The Floating Girl

Another Sujata Massey book, this one a dud. Her approach seems to be to focus on one stereotypical thing about Japan and build a book around it. She’s already covered Zen (Zen Attitude), flower arranging (The Flower Master), and this one was centered around manga. Toss in a bit of steamy romance, add some very improbable crime solving, and you’ve got a Rei Shimura book, paint-by-numbers style.


David Sedaris is the perfect antidote to the late-Fall blues. It may be getting darker earlier, but that just gives you an excuse to close your blinds, turn on the lamp, and curl up with his latest collection of stories (? essays ?) and laugh the night away. Brutally honest and hilarious, Sedaris chronicles life with his husband Hugh as they jet from their cozy cottage in England to the North Carolina beach house David bought a few summers ago, dealing with his sister Tiffany’s suicide, his aging father (restricted to not listening to right wing radio or watching Fox news while in David’s beach house), his goofy sisters. This book provides a necessary jolt of joy and is not surprisingly on many best-of lists for the year. I tried to sip it slowly but couldn’t resist finishing it up this morning.

The Flower Master

Another Sujata Massey mystery following the hijinx of Rei Shimura. In this one, she’s swept into the action at the flower arranging school her aunt studies/teaches at. One of the particularly crabby teachers gets murdered, Rei herself gets poisoned with arsenic, there’s a new dude on the scene to capture Rei’s heart, and all the usual hubub and nonsense. Utterly pointless, exactly what I need to end the year.

The Fall of Night

Let the meticulously curated words of Anne Boyer wash over you and pull you into night; read her latest essay in Lapham’s Quarterly. Snuggling up with Karl Marx, she tucks Djuna Barnes in alongside Walt Whitman and Mary Shelley, Silvia Federici and Milton. Witches flap by (“Witches were the flaneurs of the night sky”). In her own words directing us via Twitter to this latest article, “I wrote on dusk in Kansas City & Marx & lights turning on & the streets & nightwood & more.”

Zen Attitude (A Novel of Suspense)

End of year luxuriating in mindless mystery novels has replaced my usual mid-century British novel fetish way of unwinding the year. I enjoyed Massey’s mystery, The Widows of Malabar Hill, so have been haunting the shelves of the library to grab as many of her other works as possible.

This was my first of her Rei Shimura series, an American half-Japanese, half-white woman living in Tokyo working as an antiques reseller and struggling with a relationship with a wealthy Brit. In this one, there’s a scroll hidden inside a piece of furniture she acquires for a client, which leads to the death of several people. After her Brit boyfriend hits her, she squats in an abandoned temple to try to pull her life together, and unravel the mystery. It’s dumb, it’s fine, it’s just an entertaining read.

Certain American States: Stories

The quality of short stories being written right now is nothing I’ve ever seen before. Another gem from a “Best of” list, this collection from Catherine Lacey. Her long sentences are acrobats defying expectations, you think she’s going to crash but she keeps spinning them out, pages and pages, your nerves on edge, will she land on her feet, yes!

Excellent writing, weird moods and characters, nothing blah about these stories. Her experiments with text never seem to fail, even the parentheses within parentheses: “(A life might comfortably disappear into a well-worn groove between house, school, and grocery store. (All lives disappear one way or another. (All hours get spent.)))”

She even makes you laugh with the unexpected twist of the sentence:

“Leonard, that man who raised me, he is the one who remembers my nervousness. He once told me that on the first day of my life, on that still-dark morning, I looked up at him and he looked down at me and he knew and I knew and we both knew that we’d always dislike each other.”

Shopping: A Century of Art and Consumer Culture

Perhaps there’s such a thing as going too far down a rabbit hole. I’m now mired in work that is derivative of all the other essays I’ve been reading about the history of display windows, where commerce intersects with art. It’s as if there’s a checklist of names they must nod to: Walter Benjamin, Marx, Baudrillard, Zola. I think I still have a few books on this topic headed my way, but this vein is almost all tapped out.

Interesting that KaDeWe turned their rooftop into a pretend ocean liner to let shoppers relax on the “deck” watching Berlin roll around them.

