November 30, 2009
It's something of a cosmic joke that my best friend/dearest love Honeybee is a candymaker. Her professional kitchen was four blocks from my apartment, and I had ready access to malformed candy, caramel that was too soft, coconut nougat that swelled a bit and was too big to fit into the packaging. And yet there I was, without a single sweet tooth in my head, picking up the occasional stash of discarded nougat or being called upon to act as taste tester, but for the most part never having a sugar craving. (Don't misunderstand. Her candy is fucking incredible. You can pick some up here online.) It's more like Gift of the Magi. Nice hair pin, but I'm fucking bald!
It's also peculiar since I love baking. It's very soothing, following precise instructions and having lovely things come out of your oven. I make excellent pie crust, I just don't care much for the pies. (Case in point: the two leftover pieces of apple and cranberry pie have been in the fridge since Thanksgiving. It was good, I just don't feel like eating them.) I was happy, then, to receive a copy of Savory Baking in the mail, which turns cheesecakes into a sharp, unsweet cheese course, clafouti into a decadent mushroom spread, and scones into onion and cheese delivery systems. It's actually a very happy book. Once you see how to turn these desserts into main courses, it's very easy to expand into experimentation.
I asked if we could reprint a recipe from the book, so I'm happy to present the casserole (sorry, "brown betty") that made my apartment smell so lovely, and I actually went back for seconds for. After the jump.
Chicken Dijon Brown Betty
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup Japanese bread crumbs (Panko)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
Chicken Dijon Filling
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1 small fennel bulb, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound boneless and skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 tablespoons dry white wine or chicken broth
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon clover honey
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
To prepare the topping, put the dry bread crumbs, Japanese bread crumbs, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Stir in the melted butter and 1 tablespoon of the chopped parsley. Set aside.
To prepare the filling, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter or spray four 8-oz ceramic ramekins and arrange them on a baking sheet. Melt the butter in a large saute pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, fennel, and salt. Cook until soft and tender, 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the chicken pieces, nestling them down into the bottom of the pan. Continue to saute until the chicken is cooked through, another 3 to 5 minutes. Add the white wine and stir to scrape up any of the caramelized bits on the bottom of the pan. Stir in the cream, Dijon mustard, honey, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a rapid boil and cook for 1 minute to reduce the sauce slightly. Divide the chicken mixture equally among the prepared ramekins, and sprinkle each with 3 tablespoons of the topping.
Center the baking sheet in the oven and bake until golden brown on top and bubbling around the edges, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle each ramekin with the remaining chopped parsley. Serve piping hot from the oven.
Speaking of skepticism, I was having coffee with a woman who has an autistic son the other day, and that article in Wired and the Jenny McCarthy book praising all sorts of bizarre treatments came up in the conversation. She mentioned this Chicago Tribune article about the treatments that parents are giving their autistic children, and it is terrifying.
Besides taking many pills, the boy was injected with vitamin B12 and received intravenous infusions of a drug used to leach mercury and other metals from the body. He took megadoses of vitamin C, a hormone and a drug that suppresses testosterone.
Paul Offit, the subject of the Wired article, was on the podcast Science Friday talking about Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure, vaccine fear, and the rise of preventable diseases.
It looks like Michael Specter may have slipped into a bad place with his book Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives. It's certainly a worthwhile topic, why people don't believe in global warming, or believe that vaccines cause autism, or whatever. But calling someone an idiot is hardly an effective way to change their minds about something. The New York Times review calls him out for a weird snobbery.
November 26, 2009
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, and now I can have one too as I finally found a goddamn pumpkin. I looked all over my neighborhood, and finally found one -- one -- and it happened to have a goofy face painted on it. And hoorah, the paint residue did not catch fire when I roasted it. That is a good thing. Also, the Kaiser has fresh cranberries, so I can have a proper expat Thanksgiving, and not have to go with Plan B, which was eating a bag of Oreos in bed while watching horror movies and crying a little. There will be pie.
November 25, 2009
I cannot say enough nice things about Mavis Gallant's collection of stories The Cost of Living. The book is worth it just for the story "Autumn Day" alone. (It also inspired me to take a three mile walk to a used bookstore in the middle of nowhere because they told me they had an English copy of The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant, which suddenly became incredibly important to have, right that damn second.)
There is a delightfully candid interview with her in the Guardian, as she holds her head in her hands as she discusses contemporary novels, discusses her dirty rat of an ex-agent, and talks about the time she spent at the University of Toronto:
For a year in the early 80s, she was writer in residence at the University of Toronto, "a completely useless job. You are with people who have no talent whatever, and if they had they wouldn't come to me." The only good thing was that she had 20 per cent off at the campus book store. To those students who showed any promise she would give copies of Nabokov, or EM Forster, "always good for the soul". Otherwise, she would give them Raymond Carver.
Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power has been making the rounds on the radio, discussing the link between fundamentalist American politicians and new legislation introduced to the Ugandan parliament that calls for the death penalty for certain homosexual acts. He talks to CBC, and Fresh Air.
Not to be all old ladyish, but remember the '90s? All those chick singers who were making themselves ugly and showing up on the covers of magazines without any make up on? God. I saw a picture of one of the women I used to listen to way back when, someone who was on her album covers without make up, all natural and raw. Now she's decided to cut up her face, her forehead a creepy Botox experiment, all her other features sort of distorted and wrong. (She might look like a space alien crossed with a feline creature of some sort, but at least she doesn't look old.) It makes me sad. I thought about that a lot while writing a Smart Set column about Eva Hoffman's entry in the Big Ideas/Small Books series, Time, mostly an account of Americans' neurotic approach to time management, fear of aging, and life extension.
Joe Sacco talks to the Guardian about his new book Footnotes in Gaza. The impetus to returning to Gaza, the subject of his breakout work, Palestine, was an assignment for Harpers with Chris Hedges about the massacre at Khan Younis.
"We asked around, people confirmed the story, and we thought it important for the history of the town," says Sacco. "But when Chris's piece was published, they cut Khan Younis out. Well, that further agitated me. I know the big picture is important but the big picture is made up of a lot of smaller things. It's a shame when those things get lost. It seems… unfair. I wanted to look at it myself. According to the UN, 275 people died in Khan Younis: why did that figure deserve to return to obscurity?"
