Saturday, December 03, 2005

Books for December

First paragraphs from the books I want to read this month:

"A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak and studded with iron spikes."

--Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

This one's currently underway and even gloomier than I'd remembered.

"It was a Thursday afternoon in London, September 22, 1796. Well-dressed men clattered through the cobbled streets, chatting with one another over the knotty cases of law they were tackling. They seemed to stand straighter and taller than those they passed: the woman hawking eggs on the corner, the street brats throwing old onions at one another. These men had grander things on their minds. They came out of cloistered quarters, the ancient Inns of Court, into the rabble of London. They noticed the autumnal change of seasons, more distinct this day than even a week before: the sun sinking nearer the Thames to the south, the clouds gathering thicker and lower, a gray chill in the air."

--Susan Tyler Hitchcock, Mad Mary Lamb

Also underway. Today is Mary Lamb's birthday, by the way.

"When I ws very young I made up stories—the refuge of an isolated and frequently bored child. These were fables that I told to myself—long satisfying narratives that passed the time and spiced up otherwise uneventful days. For this was how life seemed to me, growing up in Egypt in the early 1940s—the Libyan campaign ebbing and flowing across the desert, the Middle East seething with its nascent conflicts. With the wisdoms of today, I see that I was living in interesting times, but a seven-, eight-, or nine-year-old has strictly personal horizons, and my idea of a spot of drama came from my reading—from Greek mythology, from The Arabian Nights. My internal narratives featured gods and goddesses, heroes, mythical figures, magicians and princesses. And, of course, myself—out there in the thick of it, with a starring role. And now, at the other end of life, storytelling is an ingrained habit; I wouldn't know what else to do. But the mythology that is intriguing today is that of imagined alternatives. Somehow, choice and contingency have landed you where you are, as the person that you are, and the whole process seems so precarious that you look back at those climatic moments when things might have gone entirely differently, when life might have spun off in some other direction, and wonder at this apparently arbitrary outcome."

--Penelope Lively, Making It Up

Just collected from the library. It's already tempting me to drop what's underway and attend to it.

"Snowman wakes before dawn. He lies unmoving, listening to the tide coming in, wave after wave sloshing over the various barricades, wish-wash, wish-wash, the rhythm of heartbeat. He would like to believe he is still asleep."

--Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake

Has the longest check-out period of all this month's offerings, so will probably go to the bottom of the stack even though it's recommended by Kate Atkinson.

"Last time you see someone and you don't know it will be the last time. And all that you know now, if only you'd known then. But you didn't know, and now it's too late. And you tell yourself How could I have known, I could not have known."

--Joyce Carol Oates, Missing Mom

Maybe this is the one I'll read next.

"Traveling: the dank oily days after Christmas. The motorway, its wastes looping London: the margin's scrub grass flaring orange in the lights, and the leaves of the poisoned shrubs striped yellow-green like a cantaloupe melon. Four o-clock: light sinking over the orbital road. Teatime in Enfield, night falling on Potter's Bar. There are nights when you don't want to do it, but you have to do it anyway. Nights when you look down from the stage and see closed stupid faces. Messages from the dead arrive at random. You don't want them and you can't send them back. The dead won't be coaxed and they won't be coerced. But the public has paid its money and it wants results."

--Hilary Mantel, Beyond Black

Started a few months back, but will have to restart from the beginning. Recommended by both A.S. Byatt and Philip Pullman.

"On the day they were going to kill him Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on. He'd dreamed he was going through a grove of timber trees where a gentle drizzle was falling, and for an instant he was happy in his dream, but when he awoke he felt completely spattered with bird shit."

--Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Chronicle of a Death Foretold

To be read by December 18 if I'm going to be a Slave of Golconda. Stay tuned.

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