I know I frequently — and with urgency, at times — make book recommendations, and I know that I believe I have excellent taste in books. Maybe I’m even a bit snobbish about it. No, I am. I’ll own that. I’m snobby about it. Books and coffee are the two categories I’m most centrally snobby about. And of course I have very strong political views, and as liberals are frequently accused of being smug, I guess I’ll own that too. Liberal values are better than conservative values. I’ll own it.
But to books: I’m always looking for sources of excellent book recommendations, and sometimes I join various groups in a belief that I’m likely to get them there. The WNYC Book Club, for instance, which operates in a Facebook group. And so far, both books that I’ve read in that virtual book club have been remarkably good: Manhattan Beach, and A Gentleman in Moscow. Dixie’s recommendations have never let me down, and some of her recommendations sit on my “absolute favorites” shelf over on Goodreads.
I’ve asked before, here on this blog and in in-person groups, what it is you seek, as a reader, when you make a book selection. I’ve always enjoyed your responses to those questions. But I think there is another variable at work, and it’s so wholly subjective that it’s surely impermeable to advice. I was thinking about it this morning as I read a post in the WNYC group in which the administrator opened a post to group member recommendations for their favorite “good” books. So this is a group of readers who are smart readers, for the most part, who live in NYC for the most part (and so who have excellent political views), and who participate with great engagement in the book conversations each month when we discuss the selection. But as I scrolled through the list of recommendations, beginning with eagerness and hope, my heart sank. One suggestion after another of titles that were — for me — ordinary. The kind of books that get a lot of buzz and that most people really love, like Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I thought that book was ordinary, and I went to it excitedly, because I loved Strayed’s Dear Sugar pieces. Loved them so much, found the memoir surprisingly ordinary. And The Glass Castle, the next person who enthusiastically recommends it to me “because you especially will love it!” might get an earful. I hated that book. Hated it.
What I realized, as I read the list of recommendations this morning, was that there’s a specific thing I seek in a book, and that’s a FEELING. I know what the feeling is, and I know it pretty quickly as I read a new book — is the feeling there? — but it’s hard to articulate it because there isn’t a word for it. It’s a kind of deep feeling, maybe a dark colored feeling (which is different from saying it’s a dark feeling), a transportation kind of feeling, a feeling that makes the world drop away. All those things are easy to get, I’m sure you get it, but it’s the feeling that is gathered by them all that I really need in order to deeply enjoy a book. As I look over my “absolute favorites” shelf of 56 titles, I can see that the books are often dark, they’re often about hinge, existential events, they’re often heavy, but not always! City of Bohane certainly wasn’t, nor Lives of Girls and Women, nor Birds of America, nor Bird by Bird, but even those took me to that feeling place that I recognize when it’s present.
Do you know what I’m talking about, even if for you the feeling you seek is completely different? Do you read for a feeling, and is there a consistent feeling you seek, as I do?
(And given the books you see that are most recently on my “absolute favorites” shelf, any recommendations spring to mind?)
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I’m sure your To Be Read pile (TBR) is tall/long/extensive, like mine. There are 387 books on my kindle, stacks of books by my bed and various chairs and tables, collections of lists in every possible place, and a separate to-read list on GoodReads. I need to get better about taking care of myself if I’m going to live long enough to make any headway. In my various book clubs, I’ve always been surprised when someone had no idea what book to suggest when it was their month…..for me, the question is which one of all the ones I’m waiting to read. Assuming our so-called president doesn’t get us nuclearly annihilated, of course.
But in addition to the full TBR pile, there’s also the Currently Reading list, which is far shorter. One good thing about GoodReads is that it keeps the list for you, if you log a book when you start reading it. Right now that list shows seven books I’m currently reading, even though a good five of those are kind of in a permanent suspension (Nox, Jitterbug Perfume, U and I, The Art of Memoir, and Glass, Irony and God. Oh, also Minds of Winter. I want to finish all those, I mean to, they’re just kind of….on pause). It’s funny how that happens — I really DO want to finish all those books! For each one, something happened to pause the book and then I just never got back to it.
