Tag Archives: books

GenX: Why We Can’t Sleep

Ada Calhoun has written a book called Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis. Despite the cringey title, I really liked the book and Calhoun is a terrific writer. It was recommended to me by someone who knows that I (often) can’t sleep. Of course, sleep is not Calhoun’s main focus. Her focus is GenX women and where we are at, as we navigate middle age. I’ll highlight a couple of points that I thought were observant and bittersweet.

First, Calhoun makes a reference to the “infinite tolerance” policy of the parents of GenXers when it came to bullying and the “conviction that kids should fight their own battles.” Oh yes! And what a lousy idea. This was true in the general sense, at schools and in recreational activities – kids were nasty and you got crushed and adults did nothing. For me, it was true on a local and personal level – I had a brother (still have him but thankfully, have nothing to do with him) who made my life a living hell when I was a child and teen. He was twelve years older than me, and an adult when the real cruelty began (though I remember him beating me and tormenting me when I was, like, three and he was 15). Did my parents help? Don’t be silly. They helped him by joining in or by looking away. And my siblings (all older and many of them also adults) pretty much did the same.

A very peculiar approach to raising one’s children, yes? There must be a happy medium between fixing all your kids’ woes and simply neglecting them. (Note about said brother – he continued to try to bully me well into my adulthood, but thanks to the glories of the “block option” on email and on social media, he gave up and – so I’ve been told – found other prey.)

Second point I loved: Calhoun writes about a woman whose mother went from preaching Gloria Steinem’s famous “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” to behaving like Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Hilariously funny and totally my mum’s trajectory, as well, bless her. I even wrote a poem about her Mrs. Bennet phase.

I thank Calhoun for the book – I felt less alone and less nutty after reading it.

Plague Walk Books

I try to take a long walk each day, usually while listening to an audiobook – I learn and burn calories! I occasionally select books I have already read, especially if I remember enjoying them or taking in a lot of information from them. One such book is Niall Ferguson’s Civilization. Here’s a relevant to today’s news (and to other things) paragraph (and a bit):

For some reason, beginning in the late fifteenth century, the little states of Western Europe, with their bastardized linguistic borrowings from Latin (and a little Greek), their religion derived from the teachings of a Jew from Nazareth and their intellectual debts to Oriental mathematics, astronomy and technology, produced a civilization capable not only of conquering the great Oriental empires and subjugating Africa, the Americas and Australasia, but also of converting peoples all over the world to the Western way of life – a conversion achieved ultimately more by the word than by the sword.

There are those who dispute that, claiming that all civilizations are in some sense equal, and that the West cannot claim superiority over, say, the East of Eurasia. But such relativism is demonstrably absurd.

Plus ca Change

As I have posted previously, we listen to a lot of Pepys in this house, especially on lengthy car rides (though it has been a while since one of those). A quote from the diaries seems a propos in 2020:

On hearing ill rumour that Londoners may soon be urged into their lodgings by Her Majesty’s men, I looked upon the street to see a gaggle of striplings making fair merry, and no doubt spreading the plague well about. Not a care had these rogues for the health of their elders!

Audiobooks

Until last autumn, I was never much of an audiobook fan. Now, I most definitely am. I started listening to audiobooks during my commutes to and from work in the fall – prior to that I had always read either paper or ebooks while in transit, or occasionally listened to music. Not sure what made me switch, but it has been a great discovery, all the more so because of the coronavirus situation. Each day, I try to get out and walk my 10,000 steps (yes, I know there is nothing magical about that number) and it helps to have something interesting to listen to during my trek.

One of those interesting books was this story of a French Resistance network led by a woman. The person reading the book (and who does the reading makes a big difference) was terrific in so many ways – clear, well-paced, with a voice that responded/changed appropriately with what was being read – but for one. A big one, in my view: this reader had a terrible French accent. She pronounced so many French words and names incorrectly.

Now, I certainly don’t expect the pronunciation to be perfect – I speak fluent French and mine isn’t perfect – as one is well aware while listening to audiobooks that the reader has a mother tongue that will, of course, dominate. But hell, pronouncing “Saint” as “Son” and “Lazare” as “Laz[long a]are,” for example, is unacceptable. And don’t get me started on so many of the proper names and how they were mangled. The woman reading would have been better off just using English pronunciations and not trying to sound French.

Since I don’t want to end on a negative note, having Alfred Molina read this biography of Leonardo was pure genius.

