Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Scary Movies

I am not a scary book aficionado so I asked my husband what was the scariest book he ever read. He said Stephen King's The Dead Zone because you are on the edge of death for the whole book. I saw the movie and that was enough for me. For some reason I have seen lots of scary movies. I don't watch scary movies anymore because being scared has ceased to be fun. But since I don't have books to list, I thought I'd list my five scariest movies:

  1. The Exorcist. Just thinking about it gives me the creeps
  2. The Entity. Most disturbing movie ever
  3. The Shining. Those twins at the end of the hallway, need I say more?
  4. Amityville Horror. I was scared of flies for weeks. I read the book too, and oddly the book was not scary.
  5. When a Stranger Calls. Made the mistake of watching this while babysitting. If the phone had rung, I'm pretty sure I would have lost control of certain bodily functions.
Have a Happy Halloween everybody!

Monday, October 30, 2006

With Apologies to Unitarians

If you're from some place like San Francisco or Seattle, Chicago or New York City, you probably get used to seeing your town mentioned in various media. But when you are born and raised in a town in southern California of about 75,000 people (now up to 95,000) called El Cajon, you are kinda surprised to see the place in print. I mean, the city isn't exactly a destination of any kind. It sits in a valley about 20 minutes east of San Diego. Everyone goes to San Diego. No on goes to El Cajon unless they live there or know someone who does or have to stop for gas on the way to the mountains. In summer it gets hot. In winter it gets frost now and then and once, before I was born, it snowed. Imagine, then, my surprise and delight when El Cajon shows up in the first chapter of The Devil is a Gentleman. Apparently the town where I was born and grew up has the dubious distinction of being the home base of the Unarians. Their meeting hall is the Star Center and I know exactly where it is because we drove by it on the way to the public library when I was a kid. Who are the Unarians? They believe that the Muons from the planet Myton will come land on a a couple of acres outside the city, bringing a "spiritual renaissance of logic and reason." Unfortunately, the prophecy said the Muons were going to land in 2001. They didn't. Now the group is struggling with coming to terms with the failure of the prophecy. It is interesting that it took a book like The Devil is a Gentleman to finally help me figure out who the Uniarians are. You see, while growing up I knew about the Unarians. The adults made lots of jokes about aliens and space ships and when I was in kindergarten my best friend's mom dressed up in an elaborate space alien costume for Halloween. My mom asked her if she'd been visiting the Unarians. The Star Center has a mannequin in the window who turns out to be Nikola Tesla, a Hungarian-born "pioneer of alternating current, whom the Unarians had adopted as the kind of scientist that could get them past the whole problem of traveling faster than the speed of light." To my kid mind she was a gypsy fortune-teller and since my best friend's mom got her costume there, the Unarians must be some kind of costume shop/theater group or something. A few years later my mom straightened me out. She told me the Unarians were crazy weirdoes who thought space aliens were going to come and take them away. I actually thought that was pretty cool and imagined leaving our staid Lutheran church for the obviously more exciting Unitarian church. For years I secretly wished I could be a Unitarian. Was I ever disappointed when I got to see inside a Unitarian church and saw no UFO paraphernalia, only the usual Jesus and crosses. My mistake dawned on me slowly and I can't say when or how I actually figured out the Unarians and Unitarians were not the same. But even to this day I associate the two and have to make a conscious effort to keep them apart. Now that I have read about them in The Devil is a Gentleman I don't think I will have anymore confusion problems. And next time I am visiting my parents I might have to drive by the Star Center just for old times' sake.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Cross-posted at Slaves of Golconda What a whirlwind of a book Indiana is! Illicit love, running away, suicide, silent suffering and more. The book is about a lot of things but what sticks with me most is the selfishness. All the characters are selfish in one way or another and they all suspect each other of it but never themselves. The only one who is honest about his selfishness is M. Delmare. He admits it pretty early in the book when arguing with Sir Ralph:

I'm selfish; that's well known. I've got used to not being ashamed of that any more and, after analysing all the virtues, I've discovered self-interest to be the basis of them all. Love and devotion, which are apparently two generous emotions, are perhaps the most self-interested of all, and patriotism is no less, you may be sure. I've no great love for mankind, but I wouldn't want to make that obvious for anything in the world; for my fear of men is in proportion to the little esteem I have for them. So we're both selfish, but I admit it and you deny it.
M Delmare doesn't know how he has hit the nail on the head with this one. Sir Ralph has been secretly in love with Indiana since they were children. He considers his silent devotion all for her benefit. But Indiana describes Ralph's character to Raymon at one point as selfish. Raymon too is described as an egotist (selfish) on several occasions. His wooing of Indiana is nothing but selfish. He claims to love her but what he really loves is the conquest and is even called a "Lovelace" at one point. The only one never considered selfish is Indiana, but I think she is the most selfish of all. She is not an educated woman but she is not stupid. She is nineteen, married to a man twice her age and supremely unhappy. She wants nothing more than to die so as to end her suffering. She is always ill and on the brink of death but makes a remarkable recovery when something of interest to her happens. Sir Ralph plays along with her illness which only encourages it. M. Delmare is highly annoyed by it, doesn't understand it but doesn't know what to do about it other than be gruff and force Indiana to do things she doesn't want to. There is nothing more selfish than suffering unnecessarily, dragging all who are around you down with you. If Indiana is not suffering from illness she is suffering for the love of Raymon. She is pulled along by "the magnetic power of suffering." The thing is, it doesn't have to be this way. Indiana makes herself suffer needlessly. If she showed as much spirit with M. Delmare as she does with Raymon, she'd have her husband wrapped around her finger, "but Indiana was disheartened by her lot; she made no effort to try and make it better." Emerson says, "the selfish man suffers more from his selfishness than he from whom that selfishness withholds some important benefit." The story of Indiana seems to prove that. Ralph and Indiana end up with the best lot. Even so, they are still selfish, living like hermits and spending their money on freeing slaves as though that will atone for everything. Indiana is a Slaves of Golconda discussion book. Pop over to the site to see what others have to say and then join, or follow the discussion at the MetaxuCafe forum.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


I could not guess what Emerson had in store for me in his essay New England Reformers. What a nice surprise it turned out to be. He begins the essay talking about the myriad reform movements of the last 25 years (1819-1844) and even pokes fun at them before coming around and saying that they all came initially from a legitimate protest against "existing evils" and some of them even brought about good changes. The issue Emerson then takes up is not the desire for reform but the people who are doing the reforming. Today we'd call them hypocrites, or worse. You know the kind of people, the church leader who preaches about family values and is caught having an affair; the senator who helps write a bill against sexual predators but is found to have sent sexually explicit emails to a teenage page; I could go on and on. But Emerson doesn't refer only to leaders in his essay, he includes all of us who ever wanted to convince someone to change. The point Emerson argues is "that society gains nothing whilst a man, not himself renovated, attempts to renovate things around him." In other words, if you want reform, start with yourself. Hopping on the bandwagon of a single cause is not the way to go about things. A just and heroic soul does not choose a cause, but does whatever needs to be done at any given time. If you think you are a more virtuous person because you are an uber-envrionmentalist, have completely solarized your house and are off the grid, compost and don't drive a car but you are mean to everyone you meet, you are no better than anyone else. Emerson asks, "What right have you, sir, to your one virtue? Is virtue piecemeal? This is a jewel amidst the rags of a beggar." Joining an association of some kind won't help you either. Association too often requires compromise of one's self and as soon as one compromises herself, she becomes less than a whole person. Besides, Emerson says, if two people who are inadequate alone think that by joining together they can become adequate, they are sorely deluded, "there can be no concert in two, where there is no concert in one." The world is on the right track by wanting to improve things, but we are going about it in the wrong way. The human mind suffers from a disease: want of faith. We do not believe in the power of education nor do we think we can "speak to divine sentiments in man," and we don't even try. Instead of aiming for something higher we settle for fear and amusements and do ourselves a grave disservice:

