Thursday, November 30, 2006

Madame Bovary

After starting and stopping and wondering if I would ever get back to it, I finished Madame Bovary a few days ago. Since then I have been trying to figure out what to say about it. There is so much in it. I was going to write about it yesterday but the cookbook came and gave me a respite. So I read the introduction last night, hoping for something that would answer all my questions only to discover that all the questions I had are ones the professionals argue over too and there were even some things mentioned that I didn't even realize were questions but apparently are. This being a blog and me no professional critic I can only muddle my way in. So here goes. I had issues with Emma. She seemed so sweet at first but as soon as she married Charles and found out that marriage is not like the romances she reads she turned into an unlikable person. She longed to be rich. She longed for a great and passionate love. She longed for a husband with ambition. And all her longing made her ill both physically and mentally. So Charles sold his comfortable house and moved his practice to the village of Yonville which turned out to be disastrous in more ways than one and certainly didn't cure Emma. Sometimes I felt sorry for Emma, stuck with a husband who was oblivious, who loved her but for all the wrong reasons, and who wasn't even smart enough to pass the doctor exams to be a real doctor. The one time Charles tries to do anything other than basic doctoring--he attempts to fix a club foot--he screws it up and the patient's leg has to be amputated by a real doctor. I can't blame Emma for having two affairs. Her life must have been so dull. But she is needy and manipulative and in the end she is downright mean that I could not ultimately sympathize with her. I felt sympathy for Charles most of the time because he was so clueless and didn't deserve his fate. But at the same time he was such a blob of a person. He had no real personality, no spark. He was frequently out on call, couldn't get his patients to pay him, and gave in to Emma's every whim. He had no backbone. Charles and Emma have to have one of the worst marriages in literature. These two people should not have been together. I knew it wasn't going to go well from the start when, walking back from their wedding we get this little passage:

Emma's dress, too long, trailed a little on the ground; from time to time she stopped to pull it up, and then delicately, with her gloved hands, she picked off the coarse grass and the thistle-downs, while Charles, empty handed, waited till she finished.
That, in a nutshell says everything about their relationship. They definitely should not have had a child. Poor Berthe, she is the real victim. She was also a distraction for me because she didn't appear often and I knew she was there and whenever something would happen I'd wonder, where's Berthe? Who's looking after her? No doubt if she were real and alive today she'd be seeing a therapist to deal with neglect and abandonment issues. The introduction tells me that many of the characters are named for their foibles. The one I find most interesting is Lheureux which is taken, according to the intro, from the French word for happiness. Lheureux is a merchant who also offers loans. Emma gets herself into deep debt with him, buying expensive things on credit. Of course, he urges her on, she needs nothing more than a suggestion since she buys the most expensive things when she is most depressed. The things Emma buys never make her happy and lead to her ruin; an early example and moral lesson, perhaps, that consumerism and materialism are spiritually unsatisfying. I have not read any Falubert before and at first was a bit worried because I found the prose to be, if not exactly clunky, not entirely smooth and flowing. But it ends up being a matter of style that once I was used to it was enjoyable and engaging. Flaubert is very good at slipping between characters so I didn't even notice the transition. The introduction mentions Flaubert as an "invisible narrator" which puts the finger on a quality I noticed but couldn't articulate and I am not sure that I can explain. There is a narrator but not really. He's sort of like a fish leaping out of the water, one second he's there, the next he's not and if you weren't looking you would never have known a fish had just jumped. There might be a small ripple or you may have heard a faint splash but you can't be sure. I don't know how Flaubert managed this narrative style but it is really fascinating to see. If you've never read Madame Bovary I highly recommend it. It's good stuff even if you don't want to analyze the themes and details and what not, the story alone is worth the time.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I came home from work this evening to find someone from a publisher had sent me a book. Since I was not asked nor did I ask for it, it was a complete surprise. Even more of a surprise when I opened the padded envelope to find a big cookbook! I do not cook. This is not because I can't, I can cook just fine as long as I have a recipe to follow. I don't cook because I don't like to. For some reason I am always surprised when I am hungry. And when I am hungry I want something to eat right then darn it! I cannot spend a half hour or so cooking a whole meal with my stomach growling. A growling stomach distracts me and I must pay attention to what I am doing when I cook otherwise things don't turn out so well. And since I don't know when I will be hungry I never know when I am going to need to start cooking. When my husband met me I was in grad school and when I wasn't eating in a cafeteria, which was most of the time, my main meals were one of two things, Spaghetti-Os or refried beans with a little Cheez-Whiz stirred in and corn chips on the side. So gourmet. But getting a cookbook in the mail is not necessarily a bad thing. I love reading cookbooks and imagining what the food will taste like and if there are color pictures, all the better. My husband is a good sport if I tell him he has to make a particular something. And if the recipe isn't vegan he is a wizard at substitutions. The cookbook I got in the mail is The Modern Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amrita Sondhi. And in case you don't know what dosha you are (air, fire, earth) there are quizzes to help you figure it out. I don't ascribe to the whole ayurvedic thing, but the recipes are all Indian with lots of curries and other spices, vegetables and whole grains. I am salivating especially since while I was flipping through I found recipes for pakoras and a variety of samosas. There are lots of good looking soup recipes in the book too, salads, entrees, breads and grains, desserts and condiments (chutneys!). In the back of the book there are several chai recipes and other tea recipes. But the one I am going to definitely have to try is the one for spicy dark hot chocolate. Oh my. The only bad thing about this cookbook is that there is not a single picture (except for the ones of yoga poses at the end). I am only imagining at the moment what these recipes must taste like since I haven't, I mean my husband hasn't, made any of them yet. The book definitely looks like a keeper though. Now, I'm not saying all these things because I got the book for free and feel obliged to give it a good review. I'm saying these things because the book looks genuinely delicious. If after we try some of the recipes it turns out they are terrible, I will not hesitate to say so. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Can't Get Enough Poetry

Just coincidentally to yesterday's poetry meme, I finished Patricia Smith's book of poetry, Teahouse of the Almighty, over the weekend. I've mentioned the book twice before and now that I have finished it I can say the whole books is really wonderful. Smith has a strong voice and knows how to use it. I enjoyed the way she plays with sounds and words and rhythms. Sometimes the poems come in a rush, the words gushing down the page. Sometimes they are staccato gunshots. And sometimes they are smooth and lyrical. She is well aware that words have power and several of the poems are about that power. One of my favorites is "Related to the Buttercup, Blooms in Spring" in which one of her teachers writes the word "anemone" on the chalk board for the class to practice their handwriting on:

That one word was sweet silver on my new tongue, it kept coming back to my mouth, it was the very first sound I wanted to own, to name myself after, I wanted no one else to ever utter this. Even now, listen to how anemone circles, turns round, and surprises itself. That day I gave that word a home just under my breath and at least a hundred times I drew on the drug of it, serving it up to the needing air. All this before I knew what it meant. (If you never remember feeling that way about a single word, sensing a burn in the sheer power of its sound, lift up your poetry--all those thick, important pages--and see that it is resting on nothing. Then shred those sheets, toss them to the sky, and lie prone beneath the empty flutter. You must own one word completely before you can claim another.)
But even while she gets high on words, she also acknowledges that words sometimes fail. In her poem, "Fireman," so named for a man who hangs out on the corner and who was burned in a fire, Smith writes:
Long time before, Fireman had raced face-first into a blaze trying to save something belonged to him, a dog or a woman or some other piece of life, and an explosion had blown his face straight back, you know, sometimes I hate words, they don't know how to say anything, imagine that I am digging my fingers deep into the clay of my face and pulling, watch how my eyes get, how they can't stop seeing the last thing they saw, his eyelashes gone, eyebrows gone, everything on his head headed backwards, like it was trying to get away from him. Maps all over his skin, maps for little lost people
Smith writes about poetry and music, famous people and nobodies, good love and bad. Some of the poems are gritty and harsh and made me feel terrible and sad. While others left me feeling elated. Teahouse of the Almighty is not Smith's first book. According to the back of the book blurb, she has three previous collections. I'll definitely be looking those up.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Poetry Meme

Hobgoblin has tagged me with Cam's poetry meme.

