What makes Didion's essays timeless, versus out of date, is her ability to capture a particular time and place—in this case (mostly) 1960s California.What makes Didion's essays timeless, versus out of date, is her ability to capture a particular time and place—in this case (mostly) 1960s California. Didion builds her world sentence by sentence. Even when she writes around the personal pronoun "I," her voice resonates. The title essay, a leveled take on the the 60s acid scene of San Francisco, strips the romanticism associated with that time. I mean, how much "revolution" can really take place when everyone is sitting in a circle tripping balls? Mostly she lets the kids speak for themselves, a likeable but hapless bunch, but when she does speak, she slam dunks:
"We were seeing something important. We were seeing the desperate attempt of a handful of pathetically unequipped children to create a community in a social vacuum."
All one has to do walk through the underpass of any major, liberal city (Frenchman St., Nola comes to mind) to see the generation of gutterpunk culture today. White kids with dreads and dogs with bandannas, who seem to believe they are living some sort of ethic.
But here I am talking about one passage from one essay. There's an entire collection here. ...more
The New York Times had an article yesterday where Kathleen Hanna (founder of the the Riot Grrrl music movement)is archiving her materials at New YorkThe New York Times had an article yesterday where Kathleen Hanna (founder of the the Riot Grrrl music movement)is archiving her materials at New York University. She's my age, 44. Like many writers, I've had these silly ideas that my letters, journals, process, etc., might matter, and I've come to the realization that what's really going to happen is that some relative or hired cleaner will toss a ton of paper into the recycling bin until my life gets to about the mid-90s. The paper trail halts. Someone will then look at a chip, feel guilty for a second, and then dispose of it.
Part of the romance of The Silent Woman, is reliving these writers who had some idea that who they married or had coffee with was future Norton Anthology material. Plath died before Ariel made her an icon (and her death might have been the publicity happening that secured this canonization) But Ted Hughes made regular trips to archive himself. Can't you just imagine the letters all bound by twine?
But I digress. Malcolm wrote this book in the early nineties, right before digital communication took over. Hughes was still alive, as was his aggressively protective sister Olwyn, whose life became managing the Plath estate and legacy of her brother's image.
Was Plath a narcissistic, manipulative woman with Borderline personality disorder? Was Hughes an egomaniacal bully who bailed on his wife and two kids for a younger woman?
Malcolm's point is that while certain facts are in place, the meaning of the facts is a red hot mess. She blasts out the traditional beginning, middle, end biography structure. She never really tells the "story" of Plath's life at all. Instead she questions the ability to write biography by showing the absurdity of the omniscient, third person POV. The story instead becomes that of Malcolm trying to write biography and the problems with the form. She details her encounters with Olwyn Hughes, with other biographers, the fallouts authors and subjects suffered from publications. She even includes correspondence that happened during her process.
As someone who has had to deal with the Laura Ingalls Wilder "estate" it was interesting following another writer trying to unwind the irrevocably knotted and fiercely protected. Also, I enjoyed how Malcolm, a woman of the same era of Plath, examined what it was to be a woman of the repressed fifties pretending she could simply will the chains away, only to find self-doubt haunting at every corner.
I Like You is my favorite book to leave out for my cat sitters. I know they will get sucked in and keep my cats company. It's hard to write a review,I Like You is my favorite book to leave out for my cat sitters. I know they will get sucked in and keep my cats company. It's hard to write a review, when the book is a graphic adventure, but what I love is that while hilarious, but I Like You has real advice and real recipes. As Sedaris says herself, she "hates joke cookbooks." She has everything from a great fried chicken recipe to instructions for a self-breast exam. My favorite might be her tips on how to be an Out-of-Town Guest.
*Don't show up with a pet you need to bury
*Never put down your host's town or compare it to where you are from
*Don't steal anything and stay out of the medicine chest.
*If you take a nap, leave your clothes on. Don't get naked and get under the covers. Naps involve clothing.
