Saturday, December 31, 2005

Stocking Up on Books for the New Year (cuz you can never have too many)

Every holiday is a book buying holiday, especially when there is a bookstore gift card from another recent holiday burning a hole in the wallet. So off I went this afternoon to indulge in some browsing, buying and a peppermint mocha. It was surprisingly busy so browsing was not as enjoyable. It being 30 degrees outside, people, including myself, are carrying around coats. It makes for difficult maneuvering in narrow bookstore aisles. Plus I find people are generally oblivious to everything and everyone around them, standing in the middle of rows or clumping together in main areas making passing by impossible. At one point I was squatting down looking at the bottom rows on the bookmark rack. I had looked around first to make sure I was out of the way, when suddenly, out of nowhere a woman appears and whacks me in the head with her coat and purse as she bends over a table next to the bookmarks. I ahemed to let her know I was there but she didn't hear or didn't care because she promptly whacked me again. Of course, this might also be her idea of fun. I, however, was not amused. I managed to enjoy myself in spite of the horde, I was, after all, in a bookstore. And I happily own four new books:

  • Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald. I'm hoping it's as good as The Rings of Saturn. Plus, it comes highly recommended by Sandra
  • Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell. I've read 1984 twice and Animal Farm and a few essays so I thought I'd try something else. Plus the protagonist is a failed and impoverished poet who works in a London bookstore so it didn't take much deliberation.
  • The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield. I am ashamed to say I have never read Mansfield. I thought it time I get around to reading the woman Virginia Woolf loved to hate.
  • A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. Perfect for the next time I'm in a morbid mood.
  • I was hoping to pick up Iain Sinclair's Lights Out for the Territory, but he was not on the shelf and when I inquired I was told they don't carry any of Sinclair's books. Of course it could be ordered but I was in the mood for instant gratification. Besides, the manager of the store happens to be my Bookman so I know who to complain to! I also lodged a complaint that the only books they had by Yukio Mishima were at the end of the Sea of Fertility tetralogy. I have heard good things about him and wanted to try his stand alone book, Confessions of a Mask, before I ventured anything else. But, I will have to wait on that one too. I was disappointed, but I don't blame the corporate buyer for not requiring the store stock the books I wanted. The store in question is out is conservative suburbia where su doku puzzle books have their own table at the front of the store. I learned a tip from my Bookman on how to tell the length of time a book has been on the shelf. The top edges of the pages of paperback books yellow with age. Katherine Mansfield is bright white, an obviously new copy. Defoe is a little gray. He's been sitting around for a few months. Orwell is a medium creamy color which means he's probably been on the shelf for close to a year. Sebald is dark yellow on the top edge. My Bookman informs me it has probably been on the shelf for well over a year, maybe two. How sad is that? So if Sebald and Orwell have been on the shelf a while, I can't expect there to be a huge demand for Mishima and Sinclair. Oh, how I wish there were, but business is business. Tonight will be spent at home decadently snacking on chips and dip and watching our new DVD of Serentity. Call me a fuddy-duddy, but I do not go out on New Year's Eve. I prefer to let the drunk drivers have the roads to themselves. People also like to make noise at midnight and in my neighborhood they tend to do it by lighting firecrackers. My big brave dog, Godzilla, will take on snow plows, city buses, and trash trucks, but when the firecrackers start popping he starts whimpering. I hope everyone's New Year's celebrations are safe and happy!

    Thursday, December 29, 2005

    My Favorite Five in '05

    It's close enough to the end of the year that I think I can safely list the books I liked best in 2005. Sad to say, a large number of the books I read in 2005 were bought this year and did not come from the TBR pile. I've linked the titles to previous posts about the books. So without further ado:

    1. Till We Have Faces C.S. Lewis. I love a good story based on an old myth.
    2. The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch. Beautifully written love story.
    3. The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald. This was pretty close to wow. I still haven't figured out how one book can be about so many things.
    4. Writing with Intent: Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose, 1983-2005 by Margaret Atwood. Worshipping at the Shrine of Atwood.
    5. Out of Silence: Selected Poems by Muriel Rukeyser. This book has poems that made me laugh, cry, angry, you name it. An emotional rollercoaster ride.
    I managed to finish 55 books, the same number I read last year. I was hoping to make it to 60 but at least I didn't slip!

    Wednesday, December 28, 2005

    Coming to Terms With Probability

    Brian Greene has messed up my cozy conception of the world. The Fabric of the Cosmos has taken me through a history of physics from Newton to Einstein and I've kept up fairly well. Greene has now turned to the quantum and at first I was doing fine, the ideas of probability and observation exerting an influence (if a tree falls in the forest...) are not entirely new to me. I don't quite get how particles can act like waves or waves like particles and probability waves make me scratch my head, but I'm still chugging along, enjoying the weirdness. But then I come upon this:

    The problem lies in reconciling the macroscopic experience of day-to-day life with the microscopic reality revealed by quantum mechanics. We are used to living in a world that, while admittedly subject to the vagaries of economic or political happenstance, appears stable and reliable at least as far as its physical properties are concerned. You do not worry that the atomic constituents of the air you are now breathing will suddenly disband, leaving you gasping for breath as they manifest their quantum wavelike character by rematerializing, willy-nilly, on the dark side of the moon.
    You know Brian, I hadn't thought about it until you just mentioned the possibility of it. I didn't know it was possible. But now you have told it to someone with a rather active imagination, and while you try and reassure me in the next sentence that I shouldn't fret about it because "according to quantum mechanics the probability of its happening, while not zero, is absurdly small," this is no comfort Brian. The fact that the possibility is not zero means that it could happen and we all know that even when the odds are in our favor we can still lose. So, while I had never thought about the air having a quantum moment and rematerializing on the dark side of the moon (Pink Floyd tried to warn me, but I just thought they were groovy tunes!), I'm thinking about it now. I am either going to have to start stockpiling oxygen or look into purchasing lunar real estate. Or both. So thanks Brian. Thanks a whole heck of a lot.

