Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Harry Potter 6

The title for the next Harry Potter book was announced on J.K. Rowling's website and in the news Apparently there was some hoax that the title was "Harry Potter and the Pillar of Storge" but it will be Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (I kind of like Pillar of Storge better myself). On her site, Rowling says that the half blood prince is neither Harry (obvious) or Voldemort. She also says that Chamber of Secrets has a lot of clues on how the series will end up (though not more than book six does, of course). No word yet as to when the book will be published.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Do Books Make You Boring?

Cristina Nehring provides an interesting perspective on book culture in her New York Times Book Review article. She complains of the growing "self-congratulation of book lovers" that leads to book festival banners that read "Books Make You a Better Person" and radio spots encouraging listeners to "Read a book, save a life." I understand her malcontent. I am not quite sure how reading a book can save a life, and whose life does it save, my own or someone else's? And what does reading a book save a life from? Nehring argues, and I must agree, that reading in and of itself is not a particularly virtuous endeavor. Says Nehring,

By filling yourself up with too much of other folks' thought, you can lose the capacity and incentive to think for yourself. We all know people who have read everything and have nothing to say. We all know people who use a text the way others use Muzak: to stave off the silence of their minds. These people may have a comic book in the bathroom, a newspaper on the breakfast table, a novel over lunch, a magazine in the dentist's office, a biography on the kitchen counter, a political expose in bed, a paperback on every surface of their home and a weekly in their back pocket lest they ever have an empty moment. Some will be geniuses; others will be simple text grazers: always nibbling, never digesting -- ever consuming, never creating.
I don't think there is anything wrong with "these people" as long as there is no sanctimonious snobbery from them regarding their reading. When readers cease to digest what they have read and accept everything in print at face value, then, as with anything, there is a problem. Just because books aren't TV doesn't automatically make them better. "The point is this: There are two very different ways to use books. One is to provoke our own judgments, and the other, by far the more common, is to make such conclusions unnecessary." I offer that there are more than two ways to use books. Books can be a pleasurable escape and resources of information. They can be a way to learn about the world and the people and places in it and a way to reinforce whatever opinions and beliefs a person already holds. The use of books is almost as numerous as the books themselves. The mistake, the issue, is not with the books or really even the people that read them, it's the marketing of them. It's the advertising executives who think that the slogan "Read a book, save a life" is a winner. It's the fact that books are being marketed like air freshener or shampoo, the answer to all of life's pesky little problems. Books, unfortunately, are not exempt from commercial consumerism. And as much as I worship them, books are not sacred objects and readers are no better or worse than anyone else in the world.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Mad Curiosity

It is the "mad curiosity of our nature which wastes time trying to seize hold of the future as though it were not enough to have to deal with the present." Such is Montaigne's opinion on prognostications, not to be confused with prestidigitation or procrastination. While I agree with Montaigne that trying to predict the future is "empty nonsense," I am unable to declare as Horace does, "That man be happy and master of himself who every day declares, 'I have lived. Tomorrow let Father Jove fill the heavens with dark clouds or with purest light'...Let your mind rejoice in the present: let it loathe to trouble about what lies in the future." I need to know, am I going to need an umbrella or my sunglasses? It is human nature, however silly, to want to know the future. What if, for instance, my tarot cards are right and in the fall I do come in to a large sum of money? Isn't it good to be prepared for something like that? We all know what trouble Oedipus got into because of the Oracle's prediction, but we would know better. We would do differently. Knowing the future almost relieves us of any kind of responsibility--the Fates have decreed that my car will be stolen before the next full moon so why should I bother locking it, or heck, why bother taking the keys out of the ignition? The idea of free will is a heavy burden; it is our own fault for whatever befalls us, we cannot blame Fate. This, however, doesn't keep us from blaming someone else--God, our parents, the aliens from Delta Quadrant, the computer. My rational mind says, "Montainge, you're the dude!" and wants to sit back with him and laugh at all the dupes. But there is a little part of my mind that says, "But what if the fortuneteller is right?" And I want to thumb my nose at Montaigne and tell him, "Just you wait! You'll be sorry when these turn out to be the winning Powerball numbers!" I'm sure if Montaigne had had a Magic 8 Ball, he would have felt differently about prognostications. At least that's what my Ouija Board tells me, and we all know Ouija never lies. I'll be taking a break next weekend from Montaigne, but don't worry, in two week's time you can find out what Montaigne has to say "On the Cannibals"

Saturday, June 26, 2004

So Tired

Sorry, I am unable to muster my energy to read the Montaigne essay today, maybe tomorrow. Why am I so tired? The husband and I have been on "vacation" all week and we are still working on laying down a ceramic tile floor in our basement. The bedroom is done but for the grout and most of the hallway is done too. But it isn't finished. The Home Depot 1 - 2 - 3 Flooring book was handy up to a point. Eventually, as with all how-to books, you must make the leap into reality. In our case we looked at our perfectly unsquare room and asked ourselves, do we do like the book says and make yet one more trip to Home Depot for yet another tool and spend a few more dollars over what we had planned the project would cost? Or do we say f--- it and do the thing our own way which is much easier and doesn't require more tools? We went with Frank Sinatra and did it our way. It looks nice, it's just not what a professional would have done. But when it comes down to it, who cares? It's my house and it's the guest bedroom and the hallway to the second bath and the laundry room. If you come stay at my house and you don't like the floor, then you have issues and I don't want you coming back to visit ever again--or at least until you've worked out your psychosis with an understanding therapist. Oh, and did I say I get grumpy when I'm tired?

