Category Archives: books

Prose and soup

“Read at the level at which you want to write.” Jennifer Egan (brainpickings.org)

I couldn’t read Roth until I was older and now he is one of my favorite writers. I hope he never dies! I may have read this Zuckerman novel before (or maybe it just seems familiar because it takes place in the Berkshires where I was born and lived a good many years?) No matter, it’s worth a re-read.

Here’s a sentence: “My guess was that it would take even the fiercest Hun the better part of a winter to cross the glacial waterfalls and wind-blasted woods of those mountain wilds before he was able to reach the open edge of Lonoff’s hayfields, rush the rear storm door of the house, crash through the study, and, with spiked bludgeon wheeling high in the air above the little Olivetti, cry out in a roaring voice to the writer tapping out his twenty-seventh draft, ‘You must change your life!'”

Swoon.


Beef with barley soup for lunch after another frigid walk with the dog. And since K won’t be here for dinner, I’m not even cooking: a bowl of fruit, yogurt and sunflower seeds topped with honey from Charleston.


*thank you Mo for link on FB to the article.


The edges, the sustenance

The windowsill lined with beloved rocks. I take comfort in their solidity as I listen to recorded news. At the moment, more references to the oft-repeated lie about voting fraud and a call for an investigation by DJT. This trips (yet another) sickening thought: will we actually fund the study of delusions — with my tax dollars, your tax dollars? We are so far past the NPR story that I woke to earlier about their journalistic choice (fortunately not shared universally) to avoid the word “lie” (I could write about that for days). “This is where we are,” is a thing I say to myself now — like how to name falsehoods uttered by our president. The speed of destruction in the last four days ALONE makes my head spin. Can it be the same day? Did we pass through some portal and no one thought to tell me?

Carnage, indeed.

It’s darkening out the windows and past time to rouse myself to make dinner, but let me first share some gifts and stories. Not because I am succumbing to the thrumming call to “get on with it” or “be positive”. Oh no, you know me better than that! Just to keep track and who knows, perhaps turn you onto one of them. Kevin Young is a poet whom I heard read this past summer at Sam Durant’s “Meetinghouse” at The Old Manse in Concord.

Young’s poems in this volume are structured on musical forms. Interesting. Uplifting. And it was a gift within a gift because I mentioned it in passing, but K took note and ordered it!

Also for Christmas, I gave myself one of Grace’s quilts (at last!). It may not stay on this wall, but for now I love the hand reaching for the face of time. There’s something at once mysterious and aspirational about it. Plus, we all know the pleasure of having handiwork on our walls, especially when made by someone whose life means something to you. I love it!


This movie about the Nat Turner uprising played in Boston for about ten minutes. I felt funny buying a DVD (and by ‘funny’, I mean ‘old’), but the more I thought about it, the more sane the purchase seemed. For one thing, it would have cost more to park in Cambridge and buy two tickets. For another, by not streaming the film my dollars support the director, Nate Parker, who also starred in the movie and received some harsh criticism (I could write about that for days, too). It was important to see for my research and also I very much wanted to be able to measure the criticisms for myself (I ended up thinking that the personal criticisms were raised at a shitty and suspect time having more to do with challenging a strong black man (director and slave rebel, both) than with the decades old charges. The plot/character criticisms were just off.)

This documentary by Ava DuVernay is heartbreaking and for that reason I haven’t finished watching it yet. When a friend and I recently debated what educational intervention we believed would most correct our miserable course, she said, “studying the Constitution.” I said, “studying slavery.” Later, I realized that we were in agreement, for you cannot study the Constitution without studying slavery. And it’s not just the 13th Amendment. It’s the 14th and the 15th and the Preamble and the debates and case law associated with them.

What K and I did watch in its entirety was DuVernay’s acclaimed film “Selma”. We watched it on MLK Day. It was very fine to see the outstanding moral courage of John Lewis come to life at the very moment that DJT was tweeting his outrageous criticisms.

Carnage, indeed.

Now it’s REALLY time to throw some dinner together.

But first, anyone else watching “This is Us”? It’s on Tuesdays nights on NBC, I think. I’m kinda loving it. Definitely hooked.

Also? Don’t bother with “Victoria” if you enjoyed “The Crown”. I don’t know how I would have tolerated the weak script writing and acting in the former had I not just watched the latter (a very good mini-series about Queen Elizabeth), but I do know that to watch “Victoria” after “The Crown” is a thing I cannot do.

Screen and page catch up

Image result for rachel mcadams and colin farrellTrue Detective, Season Two, received mixed reviews, but I found it pretty compelling. The plot gets dense, meaning I had to refer to the internet now and then, but I didn’t mind (thank god for the “Pause” button!). The characters are really great, with good back stories, and there’s plenty of corruption and suspense to go around, which I like.

And, I cannot stop raving about the show’s spectacular opener.

[Leonard Coen sings “Never mind” to a haunting array of double/triple images featuring the faces of the main characters and aerials of California].
Image result for rachel mcadams and colin farrell
I’ve never seen Vince Vaughn in a role that I liked until now. Even though by the last couple of episodes the lack of inflection in his voice made me a little nuts, he was amazing. He plays a complicated and sympathetic Mafioso-type who is clever but not quite clever enough. There’s an erotic scene between Farrell and McAdams that starts when they are in hiding in a cheap hotel room. The way they DON’T look at each other is every bit as charged as how they DO look at each other. It was miles from that up-against-the-wall-standing-fuck so often dished up on film when two characters have held off acting on their mutual attraction.
Image result for rachel mcadams and colin farrell
I can’t talk about Taylor Kitsch without totally embarrassing myself. Suffice it to say, I ate up “Friday Night Lights” a couple of summers ago. Image result

Finished the novel by Ben H. Winters called “Underground Airlines”. It was the kind of dystopian novel that describes a landscape that could be fifteen minutes from now (my favorite kind — think: Octavia Butler, “Parable of the Sower”).  The central conceit is that four states have maintained the institution of human bondage. The main character is a PB (‘person bonded’) who is ‘freed’ in order to capture runaways.