But there’s a hot short list bubbling around at any given moment, the “which one, which one, which one to dive into right now” list. Mine includes:
The Idiot, by Elif Batuman. This one’s getting so much attention, and it’s supposed to be so funny and wonderful and beautiful. She’s a staff writer for The New Yorker, and I think I’d like to read something light and funny. And beautiful.
A Field Guide to Getting Lost, by Rebecca Solnit. For personal reasons having to do with my upcoming life change, this was recommended to me. And to be honest, while I really love Solnit’s activism and scholarship, I find her writing hard-going. Not clenched, exactly, but certainly not light and dive-in-able.
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt. I started reading this one and it’s fascinating, and on the edge of catching fire. It’s about the rediscovery of a nearly lost manuscript 600 years ago (On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius) and the way that manuscript sparked the Enlightenment, and changed the whole world. It’s well written, and interesting, and maybe it’s time for a bit of non-fiction?
Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders. Saunders is, of course, one of our great humans. His compassion shines through everything he does, and heaven knows the world (and I) need him desperately. I started trying to read it and this one’s kind of hard to get into; but I know and trust him as a writer, so I want to push through the resistance.
All four of those are pushing on me real hard in their own ways. Have you read any of them? Any words, if you have?
It’s Tuesday, so poetry group meets in my house tonight, looking forward to that so much. I’m going to bring a couple of poems by Sharon Olds — not this one, but this is a gorgeous Sharon Olds poem:
Rite of Passage
As the guests arrive at our son’s party
they gather in the living room—
short men, men in first grade
with smooth jaws and chins.
Hands in pockets, they stand around
jostling, jockeying for place, small fights
breaking out and calming. One says to another How old are you? —Six. —I’m seven. —So?
They eye each other, seeing themselves
tiny in the other’s pupils. They clear their
throats a lot, a room of small bankers,
they fold their arms and frown. I could beat you up, a seven says to a six,
the midnight cake, round and heavy as a
turret behind them on the table. My son,
freckles like specks of nutmeg on his cheeks,
chest narrow as the balsa keel of a
model boat, long hands
cool and thin as the day they guided him
out of me, speaks up as a host
for the sake of the group. We could easily kill a two-year-old,
he says in his clear voice. The other
men agree, they clear their throats
like Generals, they relax and get down to
playing war, celebrating my son’s life.
Blogs evolve (obvious-est statement in the world #1). Sometimes a blogger takes a hard left and changes it whole cloth, and sometimes it just shifts like a riverbed. Mine has been so many different things, including for a while a knitting blog. Usually it’s a personal blog, as you know already. Always I mention books because, aside from my kids and grandkids and my traveling life, books are the most central and defining detail of my existence.
Now I am a book ambassador for Little, Brown, a publisher that’s one of my favorites (along with Graywolf, and Vintage, and Picador, and FSG, and Penguin). All this means is that they’re going to start sending me books (hard copies, I think, which means I can start to rebuild my personal library that I had to decimate when I moved to NYC in 2005) and if I like any of them, I write, post, Instagram, share. No requirements, no expectations beyond that. I can do that, and happily.
I already review almost every book I read on GoodReads, and mention books in passing here, but thought I might start writing about them a little bit more on my blog, whether for Little, Brown or otherwise. SO! I just finished reading Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh, and it’s almost indescribable. It’s disgusting. It’s gross. It’s creepy. It’s awful. It’s wrenching. It’s unbelievable unless you’ve lived aspects of her life, which I have, so I know that it’s believable, even if you don’t think so because you are luckier than I have been.
I’m known in my former book club as a trauma book junkie. The joke about me was that if it was my turn to pick the book, it would be about the Holocaust. I guess to a large extent that’s true, and it’s that I am most fascinated by what people do when their backs are against the wall. That’s when you see who they are, and that’s what fascinates me. Who breaks, and how. Who comes through, and how do they do it. What are the consequences. Those issues fascinate me, along with questions of post-traumatic growth. If you’ve made it through hell, and you find a way to flourish, how do you do that, and what can it look like?