    Tuesday, December 27, 2005

    Read to Live, Live to Read

    Maureen Corrigan, author of Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, has a bookworm's dream career. Not only does she teach literature at Georgetown but she also reviews books for NPR. And on top of that, she writes reviews and essays for papers like The Village Voice, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. She gets boxes of books for free in the mail every week. She came by her many jobs through perseverance, a little luck, and a lot of reading. In Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, Corrigan writes about her struggles through grad school, her Catholic upbringing, adopting a daughter from China, and reading, reading reading. Corrigan believes that reading affects the way a person lives and sees the world and sets out to show the reader just what she means by examining various genres of books from what she calls female extreme adventure stories to detective fiction to Catholic martyr stories. Along the way she shares personal thoughts and insights like this one:

    What I did come to understand through classes at Penn is that reading good books doesn't necessarily make one a good person--or a smarter, funnier, or more cultivated person either. This was a major epiphany for me--one I still struggle to come to terms with, since, as a teacher, I also have to believe that reading good books has some kind of influence on my students. We just can't be sure what it might be. Books are powerful. On that point, conservative culture cranks like William Bennett and Lynne Cheney and I agree. But, unlike those two purveyors of literary uplift, I think the influence of books is neither direct nor predictable.
    The unpredictable influence of books is a theme that runs throughout Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading. While Corrigan never directly probes the reader, her thoughtful and reflective style prompts the reader to consider her or his own reading influences. One of Corrigan's peeves is the question of the literary value of mysteries--are they merely escapism or are they just as worthy as "highbrow fiction?" Corrigan, who loves mysteries especially "hard-bolied" mysteries, finds much to value in the stories. She sees these books examining issues that plain fiction is ignoring--issues like the value of work, questions of class, gender and family. Her argument is persuasive, perhaps because, while I don't read many mysteries, I do read fantasy and science fiction two other genres that are often considered purely escapist. Serious readers of any kind of genre fiction know that there are overlooked literary masterpieces along with the purely escapist stories. But this can be said about fiction in general and even about books that are these days considered classics. I've never understood the point of disparaging genre fiction. Good writing is good writing no matter if there is a murder to be solved or an alien race to come to terms with. Some readers of Corrigan's book may be peeved because she sort of gives away the endings of a few books. I was not bothered by this because the books in question were mostly classics like Jane Eyre. She does mention a few books that are more current, so if you don't like spoilers, you might want to stay away from certain chapters. It's always a pleasure to read books by people who are passionate about reading. It's a meeting of kindred spirits. Plus, since she is a reader, she kindly sites all the books she mentions and includes a recommended reading list at the back of the book. This is also a form of book torture because I have now added 18 more books to my reading list. I'd better go get reading.

    Monday, December 26, 2005

    Pitting Books Against Each Other

    A passge from Cryptonomicon that made me laugh:

    Enoch Root has wedged himself into the back of the fuselage, where it gets narrow, and is perusing two books at once. It strikes Shaftoe as typical--he supposes that the books say completely different things and that the chaplain is deriving great pleasure from pitting them against each other, like those guys who have a chessboard on a turntable so that they can play against themselves. He supposes that when you live in shack on a mountain with a bunch of natives who don't speak any of your half-dozen or so languages, you have to learn to have arguments with yourself.
    I have not resorted to Enoch Root's reading method, but then I haven't lived in a shack on a mountain either. Still, there are quite a few piles of books around here. Maybe reading several at once Enoch Root style isn't such a bad idea, could make for some interesting mangling of stories. And then Einstein explained to Rumi that space and time are relative. He was about to go on when Clarissa came riding in on a tank armed to the teeth. "Have you seen Lovelace?" she asked. "I got a letter from him and it was all in code." Einstein and Rumi begin to argue about whether the code is poetic or mathematical. Clarissa finally decides to do something and runs them both over with the tank.

    Sunday, December 25, 2005

    A Few Links

    Here's a few links for you to browse while you are taking a break from Christmas and Hankkah celebrations.

  • Harry Potter keeps kids out of the emergency room
  • Teenagers lack reading stamina. The guessed at cause is schools' reliance on excerpts and short stories when it comes to teaching literature. The article is about British schools. Since it's been a long time since I was in grade school and I don't have kids, I wonder if the same issues come up in the US? But if kids can get through Harry Potter in a weekend, it proves they have stamina, they just need encouragement.
  • Maybe 2006 is the year you will finally get published. If you win the Get Published, Get Publicized contest your book book will not only be published by Adams Media, but you will also receive up to $20,000 worth of book publicity from Planned Televison Arts and The Spizman Agency. All you have to do is send in your nonfiction book proposal by April 15, 2006. What could be easier? The book doesn't even have to be done yet.
  • The Guardian has an original Christmas short story by Jeanette Winterson
  • When books are foisted upon you...
    And I am sure I am not alone when I state that cavalierly foisting unsolicited reading material upon book lovers is like buying underwear for people you hardly know. Bibliophiles are ceaselessly engaged in the mental reconfiguration of a Platonic reading list that will occupy them for the next 35 years: First, I'll get to "Buddenbrooks," then "The Man Without Qualities," then "The Decline of the West," and finally "Finnegans Wake." But I'll never get to "Finnegans Wake" if I keep stopping to read books like "The Frontier World of Doc Holliday."

