Archive for the 'Books' Category


Girls Who Read


The Ideal Woman

from The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton:

The ideal woman, in his mind, was one devoted to the project of her own enhancement, who was accomplished in the female arts of embroidery, piano-playing, pressing leaves, and the like; who sang sweetly, read quietly, and demurred to all opinion; who was a charming and priceless collectible; who loved, above all things, to be loved.”


Well at least there’s the piano-playing.



the week in pictures

When a student of mine graduates from high school, I always buy them Michael Jordan’s I Can’t Accept Not Trying. I found the book way back in the ’90s, and found it to be inspirational and to resonate from athletics to music to life, as so many things do.

It’s been out of print for a while, so when I need a copy now I must buy them used. I have a student graduating, and an upper-level high schooler moving this year, so I just acquired two copies. Opening them up to write a little note, I discovered this:


Isn’t that sweet?

The book has never been opened.

Mark’s a loser. Mom clearly overestimated his ability to read, process, and appreciate the messages regarding tenacity, discipline, and commitment contained therein.

Is that ironic?

Actually, that’s not even the case, since Mark never bothered to read it. Mark didn’t even respect his loving and devoted mother enough to READ IT.

Mark’s a loser. Mom’s admiration is misdirected. I’m deeply saddened by the dismissiveness embodied in the fact that this book was sold to me for $1.99 (I paid a LOT more for shipping than I did for the book; is that ironic?), discarded by a thoughtless and inconsiderate young man.


Three guesses which magazine this is on the back cover of:

yoga thighs

 My letter to the editor:

I am profoundly disappointed by the photo featured on the back cover of the June 2013 issue of Yoga Journal.

I read the magazine as part of an ongoing pursuit of a balanced, meaningful, enlightened life. A reference to, and picture of, a pole dancer does not seem to be in support of this.

I try to overlook the fact that the majority of your yoga models have super-model body types; I try to overlook the ads that feature women who are “skinny” rather than healthy and fit. But this seems to go too far. There are so many images in the media portraying unrealistic body types for women, sending subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle messages to women about how they should look and conveying the idea that women are primarily sexual objects. I would hope that YJ could be one place that didn’t.

I also like to leave the magazine out for piano students, friends, my daughter, to leaf through. This one I feel I need to hide. 

Kathryn Budig is finally clothed, but we have an image of a woman participating in the sex trade on the back instead.

It seems that more thought could be put into these types of things, and some editorial guidance might be more judiciously applied. 

Meanwhile, I will be looking for a different yoga magazine to subscribe to.



In pursuit of a balanced, meaningful, enlightened life, I planted some perennials and annuals and a bush and a tree yesterday. I decided, in my infinite wisdom, since I was planting some 4″ pots in the midst of a lot of very persistent ground cover, to use the small planting shovel.

Here is my right palm:

bruised hand

The circles are around bruises (the arrow thing wouldn’t make an arrow).

They really hurt.

I’m a pianist. This was really really stupid.

I could barely stand to push the cart at costco today, and this is NOT a commentary on the sizes of the packages contained therein (although do we really need to buy ziploc sandwich bags 600 at a time?).*

Hopefully next week will be a little less ridiculous.

*We are spending a lot less on groceries.


more than one way to mourn (shaping, weighing, testing. . .)

Really struggling this week.

Don’t know if it’s the grass-is-always-greener syndrome, or something I should actually pay attention to, but am finding the seemingly constant and often frustrating nature of much of my professional life to be particularly difficult to deal with.

After mom died I quit most of my adjunct work (life’s too short to be an indentured servant), and have been all the happier for it. I don’t know if all of this is telling me I should reevaluate my professional choices thus far, the options I could pursue going forward; or if I should just sigh and realize that this is life and just deal with it.

Anyway, I have this beautiful book by Ann Carson called Nox that I find myself re-reading bits and pieces (or all of it — it only takes about 20 minutes) of over the past couple of years. It’s written as an elegy to her brother, who died mysteriously in Denmark after something like 20 years of estrangement from his family.

It’s very lovely.

Ann is a Greek scholar and author, of a particularly epigraphic and poetic bent.

Ran across this last night:

He makes out of myrrh an egg as big as he can carry. Then he tests it to see if he can carry it. After that he hollows out the egg and lays his father inside and plugs up the hollow. With father inside the egg weighs the same as before. Having plugged it up he carries the egg to Egypt to the temple of the sun. (Hekataios)  

Hekataios is describing the sacred phoenix which lived in Arabia but came to Heliopolis in Egypt once every five hundred years to bury a father there. The phoenix mourns by shaping, weighing, testing, hollowing, plugging and carrying toward the light. He seems to take a clear view of necessity. And in the shadows that flash over him as he makes his way from Arabia to Egypt maybe he comes to see the immensity of the mechanism in which he is caught, the immense fragility of his own flying – composed as it is of these ceaselessly passing shadows carried backward by the very motion that devours them, his motion, his asking.

I can’t decide if I want to, or even can, carry anything “toward the light.”

I am trying very hard to take a clear view of necessity.

I feel very, very fragile.

I wish I could stop asking.


I posted this on our private family blog last night, and one of my sisters wrote a really nice note back (thanks, C). We are all feeling it (alas, I am not original; only sad), which I am sure helps. The world is so quick to forget what you’ve lost, or doesn’t have time to care all that much.

Your parents knew you first, so I think you will always feel that, in some ways, they loved you best. They may not have been the parents you thought you needed, but they were your parents, and knew you first. . .

I feel I’ve come unmoored, even though I have lots of people in my life who probably know me better than they did.

It’s so hard to explain — like I’m made of paper, and the strings that held me up have been cut, but I haven’t started to fall yet, but I know I will.

Or something.





is it really true?

Two thoughts, as I head off to bed to start reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.

I commented to Husband tonight that the three most loyal and vocal followers on my blog are all men* (and he’s not one of them; guess he hears enough from me in the real world). He replies that he thinks that there are quite a lot of men out there who really appreciate and enjoy women, and that women, often, are not really all that supportive of each other.

While I think this is not true in terms of personal relationships — except for him, all of my truly close friends in my “real” life are women, I do think it can be true professionally.

And this got me thinking about something Ms. Sandberg apparently says in her book (I am remembering this from an interview; perhaps the NPR one I referenced a few posts ago) — that women look around at the few other women around “the table,” and realize that only one of them is going to get promoted, as the token Woman in a Position of Power, so, therefore, the other women are her direct competitors. And not in a we’re-all-going-to-do-our-best-and-whoever-does-it-best-gets-the-prize-GO-Team!!!; but in a we’re-all-going-to-do-our-best-and-whoever-doesn’t-piss-off-the-most-men-by-appearing-to-be-shrill-or-godforbidbossyassertive-is-g0ing-to-get-the-prize.

