Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Favorite Books and Reading Stats

I remember 2008 as being a year that I found myself putting more books aside than I've ever done in the past, to the point that I avoided starting a few works I expected to love just in case it was me, and not the books. Yet when I look back over my reading list, I can only spot one short spell where every book I read seemed "eh," and I really think it was the books, not me. All in all, there was a lot to love this year.

My top ten favorite reads of 2008:

The Birds Fall Down. Rebecca West
Brideshead Revisited. Evelyn Waugh
A High Wind in Jamaica. Richard Hughes
Oscar and Lucinda. Peter Carey
The Suicide Index. Joan Wickersham
Olive Kitteridge. Elizabeth Strout
Our Horses in Egypt. Rosalind Belben
The Northern Clemency. Phillip Hensher
Half of a Yellow Sun. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
(not pictured)The Hour I First Believed. Wally Lamb

I also greatly enjoyed Tana French's In the Woods and The Likeness; Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father; Julie Hecht's Happy Trails to You; Roxana Robinson's Cost; Gerard Donovan's Julius Winsome; Jessica Mitford's Hons and Rebels and Lauren Liebenberg's The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam.

I completed 78 books this year. The stats break down thusly:

Nonfiction: 13

Novels: 62

Books of short stories: 3

Library books read: 27

Newly acquired books read: 32

Newly acquired books stockpiled for later reading: 88 (much better than last year's 141+, but still way too many)

Free e-texts read: 7

Books "just published" in the last year or so: 41

Works I consider classics: 8 (must do better in this category next year)

Works written prior to the 20th century: 4

Re-reads: 1 (Animal Farm)

Books written by women: 42

Authors I read multiple books by: Elizabeth Gaskell (3), Tana French (2), Beth Gutcheon (2).

Books still in progress: Ten? Twelve? Something like that.

We're traveling to my sister's tomorrow to replace a faucet and --with some luck-- unclog a drain, so I'll wish everyone a Happy New Year now in case I'm not online tomorrow.

First book I intend to read in 2009: Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture, a library book with a fast-approaching due date.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Fifty-three minutes

I found myself so fascinated by Elaine's posts on her reading speed--she can read Animal Farm in 30 minutes--that I had to put my own self to the test a couple weeks back. I finished the book in 53 minutes, which translates into less than 700 words a minute, shabby by Elaine standards, and totally irrelevant to my typical reading rate. Yesterday I decided to time myself on another short book, Adalbert Stifter's Rock Crystal. I finished it in (I know you're not going to believe me) 53 minutes. Unfortunately, the Stifter is much shorter than the Orwell, and I estimate my reading speed on this one at being less than 350 words a minute, which qualifies as an epic fail by Evelyn Wood's standards, because she doesn't care that during this time I was also eating breakfast or fighting off the cat that kept insisting she get to sit in front of the book on my lap instead of behind it. Evelyn Wood no doubt had distractions in her reading life as well; she just read even faster to compensate.

Clearly I'm never going to make it through 400 books a year like Jessica, or 200 classics like Mandi, but I would like reach 100 again--haven't done that since 2001--so I'm intending to make more time to read books in 2009. I waste an enormous amount of time on the internet; if I can curtail that habit I should be able to reach 100 whether or not a cat's obstructing my view a good deal of the time.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Reason for the Season

Okay, so technically very few of the books pictured above are presents--Christmas or late birthday--but are instead the happy outcome of having a credit card company double points for educational expenses; otherwise making tuition payments are kind of a drag. And the season I'm talking about isn't the season that you're in the midst of celebrating or that you'll necessarily be entering into, but for me, I feel I have no choice: I'm a binge buyer and I need to go cold turkey. No more new books brought into the house (sans library books, downloads to the Kindle, and the four already ordered but not expected until January) until May.


I fully intend to buy the new A.S. Byatt as soon as it's published (in May), but I hope the moratorium will have made me more temperate and my purchases will proceed at a more leisurely pace for the rest of '09.

Call this the Winter of My Content to Read What I Already Own:

Poppy Adams. The Behavior of Moths

Margaret Atwood. Payback

Michel Faber. The Fire Gospel

J.G. Ballard. Miracles of Life

Jean Edward Smith. FDR

Jon Meacham. American Lion

Roberto Bolano. 2666

Adam Braver. November 22, 1963

Nick Hornby. Shakespeare Wrote For Money

Daphne Du Maurier. Don't Look Now

Julian Rubinstein. Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

Adam Gopnik, ed. The Best American Essays 2008

Peter Matthiessen. Shadow Country

William Faulkner. Snopes: The Hamlet; The Town; The Mansion

William Gaddis. The Recognitions

Friday, December 26, 2008

Wintery Books

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No, no … this isn’t the question you’re probably expecting, that asks about your winter reading habits.

What I want to know today is … what are the most “wintery” books you can think of? The ones that almost embody Winter?

Laura Ingall Wilder's The Long Winter is the first one that comes to mind.


James Meek's The People's Act of Love

Dan Simmons' The Terror

Orhan Pamuk's Snow

and lots of Russian short stories. And Joyce's "The Dead."

And the one I'm reading next, Adalbert Stifter's Rock Crystal, should prove to be awfully wintery.

Booking Through Thursday

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Books as presents

Jeanne asked the other day about the books I was buying to give as gifts and as I've now completed my Christmas shopping, I can finally answer.

I'm fairly wary about buying books for others. My tastes don't usually synch well with those in the extended family and I'm more apt to recommend books to friends or to loan out my own copy than to purchase another one for them to have. My friend W. and I buy books for one another, but we give them as birthday presents and we often run suggestions by one another before we make the final selection.

I've always found it easy to select books for my kids, but now that they're grown, it makes more financial sense to let them make their reading selections from the books already in the house. I'm giving two novels to my daughter this Christmas--I chose one because the library copy I'd read perfectly represents a narrative voice R's expressed interest in studying and the other's sort of a wild card--based on what I read on one blog, it sounds like something someone with her major would enjoy. (I can't give the names of these books at the moment because she reads the blog.) My son's getting two works of nonfiction--this year's tome on behavioral economics (he's quite fond of behavioral economics) and his wild card selection, a book of survival skills.

My mother-in-law's favorite book this year--and definitely her favorite book to give as a gift--is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a book I've yet to read despite the fact that I recommended it to W. just yesterday. Based on her affection for this book, I felt safe selecting
G.B. Edwards' The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, the only book about Guernsey Island that I've read (and totally enjoyed), and Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road, which she's managed to never encounter and has the same epistolary style, for her.

And Jeanne should be happy to learn that I'm giving Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy to my niece, who's just the age for a spy notebook.

