Thursday, March 30, 2006

Celebrating National Poetry Month

When you work for a midsize local nonprofit you tend to wear many hats. Besides the hat of resident techie, I also wear the hat of staff newsletter editor. When you are the bookish sort, in charge of the newsletter and National Poetry Month rolls around, it is the perfect opportunity to foist verses upon your co-workers.   The last couple of years I have been stressed and/or lazy and just slapped in a couple of favorite poems. Before that I made them all participate in a haiku writing contest. This year I am neither stressed nor lazy and have a poetry mad-lib in mind. You know mad-libs, the short "story" with blanks in it asking for nouns and verbs and names and when you read it back it can sometimes be quite funny.   Why am I telling you this? Because I am hoping your brains might assist me in finding a couple of mad-lib-able poems. I can do two poems in the newsletter and thought e e cummings's "In Just" ( ) might work out well. I'll be paging through my poetry books over the next few days looking for a second poem, but I thought picking the brains of my fellow book people couldn't hurt either.   The newsletter will be published on April 14th, but as soon as I have the madlib poems together, I'll post them here. I hope they end up being appropriately silly.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Beauty of Physics

Categories on the Beauty of Physics published by Vernacular Press is a science book for the literary and art minded person. The book is an all around delight. The pages are heavy, glossy paper and all the original art and the reproductions are in full color. The book is composed of 39 "chapters." Each chapter is a term used in physics from acceleration to force to mass to work. The chapter begins with a passage from a book that illustrates the term under discussion. The passages come from science books and literature as well as philosophy and psychology. To give you an idea, Ben Franklin is used for electricity; Don Quixote for entropy; Hamlet for uncertainty. The passage is then followed by a dictionary definition of the term. Next is an original piece of collage art followed by a physicist's single page explanation of the concept, a list of related terms in the book, and the equation (if there is one). Next comes a section called "Think About It" that supplements the physicist's explanation and includes related themes. After this is "Read About It." This is my favorite section because it lists two or three books and sometimes films, that further illustrate the concept. All recommended materials were verified by the editors to be readily found in libraries and bookstores. To be sure, quite a number of science books are suggested, but none of them are textbooks or for a specialized audience. But not all of the books are science books. For example, in the chapter on energy, the books recommended are Nuclear Madness: What You Can Do by Helen Caldicott and Physics for Poets by Robert March. The "Read About It" section is followed by "Talk About It." Here can be found questions to ponder and discuss such as a few found in "Entropy" which ask "Is decay always undesirable? Can entropy be seen as the progression from whole to particulate? Are rare objects precious because they cannot be remade or regenerated?" Once your brain is whirling from the questions, there is a photo of a work of art that further illustrates the term. For instance, Mary Cassatt's The Bath is used for the "Orbit" chapter. The chapter concludes with a short "review" of the book from which the chapter's opening passage was taken. At the back of the book, the editors kindly provide a bibliography that includes all of these books as well as all of the books from the "Read About It" sections. And let me just say, my TBR list has several new additions. What I liked about this book is that it not only makes the concepts easy to understand, but it also provides a wider context for them. I've not come across any other book that can bring a concept like "particle" to life in science (atoms, electrons, dark matter), art (A Sunday in La Grande Jatte by Seurat) and literature (Swann's Way by Proust). It really shows the interconnections between art and science and just how much they depend upon each other. Catergories on the Beauty of Physics is definitely worth your time.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

All About Words

I've been tagged by Sylvia with the word meme. Words that always look misspelled to me: vacuum occasion refrigerator Words that look nicer in italics: love wave suspicious Words I enjoy saying: effervescent quirky conundrum Words I enjoy hearing: we're giving you a raise You've worked hard today, why don't you go home early (I know that's not what was intended but you have to admit, those are great words when strung together!) Abbreviations I dislike: Mme Mlle (I have nothing against the French, really I don't.) Proper nouns I enjoy: Quetzacoatl Minnehaha Saskia Words I associate with happiness: book chocolate quilt purr Words I always misspell: commitment conscientious conscious Words I enjoy spelling correctly, every time: tomorrow appreciate conscience convenient
 Words that, though I love their meaning, I'm too embarrassed to say out loud:
Hmmm. I can't think of anything for this one. One more added by Sylvia: Words I can never remember the meaning of no matter how many times I look them up: sanguine (I always think it means unhappy, it sounds like it should. I always think of the color yellow and then I think jaundice and that leads to unhappy. For the record, I really like the color yellow, but sanguine is a sick yellow, not a happy yellow that might get me to remember the correct meaning of the word!) Who else wants to play? If you do, be sure to leave a trackback or a comment.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Monday Rambling

Even with all the fun I had cataloging books over the weekend I did get some reading in. I managed to get through some of Clarissa. She has inched ever so slightly closer to giving in to marrying Lovelace. And she has finally made it to London after dithering at the farmhouse in the country. I am against abridgments, but in the case of this book, I wish I had chosen the shorter route. I'm through 500 pages and still have another 1,000 to go! The sloth speed of this book is beginning to drive me crazy. There has to be some sort of Zen lesson in it. Perhaps I am to learn how to slow down, be in the moment and all that. What I really want to do is give Clarissa a few good slaps. I am not a violent person but I am finding this book incites it. Sitting here just thinking about it, I imagine what great pleasure I would have in mangling this book. But it is not a bad book. It is just so slow, and the character of Clarissa so infuriating. I can feel my blood pressure going up so I'm going to change the subject to book storage. There is a great article in the Washington Post (free registration required, link via Bookninja) about people with too many books for their living space. One guy estimates he's spent over $5,000 on two rented storage spaces to hold his excess. I like the woman who considered buying the house next door to her so she could live in one and keep her books in the other. That's something I've pondered. But no article about books is worth its salt unless I end up adding a title to my TBR list. The end of the article mentions a biblioholic character from Paul Auster's book Moon Palace. Has anyone read it and if so, what'd you think?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Resistance is Futile

After my recent post about book organization, John's persuasive comments convinced me to give Library Thing a try. I entered a few books and it was so easy I entered a few more. Then I showed my Bookman and we entered a few more books, checked out the various features, and entered a few more books. And before we knew it, we were signing up for a lifetime membership. It is incredibly addictive. We had found ourselves flagging in our efforts to catalog our books on our desktop software and now we have been reinvigorated. We haven't gotten far yet, but you can check out our progress and library. Soon, I am sure I will fall prey to the blog widget which will show random books from my library. If you haven't tried Library Thing for your books yet, it's only a matter of time. Resistance is futile.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Science and Spirit

