books


Random quote of the day:

“In my youth I regarded the Universe as an open book, printed in the language of physical equations, whereas now it appears to me as a text written in invisible ink, of which, in our rare moments of grace, we are able to decipher a small fragment.”

—Arthur Koestler, The Invisible Writing

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

So I’ve finally fallen under the spell of Mindhunter on Netflix. Riveting. I binged most of season one last weekend, finished the last three episodes yesterday and started on episode one of season two. I’m trying to stretch it out. Besides, for some weird reason I only seem to be in serial killer mode on the weekends.

Oh man, such good acting and writing and directing. It’s just great stuff. And the casting is amazing. So much attention to detail and visuals and the way the characters are blocked into a scene. I also like how they imply incredible violence but they don’t glorify it and they don’t exploit it—something that is not true of every show about murder.
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The ants are on the move. It’s hot and dry so they’ve come inside looking for water and other things. I spray their ant trails with Clorox which kills them but they’re back on a new space the next day. The ants will be here long after I am gone, going about their antly duty.
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My outrage quota varies from day to day, but each day I hit the limit and I’m forced to shut down because I feel my soul leaking out of my ears.
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To me, one of the ultimate sins of the world is to throw away books. There are so many places that need books. Even when the rats got to some of my library and destroyed books (sometimes in disgusting ways) it tore me up to throw them away—even though they really had to go. Other books had suffered minimal damage (i.e., thoroughly chewed covers but otherwise fine) and I couldn’t bring myself to toss them. I still have a few of those. Others—and this is cowardice, I know—I put into recycling bags. I was fairly certain the places I donated them to would throw them away. But the sin would not be on my head, you see?

And the books that I have loved to death by reading and re-reading? I still have all those. I can’t bear to throw them out. I keep thinking I can use them to make sculptures or something. And yet they sit in my shelves, sacrosanct. Because, I admit, that every time I see a picture of someone who has gone down to the thrift store and picked up a bunch of old books to turn them into a piece of furniture, my first instinctive reaction is “You asshole!”

Extreme reverence for books may be a sin, but when throwing out books it’s not just tossing an object, it’s an entire world full of people and stories and feelings. I’m not demon enough to do that.
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Trump/Putin/Helsinki/2018: There are several photos in this sequence that look much the same. This was taken right after their secret meeting where Trump would not allow the translator to take notes. Putin looks like the cat who got into the cream. Meanwhile, Trump displays the face of a man who’s just been told by Putin, “Do everything I say from now on or I’ll call in all those massive loans I gave your and release the peepee tape.” Can anyone reasonably doubt that Trump is a Russian asset?

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One of the reasons I’m having such a hard time with the current part of the current novel (writing anything is like pulling teeth) is that I already know everything that happens. I’ve never been one who wrote well from an outline. Still, I’m close to 89k in and I’m not giving up.
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I still miss my tiny best friend more than I can say. Min, aged 19:

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My Cat’s Death Broke My Brain.
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Both of these men (Stephen Colbert and Anderson Cooper) are a gift, and an antidote to the times we are currently living through:

I agree with Mr. Colbert because of my own past traumatic experiences. I reached a point in my life where I realized that if I like who I am and I’m grateful for my life then even the bad stuff went into making me who I am. Once I got to that place it brought me great peace. It’s an individual choice, and not something anyone has to do, but that’s where I ended up and I’m very glad for it. I accept with gratitude all of my life as part of who I am, good and bad.
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It amazes me that some of the same people who decry racism and misogyny the loudest think ageism is just fine. Ageism is bullshit, no matter what direction: boomer against millennial, millennial against boomer, Gen X against Gen Z. I call bullshit.
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I absolutely believe that universal healthcare is a fundamental human right. However, I think you should know that Medicare is not a perfect plan and costs me a lot of money. I sincerely believe we can do better than Medicare for everyone.

Christine Wicker’s book, Lily Dale: The Town That Talks to the Dead covers some of the same territory as Spook by Mary Roach—although I think, at the end of the day, Wicker’s book was more genuine. I liked reading both, and Roach is very funny, but she went into her skeptical deep dive exploration of the paranormal with the goal of mocking. She did quite a lot of that in Spook, sometimes to funny effect, but other times to her detriment as a reporter.

Wicker also went in skeptical but was genuinely interested in exploring the lives of the people she encountered. She approached them with respect and a reporter’s eye towards following where the story led, rather than leading the story. I won’t say she became a true believer by the end of the book, but she did emerge from the story changed by what she’d experienced.