Friday, June 25, 2004

Fun and Games

Here is a fun way to spend some time today. Maximus Clarke has kindly created a puzzle out of Jorge Louis Borges' story The Book of Sand It is an eight page story and the pages are not in order. The game is to put the pages in order. If you do, you get to enter your name into the Hall of Fame. Not having a copy of the story handy I don't know if the final order, which I figured out in about half an hour, is the same as in the book. I assume it is even though I have a different translation than the one that Clarke uses. But looking up the story would be cheating. So give it a go for a little diversion, and let me know if you figure out if you got to put your name in the Hall of Fame too.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

More on Adams

I don't know why I seem to be in a Douglas Adams glut lately, but here, from my Bookman, is a link to BBC 4 and some past programs and interviews featuring Adams. And at this link you can download an MP3 preview of the new Hitchhiker's series that will start in September. And here is the official Douglas Adams website. While H2G2 orginally created by Adams is still going. Currently you can win a part as an extra in the Hitchhiker's movie.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Douglas Adams, Genius

The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams is a mish-mash of writings retrieved from a CD after he died. Here we find articles from The Observer, Esquire and MacUser, interviews, speeches, introductions and a few incomplete bits and pieces as well as the first eleven chapters from a new Dirk Gently book he was working on. There is much here to make you laugh. I think my favorite laugh-out-loud bit was when he was sitting at a table with coffee, cookies and a newspaper waiting for the train. Adams thought the man sitting across the table from him was helping himself to Adams' cookies. Neither said a word as they took turns taking cookies from the little package. Adams was shocked at the man's audacity. Finally, the cookies finished, the man got up and left. A few minutes later Adams folded up his paper to leave only to discover his cookies underneath his paper. Turns out Adams was eating the other guy's cookies! The Dirk Gently piece is rough since it was put together from several different draft versions, but Adams' wit, intelligence and humor shines through. It was difficult to read these eleven chapters knowing that I will never find out where the back half of the Siamese cat, Gusty Winds, is, nor why Desmond the rhino crashed the swanky Hollywood party. As good as Salmon is, it made me sad in the end. It only served to show what a genius Adams was and how tragic his early death. Adams was an atheist and his memorial service, for which the program is the last piece in the book, was a great kick-ass concert with lots of Bach pieces (his favorite composer) and performances by Gary Brooker, David Gilmore and others with speeches by friends and family in between. As sad as the book made me though, I have been inspired to add a few books to my reading list because of Adams: The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker both by Richard Dawkins. On a separate note, I got to start reading Mrs. Dalloway last night. My beloved is part monkey it turns out (who knew?) and managed to get past the boxes of ceramic tile and other items crowded into the library until the new floor is done. He's a gem and the book is wonderful. Though so far I'm not seeing much in the way of Celtic mythology that Keith Brown talks about in his TLS article.

Don't Forget Your Towel!

In the Guardian today:

The three sequels to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams's tale of the ill-starred intergalactic adventures of Arthur Dent, are to be dramatised on radio for the first time since the original was broadcast in 1978. BBC Radio 4 said yesterday it had assembled the surviving cast members for the new production, which will also feature the voice of the writer, who died aged 49 of a heart attack in 2001. The second Hitchhiker book, Life, the Universe and Everything, which was originally conceived as a plot for Doctor Who, will be broadcast in six parts starting in September. Another yet-to-be-recorded eight-part series is planned for next year, adapting the two remaining books, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, and Mostly Harmless. Adams was involved in earlier attempts to adapt the three books for radio in 1993 and 1997, but both times the project ran into the ground. This time the task was made easier because Disney now owns all the previously disparate rights, which meant the producers only had to conclude one deal. A film version of the original radio series, which was only later extended into a book, will appear next year.
I wonder if we can get the radio show over the Internet in America? And I wonder who was cast for the movie? It sort of scares me that Disney is doing it.

Monday, June 21, 2004

On the Floor

The Home Depot 1 - 2 - 3 Flooring book is riveting and a must read for anyone who needs to lay down a new floor of almost any kind. I've been in it deep for a good part of the day, hoping it will impart all the secrets of putting down a ceramic tile floor. Even though neither I nor my beloved has ever laid tile before, we trust the book to help us through. For we are book people. I, however, believe I trust books to teach me things more than my dearest does. I recall, long ago when we were in the new boyfriend/girlfriend stage of our relationship, he asked me if I knew how to play chess. Why yes I did, I learned from a book. He declared, and he may dispute me on this but I have the better memory, that one could not learn how to play chess from a book. Well, why not? I am of the mind that I could build my own space shuttle if I had a book to tell me how. Of course a chess game ensued. I lost but I put up a good fight, good enough that my dearest conceded that one could indeed learn to play chess from a book. The flooring book is one of the more useful how-to books I've read, at least at this stage of the game when we are still pre-floor. How useful it will be when we are deep into mortar and tile will be a different story. But today it is serving it's purpose, pumping us up with step-by-step instructions and photos of just how easy it is. We've put down the leveling compound and our morale is high. It is because of the tile floor that I will not be able to begin reading Mrs. Dalloway today as my eager self of yesterday planned. You see, the floor we are working on is in the basement as is our library. Since the hallway and bedroom where the new floor is going had to be emptied of all of its contents, some ended up in the neighboring laundry room and some ended up in the library. The biggest hindrance to retrieving the book, however, is the twelve boxes of ceramic tile stacked in the doorway of the library. There is no getting round them or over them so Mrs. Dalloway will have to wait until tomorrow or the next day depending on how trustworthy the flooring book turns out to be.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Mrs. Dalloway and Celtic Mythology

