Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Three Confessions (Or Why I Don't Have a Dorian Gray post)

At the end of chapter ten of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lord Henry gives Dorian a yellow book, one that will influence him for years to come:

It was a novel without a plot, and with only one character, being, indeed, simply a psychological study of a certain young Parisian, who spent his life trying to realise in the nineteenth centry all the passions and modes of thought that belonged to every century except his own, and to sum up, as it were, in himself the various moods through which the world-spirit had ever passed, loving for their mere artificiality those renunciations that men have unwisely called virtue as much as those natural rebellions that wise men still call sin. The style in which it was written was that curious jewelled style, vivid and obscure at once, full of argot and of archaisms, of technical expressions and of elaborate paraphrases, that characterises the work of some of the finest artists of the French school of Symbolistes. There were in it metaphors as monstrous as orchids, and as subtle in colour. The life of the senses was described in the terms of mystical philosophy. One hardly knew at times whether one was reading the spiritual ecstasies of some mediaeval saint or the morbid confessions of a modern sinner. It was a poisonous book. The heavy odour of incense seemed to cling about its pages and to trouble the brain. The mere cadence of the sentences, the subtle monotony of their music, so full as it was of complex refrains and movements elaborately repeated, produced in the mind of the lad, as he passed from chapter to chapter, a form of reverie, a malady of dreaming, that made him unconscious of the falling day and creeping shadows.

Because I read The Little Professor, I learned a month ago that this yellow book wasn't a product of Wilde's imagination, but was in fact recognized as being Joris-Karl Huysman's Against Nature, a book previously unknown to me, but readily available in an Oxford World's Classics edition in the library.

Confession No. One: I'd read The Picture of Dorian Gray prior to its selection as a Slave of Golconda title, but since my reading took place in the fall of 2004, I was having difficulty working up enough enthusiasm for a reread quite so soon, especially since I feel I'm reading at sloth speed these days. I was, however, fascinated by Miriam Burstein's contention that chapter eleven of the Wilde was plagiarized from the Huysmans. How could it be regarded as a plagiary instead of a homage if people at the time of DG's publication knew what the yellow book he referred to was supposed to be? Wouldn't a mere footnote suffice to educate those not already in-the-know?

My views on plagiarism were formed by Doris Betts, who I had for two English classes, including a creative writing one, all those years ago in Chapel Hill. Betts still tops my Brilliant While Being Totally Moral About It list, and she was delighted when one of my classmates brought in a strange story about a weird tree. Turns out my classmate's roommate had turned in his own weird tree story the previous semester, and Betts, married to an attorney, seized upon this usurpation of another's idea to make sure that we knew it was perfectly all right to do so. She said there was no way any of us could possibly come up with the EXACT story the other had in mind and we should therefore not worry about where we stole our ideas from.

Of course, stealing another person's words does fall under the legal definition of plagiarism, so I decided to reread only chapter eleven of Dorian Gray and then read Against Nature. I could decide for myself if Wilde had plagiarized Huysmans.

Confession No. Two: I suck. I totally suck. I read the prologue, I read enough to know that in chapter eleven Dorian models himself completely on Duc Jean Fioressas des Esseintes, the neurotic and effete aesthete the novel revolves around, and while I truly intended to read Against Nature, I could not muster the wherewithal to do so. I'm quite good at my own brand of decadence, which involves turning a blind eye to piles of clutter so I can read and consuming a liberal supply of chocolate while I do so, but compared to des Esseintes', mine was sure to be revealed as mere slovenliness, at which point I would need to cut down on my evil ways or amp them up considerably, leaving me no spare time to read about indulgent nineteenth century Frenchmen anyway. And really, cultivating or affecting utter amorality at this point in my life would just be absurd.

Confession No. Three: I'd assiduously avoided reading Dorian Gray until 2004 out of the conviction that it just wasn't very good. Why did I hold this idea? Because one of my friends had written her 12th grade research paper on it. This particular friend had a reputation for being rather superficial and shallow—compared to the rest of us—and her enthusiasm for a supposedly superficial and shallow character screamed Don't Bother to a gal from out in the county such as myself, one trying desperately to navigate the social rivers of my high school with only an intellectual paddle at her disposal. I myself wrote my senior paper on Kafka's The Castle, and while that seems shrug-worthy now, at the time it distinguished me, most tellingly in college the next year, when a weird guy in my French class asked me out immediately after I'd revealed that bit of information.

Such is life in North Carolina, all surface and symbol.

