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Trivia Quiz for “The Discomfort of Evening” by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Trivia Quiz for The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

(winner of the International Booker Prize, 2020)

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 11/20/22

(answers below)

A. Memoirs of a Child

1. Motivation. Multiple reasons lie behind the choice to write these (fictional) memoirs, yet none are explicitly stated by the narrator (who shares some features of the author’s own life). Which one of the following does not seem likely as a reason to write this book?

a. a great affection for family and desire to share funny and sweet stories

b. a victim’s effort to seek justice—divine or societal—for the suffering she’s endured

c. a novelist’s desire to shock city folk by exploiting brutal and grotesque aspects of rural life

d. a one-time believer’s want to expose harsh views promulgated by the Dutch Reformed Church.

2. Duration. How much time is covered in the narration?

a. Nine years: she is 12 years old at the beginning and 21 at the end.

b. One month: she is 10 at beginning and end, and the time goes only from December to January.

c. One night: it all happens on the terrible night her brother drowned, when she was 10.

d. Two years: she grows from age 10 to age 12.

B. A Strange Worldview

3. Maxims. The Discomfort of Evening includes numerous judgments and lessons on life by the young narrator. Which one of the following does she not say (or think)?

a. “Anger has hinges that need oiling.”

b. “There’s nothing here to smile about.”

c. “For our generation, professional prestige lay most significantly in the moral worth of one’s employer.”

d. “Everything that requires secrecy here is accepted in silence.”

4. Home sweet home? Which one of the following does not describe the narrator’s home?

a. They have only three TV channels: Nederlands 1, 2, and 3.

b. They live on a farm, with various animals including cows, rabbits, and chickens.

c. They consider stewed cow’s udder with mustard to be a special treat.

d. They are hiding Jews in their basement, the narrator thinks, because her mom stores food there.

e. Their home is beloved far and wide for the music, friendship, and joy one finds there.

C. People and Their Problems

5. Strained relations abound. Which one of the following is not in this book?

a. A brother sexually abuses his sister.

b. A boy sexually abuses a neighbor girl.

c. A girl masturbates with a stuffed animal.

d. A mother becomes grief-stricken, then numb, then suicidal, faced with her life’s challenges.

e. A father kills his son, to teach him a lesson.

f. A girl suffers from long-term constipation and her father tries to “cure” her.

g. A boy forces a girl to kill an animal as a sacrifice.

6. A difficult world surrounds them. Which of the following maxims is not cited?

a. “Crows in a farmyard are an omen of death.”

b. “You don’t take rotten mandarins back to the greengrocer’s.”

c. “Mum doesn’t like made-up things, because stories in your imagination often leave out suffering and Mum thinks it should be part of things.”

d. “I promise to make you feel wanted, loved and cherished every single day.”

e. “Sometimes it’s good to frighten them a bit.”

7. Death is the central theme and end of this book. Which of the following is not from The Discomfort of Evening?

a. “You die fast or slowly and both things have their advantages and disadvantages.”

b. “Since death is inevitable, it’s best to forget about it. Carpe diem!”

c. “Death never just happens to you, there is always something that causes it. This time it was you. You can kill too.”

d. “I asked God if He please couldn’t take my brother Matthies instead of my rabbit.”

8. Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is also a poet and some lines are poignant or remarkable. Which of the following is not from The Discomfort of Evening?

a. “I only saw her lips moving and my mother’s pursed shut, like mating slugs.”

b. “What more can a bear want?” [the mother asks]. “Love, I think to myself, like the warmth in the cowshed of all those breathing cattle with a common goal—survival.”

c. A maid screams: “There was no reflection of him in the mirror!”

d. “There’s a drowned butterfly inside me.”

e. “Their hands were always searching for something and if you were no longer able to hold an animal or a person tenderly, it was better to let go and turn your attention to other useful things instead.”

