Sunday, July 31, 2005

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Montaigne's essay "On Riding 'in Post'" is a short little snip of an essay but in spite of that it is quite a history lesson. According to the editor's note, from the early 16th century generals and statesmen "laid posts" along "post-routes." At first the posts were temporary but as time went by many of them became permanent. Horses were kept at each "post-stage" and it was the job of the "post-master" or courier to ride as fast as possible to the next post carrying dispatches. To ride "in post" meant that you were a "postman." In Montaigne's time riding in post had also become a sport, a sort of relay race, that Montaigne was quite good at. Montaigne's essay begins with him declaring "I have not been one of the weakest at this sport, which is suited to men of my stocky short build; but I am giving up such business: it makes too great an assay of our strength to keep it up for long." The rest of the essay is anecdotes of a sort of history of the post. King Cyrus stationed men with horses a day's ride apart so those traveling to see him from different areas of his empire would always have fresh horses. In the time of Caesar chariots were used. Caesar himself traveled 100 miles in a day in a hired chariot. And Tiberius Nero, going to see his brother who was ill in Germany, covered 200 miles in 24-hours using three chariots. Even faster than horses was the method Caecinus used. When he traveled he took trained swallows with him. When he wanted to send a message home he would stain the bird with a colored mark according to a pre-arranged code, and send the bird off. The strangest method of post came to Montaigne from Peru, where he heard, couriers "rode on men who bore them in litters on their shoulders with such agility that the first porters relayed their burdens to the next team at the run without missing a step." And so I learned quite a bit about the history of the post. It is particularly interesting in light of the fact that I am in the middle of reading Terry Pratchett's book Going Postal in which Moist von Lipwig has been charged with re-opening the post office of Ankh-Morpork. In doing so he finds himself suddenly challenging the clacks message systems. The clacks are a series of tall towers that send messages across the world (this being Discworld there is no around). The book is turning out to be a thought-provoking comparison between between written letters and technological forms of communication in the form of a fun fantasy novel. Such cross-pollination of reading material seems to be happening to me more and more these days through no planned effort on my part. I don't know why it is either. Am I reading more widely? Less widely? Or is it just that I am paying more attention? Whatever it is, it has the appearance of being serendipitous and is, therefore, quite delightful. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On Bad Means to a Good End"

Saturday, July 30, 2005


It's my Bookman's birthday today. We're busy doing fun birthday things which includes new books, a picnic lunch, a movie and chocolate chocolate cake. Yum! I'll be back on Sunday with Montaigne and some other stuf. Until then, enjoy your Saturday!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Articles of Interest

Too tired to put of in the way of words together today. So here are some articles that you may enjoy perusing.

  • Not tired of Harry Potter yet? The TLS has a short review (safe for those who have not finished the book yet). The reviewer captures what it's like to be an adult fan:
    It is not easy being an adult Harry Potter fan. All around us are detractors, laughing at our obsession, questioning our intellectual maturity, forcing us to conceal hardback books behind carefully spread pages of the TLS. But the derision of our peers is nothing compared to the torture that J. K. Rowling is now putting us through.
    But my favorite part is the description of the additction that is Harry Potter:
    There was a time when Harry Potter was all about escapism: an unloved orphan turned out to be a glorified messiah, and had some terrific adventures in the process. This was uncut fantasy; for those who could stomach it, reading Rowling’s first book was, in Stephen Fry’s words, “like swimming in chocolate”. Only in retrospect do we realize this was part of a master plan: that the first, sugar-coated hit would lead to a lifetime of troubled addiction.
    Mmmm, swimming in chocolate.
  • Are you a hard working executive too busy to actually read the latest business book? The Book Standard has an article about a service just for you!
  • Finally a study was done on the impact of the used book market on the new book market. Publishers and authors say that used books cut into their earnings, but the study shows that it just isn't so.
  • Cindy Lou-Dale writes for the Dusty Shelf an article about the town of Ottery St. Mary where Coleridge was born and Greta Hall where he once lived. She is kind enough to include some photos of the area and now I want to go live there.
  • Wednesday, July 27, 2005

    Continuing to Improve My Vocabulary

    Maybe it's coincidence or maybe Italian writers like to use uncommon words. I've been working my way through Giorgio Manganelli's book of short stories, All the Errors, and find that he, like Eco, knows how to use a language. Here are some of the words I have had to look up:

    • ubication. The quality or state of being in a place; local relation; position or location; whereness. "...would then comport my further transformation into one of those beasts I define as awake by virtue of their ubication in sleep's interior."
    • senescence. The condition or process of deterioration with age; loss of a cell's power of division and growth. "The ailing Throne resists with all the power of senescence."
    • sapid. Having strong, pleasant taste; (of talk or writing) pleasant or interesting. "Their form as Shadow, accompanied by no intervening body nor by any sun, and uniquely comprehensible as a mode of dementia, cautious and sapid..."
    • pinguitude. Fatness; a growing fat; obesity. "Vegetable pinguitude gives it harbor from Triangular rancors."
    • lacustrine. Of, relating to, or associated with lakes. " is conceivably extraneous even to the concept of a sea, or at any rate of waves, no matter if fluvial or lacustrine or of any other body of water,..."
    • eructation. A belch. " is thus an orifice, and gives ceaseless issue to eructations..."
    • otiosity. From otiose. Lazy; indolent; of no use; ineffective; futile. "...the Dream awakes; seeing its own otiosity, which has nothing to do with nothingness..."
    All these words from a slim book of 158 pages and I'm not even done with it yet! I still have 30 pages left to read. I can only conclude, if you want to get smarter, read Italian authors. Word definitions courtesy of and my fabulous Mac Tiger widget which uses Oxford American.

    Tuesday, July 26, 2005

    Magazine Gleanings

    Catching up on some magazine reading I came across a reprint in the July/August Utne in which the editors of Black Book asked 25 well known writers to write an original six-word story. The idea came from Hemingway who supposedly wrote, "For sale: baby shoes, never used." The article does not appear to be online so I offer you a few of the more interesting "stories."

    • John Updike: "Forgive me!" "What for?" "Never mind."
    • Norman Mailer: Satan--Jehovah--fifteen rounds. A draw.
    • AM Homes: He remembered something that never happened.
    • Edward Albee: Poison; meditation; skiing; ants--nothing worked.
    • Michael Cunningham: My nemesis is dead. Now what?
    • Augusten Burroughs: Oh, that? It's nothing. Not contagious
    • Bruce Benderson: Mother's Day came, doubling Oedipus' pleasure.
    The July/August issue of Pages magazine had some entertaining tidbits including an article about the yet to be released at time of printing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. In it they make some speculations about what would happen in the book. They only got a few right and some were hilariously off base. Particularly good for a chuckle was their guess that the half-blood prince was Felix Felicis and that Hogwarts has a graveyard that would play a key role in the narrative. Hopefully they got the release date for Goblet of Fire, November 18, right. Also in Pages is an article about historic author homes with all of the visitor information. Some of the authors included are Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, Carl Sandburg, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Kate Chopin and Jack London. In the August issue of The Writer there is a short mention about short story writer Bruce Holland Rogers. For $5 a year you can receive, by email, three short-short stories each month. The stories range in length from 500 to 1,500 words and are a mix of literary fiction, science fiction, fairy tales and mysteries. There are some free sample stories available for your perusal. He currently has 535 subscribers from around the world. And finally, not from a magazine, the ACLU has a blog to help you keep track of what's going on with the Patriot Act.

