The Givenness of Things: Essays

Ms. Robinson’s brain jumps out of this collection as if it’s a pop-up book to entertain children. She’s smart, not just “like, a smart person” smart, but actually intelligent and a great writer. Unfortunately, despite the grand premise of this book, my eyes got too squinty trying to follow her through the parade of religious figures and Shakespeare and Marx and discussions of ontology. The book begins with a bang, a strong cry in defense of the humanities that are being flushed down the toilet by current culture. This phrase in particular haunted me: “the spirit of the times is one of joyless urgency…” While meandering through the Reformation, she brings up an interesting point about how in addition to bringing knowledge to the masses by way of freeing it from obscure Latin, an immediate result was “The emergence of the great modern languages out of the shadow of Latin, with their power and beauty and dignity fully demonstrated in the ambitious uses being made of them.”

Sophie Calle: And So Forth

A gorgeous art book collecting dozens of Calle’s works, interspersed with interviews, photographs, yellow pages with three hole punches, details on her performance art pieces, close-ups of her showings in galleries. The book is edged with a metal plate on three sides of the cover (both front & back). The design of everything is overall stunning, a pleasure to read and provides the right atmosphere for absorbing Calle and her work over many decades. Not much was new to me, except the piece where she took her mother’s jewels to the North Pole and buried them there, a tribute to her dead mother who always had wanted to go.

Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness

This was mildly entertaining. His constant interspersing with exclamations from his young daughter Josephine were sometimes annoying, sometimes endearing. A Berkeley writer with the luxury of working from home and raising his child decides to dig into the natural world around them, investigating the mundanities of squirrels, ants, crows, turkey vultures, etc. I enjoyed the Ginko chapter the most, getting a book rec or two (Seeing Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo, and Marie Stopes’ Ancient Plants– curiously I’d just discovered Stopes vis-à-vis Woolf’s letters where she credits Stopes’ book on parenting for giving her lessons in birth control).

The Journey to the Western Islands Scotland and The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides

I am finally ready to give this one back to the library, it having lulled me to sleep many nights over many months. A unique pairing of Samuel Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands Scotland with Boswell’s much more entertaining Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, two works that cover the same trip the two of them undertook in 1773. I had to shove my way through Johnson’s prose, lines not holding up well to the inspection of modern times. Boswell much more lively, giving bursts of personality throughout. On the whole it made me dread less the reading of Boswell’s Life of Johnson, since most of the laughable bits were those of quoting dialog straight from SJ’s mouth, including frequent coining of new words. Their journey seemed arduous, plagued by rain and wind, and resulted in several cozy fireside chats about God and sundry.

South Riding

Let’s not get too carried away here. The 500+ pages of tweener life (in between the wars) in a village in England are of occasional interest but such melodrama! A spinster headmistress (Sarah Burton) comes to take over the local school, working wonders, butts heads against the landed gentry, falls in love with said gentry (Robert Carne) who is busy selling off his ancestral goodies to pay for fancy treatment for his mad wife. There’s a cast of supporting characters, old Mrs. Beddows the woman Alderman being top of the list and most fleshed out. The others just are scarecrow versions of characters who dance and frolic and do as you’d expect. That’s perhaps the most disappointing part, nothing is unexpected here. Except perhaps the death of Carne 100 pages from the end, failing to consummate the romance with Burton. I see that VW shared this opinion, saying of the book, “One’s never pulled up by a single original idea.”

Entirely skippable, though some weirdos have likened it to Middlemarch.

Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town

I wanted to like this book, but a light, barely perceptible tinge of woman-hating wafts through the pages, skimming along and occasionally stinging. The author is from the town he writes about, Lancaster, OH, and feels obligated to insert himself into the story, which combined with the misogyny, makes you wish you were reading a better version of this book. The best part is when he hits his stride, sadly only a few page from the end, thundering proclamations about how the social contract has been destroyed by three decades of greed: “The ‘vicious, selfish culture’ didn’t come from small towns, or even from Hollywood or ‘the media.’ It came from a thirty-five-year program of exploitation and value destruction in the service of ‘returns.’ America had fetishized cash until it became synonymous with virtue.” (The “vicious, selfish culture” quote from a Kevin Williamson National Review article March 2016 wherein he says “The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.”)