  • Saturday, December 24, 2005

    Calm, Cool and Collected

    Montaigne's essay "On Restraining Your Will" is about emotional moderation. Montaigne recommends and strives to keep an even keel and not get carried away by feelings. Those whose passions get the best of them lose themselves--their reason and good judgment--and get lost in the concerns of others. While we owe a certain duty to others, we cannot forget what we owe to ourselves: "We should husband out soul's freedom, never pawning it, save on occasions when it is proper to do so--which, if we judge soundly, are very few." Montaigne exhorts, "he who does not live a little for others hardly lives at all for himself." Yet, "The chief charge laid upon each one of us is his own conduct: that is why we are here." To spend your life running around in the service of others, teaching them to be good, guiding and training, is not useful and has no merit if you do not spend time working on yourself and tending to your own soul. In politics it is especially necessary to keep passion chained, if one does not, then one can be convinced of most anything. Montaigne could be describing our own time when he writes, "I have seen in my time amazing examples of the indiscriminate and prodigious facility which peoples have for letting their beliefs be led and their hopes be manipulated towards what has pleased and served their leaders, despite dozens of mistakes piled one upon another and despite illusions and deceptions." Too much passion leads a person to follow blindly and unquestioningly, does allow one to see or admit the mistakes of one's party, nor does it allow one to admit the other party has a good idea. In order to not get caught up in overpowering emotion, one must make it a point to avoid what gets one riled up: "I avoid like the plague morose men of gloomy complexions, and I do not engage in any discussion which I cannot treat without self-interest or emotion, unless compelled to do so by duty." To purposely place yourself in situations that you know will upset you is stupid. Only philosophers like Socrates are able to test and hold onto their stoicism in such situations. The rest of us would do well to "pray, not that our reason may not be assailed and overcome by worldly desires, but that it may not even be assayed by them, that we be not led into a position where we have even merely to withstand the approaches, blandishments and temptations of sin." It is far easier to head off strong emotion at the beginning than it is to let it go and try and stop it later: "If you do not stop the start, you will never stop the race." Montaigne admits that he has difficulties in bridling his emotions, that sometimes he cannot restrain them, but he keeps trying nonetheless. For four years Montaigne was Mayor of Bordeaux. The Jurors of Bordeaux elected him Mayor while he was traveling outside of France. Montaigne at first declined, but the Jurors insisted and he returned to take up his new post. Montaigne's father was Mayor in his time and when Montaigne took office he vowed that he would not get caught up in it like his father did who spent time and energy on worrying about things he had no control over. Montaigne believed that most "occupations are farcical." We are not our jobs but while we have them we must play "the role of a character which we have adopted." But we must be careful not to "turn masks and semblances into essential realities, nor adopted qualities into attributes of our self." Montaigne worked hard to clearly distinguish between The Mayor and Montaigne. Montaigne conducted himself in office with as much good judgment and reason and as little passion as he could. He admits to having his critics and to not being entirely satisfied with the work he did. But he left no injury or hatred behind him and for that he is pleased. Montaigne complains that "Nowadays men are so conditioned to bustle and ostentation that we have lost the feel of goodness, moderation, even-temper, steadfastness and other such quiet and unpretentious qualities; rough objects make themselves felt: smooth ones can be handled without sensation." We should all strive to be smooth. If we are smooth that means we are tending to our own soul, we have learned to moderate our passion, and we do what is right for the sake of goodness, not for ambition, praise and attention. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On the Lame"

    Thursday, December 22, 2005

    Here Comes the Sun!

    Thank you everyone for the wonderful Solstice wishes. My Bookman and I had a lovely day yesterday, even the dog got in on the celebrations. Godzilla is a Cocker Spaniel. The sun was out in the afternoon and the temperature was around 20 so we bundled up, put the snow booties on the dog and drove to the off leash dog park near our house. There was hardly anyone there which suited us all just fine since Godzilla doesn't really understand that he is a dog. So we trooped around the semi-wooded park in the sun and the snow. Godzilla was in heaven. Between running ahead of us and then running back to us to make sure we were coming, he put quite a bit of mileage on his paws. His humans got tired too since the snow was rather deep in some places. We all slept well last night! Our feast, we cook something different every year and it is always something we have never had before, was mostly yummy. The baked potato, apple and onion dish didn't taste as good as we imagined it would be when reading the recipe. The "Texas Tofu" (Texas because it had a lot of chili powder in it?), was delicious. Dessert was fabulous. Dessert is always chocolate something. This year is was chocolate espresso cake with espresso sauce. And now for the next night or two, it's leftovers! My Bookman and I exchange gifts, also known as books. I wish I could say these books are meant to get us through the remains of winter, but then I'd have to explain why there are so many books on the shelves we haven't read yet. Winter in Minnesota is long, but not that long! To the teetering stacks is added:

  • Hermit in Paris: Autobiographical Writings by Italo Calvino
  • Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life by Julia Briggs
  • A Short Story of Myth by Karen Armstrong, Weight by Jeanette Winterson and The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
  • Sex Wars by Marge Piercy
  • Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan
  • Isn't my Bookman wonderful? One book I got him I will undoubtedly read too because it looks so interesting: In the Company of Crows and Ravens by John M. Marzluff and Tony Angell. This book, which includes beautiful black and white drawings, is about the ways crows and humans interact and traces what the authors call a "cultural co-evolution." My parents, who celebrate Christmas, not Solstice, play along with us and send us Solstice presents. Though, in a vain attempt to make us at least appear respectable, they sent us some new clothes. My sister, however, who thinks that Solstice is just a cheater's way to open Christmas presents early, understands about books because she has the bug too. And from her I received a gift card to Barnes and Noble. Bless her! While presents are always nice, the best part of the day was traipsing through the snow at the dog park with my Bookman and Godzilla. The cold air was clean and clear and the sun sparkling on the snow was dazzling. And even though the coldest part of winter is yet to come, the days will be getting longer and sunnier. We'll bear the cold knowing spring is on the way. And we will snuggle up with each other and our books and know that we are truly blessed.

    Wednesday, December 21, 2005

    Happy Solstice! Image from Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge

    Tuesday, December 20, 2005

    Bah Humbug!

    Even though, as I have mentioned recently, I don't celebrate Christmas, I still love Dicken's A Christmas Carol. Now pair Dickens with Patrick Stewart, aka Captain Picard, and you've got a little slice of heaven on earth in my opinion. Stewart had been regualry performing dramitic readings of the classic story before he stepped into the studio to record it. Having had so much practice at it beforehand makes a immense difference and his reading is the best I've heard. The movie version is good too, though not as great as the audiobook. Every year, about this time, when my Bookman is getting tuckered out from being in retail during the holidays (it may be books, but it is still exhausting) and I'm getting worn out trying to explain yet again to people why I don't celebrate Christmas, why I celebrate Solstice, and no, I'm not Wiccan, we pull out A Christmas Carol. Most of the time we go for the audio but this year we took the easier way out and watched the movie. The movie viewing last night coupled with the fact that I am now on vacation until after New Year's, made for a lovely and cheerful day at work today. That's 13 days in a row in which I do not have to work; I do not have to pretend I am sorry if someone's computer is running slow; do not have to act sympathetic to the sobbing person who closed Word before saving the document she spent three hours on; do not have explain over and over how to access a particular shared folder on the network; do not have to un-jam the copier or printer or fax machine. Nope, it will be only me and my computer to worry about. And hours of uninterrupted reading bliss. I have Clarissa, and Crytonomicon, and Fabric of the Cosmos and Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading. Plus there are the shelves of books I own but have not read yet. Like Sandra, I buy far more books than I can actually read. 13 Days is not enough time to read those shelves of books, but just having that expanse of time in which to fantasize if heavenly. i'm not taking a blogging vacation, so do stop by from time to time!

