Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I completed Carl's RIP II Challenge last week and I'm already strategizing as to what I'll read during Challenge the Third next fall. . . maybe then I'll finally finish The Italian, one I started last fall but abandoned when I realized I wouldn't have time to complete it by the deadline and somehow managed to never get around to picking it up at all this fall, and I could read. . .

But what did I actually manage to read for the challenge this year?

First I read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, a totally absorbing young adult vampire novel that everyone else has already read, so I'll just say this: if I could have put my hands on a library copy of the sequel immediately after finishing this one, I would have. But since one wasn't available, I did some thinking about how I expected the series to end. And what I concluded was that Meyer hadn't presented any real reason why Bella ought not become a vampire--obviously Edward and his family could help her control her urges to kill humans, she could be with Edward forever, her parents would just have to deal with having a vampire for a daughter--and I knew I wouldn't be happy with a lot of angst that merely put off such an ending. But if Bella were to grow up and to realize why becoming a vampire wasn't such a spiffy thing to do, despite her love for Edward, then it would be worth it to continue with the series, especially since there were going to be werewolves involved. So when the third book in the series showed up on the new book cart I skimmed the ending. Rest assured that young adults and true romantics will be happy with how things turn out for Bella and Edward, but Bella is no Buffy and Meyer is no Joss Whedon and, as my husband keeps reminding me, I don't like vampires anyway.

My second read for the challenge was a Joseph Conrad novella, The Shadow-Line, which I became interested in reading after enjoying Lord Jim back in the summer. This one wasn't near as good as Lord Jim (or Heart of Darkness), and I still don't understand how a third mate who impulsively resigned from his post on a ship to give up the sailing life forever could find himself made captain of a another ship just a few short days later. It's an initiation story gone horribly awry, with supernatural elements stemming from the fever dreams of the chief mate, who believes the evil former captain is haunting the ship.

I loved Henry James's The Turn of the Screw. While I know many (most?) read it as a ghost story, in my mind it's totally a psychological tale of a young governess who descends into psychosis. And I enjoyed Diane Setterfield's very bookish The Thirteenth Tale, taking issue only with the modern portion of the tale: I can't imagine why Margaret's mother wasn't in therapy and on antidepressants. (I love the line from James Hynes's The Lecturer's Tale: As a paper topic over the weekend, he asked all three classes to consider whether literature could be cured by antidepressants.) Some aspects of gothic lit just won't work in the modern; I really appreciated when the doctor prescribed a different genre of literature to the ailing Margaret.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Segueing into Stead for Outmoded Authors

I came close this afternoon to committing myself to reading all of Christina Stead's works in order published just as soon as my Rebecca West project is finished. But after reading about her books in a literature database at the library, I realized I'd be happier reading the ones that interested me and deciding later if I wanted to try the ones that originally aroused no more than an "eh" reaction. So that means I'm game for at least ten novels and story collections at this point.

I used some of my birthday money this evening ordering used copies of her first novel, Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1935), and her first story collection, The Salzburg Tales (1934--published first, but written second), but since I've already rescued an armload of her books from compact shelving, I'll be reading from those for Outmoded Authors (and the Steads I already owned? They'll continue to wait patiently while I deal with the newcomers).

I still haven't decided whether I'll be reading The Little Hotel or For Love Alone--I have yet to make my bowl of pop corn and settle in to decide which book has the better opening--but I'll be spending the next couple hours with one or the other.

Daniel Deronda has the evening off.

Expect a lot of Eliot

So on Thursday I mentioned that I was starting Daniel Deronda . Sarah promptly said what a coincidence--she was currently rereading it for a paper she needs to write; we could read along together. Sylvia quickly scored a library copy and committed to reading it with us; next Eva said she'd like to join in on all the fun as well. Danielle succumbed to the allure of Eliot over the weekend (a handy way of postponing D.H. Lawrence for a tad longer; don't I know how hard those first 200 pages of The Rainbow are to get into and through), Red Room Librarian said he found Eliot hard to resist, and folks, that's how easy it is to get a reading group formed.

Sarah needs to complete her reread by Thanksgiving. If you can't imagine making your way through a book this size in that amount of time, keep in mind that at a two-chapters-per-day pace it could be done in 35 days--and a lot of the chapters are fairly short. But really, it's okay if you take longer than that. It's even okay if you go a little nuts and have the whole thing read by next Friday.

Expect a lot of Eliot on all our blogs in the coming weeks. And for anyone else toying with the idea of reading along with us: please do.

Edited to add: Staci has joined the group! Welcome, Staci.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Art is the nearest thing to life: it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow men beyond the bounds of our personal lot.

--George Eliot

Friday, October 26, 2007

The truth is this

The truth is this: Things happened to my family, extraordinary things. I know families who live out their entire destinies without a single thing of interest happening to them. I have always envied those families. The Wingos were a family that fate tested a thousand times and left defenseless, humiliated, and dishonored. But my family also carried some strengths into the fray, and these strengths let almost all of us survive the descent of the Furies. Unless you believe Savannah; it is her claim that no Wingo survived.

I will tell you my story.

Nothing is missing.

I promise you.

--Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides

Happy birthday to the son of the Great Santini and a mother who rightfully taught her children that all Southern lit can be summed up thusly: On the night the hogs ate Willie, Mama died when she heard what Daddy did to Sister.*

*of course, the mules are all a priori dead by the time the hogs enter the story.

Long may the controversies keep your books in print and in the hands of those who need to read them.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Read with abandon?

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Today’s suggestion is from Cereal Box Reader:

I would enjoy reading a meme about people’s abandoned books. The books that you start but don’t finish say as much about you as the ones you actually read, sometimes because of the books themselves or because of the circumstances that prevent you from finishing. So . . . what books have you abandoned and why?

