Friday, May 19, 2017

Read Harder Challenge #23

I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder 2017 Challenge. This challenge was to read a book of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. Super specific.

Pearl is a translation of a medieval work written ca 1390s and tells the story of a grieving man who has lost his "Perle." We come to understand that Perle is his deceased daughter. As the grieving father goes to visit the place where she died, he falls into a trance and envisions her in an ethereally beautiful dress, and speaking to him from the other side of a river he cannot cross. She tells him that she has risen to an important place by God's side and, after questioning and arguing with her, he comes to accept that she is gone and goes to follow her to the next life but is jolted awake just before he can make it there. 

Written in old English, this translation comes from Armitage, a translator who specializes in medieval writings and it reads like a modern text in his hands. This version has the original text on the pages that face the translation and, as unintelligible as old English is to me, I enjoyed comparing the two, marveling each time how Artmitage has preserved the rhythm and alliteration of the original and made it palatable to modern readers. 


For those curious, the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge is as follows:

Read a book about sports.
Read a debut novel.
Read a book about books.
Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.

Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.
Read an all-ages comic.
Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
Read a travel memoir.
Read a book you’ve read before.
Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.
Read a fantasy novel.
Read a nonfiction book about technology.
Read a book about war.
Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
Read a classic by an author of color.
Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey (From Daniel José Older, author of Salsa Nocturna, the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, and YA novel Shadowshaper)
Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel (From Sarah MacLean, author of ten bestselling historical romance novels)
Read a book published by a micropress. (From Roxane Gay, bestselling author of Ayiti, An Untamed State, Bad Feminist, Marvel’s World of Wakanda, and the forthcoming Hunger and Difficult Women)
Read a collection of stories by a woman. (From Celeste Ng, author Everything I Never Told You and the forthcoming Little Fires Everywhere)
Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. (From Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of the Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty mystery series, including The Unquiet Dead, The Language of Secrets, and the forthcoming Among the Ruins)

Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color. (From Jacqueline Koyanagi, author of sci-fi novel Ascension)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Way Home

I've been off caffeine for nigh on six weeks. As many of you may or may not have experienced firsthand, the withdrawal and subsequent life without caffeine can attest, the world is weird without caffeine. At first the world is unbearable without it, then comes the bizarre. In fact, I imagine that I have approached the last few weeks, with all its absurdity, sorrow, and seasonal changeover with a look and attitude of moderate nonplus. And more than dozens of times I've thought, "This would be a good time for coffee." I had a dream about coffee the other night. It was served to me with lots of cream and sugar, a way I would never drink it in waking life (black and strong for me, please.) In the dream I drank and drank from a seemingly bottomless cup while the person who sat across from me laughed like a loon. I think it might be the opening scene of my afterlife, whenever that movie begins production. But I learn to cope every day. I have also not had an alcoholic drink in about six weeks, not counting a few sips here and there to try a few gorgeous cocktails in New Orleans or at Fatty's that friends and family indulge in. Lest you think me on a quest for some kind of small town nobility via teetotaler status, let me disavow that with a quickness. I long to drink even one full drink. I'm not noble. I'm just sick and need to figure out what is up before I start putting literal poison into my brain and enjoying life again.

Speaking of enjoying life, I asked myself to be included in my own life this year as a resolution and NYC has so far provided a bounty. I've been scheduling so much to do (maybe a little too much) but I've even rekindled my love for riding the subway to work. I've opened my eyes again and, to quote a favorite band of my youth...the subway, she is a porno.

The other morning on my way to work I had my headphones in and I was observing the scenic view outside the underground R train (have you seen what they are doing with darkness these days??) when a young man saddled up next to me and started talking. I didn't hear him but was feeling a bit listless so I took out my earbuds and what followed was a convoluted conversation involving him asking for directions to Astoria Blvd, a location that lay in the opposite direction. When I explained this to him he said,

"I'm trying not to go backward in my life. I just want to go forward."

Having expressed a similar sentiment myself, I told him that it was admirable, but it just wouldn't help him get to where he needed to at that moment and that sometimes it is good to take a break from hovering over the toilet bowl of anxiety and take care of practical, real life concerns. Like getting off the subway and getting home. To which he countered,

"I'm kinda drunk right now. No, I'm really drunk right now. Have you ever been this drunk? If I stay on this train, will I go to Spain? I've always wanted to go to Spain. What's your name?"