    Monday, December 19, 2005

    In Which Montaigne Reveals His Lack of Ambition and His Bovine Desires

    Montaigne's essay "On Vanity" is, as Montaigne describes it, "a motley of ideas." He acknowledges that frequently the names of his essays have nothing or very little to do with the contents. But he knows what he is writing about an can follow his leaping ideas from sentence to sentence. It is on the "undiligent reader who loses" the subject, not Montainge. Vanity, as in useless, worthless, futile, is indirectly the topic here. Montaigne "strives to give worth to vanity itself--to doltishness--if it affords [him] pleasure." A good portion of the essay is about travel and Montaigne's love of leaving town. He defends his wanderlust from accusations of vanity by outlining the innumerable benefits of travel. Variation and change is a delight, plus it's a great escape from the, albeit lackadaisical, running of his estate. Travel is also a great way to escape an unhappy political climate for while. It is also a great escape from his wife ("Everyone knows that seeing each other all the time cannot provide the same pleasure as is given by alternately going away and coming together" --in other words, absence makes the heart grow fonder!) And besides, traveling does no harm except to the wallet. And if you have the good fortune of being able to visit someone else's house where you are the honored guest and they have to do all the work of running the household, all the better! Montaigne writes, "when asked what kind of wine he thought best, Diogenes replied, 'Someone else's.' I agree with that." Of course, travel is an enriching experience. And travel for the sake of travel is pleasing too. Montaigne also hopes to die while away from home. He has much to say about being among strangers when the Grim Reaper comes to collect. Dying is a lonely thing anyway and having people around is only a distraction from the big event. Plus you have to console them and tell them that everything is great. Besides, Montaigne declares, "this event is not one of our social engagements: it is a scene with one character." Montaigne admits to being lazy, and all he wants is to be "indifferent and bovine." He decides that he was made for living off somebody else as long as it could be done without servitude and obligation. Sometimes he does "feel some temptations towards ambition smouldering in [his] soul" but he resists and eventually the feeling goes away. There is much in this essay about writing and Montaigne's reasons for writing. He is quite self-deprecating and the result is some good laughs. Early on he observes, "Scribbling seems to be one of the symptoms of an age of excess," and goes on to complain how many people seem to be writing. He decides that "such busy idleness arises from everyone slacking over the duties of his vocation and being enticed away. Each individual one of us contributes to the corrupting of our time: some contribute treachery, others injustice, irreligion, tyranny, cupidity, cruelty: the weaker ones like me contribute silliness, vanity and idleness." Later in the essay he is back to the quantity of books that are published and wonders why is it "the worst books which come top in popular approbation?" Something many readers and literary writers are still wondering today. I could go on and on. There is much in this lengthy wide-ranging essay. But I will leave you here and encourage you to read it for yourself sometime. Next week's (or I should say this weekend's) essay: "On Restraining Your Will"

    Comfort Reading

    The last weekend before Christmas brought me much to do. Even though my Bookman and I do not celebrate Christmas we have family and friends who do. Getting presents packed and sent out and holiday cards and letters written took up a good part of my time. I do not do the family holiday letter, preferring instead to write a personal note in each card, or an actual letter directed to just that person. So when I finally came to a point last night where I could stop and relax, I of course wanted to read. But none of the books I am in the middle of appealed. I stayed up late with Clarissa Saturday night and needed a break from the melodrama. So what did I do? What any self-respecting reader would who is in the middle of three books--started a new one! I chose Maureen Corrigan's Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading. Books about books and/or reading are like comfort food for my soul. They are what I turn to when I feel stressed and need to just let go. And Corrigan's book is doing a marvelous job. I never thought about the idea of comfort reading before, but I see a pattern of it throughout my reading life. Do you engage in comfort reading? And if so, what do you generally choose as a comfort book? I realize I didn't post about Montaigne this weekend. I will be doing that tonight since I am done with my essay class. And be sure to check out the Sunday NY Times Essay about authors reading blogs that talk about their books. Bloggers have the ability to make them happy or mad; the ability to lift their spirits from the dumps or crush their egos. I never knew I had so much power. Next stop, world domination!

    Sunday, December 18, 2005

    We Are All Complicit

    Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez is an excellent sociological study of a small community. The book is a novel but reads like a journalistic account. This is not a surprise thanks to Sylvia's research. The story is about the death of Santiago Nasar, a respected, if not always well liked, young man and land owner. After the wedding party to beat all wedding parties of Angela Vicario to outsider Bayardo San Román, Angela's new husband discovers she is not a virgin and returns her to her family. Angela's brothers demand to know who deflowered her so they could avenge her honor. Angela names the unfortunate Santiago Nasar. Pedro and Pablo Vicario sharpen their pig slaughtering knives, fortify themselves with much alcohol, and wait for Nasar. The brothers are not quiet about their intent, the entire town ends up knowing about it but no one does anything to stop them and no one tells Nasar. The style of the story is spare and the tone calm, but yet this is deceiving. Different viewpoints and opinions of the townspeople are woven together, adding layer upon layer of information, building tension. I found myself yelling at the characters, "Do something!" But their refusal to stop the Vicario brothers or warn Nasar, make Nasar's death inevitable. But it is clear it didn't have to be inevitable. Because of the rules of honor, the Vicario brothers were compelled to avenge their sister. They told everyone they met, hoping that just showing they were willing to kill Nasar would be enough. They even told a good friend of Nasar's, but even that did not work:

    The twins knew the bonds between Indalecio Pardo and Santiago Nasar, and they must have thought that he was just the right person to stop the crime without bringing shame on them. But Indalecio found Santiago being led by the arm by Cristo Bedoya among the groups that were leaving the docks, and he didn't dare warn him. "I lost my nerve," he told me.
    The townspeople all had their reasons for not doing anything. Quite a few believed the Vicario brothers were just drunk. Others, like Indalecio, lost their nerve. Some, like one of the servants in Nasar's own house, wanted Nasar dead. And still others just didn't want to get involved because it wasn't their business. And yet, when it was obvious the Vicario brothers were about to commit murder, no one stepped in:
    The people who were coming back from the docks, alerted by the shouts, began to take up positions around the square to witness the crime.
    There were a few of Nasar's friends who tried to stop the crime, but through bad luck and the sheer momentum of the town's complicity, they could do nothing. It left me wondering how many crimes are committed in life because of the reluctance of others to stop them before they go too far? In the end, as García Márquez shows, we are all complicit in one way or another. I read this book as a Slave of Golconda. Some of the other Slaves are: Quillhill (the instigator of the Slaves), Susan, Sylvia, Ella, Kate, Iliana, and Maryann. I think I got them all. If I forgot you, I'm terribly sorry and please let me know. I'll be cross posting this at MetaxuCafe.

    Saturday, December 17, 2005

    Fun Links for Your Eyes and Ears

    A few links for you this afternoon.

  • If you're in San Francisco, it's your last chance to attend The Great Dickens Christmas Fair and Victorian Holiday Party this year. If you are not in the Frisco area, then you can read a bawdy review and wish you were there.
  • Here is an article about a newish website LibriVox, whose tagline is "accoustical liberation of books in the public domain." What does that mean exactly? Librivox volunteers read and record chapters of public domain books which are then made available to you for free. There are enough to keep you busy for a while and quite a few in the works. Maybe you could even volunteer to read? I can't stand to hear my voice on the answering machine so I am not a good candidate.
  • I heard about Walt Whitman: Song of Myself, an hour-long radio special, on Public Radio's Weekend America program earlier today. They played excerpts from it and it sounds amazing. I'll be checking it out in its entirety later today. It is for things like this that I love the internet. I am not in New York, but I can listen to a radio program on my computer that aired there several weeks ago.
  • Thursday, December 15, 2005


    I think the library gods have it in for me. Minneapolis has been building a new central library for the last few years and they have placed a large number of the books in storage. It has been a frustration for me from the beginning, requesting a book and getting back the message that it is unavailable for check out. If only I liked reading popular fiction more--there are plenty of Clancys, and Grishams and Kings available for check out. Tonight I looked up two books and both of them were unavailable. Argh! The new library opens in May but I wanted to read the books now. Excuse me while I go pout.

    Your Best Guess

    Kurt Vonnegut has an essay up at In These Times. The essay, Your Guess Is as Good as Mine is adapted from Vonnegut's new book Man Without a Country. The essay turns out to be about politics and the prevalent tendency to use guessing in making decisions and policy and the refusal to use education and information. I got sucked into the essay though thinking is was about something else. Here's the first paragraph:

    Most of you, if not all of you, like me, feel inadequately educated. That is an ordinary feeling for a member of our species. One of the most brilliant human beings of all times, George Bernard Shaw said on his 75th birthday or so that at last he knew enough to become a mediocre office boy. He died in 1950, by the way, when I was 28. He is the one who said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I turned 83 a couple weeks ago, and I must say I agree.
    Wow, I thought, I frequently feel like I have been inadequately educated. If Shaw felt that way and now Vonnegut, there is no hope for me. Vonnegut goes on to talk about great guessers in history including Aristotle and how we are fortunate to have so much information these days. But I would argue that we are still guessing as much as Aristotle did, just on a different level. It's like the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Each man feels a different part of the animal and makes guesses about what it must be. Well, we are like those blind men, we just happen to have mapped out a bigger portion of the elephant. The complete nature of the animal still escapes us so we guess until we find another piece of the puzzle that fits. I think books, especially good fiction, are one of the best places to read about those guesses. It is in the minds of our best writers where the implications and consequences of our guesses are played out. I suppose I am biased and only a reader would think this. Scientists probably think the best place to learn about guesses is in a lab. But most of us aren't allowed in labs or other places of experimental guessing. So we use our imaginations and engage with the guesses via literature. There is nothing inherently wrong about guessing. It's when politicians and others turn proven fact into guesses and guesses into proven fact that problems arise. And there are irresponsible and morally wrong guesses too. Maybe it's time to start a Campaign for Responsible Guessing.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2005

    Listening Far and Wee

    Had a lovely evening last night listening to a CD from Random House's Voice of the Poet Series. We spent nearly an hour immersed in the voice of e.e. cummings. What a delight! There are 42 poems on the CD which starts off with one of my favorites, "in Just-" What I like best in this poem is the fun use of language, "mud-lucious" and "puddle-wonderful" and the repeated use of "far and wee." You can listen to cummings read it himself in an excerpt from the CD here One of the annoying things I find about listening to poetry being read, however, is that weird poetry reading voice they use--the slow and drawn out intonation. It almost becomes a hypnotic incantation at times. When I read poetry in a book I do not hear it like that. None of my college professors read poetry like that in class. Do the poets hear their poetry like that when they write it? If it is just a performance thing, why? Why not read it in a normal voice? Perhaps I am displaying my ignorance here, and you all are wondering how stupid can a person be? Well, before you ditch me forever as a hopeless case, please enlighten me. Much obliged.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2005

    The Gift of Books

    I love to give books as gifts. I love to take the time to think about the person I am buying for and consider what he or she would enjoy most. And I love to receive a book from someone, imagining that person spending time thinking about me. The book chosen is often an indicator of the intimacy of the relationship--how well do you know each other? I take pride in being able to choose a book the person will love, but I'm sure I have failed from time to time. How do I know? The person who didn't like the book usually never mentions it after the initial "thank you." At least that's my protocol. Like the time several years ago I received a Mary Higgins Clark book. I am not a mystery reader. I know Higgins Clark is supposed to be good, but the only mysteries I intentionally read are by P.D. James. I never read the Higgins Clark book. I think I don't even own it anymore. After I thanked the giver I never mentioned it again. Now, when I give a book, I do not prompt the one I gave it to to tell me if she has read it, or what she thought about it if she did read it. I figure if the person wants to tell me she will. So when the person who gave me the Higgins Clark book asked me several months later if I had read it and liked it, I was taken aback. My response was so intelligent too, "Uhh." I was rightly accused of not reading the book. Caught, I admitted that I had not had the chance to read it. I did not say that I chose not to read it. The other person, thankfully, did not catch on, and simply told me I should read it soon because it was really good. I told her I would try, but that was a lie. She never asked me about it again. Maybe she figured it out after all.

