Thursday, March 31, 2005

How to exercise a rhinoceros

"Mr Patterson, what is that creature abaft the foremast?'

'It is a rhinoceros, sir: a rhinoceros of the grey species, a present for the Pasha of Barka.'

'What is it doing?'

'It is exercising, sir. It must be exercised two hours a day, to prevent its growing vicious.'

'Then let it carry on, Mr Patterson: do not stand on ceremony, I beg.'

'No, sir,' said Patterson, and to the seaman in charge of the party, 'Carry on, Clements.'

As though some spring had been released the rhinoceros and its crew started into movement. The animal took three or four twinkling little steps and lunged at Clements' vitals: Clements seized the horn and rose with it, calling out, 'Easy, easy there, old cock,' and at the same moment the rest of the party clapped on to the fall of a travelling burton, hoisting the rhinoceros clear of the deck. It hung by a broad belt round its middle, and for a while its legs ran nimbly on: Clements reasoned into its ear in a voice suitable to its enormous built and thumped its hide in a kindly manner, and when it was lowered again he led it forward to the foot of the foremast, holding it by the same ear and advising it 'to step lively, watch for the roll, and mind when it was coming to, not to crush people with its great fat arse.' Here it was hoisted up, swung round, lowered, and led aft, walking quite meekly now with only an occasional skip and thrust of its horn or wanton flirt of its rump: hoisted again, turned and led forward: to and fro under the fascinated eyes of the Worcesters until at last it was brought to the main hatchway. Here it looked expectant, with its ears brought to bear, its dim eyes searching, its prehensile upper lip pointing from side to side. Clements gave it a ship's biscuit, which it took delicately and ate with every appearance of appetite. But then the hatches were removed and the creature's aspect changed: Clements blindfolded it with his black neckerchief, and by way of explanation Mr Patterson called out 'It is timid. It fears the darkness, or perhaps the depth.'

'Handsomely, now,' said Clements. He and the rhinoceros rose a foot, travelled over the hatchway and vanished downwards, the seaman with one hand on the rope, the other over the animal's withers, the rhinoceros with its four legs held out, stiff, its ears drooping, the image of grey anxiety.

--Patrick O'Brian, The Ionian Mission

I wonder if there will be a similar scene in The Pope's Rhinoceros?
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

--T.S. Eliot, "The Waste Land"

So I have now read "The Waste Land" in its entirety for the first time. Am I the only one to graduate from college without having to read it? How much time and effort, how much outside reading, will it now take to feel I understand it?

I certainly won't be having S. read it any time soon although it wouldn't hurt to find out how much he already knows about the Fisher King.

On a much more superficial level, I am extremely happy--despite the tenacious migraine--to have learned this morning that Dwight Yoakam's latest will be out in mid-June. "It's probably a little more reckless in a rock 'n' roll sense," Dwight says of Blame the Vain in USA Today. Sounds like the perfect summer soundtrack for ripping up carpets and installing hardwood floors.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The stack of books I'll most likely be reading from in April. . .

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.

--Virginia Woolf

The Usual Hell-Fire Drama

I had several links minimized when I went to bed last night that I was going to post this morning under Jack Aubrey's words above, uttered when Stephen skids in at the last possible moment to make the boat in The Ionian Mission, but due to our own recent hell-fire drama with the computer, I've lost them all due to a necessitated reboot. Somehow looking through yesterday's history to retrieve them does not seem the least bit appealing. Suffice it to say that the people of North Carolina are, as usual, as crackpotty and dramatic as ever, and most of their antics had nothing to do with books, and anyway, Charlotte's own "dirty books" guy doesn't deserve any more attention, especially not after targeting an anthology a few years back that included E.M. Forster.

I'm trying desperately to catch up in Don Quixote. I've read through only chapter 27, and I ought to be through chapter 33 by this point. There's a shift that's taken place in the last few chapters away from the usual hell-fire drama that's gone on before, so the reading is more interesting now. I like the character Cardenio and the story he relates. Sandra's already mentioned how enjoyable the dialogue between Sancho and the Knight of the Sorrowful Face has become. Having to read twice as many chapters this week should not be a chore.

Diana writes about giving up tracking stats for Lent. I am still too new to blogging, too new to setting up a web counter and figuring out how to determine where my visitors are coming from to want to ignore that information, but I can see why its ultimate irrelevancy ought to be the goal at some point. Right now there's too much pleasure to be had in recognizing returning visitors' IP addresses and in getting a bead on what instructors somewhere must be assigning to their classes--I get a lot of hits from people looking for information on Doris Betts' "The Ugliest Pilgrim," Tobias Wolff's "The Rich Brother," and Guy Vanderhaeghe's "Cages." In fact, I read "Cages" Sunday night simply because of the number of people who've searched for it here.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Books and birds

Thomas Mallon doesn't much like Geraldine Brooks' March (NY Times), which arrived in a package for me on Saturday (along with the soundtrack from Deadwood), and there's been a pretty even split between the novel's early readers at Readerville, with people whose opinions I respect on either side of the divide. After reading Brooks' New Yorker article on Bronson Alcott, I don't think encountering modern sensibilities in the main characters, which has been the main complaint, will faze me one bit. The Mallon review would carry more weight if I'd ever been able to make it through one of his novels. Nonetheless I'm waiting another week before starting March--I turned to Patrick O'Brian again after finishing my reread of As I Lay Dying last night.

Katharine Weber, whose The Little Women was also inspired by Lousia May's novel, is working on a novel based on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. An excerpt of the novel can be read online (Hartford Courant).

E.L. Doctorow discusses the narrative strategies in the book of Genesis (Guardian) as he compares the new English Revised Bible to the King James version.

And it has nothing to do with books, but I've just discovered the 10,000 Birds site. A new bird, a sulfur-breasted parakeet, has been discovered. It looks like a sun conure, or even the extinct Carolina parakeet, to my untrained eye. Way cool, I think.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Blogger doesn't like my stained glass photos. When I try to edit them it replaces the photos with red x'ed boxes. I'm not in the mood for a fight, so I'll just say here the poem is George Herbert's "The Windows" and the photos are from St. Vitus' Cathedral in the castle at Prague.