We do not believe that any education, any system of philosophy, any influence of genius, will ever give depth of insight to a superficial mind. Having settled ourselves into this infidelity, our skill is expended to procure alleviations, diversions, opiates. We adorn the victim with manual skill, his tongue with languages, his body with inoffensive and comely manners. So have we cunningly hid the tragedy of limitation and inner death we cannot avert. Is it strange that society should be devoured by a secret melancholy which breaks through all its smiles and all its gayety and games?
I think Emerson is spot on with this one. Education is more than being able to pass a test or get a job. He insists "life must be lived on a higher plane," that we are deprived of truth when all we want is truth. But before we can tell the truth to others we have to be able to tell the truth to ourselves. If someone doesn't agree with your opinion and refuses "to accept you as a bringer of truth" even though you think you have it you have not given the other person reason to believe you because you have not been authentic. To be authentic we must open ourselves up to a power for which we are "the channels of its communications." For Emerson this is "Providence" but we could also call it a higher power, Nature, Genius, the universe, the soul, whatever floats your boat. When we obey this power, follow the truth of this power, and speak the truth of this power we will be liberated. When we are true to ourselves we can be true to each other, and then the real reform will happen. This essay is the final one in Emerson's second series of essays. Next week I move on to his book English Traits. Chapter one is First Visit to England

Friday, October 27, 2006

Happily Haunted

Another mental health day off from work today. What better way to spend it than reading The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley? What a delightfully fun book it is too. The final book on my RIP Challenge list turns out to be a mystery rather than a ghost story. The bookshop in the story is called The Haunted Bookshop, but as the proprietor, Roger Mifflin (his original story can be found in Parnassus on Wheels a book I will now have to read), will tell you, the shop is "haunted by the ghosts of all great literature." The best kind of haunting there could possibly be! The dramatis personae of the novel are Roger Mifflin and his wife, Helen, Titania, the daughter of Mr. Chapman who is a rich businessman and booklover who has sent his daughter to work at Roger's shop in hopes of instilling in her a love of books, and Aubrey Gilbert, a young and handsome advertising executive who falls hopelessly in love with Titania. Oh, and Bock, short for Boccacio, the ever faithful dog. The plot of the story turns around Thomas Carlyle's Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches with Elucidations. As the mystery unfolds, we are treated to lots of fun bookishness and wonderful quotable moments like this one:

Living in a bookshop is like living in a warehouse of explosives. Those shelves are ranked with the most furious combustibles in the world--the brains of men. I can spend a rainy afternoon reading, and my mind works itself up to such a passion and anxiety over mortal problems as almost unmans me. Surround a man with Carlyle, Emerson, Thoreau, Chesterton, Shaw, Nietzsche, and George Ade--would you wonder at his getting excited? What would happen to a cat if she had to live in a room tapestried with catnip? She would go crazy!
That's Roger, who farther on says that librarians surrounded by so many more books than he is invented the card catalog as a "soothing device for the febrifuge of their souls" and would go mad if they did not have "the cool and healing card index as medicament." I wonder what librarians do in these card catalog-free times? We are also treated to a discussion of the proper books for a guest room. An observation on how books "track you down and hunt you out." A book can chase you for years before it finally makes you read it. There is an invention of a new word, "librocubicularist," one who reads in bed. And of course, there is the life insurance policy:
It saddens me to think that I shall have to die with thousands of books unread that would have given me noble and unblemished happiness. I will tell you a secret. I have never read King Lear, and have purposely refrained from doing so. If I were ever very ill I would only need to say to myself "You can't die yet, you haven't read Lear. That would bring me round, I know it would.
I don't know about you, but I have taken out multiple life insurance policies just to be extra safe. I mean, what if you only had one and then sometime found that for whatever reason that one was the only book available for you to read? What would you do then? Morley has the occasional tendency to break into the story with a little editorializing. Since the book was first published in 1919, most of these intrusions are about the recently concluded war, its horrors and the need to find alternatives to killing each other. But there is also a discussion about the role of the bookseller. Is a bookseller's job to give the customers what they want even if it is commercial tripe? Or is it the bookseller's job to give customers the books they did not know they needed in order to nourish their souls? Morley comes down square on the latter. I found it interesting though that this argument was around even then and that it is not a recent or even new one. I enjoyed The Haunted Bookshop so much I looked up Morley to see if he had any other books. Does he ever! Turns out he has over fifty books of poetry and novels. He was also a Rhodes Scholar, one of the founders of The Saturday Review of Literature, a Shelock Holmes enthusiast and the founder of the Baker Street Irregulars. There is even a park in Long Island named after him. A good amount of his work appears to be out of print, but my blessed public library has a bunch of it. I managed to refrain from requesting it all, wanting to read Parnassus on Wheels first which I already own. In The Haunted Bookshop Roger mentions lots and lots of books. Some of the titles were so outrageous I thought they were made up. But Google tells me they are all real, at least the ones I spot checked. And my library even has one of them which I have requested because how could I not see what The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac by Eugene Field is all about? Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

When Bad Things Happen

When my Bookman came home from work last night he found me crying over Indiana. No, not the character of Indiana, or Ralph, or Raymon or any of them. I was crying because of what happens to Ophelia. It was so unexpected and so uncalled for that I felt like I had been whacked on the head with an oar. Why did George Sand do that? She could have kept her out of that mess. It's not as if it added all that much to Indiana's sorrow. She barely flinched. I am still upset about it and don't know if I can forgive Sand. However, the incident did lead to a good conversation with my Bookman. We talked about other books with similar situations, when something happens so unexpected it takes your breath away or makes you cry. Sometimes, as in Indiana, they are incidental. Other times your favorite character suffers a random act of violence and dies or survives as a changed person. That moment becomes the egg from which the rest of the story is hatched. But even if the story ends up being a good one, the reader, this reader, is often left with a kernel of grief. The grief is real. And the grief keeps asking, why? And what must it be like for the author? Does she grieve too? Does she shed tears over the life of her character? It must be so much harder for the author who has the power to save the character but must, if she is being honest and true to both story and character, write the dreadful scene. I imagine an enormous amount of courage is required. My grief over Ophelia and other characters I have known is also tinged with a certain amount of pleasure. It felt good to cry. I also know what happens in the story is not real, so added to the pleasure of crying is the pleasure and experience of reading a good book, the submersion of the self in art. A deliciously complex feeling. I said at the beginning I didn't think I could forgive Sand for what she did. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if it wasn't exactly right after all and not meaningless as I first thought. The scene provided emotional release to everything that had built up throughout the novel. And now, I near the end, in a calm and somewhat detached state of mind that suits the state of mind of the characters. A brilliant move on Sand's part then if that is what she intended. That doesn't make me like what happens to Ophelia any better though.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Five Things...

No one has ever accused me of being an innovator or an early adopter. I usually fall in somewhere among the crowd, as with the "five things" meme. Since I have enjoyed reading everyone's posts, it's a good crowd to fall in with. So here you go, five things you probably not know about me:

  • I was one of the inaugural players on my high school girls varsity soccer team. Thanks to Title IV and a bunch of girls who wanted to play, we got teams together at all of the district's high schools. I had never played soccer before in my life other than goofing around. I was not in shape and I thought I was going to die after the first day. But everyone who tried out got on the team because we had just enough players. I played left fullback and had so much fun I tried out the second year when there were more girls and the coach could have said no. I had improved enough I sometimes got to play halfback. At the end of the season I was voted "Most Inspirational" by my teammates and got a little trophy for my efforts.
  • One of my fondest memories is a day home sick from school. I spent it in bed reading That Darn Cat which included still photos from the Disney movie. My mom brought me glasses of 7-Up and for lunch I got a grilled cheese sandwich.
  • I love to knit. I have been knitting since I was sixteen when my mom took a community education class and then taught me how to cast on, bind off, knit and purl. My mom doesn't knit anymore but I have kept at it and have made sweaters, scarves, blankets and socks. One day I hope to make one of those fancy Norwegian ski sweaters. However, due to tendonitis in my right wrist that developed my senior year of college and which is frequently aggravated by my job where I work on a computer all day, I am by necessity a slow and infrequent knitter (I often have to wear a brace on my wrist), so it takes me a very long time to finish anything.
  • I can lift both my left and right eyebrows independently of each other. When I am skeptical about something someone is telling me I have a tendency to lift one of them like Mr. Spock. This drives my husband crazy and he is always telling me to put my eyebrow down.
  • I like ketchup, tomato soup, and spaghetti sauce but I hate, and will not eat, tomatoes.
Update. Yeah, um, that first one, about the soccer? Yeah, that should be Title IX as in nine, not four. My husband kindly pointed it out to me. So now you know I stink at Roman numerals too!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

