First: Happy holidays!
We were walking through the park the other day when Purina producers asked my puppy to model for them. They had rigged this little outdoor studio complete with puppy costumes and lights. They were kind enough to send me the final postcard a few days later. My little Angelina Zolie looks pretty cute, don't you think?
I hope you all enjoy a very happy holidays-- pagan, Christian, Jewish or Kwanzaa-- however you celebrate the darkest days of the year!
Second: As for my blog, apparently everyone and their mother knew if you register your domain the information is made available to the public.
I still say yikes. Ahem.
And I still see this is a good opportunity for a new beginning. I've always been very frustrated with this blog. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it: have a fashion blog to sell all the incredible stuff I was finding at all my secret thrift store locations throughout the Lower East Side, although there's something inherently bothersome about fashion blogs. It's one thing to model and make some dough; it's another thing to use your inner self to hock crap and more crap that no one needs. Some say the world will end with fire or ice. After living in Soho, I say it will end in an avalanche of old shoes and sweaters.
Or was I going to have a writing blog, and if so focus on writing about what?
It didn't feel like a focus as much a self-imposed limitation. I've always been someone in love with STORY. I love to act stories, model stories, write stories. I found having to package and present myself in a coherent, commercial way really limiting. I live in the realm of fiction, even fictions about myself. If I start another blog, I'd like it to reflect my interests in a more substantive by being less substantive way :) I've always despised it when people said things like "they love my look." WHAT LOOK? I brush my hair and wear lipstick on good days. Blogging is so much about packaging "a look" and presenting it. Day after monotonous day. That's not playing to my strengths. To some people this comes naturally and kudos to them! I was always more of a character actor than a leading lady.
Here's to a new year and new beginnings! Follow me on Facebook to stay in touch please and thanks for all the wonderful messages and friendships I've made through this incoherent but fun experiment !
I'm not going to renew this blog's site when it expires, and I might possibly remove it before then. I just discovered my host site, Weebly, releases your number and home address to the worldwide web! Luckily I registered all my sites to my Manhattan address before I moved to Brooklyn, and I was getting a new phone anyway tomorrow so I will request a new phone number.
Perhaps I'm being a little paranoid, but I value my privacy and my family's privacy. If I decide to continue blogging, I'll provide a link through my Facebook page. Please like/ follow me there until then: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Isabella-David/113768065380209
Thank you for your support and comments! This blog was never quite what I wanted it to be, so I'm looking at this as an opportunity to make a new start in the new year. Happy holidays!
When I was younger I had a bad tendency never to finish what I'd started. So much so that my mother began mentioning this salient fact about me almost in the same breath as she would introduce me to people, and the end result is I have become incredibly stubborn about sticking to whatever course I'm on.
Maybe it's in order to prove her wrong. Maybe it's because that was always my true nature and the other Izzy, the one who would stop trying or caring, was the fake me. Or maybe when you have a perverse child that might be the only way to motivate them: tell me to do something, and I'll do the opposite.
It's not my greatest quality, but I find denying essential facts about yourself results in your neuroses controlling you instead of the other way around. It's better I own up to it and make it work for me instead of against me.
So, that said, even though the last thing I feel like doing is finishing this personal project, i.e. my two and a half month personal book challenge more inspired by/ in the spirit of the Off-the-Shelf Book Challenge than strictly following the rules of it to the T, I'm forcing myself to write this blog post.
I can't describe my level of grief and disgust as I grapple with and try to come to terms with the tragedy at Sandy Hook. My fingers feel heavy moving across the keys. I continually look off in the distance and want to start crying. There's a slight but searing pain in my chest, a pain I'm familiar with from the few times in my life someone close to me has died, and it's a pain whose moniker is heartbreak. In the past I've had a bad tendency to dwell on pain like this or, inadvertently, to feed it until it began to consume me.
When September 11 occurred, I sat and read the New York Times obits EVERY DAY until they stopped publishing them. It was a terrible thing to do. Positive action is better and healthier, and in that spirit, I'm both trying to keep up my daily routine and exploring ways to make a real difference this time-- this tragedy feels as painful to me as 9/11 did. I'm not sure why. Maybe there's something about the spirit of it that's horrifying me in a similar way. Not to mention September 11 happened on a beautiful day, too. I've never been involved with a letter-writing campaign, but I'd like to start one or join one to help bolster support for Sen. Dianne Feinstein's soon-to-be proposed bill to ban assault weapons. Currently, it sounds as if even the pro-gun senators have reversed their earlier positions and are backing a renewal of 1994's expired ban, but the legislation won't be proposed until the senate convenes in the new year, so who knows what money/ influence the NRA might throw at them between then and now. I'd like to be involved in making sure the ban actually happens.