And I'm terribly sorry I suck.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Writers are natural murderers. Their murderousness is a form of sociopathy, fueled by resentment, scorn, glee, and deep affection. Before they can even begin writing, they must kill off parents, siblings, lovers, mentors, friends—anyone, in short, whose opinion might matter. If these people are left alive and allowed to take up residence in the front row of the audience, the writer will never be able to get the fiction right. More than this, she will never want to get it right. What she must do, if the fiction is to take breath, is to defictionalise the life, to disentangle it from the myths and fictions that we all create in order to control what we cannot alter. And then to work down, down, down, to the morally anaerobic heart of the matter within.

--Lynn Freed, Reading, Writing, and Leaving Home

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Two reasons to read Rick Bass' essay "Shy"

When you are shy like this, you feel a million miles away from anything, from everything, and you want to come closer, but cannot bear to bring yourself in; and of course, part of you does not want to come in—but also when you are a million miles out, you can see things, and you’re free just to stand there and watch, and things that are sometimes ordinary seem to you, to your shy little mind, in the outback, the last outpost, pretty and special. They are ordinary to everyone else, but to your never-experienced-any-of-these-things little mind, they’re beautiful, and you feel like falling over on your back, upturned, like a turtle.


When you’re shy, and a writer, it’s not the same as being just, say, shy and a mechanic, or shy and a typist: I mean, people know you’re watching them. It’s like you’ve lost all your privacy—you can’t even stand in a crowd and be quiet and watch things, because they know what you’re up to—and then if that crowd happens to be other writers, well, that’s the worst, it’s just the absolute worst.

Am I the last to know about Narrative Magazine? Registration is free, and in addition to the Rick Bass essay in the current issue, you can find works by Tobias Wolff and Jane Smiley and Joyce Carol Oates in the archives.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

So this was it

So this was it, Mom thought. She had managed to fool an entire university through the force of will alone, and she had come within inches of making a clean escape. But Dr. Reiss could see through her, could see the whole bleak story: the scholarship to Miami University she'd sacrificed at sixteen to marry my father, who she thought was twenty-six years old and a pilot. (He was eighteen and a gambler.) The twenty-four years of poverty and terror and ennui; the sexy, unpredictable man who managed it all, dominated everyone around him, animals even. Her children, who had never before had any reason to be proud of her, and who now saw her in a new way, children she had adored and ignored simultaneously, because she simply could not get up off the couch, she could not clean a condemned house with no running water, she could not cook meals with food that didn't exist or wash clothes without a washing machine. Without clothes. She couldn't drive a car she didn't have, without a license she couldn't acquire. She had taken her vows and then they had taken her, and the forces amassed against her were greater than love, greater than obligation. They were elemental, heavy as a dead planet. Onc chance—that's what she had seen she had—one flying leap that was really composed of eight thousand separate possibilities for falling, and she had taken that chance and come this far and been found out. And in a stupid class full of selfish, self-indulgent, narcissistic, spoiled children who were encouraged by Dr. Reiss to talk talk talk about their feelings, when what they ought to have been doing was shutting up and studying the conversations of their elders and superiors. It was here? Here she would be done in?

--Haven Kimmel, She Got Up Off the Couch

Friday, February 24, 2006

She Got Up Off the Couch

I didn't mention it at the time because I didn't want to upset anyone who might happen to be mentioned on the acknowledgments page if I didn't get around to it, but my hold on Haven Kimmel's She Got Up Off the Couch came in a couple weeks ago. I wasn't sure if I needed to read A Girl Named Zippy again for a refresher before attempting it, but yesterday, realizing I wouldn't be able to renew due to the waiting list and that it might be months before I saw the book again, I decided to give it a try.

Two pages into the preface—I myself have been known to wince as if stabbed with wide-bore needles when faced with yet another coming-of-age memoir—and I was hooked. I'm a third of the way through and already wishing it were longer. Kimmel's voice sounds like home to me and I just want to wallow in it.

I'll be reading this every chance I get today.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Mystery quote

I won the latest round of Mystery Quote (Steven Millhauser, Edwin Mullhouse) at Readerville and this is the quote I posted this morning:

"He was now in full possession of his physical senses. They were, indeed, preternaturally keen and alert. Something in the awful disturbance of his organic system had so exalted and refined them that they made record of things never before perceived. He felt the ripples upon his face and heard their separate sounds as they struck. He looked at the forest on the bank of the stream, saw the individual trees, the leaves and the veining of each leaf--saw the very insects upon them: the locusts, the brilliant-bodied flies, the gray spiders stretching their webs from twig to twig. He noted the prismatic colors in all the dewdrops upon a million blades of grass. The humming of the gnats that danced above the eddies of the stream, the beating of the dragonflies' wings, the strokes of the water-spiders' legs, like oars which had lifted their boat--all these made audible music. A fish slid along beneath his eyes and he heard the rush of its body parting the water."