    Monday, July 25, 2005

    Don Quixote Musings

    I am quite behind schedule in my reading of Don Quixote. This week I should be reading chapters 41-45 but find that I am currently only on chapter 23. The proprietesses of Pages Turned and Bookworld are on the same reading schedule for this book as I am. Both have been suspiciously quiet on the matter of late. This could mean one of two things, either they are on schedule and have nothing to say about it, or are as woefully behind as I am and have nothing to say about it. Prior to the weekend I was even further behind than I am, but had a burst of enjoyable reading and want to make note of some of the bits I found particularly enjoyable. One of those bits would be in chapter 16 of part 2 where the wise Don Quixote discourses on the nature of poetry:

    Although poetry is less useful than pleasurable, it is not one of those that dishonors the one who knows it. Poetry, Senor, in my opinion, is like an innocent young maiden who is extremely beautiful, and whom many other maidens, who are the other fields of knowledge, are careful to enrich, polish, and adorn, and she must be served by all of them, and all of them must encourage her, but this maiden does not wish to be pawed or dragged through the streets or proclaimed at the corners of the squares or in the corners of palaces. Her alchemy is such that the person who knows how to treat her will turn her into purest gold of inestimable value; the man who has her must keep her within bounds and not allow her to turn to indecent satires or cruel sonnets; she should never be in the marketplace except in heroic poems, heartfelt tragedies, or joyful, witty comedies; she should not be allowed in the company of scoundrels or the ignorant mob incapable of knowing or appreciating the treasures that lie within her. And do not think, Senor, that when I say mob I mean only humble, plebeian people; for anyone who is ignorant, even a lord and prince, can and should be counted as one of the mob. And so the man who uses and treats poetry in the requisite ways that I have mentioned will be famous, and his name esteemed, in all the civilized nations of the world.
    This is one of DQ's sane moments. It is moments like these that confuse the people he meets. By his dress and exclamations of knight errantry he must be crazy. Then he'll say something like the above and put doubt into the minds of those who had judged him mad. People can't help but be drawn to him though. In chapter 19 he meets two students and two peasants on the rode traveling in the same direction. By DQ's manner and dress they are immediately curious, "both students and peasants experienced the same astonishment felt by all who saw Don Quixote for the first time, and they longed to know who this man might be who was so different from other men." You meet a man like DQ on the road and you know that he is a story waiting to happen. Then there is the ever chattering Sancho who sometimes manages to impress even DQ with his combination of proverbs, sermons heard in church and peasant sense and nonsense. The rest of the time DQ just wants Sancho to shut up. But Sancho, a man who would do Mrs. Malaprop proud, cannot help himself:
    "Damn you, Sancho where will you stop?" said Don Quixote. "When you begin to string together proverbs and stories, nobody can endure it but Judas himself, and may Judas himself take you. Tell me, you brute, what do you know of nails, or wheels, or anything else?" "Oh, well, if none of you understand me," responded Sancho, "it's no wonder my sayings are taken for nonsense. but it doesn't matter: I understand what I am saying, and I know there's not much foolishness in what said, but your grace is always sentencing what I say, and even what I do." "Censuring is what you should say," said Don Quixote, "and not sentencing, you corrupter of good language, may God confound you!" (chapter 19)
    It tickles my funnybone whenever Sancho gets his words wrong. The idea came to me a little way into part two that DQ can be seen as a precursor to the road novel. I'm not sure if this is true or not yet since the ending is still quite far away and I have only a vague notion of how it all comes out. In road novels the protagonist generally learns much about himself/herself and has some sort of epiphany at the end. Maybe DQ is more like a road movie, a bookish version of Thelma and Louise or Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. I've got some time to think about this one. While I can't say that I am worshipping at the altar of Don Quixote like it seems so many modern critics and writers do, I will say that I am entertained and not regretting spending my time reading it. Now if I can only get myself back on schedule so I can finish the book before the end of the year.

    Sunday, July 24, 2005

    Sunday Online Browsing

  • The NY Times reviews Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:
    the suspense generated by these books does not stem solely from the tension of wondering who will die next or how one or another mystery will be solved. It stems, as well, from Ms. Rowling's dexterity in creating a character-driven tale, a story in which a person's choices determine the map of his or her life -- a story that creates a hunger to know more about these people who have become so palpably real. We want to know more about Harry's parents -- how they met and married and died -- because that may tell us more about Harry's own yearnings and decisions. We want to know more about Dumbledore's desire to believe the best of everyone because that may shed light on whom he chooses to trust. We want to know more about the circumstances of Tom Riddle's birth because that may shed light on his decision to reinvent himself as Lord Voldemort. Indeed, the achievement of the Potter books is the same as that of the great classics of children's literature, from the Oz novels to ''The Lord of the Rings'': the creation of a richly imagined and utterly singular world, as detailed, as improbable and as mortal as our own.
    If you haven't read the book yet, I'd recommend not reading the review. While they are careful not to give anything away, the perceptive reader you are will connect the dots.
  • Alternet has a podcast available for a free download of George Lakoff's presentation at Tikkun's spiritual activism conference in Berkeley, CA.
  • August 1st begins the group read of the email novel Daughters of Freya in conjunction with The idea is to "create a shared interactive experience."
  • Jane Stevenson writes about her research for her forthcoming book on Latin women poets. Her work took her to the Vatican:
    Going inside the Vatican feels a bit like entering a high-security prison. The main structure, four cliff-like walls of dun-coloured stone, is built round a bleak quadrangle and pierced by an archway: the blank rows of windows stare down at a fountain basin which looks as if it has never in living memory been filled with water. The Vatican City is also the biggest men's club in the world, a place where it is made clear by every nuance of its inhabitants' body-language that to be female is to be both peculiar and negligible. It was therefore a very odd place to be looking for women, a joke that I never attempted to share with anyone within its sacred portals.
  • January Magazine interviews Jasper Fforde about his new book The Big Over Easy:
    Why divert to the "Nursery Crime" series? Why not another Thursday Next book? I can't do Thursday Next forever and a book a year is hard work. Look at The Well of Lost Plots . The density of ideas and concepts is very very tight. A book a year is very hard, so I thought: Let's have a break and move on to something else. You can get reader fatigue as well as writer fatigue. So I thought: Let's get a break and take something I've already written. As soon as I looked at [The Big Over Easy], I realized why it was not published when I wrote it in 1993, 1994. I'm returning to Thursday next year with another idea which I'm working on at the same time.
    Very happy to see that there should be a new Thursday Next book in a year or two.
  • The Christian Science Monitor has an article about Salman Rushdie and his new book, Shalimar the Clown. The book is being published in Brazil two months sooner than in any English speaking countries. Early reviews declare it is one of Rushide's best and even better than Midnight's Children. I read Midnight's Children not long after it came out and liked it very much. So this new book is something to look forward to.
  • Saturday, July 23, 2005

