in the hundreds

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When 2017 began I set out to read 26 books. I thought this was ambitious because I had essentially abandoned reading for most of the previous ten years. It must have been sometime in the spring, after topping well over 100 books, that I realized I would certainly read a record number of books (record for me, that is). I didn’t consciously set out until later in the year to finish 365 books but crossed that threshold in early-mid December, meaning that I did in the end get to read somewhere between 393 and 400 books (Goodreads, which I used to keep track of the reading, was a bit fidgety and unreliable in recording dates).

I’m a bit stunned by having read so much – feeling some of the material branded on my brain permanently, fresh in my mind since early in the year, while some things were almost forgettable. But it was, as I told a former colleague, enriching. It might not be the greatest accomplishment of the year, and it is certainly the quietest, but it gave each day a new meaning, a fresh story, a new palette on which language was painted in wholly different ways, and of course made, as Firewall likes to say, every day into a school day. In a good way, of course.

I was asked to select my favorite from among these books, but this is impossible. I read from such a wide breadth of topics and disciplines, from literary and scientific materials from around the world, that it could not even be done to say that one single book stood above the others. But among those that I loved, those that I didn’t want to end, those that I learned the most from, those that confounded or stayed with me the longest – making me turn my thoughts to them again and again – here is the rough list in no particular order:

*Advice for a Young Investigator – Santiago Ramón y Cajal

*The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
Was not sure I would include this because I had mixed feelings, although by the end I was convinced/moved.

*The Master Butchers Singing Club – Louise Erdrich
Another one I was not sure I would include. I read most of Erdrich’s books this year and most were middle of the road, but this one stood out for some reason.

*The Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabon
I read a bunch of Chabon and just like his style (even though it can be quite different in all his writing) and could recommend anything he has written, but this was somehow… the one I liked most.

*Time and Materials – Robert Hass
Poetry, which is not for everyone. This was superlative

*Edwin Morgan: Collected Poems – Edwin Morgan
More poetry; discovered Glaswegian Edwin Morgan this year and loved

*Reality is Not What It Seems: The Elusive Structure of the Universe and the Journey to Quantum Gravity – Carlo Rovelli

*Seven Brief Lessons on Physics – Carlo Rovelli

*Go, Went, Gone – Jenny Erpenbeck
Possibly overlooked by many; reminds me slightly of the film The Visitor. Deals with refugee crisis/asylum seekers in Germany with some interesting looks back at how things changed when Germany reunified

*Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
An old one I should have read ages ago but only got around to now. Enjoyed the hilarious absurdity

*The Noonday Demon – Andrew Solomon
A long book on depression – not sure why I started reading it but it was engrossing

*Evolution’s Bite: A Story of Teeth, Diet, and Human Origins – Peter S Ungar
Part of my obsession with teeth this year

*Angle of Repose – Wallace Stegner
A surprising and moving book

*If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler – Italo Calvino
A strange one – but the complexity of Calvino’s style makes me want to read everything he writes (he is listed again later/below)

*Broken April – Ismail Kadare
Albanian book that deals with the Kanun/blood feuds, etc.

*Secondhand Time: An Oral history of the Fall of the Soviet Union – Svetlana Alexievich

*The Solitude of Prime Numbers – Paolo Giordano
Surprising – not sure why this book (fiction, Italian) stuck with me – perhaps the descriptions of how people fool others and themselves living a version of themselves that cannot possibly be true

*Pretty much anything by Naomi Klein, of which I read all – very timely and important

*A General Theory of Oblivion – Jose Eduardo Agualusa
An unusual one from Angola

*Tram 83 – Fiston Mwanza Mujila
An interesting one from Congo

*The Sellout – Paul Beatty
Probably one of my very favorite ones this year

*A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
Engrossing – just when you think things cannot get worse or more heartbreaking, they do. As my colleague put it “emotional porn” – a form of blackmail

*The Revolution of Everyday Life – Raoul Vaneigem
Abstract-ish philosophy but somehow resonated when I read it

*All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
Fiction

*Before the Fall – Noah Hawley
Fiction from the guy who brought us the TV version of Fargo

*The Emperor of All Maladies – Siddhartha Mukherjee
A book on cancer – not uplifting but fascinating

*Karaoke Culture – Dubravka Ugresic
Because I pretty much love all of Ugresic’s observational essay work

*Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America – Mary Otto
More teeth!

*Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino
More Calvino, whom I have quoted to death this year

*Pretty much any poetry book of works by Polish poet Adam Zagajewski, Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai and Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer

*The Book of Disquiet – Fernando Pessoa
This is one that kept me thinking all year long and to which I will return repeatedly

*A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America – Bruce Cannon Gibney
Brewing the Baby Boomer hate…

*The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen
Another of my favorite works of fiction this year

2018…

My goal, again, is to read 26 books. The trick this time, though, is that none of them can be in English. I can read books in English, but they won’t count toward the goal.

