Saturday, April 30, 2005

Exercise Your Brain

I don't think I will get Montaigne posted today. I'm reading the longest essay he wrote which is 200 pages and it is taking me longer than I expected to get through it. So to appease you, here is a bit about a book I have finished during my extended book binge weekend. Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot by Richard Restak is supposed to teach the reader, according to the back cover of the book, to

  1. Take advantage of the interrelationships of learning, memory, and intelligence
  2. Increase mental acuity and develop your emotional memory
  3. Improve your powers of attention and concentration
Tall orders for a book of just over 200 pages. Did it work? Am I smarter? Is my memory better? I can't honestly answer yes. I can, however, say that I enjoyed the book. I didn't read the book for its self-help qualities anyway. I read the book because I wanted to learn more about how the human brain works and maybe pick up some tips on how to keep it fit along the way. In that regard, the book succeeded. The premise of the book is that your IQ is your IQ and whether it is average or above average can't be changed and doesn't necessarily matter all that much. What does matter is cognition. Cognition "refers to the ability of our brain to attend, identify, and act." Included under the cognition umbrella are thoughts, moods, inclinations, decisions, actions, alertness, concentration, perceptual speed, learning, memory, problem solving, creativity and mental endurance. All these things depend on how well our brain is functioning and all these things can be improved. The brain is a fascinating thing which we are only beginning to understand. Restak provides a simple explanation on the basic workings of the brain. The whole right brain/left brain thing has pretty much been debunked. There are indeed specialized areas in each hemisphere but they do not work alone. It is turning out that the brain is a very plastic and ever changing thing. It was once thought that after childhood the brain started losing brain cells and the older we got the more we lost. Not true. The brain is indeed busy when we are young forming all kinds of synaptic connections. A new experience lurks around every corner and the brain is engaged daily in learning new things. A lot of us graduate from high school and then go on to college and continue to grow our brains. A few years after college we might notice ourselves forgetting things and attribute it to too many frat parties. Then we say it's because we are getting old. What is really happening is that the synapses we worked so hard to build when younger are beginning to atrophy from lack of use. That's right, it's not because we are getting old it's because we stop using our brains. Our brains like very much to be challenged and learn new things. When we learn our brains are happy and busy growing synapses and making connections all over the place. It is easy to keep our brains happy when we are in school, but once out of school we tend to stop challenging ourselves. We establish routines and habits--get up at six, go to work for 8 hours, come home, have dinner, watch television, go to bed, get up and do it all over again the next day. The older we get the more difficult it is to challenge ourselves to learn something new especially if we are older and caught in the trap of believing that you "can't teach and old dog new tricks." The good news is that it is never too late. Those old synaptic paths that we established so long ago are not gone, just a little dusty. As soon as you start using them again they wake up and if you challenge yourself to learn something entirely new you create synaptic connections that didn't exist before whether you are 40 or 60 or 80. This being a book that is supposed to help you get those synapses working, Restak offers lots of advice, some of it useful some of it silly but all of it designed to help give your brain a workout. Some of the more interesting advice Restak gives involves books and reading. He suggests reading as an antidote to stress (which by the way causes brain damage) and re-reading as an antidote to information overload. He suggests keeping a reading diary and explains in great detail how to do it. His explanation is obviously meant for people who don't read much and haven't thought about what they read before, but I couldn't help but be annoyed by his prescriptivist approach: do it this way, instead of offering a variety of possibilities. Wide and varied reading, along with reducing stress, also increases mental acuity. Restak suggests reading Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, William and Henry James, Dickens, Montaigne (!), Proust, Conrad, Jose Saramago, Muriel Spark, Iris Murdoch among others. He also suggests that if you were schooled in the humanities you should step outside your safe zone and read some science and if your area of expertise is in the sciences then try learning about the arts. It will make your brain happy. Exercise also makes you brain happy. While all exercise is good, exercise that requires balance and strengthens your legs is even better. Restak recommends tai chi, but anything that requires balance is good--dancing, yoga, tennis, cycling. Such exercise is not only good for your overall health but strengthens your cerebellum as well. Other things that make the brain happy, positive thoughts, tasks/skills that require good eye-hand coordination--model building, tennis, and knitting--working in concert with your body's natural rhythms, and music, particularly classical music, specifically Mozart. Our brains, scientists are discovering may be wired for music just as they are wired for language. While Restak warns of information overload in this age of the internet, he fully advocates making technology your friend and using it to your brain's advantage. Buy yourself a laptop he says. Take it with you wherever you can. Turn it into a second brain. Don't make it your main brain, but use it to augment your natural brain, use it to help you think. Paper notebooks and journals are nice, he says, but they are not as easy to organize and retrieve information from as a laptop with file searching abilities. I agree but I am not about to give up my paper journal. The sensualness of it makes my brain happy and even Restak can't argue with that since he encourages sensual development. If you are interested in the brain Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot is a good place to start. It is an easy and enjoyable introductory user's guide to the brain. If nothing else I have a strategy for the next time I have a song stuck in my head. It is hard to get rid of that song or any other stuck thought because we not only have the original thought but the metathought bouncing around our noggin. Trying to force yourself to forget "The Girl from Ipanema" only makes it worse--not only are you thinking about the song but you are thinking about not thinking about it. The key, according to Restak, is to let the thought ramble on, embrace it and resist the urge to suppress it, soon enough you'll be thinking about other things and the song will be forgotten. Now the trick is to remember that bit of advice next time my brain gets trapped in a thought loop.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Reading Binge

This evening begins the reading binge. I have ambitious plans. Over the next few days I will finish The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch, Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot by Richard Restak, and Montaigne by Marcel Tetel. I also plan on completing book one of Don Quixote. I will also begin reading Snow by Orhan Pamuk for my occasional book group and Persepolis. And very likely I will return to volume 2 of Virginia Woolf's diary which I began long ago but left by the wayside as other books stole away my attention. Even if I only do half of what I planned then I will consider the binge a success.

The Voice of the Poet

I have failed my poetry month goal to post once a week about little known poets or small presses. Now April is almost over. Alas, there is always next year. One last poetry month fling. Have you heard about Random House's The Voice of the Poet series? I have several of them and they are fabulous. Yes, I realize that most of them are dead white men or just plain dead, but how can you pass up the opportunity to have a recording of Anne Sexton or Adrienne Rich? There is also Allen Ginsberg reading Howl and T.S. Eliot reading The Waste Land (I haven't listened to the last two yet). They are available on CD or cassette and each one comes with a little book of the poems on the recording. A nice way to spend an evening.

