Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

in no order, with parallelism problems. (reference: I’m an unwilling participant in this)

  • When I have to walk, only taking steps of a couple inches.
  • Watching movies about genocide to keep it all in perspective.
  • Rubbing different things on my feet/hands. So far: moisturizing lotion, tea tree oil, hydrogen peroxide, anti-fungal cream, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, pistachio nut oil lotion.
  • Plunking my feet into a basin filled with: hot water, cold water, white vinegar, white vinegar and hot water, white vinegar and water that is now cold.
  • Here are some ideas I’ve had for an advice column or essay about it. Coxsackie Chronicles. Hand, Foot, and Me. I Only Call It Sheep Pox. Coxsackie My Ass (Not Yet!). First It Comes for the Foot. Vinegar, Probably. This Rash Called My Sole.
  • I’ve managed to prioritize fascination and attention. No spots on my mouth at 9 pm. Three on the inside of my lower lip by 11. Top of my mouth soon after. 25 at 2. Look forward to the next count.
  • Counting, my foot propped up on the couch just so, one to one hundred, four times through until the pain and itch transforms from a feeling to a thing–a gritty toothed animal with sand for fur–I can watch with time.
  • Freecell, but only easy games with aces near the top of the stack.
  • Drinking pitchers and pitchers of water, room temperature, each sip and swallow delicious and sufficient.
  • When it’s time for ibuprofen (the only medicine there is), a couple spoons of ice cream straight from the carton. It tastes so good, better than ice cream usually tastes even, but then the sugar hits the raw spots and it burns. Just enough for pills, then more perfect water.
  • It’s hard to take detailed pictures of your own soles.
  • Trying to tally up who I may have infected (I was asymptomatic for three days and have been to the store since the initial fever) and how to avoid exposing others short of quarantining myself for five days. How it would be to quarantine myself.
  • I’m not even trying to sleep yet. The animal would keep me up.
  • At 2:30 I suddenly feel terrible that I’m using Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan as a distraction for my medical issues. As a measure of how little my suffering is.
  • My landlord/housemate handled this well: “so I’ve been careful since I figured out what it is, but I know I’ve touched things in the last couple days, so if you come down with a sudden fever . . . “
  • Every couple hours I change my socks. I don’t need to, but it feels proactive.
  • Infinite Jest stuff.
  • Gratitude: I don’t have Wednesday’s fever. My throat was substantially worse yesterday. No congestion, no headache, stomach and sinuses and so many other systems working normally.
  • In three minutes I will: hobble to the mirror, count what’s new in my mouth and hands; pause The Devil Came on Horseback; refill my water bottle; eat three spoons of stinging sweet ice cream and chase it with my new water; swallow pills; pick new socks, probably the bamboo ones, worn and fuzzy; think of all the things I forgot to put on this list but not edit it; and come back to this couch to prop up a foot and count, and wait.

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Ur Hoard

The earliest documented evidence of collecting comes from excavations of the Persian tombs at Ur in what is now Iraq. A collection of eleven hundred seal impressions on lumps of clay found there date to the fifth century B.C.E.

–from Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee’s Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

a certain acquaintance famous for his collections: I’d love to see an episode of Hoarders of Ur
me: “now, Ub, do you need all 1100 of these seal lumps? or could we agree to let some go?”
him: no, he needs all of them
me: “look, this one has mouse droppings on it.”
him: “what about this seal…it looks rain-damaged”
me: “Ub, you can’t clean clay. it’s CONTAMINATED.”
him: “Yes I can! That’s the num-shub of Enki! It’s worth a lot!”
me: “what about this one? you’ve never even taken it out of the straw!”
him: this makes me wish Mr. Show was still on

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(I spoil the drape runners out of the movie and television series Twin Peaks here (and manage to throw in an Infinite Jest spoiler while I’m at it). Also, I’m assuming an almost complete familiarity with the universe and plot of both. In addition to that, I go on and on and on.)

1. getting the movie review part over with

After running through the entire series of Twin Peaks again recently, I netflixed Lynch’s Twin Peaks prequel, Fire Walk With Me. Despite a now-decades-long fixation on the show, I’d avoided the movie. And, I know now, for good reason: it’s terrible.

