Klara now learns a word a day. Yesterday’s word was “cupcake” which she pronounces as “caca.” She first saw a cupcake in her alphabet book where it illustrates letter “c.” On that same day, a bunch of new bathtub toys arrived from Amazon Vine, and some of them were rubber cupcakes. 

She looked at a rubber cupcake, thought about it, and asked “Caca?” I confirmed that yes, it was a cupcake, just like in the book. She was so happy that she could identify and name the toy that she fell asleep clutching it in her little fist. 

In the morning, the first thing she did when I came into her room was show me the cupcake and announce “Caca!!” And you should see the joy on her beautiful little face. She’s so happy when she can communicate and have actual little conversations. 



I have a friend whose parents were German Jews who’d escaped right before the Holocaust. They were both college professors and completely secular. And deeply messed up by the Holocaust, as you can imagine. 

My friend has no interest in her Jewishness and never even mentions it. It’s not a part of her life at all. So one of her daughters went on that birthright trip to Israel, and now she feels completely Jewish, even started a Jewish organization on her campus in the deep South. 

I might have told this story before and I don’t remember because with thousands of posts it’s impossible to keep track. But I just met this daughter, and she confirmed the story. It’s fascinating to me how identity works. My friend says she feels very weird whenever she hears het daughter say, “I’m Jewish” because every time she has to remember where that comes from. 

The entire family speaks fluent German, by the way, and travels to Germany all the time. And the girls’ father is actually an ethnic German who learned the language of his ancestors from my friend. 

Book Notes: Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton

loved Strout’s Olive Kitteridge with an uncommon passion, so I decided to read her more recent bestseller My Name Is Lucy Barton

And oh my God. Oh God, oh God, oh God. The novel is not simply bad, it’s horrific. Outside of a couple of Harlequin romances I was once forced to read, this was probably the worst reading experience of my life. I read until the very last page because I kept hoping there would be some sort of a reveal telling us that the writer is consciously parodying bad writing. But no, there was no reassurance of this nature. 

It seems that there is not a pompous banality under the sun that Strout forgot to include in the novel. The characters are shallow, the narrative devices she uses are strained, the plot is beyond trite. But the worst thing, oh, the very very worst, is that somewhere in the middle of the book THERE IS AN EXPLANATION of what the novel is about and how you are supposed to read it. 

The main difference between a writer and a quack is that, in the moment of writing, a writer doesn’t remember the reader. She isn’t tortured by the need to signpost, explain and make sure the readers have not an inch of space to create their own reading of the text. She trusts the text enough to stand on its own, even when she’s not there to guide the readers to “a correct understanding” of it. 

It’s possible that Strout is a one-novel writer who said all she had to say with Olive Kitteridge and is now straining to repeat its success in the absence of having anything new to say. Lucy and Olive revolve around the same theme – an abusive, oblivious mother who devours her children’s lives – but while Olive has something to say to the world, Lucy is devoid of value. It’s a huge bestseller, though, because its banalities are very Facebook-quotable.

A Hard Choice 

If I had to choose whether to be confused for a Trump voter or an ideological* vegetarian, it would be a hard choice but I’d end up choosing a Trump supporter. 

Did you, folks, know that there are people who don’t eat honey because they don’t want to exploit bees? OK, I have no sense of humor and I recognize it’s possible they are taking the piss but they sounded very serious. And I’m very disturbed by things that I can’t possibly understand no matter how hard I try. 

* Meaning not health-related or religious vegetarianism.