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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in ellen copperfield (39)


In Which All Good Reading Is Best Done Cautiously

The Way They Were Meant To Be Read


Coming across a person who is completely jaded about something you enjoy is either amusing or frustrating. In the case of my boss - let's call her Ms. J - it's a little of both. She's clearly "well-read" even though that expression is itself so overused as to become meaningless, but she also seems to have elaborate gaps in her education. We all have blind spots, but none are so educational as Ms. J's appraisal of modern literature. Here are some of her comments on books I asked if she read.

The Scarlet Letter

"She should have been thankful all they did was put on a letter on her: they could have also tweeted about it."

Journey to the End of Night

"If I wanted to read a book by a man with a woman's name, I'd read Justinians."

On Beauty

"It would be nice if nobody ever used liberal arts colleges as settings for novels ever again, but I'm not that naive."

The Cider House Rules

"Fun fact: there has never been a condom in any book that sexist ponce ever wrote."

The Last of the Mohicans

"You just know James Fenimore Cooper would have been, like, a writer for The Atlantic Monthly."

The Secret History

"They got high and killed someone? Big deal. Didn't that also happen in E.T.?"

The Brothers Karamazov

"One of the brothers was way out of line, can't remember which one. The one that looked like Rutger Hauer."


"Could we lose the last million pages?"

The Tin Drum

"Was that where he kept his Jewish friends? Don't tell me, I'm going to read it after I finish Motherless Brooklyn, e.g. never."


"My college roommate ate a lot of ramen noodles. Was that not an option in Scandinavia?"

Henry and June

"Studies show that 90% of young female bloggers owe their existence to Nin's success as a writer. I'm not sure which party should be more insulted."


"Wow, drugs are so crazy, aren't they? Let me know when that guy starts writing in English. When people can actually read his work, they might notice he's a hack."

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

"This guy ruined irony for at least the next decade, but who doesn't love a man with curly hair?"

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

"I can't read a book that doesn't have a woman over the age of thirty in it unless it's by Wayne Koestenbaum."

Mansfield Park

"Everyone is always holding back a slight smile. Perhaps there was a lot of food on other people's faces in Austen's time."


"She was a lot more mature than Gwyneth Paltrow."

Things Fall Apart

"The expectation that things would come together in turn-of-the-century Nigeria was perhaps premature."

The Things They Carried

"Vietnam was full of happy memories, wasn't it? No."

To Kill A Mockingbird

"Wow, what white people can accomplish when they put their mind to it. Scout later grew up and became the star on the The Real Housewives of Maycomb."

The Adventures of Augie March

"I can't read anything by anyone who I know is an asshole, unless it's about how much Dale Peck sucks."

Chilly Scenes of Winter

"It should have had an unhappy ending." 

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

"More like extremely manipulative and incredibly overrated."

Time and Again

"If you suddenly find yourself in 1882, and you're a man, for christ's sake stay there and never come back."

The Recognitions

"Whenever I see an emdash before someone talks, a part of me dies inside. Actually whenever I see an emdash anywhere, I get a little twinge in my rectum."

The Hour of the Star

"The only thing more confusing than this book is realizing you emerged into the world from Ayelet Waldman's uterus."

The End of the Affair

"The first and last time anyone had sex with a civil servant and did not regret it."

Gravity's Rainbow

"This was responsible for over 90 percent of Fredric Jameson's orgasms in the 1970s."

The Catcher in the Rye

"No subtler novel about a homosexual was ever written. Still, it should have been called A Bottom In the Bottom."

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. She last wrote in these pages about the childhood of Jorge Luis Borges. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Gently Down the Stream" - Hem (mp3)

"Things Are Not Perfect In Our Yard" - Hem (mp3)


In Which The Seduction Is More Complicated

25 Verifiable Facts About Marlon Brando



When I first saw Marlon Brando, he looked like a bowling ball with a lisp emitting from the finger holes.


He was a hellion as a teen. His parents sent him to the same military academy his father had attended. He wrote, "I'm kinda homesick and want my mother, but I guess I will get over that. I've received exactly one letter since I've been here. Fine support for the baby of the family." The next month he added, "I had to read Wuthering Heights for English and I never enjoyed a book in all my life as much as that one."


He fled the set of Darryl Zanuck's The Egyptian, dressing up in the most expensive clothes he could find because they were looking for the Marlon who always wore a t-shirt and jeans.


While filming Mutiny on the Bounty, Marlon spied a Tahitian island and purchased it from the blind elderly American woman who lived there with forty cats and dogs. She had to go to Vallejo, CA for medical treatment. He bought the place for $200,000. Shortly after she moved she died.


