The Boy’s birthday present finally arrived (only two weeks late)! And let me just say: this is basically the best gift I’ve ever given myself, because (let’s face it) this really wasn’t for him. I’m talking about So Many Splendid Sundays! the GIANT book featuring 128 pages of Winsor McCay’s celebrated Little Nemo in Slumberland serial, presented in its original size and breathtaking color. The book is pretty much the size of my coffee table, and it actually hurts to hold it up, but in a good way. As far as books go, this one’s a little pricey, but it’s also easily one of the best purchases I’ve made in awhile, and the kind that we’ll both treasure for all the years to come. Besides, this seemed like an extra special birthday, coming just three days after he became a married man. Let’s take a look inside…
Letter from Henry Miller to Anais Nin, c1932.
August 14, 1932
Don’t expect me to be sane anymore. Don’t let’s be sensible. It was a marriage at Louveciennes—you can’t dispute it. I came away with pieces of you sticking to me; I am walking about, swimming, in an ocean of blood, your Andalusian blood, distilled and poisonous. Everything I do and say and think relates back to the marriage. I saw you as the mistress of your home, a Moor with a heavy face, a negress with a white body, eyes all over your skin, woman, woman, woman. I can’t see how I can go on living away from you—these intermissions are death. How did it seem to you when Hugo came back? Was I still there? I can’t picture you moving about with him as you did with me. Legs closed. Frailty. Sweet, treacherous acquiescence. Bird docility. You became a woman with me. I was almost terrified by it. You are not just thirty years old—you are a thousand years old.
Here I am back and still smouldering with passion, like wine smoking. Not a passion any longer for flesh, but a complete hunger for you, a devouring hunger. I read the paper about suicides and murders and I understand it all thoroughly. I feel murderous, suicidal. I feel somehow that it is a disgrace to do nothing, to just bide one’s time, to take it philosophically, to be sensible. Where has gone the time when men fought, killed, died for a glove, a glance, etc? (A victrola is playing that terrible aria from Madama Butterfly—”Some day he’ll come!”)
I still hear you singing in the kitchen—a sort of inharmonic, monotonous Cuban wail. I know you’re happy in the kitchen and the meal you’re cooking is the best meal we ever ate together. I know you would scald yourself and not complain. I feel the greatest peace and joy sitting in the dining room listening to you rustling about, your dress like the goddess Indra studded with a thousand eyes.
Anais, I only thought I loved you before; it was nothing like this certainty that’s in me now. Was all this so wonderful only because it was brief and stolen? Were we acting for each other, to each other? Was I less I, or more I, and you less or more you? Is it madness to believe that this could go on? When and where would the drab moments begin? I study you so much to discover the possible flaws, the weak points, the danger zones. I don’t find them—not any. That means I am in love, blind, blind. To be blind forever! (Now they’re singing “Heaven and Ocean” from La Gioconda.)
I picture you playing the records over and over—Hugo’s records. “Parlez moi d amour.” The double life, double taste, double joy and misery. How you must be furrowed and ploughed by it. I know all that, but I can’t do anything to prevent it. I wish indeed it were me who had to endure it. I know now your eyes are wide open. Certain things you will never believe anymore, certain gestures you will never repeat, certain sorrows, misgivings, you will never again experience. A kind of white criminal fervor in your tenderness and cruelty. Neither remorse nor vengeance, neither sorrow nor guilt. A living it out, with nothing to save you from the abysm but a high hope, a faith, a joy that you tasted, that you can repeat when you will.
All morning I was at my notes, ferreting through my life records, wondering where to begin, how to make a start, seeing not just another book before me but a life of books. But I don’t begin. The walls are completely bare—I had taken everything down before going to meet you. It is as though I had made ready to leave for good. The spots on the walls stand out—where our heads rested. While it thunders and lightnings I lie on the bed and go through wild dreams. We’re in Seville and then in Fez and then in Capri and then in Havana. We’re journeying constantly, but there is always a machine and books, and your body is always close to me and the look in your eyes never changes. People are saying we will be miserable, we will regret, but we are happy, we are laughing always, we are singing. We are talking Spanish and French and Arabic and Turkish. We are admitted everywhere and they strew our path with flowers.
I say this is a wild dream—but it is this dream I want to realize. Life and literature combined, love the dynamo, you with your chameleon’s soul giving me a thousand loves, being anchored always in no matter what storm, home wherever we are. In the mornings, continuing where we left off. Resurrection after resurrection. You asserting yourself, getting the rich varied life you desire; and the more you assert yourself the more you want me, need me. Your voice getting hoarser, deeper, your eyes blacker, your blood thicker, your body fuller. A voluptuous servility and tyrannical necessity. More cruel now than before—consciously, wilfully cruel. The insatiable delight of experience.