Even Roach had to admit that she could not come up with rational explanations for everything she encountered. Yet she clung to the rock of her disbelief like any true acolyte of scientism. And that’s fine with me. I don’t require anyone to drink the Kool-Aid. Some people need to disbelieve no matter the evidence to the contrary, just as some need to believe despite rational explanations. As Ms. Wicker said so eloquently in her quote of the day, below.

See my full review of Christine Wicker’s book here.

Random quote of the day:

“A book is a magic carpet that flies you off elsewhere. A book is a door. You open it. You step through. Do you come back?”

—Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

Random quote of the day:

“Take a book, the poorest one written, but read it with the passion that it is the only book you will read—ultimately you will read everything out of it, that is, as much as there was in yourself, and you could never get more out of reading, even if you read the best of books.”

—Søren Kierkegaard, Stages on Life’s Way

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Laurel and Hardy, Ariana Grande, or the Salvation Army Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

An essay, containing secrets that really aren’t secrets.

Yes, I know that Carl Jung is a deeply flawed human being, but his philosophy explains the world to me better than anyone else I’ve encountered. He makes poetic sense of the twisted labyrinth of human consciousness—and it requires poetry rather than logic to explore those paths. Besides, who better to act as shaman on such a journey than a flawed human being?

(Psst. Here’s a secret: no living, breathing human being is without flaws. Purity is not possible in the earth realm. And, in fact, shamans in tribal society are often “other” and strange and outcast people. They make the best interpreters of the less-than-upright world of the spirit and alternate realities.)

I have other shamans I listen to, other paths I explore, but always swing back to ol’ Carl. I don’t swallow his philosophy—or anyone’s—whole. (The story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is an active metaphor in my psyche.) But I do use Jung’s work as a basis for my own worldview and personal explorations.

(Psst. Here’s another secret: any philosophy worth its salt is a means for discovering your own way of looking at the world, not something slavishly to be followed. Anyone who tells you to walk in lock step or that you must attain righteous purity is probably a spiritual fascist.)

(Psst. There are many valid spiritual paths. What matters is finding the one that gets you closest to the mountaintop.)

I even went so far, in my flush days, of purchasing the complete facsimile edition of The Red Book when it was issued in the earlier years of this century. (It’s almost doubled in price since.) It was so visually amazing that I had this idea to display it open on a library pedestal so I and my guests could page through it if they had a hankering. I don’t know if that’s pretentious or not. I suspect it is, but at the time, it just seemed neato kobeato. And now I’m past giving a damn what people think, anyway.

That idea never came to fruition, however. First, because we had a bird at the time who flew freely through the house. Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of birds knows they can’t be potty trained. Need I spell out the possibilities of open display of an expensive book in a house of fluttering birds? The bird, certainly, could not be contained in a cage, at least not during daylight hours. That would have been a violation of her spirit. And a metaphor, of course.

The second and more practical reason why I never got around to displaying it was because I never got the library pedestal and because I fell headlong into the emotional and physical pit of caregiving for many years. The bird, bless her, went to the sky gods a few years back and is no longer a risk to my book. But. It took me a long time to crawl out of the hole I existed in. In some ways, I am still crawling, though I think I may finally be sitting on the lip catching my breath before getting up and moving on. My energy, both psychic and physical, are still not at full strength. I will get there (or some form of there anyway) unless I croak first, but my feet are not quite resting on the earth yet.

Meanwhile, The Red Book gathers dust in a safe location. I have cleared a space in the living room for it, but must wait for an appropriate book stand, mostly for financial reasons. There’s another metaphor lying underneath that dust and waiting, but I’m not going to pursue it here.

Meanwhile meanwhile, my dreams are fertile again, full of archetypes and sendings from the Universe and conversations with muses and the dead. Dr. Jung, with one foot planted on mucky earth and the other in the Other, helps me interpret them in a way that Freud never could. In his stumblings down the crooked path of his life, he made ancient wisdom acceptable to (if not accepted by) academia. He prowled the borders of liminality, pulling hidden lore into the light. This made many academics (who are a conservative lot) deeply uncomfortable, but he did more to make the study of folklore and alchemy and such things valid to them as subjects of learning than anyone else in the early 20th century.

So, I cast a skeptical eye on the trickster nature of the man, but am deeply appreciative of the magus.

Random quote of the day:

“It is the masculine values that prevail. Speaking crudely, football and sport are ‘important;’ the worship of fashion, the buying of clothes ‘trivial.’ And these values are inevitably transferred from life to fiction. This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room.”

—Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Laurel and Hardy, Ariana Grande, or the Salvation Army Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Okay, this book. Every negative thing you’ve heard about it is true. Larsson is a bad fiction writer, fond of long infodumps and a lot of telling-not-showing, head hopping, and muddy character motivations. Especially for women, who are always falling in-love with Blomquist and jumping into bed with him for no apparent reason. Also, Larsson, a crusading journalist who bucked the system, has created a male fantasy role for himself—Michael Blomquist, the crusading journalist who’s always bucking the system and, additionally, beds a lot of women.