The first half hour or so is a mess that doesn’t connect in any substantial way to the rest of the movie. Chris Isaak could have been the best actor of 1992 and I’d still only see him as a man-prop for a sand-flecked Danish supermodel. Kiefer Sutherland does what he can with an unnecessary character. I wanted to airlift poor David Bowie out of his one disjointed scene. There was no need to spend that much time in the trailer park, or Teresa’s trailer, no matter how good Harry Dean Stanton is. The scenes with the local police have none of the qualities (lightness, absurdity, sincerity) that Lynch managed with Truman, Andy, and Lucy in the series.

The movie jumps forward a year, to the days before Laura’s murder. The glaring plot and character inconsistencies might be irritating only to superdork fans, but really, if you are going to make a movie from a cult show, it makes sense to think of those folks. I could fill several pages with examples here, but I’ll skip it. (I can’t help myself: Bobby as fawning lovelorn puppy when he’s been off with Shelly for weeks by this point? And then kills a guy? Donna topless on roofies whoring it up with Laura and never mentions it after, not even to James? I’ll stop.)

A bit of balance: there were a few parts that worked. When Laura wakes into a dream by pulling her own wrist up and finds bloodied Annie next to her in bed, I was spooked and delighted. I appreciated the clarification of how Laura and Ronette went from being with Jacques and Leo to the train car with Leland (I’d always been confused about the sequence of events there). The scene with BOB assaulting Laura in her bed, her hands around his face as she sees for the first time that it’s Leland, was series-worthy. So there’s that.

2. a romance

The show started in 1990 during a years-long hard drought in the area where I lived. There were dead yellow lawns and water restrictions, and when it did rain, it seemed to start and stop while I was asleep or stuck in class. I lived in a suburb (of a town that’s a suburb itself) with no old trees or water features other than a mostly dry ponding basin, fenced off, a few blocks down from my parents’ house.

Twin Peaks takes place over a few days in February, with nearly the entire show happening under threat of rain—there’s almost no direct sunlight for the whole of the first season, and Lynch loves the greenery that results from that sort of climate. Big trees, loamy forest soil to bury necklaces in, moss and fog, all pushed into the hills around a wide river and a roaring snow-bordered waterfall. It looked like a heaven of water. Though I liked the quirkiness and mystery from the start, it was the setting that hooked me.

There was no way, years after the series filmed, for Lynch to exactly recreate the town when making “Fire Walk with Me.” The different bedrooms, streets, and houses are pardonable. I can’t get over the sun: it’s the wrong season in FWWM. Laura walks around the late-spring foliage in a warm yellow light, blue skies overhead without a hint of rain.

3. the wrong Laura

The other part of the romance, slower to develop, was about the autonomy of teenagers. I didn’t have a car until I was 18, and there was nowhere to walk or bike to from my house, no parks or stores and certainly not biker bars with Julee Cruise at the mic.

The kids in Twin Peaks had a tremendous amount of mobility and involvement in the affairs of the adult world. Most of my handful of friends didn’t date or work, and all but one had a curfew they obeyed. Laura not only pulled down good grades and the homecoming queen crown, she worked at a department store (and briefly a brothel in Canada, so there’s a commute), had two boyfriends, tutored Josie and Audrey’s autistic brother, volunteered as a meals-on-wheels driver, and managed to be a beloved friend and daughter to the community. I was grounded and read a lot.

So: the sneaky teenagers, the water, and all the reasons that everyone loves it (the visuals, the malevolence of objects, the humor and absurdity and tense plotting): that would have been enough for me to be a fan. It’s Laura and BOB that have pulled me through half a dozen whole-series re-viewings (including the awful run of episodes between Leland’s death and the finale), often with others I’ve harassed into watching with me.

Laura, despite the fact that she’s dead, wrapped in plastic, is the major force in the story. She’s touched every character (most of them literally) and there’s nowhere they can go that she hasn’t been. Unlike many of the other female characters, Laura is strong (broad-shouldered and sleek-muscled), assertive socially and sexually, unafraid. Where Shelly is dandelion-thin and tossed around like a bag of groceries by Bobby and Leo, Laura is a panther. Even at her death, she goes down snarling, enraged (more about that in a minute).

