Sunday, November 27, 2016

and then Sir Pterry got reality all over my comfort escapist reading

But that would be interfering with the course of history. Horrible things could happen. The Librarian knew all about this sort of thing, it was part of what you had to know before you were allowed into L-space. He'd seen pictures in ancient books. Time could bifurcate, like a pair of trousers. You could end up in the wrong leg, living a life that was actually happening in the other leg, talking to people who weren't in your leg, walking into walls that weren't there any more. Life could be horrible in the wrong trouser of Time.

 - Guards! Guards!

Monday, November 14, 2016

But all the fighting in the world will not help us if we do not also hope. What I’m trying to cultivate is not blind optimism but what the philosopher Jonathan Lear calls radical hope. “What makes this hope radical,” Lear writes, “is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is.” Radical hope is not so much something you have but something you practice; it demands flexibility, openness, and what Lear describes as “imaginative excellence.” Radical hope is our best weapon against despair, even when despair seems justifiable; it makes the survival of the end of your world possible.

- Junot Diaz

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Then the war was just two valleys over, but still they didn’t worry, and then it was in the very next valley, but even so, no one could imagine its actually intruding into their quiet lives. But one day a car suddenly careered into the village’s central square, four young men in militia uniforms leaping out, purposefully crossing the square, seeming to single out a particular house and cornering its occupant, whereupon the leader of the militiamen calmly leveled a gun at the young man and blew him away. The militiamen hustled back off to their car and sped off. As van Cleef subsequently recounted the incident for me, "They left behind them a village almost evenly divided. Those under fifty years of age had been horrified by the seeming randomness of the act, while those over fifty realized, with perhaps even greater horror, that the young man who’d just been killed was the son of a man who, back during the partisan struggles of the Second World War, happened to have killed the uncle of the kid who’d just done the killing. And the older villagers immediately realized, with absolute clarity, that if this was now possible everything was going to be possible."

 – Lawrence Weschler, Vermeer in Bosnia

Saturday, November 5, 2016

books read in November 2016

Fiction is in red. Date of first publication in (parentheses).

67. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin (1969) (reread; Penguin Classics hardcover edition)
68. The Hanging Tree, Ben Aaronovitch (2016)
69. Under the Bridge, Rebecca Godfrey (2005)
70. Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence, Bill James (2011)
71. Who Killed These Girls?, Beverly Lowry (2016)
72. To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis (1997) (reread)
73. The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, David Grann (2010) (good writing; does not at all live up to the Holmesian framing)
74. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, Mary Roach (2016) (wild mismatch of tone and subject)
75. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, Arlie Russell Hochschild (2016)
76. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J. D. Vance (2016) (good, but overrated)
77. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class, Nancy Isenberg (2016) (very pop)
78. The Valis Trilogy, Philip K. Dick (2011) (reread)
79.


all 2016 booklist posts

Saturday, October 29, 2016

OH MY FREAKING GOD

The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography by Edmund Gordon
Chatto, 544 pp, £25.00, October, ISBN 978 0 7011 8755 2

In 2006, the British Library bought a huge archive of Angela Carter’s papers from Gekoski, the rare books dealer, for £125,000. It includes drafts, lots of them, a reminder that in the days before your computer automatically date-stamped all your files book-writing used to be a clerical undertaking. It has Pluto Press Big Red Diaries from the 1970s, and a red leatherette Labour Party one, tooled with the pre-Kinnock torch, quill and shovel badge. There are bundles of postcards, including the ones sent over the years to Susannah Clapp, the friend and editor Carter would appoint as her literary executor, which formed the basis of the memoir Clapp published in 2012; there’s also one with an illegible postmark, addressed to Bonny Angie Carter and signed ‘the wee spurrit o’yae Scots grandmither’. And there are journals, big hardback notebooks ornamented with Victorian scraps and pictures cut from magazines, and filled with neat, wide-margined pages of the most nicely laid-out note-taking you have ever seen. February 1969, for example, starts with a quote from Wittgenstein, then definitions of fugue, counterpoint, catachresis and tautology. Summaries of books read: The Interpretation of DreamsTractatus Logico-PhilosophicusThe Self and Others. All incredibly tidy, with underlinings in red. And exploding flowers and nudie ladies stuck on the inside cover, as if in illustration of The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, which Carter would have been working on at the time.