9. Striking symbols. Which of the following is not a symbolic presence in this book?

a. a pet hamster is drowned in a glass of water, while three children watch

b. a child is forced to break open her piggy bank (in the form of a cow), with a hammer

c. an IUD (or “coil” birth control device) is found in a baby book

d. a painting becomes uglier and uglier, while the person in the painting becomes mean and cruel

e. a sign says: “LOOK OUT! TOADS CROSSING,” beside a road littered with crushed bodies

10. The message? Which of the following is not a quote from this book, on family and religion?

a. “It must have been most irksome to find himself bound by a hard-wrung pledge to stand in the stead of a parent to a strange child he could not love. “

b. “I’m beginning to have more and more doubts about whether I find God nice enough to want to go and talk to Him.”

c.  “It might sound crazy, but I miss my parents even though I see them every day.”

d. “One day I’d like to go to myself.”

Open question: Some might ask whether such a brutal, depressing story should be considered as “art,” let alone win the prestigious International Booker prize. As Alice Walker wrote: “If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for?”

ANSWERS

1. a.

2. d.

3. c. (That quote is from The Remains of the Day.)

4. e

5. e.

6. d. (That quote is from a website of loving quotations [https://www.ftd.com/blog/celebrate/love-words], certainly not from this book.)

7. b. (That quote is a platitude of my own invention.)

8. c. (That quote is from Dracula.)

9. d. (That plot is from The Picture of Dorian Gray.)

10. a. (That quote is from Jane Eyre.)

P.S. The open question remains open; we questioned what it means to be “better,” among other things…

**********

Join us next month, on Sunday December 11 at 3pm, when we will discuss two classic stories that have been adapted into movies. You are invited to view the films and compare them to the stories (if time permits).

The books to read are:

1. Arthur Schnitzler, Dream Story. Also known as Rhapsody: A Dream Novel, it is a 1926 novella by the Austrian writer Schnitzler (128 pages). It was adapted into a film by Stanley Kubrick called Eyes Wide Shut (1999), starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise.

2. James Joyce, “The Dead.” First published in 1924, this story is the last one in the Irish writer Joyce’s collection of short stories, Dubliners. It is about 50 pages.  A film version of The Dead exists as well: it is the 1987 drama directed by John Huston, written by his son Tony Huston, and starring his daughter Anjelica Huston. 

Happy reading and viewing; hope to see you in December!

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death dogs English literature loss retirement wisdom

can one be sad “better”?

Hi, Feeling a bit sad this morning, about the inevitability of decline. Three reasons why : 1)First there are the enormous vet bills that have been pouring in for our beloved Honey Girl who, at 13, is a less mobile, less aware dog whose ahem, unhygienic habits are starting to make my life exhausting as well as breaking the bank. 2) Then there’s husband about to turn 70. 3) Finally, there is all that mail I suddenly started receiving about Medicare. Wow, we must all three of us be getting old!

So this morning I turned to audiobooks for help, and I’m now listening to Helen Russell, How to Be Sad. It’s pretty good. (Despite the annoying subtitle: Everything I’ve Learned About Getting Happier by Being Sad, Better. Why can’t they just let the sadness be?)

I’m still sad.

Sad is ok, just kind of quiet…

Hope you are ok too.

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American literature art creativity death

Seattle Protests! face masks support ACLU and #BLM

 

These face masks celebrate the peaceful #Black Lives Matter protests which have marked 2020 in Seattle and ushered in hopes for a more equitable future.
– Available in Large, Adult, and Petite sizes
– Attached by black cotton ties printed with colorful peace symbols. Extra long ties for all hairstyles!
– The latest in retro-chic style (see the June 2020 Vogue!)
– Sold in sets of two masks
– 100% cotton front and back. The fronts are in bright orange and red batik, printed with a black silkscreen of the Seattle cityscape. The backs are made of tight-woven white cotton for superior protection.
– Created from New York Times pattern (April 1, 2020): page A15
– Lined with interfacing for a crisp look with no ironing required
– Include the adorable HGBG puppy dog logo
– Free shipping to anywhere in the USA.
– 50% of proceeds will be donated to the local arm of the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, the nation’s premier civil rights and civil liberties organization. Clients will receive a copy of the receipt from the ACLU when this fund-raiser is over.
– Your purchase supports a Seattle small business and promotes fair and equal civil rights for all!

-Limited availability; only 25 will be made. Order today from the Honey Girl Books and Gifts Etsy store.

