Monday, October 31, 2005

Personal Essay Class, Week Seven

Tonight I am abandoning my husband to the hordes of trick-or-treaters and our dog who goes crazy every time the doorbell rings. The cat, in cat fashion, couldn't care less, but will be in hiding to avoid the maniac dog. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, but class calls. The sacrifices required of writers! Ha! This week we read three essays that were supposed to illustrate "meandering form." The essays were all wonderful, Natalia Ginzburg's "He and I" about the conflicting personality traits of her and her husband, M.F.K. Fisher's "Once a Tramp, Always..." about cravings, and Virginia Woolf's "Street Haunting" about walking the streets of London with the excuse of going to buy a pencil. We were then supposed to write our own meandering essay nugget. I must say this is the most fun assignment so far. Perhaps the meandering essay is more my style, or maybe it has to do with the fact that my meandering brought me to writing about reading and books. Since it ended up being about books I think I will post it here. I have some formating changes to make and some template changes so I don't have to display the whole long thing on the page. If time allows I will get it up today, otherwise, look for it tomorrow. Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Shameless Promotion

This is a shameless promotion post. My dearly beloved is finally trying his hand at blogging. He is planning on reading all of Shakespeare's plays over the course of a year. He's not on the plays yet, but he has begun with a bit of a warm-up and is reading A Year in the Life of Shakespeare: 1599. Oh yeah, his blog: My Year of Shakespeare

A Lesson Proper to Our Own Times

I usually do the Montaigne thing on Saturday but raking the leaves and doing a bit of winter preparations in the garden left me too tired to think. So it is that Montaigne spills into Sunday. I don't know why Montaigne continues to amaze me with his relevance. Maybe it's because I'd like to think that humans have evolved somewhat since the supposedly more brutal days of the Renaissance. But I am beginning to realize that while our technology has evolved, humans have not. We are, essentially, still the same; we've just gotten better at hiding that fact. In Montaigne's essay "On the Useful and the Honourable" he examines the clash between public and private interest from a moral perspective. In Montaigne's time "useful" included notions of what is profitable to the individual or the state and in every sort of public and private interest. At times the state demands we give up our private interests as well as our personal integrity because it deems an action useful. However, "we wrongly adduce the honour and beauty of an activity from its usefulness, and our conclusion is wrong if we reckon that all are bound to perform it, and that it is honourable for each to do so, provided it be useful." Even the Law can be wrong and place a person in a difficult situation, "some vices are legal, just as some deeds are good or pardonable yet illegal." One may find one's personal integrity compromised by venerating and supporting the Law under which "many vicious deeds are done not merely with Law's permission but at its instigation." Montaigne reminds us that "not all things are legitimate to a man of honour at the service of his king or the cause of the commonwealth and its laws. The claims of our country are not paramount over all other duties: it is good for it to have citizens who are dutiful to their kindred." Montaigne recognizes that sometimes the public interest requires "men to betray, to tell lies and to massacre," but he says, "let us assign that commission to such as are more obedient and more pliant." There can usually be found those who are willing to "sacrifice their honour and their consciences...for the well-being of their country." But while this may be necessary, Montaigne asserts that "each of us ought to have sworn to himself the oath which the kings of Egypt made their judges solemnly swear: that as judges they would never stray from their conscience for any command which even they their kings might give." Still, there are plenty who stray because humans are diseased with passion, ambition, jealousy, envy, and vengeance. But those who engage in politics and perpetrate acts of betrayal because they deem it useful for themselves had better be careful, "there are cases when the very one who ordered the deed has exacted rigorous revenge on the man whom he employed to do it, disclaiming to have had such authority and power and disowning so abandoned a servility and so cowardly an obedience." I think of Oliver North and Iran-Contra. I think of Scooter Libby. I wonder if Mr. Libby is wishing he hadn't followed through on his boss's idea to leak Valerie Plame's name? I wonder if he still thinks that he'll be protected, that strings will be pulled, that he won't be found guilty and go to jail? Or, I wonder if he is beginning to see the wagons circling but not for him? Is he starting to understand that "apart from the baseness of such commissions, there is the prostitution of your conscience" that must be dealt with? Montaigne writes:

There you have a lesson proper to our own times. It is enough that the ironplate of our armour should give us calloused shoulders: there is no need to allow it to make our minds callous as well; it is enough to plunge our pens in ink without plunging them in blood.
Next week's Montaigne essay: "On Three Kinds of Social Intercourse"

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Book Give Aways are Catchy

At the risk of knocking myself out of the competition, Quillhill is giving away John Gardner's The Art of Fiction.

When Books and Life Meet

My Bookman and I began listening to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the other day. Last night we got to chapter 5, "Turkish Delight" in which Edmond meets the White Queen/Witch and eats enough Turkish delight to kill a moose. So? You may be wondering. Well, up until this last Thursday we had no idea what Turkish delight was until we visited Holy Land Grocery and Deli. We've been buying their hummus and pita bread from our food co-op for years and just discovered Zater (thyme) bread. The co-op is frequently out of the zater bread so we decided to go to the source. We ended up going a little crazy. Not only did we get a huge bag of whole wheat pita, some organic hummus, a tub of baba ghannouj and two bags with four each pieces of zater bread, we also found some mango chutney and some sort of garlic pickle relish. There was also a large display of Turkish delight. On impulse, we brought home a box. Our Turkish delight is very sweet, fruity and rather chewy, though I gather that the really good stuff is softer. But it is yummy. Imagine then, our surprise when we reached "Turkish Delight" in Narnia. Of course, we paused the CD and ran to the kitchen. Once we each had a piece of Turkish delight in hand we returned to the story. As Edmund stupidly ate his candy, we ate ours too. While we weren't enchanted by the White Queen, we were, nonetheless, enchanted.

Friday, October 28, 2005

A List of Great Reads

Inspired by Danielle and challenged by Ella all because of that darn Times List, and because I am a sucker for a list anyway, here in all it's glory, is my list of thumping good fiction reads:

A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O'Connor Bartleby the Scrivener, Herman Melville Brave New World, Aldous Huxley Charlotte's Web, E.B. White Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Frankenstein, Mary Shelley Great Expectations, Charles Dickens Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad House of Mirth, Edith Wharton If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkein Lost Horizon, James Hilton Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf 1984, George Orwell Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck On the Beach, Nevil Shute Parable of the Sower, Octavia E. Butler Persuasion, Jane Austen Possession, A.S. Byatt Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen Silas Marner, George Eliot Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein Surfacing, Margaret Atwood The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrued Stein The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison The Color Purple, Alice Walker The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams The Hotel New Hampshire, John Irving The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway The Phoenix Legacy, M.K. Wren The Stranger, Albert Camus The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee Too Loud a Solitude, Bohumil Hrabal Watership Down, Richard Adams Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Feeling Used

A trip to the used bookstore has added some new finds to the shelves, only one of which I was actually looking for.

  • Moo Pak by Gabriel Josipovici. Sandra got me excited about this book and it turns out that here in the States it is out of print. My library didn't even have it. I have been looking for it for a few months now and suddenly, there is was on the shelf. I snapped it up along with Touch. There was also a copy of In a Hotel Garden but I left it there since it is still in print.
  • Borges on Wrting. The book is a record of the 1971 seminars Borges presided over at Columbia University.
  • There were lots of novels by Peter Ackroyd on the shelf and it was hard to keep myself from grabbing them all, but I limited myself to one, English Music. What made me choose this one was the description on the back cover that mentions one of the characters has visions of Dickens.
  • And finally, a like-new copy of The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer. I read is story "Gimpel the Fool" several years ago and it made me cry. I figure I am sufficiently recovered to read a few more stories.
  • Wednesday, October 26, 2005

    And the Winner Is...

