Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Miscellaneous Items

China Mieville explains some things that he knows. Here's a few of those things

  • Shave your head in the shower with a wet razor, first with the grain and then against the grain.
  • I still remember the day when someone in the playground realised China rhymed with vagina. I used to get mercilessly teased, but I loved my name. What I wanted was for everyone to stop teasing me about it.
  • Fantastic fiction covers fantasy, horror and science fiction - and it doesn't get the attention it deserves from the literati. I agree with Theodore Sturgeon's law that 90 per cent of fantasy writing is crap and 90 per cent of everything is crap.
  • The weirdest thing I ever saw was in Hyde Park. There was a crowd, I joined them, and for the next 10 minutes we stood aghast and fascinated watching a pelican eating a pigeon.
Soon there will be a new independent bookstore in Manhattan. Bless 'em, I hope they succeed If you are a Simpsons junkie, perhaps Planet Simpson is for you. Take a trip to Heidi's house in Switzerland! Unless you ski you might want to wait until summer. Some people alphabetize their books, some shove them wherever they can fit them and some sort by color (via NewPages)

Monday, November 29, 2004

All is Vanity

Over the four-day holiday weekend I was so blessed to have, one of the things I did was, of course, read. One of the books I read, and finally finished, was Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. I began this hefty tome back in June, or there abouts, when I first heard about the movie version coming out in September. I wanted to read the book before I saw the movie so my imagination got to decide what the characters looked like. I also wanted to be able to knowingly complain about what those darn movie people did to wreck a fine piece of fiction yet again. Well, September came and went and it looks like I'm done with the book just in time for the DVD. It turns out the book wasn't that easy to just sit down and read. A few chapters at a time was about all I could muster. What I had the most difficulty with was Thackeray's didacticism, flowery style and verbosity. Glowing descriptions of carriages and dresses and the names of personages attending a party that went on for pages drove me nuts. I also ended up not liking any of the characters. I liked Becky Sharp at first but then she went from likable go-getter to bitch. Amelia Sedley, who the reader is supposed to like, was dull and meek and uninteresting, pining away for her scoundrel of a dead husband and refusing to notice the good man, William Dobbin, who was always there and had loved her all along. But even Dobbin grated on me, following Amelia around like a puppy, neither asserting himself in regards to her nor breaking off his attachment. But there was a happy ending for Amelia and Dobbin thanks to Becky who did an uncharacteristically nice deed that brought the two together. But Becky's acting out of character was so far out that it seemed contrived, like Thackeray realized, "Oh my goodness! I've written 674 pages and need some way to end this thing." The book wasn't all that bad though. There were some funny parts that made me laugh or smile. Thackeray has a facility for making up fun names that describe the character. Take this bit for example: "The night before, Mr. Clump and Dr. Squills had had a consultation (over a bottle of wine at the house of Sir Lapin Warren, whose lady was about to present him with a thirteenth blessing), regarding Miss Crawley and her case." There was also the occasional funny scene. Take for instance after social climbing Becky has been ruined and her husband has left her and she is searching around for rich men who will take care of her, she is found in a dirty and cheap hotel room by Jos, Amelia's rich brother. Prior to Jos' arrival Becky had been eating a breakfast of sausages and drinking brandy. She hid the evidence beneath the bedsheets, settled Jos in her only chair and herself on the edge of the bed. Then she sobbed out her story, "a tale so neat, simple and artless, that it was quite evident, from hearing her, that if ever there was a white-robed angel escaped from heaven to be subject to the infernal machinations and villainy of fiends here below, that spotless being--that miserable, unsullied martyr--was present on the bed before Jos--on the bed, sitting on the brandy-bottle." I could go on and write an English term paper for you about Vanity Fair and all that it means, but I am no longer in school and you, I am sure, do not wish to be bored by such a thing. From a general reader standpoint, overall I'd say the book was just okay. Thackeray was a contemporary and friendly rival of Charles Dickens. If you are standing in a bookstore with Vanity Fair in one hand and Great Expectations in the other, trying to decide which one to buy, go with Dickens. He can be flowery and didactic too, but he tells a much better and more interesting story than Thackeray ever could.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Books and Religion

Perhaps it is because I am not a Christian that the increase in Christian books and publishing frightens me. Or perhaps it is people who say things like this in the NY Times:

"Something really big is happening, but it has been happening under the radar of the national media. They've missed it entirely,'' Rick Warren said in an e-mail message. Warren, a minister based in Lake Forest, Calif., and the author of ''The Purpose Driven Life,'' continued: ''Since I'm in weekly touch with the 138,000 pastors in our network, I hear the stories. We are at the beginning of a New Reformation in the Christian church. That will inevitably affect everyone else.''

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Morbid Montaigne

Montaigne could have really used a friend to help him lighten up. If he were alive today he would definitely be on a high dose of Prozac. If you found last week's essay a downer then "To Philosophize is to Learn How to Die" will come nowhere near perking you up. The essay begins fine enough, with Montaigne summarizing a bit of Cicero to set the mood:

Cicero says that philosophizing is nothing other than getting ready to die. That is because study and contemplation draw our souls somewhat outside ourselves, keeping them occupied away from the body, a state which resembles death and which forms a kind of apprenticeship for it; or perhaps it is because all the wisdom and argument in the world eventually come down to one conclusion; which is to teach us not too be afraid of dying.
Montaigne then wanders into a brief discussion of virtue that concludes that "one of virtue's main gifts is contempt for death." This is because if you are virtuous you have no reason to fear death and so can lead a tranquil and pleasurable life. Are you sitting there thinking, "I'm not afraid of death, I hardly ever think about it," and do you have a smug feeling because now you think you are so very virtuous? Think again. Unless the thought of dying right this instant doesn't bother you then you have not come to terms with death. You have, instead, done what "ordinary people" do, that is, just not think about it. This proves you are a person of "brutish insensitivity" with a "gross blindness." Not feeling so high and mighty now are you? We should be thinking about death frequently and face it head on. The more we think of death, Montainge asserts, the less strange it feels and our fears will be tamed. Even in the midst of joy, in the middle of a party, we should stop and think a moment about death. Because we do not know where death will meet us, we have to practice death in order to be free from its "subjection and constraint." "As far as we possibly can we must always have our boots on, ready to go," insists Montaigne. He is a man who thinks about death often (or thought, since he is long dead). He says he adopted the practice of always having death on his mind and on his lips. If he found that a man had died he would inquire about what the man had said before he died, how he looked, what expression was on his face and then he would go home and write it all down in a notebook. Does anyone else find this to be a little weird? Montaigne insists that thinking always about death and being prepared for it will help you live a better life, but I don't buy it. I don't see how always dwelling on death will make life better. Everyone is going to die, we are all guaranteed that. So it seems to me dying is the easy part, it's living that's the hard part. And by living I mean more than existing, I mean living a life that matters somehow, a life in which someone or something is made better because of you. Montaigne believes that it is "absurd to anguish over our passing into freedom from all anguish." I agree with that but I disagree that dwelling on death so that we can be prepared for it and do it right is the way to go either. Montaigne admits that cowards and heroes both die. What does it matter to me then if Death shoots me in the back, so to speak, as I am trying to run away so I can have just a little more time-- one more kiss, one more sunrise and sunset, on more hug--or if I stand and be brave and submit? I'm going to be dead so there is no pride or honor to be won or lost. I think philosophy should not be about teaching us how to die. It should be about life. The editor's note says that Montaigne's "philosophical presuppositions" in this essay are changed by the time he gets to his final essays. I'll get there eventually, but I have a ways to go yet so we shall see. Next week's Montaigne essay: "That it is Madness to Judge the True and the False from Our Own Capacities"

