Category Archives: Books

An Extract from Margaret Atwood’s Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale

The Guardian has posted a lengthy extract from The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.

“Set more than 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood’s Booker Prize-shortlisted sequel revisits her dystopian republic Gilead”

You can read it here.

The official release date for The Testaments is 10 September 2019, but Amazon “accidentally” broke the embargo by shipping 800 copies of the book early. Indy bookstore owners were not amused, and The Guardian has that story as well.

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Scott and Zelda and Gerald and Sara

On the left, Scott and Zelda Fitgerald, sometime in the 1920s. On the right, Gerald and Sara Murphy at Cap d’Antibes beach in 1923.


Last week I made a passing reference to Gerald and Sara Murphy, the wealthy American couple who played a huge part in the literary and artistic communities in Paris during the 1920s, when Paris was the center of the literary and artistic world. “Paris was where the twentieth century was,” wrote Gertrude Stein.

Dick and Nicole Diver, the central characters in F. Scott Fitgerald’s novel, Tender is the Night, are based partly on the Murphys and partly on Scott and Zelda Fitgerald themselves.

Fitzgerald thought the book was his best work. It was the last novel he completed.

I mentioned that I planned to re-read Calvin Tomkins’ 1962 New Yorker article about the Murphys and the Fitzgeralds, and posted a link. I’ve just finished it, and it’s even more impressive than I remembered it being.  It’s a beautifully written piece about some extraordinary people.

Here once again is a link for “Living Well Is the Best Revenge”, along with my highest recommendation.


After The Flood—An Update

It’s been a while. Anybody still out there?

Regular postings will resume in the next few days. What follows here is a brief rundown on why I’ve been hors de combat since Memorial Day. It isn’t very pretty, and you may just want to skip this entry and wait for the new posts.


Summer of 2019 has not been anything close to the most wonderful summer of my life. In fact, I’d probably rank it near the bottom three, only slightly higher than the summer I spent in a Bulgarian prison (mistaken identity), the summer I got lost on the Appalachian trail and had to survive on berries and mushrooms for six weeks, or the summer when that Abercrombie and Fitch model kept calling me and emailing me and stalking me until I finally got the restraining order. (Actually, that one was rather fun.)

The season had started with such high hopes and great expectations! In late May I returned to Washington from a couple of weeks in gloomy and glorious Budapest,* restored, revitalized, and ready to live a much richer and more, well, elegant life. Think Gerald and Sara Murphy in Paris and on the French Riviera in the 1920s.**

The first warning signs came during an otherwise delightful visit by my Nevada brother and sister-in-law, when my long-standing pulmonary problems started to act up. I knew from experience that this meant I was in the early stages of a two- to four-weeks of low-level morbidity, marked by fatigue, marathon coughing sessions, and general yuckiness. And then The Flood happened.

Here’s where things get serious.

I wasn’t aware of it until later, but the whole mess—illness and injury, loss of autonomy and privacy, property damage and disruption of plans, and general uncertainty—left me seriously depressed and effectively paralyzed, unable to do much more than sleep, play online games, and watch immediately forgettable junk TV.  I stopped returning phone calls and answering email. My big project for the year, improving my cooking skills? Abandoned. I had no desire to be in my post-Flood, chaotically disarranged kitchen, and no interest in exploring new restaurants. I survived on deli take-out and on great quantities of Diet Cherry Pepsi.

It was only just before Bastille Day, six weeks post-Flood, that I (metaphorically) slapped myself in the face and told myself that I couldn’t continue to live the way I’d been living, that the numbness began to diminish. I turned off the TV in the middle of an episode of Can’t Pay We’ll Take It Away and made reservations at regular hang-out ARTECHOUSE and at a couple of good restaurants. Not only would I get out of bed and dressed before 2 PM, but I would also actually leave the apartment!

And I did.

So while things here are still ugly—restoration of my condo and of the ~30 other units damaged by The Flood may not even be completed before the end of 2019—it seems life is finally, slowly, back on the upswing.

I’ll be spending the rest of my Unwonderful Summer posting here, dining out, and re-reading Living Well Is the Best Revenge and Tender Is the Night.


*It was my fourth visit to that endlessly fascinating city, my third in 18 months. I’ve told people that entitles me to honourary citizenship, but I may have been misinformed.

**See Living Well Is the Best Revenge.

New Tales of the City

“When I first got off the bus years ago, I had the strangest feeling that I’d come home.”
—Laura Linney as Mary Ann Singleton in Tales of the City

Oh, yes, Mary Ann, in this you are not unique. The first time I was in San Francisco, I had exactly the same feeling.*

And now, thanks to Netflix, we’re going home again.

“inspired by the books of Armistead Maupin, the new Netflix Limited Series Tales of the City begins a new chapter in the beloved story. Mary Ann (Laura Linney) returns to present-day San Francisco and is reunited with her daughter Shawna (Ellen Page) and ex-husband Brian (Paul Gross), twenty years after leaving them behind to pursue her career. Fleeing the midlife crisis that her picture-perfect Connecticut life created, Mary Ann is quickly drawn back into the orbit of Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis), her chosen family and a new generation of queer young residents living at 28 Barbary Lane.”

Tales of the City had its start as a three-times-a-week serial in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Author Armistead Maupin mixed real and (mainly) fictional characters to capture the essence of San Francisco in the 1970s.  Maupin succeeded in doing for The City what Tom Wolfe failed to do for New York in Bonfire of the Vanities, probably the most overrated novel of the late 20th century. The column became must-read material, and a cult was born.

The first novelization of the serial was published in 1978, followed by five more volumes published at two-year intervals, with three more books released after a 20-year gap.

In 1993, Channel 4 (UK) turned the first book into a superb miniseries, which was shown on PBS in the US in early 1994. Here’s the trailer:

Good news! That original series is currently streaming on Acorn.

The new series will be released on Netflix on 7  June  2019.


Bonus Track

The great Laura Linney makes an uncredited appearance in this video for the also-great Aimee Mann. Watch closely, and see if you can spot her.


* Granted, I also had exactly the same feeling the first time I was in London, and the first time I was in Paris. Never had it in my own hometown,  though, for some reason….

Florence + the Machine — “Jenny of Oldstones”

Here’s Florence + the Machine’s full-length version of “Jenny of Oldstones”, the song that played during the end credits of “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”, Sunday night’s somber episode of Game of Thrones. The opening lyrics are by George R. R. Martin.

Spoilers, if you haven’t yet seen S08 E02. But of course you have, by now.

Brienne of Tarth

Brienne of Tarth

After Killing Eve — Witches and Vampires and Demons, Oh, My!

Immediately following  tonight’s season premiere of Killing Eve, BBC America will screen the first episode of the well-reviewed British supernatural series A Discovery of Witches, based on the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness. The first eight episodes ran in the UK last Fall, and the series has been renewed for two more seasons.

I’m liking the rich Venice and Oxford settings, which are a long way from Sookie Stackhouse’s Bon Temps, Louisiana.

Killing Eve Returns Tonight

Killing Eve returns tonight at 8 PM ET with an episode called “Do You Know How to Dispose of a Body?” on both BBC America and AMC.


Six Minutes of Villanelle

Here are some memorable Villanelle scenes from the first season of Killing Eve. Warning: Huge Spoilers if you haven’t seen the first series.