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Lost State Writer's Conf.

10/10-10/12 2003
Southern Festival of Books

Virginia Festival of the Book

bookworm :: oddbook
reading as a writer
blwc :: obitpage

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

2006 :


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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, August 28, 2003
flip flap

Schemes for literary contraceptives offered at the Telegraph today. Never know when one might be handy in a pinch.

Mabel Stark ended. Sometimes I fail to completely understand events that happen if they're not explicitly explained. I'm left holding great big ambiguity, but it doesn't bother me so much. While it's rare that I miss something completely, there are days when my full attention can't be focused on reading. The book was brilliant. At 430 pages it wasn't short, but I felt as though Hough rushed things along, concluding prematurely. I ate it up, and now am listless, but hopeful that I'll find another book that engages me so completely.

JCO's Tattooed girl is a bit slow after all the excitement with Mabel, but I read the first six or seven chapters last night. How soon I forget that I have in fact read her work prior to this book, We were the Mulvaneys. Only problem is that I can't find any references to it in my reading records. Somehow it escaped my list, but I feel sure I read in in 2001 after Oprah picked it for her club. Big slap to the forehead here. It must have happened during my New Year reading frenzy. With a week and a half off, it's amazing how many books I ploughed through uninterupted by work. I should be making a list and checking it twice, deciding which books shall accompany me to Key West in fifteen days.

I'm not sure what this story is about. There's a reclusive writer, a philandering waiter, and Alma, the tattooed girl. She's enigmatic, seems socially retarded at this point, and her character draws me into the story. I didn't read the book flap, checked it out on JCO's name alone. There are times though, about halfway through a novel, that I'll flip to the front and wonder why it is that I picked this one.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003
greedy reading & book queues

This morning I read more Mabel Stark. This is my evening to work the reference desk, so I normally come in a few hours past 8-ish. I hoped to finish the book but didn't. I don't want it to end, really. It's been a pleasure through and through. But you know the saying, "So many books, so little time..." One more chapter to go. The story concentrates on the 20s and 30s and jumps back and forth from those decades to 1968. Since I'm almost to the last chapter, I'm assuming that the book won't cover the last thirty years of her life. It will wrap up quickly. She kills someone. I know that much already. Hough's good at alluding to future events, but I haven't picked up on any specific foreshadowing.

Lee Smith's the last girls sits beside me now. I'll try the first few pages and see whether we click. Then I might check it out.

Last night I made a late trip to the public library. Squeaked in just before they closed to check out best american short stories 2001. Barbara Kingsolver edits it. I'm not sure that's a good enough reason to recommend it. I wonder how strongly the collections reflect personal preferences of the guest editors. Surely there's politics involved.

Oh, Sins of the seventh sister: A novel of the gothic south arrived in the mail yesterday. It will be at the top of my list, but I have almost two dozen books checked out from the library in the queue. My husband came along for the library trip last night. When we got home I asked, "You must think I'm crazy checking out all these books." His reply: "No, I think you're greedy." That's me, the greedy reader.

Sometimes I like to look at writer's webpages. Who doesn't? It seems that I encounter more bad ones than good. Bad design, bad color choices, overwhelmingly bad graphics, assulative fonts, and too much going on. I think the only one with a black background that I find aesthetically pleasing is Beth Saulnier's. Or, I did, until she changed it to white, which must be a new trend. There's definitely a difference between professionally designed sites and the ones that seem cobbled together without any forethought. I forgot how lovely Kingsolver's is.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003
beasts & children

Wow. Bestiality, sort of. This Mabel Stark book gets better and better, and it's the author's first book. Hough has created such an alive character. His writing is fabulous. I did not want to sleep last night, but my eyes closed against my will. As I'm about halfway through it now, I'll likely finish up tonight. And then, I'll try the new Joyce Carol Oates. I'm sure I read a short story of hers at one time in school, but this will be the first novel I've tried.

Monday, August 25, 2003
week ends & begins again

I had an entry for Sunday, but it was lost. The firewall on the pc I used had the ftp function blocked. Maybe I can reconstruct my thoughts about books I read over the weekend.