LOrd, how can man preach thy eternall word?
He is a brittle crazie glasse:
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place,
To be a window, through thy grace.

But when thou dost anneal in glasse thy storie,
Making thy life to shine within
The holy Preachers; then the light and glorie
More rev’rend grows, & more doth win:
Which else shows watrish, bleak, & thin.

Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one
When they combine and mingle, bring
A strong regard and aw: but speech alone
Doth vanish like a flaring thing,
And in the eare, not conscience ring.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

What earthly good are dead narrators and dead dinosaurs?

Although I've only taken the time to skim it at this point, Elizabeth Tallent's article in The Threepenny Review tackles the recent upsurge in books being narrated by postmortals (via Conversational Reading) and has already led me to another book that I just have to read: Keith Kachtick's Hungry Ghost. How can I resist a book that combines both a second person narrator with one who continues on with his story even after his death (in one of the alternate endings, at least)?

My feeling at this point is that she's cherrypicked among the novels to reach her conclusions, however. There are just too many other books out there with dead narrators that she hasn't addressed or even mentioned--off the top of my head, where are Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red or Margaret Drabble's The Witch of Exmoor or Abby Frucht's Polly's Ghost? Where's Michel Faber's "The Red Cement Truck"? The Lovely Bones is such a stupid book--must it always be dwelled upon? Something to think about over spring break. . .

Meanwhile (and I'm segueing into a Science Saturday entry now) postmortal dinosaurs are in the news (The New York Times). A T-rex's lovely thighbone has offered up soft tissue that might open up "avenues for studying dinosaur physiology and perhaps some aspects of their biochemistry," according to North Carolina State University/Montana State University biologist Mary H. Schweitzer, who headed the team who discovered the tissue. You can view a close up of the tissue at Pharyngula or read kids' perspective on the tissue here.

And who can resist watching a vampire bat gallop down a plexiglass runway? (Pharyngula again)

Jared Diamond writes about ecocide in Seed Magazine.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.

I pass death with the dying, and birth with the new-washed babe. . . . and am not contained between my hat and boots,
And peruse manifold objects, no two alike, and every one good,
The earth good, and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.

I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself;
They do not know how immortal, but I know.

--Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

A citywide festival to celebrate the life and work of Walt Whitman begins tomorrow, the anniversary of the poet's death in 1892, in Washington, DC, the city where Whitman spent ten years of his life. The festival will run through his birthdate of May 31 and will include a marathon reading of Leaves of Grass on April 16 at George Washington University. (Washington Post)

Not everyone is happy about how memoir-happy the publishing industry has become. Off the top of my head I'd say my favorite memoirs would have to include Robert Sapolsky's A Primate's Memoir and Robin Hemley's Nola. Michael Holroyd, Margaret Drabble's husband, wrote about his eccentric family in Basil Street Blues, another one of my favorites, and he's been honored with the David Cohen award for literature based on "his 41 years of distinction as the father of the contemporary school of intimate, emotionally and sexually candid biography." (The Guardian)

I am reading As I Lay Dying in my spare moments today. I love this neighborly observation of Anse Bundren:

"I notice how it takes a lazy man, a man that hates moving, to get set on moving once he does get started off, the same as he was set on staying still, like it aint the moving he hates so much as the starting and the stopping. And like he would be kind of proud of whatever come up to make the moving or the setting still look hard. He set there on the wagon, hunched up, blinking, listening to us tell about how quick the bridge went and how high the water was, and I be durn if he didn't act like he was proud of it, like he had made the river rise himself."

Russians rule from lofty ledges. . . like the top of the bookcase.

Remember to check out The Ark on Fridays and the Carnival of the Cats on Sundays for a round up of all the latest and best pet blogging photos.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

A sort of jungle to the imagination

"She planted every kind of flower that she could find or order from a catalogue--planted thickly and hastily, without stopping to think, without any regard for the ideas that her neighbors might elect in their club as to what constituted an appropriate vista, or an effect of restfulness, or even harmony of color. Just to what end Mrs. Larkin worked so strenuously in her garden, her neighbors could not see. She never sent a single one of her fine flowers to any of them. They might get sick and die, and she would never send a flower. And if she thought of beauty at all (they regarded her stained overalls, now almost of a color with the leaves), she certainly did not strive for it in her garden. It was impossible to enjoy looking at such a place. To the neighbors gazing down from their upstairs windows it had the appearance of a sort of jungle, in which the slight, heedless form of its owner daily lost itself."

--Eudora Welty, "A Curtain of Green"

Horticulturists, historians and volunteers have been restoring Eudora Welty's Jackson, Mississippi, garden since the mid-1990s. "You know this world sparked her imagination," says English professor Suzanne Marrs, Welty's biographer, friend and neighbor. "And that may be the most important thing. What was she observing that sparked the stories, and why?" (Smithsonian)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

"A pox on you, Henry James"

When Sarah Orne Jewett turned from writing realistic fiction late in her career and tried her hand at historical fiction Henry James advised her to return to her "pointed firs"-writing worthwhile historical fiction wasn't possible, he said, because no matter how many facts you can accumulate about a distant time period, you still cannot imagine what life would have been like for the people who lived then.

"A pox on you, Henry James," Geraldine Brooks said yesterday, denouncing James' point of view. "This is what we do. We put ourselves in others' shoes."

The constants of the human heart don't change, she said. "The little facts" that are accumulated during research for historical fiction are important only in providing "solid girders" on which to build "shimmering sails." Or, she said, to put it as novelist Jim Crace does, it's a matter of "turning logs into dead donkeys." While visiting the desert where his novel Quarantine would be set, Crace, Brooks explained, learned that the phrase "sleep like a log" means the same as "sleep like a dead donkey."

Speaking on the topic "From Fact to Fiction," Brooks first discussed her career as a foreign correspondent. A native of Sydney, Australia, who'd wanted to be a reporter since the age of eight, she came to graduate school at Columbia University on scholarship after an internship at the Sydney Morning Herald. At Columbia she met future husband Tony Horwitz, who would travel the world with her once she began work for the Wall Street Journal. Six years of reporting on the Middle East for the Journal led to her nonfiction work on Islamic women, Nine Parts of Desire.

After moving from Cairo to London, Brooks visited Eyam, a village in Derbyshire, and learned of its designation as a plague village. She regarded the villagers' decision to quarantine themselves in order to stop the spread of the disease as a touching altruistic act, she said, and bought a plastic rat from a gift shop to commemorate her visit to the village.

Years later, while writing about Shell Oil and the Nigerian government putting down a peaceful protest in that country, she wound up in jail, accused by the secret police of being a French spy. It was those three days of detention before being deported that led to Brooks' decision to stop postponing having a family. She was soon pregnant, and at that point, she said, began actively working on Year of Wonders, the story of the plague village Eyam.

Acknowledging that not everyone had thought highly of Year of Wonders' epilogue, she laughed and defended it by saying she'd based it on a true story "but I left out the pirates," and admitted that she'd wanted her main character to have a fulfilling life, one she'd not realistically have had if she'd remained in Eyam.

Her latest novel, March, grew out of living in a Quaker village in Virginia and gave "Civil War bore" Horwitz permission to bring out all the Civil War books she'd banished to the attic. Her imagination was stirred by a Union soldier's belt buckle that was uncovered when some brickwork was re-layed outside their home and eventually settled on the absence of the father in Little Women.

She began to read Bronson Alcott's journals, she said, and began to wonder if perhaps Louisa May's father had just been too unusual to shoehorn into a moralistic tale for children. He'd sheltered runaway slaves; he'd been a radical educator in Boston who'd had to close his school after integrating it—all the progressive parents withdrew their children, Brooks said. She used her research on Bronson Alcott to create her Mr. March.

Brooks said she likes a clear separation between fiction and non-fiction. She was outraged, she said, when she reached the end of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and learned how much John Berendt had made up.

She researches concurrently with her writing, she said. She makes the plot drive her research, she said, doing just enough so that she can then "imagine into the void."

Having a background in journalism, she said, "makes you unprecious about your writing."

A movie version of Year of Wonders is in the works, and she has begun work on a new novel—she's making up a history for an actual 14th century Hebrew manuscript that has passed hands—and countries—several times, most recently being rescued from the Nazis by a Muslim librarian in Bosnia. She sees the manuscript as "a symbol of the Sarajevo multiethnic ideal," she said.

Brooks was interviewed earlier this month by Powells; her article, "Orpheus at the Plough," a profile of Bronson Alcott, was published in the Jan. 10 issue of the New Yorker.
Truth is spherical and seen differently according to the culture, temperament and disposition of those who survey it.

--Bronson Alcott

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

We went to hear Geraldine Brooks speak at the CPCC literary festival this morning and had our copy of Year of Wonders signed afterwards. A fuller report to follow.

One of my favorite photos from R.'s spring break in the Bahamas.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Flannery O'Connor: Describing an Absence

Friday was Flannery O'Connor's birthday, so on Saturday I had to take Mystery and Manners off the shelf. Here's a taste:

"But there's a certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once. The longer you look at one object, the more of the world you see in it; and it's well to remember that the serious fiction writer always writes about the whole world, no matter how limited his particular scene. For him, the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima affects life on the Oconee River, and there's not anything he can do about it.

"People are always complaining that the modern novelist has no hope and that the picture he paints of the world is unbearable. The only answer to this is that people without hope do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I'm always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it's very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won't suvive the ordeal.

"People without hope not only don't write novels, but what is more to the point, they don't read them. They don't take long looks at anything, because they lack the courage. The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience. The lady who only read books that improved her mind was taking a safe course--and a hopeless one. She'll never know whether her mind is improved or not, but should she ever, by some mistake, read a great novel, she'll know mighty well that something is happening to her.

"A good many people have the notion that nothing happens in modern fiction and that nothing is supposed to happen, that it is the style now to write a story in which nothing happens. Actually, I think more happens in modern fiction--with less furor on the surface--than has ever happened in fiction before."

And because of an article in The Charlotte Observer, about a 6,000 member-plus church that had withdrawn ministries from local charities for the downtrodden based on the charities' agreeableness in accepting help as well from Catholics and Muslims (one of the charities, I might add, has refused help from homosexuals in the past, but the homosexuals begged people not to withdraw their support in retaliation of the charity's narrowmindedness), I turned to O'Connor's chapter on the Catholic novelist in the Protestant South:

"Religious enthusiasm is accepted as one of the South's more grotesque features, and it is possible to build upon that acceptance, however little real understanding such acceptance may carry with it. When you write about backwoods prophets, it is very difficult to get across to the modern reader that you take these people seriously, that you are not making fun of them, but that their concerns are your own and, in your judgment, central to human life. It is almost inconceivable to this reader that such could be the case. It is hard enough for him to suspend his disbelief and accept an anagogical level of action at all, harder still for him to accept its action in an obviously grotesque character. He has the mistaken notion that a concern with grace is a concern with exalted human behavior, that it is a pretentious concern. It is, however, simply a concern with the human reaction to that which, instant by instant, gives life to the soul. It is a concern with a realization that breeds charity and with the charity that breeds action. Often the nature of grace can be made plain only by describing its absence."

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The National Book Critic Circle lifetime achievement award was given on Friday to Louis D. Rubin, Jr., a prolific author and founder of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a North Carolina-based publisher known for such Southern writers as Jill McCorkle, Clyde Edgerton and Kaye Gibbons. Also, Marilynne Robinson's Gilead won the fiction award. (AP Wire)

I turn to Jon Carroll when my heart can be consoled by nothing less than a good cat column. No cat columns this week, but Carroll has been reading good stuff: Cloud Atlas and Terry Pratchett and a book about birding, The Big Year.

Dooce reads Good Dog Carl.

Whimsy Speaks reads a joke book obtained from an airport bookshop.

Art Garfunkel reads a lot. This link takes you directly to all his favorites since 1968, but you can view his comprehensive reading list as well.

Woodge provides a vocabulary page on his site--which words have sent him in search of a dictionary. I've not seen such a page on anyone else's site before.

J.M. Coetzee reviews Jay Pareni's One Matchless Time. I've wanted to read this Faulkner bio since it came out last fall.

And both Stefanie and Jeannette have taken the time to describe their bookshelves. And MFS at Mental Multivitamin has featured photos of her library in the past. One of these days I'm going to do the same.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Nicholson's sun-dappled nap.