An intriguing article in the Times Literary Supplement (sadly since I don't have a subscription I can't read the complete essay, though there is a good chunk of it there) examining Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway through the lens of Celtic mythology.

Woolf predicted well before publication that her novel would be faulted on its construction, and she was right; yet her untroubled tone suggests that she did not feel that anyone making such a charge would fully have understood what they were reading. Few of the reactions she met with after the novel came out struck her as very perceptive: though many of the same comments are still made today. We still tend to chide her, like her friend Charles Sanger, for contemplating the lives of the idle rich; or waver between Lytton Strachey's belief that the sombre Septimus is the central character of Mrs. Dalloway, and Gerald Brenan's feeling that he is an awkward intrusion into the design. Yet still the voice of the author herself remains, quietly observing that none of this "lays hold of the thing that I have done". But what was the thing she had done? I believe, and first pointed out more than twenty years ago, that the design of Mrs. Dalloway comes into focus with remarkable sharpness when it is seen in the light--or darkness--of Celtic mythology or religion.
At first I thought, yeah right. This is just some dork reading much more into the book than is really there. But the more I read the more I thought, well maybe...It's been many years since I read Mrs. Dalloway. I've picked it up a few times meaning to read it again, get through 15-20 pages and then get distracted by something else for so long that when I get back to Woolf I have lost the thread and need to begin again. But Keith Brown's theory is interesting and makes me want to read the book to see if it's really there or he's just talking out of his ass. And tomorrow is the Solstice, what better time could I choose to start the book?

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Thick Skin

Perhaps if people during Montaigne's time could have sat eating strawberries fresh from the garden while listening to Cyndi Lauper sing a jazzy cha-cha they would have no reason to be sad. Who could be sad when the body feels like getting up and dancing and the mouth is noshing on yummy sweetness? Anyway, Montaigne's essay "On Sadness" made me a little mad. He relates several stories in which the people are "petrified" into a "deaf, speechless stupor which seizes us when we are overwhelmed by tragedies beyond endurance." Such extreme sadness "stuns the whole of our soul" and we cannot show any grief "during the living heat of the attack." It is only afterwards that we break down "with tears and lamentations." The "we" here doesn't include Montaigne himself: "Violent emotions like these have little hold on me. By nature my sense of feeling has a hard skin, which I daily toughen and thicken by arguments." To me this smacks of an "I'm above such baseness" kind of attitude, the kind of attitude that people who are afraid of their emotions affect. This kind of behavior gives people ulcers. I'm not sure why Montaigne's stoic philosophy makes me so mad, maybe because I think it's a bunch of hooey to say violent emotions don't affect you. But I can't help but laugh too at the thought of Montaigne daily thickening his skin with arguments. I wonder how her does this? Does he argue aloud with himself? Or does he do something a bit more extreme like wear a hair shirt or engage in self flagellation? That would certainly thicken his skin. Next week we'll see what Montaigne has to say in "On Prognostications"

Friday, June 18, 2004

Saved by a Book

Ever notice how when you are in need the right book will find you? I had one craptacular day at work yesterday (and its sequel today). I was in charge of a major software upgrade and let's just say things did not go smoothly (no fault of my own). So last night the last thing I wanted was to see a computer. A book was what I needed. Preferably a funny book. It just so happened that three weeks ago when I went to my neighborhood library to pick up a book I had on hold there, I decided to browse the shelves. I normally don't do this because my branch library is so tiny, but for some reason I felt compelled. And a book jumped off the shelf at me, The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams. I love Adams and the Hitchhiker's Guide (my dearest and I even have the TV episodes on DVD, Marvin is a hoot!) and Dirk Gently. It was a sad day when Adams died. I had not yet read Salmon for whatever reason, and I don't even own it. So when I saw it on the shelf I decided I needed to check it out. And it sat on my desk for three weeks. And I even thought that I'd return it today since it was due. But after my day yesterday it turned out that I needed that book. I started reading and forgot about work. I began to relax and I even laughed. I renewed the book. I have to finish it now. I'll be sure to tell you just how funny this book is in about a week. How the book gods knew that I was going to need to have Salmon to read last night I'll never know. But I am grateful.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Doing the Wave

