The Day on Fire: A Novel Suggested by the Life of Arthur Rimbaud

Beautiful (& completely forgotten) book by James Ullman wherein he writes the life of Rimbaud and fills in the gaps with his own fantasy. I discovered this via breadcrumbs left for me in an Annie Dillard book. Claude Morel is the reimagined Rimbaud, a brilliant poet who churns out his best, disturbing work between the ages of 16-19 before disappearing into Africa and Europe. We meet him at age 15, winning most of the prizes in school, and simply hopping a train to Paris to get away from his mother, the Black Queen as he dubs her. His first knee injury is incurred when jumping from the moving train to avoid the ticket taker at the other end; later he’s shot in the knee when soldiering for the Dutch; at the end he must get the leg shorn from the thigh down, leading to his delirium and ultimate death. On that first trip to Paris he is molested by a bum who calls him girl/boy; on another trip to Paris where he wants to join the Communards, he’s again sexually assaulted, leaving him confused and ending up in a drunken/drugged relationship with Durard (in real life: Verlaine).

Claude perpetually circles back to his mother, the Widow Morel, despite their grievances. In Africa, having given up his poet identity, he buckles down and works hard for a merchant, rising quickly and sending half his salary back to his mother. Throughout, he runs away but always returns to her.

My only real beef with the book is the usual wooden portrayal of women as either Madonna/Whore. Germaine comes closest to being a real woman, meeting Claude when they were both 16, in Paris, and “getting” his poems, no matter how disgusting they were. Claude’s African wife, Nagunda, is a savage tamed and given trinkets like candy and the rosary. They don’t speak, and she’s conveniently murdered by the conquering army before she gives birth to their “son” (Claude is convinced it must be a son).

The best recommendation I can give of this fictional biography is that I’m now interested in attempting to read Rimbaud’s poetry again.

***

Great quote from Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell:

Right now, I’m damned. My country appalls me. The best course of action: drink myself comatose and sleep it off on the beach.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice

I probably should have more appreciation for this collection of teachings from Shunryu Suzuki, founder of the Zen Center down the street that I’m learning meditation from. But I’m not attached to them, preferring to focus on his statement that our understanding of Buddhism “should not be just gathering many pieces of information, seeking to gain knowledge. Instead, you should clear your mind.” I am sweeping away his teaching from my mind as I tidy it. Just sit. Just breathe. That is all there is.

This collection is a bit tedious, and I like Suzuki’s own reaction in 1970 to seeing the book for the first time: “Looks like a good book. But I didn’t write it.” It’s the summary and cleanup work of some of his disciples, putting pen to paper and smoothing out his English. Instead of reading it, I recommend meditating instead.

What Happened

On Election Day 2016, I got gussied up to walk a block down the street and cast my mail-in ballot a local elementary school. I put on high heels and my sassiest blue and white dress, belted with a red velvet sash. Before I left, I took a retro selfie with a Polaroid, posing with my ballot proudly marked to cast my vote for the first woman President of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Looking at the picture now reminds me exactly how I felt. I walked down the block and the crossing guard at the school told me how fabulous I looked. I told her, “I’m going to vote!” The long national nightmare was almost over; soon I would no longer have nightmares about the toxic turd posing as the Republican candidate.

Voting wasn’t anything special. I hefted my many paged ballot (California elections are ridiculous) into the open slot, took an “I Voted” sticker, looked around the school auditorium at all the other morning voters. It seemed calm. I stifled a whoop of joy. My friend Jane later told me that she wanted to yell “I voted FOR A WOMAN!” as she left her precinct. When I got back home I watched a livestream from Susan B. Anthony’s grave where people were flocking to place voting stickers or other mementos. I cried a lot of joyful tears. Many texts were sent to friends across the country of the “!!!!” happy excitement variety.

And then the nightmare got worse. Watching that NYTimes % chance calculator drop from 99% certainty of Clinton victory all the way down. I went to bed, unable to listen to the pundits. For months after, I’ve struggled with depression brought on by the trauma. When I heard that HRC was writing a book about the experience, I said HELL YES.

I’ve read the book and weathered the media shitstorm telling her once again to shut up and go away. I don’t want this woman to go away, and it looks like she refuses to. She is a feminist hero, and this book is a goddamn manifesto. I laughed out loud, a lot. I cried. I had to take frequent breaks. It should be required reading for every American.

