Monday, January 31, 2005

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

One-third of American high schoolers think the First Amendment goes "too far" and only one-half think newspapers should be allowed to publish without governmental approval, according to an AP news article. Three-quarters believe it's illegal to burn the flag. (CNN)

Ye gods. And we all already knew they didn't think too highly of the copyright provisions in the actual Constitution either.

Random quotes. . .

scrawled on bits of paper and found on the bookshelves this weekend:

A Postmortem Guide
by Stephen Dunn

Tell them I had second chances.
I knew joy.
I was burned by books early
and kept sidling up to the flames.

And

Literature annuls the borders drawn on maps, and also the borders that cut through our consciousness. Literature builds a bridge to one's other self, the alienated self. It throws us together. It turns us into accomplices. It evokes empathy in us.

--Gunter Grass

And

the suspicion or shiver of intimation

--J. Crowley

And

Henry James' most basic assumption: "life is in essence consciousness and interpretation, not action" and the fight for commercial advantage.

--Stephen Metcalf

And

We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: The only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.

--George Orwell
A publishing house in Maryland, PublishAmerica, is taking heat for presenting itself as a traditional publishing house while it acts as a vanity press. A group of science fiction and fantasy writers deliberately wrote a bad novel and had it published by PublishAmerica as part of a sting operation. The second chapter from the novel is available on Making Light; my favorite example of bad writing is, of course, the use of "y'all" as singular.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

In which I am still so easily amused

Calvin and Hobbes snow goons! Real ones inspired by Bill Watterson's! (Scroll down, you don't have to register.) Via The Bookshelves of Doom.

Sports on Sunday

I am so easily amused. The concluding chapter in Love and Hate in Jamestown is concerned with John Smith's unsuccessful attempts to return to the New World and all that he wrote and foresaw about how things would progress there. While we don't recall much about the man these days, the founding fathers' generation regarded him as a distinctively American hero: "resourceful, of humble origins and high achievement, inclined toward action rather than reflection, peaceable when possible, warlike when necessary." His common sense, his "ardent and active genius," were praised in both biographies of Smith himself, and histories and biographies of others. He offered to come over on the Mayflower, but the Separatists opted to take Smith's books and maps and engage Miles Standish as their military leader instead.

But the reason I am easily amused. King James, of course, disliked religious nonconformity in general and the Puritans in particular. David Prices writes: "What the Puritans sought went beyond freedom of conscience in the modern sense; a number of their disagreements with Anglicanism reached into the civic sphere of English life, including their opposition to theater and to the custom of playing sports on Sundays."

Sports on Sundays in the 1600s? Who knew? Man, the more things change. . .

"In 1618, King James overruled local Puritan magistrates who attempted to ban Sabbath day sports. 'When shall the common people have leave to exercise,' he demanded, 'if not upon Sundays and holidays, seeing they must apply their labour, and win their living, in all working days?' "

Oh. People played sports in the 1600s instead of watching it on TV. Man, things have changed dramatically since then.

So. Who do you think the Puritans would have rooted for in the Super Bowl?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

My hold on Frankland came in and I picked it up yesterday on my way out to dinner with C. and A. Here's an article about James Whorton, Jr., in the Baltimore City Paper (via Bookslut). His earlier book, Approximately Heaven, sounds interesting, too.

I'm going to wait to read this review of Joy Comes in the Morning until after I've read the book. Sigh. My February tbr pile is growing larger and larger. Must. read. faster.

Also, very interesting review by Greg Easterbrook that explores both the pros and cons of Jared Diamond's latest, Collapse, as well as his earlier Guns, Germs and Steel. One of these days. . .

In fact, everything in the "Sunday Book Review" this week appeals to me. Must. read. much. much. faster.


Friday, January 28, 2005


Another book meme. (Shelly's Book Shelf)

1. We've all heard the phrase, "Don't judge a book by its cover." Have you ever picked up a book based solely on the title or the picture on the cover?

I bought Penelope Lively’s Spiderweb solely because of the cover. I still love this Richard Maury painting.

2. Along the same lines, do you ever look at whichever book someone else is reading in public or whatnot, and based on that make a snap judgment about their character or literary taste?

Truthfully, I don’t run across too many people reading in public since I live in the South where everyone generally travels by car instead of public transportation. Even doctors’ offices aren’t good places to spy on people’s reading choices because most people either glue their eyes to the TV or read the magazines provided in the office.

Someone once made a snap judgment about my character because of what I was reading out in public. My daughter and I were at the doctor’s office, waiting for her to get an allergy shot, and I was reading a book on the history of witchcraft in Europe (not a how-to-manual by any means). The woman next to me was clearly upset to find herself next to such a wicked woman and kept trying to edge her chair away from me. I thought R. was going to have hysterics.

3. Do you buy books online? If so, where is your favorite place to find them?

Online, offline, I would mainline them if I could. But I’m trying to keep from buying many at all this year, so I’m not spending anymore time answering this question.

4. From someone who's had more than her fair share of library fines... what is the largest late fee you've ever incurred at a library for returning a book past the due date? Have you ever borrowed a book from a library and never returned it?

I have no idea. Library privileges are cut off completely when fines reach $10, and I’ve reached that number many times. After I found a library discard of an E.C. Spykman book in a library book sale several years ago I deliberately checked out the remaining two Spykmans in the library and the fourth Spykman from the library in the next county (I signed up to get a library card there for just that purpose) and then declared I’d lost them all. I no longer go to such lengths since I can find out-of-print books online.


5. What is the first book that you can remember reading by yourself as a child?

Green Eggs and Ham. I still have my original copy.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

I think the coolest thing I've read all day is Ayelet Waldman's story of how her husband, Michael Chabon, in response to a college student getting expelled for writing a violent story and his instructor getting fired in the aftermath, signed up to teach horror and fastasy writing to a class of teenagers and how Stephen King showed up on the last day of class.

The Pear

There is a moment in middle age
when you grow bored, angered
by your middling mind,
afraid.

That day the sun
burns hot and bright,
making you more desolate.

It happens subtly, as when a pear
spoils from the inside out,
and you may not be aware
until things have gone too far.

--Jane Kenyon, Otherwise

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


On no city does history weigh heavier than on Dresden. It is 60 years in February 2005 since the bombing that forever changed the basis of the city's renown. Overnight, the Florence of the Elbe became a perpetual monument to destruction from the air, famed for its rubble and its corpses rather than its baroque architecture and its devotion to art. And then came communism. (City Journal)
More from Ben:

Man is sometimes more generous when he has little money than when he has plenty; perhaps to prevent his being thought to have but little.

and

So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Admitted into the company and present at the conversation

I love Benjamin Franklin. Who else would start a paragraph describing how he rescued a man from drowning in a storm and end with a description of literary style?