    Molly! Please email me (wellred2 at earthlink dot net) your address Molly, and I will put The Writer's Voice in the mail to you. Thanks for all of the book suggestions everyone and thanks for playing. I think I'm going to have to do this again sometime. Now I'm off for a day of fun with my husband to celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary. I got married when I was very young. Here are a few links to keep you busy:

  • Those darn free radicals they are even destroying precious archives. But there might be a way to neutralize them.
  • The GooglePrint saga continues. Now there are some authors who think it's a good thing. This is starting to feel rather like a tennis match.
  • Get yours now! The Official Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide. Who knew there was any strategy involved?But maybe if you study hard enough, you can go to next year's World Championship
  • Tuesday, October 25, 2005

    Give Away!

    I've been wanting to have a give away for a long time but didn't have anything to offer. Now I do! I have a new, unread copy of The Writer's Voice by A. Alvarez. I had a copy on my shelf that I already read and my husband just found a copy he'd gotten and stashed away to give me. For all you book condition nuts, this book is nearly perfect. It is hardbound, no bent pages and only a little tiny dent on the dust jacket on the spine. If you need more information about the book, check out The Harvard Review and The Guardian. I am going to assume there will be more than one of you reading this who would like to receive this book in the mail. So I'm going to draw a name. To get your name entered into the drawing, leave a comment and include the title of a good book you've read recently. I'll draw tomorrow morning and post the winner's name. You do not have to live in the United States to play. Good luck!

    Monday, October 24, 2005

    Personal Essay Class, Week Six

    For tonight's class we were to read two essays, "The Knife" by Richard Selzer and "Late Victorians" by Richard Rodriguez. I found "The Knife" to be disturbing and not just because it is a surgeon's perspective on wielding a scalpel. There are some poetic moments in this essay, beautiful descriptions of organs "It [the liver] laps over the pink sweep of the stomach, from whose lower border the gauzy omentum is draped, and through which veil one sees, sinuous, slow as just-fed snakes, the indolent coils of the intestine." In spite of the beautiful language, however, I could not help but feel ultimately violated. Knives do violate, knives are aggressive, but in this essay which moves between the "I" of Selzer's personal biography and the the third-person perspective of the knife, the knife and the hand that holds the knife is clearly male. This wouldn't be so disturbing if the one being cut was not at times so decidely female, "Deeper still, and the womb is touched, then held like a small muscular bottle--the womb and its earlike appendages, the ovaries. How they do nestle in the cup of a man's hand, thier power dormant. They are frailty itself." And then toward the end of the essay, "The flesh splits with its own kind of moan. It is like the penetration of rape." This essay made me feel sick and dirty and left me hoping that I will never ever have to subject myself to surgery especially by a surgeon the likes of Selzer. "Late Victorians" was very different. Rodriguez is a gay man in San Francisco and the essay is about the Victorian house renaissance that gay men helped to start. He examines why it is that gay men decorate themselves and their homes, "Feminists, with whom I include lesbians--such was the inclusiveness of the feminist movement--were preoccupied with career, with escape from the house in order to create a sexually democratic city. Homosexual men sought to reclaim the house, the house that traditionally had been the reward for heterosexuality, with all its selfless taks and burdens." An interesting perspective I never really thought about. Just that idea alone has so many nuances and so many potential points of contention and room for exploration. While I wanted to stab Selzer with his own knife, I'd love to sit down and chat away an afternoon with Rodriguez. I am looking forward to hearing what the others in class thought of these essays. The writing assignment that went along with the reading this week was to write about an object or image dear to you and from which you could draw multiple meanings. I wrote about a basketball hoop which to me means enjoyment, desire, gender discrimination, parental betrayal and loss of innocence.

    Sunday, October 23, 2005

    The Clarissa Report

    It seems I am getting into a groove of reading Clarissa on weekends only. Perhaps that is because the book is so mammoth and on weekends I feel I have time to be pinned down by it. Whatever the reason, it continues to be delightful. Clairssa has now been confined to her room for refusing to marry Mr. Solmes. Her maid has been dismissed and she is forced to put up with her sister's personal maid, Betty Barnes. What a wonderful name! Contracts have been drawn up for the marriage and patterns have been ordered for Clarissa's bridal ensemble. The root of Clarissa's problem is her steadfast adherence to her own integrity. No matter how much she wants to obey her parents, she will not compromise herself. The more her parents urge her to compromise her integrity, the more stubborn she becomes. She knows that if she gives in and marries Mr. Solmes her entire life will have been compromised. Every day with the man will be a day in which she could not be true to herself. What is surprising me most about this book is how feminist it is. I did not expect it. Lovelace and now Mr. Solmes have not been Clarissa's only suitors, there have been several and she has turned them all down. She insists that all she wants to do is live an independent life, not tied to a husband. Clarissa's dear friend and clandestine correspondent Anna Howe agrees. In one of her letters Anna writes:

    Upon my word, I most heartily despise that sex! I wish they would let fathers and mothers alone; teasing them to tease us with their golden promises, and protestations, and settlements, and the rest of their ostentatious nonsense. How charmingly might you and I live together and despise them all!--But to be cajoled, wire-drawn, and ensnared, like silly birds, into a state of bondage or vile subordination: to be courted as princesses for a few weeks, in order to be treated as slaves for the rest of our lives--Indeed, my dear, as you say of Solmes, I cannot endure them!
    Is this not a risky idea for Richardson to put forth? Or did he write it from the perspective that the girls were being coy and that once married they would settle down? To me it appears to be written in all sincerity without satire or parody. These girls do not intend to settle down with a man. They are smart women and know how to run an estate of their own. As much as I would like to think mine a valid reading, I am having difficulty trusting it given the time period and gender of the author. It's almost too good to be true.

    Saturday, October 22, 2005

    On Gallstones and Doctors

    Slowly, slowly I wend my way through Montaigne. I have spent so much time with him that I might go through withdrawal when it's all over. To help forestall that I have The Cambridge Companion to Montaigne to look forward to after the final essay. I also have Emerson's Representative Men which includes Montaigne. Sadly, I have yet to find a biography. If anyone knows of one please leave the title in the comments. Montaigne's essay, "On the Resemblance of Children to Their Fathers" is the final essay in Book Two of the Complete Essays. Books One and Two were published (I think) in 1580. The third book was not added until 1588. In this essay Montaigne muses on his gallstones and his dislike of doctors. Montaigne's father died of the stone, a long painful death that affected Montaigne deeply. He was worried that he would get gallstones too and die a similar death. A quick web search on gallstones didn't turn up anything to indicate it is an inheritable disease, but Montaigne did end up with them and had several episodes of painful colic paroxysms by the time he wrote this essay. There is no surefire way to prevent gallstones, but the sites I looked at all suggest a low-fat, high-fiber diet full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and a limited amount of animal fat. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying that Montaigne very likely followed no such diet. In this essay we find Montaigne suffering from what he most feared. The time would be right for him to follow his philosophical belief in suicide and do himself in before he goes into to steep decline. But he finds it is easier to philosophize such an end than to actually do it:

    But my declarations were in vain, I was so far from being ready to go then that even now, after about eighteen months in this distasteful state, I have already learnt how to get used to it. I have made a compact with this colical style of life; I can find sources of hope and consolation in it. So many men have grown besotted with their wretched existence that no circumstances are too harsh, provided that they can cling on.
    Still, in the pain of his illness, he finds a bright side, "whatever I had failed to do to make myself familiar with death and reconciled to it that illness will do for me: for the more closely it presses upon me and importunes me the less reason I shall have to be afraid to die." Just as Montaigne assumes he got the stone from his father, he turns to musing about his dislike of doctors and decides that he got that from his father too. The men in his family appear to live relatively long and healthy lives, his father dying at 74, his grandfather at 69 and his great-grandfather at 80 all without the aid of doctors. Montaigne is educated enough that he knows what medicine means for the 1580s. He quips:
    But doctors are lucky according to Nicocles: the sun shines on their successes and the earth hides their failures; on top of that they have a way of turning anything which happens to their own advantage: medicine claims the right to take credit for every improvement or cure brought about by Fortune, Nature or any other external cause (and the number is infinite)...And when anything untoward happens they either disclaim responsibility altogether or else blame it on the patient, finding reasons so vacuous that they need never fear they will ever run out of them: 'he bared his arm': 'he heard the noise of a coach'...'he has let painful thoughts run through his head'.
    Montaigne suggests that doctors started off right with mysterious and awesome teachings and making gods and daemons the authors of their doctrines. But they didn't stick with it. If doctors really want people to need them and use them then they "need to make their assemblies more religious and their deliberations more secret: no profane layman ought to have access to them." These days we are all about making medical information available. Heck, prescription drugs are advertised on television! It's all supposedly part of being an informed consumer. I am with Montaigne and do not like doctors either. I am, gratefully, rarely sick. If I am I usually tough it out unless I know it's a sinus infection which I have had my fair share of. I only see a doctor if it is bad. From my experience, doctors do not like it when you tell them what is wrong with you and what kind of drugs they need to give you so that you can be well again. Even though Montaigne does not like the medical arts, he nonetheless submitted to them from time to time. He even went so far as to tour the spas and take in the waters. He found actually drinking the water distasteful, but bathing was pretty okay, even enjoyable and good for him though not in the way it was supposed to be:
    I reckon that bathing in general is salubrious and I believe that our health has suffered several quite serious inconveniences since we lost the habit (which was formerly observed by virtually all peoples and still by many) of washing our bodies every day; I can only think that we are all the worse for having our limbs encrusted and our pores blocked up with filth.
    Indeed. A daily hot shower does more than wash away dirt in my opinion. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On the Useful and the Honourable"

    Friday, October 21, 2005

    Influential Intellectuals

    A few weeks ago Foreign Policy published a list of the top 100 most influential intellectuals. There were lots of holes on that list. So James Tata has come up with his own list. Lists, as he comments, are silly, but they are also interesting. I think they say more about the people that make them than the people who are on them. Maybe it's a California connection, maybe it's a literary connection, but I like James' list better. But of course it has already inspired controversy as lists do. I thouhgt about who I would like to see on the list and I can say that it is not as easy as you might think. I too wanted more women on the original list and quickly stalled out over women and anyone not from the United States or Europe. The sticking point is the influential part. It is, unfortunately, still very much a man's world. I would consider adding Arundhati Roy, Barbara Ehrenreich, Wislawa Szymborska, and Jane Goodall. But then that's where I stalled. I think James came up with a pretty comprehensive list. He even included visual artists. The only visual artists I could think of are dead. So you give it a try. Who would you add to the list? Who would you remove?

    Thursday, October 20, 2005

    Exploring Narnia

    Somehow my husband and I both missed the Narnia books when we were kids. Now with the Disney movie of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe coming out in December, we thought it was high time we availed ourselves of the books. In order to share them more easily, we got them on CD. We just finished listening to The Magician's Nephew read by Kenneth Branagh who, while a fantastic actor, is not much of a book reader. I know The Magician's Nephew was not originally the first book in the series, that is was written after the other books. And while I now feel like I am prepared for the next book because I know how the wardrobe became magical, I sort of feel like we should have skipped this one. I didn't like it all that much. I liked the cabbie who became king of Narnia, and I like the horse who became Fletch. And certainly Uncle Andrew being planted by the animals was very amusing. But overall I found it to be a rather blah book. Disappointing. So now that we are going to begin listening to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, instead of being excited about it like I was when we started the first book, I am feeling reluctant. I don't want to be disappointed again. I'm worried because the books are supposed to be so magical and wonderful. So I'm thinking, is there something wrong with me? Am I an old fuddy-duddy?

    Wednesday, October 19, 2005

    News of Possible Interest

  • Everybody is jumping on the sue Google bandwagon. Now the Association of American Publishers is claiming that Google Print infringes on copyrights. Oy. We Americans, we love to litigate.
  • Zadie Smith's latest, On Beauty, is going to be made into a movie
  • Julian Roach's Top Ten Books on Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • Some of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's papers were destroyed by a fire
  • Sandra heard Iain Sinclair read last night and has made me add him to me reading list. She also made me drool over her description of the LRB bookshop. Must win $340 million Powerball drawing tonight so I can go on a book shopping spree and build something palatial to keep them all in.
  • Maud Newton has some marginalia links including information about H.J. Jackson's latest book. If you haven't read Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books, get thee to your bookstore or library! It's a great read and is almost--almost--enough to make those who think writing in books is a crime change their minds. I'm glad there is a new book, and I also see Jackson has edited a volume of Coleridge's marginalia. He apparently wrote such interesting things in books that friends would give him their books to read and write in.
  • Tuesday, October 18, 2005

    Striving to be the Best

    The Underdog by Joshua Davis is an amusing book. Imagine a 129 pound vegetarian from San Francisco, glasses, rather dorky looking. He's the kind of guy that the muscle men kick sand on at the beach in the dubious magazine ads that offer miracle muscle pills. Now imagine Davis at the World Arm Wrestling Championships. Competitors are broken up into weight classes. Davis didn't win a single match but still managed to be ranked 20th in the world in his weight class (there were only 21 competitors and the 21st person did not show up). Or, imagine him as a matador. Or better yet, a sumo wrestler facing off against a 530 pound man. He had a better chance competing in the Golden Shrimp, a race in which you run backward for two miles. But he was used to running forwards and his calves almost didn't get him to the finish line. He eventually infects his family with the weird competition bug and they find themselves taking a family vacation to Finland where they participate in the World Sauna Championship. The rules were simple, the one who stays in the sauna the longest wins. But the temperature is 220 degrees fahrenheit and the steam boils on the skin. The family lost and Davis ended up with first degree burns, but oddly, it brought them closer together. The competitions all started as an attempt to be the best at something. Davis's quest takes him to Poland and Spain, India and Italy and of course, Finland. He never quite manages to be the best but he always tries his best. He takes it all seriously, never mocks anyone but himself. We meet some very interesting characters along the way, people who are the best at arm wrestling, running backward, boiling in a sauna. But lest you think that the book is all fun and games, Davis throws out an insight or two every now and then, a way of looking at things that you may never have considered before. Toward the end of the book he writes

    I've come to believe that America truly is the land of opportunity, just maybe not the opportunities we expected. Since World War II, we've lived in a broadcast world, where ever larger and more pervasive marketing campaigns have tried to convince us that we all like the same things. Ours is a hit-driven culture. In a world with only a few major national media outlets, there's only room for a few rock stars, sports stars, and celebrities. The result is that we've had a limited number of heroes.
    His point being that there are lots of heroes and potential heroes out there; there are lots of people who are the best at something--bar stool racing, pie eating, you name it. There is room for everyone to be the best at something, just maybe not the something you expected.

