At a certain point in her life, she realizes it is not so much that she wants to have a child as that she does no“The Double Negative,” by Lydia Davis
At a certain point in her life, she realizes it is not so much that she wants to have a child as that she does not want not to have a child, or not to have had a child.
I am awash with ambivalence at the notion of motherhood, although I more often than not come down strongly on the side of no desire for children. At least for now. And so I read this collection of essays ravenously, on a Saturday afternoon on my back deck, bathed in summer sun with my two German shepherds reclining at my feet. The freedom and pleasure of being able to read this book straight through in a sitting was not lost on me; it is precisely because I am childless that I can do such a thing. Mothers give up this freedom forever (or at least for about 18 years per child). Since I was a child, motherhood specifically has impressed me with its thankless drudgery. At 27, I still do not desire to join the numbers of the procreative.
The essays, by 13 women and 3 men, are at turns funny and sad and thought-provoking. Some are notably stronger and more well-reasoned than others. On the whole, I found myself identifying strongly with the majority of the writers. I too have never dreamed of becoming a mother. I too find it hard to believe parents when they talk about the joys of parenthood. But I too am filled with psychic distress and confusion.
I have a few more years before the demands of biology become urgent, but I found this book oddly comforting. There is hope and happiness (and considerable freedom and contentment) in the childless life (despite what condescending parents may tell you). ...more
Shortly after the turn of the millennium, I read the diary from beginning to end. Finding nothing of consequence in 1996, I threw the year away. I’d a
Shortly after the turn of the millennium, I read the diary from beginning to end. Finding nothing of consequence in 1996, I threw the year away. I’d already shredded the volumes I wrote in high school—not to keep them from others but to keep them from myself. So it seems I didn’t want to remember everything. I wanted to remember what I could bear to remember and convince myself it was all there was.
As a faithful diarist since the age of 7, I read this little book quickly and with great interest. Sarah Manguso writes beautifully, reflecting on her obsessive diary keeping and its implications for her identity as a writer, a mother, and a person coming to grips with mortality. It is an uplifting and seriously sincere book. Recommended to writers and diary keepers of every ilk.
(With gratitude to Celeste, who is my personal lending library for All Things Good.)...more
It seems odd to give stars to a diary, but if any diary is deserving of five stars, it's Woolf's. This volume, which covers her happiest and most prodIt seems odd to give stars to a diary, but if any diary is deserving of five stars, it's Woolf's. This volume, which covers her happiest and most productive years, is a particular joy. She writes with beauty and wit, even when she's just writing for herself. Her fears, her amusements, her obliquely referenced love affair with Vita Sackville-West, her preoccupations with the success of her greatest novels (all produced within this time span, more or less) are still intriguing to us nine decades later. Recommended for devoted Woolf enthusiasts; may not be as gripping to other, less obsessive readers. But if you are a British literature enthusiast, she hobnobs with all of the big names here (Eliot, aka "poor Tom," Yeats, Hardy, Forster, Keynes, Strachey, and of course, her beloved Vita, among others). I am always delighted to spend time with Woolf; she never disappoints me.
(Second read; first read circa 2010 in preparation for my undergrad thesis.) ...more
“Fictional writing has no value, documentary narrative has no value. The only genres I saw value in, which still conferred meaning, were diaries and e“Fictional writing has no value, documentary narrative has no value. The only genres I saw value in, which still conferred meaning, were diaries and essays, the types of literature that did not deal with narrative, that were not about anything, but just consisted of a voice, the voice of your own personality, a life, a face, a gaze you could meet. What is a work of art if not the gaze of another person? Not directed above us, nor beneath us, but at the same height as our own gaze. Art cannot be experienced collectively, nothing can, art is something you are alone with. You meet its gaze alone.”
This passage, near the end of this book, more than anything helped me understand what Knausgaard is doing and why it is so powerful; I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it before, to elucidate why he is able to cast a spell on readers with his rather plain, directionless but somehow pitch-perfect prose. I found Book 2 even more meaningful and stirring than Book 1, which was excellent in its own right. Here, Knausgaard continues to fix his gaze on self-worth and self-image, but to an even more compelling degree. He falls in love, has children, and struggles to write. This is all that “happens,” but of course, it isn’t everything. I am desperate for more; Book 3 comes in the mail next week… ...more
The Norwegian Proust! It lives up to all the hype. I read this book while vacationing in Iceland, hoping for some Scandinavian connection, and I thinkThe Norwegian Proust! It lives up to all the hype. I read this book while vacationing in Iceland, hoping for some Scandinavian connection, and I think it was an apt setting. Knausgaard writes with patience and painstaking detail. He is as moved by the past as by his reflections on it, and there is no stone left unturned, no detail too small to be ignored. There is a light, airy quality to his prose (at least, reading it in English) that is mesmerizing. I am eager to read Book 2!...more
“Thus the story of the facts has to reckon with filters, deferments, partial truths, half lies: from it comes an arduous measurement of time passed th“Thus the story of the facts has to reckon with filters, deferments, partial truths, half lies: from it comes an arduous measurement of time passed that is based completely on the unreliable measuring device of words.”