So in this book, Eileen lives in Xville with her late-stages alcoholic father, who is an ex-cop, and quite vicious, especially and almost solely to Eileen. Her mother has died and she wears her mother’s frumpy old clothes, hides in them. Her sister, favored by her father, is something of a fluffy, trampy woman who just shows up on occasion, gets praised by their father, and leaves Eileen to the mess. At the end of the first chapter, which sets the landscape of Eileen’s truly miserable existence, we get this:
So here we are. My name was Eileen Dunlop. Now you know me. I was twenty-four years old then, and had a job that paid fifty-seven dollars a week as a kind of secretary at a private juvenile correctional facility for teenage boys. I think of it now as what it really was for all intents and purposes—a prison for boys. I will call it Moorehead. Delvin Moorehead was a terrible landlord I had years later, and so to use his name for such a place feels appropriate. In a week, I would run away from home and never go back.
This is the story of how I disappeared.
Eileen is a gross young woman, her life is disgusting, the house she shares with her father is DISGUSTING and filthy. She takes large doses of laxatives, doesn’t bathe or wash her hair, eats like a furtive rat, and drinks too much. Moshfegh is extraordinary at providing the specific colors, textures, smells, sounds, to gross you out. I often felt nauseated by the description. Now, don’t you want to read it? Reviewers on GoodReads talk about how ugly it is, how dark, repellent, filthy, etc., and they aren’t wrong. But I still recommend this book, as long as you go in knowing this about it, because:
No one else could have written these sentences. It isn’t that they’re especially eloquent, or beautiful (obviously), or filled with lyrical description (obviously) or great vocabulary. It’s just that they are unique, and specific in their observation, and again and again I’d read something that just made me sit up because I’d never read a sentence like that. Or I’d never read that point of view, or observation, even though I knew the absolute truth of it. This is one brief passage I highlighted because it was like a spotlight hit me with the truth of it: “When poor people hear a loud noise, they whip their heads around. Wealthy people finish their sentences, then just glance back.” I have been that poor, and even though I’m not that poor now, my head still always whips around.
Moshfegh is a brave storyteller, and I admire that. Right from the very beginning you know something dramatic happens, right from the outset you know there is a crime, she leaves, but you don’t learn what it is until 85% into the book. I kept thinking she was about to reveal the twist — “This was my last day at work, even though I didn’t know it,” etc — but then on the book would go, tripping along with all these lasts, each digressing into story but never getting to the twist. That’s brave storytelling, trusting that she had the chops to keep you reading. Around 20-25% I started to get frustrated, and would scan ahead thinking the thing was surely just about to happen, and finally I decided just to trust her, and go with it. I’m really glad I did. (I’ll read the book again, for sure, and will be more relaxed about this.)
Nothing is simple or black and white, which is my FAVORITE thing in the world since nothing is. The catalyst character, Rebecca, is not well sketched-out, and the longer I thought about the book after I finished it, the more I realized I was unsatisfied by her. I think she was the least successful — not because of what she did, which was dramatic and odd and unexplained, but because I was not given enough about her to even craft a vague explanation for her. I didn’t need to understand her completely, or know her back story, but she was a bit too much of a cipher. Still, the way her part of the story ended was certainly not black and white, and if the book had been written by a less confident writer, it would’ve been. It would’ve been like any TV drama, and the book would have been less satisfying.
The end story for Eileen is beautiful and I just felt such relief for her. It’s funny; it reminded me of that old Steve Martin joke about how to be a millionaire and never pay taxes (“First, get a million dollars. Now, forget to pay taxes.”) — wait! I want to know that first part! In Eileen’s case, her whole life after she leaves Xville is glossed over and not at all part of the story. You don’t get to know how she got there, from here. But you get to know that she did.
I’m not a reader who insists that things be nice. Characters don’t have to be nice, or clean, or simple. It always surprises me to read reviews that are critical simply because the reader hated the character. I’m glad to hate a character! I’m glad to feel squidgey, to feel squirmy, to feel uneasy, to feel like perhaps a shower would be good right now because the story is that gross. If that’s the world of the story, and the writer does a good job with it, I’m all in.