"In crossing the bay we met with a squall that tore our rotten sails to pieces, preventing our getting into the Kill, and drove us upon Long Island. In our way a drunken Dutchman, who was a passenger too, fell overboard; when he was sinking I reached through the water to his shock pate and drew him up, so that we got him in again. His ducking sobered him a little and he went to sleep, taking first out of his pocket a book, which he desired I would dry for him. It proved to be my old favorite author, Bunyan's `'Pilgrim's Progress,' in Dutch, finely printed on good paper, copper cuts, a dress better than I had ever seen it wear in its own language. I have since found that it has been translated into most of the languages of Europe, and suppose it has been more generally read than any other book, except perhaps the Bible. Honest John was the first that I know of who mixed narration and dialogue: a method of writing very engaging to the reader, who in the most interesting parts finds himself, as it were, admitted into the company and present at the conversation. Defoe has imitated him successfully in his 'Robinson Crusoe,' in his 'Moll Flanders,' and other pieces; and Richardson has done the same in his 'Pamela,' etc."
The assignment: start from the same premise and take your story off on its own direction. The results: here and also here (via Tingle Alley)
Girls read; boys don't.

Monday, January 24, 2005

A reader who reads carefully, reflects, engages in lively conversation with other readers, remembers, and re-reads can become acquainted with a thousand books in a lifetime..... But there are millions of books for sale. ....There are more books to contemplate than stars in a night on the high seas. In this immensity, how is a reader to find his personal constellation, those books that will put his life in communication with the universe?"

--Gabriel Zaid, So Many Books (via Book World, where many other Zaid quotes can be found. Why, oh why don't the libraries in this town have this book?!?)

Why read?

Evidence of readerly ADD

Last night I began my intended reading of Smollett's first three chapters of Don Quixote to compare with last Sunday's three chapters of Grossman, but abandoned my project at the end of chapter one. Henceforth I will be a Grossman gal. And "henceforth" is the operative word there, since I read no more Don Quixote for the evening.

I did read two chapters in Price's Love and Hate in Jamestown. Once John Smith was stripped of control and suffered a severe powder burn in his thigh and shipped back to England, once the colony lost most of its members during "the starving time" and those who remained were saved from abandoning the colony once and for all by the arrival of the Sea Venture and its former Bermuda castaways (the ones that gave Shakespeare the idea behind The Tempest), Sir Thomas Dale ruled the colony with authoritarian zeal--whippings, hangings, burnings at the stake, court-martials for the most inconsequental of offenses. Under his reign Samuel Argall devised a way to kidnap Pocahantas, who had not returned to Jamestown since being told Smith had died four years earlier.

Powhatan released seven English captives and sent a canoe filled with corn and some broken guns and tools back to Jamestown. Not good enough, Powhatan was told; where's the rest of the guns? Powhatan promised another 500 bushels of corn when Pocahantas was released; he claimed he had no more weapons to release. Stalemate.

In the meantime, Pocahantas was taught to be a Christian lady. By the time the English took her to see her father the following spring, in an effort to get the remaining weapons the following March, Pocahantas had decided to take matters into her own hands. She had fallen in love with former Bermuda castaway John Rolfe and wanted to marry him and remain at the Henricus settlement where she'd been taken after being captured. She was baptised, given the name Rebecca, and married Rolfe in April. She died later in England, probably due to pnuemonia or TB, and Rolfe abandoned their sick son to return to Jamestown. He never saw the son again.

I also read the first chapter to Franklin's autobiography and Katherine Mansfield's story "Psychology" last night. Earlier in the weekend I read the three "Juliet" stories in Munro's Runaway and one by Welty. I'm now up to date in my efforts to read 365 stories this year.

I haven't mentioned anything about reading True Grit yet--I was hoping I'd be able to report that it was just as big a hit in my own family as it was in Donna Tartt's. Unfortunately, S. bailed shortly after making it through the court transcription section (I'd thought if he made it past that he'd begin to get caught up in the story) although after watching bits and pieces of the movie this weekend he did say he might read some more. Yeah, right. L. wasn't interested in watching the movie, and I can't imagine my sister, with her Glen Campbell issues, having anything to do with it either. My dad would have liked both the book and the movie, though, and I certainly did.

Benjamin Franklin & reading

From my infancy I was passionately fond of reading, and all the money that came into my hands was laid out in the purchasing of books. I was very fond of voyages. My first acquistion was Bunyan's works in separate little volumes. I afterward sold them to enable me to buy R. Burton's "Historical Collections." They were small chap-men's books, and cheap, forty volumes in all. My father's little library consisted chiefly of books in polemic divinity, most of which I read. I have often regretted that at a time when I had such a thirst for knowledge more proper books had not fallen in my way, since it was resolved I should not be bred to divinity. There was among them Plutarch's "Lives," which I read abundantly, and I still think that time spent to great advantage. There was also a book of Defoe's, called "An Essay on Projects," and another of Dr. Mather's, called "An Essay to Do Good," which perhaps gave me a turn of thinking that had an influence on some of the principal future events of my life.

--Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiograph of Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, January 23, 2005

National Book Critics Circle nominees

Fiction

Edwidge Danticat, The Dew Breaker (Knopf)
Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty (Bloomsbury)
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas (Random House)
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Philip Roth, The Plot Against America (Houghton Mifflin)


General Nonfiction

Kevin Boyle, Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age (Holt)
Edward Conlon, Blue Blood (Riverhead)
Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation: A History (Viking)
David Shipler, The Working Poor: Invisible in America (Knopf)
Timothy B. Tyson, Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story (Crown)


Biography/Autobiography

Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (Penguin Press)
Bob Dylan, Chronicles Vol. 1 (Simon & Schuster)
Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (Norton)
John Guy, Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart (Houghton Mifflin)

Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, De Kooning: An American Master (Knopf)



Poetry

Brigit Pegreen Kelly, The Orchard (BOA Editions)
D.A. Powell, Cocktails (Graywolf)
Adrienne Rich, The School Among the Ruins (Norton)
James Richardson, Interglacial (Ausable Press)
Gary Snyder, Danger on Peaks (Shoemaker & Hoard)


Criticism

Richard Howard, Paper Trail: Selected Prose 1965-2003 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Patrick Neate, Where You’re At: Notes From the Frontline of a Hip-Hop Planet (Riverhead)
Graham Robb, Strangers: Homosexual Love in the 19th Century (Norton)
Craig Seligman, Sontag & Kael: Opposites Attract Me (Counterpoint)
James Wood, The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Winners will be announced March 18 (NBCC)


Our newspaper subscription ended on Thursday. While I have had some serious issues with the paper for the past several months, and I agree with L. that we get most of our national news via the internet, I'm not so sure how I'll fare without the daily paper to carry about and read wherever and to have on hand to line birdcages with. Plus, I really dislike the local paper's website and doubt I'll be knowledgeable about local news without the paper; I'm certainly not going to stoop to watching local TV news, not that that would make me knowledgeable about anything anyway.

At any rate, we went out and got a paper this morning, so now I'm reminded that I need to buy the tickets to see Fahrenheit 451. And I learned that country singer Martina McBride is the center of a class being taught at Salem College in Winston-Salem this month: "Happy Girl/Broken Wing: Martina McBride as Text." I don't believe McBride writes her own material, but that's no matter, since the English class is on how she uses her voice, and how students can use their voices "for both self-expression and community involvement."

