Monday, February 28, 2005

I Quit

I picked up Confessions of a Pagan Nun by Kate Horsley off my bedside pile. It had been there near the top for several months and I thought it was about time I got to it. I'd seen the book mentioned here and there and had high hopes for it. My hopes were dashed. The book begins with a "translator's note" by Horsley, explaining to the reader that the book about to be read is her translation of a manuscript that was found in the ruins of an abbey in Ireland. The book was written by a nun, Gwynneve, who was raised in a time just when Christianity was making inroads into the country. She knows how to read and write because she was taught by a Druid. The book was supposedly written by Gwynneve in secret. After the translator's note and the first chapter I wasn't so hopeful about the book anymore. But I kept on, thinking it would just take a chapter or two to get into it. I gave the book until page 50 before I couldn't take it anymore. In the first few pages Gwynneve mentions that her mother died when she was a girl. Then a little further on she mentions it again. Then again. Finally around page 50, her mother dies. I also found Gwynneve's self effacing asides about being a poor sinner and not knowing any better irritating. And to top it all off, I thought the writing itself to be rather stilted. I believe it was meant to be that way so it would seem more authentic and ancient, but it just didn't work for me. I could also see where the plot was going a mile away. To confirm it, after I decided to give up on the book, I turned to the end and read the last five pages. Yup. I was right. I had wanted to give up around page 30 but kept on because I hate giving up on a book. But at page 50 when it was clear the book and I were not going to make friends, I had to call it quits. And amazingly, for the first time ever, I didn't feel bad about it. I remember reading an article or an interview once where someone gave a formula for when to stop reading a book that wasn't going well: subtract your age from 100 and read until that page before deciding to quit. No, I'm not 50, so I didn't follow it exactly, but I think it is good advice. What helped me stop without feeling guilty was the thought that I have too many other books I want to read and there was no sense in wasting my reading time on a book that I wasn't enjoying. What a relief when I put it down.

Something "New"

James Purdy, an author I have never heard of, but thanks to Gore Vidal, am now interested in at least giving one of his books a try.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Still More Montaigne Hodge Podge

Were you beginning to think I was going to miss this week's melange of Montaigne essays? I am in the Montaigne habit at this point and to miss reading him would give me the shakes. So onward I go! One Man's Profit is Another Man's Loss Montaigne was inspired to write this little one page essay by a reading from Seneca where Demades condemned a fellow Athenian. The Athenian's job was to sell funeral requisites. Demades condemned him on the grounds that the Athenian wanted too much profit from it and that the profit could only be made by the deaths of people. Montaigne found this to be a bad judgment "since no profit is ever made except at somebody else's loss." Montaigne believes that that is just the nature of the world, that in every transaction someone wins and someone loses. It's a rather grim view if you ask me. Granted, sometimes you do lose out--that new shirt you bought on vacation for a song falls apart in the wash, you get fired for writing about your boss in your blog, you still get the speeding ticket even though you promised you'd drive more carefully. But I don't think there has always to be a winner and a loser. How depressing to see the world only in those terms. Nine-and-Twenty Sonnets of Estienne de La Boetie La Boetie was Montaigne's bestest of friends. Montaigne wrote this essay as an introduction to a collection of, you guessed it, twenty-nine sonnets La Boetie wrote. Unlike introductions to books today, Montaigne's intro is more of a gushing dedication to Diane, wife of the Count of Grammont and Guiche and also a mistress of the to be King Henry IV. No doubt the hope here is for patronage. The interesting thing is that Diane liked to be called Corisande d'Andoins, the name of a character in Amadis de Gaule, a novel of romance and chivalry. She and Don Quixote would have gotten along famously. Judgments on God's Ordinances Must be Embarked Upon with Prudence Here Montaigne basically warns people not to be too hasty in declaring that God is on their side because we cannot know the mind or will of God. It is silly, particularly in war, to attribute winning a battle to God being on your side. Montaigne points out that history is littered with wars where each side contribute their day's win or loss to be God's favor or displeasure only to have the very reverse happen in battle the next day. Montaigne declares that

God wishes us to learn that the good have other things to hope for and the wicked other things to fear than the chances and mischances of this world, which his hands control according to his hidden purposes: and so he takes from us the means of foolishly exploiting them. Those who desire to draw advantage from them by human reason delude themselves.
I can think of long list of politicians who are are currently quite deluded. On Fleeing from Pleasures at the Cost of One's Life This little essay is a bit confusing. Montaigne tells two stories. The first is from Seneca in which he advises Lucilius, a man of power, riches and authority in the emperor's court, to give it all up and live a solitary, tranquil and philosophical life. This supposedly shows contempt for death. The other story Montaigne tells is about St. Hilary who wished both his daughter and his wife dead so they could be with God rather than living in wealth and comfort on earth. When they both died, St. Hilary was happy as a clam. Montaigne doesn't offer much in the way of commentary on either of these stories. But I don't think Montaigne would agree with the idea, he liked his comforts too much. I think the point here might just be one of comparison, that the Stoic Seneca had much in common with a Christian Saint. Next week's Montaigne potpourri: "Something Lacking in Our Civil Administrations," "On Not Sharing One's Fame," and "On Sumptuary Laws"

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Book Splurge

My bookman and I spent a blissful morning at the used bookstore where I had a bit of a splurge.