I don’t read books by politicians. Never have, and never plan to. This is not a book by a politician (although some of her chapters do get a bit into the weeds of policy). This is a first-person account of someone on the receiving end of the body slam that was Russian interference (hello you dumb Americans who believe things you read on FB & Twitter or hear on Fox News), Jim Comey’s last minute grand reveal of her emails into the spotlight again (for naught, because there is nothing in them), blowback from 8 years of “post-racial” America (remember that dream?!), and deep horrifying real misogyny.

I’ve said a lot already and haven’t even gotten into the book itself. She shares self-care tips like alternate nostril breathing techniques, sly digs at Putin, an exhaustive list of words to describe Trump (fraud, con man, “no ideological core apart from his towering self-regard”). She’s also quite funny. And her quotes range from Emerson, JFK, Eleanor Roosevelt, T.S. Eliot, to Nancy Drew. She reveals grand secrets like how her staff warmed up Quest bars by sitting on them before they ate them and how their favorite hot sauce was Marie Sharp’s (I can relate). She shares her thoughts on selfies: not a fan but likes that they absolve her from the wrist pain of “autographs, now obsolete.”

The best parts are where she’s breaking down the role of sexism in the campaign, how women aren’t supposed to speak up. “Think about it: we know of only a handful of speeches by women before the latter half of the 20th century, and those tend to be by women in extreme and desperate situations. Joan of Arc said a lot of interesting things before they burned her at the stake.”

On debate prep, her team realized that it would be a lot different against Trump. “He was rarely linear in his thinking or speaking. He digressed into nonsense and then digressed even more.” P.S. she won all 3 debates handily despite his following her around the stage while she mulled over whether to say “Back up creep” or just suck it up like all us women usually do. Oh, and do you remember how she got criticized for being too prepared? You cannot make this stuff up.

More humor– she attributes a “Lock her up!” quote to Michael Flynn at the RNC in July. “This quote could have been pulled from nearly any Trump rally of the entire campaign, but there’s a certain poetic justice now in remembering how enthusiastic Michael Flynn was about sending me to jail.”

To my never-ending delight, she unmasks Bernie Sanders for the fraud he is. “After the election, Bernie suggested that Democrats should be open to nominating and supporting candidates who are anti-choice. Other topics, such as economic justice, are sacrosanct, but apparently women’s health is not.” And Bernie, who loves to talk about true progressives never bowing to political interests, “has long bowed to the political reality of his rural state of Vermont and supported the NRA’s key priorities.” She says she’s proud to be a Democrat “and I wish Bernie were, too.” And this is just brilliant, a Facebook post included in her book:

She writes about her marriage to Bill in a way that made my heart nearly burst. All their negative moments have been shared with the press, and she shares some of the daily positives. This section is led by a great quote: “I don’t want to be married just to be married. I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can’t talk to, or worse, someone I can’t be silent with.” (– Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows) Hillary brings up that people contend she and Bill must have some sort of secret “arrangement” where she stuck with him and he must stick with her until she’s President. We do have an arrangement, she says, “it’s called a marriage.”

She talks about how we’ve lost half a million retail jobs since 2001, something no other politician is discussing, and brings up our skewed reality of “coal miners.” She mentions how automation is also killing jobs, and how frightened she is of the power wielded by the Silicon Valley firms.

She accuses Putin of manspreading! “When I sat with Putin in meetings, he looked more like one of those guys on the subway who imperiously spread their legs wide, encroaching on everyone else’s space.” As for Toxic T, she nails it, “Why did Donald Trump keep blowing kisses to Vladimir Putin?”

It has to be painful for her to watch this buffoon singlehandedly bring down America’s reputation abroad. “America’s lost prestige and new-found isolation were embodied in the sad image of the other leaders of Western democracies strolling together down a lovely Italian street while Trump followed in a golf cart, all by himself.” He also has an “utter lack of interest in or knowledge of most foreign policy issues” and dreams of “Moscow on the Potomac.” His reaction to her during a debate still echoes in her head. “No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet.”

