Said and read – June 2020

Standard

“Someone who’s on top of the world isn’t much of an observer: happy people are poor psychologists. But someone who’s troubled about something is on the alert. The perceived threat sharpens his senses—he takes in more than he usually does.” The Post-Office GirlStefan Zweig

Image by S Donaghy

Another late book report. No good excuses other than… I kept reading more in July, not stopping to reflect too deeply on the things I read in June. I was also compiling a list of books on dealing with racist ignorance (a list that continues to evolve as I continue to educate myself).

Previous book reports: 2020 – May, April, March, February, January. 2019 – December, November, October, September, May, April, March, February, January. 2018 – NovemberOctober, SeptemberAugust, July, June, May, April, March, February and January.

Thoughts on reading for June:

Highly recommended

“But if we use the wrong language, we cannot describe what we are seeing.” Surviving AutocracyMasha Gessen

*When the Clyde Ran RedMaggie Craig

A great book chronicling the history of socialist Red Clydeside in Glasgow. It’s a bit of a niche read, as most people don’t care about Glasgow, but a valuable history of a city defined by labor movements and fighting for workers’ rights amidst poverty, war and a period of exceptionally rapid and dramatic social and economic change.

*Scarlet A: The Ethics, Law, and Politics of Ordinary AbortionKatie Watson

In a country where abortion has been a constitutional right for forty-five years, we should be able to move on to a richer conversation about ethics and morality. We should be able to acknowledge the complexity of private decisionmaking without threatening the right of private decisionmaking.

I practically highlighted this entire book, which isn’t really helpful when trying to impart succinct ideas in a brief (haha) blog format. Although I wish everyone would read and try to understand it, I know it’s a difficult sell. Abortion is not a topic people are open to reading about, talking about or treating with any kind of nuance. The arguments are well-reasoned, persuasive and, most of all, important.

One result of our public and private silence about the experience of abortion is that doctors and clinic managers have become the public face of abortion. Unlike other health issues, in which patients and families advocate for future patients and the doctors and institutions that helped them, in abortion we ask those who provide something millions of women and families want and need to also shoulder most of the burden of its defense. That doesn’t seem fair, and I don’t think it’s sustainable.”

The “abortion is always a difficult decision” masterplot underscores the moral seriousness people making this decision are expected to have. But people who don’t struggle with an abortion decision are not necessarily less morally serious than those who do—they’re just less undecided. Someone who is clear about who she is, what she values, and what she wants is not casual. She is confident. Yet there are few examples of this type of counter-narrative. Bringing a child into the world is of great moral consequence, yet we don’t frame the decision to have a child as a difficult decision people always struggle with. So why wouldn’t some abortion decisions feel similarly obvious?

But the public rhetoric about abortion treats it as less a personal medical issue and more a moral and religious one. And the mismatch between what is true (actions) versus what is said (ideas, beliefs) is stark. So many more people have abortions than will ever admit it.

“Dr. Willie Parker identifies a related masterplot—“Abortion is always a tragedy”—and in Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice, he offers his experience as an abortion provider as a counter-narrative. In doing so, he describes a large number of women whom I’d call confident. One of the cultural falsehoods that I most rail against is this: each and every abortion is a terrible tragedy and every woman who chooses to have an abortion is therefore a tragic figure. In this popular narrative, women are helpless victims—and not clear-eyed individuals making a sensible choice to benefit themselves and the people around them. I know, from seeing women every day, how far this is from being true. Most of the women I see are utterly matter-of-fact about what they’re doing. They’re on my table because they need to be.  … It may be difficult in a misogynist culture to regard women who freely choose sex and who freely choose to have abortions when needed as free agents taking their lives into their own hands. But the alternative is to see them as less than fully human and requiring of paternalistic intervention.”

And once more… the language and words we use matter.

How we think shapes how we talk, and how we talk shapes how we think. That’s why terminology is contested ground in the abortion conversation. But all of our under- and over-inclusive words for embryos and fetuses make me wonder: Is it really that helpful to have seventeen words for snow? Or is the point rather that when you talk about something complex and important you need a range of words to describe it, each of which captures an important element, because none of them can encompass it all?

How could we effectively reframe the language and thinking about abortion to change the discussion and make people see it in different ways? Much of what I read this month comes back to language and how it is used to frame or reframe issues (see the coincidence/Lakoff points below).

It observes that American adults are never required to sacrifice their bodies to save another person, and argues there’s no reason pregnant women should be held to a different standard. The most famous of these arguments was made by philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson in 1971. She posited a parallel universe in which you wake up to find an adult, who happens to be a violinist, is attached to your body. He needs to be plugged into your circulatory system in order to live, and if you disconnect him he will die. She argues that the adult violinist has a right to life, but that is different than having a right to life support from another person’s body. According to Jarvis Thomson, a right to life is a right not to be killed—so if the violinist was flourishing on his own, shooting him at his recital would violate his right to life. But the violinist’s right to life does not include a right to be kept alive—so if he needs your body to stay alive, it is not unethical for you to disconnect him. Sacrificing your body to keep someone alive makes you a Good Samaritan, but it’s not morally required. This leads Jarvis Thomson to reason that even if an embryo or fetus has the same moral value as an adult, abortion is morally permissible.

Organ donation is not called “the obligation of life.” It’s called “the gift of life” because American medical ethics and law both say that no person can be forced to give a piece of their body to another. Our commitment to bodily integrity is so strong that we respect your wishes even after you’re dead—your desire to be buried intact is valued more in our culture than another person’s desire to stay alive.

Pregnancy can be viewed as a form of organ donation. A woman undergoes significant physical changes that can range from uncomfortable to dangerous for months so another’s life can be sustained by her major organs. It occupies her uterus, her heart must pump extra blood to give it oxygen, her kidneys must process its urine, and so on. These similarities mean the choice to lend one’s body to a developing human should also be considered a gift, not a requirement. The American tradition and law of self-defense offers another real-world analogy. When a person breaks into your house, you’re allowed to kill him. (The legal standard usually requires imminent threat of serious harm.) This suggests a woman who experiences an unwelcome pregnancy as bodily break-in by a different type of intruder should be able to respond to the threat of physical harm to her body and irrevocable disruption of her life by taking lethal action.”

*Surviving AutocracyMasha Gessen

“The difficulty with absorbing the news lies, in part, in the words we use, which have a way of rendering the outrageous ordinary. The secretary of education was held in contempt, and this astounding event was narrated in normalizing newspaper prose: probably the strongest description called it an “exceedingly rare judicial rebuke of a Cabinet secretary.” This could not begin to describe the drama of a cabinet member remaining unrepentant for her agency’s seizure of assets from people whom it had been ordered by the courts to leave in peace—sixteen thousand people.”

“When some of the post-Soviet societies developed in unexpected ways, language impaired our ability to understand the process. We talked about whether they had a free press, for example, or free and fair elections. But noting that they did not, as Magyar has said, is akin to saying that the elephant cannot swim or fly: it doesn’t tell us much about what the elephant is. Now the same thing was happening in the United States; we were using the language of political disagreement, judicial procedure, or partisan discussion to describe something that was crushing the system that such terminology was invented to describe.”

