Thursday, August 31, 2006

Commonplace Books

AC recently had a book giveaway and I am the lucky recipient of an advanced reading copy of Michael Dirda's Book by Book. It's a lovely size for the bike bag and has turned out to be the perfect lunchtime reading. I haven't gotten far into it as I suffered a bout of reader interruptus, but what I have read thus far I have enjoyed. The book appears to be made up of little essays, thought fragments, observations, and favorite quotes. Actually there are quite a lot of quotes. Dirda mentions in the introduction that he keeps a commonplace book. Which got me thinking. I keep a commonplace book too. Since I started blogging though I have not been very good at using it and quotes I don't put into blog posts sort of slip by. It also doesn't help that I thought I'd get fancy and start keeping my quotes on my computer instead of wire-ringed notebooks. Now I've got quotes in two places and I haven't quite figured out a satisfactory organizational method for my online quotes. But that's only part of it. I realized that once I put a quote in my notebook, I rarely go back and read it. Once in awhile I flip through, stopping at places that catch my eye. I do this maybe once or twice a year. And I am always surprised and delighted by what I find. If such browsing gives me pleasure, I am puzzled as to why I don't do it more often. I'll leave figuring that out for another day. I thought I might do some flipping and share some quotes.

  • A reader reading makes the book, brings it into meaning, by translating arbitrary symbols, printed letter into an inward, private reality. Reading is an act, a creative one. Viewing is relatively passive. A viewer watching a film does not make the film. To watch a film is to be taken into it--to participate in it--be made part of it. Absorbed by it. Readers eat books. Film eats viewers. Ursula LeGuin, The Wave in the Mind
  • Time comes into it./ Say it. Say it// The universe is made of stories,/ not of atoms. Muriel Rukeyser, "The Speed of Darkness"
  • Take care you don't know anything in this world too quickly or easily. Everything/ is also a mystery, and has its own secret aura in the moonlight, it's own private song. Mary Oliver, "Moonlight"
  • "Making money isn't hard in itself," he complained. "What's hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting one's life to." Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind
  • An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. G.K. Chesterton, "On Running After One's Hat"
  • To live content with small means, to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion, to be worthy, not repectable, and wealthy, not rich, to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart, to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never--in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow through the common. This is to be my symphony. William Henry Channing
That was fun. I also discovered I have misplaced a notebook. Must go look for it. Here is a question. Do you keep a commonplace book? Here is another question. What do you do with it?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


What a horrible book! That's horrible as in causing horror, not as in the glib way we use it to mean something is bad. The Island of Dr. Moreau made my stomach turn at times. The cries of the puma being vivisected, "such and exquisite expression of suffering," almost made me stop reading, so clearly could I hear them in my head. Prendick's reaction, to escape the cries rather than to do something to stop the animal's suffering, made me so angry I wanted to do something to hurt him, after, that is, I stormed Moreau's fortress, set all of the suffering animals free, and hung Moreau by his toes from the highest tree. What a horrible, excruciating, gut-wrenching book! The book has a sort of Heart of Darkness feel to it for me. But instead of Kurtz being worshipped by the natives, Moreau makes his own to worship him. Moreau is God on his little island, molding animals into the semblance of humans, giving them The Law, and meting out punishment to those who break The Law. Moreau's level-headed explanation to Prendick of what he is doing is seductive in its cool, scientific reasoning. That Moreau thinks he can, by "dip[ping] a living creature into the bath of pain [...] burn out all the animal" and be left with a rational creature reveals his madness. What is even more frightening is that Moreau has no purpose for his work other than personal. His intentions are not to improve the lives of animals or humans. He wants, but I am not entirely sure what he wants, maybe only to marvel in his own power. He is the scientist we all fear, the one who lives in a self-created, self-driven universe where ethics and morals do not have a role. He is the doctor we are afraid will experiment on us just to see what happens; the scientist who would clone a human being or create a toxin without an antidote. This being a book, we have the satisfaction of Moreau getting what he deserves. The book plays on our fears of science in such a way, however, that I am left with a creepy feeling that there are real-life Moreaus who are, at this moment, far away from justice. Wells's writing style is reporterly and unadorned. Here are the facts and just the facts. We are not told how we are to think or feel about what is going on. It is like the reader is a jury and the text presents the various sides of the case for our consideration. Everyone gets a turn to speak, Moreau, his assistant Montgomery, Prendick the narrator, even the "beast people." We do not get to decide their fates, they take care of that themselves. We only get to decide their guilt. The book also asks us to think about what is human. When the book was written, Darwin's theory of evolution was turning society upside down. No longer could we be so certain that we were created by God. Nor could we say for sure that we were not animals. Even in the twenty-first century the repercussions of Darwin continue to play out. What is animal? What is human? When once we were certain we were the top of the pyramid, with evolution we are only one more step in the development of the species and we don't know what is in the future. So what do we do? Do we abdicate, and become animals? Or do we become Moreau-like and attempt to turn ourselves into gods? Wells does not try to suggest an alternative to either and I am glad he didn't, it would have given the novel a false note and tempered the horror. Instead we are forced to look in the mirror and try and answer some tough questions. Everyone is welcome to joine the Slaves of Golconda discussion of this book at MetaxuCafe

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

New Wheels

Just home from picking up my new wheels: My bike Even the dog and the cat were interested. Being a recreational cyclist, I was a little nervous going to shop for a new bike. The Raleigh that was stolen over the weekend was my first "real" bike and I got it from a neighborhood shop not really knowing what I was doing. The shop owner was nice and helpful and didn't treat me like I was stupid. I would have gone back to him but his is a small shop and it being near the end of the season he didn't have much of a selection left. So we went to Erik's. They are a big shop. They sponsor races and even though their ads say they pedal good bikes to everyone, I was worried they'd be sneering at me. I am happy to say it wasn't like that at all. Graeme, who had a nice Australian accent, was friendly and helpful. I told him what I had and that I wanted something similar but lighter so I could ride longer distances than just to work and around the lake. He showed me a few nice bikes, Raleigh, Cannondale (maybe someday), and Specialized. As you can see from the photo I went with the Specialized (you can also tell that we need to do some sidewalk crack weeding! And that's not my full address in case you thought you could find out where I live and steal this bike from me.). I took it for a test drive in the badly paved parking lot and it was a nice ride, a good sign I think. I had a hard time picking up my former bike, but this one I could pick up with one hand (at least until I added the rack on the back, who knew a rack was so heavy?). I got a new helmet too and a lock that would take some serious work to cut. Graeme said they've had lots of people coming in lately to replace stolen bikes. The bike will be locked up, even in my locked garage! I am still sad I had to get a new bike, but I like the one I got very much. I'm looking forward to riding it to work tomorrow. Two days and no bike riding has left me a bit edgy. It also helped me realize just what a great stress reliever riding is!

"The Mark on the Wall"

My short story of the week(end) on Sunday was Virginia Woolf's "The Mark on the Wall." Now that I have finally read it, I know why it is touted as groundbreaking. While Woolf plays with narrative style in her earlier pieces, they are all fairly straightforward, nothing too out of the ordinary. In "The Mark on the Wall" she suddenly breaks into stream of consciousness. Her first novel, The Voyage Out was published in 1915. "The Mark on the Wall", coupled with a short story by Leonard Woolf, was the first publication of Hogarth Press (owned and operated by her and Leonard) in 1917. Woolf's next novel, Night and Day would not be published until 1919. Also published in 1919 was a collection of her short fiction called Monday or Tuesday which includes a slightly revised from 1917 version of "The Mark on the Wall." "The Mark on the Wall" is so different from the stories that came before I can't help but wonder what happened. I've read that portion of her diary but nothing springs to mind. Maybe I need to read Voyage Out for some clues? In case you have not read "The Mark on the Wall," the story is simple. It is a woman sitting in her living room in the middle of January smoking a cigarette. She glances up to the wall above the mantel and sees a small, black mark on the wall that she has never noticed before. She does not get up for a closer look at the mark, she sits there smoking, allowing her mind to wander and wonder about the mark. Her meandering thoughts take her to thinking about the previous owners of the house, "the mystery of life," the "inaccuracy of thought," the "ignorance of humanity," Sunday luncheons, the nature of knowledge, Whitaker's Table of Precedency, the life of a tree, and over and over, what is that darn mark on the wall? We find out in the end when the narrator's husband appears. In typical Woolf style she manages in a single sentence to inject humor and irony into the story and astonished and worshipful awe into this reader. Woolf's ability to do so much with one sentence used to make me mad because I didn't see it for the brilliance that it was. My first Woolf fiction was To the Lighthouse, something I picked up over the summer when I was an undergrad in college because I had read A Room of One's Own the previous the semester and thought I should read the fiction of someone who was supposed to be so Important. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My reading of the book was so inept I was ten pages past where Mrs. Ramsey dies before I realized she was dead. I went back, thinking I had missed a big scene and found that it had all happened in one sentence. Utterly ridiculous! Whatever it was that kept me reading Woolf, I am grateful for it. Now I see how very difficult it is to write one of those sentences. Woolf earns every one of them by building up, word after word, page after page. In my book, "The Mark on the Wall" is five and half pages of build up to The Sentence. Without The Sentence, the story would just be an interesting story. As for The Sentence, it couldn't exist without the preceding five and a half pages. The story is a delight to think about and marvel over. I've been dancing around in it since I read it Sunday afternoon and wishing that the Hand of God, or the Muses or whoever is in charge of these things, would suddenly bless me with the ability to write like Woolf. That's not too much to ask, is it?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Ambushed by Stein, Wells, and Proust