A Harvard Medical School psychologist who slept with Marlon observed, "There are casual ladykillers and serious ladykillers. The casual ladykiller is a person who doesn't try to involve you in a relationship but seeks to get you only by the magnetism of his sexuality. A serious ladykiller has much more imagination and tries to capture you in more intricate ways - meaning that he involves you with his ideas, his thinking. The seduction is much more complicated - only then he has more trouble because women inevitably fall in love with him."


When he was trying to get his break in the theater, he was offered a part in a new play by Eugene O'Neill, The Iceman Cometh. Marlon later wrote, "I'd always thought he was dour, negative and too dark." He argued with a producer about "why I thought the play was ineptly written, poorly constructed, and would never be a success."


After he filmed the movie version of A Streetcar Named Desire Marlon moved into an apartment near Carnegie Hall and seduced the entire group of young actresses at the Actor's Studio. He met Marilyn Monroe when he elbowed her in the face by accident. She replied, "There are no accidents." She invited him over for sex the week before she died. In his autobiography Songs My Mother Taught Me he wrote, "I didn't sense any depression or clue of impending self-destruction during her call. That's why I'm sure she didn't commit suicide. If someone is terminally depressed, no matter how clever they may be, or how expertly they try to conceal it, they will always give themselves away. I've always had an unquenchable curiosity about people, and I believe I would have sensed something was wrong if thoughts of suicide were anywhere near the surface of Marilyn's mind. I have always believed she was murdered."


Jean Cocteau said of him, "Marlon is the only man who can make noise without disturbing anybody."


Marlon hated having sex with a condom on. He regarded it as base.


After meeting Marlon before they began shooting Last Tango in Paris, Bertolucci said, "In Bacon you see people virtually throwing up their guts and doing a monkey's job on themselves with their own vomit. I found this same kind of appeal in Marlon."


He would always willingly supply the money for an abortion.


When The Godfather came around, Marlon was desperate for a role to revive his career. Francis Ford Coppola could not possibly ask him to audition, so he asked Marlon if he could come by the actor's Mulholland Drive home and "improvise" in front of a camera. After he saw the tape, producer Bob Evans said, "He looks Italian, fine. But who is he?" He did not recognize the man before him.


Marlon's mother was a furtive alcoholic. She would take quiet sips from a small bottle whenever she could. "When my mother drank," Marlon said, "her breath had a sweetness to it I lack the vocabulary to describe."


In the wake of Dr. King's death, Marlon felt an affinity for the Black Panthers. They did not share this positive feeling. "They told me that they despised me because I was just another knee jerk white liberal to them."


The day before A Streetcar Named Desire opened at the Ethel Barrymore, Marlon telegrammed his father to say, NEED MONEY BY TONIGHT SHOW SPLENDID LETTER TO FOLLOW MARLON.


He believed that by dripping a wet towel soaked with hot water on his head, he would never go bald.


On the set of A Countess From Hong Kong, during a close-up, he asked Sophia Loren if she knew small hairs were coming out of her nose. She never spoke to him again.


After watching his performance in The Godfather, he said, "When I saw it the first time it made me sick. All I could see were my mistakes and I hated it."


If he liked you, he wanted to be close to you, even if just briefly. "Like a large number of men," he eventually admitted, "I too have had homosexual experiences and am not ashamed. I've never paid attention to what people said about me. Deep down I felt ambiguous and I'm not saying that to spite the seven out of ten women who consider me - wrongly perhaps - a sex symbol. According to me, sex is something that lacks precision. Let's say sex is sexless."


When Lew Wasserman tried to change the title of The Appaloosa to Southwest to Sonora, Marlon did not take it very well. He hired a group of mariachi players to go around Universal singing a song they had written called "Southwest to Sonora" until the studio aceded to his wishes.


In later years, Brando became very uptight about his weight. He would pull up the curtain whenever he changed clothes.


Marlon's son Christian spiralled out of control with drugs and alcohol as a teen. He would steal pot from neighbor Jack Nicholson's stash. If Jack caught him, Christian Brando would imitate his part in Chinatown, saying "You do that again and I'll break your fucking fingers, man."


On the set of Guys and Dolls, Sinatra and Brando just did not get along. One man never blew a line, the other wrote his dialogue on his hand. Frank's thugs followed him everywhere; Marlon was most happy completely alone. The only way they could get Marlon to go through with it was to buy him a white Thunderbird convertible.


On the set of The Fugitive Kind, Tennessee Williams screamed at Marlon, "I need radar equipment to hear what you're saying. If I can't hear my fucking dialogue, I'm going home."


As he traveled through France, he once spent the night with a woman in Ascain. "It's a terrible story," he told his friends, murmuring, "awful, awful, awful." They asked what happened, and he said, "I had a very nice time with her, and she made me a wonderful breakfast. I was thinking, 'Thank God she hasn't asked me for anything', but then when I was leaving, she did just that. She said, 'When shall we meet again?' It's too awful. That's what I had been afraid of all along."