In Medias Res

I've been trying to compose a post on Proust and love for the last week or so but have not managed to get my thoughts together for it. Tonight is no exception. In fact, it seems I can't get much thought together at all this evening. I am therefore resorting to an old standby when things get desperate: a reading update.   If you could see the corner of my desk--well you could if I took a picture but I am too embarrassed so I won't--and the pile of books that I am meaning to get to because I promised someone I would, mixed with the books I really want to get to, you'd wonder about my sanity. Or maybe not. Maybe you have a pile like this too, anchoring down a corner of your desk or table.   At the moment, however, I am very much enjoying the books I am actively reading. Thanks to your encouragement, I ditched the Conan Doyle book and began reading The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley. I am so happy. This book is one hundred percent delightful. The shop is "haunted with great literature," but there is also a strange mystery going on around Carlyle's book Oliver Cromwell. It keeps disappearing and then reappearing only to disappear again and then turn up with a brand new binding. It's getting curiouser and curiouser.   Then, of course, I am deep into Indiana by George Sand. I have transferred all of my notes from my library edition to the one I was forced to buy. I turned in the library book with a note of invitation to the person who placed a hold on it (thanks for the great idea Susan!). And my fine for turning in the book three days late is $1.20. My library takes overdue books very seriously.   But I also have a new book from the library, Jasper Fforde's The Fourth Bear. I placed a hold on it two months ago and was number 80-something of close to 100 holds. And now it's my turn to read it and I have to pretend as though I don't see those books on the corner of my desk because I won't get to renew this one. I haven't begun it yet. I'll finish Indiana in a few days and then start Fourth Bear.   I have been feeling starved for nonfiction of late so I started The Devil is a Gentleman by J.C. Hallman, a book that Ella sent me when she was dispersing her personal library. I manage to squeeze in a few pages every other day or so. I am enjoying it very much thus far because he is currently writing about a particular religious group in my hometown of El Cajon in southern California. What a hoot! I don't want to say anything more because I am planning a post on it.   Proust, poor Proust, is being neglected at the moment. I will get back to him soon though, very likely by the end of this week. And I won't even mention all of the other books I have begun at various times that are also being neglected. But since the holidays are fast approaching and I get lots of time off around then, don't travel and have no family here I have to visit, I have lots of reading time to look forward to. Sigh.  

Monday, October 23, 2006

Lightening the Gloom

When all the leaves have been blown off the trees and each day the temperature is not as warm as it was the day before, when the gloom of late fall settles in to stay awhile and going outside requires more than just slipping on sandals, one of the best things to do to is go to the bookstore of course! My Bookman and I visited Half Price Books this weekend and came home with some great finds:

  • Room Temperature (signed!) and The Fermata by Nicholson Baker. Dorothy has been raving about The Mezzanine and that's the one I was looking for so of course it wasn't there. But I think these two should do for now. I thought I had never read Baker before but I now realize I read Vox back when it first came out. I don't remember anything about it except that I read it.
  • Maybe I have to stop visiting Dorothy's blog for awhile (just kidding!) because I also found a poetry book by Jane Hirschfield, The Lives of the Heart. Again, not the one Dorothy raved about, but I read the first poem and it gave me that feeling in my stomach I get when I read a good poem that sorta reminds me of the way my stomach feels when the roller coaster car just begins to drop down from its peak.
  • Ruined by Reading by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. I'm a sucker for books like this.
  • An all-in-one volume of The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott for a whopping one dollar! That comes out to four books for a quarter each! My Bookman and I have been talking about reading this book for years. We have no more excuses, or rather we have to come up with new excuses, for not reading it.
  • I am planning on following up Emerson with Thoreau so I was delighted to find a pristine hardcover copy of Thoreau's Letters to a Spiritual Seeker.
  • We also made it home with Peter Ackroyd's Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem and Jeanette Winterson's Gut Symmetries.
  • All this went a long way to getting rid of the gloom of the day. And even better, we overheard a teenage girl explaining to her friend why she was buying yet another copy of Phantom of the Opera: "It was on the clearance shelf and I had to rescue it because it made me sad to see it there." I hope she has a long life of rescuing the books she loves.

    Sunday, October 22, 2006

    Gender Bending, Transgressive, or Just Confused?

    Dovegreyreader has an interesting link to The Gender Genie. Paste in a blog post or some other text and the Gender Genie will guess whether the author is male or female. It even gives you a score and a spiffy graph breakdown of male and female keywords. The answer from the Gender Genie is based on an algorithm. Who decides what words are male and what words are female I have no idea. I put in my Friday post and my Saturday post and both times the Gender Genie overwhelmingly decided I was a male. I'm pretty sure I'm female. At least I was last time I checked.

    Saturday, October 21, 2006

    We came this time for condiments, not for corn

    The title of the post is what has got to be the best Emerson sentence ever. It appears in the essay Nominalist and Realist, and as near as I can figure, means something like, we came for the parts and not the whole. But seeing as how condiments are sometimes the best thing about a meal, it might make a perfect kitchen motto. For some reason I found the essay difficult to grasp. I had to read it twice before a dim bulb began to light up a very dark room. So Emerson experts of the world, forgive me if I massacre this one. The essay is about the conflict between the nominalist, a person who believes universals are names only and have no corresponding reality, and the realist, a person who believes universal concepts have an objective or absolute existence. What I think Emerson says about the whole thing is that both the particular and the universal exist and that they are complimentary. We live in the particular, but together we create a whole. Or Nature creates the whole since she is in charge. Emerson is very understanding about how everything can be so confusing. We are so busy getting on from day to day that we can't see the forest for the trees. And the person who sees nothing but the universal has no respect for the particular. In keeping to only one view or the other a person becomes over balanced. The "particularist" sees the details as an ends rather than the means to something more spiritual. The "universalist" spends so much time in the spiritual that he forgets how to function in the everyday. A person cannot live on bread alone, nor can a person live on spirit alone. Emerson doesn't appear to suggest a middle passage, but asks that we accept that both the particular and the universal can and do exist side by side and simultaneously. We each have our part to play and a particular essence or quality that Nature has given us, therefore we are each an individual containing a piece of the universal, participating in the particular and the universal at the same time. Problem is, we can't see the universal; it's simply too big, too much for us to grasp. And so it is our duty to carefully study the particular to discover what it reveals about the universal. We should therefore be prepared to give up our particular ideas as we learn something new about the bigger picture. What we know to be true today will be proved wrong tomorrow. We are a stubborn bunch, however, and persist in our errors. Good thing we have a guy like Emerson to set us straight. Are you here for the condiments, the corn, or the whole meal? Next week's Emerson: New England Reformers

    Friday, October 20, 2006

    No Creepiness Here

    I've not mentioned that I've been making my way through The Best Supernatural Tales of Arthur Conan Doyle so slowly that I fear I won't have time to get to the fifth and final RIP Challenge book. To be sure, the stories are filled with ghosts, a mummy, mesmerism, and all brand of supernatural mayhem, but on the whole they are sort of boring. Maybe if I had read them in their own time I would have gotten chills, but today they all seem filled with cliche. Nor does it help that within a page or two of each story I have generally figured out what is going to happen. Once in awhile there is something that is entertaining, like this passage from the story "The Leather Funnel":

    It was a singular bedroom with its high walls of brown volumes, but there could be no more agreeable furniture to a bookworm like myself, and there is no scent so pleasant to my nostrils as that faint, subtle reek which comes from an ancient book.
    Ah, that subtle reek! And occasionally there is an amusing story like "A Literary Mosaic" which is so cliche it is funny. But, I suspect Conan Doyle enjoyed the writing of it because his tone in this story is lighter and quicker than in the ones that come before it making it a pleasurable read. The story is that of a young man who wishes to become a writer. He comes into a small fortune, quits his job and settles in to write his masterpiece. Weeks later, he has nothing to show but a lot of crumpled up ink-blotted paper. After a long day of failed work, he falls asleep at his table to a dream of a room filled with an assembly of great writers who have all gathered in order to help him write a story. Around the room they go, each taking a turn narrating a piece of the story in his own inimitable style. Daniel Defoe starts them off on a sea voyage. The tale is then picked up by Jonathan Swift. When his begins to turn into a "second edition" of Gulliver as "Lawrence Sterne" snidely remarks, a fight nearly breaks out. But Smollet rescues the story and diplomatically steers it back to reality and England where it is pick up by Sir Walter Scott followed by Bulwer Lytton. Lytton sends Smollett into quiet hysterics and warrants many gibes from the others assembled including Sterne's acerbic question: "pray, sir, what language do you call it?" At which point Lytton storms out of the room, the dreaming writer wakes up, and both stories are at an end. I have a little over 100 pages and seven stories to go before I reach the end. And in spite of moments or stories like the above that stand out, the book is becoming a big slog. Still, I soldier on and hope the the book in my challenge selection, The Haunted Bookshop won't disappoint. On another note, Indiana arrived on my porch this afternoon. I am in the process of transferring my notes and will turn the library book in tomorrow with an invitation to the Slaves discussion inserted into it's early pages. I checked on my overdue fine too and find that my library has changed its fine amounts. I have been charged sixty-cents for the first day and will be fined thirty-cents for each day after. Better than fifty-cents a day, but still!