I just finished reading D.H. Lawrence's The Rainbow last night and for more than half the book I told myself that it was okay if I abandoned it and that I was going to abandon it. In the end, I was glad I stuck it out; the second half was much more to my taste than the first. I guess you could say I really don't like to abandon books once I've committed to reading them.

Books I've abandoned through neglect (I wrote about these back in March, books that still have bookmarks in them):

World Light. Halldor Laxness. Started in May 2003. The first chapter ends with the undersized literature-loving foster child Olafur weeping when a book he couldn't read, but kept hidden in his clothes, is taken from him and burned. But I put it down 200 pages in when the character seemed to transmogrify into someone I didn't recognize. The next February I read 200 more pages. Only 200 more yet to go and then I can read Independent People. Bookmark: one from the public library, a quick guide to Dewey Decimal classification and subject areas.

Virginia Woolf. Hermione Lee. Stopped at p. 478 (out of 755), the chapter on Vita Sackville-West, to read The Easter Party by Sackville-West. Was I waiting to read All Passion Spent as well? Bookmark: a reply form from the QPBC. Guess I didn't.

Jenny and the Jaws of Life. Jincy Willett. I know I've read more than one story in this collection--and I rarely read story collections straight through--but there's a notecard stuck between p. 26-27. The notecard is a black and white photo of a kitty touching noses with a walrusy-looking puppy stuffed in a ceramic teapot.

The Italian. Ann Radcliffe. Set aside last fall at an exciting spot: Ellena and the evil monk on the beach, p. 260. Bookmark: old-fashioned library checkout card from Harriet Hume.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Annie Dillard. Six out of 15 chapters read. Bookmark: a strip of Glidden paint samples, ranging in color from Pasture Green to Forest Light.

Emerson Among the Eccentrics. Carlos Baker. Stopped at the end of Part Two, intending to read Emerson's essays from the Forties before continuing on into the Fifties in the bio. Bookmark: an index card on which is written "A Conversation with My Father. Grace Paley."

Selected Essays, Lectures, and Poems. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Next essay to read: "The Over-Soul," from 1841. Bookmark: a folded envelope preaddressed to the Children's Theatre here in town.

Will in the World. Stephen Greenblatt. A post card from Sir John Soane's Museum in London between p. 92 and 93.

And then there are those I start, realize I cannot focus on, that the problem is me, not the text.

For example, my husband brought me Catch-22 to read in the hospital after I developed pre-eclampsia, my son was taken out eight weeks early and was struggling to survive in neonatal intensive care, and I was dealing with a couple of cheerfully aggressive social worker-types who kept popping into my hospital room to tell me I was eligible for free government cheese and formula and that my husband would soon leave me since men couldn't deal with having premature babies. I didn't find anything the least bit funny and didn't attempt the book again for a good decade.

And, of course, James Joyce's Ulysses. I made it through three chapters several years ago, decided I ought to reread Hamlet, read all of The Odyssey instead of just the bits and pieces from high school, and just generally get a lot smarter before I attempted it again. I gave myself until I was 45 to shape up. I'm now 48 and am thinking seriously about attempting it at some point next year.

via Booking Through Thursday
Men can do nothing without the make-believe of a beginning. Even Science, the strict measurer, is obliged to start with a make-believe unit, and must fix on a point in the stars' unceasing journey when his sidereal clock shall pretend that time is at Nought. His less accurate grandmother Poetry has always been understood to start in the middle; but on reflection it appears that her proceeding is not very different from him; since Science, too, reckons backwards as well as forwards, divides his unit into billions, and with his clock-finger at Nought really sets off in medias res. No retrospect will take us to the true beginning; and whether our prologue be in heaven or on earth, it is but a fraction of that all-presupposing fact with which our story sets out.

--George Eliot

Wish me luck. I'm starting Daniel Deronda today.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Happy 3rd, little blog

Pages Turned turns three today (and I'm, well, at least a few years older than that). And what better way to celebrate a book blog(ger)'s birthday than with a great number of books, a great number of books that the blogger would never have acquired if not for the online book community?

Take a look at the books that have come into the house over the last month.

(Ellie, please move; people want to see the books.

Thank you.)

Ecce libri!

On top of the stack is Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar. . .: Understand Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein. A review book that my son has only recently relinquished from his grasp.

Recommended to me by Fay in comments a couple weeks back: I to Myself: An Annotated Selection from the Journal of Henry D. Thoreau.

Another review copy, Waiting to Surface by Emily Listfield, has already received a thumbs up from MFS and a thumbs down from JenClair.

I placed The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman on my wishlist after Danielle mentioned its publication; I ordered it soon after JenClair reviewed it.

M.J. Rose is a long-time Readervillan and I've intended to read one of her novels for quite some time; I was happy to be offered a review copy of her latest, Reincarnation.

Two more review books, February Flowers by Fan Wu and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, showed up in my mailbox this month.

Was it Dorothy who first mentioned Anton Chekhov's A Life in Letters? It's been on my wishlist for a good while and I just can't remember. I ordered it for Sharon's Russian Challenge along with Tatyana Tolstaya's White Walls, a story collection on several readers's tbr lists.

All In Together Girls is Kate's second story collection and I'm happy to have an autographed copy.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera is one of my friend C.'s favorite books, and one recommend to me in comments not long ago.

Everything Will Be All Right by Tessa Hadley. Hmm, I don't think anyone recommended this one. I just like Hadley is all.

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell. I read a short story by Russell back in 2005, then John whetted my interest with interview quotes from Russell last year. Don't know how I managed to wait till it came out in paperback. . .