Buy a Novel, Get a Head of Lettuce Free

Grocery stores are now getting into the book business. I do not like this at all. Grocery stores should stick to groceries. I understand they are trying to keep up with Sam's Club and Super Wallmart (both of which I have major issues with) but it just seems so wrong. And authors are even doing book signings there. Can you imagine going to see Margaret Atwood at Albertsons to have her reading interrupted with "Herb, clean up on isle 4!" blaring over the loudspeaker? I cringe at the thought.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Links A-Plenty

I have stumbled across a couple of philosophy sites that may prove useful for my planned study for which I believe I will begin with Sophie's World. If you are in a hurry to read your philosophy, try Squashed Philosophers which claims to be "Condensed and abridged to keep the substance, the style and the quotes, but ditching all that irritating verbiage." Here you can read Plato's Republic in about 61 minutes, Descartes in 26 minutes and Nietzsche' Beyond Good and Evil in 36 minutes. The site goes all the way up to Alan Turing and Karl Popper. A good resource. If you are feeling phiosophical in a literary theory kind of way, there is the The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism. If you are looking for something different and interesting, visit Zak Smith's site. Zak has illustrated every page of Thomas Pynchon's Gravitiy's Rainbow. Now that is dedication to a book. I haven't read the book. It's somewhere on my to read list though. In China books don't even have to be by real people to be bestsellers. And finally, are you a paper piler? Don't worry if you are. It is apparently perfectly normal and proves that you are creative and thinking: The Social Life of Paper.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Margaret Atwood Memoir

It makes me all giddy inside. Update. My bubble has burst. Upon further research it turns out that this book is Writing with Intent which I have already read. No wonder it was so familiar.

Mmm Chocolate

Chocolate and love poems go perfectly together and Chocolove would agree with you. Not only is their chocolate fantastic (70% strong dark is my favorite), but on the inside of the wrapper is a love poem. This is nominally a post about the poetry on the wrapper, it's like when they were giving away poetry books in the glove compartments of VW Bugs. But in this instance it's not just a limited time offer. It's always there. Poetry has never been yummier!

Hello, My Name is Stefanie

Do you ever have that panic where you realize that you have so many books and your reading list is so long that you cannot possibly ever read them all? I had the panic last night when my Bookman and I were in our library shelving the books that had been piling up around the house. For each book I put on the shelf I thought, "Must read more. Must read faster. I'll never get to read this book. I want to read this book." Afterwards, when I sat down to read, it was hard to decide which of the several books I'm in the middle of I should dive into. I had an overwhelming need to finish a book, to feel like I was making progress, to prove that, yes, I will read all those books. Unfortunately I wasn't close enough to the end of any book to be able to finish it. So I picked up The Sea, the Sea. I have about one-third of the book left to go. When I began reading it was with a frantic aggressiveness which oddly matched the mood of the character in the book. Not until I had read about ten pages did I begin to calm down and not feel so desperate. This morning as I write this and have my work day looming before me, I still feel a little jittery like I drank too much coffee. But it's not my half-cup of coffee goodness. No, it's the book addiction that has me jumping around. And it slowly sinks in that yes, this is an addiction. I will never be cured of it though. I don't want to be. I admit I am powerless, but no twelve-step bibliophile's anonymous will be able to help me. You won't find me praying for serenity but for the ability to read faster. Oh, and for several million dollars to miraculously appear in my bank account so I can quit my job and do nothing but read all day. That's not asking much is it? It is becoming clear that a reading binge is in order. I have taken Thursday and Friday off from work--I put in for the days off before this little jones--and am currently planning to read until I'm full up, until I can't keep my eyes open, until the words on the page blur and I can't distinguish life in the book from life in the "real" world. Now I just have to make it through these next few days and everything will be okay. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can...

Monday, April 25, 2005

Chunky Rice

It seems like I have been yaking about it long enough that it feels like I am about to be repetitive, but there is nothing for it so here goes. I finished reading my very first graphic novel over the weekend, Good-Bye Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson. Lest you think it is some gross out topic, let me put you at ease by telling you that Chunky Rice is the name of one of the characters. Chunky is a turtle. Why his name is Chunky Rice I have no idea. His best friend is a philosophical mouse named Dandel. For some reason I'm not quite sure of, Chunky decides he has to go away. Dandel says it's because Chunky is like a flower that has outgrown its pot. So Chunky ships out for some islands on a boat whose captain tosses most of his belongings overboard and makes him work even though he has paid for the trip. His shipmates are Livonia and Beululah, still connected Siamese twins who think Chunky is strange. The book's "moral" for lack of something better to call it, basically is that between friends there is no such thing as goodbye. It's a sweet but unchallenging story. The challenge for me came in learning to read the pictures. I got confused a few times when scenes would change or time would pass. By the end of the book I felt like I was getting the hang of it. I received notice from my library that Persepolis and Tommy Corrigan are ready for me to pick up. I'll get over there some time this week and perhaps give one of them a try over the weekend. I figure after I read those two I will know if I want to read more graphic novels or if my curiosity has been satisfied.

Sunday, April 24, 2005


My bookman brought home a copy of Stradivari's Genius by Toby Faber the other day and I thought it looked quite interesting. Now, after reading the NY Time review of it, I'm going to have to read it. I am one of those sad individuals who cannot play any instrument but wish so much that I could. I tried learning piano once when I was in college but learning in a class with 15 other people is not the way to go. I have considered learning the violin since there is no room in my house for a piano, but it is not easy for an adult, or at least this adult, to make room in her life for learning to play an insturment. Perhaps someday when I win the lottery jackpot and don't have to work or when I no longer need to sleep at night. Zooming off in a completely different direction, I have been mulling over creating my own personal history of philosophy study course. Montaigne has my interest piqued and it somehow seems like it could be so useful in thinking about not only literature but any number of things. I have had some philosophy but it has all been in relation to literature. I even still have the big book I had to buy for the lit theory class. I could start there, but I am hoping for something more. Yesterday I read a review in the TLS about a new multi-volume series on philosophy called A New History of Western Philosophy, Volume One: Ancient Philosophy by Anthony Kenny. The reviewer also mentioned Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy and actually does a bit of comparison of the two. Russell comes out ahead on readability and placing the philosophies into context, but Kenny wins on thoroughness (he includes philosophers prior to Socrates). My Bookman suggested I should read Sophie's World to get me going. But I am not sure where to start. I am looking for an overview of course, but I also plan on reading the philosopher's themselves and I would like to include non-western thought in my study too. Your thoughts and suggestions are welcome and hoped for.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Don't Be Cruel