All of which makes it more disappointing that Lynch turned the Laura of FWWM into an older, more harried version of Shelly. Lynch loves Shelly’s character—he hadn’t planned on her returning after the first episode but brought her back and made her a primary. On the show, I like Shelly too and think she’s necessary. That fragility in the face of plain evil (Leo is not BOB-possessed, he’s just a dick), her inability to save herself, ever, all play nicely against the strength of the other characters. Shelly is the only person Gordon (played by Lynch) can hear sans hearing aide, and he kisses her. Lynch loves his victims, and he has a great one in Shelly.

FWWM Laura is no longer the outgoing, vibrant, aggressive young woman of Twin Peaks. She huddles from place to place, worried, ready to sink in terror or helplessness. She seems much older, like she has a stressful desk job and an ex-husband who won’t leave her alone. One of the moments of torment that Lynch puts her through is identical to one Shelly experienced: Leland pinches her left cheek while scolding her about the cleanliness of her hands (in the show, Leo pinches Shelly’s left cheek after growling about laundry).

4. “Sometimes, my arms bend back.”

By the time I saw the first episode of Twin Peaks, I’d been having Great Evil dreams for at least ten years, probably more like twelve. It wouldn’t matter the dream to start with: I would get a feeling that the Great Evil was there and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The GE wasn’t a person, but a feeling, a specific force, and it would come in the shape of strangers, people I knew, animals, sometimes things (it rose out of the floor once, a man-shaped mass of carpet). It would show up a couple times a week at least, and it would assault and mutilate and kill me and the other people in my dreams. I’d wake up gasping with adrenaline, all my senses tearing around in the dark to figure out where it was going to get me from. There’d be nothing there, and eventually I’d fall back asleep and hope it wouldn’t find me again.

As I got older I tried everything I could think of to deal with it: I learned how to have lucid dreams (GE loved that, that I knew I was dreaming and it could still disembowel me while it was wearing my favorite teacher’s body), I tried to sleep as little as possible for stretches (nothing like exhaustion to not help with night terrors, lemme tell ya), I slept in different places in my room (between the mattress and box spring, in the closet, on the floor). It would jump into the people I was trying to save from it and kill me again, slowly.

It stopped in my early 20s (a not very long story I nevertheless won’t tell here), with only half a dozen nightmares close to as awful since. The final official Great Evil dream involved me delivering myself up to it, putting myself naked on its front porch as soon as I felt that foreboding start to hover around my dream. Even through the fear, I was sick and bone-tired of the hopeless attempts to escape from something that would inevitably get me. Fine, let’s skip the rest of the dream: get me. The GE came to the door, was flummoxed and unprepared, and opted to back away from me.

I don’t remember when I noticed the parallels, if it was during the tv run or during one of the marathon sessions with a stack of VHS tapes. BOB owling around the woods, in and out of his hosts, that shape-shifting glee, his presence in the corners at night. Laura knowing he’s coming, knowing how impossible it is to escape. And in the end, delivering herself to BOB/Leland and her death to prevent BOB from having her as a host.

In her last moments, which we get through Ronette’s dream (if you are for some reason I cannot comprehend reading this even though you haven’t seen the show, be warned that that is a violent and scary clip), Laura screams, teeth bared, like a demon while BOB bludgeons her to death. She’s scared and suffering, but she’s also furious, a terrifying and powerful animal. A single screen shot of BOB’s face after she’s dead shows that he is devastated—the only moment in the series I can recall where he looks sad (on the video linked above, it flashes in a fraction of second around 1:07). Then he roars in sorrow. He’s lost her forever; she’s won. That is the Laura I want.

FWWM Laura screams too, but it’s all terror. She runs from BOB instead of at him, and he catches her and takes her down and revels in it. There’s no self-sacrifice, no choice, no agency on her end: she sinks to the ground and the hammer hits her like Leo’s soap-in-sock hit Shelly. An angel shows up and scared little Laura is bathed in white and removed from the situation by an unspecified saving force which is most definitely not her strong brave self. That’s just not how it’s supposed to go.

5. the perils of prequels

Stories complicated enough to attract a long-term cult following have unexplained elements. There’s a lot you are taking on the word of the creator, but if you like the story enough, it’s easy to make the leap. And if you’re a superfan nerd geek about the imagined world, you come up with explanations that work for the gaps. (I think Hal saw some of The Entertainment but was able to stop watching before it completely destroyed him, and I don’t care how many compelling alternative explanations about mold or toothbrushes I read.) As long as the creators stick with sequels, it can all work.