Thankfully my Monday didn't get any worse than the stolen bike. I even ventured to look at the website of the bike shop where I hope to find my new wheels. And maybe, just maybe, I got a little excited. I don't want to be disappointed if I get there and they no longer have any of the bikes I imagined myself riding though so I am trying to keep it low key. So let's switch gears and talk about authors and books, shall we? I was reading happily along in volume three of Virginia Woolf's Diary the other night before bed, when I came upon an entry in which Woolf goes to a party at Edith Sitwell's and meets Gertrude Stein there. Woolf writes of that Stein is

a lady much like Joan Fry but more massive; in blue-sprinkled brocade, rather formidable.
I had no idea that Stein and Woolf had ever met. My mind reeled and then I read the footnote which explained that Stein was there because she had been invited to lecture at the literary societies at Cambridge and Oxford. The address she gave, Composition as Explanation was published a few months later by the Hogarth Press, owned and operated by Virginia and Leonard Woolf. How cool is that? As if that weren't enough, at the end of that June, 1926 entry, Woolf mentions that Leonard was out dining with Wells. It did not dawn on me until the next day's entry that the Wells Leonard dined with was none other than H.G. Wells! Woolf wrote:
Leonard back from Wells who chattered till 1/4 to 4: likes to walk through the streets; has a house in France kept for him by a very intelligent Brazilian lady. Called me "too intelligent--a bad thing": can't criticise; brings in social theories, because he says in an age when society is dissolving, the social state is part of the character.
Then a few days later, Virginia gets to meet Wells:
Wells remarkable only for a combination of stockishness with acuity: he has a sharp nose, & the cheeks & jowl of a butcher. He likes, I judge, rambling & romancing about the lives of other people [...] I could see from the plaintive watery look on Mrs. Wells' face 9she has widely spaced teeth & in repose looks very worried, at the same time vacant) that he is arrogant lustful & bullying in private life. The virtues he likes are courage & vitality. I sad how ghastly! [...] No: nothing is ghastly where there is courage he said.
And if that isn't enough, several days later Woolf and Wells are together again, this time talking about literature. He starts off by telling a story about Henry James:
Henry James was a formalist. He always thought of clothes. He was never intimate with anyone--not with his brother even: he had never been in love. Once his brother wanted to see Chesterton, & climbed a ladder & looked over a wall. This angered Henry; who called in Wells & asked him for an opinion--as I had one!
Then comes the whammy:
Wells has learnt nothing from Proust--his book is like the British Museum. One knows there are delightful interesting things in it, but one does not go there. One day it may be wet--I shall say God, what am I to do this afternoon? & I shall read Proust as I might go to the British Museum.
Says quite a bit about Wells, eh? I've been to the British Museum and now I am reading Proust. I can honestly say they are nothing alike. Unless one considers Proust to be a sort of Rosetta Stone. But being a Rosetta Stone is much different than being a museum.

What is it About Mondays?

I must be paying some kind of karmic debt or something because the last few Mondays have been really crappy. Last week it was software upgrade nightmares. Today it is a stolen bicycle. Yup. My beautiful blue and silver Raleigh SC 3.0 was stolen out of my locked garage over the weekend. The thieves even stole my helmet and the bungee cords I use to tie my clothes down on the rack. There were two other bikes in the garage--cheap mountain bikes--and they are still there as is the brand new lawnmower. They even closed the garage door so I didn't know anything was amiss until I went out to ride to work this morning. After I had a good cry I drove my car to work. Tomorrow night we are going bike shopping. I am trying to be excited about it, telling myself it's an opportunity to get something lighter and different, but thus far have not been able to muster up any enthusiam since I liked the bike I had. Maybe once I see the shiny new bikes I'll be able to be excited. For now I just feel sad.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

There are poets and then there are Poets

Poor Emerson, pining away in his essay, The Poet, for someone who can write the poem which is America. Walt Whitman eventually fills the void, but he is years in the future at the time of this essay. I am always interested when those who are not poets go to the trouble of declaring what a poet should be. For Emerson there are poets (little "p") and then there are Poets (capital "P"). While he himself wrote poetry, I think he would be the first to admit he was only a little "p" poet. The difference between the two kinds of poets is vast. Emerson will admit that poets have talents and can write a pretty verse or two, but however well they may sing, they are "not the children of music." Those children are the Poets. And the Poets, they are very special people. Emerson, who loves to classify because he thinks it helps him see things better, says there are three kinds of very special people: The Knower, the Doer, and the Sayer. The Sayer is the Poet. And while I think his classification is a bit silly, I do appreciate that he gives equal standing among the three. Especially in this day and age, we tend to appreciate the Doer most and raise him or her above the others. But Emerson points out that "Homer's words are as costly and admirable to Homer as Agamemnon's victories are to Agamemnon." He goes on to equate the two, saying "words and deeds are quite indifferent modes of the divine energy. Words are also actions, and actions are a kind of words." The true Poet is the person who not only has talent, but also taps into the divine energy. The Poet sees better than the rest of us and can then write down what was seen. This is not to say that none of us have the ability to see, Emerson is too democratic for that. The difference is that we have "some obstruction or some excess of phlegm in our constitution" that inhibits us from being artists. Poets have no obstruction, they are like antennas pulling in the signals from "that region where the air is music." The Poet's job as Sayer is to name things as well as represent beauty. First beauty. Since God made everything, everything is beautiful (sing with me!) because God would not make ugly; "Beauty is the creator of the universe" and "the Universe is the externization of the soul." Got that? Good. Because nature, as a whole and in its parts, is a symbol for that soul. And

Since every thing in nature answers to a moral power, if any phenomenon remains brute and dark it is because the corresponding faculty in the observer is not yet active.
In other words, the ugly is in you, not nature (This is not to say that people cannot create ugly things, in fact, I think we are pretty darn good at it. Emerson says that what makes ugly is a "dislocation and detachment from the life of God.") We are all poets in as much as we are all susceptible to "these enchantments of nature." But the Poets are more susceptible and can all name the beauty they see. Which brings us to the other job of the Poet. Emerson describes this aspect in a very Adamic way (is Adamic a word? If it isn't it is now). The Poet is
the Namer or Language-maker, naming things sometimes after their appearance, sometimes after their essence, and giving to every one its own name and not another's, thereby rejoicing the intellect, which delights in detachments or boundary. The poets made all the words, and therefore language is the archives of history, and, if we must say it, a sort of tomb of the muses...But the poet names the thing because he sees it, or comes one step nearer to it than any other. This expression or naming is not art, but a second nature, grown out of the first, as a leaf out of a tree.
It's all well and good to have our little poetic Adams (and Eves) running around naming things, and I agree that a poet does and should name things, but I think Namer needs to be part of everyone's job description. So much of how I tend to think falls into a Romantic world-view, but my romanticism is, I think, tempered with a healthy dose of cynicism. It's a nice idea, that Poets have a direct line to beauty and that their naming has some kind of power (on a small scale I think it does, however, that power has yet to reach Emersonian scale). These days naming is wrapped up in politics, and probably always has been except now everyone is forced to notice. As for beauty, poets and Poets are people too and just because they can describe the beautiful better than I can doesn't mean they are better people. One more thing before I quit. Emerson calls Imagination "a very high sort of seeing." He describes it as a sort of religious ecstasy, a giving over of the self to "the divine aura," a "ravishment of the intellect" (what a beautiful phrase!) Those poets who try to bring about such a state artificially are only doing themselves harm:
But never can any advantage be taken of nature by a trick. The spirit of the world, the great calm presence of the Creator, comes not forth to the sorceries of opium or of wine. The sublime vision comes to the pure and simple soul in a clean and chaste body.
And writers take note, it's not just opium and wine Emerson tosses in to the sorcery category, he also includes coffee, tea, the fumes of sandalwood, and tobacco. Pure water, he insists, is all you need. Nothing like a little ravishment of Emerson to shake the brain out of its Saturday torpor. Next week's Emerson: Experience

Friday, August 25, 2006


What a week this has been! I had a bit of trouble with a major agency-wide software upgrade. When you work with a lot of people who have no understanding about computers you find that they make things up to suit themselves. You say the reporting portion of the software isn't working and they somehow turn that into everything they do that goes into a certain report also doesn't work. I'm a pretty easy-going person at work, but this week I must have been visibly stressed and some of my coworkers were rather concerned by it and bought me flowers to say thanks for my hard work and patiently answering their questions. Such a little thing, and so nice it inspired a new haiku:

From my coworkers sunflowers and lilies unexpected thanks
I realize the second line is technically a syllable short but I think it still works. Something else nice that happened. We have a new employee. That's not the nice part though, I'm getting to that. I usually take my lunch later than most everyone else and when the weather is fine I sit outside and read. But it was raining yesterday. I'm in the empty lunchroom and the new employee comes in. I look up from my book and say hi. She says hi, and peaks to see what book I am reading. Now, most of my coworkers are regular readers but only one besides myself is a hardcore reader who regularly brings a book to work. When one eats in the lunchroom, one is expected to be social. When the new coworker came in to the room I inwardly cringed because I thought I was going to have to stop reading. To my surprise and delight, she said not a word, put her lunch together, sat at the table across from me and read the book she had brought. We were companionably silent the entire time, each of us lost in our respective books. Only you, Reader, will understand what a complete and happy thrill I had. I was so thrilled I was distracted. I couldn't believe what was happening. I kept peeping over my book at her to make sure she was really sitting there reading. Even better, she wasn't reading The Da Vinci Code! She was reading a beat up looking paperback copy of Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. I've not read the book, though I have heard of it. I was tempted to break the silence and start babbling at her, probing to find out how much she read and what. But I was afraid I would scare her. Now I have been trying to figure out how to strike up a conversation about books. I think I am just going to have to come out and ask her point blank, "So, are you a reader?" If she is, she will understand. If she isn't, well, it was fun while I thought she was. On a non-work sidenote, Renee is putting together an audio book club podcast and is looking for participants. If you have read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and have something to say about it, check out Renee's blog to find out how to get involved. Have a happy Friday everyone!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Preparing for Moreau

The Slaves of Golconda discussion for The Island of Dr. Moreau is set for August 30th. If you want to join the discussion, there is still time to read the book. It is a short and a fast read. Just because it is short and easy, however, doesn't mean there are no ideas in it. My book is bristling with page points marking useful passages. Since the book is my suggestion, I thought I'd do a bit of online research in hopes of providing some additional and useful information. The first place to look is the H.G. Wells Society, "dedicated to promoting and encouraging an active interest in and appreciation of the life, work and thought of H.G. Wells." Wells is considered by many to be the one to establish the genre of science fiction. In volume alone, he wrote more words than Dickens and Shakespeare combined. I find that to be quite impressive. The site also offers other Wells links. Most seem to be for sites interested in War of the Worlds and The Time Machine. There is even a Time Machine Project website dedicated to the book and movies. The Literature Network has a detailed biography and links to online Wells texts. An interesting thing for Moreau readers in Wells' bio, he studied biology with T.H. Huxley. He eventually lost interest and left his studies in 1887 without taking a degree. Wikipedia also has a thorough biography of Wells. There is also a page about Moreau. When Wells wrote the novel, England was locked in debate over animal vivisection. Alberto Manguel has a chapter on his experience re-reading Dr. Moreau as an adult (he originally read it at the age of 12) in his book A Reading Diary. He writes:

A pedantic note: the reality of the novel is Kantian. The protagonist sees the world as he imagines it to be, while the reader knows there is a world-in-itself, unknowable to the protagonist. The drama arises from the tension between what the protagonist believes and what the reader knows.
Something to think about for further discussion? Finally, Margaret Atwood has written an introduction to The Island of Dr. Moreau for Penguin UK in 2005. The introduction is also included in her book Writing with Intent. In the introduction, "Ten Ways of Looking at The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells," she cites Borges writing about the book. His essay is included in The Total Library: Nonfiction 1922-1986. At one point Atwood refers to Prendick as a "Modern Ancient Mariner." More food for thought. Hope these little bits help as everyone prepares for discussion. Even if you are not a "Slave," you are welcome to participate.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


My lunchtime reading at work has been a lovely book called The Haiku Apprentice: Memoirs of Writing Poetry in Japan by Abigail Friedman. I finished it yesterday, was surprised actually as I turned the last page. I didn't know I was so close to the end, or maybe I just didn't want to believe it, and then no back up book for the rest of my break! So I sat outside in the sun and the quiet and tried to compose a haiku. I loved this book. What I loved best about it is a certain quality of tone, for lack of anything more specific to call it. No matter how bad my day was going as soon as I sat down to read this book during lunch, I felt like I was gently led away to some other place. I found the book soothing and calming. I don't recall a book ever having such an effect on me. Abigail Friedman is a diplomat, has been in the US Foreign Service since 1988 and has been stationed all over the world. She is fluent in Japanese and the book is set during a 3-year period she was in Tokyo several years ago when North Korea was first being threatening about developing nuclear weapons. Friedman had always enjoyed reading classic haiku but never thought of writing it. She had a westerner's attitude that only "real" poets write poetry. But she discovers in Japan that writing haiku is something everyone does. Imagine the craze we have for book groups, change book to haiku writing, and it's like that in Japan. There are also haiku magazines and television shows. Writing haiku is not a hobby, writing haiku is something people do. Friedman learns that the point of haiku is not to be dazzling, but to write a poem that is true to one's self. Writing in this way requires a person to slow down and pay attention, to work at figuring out what one really wants to say. Maybe because of this attentiveness that haiku requires, the people she talked to about haiku, from a haiku master to someone who began writing haiku when he turned 70, seemed kind and wise, at least in relation to poetry. As Friedman learns to write haiku she also learns about the history of the form. Haiku began as the first verse of a longer poem called a renga. The first verse, the hokku, was considered the most important part of the poem. Then Basho came along and separated the hokku from the rest of the renga, turning it into its own poem. The traditional, and natural in Japanese, five-seven-five rhythm stayed with the poem as did the "requirement" to include a seasonal word. There are huge dictionaries of seasonal words and it seems nearly every Japanese person owns one. The haiku group Friedman belonged to preferred traditional haiku, but she notes that poets are stretching the form, playing with it, seeing what it can and can't do. She makes it all sound so exciting. Friedman wrote her haiku in Japanese. When she returned to America she worried about how to write a haiku in English. After some research she discovered that there are no commonly agreed upon rules of haiku in English. The Haiku Society of America defines haiku thus:

A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.
Apparently, a number of contemporary American haiku poets are writing about things that have nothing to do with the seasons or nature, so even this is not a requirement. The book contains several pages of resources, books and websites, to go to for further information. I recommend the The Haiku Apprentice to anyone interested in Japan or haiku, or just looking for a book to help them relax. I don't think I will be starting my own haiku group, but I like the idea of giving haiku writing a try. The one I began composing at lunch yesterday took me long time to complete. I even worked on it when a big thunderstorm rolled through at 4 a.m.! I don't know that it is very good, but it was fun to do:
A stressful work day an evening of books and blogs I am released

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Doing My Part

There is an interesting article at Alternet about Why Booksellers Are Going Belly Up. The author uses Cody's, a 50-year-old bookstore in Berkeley that closed last month as a example of what's going on. The store's demise, acknowledges the author, is not just because of those evil chain bookstores that everyone likes to blame. The issue is more complex and can be likened to "death by a thousand cuts." One thing that caught my eye was something Hut Landon, executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, said:

Yes, only 50 percent of Americans buy at least one book a year.
That is one depressing statistic. What does a bookish person do when faced with something like this? Buy books of course! Conveniently, Barnes and Noble has all of their Barnes and Noble Classics on sale for 50% off. We went a little crazy. We bought 13 of them. I've never been one to collect the classics, I always figured if I wanted to read one it was pretty easy to get a copy. But I have changed my mind about that, obviously. I have discovered that as much as I enjoy a classic, it is a case of out of sight out of mind. If I have them on my shelves, I am more likely to read them. Same for my Bookman. I am sort of embarrassed to say that the classics spree was not enough to sate our book needs. My Bookman has left the book biz. He has his discount still through the end of the month. Must take advantage while we can! And we did. Between the two of us we bought, erm, 16 books. Several of them were bargain books and a couple were used books we couldn't say no to like Boswell's Life of Johnson. Never read it, have only been vaguely interested in it, but when it can be had for only $8 plus a discount, well, how can someone in a frenzy say no? Some of the books I am particularly excited about are the bio, James Tiptree, JR by Julie Phillips, The Helmet of Horror by Victor Pelevin and the latest in the Canongate myth series (it's about Theseus and the Minotaur), and Pride by Michael Eric Dyson the final book of the Seven Deadly Sins series (now I feel like I can start reading them since I have them all). New booksI'm also excited about Mystery, So Long, a poetry book by Stephen Dobyns. We found a couple books by John Crowley, The Translator and Lord Byron's Novel which imagines the novel Byron never wrote. There is also an annotated The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and Flannery O'Connor's Mystery and Manners. In preparation for diving into Nabokov one of these days, I grabbed The Annotated Lolita. In the bargain area we found Mark Dunn's Welcome to Higby. I loved his Ella Minnow Pea and enjoyed Ibid, so this one should by fun. Also in bargain we snagged a hardcover of Neal Stephenson's The Confusion. We have book one and three in hardcover and had an advanced reading copy of the second, now we have nice editions of them all. Maybe I will read them now! There are a few other books that are just my Bookman's. We left the store tired and oh so happy. If only 50% of Americans buy at least one book each year, we've done our part to help make up for the other 50%. Are you doing your part?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Emptying the Brain