Likenesses and the unseen hand

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“To read is to dream, guided by someone else’s hand. To read carelessly and distractedly is to let go of that hand. Superficial erudition is the only method for reading well and being profound.” – Fernando Pessoa

An unseen hand (not Adam Smith’s invisible one) guides my reading choices from one thing to the next and each is a link to a mighty, unbroken, infinite chain – coincidental mentions of concepts I had just been contemplating. Thinking and writing obsessively about mirrors and suddenly I decide, “Now is the right time to read Vonnegut” – and woven throughout is the concept of mirrors as “leaks” – “holes between two universes”. But even in the book I improbably read on teeth, dentistry and oral health, what springs off the page? “A “photograph is more than a mirror. In the face of mortality, it offers hope for a permanent self.” Or in a contemporary Japanese-German short story by Yoko Tawada:

“Eighty percent of the human body is made of water, so it isn’t surprising that one sees a different face in the mirror each morning. The skin of the forehead and cheeks changes shape from moment to moment like the mud of a swamp, shifting with the movements of the water below and the footsteps of the people walking above it. I had hung a framed photograph of myself beside the mirror. The first thing I would do when I got up was to compare my reflection with the photograph, checking for discrepancies which I then corrected with makeup.”

And perhaps more deeply than mere reflections in a mirror, reading Vonnegut’s work and rereading Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, their warnings and observations about American and/or totalitarian societies provide obvious parallels:

“It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time.

Keep calm, they said on television. Everything is under control.” -from The Handmaid’s Tale

“Seems like the only kind of job an American can get these days is committing suicide in some way.” – from Breakfast of Champions

“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. … They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: ‘If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.” – from Slaughterhouse Five

At no time is this more timely – in these works of fiction, or as a red thread sewn through much of modern non-fiction, such as other books I’ve recently read, such as the incisive Age of Anger, White Trash, Teeth and even the books on addiction.

Other parallels are not as obvious – in Atwood there are the “Marthas”, ominous-sounding household servants, and in Breakfast of Champions, “Marthas” are large designed-for-disaster buses converted into ambulances.

It fascinates me to no end that despite dipping into and reading from the broadest range of disciplines, there are connections between all of them: Virtually everything can swing back around to this perverted idea of uninterrupted “progress” and the selfish, perverted definitions society gives to the word “progress” – in the individualism described in Age of Anger, embodied by the Boomers, leading to the hungry ghosts and spiritual emptiness Gabor Maté discusses and diagnoses. And then the effects – ranging from the dismal and often fatal results of the healthcare and dental care system in the US as described in Teeth, to the “long-term losers” described in Age of Anger, such as the degradation of any hope for a country like Congo (about which I also recently read a book): “In Dostoyevsky’s view, the cost of such splendour and magnificence as displayed at the Crystal Palace was a society dominated by the war of all against all, in which most people were condemned to be losers.”

None of these overlaps should be a surprise. It should also not be a surprise that Dostoevsky is cited in almost every book I have read no matter what discipline, time period in which it was written or what genre, fiction or non-fiction. Dr Gabor Maté quotes Dostoevsky in his book on addiction; Dostoevsky figures prominently, as quoted above, in Age of Anger. And even in Vonnegut.

“Rosewater said an interesting thing to Billy one time about a book that wasn’t science fiction. He said that everything there was to know about life was in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. “But that isn’t enough any more,” said Rosewater.

Seeing and making the connections is gratifying, but much like an alcoholic seeking long-term sobriety, just going to meetings (or in this case connecting the dots) is hardly enough. The addict needs to commit to engage with all the steps to make progress, and the reader must start to process and form her own ideas about the connections identified.

Random Gum: April Fools – April Skies 2017

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Random Gum – April Fools – April Skies – Q2-2017

The banditry of collecting music continued all winter and into spring. It was a strange time, a collection of moments, lasting no longer than that.

Moment
Adam Zagajewski
Clear moments are so short.
There is much darkness. More
ocean than firm land. More
shadow than form.

The postal versions (to those for whom I have postal addresses) are going out in the mail this week.

(Almost) complete track listing available on Spotify (as are all previous Random Gum mixes by accessing my Spotify profile). You can access all the past track listings, etc. here.

01 Ghada ShbeirToubayk’iidto
Such a beautiful, haunting start from Chants Syriaques album

02 Victoria WilliamsPoetry …Be sweet, be free, every day is poetry…
Introduced by William, who put this on a cassette mix 20+ years ago; I lost my copy of the CD & this was kind of a bitch to find because it exists seemingly nowhere (or very few places) digitally. Needed again as every day for me is poetry.

