Happy New Year!

Reading is such a strange thing. You read something that shakes you, reaches deep inside you and rearranges who you are. . . but nobody else knows about it. Here you are, a completely different person who has absorbed this work of art and made it part of yourself, and nobody has any idea.

In the new year, I wish everyone several strange and incredible reading experiences that will take you apart and then put you back together.

Book Notes: Janet Fitch’s White Oleander

Amazing, incredible news: this is a female Bildungsroman that I loved. Because it’s good. It’s very, very good. I’ve read dozens of these little bastards and completely despaired of finding a worthwhile one because the genre is just so formulaic.

One of the reasons I hate female coming of age novels is that there are no mothers. They are either dead or are patient, downtrodden victims of the patriarchy who only appear in the book to give the daughters a chance to reject their oppressed existence. I told you, it’s formulaic as hell.

Fitch, however, finally wrote a female Bildungsroman that is all about a relationship between a daughter and her mother. And it’s a very complicated mother who’s not a typical, formulaic victim but a murderer serving a life sentence and still maintaining an iron grip on her daughter. The daughter goes through a series of foster homes, and in each there is a woman who represents a facet of her mother’s personality: a pathetic sex addict, a vapid whore, a cold-hearted sadist, a tender, oversensitive creative type, a dumb foreigner. What makes a mother? What unmakes her? Why does having a mother not work if there is no father?

These are very important questions. And readers want this kind of book. White Oleander was a mega bestseller, promoted by Oprah, translated into every language. It was published in 1999 when American authors still wrote about the reality around them.

Since then, Fitch hasn’t written anything that sounds remotely interesting. She’s currently working on a multi-volume saga about the Russian revolution. The Russian revolution books of hers aren’t anything as successful as White Oleander but she keeps ploughing on. And if you read the novel, you’ll see why. Or just look at the recent Amazon reviews. The novel doesn’t conform to the official view of reality, so it can’t be good. Fitch managed to squeeze it in right before the iron gates of political correctness clanged shut on American art. The whole point of the novel is that a woman is not a man. She’s not a “construct” but a different biological reality. The novel also goes against the current dogma on sexuality and consent. And accusing it of “racism” would be a breeze.

Nobody writes anything worthwhile about today because you are going to get destroyed, so what’s the point? Instead, we get piles of novels about WWI, the Russian revolution, and year 1956.

As a funny aside, I visited Fitch’s blog, and it’s extraordinary how boring and conventional she is as a person. It never ceases to amaze me how completely shallow, uninteresting people can create art. The book is so much bigger than the author that it’s crazy.

Great, great book, and a wonderful conclusion to a beautiful reading year.


I’m not sure if it refers to “men” or actual men, and if it’s actual men, then how do they prove they are connected to each particular abortion? I’m also not sure why they need 12 weeks. Is an abortion now officially accepted as such a tragedy that everybody involved spends months in recovery? Or is it a great feat that needs to be rewarded with a paid vacation?

Strange Revelations

The scariest part is that people who live in Quebec don’t know that daily deaths are in single digits.

The information comes up on Google with a simple search.

But they don’t search.

All they know is that the TV told them there are “13,000 cases.” What does that mean in terms of hospitalizations or symptoms? Nobody asks because they haven’t been told to ask.

I must have lived my life incorrectly this whole time because I swear to God and every saint that I had absolutely no idea people were capable of such sheepish behavior. They can’t even be assed to google it! It’s fucking creepy.

“We have so many cases!” they bleat. “13,000 cases!”

“How many deaths?” I ask.

“I don’t know but it’s A LOT.”

“It’s 9 today.”

“Oh, well. I don’t know about that. I’m not good with numbers. But it’s really bad!”

We are two years in, folks. And these gigantic doofuses haven’t even learned to Google for themselves.

COVID vs Welfare

The number of people who died with COVID in Quebec yesterday is 9. In response to this plague of Biblical proportions, the provincial government declared a lockdown and moved schools online until January 17.

The strength and painfulness of COVID restrictions in a given area depends on how strong the welfare state there is. More welfare means greater COVID restrictions. It’s easy to see why that is. People of Quebec are very attached to their extremely robust welfare. It will be hard to make them relinquish it. So they need to be disciplined harder, beaten down more severely.

Reading Rules

I’m superstitious and like to close out the year with a really high-quality read because I’m afraid of jinxing the next reading year if I choose something crappy or even of middling quality.

My rule of thumb is that if I’m going to be reading in English, the book must be at least 20 years old. This dramatically increases its chances of not being crap. If it’s Latin American, it should be published after 1980. If it’s in Russian, it should be less than 10 years old.

I’m very OCD and weird about my reading. However, these rules are not useless. I have found a wonderful novel in English that I hope to finish tomorrow and share a review.

End of Year

It’s good that my husband and I don’t both work from home because I discovered today that he sets himself a timer to keep his lunch break under 15 minutes. The concept of keeping a break under anything is so alien to me that I’d rather not know about this at all.

In other news, I’ve been cooking our New Year’s dinner, which is a multi-day affair, especially since we will be having company. As usual, I’m doing a typical Soviet menu. Soviet New Year’s food was a pretext for people to eat as much mayonnaise as possible but I’m out of luck because local Russian-speakers wiped out the Global Foods Store, leaving none of the familiar Soviet stuff. No mayonnaise, no Soviet-style pickles. A single can of peas (which are vastly superior to whatever passes for canned peas in North America) that I snapped up. No beets! It’s not New Year’s without at least two beet dishes.

By the way, in the last 10 years, in Montreal caviar at the same Russian store went from $35 a kilo to $130 a kilo. In St Louis, the price increase has been a little less steep but comparable.