Even Winter Isn't so Bad

when the possibility of this looms on the chilly horizon. Many people can't stand Garrison Keillor, but when he can put together a program that brings authors like Robert Bly and Donald Hall, Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, Sandra Cisneros and Joy Harjo, Michael Cunningham and Marie Howe, and Dana Gioia and Kay Ryan to this neck of the woods, then one can't help but at least admire the man. I doubt that I will be attending all of them, but I'll make at least one, maybe two. The hard part is deciding which ones.

Friday, November 26, 2004


Sherlock Holmes fans rejoice! Les Klinger has edited a two volume annotated edition of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes short stories. If you are a fan of the novels, don't worry, he'll be covering those inanother volume due out next year. You can hear an interview with Klinger who was on Minnesota Public Radio's State of the Arts program earlier today.

Arthur Hailey Dies

Arthur Hailey died in his sleep Wednesday at the age of 84. Hailey is author of such bestsellers a Airport and Hotel (which only seems to be in print in Spanish at the moment).

The Holiday Rush Begins

It's the day after Thanksgiving, are you still disgesting all that food or are you one of the thousands out shopping at the mall, looking for a bargain? Or maybe you are of the number who stay home and do all their shopping from the internet? If you are part of the latter group and you are looking for a gift for a bookish someone, and you are of the mind, like my mother, that getting a book or a gift card for books is a crime to give to someone who already has so many books, then here are a few non-book suggestions that rabid readers might still enjoy:

Obviously there are lots of goodies out there for readers on your list, or for yourself. Have fun shopping!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Want to Win a Nobel Prize? Don't Piss off the Swedes

Kurt Vonnegut explains why he's never won a Nobel Prize:

I used to be the owner and manager of an automobile dealership in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, called “Saab Cape Cod.” It and I went out of business 33 years ago. The Saab then as now was a Swedish car, and I now believe my failure as a dealer so long ago explains what would otherwise remain a deep mystery: Why the Swedes have never given me a Nobel Prize for Literature. Old Norwegian proverb: “Swedes have short dicks but long memories.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Miscellaneous Items

In case you have a textbook that needs a disclaimer sticker. (via Bookslut) The Lost Books Club (via Maude Newton) is on a mission "To help preserve, introduce, and pass on to future generations, America’s cultural heritage by making available to the public hard-to-find, unavailable, out-of-print, or otherwise forgotten cultural works, particularly literary works; to arrange for the publication and presentation of the works, and entertainment based on such works; to organize programs, seminars, and conferences with respect to such works; and to promote and encourage the public interest in, appreciation of, and support for such work." They don't have much at the moment, but they are working on it, and they are looking for suggestions. And the Christion Science Monitor has their list of notable fiction and nonfiction for 2004.

Why Worry?

Daniel Akst at the NY Times is a little worried abou Brutus.1, a computer that can write nonfiction and short pieces of fiction. Seems to me though that Akst, or anyone else for that matter, has much to worry about. Here is a sample of the computer's fiction:

Dave Striver loved the university - its ivy-covered clocktowers, its ancient and sturdy brick, and its sun-splashed verdant greens and eager youth. The university, contrary to popular opinion, is far from free of the stark unforgiving trials of the business world: academia has its own tests, and some are as merciless as any in the marketplace. A prime example is the dissertation defense: to earn the Ph.D., to become a doctor, one must pass an oral examination on one's dissertation. This was a test Professor Edward Hart enjoyed giving.
Solid, basic prose, but a little dull when you get down to it. Then again, maybe that's just my human bias talking.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Acting Out

Feel like acting out? Here's your chance to do it but in a good way. Send and email to Secretary of the Treasury John Snow to urge him to settle the lawsuit Association of American University Presses, et al. v. The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Department of the Treasury, et al. Why would you want to do this? Because

Under the Bush administration, the Treasury Department began to use a new interpretation of an act from 1977 to require that publishers obtain a government permission to edit or market the works of writers from trade-sanctioned countries like Cuba, Iran and Sudan. Those who fail to comply face draconian penalties. The issue first arose when the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control told an engineering group they couldn't translate, fix spelling or otherwise edit research reports from Iran. The decision was met with an uproar from publishers, but while the government eased the restriction some in that one example, they have consistently ruled against allowing publishers to publish or market new books from authors from embargoed countries. The effect on free speech has been chilling. One publisher postponed reprinting a field guide about birds of Cuba due to concerns about minor edits that were needed. Fines for violating the rule can be as high as $1 million, and jail time can be as high as ten years.
The email is already written up and you can add your own comments to it before you send it off to Mr. Snow. Do it now, before you forget. What are you waiting for?