Anyone recognize it?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

If I were rich I would have many books, and I would pamper myself with bindings bright to the eye and soft to the touch, paper generously opaque, and type such as men designed when printing was very young. I would dress my gods in leather and gold, and burn candles of worship before them at night, and string their names like beads on a rosary.

--Will Durant

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Non-bookish meme stuff

Jill tagged me for the Sevens meme back before Christmas and while I intended to answer, my tendency to procrastinate got the better of me. Seven of anything is an exhausting amount!

Then Carol tagged me with an email meme yesterday. I decided to answer Carol's meme on the blog, in deference to the meme I didn't do for Jill.

(If anyone remains unannoyed by this chain of events, let me know. I'm sure it can be arranged.)

1. What time did you get up this morning? Sevenish.

2. Diamonds or pearls? I would like an emerald, thankyouverymuch

3. What was the last film you saw at the theater? Brokeback Mountain

4. Favorite TV Show? Currently don't have one, but eager for the new season of Deadwood to start

5. What did you have for breakfast? Had a migraine, so I didn't eat a thing.

6. What is your middle name? Susan

7. What is your favorite cuisine? Japanese

8. What foods do you dislike? Tomatoes

9. Your favorite Potato chip? Prefer corn chips--Fritos

10. What is your favorite CD at the moment? This is the hardest question. It's, um, ah, well, I've been listening to a lot of Emmylou Harris lately.

11. What kind of car do you drive? PT Cruiser

12. What characteristics do you despise? Rudeness, sanctimoniousness, untruthfulness, histrionics

14. Favorite items of clothing? Jeans, T-shirts

15. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go? Iceland and Italy

16. What color is your bathroom? Blue

17. Favorite brand of clothing? Don’t have a clue

18. Where would you retire? North Carolina mountains

19. Favorite time of day? Morning

20. Where were you born? North Carolina

21. Favorite sport to watch? Horse-racing

24. What laundry detergent do you use? Tide unscented

25. Coke or Pepsi? Coke

26. Are you a morning person or night owl? Morning

27. What size shoe do you wear? 8.5 or 9

28. Do you have pets? All pet slots are currently filled. . . Three cats, three parrots and a pug

29. What would you like to share with your friends? A camping trip in Utah

30. What (who) did you want to be when you were little? A cowboy

31. Favorite Candy Bar? Turtles

32. What is your best childhood memory? Riding horses with my cousins

33. What are the different jobs you have had in your life? Reporter, teacher, writing proficiency test scorer/instructor and library worker

36. Piercing? Ears – one in each

37. Eye color: Blue

38. Ever been to Africa? No

39. Ever been toilet papering? No

40. Love someone so much it made you cry? Yes

41. Been in a car accident? Only if being the last car hit in a four-car bash-up counts

42. Croutons or bacon bits? Both

43. Favorite day of the week? Thursday—I've always enjoyed anticipating the weekend

44. Favorite restaurant? Ishi's (Japanese)

45. Favorite flower? Iris

46. Favorite ice cream? Vanilla-chocolate swirl

47. Disney or Warner Brothers? Neither

48. Favorite fast food restaurant? No longer in existence—Holly Farms Fried Chicken

49. What color is your bedroom carpet? Beige

50. How many times did you fail your driver's test? One

51. Before this one, from whom did you get your last e-mail? Someone from the Dwight Yoakam mailing list announcing that the tickets for the concert next month in Fayetteville go on sale this Friday.

52. Which store would you choose to max out your Credit Card? Ethan Allen or any bookstore

53. What do you do most often when you are bored? Imagine stuff

54. Bedtime? Elevenish

56. Last person you went to dinner with? Husband and son

57. Ford or Chevy? Have owned two Fords in my life, which doesn't necessarily make me a fan

58. What are you listening to right now? Dog at the bottom of the stairs barking for someone to come carry her up the stairs

59. What is your favorite color? Green

60. Lake, Ocean or River? River

61. How many tattoos do you have? None

62. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The egg

66. Where would you go for a girls/guys weekend get-a-way? Washington, DC

67. What you'd do if you had to select another career? Get a master's degree first

69. Favorite Family Vacation? London

70. All Time Favorite Concert? Dwight Yoakam in the Long Branch Saloon, Raleigh, 2000.

Monday, February 20, 2006

If this blog were a magazine. . .