  1. The first poem I remember reading/hearing/reacting to was a silly kid rhyme:
    Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't fuzzy, Was he?
    My Grandma had these tiny children's books that were the size of matchbooks. There were twelve of them and they lived in a little box. I was probably about six. My sister and I loved these little books and would sit and read them over and over while the adults talked. I loved the Fuzzy Wuzzy poem. I also loved this one:
    A peanut sat on the railroad tracks, his heart was all a flutter. Along came Engine Number 9, Toot! Toot! Peanut butter.
    I'll bet my Grandma still has those little books too. I'll have to ask her.
  2. I was forced to memorize (name of poem) in school and........ I didn't have to memorize poetry in grade school unless you count a few Shakespeare speeches. But I enjoyed reading poetry on my own. My sister and I had to take turn washing dishes and when it was my turn she would sit in the kitchen and keep me company and make me memorize poetry. I memorized A Visit From Saint Nicholas and still know it and recite it to her over the phone every year on Christmas Eve. I also made a valiant attempt on Poe's The Raven. I think I made it through the first half of the poem before we both got tired of it. I don't recall much past the first few lines. When I was in college I had an undergrad survey course on British Romantic poetry and I memorized Wordworth's Tintern Abbey. We did not have to recite the poems in front of the whole class, thank goodness. We had to go to the professor's office one, by one and recite. I got an A on my recitation in case you were wondering. However, I don't remember a word of the poem anymore.
  3. I read/don't read poetry because.... I read poetry because I love the feel and sound of the words. I love the surprise of a poem. And I love the way so many powerful ideas and emotions can be packed into such a (usually) small thing.
  4. A poem I'm likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem is ....... Transcendental Etude by Adrienne Rich. Every time I read it I feel so large. I also think of Emily Dickinson's poem, can't remember the number, but it's the one that starts, "To make a prairie it takes clover and one bee"
  5. I write/don't write poetry, but.............. I don't write poetry except for an occasional haiku. I used to write it all the time when I was a kid and especially when I was an angst-filled teenager. That was when I thought a good rhyme was the key to a good poem and I didn't care if it didn't made sense so long as it sounded good. Now poetry writing is much too much of a serious thing and there are others who can do it better than I can so I am happier reading it than agonizing over writing it.
  6. My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of literature..... because there was a stretch of time from about my junior year in high school to my senior year in college when I lost confidence in my ability to read poetry. I became afraid that I was missing something important, that I didn't know what was going on, that I had been fooling myself about poetry for all those years and it was more than I could handle. I never lost confidence in my ability to read and understand prose. If I read prose and didn't get it, I blamed the prose or the teacher or something else, never myself. But with poetry, for some reason, I blamed myself. Am I ever glad I got over that!
  7. I find poetry..... miraculous. A poem can contain worlds, create worlds, destroy worlds. A poem can move me like nothing else can. I can read the same poem over and over again and each time there is always something new there I didn't see before.
  8. The last time I heard poetry.... was about a month ago when my Bookman and I went and heard Tess Gallagher read at the downtown public library. A poem doesn't truly come alive until I've heard it read. And if it is read by the author, all the better. Sometimes my husband and I will read poetry to each other. He'll be cooking dinner and I'll pull a book at random off the shelf, flip it open to a page and just read it out. Or we'll be relaxing on the sofa and he'll take a book off the shelf and read a poem to me. We also have recordings of poets reading their work that we listen to from time to time.
  9. I think poetry is like.... a box of chocolates. No not really. I wanted to have some fancy, poetic metaphor, but I don't think of poetry in that way. To me it's like nothing else. It is only ever itself and that's all I ever want it to be, nothing more, nothing less.
Anyone else want to give this wonderful meme a go?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

In Which Emerson Discourses on the Abilites of the English

Another week of fun with Emerson as he delves into the psyche of the English, this time to expound upon their abilities. Everything comes down to race, which, as Emerson sees it, means the English are a fortuitous mixture of Scandinavians (Saxon and "Northmen") and Normans (French). This lends the English both democratic and aristocratic principles, making of them a people of "antagonisms and contradictions" as well as a "museum of anomalies." Emerson describes England as a country filled with logical, fair-minded, utilitarian laborers where "every man is trained to some one art of detail and aims at perfection in that." He praises the English for their "public aim" that produces such civic mindedness as can be found in the likes of Sir John Herschel who cataloged the stars of the southern hemisphere, the intrepid Arctic explorers, and Lord Elgin who "saved" Greek marble sculptures from certain ruin by removing them from Athens and taking them, with a brief stay at the bottom of the ocean, to London. There was quite a bit of controversy over the Elgin Marbles then as there is now, but Emerson entirely overlooks it, perhaps considering it part and parcel with the contradictory tendencies of the English. Or maybe he just thought the English were trying to beautify their island since "they are heavy at the fine arts, but adroit at the coarse; not good in jewelry or mosaics, but the best iron-masters, colliers, wool-combers and tanners in Europe." Or maybe it's because Emerson thinks the English

heavy fellows, steeped in beer and fleshpots, they are hard of hearing and dim of sight. Their drowsy minds need to be flagellated by war and trade and politics and persecution. They cannot well read a principle, except by the light of fagots and of burning towns.
Ouch. If that's not enough, Emerson compares the English to Trolls and mastiffs too! But these are positive comparisons meant to be complimentary. Trolls are inherited from the Scandinavians. Emerson describes Trolls as "goblin men with vast power of work and skillful production" (and here I thought they just lived under bridges, trying to catch billy goats for dinner.) When he says that the likes of Alfred, Bede, Caxton, Drake, Newton, et al, are Trolls, he means that these "working brains" turn the "sweat of their face[s] to power and renown." As for the mastiffs, that too is meant to be flattering. Apparently England was well known for its breed of mastiffs that were "so fierce that when their teeth were set you must cut their heads off to part them." Travelers, keep this important tip in mind next time you find yourself with an Englishman's teeth sunk deep in your arm, the only way to get him to release you is to cut off his head. Of course, if you are stupid enough to steep yourself too deep in beer and flagellate the drowsy English minds sitting about you in the pub, well, some people get what they deserve. Perhaps I misrepresent Emerson a bit. He does, after all, say the English write first-rate books. He also says they are a "vanguard of civility and power," "ages ahead of the rest of the world in the art of living," and "heroes." And who wouldn't be proud of that? Next week, Emerson's take on English Manners and Truth

Friday, November 24, 2006

A Special Kind of Torture

My Bookman and I had a dilemma today. We have had a 10% off your entire purchase coupon on top of our membership discount from Barnes and Noble. That in itself is not a dilemma, that is a great thing. The dilemma happened when the store we went to did not have all the books we wanted. Instead of driving to a different store where they had a few of the books and ordering the rest and losing out on the coupon, we came home and placed our order online. Simple, right? Think again. We were both getting books for each other. There were also a few non-holiday things we wanted. And still only one coupon. My Bookman shopped for me first while I pointedly looked away from the computer. Then we shopped for the non-holiday things. Only problem is, each time you add something to the cart, the whole cart comes up and hands get flung up in front of the computer screen to hide what should not been seen. Then I got to shop for my Bookman, judiciously covering the computer screen when I clicked "Add to Shopping Cart." Everything went into one cart so we could get free shipping and use the coupon on all of it. But since neither of us were able to review our selected items before purchase, who knows if we will end up with what we think we ordered? The dilemma is not over, however. I ordered Leonard Woolf: A Biography and The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz (the next Slaves of Golconda book) for myself. My Bookman ordered Eric Clapton's newest CD, The Road to Escondido. And for the both of us we ordered Sting's newest Songs from the Labyrinth in which he sings Elizabethan ballads by John Dowland (1563-1626). What do we do when the box arrives? How, with books that the other is not supposed to see, do we separate everything out? Do we take the box to the neighbor's house, each hand them a note with the titles of the books we are not supposed to see, and ask them to remove the rest from the box? Our neighbor is not the bookish sort and we would likely end by being moved up a few more levels on the crazy scale. Our solution? Nobody gets to open the box until Winter Solstice. And if the order doesn't all ship at once (and we won't know for sure unless more than one box arrives because we won't be able to read the email updates) none of the boxes get to be opened. It's a special kind of torture we inadvertently designed for ourselves all because of a 10% off your entire purchase coupon.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thankful Thursday Thirteen

This being Thanksgiving and Thursday, what better than a Thankful Thursday Thirteen! To make this remotely interesting, please assume I am thankful for all the usual things like my husband, a good job, my health, etc, etc. Of course I'm thankful for that stuff, who wouldn't be? What else am I thankful for? Plenty!