    Thursday, October 19, 2006

    Classics to Read in 2007

    Susan has inspired a list making frenzy with her Thursday Thirteen post on the thirteen classics she wants to read in 2007. It's never too early to start planning next year's reading and there are a bunch of classics I've been meaning to get to. So I thought I'd give my own list a shot:

    1. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
    2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
    3. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
    4. The Metamorphisis by Franz Kafka
    5. Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
    6. Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog!) by Jerome K. Jerome
    7. The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner
    8. Adam Bede by George Eliot
    9. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
    10. Howard's End by E.M. Forster
    11. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
    12. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
    13. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
    It's good to have goals!

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    Library Delinquent

    I am currently a library delinquent. My copy of Indiana was due yesterday so I logged on to my library's website to renew it. Imagine how surprised I was when it wouldn't let me! Apparently there is only one copy in the Minneapolis library system and someone else has the nerve to want to read it right now! I wish there was some way of contacting that person to negotiate--I just need it for two more weeks, do you really need it now? But I can't do that. So what else is a girl to do? Keep the book and let it go overdue of course! That was not my first choice. My Bookman, nice guy that he is and desirous of keeping me off the library blacklist, immediately picked up the phone and started calling bookstores. I hoped he would have luck. But as the stores called without success list grew, I remembered why I borrowed the book from the library three weeks ago--none of the bookstores had it. And they still don't. So I am not surprised that whoever has decided to read Indiana has also turned to the library. Now I am forced to buy the darn book. I am enjoying it thus far, don't get me wrong on that, but it is not my preference to own it. But the book is now winging its way to me from a warehouse somewhere. The internet is a nice place in instances such as these. There is still a problem though. The edition I bought is not the same edition my library has so all of my notes with page numbers won't match. And I will have to find all of the matching passages for all of the page points I have stuck in the book. The new book should arrive in the mail on Friday. I will spend Friday evening sorting out my notes and transferring my page points and turn the book in Saturday morning. If the new book doesn't arrive on Friday I haven't decided yet if I will start writing down the first sentence of each marked passage and its general location so when the book does arrive it will be (theoretically) easier to find the page to mark, or wait for Saturday's mail before returning the book. In the meantime, I get fined fifty-cents a day plus guilt. All for the sake of the Slaves of Golconda. But y'all are worth it!

    Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    Book Tips

    I like to think I provide a certain amount of entertainment for anyone who drops by, but from time to time I can be useful too. I've come to the end of my browsing through The New Book of Lists where I found a list called "16 Tips for Removing Household Stains." Two of the tips are book-related and so of course I have to share them with you:

    Hot Drinks on Blanket While Reading in Bed. Rinse stained blanket quickly in a lot of warm water. If the stain has dried, try careful bleaching with a solution of one part hydrogen peroxide to six parts water. Old stains must be taken to the cleaners. Books. Be sure books aren't too tightly packed together--this causes mildew. To remove mildew from hardbound books, sprinkle with cornstarch and leave for a few days, then brush off. For greasy finger marks, lay a sheet of blotting paper over the marks and press with a warm iron.
    Very helpful things to know. But I have questions these tips don't answer. All my hot drinks on blanket stains are always dry by the time I get to them. After all, what's more important, immediately rinsing the stain or continuing to read the really good part that made you spill in the first place? I also want to know what counts as books that are too tightly packed together? If I don't have mildew on my books that must mean I'm doing okay. But I'd like to know for future reference when I am reaching the danger zone of too tight. And If they are too tight, because if they aren't now they will be, can I still avoid mildew by occasionally taking my books out for some fresh air? And why does cornstarch only work on hardbound books? What about paperbacks? It's not very nice of these list people to be so vague.

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    Some Fun and a Bit of Snobbery

    This weekend was the Twin Cities Book Festival. It is not a huge, multi-day event like some major book festivals you've probably heard about. Our festival is one day and fits inside the large cafeteria at a local community college in Minneapolis. The author events take place in one of two conference rooms. But it is fun. And while it wasn't crowded, there was definitely a crowd. In the cafeteria area all the vendors are set up, local presses and bookstores, local literary magazines, and a used book fair. I perused them all and came away with a few used books that look new for a total sum of less than $5. I found Bryher's novel Visa for Avalon, Gotham Writer's Workshop Writing Fiction, and Italo Calvino's Hermit in Paris. When I got home it turned out that I already have the Calvino book. When I told my Bookman who was unable to attend due to having to work, he laughed and said, "Blog give away!" Yup. So one of these days, lucky readers, you will have the chance to receive my duplicate copy. Besides wanting to browse the vendors, I went to see Kelly Link and Gavin J Grant talk about editing the fantasy part of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. One of the difficulties they face is that they are allowed something like 150,000 words and fantasy stories are getting longer and longer. The traditional story length for genre fiction is 5,000-7,000 words and some of the stories they read are 30,000. It makes them happy to find shorter stories because they can include more of them. When they end up with a 30,000 word story they feel like they have to include, they have to do a lot of negotiating on the other stories. Sometimes they are able to convince the horror editor to take one of their stories if it has a horror element to it. They were really fun to listen to. Gavin is Scottish and since he has been living in the US for a while now, his accent is softer, but still wonderful to listen to. And Kelly had on the coolest shoes. Two-toned, black and white cowboy-like boots. I wanted to raise my hand and ask her where she got them, but that would have been too dumb. She was nice enough, however, to cross her ankles and shoe me the brand name scrawled in big red letters across the sole, and thanks to the wonderful internet, I have found them. But alas, they are not vegetarian and it is not worth sacrificing my principles for a pair of shoes. When you sit in a talk given by two writer/editors who read a lot, invariably they start tossing out titles of books that they really liked:

    And, since Kelly and Gavin are the proprietors of Small Beer Press, they also tossed out a few favorite presses and magazines:I've heard of a few of the magazines, but all the rest will be fun new things to investigate! I also attended a celebrity spelling bee. For the most part, adults do not spell well. Someone was knocked out in the first round for misspelling "balloon." It turns out that author Alicia Conroy, author of Maps of the Imagination is an excellent speller. It came down to her and local voice talent Susan Fuller who was finalist when she was a kid in the MN State Spelling Bee. Alicia goofed on "rambouillet," a breed of sheep. Susan spelled it right and clenched it with the final word which now escapes me. The only thing I did not enjoy about the festival was a sort of insider/outsider vibe. There was a lot of networking going on, a lot writers reminding the people at the presses and magazines who they are as well as a lot of friends saying hi to friends, and people from various MFA programs talking shop. One of my coworkers was also there and she mentioned it before I did so I know I am not imagining things. Networking and saying hi to friends is not a bad thing in and of itself, but when I am standing at a booth asking about a book or magazine then I am suddenly ignored because a friend walks up, don't be surprised when I walk away without buying a thing.