She wants us to demand a place at the table, to raise our hands, to speak our minds.

But what about when we’ve done that, over and over and over again, and it’s only hurt us?

Then what?

. . .  Guess I’ll have to read the book and find out.

Or maybe not.

*Thank you oldblack, Quieter Elephant, and TEStazyk


how do they know?

I’m surprised now and again by young authors (Jonathan Safran Foer) or playwrights (Annie Baker) who seem to be wise beyond their years. I wrote about this when I wrote about Safran Foer’s story “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly.”

Today, I read an article in the February 25 issue of the New Yorker about Ms. Baker. (And just now noticed, as I was pasting in the link, that the article is titled “Just Saying.” Weird.)

She is talking about a dramatic transformation from her sternly moralistic self at the age of 23, when she realized “. . .that she, too, would make mistakes and hurt people,” and this “annihilated her.”  The article continues: “It’s this crisis in her understanding the helped impel her to make the emotional teachers in her play–the beacons of moral honor–people who are themselves failing in full-fledged adulthood. ‘The story of their lives might not immediately appear to be exemplary or what the younger character would want,’ she explains. ‘But there’s a kind of transcendence and nobility they embody through having not lived the lives they wanted to.'”

She’s 31.

How does she know this already?


speaking of keeping your eye on the light

Heard Salman Rushdie on NPR’s “The Story” for the few minutes I was in the car tonight. (Yes, I renewed my membership. Yes I asked for the Thank You gift. Yes, I donated $10 more than I planned to alleviate my guilt. Yes, I was raised Catholic. Any more questions?)

Anyway, he was talking about how he really felt a sense of accomplishment in keeping his ability to write books in a way that would not reveal the circumstances in which he was living. To paraphrase*:

I didn’t want to think about the fact that I was living in a small, afraid little world, in which case I would write these small afraid little books; and I didn’t want to think about being bitter or angry because then that would come through and those books would be miserable too. I really pride myself on the fact that someone who didn’t know the circumstances of my life from 1989 to 1998 could pick up any of the books on a shelf that were written by me in that time frame and still would not know that I was living under a fatwa.

What an inspiring example of the triumph of the human spirit and of mind over matter.

You can listen here. I’d listen and actually quote, but it’s past my bedtime.


*I am paraphrasing. I can’t find a transcript. I apologize if I don’t have it exactly right.


What one can bear

It seems like a man can just about bear anything. He can even bear what he never done. He can even bear the thinking how some things is just more than he can bear. He can even bear it that if he could just give down and cry, he wouldn’t do it. He can even bear it to not look back, even when he knows that looking back or not looking back won’t do him any good.


from Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson

“. . .Every spirit passing through the world fingers the tangible and mars the mutable, and finally has come to look and not to buy. So shoes are worn and hassocks are sat upon and finally everything is left where it was and the spirit passes on, just as the wind in the orchard picks up the leaves from the ground as if there were no other pleasure in the world but brown leaves, as if it would deck, clothe, flesh itself in flourishes of dusty brown apple leaves, and then drops them all in a heap at the side of the house and goes on. . .”


Murakami, and why I won’t be reading him anymore; UPDATED

I had this all written this morning, (some of my best work,) and when I went to insert the picture I lost the whole post. (Ain’t technology grand?) I’m still not sure I have the heart to start over. But here goes.


Still taking a break from The Street Sweeper, although I plan on finishing it. Instead, though, I just read Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. Supposedly his readership went into the millions with the publication of this book, but I can’t really figure out how, unless it was high schoolers looking for the sex scenes.


Toru is a “preternaturally serious” student. In case we miss this by the fact that he has very few friends, and spends all of his time going to class, doing his homework, and working at his job at a “lame” record store (is there a geekier job than working at a “lame” record store?), the few friends he does interact with can’t seem to stop telling him how “strange” he is, or how “strange” he talks, even when what he says seems perfectly normal.

In this way, Murakami seems to demonstrate very little faith in his readers. Another example: Toru travels to visit the young woman he truly loves, Naoko, who has secluded herself in the mountains of northern Japan at an idyllic mental institution retreat recovering from the emotional trauma of first her older sister’s, then her long-term boyfriend’s, suicides. (There is a lot of suicide in this book; it seems to be the solution of choice in Murakami’s Japan; and surprisingly, many of those who commit suicide in this story don’t seem to have demonstrated any signs of emotional or psychological instability beforehand.) The line between patient and doctor is particularly blurry — when Toru first meets Naoko’s roommate, she is introduced as “Dr.” because she teaches music to some of the patients; a fellow patient wears a white coat and makes his “rounds” from table to table at mealtimes expounding on arcane topics. The “patients” live calm, idyllic lives, eating prepared meals, living in austere yet comfortable houses, performing “meaningful” menial tasks. Many patients stay for years. In case the insidiousness of this is lost on us, Toru just happens to have a copy of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain in his backpack. “How could you bring a book like that to a place like this?” Reiko asks him. How indeed?

And then there’s the sex.

Murakami is clearly trying to write the way the teenagers/twenty-somethings talk about, think about, sex. But I don’t think he’s very good at it. It’s too self-aware, too self-conscious, too proper. And that’s not the worst part. Besides the fact that, except for Toru, none of the men treat their girlfriends very well, the women themselves seem to have no sexual desire, no needs, no agency, of their own. (Update: Actually, this isn’t true, I somehow forgot one twist to the story. There is one “woman” with sexual desire and agency, she just happens to be a “pathologically lying” 13-year old girl who tries to seduce Reiko during one of the girl’s piano lessons. An event so traumatic it triggers Reiko’s latest psychological break. And, as far as I can tell from the story, the only lie the girl has told is after her seduction fails, and she reports that Reiko tried to seduce her. Apparently the idea of a 13 year old girl being sexually assertive and/or curious, or that she would spitefully lie about it later, is too bizarre for Murakami to consider.)

But back to the rest of them:

Naoko is a virgin when her long-term boyfriend commits suicide; apparently she was unable to, well, open herself to him. Naoko and Toru have one apparently mutually-satisfying sexual encounter, immediately after which she disappears and checks herself into the rehabilitation center. (There’s a ringing endorsement.) When Toru visits, Naoko services him in various ways, (Ugh), but waves off his offers of reciprocity.

Toru’s one male friend at university sleeps with dozens of women, despite having a beautiful, accomplished, intelligent young woman as a girlfriend. This girlfriend apparently knows about his philanderings, but tolerates them, claiming that she loves him and this is just what he must do. Reportedly she, too, will commit suicide, around four years after the end of this particular story.

