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10/10-10/12 2003
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reading as a writer

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what I read in:
1996 :
1998 : 1999
2000 : 2001
2002 : 2003
2004 : 2005

2006 :


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: may : jun
jul : aug : sep
: nov : dec

jan : feb : mar
apr : may : jun
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oct : nov : dec

jan : feb : mar
apr : may : jun
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jan : feb : mar
apr : may : jun
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may : jun : jul
aug : sep : oct
nov : dec


Tuesday, July 29, 2003
culling the herd

Last night I read through the first page or two of half a dozen books I have checked out from the public library. None, but one, were to my liking. I read the introduction to An interrupted life: the diaries of Etty Hillesum, 1941-1943 and the first page of her first entry. It looked promising. Etty was a Dutch Jew living in Amsterdam, not far from Anne Frank. She died at Auschwitz. Reading diaries appeals to me, and I have a special interest in Holocaust diaries.

I can vaguely recall the covers of the books that I decided not to read; their titles completely escape me. I did begin Hemingway's A moveable feast. The writing is tolerable, but organized to my taste. Perhaps I'll enjoy his fiction better than his non-fiction. I marked the page, I read about a dozen of them, and may come back to it. Or, I may try his fiction. I have something of his that a friend gave me, told me it was great and that I should read it. I've been opposed to reading his work on principle for years, though I'm sure some nugget passed thorough my brain in a literature class, but perhaps I can give him a chance. I probably won't visit his house on my trip to Key West. An article I read yesterday said that his spirit had long since departed that spot. I'm not so much interested in his spirit as I am in descendants of his cats. Maybe I'll try Elizabeth Bishop, she called the island home for a while. And two other favorites of mine live in the Keys, but it's unlikely that I'll run into Ehrenreich or Hiaasen.

There's such an excellent article about book dedications that I read in the Guardian today. It is a bit bashy, towards men that is. But really, I've been paying more attention to Acknowledgements than dedications lately and have found that quite a few writers don't include them in their books.

In my efforts to expand my reading and discover new writers, I've been looking through various literary magazines. I won't name the ones that I didn't find useful, but I am enjoying the Carolina Quarterly. I've read the first two items in the spring 2003 issue, and have been tickled with the wonderful stories. Who knew? It's not the Paris Review or the New Yorker, and I have no clue as to what its cachet might be, but it is great fun and some of the most engaging writing I've read in any of the literary journals to date. The first story is by Robert Wexelblatt, "Intuition of the news." I'm not sure how to describe it, except that I liked it, though that's not always enough of a recommendation for others. You know, taste and all. Though I haven't finished it yet, R.T. Smith's, "How the Tv book club nearly saved my life" is fresh, charming, lively, quirky, and comedic. It also smells and tastes like home. I'll have to read through this bibliography of his work.

Monday, July 28, 2003
would you like fries with your McRegrets?

Still reading along in Allison's book, though not making great headway.

Picked up the Best American travel writing the most recent one that my library owns. There was one story I completely read, can't recall the title. And, there was one other that hooked me from the get go. I can't decide whether I was not in the mood for it, or if travel writing as a genre doesn't appeal to me. In writing about some quasi-southern topic, one of the writers brought up CW history. That's the quickest way to turn me off of any writing. Mention that Sherman did this and Grant did that and I'm moving on to the next article without a second glance. As far as I'm concerned the CW is SO Over. If I wanted to read about it I'd sink into a Foote book. If I wanted to live it, I'd be a re-enactor.

Stephen King's On writing : A memoir of the craft, was excellent. I enjoyed it so much, finished it up in one sitting on Sunday. I had forgotten his voice; it has been so long since I've read his work. He made so much sense. His book was recommended to me as one of the two best about writing. The other was Lamott's Bird by bird, which I had already read.

I bought a Modern Library edition of Eduora Welty's best advice about writing: On writing. I took it along to the pool because it was thin, but only read the introduction and first few pages.