Montaigne's essay "On Cruelty" could also be called "On Virtue and Cruelty." The essay begins with Montaigne trying to ascertain the nature of virtue, "It seems to me that virtue is something other, something nobler, than those tendencies towards Good which are born in us." He decides that virtue cannot be something that happens by accident of character or situation, but instead "presupposes difficulty and opposition, and cannot be exercised without struggle." Montaigne admits that he himself has "not made much of a struggle to bridle any of my pressing desires." Rather, any virtue that one may attribute to him he arrived at by Fortune not be reason. He finds himself "horrified" by most vices but indulges in a few himself though he does not admit to what they are. He insists, however, that he is extremely careful in not allowing his few vices to spawn even more vices, he "prunes" them and keeps them "as isolated and as uncomplicated as possible." I like Montaigne for owning up to his failings. He spends time detailing the perfect virtuousness of Socrates and Cato the Younger. Socrates especially he sets up to near god-like status. But even as he praises their virtuousness and virtue in general, he does not himself try to emulate his heroes. It is obvious that Montaigne finds virtue admirable and something to strive for, but I imagine him sitting back and muttering, "But let's not be hasty, all things in moderation." It takes a special someone to be Socrates and Montaigne knows himself well enough to understand that he is not a special someone in the department of virtue. There is one vice that Montaigne cannot abide by and that is cruelty which he classifies as the "ultimate vice if them all." Montaigne suggests that there are two moments in particular that can put a person at risk of being cruel. The first is sexual climax, that moment when a person (for Montaigne, a Man) is "entirely transfixed and enraptured by the pleasure." This is a dangerous moment because it is a time when a person is irrational and without reason. The other danger is the ecstasy and rapture that can be brought on while hunting. Still, neither of those compare to the "farthest point that cruelty can reach: That man should kill man not in anger or in fear but merely for the spectacle." Montaigne condemns all forms of torture and any form of capital punishment that is not quick and simple (hanging, beheading). Interestingly, Montaigne also writes about cruelty to animals. He makes a connection between cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans: "Natures given to bloodshed where beasts are concerned bear witness to an inborn propensity to cruelty. In Rome, once they had broken themselves in by murdering animals they went on to men and to gladiators. I fear that Nature herself has attached to Man something which goads him on towards inhumanity." But if anyone should dare to laugh at Montaigne for being concerned about animals, he says theology is on his side. Man has a duty to respect not only the beasts but trees and plants as well. To all creatures we "owe gentleness and kindness." I think if Montaigne were alive today he'd be a vegetarian, maybe even vegan,, and would make regular donations to Amnesty International. Next week's Montaigne essay: "An Apology for Raymond Sebond"

Indie Publishing

A great article at Alternet by Johnny Temple, publisher and editor of Akashic Books. The article is about independent publishers and the state of publishing in general and the need for writers to take charge of their own careers

Today's indie publishing community is in some ways reminiscent of American punk rock in 1982. In that era, bands took it upon themselves to carve out networks that would connect the punk scene in San Francisco to the one in Phoenix, the one in Lawrence, Kansas, to the one in Washington, D.C., to Amsterdam's, to Belgrade's, to Israel's, to Bangkok's, and beyond. Working closely with indie labels, bands did the dirty work of booking their own tours and driving in decrepit vans and sleeping on floors and in parking lots--hammering out a vibrant (and, yes, highly flawed) new underground culture where one didn't exist before. A similar grassroots approach to local- scene building--and to the networking between those scenes--is under way in indie literature. Calling upon writers to do more of their own promotional "dirty work" is by no means a suggestion that they alone must carry this burden. To be sure, it is primarily the publishers' job to market the books they take on. is unwise for any author to hand over the reins of her career to someone she doesn't trust. The ideal, of course, is to collaborate with an attentive and zealous publisher, but the reality for most artists in any medium is that little is guaranteed beyond one's own efforts.
The article if interesting from a reader's standpoint and for anyone who dreams of someday publishing a book of her own.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Stacked Against It

I watched the second episode of Stacked last night and I feel pretty confident that I have the show figured out. Its entire purpose is to bludgeon viewers with Pamela Anderson's "beauty." Every single main character on the show last night made at least one comment on how beautiful Skyler/Pamela is. The show is also one long lead up to a punch line at the very end. Sure, there are small jokes tossed off now and then along the way in an attempt to keep you from getting bored but they are not very funny. The only really funny part is the punch line at the end. Is it worth spending half an hour for that? I'm thinking not really. The chances of me watching the show next week are slim unless I need something brainless or am hard up for something to blog about.

Poetry Made the Tech News!

Poetry made it onto Cnet! Well, Foetry did.

Going Digital

There's a detailed and lengthy article about the digitization of books at Technology Review. It talks quite a bit about Google's digitization plans and what that might mean for libraries, general readers and scholars:

The digitization of the world’s enormous store of library books—an effort dating to the early 1990s in the United Kingdom, the United States, and elsewhere—has been a slow, expensive, and underfunded process. But last December librarians received a pleasant shock. Search-engine giant Google announced ambitious plans to expand its “Google Print” service by converting the full text of millions of library books into searchable Web pages. At the time of the announcement, Google had already signed up five partners, including the libraries at Oxford, Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Michigan, along with the New York Public Library. More are sure to follow. Most librarians and archivists are ecstatic about the announcement, saying it will likely be remembered as the moment in history when society finally got serious about making knowledge ubiquitous. Brewster Kahle, founder of a nonprofit digital library known as the Internet Archive, calls Google’s move “huge....It legitimizes the whole idea of doing large-volume digitization.” But some of the same people, including Kahle, believe Google’s efforts and others like it will force libraries and librarians to reëxamine their core principles—including their commitment to spreading knowledge freely. Letting a for-profit organization like Google mediate access to library books, after all, could either open up long-hidden reserves of human wisdom or constitute the first step toward the privatization of the world’s literary heritage.
I've been thinking all along that digitization is a good thing, but the article raises some important questions. After reading it I am still pro-digitization but I realize now it isn't as straightforward and easy as I had been thinking. I also came away with the impression that Google will be charging users to access the digitized books. I hope I that's not true.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Apparently the Village Voice Article I posted about yesterday has gotten some people all riled up over what other people said, so much so that Maude Newton felt compelled to defend herself today. While all this provided me with some entertainment in the middle of my work day today, I couldn't help but feel a little uneasy about the whole thing. I'm sure there is something in there about playing into the hands of the dominant media, about what a silly thing it is to argue over and all that, but I'll leave you to form your own thoughts on that. I mean really, people. Get a grip! It makes me sorta glad to be one of those "invisble" book blogs as James Tata posted in comments yesterday.

Passion is Great!

Wow, there are some passionate people out there about the new Hitchhiker's movie, just take a gander at the comments from yesterday's post. To add fuel to the fire, here is the BBC review of the movie. The conclusion:

Despite outstanding production design and some fantastic visual effects, overall the film is a bit of a mess. A charming mess, maybe, but a mess all the same. Did the script veer too far away from the source material or tie itself in knots trying to keep faith with it? Bizarrely, I think the answer is both.
Of course I was hoping for a stellar review (pun intended), but I am not surprised. Still, I am looking forward to it. I do after all own a DVD of the BBC six-part Hitchhiker's Guide series and I enjoyed it. It is totally campy and the effects are absolutely dreadful (Zaphod's head is obviously fake) and it reminds of me of old sci-fi B movies, but darn it, it has spirit. I will unfortunately not be able to see the new movie next weekend because my husband can't go and he has made me promise not to go without him.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Bits and Pieces

The Guardian talks about Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Movie. I am looking forward to this movie quite a bit. Usually I have major book-to-movie reservations but I have high hopes for this one. I wonder if I should take a towel with me to the theatre? Am I the only geek thinking about this? Yeah for lit blogs!. And kudos to the Village Voice for writing such an interesting and multi-faceted article about lit blogs. The author, Joy Press, examines both the positive and potential negatives of lit blogs. It is unfortunate, however, that the same lit blogs get mentioned over and over. There are loads of small-time lit bloggers out there (see sidebar for links to some of them) who are fabulous to read and more popping up on a regular basis. It's like one giant book group. Okay, maybe not quite. Maybe more of a conversation. Ever since I started reading lit blogs my book wish list has grown exponentially. And I have been moved by passionate posts to read authors and books I wouldn't have otherwise. Life is good. Stephen Greenblatt may be taking some heat for inaccuracies in his book Will in the World, but he's written a nice article on translation:

The pessimism repeatedly voiced in the translator's notes gives way to what a recent translator of "Don Quixote," Edith Grossman, calls the "infinite optimism" that fuels such a utopian task: "utopian in the sense intended by Ortega y Gasset when he deemed translations utopian but then went on to say that all human efforts to communicate — even in the same language — are equally utopian, equally luminous with value, and equally worth the doing." I have never struggled through "Don Quixote" in my faltering Spanish, but I am convinced that I have read and admired not a novel by Edith Grossman but one by Cervantes. I cannot read a word of Russian, but I believe I have heard in "Anna Karenina" the voice of Tolstoy and not of the most recent translators, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Though I would surely be a better (or at least a better-educated) person if I could read ancient Greek, I console myself with the thought that blind Homer still sings for me in the English of Robert Fitzgerald, Stanley Lombardo or Robert Fagles.
I must say I am in agreement. If I could read a book in its original language I would, but I can't, so I rely on the skill of translators like Grossman. Purists will argue that a book in translation is not the same as the original. Of course it isn't, it can't be. But I trust that those who write the translations do their utmost to create a text that is as close to the original as possible, if not word-for-word then at least in intent, meaning and voice. Until we all have our own babel fish, this is the best we can hope for.

Monday, April 18, 2005


Interesting transcript from a Radio National program called "All in the Mind." This interview is called Count Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: Neurology and the Novel. (link via Mind Hacks) Scientific American Mind is a new magazine brought to you by Scientific American. If you haven't seen it yet check your newstand. I picked up a copy yesterday and the article about creativity in the brain is fascinating. Don't read it thinking you're going to get tips on being more creative though. The article is all about where creativity is located in the brain (right hemisphere) and how the left brain can block, mediate or foster what the right brain does. Turning, now, once again to graphic novels, I thought I'd share that I have begun reading Good-Bye Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson author of the acclaimed Blankets. I had planned on either Persepolis or Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, but I'm waiting for them from my public library and my husband brought home Chunky Rice. Since I am not used to reading graphic novels it is somewhat slow going--I have to learn how to read the pictures and the words, not just the words. I have made it halfway through and so far I am enjoying it. I won't say I am crazy about it, but it's not going to put me off from reading the other two so that's good. I'll let you know how it all turns out when I am finished with it. Stay tuned...

Sunday, April 17, 2005

When Books Speak to Each Other

So I'm reading Don Quixote last night and really paying attention because the folks over at 400 Windmills with their interesting thoughts and questions are making me feel not quite up to snuff. And It dawns on me that Cervantes (1547-1616) and Montaigne (1533-1592) were more or less contemporaries. Montaigne died well before Don Quixote was published and it is unlikely that Cervantes read the Essays, but one never knows for sure. What made the light bulb go on last night was because earlier in the day I had read and posted about Montaigne's essay "On the Armour of the Parthians" which mentions muskets and how terrible they are. Then, that evening Don Quioxte himself obligingly elaborated on Montaigne and why muskets were bad:

Happy were those blessed times that lacked the horrifying fury of the diabolical instruments of artillery, whose inventor, in my opinion, is in hell, receiving the reward for his accursed invention, which allows an ignoble and cowardly hand to take the life of a valiant knight, so that not knowing how it comes, or from where, a stray shot is fired into the courage and spirit that inflame and animate a brave heart, sent by one who perhaps fled in fear at the bright flare when the damned machine discharged it, and it cuts off and ends in an instant the thoughts and life of one who deserved to enjoy many more long years. When I consider this, I am prepared to say that it grieves my very soul that I have taken up the profession of knight errant in an age as despicable as the one we live in now, for although no danger can cause me to fear, it still fills me with misgivings to think that powder and tin may deprive me of the opportunity to become famous and renowned throughout the known world for the valor of my arm and the sharp edge of my sword.
Montaigne was no knight errant, he was a French gentleman who fought in the "Wars of Religion," but I am sure he would agree whole heartedly with Don Quixote's assessment of the situation. I so love these serendipitous moments when books and ideas converse with one another.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Armor and the Man

I can't say how relevant Montaigne's essay "On the Armour of the Parthians" is to today's military. I don't currently know anyone in the military in spite of quite a few former boyfriends having entered the military, been active in the military while we dated, or had been discharged from the military prior to our meeting (a result, perhaps, of growing up in San Diego, a city with a lot invested in the military). Montaigne is concerned with armor. He doesn't care so much about the Parthian's armor, but in how their armor reminds him of the armor of French soldiers in his day (late 16th century). The Parthian's armor was made of iron "plaited together like fine plumage which did not impede the movements of their bodies." Their helmets were even made of iron, covering their entire head and face and even reproducing facial features with only tiny holes for the eyes and an even small hole to breath through. Of course such armor made it difficult for attackers to kill them and standing in line waiting for battle they were "a sight to strike terror." However, a man so attired was carrying 125 pounds of metal on his body, could not see well and could breath only with some difficulty. So it is that Montaigne compares "The vile and thoroughly enervating practice of our noblemen today" of waiting until the last possible moment to put on their armor. "Some are still lacing up their breast-plates after their companions have already been routed," complains Montaigne. There are those who used to go to war with little to no armor and Alexander rarely wore armor himself. So much armor is such an encumbrance it leads Montaigne to conclude:

Although we do see a man killed occasionally for want of armour, we hardly find fewer who were killed because they were encumbered by it, slowed down by its weight, rubbed sore or wore out by it, struck by a blow glancing off it, or in some other way. It would seem indeed, given the weight and thickness of our armour, that we have no thought of anything but defending ourselves, and that we are not so much covered as laden with it. Impeded and constrained by it, we have enough to do to support its weight, as if fighting merely consisted in receiving blows on our armour and as if we were not equally beholden to defend it as it is to defend us.
A new weapon was also beginning to make its appearance in Montaigne's time, the musket. Needless to say, Montaigne did not think highly of such a weapon. He resigns himself to the fact that eventually there will no doubt be "some new invention to wall us up against them, making us drag ourselves off to war enclosed in little forts." Montaigne would be horrified about how war is conducted today. Thousands, even millions, can be killed with a push of a button. What Montaigne did not like about the musket is that is separated men from one another and distracted them from the real purpose of fighting. War to Montainge was not about who had the best armor or the biggest weapons, it was about who had the most skill and whose commander the better tactics. But enough about war. I just wanted to mention that I am still making my way through Montaigne by Marcel Tetel in spite of finding it unsatisfactory. I am also disappointed to find that Montaigne's travel diary on Italy is out of print as its own volume. I can purchase it bound with the complete Essays in the Everyman edition, but I don't need another copy of the Essays. On a positive note, The Cambridge Companion to Montaigne is being published next month. I have high hopes for that. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On Cruelty"