But that's a NEW project. Here's to finishing up the old!
26. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
This book was a pure (and a very quick at a 131 p.) pleasure to read from start to finish. Chabon excels at describing grandfatherly love, or at any rate that sort of loving and mentor-like relationship between old and young men. It was the best part of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and here he sticks to that theme with the end result that, short as it is, it doesn't suffer from an unevenness of pace and subject matter the way his Pulitzer-prize winning tome did. Not to mention it was pretty nifty that the story was about a retired Sherlock Holmes, and I didn't cotton on to it until I read the author's interview at the end of the book. That's not a spoiler! I didn't read the jacket of the book. I just opened it, liked the first image the author paints of a boy and a parrot walking along a set of railroad tracks, and I kept reading. I would describe it as a meta-fiction... It was and wasn't a detective story. I mean it was just that, but in some mysterious way it was so much more. It was wonderful.
27. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
I want to write so much about this book that (in the spirit of at least SOME of my youthful perversity) I will defy my own wishes and instead keep this really uncharacteristically short. Lydia Davis' translation is breathtakingly good. It's the real reason I needed a couple extra days to finish the challenge, not just my cold or being pregnant or the holidays coming up. I savored each word as I read, not wanting it to end. However, again perverse as I am, I didn't WANT to like it as much as I did: when I bought it, the Brooklyn hipster clerks "approved" my choice. Ugh. They actually SAID THAT: "We approve." Every neighborhood has its annoying conformists. In Soho it was the soulless materialist shoppers, and here, I'm realizing, it's these INCREDIBLY snobby pseudo-intellectuals. It made me realize I don't want to be anything like them, and although the translation really is "by far head and shoulders above the others," I realized I don't want to be a pretend intellectual. I'd like to be a real one and I ought to have read it in French which is probably head and shoulders again above Davis', and so in that spirit I picked my next book. (Quick side note: as I was halfway through MB, I happened to watch the excellent documentary The Queen of Versailles. The character of Monsieur Lheurheux, who throughout the book urges Emma to leverage her small income into a ruinously fancy lifestyle, was made all the more vivid after watching this doc about a time-share billionaire who was nearly ruined by his own Lheureuxness when the sub-prime mortgage bubble popped.) Read and watch both!
(See?? See how obnoxious that is??) Ahem. On to the next one!
28. O vous, frères humains by Albert Cohen
Yes, I read a novel in French and one for grown-ups to boot, but don't be too impressed. I still possess the French vocab of an adolescent. You'll know what I mean if you've read my earlier reviews (i.e. ones in which I shamelessly review books like Harry Potter et L'ecole des sorciers.) Most of all don't be impressed, because this novel is INCREDIBLY, STUPENDOUSLY repetitive in its use of language. I didn't know the word "camelot" for instance, but since in its scant 208 pages (with big, block letters to boot) Cohen must have employed the word 416 times, or twice a page, I could easily look up the few words I didn't know. (By the by "camelot" means a vendor or a hawker not a beautiful mythic city with a noble king ruling over it. Funny thing about words.) I didn't like it, but that's not to say you, mysterious reader, might not. It's a very French book and as such I kind of appreciated it. It's experimental and very lyrical and not much happens and it's unashamedly sentimental and no American or Anglo publishing house would have liked it or printed it, so I'm glad I read it...Kind of makes you see why, or maybe were, Hemingway got his style ideas when he ex-patted himself to France. I wonder if he read French... This sort of repetitive, poetic style married to plot....well in Hemingway it's genius. Minus the plot in Cohen it= pain. But maybe I'm too American to appreciate this kind of lyricism-- you know the purely plotless, horrifyingly repetitive, REALLY self-conscious French kind with lots of long, lingering passages about dying and being extinguished into nothingness? (Damn you, Pascal! Meeting an educated French person who doesn't pretentiously mention "fearing the void" would be like meeting a Harvard grad who doesn't mention their alma mater casually in non-related conversations-- i.e. never going to happen.)