Yesterday's Short Story Sunday brought me back to Virginia Woolf. I read two stories from The Complete Shorter Fiction, "A Dialogue Upon Mount Pentelicus" and "Memoirs of a Novelist." Neither were fantastic, but both were interesting and worthwhile in their own way. "Dialogue Upon Mount Pentelicus" takes place in Greece. A group of six Englishmen are descending the mountain on donkeys accompanied by their Greek guides. The story was never published, nor a firm date for it's inception established. Though it is guessed to have been written sometime in 1906 after Woolf's visit to Greece with her sister and two brothers. Woolf makes an attempt at satire with the story. Her style has a hard edge to it up until the very end when we see a glimmer of the lyricism of her later writing style. The satire works. She makes neat fun of the Englishmen's high-mindedness and snobbery. She also makes a few writerly incursions into the story saying at one point that she was not going to write out the dialogue she was about to relate word-for-word because

dialogues are even more hard to write than to speak, and it is doubtful whether written dialogues have ever been spoken or spoken dialogues have ever been written, we will only rescue such fragments as concern our story. But this we will say, that the talk was the finest talk in the world.
Thus, she is able to save her young self the difficulty of writing out the dialogue in such a way that it would continue the satire of the story, but gets to make a smart-aleck remark on the nature of the dialogue in question. "Memoirs of a Novelist" was written is 1909 and rejected for publication by Cornhill Magazine. Here Woolf seems to be working out ideas of character and questions of biography. The novelist of the story is the invented Miss Willatt. The biographer is her friend Miss Linsett. Miss Willatt, while still alive, had made it clear that she did not want a biography and all of her papers published and pawed through by the public. But Miss Linsett, who perhaps convinced her otherwise, published a two volume life and letters with the permission of the family. The story is a sort of critical review of the two volumes. The narrator/critic asks some interesting questions:
What right has the world to know about men and women? What can a biographer tell it? and then, in what sense can it be said that the world profits? The objection to asking these questions is not only that they take so much room, but that they lead to an uncomfortable vagueness of mind.
The Critic goes on to discuss Miss Linsett's rendering of of Miss Willat's life. Wonders if Miss Linsett got it wrong; questions why some of the most interesting parts of Miss Wilatt's life are only demurely hinted at; and faults Miss Linsett for being more interested in the status the biography confers onto her than that is reveals anything important about Miss Wilatt. Woolf also examines why writers write. We are given suggestions as to Miss Linsett's motivations and through the review of the biography we are treated to speculation about the novelist. One explanation which comes across as part joke and part true is this thought:
After all, merely to sit with your eyes open fills the brain, and perhaps in emptying it, one may come across something illuminating.
I can easily imagine this is something Woolf could have applied to herself.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Articles of Interest

Emerson's essay Art, is his theory on what art should be and do. Here's some of what he has to say. Art is...

  • Rooted in the time, place, politics, religion, education of the artist. Art can transcend the particular to become universal when it speaks to, and partakes in, an "aboriginal Power." The universal language of art speaks of moral nature, purity, love and hope.
  • The greatest pictures are simple and "[seem] almost to call you by name." For Emerson, Raphael's The Transfiguration is "an eminent example." Art has not yet come to maturity unless it is practical, moral, and connected with the conscience. It should "make the poor and uncultivated feel that it addresses them with a voice of lofty cheer."
  • "Art is the need to create;" the creative impulse of spiritual activity.
  • Art should "exhilarate" and awaken in "the beholder the same sense of universal relation and power which the work evinced in the artist, and its highest effect is to make new artists."
  • Great art is inevitable: "the artist was drunk with a passion for form which he could not resist." The value of art...
  • Lies in its history. Things like Egyptian hieroglyphics and Chinese idols "denote the height of the human soul in that hour." They are, therefore, "a stroke drawn in the portrait of that fate." The purpose of art then, when viewed from an historical perspective, is to "educate the perception of beauty." We need such education because, "we are immersed in beauty, but our eyes have no clear vision."
  • The virtue of art...
  • Lies in "detachment." Until an object is detached from "the embarrassing variety" there "can be enjoyment, contemplation, but no thought." The artist's power is his ability to detach and "magnify by detaching." Since every part is representative of the whole, the detached object(s) show us the world and teach us "the opulence of human nature."
  • The beauty of art...
  • "Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not."
  • The most beautiful art is that in which both beauty and usefulness are combined.
  • I have not really thought about art before. Yes, I've gone to galleries, there are artists that I love, a few paintings have made me cry. But I haven't thought about the kinds of things Emerson writes of in his essay. Some of what he says makes sense to me. I particularly like the idea of "useful" arts--beautiful and functional--which makes me think of the rugs, pottery and baskets of Native Americans or ancient Greek urns and vases, and even handicrafts like quilts and knitwear. I completely agree that art is always rooted in the particular but that it can transcend time and place (I hesitate to use the word universal because I find it to be a loaded concept). I don't think, however, that art needs to be moral. Nor do I think the value of art is solely historical and its purpose to educate. They are one of many facets but not the only. I guess I have thought about art enough to be able to agree or disagree with Emerson, but not enough to be able to articulate my own theory. I respond to art on an emotional level. Knowing all about a certain piece, say The Mona Lisa, does not inspire me to like the painting. I can appreciate it, but that means nothing really. I am not emotionally engaged by it. I saw Van Gogh's Irises once at the Getty museum in California. The painting made me weep. Much of Van Gogh's work makes me cry. I don't know much about Van Gogh and I am not sure that if I did it would make a difference. All I know is that his art stirs me up. Maybe it is the beauty that does it and I'm going to have to get my hands on Elaine Scarry's book On Beauty and Being Just that Dorothy has been writing about so much. I have widely digressed from Emerson. But that is the mark of a good essay, yes? It makes you think. Next week's Emerson: The Poet

    Friday, August 18, 2006


    The comments from yesterday were so good and thoughtful. In my continued mulling I have decided to keep a good sturdy wall between fiction and autobiography but just knock some height off of it so I can peep over from time to time. Today though I am reminded of something litlove said in her recent interview with John Baker. She commented that she "believe[s] that literature can have revolutionary power." This is something I believe too. I must admit though I didn't always think that. Not until I took my senior seminar in college on the poetry of Adrienne Rich did the possibility even enter into my mind. She believes that poetry is an action that can bring about change. I was not immediately convinced, after all the only reason I was in that class was because the seminar I really wanted to take was full. The class turned out to be an eye-opening experience and I finished it a different person. Maybe because I came to the idea that literature can be revolutionary through poetry, I don't often look for it in fiction. I do, however, look for it in poetry. I don't require it, but I get more enjoyment when it is there. By revolutionary I mean a lot of things and I am not sure that I can say what they all are. It's sort of a "I know it when I see it" thing. It's a quality of style, tone, and voice, and sometime subject matter. To give you an example. I started reading a new book of poetry last night called Teahouse of the Almighty by Patricia Smith. Right away her voice grabbed me and drew me in. Her rhythms are beautiful and I was not surprised to find out she is a four-time national poetry slam champion. The first poem in the book, "Building Nicole's Mama" blew me away. The poem is about the author teaching poetry to a class of 6th graders at Lillie C Evans School in Miami. It's a longish poem so I can't quote all of it, but here's a good chunk:

    Can poetry hurt us? they as me before snuggling inside my words to sleep. I love you, Nicole says, Nicole wearing my face, pimples peppering her nose, and she is as black as angels are. Nicole's braids clipped, their ends kissed with match flame to seal them, and can you teach me to write a poem about my mother? I mean, you write about your daddy and he dead, can you teach me to remember my mama? A teacher tells me this is the first time Nicole has admitted that her mother is gone, murdered by slim silver needles and a stranger rifling through her blood, the virus pushing her skeleton through for Nicole to see. And now this child with rusty knees and mismatched shoes sees poetry as he scream and asks me for the words to build her mother again. Replacing the voice. Stitching on the lost flesh. So poets, as we pick up our pens, as we flirt and sin and rejoice behind microphones-- remember Nicole. She knows that we are here now, and she is an empty vessel waiting to be filled. And she is waiting. And she is waiting. And she waits.
    My apologies for that being so long but I couldn't see how to cut it shorter without ruining the effect. I've read about six poems so far and enjoyed them all. This book is going to be a treat. Not only are the poems well written, but they have that revolutionary something that adds a perfect spice, making the poems seem somehow more.

    Thursday, August 17, 2006


    I've been mulling lately about autobiographical fiction. I've had no results except more mulling so I thought I would mull out loud and see what happens. When I was in school, and I mean college, though I am sure one of my high school teachers said something about it, but it didn't get hammered in until college, I was taught that there was a wall between the narrator in the poem or work of fiction and the author. Just because the poem said "I" it could not be conflated with "I" the poet. Same with fiction even if the narrator suggested s/he was the writer of the tale. I've spent years perfecting my brick laying skills. The wall I have built between narrator and author is tall and thick and even has a few green creepers growing on it to ease its starkness in my mental landscape. Then along comes Proust (Ha! You thought because I hadn't mentioned him in awhile you were safe? Think again!). In Search of Lost Time is so autobiographical that even biographers mention who some of the fictional characters were modeled after. In Proust's lifetime the people he new argued over who was who in the novel. One of them even wrote a book to prove she was a particular character. Suddenly I notice the mortar in my wall is looking a little crumbly. As I read I can't help but wonder if Proust had an obsession with being kissed good night by his Mama? Did he really whine like the narrator in the book? I'm sorry for his Mama if he did. And what about the hawthorns? The narrator goes into ecstasies over hawthorns in flower. Did Proust love hawthorns? I know it doesn't matter one way or the other, but I can't help but wondering if I am reading Proust the person or the fictional narrator. Of course, now it isn't just Proust I am thinking about. If I hear or read something about a novel, usually a first novel, as being any measure of autobiographical, I wonder what is real and what is fiction. Then there is the other side of the coin. After the James Frey affair there is the question of what has been fictionalized in the nonfiction. My mulling has pretty much centered on fiction, however. How does one read fiction if it is known to be autobiographical? Should it be read differently? And if so, what do I do with my wall? Do I fix the crumbly mortar and pretend I haven't been mulling? Should I tear the wall down? Or should I replace the wall with a split-rail fence covered in morning glories?

