asher553: (Default)
'And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight', the debut novella by Shmuel Yosef "Shai" Agnon, is a tale of identity theft. But it's really an abdication: the self-absorbed and grandiose Menashe Chaim willingly sells his one article of monetary value - and with it, his good name - like Esau selling his birthright. To be sure, he duly agonizes over the decision, but never simply says "no" and walks away. This passivity and helplessness is Menashe Chaim's defining trait. "Even his climactic gesture of defiance and devotion ... [is] a decision not to act," notes translator Michael P. Kramer in the foreword. His final downfall (epitomized by the loss of his tefillin, symbolizing his bond to his religious and earthly responsibilities) is the logical culmination of his state of passivity. His wife Kreindel Charne will continue on without him. But effectively, Menashe Chaim is already "dead" at this point.
asher553: (Default)
I'm working on a third reading of Toni Morrison's 'Jazz', and I realized there was something nagging at me about the book. The story seemingly has a "mistake" in the narration, and I realized I was reminded of Agnon's story 'In the Heart of the Seas', which also seems to include an error by the narrator. In both cases (the second shot that's never fired, the tenth man who's named but not counted), the author is pointing us toward a more sublime truth.
asher553: (Default)
I'm in the midst of downsizing and consolidating my stuff in storage, and *of course* I found some books that I had to bring home, because *of course* my studio apartment isn't sufficiently crammed with books as it is.

Inter alia, I brought home a whole bunch of Agnon, two A&P books from my EMT course, and a couple of books on photography that I'd found particularly informative. The reason for the A&P is twofold: because I want to refresh my memory on what I learned in the course, and because I want to get back into drawing and the anatomical illustrations are often useful.
asher553: (Default)
'Searoad', one of LeGuin's few published works of realistic fiction, is a collection of twelve tales written circa 1990 and set in the fictional town of Klatsand on the Oregon coast. All are in short-story format except for the first (the single-page proem 'Foam Women, Rain Women') and the last (the novella 'Hernes'). All of the stories are set in the present-day era, except for 'Hernes', which chronicles the lives four generations of Oregon women and is set partly in historical time.

There are occasional nods to science fiction and fantasy: there is Rosemarie Tucket, who has a passion for SF books and a fantasy friendship with an alien 'energy man'; Frances, the narrator of 'True Love' who offers insights into Star Trek and the identity of Captain Kirk's true love; there's the apparition of Ailie's mother, and there's Johanna, who begins to see mysterious messages in the foam; and there's the visionary Lily Frances Herne, who sees angels.

But mostly they are slices of daily life in a small town. Some of the moments that stayed with me: Rosemarie's fantasy life; the 'True Love' narrator's passion for books (in her blessedly pre-internet world); Bill Weisler's existential horror upon learning that flawed works can be sold for more than perfect ones; Deb Shoto's struggle with the demon inside of her; Warren's unsuccessful attempts to avoid, and his final reconciliation with, the party of pensioners in the small town (and, implicitly, his acceptance of his own mortality); the bereaved lesbian Shirley in 'Quoits', the de facto stepmother of Barbara's children; the gradual fleshing out of Ava's character through the eyes of other characters; Jane's anguish at having "failed" to "protect" her daughter Lily (concretized in the dream-image of a watch, punning on the "watch" that she believes she failed to keep, and echoed in Fanny's earlier grieving over the loss of Johnny, p. 192); the recurring images of the Oregon coast and of the foam on the seashore; paradoxes about language and existence (how can a person "be dead" if they no longer exist? and the multiple meanings and connotations of the word "body"); and the image of the 'rain women' at the beginning. I wonder who the rain women are.

Death haunts many of the stories. There are recurring references to the body, living and dead:

- 'You couldn't *be* dead. You couldn't be anything but alive. If you weren't alive, you weren't ... you had been.' (p. 33)

- '"My father hated for the male nurses to touch her," Sue said.' (p. 39)

- 'But when the word for what you made love to was the same as for a corpse it sounded like it didn't matter whether the body was alive or dead.' (p. 58)

- 'She did not like her saying "I hated for men to touch Mother's body - it sounded glib, theatrical.' (p. 121)

There are also recurring references to the sound of the sea, and its effect on the various characters.