Kage Baker's book was great fun. Good writing, imaginative plots. Always lots of fun. I finished that Saturday. Time travel is the best fantasy going.

Wendy Dale's book was so easy to read. No stumbling over choppy blocks of text at all. Not that I expected that, just commenting on how well it flowed. There was danger, adventure, and excitement, though her book was more thematically concerned with relationships than with descriptions of the places she lived and visited: Costa Rica, Colombia, and Bolivia (oh, and Honduras, too). Descriptions tend to bore me, so this was a good choice. I read something the other day about the new trend in travel writing is not so much description as introspection. It's more subjective than objective.

I finished the Africa chapters in Headwraps and am moving on to India and Asia now. Scott's proof is good. I'm enjoying it, just wishing there was more about her travel experiences and less about headwraps. It's not that I don't appreciate the parts about headwraps, which coincidentally comprise the bulk of the book, it's that when she describes them, I can't see them. There are photos, but they don't always correspond with the text on the page. So yeah, I'd really like to document, photograph, and research something that takes me around the world. Sounds like a dream job/project. I'm hoping to finish this up today although my review isn't due until the 8th.

There were several books that I started while trying to find something palatable. I tossed aside at least three or four books after reading the first few pages. Then I turned to the Final confession of Mabel Stark. It's been sitting on my bedside table for weeks. The lively writing hooked me immediately. I'm not sure I've read anything spunkier in a long time. The situations thus far, sex and mental institutions, are terribly engrossing. I read possibly the best description ever of turgid flesh within the first five pages of this book. It's a thick text, but I plan to read it all. Robert Hough based his book on true events in the life of Mabel Stark a tiger tamer from Kentucky who traveled with the circus. One of my favorites, Kate Winslet, is playing her in the movie. I'm very interested to hear Kate's Kentucky accent. This ought to be good.

I get impatient with most travel writing about AK, and this morning was no exception. At the NYT, I found three articles about Alaska. All were technically good. The best was the one about Haines by Cheryll Aimee Barron. She wrote about "someone not rich or retired, with little more than a week to spare, get[ting] a true taste of this land of marvels, the essentials of the Alaskan experience, including eccentric accommodation?" It's the approach, you see, and it could be a gender thing a well. The other two were predictable: Denali and an isolated park service cabin with liquor. The other day I read something about Paris that stuck in my craw. Rolf Potts wrote that writers who visit Paris are so overwhelmed that they describe the same tired stuff. Yeah, it affects the psyche, but is essentially tripe.

I'm reading an article about Amanda Stern's first book. The likelihood that my public library will purchase it: zero. Not because it's edgy or published by Soft Skull Press, but because they have a small budget and sometimes I wonder who selects what they buy; it's 60% of the time not to my taste.

Friday, August 22, 2003
serial stories & book reviews

Fascinating article at the Globe about Parkhurst's Dogs of Babel. It's about the publishing industry as much as anything, but uses the buzz her book got as a central theme. Parkhurst and I are the same age. Her advance was between $100-$150K. Thanks again to the wonderful bookslut where I followed the link.

I've read three chapters, or stories, I guess, in Kage Baker's new Company publication, The company dossiers: Black projects, white knights. And, it seems as though somehow I've missed one of her books in this series: Graveyard game. I hate when that happens. Time-traveling cyborgs rescue endangered species. The writing is good, and Baker's imagination is tops, great fun for all.

Bought Avoiding prison and other noble vacation goals: Adventures in love and danger last night. Wendy Dale (.com)writes about her experiences in places that most young women won't travel to. The blurbs I've read call it hilarious and quirky. I can't wait. Dale also gives tips to readers/writers about getting your travel writing published.

Also wanted to get From Here, You Can't See Paris : Seasons of a French Village and Its Restaurant, but that was hardcover, and I'm hoping to find it at my library; very unlikely. Travel writing is possibly the only genre that I find appealing just now.

And, I have new book to review for Library Journal: Headwraps: A global journey. Not quite my area (I usually get Latin American or feminist artists; fine art, not music), but I'm willing and thrilled to have such a great book... ahem, uncorrected page proofs. I'm always looking for opportunities to expand my range, and moving into decorative arts book reviewing cheers me. It's all good. The batch of proofs looks so cool, lots of illustrations. I'm excited to see what the text is like. The author, Georgia Scott, is an art director for the NYT, and while the paper has had its problems this summer, I still think that it and it's staff/writers are tops, especially since I had lunch with one in July. Okay, so the other thing that makes this proof appealing is that Scott traveled for a year around the world documenting, researching, and photographing head decorations. How cool is that? It sounds fabulous. I want to do that, too.

Thursday, August 21, 2003
Kidman collectors

I've read a few things online today, but nothing on a real page. In defense of prostitution by our favorite Fleiss, was informative. I had no idea that prostitution was legal in Australia. And, there was a fabulous article at NYT about Alice Cadolle, the premiere lingerie shop of Paris, and quite possibly the world. It's only where the best breasts are bared and boosted and the custom-made bras, including fitting, are around $629. Yesterday there was something about the trend of book covers featuring women's legs, that bookslut led me to. There weren't any illustrations though, and that is a problem.

Got Book in yesterday's mail. Have browsed it, but not read any of the articles. Nicole's cover photo turned me off. This is a magazine about books and reading. Unless she's published a book or there's an article describing her literary influences, she shouldn't be on the cover. It's not a good photo. She didn't pose for it for this specific reason; it's just pasted in, yuck. Some freaky marketing ploy going on here; the editors hope to attract another demographic. They'll buy the magazine by mistake simply because they collect all things Kidman. Of course, I've been out of sorts for months anyway since B&N took over the publication, so these strange things are all par for the course when you have big corporate bookstore peddling their wares.

I'm not in the mood to read at all. It's a feeling akin to hating your mother or intentionally slamming the car door on your toddler's fingers (examples only, I have no direct experience of either). The books tango and merengue around my house, tempting me, but it's not enough. The lure of fluffy magazines (Marie Clare & In Style) and fluffy tv (Felicity, Hollywood True Story: Matt & Ben, and there was something else) have diverted my fine reading habits and noble instincts.

But, I love my dictionary (Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed.) and use it almost daily. After all, it claims to be "the voice of authority." It's probably not worth arguing over. We can all make the same claim.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003
character librarians

No reading last night, though Sunday I stopped around page 70 in the Rosellen Brown book Half a heart I've had checked out for weeks now.

I started Sleep toward heaven, but the first chapter was too confusing; too many characters. It follows three women whose lives intersect. Book opens in prison with at least four or five characters on death row. Second character is a woman preparing for her wedding. The third is a librarian, and the novel certainly should have started off with her story. I imagine that her story begins in the third chapter, and I haven't the heart to begin there, so no more of that book. It has a cool cover though.

Two new NG magazines arrived in my mail yesterday and I browsed the pages of Traveler this morning alongside my bagel, but haven't given it my full attention.

There are SO many books in the world. The task of reading the two dozen I have checked out is daunting.

Vagabonding has got me thinking about traveling overseas, cheaply. I have at least three connections: friends in Qatar, a second cousin in the Phillipines, and a friend of a friend in Indonesia. I'll have to check around for travel books and/or writing about those countries; see what comes of it all.

Friday, August 15, 2003
diamonds: not woman's best friend anymore

The cover of Dogs of Babel appealed to me before I knew anything about the story. But, I was reluctant to read the book because it was one of those "book club" picks. It's so childish, but often I expressly won't read a book because it earned that distinction. I haven't examined why I stay away from so many other titles. But, book-club-inclusion is usually a good enough reason to warn me away. While I loved Dogs..., it was ultimately depressing. I'm sure it is one of the ten best fiction books I've read all year. Most dog lovers will eat it up since Lorelei is a major character. This story resonates with me because I don't give my dogs enough of my attention; Dogs... is not about neglect, at all. I'm going to stop taking my dogs for granted, even when they are the most unloveable and reeking of all things rancid.

