Thursday, July 31, 2008


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What are your favourite final sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its last sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the last line?

If I'm browsing, I've been known to read the final line or paragraph of a novel in making a decision. If the ending tells me all that's come before, back on the shelf it goes. If the ending is one that will require me to read the entire book to understand, then it's likely to come home with me.

(Although truth be told, I'm much more likely to select a book because of a browse through the middle of a book than because of how it starts or ends.)

Three of my all-time favorite endings from three of my all-time favorite novels:

Cody held on to his elbow and led him toward the others. Overhead, seagulls drifted through a sky so clear and blue that it brought back all the outings of his boyhood--the drives, the picnics, the autumn hikes, the wildflower walks in the spring. He remembered the archery trip, and it seemed to him now that he even remembered the arrow sailing in its graceful, fluttering path. He remembered his mother's upright form along the grasses, her hair lit gold, her small hands smoothing her bouquet while the arrow journeyed on. And high above, he seemed to recall, there had been a little brown airplane, almost motionless, droning through the sunshine like a bumblebee.

--Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant


This is what I miss, Cordelia: not something that's gone, but something that will never happen. Two old women giggling over their tea.

Now it's full night, clear, moonless and filled with stars, which are not eternal as was once thought, which are not where we think they are.If they were sounds, they would be echoes, of something that happened millions of years ago: a word made of numbers. Echoes of light, shining out of the midst of nothing.

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

--Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye


"It stinks like trains, Mom" she says over the hiss of engines. It's a harsh, queasy, burn smell, with its suggestions of hell and carcinogenesis. I think, This is why a woman makes things up: because when she dies, those lives she never got to are all going down with her. All those possibilities will just sit there like a bunch of schoolkids with their hands raised and uncalled on--each knowing, really knowing, the answer.

Life is sad. Here is someone.

"Knock, knock," whispers Georgianne. She takes two steps to my one. "Knock, knock," she repeats.

"Who's there?"


"Me who?"

"Just me!" she says and giggles wildly.

I shake my head. "You made that up, didn't you."

"Yup." She tugs at her bag. Passing the diesel at the front, we are suddenly hit with a steamy, acrid smoke billowing out from underneath it. People around us cough. George leans her head on my arm, mock-weary, Pre-Raphaelite. She is a gift I have given myself, a lozenge of pretend. Pretend there's a child dozed between us, wrote Darrel once, and the city's parch and chill is not the world, and the world's not hurtful as a fist holding us sternly, always here and down.

George fiddles with my coat cuff. "Sometimes," she sighs into the steam, "I feel like I'm right in the mist of things."

I swear, she is a genius.

--Lorrie Moore, Anagrams

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Warm novels and cold novels

Except for my dog I lived on my own, for I had never married, though I think I came near once, and so even the silences here were mine. It was a place built around silences: my father was a reader of books and spreading along the walls from the wood stove stretched the long bookcases from the living room and on to the kitchen at the back and right and left to both bedrooms, four shelves high, holding every book he ever owned or read, which was the same thing, for my father did indeed read everything. I was surrounded therefore by 3,282 books, leatherbound, first editions paperbacks, all in good condition, arranged by alphabet and recorded on lists written in fountain pen. And because the bookcase ringed the entire cabin--and since some rooms were darker and colder than others, being distant from the woodstove--there were also warm novels and cold novels. Many of the cold novels had authors whose last names began with letters after "J" and before "M," so writers like Johnson and Joyce, Malory and Owen lived back near the bedrooms. My father called it an outpost of Alexandria in Maine, after the Greek library, and he liked nothing better when he came in after work than to stretch his socks to the fire until they steamed, and in his thick sweater and smoking his pipe then turn to me and ask for a particular book and I remembered the cold pages in my hands, carrying to my father the volume he wanted, watching it warm under his eyes by the fire, and when he was finished I carried the warm book back to its shelf and slid it in, a thighter fit because it had grown slightly in the heat.