    An Emperor Should Die On His Feet

    Usually Montaigne's essays show how little things have changed. His short essay "Against Indolence" serves to reveal how much our time differs from his and the centuries before. In this essay Montaigne writes about two kinds of kings and princes, the kind that lead their troops in war and the kind who do not go into battle with their men but accept the honor and glory won by them. The essay begins with a short anecdote about Emperor Vespasian who, though mortally ill, refused to disengage from the running of his empire because he said, "'An Emperor should die on his feet.'" Montaigne takes this as a credo all leaders should have and suggests that "we ought often to remind kings of it to make them realize that the great charge entrusted to them is no idle one and that there is nothing which can make a subject more rightly lose his taste for exposing himself to trouble and danger in the service of his prince than to see him meanwhile indolently engaged in occupations base and frivolous, nor lose his concern for his protection than to see him indifferent to ours." A leader who engages in indolence "ought to blush with shame to claim a part in them [victories] for his own renown when he had contributed nothing to the task but his voice and his thinking--not even that, seeing that in tasks such as these the counsel and commands which bring men their glory are exclusively those which are given on the spot in the midst of the action." What a different world this might be if our kings, princes, prime ministers, and presidents fought on the front lines with the men and women they expect to be willing to give their lives for the cause, for the country. How can we expect these men and women to willingly give their lives when their own president would not? While a certain president frequently takes much needed breaks to go to his ranch and cut brush, those who have already served their term of duty are not being allowed to return home. How can one believe the sincerity of praise for those who are serving their country in the military when it comes from a certain president who shirked his military duty, who, in all probability, went AWOL? If we lived in a world that required our leaders to be first into the fray there would very likely be fewer frays to leap into. And the ones that did need to be fought would be, perhaps, much more carefully planned. It is easier to send someone else off to die on your behalf, eulogize their bravery and courage and claim it in honor of their country which then becomes the success and glory of the leadership--see what I have done as your leader? Maybe in these days of modern warfare it is too much to expect our leaders engage in the fighting themselves. But is it too much to ask that they, at the least, give the appearance of being concerned, of keeping on top of what is going on, of knowing, hour by hour what the situation is? Is it too much to ask of a president that he be informed in great detail by his commanders, that he stay up into the wee hours worrying and working instead of saying, in all seriousness, yeah, I've seen what's going on on the tv? Montaigne is right to be against indolence in leaders. Montaigne did not live in a democracy and so could do nothing but write his essay. I, however, do live in a democracy as do quite a few other people these days. I, we, do not need to be indolent like our leaders. We can do something. What is that something going to be? Next week's Montaigne essay: "On Riding 'In Post'" and "On Not Pretending To Be Ill"

    Used Book Shopping

    Today is shaping up to be hot and steamy. Nothing to do but stay indoors with a cold drink and a good book. I have plenty of good books around here and just added a few more yesterday from a trip to the used bookstore. I buy enough books at the regular bookstore you'd think I wouldn't need used ones too. But darn it, how can a girl say no to a book that only costs $5? I must have been in a travel mood yesterday because I picked up a copy of Bruce Chatwin's Songlines, about the songlines of aboriginal Australians, and Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel in which he ruminates on the reality versus the expectations of travel. I began reading this last one yesterday afternoon and am thus far enjoying it. I also picked up a copy of Roberto Calasso's Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. I've seen the novel there in the mythology section the last few visits to the store. I resisted it's lure until yesterday. And finally, a book to add my collection of historical books on witch hunting, Witch Hunters: Professional Prickers, Unwitchers and Witch Finders of the Renaissance. It's a slim book given it's contents, and appears to focus on a select few "professional" or famous witch hunters. I suspect I may find it lacking in depth and so end up disappointed, but I am still glad to give it a home in my collection.

    Thursday, July 21, 2005


    If you are a writer in the early to intermediate stages of your passion, Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird is for you. I checked this book out from the public library a number of years ago when I was feeling down about ever getting anywhere with my writing. Still having gotten nowhere but feeling much better about, it I decided to buy the book and read it again. I am glad I did. It is an inspiring little book. Lamott has a great sense of humor, laughs at herself and invites you to laugh along and take yourself a bit less seriously in the process. Instead of having exercises for practice and telling you what to do and what not to do, she writes about her own experiences and invites the reader to consider the qualities of good writing. Along the way she makes suggestions that might help a person get past roadblocks. If a person wants to write a novel, for instance, and is having difficulty because he is overwhelmed by the amount of writing required, Lamott suggests short assignments. Short assignments are exactly that, today I am going to describe the house my character lives in, or her relationship with her mother, or the time she and her best friend stayed up all night watching Humphrey Bogart movies. Lamott also encourages writers to give themselves permission to write "shitty first drafts" and to overthrow perfectionism, the "voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people." She also talks about how to know when a piece you have been writing is done, how to "listen to your broccoli," how to tune out the voices that tell you that you are worthless and wasting your time, and how to deal with jealousy when writer friends find success and you don't. She offers some wise words about publication too:

    Publication is not going to change your life or solve your problems. Publication will not make you more confident or more beautiful, and it will probably not make you rich.
    That doesn't mean you shouldn't try and publish, only not to expect to to be the next J.K. Rowling. I'll be keeping this book handy for the next time I need a little writing encouragement or pick me up.

    Wednesday, July 20, 2005

    Dead Author Websites

    The other day I was cruising around the internet and came upon, a site that has all things Chaucer. The site also has a link to for all your Virgil needs. These sites got me to thinking about what other dead author sites might be out there. I started googling random author names and found some pretty interesting stuff:

    Then I got tired. So if you know of any good dead author websites or interesting sites that use the names of dead authors, leave a comment with the url.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2005

    Real Life and Fiction

    I read the July 8th TLS commentary Elves on the Avon (scroll down the page) last night. Very good article especially if you are a Tolkein fan. It's about how the town of Warwick and it's surrounds had a big influence of Tolkein and how not many scholars pay attention to that because they are too busy looking at his time at Oxford. But as I was reading the essay and the arguments about how Anglo-Saxon Warwick was a model for Edoras, and a counter-argument about how some scholars try to say that some nearby barrows were the inspiration for the ones in Fellowship but the barrows that Tolkein actually used were someplace else, I got to thinking why does it matter? Why does it matter where the real life barrows are? Why does it matter if Warwick was a model for Edoras? What difference does this make to the understanding of the books? I don't see how it provides any insight into the work of literature. Sure, it gives a person a little glimpse into the mind of Tolkein--maybe (since he is no longer alive to either confirm or deny anything there is no certainty). What are people hoping to discover here? I mean, it's not like there is some great unsolved mystery in the books that such biographical and geographical delving will untangle. Nor is there any theme that will gain depth because of it. It therefore has the appearance of gossip, of celebrity hounding, of trying to be the first to find something shocking that no one else knew yet. Such delving into an author's life for clues to why he or she wrote this or that is not uncommon. And while a certain amount of biographical or geographical information can assist in understanding a work, on the whole it bugs me. I know quite a few people who think that a writer must have been molested or raped in order to write about a character who goes through it, otherwise how could they write a realistic story? Um, well, I will sometimes suggest, maybe the writer read other people's accounts and used her imagination? Nah, the other person will often insist, you can't imagine something like that. I got sucked into a lunch room conversation once about Stephen King. Now I work for a nonprofit social services agency that employees a good number of therapists (I am not a therapist, I work there pretending I know something about computers--only at a nonprofit can a person with a college degree in English Lit be promoted to database administrator and general computer "guru"). So I walked into the lunch room where several therapists were talking about books. Then one of them mentioned Stephen King and they all nodded and aahhed knowingly. Not being one to miss out on a bookish conversation I said that I liked King though there were some of his books I would never be able to read because they would give me nightmares (I'm a horror lightweight). One of the therapists then said that King must have had some kind of trauma as a child, some kind of abuse, in order to write the kinds of horror books he has and she'd love to get him into therapy so she could get that trauma out of him. Er, I said, I've read and heard King talking about his childhood and he says it was a happy childhood as far as childhoods go and that people ask him all the time what's wrong with him and he says he is perfectly fine. The therapist looked at me and suggested that King was either not telling the truth or repressing it. I couldn't think how to respond to that in a nice way, especially given that she admitted that she had never read King, only saw a few movies and heard about him. So I didn't say anything. Do people forget what writers of fiction do all day? They tell stories. They make stuff up. They use their imagination. Now I'm not saying that writers never use their own experiences, never are influenced by geography or the name of the street they grew up on. They are. Even Tolkein has commented on some of the things that inspired him while writing his books. But to comb through a piece of fiction and an author's life just to find how they correlate belittles both the imagination and skill of the writer and the resulting work. In a way it demands that a writer can or should only write from their own experience; it places a limitation on their work which, if followed, would leave literature poorer for it. We'd end up with nothing but thinly disguised autobiography and there's plenty of that already.

