#6Degrees of Separation June 2023

Very late to my favourite monthly meme, because I’ve had guests for a long weekend and all sorts of other things going on, so it’s all been full on and I wasn’t able to sit down at the computer even once. This month’s starting point for this literary association and linkage game hosted by Kate was Friendaholic by Elizabeth Day.

I haven’t read the book but, like the author, I have a tendency to say yes to anything for my friends, am extremely loyal, and go above and beyond for them… which can lead to exhaustion and occasional frustration. This is why I find most books about friendship a bit lacking, to be honest – but then, I suppose toxic or ambiguous friendships are more interesting to portray in fiction. Perhaps the most familiar portrayal of friendship (and similar to my own experience) is that multi-generational friendship in The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.

My next link is ‘Joy’ in the title, and the obvious one that comes to mind is the memoir by C. S. Lewis (of Narnia fame) Surprised by Joy – which I always thought was about his marriage to Joy Gresham, but in fact is about his spiritual journey from atheism to Christianity.

Another book that I completely misunderstood (or expected something very different) was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, which I thought was a book of fiction with yet another whimsical title, such as has become quite fashionable in the last decade, but is in fact all about the ethics of scientific research.

Speaking of whimsical titles, my next book has it in spades – and that is probably the reason why I will never read it: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.

I really need to dig myself out of this whimsical hole now, before I get sick. I will therefore turn to my beloved Dorothy Parker, who as a book reviewer called Constant Reader, said of Winnie-the-Pooh: ‘And it is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that makes the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up.’ Nobody can accuse Dorothy Parker of not being self-aware and arch and the very opposite of whimsical, but I suppose we shouldn’t take the cynicism of her debut volume of poetry Enough Rope literally – she was being a trifle too flippant, to disguise her own pain and suicidal tendencies.

So I will end with a slightly more escapist book, set during the 1920s and 30s when Dorothy Parker was active, namely Villa America by Liza Klaussmann, a fictional account about the real couple, both wealthy and glamorous, yet ultimately tragic, the Murphys, who ‘invented the French Riviera’ and were friends with Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso, Cole Porter… and Dorothy Parker.

Friday Fun: Window Seats in Home Libraries

In addition to ladders, all good home libraries require a comfy window-seat for reading and gazing aimlessly outside, preferably at an inspiring landscape.

I could happily sleep in that window-seat, in this off-grid house built by Highcraft Builders, from Highcraft.net
Combining ladders and window-seats sounds perfect, but I have some concerns about how accessible those books on the higher shelves really are. From home-designing.com
If the window-seat is taken, you can always use the armchair next to it, and enjoy the warmth of that stove, from The Spruce.
Even the smallest nook can offer that combination of books and comfortable seating, from My Domaine.
This one doesn’t look all that comfortable (a bit narrow), but it gets extra points for cat content, from Homes and Antiques.
Now that’s what I call a view, and a possible book club, from Pinterest.
A bit dark and gloomy, but oh, the comfort of those sofas/windowseats, photo credit: Aaron Leitz at The Nordroom.

Joanna Biggs: A Life of One’s Own

Joanna Biggs: A Life of One’s Own. Nine Women Writers Begin Again, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2023.

It is reassuring to see that other readers examine the lives and works of certain favourite authors as a sort of guide or inspiration for their own lives – or perhaps as a constant conversation with their own lives. Perhaps there is also solace to be found that in this day and age we have more opportunities as a woman than many of our forebears did, and also anger and sadness on their behalf – and perhaps a little for our own sake, that things have not progressed more since.

I was not surprised to see a blurb on the cover of this book from Francesca Wade, whose Square Haunting treads similar ground, exploring women’s aspiration to be financially and creatively independent. However, while that one was linked to a particular place (Mecklenburgh Square in London), this one is linked by Biggs’ own life. When her mother started suffering from early-onset dementia and her marriage fell apart, Biggs reassessed her life and revisited some of the most influential women writers as she was growing up. This was always going to be a personal, idiosyncratic selection; while I share some of her favourites (Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir and Sylvia Plath), I can’t help wishing she’d included some less widely-known authors, although I suppose Mary Wollstonecraft is nowadays mostly known as Mary Shelley’s mother. The other chapters include George Eliot, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison and Elena Ferrante, so there’s an attempt to introduce some diversity in terms of language, race and class.