Ursula Le Guin is one of my favorite authors. She has a book of nonfiction out, The Wave in the Mind: Talks on the Writer, the Reader and the Imagination. It is a wide ranging and interesting book. Le Guin is one of those writers who seems to know a lot about a lot of different things. She had the kind of childhood any reader would love, the family sitting around talking about books and even having writers and "intellectuals" to dine. Much of the book's content has been previously published in one form or another, or given as a speech or presented in a workshop. All of the previously published material was "played with" before republishing in this book. The book is broken up into four parts. "Personal Matters" are short, frequently autobiographical pieces. "Readings" is a collection of pieces on other works such as The Lord of the Rings and Mark Twain's Diaries of Adam and Eve. "Discussions and Opinions" is where things really get interesting. This section has essays on fact and fiction, gender, and rhythm. The final section is "On Writing" with an essay about the trust required between a writer and reader and another on the question she gets asked most frequently: where do you get your ideas? This essay is really about the importance of the imagination. The book takes its title from a letter Virginia Woolf wrote to Vita Sackville-West:

As for the mot juste, you are quite wrong. Style is a very simple matter: it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can't use the wrong words. But on the other hand here am I sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can't dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it; and in writing (such is my present belief) one has to recapture this, and set this working (which has nothing apparently to do with words) and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it. But no doubt I shall think differently next year.
Le Guin thinks this is indeed profound. In the essay "The Questions I Get Asked Most Often" she sees rhythm as something that is beneath the words. It is the force that moves memory, imagination and words and is the writer's job to dive down deep and find the rhythm (that reminds me of Adrienne Rich's poem "Diving into the Wreck" from the book of the same name). Le Guin appears to have been thinking about rhythm for a long time because she mentions it rather frequently in a book of unconnected essays, of which "Rhythmic Pattern in The Lord of the Rings" is all about rhythm. Another theme in the collection is imagination. America, Le Guin believes, if afraid of imagination. We are a people stuck in our Puritan heritage. Imagination is dangerous, unpredictable, impractical. We have also become a nation of passive consumers and those in power don't want us to be exercising our imaginations:
The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary.
Imagination shows us how things could be different, how our lives and those of our neighbors could be better. Imagination allows us to see what it might be like to be our neighbors. I could go on and on about this book but that would bore you to tears. Instead of me yakking on, why don't you get over to your public library or bookstore and read the book for yourself? And if you are a person who is owned by a cat or a dog, the essay "Dogs, Cats, and Dancers: Thoughts About Beauty" is a must read. You will be on the floor laughing after the first paragraph.


Okay. I've managed fairly well to not be stirred by the whole 100 anniversary of Bloomsday thing, until now. The Village Voice has an inspiring article that makes me want to run out and get a copy of Ulysses and stay up all night reading it. One of the more charming paragraphs in the article is this one:

It is worth noting here that Joyce selected Bloomsday's date to commemorate the day that he and his life companion, the fantastically named Nora Barnacle ("She'll stick to him!" Joyce's father said), began their courtship. If Bloom is his author's richest creation—as well as the greatest Jewish character in world literature: more forgiving than Moses, funnier than Jesus, filthier than Portnoy--he is indicative of the Joyce who said of Nora, the wife who'd read exactly 27 pages of his book including the cover, "She saved my life."
How romantic. And Joyce's pop had a good sense of humor. I had to read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in high school and I can't say that I got it. I didn't much like Stephen Dedalus and the book was so hard. I don't think high school students should be made to read Joyce. And so I've been scared off ever since. But now, with all the excitement, maybe, just maybe, I will give Joyce a second chance.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


A day off from book posts today. The weather in Minneapolis is too fine to be at my desk for long. And the strawberries in my garden are ripening and calling out to me in their sweet, yummy voices. I must harken to their siren song. But, tomorrow I will post about a new and wonderful nonfiction Ursula Le Guin book I just finished. So ya'll come back now, hear?

Monday, June 14, 2004

A Must Read!

Monday is too benign a name for such a day as this. It needs a new name, something more realistic like hellday, or crapday or where-did-my-weekend-go-day. Anything but bland Monday. Who do I talk to about this? At least I have a good book to tell you about today. Back on May 26th I mentioned that I was reading a book called The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I took my time in reading it because it was one of those books that deserve to be savored. And savor I did. But all good things come to an end and all books have their final sentence. I loved this book. It begins in 1945 post-war Barcelona. The character whose story this is, Daniel age 11, can no longer remember the face of his dead mother. To console him, his father, an antiquarian bookseller, takes Daniel to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The Cemetery is no cemetery at all, but a vast library of sorts to which the books that have been forgotten by the world make their way and sit, waiting for someone to find them and care for them again. Daniel is allowed to choose one book. He wanders the labyrinth and finally, when he thinks he will never find a book, a book finds him. That book is The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. Daniel now has the responsibility of taking care of this book for the rest of his life. A tall order, but one he accepts. Because, when he reads the book, he is so enchanted and enthralled by it that he wants to read Carax's other books. When he tries to find those books, he discovers that someone has been systematically hunting them down and burning them. Soon the person who is looking for the Carax books finds Daniel and Daniel must make a choice, protect the book or give it up to this stranger to be burned. And so begins a long journey where Daniel learns much about himself, his friends, his enemies, life and love. The writing is beautiful and compelling and the characters are unforgettable, particularly the intrepid Fermín Romero de Torres. The only spot where I was not fully engaged came toward the end during Daniel's reading of an over-long manuscript. But as soon as I was past that it was full speed ahead, leave-me-alone-until-I-finish-this reading. If this is Zafón's first book, I can hardly wait to read what he writes next.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Collecting the Classics