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Some "Light" Reading

I just finished reading Light by M. John Harrison. I'm not quite sure what the light of the title is referring to unless it is the light glow from the Kefahuchi Tract. I suppose it could be as simple as that, but is it? The Tract is a vast expanse of space no one has even been inside and those who have gone in have never returned. It is the one impenetrable piece of the universe that no sentient life form has been able to understand. It's outer edge, known as The Beach, is sort of like the Old West. It is made up of planets inhabited with fresh faced prospectors eager to make it big, washed out adventurers who were so close but lost it all, and everything in between. There are chop shops where you can go and get a new body, tailor made to your specifications. Genetic manipulation, clones, cultivars, if you have the money anything can be yours. But this isn't the whole story. There are three stories here. There is the story of Michael Kearney who, with his partner Brian Tate, are trying to create the world's first quantum computer. Their story takes place in 1999. Kearney is the focus. He is being chased, by the Shrander, a creature from whom he stole some strange dice long ago and whom he imagines is going to kill him when it catches him. To slow it down, to appease it, Kearney murders women. He doesn't do this all the time, just one here and one there and only when he thinks the Shrander is about to find him. Still, the bodies add up. He is not very careful about his killing and always expects to be caught but never is. Then in the far distant future, sometime after 2400, we have the story of Ed Chianese. Ed used to be a hot shot pilot, flying on the edge of the Kefahuchi Tract. But now he is a twink, a tank addict. A tank is a sort of virtual reality environment, only it is your mind that creates the reality. You can be and do anything you want and while you are there is it all real. When you come out of the tank you go through withdrawal and have trouble telling what is real life memory and experiences and what are tank memories and experiences. Ed is down on his luck, out of money and in trouble with the Cray Sisters who run the local mafia-like operation. And finally, taking place at the same time as Ed's story, is that of Seria Mau. She is a K-ship. Seria Mau used to be human. But humanity found a very old technology out by the Tract. No one knew what it was or how it worked. They did figure out that you could hardwire a human into it so that together, human and technology made a hard to beat team. Of course K-ships were used for military purposes, but Seria Mau and her ship, the White Cat, went rogue. Now she works as a sort of mercenary. She is tired of being a K-ship and wants what she can never have--to be human again. Light is science fiction with the emphasis on the science. I enjoy science fiction but generally stick to the books that are more fiction than science. I had a hard time when I first started reading Light, trying to understand the science part of it--quantum physics, event horizons, singularities, mathematics that are alive, and all the attendant slang and jargon. But somewhere around page 40 I gave up trying to understand the science and focused instead on the story. Then things got interesting. I gave my attention to the three story lines and wondering what the connection between them was. Harrison is very good and stringing you along and giving up the secrets only a little at a time, just enough to keep you going. By the end though it was like the finale to a fireworks show and before I could grasp and appreciate one revelation another one would be upon me. That was fun. It kept me reading last night well past when I should have turned off the light and gone to bed. In that regard the book was great, until I got to the final revelation, the reason for it all, and was so disappointed I groaned. The end was such a complete cliche I couldn't help it. I enjoyed the book so much up to that point that I even went back and re-read the last few pages to make sure I had followed it all. I had. I don't want to give away the ending because maybe to some it might not be cliche; some might find it uplifting, enlightening. I wanted something else, something different than I got. Don't let my disappointment in the ending keep you from reading the book. As I said, I enjoyed the long middle portion very much. It is a well written book, solid science fiction, and worth a read.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Evil is Good

The philosophy Montaigne espouses in his essay "That the Taste of Good and Evil Things Depends in Large Part on the Opinion We Have of Them" is that which only a comfortably situated gentleman could hold. Montaigne asserts that our main enemies are death, poverty and pain--all things that we consider evil. But with a little change of perspective we can turn them into good because "what we call evil or torment are only evil or torment insofar as our mental apprehension endows them with those qualities." Montaigne begins with death. He tells several stories of gallows humor, cites tales of whole households that willingly burn themselves on the funeral pyre of their dead king, and entire cities that commit suicide at the loss of a battle rather than become slaves. It is a matter of reason over emotion Montaigne asserts and when you come down to it, death is sometimes the best choice you can make. But where fear of death is all in the mind, pain, Montaigne acknowledges, is not: "Are we to make our flesh believe that lashes from leather thongs merely tickle it?" Every living creature experiences pain, it is a natural and universal experience. However, whatever pain we might feel can also be turned to the good. Even though we cannot destroy pain we can lessen it "by patient suffering" and still keep our reason. Montaigne exhorts us to remember that if we did not have pain we would not have such great things as "manly courage, valour, fortitude, greatness of soul and determination." Do you feel better yet? No? Then you must "Remember that the greatest pains are ended by death, the smaller ones allow us periods of repose; and we are master of the moderate ones, so that if they are bearable we shall be able to bear them; if they are not, when life fails to please us, we may make our exit as from the theatre." What a comfort! I feel better now, don't you? But that's not all. Montaigne declares that the real reason why we are "impatient of suffering" is because we don't pay enough attention to our souls. Our soul is where we should find our principal happiness, not in our bodies. Our souls can make profit from anything. And pain? Well, "pain only occupies as much space as we make for her." You got that? So quit your bellyaching. There will be no kissing of boo-boos to make them better. Suck it up or kill yourself. Montaigne just oozes with compassion, doesn't he? He isn't very charitable when it comes to poverty either. You think being rich will make everything okay? Just remember Epicurus said "that being rich does not alleviate our worries: it changes them." Somehow I think I'd rather be a millionaire with worries than a homeless person with worries. But just in case you think poverty is bad, Montaigne works to set you straight. How? He knows all about poverty. When he was young and before he came into his inheritance he didn't have much in the way of money. His income was sporadic but yet he lived a rather free and happy-go-lucky sort of life always borrowing from friends and rushing to pay them back when he had money to do so. Oh the days when there was nothing to tie him down. But then his fate changed. He inherited his father's estate, got married, had children. He began to worry that he didn't have enough money should an emergency arise and squirreled it away, depriving himself of pleasure and others of his generosity. But eventually he realized "that a rich man who is worried, busy and under necessary obligations is more wretched than a man who is simply poor." So Montaigne gave Bob Cratchet a raise and Tiny Tim was saved from his patient suffering and--sorry, no, that's not quite right. Montaigne learned to enjoy his riches and take pleasure in spending his money. He ceased to worry if he had enough and instead began to "live from day to day, pleased to be able to satisfy my present, ordinary needs." So Mrs. Cratchet, tired of her family's patient suffering and her own, went on a spending spree, bought the big goose from the butcher and a supersize bottle of arsenic from the apothecary and all the Cratchets ended up dead after eating the best meal of their lives. And so evil is all about perspective. It is all a matter of "gaining mastery over ourselves" you see. "We cannot evade Philosophy by immoderately pleading our human frailty and the sharpness of pain: Philosophy is merely constrained to have recourse to her unanswerable counterplea: 'Living in necessity is bad: but at least there is no necessity that you should go on doing so.' No one suffers long, save by his own fault." That's right, blame the victim. After all, it's easier than actually doing something to help alleviate someone's pain and suffering and/or poverty. Next week's uplifting Montaigne essay: "To Philosophize is to Learn How to Die"

