Sunday, September 30, 2007

October's Reading Stack

Is it possible that I went a month without making any headway in either Tristram Shandy or The Three Roosevelts? Why yes, it's perfectly possible. I last opened the biography to counter a social security chain email reeking of misinformation that my aunt sent me at the beginning of September and I'm not really sure where the Sterne is. I need to devote some serious attention to Mr. Shandy this month once I find him or call the relationship quits.

In addition to those, I'd like to read from the stack below.

I must complete the R.I.P. Challenge this month--Ann Radcliffe's The Italian and Henry James' The Turn of the Screw.

Margaret Drabble's The Sea Lady, Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs and Andromeda Romano-Lax's The Spanish Bow are all carry overs from last month.

Since I've just finished (as of last night) my reread of Rebecca West's The Fountain Overflows, (first encountered in June of 1999, read between Alice Thomas Ellis' Fairy Tale and Willa Cather's O Pioneers!), I'd like to reread Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children, which I read 12 years ago. I remember that there were similarities, and the Andrea Barrett introduction mentions that West liked the Stead, but not much more than that.

Library books--George Hagen's Tom Bedlam and D.H. Lawrence's The Rainbow.

And another review book, Cai Emmons' The Stylist.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thursday Thirteen

I thought I'd peek my head out of the sand with a Thursday Thirteen--thirteen things about my vacation:

1. I didn't get a lot of reading done. I made my way through the first half of the Rebecca West that I'd taken on the plane, but with a retired English teacher beside me on the flight out, and a 19-month opposed to naps but not tears on the way back, reading didn't/couldn't take top priority. Plus, there was that distracting window I was next to. . .

2. After driving down to Torrey from Salt Lake, we decided to make a quick visit to Capitol Reef National Park, where we hiked to the Pioneer Register, and to Fruita, where we saw lots of mule deer.

3. Met the outfitters and the other campers/riders after dinner. Found out the trip to Escalante National Monument was scratched and we'd be going into the Capitol Reef backcountry instead.

4. Next morning, horses and riders were dropped off at the park trailhead and we traveled 12 miles across bighorn country into camp among the Ponderosa pines. We did not see any sheep, only jack rabbits and Lily and Lonnie, the border collie/Australian shepherd pups who accompanied us.

5. Spent the next four days exploring the high plateaus and canyons. I love the smell of sagebrush.

6. Rode a black Quarter horse mare appropriately named Sourpuss. Puss was offended when I offered her an apple. She knocked me off on Sunday when I leaned over her neck to pick up a dropped rein. My nose is still sore.

7. Didn't trust Puss enough to take photos from the saddle, but I saw petrified wood, uranium ore and lots of rock art and Indian artifacts.

8. This was the first trip I had difficulty acclimating to the altitude. Felt nauseated by the end of the ride the first couple of days, panted while walking up the hills at the Pleasant Creek camp for just as long, and kept a headache all week.

9. Spent hours around the campfire listening to horsey talk, guitar picking, and the rushing water from the waterfall nearby.

10. Despite the waxing moon, saw a sky plentiful with stars every night but one. We had a downpour Saturday night.

11. Refused to be frightened by the cowboy from Florida's insistence that there was something big living along the creekbank behind our tents.

12. Took a look inside the kiva (sans camera once again, darn it) that's been under construction next to the restaurant in Torrey for the past several years once we were back to civilization. With shelves built into the rock walls, equipped with a full kitchen and bath, living/sleeping room, it looked more like a vacation nest this year than a room for religious ceremonies.

13. Toured Temple Square back in Salt Lake. Our guides had never heard of Capital Reef or Torrey.

And here's a few pictures:

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Utah, Rebecca West, Joseph Conrad, links, etc.

Let me preemptively apologize for the jumbled content of this post. I've been running around like a chicken with its head cut off for the last several days, trying to get myself ready for tomorrow's trip to Utah, and disjointedness is the best I can do at the moment.

Booklogged asked in comments last week what the deal is with me and Utah. Until 2005, I'd been no further west than Knoxville, Tenn., which is most definitely still in the South, although I'd been in love with the idea of the West practically my entire life--too many westerns as a kid, I'm sure. In 2005, C. and her best friend from elementary school, H., won an auction at the Generous Adventures site to camp and ride horses for a week in the San Rafael Swell. My notions of the West generally centered around Wyoming and Colorado, but with L. not willing to get an R.V. and take me out there any time soon, and with a lot of fingercrossing that the years of shots and the special magical eyedrops that the doctor had supplied me with would keep my horse allergy in check, I decided to tag along to Utah with C. and H.

And we found out that we loved Utah so much that we have to keep going back. Hondoo Rivers and Trails are the greatest outfitters ever.