  • A boxed hardcover Thoreau set that includes Walden, The Maine Woods and A Week in the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. The set is in like new condition and the books have photographs.
  • Maybe because I added it to my list in bold so I wouldn't forget about it, I found a really nice Penguin copy of Iris Murdoch's The Sea, the Sea. It's going onto the top of my pile which is having difficulty shrinking.
  • The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. I have heard wonderful things about this book. I figure it will be pleasant to read in the middle of summer while sitting in the garden being eaten by mosquitoes.
  • Recommended to me by a commenter on this site, Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way.
  • The Twelve-Spoked Wheel Flashing by Marge Piercy. The book is out of print. It's a bit beat up around the edges, but still a lucky find.
  • Simone Weil: A Life by Simone Petrement. I have a strange fascination with Simone Weil. I have only ever read the beginnings of her Notebooks but was intrigued. Most of her work is out of print here and I almost didn't get this bio (which turns out to be out of print too so a good thing I got it after all). What clenched it was a blurb on the back by Adrienne Rich who is my favorite poet.
  • And finally, a book that most people will think me rather odd for getting, but it is an out of print book I have been looking for for a very long time, A History of Torture by George Riley Scott. I am researching the European witch craze, particularly in Germany, and feel that I need to understand the whole idea and process of torture better. This book has plenty of details, including witch torture, and even some rather gruesome pictures. There will be no reading this book before bed or while eating.
Today's splurge should hold me over on the book buying for at least, oh, a week or two. It's a good thing I don't have to read everything before I can buy more!

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Bits and Pieces

Online book groups led by the author. I think it's a great idea. The only thing I'd be worried about is if I didn't like the book. Did you know there is an award for the top online short stories? Well there is. Read them here at the Million Writers Award website. You can satisfy you hunger for books and food all at the same time. No, it's not a book-sandwich, it's a book about M.F.K. Fisher. A book-sandwich sounds good though. Would you like mayo with that? Jane Eyre stamps. Aparrently there is a little controversy because Dear Jane is depicted as - gasp! - middle-aged! Subcomondante Marcos can now add author to his resume. His book, Uncomfortable Deaths, has "the Zapatistas send rebel Elias Contreras to skulk about Mexico City and uncover the secrets of a shadowy right-wing group that carried out 'dirty war' murders in the 1970s and maintains ties to the current government." He obviously took "write what you know" to heart.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

More Books To Look Forward To

I was going to save this for tomorrow, but then I figured, why wait? So here are more books to look forward to (or not). For the Cat and Art Lover Kitty City: A Feline Book of Hours, Judy Chicago (Harper Design, April) For Douglas Adams Fans Wish You Were Here: The Official Biography of Douglas Adams, Nick Webb (Ballantine, April) The Hitchhiker film will be out in June. Yeah! For Those Who Still Think Shakespeare Was Someone Else "Shakespeare" by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare, Mark Andersen (Gotham Books, August) with a title like that, who needs to actually read the book? For Those Who Thought the 9/11 Commission Report Deserved the National Book Award and For Those Who Really Like Shameless Exploitation What Is Life Worth, Kenneth Feinberg (Public Affairs, June) From the man who was head of the Compensation Fund For Those Who Want to Ponder Upon Imponderables Camp, Michael Eisner (Warner, June) Little Michael goes to summercamp and explains why it was one of the most formative experiences of his life. For Those Who are Paranoid Kidnapped: How Irresponsible Marketers Are Stealing the Minds of Your Children, Daniel S. Acuff and Robert H. Reiher (Dearborn Trade, July) For Those Who Like to Eat While Having Sex Cookie Sutra, Edward Jaye (Workman, April) Kama Sutra positions as demonstrated by a "freshly baked gingerbread couple." I'll never be able to look at a gingerbread cookie again. For Those Who Like to Have Sex With Punctuation Comma Sutra: Position Yourself for Success with Good Grammar, Laurie Rozakis (Adams Media, May) For Those Who Were Left Behind Left Behind: The Rising, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (Tyndale Books, March) I hope the Second Coming hurries up and gets here just so we don't have to see another one of these books published. For Those Who Have The Right Stuff The Right Stuff: Illustrated, Tom Wolfe (Black Dog & Leventhal, May) For Those Who Still Haven't Had Enough of Michael Jackson Michael Jackson: King of Pop - The Big Picture - The Music! The Man! The Legacy! The Interviews! An Anthology!, Jel D. Lewis (Jones) (Amber/Colossus Books, March) The Pain! The Agony! Yikes! For Those Who Have Been Probed Forbidden History: Extraterrestrial Intervention, Prehistoric Technologies, and The Suppressed Origins of Civilzation, edited by Doug Kenyon (Bear & Co, May) For Those Who Wonder if They are Crazy Are You Crazy? 18 Scientific Quizzes to Test Yourself, Andrew N. Williams (Perigee, July) To those wonder things like this: there is a reason. Think about it. For Those Who Always Wanted To Know Does a Lobsterman Wear Pants?: Surprising Facts About Lobsters and Lobstering, Barbara Delinsky (Down East Books, July) For Those Who Want to Write From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction, Robert Olen Butler (Grove Press, April) For Those Who Don't Have Enough to Read More Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Reason, Nancy Pearl (Sasquatch Books, May) For Those Who Just Love a Good Book

  • 120 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature, Nicholas J. Karolides, Margaret Bald and Dawn B. Sova (Checkmark Books, July)
  • Moving Targets: Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose: 1983-2005, Margaret Atwood (Carroll & Graf, April)
  • The Disappointment Artist, Jonathan Lethem (Doubleday, March)
  • Uncensored Views & (Re)Views, Joyce Carol Oates (HarperCollins, March)
  • Afterwords: Letters on the Death of Virginia Woolf, edited by Sybil Oldfield (Rutgers University Press, April)
  • Why I Wake Early: New Poems, Mary Oliver (Beacon, April)

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Books to Look Forward To?