Having said that I too mine other women writers’ works and lives for comparisons with my own life, I don’t think I’d have written a book about it. You’ll notice that the book only has eight chapters featuring eight women writers, but the subtitle mentions nine: the ninth being of course Biggs herself. She weaves her personal story throughout each chapter, which can sometimes be quite repetitive. It requires a certain amount of ego to draw parallels between herself and these women writers many of us have idolised. To be fair, I’m not sure that Biggs has that tremendous ego, but was probably advised by agents or publishers that this was a more unusual and interesting angle to approach what would otherwise be simply short biographies. Or add a hook to a memoir that might otherwise feel quite banal.

It is certainly a trend at the moment in literature: the auto-fiction of Knausgaard and Rachel Cusk, memoirs that feel like essays and link up with the author’s other interests (nature – Amy Liptrot, languages – Polly Barton and Mireille Gansel, travelling and property – Deborah Levy, health and community building – Tanya Shadrick and Polly Atkin), fiction that feels like memoirs (Jenny Offill). And on and on the list goes and I have to admit I like reading most of them. I wonder if blogging and appearing on social media has made the ‘I’ so much more interesting in narration. Instead of the long-vaunted (and perhaps mourned) ‘death of the author’, we have the author front, back and centre of any work.

Does it work? Well, a couple of times I felt the comparisons were a little forced and would have liked to see less of the author’s own tribulations. (Perhaps I’d have liked it more as a separate memoir, although the author chooses to remain relatively discreet about the details of the breakdown of her marriage.) Her personal reactions to these women, what they meant to her, and a more in-depth reading of some of their work (Maggie Tulliver as a heroine, or Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God, for example) are the most successful sections, to my mind. I resonated most with Biggs when she expresses her own relief at regaining her heroine Simone, freed from her concrete block as an icon, allowing her to be a flawed, real woman rather than an example to others. When she leaves enough room for the readers of her book to place themselves in that landscape, it is quite a powerful and enjoyable read, but does not add much that is new to our knowledge of those writers.

P.S. Thank you for Rohan Maitzen’s comment below, which reminded me of one book that combined the personal with the biographical and sensitive analysis in a way that really moved me and did bring a lot of new knowledge: Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City, which I reviewed for Shiny New Books.

Reading and Events Summary for May 2023

It’s been a very mixed month, not just in terms of the weather, but also with reading and life events. I read 15 books, of which 12 were by women authors, a record proportion I believe. Although my reading theme this month was the Far East, only four of the books were in translation, as many of the authors from that part of the world write in English. I was entranced by the gentle melancholy of How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart, and invigorated by the energy of Five Star Billionaire. I was charmed by the historical crime novel set in war-time Singapore The Mushroom Tree Mystery, a serendipitous discovery at Bristol CrimeFest. I was less enamoured of Rainbirds, but intrigued by the first novel I read set in Papua New Guinea, The Mountain.

In addition to the Far East, I also visited Mauritius via the powerful, poignant writing of Ananda Devi in Eve Out of Her Ruins, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman. I met another group of young people from very different backgrounds but equally directionless perhaps in Kaska Bryla’s The Ice Divers (Die Eistaucher). I also seemed to encounter quite a few women on the verge of a nervous breakdown (or maybe just beyond that point) in several books. Carlota Gurt’s Alone, translated by Adrian Nathan West, was quite a wild ride, although it started off conventionally enough. Baek Se-hee’s I Want to Die But I Want to Eat Tteokpokki, transl. by Anton Hur, is a very candid exploration of low-level but disabilitating depression and low self-esteem – and also fitted into my Far East reading category.