--Gerard Donovan, Julius Winsome

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lillian Gary Taylor

The University of Virginia Library has digitized the memoirs and the reading journals of Lillian Gary Taylor, who died in 1961 at the age of 96. The journals, 18 volumes altogether, provide a record of best-selling American fiction from 1787 to 1947.

Through these journals, Lillian documents reading trends in her lifetime as well as in the Early Republic. For each book, she would meticulously hand-copy the title page, and record the volume’s condition, provenance, worth, and any other information she could add, such as reviews and sales. Through these documentary concerns, Lillian reveals what interested readers from the late eighteenth century through the mid-twentieth century.

Fascinating stuff.

(via Readerville forums and Bibliophile Bullpen)

Jayne's kitteh. Bunkmate to Vera.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Literacy specialists are just beginning to investigate how reading on the Internet affects reading skills. A recent study of more than 700 low-income, mostly Hispanic and black sixth through 10th graders in Detroit found that those students read more on the Web than in any other medium, though they also read books. The only kind of reading that related to higher academic performance was frequent novel reading, which predicted better grades in English class and higher overall grade point averages.

--Motoko Rich, Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?

Further reading on reading

Saturday, July 26, 2008

From off the table beside his bed, I picked up Tristram Shandy and read for an hour. We were both amused. The book is better read aloud than to oneself. "I am partial to Sterne," said the Colonel, "and regret that I came to him so late in life. In fact, when I was young, if I had read more of Sterne and less of Voltaire I might have realized that there was room enough on this earth for both Hamilton and me."

--Gore Vidal, Burr

Saturday morning hodgepodge

Views of Jupiter

Christian, the London lion

How the mind works

Jon Carrol cat column

Friday, July 25, 2008

Haven Kimmel

John's been holding out on me.

Haven Kimmel has a blog.

Go there. Read her deadly views on Jesse Helms, learn of her upbringing in a polygamous cult, her lifelong Amish Quakerness (or something like that), the real reason Barack Obama did so well in Durham's primary, and just howclose of a relation that taxidermied monkey happens to be.

And be aware that Iodine is now shipping from Amazon.
Tips for overcoming reader's block (not that I think anyone here really needs them).

Thursday, July 24, 2008


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Suggested by: Nithin

Here’s another idea about memorable first lines from books.

What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?

I'm glad this prompt says sentences because however would I choose just one? I actually bought a book of opening sentences, Novel Openers several years back. Not that I needed it for the sentences below; just reading them now makes me want to throw all my current books aside and dive back into these.


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

--Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant


I am nothing but a corpse now, a body at the bottom of the well.

--Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red


My parents seemed to believe in letting everyone do whatever they wanted until they became very good at it or died.

--Robin Hemley, Nola: A Memor of Faith, Art, and Madness


The madwoman in the attic was standing at the window.

--Peter Rushforth, Pinkerton's Sister


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

--Margaret Drabble, The Realms of Gold


Daddy said it was a bedsheet, a fitted bedsheet, and he said she was wearing it up on her shoulders like a cape with two of the corners knotted around her neck.

--T.R. Pearson, A Short History of a Small Place


From a little after two oclock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that--a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for forty-three summers because when she was a girl someone had believed that light and moving air carried heat and that dark was always cooler, and which (as the sun shone fuller and fuller on that side of the house) became latticed with yellow slashes full of dust motes which Quentin thought of as being flecks of the dead old dried paint itself blown inward from the scaling blinds as wind might have blown them.

--William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!


And a first sentence engraved into my head since childhood:

The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it.

--Anna Sewell, Black Beauty

Booking Through Thursday

Saturday, July 19, 2008


I am convinced that in real life suicide can't be the backdrop, dwarfed by something else. It is the foreground: itself inevitably the thing that changes people's lives. There is no other plot, and no resolution. And while some healing does happen, it isn't a healing of redemption or epiphany. It's more like the slow absorption of a bruise.


