How To Be Happy

I really liked Eleanor Davis’s You & a Bike & a Road earlier this year so grabbed her first book, which was also a shot of joy in my arm. Unlike the other book, this is more of a meandering across various scenarios and topics, her observations as she makes her way through life. The art is gorgeous, lush, strange, and the stories are weird and wonderful. Before she begins, her first pages sketch out her character saying: “Write a story. A story about yourself. A story about your life. Now, believe it. Now write another story, same subject. A better story. More interesting. Stronger characters. Now, believe that. Just keep writing. You have plenty of time.”

Revolutionary Letters

Diane di Prima’s classic volume of poetry seems….well, dated. Or perhaps I’m just in a bad mood and hating everything I’m reading today. Some of the poems are worth waving around, like Revolutionary Letter #10: These are transitional years and the dues/ will be heavy./ Change is quick but revolution/ will take a while./ America has not even begun as yet. / This continent is seed.

The dues are heavy indeed. Another goodie is #46: And as you learn the magic, learn to believe it/ Don’t be ‘surprised’ when it works, you undercut/ your power.

Finally, I’ll leave you with some closing thoughts, Revolutionary Letter #53:

SAN FRANCISCO NOTE

I think I’ll stay on this
earthquake fault near this
still-active volcano in this
armed fortress facing a
dying ocean &
covered w/ dirt
while the
streets burn up & the
rocks fly & pepper gas
lays us out
cause
that’s where my friends are,
you bastards, not that
you know that that means…

Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie

It’s odd to have expectations that a graphic novel will be of a certain quality. This one unfortunately was of a lower quality than I had hoped. Agatha Christie had a fantastically strange life but the treatment in this book is jarring and uneven. They did a good job leading with her mysterious disappearance in 1926 when she pseudo-faked her death to get back at her husband who was having an affair. But then they tangled Arthur Conan Doyle up in the plot, going to a fortune teller to divine whether she’s alive or not, which catapults us back in time to her childhood, then forward past her divorce and onto other adventures. Her fictional characters, Hercule Poirot and Mrs. Marple, show up to accompany her throughout the book.

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

Audre Lorde’s classic collection of essays is extremely helpful in connecting the dots of why intersectionality is a must for feminists. Black women face a double burden of racism and sexism in this hostile world of capitalist white male supremacy. There is no point in just looking at sexism without also tackling racism.

The essays range from a recap of her trip to Russia in 1976 (where she sums up the endless nattering of heterosexual norms… “I sat with three other African women and we exchanged chitchat for 5 1/2 hours about our respective children, about our ex-old men, all very, very heterocetera”) to an open letter to Mary Daly (calling her to task for ignoring black feminists’ perspective), to detailing how her young son will grow up to be a good man raised by lesbian, interracial parents. She occasionally mentions Patricia Cowan, a black woman auditioning for a play called Hammer in 1977 who was bludgeoned to death by the young black male playwright (James Thomas) at the audition, in front of her 4-year old son (who was also bludgeoned but survived).

My favorite essay was The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action (1980).

Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly, now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else’s words. And I began to recognize a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into a perspective gave me great strength.

I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you…

Within those weeks of acute fear came the knowledge… I am not only a casualty, I am also a warrior.

What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself — a Black woman warrior poet doing my work — come to ask you, are you doing yours?

And it is never without fear — of visibility, of the harsh light of scrutiny and perhaps judgment, of pain, of death. But we have lived through all of those already, in silence, except death. And I remind myself all the time now that if I were to have been born mute, or had maintained an oath of silence my whole life long for safety, I would still have suffered, and I would still die. It is very good for establishing perspective.

we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.

 

After Kathy Acker: A Literary Biography

I will read pretty much anything Chris Kraus writes. This biography of the irrepressible Kathy Acker fills a huge hole by piecing together fragments from the post-punk plagiarist’s life while casually name-dropping the stars of the 70s/80s art and lit scenes of NY/SF/London. Kraus holds shards of Acker’s writing up to the light, framing them in a way that imbues spectral genius meaning, making it almost approachable. Perhaps I’ll give Acker another try now that I’m equipped with her backstory and guideposts to which of her works are easily consumed. Through no fault of her own, Kraus continues her tradition of making me feel dumb as I realize how much I don’t know, jotting down names of writers and artists and pieces and magazines. Weighted down by my own ignorance, it was a treat to have familiar faces bob out of the mist, like Bernadette Mayer and Pat Highsmith who both crossed paths with KA, either in a big way (Mayer) or tangentially (Highsmith through Lil Picard).