After I finished Dogs... last night I started reading Vagabonding: An uncommon guide to the art of long-term world travel. In his introduction Potts mentions a book published before he was born, Vagabonding in Europe and North Africa. As I read more of the book I became convinced that I had read that book or something similar from that time period. Vagabonding is not a new topic of interest for me, but has been something I've flirted with philosophically for at least a decade. Maybe I owned an old book published in the 60s or early 70s about vagabonding because there's a cover skipping around the edges of my memory. I'm 80% sure that it was Vagabonding in America (1973).

I'm so bad with possessives, and I don't care enough to check the usage, so here goes: Potts' Vagabonding is well-written. There've been no bumpy parts at all. It's pretty straightforward as far as "how to" or "guides to" books go. Potts shares dozens of internet resources that are most likely included on his webpages. There isn't much discussion of backpacker culture (as an aside, it's amazing that I've found this same story at least three times, and one even declares that it's "special to..." that publication). The book is curiously devoid of his personal experiences. I suppose I picked the book up, in part, as I do with most travel writing, to get to know the author. But, tons of his work was published at Salon, and so I understand the purpose of this book is not duplication. Profiles of vagabonders are inserted at the end of each chapter and include: Whitman, Thoreau, and Dillard.

Reading this book pissed me off. There was a section addressing the special challenges that women encounter while visiting international cultures. I'm so tired of that. I know it is necessary, but for the most part I think that women are well aware of the dangers of traveling, living, etc. My criticism has nothing to do with Potts, however, I am frustrated with the state of the world and the necessity for warnings. On a positive note, he did write that it is easier for women to truly experience a culture because they gain entry to both men and women's worlds; whereas men cannot.

Earlier today while browsing his site, I came across one of his articles that I had read several years ago about a sexy librarian named Natasha. I'm so transparent regarding my reading tastes; that's where my interests truly lie. I assumed Potts was German or Austrian from the photo on the back cover, but he's actually from Kansas. And, he's gorgeous. Model gorgeous. He and my husband share essentially the same jawline (will find photo of Ian for comparison ; okay so it's not exact but still a strong jawline). I don't know that I'll finish the book tonight; I'm on page 163, and don't have much to go.

Then maybe I'll start Sleep toward heaven.

Thursday, August 14, 2003
would be soliloquy

My horoscope suggested that I employ "royal we" in my conversations this week. Strange since it is one of my greatest pet peeves, persons who (or is it whom?), in the course of asking a question of their professor in class, or merely within pleasant conversation, insist upon using royal we as if they were in fact, the Queen. I think I'd really hate that too, if I had to read it throughout a novel. Second person is annoying enough, but what is we-person, and has there been a novel written from that perspective?

I am thoroughly crazed by this day's end. Admittedly, I am not a good cataloger. I forget things, those things called cataloging rules that comprise the procedures for my work. My learning curve....oh, gee it's so bad for these things. I'm frazzled with tons of notes so that tomorrow I can improve upon things that I screwed up. The worst of it is that after all this mind-thumping work, I'm not in the mood to read. And, oh I have such a wonderful thing to read just now. Dogs of Babel came along to the dentist this afternoon and I read it while I sat waiting for my lovely dental hygienist to call me forth for a teeth cleaning. Just a chip she'd never noticed before, but otherwise my mouth checked out okay. She usually asks me for book recommendations but I only see her every six months and oftentimes I forget all the books I want to share with her between cleanings. She recommended the Da Vinci Code. I'm on the wait list for it at the library and have been for weeks and weeks now.

Dogs of Babel is so perfect. Short chapters that have me skipping along towards the book's end, not that I want it to end. The fellow has lost his wife in a mysterious apple tree accident and the only witness to her last day is his dog, Lorelei. In his grief and undying love for his wife, Lexy, he tries to teach his dog to speak. Guy (what is his name? Oh, Paul i think) is a linguist by trade, a professor, even. The chapters alternate between his present state and the past. The story of their courtship and early days of marriage is fabulous. This book is so well-written. There are no superfluous words. The characters are brilliant. The part I'm reading now about this cabal of dog mutilators actually made me sick to my stomach. The author's descriptions weren't over the top or anything, but my imagination is wild. And, dog lover/owner that I am, I cringed at one point where a terribly sad dog was the object of everyone's attention. I'm still anxious to return to the book though, and hopefully will finish it tonight. I'm up to old tricks again at the library; checking out entirely too many books to sensibly read.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003
dine & read