This is what happens when Anais Nin and Henry Miller have a passionate extramarital affair. Nin continued to foster relationships with multiple lovers throughout her life, and at one point she was actually married to one man in Los Angeles and another in New York. According to Deidre Bair, Nin’s biographer:
She set up these elaborate facades in Los Angeles and in New York. But it became so complicated that she had to create something she called the lie box. She had this absolutely enormous purse and in the purse she had two sets of checkbooks. One said Anaïs Guiler for New York and another said Anaïs Pole for Los Angeles. She had prescription bottles from California doctors and New York doctors with the two different names. And she had a collection of file cards. And she said I tell so many lies I have to write them down and keep them in the lie box so I can keep them straight.
Something about the “lie box” is just so delightfully sad, don’t you think? Nin’s double life was so successful that when she died in the 1970s, two obituaries ran for her: one in New York and one in Los Angeles, each listing a different husband.
Letter originally from A Literate Passion: Letters of Anais Nin and Henry Miller, 1932-1953 via Letters of Note. Quote from Deirdre Bair courtesy of NPR. Photo credit unknown.
When I was a little kid, my favorite movie was Beauty and the Beast. I could quote the entire movie from beginning to end, but my favorite part was when Beast gives Belle the library. When she opens her eyes and sees all the books she has never read, and all the books she will re-read, sprawling out before her. And I knew at that moment that that was true love. When somebody gave you a library. I wish I could say my expectations have changed since then, but I was very impressionable. So as I make my schemes and dreams for my purple home, there’s one thing I know my house will have…
I can’t decide if my library should be a quiet and crowded nook, with sloppy stacks so high that they loom overhead and sagging armchairs, or something more baroque and ornate, with shelves and shelves stretching way up into the stratosphere so that every time I walk in I am overwhelmed by the number of words that are in my possession. Either way, it’s going to need one of those rolling ladders.
As a kid, I loved Beauty and the Beast because Belle was so like me. She was a little awkward, a little lonely, and she never went anywhere without a book. Back then, I used to keep ten books stuffed underneath my mattress for easy access when I couldn’t sleep at night. I always brought a book with me when I went out to dinner, and my nose would remain stuck inside until the food arrived. In fact, it was always a big deal when my grandparents came to town because I wasn’t allowed to read books at the dinner table, which inevitably led to sulking. Lending books was my greatest joy back then, and I was forever making recommendations to friends. My mother had to constantly remind me, “We are not a library!” But I didn’t care.
By the time I went to college, nothing had changed. I was the girl with the books. The girl you asked for a suggestion or a borrowed copy. Huge stacks of them on the floor, arranged in no particular order with Dahl and Nabokov and Lovecraft and Austen and Rand all rubbing shoulders. They teetered precariously on uneven piles, and occasionally they would give way and crash to the floor, waking me in the middle of the night. The stacks grew taller each year, much to the chagrin of both my father and The Boy, who were inevitably charged with moving my collection in and out of the dorm room each year. When I moved, I had to leave most of my books with my parents because there were just too many to ship. They’re collecting dust in my basement as we speak, but one day they’ll have a home.
For more home inspiration, check out my Pinterest!
Images linked to sources. And yes, the fifth one done is from Harry Potter.
So far we’ve covered sisters big and small, and now it’s time to talk about my last sibling: the older brother. My older brother was the first to introduce me to Led Zeppelin and Lord of the Rings, which means I can credit him with at least two of the reasons why I’m cool. My brother and I bond over three things: books, booze, and food. He’s also pretty much the funniest person I know. He always has the most perfect, acerbic witticisms that just bite people to the core. It’s not always fun to be on the receiving end, but I’m his least annoying sister so I’m usually in the clear.
2) Christmas Sweater: Cozy + cool.
4) Slate Coasters: For his brand new, grown up apartment.
5: The Genius of David Thorne: Because he’s the snarkiest jerk you know, and you love him for it.
5) A Cool Print: Because everyone needs a lovely home.
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So apparently 2011 marked the 50th birthday of one of my all time favorite books, The Phantom Tollbooth. Since it’s only barely 2012, I figured there’s still a little time to celebrate the milestone here. The Phantom Tollbooth was one of the last books I remember reading in bed with my mom. I’ve traveled back and forth through the tollbooth about a million times over the years, but as much as I love Milo, the Humbug, Rhyme & Reason, and Tock, the memory that sticks with me the most is how excited my mom was when we picked it up for the first time. How happy she was to share this world she knew so well with her daughter. She gave me an annotated copy for Christmas, so I think it’s about time The Boy made his first trip to Expectations and beyond.
While I was working on this post I stumbled upon this little piece of awesomeness, also written by Norton Juster. Totally delightful, and bearing a certain resemblance to my own love story:
Image courtesy of Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer & Random House. Video courtesy of MGM, originally seen here.