I doubt that anyone needs more analysis or discussion of the (beyond) dysfunctional, shambolic presidency of Donald Trump. However, coming from Masha Gessen, a voice of authority on the signs of impending autocracy, this is a must-read. Or, in Bálint Magyar’s terminology, we should, through Gessen, examine “the concept of autocratic transformation, which proceeds in three stages: autocratic attempt, autocratic breakthrough, and autocratic consolidation.”

As with Katie Watson’s book listed above, I cannot emphasize enough how important this book is, how much I wish everyone would and could read it. I would end up copy-pasting the entire book here if I were not conscious of how useless that would be. Of course the people who need to understand what has been happening during and before Trump — the lead-up to and introduction of autocratic rule — will never read this or believe what they are reading.

“Both ways of framing the policy—whether by stressing that calling something a lie goes beyond fact and becomes opinion, or by focusing on internal, unknowable intent—place artificial limits on a journalist’s ability to observe reality. In order to assume that Trump was not aware that he was lying when he said that millions of immigrants had voted illegally, or that Obama had him wiretapped, or that his tax cut was the biggest in history, or that the economy was better than ever, or that he was building a wall and this wall would keep out drugs and crime, one had to ignore the very act of repetition. Trump repeats his false statements after they have been fact-checked by the media and, in many cases, contradicted by officials in his own administration—and it is this repetition that gives Trumpian lies much of their power.”

The people who need to read and understand that we are living in an autocracy will never see it, have bought into the lies, are blind to the outright “belief that political power should produce personal wealth” and have drunk the KoolAid. They are ready to die for (perhaps literally, thanks to Covid) this lying criminal alongside the endless churn of his lackeys and sycophants.

“The Reichstag Fire was used to create a “state of exception,” as Carl Schmitt, Hitler’s favorite legal scholar, called it. In Schmitt’s terms, a state of exception arises when an emergency, a singular event, shakes up the accepted order of things. This is when the sovereign steps forward and institutes new, extralegal rules. The emergency enables a quantum leap: Having amassed enough power to declare a state of exception, the sovereign then, by that declaration, acquires far greater, unchecked power.”

“A study of modern autocrats may show us that a Reichstag Fire is never quite the singular and signal event that changes the course of history, but it will also expose a truth behind the single-event narrative: autocrats declare their intentions early on. We disbelieve or ignore them at our peril.”

“We disbelieve or ignore them at our peril.” This is exactly what we have done. And now look at where we are. Trump has been telling us exactly who he is and what he wants to do for decades, and American belief in institutions and checks and balances — as well as a naive “presumption of good faith” — created an environment not dissimilar to that chronicled by Saul Friedländer (mentioned below) about the years leading up to the Holocaust. It’s not an exact parallel, but enough parallels can be drawn to show similarities: a complacent populace, civil unrest, economic uncertainty, the normalization of inflammatory and violent (often deranged) rhetoric, a failed attempt to impeach, and a continuing naivete assuming that all of this is benign, all of this will pass.

“Trump had campaigned on insulting the government, and he himself was an insult to the presidency. But could someone so absurd, so evidently incompetent, be a true danger? In the early months of the Trump presidency, the hope that Trump would become “presidential” was gradually replaced by the hope that he was too bad at the job to do true lasting damage. We could have imagined, but we could not have predicted, that a pandemic would render his arrogant ignorance lethal. We imagine the villains of history as masterminds of horror. This happens because we learn about them from history books, which weave narratives that retrospectively imbue events with logic, making them seem predetermined. Historians and their readers bring an unavoidable perception bias to the story: if a historical event caused shocking destruction, then the person behind this event must have been a correspondingly giant monster.”

*Praises & Offenses: Three Women Poets from the Dominican RepublicAída Cartagena Portalatín, Angela Hernández Núñez, Ylonka Nacidit-Perdomo

Poetry, of course. I have always loved such collections. This one was a beautiful discovery when researching Central and South American women poets.

*The Invisible Bridge/El Puente Invisible: Selected Poems of Circe MaiaCirce Maia

Another poetry research discovery.

*América invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan PoetsJesse Lee Kercheval, ed.

Lovely poetry from Uruguay.

*Survival is a Style: PoemsChristian Wiman

Each time I approach a Christian Wiman book of poetry, I imagine I won’t like it. I don’t know why because each time the collection is full of surprises.

*The Post-Office GirlStefan Zweig

“Indifferent and without desires before, now she’s beginning to realize what she’s been missing. This contact with the overpowering is her first encounter with travel’s disconcerting ability to strip the hard shell of habit from the heart, leaving only the bare, fertile kernel.”

Status and class and the process of becoming aware of that as well as the power wielded by appearances and class – and how easily it can all be derailed.

“There’s nothing more vindictive, nothing more underhanded, than a little world that would like to be a big one.”

“Fear is a distorting mirror in which anything can appear as a caricature of itself, stretched to terrible proportions; once inflamed, the imagination pursues the craziest and most unlikely possibilities. What is most absurd suddenly seems the most probable…”

This is what it is like to live in a capitalist, wealth-obsessed world and highly reflective of the world we live in now.

*Stronghold: One Man’s Quest to Save the World’s Wild SalmonTucker Malarkey

He’d identified a flaw in the system that few seemed to recognize. The Endangered Species Act was not a conservation strategy—it was the emergency room. By the time a species was endangered, the whole system was failing. It was code blue; life support could be administered at great cost, but a full return to health was out of the question.

This is really a book I had no expectations of, and didn’t imagine I’d enjoy as much as I did. Yet it was engrossing – the tale of a strange man, marching to his own beat, whose entire life becomes a mission to save the world’s wild salmon.

I came to regard the fish swimming in our river as shape-shifters. The rainbow trout of the Deschutes could, under certain circumstances, transform their physiology and become anadromous: able to live in both fresh and salt water. They could leave the river as rainbow trout and come back as salmon. I still find it baffling that a creature can start life as one creature and end as another, like a dog going to the woods for a year and emerging as a wolf.

Good – or better than expected

*When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back: Carl’s BookNaja Marie Aidt

Writer Aidt writing a thoughtful and melancholy account of life after the death of her son.

*Strange Harvests: The Hidden Histories of Seven Natural ObjectsEdward Posnett

In Ísafjörður, the capital of Iceland’s remote Westfjords region, a Lutheran pastor compared eiderdown to cocaine. “I sometimes think that we are like the coca farmers in Colombia,” he said. “We [the down harvesters] get a fraction of the price when the product hits the streets of Tokyo. This is the finest down in the world and we are exporting it in black garbage bags.”

I am not sure why this book stuck with me. Most of it was not that fabulous, but it started by telling the tale of Iceland’s eiderdown harvests, and it was so fascinating and evocative — and filled me with a renewed homesickness for Iceland — that I was drawn in. Perhaps I’d recommend this book primarily for the opening chapter, although it tells the unusual and improbable stories of eiderdown, vicuña fiber, sea silk, vegetable ivory, civet coffee, guano, and edible birds’ nests… not exactly subjects about which most of us know… anything.