The narrative is just as riveting as it was in the first book in the series, but this novel’s themes are appropriately more serious, as Elena and Lila are growing up. Domestic violence is racheted up another notch, and the untrustworthiness of men, especially men with whom you have an intimate relationship, seems to take center stage. Again, I’m not sure what magic Elena Ferrante possesses, but it works; I’m always left without anything concrete or helpful to say about these novels, except to stammer, They’re very, very, very good....more
I love Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry, and so I was thrilled to find a very clean used copy of this book at a recent book sale. This book contains a solidlI love Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry, and so I was thrilled to find a very clean used copy of this book at a recent book sale. This book contains a solidly written collection, half memoir-like vignettes and essays, half short stories. The essay about her friendship with Marianne Moore was particularly delightful. I was happy to read more of Bishop’s strong voice, but on the whole, I confess that I found this book a bit dull. Her poetry has much more life and vigor than her prose, I think, but there are certainly some lovely, swooning passages in here....more
“Everything was behind him. When he awoke in the morning he faced only the single huge block of the day, one day at a time. He thought of himself as a“Everything was behind him. When he awoke in the morning he faced only the single huge block of the day, one day at a time. He thought of himself as a termite boring its way through a rock. There seemed to be nothing to do but live.”
Sparse, somber prose. Thematic and stylistic qualities of this slim novel call to mind Kafka and Cormac McCarthy. Coetzee uses plain and grimly beautiful language to tell the story of Michael K, an unremarkable man caught in the throes of an (imagined) South African civil war during the reign of Apartheid. ...more
“The behavior of plants is indeed inexplicable. It breaks all the rules; and that is what makes gardening so endlessly various and interesting.”
About“The behavior of plants is indeed inexplicable. It breaks all the rules; and that is what makes gardening so endlessly various and interesting.”
About a week ago, Guion found this book, an old hardbound edition, at the library book sale. The spine said “V. Sackville-West” and sparked his recognition. He found me buried in some shelves and said, casually, “I think I found a book for you. Sackville-West: She was Woolf’s lover, right? I imagined you’d probably want to get this one.” My husband. He knows me so well. I was elated to have this little book, which I had not previously heard of but immediately knew that I wanted. The edition has, sprinkled throughout its sparse chapters, charming woodcut illustrations of plants, and it is precisely the kind of little nonfiction that I adore.
Vita Sackville-West, along with being Woolf’s lover and the model for Orlando, was also famed in England for her gardens, beautifully maintained at her residence, Sissinghurst Castle (which has quickly moved to the top of my weekend trip wishlist when we live in London next year). Here we have all the Bloomsbury goodness—the high drama, the sparkling wit, the luxurious sentences—but applied to the lovely and practical art of gardening.
I devoured this little book and was so charmed by it. It’s the first I’ve read from Vita (aside from her love letters to Virginia), and I am not surprised at all that Woolf fell so hard for her. Finishing this book made me feel very sentimental and excited about my modest garden and all of the green shoots that are starting to show their faces.
“The more one gardens, the more one learns; and the more one learns, the more one realizes how little one knows. I suppose the whole of life is like that: the endless complications, the endless difficulties, the endless fight against one thing or another, whether it be green-fly on the roses or the complexity of personal relationships.”...more
A charming collection of essays and garden meditations from literary-minded gardeners, spanning from 1900 until about 1995. I particularly enjoyed theA charming collection of essays and garden meditations from literary-minded gardeners, spanning from 1900 until about 1995. I particularly enjoyed the introduction to Gertrude Jekyll and, naturally, the necessary snippets from the beloved, ever-effusive Vita Sackville-West. This would make an especially nice gift for a person who loves to read and loves to while away entire days working outside among carefully tended plants. ...more
A skillfully written and honest account of manic-depressive illness, complicated by the fact that the author is a professor of psychology. ParticularlA skillfully written and honest account of manic-depressive illness, complicated by the fact that the author is a professor of psychology. Particularly, I was struck by the great number of supportive, gentle, and caring people (interestingly, mostly men) that Jamison had in her life; what a huge blessing to someone battling with mental illness.
With thanks to Celeste for lending me her (freshly signed!) copy....more