29. The Book of Answers published by the New York Public Library
This book counts! It was a fun and restful read, and I learned a lot of neat trivia like where bananas originated (Southeast Asia) and why we keep our elbows off tables or wear black to funerals. I also refreshed myself on the capitols of the 50 states. Go ahead and test me! No, don't. It's really embarrassing how few of them I got. Strangely enough my husband knew nearly all of them, and then shamed me mercilessly because I'm an insufferable know-it-all, always beat him at Trivial Pursuit, gloat and therefore deserved it. Oh boy...I really hope the baby gets the best of both of us instead of the worst! My physical genes (because I have bones like cement while he has bones like glass-- 0 breaks vs. 100 breaks) and his down-to-earth nature and practical mind.
30. The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers
This was another re-read, breaking the actual rules of the Off-the-Shelf Challenge. I had a lot of fun doing the challenge and getting myself back in good reading shape after a few years nursing a bad internet addiction and a growing tendency to watch too much TV, BUT that said, I think it's more important to read deeply about one subject than read a lot about any old thing. (Although reading anything trumps boob-tubing via television or internet.) What I really mean by that, is the times in my life I've profited the most from reading have been times I've discovered a new author and then devoured everything by and about them before moving on to the next. It was what I wanted to do with Flaubert, but I was determined to at least somewhat follow the rules of the challenge and finish it up in a timely manner. If I'd gone on to reread A Sentimental Education for the second out of three times (Ford Maddox Ford said to be truly educated you need to read A Sentimental Education three times!) then I never would have been able to finish the challenge (nearly) on time. Maybe I learned about this version of autodidactism from Campbell himself, whose dialogue with Moyers I watched and read years ago in high school, and who mentions the practice in this book/ dialogue transcript. Or maybe I came up with it myself. At any rate I'm very, very glad I reread this book. He's a wonderful, wise man who inspired George Lucas to write the Star Wars movies (the good ones, I won't blame the later bad ones on him since Campbell was already dead by then and couldn't have stopped them or tried to talk some myth-making sense into Lucas as I'm sure he would have tried!) If you want to lead the world's most fulfilled, connected, meaningful life ever, then watch the dialogues and read these books. They're just that utterly wonderful.
In that spirit I think it's about time to rewatch all of Star Wars (the ones that count anyway). If there's ever been a time I need to remind myself good can overcome evil, it's now!
Thank you all for those of you who've read some of these long, winding, wordy, self-indulgent reviews. I don't know if it inspired anyone else, but it's made me really happy, and as Joseph Campbell said it best: If you want to make yourself happy and the world a better place, follow your bliss!
I'm heartbroken over the tragic news story that slowly unfolded this past Friday and still glued to the internet for updates. I'm not ready to broach the topic of gun regulation yet, but... Wait! I said REGULATION,okay? Not that trigger phrase "gun control." Fine. KEEP YOUR BLOODY GUNS, but WHY do you object to ANY regulation whatsoever of these mass, precision killing machines?
No, I'm not ready to discuss this topic. I'm so angry and upset and heartbroken that I can't sleep. Not only does this incident hit close to home both literally because of the geographical proximity of Sandy Hook to Brooklyn, but I also feel affected because my husband hails from a Connecticut town near the tragedy. I've spent a lot of time in that exact area. In fact I've even passed the affected school once or twice. My overall impression of those small, quiet overlapping Connecticut towns each one so similar to the other has been this: I've never in my life met such kind and considerate people. I remember attending a chamber of commerce dance in a nearby town, meeting many, many diverse and friendly folks from the area and thinking, "Wow, what nice, regular, innocent, gentle folks. What a relief to be around them!" This in comparison to the chillingly sophisticated and cold folks I usually interacted with back when I was living in Soho. I know it shouldn't matter where or to whom this horror happened, but it somehow makes it worse that it happened there. The community seemed so innocent and sheltered, but that was an illusion obviously.
If you're as saddened as I am and feel as helpless as I do, there are two positive, actionable things I found in my obsessive internet search (otherwise known as my need to understand this tragedy) that you can do right now. You can donate money to help Victoria Soto's family pay for her funeral expenses. For those of you less aware of the details or with less of a stomach for the horrifying scope of this tragedy, Victoria Soto is the young, first-year, first-grade teacher who heroically ushered her students into a closet when she heard gunshots from an adjacent classroom, calmly informing the crazed gunman who burst into her classroom moments later that her students were in gym class thereby saving their lives and losing her own. A Stratford, CT local paper reports: Gardner, as treasurer of the Lordship Community Church, has established a fund to assist the Soto family with funeral expenses. Donations can be made to Lordship Community Church, Soto Fund, 179 Prospect Drive, Stratford, CT 06615. The church can be reached at 203.377.6568.