By inserting himself into the story, I feel compelled to slap him, especially when he mocks one of his subjects in person. “When I left them, I needled Brian. ‘Keep opening those boxes!’ I said, referring to his work at Drew [shoe factory]. ‘I think a little of Brian just died when you said that,’ Chris said. ‘Yeah dude,’ Brian said. ‘ A piece of my heart just fell on the floor.’ ”

My biggest problem with the book was that he didn’t knit the various pieces together in a cohesive argument (until the very end… way too late… you lost my interest). Over here we have drugs, cheap heroin, junkies, dealers. Then over here we have the corporate raiding of the town’s glass factory, decimating jobs. Only at the end does he connect the two, corporate greed ransacking the town, pulling away any opportunities for a decent wage/schools/life. This younger generation has NOTHING to look forward to. “The problem wasn’t caused by drugs at all, or government handouts, or single-parent families. While addiction could be as individual as people, common themes included alienation and disconnection.” Earlier in the book, he gives us a hint of this direction, saying that drug dealers were the visionaries who knew that they lived “in a global, rootless, gadget-coveting, atomized, every-man-for-himself world in which money trumped all other considerations.”

I didn’t bother to track his anti-women comments from the beginning, so I won’t do a catalogue of them, but I can summarize by saying women were mostly not named, only given “X’s girlfriend” or “Y’s wife”. One that is named is Lora Manon, who appeared to the author to be “a steely stickler, a middle-aged, pants-wearing schoolmarm.” His distaste for the young girls who had several babies by various fathers: “And the babies. All those young women pushing charity-store strollers around town, playing mix-and-match paternity.” Being the white, privileged male, even in the midst of unraveling this tale of social ills, he fails to understand the feminist perspective, or even empathize about the fourteen-year-old girl who walks up to him “with a sashay that showed off her too-small denim shorts. Amanda was pretty enough that the missing bottom half of her left arm was not necessarily the first thing most people noticed. She’d taken care to apply mascara, and a little pale, glossy lipstick. She glanced up at me with the eyes of a coquettish puppy.” Yes, jerk, this fourteen-year-old is well versed in how the world works already and knows that the only thing she’s got that is worth anything to the world is sex. I don’t suppose you took your eyes off her “too-small denim shorts” long enough to ask her any questions?

The Gentleman from San Francisco

I was primarily interested in this 1923 collection of Bunin stories because D.H. Lawrence and S.S. Koteliansky translated it for the Hogarth Press, and Leonard contributed some of the other story translations with Kot. The story wasn’t particularly interesting to me, the unnamed family known as either the Gentleman from San Francisco or his wife or daughter. They voyage to the Old World, ready to spend some of his hard earned cash. He dies, and immediately all respect for the family disappears, the hotel proprietor insists that the body be disposed of immediately. The women voyage home with the body. The end? Perhaps the most interesting part was the couple who were paid by the ship company to voyage on this or that cruise ship and pretend to be deeply in love.

Suite Venitienne

Seattle’s Bay Press issued this 1988 translation of Sophie Calle’s 1983 photo essay documenting the spur-of-the-moment trip to Venice she took to follow someone she just met; she had followed and photographed him before meeting him at a party later, then learned he was traveling. In Venice she calls all the local hotels trying to figure out where he’s staying, then sets up a lookout wearing her blonde wig. Yes, it’s creepy to track someone like this, but the resulting document wasn’t interesting.

Congenial Spirits: The Selected Letters Of Virginia Woolf

The selected letters is Joanne Trautmann Banks’s collection of the greatest hits, and this volume does a great service for those of us who are dipping our toes into the letters and not yet ready to read all six volumes. There are also 12 new letters that appeared after the complete collection was released. A remarkable collation giving the breadth and depth of VW’s life in a more easily digestible format. “Gracious child, how you gobble!”

