Sunday, February 29, 2004

Gettin' "Religion"

I went and worshipped at the house of books this morning. I can think of nothing better to do on a Sunday morning then to spend time in the presence of something greater than myself. Bookstores and libraries are my churches and temples, they inspire in me a feeling of awe and wonder. The only time I have ever felt anything akin to religious ecstasy or the "presence of God" has been in the outdoors or reading a book. In fact the most transcendental experience I ever had was reading a book (I think it was The Mammoth Hunters of all things) outdoors in the backyard of my childhood home and finishing it just as the sun was setting. I was infused with a sense of wholeness and wonder, the sky was gorgeous and everything was right with me and the world. It lasted only a few minutes, my reverie interrupted by my mom calling me in to dinner, but it was long enough to cement forever my worship of books and nature. My dearest and I went to Half Price Books taking with us a few books but also two bags of VHS video tapes to sell. Who wants video tapes when there are DVDs to be had? With all those tapes we managed a sizable credit. And the fun began. I found a knitting book to add to my collection (I am a knitting book junkie. I have more knitting books than one person could ever possibly need but I can't help myself. I do knit in case anyone was wondering, so this habit is not entirely unfounded). I found a decent copy of A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes. The book "explores the relationship of fact and fabulation and the antagonism between history and love." Plus it has a revisionist account of Noah's ark, a sneak preview of heaven (the closest I'll probably get after writing this post) and a trial of woodworms for blasphemy in 16th century France. How can this not be an interesting book? Thanks to a passionate post about William Gaddis at The Reading Experience, I picked up a copy of JR, a "raucous look at money and its influence, at love and its absence, at success and its failures." And finally, the best kind of book there is, an interesting find. These are the books you don't know even exist and you just happen to find them. Today I found, or rather it found me, Paths of Resistance: The Art and Craft of the Political Novel edited by William Zinsser. This little gem is "five masters of the political novel explain[ing] how their writing is impelled by a sense of social responsibility." Who are the five masters? Isabel Allende, Charles McCarry, Marge Piercy, Robert Stone and Gore Vidal. This one goes on top of my teetering bedside pile. Gotta go, I've got lots of worshipping to do!

Saturday, February 28, 2004

More Translating

After I posted yesterday I continued thinking about translations. I got so excited to tell you about great books I've read that my brain fuzzed out and I couldn't think any longer. Here are my questions: Would you rather read a book knowing it was translated word for word from the original and put up with clunky and strange wording, or would you rather read a book that is beautifully written knowing that it isn't word for word but told the same story and "honored" the spirit of the original? (I think I lean toward well written) And if a book is translated in the spirit of the original, does that make it a new book? (Yes, and no) And if it is a new book, can I say I have read Proust, or only that I have read a translation of Proust? (yes, and no) Does the translator need to be fluent in both the language of the book being translated and the language the book is translated into? (I lean toward they should be) For instance, having only a smattering of German and a good dictionary, can I do a new translation of Goethe's Faust? (this would be a disaster, an entertaining disaster maybe, but a disaster nonetheless) A search of the Internet in hopes of some help in answering these questions turns up, of course, a book, The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation edited by Peter France and published in 2000 (leave it to the Brits to be on top of things). Here is a bit of what France has to say:

Translation, seen by Florio, the great Montaigne translator, as a secondary and 'female' activity, has little status compared with 'original' creation. It often seems that the translator's best role is that of self-effacing servant, a transparent glass through with (sic) the original is viewed. But if the translator as traitor is uncomfortably visible, the translator as servant suffers from invisibility. His or her work is taken for granted, as if it were simply mechanical, the translator's name is often barely acknowledged in title pages, reviews and the like, translators struggle to achieve the recognition implied by royalties (or in the university world, the approval of the RAE). Translations, from the Bible to Pinocchio, are an essential part of English-language culture, but they occupy a small place in histories of literature and in anthologies of English poetry (Christopher Ricks's newOxford Book of English Verse is an honourable exception). Those reading translations often seem unconscious of the fact, as if in reading Garnett they were simply reading Dostoevsky - it is easy to overlook the fascinating work of rewriting that translation represents.
The book appears to be essays written by and about translators and the problems and joys of translation. Looks like I'm going to have to find myself a copy. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 27, 2004

