Friday, June 29, 2007

Will she bloom today? Watch Bella on webcam.

Bella is a Titan Arum, a rare "corpse flower," which is going to stink to high heaven once it blooms.

And yeah, once it blooms, I'm going over to see it. I haven't set foot in the greenhouse since a friend convinced me I really ought to sniff a night-blooming plant pollinated by bats. If Bella smells worse than that. . .

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Online Dating

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

dead (8 times) death (3 times) shoot (1 time)

Guess I should shut up about dead mules, huh?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Don't tell my kids (who'd laugh hysterically), but I officially rock. Thank you, Sylvia!

I'm happy to extend the award to five female bloggers (who should then extend the award to five more):

Margaret at Surface-Mined

MFS at Mental Multivitamin

Kristen at Girl Detective

JenClair at A Garden Carried in the Pocket

Bybee at Naked Without Books

And I'm going to extend an honorary award to Elizabeth Edwards, who's as impressive as they come. (Check out her favorite books in her sidebar.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Things learned at ALA:

If you see hardbacks on sale for $10 and paperbacks for $5 in the exhibitors hall, don't think the ones you want will still be there the next day. Buy immediately or be sorry.

If you don't see the review copies that you're interested in at a publisher's booth, someone will take your name and address and promise to send you one in a few days (I'll let you know how that turns out).

Harry Potter bags and Charles Darwin bobbleheads are very popular.

Anyway, ALA was cool. I enjoyed all the swag. I enjoyed hearing Ken Burns, Nancy Pearl, and Kelly Link. I would have enjoyed hearing Bill Bradley, but the awards ceremony that preceeded his talk that evening went on way too long and we were hungry. We saw Hamlet, and the Phillips Collection and the American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Nonetheless, it's good to be home.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Happy Midsummer Night! Just a brief post to say that I've finished Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge, even though I've done a poor job of writing about the books. (I have been a very lazy blogger this year.)

I read Doctor Faustus for my folklore selection; Pedro Paramo for fantasy; Gilgamesh for mythology, and The Ladies of Grace Adieu for fairy tale; and per Carl's suggestion, A Midsummer Night's Dream, which I was happy to finally get around to reading.

We leave early tomorrow for ALA in DC and a performance of Hamlet at the Shakespeare Theatre. I'm packing only one book--Jonis Agee's latest--but hoping to come home with many more.

See you all the middle of next week!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

In deacquisition mode, Jon Carroll offers explanations on why certain books get taken to the used bookstore.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Other Voices, Other Rooms

I'm sure I remember Maggie saying that we should mention atmosphere when we talk about selections for the Southern Reading Challenge, but danged if I can find the actual post now.

So here are a couple excerpts from Truman Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms since I spent the last post yammering about mules.

First, the view out Joel's window at the Landing:

Below, under a fiery surface of sun waves, a garden a jumbled wreckage of zebrawood and lilac, elephant-ear plant and weeping willow, the lace-leafed limp branches shimmering delicately, and dwarfed cherry trees, like those in oriental prints, sprawled raw and green in the noon heat. It was not a result of simple neglect, this tangled oblong area, but rather the outcome, it appeared, of someone having, in a riotous moment, scattered about it a wild assortment of seed. Grass and bush and vine and flower were all crushed together. Massive chinaberry and waterbay formed a rigidly enclosing wall. Now at the far end, opposite the house, was an unusual sight: like a set of fingers, a row of five white fluted columns lent the garden the primitive, haunted look of a lost ruin: Judas vine snaked up their toppling slenderness, and a yellow tabby cat was sharpening its claws against the middle column.

And when Joel is first told the story of the abandoned Cloud Hotel:

Drownin Pond. That was the name colored folks gave it. Slowly old creek-slime, filtering though the limestone springs, had dyed the water an evil color; the lawns, the road, the paths all turned wild; the wide veranda caved in; the chimneys sank low in the swampy earth; storm-uprooted trees leaned against the porch; and water-snakes slithering across the strings made night-songs on the ballroom's decaying piano. It was a terrible, strange-looking hotel. But Little Sunshine stayed on: it was his rightful home, he said, for if he went away, as he had once upon a time, other voices, other rooms, voices lost and clouded, strummed his dreams.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Dead mule alert

What makes a story Southern as opposed to merely being set in the South, or written by an author living in or hailing from that geographical region? Participants in the Southern Reading Challenge will draw their own conclusions, but Jerry Leath Mills has determined that "there is indeed a single, simple, litmus-like test for the quality of southernness in literature, one easily formulated into a question to be asked of any literary text and whose answer may be taken as definitive, delimiting, and final. The test is: Is there a dead mule in it?"