    Saturday, October 14, 2006

    Emerson the Anarchist

    Emerson's essay, Politics, seems like it could have been written today and fits nicely into the adage "the more things change, the more they remain the same." He says things like:

    The same necessity which secures the rights of person and property against the malignity or folly of the magistrate, determines the form and methods of governing, which are proper to each nation and to its habit of thought, and nowise transferable to other states of society. In this country we are very vain of our political institutions [...] They are not better, but only fitter for us.
    Somehow I get the feeling President Bush has not read this essay. Emerson also bursts the bubble of delusional thinking by rightly insisting, "Every actual State is corrupt." Because the State is corrupt, "Good men must not obey the laws too well." I wonder how much influence this essay, published in 1844, had on Thoreau's essay "Civil Disobedience" published in 1849? Since the two men were friends, there must be a connection. In "Politics" Emerson gives us a mini lesson in the history of government, an overview of government in his time, and suggests what we should be aiming for. And just so we aren't shocked later in the essay by his suggestions, Emerson begins the piece with a reminder:
    In dealing with the State we ought to remember that its institutions are not aboriginal, though they existed before we were born; that they are not superior to the citizen; that every one of them was once the act of a single man; every law and usage was a man's expedient to meet a particular case; that they all are imitable, all alterable; we may make as good, we may make better.
    Something to keep in mind as Emerson then launches into his history of government before he reveals himself to be an anarchist:
    Hence the less government we have the better--the fewer laws and the less confided power. The antidote to this abuse of formal government is the influence of private character, the growth of the Individual; the appearance of the principal to supersede the proxy; the appearance of the wise man; of whom the existing government is, it must be owned, but a shabby imitation.
    I was shocked and delighted with Emerson the Anarchist. Suddenly he seemed much more hip and dangerous. The more I think about what he is advocating, the more dangerous he becomes. You see, Emerson calls it a matter of character. Character is something we would have if we were living up to our fullest potential as human beings, it has nothing to do with the petty political arguments over character. This is like Buddha character or Jesus character or even Gandhi character. This is the kind of character that has worth. Unfortunately, we do not live this way. We strive for worth but we do it the wrong way. We think that being ambitious and successful is the way to do it, but in reality it is "the fig-leaf with which the shamed soul attempts to hide its nakedness." We substitute a "petty talent" for worth and "are haunted by a conscience of this right to grandeur of character, and are false to it." Perhaps the worst character (ironic?) belongs to politicians who Emerson calls "forest animals" with a "prehensile tail" (sounds like a bunch of monkeys to me!):
    Senators and presidents have climbed so high with pain enough, not because they think the place especially agreeable, but as an apology to real worth, and to vindicate their manhood in our eyes. This conspicuous chair is their compensation to themselves for being of a poor, cold, hard nature.
    Think of that when going to vote in a few weeks! The first step towards little to no government is to build a State based on love rather than the one we have which is based on force. Love "separates the individual from all party, and unites him at the same time to the race. It promotes a recognition of higher rights than those of personal freedom, or the security of property." Emerson believes "that thousands of human beings might exercise towards each other the grandest and simplest sentiments, as well as a knot of friends, or a pair of lovers." An idea that makes me giddy. Unfortunately Emerson doesn't say anything about how we get there. Do you work from within the system? Or is a revolution necessary? Either way, there is a Beatles song ready and waiting. Will it be "All You Need is Love" or "Revolution"? I suppose it is up to those with character to figure it out and drag the rest of us along whether we want to be enlightened or not. Wait, that isn't very loving is it? Now you know one person who won't be among those picking the theme song! Next week's Emerson: Nominalist and Realist

    Friday, October 13, 2006

    An Evening With Tess Gallagher

    Tess Gallagher last night was wonderful. Good thing too since we braved snow flurries and wind chill in the teens to see her. Gallagher read from and talked about her new book, Dear Ghosts (this is Graywolf Press's site and in you are interested, there are a few poems from the book you can read). She looks a lot different than when I saw her ten or so years ago. Then she had long hair and I remember her being thin. But she had breast cancer about four years ago. She's not as thin as she was and her hair is very short. The important thing is, her poetry is still beautiful. One of her poems is about her father who, in the 1940s Pacific Northwest, had a job as a fire starter. Each morning in winter, he would get up very early and go to each of the houses on the street and start a fire in the stove while the family was still asleep. Then, by the time they got up, the house would be warm. No one locked their doors. Gallagher's father would just go right in, as quietly as possible so as not to wake anyone. Isn't that fascinating? In the poem Gallagher manages to connect the goodness and innocence of her father's work to other kinds of fires like Nagasaki and Hiroshima which were neither good nor innocent. In another poem she talks about birds flying up as if they were coming out of the ground. She said she has noticed this happening many times and was finally able to include it in a poem. Then she mentioned that it had happened just the other day when she and a friend were walking beside the Mississippi. She said because of the cold the birds were huddled down in the shrubs along the river and when she walked by they were startled and flew out and it looked like the were flying up out of the ground. When she said this I thought, I've seen that happen lots of times, I know exactly what she means. But I never stopped to think it looked like the birds came from the ground. And I decided that is what makes her a poet, the ability not only to notice things like the birds, but to be able to turn it into something more and give it meaning. And I wished I could do that. Gallagher also answered audience questions. I don't remember the questions, but I remember parts of her answers. To one she said that poetry is not about sleeping with a dictionary. To her, poetry is a combination of being and language. I like that idea. She also mentioned that she purposely writes poetry that must be read more than once to be understood. I almost laughed out loud. I never thought a poet would purposely do that. Why I thought that I don't know. But it also reminded me of several blog discussions that have talked about difficulty with poetry. And I wonder if that is some kind of comfort to know that if I don't get a poem on the first reading, maybe I wasn't supposed to.

    Original Title Answers

    Everyone's literary knowledge is quite impressive! The only one no one got was Tenderness. If I didn't have the answers in front of me I would have failed miserably. Now, without further ado:

    1. First Impressions = Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
    2. All's Well That Ends Well = War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (you were right Brandon, don't second guess yourself!)
    3. The Sea-Cook = Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
    4. Stephen Hero = A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. (To answer the James Joyce question, there is indeed a novel called Stephen Hero that was published posthumously in 1944. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a complete rewrite of Stephen Hero which Joyce abandoned in 1905. Joyce destroyed part of the manuscript, so what was published in 1944 is not complete.)
    5. The Romantic Egotist = This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    6. Tenderness = Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
    7. Bar-B-Q = The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain
    8. Something That Happened = Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
    9. Interzone = Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs
    10. Catch-18 = Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
    11. A Jewish Patient Begins Analysis = Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
    12. The Summer of the Shark = Jaws by Peter Benchley
    13. The Shine = The Shining by Stephen King
    The winner of the Dr. Seuss bookmark (because you can never have too many bookmarks or too much Dr. Seuss) is...Danielle! Email me your address and I'll drop it in the mail to you. Thanks for playing everyone!

    Thursday, October 12, 2006

    A Night of Poetry and a Little Fun

    My Bookman and I are off to see Tess Gallagher read from her new book of poetry Dear Ghosts, her first book in 14 years. I've heard her read once, at a memorial reading for Jane Kenyon, that is actually where I first learned about her. So I am looking forward to the reading. Now for a little something for fun. A contest to test your literary knowledge. The following list consists of the original titles of some famous books. Can you guess what the titles we know them by are? Giving you the authors might make it too easy, so I'll only tell you the title and when it was published:

    1. First Impressions, 1813
    2. All's Well That Ends Well, 1866
    3. The Sea-Cook, 1883
    4. Stephen Hero, 1916
    5. The Romantic Egotist, 1920
    6. Tenderness, 1928
    7. Bar-B-Q, 1934
    8. Something That Happened, 1937
    9. Interzone, 1959
    10. Catch-18, 1961
    11. A Jewish Patient Begins His Analysis, 1969
    12. The Summer of the Shark, 1974
    13. The Shine, 1977
    Everybody who takes a guess will be entered to win a drawing for a Dr. Seuss bookmark.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Reading Notes