And I learned that our racist county commissioner is so racist that Sean Hannity has called his remarks "callous, harsh, unfair and insensitive" and asked him to apologize for expressing them. No dice.

And people are plenty mad the confederate flag was removed from a local cemetery.

Okay, so maybe I'd be happier without knowing what's going on around here.

"The Schlesinger panel has officially conceded, although the president has never publicly acknowledged, that American soldiers have tortured five inmates to death. Twenty-three other deaths that occurred during American custody had not been fully investigated by the time the panel issued its report in August. Some of the techniques were simply brutal, like persistent vicious beatings to unconsciousness. Others were more inventive. In April 2004, according to internal Defense Department documents recently procured by the A.C.L.U., three marines in Mahmudiya used an electric transformer, forcing a detainee to ''dance'' as the electricity coursed through him. We also now know that in Guantánamo, burning cigarettes were placed in the ears of detainees."

Andrew Sullivan discusses the official government and Red Cross reports on prisoner torture and abuse in a six page article in the Times Sunday Book Review.

Okay, so maybe I should stop reading newspapers online as well.

On a more pleasant note: Emma Townsend has put together a site of notes on Iris Murdoch's Under the Net as well a site of photos of places mentioned in the text. Someday I'll reread this Murdoch and be very grateful for all Townsend's hard work.

Much Madness is Divinest Sense

Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
'T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,--you're straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

--Emily Dickinson

Friday, January 21, 2005

Being a reader is sort of like being president, except reading involves fewer state dinners, usually. You have this agenda you want to get through, but you get distracted by life events, e.g. books arriving in the mail/World War III, and you are temporarily deflected from your chosen path.

--Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree

Isn't that the truth. I will resume reading from the January to-be-read shelf once I finish the Hornby, which accompanied L.'s dreadfully boring-looking computer book through the mail.

"Two profiles face each other. One the profile of a pure white heifer, with a particularly mild and tender expression, the other that of a green-faced man who is neither young nor old. He seems to be a minor official, maybe a postman-he wears that sort of cap. His lips are pale, the whites of his eyes shining. A hand that is probably his offers up, from the lower margin of the painting, a little tree or an exuberant branch, fruited with jewels.

"At the upper margin of the painting are dark clouds, and underneath them some small tottery houses and a toy church with its toy cross, perched on the curved surface of the earth. Within this curve a small man (drawn to a larger scale, however, than the buildings) walks along purposefully with a scythe on his shoulder, and a woman, drawn to the same scale, seems to wait for him. But she is hanging upside down."

The third story in Alice Munro's Runaway opens with this description of the Chagall painting we saw at the MOMA exhibit in Berlin last summer and R. saw in NY earlier this month. Unlike the Munro character to who buys a print of the green man and cow, I bought a print of the blue bear attacking the hunter from the Chagall exhibit at the gallery beside the Brandenburg Gate.
Well, it seems my desire to read Dostoevsky's Demons (aka The Possessed and/or The Devils) is more timely than I thought.

From The Guardian:

"One of the models of American leadership is that of Moses, leading God's chosen people - then the Jews, now the Americans - towards a promised land, following a pillar of fire. At one point, according to the Bible, Moses was shown a sign: 'Behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.'

"But the key fire passage in the Burning Bush speech - 'We have lit a fire as well; a fire in the minds of men' - actually has its origins in a novel by the 19th century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Devils, about a group of terrorists' ineffectual struggle to bring down the tyrannical Tsarist regime.

"One of the characters declares that it is pointless to try to put out a fire started by terrorists: 'The fire is in the minds of men and not in the roofs of houses,' he says.

"The novel belongs to a period in Dostoevsky's life which the White House might find attractive, after he had been sent by the Tsar to a kind of Russian Guantánamo and emerged a deeply religious conservative.

"Nonetheless, it is not clear whether Bush is identifying here with the terrorists - or the tyrants."


Thursday, January 20, 2005

Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose:
Nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free.

--Kris Kristofferson

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

THINGS YOU CAN DO ON JANUARY 20th

*Wear black.
*Keep the TV off.
*Read Sarah Vowell's delightful essay collection The Partly-Cloudy Patriot.

Continue reading Peter Cashwell.

The ratio of quotation to life

Henry, who had wished once to become a professor of literature, had always loved a good line of poetry or liturgy, but lately the ratio of quotation to life, always high in him, had gotten even higher. He had retained a good head for the words of others even as his own words, particularly after the last stroke, sometimes eluded him. Goethe, Shakespeare, the Psalms had always spoken for him best. He wondered if that was why his memoir had become impossible. Walter Benjamin had wanted to write a book woven entirely out of quotations. But, in the first place, he hadn't. In the second place, Henry didn't really like Benjamin's work, which amounted to little more than fancy footnotes. And in the third place, he thought with sudden melancholy, Benjamin had killed himself. For good reason, of course. He feared the Nazis.

--Jonathan Rosen, Joy Comes in the Morning

The above paragraph snagged my eye as I was flipping through the book. It's enough to make me want to read the entire book just as soon as possible.

A Secret Cache of Dodos

The cat was laying waste to the city, he was the barbarian inside the gate, and it was Heidi who had let him in. She had never previously suspected the variety of wildlife that lived in the city and which now turned up on her doorstep as a result of the cat's slaughtering. And so many birds! The owls and larks, the robin redbreast and the featherweight wren, bushels of sparrows and pecks of pigeons, flocks of starlings and white doves, a secret cache of dodos, the odd phoenix or two, not to mention the unfortunate capture of the (surprisingly tiny) hawkheaded sun god Ra--an event which caused the world to go dark until Heidi helped him escape from the cat's clutches.

Kate Atkinson, "The Cat Lover"

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

It is one of the tragedies of a very promising youth that too often achievement and recognition come early and too fast, leaving a long life of disappointment and decline. At the same time, those who start slowly are more fortunate. With few expressed hopes for their futures and only their own convictions, they quietly and in obscurity make their way up whatever ladder they wish to ascend. Success in middle and old age is gratifying, especially since it makes more bearable all the physical failures of those years.

--Doris Grumbach

The Way I Should

This is my theme song.

The Way I Should
(Iris DeMent)

A cold wind against my shoulder woke me up in the middle of the night
An autumn leaf was scraping against my window
like it was trying hard to get inside
and then a ghost that I had met before kept me up 'til dawn
and everything I thought was right was suddenly all wrong
He said, "Your score is looking pretty bad"
and then he asked me what it was that I had to show

So I went running down a list of things
some were real, but on some of them I lied
'cause I felt I had to justify each breath that I'd been breathing in this life
Then I realized I was playing into someone else's rules,
trying to keep my score up in a game I did not choose
Then I looked that ghost straight in the eye
and said "You'd better not be coming back by again"

And it's true that I don't work near as hard
as you tell me that I'm supposed to
I don't run as fast as I could
but I live just the way I want to
and that's the way I should

October's leaves were dancing 'round
like angels dressed in robes of red and gold
but November's come and gone now
and they're lying in the gutter out along the road
They're gonna make their way out to the ditch or someday to the sea,
they'll get to where they're going without the help of you or me
and if each life is just a grain of sand
I'm telling you man, this grain of sand is mine

And it's true that I don't work near as hard
as you tell me that I'm supposed to
I don't run as fast as I could
but I live just the way I want to
and that's the way I should
but I live just the way I want to
and that's the way I should

Iris DeMent

If I had my way I'd do nothing this week but listen to Iris DeMent albums. This is from The Way I Should album.