November 24, 2009
November 23, 2009
There's a new kind of math for the environmentally concerned, one that answers those everyday eco-conundrums like, Which is better: a reusable stainless steel water bottle, or those throwaway plastic ones?
Daniel Goleman introduces his book Ecological Intelligence: Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy, which is relevant to the debate about which is more harmful: paper books (dead trees!) or e-book readers (chemicals, electronic trash!). Basically, until we learn to judge which harm is more harmful, which advantage is more advantageous, you can't really take a stand. Or shouldn't. (Which is this vegan cookbook I'm reading is driving me nuts. Can you really state that it's better -- or worse -- to eat palm-oil based margarine (kills orangutans!) than my organic, grass fed butter that costs me an arm and a leg? No. Suck it.)
Or, as Paul Seabright writes in his (not online) review of Goleman, "No animals were harmed in the writing of this book review, and no child labour was involved, but considerable amounts of non-shade-grown coffee were drunk." Who's to say whether poking some animals with sticks while writing wouldn't have been less harmful to the environment than his coffee? Ah, ambivalence.
Steven Pinker wrote a review of Malcolm Gladwell's new book What the Dog Saw and called it a bunch of names. Names like "banal," "obtuse" and "flat wrong." And Gladwell responded, saying "That one thing you said was wrong, I have conflicting evidence, and the evidence you used is from a racist, so I win." Or something like that. His response ignores the enormity of Pinker's criticism about the book, and simply focuses on one debatable fact, which is not very convincing. If you're like me, you're probably just wishing they would let their hair battle it out.
But Malcolm Gladwell is going to be a busy blogger if he responds to every attack on his thought process, as this wrap up of criticism at Seed suggests. The backlash has begun. Some of it is shameful, like The Daily Beast's essay on Gladwell's sex life, but the rest of them are worth reading.
I was grumbling about people emailing me links to Jonathan Safran Foer articles, and then came across a Zadie Smith essay I couldn't read past paragraph two. (She uses a dictionary definition of the word her essay is about as an opener. God.) Then I realized why I was so grumpy: it's like we were transported back to fucking 2004! Foer and Smith, voices of our generation, and that means I should go to work in my cubicle and find the missing $200 donation in the end of the month spreadsheet. Next thing you know, someone is going to come up and tell me how they just read that Eggers memoir and it totally changed their life.
That Ben Yagoda guy, running around telling interviewers that fiction is dead and worthless and from now on everyone will be writing memoirs, has basically scuttled any interest I had in reading his book, Memoir: A History. I mean, if you're a narcissist whose only intention in writing is to tell your story, maybe, but I can't imagine memoir doing what the most recent books I've fallen in love with can do: Jorge Volpi sliding across decades and many countries to explain how science and politics and personality influence one another, or Mavis Gallant's stories of young women flinging themselves around the globe and having it not go very well, or Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's completely terrifying allegories and fairy tales about totalitarianism, paranoia, and disease carrying cats. Since it's obvious to me that Yagoda is full of shit, I can't imagine his book being that worth it.
Maud Newton has an essay at the LA Times about why she's writing a novel and not a memoir, despite her life resembling one memoir pitch after another.
November 20, 2009
The always elegant Rebecca Solnit (elegant does not mean the teeth don't come out when they need to) at Bomb Magazine, talking about A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster.
Part of the stereotypical image is that we’re either wolves or we’re sheep. We’re either devouring babies raw and tearing up grandmothers with our bare hands, or we’re helpless and we panic and mill around like idiots in need of Charlton Heston men in uniforms with badges to lead us.
The National Book Awards, where they're all about the literature, man, seemed to have skipped the live blog this year. God, just take away my heart as well, why don't you? This year's entirely respectable winners are:
Fiction: Colum McCann for Let the Great World Spin
Nonfiction: T. J. Stiles for The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
Poetry: Keith Waldrop for Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy
Young People's Literature: Phillip Hoose for Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
Distinguished Young Whippersnapper: Dave Eggers
That wacky bunch at the National Book Award made a crack about Going Thingy by that running lady as a potential nominee for the 2010 fiction prize. Oh, my days! What will those crazy bastards come up with next?
(Psst, there is some 'actually funny' NBA humour under the #fakenba09 tag on Twitter. In other news, the 2010 NBA ceremony expected to feature jokes about "this new Twitter thing.")
These discussions have happened before, but this time something else happened. The anti-Stalinists have ended up on the defensive, referring to historical documents, wringing their hands and clutching their hearts. The Stalinists (it's as if in Soviet times a dissident had argued with a member of the Communist Party) simply brush these documents away, saying that anyone can put any figures together. They also dismiss arguments that the USSR was completely isolated, the cupboards were bare and that almost everything was forbidden. Too right, say the Stalinists, what was forbidden was harmful, an infection from the West which corrupted homo Sovieticus. Private property was just such an infection: today a honest man can't buy himself a flat or a dacha, whereas then they were handed out for free.
Su Tong has won the Man Asian Prize for 2009 with his book The Boat to Redemption. I expected great coverage from the Literary Saloon, the sound of crickets everywhere else, but the Guardian has a respectable piece here, describing Su's novel as a "story of a playboy Communist party official who castrates himself after he is banished to live on a river barge", which makes it sound about a million times more interesting than Wolf Hall already.
November 19, 2009
The new president of the European Union composes haiku regularly: But his unique trademark is his passion for composing haikus, a form of Japanese poetry, which he publishes in a leading Flemish daily. These compositions are miniature odes to nature and the outdoor life, a setting in which he seems most at home.
When the Wall Street Journal reviews a new collection of T. S. Eliot's letters, I wonder what they'll focus on? But even if he'd finally arrived as a big-time poet, Eliot had a problem. Poetry earned poetry money and Eliot wanted to earn Eliot money -- the kind of money his father generated by founding the Hydraulic Press Brick Company in St. Louis.
Keith Waldrop has won the National Book Award for poetry, for the collection Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy, "three linked series [that] achieve a fusion arcing from the Romantic to the Postmodern that demonstrates language’s capacity to go to extremes—and to haul daily lived experience right along with it."