I'm also giving four gift cards to book stores, but who knows if the recipients will decide to use the credit on music or movies instead of books.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Just added to my wish list

Fred Kaplan's Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer:

"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that ' all men are created equal.' We now practically read it 'all men are created equal, except Negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equals, except Negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.' When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Remember the ground control!

I'm going to tell a funny on my son.

A couple weeks back he had to watch a movie based on an historical event for a class and then write a paper about it. He watched The Alamo, John Wayne version.

The instructor hasn't given the papers back yet, but someone asked about them this morning in class and he said although he hadn't finished grading them all (it's the last week of class), so far they were pretty good.

But there was one paper, he said, that he wasn't sure whether he should give an F to or an A-plus.

Seems the Bowie the writer of this paper had placed at the Alamo was David, not Jim.

I've been recasting the movie in my mind all afternoon. The stars look very different.

You can never get the job done

The annoying thing about reading is that you can never get the job done. The other day I was in a bookstore flicking through a book called something like 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (and, without naming names, you should be aware that the task set by the title is by definition impossible, because at least four hundred of the books suggested would kill you anyway), but reading begets reading--that's sort of the point of it, surely?--and anybody who never deviates from a set list of books is intellectually dead anyway.

--Nick Hornby, Shakespeare Wrote For Money

Now seems as good a time as any to confess that I decided during the waning days of October to bow out of all current reading challenges and to resist future entanglement with any of these enticing efforts to direct my reading. Even though I put only books I want to read on a challenge list, the fact that they're on a list at all sets up all sorts of mental boundaries--I avoided the downloaded George Gissings on my Kindle for the past nine months because I needed to concentrate on 19th century women, for example--that contributed to my eschewing books almost completely for a few weeks while I obsessively checked the interconnected internet tubes once again for any other ridiculous misinterpretations of the First Amendment that may have come tumbling out of Sarah Palin's mouth.

So. I'm back to reading at whim and allowing my reading to beget reading and trying to keep reading-by- library-due-dates under control. That's enough of a traveler's lantern for me right now.

I will be participating in the occasional group read; I have a first edition of William Gaddis' The Recognitions on my desk at work so that I can read along with LitLove's Reading Gaddis group, and I will of course continue reading with the Slaves of Golconda and perhaps even posting my thoughts on these books--next up, Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry with discussion at the end of January-- instead of moving right along to the next book on a list that needs to be checked off.

Monday, December 01, 2008


The fiction that best captured the emotional pitch of living in 2008.

I've read none of these so far, although I've gone as far as to check the Oates out from the library.

(And then returned it, untouched).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I found an interview with the author who caused a furor a few weeks back when a blogger gave him a bad review and was greatly amused by one of his responses. Asked to recommend or at least list a few of the writers he reads, he admitted his ego was too big to bother with anyone other than himself. Or, rather, he said he didn't have time to read, which translates to the same thing.

I'd much rather read a writer who shows enthusiasm and appreciation for others. Like, say, David Sedaris, who's been promoting George Saunders on his recent reading tour. He read half of "Ask the Optimist!" when he was in Charlotte last month and sold copies of The Braindead Megaphone along with his own books. I found that very cool.

Or like the writers mentioning their favorite books in the annual Guardian best of the year list this weekend. My tbr list is much longer now that I've finished the article --I added books recommended by authors I've long admired and I'll be looking for the previously unread writers who happened to recommend books I'd read earlier and enjoyed; I should enjoy them if we have a shared taste, right? Fortunately I've already purchased or placed a library reserve on several of these books; the others have yet to be published in the U.S. I'm going to try to resist placing international orders for awhile.

And now I'm off to do some honest-to-God reading. I've been too distracted with the traveling and the cooking the last few days to manage more than a handful of pages.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Welcome Morning

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry "hello there, Anne"
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.

The Joy that isn't shared, I've heard,
dies young.

--Anne Sexton

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Octopus in a box

I never have dreams this good.

But I did recall a tidbit of a dream with some literary content that I had a few weeks back. Last month, I came upon a hardback copy--second printing, U.S. edition--of Margaret Drabble's The Realms of Gold while in a bookstore in Burlington, VT--a book I'd searched for in the shops for thirty years (I first read Drabble in 1978) to replace the already used paperback in which I'd worked math problems on the final two pages. Because life works that way, I then proceeded to receive an autographed U.K. first edition for my birthday.

And that's when I noticed that the first sentence in the U.S. edition--The octopus lived in a square plastic box with holes for his arms--actually differed from the first sentence in the U.K. version--The octopus lived in a square perspex box with holes for his arms.

And what does this have to do with my dream? I dreamed a third version of that sentence-The octopus lived in a square moleskine box with holes for his arms.

I need a dream upgrade. Elastic band and lined pages totally optional.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warmhearted on different scales. Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.

--FDR, quoted in James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn's The Three Roosevelts

Not one of the FDR books getting all the attention these days, but a good one, nonetheless.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Booking Through Thursday Twofer

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I receive a lot of review books, but I have never once told lies about the book just because I got a free copy of it. However, some authors seem to feel that if they send you a copy of their book for free, you should give it a positive review.

Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews?

One reason I'm reluctant to accept review copies directly from authors is that I don't want to encounter anyone who feels that I'm in his debt because I've received his book for free. (I work in a library. Chances are I could read his book for free anyway.)

Reviewers are obligated to tell the truth as they see it; anything else would be unethical. I've yet to be harassed by an unhappy author; I generally don't continue reading books that I'm not enjoying, so usually no negative reviews show up here to set someone off. However, if I were to post something that led to hard feelings and harassment, I'd either delete the offending comments and/or emails and refuse further engagement with that individual or showcase the comments if the author was making a particular ass out of himself and I thought everyone else would get a kick out of his behavior.

I’ve asked, in the past, about whether you more often buy your books, or get them from libraries. What I want to know today, is, WHY BUY?

Even if you are a die-hard fan of the public library system, I’m betting you have at least ONE permanent resident of your bookshelves in your house. I’m betting that no real book-lover can go through life without owning at least one book. So … why that one? What made you buy the books that you actually own, even though your usual preference is to borrow and return them?

If you usually buy your books, tell me why. Why buy instead of borrow? Why shell out your hard-earned dollars for something you could get for free?

I've gone a little nuts in the book buying department over the last several years--getting the mortgage paid off has afforded me that luxury--but I've been trying to cut back and hope to limit new book purchases next year to those acquired through the use of gift certificates issued from the credit card company and Amazon's associates program. Not only do I have too large of a stockpile of unread books around the house to continue at my present rate, but my husband works for one of the banks that's been in the news the last few months and could well be unemployed at some point next year. Plus, we need a new roof. And a new refrigerator.

But I much prefer owning to borrowing. I like to revisit favorite passages even if I don't do a complete reread; I like to read at my own pace instead of having to consider the person behind me on a book's waiting list; I like to know they're there for me whenever I decide on a moment's whim that the time is ripe for me to read them. I'm all about immediate gratification when it comes to books.

Booking Through Thursday

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

February 5 or February 7, 1993 - November 18, 2008
Requiescat in Pace

Friday, October 31, 2008


Bookwise, I have to thumb all the way back to February 1998 in my reading journal to find a time when I did less reading than I managed this month. Back then, I encountered Steven Millhauser's superb Edwin Mullhouse at the same I was dealing with Anglo-American cataloging rules, and that was it for February. This month, after a distracted slog through Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, I realized there was no point in bothering with a book until after November 4. I have been totally engrossed in the election. No doubt some of you will be grateful that I've spared you a running commentary on all of that.

But my birthday was this month and so the books kept stockpiling whether or not I was reading.

Adalbert Stifter's Rock Crystal. One of the latest NYRB titles. I have almost a complete shelf of NYRBs by now.

Drusilla Modjeska's The Orchard. I'd not heard of this book before it showed up as a potential read for The Slaves of Golconda; while Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry was ultimately chosen for our January discussion, this one (suggested by LitLove) looked too good to pass up.

Andrew Crumey's Sputnik Caledonia. I think I heard about this one via Readerville.

Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. My mother-in-law insisted I have this one.

Francine Prose's Goldengrove. Probably the most obvious book on the stack for me to have.

Charlotte Mosley's The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters. Finally out in paperback. . .

Ron Rash's Serena. An Appalachian Macbeth? We'll see.

Nadeem Aslam's The Wasted Vigil. (Review copy)

Alan Cheuse's To Catch the Lightning. (Review copy)

See you on November 5 when I resort to my normal default settings. In the meantime, go vote for Obama.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Literature is inescapably political. . . . It is in the act of reading that we define our notions about the world, what we judge to be right or wrong, important or unimportant, acceptable or unacceptable; literature is the testing ground of the imagination, where we decide who we are and what sort of society we live in or should be living in. You tell me your favorite novelists and I'll tell you whom you vote for, or whether you vote at all.

-- Stephen Vizinczey

(I originally posted this quotation--my second on the blog--in October 2004)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Book Meme

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I’ve seen this series of questions floating around the ‘net the last few days, and thought it looked like a good one for us!

What was the last book you bought?

Took me 29 years, but I finally came across a hardback copy of Margaret Drabble's The Realms of Gold over the weekend. I found it in Crow Books in Burlington, Vermont, and I was so thrilled by the find that I also bought a store T-shirt.

Name a book you have read MORE than once

E. M. Forster's Howards End

Kate Atkinson's Human Croquet

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?

Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun

Joseph Campbell's Myths to Live By

How do you choose a book? eg. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews

For all those reasons and several more. I swear sometimes it seems to happen by osmosis.

Do you prefer Fiction or Non-Fiction?


What’s more important in a novel - beautiful writing or a gripping plot?

Character development.

Most loved/memorable character (character/book)


Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?

Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Nadeem Aslam's The Wasted Vigil

Susan Jacoby's The Age of American Unreason

Rebecca West's This Real Night

Sana Krasikov's One More Year

David Foster Wallace's Oblivion

Haven Kimmel's Iodine

Mecklenburg County Board of Elections's Precinct Management Manual

What was the last book you’ve read, and when was it?

Michael Greenberg's Hurry Down Sunshine. I read it on the plane going to Vermont.

Have you ever given up on a book half way in?

Most recently: David Rabe's Dinosaurs on the Roof.

I appear to have given up on Les Miserables, but I will eventually get around to finishing it.

Booking Through Thursday

How can it be Thursday already?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Well, that was different!

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What was the most unusual (for you) book you ever read? Either because the book itself was completely from out in left field somewhere, or was a genre you never read, or was the only book available on a long flight… whatever? What (not counting school textbooks, though literature read for classes counts) was furthest outside your usual comfort zone/familiar territory?

And, did you like it? Did it stretch your boundaries? Did you shut it with a shudder the instant you were done? Did it make you think? Have nightmares? Kick off a new obsession?

Pick a taboo, any taboo.

You will find it broken in Dirck Van Sickle's Montana Gothic and, chances are, you will find yourself totally squicked out in the process.

I read it because years ago someone in the western lit thread at Readerville mentioned it as one of the books he was taken with, but felt he could not recommend to anyone. Of course, I had to learn the why of that for myself.

This is the kind of book that when a friend sees you reading it and asks what it's about, you reply, "Trust me: you don't want to know." If the friend persists (and mine didn't), you say, "It's like Faulkner or McCarthy, I guess. Really dark Faulkner or McCarthy."

(Actually, now that I think about it, it has RIP Challenge written all over it. Or, if you're tired of reading titles from a banned books list and wondering when you get to the end of them what got their challengers all worked up, this is the perfect antidote.)

Montana Gothic. If you dare.

Booking Through Thursday

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

This is the library I want!

Walker shuns the sort of bibliomania that covets first editions for their own sake—many of the volumes that decorate the library's walls are leather-bound Franklin Press reprints. What gets him excited are things that changed the way people think, like Robert Hooke's Micrographia. Published in 1665, it was the first book to contain illustrations made possible by the microscope. He's also drawn to objects that embody a revelatory (or just plain weird) train of thought. "I get offered things that collectors don't," he says. "Nobody else would want a book on dwarfs, with pages beautifully hand-painted in silver and gold, but for me that makes perfect sense."

What excites him even more is using his treasures to make mind-expanding connections. He loves juxtapositions, like placing a 16th-century map that combines experience and guesswork—"the first one showing North and South America," he says—next to a modern map carried by astronauts to the moon. "If this can happen in 500 years, nothing is impossible."

--Stephen Levy, "Browse the Artifacts of Geek History in Jay Walker's Library"

Friday, September 19, 2008

House of All Nations

I think I ought to forget all other reading obligations long enough this fall to make my way through Christina Stead's out-of-print House of All Nations.

From the dust jacket:

"For money, wrote Balzac, "people fight and devour one another like spiders in a pot." In House of All Nations, the pot is an exclusive private European bank, and the spiders are a rich mixture of high-stakes gamblers, tax evaders, and shady speculators, all united by their love of money. They burn for it, hunger for it, and indeed would sell their souls for it had they souls to sell. Leading them on the chase is the cynical and mercurial director of the bank, Jules Bertillon, for whom every political or natural disaster is a potential shower of gold. The supreme manipulator whose only principle is money. Bertillon is a master of the devious maneuver, and his clients trust and even love him for it. In the end, he is the duper duped, but it is the clients who pay: for Jules, unprincipled to the last, has not been so foolish as to believe in himself.