I read one or two poems from 101 poems that could save your life, another smallish book, though not mine. I may want to own it. It doesn't lend itself to being read from cover to cover. In fact, the editor suggests turning to specific sections for words of wisdom when you need inspiration about love or loss or friendship.

Friday, July 25, 2003
trash you? no, trash me

Once again I'm reading Dorothy Allison's Trash. As a fan of writers, I readily admit that one of the high points in my worship was sitting less than 50 yards away from Miz Allison in a ballroom at the San Francisco Westin St. Francis. She spoke, too! Not to me, but to the audience. I was too timid to approach her before or after her speech to ask for her photo or autograph. I suspect that I am too respectful of persons for whom life in the public eye has become routine. I should get over that. I idolize writers much more so than ordinary celebrities. The reader/writer bond transcends mere celluloid. Maybe it is similar between all performers and their audience. I wouldn't sell short the relationship between musician and listener because I felt every word that Sinead sang out of my speakers last night.

Thursday, July 24, 2003
noncommittal reading

The first twelve pages of Sea legs: Tales of a woman oceanographer didn't do anything for me. Maybe it was all the talk about the Cold War. I couldn't warm up to the prose.

I'm rather sad, and because of that I can't seem to connect with any books, although I did begin Random family: Love, drugs, trouble, and coming of age in the Bronx yesterday. It is a world foreign to my own. And, the cast of characters is difficult to keep up with. It's non-fiction about the ghetto world. An interesting piece of journalism, the back flyleaf describes it as an urban soap opera. I may reconsider; not sure I'm up for that.

To soothe my saddened soul and revitalize my reptilian brain, I ordered several books. Sins of the seventh sister and Some of the parts are the only two that I can think of... so soon I forget. Consumption offers nothing but a fleeting high. As an avid book buyer, selecting new books cheered me up slightly, but now that the thrill is gone, I'm back in my dark office thinking too much about all the other books I need to read first.

I'm reviewing a huge reference book for LJ: Latin American and Caribbean artists of the modern era. I'll be dragging out all my other references to compare it with this new one. Merrily we go, reading biographical entries all day long-o! Then I have History of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad to review for TL before September. I've put it off because it was not my first choice. It's thick, but has illustrations. Oh, come to think of it, I received a lovely package earlier this week containing a two volume set. I'm to review Encyclopedia of Population for Choice. It was like a birthday or holiday, opening the box, peering inside and finding a two-volume set nestling in brown paper like rattlesnakes in autumn leaves.

I discovered a Georgia Top 25 reading list. I've read 5 or 6 of them and at various times tried several and found them not my taste; Tobacco Road for instance. The Ga. Literary Festival is in Madison this year and that's only five hours away, but I can't decide whether it would be worth the drive.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003
library visitation

Besides browsing through three amazing independent book stores last week, I visited two libraries. One public, the other academic. The Olive Kettering Library at Antioch College was a victim of that terrible trend in institutional architecture wherein buildings lack character and appear to be made of shoe boxes. The guy at the circulation desk was nice when I asked how to print something. He sent me upstairs in search of a mythic man who could arrange print credits. I never found him. Had to move from PC to PC to find one that worked; they're a mac campus and my diskette was not working in that. I didn't have time to look at their collection though I'm sure they've got some good stuff. I typed out the last of several encyclopedia articles I've been finishing up.

The public library in Yellow Springs has an amazing sculpture out front. The architecture was disappointing though. Just another shoe box building, but it had more natural lighting and seemed laid out better than the college library. The librarians were helpful and nice. None wore their hair in buns, but they may have been wearing sensible shoes. Yellow Springs is just that kind of place.

Since the devil wears prada is overdue, i thought I'd try to read it. The first two pages turned me off. Then I read the jacket leaf and decided that the book was not my taste. I couldn't relate to a character who is consumed by her clothing. Not like spontaneous combustion, but obsessed with her suede pants and heels.