While Toru waits patiently for Naoko to decide she can return to society, he is befriend by Midori, a “sexually liberated” young woman in one of his drama classes. They are physically attracted to each other, but are unwilling to consummate the relationship because she is “trying” to be faithful to her boyfriend (this is Murakami’s version of “sexually liberated”? That a twenty-something young woman has sex with her boyfriend?), despite the fact that the boyfriend criticizes the way she talks, the way she dresses.

And then there’s Reiko. Reiko is in her 30s, and, perhaps as an outward symbol of her long-term struggle with mental illness, is apparently extremely wrinkled. Reiko comes to visit Toru in Tokyo after (spoiler alert) Naoko’s suicide (see?), finally leaving the “center” after 8 years, on her way to teach music lessons in yet another secluded location. They cook together, and then make love, four times, in one evening. The first two are strictly for Toru, iykwim*; but afterwards, she lies in bed, eyes dewy, and declares: “I never have to do this again, for the rest of my life.”



The next day, Reiko departs, and Toru calls Midori, telling her that “all [he] wants in the world is [her].”

Funny way of showing it, but whatever.

*if you know what I mean


Something worthy of the 501st post. . .or maybe not

Politics: Is it really possible that the Republican party can’t come up with someone more viable than Mitt Romney and his millions and his condescension, or Newt Gingrich and his volatility and personal and professional unreliability?

Religion: Read this post by the Circular Runner. (Another one of those “what he said” moments.)

Home: Dexter the Dancing Dog has seriously backslid on potty training. I hope it’s just a teething phase or something. He was with Only Daughter at Only Daughter’s Dad’s (ODD?) house for the weekend — complete upheaval, probably, and I think he missed me. He won’t get out of my lap this morning. He’s very soft and cuddly, so it’s okay.

Culture: Saw two great movies on DVD over the weekend — Contagion and The Conspirator. The whole time I was watching Contagion I was worrying about picking up my own wine glass in case I was going to catch something. And Marion Cotillard has the most beautiful accent I’ve ever heard. Robin Wright was absolutely amazing in The Conspirator, and the issues addressed: the rights of civilians to civilian trials, the beliefs held by people in power that law can and should be suspended in times of “war,” hit way too close to home and the Bush/Iraq era.

Books: Just finished reading Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending. Loved it. Don’t know what to read next. Any suggestions?

Music: Does anyone know how to use Ping? I want to be able to post music for my piano students to listen to. I thought that was kind of what it’s for but I can’t figure out how to use it.

Music part 2: Just finished putting the whole book of Honk! on CD for an area high school for rehearsals. Nothing like trying to learn and record an entire musical in a week, not to mention the 2-hour long argument I had to mediate last night between my digital recorder and iTunes. (I prevailed, finally.) Does anybody know why iTunes insists on reordering things when importing? I had to manually drag all of the tracks around (3 times, because the first two times didn’t seem to transfer correctly) and then when I burned it to the CDs it removed all of the labels from the tracks. REALLY FRUSTRATING! Although I’m sure it has a lot more to do with me not really knowing what I’m doing than about the limitations of the program itself.

Blogging: Two blogs I’ve recently discovered which I’m really enjoying: Redamancylit, where the blogger posts excerpts from various writings, many of them profoundly beautiful; and musicandstroke, written by a friend of mine, a percussionist, who suffered a stroke about a year ago, and who writes about the recovery process and how different life/the world looks afterwards. Check them out!

Family: First Son is about to turn 22. Why does that sound so much older than 21? And Only Daughter will be 11 on Wednesday. Sheesh.

Some pictures from the last week of facebook postings:

And this, just because you can never have too many boots, or cats:



Look Homeward, Angel

There were long stretches of this book that were somewhat frustrating for me –where I felt that Thomas Wolfe was just so in love with the sound of his own voice (and his prodigious writing talent) that he forgot he was telling a story; but his writing talent is, in fact, prodigious, but the characters are three-dimensional, real, and the story a compelling one, generally well told.

At the end Eugene, the gradually-revealed hero of the story, has survived the torments of his upbringing — his drunken, self-pitying father, his pinched, grasping mother, the tragic death of his disgruntled yet beloved brother, Ben — and is off to Harvard. On his last night in “his” town he encounters the ghost of his brother amongst all of the shadows of their various former selves, and the enervated masonry angels of his father’s livelihood.


And in his vision he saw the fabulous lost cities, buried in the drifted silt of the earth — Thebes, the seven-gated, and all the temples of the Daulian and Phocian lands, and all Oenotria to the Tyrrhene gulf. Sunk in the burial-urn of earth he saw the vanished cultures: the strange sourceless glory of the Incas, the fragments of lost epics upon a broken shard of Gnossic pottery, the buried tombs of the Memphian kings, and imperial dust, wound all about with gold and rotting linen, dead with their thousand bestial gods, their mute unawakened ushabtii, in their finished eternities. (See? But persist. . .)

He saw the billion living of the earth, the thousand billion dead; seas were withered, deserts flooded, mountains drowned; and gods and demons came out of the South, and ruled above the little rocket-flare of centuries, and sank–came to their Northern Lights of death, the muttering death-flared dusk of the completed gods.

But, amid the fumbling march of races to extinction, the giant rhythms of the earth remained. The seasons passed in their majestic processionals, and germinal Spring returned forever on the land–new crops, new men, new harvests, and new gods.

And then the voyages, the search for the happy land. In his moment of terrible vision he saw, in the tortuous ways of a thousand alien places, his foiled quest of himself. And his haunted face was possessed of that obscure and passionate hunger that had woven its shuttle across the seas, that had hung its weft among the Dutch in Pennsylvania, that had darkened his father’s eyes to impalpable desire for wrought stone and the head of an angel. Hill-haunted whose vision of the earth was mountain-walled, he saw the golden cities sicken his eye, the opulent dark splendors turn to dingy gray. His brain was sick with the million books, his eyes with the million pictures, his body sickened on a hundred princely wines.

And rising from his vision, he cried: “I am not there among the cities. I have sought down a million streets, until the goat-cry died within my throat, and I have found no city where I was, no door where I had entered, no place where I had stood.”

. . .

“Fool,” said Ben, “what do you want to find?”

“Myself, and an end to hunger, and the happy land,” he answered. “For I believe in harbors at the end. O Ben, brother, and ghost, and stranger, you who could never speak, give me an answer now!”

Then, as he thought, Ben said: “There is no happy land. There is no end to hunger.”

. . .

