Chronic illness flared—well, actually announced its presence quite dramatically—so I was sick for a week, which put me behind on almost everything. I got a lot of reading done, including some that I was supposed to do, but did not write up the Recommended Reading List at all. Then I did other things to cope with being behind, and this was the one thing I could put off, and put it off I did. I am just getting to it, in the middle of March, which makes this little opening a long apology for posting this near the end of the month.
I hope to have March’s up earlier in April, but I’m not holding my breath. And, because I’m hurrying this, books2read is acting up and taking its sweet time giving me links. Sometimes it only gives me the one I provided. (And made me switch services to find it.) So, sorry, you might have to go directly to your favorite store without benefit of a link. Sigh.
I am highlighting some of Teju Cole’s essays from his book, but I hadn’t finished the book when I wrote these. The full recommendation (positive) will be in March.
Anyway, here’s all the good stuff from February.
Cole, Teju, “Always Returning,” Known And Strange Things: Essays, Random House, 2016. A beautiful essay about writing and writing heroes and time passing and things unseen. Cole visits W.G. Sebald’s grave to honor that writer. (There’s an earlier essay on Sebald, which is wonderful, but I’m not sure it’s an easy read for those unfamiliar with his work.) This essay touches on a variety of things, from the cultural differences between the U.K. and the U.S, to the kindness of strangers, to the lenses through which we view every day.
Cole, Teju, “Gueorgui Pinkhassov,” Known And Strange Things: Essays, Random House, 2016. I have been thinking about this essay ever since I read it. I even mentioned it in a Business Musings blog post. It’s about artistry, Pinkhassov’s in particular. What caught me about the essay is his constantly changing use of the new tools in his toolbox. The essay was written at the time when the camera on the phone became ubiquitous and people started talking about the death of photography. Instead, some photographers took the camera phone as a challenge, and came up with ways to make this new tech work for them. There’s more to this essay, but that point resonanted with me, given what’s going on with AI right now. I’m still thinking about this, and probably will for some time.
Cole, Teju, “A True Picture of Black Skin,” Known And Strange Things: Essays, Random House, 2016. This book has an entire section on photography, and many of the photographs are inside the book. One photo is of a Black woman from 1963, done in black and white. The photo is titled Mississippi Freedom Marcher, Washington, D.C. 1963, and is by Roy DeCarava. I won’t go into Cole’s analysis here, except to agree with him: this photo is breathtaking. One thing the essay does, though, is discuss the difficulties of photographing Black skin, with tools designed to handle pale and reddish skin tones. White folks designed the cameras for white folks, which I suspect I knew, but hadn’t seen analyzed as well here as Cole does. Read this, and please, look at the photo.
Cole, Teju, “Unnamed Lake,” Known And Strange Things: Essays, Random House, 2016. In the middle of this essay, Cole gets to the point of the title–that there is an unnamed lake “underneath all reality” and “there are places where the ground, insufficiently firm, can suddenly plunge one through into the subterranean truth of things.” The essay explores this feeling in a very realistic way, but looks at the dark side of it. The nightmares. The dark visions that become a part of history. Cole wrote this essay long before the U.S. plunged into the darkness that Trump started feeding and which still echoes now. But this essay could have been written last year.
Feinberg, Scott, “When ‘You Have A Spark Toward A Story,'” The Hollywood Reporter, November 21, 2022. There’s so much wisdom in this round table that I can’t summarize it. It’s the possible nominees for best screenplay in awards season, featuring Tony Kushner, Jordan Peele, Martin McDonagh, Chinonye Chukwu, Rian Johnson, and Daniel Kwan, all talking about the craft of writing. Some, like Kwan, are new(ish). Others, like Kushner, have been writing a top level for decades now. The interaction and the discussions are so worth your time that I think you need to hurry over and read it right now.
McDermid, Val, The Distant Echo, HarperCollinsPublishers (UK), 2018 edition of a 2003 book. I’d been reading a lot of books about college students and murder, some good and some bad, throughout the year. Maybe it’s because I’m in school right now, although I’m not feeling very murdery. I’m just feeling behind. Anyway, the students in this book stumble on a dying woman in the snow in Fife at midnight. They try to save her, but fail. For their troubles, they become the main suspects in what becomes a horrific and famous murder….which goes unsolved, partly due to another death. So, the book skips ahead 25 years. Two of the no-longer young men die in mysterious circumstances, which makes the cold case hot again. The denouement is a bit overly dramatic, and I’m sorry to say, a baby is in jeopardy. But in my defense, I read about the dang jeopardy baby because it was born during the second investigation. (I’ll be honest: I angrily scanned the baby-jeopardy sections…after I checked the end to see if the kid lived.) I hated the baby-jeopardy part. It seems that McDermid went through a child-in-jeopardy phase, which I will address below.
The book is very good. I couldn’t put it down, even with the evil baby sections, which is why I’m recommending it with a warning for other tender souls like me. The book’s cover says “Introducing Karen Pirie,” which meant nothing to me, but apparently, there’s an entire TV series about her. She does get introduced here, very near the end, and never is a viewpoint character. Then, when I looked to see more about her and the series, I found that the first book after this one had…you guessed it…another damn kid in danger. Even though Pirie is a cold-case detective. So I skipped that one, but I bought the next few. More about that in next month’s Recommended Reading. Anyway, this is worth reading, if I haven’t spoiled too much of it for you.
Moody, Nekesa Mumbi, “‘How Do You Put This Beautiful Story into This One Tune?'”, The Hollywood Reporter, December 7, 2022. This is the songwriter round table from The Hollywood Reporter, as it guessed which songwriters would get tapped during awards season. The songwriters in the room were Diane Warren, Joe Jonas, David Byrne, Finneas, and Ruth B. Lots of expertise in the room, and lots of insights, not just about songwriting, but about storytelling. Read this one carefully.
Robinson, Lisa, “Everything’s Coming Up Lizzo, and It’s About Damn Time,” Vanity Fair, November 2022. I’m not sure I read a recent interview with Lizzo that actually takes the time to explain her history and her dedication to positivity. I do know that her song, “It’s About Damn Time,” got me through the summer of 2022 (on repeat, no less). That song won a much-deserved Grammy. I love her attitude, I love her work. I’d known a lot about her history, but not all of it, and that just makes her dedication to positive vibes even better.
If you want to see how artists survive and thrive, then read this. Lizzo is a great modern example of perseverance and turning that perseverance into art.
Steinem, Gloria, “A Call to Hope,” Vanity Fair, November, 2022. Like most feminists of my generation, I have mixed feelings about Gloria Steinem. She’s twenty years older than me, and some of her attitudes come from that earlier era. I remember the great things she’s done and the cringe-worthy missteps. So when I saw this essay that she wrote in Vanity Fair, I braced myself. I wasn’t sure which Gloria would be here. It was the inspiring Gloria, the one who has fought more battles than I can imagine, the woman who lived in a pre-Roe world, then the world of victory, only to see the Supreme Court try to force women back into the box that Gloria worked so hard at breaking us out of. I expected some vitriol here. Instead, the essay is filled with necessary hope. Please read this one.