*The Mountains SingNguyễn Phan Quế Mai

What my uncle said made me think. I had resented America, too. But by reading their books, I saw the other side of them—their humanity. Somehow I was sure that if people were willing to read each other, and see the light of other cultures, there would be no war on earth.

A story of a multigenerational Vietnamese family over the course of the 20th century. Beautifully written, bringing Vietnam itself to life in the prose, weaving the unwelcome conflicts of the 20th century, and the inevitable ensuing upheaval, into the lives of the characters.

*On Disobedience: Why Freedom Means Saying “No” to PowerErich Fromm

Man has continued to evolve by acts of disobedience. Not only was his spiritual development possible only because there were men who dared to say no to the powers that be in the name of their conscience or their faith, but also his intellectual development was dependent on the capacity for being disobedient—disobedient to authorities who tried to muzzle new thoughts and to the authority of long-established opinions which declared a change to be nonsense.

We continue to exist in a world that tries to harness and control people — and disobedience remains a powerful force for change. It also exposes the hypocrisy of the dominant paradigm and powers that be. Just before writing this I was told of a heated exchange on a British talk show in which a middle-aged woman (Carole Malone) decried the removal of a statue, which was replaced by a statue of a Black Lives Matter activist. It was clear that the replacement statue was meant as a statement, an act of disobedience and resistance, but she wasn’t having any of it — this was wrong and clearly a form of vandalism. When asked whether she saw Banksy’s work the same way, she insisted that, no, this was not the same because Banksy is “making a statement”. How and in what world is the statue removal and replacement not making a statement? In this case it was probably less about disobedience and more about Malone’s unconscious racial bias. But still… disobedience and resistance makes news, draws attention to issues and, as Fromm makes clear, is required as an ingredient for freedom.

Freedom may take on different definitions, but a society that is not free to question and resist power, particularly where it’s corrupt, isn’t free.

From socialist principles it follows not only that each member of society feels responsible for his fellow citizens, but for all citizens of the world. The injustice which lets two-thirds of the human race live in abysmal poverty must be removed by an effort far beyond the ones hitherto made by wealthy nations to help the underdeveloped nations to arrive at a humanly satisfactory economic level. Humanistic socialism stands for freedom. It stands for freedom from fear, want, oppression, and violence. But freedom is not only from, but also freedom to; freedom to participate actively and responsibly in all decisions concerning the citizen, freedom to develop the individual’s human potential to the fullest possible degree.

*The Book of Disappearance: A NovelIbtisam Azem

Longing is thorns.

A novel based on the premise that one day all the Palestinians disappear from Israel — what happens then?

*The Child in TimeIan McEwan

I went on an Ian McEwan “bender” during June… one book after another. Some were excellent, like this (which I’ve seen the film adaptation of), and others completely forgettable.

Such faith in endless mutability, in remaking yourself as you came to understand more or changed your version, he had come to see as an aspect of her femininity. Where once he had believed, or thought he ought to believe, that men and women were, beyond all the obvious physical differences, essentially the same, he now suspected that one of their many distinguishing features was precisely their attitudes to change. Past a certain age, men froze into place; they tended to believe that, even in adversity, they were somehow at one with their fates. They were who they thought they were.

Entertaining/informative/thoughtful or some combination thereof

*Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed AmericaJared Cohen

I didn’t expect to enjoy this book, but it was actually quite informative. Obviously about presidents who ended up being presidents… by accident.

*Salt: A World HistoryMark Kurlansky

It’s been a long while since I read a Kurlansky book. I recall being stuck in the Halifax airport for the better part of a day, plowing my way through his book on the Basque people. Hard to believe that was already 20 years ago.

At times soldiers were even paid in salt, which was the origin of the word salary and the expression “worth his salt” or “earning his salt.” In fact, the Latin word sal became the French word solde, meaning pay, which is the origin of the word, soldier.

While there was nothing revolutionary here, it was still quite an interesting walk through the history of one of the world’s most common condiments.

They also ate a great deal of salted herring, though they seem to have preferred lightly salted and smoked red herring, perhaps because of their limited salt supply. When these early settlers hunted, they would leave red herring along their trail because the strong smell would confuse wolves, which is the origin of the expression red herring, meaning “a false trail.””

*Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and DemocracyMatt Stoller

Our leaders responded to a financial collapse caused by a concentration of wealth and power by pushing even more wealth and power into the hands of the same people that caused it.

Far from living in a decentralized age with competition and choice, we live in an era of monopolies and anti-competition the likes of which we’ve rarely seen before. And it poses a real danger to any semblance of democracy or control.

Take a look around. You probably have a phone made by one of two companies. You likely bank at one of four giant banks, and fly on one of four big airlines. You connect with friends with either Facebook, WhatsApp, or Instagram, all of which are owned by one company. You get your internet through Comcast or AT&T. Data about your thoughts goes into a database owned by Google, what you buy into Amazon or Walmart, and what you owe into Experian or Equifax. You live in a world structured by concentrated corporate power.

Wright Patman was an optimist, but the rise of soft authoritarianism globally would not have surprised him. Dictatorship in politics is consistent with how the commercial sphere has developed since the 1970s. Americans are at the mercy of distant forces, our livelihoods dependent on the arbitrary whims of power. Patman once attacked chain stores as un-American, saying, “We, the American people, want no part of monopolistic dictatorship in… American business.” Having yielded to monopolies in business, we must now face the threat to democracy Patman warned they would sow.

*Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of ExterminationSaul Friedländer

Nobody would dispute such an obvious point; its significance derives from an essential fact. Not one social group, not one religious community, not one scholarly institution or professional association in Germany and throughout Europe declared its solidarity with the Jews (some of the Christian churches declared that converted Jews were part of the flock, up to a point); to the contrary, many social constituencies, many power groups were directly involved in the expropriation of the Jews and eager, be it out of greed, for their wholesale disappearance. Thus Nazi and related anti-Jewish policies could unfold to their most extreme levels without the interference of any major countervailing interests.

An essential but difficult-to-read account of the persecution and killing of Europe’s Jews before and during World War II. It delves into the complex set of circumstances that set the stage for the mass-scale extermination that eventually ensued, including policy decisions, the willingness to obey orders, the blind belief in the rule of law (not considering that the law could be changed to suit the moment), the herd mentality, economic factors and scapegoating, and much more. It’s painstaking… and painful but more important the further away from this period of history we get.

*Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America’s Fast-Food KingdomAdam Chandler

“The chicken was a revelation; the result was poultry in motion.

I read this on a lark, without having high hopes that it would be a great book. This is a lightweight and easy-to-read account of America’s fast-food history. It’s a straightforward and engaging story that eschews the “dark side” of fast food we’ve come to expect from exposé-style journalism and filmmaker (here I mean things like the Supersize Me documentary and other materials in the same vein).

