Monday, September 28, 2009
--Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading
See also Manguel on Forbidden Reading, posted three years ago this week
'Sir,' said Stephen, 'I read novels with the utmost pertinacity. I look upon them -- I look upon good novels -- as a very valuable part of literature, conveying more exact and finely-distinguished knowledge of the human heart and mind than almost any other, with greater breadth and depth and fewer constraints. Had I not read Madame de La Layette, the Abbe Prevost, and the man who wrote Clarissa, that extraordinary feat, I should be very much poorer than I am; and a moment's reflection would add many more.'
'As for an end,' said Martin, 'are endings really so very important? Sterne did quite well without one; and often an unfinished picture is all the more interesting for the bare canvas. I remember Bourville's definition of a novel as a work in which life flows in abundance, swirling without a pause: or as you might say without an end, an organized end. And there is at least one Mozart quartet that stops without the slightest ceremony: most satisfying when you get used to it.'
Stephen said 'There is another Frenchman whose name escapes me but who is even more to the point: La betise c'est vouloir conclure. The conventional ending, with virtue rewarded and loose ends tied up is often sadly chilling; and its platitude and falsity tend to infect what has gone before, however excellent. Many books would be far better without their last chapter: or at least with no more than a brief, cool, unemotional statement of the outcome.'
--Patrick O'Brian, The Nutmeg of Consolation
Sunday, September 27, 2009
--Helen Scales, Poseidon's Steed: The Story of Seahorses, From Myth to Reality
Even if you don't think an entire book about seahorses will float your boat, be sure to check out Helen Scales's NPR interview.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Can I say it taught you a lesson and you're going to shape up? he asks.
Thwarted, I'm stuck with the truth: I rubbed my poor allergy-ridden eye and its environs so hard during the night that I gave myself the black eye.
The only cure for that is a free reading day, I suppose.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
And what is her response?
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
My first Weekly Geeks post! I couldn't resist this week's topic: bloggerly burnout/why we blog.
This past week wrapped up Book Blogger Appreciation Week, in which I'm sure many of you participated. In two weeks will be Banned Books Week, in which I'm sure some of you also will participate. I'm also sure that many of you participated, and will participate, with at least a post per day, if not more, on your respective blogs.
Personally, after such weeks, I feel almost burnt out and think, "Why am I doing this? I'm not getting paid for this." Do you ever feel the same way after weeks like the ones mentioned above? If you do, what do you to counter it? How do you keep going? Do you take a break from posts after that, or do you just "soldier on"?
Or if you don't feel burnt out after such weeks, why not? Also why are you a book blogger? From what I've seen and experienced, it's certainly not the fame or the glory that you get. So what is it? Why? Why? Why?
I didn't experience any sense of burnout from BBAW. But then, I wasn't involved in organizing or running the event; I simply wrote a couple of posts, visited new-to-me blogs listed on various Mr. Linkys or touted by other bloggers as their favorites. I entered a few giveaways although I've apparently won nothing but a slot on some publicist's mass mailing list. I didn't take the awards portion of the week seriously enough to get upset when my choices didn't win; I came to grips a long time ago that my tastes are outside the mainstream. Plus I had a day's break from all computer activity due to working at the polls last Tuesday and by focusing on book blogs instead of obsessively checking in with all the political sites the way I ordinarily do the rest of the time, last week probably lowered my blood pressure thereby improving my health. So yay Book Bloggers Appreciation Week! I appreciate you greatly.
But as for burnout in and of itself, I admit that I've been feeling a low-grade version for longer than many have been blogging and I seriously thought about throwing in the towel earlier this year.
Next month Pages Turned will turn five; I had a mostly-reading journal at LiveJournal for more than a year prior to that. My daughter was responsible for setting up the LiveJournal; I could never figure out how to post images there and Pages Turned was created originally as a vehicle that would allow me to post some of the vacation pictures we'd taken the previous summer, although I knew from the outset that I'd use the blog as a reading journal and a commonplace book. I admired the LitBloggers who posted reviews and analysis of professional quality, but I wasn't assembling clips and contacts for future employment; in fact, I regarded my own blogging as not writing. Writing was dialogue and character development and plot; blogging was goofing off with other people who loved and recommended books. Book bloggers in general seemed an accommodating bunch--links, quotations, full or capsule reviews, bookish chitchat--and the bloggers I connected with certainly were what they seemed. And we were all united against the professional reviewers who thought us as a bunch of pooters with 18 cats.