From the remaining books, I was very impressed with Winter Counts, and of course enjoyed Deborah Levy, although this book felt very similar to her recent non-fiction trilogy, to the point where I got confused as to what I was reading. (It also reminded me a bit of the film Tár). Lost for Words about a bookseller and a bookshop was charming but somewhat predictable, while the remaining three books really rather infuriated me. The Cartographers was at least entertaining, if rather full of plot holes, but I could not finish Missing Pieces, which felt completely manipulative (the author deliberately withholding information to make the dual timeline more exciting). And, with apologies to those who loved Sorrow and Bliss, I was profoundly annoyed by Martha and the portrayal of mental illness in that book – as well as the author’s vague and lazy ‘any similarities to real-life mental health conditions are accidental’ disclaimer. Three turkeys and two average reads make for a surprisingly low-scoring month overall, very unlike most of my reading.

Meanwhile, real life started off with a major scare with Maxi, our new cat, but it seems we got lucky and she does not suffer from a major heart defect (although there does seem to be a slight defect which we need to monitor).

My younger son had his final day at school, and has now started his A Level exams. My older son finished his exams and came home – he had pre-ordered the latest Zelda game and has been mostly playing it ever since he got back.

I (or rather, Corylus) was outbid for a book and author I loved – but who can compare with the Big Five publishers? I can’t blame the author for finding the best possible financial deal and exposure. I had the consolation of seeing one of our lovely Icelandic authors Jónína Leósdóttir in action at Bristol CrimeFest, and also find out more about her truly fascinating life and ideas over lunch. Since I only stayed for a few hours in Bristol that Saturday, I missed all the scandal that ensued later that day and the following day, so all I can say is that I hope literary festivals move on with the times and open their gates to a greater diversity of moderators and panellists. There’s plenty of talent out there instead of having the same old faces over and over!

On the translation front, I had to translate a new play in a weekend to be able to take part in a competition, because the play I had translated didn’t meet the criteria. That will teach me to read the small print a bit sooner! I am very excited about the new play, however, as it’s a young female playwright from Romania, and she writes a lot of things that I like, so let’s hope it’s the start of a wonderful collaboration.

Just as I finally got to start physiotherapy this month after my spinal/neck injury in February, I got a new health scare – a sudden itchy, burning rash on my face. The doctor seemed to think it was more likely to be an extreme reaction to an expired face cream (don’t try to save money, throw away your long-opened pots of cream!) rather than shingles, but the antihistamines, ointments and antibiotics don’t seem to be in a rush to work… and my younger son has also reported a rash on his face, although milder than mine. So who knows what it could be? Scabies comes to mind, which makes me feel like a Victorian slum dweller, although apparently it has nothing to do with poor hygiene.

The abundance of Bank Holidays this month has been nice – although from now on I will always have Mondays and Fridays ‘off’, as I’ll be working part-time, so it was just a taste of what’s to come.

Hope your May has been less troubled by sudden showers, mediocre reads and other interruptions! What has been your favourite book this past month? And which one didn’t quite live up to expectations?

Deconstruction of the American Western: Winter Counts

David Heska Wanbli Weiden: Winter Counts, Simon & Schuster, 2020.

A break from the Far East in May with this book, which I had to instantly acquire and read after hearing the author speak at a fascinating panel on social justice at Bristol CrimeFest. The author is descended from the Sicangu Lakota people, although he did not grow up on a reservation. His mother, however, was raised on the Rosebud reservation and he is a frequent visitor there, so he knows what he is talking about (and I’m not for a minute suggesting that authors have to write exclusively from their own experiences, but in this case you can feel that additional layer of depth – both of description and of feeling). Wanbli Weiden manages to sneak in social commentary and cultural references without making it sound like he’s just blurting forth all his research. It all feels like an integral part of the story. For example, here is a succinct yet very powerful description of the culinary delights on the reservation:

There were only three restaurants on the rez. A sandwich shop, with perpetually soggy cold cuts and wilted vegetables, the grill at the Depot bar, and JR’s Pizza, a shack selling something that vaguely resembled Italian food. I had a few bucks left… and wanted to treat Nathan, so I took him to the pizza place, which was his favorite. There was a flyer tacked outside the restaurant with a picture of a smiling young woman: MISSING, DONNA FLYING HAWK, HAVE YOU SEEN ME?A grungy rez dog sat on the sidewalk outside the place, eating what looked like a dead bird.