    Monday, December 12, 2005

    Last Class

    Ah, tonight is my last personal essay class. And tonight my essay is among the four to be discussed. I'm a bit nervous, but my sister, who has never hesitated to tell me if something I do is s---, has read it and declared it "okay." So at least I can be confident that it won't be thought bad. The catalog for the next term is out and I am considering a class built around the study of Margaret Atwood's book Wilderness Tips. I read the book a number of years ago and enjoyed it. The point of the class is to study Atwood's writing in order to learn how she puts her stories together. It is a six-week class, the culmination of which is a short sotry of the student's own. That's in February, so I have some time to decide. There is a somewhat thought-provoking article at the NY Times about literature and politics. The essayist bemoans the loss of literary engagement in politics and political engagement in literature. I think the person must not be paying attention. We do not find "high" literature, the kind that Hawthorne and Melville wrote, engaged in politics much these days. Perhaps it is because the audience for "high" literature has shrunk. I think politically inclined writers are still working, they just tend to be more subtle than they used to be. I also think they tend to be poets and the general public does not pay attention to poetry. Speaking of politics, if you are interested in doing something quick and easy to try and stop the renewal of the USA Patriot Act, sign the petition to support a filibuster when the bill comes up for a vote.

    Sunday, December 11, 2005

    Let's Talk

    Montaigne's essay "On the Art of Conversation" was a pleasure to read. I am apparently not the only one who thought so because the editor's note says that Pascal referred to Montaitne as " 'the incomparable author of The art of conversation.' " The editor states that this essay has a special place in French culture and even French children know about it. I am completely ignorant of French culture and education so I don't know if it is true or not. But I am intrigued to know what the French think of it and if and why it has a special place in their culture. As for myself, I can say I enjoyed the essay so much because I found it to be one of Montaigne's chattiest and least formal. He not only made me laugh, but he also made me mourn for what is mostly certainly a lost art--conversation. From the beginning of the essay and as a thread running throughout, Montaigne carries a theme of using other's mistakes as an example for your own life:

    We do not improve the man we hang: we improve others by him. I do the same. My defects are becoming natural and incorrigible, but as fine gentlemen serve the public as models to follow I may serve a turn as a model to avoid.
    This thread pops up again and again, "a bad use of language corrects my own better than a good one." And, "How many statements and replies do I make every day which are silly by my norms--so even more frequently, to be sure, by the standards of others!" And "We run ourselves through with our own swords." And on and on. It made me think of one of my favorite Demotivators: What does all this have to do with conversation? Only that Montaigne believes "this world is but a school of inquiry. The question is not who will spear the ring but who will make the best charges at it." We are "born to go in quest of truth" and one of the best ways as Montaigne sees it is through conversation. But even if one says silly things in conversation, which everyone is wont to do at one time or other, the important this is to be willing to admit your opinion is wrong. Because "The surest proof of animal-stupidity is ardent obstinacy of opinion. Is there anything more certain, decided, disdainful, contemplative, grave and serious, then a donkey?" Montaigne is not talking about polite conversation, on the contrary, "We ought to toughen and fortify our ears against being seduced by the sound of polite words." It is not harmony we are seeking in conversation, you cannot dig out the truth if everyone agrees, "We can only improve ourselves in times such as these by walking backwards, by discord not by harmony, by being different not by being like." Conversation is also not debate. People do not set about debating in order to winkle out truth. Debating has nothing to do with truth at all. Instead, it is about order and style and one-upmanship. It is about opposition and teaching your "enemy" a lesson. True conversation is a mutual search for truth and understanding. This does not mean conversation must be gentle and tame. Far from from it. Montaigne enjoys "strong, intimate, manly fellowship, the kind of friendship which rejoices in sharp vigorous exchanges just as love rejoices in bites and scratches which draw blood." In other words, Montaigne likes to be roughed up in the bedroom and in the parlor. (On a side note, ever since I read Montaigne's sentence an image of him tied up and blindfolded on his bed with his wife wearing her corset and high heeled boots scratching long red fingernails down his back keeps popping uninvited into my head.) Contradictions to our arguments should not offend or irritate us, but wake us up and make us pay more attention. Unfortunately, then as today, it is difficult to find people who are willing to converse in so vigorous a manner. People "have no stomach for correcting because they have no stomach for suffering correction, always dissembling when talking in each other's presence." Who want's to be corrected? Who wants to be wrong? We have reached a point where we are ashamed or embarrassed of being proved wrong. My Bookman and I joke with each other because we each like to be right even to the point of being pig-headed. Each of us tries to trump the other, tumbling out as many facts and anecdotes as we can think of. And if we run out, we start making up new ones until the original conversation is lost and we are one-upping the other with absurdities until the one who cannot answer silliness for silliness is the loser. Montaigne would be horrified I am sure. Was there ever a golden age of conversation? If so, how did it get lost and how can we get it back? How can we learn to converse with one another not as adversaries but as seekers of truth? How do we extricate ourselves from polite talk where no one says anything about anything? How do we get over our need to be right all the time and stop being pig-headed, stop being donkeys, stop being pig-headed donkeys? Montaigne says that "Apprenticeships must be served, before you set your hand to anything, by long and sustained study." So it is with those of us who have never learned the art of conversation. We must apprentice ourselves, but to whom? Next week, a very long Montaigne essay "On Vanity"

