Monday, February 27, 2012


Another lovely weekend. Saturday morning was brunch with a charming family - I often forgot there was a two-year-old at our table, and higher praise for her company manners I have none. After brunch I headed off to a nearby town, which was the only place I could see "Coriolanus". After some happy browsing in a used bookstore right next to the movie theater, I bought my ticket and settled in.

I found it fascinating. Of about thirty people in the audience, ten walked out. I don't know what they were expecting - did they do so little research that they didn't know they were about to see an R-rated modern-dress version of a very difficult play? Perhaps they weren't able to giggle their way past Fiennes' performance, as I was. This is the danger when an actor directs him/herself: apparently no one dared to say, "Um, Ralph, your face is two inches from a camera; you don't need to play to the last row of a packed theater." He did very well in a couple quieter scenes - when he had to ask the mob for their approval it was perfectly cringe-inducing - but every time he got worked up it was far too much and I actually lost words here and there. But I thought that any other flaws were the fault of the play, and that it couldn't have been adapted for the screen any better. For the most part it was British actors who know what they're doing speaking Shakespeare, and that delights me. Brian Cox, especially, put the movie in his pocket and walked away with it.

Sunday I puttered and read. Finished The Devil Amongst the Lawyers, which was not up to Sharyn McCrumb's usual standards. It is ostensibly about the trial of a young woman for murder in 1935 Appalachia, and I anticipated the hypnotic creepiness of her other "Ballad novels", as they're called, but this followed the journalists who had come from New York to cover the story, and was a strange attempt to combine an indictment of sensationalist journalism with a re-creation of the Algonquin Round Table. The journalists - including a woman who is Dorothy Parker under the thinnest of veils - sit around uttering witty bon mots and drinking too much, and then start saying heavy-handed things about how Truth Is What We Tell Our Readers It Is, and Someday A President Will Be Chosen By The Press Coverage, and my eyes roll back in my head a bit. A shame.

Then I read The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom. It's the story of an indentured Irish girl brought to Virginia in 1791 and placed in the slave quarters. I found it uncomfortably reminiscent of The Help with its "white people fight racism!" plot, although this did a better job of showing a world in which a white person helping a black person doesn't mean all racism is conquered forever. In this book, white people give slaves their freedom, and life doesn't really get any better for the former slaves, which is probably historically accurate. The heroine is profoundly stupid and a Mary Sue, which is unfortunate, but I did whip through this almost in one sitting. In three weeks I will probably have forgotten I read it. It's that type of book.

Now I'm reading The Assassin's Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln by Kate Clifford Larson. A little dry so far, but interesting.

Friday, February 24, 2012


A year ago today they found the cancer.

Okay, that's a little melodramatic. A year ago today I had a mammogram. I don't know precisely when, after that, the radiologist sat down with the scans and said, "...Hmmm." They called me four days later and said that I needed to come back for more tests.

It was my third mammogram; my mother and grandmother both went through breast cancer young (though not as young as I) and so my primary care physician started me on annual mammograms when I was thirty-one. Yes, I have thanked her profusely since then.

I remember distinctly that when the hospital called and said, "Your mammogram was abnormal; it could be nothing but you need to come in for more tests," I knew it wasn't nothing. I knew it was cancer. There is the logic of knowing that, with my family history, if anything is found it's unlikely to be benign, but it was more instinctive than that. I had no doubts at all of what the abnormality was.

So I went back to mammography, and was squashed through the machines again, and sent back out to the waiting room while they reviewed the scans, and called in to be squashed again, and so on, about four times. All the other women in the waiting room came and went, with the exception of an older woman and her daughter. They also were there the entire time, being called in and sent back out and called in again. They looked more used to it than I felt. We avoided each other's eyes.

Eventually I was informed that the calcifications were definitely there (that's bad!), and definitely all in just one area (that's good!), and so the next step was to biopsy them. If possible, it would be a needle biopsy, but the calcifications would have to be accessible from a certain angle for that (the toppings contain potassium benzoate!), so they put me on some ghastly machine which was rather like a mammogram machine except that I had to lie on my stomach with my arms at terrible angles while my breast was clamped within an inch of its life. As close to the chest wall as possible, because that's where the calcifications were. That's bad. Not in the sense of "more deadly", but in the sense of "ow ow ow OW".

