Archive for August, 2011

one sad, one happy

The night before last I dreamed that I was minding a store and couldn’t make change because the cash register was neatly filled with empty tubes of toothpaste.

Last night I dreamed that Alfie and Sugar were alive, and that they and Bebe were my animal friends and we and the girls were out having adventures. We went to a beautiful island like Kirrin Island, except that it was in Sydney Harbour. I parked Hedwig on the tidal flats and she was flooded, but we floated her to shore and there was magically no damage.

The dreams of Alfie are often especially vivid and concrete. In this one, he was occupied with business of his own but came, obligingly, when I called. I had to adjust his saddle because it had slipped back, and I saw and remembered how the blonde and chestnut hairs grew all crazy and hedgehog at the top of his tail. His red mane was almost a foot long and tangled in the salt spray. I lifted Julia onto him and she wound her hands in its strands.

the magician king, by lev grossman

I never even reviewed the prequel to this book – The Magicians, Hogwarts and Narnia as reimagined by Curtis Sittenfeld – because the ending made me so mad. The hero-protagonist made a decision that was ethical and unselfish, and then (spoiler!) he turned around and did the opposite thing just ’cause.

Imagine my surprise! then, when this is actually addressed in the sequel, where escapist fantasy worlds suddenly cease to be consequenceless and people have to do the right thing, at whatever cost to themselves!

Also! You know how I do that thing where I say “There is a MUCH more interesting book to be written about what happened to Secondary Character X over the course of THIS book!” This is that book! I shall call it HERMIONE GRANGER STRIKES BACK.

atlier crenn

Me: “It’s amazing what you can get used to.”

Optimal Husband: “Yes?”

Me: “Today I went riding with my daughter. And tonight I had an all-time top-three meal. I should be euphoric! Instead I am merely very happy.”

(Special commendations to the beet meringue. And the heirloom tomatoes with a tomato water on the side. And the sucking pig. But it was all just beautiful and delicious.)

not by accident, by samantha dunn

Me: “This is a lovely book! The nice lady’s Thoroughbred trampled her and dislocated her shoulder and put a hoof through her shin so that her leg was hanging off by a flap of muscle and skin. And then she had adventures!”

Optimal Husband: “Adventures?”

Me: “Well, surgeries.”

beyond black, by hilary mantel

I can’t figure out how to recommend this book without spoiling it, or how to provide sufficiently graphic trigger warnings without doing the same. So let’s just call it Northanger Abbey meets Being Human, with a generous side-helping of We Need to Talk About Kevin. It’s hilarious, but the comedy is (sorry) beyond black.

windsor knot, by christopher wilson

I felt yucky reading this. Regarding the British monarchy as my own private soap opera is all fun and games until someone gets hurt. And this is not the sort of book you can faux-justify to yourself as having any literary or historical merit. I might stick to the dead ones from now on. Dead plus thirty years.

This book was published in 2003 and in retrospect, all the guff about the Tampax and Squidgygate tapes being security intercepts or whatever is such obvious and weaksauce misdirection, how can we possibly have credited it for a nanosecond? Thanks for dulling our critical faculties, Murdoch, you poltroon.

what is the awesomest thing you ever saw?

DSC_7453 by Goop on the lens
DSC_7453, a photo by Goop on the lens on Flickr.

Sorry. I win.

peak rach 3: the peakrachening

Riding with Claire by yatima
Riding with Claire, a photo by yatima on Flickr.

funny america

As earthquakes and tsunamis and nuclear disaster and global financial crises and the breakdown of civil order pressed in upon us, Optimal Husband and I curled up on the couch and watched American sitcoms. What are you going to do? We started with Party Down, from much of the same team as my late lamented Veronica Mars whose melancholy and class-obsessed first season was a thing of beauty. Party Down was, I think, the first occasion on which I convinced Jeremy I actually do suffer from face-blindness and not merely lack of character, because even though we had just been talking about Veronica Mars and even though I knew I ought to recognize his face, I couldn’t place Enrico Colantoni until Jeremy said his name. And I *love* Enrico Colantoni.

Party Down is a sitcom to have a recession by; it follows out-of-work actors in a catering business. It’s very apparent that the cast was close-knit and had an insane, perhaps illegal amount of fun, and the terrible irony of the show is that it ended when its stars Jane Lynch and Adam Scott found work on other (more successful, maybe less funny?) shows. Jane Lynch became Sue Sylvester on Glee (which J tired of after the pilot, and I jettisoned in anger at the end of the first season.) Adam Scott went to Parks and Recreation, so we watched that next. The great Sady nailed what makes Parks and Rec so good: it is Leslie Knope, Sincere Person And Government Bureaucrat. Leslie is love. Leslie and her Ann narrowly beat out Nurse Jackie and O’Hara for my coveted All Time Best Women’s Friendships Ever Portrayed On Television Trophy. I kept having to call Salome to remind her that I love her.