Wasteland of the Free
(Iris DeMent)

Living in the wasteland of the free...

We got preachers dealing in politics and diamond mines
and their speech is growing increasingly unkind
They say they are Christ's disciples
but they don't look like Jesus to me
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

We got politicians running races on corporate cash
Now don't tell me they don't turn around and kiss them peoples' ass
You may call me old-fashioned
but that don't fit my picture of a true democracy
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

We got CEO's making two hundred times the workers' pay
but they'll fight like hell against raising the minimum wage
and If you don't like it, mister, they'll ship your job
to some third-world country 'cross the sea
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

Living in the wasteland of the free
where the poor have now become the enemy
Let's blame our troubles on the weak ones
Sounds like some kind of Hitler remedy
Living in the wasteland of the free

We got little kids with guns fighting inner city wars
So what do we do, we put these little kids behind prison doors
and we call ourselves the advanced civilization
that sounds like crap to me
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

We got high-school kids running 'round in Calvin Klein and Guess
who cannot pass a sixth-grade reading test
but if you ask them, they can tell you
the name of every crotch on MTV
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

We kill for oil, then we throw a party when we win
Some guy refuses to fight, and we call that the sin
but he's standing up for what he believes in
and that seems pretty damned American to me
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

Living in the wasteland of the free
where the poor have now become the enemy
Let's blame our troubles on the weak ones
Sounds like some kind of Hitler remedy
Living in the wasteland of the free

While we sit gloating in our greatness
justice is sinking to the bottom of the sea
Living in the wasteland of the free
Living in the wasteland of the free
Living in the wasteland of the free

Monday, January 17, 2005

Booked by Three

Shelly has started a new meme on her site called Booked by Three. Her questions:

1. Name 3 books you haven't read but have always wanted to.
2. Name 3 books you've read that you wish you hadn't.
3. Name 3 books you read that were better than you expected.

Three books I've always wanted to read: Don Quixote, which I'm taking a stab at reading this year; Ulysses, which I get to put off until I've read The Odyssey and Dubliners and reread Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; and, um, Paradise Lost. I've owned a copy of that for twenty years or more.

I really wish I hadn't bothered reading Ira Levin's sequel to Rosemary's Baby, Walter Miller's sequel to A Canticle for Leibowitz, and Billie Letts' Where the Heart Is.

Three books that were better than I expected: The Grapes of Wrath (for a reason that I can't fathom, because I read and loved lots of Steinbeck in high school, I had a bad attitude about this one and read the Cliff's Notes in 12th grade instead. Absolutely knocked me out when I actually got around to reading it in the early '90s); Middlemarch (because Silas Marner was one of two classics in my house while I was growing up, I knew George Eliot had to be terrible--why else would we own anything by her?; I still haven't read Silas Marner); and Pride and Prejudice (this was the other classic my family owned and I denounced without bothering to read it. Lizzie Bennet, c'est moi).

Runaway

Oh, man, does Alice Munro ever take the term "sacrificial goat" to a whole 'nother plane. Wow.

I'm going to parcel these stories out slowly. They're too rich for fast consumption.

A taste:

"It was as if she had a murderous needle somewhere in her lungs, and by breathing carefully, she could avoid feeling it. But every once in a while she had to take a deep breath, and it was still there."

Ick. Ew.

I had a terrible student teacher back in high school when we were studying the colonies and the revolutionary period and I didn't take the first half of American history in college. Hence, my efforts to learn a little more about the period before S. studies it next fall.

I specificially remember the student teacher telling us that Pocahontas married John Smith. While a friend had set a project of recording every time the student teacher said "uh" or "you know," I'd resorted to reading the history textbook used at the local community college that I'd swiped from an older cousin's room so I didn't have to attempt to follow what was said in class. I stayed after class the day he mentioned the Pocahontas-Smith nuptials and told him that actually Pocahontas had married John Rolfe.

This piece of info, of course, did not go over well, and neither did R.'s attempts to bring the settlers' cannibalism to the Thanksgiving table when she mentioned what she'd learned about Jamestown reading James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me back in 8th grade. We get our history mangled through Peggy Lee songs or Disney movies or warm and fuzzy meals of turkey and sweet potatoes (aren't marshmallows made from horses' hooves? Maybe they're historically accurate!) and too many people don't want to know any differently.

At any rate, I'm reading David Price's Love and Hate in Jamestown now, and before Pocahontas saves John Smith's literal neck for whatever reason was in her little 10-12 year-old head at the time, the Chickahominy warriors inflict this on a member of Smith's party who happened to be taken captive:

"After seizing Cassen, the natives stripped him of his clothes and tied him to a pair of stakes. The full purpose of what was about to happen to him is unclear. By one account, the natives were using Cassen to placate their god, whom the English took to be 'the devill'; by another, the natives were punishing Cassen as an enemy trespasser. Of course, the two possibilities are not mutually exclusive.

"Fate had written a most unhappy ending to Cassen's life story. The natives prepared a large fire behind his bound and naked body. Then a man grasped his hands and used mussel shells to cut off joint after joint, making his way through Cassen's fingers, tossing the pieces into the flames. That accomplished, the man used shells and reeds to detach the skin from Cassen's face and the rest of his head. Cassen's belly was next, as the man sliced it open, pulled out his bowels, and cast those onto the fire. Finally the natives burned Cassen at the stake through to his bones."

But before we Americans ascribe any higher virtues to our English ancestors based on this episode, remember that the English were burning dissenters at the stake themselves during this same period of time.

Happy MLK Day!


The Fourth Egg

I told her if she didn't stop I was going to. Today I did. I took her two favorite toys out of her cage. Maybe she'll calm down now and get out of the egg production routine.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Three different openings

At a village of La Mancha, whose name I do not wish to remember, there lived a little while ago one of those gentlemen who are wont to keep a lance in the rack, an old buckler, a lean horse, and a swift greyhound. His stew had more beef than mutton in it and most nights he ate a hodgepodge, pickled and cold. Lentil soup on Fridays, "tripe and trouble" on Saturdays, and an occasional pigeon as an extra delicacy on Sundays consumed three quarters of his income.

--Walter Starkie

In a certain corner of la Mancha, the name of which I do not choose to remember, there lately lived one of those country gentlemen, who adorn their halls with a rusty lance and worm-eaten target, and ride forth on the skeleton of a horse, to course with a sort of starved greyhound.

Three fourths of his income were scarce sufficient to afford a dish of hodge-podge, in which the mutton bore no proportion to the beef, for dinner; a plate of salmagundy, commonly at supper, gripes and grumblings on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and the addition of a pigeon or some such thing on the Lord's-day.

