Sunday, July 6, 2008

This 'n That and ... FRIDA

Dear Readers,

I’m reading Nick Hornby’s Housekeeping vs. The Dirt and enjoying it very much. [Even the title tickles me and really could be the title of my autobiography -- or my epitaph, slightly modified: Housekeeping vs. The Dirt. The Dirt won.]

It’s a book of his essays. They’re supposed to be book reviews but they ramble all over the place (another thing I love about his writing). And, I think they ramble for at least two reasons I can think of:
-- He’s not an American. Several of my fellow immigrants and I have concluded that Americans are much more likely to tap their feet and say “Get to the point” when we're talking.
-- Book reviews are sometimes very hard to do. I’m finding that these days (without good editors at publishing houses) it’s hard to talk about a book for more than one or two sentences. Tangential subjects? Huh! Could spend a whole day flapping the trap. (Note how brief my comments about some books were in my sem-annual “Books Read in 2008” list were?) Of course, sometimes I catch myself not having much to say even about a good book.

As Hornby says:
The truest and wisest words ever written about reviewing were spoken by Sarah Vowell in her book Take the Cannoli. Asked by a magazine to review a Tom Waits album, she concludes that she “quite likes the ballads,” and writes that down; now all she needs is another eight-hundred-odd words restating this one blinding aperçu.

I read his previous collection, The Polysyllabic Spree and really enjoyed that -- it was listed in my “Books Read in 2007.” And have been reading his Songbook for a few years -- a riff on 31 of his favorite songs -- highly recommended.

I’m not “supposed to” be reading Housekeeping vs. The Dirt. It’s not on my reading list for 2008. I was thinking about this and thought “Shoot! I even rebel against myself! I even rebel against my own advice.” Someone has probably already said this ... and said it better ... but maybe all rebellion is against some part of ourselves ... especially those starchy bossy voices inside us.

Another excerpt:
I now see that just about everything I read was relatively new: Tom Perrotta’s absorbing and brave satire Little Children, Tony Hendra’s mostly lovable Father Joe .... Soldiers of Salamis is, I think, the first translated novel I’ve read since I began this column. Is that shameful? I suppose so, but once again, I don’t feel it. When you’re as ill-read as I am, routinely ignoring the literature of the entire non-English-speaking world seems like a minor infraction.

I truly can relate to that. Oh, yes, I read a lot ... but I’m only trying to catch up with my other truly well-read friends. Plus, I’m a slow reader. So, I don’t read that much. And I’ve read very little ... a thimbleful ... of the classics. And, like Hornby, don’t read much of works from non-English-speaking writers.

By the way, he mentions Little Children ... did you see the movie? It has stayed with me for months. Especially the portrayal of the pedophile. I am NEVER EVER EVER sympathetic to pedophiles ... there were too many around me as a child ... and I think they are even more sneaky and destructive than alcoholics ... but I actually felt something close to sympathy towards the character Ronnie. And then I felt mad at myself for feeling sympathy. So, the movie is complex. Plus, let me be clear, in no way is the movie championing the rights of pedophiles. But it does put a magnifying glass on those people who have violence within themselves and then go after pedophiles with a vengence.


I was in Walgreen’s getting some Clariton (which sometimes I think doesn’t do anything ... its only purpose is to provide a challenge to owners of meth labs ... am I being to obscure? I have to present my driver’s license whenever I buy it because apparently people use Clariton ... and buy it all up ... to make meth with.)

So, I’m there at the counter and glance up at the TV monitor whose associated camera--cinema vérité-- is filming my transaction with the pharmacist. Tartar sauce! I looked like such an old geezer in my old baseball cap. Plus, I badly need a haircut so the grey hair is somewhat sticking out around my ears. I looked like one of those lonely old fellows that you avoid in stores ‘cause they look like they’re going to talk your ears off.


I play peculiar little “Dare you” games with myself. I’m running out of toilet paper -- the 150 rolls I bought several months ago at Costco are gone. And, I don’t want to brave the crowds at Costco on a holiday weekend. So, I won’t stop to buy some ... won’t stop ... won’t stop ... down to 10 squares ... I give in finally and stop. Why do I do this? Is this a ridiculous (and boring) variation on the Drama Queen syndrome ... trying to create a little artificial drama in my life?

HOORAY ... IT'S FRIDA KAHLO'S BIRTHDAY TODAY ... HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FRIDA ... I hope you are ... at last ... in peace.

From the Writer's Almanac ...

It's the birthday of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, born near Mexico City (1907). Her father was a Hungarian Jewish immigrant to Mexico, and he operated a photography studio. She admired him greatly and from an early age hung around at his studio and learned how to hand paint color onto black-and-white photographs. She contracted polio when she was six years old, which left her right leg deformed and then, when she was 18, she was in a streetcar accident in which she was impaled by a steel bar. The accident broke her spine in three places, her leg in 11 places, and both her feet and her collarbone and pelvis were crushed. She nearly died and spent months in a plaster cast. To help her pass the time, her mother built her a special bedside painting stand, and she began painting for the first time.

She suffered from health problems for the rest of her life. Doctors operated on her more than 30 times, trying to fix problems with her back and her legs. She had several miscarriages. She eventually had to have one leg amputated. She was forced to wear spine-supporting corsets, and she spent months at a time in bed. It was during these bed-ridden periods that she produced most of her paintings. She had few subjects to chose from, so most of the time she just set up a mirror and painted herself. She said, "I paint myself, because I am so often alone, because I am the subject I know best."

She didn't have her own major solo exhibition until 1953, the same year she had her leg amputated. She was carried into the show on a stretcher and then laid down on a four-poster bed in the middle of the gallery, as though she were one of the art works. She died the following year. She was 47 years old.

Over the course of her lifetime, she only produced about 140 paintings. About a third of her paintings are self-portraits that depict physical or psychological pain. She's now considered one of the greatest Mexican artists, and one of the greatest female artists of the 20th century.

[We are so lucky here in the San Francisco Bay Area ... there's the most complete exhibit of Kahlo's works right now at SFMOMA!]

Okay, bye everybody. Back to reading. And a visit this afternoon with PolCat who has returned.

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