Litera-story

Above, evidence of the type of cultural history that is difficult to learn outside of literature. From Arundhati Roy’s “Ministry of Utmost Happiness.”

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Utmost Hapiness

I knew Jennifer Egan was speaking at Greenlight Bookstore on Fulton Street last night, but that’s not why I went. Sure, it was good to see what a Pulitzer Prize winning author looks like, but that’s not why I went.

I went to get a book I’d been waiting on for a year. It had come out in paperback a while ago, but last night was the night I needed it definitively in my hands.

There was a crowd packed right up to the door, which I had to both ignore and sift through to find my book, not on the alphabet shelves but stacked upon the table of valuable reads. I wonder if Jennifer thought me rude as I grabbed a book not hers from the big center table and mazed back to the cashier. Nah. Jennifer is cool.

Plus, book desperation is a legitimate cause of the uncouth.

The book in my hands is signed by its author, the reclusive Arundhati Roy, whose “God of Small Things” landed in my lap in Kerala, the place where its story is set. Circumstantially, Roy became my favorite. The more so because there was just the one, the Man Booker Prize-winning one.

Now, the book in my hands makes two. “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” is not new. But of course it lasted a while in its three-pound-hardcover-version, prohibitive to the laptop-baby-water-bottle-carrying-mom-backs of the book-buying-world.

The book in my hands is signed by the hands of its author. It is no longer on the big wooden table in front of Jennifer Egan’s microphone. It is on the candlelit counter where I sit, alone, to begin to read.

What I Learned in Junior K

Other than deep respect for carpool done well, I owe Junior K a hard-won lesson: don’t ask the teacher about your kid.

My kid is an obviously hyper, rebellious, willfully foul-mouthed five-year-old boy. I have no business asking his teacher how the day went, particularly when I barely made the after-care cut-off. Seriously: what do I expect? I should expect no different than my husband can when he walks in the door, glowing after a mid-week trip: how were the kids? Um, how? He should never again ever in his life ask that fu*king question.

Twenty kids in a room for eight hours will be, on average, horrible. Why ask the teacher for confirmation?

And confirmation will indeed be given, along with, if you really, really want to know, a daily progress report. The grading system will consist of sad or happy faces. There is no flat-mouthed emoji face in Junior K. Notes will be minimal, but, if provided, will say things like: “jumping off tables,””bathroom words,” “throwing dirt.” It will sound really, really serious. And, after weeks of no iPad, no Pokemon, no American Ninja Warrior, even no Paul Newman Oreos, the JrK daily news will not change.

Then you begin wondering about the teachers. Maybe it’s not their vocation. Do they love, love kids? Annoyance is, after all, so unprofessional. What does a kindergarten teacher expect?

Finally, just in time for summer break, I realized: what else could teachers possibly say? How were the kids? Um, how? The answer is simple: your son jumped off tables, threw mulch, said –

diepoopkillfartstupiddeaddiarrheafacepipibuttpants.

And he did this every single day, every chance he got.

Now, to my diarrhea-face surprise, my son is getting glowing marks in summer camp. Disruptive and disobedient transformed into funny and energetic in the setting of sunscreen and soccer balls. The lesson though, works both ways — in sickness or in health. Now that the reviews are happy face exclamations, I don’t get to ask the teacher about the day. Good reviews, in the end, are just as bas as, well, bad ones.

Because, I shouldn’t care. My job as a mom, other than keeping my kid fed, clean, rested and on a sidewalk, is to think he is cool, just the way he is. Banning ice cream will not change his behavior. His essence loves to jump and say poop. I have no business punishing him out of him. I will fail. He will say poop. And we won’t be friends.

I want to be his friend. You see, he is really cool.

 

The Universal Teat

If you have not read “Grapes of Wrath” and for some reason plan on doing so, stop reading this. If, on the other hand, you would like to be spared the load but are curious about its classical buzz, read on.

“Grapes of Wrath” is like a fat Oreo: delicious chocolate crunch on each end, white sappy soap mush in the middle. The last paragraph of the book, after four hundred pages of soapy sap, may be the best thing that’s happened to me in book form. In it, Rose of Sharon, once prodigal daughter, later pregnant abandoned wife, nurses a half-starved man. She has milk to give because hours before she gives birth to a stillborn during a devastating flood.

I would say that the image of this wrecked woman, who was probably hot, bringing a doomed man back from the brink of death by the power of her breasts is why the book endures the test of time. Also why they made a movie about it right away.

In all seriousness, I am glad I read it. The first hundred pages are breathtaking. The last fifty are sweepingly cinematic. The ending over-the-top — as was my joy at realizing I’d finally put it to bed.

Cosmic Communist Construction


Today I learned that Cosmic Communist Construction is a thing, or, at the very least, the very excellent title of a Taschen coffee table book.

Below is one of the hundreds of sculptural images found in the book, which features mostly Soviet government construction—as well as the occasional sanatorium.

Such galactic crush can in part be explained by the US/Soviet space race of the late 50s and 60s, which eventually culminated in the moon landing and, of course, The Jetsons. A world crushed by two world wars was eager to move forward, way forward, be it via the progress professed by Capitalism or the egalitarianism feigned by Communism.

Since Communism only works via Dictatorship, its construction is more aggressive, more repetitive, more dramatic. Local, mundane space is transformed into outer space by a power eager to present itself as an ideal worth building, by any means necessary.

In Russian, USSR translates to CCCP, an acronym put to good service by the author of this book. Had Cosmic Communism been the literal name of the regime perhaps it would have had a better hand at constructing real earth.