Set in the Paris of the interwar period, House of All Nations is a vast panoramic novel of the intrigues, swindles, and manipulations of this world on international fiance. "No one ever made enough money," says Jules Bertillon at the outset of this story of greed and power - and that is the leitmotif for the blackmailers, playboys, brokers, and bankers who swirl through this multilayered book. Intent on their personal gain, they play out the turns of fortune against a backdrop of worldwide economic depression and the rising tide of Fascism. Here are the thirties brought to life - the decadence and indifference, the selfishness and short-sightedness that would culminate in world war.

First published in 1939, House of All Nations was greeted with great critical praise. "Combined with her Hogarthian humor, brilliant vocabulary, high-keyed imagination, the result is one of the most savage satires on 'the principle of money' since Balzac," said Time. The New Yorker acclaimed it as a book "full of rich comedy, crowded with Balzacian characters...a work of extraordinary talent." And in his page-one review in the Sunday New York Herald Tribune, Alfred Kazin wrote: "here, set down with trembling irony and a generation's disgust behind it, is the clanging, frantic overture to the hysterical thirties. Christina Stead has written her novel with stock prices in her eyes and ears, the pulse of change under her fingers; she has written it not around an abstract terror, but around. . . the puffed-up balloon financiers who blew Europe hot and cold until they blew up themselves and part of the continent with them. She has carved out a slice of the history of our own time."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nobody knows where the readers are, or how to connect with them. Fifteen years ago, Philip Roth guessed there were at most 120,000 serious American readers—those who read every night—and that the number was dropping by half every decade. Others vehemently disagree. But who really knows? Focused consumer research is almost nonexistent in publishing. What readers want—and whether it’s better to cater to their desires or try harder to shape them—remains a hotly contested issue.

--Boris Kachka, "The End"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New books

I've been returning unread books to the library, calculating how many books remain on the various challenges I've committed to, making list after list of books I'd really like to complete by the end of the year and swearing to myself repeatedly that I'm going to cut way back on the number of new purchases so that I can devote more time to the ones I already own (memo to self: isn't it about time for the Read from the Stacks challenge? Investigate).

So a short stack this month and lots of hopes that I won't have another photo of new lovelies to share until after the holidays:

Norman Mailer's Miami and the Siege of Chicago.

Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Carl Rollyson's The Literary Legacy of Rebecca West.

Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Mistaken Philanthropy

There's an old-fashioned, verdant peice of wisdom, altogether unsuited for the enlightened age we live in; fished up, probably, from some musty old newspaper, edited by some eccentric man troubled with that inconvenient appendage called a heart! Don't pay any attention to it. If a poor wretch--male of female--comes to you for charity, whether allied to you by your own mother, or mother Eve, put on the most stoical, "get thee behind me," expression you can muster. Listen to him with the air of a man who "thanks God he is not as other men are." If the story carry conviction with it, and truth and sorrow go hand in hand, button your coat up tigher over your pocket-book and give him a piece of--good advice! If you know anything about him, try to rake up some imprudence or mistake he may have made in the course of his life, and bring that up as a reason why you can't give him anything more substantial, and tell him that his present condition is probably a salutary discipline for those same peccadilloes! Ask him more questions than there are in the Assembly's Catechism, about his private history, and when you've pumped him high and dry, try to teach him--on an empty stomach--the "duty of submission." If the tear of wounded sensibility begins to flood the eye, and a hopeless look of discouragement settles down upon the face, "wish him well," and turn your back upon him as quick as possible.

Should you at any time be seized with an unexpected spasm of generosity, and make up your mind to bestow some worn-out old garment, that will haedly hold together till the recipient gets it home, you've bought him, body and soul; of course, you are entitled to the gratitude of a life-time! If he ever presumes to think differently from you after that, he is an "ungrateful wretch," and "ought to suffer." As to the "golden rule," that was made in old times; everything is changed now; it is not suited to our meridian.

People shouldn't get poor; if they do, yo don't want to be bothered with it. It is disagreeable; it hinders your digestion. You would rather see Dives than Lazarus, and, it is my opinion, your taste will be gratified in that particular,--in the other world, if not in this!

--Fanny Fern, in the Olive Branch, June 5, 1852

Saturday, September 13, 2008

"She scares the bejeebers out of me"

From Jo Becker, Peter S. Goodman and Michael Powell's In Office, Palin Hired Friends and Hit Critics:

The new mayor also tended carefully to her evangelical base. She appointed a
pastor to the town planning board. And she began to eye the library. For years,
social conservatives had pressed the library director to remove books they considered immoral.

“People would bring books back censored,” recalled former Mayor John Stein, Ms. Palin’s predecessor. “Pages would get marked up or torn out.”

Witnesses and contemporary news accounts say Ms. Palin asked the librarian about removing books from the shelves. The McCain-Palin presidential campaign says Ms. Palin never advocated censorship.

But in 1995, Ms. Palin, then a city councilwoman, told colleagues that she had noticed
the book “Daddy’s Roommate” on the shelves and that it did not belong there,
according to Ms. Chase and Mr. Stein. Ms. Chase read the book, which helps
children understand homosexuality, and said it was inoffensive; she suggested
that Ms. Palin read it.

“Sarah said she didn’t need to read that stuff,” Ms. Chase said. “It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn’t even read it.”

“I’m still proud of Sarah,” she added, “but she scares the bejeebers out of me.”

Monday, September 08, 2008

If we were only the Shakespeares to see it

'The point is,' he explained to Lawford, standing amid a postitive archipelago of precious 'finds,' with his foot hoisted onto a chair and a patched-up, sea-stained folio on his knee, 'I honestly detest the mere give and take of what we are fools enough to call life. I don't deny Life's there,' he swept his hand towards the open window--'in that frantic Tophet we call London; but there's no focus, no point of vantage. Even a scribbler only gets it piecemeal and through a dulled medium. We learn to read before we know how to see; we swallow our tastes, convictions, and emotions whole; so that nine-tenths of the world's nectar is merely honeydew.' He smiled pleasantly into the fixed vacancy of his visitor's face. 'That's why I've just gone on,' he continued amiably, 'collecting this particular kind of stuff--what you might call riff-raff. There's not a book here, Lawford, that hasn't at least a glimmer of the real thing in it--just Life, seen through a living eye, and felt. As for literature, and style, and all that gallimaufry, don't fear for them if your author has the ghost of a hint of genius in his making.'

