Saturday, September 30, 2006


I very much enjoyed Emerson's essay Gifts, probably because I am in agreement with him on the matter. Emerson is bothered by what is given and the manner in which it is given. Plus, Emerson also admits to having difficulty choosing gifts (gotta like him for admitting that). There are many problems when giving a gift beginning with why. Are you giving a gift in order to put someone in your debt? Are you giving a gift because you want to prove something? Or are you expecting something in return? If so, you are not giving a gift. "The gift, to be true, must be a flowing of the giver unto me, correspondent to my flowing unto him." Expecting gratitude for a gift "is mean, and is continually punished by the total insensibility of the obliged person." Plus, no one likes to give a gift to pay a debt, but everyone loves to give gifts out of a sense of generosity. Deciding what to give is never easy. Emerson believes flowers and fruit are always appropriate. Flowers are good because "they are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world." And fruit is good because "they are the flower of commodities, and admit of fantastic values being attached to them." If the person you are gifting has a need, then things are easy. However, if there is no need and flowers or fruit are not an option, then one should choose a gift that "is a portion of thyself." Emerson insists, "thou must bleed for me." While that sounds ominous, he simply means that if you are a poet, give a poem; if you are a farmer, give corn; if you are a sailor, then give coral or shells. Give a gift that speaks of you. Emerson rightly remarks, "it is a cold and lifeless business when you go to the shops to buy me something which does not represent your life and talent, but a goldsmith's." Personally, I always love a gift that represents the giver's life or talent, whether it be a crayon drawing from a six-year-old, a quilt from a quilter friend, or a beautiful photograph a taken on vacation. These are the kinds of gifts I cherish most. Do I always give gifts like that? Regretfully, no. I try though. Perhaps part of the difficulty of gift-giving these days is time and the evils of expectations. If I need ten gifts to give in December, where will I find the time to knit ten scarves? And do I dare give as a gift a beautiful rock I picked up in the woods while hiking that made me think of a particular person to that person? Especially knowing that the other person is going to give me a gift of higher monetary value? We expect a gift of equal value to the one we give. One can argue that the rock is more valuable than the gift certificate to Olive Garden because of the meaning behind it, and I agree. But how does one change another's concept of value in a world where value is so often connected to money? Of course hospitality and generosity are always good gifts, but these "services" have no value, says Emerson, they are "only likeness." To try and join oneself to others by services is nothing but "an intellectual trick." Those to whom you give will "eat your service like apples, and leave you out." The solution? "Love them, and they will feel you and delight in you all the time." Love, of course, is the best gift. Love is "the genius and god of gifts." This doesn't mean, however, that giving something other than love is bad, far from it:

There are persons from whom we always expect fairy-tokens; let us not cease to expect them. This is prerogative, and not to be limited by our municipal rules. For the rest, I like to see that we cannot be bought and sold.
Next week's Emerson: Nature

Off Topic Saturday Fun

You Are Impressionism
You think the world is quite beautiful, especially if you look at it in new and interesting ways. You tend to focus on color and movement in art. For you, seeing the big picture is much more important than recording every little detail. You can find inspiration anywhere... especially from nature.
Yes, that's about right. I love how change in light and color makes Monet's haystacks look so different. And Van Gogh makes me swoon (I know he crosses into expressionism but he started off with impressionism so I can claim him!) (link via realsupergirl)

Friday, September 29, 2006

Literary Terms

One of the lists I found yesterday was a list of lipogramatic novels. Now it's a good thing the introduction to the list included a definition of lipogram because I am really bad at remembering literary terms. The only ones I can reliably get are sonnet and haiku. I'm pretty good with points of view too. Ask me what an anagram is and I will give you a blank stare. And I am hopeless if I have to identify a palindrome. You'd think that with my degrees in English lit I'd have no problem describing a picaresque novel, or that I might know the difference between blank verse and free verse. Think again. Is it a failure of my education or a failure on my part? I think I must blame myself for a good chunk of it. Two seconds ago I would have sworn not a single professor ever talked in any depth about literary terms. Then I picked up a book from my shelf, A Glossary of Literary Terms by M.H. Abrams which I would also have sworn two seconds ago that I had picked up out of a library discard box, and I see on the back of the book a sticker from my college bookstore, "English 275." Oops. However, there are no marks in the book other than the last quarter of it where there is a section called "Modern Theories of Literature and Criticism." Judging from my underlining, I read the section on feminist criticism, new historicism, and psychological and psychoanalytic criticism. The encounter must have been so traumatic for my sophomore self that I have blocked it from my mind. And since there are no other notes in the book I am a little upset that my professor made me buy this book only for lit crit summaries. What a waste of my student dollars! It also shed light on why I still have to look up the meaning of bildungsroman. I am grateful that enjoying and understanding a good book or poem does not require a person to know anything more than a handful of basic terms. If I had to know what a synecdoche is or be able to count how many feet are in a line of poetry I'd been doomed. Note: No z's or x's have been used in the writing of this post. Z was easy. I had to remove four words with x in them. It would be fun to try a more difficult letter like m or g sometime. I don't think I could manage without all the vowels though. Technical Note: Reader Dorie informed me the site feed has not been working for a couple of days. I think I fixed it, but you may need to resubscribe.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Of Lists and New Planets

I was taking a brain break at work today while browsing the Cannongate website. They have a book that caught my eye, The Book of Lists. There are two kinds of people in the world, those who love lists and those who don't. I love lists. So I looked up the book at my library and requested it. In the meantime, I've been having fun looking at lists on the Cannongate site. These are not lists from the book, but lists people have sent in. There are lists like Three Famous Commas, Nine People Who Died Laughing (which includes a number of writers), and Roald Dahl's Five Books to Take to a New Planet. Here is Dahl's list:

  1. Price's Textbook of the Practice of Medicine
  2. The Greater Oxford Dictionary
  3. The Pickwick Papers
  4. A book containing all of Beethoven's piano sonatas
  5. Johann Sebastian Bach's B minor Mass
Now, don't get me wrong, I like Mr. Dahl, he wrote some great books. But I must question his five books. It seems to me that while a textbook on medicine is a handy thing to have, one cannot assume all the necessary medical ingredients will be present on the new planet, unless of course you are hauling in the labs and natural and synthetic materials needed for the treatment we are accustomed to. That is simply not cost effective. But I'm probably taking it all too seriously. Now comes the fun part where I get to counter with my own list of five books. Since Mr. Dahl wrote his list in 1983, prior to the luxury of really great computers, he didn't think that he could google his medical and lexicographical needs, or at least carry them on a CD or DVD. Does this make it easier to choose the five books? Heck no! But here they are (they may change tomorrow)
  1. The Complete Essays of Michele de Montaigne
  2. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (and a towel)
  3. 2001: a Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  4. Octavia E. Butler's Xenogenesis series (I know there is more than one but they are a set so I'm counting them as one "book")
  5. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
What five books would you take to a new planet?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Lunch Time Page Turner

