Fiction is in red. Date of first publication in (parentheses). 17. Alligator Candy, David Kushner (2016) 18. The Long Goodbye, Meghan O'Rourke (2011) 19. David Koresh Superstar: An Unfilmable Screenplay, Simon Indelicate (2014) 20. Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction, Sue Townsend (2004) (reread) 21. Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years, Sue Townsend (2009) (reread) 22. all 2016 booklist posts
I miss her hands, which I shall never see again, for we have burned her body into fine, charcoal ash and small white bone fragments, and that is what is now left of her voice and her eyes and her fingers. That loss is not recuperable, regardless of what one believes about the afterlife.
- Meghan O'Rourke
....I am certain that [the dogs] thought that, as I was returned, my Sisters were not far behind -- but here my Sisters will come no more. Keeper may still visit Emily's little bed-room -- as he still does day by day -- and Flossy may look wistfully round for Anne -- they will never see them again -- nor shall I -- at least the human part of me.
“CALL MOM” said a sign the other day, and something inside me clenched. In my inbox, at work, an e-mail waited from the New York Times: a limited offer to “treat Mom” to a free gift. It’s nothing, I tell myself. A day for advertisers. So I shrug off the sales and the offers, the cards and the flowers. I press delete. Still, I now mark Mother’s Day on my private calendar of grief. Anyone who has experienced a loss must have one of those. There’s August 29th, my mother’s birthday—forever stopped at sixty-four. September 17th, my parents’ anniversary—a day on which I now make a point of calling my father, and we both make a point of talking about anything but. There’s June 6th, the day she was diagnosed—when a cough that she had told us was “annoying” her and a leg that she had been dragging, thinking she must have pulled a muscle, turned out to be symptoms of Stage IV lung cancer. And then there’s October 16th: the day she died, four months and ten days after the diagnosis. The year becomes a landscape filled with little mines. There’s a word in Hebrew—malkosh—that means “last rain.” It’s a word that only means something in places like Israel, where there’s a clear distinction between winter and the long, dry stretch of summer. It’s a word, too, that can only be applied in retrospect. When it’s raining, you have no way of knowing that the falling drops would be the last ones of the year. But then time goes by, the clouds clear, and you realize that that rain shower was the one. -- Ruth Margalit
My most pervasive memory of young childhood, however, is of being in ‘a mood’, which really consisted of just the one mood in several shades of monochrome: a spectrum that ranged from a comforting solitary dreaminess inside a softly enclosing gentle shadow at one end to, at the far side of the continuum, the grimmest darkness in a hard-frozen, fractured icescape. Always it was me on the inside, them out there, beyond my enclosure, unable to reach in. And me, sometimes not wanting, sometimes not able, to reach out.
In the Metamorphoses, there is a myth in which Baucis and Philemon, an old married couple, are the only people hospitable to Zeus and Hermes when the gods come to a town in disguise. As reward (along with destroying the town), the gods offer the couple any wish they want granted. They ask to die at the exact same time. On their death they become two entwined trees. The older I get, the more this story haunts a central room in my brain. I used to wonder why they didn’t ask for youth or beauty or riches. Now I don’t question the choice at all. When I think of my parents, I always end up at this story, the pleading humanity of it. Surely, it must happen this way for them, I think. Surely that’s the only way it could happen. Then I remember that this is as likely as them transforming into trees, and I close the door on the thoughts entirely.