So I recommend this book as long as you know it’s going to be gross. It’s going to make you uncomfortable. You’ll never read anything else quite like it, I can say that for sure. Here’s the Amazon link, if you’re interested.
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I ran out of time before we left for Indonesia to put up a farewell post with a link to the blog, so I’ll do a little of that here and then catch up a bit. Indonesia was incredible! We saw so many glorious sunsets, experienced the strangeness of ogoh-ogoh on Bali, the wonder of the second highest volcano on Lombok (and a terrible accident for Marc, and a minor one for me as I burned my calf on a motorcycle exhaust and was too humiliated to mention it to the cute young guy who was driving me), and the thrill of finding an exceptional place, the tiny southernmost island of Rote. Goats and pigs everywhere, music in the dark, white sand beaches and crystal clear water. It was a great trip. You can look at the blog here. I haven’t finished writing it yet — there’s one last day in Denpasar and the winding-up to write, but everything I mentioned above is already fleshed out on the blog, and boy are there some beautiful photographs! Not because I’m a great photographer, certainly, but because it’s nearly impossible to take a bad picture there, the setting is so spectacular.
I read TEN books on vacation, which might be my record. Two of those made it to my “absolute favorites” shelf on GoodReads: Human Acts, by Han Kang, and Why I Am Not a Feminist, by Jessa Crispin. I linked to my absolute favorites shelf, there, so you can read my reviews of both books if you’re interested. Han Kang also wrote The Vegetarian, which won the 2016 Booker Prize, and which was so startling and amazing I read it four times in about six weeks. When I read it the first time, I read the last word and just started reading it again immediately, straight through. Kang is an extraordinary writer, and in Human Acts, her storytelling skills are surely at their peak. She tells the story of a real event — a student uprising in Gwangju, South Korea, in 1980, in which the government slaughtered protestors. The first important chapter is told in second person, and the disorientation of that POV choice is so brilliant, SO brilliant. It’s a wondrous book, but not a fun book (except for the fun of realizing what a writer is doing for you to create such a book).
And I’ve just found Ottessa Moshfegh, and am loving her book Eileen. Since I read brand new writers all day long for my work, it’s always a huge breath of joy to read someone who writes sentences ONLY THEY could’ve written. That’s how Moshfegh writes. No one writes like her. No one else could write like her. With my clients, most of the time anyone could’ve written their sentences because most of them are just learning how to write, so they haven’t yet learned to trust themselves and let themselves have their own voices. But Moshfegh has a distinct voice even among writers with distinct voices. It isn’t that her sentences are extraordinary in their eloquence, or diction, or vocabulary, it’s that they’re distinct in their observation and stance. I’m only about halfway through the book, but wow.
My book life is exploding — not only do I read for a living, read every other moment I can, and review for Netgalley, but I’ve just been selected as a book ambassador for Little, Brown, a publisher whose list I’ve loved for a long time. So I’ll be talking about their books in the coming years, too. So many books. So. Many. Books. I read almost every moment I am awake, and it’s still not enough.
My life is going to be changing pretty dramatically in the coming weeks or perhaps a few months, but I’m not quite ready to say it all. There are details to be nailed down and people to be told in person, face to face. It’s good. It’s a welcome change, and it gives me a lot more peace in my life. I came home from vacation to plenty of work, which hasn’t been true for a very long time (I have a queue again, haven’t had that for 18 months or so), and also to the terrible allergies that plague all of us in central Texas at this time of year. I’ve been so miserable with that and jet lag, and trying to work, so I have been slow to get back here, but I’m back….so hello! I missed you!
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FEED: Long, long ago, my son introduced me to the eerily beautiful photography of Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison. All their work is fabulous, worth gazing at and letting it settle in you, but it’s the images my son loved that stay with me the most. Here’s one I always associate with him:
Check them out — not just in the link above, when I first mention them, but I also linked the image to the specific collection for this one, all of which make me think of Will. So for me, it’s a melancholy kind of soul-feeding, looking at these images, but there is also a resonance with the world right now, and resonance is also valuable. Looking at their larger body of work, though, is lifting in the way art lifts.