In Translation

The Bookman and I watched the movie Lost in Translation last night, a wonderful flick if you haven't yet seen it. It got me started thinking about books in translation and the whole art of translating (the movie has nothing to do with books, but in my mind everything gets connected with books). Translating is an art. In an early scene of the movie Bob (Bill Murray) is in Japan filming a whiskey commercial, the Japanese director of the commercial talks long and passionately in Japanese about what he wants Bob to do. The translator boils it down to "he wants you to turn and look intense." Bob asks which way he should turn and the translator says a lot for such a short question to which the director replies with an even longer response and the translator tells Bob to "just turn with intensity." And Bob asks, "is that all he said because it seemed like he had a lot more to say." Sometimes when I read a book in translation, especially if it isn't very good, I wonder what happened? What was left out? Is this what the original was like? I felt that way reading Paradise of the Blind a fascinating novel about Vietnam. I also wondered about Heart of Stone by Renate Dorrenstein, a Dutch novelist. The book was a bestseller in her country but I found myself wondering why. When I am reading a book in translation and I don't like it, I always wonder if it is the story I don't like or the translation? In the last decade it has become popular in translated poetry books to have the original poem on one page and the translation on the other. This is all fine and good but it helps me not a bit. Sure I took Spanish in high school, but that was long ago and it doesn't help me when it comes to reading Pablo Neruda. I suppose it is interesting to see how the original poem looks on the page in comparison with the translation, but really what is the purpose of having the original and the translation side by side? If I could read the original I wouldn't need the translated version. I have read some amazing books in translation. These books were so good that not once did I think about it as being translated. Here are a few I highly recommend:

  • Twenty Poems by Russian poet Anna Akhmatova and translated by Vera Sandomirsky Dunham and Jane Kenyon (a wonderful poet herself).
  • Blindness by Portuguese author Jose Saramago and translated by Giovanni Pontiero. This book is about what happens when everyone suddenly goes blind. An interesting study in human nature.
  • If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino, translated from the Italian by William Weaver. This gem is about a man that just wants to find out how the book ends.
  • Too Loud a Solitude by Czech author Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Michael H. Heim. The main character job is compacting paper trash and he has made it his mission to save as many books that come his way as he can.
I have also not yet met a book by Isabel Allende or Gabriel Garcia Marquez that I did not like. I've begun the long journey which is Marcel Proust with the Kilmartin and Scott-Moncrieff translation. A new translation by Lydia Davis came out in the fall of last year but it hasn't gotten very good reviews. A new translation which has gotten great reviews, and which I hope to acquire, is Edith Grossman's Don Quixote. While it sure seems like there is a huge choice of translated books, it isn't really so. Many of the books that get translated are the "classics" or come from big names like Allende and Marquez, and were originally written in Spanish or other European language. It is only in the last few years that Japanese fiction has begun being translated with any sort or regularity. Whether this is due to the popularity of Japanese graphic novels and comics or someone finally having an "aha" moment we may never know. The important thing is that it is being translated. We not only broaden our understanding of the world by reading translations, we also make a human connection--people in Vietnam get hungry just like I do, people in Nigeria feel sad just like I do, people in Russia feel scared just like I do and people in China get mad at their government just like I do. The way I see it, the more access we have to literature from other countries the more likely we are to learn something about the other country and about ourselves. And that can only be a good thing. Let's hope that publishers will start making an effort to not only translate works from other countries, but to translate them well.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Monkey Business

You are probably familiar with the quote (saying?) give a thousand monkeys a typewriter and they can write the works of Shakespeare. Well PETA got mad and set the monkeys free. So instead of slave monkey labor, we can turn to Monkey Shakespeare Simulator (via Bookslut). Just imagine how much these folks are saving in the cost of bananas alone! As long as the page is open your computer acts like a couple of monkeys typing randomly on a typewriter. The page displays the keystrokes and any Shakespeare matches. So far a whopping 13 consecutive letters have been matched in Measure for Measure (the most I've gotten so far is 11). Looks like this might go on for quite a while. But hey, no one ever said the monkeys could write Shakespeare in a timely fashion, only that they could. Of course we may all be dead by the time they manage it so we'll never know.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Words of Republicans

I came across a good interview and discussion of a new book, Take Them at Their Words: Startling Quotations from the G.O.P., Their Friends and a Few Others, 1994-2004 edited by Bruce J. Miller and Diana Maio. I found the interview on Working for Change. It was conducted by BuzzFlash with Bruce J Miller. In the book you can find such gems as Barbara Bush on Good Morning America: "Why should we hear about body bags and deaths and how many...It's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?" And this from her equally compassionate son to the Palestinian Prime Minister: "God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you can help me, I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them." Funny? Yes. Scary? Definitely. Here's an excerpt from the interview:

