Friday, November 30, 2007

Bric a brac

(One of these days I've got to get caught up on my book reviews. . .)

This week I started reading Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke. I'm only 30 pages in at this point, and considering how little time I'm going to have for reading in December, it may take me awhile to finish it. I thought I'd mention B.R. Myers' review of the book now, though, since many people are finding their way here looking for commentary on it.

The last time I encountered Myers he was mounted on his moral high horse, taking Michael Pollan to task for hunting and eating meat. Mary brought his latest Atlantic review to my attention several days ago and of course I was eager to see just how cranky he'd be this time around.

Shorter Myers for those who can't get behind the firewall: There is nothing admirable to be found in Tree of Smoke. Because Johnson writes about characters who don't have rich inner lives, his novel cannot be ambitious even though other reviewers have claimed it to be so. Johnson can't write authentic action and when he writes realistic dialogue, it's just inane. When he writes characters who don't conform to racial stereotypes he's proving that he doesn't know much about military life or men in general. Also, Johnson doesn't understand "the spiritual dimension of people's lives," but Myers, while admitting to not being religious, does. It isn't Myers' fault that he felt nothing when he read this book except annoyed: Johnson's word choice is always wrong and besides, he writes like Annie Proulx. And those who admire The Tree of Smoke are lying, are contributing to the rot of "word to thing" (he quotes Ezra Pound who Myers says never ever once in his entire life from cradle to grave said a single thing he didn't mean), and "have no right to complain about incoherent government."

Got that?

As far as I'm concerned (30 pages in), Myers is bat shit. It isn't that his taste is different from mine, it's that he's so willfully determined to be obtuse just so that he can take his swipes.

For example, Myers has a hissy over Johnson's use of the word "bric-a-brac" to describe a wooden Buddha centerpiece. "I had to backtrack in case I'd missed a white man peering through a window, because from the villagers' perspective a less appropriate word than bric-a-brac is hard to imagine," he says.

What Myers leaves out to make his joke is this: an American colonel has been expected at this Vietnamese memorial service, is mentioned in the same paragraph as bric-a-brac, and shows up in the next paragraph, accompanied by an infantryman, a Vietnamese woman employed as a translator, and a projector and screen that are set up in the temple right after the service to show a movie about John F. Kennedy. I'm surprised Myers missed all the references in this section to translations not attempted, communications imprecisely understood, foreigners who must be accomodated despite how one really feels about them, the acceptance of fate. Perhaps bric-a-brac, a word of French origin, was the precise word to get across how inappropriate and out of joint things have become in a country run first by French, now American outsiders--the temple's "small crowd" of gold-painted Buddhas compose a centerpiece topped by a "scintillating battery-run decoration of the type found in GI taverns. . . a disc on which changing bands of light revolved clockwise."

But, as Myers said, he backtracked to look for white men peeping in the window; he didn't go on to the next sentence to encounter bar decorations in the temple.

I much prefer Rodney Welch's take on Tree of Smoke:

It's a Vietnam War novel about the shape-shifting nature of war: the way it defines and obscures, turns truth into lies, real into surreal and people into animals. It is complex and at times may tax a reader's ability to hold it all together, but it's also deeply artistic, brilliantly structured, and exhaustively ambitious. It's also about how hard it is to write a fresh novel about a subject that has been thoroughly ransacked; it's Johnson's entry in the Great American Novel game, and it seems bent on eating everything that came before it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Two memes in one!

First, a Thursday Thirteen. Dorothy and Danielle have both posted their lists of 13 books they'd intended to read this year, but will be carrying over until the next. I, of course, have many more than 13 that I really thought I'd complete in 2007, but the first eight below, which I officially claimed were on my year's reading list last New Year's Eve, particularly sting. Not enough to attempt rushing through the whole lot in December, but enough to make them a "priority" again in 2008.

1. The Charterhouse of Parma. Stendhal. I really enjoyed The Red and the Black, so don't know why I let it get brushed aside except that it looks time-consuming.