Has anyone blogged about Best American Short Stories 2007 yet? It's been touted on Readerville recently.

As soon as Stefanie started writing about Why We Read What We Read I knew I'd have to get a copy.

One of Ella's favorite books of all time is e.e. cumming's The Enormous Room.

I added Anne Enright's The Gathering to my wishlist a few months back; Victoria's review made it a top priority. It showed up in the mail a couple days before it won the Booker.

My friend W. sent Philip Roth's Everyman to me for my birthday.

Zhoen mentioned Jan DeBlica's Wind: How the Flow of Air Has Shaped Live, Myth and the Land in comments earlier in the month. The Outer Banks? Immediate purchase!

I've been interested in the gnostics since reading Elaine Pagels several years back; I ordered The Jesus Mysteries straight away after reading Quillhill's review.

And these are just the people who've influenced me in the past month! I love the book blogging community and appreciate you one and all--even if I still do most of my commmenting inside my head. Long may we read and continue to write about our bookish experiences!

And that's as mushy as I'm going to get.

(And how odd--pooterish and odd. I posted this at 7:37, the time of my birth.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Under Your Spell Again

And a happy Dwight Yoakam's birthday to you! He certainly doesn't show his age in this Jay Leno clip from last week. And there's an interview at the end, too.


Monday, October 22, 2007


A policeman just propped the report he was writing against my copy of The Thirteenth Tale.

Yes, I'm at the library. It's been rather exciting around here tonight.
All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping though the cracks of another. Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes--characters even--caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.

--Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Readathon books and survey

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

I read for 18 hours and called it quits. I wish now I'd taken a nap and gotten back to the books. I regret not participating at the end of the readathon.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

Everyone should just read what suits their tastes.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

Not at this point.

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

I thought the cheerleaders were terrific. They put in a lot of time and effort and I really appreciate all they did.

5. How many books did you read?

I read stories and essays mainly, so although I read a total of 484 pages (why oh why didn't I tally my totals last night so that I could have kept reading until I'd at least reached 500?) I didn't finish a single book.

6. What were the names of the books you read?

I read from the books pictured above:

Henry James's Selected Tales
Ron Rash's Chemistry and Other Stories
Phillip Lopate's The Art of the Personal Essay
Karen Russell's St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
Rick Bass's The Lives of Rocks
Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale
William Faulkner's Collected Stories
Angela Carter's Burning Your Boats
D.H. Lawrence's The Rainbow
Tessa Hadley's Sunstroke and Other Stories
Edith Wharton's The New York Stories
Christina Stead's The Puzzleheaded Girl

7. Which book did you enjoy most?

Stead's "The Puzzleheaded Girl" and James's "The Turn of the Screw."

8. Which did you enjoy least?

Carter's "The Bloody Chamber."

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

I'll definitely participate again as a reader.

Thank you, Dewey. The readathon was a great idea and a smashing success!

Read-a-thon Report No. 7

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I've been reading for 18 hours and I've got a bad case of zombie brain; I'm calling it a night. Margaret has left Vida Winter's to research the three verifiable facts Vida has given her, so I'm about a quarter of the way through The Thirteen Tale.

Good luck to those of you who are still reading. I hope there will be several who manage to make it though all 24 hours.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Read-a-thon Report No. 6

Two more short stories to report--Rick Bass's "Goats" (30 pages) and Ron Rash's "Honesty" (12 pages). Both worth reading, particularly the Bass.

I've enjoyed reading short works today, but I realized about an hour ago that all that stopping and starting won't work as well as I begin getting sleepy--I've begun administering cups of coffee to myself to ward off the sleepiness--so I decided to start a novel. I'm now 35 pages into Diane Setterfield's The Thirteen Tale and hoping to make a lot more headway before I call it a night.

Read-a-thon Report No. 5

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Since the last update, I've spent only about an hour and a half reading. I read twenty pages in D.H. Lawrence's The Rainbow, the book I've been reading for most of the month (still a little more than a hundred pages to go), and Angela Carter's story "The Bloody Chamber."

The Carter made me feel icky. I think I'll go take a shower.

Read-a-thon Report No. 4

Two more stories:

William Faulkner's "Shingles for the Lord" (16 pages)

"Arsonist," he said. "Work units. Dog units. And now arsonist. I Godrey, what a day!"

Karen Russell's "The Star-Gazer's Log of Summer-Time Crime" (30 pages)

I should feel good, I guess, but instead I feel this awful loneliness, an outlaw's loneliness, lying to the person I love best in the world. It's too easy to use his love to fool him. I almost want to be found out and grounded. I don't know why my father believes me. I don't know what the other kids tell their parents they do at night.

And two Edward Hoagland essays from The Art of the Personal Essay:

"The Courage of Turtles" (six pages)

Turtles are a kind of bird with the governor turned low.

"The Threshold and the Jolt of Pain" (six pages)

So pain is a packet of chiseling tools. . . . Pain, love, boredom, and glee, and anticipation or anxiety--these are the pilings we build our lives from In love we beget more love and in pain we beget more pain. Since we must like it or lump it, we like it. And why not, indeed?

Anyone read Hoagland? I really liked the turtle essay.

Read-a-thon Report No. 3

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Since last checking in, I've read Tessa Hadley's short story "A Card Trick" (21 pages) and the title story from Christina Stead's The Puzzleheaded Girl (56 pages). The Hadley was rather forgettable, although it did contain a reference to Henry James (I wondered if I'd be haunted by James for the rest of the day), but the Stead was the type of story that makes me want to collect and read everything she's written.