    Monday, July 18, 2005

    Around the Web

  • If you haven't done so already, be sure to read the article about (North) Vietnamese writer Duong Thu Huong. She is an amazing and brave woman. She is currently traveling in Europe, the first time she has been allowed to travel abroad in 11 years. She believes it is her duty to speak out against her government:
    Because I have a small reputation abroad, I have to say these things. I have to empty what is inside me to feel my conscience is clear. The people have lost the power to react, to reflect, to think. Perhaps I will give people courage.
    I read one of her books,Paradise of the Blind, several years ago. It is a harsh and disturbing book that I actually still think about from time to time.
  • An essay/review of the new revised edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. It sounds rather disappointing. I've got a copy of the 1984 edition I believe it is. It has all those line drawings and poems the reviewer talks about. Let me just say, those drawings are an education in themselves.
  • BookBark, a reader review website. The reviews aren't exactly insightful, but you can at least get an idea of what people are reading and the general opinion of it.
  • For literary and programming geeks, The Shakespeare Programming Language or SPL for short. Here is an example of a conditional statement:
    Juliet: Am I better than you? Hamlet: If so, let us proceed to scene III.
    I don't know anything about programming, but I give these guys a thumbs up for creativity.
  • I'll stop with the Harry Potter soon, I promise, but here is a Guardian article about the book's sales and here a blurb about US sales. My husband's store sold 1,900 copies over the weekend. At least eight people I talked to at work today were in the middle of reading it and several more were going to start it as soon as they were done working today. What fun!
  • Catching My Breath

    Now that the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince reading marathon is over I reluctantly return to the usual daily activities. Reading marathons are delightfully decadent, especially when your husband encourages, "Read, read!" He had his motives; he wasn't going to get to the book until I had finished. I did not start the book intending to finish it over the weekend. I thought I'd take my time and finish it tonight or tomorrow (yes, yes, "delusional" is the word for this). I didn't even start reading until Saturday afternoon. I took frequent, albeit short, breaks. I didn't stay up late. But Sunday came, hot and unbearably muggy. Nothing to do but read. And read. And read some more. I finished the book last night around 9:30 much to my pleasure and sadness. Now I have to wait a few years to find out what happens! I will not say anything about the story other than it is wonderful. J.K. Rowling is an amazing writer. She is a master at backstory, pacing and choosing just the right detail to illuminate a character or scene. Where did this woman learn to write so well? Now I get to impatiently wait for my husband to finish the book. It's going to be so hard not to ask him, "Did you get to the part where...?" I will be biting my tongue and urging him to "Read, read!"

    Saturday, July 16, 2005

    Nothing Pure

    I take a break from a lazy, way too hot to do anything else afternoon of reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to bring you Montaigne's essay " We Can Savour Nothing Pure." If you are a pessimistic or melancholy type, an Eeyore sort of person, then this essay is for you. Because of the "feebleness of our condition" as humans we can make use of "nothing in its natural unsophisticated purity." Of all the pleasures and things that we enjoy, there is not one that is not tainted in some way with some kind of evil or injury. A cheery thought! Perhaps because Montaigne is a man he thinks that the greatest pleasure is sex (sorry guys, sex is really great and all but it is not the greatest pleasure there is). But Montaigne mustn't have had very good sex because he thinks that it has "an air of groaning and lamentation." Since he was a sixteenth century gentleman I suppose there were all kinds of taboos and strictures surrounding sex. Even so, groaning and lamentation sounds a bit melodramatic to me. Maybe Montaigne had frequent mind-blowing sex but is just saying this to put the kibosh on the neighborhood gossip from the few times he forgot to close the windows. It's not just sex that is ruined by this duality. Montaigne insists, "Deep joy has more gravity than gaiety; the highest and fullest happiness, more calm than playfulness. Eases crushes us." Montaigne suffered from bouts of melancholy from time to time and it appears he must have been suffering through one when he wrote this. Yes, deep joy does have more gravity than gaiety and full happiness is calm but this is not a bad thing. The gravity of the joy and the calm of happiness comes from the depth of emotion and permeates a person's entire being so that they glow. There is a brief moment when you think that everything is perfect and that if you died just now you would die as the happiest person in the world. Deep joy and full happiness comes less often than gaiety which is light and airy as is playfulness. Both babble like a small stream or tinkle like a wind chime. They give us fond memories to talk about with friends over coffee. While there may be no pure pleasure for Montaigne, there is no pure pain either. Not much of a consolation if you ask me. Pleasure and pain are not the only things that lack purity. Everything does. Montainge even insists that justice cannot exist without injustice. There are people who have greater clarity than others and who therefore can experience things more purely. But, Montainge believes, it is best to not be one of these people because they are not suited for anything. The best people for getting things done are those who do not think too much. Because they do not think too much, they can make decisions faster since they do not spend quantities of time weighing consequences and looking at the problem from every possible angle, "He who seeks out all the circumstances and grasps their consequences impedes his choice." I think Montaigne has this one wrong. I think we can experience and savor things with purity. Granted it doesn't happen often, but I think it happens. And as for people who are thoughtful in making decisions, we have far too few of those in the world. Perhaps if more people spent more time thinking then there would be more moments of purity for everyone. Next week's Montaigne essay: "Against Indolence"

    Midnight Madness

    The big Harry Potter party at my husband's bookstore went off quite well last night, or should I say this morning? He estimates that he had close to 2,000 people in his store. Everyone enjoyed themselves immensely and the kid that had spent the night Thursday to be first to get his bracelet got to be first in line to purchase his book and he was quite pleased. My tired husband didn't get home until 2:30 this morning and then had to get back up a few hours later to be back to work at 7. The store doesn't open until 9 but he had such a long line outside by 8 that he opened early in spite of the store still being a big mess. He expects to be home around noon, with our copy of Harry Potter in hand. While he snoozes away the afternoon I will be reading. It continues to be so hot and humid here that I won't even need to feel guilty for doing nothing else.

    Friday, July 15, 2005

    So It Begins

    My husband arrived at his bookstore a little before 7 this morning to find a young man, about 18 or 19, sitting on the sidewalk by the front door. He had been there since 11:45 the night before and had kept himself awake by drinking copius amounts of Mountain Dew. I don't even want to think about what he did when Nature called. He told my husband that he had spent the night there because he wanted to be first in line to get a numbered bracelet for tonight. He had to wait until 9 when the store opened to get his bracelet, but he was at the head of a line of 150 people. People are worried they will not get a book. My husband's store has around 2,000 copies of the book to sell. He's sure everyone will get a book since at the last Harry Potter party they sold 800. The local news reported this morning that someone offered a bookseller in Stillwater, a town not far from here, $100 dollars to sell him the book early. No dice. The man left empty handed and will have to return at midnight like everyone else. And all this over a book. It brings a smile to my face every time.

    Thursday, July 14, 2005

    Thoughts and Jots

    Got stuck late at work today. Why do these things always happen before a planned mental health day off? Is it just to remind me why I'm taking the day off tomorrow? But that's done with now. I came home to a little box on my porch. I finally got the t-shirt and mug I ordered from CafePress. They look great. I am quite pleased. The shipping is slow though. From the time I got my "your order has shipped" email to the time it arrived was about 10 days. I was beginning to worry that it had gotten lost or something. My husband took all the rolled and most of the unrolled posters back to work today. He has enlisted staff to roll a few when they can. Between what he had already done before I joined in the fun and what we did together, we made it through about 500. Certainly not a world poster rolling record, but not too shabby either. And I only got one paper cut. As a consequence of the posters I didn't get to do any reading last night. I have been planning on an evening devoted to Don Quixote. It's been about two weeks since I even opened the book. So much for the five chapters a week. But reading in general this week has been minimal and I'm starting to feel jittery and deprived. I feel confident though that with my extra day off tomorrow I will manage to fill up on books. I did get to read a few TLS articles. I'm still quite behind in getting through them. There was a great commentary piece from the June 24th issue on Ismail Kadare (full article not available online, to see the partial article, scroll down, it's about third or fourth on the page) . He's been getting lots of press since he won the International Man Booker Prize, which I think is great. I haven't read anything of his but his book Palace of Dreams has been on my used bookstore shopping list for over a year. Either folks in the Twin Cities don't read him or if they do they don't get rid of his books because I have not seen one title of his in my browsing. After reading the TLS article though I am going to make a bigger effort to get a copy of one of his many books. Failing that, I will ransack my public library. The TLS article made an interesting observation about Kadare's books. They have all been translated into English from the French translation of the Albanian. That they have held up even through that is a testament to the quality of the writing. I hope there is enough of an of an audience in English now that a new translation might be undertaken. Now, as we all contemplate the weekend, and I my mental health day, I leave you with this.