Disobedience

Apparently, it was Winnie-the-Pooh day last Saturday. I missed it, but I wanted to link to this piece about A.A. Milne, nonetheless. I was and am a Pooh fan, but I think I love Milne’s books of poetry for children more. They were a big part of my childhood – my mother would recite “Rice Pudding” to us if we complained about our meals – and they are so clever it would be a mistake to think they can only be enjoyed by children. “Disobedience” is, in my view, an absolute gem. I offer it, forthwith:

Disobedience

James James
Morrison Morrison
Weatherby George Dupree
Took great
Care of his Mother,
Though he was only three.
James James Said to his Mother,
“Mother,” he said, said he;
“You must never go down
to the end of the town,
if you don’t go down with me.”

James James
Morrison’s Mother
Put on a golden gown.
James James Morrison’s Mother
Drove to the end of the town.
James James Morrison’s Mother
Said to herself, said she:
“I can get right down
to the end of the town
and be back in time for tea.”

King John
Put up a notice,
“LOST or STOLEN or STRAYED!
JAMES JAMES MORRISON’S MOTHER
SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN MISLAID.
LAST SEEN
WANDERING VAGUELY:
QUITE OF HER OWN ACCORD,
SHE TRIED TO GET DOWN
TO THE END OF THE TOWN –
FORTY SHILLINGS REWARD!”

James James
Morrison Morrison
(Commonly known as Jim)
Told his
Other relations
Not to go blaming him.
James James
Said to his Mother,
“Mother,” he said, said he:
“You must never go down to the end of the town
without consulting me.”

James James
Morrison’s mother
Hasn’t been heard of since.
King John said he was sorry,
So did the Queen and Prince.
King John
(Somebody told me)
Said to a man he knew:
If people go down to the end of the town, well,
what can anyone do?”

(Now then, very softly)
J.J.
M.M.
W.G.Du P.
Took great
C/O his M*****
Though he was only 3.
J.J. said to his M*****
“M*****,” he said, said he:
“You-must-never-go-down-to-the-end-of-the-town-
if-you-don’t-go-down-with-ME!”

Roaring Twenties?

Or perhaps, as a friend of mine says, they are more likely to whine. Millennials and such. Speaking of, the last decade started with this article, which remains 100% true, says this GenXer.

What a decade (yes, I know that technically the decade ends at the end of this year, but shush up, pedants) it has been – my mother gone at nearly 93, my auntie at 90, my uncles at 96 and 95 – not unnatural deaths, of course. Dear God, give me their longevity, and not just that, but their quality of life till the end, their insistence on keeping active and contributing. (One small example – my uncle Paddy worked till the age of 78, and not because he had to.) And there were two unnatural deaths, for lack of a better term. My beloved brother at 63 and one of my closest friends from high school at 49. Make hay, et cetera.

There were many celebrity deaths this year – I never got around to posting about so many of these people who were meaningful to me. Well, I did write about Doris. And Diahann. And a couple of my fave writers. What I didn’t do on this site was mention how much I liked Rip Torn – oddly, my mother and I both had a crush on him. He was quite a handsome devil in his youth, and even into his 60s, but then became rather debauched from alcohol. The great Zeffirelli is gone (obituary in Italian) – he was extraordinary and a friend of another extraordinary Italian, Oriana Fallaci. I believe they both understood how much the West was/is threatened, largely by our own complacency.

Other great figures gone: Herman Wouk; Harold Bloom; Clive James.

And how could I have failed to post about Valerie Harper? My only excuse is that between late August (when she died) and about a week before Christmas, I was extremely busy with work. So all I can say is, Val, we loved you. Thank you. So many clips from which to choose, but I do so adore Rhoda Morgenstern’s comments about makeup, from the 6 minute 15 second mark on here (and yes, young people, that is indeed Marge Simpson as Rhoda’s sister):

And those of us who have struggled with our weight (a constant battle for me) always love this MTM episode:

Rest in peace all, including the decade (again, shush up, pedants).

Pepys’s Plate

One of the things Significant Other and I like to listen to when we drive somewhere is the Diary of Samuel Pepys, read by Kenneth Branagh. It’s captivating, edifying, vivid, funny and sad. Pepys wrote a lot about his meals – mostly mutton, it seems, and tankards of liquor – and so I found this discovery of one of his silver plates quite fascinating. Coincidentally, Jeff Jacoby wrote a column just last week about anti-Semitism, and opened it by quoting Pepys’s observations on his 1663 visit to a London synagogue.

Productive Till the End

Andrea Camilleri and Howard Engel died within a day of each other. They were both talented writers; both more successful in their careers later in life (Camilleri much later); both created loved detective characters (Camilleri created Inspector Montalbano, Engel Benny Cooperman).

Howard was a dear friend of ours – he was very kind and personally autographed several books for my mother, who was a big fan. Camilleri’s books have been turned into a popular television series in Italy, one that I watch because a) it’s terrific and b) it helps me keep up my Italian.

May their memories not only be blessings, but a reminder to never stop working!