In one sense, I knew exactly why my father had done it. I felt as if I were standing on a mountaintop looking down at the entire topography of his life, a landscape of hurts and failures and physical ailments and disgraces and shames and exhaustion and hopelessness that was suddenly--from this new, high vantage point that had become accessible only with his death--fully visible for the first time. I realized already, looking back at the moment yesterday morning when I had first learned of his death, that in addition to my genuine disbelief, I had also known that what I was being told was true--had known it so deeply and clearly that his suicide didn't even seem like news. It felt like something I'd known about for a long time, which was only now being confirmed by an official source. At the same time that I'd been thinking, "Oh no!" I had also thought: "Of course."


We worried about his heart, his liver, his stomach, his lungs. It was like Brueghel's painting of the fall of Icarus--we were looking the wrong way; the focus was on the big events in the middle of the canvas. Nobody noticed the terrible small thing that was starting to happen in one corner.


We find each other. We're referred by friends. Or we happen to sit next to each other on an airplane. We end up standing together in a hallway, during a party. We stop noticing who is coming and going around us. We talk. It's urgent. We have nothing new to tell each other. Even when the stories are different, they're the same.


Kate said, "I didn't want it to be this big secret. It think it's better for him to grow up knowing than to suddenly find out one day."

I nodded. I could see the logic and the sanity of this, and I admired Kate's clearness.

But I said, "I guess I worry about him growing up knowing that people actually do this. Kill themselves, I mean. I worry that if he knows too early he'll just take for granted that it's part of the normal range of human actions."

"It is," Kate said.

--Joan Wickersham, The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order

I'll not read a truer book all year.

Friday, July 18, 2008

To everything there is a season

and now is the season of turning the just-hung shelves over to Ellie and Claudius for entertainment purposes.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

This week's library haul. . .

In which I throw all restraint to the wind. Good thing most of these are from the university library so that I don't have to fret over overdue fees.

Ernst Junger. The Glass Bees. This is an addition to the 2008 1001 books list.

Gerard Donovan. Julius Winsome. I like the Marcus Aurelius quotation used as an epigrah in this one: Those who live the longest and those who die the soonest lose the same thing. The present is all that they can give up, since that is all you have.

Nina de Gramont. Gossip of the Starlings. I usually fare well with books published by Algonquin.

Hillary Jordan. Mudbound. For the Southern Reading Challenge.

Fanny Fern. Ruth Hall & Other Writings. The next selection for the Slaves of Golconda.

Tim Winton. Breath. Already on a lot of year's bests lists at Readerville or else I wouldn't be picking up a book about surfers.

Karen Joy Fowler. Wit's End. I don't think this is supposed to be one of Fowler's bests, but it's worth a try.

Roxana Robinson. Cost. Heroin addiction. Alzheimer's disease. Maine.

James Collins. Beginner's Greek. Endorsed by the Girl Detective herself. (Check out the chocolate chip cookie recipe while you're there.)

Beth Gutcheon. Leeway Cottage. What I'm reading first from this stack.

Joyce Carol Oates. Wild Nights! Short stories!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ella's Comfort Zone Meme (illustrated by Ella) & Six Things

The incomparable Ella created this meme.

What kind of a book are you most comfortable reading? Contemporary literary fiction. Short stories. I-survived-my-crazy-family memoirs.

What kind of a book do you love to hate? Anything that's supposed to inspire me or improve me in any fashion.

What was the last book you surprised yourself by liking? Hmm. I expect to like everything I read; otherwise, why bother? I did not expect Oscar and Lucinda to be a contender for favorite book of the year, though, simply because The History of the Kelly Gang never clicked with me--and it should have!

What was the last book you surprised yourself by disliking? Silas Marner. I love Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda, so I expected to like this one as well. Before that, Dreaming in Cuban (although I suspect this was just a victim of my mood; I set aside a lot of books back in the spring because it was so difficult to please me then), Eileen Favorite's The Heroines and Anne Enright's The Wig My Father Wore. I've liked everything else I've read this year.

What would be the worst book to be marooned on a desert island with? Probably one of those books in the Left Behind series. Or Who Moved My Cheese? A calculus textbook would be pretty bad, too.

What book would you take with you if you suspected you might be marooned in the near future? Howards End.

What forces you to read outside your comfort zone? Having nothing else on hand to read. A friend's recommendation. Guilt.


And now for the Six Things About Me meme. Jeanne tagged me for this ever so long ago. Since I'm tres boring and I did a Eight Random Things about me last year and I haven't done one interesting thing since, I've attempted to keep this random list about books and reading.

1. I discovered reading forums in 1998. Vikram Chandra's Red Earth and Pouring Rain has the honor of being the first book I read after hearing someone enthuse about it online.

2. I read Erik Segal's Love Story over and over when I was a teenager. I wonder if it would still make me cry? I obsessed an unhealthy amount over Judith Guest's Ordinary People during those years, too.

3. Judy Blume's Forever! My friends and I went a little bit nuts over this book when it first came out. I still have to tamp down an inner smirk whenever I hear the name Ralph.

4. My current read is Gore Vidal's Burr, which I'm liking quite a lot.

5. I ought to reread Paul Bowles's The Sheltering Sky. I read it for a class in college, but then Doris Betts said, Oops, no time to discuss. Just like the sky, that book went completely over my head.

6. People were continually telling me during the years I worked as a reporter that one day they were going to write a book about the two most inbred incestuous infamous families in our neck of the woods. I'd read that book; unfortunately no one's bothered to write it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

You can't tell what they're going to do

It's not often that a review copy winds up in my mailbox right after I've finished a current read; my life is never that neat. Beth Gutcheon's Good-bye and Amen did, though. I read twenty pages and set it aside-not because I wasn't enjoying it, but so that I could see if the library had a copy of Leeway Cottage, Gutcheon's previous book about the Moss family (the Mosses are reminding me of Salinger's Glass family, some of my favorite people). It does.

So it's good-bye to Good-bye and Amen for a week or so. I'll be happy to remake its aquaintance once I'm done with its older sibling.

Here's just a sampling of why this book is going to be such fun:

Moral stages. We're unclear who invented them. It's amazing how much less we care about things like who gets credit. Anyway, so useful. Stage one is infantile. I'm the center of the universe and everything flows to me or from me. Stage two: you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. Or, I'll be good if I can see what's in it for me. Stage three: the group. I travel in a tribe, I want to fit in, I'll go along with what the group thinks is right. Stage four: Pharisees, Sadducees, and lawyers. The hegemony of the Rule Book. I am saved because I follow the rules, and if you don't, you're not. Stage five: outside the box. Stage fives think for themselves and you can't tell what they're going to do. Saints, suicides, Hitler, the Buddha, and Jesus Christ are all stage five, unless they're insane. Behaving without thinking doesn't count as a moral stage, or else it's stage one. Hard to explain perhaps, but to us it seems simple.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Progress report

Genaddy Pugachevsky engraving from the Spartanburg, SC, People Reading exhibit

I've been intending to do a mid-year progress report for more than a week, but alas, there have been distractions aplenty, most recently Lin Enger's Hamlet-inspired Undiscovered Country. I downloaded the first chapter onto the Kindle yesterday thinking that would probably be enough to satisfy me until the book showed up at the library in a few weeks. Instead I finished the free sample desperately wanting to read on, so I pushed the appropriate button and did just that. I will be using the treadmill for the next few days, oh yes. Then I'll have The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, the other Hamlet-retelling of the summer to turn my attention to. . . if I don't get further sidetracked by a stack of library books or back on track with my reading plans for the year, which is what I'm getting around to telling you about.