    Wednesday, July 13, 2005

    Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'

    Counting down to Harry Potter. My Bookman has been working for the last month and a half to plan the Harry Potter party at his book store Friday night. The books arrived yesterday and were crammed into a storage room and the door locked. Nothing like what happened in Canada will happen at my Bookman's store. What I want to know is, how could the booksellers ringing up those books not know what they were doing? Have they been sleeping under a rock? So my husband's store is giving out free posters to the people who go to the party. The posters were of course sent to his store flat. The upper echelons of management have decided that the posters need to be rolled up. Guess what my beloved has been doing on his day off today? I got to go home from work early today and so have been helping him roll. About ten minutes into watching The Two Towers, He'd already made it through Fellowship of the Ring, I asked, "Shouldn't we be watch Harry Potter while we're doing this?" "Yeah, we should," he laughed. I looked at him, he looked at me, "nah" we decided. The Lord of the Rings movies are much better than Harry Potter. This is just a short break before we return to rolling. There are 1,000 posters. We've got maybe three hundred done. Good thing the party isn't until Friday night.

    Tuesday, July 12, 2005

    The Flame is Extinguished

    I've been attempting to gather my thoughts on Eco's book The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana but have not been successful.  It is a great read, don't get me wrong, but it as book that has quite a bit of depth.  That's one of the things I like about it.   The premise of the book is easy: the main character, Yambo, has a stroke and wakes up in the hospital to discover that he can remember absolutely nothing about his personal life but all kinds of things about books.  As the doctor tells him, he has lost his emotional memory.  What that means is he can remember how to do things like talk and brush his teeth, he can remember books he has read (since he is an antiquarian book dealer by trade, books are what his memory is now).  There's a catch though, if a book he read had any emotional significance, became part of his life in some way, he can't remember it.  He also doesn't remember his name or his childhood, his wife or his daughters or the numerous affairs that he had. His wife, a psychiatrist, is strangely calm and unworried about it.  She is all understanding and helpfulness.   Once Yambo returns home he has to relearn how to navigate ever day life.  He goes on walks and meets people who know him well, even a former lover, but he has no recollection of them and plays it as best he can.  He goes back to work and seeing his beautiful young assistant, Sibilla, tickles his pylorus.  Yambo worries what their relationship was.  Were they having an affair?  He becomes afraid to go to work and begins to feel trapped.  His good wife sends him off to spend some time in the country at Solara, the family home that belonged once to his grandfather and now belongs to Yambo.  Nobody has lived or visited Solara in a long time, but it has been ably kept by Amalia, long time faithful family servant.    Here is where the story really begins as Yambo searches the contents of his childhood bedroom, his grandfather's study, the attic and a secret room.  He reads everything, trying to recover who he is and who he was.  His pylorus is continually tickled by a mysterious flame but he is unable to recall anything.  He reads his grade school composition books, comic books, and childhood novels. He reads newspapers and listens to records. Finally he realizes that it is getting him nowhere, that even reading everything that he read as a child was not going to reveal to him himself.   Yambo's time at Solara is the bulk of the book and poses some interesting questions and thoughts.  Even if Yambo could perfectly reconstruct his childhood reading, reading everything in order, the only thing he would gain was an understanding of the kinds of books he found fun to read.  Books it turns out are more than just words on paper.  In reading a book we bring to that book our life experience up to that point.  We bring our life as it happens while reading the book.  We carry the memory of other books we have read with us into the present book.    At first I thought how cool it would be to be able to read some of my favorite books again as if for the first time.  To feel that initial joy and delight of discovery upon reading Charlotte's Web or To Kill a Mockingbird or Great Expectations. But, as all readers know, the book might be the same but we are never the same. I might find that I don't like those favorite books at all, might find myself pondering, "what was I thinking? Was I crazy?"  How disappointing would that be?   And so the horror of Yambo's situation has been slowly creeping under my skin.  Yambo was pretty much doomed to failure from the beginning.  Even as he read his past his present moved forward.  Even if I can't remember reading Green Eggs and Ham when I was a child I cannot now reproduce what it was like reading it when I was five. I can enjoy the rhymes and silliness but it will never reveal to me who I was so long ago. Eco plays with the idea of what books can and cannot do, plays with what memory is and isn't, plays with past and present, and plays with identity and being. It is fun to watch him play. Along the way I learned quite a few new words, learned a thing or two about Italian history during WWII, and learned about quite a few comic book stories. Which brings me to Queen Loana herself. She doesn't appear until a little over halfway through the book. She is a comic book character who story is quite similar to H. Rider Haggard's She. I have not read She Bookman brought it home a few months ago and then I read a thorough summary of it, I can't remember where, not long after. So without having read the book I know the story and the story of the comic book Queen Loana brought it to mind. Loana disappears soon after she arrives in the story but comes back later for a finale appearance. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is not a blockbuster book. Nor is it a riveting page turner. It is, however, an enjoyable and thought-provoking read well worth your time. If you read Queen Loana be sure to stop by the annotation project wiki. The contributors have managed to annotate up through chapter 11 thus far and also include links to reviews of the book and Eco interviews. And check out this Eco lecture from two years ago that Andy at Molsekine Modality provided along with some very interesting comments about books as hypertext.

    Monday, July 11, 2005

    Reading for a Monday Evening

  • I like haiku but I'm not sure I like it enough to read Modern Haiku, a serious journal devoted to the study of haiku.
  • Jared Diamond, who has a geeky sort of Uncle Sam look about him, is getting around these days. PBS is doing a series on Diamond's Pulitzer Prize winning book Guns, Germs, and Steel. He's also on the interview circuit for his latest book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, not to mention the reviews here, here and here for example. I haven't read either book but they sound interesting, terrifyingly apocalyptic sort of like the rash of books several years ago about the coming world-wide epidemic of a horrible contagious disease. It also sounds like the books are filled with lots of stuff for liberals to throw at Republicans which would explain why he's getting so much play in the liberal press. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, I consider myself a liberal, but people, did you not read Lakoff's book Don't Think of an Elephant? Heck I haven't even read it and I get what he's talking about. It's about the story not the facts.
  • In case you haven't read it already, be sure to read Ruth Franklin's NY Times essay which takes on the fantasy reading life that is Levenger. I must admit though that I am a Levenger catalog drooler and have even made purchases from them. I love their page points and their bottled ink is good stuff as is the Parker Sonnet fountain pen I bought from them many years ago. Franklin, however, makes some very good points.
  • Ready for the SAT

    I finished The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana last night. While I gather my thoughts for a coherent post about it, here are a few more words that sent me to the dictionary:

  • yataghan. A sword without a guard and typically with a double-curved blade. "His hero, Des Esseintes, comes from a long line of grim, muscular warriors with yataghan mustaches."
  • oriflamme. A scarlet banner or knight's standard. "And once again, her skirt, the oriflamme of her hair--but seen, as always, from the back."
  • madrepore. A stony coral of the genus Madrepora. "Still assuming that I am an individual, and human, and not a madrepore of linked beans."
  • byssus. A fine textile fiber and fabric of flax. "And it was given her to wear a splendid, wholesome byssus, whose splendor shall be like to priceless gems."
  • I haven't had to look up so many words while reading a book in quite some time. It was fun. Next time I feel like I need to add some words to my vocabulary I will read an Eco book.