Nothing here was very surprising, but it was put together in a way that made the ‘journey’ worth taking. For example, I read this quite soon after I’d read some other account of the life of KFC’s Colonel Sanders, so while Chandler reveals nothing new, he still brings the story to life. Even his treatment of the rise of the almighty cupholder came to life:

By 2007, PricewaterhouseCoopers surveys had found that the number of cupholders had come to outstrip fuel efficiency as a priority for the American car buyer, though unprecedented hikes in gas prices in the late aughts would shuffle those priorities and hurt the sales of big cars. But by 2015, the mighty SUVs were booming again, along with a runaway number of cupholders. In late 2017, viral word of the features offered by a new-model Subaru SUV inspired euphoria and disbelief. The 2019 Ascent, pumped as “the biggest Subaru yet,” comes equipped with three passenger rows, 260 horsepower, and a staggering nineteen cupholders.

Oddly, he makes a reference to “Buddy Garrity”, “Nearly fifty years later, Piazza is an impressive dead ringer for Buddy Garrity and is the owner of ten McDonald’s franchises”, and I had to wonder how many people reading it would be familiar enough with Buddy Garrity to get the reference.

*Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening WorldDavid Owen

I suspect that hearing is something we take very much for granted until we start to lose it. Right away I felt like I was reading retellings of stories I’ve heard from people so many times about how, having lived together for 30 years (or thereabouts), they realize that their partner is mumbling and angrily demanding, “Answer me!” even though the person has answered already. Hearing just begins to disappear, often in slow increments, and people don’t realize, stubbornly refusing to move to mitigate the damage.

Hearing problems are often aggravated by the human tendency to do nothing and hope for the best, usually while pretending that everything is fine. This is the way we treat many health problems, although it’s not the way we typically treat threats to our other senses. People who need glasses almost always get them, and, as Lauren Dragan wrote on the website Wirecutter in 2018, “If someone told you that wearing certain jeans too often might trigger permanent leg numbness, or overuse of a hot sauce would cause you to lose your ability to taste sweets, you’d pay attention.” Yet people who notice trouble with their ears wait more than ten years, on average, before doing anything other than saying “Huh?,” turning up the TV, and asking other people to speak up. I heard a joke about a man who was worried his wife was going deaf. He told his doctor, who suggested a simple test. When the man got home, he stood at the door of the kitchen, where his wife was at the stove, and asked, “Honey, what’s for dinner?” She didn’t respond, so he moved closer and asked again. She still didn’t respond, so he stood directly behind her and asked one more time. She turned around and snapped, “For the third time, chicken!”

Coincidences

*The All New Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the DebateGeorge Lakoff

When you think you just lack words, what you really lack are ideas. Ideas come in the form of frames. When the frames are there, the words come readily.

Earlier in this post I wrote about Katie Watson’s Scarlet A and Masha Gessen’s Surviving Autocracy, both of which describe the importance of language and how we must deliberately choose how we frame issues. Clearly the “coincidence” this month was that I managed to read books that cover a broad range of topics, but many of them come back to this very basic truth about language and how influential it is, and how it is fundamentally underpinned by metaphors and semantics and are backed by ideas that resonate deeply with the long-term concepts embedded deep within our cognitive function.

Lakoff has been writing from the linguist’s and progressive’s point of view, explaining how the conservative movement, particularly in the United States, have been so successful because of their command of framing their issues.

Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world. As a result, they shape the goals we seek, the plans we make, the way we act, and what counts as a good or bad outcome of our actions. In politics our frames shape our social policies and the institutions we form to carry out policies. To change our frames is to change all of this. Reframing is social change.”

Gessen writes about how the language we choose and use is instrumental in our understanding of the world, and in the case of Trump, the process of normalizing the exceedingly abnormal. Language and words carry real power. Progressives, democrats and those on “that side” of the line haven’t been as active or effective at deploying language and framing, which is something Lakoff tackles.

The conservatives had set a trap: The words draw you into their worldview. That is what framing is about. Framing is about getting language that fits your worldview. It is not just language. The ideas are primary—and the language carries those ideas, evokes those ideas.

“People think in frames. The strict father and nurturant parent frames each force a certain logic. To be accepted, the truth must fit people’s frames. If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off. Why? Neuroscience tells us that each of the concepts we have—the long-term concepts that structure how we think—is instantiated in the synapses of our brains. Concepts are not things that can be changed just by someone telling us a fact. We may be presented with facts, but for us to make sense of them, they have to fit what is already in the synapses of the brain. Otherwise facts go in and then they go right back out. They are not heard, or they are not accepted as facts, or they mystify us: Why would anyone have said that? Then we label the fact as irrational, crazy, or stupid. That’s what happens when progressives just “confront conservatives with the facts.” It has little or no effect, unless the conservatives have a frame that makes sense of the facts.”

Biggest disappointment (or disliked)

Nothing terribly disappointing to report, although there were plenty of things that were neither good nor bad.

 

Said and read – July 2018

Standard

It seems I only managed to read 23 books in July, even though it felt like more. But there were many skipped days; many days when reading seemed out of my grasp and more of a grim prospect. Why? I don’t know. Was it the unrelenting heat that didn’t let up for more than two months? Was it other concerns? Was it the length or other demands of the material I did read? I can’t answer these questions. I can say that though I enjoyed most of the things I read in July, I wasn’t as immersed in my reading – perhaps because there really were more things taking my time and focus.

Many things I read brought my late grandmother to mind. Seeing as how she is the one who instilled a near-obsessive love for reading, it seems appropriate.

Dig further into what I was reading, liking, thinking, hating in June, May, April, March, February and January, if you’re curious.

Thoughts on reading for July:

Highly recommended

*Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern RelationshipsChristopher RyanCacilda Jethá

The last book I read in July, Sex at Dawn was certainly the most engrossing. While I didn’t find its organization to be entirely logical, it was full of such fascinating information that … well, organization be damned. It was hard not to devour this book in one sitting. One might argue that it’s just because this book is about sex, which automatically makes it more titillating than anything else. But no, it’s more that this book uses scientific inquiry/discovery, evolutionary biology, anthropology and a broad range of studies in multiple fields to question the western (and highly American) approach to sex, which is to tether it to moralizing and, moreover, monogamy.

Some observations are particularly relevant at this point in history, i.e. things we’ve been indoctrinated to perceive as ‘instinctive’ or ‘natural’ are conditioning:

“Modern man’s seemingly instinctive impulse to control women’s sexuality is not an intrinsic feature of human nature. It is a response to specific historical socioeconomic conditions—conditions very different from those in which our species evolved. This is key to understanding sexuality in the modern world.”

And who doesn’t want to see almost primitive drawings of the great apes that illustrate their penis and testicle sizes?

*Homeland and Other StoriesBarbara Kingsolver

I am not usually a short story kind of person, but Kingsolver’s collection had a few deeply poignant stories. And even the most surface-level among them had resonance. Kingsolver breathes life into her characters, even in a brief story; she makes their dialogue (both verbal and internal) so true to reality, even when they express things that are difficult to capture (and she makes it seem so effortless).

“It’s frightening, she thinks, how when the going gets rough you fall back on whatever awful thing you grew up with.”

“You know what I think? Immortality is the wrong reason,” she said, and suddenly there were two streams of tears on her shiny cheeks. “Having a child wouldn’t make you immortal. It would make you twice as mortal. It’s just one more life you could possibly lose, besides your own. Two more eyes to be put out, and ten more toes to get caught under the mower.”