BuzzFlash: There does seem to be something implicit on the part of the right wing that if you don't agree with them -- particularly if you're a Democrat, or if you embrace a secular society -- you're an agent of Satan. In essence, that's what causes all these extreme quotes to be articulated, because the enemy within is something evil. It's evil to be inclusive. It's evil to believe women have equal rights. It's evil to believe that we are one community and we should be helping each other as a nation. ...Otherwise, there's really no other way to account for this, because they are basically in the league of the witch burners.... Bruce J. Miller: My own feeling is that it's fueled by a relatively small number of people with huge amounts of money, who don't want to pay any taxes at all and resent any shred of democracy that we actually have. They fund all these right-wing groups, and they have a tremendous effect with their efforts. I think that's a big part of it.
I have heard bits of analysis of the religious and moral language the right uses that BuzzFlash and Miller touch on here. Most recently in the George Lakoff article on same-sex marriage. We heard a lot of the with-us-or-against-us rhetoric right after 9-11. If you dared to question the government then you were not patriotic and therefore unAmerican. Can you say falling back on the slippery slope of McCarthyism? But don't let all this get you down:
BuzzFlash: When a person finishes reading this, do you think they're going to be depressed, outraged? What are they going to come away from this thinking? Bruce J. Miller: I hope they'll be a little bit surprised, taken aback, maybe entertained along the way. But I would hope that ultimately they'll say, "We've really got to take them seriously." We've got to participate. I'm not saying they should spend all their time on politics, but just to do a little something -- maybe call a sponsor of a show, or complain to, say, MSNBC that they only have right-wing hosts. Just a little something more than they were doing before -- maybe even to show the book to people that don't even know this is going on.
In other words, we have to start believing the babbling idiots mean what they say. I get chills down my spine just thinking about it. I think Miller is right though, we've got to participate. That is the point of a Democracy afterall.

Monday, February 23, 2004


The American Library Association has for sale those nifty Read Posters (link via A List a Day) you see at libraries. There is the hunky Antonio Banderas holding Don Quixote. Bill Gates looking like a geek with Old Man and the Sea (where's Steve Jobs?). The ubiquitous Brittney Spears looks like she's trying to hide her book from the camera, or maybe she's about to drop it because she doesn't quite know what it is. Dr. Ruth is standing behind a huge Curious George book. I'm wondering what she means by that? There's also The Indigo Girls, Levar Burton, Melissa Etheridge, Tim Robbins, and Yo-Yo Ma just to highlight a few. The best poster though has to be the yummy Orlando Bloom holding a copy of, what else? The Lord of the Rings. He also has a mini poster and a bookmarkk you can buy. I wish I had known you could buy these posters a few years ago when Patrick Stewart had one (you know, Captain Picard). I don't know what I find more attractive about him, his beaky nose, blue eyes and unabashedly bald head, or his gorgeous voice. He can read to me anytime! (But I'll accept the substitution of Orlando Bloom if I have to)

Saturday, February 21, 2004

More Words

Check out Michael Quinion's website, World Wide Words. Quinion, who says he "writes about international English from a British viewpoint," is a wordsmith extraordinaire. He has provided citations and advice for the Oxford English Dictionary, wrote a third of the entries for the Oxford Dictionary of New Words, Second Edition, and is the author of books, Ologies and Isms being the most recent. On top of that he maintains his website, adding new words and information weekly. On his pages you can learn about the origins of such useful words as skedaddle and cockamamie. And the argument over whether you can use they as a singular gender-neutral pronoun comes closer to being settled once and for all. Those in favor of they are winning (take that grammar-nazis!). Turns out it's mostly us uptight Americans who object to it (must be something in our Puritanical cultural heritage, or maybe it's the water). It's a fun site, especially if you love words and long for a complete, unabridged OED but can't afford the pricetag. This guy is the next best thing. While you're there, sign up to become one of the 17,000+ subscribers of his newsletter (it's free!). Time to stop your cyberloafing and get to work!

Friday, February 20, 2004

It's All About Words--Sort Of

Read a great article called What's in a Word? by George Lakoff on Alternet. The article is about the word "marriage" and what it means to different parts of the culture and how the meaning of that word is at the root of the debate over same-sex marriage. You may not agree with Lakoff's theory, but you'll have to agree that the language in which the debate is framed is everything. The article should be read by liberals and conservatives alike, at the very least to gain the "ah" factor. You, know, when you are baffled by something and then suddenly get it, "ah!"