He stood naked and alone in darkness, far from the lost world of the streets and faces; he stood upon the ramparts of his soul, before the lost land of himself; heard inland murmurs of lost seas, the far interior music of the horns. The last voyage, the longest, the best.

“O sudden and impalpable faun, lost in the thickets of myself, I will hunt you down until you cease to haunt my eyes with hunger. I heard your foot-falls in the desert, I saw your shadow in old buried cities, I heard your laughter running down a million streets, but I did not find you there And no leaf hangs for me in the forest; I shall lift no stone upon the hills; I shall find no door in any city. But in the city of myself, upon the continent of my soul, I shall find the forgotten language, the lost world, a door where I may enter, and music strange as any ever sounded; I shall haunt you, ghost, along the labyrinthine ways until—–until? O Ben, my ghost, my answer?”


But in the city of myself
upon the continent of my soul
I shall find the forgotten language,
the lost world,
a door where I may enter,
and music strange as any ever sounded.

Yes. Just that.


i might have to buy this book, or make an appointment with a psychiatrist

On the blog Good Mom/Bad Mom, Jenny Lawson posts about season-appropriate “children’s” books.

I have to admit, at the risk of revealing myself to be an unimaginative, drudge-like stick-in-the-mud (what does that expression mean, btw? Am I stuck in the mud? Then shouldn’t it be “stuck-in-the-mud”? Or if it’s an actual stick, like from a tree, in the mud, what does that have to do with anything?) (what was I saying?) (oh, yeah), I’m not really all that interested in books about zombies.

I did think that the book “Monsters Eat Whiny Children” looked interesting, if for no other reason than to leave it lying around the house to intimidate piano students who don’t practice enough and come with their excuses polished and ready.

A commenter suggested “Daddy Drinks Because You Cry,” which I thought sounded really funny in a Family-Guy-inappropriate kind of way. (Aside: I love Family Guy, but never got into the habit of watching it because then my sons would watch too and I would have to wrestle with the urge to laugh uproariously over something immensely inappropriate so as not to be a “bad example.”)

But apparently this book doesn’t actually exist. (In the interests of “research,” I checked. I wasn’t going to buy it. I wasn’t!)

Speaking of inappropriate. . .

I commented after Jenny’s post that I thought this book looked kind of whimsical, despite the likelihood that it included some black humor; but that it also reminded me of my grandma in her early 90s.

Then I clicked on the image of the cover, expecting a book about, well, dinosaurs. It is what’s illustrated on the cover after all.

But this is the first page that came up when I clicked on “See all 6 customer images.”

This is some kind of creepy. Like someone has been watching me slowly but systematically killing each and every one of my house plants over the past 15 years, and is sending me not-all-that-coded nor all-that-subtle messages.

(Notice, in the banner, the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. This is on purpose. And symbolic. I have one plant left in my house, a Zu-Zu, which is reportedly “unkillable.” I believe the exact terms were “thrives under benign neglect.” [Although now that I do a little more research, this is apparently a fallacy. Nice. Thank you, Lowe’s.] Recently 5 of the 8 stalks died. 3 persist, despite the odds. What can I say? It’s a gift. We were, recently and briefly, in the process of adopting a rescued Havanese. I was afraid they were somehow going to research my houseplant history and find me wanting. Despite the fact that my children and pets seem to survive; except for fish, of course.)


The next four pages of the book go like this: (I’m guessing in sequence, although I might be making assumptions [it wouldn’t be the first time]. If it’s not the sequence found in the book, it should be.)

I know, I know, this should be sad. I remember my grandma saying how alone she was. It was really, really sad. It was.

But it’s just funny to me. Maybe because it shouldn’t be. Or maybe I’m just hopeless.

Me, to Husband: “Is there something wrong with me that I thinks this is so funny?”

Husband: “I don’t think so.”



Say Her Name

I’ve just finished reading Say Her Name, a rambling but effective book written by Francisco Goldman shortly after his wife, Aura, dies while body surfing in Mexico. I found the book, the story, to be incredibly sad.

A photo from their wedding

was included in both of the reviews of the book I encountered, in which they look so incredibly happy, and so completely surprised to be so happy. I get this surprise, though. I feel it too. I went through about the first forty years of my life “making” the decisions I was expected to make, and realizing more and more that I felt like I was walking through water, and now keep wondering when somebody is going to pinch me.

I was thinking, as I was reading Goldman’s book, about how many of these tributes are written after the object of the author’s love has died, and I wonder why no one’s writing them earlier. Maybe the difficulty is the one I fear, the hearts and flowers syndrome, or that no one will want to read it without the empathy-generating tragedy. I guess we all feel a stronger connection to stories that recount stories of sadness and loss; tragedy draws us all closer, hence the interest in trapped-miner and teenagers-in-tragic-car-accident and couple-on-the-way-to-their-honeymoon-when-the-plane-crashes stories. There’s a pull, that could be me, a rush of sympathy, a quiet little guilty thrill that we’re still safe at home with our children in the next room and our husband making us coffee, that this person has suffered unimaginable and irretrievable loss, but at least it’s not me.


whimper of the pushover mother

I try to avoid reviewing things which I haven’t seen or read, and I have not read this book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua, so maybe I should just keep my opinions to myself. But based on what I’ve heard during her many recent interviews and read in the reviews, I’m pretty convinced that reading this book would not be a good idea for me. Not that I have dangerously high blood pressure or anything, but this could be just the thing to set me off.

This woman reports, with great aplomb, the following parenting pearls of discipline and motivation:

1. Her daughters are not allowed to waste their time participating in plays or sports (apparently too much a waste of time),

2. Her daughters are not allowed to complain about not being allowed to participate in plays or sports (perhaps out of concern that they feel, or **gasp!** express any emotion of their own),

3. If her daughter does not perform perfectly the next time she practices her piece at the piano her mother will burn all of her stuffed animals (because motivation by fear has proven to be so effective),

4. Her daughters must be #1 in every subject except gym and drama (apparently striving to be an Olympic athlete or Lynn Redgrave is not an appropriate goal),

5. Her daughters are not allowed to have a play date (Fun?!? Who has time for fun?!?).

When I first heard about this book, before I had heard any of the specifics listed above, I was interested — I am constantly trying to find ways to stimulate interest, passion, motivation, discipline, consideration, and respect in my children. I thought she might have some useful suggestions.

But the idea of teaching my children these concepts through berating, humiliation, and threats just doesn’t jibe with my own personal philosophy.

Does it do my child any good if I push him or her constantly so that they can achieve achieve achieve throughout their elementary and secondary educations? Am I then going to go to college with them to make sure they aren’t wasting my tuition dollars? I could share their dorm room with them, vet their friends, cut up their food. Maybe this makes me a typical “American” parent (said with a sneer by one of the commenters on the Barnes and Noble website); lazy, coddling, unworthy, but I’d rather my children learn these hard lessons the “hard” way, when there’s less at stake, then have them flunk out of Harvard because I forced them to go to law school when what they really wanted was to be a novelist.