If I weren't going to Utah, I would most definitely be going to the Third International Rebecca West Society Conference in New York weekend after next. Francine Prose is giving the keynote speech and they'll be showing a Bill Moyers' interview with West from 1981. I'll be taking The Fountain Overflows along with me to Utah to show my long distance solidarity.

On Sunday I read Joseph Conrad's The Shadow-Line for Carl's R.I.P. Challenge. It wasn't a true haunted ship story--the chief mate who is suffering from tropical fever believes the former ship's captain, now deceased, is behind the ship's multitude of woes--but an initiation story for a young third mate abruptly made a captain.

One closes behind one the little gate of mere boyishness--and enters an enchanted garden. Its very shades glow with promise. Every turn of the path has its seduction. And it isn't because it is an undiscovered country. One knows well enough that all mankind had streamed that way. It is the charm of universal experience from which one expects an uncommon or personal sensation--a bit of one's own.

One goes on recognising the landmarks of the predecessors, excited, amused, taking the hard luck and the good luck together--the kicks and the halfpence, as the saying is--the picturesque common lot that holds so many possibilites for the deserving or perhaps for the lucky. Yes. One goes on. And the time, too, goes on--till one perceives ahead a shadow-line warning one that the region of early youth, too, must be left behind.

And, since I've just finished the Conrad, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Christina at I Heart Paperbacks is hosting a Seafaring Challenge Nov. 1 through Jan. 31. While I certainly have enough nautical books on hand to read myself into an Admiralty, I'm already committed to too many other challenges during that time period to do more than obtain a lowly berth as a Lieutenant. Right now I'm leaning toward Harry Thompson's This Thing of Darkness.

While I'm in Utah riding a horse to check out dinosaur footprints, you could be reading about the evolution of the horse at Laelaps (via Pharyngula). One of my earliest horse books contained pictures of Eohippus.

See you end of next week!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Angle of Repose

Before the internet, before book blogs and reading forums expanded my tbr lists expotentially, I often relied on one book to lead me to another--sticking with the same author, sticking with the same genre, or, best of all, venturing off on the trail of the books mentioned in the one I happened to be reading at the time (I'm sure I've mentioned several times already that I read Middlemarch for the first time because the imaginary best friend of the main character in Lorrie Moore's Anagrams had a propensity for yelling at random people out of car windows: Go home and read Middlemarch!).

Angle of Repose offers a slight variation on the above. Wallace Stegner wrote his Pulitzer-winning novel after reading an extensive collection of letters written by Mary Hallock Foote, a novelist, artist, and western correspondent for various 19th century Eastern establishment magazines; he incorporates many of these letters into his narrative, a practice that led to some plagiarism charges later on. I now want to read more than mere bits and pieces of Mary Hallock Foote and was delighted to find both an autobiography and her first novel (The Led-Horse Claim, a romance set in a western mining camp in the late 1880s) hidden away down in Compact Shelving. I was even more thrilled to see that the autobiography, A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West, is still in print--it was originally published in 1972, the year after Stegner's novel came out--and that there have been at least two biographies written more recently about Foote as well. Of course, I want to read them all.

Do I wish I'd skipped the Stegner and gone straight to the Foote materials? No way. Stegner's novel is centered around one Lyman Ward, a retired professor of history who has returned to his grandparents' home after he's stricken with a painful, debilitating bone disease that has left him wheelchair-bound and gorgon-faced. While he was still in the hospital his wife ran off with the surgeon who amputated his leg and, needless to say, Lyman harbors great bitterness toward her. He's not on the best of terms with his son, either, a sociologist who has "no sense of history" and who would like to see his father in a retirement home rather than living on his own, as Lyman's own father had done, until he became strange enough for Lyman to have him locked away. (I think Rodman has a little bit more sense of history than Lyman will give him credit for.) And he certainly doesn't like "the coloration of the 1960s" and the current "gulf" between the generations or anything much else that's modern and prone to breaking apart.

Lyman, who was raised primarily by his grandparents, spends his days reading letters written by his grandmother, a genteel Quaker woman of great sensibility, "the best-known woman illustrator of her time," who was brought west in the 1870s by her husband, an engineer too honest to ever get ahead during the Gilded Age. Over time she becmes increasing disillusioned with her husband and their prospects. Their early transitory years, described in the letters, reveal hardship and a relationship very different from the one Lyman experienced in his years with them, when their earlier poverty had been left behind and they'd gained financial security and status in their community.