I lucked upon the collection back in June at the bookstore across the street from Columbia; it's woefully out of print.

Read-a-thon Report No. 2

Thought Edith Wharton would follow nicely upon the Henry James, but I didn't expect the story I'd chosen at random, "Pomegranate Seed," to turn out to be a ghost story as well.

From the just published The New York Stories of Edith Wharton.

Thirty-three pages.

Read-a-thon Report No. 1

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The Turn of the Screw --in which a young governess goes completely, resoundingly, round the bend of a corkscrew trail. Last fall I assiduously turned my eyes from every review posted on this one; now I'll be seeking them out.

And I must now accept that I'm a terribly slow reader. Over the last three-and-a-half hours I've read only 97 pages. And I consumed three cups of coffee, one of which I managed to slosh over two books, a newspaper clipping, a Charles Darwin bobblehead, the end table and the floor. Call me Miss Grace. I am now switching to water.

I've just turned down a walk in the nature center. The guys are doing their best to make the readathon difficult.

Let the reading commence!

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Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-thon offically kicks off in three and a half hours, but, since I've been awake since 5:30 and everyone else in my house is still asleep (there was a sleepover here last night), I'm starting early. I've a huge stack of books on the piano bench downstairs that I'll be keeping close at hand and of course there are all the double-stacked shelves of books up here in the study that I may resort to pulling from if the pre-selected reading materials fail to suit my mood.

I'll be coming on line periodically to update. First report should be after I've completed Henry James's The Turn of the Screw. Everyone else read this one for the R.I.P. Challenge last year, but I'm only now getting around to it. Of course, scary stories ought to be read late at night, but since this is James, my brain is telling me it'll have an easier time with his sentence structure if I read the story while I'm fresh.

Happy reading to all the other participants!

Friday, October 19, 2007


I said to myself, as I stood on the platform at St. Raphael, that I must buy a book to read on the way up to Paris. To that end I moved back into the station to have a look at the bookstall, but abandoned my intention as soon as I had collided in the doorway with a middle-aged woman. She had something of the stance of a Spanish fighting bull, and I felt a nervous impulse, as I retreated rapidly before her, to make it quite clear that I had never been a matador and had, indeed, always felt a peculiar affection and regard for bulls. Her face suggested the muzzle of a very fierce animal; and her eyes were prolonged by blue lines till the proportion they bore to the rest of her features was queerly nonhuman. She had taken from her shoulders a wine-coloured scarf of very rich crepe de Chine to slip through the collar of her bulldog as a lead; and one could believe she would deal as practically with the most precious fabric in the world if there was need.

Nothing I am cataloguing sounds endearing. Yet I forgot about the bookstall, and there was no one in the station who did not watch her and let the pretty girls go hang. It appeared afterwards that it was the novelist, Colette, a personality so strong that for her parallel one has to go outside life to great literature and cite the wife of Bath. In thirty years she has been putting into infallible artistic form her gross, wise, limited, eternal views about life, at times leaving The Well of Loneliness beaten at the post, at times producing little candid pearls of innocence, since these too are aspects of the universe. It is one of the peculiar virtues of the French race that it can take the kind of sturdy long-lived strength which in other countries remains dedicated to the body and yoke it to the service of the mind.

--Rebecca West, Ending in Earnest

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Woo hoo! The Daily Show now has its own website.


Booking Through Thursday

You may or may not have seen my post at Punctuality Rules Tuesday, about a book I recently bought that had the actual TITLE misspelled on the spine of the book. A glaring typographical error that really (really!) should have been caught. So, using that as a springboard, today’s question: What’s the worst typographical error you’ve ever found in (or on) a book?

Remember when I pointed out this mistake?
My daughter dropped and broke her phone a couple weeks back, which, long story short, led to my husband buying himself a Blackberry. I'm kind of anti-cell phone in general and this one, from what I can gather, actually has mystical properties. Not to mention it's scary looking; I keep my distance from it.

He had it on the desk by his side of the bed last night and I swear it buzzed and vibrated all night long.

I asked this morning who'd kept calling.

"Well, TA called once. I don't think he sleeps much. " TA is his financial advisor and he's always scheming something.

"But all the other times. Did I dream them? Did Susie Salmon leave a text message?"

"Susie Salmon?"

"She's dead, she's in heaven, but she--"

"No, of course not. You dreamed that."

"But she's a fictional character, so I thought it might have been someone's idea of a joke."

"You completely dreamed that."

Stupid phone. I'm going to make him leave it downstairs tonight.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Last Meme

Actually, I don't know what this meme is supposed to be called. Last place I saw it was at Dorothy's.

How many books do you own? I have more than 2,000 cataloged at Library Thing.

Last book you bought? Ordered on Oct. 10, my last Amazon shipment consisted of The Unbearable Lightness of Being for myself, Bob Anderson's Stretching for S., and and Josip Novakovich's April Fool's Day for R.

Last book someone bought you? Philip Roth's Everyman arrived wrapped in pretty pink paper a few days ago. It's an early birthday present from my friend W.

Last book read? Last book completed was Cai Emmon's The Stylist. Still in progress, D.H. Lawrence's The Rainbow. More on these two very soon.

Five books that mean a lot to me: Since my birthday's fast approaching and I'm feeling the decades, I'm going to interpret this to mean books I've held on to since childhood and would grieve over if they were no longer in my possession.

All Horses Go to Heaven by Beth Brown. My sister gave this anthology of horses stories to me for my 10th birthday. It's inscribed in red pen.

Walt Disney's World's of Nature, given to me for Christmas by my brother in '68 or '69. He'd not yet taken to inscribing books he gave me in green pen.