There have been two or maybe three stories in the Pushcart Prize 2002, that have engaged me. There are far too many that left me cold. I don't spend more than a page or two reading a short story, especially since it is not my favorite form of fiction. I have the 2003 edition as well, and hope that it doesn't feel like a waste of my time, either.

I have Sea Legs: Tales of a woman oceanographer and Things you should know with me today. I'll be spending three hours at the reference desk, and if things are slow, then it is best that I have a choice of reading material. There was this one time, and I can't remember where I was, maybe on vacation, that I only brought one book with me. I had never read the author before, and once I started the book I knew I was going to hate it. But, I was so desperate to read that I finished the yucky thing anyway. I swore that I would never be in that predicament again. I'd rather be burdened by three or four extra books than to be bookless. I also picked up Random family: Love, drugs, trouble, and coming of age in the Bronx, which looks good.

Monday, July 21, 2003
sex & other stories

Steve Almond is known for not shying away from sex in his short stories. In fact, it's what all the critics, reviewers, and probably readers too, focus on. It was that promise that made me want to buy it and read it. I finished his collection, My life in heavy metal: Stories last night. The stories were rather good. I'm sure some stood out while I read the collection, but this morning, none come to mind.

No time for reading last week; I was in Yellow Springs. An amazing village, it manages to sustain three independent book stores. I visited them all but only bought from two. Now, if I can remember what I bought. When Katie wakes: A memoir by Connie May Fowler, Lost in a good book: A Thursday Next novel by Jasper Fforde, The courage to write: How writers transcend fear by Ralph Keyes, and one other.

I read the introduction of Trash, and a few stories from OA's summer issue, which I take issue with. Every story, article, poem is written by men. Where have the girls of summer gone?

I have tons of overdue library books to take care of; it's that time of year. Just $1.65.

Wednesday, July 9, 2003
sperm & other stories

When the need for something different to read arose last night I turned to Things you should know: A collection of stories by A.M. Homes. I bought the book several weeks ago, where it patiently sat on my bedside table. Instead of getting back into a subject of a religious nature, which I thought was a bit too demanding last evening, I decided to try Homes' stories. The first, about an errant mother-in-law whose family places a chip in her neck in order to track her when she has run off, was slightly startling, but good. It paled in comparison to the second story. A women who is desperate to get pregnant stalks cute lifeguards. She deposits condoms in their station houses or whatever those things are, then stalks her favorite ones at all hours using her night vision goggles. Here's the weird part: she rescues the used condoms and using a turkey baster or something similar and self-inseminates with the spent semen. Needless to say that story stands out among the collection and for the life of me I cannot recall the third story I read. I think there are at least 8 or 9 stories all together.

Tuesday, July 8, 2003
zen, Patty & grace

Zen in the art of writing was okay. At least parts of it were. It is a collection of Ray Bradbury's essays about writing. He describes his process and where he gets his ideas from, and those were both helpful things to learn, but a lot of the other stuff was not terribly useful to me. It was recommended to me as a classic writing book.

I got a new issue of Readerville last week, maybe two weeks ago but haven't had time to read through it yet. I browsed the pages when it first arrived. It seems that Patricia Highsmith pops up everywhere these days. That's been the case for the past two weeks. Everybody's thrilled to review the new biography that was just published. I've never read any of her books, though I did see the adaptation of the Talented Mr. Ripley starring Mr. Damon and the stunning Mr. Law. Over the years I've caught snippets of information about her which has left me both intrigued to learn more about her and inspired to read her work.

I've read three chapters in Kristin Hahn's In search of grace: A religious outsider's journey across America's landscape of faith. The first two were about Native American religion. She talks with a medicine man/traditional healer and they share a sacred smoke. Next chapter she heads to the southwest and eats peyote with a group of prayerful people. She talks to two different Old Older Amish, one who left his community and was shunned and the other who remain within his community but isn't afraid to speak to outsiders. The Amish chapter was fascinating except that she only talked to men. She's a good writer, and fills the book with personal anecdotes while finding connections to what she learned from the spiritual people she speaks with. I'm definitely interested in reading the rest of her book; brought it with me to dip into while I do my time at the reference desk tonight.