In Emerson's lecture "Swedenborg; Or, the Mystic," it is clear how much he likes order and classification. Right off he begins talking about classes of thinkers, the poet being of a higher class because he raises "men out of the world of corn and money, and console[s] them for the shortcomings of the day." This leads up to another class who "lead us into another region,--the world of morals, or of will." To this class belongs the mystic whose privilege it is to access the "secrets and structure of nature, by some higher method than by experience." Emerson's explanatory definition of a mystic is interesting. I takes its cue from Plato's idea of Reminiscence and the Hindu belief in transmigration of the soul. But Emerson doesn't believe in reincarnation. So he puts a twist on it by believing in religious ecstasy as a means for the soul to be in contact with the original soul (God) and thereby, upon returning from the ecstatic episode, able to remember what was seen and heard. Enter Emanuel Swedenborg. During his mystic explanation, Emerson comments that mystics generally pay a high price for their ecstatic trances. Most live in some kind of pain and eventually seem to suffer from mental illness because of all the "shocks to the mind." From a modern standpoint I thought it interesting that Emerson thought mental illness the result of ecstasies rather than ecstasies a result of mental illness as we are wont to view them today. Swedenborg, who was actually quite a good scientist before he turned to theology, was (and is) often viewed as insane. Emerson knows this and makes his mental illness observations into a positive by explaining:

As it is easier to see the reflection of the great sphere in large globes, though defaced by some crack or blemish, than in drops of water, so men of large calibre, though with some eccentricity or madness, like Pascal or Newton, help us more than balanced mediocre minds.
The old genius and divinity in madness argument. Doesn't work these days, but apparently it was still valid in 1845. While most people see a split between Swedenborg as scientist and as mystic, Emerson tries to reconcile the two just as he sees Swedenborg attempting to synthesize science and religion. There is a certain repetition of form in Nature and by studying this we could find a universality (this harkens back to Plato's idea of Forms) and connectedness between all things that would lead us to God:
He [Swedenborg] saw that the human body was strictly universal, or an instrument through which the soul feeds and is fed by the whole of matter: so he held, in exact antagonism to the sceptics, that "the wiser a man is, the more will he be a worshipper of the Deity."
It all sort of sounds like a search for a Theory of Everything except our current search for the theory is mechanical and theirs would lead them to first principles and God. As much as Emerson admires Swedenborg, he recognizes that the man had some major flaws. The foremost one being his Theory of Everything relying too much on God and not enough on science. Because while Emerson thought God should be included, he thought that too much theology and not enough science ruined Swedenborg's work. Instead of using theology to expand science, Swedenborg ended up limiting science. Emerson finds that Swedenborg's "system of the world wants central spontaneity; it is dynamic, not vital, and lacks power to generate life." Instead of allowing each man to see the world as a "living poem," Swedenborg makes the mistake of declaring everything in the physical world is symbolical of the spiritual world and then goes on to make correspondences. This is distasteful for Emerson because there is no room for individualism. In spite of Swedenborg's shortcomings, Emerson still greatly admires him. He believes that Swedenborg has come closer than any other in reconciling matter and spirit. And now for the words I had to look up:
  • missouriums. I am unable to find a meaning for this word but from Emerson's use of it I gather is means something like great. Emerson: "One of the missouriums and mastodons of literature, he is not to be measured by whole colleges of ordinary scholars." I like the use of mastodon here. Though I'm not sure it would be taken in a complimentary way if used to describe any currently living writers.
  • deliration. Noun. Aberration of mind; delirium. Emerson: "Their [Swedenborg's theological writings] immense and sandy diffuseness is like the prairie, or the desert, and their incongruities are like the last deliration."
  • vastation. Noun. The action or process of emptying or purifying someone or something, typically violently or drastically. Emerson: "He was let down a column that seemed of brass, but it was formed of angelic spirits, that he might descend safely amongst the unhappy, and witness the vastation of souls."
  • laminae. Noun. A thin layer, plate, or scale of sedimentary rock, organic tissue, or other material. Emerson: "The universe is a gigantic crystal, all whose atoms and laminae lie in uninterrupted order, and with unbroken unity, but cold and still."
  • erysipelas. Noun. An acute, sometimes recurrent disease caused by a bacterial infection. It is characterized by large, raised patches on the skin, especially that of the face and legs, with fever and severe general illness. Emerson: "One man, you say, dreads erysipelas,--show him that this dread is evil; or, one dreads hell,--show him that dread is evil."
The challenge for the week is to use these new words in everyday conversation. Will the person you say them to ask what they mean or pretend like they know already? Next week's Emerson lecture: "Montaigne; Or; the Sceptic." (Montaigne, how I've missed you!)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Those Helpful Introductions

When reading a classic that has a "helpful" introduction, I generally skip it and go straight to the story. In my experience the introduction usually discusses details of the book that make no sense unless I've already read to the end. I picked up The Virginian the other day and after reading the bio piece on Wister and a spiffy life timeline, I glanced at the beginning of the introduction. It looked like it might be useful. And it was. It goes on for pages talking about the western genre and The Virginian's place in it's development. Turns out it is the prototype for what we think of as a western today. I read along happily until about 3/4 of the way through when all of a sudden Mr. John G. Cawelti, author of the introduction, gives away the ending! It sounds like it's going to be a good ending, but golly, did he have to give it away? The intro was going so well until then. I should have known better. I should have known that introductions to classics always give the ending away. But I was fooled. What is it about these intros anyway? Why do the scholars that write them assume the reader either already knows how the book ends or doesn't care being told about it if she doesn't know? Why does the scholar write the introduction with the assumption that the reader has already read the book? To me a discussion of the details of the book is not an introduction and should be placed at the end of the book as an afterward or something. If I were ever asked to write an intro to something, I'd write a real introduction. I'd assume the person had not read the book yet. I'd place the work in historical context, talk about the writing of the book, it's reception by the public. I'd write about the major themes in a general way, as a signpost for the reader to look out for. I would not give away the ending. I wouldn't want to ruin the wonderful suspense of it. It is not fair to assume the reader knows the ending because the book was written a long time ago. It's not fair to assume that if the reader doesn't know the ending it's okay to ruin it. I know no reader who wants the ending to be given away before he gets to it. Bah. I'll stop my grumbling now. If you are planning on reading The Virginian and you have the Barnes and Noble Classics edition, you are forewarned--don't read the introduction!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Even Geeks Worry About Their Books

I was checking the news on Slashdot while at work today (I can do this and not get in trouble since I am the resident computer geek) and someone in the "Ask Slashdot" feature asked for advice on solving the home library problem. He's got 3,500 unorganized books and a barcode scanner and wants to know what he should do. There are over 430 comments. Some tell him to get rid of all the books, others suggest various cataloging software and methods of organization. Some of the suggestions are ones only a tech geek would make. At first I was excited that such a question made it onto Slashdot. Now I'm shaking my head and thinking the guy needs more help than is available from reader comments. I mean, how does a person accumulate 3,500 books and not manage to figure out an organizational system? Heck, I had one worked out when I was 12 and had fewer than 100 books to deal with. If you're reading this you probably have a lot of books. Am I right in saying that you have them organized? Perhaps you have a weird system only you know the secret to, but you know where to go to find your copy of Great Expectations or other delightful tome. Because part of the fun of having so many books is spending time organizing them. You get to handle them, peep into them, remember when you read this one or that one, find a favorite passage, find a book you forgot you had and get excited about it all over again. Personally, I find that fiction and nonfiction with each section alphabetized by author works well. I have a couple specialty bookcases (poetry, classics) also in alpha order. As long as it is shelved where it's supposed to be, I've never been unable to find a book. As far as cataloging goes a quick search will turn up more choices than you can shake a stick at. I know Library Thing is popular and I am so tempted, but I am paranoid. What could I be paranoid about you say? I worry that I'd spend all kinds of time getting my books online and then something would happen to the site or the database, and all my hard work would be lost. So I have software on my computer for cataloging. I back it up regularly. And I fantasize about someday having a little handheld computer with my library on it that I can take with me when I go book shopping. Of course, my cataloging software will be so far out of date by the time I ever get a handheld that all my work will have gone for nothing anyway. Maybe I should just go back to the 3x5 cards I used when I was a kid.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