    When Moments Converge

    I had a confluence of moments last night when I got in my car after my essay class. There were only twelve of us in class last night and the teacher made all of us read what we had written about our various experiences with race even if it wasn't done. Several people were quite surprised as they didn't have anything prepared or had just scrawled a few paragraphs and had not planned on reading it to the class. The idea of the assignment was the concept of risk, writing about something that is uncomfortable or that might make you look bad. And so the teacher didn't want just a few people to read and have the rest of the class passing judgment. It was a great idea. And while some wrote better than others, everyone had written honestly. When I got in my car and turned on NPR, I caught the last 15 minutes of an interview with Zadie Smith. At that moment she was talking about being of mixed race. She talked about a lot of other things too. She is definitely a thoughtful and interesting person.

    Monday, October 17, 2005

    Personal Essay Class, Week Five

    For class tonight we were assigned James Baldwin's essay "Notes of a Native Son." I have not read this lengthy essay before and now am wondering how I managed to miss it. It is a powerful essay in which Baldwin examines his relationship with his father, racism and what it can do to a person. It is not a happy essay. Early on he writes, "He had lived and died in an intolerable bitterness of spirit and it frightened me, as we drove him to the graveyard through those unquiet, ruined streets, to see how powerful and overflowing this bitterness could be and to realize that this bitterness now was mine." But over the course of the essay in which Baldwin realizes just how much his father had protected him from the world while he grew up, he comes to the conclusion:

    This was his legacy: nothing is ever escaped. That bleakly memorable morning I hated the unbelievable streets and the Negroes and the whites who had, equally, made them that way. But I knew that it was folly, as my father would have said, this bitterness was folly. It was necessary to hold on to the things that mattered. The dead man mattered, the new life mattered; blackness and whiteness did not matter; to believe that they did was to acquiesce in one's own destruction. Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated and this was an immutable law.
    Wow. If you are looking to read the entire essay, you can probably find it excerpted numerous places, but you can also read it in Baldwin's essay collection Notes of a Native Son. The writing assignment to go along with this essay was to write about a personal experience of race. Writing short essays for class has been really easy. What I am finding is not easy is reading them aloud for the first time after I have finished them. With every essay I have done so far when I read it to my husband at some point during the reading I burst into tears. I am always surprised by the emotion that comes up. Thank goodness I have managed not to cry in class. Last week a woman in class did start crying. The essay she read was about caring for her aging parents and how, even as a woman in her 50s, she still just wanted to be their little girl. She sobbed her way through it, her raw emotion more affecting than the actual essay itself. The teacher suggested that those difficult emotions is one reason why people read personal essays. We also discussed how much time to allow to pass between an event and the writing about it. The teacher said some writers want to examine it immediately, to catch the experience while it is still raw. Other writers have a five year rule. Personally, I don't know about a five year rule, but I am definitely in the camp of letting time pass a bit. I'm beginning to better understand Wordsworth's idea of "emotion recollected in tranquility." But even then there is no guarantee the emotion will have no effect on you. Still, it is easier to look at and understand when it is recalled. The sharp edge is gone, but there are oh so m any facets that were not visible when it was immediately felt. So off I go to class tonight. It is number five out of twelve.

    Sunday, October 16, 2005

    Digging Out from Distress

    Thanks to my Bookman, I now know who Montaigne's greatest of the great, Epaminondas is. I also feel better in regards to my reading distress of the other day. I have decided to make a plan and although every one of my reading plans fell through in the past and this one probably will too, it will have served its purpose. I made five columns on a piece of paper. Above each column I wrote a heading, Classic, Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry, Free Choice. I placed all the books I am currently reading in their respective columns and below them I listed what book will follow it and so on. I did not list anything in the Free Choice column because, in theory, that will allow me spontaneity. I feel pretty good about it at the moment. The test will be when I finish one of the books I am in the middle of. Last night's reading in bed pleasure went to Clarissa. What fun this book continues to be. In last night's letters I learned the true motivations behind the maliciousness of Clarissa's brother and sister. The Harlowe family is very rich. Clarissa's grandfather died and left her his estate in his will. Clarissa's brother was outraged. He being the only grandson had expected the estate to go to him. But Clarissa actually loved her grandfather and he loved her and in return for her devotion willed her his estate. To pacify everyone Clarissa, instead of becoming independent, gave the estate into her father's hands to manage and remained at home. But then Lovelace came into the picture, saw how lovely Clarissa was, and switched his affections from from her sister to her. Lovelace's family began negotiations with the Harlowe family. The Harlowe's saw advantage in the union of two such rich families. And between the estates promised to Lovelace by his family, Clarissa's estate and the promise of her two bachelor uncles to will her their estates too, Lovelace would be able to become a peer and Clarissa a peeress. Meanwhile, Arabella, Clarissa's sister is still in love with Lovelace and thinks Clarissa stole him from her on purpose. So she gladly combines forces with their brother who is about to lose a big chunk of the fortune he considered his. Together they press the family into backing off from the Lovelace union and negotiate a union between Clarissa and Mr. Solmes. Mr. Solmes is odious to Clarissa not just because he is ugly. She found out that in the negotiations he promised to not give any piece of his estate to any of the members of his own family. Clarissa would come to the marriage with her estate and they would be very well off. However, if Clarissa died her estate goes back to the Harlowes. And if Mr. Solmes died without an heir, his entire estate would go to the Harlowe family. If Clarissa refuses to marry Mr. Solmes, her family will litigate and take away the estate willed to her by her grandfather. Clarissa finds herself in quite a pickle. She didn't want to marry Lovelace and she cannot marry Mr. Solmes. She insists that she doesn't want to marry anyone and will gladly move to her estate and she and her companion Mrs. Norton will live there alone. But no one wants an independent woman, too much of a loose canon. The family refuses and demands her obedience, she must do her duty. There I left Clarissa, in tears and begging her dear mamma to take her side. Delicious!

    Saturday, October 15, 2005

    In Praise of Great Men

    In "On the Most Excellent of Men" Montaigne writes about three men who "excel all others." Montaigne begins with Homer a man with whom he is "struck by wonder that he, who by his authority created so many gods and made them honoured in this world, has not himself been deified." Homer is the master of all schools and his books "a seed-bed for every kind of knowledge." Aristotle says of him that "his words alone have properties of movement and of action: they are the only words which are endowed with substance." And Plutarch declares that Home is the "only author in the world who has never sated his readers nor grown insipid to them, since he ever seems different to them, ever blossoming into new graces." It is fortunate then that Homer only wrote two books and didn't live to make it a trilogy. Some authors just can't seem to stop. But Montaigne is right, Homer is very much a foundation. And even though it is rare that people actually read the Iliad and the Odyssey, the stories permeate western culture and are continually reworked and re-examined in fiction, poetry and movies. Montainge's second great man is Alexander the Great. Even as Montaigne praises his virtues--justice, temperance, liberality, self-discipline--he acknowledges his faults--boastful, impatient, a murderer--he feels Alexander's life as a whole is venerable. He was even greater than Caesar. Montaigne admits that he had to think long and hard about it, but in the end had to come down on the side of Alexander. The third great man, and the man Montaigne considers the greatest, is Epaminondas. I have no idea who this guy is, but the Greeks of his time unanimously named him the first man among them. He was a Pythagorean philosopher and Montaigne thinks him even better than Socrates. What Montaigne appreciates most is Epaminondas' integrity which was "constant, equable, incorruptible." The world could use more people like him. It is curious though that in spite of Montaigne thinking Epaminondas so fantastic, I don't recall Montaigne ever mentioning the guy prior to this essay. I'll just put this one in the "things to make you go hmmm" category and move on. Next week's Montaigne essay is the conclusion to Book 2 and promises to be a bit more interesting: "On the Resemblance of Children to Their Fathers"

