Sunday, 23 April 2017

THE PRIVATE MEMOIRS AND CONFESSIONS OF A JUSTIFIED SINNER by James Hogg

The first appeal of this book is that the author was an eighteenth century shepherd who taught himself to read. It’s not so often that the illiterate get a look in. It’s a strange story, full of unreliable narrators, including the author himself, who appears as a shepherd in the story.

It’s a thriller whose thrill is based on the Calvinist theory of predestination. Yes, you read that right. Apparently predestination was a hot topic in the eighteenth century. It’s the idea that as the saved are a chosen people, and as God has planned your life in advance, if you are one of the chosen you are always chosen, no matter what you do: you can’t sin yourself out of your pre-determined salvation, even by sinning a lot. This makes a sort of sense, if you think about it a lot, and shows the dangers of thinking a lot on anything. Logic has a lot of dead ends.

Predestination was I guess a kind of a cultural madness, and Hogg attempts to show this by taking it to its furthest extreme. A young man who believes himself saved is approached by another young man (‘Gil Martin’) and encouraged to think that it is his duty to smite the unbelievers. He’s hesitant, but is eventually convinced that even if he is in the wrong, he is saved in any case, so any error cannot keep him from heaven. He starts by smiting a local parson with whom he disagrees on some microscopic points of doctrine, and it goes downhill from there. It’s obvious to the reader from the beginning that Gil Martin is probably Satan, and over time it becomes horribly obvious to the young man also, who is driven to ever more desperate measures.

It made me think about the young men who join Daesh. It must take real courage to do what you think is right, and more courage to realise you were wrong, and an even more terrible courage to do anything about it.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

BEL CANTO by Ann Pratchett

This sounded like it was going to be good: 50 wealthy people taken hostage and held by terrorists for four months in a ballroom. But I found it unfortunately rather bad: a great premise, but a lame and unlikely story.

First thing that was unlikely: there is an opera singer among the hostages, who decides she needs to practice, and so sings for two hours a day - and the people ACTUALLY LIKE IT. This strains credulity. I can’t imagine anything worse than being imprisoned and then made to listen to opera. I think this is supposed to be some kind of reflection on the universal redemptive power of great art but I guess what I learnt is that I don’t believe in that power.

Second thing unlikely: this opera singer and some man fall in love, despite not speaking the same language. I think this is supposed to be some kind of reflection on love existing on a plane beyond language. I guess I also don’t believe in that.

Third thing unlikely: one of the hostages and one of the terrorists fall in love. This, despite a truly vast gap in class and experience in violence. I guess I do believe in Stockholm Syndrome, but I don’t think that’s what Pratchett was going for.

In short, I guess this book was educational. I learnt I don’t believe either art or love conquer all.

Monday, 17 April 2017

BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL 1762-1763 by James Boswell, edited by Frederick A Pottle

I don’t suppose many people read Boswell, and those who do probably don’t begin with his lesser works. But there you go: such are the perils and pleasures of not letting the Amazon algorithm suggest what you read, but rather the mysterious inner workings of a charity shop at Clapham Junction.

The algorithm rationally assigns you what you would probably enjoy (i.e., the big classic: Boswell’s Life of Johnson). The British Heart Foundation shop erratically suggests the reading preferences of whoever has died that week. This I really quite enjoy, as for some reason this particular charity shop has really rather highbrow donors. It’s surprising. I suspect it is because readers of similar tastes go there, and so donate there, and so go there. It’s me and a bunch of OAPs, would be my guess. So that’s the story of why I am reading a relatively obscure 18th century diary in an even more obscure 1950 edition the cover of which I struggled to find on Google images for your thumbnail enjoyment.

I love a good diary. There is something extraordinarily reassuring in seeing the day-to-day of someone else’s life, even if that someone has been dead for 200 years. Here’s a flavor, from the footnotes:
About this time he (Boswell) began also to write a series of memoranda, one octavo page every day, apparently jotted down the last thing before he went to bed or the first thing in the morning before he put on his clothes. In them he tells himself, always in the second person, what to eat, what to wear, what supplies to get in, what books to read; makes schedules for calls; gives directions for pleasures; orders himself to keep his journal posted; implores himself to try to attain to greater gravity.