    Sunday, July 10, 2005

    Reading Chaise

    Kamir Lounging I am not the only one who enjoys the comfort of lounging on the reading chaise.

    More Vocabulary from Eco

    I've been reading Eco and have a slew of new words:

  • peplos. A rich outer shawl or robe worn by women in ancient Greece. "But Gemmy, like every cartoon heroine, was dressed in a soft tunic, a sort of peplos that bared her shoulders and arms and part of her bosom."
  • callipygian. Having well-shaped buttocks. "Her gown clung damply to her body, clearly revealing her callipygian curves, and the entire shapely length of her legs."
  • oneiric. Of or related to dreams or dreaming. "For me, that album must have been, more than a material object, a receptacle of oneiric images." (I've come across this one before but couldn't remember what it meant)
  • plantigrade. Of a mammal walking on the soles of the feet like a human or a bear. "By this point, for both Ada and myself, our beloved plantigrade was a painful sight" (in reference to a stuffed bear).
  • alopecia. Partial or complete absence of hair from areas of the body where is usually grows, baldness. And impetigo. A contagious bacterial skin infection forming pustules and yellow, crusty sores. "Bruno, two cat eyes, pointy teeth, and mouse-gray hair with two bare spots, as if from alopecia or impetigo."
  • deuteragonist The person second in importance to the protagonist in a drama. "A deuteragonist in that little drama, I had a moment of doubt." (I'm sort of embarrassed for not knowing this literary term).
  • proglottidean From proglottid, each segment in the strobila of a tapeworm containing a complete, sexually mature reproductive system. "My memory is proglottidean, like the tapeworm, but unlike the tapeworm it has no head, it wanders in a maze, and any point may be the beginning or the end of its journey." (It's been a long time since high school biology)
  • The challenge again becomes how to use these words in every day conversation. I'm most likely to succeed with oneiric and callipygian I think. People are going to start asking me if I have one of those word-a-day calendars or something. No, nothing as banal and quotidian as that. Umberto Eco is better than word-a-day any day.

    Saturday, July 09, 2005

    Religious Tolerance and Montaigne

    Other than from a historical perspective, Montaigne's essay "On Freedom of Conscience" isn't all that interesting. Freedom of conscience in Montaigne's time meant freedom of worship, a big deal considering the Catholics and the Protestants were big into killing one another not to mention all of the little sects that sprang up. In his essay Montaigne tries his hand at religious tolerance. He points out that before Catholicism was backed by law and the state "zeal provided many with weapons to use against all sorts of pagan books, causing the learned public to suffer staggering losses. I reckon that this inordinate zeal caused more harm to literature than all the fires started by the Barbarians." Barbarians--did I say he was trying? He goes on to write about Emperor Julian the Apostate, so named for having "abandoned" Catholicism. Julian was a sometimes harsh but just ruler according to Montaigne. He never prosecuted anyone on the basis of religion. In fact, he "commanded that every person, without let or fear, should follow his own religion." Montaigne is suspicious as to why he did this, however, instead of forcing everyone to be pagans. In giving everyone freedom of religion, Montaigne suspected that Julian was hoping that so many divisions and schisms would occur that people would not be able to unite and resist his rule. Since Julian had not the strength to crush the Christians, he would let them defeat themselves. Montaigne, a devout Catholic who fought in the War of Religion, obviously does not believe in freedom of conscience even though he appreciates justice. It is unfortunate that someone so liberal in so many other ways could not see his way clear on this one. Far from weakening religions, I think freedom to worship has only strengthened them especially when combined with state endorsement. It is a sad thing that even in the 21st century we are still fighting Wars of Religion. Why do we have to see each other as a religion--Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Pagan, etc.? Why can't we just see each other as people first? A Million dollar question to be sure. Next week's Montaigne essay: "We Can Savour Nothing Pure"

    Book Hangover

    My Bookman and I attended the 15th Annual Twin Cities Book Fair last night. It is held in one of the buidings at the State Fair Grounds in St. Paul. They say the building is air conditioned, but I beg to differ on that. It was hot and sweaty in there. The vendors who had fans blowing in their booths got longer browsing than the ones without. I've seen the place more crowded but there were a good many people. The fair is competing with the Computer Expo, the Golf Expo and the Basilica Block Party. So it was only the truly book nerdy who were in attendance. And what an interesting bunch we are too. You can tell by our social manners, or lack thereof, and our out of style dress that many of us don't get out much. I am surprised every year by the lack of women at the fair. There are only a handful of women vendors and most of them deal in children's books and ephemera. And the number of women browsers is also disconcerting. Do women not like to browse for used and antiquarian books? It is very strange. I have a bit of book browser's neck from tilting it to the side to read titles. I also didn't think to take any allergy medicine before going and within ten minutes of being there my eyes were dry and scratchy and my nose a little runny so I am suffering the after affects of that as well. Nonetheless we had a great time. Virginia Woolf first editions have begun showing up again, but their prices have increased significantly. Before Michael Cunningham's The Hours Woolf-iana was everywhere at the fair and usually for around $100. Of course back then that was beyond my budget. Woolf disappeared for a while and this year there was quite a lot. But of course the really good stuff is now double what it was and is once again out of my price range. I did walk out with a complete six volume set in hard cover of Woolf's letters. They are not firsts but they are in good condition and I have only two paperback volumes at home so it was a find. The fair has an over abundance of modern firsts. If you have managed to buy Stephen King in hard cover as they were published you are sitting on a gold mine. Signed firsts by popular mystery writers are also going for a premium. I drooled over a signed Robert Frost book. Considered a first edition book by Helen Keller. And almost bought up a bunch of Trollope paperbacks for $2.50 each. But not having read Trollope and only having the desire to do so I thought it best to hold off until I read something from the library and confirm whether of not I like him. I saw quite a lot of Evelyn Waugh and P.G. Wodehouse all for over $100. And when I pulled a worn and dingy travel book by Edith Wharton off a shelf to take a peak I choked when I saw the asking price of $250. Some day if I win the lottery I will be a great collector of old books. But until then I will happily browse and consider it good fortune to leave with not quite firsts or not quite the best but books that are finds for me and that I will enjoy reading and spending time with.

