The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

(Warning! No actual samurai appear in this book, unless you count the film samurai from the movie Seven Samurai, who do.)

As my old friend Eric wrote, this book is a “Stone cold masterpiece”. I whole-heartedly agree. Seriously, this book is really great. I can’t say enough great things about it. It’s funny and moving and clever and is probably one of the most insightful novels written about fathers and sons and mothers and sons and children and parents generally. It’s got a lot on education and human potential and it makes it seem like learning languages is not so hard. (I found learning languages extremely difficult, but maybe I just didn’t think of it the right way.) Also, it made me want to watch Seven Samurai again.

A book that’s very much worth reading. You won’t regret it.

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Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

This book is much shorter than I expected, but then it is a couple of lectures that have been turned into essays. The essays are quite smart and highlighted some things I’d certainly never considered.

The first essay begins by focusing on a scene I’d never given much thought to: in the Odyssey, Odysseus’ house is filled with suitors who want to marry Penelope, the assumed widow. A bard starts playing a sad song about all the men who went away to Troy and died. Penelope is overwrought with sorrow and asks the bard to sing a different tune. Telemachus rebukes her and tells her, basically, go do a bunch of womanly things, public speech is men’s work and I’m in charge here! Beard then goes on to draw parallels between that scene and other pieces from art, history, and literature from then to the present day.

The second essay is more about the ways that women are permitted (or not) to engage in the political sphere. She makes a compelling case that, even though we may not consider it, art and literature from the Ancient Greek and Roman worlds cast a long shadow that influences us still today. (For example, the imagery of Medusa as it’s been used through time.)

The only quibble I’d have with the book is that it’s not a manifesto. Beard has no call to action, no ideas for what to do. That being said, I think she’s doing a valuable service raising these parallels between the culture of antiquity and that of the present. Check it out! It’s a quick read.

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Another Country by James Baldwin

I finished this book last week, but I’m still not quite sure what to say about it. It’s so beautifully written. The internal lives of its characters are almost too rich to fathom. When reading, it was impossible not to feel Baldwin’s constant presence. In a similar way, the novel is haunted by Rufus, a black musician who falls into such despair that he jumps off a bridge early in the story. (It was only later that I read an interview with James Baldwin and he mentioned a friend of his who killed himself by jumping off a bridge.) It’s a book that captures a very specific time and place (New York city in the 1960s) but that feels infinite in its scope–infinite in the microscopic sense, there’s always deeper and smaller to go. I can’t think of another book that captures how fraught with danger (emotionally, physically, spiritually) sex can be between human beings. Or even just a seemingly casual conversation. The kind of book that sort of makes me want to go shut myself away from other people and just read books forever. Also, there’s a party scene in this book with publishing elites that made me infinitely glad that I’ve always lived on the West coast. It’s an amazing book, but I think I got a bit more out of Go Tell it on the Mountain and The Fire Next Time.

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Heretics! The Wondrous (and Dangerous) Beginnings of Modern Philosophy by Steven Nadler

Did you ever wonder what was all the fuss about people like Leibniz, Locke, Spinoza, but couldn’t get past the mountains of pages? Never fear! This comic book provides an entertaining summary and historical context for some of the most influential thinkers of the 17th century. Seriously, they should probably give this book to college freshmen. The art’s a lot of fun too.

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Batman: The Wrath by Tony Bedard

It’s a Batman story from the 80s! The Wrath is an obscure Batman villain who has an identical origin story, only its a cop who kills his (criminal) parents. This comic is kind of weird and delightful as only Batman stories can be. I finally read it because I’d renewed it 26 times from the library. That seemed like enough, so I decided to finally read it. It was an easier read than this James Baldwin book I’m trying to read for my book club. James Baldwin is an amazing writer, but he’s tough to read when kids are bouncing around the house.

Anyway, Batman: The Wrath. I have no idea why I checked it out. I probably read about it online somewhere or heard about it on some podcast. It was pretty good. The art definitely felt like 80s Batman art, but it works. They were definitely going for a grittier, edgier kind of thing. Maybe this was a deliberate Batman, house-style kind of thing?

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Mother Panic: Under Her Skin (v2) by Jody Houser

I’m digging this alternate take on the Batman thing. Instead of rich, Gotham socialite Bruce Wayne dressing up like a bat and flitting around town, we’ve got rich, Gotham socialite Violet Paige dressing up in a stark, white outfit (it doesn’t seem to have an animal theme to it) and tromping around town. It’s super dark, but no more than many Batman stories I’ve read. I liked it well enough to read the second collection. It’s good to see an alternate take on the whole Gotham-city vigilante thing. I hope it is a nice long run. I dig some of the art a lot, some of the art a bit less, but the writing is solid.