(Let me interject that I am a bonafide Southerner, a born and bred North Carolina hillbilly, one whose acquaintance with mules goes way back*, but one who has been fortunate enough never to have witnessed a mule's demise or its carcass** except in literature--with my first being Jumper in Fred Gipson's Savage Sam in, probably, third or fourth grade. All I have to say about this lack in my life is "Whew.")

I encountered no dead mules in Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find, my first read for the Challenge, but O'Connor was perverse that way--she honed in on the peacock, of course, a familiar worthy of a Southern lit goddess--likely refusing to associate with dead mules merely as a method of avoiding comparison to William Faulkner, who killed mules like nobody else's business.

Truman Capote had no compunction against any of that. He introduces us to a very nice mule, John Brown, early on in Other Voices, Other Rooms. John Brown, an old tan mule with "forlorn hoofclops" belongs to Joel Knox's family at Skully's Landing, the homeplace he has been summoned to following the death of his mother in New Orleans, where he has been living with his aunt. Expecting to be met by his father once he makes his way to Noon City, Joel is instead directed to the livery yard where he meets "a kind of gnomish little Negro," Jesus Fever, who tells him he's been waiting to drive him back to the Landing. After Fever threatens John Brown with "outlandish torture," the mule "skillfully" makes his way home with Joel in the back of the wagon and Fever asleep over the reins.

Periodically, as Joel gets to know his off-kilter stepmother Amy and her kimono-wearing cousin Randolph, as well as Fever's daughter Zoo, uncovering the sordid truth about his father and what kind of life he can expect at the Landing, John Brown will enter or exit a scene with quiet dignity, for example, helping Joel and Zoo drag Fever's cedar chest to the grave after the old man dies: "Papadaddy surely did love you, John Brown: trustiest mule he ever saw, he said so many a time: now you remember that."

Then Amy and Randolph get wind that Joel's aunt Ellen is coming to visit (Joel remains unaware of this, as he is that his earlier letter to Ellen describing conditions at the Landing was removed from the mailbox by Randolph) and Randolph abruptly takes Joel to visit his hermit friend Little Sunshine in the abandoned Cloud Hotel, where he's been living since the owner struck a match to the gasoline-soaked mattress on which she lay decades before. They ride John Brown, using a croquer sack for a saddle and rope for reins, and stopping for lunch so that Randolph can consume a fruitjar of scuppernong wine.

Swan stairs soft with mildewed carpet curved upward from the hotel's lobby; the diabolic tongue of a cuckoo bird, protruding out of a wall-clock, mutely proclaimed an hour forty years before, and on the room clerk's splintery desk stood dehydrated specimens of potted palm. After tying a spittoon onto John Brown's leg, this in order that they could hear him should he wander off, they left him in the lobby, and filed through the ballroom, where a fallen chandelier jeweled the dust, and weather-ripped draperies lay bunched on the waltz-waved floor like curtsying ladies. Passing a piano, over which web was woven like the gauzy covering of a museum exhibit, Joel struck the keys expecting Chopsticks in return; instead, there came a glassy rattle of scuttling feet.

While the men drink in the former owner's private apartment, John Henry ascends the stairs, spittoon clangclanging.

Little Sunshine and Joel go to look for him, Little Sunshine using a kindling from the fire as a torch.

They halted at the foot of the stairs. The mule was nowhere to be seen: the banging of the telltale spittoon had stopped. "John Brown . . . John Brown," Joel's voice enlarged the quiet: he shivered to think that in every room some sleepless something listened. Little Sunshine held his torch higher, and brought into view a balcony which overlooked the lobby: there, iron-stiff and still, stood the mule. "You hear me, suh, come down offen there!" commanded the hermit, and John Brown reared back, snorted, pawed the floor; then, as if insane with terror, he came at a gallop, and lunged, splintering the balcony's rail. Joel primed himself for a crash which never came; when he looked again, the mule, hung to a beam by the rope-reins twisted about his neck, was swinging in mid-air, and his big lamplike eyes, lit by the torch's blaze, were golden with death's impossible face, the figure in the fire.

Quite a relief to see mules quietly grazing in their pastures yesterday on our Father's Day trip to our hometown.


