Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Don Quixote Mind/Body Workout

Are you in danger of looking like Sancho Panza?  Want to get your svelte Don Quixote figure back without resorting to an enchanted balm, eating grass or going mad?  Well then the Don Quixote Mind/Body workout is for you!    The Mind The Don Quixote Mind/Body workout is unique in that it exercises both your mind and your body.  It is a revolutionary approach to exercise that does not involve yogic contortions or dangerous Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon moves.   The program is broken into two sessions.  The first half belongs to the mind.  Find yourself a comfortable chair with good support.  Open Don Quixote, I recommend the hardcover Edith Grossman edition for best effect, and read.  If you are a beginner it is okay to prop your book up on a pillow until you gain the stamina to support it without assistance. Read for 30 minutes. DQMind   The Body After you have exercised your mind it is time to move your body around.   Bicep Curls. Every knight errant worth his salt needs strong arms to lift his sword and lance.  Maidens in distress are not exempt either.  Maidens need strong arms to fend off attacks on their honor until a good knight can come and rescue them.  So, take DQ in hand, be sure to keep your wrist straight and bend your arm from the elbow.  Repeat 20 times each arm or as many times as you can before your hand goes numb and the book falls to the floor. DQbiceps   Sit Ups A knight needs to be able to fit into his armor and a lady into her silk gowns.  Add something extra to your sit ups by placing DQ on your chest and wrapping your arms around it.  Be sure to keep your knees bent.  Hook your feet under a chair or sofa to keep yourself from sliding across the floor.  Repeat 50 times, 100 if you want that "six-pack" abs look. DQsitups   Leg Lifts Leg lifts are particularly important for maidens who may need to give something or someone a good swift kick in the ---.  But knights need strong legs too, armor is heavy and they will not always find themselves sitting on their valiant and noble steeds.  Place DQ on your legs between your ankles and your knees, lift your legs up together, hold for a count of 5, then lower.  If you find you have trouble keeping DQ on your legs, then using a bungee cord is acceptable.  Repeat 20 times DQleglifts  Push Ups. Knights need strong shoulders for battle.  Maidens need to look attractive in off the shoulder gowns.  Both will benefit from push ups.  While face down on the floor, place DQ on your upper back.  With your hands next to your shoulders,  push yourself up until your elbows are nearly straight then lower yourself to just above the floor.  If you find your are unable to keep DQ from sliding off your back, first check to see that you are keeping your back straight.  if you are sure you are doing the push up correctly and still experience trouble, you can use bungee cords or place DQ in a backpack.  Maidens repeat 20 times, knights 50 DQpushups   Aerobics Now it is time for the aerobic portion of the workout.  Remove the slipcover from DQ and place on a flat, no-skid surface.   You can now use DQ for your favorite step aerobic routine.  If you want to work out your arms during aerobics, then be sure to avail yourself of a paperback edition of DQ. DQaerobics   Cool Down Meditation After you have completed your Don Quixote Mind/Body workout, be sure to spend at least five minutes in cool down meditation.  Sit on the floor, legs crossed.  It is acceptable to sit on a pillow.  To help strengthen your neck and spine during meditation and to help you be more balanced, place DQ on your head.  Close your eyes and relax your arms on the tops of your legs.  Breath deeply and feel your muscles let go of all the stress of knight errantry and maiden in need.  DQmeditation   And there you have it, the Don Quixote Mind/Body workout. You'll be slim and trim in no time.   As with all exercise programs, be sure to speak with your physician before beginning. For those who like a little music with their workouts, may I suggest trying one of these?

*Special thanks to my Bookman for posing for the push up photo, and to the dog, Godzilla, for making a special guest appearance.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A Few Things

Are you an aspiring short story writer but can't seem to get published anywhere? You may have a chance with Swink. Maude Newton has a great write up about them today. However, if you're a crappy writer I don't think even Swink can help you. Sarah Boxer at the NY Times has her undies in a bunch and complains that blogs, in particular lit blogs, are nothing but lists of lists and reveiws of reviewers whose "main purpose, it seems, is to get noticed and linked to by more popular blogs." Yup, that's what I'm all about here, trying to work my way up from little fish to big fish. My blogging has nothing to do with the fact that everyone I know (except my husband but even he can only take so much) thinks I'm a freak because I read so much and, like, you know, want to talk about books instead of the lateset episode of Survivor. At least online I am a freak among freaks. (link via Maude Newton) Ian McEwan, prize-winning, bestselling author and - -terrorist?

McEwan's diplomatic woes began a year ago when U.S. officials turned him away from entering the country in error. But that error has remained on the books to haunt him still. "Once you have been refused entry to the States, you go into the computer and you are regarded with suspicion," McEwan told Reuters in an interview. "It is a matter of enormous irritation." "I only got in this time by the skin of my teeth. This could well be the very last time I ever get in," said the writer known for his books "Enduring Love," "Amsterdam" and "Atonement". He is often hailed as the greatest living British author. Despite having received "a very fulsome apology" from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security last year, McEwan's visa to enter the United States this time took nine months to obtain. It was granted just hours before his departure.
Be careful, he might be hiding a bomb in his pen! Or maybe he'll be signing all those books with poison ink! And for all you Don Quixote readers out there, I am planning a bit of a silly surprise. I hope to have it up by tomorrow evening so stay tuned...

I Forgot

I forgot to post two Margaret Atwood links yesterday. Her official website and The Atwood Society

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Reading with Intent

On my Easter Bunny outing on Sunday I bought a copy of The Island of Dr. Moreau in part because I had just finished reading an essay about it by Margaret Atwood. The essay is the introduction to a new Penguin edition of the book but has been collected, along with other introductions, afterwords, reviews and personal essays, in Writing with Intent, Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose: 1983-2005. Thanks to Margaret Atwood, I have added some books to my wishlist:

  • A Jest of God by Margaret Laurence
  • Women Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews edited by George Plimpton
  • The Warrior Queens Antonia Fraser
  • An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel
  • Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art and The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property by Lewis Hyde
  • According to Queeny by Beryl Bainbridge
  • Doctor Glas by Hjalmar Soderberg
  • Child of My Heart by Alice McDermott
  • Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age by Bill McKibbon
  • A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World by Robert Bringhurst
  • The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan
  • The Mays of Ventadorn by W.S. Merwin
Because of her I also want to re-read To the Lighthouse and Animal Farm (I'd want to re-read 1984 too but I did that about two years ago so don't feel the need right now). I don't know if I should love Atwood or hate her for what she has done to my reading list. Okay, so I don't hate her. I am continually amazed, however, how such a huge mind fits into her little body. Her knowledge of literature leaves me awestruck. She is the kind of reviewer that doesn't just go on about the book under review, but places it into the author's oeuvre and will even compare it to other books of a similar nature. Between reviewing, writing novels, poetry and short stories, giving lectures and readings and traveling I don't know when she has time to read so much. Maybe she has found the secret to reading by osmosis--place the book under your pillow when you go to bed at night and in the morning you'll know all of its contents as if you had spent hours reading it by daylight. Or perhaps she doesn't need to sleep and while the rest of us are snoring away, she's reading book after book. Sometimes collections like Writing with Intent can get boring after the first few essays because the author starts to sound repetitive, the essays never meant to be read in one place. But Writing with Intent does not fall prey to that. Sure there are a few phrases and references that get repeated from time to time, but overall each piece tends to be fresh and original Atwood. One of the most striking things about this book is how funny she is. Her novels aren't generally thought of as comedic, but her nonfiction reveals Atwood has a great sense of humor:
There is death by starvation, death by animal, death by forest fire; there is even death from something called "exposure," which used to confuse me when I heard about men who exposed themselves: why would they intentionally do anything fatal? (from "True North")
The book also has an essay ("Nine Beginnings") that answers the perennial question, "why write?" There are also essays on the writing of her novels, "In Search of Alias Grace: On Writing Canadian Historical Fiction" and "Writing Oryx and Crake." And an entertaining essay on her first "real" job waitressing ("First Job, Waitressing"). Writing with Intent is a great collection and a must for avid readers of Margaret Atwood.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Bits and Pieces

I've flirted on and off with reading Persepolis but can't make the final decision. The article about it at the NY Times Review of Books continues to make it tempting:

She is a rare kind of artist, one who makes use not only of her talents, but a disciplined, deliberate use of her imperfections as a verbal and visual stylist, not attempting to conceal them, but to incorporate them as part of her subject. In Volume 2, in a chapter called "The Socks," there is a poignant, absurd, and enraging sequence that explains the source of the odd truncation and awkward gestures of Satrapi's images, particularly of bodies. The art department of her university in Tehran, under the supervision of mullahs, was forbidden to offer traditional anatomy classes. Female models posed covered head to toe in sheets like black chadors, while male models were allowed to pose in marginally more revealing street clothes. When Satrapi, an indefatigable student, stays late to draw a seated male model, she is challenged by a supervisor, who tells her it is against the moral code for her to look at the man she is drawing. When she asks with incredulous flippancy if she should look instead at the door while drawing the man, the supervisor replies, "Yes." Satrapi herself has said in an interview, "There were many things I didn't do because I couldn't do them. But I was clever enough to take my lack and make a style of it." It is precisely this quality of inventive limitation, the visible struggle with the accidents of restriction, of fruitful disillusionment, that makes Persepolis such a winning, rueful, and effective autobiography, the story of the creation of a person, of a way of being in the world, partly shaped by heritage, partly at odds with it.
Still, I can't decide, probably because it is a graphic novel. I have never read a graphic novel before. This is not because I think graphic novels are glorified comic books, on the contrary, I think the failing is in myself--I just don't understand the medium. But perhaps I should see if my public library has Persepolis and give it a try. There is nothing to lose by the effort. Also at the Times, Margaret Atwood writes a review of a republication of Visa for Avalon by Bryher. Atwood's summation:
There's some suggestion that Avalon is whatever you think it is, and the same can be said of Visa for Avalon. In part it's a trip through the nightmare of political repression and mob takeover, in part a veiled encounter with approaching death: Everyman meets The Pilgrim's Progress crossed with "The Passing of Arthur" with undertones of The Seventh Seal, as domesticated in Trelawney-by-the-sea. It would be stretching matters to call it an entirely successful work of art—its threads are too loose—but despite this, it remains a suggestive and beguiling fiction by one of the twentieth century's most interesting artistic figures. The Paris Press should be thanked for republishing it.
Perhaps not the most glowing review, but enough to get my curiosity going. I won't be running out to get the book, but will likely pick it up sometime. And finally, who wouldn't want their very own haunted bookshelf? (via Bookninja)

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Hippity Hopping

I played Easter bunny for myself today and hippity-hopped over to Barnes and Noble for some goodies. I usually take a long list but today I took a short list and spent time browsing. It was lovely. Here is what the Easter bunny got me:

  • A Place to Stand by Jimmy Santiago Baca. Baca is a poet and this book is his memoir. At the age of twenty-one he was illiterate and behind bars at a maximum security prison for selling drugs. The book is how he managd to turn his life around.
  • Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot by Richard Restak, M.D. I read about this book at Creating Passionate Users which I read at work because it is nominally about technology and I am the tech person and also in charge of training staff (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!). Restak is a neuropsychiatrist who uses examples from history, literature and science to explain how the brain works and how to make your own brain work better. It's not the most intellectual book on the brain but it looked interesting nonetheless.
  • Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. I have always meant to read Elizabeth Gaskell but have not yet managed it. I saw this thick book and, in spite of the Pepto Bismal pink cover, couldn't help myself. I have no idea when I will be able to make time for it. Buying it was an attempt at wish fulfillment.
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. I am sure I have seen one of the many movies though I can't quite bring the whole story to mind. I have never read the book. And since Alberto Manguel writes about it in A Reading Diary and before I left for the bookstore I had just read Margaret Atwood's introduction to it in Writing with Intent, how could I stop my hand when it picked it up off the shelf? The book gods have been telling me to get it and we all know that one should never mess with the book gods.
  • The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald. I have heard of Sebald but he never really registered on my radar until Sandra at Bookworld wrote so passionately about him. It's a fictional walking tour of the eastern coast of England and it even has photos. I am looking forward to reading this one.
Treasures found and my basket full, I hopped back home. Thank you Easter Bunny!

Poor Dan

Even if, like myself, you haven't read The Da Vinci Code, you have to feel sorry for Dan Brown. Why should anyone feel sorry for him you ask? Just read this article. The pressure alone for his next book must be enormous and add to that the public mobs:

Gone are the days when he could sit undisturbed in the Grand Gallery of the Louvre, sketching out the murder scene that opens his blockbuster novel. He has stopped taking commercial flights because of the commotion that usually accompanies him, with people lining up in the aisle to get his autograph on books, cocktail napkins, even the occasional air-sickness bag.
I hope those air sickness bags had nothing in them. Ugh. What writer wouldn't want to be rich and famous? Probaby not many. But not like Brown.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Death with Dignity

It is interesting how, on occasion, the Montaigne essay of the week speaks to something that is going on in the news. This week's Montaigne essay, "A Custom of the Isle of Cea," is about suicide. In this essay Montaigne argues both sides of the argument. He begins with a pro-suicide argument. Death is the "prescription for all our ills," it is not to be feared. Everyone is going to die so what difference does it make if a person chooses their own death or waits for it passively? Without the freedom to die, life is nothing but slavery. After all

The saying goes that a wise man lives not as long as he can but as long as he should, and that the greatest favour that Nature has bestowed on us, and the one which removes all grounds for lamenting over our human condition, is the one which gives us the key to the garden-gate; Nature has ordained only one entrance to life but a hundred thousand exits.
The circumstances of our life and our death, Montaigne argues, should depend on our choice. But even among those who accept suicide as a legitimate choice there is no consensus on the occasions that justify taking one's life. To kill oneself for any reason is not acceptable, there must be some moderation so that one's life is not ended over a minor incident:
All ills are not worth our avoiding them by death. Moreover, there are so many sudden reversals in the affairs of men that it is not easy to judge at what point it is right to abandon hope: "Even when lying vanquished on the cruel sand, while the menacing crowd in the arena turn their thumbs round, the gladiator still hopes on."
Yet if Fortune has given us such a blow that it is clear we cannot hope for life, we can choose death. It is a just choice to choose to kill oneself when suffering from a severe illness, especially one "which chronically affect[s] the faculties of the soul." Death is also permitted at one's discretion in order to avoid a worse one. Here Montaigne gives example after example of suicide in order to keep one's honor or to avoid slavery or torture and death at the hands of the enemy. However, there are some who would have it that we may not die unless God wishes it; our lives belong to God and are not ours for the taking. It is our duty to live as God has willed. If we shirk our duty, God will punish us in this world and the next. We therefore must accept our fortune, for doing so is virtuous. Suicide is the coward's way out. Montaigne was Catholic and Catholic doctrine at the time classed suicide as a crime. Hope was one of the three theological virtues. One reason suicide was a crime was because those who committed it were seen as giving in to despair. But Montaigne argues that suicide does not always come from despair, "sometimes we can desire death out of hope for a greater good: 'I want,' said St. Paul, 'to be loosened asunder so as to be with Jesus Christ.'" A deliberate "loosening asunder" is not born out of despair but hope, a hope and a yearning "for the life to come." Montaigne believes that "God gives us ample leave to go when he renders us to the state where living is worse than dying. It is weakness to give in to evils, but madness to tend them." In such circumstances taking one's life must certainly be pardonable. Of course I was thinking about Terry Shiavo the entire time I was reading this essay. I was thinking about my own death too. We are a society of goofed up priorities. We allow euthanasia for our animals so that they may die with dignity and without prolonged suffering, but we cannot allow this for ourselves. It bothers me when those who profess belief in God can argue that God would rather see us suffer than choose to set our souls free. When I was a child I was confused for the longest time about why, when someone died, everyone was so sad. I had been taught that when you die you get to go be with God and since heaven was such a great place (even better than Disneyland!) I thought we should all be happy, not sad. I think, whether or not you believe in God, forcing someone with a terminal illness (or someone like Terry Shiavo) to live until the body gives up on its own is selfish. It is not the person who wishes to die who is afraid of death, it is the living who are not suffering and cannot conceive of wanting to die who are afraid. All of us are going to die someday. Isn't it better to be able to choose the manner of our dying, like they did in the Isle of Cea?
It chanced when Pompeius was there that a woman of great authority, who had just explained to the citizens why she had decided to die, begged him to honour her death with his presence; which he did...She had lived to be ninety, blessed in mind and body; now she was lying on her bed...and was propped up on her elbow. 'Sextus Pompeius," she said, 'may the gods be kind to you (especially the gods I leave behind rather than those I am about to discover) for you did not despise being my counsellor in life and my witness in death...I am with this happy death giving leave of absence to the remnant of my soul.' ...She then addressed her relations, urging them to agree in peace and unity...then with steady hand she took the cup containing the poison...She then kept the company informed of the progress of the poison as it worked through her body,...until she was finally able to say it had reached her inward parts and her heart; whereupon she called on her daughters to do one last duty; to close her eyes.
May we all be so fortunate to have such a peaceful and dignified death. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On Rewards for Honour"

A Night Away from the Computer

Had a lovely spring evening yesterday. My Bookman and I went out to dinner (Vietnamese), browsed at the used bookstore (picked up Roger Fry by Virginia Woolf and another book on the witch craze to add to my collection, Witchcraft in Europe, 400-1700), and then we had our ballroom dance lesson. We have also recently given in to our desire for a digital camera. So you can expect to see some book related photos from time to time. I'll be back later with Montaigne.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


At the Guardian, a Julith Jedamus's top 10 Japanese novels. I am sadly deficient in my reading on this score. I must work on that. Also, for Bloomsbury fans, The Letters of Lytton Strachey. I love reading Virginia Woolf's gossip about him in her diaries. I wonder if he gossips about her in his letters? A little rant at the NY Times about the proliferations of memoirs:

The memoir has been on the march for more than a decade now. Readers have long since gotten used to the idea that you do not have to be a statesman or a military commander - or, like Saint-Simon or Chateaubriand, a witness to great events - to commit your life to print. But the genre has become so inclusive that it's almost impossible to imagine which life experiences do not qualify as memoir material.
Apparently we are all constantly creating a narrative of our lives. That's okay by me, but why do so many people have to publish their narrative? Whatever happened to keeping a diary and keeping it private? Or just keeping it among your friends? The NY Public Library celebrates Don Quixote with a reading to include Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, and others. I so wish I could go. (link via Maude Newton)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Pamela Anderson Promotes Literacy

Has anyone else caught any of the previews for Stacked? It's a new show that will be on Fox April 13th. Supposedly it's about a bookstore. Yup. That's why it's called "Stacked." It has nothing to do with Pamela Anderson's surgically enhanced chest. No, nothing at all. Right. Of course I am going to have to watch at least one episode. For the whole bookstore thing. And because it has Christopher Lloyd in it. And so I can make fun of Pamela Anderson.

Start Your Creativity Engines!

The BBC Creative Archive is announced. And did you know we have something similar in the United States? Oh the possibilities!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Can't Keep Silent

I had to order a new tin of page points recently from Levenger because all of the page points I had were gone. Well, not gone exactly. I knew where some of them were, in which books. But I didn't have any free ones, so I was reduced to scribbling down page numbers on a scrap of paper. I got my new tin now and I am happily sticking the wonderful little points in everywhere again. I have 30 new ones, no need to be conservative. This is, no doubt, how they all disappeared the first time. I am happy to say, however, that I found a quantity of them yesterday in Out of Silence: Selected Poems by Muriel Rukeyser. I'd been reading the book slowly, since early last year or late the year before, a few poems at a time. I hadn't picked the book up lately and had forgotten how frequently I marked a poem I liked. So part of the missing page point mystery is solved at any rate. Just by the number of marked poems in the book I can confidently say that I enjoyed it immensely. The book is selected poems, poems taken from various of her books beginning with the first one, Theory of Flight (1935) and ending with her last one, The Gates (1976). What I like about poetry selections is that you tend to get a good range of the poet's work and can get a tantalizing glimpse of the poet's development. By the placement of my points, I can see that I seem to prefer her later poems. If you have never read Muriel Rukeyser before, the best way to tell you what she is all about is to describe her as a poet in time. By this I mean that she writes poems about life and events that can be dated but the poems themselves are timeless. Rukeyser is a poet of specifics:

Even now the bright corporeal hand might come to redeem the long moment of dying. Even now if I could rest my life, my forehead on those knees and the arriving shadows in rising quiet as the long night arrives. Terror, war, terror, black blood and wasted love. The most terrible country, in the heads of men. This is the war imagination made; it must be strong enough to make peace. My peace is strong enough if it will come flowing, the color of eyes. When the world burns away nothing is left can ever be betrayed. (from the poem "Sixth Elegy. River Elegy" written in summer 1940)
Rukeyser could be, and is often, labeled a political poet. This is unfortunate because I think that kind of label turns off some potential readers. Rukeyser is political if one considers writing about war and demonstrations and women and the voiceless political. The act of writing her poems is political in the sense of the feminist movement's motto, "the personal is political." Rukeyser's poems are all personal, even when she writes in others' voices, women, refugees, mineworkers dying from lung disease. The purpose of the personal is to make a connection to the lives of others, the lives of people different from ourselves, in order to see that they are not so different after all:
Brothers in dream, naked-standing friend rising over the night, crying aloud, beaten and beaten and rising from defeat, crying as we cry: We are the world together. Here is the place in hope, on time's hillside, where hope, in one's image, wavers for the last time and moves out of one's body up the slope. That place in love, where one's self, as the body of love, moves out of the old lifetime towards the beloved. Singing. Who looks at the many colors of the world knowing the peace of the spaces and the eyes of love, who resists beyond suffering, travels beyond dream, knowing the promise of the night-flowering worlds sees in a clear day love and child and brother living, resisting, and the world one world dreaming together. (from the poem "Seventh Elegy. Dream-Singing Elegy")
Rukeyser is not always about war and peace and grim words and situations. Sometimes she will detour into the realm of myth but she always gives it a twist, Orpheus and Icarus are fodder for her pen. My favorite of her myth poems,, and one of my favorites of her poems in general, appears in this book:
Long afterward, Oedipus, old and blinded, walked the roads. He smelled a familiar smell. It was the Sphinx. Oedipus said, "I want to ask one question. Why didn't I recognize my mother?" "You gave the wrong answer," said the Sphinx. "But that was what made everything possible," said Oedipus. "No," she said. "When I asked, What walks on fours legs in the morning, two at noon and three in the evening, you answered, Man. You didn't say anything about woman." "When you say Man," said Oedipus, "you include women too. Everyone knows that." She said, "That's what you think." ("Myth" from Breaking Open)
Besides her poetry Rukeyser has a novel, Orgy, which I haven't read yet, and a wonderful nonfiction book I highly recommend, The Life of Poetry.

For Media Hounds

I don't know much about Japanese culture, but this book about the Japanese media gives me the chills:

The damage, however, is not limited to historical events such as World War II. It extends instead even to the present time – and war. When Japanese political leaders decided to support President Bush's war in Iraq by deploying troops there despite public opposition, the country's controlled, compliant media helped foster the fig-leaf lie dutifully that the troops were merely "Self-Defense Forces" in a "non-combat zone," and thus constitutionally deployed. Perhaps worse, mainstream Japanese outlets have since withdrawn their personnel entirely and now rely exclusively on official military sources for news about the troops. Meanwhile, as Gamble and Watanabe detail, the media also faithfully followed the party line last year when Japanese civilians were taken hostage – attacking the victims as unpatriotic for having embarrassed the government instead of rejoicing in their eventual freedom, as one might expect. In sum, as Gamble and Watanabe demonstrate, Japan has "the least independent, and arguably the least trustworthy, news media in the democratic world, whose transgressions could shock the most jaundiced American audience."
The book is A Public Betrayed: An Inside Look at Japanese Media Atrocities and Their Warnings to the West by Adam Gamble & Takesato Watanabe and it is reviewed at AlterNet. It sounds like the United States had our meddling hands in the whole thing. What a surprise!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Technical Difficulties Solved

Took me quite some time to solve the mystery of the disappearing sidebar. It was all due to a missing forward slash. Go figure. In the process of fixing that, however, I added "Previous Posts" to the sidebar. Nifty. Too tired for anything bookish tonight. Sorry. Better stuff tomorrow. Promise.

Technical Notes

This site is now gravatar enabled. I don't know what's going on with the sidebar over there. All my links suddenly decided to move themselves to the bottom of the page. Maybe the gremlins have been at work overnight. I hope the good fairies come along and fix it 'cause I don't see anything wrong with the code. Hmmmm.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Happy Spring!