Georgie Weedon talks with Al Jazeera about her new film, The Poet of Baghdad, about Iraqi poet-in-exile Nabeel Yasin: It felt important to document Nabeel's story, both in terms of the power of culture in transforming society and also in showing something about Iraq that moves away from the regurgitated news-mediated images of death and destruction. . . . In some senses it was important to capture the story of his exile and his dreams of his homeland, before he went back to the reality of Iraq which is so altered compared to his memories.
If you've always wanted, for some reason, to visit the grave of a poet, Poets' Graves is here to satisfy your necro-voyeuristic needs. They helpfully include pictures, in case you're not sure with whom you're communing. (Via MobyLives.)
Finally Tim Dee and Simon Armitage offer the top 10 poems about birds. You'll be relieved to know that "Sing a Song of Sixpence" made it.
Salon published a piece about how literary awards are what matters now, not reviews, and now there are awards for everything, which means all writers should just go ahead and start referring to themselves as "award-winning" before awards stop meaning so much. Or, as Dinosaur says:
There are awards for everything awarded by everyone, and if you don't specify I'm going to assume you won the "Worse Than Hitler Award for Real Terribleness." Unless it's the Nobel or the Pulitzer, I'm really not interested!
The author pretends—"Oh, hello"—that the camera has snuck up on him in his capacious study and proceeds to describe the book's inspirations and intentions. In bold graphics appropriate to the opening credits of a Guy Ritchie film, he acquaints us with his son, his dog, and his grandmother, who at one point asks whether he would like a nice piece of fruit. "At the end of the day, it's a family story," Foer says, using a cliché that no one of his intelligence should ever use outside a Hollywood pitch meeting. In conclusion, the clip presents a series of outtakes, the last of which—"the Hebrew one"—finds him saying shalom to the bubbies in the book-buying audience. Personality upstages purpose. What matters here is not the moral seriousness of Eating Animals but that its author has turned us a cheek to be pinched.
Usually I wait for the brilliant Margaret Howie to take her shots at the Bad Sex in Literature awards, but the Guardian article contains this bit of information:
Sanjida O'Connell is the only woman to make the Bad Sex shortlist, selected for The Naked Name of Love, about a young Jesuit priest who is taught how to love by a gifted shaman woman on the eastern steppes of Mongolia.
How could that possibly be nominated? That sounds awesome. In fact, I am calling for someone to turn that into a movie. Starring Ewan McGregor. He's already got the cassock.
I am in full geeked out love with Jorge Volpi's Season of Ash, which involves Chernobyl, the fall of the Soviet empire, biochemistry, genetic research, and Berlin. His previous book, the only other one in English, In Search of Klingsor revolves around the scientists who created the atomic bomb. In this interview with Bomb, he talks about his love of Carl Sagan and learning German just so he could read the original scientific documents. (Love.) Now if only the interviewer would stop asking questions about why a Latin American author would write about something other than Latin America, and why he doesn't write magical realism.
November 18, 2009
The day before we moved out of Dean Street, I was at my desk in the room I used to write in. Suddenly the window shattered, there was a tremor in the air, a bee-like buzzing flying past my cheek. I shrank with fear. Then collecting myself, I peered out of the window into the backyards. A young man and woman, their hands raised in fright to their faces, were searching in my direction for the broken window. A gun was dangling from the girl's right hand.
Paula Fox has a wonderful essay in the NYRB, about problems with New York real estate and LJ Davis's book A Meaningful Life.
My six month old laptop died one night in Berlin. I was just back from the United States, and if it had died there, things would have been much simpler. But it waited until we were back in Germany to suddenly freeze, and then when I rebooted to give me nothing but a cursor in the top left hand corner of the screen. I tried restarting a few times, and then decided to grab a bottle of vodka and my Mavis Gallant and go cry in the bathtub for a while.
The thing was basically new, and so under warranty, but I was told that because I was in Germany there was nothing we can do. There is no approved Toshiba repair whatsits in Berlin. At best, I could box the computer up, ship it back to the States, and wait two months for it to be repaired and come back to me. Asking for a supervisor didn't help, nor hanging up and redialing in the hopes of finding someone smarter or more humane. My brilliant idea of, Hey, why don't you just send me a new fucking computer, was met with "Please be reasonable."
I'm telling you this because when I was reading Benoît Duteurtre's novella Customer Service, I kept having flashbacks to these conversations. His novella about a writer's computer, credit cards, cell phone going wrong and discovering a conspiracy of fictional customer service managers made me want to cry as much as it did laugh. It might as well have been a documentary about the last two months of my life. (Swiftly after my computer died, my cell phone started refusing to send text messages, and nothing I do will prove to it that my friend Harald's phone number does exist, is valid, look, he just called me from that exact number, now connect to it, please.) I'm not sure that's a glowing recommendation (Melville House, feel free to use this as a blurb: "This book made me relive painful memories! I laughed until I curled up into a ball on the floor and cried my way to a headache!") but it's a recommendation nonetheless.
Flarf? Really? Why the hell are we still talking about flarf?
November 17, 2009
Ouch. It's one thing to be banned because you've got a lot of naughty words and dirty sex in your books. It's another to be banned because the BBC finds you too "second-rate" to be bothered with.
The Naked and the Read
Earlier this fall, when the September light brought everything into sharper focus, a boy took me to the horse races. I’d never placed a bet before, and he thought it time that I see what it’s like to put money down on something. On the first race, I gambled ten dollars on horse number two. It won. I won. My heart thudded in my chest. And I felt immediately how this could be addictive. The woman at the betting counter gave me seventy-two dollars and the boy eyed me like I was made of luck.
Towards the end of our afternoon at the track, after we’d lost the rest of the races and were running low on bucks, we saw a child in a baby carriage badly retarded and mightily deformed. A true genetic calamity. It wailed and arched its body against the carriage straps, smashed its fists against its oversized skull. Awful to say: it was a terrifying thing to see, something gone so wrong. The type of thing that makes you think about bad luck, about how arbitrary and personal misfortune can be.
Such is the subject of Kenzaburo Oe’s autobiographical 1964 novel A Personal Matter. Twenty-seven year-old Bird finds out his wife has just given birth to a son with a brain hernia, that the chances of it living more than a vegetable existence are slim; death is more likely, and the preference.