    Saturday, December 10, 2005

    All Goofed Up

    My usual homebody Saturday got all goofed up today in a good way. I slept in until 8 which for me is quite late. Then my Bookman and I met a couple of friends for brunch. Yum. Not long after that I followed my Bookman to work (his) to do some shopping. It was nice to see his bookstore crowded (well not technically his bookstore, since he doesn't own it, but he is the store manager). During my shopping I availed myself of a peppermint mocha. They are like candy canes in a cup of hot chocolate coffee. Yum yum. I tried not to shop for myself or look too carefully at books I might be interested in because I wouldn't want to spoil a gift wrapped surprise. Still, I managed to buy two books for myself. To my growing collection of unread classics I add The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. And to my collection of books about books and reading I add The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written by Martin Seymour-Smith. That should be fun to peruse. While browsing I became enamored of Harold Bloom's book Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?. He has some interesting things to say about Montaigne. It is difficult to read when being jostled by people in big coats and with holiday music playing overhead, so I didn't get far before I put the book down and promised I'd come back for it another day. I am usually not a Bloom fan, I am prejudiced against him because of his Western Canon book. I have never read the book but heard much about it. And when it came out, I was also not long out of college where, at least at my school, the canonical debates were raging. I was anti-canon and still am to certain extent, so I thought Bloom a pompous weenie who was against the study of books by women and minorities. As a result I have stayed clear of him. But my prejudice is beginning to melt, especially after reading his introduction to Don Quixote earlier this year. Plus I am realizing that my own prejudice is unreasonable since I have never read any of his books. I have also read some good things about Wisdom and he includes Montaigne in it. And I have become rather fond of Montaigne. So I'm thinking I should give Bloom a chance before I indelibly brand him as a weenie forever and ever. Speaking of Montaigne, since my homebody day was goofed up, my weekly Montaigne essay has been postponed until tomorrow.

    Thursday, December 08, 2005

    Link Accumulation

    I have been accumulating some links to share. So without further ado...

  • In case you haven't yet heard, the Patriot Act is due to expire December 31st unless Congress gets it together. And it appears they just might. Those in power are attempting to renew the Act for four years and with few changes. A handful of Democrats are speaking out and threatening a filibuster. The Senate version and the House version do not match so it's going to committee. One of the minor changes is in Section 215. The change would require law enforcement to present evidence that obtaining things like library and bookstore records are relevant to an investigation. However, some Republicans say the Patriot Act is fine just the way it is and oppose any changes. Perhaps as you send out your holiday cards this year, you might want to include your representatives and tell them how you feel about it.
  • After that you might need something a little more lighthearted. Try visiting
  • Okay, this is not very bookish, but I couldn't resist the "which scifi/fantasy character are you?" quiz. I'd rather not be Captain Picard though; I'd rather have him read to me with that sexy voice of his.

    Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

  • Is GooglePrint a a threat to bricks-and-mortar bookstores? Seems unlikely to me. I'd much rather own the book than read it online. Heck, you can borrow books for free from the library but nobody is saying libraries are a threat to bookstores.
  • Looking for an interview of your favorite author? You just might find it at Engaging the Word. There are over 300 audio interviews for your perusal and enjoyment.
  • Finally, as you do your holiday shopping, you might want to stop by Books Price where you can comparison shop for the best deal on that book you're looking for.
  • Wednesday, December 07, 2005

    Narnia, the Movie

    Last night my Bookman and I ventured out into the frosty night to view a pre-screening of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe movie. We thought it would be crowded so we arrived an hour ahead of time. There was a line but not a long one; the theater ended up only a little over half full. On our way in we got buzzed with a wand from the Disney security folks to make sure we didn't have any illegal recording devices. As expected, there were quite a few kids with their parents, but I'd say the majority of the audience were adults without children. The movie was visually appealing. The cgi Aslan was gorgeous (but Liam Neeson was the voice and Aslan had a sort of Scottish thing going on, very distracting). The guy they got to play Mr. Tumnus was good but he was also pasty white and sort of naked seeming. He had his hairy faun lower half then a naked upper body and a scarf around his neck. It was even stranger since he was the only one like that . I have nothing against naked man chests, but everyone else had some kind of clothing, even the centaurs. The movie stayed pretty close to the story, though they changed the beginning and made the housekeeper a grumpy mean witch and changed some of the locations of the action when the kids get to Narnia. There was also quite a bit of introduction. The movie opens with the Germans bombing London. In the book the kids arrive in the country and there is only one or two lines about why they are there. The movie was very violent. In the book the final battle is not detailed, you only see it when Aslan shows up and kills the witch. In the movie they drew it out and it looked oddly like a mini version of the battle for Helms Deep in Two Towers . And even though there was quite a bit of killing, there was no blood --no blood on swords and no blood on wounded people or creatures. Even when Peter kills the wolf and Aslan instructs him to clean his sword, we never see the bloody sword nor is there blood on Peter in spite of him ending up underneath the dead wolf. I think Disney did wrong to make the movie so violent and not show any blood. It didn't serve to make the violence any less real, it only served to glorify it more. I was also disturbed by the way the relationship between Peter and Edmund was portrayed. The two boys didn't truly make up until after the witch stabbed Edmund. It plays out as wars bring boys together and makes them men. As to the hubbub about the Christian aspects of the movie, it was very easy to overlook them. Clearly they are there, but a non-Christian viewer can see it as a lesson that self-sacrifice for the sake of love is the most powerful service you can perform. Of course, this can be disturbing on its own because the movie cuts back and forth between the battle and Aslan and it is clear that those fighting for the side of good are fighting for the love of Aslan and Edmund obviously sacrifices himself to save Peter. It comes off as being pro-war--for love of country, for love of God, for love of brother/king. I could go on and on. But I'll stop here. As a whole the movie was so-so. While it was beautiful to watch, it felt, as my Bookman suggested, like we'd seen it before.

    Tuesday, December 06, 2005


    Why are all the best bookstores in London or Paris?

    What I have to look forward to?

    Is this what I have to look forward to tonight with the movie?

    Aslan is on the Move

    That's what the t-shirt my Bookman got for free along with two tickets to a preview of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tonight. The design on the t-shirt is rather dull. I would expect a print of the movie poster or something, but instead it is a lion rampant in red puffy stuff that peels off in the wash. But the shirt was free, so what can one expect? I hope the movie is better.

