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


Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Life won't actually do

A story is always on the move, and from the author's point of view there is nothing natural about it. Constant readers become writers at the point in life when they acquire a fascination with a process of falsification: with imposing shape while simulating the evolution of character and event, making determinations while fostering an illusion that in the next chapter anything might happen. A novelist spends a lifetime in the business of presenting what's life-like, but not like life. It's a sobering thought - life won't actually do. Verisimilitude and the truth are conjoined twins, one often flourishing at the expense of the other.

--Hilary Mantel, "Real Books in Imaginary Houses"

Friday, August 01, 2008

Widget fidgets

I added a "Currently Reading" widget to the blog a few days ago. The widget is still in its beta stage and I find its quirks interesting.

At first it appeared to work more reliably with Firefox than with Internet Explorer. Now it doesn't work with either when viewing the blog's main page, but shows up if you view an individual post.


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...