    From Around

  • In These Times has an article on Lynd Ward who is recognized as the founder of the graphic novel. I had never heard of him before but the article makes me want to find out more. Here's an excerpt:
    Recent years have restored Ward’s reputation, turning him into a patron saint of illustrators and graphic novelists. Ward’s admirers include Will Eisner, who has credited Ward for establishing a “historical precedent for modern graphic storytelling,” and Eric Drooker, whose 1992 work Flood!, helped usher graphic novels into the mainstream of American literature. But Lynd Ward’s work was never really lost: A young Allen Ginsberg pulled Gods’ Man from his family’s bookshelf, and in 1955 transformed the book’s images into his epic Howl. Even when Ward himself was silenced, his images continued to speak a thousand words
    Grr. I just checked my library and while they have copies of Ward's adult fiction, none of it is currently available for checkout. I'll sure be glad when the new central library is done. They put all of the books that don't get borrowed often in storage. It's pretty sad that I've had to start a list of books to request in May 2006 after the new library opens, assuming, of course, that I will be able to get them then.
  • e-paper is the hot thing right now. It sounds like it will get used first in ads and magazines. Sure it's cool, but I can't help but worry about the waste of resources that goes into the making of it, and what about disposal? Paper magazines can at least be recycled, but what about e-paper? And what kind of longevity will something like that have? Both for the collector and in the landfills?
  • Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg denied an emergency appeal by the ALA to lift a gag order related to the FBI's request for internet records under the Patriot Act.
  • Entries are now being accepted for the "Blooker Prize". I am trying to suppress the urge to run screaming from the room right now.
  • Thursday, October 13, 2005

    All Over the Place

    I feel like my reading has been really scattered of late, maybe even over the last few months. I am not getting to the books I have been wanting to read, it seems I just grab whatever is closest or what I feel in the mood for. It is beginning to distress me. Maybe I need a plan. But the thought of a plan distresses me too, makes me worry I won't be able to read anything on a whim. Oy, what to do? Currently I am reading Clarissa, so far it's quite fun. I am still reading Anthropology of an American Girl. I had high hopes for this book but we are not clicking. I am 160 pages into it and I keep waiting to get sucked in. It doesn't seem like I am going to but at this point I don't feel like I can quit either so it makes picking up the book that much harder. I started reading Italo Calvino's Six Memos for the Next Millennium and stopped in the middle of the first lecture. It's good and I planned on picking it up again right away but haven't managed to. Then there is a book of short stories, The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas. I'm not a short story fan but am so far enjoying these. And finally, I'm 3/4 of the way through a silly but fun nonfiction book called The Underdog. It's about a guy who tries all kinds of non-mainstream sports like arm wrestling and running backwards. He's a 130 pound vegetarian. So far I thought the chapter on sumo wrestling was the most amusing. And the tbr pile keeps growing and the holidays will be here before I know it and there will be more books on the pile. It's maddening!

    Tag, I'm It

    Sylvia has tagged me with a meme in which I am supposed to reveal five of my idiosyncratic characteristics. Only five? Here they are:

    1. I like tomato products--tomato sauce, ketchup, etc, and love tomato soup, but I cannot eat a whole tomato or anything that has tomato chunks in it.
    2. I am terrified of needles. It has nothing to do with blood, it's the needle in particular when someone is getting stuck with it. This time of year when the news starts talking about flu and they show people getting flu shots, I have to look away. Shots make me dizzy and sick even when it isn't me getting one. And don't even think about making me watch someone getting acupuncture!
    3. I hate shoes. I would spend my life barefoot if I could. I love to walk barefoot on a cold sidewalk in spring.
    4. When buying a new book, I have to examine every single copy of it in the bookstore. I scrutinize the minutest scratch or nick on the cover, looking for the most perfect copy there. If by some chance all of the copies are equally as good, then I will never buy the book that was sitting on top of the pile or first in the row. I always choose from the middle.
    5. I love shoveling my sidewalk in the winter. I don't like the backache which sometimes follows, but I love the motion involved in shoveling snow. I love the sound of the shovel scrapping the sidewalk. I love that it is a task that is done well or badly and the results are immediately known. I get a weird sense of accomplishment when I'm done.
    Now I'd like to invite Claire and Iliana. Of course everyone else is welcome to play too!

    Wednesday, October 12, 2005

    A Visual Novel

    One of the best things about having a husband who manages a bookstore is that sometimes he brings home a book or particular excitingness. In this case, it is The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger author of The Time Traveler's Wife. Her new book is very different. It is a novel in pictures. The story is of three sisters, Bettine who is the youngest and prettiest, Ohile who is the eldest and smartest, and Clothilde who is in the middle and the most talented. All is fine until the lighthouse keeper's son, Paris, arrives on the scene. There is a lovely print of Paris choosing one of the three sisters that has mythological echoes (including apples). After Paris makes his choice sibling rivalry, jealousy and grief follow. It is a curious and sad story beautifully told. The images are aquatints, made with zinc plates and acid. Niffenegger explains the process at the end of the book. She began making the aquatints thirteen years ago. She began writing the story when she was fourteen. Three Incestuous Sisters was originally a handmade edition of ten. Oh to have one of those ten. But I am glad Abrams produced it in a hardbound book for the rest of us.

    Some Links

    A couple things of note recently on Future Tense, a feature on Public Radio. One from October 5th, Got a Book in you? (they do not have permalinks so scroll down the page or check the October archives) about print on demand publishing. You can now get anything you write published by Lulu. By the looks of their index people are publishing like crazy. In fiction and literature alone there are 5981 books listed. Is this a good thing? Who reads, or is going to read all those books when there are so many books published each year by the commercial publishers? And on Future Tense on October 4th was The virtue of slowing down, a talk with Carl Honore author of In Praise of Slowness. His book is on my reading list. I think it will have to be moved up. I feel a visit to the library coming on. In more recent news, the National Book Award Finalists have been announced (here is another version of the announcement) and once again I have not read any of them. Why don't they ever pick the books I have read? Hopefully we'll find out the Nobel Literature winner soon, that is if the "intellectuals" have settled their differences. Update: The First link for the National Book Award finalists was wrong. I have now corrected it. Sorry about that!

    Tuesday, October 11, 2005

    A Walking Tour of Suffolk--But That's Not All!