For Laura Ingalls Wilder fans, The Little House Cookbook is a no-brainer, must-have, geek fest. As a Laurafan, I’ve been salivating over Ma’s vanity cFor Laura Ingalls Wilder fans, The Little House Cookbook is a no-brainer, must-have, geek fest. As a Laurafan, I’ve been salivating over Ma’s vanity cakes and sourdough biscuits since 1972, pining for those heart-shaped cakes sprinkled in white sugar. Chapters often feature a quote and original illustration by Garth Williams form the “Little House” series. Even the font and point size are the same. Comfort and nostalgia abound.
An admitted “Bonnethead,” I read with the intention of holding a pioneer-themed dinner party. My first read made me think that Ma Ingalls was not just being modest when she said, “Hunger is the best sauce.” Salt Pork. Cornmeal. Codfish. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Laura Ingalls Wilder always had the knack of making even lettuce with a sprinkle of vinegar and sugar sound like black truffle risotto, but The Loftus General Store wasn’t exactly Whole Foods. I wanted the fun of a pioneer meal and food people would enjoy.
What I discovered, while looking for recipes that wouldn’t give my guests heart disease, was a good read. Barbara Walker not only knows how to cook, she is a food historian—her bibliography is four and a half pages long. In each chapter, she locates recipes within their historical context and explains every ingredient. We all know that women cooked over an iron stove, but did you know that they didn’t have baking soda? I didn’t. I learned that tomatoes only became sweet at the turn of the century, and that Laura (who became a renowned poultry farmer in her own right) lived to see “poultry raising change from a gentlemen’s sport and farm wife’s pocket money to two separate industries, egg production and meat production.” Today poultry farmers use different breeds for “layers” versus “fryers.”
Laurafans will love how Walker takes on recipes that demonstrate Ma’s resourcefulness during lean times. She recreates the Green Pumpkin Pie Ma baked when there were no apples to be found. Blackbirds decimating the corn crop? There’s Ma, rebounding with blackbird pie. (Now Blackbirds are endangered, so Walker recommends substituting the new aviary pest, Starlings). She explains how to bake “Long Winter” bread, which the Ingalls family subsisted on during eight months of prairie blizzards. I admit that while reading about these recipes I probably wasn’t going to make them, but I did enjoy thinking about making them.
So The Little House Cookbook is fun to read, but The American’s Test Kitchen taught me that the key to a useable cookbook, versus a pretty one, is that the recipes actually work. Walker gets big kudos for writing up the recipes so that you can recreate them. For each dish, she first describes how a pioneer would have prepared the food, and then details how to adapt these recipes to the modern kitchen. One of my favorite quotes comes from the recipe for Stewed Jackrabbit with Dumplings, “If you can’t find a hunter to give you a skinned rabbit (he will want the pelt), look for a farm-raised rabbit at a German butcher shop. (Hasenpfeffer is a favorite German dish).” Thus, I learned a little more about pioneer life, German culinary culture AND the Laverne and Shirley theme song.
And as for my party? I had my fantasies. Roast Suckling Pig. Mincemeat Pie. Husk Tomato Preserves. In the end, though, I only used Walker’s book for the iconic Apples ‘n’ Onions to the letter. I cheated and used baking soda for my cornbread and biscuits. Instead of subjecting my guests to Salt Pork (kind of gross), I put out a plate of fried bacon. I did remain true to the pioneer spirit, shopping at the Farmer’s Market for jellies, butternut squash and berries. I opened a jar of homemade watermelon rind pickles given to me by a friend’s mother. After slaving over my brand new gas oven all day, I had an appreciation for Ma and what she went through. In the end, I like to think she would have approved of my innovations. And I have no doubt that if Ma could have run to Kroger for a ham instead raising, butchering, and curing the meat herself, she would have been all about it.