Prequels don’t work. Are there any prequels that work? I poked around for a while and couldn’t find an example of a good necessary one. Even when the prequel isn’t a craven attempt to suck cash out of existing fans, it doesn’t add anything to the imagined world but grief and nonsense.

The conflict: you love the world and therefore the creator of it for giving it to you. You figure out why the world is the way it is on your own. Then the creator makes a prequel and tells you that you are wrong, The Force is actually a blood-borne pathogen and Laura was a tired timid prey item, and you realize that this place that you thought you shared is just yours, and only if you can shut out the voice that made it in the first place.

In this case, I’m happy to lock Lynch out in the cold. My Laura is a bloody-mouthed hellion ready to rip the throat out of BOB, should he show up in a body that doesn’t also house an innocent and unknowing bystander. He should be terrified of her because his primary weapons, fear and the willingness to kill, aren’t enough to keep her from taking things he wants from him anymore. She makes brutal decisions, understanding the costs, and in doing so becomes the most powerful thing in the woods.

Even fear should be afraid of this.

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100, travel, etc.

A day or so ago I finished the 100th book of the year (Darin Strauss’s Half a Life). There are 62 days left in 2010, so my plan to give every book an entry, however minor, is a colossal failure. As always, the recognition of such a deep and unfixable failure has me limbered up and productive. For the past two weeks, I’ve been sitting down for 10 or 15 minutes a day and typing at a great speed about a book. This doesn’t lead to much deep thought, and a couple of times barely any thought at all about the actual book at hand, but it does feel good. So I’m going to start posting those, ragged and wandering as they are, and we’ll see how much I can pare down the unwritten-about list before I feel obligated to do an annual wrap-up.

I’m traveling later this week, and while I haven’t even started to think about which clothes to pack, I’ve already devoted at least two hours of thought to which books to bring. There are two long flights, the associated airport time (extended edition, due to the recent Yemen events), and much public transportation time planned. My phone is not smart. My phone barely manages texting. There is a lot riding on my book choice here.

The finalists:
The Voyage of the Narwal, by Andrea Barrett. Paperback, long, liked previous works by Barrett. I haven’t read any novels by her yet, and I worry about the historical fiction part, but this could be a great choice: nothing soothes frustrating travel delays and irritations like comparatively worse (while still engrossing) accounts. I might be stuck sitting on the floor of an airport with people screaming into their phones for six hours, but at least I’m not in the Arctic, losing my toes to the cold.
The Half-Life of Happiness by John Casey. Paperback, long, loved his shockingly unknown novel Spartina (shocking because it won the National Book Award and I’ve never talked to another person who has read it). I know almost nothing about this book. It takes place in Virginia, where I will be staying, and that might be nice, the match of my physical and literary space. Then again, the mismatches are also memorable: Holland is the Russia of Anna Karenina for me (days spent with an unexpectedly old friend-of-the-family couple who wouldn’t let me out of their sight and fed me herring on buttered rye toasts with black currant juice in between my hours-long dives into Tolstoy while on their stiff brocaded furniture), Minneapolis for a long iced-over weekend is all Magic Mountain (hundreds of pages of Hans), and an epic Amtrak journey from CA to MI, stop-and-go days across the frozen plains, is reading and then rereading Jane Austen (while listening to early Portishead and eating only satsumas and tamari almonds).
The Lecturer’s Tale by James Hynes. Paperback, long, thoroughly enjoy academic satire. I started this a few weeks ago after my Lionel Shriver-sparked health insurance freakout. Something funny, I thought. There’s health insurance panic in the first handful of pages. Back on the shelf. I’m much recovered now, for the moment, and this is the clear winner in the potential fun category. Maybe I’ll take two.
Mortals by Norman Rush. Paperback, massive, his Mating is one of my top-ten books. Given that, I wonder, as I skim the shelves for my next book, why I’ve had this for years now and haven’t read it. The major strike against Mortals is that I did once take it with me out of town (not far out of town, but Away From Bookshelves); in 70 pages, I was not swept up, was still working hard to be in the story. Mating may have been like that as well—my place memories of it are ten-page runs on the light rail, twenty over lunch. Short enough pieces, read daily, so that I stayed with the story but had time to look up the unfamiliar words (bolus! echt!) and give some thought to the problems of socialism. Rush might need more of my brain than will be available, and I might need something more friendly to being read for hours on end.