David Grew's The Buckskin Colt. I read this in 4th grade, then proceeded to use its opening pages as a template for my own horse story. In other words, it led me briefly into plagiarism.

My 1972 paperback edition (sans back cover) of Louise Fitzhugh's The Long Secret. I have no recollection of what happened to my copy of Harriet; perhaps my mother gave it away during one of her periodic swoops through my possessions.

Josephine Pullein-Thompson's Plenty of Ponies. I stole this from my cousin T. (one of two I stole from her, I didn't dare take The Godfather since that was one she was sure to miss) when she lived next door. How could I resist? It was about a large family, a large family with horses, and they were all British. I underlined all the words I didn't know in pencil; my vocabulary in those days was pathetic.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Literary magazines

Does anyone want or need any literary magazines from the Seventies and Eighties? I've rescued a box of Georgia Reviews from the staff Free Books table for myself, but there are many many other journals still available. Granta, Antioch Review, lots of others.

I hate to see them remain homeless and wind up in a dumpster.

Why we curse

Language has often been called a weapon, and people should be mindful about where to aim it and when to fire. The common denominator of taboo words is the act of forcing a disagreeable thought on someone, and it's worth considering how often one really wants one's audience to be reminded of excrement, urine, and exploitative sex. Even in its mildest form, intended only to keep the listener's attention, the lazy use of profanity can feel like a series of jabs in the ribs. They are annoying to the listener and a confession by the speaker that he can think of no other way to make his words worth attending to. It's all the more damning for writers, who have the luxury of choosing their words off-line from the half-million-word phantasmagoria of the English language.

--Steven Pinker, What the F***?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

We spent the afternoon at Crowders Mountain State Park .

A few of the leaves were just beginning to turn.

We hiked to the top of the monadnock. . .

and despite the haze, spotted Charlotte far off in the distance.

( I see Don Quixote.)

Maybe we'll go back in a couple of weeks and make an entire day of it.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Saturday morning links

We spend much of our lives alone. Some cope with it better than others. The ones who don’t are primed and ready for victimhood. You have to learn to be with yourself, because if you don’t, there’s a whole world of drugs, booze and rotten people who will be your friend until you’ve been sucked dry. Beware of what loneliness makes you do. . .

--Josh Olson, The Life and Death of Jesse James (via Chris)


Rachel Seiffert's top 10 books about troubled families

The demand that stories must be “about” something is from Communist thinking and, further back, from religious thinking, with its desire for self-improvement books as simple-minded as the messages on samplers.

--Nobel Prize-winner Doris Lessing, Questions You Should Never Ask a Writer

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Live and In-Person

Booking Through Thursday

Have you ever met one of your favorite authors? Gotten their autograph?

I love going to readings and book signings. I don't go to these events as often as I did way back last century, but I always find it worthwhile when I do.

I've gotten the autographs of Margaret Atwood, Michael Cunningham, Michael Chabon, Ray Bradbury, Tobias Wolff, Amy Tan, Geraldine Brooks, Haven Kimmel, Katharine Weber, Kinky Friedman and scores of writers from the Carolinas: Fred Chappell, Kaye Gibbons, Clyde Edgerton, Doris Betts, Lee Smith, John Ehle, Jill McCorkle, Josephine Humphreys, Carla Damron, Lawrence Naumoff and others. I also have some books that were already signed by the author by the time I bought them, including Kate's All In Together Girls (she must have broken into the Amazon warehouse one night, don't you think?).

I very much wanted to get Kurt Vonnegut's autograph the year he attended Novello, the local book festival, but the line was tremendously long and his interest in signing books rather short.

How about an author you felt only so-so about, but got their autograph anyway? Like, say, at a book-signing a friend dragged you to?

Usually I'm the one dragging a friend along or going with someone just as eager. I did intend to go to a Ha Jin lecture at Davidson College with a Readerville buddy once without having previously read his work, and I'd have probably bought a book there to have signed, but 9/11 happened and he cancelled, or we cancelled; at any rate, we didn't go.

How about stumbling across a book signing or reading and being so captivated, you bought the book?

I bought an Elinor Lipman story collection after going to her reading, but, alas, not in time for her to sign it.

Russian selections. . .

for Sharon's 2008 Russian Reading Challenge. We're to read at least four over the course of the year.

A quick scan of the shelves gave me today's Thursday Thirteen:

1. Smoke. Ivan Turgenev
2. The Fatal Eggs. Mikhail Bulgakov
3. The Master and Margarita. Mikhail Bulgakov
4. White Walls. Tatyana Tolstoya
5. A Life in Letters. Anton Chekhov
6. Stories. Anton Chekhov
7. The Idiot. Fyodor Dostoevsky
8. House of the Dead. Fyodor Dostoevsky
9. Pale Fire. Vladimir Nabokov
10. The Enchanted Wanderer. Nikolai Leskov
11. Resurrection. Leo Tolstoy
12. Short Works of Leo Tolstoy
13. The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme. Andrei Makine

I'm tempted to warm up to the challenge by reading Clair Huffaker's The Cowboy and the Cossack at some point this fall--a 4,000-mile cattle drive across Siberia sounds good to me.

And if anyone is interested in another set-in-Russia but written by a non-Russian, may I recommend James Meek's The People's Act of Love?

Its 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.

One of my favorite books from last year, most definitely.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"You're reading a magazine."

Is there a note of accusation in the bagger's voice? I always read magazines in the grocery checkout line. I glance up. Probably not, she looks friendly enough.

"People magazine," she says, and actually points at me.

I feel a moment's irrational panic. I'm in this particular store because it's late in the day and I just happened to be nearby and supper's already late. I am not prepared for some twilight zone protocol that says customers can't scan magazines for Dwight Yoakam album reviews. I stuff it hurriedly back in its slot.