The Bay Area Forager: Your Guide to Edible Wild Plants of the San Francisco Bay Area

B plucked this from the shelves of Bird & Beckett Bookstore this weekend to taunt me with a recipe for Miso Miner’s Lettuce, but the joke’s on him because this book is amazing. In a quick gulp, I learned about scads of things growing in the ground around us that are edible: from preparing acorns (shelled/mashed with mortar-pestle/leeched with water) to gathering blackberries (duh!) and wild radish and miner’s lettuce and nasturtiums (those omnipresence orange flower vine things in GGP). Also: acorns fall (or drop) twice! First drop is usually smaller and has more mealy, wormy, moldy acorns. Second drop is bigger and with healthier acorns. What else is edible: Bay Laurel, Blue Dicks (!! those gorgeous purple flowers near Ukiah- edible bulb is similar to garlic; flower/seeds also edible), cattails, nettles!, thistles!, clover, dandelion, wild fennel, ginko leaves!, madrone leaves/bark/flowers, strawberry tree (these are everywhere in the city), black walnuts, and more. The further away from civilization (and pesticides) you are, the better.

Windows at Tiffany’s: The art of Gene Moore

This was a much better book to slog through about Gene Moore, courtesy of Judith Goldman. Many of the same photos in this as the other, calling out the use of eggs, wire, dolls, balsa wood, etc.

One thing that crops up over and over is the example of how Moore always leaves one thing in the display “wrong” so that audiences can have the satisfaction of telling him what his mistake is, which draws them in, makes them engage with the piece. Also interesting what a different world it was where people actually paid attention to window displays.

My Time at Tiffany’s

What’s confusing about this memoir is that it’s so terribly written and yet it has a co-author. I would expect a barely readable book from someone who’s not a writer by trade (e.g. the artist/window dresser Moore), so what involvement did Jay Hyams have?

Getting past the dreary, heavy, feeling-like-words-are-encased-in-cement quality to the account, if you can hang in there, there’s lots of great detail about the artists Moore worked with to collaborate on windows for Bonwit Teller and Tiffany’s. Jasper Johns and Bob Rauschenberg (aka “Matson Jones”) loom large in the late 1950s windows for both stores. Moore claims Warhol was already known when he tapped him for displays.

Tidbit learned: Maurice Sendak got his start designing displays for FAO Schwartz.

A Big Important Art Book (Now with Women)

Cutesy book that I should have known better than to request, with a subtitle of “Profiles of Unstoppable Female Artists–and Projects to Help You Become One.” The projects are lists of ideas like keeping a notebook by your bed to record dreams (so you can use those stories later) or making a collage out of ripped photographs of yourself or think about being a kid and create from that place. It’s somewhat useful to flip through and see some of the artwork curated for this, some inspiring patterns and weavings and sculpture and paintings by ladies, and the premise is honorable (to shine light on the absent women artist). But mostly this is a coffee table book if you want to flash your feminist art card at visitors, not anything worth sinking your teeth into.

One Dirty Tree

Noah Van Sciver’s highly personal graphic memoir ranks higher on my list than his mopey Lincoln book but still nowhere near as good as the Fante Bukowskis. All about life as a kid in a Mormon family in New Jersey with tons of siblings, a stay-at-home mom who eventually went out to get a job at an art supply store, and a dad whose short fuse resulted in some leather belt whippings and more. He does illuminate some of his favorite comics growing up, like Milk & Cheese (yay!). Interspersed with childhood memories are those from life in Denver where he’s agonizing about breaking up with the girlfriend who doesn’t seem to like him very much, and working a bazillion jobs trying to stay afloat as a cartoonist.

You Think It, I’ll Say It: Stories

I’ve been getting quality recommendations from everyone’s Best of 2018 lists, including this collection of stories by Curtis Sittenfeld whose pert, sassy, sensitive writing creates oddball characters you can’t help but like. She sneaks in sentences like this that pack quite the punch: “I had no idea, of course, that of all the feelings of my youth that would pass, it was this one, of an abundance of time so great as to routinely be unfillable, that would vanish with the least ceremony.” Characters include a narrator who keeps up a years-long email correspondence with his brother’s wife, mostly about classical music they love; a woman on her honeymoon who runs into a high school bully also on her honeymoon; an OCD twenty-something volunteer at a shelter for kids in DC; a woman who loses her license and ends up sleeping with the shuttle bus driver even though he’s a Trump supporter; several stories had new moms dealing with breast feeding.

Cecil and Jordan in New York

Early Gabrielle Bell re-released because she didn’t have any new work to publish? I was too far in before I realize I’d read this before, and since I’d neglected to give this its own entry before, thought I hadn’t read it yet. Not a huge loss of time, but definitely prefer her later work and storytelling better.