Tournament of Books: The Golden State

I finished reading the eleventh Tournament of Books 2019 book, Lydia Kiesling’s “The Golden State“, which is running against Jesse Ball’s “Census” in the fourth round of the competition.

You would be forgiven if you read the premise of “The Golden State” book and thought that you are about to read an “Eat, Pray, Love” kind of book. This is nothing of the sort. Kiesling has written an intensely realistic and touching piece about loneliness, particularly female loneliness.
The heroine of “The Golden State”, Daphne, is a young, neurotic mother to a precocious 2 year old, left alone due to the machinations of the US Immigration system. The daily grind at her unfulfilling job finally makes her snap, and she decides to take her toddler and run back to Altavista, where her late grandparents lived. The narrative follows her through the 10 days of her escape. So far the “Eat, Pray, Love”.
Daphne is a victim of a society that does nothing to help young mothers (except pile guilt and anxiety on them in the form of study after study), especially young mothers who marry outside the tribe. She is caged in a pointless job that is full of daily humiliation, but the money is “good” (not good enough for SF) and the health insurance… She has no friends, no family, nothing of interest in her life except her daughter, who she can’t afford to spend time with. Her husband and his loving family is in Turkey, and apart from skype calls, she has very little chance of seeing them any time soon. No wonder she snaps.
Altavista is no paradise, and isn’t portrayed as such. It’s a semi-deserted place full of angry white people, only a handful of which remember Daphne and her grandparents. She has unknowingly fled to the only place where she could be more lonely than she was back home. So when an old lady who visited Turkey one time befriends her, she can’t help but reach out.
This novel would not work in any place but today’s US. It’s a novel of time, place and character more than plot. Every breathless rush to change diapers or calm a screaming toddler becomes momentous once you realize just how alone Daphne is, just how alone the society she lives in wants her to be.
The novel is interesting, fresh, sharp and well written, and it beautifully breaks down large political ideas to small, everyday encounters.

This book is running against “Census” in the fourth round of the Tournament of Books, and though they have very little in common apart from being stories about single parents and their children out on a trip, it was not hard for me to pick “The Golden State” as a winner. It’s a better book in terms of writing accomplishment, and it has much more heart than “Census”. I highly recommend skipping “Census” entirely, and reading “The Golden State”. It’s a very good piece of contemporary fiction.

Tournament of Books: The Golden State

How I Use My Notebooks: Running Planner

The thing that you learn very quickly about running is that no matter which Couch to 5k plan you started with, if you want to have any hope of persisting with your running you are going to have to tailor make your own running plan.

I make a fresh plan every three months or so, and I always create it in my current Moleskine journal. In the spirit of showcasing notebooks in use, that are not created for Instagram, this is my latest running plan:

Things are penciled in with an H pencil, and I ink them in with gel ink pens as they happen. Green highlighted blocks show me where things went according to plan, and other blocks represent where things had to change due to injuries or circumstances.

I’ve been running for 8 years now, and I have around 6 years of running plans in all my previous notebooks, each one looking pretty much the same: messy and functional.

How I Use My Notebooks: Running Planner

Moleskine Wonder Woman Blue Notebook Review

It’s the Moleskine of Truth! No, it’s actually just the Moleskine Wonder Woman Blue limited edition notebook. This is a brand new edition for Spring 2019, and there’s a red one too (expect a review later on).

The notebook with the wrapper on makes you think that there will be a red element on the cover, but the print on it is only in black and yellow on the blue background.

There’s a quote on the back of the notebook (there’s a different one on the red notebook), and it’s lovely. Go, Diana!

Now we come to the biggest issue I had with this notebook: it has some printing quality control issues. If you look closely you can see that on the yellow lasso print there are tiny bits of paper stuck to the cover. It feels as if there was a sticker there and someone removed it with bits left behind. They aren’t sticky and they are very easily removed with a wet wipe, but that’s not something I enjoy dealing with when unwrapping a brand new notebook. It’s only on the yellow parts of the print, so it is probably a leftover of the printing process, but it shouldn’t have slipped through.

The front cover unwrapped:

I understand the design aesthetic here, but I don’t agree with it. It would have been nicer if it was black, yellow and red and it would have been even nicer if Diana (Wonder Woman) was in full colour. As it is, the lasso is more attention grabbing and vivid than she is, and it’s not the main point. This isn’t the “Lasso of Truth” limited edition notebook, is it?

Here’s the unwrapped back cover, which is a little plain compared to what Moleskine have done for Batman in past limited editions.

The front end paper plays with the lasso of truth design element, and again, I really wish that Diana was more represented in this edition. Maybe her doing her thing, or even a comic book page. She deserves the same excellent design that Moleskine made for Batman and Star Wars.