    Wednesday, August 16, 2006

    Situation Rectified

    John pointed out to me recently the scandalous fact that in spite of my professed adoration of Virginia Woolf, I do not own a copy of To the Lighthouse. I've read the book, but I was a poor student at the time and checked it out from the library. Now I am happy to say that the situation has been rectified. I'd like to blame Danielle for mentioning Woolf purchases she has made from Pennyworth Books. I know a number of bloggers have made acquisitions from them so I thought I'd just go look. Yeah, right. At only $5 per book with free shipping for six books, my virtual basket was full within a few minutes. I managed to limit myself to seven books but it wasn't easy. See, the problem is they have a limited quantity of each title and they tell you how many of each they have left. When it's a book I want and the quantity says one or two, how could I pass it by? I might not be able to get it so cheap again. There might be someone else about to snatch it up right now! This is why I have avoided going to the site for so long. My books arrived yesterday, much quicker than I expected since they came media mail. To my credit, of the seven books I ordered, three of them are for Christmas/Solstice gifts. I have never bought holiday gifts this early before, but I couldn't leave them and hope to see them again in November. Now I have to find a place to stash them that I won't forget about them. My mom used to do this and inevitably would forget at least one gift that would turn up in February, or April in time for my birthday. Once though she found one in June! I am not able to tell you what gift books I got because those individuals drop by once in awhile. But the books I got for me are To the Lighthouse, Flush by Virginia Woolf (thanks to the excerpts Sylvia has been posting), The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel (thanks to the Kimmel ravings of many including John and Susan), and Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino. They have all been added to my teetering piles. Now if there was only a website where I could buy extra time so I could begin to make a dent in the piles! What really strikes me though is what Dorothy noted on her blog about book reviews and how she is more influenced by bloggers these days. Even though I read a couple of book papers I find I trust the recommendations of bloggers more. Bloggers tell me if they liked or disliked the book. Book reviews say things like the middle was a little uneven. What the heck does that mean? And even if a traditional reviewer liked the book there is a certain lack of passion in the writing unlike blog writers who will giggle and gush if they loved the book. All this to say, these books that just arrived, I bought them because of bloggers. My teetering piles are composed of books I read about on other blogs, or people mentioned in comments here. My TBR lists grow longer everyday because of blogs. And my reading horizons have grown ever wider. Book bloggers are some of the coolest people I know. Blog on!

    Tuesday, August 15, 2006


    I decided to take a break from Virginia Woolf short stories on Short Story Sunday and was just going to read two other stories from In the Pool by Hideo Okuda. I mentioned one of the stories already a couple weeks ago. The stories are a little long so I thought I'd only read one. "Making a Stand" features the same unconventional Dr. Irabu as "In the Pool." Irabu is a neurologist. In Japan, however, neurology is a code word for psychiatrist. This time Irabu's patient is Tetsuya. Tetsuya's problem is that one morning, after a sexy dream about his wife whom he divorced three years earlier, he got out of bed with an erection, slipped on a magazine he'd left on the floor, grabbed hold of his rickity bookshelf as he fell, and pulled a large Japanese dictionary down with him. The dictionary landed on his groin. So why is he seeing a psychiatrist? Because his erection won't go away. He is diagnosed with Penis petrificatus. Dr. Irabu's first step in treating Tetsuya is to knee him in the groin in the hope that the shock would make the erection go away. It doesn't work. The story just gets more bizarre from there. I enjoyed the story so much that after I finished it I decided to read the next story. And another yesterday and the final story today. Dr. Irabu is in all the stories and is clearly a genius. All of the patients think he is a complete nut but they are so desperate for help that they keep coming back. And Irabu, with the help of his young nurse who flashes her thigh and cleavage at all the patients as she gives them injections, always works a cure. Irabu's patients are as strange as he is, they just don't know it. Besides Tetsuya, there is Hiromi, a trade show model trying to make it big who starts thinking she is being stalked because she is so beautiful. And in "Cell," Yuta, a seventeen year old boy, can't stop texting. When his cell phone is not in his hand he starts having spasms. Finally there is Yoshio who starts to worry that he didn't properly extinguish his cigarettes and his apartment will burn down while he is away. Before he knows it, his obsessive-compulsive checking disorder extends beyond worrying about fire and it takes him two hours to leave his apartment. All of the stories are told from the patient's point of view. We get to be inside their heads and follow their twisted thinking which is oddly logical. At one point Yoshio, the obsessive-compulsive, has this realization:

    It occurred to him that the world was made up of two kinds of people: those who make other people worry, and those who do the worrying themselves. Irabu was the former type, and he the latter. It was because the worriers did the worrymakers' share of worrying that the cosmic balance was maintained and the world could go on in peace. But it wasn't fair! Everyone should have an equal share of worry!
    Even though we only get an outside view of Dr. Irabu, while the patient thinks the Dr. is wacko, we can watch him manipulate them with his weird suggestions like going to Disneyland, throwing rocks at the hospital across the street, breaking into the public pool, or loosening the bolts on the tires of the rival hospital director's Mercedes. The book has sold over 200,000 copies in Japan. I can see why. These stories are a hoot of a read.

    Monday, August 14, 2006

    Book Meme

    Everyone's doing it, the meme from Tales From the Reading Room that is.

    1. First book to leave a lasting impression? Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. My third grade teacher read it to the class and I loved it so much I had to have a copy of my own. I managed not to cry in class when Charlotte died, but at home, reading in the privacy of my room, I sobbed uncontrollably. With this book I began to understand the power of words.
    2. Which author would you most like to be? I think it would be really cool to be Gertrude Stein. I'd get to live in Paris and have famous artists and writers jostling to see me and come to my salon. Plus I'd have Alice to do everything for me
    3. Name the book that has most made you want to visit a place? 84 Charring Cross Road by Helene Hanff. My Bookman and I read the letters aloud. I read Helene's letters and he read the Frank Doel's letters. We actually did make it to London about 5 years ago and eagerly went to 84 Charring Cross Road. We knew the original bookshop would not be there, but were so disappointed to find a plaque on the wall of a very modern, hip cafe. Nonetheless, we have a picture of ourselves standing next to the plaque in the rain.
    4. Which contemporary author will still be read in 100 years time? Margaret Atwood. She's a genius.
    5. Which book would you recommend to a teenager reluctant to try ‘literature’? This is a tough one since I don't know any teenagers, or rather, the ones I do know like to read. Um, I'd say Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein or maybe Poe's short stories.
    6. Name your best recent literary discovery? Another difficult one because I've read a few "new" authors in the last couple of months, but I'm going to say Kelly Link followed closely by David Mitchell.
    7. Which author’s fictional world would you most like to live in? Jane Austen's if I could get someone like Mr. Darcy or Colonel Brandon. With my luck though I end up with Mr. Collins.
    8. Name your favourite poet? Adrienne Rich. I also really like Muriel Rukeyser, Emily Dickinson, and Wislawa Szymborska.
    9. What’s the best non-fiction title you’ve read this year? Is saying Virginia Woolf's essay On Being Ill cheating? If so, then definitely How to Survive a Robot Uprising by Daniel Wilson. Potentially one of the most useful books I've ever read.
    10. Which author do you think is much better than his/her reputation? My mind has gone blank and for some reason I am finding this one difficult. How about John Steinbeck? He seems to have a reputation of being only for high school English class and otherwise irrelevant, but I find his work quite moving.
    Anyone else want to play?

    Sunday, August 13, 2006

    And the Winner is...

    The reciepent of The Player's Boy by Bryher is... Dorothy! Congratulations! Email me your address and I will put the book in the mail. Modernist titles suggested were:

  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  • Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco
  • In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
  • The Magic Mountain by Thomsa Mann
  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  • Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein
  • The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
  • Thanks for playing everyone!