This keeps echoing in my head and has been working as a great incentive to be a good person: “How I adore nice people. What else makes life worth living?” (19 Sept 1937 to Ethel Smyth)

On reading:

  • 30 Oct 1904 to Violet Dickinson; “… the only place I can be quiet and free is in my home, with Nessa: she understands my moods, and lets me alone in them… I long for a large room to myself, with books and nothing else, where I can shut myself up, and see no one, and read myself into peace.”
  • 16 April 1906 to Violet: “I lead the life of a Solitary: read and write and eat my meal, and walk out upon the moor, and have tea with Madge, and talk to her, and then dine alone and read my book, which I might be doing now if I weren’t writing to you.”
  • 21 Aug 1927 to Saxon Sydney- Turner; “Do you agree that one never thinks of Saxon or Barbara singly, but always as the centre of a nest of other objects? this fact has never been observed by the novelists—but my word, what a set of dunderheads and duffers they are! Even Scott has passages of an incredible imbecility. Trollope has gone up in my estimation however. But then, as its all a question of mood, and of what one’s just read, or whom one’s just seen, whats the good of criticism?”
  • 19 Feb 1929 to Vita: “I am sometimes pleased to think that I read English literature when I was young; I like to think of myself tapping at my father’s study door, saying very loud and clear ‘Can I have another volume, father? I’ve finished this one’. Then he would be very pleased and say ‘Gracious child, how you gobble!’… and get up and take down, it may have been the 6th or 7th volume of Gibbons complete works, or Speddings Bacon [Life and Letters of Sir Francis Bacon, edited by James Spedding], or Cowper’s Letters. ‘But my dear, if its worth reading, its worth reading twice’ he would say. I have a great devotion for him —what a disinterested man, how high minded, how tender to me, and fierce and intolerable—”
  • 28 Dec 1932 to Ethel Smyth: “Nobody but the postman can possibly interrupt me between today and tomorrow. Therefore I am sunk deep in books. Oh yes, I write in the morning—just a little joke [Flush] to boil my years pot: but from 4.30 to 11.30 I read, Ethel. Isn’t that gorgeous?… D’you know I get such a passion for reading sometimes its like the other passion —writing—only the wrong side of the carpet. Heaven knows what either amounts to. My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery—always buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, and then buried in mud. And why? Whats this passion for?… oh so may books —doesn’t it break your heart almost to think of me, with this passion, always consumed with the desire to read, chopped, chafed, bugged, battered by the voices, the hands, the faces, the bodily presence of those who are pleased to call themselves my friends? Its like knocking a bluebottle off its lump of sugar perpetually…”
  • 29 July 1934 to Ethel Smyth: “Sometimes I think heaven must be one continuous unexhausted reading. Its a disembodied trance-like intense rapture that used to seize me as a girl, and comes back now and again down here, with a violence that lays me low.”
  • 8 Feb 1936 to Hugh Walpole: “I’m reading David Copperfield for the 6th time with almost complete satisfaction. I’d forgotten how magnificent it is. Whats wrong, I can’t help asking myself? Why wasn’t he the greatest writer in the world? For alas – no, I won’t try to go into my crabbings and diminishings.”
  • 25 June 1936 to Ethel: “I’m almost floored by the extreme dexterity insight and beauty of Colette. How does she do it? No one in all England could do a thing like that.”
  • 1 Feb 1941 to Ethel: “Did I tell you I’m reading the whole of English literature through? By the time I’ve reached Shakespeare the bombs will be falling. So I’ve arranged a very nice last scene: reading Shakespeare, having forgotten my gas mask, I shall fade far away, and quite forget… They brought down a raider the other side of Lewes yesterday. I was cycling in to get our butter, but only heard a drone in the clouds. Thank God, as you would say, one’s fathers left one a taste for reading! Instead of thinking, by May we shall be – whatever it may be: I think, only 3 months to read Ben Jonson, Milton, Donne, and all the rest!”