Here's the original link to the article: http://stratford.patch.com/articles/family-of-vicki-soto-teacher-who-died-for-students-numb-but-copingYou can also take two seconds to sign a petition supporting (dare I say it?) gun control. http://signon.org/sign/gun-control-now-1.fb23?source=s.fb&r_by=562512
Neither action is much, but it's something. It's a start.
The First Line has published my short story "The Great White Way Is Where The Heart Is" in their winter volume. It's part two or chapter four of the story of the twins, Rachel and Tom, and their adoptive grandparents. The magazine is available for download on their site: http://thefirstline.com/index.htm or via the Kindle Store on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B006XGLLSU or at bookstores around the US: http://thefirstline.com/bookstores.htm Downloading a copy will cost you anywhere from .99 to $2, so please find it in your hearts to support the arts!
P.S. As for my 30 books in two months challenge, which I meant to wrap up (as per the rules) this December 12: I made it to book 28, hurray! However, I'm a little sick this week (just a cold) and VERY pregnant, so I'm cutting myself some slack and taking the rest of the week to finish up the last two books. I'll have one last set of reviews up this coming Monday. Please check back. Thanks again!
No, I have not swallowed a beach ball, any pictorial evidence to the contrary. I'm eight months pregnant today, woo hoo! Nearly there...
In the meantime here are some quick Monday book reviews. I'm also nearing the finish line of my self-inflicted "Off the Shelf" book challenge, which I began about three months ago. I chose one of the lowest levels-- 30 books-- because I started so late in the year. Today I'm on book 26 with nine days to go! Incredibly, given all the other matters on my mind, I think I'll make it.
Here's #s 23, 24 and 25. (You can check past Mondays for past reviews.)
23. Platonov by Anton Chekhov
Platonov was Chekhov's first play, and oh boy, does it show. He was very young when he wrote it, and in many ways it's a young man's play-- intrigues and melodrama abound. The first act is so confused it's downright painful. There are about 25 different Russian characters with names two feet long, and few of them are developed enough to help you keep track of which Ilyich is which. But after the first act the play really picks up...for a Chekhov play anyway. I'm glad I read it for the challenge, or I might not have stuck with it past that first, painful act, and it was really worth it.
If you're a big fan of his, you'll want to read this seminal work for that reason alone, just to see his development and the seeds of so many ideas which came to obsess him. There are many throwaway beautiful lines, a lot of his signature (hilarious I think) irony, the pathos of life in the provinces (of course), a true Don Juan and a deep understanding of human nature, so much so the melodrama (almost) works whether as comedy or tragedy-- there are arguments as to Chekhov's intentions with this play. It was never staged in his lifetime, so no one really knows. My copy was a library book, which I had to return already, or I'd copy out some of the most beautiful lines here as I have in past reviews. I normally would have copied them into my journal, but between recording podcasts, attending birthing classes, finishing my first YA novel (please God, before the baby comes) and trying to blog once a week, I haven't been journaling as much.
My husband, like many people, HATES Chekhov with a passion because of one bad production of "The Three Sisters." I have to admit it was REALLY bad, execrable, putrid. At one point a (19th century, mind you) character whips out an iPad-- just before the duel takes place. Can you say "stupid, pointless anachronism"? Even without that sort of pretentious meddling with the plot, Chekhov can be really hard to put on just right. Because of the reverential way people feel about his work, they approach producing and directing his plays from such a high, lofty place Chekhov himself probably would have despised watching what their final, flat product. Do yourself a favor and just read his collected plays. That's how I fell in love with him. From there I discovered his short stories, which are magnificent... But I digress. On to 24.
24. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Speaking of firsts, TMAAS was Christie's first detective novel, and again as such offers a fascinating glimpse into the origins not only of the modern detective novel but of Christie's popular hero the fastidious Belgian detective M. Hercule Poirot, who in the book was one of the only fully-formed characters. Like Harry Potter, I suppose he must have just walked into her head one day. Unfortunately, the other characters were less... unique. Unlike in Christie's later murder mysteries, cheesy as some of them are, the other characters don't come across anywhere near as fully realized. Again, just as I had experienced with Platonov, I started off the story with a bit of trouble keeping the characters (this time uniformly bland and British) straight, because they were all, male and female alike, unutterably indistinguishable. It's said a friend challenged Christie to write a murder mystery whose outcome the reader couldn't guess. I didn't. As such it was a satisfying enough read, although I like her later stuff a lot better. I was mostly inspired to pick up the book after characters in the novel The Map and The Territory (last week's challenge read) kept swearing the only books they read were Agatha Christie's. I'm also gearing up for Downton Abbey's third season, soon to air in the states, and this book was almost like reading a screenplay from the show. It was written in 1916 and just as in Downton Abbey, there's a similar sense of the long Edwardian summer drawing to a close. But what's really fascinating in the former's case is finding out the Edwardians were self-aware enough to sense as much even before the times had really changed.
25. The New York Stories by Elizabeth Hardwick
This book collects in one volume stories Hardwick published from the 1940s all the way into the '90s-- not a bad career for a writer seeing as how most writers seem to produce stories and novels over much shorter spans of time. The stories are not thematically linked either. They aren't even all set in New York. What unites them, in my opinion, is their dry, intellectual tone, undercut now and then by one or two exquisitely wise and beautiful sentences. But one (or two) beautiful sentences per story does not a fun reading experience make. The stories felt cold, intellectualized, the characters mostly the kind of boring, brainy and not very kind Newyorkers who probably, one and all, would read and love these kind of stories their characters are more contained by than created in. Some of the stories were horrors. Just lists of an intelligent, cultured mind showing off its intelligence and culture. Anyway who's actually lived in New York will attest to the veracity of such a character's reproduction on the page and the authenticity of its representation of a certain kind of Newyorker, but for the reader this kind of plotless, pointless, posturing meant I had to check off the stories in the table of contents as I went along. But it really was (almost) worth the read for those throwaway lines of poetry and wit like these examples:
Extremes of any sort embarrass small-town people. They are deadset against overexertion and for that reason even opera singers and violinists make them uncomfortable because it seems a pity the notes won't come forth without all that fuss and foolishness.
And now a phonograph was playing overhead and the bass rhythm was like the light hammering of many nails in sequence, as if putting down a carpet.
Madison Avenue-- a feline thoroughfare with goods and mirrors meant to intimidate bone and flesh. A scourging idealism, a snarling transcendence watched over by clerks as insolent as the pet eunuchs of a sultan.
And so forth :). Back to book 26! Have a great week!
I've been offline busy with family, and another Monday has crept up on me quicker than I could blink. You can read the last post for the details of my Book Challenge, reviews of which I'm posting every Monday through December 12.
Last week was Thanksgiving, or America's National Gluttony Day as I overheard one Brooklynite cynically put it when I went out to buy flowers with my mother. Speaking of cynics, did you know the origin of the word is from the Greek kynikos and as one of my books from this week claims "the Cynics considered themselves the Great Mother's 'watchdogs'... They carefully watched the north star, Polaris, which they called kynos oura, 'the Dog's Tail'; they saw the constellation Ursa Minor as a dog or wolf. Since it was (and is) the still point of the turning heavens, the Dog's Tail became the 'cynosure' or focus of attention. The Cynics said the end of the world would be at hand when they saw this star begin to move from its fixed place in the middle of the heavens."
So I guess we'll all be okay through this December after all! Unless the North Star changes position. Or, perhaps as it states elsewhere on the internet, the cynics were simply named after a dog because they met up near a gymnasium called the Gray Dog in Athens, and so none of us should take any comfort... Off-topic I wonder if that's where the coffeeshop on Prince and Mulberry in Soho derives its name from? The school set up by Socrates pupil Antisthenes? It would be appropriate. I used to spend a lot of time sitting outside there with my own dog, talking philosophy with my best friend, the painter Glen Farley and downing their spiced hot wine to keep warm, which is maybe one of two things I miss about living in that hectic hood, but which, even if I was still living there, I couldn't drink anyway for another eight weeks at least. (For those of you stumbling on my blog, I'll add here: I'm preggers. Very preggers.)
Anyway it makes you wonder whom to believe? Books or the internet? I guess multiple sources are always desirable for research, and everything you read should be fact-checked. My sister is finishing up her third semester as a professor and over our four-course Thanksgiving day meal, which she and my husband concocted together (yay for being pregnant and waited on hand and food, (ha, sorry)!), bemoaned to me the difficulty she's experiencing getting her students to use actual real live books to do their research.
