July 21st would have been Ernest Hemingway’s 121st birthday. I am a fan of his writing, though many Women’s Studies’ majors have told me I oughtn’t be. No, I don’t like the bullfighting and hunting scenes in his stories, but I love his view of life, the need for courage and acceptance, his understanding of fear and the vicissitudes of love, and I do so appreciate his unpretentious writing. And, of course, I love his love of Paris and his worship of cats. I found three links about him that are worth your time, dear readers: his Nobel Prize acceptance speech; a letter of advice he wrote to Scott Fitzgerald (wence came the title of this blog post) – a rather macho letter, but so endearing, so preferable to the usual weasel words we get from others; and his list of essential reading for aspiring writers. Sorry to say I have still not read all of his recommended books, but I am getting there.
A story of mine on Medium. If you are a member, please “clap” (ugh! silly terminology) for it and please follow me. Sadly, one of my sibs got into quite a snit about this piece – not sure why, as it is merely an affectionate tribute to my recently-deceased brother. And to the power of talented writers like Nevil Shute, Gore Vidal and others. Ah well, families…such fun! Such fun! (If you are a fan of Miranda, you will get that reference.)
Dear readers, I am currently in the thick of this amazing book, Hope and Memory: Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Tzvetan Todorov. Here’s an eminently sane Romain Gary quote from the book:
The bombs I dropped on Germany between 1940 and 1944 maybe killed a Rilke or a Goethe or a Holderin in his cradle. And yes, if it had to be done over, I would do it again. Hitler had condemned us to kill. Not even the most just causes are ever innocent.
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.
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.
A lengthy New York Times article today about Wallace Stegner. I absolutely loved Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety, and reading this piece has made me want to read more of his work. I must have a bit of my prairie forebears in me, after all. (I do like wide open spaces!)
How much do I love this piece?
So. Much. And I fully agree with Stoppard’s statement that,
If it were not for the terrors surrounding us, this is the life I’ve always wanted – social distancing without social disapproval.
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!
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.
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:
Weatherby George Dupree
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.”
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.”
Put up a notice,
“LOST or STOLEN or STRAYED!
JAMES JAMES MORRISON’S MOTHER
SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN MISLAID.
QUITE OF HER OWN ACCORD,
SHE TRIED TO GET DOWN
TO THE END OF THE TOWN –
FORTY SHILLINGS REWARD!”
(Commonly known as Jim)
Not to go blaming him.
Said to his Mother,
“Mother,” he said, said he:
“You must never go down to the end of the town
without consulting me.”
Hasn’t been heard of since.
King John said he was sorry,
So did the Queen and Prince.
(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)
C/O his M*****
Though he was only 3.
J.J. said to his M*****
“M*****,” he said, said he: