Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Feeling Linky

  • I've read Kurt Vonnegut's story Harrison Bergeron before, but it really makes one pause to think. I'm for equality--equal opportunity, equal treatment under the law, etc--but I am not for everyone being the same. Being the same and being equal are two different things. Equality and diversity are not mutually exclusive in my book. The story was written in 1961 and as much as I like Vonnegut, I think he got it wrong.
  • If you feel like doing a little Thomas Pynchon Appreciation. C'mon! Get in on the love!
  • Jane Austen letter on display for the first time. Austen's gossipy letter to her sister mentions the just published Pride and Prejudice
  • Marianne Apostolides and Heather Birrell debate the pros and cons of Oprah's book club at Bookninja. I figure if Oprah gets people reading it has to be a good thing, right?

A History of Thinking

I forgot to mention yesterday that while browsing at the used bookstore philosophy section I found a history of philosophy book, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View by Richard Tarnas. It was published in 1991. There are, of course many problems with the book already starting with the title. Who is the "Our" here? I understand that what is meant is "Western" but that's what he should have said then instead of implying by the "Our" that the West is some sort of homogenous mass. But of course there is then revealed another issue. Studying Western thought as a homogenous mass in the first place, as if there has been no influence from other cultures is wrong. The book is broken up into time periods--The Greek World View, The Transformation of the Classical Era, The Christian World View, The Transformation of the Medieval Era, The Modern World View, The Transformation of the Modern Era and an Epilogue. Tarnas does state in his Introduction that the dates and time periods are arbitrary constructions so I give him credit for that. As many issues as there are with such a survey, I can't think of any other way in order to get some sort of context for further learning. It is a jumping off point, not an end. At least that's my justification for it. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Something Not Montaigne

In case you are not as enthused over Montaigne as I am, here are a few links for your Monday.

  • The return of Realism? Is the pendulum beginning to swing back? Is Post modernism on the wane? I think it is, but I don't think it will return to what Realism used to mean. I think we will end up with something quite different.
  • Here is an interesting site about altered books. And here is a Yahoo group for the people who love them. They certainly are beautiful. But if I can't bring myself to even write in a book I'm not sure how I could ever be able to alter it.
  • Hyperizons: Theory and Criticism of Hypertext Fiction appears to be an interesting site for exploration.

The Sebond Essay, Part Two

To continue with Montaigne's essay, "An Apology for Raymond Sebond," which I saw yesterday while browsing at the used book store can be bought all by itself. Raymond Sebond wrote his book Natural Theology in the late 1420s to early 1430s. It was a good Catholic book and read even by the Pope. In it Sebond argued that God gave Man two Books, the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture. The Book of Nature was given at the time of creation where all created things were like letters of the alphabet and could be combined into words and sentences, teaching Man about God and himself. But then came The Fall and Man could no longer read the book correctly. Still, the book remains and it is common to all. The Book of Scripture is not common to all. To read Scripture a person must be a clerk at least. Scripture and Nature both teach the same lessons, however. But unlike the Book of Nature, Scripture can be falsified. This does not make one better than the other, they are both the same, but each is written in a different language. The only way to be able to read the Book of Nature is to be "enlightened by God and cleansed of original sin." Some truths in Nature can be glimpsed as evidenced by some of the great philosophers from antiquity, but without God it is only part of the truth and subject to misunderstanding. All this was fine with the Catholic censors. At that time the doctrine of "learned ignorance" was popular. Learned ignorance claims that human knowledge is nothing compared to the infinity of God. Such a person does not know or aspire to know anything beyond the "saving law of Christ." The problem with Sebond's book was his Prologue. In it he claimed that his book would give "illumination" to Christians of the knowledge of God and of themselves. Sebond insisted that the reader did not need formal education or any kind. It promised results in less than a month, results "without toil and without learning anything off by heart." But wait, there's more! Natural Theology would not only give you knowledge of God, but of morality too, making all who studied it "happy, humble, kind, obedient, loathing all vice and sin, loving all virtues, yet without puffing up with pride." You can see why the Church did not like the Prologue, it would put them out of business. But the laity loved it, especially smart upper class women who were not allowed to have a formal education. Eventually the Prologue, but not the book, was condemned and placed on the Index of Forbidden Books. Natural Theology continued to be published, just minus the Prologue. But along came Montaigne who translated the entire book, Prologue and all, into French and published it to great acclaim. The Prologue was still on the Index, how did Montaigne, a good Catholic, manage it? With a little translating finesse. The problem with the Prologue is that Sebond insisted that his book was "necessary", Montaigne changed it to "useful." Where Sebond claimed his work taught "every duty" Montaigne translated it as "nearly everything." Here's a little comparison. Sebond wrote:

In addition this science teaches everyone really to know, without difficulty or toil, every truth necessary to Man concerning both Man and God; and all things which are necessary to Man for his salvation, for making him perfect and for bringing him through to life eternal. And by this science a man learns, without difficulty and in reality, whatever is contained in Holy Scripture.
Here's how Montaigne translated it:
In addition this science teaches everyone to see clearly, without difficulty or toil, truth insofar as it is possible for natural reason, concerning knowledge of God and of himself and of what he has need of for his salvation and to reach life eternal; it affords him access to understanding what is prescribed and commanded in Holy Scripture.
Tricky Montaigne. Where Sebond's original Prologue could be read to mean that his methods were equal to Scripture--heresy--Montaigne worked it over to present it as a means to access truths in the Scriptures. Big difference. Why Montaigne didn't leave off the Prologue entirely and just translate the book I don't know. Perhaps he thought the Prologue, even craftily revised, too important. Whatever the case, Montaigne's translation was acceptable to the Church and generally well received. So why then did he have to write his essay, "An Apology for Raymond Sebond"? Keep in mind that in this case "apology" means "defense." At last we get to it. But here I will leave you in suspense. Stay tuned... Note: This historical and analytical information is gleaned from the introduction to The Complete Essays translated by M.A. Screech

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Sebond Essay, Part One

Not only is Montaigne's essay "An Apology for Raymond Sebond" two hundred pages long, it turns out to be of major importance. After finishing the essay I was reading a little about it and it hit me that Montaigne was like important, and I mean not important just because he came up with a literary form, which is pretty darn important, but as a thinker and philosopher. Here I am wanting to do a study of philosophy and I've been reading it all along. Doh! Of course now I'm going through paroxysms of guilt and stupidity--I should have been paying more attention, I should have been reading more closing, I shouldn't have been treating Montaigne so lightly, I should have known better. But at the same time I am glad I didn't know better because if I had, reading Montaigne thus far would have been a serious endeavor and instead of being fun it would have ended up more like school and while school was great, everything was read because it had to be and not for the sheer pleasure of the undertaking (That's what's really wrong with schools, especially the English departments, reading is done because this work or that is important and pleasure and joy have nothing to do with it. If literature was taught the other way around--for the joy of it--then I think there would be a whole lot more readers out there). So anyway, Montaigne is a major philosophical figure and I am taken aback by that because, well, he's just a regular guy (albeit a wealthy regular guy) worrying about things and asking himself some big questions about life and death and happiness and making fun of himself and his peers along the way. So the Sebond essay was a surprise though it shouldn't have been. In Montaigne's essays up to this point he has been a rambling, storytelling kind of guy. He plays with the argument like a cat playing with a mouse, he circles, he feints, circles some more, pretends he has lost interest and then pounces. The Sebond essay is completely different. It is serious, it is finely argued, it does not ramble. It is written like you would expect an essay to be written. It is a difficult essay, for me at least, because Montaigne tells fewer stories and works more in the realm of ideas and philosophy and my philosophy is weak. The Life and Death of Socrates, The Cave and pieces of the Poetics doesn't quite cut the mustard when Montaigne has a deep knowledge of Plato, Aristotle, Sextus, Plutarch, Diogenes, Virgil, St Agustine, Cicero and others. Oh, and Catholic theology, can't forget that. The good thing is I have quite a few books to add to the philosophy reading list I am putting together. Who was Raymond Sebond anyway? Raymond Sebond was a Spaniard, possibly Catalan. He was a Master of Arts in Medicine and Theology. He wrote a book in the 1420s to early 1430s called Natural Theology. The Church was fine with the book itself, it was Sebond's Prologue to the book that made it controversial. And Montaigne translated Sebond and published his translation--including the Prologue--in 1569. Do you think you see where this is going? Come back tomorrow and find out.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Book Crazy

Perusing the May/June Pages Magazine on this lazy, gray Saturday afternoon and found a couple things of interest. The first is a list of books being turned into movies, something I have a real love-hate thing about. It's sort of like a car wreck, I can't help but look and despise myself for doing so. Neil Gaiman wrote the script for Beowulf so I have high hopes for that one. If you haven't read Gaiman's American Gods, consider giving it a try. Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections is slated to star Tim Robbins, Naomi Watts, Brad Pitt and Judi Dench (I have not read this book. I haven't decided if it is worth my time. Thoughts anyone?). The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy will star Minnesota-grown Josh Hartnett (he might be hunky but I don't find his acting to be all that great), Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank. And Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs will star Annette Benning and Gwyneth Paltrow. There is going to be a live action/CG version of Charlotte's Web, one of my favorite books. When I was a kid it was a book about friendship, but now I also see that it is a book about the power of words and how good marketing can get you far. I will not be able to watch this movie in public because for as many times as I have read the book and seen the animated version knowing full well what happens, I sob every time Charlotte dies and keep on sobbing right through to the end. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (is Foer any good or is it all just hype?) is in the adaptation process as is Carl Hiaasen's Hoot. And of course we all have probably heard about The Da Vinci Code. It will star Tom Hanks, Audrey Tatou and Jean Reno (when I first glanced at this I read Janet Reno and wondered what the heck she was doing in a movie before I realized my error). I haven't read this book. I don't know if I will be able to bring myself to see the movie. Pages also features an interview with Michael Cunningham about his new book Specimen Days. I was worried at first, Viriginia Woolf and now Walt Whitman, but it actually sounds quite good. I made the mistake of seeing the movie of The Hours and haven't been able to read the book yet. I know Nicole Kidman won an Oscar for it, but her portrayal of Viriginia Woolf as a bristly doormat got my dander up. Maybe if I read Specimen Days and like it I will be able to finally read The Hours. Apparently the big book group thing now is to talk with the author over the phone. Both HarperCollins and Ballantine have programs that give your group the chance to talk with the author. Kind of exciting and good PR for the author too. For those who don't know what to ask an author, Pages offers some suggestions including this gem, "What is the book's major theme?" If I were an author and a book club person asked me that question I'd start crying. Didn't you read the book? Or maybe you're too stupid to figure it out for yourself? And finally, I think I mentioned Bookstore Tourism last year but at that time the website was sorta flat. It has changed and it has lots to offer including a blog and a book. I was telling my husband the other day that I would really like to go to New York City sometime since I have never been. But I was only nominally interested in seeing the Statue of Liberty and all that. No, I want to go book shopping and see the New York Public Library. On that note, I just want to say that I finished reading Montaigne's essay "An Apology for Raymond Sebond" today. There is much to think about and digest, so look for the first of a two-part post on it tomorrow afternoon.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Your Brain and Technology

For some reason I have been interested in brain science lately. So when I saw the book The New Brain: How the Modern Age is Rewiring Your Mind by Richard Restak on a table at my favorite bookstore I was curious. Already carrying an armload of books I decided I'd check my library for this one. The cover of The New Brain has a boy sitting with a computer on his lap in what appears to be a school hallway. Being somewhat of a geek I got excited thinking the book would be about how the use of technology is changing the way our brains work and how we think. I expected a discussion on video games and movies, the internet, our increasing desire for things to go faster and faster. I got some of that, but most of the book turned out to be about all the great things technology is doing to help in the study of the human brain. The book does not focus on any one coherent line of thought. Instead it jumps around from topic to topic, hardly penetrating the surface. It's as if the book suffers from the culturally induced ADD it briefly mentions. Culturally induced ADD turns out to be one of the few topics that actually relate to the title of the book. We all multi-task, we all have busy schedules, and if you're reading this, count yourself as technologically connected. Have you ever found yourself talking on the phone and reading your email at the same time? How'd that work out for you? Probably not very well. Appearances to the contrary, our brains are designed to do one thing at a time. To talk on the phone and read email at the same time keeps you from focusing fully on either task. Then toss someone walking into your office to ask you a question and you are nearing overload. But you get used to it and then when you find yourself alone and somewhere quiet it verges on the unbearable until you "unwind". But some people find they can no longer unwind. We are losing our ability to focus, to be "in the now." If you think it is bad for adults who grew up in a somewhat slower world, think what affect it is having on our children. If we aren't careful, in a decade or two no one will be "stopping to smell the flowers" anymore. If that isn't enough to worry about this. It is becoming increasingly possible to create personalized drugs. Using new DNA techniques, doctors can mix a psychopharmacological cocktail just for you. That's great if you're suffering from a legitimate mental illness, but what if you're shy, or get stage fright before a presentation, or travel frequently across different time zones and have sleeping problems, want to improve your memory or forget an event that has made you sad? There are drugs currently available that can help you with these things and people are using them in greater numbers. There are drugs that will help you not feel sad at the death of a loved one. Drugs that will help you become a more optimistic person. And drugs that will give you an outgoing personality. The frightening thing about these drugs is that once they start to become commonplace what kind of expectations will crop up? Will employers require their employees to take drugs to make them happy workers? Or keep them working longer hours at a higher level of performance? Will being "blue" precipitate the popping of a pill? My imagination spirals out of control into a horrific black and white vision of a Twilight Zone future. But have no fear, the newly created field of neuroethics is here. I think. A neuroethicist's job is to attempt to "predict and respond to the social consequences of future advances in neuroscience." Whether or not they are doing that and what arguments are being tossed about I don't know since this gets only the shortest of mentions at the very end of the book. The New Brain had so much potential. If you are looking for a general, easy to read book about current brain research and technology then you will find this book interesting. If you are looking for a book that discusses "How the Modern Age is Rewiring Your Mind," then look elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Need Something to Read?

Book Standard has an article about a website called Storycode. Storycode will tell you what to read based on a book that you "code." I tested it out. First you enter the last book you read and then they will ask you a series of questions about the book and you rate the book accordingly. Then Storycode will search its databanks and come up with a list of recommendations for you based on the book you had entered and how you answered the questions about it. I entered Snow by Orhan Pamuk and Storycode gave me a long list of recommended reading. Each recommendation had a percentage next to it to indicate, presumably, how well matched it is to Snow. Here's the top books:

  • Great Expectations, 81.68% (have read this three times and love it even more with each reading)
  • Girl with a Pearl Earring, 81.07% (have never read this but saw the uninspiring movie)
  • Saturday, 81.06% (have not read it but it is around here somewhere waiting its turn)
  • The Known World 80.97% (haven't read it but my husband did and liked it but I have no interest in reading it)
  • God of Small Things, 80.46% (read it, loved it)
I suppose Storycode did okay in recommending books for me but really, I am not lacking in reading material so I don't know how useful this will be for me.

Things of Interest

I was planning on posting some of these links yesterday but since Blogger didn't seem to like me and American Idol was on. Yes, I watch American Idol. Can't help it. Something about it is so mesmerizing. Plus I like to watch the auditions at the beginning of the season and laugh at the people with attitudes who think they can sing. That alone is worth the price of admission.

  • Google is getting grief over their Google Print service. A group of academic publishers are complaining that Google is violating copyright. It isn't clear what they want from Google. Do they want to make sure Google only scans public domain texts? Are they trying to derail the whole thing? Personally, I think Google Print is a fantastic idea. Google does need to make sure they aren't violating copyrights, but beyond that, scan Google! Scan!
  • Everybody needs a little Gertrude Stein. I must admit, you have to be in just the right mood and even then sometimes I just can't connect. But when the stars are aligned Gertie is great! And you have to give her credit for writing a book like The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and for having the ovaries to be able to put Hemingway and Picasso in their places.
  • The Victorian Women Writers Project. Their goal is to "produce highly accurate transcriptions of works by British women writers of the 19th century, encoded using the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML). The works, selected with the assistance of the Advisory Board, will include anthologies, novels, political pamphlets, religious tracts, children's books, and volumes of poetry and verse drama. Considerable attention will be given to the accuracy and completeness of the texts, and to accurate bibliographical descriptions of them." What that means is you can read things like Catherine Booth's Female Ministry, Or, Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel (1859), Olive Schreiner's Story of an African Farm volumes one and two (1883), and Daphne, or Marriage a la Mode (1909) by Mrs. Humphry Ward. You can also help proofread and encode texts.
  • Finally, for Sandra at Bookworld who wants to read Joyce and for those like myself who have a touch of Joyce phobia, a searchable Ulysses. The book is online at The Literature Network which has quite a few searchable books and short stories.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


I tried to post this last night but Blogger was having problems. Grrr. I've heard of Orhan Pamuk. Heard that he was a good writer. Heard about the Turkish government not liking him talking about things like genocide. So when Snow made such a big splash I decided it was about time I get around to giving Pamuk a try. I am glad I did. The story is about Ka, a poet who has been living in exile in Frankfurt for 12 years after being accused of authoring a political article that he didn't write. He has enjoyed a modest success in the Turkish community in Germany but has been unable to write a single new poem. His first time back to Turkey is to attend his mother's funeral in Istanbul. There he meets an old friend who tells him about former friends and a wave of suicide among girls who have been forbidden to wear head scarves. So Ka heads off to Kars under the pretense of writing an article for his friend's paper about the "suicide girls." It also happens that Ipek, the woman Ka has loved since his youth, is now divorced and living in Kars. Ka is trapped in Kars for several days due to a snow storm that closes all the roads. During this time there is a coup in the city. Ka is seen as an outsider, a potential ally and a potential threat, and is courted by both sides. But through it all Ka is strangely detached. He is suddenly writing poems again, they come to him fully formed. He is happy and in love with Ipek and wants nothing more than to take her back to Frankfurt with him. If I tell you any more of the plot I might give it away. Snow is a deep and complex novel. It is a quiet book. If someone could write a book that feels and sounds like a heavy snowfall I'd say Pamuk has come pretty darn close. When it snows the air is crisp and crystalline. The world is quiet, seemingly silent. Yet the snow makes a sort of hissing sound as it lands on the snow that has already fallen and if you focus on that sound it is very loud. Sound also carries farther in the cold and is louder, sharper, but when it snows the hard edges of the sound are softly blurred. Being out in a heavy snowfall is a curious thing. I feel alone and isolated, very much focused inward. But at the same time I feel that me and everyone else who is out are part of something, connected in our determination and the care we take. Going into a coffee shop or other small shop during a heavy snow feels enveloping and safe, an oasis, and for a little while everyone present forms a sort of community. All this is what the book felt like. The book is peopled with Islamists who hate all things western but paradoxically they court Ka's good opinion. They are always worried that they, the Islamists, don't believe in God enough and that they will turn into atheists without even realizing it. They want to preserve Islam and they want to preserve Turkish culture from the west. At one point Blue, an Islamist leader, and Ka are talking about stories. Blue says to Ka,

"But now, because we have fallen under the spell of the West, we've forgotten our own stories. They've removed all the old stories from our children's textbooks. These days, you can't find a single bookseller who stocks the Shehname in all of Istanbul! How do you explain this?" Both men fell silent. "Let me guess what you're thinking," said Blue. "Is this story so beautiful that a man could kill for it? That's what you're thinking, isn't it?" "I don't know," said Ka. "Then think about it," said Blue, and he left the room.
On the flip side are the secularists who want to modernize and Europeanize Turkey, forcibly if necessary. They ban girls from going to school if they are wearing a head scarf. And they are so eager to be seen as western they forget their own culture. Both sides think they are right. There is no middle ground and neither will give in. Ka is stuck in the middle of it all. He witnesses a murder. He, out of ignorance, causes the beatings and deaths of several people. He will not, when questioned by the police, falsely accuse anyone. But he does not care about the coup in Kars or which side is right or who has power. Ka is a person stuck inside himself, longing for happiness but afraid to reach out and grasp it when it looms before him. It is an interesting twist that we find out the narrator of Ka's story is Orhan Pamuk himself. He writes himself in as a character, a friend of Ka, writing a novel about the time Ka spent in Kars and about his love affair with Ipek. Pamuk intrudes on occasion into the text to comment on events and make observations. At one point he nicely presents a sort of thematic summary:
Here, perhaps, we have arrived at the heart of our story. How much can we ever know about the love and pain in another's heart? How much can we hope to understand those who have suffered deeper anguish, greater deprivation, and more crushing disappointments than we ourselves have known? Even if the world's rich and powerful were to put themselves in the shoes of the rest, how much would they really understand the wretched millions suffering around them? So it is when Orhan the novelist peers into the dark corners of his poet friend's difficult and painful life: How much can he really see?
That pretty much applies not only to Ka but to the secularists and the Islamists, West and East and in between. I don't think this means, however, that we can't gain some understanding, some insight. I read it more as a warning--don't assume that because you might know a little, you know it all, or you know enough. Until there is room for everyone's story we haven't begun to see anything.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Links for a Monday Evening

  • Women Writers: A Zine features critical essays on a variety of topics and book reviews.
  • Into the Wardrobe, a C.S. Lewis website. There is news abuout the upcoming Narnia movie and other C.S. Lewis related events, Biographical information, critical essay, and more.
  • Oz vs Narnia. The article was written in 2000, but because of the movie that will be out by the end of the year, I expect there might be people interested.
  • Distributed Proofreaders is supported by Project Gutenberg. You can volunteer to be a proofreader of texts that are being prepared for going online. It's free and best of all "there is no commitment expected on this site. Proofread as often or as seldom as you like, and as many or as few pages as you like. We encourage people to do 'a page a day', but it's entirely up to you!" Can't go wrong there! There are texts that need proofing in English, German, French and a host of other languages.

Literary Cartography

I just joined the Book Map group at Flickr. It all comes from the NY Times article a few weeks ago about creating a literary map of New York based on the literary characters not the authors. So now it's my duty to map the Twin Cities. Only problem is I can't think of one location. I'll have to do some research on that. In the mean time if any of you out there have read a book set in the Twin Cities and want to see a photo of the locations in the book, let me know. I'm on the hunt and I have a camera!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Garden Day

The sun is out today so we have been scurrying around in the garden--lawn to mow, weeds to pull, plants to plant. It's been so wet and cold this May we are very behind. But I thought I'd share a photo of Melody Maple. Melody Maple She's had a face for a few weeks now and got her name today owing to the strong breeze blowing through her leaves and branches. On the reading front, I managed to finish Snow by Orhan Pamuk last night for my occasional book group meeting on Tuesday. I'll be posting something detailed about it in the next day or two. I'm also still perusing More Book Lust by Nancy Pearl. I'm only on page 86 out of 240 and I am afraid to count how many books I've put check marks next to in the nicely put together index. But since I am planning on living forever it should be no problem.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Reading About Montaigne

I have not ditched Montaigne, neglected, yes, but not ditched. He is one of the books I'm juggling. For some reason I thought I'd just be able to breeze right through his 200 page essay "An Apology for Raymond Sebond" in a few days. Hah! I also had to contend with finishing Marcel Tetel's Montaigne because I had run through my allowed renewals and had to turn it back in to my public library. I had checked it out hoping that it would be more biography than criticism but was immediately disappointed. There were some bits of biography and history sprinkled throughout like the tidbit that the Essays was placed on the Index in 1676 and possibly as early as 1640 in Spain. (The Index, in case your history is a little rusty, is the Catholic Church's list of banned books.) I found that to be quite interesting because Montaigne considered himself a good Catholic. But I can see how his questioning and his tolerance (He believed that he had the fortune to be Catholic only because he was born in France. If he was born in the jungles of Borneo he would have happily followed a different religion.) I also managed to glean a better understanding about why Montaigne is so concerned with death and dying and suicide. His father had had kidney stones and suffered terribly before it killed him (that kidney stones used to kill people was a surprise for me). Montaigne was terrified that he too would get "the stone." And he did. Montaigne had his first attack of kidney stones in 1578. He died in 1592 but I have found no information about whether or not it was because of the kidney stones. I do know that in spite of all his contemplations of suicide, he did not kill himself. Aside from an interesting sentence here or an informative paragraph there, Tetel was dry and boring. The book was first published in 1974 (Tetel published a revised edition in 1990 but that is not the one my library owns). Once in a while he'd write something that would catch my attention and my drooping eyelids would flew open. Take, for instance when he was analyzing the structure of an essay:

On the surface, disorder seems to reign, but the apparent ramblings of a mind operating through associations in a stream-of-consciousness process, always controlled, attest to the organic unity of the essay. In other words, whatever is mentioned, far from being disparate, always has a bearing on the central theme further to illuminate it, like the spokes of a wheel converging toward the hub.
Two things that caught my attention here. First, the surface disorder, the rambling and the appearance of disparity. I have stopped in the middle of an essay many times wondering what in the world the example Montaigne just provided had to do with the topic under discussion. Sometimes it would be obvious, sometimes I gave up, deciding that Montiagne being the inventor of the essay could write whatever he wanted and couldn't be held to the clarity of purpose we expect today. But now it appears that I need to try harder on the more baffling ones. The second thing that caught my attention was the spoked wheel metaphor. That has been used before by another writer but I couldn't quite remember who--Wordsworth, Coleridge? Whitman maybe? I dashed downstairs to the library and pulled Major British Poets of the Romantic Period from the shelf. This is a hefty tome left over from college days. I searched. And found nothing. As for Whitman, all I have is a paperback copy of Leaves of Grass that has seen better days and contains no notations. I tried an internet search but of course it is too broad. I am probably mis-remembering anyway and even if I did find it, it most likely would have no bearing on Montaigne. Still, if it rings a bell for you, let me know. My favorite thing Tetel said is less a reflection of Montaigne but more of an observation of writers (emphasis added):
In Montaigne's case, the very act of writing about himself, of setting himself apart from others, of publishing himself his so-called self-portrait and confessions already casts some shadows on any claim to modesty. Indeed, modesty belongs only to those who do not write.
That was good for a chuckle. Enough of Tetel. He is now back on a shelf, gathering dust until another unsuspecting person calls him forth. I have very high hopes for the The Cambridge Companion to Montaigne which I plan on acquiring sometime next month. In the meantime it's back to the Essays themselves and my hope that maybe next week I'll be done with "An Apology for Raymond Sebond."

Friday, May 20, 2005


This is only obliquely related to books, but it's been bugging me all day. I usually don't remember my dreams but I remember two from last night. In one I was being given writing advice by a bunch of famous writers. In the other I was arguing with a cable guy about a flower bed he had dug up. I remember only one of these dreams in great detail. Which one do you think it is? Of course it is the one with the cable guy. He apparently dug up the flower bed under my picture window because they had to install a new cable. I asked him why I hadn't been notified that this was going to happen? He replied that the cable company had sent postcard notices a month ago and it wasn't his fault that I didn't receive it. I asked him if the cable company was going to pay for all of my plants that he had destroyed and he answered that it wasn't his problem either. Then several other cable guys showed up and kept asking me if I wanted my cable connected. I kept telling them no but they kept asking over and over. Finally one of them asked me why I didn't want cable. I screamed "Because I don't watch tv!" I ran into my house, pulled out paper and pencil and immediately began writing down all the names of the plants that had been in the flower bed and how much it would cost to replace them. I woke up still calculating. The writer dream is hazy. All I remember is a large group of people sitting in chairs and standing around. All of them were famous writers. All of them were offering me advice on writing. Do I remember what writers they were? No. Do I remember any of their advice? No. Do I remember what plants I had on my list? Every last one.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Ramblings and a Couple of Links

I've got so many books going at the moment that I feel a bit like a juggler. And of course when I'm reading one I think I should be reading something else. No, shouldn't be reading More Book Lust should be reading Snow for book group on Tuesday but I want to read The New Brain and then there's Don Quixote which I haven't picked up since I finished part one a couple weeks ago. And then there are all those books waiting to be read. Must. Read. Faster. It used to be, long ago, that when I wasn't reading for school I read only one book at a time. Then I met my husband who had a book to read in every room of the house. Then I tried it. Two books at a time felt good, liberating. Then it was three books. Ooohh, naughty. But something happened, I turned into the guy juggling a chainsaw, a flaming torch, a bowling ball and an egg all at once. Okay, maybe that's a bit melodramatic, but that's what it feels like sometimes. But as soon as the number of books I'm in the middle of dwindles I have a sudden and inexplicable panic and within less than an hour I will have begun reading at least two new books, sometimes three. Non-readers would no doubt say I should see a therapist to get help for my obvious problem. But I am quite happy in my bibliomania thank you very much. And now, here are some symptoms of my mania, maybe they will contribute to yours:

  • Academic vs. non-academic historians. The "experts" complain the laypeople jazz things up too much, paint scenes that are not entirely factual, focus too much on personality and drama. The historians for the people complain the ivory tower folk are dry as kindling and better than tranquilizers. I understand both sides of the coin here, but if I have a choice between history written as a story or history written like a textbook, I'm going to read the one that's got more story.
  • This will provide you wil lots of fun. It is a "Surrealist Compliment Generator." Here's one I just got: You are a banana moon subverting the sun. I feel so special.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Book Trailers

If book trailers sell books then I should be happy. Shouldn't I? But somehow I can't help but wonder, "is this what selling books has been reduced to?"

Blogs as Literature?

Steve Himmer from Emerson College makes a good, academic argument that blogs are literature:

Calling a weblog “literary” does not require content that is about literature or even content that aims to be literature. It is not an attempt at categorizing one weblog and its author as more worthwhile in a canonical sense than any other. To the contrary, I propose that every weblog can be considered literary in the sense that it calls attention not only to what we read, but also to the unique way we read it. The weblog is (to paraphrase Colin MacCabe) the performed result of a code of particular techniques, and this paper is an attempt to highlight the primary features of that code.
The article was written sometime last year (there is no date stamp but there is a comment from August 2004) and is long. I read it today at work in bits and pieces during down time (or lazy time, I'll admit it), so I haven't gotten to reflect on it much, but I did find it to be a fascinating idea. Himmer comes at his argument from a very post-structrualist point of view and fairly gushes at the thought of blogger and reader creating the text together--the blogger posting her posts and the reader commenting on them and other bloggers linking to the posts and other readers commenting on that and so on and so on and so on. It is, unlike Joyce's Ulyssess which he uses over and over as an example, a piece of art that is all process and by its very nature is never complete. It is as in-the-moment as you can get in writing. It is an exciting thought, or maybe I'm just geeky enough to be excited by it. I will admit that I was just thinking the other day how nice it will be when post-sturcturalism finally runs its course and we can get back to something more solid and finite both in theory and "text." But here I am excited about how unfinished the blog as text as literature is. Can I like both?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


There is nothing like coming home from a long day at work to have the husband give me a new book. Goody! Goody! What did he give me? Well, let's just say that my wishlist is about to be greatly expanded. I am the recipient of More Book Lust by Nancy Pearl. When I looked up the link for the book I also see that there is a Book Lust Journal where the suckers can make note of the books they read. I say suckers because why would anyone want to pay $12.95 for a notebook? Save yourself some cash and pick up a few at Target or even get yourself a blog. But I digress. More Book Lust has, well, more book lists and while I am not a sucker for overpriced book journals, I am a sucker for book lists. A quick first glance reveals lists of books that take place in the Midwest (even Minnesota!), books about Codes and Ciphers, Food, India, Literary Lives, Nature Writing, Time Travel, and it goes on and on. You know what I'll be up to tonight.

Tuesday (It Is Tuesday Isn't It?) Browsing

  • There's an article in Book Standard about a relatively new website called PaperBackSwap. It's purpose is just like it sounds. It is a place where you can swap paperback books for other paperback books. And it's free.
  • If you are interested in feminist scifi, fantasy and utopian novels and writings, then this is the site for you. There are lists and reviews and criticism and you'll even find some bibliographies on music, dance, theatere and graphic novels.
  • And if you have a litblog and have been wondering just how do you write a book review anyway (I'm sure we have all read enough of them we can figure it out if we haven't already, but ya know, this is just in case, or maybe for some tips or something, anyway it is potentially useful), How to Write a Book Review
  • Finally, Slushpile.net asks What Happened to the Delete Key? They have the sneaky suspicion that books are getting longer. I think they might be on to something here. Though it really appears to me that perhaps we are losing the mid-length books. We've got big long books and little short books and fewer are falling in between. But then again, as I look up at my to-be-read shelf, the books looking back are fat and thin and everything in the middle. So maybe it just seems like books are getting longer.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Jimmy Corrigan

I finally managed to finish Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware. When I say "finally" I don't want you to think that the book, graphic novel, was horrible, it wasn't. It was--interesting--in a good way. I thought by the beginning, which includes funny snippets inside the front cover, that this book was going to be a hoot. It still had the potential even after "Superman" jumped off a building and went splat on the pavement. And Jimmy's sudden penchant for daydreaming had wild possibilities for humor. But this book was not funny. It was really sad. The story is about Jimmy Corrigan a lumpish and timid 30-something who gets a letter from his Dad who left his Mom and him when Jimmy was a baby. Jimmy decides to go meet his Dad. Dad it turns out had a horrible life as a child--his mother died giving birth to him and his Dad was no real winner. Jimmy's Dad, also named Jimmy, makes a concerted effort to befriend his lumpish son who can't seem to string a sentence together. Jimmy junior is also surprised to find out he has a sister who is adopted and African-American. It's a good story, just sad. It ends on an up note though, a bit of hope that maybe Jimmy junior can rise out of his lumpish-ness and become something more than a doormat. This is my third graphic novel. And it was time well spent. The art in this book is good and interesting and there are some strange little cut out and make your own pieces where you can build a space ship or a world's fair building. As fruitful as my foray into graphic novels has been, I will be taking a break for a month or two before I try another one. They can be a little overwhelming, at least for me who is used to nothing but words on a page. I'd also like to find a funny one to read. I'm open for suggestions.

Lists, and Quotes and Poetry, Oh My

Some interesting things to help you recover from Monday:

  • From Wikipedia, a list of fictional swear words. Most of them come from scifi books or movies. And a good many of them appear to be creative ("Belgium" from Hitchhiker's Guide--no word on how Belgians feel about this) and not so creative ("frick" used on the tv show Scrubs but not a new word as I can attest to using it when I was a kid so my Mom couldn't punish me for swearing) alternatives for the word "fuck." "Shit" takes second place in case you were wondering.
  • If you are feeling anti-Harry Potter and you or the kids want to branch out and try other books this summer, NPR offers a list. How can anyone pass up a book called Sorcery Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot?
  • Looking for that perfect quote? Maybe Samuel Johnson can help you! You can search for particular quotes or just go for the sampler. Here's a taste: "Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and puts down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is."
  • A new way to read the Waste Land with notes and hypertext. I just might acutally make it through the whole poem this time and it just might manage to make some sense.
  • Looking for a story with a good moral? Then check out Aesops Fables online. The fables are grouped in tables with the corresponding moral, not the easiest way to search, but it works.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Don't Panic

I just returned from finally seeing The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. While it certainly was nowhere nearly as good as the book I still enjoyed it very much. My favorite parts: the "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" song that opened and closed the movie and when the improbability drive turned the ship into a ball of yarn and all of its occupants into knitted people. I thought the casting was good too. What I didn't like was the way they did Zaphod's heads. And then they had to go and lop off one of them pretty early on. Were they trying to save on the effects budget or something? If you've not read the books you will leave the movie wondering what the heck all the fuss is about. You will be very unlikely to "get it." But if you see the movie anyway, I hope you will not be put off by it but instead be compelled to read the books. The movie was a good afternoon's entertainment. It made me sad that Douglas Adams is dead and it made me want to read the Hitchhiker books again. On another note, I saw a preview for Serenity. It looks great and appears to have most, if not all, of the cast from the tv show Firefly. I hope the full movie turns out to be as good as the clips promise.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Saturday Amusements

Looking to buy a new house? Look no further! For a mere £ 325,000 - £ 595,000 you can purchase Florin House in Covent Garden, London. Within this 12 apartment buidling is 26 Wellington Street where Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations. Even though time has passed I'm sure some of the great man's literary aura remains to assist you in completing your novel. Let the bidding wars begin! (Link via Bookglutton) Here is a review in the TLS of a book that promises to explain why time speeds up as you get older. It has something to do with memory. And here is a long interview at Alternet with Steve Martin, comedian, actor, writer. The interview focuses on the writing. This article from Wired is a week old but I just picked up on it from perusing del.icio.us tags. It talks about Amazon.com's SIPs, or statistically improbable phrases. It's an interesting feature but it still won't make me shop there. I don't like their website, it is too cluttered for my taste and I find it difficult to view the publishing information on a book. Plus my Bookman works at a competing brick and mortar bookstore where he gets a better discount than Amazon.com can offer.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Great Comedic Partners

Laurel and Hardy. Abbot and Costello. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. You read that right. As I made my way through part one of Don Quixote I couldn't help but think of DQ and Sancho as a great comedic duo and would not have been surprised if they had a round or two of "Who's on First?" Despite DQ's shenanigans, he's the straight man to Sancho who just doesn't get it. But Sancho isn't being dragged along, he's a willing participant, he wants his insula. While DQ plays straight man, he is also the object of comedy. But because of his serious dedication to knight errantry, DQ is able to spin all of the outrageous things that happen so that windmills and wineskins are giants and the inn is an enchanted castle. He keeps his dignity however fabricated it may be. Sancho, on the other hand, is not a knight nor is he clever enough to put a spin on things. He gets tossed in a blanket, beaten, duped and he gets his donkey stolen. While DQ has the facade of knighthood to make him brave, Sancho is free to be a coward. Through all their misadventures the two of them stay together. At first I just thought it was because Sancho was a fat, greedy man. Then I began to wonder. After the first visit to the inn, the violent vomiting from DQ's potion and the blanket tossing, if I were Sancho I would have called it quits and gone back home. So why didn't he? There had to be something more to keep him by DQ's side. I suspect it was boredom that sent DQ into knight errantry. I think Sancho went in order to escape the daily grind of peasant work and in hope of a rich reward. Somewhere in there they became friends.

I Was Naughty

Work was slow today and so I did some web surfing--cowabunga dude! I would rather read but reading is too obvious and since I'm supposed to know things about computers no one suspects me when I'm on the internet. So here are the fruits of my work day labors:

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Miscellaneous Linkage

From the Guardian:

  • Rupert Wright's favorite books about France. Yup, a top ten list. Most of them are about food unfortunately. I've never been to France but my guess is there is more happening there than the food.
  • A touching article about reading aloud. My Bookman and I used to read books and short stories to each other and it was marvelous. I'm not sure why we don't do it any longer. Maybe it's time to get back to it.
From the NY Times: Can you survive Dickensian London? play the game and find out. (link via (Maude Newton). I ended up in jail for picking pockets and missed my chance to meet Charles Dickens. I should have staye away from the Fagin character.

New Cult, er, I Mean, Religion

Scientology is losing out to the new religion of fictionology.

Fictionology's central belief, that any imaginary construct can be incorporated into the church's ever-growing set of official doctrines, continues to gain popularity. Believers in Santa Claus, his elves, or the Tooth Fairy are permitted—even encouraged—to view them as deities. Even corporate mascots like the Kool-Aid Man are valid objects of Fictionological worship.
Where do I sign up? (link via bookninja)

Does Nobody Write Original Screenplays Anymore?

Now Hollywood is making Armistead Maupin's The Night Listener into a movie. It is going to star Robin Williams. I like Robin Williams, but come on people! The Night Listener is such a great book but not exactly one that I read and thought, "gee this would make a great movie." Some books, like Michael Crichton's, are written with movie in mind but some books should just be left alone. I wonder if Hollywood screenwriters charge too much because of the union so the moguls look elsewhere for good stories? I don't get it. I'm ready to be enlightened if anyone has any insight on this matter.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

You Get So Caught Up

I'm planning on doing several posts about part one of Don Quixote. DQ is a big book and part one is about half of it. Today will be a sort of "first impressions" rambling before I try to delve into the nitty gritty. I am reading the Edith Grossman translation and wow, do I love it. It is incredibly easy to read but so well done that it doesn't lose the flavor. I appreciate the occasional footnote to explain the meaning of a joke or why a certain word or phrase was chosen instead of another or a historical reference. By the sound of it you'd think there were many notes, but that is not the case. The translation is done so well that I rarely think about it even being translated, something which I think is very important. One of the aspects that I find so wonderful about DQ is the power that books are given. It is because of books that Don Quixote has gone mad (there is the question about whether or not he truly is mad but I will save that for another post). No one today would blame a book for someone's crazy behavior. It is more likely that video games or movies will get that blame now. But back in DQ's time, books had power. Even the characters in the books could influence the world. Early on when the priest is at DQ's house going through his library and burning the books on chivalry the housekeeper runs out and brings back a basin of holy water and a hyssop and tells the priest, "'Take this, Senor Licentiate, and sprinkle this room, so that no enchanter, of the many books, can put a spell on us as punishment for wanting to drive them off the face of the earth.'" The priest laughs at her "simplemindedness," and I laughed too. But I laughed because it reminded me that when I was a kid I used to imagine the characters in my books coming to life and sometimes even now after a particularly good book I find myself wondering what the characters are up to. Throughout part one there are references to books of chivalry and how much pleasure people get from them. In chapter 32 there is a whole conversation about why books and reading are so great. Says the innkeeper:

"...the truth is, to my mind, there's no better reading in the world; I have two or three of them [books of chivalry], along with some other papers, and they really have put life into me, and not only me but other people too. Because during the harvest, many of the harvesters gather here during their time off, and there's always a few who know how to read, and one of them takes down one of those books, and more than thirty of us sit around him and listen to him read with so much pleasure that it saves us a thousand gray hairs; at least as far as I'm concerned, I can tell you that when I hear about those furious, terrible blows struck by the knights, it makes me want to do the same, and I'd be happy to keep hearing about them for days and nights on end." "The same goes for me," said the innkeeper's wife, "because I never have any peace in my house except when you're listening to somebody read; you get so caught up that you forget about arguing with me."
The whole scene reminds me of the Lectors the cigar factory workers used to hire to read to them while they worked. In chapter 47 there is even a long discourse critiquing fiction and books of chivalry in particular. It is part artistic declaration part self-mocking. But it is Don Quixote who is the center of the story, the evidence of the power of books. He has left home to become a knight errant because of the books of chivalry that he reads as true history. And I can't blame DQ for wanting to leave his boring life for a life of adventuring. He holds to the truth of his books even to the end when he, in chapter 49, is locked up in a cage by the priest and told he is enchanted. But DQ is not so enchanted that he doesn't have a thing or two to say to the priest and the canon:
"Your grace also said that these books have done me a good deal of harm, for they turned my wits and put me in a cage, and it would be better for me to alter and change my reading and devote myself to books that are truer and more pleasant and more instructive." "That is true," said the canon. "Well, then," replied Don Quixote, "it is my opinion that the one who is deranged and enchanted is your grace, for you have uttered so many blasphemies against something so widely accepted in the world as true that whoever denies it, as your grace had done, deserves the same punishment that your grace says you give to books when you read them and they anger you."
DQ goes on to say later that books "improve the spirits" and "drive away melancholy," and that ever since he became a knight errant he has been "valiant, well-mannered, liberal, polite, generous, courteous, bold, gentle, patient, [and] long-suffering." How can books be bad if they have inspired such behavior? It's good to be reminded now and then about just how powerful and transforming books can be.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Monday Brain

It was a disappointing weekend for reading. What I did read was good, don't get me wrong, but I didn't read nearly enough. The weekend was dedicated mostly to the beginning of gardening season with a trip to the annual Friends' School plant sale fundraiser. The weather got rainy on Saturday and Sunday so we didn't get everything planted but we managed over half. And was I ever sore! Anyone who thinks gardening is an easy activity for seniors in their golden years has never truly gardened! I am still not done reading the Montaigne essay. I have about 60 pages left to go. It is interesting. I hope I can do it justice when it comes time to post about it. And I keep meaning to post about Don Quixote since I finished part one. I'll try to get to that this week. But today I have Monday brain and have only some links to offer.

  • You may or may not have heard about Arianna Huffington's new blog that just went online today, The Huffington Post. She has many names posting on her site and it might prove to be interesting. She has an "exclusive" up right now about a new book called Secrets of the Kingdom by Gerald Posner. Posner lays out the "secret" Saudi self-destruct plan that would destroy their oil infrastructure and turn the country into a radioactive wasteland should anyone try to invade. I suppose it's possible, but it seems a bit extreme to me. Posner claims to have gotten the information from NSA electronic intercepts. This book has "approach with caution and much skepticism" written all over it.
  • For some language fun visit AskOxford. There are word quizzes and games as well as the dictionary you would expect.
  • Search Engine Watch has a great article on how to search for books on the internet. Guaranteed to improve your search success.
  • The Guardian has a a write up about a new Virginia Woolf book. This one is condolence letters received by the family after her death. Good for Woolf scholarship or shameless money-grubbing commercialization? You be the judge.
  • Trying. To. Resist. New book by Umberto Eco. I bought too many books in April. I have the feeling that resistance is futile.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Movies to Watch Out For

I have a love/hate relationship with movies made from books. Some are wonderful like To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone With the Wind. But far too often they are dreadful travesties that make me hate Hollywood. And so it is that I feel conflicted about some movies that will be coming out this year. July 15th will bring us a remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starring Johnny Depp. I'm sure it will be good, or at least it will be visually amazing since Tim Burton directed. But will it be better than the original movie which I still can't watch because the oompah-loompas cause me nightmares? It was because of them that I was never able to read the book. August 12th is when Everything is Illuminated opens. I have not read the book. The movie stars Elijah Wood. I have high hopes for this one because of Wood. Bee Season opens on September 30th. This one scares me. I loved this book and actually hoped that it would be made into a movie because I wanted to see the mom's storage garage scene. But Richard Gere is playing the Cantor and while Gere is easy on the eyes, let's face it, the man can't act his way out of a paperbag. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire will be hitting the big screen in November (no opening date yet). Because of the previous three movies we already know what to expect. In December Memoirs of a Geisha makes it debut. Because of the timing of its release you know it will be marketed as a serious Oscar movie. I'm expecting it to be visually gorgeous, but will it be able to compare to the book? I'm worried something will be lost in the translation.

Did Freud Kill Character in Fiction?

Lee Siegel writes an essay aboout Freud in today's NY Times. Civilization and It's Discontents is 75 years old and being reissued by Norton. In his essay Siegel makes a big claim for film and books:

For better or for worse, film's independence from character is the reason it has replaced the novel as the dominant art form in our culture. Yet Freud himself drew his conception of the human mind from the type of imaginative literature his ideas were about to start making obsolete. His work is full of references to poets, playwrights and novelists from his own and earlier periods. In the latter half of his career, he applied himself more and more to using literature to prove his theories, commenting, most famously, on Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky. ''Civilization and Its Discontents'' brims with quotations from Goethe, Heine, Romain Rolland, Mark Twain, John Galsworthy and others. If Freud had had only his own writings to refer to, he would never have become Freud. Having accomplished his intellectual aims, he unwittingly destroyed the assumptions behind the culture that had nourished his work.
But can Freud really be credited with a such a feat? When I was in grad school back in the early 90s and we were studying literary theory we didn't even read Freud, we read Lacan and Kristeva instead. Freud was so old news. Freud may have greased the wheels, but I always contributed the lack of character tendency in fiction to post-structuralism. It is entirely possible that I am wrong, but that is the framework which I have been laboring under. I don't know about anybody else, but I am weary of amorphous, post-structuralist books that lack character and/or plot. They are fine once in awhile, but I like a ripping good yarn. Give me multi-faceted characters and a compelling plot and you have me hooked. I think we might be slowly returning to big stories with magic and myth in them instead of psychology, witness the success of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrrell, The Shadow of the Wind and Harry Potter. I don't think you can contribute the change to a lessening of Freud's influence. I think it's more of a swing of the pendulum.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

How to Become Well Read

It is with much skepticism that I read The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life by Steve Leveen. The subtitle is "how to get more books in your life and more life from your books" and the back of the dust jacket makes some big promises including how to read 12 more books a year. I wasn't sure if this slim book of only 111 pages (not including bibliography) would be able to live up to its promises, but at least it was short and I wouldn't be spending too much time with it. Steve Leveen is the CEO and co-founder of Levenger. This book grew, he claims, out of his own frustrations as a reader. He used to enjoy reading but became too busy with life and career and didn't have time. A few years ago he set out to change that and fell in love with books all over again. He discovered what most avid readers already know, that if you love a book, if you love reading, you have the time to do it because you make the time to do it because you enjoy doing it. Well-Read Life is directed at the people who are on the verge of book love but have not yet fallen. Leveen is hoping to make them fall. The book is a very long essay peppered with easy to reference headings, bookish pen and ink drawings and quotes about books and reading. There is a great section about the history of the audiobook which includes a discussion about whether or not audiobooks "count" as reading. Leveen comes down firmly on the side of yes (and I must agree). It also turns out that this is how to add the 12 more books a year. According to Duvall Hecht, founder and owner of Books on Tape, a company that rents audiobooks, his top subscribers rent a book a month. Therefore, if you do not now listen to audiobooks and want to read more books, start listening--on your way to and from work or while running errands or while working out at the gym (just be careful you don't get so engrossed you fall off the treadmill--it can happen just ask over at Bookworld). Sadly this will not work for me since the tape deck in my car no longer works and I don't relish paying to have it fixed or buying a new one. My commute is also only ten minutes. My Bookman, however, always has a book going in the car. He just finished Pride and Prejudice and is now listening to Prep. The book also continues the perpetual reader discussion about whether or not one should write in a book. Leveen is, as he calls it, a Footprint Leaver, though he understands the Preservationist point of view. I am, like one reader he quotes, a Preservationist, "I have tried numerous times to be a Footprint Leaver, but have failed miserably! I would love to be able to write in books; I just can't bring myself to do it." And here Leveen imparts a great idea--sticky notes. Can't bring yourself to write in the book? Write on a sticky note and stick it on the page where you couldn't bring yourself to write. Why I never thought of this before I can't say, but I like it and plan to give it a try for any book I don't want to write in. Because while I am a Preservationist at heart, there are some books I give myself permission to write in. I think I have mentioned before that I will sometimes write in nonfiction books, Montaigne's Essays for example. Other topical discussions in Well-Read Life include book groups, when to give up on a book (after 50 pages), and how to choose and read a book. Leveen has a rather elaborate system for book reading which goes well beyond keeping a list with a rating. His is an elaborate reading journal, a "bookography" (you can, of course, get a pre-formatted bookography notebook from Levenger) which includes not only author and title but also things like when you acquired the book, when you began reading the book, notes while reading, if you abandon the book when and why, and post-reading notes and review. It seems a little much to me but then I guess this blog is a variation on the same thing in a way. The point of Leveen's system is to get readers to think about the book while reading it and to think about it after it is done. Too many people Leveen believes, close the cover of the book after the last page and never think about the book again. Well-Read Life is classified as a self-help book. If you are someone who wants to become a reader, it will very likely be useful in getting you started by providing a foundation upon which to build your reading and reading habits. If you are already a reader it will serve only as an interesting afternoon's reading wherein you may find a good idea (sticky notes!) to incorporate into your current reading ways. The best thing about the book is the five-page bibliography that lists books about books and reading and a few biographies of authors who wrote about how books profoundly affected their lives. Leveen has also begun a well-read life section at Levenger's website with author interviews and a column about reading. Here you can read an interview with Leveen, reviews and excerpts of the book.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Link Rodeo

It's a link round-up today.

  • An interview with Marjane Satrapi about her new book Embroideries. The new book is about what Iranian women talk about when they are alone. Turns out it's mostly sex
    Satrapi's women relatives and friends drink tea and talk over a favorite subject -- sex. Embroideries is an X-rated (and actually entertaining) version of The View -- one where grandmothers, mothers, and granddaughters talk about hymen restoration, the virtues of being a mistress, and the questionable aesthetic value of the penis. In Embroideries, Satrapi documents the ways in which strong-willed women in Iran have fought back -- in secretly gleeful silence or through overt rebellion -- against misogynistic traditions and piggish men. The book is also a celebration of these women's resilience, their tough-mouthed, tender-hearted talk over tea. Satrapi spoke with me on the phone about geriatric sex, the appeal of the ass, and the promise of young women in Iran today.
  • Here's an interesting piece that I found via extension 337 that attempts to explain "What blogs are vs. what they are not." Not book related, but if you blog, worth a look.
  • Notebooks. I love notebooks. It began with a Hello Kitty locking diary, moved on to a Donny and Marie diary sans lock, then to blank books and now I have discovered Moleskines, but oh I am tempted to try something from Book Factory. Meant for scientific folks, they could be infinitely useful for creative projects or even a regualr journal. What excites me most is that they have a table of contents page. I know, I'm weird. (link via 43 Folders)
  • A fascinating article about hyperlexia, a condition that "combines autismlike speech and social problems with a jump-start on reading." By studying those with hyperlexia, researchers are learning much about the brain in general and the reading brain in particular. By the way, reading a lot doesn't mean you are hyperlexic. Only one in 5,000 have the condition and it doesn't sound like anything a sane person would want to suffer from. So those of us who read too much (is that really possible??) need to find some other excuse for spouses, friends and family. (link via Mind Hacks)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Come With Me My Love To the Sea, the Sea of Love...

