Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

A few months ago, my aunt mentioned that she wished she could attend the upcoming production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg by the San Francisco Opera. Always one to jump on a hot tip, I immediately bought a ticket and then discovered the opera was a jaw-dropping five and a half hours long (including a few intermissions). Not knowing quite what to expect, I tacked on an additional hour at the opera house attending the pre-opera talk, meaning I’d spend about seven hours there, from 5pm to midnight. The pre-talk seemed desultory at best, a bored speaker reading from his lecture and cueing up clips to alert us to themes we’d be hearing later. I scrambled to my balcony seat way way way up there and settled in for the show, spotting my neighbor’s opera glasses and kicking myself for not bringing binoculars. Fast forward many hours and I was still on the edge of my seat, loving the music, the acting, the set design, the lighting, the Schopenhauer-infused philosophy and many layered plot.

And then I fell into somewhat of a Meistersinger trance, bookmarking the entire opera on YouTube and listening to it on repeat, ordering the bi-lingual libretto from the library and scouring shelves for any deeper reading about the work. Apparently Wagner’s as much of a badass as people have always made a fuss about. If I blink my eyes rapidly and momentarily forgive his racist views, I can almost cozy up to the man– he was an intellectual seeking like-minded folk to help expand his mind. He found such inspiration from cheery old Schopenhauer, another racist misogynist elevated to the top of big brains of the nineteenth century. Wagner was truly an ܜbermensch– a composer who wrote his own librettos! My copy of the libretto was the 1963 translation by John Gutman, handily with original German side-by-side against the English so I could follow along the music and test my nearly-dormant Deutsch skills.

A companion piece was John Warrack’s edited handbook from 1994, teeming with essays about the opera, especially over the concept of Wahn – another German word that defies translation but that fascinates me as it’s along the lines of something I’ve been struggling to understand, namely the rise of anger in society. Gutman (1963) translates it as “vanity” but SF opera (2015) had it more as “madness” and Warrack (1994) doesn’t even bother to translate it but simply says “Wahn!” (“Wahn! Wahn! ܜberall Wahn!”). It comes at the beginning of Act 3, as Hans Sachs grapples with understanding the riot from the night before… “no one wins gain or thanks from it; a foe defeats him; he thinks he beats him; hears not the cries of his own dismay, while his own flesh he tears away: he fancies that is pleasure.”

From Warrack’s collection of essays, we learn that Wagner researched life in Nuremberg in the sixteenth century, even borrowing a copy of the Vienna library’s Johann Christoph Wagenseil’s Nuremberg Chronicle (1697) which the library still has and “is free from any revealing markings, which may disappoint researchers but speaks for Wagner’s proper respect.” We also learn of the influence of Schopenhauer on both Wagner and Thomas Mann (note to self: read Mann’s 1933 essay The Sufferings and Greatness of Richard Wagner). Mann quotes Schopey in Buddenbrooks, the scene where the hero “experienced the incomparable satisfaction of seeing how a mind of towering superiority seized hold of life… in order to subdue and condemn it.”

There’s an entire essay dedicated to Sachs and Schopenhauer by Lucy Beckett that’s worth scrutinizing. She posits that Sachs is wielding Schopey’s The World as Will and Representation during his Wahn monologue, quoting Schopey at length:

In the consciousness that has reached the highest degree, that is, human consciousness, egoism must also have reached the highest degree, and the conflict of individuals conditioned by it must appear in the most terrible form. Indeed, we see this everywhere before our eyes, in small things as in great [Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn!].

Unfortunately, the opera’s reputation has been tainted by the enthusiasm it garnered from the Third Reich, but it should rise above such associations. One lecturer describes the opera as depicting:

in addition to questions of art, the disintegration of a society which has outlived itself over the course of historical development. The centre of gravity in this musical comedy is… the satirical portrayal of adherents of decrepit routine and the demonstration that the people are the only competent judges of art and the source of collective artistic creation.