My birthday is in two weeks and I am in agony. The agony comes not from getting another year older. I only care a little about that. No, the agony is because there are wrapped up book-shaped packages multiplying on the bookshelf in the living room. I am not allowed to touch them so I look at them from afar, assessing size and shape, running down my mental booklist, trying to guess what title belongs to the fat one, what to the thin one.   I am also not supposed to read book reviews. Or rather, I can, but just not for books which may be wrapped on the shelf. And I'm not supposed to notice anything about new books by favorite authors of mine.   Of course I can't go to bookstores either. I haven't walked into one since the calendar said February. I'm starting to feel jittery and anxious. I spend more and more of my day fantasizing about going to a bookstore. I can see myself caressing the spines of new books. They practically jump off the shelf into my arms. And I leave with two bursting bags full. No, wait. This is my fantasy so make that four bags. Four giant bags. I feel like I did when I was a kid, waiting through the long, dark night for the sun to peep up over the horizon so I could see what Santa brought me. Or like when I was eight and went to Disneyland for the first time. It was only two hours away, but it was two hours of anticipating, maybe around the next curve in the road I'd be able to see... And I increase the agony by thinking too much. I think about what books I've mentioned I want to read. Are any of those there? I think about books I've remarked on from blogs I've read. Could that one be--? I worry that when I commented on this or that book my Bookman took me seriously. "No, no!" I want to tell him. "I was only kidding. Sure I'd like to read those, but I want these more." I search the murky corners of my mind trying to remember what books I talked about in the last month. Then, after I've gone round and round on that for awhile, I think, what if they aren't books? What if he's playing a big joke on me and this time they are book-shaped boxes with things that are not books inside? We always laugh about giving each other books as presents all the time. What if this year he decided to deviate from the norm? What am I going to do if I get socks instead??? Two more weeks. I have to wait two more weeks. I might have a breakdown. Unless--is there a literary equivalent to Prozac?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Not Your Usual Vacation

I hope everyone had a nice weekend and is finding some way to celebrate the equinox. There is a cemetery across the street from where I work which I like to walk in at lunch when the weather is decent and even though I was warned before leaving the office that it was cold outside, I tossed my head and scoffed. Out I went and within five minutes I was freezing. The wind was not nice. I cut my walk short, and slunk back to the office, trying to avoid "I told you so." My ears were numb and my nose a bright Rudolph red. I am rather fond of walking in the cemetery so when I began Sarah Vowell's book Assassination Vacation I was delighted. She spends quite a bit of time in cemeteries. While I just walk and enjoy the exercise, she goes searching for the graves of the famous and the infamous. In the case of Assassination Vacation she travels around the United States to graves and statues and houses associated with presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley and their assassins. Vowell, you may have heard her on NPR, has an eye for unusual detail as well as an off beat sense of humor. As an example, she is out at the Mall in Washington, D.C. to see the Lincoln Memorial and comments on the increase in security since 9/11 manifesting itself as giant planters:

Giant planters blocking government buildings, giant planters barricading every other street. Theoretically, the concrete flowerpots are solid enough to fend off a truck bomb. And yet the effect is ridiculous, as if we believe we can protect ourselves from suicide bombers by hiding behind blooming pots of marigolds, flowers whose main defensive property is repelling rabbits.
She's a funny gal, but sometimes her humor gets in the way. She strives for a light tone throughout the book even in describing the assassinations. Her levity keeps the book from having any kind of depth at all and I finished it wondering what the point of it was. Other than travelogue, there is not much to be gained from it. In spite of only being able to read the book in short bursts because I'd get annoyed with her voice, the book was entertaining. My favorite section was on Garfield. Garfield was a bookworm who worried that being president would interfere with his reading time. And his assassin, Charles J. Guiteau lived for a number of years in the Oneida Community where free love was the thing but he couldn't get anyone to have sex with him. The Oneida Community eventually became the kitchenware company. I will never think the same way about dishes again. If you are looking for a light read to whisk you away to some not so exotic locales, this it the book for you. Or, if you want to create your own assassination vacation, this is the place to start.

Happy Spring!

I still have snow outside, but here is a cheery picture of a peony from my garden last May to brighten this blog on the first day of spring: Peony

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Good Dreaming

The conversation ended when Augustine asked me to define happiness. I began to fumble with the word. Then I used the phrase "pursuit of happiness" and became even more confused when she remarked that it did not seem that what I described as happiness could be gained by pursuit. When I reached the point of embarrassed confusion, she did not laugh. She only repeated, "That is the trouble with words." "But you people use words constantly to describe your dreams." "Yes, that is the best way we know. Except dance and music. They are better." "But you use words only to describe things, not concepts, not meaning behind things." "Yes," she would agree, and we would be back in the same circular discussion, until she would beg me please to stop making her talk.
Words and dreams are at the core of The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant. The kin--there is no he, she, man, woman, sister, brother, mother, father, all are kin--of Ata live for dreaming. Their lives are simple and follow a seasonal and ritual pattern. Everything they do they do to enhance their dreams. The highest compliment among them is to say that someone is a strong dreamer. But the dreams of the kin of Ata are not ordinary dreams. They are more on the order of a collective unconscious. The purpose of dreaming is to attain a higher consciousness. Too much talking interferes with dreaming. Yet every morning when they wake, there is a ritual telling of dreams. And every night before sleep, the community gathers for stories and dance and music. But words, as the passage above indicates, are only used to describe things. There are no morals or lessons in the stories so that everyone may take from them what they need when they need it. Ata is a utopian island community. All are equal. Crime is unheard of. Nothing is wasted and no one wants for anything. And the kin of Ata are multi-racial. They have always lived on their island. Where did they come from? I will not tell you and spoil the creation myths. Into this utopia comes the narrator whose name we never learn. All we know is that he is a famous writer and not a very nice person. The book begins with him murdering his girlfriend. In the process of running away, he loses control of his car on a curving mountain road and goes off a cliff. He wakes up in Ata. The novel is the story of his assimilation into the community. It is not an easy transition. The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You is an enjoyable read. We know only as much as the narrator does and learn about Ata in bits and pieces. This gives the book a sort of mystery and tension to hold the reader's interest. Without it, the story would be a bit dull. The language is straightforward and simple; unadorned like the people of Ata. There are ideas in this book, food for thought kinds of ideas. While the book is not specifically for young adults, I would have loved this book when I was a teenager. There is some sex, but is no more than what you'd get in a PG-13 movie. It's a perfect read for a dreamy, moody, idealistic kid. Heck, it's a good read for dreamy, moody, idealistic adults too.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Euclid of Holiness