Our culture has celebrities in place of myths, and we have grief twitter instead of byzantine lore about the journey to the underworld and the proper ways of burial. When celebrities die and we mourn them in a massively public way, this is a safe way to practice mourning for our parents and our partners and our friends, to try to force ourselves to make the unthinkable familiar. The generational quality of this grief comes from the fact that, as the celebrities with whom we grew up die, it signals that we are at the age where people are dying, and we look ahead to the inevitable disasters, the wave that grows larger on the horizon. If our public grief is a performance, it’s a performance in the way that a disaster drill is a performance. Our grief at losing an icon who meant a great deal to us is a real grief but a bearable one. But that bearable grief is a test-drive for future unbearable ones. We practice together in the hope that we can be prepared, so that the idea of loss does not seem so alien. Complaints about the inappropriate nature of grief on social media -- that it’s a circle-jerk, a joiner’s club, an obligated performance -- are as defining a part of these mournings as the remembrances themselves. But to call this grief a performance is to miss the point – it’s not a performance, it’s a rehearsal. It seems right to me that grief be public, and messy, and inconvenient, that it make everyone in its path uncomfortable. Small amounts of discomfort, after all, increase our tolerance for large amounts of pain. Mourning celebrities who mattered to us is a way to remind ourselves that no one is spared, not even those who seemed immortal, larger than a human being with petty little organs doing their pedestrian little jobs inside their skin. Speaking things aloud removes their terror, dulls the power of their unfamiliarity. We speak this over and over to try to come to terms with something that cannot possibly be made familiar. - "Forever"
The “Kiss” video confirmed it: slim and made-up, this singer was challenging our limited sense of “man,” yet he was the manliest thing I’d ever seen—in an asymmetrical half-top. Moving in a way my young self couldn’t place as masculine or feminine, he was singing about someone being ‘his girl’ and there was a badass woman—fully clothed in a red suit—playing guitar. He was dancing half-naked around her (Wendy Melvoin). It was Derridean recognition at first sight. Not just of androgyny or gender-bending, but of sheer queer possibility. - K.T. Billey
Q&A with Sergeant Sean Whitcomb, Spokesperson for the Seattle Police Department
The heroin crisis has affected your family?
Yes. Two years ago, my older brother passed away from a heroin injection. An overdose. He was 44. It was incredibly hard. I found out about it while I was up working in Oso during the landslide. We were close all our lives. As we both grew into adulthood, he struggled with addiction. It was hard to watch. My brother didn’t have much of a criminal history. He’d been to treatment. We didn’t know he was using heroin. I suspected it. But I also worked in drug court. I worked with people who struggled with addiction. I saw hundreds of people like my brother.
And based on what I experienced, which was eye-opening, people need to make choices about their lives. You can direct them, you can prod them, you can plead, you can coerce. But they have to choose. You can’t make the choice for them.
I couldn’t choose sobriety for my brother. So the best thing you can do in the meantime is make sure you’ve got sound policies around the issue and make sure it’s a compassionate approach. It’s a deeply personal reminder of how vicious and unforgiving and awful the heroin epidemic is. Police see that all the time. Firefighters see it. The public sees it. It’s not something that gets talked about.
Under Chief Kathleen O’Toole’s leadership, we’re finally able to say that SPD bike officers are going to be able to deploy naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, to people in need who have overdosed. It’s a relatively inexpensive drug that police can use during an overdose to save someone’s life. It’s a big commitment, but it’s time. It absolutely would have saved [my brother’s] life. He died in a restroom in North Seattle.
What else should people know?
The Good Samaritan law grants people immunity when they’re reporting an overdose to 911. People still think they’re going to get in trouble, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. In a state of overdose, seconds count. You have to get the person help right away. It has to get into the collective psyche that you need to call for help. It’s very risky to inject. We’ve said it before: If you’re going to inject, at least do it with someone else in case something goes wrong, so they can call and ask for help.
Fiction is in red. Date of first publication in (parentheses). 11. The Madwoman Upstairs, Catherine Lowell (2016) (poorly written, and DREADFULLY inaccurate in nearly every Bronte detail) 12. Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS, Martin Duberman (2014) 13. Maskerade, Terry Pratchett (1995) (first reread in quite a long while) 14. Downfall of the Gods, K.J. Parker (2016) 15. Daughter of Hounds, Caitlin R. Kiernan (2007) (reread) 16. Them: Adventures with Extremists, Jon Ronson (2001) (v funny but ultimately too shallow for its subject, just like the public shaming book) all 2016 booklist posts
I listened to people say consoling things to my mother, and I was glad that my dad's family had turned up, had come to where he was. I thought I'd remember everything that was said and done that day and maybe find a way to tell it sometime. But I didn't. I forgot it all, or nearly. What I do remember is that I heard our name used a lot that afternoon, my dad's name and mine. But I knew they were talking about my dad. Raymond, these people kept saying in their beautiful voices out of my childhood. Raymond.
We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there. First we were sitting up, then one of us lay down, and then we all lay down, on our stomachs, or on our sides, or on our backs, and they have kept on talking. They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine, quiet, with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of night. May god bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away. After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.