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. She last wrote in these pages about her regrets. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"531 Miles From Aberdeen to Cardiff" - Barefoot Dance of the Sea (mp3)

"Sea Shanty" - Barefoot Dance of the Sea (mp3)


In Which Winter Days Are Just A Magazine

The Comfort of My Mother and The War


I think of reading a book as no less an experience than traveling or falling in love.

Jorge Luis Borges was born in the center of old Buenos Aires in late August of 1899. The particular date of was of no importance to young Jorge, who despised his own birthday. He did not like gifts when he had done nothing to receive them.

with his sister at the palermo zoo in 1908

Jorge was constantly in ill health. He could not see or speak clearly.

He loved tigers and there was one at the Palermo Zoo. If he could persuade his mother to take him there, he would plant himself obtrusively in front of the tiger cage, refusing to leave. His mother feared what would happen if she tried to drag him away.

young Jorge's drawing of a tiger at age four

His mother gradually began to use the threat of removing his books at a sort of blackmail. His father possessed an elaborate library of over a thousand volumes. (Clearly he did not anticipate the e-book.) The senior Jorge Borges had tried his hand at poetry, penning a sonnet or two before he set his vocation temporarily aside in favor of practicing law. His father took charge of young Jorge's education in a few crucial ways, using an orange to explain Plato's theory of forms.

He did not enter school until he was eleven, wearing huge glasses and a jacket and tie his mother purchased specifically for the big day.

By 1913, he had moved on to secondary school. He did decently well in some subjects, barely passing French, drawing and geometry. His first story appeared in the school's literary magazine. In it, a tiger kills a black panther, but then is himself killed by a man's arrow. He titled it "The King of the Jungle." His byline simply read "Nemo."

1914. Dr. Borges moved his family to Geneva, where he planned to get an eye operation. He and his wife agreed to send their children away to school in England so they could tour the continent as a way of revitalizing their marriage. A German ship, the Sierra Nevada, set course for Bremen, and this family was on it:

Because of the chaos that surrounded the Great War, an English education rapidly became impossible. The only subject that Jorge was able to excel at, given his lack of French, was Latin. Language became his only strength; he taught himself German to read Schopenhauer in the original.

His father's attempt to reunite with his wife was a failure. The man sampled the prostitutes of Geneva at his leisure. Dr. Borges' now-teenage son began to write for the first time, crafting sonnets in French and English, largely patterned after Wordsworth. He embraced the German expressionists as soon as he discovered they existed. In due time, all of these literary possibilities were supplanted by Walt Whitman.

He made his first Jewish friend, a boy named Simon. He taught his first clique how to play the Argentine card game truco. The first woman he fell in love with was a Czech named Adrienne. He could barely bring himself to speak in front of her and she was completely uninterested in eighteen year old Jorge.

His other romantic forays were thwarted by his shyness and the general uncleanliness of Geneva's women.

His first girlfriend was named Emilie, and he was entranced by her green eyes and red hair. He was possessed by a ginger. By the next year, he spoke of her as an object, writing his friend to ask if he had sampled Emilie's wares.

When his father found that Jorge had never consummated his relationship with Emilie or any other woman, he gave the boy the address of a brothel. On his way to the landmark Jorge was consumed by the idea that if his father knew the place, he might well have been with the same woman. Jorge was unable to rouse an erection, so his father took him to the doctor, where he was diagnosed with a weak liver.

His father gave him a long manuscript. "What's this?" Jorge asked him. "My novel," his father said.

His family traveled a bit around Europe before a sojourn to Majorca. He later described Berlin as one of the ugliest cities in the world.

Although the family returned to Geneva, Jorge never completed his high school education. His relations with women were reduced to a platonic friendship with a whore he called Luz. He wrote to his friend in March of 1921, "I tell you, I really loved that Luz. She was so playful with me and behaved with such ingenous indecency. She was like a cathedral and also like a bitch."

Jorge and his mother

The family returned to Buenos Aires later that year. Some of his childhood haunts remained familiar to him, but most now were opaque and foreign to his eyes. He wrote to his Spanish buddy, "Don't abandon me in this exile of mine, who is overrun by arrivistes, by corrupt youths lacking any mental capacity and decorative young ladies."

He fell in love with a girl, and the feeling was mutual. Her name was Concepcion Guerrero, and she was the daughter of Spanish immigrants from Granada. Her father taught elementary school, and the family lived in the poverty stricken orillas. He could not bring himself to apprise his mother of the relationship. "God knows how it all will end," he wrote.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about decisions she's regretted.


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