Friday, August 31, 2018

Books About Books

The Old Book Building
on the San Antonio River Walk


So sad but true:

"If this world were anything near what it should be
there would be no more need of a Book Week
than there would be of a Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Children."

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)


The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

"Something important and literary
is about to happen here" (183).

This is a clever book about books -- and about children -- set in A. J. Fikry's bookstore "Island Books" where "No Man Is an Island; Every Book is a World," and where one snowy evening a baby is abandoned in the "Children's and Young Adult section" (8, 48).

"A. J. can be opinionated -- " . . . he doesn't believe in random acts. He is a reader, and what he believes in is narrative construction, If a gun appears in act one, that gun had better go off by act three" (59) . . .

but also malleable, as he undertakes to raise the baby and respond to her needs: "As he is reading, he finds that he wants to make a new list of short stories for Maya. She is going to be a writer, he knows. He is not a writer, but he has thoughts about the profession, and he wants to tell her those things. . . . the longer I do this (bookselling, yes, of course, but also living if that isn't too awfully sentimental), the more I believe that this is what the point of it all is. To connect, my dear little nerd. Only connect" (246 - 47).

Each chapter in the novel begins with a blurb of reading suggestions and personal opinion, literary references and summaries of great works, background information and so forth. It turns out that this commentary, taken all together, is A. J.'s writerly legacy to Maya, a scholarly sample of his storied life.

See also

1. Complete list of literary allusions

2."Advancing and Receding"


Two more clever books about books and writers.
both by G. Neri

Tru & Nelle

Tru & Nelle: A Christmas Tale

For fans of [Nelle] Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory, or for anyone who wants to learn more about the childhood connection between these two classic American authors and how their early friendship influenced the writers that they grew up to become.


In other reading news:
Take a look at
James Trevenio's Book Art

And this one ~ thanks Joni!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Queen of Cats

"Cathy who is queen of cats has cats and cats and cats.
Baby cats, big cats, skinny cats, sick cats. Cats asleep like little donuts.
Cats on top of the refrigerator. Cats taking a walk on the dinner table.
Her house is like cat heaven."
(12 - 13)

from "Cathy Queen of Cats"
in The House on Mango Street
by Sandra Cisneros

What Pine & Fuqua
Have Been Reading This Summer!

More favorite lines from ~Mango Street~

About her apartment on Paulina Street:

Norma: "You live here -- alone?" she asks.
Sandra: "Yes."
Norma: "So -- how did you do it?"
Sandra: "I did it by doing the things I was afraid of doing so that I would no longer be afraid." (xxiii)

About writers working together on their projects:

"We do this with no capital except valuable time. We do this because the world we live in is a house on fire and the people we love are burning. . . . we had no idea what we were doing was extraordinary." (xvii - xviii, xxiv)

Such beautiful imagery:

"The sky absorbs the night quickly - quickly, dissolving into the color of a plum." (xxvi)

Black Cat Reads Book About Black Cat!

When asked to name a favorite book, I always say
The Master & Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov!

Fuqua is always ready for a good book --
especially if someone else is trying to read it!
~ Thanks to Cathleen for this photo! ~

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Döstädning: Long Live the Swedish Death Cleanse!

If you were wise enough to know that this life would consist mostly of letting go of things you wanted, then why not get good at the letting go, rather than the trying to have?"
By Miranda July (b 1974)
From her novel The First Bad Man
~ Thanks to Natasha for the reference! ~

For years I have had this Steven Wright quotation on a magnet in my kitchen but never thought to learn more about the author until my son Ben and his friend Mark took an interest a few weeks ago and filled in the gaps:
American Comedian ~ Steven Wright (b 1955)
Wright's droll observation echoes perfectly
the message of this concise and illuminating book
that my friend Katy shared with me last month:

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning:
How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter
By Swedish artist ~ Margareta Magnusson (b. 1930s)

Döstädning: this Swedish term combines death (dö) and cleaning (städning), but not in a sad way. Magnusson explains that this kind of deep cleaning does not have to be a morbid activity but just a natural and timely life passage. For awhile you need a bunch of stuff -- then, after awhile, you don't need it anymore.