I signed on to too many challenges for the year, especially since I do so love reading at whim. I'm in good shape to complete them all, however, particularly since I'm urging myself through them with the promise that next year I won't commit to any reading challenges at all.

The run down:

Short Story Challenge: I committed to at least one story a week. I've read almost fifty stories already.

19th Century Women Challenge (6 books): I've read three--Silas Marner and two Elizabeth Gaskells, with a third Gaskell still in progress.

What's in a Name Challenge (6 books): I've read in all categories except for weather.

Africa Reading Challenge (6 books). I've completed two and stalled completely in Olive Schreiner.

Russian Challenge (4 books): I've read two books by non-Russians that count, although neither were: Rebecca West's The Birds Fall Down and Tom Rob Smith's Child 44. And a smattering of stories by Chekhov. I'm waiting for fall to start Dostoevsky.

For the smaller challenges, I'm on track to finish both the Southern Lit Challenge and the ILL Challenge in August. I have not read a book for the Planet Earth Reading Challenge--lucky I only committed to read one. I took the journeyman's way on the Once Upon a Time challenge--one book--and hope there will be such a category in the RIP Challenge in the fall--I intend to read a Walter de la Mare I've downloaded on the Kindle.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A taste for serious fiction is rare in the American male these days, but Obama has it. According to several friends, he even tried his hand at writing short stories during those early years in Chicago, and he recalls priggishly scolding his half sister, Maya, while she was visiting him in New York, because she chose to watch TV instead of reading some novels he'd given her. Among the authors he favored during his years of intensive reading were Herman Melville, Toni Morrison and E.L. Doctorow (cited as his favorite before he switched to Shakespeare). He has also mentioned Philip Roth, whose struggles to shrug off the strictures of Jewish American community leaders must have resonated with the young activist.

--Laura Miller, Barack by the books

Monday, July 07, 2008

Pleasure can be renewed

Last summer, I reread Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma (Penguin), drawn deep into his picture of the political life of those old Italian city states, comical and personal, arbitrary, everything on a human scale. It was years since I'd read the novel; I had just about remembered Waterloo, the prison and the duchess in love with her young nephew in her middle age, but most of the story that wound them together had faded, so it was almost like finding it for the first time. You can't hold most of what's inside the covers of a novel in your memory for very long after you've finished reading: that isn't accidental or a weakness - it's intrinsic to the novel form and means pleasure can be renewed over and over. Last time I read Emma, I discovered that when Harriet stayed with the Martins, they had their little shepherd boy in to sing to them in the evenings; I'm sure that had never been in the book before.

--Tessa Hadley, "Summer Reading"

Sunday, July 06, 2008

And you won't read this book again / Because the ending's just too hard to take

Actually I skimmed back through the first chapter after finishing Charlotte Bacon's Split Estate (I let too much time pass between reading the first chapter and the rest of the book) and reread a section late in the book that I'd found rather implausible--I still didn't find it believable but I could see how a mere, ah, jaunt about the corral would have fit neither the pacing required for imparting the necessary information in that scene or ended it in a location with parallels to the event that set the whole story in motion.

Otherwise this is an excellent work. Several months after Arthur King's wife Laura jumps from a window in their tenth-floor Manhattan apartment, another woman known to the family kills herself in the same manner. Arthur decides it would be better to take his teen son and daughter to Wyoming to live on his mother's ranch than to navigate the bit of sidewalk outside the apartment where the deaths occurred. For awhile it seems that the new environment and new relationships may enable the Kings to work through their grief, but pain will ricochet through these characters once more. The ending, while open-ended, devastates.

Don't read it when you're feeling fragile.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Rebecca West review of The Glimpses of the Moon: "As Dust in the Mouth"

I thoroughly enjoyed Edith Wharton's The Glimpses of the Moon but there have been too many real life distractions this week for me to work up a decent post for the discussion. I'm providing instead (in lieu of in addition to) a review Rebecca West wrote about the book back in 1922 in hopes that the rest of you haven't moved on and still feel like discussing it.