The story features Virgil Wounded Horse (how is that for a charactonym?). The classic lone ranger of the American Western is a vigilante but he is not the stereotypical white man. He is the local law enforcer on the reservation when the tribal council fails to act and the American legal system refuses to act. I was stunned to hear that Native American nations are not allowed to prosecute serious felony crimes that are committed on their own lands, but that federal authorities usually can’t be bothered to deal with these cases. So justice gets stuck in a no-man’s-land and criminals soon realise they can get away with rape, domestic violence, GBH or even murder, and the victims’ families’ only hope is to pay Virgil to enact some ‘eye for an eye’ type of justice.

Our first impression of Virgil is not really a positive one, as we assist at quite a visceral scene of him beating up a man. In fact, we might be tempted to agree with his former girlfriend Marie and her family that he is little more than a thug. However, as the story goes on, we realise that Virgil has a much softer core and even a certain moral compass. He is raising his orphaned nephew Nathan and is very worried about the future the boy might have on or outside the reservation. When a group of external drug-dealers start targeting the reservation, and he finds out that Nathan might be involved, Virgil is determined to eradicate that danger to his community. Along the way, he struggles to come to terms with his Native American heritage, which he considers more often a curse than a blessing. He has distanced himself from the Lakota traditions, while Marie is trying to bring them back for a new generation.

The plot itself is exciting and at one point nail-bitingly tense, where you aren’t sure who is going to survive. But that wasn’t my main reason for reading this – I was fascinated by the insight into an entirely different world and way of life, and angered by the discrimination that Native Americans face. The author doesn’t sugarcoat the corruption, drunkenness, drug-taking and sense of hopelessness on the reservation, but he also shows how some individuals still believe in making a difference. But then you know that I like my crime fiction to be full of social commentary and to make me think without being too preachy. This novel achieves that in spades.

A very moving story, and the writing often transcends its action-heavy roots; the language, although deliberately simple, becomes poetic and powerful:

I sat there, and the wind stopped. The sun set, but I remained. I didn’t want to get up and face what I’d almost certainly lost. What I’d lost and still had yet to lose. The country of the living was gone to me, and I knew that I’d entered a different space, one that offered no solace but only the wind and the cold and the frost. Winter counts. This was the winter of my sorrow, one I had tried to elude, but which had come for me with a terrible cruelty.

The title, Winter Counts, refers to the traditional Lakota calendar system, where each year is represented by a pictograph showing the most significant event that occurred during the past four seasons of the year, with winter often being the most difficult and cruel season for the community.

Lone Dog’s Winter Counts for the period 1800-1871, from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

Emma reviewed the book last summer, which made me put it instantly on my TBR list on Goodreads, but it took seeing the author in person to actually push me to do anything about it. I’m so glad I read it and I can’t wait for the next book in the series, which should be out by the end of this year.

Far East in May: Papua New Guinea and Japan/Singapore

Clarissa Goenawan: Rainbirds, Soho Press, 2018.

I get a little tired at times of how many foreign writers set their stories in Japan – it’s quite a different matter if it’s a memoir of living in Japan for a while like Polly Barton or Florentyna Leow, or fiction featuring someone visiting Japan from abroad (like Jessica Au). But it can feel ever so slightly like cultural appropriation when it is set in Japan and features Japanese characters, as it will inevitably be perceived as representative of that culture. Marion Poschmann’s The Pine Islands irritated me tremendously, for example, while Nicolas Obregon’s crime novels set in Tokyo are ok but nothing exceptional. It’s just me being grumpy, but there are so many Japanese authors out there that give us a real insight into that culture – or write about other interesting things, maybe even about life in the West?