About five people stood around me while I was in this machine, discussing my case. They were all very nice, but at that point I was still invested in my dignity* and so felt an absolute fool. One of the nurses kept marveling at how still I was able to keep myself, both in the mammogram machine and now this one. I marveled that anyone would want to move under these circumstances. Your world has just changed, irrevocably; maybe if you keep still enough you can keep time from moving forward, you can keep from having to face what is happening.

The upshot, after four hours of breast clampage, was that it would have to be a surgical biopsy anyway. With wire localization. Those three words, at the time, seemed innocuous; they are something you never, ever want to happen to you. But that's a story for another day.

I can't believe it's already been a year. It seems that everything moved so quickly after the mammogram, although there were endless stretches between surgeries and results when I discovered that I am capable of sustaining a state of pure terror for three or four days at a time.

I think about it at least twice a day, when dressing and undressing, because I see the lumpectomy scar then (and the radiation tattoos, and the fact that due to radiation I have a permanent rosy tan on one breast, as if I fell asleep half-covered at the nude beach). Lately I have been thinking about it more, because I have an MRI scheduled for late March. Since the cancer would likely return in micro-calcification form, as it initially presented, the manual exams I have been getting have not really told us anything other than that I have healed well from the surgeries. The MRI will really tell us whether the cancer has returned or not. So naturally I'm anxious, but I'm also very glad that it's been scheduled.

We will return to our regularly scheduled book reviews and general silliness soon enough. Just wanted to mark, for myself, that it's been a year since all this started. And to tell all you ladies to get mammograms! They're really not that bad, although you and I both know that if the typical screening for any predominantly male cancer involved grinding the testicles between two metal plates, they would find another way. Even if mammograms were that bad, they would be worth it. Early screening for me was the difference between a lumpectomy plus six weeks of radiation and a far harsher treatment regimen with a smaller chance of success. Get screened, ladies.

*That disappeared about one week into radiation, when I realized that I was lying topless on a machine while a handsome radiation tech used the tattooed dots on my sternum to align the laser beams and I had just asked him, "How are the Bruins doing?"

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

weekend of culture

I did many things this weekend! This is not like me!

Friday night I went to see my friend's production of Measure for Measure (he was the director). It was deliciously funny and the time flew by, though it's a long play. Angelo and Isabella were great, and the comic bits were actually comedic, which in Shakespeare's problem plays / romances is often not the case (I cannot tell you how many otherwise strong productions of the The Tempest I've seen turn into a test of audience stamina when Trinculo and Stephano show up). In Measure for Measure the low comedy is all sex-related, though, and sex jokes hold up pretty well. Possibly the only thing that holds up better is the low comedy in Two Gentlemen of Verona, because a dog on stage is never not funny. The last time I saw Two Gentlemen, Crab was played by an elderly basset hound in a tiny hat, and I would frankly have paid the same amount of money to just look at that on stage for two hours. (There is a picture of said hound, sadly sans hat, at the bottom of this review.)

There were no basset hounds in Friday's show, though they utilized the tiny-hat principle well (tiny hat on a very tall man: never not funny) and added the nice touch of Angelo donning leather pants the second the Duke leaves town. And it didn't hurt that Angelo and Lucio were both easy on the eyes. All in all, good times.  

Unfortunately, I went out with the cast for drinks afterwards, and realized too late that in six years of sobriety I've never actually been to a bar with people only intending to drink; I go to pubs for meals, with people who are having beer or wine with their dinner, all the time, but this was very different. The right thing to do was to get out of there once I realized it was triggering, which is what I did, but I could probably have done it more politely than cutting my friend off in the middle of a sentence with, "I NEED TO GO," grabbing my stuff, and bolting. Very Cinderella of me.

Then Saturday I went to the Peabody Essex museum for the weekend festival celebrating their "Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art" exhibition. The exhibition itself, which I'd already seen, is very hit-or-miss for me, as modern art tends to be. I was mostly there to see the Apache dance troupe, Yellow Bird, and before their performance spent my time in the old / rare book exhibit, where once I have passed they have to wipe my drool from the cases.

Yellow Bird was amazing. They performed about four songs and dances, and prefaced each one with an explanation of the legend or belief to which the song refers. Many of the songs were so powerful and moving that I cried, and looking around, I wasn't the only one. And the hoop dance was just breathtaking. Here's a brief clip of Kevin Duncan performing the beginning of it: there are longer versions linked on that page, but this will give you an idea.