On writing:

  • January 1907 to Lady Robert Cecil (Nelly): “I think you ought to write novels: you can write letters which is far harder.”
  • 25 Aug 1907 to Violet: “Never did any woman hate ‘writing’ as much as I do. But when I am old and famous I shall discourse like Henry James [whom she had just described as saying ‘My dear Virginia, they tell me… that you… as indeed being your fathers daughter nay your grandfathers grandchild – the descendant I may say of a century… of quill pens and ink – ink – ink pots, yes, yes, yes, they tell me… that you, that you, that you write in short.’]
  • 22 June 1930 to Ethel Smyth: “And then I married, and then my brains went up in a shower of fireworks. As an experience, madness is terrific I can assure you, and not to be sniffed at; and in its lava I still find most of the things I write about. It shoots out of one everything shaped, final, not in mere driblets, as sanity does.”
  • 2 June 1935 to Ethel Smyth: “I’m sorry I’ve been incommunicative, but I can only write letters when my mind is full of bubble and foam; when I’m not aware of the niceties of the English language. You dont know the bother it is, using for one purpose what I’m perpetually using for another. Could you sit down and improvise a dance at the piano after tea to please your friends?”
  • June 28, 1936 to Julian Bell: “[re: his piece on Roger Fry] My criticism is; first that you’ve not mastered the colloquial style, which is the hardest, so that it seemed to me (but my mind was weak) to be discursive, loose knit, and uneasy in its familiarities and conventions. However you could easily pull it together. Prose has to be so tight, if it’s not to smear one with mist.”

On dispassionateness:

  • July 1906 to Madge Vaughan: “But my present feeling is that this vague and dream like world, without love, or heart, or passion, or sex, is the world I really care about, and find interesting.”

On her brain:

  • Dec 1907 to Violet: “Now my brain I will confess, for I dont like to talk of it, floats in blue air; where there are circling clouds, soft sunbeams of elastic gold, and fairy gossamers – things that cant be cut – that must be tenderly enclosed, and expressed in a globe of exquisitely coloured words. At the mere prick of steel they vanish.”

On not wanting children:

13 May 1908 to Violet: “I doubt I shall ever have a baby. Its voice is too terrible, a senseless scream, like an ill omened cat. Nobody could wish to comfort it, or pretend that it was a human being… the amount of business that has to be got through before you can enjoy it is dismaying.”

On French:

  • 25 Dec 1906 to Violet: “… I think it a virtue in the French language that it submits to prose, whereas English curls and knots and breaks off in short spasms of rage.”

On autobiography:

  • 28 Dec 1932 to Hugh Walpole; “Of all literature (yes, I think this is more or less true) I love autobiography most. In fact I sometimes think only autobiography is literature—novels are what we peel off, and come at last to the core, which is only you or me.”
  • 22 Dec 1934 to Victoria Ocampo; “Very few women yet have written truthful autobiographies. It is my favourite form of reading (I mean when I’m incapable of Shakespeare, and one often is)”
  • 5 April 1928 to Ling Su-Hua: “I find autobiographies much better than novels.”


  • 17 July 1935, to Vanessa; “I have been asked to be President of the P E.N Club in succession to [H.G.] Wells: this is about the greatest insult that could be offered a writer, or a human being.

Gertrude Stein:

  • 16 Sept 1925 to Roger Fry: “We are lying crushed under an immense manuscript of Gertrude Stein’s [Hogarth Press pub’d Composition as Explanation in Nov 1926]. I cannot brisk myself up to deal with it – whether her contortions are genuine or fruitful, or only such spasms as we might all go through in sheer impatience at having to deal with English prose. Edith Sitwell says she’s gigantic, (meaning not the flesh but the spirit). For my own part I wish we could skip a generation – skip Edith and Gertrude and Tom and Joyce and Virginia adn come out in the open again, when everything has been restarted, and runs full tilt, instead of trickling and teasing in this irritating way.
  • 2 June 1926 to Vanessa: “We were at a party at Edith Sitwell’s last night, where a good deal of misery was endured. Jews swarmed. It was in honour of Miss Gertrude Stein who was throned on a broken setee… This resolute old lady inflicted great damage on all the youth. According to Dadie [Rylands], she contradicts all you say; insists that she is not only the most intelligible, but also the most popular of living writers; and in particular despises all of English birth. Leonard, being a Jew himself, go on very well with her.”
  • 26 May 1938 to T.S. Eliot: “Dear Tom, Whichever Woolf it was, it wasnt this Woolf; but now it is this Woolf – which sounds like a passage from the works of the inspired Miss Stein.