03 The Spencer Davis Group – Waltz for Lumumba
Finally read a book on Congo I’d been trying to get to for years. The chaos. Thoughts of Zaki ❤️.

04 His Clancyness – Pale Fear …sometimes I feel like a failure…

05 Tashaki Miyaki – Girls on T.V. …I’ll be the girl you made up in your head…
“I didn’t hear a word you said/But I love Kurt Cobain” Huh? Mention 1 of Kurt Cobain…

06 Flo Morrissey and Matthew E. White – Grease
It’s like being a kid all over again only … updated

07 Television – 1880 or So
It’s always in the 80s – the French Revolution; Congo, Dunlop & his rubber tires; Tiananmen Square. SD❤️

08 VorderhausCatacombs …Have I the right to want you/Have I the right to love you?…
Listening loud on repeat ❤️: “Have I the right to want you, to say I love when I don’t see you?” Danke, ML

09 Lijadu Sisters – Life’s Gone Down Low …but it’s not too late for you and me if we hurry…
Can you resist Nigerian identical twin sisters doing tunes like this?

10 King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Billabong Valley …Outlaws on the run/Faster than a stolen gun…
Prolific Melbourne band – can only think of Jane❤️ when Melbourne comes up

11 Kate Tempest – Perfect Coffee …We’re Sisyphus pushing his boulder/the kids are all right but the kids’ll get older…
Only thanks to MP that I gave this a fair shake. Glad I did, eventually. Took a while.

12 The Breeders – No Aloha …Motherhood means mental freeze…
And goodbye, aloha, (no) thank you.

13 Broken Social Scene – Handjobs for the Holidays …It kinda takes the joy away, we don’t come at all…
“We’ve got eyes that leave us in places we don’t see”

14 Lovers – Igloos for Ojos
“Your breath is a voice, wet purring/A kiss on the mouth’s like an elegy/when you slide down next to me and say, ‘By morning this will just feel like a dream’/Your eyes are some cold home”

15 Jealous of the Birds – Tonight I Feel Like Kafka …And it scares me to think that nobody/Looks at me that way…
How did I end up with two songs that mention Kurt Cobain so prominently?

16 Amanda BergmanQuestions …I can find in my way baby knowing that this will be over too…
Still an Andreas ❤️recommendation that pays off again and again

17 Mega Bog – London

18 LUST – Mémoire
I love how the sound starts to melt, like relationships or events that devolve and dissolve into nothingness

19 Loose Meat, CibelleDaisy Chain

20 Omni – Wire …I’m nameless on hour twenty-four…
“You don’t get tired/As far as I can see/I’ve lost my sense of time & debut/I don’t require more than you could be”

21 Cherry Glazerr – Nurse Ratched …You’re so cold master, where do I begin?…
Thanks MP

22 Jaakko Eino Kalevi – Macho …Elle en a marre des machos/des machos ringards/des machos clichés/des macho men…
One from Helsinki’s favorite tram driver.

23 Blond Ambition – Shasta

24 Pictish Trail – After Life
Scotland, of course

25 Yasmine Hamdan – La Ba’den
Can’t resist a bit of Yasmine

26 Fabienne DelSol – I’m Gonna Haunt You …So softly I remind you/Of the ways you let me down…

27 Malcolm Middleton – Ballad of Fuck All …Oh I’m locked inside/Trapped inside this body/I can’t get out, and there’s not enough room/I’m glued to the back of this bone mask…
“Oh won’t you come for me/Comfort me in the night/I’m so tired of feeling sick and tired/Dying at life’s door all the time”. More Scotland. Who would I be without that particular overdose?

28 Scott Hirsch – Loss of Forgetfulness
Modern music with sounds from another time (sneaking suspicion that this is why Spotify started recommending Gram Parsons to me suddenly)…

29 Alexandra Savior – Shades …I’m always happy to be leaving/could be the company I’m keeping…
“Shouldn’t have come back/shouldn’t have switched it on at all/didn’t mean to hold you so close/but you know how it goes”

30 Fairuz – Salimleh Alayh
No words to say about the incomparable Fairuz

31 Mark Kozelek – Float On …and we’ll all float on okay…
“I backed my car into cop car the other day…” Somehow vaguely reminded me of the “African Arm taxi driver” story from ❤️Martina and Anthony❤️

32 Wire – Outdoor Miner …No blind spots in the leopard’s eyes/Can only help to jeopardize/The lives of lambs, the shepherd cries…

33 Chris Spedding – Video Life
“Meet myself on the action replay/Hope I get there right on time”

34 Angel Olsen – Woman …With no promise of the future/Am I not allowed/To think kindly of a stranger/Who reflects the sound/Of my heartache/As it’s beating/My life to the ground…
“You can leave now if you want to/I’ll still be around/This parade is almost over/And I’m still your clown”