Bird, embodying his childhood nickname by forever flying away, handles the “accident” by turning to Johnny Walker and an old girlfriend. Refuge is not the goal. Instead, he wants to lower himself as far as he can, debase himself to the extent that it matches his shame over fathering an abnormality and wanting it to die.
He and Himiko, his college girlfriend, had only had sex once. She was a virgin, he finds out, and describes it as rape. When he returns to her after the birth of his son, he imagines what being with her again would be: “Their intercourse would evoke the ravaged sparrow of a penis Bird had glimpsed this morning when he dressed and would evoke his wife’s distended genitals sluggishly contracting after the agony of childbirth. Sex for Bird and Himiko would be linked to the dying baby, linked to all of mankind’s miseries, to the wretchedness so loathsome that people unafflicted pretended not to see it.” And that’s exactly what he wants.
His drives are masochistic and obliterating. If he were to match that singular pleasure of taking her virginity, “he would probably have no choice but to strangle the girl to death. The voice flapped out of the nest of desire inside him: Butcher her and fuck the corpse!” And yikes. It’s a shock, and the situation, on all levels, is grotesque.
But do we sympathize with Bird? Do we say, “okay, yeah, your baby’s a monster, I’ll forgive the sick thoughts that light across your mind”? It’s all dependent on what he does with those sick thoughts. We may not like him, for his behavior is rank and cowardly, but Oe makes us understand, and by doing so raises the mirror: what would you do? How would you react? The truth is: you have no idea. Oe digs at the dark shriveled roots of shame, and pulls up truths a lot of us have never had to face.
The prospect of sex repulses Bird, horrifies him, and draws him like nothing else. His fear is fixed on “the hole from which calamity had welled.” Himiko, who feels less a human and more a vessel for Bird’s woe, empty and endlessly accommodating, helps him talk it out:
“Bird! What are the attributes of the vagina and the womb that frighten you?”
“I have this feeling there’s what you’d call another universe back in there. It’s dark, it’s infinite, it’s teeming with everything antihuman: a grotesque universe. And I’m afraid that if I entered it, I’d get trapped in the time system of another dimension and wouldn’t be able to return -- my fear has certain resemblances to an astronaut’s fantastic acrophobia!”
Barring that this in no way resembles the way humans actually talk, the description echoes something familiar. Whispers and ghosty variations of the thought entered my head after seeing the child at the race track. A dark place where a lot can go wrong. And of course that’s a reductive and woman-to-blame perspective, but it was there nonetheless.
“You never know what you’ll get,” my mom has said about having kids. “You could end up with a monster.” These are not comforting words to hear from your mother. It’s a gamble, of course, a big old dice roll. Oe, who won the Nobel Prize in 1994, had a son born with brain damage who grew up to be a composer. It’s hard to imagine that the child at the race track will have such luck.
DoubleX, the site for "women" who just got around to doing a story on the Atkins Diet, is being folded back into Slate.
Oprah and Sara Nelson might think that men don't read books, but the Art of Manliness does. They offer 50 books including, oh my god, fiction for boys and young men. (Hatchet!) They also including reading on their list of How to Be a Better Man.
November 16, 2009
I know it shouldn't be a surprise, but still: conservatives have really good taste in books. Elizabeth Bowen, Anthony Burgess, William Carlos Williams, David Hirst... The American Beaver and His Works. (Because in the conservative world, only the male beaver does any work.)
I am going to get emails about this post, aren't I?
The best thing you'll listen to today: an hour of evolutionary psychology with The Language of Genes author Steven Jones: whether humans are socially closer to crows than primates, the "useless" attempts to communicate with chimps, E.O. Wilson, Steven Pinker, whether the science justifies sexism and racism... Ah, the BBC. I've been spending all of my time watching The Life of Birds, because if you procrastinate by learning something, it's perfectly acceptable.
November 15, 2009
Ariel Schrag responds to the Sioux Falls, South Dakota middle school libraries' decision to remove the the book she edited about what a pain in the ass middle school is, Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age, from their shelves. (Link from Journalista.)
Our own feelings for Kalimpong felt fake, unfair, and we left rapidly for England then the States, journeying to where we had, half-consciously, half-unconsciously, assigned the centre to be, learning other rude lessons in our failure to locate our own story.
November 13, 2009
Is the real estate bust fueling a new interest in haunted house books? io9 looks at a large number of new releases in the genre.
I did not read Kathleen Parker's Save the Males because yuck, if you've read one "women's sluttiness and performances of The Vagina Monologues are destroying the fragile male ego" book you've read them all. But apparently not. It's apparently crazier than a Glenn Beck Rabbi Boteach mash up. Our nation is "awash in vaginaism", whatever the fuck that means. I'm going to use that next time I have to reject a submission. "Sorry, I can't use this, it's awash in vaginaism."
November 12, 2009
You can't help but love Katy Evans-Bush's "The Love Ditty of an 'eartsick Pirate": Shall I tip me ’at to me neck? Could I bear to bite a leech? / I shall put me long clothes on and wander up the beach. / I ’ave ’arked at them mermaids, singin’ each to each.
For Veterans Day, Edward Bryne looks back at the war poetry of James Dickey. He quotes Dickey: For example, "Drinking from a Helmet" deals with being in the center of action, between the enemy and the graveyard. The incident occurred on Okinawa where we were fighting on Coral Ridge and the graves registration people were about two hundred yards in the rear laying out a cemetery that the fellows fighting up on the ridge would soon be occupying. This was one of the weirdest sights I ever saw. I wanted to write at least one poem about the kind of physical involvement istead of using the terrific and terrifying detachment of the combat aviator—I later wrote about that subject in a poem called "The Firebombing."
The first-ever online collection of Siegfried Sassoon's papers, photos, and poems went online this week, as part of the First World War Poetry Archive.
What is the difference between plagiarism and "found poetry"? A laureateship. We kid! Kenny Goldsmith, of UbuWeb, has some provocative thoughts on the topic: It's time to let go of notions of propriety and ownership of language, particularly in university situation where there is a subsidized economy. None of us are writing for profit -- we are subsidized by research funds and university positions -- and are thus obliged to take the most theoretically radical and experimental positions possible.