--Tobias Smollett

Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing. An occasional stew, beef more often than lamb, hash most nights, eggs and abstinence on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, sometimes squab as a treat on Sundays--these consumed three-fourths of his income.

--Elizabeth Grossman


Hmmmm.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Breakfast at Tiffany's and Ralph Stanley

The lower back pain I'd had intermittently over the holidays moved between my shoulder blades and up one side of my neck early yesterday evening; consequently, I've tried not to move around much today. I read the Truman Capote novella and am very glad I saw the movie first; all the deviations from the text would have infuriated me otherwise. The story's much stronger without the silly affair between the narrator and his married lover and I much preferred Capote's ending (and beginning) rather than the one served up in the movie. Still: Audrey Hepburn. R. and I agreed that if the movie were remade today we'd be stuck with a Julia Roberts Holly Golightly; after reading the story today I'm going to say Gwyneth Paltrow might be a better choice.

We saw Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys (with opening act Jim Lauderdale) last night. Dr. Ralph was feeling under the weather; he played the banjo only once (sob) and sang "O Death" with a cough drop tucked in his cheek. Still, the band was definitely worth hearing even so and I took fiendish delight in spotting the "Kerry/Edwards" stickers still on the tour bus (front and back bumpers) as we walked to the car afterwards. Jim Lauderdale had an eerie tendency to mimic the singers who've recorded his songs, and after he mentioned Buddy Miller had sung back up (along with several others) with him on one of his songs (can't remember the title, had never heard it before), I kept hearing in my mind how the song would have sounded if Buddy Miller had been singing it and it was all very weird. I need to look at liner notes to determine just which songs Lauderdale's co-written with/for the Millers.

I'm really looking forward to the Steve Earle concert Thursday night.

I think I'm going to commit to reading Don Quixote this year and start tomorrow on the 400th anniversary of its being made available to the public (actual publication date the preceeding December). Intrepid readers Sandra at Book World and Stefanie at So Many Books like the idea of reading three chapters per week and that would work well for me, I believe.

Friday, January 14, 2005

It took a third passage (and some very leading hints) before anyone at Readerville recognized the mystery author:

"Alix Bowen goes to see her murderer quite regularly. This will be her first visit for a month, her Christmas gift, her New Year's gift. Some of her friends disapprove of what could now, Alix realizes, be described as an obsession, but most of them are too polite to comment. Her husband Brian says nothing to deter her. He smiles indulgently, anxiously, as he listens to her stories. If he thinks her interest excessive, or unnatural (which it is, and he must), he does not say so.

"Alix's old friend Liz Headleand is less restrained. 'You're barmy, Alix,' Liz would comment, from time to time, over the phone, as Alix reports her murderer's latest intimations, her own most recent speculations. But then, Alix tells herself, Liz is probably jealous. Liz, a professional psychotherapist, probably thinks it quite wrong that an amateur meddler like Alix should have acquired such easy and privileged access to so notorious a criminal. Liz had missed her own chance to befriend the murderer. She, like Alix, had been in the same building with him, had been more or less held hostage by the police on his behalf: if Liz had thought quicker then, had acted quicker then, he could by now have been Liz's murderer, and Liz herself could be driving to visit him across this lonely moor."

Hint: this author has a more famous sister who was quoted here earlier this month.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Yet another egg

L.W.'s finches are laying eggs and she asked me this afternoon if Ezra was still laying. I said no, but came home tonight to find egg no. 3 at the bottom of the cage.

Best news of the day

A new Lorrie Moore story in the New Yorker! (via Bookslut (via Tingle Alley))
To be able to devote one's life to art without forgetting that art is frivolous is a tremendous achievement of personal character.

--W.H. Auden

For someone like me, who loves literary references and allusions, who loves fiction that dares to consider the relative import of fiction, Heir to the Glimmering World is a goldmine. This is a book I may very well reread. I definitely want to read more Ozick.

I'm still mulling over the ending. Fortunes have reversed for all but the main character, our for-the-most-part narrator. Rose Meadows is primarily an observer, an outsider among outsiders, but still, I wanted more for her, more than a realization that her story has simply not been contained within the pages of this particular book, that what I know about her is a mere preface to her actual life.

Sometimes telling myself that a character's life must have turned out all right, didn't they eventually "write" the book I've been reading, is just not a satisfactory path to go down.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

"America" Ban Lifted

GULFPORT, Miss. - A library board reversed a ban on comedian Jon Stewart's best-selling satirical book, which it had passed because of its image of Supreme Court justices' faces superimposed on naked bodies.

The Jackson-George Regional Library System board of trustees was criticized by local residents and in e-mails from out of state after it banned "America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction" last month. The trustees had said they objected to the image.

But the board voted 5-2 Monday to lift the ban, and the book was returned to circulation in the system's eight libraries Tuesday.

"We have come under intense scrutiny by the outside community," said David Ables, board chairman. "We don't decide for the community whether to read this book or not, but whether to make it available." (Associated Press) (via Bookslut)

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

So the days pass and I ask myself sometimes whether one is not hypnotized, as a child by a silver globe, by life; and whether this is living. It's very quick, bright, exciting. But superficial perhaps. I should like to take the globe in my hands and feel it quietly, round, smooth, heavy, and so hold it, day after day. I will read Proust I think. I will go backwards and forwards.

--Virginia Woolf, A Writer's Diary

We're still reading mythology. The bull-leaping fresco at Knossos offers some evidence of history behind the fantastical elements in the story of King Minos.
The million sea creatures moved noiselessly. Schools of barracuda swept without warning in and out of broken windows. Starfish wriggled on the bonnets of rusty cars. Octopi cartwheeled in slow motion through the air, their tentacles touching briefly on the tips of barbed-wire fences and the tops of awnings. Even the open-mouthed shriek of a shark attacking would be obscenely silent, so there was actually no point in keeping your ears cocked, though you always did.

And

Kif Kif pointed over the roofs of the houses, half-way across the city. Horrified, Janet watched a blue-black killer whale emerging from the low grey clouds, followed by another whale, and another, and another. They hung in the sky like black zeppelins, and the air seemed to grow claustrophobically dense with their displacement of it. Janet would have sunk to her knees but for the grip she had on Kif Kif's shoulders. At her back there was nowhere to hide, only more crumbling streets, more fragile, half-broken buildings; a mile of ground a whale could cover in less than a minute, and, beyond that, the empty sea. The killer whales began to move, towards Janet and Kif Kif's part of the city. Their tails swept the air lazily. They kept together. They were attacking.

--Michel Faber, "Fish"

No more Faber right before bed.

Monday, January 10, 2005

"America (The Book)" Banned

GULFPORT, Miss. - Library officials in two southern Mississippi counties have banned Jon Stewart's best-selling "America (The Book)" over the satirical textbook's nude depictions of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices.

"I've been a librarian for 40 years and this is the only book I've objected to so strongly that I wouldn't allow it to circulate," said Robert Willits, director of the Jackson-George Regional Library System of eight libraries in Jackson and George counties.

