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|what I'm reading now
Friday, January 31, 2003
Glanced through Feeling good, a self-help cognitive therapy book. The basic point is to alter your negative moods by changing your negative thoughts and self-defeating behavior patterns. The only section that addressed any of my "issues" was the one on procrastination, motivation and action. The writing wasn't particularly engaging, either. I'll be returning it to the library asap. It stank too, I couldn't figure out what the odor was. Probably best that I don't know or think about it anymore.
Passed The Hours along to a friend. I'm sure she'll really enjoy it. There's a certain pleasure in setting books loose and letting them travel on their own. I should do this more often.
Have to think of a book to recommend to my dental hygienist next week. Last time I had my teeth cleaned she asked if I had read anything good, and I suggested she read the Secret life of bees. She passed a message along via my mother that she loved the book and expects me to tip her off to another great book on my appointment next week. The pressure is on. What to suggest? Oh, definitely Life of Pi or Carol Shields' Unless those were two of the best books that I read last year.
Thursday, January 30, 2003
Dennis Danvers is one of my favorite science fiction writers. He deftly weaves social justice ideals into the narrative. Great characters, plot, dialogue. I've been looking for a new book from him for several months. I read End of days, devoured it actually and then read the first in that series, Circuit of Heaven. I've read the fourth world, but I don't remember Time and time again, one of his first books. His newest book, the watch: memoirs of a revolutionist takes a historical figure, Peter Kropotkin from his deathbed, uses future technology to restore his body to a youthful 30 years and transports him (time travel, yippee!) to Richmond, Va. in 1999 where he's supposed to bring on the revolution. The watch was too short. I read it in no time.
Finished Learning to float: the journey of a woman, a dog, and just enough men (by Lili Wright) on the plane yesterday afternoon. I can't find a good review at any newspapers or sites. Maybe I'll write one in a few days or so. Something worthy. Basically a travel memoir combined with an examination of the men she's loved and how each relationship ended. She searches for meaning and gathers advice from various people she meets on her drive from Maine to Key West. A solid book, good writing, interesting anecdotes. A few jewels that I can't report just now because I've already loaned it out to a friend.
I bought Caught inside: a surfer's year on the California coast (and the Wright book, too) at Robin's Books, a fabulous independent bookstore in Philadelphia. Also bought An architectural guidebook to Philadelphia and a guide to 20th century photographers, but I cannot recall its exact title. But, I found those at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is now my very favorite museum in the world. Also bought City of God and the most recent issue of Conde Nast Traveler, which I subscribe to, but had forgotten exactly which travel magazine I get. The cover story was "perfect Paris." I couldn't wait until I got home to get my dose.
Tuesday, January 22, 2003
Into thin air is okay so far. The writing borders on the bland, but the author promises to enliven things a bit later on. I've known of the book for years, and have probably checked it out several times, but never got around to reading it. I'm about a quarter of the way through it. Idealistic young man divests himself of earthly possessions to tramp around America. Goes up to Alaska and dies in the wilderness in the shell of a bus. The story is his journey, since his final destination is...well, final.
I had Paul Theroux's Hotel Honolulu on my bedside tables as well (I could stack four dozen books on that table), and read the first line, which intrigued me. Something about finding hotel rooms erotic. I closed it immediately because the book's spine was coming apart, and there was something mysterious crusty on the book cover. Oh, and the pages looked all grubby like somebody had something vile all over their fingers. I'll find another copy of the book and read it eventually.
I want to read Eden, but the library doesn't have it. Wonder if it ever will. Now's the time to sigh.
At least three books on my shelf are for review. The art of Adolf Wolfli looks pretty interesting. So much repetition and interesting color choices lend a tribal feel to his ouvre (a favorite, much overused word of mine). While I'm a "trained artist," I'm drawn to work produced by the "untrained." Work created by the Folk/Outsider artist has an authenticity that is sadly missing from trained artists', contrived works. Another book I must review is Music inspired by art: a guide to recordings. Basically a reference work, it's mostly entries and lists. Then there's Tennessee place names, which I look forward to reading for obvious reasons. Why is an Ohio native writing a book about Tennessee? That seems un-Tennessean. Although, it too is more a reference than something get comfortable with on my favorite couch. Here's the first chapter.
Monday, January 21, 2003
Not as much reading done as I would have liked. Had a snow day Friday and then an extra long weekend thanks to MLK. Too many reality shows on tv that caught my attention. I watched several hours of Tough Enough 3; I'm caught up now on the whole season and will be watching Thursday night for the big news. Hands down, the winner is Matt. Some of those other guys are robots disguised as young men. Just wait, you'll see.