Ken Duncan stated, when talking about the song used to greet the dawn, that if one is awake and facing the east for the sunrise, one feels the heartbeat of all creation. I thought about how, all last week, I never once managed to get up and walk the dogs before work, and how out of step and out of rhythm I felt. White girl appropriation, absolutely, but I know what connections with nature make my life better and more beautiful, and I know that when I am neglecting them I am not as happy. It's never bad to be reminded of that.

Sunday was brunch with my in-laws; yes, I'm still close to them, and hope to remain so.

Monday I went to see "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" with Paulina. (What? I didn't specify high culture.) It was profoundly terrible but that is exactly what we expected; we go to see terrible movies frequently and with great delight. In it, Ciarán Hinds (Captain Wentworth, what are you doing in this movie?) humiliates himself more than I would have thought possible, and I say that as someone who watches "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: Cradle of Something: Yes, They Made a Second One: Perhaps Someone Lost a Bet: Possibly Humanity in General" every time it is on television (it has a lean, pre-"300" Gerard Butler in it; I'm not going to apologize). My theory on Mr. Hinds' performance in "Ghost Rider": either someone just off-screen had his mother at gunpoint, saying, "The scenery dies or she does," or Nicolas Cage's agent was slipping him money to out-crazy Cage. Which cannot be done, but a gallant effort was made. In other words, it was a splendid way to spend an hour and a half.

Also, I read Days of the Dead, by Barbara Hambly. She writes books set in New Orleans in the 1830s and featuring a free man of color, Benjamin January, as a musician / surgeon who solves mysteries. The mysteries are really very minor details of the novels, which are primarily about the social and racial layers of the city during that time and which I find completely engrossing. In this one, Benjamin and his new wife travel to Mexico City to help a friend in danger. I found that the shift in locale made this less absorbing than the previous books; you didn't feel Mexico City the way Hambly makes you feel New Orleans. It was still a fun read, but I look forward to a return to home ground in the next one.

Next up: The Devil Amongst the Lawyers, by Sharyn McCrumb, who writes excellently atmospheric novels about the Appalachians. And I will be reading more Shakespeare. Puttering around the house Sunday, I realized that I know the entire balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, despite having never played either of those characters (the only production of R&J I was ever in was a sixth-grade one in which I played Lord Capulet and Mercutio, and gave Ciarán Hinds a run for his scenery-gnawing money in my death scene as the latter). The balcony scene is apparently something I just have in my brain, and I love that. One of my goals for 2012 was to memorize more Shakespeare, and I have fallen down on that. Time to pick up the Bevington.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

an exercise in anthropomorphizing and transference

The scene: the dogs and I are watching the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Well, Bingley and I are, curled up together on the couch. Darcy is sprawled out on the floor.

Extremely fancy dogs prance across the television screen. Bingley looks at them, and then gives me what I believe is a very worried look (he has a naturally wrinkled forehead).

Me: No, I don't want one of those dogs! I love you!

Bingley: *worried look*

Me: Oh, don't worry about not being like them! Think of all the baths those dogs have to take! You hate baths!

Bingley: *worried look*

Me: Their job is to look like that. You have much better things to do with your time!

Television announcer: This Best of Breed is also a certified therapy dog and actually works on a farm! Also she has had twelve puppies!


Me: God, Bing, the last thing the world needs is twelve more of you. No, I didn't mean it like that! I meant that we got you fixed so fewer puppies like you will end up dumped in Virginia woodpiles, because not all of them will be rescued by ATV-riding families named the Waltons.* And, um, you could totally be a therapy dog. If you had an attention span.

Darcy: *farts*

Me: You could also be a therapy dog if you didn't do that.  

Bingley: *worried look*

Me: Okay, look, Bing. I am not going to fall for some shiny-coated chicken-herding show-winning hipster, I mean Irish setter, and abandon you. I adore you. That is never going to change. Everything is fine, baby Bing. I know things have changed in this household but everything is fine. Look at me! See how fine I am!

Emotionally manipulative Purina commercial comes on.

Me: Oh no! *bursts into tears*

Bingley: *freaks out*

Darcy: *farts horrendously*

Me: I think it's time to turn off the television.