Ah, the first day of spring. A good amount of the six inches of snow from Friday has melted and the sun is shining for all its worth. Still need a jacket to go out, but today at least, it can be a light jacket sans mittens. I hope your Equinox, wherever you are is turning out as lovely. But even though it's spring and I want to frolic through the slush puddles, I still must read. Joe Queenan has an enjoyable and somewhat snarky article in the NY Times Book Review about ghostwriters, or rather books by celebrities that has been ghostwritten:

It is by saddling celebrities with such sober professionals that agents, editors and book packagers come to stand between the public and some truly unforgettable reading experiences; I personally would welcome the unghosted autobiography of Keanu Reeves or Paris Hilton or the unghosted memoirs of Michael Jackson. And, without the mediating force of a ghostwriter, Geraldo Rivera's ''Exposing Myself'' might have been really disgusting, not merely nauseating. By strategically positioning a goodnatured hack between the celebrity and the public, the publishing industry is doing fans of the joyously cretinous a terrible disservice. Let us never forget: by their words ye shall know them. Not by their ghostwriters' words.
That's all for today. Must go get some fresh spring air!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Final Montaigne Hodge Podge

It's been over a year since I began winding my way through The Complete Essays of Michel de Montaigne. It all began on March 6, 2004. At that time I had some vague notion that I'd be done by the end of the year. I should have counted the essays and paid more attention to how many pages this book has (1269 not including the index). Silly me. I have been enjoying the book, however, and have come to think of Saturdays as being "essay day." I have come to the conclusion that I like reading a good essay and when Montaigne is finally done (November or December 2005? There are about 40 essays left) I will move on to another book of essays. I have already decided on the book. I don't want to give it away, but I will say the author of the next book of (collected) essays/writings has read Montaigne and even lectured on him and is American. And dead. That should narrow it down for you! I also thought I would partake of a biography of Montaigne, having now made it through Book One (of three). Alas, the dearth of biographies is astounding (Please do not tell me I should write one. I dream of writing novels, not biographies). I had thought for sure to find one but everything appears to be critical analysis of the essays or his times or his philosophy. Resigned to a critical study, I looked to see what my library had. They offered only two and the one that looked the most interesting is in storage while the new main downtown library is being built. Obviously Montaigne is not in high demand among my fellow Minneapolites (Plays into the myth of Minnesota nice--oops! Did I say myth? Everyone here is really really nice. Really.) Minneapolitans? (Sounds vaguely metropolitan but also sounds like a pastry) Minneapollonians? (Ah, sounds Greek to me, like maybe we are a city of small Apollos or Apollo's descendants--very godly and god-like here and Scandanavian. I think there is a story about Apollo going to Sweden once, isn't there?) I had to settle for Montaigne by Marcel Tetel, published in 1974. It is a rather short book but I have to take what I can get. Enough with the ramblings, on to the final assortment of Montaigne essays in Book One. On the Battle of Dreux The battle of Dreux took place on December 19, 1592 between the Catholics and the Protestants. The Catholics won but not without large casualties, some say due to the fault of the command. In this brief essay, Montaigne defends the loss of life by using the example of two ancient battles. Montaigne concludes, "But apart from what is proved by the outcome, anyone who will debate the matter dispassionately will, I think, readily concede that the target in the sights of any soldier, let alone a commander, must be overall victory and that no events, no matter what their importance to individuals, should divert him from that aim." On the Frugality of the Ancients This essay is less than a page long and goes absolutely nowhere. Montaigne gives a few example of the ancients and their frugality and that's it. He makes no comment or speculation or anything. It is a kernel of thought that stayed a kernel. On One of Caesar's Sayings The saying: "By a defect of nature common to all men, we place our trust, rather, in things unseen, hidden and unknown, and are terrified to distraction by them." Montaigne takes this to mean that people are never satisfied with what they have. We want something badly, a new car, another university degree, a new pair of shoes, and think that this object which we don't have will, at last, bring us true happiness--we'll be hip, popular, we'll have it all. But as soon as we have the object of our desire we want something else. Oh how true this is. I had a smug moment when I thought, "Hah! I don't do that!" But then I looked up at my book shelves and realized I'm guilty too. But books are different. Aren't they? Next week's Montaigne essay: "A Custom of the Isle of Cea" (I have no idea where Cea is but I will find out before next Saturday)

Friday, March 18, 2005

A Bookcase Tour of My Own

Inspired by Bookworld who was inspired by The Sheila Variations, I thought I'd describe my bookshelves too for all you people who claim to be nosy. I have no digital camera to allow for accompanying pictures so you'll have to use your imaginations. The Living Room As much as I'd love to have the entire room covered in bookshelves, it gets too much direct sunlight to be able to do it. So there is only one bookcase against the only wall that doesn't get direct light. The books here have to share real estate with the stereo. On one shelf are newly acquired books that are awaiting permanent shelving. Also on this shelf are books we have finished reading but have been too lazy to actually put back where they belong. Of course the shelf isn't big enough so there is a small overflow pile on a table next to the sofa. Currently among these books are Saturday by Ian McEwan, Men and Cartoons by Jonathan Lethem, The Epicure's Lament by Kate Christensen, The Land by Vita Sackville-West and Pearl by Mary Gordon On another shelf of this bookcase are the oversized books known as coffee table books but we call them art books--Salvador Dali, Frieda Kahlo, Michelangelo, Georgia O'Keefe among others. There is also At Home With Books and Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book. The Bedroom We do not have bedside tables, my Bookman and I each have a bedside shelf. It is a small shelf with just enough room for the 6-7 books in progress and one or two in waiting. My pile used to reside under the shelf on the floor but has been move to its own shelf in my work room. Among the books on my shelf you'll find Don Quixote, Virginia Woolf's Diary Volume 2, and The Soul of Rumi. Among the books on my Bookman's shelf are Don Quixote, a complete Pepys Diary in two volumes with slipcovers, and Improbable. The Work Room Since my Bookman and I are child free we can turn rooms of the house into other things besides bedrooms and playrooms.  So the workroom is my room.  I have three 5-foot shelves on one wall and five 6-foot shelves on another.  One 5-foot shelf is dedicated to my diaries/journals/notebooks, whatever you'd like to call them.  I have 36 of them and am working on filling number 37 (a lovely Moleskine. My first and definitely not my last).  The shelf below that has an assortment of books I like to refer to as books about writing (Negotiating With the Dead by Margaret Atwood, Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks, Writing a Woman's Life by Carolyn Heilbrun).  The third shelf which is directly above my desk, houses only a couple of books--The American Heritage Dictionary, Montaigne and my journal in progress.  The rest of the shelf is taken up by my printer and way too many bottles of fountain pen ink.   On the five shelf wall on the bottom shelf I have a large collection of books about the European witch craze.   On the next shelf up I have miscellaneous reference books sharing the space with a small stereo, cds and tarot cards.    On the third shelf I have an assortment of books. I can't really say how I decide what books go there but I can definitely say if a new book belongs on that shelf or doesn't. Among the books are a complete Grimm's Fairy Tales and a complete Hans Christian Andersen, The Bhagavaad Gita, two translations of the Tao Te Ching, a King James Bible missing the first chapter of Genesis (I have no idea what happened to it), The Portable Nietzsche, The Oxford Companion to Women's Writing, and How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton.   On the fourth shelf are my books about books and books about reading.  Also on this shelf are the new Barnes and Noble Classics series I have been collecting.  The ones that reside here are the ones I have not read (dare I admit to what these are? Only a couple, Anna Karenina, Candide, Tom Jones).  Once I have read them they get shelved in the basement library.   On the fifth shelf are the books that used to be piled beside the bed. The teetering piles now look tidy and the books are easier to see.  I've sorted them by fiction (Pinkerton's Sister by Peter Rushforth, Within a Budding Grove by Proust), nonfiction (The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins, Adam's Curse by Bryan Sykes) and poetry (The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, Healing Earthquakes by Jimmy Santiago Baca).   The Attic, AKA the Aerie This is my Bookman's nook and is in a state of remodel. But it is where all of the hobby books live. These include more knitting books than is needed in a lifetime, how to draw books, and crochet books.   There is a ledge on the stairs up to the attic where all of the gardening and the Home Depot do-it-yourself books stay.   The Kitchen There is no bookshelf in the kitchen but a corner of the countertop holds our assorted cookbooks.  All are vegetarian or vegan and include Simply Vegan, How it All Vegan and High Road to Health (by Lindsay Wagner, aka The Bionic Woman).   The Library One of the great things about living in the Midwest is all the houses have basements.  And we have the joy of a finished basement.  The only thing about the basement is that in winter it is really cold in spite of the furnace.  In summer though when the temperature and the humidity is high is it is wonderful. There is only one room here that has books and we call that the library. There is nothing but bookcases in this room. The bookcases all came from Barnes and Noble quite a few years ago when they were changing the kind and size of the bookcases they had in the stores. My Bookman had a truck then so was able to rescue some and haul them home. Around the entire perimeter of the room are ten bookcases, two of them have six shelves each and the rest have five shelves each. Each bookcase is a little over 2 1/2 feet wide. Eight of these bookcases are dedicated to fiction. The first shelf of the first bookcase are fiction anthologies. After that it is alphabetized by author starting with Lynn Abbey and ending with Stefan Zweig. The other two perimeter bookcases are about three feet wide and belong to poetry with one full shelf dedicated to all things Adrienne Rich. In the center of the room are four more five shelf bookcases, three feet wide, standing back-to-back. These are the nonfiction bookcases organized mostly in alpha order. The first book is Sappho Was a Right-On Woman and the last is Reading Between the Lines: The Diaries of Women. Encroaching onto the nonfiction bookcases is a shelf and a bit more dedicated to all things Virginia Woolf and another full shelf dedicated to Charles Dickens. And now we end our tour. I hope you enjoyed it. Oh, and please don't think I have read anywhere near all of these books. Together my Bookman and I can say we've read about half, maybe a little more. Long gone are the days of my childhood when I could say I had read every book in my tiny bedroom bookcase. But what happiness to know that I will always have something to read.

