The Friend

A sweet and ferociously well-written book about (or imagining) a friend’s suicide that leaves the narrator caring for his left behind dog, an aging Great Dane named Apollo. But does the friend really die? We have a later section wherein it was botched, the attempt failed, the friend embarrassed, but then the story swings back to life with Apollo again. I admit to breezing quickly through the dog bits, becoming enraged when it seemed like she was about to lose her rent stabilized apartment all for the sake of a dog and then equally enraged by her getting a service dog designation in order to stay. The narrator was very close friends with the suicide/faux suicide, had originally been his student, had seen him through 3 wives. In between plot points she muses about her own students’ writings, so absent of any mention of technology despite their spending 10 hours a day on social media. (Another friend’s kid asks when having a story read to him, ‘When do they go the bathroom?’ and indeed, much of life is usually left out of stories, including technology)

Victorian Literature and Finance

I’ve always been fascinated by the world of women described in British literature as assured of a certain income a year, interest on their capital, that famous £500 a year that Virginia Woolf claimed (as she was given by her aunt’s legacy) you needed for a room of one’s own. Even today I bumped up against this idea as I trundled slowly through George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda where she pokes fun at the young men who wonder if it’s worth participating in the battle for work, clarifying that she means, “of course, the young men in whom the unproductive labour of questioning is sustained by three or five per cent on capital which somebody else has battled for.”

The highlight of this collection of essays is Nancy Henry’s ‘Ladies do it?’: Victorian Women Investors in Fact and Fiction. She points out the independence that women gained by being able to participate in varying levels of investment and speculation, naming the Brontës and Elizabeth Gaskell among those writers who expanded their earnings from the pen by shrewd investment. Also, “few critics of the market were willing to address their own dependence on it…” in the case of Dickens, Zola, Maupassant, and Karl Marx. She recounts a letter Marx wrote to his uncle in 1864 after inheriting money that he’d been “speculating—partly in American funds, but more especially in English stocks”: “It’s a type of operating that makes small demands on one’s time, and it’s worth while running some risk in order to relieve the enemy of his money.”

It is here that I discover the source I’ve been looking for. “Beginning in 1749, ‘the consols’, or ‘the funds’, paid a fixed rate of 3 per cent annual interest (thus known as ‘the three per cents’). The Three Per Cent Consols are referenced in a wide variety of books from Thackeray’s Vanity Fair to Trollope to Jane Austen. Henry mentions “throughout the nineteenth century, many women survived on the income of money safely invested in the Funds.”

Great detail behind “the funds” here.

The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000

I’m not sure how much you should trust a book that erroneously attributes a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson as published in 1978, but after digging into the sources quoted, I’ll go for it. Unlike Nancy Henry’s assertion that the consols began in 1749, the source quoted here (Larry Neal’s Rise of Financial Capitalism) notes 1726 as the 1st year that the 3% return was offered, with the Consolidating Act of 1751 bringing what was known as the consol into play.

From Rise of Financial Capitalism:

The World My Wilderness

Rose Macaulay’s 1950 book about a post-war London and France, a family picking up the pieces in the wake of divorce, murder, collaborating with the German occupying army. A languid and charming mother (Helen) who runs away from her upright husband to a lover in France (subsequently drowned by vigilantes upset by his collaboration), a wild daughter Barbary who sees and experiences unspeakable acts at the hands of the occupying army and who can’t adjust to life in London with her father (later revealed in the book’s windup not to be her actual father). Tremendously well-written and informed by Macaulay’s own experience surviving the bombing of London in the war.

The Great Believers

Wow. A stunning fictionalized account of the AIDS crisis as it hit the Chicago boys in the 1980s, along with their female friends who helped them protest and cared for their dying bodies. Makkai does a brilliant job juxtaposing current day (2015) with past (1985), pacing the story perfectly between the two eras and leaving you forever curious and turning the pages to learn what happens to Yale the development director of the Northwestern art museum and Fiona his best friend whose great-aunt donates her personal art collection which dates from 1920s Paris where she worked as an artist’s model. Terrific story, writing, plot, heartbreaking details of the oft-overlooked AIDS holocaust.

Looker

After I finish a book I barely tolerated, I’m soothed by discovering via mediocre reviews online that I am not alone. My nitpicks are not the same as everyone else’s—I don’t mind a somewhat plotless yet well-written book with no backstory whose main character is a mentally ill woman. Mostly I wasn’t in the mood for a character whose whole life goes down the tubes once her husband leaves her (see: mental illness) and who obsesses about not being able to have children (yawn). This character goes nuts on her famous actress neighbor in Manhattan, stealing her child’s bike and squirreling away her boxes of free stuff left on the curb only to stage a bizarre installation in her garden late at night of all the stolen loot. I think she attacks the actress at the end? The narrator is also caught up in a sexual harassment accusation at the night school she teaches at after sleeping with a student. Skip it.

Family Trust

Mildly enjoyable book detailing a family living in Silicon Valley, the father dying of cancer, the divorced mother enjoying her 10 years of freedom (the financial wizard of the family), the daughter struggling with her own marriage and career, the son flailing about in venture capital land. Occasional glints of good stuff poking fun at the blather of tech, but you could pass on this book and not regret it.

Voyagers

A perfect whimsical book to welcome me back to my reading routine— a collection of found pictures of people reading. That’s it. Just photos of people reading various things like books, newspapers, letters. It’s mesmerizing and almost indescribable. Where do we go when we read? We voyage to another world. These photographs are evidence of the transportation of our minds to another planet, dimension, location. The people being photographed are there in body but definitely not in mind. And while they travel, their bodies remain here to be subjected to our tickling fingers, our sharp shouts to interrupt, our other torments.