I order a spiced honey latte and a strawberry-banana smoothie with mango juice. The barista goofs the second order, and I’m about to say something but decide against it on grounds of feeling like a huge douche. The coffeehouse conversation revolves around not people but algorithms. My friend Zack gesticulates a little too wildly, spilling a drink.
A barista smiles and mops up the mess. She goes back to her post and the shop talk resumes, filling a service-worker-sized void.
It’s weird. No wonder tech workers labor so hard to lessen labor: Tech freeing the poor from working means programmers can be surrounded by nice things, insulated from the wider world, with no humans to remind them it’s broken. At Google—on its surface the least objectionable of Seattle’s big three software companies—the mad-extravagant digs are kept running by stinted service workers, who are never tipped or approached as if anything resembling a commercial transaction is taking place. The class dynamics at most workplaces, or anywhere people are served, are awkward; at Google, they’re extremely awkward—and dangerously close to being taken for granted.
The service workers work regular hours, but their plight might give you a strong whiff of the “sharing economy,” where “instaserfs” will deliver food, do laundry, and make lattés for the beneficiaries of software. In return, the software companies will make them as invisible as possible, less like co-workers or subordinates and more like servants at an English country house. The creators of apps and the service serfs are kept apart, a world of class between them. I’ve come up with a word for this tech-meets-segregation phenomenon: app-artheid.
“You ever feel weird about going in here and asking for free stuff, every day?” I ask my buddy.
“You mean from workers who make one-tenth of what devs do?” he says, “devs” being shorthand for software developer. “Yeah, of course.”
“It’s all the excess that makes it awkward.”
A member of our group actually used to cook for Facebook, and he speaks despairingly of the conditions: “Low wages, no benefits. Beyond all that, we were just treated with very little humanity by the tech workers. It really felt like we did not exist to them—not fully.”
He describes a vast hinterland beyond the shallow hill and squat McMansions: “I was working with one woman who was living in a two-bedroom apartment with four children in Burien,” he continues. “Another guy lived in one of the worst apartments I’ve ever seen, directly below the freeway in Wallingford.”
He concludes: “Why are these people being paid one-tenth of the programmers? When two-tenths, for example, which Google or Facebook could afford, has the potential to dramatically change their lives for the better?”
Nina Simone was able to conjure glamour in spite of everything the world said about black women who looked like her. And for that she enjoyed a special place in the pantheon of resistance. That fact doesn’t just have to do with her lyrics or her musicianship, but also how she looked. Simone is something more than a female Bob Marley. It is not simply the voice: It is the world that made that voice, all the hurt and pain of denigration, forged into something otherworldly. That voice, inevitably, calls us to look at Nina Simone’s face, and for a brief moment, understand that the hate we felt, that the mockery we dispensed, was unnatural, was the fruit of conjurations and the shadow of plunder. We look at Nina Simone’s face and the lie is exposed and we are shamed. We look at Nina Simone’s face and a terrible truth comes into view—there was nothing wrong with her. But there is something deeply wrong with us. - Ta-Nehisi-Coates
I’ve noticed that the critics who seem most obsessed by the question of your gender are men. They seem to find it impossible to fathom how that a woman could write books that are so serious—threaded with history and politics, and even-handed in their depictions of sex and violence. That the ability to depict the domestic world as a war zone and willingness to unflinchingly show women in an unflattering light are evidence that you’re a man. Some suggest that not only are you a man, but given your output, you might be a team of men. A committee. (Imagine the books of the Bible…)
Have you heard anyone say recently about any book written by a man, It’s really a woman who wrote it, or maybe a group of women? Due to its exorbitant might, the male gender can mimic the female gender, incorporating it in the process. The female gender, on the other hand, cannot mimic anything, for is betrayed immediately by its “weakness”; what it produces could not possibly fake male potency. The truth is that even the publishing industry and the media are convinced of this commonplace; both tend to shut women who write away in a literary gynaeceum. There are good women writers, not so good ones, and some great ones, but they all exist within the area reserved for the female sex, they must only address certain themes and in certain tones that the male tradition considers suitable for the female gender. It is fairly common, for example, to explain the literary work of women writers in terms of some variety of dependence on literature written by males. However, it is rare to see commentary that traces the influence of a female writer on the work of a male writer. The critics don’t do it, the writers themselves do not do it. Thus, when a woman’s writing does not respect those areas of competence, those thematic sectors and the tones that the experts have assigned to the categories of books to which women have been confined, the commentators come up with the idea of male bloodlines. And, if there’s no author photo of a woman then the game is up: it’s clear, in that case, that we are dealing with a man or an entire team of virile male enthusiasts of the art of writing. What if, instead, we’re dealing with a new tradition of women writers who are becoming more competent, more effective, are growing tired of the literary gynaeceum and are on furlough from gender stereotypes. We know how to think, we know how to tell stories, we know how to write them as well as, if not better, than men.