2. Germinal. Zola's on the Catholic Church's List of Prohibited Books, so I can read this one for the ILL Challenge and that will counteract the tiny print that will cause me to squint.

3. Tristram Shandy. I started it, but could not stay focused to save my life. It's also on the prohibited list so additional incentive next year not to let Sterne defeat me again.

4. A Sentimental Journey. Perhaps I started with the wrong Sterne and I should read this one before Tristram Shandy?

5. Buddenbrooks. Mann. No explanation for not reading it; it just kept being brushed aside last winter until I forgot about it.

6. The Metamorphoses. I need to buckle down and read a book or two of Ovid each month until I'm done.

7. The Blithedale Romance. Hawthorne. It's right here on my desk. Maybe I should read it in December? The cover looks all nice and wintry. Hmmm.

8. The Guermantes Way. Honestly, this one may carry over until 2009, particularly since I want to read Ulysses next year. Proust is on the back burner at this point.

9. The Yiddish Policemen's Union. I'm letting this Chabon represent all the new fiction I had to buy immediately and have allowed to languish unread on the shelves. I'm going to curtail new book purchases next year, I promise.

10. April Witch. I'm letting Axelsson represent all the hardback fiction from prior years that I have allowed to languish unread on the shelves.

11. Thomas Hardy. I'm letting Tomalin's biography represent all the nonfiction I had to buy immediately before allowing it to, well, you know what.

12. Suite Francaise. I'm letting Nemirovsky represent all the books I've received as gifts because I requested them, yet have allowed to yada yada yada.

13. Habit of Being. Okay, so I did read quite a bit of O'Connor's fiction this year, and I loved what I read of this collection of letters enough that I turned in my library copy and purchased my own. I'll finish it eventually.

And now, for Booking Through Thursday:

Do you get on a roll when you read, so that one book leads to the next, which leads to the next, and so on and so on?

I don’t so much mean something like reading a series from beginning to end, but, say, a string of books that all take place in Paris. Or that have anthropologists as the main character. Or were written in the same year. Something like that… Something that strings them together in your head, and yet, otherwise could be different genres, different authors…

I think reading organically like that is the best way to read. It's certainly something to aspire to, and something I enjoy tremendously when it happens, but the truth is that I allow myself to be too distracted by others' enthusiasm for what they're just read or by selecting books for this or that challenge or by library due dates (although I'm doing much better in that department). Too much outside interference, but I continue to seek it out instead of letting the books themselves guide me and I don't see that changing as long as book blogging continues.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

La Brioche

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They trudged past acres of canvas, through one room after another, for Lydia had some difficulty in finding her way; but finally she stopped him in front of a small picture that you might easily have missed if you had not been looking for it.

"Chardin," he said. "Yes, I've seen that before."

"But have you ever looked at it?"

"Oh, yes. Chardin wasn't half a bad painter in his way. My mother thinks a lot of him. I've always rather liked his still lifes myself."

"Is that all it means to you? It breaks my heart."

"That?" cried Charley with astonishment. "A loaf of bread and a flagon of wine? Of course it's very well painted."

"Yes, you're right; it's very well painted; it's painted with pity and love. It's not only a loaf of bread and a flagon of wine; it's the bread of life and the blood of Christ, but not held back from those who starve and thirst for them and doled out by priests on stated occasion; it's the daily fare of suffering men and women. It's so humble, so natural, so friendly; it's the bread and wine of the poor who ask no more than that they should be left in peace, allowed to work and eat their simple food in freedom. It's the cry of the despised and rejected. It tells you that whatever their sins men at heart are good. That loaf of bread and that flagon of wine are symbols of the joys and sorrows of the meek and lowly. They ask for your mercy and your affection; they tell you that they're of the same flesh and blood as you. They tell you that life is short and hard and the grave is cold and lonely. It's not only a loaf of bread and a flagon of wine; it's the mystery of man's lot on earth, his craving for a little friendship and a little love, the humility of his resignation when he sees that even they must be denied him."

Lydia's voice was tremulous and now the tears flowed from her eyes. She brushed them away impatiently.