35 Chromatics – Shadow …Can you hear me?…

36 Lambchop – When You Were Mine
A Prince cover; still seems strange that he’s dead

37 She Drew the Gun – Since You Were Not Mine …and to my lips too cold to speak/of a love just out of reach…
“Time refused to pass/though sand filled up the glass/each grain became the last/suggestion of our past”

38 The Yearning – When I Lost You
“But the world doesn’t know how I feel now you/Are out of my life, now you’re gone”

39 Elena Frolova  (Елена Фролова) – Mezhdu voskresnyem i subbotoy (Между воскресеньем и субботой)

40 Dougie PooleLess Young but as Dumb …Could you see that I haven’t learned a thing?…
“Cause I can see you now/Though I’m not sure I can handle the sight/The arms of a stranger, the light in your eyes/That’s making me wonder if I’m on your mind/See?/I’m less young but as dumb as the day that you left me”

41 Ulrika Spacek – There’s a Little Passing Cloud in You

42 Ruby Haunt – Crave
This song explains it all. It’s March, and I depart the station, heartbroken. “Listen to the girl, who waits by your side, in a simple world, no need to ask why, nothing’s gonna change, the people pass by, you feel no pain, as she starts to cry. Craving, craving some comfort. You can’t explain, the things on your mind, you’re on your way, you won’t rewind. It’s over with, no need to lie, you’re just a myth, but you know it’s fine. Craving, craving some comfort.”

43 The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Bout des doigts
❤️❤️❤️

44 California Snow StoryRailway Station
Bring on more Scotland

45 The Besnard Lakes – Albatross …Oh you showed me so much/Those days are now long gone…
“And I have to admit/Things got weird for a bit/And I scream for you/There goes my man…”

46 Lisa O’Neill – England Has My Man …England’s so lucky/I’m not sure they know/I’m feeling bold with ideas of us…
“Now I am calmer than ever before/He opened the grand can of beautiful worms/I waive my fears and I face the chance/No one got near when we first danced”

47 Dean Blunt – 100 …But we keep it going on/Feelings coming on/But the bullshit got too long, yeah…

48 Soft Hair – Lying Has to Stop …Our lives they never seem to coincide/But if it’s all right with you/I try to focus on another life…
For Jane❤️, with her infectious laugh and tantalizingly soft hair

49 Lucy Dacus – I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore

50 The Animals – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood …I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, oh lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood…

51 Makthaverskan – Antabus
Yeah, it’s Antabus, not Antiabus! For SD❤️. Go on with your bad self, Göteborg music (even if some of it’s happening in Berlin)

52 BeverlyBulldozer …Cat is a machine pushing the rocks around/Bulldozer sleeping, dreaming up buildings…
For Annette❤️, loving human bulldozer, and her little Norm❤️ and his obsession with earth-moving machines

53 Ten Fé – Twist Your Arm
“And I give you love unconditionally/I give you love, what do you give me/I give you love, so I don’t understand/Why I gotta twist your arm/To hold your hand”

54 Archie Bell & the Drells – Tighten Up

55 The Holy – Ramses the Evil Brother
Finns from Funland!

56 Wild Nothing – To Know You …This is the circle that we live in/These are the people that we’ve been…
“So you gave a quiet light/My one chance at order/I won’t toss your way aside/For any corner of the world”

57 The Smoking Trees – Home in the Morning

58 Twin Peaks – I Don’t Wanna Miss You
“I could talk a girl right out of her clothes/I could talk myself into kissing your ghost/but you’re always on my mind”

59 Swim Mountain – Yesterday …Nothing could make us last this long/I wouldn’t have done it for anyone/Leaning forward to hear you say/ ‘I only wanted you yesterday.’…
“You said I live in my head/Never listen to the things you said/’Cause in love there’s always one/One who suffers and one who’s done”

60 Bill Patton – Alchemy …History tells us you don’t want to be native/but you don’t want to leave home either…
Seattle ❤. “If I make it to the fountain of youth/I will come home ridiculous and bearing syphilis/Travelling back in time has never been my strong suit/It’s just taken up all my time”

61 Ibrahim Maalouf – Will Soon Be a Woman (live at Babylon Istanbul)
The sound, movement, moment of the crowd carries you away

62 Ted Hawkins – The Lost Ones …We are the lost ones/seeking help from you…

63 Shallou – Motion Picture Soundtrack …I will see you in the next life…
“Stop sending letters/Letters always get burned/It’s not like the movies/They fed us on little white lies” (Radiohead)

64 Emel – Ensen Dhaif

65 Molly Burch – Try …Wouldn’t it be so nice if we felt the same/I wish you would try…

66 Frida Hyvönen – Amors förkastliga pilar
“Om jag mot förmodan blir kär igen/då ska jag inte agera/Bara andas väldigt lugnt/å låta det passera”. Tack så mycket, Andreas ❤️