But then the publishers and publicists and authors began to take book blogging seriously, and while that is a change for the good, the tenor of the community changed in the process. I now felt somehow obligated to abide by the as yet unspoken but somehow understood Neighborhood Covenants even though these standards hadn't been in existence when I'd put my key in the lock and my books on the shelves. I would postpone writing about books until I had the time to do a full review instead of a quick mention--and lose any desire to write about the book at all. I would hold back on linking to interesting articles--because isn't microblogging the province of Twitter now? Why bother routinely nudged aside oh, this would be cool to post.
Then in the spring, after a slew of articles and discussions by publishing insiders on how to write a proper review, how to properly request review copies, a book blogger with quite a lot of prestige twittered that bloggers who kept reading journals were pretending to be what they were not, that there ought to be a way for people--presumably those in charge of distributing the freebies--to differentiate between those deserving of ARCs and those who aren't. And, because real life was particularly real and raw at that point, instead of snorting through my nose and thinking Isn't that rich coming from someone who maintains she isn't in it for the free books, and keeping that person's opinion in the proper perspective, I dwelled on it, burning out even more thinking, Well, if this is the direction book blogging's going in, ferreting out the commie slackers among us marching to our own drummers, I don't want to be a part of it anymore. You superbloggers can take your full-fledged reviews and your networking with the stars and you can--
Except there are enough bloggers who don't get caught up in these positioning games at all, or who bow out of them when they realize that's all they are instead of getting out of blogging altogether. There's no reason to read the review copy before you tackle Proust if Proust is what you're in the mood for; it can wait on the shelves with the rest of your books. There's no reason to think no one will be interested in reading a book you love unless you spend hours on a review; I'm more often intrigued by a mere mention of a book by someone whose readerly sensibilities I value or know are aligned with my own; when I was an Amazon associate I saw how I sometimes sold obscure books by merely listing them in the sidebar in my year's reading and not writing one word about them.
It is truly a matter of keeping a proper perspective, of following one's own instincts and inclinations, of not turning reading or blogging into a competitive sport, that can put the joy back into an activity you've burnt out on.
And it certainly helps if this is your theme song, to listen to it on a regular basis!
Monday, September 21, 2009
I'd never heard of her before yesterday. I brought Women Writers at Work: the Paris Review Interviews home from the library last Friday so that I could read the one with Rebecca West. West, 89 at the time interviewed, pulled no punches when asked her opinion of various authors: Tolstoy, T.S. Eliot, Maugham, Forster, all received a thumbs down. She called contemporary novels, on the whole, boring. "Somebody told me I ought to read a wonderful things about how a family of children buried Mum in a cellar under concrete and she began to smell. But that's the sole point of the story. Mum just smells. That's all that happens. It is not enough."
Well, there's also incest, but still: Take that, Ian McEwan!
Iris Murdoch and Ivy Compton-Burnett met with her qualified approval, as did Colette, but the only two West raved on were Doris Lessing ("the only person who absolutely gets the mood of today right, I think. An absolutely wonderful writer") and A.L. Barker.
Calling Barker "the best novelist now writing," she said, "She really tells you what people do, the extraordinary things that people think, how extraordinary circumstances are, and how unexpected the effect of various incidents." She described an incident from The Heavy Feather, the most recent Barker novel at that time, saying it was "so good I can't believe it."
Needless to say, just on the strength of West's endorsement, I ordered used copies of The Heavy Feather and another Barker novel this morning, and ILLed a short story collection in the afternoon. Because, naturally, except for a couple of her books, Barker's out of print.
But then I discovered that Faber is in the process of reissuing Barker's entire oeuvre; print on demand at a very reasonable cost--except for shipping. Perhaps Book Depository will come to my rescue here.
According to Kim D. Heine, writing in Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 14:
In 1946, shortly after her stories began to appear in British periodicals, A.L. Barker was offered (but declined) the British Atlantic Award in Literature. The following year, Innocents, her first collection of short stories, won her the first Somerset Maugham Award. Subsequently, Barker has written plays, poetry, several short-story collections, and five full-length novels, and she has contributed to several periodical publications. She wrote the screenplay for Pringle, a play based on one of her stories, and several other stories have been adapted for broadcast on BBC. In 1962, Barker received the Cheltenham Festival Award and in 1970 was given the Arts Council Award for her continued contributions to literature. Barker does not reveal herself in her work. Although most of her fiction is firmly set in her familiar English surroundings, her alienated, insular characters, improbable conflicts, and surrealistic episodes seem removed from her personal experience. Barker's tense, unemotional style, while it lends her work precision and control, sets a tone of authorial detachment.