SEED: My New York therapist, Elizabeth, always told me that dreams are really just showing you how you are thinking about something, how you are processing it. Dreams use a range of personal imagery, maybe, relate to personal themes, other experiences, etc. Last night I had a nightmare that couldn’t be more obviously related to how I’m thinking about the forthcoming nightmare in our country. I was in our NYC apartment, and Marc and I were packing to flee — and it was urgent, we had to go immediately, something absolutely terrible was about to happen (not specified within the dream but I think I knew what it was). As he always does when we have suitcases, he was leaving to go get the car and pull it up to the curb, but he came back immediately and said, “There isn’t time, we have to run now!” And so we fled, in terror, with a sense that we couldn’t outrun what we were fleeing. If that isn’t the most obvious nightmare you’ve ever heard, I don’t know what would be.
I think constantly about why this feels as destructive and scary as it does, why it feels so all-encompassing. After all, I’m a straight, white, well-educated, middle-aged woman beyond reproducing years. All the hate that he spews, and that his administration is ready to enact into law, won’t affect me personally, at least not in the loudest, most hateful ways. Of course living in a society permeated with that kind of hate will affect me. Living in a country determined to build a wall, remove families, block immigrants, remove access to health care for all but the wealthy, with the greediest sharks directly from Wall Street in charge of Wall Street, and people who want to destroy schools in charge of education, and people who have no idea what they’re doing in charge of the rest will affect me, even if it’s largely indirectly. And a big part of the tremendous upset is that I live among millions of people who voted for him, who weren’t bothered by his mocking the disabled reporter, his gleeful boasting of assaulting women, his harassment of ordinary people, his egging-on violence, etc etc etc. Not bothered by voting for the candidate endorsed by the KKK. Just not bothered by that. My fellow Americans.
The nightmare of his impact on global politics is likely to affect me, and I just hope we all survive. Except for our Civil War, we’ve never had war on the ground here, thanks in large part to the simple fact of geography. The terrifying thing is that with him, absolutely anything [bad] is possible, and the unimaginable — like him being elected in the first place — will be our actuality. Hence my dream, hence my constant despair which arises from the need to be ready for any nightmare.
Resist. We will resist. I will resist. We are stronger together, and as long as he doesn’t destroy the world (whether through war or his idiotic ignorance related to climate change) we can start over when he’s gone.
READ: One reason Obama always felt like my president — and this is a huge (yuge) distinction with the incoming not-my-president — is that his solace and ground is in books. He is a writer, and he has all the talents and skills of a novelist: a keen ear, an eye for the right details, an ability to observe, and an understanding that fiction has the capacity to tell the deep, sustained truths of human life. I can’t even process how deeply I’ll miss him, yet. My beautiful friend Deb directed me to this article in the NYTimes with/by Michiko Kakutani, their chief book reviewer, titled, “Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books.” I may have enjoyed the transcript of their conversation even more, because there is a lot more of his voice. If you like books and/or our beloved president, you’ll enjoy the articles too.
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1) Are you a completionist? I’d never heard the word until Karen Russell (author of Swamplandia) said it when she was introducing her reading of a Mavis Gallant story in a podcast I listened to yesterday. She described herself as not-quite-a-completionist of Gallant’s writings, and I got to wondering:
Is there a writer whose entire set of works you’ve read? All of them? Not just the big-name ones, but allof them?
I started thinking about some of my favorite writers, and I don’t think so:
Cormac McCarthy — Child of God, Suttree, Blood Meridian (x6), All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, No Country for Old Men (x3), and The Road, but not The Orchard Keeper, Outer Dark, or Cities of the Plain. (Nor any of his screenplays, short fiction, or plays.)
Salman Rushdie — Grimus, Midnight’s Children (x4), Shame, Satanic Verses (x3), The Moor’s Last Sigh, Fury, East West, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Imaginary Homelands but not The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Shalimar the Clown, The Enchantress of Florence, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, Luka and the Fire of Life, Joseph Anton, or The Jaguar Smile.