Mark Chasar interviews Tessa Kale, who is the editor of The Columbia Granger's Guide to Poetry: Edith Granger was a stunning, bespectacled redhead who, after graduating from Smith College, worked in a Chicago bookstore and hit upon the brilliant idea of indexing the titles and first lines of poems—for which librarians all over the country will be forever deeply grateful.
Russell Brand and Katy Perry have apparently recorded a duet of Edward Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat." Fortunately, the Sun showed some restraint with the story.
The Virginia Quarterly Review has been running a series called "VQR Vault," in which they post letters and manuscripts by some of the poets they've published, such as Carl Sandburg and John Crowe Ransom.
Writer Marty Beckerman on being a former "spiteful, narrow-minded, fire-breathing paranoid lunatic" Republican. (Oh, I remember. I almost miss the emails I got from him those days.)
I almost gave up on Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby because god, what a horrible title, and also the first section of stories is uneven and weird. But once you hit the "Allegories" section, the book could catch fire in your hands and you'd still try to be turning pages. It's giving me nightmares, in the nicest way possible. This account of a recent reading makes me love her even more.
“Who are your favorite poets?” asked one audience member. “Pushkin,” she said. “That is all.”
"Having little exposure to animals makes it much easier to push aside questions about how our actions might influence their treatment," Foer writes. "The problem posed by meat has become an abstract one: there is no individual animal, no singular look of joy or suffering, no wagging tail, and no scream." He is correct. But I would also argue that having little exposure to animals makes it much easier to issue smug, ill-informed judgments about their proper treatment. The everyday challenges posed by responsible animal husbandry—and slaughter—become abstractions.
The comment sections to these reviews are ridiculous, I would recommend ignoring them. The responses are generally one of two types: OH MY GOD I LOVE BACON and "My lifestyle is less cruel than yours." Which I get. When I read about the Foer book, I have a tendency to start running through a list of all the ways I am morally superior in my lifestyle. It's a touchy subject. And apparently you can't be annoyed at the smugness and confused thinking of Jonathan Safran Foer since he is on the side of Good and Light.
November 11, 2009
Stan Carey on the battle between profanity filters and Philip K. -censored-.
A notorious example occurred when the American athlete Tyson Gay won a sprint, and the “Christian news service” OneNewsNow reinterpreted an AP headline as “Homosexual eases into 100 final at Olympic trials”. I will not even begin to arrange the levels of absurdity here. Elsewhere, non-computer-programmed canteen staff at Flintshire County Council changed “Spotted Dick” on its menu to “Spotted Richard” or “Sultana Sponge”, apparently to avoid the “childish comments” of a few customers.
Pico Iyer on the ultimate travel writer: the "feline" W Somerset Maugham, who wrote in The Summing Up, “I never felt entirely myself till I had put at least the Channel between my native country and me.”
Another article on Americans' lack of interest in translated fiction: it's not that we're disinterested or ignorant, we'd just like an American context when we're reading about other countries.
As the Peruvian-born writer Daniel Alarcón observes, Americans would rather read stories by an American about Peru than a Peruvian writer translated into English. “There’s a certain curiosity about the world that’s not matched by a willingness to do the work,” Alarcón said in a phone interview from his home in Oakland, California. “So what happens is that writers of foreign extraction end up writing about the world for Americans.”
(It sounds like the conversations I've had with my parents about living in Berlin. They have never had passports, and never been farther away than one shallow trip into Mexico. I was the first family member to travel outside of the country. As such, their questions about what life in Germany is like can be funny and frustrating. "What's it like over there?" It's Germany. It's pretty much the same. They have sidewalks to walk on, streets to drive on. Gravity keeps us on the ground at all times. Good lord, they think I'm nuts.)
NPR is running my review of Elizabeth Wilson's War Damage, along with an excerpt from the book.
From the language her characters speak to the jewelry they wear, everything feels perfectly authentic, as if the book had been written during the time in which it is set. With one exception: Where writers from the 1940s may have used innuendo to explore homosexuality and kinky sex, Wilson goes directly at it. The first page has two schoolboys fooling around on a sofa, and things just get dirtier from there.
November 10, 2009
Caroline Eick has stepped down as managing editor of Bookslut, due to obligations to her job, you know, the one that actually pays enough to live on. Michael Schaub, my dear friend and Bookslut dude from the scribbling on napkins planning stages, will be stepping in.
That means a whole new address to send books to. (We are sorry.) Our contact information is now:
3808 SE 54th Ave.
Portland OR 97206
It also means that we are looking for a Portland intern for proofreading, book hauling, etc. Anyone interested should email Michael.
Also, this looks like the end of the Bookslut Reading Series in Chicago. The two planned December dates will be happening, hosted by Charles Blackstone.
The New York Review of Books has condensed Thoreau's 14-volume journal into one abridged book, edited by Damion Searls. He talks to the NYRB bloggers about the monstrosity of the project, the selection project, and his love for Thoreau.
There have been selections from the Journal, but they all feel like grab-bags of the good bits, not the way reading the Journal really feels. Especially with Thoreau, snippets can feel sententious or bossy or crabby, and the Journal isn't. You have to leave in the "boring bits"-because first of all, they're not boring, and second of all, they're what make the excerptable snippets as great as they are. There was no edition both big enough and holistically enough edited to capture the feel of the thing.
If you like Proust, Germane Greer thinks you're an idiot.
I think I might be on the school's side on this one: an 11th grade teacher is suspended after giving his students a copy of Chuck Palahniuk's short story "Guts" to read in class. You may remember the story from the hyped up faintings that occurred when Palahniuk was reading the story on his book tour. The story's available online:
A friend of mine, when he was thirteen years old he heard about "pegging." This is when a guy gets banged up the butt with a dildo. Stimulate the prostate gland hard enough, and the rumor is you can have explosive hands-free orgasms. At that age, this friend's a little sex maniac. He's always jonesing for a better way to get his rocks off. He goes out to buy a carrot and some petroleum jelly. To conduct a little private research. Then he pictures how it's going to look at the supermarket checkstand, the lonely carrot and petroleum jelly rolling down the conveyer belt toward the grocery store cashier. All the shoppers waiting in line, watching. Everyone seeing the big evening he has planned.
