More From The Economist’s What Is the Deadliest Sin? (June 14 – 20, 2014)

Surely self doesn’t need to remind readers why she is reading a copy of The Economist dating from last June?

Here’s novelist Will Self on PRIDE:

“Most men can withstand adversity,” Abraham Lincoln said, “but if you want to see a man’s character, give him power . . .  It’s impossible to see how power can be exercised without pride, since to consider yourself capable of directing the hearts and minds of others is, ipso facto, to embrace the notion that you are superior to them. Since most power is gained arbitrarily, this is never demonstrably the case.”

Fantastic!

BTW, Will Self is also a travel writer. He wrote a book about walking from England to the far reaches of America. Which self thinks is rather a quaint notion. Because, for one thing, to get from England to America, one has to ride a plane. Self explains this part (how he leaps the Atlantic). The book Will Self wrote about the journey is Psychogeography.

Stay tuned.

Pile of Stuff, Pile of Stuff, When Will You End?

When self’s inspiration for her fan fiction dries up, she has a very convenient pile of unread magazines very close by.

This pile reached previously unheard-of heights during Year 2014, because self was so often traveling (by choice: All of self’s trips are self-imposed)

Now to The Economist of June 14 – 20, 2014.

There is a humongous article titled What Is the Deadliest Sin?

Answers are given by seven intellectuals, ranging from a “former Bishop of Edinburgh” to a “conservative MP.”

Self finds the answer of Camila Batmanghelidjh, Founder of Kids Company (a support organization for vulnerable children) most interesting. She picked SLOTH as the Deadliest Sin (After reading her answer, self is inclined to agree)

She states: “The sin of sloth is not caring, not noticing, not doing.”

Her explanation begins:

We all suffer from moments of duvet apathy, when we can’t get it together to lift ourselves out of bed. In small doses, sloth is survivable. But on a national scale it can be lethal. Perhaps the contemporary word for sloth would be “complacency” : the condition in which we don’t aspire to greather things. I’m not talking about material enhancement, but an inner lack of ambition or responsibility for yourself and for others — a lethargy of the spirit.

Self is reminded of her good friend Margarita Donnelly, who passed away just before Christmas.

She founded Calyx, the oldest women’s press in America (Self would dearly love to say she started it with a credit card, but she’s afraid her memory might be faulty on this point)

Margarita was the Anti-Sloth. She was that strong voice that was never afraid to take on someone or something if she thought the cause was justified. And self got the full-on exposure to the Margarita Anti-Sloth when she spent time with her in Venice, in 2013.

Self must admit that a 24/7 exposure to such a dynamo did sometimes make her feel like hiding under a rock. Alas, Margarita would not brook self hiding under a rock. Self just had to face Margarita (and Venice) the hard way. Full-on, eyes wide open, muscles flexed in readiness.

Because, self is a product of an island culture, and if given the choice she would willingly spend whole days in the lobby of the Danieli (packed to the gills with YOUNG Asian tourists who arrived with matching Louis Vuitton luggage) sipping Pernod.

But instead she was with Margarita in a small apartment in Ca’ San Toma, and she got lost every single day. And every single street had a bridge with steps going up (as well as steps going down, let’s be reasonable, but the steps going up were extremely challenging, especially when self had no idea where she was going). And when the heavens opened up and it poured rain, self was never within sight of an awning. Never.

Which is why she just had to take off for Trieste one day. Assured Margarita she’d be back, and then lost herself in a very nice B & B next to a restaurant in a convento rustica/rustico, where little red mopeds could be rented by the day, and self was never lost because she hardly moved from the quay. Trieste will always be, in self’s mind, that cocoon where complacency trumped everything else. She can just see herself fleeing there when she’s ready to have a nervous breakdown.

You know, this is turning out to be quite a funny post (as well as a very long one) and self figures that must be a good thing.

She almost made it to Oregon to catch Margarita on her very last day on this earth, but she missed her and instead got to speak to Margarita’s daughter, Angelique, who told her there would be no funeral, Margarita had a “celebration of life” in November, right after Thanksgiving. And self now recalls that Margarita herself called to tell her about this celebration of life, but because self was in that moment in a state of high-functioning complacency, she got her ticket for AFTER the holidays. And totally missed the boat.

But, you know, Venice. She did get to tell Margarita this astounding thing: “I think I will go back to Venice. Want to come with?”

Made Margarita laugh. The week before she passed away.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Books of The Economist, 22 February 2014 (Can Self Be Any More Behind in Reading

First, a novel. There is usually only one fiction review in each issue of The Economist. This one is in a box — the fact that it is means it must be special.

The Undertaking, by Audrey Magee (Atlantic Books) :

  • The best elements of this novel are intrusions of war into the domestic sphere.
  • A German soldier named Peter Ferber enlists the service of a marriage bureau and weds a girl he has never met in order to get home leave.