Throughout it all, I finally and reluctantly finished Paris to the moon. There were a dozen or so pages remaining. I put the book aside for a few days, and then it was so difficult to wade back into it.
A few days ago I picked up First we quit our jobs: how one work-driven couple got on the road to a new life. Thought it might speak to me. After the first page or two I knew right away that I would not enjoy reading it. Marilyn Abraham didn't engage me. Too bad, nice concept.
Another book I carted home from the library was Peter Mayle's French lessons: adventures with knife, fork, and corkscrew. It was excellent. His writing is so accessible and a joy to read. Such a pleasure. Decidedly non-British in the best sense of the word. Often a certain British turn of phrase makes me cringe, but there was none of that in Mayle's work. I cannot wait to read his other books. While Mayle wasn't overly personal in revealing aspects of his life and personality, there was enough of him present in his prose to impress me. His voice is genuine, not contrived or shielded. Maybe he just fooled me. Regardless, I'll sing his praises. Wine tasting in Burgundy was one of the best chapters. I forgot what the title was, something clever about spitting or swallowing. The caves that house most of the wine have huge troughs in which to spit wine. Sure, you want to swallow it all because it's good, but if you're too inebriated and can't finish the tasting... and there are several days of events and it would be such poor taste to waste oneself so soon.
Books on my bedside
Thursday, January 16, 2003
Stupidly I left Paris to the moon at work and didn't get to read any of it last night. Instead I began the editor's preface to RG Collingwood's Idea of history, which made the TLS' list of the hundred most influential books since the war. They're categorized by decade, to make it easier, I suppose. I shall be glad to make it to the end of the preface and get on to the main feature, but I have no clear thoughts about it thus far.
And then I read a few chapters of Travel writer's handbook, 5th edition. It's considered the standard in that genre, but so far, I've not read anything that I didn't already know. Here's to hoping that it will improve.
Several books going at once is nothing new for me. Finishing them all is the trick though. Started Drawing on America's past yesterday. I'll read the three essays and some of the entries, but it's basically a fancy exhibition catalog.
Wednesday, January 15, 2003
I shall console myself by chirping my schoolgirl french. I lay in bed last night recalling vocabulary. I have no clue how to say twenty (it's vingt), and I've forgotten all my verbs. But, I can ask tons of questions. It is doubtful that I could understand a word that would be spoke to me. Time to watch Amelie again, maybe I can turn the subtitles off. Anything is possible with DVD.
Tuesday, January 14, 2003
Reluctantly I returned Mrs. Dalloway to the library without finishing it. Foolishly I believed that I would read it. Woolf is an acquired taste, and someday I hope that I can appreciate her writing. It did make me happy, however, to hear one of the public library's circulation clerks call out to a library patron, that here was Mrs. Dalloway, can you believe that someone had just returned it? Good that I could deliver it into someone else's hands, someone who wanted it.
Po Bronson's book was one of the best I've read. Subject aside, his writing is pleasant and good. His voice was soothing and he included a fair amount of himself in his prose, though I would have appreciated more personal revelation. The obvious level on which I connected with him is that he is a book lover. Take this passage for instance (p. 358): I did it because I believe in books. Books have been my classroom and my confidant. Books have widened my horizons. Books have comforted me in my hardest times. Books have changed my life. What should I do with my life? was comforting and inspiring. I received the recent issue of Book in the mail two days ago and only had the chance to read through its entirety yesterday. Imagine the pleasant surprise of discovering a profile of Bronson on page 11.
Last night I started reading Ann Beattie's The doctor's house. She is my new favorite writer. It's the story of a brother and sister who grew up with an alcoholic mother and a distant father. Nina is a recluse and never recovered from her husband's death in her early thirties. Andrew is a sexual predator of sorts and always makes bad decisions about relationships. Beattie divides the book into three sections, giving Andrew, Nina, and their mother almost equal time to share their perspective with the reader. We don't hear from the doctor/father, which works well to depict him as the villain of the story, although his particular brand of dysfunction is hinted at several times in the text. The writing is glorious, simple, and yet resounds more than you would first imagine. The conclusion is ambiguous. My ambivalence aside regarding the use of that particular writing device, I think this is a perfect ending that continually engages the reader instead of lulling the reader into a false sense of conclusion be it happy or tragic.
Agamemnon is torturous to read. My eyes blurred and my mind drifted instantly whilst I tried to understand what exactly the watchman was getting at. I'm a terrible failure at reading things written centuries ago.