“A friend of mine, new to extramarital sex, said she loved how condoms kept everything neatly packaged up, but I didn’t. I knew I would wake up in the morning missing the stickiness, proof that someone had needed me in the night.”

*The Collected Poems of Audre LordeAudre Lorde

It’s Audre Lorde. It’s poetry. Do I really need to say more?

“A woman measures her life’s damage
my eyes are caves, chunks of etched rock
tied to the ghost of a black boy
whistling
crying and frightened
her tow-headed children cluster
like little mirrors of despair
their father’s hands upon them
and soundlessly
a woman begins to weep.”

-from “Afterimages

*Collected Poems, 1974-2004Rita Dove

from “Parlor”

“We passed through on the way to anywhere else. No one lived there but silence, a pale china gleam, and the tired eyes of saints aglow on velvet. Mom says things are made to be used. But Grandma insisted peace was in what wasn’t there, strength in what was unsaid. It would be nice to have a room you couldn’t enter, except in your mind.”

Poetry, of course.

I loved this thought: “It would be nice to have a room you couldn’t enter, except in your mind”. I loved that the grandma in the poem said it because it made me think… my grandma would have said something similar (probably likening reading to a room you enter only in your mind, opening an invisible door to imagination). Also, it made me immediately think of a book I read some time ago – The Room by Jonas Karlsson. Was the main character mad/insane because he believed he was entering a room that no one else could see?

Good – really good

*Boy, Snow, BirdHelen Oyeyemi

Not having enjoyed the only other book of Oyeyemi’s I read not too long ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect of Boy, Snow, Bird… but I was very pleasantly surprised. I didn’t know until after I read it that it was inspired by the Snow White fairy tale and taken as a departure point from there. Looking back on the book now, it’s quite clear – the obsessive relationship each character has with mirrors (‘mirror, mirror…’) and her (in)ability to see herself clearly (or at all) in the reflection is a clue.

“Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy. I’d hide myself away inside them, setting two mirrors up to face each other so that when I stood between them I was infinitely reflected in either direction. Many, many me’s.”

I can’t describe what I found as engaging as I did with this book – I felt that the characters were rich and intriguing, and this is probably what guided me through. There are bits that feel underdeveloped (e.g., the somewhat abrupt and almost inexplicable shift to ice-queen evil stepmother – this is not really explained fully by the birth of the stepmother character’s own child; also the end-of-story reveal about the stepmother’s father’s identity – it’s not shocking but seems to be delivered in a bundle, quickly, all of a sudden, and that doesn’t feel in keeping with the rest of the storytelling and its pace).

I think the treatment of identity, shifting identity and “passing” (whether it’s passing within another race, another gender, as another person when you move to a community as a complete stranger, and particularly taking on the title and identity of being a mother) are important and fascinating aspects of how this book is written.

*The End of the Affair & The Quiet AmericanGraham Greene

For many years, I’ve intended to read Graham Greene. In my reading frenzy of the last two years, I tried a few times but couldn’t find e-books until now. I started with the two best-known (to me) because both were made into relatively well-received films some years ago. Neither film could delve as deeply into some of the more philosophical aspects covered by the books, but both films were decent representations of the stories and their characters.

“To me comfort is like the wrong memory at the wrong place or time: if one is lonely one prefers discomfort.” –The End of the Affair

While both books held my attention, I think The Quiet American struck me as more powerful at the time of reading – perhaps because the questions of faith in The End of the Affair were tedious to me; perhaps because the objectification of the Vietnamese woman in The Quiet American took on a fascinating edge as I compared it against real-life developments in the lives of people around me. Who knows?

“‘But she loves you, doesn’t she?’ ‘Not like that. It isn’t in their nature. You’ll find that out. It’s a cliché to call them children—but there’s one thing which is childish. They love you in return for kindness, security, the presents you give them—they hate you for a blow or an injustice. They don’t know what it’s like—just walking into a room and loving a stranger. For an aging man, Pyle, it’s very secure—she won’t run away from home so long as the home is happy.’” –The Quiet American

While TQA does not exactly rob the female character of all agency (she does make choices), her voice is not heard as an active part of the story. Two men claim to be in love with her and fight for her in their own ways – but neither can possibly know her. The older, more cynical of the two (the book’s narrator and anti-hero) knows he cannot know her and acknowledges and accepts the transactional quality of their relationship. The “quiet American” (Pyle) meets the woman one night and claims, after having shared a virtually wordless dance (they don’t speak any of the same languages) that he is completely in love with her and wants to marry her. (I’ve seen variations of this ‘insta-love’ played out among people I know, particularly in cases with these non-communicative dynamics at play – when lust is essentially the only factor the lovesick individual can be relying on.)

On an entirely different note, The Quiet American is set against a backdrop of post-colonial Vietnam – the French are leaving and the Americans are rolling in. The titular quiet American is the… all-American/pro-American, naive, anti-Communist, black-and-white type who sees none of the nuance of the culture or the conflict, i.e. insisting that the Vietnamese “don’t want Communism”, not seeming to grasp that many Vietnamese – like people in any country – aren’t for or against ideologies. They just want to live.

“‘They don’t want Communism.’

‘They want enough rice,’ I said. ‘They don’t want to be shot at. They want one day to be much the same as another. They don’t want our white skins around telling them what they want.’

‘If Indo-China goes …’

‘I know the record. Siam goes. Malaya goes. Indonesia goes. What does “go” mean? If I believed in your God and another life, I’d bet my future harp against your golden crown that in five hundred years there may be no New York or London, but they’ll be growing paddy in these fields, they’ll be carrying their produce to market on long poles wearing their pointed hats. The small boys will be sitting on the buffaloes. I like the buffaloes, they don’t like our smell, the smell of Europeans. And remember—from a buffalo’s point of view you are a European too.’

‘They’ll be forced to believe what they are told, they won’t be allowed to think for themselves.’

‘Thought’s a luxury. Do you think the peasant sits and thinks of God and Democracy when he gets inside his mud hut at night?’

‘You talk as if the whole country were peasant. What about the educated? Are they going to be happy?’

‘Oh no,’ I said, ‘we’ve brought them up in our ideas. We’ve taught them dangerous games, and that’s why we are waiting here, hoping we don’t get our throats cut. We deserve to have them cut. I wish your friend York was here too. I wonder how he’d relish it.’

‘York Harding’s a very courageous man. Why, in Korea …’

‘He wasn’t an enlisted man, was he? He had a return ticket. With a return ticket courage becomes an intellectual exercise, like a monk’s flagellation.’

…They didn’t answer: just lowered back at us behind the stumps of their cigarettes. ‘They think we are French,’ I said.

‘That’s just it,’ Pyle said. ‘You shouldn’t be against York, you should be against the French. Their colonialism.’