Thursday, February 19, 2004

How Not to Be Happily Married

I finished reading The Bride Stripped Bare last night, a little book that my Bookman received an advanced proof of in the mail recently. As I mentioned before, it is by Anonymous and not exactly a book I would choose to read. The back of the book explains that it is about a woman who "disappears, leaving behind an incendiary diary chronicling a journey of sexual awakening. To all who knew her, she was the Good Wife: happy, devoted, content." It also tries to explain that "the author decided to remain anonymous so she would feel absolutely free to explore a woman's inner world." Everything about this book said I would not like it. But I did, mostly. First of all let me say the book is not a diary, it is a manuscript the main character (unnamed of course), wrote about herself and those in her life, inspired by an Elizabethan book written by an anonymous woman that used to belong to her Grandfather. The Bride Stripped Bare is about the woman's sexual awakening. However, in the afterward the anonymous author explains that she sees it as being about "a woman finding her voice." The book is small and reads fast. Each chapter, or "lesson" as they are labeled here, is no more than 5-6 pages and sometimes as short as a small paragraph. The writing is crisp and clean, an easy, enjoyable read. I have a few quibbles with the book though. It made me feel sad. The woman has trapped herself in a passionless marriage, deciding to give up joy and good sex for stability and security. When she gets the chance to change her life she doesn't. Then there is the ending. I don't want to give it away, but I do have to say I think it is a cop-out. Granted, this story is hard to bring to a conclusion, but the author could have found a different way to close the book. It kind of reminded me of The Horse Whisperer in that respect. The Bride Stripped Bare is not as contrived as The Horse Whisperer, but it flirts with it. The ending and the book making me feel sad bothers me because I get the impression that I am not supposed to feel sad. I am supposed to feel happy and exhilarated by the woman finding her voice and learning who she is and deciding what she wants. But again we get to the ending and now it reminds me of The Awakening by Kate Chopin. At the end of that book Edna has "found herself" and goes out for a swim in the ocean. She swims too far and drowns. The reader is left to wonder did she commit suicide or was it an accident? Perhaps such ambiguity was necessary one hundred years ago, but not today. Then there is the whole anonymous thing. It feels like a publicity ploy to me. Who in this day and age has to be anonymous in order to talk about women and sex? I understand it might be a play on the fact that the book that inspires the main character was written by an anonymous woman and a frame for the novel which is supposed to be the book written by the main character. It still rankles me though. And then my Bookman found out in one of the trade magazines the author is Nikki Gemmell (Alice Springs). There is also a picture of the book as it is to be released next month. It has a different cover and the author's name appears on it. Can you say quick change in marketing plan? I don't want you to think I didn't like the book, I did. Heck I finished reading it during commercials of West Wing last night. Just don't expect anything more than a light beach-type read.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The Bard

A fabulous article/review at The Nation by Terry Eagleton about a new book by Frank Kermode, The Age of Shakespeare. Give you one guess as to what it's about. There can never really be too many books about Shakespeare especially of the non-scholarly variety. I mean who wants to read what the likes of Harold Bloom, a know-it-all bombast with a gargantuan ego, has to say about the Bard? Give me something that doesn't have an agenda and is interesting. According to Eagleton, this is the book:

The Age of Shakespeare is a marvelously compact account of the man and his social context. It packs into its brief compass some astute commentaries on the plays, and weaves together the theater, London life, high politics and acting techniques. Kermode writes a supple, lucid prose, with a touch of the English gentleman; he is good-humored, self-effacing, wears his erudition with ease and is too courteous to be polemical. The only mildly alarming feature of the book is that it appears in a series that also includes Bernard Lewis on the Holy Land. Perhaps the commission for the volume on democracy will be offered to Saddam Hussein.
If you don't have the time or inclination to read the book, at least read the review. Eagleton mixes in information from the book and some fun snarkiness.

Monday, February 16, 2004

New Books!

One of the delights of having a husband who works for a big book store is the surprise of publishers sending him books to read in the hopes that they will be displayed prominently and/or talked up to customers. Frequently these are the books that need the most help in getting noticed when sometimes they shouldn't be. But the books that arrived today look promising.