Now that the weather has turned too cold to comfortably enjoy lunch outdoors, I have had to retreat to the staff break room. I worried that I was not going to get to read at all today as several chatty people would not leave me alone. But the book gods smiled upon me for a change and somehow as I neared the Pit of Despair, everyone suddenly left the room and for nearly 45 minutes I was the only one there. I read The Looking Glass Wars. The chapters are short and does it ever read fast. I must say Beddor is great at keeping up the tension. Princess Alyss is stuck in Oxford as Alice Liddell and in danger of forgetting who she is. Meanwhile, Hatter is madly searching the world trying to find her so he can give her the training she needs to get her back to Wonderland depose the usurping Queen Redd who is ruining the country. And in Wonderland the Alyssians are doing their best to fight the good rebel fight. The story keeps switching between the different threads, often jumping to a different one at a critical moment in the current one. As my lunch break neared the end, I kept glancing up at the clock to see if I had time to read just a little more. Even as the clock said I had to go I kept reading because I couldn't stop. I had to finish the chapter. I had to know how something was going to turn out. Moments like that are pure reading bliss. I had a difficult time pulling my nose out of the book and getting back to work. I didn't realize until today that the book was such a page-turner. I'm almost half-way through it already. But given how hard it was to get back to work after lunch, I wonder if I should take something with a slower pace for tomorrow, make it easier to close the book when it's time? Nah.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Two Woolf Shorts

In addition to finishing The Monk over the weekend, I read two Virginia Woolf short stories, "The Evening Party" and "Solid Objects." Both are quite short. In "The Evening Party" we are at a party and we catch all kinds of pieces of conversation about literature and other things. There is a character in the story , Professor Brierly, who, the text's note tells me, is a forerunner of the Professor Brierly who makes a brief appearance in Mrs Dalloway. Neither story or character are particularly earth-shattering, but Woolf shows that it is possible to make an entire story based on conversations. Here are a few of my favorite snippets:

"It's all compromise--all safety, the general intercourse of human beings. Therefore we discover nothing; we cease to explore; we cease to believe that there is anything to discover." --- "When I look at my hand upon the window sill and think what pleasure I've had in it, how it's touched silk and pottery and hot walls, laid itself upon wet grass or sun-baked, let the Atlantic spurt through its fingers, snapped blue bells and daffodils, plucked ripe plums, never for a second since I was born ceased to tell me of hot and cold, damp and dryness, I'm amazed that I should use this wonderful composition of flesh and nerve to write the abuse of life. Yet that's what we do. Come to think if it, literature is the record of our discontent." --- 'It's an easy thing to confess one's faults. But what dusk is deep enough to hide one's virtues? I love, I adore--no, I can't tell you what a rose of worship my soul is--the name trembles on my lips--for Shakespeare." "I grant you absolution." "And yet how often does on read Shakespeare?"
The story is full of wonderful little bon mots. It's the kind of party anyone of an artistic or bookish nature would want to be at. However, I fear I would be the one lurking in the corners just listening because as fantastically witty and profound I am here (ha!), my mouth tends to be glued shut at parties. The other story I read, "Solid Object" made me sad for some reason. The story was originally published in The Athenaeum in 1920. I believe T.S. Eliot was editor of the magazine at the time. Don't quote me on that though. I'm not sure what about the story made me sad. Maybe it was the tone. The story is about a man with great prospects who, while strolling on the beach with a friend, finds a piece of sea-worn green glass. He takes it home and finds it a useful paperweight. But then he starts looking for other pieces of glass and stones. He becomes obsessed and spends more and more time searching for lost and broken things. The story ends with him and his friend at his office. His friend is confused about how he could give up his bright career and he says that he hasn't. Yet, there he is, surrounded by what appears to everyone else as trash, and no work. It seems he has gone insane, but other than his collection, he is perfectly fine. The story is strange and haunting, and left me wondering, because it is never overtly stated, what is it the man sees in these solid objects? What emptiness is he trying to fill with them? I'm not sure I'll ever figure it out, but I am sure the story will hang around in my mind for awhile.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Monk

Cold and raining, Saturday was a perfect day to make an effort to finishing reading The Monk. I curled up on my reading chaise and ignored the dust bunnies, the email I am overdue in answering, the computer, and other books. I had a cup of coffee and some cookies. I read and read and read and oh my gosh I couldn't stop. I yelled at the characters, I laughed at them, I held my breath in horror. And I finished the book. The Monk is hardly high literature, but it is lots of fun. There are so many plot twists in this book that I felt like a mouse in a maze trying to chase down the cheese that keeps getting moved around by a mysterious hand in a white sleeve. What intrigued me most about the book was the different views of religion. The Prioress of the Convent of St Clare is a nasty woman who uses religion as a means to power. She has not compassion and all she cares about is whether she looks good to those who have more power. When she is discovered she is held up as an example of the corruption of religion and bad things happen. But up until that point those who didn't know any better continued on in their everyday religious beliefs and regular worship. Taken by surprise the people were especially violent in their revenge. But the surprise was not that the Prioress was corrupt, but that their Prioress was corrupt. Of course the monk himself goes bad. He uses religion as a shield and assumes that as long as he gives the appearance of continuing to be good and pure, that's all that matters. But a few eagle-eyed women see through him. His designs to get around them work in the short-term but in the long-term, he loses big time. He is a perfect example of how not to make a deal with the devil. If you are ever planning on a signing a contract with Lucifer, remember to read the fine print. There is lots of sex in this book. None of it is graphic. It's like kiss, kiss, pant, pet, cut to fireworks or firing cannon, cut back to disheveled bedclothes and "Wow! That was great!" But sometimes not so great because there is also a rape. The monk is the one having all the sex and when he is feeling particularly guilty he likes to blame the women for inciting his passions and leading him on. He even manages to accuse the pure Antonia who doesn't really even know what sex is of flirting with him. Sadly, the ones who end up dead are all women. But this being the book it is, the monk eventually gets what's coming to him. And I squealed with glee. Now that my first RIP book is done, I have moved on to The Looking Glass Wars which I am thus far enjoying immensely. There are lots of twists on the Alice books and some great puns and jokes. In all of my fun RIP reading I have been neglecting poor Proust who is demanding my attentions for the evening. Too many good books to read. I need more eyes.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

And the Winner is...

The winner of a copy of The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor is Susan! Thank you all for playing. Your favorite characters and the reasons were great. In case you are wondering who my favorite character is, I'm torn between the Caterpillar and Humpty Dumpty, but I think I'll have to go with Humpty. His philosophical rambles and the idea of an egg sitting so blithely atop a wall, well, it cracks me up. Email me your address Susan and the book will be in your hands by next weekend.