Not Really Bookish

Play the dead celebrity soulmate game! (link via The Syntax of Things) I had a difficult choice, but went with Leonardo da Vinci

Thursday, April 14, 2005

A Plague Upon Your House

John Kelly's book, The Great Mortality, falls prey to the trend of long subtitles the NY Times was complaining about not long ago (sorry, can't find the link to the article). The full title of the book is: The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time. Whew! Quite a mouthful, and is it really necessary? Why not just A History of the Black Death? But enough quibbling about the title, it's what comes after the title that matters most. And what comes after is pretty gruesome. Unless you have a strong stomach, I recommend not eating and reading at the same time. Kelly researched primary source documents for this book and he includes much of the eye witness information here. He also seems to take delight in describing just what someone with the plague was going through--the stench, the leakage from bodily orifices, the buboes, the buboes bursting. He also describes in minute detail the filth that our ancestors lived in--butchers slaughtering animals on the street, open sewers, chamber pots being dumped from windows, garbage, rats--not to mention personal hygiene; changing and/or washing your clothes was rare and bathing more than once a year was so unusual family, friends and neighbors would remark upon it. The origins of the Black Death have been traced to the Gobi desert. By the time 1347 rolled around Europe had an estimated population of 75 million people. That doesn't sound like much by today's standards but at that time resources were strained. The technology they had was not enough to feed everyone nor were the sewer systems sophisticated enough to handle the volume of sewage from overcrowded cities. Most of the time they relied on rain to wash everything away into the rivers, but even a heavy rain was often not enough. It is generally accepted that the outbreak began in the city of Caffa on the Black Sea sometime in 1346-47. No one knows for sure how it arrived in Caffa, it could have arrived via an invading Mongol army or through traders or both. But once it arrived there was nothing that could stop it. Caffa at that time was a Genoan city. A small fleet of Genoan ships fled from Caffa making stops at Pera, Constantinople, Messina (Sicily), Genoa and Marseille. From there the plague spread through all of mainland Europe before jumping the channel to Great Britain, Ireland and then Scandanavia and Russia. The plague was spread mainly by the flea of the black rat. It is theorized that the fleas picked up the plague from marmots in the Gobi. But in some cities the plague transformed to a pneumonic form which could then be passed directly from person to person. No one was safe, even animals died of the plague. When it was all done about 24 million people had died. We can gasp and be amazed at the devastation, but cannot begin to imagine living during that time. It is in this regard that the voices of those who were alive then speak most movingly. One man wrote:

I am overwhelmed. ..I can't go on. Everywhere one turns there is death and bitterness....The hand of the Almighty strikes repeatedly, to greater and greater effect. The terrible judgment gains in power as time goes by.
So many people died so quickly that customary funeral rites were abandoned, pits dug, and people layered in like "lasagna" as one chronicler in Italy phrased it. At that time no one knew what caused the plague so speculation abounded. Many called it the wrath of God. What God was angry about varied. According to Friar Knighton of England, "it was tournament groupies that brought down God's wrath against the English." Tournament groupies were "bands of beautiful young women who corrupted public morals by attending tournaments in provocative dress." Others blamed the Jews and as a consequence a good many of Europe's Jews were murdered in massacres. Kelly relates a compelling time in history and it is hard to not be drawn in to the book and the story. However, he tends to wander off topic. He'll begin to tell about, for instance, Caffa, but then interrupt it with a long history of Genoa before returning back to Caffa to reiterate what he had begun to tell earlier and then go on from there. The other annoying thing about this book was the copyediting. One or two errors in a book is bothersome but acceptable. This book was rife with them. There were missing words, missing letters in words (though instead of through), and words that didn't belong there at all. If the story itself weren't so interesting I would have tossed the book aside and not finished it. But in spite of these flaws it was, as I said earlier, difficult not to be drawn in. The plague, and plague in general, has clearly affected our culture psyche. The Decameron by Boccaccio takes place during the Black Death outbreak, a time through which the author lived. Petrarch also lived through the "Great Mortality." Even now it will make an appearance in a book. The Plague by Albert Camus, Blindness by Jose Saramago and the short story "Masque of the Red Death" by Poe come to mind. And more thriller type novels like Outbreak by Robin Cook. With the appearance of SARS and the fear of bird flu, it is likely to be even more in our minds. Update: My Bookman found the missing link! Here's there subtitle article I referred to at the beginning of the post.


I tuned in to the premiere of Stacked last night for better or worse. Over all the show was okay, not the train wreck I had feared but certainly not sparkling and witty. Pamela Anderson's breasts took center stage of course, there was no way you couldn't look at them. She wore a tight low-cut t-shirt from which the top of her lacy bra emerged. It showed of her bosom to great effect and all of the male characters were ga-ga over her, including the on-the-verge-of-adolescence son of one of the co-owners of the bookstore. Surprisingly, Pamela was the best actor in the show, she was even better than Christopher Lloyd. Pamela's character, Skyler, is a parody of herself, or her public persona at any rate--dumb blonde bombshell. But Pamela played her straight and low-key and it worked, she was funny. The rest of the cast left much to be desired. They all seemed like they were trying too hard, especially before Pamela made her appearance. By the end of the show they seemed to be settling down a little so perhaps next week will improve a bit. There were some bookish jokes, even a reference to Sense and Sensibility. But most of the book humor, I thought, came at the expense of the stereotypical pretentiously intellectual and book snobbish co-owner (sorry, can't remember his name. The store is owned by two brothers, one as described above, the other a sort of easy going pudgy and jolly younger brother). If the show wasn't book related in any way I wouldn't watch it at all, but since it has a bookish patina, I will be tuning in again next week.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

No One is Safe

If you thought books and writers were safe from reality tv, think again. Book Millionaire is looking for desperate writers to be on their show. The winner will become "America's next bestselling author." Yeah, right. The show will air Fall 2005. Be afraid. Be very afraid. (link via Maude Newton)

Tonight's the Night...

We've all been waiting for! The premiere of Stacked starring Pamela Anderson. I'll be watching and will report on it tomorrow. I am conflicted about the show right now, I don't know if I want it to actually be good or if I'd prefer it to be dreadful.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Hey Hay!

If you live anywhere near Hay-on-Wye or in the UK for that matter, how can you not want to go to the Hay Festival every year? It is good that I live so very far away or I'd be in Hay all the time which would not be good for the wallet. We have never visited, but my Bookman and I are planning a pilgrimage for next April (I think I mentioned a few months ago that we were debating between going to Hay or traveling in Scotland, well we made up our minds, the lure of books won). We didn't want to go to the festival our first time there so we figured we'd go before the festival so everything isn't pawed over. Thus far the plan is to fly into London, take the train to Hereford, then the bus to Hay. Stay in Hay for 4-5 days and then take the bus to Brecon and stay in Brecon for a few days walking and doing other non-bookish things. Then back to London for a few days before returning home. That's the plan so far. Nothing is finalized yet though and we have months to change our itinerary. I am soooo looking forward to it even if it is a long time away.