 

It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness

Sylvia Boorstein serves up a very snackable book about mindfulness and living a good life, along with her pal Atla’s recipe for marinated mushrooms (2/3 cup oil seems extreme for 1 lb of mushrooms, to be honest). Very conversational tone to the book, very readable. Her approach is to let you know that you don’t have to be a weirdo when you become a meditator and establish “equanimity.” Normal folks incorporate these basic rules into their lives and go on living, but are just happier and nicer people. You, too, can achieve this once you realize that the mind sets up various traps to enrage you or cause desire.

Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life

I actually really appreciate Sylvia Boorstein’s chatty and informal style of discussing meditation and Buddhist thought/philosophy/religion. This means wading through several pages of stories about airport/airplane encounters since she seems to always be traveling from San Francisco to the east coast or to France (where she lives for several months each year). She’s one of the founding teachers of Spirit Rock in Marin County.

Some helpful tips from the book- if something bad happens, tell yourself “Sweetheart, you are in pain. Relax. Take a breath. Let’s pay attention to what is happening. Then we’ll figure out what to do.” Bad feelings aren’t good for you. Buddha taught oh so many millennia ago that anger is “a toxin in the veins.” Let it go.

Her prayer for metta/lovingkindness is: May I feel contented and safe. May I feel protected and pleased. May my physical body support me with strength. May my life unfold smoothly with ease.

Another of her favorite prayers: May I meet this moment fully. May I meet it as a friend.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

The beautiful Roxane Gay opens herself up about her past and how the horrible thing that happened to her at age 12 led to her fortifying her body with food, eating and eating to form armor that would protect her from the male gaze. The book is heartbreakingly honest, astonishingly well-written, smart, open, searching, and wise.

I don’t know how she has handled her escalating visibility in a world that loathes obese people. She’s also an unapologetic feminist, raising her loud intelligent voice to speak truth to power or the crumbling forms of it that coalesce around conservatives. She talks about her weight, brought on almost intentionally by eating her way out of trauma, her parents frantic and not knowing what was going on with her. She discusses her lost year in Arizona where she fled mid-semester at Yale. She details her shyness, hatred of being touched and looked at and talked about, and enumerates several harrowing experiences where invited to talk in front of an audience and afraid the chair was going to break. This book is amazing. Roxane is one of the top writers flexing their pens today and it is a privilege to read her.

The Beginner’s Guide to Insight Meditation

“Another book about meditation?” you groan. Yes, grasshopper. Only this one wasn’t nearly as good as Mindfulness in Plain English—clunkier, interspersed with tedious personal reflections by each of the authors, and much more concerned that I learn the 5 Hindrances, the 4 Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path. Too structured!

The one tip I picked up was around turning your regular walking into a meditative practice by counting the steps. When you take the first step, that’s 1. On the next 2 steps, 1, 2. Next 3 steps are 1, 2, 3. Etc up to 10. Upon reaching 10, it’s 10 for the first step, 10, 9 for steps 1 & 2, etc.

Otherwise, there’s an extensive list of books for further reading that I’ll probably hit up. But this one is a waste of time and energy. It’s ok, I’m observing that negative thought from outside myself and watching my reaction. Om.

Mindfulness in Plain English

Living a few blocks from the Zen Center is decidedly a perk of life in San Francisco. I have zero excuses to prevent me from skipping down the street to join others in meditation training, which is where I discovered this book.

Tremendously useful as you are developing your own meditation practice, or refining an existing one. Gunaratana breaks down the monkey mind into its various parts; we categorize experiences as good/bad/neutral and either obsessively grasp for the good, obsessively reject the bad, or ignore the neutral. Most of life exists in that neutral zone, so start paying attention and enjoy it.

The book teaches insight meditation, cultivating mindfulness by using the tool of concentration. Real peace comes when you stop chasing it. Vipassana meditation shows you how to be detached as you watch your thoughts rise up, see yourself reacting without getting caught up in your reaction, escape the obsessive nature of thought, examine the process of perception.

As you sit and watch your breath, the book offers great tips on counting: when breathing in, “one, one, one, one…” and breathing out “two, two, two, two…” up to 10, repeat; count rapidly up to 10 with each inhale and exhale (this worked wonders for me, keeping my mind busy with numbers); joining inhale and exhale as one count, up to five then back to one. Pro-tip: if you’re sleepy, taking a deep breath and holding it will help warm your body up and banish sleepiness.

Something I’m in desperate need of: cultivating a feeling of “universal loving friendliness.” Start by banishing thoughts of self-hatred and condemnation, then work outward to direct a flow of good intention to your family, friends, enemies, and strangers. He recommends setting this intention before each meditation session (and continuing throughout the day, especially right before bed because it helps you “sleep well and to prevent nightmares. It also makes it easier to get up in the morning. And it makes you more friendly and open toward everybody, friend or foe, human or otherwise.”)

So whaddya do about all those distractions? Anyone who’s attempted to meditate knows how easily thoughts slip in and hijack you. He recommends asking about the distraction: what is it, how strong is it, how long does it last. This enables you to divorce yourself from the distraction, step back, view it objectively. You’ll note the distraction, note its qualities, then return to your breath.

Besides sitting mediation, there’s also walking meditation, and during longer retreats you switch between the two. Walking meditation is slow, hands either in front or in back or at sides (whatever’s most comfortable), breathe in lift heel of one foot, breathe out rest foot on toes, breath in lift foot, carry forward, breathe out foot down to floor, repeat.

To practice loving friendliness:

May my mind be filled with the thoughts of loving-friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. May I be generous. May I be gentle. May I be relaxed. May I be happy and peaceful. May I be healthy. May my heart become soft. May my words be pleasing to others. May my actions be kind.

May all that I see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and think help me to cultivate loving friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. May all these experiences help me to cultivate thoughts of generosity and gentleness. May they all help me to relax. May they inspire friendly behavior. May these experiences be a source of peace and happiness. May they help me be free from fear, tension, anxiety, worry, and restlessness.

No matter where I go in the world, in any direction, may I greet people with happiness, peace, and friendliness. May I be protected in all directions from greed, anger, aversion, hatred, jealousy, and fear.

The View from the Ground

Martha Gellhorn’s collection of articles that she churned out in six decades of freelance journalism is sparkling, but my favorite book of hers remains Travels with Myself and Another. In this collection, she groups the essays by decade and offers up a quirky summation for each period— sometimes this was my favorite part. She manically travels the world, from Spain to Poland to St. Louis to Texas to Vietnam to Israel to London ad infinitum.

Her comparison of the wretched House UnAmerican Activities Committee (targeting Eleanor Roosevelt’s rep, ultimately) with the jovial and prudent House of Commons was wonderful. Two Irish members were unable to take their places in the House of Commons due to being in jail for helping to hold up a British arms depot; a second election was held and they were re-elected. “This raised a fascinating dilemma: whereas you may not vote, in jail, you may, evidently, stand for Parliament.”

Later parts tend toward dullness, and she has an ill-advised trip to Haiti where she claims to realize what blacks feel like in bad places since she was slightly tormented by being the only white person around. The only bright spot in the 2nd half of the book was her 1980s essay that hearkens back to the 1930s where she glories in the beauty of not needing advance travel reservations and brags about how wonderful train trips were. “Trains were leisurely… You had time to watch [the land] change, to feel the differences and the great distance. You knew you were traveling… The population explosion, the airplane, and tourism as a major international industry have changed travel, for an old traveler like me, from thrilling impetuous private discovery into a hassle of the deepest dye.”

New phrase I picked up: “like billy-o” meaning extremely. “I laughed like billy-o” says Gellhorn about her romp with poverty-stricken Poland. “When they say they are interested in making money, they mean they are interested in staying alive.”

Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction

The only non-fiction I’ve gobbled up by Pat so far is this useful book on writing with tips that stretch beyond the “suspense” label. She relies on her decades of successfully publishing books and stories and reveals her process, unbuttoning the kimono.

“I create things out of boredom with reality and with the sameness of routine and objects around me. Therefore, I don’t dislike this boredom which encroaches on me every now and then, and I even try to create it by routine.” She also admits to enjoying conversations with people that others find dull: “there are some people, often most unlikely people—dull-witted, lazy, mediocre in every way—who are for some inexplicable reason stimulating to the imagination. I have known many such people. I like to see and talk to them now and then, if I can.”

In her twenties, she worked during the day and would come home, nap at 6pm, then bathe and change clothes, getting up for her second job which was to write her own work. “This gave me an illusion of two days in one and made me as fresh for the evening as I could be.”