  1. The blue sky. I enjoy good science fiction now and then and have read books that take place on different worlds, worlds where the sky is not blue. I can close my eyes and imagine the sky is purple or red or a color other than blue and while there is novelty in it, I am so thankful the sky is blue. The color couldn't be anymore perfect. And on a clear day in winter when it is a deep near-turqoise color, bright and crisp and sparkling, just looking at it makes me happy.
  2. Public libraries. To me this proves that there is hope for humanity. All libraries could have ended up as private institutions, but they didn't. The fact that there are public libraries where anyone can go and read books, do homework, research the answer to a burning question, and do it for free, amazing.
  3. The seasons. In the San Diego area of California where I grew up there is no true change of seasons. It is only a degree of warmth and it never really gets that cold. Frost is a big deal. To see the change of seasons we always had to go somewhere else, like camping in the mountains. In Minnesota there are seasons. I love how each one looks different, feels different, smells different. By August I am tired of the heat and humidity of summer. By December I am tired of the bare bones of the world and long for a blanket of snow. By February I am tired of bundling up just to take out the trash and long for spring. By May I am ready to stop worrying about the threat of frost on the newly planted garden and long for the warm days of summer that start at 5:00 sunrise and end at 9:30 sunset.
  4. My bicycle. It not only gets me to and from work and saves me the cost of gas from April through October, this year it has gotten beyond that to pleasure rides on the bike trail beneath the leafy canopy of Minnehaha Creek.
  5. Turtles. Is there a creature as funny looking and fascinating and in such variety as the turtle (and tortoise)? I have a red-eared slider turtle who has been my pet for 16 years. I got her when she was the size of a silver dollar and now she is the size of a Nerf football. Her skin is green and white striped. Her eyes are blue. She likes to have her back (shell) scratched. I love to sit and watch the turtles in the lakes and ponds around here sunning themselves on rocks and logs. The way they stretch out their necks and legs to get every bit of sun they can is a reminder of how wonderful just sitting and enjoying the day is.
  6. Trees. I love listening to them talk on a breezy day. Sometimes they sound like running water. Sometimes they sound like whispers. And sometimes they sound like they're having a party.
  7. Chocolate. There are stories of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods. Whoever stole chocolate from the gods deserves to be a god in my opinion.
  8. Flannel sheets. One of the best things about winter is crawling into a bed made up with flannel sheets at the end of the day. Warm and soft, burrowing into them to fall asleep has to be one of life's greatest pleasures.
  9. Dancing. Moving the body in joy or sorrow is an amazing and beautiful thing. We offer daycare as part of the services where I work and I am not a kid person so don't often stop in for a visit. But the other day they had a little party and I popped in with a few of my coworkers. There was music playing and the kids, aged nearly two to about four, were dancing. We, the adults, clapped and cheered and before we knew it we were dancing too. I was there for maybe fifteen minutes but I had a smile for the rest of the day.
  10. Traditions and the freedom to create my own. I don't know about you, but traditions in my house are all celebratory. When I was a kid I followed my parents' traditions--the food that was served on holidays and the activities surrounding it. But as an adult, my husband and I have had the pleasure of creating our own traditions. Vegan enchiladas on Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie made from pumpkin that didn't come from a can. Winter Solstice and a special dinner that is never the same thing twice but we always listen to Vivaldi's Four Seasons while eating it. You get the idea.
  11. Pencils. Has to be one of the world's best writing and drawing implements. And the things that go along with pencils, pencil sharpeners and those big pink erasers, they all make me happy.
  12. Books. Maybe this belongs in the goes without saying category. But I had to say it anyway.
  13. The internet. Without the internet there wouldn't be blogs. Without blogs I would never have met so many people like you who love books and reading and writing and talking about all that. You know about the TBR pile. I don't have to explain why I'd rather have new books than new clothes even though the knees of my jeans are getting thin and I have a lot of books I've not read yet. Nor do I have to justify a weekend spent "doing nothing" but reading. You all understand. And one of the greatest things in life is to be understood. Thank you.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Learning History Through Fiction

I didn't grow up in Minnesota, I grew up in southern California so in school I learned the history of California. But now I live in Minnesota and I know very little about the state's history. I don't have children so haven't learned any history by proxy. And while there are actually a number of historical novels set in the Twin Cities and other parts of the state, I never thought to actually read one until a few days ago. The book I began reading at lunch the other day is called Summit Avenue by Mary Sharratt. The book is set in Minneapolis and St Paul just before and during World War One. The main character is Kathrin who is only 16 when she arrives from Germany, both her parents dead, to live with her cousin in a rundown boarding house and work at the flour mills sewing flour bags. Kathrin works at the Pillsbury flour mill which still exists. And while looking for the photo, I found out that Minneapolis used to be known as the "Flour Milling Capital of the Wolrd." As for the title, Summit Avenue is a street lined with mansions in St Paul. I've driven down portions of it a few times just to gawk. You can see a few photos of some of the homes at the site for the F. Scott Fitzgerald walking tour I'm only 30 pages into the book and already enjoying it. My pleasure is double edged, not only am I enjoying the history lesson, but the story is good too. Why I have always hesitated about reading books like this I'll never understand completely. I'm glad I got over it though because now I am looking forward to eventually reading a few books by Stanley Gordon West. One is called Until They Bring the Streetcars Back and from reader comments, it appears the book is being assigned in schools. I'll have to do more digging to see what other historical novels about Minnesota I can turn up. Because really, isn't a good story one of the best ways to learn?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

His True Love Was Books

There was nothing tedious about Eugene Field's book Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac. It was sometimes quaint, sometimes folksy, nearly always tongue-in-cheek, and good for a snicker, a chuckle, or an outright guffaw from time to time. I mentioned in a previous post Field's first love--The New England Primer and Captivity Waite. Later in the book we learn Captivity's fate. She married, had children and a pretty traditional life, but Field still thought fondly of her and kept in touch. He wistfully mentions her now and then and while regret is too strong a word, he does wish that he had been the one to marry her. But Field never married at all, his true love was books. I think one of my favorite essays was "Baldness and Intellectuality." Field and his bookish friend, Judge Methuen, had a theory that baldness was a sure sign of intelligence. The theory goes like this:

A vigiliant and active soul invariably compels baldness, so close are the relations between the soul and the brain, and so destructive are the growth and operations of the soul to those vestigial features which humanity has inherited from those grosser animals, our prehistoric ancestors.
Of course, both men were bald. Field's sister, Miss Susan, had another theory on why Field was bald. Field loves to read in bed and has a gas jet lamp (this being before the time of electricity) positioned perfectly over his bed to provide just the right light while he read. Miss Susan suggests that perhaps Field is bald because the heat of the gas jet dried out his scalp resulting in the death of hair follicles and therefore, loss of hair. Field insists Miss Susan has it all wrong and refuses to argue with her. Field also relates some delightful anecdotes about Samuel Johnson. My favorite was when Johnson was once in London and went into a bookseller's shop to ask for employment. The bookseller gave Johnson's "burly frame, enormous hands, coarse face, and humble apparel" the once over and told him, " 'You would make a better porter.' " Johnson was irate, picked up a folio and let it fly at the bookseller's head, knocking him flat. Later, Johnson explained to Boswell, " 'Sir, he was impertinent to me, and I beat him.' " Is Boswell's Life of Johnson filled with bits like this? If so, I am going to have to make plans to read it. Field and his friend the Judge thought it would be great fun to add to their libraries an edition of the book Johnson threw, but in spite of all their researches, they could never find what the title of the folio was. Such disappointment! I wish I had a doctor like Field had. Dr. O'Rell, I suspect, is either made up or an exaggeration of huge proportions since he is too good to be true. He espouses medical theories of bibliomania and diagnoses maladies the likes of bacillus librorum. After losing a book at auction published by Elzevir, a publisher he collects, Field took to his bed, afflicted with melancholia. Dr. O'Rell diagnosed Field with "the megrims." The good doctor prescribed Father Prout's Rogueries of Tom Moore and Kit North's debate with the Ettrick Shepherd on the topic of "sawmon." If only doctors could write book prescriptions! There is so much in this book that is fun I could go on, but better if you just get the book and read it for yourself!

