Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Janus post

As I've said before, 2006 was a good year for reading. My favorites--and I'm calling a book a favorite if I finished it convinced that I'd like to read it again someday--are as follows:

The Judge. Rebecca West
The People's Act of Love. James Meek
Suttree & The Road. Cormac McCarthy
The Amalgamation Polka. Stephen Wright
One Good Turn. Kate Atkinson
Black Swan Green. David Mitchell
Triangle. Katharine Weber
Swann's Way. Marcel Proust
The Echo Maker. Richard Powers
The Red and the Black. Stendhal
Twilight of the Superheroes. Deborah Eisenberg

What do I intend to read next year? I'm going to qualify my "Read at Whim!" mantra with a "From the Books I Already Own" tag. I'm going to do my level best to ignore the new book cart at the university library and to keep my holds at the public to a minimum. I want to read the hardbacks already purchased before stockpiling any more. Well, many more.

I've tweaked the list of thirteen classics to read in 2007 that I made back in the fall into this list:

1. Charterhouse of Parma. Stendhal (haven't decided yet, but I may substitute Dumas' The Three Musketeers)
2. Germinal. Zola
3. Tristram Shandy. Sterne
4. A Sentimental Journey. Sterne
5. Buddenbrooks. Mann
6. Return of the Native. Hardy (although I may wind up reading the top-tier novels in chronological order once I start on Tomalin's bio of Hardy)
7. The Turn of the Screw. James
8. The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoyevsky (maybe I'll feel up to tackling another Dostoyevsky novel by fall, but at the moment I'm not going to commit to it)
9. Robinson Crusoe. Defoe
10. Ward No. 6. Chekhov
11. Doctor Faustus. Marlowe (because we have the opportunity to see the play this spring and Paradise Lost may have been a little too much for me to tackle right now)
12. The Blithedale Romance. Hawthorne
13. The Metamorphoses. Ovid

And I'm going to continue with Proust at least through The Guermantes Way. I have Sodom and Gomorrah on hand in the new translation as well but haven't decided whether I'll order the rest of In Search of Lost Time from the UK or go with the more readily available Moncrieff. And even more importantly, since I read Proust so slowly and cannot always predict when I can focus in on it the way that I should, I'm not inclined to commit to making my way through the remainder of the volumes next year; however far I get is fine.

I intend to resume working chronologically through Rebecca West's novels and I hope to read a few Christina Steads as well. I'd like to return to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series and touch base with some Southern lit.

We'll see how it goes.

Happy reading in 2007, everyone.

Friday, December 29, 2006

End of year reading stats

I've had a very good reading year. I did goof around and waste a lot of time that could have been spent reading, but I should have 74 books completed by New Year's Eve, and that's a respectable amount. I can remember being at a Christmas party a year or two after my daughter was born, complaining to my husband's cousin's ex-boyfriend that I'd managed to read only 20 books that year, and how shocked he was that anyone would think that 20 books wasn't a tremendous number of books to have been gotten through. There are people in this world who brag about not having read a book since 1973; this post is not for them.

Here's how the year breaks down statistically:

Nonfiction: 14

Novels: 50

Plays: 5

Works of poetry: 3

Short stories: 32 stories total, one story collection pending (Deborah Eisenberg's Twilight of the Superheroes should be finished by Sunday at the latest)

Picture book for adults: 1

Books bought and read: 24

Books bought and stockpiled: 75+

Library books: 31

Books "just published" in the last year or so: 33

Works I consider classics: 23

Books written prior to the 20th century: 11

Re-reads: 7

Books started that remain unfinished (not counting those currently in progress): 4

Books written by women: 28

5 out of 21 books from my priority list completed; three others started

I should have my list of favorites and biggest disappointments posted in a day or so.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I just finished updating my list of books owned but not yet read; I hadn't done so in almost a year and now I know why.

At my current reading rate it would take me almost seven years reading nothing but to get through 'em all; that's including the two outstanding orders that should be delivered in late January.

A resolution should follow that admission, one that involves a lengthy stay on book purchases, but I'm still considering other options at the moment: accidentally on purpose deleting the list, transferring ownership of books to the cats, establishing a goal of having at least a decade's worth of unread books on hand at all times.

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

--Ben Franklin

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The best day of the year

Is it wrong for the day after Christmas to be my favorite day of the year?

We had a very good Christmas (and I hope you did, too!) and other than one to-be-expected minor sour note, everything went very well and everyone was in good spirits, but it is always such a relief to have all that stress behind me for another year.

I didn't get many books as presents this year (certainly not necessary since I've read only one of my birthday books yet), but the ones I got look excellent:

Susanna Clarke's The Ladies of Grace Adieu
William Kittredge's The Willow Field
Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise

I strategized my reading for the remainder of the year early last week and realized I was going to make the 75 Books Challenge after all in addition to knocking out great portions of The Brothers Karamazov and the Proust. But I didn't count on not picking up a book--except to wrap or unwrap--from Wednesday on, so it's doubtful now that I manage to finish three books plus great portions of BK and Proust between now and Sunday unless I ignore all the other stuff I'm supposed to do between now and the first of the year.

Our great new find last week:

Bernard, Manny and Fran are hilarious. So hilarious, in fact, that it's like looking into the eye of a duck.

Friday, December 22, 2006

While visions of mousies danced in their heads. . .

If you don't mind I think I'll categorize the following shots as Christmas miracles.

It's easy to get pictures of Claudius and Nicholson together, and Nicholson and Ellie can be found hanging out together at the food dish, but it's nearly impossible to get Claudius and Ellie in the same frame since he hightails it whenever she approaches. (He can't let go of the idea that she might still turn out to be dangerous.)

Which is a shame, because I can tell she really really likes him.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Spitting at the devil

I decided to read something Christmasy, and rather than choosing something from our Christmas treasury, which we've had forever, I went with a story in a Nikolai Gogol collection that my daughter will be getting for Christmas (she's taking a Gogol class next semester).

Called "The Night Before Christmas," it begins like this:

The last day before Christmas had passed. A wintry, clear night came. The stars peeped out. The crescent moon rose majestically in the sky to give light to good people and all the world, so that everyone could merrily go caroling and glorify Christ. The frost had increased since morning; but it was so still that the frosty creaking under your boots could be heard for half a mile. Not one group of young lads had shown up under the windows of the houses yet; only the moon peeked stealthily into them, as if inviting the girls sprucing themselves up to hurry and run out to the creaking snow. Here smoke curled from the chimney of one cottage and went in a cloud across the sky, and along with the smoke rose a witch riding on a broom.

The next couple of paragraphs introduce us to the devil, who pockets the moon temporarily in a scheme to play a trick on the blacksmith, an artistic type who's embarrassed the devil with his paintings for the church for much too long. The blacksmith's mother is a witch, and her Christmas eve tryst with the devil is continually interrupted by townsmen, who want to make love to her as well. By the time the blacksmith comes home to Momma, rebuffed by the vain girl who he loves and feeling very sorry for himself, all the men and the devil are hiding in sacks, which the blacksmith assumes need to be carried back to his forge. . . if he doesn't decide to kill himself first. Once he learns he's carrying the devil on his back, the blacksmith tricks him into helping him obtain the slippers off of the Tsaritsa's feet--the task the vain girl has set for him if he is to marry her. By morning the girl will fear that the blacksmith is dead and decide that she loves him after all; she'll be so happy to see him that she'll agree to marry him even before he shows her the slippers. After they're married, the blacksmith paints a picture of the devil at the church, inspiring the villagers to spit and call the devil a caca.

Not very Christmasy at all, in case you're wondering.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Students less familiar with canon

I'm interested in the findings of the Siena Research Institute, which chart a decline in student familiarity with a set list of 30 Classics selected in 1984 by then chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities William Bennett, but I'm not sure what conclusions I should be drawing from them, especially since the study itself isn't online for perusal.

First, I do believe that high schools that offer English as a semester course--as more seem to be doing--will be turning out students who have read less than those taking a traditional year of English. It is, of course, possible for teachers to cram a year's worth of reading into a semester, but based both on the reading reports from my son's public school counterparts and the many search attempts here for Cliff's Notes and summaries for short stories, I am skeptical that as much reading is taking place in school these days as any English teacher would like.