“Zora’s secret lies in the way your gaze runs over patterns following one another as in a musical score where not a note can be altered or displaced. The man who knows by heart how Zora is made, if he is unable to sleep at night, can imagine he is walking along the streets and he remembers the order by which the copper clock follows the barber’s striped awning, then the fountain with the nine jets, the astronomer’s glass tower, the melon vendor’s kiosk, the statue of the hermit and the lion, the Turkish bath, the café at the corner, the alley that lead to the harbor. This city which cannot be expunged from the mind is like an armature, a honeycomb in whose cells each of us can place the things he wants to remember: names of famous men, virtues, numbers, vegetable and mineral classifications, dates of battles, constellations, parts of speech.” – Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Late in the afternoon on Sunday I sat on my back porch finishing THE GENERAL IN HIS LABYRINTH while The Boy sautered electrical connections for a wooden flashlight and bloated mosquitos feasted on my flesh. This book is a creeper. I didn’t notice it was affecting me until I was ripping through the last thirty pages, gasping for air and blinking back tears.
For those of you unfamiliar with this book, THE GENERAL IN HIS LABYRINTH is a fictional interpretation of the final months of Simon Bolivar’s life. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s writing throughout most of the novel is really quiet and methodical, but every once in awhile the veneer of stoicism is broken for one dazzling, enchanted sentence. He really fools the reader in this way, I think. The storytelling is so steady and matter of fact that you don’t really notice that Marquez is slowly, painstakingly escalating the pace and intensity. In the last fifty pages the style is just completely cracked open. Throughout the book there’s this really frank recounting of facts, to the point where it almost feels like nonfiction. That’s still present at the end, but it’s so blunt and honest it becomes raw. The result is a stunningly savage portrait of death and its cruel inevitability. This is definitely a book you have to stick with a little, but the end result is so worth it.
I seem to be doing a lot of posts about books lately, but that’s ok because I rather like them a lot. The Boy, unfortunately, does not share that love with me. It’s not his fault; so many children are cheated out of the wonder of reading simply because they weren’t introduced to books correctly. Something about their initial experience was too boring, or too stressful, or it just wasn’t the right book. I got lucky, my mom is a kickass teacher and literacy specialist and she got me hooked young. The Boy was not so lucky. And when we first started dating that was a bit of a problem, for me anyway. I can’t tell you how many conversations we had that ended with me saying, “WHAT!? You never read [insert title of amazing children’s book here]. What kind of poor, deprived childhood did you have!?” How could I be with a man that didn’t like books?
Well let me tell you something: he didn’t like spicy food when we started dating, either. Every time I cooked he’d whine and complain and guzzle water and I would shrug and tell him to make his own dinner if he couldn’t handle mine and, little by little, the complaints petered out. Surely books couldn’t be that different?
I started off giving him books. Every birthday or Christmas or what have you he gets his “real” present and a stack of books. Books I just knew he would love if he gave them a chance. He’d make a valiant effort and get through a few chapters and like it all very much, but he could only make himself look at a page for so long. Clearly more effort would be necessary.
As I mentioned before, my mom is a total rockstar and the reason why I read the way that I do today. And one of the most important things she did was read to me. Because she didn’t stop once I had figured out how to do it on my own, we kept reading together every night long after I learned to sound out words. It was always such a sweet bonding experience because she clearly loved the books we read as much as I did, so we could discuss and argue and all of the amazing things you feel when you read we got to share together. And there was my stroke of inspiration.
I just finished one of the coolest books I’ve ever read. In fact, I rushed to read the last 40 pages on the train this morning (foregoing the extra hour of sleep I usually get on 7:55 to Grand Central) just so I could write a post about it today. Because I’ve been so excited about this book all week I couldn’t wait any longer to tell people about it.
And apparently I’m about five years behind the curve. Max Brooks’ WORLD WAR Z came out in 2006 to huge (and well-deserved) acclaim. For those of you who don’t know, the book is an oral history of the Zombie War. Yup, zombie war. Yes, oral history. As in Studs Terkel. The Terkel influence would be more than apparent in WORLD WAR Z even if Brooks didn’t list the famous historian on his acknowledgements page. For those of you who don’t know Studs Terkel, get to your nearest bookstore/library and get Hard Times (my personal favorite) like… right now. Don’t worry, you don’t need to read the whole thing.
It’s no secret to anyone that knows me that I love children’s books, even if my feelings about actual children are often mixed. Don’t get me wrong, other people’s kids are totally charming and lovely, but the thought of one of my own is the stuff my nightmares are made of. But that’s a whole other story.
I’ve briefly mentioned before that Dinner: A Love Story is doing an absolutely fabulous summer reading series featuring guest posts by rockstar kids authors like Daniel Handler, alias Lemony Snicket.
I love these posts because even though the featured authors have been wildly successful in their work, they’re quirky and offbeat and the books they recommend are likewise off-kilter, not-your-typical-kid-lit, which means that these books are still totally awesome EVEN if you’re not a kid and EVEN if you’re not weirdly obsessed with children’s books (like me). And the best part: I had never heard of some of them. That might not sound like a big deal to you but let’s get it straight: I am a connoisseur of children’s books. I’m not bragging when I say I’m an expert, it’s just the truth. There are very few books I haven’t at least heard about, so I pretty much swooned when I saw these lists of gorgeous, wonderous titles that were mostly totally new to me.
If you like kid’s books the way I do (or even just a little bit), if you have a kid or know someone with a kid, this series is totally worth checking out here. Thank you, DALS.