It hasn’t escaped my notice that most of the students winning the scholar awards at Second Son’s high school awards ceremonies are Asian. Nor that my Asian piano students are also top students academically, studying in Chinese school on Saturdays, participating in at least one sport, at which they excel, and that they speak to their parents with respect and a complete absence of sarcasm. But I have also had adult Asian friends who bemoan their parents’ disappointment when they fail to achieve a difficult professional benchmark or reach the advanced age of 30 and are yet to be married.

Is it “American” (sneer) of me to want “only” for my children to find their bliss, achieve what they WANT to achieve, strive for independence, find happiness/fulfillment in the area, or degree of success, of their choosing?

There is a really funny line from Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, when the father is sending his sons to school for the first time, and sends a note with them telling the teacher that they are stupid and worthless, and to feel free to beat them as much as the teacher deems necessary. I was actually so amused upon reading this, with First Son when he was in 6th grade, that I copied it out and sent it with him to give to his teacher the next day. We were kindred spirits, and both had a good laugh. But only because it was so ridiculous.

Hmmmm. . .I wonder if she thought I meant it.





the same thing, over and over and over again

from “The Lacuna,” by Barbara Kingsolver

The, I assume, fictional, lead character is a young man, Harrison Shepherd, half Mexican, half Caucasian, who worked in the household of the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo when Trotsky lived with them, in hiding from Stalin. Harrison writes, in 1946, from South Carolina, to Diego, reporting on the nature of politics in the U.S.:

“So that is the report you asked for, not entirely good. Our newsmen mostly reviled the ‘worker’s rebellion.’ Politics here now resemble a pillow fight. Lacking the unifying slogan (Win the War), our opposing parties sling absurd pronouncements back and forth, which everyone pretends carry real weight. How the feathers fly. The newsmen leap on anything, though it’s all on the order of, ‘Four out of five shoppers know this is the better dill pickle,’ assertions that can’t be proven but sway opinion. ‘Dance for the crowd’ is the new order, with newsmen leading the politicians like bears on the leash. Real convictions would be a hindrance. The radio is at the root of the evil, their rule is: No silence, ever. When anything happens, the commentator has to speak without a moment’s pause for gathering wisdom. Falsehood and inanity are preferable to silence. You can’t imagine the effect of this. The talkers are rising above the thinkers.”

Hmmm. . .sounds familiar. . .


Nox, by Ann Carson

This is a simply beautiful book. You find yourself immediately caught up in it in what seems to be a slower, meditative passage of time.

Ann Carson is a teacher of Greek and a writer on Greek topics, and of essays, poems. She compiled a scrapbook after her brother had died (mysteriously; we never know of what, or where, or how; we do not know if she knows), and then recreated it in this lovely dedication to him. It opens accordion-style, with remnants and fragments and scraps of photos and letters and stamps seemingly taped into the pages. It begins with a poem in Latin by Catullus, which she translates one word at a time on the left-side pages.

Many the peoples many the oceans I crossed –

I arrive at these poor, brother, burials

so I could give you the last gift owed to death

and talk (why?) with mute ash.

Now that Fortune tore you from me, you

oh poor (wrongly) brother (wrongly) taken from me,

now still anyway this – what a distant mood of parents

handed down as the sad gift for burials –

accept! soaked with tears of a brother

and into forever, brother, farewell and farewell.

The layout of the pages, the effect of the taped-in torn pieces of paper and bits of old photos are mesmerizing. She draws you in with the first page:

1.0 I wanted to fill my elegy with light of all kinds. But death makes us stingy. There is nothing more to be expended on that, we think, he’s dead. Love cannot alter it. Words cannot add to it. No matter how I try to evoke the starry lad he was, it remains a plain, odd history. So I begin to think about history.

. . .the starry lad he was. . .

It’s a big book, in that it is solid and heavy and housed in a box which opens and contains it as you read. It doesn’t take that long to read, but I want it out on the table where I can flip through it now and then, touch the glossy photos on glossy pages, read bits and fragments of beautiful sentences, beautiful thoughts.

Near the end she challenges that world you have found yourself in by (again) quoting Herotodus:

I have to say what is said. I don’t have to believe it myself.

and soonly closes with

He refuses, he is in the stairwell, he disappears.

We, as she, can almost see him go.


Here We Aren’t, So Quickly, by Jonathan Safran Foer

Just read this while brushing my teeth. It gave me goose bumps. I don’t know why. (July, 2010)

Okay, here I am 2 months later. I’ve been thinking about this story on and off since I first read it; even read it aloud, to mixed reviews, at a dinner party one night last month.

First of all, I think it’s ingenious how he sums up a relationship, life (in 2 pages), parenthood(in 3 sentences [“He suddenly drew, suddenly spoke, suddenly wrote, suddenly reasoned. One night I couldn’t help him with his math. He got married.”]), all in variations of “I was always. . . I was never. . . You were always. . . You were never. . .” sentences.

For instance, the first paragraph: “I was not good at drawing faces. I was just joking most of the time. I was not decisive in changing rooms or anywhere. I was so late because I was looking for flowers. I was just going through a tunnel whenever my mother called. I was not able to make toast without the radio. I was not able to tell if compliments were backhanded. I was not as tired as I said.”

The critics at the dinner party thought that they had never been happy. I thought they, the critics that is, were missing the point. They had been happy, some of the time, and unhappy, some of the time, just like the rest of us. What is most astounding to me is how this author, of the ripe old age of 33, seems to understand what it means to be 40, and 50, and 70; what it means to feel and know what you’re feeling; what it means to know someone, even yourself.

Some excerpts:

You were never willing to think of my habits as charming.

I couldn’t explain the cycles of the moon without pen and paper, or with.

I was almost always at home, but I was not always at home at home.

I was always in need of just one good dress shirt, or just one something that I never had.

You were too injured by things that happened in the distant past for anything to be effortless in the present.

You broke everyone’s heart until you suddenly couldn’t.

I was often not reading the book that I was holding.

They kept producing new things that we didn’t need that we needed. I needed your approval more than anything.

And the world of marriage, and our own self doubts:

I should have forgiven you for all that wasn’t your fault.


The Cradle, by Patrick Somerville

Why is it that certain authors seem to believe that to convey the idea that a character is simple, down-to-earth, unpretentious, it is necessary to incorporate poor grammar? (And I’m not talking about in the dialogue itself; that would actually make sense.) I assume that this is a deliberate choice; either that, or I wonder where the editors were or what they were thinking.

