Monday, July 26, 2010

The chosen directors of his prejudice

The one singular feature of the room was a small, glass-doored bookcase, full of volumes. They were all of Richard's purchasing; to survey them was to understand the man, at all events on his intellectual side. Without exception they belonged to that order of literature which, if studied exclusively and for its own sake, --as here it was, -- brands a man indelibly, declaring at once the incompleteness of his education and the deficiency of his instincts. Social, political, religious, --under these three heads the volumes classed themselves, and each class was represented by productions of the 'extreme' school. The books which a bright youth of fair opportunities reads as a matter of course, rejoices in for a year or two, then throws aside for ever, were here treasured to be the guides of a lifetime. Certain writers of the last century, long ago become only historically interesting, were for Richard an armoury whence he girded himself for the battles of the day; cheap reprints or translations of Malthus, of Robert Owen, of Volney's 'Ruins,' of Thomas Paine, of sundry works of Voltaire, ranked upon his shelves. Moreover, there was a large collection of pamphlets, titled wonderfully and of yet more remarkable contents, the authoritative utterances of contemporary gentlemen --and ladies-- who made it the end of their existence to prove: that there cannot by any possibility be such a person as Satan; that the story of creation contained in the Book of Genesis is on no account to be received; that the begetting of children is a most deplorable oversight; that to eat flesh is wholly unworthy of a civilised being; that if every man and woman performed their quota of the world's labour it would be necessary to work for one hour and thirty-seven minutes daily, no jot longer, and that the author, in each case, is the one person capable of restoring dignity to a down-trodden race and happiness to a blasted universe.

Alas, alas! On this food had Richard Mutimer pastured his soul since he grew to manhood, on this and this only. English literature was to him a sealed volume; poetry he scarcely knew by name; of history he was worse than ignorant, having looked at this period and that through distorting media, and congratulating himself on his clear vision because he saw men as trees walking; the bent of his mind would have led him to natural science, but opportunities of instruction were lacking, and the chosen directors of his prejudice taught him to regard every fact, every discovery, as for or against something.

--George Gissing, Demos (1892)

Reading Habits of Fictional Characters

Friday, July 09, 2010

Book package disdain

Every night when I come home from work I ask if anyone brought in the mail, which, if you know me, translates into: Were there any book packages for me?

Yes, they brought in the mail, and there was nothing interesting, just junk, just bills, they always tell me, which actually means: We take no interest in the stinkin' book packages of which there are too menny.

So I don't know when my latest package from the Book Depository actually arrived because they carelessly segregated it from the rest of the mail in the kitchen and I found it this morning in the shadows of the family room.

It contained Tana French's Faithful Place.

Two chapters in, I know what I'll be doing this weekend.

Oil Notes by Rick Bass

It is raining hard. The stereo is playing. I am alone. All the windows are shut, five o'clock in the evening. The rain is thundering, coming down hard. The stereo is up loud. I'm completely happy. It feels too easy: like walking in a dream. Surely I am missing something. It cannot be this easy. Happiness is supposed to be sought after, complex, to be found only with the greatest amount of cunning.

Water roars off the roof, and I am dry.

Later tonight I will fix coffee.


They're not alike at all, really: writing and geology. There's a deceit in writing; you're trying to pull all the clever elements together and toss out the dull and round-edged ones. Basically, it's building a lie and then swinging the lie's massiveness into the path of the reader and hiding behind it. Curiously, however, in geology, when I pour a cup of coffee and sit down and begin to map, I'm not hiding behind anything; there's no pretense, no deceit, just an inquisitive hunger and innocence where I am neither superior nor inferior to the reader, but am the reader. There's truly an amount of trust. The earth lies there, still, and obeys certain rules. I have faith that I am not going to let myself believe something that is not true. It is perhaps the purest thing I've ever done. Perhaps that is why geologists become so fervent about a particular prospect. Not holy men, but still there is that aspect to it--as in athletics, and religions.

Go beyond that, under the greed and dollars of it and into the purity. How many traps of ancient reserves are left, and how long will it take us to use, at our known rate, our known requirements, this projectable quantity? You hit zero, every well in the world a dry hole, in about sixty-five years. Do not think it will be a pretty sight.

--Rick Bass, Oil Notes (1989)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

New books!

This photo makes me look much worse than I've actually been. Practically half the books pictured were freebies from the new staff book exchange at work. I've done my best not to be greedy there, waiting several days for others to take first dibs, but after awhile I started carrying them out, one per day.

From the top left:

Too Many Magpies by Elizabeth Baines. Mainly because the cover reminds me of the birds I saw last December.

The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant. Another for my NYRB shelf.

The City and the City by China Mieville. Because I need more mind-blowing books and everyone says this qualifies.

Kraken by China Mieville. Because I find it impossible to resist an inky and tenacled Magnificent Octopus.

Savage Lands by Clare Clark. From the Book Exchange.

Reality Hunger by David Shields. A former writing instructor has a quote in here. Book Exchange.