The book settles the conflicting opinion of whether Acker was wealthy or not. Yes, then no, then yes again once her grandmother died. With her inheritance, she seemed to purchase apartments in London and NYC at the drop of a hat, but at the end of her life, dying of cancer and refusing chemo, wasting away in Tijuana, she had very little left.

Kraus interviewed scads of Acker’s friends and acquaintances to pull together the overall view. You can sense her raised eyebrow when she got an email reply from Kathy’s first husband who said he was “surprised there’s any interest in the subject. I never see her books in bookstores anymore, and I visit bookstores pretty often.”

One of Acker’s main influences was David Antin, teaching a poetry seminar at UCSD and who, out of fear of having to read too many maudlin undergrad poems, instructed his students to “find someone who’s already written about something better than you could possibly do at this moment in your life, and we’ll consider the work of putting the pieces together like a film.” This layering of “found” text is an integral part of Acker’s work from then on.

David’s wife, Eleanor Antin, was also a huge help, donating her list of 600 friends/acquaintances and Acker copied Eleanor’s strategy of sending something once a month to the list as a deadline and a way to keep top of mind to this influential group. The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula went out in 6 installments to this list from the anonymous Acker, her real identity known only by hearsay. “Then, just as now, rumor and hearsay were far more effective tools for advancing a nascent reputation than plastering one’s unwanted name all over the place.”

Acker lived in a couple of locations in the Haight/Cole Valley: 46 Belvedere St. and 929 Clayton St. She also stayed with friends in Noe Valley and traipsed around to various punk/dyke/dive bars in the city. She produced pamphlets at a  Noe Valley print shop and bookstore called the Empty Elevator Shaft (1970s). When KA came back to SF in 1990, she fell in love with the welcoming community and found a kindred spirit in Avital Ronell (whose Telephone Book I’ve tried to read but may give Crack Wars a try).

A reminder of kinder, gentler times: “Throughout the 1970s, welfare, unemployment insurance, and disability SSI were the de facto grants that funded most of New York’s off-the-grid artistic enterprises.” There was also an abundance of grants. Acker applied for and won a CAPS (Creative Artists Public Service) grant in 1975 to travel to Haiti for research for a book.

Lil Picard, also applying for that CAPS grant at age 76, invited KA to participate in her performance piece, Tasting and Spitting, where the audience was invited to taste then spit wine at Acker. Pat Highsmith introduced Lil to the 10th St. galleries of the 1940s and Lil’s interest shifted from cabaret and hat-making to visual arts. According to Kraus,”Picard became a key member of the NO!art group, a transnational association of artists that included Boris Lurie, Alan Kaprow, Yayoi Kusama, and Jean-Jacques Lebel. The group embraced rebellion and stood against pop art, the celebration of consumerism, art world-market investment, and the amnesiac postwar consciousness that reigned in New York during the 1960s.”

Hilariously, Acker was banned from AOL in the mid 90s “for using obscenity in a chat room” before she moved on to another provider.  “Like many others, Acker was already skeptical about the transformative potential of the internet, an information superhighway already littered with commerce and trash.” Acker tells her friend Cynthia in Seattle that “if it weren’t for teaching and the gym, I might never leave my house! That’s how much I got into my computer…. The world of books is becoming like the world of opera.”  (e.g. obsolete)

  • Acker’s 1983 book Great Expectations, “arguably her best work… the novel she worked on for the longest time, and the shortest of her subsequent books.” (Then Blood and Guts in High School?)
  • Bernadette Mayer’s Memory exhibition in 1972; she also edited 0 to 9 magazine between 1967-69.
  • Spitting Image was a satirical show in the UK that featured “grotesque, scary puppets.”

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide

Carole Anderson’s book should be assigned at birth to anyone with white skin. I’m not sure how she manages to pack in so much history into so few pages without bursting with rage herself.

She flips the usual image of black rage on its head, and instead directs us to the bigger issue, that of white people’s incomprehensible anger at seeing others succeed. Starting with America’s “original sin,” as James Madison labelled slavery, she picks apart nearly every administration from Lincoln onward, pinpointing exactly how they worked to reduce the rights of blacks. I was surprised to find that Lincoln was a party to this hatred also, saying “I am not nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black man.”

