Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The essence of a humanities education — reading the great literary and philosophical works and coming “to grips with the question of what living is for” — may become “a great luxury that many cannot afford.”

--Patricia Cohen, In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth

February's Library Loot



Stop checking out new books, I tell myself. Concentrate on the books you already own, I tell myself.

But I have congenital hearing loss (seriously!), so it comes out too muffled to be a mandate I'll focus on and follow.

The ones I couldn't resist this month:

Diane Johnson's Lulu in Marrakech

Kim Barnes' A Country Called Home

Julia Glass' I See You Everywhere

Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Julie Leigh's Disquiet

Dan Simmons' The Fall of Hyperion

Eudora Welty's Complete Novels

Margaret Atwood's Negotiating with the Dead

Jayne Anne Phillips' Lark and Termite

Monday, February 23, 2009

Welty Time

Hard to resist a first sentence like this:

When the rooster crowed, the moon had still not left the world but was going down on flushed cheek, one day short of the full.

Losing Battles, you're my next read.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Buddenbrooks

She would have declared with equal composure that she was flighty, quick-tempered, and vindictive. Given her pronounced sense of family, any notion of free will or self-determination was alien to her, so that she knew and could acknowledge the traits of her character with almost fatalistic equanimity, even her faults, and had no intention of correcting any of them. She believed, without knowing it, that absolutely every character trait was a family heirloom, a piece of tradition, and therefore something venerable and worthy of her respect, no matter what.

~~~

"Yes," Tom said, "I know exactly what you mean, Tony. Christian is terribly indiscreet--it's hard to put it in words. He lacks what one could call balance, personal balance. On the one hand, he is incapable of keeping his composure when other people are tactless and naive. He is no match for them, doesn't understand how to gloss over things, and completely loses self-control. But, on the other hand, it's the way he loses self-control--suddenly starts chatting away, blurting out to all the world the most unpleasant and intimate things. It sometimes borders on the uncanny. It's almost like someone delirious with fever, isn't it? They fantasize in exactly the same way, regardless of the consequences. Oh, it is merely a matter of Christian's worrying too much about himself, about what is going on inside him. He has a regular mania sometimes for dragging up the most insignificant things from deep within him and talking about them--things that a reasonable man doesn't even think about, doesn't want to know about, for the very simple reason that he is too embarrassed to share them with anyone else. There's something so shameless about that sort of unrestrained talk, Tony. You see, someone else might say that he loves the theater, too; but he would do it with a different emphasis, offhandedly, more modestly, in fact. But Christian proclaims it in a tone of voice that says: 'Isn't my obsession with the theater something terribly strange and interesting?' He struggles to find the right words, he acts as if he were wrestling with himself to express something unusually obscure or supremely refined."

~~~

But little Johann saw more than he was meant to see, and his eyes, those shy, golden brown eyes ringed with bluish shadows, observed things only too well. Not only did he see his father's poise and charm and their effect on everyone, but his strange, stinging, perceptive glance also saw how terribly difficult it was for his father to bring it off, how after each visit he grew more silent and pale, leaning back in one corner of the carriage, closing his eyes, now rimmed with red; as they crossed the threshold of the next house, Hanno watched in horror as a mask slipped down over that same face and a spring suddenly returned to the stride of that same weary body. First the entrance, then small-talk, fine manners, and persuasive charm--but what little Johann saw was not a naive, natural, almost unconscious expression of shared practical concerns that could be used to one's advantage; instead of being an honest and simple interest in the affairs of others, all this appeared to be an end in itself--a self-conscious, artificial effort that substituted a dreadfully difficult and grueling viruosity for poise and character. Hanno knew that they all expected him a appear in public someday, too, and to perform, to prepare each word and gesture, with everyone staring at him--and at the thought, he closed his eyes with a shudder of fear and aversion.



--Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Authors Talking

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Suggested by Barbara H.:
A comment on someone else’s BTT question this week inspired this question:
Do you read any author’s blogs? If so, are you looking for information on their next project? On the author personally? Something else?