Iris Murdoch's The Sea, the Sea is a deceivingly simple story. On the surface it is very much a potboiler but underneath it is really about love and friendship and human connection. Charles Arrowby, famous theatre director, decides to retire and buys himself a funny little house by the sea called Shruff End. His friends don't believe that he'll last in his new solitude for more than a month. Charles is determined to prove them wrong and for a few weeks he does. He takes well to his solitary life and spends his days swimming in the sea and clambering over the rocks watching tide pool life and collecting unusual rocks to line his patch of lawn. He begins writing a book, a memoir about his life, the book which we are reading. As he delves back into his past on the page, it begins to catch up to him in life. First he gets a letter from Lizzie, an old flame, then Rosina, another conquest, shows up at his house afraid that he will take Lizzie back. This just stirs the cauldron. What really gets it boiling is Charles' realization that the old woman he's noticed slinking through the village a few times is Hartley. Hartley and Charles were childhood sweethearts. Charles had planned on being with her forever. But when Charles went off to school Hartley left him and managed to effectively disappear. Charles heard rumors that she had married someone else but he didn't believe it. He continued to search for Hartley but to no avail. And as his career began to take off and he began living with Clement, a woman 20 years his senior, he stopped looking for his lost love. He did not, however, stop thinking about her. By the time Charles recognizes her in the village he has built up in his mind an undying love for her of mythic proportions. For her part, Hartley never forgot Charles either. But Hartley is married, though not entirely happily, and she has a son, Titus, who is adopted and who has left home and not told his parents where he is. Charles decides that he is going to rescue Hartley from her unhappiness, they will find Titus, and they will all live together happily ever after:

It was my task and my privilege to teach her the desire to live, and I would yet do so. I, and I only, could revive her; I was the destined prince.
But Hartley frustrates Charles' plans by not wanting to be rescued. Titus also shows up but disappoints Charles when he discovers that Titus does not like Hartley, nor will he help Charles "rescue" her. So the drama from the London theatre moves to Shruff End and Charles discovers that he cannot direct his players as easily in life as he could on the stage--they seem to have their own agendas and refuse to go along with his. Charles' cousin James makes an apt observation about Charles' behavior:
We are such inward secret creatures, that inwardness is the most amazing thing about us, even more amazing than our reason. but we cannot just walk into the cavern and look around. Most of what we think we know about our minds is pseudo-knowledge. We are all such shocking poseurs, so good at inflating the importance of what we think we value. The heroes at Troy fought for a phantom Helen, according to Stesichorus. Vain wars for phantom goods. I hope you will allow yourself plenty of reflections on human vanity. People lie so, even we old men do. Though in a way, if there is art enough it doesn't matter, since there is another kind of truth in the art.
This is can also be read as the guiding statement for most of the characters in the book. The only people who are genuine and not poseurs of some sort at one time or another are James and Titus. I began the book thinking Charles an interesting character and liking him very much. As the story progressed I began to dislike him more and more but was still fascinated by him. Then at the end I liked him again. Part of what redeemed him for me was this:
Can one change oneself? I doubt it. Or if there is any change it must be measured as the millionth part of a millimetre. When the poor ghosts have gone, what remains are ordinary obligations and ordinary interests. One can live quietly and try to do tiny good things and harm no one. I cannot think of any tiny good thing to do at the moment, but perhaps I shall think of one tomorrow.
Makes me smile every time I read it. The book is really wonderful but be sure if you are going to read it you are able to pay attention. It is not a book that should be read if you are distracted. You don't want to miss the astute observations regarding love and friendship and memory. Nor do you want to miss the pleasurable moments:
As I lay there, listening to the soft slap of the sea, and thinking these sad and strange thoughts, more and more and more stars had gathered, obliterating the separateness of the Milky Way and filling up the whole sky. And far far away in that ocean of gold, stars were silently shooting and falling and finding their fates, among those billions and billions of merging golden lights. And curtain after curtain of gauze was quietly removed, and I saw stars behind stars behind stars, as in the magical Odeons of my youth. And I saw into the vast soft interior of the universe which was slowly and gently turning itself inside out. I went to sleep, and in my sleep I seemed to hear a sound of singing.
If in my entire life I manage to write one paragraph as beautiful as that I will consider myself blessed. This is the first book by Iris Murdoch that I have ever read and I am glad I did. I will definitely be reading more of her.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Pulp Fiction

They don't make book covers like this anymore.

Appearing Once Again on the Internet, This Time With Her Clothes On

In case anyone out there who actually reads is still watching Stacked, you can keep up with the show online too by reading Pamela Anderson's blog. It's just what you would expect.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Growing Up Isn't Easy

I had imagined over my reading binge weekend that I would just start reading Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, not actually finish it, but finish it I did. This makes my second graphic novel. I'm on a role. Persepolis is not so much a graphic novel as it is a graphic memoir. It is the compelling story of Satrapi's childhood in Iran. It starts in 1980 when she was ten and tells of the lead up and aftermath to the revolution. The perspective is from that of a child with all of its attendant misunderstandings of the adult world and consequent enlightenment. In school when teachers asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Satrapi replied that she wanted to be a prophet. Of course she got scolded and teased and changed her aspirations from prophet to revolutionary, modeling herself after Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Worried that her friends' families were more revolutionary than hers, she'd pump her family for information about relatives who had spent time in jail for their politics and then go to school and brag about it. Eventually her friends and their families began leaving the country and by the time the government closed the universities Satrapi was worried that her chances of being the next Marie Curie had been ruined. When the Iran-Iraq war broke out and a bomb landed on her neighbor's house, Satrapi's parents sent her, at the age of 14, to "visit" family in Vienna and attend school there for a while. Her parents tried to convince her that they would be along shortly, but she understood as she waved goodbye to them at the airport that they would never live together as a family again. While I thought the book quite good I wasn't hugely impressed with it. I've heard so much about it I somehow expected more. Still, I am glad I read it and would even recommend it for anyone who wants to give graphic stories a try. I will read the sequel but not for a month or two most likely.

Reading Binge Wrap Up

The extended reading binge weekend was fabulous. While I didn't accomplish all that I set out to read, I did manage most of it. Along with finishing Mozart's Brain I finished The Sea, the Sea, and part one of Don Quixote. I also began and finished Persepolis and am about halfway through Jimmy Corrigan and am on chapter four of Snow (I have not read Pamuk before and am enjoying it very much). The only thing I didn't do very well at is Montaigne. He got neglected I am afraid. But I'm not concerned. I am not feeling so overwhelmed with the quantity of books I want to read. How long this will last is anyone's guess--a week, maybe two?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Star Maps

Randy Cohen proposes in the NY Times today the creation of a sort of literary equivalent to the "Star Maps" you can buy on street corners in Beverly Hills so you can go gawp at the houses of celebrities. This map though would be a map of the characters and where they lived in New York. It's a fun idea and Cohen and a graphic artist friend are really going to make the map. They are soliciting reader assistance. I've never been to New York City and I can't recall the last book I read that took place there so I am no help. Still, if I make it to NYC someday and see them selling the map on a street corner I will gladly pay my $5 so I gawp at the homes inhabited by imaginary people.


I'm not even half through my Montaigne essay "An Apology for Sebond," but plan to have it for next weekend. I should have known. So to quench your thirst for Montaigne, take a virtual visit to Chateau de Montaigne. I think I will have to make a pilgrimage there someday.