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September 2017

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I just finished reading Matilda to my daughter. She's just at that age where she can start paying attention to chapter books, and Matilda's the first one I picked because it's one of my favorites, and also it's about a really smart little girl. My daughter loved the different pranks Matilda played on her parents, and her mouth dropped open when she found out Ms. Honey's aunt was really Ms. Trunchbull.

I love Roald Dahl in general, even though I know a lot of it is pretty problematic with the racism and everything. I forgot how much of it is really about how terrible adults are, and that's probably why so many kids relate to it, plus it's pretty outrageous in a cartoony way. Not to mention all the British-isms; all those witty phrases really passed me by when I was a kid. I just wanted the "eye power"!
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Especially now that Guys Gone Wild exists. Favorite title is "Dude, Where's My Pants?"

Other things bouncing in my head:

You know that annoying guy in Office Space who says "Mmmmkay?" all the time? I met the real-life version of him in a very long meeting this week. He is just as annoying in real life.

Random people's opinions on immigration are really pissing me off. None of them seem to get that any changes in the law will also affect legal immigrants, almost certainly not in a good way.

Superman Returns will be on IMAX.

Mark's parents and grandparents are coming tomorrow. Mark previously thought they were coming last week, so I assisted him in the middle of a cleaning frenzy even though I was pretty sick. The good thing about cleaning last week is that there's not much left to do tonight. (And he is doing most of it.)

For whatever reason, lately, I've been resenting helping out with the cleaning. I think I'm just annoyed because even though I spend a lot of time here, I don't live here, and I (rightly or wrongly) don't feel like it should be my responsibility. Maybe I'm just being bratty.

The more I learn about the healthcare industry the more it depresses me.

I finished Danny, Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl. There are a couple of stories taken straight from his autobiography, Boy, and one chapter about the Big Friendly Giant, which would later turn into its own book. It's fascinating watching how the stories inspire more stories.

I hate PG&E. Stupid privatized utilities. (What, you thought California was liberal?) They have not managed to keep the power on continuously for a straight month. Last week, there was a power outage at my office. This week, Mark's power went out.
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I've been sick for the past few days. Ugh, it's driving me crazy - I can't go back to sleep, either. *sigh* Anyway, yesterday I went over to Oakland with my sister to see our nieces and nephew and Kaitlin. They grow up too damn fast! The twins are as adorable as ever, and it's amazing to see how very opposites they are of me and my sisters when we were kids. The twins don't fight as much as they used to, and seemed to have finally learned the concept of "taking turns", if not "sharing", and the girl twin is the bossiest boss that has ever bossed. She's even bossier than her older sister, and that is saying something. The oldest continues to be good friends with Kaitlin, with a shared love of W.I.T.C.H. and other Cartoon Network shows. I won't see Kaitlin again for another month - she's going to China on Sunday for a month-long visit.

My sister, on the way to Oakland, related this incident to me: She and a co-worker took a "walking tour" in the middle of downtown San Francisco. It's one of many different walking tours that the public library provides. This particular one was supposed to show them various roof gardens in the city. When they came to the Crocker Galleria, the guide explained that Crocker was the one "who brought Chinese labor over". All fine and good, right? Then he goes on to say that the "Chinese did the work that the Irishmen couldn't do, and they wanted to work here" and on and on with the bullshit justifications. Did I mention this is the middle of friggin downtown San Francisco and my sister was the only non-white person on the tour? What the hell? To be fair to SF's walking tours - it might have just depended on the guide, but still.

I managed to finish a few books over the past few days - the first one is Julie/Julia, by Julie Powell. She's the one who kept a blog about doing all the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year and got offered a book deal. Needless to say, I'm really really jealous. The book is really easy to read, it's pleasant and humorous, and I think I took two weeks to finish it, mostly because I was reading it in little snippets.

I read Madame Curie, a biography by her younger daughter Eve Curie, who, according to Wikipedia is still alive at 101. I didn't think this book would be absorbing, but it sucked me right in - from the first moments of Marie Curie's life in Russian-occupied Poland, to her discovery of radium and polonium and her peculiar, obsessive and driven work habits and her love of her husband, Pierre Curie, who was her intellectual equal and just as absent-minded. Sometimes a sentence would jar me, mostly because it would be considered politically incorrect today - for instance, Eve writes of her mother's teenage years - "unfortunately, it must be admitted that she was quite chubby" (or something like that). Mostly, though, the writing was good, and I'm just amazed that I knew so little about such an extraordinary woman before - she was what we would now classify as a "serious nerd" - before she got married and had kids, she would work so much in the lab that she neglected to eat, and afterwards she maintained the same grueling work and teaching and taking care of her kids and husband (what, the husband cook and clean? preposterous!). But what I loved her most for was her decision not to patent her discoveries - because "it is against the scientific spirit". (Integrity? What's that?) Years later, when she had to rely on the Americans to fundraise for her in order to obtain the necessary materials for her lab, and she reflected on whether it would have been easier for her to patent so that she would have had the money, she said:

Humanity needs practical men, who get the most out of their work, and, without forgetting the general good, safeguard their own interests. But humanity also needs dreamers, for whom the disinterested development of an enterprise is so captivating that it becomes impossible for them to devote their care to their own material profit. Without doubt, these dreamers do not deserve wealth, because they do not desire it. Even so, a well-organized society should assure to such workers the efficient means of accomplishing their task, in a life freed from material care and freely consecrated to research.

I'd definitely recommend this book if you want to read about her - it's written in a very easy style, and my own obtuseness in science was not a hindrance to understanding the science explained in this book at all. Mark originally picked this book up, but gave it to me because "you'd probably finish this first anyway."

The last book I just finished was Boy, by Roald Dahl. It's a cute look into his life from when he was a young boy to when he went to Africa. You can see the beginnings of where he got his ideas for his later books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There's a lot in there about getting beaten with the cane at boarding schools, which no doubt influenced his revenge books for kids like Matilda and James and the Giant Peach, and a healthy disrespect and distrust of authority.
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I am slightly freaking out about China's growing economic power. I do not want China to take over the world, especially in its current state. But then I am paranoid like that. And I would really like the U.S. to get a clue, any day now. All that bitching about China not pegging their yuan to the dollar? Hello, hypocrites, you profited off of their cheap labor, and you're surprised they want their money back?

I reread Wild Seed yesterday. Octavia Butler is still one of my favorite writers. There are few people who could write so vividly and concisely, with so many original ideas. I love the way she is one of the few sci-fi writers who incorporate racial realities into her stories; people like LeGuin do it, but they never really go in depth the way Butler does, in harsh lighting, and awkward realizations.

I was thinking (a dangerous thing in this heat) about how with some writers, I forgive them their faults or I don't. For example, I read Piers Anthony for way too long a period in junior high. I liked the escapism of Xanth, and then eventually all the puns and naked 15-year-olds got to me. So I don't really read him anymore. Occasionally I reread The Martian Chronicles, but ever since I found out that Ray Bradbury [Bush]He's wonderful. We needed him. Clinton is a shithead and we're glad to be rid of him. And I'm not talking about his sexual exploits. I think we have a chance to do something about education, very important. and We need enlightened corporations to do it; they're the only ones who can. All the great malls have been built by corporate enterprises. We have to rebuild cities with the same conceptual flair that the great malls have. We can turn any bad section of town into a vibrant new community. I found that I couldn't forgive him for saying those things. And it ruined the rest of his books for me.

On the other hand, I read about Roald Dahl's anti-Semitism, and I found I still enjoyed Matilda as much as I did the first time I read it. Ezra Pound, too. Maybe it's because they're dead that I can sort of brush those things aside. I tell myself that they lived in another time, and they were still considered pretty progressive for that era. Maybe it's because they're better writers.

I don't know; I feel kind of betrayed by Bradbury's views, but when I re-read the Martian Chronicles a few years ago, I should have realized that all those views were there. I just hadn't looked hard enough.

I prefer my literary cranks to be cranky like Kurt Vonnegut.

That chief and his cohorts have as little to do with Democracy as the Europeans had to do with Christianity. We the people have absolutely no say in whatever they choose to do next. In case you haven’t noticed, they’ve already cleaned out the treasury, passing it out to pals in the war and national security rackets, leaving your generation and the next one with a perfectly enormous debt that you’ll be asked to repay.

Maybe they should meet. I'd pay to see that fight go down.

I can imagine it:

Kurt Vonnegut: "Bring it on, bitch!" (Insert random rants about the state of America, about how Bush sucks, etc. Quote stolen from Scrubs.)
Ray Bradbury: "You should learn to read and write before you even mess with me." (Insert random rants about about the state of America, and bitching about the tyranny of affirmative action .)
Vonnegut: "Have you even seen my books? I am more prolific than you are!"
Bradbury: "Oh yeah? I just wrote a short story five minutes ago! Beat that!"

Like I said, heat produces incoherence. Time to go.
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It was a yummy, toasty weekend; the Grillfest turned out fabulous. Mark and I tried out a new recipe from my Fine Cooking magazine and made Moroccan-style Grilled Chicken Kebabs for everyone. It was met with approval and descriptions such as "very lemony" and "mmm, so good", which I take as good signs. The evening included buffalo wings, courtesy of Amy, caesar salad (me), and lots of beer and other good stuff. (I think we still have lots of beer left over.)

There was cake, singing, gossip, and fantasy scenarios of Celebrity Chef Smackdowns. All in all, a really nice time.

Sunday we went and saw Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which was awesome. It has a really stupid plot, but the chemistry between the two beautiful people more than make up for it. Plus, a girl just really needs to see things blow up sometimes. The house fight was awesome.

I think I will have something more substantial to say tomorrow. Right now I'm tired!

Article on Chez Panisse - sounds more affordable than French Laundry, but is it really worth it?

Roald Dahl museum opens.

Zine libraries! There was one in UCLA?!! Grr...I think it's stupid that you have to make an appointment to go.
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1. Your favorite *non-fiction* book

Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, by Maxine Hong Kingston. I read this before I was old enough to realize that most Asian American novels were rehashes of the same issues, but every time I open this book up I fall in love. This was one of the first books where I realized how much power Kingston concentrated in her deliberate details, how much she thought about the same things I did, and how much interesting material she wrangles from the ordinary details of living.

2. Your favorite children's book (from the age when you were being read to, or just beginning to read)

No one ever read to me. My sisters and I were the ones who helped my parents learn English, and that was from the citizenship handbook. My favorite children's book was Matilda, by Roald Dahl. I apparently like violent revenge fantasies. Also, did you know that Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, wrote porn? It's true - look up Switch Bitch and My Uncle Oswald on Amazon. I haven't read them, but apparently there's a bit of S&M in them.

3. Your favorite book as a young adult (define "young adult" as you will)

Er, I think by the time I was a young adult I was reading adult novels. But Francesca Lia Block held this weird fascination for me. Also, any Christopher Pike novel. I reread some of his stuff a few months ago; I wonder what he was taking.

4. Your favorite fantasy author

Hmm...I haven't read fantasy in a long time. Tolkien? C.S. Lewis, even though he apparently hates hippies?
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