But beyond that, I'm not sure how concerned I should be that all the titles listed below aren't being taught in the schools to the same degree that they were back in 1984. What's being taught in their place should matter, shouldn't it? Is it somehow better for a student to encounter Dickens in high school than, say, Camus or Kafka? Would a college professor expect more from a student if she's read The Scarlet Letter instead of The Handmaid's Tale? What if we substitute The Brothers Karamazov for Crime and Punishment? How about The House of the Spirits instead of Pride and Prejudice? How about Chronicle of a Death Foretold or some Vonnegut instead of The Catcher in the Rye? Is a field of 30 too limiting for gauging how well the classic classics are doing or ample proof that modern and multi-cultural classics have won?

I just can't get worked up that high school students aren't reading War and Peace (I never knew they were). But if they're not reading 1984. . . then I guess we find ourselves with a bunch of politicans who've used it a a how-to-guide instead of as an admonitory tale.

Here's the list of works (shamelessly lifted from Books Blog) and, for what it's worth (little), when my daughter, a college junior/senior, my son, a high school senior, and I first read them:

1. The Works of Shakespeare (I was required to read R&J, JC, and Macbeth in the 70s; my daughter was required to read only R&J and Macbeth; my son's read nine altogether, I think)

2. The Declaration of Independence (we've all read it)

3. Twain, Mark, Huckleberry Finn (9th grade for me, 8th for my son)

4. The poems of Emily Dickinson (just a few for all three of us in school)

5. The poems of Robert Frost (just a few for all three of us in school)

6. Hawthorne, Nathaniel, Scarlet Letter (high school for son and me)

7. Fitzgerald, Scott F., The Great Gatsby (high school for daughter and me; my son expected to read it in the spring)

8. Orwell, George, 1984 (high school for all three of us)

9. Homer, Odyssey and Iliad (bits and pieces for me in high school; full works for my daughter in college, my son in high school)

10. Dickens, Charles, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities ( my son read Tale in 8th grade; I was never required to read Dickens except for Hard Times in a college history class; I don't believe my daughter's read any Dickens)

11. Chaucer, Geoffrey, The Canterbury Tales (bits and pieces in high school for both my son and I)

12. Salinger, J.D., Catcher in the Rye (daughter and I both read this extracurricularly during high school)

13. The Bible (most, if not all, for me outside school; bits and pieces for the kids outside school)

14. Thoreau, Henry David, Walden (excerpts for both son and me during high school)

15. Sophocles, Oedipus (high school, everyone)

16. Steinbeck, John, the Grapes of Wrath (high school for me, next spring for my son)

17. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays and poems (excerpts, son and me)

18. Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (I think daughter read this while living in Germany, but none of us read Austen for school; daughter was required to read Jane Eyre)

19. Whitman, Walt, Leaves of Grass (excerpts, high school for son and me)

20. The novels of William Faulkner (I read "A Rose for Miss Emily" in school; my daughter read Light in August)

21. Melville, Herman, Moby Dick (son and I, high school)

22. Milton, John, Paradise Lost (no one required to read more than a few poems of Milton)

23. Vergil, Aeneid (I translated excerpts from Latin in high school)

24. Plato, The Republic (no one, unless daughter read excerpts for philosophy class in college)

25. Marx, Karl, Communist Manifesto (college for me, daughter probably the same)

26. Machiavelli, Niccolo, the Prince (excerpts in high school for my son)

27. Tocqueville, Alexis de, Democracy in America (college for me)

28. Dostoevski, Feodor, Crime and Punishment (high school for daughter and me)

29. Aristotle, Politics (no one required to read)

30. Tolstoy, Leo, War and Peace (no one required to read, although I read it several years back)

Maybe I'll have a more coherent thought about this once the Christmas prep is complete (panic has truly set in). Is it just that students are reading less these days or are college faculty truly frustrated that students haven't read from a set canon? And is William Bennett's list of 30 classics truly the best of the best for high school students?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The sun shining inside one's head

A deep embarrassment has been stalking him. Every time he lets his guard down these days, there it is. Because it's become clear: he and even the most dissolute among his friends have glided through their lives on the assumption that the sheer fact of their existence has in some way made the world a better place. As deranged as it sounds now, a better place. Not a leafy bower, maybe, but still, a somewhat better place--more tolerant, more amenable to the wonderful adventures of the human mind and the human body, more capable of outrage against injustice. . . .

For shame! One has been shocked, all one's life, to learn of the blind eye turned to children covered with bruises and welts, the blind eye turned to the men who came at night for the neighbors. And yet. . . And yet one has clung to the belief that the sun shining inside one's head is evidence of sunshine elsewhere.

Not everywhere, of course. Obviously, at every moment something terrible is being done to someone somewhere--one can't really know about each instance of it!

Then again, how far away does something have to be before you have the right to not really know about it?

--Deborah Eisenberg, Twilight of the Superheroes"

An interview with Eisenberg here (via Ed Rants)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Out of print

'Twas the night before Christmas, and in our duplex
The children were plugged into special effects,
While pizza with sausage and peppers they downed
With soda, plus popcorn and chips by the pound.

. . . .

When all of a sudden not the sound of reindeers,
But the mooing of Santa Cows came to our ears.
So we ran to the windows and opened the shutters.
We threw up the blinds to a sky full of udders.

Okay, so I understand completely why Cooper Edens' Santa Cows (illustrated by Daniel Lane) is out of print.

But we always found it a moooving experience.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Friendly Reminder

Did you remember to put Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles on your Christmas list? The Slaves of Golconda will begin discussion of the book on January 31. Please join us--the Schulz can easily count as a contemporary classic if you're worried about an overcommitment to reading challenges, and it's only 160 pages.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Revised Winter's Classics List

Scratch Crime and Punishment from the Winter's Classics list.

I came home from work last night to find that a bored S. had picked up The Brothers Karamazov and wasn't going to need any encouragement on my part to continue. (His sister will be thrilled.) He will, however, need a discussion buddy, so, now that I'm signing on for the impromptu re-read of a 776-pager, I'm throwing earlier plans out the window.

Revised plans are now:
the substituted Dostoevsky
Proust's In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower
Stendhal's The Red and the Black
Chekhov's Ward No. 6
Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author
Mann's Buddenbrooks
Hardy's The Return of the Native

I may not have time to finish the Mann and Hardy before the challenge ends, but I'm definitely going to read them.

And now I must scramble to catch up in The Brothers.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas Meme

(via Danielle, who's sporting spiffy bangs and saddle shoes in the Santa pic)

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Hot chocolate, except at Tudy and Dub's Christmas open house when I'll drink any nog offered to me.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just set them under the tree? When I was growing up, Santa didn't wrap. He was lazy that way. So was my mother--she taught me how and then I wrapped all the presents, even my own (usually I was good and didn't peek in the boxes). When my kids were young, Santa wrapped everything.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? We started out with colored lights, switched to white years ago when I decided they were classier, and then started using whatever we could snatch up at the nearest drug store once a string went dead. Currently I don't know which we're on, but I hope colored; white's looking awfully generic to me these days. The ceramic Christmas tree on the computer desk has colored lights.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? No. I've never known anyone who did.

5. When do you put your decorations up? After the 15th. At some point after that. The year R. spent in Germany we were decorating the tree when she called home on Christmas Eve, which shamed even us. We're prone to leaving things up till the middle of January, though.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish? I believe they're called second helpings.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child? Seeing extended family and friends who dropped in and out, and dropping in on them as well. Watching Rudolph and Charlie Brown. Setting out tollhouse cookies and milk for Santa. Always getting pajamas and a book or two. Conspiring with cousins on how we were to meet at the barn at midnight so we could hear the animals talk.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? Second grade. My friends Mark and Nancy told me at school and I told them they were wrong, and the teacher's aide said when she entered the argument that I was right, and then I went home and told my mother who said Mark and Nancy were right and I ran and hid behind a chair. It all seemed so wrong.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? We open all our presents on Christmas eve. We go to the grandparents' on Christmas morning, 80-some miles away, and this way we get to have our own unrushed, peaceful Christmas before the madness starts (a huge breakfast and twenty million presents under one tree). Plus my family always opened presents on Christmas Eve, too; Christmas day was strictly for Santa.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? Reluctantly, these days, I'm afraid. I lost the momentum of Christmas in '02; my dad died in November that year and my mother died right before Christmas after being in intensive care for 17 days. Both L. and I have a why bother attitude about the tree these days which would be relieved by the kids showing a bit of their earlier enthusiasm for decorating it.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? The last time we had snow for Christmas was 25 years ago. I panicked -- we were getting married in two days and how on earth was anyone to get to the church if there was snow? Ordinarily though, I would love to have a white Christmas, but as we say around these parts, it ain't gonna happen.