Make your own magazine cover. (Via Circle of Quiet and Mental Multivitamin)

Eight readerly things about my weekend

1. I (mentally) slapped myself around on Friday and was thereafter able to pick up the pace where New Grub Street was concerned, finishing it late Saturday morning. This book drove me back to drink. I'd not brought Coke into the house in weeks, limiting myself to an occasional soft drink when eating out, but L. wisely bought a carton of little bottles instead of the two-liter I'd stated, upon finishing the Gissing, I was going to buy to drown my despair in. Consuming a mere 12-ounces a day undermines the entire gesture, though my thighs do thank him.

2. Became convinced that Gissing's Edwin Reardon and Harold Biffen would have fared much better if they'd moved from London to the outskirts of Concord and become neighbors of Mr. Thoreau. At the very least, the fresh air and vegetables of Walden would have done them all a world of good.

3. Read two more chapters in Feed My Dear Dogs. I'd like to say that I'll definitely have this one finished by the end of the month, but the chapters are lengthy and dense, and it may well take me into March.

4. Was receiving more hits than usual via Library Thing, so I checked my library-size status there and saw I was in danger of falling off the100-largest list. Ack! Did enough cataloging on Saturday to keep myself from falling into obscurity for a bit longer.

5. Started The People's Act of Love. Was rather "eh" about the first chapter, but thought the second was fabulous.

6. I haven't attempted audiobooks since the problems with the Didion in December, but L. loaded the first part to Don't Know Much About Mythology before we went to the gym Sunday afternoon. I listened happily for 12 minutes until the "new" battery went out. The Fates are surely against me when it comes to audiobooks.

7. Returned an armload of unread books to the library Sunday afternoon, then wandered forlornly through the aisles, not finding anything that could overcome the What's the Point? I Won't Have Time to Read You If I Take You Home Now malaise, until I chanced upon Ronan Bennett's Havoc, In Its Third Year.

8. Also chanced upon Audrey Niffenegger 's The Three Incestuous Sisters, of which the woman at the check-out desk said she was eager to hear my opinion. After reading it at work last night, my opinion is that the spare text adds nothing necessary to the project; there should have been either none, since the aquatints clearly tell more of the story than the words do, or the text should have been used to fill in a few plot holes instead of merely reiterating what's in the prints. Why did Paris abandon his son, claiming later that he thought he was dead? Why didn't Clothilde clothe the boy once she rescued him from the circus? Invisibility lessons are all well and good, but I'm convinced jeans and a T-shirt are in order for those family picnics among the tombstones.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Ellie in the Box

Ellie's favorite toy is a pillow box. She won't let Claudius or Nicholson near it, but she expects available humans to drop what they're doing several times a day to play another round of Attack the Box. This has been going on for weeks and she's yet to grow tired of the game.

Check out Carnival of the Cats this evening at Bloggin' Outloud.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Was there ever any doubt?

You scored as Serenity (Firefly). You like to live your own way and don't enjoy when anyone but a friend tries to tell you should do different. Now if only the Reavers would quit trying to skin you.

Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with QuizFarm.com

Friday, February 17, 2006

My official reading shelf for 2006. One completed (H. D. Thoreau), one currently in Chapel Hill (Rebecca West) with my daughter.

That spooky part of the day

One time Ben hid in the cupboard under the stairs and recorded our war game on his little tape machine. Jude and I were camping on the first landing of the staircase as it makes a fine clifftop in Normandy when a clifftop in Normandy is needed. We had scaled the cliff in a night-time op, losing a few commandos in the attempt (all played by me) and when Jude spoke his big pre-raid speech to all his men (all played by me) it was what I would call a grave moment and quite moving. Later on though, Ben played it all back to us in front of Dad during that spooky part of the day when you are slipping out of being a British commando, say, and stepping back into your own body and gazing around at your family and thinking about them and supper and the night falling. It's not a time anyone should mess with, and Ben messed with it that one time, hauling out our commando selves when it was not fitting, and though Jude said nothing at all, my stomach hurt, because I thought he had spoken a fine pre-raid speech but Ben and Dad were creasing up like crazy so my cheeks blazed Ribena colour and the word traitor came to mind as I watched Ben who had become a stranger for a day. Oh no, not Ben, why Ben?

--Emma Richler, Feed My Dear Dogs

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Brit Hume: Now, is it clear that -- he had caught part of the shot, is that right?

Dick Cheney: -- part of the shot. He was struck in the right side of his face, his neck and his upper torso on the right side of his body.

Brit Hume: And you -- and I take it, you missed the bird.

Unless Fox editing is to blame for this, Brit Hume is truly an unmitigated jackass.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I'm making my way through books at sloth speed these days.