My beloved brought home a bag of bookstore goodies last night, taking advantage of the hyped up employee discount. I've been collecting "the classics" since the recent advent of the new Barnes and Noble Classics series issued in hard cover, trade paperback and mass market (I've been collecting the trade editions). They are attractive and cheap (and even cheaper through June even of you aren't an employee--they are buy two get the third free). There are "classics" I have not read and would like to read but haven't gotten around to them. They are not books I own and I always tell myself I will get them from the library. But I never do. It's sort of an out of sight out of mind thing. So I have decided that since these new Barnes and Noble editions are so cost effective, I will begin collecting some of those books I have always meant to read. In this way they can sit on my bookshelf and stare at me, daring me to read them. And I can ignore them and not worry about whether or not they are overdue and how much of a fine I will have to pay for a book I didn't get around to cracking open. But I won't be able to ignore them forever. They will sit on my shelf whispering to me, and in the fullness of time, for I believe, there is a right time and a wrong time to read a book (any book), I will pick one up and begin to read. And another. And another. I have added to the shelf:

  • The Histories by Herodotus. I was never much interested in this book until recently when I read American Gods by Neil Gaiman. The main character in that book swore by Herodotus. So of course I am now curious.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll. I have seen the Disney version and it terrified me as a child, so much so that I was afraid to read the books. I have not been able to overcome by fear of the oompa-loompas or the flying monkeys, but I am going to make a valiant attempt to stand up to the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts.
  • Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. I wasn't particularly interested in this one until I read the back cover "Soon after its 1749 publication, Tom Jones was condemned for being "lewd," and even blamed for several earthquakes." How can any reader worth her/his salt resist a book that was blamed for causing earthquakes? Especially one who grew up in southern California and lived always with the threat of "the big one" as I myself did?
  • The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe. I owe this one to my Bookman. It is a Gothic Romance. I have no idea what it is about, but I enjoy a good Gothic Romance, and she authored The Mysteries of Udolpho, a book I don't think I own but I have been told is wonderful. The Romance is published by Barnes and Noble but is not part of their new classics series. However, it still has a good price.
  • And last but not least, Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney. This is not the bilingual edition, however, this is the Norton Critical Edition. The husband rightly figured that the bilingual version, however nifty, was not that interesting when it comes right down to it. Neither of us can read Old English so what's the point? In the Norton edition it has a photo of a page of the original, that's enough for me. It also has a bit of history and critical essays by scholars at the end of the book. Potentially enlightening, more so than looking incomprehensibly at words that mean nothing to me except in translation.
There you have it. My Bookman got a few books for himself too and the spree spilled over into the movie and music department as well, but here it's the books that matter most. I already feel their gaze and hear their whispers.


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Saturday, June 12, 2004

The Curse is Broken

I just had to post an update that the book cataloging with the My Book Collection software I mentioned in May has been moving quietly, if not exactly steadily ahead. The dearest and I reached the monumental number of 109 books last night making this the most we've ever managed in any of our various attempts to track the depth of our biblioholism. Does that mean we broke the curse of 100? I hope so. It also means we are stuck with this software forever. There is no turning back. Aside from a few bearable quirks, it is nice software. I recommend it if you are considering cataloging your own library. It is Mac friendly. One of the most exciting things about breaking 100 is not the cataloging part of it, but the counting part of it. All of the books we have entered so far reside in "my" room. There is one more shelf to go through before we are done and move on to the basement library. My brain says, "Wow, I have a lot of books!" My book addiction says, "Wow, all those books and look at the shelf space you still have left!" My logical brain then turns to jelly as the rest of me starts to quiver. My shaking hands page through my wishlists. And then I pace like the tiger at the zoo. My restlessness will soon be relieved and tomorrow I will have some new books to play with and put on my shelf. My Bookman is bringing me home some new books tonight. We can splurge because it's extra employee discount weekend--40% off instead of the usual 30%. And he thinks I married him for love.

Mad Montaigne

Must have been an off day for Montaigne when he wrote "How We Weep and Laugh at the Same Thing". Or maybe back in his day such displays of mixed emotion were not common. Either way, this little essay was a yawner. Good thing it was short. There was one part that made me laugh though:

If only talking to oneself did not look mad, no day would go by without my being heard growling to myself, against myself, "You silly shit!" Yet I do not intend that to be a definition of me.
The image of Montaigne, gentleman, intellectual, dressed in his black Renaissance style garb, walking around town, growling to himself "You silly shit!" is good for a chuckle. I think it more likely he'd get a reputation of being off his rocker--there goes Mad Montaigne!--than for being a silly shit. This is, I believe, the first of Montaigne's essays to show its age. We live in an time where we are psychoanalyzed and encouraged to talk about our feelings. Don't get me wrong, awareness of one's own and other's emotions is a good thing, it's the spectacle that it has become that chaps my hide. I wonder what Montaigne would have to say about Oprah and Barbara Walters specials? Next week's Montaigne essay: "On Sadness"

Friday, June 11, 2004

No Escape From Words

A fun article (via Good reports) about words and phrases and etymology (not to be confused with entomology).

