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Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Fugitives and refugees is much better than a typical city guide. I only wish it was published a few years ago so that I could have visited the spots in Portland that Palahnuik writes about. He shares that Katherine Dunn is at work on another book. About time for it.
So I really only read about five chapters out of ten in the Ultimate fitness book. The author's conclusion: No pain, no gain. Many of the chapters are historical sketches of different trends in exercise, and that was somewhat interesting. But she points out how simple it is to become an accredited or licensed exercise instructor; anybody can do it. And she writes about how women especially have been given poor information about what kind of results they'll see with certain programs. Mere walking won't reshape your body, but it will improve your health. She particlarly recommends following guidelines within a position statement published by the ACSM.
I'm unsure about Beyond the words. As a writing guide, it borders on the touchy-feely. Lots of writing about the "Writing Self." There are exercises, too. Not writing exercises. Yogic breathing ones combined with self-affirmations. The first page of her intro drew me into the book and made me decide to buy it, but I'm not sure I'm going to enjoy reading it. Still, I'll give it a shot, see what comes of it. Best to remain positive about these sort of things.
Monday, September 29, 2003
Probable future is Alice Hoffman's best book yet. I finished it over the weekend, and it was stunningly sensuous. It was beautiful. The elements of the supernatural weren't at all contrived, either. Very natural, organic. The story is about the most recent three (of thirteen) generations of Sparrow women. The very first was Rebecca Sparrow, who appeared in town one day shoeless and unable to speak the language. She was a laundress and eventually was called witch and was drowned, but not before she birthed Sarah. Each of the Sparrow women have a gift; Rebecca felt no pain, Jenny sees other people's dreams, and Stella, the thirteenth generation that this story centers upon, sees how people die.
I've been reading Ultimate fitness : the quest for truth about exercise and health. I skipped a few chapters though because I'm not terribly interested in the growth of the sports industry. I should have just read the last chapter, but I've been sidetracked and was reading about the difference between weight lifting and body building.
I bought three books this weekend, and am eager to read every one of them. After I read the first page of Palahnuik's Fugitives and refugees: A walk in Portland, Oregon, I had to have the book. I love browsing the travel essays section in bookstores, it has become my favorite spot lately. What sold me on the Palahnuik book, besides enjoying his style immensely, was that Katherine Dunn appears in the first page. Dunn wrote Geek Love, one of my favorite books. It consistently ranks in my top five, and will likely never be displaced. I enjoy Portland, too. I've visited there two or three times and always planned on moving there and joining friends, but love came knocking on my door.
Though I can't recall where I read it, the excerpt from Sarah Turnbull's Almost French: Love and a new life in Paris intrigued me. Almost French has been on my wishlist for a few months now and I was set to order it this week, but it crossed my path sooner and I had to have it. Then I had to indulge my writing instruction whim and get Bonni Goldberg's Beyond the words: The three untapped sources of creative fulfillment for writers. I'm sure to learn something that I didn't know before. I have it with me, but doubt that I'll have a chance to read any of it today. One never knows though. It's always best to have a book handy; never know when you might have to wait.
Friday, September 26, 2003
Thursday, September 25, 2003
I'm dying to see the Diane Arbus show at the SFO MOMA. It opens 25 October. If I had complete say over how I spend my money, I'd fly to SFO for the opening day events. I crave the catalogue, which has 200 reproductions of her work. The show is there until February and maybe I can make a quick trip north from San Diego in January. Eight hours!? I hoped it was closer. Maybe there's a train or green tortoise. I bought a softcover copy of her biography months, or even years ago, but haven't read it yet. Now I have motivation.
No book reading last night. Too busy with other things, though I browsed magazines that came while I was away from home: 2 NG mags and conde nast travler. Glanced through ready-made, but didn't have time to get serious about it.
Oh, and I missed Litquake. Not like I was going to make it to any events anyway. It's frustrating enough to know that opportunities like this exist in the world, yet don't exist anywhere close to MY region.
Wednesday, September 24,
I brought at least eight books with me on vacation. Romancing Mary Jane, Learning joy from dogs, Reefer madness, Fat Land, Modern Baptists, Bibliophilia, Small wonder, Stiff, and maybe one or two more that I can't think of. I bought two books: a collection of stories by Rick Moody, Demonology: Stories, and a novel by A.M. Homes, The end of Alice.