Mr. Emerson is a Plato groupie. He fairly gushes in his lecture "Plato; Or the Philosopher." To Emerson, Plato isn't just a philosopher, he is the philosopher, the philosopher to represent all other philosophers. If philosopher were one of Plato's ideal forms, Emerson declares Plato to be the closest thing to the ideal form we've ever had. Recall for a moment your Plato knowledge. One of his many themes is the idea of an ideal form, a sort of universal, unchangeable perfection. We cannot see these forms, we can only ever see their shadows (remember the Allegory of the Cave?). We can, however, gain a certain comprehension of forms through the use of the intellect. Our sense and imagination belong to the perceptual world which is made of nothing but imperfect shadows. Emerson declares right off the bat, "out of Plato come all things that are still written and debated among men of thought." What entitles Plato to stand as a representative of philosophy is his breadth. He has, according to Emerson, taken into himself all the arts, sciences and "knowables." He is an "all-knowing Greek geometer," a "Euclid of holiness," who has defined philosophy with an unprecedented accuracy and intelligence never seen before or since. He has synthesized Unity and Variety by showing us the one in the many and the many in the one. Plato is a "great average man" far above us to be sure, but not so far above that we cannot see in him our "own dreams and glimpses." But as a "great average man" Plato has faults, though not many. Chief among the faults is that his writings lack the authority and power of a prophet. The other major fault of Plato is that he does not have a system. Emerson, however, deftly lays this shortcoming at the feet of Plato's disciples. Emerson defends any and all charges against Plato's greatness by insisting that he cannot be compared to the ideal form (which for Emerson ultimately means God because all forms come from the Almighty), but to other men. In this measurement, Plato is the man and everyone else mere boys. The essay itself is fairly straightforward. There is a section close to the beginning which I found a bit uncomfortable. Emerson is discussing the ideas of unity and variety which correspond in some degree with Plato's ideas of form and shadow (shadow is not Plato's word but I lack his exactness). Emerson divides the world into Nature (unity/cause/form/God) and Intellect (diversity/effect/shadow/creativity). He then assigns Nature to Asia (where their minds "incline to dwell in the conception of the fundamental Unity) and Intellect to Europe (land of "arts, inventions, trade, freedom") and says that while they are both great and important, Intellect is better. This is curious since Emerson lauds Plato for synthesizing the two, describing them, in essence, as two sides of the same coin. Even more curious is a paragraph that any advocate of Intelligent Design would find cozy. Emerson explains in terms of Unity and Diversity, cause and effect that God is Unity and therefore the ultimate cause of everything. Since Emerson believes that, I am, therefore, surprised, that he equates Europe with Diversity/effect and lavishes praise upon it. I mean, if you were going to split the world up as Emerson does, wouldn't you want your part of the world equated with what amounts to Plato's ideal forms? Emerson seems to be giving privilege to human creativity over the perfection of God. He is also re-ordering Plato's hierarchy. If you, reading this, know Emerson, please let me know if I am misreading. One more thing before I finish off the Plato lecture: vocabulary!

  • metempsychosis. Noun. The supposed transmigration at death of the soul of a human being or animal into a new body of the same or a different species (so that would be reincarnation, right?). Emerson: "...he saw the souls in pain; he hears the doom of the judge; he beholds the penal metempsychosis; the Fates, with the rock and shears; and hears the intoxicating hum of their spindle."
  • exercitations. Noun. Surprisingly, it means just what you'd think, "the act or an instance of exercising." Go figure. Emerson: "In view of eternal nature, Plato turns out to be philosophical exercitaions."
  • regnancy. Noun. Derivative of "regnant." Reigning; ruling; currently having the greatest influence; dominant. Emerson: "...what is, no doubt, incident to this regnancy of intellect in his work..."
  • saurian. Adjective or noun. Of or like a lizard (adj); any large reptile, especially a dinosaur (n). Emerson: "The human being has the saurian and the plant in his rear." Okay, so I know what Emerson means here, but I can't help picturing him with a dinosaur and a plant stuck to his backside. As a result, every time I read his sentence, I start smirking.
Such an educational post today! Next week's Emerson: "Swedenborg; Or, The Mystic"

Saturday Amusements

A few links to pass along this morning.

  • Stanford University has a community reading program with the aim of rediscovering the 19th century. This year the focus is on Sherlock Holmes. Standford is kind enough to archive last year's reading of Charles Dickens
  • Where do you go if you are hankering for a Latin classic? Why the Latin Library of course! It's all there for free. The only catch is, you have to be able to read Latin.
  • You have until April 1st to vote for your favorite story to win the Million Writers Award at StorySouth.
  • (Dead) Body snatching is a hopping trade. Now you can read about it in a new book reviewed at Wired
  • The Guardian has an article by Tom Stoppard in which he argues that free speech is not a human right. I understand what he's getting at but I disagree.
  • Sorry if I've linked this before, but I can't remember if I have or haven't. January Magazine has a profile of Anne Rice in which she discusses why she gave up writing about vampires and witches.
  • I'll be back later today with some Emerson! Update. The Latin Library link was not working earlier but is now fixed. Sorry about that.

    Thursday, March 16, 2006

    Please Excuse the Whine

    I feel like I went a long time without finishing a book and now in the last two weeks it seems I've finished quite a few. Maybe it's because I read so many at the same time. If one week goes by and I don't finish a book, I begin to get an unsettled feeling. Two weeks and I feel like something is wrong and begin questioning my readerly dedication. But during the third week or so I finish quite a few books and I feel better. Then I get a little sad because I have to start a bunch of new books. Starting new books is exciting, not sad. What is sad is knowing there will be another dry spell before I finish one. Or two. Or three. Those of you who read one book at a time will, no doubt, say that if I'd only focus I'd have more consistency and wouldn't have to go through the highs and lows. I'd be steady Eddie, full speed ahead and all that. But, I ask you to recall that Doritos chip commercial from way back, the one with the tag line "you can't eat just one." Books are like that for me. Except I don't really eat them per se, it's more of a "I can't read just one." I haven't always been this way. I used to read one book at a time and imagine that I could never read more than that. All the while I was doing just that since I was in college and majoring in English literature. My husband, who was only my boyfriend at the time, usually had at least two books going at once, often more. I marveled at him. How could he do that? Then he laughed at me. The scales fell away from my eyes so to speak, and I have never been able to read just one book since. I didn't mean to write a post like this when I sat down. I was going to tell you about a good book I finished a few days ago called The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You. i could erase everything up until now and tell you about the book, but I am not going to. I am going to keep you in suspense about the book and why I liked it. I will say, however, that finishing the Kin of Ata is what has prompted this whining post in the first place. It was the last of a bunch of books and now I need to start a few new ones. I am in the middle of Assassination Vacation and Categories on The Beauty of Physics and I imagine I will be able to finish one or both of them by next week. But after that? Might be awhile before I make it through my book Doritos. Note: I forgot to mention that The Guardian has a nicely done obit for Octavia Butler. How I would have managed to work that into the above I have no idea. So here it is, tacked on as a tacky note at the end. Maybe it's just the weekend I need. Yeah, that's it. And Another Note. My kind sister informs me my pop culture memory is faulty and it is is Lays potato chips, not Doritos that used the slogan "Bet you can't eat just one." I stand corrected.