So far I'm pretty sure all my books for this challenge have been physical books "off my shelf" even if more recently acquired than the rules allow for: you're supposed to only read books you already owned, but that was too painful a requirement. Sometimes I'd pick up books off neighbor's stoops, occasionally have to stop in the local bookstore and now and then take home a book from the library. After the initial excitement of being able to instantaneously order any book I wanted to read wore off, I found I really don't like reading e-books. I like underlining passages, I like the smell of books, I like to rifle through pages and see how much more of a chapter I have left before I can go make myself hot cocoa. I like the physical experience of holding a book as much as reading the words themselves.
So this week I read...
22. The Crone: Woman of Age, Wisdom and Power by Barbara G. Walker
I picked this book up, because I attended a talk at a nearby church entitled "Male-Female Polarization in Paganism" (of all things) and left feeling as if there was a lot more I'd like to know on the topic. It's only 175 pages, and it is chock full of facts and wisdom, written not dissimilarly from the author's more famous work "The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets". It's a little overwhelming in fact how much she stuffs into such a tight space, and at first you do have the sensation that here is a feminist who hates men, but then as the facts add up regarding the persecution of women, especially elderly "witchy" ones, and the genocide that took place over several centuries begins to take its horrible shape in your brain, you understand that Walker is attacking patriarchal norms that deny women personhood and not men themselves. Once your brain becomes attuned to the pace of her brilliance, it ends up being a fascinating and detailed look at the religions of the world before a very few, very proscripted religions dominated the landscape.
23. The Map and The Territory by Michel Houellebecq
This novel is a cheat: one of the ones I randomly picked up at a local bookstore after promising myself I was only going in there to find a book for my husband. The front cover in the display of "recommended reads" caught my eye-- it depicts a man's intense face being enfolded by a hand holding a scrap of a photograph or perhaps a map. It was the winner of the Prix Goncourt, and I opened it expecting it to be cold, cynical (there's that word again!), and off-putting, but it was only two of the three, and I had to read it, the whole thing, after only reading a few paragraphs and the odd melange of a plot that the book jacket described-- part murder mystery, part meditation on aging, part dialectic on art and commerce.
Plus, for some reason, I've been very drawn recently to books set in Paris. Almost half my challenge books have been at least partially set there, and it's been fascinating comparing different writers impressions of the city of lights, which must lend itself more than most to this sort of palimpsest of interpretations. So far no two Parises have been anything alike-- a phenomenon I don't feel New York City is quite as susceptible to.
If Eloise James' Paris was the most romanticized, the most fetishized in that way Americans fetishize the French, then Houellebecq's is by far the most "French". It's guilty of every French cliche in a similar way that James is guilty of every American one-- James doesn't speak the local lingo and attributes a lot more joie de vivre to the French based on their incredible food and panties (yes, seriously) than any you would get if you actually spoke to one, and it amused me as I read imagining her and the incredibly intellectual and cold Houellebecq-- who at one point describes the American smile as "cretinous in the extreme"-- sitting down to tea. What different accounts they would both make of each other. I can clearly imagine James' fangirl gushing at meeting "the most celebrated and controversial French novelist of our time" and Houellebecq's utter disdain for what he would probably dub one of those "female novelists."
I didn't get the impression Houellebecq liked women very much, so it was hard for me to like him. Most of his women were prostitutes or male fantasies. And when I say most of his women, I mean if you were an alien you would gather that most women were prostitutes after reading this book. He has one professional woman constantly running around in different ivory-colored bandeau...um, no. That was silly. She wasn't that kind of "professional". And sometimes he'd write sentences like: "Sexuality is a fragile thing: it is difficult to enter and easy to leave." Sentences that made me giggle as much as the flat as toothpaste dialogue in the latest Twilight film caused my husband and I to giggle while the teeny boppers around us swooned.
But sometimes Houellebecq was truly brilliant and optimistic and funny. At any rate he was not the least bit flat. My favorite writer is E.M. Forster whose credo, if he had one, was "only connect!" Houellebecq, modern, cool guy writer that he is, doesn't spell out anything so insipid as a motto, but if he had it would be the unfortunate one that has ruined many an otherwise promising French flick: "There is no connection. You are alone. There is no God. The trees are mocking you." It's a cop out at this point as much as Eloisa James' "Paris is so pretty!" is a cop-out of a different kind. In one of his greatest passages, Houellebecq writes, "Obstinacy is perhaps the only human quality that matters at the end of the day, not only in the profession of the policeman but in many professions. At least in any that have something to do with the notion of truth."
