Stevenson was a nonconformist, but by the time he was living in Samoa, at the end of his life, it seems he had reverted to the traditional religion ofStevenson was a nonconformist, but by the time he was living in Samoa, at the end of his life, it seems he had reverted to the traditional religion of his upbringing. The family hosted devotional services and included their native servants in the evening ritual. The volume I read (Zodiac Books, 1948) contains 14 short prayers written for different occasions, and a brief Christmas sermon. The main theme of the sermon is that morality and happiness don’t go together, and one can only pursue a moral life for oneself, and happiness for others – and hope that personal happiness might ensue....more
Perfect for fans of I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell, this is a set of trenchant autobiographical essays about the experience of being in a femalePerfect for fans of I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell, this is a set of trenchant autobiographical essays about the experience of being in a female body, especially one that is often wracked by pain. As a child Gleeson had arthritis that weakened her hip bones; a fusion of the bones left her with one leg longer than the other, causing a limp and necessitating the use of a cane, and eventually she had to have a total hip replacement. She ranges from the seemingly trivial to life-and-death matters as she writes about hairstyles, blood types, pregnancy, the abortion debate in Ireland and having a rare type of leukemia. Other topics include the accidental death of an ex-boyfriend – a mutual friend of hers and her husband’s – and her family’s knowledge of ghosts.
In the tradition of Virginia Woolf, Frida Kahlo and Susan Sontag, Gleeson turns pain into art (“making wounds the source of inspiration,” she calls it), particularly in an excellent set of 20 poems based on the McGill Pain Index. Her descriptions of hospital bustle are onomatopoeic verse in their own right: “Trolleytrundle and sirenblare. I’m on lates this week. Whirr-blink of machines. Food trays rattling. Nuuurrsse! The three notes the blood pressure pump sings on completion. Pinging of patient call bells. Squeak of sensible footwear.” Like O’Farrell, Gleeson marvels at all that the body can withstand, but realizes that medical interventions leave permanent marks, physical or emotional. She also remarks on the essential loneliness of illness, and the likelihood of women’s pain not being believed in or acknowledged. This book feels timely and is inventive in how it brings together disparate topics to explore the possibilities and limitations of women’s bodies. (Out on April 4, 2019.)...more
This was written yesterday, right? Actually, it came out 55 years ago, but apart from the use of the word “Negro” you might have fooled me. Baldwin’sThis was written yesterday, right? Actually, it came out 55 years ago, but apart from the use of the word “Negro” you might have fooled me. Baldwin’s writing is still completely relevant, and eminently quotable. I can’t believe I hadn’t read him until now. This hard-hitting little book is composed of two essays that first appeared elsewhere. The first, “My Dungeon Shook,” a very short piece from the Madison, Wisconsin Progressive, is a letter addressed to his nephew and namesake on the 100th anniversary of emancipation. No doubt it directly inspired Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me (a line that appears in the other essay in the volume).
“Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind” is a 66-page essay that first appeared in the New Yorker. It tells of a crisis of faith that hit him when he was a teenager. Whereas he used to be a fervent young preacher in his church, he started to question to what extent Christianity of all stripes was upholding white privilege and black subjugation. Unless religion was making things better, he decided he wanted no part of it. Curiosity about the Nation of Islam led to Baldwin meeting Elijah Muhammad for dinner at his home in Chicago. I marked out so many passages from this essay. Here are a few that stood out to me the most:
“To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread.”
“If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.”
“When a white man faces a black man, especially if the black man is helpless, terrible things are revealed.”
“it is the threat of universal extinction hanging over all the world today that changes, totally and for ever, the nature of reality and brings into devastating question the true meaning of man’s history. We human beings now have the power to exterminate ourselves; this seems to be the entire sum of our achievement.”...more
(2.5) A memoir by an American woman married to a Brit and adjusting to English village life was always going to appeal to me. Richardson and her husba(2.5) A memoir by an American woman married to a Brit and adjusting to English village life was always going to appeal to me. Richardson and her husband, “D,” had a tiny West London flat but bought a weekend cottage in the Cotswolds with his inheritance, eventually choosing to live there full time while he continued commuting to London.
If you approach this as a set of comic essays commenting on the habits of the English, it’s enjoyable enough. The rich toffs she encounters in her new village have a cornucopia of annual rituals like summer fairs, auctions, horse racing, a hunt ball, a cattle market, lambing, and countryside walks. (A lot of this felt familiar from my in-laws’ wealthy Hampshire village.) Richardson and hubby manage to insinuate themselves into most of these activities, and become regulars at the local church. They also lament the closure of the local Chinese restaurant, which is mentioned in two or three essays – overkill! As is the use of the show-offy word “sartorial,” which she pens at least three times in reference to fashion decisions.
The writing about provincial pastimes is certainly amusing. It’s when Richardson tries to be more serious, discussing D’s depression, their uncertainty about having children, and her possible MS, that the book falters. You can tell her editors kept badgering her to give the book a hook and an arc, and decided the maybe-baby theme was the strongest. But I never sensed any real wrestling with the question. She assumes they’ll have children; they tell her parents they’re trying; when she finds out she might have MS, she realizes, nah, I don’t want to have a kid. (Two of the blurbs on the back cover are by authors of childless-by-choice type books, so that gives it away right from the off.) I never got a real sense of D either – he struck me as a two-dimensional, childish lout.
She Writes releases have gotten a lot more professional in the five years since this came out, in terms of design, proofreading, and developmental editing. This is not a bad book, but I don’t think there was ever a clear enough idea of what it was meant to be....more