First: English-language books, lots of them, new, used, at reasonable prices. I’ve resolved to use my bus and subway time to read. A lot. So far this year, I’ve read Seeing, by Jose Saramago, The World Without Us, and I’m almost done with The Bronx is Burning, by Jonathan Mahler.
The first is a brilliant piece of political magical-realism by one of my favorite authors. The end is swift and devastating and absolutely real. The book is a semi-sequel to his most famous novel, Blindness, but while Blindness was an all-consuming physical experience of dystopia, Seeing is more intellectual, lighter, but just as powerful.
The second has been reviewed all over the place and I gave in and bought it in hardcover after reading seventy-five pages in Barnes & Noble and being unwilling to wait for the paperback edition to come out. The first part is fascinating, an exploration of how things we are familiar with – our homes, our city, our bridges and skyscrapers – will degrade, decay, disintegrate after we leave, supplanted by plants, fungi, microorganisms… it’s optimistic: we might change relationships within ecosystems, we might change things enough to cause many species to go extinct, but ultimately, life will go on when we are gone, in some new or altered form. Life perseveres. The second part is scarier, as the book begins to explore the long-lasting effects of our use of plastics, production of nuclear waste, and release of toxic chemicals. It bothered me on an existential level, that we, who are such a tiny blip in the history of living things, could make such a huge impact: regardless of what the ultimate effect on the rest of nature might be, can we bear to look at ourselves and the carelessness with which we treat our home planet?
The third was made into an ESPN miniseries, and is an engaging look at New York City in 1977: the Yankees (especially Reggie Jackson), the mayoral race (Ed Koch, Bella Abzug, Mario Cuomo, Abe Beame, et al.), the tabloidization of the Post under Rupert Murdoch, the Son of Sam, the blackout and the looting that followed. One of the most exciting things about living in New York City is the sense of layers and layers of history and culture underlying every street block, echoed in the names on street signs, referenced, self-referenced, twisted, tweaked, torn down, rebuilt, covered up, uncovered, discovered, again and again. It’s always relevant, in the good times and the bad. It’s where disco and hip-hop and punk rock blossomed. And apparently Jimmy Carter’s mother went to Studio 54 – and liked it! (Who knew?). And for a while, everyone who was anyone was the son or daughter of poor immigrants living in the South Bronx… or so it seems to read the history of the city.
Second: Living with my cookbooks. Hence, I made ginger-lemon bean salad earlier this week, and now I’m making cucumber-alfalfa tortillas with an avocado-goat cheese sauce. Mmmmm. Oh how I missed you, cookbooks.