I've been slogging through the January 24th issue of Publisher's Weekly lately (yes, I know it's February 22nd, so I'm a little slow) because it has new releases as far out as August. So I thought I'd spend a few posts telling you about some books to look forward to and some books that might cause you to run screaming from the room. Today I'll start with some of the big releases. March

  • A Changed Man, Francine Prose (HarperCollins, 75,000 first printing)
  • Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott (Riverhead, 200,000 first printing)
  • March, Geraldine Brooks (Viking, 100,000 first printing)
  • Shadow of the Giant, Orson Scott Card (Tor, 250,000 first printing)
  • Junior, Macaulay Culkin (Miramax, 50,000 first printing) Yes, that Macaulay Culkin
  • Ya-Yas in Bloom, Rebecca Wells (HarperCollins, 500,000 first printing) This is one of those run screaming from the room books. Sorry if you are a fan, but I read the first Ya-Ya book and that was more than enough Ya-Ya for me.
  • Being Perfect, Anna Quindlen (Random House, 350,000 first printing)
  • Lighthousekeeping, Jeanette Winterson (Harcourt/Harvest, 60,000 first printing)
  • Who's Afraid of a Large Black Man: Speaking My Mind on Race, Celebrity, Sports, and American Life, Charles Barkley (Penguin, 175,000 first printing) Something is really wrong with this country if Jeanette Winterson gets only 60,000 for her first printing but Charles Barkley gets 175,000.
  • The Treehouse: Eccentric Wisdom from My Father on How to Live, Love, and See, Naomi Wolf (S&S, 75,000 first printing) Is it just me or has she just really been on a downward spiral since The Beauty Myth?
  • A Lotus Grows in the Mud, Goldie Hawn (Putnam, no first printing numbers). Ugh.
  • Elvis by the Presleys, Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley (Crown, 400,000 first printing) Can you say, we need to raise money for some new face lifts?
  • Zorro, Isabel Allende (HarperCollins, 250,000 first printing)
  • Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, Brooke Shields (Hyperion, 200,000 first printing) Yikes!
  • A Long Way Down, Nick Hornby (Riverhead, no first printing numbers)
  • The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Umberto Eco (Harcourt, 250,000 first printing)
  • Specimen Days, Michael Cunningham (FSG, 400,000 first printing)
  • Freddy and Fredericka, Mark Helprin (Penguin, 125,000 first printing)
  • Until I Find You, John Irving (Random House, no first printing numbers) Yeah!
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling (Scholastic, no first printing numbers but you can assume it will be a lot) Rumor has it someone is going to die
  • Star Struck, Pamela Anderson (Atria, 200,000) Nooooooooooo!
  • No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy (Knopf, 250,000 first printing)
These are some of the books publishers consider their big releases, scary isn't it? There are some good ones coming out that aren't among the big releases. I'll let you know about those in the next day or two. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Making Amends

Okay, so while everyone is talking about Ian McEwan's new book, Saturday, I pass it by and read Atonement instead. I have never read McEwan before so I didn't know what to expect, only knew that he was supposedly good. Atonement is broken up into three parts and a sort of epilogue. While reading part one I feared that this was going to be one of those books that is all atmosphere and nothing really happens. The writing is smooth and has an ethereal feel to it, pleasant and dreamlike, but I wasn't wanting to read an entire book like that. Finally, something happens, something big. Lives are ruined, a family is torn apart. Part two takes place during World War Two at the time of the retreat of British troops from France near Dunkirk. This part of the book is so finely detailed that I had a nightmare that I was on an open road in France and a German Stuka was screaming out of the sky toward me, machine guns going. I started to run for the trees but they were so far away. I am glad that I woke up before I found out my fate. Obviously this portion of the book really got to me. Part three takes place in London and is all about Briony. Briony is the one who caused all of the trouble way back in part one. Back then she was 13 and dreaming of being a writer. She lived too much in her head, inventing melodramatic stories of love and romance. It is her imagination and her fierce desire to protect her older sister that leads her to her tragic error. Now she is learning to be a nurse and is a probationer in a ward in a London hospital. She finds her sister, who is also living in London, to tell her that she has realized she made a mistake all those years ago and she wants to fix it. She will go to the police and tell them the truth. Of course it is too late for that and what she has done cannot be undone. I am being purposely vague because if you haven't read the book I don't want to give anything away. I don't think it will ruin anything though if I say that the story of Atonement is a novel that Briony ends up writing in order to try and make amends. Does she? I don't think she does, and even though she lives a long and successful life she dies knowing that her book was not enough. Atonement was slow to start, but if you can make it through the first 50-75 pages, you're in for a good book. I will definitely read McEwan again but I wasn't awed enough to run out and get a copy of Saturday, and after reading Sandra at Bookworld's summary of an interview with the author, I think I am more likely to choose Amsterdam before Saturday

New Twist

Blogging as civic responsibility. Blog on!

Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson, perhaps best known for his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, committed suicide yesterday. I wonder though, is it his writing that people will miss or the theatricality and shock of his bad boy persona? I suspect he will be best remembered for the latter.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

This and That

Ben Yagoda bemoans the increase not only in subtitles but in the length of subtitles

Elongated voguish subtitles are harmless enough, but I miss the time, not so long ago, when it was possible for a book to go out into the world with only a strong title followed by a few hundred pages of outstanding writing. That was certainly the tack taken by most mid-20th-century nonfiction classics: ''Hiroshima,'' ''All the President's Men,'' ''The American Way of Death,'' ''The White Album,'' ''Elvis,'' ''Dispatches,'' ''Joe Gould's Secret,'' ''The Executioner's Song,'' Lillian Ross's ''Picture,'' ''The Right Stuff,'' ''The Soul of a New Machine,'' ''The Kingdom and the Power,'' just about everything ever written by John McPhee, and a book that, were it published today, would tote a subtitle like ''The True Story of How the Ivy League Elite Developed Strange Ideas About the World, Got America Into Vietnam, and Messed Up Foreign Policy for a Long Time.'' Back in 1972, David Halberstam called it ''The Best and the Brightest'' and then shut up.
I wonder, would it comfort him to know that as a reader I rarely pay attention to the subtitle? How sad is this? The NY Times reviews a new book by moral philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt called On Bullshit but the Times won't even print the whole title, censoring itself to "On Bull----." They even make a little fun at themselves for censoring it. Who are they sparing here? I think it utterly ridiculous and an example of the bullshit Frankfurt is writing about. A floating bookstore