    Recently Sylvia wrote a great post about her reading notes and even has a photo from her notebook. I am so impressed by her note taking that I have been thinking about my own note taking--or lack thereof--ever since. I mentioned yesterday that I considered giving up on Proust. One of the reasons was the note taking. I diligently made notes on the top of nearly every page of Swann's Way. It was good in that I feel like I really read the book. But reading Proust is slow enough without the work of such detailed notes. And making all those notes truly became work. I began the next book reluctantly, still in the mindset of must note everything. After 20 pages of unhappy reading, I decided to let up on the notes and just read, noting only what I thought really interesting or really important. Almost immediately I began to enjoy myself again and reading Proust has returned to being fun. Generally, when I am reading fiction I don't actually write down any notes. Sometimes I will perform the sacrilegious act of marginalia, but for the most part I use page points to mark passages. Sometimes, especially if it is a Slaves book, I will use nearly all of my page points. Then, when it is time to write a post and discuss the book, I go back and re-read all the passages I marked. When the discussion is done, out come the points and oftentimes it looks like I didn't even read the book. Of course, the negative of this is that I have no notes to refer back to if I ever want to read or talk about the book again. When it comes to nonfiction I am better at making notes. As I read Emerson, for example, I shamelessly write in the book. Those notes will always be there for future reference. For other nonfiction books, especially ones I don't own, I will use a 3x5 card and page points. But the card is usually only page numbers or a jotted thought as I read. When I am done with the book, the information on the 3x5 card is distilled into other forms, a blog post, a TBR list, etc, and the card goes into the recycle bin. The page points are removed. The book goes back on the shelf or back to the library and that's it. I've been satisfied with my method of notation until Sylvia went and posted the photo of her beautiful notes in her moleskine. Am I missing something by not keeping my notes or being a better note taker? If I had a notebook like Sylvia's would I find it useful and actually read the notes? Or maybe I should just continue with my current ways? Perhaps there is a happy medium somewhere that would combine my current methods with a notebook or marginalia? The grass is always greener you know. Sigh. Such are the things a reader agonizes over. Now that the weather is cold--we had snow today, not enough to stick and accumulate, but snow nonetheless--I'll have more time to curl up and think about these kinds of things.

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    Proust on Writers

    Cross-posted at Involuntary Memory I am moving along through In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. I am not moving along as fast as I would like, but even slow is good considering after finishing Swann's Way I had a day or two of resistance to continuing the endeavor. But I am glad I am doing so because this volume is really good. There is a section I very much enjoyed recently that every reader can relate to. The young narrator (early teens? We never really know his age) loves the author Bergotte and has read everything of the author's that he's written. In Swann's Way there are scenes with the narrator gushing about the author and talking with Swann about him. Turns out Bergotte dines with the Swanns quite frequently and the narrator imagines what it would be like to meet him. In this volume, he gets his wish. The narrator is invited to lunch at Swann's as is Bergotte. And you know, you've experienced it yourself, you meet the author you've idolized for years, there is always disappointment:

    There, in front of me, bowing back at me, like the magician in his tails emerging unscathed while a dove flies from the smoke and dust of a detonation, I saw a stocky, coarse, thickset, shortsighted man, quite young, with a red bottle-nose and a black goatee. I was heartbroken: it was not only that my gentle old man had just crumbled to dust and disappeared, it was also that for those things of beauty, his wonderful works, which I had once contrived to fit into that infirm and sacred frame, that dwelling I had lovingly constructed like a temple expressly designed to hold them, there was now no room in this thick-bodied little man standing in front of me, with all his blood vessels, his bones, his glands, his snub nose, and his little black beard.
    Perhaps we are not so surprised about an author's appearance in these days of glossy dust jacket photos, but we still construct, based upon the books, our idea of what the author is like. Proust's narrator did the same thing and has a difficult time reconciling not only the appearance of Bergotte, but his odd voice and way of speaking: "To my ear, Bergotte's way of speaking was completely different from his writing; and even the things he said differed from the things that fill his books." Nonetheless, the narrator feels comfortable talking with Bergotte because he feels like the author is a friend whom he has known a long time. Throughout this whole section Proust also manages to make some interesting observations about writers and writing. He talks of the accent of the the writer. I can only read this as that certain something about particular authors that allows you to always recognize them. It is more than style, it has to do with voice in a way, but it also more than that. It is that thing that would help you recognize Proust or Woolf or Joyce or Austen in an unattributed passage from their work. Proust also makes a comment on genius:
    Likewise, those who produce works of genius are not those who spend their days in the most refined company, whose conversation is the most brilliant, or whose culture is the broadest; they are those who have the ability to stop living for themselves and make a mirror of their personality, so that their lives, however nondescript they may be socially, or even in a way intellectually, are reflected in it. For genius lies in reflective power, and not in the intrinsic quality of the scene reflected.
    A few pages later Proust says that the individual life of the writer is taken over by all the other lives he imagines. This all sounds terrifyingly true. I say terrifying because in a way, the great writer sacrifices his or her life to the life of the work. Maybe this is the difference between great writers and good writers. The merely good live too much for themselves and have life and personality outside their books. But the great, their lives are in their books. Does that make sense the way I said that? There seems to be a rather religious feeling to that--losing the self to something greater and as a result becoming larger than one could ever be otherwise.

    Monday, October 09, 2006

    B Movie Fun

    Since I read I am Legend by Richard Matheson as a RIP challenge book, and since my Bookman had read the book long ago, we rented the movie The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston. Talk about your B movie! There were great liberties taken with the story from the book. Instead of vampires the movie made them into regular people who just couldn't go out in daylight. But so you could tell the difference between the humans and those infected with the "plague," the plague people wore black robes and were powder white--white hair, white skin--even the black people were white. In the book, the hero, Robert Neville, really was the last human, but in the movie there had to be a love interest and this being the 1970s she's tough but couldn't make it alone, so there were a few others holed up outside of Los Angeles. Of course, the love interest doesn't work out and is the reason our hero gets killed in the end in a rather Christ-like performance. The acting is truly dreadful. In an attempt to make up for that fact, Heston is without his shirt quite frequently. However, he is past his prime and it would have been better if he kept his shirt on. The cool thing though is that the movie was filmed in Los Angeles. They must have closed off whole portions of the city to film Heston driving around downtown with no other cars on the street. And yet, even without LA traffic, Heston wrecks a nice convertible and flips a jeep. In the book, Robert Neville spends a lot of time wondering what the point of his survival is. Heston is much too manly for that and never doubts himself or his purpose for a single second. The Omega Man is one of those movies that is so bad it's good. And if you haven't read I am Legend, the movie won't give anything away.

    Sunday, October 08, 2006


    I have re-read Emerson's essay, Nature, and pronounce it wow. There is so much in it that I could go on and on and on. It's one of those essays that would be fun to sit around a fire with a bunch of friends and stay up all night just talking about it. BikeProf had a great post about Emerson the other day which made me wish I was in his class. Emerson's writing seems at its best when he is ga-ga over the natural world. Perhaps it is his passion that is so infectious, but I think his writing also has a different quality to it. He says things like, "The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles. Here no history, or church, or state, is interpolated on the divine sky." He becomes so lyrical, so poetic, that it makes my heart beat faster and my head swoon with the beauty of his words. When he turns to more abstract matters he has a harder edge and instead of feeling his words in my body, they tend to stay in my head and occasionally get stuck in my throat as they try to slip down past my neck. At first I thought "Nature" was going to be one long rhapsody. Then I worried it was going to make me choke. But it turned out to be a heady, full-body experience. Emerson proves himself to be a tricky guy in this essay. By tricky I mean that he manages to get the reader to agree with what he says and then he turns it around and shows why it is wrong to think that way. He also manages to insert some humor into the essay (very dry and if you aren't paying attention it slips by without notice). What I liked best, however, is how Emerson reminds us that nature is everywhere. You don't have to travel to the Amazon to experience nature, nor do you need to be rich. Nature is available to everyone, "The stars at night stoop down over the brownest, homeliest common with all the spiritual magnificence which they shed on the Campagna, or on the marble deserts of Egypt." Not only that, but humans belong to nature, and being part of nature, the things we make are also of nature, "Nature, who made the mason, made the house." Now that the reader feels so at one with nature, so self-satisfied, thinking that even the plastic water glass she just took a sip from is part of nature, Emerson lets the wind out of the sails and asks, "what is the end sought?" We strive to provide ourselves with good food, with houses, music, poetry, wealth, but to what end? Well of course, Emerson says, it is all in order to "secure the ends of good sense and beauty from the intrusion of deformity or vulgarity of any kind." So instead of simple comfort we build palaces and stables and employ servants, "all for a little conversation, high clear and spiritual!" What we are trying to do is "remove friction from the wheels of life." But somewhere along the road to removing the friction that keeps us from spiritual conversation, virtue and beauty, we have turned the means into the end and forgotten the original goal. What comes to pass is an "aimless society" that does not satisfy. Nor does nature bring satisfaction either. It begins to seem we can never find it, that nature is somewhere else, not here. Suddenly the expansiveness we felt earlier and the happiness we felt over the plastic water glass is no longer good enough. We must use the credit cards and go on safari in Africa in order to experience nature, only to find, in the end, that this too, is vaguely disappointing. Something Emerson says at the beginning of the essay pulled me up short. After several paragraphs of reveling in nature's glory, after saying how healing nature is from the customs and foolishness of society, he says, "if there were good men, there would never be this rapture in nature." Say what? I spluttered, I protested, I fought against Emerson on this point. How could he say that? I re-read the passage several times, and it all finally dawned on me. There is no denying that nature is beautiful, but we escape to nature, and it is an escape, because