It’s touching to see how other people suffer days when they are down, for no reason; that other people have to make resolutions; have to find self-control, and exercise that boring daily discipline of happiness. It’s particularly touching to read the diary of someone in their early twenties, as I don’t think that’s something often preserved (unless they are a suicide). I’m struck by how much time Boswell spends resolving on ‘manner’ – on being this or that type of person. I recall that from my twenties, and it’s interesting to see I don’t seem to do that anymore. Perhaps I am actually an adult.

There’s also a charming and sometimes horrifying flavor of 18th century London. Boswell is always to be found drinking coffee, going to the theatre, eating in chop houses, etc. Here we are with a prostitute (he’s always having sex with these poor women in the street):
In the Strand I picked up a little profligate wretch and gave her sixpence. She allowed me entrance. But the miscreant refused me performance. I was much stronger than her, and volens nolens pushed her up against the wall. She however gave a sudden spring from me; and screaming out, a parcel of more whores and soldiers came to her relief.
I have a lot of questions that I don’t really want answered about all of that. Near the end of his diary Boswell finally meets Johnson, and we see here his first notes that would become the famous Life. It’s enormously quotable, and makes me feel I need to work on polishing my conversational knife a little further:
Sir, I was once a greater arguer for the advantages of poverty, but I was at the same time very discontented. Sir, the great deal of arguing which we hear to represent poverty as no evil shows it to be evidently a great one. You never knew people laboring to convince you that you might live very happily upon a plentiful fortune.
And:
Mr Johnson said today that a woman’s preaching was like a dog’s walking on his hinder legs. It was not done well, but you were surprised to find it done at all.
Also charming are the editor’s almost insanely detailed, and sweetly dated, footnotes, which clearly mark how much this academic loves this man. Example - Boswell is busy with another prostitute, and the editor comments: “ ‘roger’ of course has a different meaning today, in this age of radio-telephony”

I love that line of Alan Bennett’s about reading being "as if a hand has come out and taken yours” from across time. This book made me feel like that, in the best possible way.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

BROOKLYN by Colm Toibin

This is a wonderful novel, deeply engaging, remarkably concise; creating a world and characters you care about in a brief 250 pages. It is at the same time entirely forgettable. It's a strange mixture. I felt like I just swallowed it whole and now it's over and I have some kind of eater's remorse.

BROOKLYN tells the story of a young Irish woman who moves to America, leaving behind her widowed mother and sister, as she is unable to find work at home. She is deeply unhappy at first, but finally finds love with an Italian. It's an interesting window into a truly immigrant New York, where she has to be trained in how to eat spaghetti before she goes to meet his parents. Then SPOILER ALERT her sister dies, and her boyfriend asks that she marries him before she goes home to see her mother, as he is scared she will never return. She does so, secretly, thinking it a little silly, as she fully intends to come back. Once in Ireland, she finds out - as do many who return home - that home is strangely powerful. Almost immediately America disappears like a dream, in the scary way that not-here can do.

She meets someone new, and it turns out it was smart of her Italian to get the marriage done before she left. It comes out, the world being a small place even before the internet, and she heads back to America, wiser now, confident that home too can disappear, given time.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

EMPIRE OF THE SUN by JG Ballard

Anthony Burgess called EMPIRE OF THE SUN "an incredible literary achievement," and he's not wrong. It's a remarkable work. I am perhaps the more struck by it because I first read a much earlier and less sucessful book of Ballard's - THE DROWNED WORLD - which, though a sci-fi set in London, has many of same themes: apocalyptic collapse; loneliness; final decisions. It's fascinating to see a writer take the same set of pre-occupations and move them from middling to masterpiece.

The book is based on Ballard's own experience of spending his early adolescence in a Japanese prison camp during the second world war. The Ballard proxy, a child named Jim, lives a privileged life in Shanghai until he is about ten, when the war comes and he is interned. Let's caveat though that privileged is perhaps a relative term, as pre-war Shangai sounds fairly intense. The Chinese are taking it to the next level with frequent "public stranglings" and some delicious street snacks
He turned away, tripping over the charcoal brazier in which a pavement vendor was frying pieces of battered snake. Drops of fat splashed into the wooden bucket, where a single snake swam, thrashing itself as it leapt at the hissing oil.