Saturday, February 19, 2005

More Montaigne Hodge-Podge

A motley assortment of Montaigne essays this week. One is Punished for Stubbornly Defending a Fort Without Good Reason Imagine, you have been defending your fort against an army larger than yours for several days. Everyone on your side is exhausted and it is obvious that it is only a matter of time before the opposition breaks through your defenses and overruns the fort. What do you do?

a)Surrender b)Sneak your army out the back door when the opposition is sleeping c)Hold your position and fight until death or the enemy takes you.
It's a conundrum really. If you choose "a" you are throwing yourself on the mercy of your enemy and you may find there is none. If you choose "b" you are all cowards. If you choose "c" you are being stubborn and overstepping the virtue of valor and entering the realm or rashness and madness. At least according to Montaigne. Because apparently, if you continue to fight, you are violating the rules of war. When the fort is finally taken by your enemies, they can, and very likely will, kill every last one of you. On Punishing Cowardice If you chose "b" above, you will be called a coward but you may or may not be killed for it, it all depends on your motive. If you ran out the back door due to a defect of weakness, then you merit only a punishment of "disgrace and ignominy" like being made to sit in the market square for three days dressed as a woman. Obviously, if you are a woman that isn't much of a punishment, but in Montaigne's time this war stuff was men's business. If you're cowardice is due to wickedness, then your just punishment is death. And how does one tell the difference between the two types of cowardice? Oh, it's easy: "wherever there is a case of ignorance so crass and of cowardice so flagrant as to surpass any norm, that should be an adequate reason for accepting them as proof of wickedness and malice, to be punished as such." The Doings of Certain Ambassadors For so short an essay there are several subjects introduced here but only two that are actually developed. If in your travels and talks with other people, they attempt to speak with you about topics other than their professions, try to bring them back around to the subjects they know best, "Let the sailor talk but of the winds, the farmer of oxen, the soldier of his own wounds and the herdsman of his cattle" Montaigne quotes Propertius. Finally, through much meandering, we get to the ambassadors. What it comes down to here is that an ambassador is a servant and should be obedient to his master. Therefore an ambassador must always tell his master the truth about what is going on in the world and what others have said and done in their dealings with him. However, ambassadors in their doings for their master, should not be held to the letter of their master's will, but be given a certain amount of freedom to use their own judgment depending on the circumstances of a meeting. This makes logical sense so there isn't much to argue about here. Next week's Montaigne assortment (better than an assortment of chocolate? We'll find out!): "One Man's Profit is Another Man's Loss," "Nine-and-Twenty Sonnets of Estienne de la Boetie," "Judgments on God's Ordinances Must be Embarked Upon with Prudence," and "On Fleeing from Pleasure at the Cost of One's Life"

Coping with Winter in Minnesota

The Bookman and I took a little break from business as usual yesterday. We both took the day off from work. What did we do? We went to the blight-upon-the-landscape known as The Mall of America. There are few things that can drive us there in spite of it being located ten minutes from our house. The top reason to go is out of town guests. The second reason to go is the Apple computer store. Its clean and uncluttered Apple goodness is an oasis in the overstimulating mallscape chaos. The third and final reason to go there, and the reason that got us there yesterday, is the need to walk around for awhile without the accouterments of winter--no coat, no hat, no mittens. A person can amble around for several hours without going into a single store and still see plenty of strange things, like the woman who looked like she had a poodle on her head. Really, we even followed her for a bit because we couldn't believe the hair-do. It was bleached nearly white, permed within an inch of its life and she had the top of it teased and shellacked up into a big poof that no hurricane would ever be able to blow down. It should be listed as the eighth wonder of the world. When we grew weary of the constant noise bombardment we headed back out to the car to discover that the sunny day had turned to snow. But at least, for a little while, we were able to pretend otherwise.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Gift of a Book

I love giving and receiving books as gifts. In my opinion, there is nothing better and more personal than a carefully selected book. My Bookman is great at this. It is a skill that comes in handy for a bookstore manager. When his talent is directed at me it makes me weak in the knees. Currently I am glowing over a new book. I got home from a full day's work to a pleasant surprise. "Here are the developed photos I picked up today, take a look at them." I open the envelope to find, not photos, but a book sized object wrapped up in paper. "Wow, those are strange photos they gave us," he says in mock surprise. Uh-huh. I pull off the paper and inside is a newly republished edition of Vita Sackville-West's The Land, a long poem published originally in 1926. The poem was quite famous, selling over 100,000 copies, and it won the Hawthornden Prize. It even made Virginia Woolf a little jealous of her friend. Vita's out of print books are darn near impossible to find and I had resigned myself long ago to never reading The Land. But now I own a brand new copy! This is happiness.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Bits and Pieces

If you're feeling political today, Frances Moore Lappé, best known for her book Diet for a Small Planet, writes about George Lakoff's book Don't Think of an Elephant and how liberals might change the frame. A list of Leonie Frieda's top 10 biographies of historical figures. Frieda is the author of a new bio, Catherine de Medici. A quiz to test how well you know literary London. I did shamefully. takes the lead! (link via MobyLives)