12. Can you ice skate? No, not at all.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? My stuffed frog Hoppy. My brother gave him to me. I intended to keep him forever, so I'm sorry to say I had to throw him out just last week. Claudius is not a good cat, and that's all I'm going to say about that.

14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you? Family togetherness. Trying to insure that everyone else has a good time.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? Coconut cake.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Having everyone at home. Going to the grandparents' and seeing everyone. R. and I would like a tradition of going to London for the holidays, but we've manged to do that only once.

17. What tops your tree? We don't own a designated tree topper. Sometimes I hang a gold sun with a face at the top because it's so large I don't know where else to put it.

18. Which do you prefer: giving or receiving? Giving, when I can come up with the perfect gift. Receiving a perfect gift's pretty wonderful too.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? I am inordinately fond of (translation: I listen to it all year long) Santa Can't Stay--what's Christmas without a little family drama? (Plus there's some seriously whacked out bells at the end of the song and a line you'd never expect to find in a Christmas song, Momma "says he (Santa) might beat the crap out of Ray" (Momma's new boyfriend).) I also lurve Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas (I also listen to this all year long) and John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War is Over)." I like the medley of traditional carols we played in high school band.

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum? I am not a big fan of candy canes. I eat one every three or four years, I suppose.

Monday, December 11, 2006


If animals think
about death,
do the nocturnal ones--
the lemur, for instance
or the raccoon--
consider it
a kind of light,
a glare
in the future, a place
where predators
arm themselves in God's
fluorescent shield?

Do they fear
a wilderness of light
the way we fear
the dark? I sleep
with lights burning
in the other room,
as if to fool
what lies ahead, owl-shaped
or prescient
as a bat, waiting
to smother me
in its nocturnal wings.

--Linda Pastan, Carnival Evening

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Just in case someone hasn't seen these yet:


1. Schizophrenia --- Do You Hear What I Hear?

2. Multiple Personality Disorder ---We Three Kings Disoriented Are

3. Dementia ---I Think I'll be Home for Christmas

4. Narcissistic ---Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me

5. Manic ---Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees and...

6. Paranoid ---Santa Claus is Coming to Town to Get Me

7. Borderline Personality Disorder ---Thoughts of Roasting on an Open Fire

8. Personality Disorder ---You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, Maybe I'll Tell You Why

9. Attention Deficit Disorder ---Silent night, Holy oooh look at the Froggy - can I have a chocolate, why is France so far away?

10. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ---Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle,Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells , Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Meta stuff

Changing template--ugh. I have a migraine, itchy allergy eyes, and cold feet. It is very cold here. The gas logs keep blowing out.

If I managed to skip you while recreating my blogroll, let me know. If you have suggestions for sidebar arrangement, please speak up. Do you want the Recent Posts/Archives feature near the top of the page or is it okay having it midway down? Should I make an effort to label the posts?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Naturally. Now, when I have done nothing to prepare for the holidays except set my aunt Margaret's ceramic Christmas tree on the computer desk downstairs, Blogger says I can make the great switch over. But of course.

Will the process be brief, painless, at this point, or should I hold off until I have a chunk of time to spare?


I have taken Nick Hornby back off the shelf. He's causing me to mutter under my breath, but it's quick, easy reading and that's what I need right now.

And I did agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment expressed in this tidbit:

Is the phrase "Deliciously politically incorrect" used with the same gay abandon in the U.S.? You come across it all the time here, and usually it means, quite simply, that a book or a movie or a TV program is racist and/or sexist and/or homophobic; there is a certain kind of cultural commentator who mysteriously associates these prejudices with a Golden Age during which we were allowed to do lots of things that we are not allowed to do now. (The truth is that there's no one stopping them from doing anything. What they really object to is being recognized as the antisocial pigs they really are.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Highway 12 and its adjoining roads transverse the last wilderness in the lower United States to be explored by European Americans. The Henry Mountains, the soot-black, bald laccolithic domes that creep across the sea of red solid rock in the frame of the eastbound driver's windshield, were the last mountains on the continent to be named. The Escalante River, which drains the wooded highlands rising in necessary opposition on that sea's far shore, was the last river on the continent to be discovered. The hamlet of Boulder in its pocket of green off the shoulder of those highlands, was once the most isolated town in the United States. To this day, it is possible to find niches and alcoves, narrow canyons and glens which no modern man has seen except from above. This is because the reach of land off Highway 12's southern edge is the most broken-up, inaccessible, intractable, inhospitable country on the face of the earth, and it is unlike anything else on the earth. It is land in the form of a mindscape, a place that shouldn't exist except as a mental contruct.

--Christian Probasco, Highway 12

C. and I are already planning another trip to southern Utah for next October. Anyone else want to go?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Reading challenges

Booklogged's spearheading the Winter Classics Challenge--read five classics in the months of January and February--and I've selected my titles.

If I don't finish them this month, I will of course be reading Proust's In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower and Stendhal's The Red and the Black (we've been granted permission to overlap other reading commitments, thank God).

I'll also be reading:

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Ward No. 6 by Anton Chekhov
Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello

And if I do finish Proust and Stendhal before the challenge begins I'll be adding Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks and Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native to the list.

As far as Overdue Books' From the Stacks Challenge goes, I've managed to read the requisite five books already, but I'm hoping to continue reading only books I own till the end of January. I have not set foot in a bookstore in a month. I have no books checked out from the public library and have none on hold. I am hoarding books from the university library, but I'm giving those an exemption since I can keep renewing them until the challenge is over. And my one Amazon order with a gift certificate hinged around a yet-to-be-published book and won't be delivered until late January.

If I could just finish some of the books I have in progress. . .
Paul Theroux on E.B. White, anthropomorphism, and raising geese:

When I first began to raise geese, in Hawaii, my more literate friends asked me, "Have you read the E. B. White piece?" This apparently persuasive essay was all that they knew about geese other than the cliché, often repeated to me, "Geese are really aggressive! Worse than dogs!" or "They're everywhere!"—regarding them as an invasive species, spoiling golf courses. Received wisdom is not just unwise, it is usually wrong. But I was well disposed toward E. B. White. In his writing he is the kindest and most rational observer of the world. And a man who can write the line "Why is it...that an Englishman is unhappy until he has explained America?" is someone to cherish. (The Smithsonian)

Monday, December 04, 2006


Am currently without internet--or phone--at home and likely to be that way for another day.

Before I could post to say that my husband had retired (last week) after 30 years with the bank, he signed on to return to the same bank doing the same job (this week) as a sub-contractor. Boo! Hiss! He was supposed to take at least a month off before returning to gainful employment; December was to be home improvement month.

He claims it still will be, conveniently forgetting that there's a major holiday that takes quite a bit of prep work.

Shopping vs. stripping a room bare.

Addressing envelopes vs. ripping up nasty old carpet.

Trimming a tree vs. painting the ceiling and walls.

Visiting with friends and family vs. installing wood flooring.

We have yet to clear enough room in the packed-to-the-gills garage so that L. can manage to do his own prep work out there despite our taking a U-Haul's worth of items to my sister's for storage on Saturday. We spent most of yesterday replacing our old family room furniture with the much nicer furniture which we brought back that had belonged to my late aunt. It appears that we'll need to rent a U-Haul again next weekend to clear out still more of the stuff in the garage, which means it may be the middle of the month before we can actually start on any painting or carpet removal.




At least Claudius, from whom we expected major issues because things are no longer as they were, has rallied. He's not hiding out, he's not going outside the litter box, he's behaving as calmly and well-adjustedly as I'd like to be.

I hid out in the bathroom long enough on Sunday (while L. and S. came up with a much better arrangement of furniture than we'd previously had) to finish The Echo Maker.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Plunged into achromatopsia

He was still walking at random when the street went dark. He took four full seconds to think: power failure. The thrill of thunderstorms and ambulances came over him. He looked up; the sky was deep in stars. He'd forgotten how many there could be. Washes of them, spilling in streams. He'd forgotten how rich darkness looked. He could see, but poorly, without color, plunged into achromatopsia. Both of the achromats he'd interviewed had raged against the very words, red, yellow, blue. They lived for the night world, where they were superior to the color-sighted and merely ordinary. Weber fumbled in the dark for blocks, his sense of direction failing. When the lights surged back on, he felt the banality of sight.

--Richard Powers, The Echo Maker

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Thursday Thirteen: Future Re-Reads

Books don't make it onto my Lifetime Favorites List (click on profile above if interested in said list) without holding up to a re-read, or two or three (the lone exception: Lonesome Dove, a book I constantly dip into but have yet to re-read from cover to cover for a second time). I'm currently on my seventh re-read of the year (Macbeth, with my son) and intend to bring in 2007 with a re-reading of Crime and Punishment.

