State of Self’s Novel-in-Progress

Self spent most of this year working on a novel about an 18th century priest who gets sent to a Philippine island to fight demons. It’s at 185 pages and she was extremely discouraged yesterday, thinking she probably had twice that many pages to write before she really knew what it was she wanted to say.

Then she went into one of her bookmarked food blogs, Kahakai Kitchen. And there is a review there of a novel called Water on the Moon, which is 244 pages. Hmmm, self thought: 244 pages seems do-able, at least it does to self. It would mean she only has to get 60 more pages in, and then she can review what her manuscript feels like.

Here’s the synopsis of Water on the Moon (Publisher: She Writes Press):

When her husband comes out as gay and an airplane crash inexplicably destroys her home, the mother of teenage twin daughters must rethink everything she knows.

In her debut novel, Water on the Moon, Jean P. Moore introduces readers to Lidia Raven, whose life begins taking seemingly endless wrong turns. Lidia and her girls miraculously survive the plane crash that destroys their home and are taken in by Lidia’s friend Polly, a neighbor with a robust collection of first-edition books who lives alone on a sprawling estate.

Struggling to cope with each of these life-changing events, Lidia discovers a connection between herself and Tina Calderara, the pilot who crashed into their home. In the months that follow, Lidia plunges into a mystery that upends every aspect of her life.

Dun Dun Dun! Sounds pretty interesting!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Good Review: Steven G. Kellman (San Francisco Chronicle) on Paul Theroux’s DEEP SOUTH

Self loves Theroux’s absolute adherence to his crankiness, and his courage. His youthful curiosity is still very much alive and present in him.

She remembers a scene in Dark Star where he has to ride in a jeep with various native Africans and they regard him with contempt because why would a man his age still be doing stupid things like taking the most uncomfortable way to get between Point A and Point B, riding with people who have no clue who he is and therefore focus on his age as a point of ridicule. To make things worse, Theroux himself is having the same kind of thoughts: Why is he sitting in this jeep/van with these rude people? Why? But then he goes on to put the scene in a book. That’s what makes him one of self’s favorite travel writers.

An excerpt from the Steven G. Kellman review in the Chronicle:

Theroux spends a year and a half meandering along the backroads of Dixie, primarily the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. He does not venture into either Florida or Texas, and Virginia is merely a stretch to traverse on his way south from his home in Cape Cod (Now self feels like embarking on a pilgrimage to Cape Cod). Theroux has no interest in the “New South,” the prosperous metropolises of Atlanta, Charlotte and Nashville that draw bankers and tourists. Instead, he deliberately seeks out the most neglected and squalid pockets of the region: the Lowcountry of South Carolina, the Black Belt of Alabama, the Mississippi Delta and the Ozarks of Arkansas, finding that its inhabitants, the “submerged twenty percent” are poor in their way — and less able to manage and more hopeless than many people I had traveled among in distressed part of Africa and Asia.

He is a travel writer after self’s own heart, one of the best.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

“Snowpiercer” the 2nd Time: Murkiness and Mayhem

First time self saw this movie was in Mendocino. She downloaded it from Netflix. It was January.

Nah-ah. Chris Evans, bearded and in knit hat, scowling. Okaaay. Role didn’t need to be played by Chris Evans. Anyone of sufficient height and bulk and scowl would have done quite nicely.

Little did she know that she’d be watching it again just nine months later, in far different circumstances. She still doesn’t love it, but it is interesting.

Tilda Swinton is just so weird. She’s weird-looking, and she is totally fearless. Self has seen her in The Deep End, in We Need To Talk About Kevin, in Constantine (playing the earthiest angel ever) and now in Snowpiercer, where she is downright repulsive, with big horsey teeth and spittle flying out of her mouth as she shrieks against the rebels. Granted, this character would not be everyone’s cup of tea. But Tilda plays it with — wit? She actually pulls off a line that goes something like: “Because of those stubborn rebels, 74% of you will die.”


Jamie Bell is in this movie. He is one fine actor. In the scene where an enemy holds a knife to his throat, and Chris Evans, his buddy, has to choose between saving Jamie or going after Tilda Swinton, once it becomes clear which way Chris Evans will go (and we all know there is only one way Chris Evans will go), the change in his features is remarkable.

If this were a normal science fiction thriller, Jamie Bell would have a look on his face something like, “Atta boy, Buddy! Go for the Kill! Don’t bother with me! I’m ready to offer my life for the Cause!” But the look on his face once he realizes he’s been given up, is actually — sad? So sad. Which is actually how self would look, if she knew she was going to die in the next few seconds.

Self also loves the bizarre classroom teacher played by Alison Pill.

In one scene, Chris Evans yells “Fire!” and we have no idea what that means. Then, a little boy starts running from the back of the train with a lighted torch, cheered on by a crowd of people. He hands off the torch to what appears to be a one-armed man. Self wasn’t sure if this runner was really a one-armed man, so she kept following this figure as he raced through the murky depths of the cinematography. When she was finally convinced that the man running indeed had only one arm, the torch was passed on to a really handsome, buff dude who might have auditioned for Fifty Shades of Grey. What? What is the meaning of these three successive runners? The child, the one-armed man, and buff dude? Since self has seen 300, she is well-prepared for this last runner to die (It’s called The Astinos Trope. There, she made something up. Just this very second). But, confounding all her low expectations, he actually makes it all the way to the end and manages to throw a knife and inflict the first wound on Tilda Swinton (Unfortunately, it hits her on the leg and is not fatal)

Also, there is the obligatory (ever since Saving Private Ryan) close and intimate fight scene, where two men arm-wrestle for a knife at close quarters, and the one whose side we are on loses. And the knife goes in very, very slowly. And it’s so terrible.

Self is so glad she didn’t see this movie in a theatre. She might have walked out. Like she did after 45 minutes of Far From the Madding Crowd. But since she’s watching it on a TV screen, and she has access to her laptop, it is able to engage her attention.

And she’s ended up writing a long post when all she wanted to do was toss something off.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Quote of the Day: Joe Morgenstern (Wall Street Journal) Reviews “Z For Zachariah”

All three characters, being human, are flawed, but in one case the flaws reveal themselves through an explosive episode of not-so-convincing behavior — Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal, 28 August 2015

Here’s the backstory:

It’s of course self’s faaaavorite kind of story: post-apocalyptic.

Margot Robbie plays Ann, a beautiful woman (great casting, there) who lives with her dog Pharaoh in a secluded valley that has miraculously evaded the effects of nuclear radiation. She is joined, first, by Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor), “clad in a radiation suit.” Shortly thereafter Caleb (Chris Pine) materializes.

Faster than one can say, LOVE TRIANGLE, Ann learns that “the notion of blessed sanctuary is no more plausible after Loomis wonders aloud about what could explain it (He figures it’s got something to do with the wind, or the lay of the land.)”


Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Karin Fossum’s Latest: THE DROWNED BOY

From the Review by Tom Nolan in The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 22-23, 2015:

“One has to be careful when judging another person’s grief,” cautions Norwegian police inspector Konrad Sejer, the “wily old fox” in award-winning Norse author Karin Fossum’s latest somber, intelligent, empathetic procedural novel, The Drowned Boy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). “Everyone grieves in his or her own way. Some people want to move on quickly whereas others want to hold on to it, wrap it round them.” Nonetheless, in the face of the weepy but defensive behavior of a 19-year-old mother whose 16-month-old son was found dead in the pond in back of the family house, the inspector concludes: “She has an odd manner, and I don’t believe her.”

The dead child’s father vows never to stop grieving, even as his brisk wife insists that they get on with life.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Quote of the Day: Anthony Lane Reviews “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”

It honestly doesn’t feel like summer because usually, in summer, self watches a movie a week.

Anyhoo, she wants to see “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.”

Browsing the web for reviews, she finds one by Anthony Lane, movie critic for The New Yorker.

As usual, he lands a zinger in his very first sentence:

  • How impossible can a mission be, if it is successfully completed fives times?

Hoo Hoo Ha Ha!

She will never forget what Lane wrote (20 years ago?) about the movie “Speed”:

  • When I first heard the plot of “Speed,” I did not stop laughing for a week.

Back to the current article: Lane also reviews James Ponsoldt’s “The End of the Tour,” about Infinite Jest author David Foster Wallace. This movie features Jason Segel (as DFW), Jesse Eisenberg as a reporter chronicling a book tour, and Joan Cusack as a tour escort and self really, really wants to see it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Pardon, It’s Back to THE 100

The coolest story line isn’t even in the CW TV series: It’s Glass. Glass. Glass.


Glass is Point of View # 4, which means she appears in Chapter # 4 (So tiresome, this multiple point of view thing. Self is skipping all the Clarke and Wells chapters. It’s just so un-interesting, what’s happening on Earth: The planet survived the radioactive apocalypse and is now some kind of fecund tropical garden, Clarke is becoming the Florence Nightingale of the group, Wells suffers acute unrequited love for Clarke, and Bellamy, aside from being very protective of Prim — ah, excuse self, she means Octavia — has very toned abs)

Unlike Bellamy and Wells who had to claw their way (metaphorically) into the ship headed for Earth (or Destruction, depending on the motives of the Chancellor/ Ruler/ Despot), Glass is smart. She figures she wants OFF the space ship to Earth. So, she manages to elude the guards and get off the space ship, and she manages to slip through all the search parties who are looking for her, and of course, it’s all because she is in love with a boy, and she fights like a tiger to get to the boy, Luke, and when she finally finally reaches his flat, and knocks on his door, he opens it, and SURPRISE SURPRISE there’s another woman right behind him, and Glass belatedly notices that the flat had been dark when Luke opened the door, so whatever he and this other woman had been doing before she interrupted was something they did in the dark, and . . .  and . . . self’s heart just breaks for that brave girl.

Moving on.

The other really cool thing about The 100 (aside from the fact that the author admits in her closing remarks that she didn’t think up the plot herself; someone gave it to her, and all she did was write it. Oh no, she dreamt up the characters. That’s right. Profuse apologies!) are the cornea slips.

That’s right: when a character gets a distant look in her/his eyes, and suddenly stops speaking, it doesn’t mean they’ve been hit by a tranquilizer blowdart. It means there is an incoming. Message, that is.

It is so cool not to have to dart to a cell phone or laptop to retrieve messages. Just have them transmitted to your cornea slip. That way, you don’t even have to look down and you will never ever be accused of having bad posture or worry about developing a double chin. You just tilt your chin upwards and read what’s on your cornea slip. Who ever thought of such a cool thang?

Thank you! Self would like to have one of those, if it can happen in the next 10 years (or while she’s still alive)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

What Is a Mestizo?

From J. H. Elliott’s review of Imperialism and the Origins of Mexican Culture, by Colin M. MacLachlan, in The New York Review of Books, 9 July 2015:

Although the racial definiton of a Mestizo is a person born to Indian and European parents, a better definition of a Mestizo is a person who functions within a modified culture drawn from both the indigenous and European historical-cultural experience: in short, those who embrace cultural mestizaje and organize their personal life and behavior accordingly.

Colonial Mexico was “an acutely caste-conscious society, in which the boundaries of each casta would be meticulously delineated in the famous sets of eighteenth-century casta paintings, more than a hundred of which are known.”

And that is all self can post for now, but she is sure dear blog readers will agree that image and reality are so far apart in the matter of race because no one wants to acknowledge any blurring of categories. It is just too difficult. But identity cannot be constructed without taking account of race, so what are we to do?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Colm Toibin, The New York Review of Books, 9 July 2015

Self used to have a subscription to The New York Review of Books. Oh how she mourns, mourns, mourns that absence, it was her go-to publication for really good writing, such as the one in the 9 July 2015 issue, Colm Toibin’s essay “The Hard-Won Truth of the North.”

In describing poet Elizabeth Bishop’s move from Nova Scotia to Worcester, Massachusetts, Toibin writes: “. . . the sudden disruption, the end of the familiar, came as a rare and ambiguous gift to the writers. Despite the pain involved, or precisely because of it, they found not only their subject, but their style.”

In discussing the Swedish writer Stig Dagerman (d. 1954, at the age of 31), Toibin writes: “Dagerman was in possession of several tones.”

Isn’t that such a beautiful sentence? It says it all.

Dagerman had “a gift for writing sharp and cool declarative sentences that is close to Hemingway.”

His short stories use “a tone close to that in the early stories of James Joyce’s Dubliners, which Joyce described to his publishers as a tone of ‘scrupulous meanness.’ ”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Books Self Is Interested After Perusing The Guardian’s Summer “Text on the Beach” Issue, 23 July 2015

Self used to do this. A LOT. Post about books she was interested in reading after picking up a copy of The New York Times Book Review (which she used to subscribe to. Until last year), The New York Review of Books (which she also used to subscribe to), The New Yorker (which she still subscribes to, but hasn’t read in six months) and The Economist (which she no longer subscribes to)

Anyhoo, after that very lengthy introduction, here is self with The Guardian’s Summer Reading issue, and after going through the whole thing, self has culled just three books. She must be in some kind of slump?

Here are her three:

  • Grey, by E. L. James — What what what? Self actually read the first two pages in Hodges Figgis in Dublin. And what do you know, she liked it! But The Guardian review is so silly. “Come again, if you insist . . . ” Self still wants to read it.
  • My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante — “The first part of the Neapolitan trilogy in which almost nothing happens.” (OK, these reviews are one-note and boring. Sorry, Jim Crace, Reviewer. Self will read in spite of)
  • The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins — Let self dispense with the utterly dispensable: i.e., the review. And let’s just say, if this novel is indeed a riff on Gone, Girl, she likes. So “Girl, Girl, Girl, Girl, Girl, Girl, Girl, Girl On the Train” is a barrel of laughs.

Just for that, self is popping over to the London Review of Bookstore (Hey, last AWP Book Fair, in Minneapolis, she actually saw a table for the London Review of Books! She’s not sure if they’ve been coming every year, but this year was the first time she noticed them)

Side Note:  Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is in every bookstore window, all over Dublin and London. So happy for her. Promise to read the book, at least five years from now.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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