LeGuin has lived in Portland since 1959 and knows the region well. 'Searoad' made me want to visit the coast. It also made me think about the public and private lives of the people around me, and about how we relate to our ultimate journey out of this world.
asher553: (Default)
I promised myself I'd spend last weekend doing exactly nothing except reading a book, and I did exactly that. And I read the book I'd been promising myself I'd read for about 25 years.

The book was 'Searoad' by Ursula K. Leguin. It's published as a novel but is a collection of short stories - vignettes, really - plus one novella. The material was originally written circa 1990 - '91 and the book is copyrighted 1991.

I was, of course, otherwise occupied during that time period. I must have run across the book when I returned from the Gulf. There was a small bookstore in San Clemente that I used to frequent before and after the war, but the yellowed bookmark inside the paperback bears the name of Foley Books in San Francisco. So the circumstantial evidence suggests that I bought it there, perhaps on one of my occasional visits to 'The City', or after my marriage (in 1992) to Ms. X.

The book is one of UKL's few published volumes of realistic fiction. There are occasional nods to science fiction and fantasy: there is Rosemarie Tucket, who has a passion for SF books and a fantasy friendship with an alien 'energy man'; Frances, the narrator of 'True Love' who offers insights into Star Trek and the identity of Captain Kirk's true love; there's the apparition of Ailie's mother, and there's Johanna, who begins to see mysterious messages in the foam; and there's the visionary Lily Frances Herne, who sees angels.

But mostly it is a collection of tales set in a small town on the Oregon Coast in the late 20th century (with the excpetion of the novella, 'Hernes', a family saga of four generations of women). It is not a page-turner but it is beautifully written.

There seems to be a nod to Virginia Woolf implied in the voice of Virginia Herne; on p. 190 she says, cryptically, "That's what Virginia said!" in reference to her need for a workspace (i.e., a "room of her own"); on p. 220, there's an equally cryptic aside, "We have the same name." You have to go to p. 223 in the appendix of character biographies to learn that the fictional VH published, in 1969, a work titled 'Woolf's Voices'. (The casual bookstore browser picking up the paperback could easily mistake the final entries on p. 224 for a list of the real-life author's own published works.)

I read the book cover to coverover the weekend. Some of the moments that stayed with me: Rosemarie's fantasy life; the 'True Love' narrator's passion for books (in her blessedly pre-internet world); Bill Weisler's existential horror upon learning that flawed works can be sold for more than perfect ones; Deb Shoto's struggle with the demon inside of her; Warren's unsuccessful attempts to avoid, and his final reconciliation with, the party of pensioners in the small town (and, implicitly, his acceptance of his own mortality); the gradual fleshing out of Ava's character through the eyes of other characters; Jane's anguish at having "failed" to "protect" her daughter Lily (concretized in the dream-image of a watch, punning on the "watch" that she believes she failed to keep, and echoed in Fanny's earlier grieving over the loss of Johnny, p. 192); the recurring images of the Oregon coast and of the foam on the seashore; paradoxes about language and existence (how can a person "be dead" if they no longer exist? and the multiple meanings and connotations of the word "body"); and the image of the 'rain women' at the beginning. I wonder who the rain women are.

I think I met Ursula Leguin once. It would have been late 2000 or early 2001, probably, at a Reclaiming event - some equinox or solstice or Samhain thing or whatever. Maybe it was Samhain (I think it's properly pronounced "sah-win" but I always mentally say it "Sam Hayne"), the cross-quarter corresponding to Halloween. Maybe people were in costume, I can't remember. I just remember this cheerful, short lady with grey hair, a dead ringer for the cover photographs of UKL, and I introduced myself to her and she gave her name as Ursula. Well, I don't know for a fact that it was her, but Ursula isn't all that common a name, and I knew UKL lived in Portland and I had surmised (from clues in books like 'Always Coming Home') that she had ties to the pagan community; so I suspected it might actually be her. But it just didn't seem the time or place to say "Geeeee whiz, are you Ursula K. LeGuin, the Famous Author?!?" So I guess I'll never know for sure.

LeGuin was born in late October, 1929, making her the same age, to within a couple of weeks, as my mother. And so help me, in the photo at the back of 'Searoad' she looks for all the world like Stella. I think of what they might have had in common - creative intellectual women, growing up in a sexist era - and I try to imagine the conversations they would have had if they'd met in person. I remember Mom being a LeGuin fan and introducing me to the Earthsea books and, I think, 'Rocannon's World' and 'The Left Hand of Darkness'. So I guess in a sense I have always subconsciously thought of Ursula as Stella's doppelganger.