Seattle Protests masks with books

Why? Because Black Lives Matter.

P.S. Wonder who that handsome smiling man is, in the background on the right? It’s Langston Hughes (1901-1967): a great African-American activist and writer, and judging from the touching voice of his poems, a beautiful human being.  Listen to him recite “I, Too Sing America.”

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American literature art conflict creativity death quilts work

day 74, same as yesterday

Can’t think of anything better than to repeat myself, on this sad moment in American life.

Dear reader,

I know that you are suffering. That is why I’m writing. I want to remind you that your life matters, your mind matters, your potential matters. Your words and actions matter. All the people who have died matter, and we will remember them, and keep demanding an end to the violence. And if you would like a face mask to wear during this ongoing COVID-19 crisis, or a quilt to celebrate a life, let me know. I can help with that. (Quilts $100 today only; lead time 3-6 months.)

Thank you.

With hope and solidarity,

Julia   (use the Contact form to communicate requests for masks or quilt information, or just to chat. I’ll check in frequently.)

p.s. sorry for such a minute response to what is really a shattering moment in American history, but apart from nothing—symbolic silence—I could not think of anything worth writing. It’s all out there in the news, I can only offer face masks or quilts, and a few words of comfort.

Honey Girl quilts, normally $499.99, just $100 this week only!

(That is Nick’s high school graduation quilt, June 2009; apologies for the out-of-focus photo)

***

and fyi, yesterday’s face mask production:

Face masks made on May 31 2020

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conflict creativity death quilts Zen philosophy

day 73: dear country, let me help

Today dawns on a weary, frightened populace as we look around at a nation torn apart by so many calamities. It is overwhelming. I seek to respond but don’t know how, apart from shedding some tears for the civil rights movement we felt was so wonderful while I was growing up, and all the hopes now dashed again, proven wrong yet again. I’m especially worried for my black women friends who are raising sons in this toxic environment. But I am really sorry for all of us, because today you and I are suffering.  Even if we think we’re exempt / immune /numb and incapable of taking in any more horrors, we are suffering. I turn to the Buddhist writings of Thich Nhat Hanh for guidance. I’ve been thinking and singing in my head the Billy Swan song, “I Can Help,” for hours.  Clearly, it would do me good to do you good. But how?

Here is what I learned from the Buddhist:

“When we are suffering, we have a strong need for the presence of the person we love. If we are suffering and the man or woman we love ignores us, then we suffer more. So what we can do—and right away—is to manifest our true presence to the beloved person and say the mantra with force: ‘Dear one, I know that you are suffering; that is why I am here for you.’”*

Today, we need love all around. Maybe you’re missing THE person you love. OK, can’t help with that. But I can be one person speaking up to you today with a friendly gesture that is real.

Dear reader,

I know that you are suffering. That is why I’m writing. I want to remind you that your life matters, your mind matters, your potential matters. Your words and actions matter. All the people who have died matter, and we will remember them, and keep demanding an end to the violence. And if you would like a face mask to wear during this ongoing COVID-19 crisis, or quilt to celebrate life, let me know. I can help with that. (Quilts $100 today only; lead time 3-6 months.)

Thank you.

With hope and solidarity,

Julia   (use the Contact form to communicate requests for masks or quilt information, or just to chat. I’ll check in frequently.)

p.s. sorry for such a minute response to what is really a shattering moment in American history, but apart from nothing—symbolic silence—I could not think of anything worth writing. It’s all out there in the news, I can only offer face masks or quilts, and a few words of comfort.  But remembering Billy Swan, I just had to say, “let me help”.

***

Here are a few examples of memory quilts from the past, fyi

and fyi, Yesterday’s face mask production

Face masks made on May 30 2020

*Thich Nhat Hanh, “Love is Being Present,” Right Here with You: Bringing Mindful Awareness into Our Relationships, ed. Andrea Miller and the editors of the Shambhala Sun (Boston, Shambhala, 2011), 7.

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art creativity death dogs French literature nature storms wisdom

Day 72: ignite the finite (homage to Diderot)

Our lives are finite. We can only stand so much. Honey Girl’s actions during today’s thunderstorm prove it.