    Man is fallen; nature is erect, and serves as a differential thermometer, detecting the presence or absence of the divine sentiment in man. By fault of our dulness and selfishness we are looking up to nature, but when we are convalescent, nature will look up to us. We see the foaming brook with compunction: if our own life flowed with the right energy, we should shame the brook.
    We escape to nature because we see the divinity of it. If we, as individuals and society, come to the fullness of our own divinity, there would be no need to escape to nature, we would see the divine everywhere. The essay bookends this idea quite nicely and also manages to pull in the ideas put forward in the section on friction, "But if, instead of identifying ourselves with the work, we feel that the soul of the Workman streams through us, we shall find the peace of the morning dwelling first in our hearts, and the fathomless powers of gravity and chemistry, and over them, of life, preexisting within us in their highest form." If we stop identifying ourselves by the work we do to remove the friction so we can enjoy beauty, and instead we focus on our own divinity which already exists, then peace and beauty and life are ours. It's like all those stories we read and write about someone going out on a quest for something only to find, at the end, they had it all along. We are already divine. The purpose of nature is to help us understand that. "Nature is the incarnation of a thought" (God's thought). "The word is mind precipitated, and the volatile essence is forever escaping again into the state of free thought" (In the beginning was the word and the word was God...)
    Every moment instructs, and every object; for wisdom is infused into every form. It has been poured into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into us as pleasure; it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; we did not guess its essence until after a long time.
    Beautiful. Didn't get stuck in my throat at all. Next week's Emerson: Politics

    Saturday, October 07, 2006

    That Pure October Weather

    There are days which occur in this climate, at almost any season of the year, wherein the world reaches its perfection; when the air, the heavenly bodies and the earth, make harmony, as if nature would indulge her offspring; when, in these bleak upper sides of the planet, nothing is to desire that we have hear of the happiest latitudes, and we bask in the shining hours of Florida and Cuba; when everything that has life gives sign of satisfaction, and the cattle that lie on the ground seem to have great and tranquil thoughts. These halcyons may be looked for with a little more assurance in that pure October weather which we distinguish by the name of Indian summer. The day, immeasurably long, sleeps over the broad hills and warm wide fields. To have lived through all its sunny hours, seems longevity enough.
    So begins Emerson's essay, "Nature." And so has the day been here, making it very hard to sit still and read. I therefore have only half understood the essay and have to read it again. I will post on it tomorrow. In the mean time, I am enjoying the warm fall weather as much as I can before the cold of winter works its way into my bones. A windy bike ride around the lake and to the library to pick up The New Book of Lists by David Wallenchinsky and Amy Wallace. This book is going to be fun to browse through. I have already found one list I am trying to figure out how to make a little contest out of. Until then, I will leave you with a few selections from the list "42 Very Odd Jobs"
    • Ant Catcher. Digs up live ants for use in plastic ant farms. (I always wondered where they got the ants for those things!)
    • Chick Sexer. Inserts a light to examine the sex organs of chicks, then separates the males from the females. A university degree in chick sexing is offered in Japan.
    • Debubblizer. Tends high-pressure heating equipment that removes internal solvent bubbles from nitrocellulose rod stock in the plastic industry.
    • Egg Breaker. Separates yolks and whites of eggs for use in food products by striking eggs against a bar. Pours contents of broken eggs into an egg-separating device.
    • Kiss Mixer. Mixer. Mixes the ingredients used in processing Candy Kisses.
    • Pillowcase Turner. Tends machine that turns pillowcases right side out and stretches material to remove wrinkles.
    • Queen Producer. Raises queen bees.
    • Reefer Engineer. Operates refrigeration or air-condition equipment aboard ships. (I bet you thought it was something else, didn't you?)
    • Weed Farmer. Grows weeds for sale to universities and chemical companies to be used in herbicide research. (I had no idea my backyard was a gold mine. I've got weeds the likes of which the university has never seen!)
    I hope the weather where you are is as nice as it is here. Must get back to enjoying it.

    Friday, October 06, 2006

    Book Reviews and Ads

    My subscription to the New York Review of Books will soon be expiring as the frequent notices of renewal in my mailbox keep reminding me. This is the first time I ever subscribed to it and I was disappointed. I didn't find much on fiction and there seems to be a big focus on political books and issues. There is nothing wrong with that, just not what I'm looking for. I have no plans to renew it, yet a part of me wants to. That's because the thing I like best about the Review is the advertisements. Perhaps I will write down one or two titles under review from each issue. But the number of book titles I write down because of the ads, well, let's just say I've probably found a year's worth of reading. From the October 5th edition I was intrigued by the ads for Six Names of Beauty by Crispin Sartwell, Kant by Paul Guyer, Melville: His World and Work by Andrew Delbanco. In other recent issues I found titles like Upside Down by Eduardo Galeano, The Rise and Fall of Soul and Self: An Intellectual History of Personal Identity by Raymond Martin and John Barresi, Satan, A Biography by Henry Ansgar Kelly, and Allergy: The History of a Modern Malady by Mark Jackson. These have all been added to my TBR wishlist and I haven't even looked at the new edition yet. Unfortunately, however, they are all nonfiction. I enjoy nonfiction, but I read it at a lesser rate than fiction. Clearly there is value in the NY Review of Books, I just find that value in the advertising. As much as I want to continue my subscription for that reason, it galls me that I am paying so I can read ads. Maybe I can use this as an excuse to go to the bookstore every couple of weeks. I'll just be going to look at the ads in the newest NY Review. Do you think if I keep telling myself that it will actually be true? On another note, I am attempting to bring book information to the masses, or at least my neighbors. I have sent in a proposal for a book column to my neighborhood newspaper and to the south Minneapolis newspaper. These are not the big city newspapers, these are the small, free newspapers that get delivered to my door once a month simply because of where I live. One of them has columns on home repair and gardening, why not books too? So I am giving it a go. I will be shocked out of my gourd and tickled pink if one of them actually says yes. I have taken a mental health day off from work today. It's time for an afternoon cup of coffee while I begin reading Indiana, the next Slaves of Golconda book. Discussion begins October 29th. Anyone is welcome to read the book and join in the discussion. You've still got time, so get reading!

    Thursday, October 05, 2006

    Halloween Meme

    Literate Kitten has a Halloween meme so I thought I'd take a book break and play along.

    1. What is you favorite work of horror fiction? This is hard because I don't read a lot of horror fiction because I have a tendency to get nightmares. So I'm going to go with Shirley Jackson's story "The Lottery" for sheer creepiness.
    2. What is your favorite work of science fiction/fantasy? I can't choose a favorite, there are too many, so I will say these are among my favorites. For science fiction, M.K. Wren's Phoenix Legacy (it's a trilogy) is a wonderfully suspenseful and intricately plotted space opera. And for fantasy I do love Lord of the Rings but that's pretty cliche these days so I'm going to say Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books.
    3. Who is your favorite monster? Medusa. I love her snaky hair and feel a special kinship since my hair tends to wild frizz.
    4. What horror movie gives you the most chills? The better question is which one gives me nightmares on the most consecutive nights? The Exorcist for sure with The Shining coming in a close second.
    5. Freddy versus Jason? Freddy. Everybody has to sleep sometime.
    6. What is your favorite Halloween treat? When I was a kid it was miniature Butterfingers. Now it is the more prosaic unpasteurized apple cider.
    7. Ghosts or goblins? Ghosts. They're everywhere.
    8. What is your scariest encounter with the paranormal? I'd say the time I was in college and six of us were playing Ouija board by candlelight on my dorm room floor and all of us jumped at the same time because we each had received what felt like an electric shock.
    9. Do you believe in ghosts? I don't want to, logic says they don't exist. But maybe, just maybe, they do.
    10. Favorite Halloween costume? If we go to a Halloween party at my house it is at our ballroom dance studio so we must be able to dance in our costumes. My favorite one was a few years ago when my husband and I dressed up like spiders. We got fuzzy black fabric, I sewed arm-length tubes, and we stuffed them. Then sewed them to the sides of black mock-turtleneck shirts, three to each side. The arms were attached together by fishing line that was attached to our real arms so the fuzzy arms moved with our human arms. I made a red hourglass and sewed that to the front of my shirt so I was a black widow. A year later we recycled the costumes, when, with the help of our dance instructor we choreographed a tango to the overture of The Phantom of the Opera and wore or spider costumes for a solo performance.