Both of my current ones are slow reads—Gissing is too gloomy to gulp and it would be criminal to rush through Richler's young narrator's obsessions and literary allusions—but I've also been experiencing a succession of extremely strange and annoying library patrons the past several evenings that leave me venting and fuming once they've moved out of hearing rather than capable of immersing myself in the pages of anything I'm inclined to pick up. After spending a big chunk of time in a wide-ranging I Don't Understand People (Like That) conversation with a co-worker this afternoon I feel much better, so much so that I'm undeterred by the fact that I managed only a scant dozen pages in Gissing today and still don't understand people one bit.

And no one irritated me at all tonight. That's a clear sign that I'll be back in reading stride by tomorrow, don't you think?

An incorporative imagination

Melville's Marginalia Online went live last month.

To understand why Melville's marginal scribbles matter so deeply to a scholar that he would spend years of his life squinting at them, one has to understand the kind of relationship the writer enjoyed with his library. "Melville was extraordinarily dependent on the writings of other men," says Mr. Otter. "He has an incorporative imagination."

So, when writing, he might evoke another writer's image or argument or incorporate passages from another's work, responding to it "in detail and intimately," Mr. Otter says. "That's a significant part of the way his mind worked. ... Melville responds on the level of diction, syntax, image. That's why source study is so important in Melville studies."

--Jennifer Howard, "Call Me Digital" in The Chronicle of Higher Education

Also, the transcript of a live discussion with Margaret Atwood and Atwood's article on "The Writing Life."

Monday, February 13, 2006

A sad passage to encounter first thing on a Monday morning (or any other time):

She kept asking herself what was the use and purpose of such a life as she was condemned to lead. When already there was more good literature in the world than any mortal could cope with in his lifetime, here was she exhausting herself in the manufacture of printed stuff which no one even pretended to be more than a commodity for the day's market. What unspeakable folly! To write—was not that the joy and the privilege of one who had an urgent message for the world? Her father, she knew well, had no such message; he had abandoned all thought of original production, and only wrote about writing. She herself would throw awayh er pen with joy but for the need of earning money. And all these people about her, what aim had they save to make new books out of those already existing, that yet newer books might in turn be made out of theirs? This huge library, growing into unwieldiness, threatening to become a trackless desert of print—how intolerably it weighed upon the spirit!

--George Gissing, New Grub Street

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Cartoon from an 1861 Vanity Fair: "Grand ball given by the whales in honor of the discovery of the oil wells in Pennsylvania."

And from Melville:

All was now a phrensy. 'The White Whale-the White Whale!' was the cry from captain, mates, and harpooneers, who, undeterred by fearful rumours, were all anxious to capture so famous and precious a fish; while the dogged crew eyed askance, and with curses, the appalling beauty of the vast milky mass, that lit up by a horizontal spangling sun, shifted and glistened like a living opal in the blue morning sea.

And lo! close under our lee, not forty fathoms off, a gigantic Sperm Whale lay rolling in the water like the capsized hull of a frigate, his broad, glossy back, of an Ethiopian hue, glistening in the sun's rays like a mirror. But lazily undulating in the trough of the sea, and ever and anon tranquilly spouting his vapory jet, the whale looked like a portly burgher smoking his pipe of a warm afternoon.

But far beneath this wondrous world upon the surface, another and still stranger world met our eyes as we gazed over the side. For, suspened in those watery vaults, floated the forms of the nursing mothers of the whales, and those that by their enormous girth seemed shortly to become mothers. The lake, as I have hinted, was to a considerable depth exceedingly transparent; and as human infants while sucking will calmly and fixedly gaze away from the breast, as if leading two different lives at the time; and while yet drawing mortal nourishment, be still spiritually feasting upon some unearly reminiscence;--even so did the young of these whales seem looking up toward us, but not at us, as if we were but a bit of Gulf-weed in their new-born sight. Floating on their sides, the mothers also seemed quietly eyeing us. One of these little infants, that from certain queer tokens seemed hardly a day old, might have measured some fourteen feet in length, and some six feet in girth. He was a little frisky; thought as yet his body seemed scarce yet recovered from that irksome position it had so lately occupied in the maternal reticule; where, tail to head, and all ready for the final spring, the unborn whale lies bent like a Tartar's bow. The delicate side-fins, and the palms of his flukes, still freshly retained the plaited crumpled appearance of a baby's ears newly arrived from foreign parts.

"There she blows!-there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby-Dick!"