*My parents obtained a pony for me when I was five, no doubt as substitution for the imaginary pony Midget that I had openly cavorted with since swooning over its real life counterpart at the Daniel Boone Wagon Train (a major yearly event at that time in our neck of the woods). They really didn't know what they were doing--the pony turned out to be a stallion (and it came with my older brother and my grandfather and the youngest Cartwright brother's name, which led to some confusion as well) and the mule pastured over on the neighboring ridge fell madly in love with him and could not be disuaded, no matter how heavy or awkward the item tied around its neck, from popping over fences or stall doors to be with him, hence my early acquaintance with mules.

**I have been fortunate enough never to have seen a dead horse or pony, either, though we all thought my first pony had suffered a fatal heart attack the evening he was harnessed and hitched to a cart. He immediately pitched over onto his side there in the driveway and did. not. move. Before either the mule or I could be traumatized for life over the collapse, my cousin the chiropractor, who'd dropped by after supper to say hey, had the presense of mind to shove a sugar cube between his lips, and, after a moment's hesitation, he began to chew. Faker. Little Joe's actual brush with death came when he dared step in a yellow jackets nest under the Japanese cherry tree and enraged the entire wrathful colony. My mother spent the rest of the summer with him on the carport, brushing flies off his horribly scabbed face with a flyswat. The scars faded over time.

Friday, June 15, 2007

How do you get from here to there?

Can you match these first lines with their last lines? Do you recognize the books they come from? One set of lines comes from a book I spotted someone reading in Central Park; the rest come from some of my favorites minus the ones that are outright obvious.

First Lines

1. Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints.

2. The octopus lived in a square plastic box with holes for his arms.

3. The day was hot and dusty with scattered leaves of poplars lining a towpath.

4. Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space. If you can bend space you can bend time also, and if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backward in time and exist in two places at once.

5. Gerard Maines lived across the hall from a woman named Benna, who four minutes into any conversation always managed to say the word penis.

6. The madwoman in the attic was standing at the window.

7. When Pearl Tull was dying, a funny thought occurred to her.

8. What makes Iago evil? some people ask. I never ask.

9. Once when I was eleven years old, my father asked me not to buy him cigarettes, even if he begged.

10. Harriet was trying to explain to Sport how to play Town.

11. When Agustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake--not a very big one.

Last Lines

a. It's old light, and there's not much of it. But it's enough to see by.

b. His sobbing rocked the bed and woke Marriet.

c. Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?

d. As for Mr. Covington, he prayed in the old-fashioned way. It was the last of anything he knew.

e. And high above, he seemd to recall, there had been a little brown airplane, almost motionless, droning through the sunshine like a bumblebee.

f. On the way home, she said to Karel, what a surprising place. But Karel didn't know what she was talking about. David's place hadn't surprised him at all.

g. She rested her bowed head against the upraised arm, her face hidden, her eyes closed.

". . . four, five, six . . ."

h. "The woman," Dillard whispered. "The woman. They say he missed that whore."

i. Why, BZ would say.

Why not, I say.

j. She slammed the book and stood up. All three of them turned then and walked along the river.
k. George fiddles with my coat cuff. "Sometimes," she sighs into the steam, "I feel like I'm right in the mist of things."

I swear, she is a genius.


Good luck! I can list the titles in comments if anyone needs help. . .

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Eighteen Cats

I managed to read Adam Kirsch's denigration of book bloggers yesterday without it bothering me in the slightest (especially since delightful responses to the article came fast and furiously), but I found myself taken back this afternoon when I stumbled across Michael Rogers' BEA journal from earlier in the month.

He attended a bloggers panel moderated by Bud Parr that included "legitimate reviewers" --Anne Fernald, James Marcus, Lizzie Skurnick--but instead of therefore concluding that the battle between bloggers and print reviewers was downright silly, he deliberately perpetuated it by saying the following:

Those folks aren't the people causing concern. It's others going by the handle of Book Girl, or Book Dog, or Bookasaurus, etc., basically book nerds with no chops who pound away on their PCs while their 18 cats prance in the background. Those are the people I wanted to see defending their legitimacy. . .

Eighteen cats. Ouch. It's sad that an editor for Library Journal holds that much contempt for book lovers. And it's particularly sad that an editor doesn't communicate well enough to get across just who it is who's supposed be concerned that such inconsequential people are writing about the books they read and having conversations about them and if these concerns are the least bit legitimate in the first place. Claiming you're for "anything and everything that promotes books and reading" after making fun of readers isn't awfully smart.