To combat fatigue, she advocates for taking a trip, even a short, cheap trip to change the scene. “If you can’t take a trip, take a walk.” Lack of ideas might also be due to the people you’re around.

Technical specifics get into outlining chapters, always with the question in mind about how this chapter advances the story. List the specific points you want to cover in each chapter and have that beside you as you write it.

She sneers at people who imitate current trends that are selling: “A writer can be assured of a good living by imitating current trends and by being logical and pedestrian, because such imitations sell and do not take too much out of a writer in an emotional sense.”

Pat cries foul of those writers who love to let their characters take on a life of their own: “I do not subscribe to the belief that having a vigorous character who acts for himself is always good. After all, you are the boss, and you don’t want your characters running around all over the place or possibly standing still, no matter how strong they may be.”

Dialogue can be summed up where not important to increase the dramatic effect. Instead of tediously listing out the characters’ lines, “Howard refused to budge, though she argued with him for a full half hour.”

As usual, the best writing advice is simply to do it, and to do it often. She is speaking directly to me here:

One need not be a monster, or feel like one, to demand two or three hours absolute privacy here and there. This schedule should become a habit, and the habit, like writing itself, a way of life. It should become a necessity; then one can and will always work. It is possible to think like a writer all one’s life, to want to be a writer, yet to write seldom, out of laziness or lack of habit. Such a person may write passably well when he writes—such people are known as great letter writers—and may even sell a few things, but that is doubtful. Writing is a craft and needs constant practice.

Throughout, she dissects her successful books and her failures. This book is a must-read for any Highsmith fan to get her take on her own work. When discussing Strangers on a Train, she says “It is a wonder this simple idea [strangers exchanging murders] is not used more often in real life, and perhaps it is, since it is said that only eleven percent of the murders committed are ever solved.”

The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class—and What We Can Do About It

I had high hopes for Richard Florida’s book but they flapped to the ground quickly. A smug sense of himself oozes through the pages, insisting on his own presence in the book. Because he wrote The Rise of the Creative Class, he’s been fingered as one of the culprits of gentrification, where cities are inundated with these creative types. Specific to Toronto, where he now lives, he’s been accused of promoting a larger airport for his own convenience.

He lets himself off the hook immediately. Young white people heading to the city are not causing gentrification, apparently. And the whining that’s happening about artists getting pushed out? It’s balderdash, according to Florida. “Put bluntly, some of the nosiest controversies regarding our changing cities spring from the competing factions of a new urban elite [which includes artists]. The much bigger problem is the widening gap between this relatively advantaged class and everyone else. It’s the poor and working classes who are truly being displaced and shunted aside in our thriving cities, and the way to help them is not to turn off the spigot of wealth creation but to make their flourishing economies more encompassing and inclusive.”

Ultimately, it’s all about income inequality. There’s a fantastic quote from 1981 where an expert warns about the ill effects of gentrification on San Francisco: “At this rate we would become a place only the elite can afford. Ten years from now, unless we adopt some sort of policy to insure income integration, we will crowd out all the middle-income people. I think San Francisco is going to become a very rich living area, a lot of single and retired people who have money,k executives who work down in the financial district. It’s going to be very difficult for a nonwealthy person to live here.” 1981, people!

Anyway, the main problem isn’t gentrification, says Florida. It’s that we’re not gentrifying the poor areas as well, bringing them up to code, building transportation infrastructure and parks. The suburbs are the ghetto now, so we need to expand our cities to encompass them. His whole section on what to do about the problem is a rehash of the same tired solutions: invest in infrastructure, build more low income housing, pay people a living wage.

 

How to be Bored

I really want to like these School of Life books, but usually end up disappointed. Eva Hoffman’s contribution was no different, tiny essays that stapled themselves together into a slender “book” claiming that we must allow ourselves to reach a state of boredom in order to delve more deeply inside. For those pressed for time, perhaps just reading the conclusion will do: “There are many ways to live; but to live meaninglessly is to miss your life. If we rush through our days and months in ceaseless activity, and without taking stock of what we’re doing, we can soon lose track of what we are doing it for, or why it matters to us… we need to orient ourselves in our lives – and within ourselves: to muse, relish, reflect and occasionally even to be bored.”