A couple of wolves

Michiko Kakutani weighs in on Ian McEwan's Saturday: it's indebted to Mrs. Dalloway and also brings to mind Bonfire of the Vanities. Woolfe and Wolfe--isn't that clever. Too bad she couldn't have thought of a Tobias Wolff reference while she was at it.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The woman with the dog's eyes

Homer's "As I lay dying the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyelids for me as I descended into Hades" is transformed into "But she, that whore, she turned her back on me, well on my way to Death--she even lacked the heart to seal my eyes with her hand or close my jaws" in Robert Fagles' translation.

Another blog dedicated to the reading of Don Quixote: 400 Windmills. The fine folk at Chekhov's Mistress, who've set up the new site, will be reading DQ in April.

I haven't taken time to explore this one yet, but autodidacts and students can access reading lists and assignments for courses offered at MIT via OpenCourseWare. No credit offered by MIT, of course.

Because we all want to know what celebrities claim as their favorite books: Gardiner Public Library's Who Reads What?

Via the Shelia Variations, a Julius Caesar quiz. I got 9 out of 10, proof that my mind isn't quite the sieve I'd feared it was.

And if you haven't drooled over the bookcases at Book World yet--what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

I was asked on Monday if I'd consider writing an episode for the upcoming virtual season of Alias Smith and Jones. My m.o. has always been to assiduously avoid participating in round robins or fanfic that's set within the show's timeframe; I've enjoyed working on my prequel to the show because I can give free rein to exploring the backstory and the psychology of the characters and showcasing their unexpressed thoughts and memories. I can even develop their characters over time instead of keeping them always at a steady state of being.

But for some reason it struck me this time that it might be interesting to write something where I cannot rely on my usual strengths and strategies. Why not for once write with some constraints? I cannot create any new canon; I have to make the characters show by their words and actions what they feel and think instead of cutting back and forth between what they say and what they think and showing a tension there as I'm so fond of doing.

So I said, yes, I'd love to participate, but put me down for one of the final episodes since I don't have any ideas for one at the moment. Of course, immediately after writing that I came up with an idea that draws heavily on The Odyssey and the opening pages of Antigone (which I ought not to have read on Monday since I'd just proclaimed I already had too many books in progress) and As I Lay Dying (yay! I'll have to reread it). I'm still thinking through the actual plot, but I think the idea is doable and different enough from rest of the episodes and general fanfic for me to feel it adds to instead of just repeats what's already been done.

I read last night as background research about embalming practices during and following the Civil War and the early days of the undertaking trade (yes, I intend to spare everyone the details). This afternoon I intended to read just the part in Lonesome Dove about Gus' body being prepared for storage and its eventual trek back to Texas, but I wound up reading—and tearing up three times—Gus' deathbed scene and Call giving the Hell Bitch and his watch to Newt and Clara crying into the mule's neck when Call shows up on his foolhardy journey to deliver Gus' notes. Stupid infuriatingly rigid Call. Clara really should have shot him.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

And now through the streets
the heralds passed, leading the beasts marked out
for sacrifice on Apollo's grand festal day,
and the islanders with their long hair were filing
into the god's shady grove-the distant deadly Archer.

Those in the palace, once they'd roasted the prime cuts,
pulled them off the spits and, sharing out the portions,
fell to the royal feast. . .
The men who served them gave Odysseus his share,
fair as the helping they received themselves.
So Telemachus ordered, the king's own son.

But Athena had no mind to let the brazen suitors hold back now from their heart-rending insults-
she meant to make the anguish cut still deeper
into the core of Laertes' son Odysseus.

--Book 20: Portents Gather, The Odyssey

Beware the Ides of March

Calpurnia: Caesar, I never stood on ceremonies,
Yet now they fright me. There is one within,
Besides the things that we have heard and seen,
Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.
A lioness hath whelped in the streets;
And graves have yawn'd, and yielded up their dead;
Fierce fiery warriors fought upon the clouds,
In ranks and squadrons and right form of war,
Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol;
The noise of battle hurtled in the air,
Horses did neigh, and dying men did groan,
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.
O Caesar! these things are beyond all use,
And I do fear them.

Caesar: What can be avoided
Whose end is purpos'd by the mighty gods?
Yet Caesar shall go forth; for these predictions
Are to the world in general as to Caesar.

Calpurnia: When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.

Caesar: Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
Fact of middle-aged life: if you go to bed early with a migraine you'll wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep. Some items of interest for the insomniacs:

"But while many of us were trying, whether we were aware of it or not, to rescue Austen from her popularity, other critics were beginning to view the representations and activities that constitute Austenmania with more appreciation and, in the process, to probe our discipline's investment in hierarchies of literary value, readings, and readers. For the study of Austenmania prompts questions about what cultural works we value, why and how we value them, and who 'we' are."

Austenmania discussed in the Chronicle Review. I was late to appreciate Jane Austen due to my own pride and prejudice when I was young surrounding the people who I knew that read her. . It took persuasion before I became a fan. Ha! I'm as big a wit as Jack Aubrey.

Some people actually organize their bookshelves instead of stuffing new purchases in wherever they will fit. Shelia O'Malley explains her system.

I have harbored ill will toward Sharon Stone since she declared that a dirt sandwich is better than Dwight Yoakam many years ago. Now the London News Review reads Gladys Knight's autobiography and quotes the passage describing her cravings for Georgia red clay. Yum.

Via the Book Slut, a report that details the diversity of languages spoken in the United States all broken down into lots of interesting categories. Who knew that North Carolina had the second highest percentage of speakers of Cherokee in the nation? And why is Cumberland County ranked ahead of Durham and Orange counties in the number of languages spoken? Must do research because I know absolutely nothing about Cumberland County.

And does your pet belong on the Ark? You can send links to your Friday pet blogging posts to the Modulator for space on the Ark. And look--the site owner's reading Alexander Hamilton. Wonder when he started.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Weekend stuff a day late

Having so many books in progress has really become frustrating. I never feel I'm making progress with any of them, and now I'm to the point of confusing their content.