The only author's blog that I read regularly is Haven Kimmel's. I've never seen another writer have a blog anything like hers. She writes about taxidermy. Quakers. Family. Current events. She hosts discussions of her novels. She posts striking photos of varmints and plastic toys. She shares her poetry. She tells the most extraordinary lies. Really, anything I might need to read, whether I realize it or not, is here.

Booking Through Thursday

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Too Much Information?

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Suggested by Simon Thomas:
Have you ever been put off an author’s books after reading a biography of them? Or the reverse - a biography has made you love an author more?


Today's prompt reminded me of my third post on this blog, back on Anne Tyler's birthday in 2004:

Literature is inescapably political. . . . It is in the act of reading that we define our notions about the world, what we judge to be right or wrong, important or unimportant, acceptable or unacceptable; literature is the testing ground of the imagination, where we decide who we are and what sort of society we live in or should be living in. You tell me your favorite novelists and I'll tell you whom you vote for, or whether you vote at all.
-- Stephen Vizinczey

I'm always rather stunned when people reject a previously loved author or entertainer once they discover his or her political views are at odds with their own. The hatred directed at the Dixie Chicks last year was downright frightening--especially since so much of it was provoked and then encouraged by corporate radio with ties to the Bush administration and family.

Yet I've noticed that my favorites generally do seem to share my beliefs; I suppose we are naturally drawn to those like us without our having to consciously seek them out. It's those who relate to authors or entertainers in one area and cannot stand the cognitive dissonance in having their favorites differ from them in another who sputteringly bemoan the fact that these, these celebrities won't practice self-censorship and spare them from their awful opinions. First amendment rights aren't pretty unless put into practice by their own side.

Booking Through Thursday

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

As if we ourselves had made the world

'Pooh! What could I do? Oh, don't we live absurdly artificial lives? Now why should a family who, through no fault of their own, are in the most wretched straits, shut themselves up and hide it like a disgrace? Don't you think we hold a great many very nonsensical ideas about self-respect and independence and so on? If I were in want, I know two or three people to whom I should forthwith go and ask for succour; if they thought the worse of me for it, I should tell them they ought to be ashamed of themselves. We act, indeed, as if we ourselves had made the world and were bound to pretend it an admirable piece of work without a screw loose anywhere. I always say the world's about as bad a place as one could well imagine, at all events for most people who live in it, and that it's our plain duty to help each other without grimacings. The death of this poor man has distressed me more than I can tell you: it does seem such a monstrously cruel thing. There's his employer, a man called Dagworthy, who never knew what it was to be without luxuries,--I'm not in the habit of listening to scandal, but I believe there's a great deal of truth in certain stories told about his selfishness and want of feeling. I consider Mr. Dagworthy this poor man's murderer; it was his bounden duty to see that a man in his employment was paid enough to live upon,--and Mr. Hood was not. Imagine what suffering must have brought about such an end as this. A sad case,--say people. I call it a case of crime that enjoys impunity.'

--George Gissing, A Life's Morning

Monday, February 02, 2009

Remember the year I substituted cats for groundhogs?

Making Up For a Soul

It's been like fixing a clock, jamming the wheels,
The pinions, and bent springs into a box
And shaking it. Or like patching a vase,
Gluing the mismatched edges of events
Together despite the quirks in the design.
Or trying to make one out of scraps of paper,
The yellowing, dog-eared pages going slapdash
Over each other, flat as a collage.
I can't keep time with it. It won't hold water.
Dipping and rearranging make no pattern.

Imagine me with a soul: I'm sitting here
In the room with you, smiling from corner to corner,
My chest going up and down with inspiration.
I sit serene, insufferably at my ease,
Not scratching or drumming but merely suffering
Your questions, like the man from the back of the book
With all the answers. You couldn't stand me, could you?

My love, if you have a soul, don't tell me yet.
Why can't we simply stay uneasy together?
There are snap-on souls like luminous neckties
That light up in the dark, spelling our names.
Let's put them on for solemn visitors,
Switch off the lights, then grope from room to room,
Making our hollow, diabolical noises
Like Dracula and his spouse, avoiding mirrors,
Clutching each other fiendishly for life
To stop the gaps in ourselves, like better halves.

~ David Wagoner