    Monday, December 05, 2005

    Almost There

    It is the next to last night of my personal essay class today. I have my essay done and ready to hand out to my classmates. They will get to read it and tell me what they think of it next Monday. Can you say nervous? I spent some time with Clarissa this weekend. Lovelace is in agonies over Clarissa's lack of interest in him. He suffers so. Clarissa has been able to delay being removed to her Uncle's house. But it is Clarissa's friend, Anna Howe, who makes this book fun at the moment. She is a saucy girl and accuses Clarissa of having throbs for the wicked Lovelace. Clarissa, of course, denies that she has had any throbs, but Anna rightly does not believe her. Anna also astutely observes why it is women enjoy courtship so much and delight in drawing it out:

    Our courtship days, they say are our best days. Favour destroys courtship. Distance increases it. Its essence is distance. And to see how familiar these men-wretches grow upon a smile, what an awe they are struck into when one frowns! Who would not make them stand off? Who would not enjoy a power that is to be so short-lived?
    She also very cleverly compares a marriage to two branches of the legislature. I'd much rather have Anna as a friend than the ever good Clarissa. I have made it to page 291. Only 1,208 pages to go!

    Sunday, December 04, 2005

    Miscellaneous Sunday

    I have spent far too much time trying to work out a general theory of snow shoveling and I think I have done it. I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, I have discovered, using Einstein's theory of reativity (which I learned all about in Fabric of the Cosmos yesterday), while shoveling snow may give you a backache, it also makes you younger. That's one reason, I'm sure, why Minnesota consistently appears at the top of the list of healthiest states. Now that I have worked out my theory, I am going to have to seriously consider moving too Duluth, a city up north that gets large quantities of snow due to its being on Lake Superior. Might be the location of the fountain of youth. Of course, up there it is frozen for half the year. I have come across a new word that I think needs reviving. The word is malapert. It means boldly disrespectful or impudent. The word was personified into Jack Malapert in Caxton's Book of Curtesye in about 1477-78. Henry Fielding also uses it in his play The Fathers. The word can also be found in works by Sir Walter Scott. Information about this wonderful word comes from Word Wide Words. I have also gone and joined up: MetaxuCafe In case you haven't heard about it, MetaxuCafe is a sort of gathering place for lit bloggers. A good place to go if you are looking for something to read.

    Saturday, December 03, 2005

    It Stinks to Be King

    My brain is full of spacetime and the special and general theories of relativity this evening. I've been reading Fabric of the Cosmos. The text itself is blessedly free of maths, those are all consigned to the endnotes. However the endnotes aren't always about the math, sometimes they offer additions to the theory being explained in the text. So I feel compelled to read the notes. And laugh. Because Mr. Greene says things like "For the mathematically inclined" to serve warning to those of us who aren't that there will be numbers and formulas in that particular note. A very kind man is Mr. Greene. Also filling my head is snow. Here is what it looks like today in my backyard: IMG_0154 I tried to apply Einstein's theories of spacetime to snow shoveling, but it quickly became clear that I do not have a firm enough understanding yet. Maybe by the next snowfall. All this to lead up to Montaigne who has absolutely nothing to do with snow or spacetime. His essay this week is "On High Rank as a Disadvantage." High rank here being king, prince, or I suppose even president or CEO. Montainge "can wish as well as the next man" and "allow great freedom and indiscretion" to his wishes, but he has never wished for "imperial or royal rank nor for the prominence of those high destinies where men command." He declares, "I love myself too much for that." Instead Montaigne prefers to rank somewhere in the middle so that he is neither a "wretched nobody" nor "one who causes crowds to part with awe" as he passes. While the crowd parting thing would be really cool, I can see how it could get annoying after awhile. It is easy to disparage those of high rank and even take delight in it since it is unattainable. There is even a natural competition between the ruler and the subject. Each is bound together and each will always complain of the other. But the real disadvantage of high rank is that everyone always lets the prince or king, or whoever it may be, have whatever it is they desire. If it is a game that is being played, say polo or chess, the opponent will allow the person of rank to win. If it is poetry your prince has written, everyone will praise it. If it is new clothes, even if you cannot see them and your king looks to be naked, everyone will praise their cut and beauty. The problem is that "even such men's good qualities are dead and gone, for qualities are known only by comparison, and such men are beyond compare; they have little knowledge of true praise, being battered by continual and uniform acclaim." It is an unfortunate situation for individuals of rank. Not only are their good qualities dead, their defects and vices are also praised. It is also a difficult situation for those of us who do not have rank. If you are in a position to criticize someone who does, do you because it is the right thing to do? Or do you keep your mouth shut because you may be fired from your job or, in an extreme case, jailed? Seems like rank can put everyone at a disadvantage. On a bit of a tangent, the editor notes that the future Henry IV of France read this essay of Montaigne's and respected him for his outspoken judgment. Maybe it's what helped him be such a popular ruler. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On the Art of Conversation"

    Thursday, December 01, 2005

    Links for a Thursday Evening

  • Michael Nelson in The Chronicle takes on Philip Pullman and Pullman's anti-Narnia views. They both have a point. Who makes it more forcefully? That's open to debate.
  • You can hear poets read their own work at Poetry Archive for free! (via The Guardian)
  • After reading this article at Bookforum, I believe I will have to place Georges Perec on my TBR list.
  • Check out a new and beautiful (truly!) site devoted to all things Plimpton. The site keepers hope to one day have a statue of Plimpton placed in New York City (exact location has not yet been determined).
  • Literate Cities

    The list of top ten literate cities is out today. Minneapolis slipped to number two. Our pals across the river made it on the list at number 10. Now public radio was discussing this news this morning and explaining how it was we slipped from the number one spot. This year the survey added internet literacy. Seattle was ranked one and Minneapolis ten which allowed Seattle to take the top position. Seattle has a bit of an advantage since it has Microsoft not far away. But Seattle shouldn't get complaisant about it's number one spot. Minneapolis is already scheming. Midwesterners aren't as nice as you think they are. We want our number one position back and we'll do what it takes. You've been warned Seattle.