"Your shirt, your shirt," she says, chortling. "I guessed right."

Oh, my shirt. Now I get it. I'm wearing the T-shirt I bought at ALA last summer: Guess What I'm Reading?, it says. No one ever has before, though; that's why I was confused.

We have a nice chat while the clerk rings up my supper items. She's not much of a reader herself, she tells me, though her sister is: "She has as many books as Books-A-Million." And her sister writes, has written wonderful stories since she was six.

My bagger keeps a journal, though. It isn't on-line, it's an actual paper journal, and she writes in it every night.

I leave the store feeling rather pleased with humankind.

Monday, October 08, 2007

After the flute solo from Gluck's Orpheus

When he came to an end we sat silent in the darkness. So I was not prepared for it when my mother burst out, in the full flood of impatience, "Jock, nobody could play the flute like that with ill-fitting dentures. I don not believe you have false teeth at all."

"So far as I know he has not," said Constance.

"He would not have them, since he is so young for his age," my mother angrily pursued. "Jock, why must you play the clown? Mrs. O'Shaughnessy! That way of talking Scotch! When you can play the flute like that! Why must you try to spoil everything?"

He answered with no more accent than herself, "Life is so terrible. There is nothing to do with it but break it down into nonsense."

"Terrible?" asked Mamma in surprise.

"What's the good of music," he asked, "if there's all this cancer in the world?"

There came a voice out of the darkness, speaking so earnestly that it was shaken with tears. "What's the harm in cancer, if there's all this music in the world?"

I know that Mamma and Mary and Richard Quin would be as disconcerted as I by this brave answer, for it was Cordelia who had given it, Cordelia who would never know what music was. It was as if Cousin Jock had not gone far enough, it was as if life were breaking itself down into nonsense. Mama said, "Light the gas, please, Richard Quin," and we were all suddenly visible, blinking under the brightness, still pleased and startled by the beautiful music we had heard, and confused by the interchange that had followed it. Mama looked tenderly at Cordelia and said, "We must leave those poor souls who have cancer, please God we all may be spared, to work out that argument." Then she turned her eyes to Cousin Jock, who had gone back to his chair and was sitting with his face in his hands. "Why, Jock!" she said. Of course she felt kindly to him now, nobody could dislike a man who played the flute like that, no matter what he was like. "We all love you when you are reasonable. And from today you can ask my children for anything you want. None of them will forget your playing till the last day of their lives. Drink your beer, eat your sandwich."

--Rebecca West, The Fountain Overflows

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Couple of links for a Sunday morning

The upright citizens of Concord, Massachusetts, didn't think much of young Henry David Thoreau. The cabin on Walden Pond, the night in jail for tax evasion, the constant scribbling in journals—it all seemed like a waste of a perfectly good Harvard education. Even more mysterious was his passion for flowers. "I soon found myself observing when plants first blossomed and leafed," Thoreau confided to his journal in 1856, "and I followed it up early and late, far and near, several years in succession, running to different sides of the town and into the neighboring towns, often between twenty and thirty miles in a day."

Thoreau planned to turn his vast botanical records into a book, but he died of tuberculosis in his mid-40s, the project undone. Walden and his handful of other published writings languished in near obscurity, and even his close friend and mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, said that Thoreau had squandered his talents on the woods. "I cannot help counting it a fault in him that he had no ambition. ...Instead of engineering for all America, he was the captain of a huckleberry party," Emerson lamented in his eulogy of Thoreau.

Michelle Nijhuis's article in this month's Smithsonian explains how Thoreau's botanical notes (eight years worth) are helping scientists monitor global warming.

Of the nearly 600 plant species for which Thoreau recorded flowering times during the 1850s, Primack and Miller-Rushing found only about 400, even with the help of expert local botanists. Among the missing is the arethusa orchid, which Thoreau described with admiration in 1854: "It is all color, a little hook of purple flame projecting from the meadow into the air....A superb flower."

And, in The American Scholar, Melvin Jules Bukiet takes to task a portion of today's contemporary lit that he calls Brooklyn Books of Wonder. Take mawkish self-indulgence, add a heavy dollop of creamy nostalgia, season with magic realism, stir in a complacency of faith, and you’ve got wondrousness, he writes. [T]he BBoWs usually toss a child into a situation of extremity and then rescue her from the jaws of narrative.

He contrasts these escapists books--The Lovely Bones in particular--with serious fiction, which, even if it’s fabulist, sharpens reality. BBoWs elude reality to avoid the taint of anger or cynicism or the passion for revenge felt by real people in similar situations. Instead of telling a story of brute survival, BBoWs indulge in a dream of benign rescue.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Water, water, every where (or, I amuse myself)

So when I added Margaret Drabble's The Sea Lady to my list of completed books last night and noticed Rebecca West's The Fountain Overflows burbling underneath, I thought an actual water cycle might make for some interesting reading. A quick scan of my shelves detected a veritable reservoir of books for quenching that thirst.

Gap Creek? Platte River? Buddenbrooks?

Should I finally get around to The Waves or The Falls? What about Three Men in a Boat or In the Wake?

Sandra would no doubt suggest I read The Thames next, but I might as well wade into the pool I already have instead of logjamming my reading until the Ackroyd's U.S. publication date.

Well, I suppose I could reread Ferris Beach or On the Beach or even The Sea, The Sea.

Or would that be going as overboard as my husband, who actually wished this morning for a hurricane to end the drought we're having?

At the moment I've settled on Lawrence's The Rainbow, but I'm finding it a little dry.