This Just In...

Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife, has a new book due out in October. The book, Three Incestuous Sisters, is being published by Harcourt. I can hardly wait!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Bits and Pieces

The snow hasn't begun yet and doesn't look like it will start until late tonight. That means there won't be enough to have a snow day at work tomorrow. That means my dreams of staying home and reading all day wrapped in a quilt and drinking hot chocolate have been crushed. I don't know why I even bothered to hope for a snow day, we haven't had one in the 4 1/2 years I have been working at my current place of employment. I can't help but be optimistic that maybe this time... Beatrice posts on a Marilynne Robinson/Mary Gordon reading and compares the their two books, Gilead and Pearl. I haven't read either of them yet but I have read both before. It seems to me the style assessment sums things up nicely. I can't say that I have read much in the way of Irish literature, but the Guardian has a list of top 10 Irish Journeys. Waterstone's has a list of 20 books with the best villains. Does Mrs. Havisham count as a villain?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Jump on the Don Quixote Bandwagon

The folks at Chekov's Mistress have created a new blog called 400 Windmills. The site is dedicated to all things Don Quixote. Meanwhile I continue to work my way through my own copy. I have read through chapter 25 and keep promising myself to sit down and spend a goodly length of time with it but have not managed to do so. However much I am enjoying it I seem to be able to only do little bursts at a time. Perhaps if we get the 6-11 inches of snow forecast for tomorrow night into Saturday I will be able to do nothing else even if I wanted to.

Not Just Any Land

I was overjoyed when my Bookman gave me a copy of Vita Sackville-West's The Land not long ago. I have wanted this book for so long but it was out of print and I despaired of ever reading this long poem. But The Land was reprinted in 2004 by Frances Lincoln. They have also reprinted several other of Sackville-West's books for which I am grateful. The Land is a long, rather formal poem written mostly in blank verse but it sometimes breaks out into rhyming couplets. It was originally published in 1926 as a "didactic hymn to the Kentish countryside." The poem was quite popular, selling over 100,000 copies. It also won the Hawthornden Prize. The poem is broken up into four sections according to the seasons beginning with winter. As the poem makes its way through the year it tells of the people who live off the land, the farmers and the shepherds, orchard men and bee keepers. It tells of their work which seems never ending from lambing and plowing to making hay and harvesting and then getting ready to do it all over again. The beginning sounds a bit Whitman-esque:

I sing the cycle of my country's year, I sing the tillage, and the reaping sing, Classic monotony, that modes and wars Leave undisturbed, unbettered, for their best Was born immediate, of expediency.
Shortly after the opening stanzas the poem loses this quality but keeps a bit of Romanticism in it I think. However Romantic the poem may be, it certainly does not give the peasants a lighthearted or sentimental gloss. It describes hard work and barely mentions any pleasures that might be had. Sackville-West even chides those who sit in comfort with their "book-learning," thinking they know better and are better off:
The faith within him still derides the pen, Experience his text-book. What have they, The bookish townsmen in their dry retreats, Known of December dawns, before the sun Reddened the east, and fields were wet and grey? ... Book-learning they have known. They meet together, talk, and grow most wise, But they have lost, in losing solitude, Something,--an inward grace, the seeing eyes, The power of being alone; The power of being alone with the earth and skies, Of going about a task with quietude, Aware at once of earth's surrounding mood And of an insect crawling on a stone.
If you are wondering at this point what the heck Vita Sackville-West, a woman from the aristocracy and definitely a person with book-learning, knew about farming, well, she knew quite a bit. According to Nigel Nicolson, her son, though she was not a farmer, she owned a working farm and leased it. She would frequent the farm year-round and watch and ask questions and learn. What she didn't learn she supplemented by consulting the Encyclopedia of Agriculture. There are some wonderful lines in the poem that suddenly grabbed me and practically sparkled. One of my favorites was this one: "And women still have memories of woods,/Older than any personal memories;/Writhen, primal roots, though heads be fair..." This long poem should appeal to all Sackville-West fans. If you are a Virginia Woolf fan you might like it too since Sackville-West was friend and lover to Woolf. I will leave you now with a few more lines, these come from spring:
There were so many days that I was given. But whether of this spring or that? they merge As travelling clouds across my permanent heaven. My life was rich; I took a swarm of bees And found a crumpled snake-skin on the road, All in one day, and was increased by these. I have not understood humanity. But those plain things, that gospel of each year, made me the scholar of simplicity.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Bits and Pieces

A book for history buffs and language lovers, The Guardian reviews Empires of the Word by Nicholas Ostler. It sounds fascinating even though the reviewer says that Ostler doesn't quite manage to prove his thesis. I love Bill Moyers:

There are millions of Christians who believe the Bible is literall true, word for word. Some of them—we'll come back to th question of how many— subscribe to a fantastical theolog concocted in the nineteenth century by two immigrant preacher who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them wit their own hallucinations into a narrative foretelling the return o Jesus and the end of the world. Google the "Rapture Index" an you will see just how the notion has seized the imagination o many a good and sincere believer (you will also see just where w stand right now in the ticking of the clock toward the culminatio of history in the apocalypse). It is the inspiration for the best-selling books in America today—the twelve novels in the Lef Behind series by Christian fundamentalist and religious- righ warrior Tim LaHaye, a co- founder with Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority.
Lord of the Rings, the musical. How can it all be fit into a two hour play? And a musical? Ugh. Is Dan Brown trying to bring down the Catholic Church? Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone seems to think so:
A top Catholic cardinal has blasted The Da Vinci Code as a "gross and absurd" distortion of history and said Catholic bookstores should take the bestseller off their shelves because it is full of "cheap lies." ... (It) aims to discredit the Church and its history through gross and absurd manipulations.
Um, Cardinal, the book is a novel, you know, fiction. So you got the "cheap lies" part right at least.

The Bloggies

Congratulations to Bookslut for winning a Bloggie for Best Topical Weblog!