Nor is the discipline of döstädning reserved only for right before or right after death. In fact, it can -- and should -- occur in conjunction with any transition that lends itself to downsizing: spring cleanings, rummage sales, whenever you move, and so forth. Magnusson's thesis is that starting at about age sixty - five we should all begin the ultimate "Death Cleanse" for ourselves. The practical outlook of this eighty - something author is a refreshing reminder of just how smart some old people can be. No, they are not all crazy and self - centered! Magnusson urges us to face reality and assess our belongings on our own terms:
"Some people can't wrap their heads around death. And these people leave a mess after them. Did they think they were immortal? . . . Do not ever imagine that anyone will wish -- or be able -- to schedule time off to take care of what you didn't bother to take care of yourself. No matter how much they love you, don't leave this burden to them" (2, 7).
Everything you get rid of now will spare your kids having to throw it in a dumpster twenty years from now! Plus, if there's anything they should actually want, they can have it now, rather than waiting until you are dead and they are old and the stuff itself has lost its value. For example, our kids needed bookshelves now, so I was happy to consolidate and eliminate. The shelves have a new home, the public library has a stack of books for the annual sale, and I have less clutter. Win - win - win!

No sooner had I finished The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning than I passed on a copy to both my sisters because it offers such an accurate description of our recent trial by fire, alongside of our three brothers, of sorting through our parents' belongings. As my little sis concluded: donate now -- no dumpster later! We learned our lesson!

~ See Also ~

A Gentleman in Moscow
By American novelist Amor Towles (b 1964)

Thanks to Elizabeth Barrett for suggesting this novel
and to Robert Kurtz for sharing this passage:
"Tis a funny thing, reflected the Count as he stood ready to abandon his suite. From the earliest age, we must learn to say good-bye to friends and family. We see our parents and siblings off at the station; we visit cousins, attend schools, join the regiment; we marry, or travel abroad. It is part of the human experience that we are constantly gripping a good fellow by the shoulders and wishing him well, taking comfort from the notion that we will hear word of him soon enough. But experience is less likely to teach us how to bid our dearest possessions adieu. And if it were to? We wouldn’t welcome the education. For eventually, we come to hold our dearest possessions more closely than we hold our friends. We carry them from place to place, often at considerable expense and inconvenience; we dust and polish their surfaces and reprimand children for playing too roughly in their vicinity—all the while, allowing memories to invest them with greater and greater importance. This armoire, we are prone to recall, is the very one in which we hid as a boy; and it was these silver candelabra that lined our table on Christmas Eve; and it was with this handkerchief that she once dried her tears, et cetera, et cetera. Until we imagine that these carefully preserved possessions might give us genuine solace in the face of a lost companion. But, of course, a thing is just a thing."

"Recipes for a Tidy and Tasty Death"
By Dwight Garner

Downsizing The Family Home:
What to Save, What to Let Go

By Marni Jameson

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Flaubert & Barnes

Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes (b 1946)
"A Simple Heart" by Gustave Flaubert (1821 – 1880)

See previous posts:

"Coffee With Flaubert"
@ The Quotidian Kit


"Trees, Trains, and Idiots"
@The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker

[also: "Advancing & Receding"]

Finally, last month (April 2018) I got around to reading Flaubert's Parrot, a title that has lingered on my perpetual reading list since 1986. What was I waiting for? Why didn't I read this book back in the 20th Century? I don't know! But my friend Len had a good answer:

"This way you found unexpected pleasure
in the tumultuous 21st Century."

Indeed I did! When I reached the narrator's list of banned genres and banned plots, I could not help laughing out loud like a crazy person, all alone in my house:
"There is to be a twenty - year ban on novels set in Oxford or Cambridge, and a ten - year ban on other university fiction. No ban on fiction set in polytechnics (though no subsidy to encourage it). No ban on novels set in primary schools; a ten - year ban on secondary - school fiction. A partial ban on growing - up novels (one per author allowed). . . .

"A quota system is to be introduced on fiction set in South America. The intention is to curb the spread of package - tour baroque and heavy irony. Ah, the propinquity of cheap life and expensive principles, of religion and banditry, of surprising honour and random cruelty. Ah, the daiquiri bird which incubates its eggs on the wing; ah, the fredonna tree whose roots grow at the tips of its branches, and whose fibres assist the hunchback to impregnate by telepathy the haughty wife of the hacienda owner; ah the opera house now overgrown by jungle. [The Lost City of Z, Under the Volcano?] Permit me to rap on the table and murmur 'Pass!' Novels set in the Arctic and the Antarctic will receive a development grant
" (98 - 99).