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine. Book Exchange.

The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee. Book Exchange.

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. Book Exchange.

Dracula's Guest. "A connoisseur's collection of Victorian vampire stories" edited by Michael Sims. Purchased because of this article from the editor.

The Radleys by Matt Haig. When I first heard the title and saw the white picket fence on the cover, I was convinced it was about Boo Radley's family and I was squeefully excited. Instead it's about non-practicing vampires. That could work. . .

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson. I'm not reading Stephenson this summer with the Girl Detective and Mental Multivitamin, alas, but they've inspired me to buy a copy to have on hand for when the time is right.

To the End of the Land by David Grossman. This is an ARC of an Israeli novel due out in September. According to the editor, it's "about the toll of war on one particular family and the impulse toward peace that persists even in a society constantly taking up arms." I have very high expectations for this one.

The Passage by Justin Cronin.

Eight White Nights by Andre Aciman. I'd read about this one somewhere just a day or so before spotting it on the Book Exchange shelves.

36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. I know Dorothy set it aside awhile back, so if I don't get along with it any better than she, I'll simply return it to the Book Exchange shelves.

I'm also stockpiling titles on the Kindle, which is a bad, bad practice. I have Allegra Goodman's latest, The Cookbook Collector, and Shappi Khorsandi's A Beginner's Guide to Acting English and Kelly Link's Stranger Things Happen and Pinckney Benedict's Miracle Boy and Other Stories. I really need to get the immediate gratification thing under control. We've a new roof and gutters to pay for!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Why wasn't it enough

Ah, what a second-rater he was! How he always thought of everything in terms of what somebody else had said! In earlier days when he was a boy and still thought he might perhaps amount to something this had been an affliction to him, a secret shame. But now he did not grieve over it. Since he had died and come back to this other life, he took everything and himself, too, more simply, with little concern for the presentability of the role he was to play. If, honestly, that was the sort of nature he had, why rebel against it? The only people who got anywhere by rebelling were rebels to begin with. And he was not. Why wasn't it enough, anyhow, to love the beauties other men had created?

--Dorothy Canfield Fisher, The Home-maker

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Reading update

I'm obviously back to my nefarious bad-blogger ways.* I think about blogging, but do I actually type words in the provided box so that said words then show up on my blog? No way. Props to myself, though, for not blogging about the changes at work since I would hate to find myself dooced. At least the changes are now complete, and it's just the adjusting to them still ahead.

Soooo, June was a particularly wonderful month for reading. I stuck to my summer reading plans until late in the month, when I snuck in Muriel Spark's Memento Mori instead of moving on to any of the books I'd mentally assigned to July or August. I completed Jean Stafford's The Mountain Lion, Scarlett Thomas' The End of Mr. Y, Justin Cronin's The Passage, Dorothy Canfield Fisher's The Home-maker, Doris Lessing's The Sweetest Dream, and Wallace Stegner's bildungsroman The Big Rock Candy Mountain.

My favorite of the bunch was the Lessing, which explains why I now have Martha Quest and Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta on my desk at the library. I intend to have a Lessing-intense fall--if I can hold out that long. I read The Passage in a weekend right after we returned from a family vacation to New York, and it was a most enjoyable way to decompress. There were only a couple scenes where I wanted to mentally check out for pop corn and not come back until they were over, and I didn't appreciate how jerked around I felt near the end, but I'll be reading the next in the series whenever it may be published.

And since we're now (more than) half-way though the year, I should provide you with a reading update based on the plans from the first of the year. Only 16 of the books I've read so far have been from the library, so I'm doing well in the read-from-my-own-shelves department. And Ulysses is back in progress after a six-week hiatus. I've two chapters remaining, "Ithaca" and "Penelope," both of which I'm most eager to read, but I need to coordinate my  schedule with W.'s, so we finish at the same time. Have I mentioned that everyone else dropped out? (I wasn't a bit surprised.)

I mentioned starting a new Reading Habits of Fictional Characters project back in January, and it's there that I've been an abject failure. Oh, I've dutifully dogearred pages when characters mention the books they've read, but I have not kept track of this reading on the blog, let alone started a wiki page so that others could join in. I blame it on Buddy and Seymour Glass: I read Salinger's "Hapworth 16, 1924" as a tribute back in February, and the reading list included in the story was so extensive that I've not yet recovered from copying it all out on notecards.**

Perhaps I shall in the months to come.

And if there is a downside to having completed 51 books Jan.-June, other than that many bloggers have read twice that much or more, it is that I will now feel like a failure if I don't manage to reach 100 books for the year. I hadn't intended to pay any attention to numbers,*** and now I'm sure to worry about them constantly. The quality of the books I've been reading has been too high for such distracting silliness; maybe I ought to deliberately trip myself up by taking a month off from reading. It might make an interesting experiment to see how I'd use my time if I couldn't read.

*have I ever left them?
**which I have since misplaced
***except for short stories, where I'm clearly lagging behind my great expectations

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...