Yum. After a little while interned in the camp with 3000 others, the fried snake starts to sound pretty good. The prisoners get very little to eat, and go from picking out the weevils to cherishing them for their protein. It's interesting to see particularly how pragmatically the child handles the war. The adults are bogged down in morals and sentiment, but Jim isn't burdened with any of that. Here he is thinking about a doctor he meets who has made a passing comment on dentistry:
He was suspicious of the physician, of his long legs and his English manner and his interest in teeth. Perhaps he and Basie would team up as corpse-robbers? Jim thought about the goat which Dr Ransome wanted to buy from the Japanese. Everything he had read about goats confirmed that they wree difficult and wayward creatures, and this suggested that there was something impractical about Dr Ransome. Few Europeans had gold teeth, and the only dead people the doctor was likely to see for a long time would be Europeans.

The peace proves more dangerous than the war. Once the Japanese leave them, they have no more food, and no one to protect them from the various other starving groups: the communists, the nationalists, the civilians. Then the Americans start dropping canisters of food from their planes. Jim manages to find one, which is full of Spam.
Smiling to himself, Jim thought of his mother - he could no longer remember her face but he could all too well imagine her response to the Spam.

The book is fantastically interesting historically, emotionally compelling, and very beautifully written. Much of the book is, bizarrely, given its subject matter, very lovely. Particularly, there is a focus on the beauty of aviation. Jim develops an elaborate fantasy life around the airplanes he sees in the sky, mixed up with the dark time he spends as slave labour on a kamikaze plan runway.
The whiteness of the runway excited Jim, its sun bleached surface mixed with the calcinated bones of the dead Chinese, and even perhaps with his own bones in a death that might have been.
It's a remarkable translation of horror into poetry.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

LIFE AND FATE by Vasily Grossman

As the title suggests, LIFE AND FATE is a novel with a wide scope. It's a gigantic account of Stalinist Russia, mostly during the second World War, written by someone who was there: who survived the siege of Stalingrad; who lost his mother to the Holocaust; who took items from Hitler's desk immediately after his death; and who of course - in the best tradition of all truly important Russian novelists of the twentieth century - saw his own novel kept from publication till all relevant people, including himself, were dead.

To give you some measure of how vast it is, and how difficult it is to write any kind of pathetic little blog post on it, let me tell you the list of characters alone is eight pages long. And it's desperately needed, as you move wildly around from Stalingrad, to kolkhozes, to death camps (on both the Fascist and Soviet sides), to Moscow laboratories, to minor Ukranian towns, to the Lubyanka. This last is a major prison in Moscow, in which I spent so much time in Solzhenitsyn's THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO that it was like meeting an old friend.

I read some years ago the autobiography of Lenin's wife (hilariously pictured below), and was struck then by what seemed an almost insane level of idealism. There was lots of sitting around in cellars with your three friends from university and talking about how you were going to bring down Tsarist Russia. Then incredibly they actually did bring down Tsarist Russia, not without some serious weeping in the streets of Zurich while singing the Internationale.
And you see in this book the end point of this kind of wild belief in a better future. There is a long dark shadow of "1937" across this book, which is a kind of code for talking about Stalin's purges. I'd heard of these before, but in this book I really learnt of their scale. Almost the entire leadership of every area was executed (or "sentenced to ten years without right of correspondence," i.e., executed). This meant huge number of highly capable people were lost, but as the system insisted on confessions, and denunciations, and 'evidence,' it also left behind an even larger number of people carrying an enormous - and in some cases - unbearable burden of guilt, for providing the requisite denunciations and evidences. And yet somehow many people still convinced themselves that the state was still fundamentally right, and revolutionary justice was outside the realms of ordinary justice. People informed on each other left and right, and felt alright about themselves while doing it. Overall, it makes some African dictatorships I know of look pretty good.

In fact, this book made my life overall look pretty great. Try this, on the siege:
The German air raids stopped at dusk. A man arriving in Stalingrad at night, deafened by the guns, might well imagine that some cruel fate had brought him there just as a major offensive was being launched. For the veterans, however, this was the time to shave, to wash clothes and write letters; for the turners, mechanics, solderers and watchmakers this was was the time to repair clocks, cigarette-lighters, cigarette-holders, and the oil-lamps made from old shellcases with strips of greatcoats as wicks.
Or this, on life in the Russian military:
All his life as a soldier he had been afraid of having to account for lost ammunition and ordnance, lost fuel, lost time; afraid o fhaving to explain why he had abandoned a summit or crossroads without permission. Not once had he known a superior officer show real anger because an operation had been wasteful in terms of human lives. He had even known officers send their men under fire simply to avoid the anger of their superiors, to be able to throw up their hands and say: 'What could I do? I lost half my men, but I was unable to reach the objective'

