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Catching up with Russia

5 Feb

I’m reading this book about a socialist, extremely “left” family in New York. A lot of the references in the characters’ dialogue and thought are about Marxist politics. It occurred to me, while reading about these characters, that I know next to nothing about Marx, and other socialist and communist philosophers and leaders. Lenin, Stalin, Castro … I know them as evil-doers only, I have no idea about what theories brought them into being and helped them overthrow entire governmental systems.  In school, when we thought about communist “regimes,” we were almost always referring to China. I know a small bit about China, just from taking Government classes, but some how, I missed Russian history and German philosophy.

So, without having late-night access to the library, I decided to start watching public documentaries on these leaders… I started with Lenin, and watched this. And then I moved to Stalin, and watched this:

Tomorrow, I am picking up a two-part documentary on Russia that I ordered from the local video store. And I need a book — something like “Russian History for Dummies” or something. I really want to understand all of this; I don’t want to be bombarded with thoughts and ideas (and words) that I have no chance of grasping. I need to read a book on Marx too, along the same lines. I’m worried anything about Marx will be too dense and hard.




31 Jan
As a kid, I remember my parents reading The English Patient. I remember my mom talking to someone about this book and explaining that she and my dad had to read it together, discuss it and figure out what was going on because it was difficult to understand and hard to follow. I’ve never read The English Patient and I never saw the movie, but I just read Divisadero, a novel by Michael Ondaatje, who is also the author of The English Patient.

I was originally drawn to this book because of the title, which is a major street in SF and one that I live close to, as I described in this post. I am really into books about SF, or at least have some part of San Francisco in their story line. It’s neat to read about a place and think “oh, yeah, I’ve been there,” or “ohhhh, that’s a totally different neighborhood now.” When I read the back of Divisadero and realized it was by the author of The English Patient, I was kind of scared. The synopsis of the book sounded good, but I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

The book was excellent! While the writing was not linear – I found it beautifully constructed. There were actually two stories to the book, both lived next to each other and played off one another with similar ideas, symbols and characters. Ondaatje is truly an artist with the way that he entwined these pieces and ideas. The book was relevant and thought-provoking. For me it was all about family, loneliness and personal histories. My favorite paragraph in the book:

All my life I have loved travelling at night, with a companion, each of us discussing and sharing the known and familiar behaviour of the other. It’s like a villanelle, this inclination of going back to events in our past, the way the villanelle’s form refuses to move forward in linear development, circling instead at those familiar moments of emotion. Only the rereading counts, Nabokov said. So the strange form of that belfry, turning onto itself again and again, felt familiar to me. For we live with those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives, the way shattered pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope reappear in new forms and are songlike in their refrains and rhymes, making up a single monologue. We live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell.

wall paper

26 Jan

A few months ago my room-mate chipped some of the paint off her wall. (We have these old walls – when you drive a nail into them several trails of cracks scurry from the point of impact.) When the top coat chipped off it took layers of other paint off the wall as well. Years of paint, eras of paint fell to the floor, revealing wall paper from decades past! The land lord claims that the building was established somewhere around 1910; and the small peak of wall paper that we saw looked pretty darn old. I’ve heard about people discovering crazy patterns underneath years of coverup  — offering a small look at what their home used to adorn on its walls. It was really cool to see that small piece of unexpected history.

I just happened to be perusing the clearance books at Green Apple the other day when I came across this gem: Off the Wall: Wonderful Wall Coverings of the Twentieth Century. It’s a great book, full of neat wall paper samples from the past century. AND, of course, I have some faves:

1950s American wallpaper

Scenic Late 1920s wallpaper

French wallpaper of the 1920s

French wallpaper from the 1920s

It’s really a shame that wallpaper isn’t as popular as it used to be.

Helping me, help myself

4 Apr

After a series of unfortunate events – I have decided to get organized. I’m starting with what I know – lists. I have started keeping several notebooks.



Budget book. I am actually going to keep track of my money and where it is going. In the past, my expenses have been minimal, so I was able to track $ without actually logging it. This is not the case anymore. Hence, the book. Towards the end of the mini-spiral, I keep a wish list.




“Culture” book. A simple moleskine notebook, with three tabs = everything I should read/see/listen to. I created tabs for “BOOKS,” “MUSIC,” and “MOVIES” and I have used this book everyday for the past few weeks. It’s really handy.


Of course, I’m still listing short-term and long-term goals (lest I forget!). And this weekend … I’m tackling the filing box that I haven’t touched since the summer. It’s time to help me help myself!!!!

Check Up.

20 Jan

(No, mom, contrary to the title, I have not seen a doctor or dentist… yet.)