Also, is it really necessary to tell us what we are supposed to realize and/or be thinking in response to a certain event in the plot? Or even always to tell us what the character was thinking? Yes, maybe we’ll miss the point, or if not all of them, some of them. But how much more powerful is the metaphor if we are allowed to recognize it and apply it for ourselves?

I would like to “get my hands on” this book; it could be a lovely short story. As it stands I feel like it’s the novel, Cliffs Notes, and lecture outline all wrapped up in one frustrating, awkwardly written package.

Maybe reading David Mitchell has ruined me for everyone else.


Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

Apparently this book came out in 2004, and I overlooked it somehow. Just read it; it’s fantastic. Interestingly, today I read an issue of the New Yorker from a few weeks ago in which they’re reviewing David Mitchell’s newest novel, a review which includes a fair bit of discussion of Cloud Atlas itself.

“If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw; if we believe diverse races & creeds can share can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.”

While this may seem to read more like sermon than novel, and drive many away from reading the book, please don’t let it. It’s from the ending of a series of 6 stories, told in arch form: each of the first 5 stories told approximately half way, leading in various inter-connected ways from one to the other. That is: the main character of the 2nd story encounters the diary which constitutes the first; the character of the 3rd story finds the letters which constitute the 2nd; in the 4th story the 3rd story is revealed to be a work of fiction, etc. After the 6th story is told in “completion” (nothing in these stories is really complete), the arch is completed in reverse.

Even more interestingly each story leads existentially to the next. A common theme seems to be the result of man’s inability to recognize their responsibility towards each other and their planet; the result of, well, the fact that many members of the human species fail to act all that humanely (although I did find the Timothy Cavendish chapters to be the weakest, both novelistically and thematically, and could have done without them altogether);. One of the chapters is believed to have influenced Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go — another novel I highly recommend.

Mitchell’s writing is virtuosic without being self-conscious. He adopts myriad voices like a master ventriloquist — 18th-century notary, 20th-century dissolute composer, late 20th-century female journalist, sometime-in-the-future Asian “fabricant” clone/savior, sometime-far-in-the-future Pacific-island teenager.

I’m reading Black Swan Green next.


Still Here

Haven’t posted for several days, busy taking-care-of things. Some thought-provoking moments, but having a hard time bringing things into focus; maybe I’m reading too many novels.

Spent a few days visiting my mom. She has “a” glioblastoma, diagnosed 3 1/2 years ago, and is struggling with the effects of long-term chemo, the latest “round” having gone on now for a year. She’s looking forward to the doctor-recommended break and hoping that it will allow her to regain some energy, but is also afraid that it will give the tumors a chance to grow. It is, and has been, a mixed blessing, because she has far exceeded the usual prognosis for this type of cancer, but the chemo is really wearing her out. My daughter and I gardened for her (she’s trying to sell her house, and her yard looks like something from a magazine, which is especially remarkable considering she can only work in 20-minute increments. She quoted my beloved great-grandmother to me: “I work for a while, then rest for two whiles.”) The next day I scoured her rather large deck and harvested lilac sprouts to bring home and plant in my yard. Exhausting, but good, honest work, and allowed me to reconnect with muscles I had forgotten about.

Yesterday I watched world cup soccer with my husband, and ordered flooring for our upcoming house-remodel project (old laminate crap and filthily disgusting mold-and-dust-and-pet-hair ridden carpet being exchanged for travertine and bamboo). Then we planted the lilacs, hoping the rampaging deer will leave them alone, and edged the flower bed. Another day of good, honest work, (GHW), and have become acquainted with even more muscles.

Today we decided that we couldn’t put all those beautiful floors in and not do something about the kids’ computer desk — a desk I tried to refinish once by painting it white to match the cupboards, but hadn’t managed to remove enough finish first so it basically peeled like a kid with a bad sunburn. Or glue — remember when you were a kid and painted glue on your hands so you could peel it off when it dried? My daughter had decided, helpful girl, that the desk looked better without the paint, so systematically peeled little tiny bits of it whenever she was at the computer, creating a wonderfully skin-diseased mottled effect. So my husband and I worked lengthily with hazardous, toxic chemicals, taking turns dashing into the house to wash the caustic substance off every time it dripped on us, and scraped and scoured and scrubbed. Still not sure it’s going to “work” but at least the paint’s off and we’re looking at mostly bare wood.  I’ve now become acquainted with even aNOTHER set of muscles and have minor chemical burns on my arm. Tomorrow we get to start sanding! Yippee!!

At the end of the day’s exertions I made us a pitcher of strawberry margaritas (with half the tequila I used in the last batch; we’re too old to get hammered before dinner) and, sitting on the deck and enjoying a beautiful June evening, finished reading The Other, by David Guterson. A lovely book: two young men, one privileged, one middle-class, become friends in high school. The privileged boy, John William, raised by a mentally-ill mother and an emotionally absent and ineffective father, becomes more and more eccentric through high school and the beginnings of a college education, until he becomes a complete recluse and lives in a limestone cave in the Pacific Northwest “bush.” His friend and blood-brother Neil Countryman (a less-than-subtle but effective name which implies every-man, and the down-home values of the peasant) visits, and supplies, him on occasion while pursuing a middle-class life (“selling out to Hamburgerland”): high school English teacher, wife, two sons. John William dies, and is eventually found, at which point it is revealed that he has left $440 million to his friend. Neil and his wife struggle with what to do with this money, what will it change? What would they like to stay the same? Can it?

Eventually. . .”Jamie and I turned in the ’92 Civic and bought a hybrid, which we recently took to the Canadian Okanagan. . .We walked, swam, biked, sunned, tasted wines, ate well, bought pottery, and watched the sun go down, and though all of this was fun, none of it made us happy. We both wanted something else that was unnamable. It might be forever unnamable. In this regard, money changes nothing, which Jamie and I knew before we had it.”

Neil is an avid reader, and does find that the inheritance encourages his tendency to indulge at used-book stores. Near the end of the book he recounts some of the wisdom imparted to new parents by Dr. Benjamin Spock:

1. You know more than you think you do.

2. Parents are human — they have needs.

3. Some children are a lot more difficult than others.

4. At best, there’s a lot of hard work and deprivation.

5. Needless self-sacrifice sours everybody.

6. Parents should expect something from their children.

7. Parents are bound to get cross.

to which I think

1. Maybe; but maybe I know less and then we’re all screwed.

2. Definitely. Forgot it for about 20 years. . .

3. Ya’ think?

4. Ditto.

5. Yes, it does.

6. And be willing to wait 25 years to get it.

7. Phew!

And so on, to the final line of the book, which is “It’s not the words but the music that counts.”

