Stuff I’ve Been Reading

Interesting article, considering all of the excerpts I have done recently from Joan Acocella’s essays. Acocella has written a slim biography (sort of) of Willa Cather, expanding upon a notorious piece she wrote in The New Yorker about Cather in which she basically excoriated post-modern lit-crit for ruining and marginalizing Cather’s vast sweep of work, which cannot be classified in a genre, or co-opted by special interest groups. One of my pet topics, so I am interested to read the book. But I really liked this observation about Acocella’s writing:

Perhaps because of her background in dance – she has written a wonderful book on Mark Morris and edited an unexpurgated version of Nijinsky’s diaries[*] – Acocella locates herself, figuratively speaking, at a kind of middle distance from her subjects: as if she were watching them from a well-placed seat (perhaps thirty or forty feet away?) in a spacious auditorium. This vantage point, it is true, allows for an occasional focus on individuals, but what come across far more strikingly are larger, more abstract patterns of movement – a choreography, so to speak, of human effects. Reviewing the history of Cather scholarship over the past seventy-five years, Acocella tracks the shifts of critical fashion almost diagrammatically – as a set of temporary formations, each with its distinctive advances and retreats, signature turns and obsessional gestures, all kinesthetically linked to social and intellectual changes in American culture at large.

Good piece. And a resounding “Yup” to this:

A hundred and fifty years has not been long enough to throw off this association: of the masculine with the serious, the feminine with the frivolous. And it is this original schism — original sin — that simmers beneath every article extolling the virtues of print and lamenting the waning of its empire. For what was it that made magazines so good, anyway? What was their private and singular claim to the truth, and the authority to tell it? That they were not like the stuff women read, or wrote.

John Banville on The Book of Kells:

Reading this, one’s deplorably feckless imagination wanders back through the smoke of the centuries to that frail little isle afloat in the wild Atlantic, where in a stone beehive hut a lonely scribe, hunched with quill in hand over his sheet of vellum, halts suddenly as he spots a mistranscription, claps a hand to his brow and utters whatever might have been the monastic equivalent of “Oh, shit!”

— A superb memoir-type piece about a neighborhood, the battered Rockaways in Queens. (Note to everyone: there are still areas in NY and NJ that do not have power, heat, or water. It is, as the article notes, completely under-reported – and in some cases un-reported. Why this is the case is irrelevant. Please consider donating, if you haven’t already. There are links at the bottom of that post, as well as – well, come on. You know what to do. People need help. Donate. This is a month of fund raisers. I am already attending two.) The Rockaways piece is long, but settle in, grab a drink, and go on his journey. It’s my kind of writing.

— I read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl in a feverish 24-hour period. My mother had been reading it, and then I started hearing everyone talking about it, and so while I was home for Thanksgiving I borrowed it. Started reading it. And actually resented any social activity or obligation I had to fulfill at that time because it took me from away from finishing the book as quickly as humanly possible. It’s that kind of book. To say more would, indeed, be to ruin it. A superb thriller, psychological study, whodunit, featuring not just one, but TWO, unreliable narrators.

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9 Responses to Stuff I’ve Been Reading

  1. DBW says:

    “It is, as the article notes, completely under-reported – and in some cases un-reported. Why this is the case is irrelevant.”

    I understand your point completely, but I don’t think it is irrelevant. It’s indicative of what I see as a harmful mindset that is polluting too much of what we read, hear, and…ultimately, think. That being said, these people need help yesterday. By all means, donate.

  2. sheila says:

    You’re right. I was trying to be kind. To the people on the ground it is essentially irrelevant – although if you look at it another way, it is totally relevant because there isn’t a huge outcry to get these people help. Why? Because we’re urban people?

    Regardless: there are many organizations helping get aid to these people, especially the elderly. There are organizations for specific neighborhoods: Red Hook, the Rockaways – easily findable online. There’s a toy drive to get Christmas presents to the kids who are now homeless with their parents, or still living without power, etc. The Red Cross is still doing great work. Why Hunger is another good organization, working directly with FEMA. It’s a disaster here. People need help!!

  3. sheila says:

    I mean, Justin Timberlake and his wife basically drove a truck out to the Rockaways filled with diapers and canned goods, all on their own. That’s how bad it is and how isolated the Rockaways are.

  4. sheila says:

    Speaking of the toy drive: Michele Catalano has created Sacks for Sandy, a fund raiser to help get toys to kids at the holidays. So easy, all done thru an Amazon wish list. The web site just launched:

    Sacks for Sandy

    Please consider participating!

  5. Dg says:

    Away from that for a second, I also enjoyed Banville in The FT…was pleasantly surprised to see him in that venue and laughed out loud at the passage you quoted.

  6. Regina Bartkoff says:

    Great story by Justin Hocking! I’m from Howard Beach and he gets it right. (and we would as kids literally, “Hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach” (the 70’s,) “It’s not far to reach!” (Plus not to mention escaping from HB.) I love how it talks about the ocean, the love, the respect, the fear, and that quote from Melville!
    He knows the healing power of the ocean. And during dark times, the little things he gets like, “saltwater seeps out my nasal passages on to the mat during downward dog”
    Writers like that, (like you!) get things you know but you don’t think to write down and you get that great feeling of recognition, “I know that too!”
    Some of my family still there was hit hard, destroyed basements in two seconds, but the worse thing was the loss of a kitty, but they only say, “we were lucky”
    And thanks for getting the word out about The Rockaways…And Far Rock! that place is so out there, it is not easy to reach! it was even to far for us kids to go to way back then

  7. Jen W. says:

    I really loved Gone Girl. I devoured it and it made me uncomfortable, wondering about my own relationship. Do I do that? Do I act like that? Do I make demands of my husband? Would I treat someone that way? I’ve never had a book make me question myself and a relationship that way. But then I got into the last 1/3 of it and thought, “Nah. I’m totally normal.” ha!

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