Saturday, July 26, 2014

Five words of advice on reading Elizabeth Bowen: Resist the urge to skim. In The Death of the Heart, Bowen's writing rolls ever onward, accruing the sensations and ironies of conscious living till the final effect is massive. This is not prose for people who like their fiction with a cool, Calvin Klein-like minimalism. Bowen's people are keenly aware, and she seems to catalogue every sweaty moment, every betraying glance. The reader must stay right there with her, because hidden among lengthy descriptions of sea air and drawing-room politics are pithy asides worthy of great humorists: "Absence blots people out. We really have no absent friends." Skimmers miss out.

The Death of the Heart is Bowen's most perfectly made book. Portia, an orphan, comes to live in London with her half-brother, Thomas, and his wife, Anna. A child of sin raised in a series of shabby French hotels, Portia is possessed of a kind of terrible innocence. Like Chance the Gardener in pigtails, she literally can't comprehend evil or unkind motives. Unfortunately for her, she falls in with Anna's friend Eddie, who seems to be made entirely of bad motives. Though the plot follows Portia's relationship with Eddie, the novel's real tension lies between Portia and Anna, as the girl comes to grief against the shoals of Anna's glittering, urbane cynicism. But the book transcends the theme of innocence corrupted. As in Graham Greene's The Quiet American, Bowen inverts the formula to show the destructive power of innocence itself:
Innocence so constantly finds itself in a false position that inwardly innocent people learn to be disingenuous.... Incurable strangers to the world, they never cease to exact a heroic happiness. Their singleness, their ruthlessness, their one continuous wish makes them bound to be cruel, and to suffer cruelty. The innocent are so few that two of them seldom meet--and when they do, their victims lie strewn all around.
Bowen has a fine eye for such shadings of morality, but finer still is her understanding of the way humans bump up against the material world. Her writing on weather, both emotional and meteorological, compares with the best of Henry James: "One's first day by the sea, one's being feels salt, strong, resilient, and hollow--like a seaweed pod not giving under the heel."

Always a sensitive observer of the way we live, in her lesser books Bowen deals in mind games and then delivers trumped-up, bloody endings. In The Death of the Heart, she keeps all the action between her characters' ears, and comes up with one of the great midcentury psychological novels.  


-- Claire Dederer

Friday, July 25, 2014

Something about the structure of my brain, its associative, porous, open-endedness, was defenseless against the ever-enlarging Web. Every video, news story, photo, e-mail, stock chart, sexy picture, and five-day weather forecast was an enticement to step into the forest, and once I was two or three breadcrumbs down the path, the witches had me, I was in their oven. Most of life's temptations go way back; they're ancient and perennial, and one is warned about them in one's youth, but this temptation had appeared from nowhere.

- Walter Kirn

I cannot BELIEVE how much fucking time I wasted on Tumblr today. And after I've taken I don't know how many hiatus (hiatii? hah) from that goddamn site! No more. No más!

....and while I was poking about on Gutenberg

Darcy.
[Continues in a discouraged tone.] Well, I deserve it. It is my own fault. My selfish conceit has wounded you past help. Every sentiment of your nature has felt it—seen it.

Elizabeth.
[Demurely.] But one sentiment they say is blind.

Darcy.
[Stunned.] Miss Bennet! [Elizabeth looks up at him. He rushes toward her.] Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth!
[He holds her in his arms.]




.....oh, dear. Oh dear.

take that, Jo Baker

....Elizabeth thought this was going pretty far; and she listened with increasing astonishment as the housekeeper added, "I have never had a cross word from him in my life, and I have known him ever since he was four years old."