Saturday, when Franklin said, "if it be the design of Providence to extirpate these savages in order to make room for the cultivators of the earth, it seems not impossible that rum may be the appointed means," I was simply scandalized. How could he think, let alone say such a thing, when just a few pages earlier he was advanced enough to be starting a school for both white and native American children, where students were taught in both English and Indian languages? I flipped back through the book, examining the upper left hand corners, where I clearly remembered the school being discussed. Well, yes, I did remember where on the page the information was located, but not the book: Chernow writes about Alexander Hamilton's Hamilton College and Hamilton's interest in educating native Americans; Franklin, on the other hand, writes about withholding rum from "those people" until after a treaty was signed, then tsk-tsks over their party behavior after the rum was received. Much as I love Franklin, this time I thought his moral high horse was about the size of a goat.

So, anyway, from here on, I hope, only one book of a historical nature at a time. I wish I could get back to my preferred way of reading—one at a time—but with DQ and books I read with S. these days and the short story a day resolution, I don't see that happening any time soon. I am going to concentrate on finishing Byatt's Sugar and The Odyssey this week, and then maybe read Joy Comes in the Morning since I've had it checked out long enough to be feeling guilty about it. After that, I'm going to read another big chunk—if not all—of the Chernow before starting another book.

All the best bloggers were linking to an old W.G. Sebald interview in the New Yorker this weekend; consequentially, I broke down and placed a hold on The Rings of Saturn. I also placed a hold on Jeannette Walls' memoir The Glass Castle based on the Francine Prose review; it's been awhile since I've wallowed in a good dysfunctional family tale and this one seems just the ticket. Additional perk to the Walls: the homeschool angle.

I waited until R. came home this weekend before watching Closely Watched Trains. Hrabal wrote the screenplay, which makes the fact that the film left out/transmogrified all that I found ever so meaningful and profound in the book very discouraging. R. wasn't impressed, but agreed to read Closely Observed Trains anyway.

Favorite R. quote of the weekend, while listening to Steve Earle's "Warrior": "I've never heard so many Latinate words in a song before!"

Bookish linked to this Scotsman article: big-name writers retell their favorite myths in an international series.

And I thought this site was cool: FreeDictionary. If you type in a name you can find examples of how the name has been used in classic literature.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Oh joy. There's a movie out now about the wild parrots in San Francisco. Check schedules or watch a trailer of the movie here. Or read Mark Bittner's website. Or read Bittner's book, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Freedom to Read Protection Act Reintroduced

"So, today, we take the first step toward securing Americans’ Constitutional right to read without Big Brother looking over our collective shoulder by reintroducing the Freedom to Read Protection Act. At the end of this year, Section 215 and certain other sections of the Patriot Act are set to expire. President Bush and Attorney General Gonzales have already stated their desire to make Section 215 permanent. That sets us up for a showdown over this critically important issue that goes to the heart of who we are as a people and a nation.

"Let us be very clear. Terrorism is a serious threat and the United States government should do all that it can to protect our citizens from another terrorist attack. However, we do not have to sacrifice our basic civil liberties and Constitutional rights to do that. We can protect the American people from terrorism while, at the same time, we uphold the United States’ Constitution and Bill of Rights – that extraordinary document that has made us a free nation and the envy of the world. " (Bernie Sanders, Vermont representative)

Old Argos

Why is it that the death of an animal in literature or on the screen will kick you in the gut in a way that no human's death is likely to?

Now, as they talked on, a dog that lay there
lifted up his muzzle, pricked his ears. . .
It was Argos, long-enduring Odysseus' dog
he trained as a puppy once, but little joy he got
since all to soon he shipped to sacred Troy.
In the old days young hunters loved to set him
coursing after the wild goats and deer and hares.
But now with his master gone he lay there, castaway,
on piles of dung from mules and cattle, heaps collecting
out before the gates till Odysseus' serving-men
could cart it off to manure the king's estates.
Infested with ticks, half-dead from neglect,
here lay the hound, old Argos.
But the moment he sensed Odysseus standing by
he thumped his tail, nuzzling low, and his ears dropped,
though he had no strength to drag himself an inch
toward his master. Odysseus glanced to the side
and flicked away a tear, hiding it from Eumaeus,
diverting his friend in a hasty, offhand way:
"Strange, Eumaeus, look, a dog like this,
lying here on a dung-hill. . .
what handsome lines! But I can't say for sure if he had the running speed to match his looks
or he was only the sort that gentry spoil at table,
show-dogs masters pamper for their points."

You told the stranger, Eumaeus, loyal swineherd,
"Here—it's all too true—here's the dog of a man
who died in foreign parts. But if he had now
the form and flair he had in his glory days—
as Odysseus left him, sailing off to Troy—
you'd be amazed to see such speed, such strength.
No quarry he chased in the deepest, darkest woods
could ever slip this hound. A champion tracker too!
Ah, but he's run out of luck now, poor fellow. . .
his master's dead and gone, so far from home,
and the heartless women tend him not at all. . . .

But the dark shadow of death closed down on Argos' eyes
the instant he saw Odysseus, twenty years away.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Book-A-Minute Classics

I'm probably the last person in the universe to know about these, but some of the Book-A-Minute Classics are pretty funny:

Italo Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveler:

You think you're reading a condensation of If On a Winter's Night a Traveler, but you're not.

William Golding's The Lord of the Flies:

(Some BOYS crash on an ISLAND.)
Ralph:We need a fire.
(They make a fire. It goes out.)
Ralph:We need a fire.
(They make a fire. It goes out.)
Ralph:We need a fire.
Jack:Forget the fire. Let's kill each other.
Other Boys:Yeah!
(They do.)

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein:

Walton:Dear Margaret: My ship picked up this guy. He RULES.
Frankenstein:I discovered the secret of life, and everyone died. (dies)
Frankenstein's Monster:Inexplicably, I have become suicidal. (jumps out a window)

And everyone's favorite:

Don Quixote: Chivalry demands I destroy that evil thing.
Sancho Panza: No, master. It is something ordinary and harmless.
Don Quixote (falls down)

Moments snap together like magnets

Another Equus quote:

A child is born into a world of phenomena all equal in their power to enslave. It sniffs--it sucks--it strokes its eyes over the whole uncountable range. Suddenly one strikes. Why? Moments snap together like magnets, forging a chain of shackles. Why? I can trace them. I can even, with time, pull time apart again. But why at the start they were ever magnetized at all--just those particular moments of experience and no others--I don't know. And nor does anyone else.