  • For Us the Living is a "new" Robert Heinlein book. It is the first novel he ever wrote from 1939. It's about a man who was in an accident in 1939 and then wakes up in 2086. Talk about culture shock. This book is in stores now.
  • The Intelligencer by Leslie Silbert takes place in modern times but is centered around the 1593 murder of playwright Christopher Marlowe (you know, the guy who wrote The Tragic History of Doctor Faustus and Timburlaine the Great, among others. There were also theories afloat a long time ago that he was actually Shakespeare). This book recently appeared in a bookstore near you.
  • Name All the Animals a memoir by Alison Smith. Smith was 15 when her 18 year old brother was killed in a car crash. The book is about how she and her family tried to live their lives in the aftermath. Available now.
  • The Will to Change by bell hooks. A nonfiction book about masculinity and maleness in our changing times. The book was published in December.
  • And finally a book that arrived in the mail just before Valentine's Day and which hubby and I both started reading (he was sent two copies for some reason), The Bride Stripped Bare by Anonymous. This is a book I wouldn't normally choose to read. By Anonymous? It has bad novel written all over it. But hubby suggested we both give it a try. I warily agreed, declaring that if I didn't like it after one chapter I would not continue. So we both began to read. To our surprise and delight this is actually shaping up to be a good book. The book won't be out in stores until March 16th. I'm not done with it yet either so I'll just leave you hanging. This is my shameless ploy to get you to come back and read my review of it in a day or two, or maybe next week. It all depends on how much reading time I get. I've got to make an effort to make more reading time, the books are piling up fast.

    Saturday, February 14, 2004

    Telling Stories

    I finished reading a pretty good book last night, Ammonite by Nicola Griffith. It's a science fiction book first published in 1992. The story takes place on the planet GP, or "Jeep" to those who live on it. The planet had been colonized centuries before but the colonists and the "Company" who owned the planet lost touch until now. The Company shows up to start mining and exploiting the planet only to have most of it employees soon die of a deadly virus. Interestingly, the only ones who survive the virus are women. All of the colonists, now natives, on Jeep turn out to be women. Enter anthropologist Marghe Taishan. She is both a guinea pig for a recently developed vaccine for the virus and there to find out about the natives and how they reproduce and where the virus comes from and why the natives are not affected. Of course things never turn out as planned and much story ensues. The book takes quite a bit of time to get going. About the first third of the book is backstory and before I was through it, I almost put the book down. But just when I thought I couldn't take it anymore the story started to move and then it fairly zipped along. What Ammonite is ultimately about is memory and identity and how one affects the other. It is also about the importance of stories of which memory and identity also play a part. Stories can change who we are but also keep us from changing. Stories can save our lives or kill us. And stories can by used to create or destroy. The book made me think about my own story and the stories we tell ourselves as a culture and a nation. Some may say that stories and storytelling are not important. They are old fashioned and no one cares anymore. I disagree. The more I think about it the more I realize that stories are just as important today as they ever were, we just don't acknowledge it. And I think because we don't acknowledge it, we don't recognize that there are so many stories and storytellers out there. And because we don't recognize that I think we are more easily manipulated by the stories. All stories, both fiction and nonfiction, are a mixture of truth and lies. It's up to the listener of the story to ferret out the difference.

    Friday, February 13, 2004

    The Importance of Words

    Allow me to direct your attention to a New York Review of Books essay by Roger Shattuck called "A World of Words". The essay is the introduction to Helen Keller's reissued book The World I Live In. The book is not necessarily a sequel to The Story of My Life, but can been seen as such. The essay gives autobiographical information about Keller, but Shattuck's focus is on how Keller became a writer the moment Annie Sullivan taught her finger spelling. Words were always the mediator for Keller, words became her eyes and ears. Shattuck sees Keller's book The World I Live In as evidence of the importance of words to Keller. The book was first published in 1908 and is a collection of essays that moves beyond Keller's own story to address "a variety of challenging subjects--relations among the senses, history of philosophy, religious faith, and the mystery of language." I have not read The World I Live In--yet. I have read The Story of My Life twice, once when I was about 10 and again as an adult. As a kid I was both fascinated and awed by Helen Keller. I don't remember when or how I found out about her but I was about 8 or 9. She became a sort of guiding light for me, a hero, an example of someone who overcame the odds and lived a good and happy life. I read all the books I could about her that an 8 or 9 year-old could understand. My school librarian, Mrs. Barnes (I loved that woman), surprised me one day with two cards she had sent away for; one had the braille alphabet on it in all of it's raised glory of bumps, and the other had the finger alphabet on it. I could have cried. I spent hours teaching myself finger spelling and I still remember it. I tried to learn braille too but with less success; my fingers couldn't tell if there was a group of two bumps or three, they all felt the same. Far from disappointing me, it only served to make me admire Keller more. And then Mrs. Barnes gave me a book about Annie Sullivan, Teacher to Helen, and I found out that Teacher was herself an admirable woman who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles in her own life. When I was young I wanted to be a teacher for the deaf and blind. But life doesn't always work out the way you want it to when you're 9. However, I am remain inspired by Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. I've always planned on reading Keller's other books "someday" (she has many), but haven't gotten around to it. Maybe Shattuck's essay will be the impetus I need to make someday now. Because, as Shattuck concludes his essay,