Anyway, please ignore me when I get on my ranting-podium. This was Goenawan’s debut novel, but given that her two subsequent novels are also ‘Japanese’, we might assume that she actually lives in Japan now and is fully immersed in that culture (her author bio only says ‘an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer, so I really don’t know).

This one has been billed as ‘a spellbinding mystery’, since it opens with the murder of a young woman Keiko Ishida in the small town of Akakawa. Her brother Ren, who is about to graduate from university and also seems to be the only one from the family who cares about what happened to her, comes to pick up her belongings and to discover what happened to her. It appears that he didn’t know Keiko as well as he thought he did, and he is riddled with guilt that he wasn’t there for her. The mystery, however, is not really the point of the story. Instead, it’s about Ren spending six months replacing his sister at the cram school where she was employed and meeting all sorts of people who played a part in his sister’s life.

I found the family secrets a bit tedious, to be honest, and the book overall felt a little bit as if it were trying too hard to portray the quirkiness of Japanese culture and the melancholy/whimsical style of contemporary Japanese authors like Murakami and Kawakami. Nevertheless, it was a good enough read that I finished it in 2-3 days, just not very memorable. Also a peeve about the book cover (not the author’s fault at all, of course): why are there fish on the cover rather than birds or rain or a dreary Japanese provincial town?

Drusilla Modjeska: The Mountain, Vintage Books, 2012.

You might also accuse Modjeska of cultural appropriation for this book set in Papua New Guinea. However, this author (Australian now, although she was born in England) grew up in Papua New Guinea and lived there through most of the period described in the novel (1968-71) as the country seeks to gain its independence (which it finally did in 1975). Furthermore, several of her main characters are Australian or European, anthropologists and their wives, who have come to do fieldwork and teach at the newly-established and only half-built University of Papua New Guinea.

The book has two timelines – the present (set in 2005) and the past (1968-73). In the past, Martha, Rika, Leonard, Aaron, Milton, Jacob, Laedi are friends and a mix of nationalities, including natives of the island – they befriend each other, fall in and out of love, help each other, annoy each other, betray and hurt each other. In the present, Jericho is their son and protégé, who was raised in the United Kingdom and now decides to return to Papua New Guinea for the first time since his childhood and reconnect with his mountain village. I can see why the author included a prologue set in the present, dropping just sufficient hints to make us want to read about the past and how it got to the situation in the present, but it wasn’t necessary for my enjoyment of the book.

As with the Rainbirds book, I did not find the family secrets aspect of the story the most compelling. I was far more interested in the cultural differences and racism, the satirical eye cast upon some of the anthropologists, the descriptions of local traditions. Although the isolated village high up in the mountains described in the novel is fictional, the fjords do exist, as do the bark-cloth artefacts which the villagers try to make a ‘biznis’ of at some point. And I’m certain that many of the traditions the author describes are derived from anthropological materials, such as the description of the dance ritual lasting all night which Jericho has to participate in to win the trust of the villagers and prove himself a worthy descendant.

There are many discussions and arguments in the book about what colonialism has done to the local culture, and what independence might look like, all fascinating and only occasionally erring into the more educational rather than entertaining. But how else can you show the tensions between cultures, between the older and the younger generation?

‘I suppose it’s what happens when you’re caught between two cultures,’ Martha says when they leave. ‘Two epochs.’

‘Does that mean we take the worst from each?’ Bili snaps.