Small Press Poetry

This week's Poetry Month post is not about a particular author but a press, Red Dragonfly Press to be exact. It is a small press that produces letterpress printed limited edition books of poetry. Red Dragonfly Press came into existence

in 1997 with the publication of Hunting My Home Town by Dale Jacobson. The pages of this book were set using a word processor, printed, then photocopied to make an edition of 100 books. Japanese block-print paper was used for the cover. It was bound using the traditional Japanese four-hole binding. I remain quite fond of this book, knowing the strength of the poem printed carries far more than its share of the burden in the marriage. Since then the press has printed many books. These range in size from pamphlets containing a single poem to a full-length books—the majority fall somewhere between, at the chapbook size, a size that seems perfectly fitted to letterpress work. Additionally, the press prints broadsides, bookmarks, cards, and other ephemera.
I must confess now that my husband knows the founder of the Press, Scott King. He used to work with Scott when my husband was a newbie bookseller. My Bookman credits Scott (and myself) with inspiring him to read poetry. It was through Scott that he became a Jane Kenyon devotee. Red Dragonfly Press is in Red Wing Minnesota these days so it isn't often that my Bookman sees Scott. We do, however, always see his publications when we attend the Midwest Bookfair every year at the State Fairgrounds. We have several of the Press' chapbooks so I can attest to the quality of the work. He tends to print poets whose names I have never heard of as well as a few who are "known." Here are two example poems for your consideration:
Acts of Faith Here at this table filled with bowls we come to answer our own prayers in feast, in belief, in presence of our own silence. Here where the universe balloons outward from our tongues and comes back down to the smallness of fish bones and seeds on our plates. You and I tell of the day's labor, the ice-chilled roads, work shot wild with old troubles. And we accept the unburdening and relief as we dissolve the unwanted, praise the world for its sun and birds we continue to find not just in dreamsleep or in the nest in the berrybush but in the eyes and lips and fingers of each other. Here is sanctuary, here is refuge, here where we are safe from the snow-fed winds, where our bowls are full of the tender grain and where later you and I like the blue herons moving down from the clouds will fall to bed and touch the ground, singing. --Diane Jarvenpa in Winter Readings, 2001 Blue Shift What does a heart know of light? Locked in its lattice of cattails, the river dreams of its old bed, swells to return each spring, then retreats. Shale takes the sun's heat, holds it after dark. Frail as an echo, shut between stone sheets, the fossil fern remembers. Ventriloquist, the heart throws its voice to the wind, thrums from the burr oaks and lichen covered stones. The river takes the voice and spools it like silk til it spills. Desire pools in the blackbird's throat. Spinning faster than sound, spring drives its needle into the heart. --Vicki Graham, Alembic

Monday, April 11, 2005

Of Interest

It's not just Montaigne today. Here are two links for your delectation: BuzzFlash has an interview with Barbara Ehrenreich in which she talks about how things are since she wrote Nickel and Dimed. An article about YA novels for girls and their tendency to be censored appears at Alternet. It mostly gushes about Judy Blume. The interesting thing is the list that appears with it of controversial YA novels through history (1868 to the present). It's nice to see Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon there. I never would have thought of them as controversial but considering they first appeared in 1930 and 1948 respectively, they were daring for their time.

How to Be a Good Dad

I'm a little tardy with Montaigne. I missed the weekend, the weather was too nice and there was too much to do, so today is Montaigne Monday. The more I read Montaigne, the more I like him. Yes, his ideas about women are patriarchal crap, but he was a man of his times and as much as I'd like him to be above it all, he wasn't. But I'm finding it easier to forgive him. Some feminists might want to toss him out as just another dead white man and once I would have agreed. But, maybe it's because I've put some years between me and college, I see no reason to "throw the baby out with the bath water." It is the governing nugget of thought that matters most sometimes, not the cultural baggage that surrounds it. Take, for instance, "On the Affection of Fathers for Their Children." Montaigne cares only for the male children here. He also makes passing comparisons between women and animals. Yet all but one of Montaigne's children died in infancy, the surviving one a girl. It is clear that he cared for his daughter and his wife and he also had association with and respect for society women who were well educated (yes, yes there are class issues here too but that's for another time) and comments that he thinks estates are too often entailed.. So I am getting the impression that while Montaigne spouts the party line, so to speak, he made exceptions. In this essay Montaigne writes about two kinds of children, actual biological children and brain children. Montaigne believes you should stop and think a moment before you decide to have children (the flesh and blood kind). Consider, that you will love your children more than they love you and that they will be in debt to you for more than they will ever pay you back. Consider as well that "things are so ordered that children can only have their being and live their lives at the expense of our being and our lives, we ought not to undertake to be fathers if that frightens us." Good advice that. If you have children, fathers should not become too attached to them as babies that way if they grow up to be disappointments your heart won't be broken and it will be easier to treat them appropriately. Instead, a father should moderate his affections and as the child grows and the father gets to know him better, and if the child shows he "deserves it, we should cherish them with a truly fatherly reason." While love is important, Montaigne believes that a father should be tempered by reason instead of letting emotion run wild. A father wants to be loved by his children but he should attain that affection through means of virtuousness and goodness. A father who can only hold the love of his children by making them dependent on him, by not giving them their freedom and forcing them to ask for money and other necessities "is wretched indeed." A father should not deprive his children of their share of the property but teach them and guide them so that they know how to use their share well. I kept thinking about King Lear while reading this essay, a prime example of a bad father. But literature is rife with bad fathers and mothers and children; they are so much more interesting than good ones. Tolstoy had it right, happy families are all alike but unhappy ones are each unhappy in their own way. Which leads us to... The second part of the essay where Montaigne writes:

Now that we consider the fact that we love our children simply because we begot them, calling them our second selves, we can see that we also produce something else from ourselves, no less worthy of commendation: for the things we engender in our soul, the offspring of our mind, of our wisdom and talents, are the products of a part more noble than the body and are more purely our own. In this act of generation we are both mother and father; these 'children' cost us dearer and, if they are any good, bring us more honour.
Children of the flesh grow up and become their own persons, so while they are a part of their parents, they do not belong to anyone but themselves. Brain children on the other hand belong entirely to the parent forever. Montaigne tells the story of Labienus whose books were sentenced to "death" by the Roman magistrates who required that they be burnt. Labienus was so distraught that he could not "bear such a loss nor survive such beloved offspring" and had himself shut up alive in the family vault. A more dedicated and loving father would be hard to find insists Montaigne. But would Montaigne do the same for his brain child? Doubtful. But I don't blame him, I wouldn't do it either. Back on track for the weekend and the next Montaigne essay: On the Armour of the Parthians"