What Lyman is after in his research is the angle of repose, the engineering term meaning the angle at which dirt and pebbles stop rolling which he applies as a metaphor to his grandparents' lives: "What really interests me is how two such unlike particles clung together, and under what strains, rolling downhill into their future until they reached the angle of repose where I knew them. That's where the interest is. That's where the meaning will be if I find any."

Lyman wants to live in the past, when husbands and wives did not abandon one another. What Lyman uncovers during his research is that what looks like repose from the outside can disguise myriad forms of abandonment just as heartbreaking.

A brilliant book.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Comfort Food

Booking Through Thursday

Okay . . . picture this (really) worst-case scenario: It’s cold and raining, your boyfriend/girlfriend has just dumped you, you’ve just been fired, the pile of unpaid bills is sky-high, your beloved pet has recently died, and you think you’re coming down with a cold. All you want to do (other than hiding under the covers) is to curl up with a good book, something warm and comforting that will make you feel better.

What do you read?

Here's the all-time ultimate comfort food list (for me, anyway):

Searching for Caleb, Anne Tyler

The Realms of Gold, Margaret Drabble

Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh

Howards End, E.M. Forster

Terrible, Horrible Edie and Edie on the Warpath, E.C. Spykman

screenplay to my favorite movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, William Goldman
script to the pilot of my favorite TV series Alias Smith and Jones, Glen Larson and Matthew Howard (I read these two after 9/11 when I couldn't read anything else--the outlaws of my childhood are truly the ultimate in comfort food)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What we read in public

The low voter turnout at the polls yesterday was expected; I intended to spend the day reading the second half of Angle of Repose, then starting the new Russo. Instead, since we have four new workers, we all sat around getting to know one another, and no one did much reading.

But I found our reading choices interesting. Three of the four women had brought fiction to read--Stegner, a Nicholas Sparks, the latest Elizabeth Strout. The fourth took notes from Jonathan Kozol's The Shame of the Nation and I did a quick skim through the Escalante chapter in a Utah geology book in preparation for next week's camping trip.

The men all brought nonfiction, but only one actually opened the book he'd brought--and if I actually saw its title, I don't remember it, drat it all. Of the other two, one listened to podcasts and the other flipped through a specialized sports magazine.

Gender stereotypes appear to be alive and well--at least in what we reveal about ourselves in public--in my neck of the woods.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Seven poll workers, four voting machines, a 14-hour workday, and 29 voters. So went today's Republican primary at our precinct.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Book Cover Meme

Via Sylvia, the Book Cover Meme: Type your name into the Amazon search box and post your favourite cover.

You know, there are a lot of Susans out there with some awful, awful covers on their books.

I liked these two, though:

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The engineer's perspective

Even literature. She wanted to talk to him about Daniel Deronda, about which she and Augusta had been having a chatty and I must say tedious correspondence as they read it simultaneously. But he was impatient with George Eliot. He said she wanted to be both writer and reader--she barely got a character created before she started responding to him and judging him. Turgenev, on the other hand, stayed out of his stories, he let you do your own responding. Meekly, after that conversation, Susan adjusted her opinion in her next letter to Augusta.

--Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

Friday, September 07, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle died yesterday.

The lion on the left and a library meme

There's a library meme going around--What do you have checked out from the library these days--and since I've finally returned a bunch of severely overdue ones from the public and checked out another armload of new ones from the university to add to the ones already at home, I though I'd play.

Currently checked out:

George Hagen's Tom Bedlam

Andrei Makine's The Woman Who Waited and The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme

Angela Carter's Shaking a Leg and Burning Your Boats

H.G. Wells' Star Begotten

Robert Coover's Pricksongs and Descants

Rudyard Kipling's The Phantom Rickshaw and Other Stories

Complete Works and Letters of Charles Lamb

The Famous Stories of Joseph Conrad

Tessa Hadley's Sunstroke and Other Stories

D.H. Lawrence's The Rainbow and Women in Love

Stephenie Meyer's Twilight

Maybe I can go the whole month of September without buying a book.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Booking Through Thursday--Goldilocks

Okay, so the other day, a friend was commenting on my monthly reading list and asked when I found the time to read. In the ensuing discussion, she described herself as a “goldilocks” when it comes to reading–she needs to have everything juuuuuust right to be able to focus. This caught my attention because, first, I thought that was a charming way of describing the condition, but, two, while we’ve talked about our reading habits, this is an interesting wrinkle. I’d never really thought about it that way.

So, this is my question to you–are you a Goldilocks kind of reader?

Do you need the light just right, the background noise just so loud but not too loud, the chair just right, the distractions at a minimum?

Or can you open a book at any time and dip right in, whether it’s for twenty seconds, while waiting for the kettle to boil, or indefinitely, like while waiting interminably at the hospital–as long as the book is open in front of your nose, you’re happy to read?