It’s easy enough for you, she says to Martha, living in Sydney, to buy the liberal version. Easy enough to say that all these cultural manifestations are equally valid, equally important. It’s another form of racism to say it’s fine if a young man dies for a cultural belief that wilfully prefers witchcraft over medical science. Is that what Martha wants? For us to say, fine, you go on believing the world is flat and the stars are made from the souls of dead ancestors and we’ll say you’re just as right as anyone else, and in the meantime those who have good hospitals will reap the rewards of your ignorance and make off with your resources.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters written from the viewpoint of the Papuans or New Guineans themselves (and I didn’t even know that the different tribes don’t consider themselves homogenous). For example, this is what Milton the writer (who studied in Melbourne) says about white people, and about his white girlfriend Tessa:

All his anger poured onto the page as he banged away at the keys: anger against Tessa for when she’d turned her back as if he’d never been there. He’d made a scene, that’s what Tessa called it… Anger at the playwright who arrived back in Melbourne from New York boasting about having met Allen Ginsberg, swaggering around with a joint in one hand and Tessa in the other. The arrogant shit. It turned out he was a cousin of Tessa’s sister’s godmother, whatever that was. These white people who wander the world peddling their belief in the artist freed from the primitive demands of kin and clan, they’re as highly regulated and interconnected as any Papuan. It turns out to matter as much to them who their families are, and who they have engaged in obligation and the play of status. It’s just not as obvious, and they don’t admit it. You’d need to be an anthropologist to make sense of it.

In the end, I wonder if my (by no means perfect, but still, reasonably good) knowledge of Japanese culture lowered my rating for Rainbirds, while my complete ignorance and therefore curiosity about Papua New Guinea increased my enjoyment of The Mountain. Still, I don’t think I’ll keep either of them on my bookshelves.

Far East in May: A Korean Crowd-Pleaser

Baek Sehee: I want to Die But I Want to Eat Tteokbokki, trans. Anton Hur, Bloomsbury, 2022.

This book is a very modern type of memoir. It originated as a blog and features the transcript of interviews with a psychiatrist from when the author was in her 20s, interspersed with her personal reflections, conclusions and lessons learnt. It became a massive bestseller in South Korean when one of the members of BTS recommended it, and I think it speaks particularly to millennial or Gen Z readers who are looking for an honest non-fictional account of what it feels like navigating your professional and personal path in today’s world.

Although outwardly successful (working as a social media manager for a publishing house, pretty, popular, often in a relationship), Baek suffered from a persistent low-level depression, a sense of hopelessness and lack of self-esteem. She was perhaps not in immediate danger of suicide, but she found it hard to motivate herself to keep going, was often hypercritical of herself and found herself in co-dependent relationships which often drove her to despair.

The therapist was perplexed when Baek asked for consent to record the sessions, and was embarrassed when they read the book, as it made them regret some of their counselling choices. Certainly from my experience of Western-style coaching, CBT and Samaritan-style listening, it felt quite interventionist, but I have to admit that I’m not familiar with how psychologists/psychiatrists work. I did like the very candid comment made by the psychiatrist at the end of the book:

This is a record of a very ordinary, incomplete person who meets another very ordinary, incomplete person, the latter of whom happens to be a therapist. The therapist makes some mistakes and has a bit of room for improvement, but life has always been like that, which means everyone’s life has the potential to become better. To our readers, who are perhaps down and out from having experienced much devastation or are living day-to-day in barely contained anxiety: I hope you will listen to a certain overlooked and different voice within you. Because the human heart, even when it wants to die, quite often wants at the same time to eat some tteokbokki, too.

Written in plain, sometimes quite clichéed language, but with a candour and immediacy which is refreshing and compelling, particularly in East Asia, where mental health issues and feelings of failure are very much still swept under the carpet. It feels quite revolutionary because it preaches individualistic values which run counter to the traditional collectivist values of Korean society.

What matter isn’t what people say but what you like and find joy in. I hope you focus less on how you look to other people and more on fulfilling your true desires.

…but I really don’t know how to tell the difference – between what I really want and what others want for me.

Of course, you could argue that a lot of misfits appear in fiction from China, Japan and Korea, but it takes a lot of courage to discuss directly what authors often portray aslant via their (often quite problematic) characters – I’m thinking of Dazai Osamu here, for example. Hearing the following said aloud (or written on paper) feels quite brave even in Western society:

It is impossible to fathom the sadness of those who are left behind, but if life gives one more suffering than death, shouldn’t we respect their right to end life? We are so bad at mourning in our society. Maybe it’s a failure of respect. Some call those who choose their own death sinners or failures or losers who give up. Is living until the end really a triumph in every case? As if there can be any true winning or losing in this game of life.