'But surely,' said Lawford, trying for the twentieth time to pretend to himself that these endless books carried the faintest savour of the delight to him which they must, he rather forlornly supposed, shower upon Herbert, 'surely genius is a very rare thing!'

'Rare! the world simply swarms with it. But before you can bottle it up in a book it's got to be articulate. Just for a single instant imagine yourself Falstaff, and if there weren't hundreds of Falstaffs in every generation, to be examples of his ungodly life, he'd be as dead as a doornail to-morrow--imagine yourself Falstaff, and being so, sitting down to write "Henry IV," or "The Merry Wives." It's simply preposterous. You wouldn't be such a fool as to waste the time. A mere Elizabethan scribbler comes along with a gift of expression and an observant eye, lifts the bloated old tippler clean out of life, and swims down the ages as the greatest genius the world has ever seen. Whereas, surely, though you mustn't let me bore you with all this piffle, it's Falstaff is the genius, and W.S. merely a talented reporter.

'Lear, Macbeth, Mercutio--they live on their own, as it were. The newspapers are full of them, if we were only the Shakespeares to see it. Have you ever been in a Police Court? Have you ever WATCHED tradesmen behind their counters? My soul, the secrets walking in the streets! You jostle them at every corner. There's a Polonius in every first-class railway carriage, and as many Juliets as there are boarding-schools. What the devil are you, my dear chap, but genius itself, with all the world brand new upon your shoulders? And who'd have thought it of you ten days ago?'

--Walter de la Mare, The Return

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Primary source

The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Sarah Palin's hometown newspaper, pulls from the archives and reprints in full the Dec. 18, 1996, article that first broke the story about Palin's censorship inquiries.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

It's been almost 24 hours since I realized something irrefutable about the two males I share a home with, something I still believe--after the requisite cooling down period-- is worthy of public broadcast: between the two of them, they don't have the brains that God gave a billy goat. *

You want proof? Your honor, if it pleases the court, Exhibit A: the blister on the bottom of the big toe on my left foot. And Exhibit B: a matching blister on the other big toe. Aren't they lovely? Er, no.

The facts: the two of them, my dearly beloved husband and son, dropped me off on campus yesterday, thereby tacitly agreeing to pick me up when my work day was done. At the time that I always, always, always leave work on a Friday (5 pm sharp), I reported to the usual picking up spot, across from the statue of the 49er panning for gold, and waited.

And waited and waited.

I thought about returning to the library and placing a where-the-heck-are-you phone call (no, I was not outfitted with a cell phone), but since I was sure that the growling stomach on at least one of the two males would momentarily lead him to the realization that logically he could expect no supper if he did not have a cook in the house, and he would remember to make haste to bring me home, I instead decided to walk toward the entrance of campus, during which stroll I would no doubt encounter a family vehicle pulling to the curb with a chastened expression on its driver's face.

The facts are that I left campus and I walked two miles down the edge of a sidewalk-free highway before abandoning the they'll-drive-up-at-any-second-apologizing-like-crazy-for-not-keeping-track-of-the-time expectation for the much more cheerful they've-been-killed- by-a-pack-of-raging -house -cats-and-I-hope-that-Nicholson -barfed-on -them-while-she -was-gnawing-their-knees scenario, which is a much more forgiveable excuse, when you think about it in the right kind of way.

And it rained (Hello, outlier drops from Tropical Storm Hanna!). And then it stopped raining. And I walked the last mile, across countless interstate exit and entrance ramps and an overpass, and I reached our neighborhood and I made a decision: I would walk in our house and not say anything. I'd see how long it would take before someone realized what they'd forgotten to do. And then I'd blast 'em. And send them to bed without supper.

But my husband was sitting outside and he rose to his feet at the sight of me trudging up the driveway and said incredulously, You walked? We were waiting for you to call before we came to pick you up and take you out to dinner.

It turned out that when one of the males that I share a home with was making ready to go pick me up at the appropriate time, the other male caused him to lose the power of his convictions that I needed to be picked up by telling him that he was sure I was going to call. Because I had called years ago when I needed to be picked up late at night. And they'd sat around with growling stomachs for an hour waiting for Godot, er, for the phone to ring.

Because obviously, if you don't have the brains that God gave a billy goat,** it would never occur to you to call the library yourself, to put an end to all the speculation as to why I hadn't yet called, because you think the phone lines run only one way.

One final fact: After dinner at the restaurant, I told the one who'd intended to pick me up sans phone call that he was now old enough to stop falling into line with every one of his dad's notions unless he can provide evidence to support it.

And later this weekend, I intend to offer him this post as an exercise in spotting errors of thought.

Because you have to use the brains you've got.

*another fun saying from my childhood: If they had any brains, they'd take them out and play with them.

**and, when God was handing out brains, they thought he said trains and ran and hid under the front porch; that was fun to say, too.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Blue river of truth

And in our own reading lives, every day, we come across that blue river of truth, curling somewhere; we encounter scenes and moments and perfectly placed words in fiction and poetry, in film and drama, which strike us with their truth, which move and sustain us, which shake habit's house to its foundations: King Lear asking forgiveness of Cordelia; Lady Macbeth hissing at her husband during the banquet: Pierre almost executed by French soldiers in War and Peace; the tattered band of survivors wandering the city streets in Saramago's Blindness; Dorothea Brooke in Rome, realizing that she has married a man whose sould is dead; Gregor Samsa, being pushed back into his room by his own, horrified father; Kirilov, in The Possessed, writing his suicide note, with the awful Peter Verkhovensky by his side, suddenly and ridiculously bursting out: "Wait! I want to draw a face with the tongue out on the top. . . I want to tell them off!" Or the beautiful litle scene in Persuasion when Anne Elliot, kneeling on the floor, and keen to get a heavy two-year-old boy off her back, is suddenly relieved of the burden by the man she secretly loves, Captain Wentworth:

Someone was taking him from her, though he had bent down her head so much,
that his little sturdy hands were unfastened from around her neck, and he was
resolutely borne away, before she knew that Captain Wentworth had done it.

Her sensations on the discovery made her perfectly speechless. She could
not even thank him. She could only hang over little Charles, with most
disordered feelings.

Or the last chapter of Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop, some of the most exquisite pages ever written in American fiction. Father Latour has returned to die in Santa Fe, near his cathedral: "In New Mexico he always awoke a young man; not until he rose and began to shave did he realize that he was growing older. His first consciousness was a sense of the light dry wind blowing in through the windows, with the fragrance of hot sun and sage-brush and sweet clover; a wind that made one's body feel light and one's heart cry 'To-day, to'day,' like a child's." Lying in his bed he thinks about his old life in France, about his new life in the New World, about the architect, Molny, who built his Romanesque cathedral in Sante Fe, and about death. He is lucid and calm:

He observed also that there was no longer any perspective in his memories.
He remembered his winters with his cousins on the Mediterranean when he was a
little boy, his student days in the Holy City, as clearly as he remembered the
arrival of M. Molny and the building of his Cathedral. He was soon to have done
with calendared time, and it had already ceased to count for him. He sat in the
middle of his own consciousness; none of his former states of mind were lost or
outgrown. They were all within reach of his hand, and all comprehensible.