Still reading Leaving Atlanta. Actually read with dinner last night at the Corner Palate in Banner Elk, NC. I don't always take a book to read when I dine alone since that is such a cliche. But, in this case, it worked out well. I believe I'm close to finishing up with the first narrator and moving on to the next one. It's still good and while I'm not aching to get back into it, I am looking forward to picking up where I left off.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003
my kingdom for a title

Started Leaving Atlanta last night. I'm near page forty, I think. Couldn't read much more because I got sleepy. It's a cozy book; the setting is intimate. There were one or two turns of phrase that I admired. The story is told from the perspective of three black girls who lived in Atlanta during 1979-1980. Someone was murdering black children and so the novel is based upon historical events. The author appears as a character in the book. I'm not aware of that kind of thing occurring in other books; it's curious. I don't know what to make of the phenomenon. I'm seeing the world through Tasha's perspective; her parents are separated and she tries desperately to fit in with the other girls in her fifth grade class.

Monday, August 11, 2003
swimming for Berg

It's Monday and I'm grumpy because I slept poorly this morning--if you could call it that. However, I did read the new Elizabeth Berg book Friday night, and that sort of makes up for today. Berg is so easy to read, such an excellent writer, and undeniably deals with women's themes: Friendship, family, love, etc. Say when is written from the male point of view. There's nothing in her prose to slow me down, her writing is that clear and easy and joyful to swim through. Honestly, it's like a lovely deep and wide pool. An effortless dive later and you're swimming laps or free-floating for months. I liked this much better than her last book, which was well-written, but topically unappealing.

Frank and Ellen have been married for at least 8 or 10 years. She has an affair with a younger man whom she met while taking an evening course, tells her husband that she wants a divorce. He declares that he will not move out, that he doesn't want the divorce. Their daughter is 8. It just sort of goes on from there and the reader wonders what will happen. The characters are beautifully drawn, you really care about them and want to know how their lives end up. Both are human with flaws and are equally to blame for the state of their union. I don't think it would appeal to men. While they are such different creatures from women, the two sexes are eerily similar in the worst ways, but not when it comes to reading tastes.

I browsed the Travel detective, and was disappointed. I thought it was something else. It might be helpful to pick up some other time when I'm actually planning a trip and can take the suggestions made by the writer and other flight crew members. Basically it's a collection of tips about various cities. Like where to buy the best chocolates or to get the best shoe shine. Rarely does it discuss hotels, though occasionally certain attractions are mentioned.

The italics almost turned me off of Geoff Dyer's book But beautiful: A book about jazz, the only Dyer book within my regional library system, horror of horrors. The first few pages are italicized and that is something that immediately makes me cringe and close a book's cover for good. But, I overcame my dislike and am about a quarter of the way into the book, though it is resting on the back of my couch. Not a good sign. It's not fiction, nor is it strictly non-fiction, either. Dyer uses factual information but writes about it creatively. It's his beautiful writing that keeps me coming back for more. What else is there?

And of course, I finished Lost in a good book a few nights ago. The ending was kind of squidgy, but otherwise the book was well-worth reading.

Thoughtful essay/article discusses Southern vs. midwestern writing. This "ghosts of a past that could not be recovered" both intrigues and irritates me. There is much more to southern writing than that. And well, it seems as though people are mostly more alike than different. It's all about landscape. I really must not go on about this, but I generally believe that containing or defining something within one sentence is impossible. Take for instance this one: "If Southern writing is defined by its connection to loss," she said, "then Midwestern writing is defined by its connection to the land and a sense of openness." I disagree, but understand why the easiest way to define "the south" is by its connection to loss. It's more universal than regional.

Friday, August 8, 2003
oh what fun it is

Lost in a good book is so much fun. I haven't laughed out loud, but the prose is so very clever. Thursday Next just met Miss Havisham (of Great Expectations). They trounced the Red Queen (from Alice, you know) for a set of romance novels at a bookstore sale. Such great fun. I'm just over halfway through it, and I fear that the end will come entirely too soon. Then, I'll have to wait another year or two for the third book, if there is one.