Hasn't anyone realized that "female" is not an acceptable group to base generalizations on yet? Men write like this! Women write like this!
November 9, 2009
The New York Times is hosting a roundtable on Dostoevsky's The House of the Dead. An opera adaptation of the book is opening at the Met this week, and Dwight Garner, Charles Isherwood, and Anthony Tommasini are discussing both the book and the opera.
Speaking of opera, I've been rereading Kathryn Davis's The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf, which follows a Danish composer of operas through early 20th century Denmark. Davis has long been one of my favorite writers, and so I'll read 400-page books about opera or Marie Antoinette, despite thinking I have no interest in the subject. Even though while I'm reading her books I temporarily think I have no business writing sentences when her sentences are so exquisite. Ah well. From Girl:
It wasn't until the following morning that Helle could see its facade clearly, as well as the still life -- a conch shell, an ivy trained into the shape of a heart, a china polar bear standing on its hind legs, a wooden crucifix, a tinted engraving showing a cottage clinging, limpetlike, to the side of an alp -- which the landlady, the notorious Daisy Huj og Hast, had arranged in the first-story window.
Such still lifes were in evidence throughout the city; they were, according to Helle, the Danish equivalent of the lawn art you saw in Canaan's less fortunate neighborhoods, those arrangements of silver balls and gnomes and whirling ducks and frozen squirrels. If you sneaked up on these still lifes at night, Helle claimed, you could hear the objects chattering away: "Now the drowned sailors do their dance before the throne of the Sea Witch; they hope she'll send their souls to heaven, but she wants them for her own," the conch shell would be saying, only to be interrupted by the polar bear, its voice surprisingly soft, childish: "I have eaten three men, and so I can tell you that a human heart is harder to swallow than the heart of the oldest, toughest walrus." "Have you seen them, have you seen them," the engraving would ask, "the goatherd's family under the thick blankets of an avalanche, all of them dreaming the same dream? They think they're standing on a mountaintop, surveying the whole frozen world," to which the ivy would reply, "Sweethearts, sweethearts! Watch them kissing in the parlor!" Meanwhile, the tiny Christ mounted on the crucifix said nothing.
Eddie Campbell talks to the Library Journal about the collection of Alec books, called The Years Have Pants, as well as a future Alec book (The Awful Horrid Stuff) and something called The Playwright:
It’s about the sex life of a celibate middle-aged man. Actually, he’s not so much celibate as English.
Sitting at a socialist wine bar in Berlin last night (you pay whatever you want/can/think they deserve), drinking prosecco and eating pastries with a woman who runs a micropress, talking about the realities of publishing on such a small scale, it came up that the "royalties" for the poetry books she publishes amounts to about 20 cents a book. They are good, beautiful books, sold for about $15, and the thought of the publisher and the author both getting so little made me have to go refill my glass. So when I came across this at Moby Lives:
Have you ever been reading a book by your favorite author and wished you could make some of the money that they’re making? It’s not impossible. You can get in on some of the money generated from their books by blogging on the coat tails of their success.
I wished I was still at the bar.
November 6, 2009
People are freaking out about that Publishers Weekly top ten books list and the total absence of women on it. Women are "furious," says the Guardian! Women are making their own lists, with no men on it. That'll teach em! But don't we expect this now from places like Publishers Weekly? The only surprise being that a) no one at some point said, "We should put a lady on there, or the feminists are going to make a fuss about it" (or maybe they did and the next line was, "Actually, people might read us if that's true") and b) they had the balls to issue a press release about the list that talked about the diversity of the choices. "Now with only 80% white men! We've got a black guy on there!"
Reading four books about the state of the American mental health care system has made me kind of paranoid. Can you state in a living will that if you have a psychotic break in the States you'd like someone to just let you be crazy, because the system is scary scary scary? And my health insurance probably wouldn't cover anything past injecting me with Haldol and locking me in a closet. Then I wondered about the state of the German mental health care industry, and whether it would be kind of like the rest of their health care industry, where post surgery, if you say you are still in pain, they sigh, look at you disappointedly, and give you an aspirin. They probably even called me a pussy under their breath in German and I missed it. This might carry over. "You're hearing voices again? Sigh. Here's an aspirin." But at least there was post-anesthesia tea and cookies.
The reason I was reading these books was for my Smart Set column. It started with one book, and then I could not stop doing research for it. But it made me finally break down and read Jenny Diski's The Sixties, which, it turns out, is as good as everyone had been telling me it was. (Read Elizabeth Bachner's take on it here.) Her account of the antipsychiatry movement in the '60s and '70s, and of her own treatment were fairly shocking for how recently it all was. Now, however, just because we don't pull out the teeth of the insane doesn't mean anyone is getting any better.
Jenny Diski was institutionalized a few times for her depression when she was younger, and she explains her experience in her new book The Sixties:
I was detained under a section of the Mental Health Act that deprived me of any right to agree or disagree with my own treatment and the right to leave. I was detained, literally, being held down by several nurses and injected with Largactyl, which put me into another narcosis, but this time with hideous nightmares I couldn't wake up from... A woman next to me, incredibly in 1968, was put on the completely discredited insulin shock therapy, another given LSD "treatment." Two or three of the patients had received lobotomies, and sat passively waiting to be discharged.
November 5, 2009
I got an email with the subject line "New Memoir Software" and for a minute I was really excited that maybe someone created a program where you plug in everything bad that had ever happened to you (your kindergarten crush called you fat, your parents bought you a generic faux automobile instead of a Big Wheel, you tried cocaine a couple times and really liked it, and maybe not doing it anymore is sort of like breaking an addition) and it creates an uplifting narrative of struggle and triumph to base your memoir around. Alas, it's just a document program with file storage and outlining features. I can't begin to express my disappointment.
Lost in the hullabaloo over Marge Simpson's appearance in Playboy is the appearance of Stephen King's poem, "The Bone Church."
I'm not sure that it's an entirely good idea to organize the publication of T. S. Eliot's letters as a way of rebuking his posthumous critics: Haffenden said the letters go some way to vindicating Eliot after he was vilified in Tom and Viv. These both [the play and the film] made out Eliot as a villain," he said. "These letters are a corrective" . . . His next letters, covering the late 1920s, will be out in two years' time. One key revelation in the next book will be the number of close Jewish friends Eliot had, which might rid the long-held argument that he was anti-Semitic.