    We are navigating now far from the use of language as a set of arbitrary conventions and within sight of poetry and word realism, in a world of words which have on us virtual effects verging on the real. The reason why we find a convincingly human quality in The Story of My Life and The World I Live In reaches beyond our fascination with the disabled and the handicapped. These books display the redemptive power of language in certain cases, and the power of that language to reach us all. Virtual or real, it works. This resource allowed Helen to write in her closing poem, "A Chant of Darkness": Search out thy blindness. It holdeth Riches past computing.

    Thursday, February 12, 2004

    Something to Celebrate

    Today is Darwin Day so break out the party hats! Old Charlie was born on this day in 1809. In case you are low on the evolutionary ladder or forgot your schooling, Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species: By Means of Natural Selection or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, published in 1859. It is arguably one of the most influential works ever written. And it is probably arguable that it is one of the most contested. But no one has been able to prove Darwin wrong (Sorry, I don't count the Bible to be proof of anything) and until they do, I'll continue to cast my vote for evolution. Also born on this day in 1809 was Abraham Lincoln. He was not only a fine president but an outstanding writer as can be proved by the Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19, 1863. Once upon a time you had to be smart to be president. And the final birthday today goes to a woman who was a huge influence on me during puberty. Born in 1938, Judy Blume helped me feel a little less lonely when the hormones started to do their dirty work. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, Blubber, Tiger Eyes (did that one ever make me cry), Deenie (this one made me terrified of getting scoliosis. When the school nurse did a screening of all the girls during gym class in 7th grade I thought for sure I was going to end up like Deenie), Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (my little sister was not as bad as Fudge, but oh, how I did relate!), and Then Again, Maybe I Won't (my first inkling that maybe boys didn't have it so easy either). And then, of course, there was Forever. I have a vivid memory of a scene in the book where Kathy and her boyfriend are in the bathroom together and she puts aftershave on his penis. And even though my Mom had no clue what this book was about, I was still afraid to let her see me reading it. She might figure out what I was reading and not let me finish it! Then when I was 15 there was Wifey. This was my Mom's book and she had read it and knew what it was about. My sister and I begged her to let us read it but she refused. But instead of throwing it away or giving it to a friend, she kept it and hid it. Naturally my sister and I found it. There was an argument over who got to read it first. Even though my sister is younger than I am she is still bigger, so she won. It took both of us a long time to read it because the reading had to be done in secret. I found it a little shocking at the time but over all I didn't think it any more explicit than the Harlequin Romances my Mom would leave laying around and through which I would look for the "good parts" when no one was paying attention. After my sister and I were done with Wifey we put it back where we had found it, my Mom none the wiser. I read Summer Sisters when it first came out several years ago. It was an enjoyable book but something was missing. Perhaps it had something to do with me not being a teenager anymore. I didn't have to read the book in secret so that extra edge was lost. No matter. I will always have found memories of growing up with Judy Blume.

    Wednesday, February 11, 2004

    On the Campaign Trail

    Tired of reading the Democratic candidate's books? Tired of hearing them attach one another and President Bush? Are you ready for someone new? Then you are ready for Chris P. Carrot, the candidate who promises to improve America's vision! Carrot's running mate is Colonel Corn who admonishes his followers to "give peas a chance!" And best of all the candidates have recently been endorsed by Striperella. I know this has nothing to do with books, but I couldn't resist.