This book is crazy pants. Maybe I hated the footnotes, Spanglish, and references dependent on Diaz coming of age in the same nerd era I did (I kind ofThis book is crazy pants. Maybe I hated the footnotes, Spanglish, and references dependent on Diaz coming of age in the same nerd era I did (I kind of hated it more that I GOT all the references), but then I admired the fearlessness. The plunge....more
This one's staying on my nightstand. Totally been there when you wish no one loved you so you could just go away, even if it is your half-wit furry peThis one's staying on my nightstand. Totally been there when you wish no one loved you so you could just go away, even if it is your half-wit furry pet. ...more
A welcome update to John D'Agata's The Next American Essay (2003,) B.J. Hollars has assembled an illuminating collection of genre bending essays. I'mA welcome update to John D'Agata's The Next American Essay (2003,) B.J. Hollars has assembled an illuminating collection of genre bending essays. I'm planning on using Blurring the Boundaries in my upper division nonfiction workshop this fall. The book features a reflection by each essayist on their piece (the reflections sometimes rivaling the actual essays!) and thoughtful writing exercises in the back. As with all anthologies, some works are stronger than others, but anyone interested in craft, form, and word play should find a great deal to work with here....more
Just used this text to teach a Flash Nonfiction course this summer and I decree success! The structure (short craft lecture, essay, and prompt) worksJust used this text to teach a Flash Nonfiction course this summer and I decree success! The structure (short craft lecture, essay, and prompt) works great for teachers and students. The book progresses in a way that helps students build their skill set as they fold in new techniques. I found that working in the flash form is effective because everyone gets to write a ton and share a ton. Also, (as a good text should, I think) Moore's guide leaves plenty of room for instructor personalization. I have found it easy to add readings or embellish lectures as suited the class. I chose to have a longer assignment (8-10) pages for the end, which I had them workshop in sections, i.e. mini flash essays, which then (viola!) created a longer one.
In short, highly recommended for teachers, or anyone who wants to teach themselves a course. I wrote the prompts along with my students and wound up with tidy collection. ...more
The bottom line is that I agree with the intro by Dave Eggers: Yes, this book is worthwhile, and yeah, genius. And difficult. Very difficult.
I began rThe bottom line is that I agree with the intro by Dave Eggers: Yes, this book is worthwhile, and yeah, genius. And difficult. Very difficult.
I began reading Infinite Jest on a hellish band tour. About halfway across Nevada the driver (songwriter) and I got in a fight about how this G.D. book had been in the way for ten days now and it occurred to me that Jest could double as a murder weapon. I quit.
Jest, as it turns out, is not a Jesty read. I admit I resisted the book because I thought Wallace was some pretentious hipster who makes his work "complex" because "comprehension" is so uncool. After becoming a huge fan of his nonfiction, however, I realized Wallace is the opposite. He's the most intelligent, sincere writer I can think of.
Last summer, three years later, I began the Jest again with two friends 1) a poet and 2) a Joyce lover. As it turned out I really needed a support group and a full month. There were moments in the heat where I lay of the floor, slogging through passages with no paragraph breaks, wondering if I REALLY needed to know that much about tennis. Then there were passages that entranced me.
I carried on because I was a believer, and I knew that I had friends who would keep their end of the reading bargain. It worked out because the poet noticed language while the Joyce lover helped detangle, and then I (the former philosophy major turned storywriter) could think big picture and character. I swear, by the end, my brain was larger. I went back and read books that had seemed "difficult" and now I breezed through. Today, sadly, my brain is back to normal
Reviewing this book is impossible. IJ is as much an experience as anything else. All I know is that afterwards, I was changed. And I've read about a handful of books that have succeeded at that. ...more
Not surprising that many of these stories were previously in The Atlantic, because C. Michael Curtis knows his fiction. With each story I felt that hoNot surprising that many of these stories were previously in The Atlantic, because C. Michael Curtis knows his fiction. With each story I felt that hook in the first paragraph that made me feel that trust, that I'm in good hands. Recommended for fans of Lorrie Moore and Joy Williams. If you've given up on the short story because The New Yorker finally exhausted your generous literary efforts to "keep up," then recycle that mess and try this book. ...more
First, we must applaud Kristin LeMay for complicating a literary heroine who has been pigeonholed as a waif who couldn't get a date, so she settled foFirst, we must applaud Kristin LeMay for complicating a literary heroine who has been pigeonholed as a waif who couldn't get a date, so she settled for poetry, wasting away in her attic of ennui.
