Three Women

I’m stunned by some of these sentences. I had to take a break, only a handful of pages in, to float over here and capture the essence before I end up dogearing every page. This is a non-fiction book that contains bursts of perfect prose.

“It’s not as if the prosecutors have your back. They have your shadow, is more like it.”

“Hoy also asks about a site that he doesn’t even know how to spell. You go, What’s that, and he goes, I don’t know, but have you ever been on it, and you go, No, I don’t know what it is. And you are thinking, Neither do you, you prick. But his formality makes you afraid to contradict him. You bet his wife and children have learned to lie to him regularly, to escape the kind of needling criticism that can wreck a soul.”

“They get the drunk munchies and drive out to Perkins, which looks like a soup kitchen. It’s wan and the customers have red faces and the waitresses have cigarette coughs but when you’re young and buzzed it’s good for a late-night snack. When you’re young you can do almost anything and it won’t be sad.”

The book captures layers of a taboo subject—female desire—in the stories of three women. Lina, raped by 3 boys as a young girl, eventually leaves her stable husband because she wants to be carried away by the fantasy of the affair she’s having with her teenage crush, hurried sex in trucks and motels, thankful for 30 minutes she gets with him occasionally. Maggie is a twenty-something recovering from an inappropriate relationship she had with her teacher her senior year of high school. Sloane is a successful restaurant owner whose husband makes her have sex with other men while he watches.

In Big Trouble

Another of Laura Lippman’s mysteries, this one sends Tess to Austin and San Antonio to find her ex-boyfriend Crow, who’s mixed up in a double murder with more bodies ready to fall on the sidelines. A bit of a yawn but still entertaining.

Al Jaffee’s Mad Life: A Biography

I imagine that the process of preparing for this book involved Weisman sitting down at Jaffee’s kitchen table with a tape recorder for several hours. It’s not particularly well-written, a slapdash kind of story heavily reliant on long, windbag-esque quotes from Jaffee that border on pointless at times. Goes deep into his bizarre childhood of growing up in Savannah, GA, before being emigrated to Lithuania by his homesick mother, then his father rescues them back to the Rockaways in NYC, then the mother steals them away to Lithuania again. Eventually Al’s back in NYC and studying art, but his mother is killed in her homeland. The story finally gains steam around the time when brother Harry starts mass-producing drawings of airplanes; the whole crew pitches in with tracing, coloring, then final drawing. Jaffee got his start with Stan Lee drawing Squat Cop Squad, breaking the wall by having the cartoonist spill onto the page and berate his creation. Lee came to the rescue again in the post-WW2 era letting Jaffee draw Patsy Walker. After years of Patsy, MAD magazine arose as an opportunity and he took a massive paycut to work on things that excited him. (First he worked on the 2 issues of Hefner-funded Trump, then Humbug, then to MAD). Jaffee’s creations filled MAD—the zany inventions, the fold-ins, skewering hypocrisy left and right.

The tyranny of noise

This 1970 book is the documentation of one man’s fight against the bone-jarring noise that took over a construction site near his NYC apartment for three years. Baron was somehow able to drop everything else he was doing and enter into the world of NYC bureaucracy, calling a myriad of Departments (Health, Transportation, etc.) to figure out how to get the noise down. Eventually he forms a citizens committee and becomes immersed in the global fight against noise (European car horns were quieter than US! They had to ship special horns here). There’s not much of real interest in the book except for the joy of reading his attempts to pull humanity back from the brink of noise anarchy. “If ours were a civilized society, it would not be necessary to work so hard to make a case for noise as a health problem.”

On the plus side, further research led me to this amazing NYTimes photo from the 1970s with the van for measuring noise:

Was Shakespeare a Woman?

I’m convinced. I’ve been convinced for a while that the actor/theater manager known as Shakespeare probably wasn’t the author of the plays under his name, but only dudes’ names have been puffed up as possible authors. Only… male egos would not allow their work to be shown under another’s name, right? As the often misquoted Virginia Woolf quote goes,

“I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.”