Post Civil War Reconstruction was a terrible period, Southern white resentment at federal meddling causing inexcusable terror to be brought upon the newly freed. Once Andrew Johnson (Lincoln’s VP from Tennessee) assumed the Presidency, all hell broke loose. Johnson said “This is … a country for white men, and by God, as long as I’m President, it shall be a government for white men.” Southern states went about immediately trying to “Reconstruct” life as it had been under slavery, passing the notorious Black Code laws that required annual labor contracts to be signed, and anyone who wasn’t working could be arrested for vagrancy. Blacks couldn’t hold any jobs except laborer or domestic unless they had the written consent of the mayor, and were banned from hunting and fishing. Punishment was by whipping. Here’s an unpleasant surprise: Mississippi delayed their ratification of the 13th Amendment until 2013. Lovely.

Anderson then tackles the Great Migration (read Isabel Wilkerson’s amazing book for more detail) and the fight to get equal education. Next came the Civil Rights movement, which was when racists went underground. Her final chapter is on Obama’s historic presidency, bringing all the racists back out again. He had 4x the number of death threats than George W. Bush.

The book is extensively researched and annotated. I doubt you’ll be able to read it without feeling some rage against the awful society America has inherited.

The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life

I really wanted to like this book, but it was like a jackhammer in my brain. She uses the phrase “From a Nordic perspective” no less than 6 times and repeats the same mantra over and over: Finland is better than the U.S. in a lot of ways. It’s the obvious perks/life necessities where those Nordic nations excel: health care, child care, elder care, education, work/life balance.

There were a few things I gained from that “Nordic perspective,” namely that people coming to the U.S. from other developed nations feel a stark contrast, that overwhelming feeling that you are on your own, no one is going to help you out. She details a few examples, like signing up for cable TV and not being able to get the real price out of the salesperson.

It was all part of a way of doing things in the United States that, as I would gradually realize, forced you to be constantly on guard, constantly worried that whatever amount of money you had or earned would never be enough, and constantly anxious about navigating the complex and mysterious fine print thrown at you from every direction by corporations that had somehow managed to evade even the bare minimum of protections for consumers.

There was a confirmation of a sneaking suspicion that I had about how people treat their children in America, “that somehow the children were taking over their parents’ lives.” In this case, she points the blame on how shakily society is set up, that parents need their kids to do well in school so that they have a fair chance to succeed in life. But also, “I was surprised by how frequently I heard even grown adults in the United States say that their parents were their best friends. This level of dependency among older children on their parents was almost unheard of back in Nordic countries.”

Back in Finland (which, didja hear? Is one of the best countries on Earth!), parents don’t pressure their kids and firmly believe that “childhood should be childhood.” I am thankful to have grown up in a time when this was the case. I do not think I would have survived growing up in early 21st century America.

I loved this call-out as well, in response to hear hearing over and over how grateful Americans should be for their freedoms (like at all public events, baseball games, rodeos, speeches, etc.): “It’s almost as if Americans don’t realize that there are many, many other nations in the world where citizens enjoy exactly the same freedoms that Americans do, and where not as much fuss is made about them. Moreover, Americans don’t seem to realize that there are citizens in other parts of the world, like the Nordic regions, who have acquired other kinds of freedoms that Americans lack” (emphasis mine).

The United States today puts people, even people who are doing well, into an intensely stressful logistical nightmare that is exhausting.

Amen.

Juliet Takes a Breath

No, I am decidedly NOT ashamed of reading teen lit. This was on the potential list for the Bluestockings book club and it provided a breath of fresh air.

Juliet is a queer Latina from the Bronx who (somewhat magically) gets a summer internship in PDX with a white feminist who wrote a book that inspired her. Right before leaving for the airport, she comes out to her close-knit Puerto Rican family and her mom is taken aback but eventually they work it out. In Portland, Juliet is disconcerted by all the white hippies, including a rant about their stinkiness that she eventually sees as an earthy smell. Her task for the summer is to take a box of scraps of paper with various women’s names on them and to research each for Harlowe, the author. The library is her source, resulting in this nice section:

Libraries are safe but also exciting. Libraries are where nerds like me go to refuel. They are safe-havens where the polluted noise of the outside world, with all the bullies and bro-dudes and anti-feminist rhetoric, is shut out. Libraries have zero tolerance for bullshit. Their walls protect us and keep up safe from all the bastards that have never read a book for fun.