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A Spot of Understanding

I just couldn't bring myself to sit down at the computer yesterday. My Bookman has the entire weekend off (unusual) and the weather was gorgeous so we were out running around as well as spending time in the yard pulling winter mulch off the flower beds to discover all the green things poking up beneath. One of our out about events was stopping by Minnesota Center for Books Arts at Open Book. It was opening night for a new exhibit, Spot On: The Art of Zines and Graphic Novels. Someone I used to work with works at the Center for Book Arts now and she told me about the event after I mentioned my lack of understanding on the graphic novel front and my desire to learn a bit more about them. Unbeknownst to us there was also a Twins game last night and we didn't realize the Metrodome is a block away from Open Book. The book gods favored us however, and we found a parking spot, the very last one, across the street from where we wanted to go. The baseball game was already in progress and we had to make our way through the inebriated tailgaters. The exhibition was wonderful. The focus was clearly on the art and the art was fascinating. The zines on display were amazing and I left with a new found respect for those who manage to regularly create and publish them. The exhibition explained that a graphic novel is "a work where narrative is related through a combination of text and art." Graphic novels really are comics but they are not called comics or cartoons in order to differentiate them from comic books for kids. The subject matter is also extremely different--instead of Goofy and Mickey Mouse getting into trouble, graphic novels are about grown up subjects. Graphic novels also tend to be much longer than comic books. I learned that Neil Gaiman's Sandman was the first graphic novel to ever win a literary award. The exhibition also included Manga and provided a little historical background on it development. There were perhaps a dozen different Manga books there for people to look through and explanations along with each one about the intended audience--young girls who like boy bands, teenage girls, young boys, adult men, etc, and what elements in the book were meant to appeal to that audience. I left the exhibit feeling that I understood the idea of graphic novels. There is nothing mysterious about them after all, there is nothing to "get." They are another way to tell a story, picture books for grown ups. Sometimes it is just about the phenomenal art, sometimes it's about the text, and sometimes the art and text combine to create a magical story experience. I am no longer worried about trying to read a graphic novel. After last night I will certainly give them a try. The hard part now is deciding which one will be first.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Where the Wild Things Are

Wild Things I know they don't promote reading and they are nothing but crass commercialism and someone making a buck off of a great book, but gosh darn it, they're so cute!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Diseases to Watch Out For

Sometimes books are not for sitting down and reading straight through. Sometimes a book should just be dipped into at random. The Thackery T. Lambshed Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases edited by Jeff Vandermeer and Mark Roberts is just such a book. Contributors to the book include such medical luminaries as Dr. Michael Bishop, Dr. Cory Doctorow, Dr. Neil Gaiman, and Dr. China Mieville. You will be enlightened about the nature of such diseases as Ballistic Organ Syndrome, Fungal Disenchantment, and Third Eye Infection. You will also find several book related diseases such as Mendard's Disease (Biblioartifexism) whose sufferers "present to the public a tangible artifact--an actual copy--of a well-known literary work as their own accomplishment;" Poetic Lassitude (Pyrexia Poetica; also known as De Quincey Syndrome, Iambic Languor. Black Plapsy, or Sapphic Trench), victims become "preoccupied and introspective," take to wandering the countryside and staring at tiny flowers, and can often be found "gazing limpidly into a still pool or millpond;" and Rashid's Syndrome (Fictonecrosis, popularly known as "bibliopahgia"), a three-stage disease which begins as restlessness and irritability, progresses to an urge to read that "surpasses other motivations, including the sexual drive," and finally moving to the third and fatal phase when the infection moves into the central nervous system, unbalancing the body chemistry, thereby creating an "irresistible craving for paper and ink products." An enjoyable book sure to give provide a chuckle or guffaw, though you might not want to browse while eating, some of the diseases are pretty stomach turning.

Blog On!

A portion of the USA PATRIOT Act will expire at the end of the year. If you are interested in keeping up on the discussions in Washington DC, visit Patriot Debates, a blog dedicated to the Patriot Act debate. I just love it when the media get themselves worked up over the meaning of blogging as if there is some big mystery that needs to be solved. Here you can chuckle over "The Future of Blogging":

Recently, blogs have been credited with everything from CBS News anchorman Dan Rather's departure, to unauthorized previews of the latest Apple Computer products, to new transparency in presidential campaigns. The big question is whether blogs, short for Web logs, have the staying power to become more than just online diaries. Will bloggers upend the mainstream media? What legal protections should bloggers have? Is there a blogger business model? While no definitive answers exist just yet, experts at Wharton advise questioners to be patient. Blogging, they note, will be around for a long time. Wharton legal studies professor Dan Hunter puts blogging right up there with the printing press when it comes to sharing ideas and disseminating information. "This is not a fad," says Hunter. "It's the rise of amateur content, which is replacing the centralized, controlled content done by professionals."
If anybody figures out how blogging can become a career that will pay the bills, look for a huge change in the nature of blogging. Of course it's the political bloggers who get all the attention, but that's okay. It takes the focus off the rest of us while we plot to take over the world.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Bits and Pieces

Bookslut has a great interview with Camille Paglia. I never thought I'd say this, but after reading the interview I kind of like her. I might, gulp, have to revisit her previous work and, gulp, even give her new book a try. In case you haven't caught it yet, over at Bookninja there is an interesting article on the publishing psychology of hardcover versus trade paperback original. Maude Newton gets lawyer-y and philosophical over "Florida's proposed 'student academic freedom' bill, which would allow conservative students to sue liberal professors who advance ideas that are repugnant to them." The thought sends chills down my spine. In case you haven't heard, Saul Bellow died. The NY Times has a sort of retrospective. And The Elegant Variation has a round up of coverage.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


It is National Poetry Month and while I had promised myself last year to read more poetry and talk about it more here in months other than April, it never really panned out. Not sure why. But at least there is National Poetry Month to remind me, "Oh yeah, I was going to read more poetry." So I thought I'd try once a week for the month to post something about poetry. And I thought I might try really hard to find some poets other than the likes of famous dead ones or famous living ones. Today I bring you Michael Paul Ladanyi. Ladanyi has been writing poetry for about ten years but had not sought publication until 2000. His poetry has appeared in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, The Melic Review, The Circle, Snow Monkey, Poetry Super Highway, Texas Poetry Journal, The Pedestal Magazine, Kimera, Ascent, PoetryRepairShop, Subtle Tea, Voices, Poems Niederngasse, and Spillway Review, among others. He is a two-time 2005 Pushcart Prize nominee. Ladanyi has published numerous chapbooks a full poetry collections, Humming Riddles in Naked Seasons and recently completed another full collection Raindogs in the Sun. Here's a sample poem for you:

Beautifully Thin ~For T~ Shannon was born a bird once, before he learned the scratching color of things; was born when blue was still violin-star orange, kudzu storms green and yellow, beautifully thin, blind hair-shoulder painting. He came to see me on a Wednesday three years ago, green eyes cannibals craving soup, fingernails vampire skin-harps--- came to me crying and laughing about yellow spiders and diamond-eye voodoo. He told me that some people dance like kitchen drawer scissors, survive horse hands and bowel-crunch seas by licking the sun’s spooned neck and heat. He told me what it was like to have once been born as a small bird falling against nothing but piano air. (First published in Aesthetica Magazine.)
You can read a few more sample poems here.