....There was certainly at this moment, in Elizabeth's mind, a more gentle sensation towards the original, than she had ever felt in the height of their acquaintance. The commendation bestowed on him by Mrs. Reynolds was of no trifling nature. What praise is more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant? As a brother, a landlord, a master, she considered how many people's happiness were in his guardianship!—How much of pleasure or pain it was in his power to bestow!—How much of good or evil must be done by him! Every idea that had been brought forward by the housekeeper was favourable to his character, and as she stood before the canvas, on which he was represented, and fixed his eyes upon herself, she thought of his regard with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before; she remembered its warmth, and softened its impropriety of expression.

in which Beatrice says it all about Longbourn

The premise is that Baker is exploring the lives of the Bennetts' (from Pride and Prejudice) servants, in order to write a book about class discrepancies in Regency England. And I think this book would have been much more enjoyable if she had not done the riff on Austen, although that is the book's gimmick and who knows if it would have sold otherwise. But it means that she's just slamming beloved characters left and right, including having Lizzie sneer that referring to the footman as "Mr. Smith" made her think the speaker "meant a gentleman", which doesn't ring true at all. And I put up with it the first fourteen times our heroine, the Bennett girls' maid, thinks, "Jane and Elizabeth have X, Y, and Z and are still not grateful, while I would be content with half a potato sack to make socks out of BECAUSE SERVANT CLASS", but the next forty-five times I read the same sentiment it's rather like the Monty Python Yorkshiremen sketch: "Elizabeth gets Mr. Darcy, while GIRLS LIKE ME would be happy to have a rotting warthog carcass to warm our bare feet because we ate our shoes last spring and no one will spare a potato sack".

- Burning My Study

Thursday, July 24, 2014

GPOY, as they say

Insensibly he formed the most delightful habit in the world, the habit of reading: he did not know that thus he was providing himself with a refuge from all the distress of life; he did not know either that he was creating for himself an unreal world which would make the real world of every day a source of bitter disappointment.

W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage

posted earlier elsewhere, but it still cracks me up


    OUR HEROINE: I found a picture of Somserset Maugham sunbathing nude!

    SPOUSAL OVERUNIT: ....I'm sorry?

    OUR HEROINE: I said, I found a picture of Somserset Maugham sunbathing nude!

    SPOUSAL OVERUNIT: ....Ah, good?

    OUR HEROINE: Wanna see it?

    SPOUSAL OVERUNIT: No, that's all right, thanks.

    OUR HEROINE: You're so tactful.

via

"Sonnet: Against Entropy," John M. Ford

The worm drives helically through the wood
And does not know the dust left in the bore
Once made the table integral and good;
And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,
A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;
The names of lovers, light of other days
Perhaps you will not miss them. That’s the joke.
The universe winds down. That’s how it’s made.
But memory is everything to lose;
Although some of the colors have to fade,
Do not believe you’ll get the chance to choose.
Regret, by definition, comes too late;
Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.

- via

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

one of my top favourites

The dog has cleaned his bowl
and his reward is a biscuit,
which I put in his mouth
like a priest offering the host.

I can't bear that trusting face!
He asks for bread, expects
bread, and I in my power
might have given him a stone.

- Jane Kenyon

life in our house

TIM: This link you emailed me the other day....

MOI: Which one?

TIM: About the cats?

MOI: Oh, the cat program in the Indiana prison! Yeah, that was amazing.

TIM: ....you titled it "Pussies in Prison."

MOI: ....heh.
Reading is performance. The reader— the child under the blanket with a flashlight, the woman at the kitchen table, the man at the library desk— performs the work. The performance is silent. The readers hear the sounds of the words and the beat of the sentences only in their inner ear. Silent drummers on noiseless drums. An amazing performance in an amazing theater.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Here they comin with their guns, guns, guns


reset that counter


this video just made my fucking day


And I will come dressed up in dreams


"Living with the News," W.S. Merwin

Can I get used to it day after day
a little at a time while the tide keeps
coming in faster the waves get bigger
building on each other breaking records
this is not the world that I remember
then comes the day when I open the box
that I remember packing with such care
and there is the face that I had known well
in little pieces staring up at me
it is not mentioned on the front pages
but somewhere far back near the real estate
among the things that happen every day
to someone who now happens to be me
and what can I do and who can tell me
then there is what the doctor comes to say
endless patience will never be enough
the only hope is to be the daylight

- via the recently unchained New Yorker

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I think the first thing—if you want to be a writer—the first thing you need to do is write. Which sounds like an obvious piece of advice. But so many people have this feeling they want to be a writer and they love to read but they don’t actually write very much. The main part of being a writer, though, is being profoundly alone for hours on end, uninterrupted by email or friends or children or romantic partners and really sinking into the work and writing. That’s how I write. That’s how writing gets done.

- Cheryl Strayed

Saturday, July 19, 2014

stuck in Longbourn

This....is just still really not going well at all.

Sarah said, "You do not suppose he could be partial to you at all, do you, miss?"

"Oh, goodness me!" Elizabeth laughed...."Don't be such a silly, Sarah."

AUGH.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

new in the e-queue

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys, Viv Albertine
Rusalka, C.J. Cherryh
Why Read, Mark Edmundson
The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, Mark Forsyth
Master Flea, E.T.A. Hoffman
War of the Whales, Joshua Horwitz
After the Apocalypse, Maureen F. McHugh
The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language, John H. McWhorte
The Mockingbird Next Door, Marja Mills
Shards, Allison Moore
Delia's Shadow, Jaime Moyer
John Lennon, Philip Norman
The Actress, Amy Sohn
Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science, Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont
The Illusionists, Rosie Thomas
Annihilation, Jeff Vandermeer


Almost done with Atonement (had to take a break during the ripped-off war nursing part where THE GUY'S SKULL FALLS OFF), still struggling with Longbourn, trying to find some ebooks about the Binjamin Wilkomirski hoax but my usual, uh, sources fail me. Later on I'm going to pick up a copy of No Time for Romance at the library, which I'm looking forward to.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

what NYC literary feuds sound like when you're on the Left Coast*

CLICKBAIT ARTICLE: ....and the controversial article on Emily Gould by Ed Champion --

MOI: Who? //clicks over

 EDRANTS: "They are largely white women who are almost totally in the dark about their privilege, many bolstering a blinkered neoliberal feminism that demands a rectifying army of Mikki Kendalls and Djuna Barneses"

MOI: Who wha motherfucking what

EDRANTS: "But when a minx’s head is so deeply deposited up her own slimy passage"

MOI:  Oh fuck you, you sexist pathetic bastard, you -- 

FIRST COMMENT ON EDRANTS, FROM "DEPRESSED READER": Everyone who's read anything she’s written knows that Emily Gould is vapid, vicious and fame-hungry, and not particularly interesting beyond that. But man, you have some deeply pathological obsession going on here. I would delete this post if I were you and seek professional help.

MOI: SO SAY WE ALL. JESUS HARRIET TUBMAN CHRIST.
 
TWITTER: //blows up (Are all these people in New York sitting in the same Starbucks composing Tweets about each other on their laptops while they're five feet away? I guess so? Do they ever go outside?)

MOI: But who the fuck is this? Why is he vaguely familiar....very, very vaguely....

EDRANTS:  No job no money no hope, I go to throw myself off a bridge! GOODBYE CRUEL WORLD THIS IS NOT A DRILL

MOI: ....have Hugo Schwyzer and this guy ever been seen in the same room together at the same time?

DAILY DOT: He was the one who pored over that spy novel and found out most of it was plagiarized.

MOI: OHHHH THAT GUY


*Roxane Gay left us out of her 'places where people write which aren't New York' post -- I thought I ranted about this on my blog, but now I think it was on GoodReads, which I don't use anymore -- and although the Stanford Creative Writing Program, founded in 1946 by Wallace Stegner, was the second in the country after Iowa, we didn't figure much in MFA v NYC (which one's Alien and which one's Predator?), either.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

street haunting



Woolf often conceives of life this way: as a gift that you’ve been given, which you must hold onto and treasure but never open. Opening it would dispel the atmosphere, ruin the radiance—and the radiance of life is what makes it worth living. It’s hard to say just what holding onto life without looking at it might mean; that’s one of the puzzles of her books. But it has something to do with preserving life’s mystery; with leaving certain things undescribed, unspecified, and unknown; with savoring certain emotions, such as curiosity, surprise, desire, and anticipation. It depends on an intensified sense of life’s preciousness and fragility, and on a Heisenberg-like notion that, when it comes to our most abstract and spiritual intuitions, looking too closely changes what we feel. It has to do, in other words, with a kind of inner privacy, by means of which you shield yourself not just from others’ prying eyes, but from your own. Call it an artist’s sense of privacy.  