You're with a friend and you start talking about language, probably because one of you has just uttered an expression that you've never thought about before, like "one fell swoop" or "dressed to the nines". Your friend tells you an interesting story about where the saying comes from, such as that the word "honeymoon" derives from an old Persian custom of giving the happy couple mead for the first month after the wedding, or that a "hooker" is so called after the camp followers who flocked around the headquarters of the American Civil War general Joseph Hooker. Well, you believe it, don't you? Who wouldn't? The story is convincing, often backed up with extraneous but significant detail. And you have nothing to measure it against. It all sounds very reasonable. At the next opportunity, you mention the story to somebody else. Each time you do so, or hear somebody else repeat it, the tale becomes more familiar. After a while, it's as though you have always known it.
Merriam-Webster Online has it's 2004 Top Ten Favorite Words list. The list is compiled from the ten most frequently submitted words in their request for favorite words. I didn't know about this (a co-worker sent me the link for the list), or I would have submitted my favorite word, effervescent. But after purusing the list, callipygian might be in the running. Do you have a favorite word? If so, what is it?

Thursday, June 10, 2004


The books meant to inspire us to create our own art keep coming. Okay, maybe The Undressed Art: Why We Draw by Peter Steinhart is only the second new book I've come across lately (Nick Bantock's being the first), but could this be the next trend? A few months will tell. But The Undressed Art looks interesting:

We all draw as children: we scrawl a sunbeamed circle for a face and dots for eyes, and then we move on to portraits of Mom with an upside-down U for hair and Dad with trousers up to his armpits. But sooner or later, almost everyone stops. In this delightful, revelatory book, Peter Steinhart explores why some of us keep on drawing–and what happens when we do. Combining the scientific, the historical, the anecdotal and the personal with marvelous ease, Steinhart asks some provocative questions: Why do drawings often speak to us more eloquently than paintings? What is the mind doing when we draw? Why is so much drawing of the face and of the nude figure? What is the dynamic between a clothed artist and a naked model? Steinhart makes clear that, at its best, drawing is a spontaneous expression of what we see, an "undressed art" unencumbered by affectation or calculated fashion. And he reveals its many rewards: it helps us to focus, to slow down, and to really see the world and ourselves. At once erudite and engaging, The Undressed Art illuminates the allures and joys of a familiar art–and inspires us to pick up a pencil and draw.
You can read an except here. Get your pencils, charcoal and markers ready, you may be inspired.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

I've Got No Strings

Alison Lurie has an interesting article at the NY Review of books on the real Pinnochio. I don't know why I was so surprised to learn that the Disney version of Pinnochio is very different than the original Italian.

The original novel by Carlo Collodi, which today survives mainly in scholarly editions, is much longer, far more complex and interesting, and also much darker. The critic Glauco Cambon has called it one of the three most influential works in Italian literature (the others, he claims, are Dante's Divine Comedy and Manzoni's The Betrothed). For him, and those who know the real version, The Adventures of Pinocchio is not an amusing, light-hearted fantasy, but a serious fable about art and life. It is a story about growing up—and it is also, in essential ways, a story about growing up poor and Italian.
Pinnochio was first published as a serial between 1881 and 1883.
From the start, Collodi's Pinocchio is not only more self-conscious but far less simple than the cute little toy boy of the cartoon. He is not only naive, but impulsive, rude, selfish, and violent. In theological terms, he begins life in a state of original sin; while from a psychologist's point of view, he represents the amoral, self-centered small child, all uncensored id.
Collodi's story does have a talking cricket in it, though not one as perky as Jiminy Cricket. He warns Pinnochio that his behavior will turn him into a jackass and Pinnochio's response is to smash him with a wooden mallet. There is also a blue fairy on the original story, but as you might guess, she is nothing like the fairy in the Disney cartoon. What a disservice Hollywood and Disney do for us. Please don't mistake me for a Disney supporter, but I wonder, when it comes down to it, is it better to have the prettified Disney version of stories like Pinnochio or no version at all?

Monday, June 07, 2004

The Art of Nick Bantock

Nick Bantock made a splash with his Griffin and Sabine books. I've only read the first two, but it wasn't the story that was the most intriguing part of these books, it was their tactile nature and the beautiful art. As children we love picture books and pop-up books and books with bunnies that are actually fuzzy. But as adults we put away these childish things, a pity for us really since I think we lose something by doing so. That's why I think the Griffin and Sabine books were so popular, lovely art coupled with things we could touch--letters and envelopes and cards. Now Bantock has a book out called Urgent 2nd Class. This book is a sort of how-to so you can do art like Nick. In Bantock's introduction he says,

Urgent 2nd Class is a handbook for those who wish to learn how to embellish and tamper with old documents, envelopes, and other ephemeral scraps. It's intended purpose is to bring into focus an art form that has barely been identified, let alone described. I hope this volume begins to remedy that lapse, as well as encourage and stimulate innate creativity.
The book is broken into short chapters Faux Mail, Stamps, Engravings, Maps, Drawing, etc. Each chapter begins with a brief, and I mean brief, explanation of what Bantock does with each of these items. This is followed by several pages of pictures of his own pieces. If the reader doesn't have prior artistic experience, she will look at the pretty pictures and never lift a finger to try and create her own. Those who have some artistic leanings may find themselves inspired. If you are a fan of Bantock's art, the book is worth your money. If you are a fan of Bantock's stories and the experience of reading them, then this book will likely be a disappointment for you.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Movies and Books