"We're not an adult bookstore. Our entire collection is open to the entire public," Willits said. "If they had published the book without that one picture, that one page, we'd have the book."

Wal-Mart has declined to stock the book because of the page, which features the faces of the nine Supreme Court justices superimposed over naked bodies. The facing page has cutouts of the justices' robes, complete with a caption asking readers to "restore their dignity by matching each justice with his or her respective robe."

The book by Stewart and the writers of "The Daily Show," the Comedy Central fake-news program he hosts, was released in September. It has spent 15 weeks on The New York Times best seller list for hardcover nonfiction, and was named Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly, the industry trade magazine.

Former English teacher Tara Skelton of Ocean Springs said the libraries shouldn't decide what is in poor taste.

"It just really seemed kind of silly to me," she said. "I don't think the Supreme Court justices have filed any defamation of character or libel suits. It's humor."

--Associated Press

Mystery Quotes

I won the last round in Mystery Quotes over the weekend at Readerville by guessing A.S. Byatt and so far everyone's been stumped by the two passages I've posted:

"So they went up to the yellow pottery pipe, and stared down it. And there they saw a most amazing sight. Hundreds and hundred of frogs were sitting down that pipe, and they were all honking, all of them, not in unison but constantly, their little throats going, their mouths open, their eyes staring up with curiosity at Karel and Frances and their large human shadows. Honk honk, koax, koax, they cried. They were all different shapes and sizes--the same species, probably, all a yellowy gray in color, but madly, but crazily varied in size, as though some law of nature had gone wrong. Huge big ones, tiny little ones, fat ones, skinny ones, they all sat and honked. Down the pipe they sat, as happy as can be, croaking for joy. Karel and Frances stared, awestruck, amused: the sight was repulsive and at the same time profoundly comic, they loved the little frogs and the big ones. Oh, I love them, said Frances. They looked as though they had been bred from the clay, as in some medieval natural history. A natural product of the landscape, they were. And every time she thought of them, in later years, she felt such pleasure and amusement deep within her, a deep source of it, much deeper than that pipe."

And

"On the way back to the car, Flora dashed at a sheep that was lying in the path, but unlike all the others it did not get up and move: it stared at us instead with a sick and stricken indignation. Flora passed quickly on, pretending for pride's sake that she had not noticed its recalcitrance; but as I passed, walking slowly, supported by David, I looked more closely and I saw curled up and clutching at the sheep's belly a real snake. I did not say anything to David: I did not want to admit that I had seen it, but I did see it, I can see it still. It is the only wild snake that I have ever seen. In my book on Herefordshire it says that that part of the country is notorious for its snakes. But 'Oh well, so what', is all that one can say, the Garden of Eden was crawling with them too, and David and I managed to lie amongst them for one whole pleasant afternoon. One just has to keep on and to pretend, for the sake of the children, not to notice. Otherwise one might just as well stay at home. "

Anyone recognize the author?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Why have I never read True Grit? I've read Charles Portis' Dog of the South and scooped up a used copy of Gringos two or three years back; why ignore the western? Donna Tartt calls it a masterpiece in the Guardian and has totally sold me on reading it:

"Certainly when I was growing up in the 1970s, True Grit was widely thought to be a classic; when I was about 14 years old, it was read along with Walt Whitman and Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poe in the Honors English classes at my school. Yet (because, I believe, of the John Wayne film, which is good enough but which doesn't do the book justice) True Grit vanished from the public eye, and my mother and I, along with many other Portis fans, were reduced to scouring used-book stores and buying up whatever stock we could find because the copies we lent out so evangelically were never returned. (In one particularly dark moment, when my mother's last copy had disappeared and a new one was nowhere to be had, she borrowed the library's copy and then pretended that she had lost it)."

I reread the first two chapters of Heir to the Glimmering World yesterday and am continuing on with it today. The main character, who has to go to a teacher college although she cares about nothing but reading novels, lives with a cousin-in-law until said cousin takes up with a radical socialist who cares for nothing but the coming revolution and is driven into a fury when she sees the main character reading Jane Austen:

"Ninel was angry at Jane Austen not only on account of the British Empire--she was angry at all novels. Novels, like movies, were pretend-shadows; they failed to diagnose the world as it was in reality. 'Crutches,' she said, 'distractions. And meanwhile the moneybags and the corporate dogs eat up the poor.' For Ninel, the only invention worse than novels and movies was religion."

Ninel spoils Rose's chances of turning her cousin into her own Mr. Knightley and Rose, turned out on her own, becomes involved with a family of refugees from Berlin. I'm beginning to see the references to Middlemarch and also to Winnie-the-Pooh (as well its effects on Christopher Robin Milne).

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Wow

An incredibly beautiful triptych depicting Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse by artist Suzanne Bellamy. Click on the "next" button on her site to view her visions of The Waves and Woolf's London and Woolfworld.

Absolutely gorgeous.

An ambivalent reader

"I suppose I wanted to talk about the act of reading, and all the guilt that surrounds reading, which is something I’ve thought a lot about over the last few years," he says, leaning back in his chair and taking a drag off another cigarette. "Partly from being a writer and seeing how people apologize all the time for not having read you, or not having read other books by other people, and I just felt sad about it, really. Not because people weren’t reading books, but because they had this terrible ingrained knee-jerk reaction to all things connected with literature. I do like to read, but, you know, it’s hard, and I do like watching telly, and I do like sport, and reading has to fight for its place within that. So it was a reading diary in the sense of not only writing about the books I was reading, but what it’s like to try and read when you have other things going on."

A Nick Hornby interview in LA Weekly.

Friday, January 07, 2005

We watched Breakfast at Tiffany's over the holidays and I decided I needed to read it. The library only has it in a large omnibus edition, A Capote Reader, which led me to revisit "My Side of the Matter" tonight:

"I know what is being said about me and you can take my side or theirs, that's your own business. It's my word against Eunice's and Olivia-Ann's, and it should be plain enough to anyone with two good eyes which one of us has their wits about them. I just want the citizens of the U.S.A. to know the facts, that's all.

"The facts: On Sunday, August 12, this year of our Lord, Eunice tried to kill me with her papa's Civil War sword and Olivia-Ann cut up all over the place with a fourteen-inch hog knife. This is not even to mention lots of other things."

The Capote led me to revisiting "Why I Live at the P.O.":

"I was getting along fine with Mama, Papa-Daddy and Uncle Rondo until my sister Stella-Ronda just separated from her husband and came back home again. Mr. Whitaker! Of course I went with Mr. Whitaker first, when he first appeared here in China Grove, taking 'Pose Yourself' photos, and Stella-Rondo broke us up. Told him I was one-sided. Bigger on one side than the other, which is a deliberate, calculated falsehood: I'm the same. Stella-Rondo is exactly twelve months to the day younger than I am and for that reason she's spoiled."