    Wednesday, March 15, 2006

    Do You Have a Secret?

    You may have heard of the PostSecret project and seen the website. Now there is a book. The book is a pleasing package. The dust jacket looks like brown paper, has a stamp and a postmark at the top. The title and address for mailing your secret appears in the middle. It is "handwritten" with what looks like a black Sharpie marker. At the bottom is a barcode strip the post office attaches to letters these days for processing through their computerized machines. Inside is page after page of full-color postcard secrets people sent to Frank Warren, the creator of the project. Even though one could sit and read the whole book in an hour, I couldn't do it. Some of the secrets are just so heart breaking that I found I couldn't go on. I'd then have to put the book down until the next day. But then could only read a few pages before I had to put the book down again. Here's a few examples of what I mean by heart breaking:

    • Sometimes I wish that I was blind, just so I wouldn't have to look at myself everyday in the mirror.
    • I can't tell my mom about the rape...she wouldn't want to know. And it kills me.
    • God is the only one who loves me no one else on earth does (typed in braille)
    • My dog knew all my secrets, but one. I put rat poison out back to get rid of a family of rats. In around five days I had no more rats. Around two weeks later, I had no dog. I hope someone can learn from my mistake. Max, I'm so sorry. We miss you so, so much.
    They aren't all sad. Some are funny like the one that says "When people upset me I draw pictures of them on buses going to Hell, disaster, or Ohio." Or the this one: "I used to fertilize a ring in our lawn every time I mowed it. It grew. My parents still think it was aliens." And a few of the cards just made me plain happy:
    I have made six postcards with secrets that I was afraid to tell the one person I tell everything to, my boyfriend. This morning I planned to mail them, but instead I left them on the pillow next to his head while he was sleeping. Ten minutes ago he arrived at my office and asked me to marry him. I said yes.
    The book is definitely worth a read. And part of the proceeds from the book go to support the National Hopeline Network, a 24-hour hotline for anyone thinking about suicide or knows someone who is considering it.

    Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    We the People...

    After all that snow yesterday, this morning was a beautiful picture postcard. But today I have a poetry book to tell you about. A Box of Longing with Fifty Drawers by Jen Benka is a slim book that can be read in less than half an hour. But you won't want to read it that fast. Or if you do, you'll want to read it over several times. The book is made up of one poem, in sequence, for each of the words in the Preamble to the United States Constitution. I come from the School House Rock generation and thanks to the catchy tune, I still have this important document memorized. In one of my high school history classes we had a test for which one of the questions was to write out the Preamble. If you were watching the class through the window, you would have seen us all nodding our heads over our papers, mouthing the words to the "song" as we scribbled them down. But I digress. The very first poem, "We," gives you an idea of what to expect from this book:

    where were we during the convening two hundred years ago or yesterday we, not of the planter class, but mud hands digging where were we during the convening our work, these words, are missing the tired, the poor, waylaid where were we during the convening two hundred years ago or yesterday.
    Most of the poems are quite short, but still manage to reflect a part of the meaning and longing that is America. One of my favorites of the super shorts is "Our"
    to have something that can't be held in two hands.
    The poem I like best out of all them, however, is "Tranquility"
    where language meets silence slow on the sleepy page and love and love and love hushes into dreaming.
    I like the soft sounds of the words, making the poem itself feel slow and sleepy, a soft blanket. This is a lovely little book, quiet, yet full of emotion. There are poems here of hope, of promises kept and broken, of community and isolation, the things that make up this "box of longing with fifty drawers" which in one poem Benka describes as "an unsolved mathematical equation." Even if you are turned off by the combination of art and politics, you'll still enjoy these poems.

    Monday, March 13, 2006

    Just a Little Snow

    Here is what the start of my day looked like: spring snow Indoors is Good Nothing like a good spring snowstorm on a Monday. I had to dig my car out to get to work. Yes, I went to work in that mess. And then I had to dig my car out and have two co-workers give me a push to get home. It wouldn't be so bad if it were light and fluffy snow. Unfortunately, it is wet, heavy snow. The "experts" say never to lift snow when shoveling but I'll bet they all have snowblowers or teenagers. Tired back. Tired neck. Tired me. I had a post about a small poetry book planned but that will have to wait until tomorrow. Until then, check out the New York Public Library's list of 25 Books to Remember from 2005 (link via Maud Newton and reader Teddy). I am always a sucker for lists and there are some good ones on here I have not heard off. Thank goodness for my computerized TBR list, otherwise I'd have a tree's worth of paper in my desk drawers! And if you have some time on your hands, there is an interesting discussion going on at Slashdot about why even techie-types don't like e-books. To to curl up under a quilt with a hot cup of cocoa and a good book!

    We Interrupt the Scheduled Programming...

    To bring you this public service annoucement. This week is MS Awareness Week: March 13-17, 2006 A week like this has taken on new importance in the So Many Books household. In January of this year my Bookman was diagnosed with MS. We are both doing fine, but the unknown of the disease is something that is taking time to deal with. Unlike some diseases, MS is highly unpredictable; everyone who has it has a different experience with it. We have learned there are quite a few famous people with MS inlcuding Joan Didion, Stanley Elkin, Judy Grahn, Nicola Griffith, Montel Williams, and Teri Garr. Garr has a book out, Speed Bumps, (See how I manage to slip something bookish in?) in which she writes about her experience with MS as well as her life in the limelight. She was in six Elvis movies, was present for the recording of Yellow Submarine, and of course, starred in Young Frankenstein. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Chances are you know someone with MS. So take a minute, click on the awareness link, and learn a bit about the disease.

    Sunday, March 12, 2006

    Vocabulary! Get Your Vocabulary Lesson Here!