Museum of Mistakes: The Fart Party Collection

Overdosing on Julia Wertz in the best way. This collects her early work from Fart Party which details her relationship with Oliver Trixl before he heads off to law school in Vermont and before she scurries away to Brooklyn. I’ve immersed myself so much in these that I’m not sure which stories were in which collections, but I think this also includes her farewell walks around SF (mostly Chinatown and residential neighborhoods where she wasn’t likely to run into anyone she knew).

The Infinite Wait and Other Stories

I’m on a Julia Wertz tear lately, scarfing down her graphic novels a few blocks from the locations she’s mentioning in SF, namedropping Bean Bag and Cafe Abir and Dog Eared and Cafe Le Soleil and BrainWash (where her brother worked). Highly entertaining autobiographical work that explores how she dealt with life in Napa, then SF as a student where she found out she had Lupus, then bailing and heading to Brooklyn. While recuperating(?) from her Lupus diagnosis, she discovered Julie Doucet and other graphic novelists, consumed their work voraciously and started doing her own, feeling like she’d finally found what she was meant to do with her life. Great great great stuff.

XX: Poems for the Twentieth Century

An overly ambitious project from McGrath, to capture the 20th century in 100+ poems (at least one for each year of the century) and somehow get at the essence of that time. Reading it, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that women barely exist, although he throws us token bones in the form of nods to Gertrude (which is actually one of the best poems- see below), Virginia, Sylvia (married as always to mention of Ted), Frida, Georgia. Part of my problem is knowing too much about Woolf to enjoy her fragments in here, of course mentioning her suicide (so exasperating that this above else is remembered, just like Sylvia’s poem).

I did enjoy a few other poems in here, like the one for Edward Bernays (1928), the man enlisted to craft a PR campaign that would get women smoking, the man behind the force of advertising that swept over us in the 20th century. Other favorite was Hiroshima (just the letters ‘a’, ‘o’, ‘*’ scattered across the page, raining terror down below).

Overall, he grants the voice of authority to Picasso and Chairman Mao by giving them frequent poems throughout the century. Elvis got an inexplicably long poem, and Woody Guthrie & Orson Welles pop up occasionally.

I Saw You…: Comics Inspired by Real-Life Missed Connections

Wertz edited this collection of comics inspired by real Missed Connections, which are always a hot bed of entertainment. Best of all is that the cover image (Wertz’s) is of Bean Bag Cafe in SF. The utter hopelessness and optimism of these posts are heartbreaking, but you can’t help diving in for more. I just checked the site again and weirdness flows in abundance still, so the world is ok. (Whole Foods on Franklin: “You were the gorgeous blonde in black. I was astonished by your beauty. I wasn’t clear if you were alone and didn’t want to cause drama. You know who I am. I was adoring you by the kale and apples.
Reach out?”)

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Beastie Boys Book

Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz document the group in Yauch’s absence, filling hundreds of pages with memories, photos, stories. Other essays flesh out the scene, like Luc Sante‘s vivid description of NYC in 1981. Even tiny addendum contain marvels, like MD’s note about Tania Aebi (whose book about being the youngest person to sail around the world I read in 2003) being a friend of his family.

This is a truly magical book. It’s a sweet, open-hearted, candid look back at their rise and conquest of the world. Although the mic is passed between Horovitz and Diamond throughout the book, Yauch comes through as a genius over and over with bizarro ideas that elevated their sound (upside down drum machine recording, 10 foot long cardboard tubes to amp up the drum sound, a million other examples).

It’s a time machine back to the 80s, but also gives you a front row seat to how people can live wildly creative and successful lives. Amy Poehler’s essay has a bit about her riding her bike around Chicago finding comfort in the lyric “Be true to yourself and you will never fail,” and my heart explodes thinking about the number of people they’ve had a positive impact on.

I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time, I imagine.

Drinking at the Movies

Wherein Julia moves from SF to New York back in 2007, providing us with a glimpse into life back in the glory days of the early 2000’s in Brooklyn and SF. She moves around a lot, attempts various jobs and frequently gets fired, but mostly draws, drinks, watching old TV shows like Gilmore Girls and 30 Rock. Actually, way too much out of control drinking, and she ends the book with the positive note that in 2009 she stops drinking completely. She ends up in SF at one point, panicking at the corner of Divis & Page because it’s her ex’s house and he just coincidentally texted her out of the blue. In NY she does a lot of drinking at the movies, as promised, and also with friends at bars. She lucks into a basement apartment that isn’t as creepy as it could be, endures the winter as a bicycle delivery person, has various waitressing gigs, quits an office job after a few days because of inherent boredom. Always good stuff in a Wertz graphic novel.

Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey

Liked this primarily because it got me thinking about remembering my dreams, which is step one to actually remembering them. I wish I’d liked the rest of the book as much as the introduction. Improving your dream life, Robb asserts, is as simple as thinking more about your dreams, sparing a moment before sleep to set your intention to remember, and writing them down in the morning. And just like that, you’re accessing your whole life, not just the 2/3 of it when you’re awake. Lucid dreaming sounds like something worth spending time to accomplish, too. The essence of this seems to be the “reality test” that you give yourself every hour of the day to see if you’re awake or not. Since we do a lot of the same things when we’re asleep that we do while dreaming, the theory is that you’ll ask yourself if you’re awake when dreaming and when you realize you’re not, you get to take control of the dream.

Dreams are where we work out problems that we’re encountering in our waking lives and hone skills we’re learning. Hugely important for everyone’s sanity and health. We forget most of our dreams because the chemical necessary for remembering isn’t actively being secreted by our brains while sleeping. Another weird thing: 117 otherwise healthy young men in the Midwest began dying in their sleep over a few years in the 1980s, from nightmares (Laotian immigrants who weren’t adjusting well and who may have had heart conditions).