I should start reading Southern fiction again. I've missed the voices. I've missed the characters.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

"But yet," continued Gabriel, his voice falling into a softer inflection, "there are always in gatherings such as this sadder thoughts that will recur to our minds: thoughts of the past, of youth, of changes, of absent faces that we miss here to-night. Our path through life is strewn with many such sad memories: and were we to brood upon them always we could not find the heart to go on bravely with our work among the living. We have all of us living duties and living affections which claim, and rightly claim, our strenuous endeavours."

And

"The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover's eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live."

--James Joyce, "The Dead"

I have a tendency to read the most wonderful books, the most wonderful stories, for the oddest of reasons. I read Middlemarch for the first time because, in Lorrie Moore's Anagrams, Benna Carpenter's imaginary friend Eleanor was prone to yelling out to joggers from car windows: "Go home and read Middlemarch." Now I'm reading Heir to the Glimmering World because I heard, somewhere, that its main character is quite fond of Middlemarch.

And what does any of this have to do with James Joyce's "The Dead?" I put off reading "The Dead" for the first time (hey, the longer I put off Dubliners the longer I can put off Ulysses) until I heard a thirtysomething episode had been based on the story.

"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, father westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly throught the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

Happy Twelfth Night.

The Surgeon's Mate

'Is it possible that the lady, such a lady, could be enamoured of Dr Maturin's person?' cried an officer--the first honest, sincere amazement that had been heard in that room.

'It is improbable, I must confess,' said Stephen. 'But you are to consider, that both Europa and Pasiphae loved a bull; and that history teems with even less eligible companions.'

Snerk.

Of course, my favorite scene was much earlier, when Jack is up at daybreak, watching the coastline as the ship goes through the strait: "Narrow it was: on the shore to larboard walked Swedes, clearly to be seen in the bright sunlight, and on that to starboard Danes: three miles of sea between them, and the Ariel in about the middle, rather nearer the Swedish side, creeping south with little more than steerage-way upon her."

Stephen appears with a telescope, up uncommonly early to look for eider-ducks. Jack points out Elsinore moments before a flight of ducks appear between the ship and the shore; moments later mortars are fired upon the ship.

Stephen releases invective upon those who would dare to fire into a flock of ducks, which ends with a potshot against Hamlet's mother. Jack directs the first lieutenant to drop nets in the water to catch the belly-up fish killed by the shelling, and after gorgeous newcomer Mr Jagiello points out the rocks behind which lie Hamlet's grave, Jack reveals his acquaintance with Hamlet: "I never laughed so much in my life."

Stephen kindly points out that Hamlet is not generally regarded as a comedy and then Jack recounts his acting experience as a midshipman: he once played a part of Ophelia and he still can recite the bawdy bits.

And later they see more ducks and eat the fish and between the fish and the Baltic Sea they all get sick.

I just love Patrick O'Brian.
Read two chapters of Heir to the Glimmering World last night after finishing The Surgeon's Mate. For some reason I'd decided Cynthia Ozick would be a difficult author to read, but her writing is smooth and easy to follow, even for me, in my drugged state. Hoping I can read quite a bit of her tonight.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Quotes

I have often wondered how anyone who does not read, by which I mean daily, having some book going all the time, can make it through life. . . Indeed if I were required to make a sharp division in the very nature of people, I would be tempted to make it there: readers and nonreaders of books.

--William Brinkley

The line between experience and reading often becomes blurry. Reading is experience. A biography of any literary person ought to deal at length and in detail with what he read and when, for in some sense we are what we read.

--Joseph Epstein

Fan mail for fan fic

I think I have a sinus infection and I feel like absolute crud, but the following email really makes me feel tons better:

Dear Ms XXX,
This is my first reading of any ASJ fanfic, and the chapters are so excellently written that it could be filmed today if the series were in active production. Have you considered actually publishing your work? You obviously possess considerable literary talent, and I am very anxious to see what befalls Heyes and Curry in the next chapters. I am currently tutoring a Master's candidate with her writing, and I consider your abilities far above my current student's efforts. I am eagerly awaiting your new chapters.
This is the first paragraph to A.S. Byatt's story "On the Day that E.M. Forster Died," from the collection Sugar and Other Stories.

This is a story about writing. It is a story about a writer who believed, among other things, that time for writing about writing was past. "Our art", said T.S. Eliot, "is a substitute for religion and so is our religion." The writer in question, who, on the summer day in 1970 when this story takes place, was a middle-aged married woman with three small children, had been brought up on art about art which saw art also as salvation. Potrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Death in Venice, A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. Or, more English and moral, more didactic, D.H. Lawrence. "The novel is the highest form of human expression yet attained." "The novel is the one bright book of life." Mrs Smith was afraid of these books, and was also naturally sceptical. She did not believe that life aspired to the condition of art, or that art could save the world from most of the things that threatened it, endemically or at moments of crisis. She had written three brief and elegant black comedies about folly and misunderstanding in sexual relationships, she had sparred with and loved her husband, who was deeply interested in international politics and the world economy, and only intermittently interested in novels. She had three children, who were interested in the television, small animals, model armies, other small children, the sky, death and occasional narratives and paintings. She had a cleaning lady, who was interested in wife-battery and diabetes and had that morning opened a button-through dress to display to Mrs Smith a purple and chocolate and gold series of lumps and swellings across her breasts and belly. Mrs Smith's own life made no sense to her without art, but she was disinclined to believe in it as a cure, or a duty, or a general necessity. Nor did she see the achievement of the work of art as a paradigm for the struggle for life, or virtue. She had somehow been inoculated with it, in the form of the novel, before she as a moral being had had anything to say to it. It was an addiction. The bright books of life were the shots in the arm, the warm tots of whisky which kept her alive and conscious and lively. Life itself was related in complicated ways to this addiction. She often asked herself, without receiving any satisfactory answer, why she needed it, and why this form of it? Her answers would have appeared to Joyce, or Mann, or Proust to be frivolous. It was because she had become sensuously excited in early childhood by Beatrix Potter's sentence structure, or Kipling's adjectives. It was because she was a voyeur and liked looking in through other people's windows on warmer, brighter worlds. It was because she was secretly deprived of power, and liked to construct other worlds in which things would be as she chose, lovely or horrid. When she took her art most seriously it was because it focused her curiosity about things that were not art; society, education, science, death. She did a lot of research for her little books, most of which never got written into them, but it satisfied her somehow. It gave a temporary coherence to her perception of things.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


"Don Quixote might be dead, but his ever-ambiguous ghost lives on. His admirers -- and, in unequal measure, detractors -- are legion. Operas, musicals, theatrical and film adaptations, as well as fictional recreations keep piling up: Laurence Sterne was inspired by Don Quixote's misadventures when writing Tristram Shandy; Gustave Flaubert paid homage to him in Madame Bovary, as did Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The Idiot. Isaac Bashevis Singer's 'Gimpel the Fool' can be read as a reimagining of the knight's simplicity. And so on."

Don Quixote turns 400 this month. It was made available to the public for the first time on Jan. 16, 1605; by the time the second part was published in 1615, it was a best seller. Ilan Stavans doubts the novel would find a publisher today--likely to be deemed a "trouble manuscript"-- although it did manage to make its way past the Inquistitorial censors of the day.