This is better! The back end page is where it is. You see Wonder woman using her lasso which… is mysteriously cut out mid back-pocket. What? Why? If only they hadn’t done that, or at least if it would have vanished into the pocket. It just looks weird here. I get that it disappears into the page so that it looks like she’s shutting the notebook’s cover, very clever and comic book-like, but take a step back and just look at the page layout. It’s… not good.

Inside are lined pages and a blue ribbon. The paper is the newer kind, so there’s no weird spidering, it’s good for gel ink pens, ballpoint, pencil, and certain fountain pens and inks (Noodler’s Black works with every fountain pen, all else needs testing, but generally speaking fine and extra fine nibs and inks that aren’t overly saturated or wet will work fine. The paper is thin, so there will be show through).

This edition comes with some nice stickers, and it would have been great if they would have been part of the cover or end paper design, but I’m not complaining, you’re complaining!

The best thing about this edition is the B-side of the wrapper, which explains what Wonder Woman’s stuff does. Of course the Lasso of Truth is there, it’s the Lasso of Truth edition, didn’t we already go over that?

The Wonder Woman fan in your life is probably going to love this edition, even though Moleksine can and does do better. It’s fun, it’s unusually colourful (most Moleskine limited editions feature black covers. They’re like Ford that way), and it will probably be on deeply discounted sale soon, so stock up then for gifting or as an everyday notebook.

Moleskine Wonder Woman Blue Notebook Review

Tournament of Books: Census

A few days ago I finished reading the tenth Tournament of Books 2019 book, Jesse Ball’s “Census“, which is running against Lydia Kiesling’s “The Golden State” in the fourth round of the competition.

Perhaps unfairly, but when I first saw “Census” I thought that it was going to be novel in the vein of Max Porter’s “Grief is a Thing With Feathers”. I blame the the cormorant on its cover and the published blurb about it for putting me in that frame of mind. It was very clear a few pages in that “Census” would not survive that comparison. Then again, so few books could.

“Census” is book with a very moving preface and some very moving photos at the end. In the middle is a featureless wasteland. It is populated by unnamed characters that function in an unnamed, ill defined world that is maybe desolate, where a peculiar census is conducted each year in which people are asked questions by a census taker who then marks them and posts their answers onwards. Nothing in this novel is given edges, well defined. Everything is wishy washy, vague, seen through thick, milky glass. But that preface… so you stick to it, and it helps that the book is short, though it has no plot to speak of and the setting is bleak and bland. The key to this novel is its characters then, and that’s not surprising because after all, you’ve read the preface and that’s what’s keeping you here.

And that’s the biggest frustration, because when Jesse Ball lets himself write good characters then by God the man knows how to write good characters. There’s a tiny vignette of a ex-fossil loving boy that’s so precise, so concise and so convincing that you want to howl that the rest of the novel isn’t like that. That the surgeon-father-protagonist isn’t like that. That the son, the whole reason for this novel, remains a shapeless mass with nothing making him hum – no distinct feature, tic, preference. That the wife is the best defined major character and even she is seen through thick fog. It’s never personal, emotional, realistic or if he’s really going for the absurdist (which is a poor stylistic choice for the subject matter IMHO) then it’s far from fully embracing that even.

What is feels like is that the writer took a subject that was too close to home, too painful, and tried to deal with it while not dealing with it at the same time. The result is a novel that does everything possible to make it difficult for you to feel anything for any of its characters, including empathy. It very easily lets you slip into the “oh this has nothing to do with me” mode, and from there to “none of these characters are likable, hate-able or even interesting, so why should I care” mode.

But then, the preface…

Tournament of Books: Census

Vintage Faber Castell Sharpener

I found this beast in a dusty corner of my favourite vintage shop in Jaffa. It’s far from pristine, but it’s so overbuilt that it still works. The body is Bakelite and somehow still whole, and even the green shavings receptacle isn’t cracked. I haven’t been able to find anything about the Faber Castell 52/18 (except for an eBay listing that says that it’s rare), but I love the design enough to wish that they were still being made today. Something about that green cutout in the black body just works.

Vintage Faber Castell Sharpener

This Week’s Long Run: Evening Birds

Saturday was supposed to rain cats and dogs, so I pushed my Saturday morning 10K to a Friday evening one.

This is a terrible picture of a heron, but that’s what I have I’m afraid.

Momma Egyptian goose keeps an eye on her swimming little ones. Not pictured, the rat that was foraging for food a few meters from them.

Sea scouts out in their boats:

A pair of Egyptian geese watching over the river:

It was very windy, so the surfers were out in force:

This Week’s Long Run: Evening Birds