*Absolutely true story. These people rescued a litter of fifteen abandoned brindle puppies, at least one of whom is a neurotic perpetual-motion-machine, and fostered them until they were old enough to go to shelters. Waltons, I salute you, and you are going straight to heaven.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day

First, I have already abandoned Letters from Yellowstone. It is not terrible, but it is deathly boring. Ostensibly a novel about a lady scientist in 1898 traveling to Yellowstone, it's written by a botanist who works there and it's just one page of info dump, about the history of the park and the plants that grow there, after another. As the title would indicate, the story is told in letters written by many different characters, but all the voices sound exactly the same, and the occasional flashes of humor revealed at the beginning have completely disappeared. After a hundred pages, I found myself dreading picking it up again, and I decided that I don't have to read a book for farther than a hundred pages if I really don't like it. I could have powered through, because it's only about 230 total, but I am taking a stand. I've gone ahead and started Days of the Dead, by Barbara Hambly, and am much happier already.

Now, on to the topic du jour, quite literally.

I'm lucky in that we never made a big deal out of Valentine's Day in our ten years together. Some years we'd look at each other and sort of grudgingly agree that we should go out to dinner, and then derive wincing amusement from the couples around us who had clearly started dating around January and were now trapped into the idea of Valentine's Day but not yet into each other enough for it to be enjoyably schmoopy, and the pressure of the damned holiday was destroying their potential while they picked at their sushi. You could hear, in the air of the restaurant, the faint sibilance of thirty young people silently vowing to themselves, Next year if I don't have a significant other by November I will not leave the house until March.   

Lesson here, people: don't start a relationship around New Year's. Although Claudio and I did, and that worked out... oh. Right. Actually, we were fine for many years and many Valentine's Days. Sometimes, like I said, we'd go out. In the later, married years, he often bought me a nice piece of jewelry, and I would fret (openly) about how much it cost, because I am ungracious like that.  

In high school I baked brownies on Valentine's Day and brought them to school, but would only let single people take one. But back then I had a semi-cultivated bitter persona; after being dumped by a boy I'd crushed on for a long time before we dated, I was storming about being bitter, and several friends of mine said, "Oh, thank goodness; Beatrice is back! We didn't know who you were when you were all happy."

Even at the time I found that depressing, but I also fully internalized that I was more interesting when I was unhappy. I ran with that persona for a long time, even after the unhappiness stopped coming naturally because I was no longer seventeen. (I believe adolescence should have its own entry in the DSM. When I see ridiculously-well adjusted teenagers in movies and television shows, I scoff, because a teenager can have the best intentions in the world and be trying incredibly hard to be a nice person, but it is not hormonally possible to be sane during those years. Your brain chemistry is just not having it.)

Now I don't care about Valentine's Day. I don't feel the need to rant about how dreadful it is and how it reinforces the way our society tells women that we should be concentrating more on not dying alone than on, say, winning the Pulitzer. This is true, and I get very prickly about it, but not any more so on this day than any other. I have taken grief for not being out on the dating scene yet (have you SEEN the dating scene? only Bosch could do it justice), and for being as attached to my dogs as I am. I can only imagine the grief I would get if they were little lapdogs, or - heaven forbid - cats. It is true that I shall most likely become a crazy dog lady, dying alone surrounded by enormous hairy mutts who will eat my Pulitzer. I advise my nephew to buy some good vacuum cleaners in preparation for his inheritance.

In the meantime, there is excellent chocolate in my house, and a nice dinner for myself tonight, and lots of time with friends. Someone in the office received roses, so it smelled beautiful all day. I am genuinely happy for my friends who are in love. Things could be a lot worse.

Critique of Criminal Reason, by Michael Gregorio

In 1803, Hanno Stiffeniis, a rural procurator, is ordered to the city of Konigsberg, Prussia, to solve a series of mysterious murders. It turns out that his summons has come about at the behest of Stiffeniis' former mentor, Immanuel Kant.

I read enough historical mysteries involving real-life personages to know the formula (introduce the real historical figure with far more fanfare than makes sense in context; give said historical figure a mystery that will inspire all his or her writings / actions / philosophy from that moment forth, as if there would have been no writings but for this; and if there's a young attractive sister-brother pair we're looking at an 80% chance of incest), and this adhered to it. But it also kept me genuinely interested in the solution to the mystery, which many of them don't, and the protagonist was realistically flawed without being unsympathetic. I felt that the ending piffled out, and I'm not interested in reading the sequel, but there was nothing wrong with spending a few days on this.

I also re-read two Craig Johnson mysteries this week. Hell is Empty disappointed greatly, so I wanted to remember what was good about his other books. Now I want to pack up and move to some tiny town on the Plains, at least until I consider that the combination of a giant dog who looks exactly like a wolf and a heavily armed rancher populace is not one with good potential.