The scenes in Indiana of a black man negotiating white neighborhoods or encountering policemen read like today’s newspaper. The tracking chip inserted in the base of the protagonist’s skull could be tomorrow. It was a real page turner, with plenty of corruption and twists of plot, so I wasn’t surprised to see that the author has won both mystery and sci-fi writing prizes.

Like the evening news, the book forces a look at how the effects of slavery linger.

I heard the author, who is white, interviewed and could relate to the doubts engendered by inventing African American characters. The book was well-received, but nothing like the the more recently published “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead. I heard Teri Gross interview Whitehead last week and look forward to reading the book soon. I felt a smidge of pain on Winters’ behalf when his novel was not mentioned in Teri’s list of recent books dealing with slavery.

Now, I’m reading J.D.Vance’s, Hillbilly Elegy. I’ll post some notes about it later.

Image result

A catch up ramble

So much has happened. And now the fall is really here.

Son #1 completed his degree. Thought he did back in May? Well, surprise, surprise (it was to us) — he didn’t. But now he has. Maybe we’ll get around to celebrating, but right now there’s just this saggy relief. Son #2, in spite of a well-anchored plan to take a year off, changed his mind the night before classes started and we all jump-shifted.

The very same week, my sister’s Personal Care Assistant of eight months walked out saying, “I don’t need this.” My sister seems relieved, but I’m a little worried — after all, she’s essentially been bed-ridden since April.

I. Will not. Be. Picking up. The slack.

Thankfully, today she announced that in fact she would look for another person (last week is was a different story).

We had the tree work done, which is the good news. It’ll prolong the life of the roof and be safer when the snow comes. The bad news? My neighbor leaned over the fence and got the crew’s info and the very next day they showed up at her house and cut down two very tall, healthy oak trees right at the back lot line. I was sick for days. Talk about ‘unintended consequences’.

We lost a lot of natural screening. It was an icky feeling of not having any control. The noise was the least of it.

This picture is before the trees came down. I think it may be time to finally take down the play structure. Now that there is a lot of sun back there, we could plant some pines and they might actually thrive. Finn continues to keep me sane. We go to the lake and I wear him out as best I can. The watery play makes his coat so soft!   July was the hottest on record in Boston. August was both the hottest AND the driest on record in Boston. I still have an annoying rash to prove it. And we will have the water bill to prove it. I’ve watered most beds religiously, but the ferns have crisped up. We’ve never given a shit about our lawn. But those are minor matters in the face of climate change.

We’re watching “Transparent” (that’s Allie, above)(and yes, it’s as good as everyone says). I got tired of all the blood baths — lately, “Justified,” “Peaky Blinders” and “Game of Thrones”. Finally got back into reading, last week finishing Anne Enright’s “The Green Road”. It was really, really good. (I’ve read two others of hers: “The Wig My Father Wore” and “What Are You Like”). The mother figure in “The Green Road” — a real martyr-type that possibly could warrant a diagnosis in this day and age — was so, so familiar. It’s a type, I guess.

Happy September. Hope to be around more. I actually have some cloth pieces to show and tell!

 

 

Monastic hours

In the quiet dark then not so dark, I finished Toni Morrison’s novel, “God Help the Child”.

It’s the second morning in a row that Finn has gotten me out of bed before five. Yesterday, there were also dreams (first, the usual nightmare of a male intruder, this one around 7′ tall, then around 4:30, this one: Oprah offers me a job as her counsel. We kind of know each other, both having second homes in upstate New York. The offer is equal parts wonderful and absurd. I sputter, “but I’m not a member of the NY bar.” Then I tell her I’m working on a novel. She raises her eyebrows as if to say, ‘So? You can’t do both?’ Awake, I walk around wondering whether Dream-Oprah was a clueless benefactor or better able to see my possibilities).

Today, after the reluctant sliding of legs over the side of the bed, rummaging for slippers and socks, making coffee in the dark, I knew that the quiet would reward me.

It did.

Lots to love about the novel. Did not care for the thread of magic realism she inserted, but I never care for that much. Certainly, the story held together and drove me to its end. That matters to me more than it used to. I knew I would like it way more than the reviewer for The New York Times Book Review did. Here’s a beautiful paragraph (Adam is Booker’s murdered older brother):

Doesn’t that prose take your breath away?
I hope it warms up a little soon. I’m really sick of being cold.

morning light and reading

sedum-deemallonThe air is cool today. Fresh. And mercifully, for now anyway, the clanging, metallic, thundering racket from behind the school is at a pause.
artemisia-deemallonI am going to finish “Go Down, Moses” today if it kills me. She Said. For the third day in a row.
daisies-deemallon
But now I really, really mean it, because Harper Lee’s new (old) book is available today and a good friend ordered me a copy.   I used to read six books at a time, but right now I want to finish one, put it down, and then pick up the next. A sign of sanity, perhaps?