    Yesterday was new words day. It appears that Mr. Emerson is going to keep me on my toes with new vocabulary words. Here are the ones that tripped me up:

    • Endogenous. Adjective. Having an internal cause or origin. In biology, growing or originating from within an organism. In psychiatry, not attributable to any external or environmental factor. Also, confined within a group or society. Emerson's sentence: "Man is endogenous, and education is his unfolding."
    • Collyrium. Noun. A medicated eyewash. Also, a kind of dark eye shadow, used especially in Eastern countries. Emerson's sentence: "Great men are thus a collyrium to clear our eyes from egotism, and enable us to see other people and their works." Hmm, great men are like a medicated eyewash. Such an elegant and inspiring use of metaphor!
    • Agglutinations. Noun. A derivative of agglutinate, verb. Firmly stick or be stuck together too form a mass. Used in biology in terms of bacteria or red blood cells, to clump together. In linguistics, combine simple words or parts of words without change of form to express compound ideas. Emerson's sentence: "Nature abhors these complaisances, which threaten to melt the world into a lump, and hastens to break up such maudlin agglutinations."
    • Superfetation. Noun. Used in medicine and zoology, the occurrence of a second conception during pregnancy, giving rise to embryos of different ages in the uterus. Used figuratively to mean the accretion of one thing on another. Emerson's sentence: "The thoughtful youth laments the superfetation of nature."
    Emerson loves the fancy latinate words! No surprise really since in the essay he makes a disparaging remark against "the Saxon race" (the children are educated to wish to be first). Since my Dad's side of the family all originated from Germany, I took a bit of offense. But what is most curious is that one of his representative men is none other than Goethe. Maybe Emerson makes an exception due to Goethe's greatness. It will be awhile before I find out since Goethe is the last essay. One more new word came upon me while reading Clarissa last night (I know it's been awhile, but I have not given up this monster-sized book). Nothing much is happening. Clarissa is still putting off Lovelace in hopes that she can be reconciled to her family. She knows she has screwed up but she doesn't want to face the consequences. Oy. Anyway, the word in question is immiscible. Adjective. Not forming a homogeneous mixture when added together. The sentence: "Could it have been honest in me to have given my hand to an odious hand, and to have consented to such a more than reluctant, such an immiscible union, if I may so call it?" (Italics are Richardson's.) The odious hand in question is that of Mr. Solmes. The Harlowe family still has designs for forcing her to marry him as long as she is not married to Lovelace. Clarissa needs to either give in to her family's wishes, give in to Lovelace, or grow a backbone and take her family to court in order to claim possession of the property left her by her grandfather. But being decisive is not one of Clarissa's virtues.

    Saturday, March 11, 2006

    Emerson Begins

    It's hard to believe that I am having a weekend without Montaigne. Today begins Emerson, and how different he is. Montaigne was casual, full of stories and rather chatty. Emerson is formal, abstract and declamatory. I guess that's what a Harvard education and being a preacher for a number of years will get you. I don't much like his voice at the moment, but I wasn't sure about Montaigne when I began reading him either. I don't know much about Emerson, nor, other than a couple essays while in school, have I read him before. So this will be an enterprise of discovery. I'm beginning with Representative Men which was first published in 1850. My edition is the Modern Library edition. The editors used the version published in 1857 which had some editorial changes made by Emerson. At this point I do not know if I will wend my way through all of Emerson's essays or just what appears in The Essential Emerson. But I have time to decide. First there is Representative Men. To give the book a little context, 1850, the year it was published, also saw the publication of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. And it is the year California became a state. Representative Men is the result of a set of lectures Emerson delivered to enthusiastic crowds several years earlier. The book received only tepid reviews. Emerson apparently joked, "The fate of my books is like the impression of my face. My acquaintances, as long back as I can remember, have always said, 'Seems to me you look a little thinner than when I saw you last.' " But in spite of the lack of critical acclaim, it sold well. Emily Dickinson even read it and called it "a little granite book you can lean on." Eventually the book would become one of his most popular works, beloved by the likes of Carlyle, Robert Frost, and Borges. There was some ado made about the exclusion of Americans from the book. Emerson did it deliberately, believing American lives to be "somewhat poor and pallid." He thought the likes of Franklin and Washington had no "fiery grain." It is unfortunate that he felt this way. But then, American culture didn't really come into it's own until the 20th century, and for better or worse, it now seems to be making inroads everywhere. Today belongs to the first lecture in which Emerson discusses the uses of great men. All great men perform a service: the direct service of their actions and discoveries and the indirect service of their ideas. But however great a man is, he is not sprung up from nothing but the result of all the great men that came before. Even if one is not great, there is still a sort of debt, "Every ship that comes to America got its chart from Columbus. Every novel is a debtor to Homer. Every carpenter who shaves with a foreplane borrows the genius of a forgotten inventor. As Walt Whitman might say, we contain multitudes. A quality of greatness is imagination:

    When this wakes, a man seems to multiply ten times or a thousand times his force. It opens the delicious sense of indeterminate size, and inspires an audacious mental habit. We are as elastic as the gas of gunpowder, and a sentence in a book, or a word dropped in conversation, sets free our fancy, and instantly our heads are bathed with galaxies, and our feet tread the floor of the Pit.
    The imagination of the great, awakens the imagination in all of us. And it is important to associate with the great, to be influenced by their imaginations. If we hang out with the mediocre, our thoughts will never go beyond. But the great will take our thoughts higher and help use transcend fashion to savor universal ideas. There is danger, however, in the term great men. It implies caste. Emerson believes there is no such thing as a common man. He insists, "all men are at last of a size; and true art is only possible, on the conviction that every talent has its apotheosis somewhere." Heroes happen because they have a quality and talent that is demanded by the times in which they live. He can come from anywhere. But no famous or great man, no hero, is ever the essence of what we are looking for; he is only an "exhibition" of "new possibilities." Greatness does not go on forever, "every hero becomes a bore at last." We learn that even genius has limits and faults. The man may no longer capture our attention but his qualities and his ideas continue to have an effect, "great men exist that there may be greater men." Representative Men examines six great men, six men Emerson believes are exhibitions of the possible. Next week: "Plato; Or, The Philosopher"

    Thursday, March 09, 2006

    Class Concludes

    Using Margaret Atwood is all done. I have learned quite a bit from the class. I've learned what reading like a writer means. I used to think it was some mysterious method I was not privy to. Not so. Reading as a writer means paying attention to what is going on not only in the story but with the words on the page. It means noticing things like point of view, tense, chronology. It also means paying attention to the way character is developed and how narration and dialog is used. I find that paying such close attention leads to questions about how the choices the writer made affects the story. Reading so closely is slow but rewarding work. With short stories it doesn't have to be sustained for long. I haven't tried it on a novel yet. I'm worried that if I do, I'll get tired out before I'm halfway through. But it's worth it to at least try. Now I just have to figure out what novel to try it on. The Virginian maybe? Or perhaps I should try it on an Atwood novel? I have The Tent sitting on the corner of my desk, beckoning. One of the purposes of the class was to learn from the choices Atwood makes in her stories. And learn I have. I never really thought about all the possibilities I could choose from in writing. I'd just write and see what happened. Now I'm aware of what my "default" choices are and feel like I can consciously make a different choice or give myself permission to go with the default. I was hoping that I'd be inspired by the class to actually finish something. I am great at getting ideas, starting out and then getting another idea and moving on to that one. I have all kinds of beginnings but no endings. Unfortunately I find I have even more beginnings and still no endings. Maybe it's because I have always used writing as a way to think, so when I start writing my brain goes wild and all these thoughts and ideas start bouncing around behind my eyeballs. Perhaps it has something to do with the way I like to learn as well. I love "reverse engineering" things. Give me the answer, the product, the conclusion and I love taking it apart to figure out how it was arrived at. I am fascinated by process and how parts make a whole. That's probably why I found taking apart Atwood stories so much fun. If there is anyone else out there who has the same difficulties I do I'd love to hear from you, especially if you've managed to figure out a way to continue loving the process and still reach an end. The next Loft catalog comes out it early April for classes over the summer. I am jealous of my summers, need to spend as much time outdoors as possible to make up for being housebound all winter, so unless there is a class that is now-or-never or so interesting I can't resist, I'll be suspending classes until fall. I'll have to think of a way to set up an outdoor writing space without offering myself up as dinner for the mosquitos, and maybe, just maybe, I'll manage to actually finish something.

    Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    A Quickie

    I'm off to my last session of Using Margaret Atwood. It's been a great class and if you haven't read Wilderness Tips, even if you don't like short stories, I recommend it highly. Here's a few links to keep you busy for a few minutes:

  • If you haven't tired of hearing about Margaret Atwood's LongPen. Is there nothing this woman can't do?
  • More Google Digitization. This time authors are being warned.
  • Congress renewed the Patriot Act. Revisions have been made to protect your rights. The new version clarifies that "most libraries" are not subject to demands for information about suspected terrorists. Most libraries? Is there a list somewhere of the libraries that would have to turn over the information? And nothing is mentioned about bookstores. I feel so much better now. Don't you?
  • There's a new book laying out the arguments for a Bush impeachment. And an interview with the author.
  • A review of Macaulay Culkin's debut novel. The reviewer doesn't pull any punches, stating in the first sentence that Culkin "has managed to lower the already low bar set for celebrity fiction." And it only gets worse.
  • And finally, a quiz from the Guardian in honor of International Women's Day. I got 6 out of ten. I feel guilty that I didn't do better than that.
  • Tuesday, March 07, 2006

    Cats and Death

    Back when the trip to Wales got indefinitely postponed because of our inability to find satisfactory and affordable care for our diabetic cat, Susan delicately suggested a book called Waiting for My Cats to Die by Stacy Horn. I searched all my area libraries for it but none of them had it. But my sister came through. She owns the book and she kindly sent it to me from the sunny climes of Los Angeles. At first I wasn't sure I was going to like the book. Horn is 42 and having a midlife crisis. There is a lot of whining. A lot of whining. Whining about being single, about her company which was in precarious financial straits, and her fear of death. If it weren't for her two diabetic cats, Veets and Beams, I would have tossed the book aside. Compared to Horn's cat care regimen, mine is a breeze. She has to do test strips on her cats. All I have to do is a twice a day insulin injection. On top of that, Beams has kidney disease and she has to give him an infusion every other day. The kept me reading and in the end I am glad I continued. Eventually her voice grew on me. She ceased to whine so much. She has a good sense of humor. And she's so, well, human and ordinary. Horn is obsessed with death and by extension cemeteries. She takes the reader along on her explorations of some of New York's more lost and neglected final resting spots. She is also afraid she is going to die alone in her apartment with her cats and no one will care. She has a psychic friend who tells her she has a ghost in her apartment. This sends her on a quest to find out who lived in her apartment so she will know her ghost's name. And of course, Horn is concerned about the death of her cats. She has a fantasy--she fantasizes a lot--about how her cats will die. It will be at home and she will give them the euthanizing injections. I found her fantasy touching and was sobbing by the end of the chapter. I wanted my cat to come and tell me it was okay but he was ignoring me in typical cat fashion, asleep in front of a heater vent. Instead it was the dog who got upset I was crying and showed up to comfort me. By the end of the book one of the cats does die and it doesn't happen like Horn's fantasy. I sobbed some more and got doggy kisses for my trouble. The cat just looked at me like I was a freak and demanded I stop this business immediately and put some food in his dish. Waiting for My Cats to Die is not an amazing memoir. It is, however, entertaining and thoughtful. An easy, and even though it made me cry, enjoyable read.

    Monday, March 06, 2006

    1001 Books

    Over the weekend I got the chance to begin dipping into 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. There have been some bad reviews as I mentioned last week, but I find the book to be quite good. First, let's start with the way it looks. This book is 2.5 inches thick. I don't have a scale but I'd guess it approaches 5 pounds in weight. Every single page from first to last, including the index, is heavy, glossy paper. Nearly every book has a drawing or photo of the author and quite a few of the books have full page color reproductions of either the cover of the original publication or an illustration from the book in question. Second, there's how it was put together. Peter Boxall is the general editor and he gathered a group of 100 people to write 300 word book "reviews" of books they thought people should read. The majority of contributors are British with Americans and Canadians following up and a handful of folks from other countries to fill in the gaps. There is a feel-good intro by Peter Ackroyd and an intro from Boxall. In his intro Boxall explains the title. He chose 1001 to connect it to The Thousand and One Nights in which each story Scheherezade tells saves her life for just one more day. The editor states that he is well aware that books have been left out. He does not claim the book is an exhaustive list, nor is he attempting to define a new canon. Instead he hopes the list conveys the spirit of the novel and a love for what the novel is and does. Maybe I'm gullible, but I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker. Third, the book choices. The book is broken up into sections. It begins with Pre-1700s and includes titles such as Aesop's Fables and The Golden Ass. In the 1700s We've got titles like Robinson Crusoe, Candide and Dangerous Liasons. For the 1800s there's several by Balzac, Dumas, and of course all the Brontë sisters appear. We also get Twain, Hardy, Tolstoy, and The Picture of Dorian Gray! The 1900s portion of the book accounts for half of the book selections. And finally the 2000s which goes up to 2005 and includes The Sea and On Beauty. The book is a pleasure to browse in. I loved the author photos. There is a picture of Tom Wolfe in the 1960s, looking youthful and already wearing his white suit. There is another photo of him in the late 1990s, still in his white suit and looking so un-aged that I wonder if he's got a very ugly portrait hanging in his attic. There is also a photo of Yukio Mishima posed as a samuri wearing hardly a stitch of clothing, a sword in his hand and his muscles bulging. And a teenage Franç Sagan dressed in a striped shirt and plaid skirt, proving that French fashion isn't always that fabulous. My only quibble with the book is that it doesn't include enough women. I didn't take an exact count, but I'd say that books by women make up only one-third of the total. Aside from that the entries are well written and each recommendation is noted with the contributor's name. There are authors and books here of which I have never heard alongside ones I've always meant to get to. Now if only reading these books would delay my demise by just one more novel...