Dante — ding ding ding! Yep! I read The Divine Comedy, which was his only published work. And in several translations — my favorites being the John Ciardi translation, my sentimental favorite because I read it first, when I was a brand new mother, and the edition translated by the Hollanders, which is just extraordinary in every way.
William Faulker — The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light in August, Absalom, Absalom, These 13 (which includes “A Rose for Emily”), but not The Hamlet, The Town, or The Mansion.
Ernest Hemingway — The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and A Moveable Feast, but none of the rest.
F. Scott Fitzgerald — all his novels: This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and The Damned, The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, The Last Tycoon, but none of his novellas or short stories.
Kurt Vonnegut — Player Piano, The Sirens of Titan (x???10?), Mother Night, Cat’s Cradle (x7 or 8?), God Bless you Mr Rosewater, Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions, Slapstick, Jailbird, Deadeye Dick, Galapagos, Bluebeard, Hocus Pocus, Timequake, Welcome to the Monkey House, Happy Birthday Wanda June, God Bless You Dr Kevorkian, Wampeters Foma and Granfaloons, Bagombo Snuffbox, and Palm Sunday. I missed a few novels and a bit of his non-fiction.
I guess one approach is to pick writers who don’t write very many books (like Dante). I get on these jags where I fall in love with a writer and just want to read it all, so I dig in. I did that with McCarthy for sure, and Vonnegut, and Rushdie, and Nick Flynn. As I’ve mentioned before, here, I bought these sets of hardback books when I was a teenager, four books by Hemingway, four by Faulkner, and four by Fitzgerald, and read them all at once, which I don’t recommend — especially for writers like those, who have such a specific and distinctive style. It then becomes hard to remember which one was which. (My favorite joke: Now which Hemingway was it where the guy dies in the mud, under the bridge? Oh yeah — all of them! 😉 )
I’m working on Karl Ove Knausgaard and Elena Ferrante, completing all their published works to date. And then sometimes I kind of outgrow a writer, I guess; I’ve read so many of their books and I come to feel like I understand them and their projects, and maybe they get a little tired, too, and a new book of theirs comes out and I just don’t have the interest. That happened to me with Salman Rushdie.
Some people love mystery writers and read all their works; Sue Grafton is a good example, with her alphabetical series. I guess I started early, reading all the Nancy Drews, all the Hardy Boys, all the Cherry Ames Student Nurse books, all the Trixie Beldens, and all the Boxcar Children books. It was not the worst habit I formed in my childhood. 🙂 So, you? I suppose you might do this with film-makers too, or musicians! Or actors. Or other artists. Hmmm. Any completionists in this crowd?
You can click the image to go to the site, and I also provided it in the link, above. It’s a collection of stories (each accompanied by a video) by women (almost entirely, but not completely, and in some cases a story is about non-binary gender) and race, age, weight and size, illness, hair, work, motherhood, gender, identity, sexuality, all the things of real life and how they don’t immediately fit the Barbie image of “American woman,” but how the storytellers have found their way through, because of, despite, in celebration of their differences from Barbie ideals.
Me, I have a huge craving for a pair of cherry red tartan plaid pants and a close-fitting cherry red blazer.
3)I love this quote, which I saw in the caption of a beautiful photograph by author Maggie Mackellar, who lives on a farm on the east coast of Tasmania:
“…beauty & grace are performed whether or not we see or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” Annie Dillard
In addition to her gorgeous photography (I linked to her Instagram account above), she’s just the most beautiful, eloquent writer (two books published so far, she’s working on her next one). She published a three-part series last fall about her father’s death; this link will take you to the first piece, which will then lead you to the other two. Anyway, Maggie knows very well about suffering, and perhaps this is what helped her recognize the power of the Annie Dillard quote about beauty and grace.