While dark, the world of the book is also hilarious and very weird. This is because I think it is pretty much written direct from life. Grossman himself was asked to denounce people, and did so. So he knows what he means when he speaks of guilt. Try these conversations from Stalingrad:
"He's a fine fellow. A Bolshevik. A true Stalinist. A man with experience of leadership. And stamina. I remember him from 1937. Yezhov sent him to clean up the military district. Well, I wasn't exactly running a kindergarten myself at that time, but he really did do a thorough job. He was an axe - he had whole lists of men liquidated."
Apparently that's how we speak about the security organs. And here we are on the correct Stalinist view of women:
"She's got legs like a stork, no arse worth speaking of, and great cow-like eyes. Call that a woman?"
"You just like big tits," Chentsov retorted. "That's an outmoded, pre-revolutionary point of view."

I could go on. I think I've given you a flavour of maybe ten percent.




Saturday, 25 February 2017

THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM by Cixin Liu

I haven't read much Chinese fiction, and certain never any Chinese science fiction. It is plenty weird. First, it is written by a former software engineer and it shows. How delightfully loopy is this:
Battles like this one raged across Beijing like a multitude of CPUs working in parallel, their combined output, the Cultural Revolution.
. Or this reflection on a woman the protagonist is in love with:
Wang subconsciously thought of her as the long-obsolete DOS operating system: a blank, black screen, a bare “C:>” prompt, a blinking cursor. Whatever you entered, it echoed back. Not one extra letter and not a single change. But now he knew that behind the “C:>” was a bottomless abyss.

The story covers the first contact of humanity with an alien civilization, who are seeking to leave their planet, Trisolaris, because it has a catastrophic climate driven by the fact that is has three suns. This is the 'three body problem' that the aliens spend many millenia trying to solve. It's a major achievement to make a math problem into an exciting element of your novel's plot, and Liu doesn't manage it. I skipped a lot of this part, not least because it was unfolded in a - wait for it, this is so dorky - video game. Important note, prospective authors: just as dreams are boring in ordinary fiction, so are video games in science fiction.

Back on our planet, a Chinese astrophysicist who has lost her family in the Cultural Revolution manages to send a message out beyond our solar system. She gets a reply, which is incredibly: "Do not answer! Do not answer! Do not answer!" It is sent by a pacifist on Trisolaris who knows that if the Trisolarins can figure out where the messages are coming from they will come to take over the Earth. In an awesome twist, the astrophysicist immediately responds. She is furious with humanity for what has happened to her family and believes that we deserve what is coming to us. Even more awesomely, the Trisolarins immediately do two things: send out a fleet to reach us, and begin to plot how to kill or confuse all our physicists. They are not afraid of our current armaments, but of what our science could do; and most particularly of what the physicists could do, as no major breakthrough happens without them. It's not often you think of physicists as our first line of defence.

Anyway, despite what has turned into a generally positive review, and the fact that this book won the Hugo I thought it was kind of boring. The characters are truly impressively thin, and the plot while fun was deeply questionable. On the other hand, it was not quite like anything else I've ever read, so I'm glad I blitzed through it.

Monday, 20 February 2017

THE HEART OF THE MATTER by Graham Greene

As an African national, I've always found it rather depressing that despite all the impact the British had on our continent we were not even an important part of their Empire. India was the jewel. We were just: there. And even within Africa, there was a heirarchy - South Africa and Nigeria at the top, and somewhere towards the bottom countries like Sierra Leone. This book tells the story of some sad British officials in Sierra Leone, and shows that at least some of the colonizers apparently felt they were having almost as bad a time as the colonized.

Freetown is all men on their way up or on their way down. Inspector Scobie is among the latter, and a rarity among the British in that city, in that he actually like Sierra Leone, and would like to stay there. He is not promoted however, and his wife is miserable at the idea of spending her life there with a minor official. A man so upright he is almost abnormal, Scobie agonises over taking a loan from a local businessman to be able to send his wife to South Africa. He does it in the end, and once she has left, he falls into an affair with a much younger woman. His wife changes her mind and comes home again, and he now is trapped: he feels bad for his wife, and bad for his mistress. Then major plot twist: his wife insists he attends Communion with her. Yes, I also didn't find this to be a major plot twist. But it clearly is to Graham Greene, and to his creation Scobie. He can't face the dishonesty, and so - he tells his wife the truth. Just joking! He tells his mistress the truth. Just joking! He doesn't do either of these rational things. He kills himself.