Juliet is a 19-year-old struggling to figure life out, figure herself out, keep a long-distance relationship going with a girlfriend from school, find a way to be her best self and not bow down to the whiteness of the feminism she was swirling in. As she dives into the library stacks, she learns a ton, including what a banana republic is, and why horrifying it is that there’s a shop named after the concept. “It’s such a tongue-in-cheek fuck-you to countries that have been exploited for their natural resources…”

Of course her menstrual cycle syncs immediately with Harlowe’s in Portland. Surprised by the early period, she’s moaning about cramps and dying for an evil tampon when Harlowe suggests that she can bring her a sacred period ritual kit instead. It’s touches like this throughout the Portland chapters that are hilarious. There’s a struggle that is set up between white Harlowe and her WOC friends, including Juliet. At Harlowe’s Powell’s Books reading, she embarrasses Juliet by singling her out of the crowd and saying she’s a ghetto rat from the Bronx who is ok with Harlowe’s white feminism. Juliet immediately flies to Miami and spends a magical weekend with her cousin before coming back to Portland. This whole plot twist was a bit too much for me, but I guess it was necessary to show how women of color could create a safe space and have a great time without white feminists?

Also learned about Lolita Lebron, a Puerto Rican nationalist who shot up the House of Representatives in 1954 while demanding Puerto Rican independence.

We Were Witches

This book made me dizzy, sizzled my hands. Preference for fiction is such a personal thing, I usually refrain from loading it into my highly recommended category. But I’ve got to put this book on there, if only because I had to stop reading it several times to 1) savor the goodness,  making it last longer 2) text friends to put it on their reading lists immediately.

It’s a novel, a fictionalized memoir with the real characters of Ariel, as narrator, along with her daughter Mia. Her son shows up years later, but he’s hinted at in the beginning when she’s having a midwife inject her with borrowed sperm who notices her scar from a painful operation she had in rural Italy in 1990 when giving birth to her daughter.

The story follows Ariel, a teenaged single mother who did not finish high school, as she raises Mia with no help from her parents or Mia’s father, while going to college, first at an unnamed school near Petaluma then at Mills College. Magical realism lifts your heart as you pull for this family to make it, for Ariel to become the artist mother that she wants to be, to blossom into a raging feminist, to evolve into a witch. Spoiler alert: there’s a happy ending.

Along the way, she melds the fiercest quotes from Adrienne Rich, Tillie Olson, Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde. There’s a sprinkling of spells, too. Gore’s own words are powerful, spare, lovingly picked, packed with punch. Major kudos for her including a reading list at the end, curating all the breadcrumbs of books she dropped references to throughout in one easily accessible spot. It’s a modern tale that leaves out all the name-dropping/brand-calling/technology-inserting that mars other similar works, marking them as ineligible for Classic status.

One of my favorite chapters, The Feminist Agenda, quotes Pat Robertson in 1992 saying that the feminist agenda is about “a socialist, antifamily political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.” Gore notes that aside from wanting to kill her child the rest of the list rang very true, and factored into her goals and reminders for 1992:

Don’t get married, ever.
Practice witchcraft.
Destroy capitalism.

Another great chapter is called White-Lady Feminism 101, which is three words in its entirety, and made me laugh: “Bring a mirror.”

For her senior thesis combining feminist economics and English lit, she links Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter to Michel Foucault to Marilyn Waring’s economic treatise If Women Counted, wrapping up with: “Like Hester Pryne’s moment in The Scarlet Letter, my public shaming is not merely designed for my own benefit, but rather serves as a sermon and a warning to other girls and other women who may hope to escape the confines of a system designed to support and enable the white-supremacist capitalist war machine. I reject this system. I intend to resist this system.”

As she stands in her professor’s office, nursing her daughter, the professor announces that Ariel will have to be a feminist, because “Feminists do what they want.” That seared my scalp, yes yes yes!

In her rules for being 20 years old: “If there are only two options, always choose material poverty over psychic poverty.”