....There can be something enjoyable, even revelatory about that feeling of self-protection, which is why we seek out circumstances in which we can feel more acutely the contrast between the outside world and our inner selves. Woolf was fascinated by city life—by the feeling of solitude-on-display that the sidewalk encourages, and by the way that “street haunting,” as she called it, allows you to lose and then find yourself in the rhythm of urban novelty and familiarity. She was drawn to the figure of the hostess: the woman-to-be-looked-at, standing at the top of the stairs, friendly to everyone, who grows only more mysterious with her visibility. (One of the pleasures of throwing a party, Woolf showed, is that it allows you to surprise yourself: surrounded by your friends, the center of attention, you feel your separateness from the social world you have convened.) She showed how parents, friends, lovers, and spouses can become more unknowable over time, not less—there is a core to their personhood that never gives itself up. Even as they put their lives on display, she thought, artists thrive when they maintain a final redoubt of privacy—a wellspring that remains unpolluted by the world outside. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Kate Zambreno on leaving Twitter

I kind of played against what was “good” or “successful” and ultimately quit Twitter because I found myself repulsive, caring and craving so much for witness and recognition, and warring against myself whether to promote myself on Twitter or retweet praise or write about the process of writing, which felt at times like a sort of promotion, a real-time behind-the-scenes I’m Writing! Read my Next Book Entitled Suicide is Amazing in 2016!—even though I like writing about process, and I like reading about writer’s processes....Basically, whenever I think I’m doing something that would be good for publicity, I wind up bailing on it. Maybe I have issues with success. I find failure more interesting. I also think in general the writers who use Twitter to promote themselves or their projects, instead of writing about ideas or writing about reading or posting weird jokes or having a conceptual project, were the ones I found really boring, like being at a publishing party, and it made me cynical about being on Twitter myself.

....I think noticing who was following me or unfollowing me based on something I wrote depressed me in small yet critical ways, or made me think of writing something to appeal to more readers—which I found poisonous as a writer—all that sort of currency, or thinking of being a writer as publishing, or as being an author, or as having cultural capital, instead of as reading and writing. Also feeling a fixed identity—a box—and I felt like I was not able to change or refine ideas or be in the process of becoming. That’s why I quit the online world, for now.

After the last book came out, I needed to calibrate things offline, and go back to having a private life, to mourn or complain or read privately for a while. Writer friends or online friends or people who like reading me will still often write me and say they miss my online presence—which is nice, but also a strange feeling, like you don’t exist if you’re not on social media, or that your online presence is what they read of you. There’s this pressure to be continually writing on the Internet in order to stay a writer. But I kind of like the feeling of being invisible, of not existing for a while. I think I’ve been interested lately in a poetics of anonymity, a performance of invisibility. Maybe that’s why I like twitter accounts that immolate themselves and are performative/ephemeral. Like I think Kafka would have been really brilliant at twitter, but he would have had 40 followers and would have been disgusted with himself and quit it often.

via

two quotes

Do not, under any circumstances, delete your blog. Close comments, take it off your bookmarks, and for God’s sake if you had a Google alert deactivate it. Set it to private if you must. But leave it there. Your blog may not seem consequential to you, but it is part of a complex network that includes other people’s memories, experiences, conversations, and, less esoterically, links. To delete it creates a tear in the history and meaning of that network.

- Jessica Tripler


You are not a waste. You are not wasted. No part of you will ever be wasted. When you are done being you, every one of your atoms will go on to do something else. You will never run out of things to be, until the day when nothing is anything at all anymore.

So you’ve got all of that going for you.

Do you create? You’re a miracle. Do you create badly? You’re still a miracle, and just because you create badly now doesn’t mean you always will. Do you think you don’t create enough? You create as much as you should, and if you should create more than you do, you’ll find a way to do so. Do you have things left unfinished? You can finish them. If it turns out you can’t, you can’t. It’s not a crime. Forgive yourself for it.

Forgive yourself in general.

- Sunny Moraine

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Great Recession should have put the victim-blaming theory of poverty to rest. In the space of only a few months, millions of people entered the ranks of the officially poor—not only laid-off blue-collar workers, but also downsized tech workers, managers, lawyers, and other once-comfortable professionals. No one could accuse these “nouveau poor” Americans of having made bad choices or bad lifestyle decisions. They were educated, hardworking, and ambitious, and now they were also poor—applying for food stamps, showing up in shelters, lining up for entry-level jobs in retail. This would have been the moment for the pundits to finally admit the truth: Poverty is not a character failing or a lack of motivation. Poverty is a shortage of money.