Sometimes, when Magdalena or Bernard came in and asked him a question, it
took him several seconds to bring himself back to the present. He could see they
thought his mind was failing; but it was only extraordinarily active in some
other part of the great picture of his life--some part of which they knew

--James Wood, How Fiction Works

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How inappropriate

As mayor, Sarah Palin "asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." The librarian, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire her for not giving "full support" to the mayor.

--Nathan Thornburgh, Mayor Palin: A Rough Record

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Enjoy. If you read a bit of political commentary into the segue midway through, I won't mind.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


The wood is all flicker and murmur and illusion. Its silence is a pointillist conspiracy of a million tiny noises--rustles, flurries, nameless truncated shrieks; its emptiness teems with secret life, scurrying just beyond the corner of your eye. Careful: bees zip in and out of cracks in the leaning oak; stop to turn any stone and strange larvae will wriggle irritably, while an earnest thread of ants twines up your ankle. In the ruined tower, someone's abandoned stronghold, nettles thick as your wrist seize between the stones, and at dawn rabbits bring their kittens out from the foundations to play on ancient graves.

--Tana French, In the Woods

Oops, I've already deviated from my RIP Challenge list. Typical.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


It is now possible to get a Kindle for $259--$100 off the regular price--by signing up for an Rewards Visa card before Sept. 8.

You particularly want an Rewards Visa card if you have a college student in your family--you receive double rewards points for school payments. That's on top of triple rewards points for books or other items purchased through Amazon.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ah, the challenge of it all


I know I overcommitted to reading challenges this year and that's cramped my Read at Whim! mantra to a certain extent, but there's no way I would let Carl's third R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge pass me by. I'll try for Peril the First, reading four books from the pool of potentialities below:

Elizabeth Gaskell's Gothic Tales (on the Kindle)

Walter de la Mare's The Return (on the Kindle)

Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca

Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News?

Richard Hughes' In Hazard

Carlo Emilio Gadda's That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana

Ann Radcliffe's The Italian

Neither can I resist Kristi's What an Animal! challenge, which started July 1 and runs through June 30 next year.

The rules are simple:

1. Read at least 6 books that have any of these requirements:
a. an animal in the title of the book
b. an animal on the cover of the book
c. an animal that plays a major role in the book
d. a main character that is or turns into an animal (define that however you'd like ;>)).

The best part? I'd read three books that will count for this challenge before I even learned about it (and I'm not counting the mule books):

Richard Hughes' A High Wind in Jamaica. Tabby the cat!

Gerard Donovan's Julius Winsome. Hobbes the dog! (plus cover)

Charlotte Bacon's Split Estate. Horses, horses, horses! (plus cover)

I'm sure I'll read three more that qualify before next summer without an effort on my part, so no reading pool here, just a reliance on serendipity.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

If you need me, I'll be at Shatley Springs, listening to bluegrass and eating country-style.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Want to feel appreciated?

Details here


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Inspired by Booksplease

Whether you usually read off of your own book pile or from the library shelves NOW, chances are you started off with trips to the library. (There’s no way my parents could otherwise have kept up with my book habit when I was 10.) So … What is your earliest memory of a library? Who took you? Do you have you any funny/odd memories of the library?

My earliest memory of a library is that of checking out a hardcover copy of Clare Turlay Newberry's Marshmallow (the big white rabbit) while I was still preschool age. The library in my town was then located in the basement/back side of a Main Street building--just one big room if my memory is correct. It would later move into the old post office, which has several rooms, none of which had concrete walls like the basement library. My mother always took me to the library. She never got anything for herself and preferred dropping me off once I got a little older.

I have no doubt that I was in my elementary school library on a daily basis. The teachers would send my best friend and I there whenever we asked or whenever we finished our work because we could not be trusted to remain quiet and nondisruptive unless we were well-supplied in books. In third grade we were the class librarians--C. stamped due dates and I put the cards in order.

Booking Through Thursday

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How do you consume the news?

Are you a Net-Newser? An Integrator? A Traditionalist? Or are you among the Disengaged?

Find your niche in the Pew Research Survey on Audience Segments in a Changing News Environment.

Heartening finding:

Most Americans say they prefer to get political news with no point of view rather than news that shares their political views. Two-thirds (66%) wants news with no political point of view, which is consistent with measures from recent news consumption surveys.

Majorities in all major demographic and political groups say they prefer news with no political point of view. However, less educated people are more likely than those with more education to say they prefer news from their point of view. A third of conservative Republicans, and about the same proportion of liberal Democrats (31%), say they prefer news with their point of view. That compares with 27% of conservative and moderate Democrats, 21% of moderate and liberal Republicans and just 15% of political independents.

Disheartening finding:

Only 18 percent of the public could identify the party in control of the House of Representatives and supply the name of the United States' secretary of state and Britian's prime minister. A third could not answer a single question correctly.

Southern Reading Challenge: Hee Haw!

I read four books for Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge, which ended last week:

Truman Capote's The Grass Harp

Flannery O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge

Gin Phillips' The Well and the Mine (that cover photo is one taken by Eudora Welty)

and Hillary Jordan's Mudbound

and they were all enjoyable and well worth reading, particularly the O'Connor.

I'd just finished the Capote when Maggie announced the State of the Mule contest based in part on the dead mule alert I'd issued about Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms during last summer's challenge . As you might imagine, I was internally braying with happiness--I mean, who in their right mind wouldn't want to hone in on the physical condition of all fictional mules they might encounter? (Oh, bite your tongue if you're going to be that way.)

Trouble was, mules were nonexistent in The Grass Harp and scarce in the O'Connor and the Phillips. O'Connor mentions a mule a couple of times: in "Greenleaf," Mrs. May reflects that she's put up with with "having shiftless people's hogs root up her oats, their mules wallow on her lawn, their scrub bulls breed her cows" and in "Judgement Day" Tanner dreams of going back home by train in a coffin and having his friends meet him there with a "borrowed mule and cart." State of the mule: pretty good.