First, she was hiding in the bathroom because the lightning and thunder scare her. During a lull in the storm, I opened the door and she came out. A little. Then the thunder boomed and she went back in to the smallest place in the house: a tiny bathroom under the stairs. Her world is as small as she can make it. We can’t help it that sounds scare us, but being of a philosophical mind, we can find interest in the concept of being “finite.” And happily, it doesn’t have to scare us.

“Our lives are finite” feels grim; a death sentence. But if you examine the actual word and concept, it feels different. It feels a lot like peace.

finite, adjective and noun (from Latin finitus, pa pple of finire FINISH verb)

a. adjective. 1. Having bounds, ends, or limits; not infinite or infinitesimal.

b. Having an existence subject to limitations and conditions.

2. Fixed, determined, definite.

[Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 1, p. 962. Three other definitions follow, in math, grammar, and music.]

What I love about this definition is the concept of: “Not infinite or infinitesimal.” In other words, we do exist, we have the ability to act, we are not insignificant. Instead of despairing about our lives’ limitations, why not turn it around? Why not think of our bodies and minds as conduits through which we can make things happen. It’s the real potential at hand. Ignite the finite!

(For my part, I’ve already launched one long-term collaborative project with a distant friend today and I’ve got dozens of masks to sew, so my time feel’s short. I like it that way.)

As Denis Diderot once said, « J’aime mieux une belle chimère qui fait tenter de grandes choses qu’une réalité stérile, une prétendue sagesse qui jette et retient l’homme rare dans une stupide inertie. »

–Lettre à Falconet, in Esprit de Diderot : choix de citations, p. 61.

« I prefer beautiful fantasies that inspire men of genius to grandiose actions, rather than a sterile reality, supposedly the seat of wisdom, which enslaves their spirits to inertia.”

***

 

Yesterday’s face mask production, fyi

Face masks made on May 29 2020

 

*with thanks to Laurent Loty’s beautiful book (with Éric Vanzieleghem), Esprit de Diderot: choix de citations (Paris: Hermann, 2013) and the bookmarks commemorating events at Université Paris Diderot, in honor of French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713-1784), editor of the Encyclopédie and many other works of Enlightenment genius.

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American literature art creativity death Zen philosophy

day 66: “Undone” and “Devs”: love the way they stay in the mind

Two good things to note about this spring: we’ve watched some series that generated really interesting conversations about existence and its possibilities. Last night we watched the finale of Devs (spoiler alert: it’s actually DEUS), and we’re still wondering what exactly it meant. Does the kinda creepy tech wizard messiah dude (played by Nick Offerman) get to live forever, as long as his blank-faced automaton girlfriend (Alison Pill) keeps the switch turned on? But what about the gamine, feisty, super-smart heroine Lily (played to perfection by Sonoya Mizuno)? Is she doomed to live in the messiah dude’s version of paradise? That could be nice, as is suggested by the sweet embrace with her hunky boyfriend (Jin Ha) at the end. But what if somebody turns off the switch?!!!!!

Undone, which we saw earlier this spring, was/is even better. In Undone, the heroine Alma (Rosa Salazar) struggles with “mental health” in ways that put a bite into the words–what’s so healthy about reality as we know it? (It is worth noting that her very name is inspiring: “Alma” has several meanings in a variety of languages but the gist is this child “feeds one’s soul” or “lifts the spirit”.) Even though the images are animated, Alma feels very real; her presence is what the French call tonique.

Alma’s situation is so interesting that I can’t wait to see Season 2 of Undone. I guess it’s what we all wish we could do. Sort of. Sometimes… She is able to see and talk to her dead dad. She sees him pretty regularly although with startling irregularity to her: he comes and goes at whim, played with spot-on timing by Bob Odenkirk, who has the most familiar voice from all those seasons of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, that you totally believe he’s the dad, or an uncle, or somebody you know.