It’s there, beauty & grace, even if you have to look very very hard. Even if the day feels heavy and ugly, even if you look out your window and see gray and brown and filth, even if you’re just sitting in the same old place you always sit, beauty & grace are happening somewhere — maybe you don’t see it right now but it is. When I’m having a hard time seeing it in my surroundings, for some reason I always think about the glacier valley we walked through in Norway — Lyngsdalen — and that no matter what’s happening, those mountains are just standing there over that valley. In the months-long dark, they stand there, and maybe the Northern Lights dance through the valley, or maybe not, but they stand there, solid and present no matter what. Whether anyone is looking, whether war is raging somewhere, whether I am lonely or bleak, those beautiful mountains are standing over that valley.
The least we can do is try to see the beauty & grace where and when we find it. That seems like the least we can do. See it, notice it, take it in.
Flying day for me, back to Austin — xoxox
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1) Well it’s been cold and gross here in New York, with just enough snow to make a mess but not enough to be pretty and fun. So we spent all day yesterday finishing up the plans and the blog for our trip to Indonesia at the end of March. Indonesia comprises 17,508-18,306 islands (8,844 have been named, and 922 of those are permanently inhabited). The largest cluster is on Java, with ~130 million inhabitants (60% of the country’s population) on an island the size of New York State. The last time we went to Indonesia in May, 2013, we went to Java — Jakarta briefly, Yogyakarta, and Solo — and Bali. We were so-so about Java but absolutely adored Bali. With so very many islands, like Greece they’re organized in groupings. We’re focusing on the Lesser Sunda islands of Bali, Lombok, Timor (overnight), and Rote. Lombok has an active volcano, Mount Rinjani, which last erupted three times in May, 2010.
Unlike our last trip to Laos and Thailand, we’re going almost entirely to places that are new to us, with one exception. In Bali, we’re returning to Ubud to stay again at Alam Jiwa (the name means ‘soul of nature’), largely, I think, because I want to return there. You can see pictures of the place in the post from that blog if you are curious; there’s something about Bali that is extraordinary and lush and creatively gorgeous. Everything they make is an offering of some kind, everything created is made with a specific kind of beauty. Unlike the rest of Indonesia Bali is Hindu, not Muslim, and you can feel that difference, and see it. I can’t wait to get back to Alam Jiwa, just can’t wait.
And the place we’re staying on Lombok that’s near the volcano, I can’t wait for that, either. Just look at this gorgeous view from the hotel:
It helps a lot having this to look forward to, with the political stuff that’s coming right up. And I hasten to remind myself that other things are coming right up, too, beyond all the marches and protests I’ll participate in: friends’ birthdays, poetry group and book club meetings (to talk about books!), Marnie’s and Ilan’s visit to Austin, a return to NYC, a visit to Chicago to celebrate Marnie’s and Ilan’s birthday (his first, wow), and then we’re off to Indonesia. The only bad thing about the trip is that I’ll miss celebrating Oliver’s third birthday with his family, and I hate that because I’ve been part of the others. But I’ll celebrate him wherever I am, for sure.
2)If you’re a big reader you probably already know about this, but in case you don’t: Netgalley! Create an account (free) as a reader, choose the publishers you’re most interested in (I chose the ones that tend to publish my favorite books, obviously), and then get free copies of forthcoming books, delivered right to your e-reader. You are asked to write a review of the books you read, wherever you might do that — GoodReads, Amazon, your own blog — but there is no obligation to write a positive review. You may see this mentioned if you read others’ reviews on GoodReads; a reviewer will mention that s/he got an ARC (advance reading copy), so that’s what this means. The book may not be in its final, fully copy edited form, so there may be typos, but (a) free books, (b) before anyone else gets to read them! I already write reviews of everything I read so of course I signed up.
Right now I’m reading Someone Always Robs the Poor, by Carl MacDougall (a new collection of brilliant stories from the multi-award winning elder statesman of Scottish literature, exploring themes of poverty, migration, alienation, accountability and alcoholism, with an impressive depth and emotional range) and Land of Hidden Fires, by Kirk Kjeldsen, set in Occupied Norway in 1943. They always ask for feedback about the cover, too. It’s a win-win situation if you’re broke, like me, and you love to read. There isn’t the same time constraint as with a library book, either.
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