The themes of Barker's work are the isolation of the human personality, the impossibility of communication, and the ambivalence of love. Throughout her fiction, Barker explores the world of social and psychological outcasts: the ill, the poor, the lonely. Her subjects do not represent deviations from the norm as much as intensified examples of the unfortunate or the misunderstood. They are people who have sat out their lives in constant disappointment, who have formed the habit of self-delusion. In Barker's stories the strong protagonists are selfish and cruel, and the weak are self-pitying victims. Yet her ironic detachment renders her work not oppressive but strangely comic. Through caricature and understatement, Barker infuses her work with humor. She has a penchant for horror and the macabre, which ironically lightens the tone by lifting the weight of unrelieved realism.
I searched for Barker's name using the handy dandy Book Blogs Search Engine that I learned about during BBAW, but turned up nothing but that she was among those shortlisted one year for the Booker. I'm assuming someone read her prior to starting their blog; surely West wasn't being serious when she said she was the only one who admired A.L. Barker?
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Damn it all. I've lost my header. You know where you are, right? Because it might take me days to either find the old one or get the new one to post.
Claudius is rather scandalized by this method of drinking. While he's definitely a fan of fresh running water, he also believes in maintaining his dignity while doing so, and, he says mournfully, this cat has no shame.
(Don't tell Claudie, but I have a major crush on this cat.)
Edited to add: And it's talk like a pirate day at Library Thing! There's no dignity left in this world! Arrr, mates!
Thursday, September 17, 2009
I think I still have seven books preordered that should show up in the mailbox between now and the middle of November. I'm feeling the draw of older books, though--both classics and newer titles that have simply been on my shelves unread for too long--so I suspect and/or hope the stacks of new material become less frequent. (Yes, I know I've said this before.)
True Murder. Yaba Badoe. I'm not sure where I originally heard about this one, but Amazon in the UK continued to recommend it to me until I broke down and ordered it from the Book Depository.
Reading by Lightning. Joan Thomas. Heard about it in a thread at Book Balloon. I like reading Canadians.
The Thing Around Your Neck. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I had a gift certificate to Borders and this was the book that cried out for me to take it home.
Blood's a Rover. James Ellroy. A review copy. This will be my first Ellroy and I chanced upon a rat torture scene while flipping through the pages so unless I grant myself permission to skim certain parts it may be my last. I'm such a Winston Smith.
Infinite Jest. David Foster Wallace. My own personal copy! Squee!
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I got an offer for a review copy of The Lost Symbol a couple weeks back (I bet you did, too!), but The Da Vinci Code was the worst book I read in 2003, and I'd rather the worst book I've read this year remain in that position instead of being substantially elevated by the Brown, so thank you very much, Dan Brown people, but no.
So what I thought I'd do, since Brown is no doubt recycling his plot, is recycle what I had to say about The Da Vinci Code elsewhere back in September 2003:
A. foisted The Da Vinci Code off on me last week when I gave her The Time Traveler's Wife and I took it with me to the polls Tuesday. M. came in to vote, saw that I had it, got all excited, and said she wanted to discuss it with me after I'd finished. At that point I was still reading the [Jon] Krakauer.
Her excitement, plus not wanting to make L. bring me other reading material, kept me going. God, I hate the best sellerese writing style. I know most people would much rather read a poorly written thriller than the [Julie] Hecht and [Nicholson] Baker I'd just finished in which nothing really happens, but the pet duck in A Box of Matches and the unnamed narrator in The Unprofessionals are going to stay with me. What's there to remember about Dan Brown's characters besides an absurd Mickey Mouse watch on a Harrison Ford stand-in and the realization that the lovely burgundy-haired/olive-eyed Sophie is actually the inbred descendant of Jesus Christ himself. (And how fitting is it that the "divine wisdom" of Sophia has devolved into Sophie, who sheds brain cells rapidly in order to keep the plot going. As do they all. Ah, well. At least her hair manages to smell alluringly throughout. And eventually the plot requires them to figure things out. But never until long after the reader's done so.)
The premise and the theories were the best part, although I understand most of Dan Brown's research came from only one or two hotly-contested sources and he managed to distort lots of actual history to suit his plot. Or because he was lazy. Any time the lectures in a book are the most interesting thing, you know your time would be better spent reading other material.
The elevating of Disney movies into a subversive celebration of the goddess was hilarious. (I wonder if Disney's already optioned this one? Maybe that's why whatshisface wore a Mickey Mouse watch?)
C. said the book reminded her of Cold Comfort Farm with all its "I saw something nasty in the woodshed" hoohah. I wonder why Brown couldn't write a better female lead for a book that's supposed to pique a reader's interest in the female divine.