The summer after R. graduated from high school we redid our living and dining room--painted, ripped up carpet and installed hardwoods, bought new furniture. I was fairly single-minded in my shopping: I wanted the most reading-friendly furniture I could find.

For end tables we bought "library tables" with open shelves for oversized books and oversized leather chairs and ottomans and a sofa ideal for any type of reading posture that one might care to assume. There's a handy cd player in the corner for the times when I need cello music in the background.


But I can and do read most anywhere in the house except in bed (maybe once that room's remodeled. . .) and in whatever waiting room I may find myself and at work and at the gas pump while my husband is filling the car (can't read in a moving car, though) and anywhere I might have a few minutes' worth of opportunity to take advantge of.

I suspect Goldilocks readers really don't read a great deal.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The pleasures of snarling

I experience a Pavlovian response when I read the name B. R. Myers: the hackles rise on the back of my neck and my teeth bare in a lupine snarl. Since A Reader's Manifesto I've taken issue with the man's tone and his eagerness to insinuate that those who don't share his contempt of contemporary literature are not as intelligent as those who do. Consequently, I couldn't make it through the first paragraph of his review of The Omnivore's Dilemma without wanting to shake and rip his assumptions: The pleasures of the oral cavity (though we must say "palate" instead) are now widely regarded as more important, more intrinsically moral, and a more vital part of civilized tradition than any other pleasures. People who think nothing of saying "I'm not much of a reader" will grow shamefaced when admitting an ignorance of wine or haute cuisine.

Granted, all the people I know are the wrong sort, but still, they qualify as people, and they are nothing like those Myers claims to know so much about. I will not go so far as to say Myers has constructed them totally out of straw, but, outside my daughter's host family in Germany, anyone I know who'd tout his non-reader creds doesn't give a damn about wine or haute cuisine and would be surprised to learn that eating fancy is regarded as being more intrinsically moral than eating potluck in the church basement following a Sunday sermon.

So I had to turn away from the rest of Myers' review, let his obvious concern for animals mellow me up a bit for a couple of days before I could finish it.

And you know what? No matter how much the already-vegetarians squee over Myers' moral high horsemanship, I can't see what he hoped to accomplish by blasting Pollan for hunting or for eating meat in a review so high falutin' that he'd take his own words to task if he'd encountered them in an Annie Proulx story. The gourmets are certainly going to discount Myers as a crank instead of mending their evil eatin' ways and the common man meat-eater might remember that despite all the Christianity/moral values good, political correctness/secularism bad hoohah in Myers' piece, Jesus fed the multitudes on fish, not veggies.

Peter Singer himself can write about the benefits of eating locally grown food without chastising those who eat meat; B.R. Myers cannot see that Pollan's book may lead more people to reassess their eating habits and reduce their meat consumption than Myers' moraler-than-thou stance ever will.

Remember when you told the critics to tone down their hyperbole, Myers? You might want to listen to yourself sometime.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Books for September

Tristram Shandy, Highway 12 and The Three Roosevelts--these three I'll be carrying over and reading this month (and possibly for months to come, although I am halfway through the Roosevelts).

Otherwise, I'll be reading from the stack below in September:

On top is Carlo Emilio Gagga's That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana, a "sublimely different detective story" according to the back cover of my NYRB Classics edition, that I'll be reading for the R.I.P. Challenge. Fascist Italy, destiny, philosophy and a foreward by Italo Calvino--I'm very much looking forward to starting this one.

There's no excuse for letting Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose languish for so long on the shelf; it's off now and won't go back on until I've finished it.

I never thought I'd find D.H. Lawrence the least bit appealing. But I've read 400 pages of Sons and Lovers so far this weekend--my first Outmoded Authors Challenge selection--and I have to say I wish I'd given him a chance years ago. With any luck, I'll finish this one before the holiday's over.

I'll be reading a second selection for the R.I.P. Challenge, Joseph Conrad's "The Shadow Line." I wonder if I'll be the only one reading a tale of a haunted ship?

Accompanying me to the primary on Sept. 11 and and my flight to Utah will be the anthology Feeling Very Strange.

Andrei Makine's The Woman Who Waited will be discussed by the Slaves of Golconda on Sept. 30.

And I hope to find time for Margaret Drabble's The Sea Lady, Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs and Andromeda Romano-Lax's The Spanish Bow.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Reading is a solitary pursuit, even a lone passage to a separate world. Yet to read in public, amid strangers, gives it another dimension. Sometimes the city speaks to the page, or the page seems to open up to people passing by. An outdoor reader shares the pulse of a timeless urban conversation between the world and the written word.

--Nina Bernstein, The New York Times

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...