"And isn't it wonderful that with those simple objects, with his painter's exquisite sensibility, moved by the charity in his heart, that funny, dear old man should have made something so beautiful that it breaks you? It was as though, unconsciously perhaps, hardly knowing what he was doing, he wanted to show you that if you only have enough love, if you only have enough sympathy, out of pain and distress and unkindness, out of all the evil of the world, you can create beauty."

--W. Somerset Maugham, Christmas Holiday


And from Natalie Angier on the evolution of art:

"Perhaps the most radical element of Ms. Dissanayake’s evolutionary framework is her idea about how art got its start. She suggests that many of the basic phonemes of art, the stylistic conventions and tonal patterns, the mental clay, staples and pauses with which even the loftiest creative works are constructed, can be traced back to the most primal of collusions — the intimate interplay between mother and child. "

Sunday, November 25, 2007

When I was growing up in these mountains, I was always taught that culture was someplace else, and that when the time came, I’d be sent off to get some. Now everybody here realizes that we don’t have to go anyplace else to “get culture” — we’ve got our own, and we’ve had it all along.

--Lee Smith, Think Global, Read Local

Saturday, November 24, 2007

To see a life back to front

Odd, how our view of human destiny changes over the course of a lifetime. In youth we believe what the young believe, that life is all choice. We stand before a hundred doors, choose to enter one, where we're faced with a hundred more and then choose again. We choose not just what we'll do, but who we'll be. Perhaps the sound of all those doors swinging shut behind us each time we select this one or that one should trouble us, but it doesn't. Nor does the fact that the doors often are identical and even lead in some cases to the exact same place. Occasionally a door is locked, but no matter, since so many others remain available. The distinct possibility that choice itself may be an illusion is something we disregard, because we're curious to know what's behind that next door, the one we hope will lead us to the very heart of the mystery. Even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary we remain confident that when we emerge, with all our choosing done, we'll have found not just our true destination but also its meaning. The young see life this way, front to back, their eyes to the telescope that anxiously scans the infinite sky and its myriad possibilites. Religion, seducing us with free will while warning us of our responsibility, reinforces youth's need to see itself at the dramatic center, saying yes to this and no to that, against the backdrop of a great moral reckoning.

But at some point all of that changes. Doubt, born of disappointment and repetition, replaces curiosity. In our weariness we begin to sense the truth, that more doors have closed behind than remain ahead, and for the first time we're tempted to swing the telescope around and peer at the world through the wrong end--though who can say it's wrong? How different things look then! Larger patterns emerge, individual decisions receding into insignificance. To see a life back to front, as everyone begins to do in middle age, is to strip it of its mystery and wrap it in inevitability, drama's enemy. Or so it sometimes seems to me, Louis Charles Lynch. The man I've become, the life I've lived, what are these but dominoes that fall not as I would have them, but simply as they must?

--Richard Russo, The Bridge of Sighs

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ellie Cat


Let's pretend

Let's pretend this is a hypothetical situation.

Let's say that early last summer someone reading a best-selling novel told you that she intended to give said novel to you once she was done. Let's say the best-selling novel is one that many book bloggers would say is a worthy novel, so that you unsurprisingly said, sure, you'd like to have it. No hurry, though, lot's to read in the meantime.

Let's say that in the fall same someone calls you and asks if you've read the novel. You say no, mention that she'd promised to give her copy to you once she'd done. Oh, she's still reading it, she says, and has thought she'd pass it on to X when done. But it is a wonderful book and she hopes that the birthday money and gift card she's giving could be put to use to buy yourself a copy.

Well, you think it's fine if she wants to give the book to X; X really only reads books that are given to him and you have quite the stockpile. The book in question is still a top seller and you're sure in a year or so you'll be able to pick up a used copy for a song, or pluck it from the library shelves for free, so you spend the money on out-of-print Steads and Women in Love and Felix Holt instead. You are happy.

