CATO in Robert Harris (Conspirata, p. 92)

#amreading all Imperial Rome narratives

Until next week, when self begins Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

Robert Harris’s Conspirata (In the United Kingdom it’s got a different title: Lustrum) covers exactly the same ground as the books self just finished reading: SPQR by Mary Beard, and Rubicon by Tom Holland. So she knows how everything is going to end. But Harris is such a good writer (She read Fatherland, years ago: highly recommend) that self is giving Conspirata a go.

Here’s a speech by Cato which self thinks is fascinating for what it reveals of the character (Also, it is interesting that millions of youths around the world see the name Cato and think immediately of that blonde bully in The Hunger Games):

Never be moved by favour. Never appease. Never forgive a wrong. Never differentiate between things that are wrong — what is wrong is wrong, whatever the size of the misdemeanour, and that is the end of the matter. And finally, never compromise on any of these principles. “The man who has the strength to follow them — is always handsome however misshapen, always rich however needy, always a king however much a slave.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Sentence of the Day: San Francisco Chronicle, 26 January 2017

In a review of Silence! The Musical by Lily Janiak:

Lambs don’t actually appear in the 1991 thriller Silence of the Lambs; they’re a metaphor for the lifelong inner suffering of Jodie Foster’s character, FBI agent Clarice Starling.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Wall Street Journal Books, July 23 – 24, 2016

Self found a couple of books to add to her reading list while perusing the Books section of the July 23 – July 24 Wall Street Journal:

  • Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln, by Charles B. Strozier (Columbia)
  • The Castle of Kings, by Oliver Potzsch (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) — historical fiction, set in 1524 Germany
  • Abahn Sabana David, by Marguerite Duras (Open Letter) — “minimal, dream-like setting” and narration that has “the bluntness of stage directions.” Self adores Duras.
  • The Brotherhood of the Wheel, by R. S. Belcher (Tor) — Resourceful residents of a small town use a HEXapp — an actual HEXapp! LOL LOL — to show the most recent sightings of the local spectre!
  • Richard Cohen, literary critic and Tolstoy expert, shares his favorite British crime novels: The Cask, by Freeman Wills Crofts; Tragedy at Law, by Cyril Hare; Reputation for a Song, by Edward Grierson; The Shortest Way to Hades, by Sarah Caudwell
  • Brazillionaires, by Alex Cuadros (Spiegel & Grau) — nonfiction by a journalist

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Adjusting the Reading List

The Girl On the Train was a very satisfying read! She will keep her eye out for Paula Hawkins’s next book. She hopes that, someday, there will be a sequel to The Girl On the Train.

In the meantime, self got a few pages into Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk etc. and was quite surprised to find that it is mostly about a playground in Japan, one the author encountered when she accepted the invitation of a friend to visit her in Tokyo. Self doesn’t know what she was expecting, but she knows it wasn’t a meditation on a children’s playground, not with a title like Savage Park.

Since she is still so keyed up after finishing The Girl On the Train, she decides she’s in the thriller-reading mode, so she opts to put aside Savage Park and go for the next book on her reading list: Girl Waits With Gun, by Amy Stewart.

The next book after Girl Waits With Gun: The Green Road, by Anne Enright. And after that, a book called Lonely in the City: Adventures in the Art of Living Alone. And after that, a couple of travel books, starting with The Narrow Road to the Deep North: Travel Sketches, by Matsuo Basho. Will I be able to finish more by the end of summer? Hope so.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Random Thoughts on Summer 2016 Movies

SUMMER!  SUMMER IS HERE!  WOOT HOOT AND HIGH FIVES!