67 The Dø – A Mess Like This …Are you a curse?/From bad to worse/Our affair/Helpless as I’m/Trying to react/You were the worst idea I ever had…
“Sometimes I wonder how I landed in a mess like this…”. Always thanking Bruno for the intro to The Dø

68 Allison CrutchfieldMile Away …Self-congratulatory mess/Yeah, you keep sleeping good at night/’Cause you’re inherently right…
“You’re acquaintances on a loaded train/You were spared rejection and it’s a dangerous thing/So you wake up confident every single day/You retire your own decency, you exonerate/And you’re blaring ‘Nebraska’ while she tortures you from a mile away, mile away”

69 Brigid Mae Power – Sometimes …Sometimes I just want to collapse into you, you/But I don’t know if you want me to/Or, if I should?…
“Shouldn’t I be okay out here on my own?/Living in my little home? No needs from others, doing it all by myself”. God, this makes me ridiculously sad.

70 Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now …I fell for that light, shame on you/You’ve got this idea, I can be fooled/Again with the light shame on me…
There is only now. “If you’re not here to help/Go find some other life to ruin”

71 Elvis CostelloRadio Silence …he’ll tell you anything you want to hear…
“Libraries filled up with failed ideas/There’s nothing more for me there/I trust in tender ink and gentle airs”

72 Jesus & Mary Chain – April Skies

Photo (c) 2016 Anders Sandberg used under Creative Commons license.

Keep learning

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As SD the Firewall always says, “Every day’s a school day.”

I love that life hands you a whole lot of weird and random stuff to learn from and how it all interconnects in strange ways and leads to the strangest conversations. And the act – and art – of listening, conversing and being open to everything is free. And anything else is a form of arrogance. And comes at a high cost.

Sometimes what you learn is not that useful, such as learning about the existence of some weird 1980s British TV show called Auf Wiedersehen, Pet or a British cartoon called Roobarb (about a dog called Roobarb and a cat named Custard), which made me think of the Strawberry Shortcake dolls of my youth (there was a monkey called Rhubarb and a cat named Custard among those characters). Reading about Congo recently, I obviously learned about the history of Congo but it led me in a lot of different directions, from reading about the Scot, John Boyd Dunlop, who re-invented pneumatic rubber tires in 1888-89 (which led to a rubber boom and a certain kind of enslavement for Congolese citizens, despite there being no formal slavery at that time) to powerful Congolese uranium to Hutu/Tutsi conflict. In a completely different direction, I’ve learned a lot about William Blake the last two days. Then moved right along where I learned a lot about famous shy people and forms of shyness and its roots (read Shrinking Violets: The Secret Life of Shyness yesterday).

At the same time, I also shared a lot of information about the Slavs (i.e. informing the aforementioned SD that the term “Slavs” refers to all Slavic people, not just former Yugoslavs).

Arrogance

Something else to learn – especially for people who are particularly arrogant – is that there is always something to learn and advice to take. I have met a couple of highly productive but extremely idiosyncratic writers. They invite you to read their writing, professionally or casually, but then cannot deal with the response or hack the editing or proofreading that inevitably follows. One writer was irrationally angry that my mother corrected his spelling – he tried to write ‘brassiere’ but had written ‘brazier’ (haha). Then another writer whose book had some riveting passages and fascinating ideas clearly must not have submitted his book for any editing or advice or even a cursory pass through spellcheck (a couple of references to “Saskwatch” rather than “Sasquatch”. And it was not about some provincial Saskatchewan amateur police force called Sask Watch) before publication.

Yes, every writer needs an editor. Period. Taking sage and experienced advice is a learning experience. Period.

What are we here for other than to learn?

Congo

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Africa is a training ground for the character, but also a graveyard for illusions.” -Vladimir Drachoussoff, Russo-Belgian agricultural engineer and diarist (reflecting on his time in Congo, including some remarkably prophetic writings on Congo’s future after colonialism)

(Congolese Lament – Liwa Wechi – Miriam Makeba)

It has taken me years to finish Congo: The Epic History of a People by David van Reybrouck. It even took me years to buy the book after seeing it in a bookstore. Once I had it in hand, it was like so many other books – I picked it up and put it down, reading the introduction more than once, but only now have I finished the entire near-600 page volume. Despite its length there are things I would love to learned about in greater depth (but perhaps can find more information on these points elsewhere). In the meantime, though, I still learned a lot of things. I could ramble on and on about it. No point.