I obviously need some Water Wings.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Booking Through Thursday

Do you have “issues” with too much profanity or overly explicit (ahem) “romantic” scenes in books? Or do you take them in stride? Have issues like these ever caused you to close a book? Or do you go looking for more exactly like them? (grin)

Well, certainly, when I was younger, those scenes were the sole raison d'etre for many of the books that made their way through our hands. We weren't reading Kathleen Woodiwiss and the like in Latin class and on the band bus for anything but such nonsense. And while there certainly was much more to The Godfather than sex, I skipped all the parts that weren't (except for the notorious horse head in the bed scene).

Such was my youth.

But these days, I don't have the interest in or the patience for that kind of writing. I didn't have a problem with Sons and Lovers, but I am curious if I'll reach a point with D.H. Lawrence where I'll start cringing or skipping or--shades of The Bridges of Madison County--reading it aloud to mock it (surely not).

Profanity in books bothers me not at all.

Way back in college, in a writing class, I wrote up to a bedroom scene, skipped a line, and continued after the fact. My classmates--a dirty-minded lot--were united in insisting that I include the damned sex scene in the rewrite. So I did. The protagonist, a guy who regularly wore a Superman T-shirt, couldn't get it up.

I'll take character development over a gratuitous sex scene any day of the week.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The unread meme

There's a new meme going around--the top 106 books tagged "unread" in the Library Thing catalog (why 106? I copied and pasted 114, which is just as random). I saw this first at Only Books All the Time. I never can remember which books I'm supposed to underline or bold or italicize to reveal this, that and the other, so I've simply bolded the ones I haven't read and provided a brief annotation.

  1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

  2. Anna Karenina

  3. Crime and punishment

  4. Catch-22

  5. One hundred years of solitude

  6. Wuthering Heights

  7. Life of Pi : a novel

  8. The name of the rose

  9. Don Quixote

  10. Moby Dick

  11. Ulysses (The first three chapters only. Maybe next year?)

  12. Madame Bovary

  13. The Odyssey

  14. Pride and prejudice

  15. Jane Eyre

  16. A tale of two cities

  17. The brothers Karamazov

  18. Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies (Own it. Got it free from someone at Readerville who found it way too dry.)

  19. War and peace

  20. Vanity fair (I have my mother-in-law's leatherbound edition on my shelf. She hasn't asked about it in awhile, so it isn't currently top priority.)

  21. The time traveler's wife

  22. The Iliad

  23. Emma

  24. The Blind Assassin

  25. The kite runner (Do I need to?)

  26. Mrs. Dalloway

  27. Great expectations

  28. American gods : a novel (Started it in one of those awful soul-sucking bureaucratic lines one day. Can't attempt it again until I recover.)

  29. A heartbreaking work of staggering genius (Do I have to?)

  30. Atlas shrugged (I read Anthem and found that quite enough, thank you.)

  31. Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books

  32. Memoirs of a Geisha (No way, no how.)

  33. Middlesex (I'll get around to it eventually. I liked The Virgin Suicides.)

  34. Quicksilver (Um, probably never.)

  35. Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West … (My high school crowd was obsessed with Wizard of Oz, so much so that I can safely say I wouldn't touch this one with a ten-foot pole.)

  36. The Canterbury tales (Only a few tales)

  37. The historian : a novel

  38. A portrait of the artist as a young man

  39. Love in the time of cholera

  40. Brave new world

  41. The Fountainhead (My daughter told some guy who was interested in dating her awhile back that the only books I'd forbidden her to read were Ayn Rand's and Dan Brown's--his favorite authors. Which, of course, isn't true. All I'd done is tell her Brown wasn't worth bothering with when she asked about The Da Vinci Code and beg her, back when she was in high school and prone to making grand pronouncements, not to put me in the position of having to deal with yet another political stage she was sure to out grow: ergo, keep away from the Rand.)

  42. Foucault's pendulum (One of these days.)

  43. Middlemarch

  44. Frankenstein

  45. The Count of Monte Cristo

  46. Dracula

  47. A clockwork orange (Nope, don't think I ever will.)

  48. Anansi boys : a novel (Someday, probably. S. owns a copy.)

  49. The once and future king (Someday.)

  50. The grapes of wrath

  51. The poisonwood Bible : a novel

  52. 1984

  53. Angels & demons (Why no, I don't believe so.)

  54. The inferno (Just bits of it. Certainly not a priority.)

  55. The satanic verses (Own it. Someday.)

  56. Sense and sensibility

  57. The picture of Dorian Gray

  58. Mansfield Park

  59. One flew over the cuckoo's nest

  60. To the lighthouse

  61. Tess of the D'Urbervilles

  62. Oliver Twist (Probably not.)

  63. Gulliver's travels (Probably not, but own a copy.)

  64. Les misérables (A definite someday.)

  65. The corrections

  66. The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay : a novel

  67. The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

  68. Dune

  69. The prince

  70. The sound and the fury

  71. Angela's ashes : a memoir

  72. The god of small things

  73. A people's history of the United States : 1492-present (Eventually.)

  74. Cryptonomicon (Nope.)

  75. Neverwhere (Nope.)

  76. A confederacy of dunces

  77. A short history of nearly everything

  78. Dubliners (Individual stories, but not the whole thing.)

  79. The unbearable lightness of being (I've read other Kunderas, but not this one.)

  80. Beloved : a novel

  81. Slaughterhouse-five

  82. The scarlet letter

  83. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Pu… (Maybe someday.)