Monday, November 20, 2006


I finished Lewis Buzbee's book The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop last week. When I began the book I mentioned that there was something about it I didn't like. I can now say what that something is. But first I must lead up to it a little. The book is billed as a memoir and a history. The history part is the history of the bookseller. Sometimes it is interesting, sometimes sort of bland like he is just repeating what he found in his research. The memoir part is where the something I didn't like comes up. Buzbee has a tendency to get a little too specific. His first bookstore job was at Upstart Crow. Upstart Crow is a no longer existing small chain of bookstores in California that had cafes in them before big chains caught on to the idea. There was an Upstart Crow in San Diego for a while. I only went there a few times since it was downtown on the bay in a sort of high-end shopping "village." It was a great store, it had sort of an old dim manor library feel to it with nooks and crannies and dark wood floors and bookcases that went to the ceiling. So when Buzbee writes about the store I can picture it in my mind. Even being able to do this I got a bit annoyed when he would talk specifically about the store layout and then store politics, things that didn't matter unless you'd worked there. My annoyance level went up even further when he left Upstart Crow for another bookstore called Printer's, an independent in northern California. Buzbee tries to describe the place (a real printing press by the front door), but he doesn't manage to evoke any kind of image for me. And then, he gets really specific and starts comparing Upstart Crow to Printer's, explaining why he went to the new store and how much better Printer's is and why the people who run it are better than the corporate minded folk at the other place and on and on. If I worked at either of the stores perhaps this would be interesting. But since I didn't it just sort of seemed like somewhat malicious gossip. The book wasn't all bad though. There were sections that made me want to immediately quit my job and become a bookseller even though I hate retail. And there was just book talk in general that was also quite enjoyable, like this:

Last week, I found a copy of the essayist Loren Eisley's The Immense Journey on top of a garbage can at the busiest intersection in my neighborhood. It's a first edition, with a jacket, and in fine shape. Published in 1957, it appears never to have been read. The book was on top of a stack of other books, and in good urban fashion, was obviously meant to be taken, but I looked around with a strange sense of guilt, as if I were about to steal something.
I liked this passage because when we lived in CA my Bookman and I found some good books this way. No first editions, and mostly beat up, but readable. We also left books that we no longer wanted out on the wall by the dumpster behind our apartment building. We'd put them out in the morning and by dinner they'd all be gone. Bookworms are elusive creatures, we never caught one looking over the books and we were never caught looking over anyone else's. Nor did we come across any other foraging bookworms as we strolled the neighborhood. Hmm, maybe there is a story for National Geographic there! Over all, the book was so-so, the moments of pleasure balancing out the moments of boredom, neither gaining ground to tip the book one way or the other. It is one of those books that I am glad I borrowed from the library instead of buying.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Emerson Explains Why the English Are the Way They Are

A busy Saturday yesterday prevented me from doing the usual Emerson post but Sunday works just as well. Chapter four of English Traits, Race, is a hoot. At first I thought it was going to be a more typical Emerson argument debunking racial theories of the times. But it turned out to be more of a history of the English character as influenced by the races of those who invaded the country long ago. Emerson tells us "The English composite character betrays a mixed origin." To be sure we know exactly to whom he is referring, Emerson stresses that English does not include Scotland, Ireland or Wales and is pretty much represented by the kind of English people you find in London. The Celts "planted Britain," but "the English come mainly from the Germans" with a large infusion of Scandinavia. Emerson declares the Sagas of the Kings of Norway to be "the Iliad and Odyssey of English history." This will probably come as some surprise to the English, I'm sure. From the Norse, the English get their seafaring skills, a "tough, acrid, animal nature," and a love for a "fair stand-up fight." But the English are more "manly than warlike." And when the fighting is over have a certain affection for "domestic tastes, which make them women in kindness." While the men have a womanly softness, the women have a game courage, to the point that "the two sexes are co-present in the English mind." From their invading ancestors, the English have been given "great vigor of body and endurance" however much they may tend toward stoutness. They also have good beer and even the poorest of individuals still manage to afford it since drinking water is considered a kind of religious penance. Then there is the English love of horses which Emerson is sure came from their Saxon founders Horsa and Hengest and the other branch of the English race, Tartar nomads. Emerson explains the Tartars ate horseflesh at religious feasts and fed their children mare's milk. And somehow he manages to connect this to the reason the House of Commons adjourns over Derby Day. This chapter makes me wonder if Emerson got kicked in the head by one of the English horses, or if he had one too many pints at the pub. Next week's Emerson: Chapter Five, Ability

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Bookish Buffet

  • Last night on my way home from work I caught the tail end of an NPR story on an interesting new cd called Strange Conversation by Kris Delmhorst. She has taken poetry by Walt Whitman, Robert Browning, e.e. cummings and others and turned them into songs. My Bookman was already home when I arrived, had the radio on and had heard the whole thing. As soon as I walked in the door he asked me if I had heard the story. Looks like we'll be getting a new album soon. (Have I just totally dated myself by calling it an album? I still say record too sometimes. Heck let's air the laundry. When I was a kid my parents had an 8-track tape player and the whole family thought it was so cool. I bought my first cd when I was 18 after I had won a drawing for a portable CD player at Arbys. Janet Jackson. $9.99 at Target. Soon followed by Dream Academy. I no longer have either. Some will say I've branched out into even dorkier music.)
  • You've probably heard about the winners of the National Book Awards. No surprises really. I've not read any of them (no surprise there either). I do have Octavian Nothing and Echo Maker on my TBR list though. What I am really waiting for, however, is for them to post the speech Adrienne Rich gave when she accepted the Distinguished Contribution to American Letters award. I really wish they would hurry up. The anticipation is making me jittery.
  • Be sure to view this phenomenal reading that took place at this year's Geraldine R Dodge Poetry Festival. The video is of poet Taha Muhammad reading his poem "Revenge" in Arabic followed by Peter Cole, Taha's translator reading the poem in English. It's beautiful. And it's what poetry is all about.
  • Fox TV has reached a new low with the upcoming O.J. Simpson interview in which he talks about how he would have "theoretically" killed his ex-wife and Ron Goldman. The interview is to coincide with the release of a book called If I Did It, Here's How It Would Have Happened. This is wrong on so many levels, not least of which he really committed the murders and will never go to jail for it since he's already been acquitted.
  • Last weekend I hopped onto my exercise bike and planned to spend at least an hour pedaling away and listening to Stephen King's The Gunslinger on audiobook. All was going well until, after a mile and a half, one of the pedals fell off! This had happened about two weeks before that too. I couldn't get the pedal back on. It took my husband using a wrench and a hammer to get the pedal back in. The bolt and the hole the bolt screws into to hold the pedal on were partially stripped. Nearly every time I rode the bike the pedal had to be pounded back in. Last Saturday was it. No more of the pedal shenanigans. I did some online searching and found an acceptable bike at Sears that was on sale for $75 dollars less than it's original price. The plan was to go get it after dinner last night. But my Bookman picked it up after work and surprised me with it when I got home. What a guy! It took us an hour to put the thing together. Obviously the good people who make Ikea instructions do not also make exercise bike instructions. This bike has a console readout with a cup holder larger than any cup I own. What are they thinking I'm going to put in there? I mean, this thing could probably hold a two-liter bottle! The console also has a heart rate monitor that the directions tell me I must stop pedaling to use. I am supposed to stop and put my thumb on the sensor, but it's a Three Bears sensor: don't press too hard, don't press too soft, press just right. I'm not going to be able to use it because I can't get an accurate reading from it. Just standing next to the bike to test it, I got a heart rate first of 48, then 164, then 98. I was excited about this little feature too. Oh well. The bike and I have a date with the Gunslinger this afternoon. At least I know the pedal won't fall off.
  • Thursday, November 16, 2006

    Early Reading Meme

    Another meme! This one from Kate.