Because girls grow up reading books by men, we are used to the sound of male voices in our heads, and have no trouble imagining the lives of the cowboys, sea captains, and pirates of he-manly literature, whereas men balk at entering the mind of a woman, especially an angry woman.
Yes, I hold that male colonization of our imaginations—a calamity while ever we were unable to give shape to our difference—is, today, a strength. We know everything about the male symbol system; they, for the most part, know nothing about ours, above all about how it has been restructured by the blows the world has dealt us. What’s more, they are not even curious, indeed they recognize us only from within their system.
As a female writer I take offense at the idea that the only war stories that matter are those written by men crouched in foxholes.
Every day women are exposed to all kinds of abuse. Yet there is still a widespread conviction that women’s lives, full of conflict and violence both in the domestic sphere and in all of life’s most common contexts, cannot be expressed other than via the modules that the male world defines as feminine. If you step out of this thousand-year-old invention of theirs, you are no longer female.
I was just quoting Le Guin elsewhere and found her Paris Review interview, as you do, and OH MY GOD SHE AND PHILIP K DICK WENT TO THE SAME HIGH SCHOOL
What was it about Dick’s work that caught your attention?
Partly it was that he and I had similar interests in certain things, such as Taoism and the I Ching—after all we were both Berkeley kids of exactly the same generation. And then, his sci-fi novels were about ordinary, unexceptional, confused people, when so much sci-fi consisted of Campbellian or militaristic heroes and faceless multitudes. Mr. Tagomi, in The Man in the High Castle, was a revelation to me of what you could do with sci-fi if you really took it seriously as a novelist. Did you know we were in the same high school?
You and Philip K. Dick? Really?
Berkeley High, thirty-five hundred kids. Big, huge school. Nobody knew Phil Dick. I have not found one person from Berkeley High who knew him. He was the invisible classmate.
That could almost be taken from one of his novels. So you didn’t know him at all?
No! We got into correspondence as adults. But I never met him physically.
I AM GOING TO DIE OF DELIGHT. LE GUIN HATH SLAIN ME. FOR SOME REASON THAT MAKES ME JUST SO HAPPY.
The Republicans seem to be reeling, unable or unwilling to comprehend that a shady, bombastic liar is hardening the image of their party as a symbol of intolerance and division. Last summer, as Mr. Trump began to rise in the polls, party leaders took umbrage at the idea that they’d have to do something to keep the nomination from the likes of him. They stood aside and said, let voters decide. Now voters are deciding. They are leaning, in unbelievable numbers, toward a man whose quest for the presidency revolves around targeting religious and racial minorities and people with disabilities, who flirts with white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan, who ridicules and slanders those who disagree with him. His opponents, meanwhile, have rushed to adopt his anger-filled message. It’s small wonder that Republican leaders don’t seem to know quite what to say. “If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Tuesday, after months of such games. He sounded naïvely unaware of the darker elements within the Republican Party, present for decades, and now holding sway: “This party does not prey on people’s prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the party of Lincoln.” The Republican Party is taking a big step toward becoming the party of Trump. Those who could challenge Mr. Trump — Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — are not only to the right of Mr. Trump on many issues, but are embracing the same game of exclusion, bigotry and character assassination.
aka, HERE IS A CANDIDATE WHO IS SAYING OUTRIGHT ALL THE THINGS YOU HAVE HEAVILY, HEAVILY IMPLIED AND SAID UNDER YOUR BREATH FOR AT LEAST THE PAST 20-30 YEARS. REAP WHAT YOU HAVE SOWN, MOTHERFUCKERS.
T said drily that all the Republicans who are horrified at Trump can feel happy voting for Hilary, since she's a sorta-moderate conservative owned by big business. Heh.