    The Hardest Thing in the World

    I've been puzzling over Emerson's ideas that he lays out in his essay Intellect. In some ways his ideas are very straight forward. He believes the intellect is a thing the purpose of which is to consider abstract truth. All emotions must be separated from it. "The intellect is void of affection and sees an object as it stands in the light of science, cool and disengaged." Therefore a person must be aloof from what he is thinking about because someone "who is immersed in what concerns person or place cannot see the problem of existence." Emerson believes in complete objectivity, something we recognize these days as impossible. I would argue with Emerson that while distance is a good thing to have when thinking, for understanding, an essential component of thought, experience with your subject matter is a good thing to have. Part of what makes arguing with Emerson on intellect a problem though is that he believes we have no control over our thoughts, that true thinking comes from God. He even goes so far as to call it at one point a "descending holy ghost." He writes:

    Our thinking is a pious reception. Our truth of thought is therefore vitiated as much by too violent direction given by our will, as by too great negligence. We do not determine what we will think. We only open our senses, clear away as we can all obstruction from the fact, and suffer the intellect to see. We have little control over our thoughts. We are the prisoners of ideas.
    He even goes on to say that while we want a person to be logical, we do not want to hear about it. We want thought to be intuitive not arithmetical. The irony is that Emerson always lays out his thoughts very logically. "What is the hardest task in the world?" Emerson asks. And answers: "To think." I agree with him, but for different reasons. From my perspective, thinking is hard because it takes a certain amount of concentration and an environment that fosters it. There can be little thinking with the television on, the kids yelling, and the phone ringing while you are trying to get dinner ready after a long and stressful day at work. Thinking is also difficult in a culture that makes fun of you for doing it. But Emerson suggests thinking is hard because it is more of an inspiration rather than a willed activity of the mind. The intellect reveals truth in unannounced moments. Not surprisingly, Emerson divides the intellect into two kinds, intellect receptive and intellect constructive. Everyone can experience intellect receptive if he chooses. Because God offers a choice says Emerson. You can have truth and get your world turned upside down and feel unmoored and afloat or you can have repose by taking the first truth that comes along and sticking only to it no matter what. Those who choose truth over repose are intellect receptive. From those who are intellect receptive comes a very small group who are also intellect constructive. These are the artists, the ones who have a special skill to communicate what they have thought. But even so, they are not perfect, they are no more authorities than we are:
    The Bacon, the Spinoza, the Hume, Schelling, Kant or whoever propounds to you a philosophy of the mind [even Shakespeare, etc] is only a more or less awkward translator of things in your consciousness which you have also your way of seeing, perhaps of denominating. Say then, instead of too timidly poring into his obscure sense, that he has not succeeded in rendering back to you your consciousness. He has not succeeded; now let try another.
    I wonder what Emerson would say if I could tell him that he does not render back to me my consciousness? Would he accept it or would he argue with me? And here I realize I still know very little about Emerson the person. Time, perhaps to begin to remedy that. Next week's Emerson: Art

    Saturday, August 12, 2006

    It Started With a Lawnmower

    Today's Emerson is interrupted for a little story. Today is a lovely day in Minnesota and my Bookman and I along with the dog, Godzilla, were outside taking advantage of it. My Bookman was going to mow the yard while I was weeding a flower bed. Only a part of the lawn got mown before the lawnmower broke. My Bookman was going to take the top of it off to see if he could fix it but discovered the screws were not of the regular flathead or philips variety. He was going to resort to the push mower which has not been used in the three years since we bought the electric mower. Unfortunately, our garage is a great place for shoving things we don't want any longer but can't part with for some reason. The push mower is in there somewhere but we couldn't find it. So Bookman decides to go to Home Depot to either a) get the tools he needs to take the mower apart or b) get a new mower and worry about fixing the broken one another time because the yard needs to be mowed darn it. He goes into the house through the patio door leaving me weeding and the dog pretending like he's helping. A few minutes later I hear him calling me from the front of the house, "Can you open the front door, it's locked and I left me keys in the house?" Sure. Only problem is, when he went in through the patio door, he flipped the lock on it and now we are locked out of the house. As my Bookman came around the house to the patio door to see if we could get what we have always thought of as a flimsy lock open, he stepped in a hole from a half-finished gardening project and twisted his ankle. He limped up to the patio door and we discovered the flimsy lock wasn't so flimsy after all, at least for those of us unaccustomed to breaking and entering. We cursed ourselves over all the time we'd spent talking about hiding a key in the yard but never doing it. My Bookman thought he had left the second floor window unlocked. We had the key to the garage, which is detached, so got out the extension ladder to find out that no, he had been in a locking mood today. The car keys are locked in the house too and the neighbors aren't home, so he decides to ride his bike the five blocks to the coffee shop to use the phone book and the phone to call a locksmith. I offered to go since I wasn't limping around on a hurt ankle, but angry testosterone doesn't listen to the wife and he pedals off on his bike that clearly needs air in the tires. The dog lays down in the shade and I start weeding again. My mind drifts pleasantly for a few minutes before it snaps to full attention. I am locked outside of my house and I have nothing to read! A panicky feeling starts swirling around in my stomach. What am I going to do with nothing to read? Then I look down at the weed I had just pulled. What am I thinking? I'm weeding, not reading and there are plenty of weeds that need pulling. My panic subsides, mostly. Very shortly my Bookman pulls up on his bike without his helmet. He had gone to the yarn shop which is next to the coffee shop and whose owner we know, had used the phone book and the phone and left his helmet on the counter. He limped around to the front of the house to await the locksmith. We didn't have to wait long. The locksmith had the door open within three minutes after his arrival. Now, as we contemplate where to hide a spare house key in the yard, I am also wondering if I should wrap up a book in tinfoil and plastic and hide it in the yard too. It might come in handy someday. On another note, don't miss your chance for a free book! Emerson will return tomorrow.

    Friday, August 11, 2006

    Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest

    Alternet has an article and an interview about chick lit and a new anthology called This is Not Chick Lit. The anthology includes stories by Jennifer Egan, Mary Gordon, Francine Prose, Curtis Sittendfeld and a host of others. I am quite conflicted by the whole thing. On the one hand I dislike those horrid pink chick lit covers and the stories within them. Supposedly they are about me life, but I don't live in New York, hate shopping (except for books), hate shoes, and am not looking to catch a boyfriend or a husband. I know I am way over-generalizing here and have actually read a few books that could be deemed chick lit, but for the most part, if a book is sold as chick lit I will not buy it. I should be the perfect candidate for the anthology, right? But the anthology bothers me too. I don't think there is anything wrong with chick lit even though I don't like it. There is nothing wrong with books that tend to fluffy escapism. I like a good escapist read, my taste just runs fantasy or science fiction. Elizabeth Merrick, the editor of This is Not Chick Lit put together the anthology because serious women writers are not promoted and get pushed off the front tables of bookstores by the chick lit, making it "harder and harder to find literary works by women." Her intention is to draw attention to women who write literary fiction. This is all well and good, promoting women writers of literary fiction especially since, as Merrick mentions, women writers have "few bylines in our major American literary publications. You need review space, and review space is still very biased toward men and bylines at our literary publications. Look at Harper's or The New Yorker. It's a very good week if there are 25 percent or 30 percent female bylines." Here's my problem. Instead of fighting for a bigger piece of the pie for all women writers--more bylines and review space at the literary publications, chick lit vs literary fiction sets up a dynamic pitting women writers against each other for the same small piece of pie. This is so old-school. Has everyone forgotten what we learned from the feminist movement? I'm not looking for chick lit and literary writers to band together and get all kum-ba-ya or anything, that's plain dumb and naive. But it's even dumber for the two genres to fight against each other especially after acknowledging there is a bigger issue involved. If literary women writers want more publicity there are others ways to get it than slamming chick lit writers. Making fun of chick lit is of course easier than changing the dominate literary culture. But making fun of chick lit is not going to encourage readers who enjoy the genre to give more literary fiction by women a try. If anything, it will make them feel insulted and turn them off of it entirely. And in my opinion, that's the dumbest thing of all.

    Thursday, August 10, 2006

    A Review and a Give Away

    I finished reading The Player's Boy by Bryher the other day. What a fun book it was too. Bryher managed to sustain all the elements she began with that I mentioned back when I first picked up the book. The story is about a player's boy, James Sands, an apprentice whose master has died. While he is a boy he is passed to another master who manages to live until Sands is a young man. But by this time, acting is in disrepute, the Puritans are closing down theaters, the King is weak and won't stand up to Spain, and Walter Raleigh is in the Tower. Theater companies are barely scraping by and Sands, who was never certain that he wanted to be an actor in the first place (he often dreamed of being a page), is kicked out of the company he grew up in. Since he is not a master he is pretty much SOL. Through a twist of fate he ends up as a factor for a well off landowner in the country. He does well for himself but never seems to be in control of his fate. Fate is one of the things the novel is about. When you are buffeted by fate and seem to have no control, how does that affect the way you live your life? Sands is a good boy and a good man, but wonders

    When fate flung us about so haphazardly, was either vice or virtue of importance? What difference was there between us and the walnut leaves that this wind was stripping from the neighbouring gardens?
    But in spite of the vagaries of fate, Sands is not bitter, just saddened by his losses. He carries regret too over not running off to sea with his best friend Martin. After Martin leaves he never hears from him again and when things aren't going well for Sands he likes to imagine what Martin's fate was. There is a little bit of everything in this book, politics, love, theater, history, thievery, even a sword fight. The Player's Boy was first published in 1953. The language has a pleasantly curious feel of being both solidly contemporary and exotically Elizabethan at the same time. I very much enjoyed the book and would like to have a little drawing to give it away to someone. The book up for grabs is an uncorrected proof (sorry I'm keeping the finished edition on my shelf). It is paperback and a little worn around the edges since I carried it to work in my bike bag. But what is a cover when the insides are good? Since Bryher helped finance publication of many modernist writers, to be eligible to win the book, leave a comment that includes the title of your favorite modernist book (you don't have to be in the US either). Wikipedia can help you if you are stuck for authors. You have until Sunday at 5 central standard time to enter. Good luck!