    1. How old were you when you learned to read and who taught you? I don't remember learning how to read, but I know I knew how before I got to kindergarten. Maybe since my parents and grandparents and babysitting cousins always read to me it was no big deal when I started reading the book to them. I think my learning to read was a group effort with the bulk of the credit going to my mom.
    2. Did you own any books as a child? If so, what's the first one that you remember owning? If not, do you recall any of the first titles that you borrowed from the library? I know I owned a lot of books when I was a child, but having a younger sister meant that most of the books were jointly owned. The first book that I can remember as being just mine was The Cat in the Hat. I think I got it for Christmas because my sister got Green Eggs and Ham from the same person at the same time. But even though it was my book, I didn't have my own bookshelf so it went in the livingroom with the family's books. That was actually fine with me because I didn't like it. The Cat was upsetting  and Thing 1 and Thing 2 were absolutely terrifying.
    3. What's the first book you bought with your own money? I can't say for sure, but it was probably A Wrinkle in Time or one of the Little House on the Prairie books.
    4. Were you a re-reader as a child? If so, which book did you re-read most often? I did re-read but not a whole lot (just like my adult reading habits!). I re-read Charlotte's Web a few times and Where the Red Fern Grows. And I was fascinated by Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. I had several children's books about them that I read more than once. One of them had the finger spelling alphabet in the back and I would sit with it and practice over and over. It also had the Braille alphabet and my sister and I would use pins from my mom's sewing kit to write each other "secret" messages in Braille.
    5. What's the first adult book that captured your interest and how old were you when you read it? I believe it was Watership Down and I would have been about 11. I loved that it was about rabbits and they weren't nice fluffy bunnies. I was also amazed to realize the book was not just about rabbits, that there was more going on and it connected with things in the real world.
    6. Are there children's books that you passed by as a child that you have learned to love as an adult? Which ones? I can't say I loved it, but read and enjoyed The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe last year. I never read the Alice in Wonderland books when I was a kid either. I read those a couple years ago and really liked them. I think if I had read them when I was a child I would have missed a lot and probably would not have liked them. There are quite a few things in Alice that would have scared me, like Tweedledee and Tweedledum and the Queen of Hearts (I was scared of the Cat in the Hat, remember?). Harry Potter was not out when I was a kid, but I have read them all as an adult and am eagerly awaiting the final book.

    Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    I Dream of Proust

    You'd think that with all the reading I do books would make frequent appearances in my dreams. They don't. They show up so rarely that when they make themselves known I am surprised by it. Like last night. I dreamed about Proust. I was sitting with a few other people around a table. We had notebooks and pens and various editions of Proust spread out all over. I don't remember there being a teacher, but I had the feeling this was a class and someone was lecturing but then stopped to ask what we, the class, thought Proust was really about. The kiss-up student (there is always one in every class) said Proust was about memory and spent a long time giving opinions that were not her/his (can't remember which) own but that obviously came from outside reading sources. While this was going on, the rest of us sat there rolling our eyes or staring at our notebooks. Then, suddenly, the student was done and a silence fell and the rest of us were supposed to say something. So a girl, the one who always asks the dumb questions, and there are dumb questions I don't care that anyone says there aren't, says that she thinks Proust is about clothing. I don't remember her explanation but I don't have to because I know exactly where it came from. I finished reading part one of In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower the other day. The section ends with detailed descriptions and observations about Odette's clothes. And, really, the whole of part one continuously details Odette's wardrobe and what it says about her. I was amazed that a man would pay such minute attention to clothing, but then corrected myself because Proust is not just any man. Proust pays attention to everything including women's clothes. But in my dream, the student's comment was laughed at. Then it was my turn to say something. In a weird dreamy voice that I never use except to mock people who speak in weird dreamy voices, I said "Proust is about luh-ve." I said nothing else, figuring it was rather obvious if anyone had been paying attention to their reading. I got nothing but silent stares and everyone waiting for me to continue. I heaved a sigh of frustration that I had to explain myself. Just as I started to gather my thoughts, the cat announced his presence in the bedroom (he always announces his presence and doesn't shut up until he is sure I'm awake), jumped up on the bed and curled up on my knees. So much for the Proust dream. I wish I knew what I was going to say. I'm sure it would have been brilliant.

    Tuesday, November 14, 2006

    Freedom's Best!

    This month's short story up for discussion at A Curious Singularity is Katherine Mansfield's "At the Bay." Mansfield is one of those "I've always meant to get to" authors for me so this has been a nice chance to, well, get to her. My antennae were up as I read because I so love Virginia Woolf and Woolf had such a love/hate relationship with Mansfield. I hoped for some insight about why Mansfield made Woolf feel so insecure. I got it, but I am more baffled than before. Mansfield is clearly a brilliant short story writer. Her prose is atmospheric and like Woolf, she has a knack for picking out details that say a lot. Mansfield also has a keen eye for relationships. I can see why Woolf would be jealous. Mansfield prose is as clear and sparkling as the bay her characters are summering at. But here is where I get confused. Mansfield only ever wrote short stories. She did not write novels. Woolf wrote short stories sometimes but even she did not consider herself a short story writer. Woolf was a novelist who dabbled in the short story to work out questions of narrative and technique. Since Woolf was a novelist, I still don't understand how she could feel threatened by Mansfield. There must be more to the relationship that I'm not getting. Or maybe not. Maybe both women felt the friendly competition improved their writing. Mansfield's story is longish and carries within it a variety of themes. The one that stands out to me most is the one of women and freedom, or lack thereof. The house at the bay is filled with women and children and one man, Stanley. As soon as he leaves for a day of work in town, the women are immediately relieved:

    "Gone?" "Gone!" Oh, the relief, the difference it made to have the man out of the house. Their voices were changed as they called to one another; they sounded warm and loving and as if they shared a secret. Beryl went over to the table. "Have another cup of tea, mother. It's still hot." She wanted, somehow, to celebrate the fact that they could do what they liked now. There was no man to disturb them; the whole perfect day was theirs.
    And they are off to a morning at the beach where Berly dares to spend time with Mrs. Harry Kember who is trapped by her bad-girl reputation and thought "fast." There is Linda, who is married to Stanley, the man of the house, feels like a leaf being blown around by the winds of life. She has children she does not want nor love. And the elderly Mrs. Fairfield, mother and grandmother, gets caught by little Kezia thinking about Uncle William. Kezia asks if William being lost in the mines mad her sad. Mrs. Fairfield thinks:
    Did it make her sad? To look back, back. To stare down the years, as Kezia had seen her doing. To look after them as a woman does, long after they were out of sight. Did it make her sad? No, life was like that.
    Finally there is Beryl, Linda's unmarried sister who wants to badly to be daring like Mrs. Kember, but when given the chance is too afraid. Contrast these women to Mrs. Stubbs, a widow who owns the general store. She is fat, hardy, good-natured and not at all sad about her husband being dead: "Freedom's best!" she declares. I had planned on leaving this with the theme of trapped women, but I can't not mention the men feel trapped in their roles too. This leads one to ponder an even broader idea asked by the story, if these men and women are trapped in their roles by a larger society, how does one escape? How does one regain the freedom of the children playing games on the beach and in the washhouse? These boys and girls together, still innocent and free from being anything other than themselves.