And thus, through the serene tranquilities of the tropical sea, among waves whose hand-clappings were suspended by exceeding rapture, Moby-Dick moved on, still withholding from sight the full terror of his submerged trunk, entirely hiding the wrenched hideousness of his jaw. But soon the fore part of him slowly rose from the water; for an instant his whole marbleized body formed a high arch, like Virginia's Natural Bridge, and warningly waving his bannered flukes in the air, the grand god revealed himself, sounded, and went out of sight. Hoveringly halting, and dipping on the wing, the white sea-fowls longingly lingered over the agitated pool that he left.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Informed that her greedy pig ways are apt to catch up with her as she grows older, Ellie considers exercise as an alternative.

Check out Friday's Ark and Sunday's Carnival of the Cats, hosted by Watermark.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The drama student who works at our desk at the library is very enthused about the Actors From the London Stage, on campus this week to meet with classes and perform The Merchant of Venice.

We're going to Saturday night's performance and R. is coming home for the weekend to go with us! Can't wait.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Ishmael, we hardly knew ye

When it comes to an author showing his research in a piece of fiction, I've found I'm much more tolerant than most. Sure, I can spot where he veers off from the narrative to indulge in a bit of tangential hobby-horsery, but there are no straight roads in my foothills home county, and you just never know what a muddy, mountainy back road might lead you to discover (if you don't get stuck), so why bother getting out your mental X-Acto knife to excise it from the work?

Although I have been known to weary and to tell my sister to spare me from her back road "short cuts" and take me home already, and that's ultimately how I felt about Moby Dick.

Wouldn't it work much better if instead of being Moby Dick, or The Whale it had been Moby Dick and the Whale, with the whale essays carefully placed together, say, in an appendix in the back, where they'd not interrupt the narrative and the reader could turn to "Measurement of the Whales's Skeleton" or "The Fossil Whale" at her leisure on the nights when she has insomnia and nothing else she's tried will get her back to sleep. Let's read of Ahab's obsession with one whale before we turn to "whale author" Ishmael's obsession with all-things whales.

I'd keep the chapters that describe the hows of whaling where they are, but I'd insist the essay-style be dropped and the information be incorporated into the story a bit more. This is Ishmael's first whaling venture and all we really see of him once he boards the Pequod is in that strange sexualized scene where he's squeezing whale sperm with the other men. We don't know what he did for Queequeg during his illness or how he felt at the prospect of losing him. Are the tattoos that cover him from head to toe in his later life a homage to Queequeg or merely what you should expect to find on an intrepid whaler's body? He's transformed from the open-minded, thoughtful, compassionate man of the opening chapters into Emerson's transparent eyeball, who sees and relates to us what's in other men's souls, although not always the souls I've cause to care about.

All my whining aside, I enjoyed revisiting Moby Dick. It's sooo Shakespearean and I truly loved the descriptions of the living whales. The killing scene was gruesome, but it's important to realize our obsession with petroleum products has never been pretty. I'll be posting another slew of quotations from the book in a day or so. Perhaps they'll encourage someone else to attempt Melville.

Until then, here's a paragraph from "The Fossil Whale":

One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject, thought it may seem but an ordinary one. How, then, with me, writing of this Leviathan? Unconsciously my chirography expands into placard capitals. Give me a condor's quill! Give me Vesuvius' crater for an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms! For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me, and make me faint with their outreaching comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include the whole circle of the sciences, and all the generations of whales, and men, and mastodons, past, present, and to come, with all the revolving panoramas of empire on earth, and throughout the whole universe, not excluding its suburbs. Such, and so magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal theme! We expand to its bulk. To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, thought many there be who have tried it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Two students approach the desk for help finding periodicals. I stuff a notepad into my book (actual bookmark at the spot I want to read to by the end of the night) and set it aside.

"Are you reading that?" asks one of the students, nodding at Feed My Dear Dogs.

Has she heard of it? But it hasn't been published in the U.S. yet!

"Yes." I tell her. Does she have any idea how few students who come to our desk express any interest in fiction at all?

"Wow," she says. "It's so big."

Monday, February 06, 2006

It matters a little bit

I was thrilled over the weekend to learn that Ben Murphy and Roger Davis will be appearing at the Western Film Fair here in Charlotte in July. Should I embarrass myself by bringing in my box of Alias Smith and Jones clippings or all my old cassette tapes on which I recorded the audio of the show? I didn't even have a cassette player to record any of the Pete Duel episodes, although I did later make a cassette copy of "The Men That Corrupted Hadleyburg" episode from the recording that I managed to get from a reel-to-reel tape.

In an effort to make this a literary post, I'll provide the two references to Alias Smith and Jones from Martin McDonagh's play "The Lonesome West."


Valene and Coleman Connor are brothers in Leenane, Galway. Their father was shot in the back of the head by Coleman days before the play opens--accidentally, or so Father Welsh, the heavy-drinking priest believes. Hours after the funeral Tom Hanlon, another member of the community, kills himself. Valene helps Welsh drag the lake for Hanlon's body, then the two return to the Connor home to drink.