Monday, March 14, 2005

An Interview with Adam Fawer

I'm really excited to bring you something I've never had before at So Many Books, an author interview. I had the pleasure of interviewing first time author Adam Fawer. Mr. Fawer's book, Improbable was just published in February by HarperCollins. Improbable is a fast paced thriller that involves probability theory, quantum physics, Jungian psychology, mad scientists, a rogue CIA agent, epilepsy, schizophrenia and a mean game of Texas hold 'em. So Many Books: You have had an impressive and successful career in business, an MBA from Stanford, positions at Sony Music, J.P. Morgan, and COO at, what made you decide to turn novelist? Adam Fawer: Even though I've always enjoyed the business world, ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a novelist. However, like most dreams, I let it go when I graduated college, I got my first job and "became an adult." For the next ten years, I traveled the straight and narrow path (First Job => Better Job => Business school => Best Job). But after the dot-com crash, I spent most of my days at figuring out which person to lay off next and suddenly my job didn't seem like fun anymore. Then my good friend Stephanie Williams called me with some news-- that changed my life forever. Sshe had been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. This isn't something you expect to hear from an old college friend (especially one who's since she was only 30 years old). The news hit me hard and really made me reevaluate my life. Sounds corny, I know, but it's true. My father had died of cancer when he was only 49 after working a job he hated for almost twenty years. I didn't want this to be my fate. Suddenly I had an incredible sense of urgency to stop messing around and do what I wanted to instead of what I was supposed to. So, I quite my job. As Stephanie had also always wanted to write a novel (she was an award-winning magazine writer), she and I made a pact. We would write together every day until we both had a completed manuscript. The next day, I took the subway to where she lived in Brooklyn Heights, headed out to Starbucks, (our respective laptops carefully tucked beneath our arms), plugged in and began writing. We wrote for almost two hours that day. And the next day. And the day after that. That first month, I don't think we missed a single day. Then Stephanie got sicker and had to go into the hospital, but I kept going writing. And when Stephanie was feeling better, so did she. It took me over a year, before I had a manuscript good enough to sell but then in October 2003 I sold HarperCollins bought the English rights to my novel, IMPROBABLE, to HarperCollins. Stephanie went a different route and sold her novel to a colleague who was starting a new imprint. On June 21, 2004, I (along with about 100 others) attended Stephanie's book party. She said it was the happiest day of her life. Two weeks later, she finally lost her battle with cancer. Stephanie helped show me how important it is to do what you love because you never know how much time you have left. Now, I'm a full-time writer. And that's how I decided to turn novelist. SMB: That is a heartbreaking and inspirational story. You must miss Stephanie very much. Has your writing routine changed, or do you still write for two hours every day in a cafe? AF: During the “creation” phase, I still usually write for two- hour stretches, as if I attempt anything more and my brain begins to fry.  However, once I enter the editing phase I sometimes work for ten hours at a time.  Even though editing is tedious, exhaustive work, I find that it’s best if I push through the pain, so-to-speak.  Also, going through a large volume of text helps me make my the story flow better. SMB: In Improbable you have a main character with epilepsy who plays poker and can run the probabilities better than a calculator. You've also got schizophrenia, an ambitious scientist, and espionage. What sort of research did you have to do and how did you go about it? AF: Depends which topic.  I knew a lot about poker and probabilities before I started writing.  On the poker side, I’ve been an avid player since I was a teenager and played a regular game of Hold ‘Em every week during business school.  As for the probabilyies, I have a master’s in statistics, which obviously helped a lot gave me the foundation to right about probability.  The other topics required a bit more research.  Everything I learned about schizophrenia I picked up either from the internet or from books at Barnes & Noble (whenever I was stuck, I’d go to the B&N café with a pile of books, read through them, take notes and then put them back on the shelves).  The espionage stuff I picked up from watching TV and movies for about 30 years ;)  Also, I an old high school friend (now a college professor) helped me out with a lot of the physics in the book. SMB: On M.J. Rose's Backstory website, you mention an eye illness when you were a kid and that you discovered reading through listening to books on tape from the Commission for the Blind. Do you still listen to books on tape?             AF: No.  My vision is much better now than when I was a kid and I really enjoy looking at the words on the printed page, feeling the book in my hand.  For so long I wanted to be able to read just like everyone else, so now that I can, reading is my first choice.  However, I do listen to a TON of NPR—there is something about listening to a story that I’ll always enjoy. SMB: Improbable is your first published novel, is it the first book you have actually written or do you have one or two aborted attempts hiding in drawers? Before Improbable had you published anything else (articles, stories, etc.)? AF: The first book I ever wrote was titled THE IMPROBABLES.  It was good enough to get me an agent, but not good enough to get published.  My agent suggested some ways to make it better and I agreed.  At first I thought I’d just tweak it a little bit here and a little bit there, but five months later I found that I had thrown out about 70% of the original and rewritten it from the ground up.  Hence, even though technically IMPROBABLE is the second draft of THE IMPROBABLES, I consider it my second book because it’s so different.  Before this novel, the only other place I was published was in BusinessWeek in the form of (I had written an angry letter to the editor). SMB: In Improbable the plot moves between so many characters and so many different view points and never once gets confusing. How did you manage to keep track of everything?             AF: Well, because I have a business background, I’m used to using Microsoft Excel to create budgets, timelines, etc.  So, when I started writing my book, I created a spreadsheet that kept track of every scene, which character’s POV it was written in and how many words each scene contained.  That way, when I went back to edit, it was easy for me to see a comprehensive outline of the book.  Then I used that outline to plot out the action, to make sure that the reader didn’t spend too much (or too little) time with any character before jumping back to another character. SMB: In the book you have one of your characters, Dr. Tversky, say that science used to be revolutionary, that the "poor geniuses working out of their basements around the clock" had vision and "courage in their vision" but now science is stuck in bureaucracy. Do you think this characterizes the state of science today? Or do you think there are still plenty of geniuses working in their basements? AF: Nowadays science is so specialized and scientists use such expensive equipment that I think it’s hard to simply "work in your basement."  However, tThat being said, just because even though much of science is being done by the government and large bureaucratic pharmaceutical companies, there are many small, venture-backed biotech firms that embody the classic idea of geniuses working in their basements.  Still, I’d guess that the majority of advancements come from the bigger guys. SMB: You do a great job at explaining probability and quantum mechanics in your book; never once do you make the reader feel stupid. You also manage to explain some complex ideas without slowing down the plot. I must say that your explanation of Schrodinger's cat is one of the best I've come across in fiction. If someone who reads your book becomes more interested in finding out more about probability theory or quantum physics, can you recommend a place to start? AF: That’s a tough question.  My foundation in probability comes from my undergraduate and graduate education at The University of Pennsylvania.  However, I did brush up a bit while writing the book (and I have ZERO background in physics).  I’d say the best place to start is the Internet.  There are a lots of sites out there run by enthusiasts that explain complex phenomenon in nice, easy to understand language.  Just type the theory that interests you into a Google search box and odds are you’ll find what you’re looking for within the first ten results. SMB: Your book has been translated into five languages already. Did you work closely with the translators, and if so what was that like? AF: Although my agent has sold the translation rights in seven languages (French, Italian, German, Polish, Japanese, Dutch and Spanish) so far it’s only been translated into three, as many of the foreign publishers aren’t releasing the book until next fall.  Each experience I had with the foreign publishers was different.  The Dutch publisher didn’t ask me anything—they just took the final manuscript and translated it (and they also renamed it—in Holland, my book is called DE EINSTEIN CODE, I swear to God).  The Italians asked me lots of questions about the numbers, but not much more than that.  The French translator was by far the most diligent.  She would email me pages of questions about idioms and terminology.  It was a very interesting process, as I never realized how much slang I used until I had to explain it all. SMB: The actual look of Improbable is quite pleasing, I love the font and am a person who misses publishers printing information about the font in the back of the book. Did you get to have a hand in the way the book looks, or did you leave it all to the "experts"? AF: I had a hand in designing the cover, although my influence was small.  Basically HarperCollins came up with a concept and designed the cover themselves.  When they presented it to me, it was very similar to how it looks now, except that the color scheme was different—lots of yellows and browns.  My agent and I agreed that it should have more color, so they changed the primary color to green, printed the title in orange, my name in white and kept the yellow just for the lines of probability that scroll across the cover.  As for the typeface inside, I think they did a great job but I’d be lying if I said I had anything to do with it. SMB: I played the game on your book site,, and lost a chunk of change with a king high flush. Walter had an Ace high. I had this weird moment of deja vu déjà vu since all of Caine's troubles in the book start with him losing to Walter's highly improbable Rroyal straight flush. Is the game programmed to do that or was it just a coincidence? And speaking of the game, did you design it yourself?             AF: I wrote all of the text in the game and designed all of the challenges, but a professional flash programmer implemented my vision. And there is a way to beat Walter, but I won't tell you how ;) SMB: Is there going to be Improbable, The Movie? AF: I certainly hope so.  My literary agent found I have a film agent that loved my book and he is currently speaking to the interested parties.  I know there have been lots of inquiries but thus far no formal offer has been presented to me.  We’ll see how it goes. SMB: Your book jacket says you have too many pet fish, what kind of fish do you have and how many is too many? AF: Ha, ha, ha.  Actually, when I wrote that I had many more than I have now.  I had a brackish fish tank with a mono, a scat, a shark and a cichlid, while my fiancée had a larger tank with five goldfish, a couple algae eaters and a koi.  However, when we moved in together, we decided that our place was only big enough for one tank, so I gave my fish to a kindly man in my local pet store.   SMB: Have you begun working on a new book and if so, can you give any hints on what it might be about? AF: I’ve completed the first draft of my next book, but I haven’t had much time to write lately as I now have a seven-week-old son (it’s been a busy year).  My book (as yet untitled) is another thriller.  This one is about Gnosticism, emotions, synethesia, cults and music.  I’m very excited about it and can’t wait to get back to writing. SMB: A big thank you to Mr. Fawer for taking the time to do this interview. If you'd like to read an excerpt from Improbable, play the Improbable challenge and maybe win a trip to Las Vegas, visit You can also sign up for email updates on Adam Fawer's literary doings.