  84. The mists of Avalon (Not interested at this point.)

  85. Oryx and Crake : a novel

  86. Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed (Bought it earlier this year)

  87. Cloud atlas : a novel

  88. The confusion (Never heard of it.)

  89. Lolita

  90. Persuasion

  91. Northanger abbey

  92. The catcher in the rye

  93. On the road (Nope.)

  94. The hunchback of Notre Dame (The sewer system did me in. Maybe I'll attempt it again at some point.)

  95. Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of… (Nope, but it's currently on reserve and I handle it everyday. . .)

  96. Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance : an inquiry into … (Started, but never finished.)

  97. The Aeneid (Translated sections in Latin class, but never read in its entirety. A definite someday.)

  98. Watership Down

  99. Gravity's rainbow (Not yet.)

  100. In cold blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its …

  101. White teeth

  102. Treasure Island (I think I read a children's version at some point.)

  103. David Copperfield

  104. The three musketeers (A definite someday.)

  105. Cold mountain

  106. Robinson Crusoe (Maybe in a month or two. . .)

  107. The bell jar

  108. The secret life of bees (No way, no how.)

  109. Beowulf : a new verse translation

  110. The plague

  111. The Master and Margarita (A definite someday.)

  112. Atonement : a novel

  113. The handmaid's tale

  114. Lady Chatterley's lover (If not for the Outmoded Challenge, then shortly thereafter.)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketConsidering that I turn into a zombie-brain by 9 most evenings, considering that I've never managed to pull an all-nighter in my life, I cannot explain why I find Dewey's 24-hour Read-a-thon slated for Oct. 20 so appealing.

I rarely read for more than two or three hours at a time. In fact, I often work my way through a book in handful-of-pages (or, if I'm reading at work, mere paragraph) increments. To be left alone to careen through a book without stopping seems downright decadent.

I could read on the treadmill. I could read while eating meals prepared by someone else. I could, of course, read in my favorite chair with my book propped on the cat in my lap. What I don't know if if I could find myself conscious and coherent during those late-night hours.

And I could find myself wishing I were scrubbing bird cages or mopping the kitchen floor, long before my brain actually shuts down for the night, but have I mentioned that Dewey's put together a cheerleading squad? Imagine having a You Go, Girl chorus to keep you focused on the task.

No doubt I'll go down to the wire before deciding to commit (a lot will depend on how bad the migraines are that week), but I've already started to compile a list of various short story and essay collections that would be perfect for the occasion. The Read-a-thon's the weekend before my birthday so the family's sure to humor me if I do decide to participate.

How about you? Are you participating in the Read-a-thon?

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Woman Who Waited: The essence of things

In this remote corner of the Russian North, I had expected to discover a microcosm of the Soviet age, a caricature of that simultaneously messianic and stagnant time. But time was completely absent from these villages, which seemed as if they were living on after the disappearance of the regime, after the collapse of the empire. What I was passing through was, in effect, a kind of premonition of the future. All trace of history had been eradicated. What remained were the gilded slivers of the willow leaves on the dark surface of the lake, the first snows that generally came at night, the silence of the White Sea, looming beyond the forests. What remained was this woman in a long military greatcoat, following the shoreline, stopping at the mailbox where the roads met. What remained was the essence of things.

In the mid-seventies, after his girlfriend begins sleeping with other dissidents at parties and his friend leaves Leningrad for a new life outside the Iron Curtain, the narrator of The Woman Who Waited escapes to the Archangel provinces. Intending to write an anti-Soviet satire on the side while getting paid to research the folkways of the region, he instead finds himself writing about Vera, a woman old enough to be his mother yet beautiful enough, mysterious enough, to engage him totally.

Vera is an icon in the village--she tends to the elderly and dying, she buries the dead, she teaches what youth there are, she commands the respect of the most lecherous among them because she is waiting, waiting for her Boris who left when she was 16 to fight the German invasion, and who, after 30 years, has yet to return, yet to be declared definitively dead. Although younger than most women in Mirnoe, hers was a shared plight--most of the men never returned, leaving their widows and mothers to live and then die alone.

Acknowledging that he'd be better off researching folkways in a library, that there is nothing in the village to be satirical about, the narrator postpones his departure while he spies upon Vera and integrates himself into her daily life. As he learns more about her and her reasons for waiting, for returning to the village after eight years in Leningrad in the sixties pursuing a doctorate in linguistics, the narrator continually adjusts his earlier attempts to "size up" this woman whose life he'd previously regarded as "woefully simple."

Eventually the narrator and Vera sleep together. His joy at having bedded such a woman turns to dread and fear almost immediately: She'll depend on him! He'll never get rid of her! He prepares to leave the village without telling Vera good-bye. . . but Vera is at her boat same as any morning and she drops the narrator and his suitcase on the far side of the lake to make it easier for him to catch the train. She is calm and composed, defying all the narrator's expectations. While he has earlier stated he'd rather "deal with a verbal construct than a living person" once her mystery "has been tamed," her secret "has been decoded," the narrator is clearly leaving before he's reached that point. Anything he tells us about Vera ultimately tells us more about him than it does her.

Andrei Makine writes clean, spare prose. The gorgeous descriptions of the forests surrounding the abandoned villages and the lake's nocturnal beauty were enough to make me realize that given the chance I'd've chosen to live there instead of back in Leningrad among the hypocrisy and artificiality of the times.

Something I'd like to pay closer attention to on a reread: the narrator frequently mentions the artificiality of those he associates with. They play to the gallery, acting out caricatures; they force gaity; they act out and are upstaged; they "jot down a few fibs about the gnomes in their forests." I don't recall that Vera is ever presented as behaving inauthentically until the night she and the narrator sleep together, when play-acting suddenly comes to the fore.

Many thanks to Litlove for recommending this book to the Slaves of Golconda.

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...