Good news and bad news in British poetry preservation: While the British government has been making grants to keep Siegfried Sassoon's papers in-country, Sue Hubbard's poem, "Eurydice" has been painted over.
PoetrySpeaks.com is looking to make poetry accessible, as well as to monetize it, online, by providing recordings of poetry, spoken word videos, and user-submitted poems. Judging from their top-rated poets, I'm not sure how seriously its users are engaging it just yet.
Kristin Wiig's interpretation of Suzanne Somers's "early poetry" marks the point on YouTube where "funny" and "too easy" converge--be sure to wait for "Extra Love," the second poem.
Every time I’ve found myself on American soil and I’ve made the mistake of admitting that I’m a fiction writer who comes from Latin America, that person will immediately pull out García Márquez, and will do it, what’s more, with a self-satisfied smile, as if he were saying to me, “I know you.” Now, those same North Americans have begun to pull out Bolaño.
November 4, 2009
Daniel Nester, who once cracked up my friends by doing an impression of me as Andy Rooney (it was disturbingly accurate) writes about leaving New York and poetry.
My complaint, if there is one, is not that New York Poets are rude. It is that New York Poets are too nice, that they don’t tell the truth to each other enough. In New York, you see, it also helps to have someone else say you are a poet. Beneath the surface politesse and modesty of the New York Poet runs an undercurrent of exclusion you only sense years later. To be coddled in New York City as a poet is to be killed slowly.
Sign and Sight has a couple Herta Müller items of interest. (They also have random words in bold in their articles for no reason. They're not links, I checked. They are there, I imagine, to add drama.) They have an excerpt from her new novel, translated into English. They've translated the title from the German Atemschaukel to Everything I Own I Carry with Me. Oh, German compound words, you make me cry, especially when you are on the tops of very important paperwork. They also have an essay of hers, about her run-ins with Ceausescu's secret service.
I was to be put through two recruitment tests with the secret police officer Stana, to be made suitable for the office. After my second refusal, his goodbye was: "You'll be sorry, we'll drown you in the river."
One morning when I turned up for work, my dictionaries were lying on the floor outside the office door. My place had been taken by an engineer, and I was no longer allowed into the office. I couldn't go home, they would have sacked me there and then. Now I had no table, no chair. For two days, I defiantly sat my eight hours with the dictionaries on a concrete staircase that joined the ground and first floors, trying to translate so that no one could say I wasn't working. The office staff walked past me in silence.
November 3, 2009
Talking about spiritual matters to a secular audience is like doing card tricks on the radio. It’s like, “This is really cool, everybody,” and they’re like, “Yeah, OK!”
I'm sure you guys have done the same thing while drinking one night: the disaster or slasher movie casting session: you and your friends are on the Poseidon or in the woods with a psychopath, who dies first, and who survives until the end? I always die in the first round because I am completely lazy. If it involves running or swimming or endurance of any kind, I'm fucked. At best I'd distract the psychopath with the task of murdering me while my friends escape.
Stephen Asma, author of On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears, introduces the book at The Chronicle, and offers this:
The monster is a virtual sparring partner for our imagination. How will I avoid, assuage, or defeat my enemy? Will I have grace under pressure? Will I help others who are injured? Or will I be that guy who selfishly goes it alone and usually meets an especially painful demise?
In a significant sense, monsters are a part of our attempt to envision the good life or at least the secure life. Our ethical convictions do not spring fully grown from our heads but must be developed in the context of real and imagined challenges. In order to discover our values, we have to face trials and tribulation, and monsters help us imaginatively rehearse. Imagining how we will face an unstoppable, powerful, and inhuman threat is an illuminating exercise in hypothetical reasoning and hypothetical feeling.
Yes, this would have made a better pre-Halloween post, but what did I just say? Totally fucking lazy. At least Elizabeth Bachner reviewed On Monsters in the last issue of Bookslut.
"Because it's my book and in my books younger women always want to have sex with me."
She had now become insatiable. "As it's you, Philip, I mean Simon," Pegeen had said, "I'm up for the full range of dirty-old-man sexual fantasies. Bring on the anal sex, the dildos, the strap-ons and the threesomes with another girl with a shaved bush."
November 2, 2009
The Prix Goncourt has been awarded to Marie NDiaye, for her novel Three Strong Women.
Her latest novel, "Trois femmes puissantes," is the story of characters Norah, Fanta and Khadi's fight to "preserve their dignity in the face of humiliations that life has inflicted"
The IMPAC, with the literary prize longlist that rules them all, is just out. At 153 books strong, the most fun is finding out what your local library put up for nomination. Jessa and I can both shudder at England and Germany's mutual weakness for the puntastic Deaf Sentence. Naturally, the New Zealand selections kick arse.
Linguistic death is proceeding more rapidly even than species attrition. According to one estimate, a hundred years from now the 6,000 languages in use today will likely dwindle to 600. The question, though, is whether this is a problem.
I am trying so hard to be nice to Jonathan Safran Foer, by which I mean I am trying to forget he exists on this planet. His book Eating Animals, however, is making this goal very, very difficult. It was bad enough when he was writing shitty novels, but now he's indulging in my least favorite form of nonfiction: the "I have never thought about this thing before until now, and despite the fact that other people have thought about this for years and wrestle daily with the implications, I think my brand new thoughts should be shared with the world." Whatever the topic -- religion, marriage, gender, food politics -- the books are always shallow, yet for some reason a lot of people take them seriously.
I came back from New York with a bag loaded with copies of the TLS. (Sir Peter Stothard had laid out an array of back issues as giveaways, and I selfishly grabbed one of each and sat on them so no one else could take them.) I'm glad I did, as I was happy to discover a review of The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham, which I was reading at the time. (Dear Maud: I hope you're liking it, if only for that cover.) While many reviewers are using the opportunity presented by Hastings's book to tell us how boring they think Maugham is as a writer, Jeremy Treglown writes a thoughtful appreciation of some of his better work.