Quoting Adrienne Rich: “To seek visions, to dream dreams, is essential, and it is also essential to try new ways of living, to make room for serious experimentation, to respect the effort even where it fails.”

Greatest risk factors to being accused, tried, convicted and executed for witchcraft in 15th-17th centuries? Being a woman and being poor. “Add to those risk factors having a job or being sexual or single or outspoken or an unwed mother or unconcerned with cultural beauty norms or mentally ill or a healer—especially a midwife or a counselor—and you were pretty much dead. Dare to help another woman find contraceptives, and you were dead. Have the audacity to be old and grumpy, and you were most certainly dead.” Quoting the 1487 witch-hunting manual, The Malleus Maleficarum: “When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil.”

“If we don’t follow society’s rules, we risk losing our freedom [e.g. being locked up]. But if we must follow those rules without question, we’ve already given up our freedom.”

 

Little Fires Everywhere

Everyone is in love with this book, but I can only work up a mild flirtation. There were some sparkling parts, and as I dove in I was sure that I would excitedly gobble it up in one sitting. Instead, it lurched across the entire afternoon, more of a plowing through than a nibbling delightedly.

Most interesting were the characters of Mia, the artist-mom who comes into town with her teenage daughter Pearl in tow, and Izzy – the daughter of the rich family that Pearl falls in love with and who Mia starts to clean/cook for. Izzy sets her own parents’ house on fire and runs away, a scene that lingers through the rest of the smoke-tinged air of the rest of the book. There are subplots aplenty—Pearl becomes instant besties with Moody, the 2nd son of the rich family, but starts boning Trip, the oldest son. Lexi is the oldest daughter, a spoiled popular brat but not too unlikeable. Izzy’s the youngest, the most hated sibling. The mother is a frustrated journalist who gave up her career to raise this family.

Another plot is the abandoned Asian baby—dropped at a firehouse—adopted by rich friends of the main family, but the mother (who works with Mia at a Chinese restaurant) decides she wants her baby back. Her court case fails so she steals it. Blargh, none of this book is memorable nor will stay in the mind for more than a few seasons before sinking into obscurity.

I guess one good thing from the book was getting tipped off to Phillip Larkin’s poem, This Be The Verse. “Man hands on misery to man./It deepens like a coastal shelf./Get out as early as you can,/And don’t have any kids yourself.”

We Took to the Woods

Another book from a woman in the woods. This one by Louise Dickinson Rich came out in 1942 detailing her life in the Maine woods, cut off from “civilization” when during the freeze-up when the ice was too thin to walk/drive on but otherwise living in various cabins with her husband and small son year-round. Her story about giving birth in the woods was very matter-of-fact, just popping him out easy as pie, wagging a finger at other ladies who complain and pretend to be fragile.

Woods life involves making up lists of groceries needed for the week (during the summer) or for the month (during the winter months), gathering lots of firewood, fishing, mending, tinkering with motors, boating, making their own flies for fishing, baking, hunting, being entertained by the loggers who come in annually and the additional telephone lines that get hung from the trees when they’re there. Berry picking, pie baking, gardening, fending off the deer from the garden. Life without modern amenities once again sounds idyllic yet constantly busy.

I liked her honesty about her own writing quality:

I’ve read a lot of first-rate writing, and I have some critical sense; so I know where I stand. I’ll never be first-rate. I’ll improve with practice, I trust, but I haven’t got what it takes to reach the top… Everything I write, no matter how lousy it turns out to be, is the very best I am capable of at the time. My writing may be third-rate, but at least it’s honest. You can’t be even a third-rate writer without taking your work seriously.

Saint Joan of Arc (Born 6 January 1412, Burned as a Heretic 30 May 1431, Canonised as a Saint 16 May 1920)

This is by far the most readable book on Joan/Jeanne that I’ve found. Why oh why did it take me so long to fall into Vita’s arms? A cursory glance at some comments leads me to comments that question Vita’s scholarship, accusing her of reinterpreting 15th century sources to suit her needs. I disagree—she was candid throughout whenever she was making a digression or assumption based on the dry dusty books she had in front of her. Much more valuable was the expert weaving of the tale into a tasty treat, digestible and understandable. My only real complaint is the usual one for authors of the 19th/20th century– they assume English readers also have a passable knowledge of French, thus she freely quoted large sections in the original French.