Some notable bits (entirely leaving out discussions on the post-independence madness of an inexperienced, revolving-door government and assassinations, the ruthless power-grab of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and his rule, followed by post-Mobutu DRC and internecine civil war):

Slavery: “Traditionally, slavery in Central Africa was seen principally as a matter not of robbing you of your freedom, but of uprooting you from your social setting. It was gruesome, to be sure, but for reasons other than commonly assumed. In a society so characterized by social feeling, “the autonomy of the individual” did not equal liberty at all, as Europeans had been proclaiming since the Renaissance, but loneliness and desperation. You are who you know; if no one knows you, you are nothing. Slavery was not being subjugated, it was being separated, from home.”

Congo in WWII: “The fact that Congolese paramedics cared for Burmese civilians and British soldiers in the Asian jungle is a completely unknown chapter in colonial history and one that will soon vanish altogether.”

Post WWII: “The whites’ authority was being challenged, albeit subtly. Something had changed in the balance of power. Many Congolese were very well aware that the colony had proved stronger than the metropolis. Belgium had been crushed: Congo had remained on its feet and achieved military triumphs.”

On independence: “The chronology of events brought to light a paradox that could be noted at best, but not resolved: the decolonization had begun much too late, independence came much too early. Disguised as a revel, the breakneck emancipation of Congo was a tragedy that could only end in disaster.”

Mundane tasks as it gets late

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I didn’t think my post from yesterday about the podcast on mismatched libidos over the course of a marriage would be particularly pointed or any more relevant than normal, but then had a whole conversation with a friend who claims to be avoiding sex as much as possible. To a nearly pathological degree. Sleep is so much more important now. She may just be extending our long-running jokes on the sex lives of married people (she’s a married person; I’m not), but it’s hard to say.

She claimed, “We are old!” to explain her lack of interest, and I said, no, it’s being tired and having small children that created this situation. I am ever-so-slightly older than she is, but I don’t have kids. I am not struggling with the urge to hide from sex. It’s like with everything else – if you have obligations and schedules and are in any way confined to a certain pattern, the ability to slip easily into some … mutually aroused space is hampered, if not impossible. These things shift and change with time and the phases of a relationship. But what do I know? I am only guessing.

On an entirely different note, I finally – after literally three months of half-hearted looking around – located the correct outdoor lightbulbs for my outdoor lights. Yeah, seriously – lightbulbs. That’s what it’s all come down to. For a while I could get away with not replacing the one that was burned out, but this week the second one gave up the ghost, so it was time to ramp up the hunt (eventually had to order the pesky things online, as I do with everything). Mundane.

As I read more, I also look for more complementary music for reading. Tonight, back to reading about Congo while memories and dreams of Prague sail through my head alongside the sounds of Smetana.

Halloween Random Gum soundtrack – Better late than never

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Everyone who knows me knows that I put together at least one “soundtrack” of the songs (i.e. “random gum that holds the year together” – here’s a link to all the previous soundtracks on Spotify) that popped up in one meaningful way or another during the year, put them on a CD and send them out the old-fashioned way via postal mail. Some years, I am organized and get the things in the mail early – this year, I got them done just in time to go out on American Thanksgiving. I had the track listing done ages ago but never had time to deal with the rest of the process – burning CDs, making the simple but nevertheless handmade (thus time-consuming) Halloween cards, printing out all the notes and track listings and folding it all up and shipping them. It also did not help that in the early days of my November vacation, a time I planned to devote to this card-production process, my internet connection went dead for several days, making the songs for the soundtrack out of reach (needed to download a good proportion of them). But finally – finally – the whole thing is finished.

scottish spring – troubled summer – falling down – getting up
random gum – 2014

The full playlist on Spotify (except for songs that don’t exist on Spotify).

Nine Inch Nails – “We’re in this Together” if the world should break in two/until the very end of me, until the very end of you
Had no idea when this year began how true the sentiment would be. “We will make it through somehow” “Even after everything/you’re the queen and I’m the king/nothing else means anything”. For S.

Charlotte Gainsbourg – “Hey Joe”
We didn’t know we needed a breathy Charlotte-sung, Beck-produced version of this song, but we did!

Angel Olsen – “High and Wild” you’re here, you’re here, but your spirit’s disappeared/off to some place that i don’t know, some human thing has squashed your soul
Another dark Berlin summer, emerging in the light. “You might as well be blind, cause you don’t see me anymore/And you, you can’t tell me that you love me, when I’m standing in your way”

Dum Dum Girls – “Take Care of My Baby”
For S, and getting through all the rough times and worries. Takes on unforeseen depth.

Le Prince Miiaou – “Hawaiian Tree”
For Aurélien, who long ago won the battle, in quality and number, of track-listing mentions.