More Voices

I'm still thinking about Ancestral Voices. A sign of a good book? One of the reasons I'm still thinking about it is because I failed to note yesterday one of the things that struck me most while reading it. Nearly every day Lees-Milne was out lunching or dining or meeting someone for tea. The only time he ever had a quiet day at home was when he was ill, and even then someone would come and visit him. So much time spent with other people made me wonder when he ever had time to read, which he did, or write his diary. Perhaps when that free time came it was used more wisely since it was so rare? I imagine it helped that there was no television or computer. I suppose his being out all the time was a sign of his upper middle class life. Do people still live this way? I think I would have gone nuts. I need regular bouts of solitude or I start to get grumpy and a little frantic. But maybe that is just me? Maybe people really do still live this way and I'm the odd duck. Hmm.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


I finally finished Ancestral Voices by James Lees-Milne. When I say "finally" I don't want you to think that this was one of those please-just-let-it-be-done books that you can't stop reading because you're too far invested. I say "finally" because it took me a long time to read. It is a diary and I think it is just the nature of diaries that one cannot read more than 10-20 pages at a sitting. James Less-Milne began work for the National Trust early in it's history and continued there for many years as its Advisor on Historic Buildings. Ancestral Voices is his diary from 1942-1943. At this time it was his job to meet with people who wanted to give their property to the Trust and decide if the property was worthy. He also checked up on properties the Trust already owned to make sure they were being maintained. In his diary he writes about the people he meets and the property he sees, friends (Eddy Sackville, Harold Nicholson, a few Churchills, and many other names) and acquaintances he dines with, the latest gossip, politics and his observations on life. He has a great sense of humor, a keen eye, and a mean streak that all make for good reading. Here is his opinion, dated 23rd April, 1942, of Wool House in Loose:

The house is a hideous, pretentious, genteel over-restored fake, just like its inhabitants. A horrible property. I hope it gets bombed.
There are his thoughts on Evelyn Waugh:
I said that Evelyn represented English Catholicism which was anathema to me. It was the very reverse of Roman Catholicism. It was sectarian, superior, exclusive and smug. Besides, Evelyn was the nastiest tempered man in England, Catholic or Protestant, and not an acceptable advertisement of the Christian faith. I said his review of Raymond's book was personal vituperation. Having delivered myself of these ill-mannered phrases, I felt better and enjoyed the dinner party.
One of the best things about the book is his wonderful descriptive abilities when he writes about the people he meets:
Lady Clementine looks at one with the intensity of a psychoanalyst. And the expression on her face says, 'I have seen the inmost recesses of your squalid little mind. You are a worm only fit to be trampled underfoot.' She is a handsome and forbidding woman.
If you are a person who likes to read diaries I highly recommend James Lees-Milne. Unfortunately for us in the States, his books are out of print. I got my copy from the library, so try there. If you must own, his books are in print in the UK and can be ordered online.

Monday, February 14, 2005

In Case You Care

I can't say that Valentine's Day ranks up there in the top holidays for me, or that it even ranks as a holiday. Perhaps if it weren't such a commercial day. And just the idea that there has to be a special day to let your special someone know how much you care because you can't remember any other day of the year, well, it's just sad. But for those of you who celebrate and have managed to escape the Hallmark card sentiments, or even if you revel in that kind of thing, more power to you. These links are for you then. What Authors Read on Valentine's Day a book about chocolate (this might be of interest to chocoholics too!) The Guardian will help you select the perfect love poem The A to Z of Literary Valentines The most romatic novel (link via Bookninja)

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Can't We All Get Along?

A.J. Jacobs, author of The Know-It-All, takes a poke back at Joe Queenan and his scathing review of Jacobs' book that appeared back in October of 2004. Jacobs is baffled by the vehemence of Queenan's review but manages to make fun of it. I don't understand why Queenan was so mean either. If you don't like a book, you don't like a book and it's okay to say that, but the not liking is supposed to be about the writing and story and the ideas, not a personal attack on the author. Play nice children or you'll be going to bed without supper and you'll never get dessert again!

Technical Difficulties

The folks at Haloscan where my comments are hosted are updating their site and commenting features. They are experiencing some technical difficuties so please be patient. Comments will be back when they get all the bugs worked out.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

More Montaigne Hodge-Podge Goodness

The Montaigne essay hodge podge continues! That Our Deeds are Judged by the Intention The editor's note for this one reveals that it was one of the last essays Montaigne wrote before he died. What I want to know then is why they editor placed it as the seventh essay in book one? Shouldn't it be, you know, in book three as one of the last essays? Why do editor's do stuff like this? Anyway, the essay is only one and a half pages long and ends with Montaigne declaring, "If I can, I will prevent my death from saying anything not first said by my life." I like that thought. Montaigne reaches that conclusion because he spent the previous paragraphs musing over people who have done bad things after they have died. Like, for instance, King Henry VII who had gotten Don Felipe (son of Emperor Maximilian and father of Emperor Charles V) to hand over Henry's enemy the Duke of Suffolk with the promise that Henry would not harm him. Not long after, Henry died but in his will he ordered his son to kill the Duke, which he did. A nasty trick. You don't have to be a king or a duke to get the shaft, and to save your hatred until you're dead to be revealed in your will. Not a nice thing to do. So while you're alive be sure to tell anyone who might be expecting a piece of your pie when you die, "Oh by the way, that vase you always hated, I'm leaving it to you in my will with the provision that you can never give it away or destroy it. You thought you were getting the crystal? Nope, that's reserved for someone I actually like." Bet that goes over real well. On Idleness When Montaigne retired from public life to his estates to "devote myself as far I could to spending what little life I have left quietly and privately" he went a little loopy. Back then they called it "melancholic delusions." Therefore Montaigne concluded that idleness is bad because "when the soul is without definite aim she gets lost; for, as they say, if you are everywhere you are nowhere." In a day and age when we are always busy and rarely stop for longer than a brief holiday, it is hard to imagine having too much idleness, in fact we find ourselves longing for it, and for good reason. Bertrand Russell even wrote an essay, In Praise of Idleness. It's quite good and wins my vote over Montaigne's views hands down. Ceremonial at the Meeting of Kings This very short essay discusses the etiquette of meeting your superiors: "The normal rule governing all our interviews is that it behoves[sic] the lesser to arrive at the appointment first, since it is the privilege of the more prominent to keep others waiting." Is this why my doctor/dentist is always late when I've arrived on time, even early for my appointment? Montaigne thinks these rules "vain obligations" and that there is no harm done to omit certain forms of politeness "with discretion." So I can finally stop worrying if I am using the proper fork. What a relief! Next week Montaigne madness continues with: "One is Punished for Stubbornly Defending a Fort Without Good Reason," "On Punishing Cowardice," and "The Doings of Certain Ambassadors"