--Peter Shaffer

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

What use is grief to a horse?

The thing is, I'm desperate. You see, I'm wearing that horse's head myself. That's the feeling. All reined up in old language and old assumptions, straining to jump clean-hoofed on to a whole new track of being I only suspect is there. I can't see it, because my educated, average head is being held at the wrong angle. I can't jump because the bit forbids it, and my own basic force--my horsepower, if you like--is too little. The only thing I know for sure is this: a horse's head is finally unknowable to me.

--Peter Shaffer, Equus

I suspect I'll be rereading this this evening. . .
I was so bored at work last night--it's spring break, I'm alone in holding down the fort at our desk, sometimes I could just smack A.S. Byatt--that I resorted to that act of extreme vanity and/or paranoia to which I'm not typically inclined: I googled my name.

Does Google place phone numbers and email addresses first automatically? Considering just how common my name is, I was very surprised to have my work info achieve first billing; I can't imagine that anyone would be out there actually searching for that. I was gratified, however, to see that I managed two other spots near the top of the first page: my bio from a literary journal (you'd have to order a copy to actually get to read my story) and a link to my cough-cough fanfic.

The other SFPs for the most part weren't too awfully dissimilar to me: they work as media specialists, high school English teachers, journalists. They may play the viola instead of the clarinet or the guitar, but even so, they grew up in the next town over from me. They may publish religious poetry instead of poems that talk about what happens in heaven after God's death, but they're definitely interested in writing.

And speaking of writing, I may have finished another chapter yesterday. I need to give it a day or two before deciding if I skip a line before continuing with the next bit, or open a new file.

Monday, March 07, 2005


The new season of Deadwood started last night. Once again I find myself absolutely riveted by the sepia-toned show. I decided early on last season that Deadwood was more about the creation of civilization out of absolute chaos and depravity than anything else. An interview in Salon with creator David Milch indicates he'd first wanted to do a show set in Nero's Rome about order without law, so I think I was pretty much on the right track in my thinking. I'd known Milch had taught Henry James at Yale, but didn't know about his MFA from the Writers Workshop. Milch discusses how the Hays Production Code in Hollywood brought about the mythology of the sanitized West; moral relativism; our impulse for society and something outside ourselves; as well as touching upon the ideas of William James and St. Paul. (St. Paul was very important in the first season.) And, for those who shy away from the show because of the bad language (as if there aren't more horrific things in the show to shy away from!), Milch only uses a single vulgarity in the whole interview. I think. I mean, I did watch *$#@! Deadwood last night and I might not even notice.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Buddy sans Julie

We saw Buddy Miller for the 4th time Friday night and we've been playing Buddy and Julie cds pretty much non-stop all weekend. This was the first time we'd seen him without Julie—she's finishing up her next album and possibly throwing out his optigan while he's out on the road—or Emmylou, so while I missed female voices somewhat and of course Julie's trashcan-pounding expertise, I did enjoy hearing Buddy introduce songs instead of always keeping his own counsel while Julie rattles on and on in her self-confessional manner.

He's very witty and self-effacing and I wish the show had been packed the way it's been the last two times we saw him at the Neighborhood. L.'s of the opinion that maybe attendance was down due to the edge of political commentary in Universal United House of Prayer (a now boarded-up storefront church between a muffler shop and a candy factory; Emmylou was instrumental in keeping the title and cover photograph from being changed by the record company), but Steve Earle's sell-out show a few weeks back belies that, I believe—it was nothing but. Possibly the title of the latest cd and the fact that it was up for a Grammy in the gospel category? Or, more than likely, simply the fact that people who may have come earlier based on Buddy and Julie's Americana award have been distracted and moved on to whoever else the media's touting these days.

Anyway, Buddy's voice wasn't in top form—he cracked a joke about whether it should be described as being "trashed" or "full of character"—and he bowed out on singing audience-requested "Rock Salt and Nails" as well as Dylan's ""With God on Our Side," which evidently has been a staple of concerts since the new album came out and one I'd have loved to hear live. He did sing many of my favorites, including "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger" and Julie's "All My Tears," and a wonderful albeit un-optiganed (the optigan doesn't travel well) version of "When It Comes To You" (he told a long story of how the original version came to be "un-polkaed," which is now my new favorite word). The encore was Hank Williams and Jerry Garcia.

Prior to the show I hadn't been aware that Buddy had a video out—I don't know that he's ever had one before. Fortunately "Worry Too Much" is available for viewing at BuddyandJulie so I didn't have to resort to watching CMT. It's a good one.

I'd love to make it up to MerleFest next month but I still don't know when A. is holding the bocce tournament, which I'm obliged to attend since I am defending champion. If we don't make it to Merle, our concert-attending days are pretty much over for the rest of the year, I suppose, unless Dwight deigns to come to our area.

Anyway, this is a book blog, right? I confess: I have read less than ten pages tops in the last three days. We may go hiking this afternoon and we still have "Closely Watched Trains" to watch, so who knows when I'll get back on topic here.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Mystery quotes again

I recognized a quote from Winesburg, Ohio, last weekend and put the following up in the Mystery Quotes thread at Readerville:

"My grandfather again, not to fall too far short of the standard set by Great-grandfather Luke, was a hypnotist who did his act in small circuses, and the whole town saw in his hypnotism nothing more nor less than an ambitious bid to stroll his way through life as idly as possible. But when the Germans crossed our frontier in March to occupy the whole country, and were advancing in the direction of Prague, our grandfather was the only one who went out to meet them, nobody else but our grandfather, and he set out to defy those Germans by means of his hypnotic powers, to hold back the advancing tanks by the force of suggestion. He went striding along the highroad with his eyes fixed on the leading tank, the spearhead of that entire motorized army. In this tank, waist-deep in the cabin, stood an officer of the Reich, with a black beret with the death's head badge and the crossed bones on his head, and my grandfather kept on going steadily forward, straight toward this tank, with his hands stretched out, and his eyes spraying towards the Germans the thought: 'Turn round and go back!'