Self swore, way back in January, that she would find joy again in watching movies. And she has! She has! Even when she was in venerable Oxford, UK, she managed to watch “X-Men: Apocalypse” and “Captain America: Civil War”! (Which is probably why she ran out of time before she could drop by the Ashmolean. But she is not a complete Philistine: she did spend time in the Bodleian, and took a one-day poetry workshop at Saint Hilde’s)

So, let’s see, here are the list of summer movies she’s seen so far:

  • Me Before You (Emilia Clarke meets Bridget Jones: Clarke is too adorable!)
  • The Shallows (Blake Lively and her cute butt and her long legs and her killer smile meet a totally focused great white in the wilds of — Latin America? Mexico? Where the pretty Texan encounters very chivalrous men. The only un-chivalrous man who comes within Blake’s orbit gets . . . umm, well, let’s just say: Payback’s a bitch)
  • Love & Friendship (Xavier Samuels: What is her life? AAAARGH. When you put a handsome man in period duds, it’s lights out. At least, as far as self is concerned)
  • X-Men: Apocalypse (Let us give credit where credit is due: the only reason self watches anymore is Evan Peters)
  • Captain America: Civil War (American snark rules! Especially in this series! YES!)

She will probably end up seeing Independence Day: Resurgence even though it has Liam. And mediocre reviews (Liam, you need a new agent! Pronto! Someone who can find you movies that convince people you can actually move!)

Of the above, the best ‘summer movie’ movie is, in self’s humble opinion, The Shallows. Any movie that can evoke hoots, laughter, and finally a triumphant YEEEES from a California audience has definitely earned its spot in the Best Summer Movie pantheon.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN: Train of Thought

Self wants it to NOT be Rachel.

Because Rachel evokes so many feelz in self.

And Rachel’s point of view is the one we’re inside of, mostly.

Somewhere near the halfway point of Girl on the Train, self reads an Anna point of view. Self is usually impatient with multiple point of view narratives: she thinks the switching around is really just a lame excuse for the author not to come up with a tight plot. Like the switch is nothing more than an extended tease. But self really relishes the point-of-view switches in Girl on the Train. The novel presents us with a great puzzle and a great unreliable narrator and the only way the reader can figure out what’s really going down is to hear from all the characters.

Anna (Tom’s current wife) describes seeing Rachel. It’s a scene that we’ve seen earlier, narrated from Rachel’s point of view. All along, self has thought of Rachel as a well-meaning, deluded drunk. Just your typical messed-up anti-heroine. Self absolutely loathes Tom. His diatribes, his abandonment of Rachel. Of course, we aren’t that sympathetic with Anna, Tom’s current wife.

Then, suddenly, we’re inside Anna’s head, Anna watching Rachel. And it is a little un-nerving to read Rachel as giving a sort of sneer at Anna. The sneer of a woman who is absolutely in control of her actions, if not of her emotions. Could Rachel be pulling a fast one on the reader? (And how on earth is Emily Blunt going to play this character, Emily Blunt who is so immensely likeable even when bitchy, as she was in The Devil Wears Prada?)

What’s really interesting is that, despite the fact that Anna is the Other Woman, and of course we would not expect her to have a sympathetic view of Rachel, when she describes sneering Rachel, it makes the reader question her liking of Rachel, instead of making us dislike Anna more.

Why does this happen?

Each switch in point of view is a surprise. In other words, the patterns are unpredictable: we don’t have a uniform order for the switching. It’s not Anna, followed by Rachel, followed by Megan, then back to Anna, followed by Rachel, followed by Megan etc etc

But each switch does carry the story forward. And readers find themselves becoming detectives, constantly testing new theories of who did what.

And such is self’s curiosity that she sometimes cannot wait to resume reading, she grabs the book (which is always in her tote) even if it only means reading a few paragraphs more.

She thinks her seatmate on the plane who much preferred Daniel Silva to Paula Hawkins was so, so wrong.

The Girl on the Train resembles The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, another mystery that asks: Who did it?

The central character has some flaw that makes it difficult for her/him to be taken seriously. In TCIOTDITN, it’s the narrator’s Aspergers. Here, it’s the fact that Rachel is alcoholic and depressed and given to mood swings. Yet, they doggedly persist in their “investigations.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Against All Odds: Really Enjoying THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

Self thinks she read somewhere that Emily Blunt is starring in the movie.

And self adores Emily Blunt.

Self has taken a peek at the end; the reviews say there’s a surprise ending. And she can’t take the suspense of spending one or two weeks with a book, identifying with this or that character, and then being blind-sided. She just can’t.

Anyhoo, there’s a missing woman. And the other woman, the one who’s been watching her on the train, has fabricated quite a story for her. Now that the woman’s life is news, the woman who made up stories can finally find out how close to the mark she was:

Megan has no family in the area. Both her parents are deceased.