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    Aspirational Meme

    Litlove has come up with a new meme, this one has aspirations. What part of the past would you bring back if you possibly could? I feel like such a copycat, but Dorothy has it right: summer vacation. It is one of the many things wasted on the young! What character trait would you alter if you could? My shyness. I am quite shy with strangers and in groups larger than four. Even when I have to do something as easy as remind 40 people during a staff meeting, all of whom I know, about not clicking on links in unsolicited email I get out of breath and nervous and slowly turn bright red. Which skill would you like to have the time and energy to really work on? I would love to have time to work on my drawing skills. I love to draw and but I've never had the opportunity to really focus on it. I'd also love to learn how to play an instrument. Lately I've been dreaming about learning how to play the fiddle. Are you money poor, love poor, time poor or freedom poor? Who couldn't use a little more money? So many books to buy! But really, what I am poorest in is time. If I had more time I'd be drawing like crazy and fiddling until the neighbors pounded on my door begging me to stop. What element of your partner's character would you alter if you could? Litlove is trying to get us all in trouble with this one. I'd make him a little less prone to procrastination. What three things are you going to do next year that you've been meaning to do for ages but never got around to? Paint the bedroom. Read Anna Karenina. Clean out the closet in my study If your fairy godmother gave you three wishes, what would you wish for? A cure for MS. The garden of my dreams. Magical bookshelves that always have room for just one more book. What one thing would you change about your living conditions? A woodburning fireplace. I can't believe I bought a house in Minnesota without a fireplace. Of course if global warming isn't stopped, I might not need one in 20 years. How could the quality of your free time be improved? If I could be more energetic and not so zapped after a day at work, that would make a world of difference. What change have you made to your life recently that you're most proud of? It's pretty much put away for the winter now, but I've begun riding my bike more than just to and from work and around the lake from time to time. Not only is it great exercise, but it's great stress relief too and I feel like I am participating in one of the things that makes where I live so great. When the weather is fine here, it's like the whole city comes out to enjoy it whether it is cycling, walking, running, roller blading or a simple picnic on the grass by the lake. It's a wonderful community feeling and I am happy to be part of it.

    Saturday, November 11, 2006

    Emerson Sails to England and Notes the Importance of Good Reading Material

    This week's Emerson wasn't quite as fun as last week's when he related his first trip to England and his visits to famous authors, but it was, nonetheless, enjoyable. Chapter two is about sailing to England--from Boston to Liverpool--on his second trip there. He was more famous by then and was invited by a group to come and do a circuit of lectures. He didn't want to go, he admits "I am not a good traveller, nor have I found that long journeys yield a fair share of reasonable hours." But the group persisted and he was persuaded. He set sail aboard the ship Washington Irving on October 5, 1847. The ship was a sailing ship, not one of the faster and more expensive steamships that had also begun taking passengers across the pond. In good Emerson fashion, he does not keep to himself or his cabin but has to talk to everyone and find out about sailing and the ship and what it is like to be a sailor. He writes about how ships are personified and how each has her own character. He marvels at the phosphorescence of the ocean, how the mate describes the phosphoric insects as "shaped like a Carolina potato," and how he is told that the effect is so bright along the equator you could read small print by it. Then there is the "confinement, cold, motion, noise and odor" of the ship which he says he could do perfectly fine without but is impossible to avoid. Their ship has a stowaway boy who the sailors put to work and make one of their own. The mate tells Emerson that nine out of ten sailors began their careers as runaways. Emerson is also a reader and notes that

    a good rule in every journey [is] to provide some piece of liberal study to rescue the hours...Classics which at home are drowsily read, have a strange charm in a country inn, or in the transom of a merchant brig. I remember that some of the happiest and most valuable hours I have owed to books, passed, many years ago, on shipboard. The worst impediment I have found at sea is the want of light in the cabin.
    The ship has a small library offering the books of Basil Hall, Dumas, Dickens, Bulwer, Balzac and Sand. Finally they arrive in England. In chapter three Emerson describes the land as a garden, a "singular perfection," "conveniently small," and delightfully various, in effect a "miniature of Europe" with plains, forests, marshes, rivers, seashores and mountains on a "sufficient scale to fill the eye and touch the imagination." He declares that to "see England well needs a hundred years" so "stuffed full" it is with "towns, towers, churches, villas, palaces, hospitals and charity houses." And he finds Britain to be most felicitously situated "right in the heart of the modern world." Emerson's only complaint is that the country is so industrious that the sky is too dark and "it strains the eyes to read and write." Coal smoke and soot darken the day and discolor even the sheep. And he wonders how much the consumption of coal has altered the climate on the island. He would probably be glad to know that modern technologies have pretty much cleared up the skies and a good deal of the famous London fog as well. Since he didn't like the fog he would, no doubt, be pleased. Emerson's writing remains relaxed and very reporterly. I keep waiting for him to toss out a theory or make some kind of argument, but he hasn't yet. Maybe he is saving it for chapter four, which is next week's reading: Race

    Friday, November 10, 2006

    Me, a Librarian? Well, Maybe

    This is sort of off topic today. I'm looking for information and advice from librarians, wanna be librarians or used to be librarians. You see, I have come to the conclusion I am in need of a career change. Aside from just finding a new and different job, I am also thinking about a return to grad school, this time to study library and information science. Yes, I am thinking being a librarian with an emphasis on information services and technology might be a good job, especially since when I took one of those job quizzes librarian showed up on the list. Archeologist showed up too, and while I flirted briefly with that idea when I was a kid and still think it would be fun, it would take me too many years of schooling and I don't want my romantic ideas of the job spoiled. I know I have romantic notions of being a librarian too. That's where you all come in. Please disabuse me of those notions. What does a librarian really do? I know it's not all about books, that there is a lot of systems design and what not. I've been creating and maintaining databases for several years, though I've never had any kind of formal training. And even though my researches have turned up six librarian openings of various kinds in my area, what kind of job market is there? Are there a gazillion applicants for each job? I am also planning on finding a few working librarians in my area who might be willing to talk with me for a bit, but I thought I'd start here, with you. So if you could take a second and tell me what you like and don't like, or let me know if this MLS thing is a bad idea or a good idea, I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.

    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    A Book and a Prayer

    Not only do I have the Buzbee book I mentioned yesterday from my library but I have The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac by Eugene Field too. This is one of the books Christopher Morley mentions in The Haunted Bookshop. I am so glad my library has it and that I felt compelled to investigate. I started reading it last night and I am enjoying it so much I think I am going to have to see if I can acquire my own copy. The book consists of short little essays on Field's bibliophilic loves. The first essay is about his first love which he found on his grandmother's bookshelf when he was seven. One wouldn't think that the New England Primer would be a book which would inspire a lifetime love of reading, but for Fields it did. Though I think the girl, Captivity Waite (is that not an excellent name?), who was co-discoverer of the book and who sat next to Field and read along with him the stories in the primer, had as much to do with his love as the book itself. He even describes her at one point as approaching "closely to a realization of the ideals of a book." She was "a human book whose text, as represented by her disposition and her mind, corresponded felicitously with the comeliness of her exterior." Field has a delightful style, much like Morley's. Love Affairs was published in 1896. I've only read the first essay and have a bunch more to go with delectable titles like "The Luxury of Reading in Bed," "On the Odors which My Books Exhale," and "The Malady Called Catalogitis." The book has an introduction by Field's brother, Field having died just a few days after completion of this gem. In the introduction Brother includes a little poem:

    The Bibliomaniac's Prayer But if, O Lord, it pleaseth Thee To keep me in temptation's way, I humbly ask that I may be Most notably beset to-day; Let my temptation be a book, Which I shall purchase, hold and keep, Whereon, when other men shall look, They'll wail to know I got it cheap.
    I think I might just have to frame that and hang in a prominent place on my wall.