To Be a Gentleman

I find Emerson's essay Manners to be rather disturbing. Perhaps I missed something somewhere and someone more enlightened than I can set me straight. But it seems to me that Emerson begins the essay by talking about the horrors of the "Feejee islanders getting their dinner off human bones," the Tiboos who live in caves, the Bronoos who don't have proper names, and other uncivilized "savages" to whom he compares civilized Man who visits these horrible regions to acquire dates, gold and ivory, and who, as "the purchaser and consumer can hardly be ranked in one race with these cannibals and man-stealers." He goes on to say how much better is civilization, how much more evolved and striving toward beauty. I am a bit shocked. I would have expected Emerson to find something redeeming in the lives of these others since they live honestly and simply and closer to nature. Even Montaigne, a couple hundred years earlier was sympathetic, often declaring it but an accident of birth that he was a French gentleman and not a cannibal. On the contrary, Emerson believes the gentleman to be the pinnacle, thus far, of human evolution. And while he insists that one does not have to be rich to be a gentleman, he implies that a gentleman's natural virtues, manners, and intellect will lead him to high society. Emerson's idea of a gentleman is not a monied man of leisure. A true gentleman is a man of spirit. He has more talent than most men and is possessed of "virtue, wit, beauty, wealth and power," or "personal force." A gentleman is a man of truth, "lord of his own actions," good-natured and benevolent. Emerson's gentleman

gives the law where he is; he will outpray saints in chapel, outgeneral veterans in the field, and outshine all courtesy in the hall. He is good company for pirates and good with academicians; so that it is useless to fortify yourself against him; he has the private entrance to all minds, and I could as easily exclude myself as him.
This passage brought to mind the scene in Pride and Prejudice where Miss Bingley regals the drawingroom with a description of an "accomplished lady." Elizabeth's reply is that she wonders that Miss Bingley can claim the acquaintance of so many accomplished ladies since her definition is so exacting. I wondered how Emerson could claim there were any gentlemen in the world who matched his requirements, especially since he keeps piling it on for several more pages. And indeed, eventually he admits that maybe "once or twice in a lifetime" we might meet a true gentleman. In my opinion once would be a surprise and twice would be quite a miracle. Emerson spends a good amount of time in this essay talking about Fashion. I am not able to give what he means a precise definition, but it seems that Fashion is inspired by the great, the gentlemen, and it is the attempt of us lesser humans to imitate the greatness of the one who inspired the Fashion. Fashion is also an "attempt to organize beauty of behavior." Emerson admits that to many Fashion is "only a ballroom code." However, "so long as it is the highest circle in the imagination of the best heads on the planet, there is something necessary and excellent in it." This is just all too strange for me.The idea of Fashion belonging to the imagination of the "best heads on the planet" is worrisome. I turn back to the beginning of the essay and the "savages" Emerson finds so appalling. I see their failure as lack of imagination in Emerson's eyes. I am inclined to turn it around and cite Emerson for his own failure of imagination in recognizing any kind of similarity of society or intelligence in the peoples he denigrates. Yes, I could make an excuse for him and say he was a man of his times, but I think it reveals not only a lack of imagination, but a lack of human sympathy and generosity of spirit. Emerson might be a man of ideas, but I find he lacks the heart which would have made those ideas complete and satisfying. Next week's Emerson: Gifts

Friday, September 22, 2006

Book Give Away!

Everyone thought she had made it up, and she had tolerated more taunting and teasing from other children, more lectures and punishments from grown-ups, than any eleven-year-old should have to bear. But now, after four years, it had arrived: her last, best chance to prove to them all that she had been telling the truth. A college scholar had thought enough of her history to write it up as a book. She sat on a blanket on the banks of the river Cherwell, the remains of a picnic lunch in a basket at the Reverend Charles Dodgson's elbow. She held the book in her hands. He had written and illustrated it himself, he said. It had a nice weight and heft, felt substantial.[...] "Oh!" Alice's Adventures Underground? What sort of title was that? And why was her name misspelled? She had told Dodgson how to correctly spell her name, had even written it out for him. "By Lewis Carroll?" she read with growing concern. "I thought it would be more festive than saying it was by a reverend." Festive? She had told him little that was festive. Concern was fast turning to alarm, but she swallowed it. What mattered was that he had faithfully recorded her history in Wonderland as she remembered it.[...] "I admit that I took a few liberties with your story," Dodgson explained [...] The grinning Chesire cat. The mad tea party. He'd transformed her memories of a world alive with hope and possibility and danger into make-believe, the foolish stuff of children. He was just another in a long line of unbelievers and this--this stupid, nonsensical book--was how he made fun of her. She had never felt more betrayed in all her life.
The above is excerpted from Frank Beddor's new book The Looking Glass Wars. Yes, it arrived in the mail today, just in time for a rainy weekend. Carl said I could use it as a RIP Challenge book, and I think I will have to. But first I will need to finish The Monk which is decidedly and delightfully wicked. But I digress. I have a give away copy of The Looking Glass Wars. This is not an advanced reading copy but a finished hardcover. All you have to do to be eligible to win is leave a comment saying who your favorite character from the Alice books is and why (did you think I would let you off with just a name?). I will put everyone's name in a hat (maybe not a hat, more likely a bowl) and draw one out tomorrow evening. The lucky winner will also receive an extra related-to-the-book surprise. Good luck!

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Cross-posted at Involuntary Memory My mind feels rather dull today. I don't know if it is due to the weather--cold and rainy--or the stressful week at work I've been having (I'm beginning to think it might be time to look for a new job), or maybe my brain really is dull and I'm just now coming to the realization. Whatever the case, I have been meaning to write about Proust all week but have been putting it off hoping that tomorrow I will figure out what to say. Since I finished Swann's Way and am into In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, I am inclined to sum up my reading experience thus far. But how does one sum up Proust? Maybe the Pythons can do it, or maybe not since I have not had the pleasure of seeing that particular episode, but I cannot seem to grab onto any words that are adequate. This was my second time through Swann's Way. I first read it a couple of years ago. I was determined to get through the entirety of In Search for Lost Time but, alas, after four months of struggling with Swann, I couldn't do it. This time it only took me two months. I enjoyed the book much more too. It certainly helps having others reading Proust at the same time. Maybe instead of trying to sum up, I will just mention a theme that moved through Swann's Way and is now appearing in In the Shadow of Young Girls. Desire. It's everywhere from the young narrator desiring his mother's kiss before bed, to Swann desiring Odette, to the narrator desiring to see the great actress La Berma. What I have noticed is that for Proust, desire is often at its height when the thing desired is unavailable. The more obstacles there are to possession, the more intense the desire grows. Swann is frantic when he can't find Odette; the narrator is unconsoled when he is unable to see Gilberte in the park; and again, the narrator is whipped into a frenzy over the actress La Berma who he has never seen her except in a photo on a playbill. When the obstacles are taken away and the desire is finally fulfilled, there seems always to be a disappointment. At this point in the game I don't know what Proust is getting at. Is he saying that desire is always better than the fulfillment? That fulfillment is never completely satisfying? Are our desires for a person, event or thing always unrealistic in some way? Is what we desire most to possess simply unpossessable? Did I just make up a word? And if our desires can never truly be met, should we stop? Or at least desire lesser things so we won't be disappointed? Or is disappointment an inherent part of desire? Perhaps Proust answers some of these questions later. Or maybe my desire for answers will be only be partially fulfilled and I will be able to share some disappointment with the characters in the book.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Woo! I am happy! Woo! Adrienne Rich, my favorite poet, is being awarded a National Book Award Medal for Distinguished Contribution (thanks to my sister for the link). Woo! The ceremony is November 15th and will be hosted by Fran Lebowitz. I am very much looking forward to hearing what Adrienne Rich says in her speech. Without a doubt it will be literary, thoughtful, and raise some political hairs. In her honor, here is an excerpt from one of many fantastic poems she has written. This one is in her book The Will to Change. The poem is called "Planetarium" and was written in 1968 while thinking of Caroline Herschel, the sister of William Herschel and an astronomer in her own right.