So, my blogging has been dismal this month of January. The holidays seemed to fly by (too fast) and now here it is, January 20th. Inaguration Day. We have a new prez.

The book I was reading was Joan Didion‘s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. I can’t believe I never read her stuff as a Journalism minor (in college). It’s pretty astonishing — considering she was one of the most famous, non-fic, pseudo-journalists (by pseudo, I mean, she was a journalist, but also author and essayist) in the 50s/60s. Anyway, that’s where all the words came from. I liked reading something that made me not only think but learn new (smart) words. It inspired my friends to get me the book: 100 Words to Make You Sound Smart. I will use at least one of the words from that book in this post… it’s up to you to decide which word it is (it is NOT prez, just in case you were wondering ;)).

Now I’m reading another book I got for Christmas, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman. Klosterman is also a non-fic kinda author. He works on columns and non-fic books, and he has a few novels floating around out there. Is he the modern day Joan? No, of course not. But he critiques and brings forward certain (hip) parts of society. There’s small things the two have in common, I’ve noticed, in their content – not their style.

Anyway, I’m not that far into the Klosterman book, but I have read the first couple of rants. So far, it’s really brusque and man-centric. 

A point he focused on in the first piece is the idea that romantic comedies are ruining a generation. We all have these ideas of what love and relationships are supposed to be like. We get these ideas from movies and music and sitcoms that exotify love and “the relationship” to a point where it is hard to get a grip on what the reality of things are. A couple that we think are “cute” or “well-suited” or whatever, according to Klosterman, are just enacting in public, what they learned from Monica Gellar and Chandler Bing on Friends. This could be true. A  few years ago, I was head-over for this one guy. When distance separated us I poured an album of  Coldplay into my head for an entire 4 months of my life. The “relationship” in my head was one like what Chris Martin sings:

“Lights will guide you home…And ingnite your bones… And I will try… to fix you…”

In actuality, the “relationship” was much different, which crushed me (twice!). I had this fantasy that because this guy was in a band — he must be the Chris to my Gwyneth. I was wrong (twice!).

So, while Klosterman puts forth a very manly take on things — I can relate — and in some ways I agree. It’s easy to agree with him on this point when you are single.

are you wondering what book it is yet?

1 Dec
1. cistern: noun 
a reservoir, tank, or container for storing or holding water or other liquid.


2. coronet: noun 
a small crown


3. venality: noun 
the condition or quality of being venal; openness to bribery or corruption.
4. desultory: adjective 
lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful. 
5. mescal noun 
an intoxicating beverage distilled from the fermented juice of certain species of cactus.
6. ersatz noun 
an artificial substance or article used to replace something natural or genuine; a substitute.
7. bourgeois –noun 
a member of the middle class.
a person whose political, economic, and social opinions are believed to be determined mainly by concern for property values and conventional respectability.
a shopkeeper or merchant.

- adjective

belonging to, characteristic of, or consisting of the middle class.
conventional; middle-class.
dominated or characterized by materialistic pursuits or concerns.

8. fervent adjective

having or showing great warmth or intensity of spirit, feeling, enthusiasm, etc.; ardent: a fervent admirer; a fervent plea. 
hot; burning; glowing
9. pallor noun
unusual or extreme paleness, as from fear, ill health, or death; wanness.
10. immutable - adjective
not subject or susceptible to change or variation in form or quality or nature; "the view of that time was that all species were immutable, created by God"
11. lackeys - noun
1.  a male servant (especially a footman) 
2.  a person who tries to please someone in order to gain a personal advantage 

word to words.

19 Nov

The current book I’m reading makes me want to be smart again. So, I’m looking things up.


1. Concertina: [kon-ser-tee-nuh]

      noun. a musical instrument resembling an accordion but having button-like keys, hexagonal bellows and ends, and a more limited range.


2. Imperceptible: [im-per-sep-tuh-buhl]

        adjective. 1. very slight, gradual or subtle. 2. not perceptible; not perceived by or affecting the senses.

3. Gyre: [jahyuhr]

       noun. 1. a ring or circle. 2. a circular course or motion. 3. a ringlike system of ocean currents rotating clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere.

4. Talismanic: [talis-manik]

      adjective. Possessing or believed to possess magic power.

5. “Double Indemnity“: refers to a clause in certain life insurance policies where the insuring company agrees to pay twice the standard amount in cases of accidental death. The Academy Award nominated movie was made in 1944.


6. Acrimony: [ak-ruh-moh-nee]

    noun. sharpness, harshness, or bitterness of nature, speech, disposition.

7. “Stan Laurel“: English comic actor (of Laurel & Hardy)