As a blogger who knowingly provides her share of pooter posts (thanks go to Dorothy for finding The Diary of a Nobody) , I thought I'd share of list of books I haven't yet re-read, but fully intend to at some point. I think all of these, even if they do not eventually make their way onto the definitive lifetime list, will at least provide just as much pleasure as they did on the first go-round.

1. David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas.

2. Rebecca West's The Judge.

3. Stephen Wright's The Amalgamation Polka.

4. Kate Atkinson's Case Histories and One Good Turn. I want to read them back to back so I can determine which I actually enjoy more.

5. Eudora Welty's Delta Wedding.

6. Richard Russo's Straight Man.

7. Steven Millhauser's Edwin Mullhouse.

8. Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red.

9. Haven Kimmel's The Solace of Leaving Early.

10. Robert Boswell's Century's Son.

11. Arnold Bennett's The Old Wives' Tale.

12. Franz Lidz's Unstrung Heroes.

13. A.S. Byatt's The Virgin in the Garden (and all its sequels save the last, which I didn't like at all).

The last nine books listed, ones I've read prior to the last year or so, are currently showcased in My Bookstore.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Two things

1. For the past three days I have been taking pets to the vet: Ellie had shots and her yearly checkup on Monday; on Tuesday Nicholson had a cyst on the inside of an eyelid removed and sent off for biopsy and both she and Claudius had their teeth cleaned; and this afternoon Ezra had her uric acid levels checked--woo hoo! For the first time since April, the levels are in the normal range.

Taking pets to the vet means there will be no money for book purchases for quite awhile to come, so prepare for the return of Friday cat blogging!

2. I'm enjoying Richard Powers' The Echo Maker a great deal, but I simply cannot buy the marriage between the cognitive neurologist Gerald Weber and his wife Sylvie--it's simply off and it makes me cringe to read their conversations. Sylvie (as of page 144) has yet to use her husband's name--she calls him Man and Husband repeatedly and he calls her Woman. Perhaps there's a reason yet to be revealed why they must point out these obvious facts about themselves, but at this point it just seems wrongly imagined, as if Powers couldn't quite bring into focus a 30-plus-year marriage.

But Powers' reputation is wondrous and the rest of the book is excellent, so I'm prepared to eat crow if it turns out he knew what he was doing with this relationship.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Always offensive

Having trained him to think clearly, and not let himself settle for empty verbiage, he'd neglected to explain that, for someone not well respected, this habit is criminal, for in any case logical thinking is alway offensive.

--Stendhal, The Red and the Black

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Holiday from books

The only downside to having Thanksgiving with my husband's family is the lack of leftovers in our own refrigerator. To compensate for that, I started a tradition several years back of cooking a second Thanksgiving meal the weekend after for just the four of us. This year the meal was on Saturday instead of Sunday so my daughter could go back to school early to finish a project. And I invited my sister.

The downside to cooking a second Thanksgiving is that I wind up losing quite a bit of time that could have been spent reading to shopping for and preparing the meal. I thought that I would be able to finally settle in with a book late yesterday once the kitchen was cleaned and my sister--who'd showed up for lunch at 8:30 am and had talked nonstop for more than six hours-- had gone home, but I found that I did not have the mental wherewithal for print material by that point. My sister takes a lot out of me. I was in bed by 9.

The Time-Warner guy is supposed to come tomorrow morning to see if he can determine what is causing our internet problem. Since the entire month of December is to be devoted to the upstairs--painting, removing carpet and installing a hardwood floor in our bedroom, shuffling furniture and other items throughout the rest of the rooms in order to do the former--I resented having to expend the effort this late in the game to making it presentable to a stranger who may or may not need to inspect our modem and router; it certainly kept me from the books this afternoon.

And it's been busy at the library this evening. Between patrons I've been attempting to follow the latest round in the blog vs. print cat fight (complete background at the Saloon), but I intend to get in an hour or so of reading before I go to bed tonight. Margaret Atwood's convinced me I ought not put off The Echo Maker a day longer.

Friday, November 24, 2006

On the day after Thanksgiving, I am most grateful to again have an internet connection, although I'm told the connection may well be dicey between now and Monday morning when the serviceman makes his appearance.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I'm usually alerted to the hawk's presence by three freaked-out parrots who fall off their perches, screaming and flapping wildly, whenever it dives steeply into our backyard for an unsuspecting dove. I've witnessed the hawk's shadow pass over their cages only once, normally skidding onto the scene moments after the hawk has risen with a dove in its talons, a drift of breast feathers settling onto the patio and grass, while the parrots continue to flail about until I soothe them down. I don't begrudge them their panic one bit.

This morning, though, the screams I heard were coming from a hawk back behind the trees across the road in the front of our house. I threw the newspaper on the table, grabbed the binoculars from the secretary, and went back out to determine what the commotion was all about.

There were three hawks, and best I could tell, the red-tailed one was being subjected to some tag-teamed bullying. Once he'd been led to the decision that he didn't really want to incorporate this area into his own territory, he flew east and the other two reconnoitered in a tree for awhile before lazily heading east themselves.

I'm assuming there may be some baby hawks hatched nearby in the spring.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Stew for Brains

Saturday I read this line of Proust:

Just as the Fathers of the Church, good as they were, first had to practice the sins of all men, through which they found their own sanctity, so great artists, immoral as they are, often derive from their own vices a definition of the moral rule that applies to us all.

and I'm absolutely thrilled by the synchronicity, because I know I've encountered a similiar line just recently in Stendhal, having to do with Julien Sorel's soured view of priests.

Or, I suppose I should say, I think I've encountered a similiar line just recently. Perhaps I imagined it, because I certainly can't find it now. I lost a lot of prime Proust reading time over the weekend looking for it, too. I even made a stab at looking for it in The Italian since Vivaldi and Ellena have been captured by Inquisitors by now and one of them could certainly could have had the reflection that I'm attributing to Julien.

My reading has turned to stew. I really ought to quit switching back and forth between so many books.

Instead, I started something new last night.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Hee. A student came to the desk a little bit ago asking for an L2 file he said his instructor had placed on reserve for his class.

Do you think she meant an LP? I ask. I already know the answer; the record in question's been in constant demand all evening.

He maintains she said L2, although he admits he doesn't have a clue what it is.

I hand him the album and point him in the direction of the record player.

This is really old school, he says.

A few minutes later he comes back and asks me to show him how to find the movement he's supposed to listen to.

Two sides to a disk can really throw a modern guy. It's like a totally foreign concept.

The broad daylight of habitual memory

Habit weakens all things; but the things that are best at reminding us of a person are those which, because they were insignificant, we have forgotten, and which have therefore lost none of their power. Which is why the greater part of our memory exists outside us, in a dampish breeze, in the musty air of a bedroom or the smell of autumn's first fires, things through which we can retrieve any part of us that the reasoning mind, having no use for it, disdained, the last vestige of the past, the best of it, the part which, after all our tears sem to have dried, can make us weep again. Outside us? Inside us, more like, but stored away from our mind's eye, in that abeyance of memory which may last forever. It is only because we have forgotten that we can now and then return to the person we once were, envisage things as that person did, be hurt again, because we are not ourselves anymore, but someone else, who once loved something that we no longer care about. The broad daylight of habitual memory gradually fades our images of the past, wears them away until nothing is left of them and the past become irrecoverable. Or, rather, it would be irrecoverable, were it not that a few words (such as "chief undersecretary at the Postmaster General's") had been carefully put away and forgotten, much as a copy of a book is deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale against the day when it may become unobtainable.

--Marcel Proust, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Several years ago I read Pamela Dean's Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary, and was captivated by its mix of literary allusions, quirky characters, and mundane yet fantastic plot. The ending made my head want to explode. I read it first in January, then again in February, and was so convinced my daughter would love it--its young characters' conversations reminded me of many I'd overheard as I drove the afternoon carpool home from school--if she got down off her high horse long enough to read it, that I resorted to bribery. Money exchanged hands and she agreed to fit the book into her busy schedule.

Needless to say, she hated it. It was a totally annoying book, her conversations were nothing like those in the book, and besides, nobody read Shakespeare in middle school the way these characters did.

Except her brother did, the very next year. It certainly wasn't geared to be the intellectual experience that Gentian had had (I stumbled across the silly board game he was required to make a few months back), but it was proof that middle schoolers read Shakespeare even though she'd not been required to do so in the I.B. program.