January 9, 2003
No sea or sailing for me last night, unfortunately. Will have to revisit J. Raban another night. While randomly browsing amazon I came across a new book called What should I do with my life? The true story of people who answered the ultimate question I figure that thirty-one is as good an age as any to ask The Question. Luckily, the Elizabethton (next town over) library had a copy and I drove twenty minutes to borrow it. They finished cataloging it earlier in the day; I had to ask for it. While reading it, I realized that I stopped asking that question (what should i do with my life?) and brainwashed myself into loving what I do instead of doing what I love. Po Bronson's book is exciting to read (and his photo on the book jacket is lovely to behold). Even though I can't read it at work, I brought it with me. It's sitting next to me because I can't wait to get back inside its covers. I've been taking notes, even. The book is the culmination of interviews with seventy people who are doing what they love or are still struggling with identifiable barriers preventing them from doing so. Each chapter builds upon the previous one--sort of a mini-lesson one by one by one... It's not hokey at all, just validating and inspirational in the best possible sense. I'm about a quarter of the way through it, at chapter sixteen (there are 56 or 57 of them. They're all short though, less than 7 pages each). Hope to finish it in another day or two. Jamie saw it and wants to read it. Since I'm all about sharing books, it's hers as soon as I'm done. New philosophy, here and now: Read & Release. I kept thinking that I'd share Piano shop on the left bank with my mother, since she plays. But actually, my sister-in-law might enjoy it more. She has always wanted to play and is taking lessons for the first time at mid-thirty-something.
January 8, 2003
Finished Piano shop on the left bank. While it was well-written and a pleasurable reading experience, someone who really loves pianos would probably enjoy it much more than I. It was valuable in that I gained knowledge of something new. Learned a few life lessons too, about rekindling old passions and the power of music in one's life.
Spent two hours of
my life reading I know
what you're thinking. Poor choice. I'm making bad
selection decisions in my reading material. Understanding why I have
this compulsion for pop psychology books is beyond me, but my horoscope today read:
In the coming months, you'll concentrate deeply on figuring out
who you really are; you'll make many breakthroughs as you create a more
Finally, I've started Passage to Juneau: A sea and its meanings. Who knows how many times I've borrowed the book from various libraries. In fact, I was sure that I owned the book, yet I cannot find it on my bookshelves. It's a thick book, and I made it through the second chapter last night, deciding to get to bed early so I'd be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for work (that never happens). Raban described his ketch, and wrote that the bookshelves inside the boat are what sold him on the boat. He shared that the only time that he could write well was when he sailed out into Puget Sound and anchored near an island. His boat sounds like an ideal respite from the demands of the world. It's funny that one of his major delights is building his boat's library. He also mentions how the books somehow escape their shelves when the waters are rough. He finds them strangely coupled, combinations he never would have imagined. I'm pleased with the book thus far, although my maritime knowledge is zilch. I love reading about the sea and sailing, but my eyes begin to blur as that specialized terminology rolls out. I only know my way around those crafts powered by paddles; a canoe or kayak. But someday soon I will know more.
Charles mentioned that he found my readingroom "disturbingly extensive" and was dismayed that there were no guitar links here. I reminded him that this was a readingroom, not a guitar-room or a listening room. Today I find the sitar appeals to me.
January 7, 2003
Didn't quite finish the piano book last night. I believe I have two or three more chapters to go. Reading the two chapters that I did last night wiped me out. I can't say that I've ever felt so drowsy while reading a book. Probably not the author's fault, but mine. Slept about twelve hours. Hope to finish the book at lunch today. Hope I don't spill any soup on its pages.
Got a note from someone who I assumed was Candace DeLong (wrote Special Agent, a book I read in May 2002) this morning; the person didn't sign their name. The writer wasn't thrilled with how I felt about the book. I can understand that. But then the writer slammed me and my prose, quite defensively I might add. Sometimes readers don't fully connect with the books that they read for many reasons. I could apologize and go read it again, see if my experience wasn't more positive the second time, but there are too many other books out there that I want to read. I suppose I could be more thoughtful when sharing my feelings about books; balance the negative with positive remarks. Perhaps writers should refrain from searching for things about themselves online. They might not like what they find. Too, I could live by the "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" proverb. How helpful is that when it comes to writing though? Writers need criticism to grow their craft. I appreciated the criticisms that I received in this morning's note: stop using pissed & stuff in the prose; go back to kindergarten. Pissed & stuff is me, you see. That's accessible to readers, something that most can relate to. My "other" writing, the stuff with the academic tone, is dense and embellished. At times I barely understand what I mean.