‘Isms and ocracies. Give me facts. A rubber planter beats his labourer—all right, I’m against him. He hasn’t been instructed to do it by the Minister of the Colonies. In France I expect he’d beat his wife. I’ve seen a priest, so poor he hasn’t a change of trousers, working fifteen hours a day from hut to hut in a cholera epidemic, eating nothing but rice and salt fish, saying his Mass with an old cup—a wooden platter. I don’t believe in God and yet I’m for that priest. Why don’t you call that colonialism?’

‘It is colonialism. York says it’s often the good administrators who make it hard to change a bad system.’

‘Anyway the French are dying every day—that’s not a mental concept. They aren’t leading these people on with half-lies like your politicians—and ours. I’ve been in India, Pyle, and I know the harm liberals do. We haven’t a liberal party any more—liberalism’s infected all the other parties. We are all either liberal conservatives or liberal socialists…” – The Quiet American

Entertaining/informative/thoughtful or some combination thereof

*Cancer Ward/Раковый Корпус Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I reread Cancer Ward after about 20 (or more) years, and this time read it in English and Russian. When I read it in English so many years ago, I found it engrossing but, as with all translations, wondered what nuances I was missing. Just like with Solzhenitsyn’s Ivan Denisovich, which I reread a few months ago, I found that the sentence structure in translation is very different. There is usually such clean simplicity in the Russian – that’s not to say it is simple language or prose. Rather, it just isn’t the verbose and over-egged English translation that marks most translation of Solzhenitsyn that I’ve read. Not that I want to go about attempting to translate anything myself – more power to those who take on such labors professionally. It’s just a blessing to be able to read the originals myself and compare the two.

“It was simply that we grow dull with the passing years. We grow tired. We lose all true talent for grief or for faithfulness. We surrender to time. Yet every day we swallow food and lick our fingers—in this respect we are unyielding. If we’re not fed for two days we go out of our minds, we start climbing up the wall. Fine progress we’ve made, we human beings.”

Coincidences

*CompulsionMeyer Levin

Once upon a time, my family moved into a house that had some hideous wallpaper adorning the walls of the extra bathroom. Apart from its obvious yellowing from age and being in a household of heavy smokers, it featured depictions of classic cars from the teens and 1920s, one of which was a Stutz-Bearcat. I don’t recall any longer what some of the other motors were, but the Stutz is fresh in my memory because every time my grandmother came to visit and went into that bathroom, she would emerge to tell the story of how infamous murderers Leopold and Loeb were, in part, caught because of their Stutz-Bearcat.

I am not sure how many times in my life I heard the story of the 1924 crime in which two young men, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, conceived of committing the “perfect crime” and then kidnapped and killed a young boy with whom they were vaguely acquainted. At some point I saw a film called Compulsion, which told the story of the crime, the ensuing investigation and the eventual trial that spared both Leopold and Loeb from received death sentences (thanks to their attorney, the famed Clarence Darrow). I didn’t know at the time (I must have been in high school) that the film was based on a fictionalized account of the crime and trial, also called Compulsion, written by Meyer Levin. I also had no idea that Levin’s book served as a kind of template/model for later true-crime writing that came later, e.g. Truman Capote‘s In Cold Blood. I eventually also saw a low-budget indie, Swoon, which dramatized the Leopold and Loeb story, and focused on the fact that the two men were involved in a homosexual relationship, which is something that the film version of Compulsion ignored and the book dealt with to some extent but, given the time of its publication, homosexuality was still widely referred to as some sort of sickness, mental illness or perversion.

It’s only recently that I decided to read the book – and found it to be a fascinating and more detailed look at the case and how it unfolded. I am sure my grandmother would be thrilled.

*Dangling ManSaul Bellow

Something about how the main character in this novella reacts and has increasingly violent, disruptive and unpredictable outbursts (“I feel I am a sort of human grenade whose pin has been withdrawn. I know I am going to explode and I am continually anticipating the time, with a prayerful despair crying “Boom!” but always prematurely.”) feels too familiar – reflections of all the people I have known (there have been too many) who throw fits about seemingly nothing and overreact to everything. It’s always frightened me, but it has come to anger me as well.

“Do you have feelings? There are correct and incorrect ways of indicating them. Do you have an inner life? It is nobody’s business but your own. Do you have emotions? Strangle them. To a degree, everyone obeys this code. And it does admit of a limited kind of candor, a closemouthed straightforwardness.”

While I can feel compassion for those who are clearly struggling with something – probably some form of mental illness – it always feels oppressive to live in the shadow of these kinds of people. In that sense, if it’s not mental illness that drives them to behave this way, it’s a way of being that robs others of their sense of security, safety and comfort and plants within them such fear that they never trust or can never, by extension, truly experience intimacy in their lives.

Reading this I was not as interested in the main character/narrator as I was in his wife and her inner life, about which, of course, we learn next to nothing. (Not unlike how I always want to dig deeper into Sonia in Crime and Punishment.) How does the narrator’s wife choose to stay with him, support him and live on edge all the time, never knowing when one of his outbursts is going to create a scene, turmoil in their lives (e.g. getting them kicked out of their house) or ultimately add to her already heavy burden?

Biggest disappointment (or hated/disliked)

*White TearsHari Kunzru

Recommended to me, I was hoping for something… else. I don’t know what that something else is/was, but it wasn’t what I got. It’s not that White Tears was bad – there are some compelling thoughts in it about cultural appropriation, about authenticity, exploitation and privilege. But I felt at times that it was just too taxing to read about these unlikable characters whose only identities (as was the point, I suppose) were intertwined with this endless search for this (artificial/non-existent) pinnacle of the real, the authentic… to the point of complete madness. However, poking fun at hipsters is always welcome.

“When you are powerless, something can happen to you and afterwards it has not happened. For you, it happened, but somehow they remember it differently, or don’t remember it at all. You can tell them, but it slips their minds. When you are powerless, everything you do seems to be in vain.”

said and read

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My goal, as stated, was to read 26 non-English-language books in 2018. I am on track, but I didn’t really intend to keep reading other books like a total fiend.  I suppose it’s like when you avoid something over which you have no self-control. (My grandmother might have called this lamentable lack of discipline ‘a potato-chip effect’. She could entirely avoid potato chips, but if she ate just one, she was not able to stop. Then again, my grandmother would also have found this kind of obsessive reading to be intoxicating and its own form of discipline, so I doubt she would have faulted me for it. Books are not, after all, potato chips.)

For nearly a decade I didn’t read much of anything. But crack open a book (or a screen in the case of an e-reader), and I’m done. You can’t pry me away from it. That’s not to say I don’t do anything else. It’s just that I never go anywhere without the Kindle. Every spare moment waiting or riding a train or plane or lying in bed trying to fall asleep is occupied with reading.

To achieve my actual goal I need to read two non-English-language books per month, and I am well into the second of the two. But I guess there must be about 18 other (English-language) books on the go at the same time. I really didn’t anticipate this.