Tennis – “It All Feels the Same”
“We could be good but we don’t live the way that we should/Constantly told we’re imperfect and cannot be good/Tired of waiting around for you to intervene/Tired of wishing that you even knew what I mean”. Pain and strain of repeated mistakes

Wild Flag – “Romance We love the sound, the sound is what found us/Sound is the blood between me and you
“Back when I had no story, nothing to form me/You got under my skin/You were my maker/my re-creator/My reason to live”

The Saints – “(I’m) Stranded”
For Stephen and those half-hour conversations (“wee chats”) that never lasted less than all night.

Sonic Youth – “Kool Thing” I just want you to know that we can still be friends
High school. “Are you gonna liberate us girls from male, white, corporate oppression?”

Angelique Kidjo – “Lay, Lady, Lay”
Angelique from Benin, one of those countries in Africa I learned about only incrementally

Crowded House – “Not the Girl You Think You Arethe bathroom mirror makes you look tall/but it’s all in your head
Always loved this song; takes on new meaning as life passes into new phases. “He won’t deceive you or tell you the truth/he’ll be no trouble. He won’t write you letters, full of excuses…”

Circuit Object – “Hollow Words”
For and by ML. Sometimes things just change, and we can’t do anything about it.

Tamaryn—“Violet’s in a Pool” the sound is moving in
Soundscape for late-night drives in western Sweden – evokes Bengtsfors, of all places!

Aimee Mann – “Amateur” I was hoping that you’d know better than that

Angel Olsen – “Stars” I wish I had the voice of everything
“To scream the feeling til there’s nothing left”. Such beauty…

Patti Smith – “Don’t Smoke in Bed”
“Take care of everything; I’m leaving my wedding ring, don’t look for me – I’ll get ahead. Remember, darling – don’t smoke in bed”. Elegiac words for the sad endings of sad entanglements

Damien Jurado – “Amateur Night” It’s me who made you/It’s me who will take you
“I am not an evil man/I just have a habit I can’t kick/It starts with an urge and ends with this/Hang up the phone, I ain’t finished yet”. Another song whose meaning deepens w/experience

The Smiths – “I Won’t Share You”
Toasting the end of my rural man harem and W, the Smiths-quoting filth peddler

Tadpoles – “Sunrise Ocean Bender”
This makes me feel like I am in the 1990s again.

Glasser – “Shape”
“And I look out longingly/over the beach./There’s an ocean making life/beyond my reach,/and the vastness is/too much for me to stand.”

Warpaint – “Love is to Die” I found a way/To look towards this day/But it all hooked up/This could only go one way/I’m not alive, I’m not alive without you

The Fall – “Life Just Bounces” life just bounces so don’t you get worried at all
An unusually warm and bright February day. Watched a BBC show about the mad, inimitable Mark E. Smith. Blasting The Fall on high all the rest of the live long day. For Naomi

Sydney Wayser – “Geographer”
It’s just beautiful

INXS – “Don’t Change” I found a love I had lost/It was gone for too long/Hear no evil in all directions/Execution of bitterness/Message received loud and clear
Beautiful and bittersweet nostalgia – tangentially thinking of Michael Hutchence, his late wife Paula and Paula’s late daughter Peaches… will tragedy ever stop dogging that family?

Rolling Stones – “Miss You”
For obligatory naked pre-Mogambo balcony dancing

Sonic Youth – “Youth Against Fascism” I believe Anita Hill/that judge will rot in hell
I still believe Anita Hill; pop culture references – some timeless, some a flash in the pan, some culture/country specific, made immortal in song.

Cat’s Eyes – “Over You” I’m over you/Soon I’ll be rid of you and your ways/And I’ll forget all those/wasted days/And I wonder what took me so long/to finally let you know that I’ve begun

Lia Ices – “Thousand Eyes” We are a starry sky/Gazing down with a thousand eyes/And we know that we go on
Multilayered beauty. “Flash your flood, set your fire/You were born to overflow/And we know that we go on”

Buried Beds – “Stars”
For S. You may come upon the blackest stone/What passage lies beyond is still unknown/And sleep won’t come, cause you never close your eyes/Like stars above us we are on fire”

Hefner – “Love Inside the Stud Farm” Girl, you’re a teaser/what on earth did I just do to deserve a girl like you?
“You don’t know what you’ve done to me, with that voice, with those eyes, with that smile, and that smell…” All those auspicious beginnings when things are perfect, before the unraveling of reality

Miriam Makeba – “Liwa Wechi – Congolese Lament
Much love to Zaki

Neneh Cherry featuring Robyn – “Out of the Black” I fear what’s gone before will come right back and slap me

XVIII Eyes – “I’ll Keep You”

Otis Redding – “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember”
“Nobody knows what I feel inside/all I know – I walked away and cried…”

The Boxer Rebellion – “Both Sides are Even” You don’t need a reason/For I know that what I’ve done is wrong/No one there to warn you/About the way that our moment’s gone
“These are my suspicions/And I’ll never know how this was a lost cause/And both sides are even/They are even and alone/Yeah, it’s the same/Right or wrong”

Angel Olsen – “Unfucktheworld” Here’s to thinking that it all meant so much more/I kept my mouth shut & opened up the door
“I wanted nothing but for this to be the end/For this to never be a tied and empty hand/If all the trouble in my heart would only mend/I lost my dream I lost my reason all again”

The Doors – “Love Her Madly”
For S. and poetic comparisons.