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    Wednesday Quickie

    Iliana mentioned yesterday that she is a Barnes and Noble member and got a spiffy holiday catalog. I felt slighted since I too am a member and did not receive a catalog. But, lo and behold! What should be in my mailbox today but the catalog! If I had Will Robinson's robot from Lost in Space he'd be frantically waving his arms and shouting "Danger! Danger!" right now. I have no such warning system, however, and I have browsed through the first half of the catalog gleefully circling books and folding pages. Such a nice way to relax after work. I started reading Lewis Buzbee's The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop the other day. I was tempted to it by Danielle who posted some wonderful passages. Unfortunately, now that I have the book from my public library, I am not connecting with it. I usually love these kinds of books but for some reason Buzbee is not doing it for me. From time to time I find myself enjoying parts of the book but it's rather uneven. I'm a third of the way in and hope that it will get better.

    Tuesday, November 07, 2006

    Unrequited Love

    Now that the RIP Challenge is done and I don't have to worry about finishing The Fourth Bear before it's due back at the library, I've picked up Proust again. The problem with Proust, if one could call it a problem, is that he makes it hard to pay attention to the words on the page. Time and time again I start reading and within five minutes or so he's got me thinking about my own past and experiences. Then I realize my eyes have traveled over two pages but my brain didn't follow, it's still back on page 200. So back I go where I manage to read one paragraph before it happens all over again. I don't mind, I enjoy it even, but I wonder how anyone can read Proust in anything less than a few years. At least at the rate I'm going that's how long it's looking to take. Last night he got me on fulfillment, or rather the impossibility of. First he warmed up by lightly mentioning how we can never be happy because once the thing we had previously determined would make us happy finally arrives on the doorstep, we've changed and it is no longer what we want. He mentions this in a few almost throw away sentences then we're back to the story and the narrator musing, in a very Swann-like manner, about his love for Gilberte, Swann's daughter, and how he is working to cure himself of it. Then three pages later we return to the impossibility of fulfillment:

    As well, in the time it takes for the other's heart to change, our own heart will be changing too; and when the fulfillment desired comes within our reach, we will desire it no longer.
    He goes on for long sentences then explaining and elaborating, drawing it out in a beautifully sad way. And it took me reading it over and over several times to be able to see all he was saying because with each sentence I'd stop and think, "Is that true?" And I can't stop thinking about it. The happiness and fulfillment Proust is talking about is all centered around love. Gilberte likes the narrator and he likes her but she doesn't like him enough. His love for her grows as her pleasure in him wanes and he dreams of finding ways to make her come to her senses and love him back. But he knows that if she ever did decide to love him he would have spent so much time trying to get over loving her that he would not ever be able to be happily fulfilled by Gilberte's love. It's all very sad and cruel. Proust captures the heartbreak and unfairness of it so perfectly. What an exquisite experience this is turning out to be. Cross-posted at Involuntary Memory

    Monday, November 06, 2006

    Who Killed Goldilocks?

    I finished reading The Fourth Bear, Jasper Fforde's latest last night. I had wondered how he was going to manage to pull together all these wild and seemingly unrelated pieces, but he did. And of course there was much cleverness involved. One of the things I enjoyed about the book was the characters would sometimes make comments about the story and the author. For instance, there is a very minor character named Pippa Piper who is very attractive and everyone in the Reading Police department is always wondering who will finally convince Pippa to go out on a date. At last we learn that "Pippa's pregnant by Peck." Can you see where this is going? After several tongue twisting exchanges,

    There was a pause. "It seems a very laborious setup for a pretty lame joke, doesn't it? mused Jack. "Yes," agreed Mary, shaking her head sadly. "I really don't know how he gets away with it."
    I don't know why, but characters commenting on their own story tickles my fancy. The Fourth Bear is book two in Fforde's Nursery Crime series. The first book, The Big Over Easy, was about Humpty Dumpty. This one has a Goldilocks angle. I enjoyed The Fourth Bear much more than I did The Big Over Easy. The story, while elaborate, went along more smoothly. I found the writing and characterization in The Big Over Easy forced, not so with The Fourth Bear. I can't quite put my finger on what the difference is, a lighter touch maybe? Less need for backstory or explanation? Whatever the difference is, it made for a more entertaining reading experience. And how many books do you know of that come with special features In a previous post about the book, I mentioned Dorian Gray sells Jack a used car with a painting in the trunk and then disappears. Dorian Gray did not actually show up in person again, though they were able to track down records of his other car sales as well as information about the cars and the people who bought them. I don't want to give anything away so let's just say that Dorian Gray is the most nefarious used car salesman ever. And Thursday Next fans will be happy to know that, according to the last page of the book, July 2007 will see Thursday's return in The War of the Words. Woo hoo!

    Sunday, November 05, 2006

    Emerson Takes a Trip and Meets Famous People

    Emerson took a back seat yesterday to grocery shopping, purchasing new dance shoes, enjoying the "warm" weather, and watching X-Men. But that's okay because he has been a perfect Sunday morning read. The next several weeks I'll be working my way through the chapters of Emerson's book English Traits. The book was published in 1856 and is based on a series of lectures he gave. Emerson first visited the UK in 1933. His health was poor, his first wife had died, and his brother had had a break down from over-work. Emerson had just resigned his position as pastor and was searching around for a new career. His second visit to the UK was in 1847. By that time he had published and was invited to travel by people who had read him and wanted to meet him. Chapter one of English Traits covers his first trip. Emerson claims not to remember much about the places he visited but regales us with stories about his visits with some famous people. Before he got to the UK, Emerson took a short tour of Italy. In Florence he met American sculptor Horatio Greenough, a man Emerson descibes as "handsome" and "well formed." Greenough spent much time discoursing on his theories of art and the classical Greeks. Greenough introduced Emerson to a Mr. Landor. As far as I can tell, it was Walter Savage Landor, an English writer and poet who spent a lot of time in Florence. Emerson describes him as "noble and courteous," and "decided in his opinions." Emerson was disappointed he "could not make him praise Mackintosh, nor my more recent friends; Montaigne very cordially--and Charron also, which seemed undiscriminating." And he was a little annoyed when Landor "pestered me with Southey; but who is Southey?" When Emerson got to London he visited "Mr. Coleridge," then a "short, thick old man, with bright blue eyes and fine clear complexion." To Emerson's dismay, Coleridge "took snuff freely, which presently soiled his cravat and neat black suit." Coleridge proceeded to hold court and Emerson could hardly get a word in edgewise. Coleridge lectured Emerson on the "folly and ignorance of Unitarianism." When the man paused for breath Emerson felt it necessary to inform him that while he valued Coleridge's explanations, he, Emerson, was "born and bred a Unitarian." Coleridge's response was " 'Yes, I supposed so' " and he continued on as before, complaining about Unitarian "quackery." Then Coleridge recited some new verses he had just composed on the anniversary of his baptismal, gave his opinions on the governments of Malta and Sicily, and Emerson departed. Emerson's assessment:

    I was in his company for about an hour, but find it impossible to recall the largest part of his discourse, which was often like so many printed paragraphs in his book--perhaps the same--so readily did he fall into certain commonplaces. As I might have foreseen, the visit was rather a spectacle than a conversation, of no use beyond the satisfaction of my curiosity. He was old and preoccupied, and could not bend to a new companion and think with him.
    Things went better with Carlyle, a man who "was tall and gaunt, with a cliff-like brow, self-possessed and holding extraordinary powers of conversation in easy command; clinging to his northern accent with evident relish; full of lively anecdote and with a streaming humor which floated every thing he looked upon." They talked about books, the desperate state of literature, English pauperism, and the immortality of the soul while taking a long walk through the hills of Scotland. The final visit went to Wordsworth, a "plain, elderly, white-haired man, not prepossessing, and disfigured by green goggles." Wordsworth had much to say about America which "gave occasion for his favorite topic--that society is being enlightened by a superficial tuition, out of all proportion to its being restrained by moral culture." He worried that Americans were too much given to making money and politics. And he wanted to know the state of American newspapers because a friend of his had told him they were "atrocious." But soon the conversation turns to literature. Emerson asked if Wordsworth had read Carlyle's critical articles and translations and Wordsworth responds that he thought Carlyle "sometimes insane." Wordsworth took Emerson outside to the gravel walk where he had composed many lines of poetry and proceeded to recite several new poems he had composed a day or two before. Wordsworth was having inflammation troubles with his eyes but said it was no problem for writing since he composed his poems in his head first anyway. Emerson's final assessment of Wordsworth:
    Wordsworth honored himself by his simple adherence to truth, and was very willing not to shine; but he surprised by the hard limits of his thought [...] Off his own beat, his opinions were of no value. It is not very rare to find persons loving sympathy and ease, who expiate their departure from the common in one direction, by their conformity in every other.
    This first chapter was a lot of fun to read. Other than giving his opinions on the men he visited, Emerson relates and describes. There is no finely argued idea. His writing is loose and easy and he gives the impression of being a pleasant person to travel with. Will the rest of English Traits follow in this vein? I am very much looking forward to finding out. Next week's Emerson: English Traits, Chapters 2 (Voyage to England) and 3 (Land)

    Saturday, November 04, 2006

    Winter Reading Challenge

    I had sworn off all challenges for the rest of the year, but Overdue Books has issued one that I actually have a chance of achieving. All I have to do is read five books I already own between now and January 30th. Easy right? Well, considering I have two books waiting for me at the library it might not be a walk in the park, or a piece of cake. But I will give a go. Here's my five:

    1. On Beauty and Being Just by Elaine Scarry. I got this after Dorothy had so many great posts about it. Neither my library nor any local bookstores had it so I resorted to ordering it online. And it has been languishing at the top of the pile since it arrived.
    2. Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood. I just bought it a few weeks ago so it hasn't been hanging around long, but I really want to read it.
    3. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I bought this during the early summer and went to hear him talk, read the first ten pages and then suddenly I was reading all kinds of other books but this one. It's been sitting on the corner of my desk glaring at me and I just can't take it any longer!
    4. The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow. I got my hands on this one after Susan read it. I was going to start reading it right away, but you know how these things go.
    5. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome. This is also part of my Thirteen Classics in 2007 list but I have been wanting to read it for ages and I figure there's no harm in a little overlap, right?

    Friday, November 03, 2006

    Stationary Bike

    Now that the cold is settling in and I have had to revert to a stationary bike going nowhere fast, I thought this year I'd try something different. Usually I listen to music. I have a few CDs with songs that help me through a workout. But that gets old fast, listening to the same songs over and over again. My Bookman is an audio book aficionado and has a small audio library of choice books. I am not in general an audio book listener so I asked him to recommend a book for me. The book he gave me is a Stephen King novella called Stationary Bike. No one can accuse him of not having a sense of humor. Worried the stationary bike in the story was going to come alive à la Christine, I grilled him to find out just how sick his sense of humor was. He assured me the story was creepy but not scary. With some trepidation I began to pedal and pressed play. The story turned out not to be scary at all. Weird, definitely, it's Stephen King after all. The main character is Richard Sifkitz, a commercial artist whose doctor has just told him that he is too fat and his cholesterol level is dangerously high. Sifkitz had better do something about it or he'd be sorry. So Sifkitz buys a stationary bike. Sets it up in the basement and starts to ride a little every day. He makes up a story about a road construction crew working for the Lipid company. The roads are his arteries and the crew's job is to keep them clear. He even goes so far as to paint a picture of the crew. Then he paints a mural on the wall his bike faces, a road among the trees. Pretty soon the bike becomes a bit of an obsession. He is riding two hours a day and has to set an alarm clock to snap him out of the trance he goes into during which he imagines himself riding along the road. Soon he notices the mural begins to change subtly and then things start to get really weird. I enjoyed the story very much. It even had a sort of "all things in moderation" moral to it. Now I am ready to start another book. My Bookman says I should listen to The Dark Tower series. I asked him since so many of King's books feed into it, shouldn't I read some other books first. Nah, he said, and offered to answer any questions I might have. I hemmed and hawed. He said Pet Sematary would be good to do. Says it isn't scary, only a vampire book (for some reason vampires don't scare me). But I know it's more than a vampire book. So my question is, are there any horror wimps like me out there who have read Pet Sematary and is it scary or not? I don't want to have nightmares of my childhood pets being resurrected from the dead and returning to take their revenge on me for pushing them in my baby buggy or forcing them to do tricks for a cookie.

    Thursday, November 02, 2006

    Odds and Ends

    A long day at work and my mind is rather empty. Some may ask how this is any different than usual. To you I respond with an appropriately blank stare (and I might be able to summon up some drool for you too). It's odds and ends today. I have really mixed feelings about Time Traveler's Wife being made into a movie. Part of me thinks it will be fun. The other part of me is screaming, "Nnnnnoooooo!" And the little synopsis

    Niffenegger's novel is about a Chicago librarian who involuntarily travels through time and falls in love with a young heiress along the way.
    Makes it sound so dumb. And was Claire an Heiress? I remember her being an artist, not an heiress. And I really really hope Brad Pitt is not planning on playing Henry. He is so completely the wrong person to do it. Nevertheless, while I am cringing I am keeping an eye open just in case it turns out to be good. Lee Lowe is thinking ahead and has a Christmas story starter up. Send her your story and she will post the best. She is especially hoping for young writers to try their hand. William Styron died Wednesday I have not read any of his books, though I have always meant to. Story of my reading life. John Lloyd and John Mitchinson list their books to make you curious. It's a great list so be prepared to add some titles to you TBR pile. And speaking of lists, Carl has a list of 179 books that various people read in the RIP Challenge. He has plans for a second annual RIP Challenge in 2007. It's never too early to start planning your reading list.

    Wednesday, November 01, 2006

    Dorian Gray, Used Car Salesman

    I'm about halfway through Jasper Fforde's The Fourth Bear. I'm not sure what to make of it yet. There are lots of funny moments but as a whole the book is all over the place. There's about three major plots going and subplots popping up like weeds. I will be quite interested to see how, or if, Fforde manages to pull it all together by the end. Two things of particular amusement however, have happened. If you have read Fforde's Thursday Next books, remember in The Well of Lost Plots Thursday stays in an old Short Sunderland flying boat moored on a lake next to Captain Nemo? That happens to be Mary Mary's house. She is Jack Spratt's partner in the Nursery Crime books and was away on vacation in Thursday's book. Thursday filled in for her and tried to help out Jack with the plot of a book that was near to being scrapped. I've not looked in Well of Lost Plots yet to see what story Thursday was helping with but I will have to remember to do that in the next day or so. Thursday is not mentioned in The Fourth Bear. I just managed to figure this one out on my own. There are probably others who figured it out much sooner than I did. The other "thing" is the appearance of Dorian Gray. He is a slick and dapper used car salesman. For some reason this strikes me as very right. Of course he is not just any used car salesman. He sells Jack a 1979 Allegro Equipe in mint condition. The car comes with a special guarantee. There is a painting in the trunk. As you can imagine, the car in the painting looks ready for the junk yard. Every time something happens to the car, and it does, the Allegro miraculously repairs itself when no one is looking. And the painting, you know the story. A few days after Jack buys the car he decides he wants to talk to Dorian about how the painting works but Dorian and his used car lot have mysteriously disappeared. Cue creepy Twilight Zone music. Will Dorian make another appearance? Will the Gingerbread Man who escaped from the psych ward and is the worst kind of serial killer (but is he a cake or a cookie?) be caught? Will Jack Spratt and Mary Mary find the missing Goldilocks? And why was Stanley Cripps and his prize cucumbers blown to smithereens? Stay tuned.