- Barbara Ehrenreich

a small portion of books in the e-queue

The Music of Chance, Paul Auster
The Last Nude, Ellis Avery
Ghosts, John Banville
Simone de Beauvoir, Philosophy, and Feminism, Nancy Bauer
The Mandarins, Simone de Beauvoir
The Face in the Frost, John Bellairs
Phantoms on the Bookshelves, Jacques Bonnet
The Story of Pain, Joanna Bourke
Mrs Poe, Lynn Cullen
Olivia Manning: A Woman at War, Deirdre David
A Bone from a Dry Sea, Peter Dickinson
Suspicious Minds: How Culture Shapes Madness, Joel Gold
Friendship: A Novel, Emily Gould (someone gave this to me, she doesn't need my money)
The Complete Polysyllabic Spree, Nick Hornby
The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo, Paula Huntley
California, Edan Lupecki (a little worried this will be the Flamethrowers of the season, i.e. the book everyone LOVED and I inevitably didn't) (ETA: SURPRISE, this is exactly what it was. sigh)
D.H. Lawrence: A Biography,  Jeffrey Meyers
What Matters in Jane Austen, John Mullan
The Whispering: A haunted house mystery, Sarah Rayne
The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, Pietra Rivoli
Amy Lowell Anew: A Biography, Carl Rollyson
The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading, Phyllis Rose
The Mabinogion Tetralogy, Evangeline Walton


So what did I ACTUALLY read today? I reread....We Have Always Lived in the Castle, for the nth time. //facedesk (Shirley Jackson is my homegirl forever.)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

it can't be easy, living with a Wiseman fan

MOI: HEY, you know those three long documentaries about the murders in West Memphis? Damien Echols?

T, cautiously: ....yeah?

MOI: And how there was yet another documentary about the murders that we saw too?

T: ....?

MOI: Now there's a feature film! Streaming on Netflix!

T: //wilts

Thursday, July 3, 2014

what reading is like when you're really spaced out from emotional shock

MOI: Hunh, this is like.....Constantine Lite.

MIKE CAREY: I wrote for Hellblazer!

MOI: ....oh.

NOT!CONSTANTINE: I exorcise ghosts, musically!

MOI: ....  

NOT!CONSTANTINE: With my tin whistle!  

MOI: .....your tin what

NOT!CONSTANTINE: It may be small, but it's powerful!  

MOI: If you say so, pal.

SUCCUBUS: I'll drain you dry and make you love it. Also, I have pure black hair, midnight eyes, and the rest of my body is freezing ivory, including my nipples.  

MOI: WHOAH

SUCCUBUS: //is gotten the best of by Not!Constantine, vanishes for the next 200 pages

MOI: //pines

NOT!CONSTANTINE: omg no I broke my tin whistle

MOI: .....I heard that happens to every guy at least once in his lifetime, honey.

MIKE CAREY: Here, have pages and pages of detailed descriptions of sex trafficking, rape and murder. It's so awful. Let me describe it some more, very graphically! In all its awfulness! The violation of women, done by one man and told to another!  

MOI: .....where's the succubus? She could fix these guys.  

NOT!CONSTANTINE: No, I shall save the day! ....damn, I miss my tin whistle.  

AMAZON REVIEWER (US): How can you play music on a whistle?  

NOT!CONSTANTINE: I'm going to leave this pile of moral wreckage in the basement where he raped and murdered the girl he tricked into sex trafficking. With her angry, angry ghost.

MOI: Yay!

MIKE CAREY: But we don't really want to see that, do we? How about some manly heroics? Exciting guy-on-guy fight scenes! The hero saving the day with a recording of his tin whistle!

MOI: //sighs

SCARY-ASS HIT MAN: //turns into a pile of rats

MOI: .....you really went there, didn't you. Piping the rats?

MIKE CAREY: BUT, the horrible ghost that animated all the rats is still alive. Sort of. And now really pissed at the piper!

NOT!CONSTANTINE: "But that was a thought to linger on during some warm summer evening yet to come."