January 6, 2003
Tonight I'll pick up at chapter fifteen in the Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier. The Paris angle is what appealed to me about this book. However, it's much more about pianos than I thought it would be. I can be fabulously dense about some things sometimes. The book is quite good, the writing is nice, the anecdotes are pleasant as well. I'm not a huge piano fan, although I have been thinking about playing again. Don't own a piano, so that could be a problem. Thad Carhart is a piano playing expat. An interesting bit of serendipity occurred while I was reading last night. Later this month I'm going to Philadelphia and I was searching for ballet, opera, theater to attend. The Opera Company of Philadelphia performs Verdi's La Traviata while I'm there. Carhart mentioned La Traviata in his book. My husband reminded me that I tried to play verdi as a word in a Scrabble word last week. Signs are pointing toward my going to the opera.
Last night I read
about fifteen pages of Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie.
It's a memoir, but the first chapter is so steeped in history that I
found it rough going. Nothing against reading history, that's just not
what I was up for. I may pick it up again later.
January 5, 2003
This morning I had a dream about books. I moved into a dorm room with a woman whom I've met once before. I unpacked all my worldly belongings, most of which was boxes and boxes of books. Obviously a dream because there's no way that all my belongings would fit into a tiny dorm room. I returned to the room to find that my roommate had removed all my books from the shelves and had placed them haphazardly into a built in shelf. She stuck rows and rows of books behind the ones at the front of the shelf. It was a nightmare. I protested, of course. Told her that she already had 3/4 of the room filled with her crap anyway, why bother my books? Then I flounced off in search of cardboard boxes to pack my things up and get the flock out of there.
Just minutes ago I finished Noodling for flatheads. True to the Newsweek review, it was "meticulous reporting and graceful writing--with zero condescension." Bilger writes about various Southern subcultures: cockfighting, moonshining, coon hunting, squirrel hunting, soul food, and marble shooting. All of them male subcultures. While the writing was good, it lacked a certain spark that I've grown accustomed to in my reading. There was little humor. Bilger can turn a phrase, so that wasn't disappointing, but I suppose there was very little soul, spirit in his essays. They were a bit dry and disappointing. I didn't find the topics particularly interesting, either. All that male stuff, again. "Send in the hounds," (okay, so he does possess a bit of humor, great title.) the essay about coon hunting did feature a female coon hunter/breeder. That was somewhat interesting, but ultimately Bilger didn't ask the right questions as far as I am concerned. Yes, his research is good. His use of statistics is okay, but most know not to trust those things anyway (there are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics). And, he does go into historical detail frequently enough to provide strong legs for what he writes about. Finally, my mind works. The lack of soul/spirit in this book comes down to the fact that there is very little of the author in its pages. It's strictly reporting, a choice of words, interviewing techniques.
Time to scour my shelves for something else to read. Still can't quite make it back to Mrs. Dalloway. I'm in a rare non-fiction mood. I want to read about real people, not fictional characters. The tide will turn soon, though. No doubt about it.
And then a few short hours later....Educating Esme: Diary of a teacher's first year. I picked up this book at ALA, the annual meeting in San Francisco two years ago, at the Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill booth. A short read at 202 pages, but wait... it's a smaller book with generous margins. Easy, breezy. A really great story. A dream teacher, wish I'd had one like that in fifth grade. Oh wait, I did. Mr Joy was a fabulous fifth grade teacher, besides that, he was the first male teacher I ever had. Quite the novelty back in 1980, 1981. Great dialogue that I must report though:
Leda stormed past me as I
held open the door, "If you live in a whorehouse,
you'll grow up to be a whore," she warned in a
January 4, 2003
I am very pleased with Tales of a female nomad: living at large in the world. I bought it yesterday, along with two other books. One is something about adults who want to run away from home. It targets the middle-aged retiree who yearns to live abroad. Should have read more of it before buying it. Maybe I'll return it for something more my speed.
The second book is Noodling for flatheads: moonshine, monster catfish, and other southern comforts. I didn't read enough about it either. Any book with moonshine in the title, I gotta have, but the monster catfish clinched the deal for me. The cover (trade paper) was not something to easily pass by, either. Upon closer examination, it appears to be written by some fellow from Brooklyn, New York who travels down south in search of experiences straight out of Deliverance. Oh, I'll read it alright, but I'll be ready to jump on any of his ill-conceived stereotypes...Yankee brat. Oh, maybe I am drawing from ill-conceived stereotypes. Take that back, then. Let's wait and see. Not make any snap judgments. Uh oh, a boyhood in Oklahoma. That's not really the South. Neither is Tennessee, 'cept for Memphis.