Mules were just scarce in the Phillips as well, but their well being took a dramatic decline. Albert, a miner in Depression-era Alabama, says, "Started as a boy sorting the coal from the slate for the tipple. I knew my way around the pit mules by the time I quit grammar school for good--poor blind creatures that must've thought they were born and raised in hell. We didn't use them no more once the electric cars came around, with the chains hauling the cars up to the top." Earlier, Albert says that a black co-worker who'd served time in prison for vagrancy had been "treated worse than a pit mule" during those six years. State of the mule: hellish while alive, now presumed dead.

Then I read Mudbound. And let me tell you, Hillary Jordan has read her Faulkner. There are quite a few times that As I Lay Dying was brought to mind, but mule death is what we're dealing with here: Jordan knows dead mules are a steadfast requirement.

Oh, she teases us at first, gives us a dead horse, live plow mules. But when she decides it's time to kill one off, she makes that mule's death be an act of God:

Hap, you better humble down now, you been taking the blessings I've given you for granted. You been walking around thinking you better than some folks cause you ain't working on halves like they is. You been forgetting Who's in charge and who ain't. So here's what I'm gone do: I'm gone send a storm so big it rips the roof off the shed where you keep that mule you so proud of. Then I'm gone send hail big as walnuts down on that mule, making that mule crazy, making it break its leg trying to bust out of there. Then, just so you know for sure it's Me you dealing with, the next morning after you put that mule down and buried it and you up on the ladder trying to nail the roof back onto the shed I'm gone let that weak top rung, the one you ain't got around to fixing yet, I'm gone let it rot all the way through so you fall off and break your own leg, and I'm gone send Florence and Lilly May to a birthing and the twins out to the far end of the field so you laying here half the day. That'll give you time to think real hard on what I been trying to tell you.

State of the mule: Collateral damage.

And speaking of collateral damage, the worst mule carnage encountered this summer didn't take place in Southern literature, but in the harbor on the quai at Smyrna:

The Greeks were nice chaps too. When they evacuated they had all their baggage animals they couldn't take off with them so they just broke their forelegs and dumped them into the shallow water. All those mules with their forelegs broken pushed over into the shallow water. It was all a pleasant business. My word yes a most pleasant business.

Nice image, Ernest Hemingway.

Further mule alerts as warranted. You don't have to thank me.
"It's like a slur in music, leading you to the next thought without making you stop to rest."

Be sure to note the Marilyn Monroe illustration that accompanies the "Sex and the Semicolon" article.

Monday, August 18, 2008

It seems like a lifetime ago. . .

my daughter went to school--first one, and then another--and my son stayed home with me. Or went to preschool, where he majored in Power Rangers, the original crew. And outside the Power Rangers obsession, which got on my nerves, there were plenty of books and dinosaurs, so life, basically, was good.

And then my son started kindergarten, and for one glorious year both attended the same school (my daughter's third).

And then my son switched schools and my daughter stayed put for another year, and time sped up and now my daughter's gone and graduated from college--"with distinction," as it says on the diploma mailed here earlier in the month--and the straight A torch has been passed on to her brother, who's the only one in the family starting a new semester today, when, clearly, both ought to be in back in class.

Someone needs to go to grad school before things start getting a bit too weird around here.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Latest batch of books

These are the books that have taken up residency on my shelves over the last couple of months. It's sort of magic how these things find their way here considering I've had exactly two trips to the bookstore this summer and brought home only four books total. If you're out of storage space, they will come, I suppose.

David McCullough. John Adams. Finished watching the HBO series earlier in the week. I'll probably wait to start this one until after I've read a Jefferson bio.

Anne Enright. Yesterday's Weather. Short stories. I'm very excited to own this.

Beth Gutcheon. Good-bye and Amen. Already finished with a review pending.

Robert Boswell. The Half-Known World: On Writing Fiction. I love reading craft books and I'm quite fond of Boswell anyway.

John Dufresne. Requiem, Mass. Read during the readathon in June.

Helen Garner. The Spare Room. It didn't make the Booker longlist, but I bought it anyway.

Amitav Ghosh .Sea of Poppies. This one did make it onto the Booker longlist.

Haven Kimmel. Iodine. I'm anxious to start.

R.W.B. Lewis. The Jameses: A Family Narrative. I've eyed library copies of this one for years, but knew it would be impossible to read it before its due date. Now I can read it at my leisure.

Joan Wickersham. The Suicide Index. One of the best books I've read this year.

Richard Hughes. A High Wind in Jamaica, The Fox in the Attic, In Hazard, and The Wooden Shepherdess. If they're all as wonderful as High Wind, I'm in for a treat.

Stefan Zweig. The Post-Office Girl. Lots of discussion of this one in the forums at Readerville and Book Balloon.

Darcy O'Brien. A Way of Life, Like Any Other. If it's reissued by NYRB it's got to be good, right?

Kitty Aldridge. Cryers Hill. Another Readerville recommendation.

John McPhee. The Control of Nature. Purchasing this one led to a big discussion on Alaska and Utah with the owner of my favorite used bookstore: he was previously a miner in Utah.

John Welter. Night of the Avenging Blowfish. I've read this one before. Welter is hilarious. Why has he stopped publishing?

Nicolai Gogol. Overcoat and Other Tales of Good and Evil. The only thing I've read by Gogol is Dead Souls. I'm sure that's not enough.

Michael Greenberg. Hurry Down Sunshine. ARC

Sana Krasikov. One More Year. Review copy

Perri Klass. The Mercy Rule. Review copy

Porter Shreve. When the White House was Ours. Review copy

And (unpictured) for the Kindle:

Lin Enger. Undiscovered Country. Based on Hamlet.

David Rabe. Dinosaurs on the Roof. I'm not quite halfway through and I doubt I ever finish it.

Works of Anton Chekhov. The complete works. For $4.79.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gold Medal Reading

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You, um, may have noticed that the Olympics are going on right now, so that’s the genesis of this week’s question, in two parts:


  • Do you or have you ever read books about the Olympics? About sports in general?
  • Fictional ones? Or non-fiction? Or both?

And, Second:

  • Do you consider yourself a sports fan?
  • Because, of course, if you’re a rabid fan and read about sports constantly, there’s a logic there; if you hate sports and never read anything sports-related, that, too … but you don’t have to love sports to enjoy a good sports story.
  • (Or a good sports movie, for that matter. Feel free to expand this into a discussion about “Friday Night Lights” or “The Natural” or whatever…)

I watched part of the opening ceremonies last Friday, and I've watched more than that in past years, but for the most part I simply can't muster the interest in sitting in front of the TV screen. In other words, no one would ever mistake me for a sports fan.