And this is all preface to say that when I suggested late yesterday afternoon that my son do Kate's meme for his own amusement, I thought he might put down Much Ado About Nothing as his first adult book. Instead he said it was Midsummer Night's Dream.

I reminded him that the script for his elementary school production of Midsummer Night's Dream was highly watered down and should not count. He said he knew that, and wasn't. His class had read the play in small groups in sixth grade.

Why had I never heard one word about this till now?

He said he didn't think it was any big deal.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Fifteen

Sharon had an interesting post yesterday under the guise of a Thursday Thirteen on the subject of authors she collects but has yet to read. She asks, "Are there any authors whose books you have more than 4 of that you haven't read but intend to?"

I have four unread Peter Ackroyds floating around, but I've read a couple by him as well so I can't count him. After I scroll through my to-be-read list (sorely in need of an update, I realize), I find that I don't have any authors on the list that I've stockpiled in great quantities without reading something by them first. I'm not much of a risk-taker when it comes to shelf-sitters, it seems; I simply don't have the space.

I did manage to put together a list of 15 fiction writers as yet unread with two books on my shelves:

Mikhail Bulgakov
Ethan Canin
Louis de Bernieres
Ivan Doig
Ford Madox Ford
Nadine Gordimer
David Markson
V.S. Naipaul
Lawrence Norfolk
Richard Powers
Thomas Pynchon
Susan Sontag
Graham Swift
David Toscana
Richard Yates

That's it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Kate's Early Reading Meme

Kate has created a meme on early reading. Here are my responses:

1. How old were you when you learned to read and who taught you?

I was five, I think. My mother taught me using Dr. Seuss books. Green Eggs and Ham was the first that I managed on my own. I can remember feeling a real sense of accomplishment in mastering those tricky words would, should and could.

2. Did you own any books as a child? If so, what’s the first one that you remember owning? If not, do you recall any of the first titles that you borrowed from the library?

I don't remember the first, just that I was kept well supplied. A Little Golden Book of some sort or another may well have been the first. My mother was always willing to buy books for me, via through-the-mail book clubs or from the dime or grocery stores, and my first trips to the library took place while I was still a pre-schooler; it was a small one-room basement dwelling off Main Street at that time. I can remember checking out a hardcover copy of Clare Turlay Newberry's Marshmallow. We owned a set of The Book of Knowledge and it would have been my first exposure to any type of classic literature. I particularly loved the poetry contained within, especially "Little Orphan Annie": "and the goblins will get you, if you don't watch out!"

My elementary school library was a wonderful place and I probably spent almost as much time there as I did in the classroom since my teachers liked to get me out of their hair once I'd completed my work. All the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and many of the Marguerite Henrys came from the elementary school library.

3. What’s the first book that you bought with your own money?

Probably Gone With the Wind, which I bought in Chapel Hill on the 8th grade trip to Raleigh/Chapel Hill, although it may very well have been a book on horses from a tack shop a year or so earlier.

4. Were you a re-reader as a child? If so, which book did you re-read most often?

I re-read horse books (the largest portion of my reading consisted of horse books), Lewis Carroll, and Old Yeller. I read the E.C. Spykman quartet and Harriet the Spy to the point of internalization.

5. What’s the first adult book that captured your interest and how old were you when you read it?

It may have been Gone With the Wind. I read it straight through over the course of a single weekend, starting on the bus back from Raleigh. Or it may have been some genre fare passed on my uncles or aunts: I read a lot of their Alistair MacLeans, Zane Greys, Emilie Lorings and Grace Livingston Hills at about the same time.

6. Are there children’s books that you passed by as a child that you have learned to love as an adult? Which ones?

The Wind in the Willows. I always thought it looked boring, and never attempted to read it until I had kids of my own.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Housekeeping vs. the Dirt

See, a few years ago while Nick Hornby was having his head shaved, the barber taunted the young woman who worked next to him into admitting that the only writer she could name was Enid Blyton. Hornby disingenuously uses this anecdote and a study that found that more than 40 percent of all adults never read a book, let alone manage to cough up the name of a favorite author, to launch an attack on writers who clearly do not have these particular adults in mind as an audience when they write. Evidently bright people who happen to lack a literature degree are so stymied by writers writing about highly articulate people that Hornby feels the need to cry "Elitism!" and call for quotas. And anyway, it's cheating to write about smart people when you're smart, and the most gifted writers write about dumb people and are accordingly sought out by "infrequent book-buyers."

I know quite a few people took umbrage over Hornby's remarks a few months back, that people shouldn't attempt difficult novels if they weren't enjoying them, and maybe some of them were also upset with him over his call for literary writers to stop being so literary as well--I'd tuned out by then since I'd enjoyed The Polysyllabic Spree so much and fully intended to read the next collection.

Now I understand the irritation. Last night, given the opportunity, I would have gladly slapped Hornby in the face--and I do hope that action would have been lowbrow and inarticulate enough to suit him. I'll probably eventually finish this one since it's short, but for now, it's going back on the shelf. I'm not in the mood for Hornby's kind of cute.

Monday, November 13, 2006

If you're a fan of the Beats and you managed to miss Bill Morgan's talk in Chapel Hill last week, you might be interested in The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice, a collection of Allen Ginsberg's first journals and poems, just published this month.

The original typewritten draft of Ginsberg's journals, my daughter informed me over the weekend, happens to be on her desk in Rare Books at Wilson Library. I didn't know that when I accepted an advanced reading copy of the journals from the publisher last month; R. hadn't mentioned the Beats since her stint as a guardian of the Kerouac scrolls last fall and I'd just assumed the collection would be one I could pass on to her once I'd finished with it. Since she's already very familar with it, knowing exactly where to look for his "Mooselini" reference, I certainly won't need to rush.

But even though it may take awhile before I get around to more than a dip in here or there, I have perused most of Ginsberg's reading lists. It seemed odd to find Story of Dr. Dolittle nestled between D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce, and my daughter didn't have any inside information on why Hugh Lofting would be the only children's author Ginsberg appeared to read as an adult; maybe I'll have a better idea once I actually read the journals.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Toxic relationships

She took the urn inside with her and placed it on the kitchen draining board. She unscrewed the lid and poured some of the contents into a saucer and examined them, poking them around with a knife like a forensic technician. It was gritty, more like clinker than ash, and Louise half-expected to see a bit of tooth, a recognizable bone. Toxic waste. Perhaps if she added water to the saucer, her mother would be resurrected, the clay re-formed from the dust. Her moth-wing lungs might reinflate and she would rise like a genie from the urn and sit opposite Louise at the too-small kitchen table in the too-small kitchen and tell Louise how sorry she was for all the bad things she'd done. And Louise would say, "Too fucking late, get back in your urn."

--Kate Atkinson, One Good Turn

Friday, November 10, 2006

Put it on your Christmas list

Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles has been selected as the next group read for the Slaves of Golconda. Discussion will take place in late January, so anyone interested in discussing the book might want to request it as a Christmas present next month.

The Street of Crocodiles is a novella by a Polish writer who was killed by the Nazis during WWII. If you're a fan of Calvino or Garcia Marquez, if you like your stories Kafkaesque, if you're in the mood for something poetic and odd, then this one should appeal. I've wanted to read it since Nicole Krauss referenced it in The History of Love last year.

First paragraph:

In July my father went to take the waters and left me, with my mother and elder brother, a prey to the blinding white heat of the summer days. Dizzy with light, we dipped into that enormous book of holidays, its pages blazing with sunshine and scented with the sweet melting pulp of golden pears.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hurray for checks and balances!

Yesterday was such a lovely celebratory day.

I was at the polls on Tuesday for 15 hours. Turnout approached that of a national election, with long lines till mid-morning and from 4 in the afternoon until closing.

I was responsible for transfers and provisional voting for the first time. I'd been asked to take the position five years ago, but there was a conflict between my surgery and their training schedule and I'd had to decline. The position opened back up this fall and I decided the number of new books I'd be able to afford would offset the reason why the person who'd had the job decided she'd rather stay home with her grandchildren from now on.

But The Reason Why was on her best behavior for once, and in fact walked over to tell me near the end of the afternoon, after she'd managed to keep her temper with a voter who'd annoyed her, that God had told her to be nice. I did not feel the least compulsion to fire back that she ought to listen to him more often, the way I would have normally, since she'd actually been pleasant all day. No doubt she's hoping to land the chief judge position--it's only a matter of time--and she may revert to form once that occurs, but I sure appreciated her attitude on Tuesday.