    I read W.G. Sebald's novel The Rings of Saturn because Sandra wrote so passionately about it some time ago and with good reason. This is a wonderful book. What's so wonderful about it? Where to start? The narrator, if we ever find out his name I missed it, gives us a recounting of his 1992 walking tour of Suffolk. The story is written in a delightfully ambulatory way as only someone walking and thinking could do. Cars create a much more direct narrative and miss details because of the speed of travel, but walking allows one to stop and start to wander. He would begin a chapter talking about, for instance, the battle of Sole Bay in Southwold. The sea battle took place in 1672 between the English and the Dutch. By the end of the chapter we are reading about the German Reich and Croatia. Or in another chapter, because the narrator saw a BBC documentary about Roger Casement one evening we find ourselves suddenly deep in the history of Joseph Conrad only to the end chapter back with Casement. The story is all connected and all makes sense. Part of the pleasure of the book is the skill with which Sebald is able to change the focus, often with just one sentence. The book is not just about a walking tour, it is about so much more. Here's a quote that sort of conveys the sense and purpose of the rambling:

    Unfortunately I am a completely impractical person, caught up in endless trains of thought. All of us are fantasists, ill-equipped for life, the children as much as myself. It seems to me sometimes that we never got used to being on this earth and life is just one great, ongoing, incomprehensible blunder.
    I think one of my favorite parts of the book is when the narrator visits a man who is building a scale model of the Temple in Jerusalem. He is making is continually researching in an effort to make his model as accurate as possible. When he discovers a new fact that changes something that he has already built, he will tear out that part and rebuild it. It is an interesting study in passion and persistence and how we get ourselves into things we didn't plan on. The model builder at one point tells the narrator:
    In the final analysis, our entire work is based on nothing but ideas, ideas which change over the years and which time and again cause one to tear down what one had thought to be finished, and begin again from scratch. I would more than likely never have started building the Temple if I had had any notion of how my work would get out of hand, and of the demands it would make on me as it became ever more complex.
    I could go on and on about this book and give you quote after quote but then you'd get tired of it and I'd be a bore. So I will stop here and just leave you a couple of links in case you want to read more about the author.
  • Sebald died in a car accident on December 17, 2001. Here is an obituary and here is an interview he did with the Guardian published after his death.
  • A 2002 Symposium on Sebald from the Threepenny Review
  • A review from 1998 of Rings of Saturn at the the New York Review of Books. The reviewer sometimes makes it sound like a terrible book, but pay no attention to those parts of the article.
  • Ig Nobel for Literature

    As we wait for Thursday to arrive with its much anticipated announcement of the Nobel in Literature, we should take a moment to honor the winner of the Ig Nobel in Literature. I'm sure the competition was fierec but the award goes to

    The Internet entrepreneurs of Nigeria, for creating and then using e-mail to distribute a bold series of short stories, thus introducing millions of readers to a cast of rich characters -- General Sani Abacha, Mrs. Mariam Sanni Abacha, Barrister Jon A Mbeki Esq., and others -- each of whom requires just a small amount of expense money so as to obtain access to the great wealth to which they are entitled and which they would like to share with the kind person who assists them.
    An example of online literarture at its best.

    Monday, October 10, 2005

    Another Week of Class

    Another week of class tonight. This week we read three essays focusing on the narrative persona or voice. The essays, "A Chapter on Ears" by Charles Lamb (aka Elia), "On Going a Journey" by William Hazlitt, and "Goodbye to All That" by Joan Didion. Then we had a handout with character traits written on it. We were to choose one of the essays and circle the traits that best described that essayist's persona. Also on the sheet we were supposed to indicate what traits we wanted our essay persona to have. Curmudgeonly? Provocative? Maudlin? Next, the assignment asked for a brief character sketch of my persona followed by an opening paragraph of an essay written in that persona. My character sketch is a combination of truth and wishful thinking. If you're interested, read on, if not, skip to the very end for a couple of links to NY Times articles of interest from yesterday. So here's my sketch:

    My essay persona is a mix of seriousness and playfulness. She has a sarcastic sense of humor. She enjoys poking holes in things, especially arguments and people with big egos and if the ego or the argument is hers, all the better. She is likable and casual, sometimes chatty and sort of nerdy. She is plain-spoken but likes to toss in a big fancy word now and then. Her curiosity is large which leads her to be contemplative. Curiosity gives her an open mind, but she also has strong opinions. However opinionated, she will change her mind given new facts and evidence. She aspires to lyricism but is happy if the essay just feels and sounds right.
    And here is my opening paragraph:
    I have become a coffee snob. It is a surprising thing given that the first time I ever tried coffee I thought it disgusting. I didn’t understand how it was my dad could drink it every morning. So the fact that I’m a coffee snob sort of snuck up on me, especially since what I like best about coffee is the way it tastes. I’m pretty sure I like the caffeine too since I refuse to drink decaf, but I like to lie to myself and say it’s because it doesn’t have as much flavor. Now I’m not the kind of coffee snob who goes to Starbucks every morning and orders a double espresso cappuchino latte. I’m the kind of snob who cares about taste, about where and how those glorious bean were grown, about how to enjoy my cup of fresh, hot coffee. I am a connoisseur.
    I am not sure that I was successful in capturing my sketched persona, but I think I may have managed a flavor. While the class is not as rigorous as I would have hoped--everyone including the teacher is nicey-nice and no one is going to tell you that you shouldn't be there (which is, of course what I want, tell me if my writing sucks!), it might squash your creative spirit--I am still learning a little. I am learning to be more specific, more precise, more focused and particular. I am also a bit uptight in my essay writing since the only official essays I ever wrote before this class were academic. So I am trying to loosen up and approach the finished product in a more blog-like way. I'll see how this plays out in next week's assignment. And now, here are the links I promised earlier:
  • A really nice write up of Vonnegut's new book. He was also on PBS but I didn't know this until too late and saw only the last few minutes.
  • An interesting essay about biography. The author writes about the English penchant for bios and the desert that is biography in America. I think Americans don't write more biography because we write memoir, we like to tell out own story, not someone else's. Perhaps this is a result of our self-centered celebrity obsessed culture. Memoir is great but I prefer a good biography any day.
  • Sunday, October 09, 2005

    Clarissa Update

    I've been reading Clarissa for a week now and have managed to get through ten letters which amounts to 32 pages. Only 1,467 to go! At the moment Lovelace doesn't seem like a bad guy. He has a reputation but at this point it is all hearsay. The bad guys are Clarissa's older sister Isabella and her older brother James. Isabella does not like Lovelaces' attentions to Clarissa because he first gave them to her. He even proposed to Isabella, but she played coy and refused him thinking he would ask her again. Lovelace at that point had not met Clarissa. When he met her it quickly became clear to Isabella that Lovelace would not ask her to marry him again. Now Isabella is pissed off and trying very hard to make Clarissa's life a living hell. Then we have brother James who knew Lovelace at University and doesn't like him because he is more well liked. James also thinks more highly of himself than he deserves and Lovelace makes fun of him for it. James uses Lovelace's reputation as an excuse to hide a deep hatred of a man who had never done anything to him except after James challenged him. Swords were drawn, Lovelace disarmed James and wounded him lightly when he could have killed him. But now James hates him even more and has become a tyrant in the Harlowe household. He blames Clarissa for his own faults and takes his anger out on her. It's all so very melodramatic and fun. The reading is slow because the print is small and the use of language is different enough that attention must be paid continually. No drifting off for a page or two and then picking the story back up, a detail that has consequences might be missed. There is one turn of phrase that caught my attention last night that I really liked. Clarissa is writing to her friend Miss Howe and saying some not very nice things about her sister and comes out with this, "yet how can one be such a reptile as not to turn when trampled upon!" I think it's time reptile be brought back as an insult, a mild one to be sure, but useful.