Went and saw the Harry Potter movie today. It was pretty good, but it was not the book. But movies made from books never are the book anyway, they are two different things. As adaptations go, it had the skeleton of the book but there were so many cuts and changes that it was further from Rowling's original than the other two. Still, I liked the new Dumbledore, he was much more vigorous. I did not like the casting for Professor Lupin, though the actor did a good job, he just didn't look right. Emma Thompson was wonderful as Professor Trelawny (I'm not sure if I spelled that right and I don't have the book at hand, so please no one get their knickers in a bunch if it's wrong). Visually this Harry Potter movie was more artistic than the others but less interesting when it came to character development. Ah well. I am curious about how they will do the next movie as it seems like that one might, out of all the books so far, lend itself better to the big screen. That one is for next summer I imagine.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

No Enlightenment in a Bottle

According to the editor's note preceding Montaigne's essay "On Drunkenness", drunkenness was at the time considered a form of ecstasy that separated body and soul, or at the least loosened the connection. This was a desirable thing, sort of like LSD in the 60s. Perhaps it is not surprising to find that Montaigne did not approve of excessive drinking. He considered bodily pleasures, unless it was sex, to be lesser to those of the mind. "The worst state for a man is when he loses all consciousness and control of himself," Montaigne warns. When you are in your cups you are likely to spill your most intimate secrets as well as the secrets of others with which you have been entrusted. And if you are a woman you may find yourself pregnant. He tells the story of such a woman who passed out in her own house from too much drink and was found by a field hand who decided to have his way with her. Montaigne acknowledges that his beloved Ancients believed in drink and drunkenness, and because of that he allows that of all the vices, excessive drink is a lesser evil. If you are going to drink, then drink a lot and drink often, don't go about it half-assed and don't make excuses: "Like shop-apprentices and workmen we ought to refuse no opportunity for a drink; we ought always to have the desire for one in our heads." Don't claim you drink only fine wine because you will inevitably suffer a bad wine at some point. Instead, if you are going to drink, drink like the Germans who do not have tender palates and will drink virtually any wine. And don't, as the French tend to do, claim you drink wine at meals for your health because it "is too great a restraint on the indulgence of god Bacchus; more time and constancy are required." Still there should be some restrictions on drinking. If you are on a military expedition you should refrain from drink. Likewise if you are a judge or statesman in the midst of performing your public duties. Also there should be no drinking in the day time or at night if you "intend to beget children." If you must drink, then do it, but don't be stupid about it. And if you expect to find ecstasy and enlightenment in a bottle, forget about it, you won't. Montaigne asserts, "wisdom is a controlled handling of our soul, carried out, on our Soul's responsibility, with measure and proportion." I think this debate still continues, though it has moved on from alcohol to other forms of drugs. There is something to be said for losing oneself, most religions it seems advocate such a state is needed before true wisdom and enlightenment can be gained. I must agree with Montaigne however, that it won't be found in a bottle (or a pipe or syringe or pill either). You can't cheat your way to nirvana, you have to work for it and earn it. Next week's Montaigne essay: "How We Weep and Laugh at the Same Thing"

Friday, June 04, 2004

Southern Living

How I ever got through college and my multitude of literature by women classes without ever having read Flannery O'Connor, I will never know. Is she one of those out of fashion authors or something? If she is I don't understand why. This woman is a genius at the short story. I normally don't like books of short stories. Why that is I'm not sure. One story on its own is fine, but an entire book of them? Short stories seem to be the thing these days. It is almost as if it is a requirement for first time novelists to have written and published short stories before they are allowed to venture into noveldom. What's up with that? Especially since I've heard that short stories don't generally sell that well. Or has this changed and I'm behind the times? But I digress. O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find is my book group's current read. Will my fellow groupies think ill of me if I crow and say this fine book was my suggestion? They have been oddly quiet, so perhaps they didn't like the book as much as I did? If you are an O'Connor virgin as I was, might I recommend this book to you? I will try to explain why A Good Man is so, well, good. I can't say that I have read a wide selection of what might be called southern fiction, but for some reason I expect it to be genteel. Why this is I don't know. I blame Gone With the Wind and the Ya-Yas. O'Connor is no genteel southern lady offering you a mint julep on the porch of her plantation. She writes about the folks who are trying to make ends meet. She writes about the people that don't have much in the way of book learning. Her stories are not sweet. They are harsh and sometimes brutal. They are delightfully shocking and unexpected. The stories are domestic and mostly rural. The stuff of every day life. The stories are consistently well written, so much so that it is hard to say that one is better than the others. I cannot say "I liked this story best" but I can say I was most affected by "The Artificial Nigger". Mr. Head is an old man. He has for the most part raised his grandson himself, alone. Now they are going to Atlanta for the day. Mr. Head is taking Nelson to the city in hopes that he will find it so overwhelming and horrible that he will never want to leave their small town. Needless to say, the trip does not go well. They end up lost and in the wrong part of town. They panic and Mr. Head does a terrible thing and the trust a child has for an elder is betrayed. But there comes a moment of redemption:

Mr. Head had never known before what mercy felt like because he had been too good to deserve any, but he felt he knew now. He looked at Nelson and understood that he must say something to the child to show that he was still wise and in the look the boy returned he saw a hungry need for that assurance. Nelson's eyes seemed to implore him to explain once and for all the mystery of existence.
For me that so perfectly captures the moment in every child's life (and parent's) when she realizes that her parents are not gods but still wants them and needs them to be. One of O'Connor's greatest skills it seems to me is describing people. In "The River", one of the main characters, a boy, is looking at a photograph of an old man "whose eyebrows dashed out of two bushes of hair and clashed in a heap on the bridge of his nose; the rest of his face stuck out like a bare cliff to fall from." And in "Good Country People": "...and the large hulking Joy, whose constant outrage had obliterated every expression from her face, would stare just a little to the side of her, her eyes icy blue, with the look of someone who has achieved blindness by an act of will and means to keep it." You can't get better than that. It is unfortunate that O'Connor died of lupus in 1964 when she was only 39. I can only imagine what she might have done if she had a long life. The stories in A Good Man is Hard to Find were so enjoyable that I plan on reading her other stories and try her novels too. If you are looking for information about Flannery O'Connor, try Comforts of Home, a sort of O'Connor clearinghouse. And if you, like me, are not a short story reader, give O'Connor a try anyway. You'll be glad you did. Guaranteed.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

You Say You Want a Revolution

I hear so much about blogging from The Media these days that I don't know anymore if it's a phenomonal revolution of self-publishing and power to the people or a small blip on the radar screen of fads. When it comes to lit blogs in particular there has been an ongoing conversation about blogs vs. conventional book discussion media. The view among bloggers is that lit blogs have the potential to become the place for in depth reviews and honest discussion about literature. Whether or not this is true, I don't know. I started blogging about things bookish because writing in my handwritten journal felt so pointless and my co-workers think I'm a freak because I read so much. At least on the Internet I might be able to connect with like-minded folks. I must admit though that the potential of lit blogs is an interesting and exciting conversation. You can check out some of that conversation at Sarah Weinman's blog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind and at The Reading Experience

Conspiracy Theories

Fans of The Da Vinci Code and/or conspiracy theories might be interested in this article in the Village Voice. Gary Indiana has some information to pass along about the Opus Dei:

Opus members go in for self-flagellation and other rituals of self-inflicted pain. The organization has its own list of banned books and a hierarchy of membership levels, and is virulently opposed to abortion and gay rights. It endorses most of the other lunatic phobias of the ultra-right Christian Coalition. Opus Dei would not merit all that much attention, were it not for the fact that Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent/ Russian spy, was revealed to be a member, and that there have been plausible allegations that Louis Freeh, the former FBI director, along with Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, belong to Opus Dei too.
My brain is already whirling with implications, is yours? And to further fuel the conspiracy fires, the Village Voice has a good article by Nat Hentoff on the Patriot Act. Apparently the U.S.A. Patriot Act (which stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obsruct Terrorism--I feel so much better about it now, don't you?) is not doing so well in popularity contests. Chuck Rosenberg, chief of staff to James Comey, John Ashcroft's second-in-command at the Justice Department admitted "We're losing this fight." The article also quotes "Acts of Resistance", a great essay by Elaine Scarry in May's issue of Harper's. If you aren't convinced the Patriot Act is something to worry about, consider this little tidbit from Hentoff's article
...the Associated Press reported, "The number of secret surveillance warrants sought by the FBI has increased by 85 percent in the last three years, a pace that has outstripped the Justice Department's ability to quickly process them." They'll process these warrants, which are authorized by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the AP notes, for "wiretaps, video surveillance, property search and other spying on people believed to be terrorists or spies." And we'll never know if our records are being included in the databases. These are secret searches.
That means someone could be looking into what books you've been checking out from the library and you won't know about it until you are whisked away for a little friendly questioning. Are you paranoid yet?

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

No More Translating

Yesterday was Memorial Day. The windy weather wasn't pincnic perfect but the Husband and I managed to spend some time in the garden before the rain clouds blew in and sent us running for cover. The rest of the day was spent being appropriately lazy and, what else, reading. The New York Times has an article about Gregory Rabassa. He has worked as a translator for years, giving us over 50 books in English by the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and others. Rabassa has a book of his own out, not a translation. In the article he states that the book's thesis is that translation is impossible. An intriguing statement from one who has spent so much time as a translator. And I must agree with him. To translate word for word from one language to another would ruin the text. As Rabassa says, "When I talk about it, I say the English is hiding behind his Spanish. That's what a good translation is: you have to think if Garcia Marquez had been born speaking English, that's how a translation should sound." I find translating to be a fascinating art. After reading the article I wish I had a better facility with languages other than English. It isn't for lack of trying. I have tried Spanish and I have tried German and after three years of each language I always hit a wall I couldn't climb. While my classmates seemed to jump the hurdle into the beginnings of fluency, I was still struggling to translate what was said to me into English and what I wanted to say into Spanish or German. And then there was my horrible accent. Anywho, if you are interested in issues of translation, check out the blog Open Brackets. Gail is a working translator and often has interesting and insightful and funny things to say about translating and language in general.