- Jenny Turner in the LRB

Friday, October 21, 2016

books read in October 2016

Fiction is in red. Date of first publication in (parentheses).

62. William Inge: Essays and Reminiscences on the Plays and the Man, Jackson R. Bryer (2014)
63. Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, with a Journal of a Writer’s Week, Ursula K. Le Guin (2016)
64. The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas, Ursula K. Le Guin (2016)
65. Splendor in the Grass, The Play: Adapted from the Screenplay, William Inge and F. Andrew Leslie (1966)
66. Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog, James Grissom (2015) (highly suspect, all the famous people speak in exactly the same unbelievable diction)


all 2016 booklist posts

Friday, September 30, 2016

I've never been much for the artificial divide between "literary" fiction and "genre" fiction. You still occasionally get the tired old clichés about genre fiction being badly written and full of one-dimensional characters, and literary fiction being plotless and meandering, but that's more and more obviously silliness. That perceived genre barrier is disintegrating, and I love that. I've never seen why audiences should be expected to be satisfied with either gripping plots or good writing. Why shouldn't they be offered both at once? Whether I actually manage to offer them both (or either) is a whole other question – but that's what I'm aiming for.

- Tana French

Thursday, September 22, 2016

pre-election state of mind



In less than two months, the American experiment in constitutional self-government may hit the wall of history. Even if the disaster of a Trump presidency is averted, this fall’s presidential campaign suggests that the United States Constitution is gravely, perhaps terminally, ill.

Trumpism is the symptom, not the cause, of the malaise. I think we have for some time been living in the post-Constitution era. America’s fundamental law remains and will remain important as a source of litigation. But the nation seems to have turned away from a search of values in the Constitution, regarding it instead as a set of annoying rules.

....The corrosive attack on constitutional values has come, and continues to come, from the right. It first broke into the open in 1998, when a repudiated House majority tried to remove President Bill Clinton for minor offenses. It deepened in 2000, when the Supreme Court, by an exercise of lawless power, installed the President of their choice. It accelerated when the inadequate young president they installed responded to crisis with systematic lawlessness––detention without trial, a secret warrantless  eavesdropping program, and institutionalized torture.


In the years since Barack Obama—with a majority of the vote––replaced Bush, the same forces, now in opposition, have simply refused to accept him as the nation’s legitimate leader. In control of Congress, they will not perform that body’s most basic duties––formulating a budget, tending to the national credit, filling vacant posts in the government—and, most shockingly, controlling the nation’s passage from peace to war. Now they have turned their attention to the Supreme Court, and are slowly crippling it in pursuit of partisan advantage.

....the Constitution never was (in James Russell Lowell’s phrase), “a machine that would go of itself;” what has made it work is a daily societal decision that we wish to live in a constitutional democracy. In 1942, Judge Learned Hand warned that “a society so riven that the spirit of moderation is gone, no court can save; that a society where that spirit flourishes, no court need save.”

The willingness to live by fundamental law has fled, and few seem to notice.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

books read in September 2016

Fiction is in red. Date of first publication in (parentheses).