I'm reading through 'Searoad' a second time now. I'm realizing how much of the book has to do with death. Perhaps this is what the back-cover blurb means when it says "our world ends here, and another begins".
asher553: (Default)
My current job allows me to listen to audio while I work, so I'm getting a lot of "reading" done in the form of audiobooks.  My style nowadays is often to combine listening to the audiobook with reading the text either in print or on Kindle, so sometimes I'll listen to a few chapters at work and then come home and re-read them in print.  Here's a run-down of some of the books I've been taking in lately; some of them I've finished, others are still in progress.

'Envoy' by Zalmay Khalilzad.
Born into a Sunni family in a Shi'a city in a Sunni country, he moved with his family to Kabul ("much more sophisticated than Mazar") when he was in 8th grade.  Winning a slot in an AFS exchange program, he came to the United States as a teenager in the late 1960s.  He returned to Kabul for university, then went on to complete his studies at the American University in Beirut, where he met Cheryl.  The book takes us through Khalilzad's diplomatic career with the US Government, and his work in Iraq and in his native Afghanistan.  It's both a personal and a professional memoir, reflecting on his family life and offering insights into the thinking of various officials and other decision-makers.

'ISIS Apocalypse' by William McCants;
'ISIS:  The State of Terror' by Jessica Stern and J. M. Berger.
Two books detailing the rise, decline, and revival of the terrorist entity founded by Zarqawi.  Stern and Berger's book builds on McCants' work, and adds a special focus on the role of social media in the world of terrorist organizations.

'The Iran Wars' by Jay Solomon.
Detailed account of the behind-the-scenes negotiations surrounding the Obama Administration's nuclear deal with Iran.

'Rebbe' by Joseph Telushkin.
An inspiring yet clear-eyed account of the life and teachings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson - better known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe - easily the most influential figure in late 20th-century orthodox Jewish life.  Telushkin draws on interviews, diaries, and letters to paint a vivid picture of this visionary and driven leader.

'The Prime Ministers' by Yehuda Avner.
Personal memoir of the author's life, from his antisemitism-plagued youth in Manchester, England to his career in the service of four Israeli Prime Ministers - Eshkol, Meir, Rabin, and Begin.  Avner himself appears in Telushkin's book, as he accompanied both Rabin and Begin on their visits to the Rebbe.

All of these are non-fiction books - it's just what I happen to be reading now, and admittedly some of the material is pretty grim.  But I like learning about the nuances of power and human interactions from real-world events.

asher553: (Default)
Yom Kippur was beautiful - the weather was great, the services were inspiring, and I survived the fast. Oh, and I lost a couple of pounds!

Now the rainy season is well and truly upon us. I'm looking forward to spending more time with books, in various formats - audio, Kindle, and (of course) print.

I'm re-"reading" (on audio) Toni Morrison's fourth novel, 'Tar Baby'. It is her only novel to date set mainly outside of the continental US (a pastoral, in genre), and therefore is, georgraphically speaking, literally an outlier. Uniquely among TM novels, the setting is heavily personified, so that the island becomes a 'character'. 'Tar Baby' is Morrison's first novel to be set in contemporary times (the post-Vietnam 70s, contemporary with the time of the book's composition) and her first to include major non-black characters (Valerian Street, the retired candy tycoon, and his wife, the red-headed former Miss Maine, Margaret).

The book has many of the familiar Toni Morrison trademarks: the role of folklore (as in, for example, 'Song of Solomon'), problem mothers, anxiety over skin color (Jadine's, but also Margaret's), and ambivalence toward identity. At the end, as Jadine and Son are drawn inexorably back toward one another, I wonder if the island itself is the 'tar baby' of the title. Anyway, I hope to post a full write-up on the book soon, when I'm finished re-reading it.

Also, I want to get active on Goodreads. (Readers, ping me if you're on Goodreads.)

I'm hopefully close to getting that studio in my old apartment building, which for convenience I'll call the Admiral here.