"And really, that first tank halted. The whole army stood still. Grandfather touched the leading tank with his outstretched fingers, and kept pouring out towards it the same suggestion: 'Turn round and go back, turn round and . . .' And then the lieutenant gave a signal with his pennant, and the tank changed its mind and moved forward, but Grandfather never budged, and the tank ran over him and crushed his head, and after that there was nothing standing in the way of the German army."

No one's guessed Closely Observed Trains, so this morning I added the following, since it tells about a character I'm sure was used in the Academy Award-winning movie based on the book:

"But aside from his preoccupation of his, our station-master took delight in a quite ordinary plebeian hobby, and that was breeding pigeons. Before the war he used to keep Nurembergs, the kind with the aggressive black and white arrowheads on their wings and he himself used to clean out their loft, and change their water and scatter their feed-corn every other day. But when the Germans made such a savage attack on the Poles, and crushed them in such a barbarous way, our station-master left the flight-hatch of the loft closed one day, and went away to Hradec, but before he left he gave his assistant orders to wring the necks of all those Nurembergs. And after a week he came back from Hradec with some Polish silver-points, those birds with the lovely blue crop and the beautiful wings, oramented with grey and white triangles bonded into each other like floor-tiles in a bathroom. "

Friday, March 04, 2005

Morning meme

Okay, it's now official: I will be on a horse for hours at a time in the San Rafael Swell in October. Between now and then I will have to get my stupid horse allergy under control or I won't be able to actually see anything while I'm there. And suddenly I'm interested in reading the Smithsonian article on the Holy Ghost I'd been ignoring up until this point.

And to pass on the meme-y goodness I first encountered at shaken & stirred : the first five lines of dialogue from movies or tv shows that come to mind:

--I'm voting for Dukakis. (Donnie Darko)

--He bothers me. (Firefly)

--Ah, he ain't so good. He was aiming for your belly. (Alias Smith and Jones)

--Who are those guys? (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)

--You just want to slay the demon and go la la la. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Harriet, Hamlet and Haroun

One hundred British authors select their favorite literary characters (The Independent). Cynthia Ozick chooses Margaret Schlegel--yay! And Toby Litt chooses Anne Elliot. (yet another link via Bookslut)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Zombies equal terrorist threat

I would link to the news site where this story originated instead of sending you to it via Neal Pollack (via Bookslut), but there's a picture of Kenny Chesney on the news site and pictures of Kenny Chesney always upset my stomach.

Anyway, an 18-year-old in Kentucky has been arrested for writing a story about zombies taking over a high school. Who knew that's a felony offense in Kentucky? It's enough to make you hope that the boy really was trying to organize an armed take-over of the school as the police believe in order for the whole thing not to sound so foolish.

I had to fortify my mind with a rereading of Doris Betts' "The Ugliest Pilgrim" before I could go to sleep last night. It was even better than I remembered and seemed a direct response to the wretchedness of the play I mentioned last night. You want to write about a girl's pilgrimage to achieve outer beauty when inner goodness ought to be the goal? You want to write about overcoming fear and inhabiting the Kingdom of Love? Let Doris Betts be your inspirational guide! Watch as she sets Violet Karl, horribly scarred by her father in an accident involving an ax, on the pilgrimage path to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to convince a television preacher that she deserves to be healed of her crippled face just as much as anyone with a bad kidney or a limp:

"The young man wears glasses with no rims. In this glare, I am reflected on each lens, Vi-oh-LETTE and Vii-lut. Oh his desk is a box of postcards of the Hope and Glory Building. Of Glory. Of Glory.

"I am afraid.

"I feel behind me for the chair.

"The man explains that he is presently in charge. The Preacher's speaking in Tallahassee, his show taped weeks ahead. I never thought of it as a show before. He waits.

"I reach inside my notebook where, taped shut, is the thick envelope with everything written down. I knew I could never explain things right. When have I ever been able to tell what I really felt? But it's all in there—my name, my need. The words from the Bible which must argue for me. I did not sit there nights since Papa died, counting my money and studying God's Book, for nothing. Playing solitaire, then going back to search the next page and the next. Stepping outside to rest my eyes on His limitless sky, then back to the Book and the paper, building my case.

"He starts to read, turns up his glitter-glass to me once to check how I look, then reads again. His chair must be hard, for he squirms in it, crosses his legs. When he has read every page, he lays the stack down, slowly takes off his glasses, folds them shining into a case. He leaves it open on his desk. Mica shines like that, in the rocks.

"Then he looks at me, fully. Oh. He is plain. Almost homely. I nearly expected it. Maybe Samuel was born ugly, so who else would take him but God?"

I had no idea until I did an Amazon search this morning that Beasts of the Southern Wild, which includes "The Ugliest Pilgrim," had been reissued. My copy is an old library discard.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Actual dialogue

Narrator 1: Much-Afraid stared at him in bewilderment.

Much-Afraid: Make my feet like hinds' feet. . . How is that possible? And what would the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Love say to the presence of a wretched little cripple with an ugly face and a twisted mouth, if nothing blemished and imperfect may dwell there?

Shepherd: It is true that you would have to be changed before you could live on the High Places, but if you are willing to go with me, I promise to hlep you develop hinds' feet. Up there on the mountains, as you get near the real High places, the air is fresh and invigorating. It strengthens the whole body and there are streams with wonderful healing properties, so that those who bathe in them find all their blemishes and disfigurements washed away.

Narrator 2: The Shepherd told her of another thing that would have to be changed.

Shepherd: Not only would I have to make your feet like hinds' feet, but you would have to receive another name, for it would be impossible for a Much-Afraid to enter the Kingdom of Love. Are you willing to be changed completely, Much-Afraid?

Narrator 2: She nodded her head and then said very earnestly

Much Afraid: Yes, I am.

Do I need to say here that we are very upset? We knew S.'s drama instructor wanted to do a religious play this spring rather than Shakespeare for a second year in a row. We were okay with that although we would definitely have preferred Shakespeare.

What we were not aware of is that the instructor adapted the play herself. The script reads like a narrative, doesn't it? I am assuming the narrators and the "characters" who do nothing more than say their allegorical names and provide some stage direction in their dialogue have been written into the script so that there will be a part for every student in this "life changing" production.