For all that I mock its ending, I really rather liked this book. It is, as ever with Greene, elegantly written, and evokes a wonderful sense of Sierra Leone in the second world war. Try this lovely description of a new arrival: "Wilson sat on the balcony of the Bedford Hotel with his bald pink knees thrust against the ironwork. It was Sunday and the Cathedral bell clanged for matins. . . . (He) stroked his very young moustache and dreamed, waiting for his gin-and-bitters." Wilson will later fall in love with Scobie's wife, and here he sees Scobie for the first time:
He couldn't tell that this was one of those occasions a men never forgets: a small cicatrice had been made on the memory, a wound that would ache whenever certain things combined - the taste of gin at mid-day, the smell of flowers under a balcony, the clang of corrugated iron, an ugly bird flopping from perch to perch.

THE HEART OF THE MATTER captures a kind of overwrought moral universe that in some ways rather dates it; but for me at least it also rather made me reflect how many of my own problems might be self-created. As a side point, I do want to close by saying that it does includes a scene so common in literature as to be almost archetypal: a young man having a terrible time at a brothel. I wish I had begun at the start of this blog counting how many of these scenes I read. It's incredible how many of them there are, relative to how few there are about the people who are really having a bad time in brothels. But I guess prostitutes don't have that much time for writing.





Saturday, 18 February 2017

LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding

It's great to re-read a classic and find out it's still a classic. One feels like this one in particular ought to have aged, with its nuclear anxiety and its public school boys, but I found it still as fresh as this morning's coffee.

LORD OF THE FLIES tells the story of a group of school boys whose plane crash lands on an island with no adults. It all then goes fairly wrong, fairly fast. It's high school with the brakes off.

LORD OF THE FLIES was Golding's first novel, and was written when he was working as a school teacher. It certainly shows - he understands the world of children very well, and I like the idea of him sitting at his desk in class, imaginging which of his children would be the first to be picked off, and by who, once the adults were out of the way. It's a compelling, child-eye view of the world which is rare in fiction. Here they are, off to find the monster they think hides in the mountains: "the darkness and desperate enterprise gave the night a kind of dentist's chair unreality." By the end you are truly afraid of the twelve-year-olds, and it is a real shock when an adult finally arrives on the island, and you see one of the most frightening characters suddenly reduced to "a little boy who wore the remains of an extraordinary black cap on his red hair and who carried the remains of a pair of spectacles on his waist."

It's a fantastic idea for a novel, fantastically well executed. Reading the author's biography, I see Golding continued to write for the rest of his life, but never again achieved such success. One always feels for those for whom success comes at the beginning, making all else an anti-climax; but I guess that's still way better than no success at all. Rather one classic to your name than - as with the rest of us - none.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

THE GROUP by Mary McCarthy

I'm always suspicious of books famous for breaking down taboos, and particularly of books that were banned. Very often, on reading them, one finds a rather so-so story, and realises they're only famous because they were salacious. I thus was hesitant about THE GROUP at first. Then I found out that stupid Norman Mailer hated it, and called it "a trivial lady writer's novel". Naturally, I bought it immediately.

Mailer is famous for the THE NAKED AND THE DEAD, a truly dire 'manly man' novel about the Vietnam War which is all about the glory of gore, and is very obviously written by someone with virtually no experience of actual combat. So in short if he doesn't like something I probably will. And boy, do I. This is a fantastic novel, as fresh today as when it rolled off the presses in 1963, and, as the author Mary McCarthy put it, "ruined my life".