Megan is unemployed. She used to run a small art gallery in Whitney, but it closed down in April last year (I knew Megan would be arty).

Scott is a self-employed IT consultant (I can’t bloody believe Scott is an IT consultant)

The story reminds self a little of the first-person piece she read in The Guardian, some years back: Sarah Hepola and her alcoholic blackouts. Self has seen drunk people, many times. But it somehow feels more raw in England. Her last experience with full-on drunkenness was riding back to London on a train from Cambridge, on a Saturday night. And holy cow, it wasn’t just the drunkenness, there was weed smoking and general loudness and belligerence. And self sat miserably in her seat for two hours and wondered why the conductor never came by to ask for tickets. (Stupid: why would a conductor put himself/herself through that on a Saturday night, on a train full of drunk people?)

After she got off the train, her nerves were rather frayed. She decided to take a cab instead of the underground. She said a little about the train to the cabbie and he shrugged: “Young people,” the cabbie said. “Saturday night.”

Anyhoo, one of the women in The Girl On the Train is an alcoholic. The kind of alcoholic who comes home with bumps on her head and bruises on her thighs and no memory of what happened (“I feel excited. I feel afraid.”)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Girl on the Train: Gathering Steam

Self quite likes this novel.

She takes back what she posted yesterday: that there is no Ruth Rendell like Ruth Rendell.

Paula Hawkins reminds self a lot of Ruth Rendell. A lot.

That psychological tension.

The setting is a satellite community of London. The protagonist is jobless. To stave off depression, or maybe as a consequence of depression, she keeps up her weekday routine of riding the commuter train into London and back.

P. 80:

I’d been in the library on Theobalds Road. I’d just emailed my mother (I didn’t tell her anything of significance, it was a sort of test-the-waters email, to gauge how maternal she’s feeling towards me at the moment) via my Yahoo account. On Yahoo’s front page there are news stories, tailored to your postcode or whatever — God only knows how they know my postcode, but they do. And there was a picture of her, Jess, my Jess, the perfect blonde, next to a headline which read CONCERN FOR MISSING WITNEY WOMAN.

And as for the awful bombing of the Orlando nightclub, and the wife of the perp being questioned by authorities, a friend remarked:

  • As long as she keeps talking, they won’t charge her. They need every bit of information she can give them. When there’s nothing more she can tell them, that’s when they’ll charge her.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Babysitting: “The Girl on the Train”

This trope has been done before: babysitter develops crush on employer’s husband and it’s all yada yada yada.

Self began reading The Girl on the Train. She likes it, so far, even though the woman she sat next to on the plane said, “Didn’t like that one so much. Disappointed, after all the hype.”

Self was on page 6. The woman raised her book: a paperback by Danielle Silva.

She decided she’d stick with The Girl on the Train. It couldn’t be as bad as the other book she bought in London: Grey. At least, there’s psychological depth to Paula Hawkins’ narrator. She’s no Ruth Rendell but there is no Ruth Rendell except Ruth Rendell. Self would settle for a few nights of cheap thrills.

Here is the babysitter coming to work, on p. 38:

Today she doesn’t open the door, it’s him, the husband, Tom, suited and booted, off to work. He looks handsome in his suit — not Scott handsome, he’s smaller and paler , and his eyes are a little too close together when you see him up close — but he’s not bad. He flashes me his wide, Tom Cruise smile, and then he’s gone, and it’s just me and her and the baby.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Yesterday, at Blackwell’s Bookshop

Here they call it a bookshop; over there we call it a bookstore.

Oh, wait. Mendocino’s Gallery also refers to itself as a bookshop.

Self being too quick on the draw, as usual.

It is time for self to update her reading list. Yesterday, she found a thriller called Girl Waits With Gun, by Amy Stewart. (What is it with all the “Girl” titles now: Gone, Girl; Girl on the Train, etc). Sounded like it would be a perfect summer read.

Her reading list looks like this now:

  • My Brilliant Friend, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, by Elena Ferrante (currently reading)
  • The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
  • Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die, by Amy Fusselman (who must be a therapist)
  • Girl Waits With Gun, by Amy Stewart

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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