And then there is his passage through customs, returning to England from France. Remember how Oscar Wilde supposedly said, "I have nothing to declare but my genius"? Well, Julian Barnes / Geoffrey Braithwaite is even better:
"I never have more than the permitted amount of duty - free goods; I've never imported plants, or dogs, or drugs, or uncooked meat, or firearms, and yet I constantly find myself wanting to turn the wheel and head for the Red Channel. It always feels like an admission of failure to come back from the Continent and have nothing to show for it. . . . Have you anything to declare? Yes, I'd like to declare a small case of French flu, a dangerous fondness for Flaubert, a childish delight in French road - signs, and a love of the light as you look north. Is there any duty to pay on any of these? There ought to be.

"Oh, and I've got this cheese, too
" (101 - 02).

Friday, April 6, 2018

Always Skeptical Never Cynical

Our Schools in West Philadelphia:

Alexander Wilson ~ Public School
Where Ben & Sam attended Montessori Pre - K

Samuel Powel ~ Public School
Where Ben attended 1st Grade

Previously University City New School
Where Ben attended 2nd & 3rd grade;
and Sam attended Kindergarten, 1st & 2nd grade

Avery D. Harrington ~ Public School
53rd & Baltimore
Old Entrance

New Entrance

I include this one because it is just a few blocks
from our house at 48th & Baltimore,
where we lived from 1993 - 2001
and where the Harrington Family lived from 1916 - 1934
Avery Draper Harrington & his wife Emma L. Harrington
followed by their son Avery Draper Harrington, Jr.
& his wife Matilda R. Metz Harrington
[see also: Avery R. Harrington
& his wife Carolyn Beckenbaugh Harrington]


When speaking at Purdue earlier this year,
former Governor of Nebraska, Bob Kerrey,
offered the following advice:

"maintain skepticism; always question
avoid cynicism; never lose hope
look for the correlation between effort and results
avoid the vortex of self pity
ask for help
let someone love you
freedom is not phony
protesting is an act of strength not weakness"


A related message from
Tim Kreider:

"And cynicism is also a kind of faith:
the faith that nothing can change,
that those institutions are corrupt
beyond all accountability,
immune to intimidation or appeal."


In light of the above, I recently read the following,
by two hard - working, inspiring authors
improving the world through words and deeds
bearing witness to injustice yet avoiding cynicism
while maintaining skepticism of the status quo and offering hope
for fair housing and equitable education in the United States:

1. Suggested by my friend Mumbi; related to her work
as a teacher in the New Jersey Public School System:

Teaching in the Terrordome:
Two Years in West Baltimore with Teach for America

by Heather Kirn Lanier (2012)
I was an irony - loving child of the eighties, prone to sarcasm, suspicious of Hallmark, and I believed that we were, all of us, a little broken. how could I "save" anyone?

And yet. And yet, the world was still broken. And thousands of of idealistic college graduates -- yes, many of whom were white -- were willing to help, or at least try. I had landed in my generation's postmodernist predicament; even if . . . our ways of trying to fix things might say more about our own brokenness than the targets of our salvation, couldn't and shouldn't we still do something?

Educational inequity is our nation's greatest injustice. You can change this
. (emphasis in original, 19)

Nobody had claimed that they'd taken their tenth graders and risen them three or four grade - levels in their short semester, maybe because their are limits to what a teacher can achieve in a given semester. Maybe because by the time students get to high school, too many habits are learned, too many paths are laid down, too many behaviors are carved.

Did I honestly believe that? The idealist in me, a pom-pom waving crusader of just causes, a prominent part of myself before I started Teach For American, would have said no. Absolutely not. There are no limits to humanity. But I mourned that I now had a newly born realist lurking inside, a jaded woman who felt simultaneously angry that each story didn't end in redemption, and tired of believing that it could. Yes, she thought. Some things were probably impossible.
(emphasis in original, 213 - 14)