I made another trip to the library yesterday. Thursday is my regular day to go. Monday was an aberration. I probably brought home eight books, if I had to make a guess. I think I got some good ones, but as usual, my mind is blank and I cannot recall any of them.... oh yes, I did pick up a Calvin Trillin book, fiction. Thought I've give it a try. I've been reading his introduction to Too soon to tell and have been pleased with what I'm reading. Such fun. Such wit.

A reality show about reading? Yep, it's called The Big Read, and no, the Americans didn't think of it. There's a list of Top 100 books, too. It's not that other lofty list that's always in the news, these are picked by ordinary reading folk, not those who decide the canon.

Thursday, August 7, 2003
anticipatory reading

Yesterday I read about a new book being published next month called Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris. The author, Sarah Turnbull is interviewed at PTEE. Hers is compared to the Gopnik book that I read sometime ago, but the interviewer mentions that hers is more personal than Gopnik's, which emits a journalistic tone. I don't recall that much about his book, now. I just spotted something else that looks yummy, Beer and bagels for breakfast, about kibbutz life, yet another thwarted dream. And, A thousand days in Venice looks lovely too. Too many travel books, so little money to travel on!

Last night I finished Dyer's yoga book. The final chapters were about Detroit, Burning Man, and some Asian place that i had never heard of before and consequently cannot remember it today. I barely kept my eyes open while reading those last chapters, and had forgotten that I finished the book when I awoke this morning.

I'm browsing the Greensboro Review this week and read Dan O'Brien's story "The Dear Boy" yesterday. It was kind of odd, about a high school english teacher who confronts one of his students about an assignment. The ending was ambiguous, which I liked. I saw Swimming Pool last night, and it too was ambiguous. I don't like for things to be completely explained.

Yummy, more Steve Almond. There's always too much fun going on over at Bookslut. Ms. Crispin links to many fine book-related stories, including this groovy one about the difference between women & men's reading habits.

Wednesday, August 6, 2003
two chapters to go

Didn't finish up Dyer's book last night. I read one chapter. It was about Libya. Just a bit boring. He wrote about being in the Zone and described it as being content in the place that you were instead of wanting to be elsewhere. He experienced a zone moment at Leptis Magna. I write crappy book reviews. I realized that a few months ago. Actually, some aren't bad, the ones that are actually published, I mean. The "reviews," if you can call them that, I write here are sometimes rather vague. I don't want to spill the beans on plot devices. I'm not always sure that anybody wants to read about a character's life unless they're actually reading the book in which she exists. Some days I don't feel clever at all.

However, I do have the next book picked out. Another one that I bought in YS, but at a different bookstore (I visited but didn't partake from the third bookstore in YS), is Lost in a Good Book: A Thursday Next Novel. I'm a sucker for a series. I hope that it is as good as the first one. Time travel and all, I'm a double sucker for that. And, with a literary bent to boot. Can't beat that. I'm looking forward to it though. Such fun it shall be.

I'm reading a short story from the Hudson Review by Steven Huff. The Brave Dead is about a traveling book salesman who returns to the town in which he grew up to learn more about five preserved American Indian bodies that were his childhood friend's inheritance. Good stuff. Intriguing, no doubt. Story is well written and moves along at a natural clip clop pace. I'd like more characterization though. Sometimes writers can't do so much within a short story. I'm feeling so well rounded these days with all the short story reading I'm doing. I know I've earned several sticky stars. Where to put them all? Still can't seem to get into reading poetry though. I enjoy hearing it read, but there's a connect missing between me and the words on the page.