Friday, November 19, 2004

Evolution, Not Just a Theory

With all the recent brouhaha over stickers on textbooks telling students that evolution is a theory and teachers being forced by law to teach creationism, it is nice to see a new good solid evoutionary science book for the masses. Richard Dawkins' new book, The Ancestor's Tale, is reviewed at the TLS. From what the reviewer says, as long as Dawkins sticks to the science the book is fab, but as soon as he strays to personal opinions he reveals a lack of understanding in other sciences like sociology. Dawkins was on National Public Radio's Science Friday today. The show has not yet been archived at the time of this writing. Unfortunately I didn't turn on the radio until Dawkins was being thanked. So I will have to check back later for a listen. They do currently have up some interesting links though.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Derrida Day

The Village Voice has an essay about Derrida and his abilities as a lecturer written by Leland de la Durantaye, an assistant professor of English and American literature and language at Harvard University, who attended one of Derrida's classes. It is an admiring essay with some funny personal anecdotes like this one:

A group of elegant women invariably sat in the front row. They were often warmly dressed and, to the wonderment of the auditorium, would remain so even through the "sultry" period of the lecture when, after roughly an hour, overcrowding and poor ventilation would send temperatures soaring and induce light-headedness in listeners sitting in the upper reaches of the vertiginous auditorium. Various theories reigned as to how the elegant women kept cool. A man in the seat next to me (himself clad from head to foot in leather) speculated that as Derrida's thought operated according to special "magnetic principles," and as "weather is essentially magnetism," temperatures very near Derrida's body might be much different than those, say, 20 feet away. I changed seats.
Oh to have been a fly on the wall. Richard Lea, irked by the mixed outburst of commentary and reporting after Derrida's death, investigates the most common charge of relativism The critics are merciless:
"Some areas of academic life are indeed pointless and out of touch, precisely because of their embrace of sloppy, fashion-following, jargon-ridden, introverted, authority-besotted nonsense," [AC] Grayling nods. "Very little harm would be done if literary critics and postmodernist anthropologists, lawyers and the like were told to go and get real jobs."
But Lea finds that real relativists are practically nonexistent.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Go Maude!

Maude Newton works herself up into a good and proper lather over the rise of fake "science" that is being facilitated by our public school textbooks. Maude is so passionate that she'll get you worked up too.

History of History

An interesting article by Howard Zinn, author or A People's History of the United States, about why he wrote that particular book. Here's a snippet:

From the start of my teaching and writing, I had no illusions about "objectivity," if that meant avoiding a point of view. I knew that a historian (or a journalist, or anyone telling a story) was forced to choose, from an infinite number of facts, what to present, what to omit. And that decision inevitably would reflect, whether consciously or not, the interests of the historian. There is an insistence, among certain educators and politicians in the United States, that students must learn facts. I am reminded of the character in Charles Dickens's book "Hard Times," Gradgrind, who admonishes a younger teacher: "Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life." But there is no such thing as a pure fact, innocent of interpretation. Behind every fact presented to the world – by a teacher, a writer, anyone – is a judgment. The judgment that has been made is that this fact is important, and that other facts are not important and so they are omitted from the presentation. There were themes of profound importance to me that I found missing in the orthodox histories that dominated American culture. The consequence of these omissions has been not simply to give a distorted view of the past but, more importantly, to mislead us all about the present.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Harry Potter and a List

Filming is underway for the next Harry Potter movie. The movie is scheduled for release in November 2005. And a list of Michelle Paver's ten favorite books on archaeology and anthropology. Some interesting choices.

What (Strange) Dreams May Come

I had a dream last night that I was a LiteraTech agent ala Thursday Next. I belonged to a group sort of like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and we needed help. So my job was to go find Alan Quartermain and convince him to come help us. Unfortunately I don't know what happened because the group and I were searching for someone (not Alan) in a market-type place and we were trying to go through a booth/store that sold jewelry when my husband appeared from nowhere and dropped several earring display boards in front of me. I was trying to put them all back together and put the earrings back on them when the shop owner came over and began accusing me of trying to steal her jewelry. My "League" left me behind and I was stuck with the yelling shop lady and my husband dancing around and yammering "look at this necklace! Do you like it? I'll get it for you if you do." So I guess I won't be popping in and out of books with Thursday anytime soon. I can't even get it right in my dreams.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Think Thin