I was wrong about one thing: the inevitable movie was made by Sony.
I'm blatantly ripping off LitLove in the way I answer the questions in today's meme, so make sure you read her brilliant responses from last week. For those of you following Mr. Linky from the BBAW blog who are new to pages turned, I'm the blogger who prefers commonplacing to writing my own content any day of the week.
Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
To avoid wasting a precious half-hour, I used to take bread and chocolate with me and ate them openly at midday in the reading-room. Around me other readers, shame-faced and short of money, were also eating bread, but breaking off the pieces in their pockets. Twelve noon was the signal for a vast chorus of munching.
--Henry de Montherlant
Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
[Your books] take on something of your personality, and your environment also--you know a second-hand book sometimes is so much more flesh and blood than a new one--and it is almost terrible to think that your ideas, yourself in your books, may be giving life to generations of readers after you are forgotten.
How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
Personally, as long as the book in question belongs to me, I have little restraint about dog-earing corners.
Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
"I read," I say. "I study and read. I bet I've read everything you've read. Don't think I haven't. I consume libraries. I wear out spines and ROM-drives. I do things like get in a taxi and say, 'The library, and step on it.' "
--David Foster Wallace
Hard copy or audiobooks?
The sight of the cover of a book one has previously read retains, woven into the letters of its title, the moonbeams of a far-off summer night.
Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
One reads at one's own speed, in short snatches on the subway or in long, voluptuous withdrawals from the world. One proceeds through a big, complex novel. . . .like an exceptionally well-heeled tourist in a foreign landscape, going slowly or fast depending on the roads, on one's own mood and on the attractions along the way. If one loses something, one can always go back to pick it up.
If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
All my life I've looked at words as thought I were seeing them for the first time.
What are you currently reading?
The organized soul has one book beside his bed. The glutton sleeps with a New York skyline lurching an inch from the bed.
What is the last book you bought?
If a book is worth reading, it is worth buying. No book is worth anything which is not worth much; not is it serviceable until it has been read, and re-read, and loved, and loved again; and marked, so that you can refer to the passages you want in it, as a soldier can seize the weapon he needs in an armory; or a housewife bring the spice she needs from her store.
Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
Usually I read several books at a time--old books, new books, fiction, nonfiction, verse, anything--and when the bedside heap of a dozen volumes or so has dwindled to two or three, which generally happens by the end of one week, I accumulate another pile.
Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
Early morning was a time he enjoyed reading. His mind was alert, the attention span seemed to continue indefinitely, right until he remembered about having to go to school. It was a nice time, a peaceful time. There was something about giving your best to the things you liked the best.
Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
A sequel is an admission that you've been reduced to imitating yourself.
Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
People seldom read a book which is given to them.
How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
Your house, being the place in which you read, can tell us the position books occupy in your life, if they are a defense you set up to keep the outside world at a distance, if they are a dream into which you sink as into a drug, or bridges you cast toward the outside, toward the world that interests you so much that you want to multiply and extend its dimensions through books.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Unless I change my mind between now and 5:25 a.m. tomorrow, I'll be taking with me:
Poseidon's Steed: The Story of Seahorses from Myth to Reality by Helen Scales
Don't Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
The Hammett is one of the choices for the Slaves of Golconda's next read, but since voting at this point favors Susan Hill's The Woman in Black I thought I'd read it for the R.I.P. challenge and knock another one off the Modern Library list.
It stands to reason with the book blogging community having grown so rapidly in the last couple of years that most of us will never cross paths with one another unless an event such as My Friend Amy's brainchild, Book Blogger Appreciation Week or its accompanying book blogging directory (which isn't online yet, as far as I can tell), serves as a central hub. I was happy last week to see that a few of my long-time favorites had made the short list and I quickly added a handful or more new blogs to the old google reader. But I must confess to hoping that next year's short list might include a British blog or two, or an option to vote for "None of the Above" in the Best Book Published This Year category, and that, instead of vanishing into the ether, the long lists might be left online as a resource for those of us whose preferences seemed underrepresented in the short lists.
My personal list of bloggers who are worth their weight in gold would have to include:
A Work in Progress
Book Girl's Nightstand
Box of Books
Kate's Book Blog
Naked Without Books!
