Thursday, January 24, 2008


No no no, I don’t have TB.

It’s just that it occurred to me that although I blog semi-irregularly about the very fascinating contents of my own head and various animal life in and around the North Bronx, I don’t often mention what I’m reading or looking at. Which is partly that deeply ingrained but pathetically disingenuous-for-someone-who-blogs ethos of “who in the world would care what I’m reading/watching?” And then there’s the fact that I’m a very lucky girl and have many people in my life who I talk to about this stuff. So by the time it occurs to me to blog about some item of interest, I’ve already had the discussion a couple-few times, up to and including late-night conversations in bed with the light off and a passel of warm animals snoring softly around us – sometimes the idea of blogging about it on top of all the personal talk feels a bit redundant.

But hey, I have a readership, it seems. And I do get my hands on some interesting and fun stuff . Three things from the past week:

Every Last Cuckoo, by Kate Maloy

Full disclosure: Kate is a dear friend of mine, but I don’t automatically shill for my friends’ books – and was a little hesitant to mention it in the first place because I’m not in fact shilling. This is a lovely novel, very sentimental without being in any way mawkish or pat. It’s about a lot of what interests me on a sort of cellular level these days, as I creep toward the birthday that in my mind heralds middle age: family and coming to terms with all the permutations thereof, the way ties of friendship endure, how loss is synthesized and incorporated, how I connect to the physical landscape I live in, how creativity keeps evolving, and – important lately – how I relate to my age and my aging self. This is a soulful book, accessible and warm, but not simplistic. And it makes me want to move back to Vermont.

Plus – how gorgeous is this cover? I really think it’ll help sell the book, which can only be a good thing. What I’m really hoping is that it does so well that Algonquin is forced to do some kind of marketing tie-in and finds someone to make those mugs with the birds on them. To go with that big pile of Fiestaware that I don’t yet own, y’know.

The Best Short Stories of William Kittredge

I’m reading this now, and not just because it has a great bear on the cover – it’s a recommendation from Jeff. This is some very male stuff, farmers and ranchers from the West Coast, hunters and field workers and crop dusters. I’m enjoying the voyeuristic aspect of it – this is not company I generally keep, not guys like that nor is it my side of the continent, and I like the picture he paints me of a world that has nothing to do with mine. His language is beautiful as well. The contrast between the spare, often hard-edged narrative and the real delicacy of his words is pretty indeed. There’s a precision that I like and that I appreciate from my stranger’s viewpoint.

The quality varies, as short stories tend to do, and I’m not quite halfway through, but some of these are really pure and affecting. I’m definitely moved to keep reading.

And a movie from just last night: Nights of Cabiria.

Oh my goodness. This has to be up in my lifetime top five, I think. What a very female movie – not feminine, not feminist, but so reflective of the complex mindset that I’m pretty sure is mostly women’s territory, without getting into too much generalization. (I won’t say “painting with a broad brush,promise.) Say what you want to about the convention of the crass-yet-beautiful, marginalized-yet-proud, brokenhearted-but-hopeful hooker, but I’m sorry – she lives in all of us to some extent. I haven’t seen a whole lot of Fellini films so I couldn’t say if this is any overriding sensitivity on his part or perceptiveness or just good observation, but it really resonated. And I’m not generally one to interpret stuff along gender lines above any other way of looking at it – a lot of that strikes me as superficial much of the time, an easy referent. Yes, I know I just called the Kittredge stories “very male,” but this is different. Cabiria spoke to the deepest x-chromosome part of me, I don’t know how to put it in any less hokey way.

Jeff told me that Giulietta Massina consciously channeled Charlie Chaplin in her characterization of Cabiria, and it’s there, in a non-caricaturish way that really does echo his sweetness. We saw City Lights at Film Forum on New Year’s Day – presumably a good omen for a year of movie-watching – and I was surprised at how completely charming it was. I’d never watched an entire Chaplin movie, only knew him from the Little Tramp archetype, and only then understood why he was, and is, so loved. Cabiria carried a lot of that with her. I really did fall in love with her. There’s a scene where a famous movie star takes her to a fancy nightclub, and in the middle of what’s supposed to be a reserved mambo she breaks out into this goofy, wonderful dance by herself. I could watch that a hundred times. (And thanks to YouTube, I guess I can.)

I really missed out on a lot of great movies during most of my formative years not having a TV will do that, I guess – but I'm kind of glad I'm getting to see these now, in my 40s, with a certain amount of life experience, humility, and sentimentality in place. I think I react to art much more emotionally now than I would have in my 20s and 30s, and I rather like that. There's always time afterward to intellectualize something, to mentally turn it over and look at the workings. But it's nice to take things in viscerally on first viewing – that first reaction, you can never do that over.

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Blogger SteamyKitchen said...

I think its great that you promote your friends! Because that's what the whole blogging community is all about!

8:49 AM  
Blogger Miss T said...

I'm thrilled to hear that Kate's book is good. Did she score on that gorgeous cover or what?

12:29 PM  
Blogger Maia said...

Oh! I loved that goofy dance! And I totally see the Charlie Chaplin thing!

8:18 PM  
Anonymous White On Rice Couple said...

So glad that you are a pet lover too. The cover of Kate's book looks great. We'll have to check it out at the bookstore tonight.

6:46 PM  
Blogger Mary-Laure said...

I agree with Steamykitchen.
And I love that bear on the cover of the other book.
I hope you'll share more bear drawings with us soon...?

1:53 PM  

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