    Thursday, July 07, 2005

    Television Versus Reading

    I'm quite behind on reading the TLS. It doesn't help that I usually get it a week after it is published in the UK and sometimes not for two weeks after depending on the vagaries of the mail. So it happens on occasion that I will be caught up and then it doesn't arrive until two weeks later when I get two of them in the mail and then a third a few days after that. So I find myself reading the edition from June 17th which came the same day last week as the one from June 24th and now I got the one from July 1st today. I complained once to my sister about how they arrive "late" and she told me that she didn't know what I was so upset about because it was only book reviews and as far she knows those don't expire and generally aren't time sensitive. She had a point, but still. All that to explain why I am just getting to the review about three books on happiness. The books sound interesting but what caught my attention was this:

    With happiness as with food, what is and feels good in the short run is not always what is good over time. Consider television, which is to happiness what McDonald’s is to slenderness. People enjoy television for many reasons, and even infants will turn to its rapidly changing colourful images as a plant does to the sun. In excess, television promotes passivity and anxiety, filling time that people might otherwise spend on activities that are intrinsically satisfying and create a sense of competence. Yet, given a choice, many people choose television and other narcotic pleasures that dull the mind and quell its restless search for meaning over activities that, in their complexity and challenge, offer the real promise of satisfaction.
    Television takes away quite a bit of time from our lives and we don't seem to mind much. Well, most don't seem to mind. I mind and try to make it a point to watch very little tv. I probably watch about 3 hours of tv a week on average and it bothers me that I watch that much. It cuts in to my reading time. Quite a few years ago just before my husband and I moved from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, we got rid of our tv. It was a huge console monster that my husband's parents had given us before they left LA for Las Vegas. We off loaded it onto my parents. After we arrived in Minneapolis it was a year before we decided to buy a tv so we could rent movie videos. That year I read more than I ever have in any year where I kept track. I haven't been able to duplicate it since. So why is it that I feel compelled to watch television at all? In some respects I feel like it keeps me connected to other people. When I can go to work and talk to coworkers about who won on Dancing with the Stars last night it gives us a common ground. If I try to solicit conversation about Umberto Eco's latest novel I guarantee I'll get mostly blank stares, Umberto who? So in that context watching tv actually promotes happiness because it gives me something to chat with coworkers about. That's just an excuse really. There are other times when the tv is on because it is there and it is easy. It takes no effort to watch television. But even though reading makes me happy, the tv still wins and I will sit and scowl my way through some pointless sitcom or reality show. Like the reviewer writes, in spite of television not making us happy even when given a choice most choose the tv. The tv makes no demands and after a long tiring day at work meeting other people's demands and then coming home only to be faced with demands from family, the tv is a breather. Or it seems like one. I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this or what point if any I am trying to make. The passage in the review really got my attention for some reason. Not all tv is bad but I think most of it is. And if it is escape that is wanted I think books are better than the television any day. Now, how to convince more people of that? And next time I turn on the tv instead of picking up a book, how do I remind myself to turn off the "idiot box"?

    Of Interest

  • The Village Voice has an interview with Eco about his book, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. I don't usually think of books as being hypertextual, but Eco does:
    In the Eco-ian universe, books aren't merely stand-alone islands to be traversed in linear fashion; they are nodes in an exponentially expanding extranet. To read one book, you sometimes have to pass through several others, accumulating countless references and subtexts along the way. "We've been reading books in a hypertextual way ever since Homer," Eco says. "We read a page and then we jump, especially when we're rereading it. Think of the Bible. When people read it, they're always jumping here and there, constantly connecting various quotations."
    I am about halfway through Mysterious Flame and have not come upon any more new vocabulary words. Nor has Queen Loana made an appearance. And Yambo's pylorus has not been very active lately. There is, however, an illustration from a story about Yambo, the real fictional character Eco's fictional protagonist is nicknamed for, and Yambo has a very large quiff. It sticks out straight and is very large. Yambo must have had access to some good hair products to keep his quiff so well tamed.
  • Nobody cares about the shoes, it's the naked celebrites people are buying the book for.
  • Wednesday, July 06, 2005

    It's Okay!

    My lap top is okay. It's all better now, no data lost and it's humming along as it should. Thanks to my fabulous husband who spent three hours at the Apple Store and to the staff at the Mall of America Apple Store Genius bar. You are geniuses! So I don't have a day of panic attacks again, this girl now has an external hard drive onto which she will back up her computer every week. I got the message from the Tech Gods loud and clear, next time I might not be so lucky. Sighs of relief all around. And some links too because they are easy and I am still too keyed up to think about writing anything.

  • A review of a new book called Coffee: A Dark History by Antony Wild. The reviewer says the writing is rather mediocre but it sounds like it has some interesting information in it nonetheless. And I do love coffee so. Not as much as Voltaire, however, who reportedly drank between 50 and 72 cups of coffee a day while writing Candide. I don't know how he managed not to kill himself with that much caffeine. I can have a cup in the morning any more than that and I have a horrible headache all day. I am able on occasion to have half a cup in the afternoon or if I am planning on being up late, in the evening. Anything more than that and I feel ill. It is probably all for the best, but oh, the stuff smells and tastes so good!
  • Get out you knitting needles! The Doctor Who scarf can be yours! I think I might just have to make one of these. One can never have too many scarves in Minnesota.
  • Tolkein fans, I give you The Encyclopedia of Arda.
  • This has been out for a week, but I couldn't resist, Shakespeare in the Park. From the article: "Shakespeare in the Park is a benediction for intellectual daytrippers—an attempt to convince us that a few hours spent sweating in Central Park is culture earned the hard way." Zing!
  • Worried

    I'm posting this from work because my laptop had a bit of a breakdown this morning. Ted at Apple Support tried to help me get things back up but to no avail. My dearly beloved who has the day off today has spent all morning at the Apple Store trying to get it fixed. They did manage to back up all the data on it, thank the tech gods. They tried running the Apple utilities and when that didn't work they tried Disk Warrior. Now the latest update is that they are reinstalling the entire operating system. Swell. I will probably be spending the next several days trying to get everything back to the way it was before the problem which they don't even know what it is. They do know it isn't my hard drive or a virus or any other nasty malware. I'm not sure if I should be relieved about that or not. Up until this morning my trusty computer has had nary a problem for over four years. Oh bother! Send good computer thoughts my way if you have any to spare!

    Tuesday, July 05, 2005

    A Few Entertaining Links, Sometimes Bookish

  • In the taking political-correctness-a-little-too-far category, is this bit on changing the usage of "brainstorming" to "thought showers" so as not to offend people with "brain disorders" also known as epilepsy. (via Mind Hacks)
  • Completely not book related but I couldn't resist this news article about the Russian astrologer suing NASA for smashing the space probe into the comet and ruining "the natural balance of forces in the universe" along with her horoscope.
  • Language is a Virus, a website sure to keep you busy for hours. (via 43 Folders)
  • How Do You Like Your Eggs?

    It was with much anticipation I opened the cover to Jasper Fforde's latest, The Big Over Easy. Fforde has taken a break from the Thursday Next books to focus on nursery crimes starring Detective Jack Spratt and his assistant Mary Mary. The story takes place in a world where the best detectives solve crimes for Amazing Crime Stories serialization and police work is rated not on how well the work was done but on what the detective's Amazing Crimes ranking is. Jack has been working in the Nursery Crimes Division in Reading for 20 years. The story begins with Jack failing to win a conviction of the Three Little Pigs for murdering Mr. Wolff. As a result the always underfunded and understaffed NCD is on the verge of being closed and Jack a hair's breadth away from early retirement. Mary Mary, hoping to get a job working with Detective Inspector Chymes who is handsome and dashing and rated second in Amazing Crime Stories, transfers to Reading from Basingstoke. She is quickly disappointed by being assigned to Spratt. On Mary's first day she and Spratt are called out to Grimm's Road where they find Humperdinck Jehosaphat Aloysius Stuyvesant van Dumpty shattered into little pieces in the backyard of Mother Hubbard's boarding house. It looks like a cut and dry case of suicide until the forensic report comes back and shows that he was shot. The murder investigation begins. The book moves along at a good pace with lots of quirky characters and jokes on nearly every page. Most are funny but sometimes it felt like Fforde was trying a little too hard. When it's going well there are great lines like "At that moment a cloud of cold germs loosely held together in the shape of a human being walked in through the door." When it isn't going well be prepared for some groaners. Beside the main story line there are several side stories like the giant beanstalk sprouting in Jack's mother's garden and the titan Prometheus putting the moves on Jack's daughter Pandora. It's a big jumble that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't but it all gets wrapped up nicely in the end. All in all I'd say The Big Over Easy was an enjoyable read, not fantastic, but entertaining no-brainer reading. And, according to the end page of the book, we can expect another Jack Spratt investigation, The Fourth Bear next summer. I'd prefer Thursday, but will make do.