And there are a number of rapey salacious bits thrown in for no good reason. Oh yeah, some of them are supposed to be character motivation, but I thought they were lingered on a bit too lovingly sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I like noir fiction but this was just, as I said, lovingly salacious. Which is curious for a book which claims to be a feminist triumph. The original Swedish title of the book translates as “Men Who Hate Women.” I don’t believe Mr. Larsson hated women, and Michael Blomquist doesn’t hate women, but I don’t think Larsson’s feminist cred extends quite as far as he would have us believe.

And Lizbeth Salander. Yes, she is a unique female character, a powerhouse. However, much of her role in this book is revenge fantasy. This is very much Michael Blomquist’s book.

BUT, I wound up finishing the book instead of throwing it across the room because…the central mystery of Harriet Vanger at the heart of the book is very good. Very well constructed and laid out well. I believed in the carefully-crafted investigation as it unfolded and it kept me turning the pages. But it took a bit for me to get to that point. I bounced hard off this book twice before because I couldn’t get past the opening infodumps. But a person whose taste I trusted told me to keep going so I did.

However, I don’t think I’ll go on to the other books in the series. The blurbs I’ve read, the sample chapter, show me that it will be more of the same and I really don’t want to deal with anymore Larssonland.

It’s taken me a long time to realize there are people who love to read but who don’t give a damn about how a thing is written. Yeah, I know, should have been obvious with one browse of bestseller books—but, somehow, the concrete realization of this fact  managed to elude me. Of course, not all bestsellers are badly written. Many are quite well written, in fact. But now and then someone comes along like Stieg Larsson or Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer or E. L. James who are really atrocious at narrative but still manage to concoct a compelling story and capture that certain something in the zeitgeist that has people flocking to them.

Full disclosure: I am again attempting to read Stieg Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and this time it seems to be sticking, but I have bounced off Larsson and these other writers. I probably won’t try the others again as there seem to be diminishing returns and too many other things I’d rather read. The thing is, as I have been struggling with my own writing, I have also been struggling with my ability to read fiction. I keep bouncing off of books, even well-written ones, even those by old favorites, and I’ve been longing to become immersed in something. I’m far enough past Larsson’s tell-not-show and long infodump opening that the mystery of Tattoo has had a chance to hook me, so I may actually finish this book. No guarantees, though. It’s been the first part of December since I finished anything, even rereads of old favorites. (The last was Deborah Harkness’s Times Convert, the follow-on book to her All Souls Trilogy. It was meh, but I’d loved the other books and wanted to catch up on the characters.)

My writing and my fiction reading have always been connected. One feeds the other, even if what I’m reading has nothing to do with what I’m writing. Being immersed in someone else’s world for a time helps stimulate the mystic place in my brain where my own singing starts. I can’t help thinking that if I cure one symptom it might help cure the other.

I’m still writing almost every day, and it’s still mostly like pulling teeth, but I do plant butt in chair. Most days it isn’t much more than 500 or so words. Some days I’m blessed by 1000 or so. Today, all I managed was 250. But the important part is sitting my butt in the chair, opening the file, and doing something.

So, readers who don’t care how a thing is written. It’s all good. People should like what they like regardless of nerds like me who care about those things. I once had a friend who absolutely refused to read when he was younger, even though it caused him problems in school. He was a bright, imaginative, funny fellow but he just hated reading. Then one day when he was in high school a perceptive teacher shoved a science fiction book into his hands. He was intrigued by the premise and started to read. From that moment on, he became a voracious reader of science fiction and fantasy. He always had a book in his hands. He did confess to me, though, that he often skipped the descriptive parts and dialogue tags and read just the dialogue so he could get through the story faster.

And therein hangs a tale: there are many people like him. Not only do they not care how a thing is written, they want to get through the story as fast as possible to find out what happens. No savoring. They don’t really care about “the art of story,” that immersive feel of a book. It’s a mystery to me why they read at all—but again, that’s not for me to decide. People should be allowed to like what they like and how they like it, and no one—well-meaning nerd, politicizing authors, crusading literati, anyone—has the right to tell them otherwise.

There are no shoulds in reading. Only what gets you through the night. And the book.

 

 

Random quote of the day:

“You cannot write for children. They’re much too complicated. You can only write books that are of interest to them.”

—Maurice Sendak, interview, Boston Globe, Jan. 4, 1987

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Laurel and Hardy, Ariana Grande, or the Salvation Army Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

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