Then, on Thanksgiving, you're told that she's finished the book, that it is one you ought to read immediately, but that she's giving her copy to Y, who is also at her house for Thanksgiving. She wants to know if you'll buy yourself a copy if she writes you a check. Well, yes, you tell her, but there's this three-month moratorium on purchasing books, so it'll be February before you order it. She's quite concerned about the delay, because this is a book you ought to read immediately, and she wants you to go online and order two copies, one for yourself and one for X so that she can give them to the two of you as Christmas presents. Or maybe she should get a book by John Grisham for X. . . But before she can decide there are distractions and you eventually leave her home without ordering books for her to give to anyone.

Let's say that by now you are developing a little fatigue regarding this book. You were happy at the prospect of receiving it in a casual offhand manner, and you were happy to not aquire it at all but to have money for other books instead. But unless this book is chosen as the next Slaves of Golconda selection, you'd rather not be pressured to read it on another's schedule, i.e., immediately, because it's no longer sounding like a gift, but an obligation.

So the hypothetical is, after saying thank you most graciously if/when you unwrap this book Christmas morning, would you:

read it immediately?

shelve it until you feel the whim to read it?

exchange it at the bookstore for, say, the new Ali Smith, and purchase a used copy in a year or two when it shows up at the used bookstore at which time you'll shelve it until you feel the whim to read it?

offer me additional suggestions in comments?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Eliot quotes

We sit up at night to read about Sakya-Mouni, Saint Francis, or Oliver Cromwell; but whether we should be glad for any one at all like them to call on us the next morning, still more, to reveal himself as a new relation, is quite another affair.


There is no escaping the fact that want of sympathy condemns us to a corresponding stupidity. Mephistopheles thrown upon real life, and obliged to manage his own plots, would inevitably make blunders.

--George Eliot

I think I'll have Daniel Deronda finished in another week. I've made it to Chapter LIV.

Monday, November 19, 2007

To Read or Not to Read--pdf file of the N.E.A.'s new study on reading trends and their consequences.

For those who don't want to read the entire report--Motoko Rich summarizes the findings.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

These are the books that have come into our home. . .

since I quit buying books. The top three are ones I ordered prior to entering the three-month period of No New Books aka the Read From the Stacks Challenge and the bottom three are gifts.

The Salzburg Tales--Christina Stead's first published book, a collection of stories based on The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales.

Seven Poor Men of Sydney--Christina Stead's first published novel.

Last Night at the Lobster--Stewart O'Nan's latest.

Best American Essays 2007--A much-appreciated gift from Danielle.

Broken Trail--Alan Geoffrion's "thinking-man's Western." A freebie from KW, Readerville denizen.

Coyote Cowboy Poetry--an autographed collection of cowboy poet Baxter Black's work. Okay, my friend A. gave this to me following my miserable performance at Hearts earlier in the month, but I'm sure she'd have given it to me even if I'd won, so I refuse to regard it as a booby prize.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Speaking of dystopians. . .

or we were here, yesterday, once again going over which society we found more chilling, the one in 1984 or the one in Brave New World, and now here's Margaret Atwood weighing in on the matter:

In the latter half of the 20th century, two visionary books cast their shadows over our futures. One was George Orwell's 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, with its horrific vision of a brutal, mind-controlling totalitarian state - a book that gave us Big Brother and thoughtcrime and newspeak and the memory hole and the torture palace called the Ministry of Love and the discouraging spectacle of a boot grinding into the human face forever.

The other was Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), which proposed a different and softer form of totalitarianism - one of conformity achieved through engineered, bottle-grown babies and hypnotic persuasion rather than through brutality, of boundless consumption that keeps the wheels of production turning and of officially enforced promiscuity that does away with sexual frustration, of a pre-ordained caste system ranging from a highly intelligent managerial class to a subgroup of dim-witted serfs programmed to love their menial work, and of soma, a drug that confers instant bliss with no side effects. (The Guardian)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

National Book Award winners. . .

So glad I snagged a copy of Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke at the ALA conference last summer. I've not heard one bad thing about this book.