It tells the story of a group of women graduating from Vassar in the 1930s, and follows them for a few years. The writing is boisterous and delicious. Try this description:
She had been amazingly altered, they felt, by a course in Animal Behaviour she taken with old Miss Washburn who had left her brain in her will to Science) during their junior year. This and her work with Hallie Flanagan in Dramatic Production had changed her from a shy, pretty, somewhat heavy Western girl with black lustrous curly hair and a wild-rose complexion, active in hockey, in the choir, given to large tight brassieres and copious menstruations, into a thin, hard-driving, authoritative young woman, dressed in dungarees, sweat shirt, and sneakers, with smears of paint in her unwashed hair, tobacco stains on her fingers, talking airily of "Hallie" and "Lester," Hallie's assistant, of flats and stippling, of oestrum and nymphomania, calling her friends by their last names loudly — "Eastlake," "Renfrew," "MacAusland" — counseling premarital experiment and the scientific choice of a mate. Love, she said, was an illusion.
Or this, on a girl with a gift for a pointed description:
Kay used to take their love affairs, as Lakey once said, away from them and returned them shrunk and labeled, like the laundry.

They're in that first generation of women to get a chance at university, and reading about them really reminded me how joyful a thing is education, and how glad I am that I got a chance to have one. Here's one girl losing her virginity in probably a way no one before her had:
All sorts of weird, irrelevant ideas floated through Dottie’s head as the key turned in the lock and she found herself, for the first time, alone with a man in his flat. Tonight was midsummer’s night, the summer solstice, when maids had given up their treasure to fructify the crops; she had that in background reading for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her Shakespeare teacher had been awfully keen on anthropology and had had them study in Frazer about the ancient fertility rites and how the peasants in Europe, till quite recent times, had lit big bonfires in honor of the Corn Maiden and then lain together in the fields. College, reflected Dottie as the lamp clicked on, had been almost too rich an experience. She felt stuffed with interesting thoughts that she could only confide in Mother, not in a man, certainly, who would probably suppose you were barmy if you started telling him about the Corn Maiden when you were just about to lose your virginity. Even the group would laugh if Dottie confessed that she was exactly in the mood for a long, comfy discussion with Dick, who was so frightfully attractive and unhappy and had so much to give.

It's fascinating to be reminded about other parts of the past too - how's this question, asked at a party?
Does you mother know about iceberg lettuce? It's a new variety, very crisp, with wonderful keeping powers
.And fascinatingly there's a lot on contraception. I didn't realise that for a long time there was a fight through the courts to keep the diaphragm illegal. I mean, let's face it, there's a lot you can say about the patriarchy, but for sure it's not SHY. There's lots of interesting stuff on how awkward the diaphragm made dating, as the men usually kept 'the equipment,' and then had to return it to you when you broke up. You can see where poor McCarthy faced some serious blowback: the reading public were horrified/thrilled.

It's impossible to read a book of this period, if you're female, without being profoundly grateful you yourself did not have to live through it. One character is committed to a psychiatric hospital by her husband, to get her out of the way, and everyone acts like this is quite normal. Another almost gets raped, and no one she tells freaks out about it. I read some of this book with my jaw on the floor. Here's one character, Priss, who has a baby with her husband Sloan:
. . her doctor ordered her to put on lipstick and powder right in the middle of labour; he and Sloan both thought it was important for a maternity patient to keep herself up to the mark.
Let me take this moment to say stupid Norman Mailer didn't like the book because he felt that none of her characters has "the power or dedication to wish to force events". DUH YOU IDIOT THAT'S WHAT THE BOOK'S ABOUT. Priss' fondness for Sloan quickly deteriorates as he tries to make her roadtest his theories on breast feeding:
There was a side of Sloan, she had decided, that she mistrusted, a side that could be summed up by saying that he was a Republican. Up to now this had not mattered; most men she knew were Republicans - it was almost part of being a man. But she did not like the thought of a Republican controlling the destiny of a helpless baby.

Most of this post has focused on how the way the book captured a certain historical moment, but I think as with all really fine novels what will stay with me is the characters - their struggles with losing their virginity, with getting jobs, with men who say they'll leave their wives, with over-involved mothers - and all this while they struggle with being given the gift of an education that means they can't really live the lives their parents have laid out for them. It very much reminded me that the opportunities in my life - the education, the cosmetics-free birth experience, the expectation that if someone tries to rape me other people will freak out about it - all come to me from long lines of women, going back into the past, who did their best for themselves, and so for me.

In summary, it makes me feel really awful for Hillary Clinton.

THE PRIVATE MEMOIRS AND CONFESSIONS OF A JUSTIFIED SINNER by James Hogg

The first appeal of this book is that the author was an eighteenth century shepherd who taught himself to read. It’s not so often that the ...