MOI: //sighs

SEQUELS: //are lined up

ONE OF THE FEW FEMALE CHARACTERS: Hey, you know how I've been the Girl in Schrödinger's Fridge for like the past hundred pages, am I alive or dead or what?

NOT!CONSTANTINE: Hush, I'm sexily lock-picking in my sexy lock-picking manner.

MOI: .....so where's the succubus again?

EVIL DEMONIC GANGSTER: Haha, not!Constantine! I knew exactly when you arrived, for I have caller ID.

MOI: ....SERIOUSLY?

KIDNAPPED GIRL WHO NOW HAS A BAG OVER HER HEAD, SO SHE STILL HAS NO LINES: At least I'm not dead.....

MIKE CAREY: Yet!

EVIL DEMONIC GANGSTER: Let me use these bolt cutters to snap your substitute bone flute to pieces right in front of you, Not!Constantine.

MOI: //sighs

SUCCUBUS: HELLO, SUCKERS

MOI: !!!

MIKE CAREY: "She looked like every woman you ever loved or dreamed about loving, miraculously combined, miraculously open and willing, like a solid sign of God's mercy."

MOI: KILL THE GANGSTER KILL THE GANGSTER

SUCCUBUS: "I'll make you so ecstatic in your agony that your soul will never be free of me."

NOT!CONSTANTINE: //concentrates really hard //scrabbles and finds only sad pieces of broken bone flute (no rly) //scrabbles and finds bolt cutters //unbinds succubus

SUCCUBUS: TIME TO EAT SOME ABDUCTING RAPING MURDEROUS BASTARD GANGSTERS

MOI: YAY

SUCCUBUS: //does satisfying violence to everyone, which is described much more briefly than the reported retrospective raping and murdering earlier

NOT!CONSTANTINE: //kneels and bows head

SUCCUBUS: "My mark is on you. I can whistle for your body or for your soul, and you'll bring them to me and beg me to take them. You wear my chain, which can never be broken."

NOT!CONSTANTINE: "Without looking up, without meeting her gaze, I nodded."

MOI: YOWZA

MIKE CAREY: How about a touching emotional reunion between the living and dead sisters?

MOI: Does the succubus come back in the sequels?

NOT!CONSTANTINE: Oh yeah.

MOI: Okay.

NOT!CONSTANTINE: "Discretion is another virtue I've never really got the hang of, but I decided at that point that a breath of fresh air would do me a world of good." //leaves sisters to their touching emotional reunion offpage

MOI: HEY

SUCCUBUS: It's OK, in the sequels I'll teach them about the Bechdel test.  And they'll like it.

snippets (ceci n'est pas une booklog) (aussi ceci n'est pas une magritte)

After getting really really dreadful news -- I mean actually fucking tragic news, the kind of news that would delight your born enemy and worst persecutor -- I wound up rereading about half of MaddAddam; I skipped around at first, then settled in at about page 150 or a bit later. (Yes I was reading a paper book. I needed that, right then.) (Also that book's so much about writing and reading and learning and storytelling it does seem -- just a bit -- obscene to read it in pixels.) I am always surprised all over again, every time, at how great art cheers you and lifts you up and heartens you, like brandy for the soul, or something. Like Mozart. (I consider all three books of that trilogy masterpieces and if you disagree, I will fight you.) The great pleasure at being pleased. The older we get, the more like our childhood selves we grow, I guess; in reaction to horrible news, some people scream, some cry, some drink, some eat, some blog. I read. I've always been that way, since I was a kid.