I picked up a copy of Thinner Than Thou by Kit Reed earlier this year after I read a very short blurb about it in a magazine. It sounded interesting. It sounded different. The premise of the story is a sometime in the indefinite future America where body worship has replaced all other forms of worship including that of God. The perfect body, fit and young will be yours, can be yours if you want it. Heaven is the Afterfat and the preacher is the Reverend Earl who has built an empire out of everyone's desire and need to look perfect. In the middle of this culture is Annie, about 17 years old and anorexic. Even though thin is what you are striving for, too thin is just as wrong as fat. So Annie's parents sign her over to the Dedicated Sisters who "help" the anorexic and the obese by keeping them in hidden prisons and forcing them to eat or to starve. Annie has two younger siblings, twins, Danny and Betz, who decide that, along with Annie's boyfriend, Dave, they will find and rescue Annie. Not long after the twins leave, mom decides that she has to save her family from falling apart and she too goes on the road to find Annie and the twins. Their journeys eventually bring them all back together in what is supposed to be a huge climax of an ending tempered by knowing that it may be over but it isn't really over. Even though they manage to bring down the Reverend Earl, there is someone else standing behind him, ready to take his place. Kit Reed has two books that were finalists for the James Tiptree Jr. Award and another book that was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. Unfortunately Thinner Than Thou did not live up to my expectations. The writing itself was not good. One of the most annoying things about it was her habit of changing points of view--first starting from a omniscient narrator, distant and far off, and then moving in to third person and finally settling to first person. It felt like she was trying for a sort of big screen movie shot where the camera starts far off and then gradually moves in to focus just on one person. It doesn't work well here. Added in to that is the occasional attempt to throw in teenager talk--um, like, she goes (instead of she says). Then there is my quibble over the way she treats anorexia. I have read several memoirs written by women who are/were anorexic. Anorexia is a disease. It is not as if a girl wakes up one day and decides that just for the hell of it she's going to starve herself. It is not like she has control over the disease. But that is more or less how Reed portrays it here. Annie decides she is going to see just how thin she can get. And at the end, when Annie and her extremely obese friend Kelly are trying to escape and Annie can barely stand because she is so thin and weak, Kelly gets her to eat not one, but two, chocolate bars just by telling her to. And not long after that when Annie's mom and the twins find her we are made to believe that Annie will suddenly be okay. Not once is there a discussion or comment or question by anyone as to why Annie might be anorexic. While Annie chooses to starve herself, on the other end of the book's weight spectrum, the people who are fat are just born that way, they have no choice. Given the growing waistlines of Americans, weight is a touchy topic. But except for a small number of people for whom obesity really is just the way they are because of medical or genetic issues, most people who are fat are that way because they eat too much and don't exercise enough. We are a nation of people who drink diet soda with our Big Macs and who go to the gym to try and make up for the piece of chocolate cake we ate at the office party. But Reed glosses over the politics of fat just as she does the politics of thin. Of course the point of the Thinner Than Thou is to make our culture of body worship look ridiculous as well as horrifying and to show what could happen if it is taken to the extreme. At the same time we are supposed to take away with us an understanding that it isn't what the body looks like that matters but the person inside it. But, like a bite size Hershey bar, it really doesn't satisfy.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Montaigne's essay, "Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us," is a short piece about the human tendency to worry about the future instead of paying attention to the present. A very Zen sort of essay this one. Montaigne observes, "We are never 'at home': we are always outside ourselves. Fear, desire, hope, impel us towards the future; they rob us of feelings and concern for what now is, in order to spend time over what will be--even when ourselves shall be no more." That last part there, worrying about things that that will happen when we are dead, does not mean concern for our families, but rather concern over the pomp and circumstance of our funerals, who will be there, who won't; how we will be remembered, what our reputation will be; whether or not the business or the army or whatever endeavors we were involved in will continue how we want them to. All these things are ones that really don't matter, we will be dead and will neither know nor care what happens. But still we worry and pass up opportunities in the here and now. In order for a person to stop worrying about the future, Montaigne insists, the first thing that must be done is to learn "to know what he is and what is properly his. And whoever does know himself never considers external things to be his; above all other things he loves and cultivates himself: he rejects excessive concerns as well as useless thoughts and resolutions." Pretty good advice. But as we all know it is easier said than done. Still, it's sort of a comfort to know that it is something that has afflicted humans for a very long time and isn't just a symptom of our modern times. That doesn't let us off the hook though. Next week's Montaigne essay: "That the Taste of Good and Evil Things Depends in Large Part on the Opinion We Have of Them"

Saturday, November 13, 2004

What's the Point?

With all the controversy over book awards lately one has to ask, what's the point? What's the point of the award? What's the point of all the controversy? Seems that bookish folks are currently up in arms over the short list for the National Book Award for fiction. The nominees on the list are barely known and only one of them, Kate Wilbert, has sold more than 2,000 copies. Laura Miller has an interesting essay about it at the NY Times. The publishing industry looks on awards as a way to generate sales for their books, many readers view awards as a way to winnow down the vast number of books to choose from, and writers look upon awards as a way for writers to recognize and honor the work of other writers. As a result there are a lot of people who end up unhappy. From this reader's perspective it is all rather dumb. I don't look at the award lists to choose what books I am going to read, though sometimes I might read a book that has won an award, it is not my main criteria. When selecting a book I first go by what it's about, does the story sound interesting? Sometimes if the book is generating a buzz, not best seller list buzz, but reader buzz from general folks as well as reviewer and blogger buzz, I will read it. But for the most part I have my own unquantifiable selection process that generally serves me well. If a book I have read gets an award and if I liked it, then I give a silent cheer to the author for being recognized for a job well done. But if a book I have never heard of by an author I have never heard of wins, I don't rush to read the book. And if I ever read the book it isn't usually until sometime later after I have heard more about it or the author. I guess I feel that I don't need awards to validate for me what is a good book. I've read books that have been given awards and thought them dreadful. That's one of the great things about books and reading, and one of the hardest. One reader's "best book ever" is another reader's "worst book ever." And perhaps that is one of the reasons there is always someone with something to say when an award shortlist is announced. So what, then, is the point of having a National Book Award? Is it to recognize books and authors that aren't generally known? Is it to generate more sales for the chosen books? Is it to make the reading public excited about books like the movie going public gets excited about movies when it's Oscar time? Is it a recognition of excellence from one writer to another? Do the folks who run the National Book Awards know? If they don't perhaps that is a place to start. And after that maybe they want to look at who does the picking and judging of the books. Maybe it should be mixed up a little, perhaps a combined panel of writers and readers who are not writers or in the publishing industry. And what is the point of all the controversy and articles and angry press releases? Is it just to generate more attention? Or because controversy sells? Is it because people want something to be done to fix the problems? Or they just like to complain? If nothing is done and we have year after year of controversy and scandal, these big awards are going to rapidly come to be looked upon as a joke by readers and writers alike. If that happens even the winners will be losers.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Links A Lot

By some estimates Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao have sold 8 million copies of their book A Survey of Chinese Peasants. Unfotunately their royalties are no where near Stephen King's. Most of the copies of the book are pirated. Chinese authorities do not like the book and have banned it. The authors aren't complaining though. They see their book as part of a bigger struggle for change within China. I am awed by their bravery and wish them well. Some great links at NewPages, like this interview with Howard Zinn and this one with Stephen Dunn. And this one with Joyce Carol Oates. A glowing review at RainTaxi of Susanna Clarke's novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. My Bookman brought this home from his conference back in September and said it was supposed to be good, something to do with England and magic. It's a hefty tome and I had so much to read it ended up just going on the bookshelf. But after reading the review I think I will have to read the book sooner rather than later. And if you like history and are a fan of Marilyn French, you may be interested in the three volumes From Eve to Dawn: Origins, The Masculine Mystique, and Paradise and Infernoes. Judy Chicago raved about them on Sunday when I went to her new book signing. My Bookman got his mitts on them and they look great.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Alphabets and Goddesses: The Conclusion