Okay, now I've got to get to work.
asher553: (Default)
In the midst of what I hope will be my last and final dealings with the Got-Junk people for the foreseeable future, I was weeding through a box of old books for any titles that I might want to save from the discard bin. I actually found one that I'd been looking for just last night: 'Atlantis' by Samuel R. Delany. [http://www.amazon.com/Atlantis-Three-Samuel-R-Delany/dp/0819563129/]

I thought of it because I had started re-reading 'Having Our Say' by the Delany sisters Sadie and Bessie, Harlem centennarians who had lived together for their whole lives. [http://www.amazon.com/Having-Our-Say-Delany-Sisters/dp/0440220424] (Bessie passed on in 1995 and Sadie in 1999.) They were, in fact, aunts to the famous science fiction writer, who was the son of their youngest sibling, Samuel Ray Delany Sr. (1906-1960). The title story (of three) in 'Atlantis' is SRD Jr.'s envisioning of his father's world in 1924. So I thought it would be fun to read them side-by-side to compare these memoirs (in SRD's case, an imagined memoir) from the same era, the same community, and the same family.
asher553: (queen)
http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/The-snares-of-strategizing-7720

'When I was about twelve, my parents gave me a fifteen-volume set of Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia. I thought I was supposed to read it straight through, so I did, and then tried to make sense of the whole thing as one big idea. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Those who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” I like this sort of thing.

Sir Lawrence Freedman’s 750-page magnum opus, Strategy: A History, is encyclopedic, although not alphabetical, a pleasure to dip into here and there to get a carefully considered summary briefing on the strategy of the Hebrew Bible, the 1815 Congress of Vienna, Jane Addams, Black Power, or the strange array of social science attempts to redefine human behavior as a contribution to strategy. Everybody talks about strategy, but no one seems to know what it is. But now there are no excuses ...'

With a review like that, how could I NOT order it?

My Dad was on the editorial staff of a book review magazine for the last 30 years of his life, so I always enjoy a good book review.
asher553: (queen)
Well, I can't promise you that this is the solution for your particular problem if you have back pain, but it worked for me and it worked for two other people I recommended it to.

Esther Gokhale - 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back

I'd been having back pain for years, but for a long time I didn't consider it much more than a nuisance. Then over the last couple of years it became more serious. I was having back spasms where I'd literally fall down on the floor in pain. The worst one kept me on the floor for a half hour, literally unable to move. Bunny was with me, and I couldn't get up to care for her. That was the worst thing.

My feet were hurting too - again, it'd been going on for years, but it didn't become a real problem until my recent gig at Big Pharma, where I was walking an average of 8 miles a day doing office deliveries. This was the plantar fasciitis I posted about earlier.

I had to take a couple of weeks off work to let my feet get better, and I had to figure out what was wrong with me. As providence would have it, I was reading Instapundit and stumbled onto a link to Matt Drudge's post about posture. On the 18th anniversary of his site, Drudge wrote (I'm paraphrasing here) that he had spent many hours sitting at a computer, and his back would be a wreck if it weren't for Gokhale.

That sounded like the solution I was looking for, so I ordered the book immediately. I zeroed in on basically two things I'd been doing wrong, probably for my whole adult life:

(1) I would bend my lower back the wrong way all the time. Your lumbar spine should be curved with the convex side facing the front of your body. If you bend it the other way - in the process of bending your body forward or down, especially if you are putting any weight on it - you are asking for trouble. Your tailbone should always point out, and never be tucked in. Those nice strong muscles on the sides of your lower spine are there for a reason - put them to work. When bending, BEND AT THE HIPS, NOT THE WAIST. Your spine should remain straight - don't be shy about sticking your butt out!

(2) I've had a habit of walking with my toes pointing out, putting the weight on the inside edge of the foot. This, too, is going to hurt you. I had to train myself to keep my toes pointed directly forward, and to get my lazy ankle muscles in the game, putting my weight on the outside edges of my feet. This felt awkward at first - because I'd been doing it wrong for so long! - but I got used to it quickly and started feeling improvement right away.

The results? The back pain stopped IMMEDIATELY. I haven't had a spasm, an ache, or so much as a twinge since I changed my posture. The foot pain took a little longer to clear up but it steadily improved over several weeks, to the point where my feet barely get sore at all. A full work week in the Big Pharma office left my feet tired but not in pain. Sidewalks were the biggest problem, but now even sidewalks don't bother me. I can walk laps around Dolores Park every day and not get sore - that's something I couldn't even think about a few months ago.

So the moral of the story is: If you've been having problems with your back and/or feet, consider that posture might be a factor - and take a look at this book.

September 2017

S M T W T F S
      12
345 6 789
10111213141516
17 1819 20212223
24252627282930

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated 2017-09-25 18:42
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios