Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Title Blending Meme

I saw this at Stefanie's: The rules are simple, blend two book titles together by using the last word of one title and the first word of the second title. You can blend the author names too.

My contributions:

The Birds Fall Down and Out in Paris and London. Rebecca Orwell

Welcome to the Monkey House of Mirth. Kurt Wharton

The Virgin in the Garden of North American Martyrs. Tobias Byatt

Love's Labour's Lost in the Cosmos. William Percy

A Cure for Dreams of Sleep. Kaye Humphreys

Up in the Old Hotel New Hampshire. Joseph Irving

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Anne Adams
I did not make near the amount of headway in Tristram Shandy as I'd hoped over the extended weekend. It became obvious pretty quickly that I will need to read many many pages two or three times as I train my brain not to go off on its own tangential thoughts while it's supposedly attending to one of Sterne's digressions within a digression. So far I've made it through references to Don Quixote's horse and Hamlet's Yorick and a chapter on Tristram's father's "unconquerable aversion" to the name Tristram. I hope to have Volume I completed by the time we leave for New York.

It made a nice break to turn to Joseph Mitchell's Joe Gould's Secret, the story of a homeless Harvard grad writing the world's longest book, an oral history that "is almost as discursive as 'Tristram Shandy.'" Hurrah for quality journalistic style!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A prose that falls on the page like sunlight

And when one has come to the end of this beautiful and moving story it is worth while reading the book over again simply to observe the wonders of its technique. Mr. Hueffer has used the device, invented and used successfully by Mr. Henry James, and used not nearly so credibly by Mr. Conrad, of presenting the story not as it appeared to a divine and omnipresent intelligence, but as it was observed by some intervener not too intimately concerned in the plot. It is a device that always breaks down at the great moment, when the revelatory detail must be given; but it has the great advantage of setting the tone of the prose from the beginning to the end. And out of the leisured colloquialism of the gentle American who tells the story Mr. Hueffer has made a prose that falls on the page like sunlight. It has the supreme triumph of art, that effect of effortlessness and inevitableness, which Mengs described when he said that one of Velasquez's pictures seemed to be painted not by the hand but by pure thought. Indeed, this is a much, much better book than any of us deserve.

--Rebecca West, from the review of The Good Soldier originally published in the Daily News, April 2, 1915

The Slaves of Golconda will be discussing Ford Madox (Hueffer) Ford's novel on Thursday. Join us.

Friday, May 25, 2007

----and so long as a man rides his HOBBY-HORSE peaceably and quietly along the King's highway, and neither compels you or me to get up behind him,----pray, Sir, what have either you or I to do with it?

Wish me luck. I started Tristram Shandy this morning.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Picking and Choosing

Literature is a phase of life: if one is afraid of it,
the situation is irremediable; if one approaches it familiarly,
what one says of it is worthless.
The opaque allusion -- the simulated flight upward,
accomplishes nothing. Why cloud the fact
that Shaw is self-conscious in the field of sentiment
but is otherwise rewarding? that James
is all that has been said of him. It is not Hardy the novelist
and Hardy the poet, but one man interpreting life as emotion.
The critic should know what he likes:
Gordon Craig with his "this is I" and "this is mine,"
with his three wise men, his "sad French greens" and his "Chinese cherry"
Gordon Craig, so inclinational and unashamed - a critic.
And Burke is a psychologist -- of acute, raccoon-like curiosity.
Summa diligentia; to the humbug whose name is so amusing -
very young and very rushed - , Caesar crossed the Alps
on the top of a "diligence" !
We are not daft about the meaning,
but this familiarity with wrong meaning puzzles one.
Humming-bug, the candles are not wired for electricity.
Small dog, going over the lawn, nipping the linen and saying
that you have a badger - remember Xenophon;
only the most rudimentary behaviour is necessary to put us on the scent.
"A right good salvo of barks," a few strong wrinkles puckering
the skin between the ears, is all we ask.

--Marianne Moore
One thing I obviously don't read: instructions. Else I would have known that the Summer Reading Challenge ends at the first of August, not the end.

So, I'll shoot to complete 10 of the 15 books on my summer list by then.

And now it's time to finish The Good Soldier.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sure, blame it on the Nineteenth Amendment

The New York steak dinner, or "beefsteak," is a form of gluttony as stylized and regional as the riverbank fish fry, the hot-rock clambake, or the Texas barbecue. Some old chefs believe it had its origin sixty or seventy years ago, when butchers from the slaughterhouses on the East River would sneak choice loin cuts into the kitchens of nearby saloons, grill them over charcoal, and feast on them during their Saturday-night sprees. In any case, the institution was essentially masculine until 1920, when it was debased by the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. The Eighteenth Amendment brought about mixed drinking; a year and a half after it went into effect, the salutation "We Greet Our Better Halves" began to appear on the souvenir menus of beeksteaks thrown by bowling, fishing, and chowder clubs and lodges and labor unions. The big, exuberant beefsteaks thrown by Tammany and Republican district clubs always had been strictly stag, but not long after the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the suffrage, politicians decided it would be nice to invite females over voting age to clubhouse beefsteaks. "Womenfolks didn't know what a beefsteak was until they got the right to vote," an old chef once said.

It didn't take women long to corrupt the beefsteak. They forced the addition of such things as Manhattan cocktails, fruit cups, and fancy salads to the traditional menu of slices of ripened steaks, double lamb chops, kidneys, and beer by the pitcher. They insisted on dance orchestras instead of brassy German bands. The life of the party at a beefsteak used to be the man who let out the most ecstatic grunts, drank the most beer, ate the most steak, and got the most grease on his ears, but women do not esteem a glutton, and at a contemporary beefsteak it is unusual for a man to do away with more than six pounds of meat and thirty glasses of beer. Until around 1920, beefsteak etiquette was rigid. Knives, forks, napkins, and tablecloths never had been permitted; a man was supposed to eat with his hands. When beefsteaks became bisexual, the etiquette changed. For generations men had worn their second-best suits because of the inevitability of grease spots; tuxedos and women appeared simultaneously. Most beefsteaks degenerated into polite banquets at which open-face sandwiches of grilled steak happened to be the principal dish.

--Joseph Mitchell, "All You Can Hold for Five Bucks" in Up in the Old Hotel

My son has finally gotten himself corrupted by a book.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Monday, May 21, 2007

Summer Reading Challenge

I like to assemble a summer reading list in late May, so I was gratified this morning to see that Amanda has already set up a blog for the second annual Summer Reading Challenge.

I put 21 books on last summer's list and after finishing Galapagos late last month, that list of unread books had been whittled down to eight. This year I'm listing a mere 15; if I get through more than that, then yay for me, but it's going to be a busy summer and I might as well be both practical and leave room for sudden whims.


My Southern Reading Challenge selections

The Unvanquished. William Faulkner

A Good Man is Hard to Find. Flannery O'Connor

Other Voices, Other Rooms. Truman Capote

My remaining Once Upon a Time Challenge selections

A Midsummer Night's Dream. William Shakespeare

The Ladies of Grace Adieu. Susanna Clarke

My Rebecca West Project next selection

The Thinking Reed

Classics

Candide. Voltaire

Robinson Crusoe. Daniel Defoe

Tristram Shandy. Laurence Sterne

Buddenbrooks. Thomas Mann

New Fiction

The Pesthouse. Jim Crace

The Beautiful Miscellaneous. Dominic Smith

The Maytrees. Annie Dillard

New Non Fiction

The Assault on Reason. Al Gore

And one of the remaining eight from last summer's list

A Dead Language. Peter Rushforth

Sunday, May 20, 2007

So who's the former quality-control manager for a car parts maker who presumed to write 95 book reviews last year? Richard Schickel has a message for him/her. (It's rather holier-than-thou.)

Edited to add: It's Dan Wickett who's the former quality-control manager. Richard Schickel has a problem with Dan Wickett. Good grief.

Pedro Paramo




Magical realism is fantasy written in Spanish.

--Gene Wolfe

I had no intentions of reading Juan Rulfo's Pedro Paramo for the Once Upon a Time Challenge; in fact, I had no intentions of reading it this year at all. But Emma went missing for several days the week my son ventured into Austen territory and he picked up this one while waiting for her eventual reappearance; we had it on hand since R. had read it for IB English a few years back. His comments soon led me to conclude that he just might need a discussion buddy and it wasn't long after I'd started it that I realized Pedro Paramo was a perfect selection for the Challenge.

It starts as many quest stories do with a boy going in search for his father. Juan Preciado promises his dying mother that he will go to Comala, the town from which she fled years ago when she'd left his father, Pedro Paramo, to go live with her sister. Her instructions: "Don't ask him for anything. Just what's ours. What he should have given me but never did. . . . Make him pay, son, for all those years he put us out of his mind."

At a crossroads Juan Preciado meets a man driving burros to Comala who answers his questions on their walk down to the town. Abundio tells him that Comala "sits on the coals of the earth, at the very mouth of hell." (Juan's mother had remembered it as a paradise.) Abundio says that he is also Pedro Paramo's son; in fact, Pedro Paramo has fathered most of the children in the town, "but, for all that, our mothers brought us into the world on straw mats. And the real joke of it is that he's the one carried us to be baptized."

Abundio describes Pedro Paramo as "living bile" and tells Juan that their father died years ago. And the reason Comalo looks deserted? It's because no one lives there any longer.

Well, no one except for tormented ghosts and one arguably alive couple very anxious to leave. Juan will die in Comala and spend the second half of the novel buried, eavesdropping on and conversing with the other graveyard inhabitants, learning more about his father's life and that of Susana San Juan, who lies buried nearby.

Written in fragmented segments, shifting between characters and narrators, rich with imagery and symbolism, Juan Rulfo presents the rise of a manipulative, ruthless landowner at the time of the Mexican Revolution, who, following the death of Susana, the only woman he'd ever loved, wreaks a final vengeance on his town.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The biggest undergraduate major by far in the United States today is business. Twenty-two per cent of bachelor’s degrees are awarded in that field. Eight per cent are awarded in education, five per cent in the health professions. By contrast, fewer than four per cent of college graduates major in English, and only two per cent major in history. There are more bachelor’s degrees awarded every year in Parks, Recreation, Leisure, and Fitness Studies than in all foreign languages and literatures combined. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which classifies institutions of higher education, no longer uses the concept “liberal arts” in making its distinctions. This makes the obsession of some critics of American higher education with things like whether Shakespeare is being required of English majors beside the point. The question isn’t what the English majors aren’t taking; the question is what everyone else isn’t taking.

--Louis Menand, The New Yorker


Yesterday Claudius spent hours over The Western Canon. . . What would Harold Bloom have to say about that?

For Weekend Cat Blogging, go to Paulchen's FoodBlog?!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bookless

Booking Through Thursday

It happens even to the best readers from time to time… you close the cover on the book you’re reading and discover, to your horror, that there’s nothing else to read. Either there’s nothing in the house, or nothing you’re in the mood for. Just, nothing that “clicks.” What do you do?? How do you get the reading wheels turning again?

Well, I never physically run out of books to read, but I am sometimes simply not in the mood to read them. (I think this week would count as one of those times: I've read one Flannery O'Connor story and that's all.) So I'll check bloglines yet again, or watch The Daily Show, or go for a walk, or clean a birdcage or the refrigerator. Usually doing a bit of housework will jump start my interest in reading again, because I don't like cleaning house.

Sometimes the best approach is to randomly pull books from the shelves and read bits and pieces of them until something clicks. Or to reread sections from my favorites.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Eight Random Things

JenClair, J.S. Peyton, and Gentle Reader have tagged me for the 8 Random Things meme.

The rules -
1: Each player starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.
2: People who are tagged, write a blog post about their own 8 random things, and post these rules.
3: At the end of your post you need to tag 8 people and include their names.
4: Don't forget to leave them a comment and tell them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

~~

1. For more than a decade I was as addicted to cross-stitching as I was to reading; in fact, I look back on the 80s as my cross-stitch years. I do wish I'd managed not to burn out until after I'd finished my son's Christmas stocking instead of midway through it though (I'm sure he does, too).

2. When possible, I avoid taking elevators. The fast ones make me queasy and even on the ones that move slowly enough not to make me ill, who'd want to risk being trapped between floors with a bunch of strangers? It's stairs for me.

3. When I was in 7th or 8th grade, a friend and I attempted to ride our horses down the main street of town. We made it as far as the police station, where a cop stood out front glaring at us, and when he said, "You girls get those horses out of town" in a very mean way we didn't tell him it was a free country the way we'd planned to say to anyone who dared try to stop us. Instead we said, "Yes sir," and turned the horses up the nearest side street and hightailed it out of there.


4. I've worked as a poll worker at the local precinct since Election Day 1993, a day when so many people turned out to vote that a line still wound its way through the halls of the school and out the front door when the polls officially closed at 7:30. When I got home late that night I swore I'd never do that again. This fall I will actually be a precinct judge. I can't wait for training!

5. I loved thirtysomething and periodically check Amazon to see if it's finally been slated for release.

6. I wrote a play about local legend Tom Dooley when I was in 8th grade. Unfortunately, I included too much of my research; the fact that I mentioned that the three principal players had veneral disease kept the play from being considered for class production.

7. I rarely work crossword puzzles but this week, in an effort to ward off early onset Alzheimer's disease, I'm attempting to do one each day. What's a nine letter word for very old-fashioned that starts with hide?

8. I'm going to both NY and DC in June. Yippee!

~~~

I'm not tagging anyone because I can't keep straight who's been tagged and who hasn't.

The Only Poet and Short Stories



Two weeks ago I didn't even know this book existed. The Only Poet was published nine years after Rebecca West's death and contains short fiction written late in her life.

Five West novels to read before it's this one's turn. . .

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Rebecca West project, resumed

Following the publication of Harriet Hume in 1929 (see my opinion of the book here), Rebecca West focused on journalism for several years, writing essays, book reviews for both British and American audiences, as well as biographies of literary and historical figures and a play that would never be produced. Her next book-length work of fiction wouldn't be published until 1935, when four long short stories, originally published in the Saturday Evening Post and the Woman's Home Companion, were reprinted in a volume titled The Harsh Voice.

According to biographer Victoria Glendinning, the stories in The Harsh Voice are her best. Despite this, Glendinning devotes no more than a paragraph to them: West was paid between $2,000 and $3,000 for her individual stories, she dedicated the volume to her New York agent George T. Bye, and the bit of verse attributed to Richard Wynne Errington as an epigraph

Speaks the harsh voice
We hear when money talks, or hate,
Then comes the softest answer.

was actually written by West herself.

Carl Rollyson provides more info in his biography: she spent more than a month in NYC in late 1928 gathering material for her short fiction (all the stories are set in the U.S.), the collection received "good to mixed reviews" and sold almost ten thousand copies in just a few weeks. Her London publisher entertained hopes that she might be built up "as an author, rather than as a writer of scattered books." Virginia Woolf sent praise and H.G. Wells (their relationship long over, West had married Henry Andrews in 1930) congratulated West for killing off a character who reminded him of her sister Lettie ("If she had been killed ages ago the world might have been very different").

The character killed is one Alice Pemberton, loving daughter, loving sister, loving wife, the "Salt of the Earth," as the story's title tells you, as well as the salt continually rubbed into everyone's psychic wounds. Alice can make anyone feel worse while trying to make them better. Servants, family, neighbors, everyone comes in for a hearty dose of perfect Alice's criticism and unsolicited advice--always delivered with the sincerest intentions of improving the object of her attentions to her own high standards--until her otherwise doting husband decides that for the sake of everyone else, he will have to poison her via her bedtime glass of chocolate. After watching her in action and realizing her steadfast commitment to changing everyone but herself, I can't imagine many readers were sorry to see Alice's milk mustache in the final paragraphs.

And speaking of poison, Corrie does just that to his relationship with Josie by admitting to cold feet just before their wedding in "Life Sentence." Although he agrees to go on with the wedding if she desires, he's taken back when she requires him to do just that. Throughout their marriage Corrie blames Josie's reserve and refusal to truly connect with him on his bout of cold feet. Eventually Josie inherits money, makes smart investments, and takes off to Reno so that she can marry the man who was her willing partner in a risky real estate venture Corrie had earlier refused entanglement with. Corrie moves West and starts afresh, remarrying and becoming more financially successful than he had been before. Yet when the news of Wall Street's crash hits the newspapers, Corrie immediately takes off to meet Josie in Chicago. He's sure she's bankrupt and he intends to bail her out; he's managed to hold on to all his assets and he's already glorying in how his more cautious approach has ultimately been proven to be the better one. Unfortunately, Josie's kept hers as well, and only wanted to meet with Corrie to offer her own aid since she expected him to have lost it all; they fight bitterly, realizing only minutes before Corrie is to take the train back to his second wife that they have been sentenced to love one another for life.

My favorite story was "There is No Conversation." A woman--we don't know her age or marital status for quite some time--encounters an older Parisian, a known womanizer, who she'd once known socially. Rather reluctantly, she agrees to go to his apartment to hear the long version of how he's lost everything and will have to sell all of his beloved art, the apartment, etc. It seems a sweet, unassuming American woman Etienne had shown attention to-- out of pity since she wasn't his type-- took revenge when he tired of her--she's caused his financial ruin through a business deal that devalued all his stock.

I had to meet this woman. I had to meet this marvel who had felt an emotion so strong that it had been able to break the mould of her character when it had hardened for nearly half a century; so strong that it had demanded for its expression not a day's hysterics, not some nights of weeping, but weeks of complicated and murderous operations on the stock market. As I have told you, that is the kind of thing I like. It amused me. And until I met Nancy Sarle I felt as a collector might who knows that somewhere, say in one of six small towns in the province of Lombardy, there is a lost Donatello.

The narrator returns to the U.S., contrives to cultivate friendships with people who have connections with businesswoman Nancy Sarle, eventually meeting her and realizing how much she likes her. When the women's relationship evolves into a close friendship the narrator mentions that she once lived in France, and casually drops Etienne's name. Nancy proceeds to tell the story of her own trip to Paris and time with Etienne, and her version casts a different color on things and leaves the narrator desolate: Nancy never loved Etienne, although for awhile she'd wondered if he loved her, and his financial ruin was not caused by revenge, but sheer indifference. It seems the narrator had once been married to Etienne, had suffered greatly during her decade with him, and expected Nancy "to disclose some detail, such as had not been apparent but must be latent in [her] own story, which would prove that it may be inevitable for a woman to love a cad." With Nancy unable to make valid the narrator's own repressed feelings towards Etienne, she knows "the glow" will now be off their friendship.

The final story in the collection, "The Abiding Vision," centers around a wealthy businessman who juggles both an aging wife and a young mistress until the crash of '29 when he loses his money, his company, and his prospects. Sam's wife has a stroke and has to be institutionalized; his mistress develops from shallow creature to worthy companion who cares for him and is willing to die with him if he should decide he can no longer go on. Shady business dealings before the crash land him before a congressional hearing in Washington, where he makes an unexpected impassioned speech worthy of a Hollywood movie; suddenly he is employable again and expected to regain his wealth. An otherwise happy conclusion is turned on its head when Sam begins to visualize his next mistress, one with "a face unlined with care, a body still smooth and shining, undepleted by self-sacrifice, restorative with youth" while plotting to put his current one aside.

Next up in the Rebecca West project: The Thinking Reed.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mothers Day 2007

Spent time yesterday with some udder mothers








and their offspring








at the farm in Wilkesboro.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Announcement

John McMullen of John's Lifetime Reading and Raccoldta di Citazioni is graduating today. Here's hoping he'll have a chance to relax and read for a bit this summer before he has to crate his cat, pack all those books he has into boxes, and drive off to a new life in a cultural wasteland--at least where Southern literature is concerned (and that's all that matters, right?).

Happy graduation day, John. Wishing you the best in the research and teaching to come.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Friday Claudius blogging

Russian blue cat

The usually elusive Claudie is participating in the Friday Ark and Weekend Cat Blogging. Be sure to check out all the other lovelies when you have a free moment, especially the little fella interning at Book World this week.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Richard's first bookstore

It was during Nat's reign, just before he decided he had better things to do with his life than be an alpha male. We had just finished darting in our park, were on our way to freelance dart in another one, stopped in Nairobi in between for resupplying. Richard's first trip to the big city. What a blast. I dragged him from one end to the the other, taught him about traffic lights. I tortured him with lectures about urban sociology, showed him his first supermarket, his first cinema, his first rush hour. He was horrified by the cars--"I think there can be so many cars here because there are no buffalo." This seemed sensible enough. A Kikuyu (the city slicker tribe in Kenya) mistook Richard for a Kikuyu and addressed him in that tribal language, and Richard glowed in his implied cosmopolitan status. Even more pleasing was Richard's first bookstore. He couldn't believe it. For reasons unknown, Richard had festered with a passion for books unmatched by almost any Kenyan I'd met, irrespective of schooling. He'd sit and plow through them with his rough English (merely his fourth language), make some headway, and get great enjoyment, although he did toss up his hands after insisting that I pass on my copy of The Brothers Karamazov to him ("So, Richard, how's that book going, what is it about?" "Well, it is very confusing. There are these brothers, and they are always talking, and the old man is not a good one, but then they are always talking even more, except when the women are coming in and crying. I think they are white people, but maybe not from America." After that, he gave up on it). But an entire bookstore. I gave him money, told him to run amok, get whatever he wanted, and my heart swelled with vicarious joy.

--Robert M. Sapolsky, A Primate's Memoir

Two memes

Booking Through Thursday

So, judging by last week’s answers, apparently the question I should have been asking was:

Where DON’T you read??


I am very prone to motion sickness (I get nauseated in a swing), so I can't read when I'm in a car, unless the car is stopped. (I once had a neighbor who'd sit in her parked car out at the street
to get away from her children long enough to get some reading done. After babysitting for those kids one time, I could understand why.)

I generally don't read in bed, although I have no explanation for why I don't.

I don't read at funerals or weddings, because that would be rude.


Shelly's Booked by Three for May:

Name up to 3 books you think everyone should read.

1984, George Orwell
Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler

Name up to 3 authors you think everyone should read.

E.C. Spykman
E.M. Forster
Lewis Carroll

Name up to 3 books no one should (bother to) read (or write).

My Life as a Vengeance Harpy, Nancy Grace
Paris Hilton Goes to Prison
Chicken Soup for the Asshole's Soul

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

All the roads not taken



It's impossible to get through all the books you'd like in just four years. For the past few days, I've been working on a tbr shelf for my son--the books set aside for others, but ones just as deserving of an opportunity to deepen, or challenge, or change his life.

He'll have to decide when the time is right for them and all the others that he'll encounter throughout his years.

He is, of course, ready to make those decisions on his own, without a shelf put together by mom, but where's the photo-op in that kind of attitude?

Good old patient wait-for-you books.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

People who read too much

A few bookish quotes from Amity Gaige's The Folded World (I finished it, I loved it, I will be seeking out Gaige's first novel):

In fact, at times, she seemed unaware of her own body, such as happens to people who read too much.

From her earliest memories, she had lived much of life in someone else's story, so absorbed she often forgot to drink and sleep, for so pleasantly abstract was her heavy body when she read.

Sometimes, opening a fresh book, Alice would say to herself: This is the last book. This is the last story that is not my own.

"I used to read, night and day. Everything. When I was little, I used to keep a book open in my lap during dinner. I couldn't stop. Once, my mother grabbed my book and--" Alice opened her hand, remembering, "tossed it out the kitchen window."

She turned the page, jostling the drowsing infant on her knee. In the distant town of Combray, at noon, the steeple bell of Sainte-Hilaire sounded twelve times, and the cook trundled out to collect her goods--the fresh brill from the fish-woman, the cherries, the almond paste, and the chocolate cream. Word spilled into word infinitely, page into page. Careful to keep the bottle fast in the child's mouth, she turned another page. A draft washed across the floor.

The schoolteacher threw his coat on a chair and collapsed into it. He rested his big, curly head against his hand, lacking the strength to remove his shoes. Under his feet, the patterns in the shabby Persian carpet seemed to have faced even more since yesterday. Such was the exhaustion of Fridays. Such was the way he saw things on Fridays, after a week of teaching the youth of this country. But why's it called Portrait of a Young Artist? one of them had crowed that afternoon. I mean, I don't get it. The guy doesn't make any art.

All of a sudden he understood that he had always been a terrible poet and always would be. He wrote poems of sanity. And as Sophocles had said, all the poetry of sanity would be brought to naught by the poetry of madness, and behold, at the end of time, the sane poets would not matter.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Folded World

I bought a book today.

I bought a book today in a way that is becoming more and more unusual--in fact, I can't remember buying a book in this way for several years. Even when I'm merely browsing these days, I know what I ought to be looking for.

I had never heard of this book before. I had never heard of its author. I merely saw its spine--a singular spine, at that--on a shelf at the bookstore and since I liked first, its color, then second, its title, I pulled it out to take a look.





I liked the cover, so I turned it over to read that back. Unsigned blurbs from Kirkus, The Providence Journal and the LA Times. Encouraged by the "flavor of Lorrie Moore,"a Kirkus reviewer had found in the author, I opened the book and read the first paragraph. I liked it.

I carried the book with me as I wandered through the rest of the shelves. Periodically I opened it and read a bit of dialogue, a line or two from the lengthier paragraphs.

After noticing that a character is reading the Combray section of Swann's Way, I took the book to the front of the store and purchased it.

When I come home from the bocce tournament this evening, I'm going to ignore the stacks of library books and all my other books and begin reading it.

Because I should trust my own browsing instincts more often.
Local man shares his memories of being arrested for assigning Slaughterhouse-Five to his 9th grade class in South Carolina back in 1973 and the subsequent phone call and letters from Kurt Vonnegut with book editor Jeri Krentz. He is singled out by Vonnegut during the Novello Festival of Reading in 1994:

Black recalls sitting under the balcony. On the Spirit Square stage, Vonnegut, 71, was tall and lanky, his hair a mop of curls. He spoke in a gravelly smoker's voice.

The first thing he said?

"The very first thing he says is, is Gary Black here? It was difficult for him to see me at first, so I said, Here I am, Kurt. And he said, This man was arrested in your schools for teaching one of my books. Shame on you."

People laughed, Black remembers. When they quieted, Vonnegut spoke again.

How are you doing, Gary? he asked.

Fine, Kurt, Black recalls saying.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Every human being is of sublime value, because his experience, which must be in some measure unique, gives him a unique view of reality, and the sum of such views should go far to giving us the complete picture of reality, which the human race must attain if it is ever to comprehend its destiny.

--Rebecca West

Thursday, May 03, 2007

R.I.P.

Booking Through Thursday

No, not THAT kind of R.I.P.

Reading. In. Public.

Do you do it? Why or why not?


I read at the public service desk at the library when I'm between patrons. I always bring a book to read at doctor's office's, or at the vet's, or at a restaurant when I'm waiting for a carry-out order, or on an airplane or the treadmill at the gym. Sometimes I wish I could take public transportation so that I would have more built-in time each day to read, but alas, there is no bus or mass transit where I live, and I live only a couple miles from the library, anyway. I'm lucky to hear a couple songs in toto on my drive in to work.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


These ought to keep the Buy-Books-Now demons happy for awhile.

Flannery O'Connor. The Habit of Being

Jim Crace. The Pesthouse

Michael Chabon. The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Christina Adam. Love and Country

Truman Capote. Other Voices, Other Rooms

And waiting for me at the public library are Ron Rash's Saints at the River; Matthew Sharpe's Jamestown; and Lore Segal's Shakespeare's Kitchen.