Welsh (pause) A lonesome oul lake that is for a fella to go killing himself in. It makes me sad just to think of it. To think of poor Tom sitting alone there, alone with his thoughts, the cold lake in front of him, and him weighing up what's best, a life full of the loneliness that took him there but a life full of good points too. Every life has good points, even if it's only. . . seeing rivers, or going travelling, or watching football on the telly. . .

Valene (nodding): Football, aye . . .

Welsh: Or the hopes of being loved. And Thomas weighing all that up on the one hand, then weighing up a death in cold water on the other, and choosing the water. And first it strikes you as dumb, and a waste, 'You were thirty-eight years old, you had health and friends, there was plenty worse off fecks than you in the world, Tom Hanlon'. . .

Valene: The girl born with no lips in Norway.

Welsh: I didn't hear about her.

Valene: There was this girl in Norway, and she was born with no lips at all.

Welsh: Uh-huh. But then you say if the world's such a decent place worth staying in, where were his friends when he needed them in this decent world? When he needed them most, to say 'Come away from there, ya daft, we'd miss ya, you're worthwhile, as dumb as you are.' Where were his friends then? Where was I then? Sitting pissed on me own in a pub. (Pause)Rotting in hell now, Tom Hanlon is. According to the Catholic Church anyways he is, the same as every suicide. No remorse. No mercy on him.

Valene: Is that right now? Every suicide you're saying?

Welsh: According to us mob it's right anyways.

Valene: Well I didn't know that. That's a turn-up for the books. (Pause) So the fella from Alias Smith and Jones, he'd be in hell?

Welsh: I don't know the fella from Alias Smith and Jones.

Valene: Not the blond one, now, the other one.

Welsh: I don't know the fella.

Valene: He killed himself, and at the height of his fame.

Welsh: Well, if he killed himself, aye, he'll be in hell too. (Pause) It's great it is. You can kill a dozen fellas, you can kill two dozen fellas. So long as you're sorry after you can still get into heaven. But if it's yourself you go murdering, no. Straight to hell.

Valene: That sounds awful harsh. (Pause) So Tom'll be in hell now, he will? Jeez. (Pause) I wonder if he's met the fella from Alias Smith and Jones yet? Ah, that fella must be old be now. Tom probably wouldn't even recognise him. That's if he saw Alias Smith and Jones at all. I only saw it in England. It mightn't've been on telly here at all.

Welsh: (sighing) You wouldn't be sparing a drop of that poteen would ya, Valene? I've an awful thirst. . .

And then later in the play, after the priest is told that Coleman deliberately shot his father, he writes a letter to the Connor brothers and then drowns himself in the same lake as Tom Hanlon. For awhile the brothers, who have been at each other's throat throughout the play, attempt to get along.

Coleman: I hope Father Welsh isn't in hell at all. I hope he's in heaven.

Valene: I hope he's in heaven.

Coleman: Or purgatory at worst.

Valene: Although if he's in hell at least he'll have Tom Hanlon to speak to.

Coleman: So it won't be as if he doesn't know anybody.

Valene: Aye. And the fella off Alias Smith and Jones.

Coleman: Is the fella off Alias Smith and Jones in hell?

Valene: He is. Father Welsh was telling me.

Coleman: The blond one.

Valene: No, the other one.

Coleman: He was good, the other one.

Valene: He was the best one.

Coleman: It's always the best ones go to hell. Me, probably straight to heaven I'll go, even though I blew the head off poor Dad. So long as I go confessing to it anyways. That's the good thing about being Catholic. You can shoot your dad in the head and it doesn't even matter at all.

Valene: Well it matters a little bit.

Coleman: It matters a little bit but not a big bit.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

New used books

Bad morning at the used bookstore. Everything looked good, not a good thing when you don't have much money, plus the bunny must have been hiding out in the back room with the cat that bites customers. I tried to determine what a woman was reading at the end of the religion and philosophy aisle that would make her exclaim outloud, "That's amazing," but all she appeared to be looking at was a book that somewhat resembled a yearbook, with rows and rows of black and white old- timey portraits. Maybe she spotted an ancestor.

After putting books back and resisting offers to lower the price on a hardback Play It As It Lays (because my paperback isn't falling apart, no matter its age and multiple readings), I walked away with:

Soloman Gursky Was Here. Mordecai Richler. Richler pere was recommended to me by Book Puddle.

Education of a Wandering Man. Louis L'Amour. This memoir comes highly recommended by Mental Multivitamin.