There was not near as much time as I'd expected to read, but I managed the last little bit of Letters from Yellowstone and made a start in One Good Turn. I struck up a conversation with a woman reading in line and it turns out she's a homeschooler who lives just down the street. She belongs to a bookclub, and it's probably just as well I work evenings and can't attend, since she says its very hard to get the members to read anything outside their safety zone.

This week My Bookstore is stocked with Southern fiction.

Monday, November 06, 2006

At the moment I'm fighting the urge to come up with a definitive list of books to read for The From the Stacks Reading Challenge since a) I'm hoping to read many more than five anyway and b) I'm focusing more on the don't-acquire- new-books part of the challenge, but I'm sure enjoying seeing the lists of participants and books at Overdue Books.

I have to be at the polls at 6 tomorrow morning. I'll be taking Stendhal's The Red and the Black, Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn, and Diane Smith's Letters from Yellowstone with me. I expect to have plenty of time to read between voters.
Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.

--Franklin D. Roosevelt

Everyone planning on voting tomorrow?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Anagrams and adverbs

So I'm merrily reading along in Lorrie Moore's "Paper Losses," having a fine old time since Lorrie Moore is a both a genius and a god who does no wrong, and I get to this paragraph:

Whom she tried not to look at but could smell in all his smoky aromas—tobacco, incense, cannabis—swirling their way around him. A wiry old American pothead gone to grim seed. His name was Daniel Handler, according to the business card he wore safety-pinned to his shirt like a badge. He did not speak. He placed hot stones up and down her back and left them there. Did she think her belotioned flesh too private and precious to be touched by the likes of him? Are you crazy? The mad joy in her face was held over the floor by the massage-table headpiece, and at his touch her eyes filled with bittersweet tears, which then dripped out of her nose, which she realized was positioned perfectly by God as a little drainpipe for crying. The sad massage-hut carpet beneath her grew a spot. A heart could break, but perhaps you could move on to the next one, and the next, like a worm with its several hearts. Daniel left the hot stones on her until they went cold. As each one lost its heat, she could no longer feel it there on her back, and then its removal was like a discovery that it had been there all along: how strange to forget and then feel something only then, at the end. Though this wasn’t the same thing as the frog in the pot whose water slowly heats and boils, still it had meaning, she felt, the way metaphors of a thermal nature tended to. Then he took all the stones off and pressed the hard edges of them deep into her back, between the bones, in a way that felt mean but more likely had no intention at all.

and I go, Daniel Handler! What's he doing in a Lorrie Moore story? Am I not picking up on some blatantly obvious Lemony Snicket reference (I have not read Lemony Snicket). Are Handler and Moore buddies, beaux? Surely this means something or the Mr. Handler in the story would be merely an Anton or possibly a Randy.

So I go out on the internets to the google and I find that Anagrams is one of Handler's favorite novels and that he admits to shameless borrowing from Moore, and that Handler's novel Adverbs was "stolen completely from Anagrams."

And now I'm going to have to read Adverbs to detect all the bits stolen from Anagrams.

And maybe, find a character named Lorrie Moore hidden within its pages.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

We're selecting the next group read this week at the Slaves of Golconda. If you'd like to participate, come over and let us know the book you'd like to discuss with us in late January.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A new challenge

Michelle at Overdue Books has proposed a reading challenge that will run through the end of January: the From the Stacks Winter Challenge.

If you are anything like me your stack of purchased to-be-read books is teetering over. So for this challenge we would be reading 5 books that we have already purchased, have been meaning to get to, have been sitting on the nightstand and haven't read before. No going out and buying new books. No getting sidetracked by the lure of the holiday bookstore displays.

Three months of reading what's already at hand. That's an awfully long time, isn't it?

I need a challenge like this. I hope I can do it.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen random things about my current reading life:

1. C. placed "a definite must read" on my desk for me today. I scooped it up with a couple of books I'd brought from home when it was time to leave the library, forgetting to desensitize it. It is embarrassing to set off the gate alarm with a book called Old Filth.

2. I am very behind in my Proust reading--haven't picked up In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower since late September. I'm hoping to make a good deal of progress in it this weekend.

3. I read Katherine Mansfield's story "At the Bay" last night and am looking forward to its discussion at A Curious Singularity.

4. I read chapter four (paragraphs) in Reading Like a Writer tonight.

5. An Amazon package was thrown on my front porch today! In it was Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native (can't believe I've never read this one) and C.S. Forester's Beat to Quarters.

6. Claire Tomalin's bio of Thomas Hardy is being published in the U.S. in January. I have a coupon already earmarked for it.

7. I found it difficult not to continue reading The Red and the Black once I'd finished the first batch of chapters for discussion next week.

8. I've read the first two or three letters in Diane Smith's Letters from Yellowstone and think it will be a good choice to take to the polls with me on Tuesday.

9. I'll probably also take Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn.

10. Three hundred pages to go in The Italian!

11. A new story by Lorrie Moore is always a thrill. I'm forcing myself to wait until the weekend to read it.

12. Litlove's post on Indiana proves that yes, I am a philistine.

13. Even so, I am really looking forward to reading lots of classics next year.
This week My Bookstore features books I hope to have read by the end of the year.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

RIP Challenge

Carl's RIP Challenge ended yesterday and although I'd intended to write lengthy separate posts on all the books I'd read for the challenge, here I am a day late and a dollar short with no more than a few brief words on books I happened to enjoy.

I'm such a bad blogger.

I read James Meek's The People's Act of Love back in September and it will definitely be found on my year's best list no matter how badly I short-shrift it here. The setting is an isolated village in Siberia near the end of the Russian revolution. A small band of Czech soldiers stationed there would like to return home, but their captain's gone insane and prefers to stay. Most of the villagers are religious castrates; their leader, however, had been married before his conversion, and his beautiful, angry "widow" and their son have now taken up residency in the town. Into the mix comes Samarin, an escaped political prisoner from a remote camp, telling of a fellow excapee who'd intended to cannibalize him and is fast on his heels.

'I don't care about that!' shouted Anna. "I don't care, do you understand? I don't care about heavens and hells and gods and demons and tsars and empires and communists and the people this and the people that. Don't tell me any more. I want something for my son's wound and whatever kind of forest witchery comes with it doesn't matter, d'you see?'

If the thought of Dostoyevsky makes you happy, then this is a book you'll want to read.

And if you're still mourning the cancellation of Deadwood, then Oakley Hall's Warlock will be a great comfort. When the mining town of Warlock is terrorized by rustlers who've run off the deputy and killed a nervous barber, the citizens committee, frustrated by the county's refusal to provide protection to the town, takes matters into their own hands. They bring in gunman Clay Blaisdell, the owner of a pair of gold-handled pistols and a lofty reputation, to civilize the town. After a gun battle based loosely on the shootout at the OK Corrall occurs, public opinion, once solidly in Blaisdell's favor, begins to waver. His friendship with nasty saloon owner Tom Morgan, who has an agenda that conflicts with Blaisdell's own, as well as that of Blaidell's new girlfriend, is a cause of concern.

Warlock must also deal with a mining strike and come to terms with its new deputy John Gannon, whose former association with the rustlers towns people find hard to forget. A general gone crazy and the threat of an Indian attack also cause havoc in the town before a final showdown and its aftermath lead to conflagration.

Now the fuse was lit; he vaulted the tie rail, and his boots sank into the soft dust of the street. The sun sat on the peaks, blood-red, like the yolk of a bad egg. He shivered a little in the wind as he turned his back on the sun. He laughed to see the men scampering along the boardwalks as he swaggered out into the street. He had seen towns shot up before. The best he had ever seen at it was Ben Nicholson, but he could beat that. He spat out his cigar, raised Dawson's Colt, and pulled the trigger again. With the blast rocking in his ears he began to howl like a coyote, an Apache, and a rebel all rolled into one.

"Yah--hoo!" he yelled. "I am the worst man in the West! I am the Black Rattlesnake of Warlock! My mother was a timber wolf and my daddy a mountain lion, and I strangled them both the day I was born!"

A great vacation read.

And with Cormac McCarthy's The Road, we're now back to cannibalism. I gulped this one in one setting, the first day back after vacation. It's stylistically very different from Suttree, which I read and loved earlier in the year, more Hemingway than Faulkner this time, but just as worthy of a second more contemplative read. Everyone's reviewing and blogging about this one this month, so I'll just say this is the bleakest post-apocalyptic novel I've read and the best, and leave it at that.