    Monday, February 09, 2004

    The Vagaries of Memory

    I am looking through the list of books (yes, lists again! I told you I am a list person. Convert or get used to it.) I read way back in 1995 (54 that year!) and I find myself astonished. Not astonished by how many books I read, but by what I read. Why is it that I remember reading The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper (a fabulous book and a fabulous writer) but I don't remember What They Did to Princess Paragon by Robert Rodi? Even after reading an online description of the book I only have a vague recollection, a little tickle that this might have been something I read. Why is it I remember reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (another excellent author and an amazing book), but until I looked at this list I would have sworn on a bar of chocolate that I had never in my life read anything by Patricia A. McKillip. But there on the list is her book Something Rich and Strange. And why can I remember laughing hysterically at Rita Mae Brown's Bingo but perpetually have Petra K. Kelly's book Thinking Green! on my got to get around to reading sometime list because I didn't think I'd read it? What is it about a book that makes you remember it or forget it? I'd like to say I only forget about the bad books but if that's the case why do I remember reading The Bridges of Madison County? It seems like books that I had a strong reaction to, positive or negative, are ones I remember more often. But not always. Memory is a fascinating thing and some day I hope to write a novel about memory--if I can remember. Something I do remember is a review about a new book from Graywolf Press that I read on The Nation's website today while I was at work (I was on a break!). The review is by Megan Marz about a book called What Narcissism Means To Me by Tony Hoagland. To my surprise it is a poetry book. They don't review poetry much at The Nation. It is a book that I am going to have to buy because I couldn't resist this excerpt:

    ...what Marx said near the end of his life: "I was listening to the cries of the past, When I should have been listening to the cries of the future." But how could he have imagined 100 channels of 24-hour cable TV Or what kind of nightmare it might be When each day you watch rivers of bright merchandise run past you And you are floating in your pleasure boat upon this river Even while others are drowning underneath you And you see their faces twisting in the surface of the waters And yet it seems to be your own hand Which turns the volume higher?
    It took my breath away. I know there are lots of poetry-phobic people (a topic for another time) out there, but you have to admit, this guy is good.

    Sunday, February 08, 2004

    New Feature

    I have nothing bookish to say today. But I would like to direct your attention to a new feature. Please notice I now have commenting on this site. You are welcome to share your opinions, thoughts and comments, bookish or otherwise. Just remember to play nice.

    Saturday, February 07, 2004

    The Lunatic Asylum of the Universe

    So Kurt Vonnegut author of the classic Slautherhouse-Five, borrowing from Bertrand Russell, calls this world and particularly this country, in an interview with Kilgore Trout a recurring character in several of Vonnegut's novels and stories. In the interview, Vonnegut rants about the "fatal flaw in our Constitution" which is that "only a nut would run for president." Something to keep in mind as we go to our caucuses and primaries.

    Thursday, February 05, 2004

    Book Receipts

    There are lots of cool things about library books but one of the best things is finding the check-out receipts of previous readers. I found two in On the Road. In June of 2003 someone named Kelly checked out this particular copy. Along with this she also got Fury: A Novel by Salman Rushdie. Then in October of 2003 someone named Heidi checked out this copy as well as Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Kelly and Heidi both have very literary tastes. I'd like to meet them and talk to them about On the Road and the other books they checked out. What did they think of Kerouac? I want to know from Kelly if Fury was good or were the critics that panned it right? It's on my bookshelf but I haven't read it yet, should I? I want to ask Heidi if she thought Cathy was a sell-out marrying the rich guy. Does she think Cathy should have married Heathcliff? Could they have been happy? And what did she think of Tender is the Night? I haven't read it but have read The Great Gatsby three times trying to figure out what was so great about it. I didn't succeed so never tried any other of Fitzgerald's books. I want to know from both of them why they chose to the read the books they did. But all I have are their receipts and my musings. I've decided to leave my receipt in On the Road when I turn it in. Besides On the Road, it has The Middle Mind on it. Maybe someone else will find it interesting to look at our three slips and wonder about them and come to a conclusion about us as readers. Thanks to tinLizzy for the link to Women and Children First, an independent bookstore in Chicago. Their site has shopping, Book Sense 76 picks, and features of store bestsellers and staff recommendations. Check it out!