Every February, I do (on my friends-only blog) what I call the Gratitude Project. I didn't come up with this idea, but I find it excellent: every day, post five things for which you are grateful. I do it in February because that is traditionally the hardest month for me on an emotional level, and it is good to remind myself of what is important. Last year, when the marriage was initially crumbling, my posts were very minimalist, like so:

1. Dogs
2. Tea
3. Books
4. Sobriety
5. Baths

I have more to say this year, although the same concepts show up over and over. The dogs, of course, always. Books, naturally (a few weeks ago at work I attended a meeting the topic of which was self-care for managers, and we were asked to rate our quality of life in several different areas. I gave myself a 10 in hobbies, because there are always going to be more books to read, and I have seventy-some unread books just in my house, and: in conclusion: books!). Tea and baths are always excellent, and sobriety is a massive one. But I don't feel - at least not as often - that I'm hanging onto my blessings by my fingernails, which I did this time last year. More that I'm settling cozily into them on a cold night.

Next up: Letters from Yellowstone, by Diane Smith.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

signage and weekend reading

Apologies for the absence! I have been busy staring at my sleeping dogs with helpless, overwhelming love. These things periodically happen.

So there is a church, past which I drive about once a week, and it has one of the information signs that all churches seem to have. And I have become convinced that the minister's wife is in charge of the sign, and that I am witnessing the demise of a marriage in sign form. The quote is always something about unfaithfulness or the weakness of man. Some examples from the past few months:




And those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head. They are all like that, and all somehow clearly intended for just one guy, rather than a congregation at large which needs chiding.

You might think that this makes me sad, or at least causes some cringing. Instead I find it delicious, and only wish that I had had a sign set up in the front yard over the past year:




I am sure this would have made him more eager to come home. Also it would have been very popular with the neighbors.

The last two weeks the church sign has had something incomprehensible but clearly Tea Party-related on it, which is no fun at all. A few nights ago I drove past it, thinking, "Has the marriage improved? Did he stop his messing around? Do these crazy kids have a chance?"

I turned the corner.


"Oh, DUDE, you thought she wouldn't find out, but she DID!" I said out loud, and giggled helplessly for the next five minutes.

(It is entirely possible, given the clear politics of said church, that the man referred to in all these quotes is actually the President. I like my version of the situation better. Passive-aggressive Bible quotes: the best!)

On to the reading:

This weekend I finished Mary Anne, by Daphne du Maurier. It is not her best. The first third, which sets up our heroine (real-life personage Mary Anne Clarke, the mistress of the Duke of York and du Maurier's ancestor) and the life that led her to become a duke's mistress, was quite interesting and fun. Like a PG-rated Slammerkin, almost. But the rest of the book was full of very dry politicking and confused time frames and the assumption that the reader just knows that Lord X and the Attorney-General were one and the same person in 1803 and so that connection never needs to be made explicit. I spent a lot of time thinking, "Wait, how does sleeping with Lord X give her an advantage in her trial?" And there were about six trials, which didn't help. Ultimately a disappointment. I should read Frenchman's Creek again.

Then I read Dancing with the Virgins by Stephen Booth. It's a mystery set in the Peaks District of England. Not badly done, but I didn't find any of the characters fleshed out or sympathetic, and wasn't invested in the solving of the mystery. The connection the hero feels to the standing stones where the murder was committed just comes off as him being a daydreamer while on the job, rather than anything mystical.

Next up was In Plain Sight, by C. J. Box. I do love Box's mysteries and have no shame about that. The hero is a game warden in Wyoming, and the landscape is described so wonderfully and lovingly that I always finish one of his books wanting to go there. In this installment, the matriarch of a crazy family has disappeared and there are violent aspects to the rivalry among her sons. The big reveal at the end is seriously creepy and I should have figured it out beforehand, but I didn't. I enjoyed this thoroughly and spent the rest of my Sunday re-reading the other C.J. Box books I had on hand. A solidly written mystery series, with an appealing protagonist, set in a vibrantly drawn locale, is not to be sneezed at. Many try, but few actually succeed. Box's success puts him up there with Hillerman, Peter Robinson, Rankin, and Craig Johnson, in terms of authors in whose works I get happily lost.