I'm Back

I have returned from sunny southern California. I had a nice trip visiting my family. I also got the chance to spend time with a dear friend whom I have known since I was 5. The weather was beautiful--sunny and mid to upper 70s every day. It was quite a shock to the system. When I got on the plane in Minneapolis it was 40. When I landed it was 79. I didn't get much time to read while I was there, but on the plane going and returning I read The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch. I am enjoying it very much. Thanks to everyone who made encouraging comments about Iris Murdoch and this book in particular.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A Break in Regularly Scheduled Programming

The Pen/Faulkner finalists have been announced. Among them are Marilynne Robinson and Edwidge Danticat. Be sure to check out The Bookslut Guide to Book Lovers Trivial Pursuit On a different note, I will be away for the next four days visiting the parents in my home town of El Cajon, California. I've spent the last several days mulling over what I am going to take to read. I decided on Iris Murdoch's The Sea, the Sea and, in case I need something lighter to take the edge off of any weird family dynamics, The History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes. It is supposed to snow here tonight and maybe Friday. Where I'm heading the forecast indicates low to mid 70s. Looks like my body is in for a bit of a shock. While I'm away, visit the archives or check out some of the great blogs over on the right. Be sure to come back Monday though. I should have the promised interview with Adam Fawer author of Improbable posted that day. Happy reading everyone!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Potter News

The new Harry Potter cover: That's Dumbledore with Harry (in case you were wondering)

Enjoyment Probability: High

Looking for a complicated and suspenseful thriller but tired of the usual authorial culprits? Or do you usually not read thrillers because you like something a little more thoughtful? Improbable by Adam Fawer just might be the book for you. The plot turns around David Caine, a former math professor who gave it up after he began having epileptic seizures. Drugs didn't control the seizures and after having one in front of a class he became terrified of teaching. Jobless and with a gambling addiction, he starts spending too much time at an underground poker club run by the Russian mafia. He thinks he is about to have the night of his life, he's got a hand that can only be beaten by a Royal straight flush, and well, what are the odds? Caine knows the odds very well, he can calculate probabilities in his head within seconds, an ability that earned him the nickname "Rain Man" in school. Confident that he can't lose, Caine ends up losing. At the moment he loses and realizes that he is in big trouble, he has a seizure that puts him in the hospital. Having tried everything to keep his epilepsy in check, Caine agrees to his doctor's suggestion that he try a new experimental drug. One of the side effects of this drug is schizophrenia and Caine is afraid because his twin brother, Jasper, has schizophrenia. So it isn't a surprise when Caine starts experiencing strange premonitions that he thinks he is becoming schizophrenic. Of course the reader knows otherwise. Caine's isn't the only story. There is a cast of characters, each with his or her own ambitions, whose paths begin to merge with Caine's. Improbable is a smart book. Its plot pulls heavily from probability theory, quantum physics and Jungian psychology. If all thought and matter is made of energy then Jung's collective unconscious can exist and can be accessed. If one can access it, then one can know the past and the present and see all of the possible futures branching off of the present. And with the ability to see all of the present, one can not only "predict" the future, but choose the future. But don't let all of this theory scare you away from the book. Fawer does a great job at explaining it within the context of the story without making the reader feel dumb and without slowing down the story. There are a few spots where it gets to be almost an overload or where I wondered how the heck did that character know that? But over all it is well done. On occasion I found things a little too convenient but if you want to play along and suspend your disbelief, it can all be explained. The ending ties everything up nice and neat which is not unsatisfying just a little too tidy for my preference. But if that's the worst thing about a book, then you can't go too wrong. Improbable is a good reading choice for a rainy or snowy weekend, a long trip, lounging on vacation or when you just want a solid story. The probability of enjoying the book is high. Coming soon: An interview with the author, Adam Fawer!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Get Your Envy On

Behold what those with lots of money can do with their books... here and here. Proof that money can indeed buy happiness? (links via Bookninja). In Other News Is the Orange Prize necessary? Does it discriminate? Does it make it seem like women writer's can't compete with men? Personally, I think the Orange Prize is a good idea for no other reason than it highlights books and authors I may never have heard of otherwise. Ask Bill Bryson a question and you could win a signed copy of A Short History of Nearly Everything. A sensible voice in the gabbling noise of bookish doom-and-gloomers:

No, the barbarians are not at the gate. It's an age of awesome variety we are living in. English in all its thrilling, international forms, from romance to rap, is finding more colour and expression than at any time since Spenser, Marlowe and Jonson.
(link via MobyLives)

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Things of Interest

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is being made into a movie (link via SFSignal) America and Britain, two literary powers who don't understand one another. Is this really true? As a reader I don't think about where the author is from, all that matters to me is whether or not the book is good. There is a difference in style though, and no doubt someone will contradict me, but I think British writing tends to be more subtle than American. This is not to say that one is better than the other, just different. In terms of comedy, however, Britain wins hands down--Terry Pratchett, Jasper Fforde, Douglas Adams--and on the non-literary side, Monty Python, The Black Adder and the sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, classics every one. The Guardian has an excerpt of the introduction Christopher Hitchens wrote for a new edition of Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits. I read it several years ago as a mass market. It was the first book of Allende's that I read and I absolutely loved it. If you have never read it before I highly recommend it. On the book pile front, both my bedside and desk to read pile migrated to the empty bookshelf yesterday. I underestimated the space the books would take up when not stacked on top of each other. On the floor they took up less than two square feet of space and rose teetering up the corner against the wall. On the shelf, well, let's just say I don't have until the end of summer until the 5 1/2 foot shelf is filled. My Bookman estimates that it will be three months before a new pile begins to appear on the floor in addition to the books on the shelf. I am determined not to let that happen so I just might end up stashing books in a suitcase like Claire. Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

And Still More Montaigne Hodge Podge

Just about done with the Montaigne potpourri, then it will be back to one longer essay each week which I am looking forward to. Something Lacking in Our Civil Administrations According to the editor's note, civil administration in Montaigne's time meant both running a country and running one's own estate. In this essay Montaigne touches briefly on both. Montaigne credits his late father for an idea which basically amounts to our modern want ads in the paper. However, back then instead of being in the paper there would be a designated office in the city run by an appointed official. People could go to the office to both buy and sell. Such an office might have helped two prominent scholars who both died in poverty. If only they could have made their want known, Montaigne believes, there would have been "hundreds of people who would have invited them to their houses on very favourable terms or sent help to them where they were." On the running of the estate, Montaigne notes that his father had his secretary keep a diary for him "covering any noteworthy event and the day-to-day history of his household." Montaigne found it pleasant to read the diary from time to time and wishes that when he took over his father's estate he had continued the diary. But he did not, and declares, "I think I am a fool to have neglected it." For some reason I really liked Montaigne a lot when he said that. On Not Sharing One's Fame This sort essay is an observation. Montaigne writes, "of all the lunacies in this world the most accepted and the most universal is concern for reputation and glory, which we espouse even to the extent of abandoning wealth, rest, life and repose (which are goods of substance and consequence) in order to follow after that image of vanity that mere word which has no body, nothing to hold on to." How little things have changed, except today it is assumed that wealth goes along with fame and the more famous you are, the wealthier. Then, thanks to Andy Warhol, there is the whole "fifteen minutes of fame." Everybody wants to be famous, even people who say they don't want to be famous, "For, as Cicero says, even those who fight it still want their books against it to bear their name in the title and hope to become famous for despising fame." And when it comes to sharing fame? Well, forget about it. As Montaigne observes, "a case of sharing our fame and making someone else the gift of our reputation is hardly to be found." On Sumptuary Laws This essay begins with Montaigne saying how silly sumptuary laws are. The laws try to limit people from making large and unwise expenditures on expensive items but instead make people only want such items even more because they are made all the more dear. Montaigne thinks that if kings want to make laws in the hope to engender contempt for silks and gold and other vain and useless items, then kings should make of themselves an example. What the state should do is pass a law that forbids "purple and goldsmithery" to "all ranks of society except whores and travelling-players." If kings and those at court would stop worrying about their fashions, finery and frippery, then everyone else would too. If it is displays of rank that the laws are looking to preserve, there are other ways to show rank than by extravagant dress. But that's not all, what bothers Montaigne most are fads and the fact that they are continually changing. It is wrong, according to Montaigne who is agreeing with Plato, to allow the young to have such liberty "to change from fashion to fashion...constantly changing the basis of their ideas this way and that, running after novelties and honouring those who invent them; by such things are morals corrupted and all ancient principles brought into disdain and contempt." Montaigne would blow a gasket if he were alive today. American culture, particularly pop culture, thrives on fads and change; change has become commercialized. It is your duty to help the economy and buy, buy, buy! Must keep up with the Joneses! Montaigne believes that "change is to be feared, including changes of seasons, winds, diets and humours." Today, for thoughts like that, the poor man would no doubt be on Prozac or something. He does have a point though, not about fearing change, but about chasing after novelties. Perhaps if we could just slow down a little we'd all be a lot happier. Two weeks from now: Yep, that's right, two weeks from now. No Montaigne next weekend. I will be visiting my parents and sister in California. The weekend after that, however, will bring the final Montaigne essay mish-mash: "On the Battle of Dreux," "On the Frugality of the Ancients," and "On One of Caesar's Sayings."