I like that.


The Stone Angel

by Margaret Laurence, written in 1964.

Hagar is born on the prairies of Canada, raised by her store-keeper father to be “better” than those around her. This endeavour culminates in her being sent to finishing school, where she learns embroidery, French, menu-planning for a 5-course meal, poetry, how to take a firm hand with servants, and the most becoming way of dressing her hair. In other words, nothing of any use at all, except to alienate her from her surroundings.

She becomes enamored of and marries a man exactly wrong for her, the opposite of that which her father would have hoped for.

Her life is filled with unhappiness and disappointment: the son who grows up to tend to her in her old age treated with bitterness and suspicion; the son she pinned all of her hopes on becomes the image of his father, uncouth and coarse, and dies tragically on a dare.

Hagar struggles against her age, her loss of independence, her fear that her surviving son and his wife want only to sell her house and her “things” — things which bear great sentimental value for her despite their commemoration of moments less than satisfying.

There’s a moment of radiance: when visited in the hospital by the minister of her daughter-in-law’s church, he appeases Hagar by singing a favored hymn.

I would have wished it. This knowing comes upon me so forcefully, so shatteringly, and with such a bitterness as I have never felt before. I must always, always, have wanted that–simply to rejoice. How is it that I never could? I know, I know. How long have I known? Or have I always known, in some far crevice of my heart, some cave too deeply buried, too concealed? Every good joy I might have held, in my man or any child of mine or even the plain light of morning, of walking the earth, all were forced to a standstill by some brake of proper appearances–oh, proper to whom? When did I ever speak the heart’s truth?

Her reproaches return within moments, followed immediately by her regret. Oh, I am unchangeable, unregenerate. I go on speaking in the same way, always, and the same touchiness rises within me at the slightest thing.

This dichotomy defines the book — Hagar in turns plaintive, needy, defensive; determined, remorseful, even occasionally kind. [I am reminded of my grandma — candid, opinionated, full of fire until the last.] She becomes caught up in her memories and her regrets, losing contact with the present while recognizing its absence. In one of the closing passages she recounts a passing visit to the graves of her husband and father, the stone angel which marks her father’s grave teetering, weathered and worn. Despite her panic upon a previous visit, when the angel had been deliberately tumbled, and vandalized through the mortifying application of lipstick, this time she doesn’t bother to set it to rights, knowing that really it doesn’t matter; that what remains there, and what was, is over.

As in many places in this book, this realization, this profound insight, is short-lived; perhaps the most powerful, and real, revelation of them all.


Really Beautiful Writing

Home, by Marilynn Robinson.

Actually, anything by Marilynn Robinson (Housekeeping, Gilead), but this is what I’m reading today.

She went to the porch to watch him walk away down the road. He was too thin and his clothes were weary, weary. There was nothing of youth about him, only the transient vigor of a man acting on a decision he refused to reconsider or regret. No, there might have been some remnant of the old aplomb. Who would bother to be kind to him? A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their face. Ah, Jack.


My Sister’s Keeper

I generally avoid reading “Mass-Market Fiction,” but was trolling through the library the other day while my daughter collected 3 days worth of reading material (8 books; she’s a fiend) and decided to give this book, by Jodi Picoult, a try. I should have been warned off by the fact that both the title and her name were written on the cover in all lower-case letters, a device better served by poetry, but it was obviously a weak moment, and here I am.

I finished this book yesterday in the bathtub. If it hadn’t been a library book I would have thrown it across the room in disgust.

There’s a good premise: the daughter of a loving couple is diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia at the age of 3. When the parents hear that finding close enough matches for donations of things like cord blood, lymphocytes, and bone marrow from the general population is nearly impossible, they decide to genetically “create” a child that will be the closest possible match and then become pregnant through in vitro. And so they do. Now this younger sister is loved by the family, and there are many beautiful family moments/memories, although the mother sees everything through the lens of keeping Kate healthy. The younger sister is never asked if she wants to go through yet another painful procedure to help her sister, unless you want to call “But of course you want to help Kate” asking.

The premise of the story is that Kate’s kidney is now failing as a result of her latest treatments, and Anna, the younger sister, has had enough. She retains a lawyer to fight for medical emancipation, and the family struggle begins. It is clear that this is a difficult decision for her, that she wants her sister to live, but at the same time she wants her own life and seems to think it’s time to claim it.

It’s a good story; there are a lot of thought-provoking scenes and arguments made, which kept me reading throughout episodes of misgiving prompted by sentences such as:

“My mother’s words hang like too-ripe fruit, and when they fall on the floor and burst, she shudders into motion.”

“I weave in and out of traffic, sewing up a scar.” (this, supposedly from a drug-using 16-year-old arsonist)

“Of all the animals in the Africa section, [zebras] have always been my favorite. I can give or take elephants; I never can find the cheetah–but the zebras captivate me. They’d be one of the few things that would fit if we were lucky enough to live in a world that’s black or white.”


In some ways, though, these are the least of the book’s problems.

First of all, the author alternates between the “voice” of each character — Dad, Mom, Kate, Anna, Jesse (arsonist older brother), Campbell (attorney), Julia (guardian ad litem appointed by the court). But the voice never changes. If you’re going to do this, you need to do it convincingly; if you can’t do it convincingly, find a different way to weave together your narrative.

[Spoiler alert — if you want to read this book, and want to be manipulated as the author intends, do not read further.]

Then there’s the attorney retained by Anna, who has a service dog, and a series of flip answers to anyone who questions it. His need for this dog is kept deliberately hidden from us so that he can have a surprise grand mal seizure at a strategic moment in court. I feel manipulated.

There’s also the fact that Campbell and Julia were mis-matched lovers in high school, until Campbell mysteriously abandoned her and Julia spent the next 15 years going to Harvard Law and healing her broken heart. Of course, Campbell is not the snake we are led to believe he was: he abandoned her because, 2 days after graduation he was in the car accident that initiated his epilepsy and didn’t think it would be fair to Julie to be a burden to her. Again, manipulated.

But the ultimate manipulation. All of the questions of family love and devotion and loyalty and sacrifice are presented, questions I imagine any of us would struggle with — what do you do as a parent to save your child? How much is enough? How much is too much? When do you let it stop? Good questions from both the parents’ standpoints as well as that of the patient herself. For 415 pages the reader is engrossed in these questions, along with: how valuable is your life, your body, your right to choose, in comparison with the life of someone you love. We find out near the end that Anna only fought for medical emancipation because Kate asked her to — Kate had had enough of the fight, enough of a life of illness and hospitals and chemo and pain. This is believable, but already a bit of a cop-out. Why not pursue the whole question, and have Anna just fight for the right to her own body?