Rita Golden Gelman's Tales of a female nomad got more and more interesting with each passing chapter. I'm still slightly green with envy. Her life is truly inspirational. After divorcing her husband of several decades, she lived in Mexico, Bali, Indonesia, New Zealand, and Canada alone with few belongings and comforts of home. I especially liked what she wrote about trust & serendipity. I want more. Where's her next book? Maybe another twenty years... this one spanned from the mid 1980s until 2000-something.
Am still stuck at the same spot with Mrs. Dalloway.
January 3, 2003
Instead of sleeping (because I cannot), I am thinking about the best book that I'll probably read all year. Yes, The Hours. I thought I'd read for a bit after climbing into bed sometime after midnight, but I ended up completing the book almost an hour ago, and still I cannot sleep. The book is really quite short. It's beautiful and brilliant. Melancholy and full of hope and love and...well, I'd still love it whether it garnered a Pulitzer or not. I'm already thinking about reading it again, and again and that is truly rare for me to consider.
The details Cunningham describes are enchanting. The parallels he draws are marvelous. Not a book review, per se, but my impression of a book. I don't want to go too much into plot specifics, because I don't want to spoil the book for anyone. What amazed me most of all is that it all came as a complete surprise to me. I'm used to reading mysteries and am always searching for clues so that the end doesn't come unexpectedly. Cunningham is truly gifted, a fine craftsman. I lost myself in the book, in a girlish, childish guileless manner. What a rare treat. This is why I read, and it hasn't happened in such a very, very long time.
I had written earlier of my affinity for Laura Brown. How scary is this (from the last page, 226):
Here, right here in this room, is the beloved; the traitor. Here is an old woman, a retired librarian from Toronto, wearing old woman's shoes.
What appealed to me most of all about the book is that it describes how three women come to terms with the emptiness of their lives. Outwardly they all should be happy as larks, but they are not for various reasons. One battles inner demons, another prefers to lose herself in books rather than live the idyllic life of a 1950s housewife, and the last recalls one moment in her life that she was truly happy, a moment that would have set her course down another path with her true love. This book has the power to depress or inspire, depending upon the reader's frame of mind. I'm looking forward to a fabulous year, the best yet, so for me, the book was a blessing. And, the title is so excellent as well, perfectly explained near the last third of the book.
I can't recall the last time I've fallen in love with a book. Have I ever? Regardless, it's been a very long time. And this one is a keeper, a treasure, for sure. I hope that the movie does this book justice.
Finished reading Why your life sucks last night. Mine doesn't, but I needed to gain a bit of perspective, to appreciate all the good things in my life. All in all, it was a motivational read. Filled with advice about not giving your power away, etc. I would give it to friends. I would recommend it. A good read to prime me for making resolutions for the new year. What a fine time to change one's life.
Visited the library the other day. Brought home several books, one was Mrs. Dalloway. I've read a few other things by Virginia Woolf: Orlando and Three Guineas (in which she wrote that women need rooms of their own and a stipend).
Decided to read Mrs. D because I'm also reading Michael Cunningham's The Hours. Yes, the trailer for the film has tempted me. Ed Harris and all. Can't miss that. Preparing again to read the book before seeing the movie. The Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) character intrigues me the most at this point, she's a reader, and she's going through each one of Woolf's works book by book. A woman after my own heart. I greedily devour a writers work, once I'm enchanted by them. The relationship between Clarissa and gosh, what is his name? The Ed Harris character, also intrigues me. Too bad that those actors have already infiltrated my mind, now how will I manage? How can I authentically experience the prose?
I have one of Anne Beattie's books on my bedside table. Forgot which one, have never read her before. Hope to get to it soon. Too many trade paperbacks vying for my attention right now. How odd, I smell coconut. Where is it coming from? Not a book. I could only dream. Scratch and sniff books, what a concept.
So then, on to reading resolutions for 2003. As much as I love to read, I may try to curb the amount of time that I spend with nose buried in book. While I think that much can be learned about life from reading, I'm afraid that I'm missing far too much by not experiencing the real thing for myself. I'm living through others and not living my own life. This will be a hard habit to break. Reading succors me. It is a borderline addiction, I'm sure. Though, there are worse ones to claim. I got off easy. I may even go through my personal library and get rid of a few things. Make room for new ideas. I read somewhere, a few years ago, about clearing your shelves of all your books so that you could let new ideas take hold. Get rid of all the clutter, free the mind, and the soul/heart will soon follow. I cringed at the thought of getting rid of all my books. I'm opposed to that. But, I think it could be a useful exercise. I've tried to go through the "burning house" exercise, and I realized that there are very few books that I would rescue, take with me. Sad, that most of my books function mainly as interior decor. A good time to find new homes for those books that haven't a chance of ever being read or glanced through.