Friday, February 11, 2005

This and That

I love stuff like this:

When source material is as heavily manipulated as it has been in Dodgson’s [aka Lewis Carroll] case, it can support widely different interpretations of his life and work, and special interest therefore attaches to anything that has not been tampered with. Recently I discovered that Barclays Bank held, in their archive near Manchester, the entire C. L. Dodgson account. Dodgson, along with many nineteenth-century Oxford “characters”, banked at Parsons Thomson, or Old Bank, which had become a branch of Barclays (the building that housed it, on Oxford High Street, is now a hotel). According to Barclays’ helpful archivist, no one had ever seen Dodgson’s account, because no one had ever asked to. Forgotten and unread for over a century, it is the only major uncensored document about him that is known, and it makes revealing reading.
Makes me fantasize about being a literary sleuth. Arthur Miller is dead and The Enfranchised has a blow-by-blow of the media rush to write obits. I've read Death of a Salesman and The Crucible and liked them both, but was never compelled to read anything else. Still, I think Miller left some great work. Writing can be theraputic? Duh! My therapist's name is Diary. We've been together since I was 12. Without her/him (I'm never sure) I wouldn't be the responsible, well adjusted adult that I am (stop that snickering up there in the peanut gallery!). Anyway, Blake Morrison and Susie Orbach chat about writing and therapy. It is an interesting conversation, but I can't help the impression that she's doing the whole how-does-that-make-you-feel therapist thing on Morrison.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

I Wonder

if if she needs and assistant?


Some interesting articles about storytelling at Steve Denning's website. The site is meant for businesses and organizations but some elements of storytelling are the same no matter who they are meant for. The articles I find particularly interesting are the ones on How storytelling communicates complex ideas. My Bookman and I still haven't decided if we are going to Hay/Wales or Scotland next spring. We are leaning toward Hay. In our researches though I found Capture Wales. It is a digital storytelling site with mini movies created and edited by average people who have a story they want to tell. The project is sponsored by BBC Wales. They are "working with digital storyteller Daniel Meadows from the Centre for Journalism Studies at Cardiff University. We run monthly workshops around Wales, working with members of the public to help them create their own digital stories." Some are better than others, but all have been wonderful so far. Of particular note is the one in the Passion category by Linda John (middle column, 7th down and it has a head of a robin next to it). A Sad but beautiful story that brought tears to my eyes. (Note: you will need mediaplayer to see the video, otherwise you just get the sound) We've also learned that storytelling is a big tradition in Wales. The Eisteddfod has several incarnations, the longest running one appears to be The National Eisteddfod of Wales which claims that it "can be traced back to 1176 when it is said that the first Eisteddfod was held, under the auspices of Lord Rhys, at his castle in Cardigan. There he held a grand gathering to which were invited poets and musicians from all over the country. A chair at the Lord's table was awarded to the best poet and musician, a tradition that prevails in the modern day National Eisteddfod." Of course it is always held in August and wherever we decide to go we'll be there in April. The States has a storytelling festival too I find. It is held annually at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough Tennessee. And if you want to tell your own story or preserve family stories, hop over to the Center for Life Stories Preservation while you still can. They closed their doors at the end of December 2004 due to lack of funding, but still have their free content up as well as discounted books and other items for sale while they last.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

How Do I Love Thee?

My Bookman asked me yesterday to guess what the best selling book for Valentine's Day is at his store. A torrid romance? "101 Ways to Say I Love You"? "Chicken Soup for the Lover's Soul"? Nope. The Cosmo Kama Sutra (be sure you scroll down and read the reviews!). It is my understanding that the Kama Sutra was written by a religious student and is about more than acrobatic sexual positions. Of course, Cosmo can't be bothered with all that other stuff, it's too boring. I hear Cosmo includes a section on the "Ten Sexual Positions He Wants to Try but is Afraid to Ask" and some quizzes too: "Test Your Karmic Compatibility." Just kidding on that last bit there, but I haven't seen the book, so maybe... I think my Bookman summed it up nicely though when he told me "There are a whole lot of people hoping to get lucky."

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Something to Make You Smile

So my little bit of existential bookish angst from earlier cleared up pretty darn quick when I popped over to Pages Turned to find out that Susan revealed her Don Quixote secret early! I am most envious.