The comedy/tension of Undone comes from watching this dazzling Latina heroine toggle between the two worlds: on the one hand, there are the moments of Zen awareness brought on by her dad and his teachings, but they are marred by the anxiety of wondering if he is messing with her for his own designs. On the other hand, there is Alma’s sweet (maybe too sweet?) boyfriend, played adorably by Siddharth Dhananjay. But wait a minute: what’s with his not telling her about their break-up before her near-death experience, amnesia and unwitting reconciliation? Is he intolerably weak, to be dropped immediately, or heart-breakingly lovable and to be married at all costs? Is she really going insane (again)? The possibility of wisdom hovers on the horizon, now and then you hear words you wish you could write down when the dad is talking or they’re walking in outerspace… But Alma’s sharp tongue keeps you on edge; she’s just irrational enough to make you wonder about her.  (Or identify with her!)

In short, it’s a slice of Zen 101 alongside funny scenes from a super-smart girl’s life, coping with the messy real-time stuff we call today. It is complicated, surprising, and philosophically complex.

Both Devs and Undone pounce on the power of humans to persuade each other of stuff, as does Sneaky Pete, another good series we watched recently.  (Hmmm… seems like the zeitgeist is on to something) All these shows stay with you long after the lights are out and bring on lively conversation—c’est un tonique!

 

Time to walk, now, and another day of sewing!

 

And yesterday’s face mask production, fyi

Face masks made on May 23 2020

 

Undone image By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61764886

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art creativity death design memory wisdom

day 65: Clotho is awesome

Do you ever wonder why sewing is such a passion? Why it is so satisfying to create fine stitched work? Or to handle the smooth fabric and admire the tightly-woven, straight seams? If you suspect it’s connected to our desire for order, control, and symmetry, I agree. And I’d wager such longings explain the story of our mythic ancestress, Clotho, the Fate, who spins the thread of human life.

Clotho is one of our earliest fore-mothers, in a long line of women stitching. My history is probably like yours in some ways. I bet if you thought about your own family, you might find similar traditions of sewing, embroidery, quilting, or at least mending clothes (remember darning socks on a lightbulb?!)–arts and skills which are making a comeback at present, it seems… in this new Depression era.

My love of sewing is closely connected to my mother’s teachings, who learned it from her mother in Portland, OR, who likely learned it from her German-born mother. (That’s grandma as a tot, second from bottom right, and her mom sitting behind her with a baby on her lap.)

Grandma as a baby and her family White Salmon WA ca, 1915

Some of my fondest teenage memories have to do with sewing. (OK, I know! We were sewing store geeks!) Since I lived in the Bryant neighborhood and my friend lived in Laurelhurst, it was easy. We’d ride our bikes down to Stitch in Time, down by the U Village (before the U Village was chic), and spend hours designing our own special looks (Betsey Johnson was our idol), buying the fabrics, and then riding uphill—steeply—to our houses at the top of hills, to admire our stashes and make stuff. Both of us had learned it from our mothers with the help of Home Ed class at school. (Home Ed actually has a fascinating history and provides many key skills. I wish they’d put such “vocational” topics back into circulation in HS.)

Great-grandma's sewing machine

I am so attached to this heritage that I kept using grandma’s wrought-iron sewing machine (a 1928 White Rotary, above) until, after multiple attempts to repair it and after getting machine oil all over my hands one too many times, I sadly gave it up. (It’s still in the garage, of course.) My new machine, an industrial model Juki, was recommended by my sister-in-law, a fellow aficionado of textiles, who actually runs a flourishing interior design business in Seattle.

This is clearly a matriarchy of knowledge and skill, a source of power. Just look at our ancestor, Clotho, and her sisters!

Fates_tapestry_-460755563

Clotho is a mythological figure. In ancient Greek mythology, she is the one of the Three Fates or Moirai. Her role is a spinner; as she spins thread, she brings people to life. In this tapestry, called The Triumph of Death, or The 3 Fates, you can see how the three Fates work together. Her sister Fates, Lachesis and Atropos, draw out the thread of life (Lachesis) and cut it (Atropos). Thread represented human life and the decisions of Clotho and her sisters–how and when to begin, prolong, and end life–thus represented the fate of all people in society.*

WOW! That is one powerful sisterhood

I love how my quilts are now speaking to the face masks: Here is yesterday’s mask production, followed by two quilts from pre-COVID-19 days:

face masks made on May 22 2020

See how the ginkgo tree green, and the blue cranes, from “Kimono Silk Quilt no. 2” (above, left) have now shown up in face masks?  Also visible are face masks made of the black and white chessboard fabric, and black polka dots, from “Alice in Wonderland” small quilt no.1 (above, right). My stash is literally walking out the door! (not to worry, there’s plenty more)

 

Who cares if it’s geeky? Stitch on, sisters and nieces, near and far!