And my one unequivocal recommendation is Masha Gessen’s The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. Sure, you kind of have to be interested in Russia, Russian history and non-fiction for this to appeal to you (although she has used several people’s journeys as ways into the story, making it feel more visceral and urgent than a lot of fiction). Several other books have been noteworthy: Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age (Bohumil Hrabal)… because it’s Hrabal. There’s no way to explain why it’s good or worth your time (and it might not be if this style doesn’t appeal to you); The Best We Could Do (Thi Bui), which is not my normal style. I don’t care for graphic/illustrated novels (this is more an autobio than a novel), but this was a moving exception. If you have interest in Vietnam, the refugees who left Vietnam after the long conflict and the way these people adapted in their new surroundings and how their children then adapted, this is a fresh and deeply humanizing take on a familiar story (familiar, perhaps, in a firsthand way to Vietnamese and American people at least).

So far I have not read anything I considered truly bad, but there were a few repetitive time wasters (e.g. a handful of books by comedian Frankie Boyle – not time-wasting per se… more just semi-lazy rehashing of his comedy material mixed with some semi-thoughtful left-wing opinions, and the inane autobio of Lauren Graham, whom I dislike anyway, so I can’t explain why I read it. It may just be an extension of my “hate watching” of certain TV shows, notably and related in this case, Gilmore Girls and Parenthood). It could be that I read these because they were readily available as e-books from the library. Yeah, sometimes this potent mix of lukewarm curiosity and convenience/availability will do it. Not just when it comes to books.

November came at last – Random gum soundtrack 2017

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Giving thanks: “November came at last…”
“Eight billion zeroes is still zero/If you got no heart” Random gum – November 2017

Listen on Spotify. Find some of the tracks below for download (which are not available on Spotify). Or request a physical copy – I’m not doing the large-scale CD burning/package endeavor en masse any longer, but if anyone wants a physical copy and a package with some random candy in it, please comment (will leave the comment private).