As far as literature and theatre were concerned, he admired Chekhov but not all of his imitators, and insisted that “it is quite unnecessary to treat as axiomatic the assertion that fiction should imitate life . . . . There is in fact a second theory that is just as plausible, and this is that fiction should use life merely as raw material which it arranges in ingenious patterns”. Predictably, critics have focused on what is “traditional” in Maugham’s writing – his handling of plot, surprise and suspense, his depiction of an exceptionally international, socially wide range of characters – and in the process have tended to miss what is original about it.
Gore Vidal was asked about the Polanski case during this interview at the Atlantic. He responded:
I really don’t give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?
As you may know, my boyfriend, The London Review of Books, is having its 30th anniversary this month and is getting a lot of attention. (What I keep waiting for in these articles, though, is an explanation for why the LRB has been so vibrant lately, while its older brother the New York Review of Books seems to get drearier and drearier with each issue.) John Sutherland's account of the origins of the LRB is perhaps the best article of the bunch.
Nothing was more important to him than the quality of the reviews he commissioned and toothcombingly revised. “When you delivered the copy,” Philip Larkin once wearily recalled, “he would ring you up no matter where you were. I was once hauled out of a conference in Aberystwyth, to go through it, Leavis-wise.”
November 1, 2009
The Naked and the Read
There is a scene in John Fante’s 1939 novel Ask the Dust in which Arturo Bandini -- an angry, sentimental, floundering writer wannabe, a young guy, twenty years old, notorious alter-ego for the tragic Fante -- drives with Camilla, his “little Mexican princess,” away from Los Angeles and to the beach. There, Camilla pretends not to know how to swim, and plays a trick on Bandini, feigns drowning, calling out for help from well beyond the breakers. Bandini swims to try to save her, nearly drowns himself (composing the description of the scene in his head as it’s happening, “worrying about excessive adjectives”), and returns to shore, panicked and spent, to see Camilla wading nearby, “laughing, choking from it, this supreme joke she had played.” A cruel trick, no question. Here is Bandini’s response:
…when I saw her dive ahead of the next breaker with all the grace and perfection of a seal, I didn’t think it was funny at all. I walked out to her, felt my strength returning with every step, and when I got to her I picked her up bodily, over my shoulders, and I didn’t mind her screaming, her fingers scratching my scalp and tearing my hair. I lifted her as high as my arms and threw her in a pool of water a few feet deep. She landed with a thud that knocked the breath out of her. I waded out, took her hair in both my hands, and rubbed her face and mouth in the muddy sand. I left her there, crawling on her hands and knees, crying and moaning.
“To love is to battle,” wrote the Mexican poet Octavio Paz. And how Camilla and Bandini war with each other. Moments after he’s tossed her to the ground and rubbed sand in her face, she finds him on the beach: “Dripping and clean she stood there before me, showing herself, proud of her nakedness, turning round and round. ‘You still like me?’” she asks him. Bandini, grinning, is rendered speechless.
I was sort of speechless, too, though I did not grin. The cruelty -- and the physicality (for reasons I can’t quite understand, I can’t call it violence) -- shocks. Throughout the novel, racial slurs slingshot back and forth between the two. He’s the son of an Italian immigrant; she calls him a “dago sonofabitch.” It hits him where it should. In one of their first exchanges, he insults her shoes at the restaurant where she waits on him. They have a brief conversation outside, Camilla turns to leave, and Bandini calls her back. “Now a good feeling rushed through me, a coolness, a newness like new skin. I spoke slowly.” You expect a seduction, an apology, an invitation. Instead: “Those huaraches -- do you have to wear them, Camilla? Do you have to emphasize the fact that you always were and always will be a filthy little greaser?” He walks away, “whistling with pleasure.”
An asshole. A misanthrope and a misogynist. A nihilist, a narcissist. A grade-A sirloin jerk. Seventy years -- and tides of feminism and political correctness -- later, it’s near impossible not to cock your head and think Jesus fuck. You don’t see characters like this anymore.
And yet. And yet.
Is there not something somehow honest in it? Something real in the reaction on the beach? A rawness and a heat that’s true in its meanness? We might not hurl racial epithets or toss our lovers to the ground, but have the thoughts not crossed our heads? The meanest people I’ve known are the ones who’ve loathed themselves the most. And Bandini counts, almost above all else, as a righteous self-loather.
He’s a roiling stew of contradiction. He’s defiant and proud, convinced of his own genius and crippled by Catholic guilt. As an aspiring writer, he longs for experience. When faced with it, he flees. He flings dollar bills at a prostitute to keep her away from him after all they’ve done is talk. When he finally sleeps with someone, a physically deformed apparition of a woman named Vera, an earthquake follows. It’s all fire-and-brimstone, blood and fear, and, in Bandini’s fevered head, it’s a clear act of God, reacting to his sin.
But in his experience with Vera, he enacts a profound kindness. “It was at the loins,” her deformity, “a burn, a seared place, a pitiful, dry vacant place where flesh was gone, where the thighs suddenly became small and shriveled and the flesh seemed dead.” He’s nauseous to look at her. But this time, instead of fleeing, instead of hurling insults and disgust he says to her, “What -- that? Is that all, just that? It’s nothing, a mere trifle.” And she is so grateful. He excuses himself and weeps outside “unable to stop because God was such a dirty crook, such a contemptible skunk, that’s what he was for doing that thing to that woman.”
Charles Bukowski, bawdy sod, who cited Fante as his writing hero, and is credited with bringing him back into print, was asked how Fante’s treatment of women affected him. “Bandini’s handling of women made me think of them as very real women,” he responded. “Magic female, distant and close at the same time.” Bukowski holds no truck with me, but there’s some truth in this. It’s an apt description not only for the battling push-pull between Camilla and Bandini, but a more cosmic sense of a simultaneous distancing and a drawing in.
I resisted Bandini at first. Thought, oh, no, he’s monstrous and cruel. But his contradictions make him human, and I was won over. Won over by the surprise that someone so brash, who raged around with all sorts of fury, real and imagined, possessed, simultaneously, such a capacity for kindness. And this kindness, these moments of generosity, are born out of knowing, simply and literally, we are all going to die. Which is the best and truest motivation for being good to people that exists.