    Monday, July 04, 2005

    Holiday Bookstore Browsing

    I just returned from an afternoon of bookstore browsing. My Bookman has to work today so I went and visited and he was kind enough to buy me a yummy mocha. I did not go in search of but wandered instead, something I don't do all that often. But it paid off. I found a book I'd been hoping to get sometime as a gift for my husband and since his birthday is at the end of the month, well, it had to come home with me. I also got a copy of Rita Dove's latest, American Smooth to add to the poetry shelf. She's been taking ballroom dance lessons and several of the poems are about dancing and from the poem I read, "Rumba" and the few other snippets I eyed, it will be a treat. The cover, however is a little creepy, a bit Angel of Death-like. I might have to take the jacket off while I read it so I don't end up having bad dreams about it. I also sat and drooled over a book called The Most Beautiful Libraries of the World. The book group them together by country so all the British ones were together, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, American, etc. Surprisingly the German libraries were the most ornate. Others, like the Vatican library, are clearly meant for looking and not for reading. The British and American libraries were quite a contrast to all the others. They were clearly meant to be used as is evidenced by the sea of reading tables at the New York Public and the Library of Congress and the reading nooks and worn wood floors in the Trinity library. Some of the libraries made me want to get lost in them, others I could only picture myself standing in the middle with my mouth hanging open in wonder. I had to leave the book behind though. I couldn't justify the $50 price tag. Though I see it can be had online for less. If you see it at your local bookstore or library be sure to spend some time looking through it and imagining walking through the stacks. I hope everyone who gets a holiday today is enjoying it. I'm enjoying the day away from work. There will be no fireworks for me tonight though. I'll be staying in with the windows shut and the air conditioner on in an attempt to keep the noise from upsetting the dog. It wouldn't be so bad if ex-governor Ventura didn't have to go and make them legal. Now all the kids in the neighborhood have them. The cat doesn't seem to care. He is more bothered by the frantically barking dog. He'll puff up in a corner somewhere and glare daggers at the oblivious dog, or hide himself under a chair and not come out until it's all over. The joys of the Fourth of July.

    Sunday, July 03, 2005

    Sunday Online Reading

  • The Times has an interview with John Irving about his new book and about finding his father's family. Irving's books always seem to be a combination of dark humor and anguish. His new one sounds like it will be no exception. Though after reading the interview I wonder how meeting his half-siblings and learning about his biological father will affect his writing? Will his next book be vastly different because of it?
  • Feeling like the erotic fiction you've been trying to write is a little flaccid? Maybe you need to get away to a creative writing workshop in Nova Scotia where you can spend September 2nd-4th with Mitzi Szereto author of Erotic Fairy Tales: A Romp Through the Classics and Wicked: Sexy Tales of Legendary Lovers among others. Your writing will be bursting with excitement in no time.
  • Take a quiz based on the book Dog Sense by Kathy Santo to find out just how alike you and your dog are. While my dog and I came out even on several qualities, we are vastly different on a few key ones. Thank goodness because I just don't see myself as a human cocker spaniel. He's sweet and all but he's a rather simple pooch of very little brain.
  • A.S.Byatt, a woman whose array of knowledge astounds me and whose fiction delights, reviews The Stuff of Life, a new exhibition at the National Gallery.
  • Doris Lessing has a new novel. But it sounds like I will have to get around to reading Mara and Dann first as this new book is a sort of sequel. Must. Read. Faster.
  • Saturday, July 02, 2005

    Quite a Good Scholar

    Montaigne's essay "On Presumption" is highly entertaining. The initial purpose of the essay is to examine "another kind of 'glory': the over-high opinion we conceive of our own worth." Montaigne does not a wish a person to underestimate herself, only that she should "perceive whatever truth presents." It is also not inappropriate that we should have some "characteristics and propensities" that are just part of who we are, a sort of quirk like Julius Caesar who had the habit of scratching his head with his finger or Cicero wrinkling his nose. These are all fine. The glory Montaigne is against is vainglory, the tendency to rate oneself too high and others too low. It is here that the essay takes a turn to the amusing. As if to prove that he is not vainglorious, the remaining 20 pages of the essay are a catalog and discussion of what Montaigne sees has his own faults. He begins by explaining that he holds his own possessions, though of equal worth to his neighbor's, to be lesser in value because they are his. He marvels at other men's self assurance and confidence because he has none. Montaigne asserts that he has clear and balanced insight until he attempts to write poetry: "I have a boundless love for it; I know my way well through other men's works; but when I set my own hand to it I am truly like a child: I find myself unbearable. You may play the fool anywhere else but not in poetry." He then goes on to tell the story of Dionysius the Elder, a bad poet but good at marketing. He sent gold awnings and tapestried tents to the Olympic Games where he was to read. The crowd waited for a great performance only to be so disappointed they tore all of his tents and awnings to pieces. He sent his men and remaining equipment home by ship which got caught in a storm and was wrecked on the rocks. All of his men died and everyone said that it was "the wrath of the gods, as angry as they were over that bad piece of poetry." Not only does Montaigne write bad poetry, but he cannot find joy and satisfaction in his writing. He is never fully satisfied because it never turn out the way he envisioned it. He claims he must "sacrifice to the Graces to gain their favors," but when it comes down to it "the Graces are always deserting me." And if it comes to telling stories, "the best tale in the world withers in my hand and loses its sparkle." When it comes to beauty Montaigne wins no prizes either. He lists all of his physical faults concluding with the worst of all--he's short. If a man is short he can have beautiful eyes and skin, a fine nose and straight white teeth but it won't do any good. Stature is everything and Montaigne does not have it. And to top that off he lacks in physical skills and abilities, singing, dancing, tennis, swimming, fencing, even his handwriting is so atrocious he can barely read what he has written. Montaigne consoles himself over his shortcomings by at least being "quite a good scholar." Other things Montaigne claims to be bad at: keeping his estate accounts, giving orders, making decisions, lying (which is not a bad thing except he's not even good at white lies). He is also bad at sums, has sluggish and blunt wits, can't tell one kind of grain from another and has a hard time naming the vegetables in his garden. But most worrying of all is his bad memory. It is so bad that friends will quote to him from his own essays and he will not recognize it. It is distressing but, he says, "the more I mistrust my memory, the more confused it gets; it serves me best when I take it by surprise." At first I thought Montaigne couldn't be serious in his discussion of his faults, but the more I read the more I realized that he is indeed serious. The point of his catalog is to show that he has no vainglory, but also to make fun of people who do. Because if Montaigne who had a good reputation, was mayor of his city, fought in the war of religion and was a known scholar could have all these faults then lesser men who made boasts about themselves are shown up as being hot air. Montaigne delights in bringing Man, who has such a high opinion of himself, low. He admits it near the beginning of this essay as says, "Philosophy never seems to me to have a better hand to play than when she battles against presumption and our vanity." Because Montaigne readily admits his "shame" as he calls it, he comes off looking better than those who make themselves out to be more than they are. Montaigne does manage to admit to a few good qualities. He has good sense. He is steady and constant, affable and frank. He has faith and a conscience. Qualities, he claims, that in his century are not particularly well thought of. Nonetheless he tries to look on the positive side of things: "It is a good thing to be born in a century which is deeply depraved, for by comparison with others you are reckoned virtuous on the cheap. Nowadays if you have merely murdered your father and committed sacrilege you are an honest honourable man." He could writing about our century as much as his own. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On Freedom of Conscience"

    Friday, July 01, 2005

    Logo Fun

    Thanks to everyone for all of the nice comments about the logo. I have set up a store at CafePress if you feel inclined to get yourself a t-shirt. If you don't like the designs let me know and I can change them. The prices are set by CafePress, I'd give the shirts away if I could.