The Atlantic article proposes a few female candidates.

To Night Owl From Dogfish

Super sweet YA book told entirely through emails (and a few letters), but not in a bad way. Two 12-year-old girls get to know each other, one in NYC, one in Venice CA, because their gay dads meet and fall in love, conspiring to send them both to the same summer camp while the dads tour China on motorcycles. The girls resist getting close but it happens eventually, meanwhile the dads have a terrible trip and break up. One of the girls’ mom is a playwright with a residency near the summer camp, she shows up and re-enters her daughter’s life. The other girl’s grandma shows up from Texas and turns out to be an amazing actor who then performs in the playwright’s latest creation, which then goes to off-Broadway. It’s all very sweet and endearing.

Capital: The Eruption of Delhi

Incredible book weaving the everyday histories of people who live in Delhi into the historical thread, the violence of the Partition in 1947, the disruption of British rule, the eruption of capitalism in the 1990s. Dasgupta is a UK citizen who worked in NYC until he journeyed to Delhi around 2000 and never left. In this, he gathers stories from the incredibly wealthy elite who sip expensive drinks and chat about their Lambos and BMWs from walled-enclaves protecting their green golf courses and lush pools. He also visits the other end of the spectrum, people squatting in slums who are powerless and are blown over with every political gust that attempts to eradicate them. It’s beautiful, lyrical writing capturing the bizarre feelings of the moment, how global capitalism is ruining this particular corner of the world. Describing one pair of brothers who work hard but don’t acquire many things, “It feels as if they are living in permanent temporariness, acquiring nothing that might stand as an obstacle between them and their eventual retreat from this cultureless place.”

Interviewing an advertising executive who works hard and loves it, he explains how his wife wasn’t happy about his long hours but he undertook to educate her as if it were an advertising campaign “I took small steps to make her understand, I used analogies.” Eventually the wife has a baby to occupy her time and all is well. When coffee shops arrive in the early 2000s, Delhi “was suddenly awash in the stuff, its smell filling every shopping mall and office block, brown liquid pouring into the veins of this new sleep-deprived generation—who, as often as not, did not drink from a cup but, like their American counterparts, sucked at a sealed and odorless container, as if they nestled at capitalism’s plastic breast.”

Traffic snarls, people sleeping in their rickshaws, bribery, hospital scams, call center work, history, arranged marriages, tradition, booze, cigarettes, rape, rage, gurus, slums, water shortages, it’s all here.

“It says so much about the spirit of Delhi that this mood, this sense of living in the aftermath, has dominated the city’s literature until our own time… Delhi’s writers have consistently seen it as a city of ruins and they have directed their creativity to expressing that particular spiritual emaciation that comes from being cut off from one’s own past. This is both the reality and the fantasy of Delhi: the city is always already destroyed.”

“Now our city is about aggression, rage, inequality, corruption, and personal gain. It’s about consumerism and shopping malls… We have no beauty to leave to our children.”

A textile mill owner is self-reflective: “The system we are part of feeds on desperation. And any system that demands such levels of desperation will produce more and more disorder, and the only way to keep everything in check will be the increasing militarization of the world.”

Butchers Hill

Lippman finally gets around to having non-white characters in her third Baltimore-set Tess Monaghan mystery, which is a relief and sometimes cringe-worthy. In this, Tess has set up her own private eye office and gets two clients whose stories comingle by the end of the tale. The Butcher of Butcher Hill is an elderly man who was just released from jail for having shot and killed a kid for breaking into his car a few years prior, and suddenly all the other kids that were around that night start popping up dead. The other case is to track down the daughter of a now-successful woman who had given her up for adoption 13 years before. I’m not quite sure why I keep reading these, but maybe they get better as she goes on?