Ultimately I leave with a collection of other book recommendations, which isn’t bad in itself if the books turn out to be insightful. Also a reminder to pick up my Montaigne essays again. Otherwise, the best part was really her section on why to read books:

… books (good books, that is; books that matter) are the best aid to extended thought and imaginative reflection we have invented… this is particularly important, as an antidote to the segmentation of thought encouraged by digital technologies… the disparate fragments we look at on our various screens rarely cohere into continuous thought, or a deepening of knowledge…. They literally broaden our mental horizons and our perspective… imaginative literature is the art form most capable of encompassing all dimensions of human experience: the outer and the inner world, specific facts and the elusive textures of consciousness, the stories of individual selves and of the self within culture and society.

She winds up with a lethal dart at online reading:

Our contemporary forms of reading threaten to reduce that amplification. Aside from the fact that overusing digital technologies eventually makes us less mentally agile and more forgetful (as research increasingly shows), the kind of segmented, bite-sized reading we do on the internet fragments and constricts the ‘space to think’, instead of expanding it; in a sense, it reduces or even rubbishes our mental experience.

 

Deep Water

Pat’s 1957 Deep Water is light on suspense compared to her other work. This is part of its beauty, the mundane details building to an unexpected event. In this book, Vic is the “hero,” the psychopath husband who plays it all cool. His wife Melinda ignores their daughter Trixie (so Vic ups his attention to her) and has several open affairs with other men. Vic moves to the garage where he tends to his snails and study of Italian. One of Melinda’s lovers is murdered in NYC and Vic begins to bandy about the story that he killed him to scare off other lovers. This works, until the real murderer is found. But the seed is planted, and off Vic goes. First he drowns the piano player, Charles, in a neighbor’s pool at a party where no one else is around. Then a detective comes sniffing around, disguised as a psychiatrist. Melinda trumpets his killing Charles around town, everyone averts their eyes and most believe Vic didn’t do it. Nothing comes of it except Melinda’s close alliance to Don Wilson, a man who also hates Vic. Along comes another conquest, Cameron, and after much in-your-face flirtation, Melinda decides to take Vic up on his offer of divorce with a generous alimony settlement (he has a private income from his family and runs a publishing business mostly for kicks). Chance allows Vic to lure Cameron to the quarry where he hits him with a rock and weighs him down to drop to the bottom of the water. Eventually he’s caught back at the scene and in the final pages attempts(?) to kill Melinda before he’s nabbed by the police.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

This was a helpful book and I can see why there’s a queue of people at the library who want to read it even though it’s been out since 2014. Great stories of actual patients dealing with trauma and the techniques used by Van Der Kolk to treat them.

The book covers the full spectrum, from brain layout and chemistry to yoga and EMDR. I inadvertently learned more about the brain than in a book that was solely about that organ. The reptilian brain develops in the womb and organizes the functions you require for basic life (breathing, eating, sleeping). It’s always alert for threats, throughout your life. The “limbic” brain evolves in the next 6 years to create a map of relation between you and your surroundings. On top of that, the prefrontal cortex develops. All of these parts are vulnerable to trauma.

One of the coping mechanisms when dealing with trauma is freezing up, numbing oneself, blanking your mind. To treat this, tapping acupressure points, rhythmic interactions like tossing a ball back and forth, drumming, dancing, to change your relationship to bodily sensations.

EMDR is a fascinating technique I’d not heard of: eye movement desensitization and reprocessing; this as a way to access memories more obliquely than head-on, and somewhat related to REM cycle/dreaming. It “loosens” something in the mind that gives people access to memories/images from the past, putting the traumatic experience into context/perspective. It also is a way to deal with trauma without speaking about it, and is a way that can help even if the patient/therapist do not have a trusting relationship.

One of the chapter epitaphs was a tremendous William James quote that stings me as I try to meditate more:

The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of the judgment, character, and will.

Leopold and Loeb: The Crime of the Century

Monica Hesse called this book “one of the best narratives of true crime genre” in her American Fire but I hope she’s wrong for the sake of the genre. Hal Higdon does an okay job of describing the weird relationship and lead up to the intellectual crime of two deviant rich smart Jewish boys in Chicago in 1924. But please get this man an editor for the last 100 pages which involved meticulous details of Leopold and Loeb’s prison life (spoiler alert! Clarence Darrow gets them spared the death penalty), with Loeb’s eventual stabbing in prison and Leopold’s eventual parole in 1958.