Ambivalence about Stella Benson’s writing:

  • 20 April 1931 to Ethel: “Stella Benson I dont read because what I did read seemed to me all quivering—saccharine with sentimentality; brittle with the kind of wit that means sentiment freezing: But I’ll try again: I’ll think about jealousy.”
  • 28 Dec 1932 to Ethel: “And I’m reading Stella Benson: with pleasure…”
  • 12 Jan 1933 to Stella Benson; “I have just finished Tobit and so can say… I like it immensely.”
  • 19 Dec 1933 to Ott; “Did you know Stella Benson? I’m sorry for her death—I think one of these days she might have written something I liked—And I wanted to see her, apart from the dull little man [her husband] who never left her alone for a moment.”


Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television

Jerry Mander (whose parents had a delightful sense of humor when naming him) wrote this book 1977 and it wheezes across forty years to raise a shaking fist against that 20th century devil, television. It’s almost quaint to read in this age where everyone’s snoot is deep into their own tiny screens, city workers under the sidewalk watching videos on their phones, people heads down staring at their inches of entertainment instead of interacting and engaging in their surroundings. It’s a bit of a depressing and unnecessary read in this era of our first reality-show president.

Jerry tells us from the get-go that he’s a reformed advertising executive, and that’s how he had he Aha! moment— when he saw how much clients were spending to thrust images of their products into your home, compared to how little was spent by non-profits trying to get you to do the right thing (e.g. recycle).

His arguments:

  1. The mediation of experience: we no longer have direct contact with the world, everything is experienced through a film/screen/unreality.
  2. The colonization of experience: TV creates consumers, period. That’s it.
  3. The effects of TV on human beings: TV produces neuro-physiological responses in its viewers, creating confusion and submission to external images. “Taken together, the effects amount to conditioning for autocratic control.” TV loves creating passive people who soak up its message, e.g. couch potatoes. “We are only the second generation that has had to face the fact that huge proportions of the images we carry in our heads are not natural images which arrived as though they were connected to the planet… Without training in sensory cynicism, we cannot possibly learn to deal with this.”
  4. The inherent biases of TV: you only see what is shown. (How does one show empathy/kindness on TV? easier to show violence, drama)

Perhaps the best part for me was the act of reading this forty-year-old book with all the markings and scrawls and notations of other readers across the ages.


Novels and Novelists

Almost immediately after Katherine Mansfield died from tuberculosis, her husband John Middleton Murry began cashing in on her legend, her work, her talent—possibly because he had none of his own. Several editions of her stories, letters, and notebooks began to hit the presses, Murry plotting this mere weeks after her death, despite her injunction to destroy most of her letters:”Have a clean sweep, Bogey, and leave all fair – Will you?” This volume issued forth in 1930, a staggering collection of all of KM’s book reviews that she churned out for Murry’s periodical, The Athenaeum, between April 1919 and Dec 1920. 321 pages worth, all delicately phrased, intelligent reviews of books that were published during that time.

The quality of her reviews makes me want to stop pretending that I come close to reviewing books here (and actually, I don’t claim to. This is a mere memory aid for me). She frequently pairs novels together, like her cousin Elizabeth’s Christopher and Columbus reviewed alongside Rose Macaulay’s What Not.

It seems to me that her feelings about the authors influenced her opinions of their work. Compare her attitude toward her cousin’s writing (whom she loved) to that of Virginia Woolf’s (with whom she had a complicated relationship). The first example below is for Elizabeth.

‘Elizabeth’ appreciates their danger, for the minds of toads and spiders are open books to her. But having them by heart, she, with her delicate impatient pen, is not in the least tempted to make a solemn copy of them. All that she wants she can convey with a comment – at a stroke. There is a whole volume for one of our psychological authors in Mr. Twist’s quarrel with his mother; she dismisses it in a little chapter.