I have already spent some time venting and ranting about The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Leonard Shlain but I have, at last, finished the book. This will be my final rant. There are so many things wrong with this book it is hard to begin to sum things up. Let's begin, however, with my main complaint, how unsubstantiated Shlain's claims are. But to back up for one moment, the thesis of this book is that the alphabet killed the Goddess. This was accomplished because alphabet literacy is, according to Shlain, almost entirely left brain. The left brain, Shlain informs us, is the masculine side of the brain that's into hunting and killing, linearity, math, abstractions, and violent sports like football and hockey. Alphabet literacy caused the left brain to become so dominant that it oppressed and suppressed the right brain which is feminine and likes things like images, intuition, emotion, gathering, concreteness, and sports like baseball. It is because the alphabet killed the Goddess that women have suffered second class citizenship and even persecution for a couple thousand years. Now that we are all caught up, I return to the main complaint. All Shlain's evidence is purely circumstantial and he even admits it: "In laying out the considerable circumstantial evidence implicating the written word as the agent responsible for the decline of the Goddess, I have sought to convince the reader that when cultures adopt writing, particularly in its alphabetic form, something negative occurs." His book amounts to a detailed summary of religion through history. After he spends a chapter going over, say, the Reformation, in one or two paragraphs near the conclusion he'll toss out something like literacy rates shot up during this period due to Gutenberg's invention of the printing press. Left brain values ran rampant and women suffered. Okay, so maybe I am exaggerating, but not by much. The book would have been much better and the evidence more convincing if Shlain had narrowed his focus to the time just before and just after the alphabet first appeared. The evidence would also have been better served if he had done more research in linguistics in general as well as examined modern studies in literacy acquisition and behavior. Another problem is Shlain's methodology: "My methods differed from most historical analyses in that I gave little weight to the content of the works of any period, and focused instead on the perceptual changes wrought by the processes used to learn an alphabet." To separate the content of the writing from the act of writing seems just plain wrong to me. The alphabet is a tool just like a spear or a hammer, how the tool is used makes all the difference. We don't declare the extinction of wooly mammoths was due to the spear. But that is precisely what Shlain does. Going back to his chapter on the Reformation he writes:

Numerous tomes have explored the roots of the schism that occurred as a result of Luther's challenge. All, to varying degrees, blame the Church's leaders for abusing power. The newly invented printing press aided the reform movement's spread. Protestants were able to disperse their ideas rapidly through pamphlets and printed sermons, thwarting the Church's efforts to contain the movement. Some historians cite the rise of nationalism and the Humanist credo as playing a role. I propose that while all of the above factors influenced the overthrow of the old order, the process of reading alphabetic writing itself, more than the content of what was read, was the essential factor that precipitated the Reformation.
So in other words, all those scholars who have spent their lives studying history and the Reformation in particular are all wrong. It wasn't about Church corruption or power politics and the content of the printed sermons and pamphlets and Luther's theses, while important weren't that crucial, it was all caused by the process of reading and writing. Because, you know, there were so many people who were reading and writing in those days. You had to be part of the aristocracy, the Church, or the educated merchant class to be literate and you had to have money or know someone who did in order to be able to buy books or publish anything. And if you were a woman, forget about it. According to Olwen Hufton, author of The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe, 1500-1800, the literacy rate for women was about 1%. In Shlain's eagerness to document and decry the triumph of the left brain, he has neglected throughout the book to examine Goddess worship in any depth and the lives of women at all. His lack of understanding of women's lives is made abundantly clear over and over again. He cites the Renaissance as a time in which right brain values were on the rise and declares that as a result women were gaining in equality. His evidence? Women could own property. The fact that women did not in general hold power, could not go to university and were pretty much excluded from the whole art scene except as models for male artists does not seem to bother Shlain at all. In fact he has even gone so far as to declare the end of partriachy. You may be asking yourself, especially if you are a woman, when exactly that happened. According to Shlain it occurred when the first atomic bomb was exploded and someone took a picture of it. You see, images are right brain and the image of the mushroom cloud, the most destructive left brain event ever, is so powerful that it has begun to snap us out of our left brain dominance. Then television came along. And computers which Shlain says are right brain because of mousing and using two hands to type. So now we are all in the middle of a shift toward the right brain. We are perceiving more and more information through images and reading and writing less. As a result our left brains and left brain values are becoming more and more moderated and women's rights are blossoming everywhere. Pretty soon we will reach a right brain/left brain balance, the Equal Rights Amendment will finally be passed and women will finally make the same salaries as men instead of a paltry .79 cents to the dollar. Oh, and the rise in domestic violence, don't worry, Shlain says, it's only temporary as men fight to assert themselves against a changing value system ( I have a real left brain urge to beat Shlain about the head and shoulders repeatedly with a hardcover copy of his book). I could go on and on but I am growing tired as I imagine you are of reading about all that is wrong with this book. Don't waste your precious time reading it. I did so you don't have to. And to tinLizzy, whose fault it is that I read the book in the first place, I forgive you because you are my friend. There better not be a next time though or I will have to punish you by making you read a box full of Harlequin Romances or something.

In Memorium

Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking, was found dead in her car on Tuesday of an apparant suicide reports both BBC News and Yahoo! News. From the BBC:

The writer was discovered in her car on a highway near Los Gatos in California and had a gunshot wound to her head. Authorities believe the injury was self-inflicted. Chang had recently been treated in hospital after suffering from depression.
(News links via MobyLives)

Took the night off last night to go in search of some new mittens. It was only 20 outside when I woke up this morning. It will warm up to the 40s today so it isn't really that cold yet. But it is good to be prepared, because when the thermometer doesn't get above 20 at all, I'll need those nice new mittens. I also finally finished The Alphabet Versus the Goddess so will try to get my final tirade together for tonight. I'm sure you can't wait. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


A nice piece at the NY Times about Muriel Spark:

Even at 86, with five botched operations on one hip and a successful one on the other, her eyesight troubling her and her hearing no longer perfect, Muriel Spark is still doing what every writer likes to do. Having just published her 23rd novel, The Finishing School (Doubleday), she is working on another. True, she admits, she no longer writes quickly. For instance, she completed her 1961 bestseller, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, in just six weeks. Now she works for three-hour stretches on just three days a week. And a novel, including research, can take her up to a year. But her new one, she noted with quiet satisfaction, "is going very well indeed."
I envy even her slow writing stretches. Also at the Times, watch while David Foster Wallace makes mincemeat out of Edwin Williamson's Borges: A Life. Here's the opening warning shot over the bow:
There's an unhappy paradox about literary biographies. The majority of readers who will be interested in a writer's bio, especially one as long and exhaustive as Edwin Williamson's ''Borges: A Life,'' will be admirers of the writer's work. They will therefore usually be idealizers of that writer and perpetrators (consciously or not) of the intentional fallacy. Part of the appeal of the writer's work for these fans will be the distinctive stamp of that writer's personality, predilections, style, particular tics and obsessions -- the sense that these stories were written by this author and could have been done by no other.* And yet it often seems that the person we encounter in the literary biography could not possibly have written the works we admire. And the more intimate and thorough the bio, the stronger this feeling usually is. In the present case, the Jorge Luis Borges who emerges in Williamson's book -- a vain, timid, pompous mama's boy, given for much of his life to dithery romantic obsessions -- is about as different as one can get from the limpid, witty, pansophical, profoundly adult writer we know from his stories. Rightly or no, anyone who reveres Borges as one of the best and most important fiction writers of the last century will resist this dissonance, and will look, as a way to explain and mitigate it, for obvious defects in Williamson's life study. The book won't disappoint them.
Zing! Fans of Haruki Murakami might be interested in this web site put together in conjunction with Knopf. There is even a contest. You never know, you might already be a winner! Harper's is featuring 19th century advertising from it's pages. Is the United States the only industrialized country in the world where evolution is still only a theory? The battle rages on in Cobb County, Georgia. Read what those who support creationism have to say, "impartial" CNN reporting, and Britains trying to understand. At least we aren't still arguing over whether the earth is flat or round.

Monday, November 08, 2004


Maybe it's because it's cold and gray outside and the days are shorter. Maybe it's because I voted for Kerry. Maybe it's because it's Monday and I had a hard day at work. Maybe it's all of those and maybe it's none. Whatever it is, this Philp Pullman article at the Guradian is somewhat worrisome. Pullman writes about reading in a democracy and reading in a theocracy. He explains that there doesn't have to be a god involved to have a theocracy. All you need is a state in which the same characteristics are present. Reading, Pullman insists, is democratic and as such it cannot truly exist in a theocracy:

So our relationship with books is a profoundly, intensely, essentially democratic one. It places demands on the reader, because that is the nature of a democracy: citizens have to play their part. If we don't bring our own best qualities to the encounter, we will bring little away. Furthermore, it isn't static: there is no final, unquestionable, unchanging authority. It's dynamic. It changes and develops as our understanding grows, as our experience of reading - and of life itself -increases. Books we once thought great come to seem shallow and meretricious; books we once thought boring reveal their subtle treasures of wit, their unsuspected shafts of wisdom.
At the same time, democracies can't guarantee that reading will happen, only that it is possible. I think Pullman is partially right. I think reading is democratic if you are literate. If you can't read you are excluded from the democracy of reading. And I won't even go into the ways in which schools fail. It is not the teachers' fault, but more the fault of the whole system. And I think that just because a society may be theocratic doesn't mean there is no democratic reading going on. It may not be happening in plain sight but that doesn't mean it isn't happening. Are we a democracy in danger as Pullman implies at the end of the article? Perhaps. But I can't help but feel like a mountain is being made out of a molehill sort of like the NEA report that came out a few months ago. Sure, the current state of our society doesn't exactly make reading for pleasure an attractive choice. Nor is there any lack of doomsayers decrying the end of reading or the book as we know it. But that doesn't mean that we are about to turn into Stalinist Russia either.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Books and Art

My Bookman and I went to see Judy Chicago at Amazon Bookstore Cooperative this afternoon. We both admire her work, particularly The Dinner Party and The Holocaust Project. She has a new exhibit that opened in a small gallery here in town that I have not seen yet. It features some of the drawings and watercolors from her new book Fragments from the Delta of Venus. Chicago and Anais Nin met at a party in 1971. Nin became a both a friend and mentor to Chicago. Fragments consists of text selections from Nin's book of erotic stories, The Delta of Venus, and watercolor art by Chicago inspired by the text. It's a lovely little book, the cover of which is a sort of shimmery flushed flesh pink. Chicago read briefly from her introduction to the book and spent the rest of the time just talking and answering questions. Feminism and art were the themes. I don't know about everyone else there (about 30 people mostly women but a handful of men too, and a mixed age range), but I left feeling inspired and uplifted. I didn't know what to expect, but I am quite pleased with the experience, which includes an autographed copy of the book.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

The Prince and the Pauper

Montaigne's essay, "On the Inequality There is Between Us," is actually about how little difference there really is when you get right down to it. We praise a horse for its "vigour and dexterity" but we do not praise its harness. We admire a greyhound's speed, not its collar. So why is it, Montaigne wonders, "do we not similarly value a man for qualities which are really his? He may have a great suite of attendants, a beautiful palace, great influence and a large income: all that may surround him but it is not in him." A person should be appraised without all the trappings: "Measure his height with his stilts off: let him lay aside his wealth and his decorations and show us himself in his shimmy." Only then should a person be judged. Unfortunately, as in our time so in Montaigne's. We are awed by celebrity and the sparkle of gold and jewels and the allure of power. Montaigne observes that we are so blinded by "our habitual ways that we take little or no account of such things; when we come to consider a peasant or a monarch, a nobleman or a commoner, a statesman or a private citizen, a rich man or a poor man, we find therefore an immense disparity between men who, it could be said, differ only by their breeches." Few things "cloy and impede like abundance." We are lost to the dazzle and do not see the real person within. Likewise we are repulsed by the dirt and rags of the poor, neglecting to see beyond to the person within. Montaigne does not seem so concerned with building up the poor and common as taking down the powerful and wealthy. They are no more deserving of praise and worship than anyone else. He quotes Seneca's play, Thyestes, "The honour we receive from those who fear us is not honour at all: their respect is due to my royal state not to myself." Montaigne does not insist in this essay that everyone is equal, far from it. There are "many degrees of intelligence" as well as "inner qualities" that create distance between people. It is the intelligence and inner qualities as well as a person's actions which should be looked at and used to judge a person, rich or poor, king or peasant. Just as we are not supposed to judge a book by its cover, we should not judge a person by outward appearances. Because (George W. Bush take note), "After all," says Montaigne, "what we have is a man; and if he himself is born awry then ruling the world will not put him right." Next week's Montaigne essay: "Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us"