    Wednesday, August 09, 2006

    Technology and Writing

    I was on the Loft Literary Center's website browsing the fall classes recently. I am considering taking a class called Mars Needs Writers. While a writing retreat on Mars would be pretty cool, the class is about writing science fiction. The teacher of the class is Lyda Morehouse and I have requested her book Archangel Protocol from the library. So soon, when I have the book, I'll dip in and see if she is someone I'd want to take a class from. During my browsing I came upon Beyond the Age of the iPod: Is Technology Changing Written Culture?. The article is notes from a keynote address at the Loft presented by Naomi Baron in April. If had been paying attention, I could have gone to what seems to have been an interesting evening. I don't know about you, but when I think of technology I tend to think of electric technology--electric typewriters, computers, etc. I don't ever think that something like a pencil could be revolutionary. But it was. Of course the big question is whether technologies like the internet and text messaging are changing the way we write, changing what we say, how we say it, changing our vocabulary? It seems obvious that this is the case, so is that a bad thing? I wonder if people worried about the same kinds of things with the pencil? Baron doesn't say it's good or bad, she only ask more questions. I've been pondering on the article since I read it. What has gotten the most thoughts directed at it is how technology has affected authors. How has the writing process changed? Has writing improved with the ability of endless revision? Maybe improved isn't right, but the ability to revise quickly and easily must have some effect. I remember what life was like BC (before computers). In high school I had to "borrow" my mother's electric typewriter to type my papers. I wrote the first draft in pencil, then scribbled all my revisions on it. Then copied it in pen. Then typed it. That was it. In college I had my own electric typewriter that had a one-line memory so I could proof the line before it printed thereby cutting down on white-out fumes. My college had a computer lab but it was always crowded and had limited hours so I never used it. Not until grad school did I get a computer. I would still write out my first draft in pencil but I would revise it as I typed it into the computer. Then I could cut and paste to my heart's content. Except I would print out my papers between drafts and mark them up then change the text in the computer. These days I still like to start writing something in pencil first. But sometimes I will just start typing. Using a pencil slows me down and makes me think. Typing directly into the computer often feels reckless because, for some reason, my thoughts go faster. I know since I have a good BC memory, my writing relationship with my computer is different than someone who came along AD (after DOS). I can imagine a similar difference in experience for authors. I wonder how a computer would have changed Virginia Woolf's writing? Would she have been excited by the possibilities of hypertext and online publication? Overall, I think technology is a benefit to writers of all stripes. Some people howl over the abundance of bad writing but there has always been an abundance of bad writing even before computers. The only thing I am concerned about is whether we are losing anything by moving our allegiance from writing on paper to writing on a screen? Sometimes I think we are giving up something, though I can't say exactly what that something is. Other times I am too dazzled by the possibilities to consider the implications. Computers are still so new, maybe I won't have any answers for another 20 or 30 years. It could be interesting.

    Tuesday, August 08, 2006

    Double Life

    Kate has begun a once a month short story reading group at A Curious Singularity. Our first story, due today, is Chekhov's Lady with the Dog. At first I wasn't sure what to make of the story. It is told from the limited third person perspective of Dmitri Dmitrich Gurov. Gurov is an upper middle-class man in his late 30s who is married with children. He works at a bank and is in Yalta, without the wife and kids, for a little vacation. Right off he does not strike me as a nice man. He blames dissatisfaction with life on his wife and women in general it seems, but also admits that he needs them. He even prefers their company to that of men and considers himself a bit of a lady's man. Suddenly in Yalta appears a woman with a dog, strolling on the promenade all alone. No one knows who she is. Gurov contrives to meet her and then decides he will have a fling with her. But he gets more than he bargains for--he falls in love. But Anna is married too and after a few weeks her husband summons her back to the town of S where they live and both Anna and Gurov, heartbroken at their parting, know the relationship is over. But Gurov has to go and "ruin" it by showing up in the town of S where Anna lives because he can't bear to be apart from her any longer. So their affair begins again. They can't keep going on like they are and eventually they reach a point where they need to make a decision. That's where the story ends. Because I didn't like Gurov I imagined all kinds of things as I read. He was cruel and heartless, seducing an innocent woman. But then Anna at one point didn't seem so innocent either, or rather, she appeared to be playing at innocence and I thought, "Oh-ho, she's pulling the wool over his eyes!" But then it became clear that both of them were honestly in love which brought an abrupt end to my imagined intrigues. What the story seems to be about to me is finding the real self beneath all the outer show and lies. As their parting nears, Gurov tries to distance himself emotionally from Anna by trying to convince himself that she doesn't know the real him:

    She had insisted in calling him good, remarkable, high-minded. Evidently he had appeared to her different from his real self, in a word he had involuntarily deceived her. . . .
    But it doesn't work. After he gets back home to Moscow he can't stop thinking about her. He realizes their relationship was actually an honest one, perhaps the only honest relationship in his life:
    What savage manners, what people! What wasted evenings, what tedious, empty days! Frantic card-playing, gluttony, drunkenness, perpetual talk always about the same thing. The greater part of one's time and energy went on business that was no use to anyone, and on discussing the same thing over and over again, and there was nothing to show for it all but a stunted wingless existence and a round of trivialities, and there was nowhere to escape to, you might as well be in a madhouse or a convict settlement.
    He realizes he, and everyone else, is leading a double life:
    He led a double life--one in public, in the sight of all whom it concerned, full of conventional truth and conventional deception, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances, and another which flowed in secret. And, owing to some strange, possibly quite accidental chain of circumstances, everything that was important, interesting, essential, everything about which he was sincere and never deceived himself, everything that composed the kernel of his life, went on in secret, while everything that was false in him, everything that composed the husk in which he hid himself and the truth which was in him-his work at the bank, discussions at the club, his "lower race," his attendance at anniversary celebrations with his wife-was on the surface
    Anna is going through the same thing. The story ends with the two of them not yet arriving at a decision, but knowing they had to be together. At last they were going to be honest with themselves, with each other, with the people in their lives, knowing that it is going to be hard and complicated, but also worth it. I like that.


    Cross-posted at Involuntary Memory I started reading The Proust Project last night. The book consists of short essays by various writers writing about their favorite passage from In Search of Lost Time. I pretty much just read the introduction by André Aciman. He writes about encountering Proust for the first time which isn't necessarily the reading, but the first time a person has even heard the name. He said the memories are probably fuzzy or inaccessible for most, but trying to remember is an important part of the "Proust experience." I started thinking back and gave up because it seems that Proust has always been there and it would be impossible to separate him out. That's just an interesting aside, what really caught my attention was this:

    The novel is about intimacy, the miracle of intimacy--intimacy with others, intimacy with oneself, intimacy when we'd all but given up believing it existed--because there is also this about Proust that strikes an unmistakable chord: if intimacy is difficult to come by, it is because honesty is just as scarce, honesty with others and, above all, with oneself. One either feels this call to intimacy or one stops reading.
    This passage struck me because there have already been several people here who have mentioned feelings of intimacy while reading Proust. Aciman believes the intimacy springs from a fusion between the lives of Proust and the reader. He suggests that it feels as though the novel is a novel about the reader's life, that all the reader must do is change the time and place and names. I can't say that I feel as though I am reading my life, but I can say that Proust seems to have infused my life. His benevolent presence seems to be everywhere. For the record, Aciman's favorite passage is the one I coincidentally mentioned the other day, the one with the moonlight walk and the Telegraph Office and Hubert Robert. Aciman sees the passage to being about time and being lost and how being lost creates a timeless moment. I hope the rest of The Proust Project is as good as Aciman's introduction.

    Monday, August 07, 2006

    A Small Disappointment

    Short Story Sunday was a busy day for things other than short stories like painting. I hate painting but I love picking out colors and I love the way things look afterwards. Nonetheless, I did read one Virginia Woolf story, "The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn." I had high expectations due to the previous two stories and this time Woolf let me down. But even a bad Woolf story is good. Part of the reason the story wasn't as good is because it was written in 1906 while on holiday with her sister. Woolf never published the story. Publication didn't happen until after her death when the story was found in her papers. As a result it is not worked up into a shining gem. The story has two parts. The first part is sort of fun. We are in the hands of Miss Rosamond Merridew aged 45 and a famous expert on the system of land tenure in medieval England. She is very chatty and a bit of a rebel. To make her books more interesting she doesn't just talk about who owned what piece of property and when, she puts it all in context, adding information about the daily lives of the people. Such a thing creates gossip and controversy among her peers, but Miss Merridew is undaunted and she sails merrily on. While on her way somewhere else she comes across an old manor house and stops to ask if she could have a look around. One thing leads to another and Mr. Martyn, whose family has lived on the land since the 15th century, allows Miss Merridew to read the diary of Joan Martyn written over the course of the year 1480. Here we come to the second half of the book, Joan's diary. There are eight entries for the year. Joan is a little too educated for having been taught by a father who isn't that well educated himself. The diary portion of the book just doesn't work. We have a young girl, far from a city of any size and about to be married, remarking on the roles of women and regretting that she has to become a wife. One of the interesting things about the story is an idea that to people whose families have lived in the same house and on the same land for generations, their ancestors are not dead. Miss Merridew observes as she is being shown about my Mr. Martyn that he behaves as though any one of his grandfathers might show up at any time for dinner. They are all still very much alive for Mr. Martyn. And in Joan's diary she has a conversation with her father about diary keeping and he tells her that his fathers "might walk in at the door this moment, and I should know 'em, and should think it nothing strange." These are fascinating thoughts for a person like myself who doesn't even live in the same state as my parents let alone look forward to living in their house. I envy the history of a life like the Martyns, but also fear the confinement of it. It would be a neat life to visit but I don't think I'd want to live it. Even though this Woolf story is not a complete success, it is still interesting to try and figure out what she was up to. And it is fun to imagine what the story might have been if Woolf had ever revised it for publication.