What we see, we see and seeing is changing the light that shrivels a mountain and leaves a man alive Heartbeat of the pulsar heart sweating through my body The radio impulse pouring in from Taurus           I am bombarded yet       I stand I have been standing all my life in the direct path of a battery of signals the most accurately transmitted most untranslatable language in the universe I am a galactic cloud so deep        so invo- luted that a light wave could take 15 years to travel through me         And has taken         I am an instrument in the shape of a woman trying to translate pulsations into images         for the relief of the body and the reconstruction of the mind.
I love the line "I am a galactic cloud." And I think this a perfect example of a poem for a poet who really is "trying to translate pulsations." Woo! In other news, you may have heard that Garrison Keillor is opening a bookstore in St. Paul, Minnesota. It will open this November. Keillor promises it will be a literary bookstore and there will be lots of events. I'll be sure too check it out and report back. Woo!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Another Book with Pictures

If you have read Audrey Niffenegger's book Three Incestuous Sisters you already have a bit of insight into her strange imagination. Her new book, The Adveturess, is just plain weird. But the weirdness does not detract from the beauty of the artwork. Here is an example: A Page from The Adventuress The story probably has fewer words than most children's books, the words are just there to explain the pictures. The adventuress doesn't have a name. Her father, an alchemist, made her. She is seen one day by a mean man who takes her away and makes her marry him. She escapes, but only temporarily. She is imprisoned and escapes again by becoming a moth. She ends up in Napoleon's library. She changes from a moth back to her old self and she and Napoleon become lovers. If you want to know what happens after that, you will need to read the book. The images in the book are, like Three Incestuous Sisters aquatints. A note from the author at the end of the book explains that The Adventuress is her first book. She made it while in art school. The original edition was of ten copies all hand printed and bound. If you loved Time Traveler's Wife, Niffenegger is at work on a second novel but says she is a very slow writer and easily distracted. For those of us eagerly awaiting the second novel, The Adventuress is a nice snack, but hardly filling.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Back to Virginia Woolf

I took a detour last Short Story Sunday and read James Joyce's "The Dead." Yesterday I was back to Virginia Woolf and read "Kew Gardens." What a delightful story. The story is nothing as extraordinary as "The Mark on the Wall" and my pleasure in it comes, no doubt, in part from the fact that I have been to Kew Gardens and had happy recollections as I read the story. Woolf uses an interesting technique in this story. She starts off describing a flower bed and a snail creeping it's way along through the bed. Then people stop at the bed, look at the flowers, and we are privy to their conversation. They move on. We return to the snail until more people walk by, and so on. Given that I have been reading Proust and last week Joyce's story, some of the people in "Kew Gardens" turn out to be quite interesting. There is Simon walking with his wife Eleanor and the children. Simon is in a contemplative mood because fifteen years ago he had been there with his girlfriend, Lily, and asked he to marry him. She turned him down. Simon is happy with the way his life has turned out but still can't help what would have happened if Lily had said yes. When suddenly he bursts out:

"Tell me Eleanor, d'you ever think of the past?' 'Why do you ask, Simon?' 'Because I've been thinking of the past. I've been thinking of Lily, the woman I might have married...Well, why are you silent? Do you mind my thinking of the past?' 'Why should I mind, Simon? Doesn't one always think of the past, in a garden with men and women lying under trees? Aren't they one's past, all that remains of it, those men and women, those ghosts lying under the trees,'s happiness, one's reality?'
Eleanor is obviously a sensible woman with an intriguing response to Simon. She, too, has been thinking of the past. Later we get a young mann and an elderly gentleman pass by speaking of the dead. The elderly man is not entirely sane and thinks he can hear the dead talking to him and walks along talking back. At one point he leans down to a flower and listens and insists that it was telling him about the forests of Uruguay. The past and the dead surround us, ghosts and voices. The two groups I mention stand in stark contrast to the young couple out on their first date who can think of nothing but what the future might hold for them. I get the feeling that if the couple were not so distracted by each other, they could just look around and see their future played out in various ways around them. "Kew Gardens" was originally published by Hogarth Press in May of 1919. The small book had two woodcuts done by Virginia's sister, Vanessa Bell. A second edition was published in June of 1919 and a third edition in November of 1919. The third edition had 22 pages each page decorated by Vanessa. If you search for it, you can find the facsimile edition published by Random House in 1999. I just so happen to have it. Unfortunately I don't have a scanner so I took a photo to give you an idea of what the book looks like: A Page from Kew GardensThe photo doesn't do it justice, but you get the idea. When I was at Kew I was too busy gawking at everything to pay attention to other people. I want to go back someday and secret myself like the snail of the story in one of the flowerbeds.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


I'm not sure what to think of Emerson's essay Character. It doesn't even come close to reaching the profundity of Experience or the reasoned argument of The Poet. "Character" is rather bland and could easily be titled "What Character Means to Me." What character means to Emerson appears to be what we might call charisma combined with a more traditional definition of good character (moral, virtuous, etc). Emerson sees character as something divinely inspired: "The history of those gods and saints which the world has written and then worshipped, are documents of character." He also writes:

Divine persons are character born, or, to borrow a phrase from Napoleon, they are victory organized. They are usually received with ill-will, because they are new and because they set a bound to the exaggeration that had been made of the personality of the last divine person.
Therefore, one of our biggest problems is recognizing character when it arrives, not treating it with suspicion and closing our doors in its face, but welcoming it and doing it proper homage. Character is a bit strange in terms of other Emersonian qualities. While one can aspire to love, friendship, prudence and heroism, one cannot aspire to character. You either have it or you don't. And if you don't have it, then it's your job to recognize and honor it. That's about all there is to say on this little essay. I found the reading rather dull and my eyes got droopy a few times. I did, however, have an "aha!" moment while reading Michael Dirda's Book by Book the other day. In a section of his book on love he writes about Plato's Symposium and summarizes Plato's concept of love as such:
We typically begin by desiring the physically beautiful, but we should then ascend through stages of increasing spirituality to a contemplation of the transcendentally beautiful good, and true. Such is the origin of the concept of "platonic love."
Emerson is a Platonist! I've read that Emerson was influenced by Kant, but nothing I've read connects him to Plato, but clearly, the connection is there. Emerson is always starting with the physical and always insists that is must "ascend" whether it is love or beauty or compensation or experience, everything is a means to the spiritual. This is all well and good, but sometimes, I just wish a flower could be a flower and not a symbol for a higher natural law that comes from the over-soul. Sometimes I don't want a flower to mean anything. Sometimes I just want a flower to be. Next week's Emerson: Manners

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bibliotherapy Complete

Ah, the bibliotherapy session was magnificent and the mocha (soy, no whipped cream) was delicious. I feel renewed and ready to read all weekend if the weather ends up being as ugly as the forecast indicates. However, I have learned that sometimes the best forecast is sticking your head out the window. Our weather "experts" here hold the only job in which a person can be so wrong so many times and still be able to continue in that job. But I digress. Added to the teetering piles (oh how I wish my unread books could be as few and contained as Dorothy's!) are:

  • The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone. My Mom had this book in her closet when I was a kid. I would sneak in when left alone and just look at the very plain cover and imagine what was inside. Because it was in the closet I thought it must be a dirty book, but because it was in plain view I didn't dare swipe it to read it. Not until I was an adult and my husband started reading a very old and beat up copy which fell apart, did I find out the book was about Michelangelo. Now we have a nice copy that won't fall apart.
  • Comicomics by Italo Calvino. I love fiction that incorporates science and this book is short stories that have characters that are mathematical formulae and simple cellular structures. According to the back of the book "Calvino succeeds in relating complex scientific concepts to the ordinary reactions of common humanity."
  • Rereadings edited by Anne Fadiman. As someone who does not re-read very often, reading about others who do fascinates me.
  • Lion's Honey by David Grossman. Another book in the Cannongate myth series. This one is about Samson.
  • House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski. This one will be interesting. It has different fonts, regular narrative, letters, pages with only one or two words on them, footnotes, backwards writing, and an index and I'm not quite sure what else. One of my husband's former co-workers who has read it said she loved it and I trust her opinion. A blurb on the back of the books describes it as a "rollicking Pynchonesque oddity, a Nabokovian linguistic obsession, and a Borgesian unreality."
  • The Adventuress by Audrey Niffenegger. This is another book like Three Incestuous Sisters. It looks like it will be a delight.
I feel like I am stocked up for winter and fall has just begun. I'll be ready this winter and next winter too. Heck, I'm ready for an ice age! Update. In my excitement last night I forgot to include the link to Dorothy's impressively tidy TBR shelf. It's there now, so you can go look.

Back Later

I am soooooo glad it's Friday. I am in need of a mocha and some bibliotherapy so I will be back later this evening with, perhaps, a new book or two to yawp about (as if I don't have enough books already). In the meantime, if you have read Swann's Way and can answer my questions, I'd appreciate your insight.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


In today's mail I received a full-color brochure for the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival which takes place September 28th through October 1st. What did I do to deserve such torture? I have never gone to the festival but have always wanted to. This year there will be readings from poets the likes of Robert Bly, Lucille Clifton, Billy Collins, Mark Doty, Jorie Graham, Linda Hogan, Galway Kinnell, Grace Paley, and Linda Pastan. And that's just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg! There is also going to be book signings, a tribute to Stanley Kunitz, and ensemble performances of Rumi just to name the highlights I'd be interested in. I don't know how these people got my address. I had forgotten all about the festival this year and now they had to go and ruin it by sending me the brochure. I can't travel because of the needs of my diabetic cat. Is the brochure some cruel, cosmic joke? And why do I have MC Hammer's song "Can't Touch This" going through my head now? There he is, dancing across my imagination in those weird pants. But thanks to the internet, he doesn't have to stay in my imagination. At least I've stopped dwelling on the poetry festival, now I just have to find a way to get Hammer out of me head. There is one festival I will definitely be attending this year. The Twin Cities Book Festival on October 14th. Kelly Link is going to be there and I will be cruising the used book fair and the lit mag fair. This is something quite fun to look forward to. The book gods must like me at least a little. Unless of course they are just dangling the carrot and will dance away with it singing "can't touch this!" just before the festival.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Yum, Gnats!

Fall is a season that brings many questions with it. Over the last week I have pondered such things as which blanket should I wrap myself in? Do I want hot coffee or hot chocolate? Where did I put my slippers? And which book shall I curl up with while wrapped in a blanket, drinking a hot drink and cursing myself for cleverly hiding my slippers away in a new, better place last spring? These are important questions. Today another question arose. Do I say yes to an advanced copy of The Looking Glass Wars? And also ask for one to give away? The book looks good, but if I ask for a copy I have to promise to read and post about it before September 26th. But wait. I just glanced at the email again and it says I have to have the giveaway before September 26th when the book comes out. I can do that! So now you all know to there will be a giveaway soon. I'll have to think of some interesting comment requirement for entry. That's not the only question that came up today, however. Others arose while I was riding my bike home from work. Fall is the time of gnats. There is no way to avoid these tiny bugs. They ping nearly continuously against my face as I pedal home. It's really gross. My consolation is that by the end of the month they will all be dead, killed by a hard frost. But until then, the questions that I ponder are, do I keep my mouth shut tightly and inhale the gnats through my nose? Or, do I chomp away like Ms Pacman, wocka, wocka, wocka? Are you all going eeewww? Sorry. I was planning on finishing Swann's Way last night, I am this close. But I forgot it was the first night of Dancing with the Stars. This meant two hours of fun criticizing other people's ballroom dance skills instead of reading. It's always easier to find the faults in others' dancing than it is in my own. I worry about some of the women's costumes though, they either defy the laws of physics or they have industrial strength tape holding them in place. I am also behind on my RIP Challenge books. I'm reading The Monk and not very far along, though I am very much enjoying it. There has been a gypsy who gave a doom and gloom fortune to the pure and lovely Antonia. A monk in training who is not as he appears. And Ambrosio the Abbot of much renown, 30 years-old and never been tempted. He didn't last long when the fair Mathilda came on the scene. He had sex with her on her deathbed. There are too many inappropriate things to say about that so I'll just leave it and let you all work them out for yourselves.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