For the record, Mr. Rogers, I have only three cats. And if our paths should happen to cross next week at the ALA conference, count on me, instead of stopping to defend my own legitimacy, to mutter "Bastard" in your direction and to keep on moving.
Booking Through Thursday

Dessert First

1. Do you cheat and peek ahead at the end of your books? Or do you resolutely read in sequence, as the author intended?

Sometimes, when selecting a book, I will read the last sentence. If I can tell from the last sentence exactly how things turn out, then I have no interest in reading the book. If the last sentence is a really cool one, one that I'd like to read toward to figure out what it means, then I'll buy the book, but not start it until long after I've forgotten the sentence.

I do not read books of short stories straight through, however. I'll read the ones with the most intriguing titles first, or chose by length if I intend to read one in a single sitting.

2. And, if you don’t peek, do you ever feel tempted?

Only if I'm losing interest in, or patience with, the book. Then, if the final sentence doesn't meet my coolness criteria, I have no regrets in ditching it.

and last week's Encore

Almost everyone can name at least one author that you would love just ONE more book from. Either because they’re dead, not being published any more, not writing more, not producing new work for whatever reason . . . or they’ve aged and aren’t writing to their old standards any more . . . For whatever reason, there just hasn’t been anything new (or worth reading) of theirs and isn’t likely to be.

If you could have just ONE more book from an author you love . . . a book that would be as good any of their best (while we’re dreaming) . . . something that would round out a series, or finish their last work, or just be something NEW . . . Who would the author be, and why? Jane Austen? Shakespeare? Laurie Colwin? Kurt Vonnegut?

Peter Rushforth died in Steptember 2005 not long after sending the sequel to Pinkerton's Sister to his publisher. He'd planned three books about Alice Pinkerton and I wish he'd lived long enough to write the third.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Poetry shelves?

I've always thought of these corner shelves as my poetry section, but now that the books are turned properly (if you don't take organization into account) instead of stacked sideways I see I have less poetry than I'd thought.


Monday, June 11, 2007

A dozen. . .

new additions to make room for on the shelves:

The Puzzleheaded Girl. Christina Stead. I have a tendency to snatch up Steads whenever I come across them. This one came from Morningside Books across the street from Columbia University.

The Grass Harp. Truman Capote. I'm reading Other Voices, Other Rooms right now and was happy to see this one on the shelves at the Strand.

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. Rebecca West. Finally a copy of my own. Came from Morningside.

In the Days of the Comet. H.G. Wells. Thought S. might enjoy this one. From the Strand.

Earthly Possessions. Anne Tyler and Morgan's Passing. Anne Tyler. I'm working to replace all my ratty paperback copies of Tyler's early novels with decent hardbacks. These came from the Strand.

Arlington Park. Rachel Cusk. Ordered from Amazon as soon as Sandra mentioned how much she liked it and was waiting for me on the counter when we made it back home last night.

The River Wife. Jonis Agee. Also waiting for me last night. This is a Library Thing Early Reviewer copy.

The Children's Hospital. Chris Adrian. I think I ordered this so that we'd get free shipping on the Harry Potter that comes out next month.

Fieldwork. Mischa Berlinski. This came from MFS.

Rebecca West. Carl Rollyson. Another Strand purchase. Now I can return the library copy.

Pete Duel. Paul Green. I read this when I should have been packing for the trip. A pre-order from Amazon.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hello, neglected blog!

Back from vacation. Angsting over how far behind I am in my reading. Will post photo of new books tomorrow.

Monday, June 04, 2007

I am in New York. I am not reading. I am sober enough to have watched someone finish A Girl Named Zippy on the subway and then reach into her book bag for another trade paper. I could not catch the title of the yellow-covered book the young woman who consumed two bags of potato chips was reading, but it was NOT Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum as I'd hoped.

Further details as warranted.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Ray Bradbury says

the culprit in Fahrenheit 451 is not the state — it is the people.
Unlike Orwell’s 1984, in which the government uses television screens to
indoctrinate citizens, Bradbury envisioned television as an opiate. In the book,
Bradbury refers to televisions as “walls” and its actors as “family,” a truth
evident to anyone who has heard a recap of network shows in which a fan refers
to the characters by first name, as if they were relatives or friends.

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...