Tuesday, August 5, 2003
reader in love

I'm reading such a wonderful book. I had some prior knowledge of Geoff Dyer's Yoga for people who can't be bothered to do it. Maybe I read about it online or caught something about it in one of the bookish magazines that I'm wont to read. I bought it at Sam & Eddie's Open Books while visiting YS last month. Anyway, devouring a book is the best legal feeling. I started reading it in the den while I sat on the sofa and half watched mtv. Then I read on while in bed. Unfortunately, I had taken a sleeping pill, and couldn't stay up to read the whole thing. I had no idea I would love it so. I got to read a few more chapters this morning and now it sits in front of me, very tempting-like. This is probably the best travel book I've ever read. It isn't at all like the typical dry, trite, and over-intellectualized drivel that I'm used to ploughing through. It isn't filled to the brim with facts, history and trivia. Nor does the author write syrupy descriptions of the landscape or texture of the air. But butter came to mind. I sank into his prose so easily, it was like butter.

He travels to Cambodia and New Orleans, Indonesia and Amsterdam. And some other places, too. While sometimes his adventures are not terribly exciting, for the most part he's such a good writer that when he writes about not making any friends and being alone, it works. It's charming, enchanting no matter what he does. It seems a rare talent. His prose was so unlike the mess that I found in Best American travel writing last week. Okay, it's not that he isn't as earnest as other writers, nor as serious. He's just so much fun. There's not as much sex as would be appropriate for all the exotic travel, but the bits that he does write about are fabulous. I'm envious of him. All that travel. All that fun. Seems as though it would spoil a person for leading a regular life. I have three chapters to go and when I read them later today I will be so sad. The next step is to find his other work and read that too.

Instead of rushing inside the library to pick up books awaiting me at the circulation desk, I actually spent time there yesterday. While my wheels were being aligned, I walked about five or six block to the public library. I browsed the new book shelves, and found a book about southern cooking that I took along to the second floor. Also found a few other books. I sat at a table and leafed through three of them, ultimately deciding to take none. Also read an article about Donna Tartt in some writing magazine. Her approach to writing amazes me. It's not something that I can easily comprehend. I ended up with a Rosellen Brown book; Half a heart, a Franzen book, and dogs of Babel.

Also bought two books and some stationary at big box chain bookstore last night. Actually, it was only one book, Paris in Mind, and the latest issue of Granta, which feels like a book. I only go to that store for their stationary. And while they didn't have the imported Italian notecards that I've come to love, they did have lovely imported French notecards (G. Lalo deckle edge vellum cards in caraibes) that I picked up instead.

Monday, August 4, 2003
alas, no writer-reader connection

The thing I have in common with Isabel Allende, Carroll O'Connor, Helen Morgan, Edward Furlong and Mary Louise Parker is that we all share the same birthday.

Yesterday I read the courage to write: How writers transcend fear. It was one of the best books I've read about writing. I bought it in Yellow Springs and it sat in its bag for almost two weeks. What can I say about it though? I bought it because in the prose on the back cover performance anxiety was mentioned. I was reading in front of seventy or eighty people the next day and I wanted advice on how to perform my poem smoothly without major problems. I ended up not reading the book for that purpose on that day and it's a good thing because it didn't cover how to get through public readings. I decided to rely upon my inner resources instead and apparently did a great job of not seeming nervous at all even though I suffered a minor blackout while at the podium.

I haven't been reading much of anything lately. Nothing that I can add to my list of things completely read. I browsed the 2002 Pushcart Prize winners, and am going through the 2003 edition now. Also am reading in new stories from the south 2003. I'm not terribly inspired by books just now. Perhaps my grandmother's death has something to do with that.

My step-mother has been telling me about a book that her boss's son wrote. Steve Carter will be touring around this area, so I may buy one and have him sign it. It's called I was Howard Hughes: A novel, and the review at Amazon makes it sound like something fairly interesting that departs from the norm.

I totally forgot to write about going to a writer's workshop with Lee Smith. I would describe it as a lecture, not a workshop. It was somewhat disappointing. Of course, I had no idea what to expect, but the note about it being limited to 150 participants should have clued me in. Anyway, that was last Saturday in Abingdon. Smith was there as part of the Va. Highlands Festival. I tried to read one or two of her books about ten years ago, but never could get into them. Something about the ones I tried, Fair and tender ladies and Oral history, put me off. I should try them again. Maybe I wasn't ready for them. She offers a list of book recommendations at her website. While I didn't learn anything new from her lecture, it was affirming because her words resonated with me, convincing me that I was on the right track.