1. This is the Kit – “Les Plus Beaux”
2. I Was a King – “Frozen Disease” …November came at last…
Discovered while seeing Robyn Hitchcock in Oslo in October. Lovely Norwegians
3. Michou – “Maloya ton tisane”
Maybe the only time I’ll include a singer from Réunion…
4. Jessie Ware – “Selfish Love” …why do I do these things/I break you down just to get my way/darling you do it too/you tell me lies and I bend the truth…
5. Marjan – “Kavire Del”
In Iran again
6. Whitesnake – “Here I Go Again”
Nothing I thought I would ever include, but – as he does – SD randomly added it to his ‘repertoire’ and started singing it on the regular to make me laugh… and well, here it is. And it truly is the right song for him.
7. Robyn Hitchcock – “The Abyss” …I don’t know what is true/but my compass points to you/when it’s quivering like this/in the abyss…
For J. Finally got to see Hitchcock in Oslo in October after 30 years of waiting and wanting…
8. Vorderhaus – “Minor Activity” …love and regret I’ll never truly forget… 
9. The Cry – “Alone” …With a piece of paper as blank as night and the words don’t seem to come out right and you ask yourself again is this for me?…
10. Mai Lệ Huyền – “Có Ai Trên Đời Mà Không Yêu
Seems to go along with all the Vietnam-related stuff around me now (the Ken Burns documentary, the fiction I read just before that by Bao Ninh and the memoir by Tim O’Brien earlier in the year)
11. Chastity Belt – “Caught in a Lie” …I’ll take a shot of whatever you’ve got/But it’s not going down that easily…
Walla Walla. Thoughts of M
12. Laser & bas – “Spela Shoreline”
Sweden, of course
13. Orange Juice – “Rip It Up” …I hope to God you’re not as dumb as you make out…
Glasgow classic
14. Velvet Condom – “Samt und Stein”
15. Throbbing Gristle – “Hot on the Heels of Love”
16. The Sonics – “Psycho” …Tell me baby/Am I just your clown?…
1960s Tacoma. For SD, cut-out marionette
17. Crybaby – “I Cherish the Heartbreak More than the Love that I Lost” …a happy ever after, well, baby/it just wasn’t us…
18. Ariel Pink, Weyes Blood – “On Another Day” …now the soft attraction has gone…
“She’ll swear some weak excuse/To gain more time/Changing sides like friends/To satisfy her quicksand ego/When life falls short again/She’ll crawl away”
19. Promised Land Sound – “She Takes Me There” …it seems she’ll never let me in/like emotion is a sin…
Nashville
20. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – “Asshole” …she’ll do anything to make you feel like an asshole…
RIP Tom Petty; always think of the scene in the old sitcom Wings when the character Lowell claims that Tom Petty is the world’s handsomest man…
21. Cults – “I Can Hardly Make You Mine” …Still I lead on the days/like a loaded gun…
“But I know you’re not the one or the only/But we both know what it’s like to be lonely”
22. Jean-Louis Murat – “À mendiante rousse”*
I can never get enough of these musical treatments of Baudelaire
23. Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve – “Diagram Girl”
24. The Pastels – “Nothing to Be Done” …I’m ready for you, sweetheart/Now my mind is open wide…
More Glasgow, of course, and truth: “Remember what was meant to be this year/The past is a disaster/And the future’s coming faster now”
25. Otis Redding – “These Arms of Mine”
I dare you to not love Otis
26. Cigarettes After Sex – “I’m a Firefighter”
Wandering Oslo with Annette on a day when firefighters were everywhere; joking about chasing fireman cock for lunch, remembering Yoga Fireman from so many years ago
27. Alex Chilton – “Hey! Little Child”
28. Men I Trust – “Tailwhip” …I’m happy as I am/cause I’m leaving…
Montréal. “This country dog won’t die in the city”
29. Lia Pamina – “Cards on the Table” …I hide away from close encounters/I never let my feelings be known/I’d rather burrow deep into my hole…
Spain! What in the hell is going on in Spain? For J
30. Roy Orbison – “The Comedians” …it’s always something cruel that laughter drowns…
An Elvis Costello tune recorded by Roy Orbison; my mom and I have always joked about this song (especially the “who held the lever that could bring me down” lyric) even though it is quite sad
31. Bedřich Smetana, Wiener Philharmoniker – “The Bartered Bride, JB 1:100: Dance of the Comedians”
Czech Czech Czech. Love for Anne, Martina. Reminds me so much of Academic Decathlon in high school – love for Mike, Amanda, Terra, Leighanne, etc.
32. Nahid Akhtar – “Dil To Kya Cheez Hai”
33. Bubblegum Lemonade – “The Only Constant is Change”
Another constant: Glasgow
34. Camper Van Beethoven – “Sweethearts”
Like a slice of junior high school: “McDonnell-Douglas olive drab/They bear the names of our sweethearts/And the captain smiles, as we crash/Cause in the mind of Ronald Reagan/Wheels they turn and gears they grind/Buildings collapse in slow motion/And trains collide. Everything is fine”
35. Front 242 – “Tragedy >For You<” …With that skill that was hers alone/She drove her clutches into me/I was dumbfounded/She was hungry/She required me entirely…
Belgium. Reminds me of sophomore year in high school though I like this much better now than I did then. It’s great for staying awake during long, late-night drives
36. Danielle Dax – “Tomorrow Never Knows”
37. Jane’s Addiction – “I Would For You”
Another brand on the brain – junior high school, getting this album from my old friend Jeremy as a gift and not really appreciating it until much later, but isn’t that always the way?
38. LCD Soundsystem – “One Touch” …Complicated people never do what you’re told to…
39. Radial Spangle – “Patio Furniture” …it’s not gonna matter in a couple of days/it will all melt…
For my beloved, hardy, robust patio furniture
40. Aimee Mann – “Disappeared” …Somehow I wound up on your bad side/Til now, I guess I had a free ride…
41. Chaz Bundick Meets the Mattson 2 – “Star Stuff” …I could be wrong in saying/Everything falls into place…
42. Bunny Girls – “Why That Person?”
Korea
43. Hot Chocolate – “Heaven is in the Back Seat of My Cadillac”
I think this song is ridiculous. Right after I stumbled on it, I was at one of the Norway-Sweden border malls and saw this weird dude drive into the parking lot in a Cadillac (not a common car in Sweden) and then kept running into him inside the mall where he made a point of smiling creepily at me… ugh
44. St. Vincent – “Fear the Future” …In our bed, in our room/I come for you, come for me too…
45. Dolly Parton – “I Couldn’t Wait Forever”
46. Happyness – “Surfer Girl”
47. Kevin Morby – “Beautiful Strangers”
48. Martha Wainwright – “Ayoye”
49. On Dead Waves – “California” …The sun sets in California…
50. Monika – “Take Me With You”
51. Lea Porcelain – “Endlessly”
52. Onuma Singsiri – “Mae Kha Som Tam”
Thailand
53. Saint Etienne – “Out of My Mind” …Is this the end? I need to know/If it’s the start of something, where does it go?…
Love for Ben, Naomi
54. Jo Stafford – “The Gentleman is a Dope” …He’s somebody else’s problem/she’s welcome to the guy…
I do indeed enjoy cooking/baking while singing this at the top of my lungs
55. Jeremy Jay – “Airwalker” …Where can we go where the lights are low?…
56. Cabaret Voltaire – “Spies in the Wires” …ingenuity my secret rival…
57. Beck – “Up All Night”
Another good one for driving in the middle of the night
58. Heron Oblivion – “Beneath Fields” …Dreams from the days of suffering…
59. The Apostles – “Don’t Huzzle for Love”
Nigeria
60. Frank Zappa, The Mothers of Invention – “Trouble Every Day”
Timeless, thus timely, spot-on shit
61. Vincent Delerm – “Super Bowl”
Because who doesn’t pretend to like Joe Montana with ulterior motives?
62. Delicate Steve – “Don’t Get Stuck (Proud Elephants)”
For the dainty SD
63. Jessica Lea Mayfield, Dan Auerbach – “(David Bowie I Love You) Since I Was Six”
64. Laibach – “Sympathy for the Devil (Time for a Change)”
Another take on a classic… from Slovenia
65. Death in Vegas – “Dirt”
66. Dent May – “Face Down in the Gutter of Your Love”
67. Oumou Sangaré – “Koukoun”
Mali
68. Fiji Mermaid – “Lipsticked Lips of Yore” …transfixed by the lipsticked lips of yore…
For J.
69. Arik Einstein – “Beit Ha’arava”
Israel: the mystery man uncovered
70. Y La Bamba – “Orca”
Portland, Oregon
71. Jacky – “Dog and Pony Show”
For Martina; hoping she is not in a new dog-and-pony show
72. Eleftheria Arvanitaki – “Ta Schoinia”
Greece
73. Keren Ann – “My Name is Trouble” …My game is endless I tend to obsess/No game is up to my need to possess…
Worldly: Paris/New York/Tel Aviv
74. Echo & the Bunnymen – “Seven Seas”
Always loving the way “tor-TOYZ” gets pronounced; pretty sure this song will remind me of Halt & Catch Fire and Gordon Clark for the rest of my life
75. Death and Vanilla – “Moogskogen”
It will not surprise you that this is Swedish/from Malmö
76. Tropic of Cancer – “Distorted Horizon”
77. Maysa – “Vai Via Malinconia”
Brasil
78. Eivør – “Silvitni” …og eg gloymi mína óró/minnist aftur mína eydnu…
It won’t be often you’ll get something Faroese
79. Goat – “Talk to God”
A strange one from Sweden
80. Insecure Man – “Subaru Nights”
81. Mehrpouya – “Soul Raga”
Persian pop time
82. Part Time – “Honey Lips”
83. Googoosh – “Talagh”
Quite the mix: Iran-Azerbaijan
84. Robyn Hitchcock – “I Want to Tell You About What I Want” …I want a non-invasive kind of telepathy…
“You think I’m un-generous? Really? In what way?/The more you give someone the more they want from you”. “We’re replacing ourselves with artificial thought/And that could be our legacy/Before the feline dynasty/Scampers over history”
“Eight billion zeroes is still zero/If you got no heart”
85. Marching Church – “King of Song”
Denmark. Somehow this song also seems ideal for driving
86. Kleenex/LiLiPUT – “Die Matrosen”
Switzerland all-girl band, late 70s/early 80s; sadly the guitarist died last year
87. Jim James – “Same Old Lie”
Seems to be a social protest song of sorts; good timing
88. Reigning Sound – “Never Coming Home” …Upon each broken part of my heart/is the wear and tear of many years…
The American South. This sounds like something from many decades ago, maybe not only because of the sound but because of the reference to a “long-distance call”, which used to be such a big deal
89. Eleftheria Arvanitaki – “Fysa Psychi Mou”
One of those random discoveries in college
90. Holy Shit, Ariel Pink – “Written All Over Your Face” …Truth, it never really came between us…
“Keep every little scrap of paper/You never know what you’re gonna need/Your memories are sad distractions/Get so bright you can’t even see”
91. Talking Heads – “Psycho Killer” …Don’t touch me I’m a real live wire…
92. Jack Cooper – “North of Anywhere” …Too scared to say the wrong thing…
93. Takako Minekawa – “Fantastic Cat”
The Japanese and their cat love. I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like cats
94. Rotary Connection, Minnie Riperton – “I Am the Black Gold of the Sun”
95. Natalia Lafourcade, Los Macorinos – “Mexicana Hermosa”
For Martina
96. Robyn Hitchcock – “Light Blue Afternoon” …and there’s no derailing destiny/she’s a single-minded girl…
“If you were not so aggressive/I’d feel pity in my heart/but your rage is so possessive/I just don’t know where to start”
97. Martina Topley-Bird – “Valentine” …they release you then you turn to see/Make it feel all right/The only thing is that I didn’t…
Somehow always makes me think of dear Jane. “I feel around and still you’re here”
98. St. Vincent – “Slow Disco”
Perfection: “Am I thinking what everybody’s thinkin’?/I’m so glad I came, but I can’t wait to leave”
99. Jean-Louis Murat, Morgane Imbeaud – “Héautontimorouménos”*
“Pour abreuver mon Saharah/Jaillir les eaux de la souffrance/Mon désir gonflé d’espérance/Sur tes pleurs salés nagera”
100. Broadcast – “Echo’s Answer …the message sent was of discontent/from incline to incline…

*Amazing songs but not available on Spotify.

Image (c) 2017 Stephen Donaghy