It's the Little Things

Cross posted at A Curious Singularity Exquisite. Sublime. That's what I thought of James Joyce's short story "The Dead." The story is the final one in Dubliners. I read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man earlier this year which ended my fear of Joyce. For some reason I thought "The Dead" would have a similar feel and style to Portrait. Wrong! There were flashes of beauty and brilliance in Portrait but it tended to be choppy too. "The Dead" was smooth and shiny and gorgeous all the way through. I found all the characters to have depth, even the ones we only see briefly like Lily who answers the door as the guests arrive and help the men with their coats. She has a story and I want to know it. The party had tones of Dickens in it I thought, friends and family coming together and having a good time no matter the circumstances in their everyday lives, they can have this brief time of pleasure. But the party all seems to be prelude. I've mentioned before how Virginia Woolf in her short stories builds and builds until it all comes to one moment, even to one sentence. Proust does the same thing. And here Joyce is doing it too. The party is fun and interesting and all , but it is just there to get you ready for after the party, for the moment when Gabriel sees his wife Gretta standing in shadow on the stairs, listening to a song. Gabriel is enchanted, sees how beautiful his wife is, decides if he were a painter he would paint her just like that. Gabriel feels joyful and all the way home notices how beautiful his wife looks. He loves her and thinks on their life together,

Like the tender fire of the stars moments of their life together, that no one knew of or would ever know of, broke upon and illumined his memory. He longed to recall to her those moments, to make her forget the years of their dull existence together and remember only their moments of ecstasy. For the years, he felt, had not quenched his soul or hers.
And it goes on and is so lovely. Joyce perfectly captures those small moments when suddenly everything is transformed, and it is always a small moment, a smile, a gesture, a blush. One is inexplicably filled to the brim with an expansive joy that seems to make time stop. Joyce is equally as good at capturing what happens afterward. In the case of Gabriel and Gretta, Gabriel finds out that the song Gretta was listening to reminded her of her youth at Galway and a boy named Michael Furey died for her. Gabriel's initial jealousy disappears, his wife falls asleep and he lays in bed, thinking and looking at his wife. And he realizes that one by one all become shades and enter the world of the dead. These last few paragraphs are breathtakingly beautiful. I know I keep saying beautiful, lovely exquisite, but I don't know how else to saw it. What else does one say about a sentence like this one: "Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age." Or this one: "His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling." And the final sentence: "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead." The way the joy of the small moment of Gabriel watching Gretta on the stairs moves to the quiet, melancholy end is incredibly affecting. There are some stories that stay in your head and you just think, oh that was good. Then there are stories like "The Dead" that go to your heart.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Book Videos

Feeling rather uninspired for anything to write about this evening I clicked over to Book Standard where I began perusing an article about book video highlights. I've heard about book videos, little advertisements to sell books that are popping up on the internet, but I have never bothered to investigate before. So I decided to click on a link. What fun to see a commercial for the final Lemony Snicket book! I clicked back to the article to explore other links which led me to VidLit, a fun site with all kinds of book video advertisements. Maybe it is the novelty, but I've been having fun watching a bunch of these 2-3 minute videos. The video for David Foster Wallace's book Consider the Lobster is a hoot as is the one for David Rakoff's book, Don't Get Too Comfortable. And for all you professors out there and those who are trying to get an education, is the video for Professors' Guide to Getting Good Grades which goes over the five questions you should never ask a professor. And if you'd like some chuckles at the expense of President Bush, be sure to watch Paul Slanksy's reviews of several Bush-related books. These little videos are strangely addicting, so beware!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Where Do We Find Ourselves?

Emerson's essay Experience is different from all the others that have come before. BikeProf gave me a heads up on it, but I wasn't sure what to expect. Emerson's essays are generally exuberant, filled with optimism and idealism and no matter how much I might disagree with the ideas he proposes in them, I always conclude the essay feeling as though I have just had an exciting and lively conversation with a Big Mind. And I am generally agitated and have to let the essay sit and seep in before I try to write about it. Experience right away begins differently. Emerson asks, "Where do we find ourselves?" and goes on to talk about how we go through our lives in a sort of dream-state as though we have drunk a cup of water from the river Lethe. We are "ghostlike" sleep-walkers whose lives are "not so much threatened as our perception." He goes on to talk about how we cannot judge from day-to-day whether they were profitable or not because we live in fragments, see in fragments and cannot see the whole. These are all typical Emerson ideas, but the tone. The tone is melancholy. I get the feeling that Emerson is tired and sad. He writes about how the dream world we live in is full of illusions and in our attempts to find reality and experience something true and real we create suffering. But because we create it ourselves it is nothing but "scene-painting and counterfeit." Emerson writes of the death of his son two years prior and says that he had imagined that such a loss would leave him scared, but it didn't. He writes, "I grieve that grief can teach me nothing, nor carry me one step into real nature." The whole essay is laden with this grief. Emerson argues that "life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus." Our moods are ruled by our temperament and by extension, our lives are ruled by it as well. This does not have to be so, however, there is hope. If we allow our intellect, "seeker of absolute truth," or our heart, "lover of absolute good," to intercede to allow the door to creative power, which is part of the oversoul which is part of God, to open, "we awake from ineffectual struggles with this nightmare." Another part of the illusion of the dream we are in is our love of permanence. We dedicate ourselves to one thought or idea. This is a mistake. The "health of body consists in circulation, and sanity of mind in variety or facility of association." Permanence is death, change is life. Experience contains lots of Ideas. Aside from the ones I've already mentioned, there is Surface, Surprise, Reality, and Subjectiveness. Here is a brief bit about each:

  • Surface. "We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them." However, "to finish the moment, to find the journey's end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom."
  • Surprise. "Life is a series of surprises, and would not be worth taking or keeping if it were not." We can plan all we want but "the results of life are uncalculated and uncalculable. The years teach much which the days never know."
  • Reality. "If I have described life as a flux of moods, I must now add that there is that in us which changes not and which ranks all sensations and states of mind. The consciousness in each man is a sliding scale, which identifies him now with the First Cause, and now with the flesh of his body; life above life, in infinite degrees. The sentiment from which it sprung determines the dignity of any deed, and the question ever is, not what you have done or forborne, but at whose command you have done and forborne."
  • Subjectivity. "Thus does the universe wear our color, and every object fall successively into the subject itself. The subject exists, the subject enlarges; all things sooner or later fall into place. As I am, so I see; use what language we will, we can never say anything but what we are."
There are enough ideas in this essay I could practically write an entire essay dedicated to each one of them. Emerson concludes Experience by saying that he doesn't expect any immediate changes to come about from his ideas. He admits that the world that exists is not the one he sees. And here the melancholy tone of the essay changes. Emerson is patient and he encourages his readers to be patient as well. Time is deceptive. Daily tasks like eating, sleeping and earning money take much time, but "it takes very little time to entertain a hope and an insight which becomes the light of our life." Don't give up. Take heart, "there is victory yet for all justice." The world will one day see the transformation of genius, the creative power of the Divine, into a practical, everyday power. Emerson is nothing but sincere. He truly believes what he says. He remains idealistic and optimistic, but by the end of the essay these qualities have definitely become tempered. While the essay is clearly directed towards an outward audience, I get the feeling that Emerson was also directing it at himself as a sort of "here's what I've learned so far" exposition, but also as a bit of self-confirmation and self-encouragement. It makes for a good read. Next week's Emerson: Character