Oh! I also finished The Flamingo's Smile: Reflections in Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould. I did not read all of that in one sitting, by a long shot. Full disclosure: Gould and the New Yorker are bathroom reading. (I know, I am the Tea Party's nightmare: a childless single woman who admits to having bodily functions and reads elitist book reviews and evolutionary discussions. [Actually, their nightmare is a black man in power, or someone who knows what socialism actually means.]) I love Gould: he is very challenging for me, because my adventures in science and math ended after junior year of high school (except for the disaster which was Physics 1 in college), but always accessible. I mourn his death anew every time I read his work. I Have Landed is amazing, and made me cry.  

Next up: Critique of Criminal Reason, by Michael Gregorio. Looks very Matthew Pearl-esque. Often those type of books disappoint, but sometimes (The Geographer's Library is what comes to mind) they pleasantly surprise me.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, by Elif Batuman

Last week was rough. A lot of it was no doubt related to nervousness about seeing my surgeon on Friday.

In November I saw her for a six-month follow-up - my biopsy had to be surgical, as they could not reach the calcifications with a needle biopsy, so I had one surgery at the beginning of March and then the lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy (two lymph nodes were removed and tested to make sure that the cancer had not become invasive) in April.

At an appointment with my medical oncologist in October, I pointed out a nodule right under the lumpectomy scar which was worrying me enormously. The area around the scar kept changing as the tissue settled, which made self-exams fairly terrifying, because every month it felt different. And of course every time I felt the lump, I would prod and poke until it was sore, and then panic because it was sore. 

My oncologist said, "I'm pretty sure that's scar tissue, but I'm glad you're seeing the surgeon next month."

When I saw the surgeon, she said, "I think that's scar tissue."

I said, "Can I get a different verb?"

She said, "No, but I'm happy to see you every month to check on it."

"Yes," I said. "Let us do that."

It shrank a bit, not noticeable to me because I am paranoid, but noticeable to her, over the next few months. In the weeks before my appointment I couldn't find it at all. The surgeon could, but barely, and said that definitely means it's scar tissue.

I walked out of the office thinking, "Hey, I'm not in a totally black mood anymore! Funny, that."

I will have an MRI in March, and that will tell us far more about whether the cancer has returned or not. Nerve-wracking, but this is frankly my best-case scenario for the next ten years: screenings every six months and always having it in the back of my mind. I will take that, with much gratitude, if I am lucky enough to have it.

Anyway, this is a roundabout route to the fact that I read Batuman's book in a fairly distracted manner, and it turns out I probably shouldn't have.

This is less a book about Russian literature and more a memoir of Batuman's college and grad school years. She did end up studying Russian literature and linguistics in those years, and talks lovingly and amusingly of the authors she read, but over half the book is about her summer in Uzbekistan, in which she only talks about the country's Turkish roots (Batuman is the child of Turkish immigrants to the US). It's an amusing travelogue, but sarcastic translations of Turkish poetry is not what this book purports to be about.

Batuman also jumps around chronologically - one chapter will be about her sophomore year in college, the next about her return to grad school after two years off, and in the third we're at her first year in grad school. I found this quite confusing, and again, I wasn't reading as closely as perhaps I should have been, but the book comes across as a light memoir and I didn't like that suddenly I was expected to be deducing, from very small hints, how old Batuman was at any given moment. And this is rather important given that she encountered different authors at different times. 

The last chapter was, unfortunately, almost pointless. She starts off discussing Dostoyevsky's The Demons (also translated as The Possessed) but then segues, clumsily, into a long saga of a gorgeous charismatic grad student in her social circle, and how, despite the fact that every woman in the state of California was in love with him, Elif Batuman was the only one who made it into his bed (this following the reveal that he had taken a vow of celibacy). Batuman's charming humor and refusal to take herself seriously disappear in this chapter, which reads like nothing so much as bragging / wish-fulfillment written by someone who just read The Secret History. It isn't like anything else in the book, and I hated ending with it. 

The rest of the book, timeline problems aside, is smart without being pretentious, funny without being cutesy, and infectiously infatuated with Russian literature, to the extent that I am going to re-read Anna Karenina as soon as I can, and will probably pick up Eugene Onegin, in which I'd never before had any interest (I've never read any Pushkin! this could be exciting). If it weren't for that last chapter, I would have thoroughly enjoyed it, and I almost did anyway. I can recommend it. Just feel free to skip the end.

Next up: Mary Anne, by Daphne du Maurier. I am in the mood for light historical stuff.