Several days ago I fell through the wormhole of My Life as a Fake -- kept on reading, reading, reading: at first forcing myself into the story a bit but then utterly caught up in it, then going faster, too fast, gulping it all down. (Also read as a paper book.) Finished it in a day (don't look at me like that, it's not that long). I....don't know if I enjoyed it very much, actually. It really was quite well-written. I thought it would be much more about the Australian literary scene than Kuala Lumpur, and non-white people didn't really appear, except as rather violent and ignorant walking plot points. But it was a bit like when I first read The Moon and Sixpence, I didn't much like the people in it, but once the master storyteller starts talking in your head, you have no choice but to listen, "ensorcelled," as Anais Nin would say. Carey can create an amazing mental gravity well from sheer narrative drive, I'll give him that. -- But I also wasn't happy with the portrayal of women -- yes, it's narrated by one, but she keeps insisting she's sexless (and is yet also....a lesbian? what) and the other very few women who appear are just walking Animas. And then of course all my criticisms collapsed in the face of the absolutely wrongheaded Grauniad review -- it has that structure because it's BASED ON FRANKENSTEIN, you dolt! Not the movie,  the novel, which is all about people telling you what's in letters, and letters describing what other people said, about what still other people said someone else said. Gahh. I am sure I missed out on 90% of the Frankenstein references, it's been so long since I read that book (and frankly most of it is a slog), and even I got that. And Morrison misspells the hoax's historian's name as "Hayward," which is the kind of thing nobody but me ever cares about, but I got sore because it made the "definitive story" WHOSE TITLE GOES UNMENTIONED damn hard to Google. (For the record, it's The Ern Malley Affair, by Michael Heyward, which I will probably wind up getting out of the library, since it appears to have sunk into oblivion.) (There is, inevitably, a website: http://www.ernmalley.com/.)

Before that, I had utter period brain, and because I've reread the Pratchett Witches books (only my favourites: Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords & Ladies, and Carpe Jugulum as a chaser) so many times, I reread the Harry Potter series instead -- I think I'd read the first two books God knows how long ago, skimmed the third, and skimmed the last. This time I sat through it all....no, I lie, I skipped four and five, again, four because it was so laden with sports competitions I just couldn't even try, and five because one of my giant red buttons is when a beloved shelter turns into a nasty horrifying trap. No personal issues THERE, I assure you. Was, as before, very unimpressed. Also, when you read the whole series straight through, the DIRE shift in tone about halfway through the fourth book is really jarring. It goes from something you could read aloud at an eight-year-old's bedtime to Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies -- for so long, I thought that was a joke! My problem before had always been that I loathed Harry too much to read an entire series about him, but he seemed wispy enough I was able to pretty much ignore him this time around. Loved Hermione, as usual (I was Hermione -- can there be any doubt? Jo was Hermione, too -- why, oh why, couldn't the book have been about her?). No, this time the giant stumbling block in my path was RON, who seemed like a horrible Nice Guy with terrible jealousy and anger issues. I took to tapping out "!" and "!!!" and "JERK" and "JACKOFF" on my Paperwhite screen every time he appeared. I liked Ginny more than most people did (even my friends who liked the series thought she had no personality), but that was probably because I saw her as a junior Molly Weasley, whom I adored. Some dear friends had to put up with hormone-addled e-missives like "OMG HEDWIG" and "someone tell me Ron goddamn Weasel fucking dies in the end" and "seriously wtf is this obsession Rowling has with fucking pumpkin juice, it shows up at EVERY meal" (I loathe pumpkins only slightly less than I loathe beets), but fortunately this was apparently somewhat entertaining. The epilogue still sucks, and I still think there's no sparkage between Hermione and Ron //shudders -- Rowling definitely shifted to Team Harry several volumes into the actual writing. But she stuck with her Seven Year Plan, which is why the epilogue sucks.

(From yet another email: "But the bit in Not!Heaven with Dumbleduns was puzzling. Who the fuck was the baby? D's sister? What?")


Oh yes, and today I reread Friend of My Youth, some stories (the title one, "Meneseteung," "Hold Me Fast, Don't Let Me Pass," "Oh, What Avails," and "Differently," which I believe I first read in the New Yorker) more than once. I don't think this volume is anyone's favourite, but it's the first Munro book I ever read, and I think a lot of it still holds up. I was meaning to read and reread all her books (in chronological order, of course!) after she won the Nobel, and this has been sitting around on my Paperwhite forever to remind me to begin that particular reading project, but I just reread it instead. Whoops.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

poem of the day

Remorse is memory awake,
Her companies astir,---
A presence of departed acts
At window and at door.

It's past set down before the soul,
And lighted with a match,
Perusal to facilitate
Of its condensed despatch.

Remorse is cureless,---the disease
Not even God can heal;
For 't is his institution,---
The complement of hell.


- Emily Dickinson (1896 edited version)