Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Postmistress and The Report

Moi's sister gave moi The Postmistress for moi's birthday. It is a lovely book about how to, basically, live your life when terrible things are happening in the world. Most of the characters in this book live in Cape Cod during WWII, and one character is an American journalist who works with Edward R. Murrow in London. To various extremes, the characters address this theme of what-to-do? Writer Sarah Blake's thesis is to be aware, which, generally, yes, is a good idea.

I found the actual postmistress, who is ostensibly the main character, at least judging by the title, an extremely strange protagonist, with whom I did not identify at all even though we are clearly meant to identify with her. Early on she discloses that there was a piece of mail which she did not deliver, a shocking revelation to people who believe in the US Postal Service but perhaps not to anyone who's ever dealt with the US Postal Service. She also has an oockie doctor's visit to prove she's a virgin and provide "proof" to her mister-friend, who will presumably be impressed by the information.

Descriptions of the London tube station shelters were of particular interest to me, mainly because I think that's ingenious and I also love LOVE LOVE Henry Miller's drawings of the same.

By coincidence, after I read The Postmistress I read a new book called The Report, a fiction book by Jessica Francis Kane based on the actual event of 173 dying in a London tube station during the blitz - not the result of bombing, but of a crush of human bodies. I only ended up reading about half of it because the middle part was a bit dull, with all the excitement of journalism performed 40 years after the event. And then, by another coincidence, I found a 2001 article in the New Yorker about this phenomenon of people getting crushed, which I never really could/can wrap my head around. I also find it difficult to finish this article because it's making me feel all claustrophobic.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Animal Dreams

The title of Animal Dreams refers to (and I don't think I'm ruining it for you by telling) one character's theory that animals dreams are not that complicated - that they most likely dreams about what they do all day. One of the themes of this book is that humans are like animals, we're motivated by sex and basic needs and mostly sex. I don't agree with that, but Barbara Kingsolver makes a good case for it.
The baby signed and stirred in his crib. At seven months, he was just the size of a big jackrabbit - the same amount of meat. The back of my scalp and neck prickled. It's an involuntary muscle contraction that causes that, setting the hair follicles on edge; if we had manes they would bristle exactly like a growling dog's. We're animals. We're born like every other mammal and we live our whole lives around disguised animal thoughts. There's no sense pretending. Tomorrow, I thought, or the next day, or the day after that, I would have sex with Loyd Peregrina.

In Animal Dreams, Codi returns to her hometown after a long absence to watch over her inattentive father. Kingsolver tells Codi's story really beautifully, letting details spill out over time, and even including an environmental twist without lecturing the reader (I thought this book had a lot in common with the great My Year of Meats and Annie Proulx's That Old Ace in the Hole). Codi starts dating her old high school boyfriend, an Apache, who takes her to see old ruins of American Indian sites - Kingsolver describes these marvelous places so vividly I wanted to take an immediate road trip to Arizona. (see: Kinishba!) I have a vague memory of reading something by Flannery O'Connor that made me feel the same way but I can't for the life of me remember the name.

While Animals Dreams is unbelievably beautifully written, it's depressing as hell. Among the hands-off parenting atrocities practiced by her widowed father was listening to his teen-aged daughter have a miscarriage in the bathroom and then bury the fetus in the yard without interfering. For example.

But then there's this:
I'd finished my shopping in a few minutes, and while I waited for Emelina to revision her troops for the week I stood looking helplessly at the cans of vegetables and soup that all carried some secret mission. The grocery shelves seemed to have been stocked for the people of Grace with the care of a family fallout shelter. I was an outsider to this nurturing. When the cashier asked, "Do you need anything else?" I almost cried. I wanted to say, "I need everything you have."

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Stuff Parisians Like

Stuff White People Like started as a blog and then quickly made a book deal. Then, white people like me became less enamored with it when people started pointing out that it's kinda racist. (What, people of color don't like recycling?)

Stuff Parisians Like
is obviously capitalizing on the 'Stuff fame and also started as a blog. Parisians, as you might imagine, are described as dull moderates that "like" feeling a sense of superiority in all things. I love cultural insider-info - so bits about how the last two digits on the license plate indicate the owner's home town (Paris is 75), that a three-day-"scruff" of unshaved beard is considered the height of sexiness, and that San Pelegrino is ordered as "San Pé" are the details I love.

But, like Stuff White People Like, it's problematic. Stuff Parisians Like is riddled with a rather off-putting masculinity that ridicules relationships, "Testosterone-Deprived Males", and claims all Parisian women are uptight prudes. The author writes, "...Parisian men get sick of begging their women for oral gratification" and "foreign girls are different. They can dance. They drink. They have fun." Ick.

The biggest offense Olivier Magney gave was not claiming that Parisians no longer drink enough wine (surprise: he's a sommelier) but that he used the word "retarded" to indicate that something was uncool.

Grow up, putain.