Friday, September 08, 2006

I Have Plans

Fall is in the air, it didn't get above 70 today. Add to that an overcast sky and you have a perfect recipe for reading. Of course, days like this always happen on days I have to work. What did I do to deserve such ill treatment from the book gods? The weekend is also supposed to be cool and I have plans. Emerson is on tap as is an attempt to finish Swann's Way. I have also recently acquired The Dubliners so that I may read "The Dead" for Tuesday's discussion at A Curious Singularity. I also began reading Madame Bovary a few weeks ago and am yearning to get back to that. Then there is Clarissa staring at me from my nightstand. I must get back to her. But she is not a take charge kind of gal and I feel as though leaving her hanging is a bit of tit-for-tat on my part (as though she really knows or cares that I haven't visited her in over a month!) Obviously though she has had some kind of impact on me if I see her as a real person. That is something I know I can say here without anyone thinking I am completely bonkers. Characters as real people, happens all the time. Right now I am gleefully shouting at Swann for being such a putz about Odette. He is so head-over-heels in love with her that he doesn't see the real Odette. Well he does, but he dismisses it, makes excuses for it. Do you ever talk to the characters in your books or treat them as though they were real? I was once reading at work and there was someone else in the lunch room when I yelled out "well duh! You big idoit" I don't remember what I was reading but I do remember I sure surprised the person who was also lunching. Then I had to, with much embarrassment, explain my outburst. I am more careful about things like that now and usually manage to limit myself to mumbling under my breath, snorting or sniffing. Any of my coworkers who have had the honor of witnessing this probably think I am very weird but no one has said anything. Maybe they are all afraid of me. *Squee* My Bookman just went out to rent a movie since our ballroom dance teacher is ill and our lesson for this evening got canceled. He came back with a movie but also came back with a book he stopped to pick up along the way: On Beauty and Being Just by Elaine Scarry. Now I don't have to try and get my branch librarian to request it for me from the county library. I've got to do lots of reading this weekend in order to make room for this book I am excited to read because of Dorothy! *Squee!*

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Ramble About Book Lists

In Book by Book Michael Dirda has a short piece on what he calls "patterning books." Patterning books are those books that later authors "regularly build on, allude to, work against." Dirda's list is short and includes, of course the Bible, Homer, Dante and Shakespeare. But he also includes Bullfinch's Mythology, Le Morte D'Arthur, the Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Anderson, and Alice in Wonderland. There is also Plutarch's Lives, The Arabian Nights, Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Pride and Prejudice, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and whatever anthology you can find of the world's major folktales. That's it. That's the list. I've been thinking about the list. It's a good list. But of course, in the way of lists, they are either never complete or they get turned into a requirement, or a weapon of inclusion and exclusion. I can understand the point of such a list, after all, if you are a person who reads widely you will run into references to all of these works at one time or another. Heck, there are even cultural references to some of them. So a list of books is important, right? But a list like this also makes me twitchy. I am uncomfortable with the idea that these are the books you should read if you want to be able to understand Literature. The books themselves don't bother me, in fact I think reading them could be useful and give a person a great perspective. The should bothers me. When someone tells me what I should read I get this tingling feeling along my spine. I am sure if I were a porcupine my quills would be standing up. If I were a cat my back would be arched and my fur pooffed out. Maybe it is my stubborn streak; I don't like people telling me what to do. But I think there is more to it than that. See, when I read lists like that I find myself mentally checking off the books I have read and scolding myself for the ones I haven't. Then, if someone else tells me she has read x number of books from the list I find myself suddenly judging both of us by the x number. I've read more or less, I am better or worse. Luckily, I have a bad memory for numbers and within a week or two I have forgotten what x was and within a month or so I have forgotten what my resulting judgment was. Then another list comes along and it starts all over. I hate this. I hate it because I do it and can't stop myself and because I know others do it too. Then I worry, do others think I'm stupid? Then I realize that what is stupid is worrying about it. Reading is not a contest. None of the books on the list are required. The list is like optional ingredients in a recipe. We are all cooking our own book stews and each stew is as unique as the chef. I like that we each have our own herbs and spices. Life would be so boring if every stew tasted the same. Update. I had a bit of a brain cloud while writing this post and neglected to mention Dorothy's thoughtful post about personal list keeping and numbers. If you haven't already read it, do so. And forgive me my brain cloud.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Gothic Goodness

My sister is back in Los Angeles and Chaucer has taken his place on my shelf next to my Nancy Pearl and Shakespeare action figures and my Wild Things. But I am sure another adventure will call him forth again someday. Needless to say I didn't do much reading while my sister was here and was starting to feel a bit jittery. Last night I whetted my bookish appetite by listening to book six of Harry Potter on audio, reading Proust and beginning The Monk by Matthew Lewis, the first book in my RIP Challenge list (see sidebar). I did not do this all at once, however. Typically I read at least two different books each evening. I began with The Monk just in case it turns out to be scary I don't want it to be the last thing I read at night. I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. My edition has a well written introduction by Stephen King. He discusses The Monk in the context of the novel in general and the gothic novel specifically. He traces a timeline from Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto, which I now want to read someday, to Ann Radcliffe, in particular The Mysteries of Udolpho, which I also want to read someday, to The Monk, loved by Byron and de Sade and hated by Coleridge, and on up through Tales from the Crypt. When The Monk first came out in 1796, the book was considered obscene. Of course it was a bestseller. Matthew Lewis was made to "clean up" each successive edition, however, in order to avoid legal action. Happily, such things are no longer an issue with the book and my copy is from the original unexpurgated edition. And judging from King's intro I have lots of depravity to look forward to. But for the moment, the book is hilarious as the seeds of plots and intrigues are planted. There is the chaste and pure fifteen year-old Antonia and her silly aunt who reminds me of the nurse in Romeo and Juliet. The aunt is completely clueless and falls for the good looks and manners of two young Cavaliers. They are all sitting in church together waiting for a sermon from the Abbot. The aunt, swearing up a storm, very obligingly tells the two men Antonia's story. While Lorenzo flirts with Antonia, his friend Don Christoval distracts the aunt. By the end of it all the aunt thinks Don Christoval has proposed to her and insists that she could not possibly accept his first offer but she will be more considerate of his next offer which she expects shortly. After the aunt and Antonia depart, Don Christoval chides Lorenzo:

What can repay me for having kissed the leathern paw of that confounded old Witch? Diavolo! She has left such a scent upon my lips, that I shall smell of garlick for this month to come! As I pass along the Prado, I shall be taken for a walking Omelet, or some large Onion running to seed!
Lorenzo plans on marrying Antonia, but her chaste heart has been set aflutter by the handsome Abbot Ambrosio. Ambrosio was an orphan left on the doorstep of the Capuchin Abbey. He's been raised by monks and until he became Abbot and had to deliver a once a week sermon, he never left the Abbey. He is pure and good and ripe for a fall. And you know Antonia is going down too. Meanwhile there is also a little intrigue going on between Lorenzo's sister who is a nun and the Marquis Raymond de las Cisternas. The Marquis, it seems also is somehow connected to Antonia, or I might just be getting confused with all the set up. Needless to say, I am enjoying The Monk very much. Things are funny now, but I know they will turn. Part of me is eagerly looking forward to it. Part of me is dreading it. The tension is delightful.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Okay Great Gatsby fans, here's your chance to have a unique experience. If you are going to be in Minneapolis September 21-24, you can catch Gatz. Gatz is an unabridged performance of The Great Gatsby. The show is six hours long and is broken only by an hour long dinner break. If you are unable to do the "marathon," you can catch part one and part two on different evenings. While I am tempted to go just for the experience, I have a hard time sitting still that long. I am also not a fan of The Great Gatsby. I know many of you are and will see my dislike of the novel as a tragic shortcoming. Please forgive me for it. I can't believe I am the only one who doesn't like the novel, however. I will also wager each one of you harbors a dislike for a "great" novel that "everyone" else loves and that you feel guilty about it. Now is the time to ease your burden. I will help you along be adding to Gatsby, I am about to get loads of hate mail for this, Wuthering Heights. Stop your indignant protestations for one second and hear me out. I don't hate Wuthering Heights, I actually had some pleasure in reading it. But I had friends who swooned over Heathcliff and the tragedy of it all and I was baffled. I thought Heathcliff was a jerk and found nothing romantic in the tragedy of his love for Cathy. Of course Cathy wasn't blameless either. Their entire relationship was sick. A decent story, but nothing to swoon or cry over in my opinion. There, the cat is out of the bag. Now reader, it is your turn. Confess!

Monday, September 04, 2006

New Books!

Yesterday was rather rainy and Chaucer was pretty tired so he stayed in the back seat of the car riding recklessly without a seatbelt, while we meandered about town. One of the best things to do on a rainy day is spend some time in a bookstore. Since there is no Half Price Books in Los Angeles, my sister and I spent some time browsing and took advantage of the $1 bargain basement clearance. I came home with two books by Jane Urquhart, The Underpainter and Away. I've not read her before but Cipriano raved about her and my Bookman listened to Map of Glass in his car recently and loved it. I also picked up a clearance Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore. I didn't much like her Birds of America so I hesitated. What clenched it was the first sentence of the first story: "In Paris we eat brains every night." How could I put that back on the shelf? And for one more dollar I decided to take a chance on Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams. I tried to listen to this on audio once while on a driving trip and it did not go well. But I've heard that the book is good. And if it isn't, well, it was only a dollar. I neglected to mention that besides Chaucer, my sister came with the gift of a book, Unknown Masterpieces: Writers Rediscover Literature's Hidden Classics. What a nice sister.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Chaucer goes to the Mall of America

Chaucer had a very full Saturday. Being a writer and a pilgrim he's used to lots of walking since he can't afford hot wheels, so the prospect of walking around a "ginormous" mall all day didn't bother him one iota. Chaucer knows, however, that the best start to a big day is a good breakfast. Chaucer has breakfast Here he is enjoying a vegan pancake with bananas, tahini, and real maple syrup. And let's not forget the all important cup of organic fair trade coffee! After his hearty meal, Chaucer was ready to go. He had a great time but had to be very careful that no one thought he was a sale item. He spent most of the time in hiding, but had to come out for some fun at the Lego store Chaucer plays with Legos As much fun as he had there, he couldn't stay long and play on the Lego tables because there were too many children about. Nonetheless, the bargain shopping was a success Chaucer is tired

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Chaucer at the Fair

The weather yesterday was perfect for a day at the fair. We weren't sure how warm it was going to get so we began the fair at the animal barns. They were stinky enough without the heat, at least the goat barn was. Chaucer liked the goats but we were afraid they would like him too, so no photo op presented itself. Chaucer and the hosre In the horse barn, the horses were rather indifferent. Next up were the swine. The pen with the piglets was too crowded even for us to get a good view, and the biggest boar left no elbow room either. These little pigs appeared to be obliging.Chaucer gets piggy Don't let their innocent slumber fool you though. After the photo they woke up and we had to make a hasty retreat for fear of Chaucer's life as they stuck their snouts out thinking Chaucer was about the right size for a tasty snack! After his close call with the pigs, Chaucer was too nervous to approach the nibbling sheep. And the cows? Forget about it! Taking a breakClear of the animals Chaucer began to relax and enjoy himself in the crowds. But it is thirsty work roaming around, so we paused for a lemon-lime slushy. Feeling refreshed, Chaucer went to the horticulture building and bobbled at the impressive seed art. He also thought the moss beneath a 300 year-old bonsai looked soft and inviting for an afternoon siesta, but the guardians of the bonsai did not look like they would be willing to accommodate Chaucer's rest. Onward through the crowds. Chaucer bobbled at some beautiful art. His favorite was a still life of four pears and off to the side was a fifth pear approaching on little cartoon legs. Chaucer also like a painting entitled "Marbles Gone Bad." Topiary ChaucerBut what really got him excited was the herd of topiary animals outside the Eco building. These animals weren't going to try and eat him so he could get up close and personal. Pay no attention to the hand in the picture, 'tis nothing but a fellow pilgrim lending Chaucer some extra support. After a long an tiring day, we climbed onto our return bus but the bus driver went missing. There was nothing to worry about though when Chaucer took the wheel! On the Bus Today's Emerson has been postponed until next Saturday. Chaucer's going shopping at the Mall of America!

Friday, September 01, 2006


Carl has issued the R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) challenge. From now until October 31st, those taking up the challenge will read 5 books that meet the criteria of being "scary, eerie, moody, dripping with atmosphere, gothic, unsettling, etc." Since I am a complete horror wimp, I am aiming more for unsettling than scary. In no particular order, here are my five:

  1. The Monk by Matthew Lewis
  2. The Phantom Rickshaw by Rudyard Kipling
  3. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
  4. The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley
  5. The Best Supernatural Tales of Arthur Conan Doyle by Arthur Conan Doyle
An eclectic bunch. I am thinking I might start off with The Monk to sort of set the tone. This should be fun! Posting might be irregular over the next several days. My sister is visiting from Los Angeles. Today we are going to the MN State Fair. Sis has brought bobblehead Chaucer with her and gifted him to me (she's a good Sis!). Chaucer will be venturing to the fair with us today. He has a great desire to have his photo taken with some farm animals. He has also heard that the Mall of America is a place of pilgrimage and wants to see that too. Some people have garden gnomes that go traveling, I've got Chaucer.