2. Suggested by my son Ben; related to his research
of mortgage trends and voting rates in the United States:

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
by Matthew Desmond (2017)
Still, I wonder sometimes what we are asking when we ask if findings apply elsewhere. Is it that we really believe that something could happen in Pittsburgh but never in Albuquerque, in Memphis but never in Dubuque? The weight of evidence is in the other direction, especially when it comes to problems as big and as widespread as urban poverty and unaffordable housing. This study took place in the heart of a major American city [Milwaukee], not in an isolated Polish village or a brambly Montana town or on the moon. (333 - 34)

We have affirmed provision in old age, twelve years of education, and basic nutrition to be the right of every citizen because we have recognized that human dignity depends on the fulfillment of these fundamental human needs. And it is hard to argue that housing is not a fundamental human need. Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The reason is simple: without stable shelter, everything else falls apart. . . . we could still afford to offer this crucial benefit to all low - income families in America. . . . it is well within our capacity. We have the money. We've just made the choices about how to spend it. Over the years, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have restricted housing aid to the poor but expanded it to the affluent in the form of tax benefits for homeowners. . . . If poverty persists in American, it is not for lack of resources. (300, 311 - 12)

If we acknowledge that housing is a basic right of all Americans, then we must think differently about another right: the right to make as much money as possible by providing families with housing -- and especially to profit excessively from the less fortunate. (305)

~ Read more: New York Times ~ April 7, 2018 ~

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Makin' a list, checkin’ it twice . . .

Who would you nominate for real life?

My friend Eve had some great suggestions: "As for fiction -- hmm -- let’s start by giving Dorothea Brooke a do-over. . . . How about Mrs. Hawkins, the narrator of A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark? She is a perennial personal favorite of mine. If you don’t know her, you must meet her soon as possible."

Eve also suggested Molly and Leopold Bloom, which made me think that the little unnamed narrator from "Araby," so earnest in his devotion, should also be included. We also gave a "Thumbs up for both Mrs. Ramsay and Mrs. Dalloway!"

I voted for Nick, as in -- "You can't repeat the past" -- Carraway, and for Jay -- "Why of course you can" -- Gatsby. Impassioned Gatsby, with his dreams and his good intentions -- would he fare better in the real world than he did in fiction? Perhaps only a fictional character can believe in repeating the past.

In more recent reading, I might nominate:

the two little sisters Willa and Bird from
The Truth According to Us
by Annie Barrows

In their innocence, they struggle to understand the dis - connect
between history and reality, between fiction and non - fiction:

Bird: That's awful . . . I wanted a happy ending.

It's history, Jottie reminded her.
You don't get what you want.

Reality is always so bleak, Mae sighed.
Willa: In books . . . things were connected; people did something and then something else happened because of that. I could understand them. But outside, here in the real world, things seemed to happen for no reason that I could see. Maybe there was no reason. Maybe people just drifted here and there, aimless and silly. . . . there must be something to know, reasons, all the time and everywhere, for the way they behaved. Reasons I couldn't see yet, no matter how hard I tried. I had always hoped that Jottie would call me into her room and tell me the secret, the thing I needed to know to understand people did the things they did. So far she hadn't. When she called me into her room to explain where babies came from, I thought I was about to get wind of something good, but I was disappointed. What I wanted was bigger, a giant blanket that would hold the world. I had become ferocious and devoted so I could learn the secret truths, but I still didn't know them. (374)

Aunt Jottie: And Willa, she's something else. Smart as a whip, but she takes things hard, you know? She struggles. By herself, too; she doesn't ask for help. She wants to understand everything, wants to make sense of things and God knows, plenty of things don't make much sense --" (388)

2. And how about Theo and Boris from
The Goldfinch
by Donna Tartt

Are they worthy of "real" life?
I guess we'll know soon enough, because the
movie adaptation is going to be here in no time!

From such a dense novel, I have culled these
lovely descriptions of the painting itself and the
message it carries from past to present to future:
Steadily the goldfinch gazed at me, with shiny, changeless eyes. The wooden panel was tiny . . . When I looked at the painting I felt the same convergence on a single point: a flickering sun-struck instant that existed now and forever. Only occasionally did I notice the chain on the finch’s ankle, or think what a cruel life for a little living creature — fluttering briefly, forced always to land in the same hopeless place. (305-06)