Necromancy Never Pays
Of Books and Bicycles
So Many Books
Tales From the Reading Room
And I would also like to celebrate my wonderful readers, who aren't always necessarily bloggers, some of whom recently recommended their favorite historical biographies:
Margaret WV at Surface-Mined --Edward Rice's Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton: A Biography
Jane GS at Reading, Writing, Working, Playing - Doris Kearns Goodwin's No Ordinary Time; Jenny Uglow's Elizabeth Gaskell; James Shapiro's 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare
Kathleen at Boarding in My Forties - David Herbert Donald's Lincoln
Becky - Nancy Milford's Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay
Fay Sheco at Historical/Present - Mary S. Lovell's The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family
Stefanie at So Many Books - Herodotus' Histories
Sherry at Semicolon - David McCullough's John Adams
Lauren - Mary V. Dearborn's Queen of Bohemia: The Life of Louise Bryant
Elizabeth at Charlotteville Words - Stephen B. Oates' With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln
Bryan C. - Anna R. Hayes' Without Precedent: The Biography of Susie Marshall Sharp
Ann S. - David McCullough's Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt; Nancy Milford's Savage Beauty: The life of Edna St. Vincent Millay; and Reeve Lindbergh's No More Words: A Journal of My Mother
Both Lesley at Falling Into Words and Stephen at Eskypades - David McCullough's Truman
Melissa at Mental Multivitamin - Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary
Mike B. at Liquid Thoughts - Richard Norton Smith's Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation; Walter Issacson's Benjamin Franklin ; and Charles Nicholl's The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe
Thanks, everyone. For being there and for being you.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
He ate and drank the precious Words--
His spirit grew robust--
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was Dust--
He danced along the dingy Days
And this Bequest of Wings
Was but a Book--What Liberty
A loosened spirit brings--
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Summertime by J. M. Coetzee (Random House, Harvill Secker)
The Quickening Maze by Adam Fould (Random House, Jonathan Cape)
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (HarperCollins, Fourth Estate)
The Glass Room by Simon Mawer (Little, Brown)
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (Little, Brown, Virago)
An interesting list. The only title I've read so far is the Byatt, which I loved to the point that it will be near the top of my year's favorites, if not at the very pinnacle. But Byatt herself often annoys me, and I would love for Mantel to win the prize. The only author on the list that I haven't read anything by in the past is Fould; I have The Quickening Maze on pre-order, though, and will no doubt have read The Truth About These Strange Times by then.
There are so many good books being published this fall that I don't feel guilty for stockpiling them. My library hold list is so long that I've had to deactivate most of it, and I've pre-ordered so many books that I'm sure the mail carrier will be cursing my name (if she isn't already).
From the stacks on top:
Saplings. Noel Streatfeild and Hostages to Fortune. Elizabeth Cambridge. These are Persephones and I have found I have no willpower when it comes to Persphones.
Marcel Proust's Search for Lost Time: A Reader's Guide to The Remembrance of Things Past. Patrick Alexander. This is a review copy that I don't remember requesting, but am very happy to have. Maybe I'll use this as a crutch and take up where I left off in Proust two-three years back.
The Lost Dog. Michelle de Kretser. I won this in a drawing at kiss a cloud. Thank you, Claire!
The Good Thief. Hannah Tinti and The Graveyard Book. Neil Gaiman. These were given to me by my almost-sister-in-law, who travels a lot and buys a lot of books. I recommended she look in to getting an e-reader--not that I mind at all getting hand-me-downs.
Naive. Super. Erlend Loe. A mention at The Millions made me order this one.
The Year of the Hare. Arto Paasilinna. Dovegreyreader made me do it.
Frost at Morning. Richmal Crompton. I fell in love with Crompton after reading Family Roundabout at the beach. I suspect I'll be attempting to get some of her other books through ILL.
The Man on a Donkey. H.F.M. Prescott. I've heard this makes an excellent follow-up to Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, which I've pre-ordered won't get my hands on until next month.
Columbine. Dave Cullen. Was tired of waiting for this one to become available at the library, so ordered it when my son needed a Toni Morrison for class to bump us up into free shipping territory.
And facing out:
The Pattern in the Carpet. Margaret Drabble. I've been reading Drabble for more than 30 years now.
A Gate at the Stairs. Lorrie Moore. The book I've been most anticipating all year! I'm almost afraid to start it since my expectations are so high.
Homer and Langley. E.L. Doctorow. I've been reading Doctorow almost as long as Drabble, but not nearly as much. It would make a good project to go back and read all the ones I've missed. But first: this one.
Monday, September 07, 2009
And for those who care, I handled the rest of the Randy Lenz sections okay, but I'd rather not think about garbage disposals for awhile.
Definitely going on my best of the year list and one I will read again.
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As a reader I cherish the fantasy of one day stopping acquiring books, of subsisting only on what is already stashed away in the crammed lar...