If you like Batman, give it a go.

It’s part of Gerard Way’s DC Comics Young Animal imprint. I’ve been impressed with the stuff they’ve been doing, including Shade, the Changing Girl and a new Doom Patrol run.

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Paper Girls (v. 3 & 4) by Brian K. Vaughan

(You really want to start with volume 1 with these.)

If you liked the show Stranger Things and you like time travel, changes are you’ll like this comic. It’s about four paper girls who end up traveling through time. Similar to the way that Saga deals with parenting and war, Paper Girls sort of explores themes of generational conflict and misunderstanding.

There’s a lot to like in these books and the art by Cliff Chiang is fantastic.

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Memory XXXII

Memory XXXII

It’s not always so treacherous on the way down
But why does it hurt so now?
Fists of pain and hurt and cruelty?
It’s there again, but it’s not, oh it’s not.
Regret is for the old: the young must go on and on and on
beyond the firboughs and the cold and the soul-stripping.
Beware it! This is no time for regret!
No time for lost loves.
No time for fauning and mooning and drooling over that past time.
That mould time when wet mould crept all about
and many-fingered spiders crawled everywhere.

{into:
a spider:
my very own sleeping shirt on my very own chest:
and I stood weeping, sobbing, screechinginmyhead
a quivering wriggling nightmare spider in my beshirted hand
those many-legs sending drips of terror crawling
up up up my arm and piercing that beating carbuncle
that red-pumping terror:
I was too too too to crush it
and I was alone so alone all alone
and you were asleep while the terror
scraped the walls out of my mind}

These darknesses don’t go away;
these shadows don’t crawl back beneath their rocks.
I’ve played dice with them before now,
stared into their grim sighs,
while tiddlywinks and razortrout and stud.
But they win.
I will not play chess with them.

***

Thankfully, I don’t think regret is for the old either. Also, this poem gets at the origin story of my arachnophobia–now dulled. Twice, I’ve woken up with a spider crawling inside of my shirt. One time, it was particularly traumatizing. Somehow, I’m not as freaked out by spiders anymore. I wouldn’t say we’re chums, though.

And that’s the last of my Memory poems. It’s been interesting going back and rereading them. I was pretty unhappy, generally, and I’m grateful that, as tough as things are sometimes, I’m mostly pretty happy and satisfied with my life. Go figure. 🙂 Mostly, I think, it comes down to me not tormenting myself as much.

Try to be kind to yourselves, friends.

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Memory XXXI

Memory XXXI

like the herring on my trouser cuff,
I can swim the two-step down to the corner stoop
kick it!
and drowse there in the summer summer sun
with my eyes spinning in my head
those boogas lining up to sing their sweetly

how’s this go again?
this tune?
this rummy tune?
I’ve forgotten you see
and my dreams have run together into a sticky malaprop
my words, my saucy words, my flimsy words
my barrier words are breaking open
breaking down, over-run by these eyes
bursting through the front door
ravishing the country maid and barreling
burbling and bursting out the back
the country’s not as tame as it used to be
sad
could be, the ducks have come home to roost
and to strew their dirty longings everywhere
their filthy desires
their muckraking swill

maybe the two-step’s not such a good idea after all

***

I like the idea of memories being like cracked eggs, with the yolks running out. At least, that’s what this makes me think of.

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Memory XXX

Memory XXX

patience, patience, patience, have patience
my cronies, my comrades, my curmudgeonlies:
this caffeine haze is dimming the light of our perceptions
do you like what we discuss here? now? soon?
beware the fiend who howls at the birthing of the moon.
do you hate the gregious flaws? the errors? the missteps?
wouldn’t blame you if you did: my heartmates
this statue smells of eros, cinnamon and lye.
it’s not pretty, by most lights, but that’s the light we’ve got
words and words and words spike through my brain
down my tongue and across the aether, to slip
(miscommunicadoed, as though on purpose)
into the labyrinthine curls of your ears—
and such pretty ears they are: I could kiss them—
where they incandesce and then flare out:
the wincing platitudes and summertime small-talk
cavations and exvacations of those bright caverns of darkness.
dispassion and fortitude are our only allies here.

an anecdote:
Feelflight the Featherman begged me:
“A doubloon, if you would be so kind:
“unleash the wonders of the wicked verm.”
whether or not he did so, nevertheless, regardless
I gave him a bus token out of town,
so that he might fly along the dusty interstates
and roam the collard plains and see the torn and tragic…

***

The higher these numbers get, the less I remember anything about them. I do like Feelflight the Featherman, though. 

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