Sunday, July 6, 2003
character librarians

It seems like I've read several books by this point, bust actually I've only finished one: Housewrights. And my, it was most excellent. I didn't want it to end. It takes place in Vermont, I think from 1907-1930 something. The main character is a librarian, and I'm sure that's why I initially wanted to read the book. Writers often craft librarians into some of the most interesting, influential, diabolical, or nasty characters within their stories. I can't think of her name just now. She marries a twin, Oren, and his brother Ian, who was wounded in the Great War, comes to live with them in the house that Oren built. There are a few library scenes, and they're likely enough. Things start going wrong when the townsfolk wonder about the nature of the three's relationship. It was so well-written, and well-plotted. I was sad when it ended. It was quite a short book. That's part of it's charm, since one reviewer compared it to Ethan Frome, one of my favorite books; definitely in my top ten.

I read a smattering of stores from New stories from the South: The year's best 2002. There were several that I could engage with. And others that I took a liking to immediately. I enjoyed George Singelton's story, "Show-and-tell" and it seems like there was one other that stood out as well. Oh yeah, Julie Orringer's "Pilgrims." The collection as a whole was pretty unremarkable. There were entirely too many manly tales: Guns, boats, and trains. Another problem was too much description of place. With a short story I want to meet the character immediately and not have to wade through mucky bottomed creeks just to meet who I'll be reading about.

Some of the other books that I tried to read this weekend are: True history of the Kelly gang (I probably would have liked it if I'd given it a chance, just wasn't in that mood), Already dead : a California gothic (same story, not in the mood for gothic), Moth diaries : a novel (didn't seem like anything interesting was ever going to happen), Pilgrim's digress : my perilous, fumbling quest for the celestial city (not enough of the writer in the first few chapters, it was all about other people), and Beast God forgot to invent (the language scared me off in the first page or two).

Now I'm reading another Alexandra Johnson book, but I probably won't finish it. I'm pretty sure that I've checked it out before and didn't make it through the first time. It is: Hidden writer: Diaries and the creative life . I'm kind of tired of the topic at this point, so I should return it to the library. I must finish Global woman : nannies, maids, and sex workers in the new economy and begin Curious incident of the dog in the night-time because they will both be due the middle of next week.

Oh, I have Nigella Lawson's How to be a domestic goddess: Baking and the art of comfort cooking. I love her show. But this book is divine. It is checked out from the library. I shall have to own copies of each of her books. They will top my holiday gift list. The things she does with rhubarb are positively sinful.

I bought two books yesterday. Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille and Erica Jong's Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones: A novel. I read the first twenty pages of Cowboy Feng's, and it seems good enough so far.

Thursday, July 3, 2003
sexed to death by parisian clowns

How could I forget to mention that I'm reading Steven Almond's collection of short stories, My life in heavy metal. I'm guessing that his motto is: Pimp what you love. Love what you pimp. How's that for a recommendation? I believe I'm reading the third or fourth story. They've been good thus far. A colleague noticed the book's cover and questioned what I was reading. Seems the guy on the cover appears to be wearing clown makeup. I have strong feelings about people who like to dress up like clowns. It's unnatural. Gimme a sexy transvestite any day; at least that's more honest and mentally healthy. And, less children are frightened by transvestites than by clowns. Often my mind turns to the notion of fetishes. For example, there are no ornithology fetish sites. At least there weren't last time I checked a few months ago. There are plenty of clown fetish sites though. And, the thought of clown porn had never crossed my mind. Hard to believe that I'm so naive.