His dreams brightened. The vanished world returned. Kin long dead washed up and cast fey sidewise looks upon him. None spoke. He thought of his life. So long ago. A gray day in a foreign city where he stood in a window and watched the street below. Behind him on a wooden table a small lamp burned. On the table books and papers. It had begun to rain and a cat at the corner turned and crossed the sidewalk and sat beneath the cafe awning. There was a woman at a table there with her head in her hands. Years later he'd stood in the charred ruins of a library where blackened books lay in pools of water. Shelves tipped over. Some rage at the lies arranged in their thousands row on row. He picked up one of the books and thumbed through the heavy bloated pages. He'd not have thought the value of the smallest thing predicated on a world to come. It surprised him. That the space which these things occupied was itself an expectation. He let the book fall and took a last look around and made his way out into the cold gray light.

The Italian, Ann Radcliffe's Gothic tale, is still in progress.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Birthday booty

I think if I requested books for Christmas this year everyone I know would break out in hysterical laughter.

Indiana by George Sand

Judging from everyone else's response, I appear to be the only one who did not like Indiana. I started the book convinced that I'd enjoy it immensely--George Sand! At last!--but I quickly grew so annoyed that I never would have finished if it hadn't been for the Slaves.

Sand's prefaces inform me that the novel is about societal oppression of the individual, the injustice of marriage laws, and can be regarded as a way of fighting against the public opinion that slows the modification of these. Well, yes. Indiana is sorely oppressed--she's had no education and she's married off to a much older man whom she detests-- and society turns against her when she attempts to leave her husband for the silver-tongued devil who's stolen her heart. But I evidently require my fictional victim of society to make more of an attempt to better her lot in life than Indiana can manage. Indiana's primary problem is she lives long before she can be prescribed a lengthy course of antidepressants. Her depression is the true oppressor, and it appears to be genetic in origin, since her cousin Ralph's solution to problems usually involves an attempt at suicide.

And since I've brought up the subject of suicide, may I just say how weird I found Ralph and Indiana's great plan to end their lives? They hit upon the notion in Paris, travel by slow boat to Bourbon Island, and it never once crosses either of their minds during all this time that the "angel of Abraham and Tobias" does not condone suicide, that the eternity they plan to spend together is not going to be "in God's bosom." I'm assuming based on the mention of Tobias that they are Catholic; depression is clearly preventing them from thinking the least bit clearly.

And sometimes I wonder just how clearly Sand was thinking. At times Indiana seems lacking in inner consistency. We begin the novel believing M. Delmare, Indiana's husband, to be very abusive and violent; she begs him not to kill Ralph's dog when he complains that the dog needs to be put outside in the kennel: "Had anyone then observed Madame Delmare closely, he might have guessed the painful secret of her whole life in the trivial, commonplace incident." Yet later much time is spent establishing that Indiana could have had total control over her husband if she'd made the least effort to do so. By the time M. Delmare finds and reads Indiana's cache of love letters from Raymon, I'd begun to feel rather sorry for him. He's gruff and possibly verbally abusive, but he's clearly never even had relations with his young wife (why couldn't she have her marriage annulled, by the way? Was this simply not done in France at the time?) and suffers from so many ailments of the old and afflicted, that I was rather inclined not to find his subsequent act of violence against Indiana nearly as horrific as I expect I ought to have done. Dementia patients aren't held accountable for their violent outbursts in the same way a younger person's would be, and when M. Delmare collapses and dies soon after, I felt a bit sorry for him. He'd been acting childish for quite some time.

Indiana is described as such a wet noodle that I was surprised when she's presented as an enthusiastic hunter: how can she gallop and presumably jump a hunter (an unknown one at that) when she's so weak and frail? And if she's such an expert, why ever was she so disturbed that her husband had killed a hunting dog (that she wasn't fond of) when it proved unmanageable? We learn a lot about the characters on the hunt, and M. Delmare's fall provides an opening for Raymon to ingratiate himself into the family, but this is the point when I really wanted to abandon the book--why couldn't Sand have established earlier that Indiana loved to ride, it wouldn't have taken more than a sentence or two to do so. I lost confidence in her here.

And why are we supposed to believe in the narrator, when it is finally revealed to us who the narrator is? Raymon's thoughts and motivations, the same as Noun's, could never be known by such a narrator, nor from the character who told the story to him. Much of the story we've been told is undermined by revealing who the narrator is, yet I don't believe we're meant to regard him as unreliable.

I don't believe I'll be reading any more George Sand, but I feel like such a philistine since everyone else liked this one!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

What is Ellie thinking?

Probably oh, no. Nap time's over. Here she comes with that stupid camera again. . .

Or possibly, shouldn't she--that camera-snapping fiend-- be working on her Indiana post for the Slaves of Golconda?

Carnival of the Cats will be at Watermark this evening. I bet I don't have an Indiana post until tomorrow. And if I did, Blogger more than likely wouldn't publish it.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Am I the last one to know that Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) and Michael J. Fox are brothers-in-law?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

This week My Bookstore is filled with memoirs I've enjoyed.
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next 4 sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.

This was definitely the closest of all:

Indeed, he was not lying when he told her that she was the only love of his life; he had never before loved so purely nor for such a long time. In her presence he would forget everything that was not her. Society and politics were erased from his memory. He was happy with this domestic life, with the family routine which she created for him. He admired her patience and her strength.

Can you guess the book?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Five Things About Me

It seems silly to do the Five Things About Me meme when I did a Thirteen Things About Me earlier in the month, but all I happen to be reading at the moment is Indiana, which I can't talk about yet, and I'm still too lazy to work on the write-ups for the three RIP Challenge books I owe reports on or for Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Do you know that there are already people coming to the blog searching for the Cliff's Notes to Special Topics in Calamity Physics? I don't get it; it was just published in August. Can it already be required reading for a class? Do they want an explanation for the chapter titles or is it the exam at the end that they're looking for answers to? Maybe all they want is a summary so they can pretend they've read it. But why?

Listen up, such people: you'll get no answers here. This blog prides itself on providing no useful information to those who are reading because they have to. Your teacher doesn't care what I think.

Ahem. Five things.

1. Yesterday was pages turned's second birthday and my 47th. One of us is very old and needs more exercise. My party will be on Sunday (I'm expecting lots of books for presents), but we celebrated yesterday by going out to lunch at my favorite Chinese restaurant. And then we came home and watched the first act in the Kenneth Branagh version of Hamlet.

2. I am told that my sense of humor is dry and rather dark. An insightful friend once told me that my face does not match my sense of humor and that is why my wisecracks can be regarded as serious statements by those who don't know me well. When I was in high school I had to have a small cyst removed from my cheek. I covered the one stitch with a tiny bandage. The cutest guy in our class (a snare drummer who had never spoken to me before) asked me why I had a bandage on my cheek. I told him I had cut myself shaving. He backed away with a scared look on his face and never spoke to me again. I already knew he was dumb; why did I think he'd get my attempt at a joke?

3. My husband and I once belonged to a square dance club. I expect if we were to ever move back to my hometown that we'd rejoin. Square dancing is dorky, but fun.

4. I am not the least bit afraid of spiders or snakes, but I cannot abide roaches and ticks literally give me nightmares. I have felt sick to my stomach since unexpectedly encountering this at Snail's Tales. (Snails I love).

5. I don't eat red foods.

Monday, October 23, 2006

So this kid--freshman, possibly even still a high school student--comes to the desk tonight for headphones.

He then says something that sounds as if he's asking if he can take the headphones downstairs.

Sure, I say.

No, he says; I've misunderstood. He tries again. His accent is very strong, but it still sounds as if he wants to know if he can take the headphones downstairs where his brother is.

He tries a third time and finally I understand him: he doesn't know how to get downstairs. He is standing no more than 15 steps from an open set of stairs and the elevator, also clearly visible from the desk, is no more than 25 steps away and he doesn't know how to get downstairs.

His eyes light up when I say the word "elevator" and he departs down the staircase once I point it out to him.

My question is: how did he manage to get upstairs?

New use for old textbooks, but. . .

"There are some rifles not even Webster's Dictionary will stop."

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Court and the Castle

I'm sure it'll will be weeks if not months before I get around to reading Rebecca West's The Court and the Castle, a volume of lectures delivered at Yale in the 1950s, although I definitely want to do so. But I wanted to give a heads-up on the book now since it appears to be one that would appeal to quite a few (and is unfortunately out of print): lots of attention given to Hamlet and Proust and quite a few authors whose names have been popping on classics tbr lists over the last several days.