    Saturday, October 08, 2005

    The Good Wife

    Montaigne so often shows himself to be a man before his time, a man whose thought and ideas very often fit in with today's concerns. But he makes an exception with "On Three Good Wives" where is seems the only good wife is a dead wife. Montaigne begins by stating "The touchstone of a good marriage, the real test, concerns the time that the association lasts, and whether it has been constant--sweet, loyal and pleasant." Nothing really controversial in that. But he follows it with his observation that "In our century wives usually reserve their displays of duty and vehement love for when they have lost their husbands." Montaigne does not like that. He wants wives to display their duty and love while their husbands are alive. He notices that quite a few widows, though giving the appearance of grieving, are not broken up about their husband's departure and in fact their color and health even improve! Obviously Montaigne was a bit nonplussed by this, but I'll bet there is not a woman out there who hasn't already figured it out. Maybe it isn't so common these days when women have more control over their lives, but during Montaigne's time there were probably quite a few unhappy wives who found themselves happily liberated from a union with a man they never cared about. Of course Montaigne, being a man who unthinkingly accepted the services of his wife, would not be able to fathom what her life might be like and whether or not she was happy. So it is he comes to tell the stories of three good wives. The first is an unnamed woman from the lower classes who discovered her husband was ill and would only suffer painfully until his disease finally killed him. So she suggested that in order to avoid the drawn out suffering, he should kill himself. But being the good wife that she was, she said that she would kill herself too because she couldn't bear to live without him. They tied themselves together so they could die in each other's arms, and jumped into the sea. How romantic. The second good wife is Arria whose husband was captured in battle by supporters of the Emperor Claudius. She followed her husband to Rome where she hoped he would be released or where he would honorably kill himself. Time passed and neither thing happened. She began talking of killing herself since she knew her husband was as good as dead. In the end, she stabbed herself in front of her husband thereby giving him the strength to take up the knife she had used and deal himself a mortal blow, saving his honor. And finally, the third good wife was a high-born Roman woman named Paulina. She was young and married to Seneca who was not so young. They were happy three years before Nero sent an official to tell Seneca that he was sentenced to death. At that time you were given the opportunity to kill yourself before the state killed you. Seneca, being the fine Stoic philosopher that he was, was ready. But first he gave a long speech because philosophers always have followers hanging about, listening to their every word. Everyone was moved, even his wife, who declared that she loved him so much she could not abandon him even in his death and that she would die with him. So together, while all of Seneca's groupies were watching, they slit their wrists. But Nero found out about what they were up to. He was concerned that Paulina's death would incite her family and their connections to do something against him, so he had his men barge in, bind up her wounds and not let her die. Against her own wishes she lived many years longer without her beloved Seneca. I'd think though that if she were really good she would have killed herself later when no one was looking. A good husband does not have the same obligations as a wife. He is not expected to kill himself for her honor. Seneca does mention that if a man loves his wife he should do what he can to prolong his life "to please her." A very loving thing to do, especially if he expects her to kill herself when he dies. I am so glad this is the 21st century. While there are still issues of inequality between men and women that need to be resolved, at least for the most part we are not expected to die along with our husbands. I love my Bookman dearly, but that would be taking things a little too far. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On the Most Excellent of Men"

    Thursday, October 06, 2005


    American Smooth by Rita Dove is a wonderful book of poetry. The book was published in 2004 and is her first book of poetry since 2000. The only other book I have read of Dove's is Selected Poems published in 1993. I didn't like it much at all. What got me to read American Smooth was the discovery that Dove and her husband enjoy ballroom dancing. The title of the book comes from a style of dancing, American smooth, which includes a large amount of open work with the partners apart and not in the traditional dance hold. Think Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The dances include waltz, foxtrot, and tango. There are several poems in the book about dancing but my favorite one with a dance theme is "Bolero" which is a Latin dance. It captures the slow erotic feeling of the dance wonderfully. The beat of the dance, in case you aren't familiar with it, is a long slow followed by a quick, quick. It's a rumba beat only slower. Here's a sample:

    Not the ratcheting crescendo of Ravel's bright winds but an older, crueler passion: a woman with hips who knows when to move them, who holds nothing back but the hurt she takes with her as she dips, grinds, then rises sweetly into his arms again. Not delicate. Not tame. Bessie Smith in a dream of younger, (Can't you see?) slimmer days. Restrained in the way a debutante is not, the way a bride pretends she understands.
    The book isn't all dancing, however. There is a powerful series of poems called "Twelve Chairs" which contains a poem for each member of a jury plus an alternate juror. As a sample we have a poem of the Fourth Juror
    Cancel the afternoon evenings mornings all the days to come until the fires fall to ash the fog clears and we can see where we really stand.
    follwed by the poem of the Fifth Juror
    How long will this take? I am not my brother, thank you; my hands are full already taking care of myself.
    There are poems you read that are purely intellectual and stay in the head. Then there are poems that you feel in your stomach. The poems in American Smooth are poems that you feel in your stomach. Some of them brought tears to my eyes, some made me nod, some took my breath away. I am done thinking that I don't like Rita dove. This book has made me a convert. For more information about Rita Dove including some interviews and video of her and her husband dancing, visit her website

    Wednesday, October 05, 2005

    A Lively Read

    If you are looking for a book that is well written but light, may I recommend Diana Lively is Falling Down by Sheila Curran? (a bit about the author here and here) The book is the story of Diana Lively, award winning architect who was widowed young and is now well into a second marriage. She had one child with her first husband and has two with her second. When the new kids came along Diana gave up her career and funneled her creative energy into raising the kids and making elaborate dollhouses. Diana's second husband is Ted, a don at Oxford and expert in Arthurian Studies. Ted enjoys all the perks he thinks professors should have including affairs with his students. Ted is a pompous ass, thinks the world revolves around him and is jealous of any kind of success his wife or children might gain on their own merits. He is also an alcoholic but no one will admit it least of all Ted. Enter Wally Gold, a very wealthy American businessman. His wife, who loved reading everything Arthurian, died a few years ago so in her memory Wally goes to Oxford with a plan. He wants to endow a chair of Arthurian Studies at Oxford. While he's there he also decides that he wants to build a King Arthur Theme Park in Arizona near the London Bridge. The administration forces Ted to take the consultant job Wally offers. Since Ted has no other choice, he and his family are off Phoenix. Ted is a vindictive SOB and decides that he is going to take revenge on Wally for making him move to the hinterlands. He begins researching laws and sending emails in an attempt to ruin Wally's theme park project. Ted is a character that will make you yell at your book. And as much I hated him, he was part of what made the book so fun to read. The plot is fast-paced and intricate with so many twists and turns it is hard to know where it's going to go next. My only complaints about the book are that sometimes things happen a little too conveniently and I don't like the cover. The cover screams "Chic-Lit!" even though it is far from Bridget Jones type angst. Granted, it is not a book that most men would probably be interested in, but the cover will turn off anyone who avoids chic-lit even on principle. Diana Lively is Falling Down certainly is not high literature, but sometimes we all need a break from the heady stuff.

    Vocabulary in Action

    Yesterday while I was sitting in the waiting room of the ophthamoogist with my husband, waiting for his eyes to dilate, I looked up and saw a literature rack. On the literature rack was a pamphlet called "Strabismus." For some reason this made me happy.

    Tuesday, October 04, 2005

    I've Been Tagged

    I've been tagged by Claire with this meme: 1. Go into your blog's archive. 2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to). 3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to). 4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions My sentence: "As much as I love poetry I tend to fall into a trap and think I have to be 'in the mood' in order to read it." Ah, still true, but to a lesser degree since the poetry got moved from the basement library to the livingroom bookcases. Or maybe I'm just in the mood for poetry more often? Hmmm. Now who should I tag? If you want to play along, of course go right ahead. But I'd like to know what profound and/or bookish thoughts Susan, Sylvia and Sandra were having. A very sibilant bunch.