Here's some more from the script:

Narrator 2: For hours poor Much-Afraid lay sleepless on her bed.

Much-Afraid: The thorn in her heart was throbbing and aching in a manner she could scarcely bear.

Narrator 1: Suddenly she sat up alarmed.

Much-Afraid: The Shepherd came and called me as he promised, but I didn't go to him or give any answer. Suppose he has gone and left me behind!

L. thinks he should drop the class. I certainly think we could put the time to better use, but I hate for S. to quit simply because we don't like the play. Grrrr. And even C., who used to work for a drama production company, had heard this one was highly regarded!

Franklin again

My interest in Ben Franklin's autobiography, which had begun to flag, was revived by yesterday's reading of chapter 8.

He observes that "few in public affairs act from a mere view of the good of their country, whatever they may pretend, and though their actings bring real good to their country, yet men primarily considered that their own and their country's interest were united, and so did not act from a principle of benevolence" and "that few still in public affairs act with a view to the good of mankind."

He discusses Poor Richard's Almanac, first published in 1732, and mentions he considered it "a proper vehicle for conveying instruction among the common people, who bought scarcely any other books."

He discusses his newspaper and says he took care to exclude "all libeling and personal abuse, which is of late years become so disgraceful to our country. Whenever I was solicited to insert anything of that kind and the writers pleaded, as they generally did, the liberty of the press--and that a newspaper was like a stagecoach, in which any one who would pay had a right to a place--my answer was that I would print the piece separately if desired, and the author might have as many copies as he pleased to distribute himself, but that I would not take upon me to spread his detraction, and that having contracted with my subscribers to furnish them with what might be either useful or entertaining, I could not fill their papers with private altercation, in which they had no concern, without doing them manifest injustice."

He goes on: "Now many of our printers make no scruple of gratifying the malice of individuals by false accusations of the fairest characters among ourselves, augmenting animosity even to the producing of duels; and are, moreover, so indiscreet as to print scurrilous reflections on the government of neighboring States, and even on the conduct of our best national allies, which may be attended with the most perncious consequences."

He mentions a minister found to be plagiarizing sermons: "I rather approved his giving us good sermons composed by others than bad ones of his own manufacture."

He begins studying languages in 1733, learning in turn French, Italian, then Spanish. He then realizes he understands much more Latin than he would have imagined possible and questions the conventional wisdom of learning Latin first: "We are told that it is proper to begin first with the Latin, and having acquired that it will be more easy to attain those modern languages which are derived from it; and yet we do not begin with the Greek in order more easily to acquire the Latin. It is true that if we can clamber and get to the top of a staircase without using the steps, we shall more easily gain them in descending; but certainly if we begin with the lowest we shall with more ease ascend to the top; and I would therefore offer it to the consideration of those who superintendent the education of our youth whether, since many of those who begin with the Latin quit the same after spending some years without having made any great proficiency, and what they have learned becomes almost useless, so that their time has been lost, it would not have been better to have begun with the French, proceeding to the Italian and Latin. For though after spending the same time they should quit the study of languages and never arrive at the Latin, they would, however, have acquired another tongue or two that, being in modern use, might be serviceable to them in common life."

He uses the death of his own son by small pox to encourage parents to inoculate their children.

He touches upon his own interest in public affairs and discusses the establishment of the Union Fire Company.

I don't think I'm going to require S. to read all of the autobiography when we do American lit next fall, but he's definitely going to have to read chapter 8.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Poems and stories

"A remembered poem is not like a remembered fact; a memorised poem is like a relationship that develops with time. You can mull the poem over at different times and places and even the shortest poem will take on new shades of meaning and significance. "

A lovely post today at Book World on the relevance of memorizing poetry: I can't think of a better use of your next several minutes than to go read it and think about which poems you'd like to fill a notebook with.

Want to read the ten best online short stories of 2004? Want to vote for your favorite? Thanks to storySouth's Million Writers Award , you can do both. The Notable Stories of 2004 link is worth exploring as well--there are some well-known writers mixed in with the newer folk publishing online these days.


Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders, a novel about the plague of 1666 as experienced in an isolated village in England, was a book I just had to buy in hardback. My reading of it, however, was then plagued with a series of distractions—a weekend trip to DC to see friends and attend Laura Bush's first annual book festival and see Dwight Yoakam at Wolf Trap during which time I was the last car hit in a four-car accident (man, did that ever eat up a lot of time) and I got Kinky Friedman's autograph and I found out I'd won an almost complete set of Alias Smith and Jones videos for a much higher price than anyone sensible (i.e., L.) could have imagined in an ebay auction due to my having set my reserve in the stratosphere prior to leaving for DC. . . Well, surely I'd be able to concentrate on the book once I was back home.

But the day after I returned was Sept. 11. It was a feat of sheer endurance to complete Year of Wonders much later that month, and Uncle Tom's Cabin, which I read immediately afterwards, did nothing to dispel the the drudgery of reading. I had to resort to rereading the screenplay to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the script to the pilot of Alias Smith and Jones for the nth time before the joy of reading returned to me.

Anyway, that's all background for why I want to give Geraldine Brooks another chance to totally engage me. Her new novel, March, told from the perspective of the father of the March sisters in Little Women, who served as a stand-in for Bronson Alcott, Louisa May's own father, seems a good place to start. The novel is reviewed today in the Christian Science Monitor. The cover is lovely. This is one I'll get around to, but definitely won't buy in hardback. And I want to read more about Alcott, probably via Carlos Baker's Emerson Among the Eccentrics, before I do.
There was a noise at the door--a scraping and shifting--and we all looked up to see Ludwig struggling with something there against the backdrop of the rain. His hat had been knocked askew and water dripped from his nose and chin. It took a moment, one shoulder pinning the door open, and then he lifted a cage--a substantial cage, two and a half feet high and maybe four feet long--through the doorway and set it down against the wall. No one moved. No one said a word. There was something in the cage, the apprehension of it as sharp and sudden as the smell it brought with it, something wild and alien and very definitely out of the ordinary on what to this point had been a painfully ordinary night.

--T.C. Boyle, "Tooth and Claw"

A bang, not a whimper

  Two months into L.'s retirement, and I'm finished with the stockpiling of books. No more book purchases! Or at least, no purcha...