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Today’s question comes from Conspiracy-Girl: I’m still relatively new to this meme so I’m not sure if this has been asked yet, but I’m curious how many of us write notes in our books. Are you a Footprint Leaver or a Preservationist?

I aspire to be a Preservationist--and in most cases I succeed since I don't want to lessen the chances of my kids making boatloads of money off these hardbacks that I buy way too often--but once I start leaving footprints, I really leave some footprints.

I dogear like a maniac (on rare occasions even library books--but don't tell--if I'm running low on paper scraps) and I mark passages worth returning to in pencil. I still have Trixie Belden books smeared with red pistachio dye; I have a tendency to eat messily over my books to this day. And yes, my best friend back in elementary school complained mightily about the red pistachio dye (her books were always pristine); that's probably part of the reason why I'm more eager to loan a book I haven't yet read to a friend than one I already have.

I don't write notes in books these days, although I was prone to that in college. The copy of The Rainbow that I read last month came from the university library--someone had outlined an essay on the endpapers front and back in pencil, and had written notes and marked passages in a mixture of pencil and ink throughout the text. I found the notes interesting, although not particularly enlightening, but I would have preferred to come across such notes in a book picked up in the used bookstore instead of in a library book.

Booking Through Thursday

Monday, November 12, 2007

From the OED

caliginosity--dimness of sight

1876 GEO. ELIOT Dan. Der. V. xxxvii. 348, I prefer a cheerful caliginosity, as Sir Thomas Browne might say.

Person least likely to respond. . .

to C.'s "Silly Survey" email. Hah! I'll show her:

What time is it
10:03 a.m.

What's your full Name?
M--- Susan F--- P---

What are you most afraid of?
Alzheimer's disease

What is the most recent movie that you have seen in a Theater
3:10 to Yuma

Place of birth
North Wilkesboro, NC

Favorite food

What's your natural hair color
Originally blonde, now brown

Ever been to Alaska

Ever been toilet paper rolling -

Love someone so much it made you cry

Been in a car accident
Just minor bump-ups

Croutons or bacon bits

Favorite day of the week

Favorite Restaurant
No favorite

Favorite Flower

Favorite sport to watch
Triple Crown

Favorite drink

Favorite ice cream
Vanilla-fudge swirl

Disney or Warner Brothers
I don't know!

Ever been on a ship
Yes, but only in a harbor

What color is your bedroom carpet

How many times did you fail your driver's test
You mean the first time? Once

Before this one, from whom did you get your last e-mail
Mail Delivery System--an email I sent to my college roommate bounced back

What do you do when you are bored
Read stuff on the internet

10ish, usually

Who will respond to this the quickest
Someone with time on their hands

Who is the person least likely to respond
Someone who's dead

Who is the person that you are most curious to see their responses
I think C. should leave me a comment admitting she doesn't know me as well as she thinks she does!

Favorite TV show
The Daily Show

Last person you went to dinner with

What is your favorite vacation spot?

What are your favorite colors
Greens and blues

How many tattoos do you have

How many pets do you have
Three cats, three parrots

Which came first, the chicken or the egg

What do you want to do before you die
Publish a book

Have you ever been to Hawaii

Have you been to countries outside the U.S.

How many people are you sending this e-mail to?

Type the first word(s) that comes to mind.
Blog post

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Favorite question of the week

"How can a book about a man who feels so little make you feel so much?"

My son. Sometimes he just blows. me. away.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Gathering

At the moment I'm juggling two books--Robinson Crusoe and Identical Strangers, a memoir written by twins separated at birth that I received back in the summer through the Library Thing Early Reviewers giveaway. Eliot has been set aside until the weekend. I'm happy to finally be reading the Defoe because it means I'll be able to read books by Muriel Spark and J.M. Coetzee that are riffs off of that novel--yes, I'm already thinking ahead to what I can read next year.

Started and finished earlier in the week was Anne Enright's The Gathering, a book I knew I wanted to read as soon as I heard it was about a sibling's suicide (been there, done that, still picking the scabs), although I'd been a bit hesitant to start since it was about an Irish sibling (kind of also done the Irish bit with a cousin from Dublin who lived with us and shared my room through most of high school).