Another treat I had was being able to tap into my personal Woolf research library and track down Virginia’s appraisal of the book. Twenty days after having received a copy, VW writes to Vita:

What a time I’ve been thanking you for your book! But my brain is an engine that only runs 10 minutes at a time. Now I’ve just done it, and if you want my opinion, worthless as I feel it considering the lump of putty where there should be a brain, I think its a solid, strong, satisfactory, most reputable and established work; stone laid to stone; squared, cemented, and all weather tight, roofed in and likely to last these many years… Only as there is so little one can know for certain, I wished sometimes you had guessed more freely… Whats interesting is the whole, however, not the parts. I keep speculating—which is what I enjoy most in all books: not themselves: what they make me think. How I wish you’d write another chapter on superstition: what the French peasant at that time believed.  (June 29 1936)

Beyond Black Bear Lake

As previously threatened, I’m reading more of the Woodswoman’s books. In this sequel, Anne takes a more vocal stance on environmental issues, shouting from the rooftop of her cabin about acid rain’s destruction on the woods/lake/world. I remember acid rain as the major bugaboo in the 1980s but it has somehow fallen out of favor for the more gripping Climate Change or Global Warming.

In this book, Anne is up to her old tricks with romance, wooing her doctor but never giving up her independence. She has a nice section about being over marriage and pleased that she doesn’t have kids. She travels around as an ecology consultant, and has become somewhat famous from her Woodswoman book, with fans stalking her at her cabin. Yikes!

In addition to those intrusions, the constant whir of motorboats during the summer seriously bums her out. “I go camping on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day. I can’t bear to sit in my cabin and listen to what’s happening.” Then she takes it one step further and builds a second cabin on her land, this one set deep within the woods, hidden away on a second lake. She calls the cabin Thoreau II and enlists the help of friends each summer to cut and shape the logs.

Parts of the book are worth the overall strain. She appreciates nature and silence, something we have less and less of with each passing day.

Devotion (Why I Write)

Not every Patti Smith book can be a wonder. Her latest, Devotion, is actually worth missing completely. It seems to be comprised of three parts: her trip to Paris and pilgrimage to Simone Weil’s grave; the story that she wrote while in Paris; a visit to Camus’ house. This “book” seems to be built on the successful framework of M Train, but lacks any meat on its bones. Avoid.

Woodswoman: Living Alone in the Adirondack Wilderness

I am a sucker for stories about heading off into the woods to live simply, and this was a book that was mentioned in Nomadland as a favorite of the migrating campers. The quality of this collection of nature musings was mediocre, but I’ll probably look up the sequels to continue reading her saga. I’m also a sucker for punishment.

One problem is her attitude throughout. Hiking a multi-day trail alone, she worries about meeting “rough kids on drugs, or worse, a criminal.” She’s also weirdly proud about having a black friend (and another friend with a pet racoon) come stay for a weekend, imagining comments from her neighbors as “A Negro and a tame raccoon! What’s that girl in the log cabin up to now?”

It’s also a little creepy that she married a much older man who was her manager at the hotel she helped at during summers between school. Not surprisingly, they divorce after a few years, prompting Anne’s departure to the wilderness where she builds her log cabin with the help of a few laborers.

On the positive side, it was astonishing to see that even in the early 1970s silence in the woods was disappearing. Anne chronicles the arrival of snowmobiles and actually gets one herself. One local muses that “when I was a boy, I could step outside in winter and hear the silence. Nothing anywhere, just once in awhile a tree cracking or ice making up on the flow. It’s not like that anymore.” Road rage makes an appearance when she visits DC and learns that traffic was so bad that someone went to the car in front of them and shot them. Back on the lake, she’s annoyed by motorboats and tries to reason with her neighbor who speeds dangerously through the lake. She gives up and goes camping during the summer to avoid the “summer people” who destroy the peacefulness of her refuge.

Most useful was her description of how exactly she was living off the grid—extensive use of propane gas, bathing in the lake, drinking from the lake, chopping firewood, using the snowmobile to go into town for supplies. She had an outhouse for the summer and rigged up an indoor portapotty for the winter. Her oven was a metal box that fit over one of the propane stove burners.

Her writing was cringe-worthy at times: “He grinned, patted me on the head, and began wolfing his food. Pitzi was also chomping busily at his bowl in the corner.”