Leaving a trace was an okay book, though I don't know that I would find the exercises useful. Of course, I didn't do them because I'm such a reader. I prefer to read through a book without too many interruptions. I'm not about to get freaky with my pen and paper, other than jotting down quick notes, in the middle of a book. Johnson made mention of several books, memoirs mostly, that she liked. A "suggested reading" list would complete the book.

With weather like today's, misty rain, low-laying ominous clouds, and cool temps, I so want to be in Paris. I know it's nasty there in summer. The June days I spent there were miserable. I long for Paris in the springtime. My search for travel memoir or personal essays with Paris as the subject was somewhat fruitful. I have a list of a half dozen titles. None of the libraries that I have access to own any of them though. There's a french reference book that I can't find, and I cannot recall its title. It might be: Petit Larousse Illustre 2003. It's $80. I don't think I've ever spent that much for a single book.

On a lark, I found The Flaneur: A stroll through the paradoxes of Paris at big chain bookstore. Physically, the book is perfect: 11cm X 18 cm. A gorgeous black and white photo is on the book jacket cover, as well as the book's cover. I have no clue of which snowy park it depicts. I read the first 56 pages last night and would have continued on until completing it but I could not keep my eyes open. Flanuer is not one of the vocabulary words I learned in french class. A noun, it is a person who strolls, ambles, or loiters through town without apparent purpose.Edmund White wanders into parts of Paris that are at times unknown to natives. He mentioned the closed stacks at Parisian libraries: no browsing for you or me. Soon, he'll be writing of bookstores and cafes. It's a mix of past and present. I read a few pages about Colette last night. I'm eager to return to reading.

Tuesday, July 1, 2003
swan dives and journal birds

Guess they can write it but it doesn't mean that anybody reads it: Lame tv authors.

VLS has a list of beach reads. The only one on the list that I have is Margaret Atwood's book. It is in the stack. I've not had much success with anything other than Handmaid's Tale.

For several weeks I've been craving the new issue of Book. But, when it arrived last week, I barely read any of it. I usually go through it once kind of quickly to see what interests me. If there's something great, then I'll stop and read it then. Otherwise, I put it aside to wait for another time when I'll read it cover to cover. It's open to the interview with Stephen King; that was the first thing I wanted to read. In other magazine news, the new copy of Readerville came on one of the rainiest days. Luckily it suffered little water damage as it was cradled between two other magazines.

Swan was an intriguing book. It kept my interest even though the first 2/3 of the book frustrated me with its languidness. There was so much back story. There were several extraneous characters who had whole chapters devoted to them. The strange thing is that I liked that aspect of the book, but at times it seemed like a smokescreen, a way of putting off getting to the conclusion. And, there was the reoccurring problem of transition. Would I recommend the book? Possibly. But strongly? Maybe. It's unlike me to be so wishy-washy about a book; it's unfair to the author. Just because it didn't meet my expectations doesn't mean that the writer didn't accomplish her objectives. She told a good story.

I'm almost done with Leaving a trace: On keeping a journal: The art of transforming life into stories. It has inspired me to become a regular diarist. I've kept one since I was thirteen or fourteen. And while there is sporadic coverage for some years, it has remained a constant in my life. My hopes for the book and what is actually is are quite different. At times it fulfills my need for cultural information and demography and physical descriptions of journals. It's geared more towards people who want to use their journaling in a more creative way, as a diving off point for short stories, fiction, or creative non-fiction. The exercises at the conclusion of each chapter are probably useful, but not something I'll likely try. I'm more interested in re-reading my old journals and searching for patterns that give me insight into my present and future. Johnson writes that journals contain ten categories of life patterns: longing; fear, mastery; (intentional) silences; key influences; hidden lessons; secret gifts; challenges; unfinished business; untapped potential. Each category corresponds to a way we engage or hold back in life (125). Further, she "...noticed that all journals, not just mine, have at least three through lines that unify the earlier mentioned pattern categories, ongoing questions involving ambition, decisions, memory (161)."