57. The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Songs / Collected Stories (The Library of America), Ursula K. Le Guin (2016)
58. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, Ruth Franklin (2016) (very disappointing)
59. The Secret Place, Tana French (2014) (reread)
60. The Trespasser, Tana French (2016) (v good -- much better than Secret Place)
61. Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock and Fear... and Why, Sady Doyle (2016) (super fucking bloggy style, and the history's all potted)


all 2016 booklist posts

Saturday, September 3, 2016

How young are you? How old am I? Let's count the rings Around my eyes

I heard the Mats singing "I Will Dare" over the PA system at the QFC this afternoon, and it was a wonder I did not crumble into a little heap of ancient dry dust

right there in between the organic kale and the overpriced bell peppers



Friday, August 26, 2016

The bird that I hope to catch in the net of this play is not the solution of one man’s psychological problem. I’m trying to catch the true quality of experience in a group of people, that cloudy, flickering, evanescent—fiercely charged!—interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis. Some mystery should be left in the revelation of character in a play, just as a great deal of mystery is always left in the revelation of character in life, even in one’s own character to himself. This does not absolve the playwright of his duty to observe and probe as clearly and deeply as he legitimately can: but it should steer him away from “pat” conclusions, facile definitions which make a play just a play, not a snare for the truth of human experience.

- Tennessee Williams

Thursday, August 25, 2016

from "The Oracle," by M.J. Engh

"How can you live....How do you bear it?" 
He moved closer, not explicitly smiling, but all his face and body, his very hands, expressing something of a smile. "It's not hard," he said. 
"Tell me." 
"I've always known," he said, " -- no, not always, but since I was a child -- I've known that we live on quicksand....on the side of a volcano....on an earthquake fault. You know that any minute of any day or night the roof can fall on your head, the floor can open below your feet, the earth itself can suck you down. And somehow when you know this -- when you know you always live surrounded by unappealable forces so much stronger than you -- then you are not the slave of those forces. When you must build your house on quicksand, you don't count on its standing. You find your security in yourself; because your self is all you have. And if you're a Buddhist you know that even your self is quicksand. In a way I don't exist, I'm an illusion. This self is only an accumulation of particles and forces interacting, clinging together for a second or a century. But this accumulation, this tension, this equilibrium that I call Philippe Montoya -- this is all I have. When it falls apart, then Philippe Montoya has no more problems. But until then, Philippe Montoya exists -- and what difference does it make what happens outside? Philippe Montoya exists." 
Philippe Montoya could never speak to her like that in the flesh, she knew. But if he could have spoken, that was what he would say.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

books read in August 2016

Fiction is in red. Date of first publication in (parentheses).

48. Summer Brave, William Inge (1962)
49. Picnic, William Inge (1953)
50. The Strains of Triumph: A Life of William Inge, Ralph F. Voss (1989)
51. The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal, E. K. Weaver (2015)
52. The Drama of Marriage: Gay Playwrights/Straight Unions from Oscar Wilde to the Present, John M. Clum (2012) (heard about this re Inge and Williams)
53. Jingo, Terry Pratchett (1997) (part of a City Watch books readthrough)
54. The Fifth Elephant, Terry Pratchett (1999) (ditto)
55. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett (2002)
56. Thud, Terry Pratchett (2005)


all 2016 booklist posts

Friday, August 12, 2016

If you have not listened to this concert, GO NOW. NOT EVEN KIDDING.




This closes the interview. I thank her. She says, "You're welcome," and my editor and I leave the car. We sit on the stairs for a few minutes to catch our breath. We spent all weekend chasing Lauryn Hill, hoping to have this conversation about her voice. I compared it to a video game with infinite levels you didn't even know existed, like when you beat a level and you think you won, but then you go through a door and there's a whole other world you have to conquer. Getting to Lauryn Hill was like that.

Sara Sarasohn, my editor, compared the chase to the Israelites rising up and following the cloud over the Tent of Meeting. In the Torah, when the Israelites are wandering in the desert, there was a cloud over the Tent of Meeting, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. When the cloud lifted and moved, the Israelites would see it and know that it was time for them to move as well in their journey through the desert. It was like the presence of Hill was this cloud that we could see in the distance, and we were trying to follow it, and finally, we got to the Tent of Meeting.

Sitting on the stairs together, Sara and I couldn't help but cry, just a little. We talked to Lauryn Hill. And she's doing fine.

- Zoe Chace, 2010

Ms. Lauryn Hill on Austin City Limits "Ready or Not"


Tuesday, August 9, 2016