p. 289:

We pushed on, always edging west. We caught a ship from Malaysia to India, sleeping on the deck. We rented a little house in the jungle in southwest Sri Lanka, paying twenty-nine dollars a month . . .  I resumed work on my novel. We got Chinese bicycles, and each morning I rode mine, board under arm, down a trail to the beach, where a decent wave broke most days. We had no electricity and drew our water from a well. Monkeys stole unguarded fruit . . .  A madwoman lived across the way. She roared and howled day and night. The insects — mosquitoes, ants, centipedes, flies — were relentless.

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Night descends on a Philippine Sea.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

#amreading BARBARIAN DAYS, p. 227

My fears were unnecessary. Nothing too heavy came. Instead, I caught and rode so many waves, through four or five distinct phases of the day, that I felt absolutely saturated with good fortune . . .

— William Finnegan, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

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Albion, California

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

More BARBARIAN DAYS: In the South Pacific

The cast of characters in William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days is very New Age-y hippie. It’s been a long while since self has encountered one of these, which means San Francisco has really changed.

Anyhoo, Finnegan and a friend go bouncing all over the South Pacific, searching for good waves. And they have very, very interesting encounters.

With an American missionary who is also a surfer. With locals who take an “anthropological interest” in the author and his traveling companion, Bryan. Finnegan and his friend are so obsessed that when they find a good surfing spot, in Tonga, they surf every day.

Surfing seems magical when you’re just watching. Here’s the reality:

  • My hands and feet were a salad russe of coral cuts, and Bryan had a large, raw scrape on his back, the dressing on which I changed twice a day.

There’s a type of pairing I’ve seen on Boracay:

  • One of Parker’s oil field managers was a big, thick-spectacled Texan named Gene. He had a face like a turkey wattle, a scary smoker’s voice and a local girlfriend who was seventeen. Gene was pushing sixty. His girlfriend was a knockout but not happy. I overheard her telling the wife of a Parker executive that she was a half-Fijian orphan, and therefore a social outcast in homogeneous Tonga. She had turned to prostitution, she said. She was now desperate to get away from Gene. “Help me! Help me!” she pleaded.

As for the king of Tonga, Tupou IV: “He was an absolute monarch who weighed, reportedly, 440 pounds.”

Fascinating stuff.

Stay tuned.

 

 

#amreading: More from BARBARIAN DAYS: A SURFING LIFE, by William Finnegan

How has self spent this Fourth of July? Her first Fourth in Sacramento?

She’s spent most of the day (it’s past 5 p.m.! How did the time pass so quickly?) looking up Game of Thrones Season 7 spoilers (lol), perusing Twitter, and eating quarts of ice cream. That’s right, self said it: she’s eating quarts of ice cream. And an It’s-It (It is soooo hawtt here in Sacramento!)

She is on p. 132 of Barbarian Days, William Finnegan’s Pulitzer-Prizewinning memoir of his surfing days. Here he describes what it felt like to work in a bookstore in Maui:

The bookstore was three small rooms on a rickety old pier at the west end of the seawall. There was a bar next door. Ocean sloshed under the floorboards. The couple who owned the store trained me and, having picked up danger signals from local authorities, fled Hawaii for the Caribbean, leaving me to run the place along with the draft dodger, one of whose names was Dan.

Hilarious!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

#amreading memoir: BARBARIAN DAYS by William Finnegan

Self loves that she is in California, that it is summer, that GoT Season 7 is about to begin (with Gendry, no less, lol — it’s been sooooo long!), and that she’s reading a book about a surfing life, William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days.

Aside from giving her lots and lots of beach feelz, the book has some pretty choice things to say about UC Santa Cruz:

UC Santa Cruz was an exciting place, but it was easy to leave. It was a new campus, a hotbed of academic experimentation. There were no grades, no organized sports. Professors weren’t authority figures but coconspirators. Maximum self-direction was encouraged. All of this suited me, but the place had no institutional gravity.

Funny to hear about a university’s lack of “institutional gravity” from a surfer boy, but anyhoo. It’s an interesting description.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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