On the 415th page, after this emancipation has been granted, Anna is killed in a car accident. It takes 3 more pages to get to the end of the book, at which point: Kate has received Anna’s kidney, and 8 years later is still surviving in the longest-running most miraculous remission ever; the clichéd delinquent older son, Jess has graduated from the police academy.

So, so manipulated.

As I was ranting to my husband about how disgusted I was with this book, I got a nosebleed. It may not have been related, but. . .


How to. . .for Dummies?

I’m really disturbed by the apparent current belief among many that everything worth doing can be “taught” via a how-to book. This has become so prevalent that if you type “How to. . .” into the search window you actually get 381,110 hits.

Granted, some of these are movies (How to Train Your Dragon; How to Marry a Millionaire), and the first one listed gave me pause (Decency prevents me; click here if you must know.) But if you narrow the selection to Books only there are still 300,776. If you limit it to “. . .for Dummies” it cuts this list all the way down to 10,667. Seriously. Ten thousand, six hundred, and sixty seven “How to . . . for Dummies” titles.

First of all, (and maybe this is just me,) I’m not really all that interested in reading something that has been written by someone who is operating under the assumption that I’m a moron. This cannot be a good experience. Condescension is one thing when delivered by a male colleague, your physician, or your children. It’s something else entirely when you’ve paid for it.

I think what disturbs me most of all is the unsuitability of some of these topics to a How-To manual. Psychology for Dummies, Anatomy and Physiology for Dummies, Sex for Dummies. Yikes. Like it’s a good idea to have random, relatively uneducated strangers analyzing the emotional reasons for the items you’ve placed in your grocery cart, or setting your ankle after a bad fall. The third one is the most disturbing — if you’re both dummies, maybe you just shouldn’t; think of the children!

Many of the topics result in interesting if not downright unfortunate implications: Catholicism for Dummies (is this a different form of Catholicism than the one available to smart people?); Chemistry for Dummies (boom!!!); Twitter for Dummies (seriously? isn’t that the point of twitter? how hard is it really? I mean, if a bird can do it. . .)

Have we forgotten that some of these topics — psychology, medicine, investing and finance (okay, maybe this one not so much), literature — used to be considered worthy of many years of advanced study and hard work? I’ve spent 40 years getting good at playing the piano, through individualized study with qualified, gifted, inspiring teachers and thousands of hours of practice. Are they actually implying that I could have learned everything I need to know from a manual? (Okay, I know they’re not implying that exactly, but what are they implying? And I haven’t even touched on the importance of human interaction in the learning process.)

Richard Bausch writes in the latest Fiction edition of The Atlantic about his experience with the editors of a set of dozens of fiction how-to books. This article includes the description of the result of his eventual agreement, not to write a fiction how-to book, but to write a chapter on the Craft of writing. His closing paragraph of this chapter extols the reader, ergo assumed-to-be-aspiring writer, not to follow step-by-step instructions from a manual, but to read. A lot.  That in order to write, massive quantities of good literature must be read, digested, even imitated. Most of this paragraph is surreptitiously cut by the editors, leaving a vague, relatively meaningless paean and no useful information. When it is admitted that the editors are concerned that the author’s “instructions” will result in the drop in sales of their myriad books, and the author is unwilling to omit the paragraph, the entire chapter is dropped from the book.

Everybody wants the short cut. Children: few chores, ample allowance, easy teachers. College students: the best grade with the least possible work, the job that allows them to stay out late on weekends and sleep in. Even adults aren’t above this — after the easy money (lotto, stocks that hit it big and which no one else knew about); the easy job (flex-time, high salary, company car, expense account).

But some things require time. And work. And effort.

And sometimes, it’s the time, and work, and effort, which make it worth it at all.


The Secret Scripture

From the book by Sebastian Barry; an elderly woman with a mysterious past is being visited by her doctor in the institution where she has been “residing” for most of her adult life. The doctor is sympathetic, but much of the information regarding her commitment is missing, and he is unsure how to proceed and reluctant to violate her peace or her privacy. He has visited her this day, and spoken of a recent visit to the zoo, and of the beauty of the giraffes.

His talk had locked me in silence, I know not why. It was not opening, easy, happy talk like my father’s, after all. I wanted to listen to him, but I did not want to answer now. That strange responsibility we feel towards others when they speak, to offer them the solace of any answer. Poor humans! And anyway he had not asked a question. He was merely floating there in the room, insubstantial, a living man in the midst of life, dying imperceptibly on his feet, like all of us.


Another Reason to Read

Studies are being conducted which demonstrate that people who read advanced, complicated works of fiction are doing good things for their brains.

Being able to keep track of several lines of narrative and the various levels of mental and emotional states of the characters in the book develop our social skills, can satisfy our desire for poetic justice, and is believed to have played a part in our evolution into the altruistic species we supposedly are.

Now if I could just figure out how being able to read all of these books on an iPad increased this beneficent effect, I could justify paying $500 for it.


The Poisonwood Bible

by Barbara Kingsolver

A Baptist missionary takes his wife and 4 daughters to the Congo, where he tries to bring Jesus to the “natives.” Blatantly disregarding the deep and profound spiritual lives of the residents of the village, and unwilling or unable to learn the subtleties of the native language, “Father” only serves to alienate most of the villagers while exerting his own particular type of religious discipline on his wife and family.

When the youngest daughter dies after being bitten by a poisonous snake, the wife begins her own personal Exodus. Her description of this resonates:

Plain and simple, that was the source of our exodus: I had to keep moving. I didn’t set out to leave my husband. Anyone can see I should have, long before, but I never did know how. For women like me, it seems, it’s not ours to take charge of beginnings and endings. Not the marriage proposal, the summit conquered, the first shot fired, nor the last one either–the treaty at Appomattox, the knife in the heart. Let men write those stories. I can’t. I only know the middle ground where we live our lives. We whistle while Rome burns, or we scrub the floor, depending. Don’t dare presume there’s shame in the lot of a woman who carries on. On the day a committee of men decided to murder the fledgling Congo, what do you suppose Mama Mwanza was doing? Was it different, the day after? Of course not. Was she a fool, then, or the backbone of a history? When a government comes crashing down, it crushes those who were living under its roof. People like Mama Mwanza never knew the house was there at all. Independence is a complex word in a foreign tongue. To resist occupation, whether you’re a  nation or merely a woman, you must understand the language of your enemy. Conquest and liberation and democracy and divorce are words that mean squat, basically, when you have hungry children and clothes to get out on the line and it looks like rain.”

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