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Archive for March, 2010

Katri Kling lives with an unfriendly, unnamed German Shepherd and her brother, Mats. They are the town weirdos—children throw snowballs at their windows and scream “witch” at Katri. There is something affably off about Mats (autistic?), but Katri is good with numbers and money (if not people) and supports both of them by working as an accountant in the shop they live above. On the far outskirts of town (and in the winter, piled down with Finnish snow, “far” means something), a successful old illustrator of children’s books, Anna, lives by herself in the house she was raised in. Katri knows what she wants from Anna and has a plan about how to get it; Anna doesn’t know that she wants anything out of anyone, including herself, until she is facing what she decidedly doesn’t want.

It’s a deceptively simple plot, and a small book, but I understand why the NYRB brought it back and why so many people rave about it. Jansson manages a deep distrust about everything from rabbits to royalties so that by the midway point of the book I was ready for ax murderers or, just as horrifying, a strategic loosing of a shred of minor information that Katri knows will unbalance Anna. This consumed me: while the book is written primarily in the omniscient third-person voice, every so often, without quotation marks or chapter breaks or anything, Katri is speaking in first-person.

I, Katri Kling, often lie awake at night, thinking. As night thoughts go, mine are no doubt unusually practical. Mostly I think about money, lots of money, getting it quickly and taking it wisely and honestly, so much money that I won’t need to think about money any more.

The slips into her voice are so smooth that I spent the whole book wondering if it really was a third-person I was hearing from, or if I was supposed to think that Katri herself was writing the book I was reading. I wanted a little bit more from the ending, but the further I get from my reading, the more I understand where she left it.

This was my second NYRB book (Stoner was the first), and again, what a lovely aesthetic experience. The cover has an eggshell glow and a slightly chalky feel, sharp edges, the NYRB lozenge on the spine, great fonts, and color design (both inside and outside the cover) that I can recognize, as a total idiot in such matters, is thoughtful and skilled. The Jansson was a library book, but I want to own books in this series, have them to pick up and feel. [It’s so nice when the internet hands you exactly what you are searching for: an appreciation of the design (with picture of a stack of them).]

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My writing group does a group goal check-in every time we meet: for each person, two writing goals and one non-writing goal. Mo is the keeper of all the lists, and she scores us on our self-reported completions. Sometimes we argue about half points or the validity of overlapping goals, but mostly, Mo’s scores stand. The points are worth nothing except the opportunity to taunt each other.

We are meeting on Monday, and bad planning on my part means I’m already down a point (“write every day” oh ha ha funny). I’ve got one in the bag (“deal with shelf”), but the other, and my deciding mockery point, hangs on updating this goddamn blog five times. Things that are more interesting than blogging recently: falling down the fascinating well of a few glee-struck subsets of psychology (happiness and evolutionary in particular), resurrecting a decade-lapsed meditation habit, finishing every book mentioned in my last entry except the bio and David Copperfield, shopping for kohlrabi, and singing to the dog. More interesting than all of that right now, however, is getting that point.

Currently reading:
The Position by Meg Wolitzer. I went in blind on this one, having picked it up solely because I so enjoyed The Wife. Great first chapters, very tempting to plow through it.
The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. Chock full of science! All the research and citations in the back make me feel less goofy reading a book on how to be happier. Yay for that, because I’m already happier and I’m only on chapter five.
Born to Be Good by Dacher Keltner. His engaging lecture series from UC Berkeley is to blame for this jaunt into the psychology of happiness field. I picked the lectures at random, and now look at my reading list. I just started this, but I already wish I could hear him reading it. He’s a terrifically engaging speaker, geeky and excited and full of personal anecdotes. The Lyubomirsky book is one of the texts for the class.
–Winnicott bio. He is so strange. I should read more biography: it’s a major gap in my reading habits, along with drama.
David Copperfield. Reading every day, but I’m stuck in a very long tension-free middle section. It’s been around 100 pages now of things going great and everyone delighted to see each other. I’m getting ready to push Davey in front of a cart myself.

coming soon:
Love in Infant Monkeys by Lydia Millet. In transit from the library, requested after reading her stellar Oh Pure and Radiant Heart. After this, Huneven’s Blame, and Bloom’s Where the God of Love Hangs Out, I will have exhausted my current library request list. It’s painful to let all the books I want to read wait for me (there are ~30 on my to-read list that I know the library has), but I really need to get rid of some things at home and the only way that happens is if I read them first.
Reality Hunger by David Shields is sitting on the top of my incoming book pile, all shiny and library new, but I’ve now read so many reviews of the thing that I don’t know if I’m going to be able to tackle it before it’s due.
–four more blog entries.

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