    Sunday, March 05, 2006

    I Have Hope

    You may have realized by now if you've been silly enough to come back here from time to time, that I enjoy a good fantasy/science fiction novel now and then (though I am learning that speculative fiction seems to be replacing the category name and I am speculating that this is an attempt to get those who are afraid of the old category to try the new one). I think there is so much more room to examine ideas than there is in current literary-type fiction these days. But as much as I love the genre, it is sometimes rather difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Imagine my delight then, to discover the New York Times has begun a science fiction column. The first column is a review of a new book by David Marusek, a writer of whom I have never heard. The book sounds interesting but not enough to make me run out and buy it. No, what I liked best about this article is the reviewer's wondering, with all the techno jargon sci-fi books exhibit these days, "whether science fiction has strayed so far from the fiction category as a whole that, though the two share common ancestors, they now seem to have as much to do with each other as a whale has to do with a platypus?" I have wondered something similar myself. When a reader needs a degree in physics to understand the book, the author is losing out. When the author creates a future world with a language that the reader has a hard time following because it is so different from our own, the story gets lost. When characters are nothing but flat, uninspired cardboard clichés, why should the reader care? The best science fiction in my opinion puts character first, plot second, and science last instead of the other way around. If I care about the characters and it's a good story, I will keep reading even if I don't completely understand everything. The same holds true for plain old fiction. Thus, the prospect of sci-fi being reviewed in a mainstream publication is heartening and exciting. What I found most disappointing, however, is the reviewer's list of sci-fi favorites. If you look at the list carefully, you will notice that not one of the favorites is by a woman. Where is Ursula LeGuin? Where is Sheri S. Tepper? Where is Octavia Butler? Women are nearly invisible when it comes to science fiction. Is it because it is "science" fiction and science is still consider by many to be something men do? Is science fiction the last bastion of literary sexism?

    Saturday, March 04, 2006

    The End of Montaigne

    I finally finished The Cambridge Companion to Montaigne. Overall it is a good book, especially the bibliography which lists several books I will be trying to track down. I wouldn't recommend The Cambridge Companion for general reading or unless you have read all of Montaigne's essays, though you could get through it fine if you've only read An Apology for Raymond Sebond. The second to last essay by Ann Hartle, "Montaigne and Skepticism" was a bit dull for me. I suppose if I were a Montaigne scholar it would have been interesting, but as a general reader I really don't care if Montaigne can be classed as a true skeptic or not. The most interesting bit in the essay was the brief summary of the history of the philosophy of skepticism. That and I learned that Montaigne's personal emblem was a scale with the motto "What do I know?" The final essay, "Montaigne on Moral Philosophy and the Good Life," by J.B. Schneewind (love the guy's name!) was interesting. Schneewind placed Montaigne in the context of a history of moral philosophy and shows how Montaigne differed from the Hellenistic and Roman moral philosophers he read. Post-Montaigne, Hume, Bentham, and Kant all attempt to further develop Montaigne's ideas with Kant being a sort of culmination (and a great admirer of Montaigne). Schneewind also talks briefly about how current moral philosophers are still trying to answer some of the questions Montaigne raised. I don't feel compelled to read Hume and Bentham, but I am feeling like I should read Kant. This is disturbing to me because I have read a bit of Kant before in college and found him impenetrable. But maybe it was what I read--his ideas on beauty and the sublime--and in trying again I might at last find a way in. I think I'll let the prospect of Kant sit for awhile until it doesn't seem so daunting. In the meantime I am done with Montaigne. Sort of. I am moving on to Emerson but am starting with Representative Men one of whom is Montaigne. I can't just quit cold turkey.

    Friday, March 03, 2006

    Saddle Up!

    Now that the Slaves of Golconda have properly mined The Picture of Dorian Gray, Ella has selected the book for our next expedition: The Virginian by Owen Wister. The discussion begins April 30th. Anyone is welcome to read the book and join in. But in case you just can't let go of Dorian, or think you may have missed something, Sylvia has the round up.

    Time for a Change

    If you are a frequent visitor, you may have noticed I changed the look of things around here. I was getting tired of being blue and thought I'd try something different. I hope you like it. If not, I saved the code from before so I can always go back. If you see anything missing, let me know.

    Thursday, March 02, 2006

    No Talk of Rules

    I had my Using Margaret Atwood class last night and the guy who loves rules was absent. Without him there was no talk about what could and could not be done. That allowed us to have an interesting conversation about the use of future tense (I/he/she will) and conditional (I/he/she would) and how it can be quite powerful. We tried to think of a short story that was written entirely in future tense but couldn't. We wondered if it is possible to write a successful story in such a manner. If you, kind reader, know of such an example, I'd appreciate the tip! I also worked more on my emergency room story. The assignment is to tell a story in something other than A-B-C fashion. Here's what I have so far: I try not to run from my car into the emergency room. Try to be calm. Try not to shake. I wait my turn at the desk. When the nurse behind it looks up at me I try to smile, be pleasant, keep my voice steady. "I got a call from the police that my husband was in a car accident and brought here." My heart is pounding. She must be able to see how terrified I am. "What's his name?" "Weinberg, Jeff," I tell her. She types in his name and looks at her screen for too long. "I'm sorry, but he's not here," she says. "But the police officer said this is where the ambulance was taking him." She looks at the computer again, asks the other nurse next to her if he knows anything about a Jeff Weinberg. He shakes his head and looks sympathetic. "Where is he then?" I ask. I must look like I'm about to lose it because without a word both nurses jump into action, calling emergency rooms all over the city to find my husband. He's not in any of them. I feel dizzy and I can't breath. If this were a movie I'd faint and wake up on the leather sofa of a kind, elderly doctor. My husband would be leaning over me with a Band-aid on his forehead and his arm in a sling. We'd kiss and laugh at the horrible mistake. But this is not a movie. The nurse pats my hand, tells me it will be okay. She'll find him. She starts calling emergency rooms in the neighboring county. The people moving around me leave blurred trails behind them. Sound is muffled except for the nurse's voice. I wonder if I misunderstood the police officer? I had been scrubbing the carpet where Jeff had left muddy boot prints. We'd argued about it that morning. He said he'd clean up the mud after he got home from work. But after looking at it all day I couldn't stand it any longer. I wanted to make him feel even worse because I had cleaned it up. While I scrubbed I worked myself up into an angry fit. When the phone rang I thought it was going to be him explaining why he was so late. I got ready to yell at him. But instead of Jeff on the phone it was Officer Mitchell. For some reason I expected him to say Jeff was in jail for speeding or something and I had to come pay his fine. If Jeff thought I was mad before-- "Jeff has been in a car accident," is what Officer Mitchell said instead. At first I didn't get it. I thought I'd have to go pick him up because he wrecked the car. I didn't think I could get any angrier, but I did. **** More to come, I hope. And if you have stuck with me this far, here is a link to an article about a new book that argues RFID (radio frequency identification) might be the mark of the beast and a sign of the end times. I think RFID is not an entirely benign technology, but I don't think it's time to dig out my apocalypse party hat yet.

    Wednesday, March 01, 2006

    A Little Worried

    I'm a little worried. My Bookman gifted me with 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and Sandra has linked to some bad reviews of the book. I just got the book yesterday and haven't had the chance to dip into it yet. But it looks impressive. It's over 2 inches thick, the pages are heavy and glossy, and it is loaded with color illustrations and photos. My Bookman ordered in a bunch for his store and reports that his employees are walking around with the book clutched to their chests. So I will have to delve into the book and let you all know if it is worth the price of admission. Stay tuned. Tonight I am off to class. Tomorrow I'll post a little more of that story I started last week.