Although this sounds very dark – and I’d have hesitated to share this with my recently deceased niece or with my younger son when he was going through the worst of his depression – the author does finally figure out a way to live with her possibly lifelong condition. It may seem very obvious, but after her therapy, she realised that she should share her feelings and thoughts not just with one paid person, but also with family and friends, to balance out her own self-pity and self-consciousness, while also listening to their own concerns and stories. She also learnt to move away from her black-and-white thinking, and to accept that we are able to experience contradictory feelings simultaneously. It is a message of hope, but not unrealistically upbeat – everything will be fine now – either.

My initial thoughts while reading the book was that it felt rather simplistic both in term of ‘teachings’ and language. Less memoir and more self-help book (which are never stylistically ambitious). But after some conversations with my sons and others of their generation, I realised that they perceive the complexity and subtlety that my generation appreciate and take for granted as needlessly vague at best or insincere at worst. There are many, many more reasons to have low self-esteem nowadays, when everything is up for scrutiny and comparison online. This book addresses the younger generation’s concerns in their own language. It might not be entirely to my taste, but if it can help them forge their identity and get through the dark times, then I’m all for it.

I am always at war… Life is as messy as a bag whose owner never clears it out. You have no idea when you might reach in and pull out a piece of old trash, and you’re afraid someone is going to look through your bag someday… Their eyes seem to be looking down right at my phone screen. I’m afraid they’ll be reading my thoughts… I consider my public persona as the cover for what is underneath, a membrane no light can seep through.

By the way, I asked Anton (the translator) when I saw him at London Book Fair what tteokbokki was exactly, apparently it’s a popular street food, a kind of pasta (chewy rice cakes in fact) stewed in a spicy sauce.

Friday Fun: Bauhaus Inspiration

Back in the days when I didn’t have children and lived on my own, I was very keen on a minimalist, clean-cut type of house. I still find them immensely restful, and couldn’t really cope with something very flowery, fussy and maximalist. But the pictures below are more aspirational than realistic for my current lifestyle. Perhaps the Bauhaus aesthetic is more appealing on the outside than the inside?

I think that sofa needs to be more comfortable, but I love the rug. From Livingetc.
Functional and light-filled, Kasthall, from Dezeen.com
I do like the calm of this bedroom – and the cosiness of the fireplace, but it does feel a bit hotel-like. From Design Tips.
More warmth and comfort in this living room, photo by Stephen Kent Johnson.
Bauhaus principles with nature coming into the house – and lots of bookshelves in this villa in Haifa, from Interior Design Ideas.
A skylight to maximise the sunshine and help the indoor tree grow, from Dwell
The contemporary version of Bauhaus is of course the Huf Haus, with its countless combinations of glass walls.

Ekphrastic Poetry – Chop Suey by Edward Hopper

There’s a meme doing the rounds on Twitter currently (not that I spend my whole life on social media, you understand) about which famous painting best represents your soul. I went for Van Gogh’s Starry Night but a huge thanks to Annabel Gaskell for choosing Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, which reminded me how much I love his depictions of urban loneliness and angst. My favourite of his paintings is Chop Suey, so much so that I wrote a little poem about it. It’s been far too long since I shared any of my poetry, so here it is, thanks to Annabel!

To warm your fingers on the teapot

till the bruise-blue tinge subsides.

To allow the pallor of the windowblind

mimic the green in your dress.

To know that vegetable wontons will never be as filling as duck

but all you can afford.

To keep the hat on and feel the flash of neon lights

mock the expensive lipstick he gave you for your birthday.

To wait for the office gossip to die down.

To wait for him to leave his wife.

To wait for the order that never seems to come

for single women on the second floor of that small lunch place

in Chinatown.