The West review is harsh as were most of the reviews at the time of publication. According to James W. Tuttleton in The Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Written for the Pictorial Review, a slick periodical aimed at American housewives, The Glimpses of the Moon marked a steep decline in Mrs. Wharton's powers. While some reviewers gave the obligatory nod to Wharton's stylistic powers, Ruth Hale memorably defined the critical view that would seal the book's fate: 'Edith Wharton has no business to be writing such trash.' "

The book sold more than one hundred thousand copies in six months.

Notes on Novels: The Glimpses of the Moon

Every now and then some writer--either critic or novelist--announces that the novel is an art-form that is played out. The statement is, of course, not true.... But one can understand the mood of despair that makes people declare that all is up with the novel when one reads Mrs. Wharton's The Glimpses of the Moon.

Nothing more competent than this book could possibly be imagined. Mrs. Wharton has left undone nothing which she ought to have done; and on the other count, of doing nothing that she ought not to have done, her score is even higher. It has flashes of insight, as in that scene at the end of the book where the husband and wife, after a separation that has nearly terminated in their divorce, are sitting quietly together, and the husband's mind ranges back to the partners whom they had tentatively selected for consolation and remarriage. He thinks of the girl who had been willing to marry him, who will be cruelly disappointed by his return to his wife, with compunction and tenderness; and he is shocked by his certainty that his wife has utterly banished from her mind all thoughts of her dismissed suitor, whose goodness and affection deserved respect. But he remembers the next moment that whereas he had treated the girl very nearly like a cad, his wife treated her suitor with sincerity and courage. It is the neatest possible exhibition of the essential differences between Nick and Susy Branch. Yet, for all these occasional reminders that the hand that wrote this wrote Ethan Frome, and for all its perpetual, vigilant competence, the book is a dead thing. It is as well done as it possibly could be; but it is not worth doing. There is a very great temptation to say that since here is a novel which is written with supreme accomplishment and which is as dust in the mouth, there must be something wrong with the novel as an art-form. But if one examines the case more closely the failure of The Glimpses of the Moon may be seen to proceed, not from any inadequacy of the novel, but from two circumstances attending on the development of Mrs. Wharton's talent, which act on it as adversely as if they were innate defects.

The first of these is that Mrs. Wharton was born in America at exactly the wrong time. One does not mean that it was unfortunate that Mrs. Wharton was able to win (as she did with The Age of Innocence) the thousand-dollar Pulitzer prize.... Though indeed this is unfortunate, for that there is something within Mrs. Wharton which responds to this note is demonstrated by her choice of a title, for with a certain lack of sympathy with Dr. Donne she uses the line as a metaphor for the fleeting vision of the moral good which two persons pursue through the obscurities of a murky environment. But the real misfortune of Mrs. Wharton's uprising is that it happened at a time when fastidious spirits of the kind to which she markedly belonged were obsessed by a particular literary method, and in a place where every day revealed situations which were bound to attract an eager intelligence of the kind she undoubtedly possessed but which could not be appropriately treated by that favoured method. The method was that of William Dean Howells and Henry James. The situations were those arising out of the establishment of the American plutocracy; and they were large, bold situations, blatancies in a marble setting, that could not be dealt with by the method that in Mr. Howells' hands was adjusted to the nice balancing of integrities in a little town, and in Mr. James' to the aesthetic consideration of conduct in a society where the gross is simply put out of mind. The moral problem in The Glimpses of the Moon is as coarse as one can imagine anything self-consciously concerned with morality possibly being. Nick and Susy are two penniless persons of charm who find it easy to pick up a good living by sponging on their millionaire friends. They fall in love and marry, and then their way of living suddenly fails them, for it involves them in actions which people in love cannot bear to see each other performing. They sulk over it. They separate. Each meditates divorce and a mercenary marriage. They are drawn together and toward independence by a certain fundamental worthiness in both of them. About this situation of crude primary colours Mrs. Wharton writes with an air of discussing fine shades in neutral tints. It is as disconcerting as if, say, Mrs. Gaskell had written Mary Barton in exactly the same style as Cranford.

