Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 244


Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s

It’s a different feeling finishing a book when someone you know wrote it. Warm, pedestrian, jealous. You think less about the specifics of what was written and more about the person; you’re on the front row of an opera watching people put on their outfits through a crack in the curtains.

‘Queen’ was written by my friend and colleague Suzanne Crain Miller. I met Suzanne at the now-defunct Third Wednesdays, an open-mic for authors. Suzanne was running the show. When I met her, she had these big wide eyes that seemed to fix on the outsides of you, figuring out your lines, drawing you up. I could tell she was someone who spends a lot of time trying to write the world down.

‘Queen’ is about the South. The small South, the almost-rural, the mostly-poor. It’s a place big enough for no-one to know each other except from watching out the windows, small enough that if you watch a long time you’ll catch sight of someone’s private side. I know a lot of places like this. Snow Camp, Alamance, Mebane. I used to drive through them. They threaten you with yourself, you push the gas.

The book follows three narrators, all of whom are picked apart by their private sides. It’s a book about keeping secrets. Building coal fires in your den, waiting for the house to burn down, naked. Violent cop, sheltered teenager, the identities you try to escape eventually find you. Even in the novel’s climax, when the heroes are victorious and the bad men are laid down, there’s an unsettling sense that no-one’s good actions are really good, that a privileged birth was always going to lead to happiness, and there’s only so much room for happiness on the small town streets that you can’t spread it around to everyone.

When I finished reading, I thought about quiet crowds and microphones. I had a beer.

I’m happy to have read this book, and flattered that my friend let me read it. It’s not nothing to write something, not nothing to read it, and pretty damn cool to know the writer. Support the author and buy her book here.

Currently Reading: Another Country, James Baldwin

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

No matter what you do, someone always knew you would.

Ami McKay, The Birth House

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 58


Coffee: Cafe Pajaro, Trader Joe’s Brand

I’m of two minds on Julian Barnes. The Sense of an Ending is the first book I’ve read by him so I guess I’m really just talking about that. It had some interesting twists but also it felt cheap. Needless to say, I’m going to spoil the book, so be warned.

Tony thinks he’s a better person than he is. If this were an 8th Grade reading comprehension test, that would be the one-line wringer for ‘plot.’ And if Mrs. Pritchard is getting really tricky asking for ‘theme,’ it’s that memory is imperfect.

Basically, the story follows the narrator (Tony)’s own account of his life, particularly as it concerns an ex he dated in college and a friend who killed himself (also in college). He starts out hating the ex and revering the friend until he realizes his friend was offing himself to avoid an unplanned fatherhood and his ex was traumatized by abusive parents. Predictable things, ultimately, but Barnes writes in a way to make you buy-in to the falsehoods as you go along. That’s pretty interesting.

What’s not so interesting is that the great revelation – ‘I’m not as good as I thought I was’ – happens four or five separate times. Tony keeps thinking he’s got it, keeps getting it wrong. And after the first or second of these happenings it starts to get absurd (and not in a good way). He goes so far as to consistently mistake the identity of his dead friend’s son. Meanwhile, all the characters around him abjectly refuse to give him any answers to questions about their shared past despite his asking. He comes off more a pathetic idiot than a complicated human being. Like I said, cheap.

Unless Barnes knows exactly what he’s doing. I came away from the book not being quite sure. There’s so much tropism that you start to expect the tropes are intentional. There’s a man blinded by patriarchy, women who are single-use saviours or foils, etc. The true purpose of the book might be to point out just how idiotic men – or at least, men in literature – often are. That said, I never found an ‘ah-hah!’ moment of authorship that confirms it.

So I’m of two minds: The Sense of an Ending is worth a read. It might be very clever. Or it might be too clever for it’s own good.

Currently Reading: Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain; I started reading this years ago and got side-tracked; I’ve had trouble picking it back up after Bourdain’s suicide; I’ve been in the mood to confront something, so I’m picking it up again; we’ll see how far I get this time

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

Coffee Log, Day 130


Coffee: Fair Trade Ethiopian Medium Dark, Harris Teeter Brand

The sun beat sweat out of everyone’s backs. I took a walk beside the apartment pool.

Today’s been good. I slept in, but not too much. I ate well, but not too much. I heard from a cousin who I haven’t heard from since my grandfather died. L came over and we’ve been hanging out, catching up, playing games.

I finished History of Wolves and wrote the review. It’s posted here! I won’t say much about it on the blog, but I will say it’s one of the best books I’ve read. Fridlund’s snow-capped prose opened a couple doors in me; if I met her, I think we’d drink cold beer in a crowded bar and talk about the way talking about the weather is really always about the people who’ve changed you.

I made fried rice. It came out fine. The night settles now like a ten-year old bulldozer. You’ve built every house, paved every road, your city can sleep for a while.

Currently Reading:

LaRose, Louise Erdrich; I’m only sixteen pages in; so far, it reminds me too much of every other book that’s trying to say something.

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the BorderRAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

“Our house was made of stone, stucco, and clapboard; the newer wings, designed by a big-city architect, had a good deal of glass, and looked out into the Valley, where on good days we could see for many miles while on humid hazy days we could see barely beyond the fence that marked the edge of our property.” – Joyce Carol Oates