the etc:
This pains me: I’m giving up on Petterson’s new novel, I Curse the River of Time. I’m interested in the story and the characters and the setting and the conflict, but it’s time to admit, at over 100 pages in, that the frequent comma splices and run-on sentences have done this worn-out proofreader in. I don’t know anything about Norwegian punctuation; I’m assuming that they deal with compound sentences in a different way than English does. This is a translation issue, one I didn’t have with Out Stealing Horses (a glance back to that book shows that the splice issue is mostly dealt with by just adding coordinating conjunctions, which I approve of). I feel fussy and unfair, but it’s like nails on a chalkboard, every page. I’m fine with sentences like these used for occasional emphasis: here it’s too much. Here are a few sample sentences—if reading ones like these each page doesn’t irk you right out of the story, I’d still suggest the book. Petterson is a hell of a writer.

But the reason I was there that day was not just the fact that I was broke, not at all, being broke was a way of life, I hardly noticed it any more.

I often went to the Munch Museum on Sundays to stand before the colourful, soft yet sinister paintings I loved so much, and I really didn’t want to disappoint anyone, that’s the way I have always been.

But I no longer stopped on the stairs or outside the windows looking in, I was beyond that, I no longer wished to be inside, I held my life in my own hands.

Like I said, fussy, but there are so many other books to read where I’m not thinking about punctuation constantly.

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This weekend is the Pegasus/Pendragon Books annual warehouse sale (also know as the weekend when I refill the empty places I’ve worked so hard to create on my bookshelves), and I dragged myself out of bed early enough to be there at the opening. I set myself a budget this year, $50, no exceptions, and here’s how I did, with brief notes:

short story collections
The Palace Thief by Ethan Canin (feel like I should’ve read this already)
Tell Me by Mary Robison (haven’t read much of her but have liked what I did read)
At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom by Amy Hempel (read most of these in her collected stories, but I would like to reread and own nothing of hers)
A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean (why not, have heard good things)
Animal Crackers by Hannah Tinti (lovely looking book, familiar name)
Passion and Affect by Laurie Colwin (great title, have only read a story or two by her before)

My Father and Myself by J.R. Ackerley (kismet! first heard about this book half an hour before leaving for the sale on the Paris Review blog)

The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer (loved this last year, have been looking for a copy since)
The Partnership by Barry Unsworth (never read anything by him, but enticing blurb and random page read)
Farmer by Jim Harrison (since the dream I’ve repeatedly mentioned, I pick him up whenever I run across him. the first book I found at the sale)
The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond (hey, a Twitter-based pick-up!)
Citizen Vince by Jess Walter (enjoyed his Financial Lives of the Poets)
The Everlasting Story of Nory by Nicholson Baker (love me some Nicholson Baker, haven’t read this one)
The Zero by Jess Walter (same at Citizen Vince)
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (I admit to an initial snob recoil to the book, but I haven’t talked to anyone who disliked it and I am, after all, a dog geek)
My Happy Life by Lydia Millet (perfect! I’m reading her How the Dead Dream right now, and this book isn’t in the library system)
C by Tom McCarthy (the score of the day, by far: fifty cents)

I thought I was going to have to set some of these aside, but the guy added them up, and (gasp) TEN DOLLARS. For all of them. As I left they were opening new boxes of books and shelving them, but I forced myself to turn away. The sale continues today and tomorrow on Eighth St right off of Gilman, across from the Pyramid Brewery.

So I ran to Berkeley Bowl West and treated myself to strange and appealing produce. Black radish, Persian cucumber, asparagus shoots, round carrots, seckel pear, kaffir lime, spineless chayote, kohlrabi, a massive honeycrisp apple, and some beautiful staples (watermelon, banana, eggplant, avocado, yellow zucchini, a big mild pepper). I also picked up a bag of the expensive everything-free granola and some pineapple yogurt, and I still got back many dollars in change. All the glory of procuring things I want and all the cheapness that soothes my mean tightwad heart.