Posted by Hello

Monday, January 03, 2005

Literary blogs

Via Tingle Alley and Maud Newton, a Denver Post article about literary weblogs: "What's great about blogs," he [Mad Max Perkins] says, "is how particular the voice and point of view of each is; their idiosyncratic, here's-what's-on-my mind nature makes the experience wonderfully intimate, and the people involved in them are for the most part incredibly smart and interesting and thoughtful."

And, of course, there are others who are lazy procrastinators who quote others a dang whole lot.
So, who read Marguerite Henry's Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West when you were a kid? Obviously no one in Congress did. Congress is sending wild horses to the slaughterhouse--with no debate, no public hearings. (MSNBC) So much for the "living symbols of the pioneer spirit of the West."


Sarajevo authorities will name a street after Susan Sontag, who helped the city's residents during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. (Associated Press)


No, what I am talking about is a work of literature's temperament, the nearly cell-level sensation its voice provokes in a reader. Faced with the opening pages of a book, we subconsciously ask ourselves: Do I like the consciousness behind these words? The next question, even more cognitively buried, is: Does it like me? One can answer yes to one and no to the other, of course, and still like and admire a book. It is probably even possible to arrive at a negative conclusion to both questions and still attain from a book some form of enjoyment, however masochistic. But to say yes on both counts -- I like this, this likes me -- is often to love a book without judgment or hesitation. Such blind, consuming love makes us as protective and jealous as Isaiah's concept of divinity, and we are offended when others do not share the intensity of our passion. It should be noted that this is pretty much exactly analogous to how we forge friendships and love affairs with real, organic human beings.

--Tom Bissell
_______

I read the book of Job last night. I don't think God comes out well in it.

--Virginia Woolf

_______

". . . there's a second kind of reader. There's the social isolate--the child who from an early age felt very different from everyone around him. This is very very difficult to uncover in an interview. People don't like to admit that they were social isolates as children. What happens is you take that sense of being different into an imaginary world. But that world, then, is a world you can't share with the people around you--because it's imaginary. And so the important dialogue in your life is with the authors of the books you read. Though they aren't present, they become your community."

--Shirley Brice Heath Posted by Hello

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Three Men and a Donkey

"There is, we know, a tragic reason why we cannot make you quake with fear. The stories we once belonged to have been lost. Just as you do not know who we are, where we came from or where we are going, you don't even know which part of which story we fit into, and that is even worse. After passing through so many misadventures and catastrophes, after walking such great distances, it is almost as if we too have forgotten our stories, forgotten who we are."

Orhan Pamuk has previously written from the perspective of a corpse thrown down a well; a dog; a tree; the color red. In "You Should Fear Us" he imagines what the characters in a drawing made by Muhammad of the Black Pen would have to say. View the drawing, read the story. (Guardian)

I easily filled up an old library checkout card that I'd been using as a bookmark with the names of authors with unread story collections languishing on my shelves. Yikes. I need to refer to this card, and my list of unread nonfiction, whenever I get the notion to buy any more books. And why are three of the books I'd like to read this month library books? I mean, getting them from the library is perfectly fine, except I ought to at least make more of an attempt to read what I own instead of letting them stockpile the way I do.

Someone at the Chicklit Forums has resolved to read a short story a day for the coming year. Dare I try in '05 to read 365?
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Saturday, January 01, 2005

Science Saturday

"Justine," he said. "You know? In twenty years I firmly believe we will be traveling instantaneously by transposition of matter. You get in this glass box, see, if you want to go to, say, Omaha, and someone in Omaha gets in another glass box--"

"I travel fast enough as it is," said Justine, "and way too far."

"You haven't traveled so far," Duncan said. "Then bulletin boards would spring up everywhere: 'Gentleman from Detroit wishes to go to Pittsburgh; does anyone in Pittsburgh wish to go to Detroit?' There would be new hope for the unemployed. Bums could make money being transposed to Cincinnati when someone in Cincinnati wanted to get out. You go to a park bench. 'Look, fellow,' you say--"

"But it would always be me who ended up accepting," said Justine. She rose, and for no apparent reason examined her face in the speckled metal switch plate on the wall. "I can turn into anyone. That's my curse." (Anne Tyler, Searching for Caleb)

This is so too a Science Saturday entry. Teleportation became a reality in 2004. Really. It's just not the way we imagined it would be yet because it's still at the atomic stage.

Three pages worth of the top science books of 2004. (Discover)

Life at the molecular level is sheer chaos. (Seed Magazine)

"Over the past four years the EPA has allowed the agricultural services and products industry -- which, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, has contributed nearly $15 million to GOP candidates since 2000 -- to crush any chance at regulation" of rat poisons. The American Association of Poison Control Centers has reported nearly 60,000 cases of poisoning by rodenticides between 2001 and 2003, many of them involving children. (MoJones)

Ecological sucide is the subject of Jared Diamond's latest book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. (CSMonitor)


E.M. Forster was born on New Year's Day in 1879.

"No; look out for the part where you think you have done with the goblins and they come back," breathed Helen, as the music started with a goblin walking quietly over the universe, from end to end. Others followed him. They were not aggressive creatures; it was that that made them so terrible to Helen. They merely observed in passing that there was no such thing as splendour or heroism in the world. After the interlude of elephants dancing, they returned and made the observation for the second time. Helen could not contradict them, for, once at all events, she had felt the same, and had seen the reliable walls of youth collapse. Panic and emptiness! Panic and emptiness! The goblins were right.

And

Tibby, on the other hand, had no opinions. He stood above the conventions: his sister had a right to do what she thought right. It is not difficult to stand above the conventions when we leave no hostages among them; men can always be more unconventional than women, and a bachelor of independent means need encounter no difficulties at all. Unlike Charles, Tibby had money enough; his ancestors had earned it for him, and if he shocked the people in one set of lodgings he had only to move into another. His was the leisure without sympathy--an attitude as fatal as the strenuous; a little cold culture may be raised on it, but no art. His sisters had seen the family danger, and had never forgotten to discount the gold islets that raised them from the sea. Tibby gave all the praise to himself, and so despised the struggling and the submerged.

And

It did not seem so difficult. She need trouble him with no gift of her own. She would only point out the salvation that was latent in his own soul, and in the soul of every man. Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.

--E.M. Forster, Howards End

Embracing the here and present

All morning I've been thinking about the juggernaut of change that moves through landscapes and cultures with such speed, causing lamentable but seemingly inevitable losses. Now I just want to embrace the here and present. I try to concentrate on this serving of Maldhari tea, aware that I won't soon get another. The gracious way to consume it, I know, is with loud, appreciative slurps, and quickly, right off the stove. While the conversation flies back and forth, all incomprehensible to me, I take a sip, nearly scalding my tongue. Ouch. The liquid is rich with that sweet, musky flavor of sugared milk from a buffalo that has grazed in a forest among lions. It's luscious. But it's too hot to drink. And then, a moment later, it's too cool.

--David Quammen. Monster of God