After the Bechdel-busting Parks and Rec, it was difficult to get stuck into Community. The pilot does the show no favours, seeming to set it up as the story of a privileged white man with a very large forehead and his entourage of wacky secondary characters. I can’t even begin to tell you how brilliantly the subsequent episodes undermine that premise, or how dense the comedy is, or what a kind show it can be, at heart. It’s not perfect by any means – it deals poorly with its gay characters, and showrunner Dan Harmon himself admits that he can’t get inside the head of Shirley, the black Christian woman. But the long interview I’ve linked to there also reveals that the character he most identifies is not, as you’d expect, Mister Forehead: it’s Britta, the neurotic blonde woman. That’s as endearing to me as Kanye’s avatar in his Runaway video: a corps of ballerinas in black tutus. (I’m indebted to this very good Armond White piece for the insightful take on Kanye.) I am a sucker for androgynous self-images, having one myself.

The long interview is also one of the best things I’ve read all year on the creative process. Some of the episodes that Harmon is least satisfied with are episodes that made the Optimal Husband and I belly-laugh most; and belly-laugh in the aftermath of Jen’s death, and then Richard’s. No small feat. Authorial intention is for shit, is what I’m saying. The work is the work.

Community is linked back to Party Down by being at war with Glee. Spoiler: Community wins. The trouble with Glee-the-show is that you’re supposed to take its version of the Mister Forehead character without any grains of salt, when in fact he is a terrible teacher and an awful person. Community embraces the awfulness of the Forehead, which is hilarious. But the Yatima Organization prefers not to indulge in negative reviews when there’s so much good stuff around to talk about instead.

Such as for example! The delectable abovementioned Adam Scott, who was Henry in Party Down, is Ben in Parks and Rec (leading me to call him Benry), and he is a love interest for Leslie, but not until after Leslie has a brief but pleasant relationship with a sweet police officer played by Louis CK. Which led us to his new show, which is (as fab fan Ta-Nehisi Coates has pointed out) pretty much the scary-awesomest thing out there right now. The parts about Louis’s kids are so funny they hurt. After we’d wrestled our own ungrateful screamers into bed last night, we watched the show and laughed ourselves sick at his whining kid.



So much for escapism. And in fact none of these shows is escapist in that way. Party Down requires you to take your own creative work seriously, even when you know it’s absurd. Parks and Rec and Community both require you to acknowledge the importance of public space and human connection. Louis requires radical honesty. They’re not just fucking funny. (Although they are that.)

a necessarily incomplete list of things that enthrall me right now

The Manhattan Project
Area 51
Lockheed’s Skunk Works
The SR-71 Blackbird stealth bomber
Aurignacian cave painting
French archaeology
The urbanization of China
John Maynard Keynes
Cambridge Spies
The history of thalidomide
Delia Derbyshire
The plays of Alan Bennett
The plays of Michael Frayn
Tony Judt’s Postwar

I guess the linking theme is the long 20th Century. The cave paintings are older, obviously, but they were properly *noticed* at the end of the 19thC and have been fetishized ever since.

More specifically I seem to be picking at something about the way our tools transform and deform us. The limits of our imagination and the unintended consequences of ideology. Also: hope.

pillow talk in europe and other places, by deborah levy

Clever, witty short stories with a liberal dash of Mavis Gallant, as is only right. I liked the first one best. In it, Levy is acute on the frenemyships of women:

I don’t find your life as boring as you think I do. I find it more boring than you think I do. People in couples are despicable company. They play out their lives to me hoping I will reassure them they’re deeply loveable together and frankly they are not. All the same I want a relationship and I want it to be more exciting than yours so I thank you for setting some very low standards that I can only improve on.

Her view of my countrypeople, while probably accurate, strikes this reader as surreal:

Marly is the first Australian I’ve met who has any angst. I can’t imagine suntanned existentialists. It’s not possible to exercise the philosophy of despair while sitting at beach bars in shorts, drinking smoothies with the surf rolling and moaning under a cloudless sky.

That made me laugh. When I lived in Sydney I was dead inside.

iphigenia in forest hills, by janet malcolm

Brilliant and chilling. A timely reminder that weird women (such as myself) should never get in any position where other people have power over us.

Borukhova’s contained, Cordelia-like demeanor at the defense table worked against her. Nothing came of nothing. “She had no emotion,” Jones said. “She didn’t seem upset. She wasn’t scared. If you’re innocent and being tried for murder, you’d be upset.”

Be exactly like everyone else, or suffer for it. Malcolm’s book is precision-engineered to afflict the comfortable. She is as troublesome as Helen Garner (high praise.) She’s also acute on class and privilege and their expression:

Whether to reflect the grandness of the Times or in accordance with a personal code, Barnard dressed differently from the rest of us. She wore interesting, beautiful dresses and skirts in contrast to the uninteresting jeans and corduroys and sweaters that Gorta and Bode and Pereira and I wore. Her sharp-eyed stories about the trial were as pleasing as her elegant clothes; not the least of the pleasure we took in them was the knowledge that Judge Hanophy would be irked by them.

Recommended to those with an interest in justice, women or writing.