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Migrating Pile

Okay, so I've been really good and haven't added any new books to the pile by the bed. This does not mean I haven't gotten any new books. There was the spree at the used book store last weekend and I've had four new books arrive in the mail this week. But they haven't gone on the pile next to the bed. No, they have become a new pile that is sitting precariously on the edge of my desk. When I put the first book there I promised myself that it was just temporary. But then some other books landed on top of it, temporarily. These books must get moved; I am beginning to feel crowded when I sit at my desk. But where to put them? I have a shelf in the room where my desk is that is empty. I have been keeping it empty because I have to stand on a stool to reach it and because I had imagined that I would put some kind of really fantastic collection of books on it some day. I have no idea what collection that would be (perhaps the complete OED? But I can't bring myself to spend several hundred dollars on a dictionary.) But since I made my resolution to shrink the size of my out of control bedside to read pile, I have been looking thoughtfully at this empty shelf. How simple it would be to move most of the pile to the shelf. But then I get a guilt pang because the shelf is in reserve. The more I have been thinking about it, however, the more I think it is silly. The shelf has been empty for going on two years and no special collection has arrived to fill it. Am I to keep it empty for another year? Two years? Longer? So what would it hurt to move the temporary pile from the corner of me desk to the shelf? And after that, if those books seem happy there, what harm would it do to move the bedside pile there too? If the special collection ever appears then I will have a dilemma, but until then, why worry? My Bookman is laughing at me. He says the desk pile is a mutating book pile virus. He will break out into hysterical laughter when he finds out that I plan on moving all of my to read piles to my empty shelf. He teased me back in January when I made my resolution that I was only going to end up moving it to the shelf. I indignantly declared that I would do no such thing. Well, here I am, just over two months later, about to eat crow. When the currently empty shelf gets full, because you know it will, I will be in bind. But at the moment I have 5 1/2 feet of empty book real estate. I figure I have at least until the end of the summer before the shelf gets full. Then I think I will have to start hiding the overflow book pile in the closet.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Bits and Pieces

Was Jane Austen right-wing? That apparently is the question that Peter Knox-Shaw tries to answer and refute in his book Jane Austen and the Enlightenment. There is a partial review of it online at the TLS. The reviewer writes:

Knox-Shaw tracks a fruitful dialogue between British empiricism and the greatest practitioner of fiction up to that point in time. By demonstrating the pervasiveness of the former, he makes it clear that Austen responded to its ideas. The result of his judicious attention to this principle is an intelligent and inspiring critique that asks us to return to Austen, her contemporaries and her predecessors with an increased sensitivity to the connections between them, and a renewed pleasure in the complexity of the novels themselves.
I had no idea that there was a great bru-ha-ha over Austen's politics. I never thought about it, but if asked, I would have said she was a moderate with left-wing leanings. Apparently there is quite a history of her being pegged as conservative. Tim Dolin's Top Ten Books on George Eliot. My book list grows ever longer. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to be printed on paper from sustainable sources. This is only for the UK edition being published by Bloomsbury. I wouldn't count on Scholastic following suit in the US. The New York Public Library opens an online picture gallery. Here's The NY Times article about it. Here is the gallery

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Hearing Voices

The idea of a writer's voice is an intriguing subject to me. Voice is what makes Jane Austen Jane Austen. Writers with a distinctive voices tend, I think, to be the ones we read most and remember best--Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf. We are not likely to read an Emily Dickinson poem and mistake it for T.S. Eliot or vice versa. So it was with much pleasure I dove into The Writer's Voice by A. Alvarez. The Writer's Voice consists of three parts, "Finding a Voice," "Listening," and "The Cult of Personality and the Myth of the Artist." In the first part Alvarez defines voice and how it develops. He declares

Imaginative literature is about listening to a voice. When you read a novel the voice is telling you a story; when you read a poem it's usually talking about what its owner is feeling; but neither the medium nor the message is the point. the point is that the voice is unlike any other voice you have ever heard and it is speaking directly to you, communing with you in private, right in your ear, and in its own distinctive way.
I do agree that voice is important but I wouldn't go so far as to say that imaginative literature is all about voice, there are other elements I think are important too like a good story. But to Alvarez voice makes the story; it must be "alive and urgent enough to take hold of the reader and make him understand that what is being said really matters." While writers must find their voice, readers must learn to hear it. In "Listening," Alvarez writes that hearing a writer's voice is a skill, that in its own way it is an art, "born out of the same obscure passion that animates every writer--the love of language." A good reader must listen attentively in order to hear the "tones and overtones and changes of pitch." To listen in this manner, says Alvarez, is "the opposite of speed-reading; it is like reading out loud--but silently in the head." This last idea--reading out loud but silently in the head--prompted a bit of discussion between my Bookman and I. When I read I read every word and pronounce every word in my head. Speed reading and I do not get along. I asked my Bookman if when he reads does he hears every word in his head? At first he wasn't sure, he'd never really though about it. Then he decided that while he took in every word, saw every word on the page, he didn't hear every word in his head. It would be really interesting to be able to plug in a microphone and listen in on someone's "silent" reading, to be able to hear what reading sounds like in someone else's head. Finally, Alvarez turns to "The Cult of Personality and the Myth of the Artist." He believes something has been lost in literature. Interestingly, he places a large chunk of blame on the Beats:
we are now living with the aesthetic consequences of their antics: socialist realism transformed by free enterprise into free-market Surrealism. The result is poetry as feel-good entertainment and, above all, the belief that any old confession or self-revelation is intrinsically artistic because an artist is not someone who uses skill and insight to create a work of art with a life of its own; instead, he is a public personality, a performer whose primary work of art is himself and whose ambition is to make himself known.
I don't know if the Beats can be blamed for anything here, but whatever the cause, the results are valid. The writer as public personality is part of a celebrity obsessed culture, a culture based on the cult of personality where everybody is trying to be somebody or at least know someone. It's commercialism and commodification. I wouldn't want writers to all become recluses though, wouldn't want to give up going to a reading. I think there is something to be gained listening to a writer read from her/his own book. The myth of what an artist's life is like hangs on. It is, in part, sometimes perpetuated by artists themselves. That is one reason it is always interesting to see an author live--you realize that s/he is a regular person just like you. Alvarez attempts to poke a hole in the myth by explaining that "an artist is what he is not because he has lived a more dramatic life than other people, but because his inner world is richer and more available and also, more importantly, because he loves and understands whichever medium he uses--language, paint, music, film, stone--and wants to explore its possibilities and make of it something perfect." Here's to the search for perfection.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

This and That

Stephen King fans, rejoice! There will be a new novel in October. Obviously, he hasn't quit writing yet. Ari Fleischer's new book. The NY Times, The Washington Post. I think I'll be skipping this one. I'm afraid someone might get hurt when I hurl it across the room. 8,000 items missing from the British Library. (link via Bookninja) I can understand how a few things could disappear, but 8,000?