I told him. He was affronted. "Do you want to know my name or no?" Why so so many people in New York ask questions as ultimatums? Do you want this or NO? Would you like to get a coffee with me or NO? Like the alternative to your choices are always given up front. It puts pressure on me to choose the positive, not the "or no." I think that's just me.

"Sure, what's your name?"

"Sundeep." He pointed upwards, "Like, sun." And then he pointed downwards. "Like, deep. Sundeep. You're cute."

"Thanks, Sundeep. You need water. And to get off this train and go in the opposite direction."

"Yeah, ok. But I need to get to Astoria Blvd."

Before it became a scene from Joseph Heller's Catch-22, (Help the drunkard-dear?) it was blessedly time for me to get of the train. I'll never know if Sundeep made his way back to Astoria Blvd, rode that train to JFK and got a plane ride to Spain, or just passed out and traversed Queens that day. But I did get to remind myself the merits of going back in an old direction sometimes. Sometimes, it is the only way home.



Saturday, April 15, 2017

Read Harder Challenge #17

For this part of the challenge, I chose James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room. Having recently seen the remarkable documentary film I Am Not Your Negro, and always meaning to read James Baldwin (unfortunately and sadly unsurprisingly, my literature degree never once required me to read this essential author) and the challenge to "Read a classic by an author of color" was the perfect time to go head first. 

Giovanni's Room, published in 1956, tells the story of  David, a young American man living in Paris, awaiting his girlfriend's return from Spain. While she is away, he meets Giovanni, an Italian expatriate and is undeniably drawn to him. Giovanni is a lost soul, wanted by nearly everyone he encounters and through him, David begins to understand his own sexuality. Their relationship unspools over the course of the novel as the story is told in David's voice as he looks back on meeting, living with and, ultimately, losing Giovanni. David grapples with his own identity, his love for Giovanni as well as his love for his missing girlfriend, Hella and it all takes place against the backdrop of a gorgeously described Paris. 

I loved this book. I knew, from learning about and hearing Baldwin speak over the years that I would love his writing. He is poetic and insightful about human interaction and internal struggle and the complexities of romantic relationships and how it all fits into the struggle of discovering one's identity. To wit, when describing a scene in which David and Giovanni are fighting: 

I was vividly aware that he held a brick in his hand, I held a brick in mine. It really seemed for an instant that if I did not go to him, we would use these bricks to beat each other to death.

Yet, I could not move at once. We stared at each other across a narrow space that was full of danger, that almost seemed to roar like flame. 

"Come," he said.

I dropped my brick and went to him. In a moment I heard his fall. And at moments like this I felt that we were merely enduring and committing the longer and lesser and more perpetual murder. 

"..the longer and lesser and more perpetual murder." It is a quote that runs around in my brain. 
 
And this quote:

Much has been written of love turning to hatred, of the heart growing cold with the death of love. It is a remarkable process. It is far more terrible than anything I have ever read about it, more terrible than anything I will ever be able to say.

Baldwin is able to capture a great deal in a little amount of space and I would recommend this book to everyone. I imagine that they don't assign it in high school due to the ass backward viewpoint that sexual identity is a taboo subject but that remains a shame, since I think it is not only a beautiful example of the character study novel but it also touches on themes that are complicated and relevant to any human who has ever struggled in love and with identity. So, that is pretty much everyone. 




Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge 2017
  1. Read a book about sports.
  2. Read a debut novel.
  3. Read a book about books.
  4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.
  5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.
  6. Read an all-ages comic.
  7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
  8. Read a travel memoir.
  9. Read a book you’ve read before.
  10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
  11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.
  12. Read a fantasy novel.
  13. Read a nonfiction book about technology.
  14. Read a book about war.
  15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
  16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
  17. Read a classic by an author of color.
  18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
  19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey (From Daniel José Older, author of Salsa Nocturna, the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, and YA novel Shadowshaper)
  20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel (From Sarah MacLean, author of ten bestselling historical romance novels)
  21. Read a book published by a micropress. (From Roxane Gay, bestselling author of AyitiAn Untamed StateBad Feminist, Marvel’s World of Wakanda, and the forthcoming Hunger and Difficult Women)
  22. Read a collection of stories by a woman. (From Celeste Ng, author Everything I Never Told You and the forthcoming Little Fires Everywhere)
  23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. (From Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of the Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty mystery series, including The Unquiet DeadThe Language of Secrets, and the forthcoming Among the Ruins)
  24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color. (From Jacqueline Koyanagi, author of sci-fi novel Ascension)


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Broken Gyroscope?