I've read about the original games in my history reading, but never a book about the Olympics. I feel that I ought to read Tom Wolfe's The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamlined Baby, or at least the part about Wilkes County and Junior Johnson (one of L.'s cousins was a race car driver--killed when a tire blew up-- and another relative's family owned the track there), but so far I haven't made an effort to secure a copy. NASCAR, eh. I try to ignore it but it's always there in the background.

My lack of interest does not apply to sports that involve horses. From the Black Stallion and National Velvet and Ralph Moody's Come On, Seabiscuit when I was a child to Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit, I've read a lot of books about horse racing.

Outside that area of interest, I've managed to read either Dan Jenkins' Semi-Tough or Peter Gent's North Dallas Forty (I honestly cannot remember which) for a novel about football, and, for baseball, David James Duncan's The Brothers K and Russell Rowland's In Open Spaces. And I did actually read nonfiction about basketball back in high school: I'd been hired by the local newspaper to be the sports stringer (can you imagine?!?!) for my high school and I figured I ought to learn something about the game.

Anything beyond these will require a bit more caffeine flowing through the system.

Booking Through Thursday

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I'd wondered if this would happen:

An additional 2,500 copies have been commissioned for “Story of My Life,” according to Vintage Books, a paperback imprint of Random House, Inc. The book, first released in 1988, is narrated by a promiscuous, aspiring actress whom [Jay] McInerney has said was inspired by [Rielle] Hunter — then named Lisa Druck — and a group of friends the author had met in New York. (Charlotte Observer)

I pulled my copy off the shelf Friday night since I remembered very little about the book--wasn't there something about a horse, something designed to make the reader feel a bit of compassion for this awful girl? Or was that the story of my life, always focusing on the horse, dating all the way back to my Black Beauty days?-- and I hadn't liked it nearly as well as the told-in-the-second-person Bright Lights, Big City. And thumbing through it I remembered a conversation I'd had with a fellow classmate in '93, who'd confessed to a monumental crush on Alison Poole but could not adequately explain the why of that crush in a way that I could understand.

I still don't understand.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Silent stories

When I first came to this country, I would tell silent stories. I would tell them to people who had wronged me. If someone cut in front of me in line, ignored me, bumped me or pushed me, I would glare at them, staring silently hissing a story to them. You do not understand, I would tell them. You would not add to my suffering if you knew what I have seen. And until that person left my sight, I would tell them about Deng, who died after eating elephant meat, nearly raw, or about Ahok and Awach Ugieth, twin sisters who were carried off by Arab horsemen and, if they are still alive today, have by now borne children by those men or whomever they sold them to. Do you have any idea? Those innocent twins likely remember nothing about me or our town or to whom they were born. Can you imagine this? When I was finished talking to that person I would continue my stories, talking to the air, the sky, to all the people of the world and whoever might be listening in heaven. It is wrong to say that I used to tell these stories. I still do, and not only to those I feel have wronged me. The stories emanate from me all the time I am awake and breathing, and I want everyone to hear them. Written words are rare in small village like mine, and it is my right and obligation to send my stories into the world, even if silently, even if utterly powerless.

--Dave Eggers, What is the What

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Other Worlds

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Are there any particular worlds in books where you’d like to live?

Or where you certainly would NOT want to live?

What about authors? If you were a character, who would you trust to write your life?

(This came to me when reviewing a Jonathan Carroll book - I’m not sure I’d like to live in the worlds of his books.)

Oh, if ever a batch of questions cried out for caveats. . .

I spend more time reading about situations, experiences, worlds that I'd rather not experience on my own. (Or at least not if I were to remain female humbly born in my new incarnation. Do I have any control over that? ) Not that I'm a plot-hound by any means, but there's just not enough narrative drive in Eden to keep me sniffing around there for very long.

Although it might not be so bad to be one of Connie Willis's historians and get to dip in and out of different time periods without having to be stuck in any particular one.

And for worlds I wouldn't want to live in but suspect many others would: I would never want to inhabit Jane Austen's world. It's only Austen's sensibility that keeps those lives from sounding as tedious as they really are.

Who would I trust to write my life? Lorrie Moore. Clyde Edgerton. Anne Tyler. Although I would love to see what Virginia Woolf or Flannery O'Connor could make out of it.

Booking Through Thursday

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

How many people have bought a Kindle? According to this article, 240,000 reading devices have been shipped. And there's speculation a new Kindle next year will target the textbook market.

Monday, August 04, 2008

A High Wind in Jamaica

To prolong the pleasure of Richard Hughes' A High Wind in Jamaica which I was speeding though yesterday at a great clip, I paused to track down the Rebecca West review from which the description A hot draught of mad, primal fantasy and poetry on my copy's back cover was taken. And when my seach failed to uncover the source I decided that if I could wish any book into existence it would be a collection of West's book reviews. Why hasn't anyone already taken this endeavor upon their shoulders? I'll buy your book! I'll even pre-order it!

One good thing that came out of my seach, though: when I plugged in A High Wind in Jamaica's original title, The Innocent Voyage, I was brought back to a post of my own, three summers ago, when I quoted a New York Times reviewer during my E.C. Spykman Celebration who'd called Ted, Jane, Hubert and Edie Cares "probably the most uninhibited youngsters in fiction since Richard Hughes wrote The Innocent Voyage" more than a quarter century earlier. Why I didn't immediately go searching for Richard Hughes' book three summers ago is a mystery. I suppose I thought it would really be kind of innocent.

Clearly I have a lifelong love of uninhibited literary youngsters, and while I would prefer to live next door to the Cares children rather than the Bas-Thorntons if I were to have any say in the matter, I was quite happy to make their acquaintance in the pages of the book.

The Thornton crew is growing up uninhibitedly on the Ferndale estate outside St. Anne's following Emancipation in the West Indies:

It was kind of a paradise for English children to come to, whatever it might be for their parents: especially at that time, when no one lived in at all a wild way at home. Here one had to be a little ahead of the times: or decadent, whichever you like to call it. The difference between boys and girls, for instance, had to be left to look after itself. Long hair would have made the evening search for grass-ticks and nits interminable: Emily and Rachel had their hair cut short, and were allowed to do everything the boys did--to climb trees, swim, and trap animals and birds: they even had two pockets in their frocks.

The children are banished unwillingly from their version of Eden following a hurricane; they are to be taken to school in England on a ship captained by a man who "certainly looked the ideal Children's Captain," but by the end of Chapter Two will have declared the children murdered by pirates instead of merely abandoned to them through his own cowardice and incompetence.

This inversion of expectation as well as the tone of Hughes's writing is what makes this one such a treasure: Parents don't know their children best or really at all; authority figures are anything but, as are the notions of justice, truth, solace; babies are more animal than human.

And the fate of a snake-killing cat called Tabby will be of more lasting concern to the children than that of any member of their own tribe.

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...