Anywhere But Here

When your first novel is this good, how can you ever write anything else? Mona Simpson writes the tale of several woman, outlining Ann’s life growing up with her flighty beautiful mother Adele, leaving Wisconsin for LA where Ann was to become a movie star at the age of 12, getting bits of the story from the perspective of Carol (Adele’s older sister, back in Wisconsin raising sons 20 feet from her mother’s house), Lilian (Ann’s grandmother), Adele (Ann’s mom), and Ann herself.
Ann lurks painfully behind the surface, adhering to her mother’s wishes, going hungry, stopping for milkshakes, worrying about her weight while eating milkshakes, watching her mother sidle up to men so that Ann could have a father.
One of the haunting images is from the beginning, when Ann & Adele are driving cross-country, and when Adele gets mad at Ann she orders her out of the car. Ann usually sits and waits and her mother swings around to get her eventually. Then, one time, instead of waiting by the side of the road, Ann walks onward to a gas station, borrows a dime and calls her grandmother to say they are alright. Another image: Ann, nervous about her friends seeing her mother’s cancelled check tacked up behind the register at the restaurants they frequent.
There are too many delicious details to recount here. Read it.

Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

The ever-readable Gilbert churns out another book on love, this time backpedalling her way into a marriage forced upon her by the Department of Homeland Security. The wild success of Eat Pray Love has Gilbert cautiously trying her hand at writing for the massive audience of weepy women who found solace in her inward journey across multiple continents in search of self. After writing a stilted manuscript aimed at that audience, Gilbert chucks it and starts from scratch, focusing on writing for a group of 27 women who have influenced her ideas of marriage throughout her life.
Part-memoir, part-research into global marital traditions, Gilbert tackles the subject of marriage like a wary dog, circling its prey, nibbling at the edges, and finishing with a frenzied toussling. Long story short, the Brazilian gent who “happily-ever-after”‘s her in Eat Pray Love becomes her partner, jetting out of the US every 90 days to renew his visa, until finally one border crossing in Dallas puts a stop to that. It is decided that to return to the US, he must be a US citizen via marriage to Gilbert, who of course chaffs at this suggestion with her newfound freedom.
Happy marriages work best when there are not these overwhelming expectations that the other person will fulfill you, will inspire you daily, will complete you.
I especially enjoyed the section on Marriage and Women– reiterating that marriage is the best decision a man can make to lead a long, happy, prosperous life, but that women generally lose ground when married. Married women don’t live as long or accumulate as much wealth, and are significantly less healthy than their single counterparts; married ladies more likely to suffer depression and die a violent death than single ladies. And the decision not to have kids? “I never had ’em, honey. And I never missed ’em.”

Looking across human population of all varieties, in every culture and on every continent (even among the most enthusiastic breeders in history, like the nineteenth-century Irish, or the contemporary Amish), you will find that there is a consistent 10 percent of women within any population who never have children at all. The percentage never gets any lower than that, in any population whatsoever. In fact, the percentage of women who never reproduce in most societies is usually much higher than 10 percent – and that’s not just today in the developed Western world, where childless rates among women tend to hover around 50 percent. In the 1920s in America, for instance, a whopping 23 percent of adult women never had any children. (Doesn’t that sound shockingly high, for such a conservative era, before the advent of legalized birth control? Yet it was so). So the number can get pretty high. But it never goes below 10 percent.

Such childless women – let’s call them the “Auntie Brigade” – have never been very well honored by history, I’m afraid. They are called selfish, frigid, pathetic. Here’s one particularly nasty bit of conventional wisdom circulating out there about childless women that I need to dispel: that women who have no children may lead liberated and happy and wealthy lives when they are young, but they will ultimately regret that choice when they reach old age, for they shall all die alone and depressed and full of bitterness. Perhaps you’ve heard this old chestnut? Just to set the record straight: There is zero sociological evidence to back this up. In fact, recent studies of American nursing homes comparing happiness levels of elderly childless women against happiness levels of women who did have children show no pattern of special misery or joy in one group or the other. But here’s what the researchers did discover that makes elderly women miserable across the board: poverty and poor health. Whether you have children or not, then, the prescription seems clear: Save your money, floss your teeth, wear your seatbelt, and keep fit – and you’ll be a perfectly happy old bird someday, I guarantee you.

Piano Notes: The World of the Pianist

Rosen’s technical skills with words are proven in the book, and I trust that his piano skills are up to snuff as well. He describes the complexities of musical appreciation within language and without the aid of sound, reminding us that to sight read a piece of music, you can hear it in your head. Debussy and Stravinsky reading over S’s piano version of an orchestral work, Debussy leaving without saying a word after finishing the read. The question of modernism, and its value– the critics who claim we love modern music to be obtuse, but in fact it is the challenge posed by the music that draws us.
Rosen dips into all facets of the pianist’s life– concerts, tuning of instruments, recording, phrasing, choosing piano over harpsichord, serving on a panel of judges for a contest, the physical and mental nature of music. From Bach (the ultimate music-teacher work) to Liszt’s physically demanding pieces, to Rachmaninoff and the pleasure of having a recording of the virtuoso performance of his work.
Mozart had pedals that were worked with his knees?
Recommended as the best book you didn’t read of the last decade, via my lil sis, EZ-rider.