And therein perhaps lies her value as a writer; she is, in the happiest way, conscious of her own particular vision, and she wants no other. She is so enchanted with the flowers growing in the path she has chosen that she has not, as the twins might say, a ‘single eye to spare’ for her neighbors. In a world where there are so many furies with warning fingers it is good to know of someone who goes on her way finding a gay garland, and not forgetting to add a sharp-scented spray or two and a bitter herb that its sweetness may not cloy.

On Virginia’s Kew Gardens:

But it would seem that the author, with her wise smile, is as indifferent as the flowers to these odd creatures and their ways. The tiny rich minute life of a snail—how she  describes it! the angular high-stepping green insect—how passionate is her concern for him! Fascinated and credulous, we believe these things are all her concern until suddenly with a gesture she shows us the flower-bed, growing, expanding in the heat and light, filling a whole world.

On Virginia’s Night and Day (a review which rankled VW, who noted “KM wrote a review which irritated me – I though I saw spite in it. A decorous elderly dullard she describes me; Jane Austen up to date.”):

It is impossible to refrain from comparing ‘Night and Day’ with the novels of Miss Austen. There are moments, indeed, when one is almost tempted to cry it Miss Austen up-to-date. It is extremely cultivated, distinguished and brilliant, but above all—deliberate. There is not a chapter where one is unconscious of the writer, of her personality, her point of view, and her control of the situation. We feel that nothing has been imposed on her: she has chosen her world, selected her principal characters with the nicest care, and having traced a circle round them so that they exist and are free within its confines, she has proceeded, with rare appreciativeness, to register her observations. The result is a very long novel, but we do not see how it could be otherwise. This leisurely progression is essential to its manner, nor could the reader, even if he would, drink such wine at a gulp.

Among other notables, she reviewed Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives, a seemingly positive review until the last line, “Heaven forbid Miss Stein should become a fashion!”

Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London

I was disappointed by this, especially after eagerly awaiting it to arrive in my library queue. As an avid walker, a flâneuse/flâneur in my own right, I have yet to find a book that captures the gloriousness of hoofing it around the city, and had fully expected this book to do that with a heavy dash of feminist theory. Elkin’s book attempts to give us the literary history of women walking, but it falls flat as she lectures and gives us recycled containers of Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, George Sand, Sophie Calle, and Martha Gellhorn—all of whom are much better reading directly from the primary sources than Elkin’s curiously bland recaps. There is nothing new here for anyone who has even the barest pulse of exposure to those sources.

Very surprised that Gail Scott makes no appearance in these pages, her My Paris the closest writing to perfection about flâneusing. Perhaps jealousy prevented Elkin from including? And instead of bringing in Walter Benjamin from the get-go, she tucks him in on page 188, sliding him in and hoping that we won’t notice his absence so far?

Terrible section on Tokyo which served to reveal how unwilling Elkin was to merge with her surroundings, a chapter that goes on interminably about a bad relationship that (of course!) ends with an engagement that (of course!) is ultimately broken. Food has a strange smell, “like the ground-up contents of a rabbit cage made into a broth,” things taste like “the underarms of an old man’s tweed jacket.” A few pages into this chapter, I’m rolling my eyes and telling her to get back to Paris already.

I will say that her chapter on Venice is the best in the book, where she reveals more of herself than anywhere else, alongside already-known-info about Sophie Calle.

The one thing I got out of it is a list of bread crumbs to track down of possible interest:

  • ‘The Man of the Crowd,’ E.A. Poe’s 1840 short story
  • Jane Marcus’s ‘Storming the Toolshed’ in Art & Anger: Reading like a Woman
  • The films of Agnès Varda (Cléo de 5 à 7 – 1962)
  • Suite Vénitienne by Sophie Calle

Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement

As a break from the massive quantities of literature I’ve been consuming, I took a few hours to gouge my eyes out while reading this ridiculous book. The premise is great—a mom decides to whip her five children into shape by having them do household chores and to learn basic life skills. Even though I caught a whiff of Bible-thumping from the Amazon review, I decided to plunge ahead. It was terrible.