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Apparently it takes a series of power outages to drive me to blog. It’s almost quiet in my place right now—two battery-driven clocks still tick, the kids next door are singing, and the sleeping dog’s nails are tapping against the wall (he’s on his side, dream-twitching). I’m supposed to be working, but I’ve finished editing the work I had downloaded and the rest is sitting in gmail, inaccessible. The light is murky in here (I’m unwilling to open the blinds: it’s supposed to get up to 102 today), but I’ve been reading for an hour or so anyway.

currently reading:

Light Years by James Salter. It’s occasionally been a struggle to keep the pace that’s been working for me with this book. I’d like to bolt the rest of it: it’s a smooth read, not too long, with well-spaced chapters, exactly the sort of novel I usually finish in a few days instead of a few weeks. But this feels best slow, sipped a chapter a day. The book follows the adult lives of a couple, Nedra and Viri, along with their daughters and a handful of family acquaintances. Salter jumps ahead in time and between perspectives without any easy transitional help, and sometimes I am lost for a paragraph or two, confused about when we are or how the central character in that chapter relates to Nedra and Viri. But the sentences are lovely and strong, and Salter holds all the characters to account for their actions at the same time that he renders them all understandable and sympathetic, so he’s free to lose me all he wants. Twenty pages left: I’m struggling not to finish it today in the half-dark and quiet. (But why? I may have talked myself right around it.)

Washington Square by Henry James. I’m exactly one page into this book. mopie suggested I start here with James (though I’ve read The Turn of the Screw, I’m considering this the first real book I’ll be reading of his), and I am starting with James because I desperately want to read Toibin’s The Master. It seems like a good idea to have some James in my system before I read a book based on the author. I have a copy of The Ambassadors but have been told by a couple of people that it’s an unnecessarily hard place to start.

Although You End Up Becoming Yourself by David Lipsky. Halfway done, and half the time I want to call all my DFW-familiar friends and share delightful anecdotes from the book, and the other half of the time I almost can’t bear both how awful I feel about his death and ridiculous I feel to have such an emotional reaction to the loss of someone I only ever knew through paper.

–picking at the nonfiction pile when I have time (not often lately): The Compassionate Instinct (edited by Dacher Keltner) and Psychotherapy without the Self (by Mark Epstein). Both less compelling and more difficult than previous books by the authors/editors, but still interesting enough to work through over time.


Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Bring on the hype, the #franzenfreude, the dueling reviews, pissy tweets, adoring blogs, pre-reading dismissive shrugs, and ARC lovefests: I am unashamed of my excitement for this book and will not be swayed. Of the two excerpts I’ve read from it, both in The New Yorker, I hated one (every fault he’s ever been accused of, even ones I disagreed with, was present) and loved one. If there are pre-release parties where we stand around at 11:58 pm with whatever the Franzen equivalent of wizard caps and fake forehead scars would be (salmon in the pants? ear-muff headphones with no music playing?), I am there. I’m not quite to the level of timing my other reading so that I won’t have anything else in progress, but I’m guessing Washington Square will have a few days of rest.

the writing:

On the one hand, I’ve set up a comprehensive support and accountability plan, with twice-a-month writing group and two other specific people to check in with about the work. I have works of various lengths in progress. There are multiple comfortable places to write, and perfect pens if I opt for paper.

On the other hand, the last day I had off (excluding a weekend during which I was entirely out of town and busy) was July 3rd. Between regular full-time work, summertime pet-sitting gigs, ongoing housepainting/cleaning jobs, and six 10-hrs/day weekend assisting jaunts, I haven’t had the sort of time I need to do a whole bunch of writing. Which isn’t to say that I haven’t been writing at all: I have, and I don’t regret any of the experiences (or money) that have come from all my busyness. But I had the standard summer dreams of finishing things, whole dozy afternoons of self-hatred and short-story writing, and the small satisfaction of checking in with success tales instead of explanations and flat-out flaking. The seasonal grind is about to end; there is no assisting on the calendar for the next few months. And look, as soon as there is a little bit of space: here I am, writing things down.

edited to add: Oh, the power of coincidence. I posted this, then went to check my blog stats. While I was writing this all in the half-dark, Weetabix (one of my check-in folks, and the one I’ve been flaking on for a few Wednesdays) wrote about the writing and checking in here. I think both of us mentioning it means that we are now accountable to the entire internet. Shit.

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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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