My sister works at the UCLA main research library and sent me this today:

Historical Ballroom Dances in the Rotunda Cervantes' Don Quixote 400th Anniversary Ball Saturday, April 16 8 p.m. to midnight In celebration of the great Spanish novel which was first published in 1605, this ball will feature instruction in dances from the late Renaissance periods and early Baroque periods, including the "Spagnoletta." All UCLA faculty, students, and staff, as well as the public are welcome. Costume, formal, or semi-formal attire; instruction will be included. No dance experience or partner necessary; admission is free.
I am so completely and utterly jealous. They have these historical balls about three times a year and they always have a different theme. What fun it would be to go!

Monday, April 04, 2005

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my birthday and around this house occasions like birthdays means gifts and gifts mean books. When I met my Bookman we discovered we were two peas in a pod. Other gifts were nice--clothes, music, movies--but the best gifts of all were the ones that come with two covers and lots of pages with words and sometimes pictures in them. That is why there are so many books at my house. It is not due entirely to me. I sometimes joke that I married my Bookman for his books. So true to gifting form, I have received from my beloved some new books:

  • Tishomingo Blues by Elmore Leonard. This is my first Leonard book. I have meant to give him a try but never have gotten around to it. I guess I will now, eventually.
  • Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein. I love Silverstein, his silliness and the way he plays with language. This is a new book (no Silverstein is still dead) that he completed prior to his death.
  • High Latitudes by Farley Mowat. Loved his book about wolves (and the movie) and I had a good cry over The Dog Who Wouldn't Be and made my husband read it so he could cry too.
  • Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson. It got a great review in the TLS
  • War and the Iliad by Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff. It's an analysis of the Iliad and, well, war. This means I'm going to have to read the entire Iliad instead of just excerpts. Of course then I will have to read the Odyssey too. Any translation recommendations?
  • Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey. Great write up about it in the TLS
  • On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt. This is the book reviewed by The Sunday NY Times Book Review the full title of which they would not print. They reviewed it as "On Bull----."
  • The Wit and Wisdom of Don Quixote de la Mancha edited by Harry Sieber. This is a delightful little book that organizes quotes from DQ into different sections like "Adversity," "Courage," and "The Quest." Here are a few examples: "The more you stir it the more it will stink." "If the blind lead the blind they are both in danger of falling into the ditch." "[To] turn poet, they say, is an infectious and incurable distemper."
Then there is the non-book bookish item, the Shakespeare Action Figure with Removable Quill. Shakepeare Isn't he cute?

Saturday, April 02, 2005

A Just Reward

This week's Montaigne essay, "On Rewards for Honour," is nowhere near the depth of thought or question of morality of last week's essay, "A Custom on the Isle of Cea." No, this week's essay is about awards and Montaigne is bugged. You see, Montaigne was a knight of the Order of St. Michael, which had a very exclusive membership. The key word here is "had." Due to the "Wars of Religion," also known as the Reformation, The Order of St. Michael was given out to far too many people for Montaigne's liking. So many people had the award, according to Montaigne, that its prestige was diluted making the award pretty much meaningless. Even if all of the men who received the honor were indeed worthy, "we still must not be more liberal with it, and it would have been better to fail to bestow it on everyone to whom it was due than for ever to lose in practice so useful an innovation." Useful because it costs nothing to bestow the honor and because those who have it gain advantages and are more willing to stand up for king and country and those who don't have it strive to be worthy of it. Perhaps Montaigne has a bit of a sour grapes attitude here, but he also has a point. Think of the awards we give out these days. If everybody got a Nobel prize would it still mean as much? There are many who deserve it but few who receive it, thus it is viewed by most as a great honor. Would we prefer almost everyone getting one sort of like good citizenship and good attendance awards in elementary school? I should think not even if we might not agree with who was chosen. So Montaigne can't be blamed for being grumpy especially if he received the Order for doing something spectacular while some chump got it for just showing up for battle that day. But Montaigne also knows that Fortune is a fickle gal. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On the Affection of Fathers for Their Children"

It's Gone

So I got the image of the guy running through the sliding glass door in the movie A Home at the End of the World out of my head. How did I do it? By replacing it with something even more gruesome. I did indeed begin reading The Great Mortality last night. It is a fascinating book and the author likes to toss in the morbid details. Here is the passage that shocked the previous image out of my head (this describes plague ships):

Gradually each escaping vessel becomes a menagerie of grotesques. Everywhere there are delirious men who talk to the wind and stain their pants with bloody anal leakages; and weeping men who cry out for absent mothers and wives and children; and cursing men who blaspheme God, wave their fists at an indifferent sky, and burble blood when they cough. There are men who ooze pus from facial and body sores and stink to high heaven; lethargic men who stare listlessly into the cruel, gray sea; mad men who laugh hysterically and dig filthy fingernails into purple, mottled flesh; and dead men, whose bloated bodies roll back and forth across pitching decks until they hit a rail or mast and burst open like piñatas.
Nice eh? The oozing pus was bad enough but it was the piñata part that did me in.

Friday, April 01, 2005


I saw the movie A Home at the End of the World last night. It is based on the book of the same title by Michael Cunningham. Cunningham wrote the screenplay as well. I have not read the book and knew nothing about the movie so had no expectations. The movie was good, quiet with some quirky characters, much better than The Hours. There was a scene at the beginning though that was disturbing and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it all day. Very early in the film someone runs through a sliding glass door and bleeds to death from a shard of glass slicing his jugular. The thing is I didn't even see it coming so I couldn't prepare myself. What made it even more intense is that I grew up in a house with a glass door like that and my Mom was constantly worried that my sister or I would run through it. She was so worried that she had those ugly flower stickers on it for some time and then she just banned everyone from using the door altogether. My parents still live in the same house and they still don't use the door. My Mom has several large plants sitting in front it on the outside so no one can get in or out. So when the guy ran through the glass in the movie it was like all of my Mom's worst fears coming true before my eyes. And now it has been haunting me all day.

New Book

I got a new book in the mail yesterday that I know several of you will find quite interesting. It's called The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly. The book begins in 1347 and traces the plague outbreak across Europe. It also examines theories about the cause of the plague including those of some scientists and historians who believe the Black Death was not bubonic plague but some other infectious illness similar to Ebola. This book looks delightfully gruesome. I think I will start reading it tonight.


I just discovered The Modern Word. They claim to be "the Web’s largest site devoted to exploring twentieth-century experimental literature." Here's more:

Essentially, for an author to be considered for the site, his or her writing should not only be of sufficient literary quality, but significantly touch upon one or more of the following elements: 1. A use of language that calls upon the reader to break through the barriers of normal syntax and linguistics, acting as an invitation to probe the text and explore the space beyond the words themselves. 2. A tendency to allow consensual reality to relax or even dissolve; this may range from occasional hallucinatory prose to magical realism to outright fantasy. 3. A density of style that is multi-layered with allusions to both the body of work itself and the vast and eternal library of work beyond its pages – an awareness of the eternal human dialogue, so to speak. James Joyce was the first author to be featured, followed by Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Umberto Eco, Thomas Pynchon, Samuel Beckett and Franz Kafka. Future authors under consideration include William Faulkner, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, and many others. We are also considering the addition of poets and playwrights such as Octavio Paz, T.S. Eliot, and Tom Stoppard, to name a few.
Go check them out!