Book Notes: Tana French’s The Witch Elm

Tana French is a great mystery / police procedural author from Ireland. But even a great author can produce a dud. And this novel is definitely it. And it’s such a shame because her previous novel was about the crisis, and it was so great. And then all of a sudden she steps away from all that and writes about some ridiculous adolescent drama of overgrown rich kids.

The novel did wonders for my sleep issues because it’s boring, unrealistic, meaningless, and the characters are ridiculous cliches without a spark of unpredictability. The gay character is a whiny, promiscuous, drug-addicted drama queen. The protagonist’s girlfriend is a supportive, cheerful, chirpy, self-sacrificing idiot who is always in a great mood and ready to help. The cop is every stereotype of a cop in existence. The protagonist himself is “toxic white masculinity” personified.

The only idea that the novel transmits – and whacks you on the head with it repetitively – is that men suck. Gay, straight, young, old, middle-aged, adolescent, healthy, disabled – they are either rabidly vicious or pathetically weak.

And God, the writing. People speak in endless monologues. The conversations are interminable, stilted, and extremely repetitive.

Do yourself a favor and don’t read it, is all I can say.

Psychopolitics, Part II

The power of the highest order doesn’t recur to violence.

Once you have to use violence, it means that somebody has found the strength or the presence of mind to oppose you. Real power means you don’t have to break the body because the mind already belongs to you.

Real power is when everybody willingly turns the self into a panopticon and when the disciplinary apparatus moves inside you.

Psychopolitics, Part I

I said before that Byung-Chul Han rewrites Zygmunt Bauman without offering much of his own. However, his book Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power is actually very fresh. It’s my favorite one so far.

Marx promised that the exploitation of the working classes by the owners of the means of production would eventually be abolished by the advent of communism. Obviously, no communism arrived. However, allo-exploitation – which is the exploitation by others – is, indeed, dying out. Neoliberalism is killing it by destroying the barriers between exploited labor and means of production.

Everybody’s means of production is now the self. We are our own means of production. And each of us is both the exploiter and the exploited at once. Instead of allo-exploitation, it’s now auto-exploitation.

The social revolution is no longer possible because there can be no class solidarity when there are no classes.

Let’s illustrate this with an example. It’s 8 pm on a Saturday night. What are people doing? The rich, the poor, and everybody in the middle are working their tails off without any compensation to enrich the owners of Twitter, Instagram, or FB. They are squeezing every ounce of value from their means of production, which is their self. And they don’t even begin to conceive of themselves as exploited.

Book Notes: Recent Reading

On the flight today, I read Lianne Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot, start to finish. (The flight was delayed). It’s typical mommy lit, which is one of my favorite entertainment genres, and of very good quality. It obviously isn’t a work of art but it’s great entertainment. And it is a useful look into the nature of familial relationships.


Mike Omer’s Glenmore Park series

1. Spider’s Web – this was his first book, and he had no idea how to construct a novel. The structure is terrible. But the story itself is quite captivating.

2. Deadly Web – this one was a total dud. Omer writes beautifully about serial killers so I have no idea why he kept getting distracted onto something else.

3. Web of Fear – it’s much better than the second one but I’m glad Omer dropped this series and started one about the FBI.


Horacio Castellanos Moya’s El arma en el hombre is a novel I read to ensure one of my footnotes was right. But it’s a very powerful novel. Highly recommended for college literature courses. It’s probably the simplest, most accessible thing Castellanos Moya has written.

The Power of Cooking

I taught Klara a gender stereotype. We were reading a book about Nelly Gnu where Daddy makes dinner.

“The story is not saying the truth!” Klara exclaimed indignantly. “Daddies don’t cook. Mommies do!”

My explanation that some daddies – like uncle Etki, for instance – do cook had zero effect. She believes in observable reality, which is that Daddy never cooks.

I don’t mind because there is no greater power than the power of cooking. It’s the power over the life and well-being of the whole family. If I feed you deep-fried, greasy and sugary stuff for several decades, you’ll die 20 years before your time. But if I do fresh, seasonal and green all the time, I’m giving you life. N, by the way, got off statins and brought his cholesterol to a super healthy range only thanks to my cooking. When he was single and cooked for himself (out of deep freezers and cans), he was 40 lbs heavier and had no energy to work out. Plus, I have a kid who literally tears broccoli out of my mouth because she likes it so much.

Also, cooking is a great way to promote psychological hygiene. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Indian Buffet in Alexandria

At least, in Alexandria I immediately found a used book store and an Indian buffet right next to the hotel, so I’m now more reconciled to the place.

The Indian buffet here doesn’t deserve to shine our local buffet’s shoes, of course. The tamarind sauce and the butter chicken look drab. The vindaloo is bland. The vindaloo! Bland! The only meat is chicken, and it’s dry. Back home we have veal and goat and always a fish option, cooked amazingly well. Here, there is nothing by way of seafood. And instead of eggs or fish pakora, they serve onion pakora. Bleh.

There is no masala tea included. No pappadam. Instead of the tea, you can order something called Indian coffee, whatever that is. All the food options are the same shade of brown. But even all this is better than no Indian place at all.

I’m now off to the bookstore. As if to mock my love of museums, there is a “surfboard store and museum” nearby.


The conference in DC is do badly placed that instead of DC I have to stay in some sorry-ass place called Alexandria, which Google says is only good for shopping and eating at fancy foodie places. Neither of which I want to do. I wanted to go to museums and eat at Mari Vanna, which, it turns out, is too far away from this useless place.

Has anybody heard anything good about Alexandria?

Soviet Inequality

Another thing I like about Masha Gessen’s book is that she dispels the myth about the increase in inequality after the collapse of the USSR. There was no increase. To the contrary, all evidence demonstrates that there was a slight decrease in inequality.

I always knew this but most Soviet people were unaware because they had no opportunity to observe the lives of the Soviet rich. The separation between the rich and everybody else was complete. After the fall of the Soviet regime, the elites didn’t need to conceal their lifestyle any more, so most people decided that the inequality was something new.

When I was 11, I saw a classmate of mine, the daughter of the director of the farmers’ market light a cigarette with a hundred-rouble bill. That was my father’s monthly salary. My father had a PhD in applied linguistics. Her mother (the market director) had dropped out of high school after the eighth grade. This was in 1986.

There was always inequality. Maybe not so much in the 1920s, but after that, it got worse and worse, exploding to ridiculous heights during WWII.