Robyn Hitchcock – “Everything About YouI love everything about you/I love your crooked smile/The way I try to please you/And have done for a while

Sonic Youth – “Wish Fulfillment”

George Jones – “The Grand Tour”
For S and the riding lawn mower future. This type of twangy country tune makes me laugh – the “woe is me/she left me” whining, but I don’t think for one minute that “she” left without cause.

The Hat, feat. Father John Misty, S.I. Istwa – “The Angry River”
“The awful cost of all we lost/As we looked the other way/We’ve paid the price of this cruel device/Till we’ve nothing left to pay”

Angel Olsen – “Hi-Five” But I’m giving you my heart, my heart/Are you giving me your heart?

The Kinks – “You Really Got Me”
Meant for playing at insanely loud volume

Angel Haze – “New York” calls from overseas like a motherfucking crusade
For Jill – finally leading the New York life. And for Annette, the vigilante! “I run New York”

Pulp – “Lipgloss”
For M, my lipgloss and girly-stuff provider extraordinaire

Nirvana – “Love Buzz” Would you believe me when I tell you/That you’re the queen of my heart?
20 years since Kurt Cobain died – hits harder now, in middle age, than when it happened

Sondre Lerche – “Bad Law” When crimes are passionate/can love be separate?

Travis – “All I Want to Do is Rock”

Wild Flag – “Something Came Over Me”
“Yeah, you were always headed down the wrong path/But you’ll be back, you’ll be back around/Summer’s creeping up slowly/We’re gonna let the good times, let the good times roll”

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – “B.S.A.” it’s gonna be a long cold winter/but I feel so warm when I’m in her arms
“She goes off like a shotgun/she’s got me begging on my knees/she’s like a kiss from Jesus/make me forget my disease”. An S song

Merry Clayton – “Gimme Shelter”
Proves that this should have been a woman vocalist all along

Belle & Sebastian – “Your Cover’s Blown”
For Jill. For Inga and days in the poopbarn when Boring Guy did not want to “blow my cover”.

Trentemøller – “Still on Fire”
Cool sound + opening to TV show Halt and Catch Fire

Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians – “Queen Elvis” People get what they deserve,/Time is round and space is curved./Honey, have you got the nerve,/To be Queen Elvis?

Sam Phillips – “I Can’t Stop Crying” In dream I scream but you can’t hear me calling you
Floods of tears when circumstances tear something or someone from your hands, your life

Angel Olsen – “Forgiven/Forgotten” all is forgiven/all right, you are forgiven
“If there’s one thing I fear/it’s knowing you’re around, so close but not here”

The Platters – “Twilight Time”
Memories of the old pre-internet days when wild goose chases ensued looking for songs we could not quite place. What on earth did we do without Google?

Townes Van Zandt – “Lungs”
The late, great Townes.

Roxy Music – “More than This”

The Handsome Family – “Far From Any Road”
“And rise w/ me forever across the silent sand/the stars will be your eyes & the wind will be my hands”

Barbara Lewis – “Baby, I’m Yours”
For S.

Aaron Neville with Linda Ronstadt – “Don’t Know Much”
My joke song with S, who does not know where his face is going. “And that may be all I need to know”

Neil Diamond – “Love on the Rocks”Love on the rocks/ain’t no surprise/just pour me a drink/and I’ll tell you some lies
Top-floor flat in Berlin; drunken torture and misery – hatching an escape plan. Traumatic memories of high school teacher and her laminated Neil Diamond posters

The Go-Betweens – “Quiet Heart” And what did I say that made you cry?/Our dream won’t die/Doesn’t matter how far you come/You’ve always got further to go

A Fine Frenzy – “Almost Lover” shoulda known you’d bring me heartache/almost lovers always do

Angel Olsen – “Windows” won’t you open a window sometime?/what’s so wrong with the light?

Sinéad O’Connor – “Just Like U Said It Would B” when I lay down my head/at the end of my day/nothing would please me better/than I find that you’re there

Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris – “Love Hurts”
For S. and the tragic loss of the Gram Parsons shirt. At least there’s still “Yeah!” to wear.

Tomten – “Wednesday’s Children

Johnny Cash – “Hurt” And you could have it all/My empire of dirt/I will let you down/I will make you hurt
I don’t think I can listen to this again without crying; Berlin summer disaster and near endings

Moby with Damien Jurado – “Almost Home”