A Revolution Of Their Own: Voices Of Women In Soviet History

A series of interviews conducted in the late 1990s with women who were born (mostly) before the 1917 revolution and who lived through the resulting tumult of upheaval, wars, economic uncertainty and Stalin, this book contains a rare glimpse at village life and city life under the Soviets. In some cases, the women’s privilege was swept away by the revolution (if her family had been relatively better off than the rest of the village) and in others, the working class roots of her family served to catapult her into the highest reaches of society (especially once she joined the Communist Party). Almost all of the women, despite their success or failure in the system, appear to be teetering near abject poverty at the time of the interviews, clearly the system has not worked to provide a safety net even for decorated female war veterans. The pages are packed with details– a father protecting his family from typhus by tacking up juniper in the house, the ambivalence of villages to whether the Reds or the Whites were in control, the appreciation for schooling that seemed universal and one of the only real successes of the system. Naturally, the age old problem of how to control birth rate and the terrible measures resorted to once abortion banned. The fact that religious life continued, just underground, with annual celebrations of Easter and Christmas (re-branded by the Soviets as “New Year” and Christmas trees allowed back). Overall an incredible resource; very fortunate to have Posadskaya’s interviews culled down into a readable document.
Reco’d by the Alastair Crowley lookalike @ Trotsky lecture

Sleeveless Errand

Another dazzling and quick hit from the 1920s, this one published in 1929 by Norah James. A sleeveless errand is defined at the beginning from the Oxford Dictionary as “ending in, or leading to nothing” which is indeed how this one ends. The piercing first sentence “Philip resented her intensely at that moment” details the feelings of Paula’s now ex-lover who has just broken things off with her. She tries to hold back tears but fails, sobbing, saying that she has nothing to live for now. Once she gets out of his apartment, she staggers to a coffee shop where she drowns her tears in endless cups of coffee and meets another lost soul, Bill the architect who has just witnessed his wife’s infidelities with his friend. Paula leaves the coffee shop and Bill slips out after her, following to make sure she doesn’t fling herself into the river. He rushes up to her on the bridge and introduces himself, and they walk for a bit, both bonding over their mutual desire for suicide. Paula takes him to a few of her local spots, exposing him to other wives who have cheated to give him perspective for his own case. He (chastely) sleeps over, and they plan to rent a car the next day to drive over a cliff to their deaths. They reveal their backstories as they stay up all night in bed, alternating their out loud statements with their inner thoughts. The next day, Paula gets a will written, to be sent to her for signing at lunch. Much alcohol begins to be consumed, which does not deter the road trip. They stop in a field to finish Bill’s life story, then give a man (Percival) a lift to a town where he is a theater performer, only their car breaks down on the outskirts and they must stay the night while it is fixed, drinking and hanging with the theater troupe. The car is fixed by midnight, Bill retires to his room and Paula to hers where she determines that she can’t bring him with her, she goes to his room at 4 AM to whisper her reasons that he must go back to his wife and why she must die. She drives off before dawn, sits on the edge of the cliff soaking in its beauty, then lets it rip, plummeting from the cliff.

The Crystal Cup

Holy moly, consumed this book by Gertrude Atherton in a few hours, alternately racing through the pages and cursing the choices that the heroine was being steered into making. Recommended by the inimitable Neglected Books, this gem from 1925 was startlingly fresh 90 years after publication date. We meet Gita Carteret, aged 22, at her grandmother’s dying bedside, about to inherit a sizable mansion and independent living after years of poverty and horror at men’s hands that turned her vehemently anti-male. Her pseudo-aristocratic father gambled away his inheritance and capital, dying in Europe but not before Gita witnessed terrible scenes between him and her mother. Mother & daughter venture back to California to live on an aunt’s money, near where the mother “snagged” the Eastern nobleman when in town for polo on the peninsula. “In San Francisco Gita was almost happy for two years. She enjoyed her school, the cool electric climate, the magnificent views, the drifting fogs, the long walks over the hills, and the Chinese cook’s admirable confections.”
By the time her mother is dying, Gita has shorn her hair and attempts to pass as a boy, all things her grandmother asks her to give up once she inherits the manor. Gita’s anti-male virulence is a strong character point that you root for, until she decides that it’s easier to marry her pal (who in reality wants to seduce her). Lady friends get her to become more feminine, but she marries Eustace rubbing her hands in glee at a sexless marriage. Meanwhile she truly falls for the brother of one of her pals. There’s drama in the form of a mistaken shooting, wooing on the salt marshes, and love triangles galore.