Here's a taste from the first chapter:

"For any authentic work of art must start an argument between the artist and his audience. The artist creates that work of art by analyzing an experience and synthesizing the results of his analysis into a form which excites an appetitie for further experience. If the experience which he has chosen as his subject is felt by his fellow men to be unimportant, the work of art is likely to be forgotten, even though his analysis may be intelligently conducted. A large number of modern novels fall into this category. If the experience be not important, and the analysis incomplete, but the symthesis be contrived in an enticing form, the work of art will be noted and will be subjected to a criticism of a purely superficial nature. This is the most popular form of art, and is rewarded by contemporary acceptance. But if the experience be one generally felt as important, the analysis scrupulous and searching, and the synthesis exciting, criticism will become a matter of either surrender or attack on the part of the reader. A major work of art must change the aspect of reality, for it is an experience of the order which breaks up the present as we know it, transforming it into the past and giving us a new present, which we may like better or less than we liked the one just taken from us. It must have a bearing on the question which concerns us most deeply of all: whether the universe is good or bad. If a work of art should make a revelation which discredits what most human beings wish to believe, they will try to expose it as unsound. If they cannot do that, if the point the artist makes is incontrovertible, they may undertake the defense of their shattered universe in another way. They may pretend that he wrote something quite other than what he did. Then it is that the long life-span of literature is a source of danger, for though it gives the writer a many-branched and deep-rooted tradition to uphold him, it also gives time for his readers to repeat these defense tactics to the point of success. The repetition may be carried on so extensively through the centuries that in time a very large number of persons among those who have relations with literature, who move within the sphere of culture, may be under the impression that the content of a famous work of art is not that which the artist has carefully set down on his page.

This is surely what has happend to the play of Hamlet, and it is unfortunate that it should be so, for there has thus been obscured Shakespeare's development of a theme which runs through Western literature and has often provided genius with its material. This distortion was far from inevitable, for there is nothing obscure about the content of Hamlet. The action, though it follows an arbitrary time-scheme, is definite enough; and the language is as sharply explicit as it is in Macbeth, more so than it is in Othello or King Lear. But the practice of misreading the character of Hamlet, and hence the significance of the play, had been carried on by generation after generation of persons interested in the play on widely different levels, all over the world; by many scholars, by people who are true readers--that is, who read all their lives--as well as by people who read only when they are at school or the university, by people who do not read at all but who have see a version of the play acted in a theater or as a film or on television or heard it on the radio, and by people who have no immediate knowledge of the play at all but have simply acquired a knowledge of it by repercussion from these other classes. A host of such people, vastly as they differ from one another intellectually and socially, misread the character of Hamlet in exactly the same way. They see him as a symbol of irresolution; and their unanimity is remarkable if it be considered that there is no justification for this view in the text.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Okay, so I decided only one short month ago that I wouldn't stockpile books. And granted, the stack above has all the markings of yet another stockpile.

But I did leave myself a caveat when I made the buy-and-read policy: I could still buy whatever I wanted at the used bookstore since I can't control when I might stumble upon an interesting book at a good price there. And these lovelies were all too good to pass up.

I do so love a caveat.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Friday cat blogging

Claudius and Nicholson consider the top of the sofa in the study their favorite hangout. Easy access to the window, plenty of room for joint naps, and they can keep tabs on who's using the computer across the room.

Animals will be boarding the Friday Ark all day today. The Carnival of the Cats will be at Cat Call on Sunday.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen classics I'd like to read in 2007:

1. Charterhouse of Parma. Stendhal
2. Germinal. Zola
3. Tristram Shandy. Sterne
4. A Sentimental Journey. Sterne
5. Buddenbrooks. Mann
6. The Woodlanders. Hardy
7. The Turn of the Screw. James
8. The Idiot. Dostoyevsky
9. Robinson Crusoe. Defoe
10. The Cherry Orchard. Chekhov
11. Paradise Lost. Milton
12. The Blithedale Romance. Hawthorne
13. The Metamorphoses. Ovid

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Talking Heads

TV's hand puppets don't ooze out one word
These days about Iraq's oil. That can be taken
For granted. Anyone tuned-in will have heard
Strong-arm democracy brings home the bacon.
Once we've inflicted freedom and secured
Men's good will, we'll sleep sound, dream right, then wake

To heaped-up platters. Nobody's been forbidden
To mention things that nobody dares think--
That's honor among thieves. Loot, once hidden,
Can still be leached off quicker than a wink.
Where's your cut of the stash gone? Check your eyelids:
Sly thieves and robber barons never blink.

Slick puppet masters have to keep count who's
Made a killing and who's been double-crossed
To bury that on the dark side of the news,
The brain's recycle bin. True recall might cost
Friends, income, or a life too good to lose.
Analysts sometimes ask how decent Germans,
Facing a sudden scarcity of Jews,
Maintained their ignorance of the Holocaust:
None mentions just how many we let squirm
And twist at rope's end for their predetermined,
Preemptive wars. But then, of course, they lost.

--W.D. Snodgrass, Not For Specialists: New and Selected Poems
This week My Bookstore is showcasing several my kids have enjoyed. (I can tell the bookstore is going to be the depository of all my nervous energy for awhile.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

R.I.P. Challenge: Harriet Hume

I conceived of my Rebecca West project --to read all of her fiction, in order published-- not long after reading The Return of the Soldier, a slim, every-word-tells account of a battle-injured man who returns home without a memory of the last 15 years of his life. I became even more of a West fan after reading The Judge, a great big sprawl of a novel that H.G. Wells made sure West knew he hated.

He was enthusiastic over her third, Harriet Hume, which she called a fantasy, not a novel; but then, main character Arnold Condorex was modeled on ambitious men of Wells' type, and Harriet herself was an embodiment of his belief in "the essential 'secondariness' of women," according to the Glendinning bio.

After an afternoon of love-making, Harriet Hume discovers that she can read Condorex' mind. She is dismayed to learn that no matter how idyllic their love, it is much more important for Condorex, a man without family or financial connections, to rise to political power than to remain with her. She lets him go without a fuss.

Aggressive and lacking scruples, Condorex manages to exalt himself to a lordship in large part due to his invention of a ficticious country in the far east on which he speaks most elegantly and knowingly. He marries for money and connection. Periodically he will run into Harriet Hume, largely unchanged, and realize that an unnerving connection remains between them: she can still read his mind and unearth the nasty truths he's managed to keep hidden from himself.

Twenty years later, financially and politically destroyed, abandoned by his friends, Condorex sets off to kill Harriet, his opposite, and thus, to his crazed mind, the author of his ruin. Harriet has told him earlier that she will not allow him to kill her, that it is her one duty not to die, so when he shows up in her garden brandishing a pistol, she calls the police.

"Oh, God above," he muttered, squirming and looking from the face of one to another and seeing nothing but patches of white dimness between a helmet and a chin-strap. "Has my opposite not only done me all this spiritual mischief, but has raised up a material army against me also!"

From this point on I cannot speak definitively. I think readers are supposed to believe that Condorex killed himself back in his study before setting off to Harriet's house, and that Harriet herself was buried a few days earlier in her hometown ("I was obliged to go there to assist at a religious ceremony," replied Harriet, "since they informed me they could not well have it without me.") but I can't quite square that with the conversation Condorex has with his servants after leaving the study or with Harriet's need to call the police, even if they are ghosts. Or why she says she won't allow Condorex to kill her. At any rate, once Harriet gets her house clean and permits Condorex to come in, the policemen wish them "A Very Happy Eternity."

And honestly, I just don't care to attempt to make sense out of it. West deliberately writes in an affected, archaic style (one V. Woolf would call "foppish") which I didn't enjoy in the least and sometimes couldn't make heads or tails of--there were three or four times in a descriptive passage when I just had to admit defeat and move on; repeated readings were not going to reveal the sense in a sentence inexplicable to me.

And I winced every time Harriet opened her mouth: she mews, she bleats, she sobs and she trills and titters. Condorex thinks of her most condescendingly: the little slut, the little hussy, the little silly dish of curds and whey. Ugh.

Fortunately for my Rebecca West project, the book is regarded an an aberation: critics "have tended to pass over Harriet Hume rapidly, labelling it mannered and insubstantial." For the R.I.P. Challenge, it was perfect--discussions of ghosts and other imaginary beings, London described as being "the colour of a grave," dead people at the end, and of course the unsettling notion of having every thought you have being transmitted into the mind of a woman who will then know you better than you know yourself.

If you're an ambitious man like Wells or Arnold Condorex, it will help if the woman who knows you also knows her place. Titter, titter.

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...