Welcome to the week of Thanksgiving, a time when we Colonials observe the gratitude our ancestors felt for having produced a bumper crop of food to sustain them through the upcoming winter, thanks largely to the help and advice of the Native Americans, without whom we’d have been screwed. As some versions of history have it, we invited our Indian allies to the feast. At least those we didn’t kill by disease or violence or whatever.
Sorry, just being a curmudgeon. Truth is, all great civilizations were built on the backs of indigenous people, who were overtaken by the stronger and more advanced, just as they took over the civilization before. It’s how we got where we are today. We can choose to see that as positive or negative but this most basic explanation of history is neither. It just is.
If you’re observing Thanksgiving, I hope you have a fan-wonder-fattening day. I know I will: turkey, stuffing (mother in law’s HEAVENLY recipe), cranberries, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, mashed potatoes with gravy, something green and nutritious and other miscellany. Then dessert. God Bless America!
Wait, that sounded curmudgeonly, too. Thanksgiving’s true intent is to celebrate things we’re thankful for, above and beyond the craptacular nature of everyday life. If you look hard enough, there must be something you’re grateful for in your life. Keep looking. Check behind that door. In the back yard, maybe? Could be it fell behind the dresser.
Need more time? Take all you need. You have until Thursday. If you go beyond that I can’t be responsible for the consequences.
What am I thankful for? Kind of a personal question, isn’t it?
Well, since you asked:
* Aside from a few joint issues, all my major muscle groups appear to be operating normally.
* Ditto my organs, minus the joints. Organs don’t have joints.
* Though I’m still out of work, every interview gets me that much closer to my next job. Theoretically, at least.
* Doctor Who’s latest episode and David Tenant’s guest appearance on same. THANK YOU, GOD.
* Doctor Who will make its next appearance THIS CHRISTMAS! Calloo! Callay!
* Featuring David Tennant. THANK YOU, GOD.
* Sebastian Barry’s novel The Secret Scripture is BEING MADE INTO A FREAKING MOVIE! You are a genius, Mr. Barry. More of the world needs to know that.
* Books. Glorious books and the fact they exist.
* A roof above my head, food in my kitchen and clothing on my body. That last one is a source of gratitude to many.
* Health and all that. Whatever.
* Another year on its way out, the prospect of a fresh, new year to come. In which I’ll make avowals so I can break them in the first quarter of the year. Wait. That’s not so good.
* Other stuff. I’ve lost interest.
Let’s talk books:
I recently finished Will Swift’s biography of Pat and Richard Nixon, an intimate and revealing portrait of the relationship between the controversial president and his wife.
The media painted the Nixons as a cold, distant political couple, essentially two mannequins living together for the sole purpose of representing a nuclear family. What they didn’t realize was Pat was the backbone of the marriage, the matriarch who knew when to push her naturally introverted husband and when to back off. I question if there would have been a President Richard M. Nixon if not for his discerning choice of Pat as his wife. It’s one thing he got right. One of the only.
I reviewed the book for Library Journal and it will be published in early January, 2014. If you’re into American presidential history, the Watergate scandal or just curious about the private lives of the Nixons you cannot, trust me, go wrong.
I had no particular interest in the couple or the era but wound up riveted. All this took place before my time, or before my awareness, and nothing about the scandal interested me all that much. It’s not quite like the Kennedy family, which has been beaten to death so thoroughly I have no desire to read anything about them, but it was close.
My knowledge of Nixon consisted of the cartoonish “I am not a crook!” But it’s all so much more compelling than I knew. If I read no other book about Nixon, I’m satisfied with this one. And I probably won’t read another one.
Have you read works by novelist Jesse Ball? If not, you need to. I recommend The Curfew to get you started.
I’m getting into Silence Once Begun, for review at New York Journal of Books. Ball’s an experimental writer who’s not too “out there” for the average reader of literary fiction. It’s easy to compare him with Murakami, since everyone knows him, but Jesse Ball is less surreal. He’s Murakami light, more appealing to general readers, who may get overwhelmed by Murakami.
The plot of this new novel is promising. A bland Everyman falls in with the wrong sort of people, one of whom is a man who dares him to sign his name to a confession of a crime. He, believing it’s a joke, agrees. Little does he realize, the crime in question is very real.
Release date: January 28, 2014.
The number of review and freebie copies I’ve received of late is staggering and unprecedented. I’ve gotten some every week for years but never this many in such a short period. Among them, Alain de Botton and John Armstrong’s Art as Therapy. The book’s huge and gorgeous. Huge as in over-sized, more than thick. Good stuff.
What is art’s purpose? In this engaging, lively, and controversial new book, bestselling philosopher Alain de Botton and art historian John Armstrong propose a new way of looking at familiar masterpieces, suggesting that they can be useful, relevant, and – above all else – therapeutic for their viewers. De Botton argues that certain great works offer clues on managing the tensions and confusions of everyday life. Chapters on Love, Nature, Money, and Politics outline how art can help with these common difficulties – for example, Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter helps us focus on what we want to be loved for; Serra’s Fernando Pessoa reminds us of the importance of dignity in suffering; and Manet’s Bunch of Asparagus teaches us how to preserve and value our long-term partners. Art as Therapy offers an unconventional perspective, demonstrating how art can guide us, console us, and help us better understand ourselves.
The NBAs. I knew I wouldn’t have time to read them; more’s the pity I made the effort acquiring all the fiction. Though, in my favor, two were review copies. I was able to buy The Flame Throwers when it was a cheap Kindle special and paid Amazon prices for The Good Lord Bird (the winner) and Bleeding Edge.
And actually read none of them, yet.
Congrats to James McBride on his win!
For the nonfiction, I never made it beyond Jill Lepore’s wonderful bio of Jane Franklin. And congrats to George Packer for his nonfiction award win!
On my Kindle I’m reading The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing.
Reviews for it are stellar and well deserved. Laing analyzes alcohol usage by Hemingway, Cheever, Tennessee Williams, Raymond Carver, John Berryman and F. Scott Fitzgerald, both explaining the causes and effects of dependency as well as how their writings – journals and letters as well as fiction – reflect their addiction.
Very revealing and I’ll have more to say about this soon. Right now it’s keeping me up nights, one of the more riveting works of literary criticism I’ve read in a while. I know… Riveting and literary criticism in the same sentence?
A few years ago I swore off reading literary criticism, my rationale being I barely have time to read primary texts, much less criticism. I’ve exempted books like this, about the authors and their works, in the context of a shared experience. I’m just not one for reading a whole book about one, single book. That’s kind of a lot of work and, with few exceptions, not worth it. I ain’t exactly getting my doctorate.
It will be published December 31, 2013. Thanks so much to NetGalley for my review copy.