The Clasp

It’s sad, it’s unbearably sad, how lacking Sloane Crosley’s first fiction attempt is. I can hardly believe the blurbs on the back, the praise from Michael Chabon “I took so much pleasure in every sentence of The Clasp, fell so completely under the spell of its narrative tone and became so caught up in the charmingly dented protagonists and their off-kilter caper that the book’s emotional power, building steadily and quietly, caught me off guard, and left me with a lump in my throat.” Well sorry to hear about your throat cancer, Chabon, but this was a terrible book. Thin plot twists you’re supposed to stomach, but that come racing back up your esophagus, rejected by any sane reader with half a brain. Victor, the unemployed schlub, is the vessel into which Felix’s mother Johanna pours all the details of her extensive jewelry collection on the morning after Felix’s wedding, and the night before she dies (how convenient!) and thus penniless Victor gathers his limited funds and flies to France to chase after the supposed necklace of the Guy de Maupassant story, miraculously crossing paths with Kezia (his unrequited college love) and Nathaniel (college pal). Crosley should stick to her lightly fictionalized real life essays or burn the next few fiction attempts and then publish again.

The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy

Nine years after Bookchin’s death, his daughter has released this collection of essays including the previously unpublished The Future of the Left. A brief foreword by Ursula LeGuin includes great quotes like, “In a country that has all but shut its left eye and is trying to use only its right hand, where does an ambidextrous, binocular Old Rad like Murray Bookchin fit?” This is a heavy read, one that makes you spend thirty minutes reading a few pages and re-reading them to understand what he is laying on you in densely packed sentences. I wonder if it could benefit from a lightening of the writing, to spread the ideas more easily? Ultimately I read two of the essays deeply, the others getting the skim treatment: The Communalist Project and The Future of the Left.
He starts out with a grim note musing that the twenty-first century will be either the most radical of times or most reactionary, depending on the kind of social movement that comes out of the ideas accumulated over the prior two hundred years. We are “morally naked” and pessimistic, capitalism is entrenched in our minds and culture “regresses appallingly, almost to a vanishing point.” Yes! This kind of slap to the face in the first few pages makes me want to commit to reading slowly, to wade through the density. Then he begins his takedown of Marxism, rightfully crediting it for being revolutionary for its time but we now live 150 years in the future and things didn’t quite go down like Marx predicted. In the void that existed between Marxist theory and reality, anarchism sprung to prominence. Bookchin spent decades as an anarchist before realizing that this too was a flawed theory. One real problem is mistaking statecraft for politics; politics (as originally understood) is the “active engagement of citizens in handling their municipal affairs.”
He sets up the problem further:

While the state is the instrument by which an oppressive and exploitative class regulates and coercively controls the behavior of an exploited class by a ruling class, a government–or better still, a polity– is an ensemble of institutions designed to deal with the problems of consociational life in an orderly and hopefully fair manner.

Solution? Communalism. Hmm, my spidey senses are already rebelling since the word sounds too similar to the dreaded Communism. Very roughly summarized, this is ruling at a city-level where every citizen must participate, and several cities are in federation with each other to combine power, trade, etc, “radically restructuring cities’ governing institutions into popular democratic assemblies based on neighborhoods, towns, and villages.”
In the other essay I read closely, The Future of the Left, he dives into twentieth century failings of the proletariat to achieve revolution. “How did it come to pass that the classical era, marked by its coherence and unity in revolutionary thought and practice, gave way to a completely decadent era in which incoherence is celebrated, particularly in the name of a postmodernism that equates chaotic nihilism with freedom, self-expression, and creativity–not unlike the chaos of the marketplace itself?” Here again he dives into what Marx got wrong. Capitalism was not in its dying phase, it wasn’t even close to maturity, just getting its engines revving by the time the century dawned. “Capitalism… was still subordinated culturally and even structurally to elite strata, often based on kinship, that were more feudal than bourgeois.”
It’s surprising that the battlefronts of WWI were not the cause of the 1917 revolution; it was in the rear, where hunger was more powerful than death by tanks and guns and gas. “It speaks volumes that, despite the horrors of the Great War, the masses went along with the conflict until it was completely unendurable materially. Such is the power of adaptation, tradition, and habit in everyday life.” Then came the period of economic prosperity post WWII, and this I believe is the key to the failure of the Left:

The attempt to redefine the proletariat and make it a majority of the population lost all credibility when capitalism began to create a huge “salariat” of office employees, managers, salespeople, and an army of service, engineering, advertising, media, and governmental personnel who saw themselves as a new middle class, deeply invested in bourgeois property through stocks, bonds, real estate, pensions, and the like, however minor these may seem by comparison with the big bourgeoisie.

More on failings of Marx and Bakunin, and the need to figure out how to incorporate their theories into today’s reality:

Both ideologies–Marxism and anarchism–emerged at times when industrial societies were still in their infancy and nation-states were still in the process of being formed. While Marx tried to conceptualize small-scale, often well-educated Parisian craftsmen as “proletarians,” Bakunin’s imagination was caught up with images of social bandits and peasant jaqueries. Both men, to be sure, contributed valuable insights to revolutionary theory, but they were revolutionaries who formulated their ideas in a socially limited time. They could hardly be expected to anticipate the problems that emerged during the hectic century that followed their deaths. A major problem facing radical social thought and action today is to determine what can be incorporated from their time into a new, highly dynamic capitalist era that has long transcended the old semifeudal world of independent peasants and craftsmen; a new era, also, that has largely discarded the textile-metal-steam engine world of the Industrial Revolution, with its burgeoning population of totally dispossessed proletarian masses. Their place has been taken in great part by technologies that can replace labor in nearly all spheres of work and provide a degree of abundance in the means of life that the most imaginative utopians of the nineteenth century could not have anticipated.

On the current state of capitalism’s accelerated heartlessness:

But today, capitalism has penetrated into all aspects of life. Greed, an inordinate appetite for wealth, an accounting mentality, and a disdainful view of poverty and infirmity have become a moral pathology. Under these circumstances, bourgeois traits are the celebrated symbols of the “beautiful people” and, more subtly, of yuppified baby boomers. These values percolate into the less fortunate strata of the population who, depending upon their own resources, view the fortunate with envy, even awe, and guiltily target themselves for their own lack of privilege and status as “ne’er-do-wells.”
In this new embourgeoisement, the dispossessed harbor no class antagonisms toward the “rich and beautiful” (a unique juxtaposition) but rather esteem them. At present, poor and middle-class people are less likely to view the bourgeoisie with hatred than with servile admiration; they increasingly see the ability to make money and accrue wealth not as indicative of a predatory disposition and the absence of moral scruples, as was the case a few generations ago, but as evidence of innate abilities and intelligence… The myriad millions who envy and admire the bourgeoisie no longer see its members as part of a “class”; they are rather a “meritocracy,” who have become, as a result of luck and effort, winners in the lottery of life. If Americans once widely believed that anyone could become the president of the United States, the new belief holds that anyone can become a millionaire or–who knows?– one of the ten richest people in the world.

LeGuin’s foreword also includes:

What all political and social thinking has finally been forced to face is, of course, the irreversible degradation of the environment by unrestrained industrial capitalism: the enormous fact of which science has been trying for fifty years to convince us, while technology provided us ever greater distractions from it. Every benefit industrialism and capitalism have brought us, every wonderful advance in knowledge and health and communication and comfort, casts the same fatal shadow. All we have, we have taken from the earth; and, taking with ever-increasing speed and greed, we now return little but what is sterile or poisoned. Yet we can’t stop the process. A capitalist economy, by definition, lives by growth; as [Bookchin] observes: “For capitalism to desist from its mindless expansion would be for it to commit social suicide.” We have, essentially, chosen cancer as the model of our social system.