Fathers and Crows. William T. Vollmann. Dare I attempt Vollmann? It looks extremely daunting.

The Edge of the Sea and Under the Sea Wind. Rachel Carson. Because of Jim Lynch's The Highest Tide.

The Chymical Wedding. Lindsay Clarke. I knew I'd heard of this one before, but couldn't remember good or ill. Looking it up on Amazon I see it won the Whitbread in '89 and a raking over the coals by a reviewer whose name I recognize. I usually love Whitbread winners and books loathed by this particular reviewer, so I'm glad I didn't put this one back.
If you read Ed Champion's 75 Book Challenge, you probably followed his links and read Tayari Jones' suggested guidelines. Sherry at Semicolon applied these guidelines to her reading from last year and I thought I'd do the same. (Because otherwise I have to go to the gym.)

TWO BOOKS by international authors, written in English, NOT set in the U.S.A.

Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
Everything You Need by A.L. Kennedy

ONE BOOK that is translated into English

More than one read. First two that come to mind: Bohumil Hrabal's Closely Observed Trains and Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons

THREE BOOKS from small presses

From Bear Manor Press: Alias Smith and Jones: The Story of Two Pretty Good Bad Men by Sandra K. Sagala and JoAnne M. Bagwell
From Free Press: Frankland by James Wharton
and if McSweeney's counts: The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

TWO BOOKS of non-fiction (excluding memoir)

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Love and Hate in Jamestown by David A. Price

ONE Over-hyped book by an author whose success I resent


TWO of the "classics" that I never got around to reading

Antigone by Sophocles
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

ONE BOOK that receives a TERRIBLE review in a major publication

I think I read a lot of books in this category. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is the first that comes to mind.

TWO BOOKS of poetry by people I don't know.

Jack and Other New Poems by Maxine Kumin
The Casting of Bells by Jaroslav Seifert

ONE avant-garde or experimental title.

Umm, would Ali Smith's The Accidental work here? I'm thinking about Michael's poetry in particular: "Cat urine everywhere became sublime!"

TWO short-story collections

More than two. First two that come to mind: George Saunders' CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Runaway by Alice Munro

ONE novel set at least two-hundred years ago

No novels, but I did read The Odyssey and Ben Franklin and the history books mentioned above.

ONE novel set at least two-hundred years in the future

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller and the final part (I'm assuming) of Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days

ONE novel written at least two-hundred years ago

Don Quixote!

TWO plays

As You Like It by William Shakespeare
The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee

ONE offering by the most recent Nobel Laureate


ONE Young Adult Novel

The latest Harry Potter

ONE book on craft.

Nope. Haven't read one in a good three years.

And I think I followed all of Ed's suggestions as well, although I should have read more books by women than I did.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Substituting cats for groundhogs

. . . is a perfectly acceptable compromise in certain pseudo-scientific communities. While the pug more closely resembles a groundhog in appearance, its reliability level is close to none; hence a pug's actions cannot be used to predict seasonal lengths.

Sorry, Puggy Gin.

The first step in substituting a cat for a groundhog is to find one leaving its lair. Oh, look! It's Punxsutawney Phil ---er, El. Hi ya, Ellie. Any predictions for us today?

Well, she darted back into her burrow. Let's turn our attention to a cat who dwells above furniture. Miss Nicholson, Miss Nicholson. Will you cast a shadow today?

Erm, sorry we bothered you. Perhaps we should spend time courting the opinion of the more charitably minded, the more, shall we say, pedigreed members of the household. Good breeding has to count in pseudo-science circles, right?

For heaven's sake, Claudius. I guess it's safe to say that in substituting cats for groundhogs, the laws of physics win out over shadow-casting every time.

Inertia rules.

Check out Friday's Ark and Sunday's Carnival of the Cats, hosted by Enrevanche.
Wikipedia's List of Years in Literature.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A few quick links

I take it for granted that dogs and mums and dads and children and people who have been children and the whole of the rest of everything will die and this will frequently be sudden and insupportable and unfair and in the end I'll join them and I am not even remotely in favor of that, but also I choose not to think of it unless I am over-tired and lack the strength to fight it back. I don't want my existence to seem impractical, unlikely. Plus, I can't deal properly with other people when all I feel is sorry they'll being leaving fairly soon and sad so many unimportant things are so distracting.

The narrator in A. L. Kennedy's "Family With Young Children" receives a series of late-night phone calls from a stranger.

The Morning News has listed the roster of books for its second Tournament of Books. Long may the rooster crow!

Jane Smiley's List of 100 Novels, from 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, is now on-line. (via Diana)

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...