•February 15, 2019 • 16 Comments

Some austere Emily Dickinson for an overwrought holiday #richardarmitage

•February 14, 2019 • 24 Comments

attends the “The Lodge” Premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival at Library Center Theater on January 25, 2019 in Park City, Utah.

Books I have read lately (January 2019)

•February 13, 2019 • 8 Comments

Continued from here. Still planning a July-November 2018 post. Most of my free time this month was spent on reading for the philosophy class I taught, so this isn’t very interesting, but in line of the “not losing track of myself,” I’m publishing this anyway.

Highly recommended

Josephine Wilson, Extinctions. (I think I saw this on a list of recommended books from small presses in the fall sometime.) An elderly widower confronting the end of his life and his many personal failures meets a woman who upsets all his convictions and offers him new hope; meanwhile, his estranged daughter, a member of the stolen generations, confronts a similar series of problems. The short synopsis sounds “As Good as It Gets”-trite, but this book is just excellent — it’s heavily concerned with the theme of endings of various kinds (personal, environmental, species, cultural) and it gives plenty of time to those things, but it’s also hopeful in the end without being gooey. The observational level of the widower thinking back over his life and seeing his failures is brutally honest and moving.


Louise Penny, Kingdom of the Blind. The most recent Armand Gamache novel, in which Gamache is forced to deal with the consequences of his decisions made in his last novel about how to stop drug trafficking in Quebec. I wrote about my appreciation of this series here. I felt this novel was stronger than the previous one — and really did deal with consequences in more than a hypothetical way. Fans of Penny will also be glad about the epilogue, in which she promises to keep writing Gamache novels.

Lillian Li, Number One Chinese Restaurant. A family that owns a locally well-regarded Chinese restaurant in Rockville, Maryland, is thrown into turmoil when one of its sons tries to sell it to “move up” in the culinary world. There are some stereotypes here, although the characters themselves also struggle with them. Still, I liked lots of things about this book, perhaps first and foremost the “behind the scenes” glimpse into the kind of restaurant that I like to frequent. Many of the more popular novels about the Chinese-American experience tend toward nostalgia, and I appreciated that this one doesn’t — the characters aren’t especially likable and the outcomes aren’t especially positive. The minor characters are just as interesting as the main characters. And if you like plot, this is the book for you. Also a positive for me: lots of food talk. Recommended in Asian Review of Books.

Recommended if something about it interests you

Robyn Stein DeLuca, The Hormone Myth. Interesting commentary on the extent to which medical knowledge about female hormones gets popularized and misinterpreted in order to create myths that sexists use to disadvantage women. (And women cooperate with it.) Read because I heard an interview with the author on a public radio program. In the end I wasn’t entirely convinced by all of her argumentation (for instance, it’s fascinating that Chinese and Indian women don’t suffer from PMS, but the mere fact that much hormone research is produced by for-profit corporations in the U.S. doesn’t necessarily mean all of it is only junk science). I finished it because I am convinced by a major point that I heard in the interview — that the whole idea that female anger in the US is only allowed to manifest itself once a month is troublesome — and for that reason, I would character this as a worthwhile read.

Jodi Picoult, A Spark of Light. A police officer is forced to handle a standoff at an abortion clinic while his daughter is inside. Picoult’s novels are automatic bestsellers now — she’s very good at creating a fictional narrative around a social issue with compelling characters that complicates every philosophical, religious or ideological perspective around it. In that way, she’s a bit like Dickens, and her books are developed in similar ways. This book’s “issue” is abortion rights in the U.S. It was okay but I have liked some of her other novels more (Nineteen Minutes, My Sister’s Keeper, House Rules), probably because I didn’t really find any main character to sympathize with this time around.

Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind. Summary here. A classic work of philosophy that argues against the mind-body distinction. Somehow I missed this in grad school but an excerpt was on my students’ syllabus, so I read it.

Patricia O’Toole, The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made. A biography of the WWI-era president that focuses mostly on his presidential terms and in particularly on his foreign policy and his decisions at the Versailles Conference after WWI. Picked up because I read a really positive review of the book and then a more skeptical one (sorry — I don’t remember where anymore!). Wilson often ends near the top of the list in rankings of U.S. presidents. The main thesis of the book is that Wilson’s inability to relax from his principles or compromise affected / damaged U.S. entry into the war and the peace negotiations afterwards. The skeptical review criticized the author’s neglect of Wilson’s views on segregation (a significant omission, as the U.S. civil service was resegregated under Wilson) and I have to agree with it, although she does note the irony of his fight for principled stances on freedom in the wider world that he was unwilling to support at home. Anyway, if you like this sort of thing this is a solid read. I did leave it wanting to know a lot more about Wilson’s second wife, Edith Bolling Galt, who ran the U.S. government sub rosa after his debilitating stroke in 1919.

J.S. Mill, On Liberty. Summary here. Read because my students were reading excerpts out of it. I read this the first time when I was twenty, and again in graduate school, so this was a re-read. The main theme is how to protect personal liberty from the tyranny of various kinds of authority; the section on the “tyranny of the majority” is deservedly well-known.

Meh / Not recommended

Ottessa Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation. A pre-9/11 trust-fund baby living in NYC decides to disengage from her job in an art gallery and uses pills and alcohol to anesthetize herself. I didn’t think I was going to like this, but it was on so many “best of 2018” lists that I checked it out anyway. To me this book fully exemplified the trend of an overfocus in American letters on a particular social segment of Manhattan society. The book is boring, self-involved, and tedious.


•February 13, 2019 • 23 Comments

front door

side of the house — this is the snow pile my brother’s been building over the last three snowfalls. Corner of the house with my childhood bedroom.

side front yard

(a summer photo for comparison purposes, the elm tree on the left above is the same tree as below)

Tempus fugit

•February 12, 2019 • 9 Comments

Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer

•February 12, 2019 • 6 Comments

Um den Tag zu markieren

•February 12, 2019 • Leave a Comment

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