 

With love to Andrea, Shellie, and Jessie

 

info and imagery from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clotho and tapestry: Flemish, 1510-1520, Victorian and Albert Museum, London.

By This mediaUser:PriorymanOriginal workUnknown artist – Image by w:User:Prioryman, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53491807

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American literature art creativity death humor

Day 56, it’s painful, but it’s ours

Rainy day, gloomy outlook, horrifically alarming news… on a day like today it is hard to find the energy for… well, anything. Luckily, we have Dorothy Parker to the rescue!

Here’s a droll little poem about why life is better than the alternative. Poet Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) ironically called it “Résumé”—which could mean two things: 1) a noun: a “résumé” is a summary of knowledge or experience, or 2) a verb in the past tense, “resumed” means kept going, recommenced, restarted (what we hope our “normal” pre-Covid 19 lives will do some day).

Whatever it means, let’s hope this poem gives you a smile too.

Résumé

Razors pain you;

Rivers are damp;

Acids stain you;

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful;

Nooses give;

Gas smells awful;

You might as well live.

— Dorothy Parker, “Résumé” (1925) in The Best of Dorothy Parker. Illus. Helen Smithson. London: Folio Society, 1995.

 

And yesterday’s mask production, fyi:

Face masks made on May 13 2020

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American literature art conflict creativity death design humor work

day whatever

email I wrote today:

Dear ….,

In case you’re wondering why I’m already on email at 5:45am, it’s because of the shortage of white cotton!!!  I was lying awake worrying about how I’m going to get enough fine tight-woven white cotton to line the face masks I’m selling, because demand is robust to put it mildly.  It is scary to be so much in demand, in a way, at the same time that it is thrilling.

But now that I’ve ordered probably way too many expensive flat white sheets (which may or may not arrive–I’ve never seen so many orders be “cancelled”!), I can calm down, drink my coffee (thank goodness there’s no shortage of that yet) and enjoy the dawn.  It is fun to feel needed, but now that my supplies are shrinking, I’m developing a whole new appreciation for supply and demand, and how a crisis throws assumptions about what is valuable out the window. I’m also developing a certain sympathy for price gougers. After all, why not, right?  (But so far, I’m holding the line on my own principles, and charging only $5 each or free to elderly, unemployed and medical personnel.)

Ouf.  This is what they call a teachable moment, I guess.

While keeping anxiety at bay, barely, I went for another morning walk. Mailed my first mail-order of face masks! And ruminated over the growing list of orders..  (“How will I ever get them all done?” / “This is awesome!!! I am having so much fun!”)

Seeing the library in the tender early light made me realize how much I miss going there. Before I met my funny new friends, the library was a rare source of laughs, when we first moved here.
That is where I discovered some excellent reads:

  1. Liane Moriarty, Three Wishes: [heroine’s to-do list]: “Reduce stress in measurable, tangible ways, both professional and personal, by no later than March 1.” (p. 208) On being in despair over a miscarriage and a divorce: “Death was the hot bath you promised yourself while you endured small talk and uncomfortable shoes. You could stop pretending to have a good time when you were dead.” (p. 244)

Also: Liane Moriarty, Nine Perfect Strangers, and really, anything by her!

  1. Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You: [child contemplating her mother]: “’Keeping house’, she had thought. She still powdered her nose after cooking and before eating; she still put on lipstick before coming downstairs to make breakfast. So they called it ‘keeping house’ for a reason, Marilyn thought. Sometimes it did run away.” (p. 29)

Here’s a good corona-joke:

2020 is a unique Leap Year. It has 29 days in February, 300 days in March and 5 years in April. 

 [with thanks to Tom]

See you tomorrow; I’ve got to get back to work!!!

ps, yesterday’s batch of masks:

Masks made on April 15 2020