Next, a book about climate change:

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert (Henry Holt) :

  • As the climate warms, catastrophe looms. Yet it is oddly pleasurable to read Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, which offers a ramble through mass extinctions, present and past.  Five such episodes in the past have 450 million years have wiped out plant and animal life on huge scales.

Finally, a biography of an American poet whose name seems to be popping up everywhere these days:

E. E. Cummings:  A Life, by Susan Cheever (Pantheon)

  • It was only in New York that he felt free. Surrounded by writers such as Marianne Moore and Edmund Wilson, and photographers such as Walker Evans, he spent over 40 years in Greenwich Village, living in the same apartment.
  • He wrote nearly 3,000 poems, two novels and four plays, as well as painting portraits.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Forgiveness

Below is an excerpt from The Economist obituary for Maya Angelou, who passed away May 28 this year, at the age of 86. Self found out about Angelou’s passing in London. She and an old school friend, Doris Duterte Stanley, had walked to King’s Cross from Euston Station, where self’s train had just arrived from Wales.  In the lobby of King’s Cross, a gigantic video screen flashed the words: MAYA ANGELOU DIES AT 86.

(Self is so way behind in her reading of The Economist. At what point does she say Enough and quit her subscription? One more year, perhaps . . . )

When she was asked what words brought her comfort, she said, “Love.” And, after love, “Forgiveness.” Forgiveness did not mean you would seat your enemy at your table and feed him cornbread and fried chicken (though cooking food, and sharing it, often made peace). But it meant you could move on. In the words of “On the Pulse of Morning,” which she read in 1993 at Bill Clinton’s inauguration:

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Catching Up: Books of The Economist, 15 March 2014

No more apologies!  Self is going to get to the every single back issue of The Economist (Her subscription is good until next year), by hook or by crook!

Here are the books she wants to read, after perusing the Books and Arts section of 15 March 2014:

The Hard Thing About Hard Things:  Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, by Ben Horowitz:  Self chooses this book to read because part of it is a blow-by-blow of how a business failed.  The author’s advice for prospective entrepreneurs?  “If you are going to eat shit, don’t nibble.”  Mr. Horowitz took his company public, but alas his timing was poor, for the terrorist attacks on 9/11 hit just a short time later.  Mr. Horowitz goes into “wartime” mode.  Read how he does it.

The six-volume, 3,500-page autobiography by Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle (The first three have been translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett):  The Economist calls it “the most exhaustive account of a modern life ever written.” Mr. Kanusgaard turned out this magnum opus by writing 20 pages a day, “baring bits of his soul to a timetable, coping, on the one hand, with the growing fury of his family and, on the other, with the ever-present fear of failure.”  Not until almost at the end of the review is Proust even mentioned, but Proust was in the back of self’s mind from the moment she began reading it.  Like Proust, Knausgaard is obsessed “with the mechanics of memory: he claims that he does not have a good memory until he starts writing.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

Fun Facts About Americans’ Love of Fresh-Cut Christmas Trees, Courtesy of The Economist (14 December 2013)

Is self barreling along, or what?  She only has about six week’s worth of back issues of The Economist left to read.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to read a post about Christmas trees BEFORE Christmas?  Yup.

Now she’s on the Dec. 14, 2013 issue of The Economist.

p. 71 has an article on Americans’ apparently insatiable love for fresh-cut Christmas trees.

  • Every December, a man named Francoise brings 500 fresh-cut trees from Quebec to New York’s Upper West Side.
  • The trees sell for anything from $20 to $300.
  • The National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA)  — Ever heard of it before?  Neither had self! — reports that “Americans spent more than $1 billion on 25m trees in 2012.”  The average price of a tree?  $40.
  • People on the East Coast prefer Fraser firs because of their “typical evergreen fragrance.”  Californians prefer Oregon’s Grand Fir, “which has an orange-like scent.”
  • Home Depot expected “to sell 2.8 million” fresh-cut trees in 2013.
  • Easton is “the Christmas-tree capital of Connecticut.  “Every second car leaving the area has a tree or two strapped to its roof.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Economist: Best Books of the Year 2013

Self is getting so specific about the books she is interested in reading.  Here she is with The Economist of 7 December 2013, the issue that contains its annual Best Books of the Year lists, and she’s completely ignored Politics and Current Affairs, Biography and Memoir, and History, which usually are the first sections she looks at.

Self, enough with the second guessing!  Here, without further ado, are the books self is adding to her (already humongous) reading list.

In Economics and Business

In Science and Technology

  • Empire Antarctica:  Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins, by Gavin Francis (Counterpoint)

In Culture, Society and Travel

  • Bach:  Music in the Castle of Heaven, by John Eliot Gardiner (Knopf)
  • The Leonard Bernstein Letters, edited by Nigel Simeone (Yale University Press)

In Fiction

  • The Luminaries:  A Novel, by Eleanore Catton (Little, Brown)
  • Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson (Reagan Arthur Books)
  • Norwegian by Night, by Derek Miller (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Self is quite pleased with the progress she’s made through BLGF:  She’s presently on p. 468 (Belgrade I).  Still to come:  Belgrade II, Belgrade III, Belgrade IV, Belgrade V, Belgrade VI, Belgrade VII, Belgrade VIII, and Belgrade IX.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Dien Bien Phu, May 1954

Self is tackling her back issues of The Economist with great gusto.  Today, she got through three.