There’s only a tiny heartbeat and solitude, bright sunny wall and a sense of no escape. Time that doesn’t move, time that couldn’t be called time. And trapped in the heart of light: the little prisoner, unflinching. Time that doesn't move, time that couldn't be called time. And trapped in the heart of light: the little prisoner, unflinching. . . . And, in this staunch little portrait, it's not hard to see the human in the finch. Dignified, vulnerable. One prisoner looking at another. . . . The bird looks out at us. It's not idealized or humanized. It's very much a bird. Watchful, resigned. There's no moral or story. There's no resolution. There's only a double abyss: between painter and imprisoned bird; between the record he left of the bird and our experience of it, centuries later. . . . Across those unbridgeable distances—between bird and painter, painting and viewer — I hear only too well what’s being said to me . . . across four hundred years of time . . . It’s there in the light-rinsed atmosphere, the brush strokes . . . the slide of transubstantiation where paint is paint and yet also feather and bone. It’s the place where reality strikes the ideal, where a joke becomes serious and anything serious is a joke. The magic point where every idea and its opposite are equally true. (766)

And I’m hoping there’s some larger truth about suffering here, or at least my understanding of it . . . Because -- what if that particular goldfinch (and it is very particular) had never been captured or born into captivity, displayed in some household where the painter Fabritius was able to see it? It can never have understood why it was forced to live in such misery: bewildered by noise (as I imagine), distressed by smoke, barking dogs, cooking smells, teased by drunkards and children, tethered to fly on the shortest of chains. Yet even a child can see its dignity; thimble of bravery, all fluff and brittle bone. Not timid, not even hopeless, but steady and holding its place. Refusing to pull back from the world. (767)
The Goldfinch ~ 1654
by Carel Fabritius ~ 1622 – 1654

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

I Should Have Read the Book First

. . . before it got carved up!
. . . and before watching the movie!
Book Sculpture ~ Rachel's Hobby

Any Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl fans out there? I need to read this book!

The movie has a great subplot of mini parody movies that some viewers might actually enjoy more than the movie itself. I tried to find a youtube clip of just the mini - movies, but no luck. This explanation about the making of them will give you some idea.

The titles alone are hilarious!

A partial list follows:

• “Anatomy of a Burger,” based on 1959’s “Anatomy of a Murder,” directed by Otto Preminger.

• “Ate 1/2 (Of My Lunch),” based on “8 1/2,” directed by Federico Fellini.

• “A Box O’ Lips, Wow,” based on Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.”

• “The Battle of All Deer,” based on “The Battle of Algiers,” by Gillo Pontecorvo.

• “Breathe Less,” based on Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless.”

• “Burden of Screams,” based on Les Blank’s “Burden of Dreams.”

• “Can’t Tempt,” based on Godard’s “Contempt.”

• “Crouching Housecat Hidden Housecat,” based on Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

• “Death in Tennis,” based on Luchino Visconti’s “Death in Venice.”

• “My Dinner With Andre the Giant,” based on Louis Malle’s “My Dinner With Andre.”

• “Don’t Look Now Because a Creepy Ass Dwarf Is About to Kill You!! Damn!!!” based on Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now.”

• “Eyes Wide Butt,” based on Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.”

• “Hairy, Old and Mod,” based on Hal Ashby’s “Harold and Maude.”

• “La Gelee,” based on Chris Marker’s “La Jetèe.”

• “Gone With My Wind,” based on Victor Fleming’s “Gone With the Wind.”

• “Grumpy Cul-de-Sacs,” based on Scorsese’s “Mean Streets.”

• “It’s a Punderful Life,” based on Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

• “The Janitor of Oz,” based on Fleming’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

• “The Lady Manishness,” based on Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes.”

• “Monorash,” based on Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon.”

• “My Best Actor Is Also a Dangerous Lunatic,” based on Werner Herzog’s “My Best Fiend.”

• “Nose Ferret 2,” based on F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu.”

• “Pooping Tom,” based on Powell’s “Peeping Tom.”

• “Rear Wind,” based on Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”

• “Rosemary Baby Carrots,” based on Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby.”

• “Senior Citizen Cane,” based on Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.”

• “The Seven Seals,” based on Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal.”

• “A Sockwork Orange,” based on Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.”

• “Vere’d He Go?” based on Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”

• “2:48 p.m. Cowboy,” based on John Schlesinger’s “Midnight Cowboy.”

See further: A guide to fun movie references in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl / Austin Movie Blog: "Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has slipped in lots of sly movie references . . . related to the director’s past — his association with Martin Scorsese . . . ."