Good Behaviour

Devoured Molly Keane’s book in one sitting. She begins the story in the kitchen of a decrepit house, daughter fixing rabbit for her dying mother upstairs, pretending it’s chicken mousse. The mother smells it, vomits, and dies. Maid Rose is immediately at the daughter’s throat saying how much Aroon hated her mother. We float off in a retrospective dream haze at the end of the chapter and catapult back in time to discover why, exactly, Aroon hated her mother. It’s a tale of indifferent neglect, shunted into the hands of nannies alongside her brother, hilarious descriptions of a nanny with drinking problem discovered face down on the nursery floor, and also Mrs. Brock, the nanny who killed herself after a heartbreaking affair with Aroon’s father (and who was also the nanny of Richard, Aroon’s pretend lover, until sent packing). We discover this upper crust English (Irish?) family has no money, simply stuffing bills from creditors into drawers and forgetting about them. Younger brother returns from school with Richard in tow, Aroon falls for him, but it is lightly hinted that Richard & the brother (Hubert) are real lovers. Hubert dies in a car wreck, Richard escapes to Africa and gives Aroon the horse they all had thirds of, Aroon sells the horse to pay the nurse’s bill so she can fire her, putting care of her father into her (and Rose’s) hands. Throughout, the mother constantly undermines & discourages her daughter, sowing the seeds of mutual disgust that will end up on a plate shortly before her death. Incredibly readable, discovered via the Chicago bookstore, Women and Children First.

The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries

This will be a lazy post due to travel-weary eyes and brain trying to push this out and move on to the next. I read the first half of this book with gusto, enjoying the sections on William James, Rebecca West (whose half face appears on the cover), Margaret Anderson (“Thinking something is impossible is actually a really good way to go about accomplishing it. When one feels that failure is inevitable, it frees one up for experimentation.”), and even bits of the Maud Gonne where she expands on the idea of “learned helplessness.” The rest became more of a chore to read, resulting in skimming to find the personal parts, the story of her travels around Europe for a year and a half, although I did read the Jean Rhys section closely. There was a brief redeeming bit toward the end about Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore’s devious anti-Nazi plotting via slips of paper into German soldiers’ pockets on Jersey Island.

Fifteen Dogs

Surprisingly great book, considering my attitude toward dogs (more accurately, my attitude toward terrible dog owners). The gods Apollo and Hermes make a bet, Apollo saying that humans have no special merit, that any animal would be even more unhappy than humans if they had human intelligence. Hermes takes the bet (at stake: a year of servitude to the other god), saying that at the end of its life if even one of the animals is happy that he wins. They confer human intelligence on 15 dogs at a veterinary clinic nearby and sit back to watch events unfold. The dogs become self-aware, bust out of the clinic (except the 3 dogs who decide not to leave and who end up quickly dying when their masters realize something is “off” with them). The remaining 12 become a pack roving around the park in Toronto, and a schism immediately begins with which of the two leaders will lead the pack. One faction attacks the other, leaving the other leader for dead. The rest of the story follows the deterioration of the pack, ending with the death of the poet dog who is further tormented by Apollo by becoming blind and deaf. And yet at his death he is happy, so Hermes wins.

How Did You Get This Number

Sloane Crosley’s 2010 followup to her breakout success of I Was Told There’d Be Cake, another book of personal essays. Perhaps it’s the occasion of six years passing since I was wowed by Cake, but her second collection falls flat to me. Or maybe it’s with a tinge of joy that I categorize her writing in these essays as a bit pedestrian, especially after seeing her sparkle at a recent Booksmith reading of her new novel. I walked home from that event with a pit in my stomach filling with pricks of jealousy– how could she be so charming and interesting and honest about her struggle as a writer (“I’m a fraud”) and also a good writer? But I somewhat gleefully find that she perhaps is not as grand of a writer as I’d built up in my mind over the years, maybe my own tastes had expanded past oohing and ahhing over shiny tight witty prose. I’m reserving full blown jealousy for her novel, research for which had her on the subway on a Tuesday afternoon to go check out a jewelry collection at the Frick. More to come.