Enright's writing won me over so quickly, though, that I was itching to get online to add her books to my wishlist before I was a scant dozen pages into the book (I'll post quotes in a day or so, have no fear). I'll be having an Enright spree most definitely just as soon as the Reading From the Stacks challenge is over--two are already in the university library, thank goodness; I'll be able to snatch them up on Feb. 1. Her first collection of short stories is out-of-print and very expensive. I hope it'll be reissued now that she's won the Booker, but in the meantime, there's always ILL.

Enright is brilliant. She tells the story in the voice of an angry, bitter woman capable of the darkest humor and the most unreliable of narrations. Veronica's responsible for identifying the corpse and bringing back from Brighton the remains of her drowned brother. She's also footing the bill for the funeral and coffin; that's how close she was to Liam. She believes his problems started the year they and their younger sister Kitty (there were 12 Hegarty children if you count Stevie, "the little angel in heaven") were sent to stay with her grandparents (her mother may have been experiencing a breakdown). While there, either Liam or possibly Veronica herself fell prey to the sexual advances of her grandparents' landlord. Veronica is not exactly sure which of these memories is the true one, especially since imagining horrible things is her strong suit. And imagine she does, delving desperately into her grandmother's past as a way of understanding why such a woman would allow such a man to have access to the children, while Veronica's own unhappy life, with husband and lovely young daughters (although, as Liam has told her, "Pity about the teeth" on one of the girls), reaches a critical point of its own.

I do believe this one may wind up in top position in my favorite books list at the end of December.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


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Would you say that you read about the same amount now as when you were younger? More? Less? Why?

When I was a kid I read all the time. My teachers never gave me a hard time about reading in class; in fact, they encouraged it since it was the easiest way of keeping my best friend and me quiet and under control after we'd finished our work (and we worked fast). We spent a great deal of time in the school library, where drop-ins were always welcomed (unlike the media centers my kids had to deal with). And, of course I read all the time outside of school as well. Interestingly enough, I was never actually assigned a book to read for school until I was in high school.

I didn't stop reading all the time until after college, when I was married and working full time. I became addicted to counted cross stitch and spent a few years stitching even more than I read. Throw in a couple of babies and an obsessive urge to write and it was a good decade on before I regained my read-all-the-time equilibrium, which I hope to maintain for the rest of my life.

Booking Through Thursday

Thursday Thirteen

The 13 books I've added to my Amazon wishlist since vowing eight days ago not to buy books for three months:

Fire in the Blood. Irene Nemirovsky

The Aeneid. (Fagles's paperback edition comes out in January)

Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis. Ali Smith

Like. Ali Smith

Sunset Song. Lewis Grassic Gibbing

Where Three Roads Meet. Sally Vickers

Dream Angus. Alexander McCall Smith

A House and Its Head. Ivy Compton-Burnette

Manservant and Maidservant. Ivy Compton-Burnette

The Wig My Father Wore. Anne Enright

What Are You Like. Anne Enright

The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch. Anne Enright

Strange As This Weather Has Been. Ann Pancake

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Nothing book-related tonight, sorry. I'm still a little riled about something that happened at the polls yesterday.

One of our regulars came in to vote in the late afternoon, but her name, for a reason we couldn't imagine, had been removed from the poll books. She hadn't moved, she hadn't missed a few elections which would have bumped her over into the inactive book, she hadn't done anything to warrant disappearing completely from the books. It was very odd.

Now we could have just had her vote a provisional ballot and left it to the folks at the board of elections to determine what had happened and whether her ballot would count; she could have called in a few days to find out if it had. Instead our chief judge called the BOE and kept asking to speak to someone higher up the chain until she found out the reason why this regular voter had been purged:

She'd stopped getting mail at her house and had switched to a post office box four or five years ago. When the mail the BOE sent her kept coming back, they'd removed her from the books. Don't bother voting her provisionally, our judge was told; we won't count it. She'll have to reregister.

