Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A year's worth of openings...

This also from Matt. A nostalgic look back at the past year's posts via the first lines of my first post of each month. I sometimes add a few more lines for context:

Eleven humans and one dog rang in 2008 at our house (sans the ball on tv).

About 100 pages in to The Master Bedroom by Tessa Hadley I realized that I am now reading two books about adulterous relationships (Heat and Dust being the other). Hmmm. I'm sure Dr. Freud would have something to say about that.

Imani's first annual Outmoded Authors Challenge wrapped up yesterday. I challenged myself to read six books by four authors. Unfortunately, I never got to two of them. (This seems to be the story of 2008's challenge reading for me!)

In Divisadero the writing is not like writing, it's more like being led down a path blindfolded and you are willing to be led.

The process of adding years to our lives and coming to points where our years of experience outweigh our years of possibility. Hopefully we feel like some of that experience has made us wiser and yet not so wise that we can never be surprised. The disappointment or contentment we feel with life seems caught up in the balancing act of those two components. We take our measure of them in the little things of life like being able to garden, doing our shopping independently, feeling needed. That seems to be the subject of the first section of Jhumpa Lahiri's new collection of stories - Unaccustomed Earth.

Displacement. The other-worldliness of picking up your family by the roots and transplanting them somewhere else because over-proud religious or national factions have decided that they no longer wish to live with the inconveniences of others. Sasa Stanisic reveals the hypocrisy of the adults who teach children that they should share, the religions that teach children they should love thy neighbor, and who then make life impossible for each other because it is too much damn work for them to understand others not exactly like them. It seems to me that his fantastical novel How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone is not fantastical because the writer thinks it will be interesting but rather because it is the form that best expresses the fantasmogorical nature of being a refugee, of trying to adopt a new country, a new language, of missing the food traditional to your homeland, of wondering whether those you left behind are still alive.

I found myself irritated by an article in today's Science Times by Benedict Carey about a neuroscientific imaging technique called diffusion spectrum imaging (DSI) that we are sure to be hearing more about. It was the first Science Times article I have seen to mention this relatively new, hot lab toy so I wish it had been more thorough.

One morning in Chicago I had tiptoed to the kitchen with the intention of making some coffee. While customarily spilling grounds all over the counter, I spotted a can in the corner whose red label read SADNESS. Was there so much of it they could can it and sell it? A bolt of pain went through my intestines before I realized that it was not SADNESS but SARDINES. It was too late for recovery, for sadness was now the dark matter in the universe of still objects around me: the salt and pepper shakers; the honey jar; the bag of sun-dried tomatoes; the blunt knife; a desiccated loaf of bread; the two coffee cups, waiting. My country's main exports are stolen cars and sadness.
I just love this excerpt. The way Brik, the writer in Aleksandar Hemon's The Lazarus Project, is surprised into a realization about himself through this little domestic detail. Strong emotion bubbles through this book of alternating plots - the Jewish immigrant, Lazarus Averbuch, who is accidentally shot to death in a moment of panic in the Chicago Police Chief's house in 1908 and is then branded a dangerous anarchist to get the Chief and his family off the hook - and the contemporary writer in Chicago, a Bosnian immigrant, who goes in search of Averbach's story - returning all the way to Lazarus's and his own roots in Eastern Europe.

Appropriately enough, my entire day off yesterday was spent very laboriously - setting up my sleek new laptop. Just a little over 4 pounds and very slim, it required nearly five hours on the phone both with technical support of both the computer and my wireless router -we're a multi-laptop household with one internet hook up and a dislike of wires going every which way - and I'm still not finished figuring out Vista, and the new restrictions Microsoft has put on managing your email. I still have a few hours to go adding all of the technical programs I need for the lab. What price beauty?

I was sad to learn from Mark Sarvas that poet, critic (and tender curmudgeon laureate) Hayden Carruth died this week. Here is the Times obituary and here is my Inflorescence post, which includes a bio, a portrait of him done for the University of Chicago Magazine, and several of his poems including an excerpt from Dearest M, an elegy Carruth wrote for his daughter, and the marvelous Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey, as a remembrance.

Tobias Wolff's Old School is a literature lover's dream. I am about three-quarters of the way through this wonderful novel after only a single sitting. It is set at a fancy boys' prep school in 1960, right after the election of JFK. It is narrated retrospectively from the point of view of a former scholarship student and aspiring writer.

I am enjoying the multiple layers of A. S. Byatt's ventriloquism act in Possession. As author not only of a contemporary romance between two scholars, but also of a 19th century epistolary one between the two poets studied by those writers, Byatt then gives herself the additional burden (or fun) of having one of those poets write about a third poet - Samuel Taylor Coleridge. That would be a writer writing about a writer, writing about a writer.

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