When Found, Make A Verse Of

In this book, Helen Bevington writes verse sprinkled with prose alongside notes she makes from other writers. I tried to read one of her other books– Charley Smith’s Girl– but choked on it and put it down quickly. This one was much more palatable. The title comes from a quote from Dickens’s Domby & Son, “When found, make a note of.” Upon reading this, Helen dutifully reached for her notebook and made a note of Dickens’s note to make a note of what she had just found.
There’s quite a bit on the writing of poetry, along with her own poems throughout. She gives us glimpses of her travels to Europe, lessons she learns from artists (the way to create: to seek clarity over and over and over again, work as a creator not a copier), expositions on famous diarists throughout the ages, thoughts on where to live. My favorite section was her detailing the meeting of Philippa Strachey in London, although it reveals Helen as one of the unfortunate unawakened:

Miss Philippa was once Secretary of the London and National Society for Women’s Suffrage. She has been for many years, like her mother before her, President of the Feminist Society in England. She was published a “Memorandum on the Position of English Women in Relation to that of English Men,” and she is one of the old-line feminists. To meet her is, in these times, like running into a Buchmanite or a Fabian Socialist. You are amazed to find the person and the cause still alive. (ed: Oh poor deluded Helen)
Miss Philippa, surviving well, a sturdy figure with bristling iron-gray hair, is even yet happily embattled for the cause of women’s rights. On a second afternoon at tea in Gordon Square, she lectured me vigorously for an hour on the subject, unaware that her fiery words were largely wasted on one who would make a poor convert, being at hart more like that little woman in Keats’s sonnet: “God! she is like a milk-white labm that bleats for man’s protection.” (ed: God, save us from the unenlightened women sexists)

Mr. Fortune’s Maggot

Maggot, in this case, means an eccentric idea or whim. Mr. Timothy Fortune, a London clerk turned missionary, decides to take his mission from the Raratongan Archipelago in the Pacific to a more remote island of Fanua, to convert the natives to Christianity. As he’s packing his luggage, he brings “tinned meat, soup-squares, a chest of tea, soap, a tool-box, a medicine chest, a gentleman’s housewife, a second-hand harmonium… and an oil lamp.” (Gentleman’s housewife is apparently a pocket-size container for small articles). Soon after his arrival, he acquires a convert, sort of, in the form a boy (Lueli) who moves into his hut. Eventually, Mr. Fortune gives up trying to convert the perfect people who are happy in their simple island lives. And he relaxes for the first time in his life, “To have time to watch a cloud was perhaps the thing he was most grateful for among all his leisurely joys.” The story is a bit drawn-out, but the gist of it is that Lueli never gave up worshiping his idol even though he pretended to convert. Fortune demands that he burn the idol, and then earthquakes hit and the volcano erupts. The idol is burned when the hut catches fire, and Lueli becomes despondent, eventually trying to kill himself by drowning. Fortune runs to grab help, the ladies dive and save him. The poor missionary loses his own faith in god during that earthquake/volcano night, and he decides to leave the island as soon as Lueli recovers, and makes him a replacement idol before he goes. A boat comes and takes him away, his ears quickly filled with gibberish about WWI having broken out while he waves goodbye to the island.

The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion

Pretty fantastic collection of essays by Meghan Daum, starting out with a gut punch called Matricide, which isn’t about killing her mom but rather about her mom’s death nine months after her dementia-addled grandmother’s death and Daum’s near death illness a year later, then her miscarriage of (natch) what would have been a daughter. From that seriousness, we head into shallower water with The Best Possible Experience, a deconstruction of marriage with a hilarious recounting of all the terrible choices of men she’s dated, including a guy who works with a “spirit guide counselor” (whose business card was all circles, and when Daum stated that she didn’t like circles, he retorted, “If you don’t like circles, you don’t like me.”) What I loved about this essay was the path it offered me for my own redemption:

But here was the thing about my dating life. I spent most of it with absolutely no eye toward making a permanent commitment. What I was in it for, what I was about, was the fieldwork aspect… I was looking for experiences, for characters, for people who paid other people to chant and beat drums while they lay on massage tables wearing flashing LED sunglasses. I regarded my love interests less as potential life mates than as characters in a movie I happened to have wandered into.

Perhaps my favorite essay was the third, Not What It Used To Be. This winds between nostalgia for college, advice to give your younger self, and the uncanny fact that us Gen X’ers have nearly everything in common with baby boomers and nothing in common with millennials, “because the digital revolution has installed a sense of ‘before’ and ‘after’ that’s as palpable as any war, any catastrophe, maybe even any coming and going of a messiah. And any millennial can see that any Gen Xer, no matter how tech savvy or early adaptive, belongs to the group of those who came before.” Also included is a great transcript of a 1994 Today Show clip where Bryant Gumbel confesses his confusion about how to pronounce the @ symbol in the email address he just read on air, and asks “What is the Internet anyway?” Daub goes on to tell us that she has to teach a thirteen-year-old about the concept of leaving a voice mail when he calls someone and they don’t answer:

I tell him that leaving phone messages is an important skill and that, if he likes, he can practice by leaving some for me. He looks at me like I’m suggesting he learn how to operate a cotton gin. To try to explain to a thirteen-year-old the importance of leaving a callback number is essentially to bathe yourself in a sepia tint. You might as well be an old-timey portrait in a Ken Burns documentary, fading in and out between stock photos of drum-cylinder printing presses while Patricia Clarkson reads from your letters. By the time this boy is twenty, there may well be no more voice mail.

Further essays go into her foster child advocacy work as an offset to not having children, dabbling in lady love as an honorary dyke, the Joni Mitchell problem (and her chance to interview Mitchell, tossing her questions about the time signature changes in the middle section of “Paprika Plains” and about her unfair pigeonholing as a folk singer), Daub’s irrational love of dogs, her hatred of all things cooking, life in LA, and her experience of being in a coma.

The Visiting Privilege

Joy Williams is aptly named for the joy she brings readers (along with twinges of sadness, awe, disbelief, amazement, smirks). This is being billed as the definitive collection of her short stories, along with a sheaf of new ones at the end that hold up under scrutiny along with the golden oldies. Warning: it’s impossible to read this book straight through on a rainy weekend hunkered down in a remote cabin– you feel compelled to shut the book after each delicate jewel of a story ends, taking deep breaths, eyes gazing out at the misty skies. I didn’t attempt to mark page that delighted me with usual dogeared fold, too herculean a task to mark every page for re-perusal. A single sample will have to do:

“Well, aren’t we going over there tonight to watch him?” Julep asked nervously, swinging her eyes heavily toward her friend. Looking often cost Julep a great deal of effort, as though her eyes were boxes of bricks she had to push around in front of her.

Nearly every story in the book is a knock-out punch, so that’s almost forty-six blows you must endure over 500 pages. It’s worth it.
Reco’d via the NYT article forwarded by eagle-eyed microtragedy.

Pretty In Ink: North American Women Cartoonists 1896-2013

A cornucopia of visual delights over a century of women cartooning. Early cartoons were of the Kewpie doll variety, things kids would like, a safe zone. Flapper characters became the rage, drawn with exquisite fashions by some of the top designers & artists. Then: WAR, and women take over some of the more action-y stories, which is alright… during a wartime…. but please scootch on back to families and babies once the men are back from the front. Brenda Starr a rare exception, showing a woman reporter and her adventures. Heartbreaking letters from fans begging for the female characters to please god do something INTERESTING! A bit of a rant on the exclusion of women from the ranks of inkers, which was too much inside-baseball talk for my head. Overall it seemed comprehensive, yet cluttered. The text within chapters would list woman after woman, names piled up and colliding and not a clear visual that we’d moved on to a different artist. Collected & written by Trina Robbins, I was surprised there wasn’t a more virulent feminist bent from this second-wave warrior who I had the pleasure of seeing at an Opera Plaza screening of She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.