Opening the window for a new entry on the cracked earth of this blog puts me on edge. But just now as I was debating which one of my jobs I should be working on, which recent memory I should be specifically avoiding, how best to circle the drain of my writing aspirations...I find myself returning to this space, like a splintered boomerang. No, I mean like a bruised homing pigeon. An off-kilter gyroscope?

Life has been unspooling at regular length and speed, it is only that my perception is hyper focused on the task at hand. And by task at hand, I mean whatever is going on at the very moment directly in front of me. I have terrible eyesight and without glasses or contacts, I am forced to press my face directly in front of whatever I wish to see clearly. That's how I'm approaching everything in life right now: bringing it all close to my face and observing everything I need to before things become illegible, blurred out, or disappear completely.

Because things have been disappearing. My dear friend and cat Greta Girl Marie died on Friday after a long battle with liver lymphoma. Over the last eight months or so, I kept repeating in my head that I was borrowing too much time. That when it came time to give it all back, it was going to slice me clean through. After Thelma died suddenly, and after the sorrow that felt like it would break me completely last fall, I was hanging on to every second with that cat, willing my brain to take over and understand that it could happen any moment. I thought maybe I could feel better equipped to let go. I was wrong. It wasn't any easier.

I've been trying to apply that focus to remembering all the unfettered joy, the unironic purity that can only come from bonding with an animal that was mine for too short awhile. Like when Greta girl found the tiniest corner on top of the fridge in my Patchogue apartment when I first brought her home and sat there silently as I combed everywhere to look for her. Or how it never mattered what the object was, but if it was lying flat on the floor, she'd sit atop it. Purses, half folded boxes, bills, freshly laundered shirts. It was her world; I just lived in it.

There are few places sadder than the emergency room of an animal hospital. I could live the rest of my life happy if I knew I'd never have to sit in one of those windowless rooms, a beloved friend cradled in my arms right before she disappears to the other side of whatever this shitpile of a world is.

It hasn't been a full week yet but I have lived lifetimes every day since. Sometimes, my empty house is an afterthought, sometimes the main event. I had insured them both and I just now got the final emails for claims (euthanasia is covered by insurance...we are much nicer to our pets than we are to ourselves it would seem) and because my heart shakes and pounds and skips and is now literally, physically dysfunctional, it palpated when I read the emails. I actually heard it jolt out of rhythm as though it were afraid I had fallen asleep to missing her and I needed reminding. Well, disembodied heart, I don't need reminding.

Greta Marie 2008- 4/7/2017


In the next life, my friend...

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Art of Hand Hovering

I sometimes wish we still used quills and dippable ink because then at the very least, during long dark weeks of the soul, when I have an army of thoughts performing training maneuvers through the muddy trenches in the folds of my brain, preventing any real work from getting done, I could work out my arm muscles during my fits and starts. Instead I have a blinking cursor and the flashing light to contend with and I've perfected the art of hand hovering over my keyboard. I can hand hover like a mutha.

It's been so easy for me to jump headfirst into the news and, by extension, further away from the light. I do this even though I'm positive what awaits at the start of each foray into the endless amount of information coming out of the government these days is just an empty pool, like in that anti-drug PSA from the 80s.


I'm basically her every morning. All Andie MacDowell-sh and disoriented. Except I'm sober. And I've never looked that good in a swimsuit. Still, I persist in being informed. I do wonder most days, however, where the line between being informed and being obsessive lies. I'll either eventually find it, or I'll dive headfirst into a neck break. Only time will tell. (Btw, I just got distracted by news for about 20 minutes while writing this post....Magic 8-ball says: Outlook not good.)

I'm positive I've been doing other things with my life. I mean none of them are writing. I'm in the middle of reading Catch-22 for the first time and while I was writing my own satire, I inadvertently channeled this book. The sections of this novel that talk about paperwork and the endless, useless absurdity of it all are very there in what I've been working on for a few years now. Considering libraries and armies are both bureaucracies, I'm not surprised by it. I'm actually a little bummed that there is no way I could ever be as funny as Heller about it. But I am heartened by the fact that the absurdity of bureaucracy remains, even after all this time. I'm also reminded that whenever I read about or think about bureaucracy, my mind conjures up the same image: a large, grey, concrete building with tiny windows and no front facing entrance. It's always winter in that image. Is that weird?

Anyway, I've been blessed with a forthcoming three day weekend. I'm trying to plan my time so that not one moment is wasted, not one moment lacks potential for the large boot of inspiration to kick me out of this news/current affair blender cycle. I feel pulpy and raw and I miss poetry and lyrics and music.

Maybe by the end of the weekend I'll have something to blog about. But I just got a notification on my phone from the NYT. So, maybe not.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Read Harder Challenge #6

I've just finished #6 on the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge which was: Read an all-ages comic.

For this one, I chose "Adventure Time: Vol. 2" by Ryan North. I didn't actively choose volume 2 of a series, since I am pretty obsessive about reading things in order. However, it was destiny that I read volume 2 because I requested it twice from my library and twice they sent me volume 2. Why fight it, I thought?

I went into reading this comic cold; I know less than nothing about comic books. Aside from reading one Spiderman comic (and no, I don't know what series or volume or version or publisher) back in the 90s, I have no experience with the comic book universe. It makes me the least qualified to judge the myriad superhero movies that populate the theater every other week and, by extension, allows me to enjoy those movies.

I was intrigued by the "all-ages" aspect of the challenge and was surprised to find out just how many comics are published that fit that description. If I knew any children, I'd make a habit of reading one of these with them. It would crack me up.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I found myself laughing out loud in reality and not just typing it on a keyboard, so...that helped qualify it as an enjoyable read. The world of Adventure Time is based on the cartoon series of the same name, one that is apparently extremely well known and popular. Apparently, I'm now of that age that misses what is popular and well known. So, yay me? It was a lot of fun following Finn and his bff Jake around the land of Ooo as they invented a time travel machine and got super, almost uncomfortably buff as adults.

 I'll definitely check out other volumes of this and, of course, the tv series because if I need one thing in my life, it is more animation and laughter.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Read Harder Challenge #s 2 and 12

I have decided to participate in Book Riot's "Read Harder" challenge this year, information about which can be found at this link. But in case you don't want to click on that link, lazy person, here's a copy of the list of reading tasks for the year.

  1. Read a book about sports.
  2. Read a debut novel.
  3. Read a book about books.
  4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.
  5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.
  6. Read an all-ages comic.
  7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
  8. Read a travel memoir.
  9. Read a book you’ve read before.
  10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
  11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.
  12. Read a fantasy novel.
  13. Read a nonfiction book about technology.
  14. Read a book about war.
  15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
  16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
  17. Read a classic by an author of color.
  18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
  19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey (From Daniel José Older, author of Salsa Nocturna, the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, and YA novel Shadowshaper)
  20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel (From Sarah MacLean, author of ten bestselling historical romance novels)
  21. Read a book published by a micropress. (From Roxane Gay, bestselling author of Ayiti, An Untamed State, Bad Feminist, Marvel’s World of Wakanda, and the forthcoming Hunger and Difficult Women)
  22. Read a collection of stories by a woman. (From Celeste Ng, author Everything I Never Told You and the forthcoming Little Fires Everywhere)
  23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. (From Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of the Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty mystery series, including The Unquiet Dead, The Language of Secrets, and the forthcoming Among the Ruins)
  24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color. (From Jacqueline Koyanagi, author of sci-fi novel Ascension)

I have already finished numbers 2 and 12 and am going to write a little blurb about each of those books here. I also usually review the books I read on Goodreads and have a little list to the right of the entries on my blog with the titles that I'm "currently" reading. I'm usually in the middle of about five books at a time because I'm almost going to die in like 45 years and I don't have time for luxury over a book for extended periods of time. Aaaaanyway, here's my take on #s 2 and 12.

Read a debut novel.

This challenge doesn't specify when the debut was released so I chose, in as timely a manner as you can get, Carrie Fisher's debut novel Postcards From the Edge, which was published in 1987, when Fisher was 31. I borrowed the hardcover, first edition from my library and it was covered in stains. I mean, I have no idea when the library bought this copy but if it is a first edition, I'll assume it was in 1987 and at some point in the ensuing 30 years, someone took it a beef stew party and spilled a bit of stuff on it. I digress. Grossly.

Carrie Fisher died two weeks ago and the press that followed rightfully discussed her career as an actress and a memoirist. I knew her best not from her iconic Star Wars role but from her witty quips in the film When Harry Met Sally, which I saw when I was about 15 years old. About 20 years ago I picked up a book by her called Surrender the Pink but can't remember a damn thing about it so I consider my reading of Postcards my debut into Fisher as a novelist.

What I remember most clearly about her character in When Harry Met Sally is her sardonic wit and she was also my first exposure to actually liking a woman who lived her life as someone's mistress. I didn't realize how vulnerable a "mistress" could be and I never really thought beyond the black and white of what I understood as adult relationships, but Fisher as Marie in the film made me actually like her, despite of her supremely stupid life choices. I wasn't yet complex enough to understand that moral absolutism is not a thing (or that men and women could actually be friends and never have sex with each other...thanks again, Nora Ephron.) And so, as often happens when you first learn about something or someone during your formative years, I've always ascribed a certain personality to Carrie Fisher.

Postcards from the Edge is described as a semi-autobiographical novel and, knowing from the press and her own memoirs, the heroine (no pun intended) of the story, Suzanne, is Fisher's alter ego. I liked her immediately. Suzanne is self deprecating and really smart about it. She's described by other characters as a funny and intelligent and it becomes evident pretty quickly that she grapples with deeply rooted self esteem issues. These are all things I identify with on a deep level.

She's a Hollywood actress approaching what Hollywood considers "old" ...her 30s and she is pretty addicted to drugs of all kinds and to men who are all severely damaged and bad for her. Normally, characters who suffer this kind of self destruction annoy me. I've never really been a fan of the damaged persona. But the way Fisher writes Suzanne, with her self aware observations and introspective insights, makes me feel a kinship with her. The best writers can do that. I have zero in common with someone like Suzanne: I don't have an addictive personality, am a fairly good judge of character, have less than zero desire for people to look at or pay attention to me and don't really understand the world of Hollywood in the 1980s or now or at any point. But she became someone I wanted to understand and even befriend. There is a whole section in the beginning of the novel that is dedicated to a man named Alex, a man Suzanne encounters in rehab, that is especially striking for its voice. Alex is a tried and true drug addict and reading the scenes of him during his drug binges and highs left me feeling manic. Fisher really had an ear for her characters, probably because she was an actress.

Debut novels can often read very much like debuts...uncertain of their voice, scattered and insecure. Fisher wrote a confident, beautiful and engaging novel and she is funny as hell while doing it.



Read a fantasy novel.

For my fantasy novel, I chose a book from a series called Warriors by Erin Hunter which is a series about clans of warrior cats. The notion of cats as warriors makes me feel warm inside so I decided to read the series. I read book one years ago and so when I picked up book two, titled Fire and Ice I had pretty much forgotten all the main events in the first book. However, and I remembered this about book one, the author (in this case authorS...Erin Hunter is a group of different authors, apparently) has built a pretty vivid world. The clans of cats that live outside the realm of "Twolegs" (humans) and proudly consider themselves as distinct as possible from "kittypets", have their own systems of codes and honor, territory and battle. I'm amazed at the world building of these books because it is cleverly constructed and so easily imaginable when you consider the nature of cats as we know them. I think back to when I was the age group for which these books are written and I would have likely burned right through them all. Instead I was busy with Piers Anthony's Xanth series which I remember being weird and not really something I found gripping. I think I read about ten of those and not really enjoying them all that much, which may have in turn put me off fantasy books altogether. But back to Fire and Ice, it was definitely full of adventure and utterly devoid of humor. That would be my one criticism of the book...I feel in my hear that cats, even clans of warior cats, would have senses of humor.


Now that I'm thinking about them, if I was decrepit and ancient, and didn't have three or four jobs at a time, I'd consider rereading one of those Xanth books to jog my memory. But I am and I do so I won't. 

Anyway, I'm not doing this list in any order whatsoever and I'm also reading books outside of this challenge so i don't really know what my next one will be or when. HOW EXCITING!