Of course the woman had no idea the BOE had been trying to get in touch with her--no one I know could tell you how often new voter registration cards are mailed to established voters; we don't need to show them to vote anyway.

Instead of putting a note to check her address in our poll books, she's denied the right to vote.

That stinks, no matter how gracious she was about it all.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

No one can read Daniel Deronda without perceiving and regretting the singular way in which the characters are incessantly pushed back in order that the author may talk about them and about everything in heaven and earth while the action stands still.

--George Saintsbury, The Academy, September 9, 1876

Oh, I don't know about that. One of the things that I'm finding so pleasing about this book is in fact the narrator's sensibility and willingness to tell the reader her thoughts about the story and the characters therein.

A shout out to those of you reading Daniel Deronda--how are you doing? Are you as crazy over this book as I am? How far along are you? I've read the first 20 chapters and I'm wondering if I should take something else with me to the polls on Tuesday (if I'm too far ahead) or is I should start scrambling to catch up.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Wild cockatiel in Beaufort, NC

I had never before seen a parrot in the wild, nor am I all that likely to again, so this one experience I'll treasure for its novelty and its rarity, as well as the beauty of the bird itself. In short, it is the unexpected bird that I remember, in the same way that I remember rainbows: a misty bow over Loch Lochy in Scotland, a fat tropical one over the water as we traveled to Hanauma Bay on Oahu, a spectacular double bow that drew everyone out of Breadmen's Restaurant after a thunderstorm in Chapel Hill, a colossal horizon-to-horizon double bow that filled Woodberry's eastern sky at sunset in early June. It's not that I disapprove of chasing rainbows from time to time--that's the whole raison d'etre of most liberal arts majors, when you get down to it--but if you expected them to appear in Breadmen's parking lot, you probably wouldn't abandon your omelet to go look at one. The greatest beauty of the rainbow, and by extension the bird, is that whether you're in Kansas, Key West, or Kennebunkport, you can always be surprised. They can turn up anywhere, at any time.

--Peter Cashwell, The Verb 'To Bird'

Friday, November 02, 2007

Hey, MFS! Do you know about this?

It showed up on the new book cart today and I thought you might want to buy a copy for your very own.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

You bad snail

I'm interested in people here and now. I have not even any moral views. Maybe, within myself I think "you shouldn't do that," but I would never write such a thing, or express it openly, because I was brought up by a naturalist [her father, David Stead], and you don't say to a snail, "You bad snail, you mustn't cross my garden path" or anything, do you? A snail crosses your garden path and he leaves a little silver trail, which is very nice of him, and it's very pretty and that's all. A sea-anemone puts out its beautiful little tentacles making it look like a flower and it catches things out of the water and eats them. You don't say, "You bad sea-anemone, you shouldn't eat those live things," do you? They do eat them and otherwise they wouldn't be alive and be like a lovely little flower.

--Christina Stead, from a 1982 interview quoted in Michael Upchurch's "Rereading," American Scholar, Winter99, Vol. 68, Issue 1 (an article that's making me rethink my decision to ignore Stead's House of All Nations due to its focus on the high finance world)

It's baaaack. . . .

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The From the Stacks Winter Reading Challenge, that is, sponsored once again by Overdue Books.

And may I say it's good that I ordered books yesterday and the day before, because from now until Jan. 30, I'm prohibited. The rules state for this challenge we would be reading 5 books that we have already purchased, have been meaning to get to, have been sitting on the nightstand and haven't read before. No going out and buying new books. No getting sidetracked by the lure of the holiday bookstore displays. Last year I took the no buying new books part very seriously and I hope to do the same again. Because really, reading five books I own between now and Jan. 30 is a piece of cake. But going without new book purchases, now, that's challenging.

Not that I managed to go three months without buying books last year (just two, but that's an awful long time when you're on the Amazon site several times a day the way I am), but I did read from my own shelves, with only two library books somehow managing to foist themselves upon me, over the three months of the challenge.

Other than Christina Stead novels for Outmoded Authors and The Owl Service for the Slaves of Golconda group read, I should be library book-free until the end of January.


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...