  • Even the French like Harry Potter
  • Ray Kurzweil, author, inventor, futurist, and artificial intelligence expert talks about why he thinks the singularity is near
  • How to Organize a Book Group with a Social Conscience. The author suggests that such a book group should read fiction with a moral purpose in order to learn about the world, communities and political issues. There is even a long list of some really good books at the end. But to read a book solely for moral relevancy seems to do it and literature in general a disservice.
  • The National Gallery bought a sketch of Ted Hughes by Sylvia Plath for the paltry sum of $48,500.
  • You Know You've Got a Good Idea When...

    barring all controversary, others jump on the digitalization bandwagon. First GooglePrint, now Yahoo and Europe.

    Monday, October 03, 2005

    Ready for Class

    Another writing class tonight. We were assigned two essays for tonight, "Split at the Root" by Adrienne Rich and "Under the Influence" by Scott Russell Sanders. I've read the Rich essay on several prior occasions. And it was with no small excitement that when Rich mentions an earlier poem in which she had tried to examine being "split at the root," I went to my poetry bookshelf and found the poem. The poem is "Readings of History" and it appeared first in Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, published in 1963. I've got it in Collected Early Poems 1950-1970. The poem is multiple part and is one of Rich's first attempts to make whole her fragmented identity of southern gentile (through her mother) and nothern Jew (through her father), not to mention that she was a woman who went to Harvard/Radcliffe, was married with children and had yet to realize she was a lesbian. Here's an excerpt from part two of the poem, "The Confrontation":

    The present holds you like a raving wife, clever as the mad are clever, digging up your secret truths from her disabled genius. She knows what you hope and dare not hope: remembers what you're sick of forgetting. What are you now but what you know together, you and she? She will not let you think. It is important to make connections. Everything happens very fast in the minds of the insane. Even you aren't up to that, yet. Go out, walk, think of selves long past.
    I don't know if we will talk about the poem in class since it was not provided as a handout and is not in the essay book. Too bad too. The class is an essay class though, so I understand. The writing assignment was to write about something where we feel vulnerable and not totally in charge. I stayed clear of family this time and wrote about ballroom dancing. No control--the man leads, the woman follows. The vulnerability comes in in the performance aspect of it, the body consciousness, the being looked at and the sometimes skimpy costumes. What we write is supposed to be short, only essay nuggets, not an entire essay, and adding up to only three doubled-spaced pages. Three double-spaced pages is not a lot, there is little depth, I can only hint at it. I shrunk my piece down from four pages and really worked it over good this time. I hope to get to read it to the class but might not since there were a few people who wanted to read last week but didn't get to because we ran out of time and if someone who didn't want to read last week decides to read this week they get first chance before I do. One of the frustrating things about the class being 20 people. So I might not get to be psychoanalyzed this week. At least I can still turn it in for teacher comment. On the topic of writing, Susan Hill of Long Barn Books decided they would publish something in fiction. She annouced that she would look at everything that was sent in (the first four chapters). She was surprised to receive 3,741 submissions. I don't know why she was surprised, but she was. From that number she asked to see the full manuscript of only seven of them. She writes about it here.

    Sunday, October 02, 2005

    It Begins

    I began reading Clarissa last night. I skipped the long scholarly intro to the book, they are never really useful until afterwards anyway so I'm never sure why publishers put them in as introductions. Don't they know that everyone who isn't in school skips them? I did read Richardson's Preface. You know you're in trouble when the author himself has to explain why the book is so long. I was reminded though that in the beginning, the English novel was frequently meant to instruct. I've only read three letters so far and am feeling insrtucted already with a new word: animadvert: pass criticism or censure on; speak out against. As Clarissa writes, "it would have shown a particularity that a vain man would construe to his advantage, and which my sister would not fail to animadvert upon." I also have to remember that ladies of breeding and fortune had time on their hands and so take a long time to tell a story and get to the point. If only I were a lady of breeding and fortune who had a long time to sit and read. The book is readable though which is good because I have a long way to go. On a side note, M.G. Lord nicely explains why I love and am disgusted by Robert Heinlein. There's a big centennial celebration in the works for him for 2007. Perhaps a good opportunity to pull a few of those long ago read books of his off my shelf and see what I think of them now.

    Hail Caesar!

    Montaigne thinks that Julius Caesar is the cat's pajamas, the bee's knees, and all that. Between Seneca, Plutarch and Caesar it's pretty close as to which one makes Montaigne gooiest inside. But I think when it comes down to it, Caesar is one of those hot tamales you admire from afar and bask in the glory of their glory. Caesar makes Montaigne's heart go pitter patter, but Plutarch melts it. What am I talking about? Montaigne's essay "The Tale of Spurina" is hardly about the Tuscan youth, it's about Caesar. While Montaigne would clearly fall on his sword if Caesar were to appear in front of him and command it, Montaigne finds Caesar's womanizing to be a bit immoderate. Philosophy for Montaigne is all about moderation, "Moderation is a virtue which makes more demands on you than suffering does." Extremes in either direction are frowned upon because "if it wishes to, vice [can] find occasions for displaying itself one way or another.". Philosophy tends to demand that we master our soul and bridle our appetites. But, believes Montaigne, ignoring the body completely is a big mistake. The appetites of the body can be sated, just look at the men who wear hair-shirts or geld or castrate themselves to keep their bodies from being lustful. Appetites of the mind or soul, on the other, are not so easily (maybe easily is not quite the right word, maybe straightforwardly or forthrightly, or definitely?) assuaged. "When passions are all in the soul, as in ambition, covetousness and the rest, they are much more troublesome to reason, for reason cannot be succoured save by her own means: and those passions are not susceptible to satiety--indeed they are sharpened and increased by our enjoyment of them," writes Montaigne. And so it is that Montaigne turns to Caesar who loved the ladies but never let them get in the way of his ambition and never missed "any opportunity which was offered him to aggrandize himself." Caesar's overwhelming ambition "vexes" Montaigne. However, "When I reflect on the incomparable greatness of his soul I can pardon Victory for not distancing herself from him even in a cause so unjust and so iniquitous." So Montaigne forgives his hero because it was Victory's fault, not Caesar's that his ambition became so great, and his hubris along with it, that he allowed people to worship him as a god. And that Spurina guy, he was apparently a beautiful youth and everyone, men and women, fell in love with him. He began to loathe himself because, though he was chaste, his beauty encouraged passion in others. To solve the problem he slashed his face. Montaigne chastises him for going to such extremes. The faults of others cannot be blamed on Spurina's gifts. "His intentions were beautiful and loyal to his conscience," writes Montaigne, "but in my judgement somewhat lacking in wisdom." To sum up, Caesar: great soul, great ambition, Victory's fault. Spurina: beautiful, chaste, wanted to save others from themselves, lack of wisdom. I guess we can forgive our heroes just about anything. We've evolved beyond that in these modern times. Everyone equal before the law, etc, etc. Yup. Sure we have. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On Three Good Wives"

    Saturday, October 01, 2005

    A Bookish Poem

    The Trouble with Reading William Stafford When a goat likes a book, the whole book is gone, and the meaning has to go find an author again. But when we read, it's just print--deciphering, like frost on a window: we learn the meaning but lose what the frost is, and all that world pressed so desperately behind. So some time let's discover how the ink feels, to be clutching all that eternity onto page after page. But maybe it is better not to know; ignorance, that wide country, rewards you just to accept it. You plunge; it holds you. And you have become rich darkness.