Counting by 7s

So thankful to have a sister who recommends amazing YA books! Gulped this down after a conversation yesterday. It’s an interesting take on the tired old “kid loses both parents in freak accident” genre. This kid is an adopted 12-year-old black girl who is a genius, inadvertently helping out everyone in her path. She didn’t fit in at school but when accused of cheating on her standardized test (because no mistakes and finished in minutes), she has to see a counseler named Del Duke. Through Del she meets a pair of Vietnamese kids and through them their mother Patti who runs a nail salon. Willow (the narrator) picks up Vietnamese in a snap, ends up living with the family and improving everyone’s life by getting Del’s apartment overhauled, garden planted, etc.

Charm City

Somewhat charmless 2nd book in the Tess mystery series. She makes Tess grow up a bit, gives her a dog, has her break up with a perfectly sweet boyfriend, and further consolidates her business skills as an investigator. In this one she returns to the Baltimore newspaper to figure out who inadvertently published a major news story the editors had decided to hold off on. The threads of the story fray frequently but we’re all suspending disbelief as we read these, right?

Lives of the Eminent Philosophers: by Diogenes Laertius

First compiled in the 3rd century AD by Diogenes Laertius, this is a crucial source for much of what we know about the origins and practice of philosophy in ancient Greece, from Pythagoras and Socrates to Aristotle and Epicurus. I picked this up in my quest for more detail about that weirdo, Diogenes the Cynic, and it did not disappoint, brimming with supposed quotes from the Dog. The book is beautiful, translated text from Pamela Mensch interspersed with images depicting those figures within. I also hoovered up bits on Socrates, Zeno, Epicurus.

Diogenes the Cynic composed a dialog titled Pordalus, typical of his bawdy humor because it derives its name from farts. According to this, he often remarked that to get through life “one needed either reason (logon) or a noose (brochon).”  When someone hit him with a beam and then said, “Look out!” Diogenes asked, “Why? Are you going to hit me again?”

When You Reach Me

Gorgeous YA book about a 12 year old girl who clutches A Wrinkle in Time as she cruises through NYC with her lifelong friend Sal, who abruptly dumps her so he can get other pals. Miranda helps her mom prepare for a stint on the game show $21,000 pyramid (she wins!), encounters evidence of time travel (notes from a guy who travels back to save Sal from being hit by a truck), works with friends at Jimmy’s sub shop over the lunch break in exchange for free sandwiches, and survives a winter in Manhattan in the 1970s.

Baltimore Blues: The First Tess Monaghan Novel

As promised, here comes the avalanche of Tess Monaghan mysteries by Lippman. This is our intro to the intrepid reporter turned detective, out of work from newspaper reporting and picking up the odd assignment from her rowing pal Rock to investigate his finacee who started acting weird. Tons of Baltimore locales and accents and highlights brighten up the tale, great writing.

Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live

By all accounts this book should be right up my alley—a book about reading to live? Sign me up. Instead, it’s a cautionary tale about the hubris of writers, especially those who think to build a book on the bones of other (greater) writers. How many actual words were churned up here by Orner? Not as many as those he quoted, and who can argue with a book primarily made up of Melville, Welty, Woolf, Chekhov, Kafka? Annoying, cloying, fawning paragraphs of his own writing that toss out bits of garbage about his life, his botched marriage, his time in Prague, Cincinnati, San Francisco. He thinks highly of himself, foolishly so.

What Do We Need Men For?: A Modest Proposal

E. Jean Carroll’s hilariously tragic road trip through the red states asks various women what they need men for, and if they could name five women who would make good political leaders. She also goes through her list of Most Hideous Men in her life list, some of which she runs across on that road trip where she’s called various names. The details around Donald Trump’s rape of her in the Bergdorf dressing room are disturbing, and so are the blithe giggly responses from women around the country about who should be in charge. It’s a depressing book masked with a few layers of jokes that are too thin to cover up the trauma.