San Francisco Chronicle Datebook, 27 January 2019

Loving the cover story:

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In 1969:

Nixon became President, the Beatles released Abbey Road, Sly and the Family Stone released Want To Take You Higher, The Who released Tommy.

Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid premiered. TV’s Star Trek got cancelled.

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Woodstock happened, Chappaquiddick happened, the moon landing happened, Berkeley’s People Park happened, Charles Manson happened, The Gap opened its 1st store, the Vietnam draft lottery was televised, William Calley was convicted of six counts of murder for My Lai.

Self was in summer camp in England. That’s where she heard about the moon landing.

Ferdinand Marcos won re-election as President of the Philippines.

Wonder what groundbreaking books were published that year? No mention in the Chronicle. There must have been some.

Where was Gloria Steinem?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

In the Lake of the Woods: Finis

Four things:

  • Self got sucked in by the Hypothesis chapters.
  • She liked all the quotes from the transcripts of the court-martial of Lt. William Calley, but the quotes about Custer, then about the British slaughter of American civilians during the war of independence — the lines being drawn across history — couldn’t say she really liked that approach.
  • She will never, ever go to that part of the border with Canada. Never. The Hypothesis section that describes Kath getting turned around, thinking she was going south when she was actually going north, the bitter cold, the running out of gasoline for the boat engine, the vast and empty wildnerness, ugh.
  • Landscape, landscape, landscape. Whether describing Vietnam or a lake or the dense, wooded forests of the border with Canada, there is great precision in O’Brien’s descriptions of physical settings. Compared to them, self’s own (meager) evocations of setting are like the dot dash dot dash of semaphores.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Hypothesis: In the Lake of the Woods, p. 170

Here are her frustrations with this novel:

  • The main character is deeply troubled, and his wife is long-suffering.
  • His campaign manager is a walking cliché of everything that was wrong with male entitlement before the #metoo movement (He constantly makes sexist remarks about the  main character’s wife in front of the husband and the wife and no one tells him to shut up)
  • My Lai is dealt with in a very blunt manner.

Here are the reasons self is glad she is still reading:

  • My Lai is dealt with in a very blunt manner.
  • She is reminded of The Nuremberg Principles (NOT fake news)
  • The hypothesis chapters — brilliant chapters, just brilliant. When O’Brien is in Kath’s head, it’s clear he is no mysogynist, and his feeling for the landscape is intense. Also, Kath being lost and thinking rationally about her situation and struggling to become un-lost all by herself is heartbreaking. First rule of nature: As soon as one is lost, stop moving, take shelter, and wait to be found. (Self is far from the outdoorsy type so she can see herself getting considerably more lost, just as Kath does in the novel)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

2nd Sentence of the Day: “The Ghost Soldiers”

Self’s only quibble, three pages in, is that she wishes they had dropped the word ‘The’ in front of ‘Ghost Soldiers.’

But, she can feel it in her bones: this will be a good story. When O’Brien is firing on all cylinders, he is never ‘just ‘good,’ he is great.

“So when I got shot the second time, in the butt, along the Song Tra Bong, it took the son of a bitch almost ten minutes to work up the nerve to crawl over me.”

Whereas the previous medic came “every so often, maybe four times altogether” to check on the narrator — in the middle of “a wild fight.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

“Sweetheart of the Song Trabong”: Story # 9 of The Things They Carried

For Rat Kiley, I think, facts were formed by sensation, not the other way around, and when you listened to one of the stories, you’d find yourself performing rapid calculations in your head, subtracting superlatives, figuring the square root of an absolute and then multiplying by maybe.

Sentence of the Day: from “How To Tell a True War Story”

  • If a story seems moral, do not believe it.

Freedom! Thinks the 21-Year-Old Narrator

And then Tim O’Brien says, Not so fast.

The border with Canada is so close, all the narrator has to do is get to the other side of a river.

  • My conscience told me to run, but some irrational and powerful force was resisting, like a weight pushing me toward the war. What it came down to, stupidly, was a sense of shame. Hot, stupid shame. I did not want people to think badly of me. Not my parents, not my brother and sister, not even the folks down at the Gobbler Café.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Tim O’Brien: “On the Rainy River”

Of course, the title story, The Things They Carried, is brilliant: the listing of each piece of equipment and their weight, all contributing to that sense of dread too large to name.

Then, in “On the Rainy River” (Story # 4), self reads something that seems so basic, so elemental, so sensible, that she can’t believe no one’s quoted it before?

  • The only certainty that summer was moral confusion. It was my view then, and still is, that you don’t make war without knowing why. Knowledge, of course, is always imperfect, but it seemed to me that when a nation goes to war it must have reasonable confidence in the justice and imperative of its cause. You can’t fix your mistakes. Once people are dead, you cant make them undead.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

FAMILY: by Anna Moi for Air France Magazine

Early 1960s. The “war” was the Vietnam War, which pitted the North, where Moi’s parents were from, against the South, to where they fled:

How long does it take for a mother to read Alone in the World and The Story of Perrine to her child? My mother read to me almost every evening, because my parents went out only three or four times a year, and never had guests. It was wartime, but that doesn’t explain it — war had only just begun and nobody imagined at the time that it would last some 15 years and that we’d face shortages of everything, especially freedom, the basic freedom to move around as we chose.

This sense of frugality was something my parents were born with, just as others live with a heart murmur or an irregular heartbeat. It was the region of their birth, the North, that had triggered this simmering anxiety.

At bedtime, my mother would decide on a number of pages, but I would beg her to carry on, and she was always happy to continue the story of Rémi the abandoned child or of Perrine Paindavoine, an orphan searching for her family . . .  From one episode to the next, in those days before TV series, I traveled from one family to another, and from town to town, in the comfort of knowing I would fall asleep sated with emotions.

Denis Johnson Sentence of the Day

Still reading Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke.

Sentence of the Day is:

The medic went into the trees with a couple guys and pretty soon the smell of green reefer came wafting over, but that was all right, let them wreck their minds, this was war.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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