    Saturday, August 05, 2006

    Drawing Circles

    Emerson's essay Circles is pretty good even though I made a few marginal comments like "hogswollop!" (if two people are in perfect harmony there is no need to talk to one another) and "pshaw!" (precaution against evil puts you in the power of evil). Oh and when Emerson's true ideas of friendship come out (as opposed to his defensive essay on the subject), I've written in "this is sick" and "harsh." I also have more complete comments, an exclamation point and an asterisk. And lots of underlining. If I had a scanner I'd scan a page so you can see how gleefully I deface Emerson, something I would not dream of doing to the vast majority of my books. But enough about marginalia, to "Circles." The essay could have almost been written for school because the very last sentence of the first paragraph contains what I can only describe as a thesis statement:

    Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on midnoon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.
    Emerson latches on to the idea of change being circular, each ending is a beginning and all that. But it's not a serpent eating its tail thing. And I wondered why a circle since I personally prefer the spiral as metaphor in this situation. He chose the circle because it is a perfect shape and to him symbolizes the unattainable. St. Augustine also describes the nature of God as a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere. That doesn't sound circular to me, but Emerson runs with it. Nothing is permanent. The idea we have today, represented by a circle, will be changed tomorrow. Tomorrow's circle will contain today's. Think of ripples on a pond when you toss in a rock. Now think of your soul as being that rock. The ripples you make will be bigger and go out farther if you have a large rock. That's the gist of Emerson's essay. He says other stuff too. Some of it very provocative like,
    Every man is not so much a workman in the world as he is a suggestion of that he should be. Men walk as prophecies of the next age.
    Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. Then all things are at risk.
    People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.
    And my favorite,
    Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
    Emerson is certainly enthusiastic, especially in this essay. He even chides people for being afraid of change. And while I am a person who is all for change, Emerson's assumption that all change is good rankles. His assumption is based on change being instituted from ideas that are formed through contact with the over-soul. If that were always the case, then I would have no hesitation. But as anyone who has lived in this world for long has figured out, change is not always for the better. This is the flaw in Emerson's experiment. He even reminds us that he is "only an experimenter." His purpose is not to "settle any thing as true or false." He "unsettle[s] things." While I question whether he actually sees himself as an experimenter or only said it because he knows he gets people riled up, I like the idea. I think it is something that can also be embraced on a personal level too; we are all experimenters in one way or another. Now, to work on the enthusiasm. Next week's Emerson: Intellect

    Friday, August 04, 2006

    Joyce Conquered

    My fear of James Joyce is officially over. I finished A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man the other day and it wasn't bad at all. In fact I even liked it. I can't say that I loved it, though there were sentences and paragraphs that took my breath away. I found the book as a whole to be uneven. I enjoyed the beginning when Stephen was a boy and just off to school. He didn't fit in and I felt really sorry for him. But I loved how he would make up stories in his head because I used to do that too (okay, sometimes I still do it). I felt really close to Stephen when he was a boy and confused about his father's change in fortunes. I felt his anguish when he had a crisis of faith. And I cheered for him when he decided that he did not want to be a priest even though that was what was expected of him. I particularly liked the walk he took in which he wonders if he made the right choice. Who hasn't felt the same way at one time or other? In that section is a wonderful passage:

    --A day of dappled seaborne clouds. The phrase and the day and the scene harmonised in a chord. Words. Was it their colours? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue after hue: sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure of waves, the greyfringed fleece of clouds. No, it was not their colours: it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and coulour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of a language manycouloured and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose?
    Good questions for readers to ponder--do we find more pleasure in our books than in the sensible world? Is there more pleasure in the language of prose than in the language of the everyday? Once Stephen enters university, I lost touch with the character. There is something that happens, a change in the way the narrative is written or intimacy of Stephen's thoughts, I'm not sure what. But I suddenly felt so far away and everything went flat. Perhaps it's because of all the intellectualizing that goes on, though I thought the aesthetic theorizing interesting and hope to be able to compare it with Proust. I am glad I read Portrait. I will definitely read more Joyce, maybe Dubliners, but not for a while since Joyce and Proust interfere with each other and I want to be able to focus on Proust for now. Having conquered one literary fear, I need to root around for another one to take on.

    Thursday, August 03, 2006

    A Little Poetry

    I finally finished Rosmarie Waldrop's book of poetry, Aggressive Ways of the Casual Stranger. Finally makes it sound bad, but it wasn't. As I mentioned before she has an unusual style in this book. But it works, especially, I eventually discovered, when read out loud. Nonetheless, the zero punctuation didn't get easier to read. Instead they sometime turned into puzzles and the more I read them the more I realized that the missing punctuation allows for a number of different readings. This meant that sometimes I was annoyed--just give me something straightforward darn it!--and sometimes I couldn't get over how exciting the various possibilities were. This time instead of snips of images from several different poem, I thought I'd post my favorite poem in its entirety:

    Cleaning Yes I have a broom the box of Spic and Span's been opened but matter doesn't like to be contained as women know our wombs twitch bellies bulge fat grows around the hips I'm careful make sure I miss corners just coax it into a mere pretense of clean lines reassure us this world is ours well this house even so the wood groans at night little hunks of plaster tear free and fall there will be a revolt the walls will swell bulge from the seams and burst the joints the mortar crumble and the house cave in and spread sprawl swallow the street where asphalt melts and ferments and all the elements ooze back to chaos
    I love the comparison between the bulging female belly and the bulging walls of the house. And I like how it doesn't matter, keeping up the pretense of appearance, of control over dust or fat or time, because in the end chaos wins anyway. This is one poem out of lots of good ones. And if you want more Waldrop, John has some great excerpts up too.

    Wednesday, August 02, 2006

    Missing Shadows and Swimming Pools

    Here it is Wednesday already and I haven't yet mentioned the two short stories I read for my short story Sunday. Unlike with the previous two, these two had no serendipitous similarities. But that's okay, they were still good. The first story is Virginia Woolf's two pager called "The Mysterious Case of Miss V." Miss V is one of those people you see everywhere, at work and parties, the grocery store, but never say anything more to than a passing pleasantry. The person means nothing to you except when you don't see them anymore. Such is the case with this gem. Woolf is brilliant. Yes, I know I am sounding like a broken record and maybe I should change this blog to Woolf Woolf Woolf! instead of So Many Books. I'll try to impart what is amazing in the case of this story. She begins the story in a sort of all-knowing first person point of view. Within the space of one paragraph, the narrator creates a context for the story talking about crowds and loneliness and the people we depend on daily to validate our existence--the postal carrier, the butcher, the parson's wife, and what happens when these people stop noticing us. Very cleverly, the next paragraph begins with you: "The ease with which such a fate befalls you suggests it is really necessary to assert yourself in order to prevent yourself from being skipped." And suddenly we have the narrator saying when it gets too quiet in her apartment she knocks over a chair so the person in the apartment below will have to notice her. The reader is drawn in and made sympathetic to the narrator and is about to become implicated in what follows. What follows is Miss V who "seemed to melt into some armchair or chest of drawers" when not spoken to. Miss V is a shadow. What is one way we know we are real and solid and exist? A shadow, right? So what happens when your shadow, in this case Miss V, goes missing? This is no Peter Pan story where the good Wendy finds the shadow and reunites it with Peter. After much unease over what has become of Miss V, the narrator finally makes the effort to go to her flat and inquire as to her well-being. But the narrator is too late. Miss V died the day before. And without your shadow, how do you know you are real? You don't. And so you resort to doing things like knocking over chairs. After I finished reading the story, all I could do was sit there and repeat "wow" over and over. Even now it is a wonderment. The other story I read was very different. "In the Pool" is by Hideo Okuda and one of five stories in a collection by the same title. The story takes place in modern day Japan. Kazuo, an editor at a women's magazine begins to feel a bit "off." Feeling a bit off turns into upset stomach, diarrhea and a host of other symptoms that prompts him to keep going to the doctor. The doctors can't find anything wrong with him and keep passing him around. Finally, he is sent to see Dr. Irabu, a doctor of neurology, also known as a therapist. Dr. Irabu tells Kazuo he needs to start exercising, an idea Kazuo thinks is ludicrous given Dr. Irabu's own jiggly girth. Still, Kazuo decides to take up swimming, a sport he used to be good at in college. Soon he finds himself addicted to swimming. He tells Dr. Irabu how great it is and Irabu starts swimming too. Irabu even eggs on Kazuo to swim more and more. In Japan there is a mandatory 10 minute rest period after 50 minutes. Kazuo can swim 2 kilometers in those fifty minutes and Irabu asks him if he doesn't wish he didn't have to take a break. What ensues is a hilarious failed attempt at breaking and entering and an epiphany for Kazuo who is now cured in spite of, or because of, Irabu's unorthodox methods. The story is an entertaining comedy on the stress and stupidity of modern life; the things we do to make ourselves sick and the unusual steps we sometimes have to take to get better.