Maude Newton muses on Iris Murdoch today, particularly on her book The Sea, The Sea. I have not read this book, nor have I read Murdoch. She is on my list of authors I need to get around to reading sometime. She went on the list several years ago and I still haven't gotten around to her. Maude's post reminded me of that. It also made me worry because the list of authors and books never shrinks, it just manages to grow and grow and grow. I could do nothing else but read for the rest of my life and still not come to the end of the list. That thought is upsetting because I will, and do, miss so many great books. But excitement lies on the flip side of that. I never have to worry about not having anything to read. Never have to worry about there not being a "new" author to try. In spite of my personal lists and my books of lists (Book Lust, The New Lifetime Reading Plan, 500 Great Books by Women), I am not a purposeful reader, I have no plan. I did have a plan once, several years ago. I had a calendar called great women writers or something like that, and it had a photo or painting of the woman writer of the month. That year I read at least one book by the featured author each month. I read a few authors I would not have otherwise (M.F.K. Fisher) and that I had always meant to read (Willa Cather), but in the end it felt kind of like school, forced and obligatory, and that's no way to read a book. I have no idea when I will get around to reading Iris Murdoch. I feel a little sad about that. Do I need a plan? Maybe it's the old Protestant work ethic that my parents so obligingly instilled in me rearing its ugly head that makes me think I do. But I'm going to rebel. Instead of a plan I will just put The Sea, The Sea on my book list in bold letters. That way the more I notice it the more likely I am to remember it and read it. I just made a plan didn't I?

Monday, February 07, 2005

This and That

Michael Pollan fans might be interested in this interview. In case you don't know who Michael Pollan is, he wrote several wonderful books. The most recent, Botany of Desire, came out in 2002. It's about apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes and how the domestication of these plants affected human development. Pollan is also the author of Second Nature: A Gardener's Education and A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder. Both of these books are wonderful. On another note, I had this wild idea that maybe one or two people might be interested in an update about how I'm doing on my New Year's Resolution. I have been very good and all new acquisitions have been shelved in the library no matter how much I wanted to stack them on the pile. I have also been making it a point to read only from the books on the pile. Between these two things and the removal of a few tomes to the library I was down to 51 books. I was so proud that I told my husband. Big mistake because not long after that I was reading something about Ian McEwan and made the comment that I should read him sometime. My Bookman disappeared into the library and came back with Atonement. "Here," he said handing me the book, "put this on your pile and read it." I was weak. I started reading it instead of something from the pile. Now I'm trying to figure out if there is some kind of irony or sick cosmic joke lurking behind the title of the book that took me off my resolved path. One more update. I'm making my way through Don Quixote. I have read through chapter 15 and am still enjoying it. Taking it slowly and knowing there a at least two people who will give me a hard time if I quit helps immensely. And finally, thanks to everyone for all of the kind comments these last few days. My sister is working very hard to make sure I don't get a big head. What else is a little sister for?

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Montaigne Hodge-Podge, Week One

As I mentioned in last week's Montaigne post, I have completed all of the longer essays in part one and am now going to go back and read the shorter essays in bunches. This presents an annoying hodge-podge, but there's nothing else to do about it really. We Reach the Same End By Discrepant Means This is the first essay in my book, but I don't think it is the first essay Montaigne wrote, though it is a very early one. It's earliness is evident in that it isn't as developed and is actually rather boring. Basically, the essay is about how an end can often be reached by two different means. Specifically in this essay, Montaigne refers to testosterone laden events like war:

The most common way of softening the hearts of those we have offended once they have us at their mercy with vengeance at hand is to move them to commiseration and pity by our submissiveness. Yet flat contrary means, bravery and steadfastness, have sometimes served to produce the same effect.
Montaigne appears to be setting out to determine a fixed character for man, but because of all of the variance he finds, he determines that "Man is indeed an object miraculously vain, various and wavering. It is difficult to found a judgment on him which is steady and uniform." Can't slip anything past this guy. How the Soul Discharges its Emotions Against False Objects When Lacking Real Ones This one is about how when we get angry, or our soul is "shaken and disturbed," we need something to take it out on. Montaigne uses as an example a man with gout who was told by his doctor to give up salted meat but refused to do so because he could then blame the meat for his illness and yell and curse at it. And then there is this one: "And have you not seen a man sink his teeth into playing-cards and swallow the lot or else stuff a set of dice down his throat so as to have something to avenge himself on for the loss of his money!" I can't say I've seen that and I've even been to Las Vegas. Maybe I was just at the wrong casino. Whether the Governor of a Besieged Fortress Should Go Out and Parley The answer here is that is all depends on whether or not it will give you the advantage. Because... The Hour of Parleying is Dangerous Apparently it was not uncommon for one side to attack by stealth while the head honchos were trying to hammer out a deal. The side that was attacked had usually let its guard down, thinking the hostilities were temporarily halted. To his credit, Montaigne thought it downright unfair and unhonorable. Unfortunately we still have difficulty with this, cease fire? What cease fire? Sorry, I didn't think blowing up a tank counted. It shows a general lack of imagination in humans that we still do the same crap even after 500 plus years. Next week's Montaigne hodge-podge: "That Our Deeds are Judged by the Intention," "On Idleness," and "Ceremonial at the Meeting of Kings"

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Author Ogling

By Bookman and I ventured out last night to see Carlos Ruiz Zafón, author of The Shadow of the Wind. If you have not read this book yet, what have you been waiting for? It is a reader's book, and I guarantee you, you will see pieces of yourself in it. Anywho, Zafón told the medium-sized bookstore audience a little about himself and about Shadow. He modestly told us that the book is the best selling book ever in Spain. It was also the first book from Spain to ever make it on the French bestseller list, and it has been on the German list for about three years. When I say he was modest, I mean it. He was obviously proud of his achievement, but he is not a snooty, made-it-to-the-big-time author. He is funny and seems like a genuinely nice person, the kind you'd like to have as a friend. During question time someone asked if the book was going to be a movie. Absolutely not. Zafón used to write movies and he said he knew what would happen to his book if a scriptwriter got hold of it. Besides, he said, some things don't need to be commercialized, some books should be left as books, and there could be no better movie than the one the reader creates in his head while reading the book. He also admitted that he is fortunate enough to not need the money that a movie would give him. He said if this was his first book and he was struggling to pay the bills, sure he'd sell the movie rights. But he is glad he doesn't have to do that and I'm glad too. If you have read Shadow already, you might be interested to know that Zafón is writing three other books that take place in Barcelona and involve the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. They are all stand-alone books but will overlap here and there. I can hardly wait!

Shock and Awe--The Good Kind

I nearly fainted this morning thanks to Sandra from Book World. She was kind enough to send me this link. The Guardian has included this site on its top ten literary blogs:

Subtitled 'The agony and the ecstasy of a reading life", this is the chatty, witty diary of Stephanie Hollmichel, who "loves reading and spends an inordinate amount of time at it." Regularly updated with a mixture of Stephanie's reading diary and her links to and opinions on all things literary. Eclectic and absorbing
Who'd a thunk it? I don't want to quibble, but I have one tiny correction, I spell Stefanie with an "f" not a "ph." Thanks to the Guardian and everyone for stopping by. And thank you Sandra, I probably wouldn't have seen the article and just wondered why I suddenly had so many more readers.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

More Moore

Because I couldn't bear watching the State of the Union Address last night I got to finish Lamb: The Gospel According Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. If you are not easily offended and want a good laugh, this book is for you. It is told by Biff who has been brought back from the dead by an angel of God in modern times so he can write the story of Jesus' life beginning in childhood. Biff, first met Joshua (Jesus, Biff explains, is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Yeshua) by the central well in Nazareth when both were six years old. Joshua had a lizard hanging out of his mouth. Joshua was playing a game with his younger brother. He gave his brother the lizard and his sibling would play with it only to eventually end up killing it. He'd give it back to Joshua who would put it in his mouth and the lizard would be resurrected. He'd then give it back to his brother and the whole thing would start over again. Joshua and Biff became great friends. Joshua knows he is supposed to be the Messiah but he is worried that he doesn't know what he is supposed to do. So at the age of twelve, he and Biff set off for the Silk Road in order to track down the Three Wise Men for some information. They find one near Kabul, living on a mountain in China and one living on a cliff in India. They spend time with each and Joshua learns about Confucius, the Tao, meditation, "Jew-do" (Biff learns kung fu), Buddhism, Hinduism, and yoga. Their journey returns them to Nazareth where Biff's story begins to resemble to the Biblical story of Jesus/Joshua, but not entirely. The book is completely irreverent, filled with funny situations and jokes galore. One that gave me a laugh was a scene when they were in Kabul with Balthasar who lived in a mountain fortress and had a bevy of beautiful Chinese women to keep him company:

Before we knew it a year had passed, then two more, and we were celebrating the passage of Joshua's seventeenth birthday in the fortress. Balthasar had the girls prepare a feast of Chinese delicacies and we drank wine late into the night. (And long after that, and even when we had returned to Israel, we always ate Chinese food on Joshua's birthday. I'm told it became a tradition not only with those of us who knew Joshua, but with Jews everywhere.)
Moore includes an Afterword in which he talks about his research (yes, he did research!) for the book and why he wrote some of the things he did. Moore concludes
Finally, this story was set in a dire time, a deadly serious time, and the world of the first-century Jew under the rule of the Romans would not have been one that easily inspired mirth. It's more than a small anachronism that I portray Joshua having and making fun, yet somehow, I like to think that while he carried out his sacred mission, Jesus of Nazareth might have enjoyed a sense of irony and the company of a wisecracking buddy. This story is not and never was meant to challenge anyone's faith; however, if one's faith can be shaken by stories in a humorous novel, one may have a bit more praying to do.
Zing! Next time I need a funny book to read, I look forward to trying another of Moore's many books, after all, doesn't Island of the Sequined Love Nun and Practical Demonkeeping make you wonder?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Harry Potter Fans Beware

"J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter adventures, has warned fans of the boy wizard to beware of an Internet scheme intended to separate them from their identities." I hope it was the Times reporter that came up with the "separate them from their identities" and not Rowling. It sounds so, I don't know, silly.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


The other day I mentioned my old shoebox method of keeping--or not keeping--track of books I wanted to read. My shoebox and I were friends for a very long time (since I was a teenager). It actually began life as an envelope, first a small one and then a long #10. I'd clip titles from book catalogs, magazines and newspapers and toss them in the envelope. Pretty soon the envelope became full. Then I separated it into two envelopes, one for fiction and one for nonfiction. I clipped at a fast rate when I was a teen--part time minimum wage jobs barely keep a girl in clothes and gas for the car--books were what I bought with all my birthday and Christmas money. Sometime around the age of 18 my envelopes moved into a wide bodied shoebox. There wasn't much time for reading book reviews in college but my shoebox could handle reading lists from classes and torn edges of notebook paper where I had written down book titles that professors or fellow students mentioned. Once college was over my snipping ways returned with a vengeance--there were all sorts of books out there that I had missed because I was too busy with school to read much for fun. My shoebox was beginning to get full and I had to tape the corners of the lid and box because they were coming apart. Sure I could have gotten a new shoebox but we had been through so much together I couldn't let go. Once in a while I'd browse through all of the little clips in the box and toss out titles I had read or bought or decided that I didn't want to read anymore. Often there would be several different clips and scribbles for the same book, usually one I was no longer interested in, and I would wonder, "what was I thinking?" Finally, just this last summer, I decided the shoebox was out of control--the taped corners were splitting and the lid kept falling off because it was too full. It also didn't help me when I wanted to take a list to the bookstore. I'd have to take a handful of little snips in my pocket or spend time writing a list to take with me. So I went through the box and turned it into a computerized list (lists really, one for fiction and one for nonfiction). I still clip reviews and scribble titles on scratch paper. These bits usually end up on a corner of my desk. Every month or so I am obliged to look them over and decide if I am still interested enough to put them on my list. Sometimes I miss my shoebox; when I dipped my hand in I never knew what I would pull out. But for ease of tracking, I like the computer list better. How do you keep track of books you want to read?