Chasing Away the Blues

There is nothing like a warm and sunny November Saturday to rid a person of the the blues except reading a good book or shopping for books. And if you can do all three, well then, ecstasy is just around the corner. I'll be reading later but I did go out with my Bookman for s shop around Half Price Books today. I picked up a copy each of Joseph Campbell's Creative Mythology and Occidental Mythology. I also found Henry James and Edith Wharton, Letters: 1900-1915. My Bookman found two of the Oxford Dickens set he doesn't have, plus The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner. This one looks like it will be a good one. The only other Brunner book I have read is Crucilble of Time which appears to out of print. I liked it very much. So I have high hopes for The Sheep Look Up. Plus it says on the back of the book in the about the author blurb that Brunner coined coined the term "worm" to describe computer viruses. Great new books. Unfortunately I already have lots of other great books to read so who knows when I will get to these particular ones. But just because I might not read them for a year or two or three doesn't mean I can't have them now. Besides, there is something very comforting in being surrounded by books.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Arundhati Roy Awarded Peace Prize

No, not the Nobel, even though she deserves that, the City of Sydney Peace Prize. In her speech she proclaimed the Iraq war "cowardly" and promptly chastised the Australian government for supporting it. She then donated her $50,000 prize money to three Aboriginal foundations. (link via Bookninja. Note: article site will ask you to register)

Horn Tooting and Bellyaching All in One Article

Margo Adler writes of the obstacles and ultimate success of a small press getting a book on the NYT Times Bestseller list, even if it isn't even in the right category.

Those Darn Young Uns!

A Controversial ad was pulled off buses in New York. The ad was dsiplayed on about 200 buses across the city and showed "a suggestively posed woman in hot pants kneeling among a pile of books beside the snappy slogan 'Read Books, Get Brain.'" An ad for literacy perhaps? Nope. It was a clothing company that ran the ad and apparently "get brain" is street slang for oral sex. Of course all the "grown ups" are now appalled and offended and claiming they are the ones who are the victims here, plus the ads are demeaning to women. Funny when they thought it was about literacy the ads were just fine. Hmmm, can you say covering their asses? (Thanks to my Bookman for the link).

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Not Much

I'm still in a foggy state of mourning here after the election so I can't offer much today, no fun book to tell you about to take my mind of things like yesterday. Here's a link though to a great review of Philip Roth's novel The Plot Against America. Michael Wood writes about the book far better than I ever could. I'll try to be more peppy tomorrow. At least it will be Friday. I think I can muster up some oomph for that.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

If Only

If only real life was like a Thursday Next novel, the bad guys would be defeated and everything would turn out okay just like in Something Rotten in which Yorrick Kaine, evil politician, and Goliath, evil corporation, get their comeuppance. Alas, life is not like a book and the good guys only win sometimes. But at least when times are bad we can escape into a good book even if it's just for a little while. And Something Rotten, the fourth book in the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, might be just the ticket you're looking for. Though if you have yet to read a Thursday Next book, you might want to start with The Eyre Affair. This particular book picks up two and a half years after the end of The Well of Lost Plots. Thursday returns to Swindon and the real world with her boy Friday. Things are never easy, but Thursday presses on with pluck and drive to set things right in her life, in the book world and in the real world. Since this is a book and Thursday is our hero, she succeeds in varying degrees in achieving her goals. Of course, she doesn't go it alone, she has the help of her time traveling father, her neanderthal friend, Uncle Mycroft, Spike, her assigned stalker, Hamlet and a Shakespeare clone. Hamlet plays an important role and provides some opportunity for humor. Thursday takes him out for coffee and asks him what he wants. The sheer number of choices sends Hamlet over the edge and he wonders, "To espresso or to latte, that is the question...Whether 'tis tastier on the palate to choose white mocha over plain...or to take a cup to go. Or a mug to stay, or extra cream, or have nothing, and by opposing the endless choice, end one's heartache." Who has not stood at the Starbuck's counter and wondered the same thing? Fforde, obviously a voracious reader himself, also offers up some thoughts on the experience of reading. Hamlet has never been in the real world before and is amazed at the level of detail compared to that in the book world, exclaims that it "would take millions of words to describe correctly." Thursday explains that that is the magic of books, that "a few dozen words conjure up an entire picture." But she says, it isn't the author that does all the work, the reader does most of it:

"Well, each interpretation of an event, setting or character is unique to each of those who read it because they clothe the author's description with the memory of their own experiences. Every character they read is actually a complex amalgam of people that they've met, read or seen before--far more real than it can ever be just from the text on the page. Because every reader's experiences are different, each book is unique for each reader." "So," replied the Dane, thinking hard, "what you're saying is that the more complex and apparently contradictory the character, the greater the possible interpretations?" "Yes. In fact, I'd argue that every time a book is read by the same person it is different again--because the reader's experiences have changed or he is in a different frame of mind."
Ain't reading grand? Something Rotten like the other three books in the series, was fun to read. And now that it is done I have to wait a long time for a new Thursday Next book. Sigh.

Thanks to the folks at Bookninja for their list of ten works of fiction to help everyone "make sense of the new world order."

Damn. I really thought Kerry would win. What's wrong with this country?

Monday, November 01, 2004


Some goodies from the Guardian:

  • A long and interesting article about Grace Paley of whom the author Ali Smith
    believes that if she does not get the recognition she deserves outside America it is because "she is about things that do not suit a high profile: the short form, the political everyday, the small survival (which is, actually, epic), the playful potential, the unsentimental hope. Like all great, great writers, she is uncategorisable. Her stories are specially compacted, primed to resonate, disconcert, and then force you, in a way that's somehow both gentle and extraordinarily tough, to be intelligent. They don't haunt; they preoccupy."
    My Bookman and I had the great fortune of attending a Paley reading a couple years ago. She is an amazing woman, full of life and stories.
  • Tom Wolfe on his new novel, America and politics. The NY times also has an article about Wolfe with a decidedly less political and a more American celebrity take.
  • A List! Jonathan Stroud's favorite fantasy books
And in the Wal-Mart's at it again category: We're not selling George Carlin's book either, so there! (via NewPages) Wal-Mart returned 3,500 copies of Carlin's newest book When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?, citing an "ordering error." They didn't believe the book would appeal to their customer base. However, they are selling it at their online store. Is there hypocrisy going on here or is it just me?