    Tuesday, February 03, 2004

    Feeling Independent

    Sometimes you just have to break free of the chains and declare your independence. Even if you don't have an independent bookstore in your area you can visit one on the web. Dark Carnival specializes in scfi, fantasy and horror. While they don't have online shopping you can still contact them and order over the phone or via email. But don't let that deter you from visiting their website where you can read The Barker, a quarterly online review magazine they published in the mid-nineties. They also offer reading suggestions for books both old and new. I gave my Bookman three books I found on one of their lists for Solstice. He's read one so far and loved it. If crime is more you style, visit Mysterious Bookshop. Among other things, the site offers lists (here I go with the lists again) of suggested reading and a list of Edgar Award winners and nominees. Oscar Wilde Bookshop in New York doesn't specialize in things Wildean, or is that Oscarian? Their claim to fame is the first gay bookstore in the world. There is no online shopping, but they do showcase some of their vintage books. Vintage means original or out of print, so don't be shocked by the sticker price. I am lucky to work right next door to Amazon Bookstore Cooperative the oldest feminist bookstore in North America. I can't say that I visit their website often, but for those of you farther away they offer online shopping, reviews of new books and some great links. A newer bookstore in Minneapolis is Birchbark Books specializing in Native American fiction and nonfiction. The store is owned by none other than author Louise Erdrich. And finally, there is Ruminator formerly Hungry Mind. They don't have a particular specialty, but they do tend toward literary fiction. Online you can shop the store, read the Ruminator Review, and check out what the Ruminator Press is publishing. And if you have ever wanted to own a bookstore you now have chance. Ruminator recently made a public stock offering and there are still some shares left. Ownership without the work. If you have a favorite independent bookstore with an online site you'd like to share, send me an email and I'll post it. And who knows, if you visit some of these sites enough you might feel the need to go visit them in person. Book shopping in towns not my own is one of my favorite activities. Road trip anyone?

    Sunday, February 01, 2004

    The Beat Goes On

    I have managed to get through a good portion of my life without reading any Beat literature. Until now. I am in a casual book group with my Bookman and two other friends. We take turns making suggestions for reading and then get together at a coffee shop when we are all finished reading the book. At our last meeting in early December, T wanted to read On the Road by Jack Kerouac. For lack of any other proposals we all agreed. I checked the book out from my public library and dutifully started reading. The book has a good introduction in it talking about the Beats and Kerouac and how he wrote the book. That was all interesting. I don't agree with the Beats and their drugged out lives. I don't believe that you need to be stoned in order to achieve a different level of consciousness or world view. Knowing that Kerouac wrote On the Road in a three-week frenzy of benzedrine and who knows what else, I admit I was prejudiced from the get-go. Still, I was willing to give the book a chance. I finished the book last night and have thought about it and my final determination is that I didn't like it much. To me it was just one long rushing from here to there and back again. In fact, the book made me feel sad and I don't think I was supposed to feel sad. I felt sad about the women who attached themselves to these men who couldn't or wouldn't be faithful to them. I felt sad for the men and their running away because that's what it seemed like to me, that they were always running away. About two-thirds through the book Sal, the narrator, is walking the streets of Denver, he buys a container of hot chili from a street vender and walks and eats and muses:

    I wished I were a Denver Mexican, or even a poor overworked Jap, anything but what I was so drearily a "white man" disillusioned. All my life I'd had ambitions; that was why I'd abandoned a good woman like Terry in the San Joaquin Valley....I was only myself, Sal Paradise, sad, strolling in this violet dark, this unbearably sweet night, wishing I could exchange worlds with the happy, true-hearted, ecstatic Negroes of America.
    This passage bothered me on so many levels. And it raises the question, can an author with a racist passage like this be faulted for it, or must he be given lenience for not rising above the prevailing culture of his time? I'm not sure I have an answer for that. Occasionally there would be a beautiful sentence or passage in the rush of people and places. I think some of the best passages were ones about jazz:
    The behatted tenorman was blowing at the peak of a wonderfully satisfactory free idea, a rising and falling riff that went from "EE-yah!" to a crazier "EE-de-lee-yah!" and blasted along to the rolling crash of butt-sacrred drums hammered by a big brutal Negro with a bullneck who didn't give a damn about anything but punishing his busted tubs, crash, rattle-ti-boom, crash. Uproars of music and the tenorman had it and everybody knew he had it. Dean was clutching his head in the crowd, and it was a mad crowd. They were all urging that tenorman to hold it and keep it with cries and wild eyes, and he was raising himself from a crouch and going down again with his horn, looping it up in a clear cry above the furor.
    These few and far between beautiful words weren't enough to redeem the book for me. I can understand why the book is considered a classic, nothing like it had been written before. And according to the introduction, the book captures a time and generation. But does that automatically make the book a literary classic or simply an historical and cultural landmark?