    Wednesday, October 04, 2006


    Another RIP Book completed! I finished I am Legend by Richard Matheson. If my Bookman had not insisted I read it for the challenge I never would have. He is an enjoyer of all things vampiric and I am rather indifferent (thought I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Our copy is a 1954 book club edition with an appropriately pulp-y cover. A man, presumably the hero, stands atop something we cannot see, a wooden stake raised in one hand, his other reaching out toward the viewer. Below him, trying to grab him, are a crowd of people we will soon find out are vampires. Behind all of this is a blazing fire and behind the fire a background in gradient bands of purple representing ground, horizon, sky. The person who designed the cover must just have graduated from graphic design school because everything is neatly and obviously geometrical. The vampire crowd makes a tidy pyramid with the hero at the apex. The fire behind is also a pyramid, slightly offset from the people pyramid. Both fire and people pyramids are off center. The background gradient bands are nicely proportioned and perfectly straight. The artist gets an A for compositional balance. I had the book at work the other day to read at lunch and it caught my boss's eye. She got strangely excited, wanted to know what I was reading since I always read such good books. I wanted to run away because I was so embarrassed by the cover. I showed her the book and she nearly squealed with delight. In one sentence I told her what the book was about, sure it was not her type of reading. But to my surprise she was quite excited about it and hurried away to her office to write down the title and author before she forgot it. I am normally not like this about books I take to work, but there is something about the cover that makes me want to hide it. The story itself turned out to be pretty good. It is short and reads very fast. It is also one of those books where the writing is terrible but the story is compelling enough you are willing to overlook the defects of the clunky sentences. Robert Neville, perhaps the only man left alive, tells how everyone has turned into vampires. The only man in town, Neville has turned his house into a fortress since the vampires, especially his former neighbor, love to come and stand on his front lawn and taunt him every night. The book is a story of survival in a number of ways. I want to say more, but will refrain because I don't want to give anything away for others who might be reading the book. I will say, however, the reader is left to wonder what s/he would do in the same situation. I'm pretty sure I would have made some different choices, especially at the end. If you are wondering what the heck I am talking about, you will just have to read the book and find out. This weekend we are planning on watching the movie, Omega Man starring Charlton Heston and, if we can find it, The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price. Both are movei adaptations of the book. Should be fun.

    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    Alyss in Wonderland

    I finished reading The Looking Glass Wars the other day. I must say I quite enjoyed it. The book is no earth-shattering classic to sit alongside Lewis Carroll's books, but it is entertaining and sometimes that's all one wants. The story is not a complete reworking of Alice in Wonderland. Beddor takes pieces of the Alice books and turns them into a different story, familiar but not a retelling. Looking Glass Wars opens with Princess Alyss Heart's seventh birthday. Everything is going as one would expect a royal birthday party to go until Redd, the Queen's sister makes a surprise attack on Wonderland. Redd believes the throne should rightfully be hers and it's "Off with their heads!" to anyone who opposes her. Hatter Madigan, head of the Millinery, sort of like the Secret Service of Wonderland, whisks Alyss away. They are chased by Redd's assassin to the Pool of Tears. Plenty of people have jumped in but no one has ever returned. Hatter jumps with Alyss, they get separated and Alyss ends up in Oxford and Hatter in France. Alyss is taken in as an orphan, become Alice Liddell, while Hatter searches everywhere for her. Does he find her? Do they make it back to Wonderland? I'm not telling. I did find the book to be a page-turner though. But the book is not all plot. Imagination is the unavoidable theme. There is white imagination, practiced for the good of everyone, and black imagination, practiced for ill ends. You can guess who is on what side. Alyss is the hope of Wonderland since already as a seven-year-old she is exhibiting a prodigious imagination. But when she ends up in Oxford, her imagination is slowly and inexorably crushed. It is a sad thing to see as both children and well-meaning adults dampen her spirit. My only complaint is that some key elements towards the end of the book happen too fast and too neatly. It is a slight annoyance that doesn't ruin the book, only makes me wish for a bit more complexity. Lots of favorite characters from the Alice books appear and some newly created ones as well. Fun, easy reading. And it looks like this is just the first of three books.

    Monday, October 02, 2006


    The stars have aligned and poetry is everywhere. Dorothy has a great post today about poetry. But even before that, I was thinking about it. I've somehow managed to up my annual poetry book quotient from an average of one per year to two so far this year and I am well on my way to three. Plus, since my Bookman and I moved all of our poetry books upstairs, I've dipped into more of them than I ever have before. Over the weekend I read a short interview with Donald Hall in which he was asked "what do you make of the idea that more people write poetry than read it?" His response? "Well, that's not true." He goes on to talk about the growing number of people who show up for poetry readings. There are more people who attend than buy the book, but this strikes me as very exciting. To me, poetry has always been something that should be read aloud. Poetry is meant for the ear, and when I read poetry to myself I always hear it even if I am not speaking it. And usually if I try to read it out like I hear it in my head I fail miserably at it, stumbling over words and breathing in the wrong places. But listening to someone who is a good reader, the poet herself perhaps, is always exciting. So many more nuances are added and it makes the poem more meaningful. And then, while reading Michael Dirda's Book by Book I came upon a little essay "Five Propositions about Poetry." Here is proposition number four:

    Nearly everyone can come up with good explanations for why they don't keep up with contemporary poetry, but the main one is simply that reading strange and unfamiliar poems sounds a lot like schoolwork. The language often seems so...high-pitched and bizarre or just plain hard to understand. In fact, the best way to enjoy contemporary verse is simply to read it as though you were dipping into a magazine, listening to a news report, overhearing a conversation. Don't make it a big deal, simply thrill to the words or story. As the critic Marvin Murdrick once proclaimed: "You don't read for understanding, you read for excitement. Understanding is a product of excitement." Later on, you can return to the poems that speak most strongly to you and make them a part of your life.
    And so I was inspired to pick up Teahouse of the Almighty by Patricia Smith which has been languishing by my bedside. I was just going to read one poem. And that turned into reading just one more. And then maybe another one would be good. Until I had read about a dozen and felt inexplicably happy (inexplicably because the poems aren't generally happy). One of my favorite poems of the evening was "Hallelujah with Your Name," and here is a small piece of it that contributed to my happiness:
    Slow dancing is the way sin looks when you hose it down and set it upright, and all the time it is the considering of further things, the music being incidental, it might as well not be there. You can slow dance to a dollop of chocolate, a wrinkled shred of silk, the hot static of a child's hair being brushed. Drag slow on top of an angry lover's silence, along the jittery borders of a rain ring, on the cluttered sidewalk outside wherever you are. You can dance to the arcing brows of folks wondering why you have stopped to dance. Under the thinnest pretense, you can demand touch. Without considering consequence, you can sign your body over.
    Gorgeous, yes? The article that Dorothy discusses in her post mentions the pervading fear people have of poetry. I felt that fear in high school and through most of college until I had a teacher that changed poetry from a puzzle to be solved into an experience. She returned to me the pleasure I felt when reading poetry when I didn't know poetry was supposed to be hard; the sounds and textures of the words bumping up against each other, not always making sense but always creating their own little shimmer of magic. I can't tell you what that professor did that was any different than teachers before her. Maybe it was a combination of things. Maybe it was something she did that matched up to a willingness on my part to be open to what poetry had to offer. Whatever it was, I am grateful for it.