The Tyranny of Routine & Three Literary Links

A scene from “The Jane Austen Book Club”

You need to follow a routine.  That’s what they tell insomniacs.  Get up at the same time every day.  Oh, sure, set that alarm for 6 on the weekend.  That will regulate your sleep patterns.

I used to be an insomniac.  I seldom slept more than four hours a night.    In a sitcom,  everyone laughs when the “insomniac” is caught snoring, because it proves that he or she does sleep.   But I used to stay up and read till 1 or 2, and then get up at 5:30 to get to work by 7:30.

My insomnia stopped when I began to work at home.  So the problem was simple:  I  wasn’t a morning person.  Now I get my sleep, and my schedule is flexible.  My motto is,  Get it done.  The time of day doesn’t matter.

Because of the tyranny of routine in the workplace,  I very much enjoyed John Stilgoe’s column in The Guardian, “Is a daily routine all it’s cracked up to be?”  Routines are said to help creativity and productivity, but a study of academic writing habits proved that it isn’t always helpful to write every day.  You may lose your motivation.

Stilgoe writes,

Routines are good. It’s easier to make something a habit if you plan it in advance and do it daily; plus there’s the (controversial) phenomenon of “decision fatigue”, which implies that you should “routinise” as many choices as possible – such as when to get up and what to do first each day – to save energy for others. Some people are so disorganised that a strict routine is a lifesaver. But speaking as a recovering rigid-schedules addict, trust me: if you click excitedly on each new article promising the perfect morning routine, you’re almost certainly not one of those people. You’re one of the other kind – people who’d benefit from struggling less to control their day, responding a bit more intuitively to the needs of the moment. This is the self-help principle you might call the law of unwelcome advice: if you love the idea of implementing a new technique, it’s likely to be the opposite of what you need.

THREE MORE LITERARY LINKS.

1  Gene Wolfe, a literary science fiction writer, died on April 21.  Last year I wrote at my blog Mirabile Dictu (here) about  The  Shadow of the Torturer, the first volume of Gene Wolfe’s award-winning quartet, The Book of the New Sun.

And in an article in The New Republic, Jeff Heer calls Wolfe the Proust of science fiction.   He writes,

Wolfe, a celebrated writer of science fiction and fantasy with a deeply Catholic imagination, died on Sunday at age 87. Wolfe was a writer who occupied a unique niche by fusing together three seemingly divergent strands: pulp fiction, literary modernism, and Catholic theology. His four-volume masterpiece The Book of the New Sun (of which The Shadow of the Torturer is the first tome) is an almost indescribable combination of speculative Christian eschatology with a Conan the Barbarian adventure story, written in a prose that can fairly be described as Proustian.

3.  Have you read the 11th-century Japanese writer Murasaki Shikibu’snovel, The Tale of Genji?  That was my summer project a few years ago.  In The New Yorker, Louis Menand writes about the Tale of Genji exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum.

Literary Bits & Pieces: Amy Hempel’s “A Full-Service Shelter,” Elsa Morante’s “Arturo’s Island,” & Two Links

We are mourning the death of our cat, whose personality was so strong the house seems empty.  I can’t even bear to throw away her hairy pillow.  Nothing seemed right this week, until I read Amy Hempel’s lyrical  short story, “A Full-Service Shelter,”  about a volunteer at an animal shelter in Spanish Harlem.

 They knew us as the ones who checked the day’s euth list for the names of the dogs scheduled to be killed the next morning, who came to take the death-row dogs, who were mostly pit bulls, for a last long walk, brought them good dinners, cleaned out their kennels, and made their beds with beach towels and bath mats and Scooby-Doo fleece blankets still warm from industrial dryers. They knew me as one who made their beds less neatly over the course of a difficult evening, who thought of the artist whose young daughter came to visit his studio, pointed to the painting she liked, and asked, “Why didn’t you make them all good?”

You can read this poignant story in Hempel’s new collection of short stories, Sing to It

Has anyone read Ann Goldstein’s new translation of Elsa Morante’s Arturo’s Island? Reviewers love it.  And I already have this 1962 paperback of Arturo’s Island in a translation by Isabel Quigly. Is it worth trying?

TWO LITERARY LINKS.

In the New York Times essay, “A 1970s Japanese Novel Leading the Way to Ferrante,” Jiayang Fan recommends Yuko Tsushima 1979 novel Territory of Light for Ferrante fans.  She says,

At first glance, “Territory of Light” seems part of the same cultural moment that has produced recent novels exploring, with unapologetic honesty, the raw interior of the female psyche. Could the Japanese novelist Yuko Tsushima have been inspired by the works of Jenny Offill and Elena Ferrante, whose protagonists — young mothers negotiating life in the wake of marital betrayal — mirror that of Tsushima’s own book?

The answer is no. Tsushima, who died in 2016, first published monthly installments of what would become “Territory of Light” a full four decades ago, when she too was a single mother struggling to eke out an existence in Tokyo. The fact that the novel, which has been elegantly translated into English by Geraldine Harcourt, seems to be in direct dialogue with contemporary novels of motherhood, however, suggests both its deep prescience and the enduring relevance of its insights.

2.  At Literary Hub, I was fascinated by Artemis Leontis’s essay about Eva Palmer Sikelianos:, “It Was All Greek to Her: With the Sappho-Obsessed in 1900s Paris.”  Leontis, author of Eva Palmer Sikelianos:  A Life in Ruins, writes,

In the summer of 1900, Eva Palmer was reading the lines of Sappho in the company of her friends Renée Vivien and Natalie Clifford Barney, preparing for a series of Sapphic performances in Bar Harbor, a summer island resort on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine. Of the three women, Barney and Vivien (who was later christened, in a portrait, “Sapho 1900”) are well known as formative members of a Paris-based literary subculture of self-described women lovers, or “Sapphics.”

In a period that scholars have identified as “pivotal” in delineating modern lesbian identity, they interwove the fragmented texts of Sappho in their life and work, making the archaic Greek poet Sappho of Lesbos the quintessential figure of female same-sex desire and Sapphism, or lesbianism. They appear in the history of gay and lesbian sexuality as the women who contributed substantially to the turn-of-the-century decadent rewriting of Baudelaire’s lexicon of the sexualized woman.

Eva Palmer is largely absent from this history. She has made cameo appearances as the “pre-Raphaelite” beauty with “the most miraculous long red hair” who performed in two of Barney’s garden theatricals in Paris. Yet Eva’s correspondence, along with such sources as photographs and newspaper coverage, indicate that she participated in many more performances. From 1900 to the summer of 1907, the years when she moved with Barney between the United States and Paris, she developed a performance style that complemented the poetic language of Vivien and Barney by implicating Sappho in the practice of modern life. Eva’s acts helped transform the fragmented Sapphic poetic corpus into a new way of thinking and creating, before her differences with Barney propelled her to move to Greece to live a different version of the Sapphic life.

I hope you have a happy reading weekend!

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