She did restrain herself and wait 12 pages before quoting scripture, but page 2 has her equating her slacker kids with socialists, “I think I’m raising little socialists, the serve-me kind that are numb to the benefits of ingenuity and hard work, the kind that don’t just need to be taken care of—they expect it.” I squinted a bit to try and make the real definition of socialism fit this Fox-News-worthy description, but I was tripped up by having a brain. Later, she rails against the provision in the Affordable Care Act that allows children to remain on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26. The government (read: Obama) fueled the entitlement crisis that our youngsters are facing by providing “parachutes” (aka safety nets! for people who need them!). “Great message to send the future leaders of America: keep relying on your parents.” My rage began simmering, this lady blind to the realities that are keeping people living at home (stunning lack of job opportunities and high cost of living).

In one scene she drives a son to Wendy’s to buy dinner for the family, pitching in $10 while the son covered the remaining $10.14. When they got home and his order was wrong, she “whisked it up, put him in the car, and drove right back to Wendy’s. How dare they mess up my kid’s order!” She justifies this overbearing mom behavior by using it as an example to show her kids how to return an order gone wrong. On the plus side, she lives in the Dallas area, so I hope she was stuck in traffic for a good bit of this tantrum.

She has no qualms about hammering gender training into her kids, blithely coming to expect cooperation from her daughters while her elitist sons whinge. After laying out that month’s task, “cheers from one side of the room, moans from the other. No surprise from whom.” When the task is party planning, one of her daughters opts not to spend the $50 budget on a floral centerpiece, and the author loves this. Naturally this doesn’t come up in the sons’ party experience. When the experiment is first announced to the kids in a family meeting (gag!), she actually says “Jon [the husband] lets me explain the premise…” Let that seep in for a bit. Her husband allows her to speak. Don’t even get me started on the manners section where doors are opened for ladies and when a kid asked who made these rules up, she says “It actually goes back to the way men should treat women, which is to cherish them, to care for them.” I had to finish reading in the bathroom from barfing so much.

There’s an idiotic section that states “the jury is still out as to whether technology and the pervasiveness of social networking helps kids connect with one another or hinders their emotional development.” Oh honey. Pull up a chair and read the thousands of studies that are crying out against the act of friendship through intermediaries of our phone/screens.

And wacko Christianity oozes across the pages. A neighbor “went home to be with the Lord recently,” one of the worst euphemisms for “died.” Funny how it’s totally cool to “do service” for the poor but god forbid we set up social programs to help them. It continues to be one area that baffles me, the hypocrisy of these Bible-thumpers who are intoxicated by their own privilege and can’t fathom how someone without the benefits of being white and wealthy might need extra care to survive the grueling battle of capitalism.


Mom & Me & Mom

Maya Angelou’s biographical bits are worth hoovering up in whatever small increments they come in. This book is devoted to remembrance of her mother, Vivian Baxter, Lady B, with whom Maya went to live when she was 13 after being raised by her paternal grandmother in Arkansas. Maya and brother Bailey fled the south for the freedom of California and finished growing up there. The story is recounted again here about becoming the first black woman to run the street cars, as a “conductress,” a job she gets out of sheer persistence and stubbornness of sitting in the office for two weeks waiting. She talks about the pickle factory at the corner of Fillmore and Fulton Street in San Francisco, her mother’s house somewhere on Fulton in the predominantly black district. Somewhere else in the neighborhood was Melrose Record Shop, where Maya gets a job working alongside a reform Jew and a Christian Scientist. “The record shop was the most complete music shop in the black neighborhood in the Fillmore District.” After marrying a white man who almost made her become estranged from her mother, she’s pushed to give up the record store job (where she met him) because customers flirted with her. When they divorce after Maya realizing everything she likes has been taken from her, she gets a job dancing, which leads to a job singing, which leads to writing and directing and generally being a bad ass. Later, she comes back to SF to visit her mother who is staying with Leo Stein’s widow; Maya has a visceral reaction to the art on Mrs Stein’s walls, crying at the Matisses. Stein says “Your daughter cried because she is an artist.”