He does believe in something at the end of the day... I'm not quite sure what, but the book delves into the possibilities of art as redemption and the possibility that friendship could exist were the world not quite so cruel and mediocre. (Sorry, that sounds soooo pretentious, but it's his word, not mine. Like I said: VERY French.) Myself, being half French and half American and uniquely configured to understand, judge and love both cultures, my own verdict is the truth lies somewhere between James' Paris and Houellebecq's. Life is neither so cozy nor so cold, and friendship, not pastries, panties or art, is to man (and woman) as the web is to the spider.
And yes, I just quoted two British writers in the space of two seconds, so I suppose somehow if you take one American and one Frenchman, what you get is perhaps one British girl? Or at least one lover of British culture I guess... And on that note, can we all say a hooray for Downton Abbey which returns stateside January 6!
So folks! It's the last days of my book challenge-- a challenge I took up a little over a month ago, trying to review the books I read the past week on here each Monday. I'm a few days behind, already on book 22 out of 30, but here are last week's offerings.
19. A Dove in Santiago: A Novella in Verse by Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Once you read and experienced Yevtushenko, it's not as surprising to hear he filled stadiums with poetry devotees the way the Beatles filled stadiums with groupies and fans. He's one of the most immensely likable poets you'll ever read. Nabokov is not. He's difficult and abstruse and this novella in verse is nothing like that more famous one one-- Pale Fire. It's set in Santiago and explores the life of a young man torn apart by the extremism of the modern age. It's beautiful and simple, yet somehow deep and great. And a very quick read, which I needed if I'm going to finish my challenge in time.
20. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy
This past week seems to have been my week for depression-era fare with the choice of this book and the next title. I started this book having no idea what it was about. I liked the title and the opening pages, which, and this is giving nothing away since it's on page one, starts with the narrator unsentimentally discussing having shot his friend Gloria in the head and then winds back, leading up to what prompted the shooting. I've stopped reading jacket covers, so I had no idea where this book was going to take me-- the crazy, wild backdrop of the particular sub-culture the book quickly leads the reader into...I hesitate to share it here. I recommend reading the book that way, blindly. It was a dee-lightful surprise! And a heartbreaking book that in simple prose and strongly imagistic language somehow captured the hopelessness and abysmal desperation of the Depression. Thank God for the social safety net, you'll think, after reading this title.
21. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.
Carson McCullers wrote this book, her first novel set in the South just before the Second World War, when she was only 23. It reads like the first book of a young writer in some ways. I agreed with the blurb on the back, calling it "completely unsentimental in its treatment of the human soul", but it was still the naive and imperfect and completely, utterly lovely novel of a woman who was still a girl. For example you could tell when she wrote about the main character, a young girl named Mick, that she was writing about herself. McCullers, like her character Mick, was drawn to freaks and outcasts in real life and reproduces tender and heart-breaking portraits of them in the book as well, so it's not just another thinly-veiled autobiographical exposition of personal existentialist and nihilistic despair. Not at all.
Anyway there's the world of difference between those imperfections in old, lyrical books through whose cracks can be glimpsed the shining rays of a beautiful soul than the glaring imperfections in books like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay through whose cracks in plot and character all you glimpse is the gray matter of a scholarly brain.
Old, old poetry was written to be loved by people, and it was written with the guts and the heart as much as with the brain. Now it's all pedantic and dry and cold like Tomas Transtromer's verse, winner of last year's Nobel Poetry Prize, who wrote a poem about a headache, which gave me one upon reading it. The same thing is true for novels now, too, I'm afraid.
Can you name a single novel written in recent years that's beautiful and human and tough and almost more perfect because of its imperfections? I can't. I can name some short stories and even some movies but no novels. It makes me sad... What's happened to books?
Okay, I admit at eight months pregnant it's a little early to be planning Baby Bella's first Christmas, but this toy is just so utterly brilliant that I can't help myself. I wish I'd had a toy like Goldieblox when I was a little girl. I think we're living in very exciting times to be a woman! What do you think? Check it out!