The second circumstance of Mrs. Wharton's uprising which has been adverse to her development was the unfashionability at that moment of the truth that novelty is a test of the authenticity of art. Tradition is a necessity to the artist; he must realise that he is only a bud on the tree. The America into which Mrs. Wharton was born was almost extravagantly conscious of that necessity, destitute as it was of traditions, terrified lest ill-advised patriotism should hinder it from affiliation to European tradition. But he must also realise that no bud is exactly like another bud. Imitation has its place in life; it is of considerable service in enabling people who have beautiful things in their minds, but who are not possessed of the necessary initiative to find the shape for them.

Source: Rebecca West, Notes on Novels: 'The Glimpses of the Moon', in New Statesman (© 1922 The Statesman Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. XIX, No. 490, September 2, 1922, p. 588. Reprinted in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 9.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Freedom's just another word for. . .

In our limitless selfishness, we have tried to define “freedom,” for example, as an escape from all restraint. But, as my friend Bert Hornback has explained in his book The Wisdom in Words, “free” is etymologically related to “friend.” These words come from the same Indo-European root, which carries the sense of “dear” or “beloved.” We set our friends free by our love for them, with the implied restraints of faithfulness or loyalty. And this suggests that our “identity” is located not in the impulse of selfhood but in deliberately maintained connections.

--Wendell Berry, Faustian Economics: Hell Hath No Limits

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Here is a list of the 284 books removed from the revised edition of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.

I bet when I take the time to go through the list and count the ones I've read I'll find that I've read more from the rejects pile than from the books included in both editions. . . percentage-wise at any rate.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A couple of links

Did you ever have a metamorphosis book? The first American one dates to ca. 1775.

Just how many book titles have been taken from Hamlet? More than I care to count.

Citizen Stupid

Five defining characteristics of stupidity, it seems to me, are readily apparent. First, is sheer ignorance: Ignorance of critical facts about important events in the news, and ignorance of how our government functions and who's in charge. Second, is negligence: The disinclination to seek reliable sources of information about important news events. Third, is wooden-headedness, as the historian Barbara Tuchman defined it: The inclination to believe what we want to believe regardless of the facts. Fourth, is shortsightedness: The support of public policies that are mutually contradictory, or contrary to the country's long-term interests. Fifth, and finally, is a broad category I call bone-headedness, for want of a better name: The susceptibility to meaningless phrases, stereotypes, irrational biases, and simplistic diagnoses and solutions that play on our hopes and fears.

--Rick Shenkman, "How Ignorant Are We?"

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Horses unfurled

Then, heading back to the truck, Celia felt the sidewalk tremble. Cam sensed it, too, glancing at his feet, then up again at the road. At that moment, she saw them--horses, lathered, at a run, striking blue fire from macadam striped in double yellow. Sorrels and grullos, two bays, some paints, twelve altogether. They kept their pace as they raced down the center of the street. Two shoes flung clear, another sang a crack along the post-office window. Bunched muscles caught in plate glass, squares holding fractions of curves. Lights flicked from red to green, the few trucks on the road braking fast, elbows, heads, close to whole bodies hanging from windows, hats tilted back, drivers' mouths lively with curses. But the cars all stopped. To move was to hit or be hit. The horses unfurled like a crazed flag. Black manes, socked feet, blazes, separate horses in a way, but also not. The tail of one grazed the forelock of another, as if they were feathers, overlapping, enough to make a wing. They were flying, that intent of putting air between themselves and the road, between themselves and the earth.

--Charlotte Bacon, Split Estate

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...