The 12 October 2013 issue has an obituary of General Nguyen Giap, the man who won the battle of Dien Bien Phu, a great watershed which marked the end of French colonial rule in Vietnam.  The general died Oct. 4.  He was 102.

There was a war movie made of this battle, starring Mel Gibson (Self finally remembered the name of the movie:  “We Are Soldiers.”)  In that movie, self remembers the warren of tunnels the Vietnamese had built, and a small man who seemed to be a general (though his uniform was just as plain as that of an ordinary soldier) telling his men:  “We will grab the enemy by the belt buckle, and pull him close.”  (This line was delivered in Vietnamese, with subtitles.  Which added greatly to the power of the scene. Self remembers being so stunned by that line that she never forgot it.  Even though, at the time she saw the movie, she knew very little about the battle itself.)

The Economist describes the battle strategy thus:

This victory had been a long time in the making.  The French had fortified the valley, in northwest Tonkin on the border with Laos, so he had taken his troops into the mountains that encircled it.  The French thought the hills impassable:  craggy, forested, foggy, riddled with caves.  General Giap recalled the words of his hero Bonaparte, whose battle plans he was sketching out with chalk when he was still at the Lycée in Hue:  “If a goat can get through, so can a man; if a man can get through, so can a battalion.”  Slowly, stealthily, in single file, 55,000 men took up positions there, supplied by 260,000 coolies with baskets, 20,000 bicycles and 11,800 bamboo rafts.  Artillery was carried up in sections.  From this eyrie, trenches and tunnels were dug down until they almost touched the French.  The enemy never stood a chance.

General Giap’s heroes were Bonaparte (audace, surprise), Lawrence of Arabia, and Mao Zedong, especially Mao’s “three-stage doctrine of warfare (guerrilla tactics, stalemate, offensive warfare).”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Catch-Up Reading: The Economist, 14 September 2013

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts is an account of how, at 18, he walked from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople.  This was in the 1930s.  Self finally got to it just a few years ago.

Fermor documented a time and place that, several years later, would be destroyed forever.  A Time of Gifts is a wonderful book.  Self will never, ever forget it.

Now, she is trying to catch up on her Economist reading, and she ends up lingering in the Books section, where there is a review of a posthumously published volume (Fermor died two years ago, at age 96).

Reading the review, self learns that Fermor wrote a second book, Between the Woods and the Water, which “covered his 1934 walk through Hungary and Transylvania, where he was as much at home in hayricks as in the hovels of gypsies.”  Oh, joy!  Self immediately added this book to her reading list.

But the third book, the posthumously published The Broken Road:  From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, is also fascinating.  It is “the full contemporary account of his time at Mount Athos,” and while it lacks some of the “magic” of the earlier books, it “has an elegiac tone.  None of the people described survives and the countries visited have undergone wars and revolutions, leaving them virtually unrecognisable.”

In other words, the various “tribes” of the Balkans and central Europe were every bit as endangered as the Native American tribes who ruled from sea to sea, or the native tribes of New Guinea and other parts less traveled.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Books of The Economist, 16 March 2013 and The New York Review of Books, 27 September 2012

Self has Don Quijote so much on the brain (it’s overdue at the Library: she better hurry up) that she even sees a theme in the latest book list:  it seems to be a list of Quijotic Endeavours.  After you read the capsule descriptions, see if you don’t agree, dear blog readers:

  • A first novel, Ghana Must Go, by Talye Selasi (Penguin Press):  A brilliant medical student from Ghana becomes the scapegoat in the death of a 77-year-old “Boston socialite, wife, mother, grandmother and alcoholic.”
  • The “agony” of Iraq, described by Toby Dodge in Iraq:  From War to a New Authoritarianism:  “The collapse of the Iraqi state” allowed ‘ethnic entrepreneurs’ — “political manipulators of sectarian fears —  to flourish.”
  • An artist talks about his process in The Lost Carving:  A Journey to the Heart of Making, by David Esterly (Viking):  Esterly’s medium is wood.  His inspiration was a 17th century woodcarver who went by the name Grinling Gibbons.  When “a fire at Hampton Court Palace damaged a series of Gibbon carvings . . .  Mr. Esterly was chosen to recreate” one of them, a “seven-foot-long cascade of fruit and flowers . . .  This book is the story of the year it took him to do it.”

And, from The New York Review of Books of 27 September 2012, two very interesting reviews:  the first by Jerome Groopman, reviewing God’s Hotel:  A Doctor, A Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet (Riverhead) and the second by Ezra Klein, reviewing The Obamas, by Jodi Kantor.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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