I Told My Soul to Sing intertwines biography and memoir buoyed by in-depth readings of poems, with the concept of faith functioning as a second character. Admittedly, neither faith or Dickinson have been my personal obsessions, but LeMay is like that college professor who takes her subject and brings it alive. She reminds me why I became an English major in the first place. Before all the lit crit wore me down, I loved thinking and talking with smart people about great writers. This book works as a fascinating fireside chat with you, LeMay, and Dickinson, supplied with plenty of warm beverages and treats. You know, those times when the wit and intensity of conversation are so engaging you hate to leave even for an instant because you might miss something.
LeMay suggests that you read the book in multiple sittings, to give each poem, each reflection, time to simmer. I suggest following that advice. Each chapter works as a meditative essay, which takes on a big idea (you know, little things like "Belief" and "Mortality.") The observations and meanders all deserve a good pondering, maybe a little staring off into space and losing of oneself. ...more
As a lover of the “Little House” books and Montana, it came as no surprise to me that I tore into Hattie Big Sky. I have no doubt that if Hattie InezAs a lover of the “Little House” books and Montana, it came as no surprise to me that I tore into Hattie Big Sky. I have no doubt that if Hattie Inez Brooks and Laura Ingalls Wilder had met somehow, they would have been BFFs. When the Ingalls family stops moving west and settles in South Dakota, Laura mourns that she would never get to see Montana. When I moved to Missoula in 2006, I liked to believe I was helping Laura live out her dream, but I have to say Hattie one-upped me by running her own homestead.
Hattie homesteads in 1918, during World War I, while the Ingalls family pioneers during the late nineteenth century. The similarities, though, in many ways are uncanny. If Caroline Ingalls had turned up with a roost of chicks for Hattie, that wouldn’t have surprised me a bit. Likewise, the next time I read Little House on the Prairie, it would seem natural if Rooster Jim had a jig off with Mr. Edwards into the sunset. Hattie and Laura both face the near impossibility of raising a cash crop on the prairie. Blizzards, hailstorms, drought, or fire could destroy a year’s work in a flash. Both characters also experience the closeness of friendships forged by people in small, isolated town all working towards the same dream.
Hattie Big Sky deals with the darkness of humanity more than the Little House books. Nellie Oleson tested Laura’s character, but she never had the power to come and take away the claim. Hattie has to fight the culture of World War I, and the paranoia against German citizens. When the Ingalls family had their “good neighbors,” the Nelsons in Walnut Grove, there was no quarrel with Scandinavians. Laura pretty much gushes over Uncle Sam. Hattie isn’t so sure. By 1917, homesteaders had a better idea of why this “free land” wasn’t so free, and how the railroads had manipulated people with false promises.
Hattie’s story is based on a story about Kirby Larson’s grandmother homesteading. Interestingly, Little House character Eliza Jane Wilder (known more infamously as Lazy Lizy Lousy Jane to Laurafans) was the “lady homesteader” of De Smet, South Dakota. Women could file a claim so long as they were single. Eliza Jane’s portrayal in Wilder’s world is less than flattering. For those interested I’ve fleshed out a bit of the “real” Eliza Jane in my blog.
Here I’ll stop, because I hate spoilers. But I have shelved Hattie Big Sky in the prairie section of my books. Here, at least Hattie can hang out with Laura, along with school chums Mary Power and Ida Brown. I’m sure they would have all exchanged name cards....more