I didn't read Romancing Mary Jane, Learning joy from dogs or Small wonder. Romancing Mary Jane was slow and difficult to get into. The author spent a lot of time talking about the outdoors, which was nice enough, but I guess what I was most interested in was people, pot culture. Maybe that happens later, and someday I may complete it.
Learning joy from dogs was okay, but it didn't hook me. I wasn't drawn into the author's world or psyche.
Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite fiction writers, and I've enjoyed her essays in the past, but this collection, Small wonder was too weighty to read on vacation. The first essay I read was about terrorism and 911. Shut book. Pick up another.
Fat Land: How Americans became the fattest people in the land was fascinating, but failed in the end. The book describes the historical forces that have essentially caused Americans to be a Tubby Nation. There are agricultural trends, educational trends, cultural trends, health trends, and they all come together nicely into a persuasive theory. The ending was disappointing. When I read something that limns the evils of the world, I expect the author to come up with solutions. Okay, maybe just suggestions. I can remember not to eat any products containing palm oil and high-fructose sugars, but I want them bulleted at the end in case there's something the author threw in that was too subtle for my steam rolling mind. Once these points have been made, I want a tidy conclusion. I don't expect the author to prescribe a plan of action per se, but I do want him to say "Don't patronize fast food restaurants, don't support sprawl..." In the end, the author stressed saving our children from these woes, but neglected recommendations for those over the age of five.
A few weeks ago I read a review of James Wilcox's new book. Since it was a sequel of sorts to his book Modern Baptists, and my public library actually had this ten year old book, I decided to read it, just in case I ever get my hands on the new book. MB was kind of kooky with full-bodied characters. No, they weren't fat, just very three-dimensional. It was one of those zany southern stories that takes place in Louisiana. Shades of John Kennedy Toole, but not so macabre and depressing. The main character works a job a a retail store and steals the watch of a girl almost twenty years younger than he. This was his smooth plan, he wanted to ask her out after calming her down and returning her watch. Problem is that this girl falls in love with his ex-con half-brother who sells drugs and aspires to acting. There are other flavorful characters as well, though their names escape me presently. Assuredly, it is character driven. Nice piece of writing, quite entertaining. I'll be looking for the follow up.
Reefer Madness: Sex, drugs, and cheap labor in the American market was informative, well-written, and great fun. Eric Schlosser picks fabulous topics to investigate and write about. I always learn so much when reading his work. I practically gobbled up Fast food nation, and looked forward to reading Reefer madness when it was published. I've had the book checked out for months and months now, and finally decided to read it. I have no idea why I put it off. The book is about the underground economy in America. There are three chapters, as well as an introduction and conclusion. He ties together three disparate markets and makes brilliant conclusions in the end. The first chapter is about marijuana and the history of the racially motivated drug war against it. He points out that the white middle class were upset at the thought of their children smoking something that blacks and hispanics were associated with, and that's how our laws developed so harshly. The next chapter discusses the market for specialty foods that can't be mechanically grown and harvested, specifically strawberries, and how the US has always relied upon migrant Mexican workers to do the backbreaking work that Americans won't do. The third chapter is about the growth of obscene materials: girlie magazines, porn, and peep shows. Schlosser uncovers the hidden history of how this industry developed alongside the more palatable Hefner products. One of the more interesting tidbits was about the stag circuit that existed in the 1920s. This sentence says it all, "In the United States, hard-core films were not exhibited at brothels or socialist meeting halls; they were shown at politically conservative institutions, at Kiwanis clubs, American Legion halls, and college fraternities (126)." Sometimes these regional shows brought live entertainment along. The conclusion ties up all the lose ends, of which there are few. Schlosser always has excellent notes and bibliographies in his books, and I pored through those as well.
I feel as though I'm leaving something out... like fiction. It's unusual that I read so much non-fiction on vacation, though anymore I find I enjoy it more so than make believe. Maybe there's a title I've forgotten. I'm reviewing Stiff: The curious lives of human cadavers for Tennessee Librarian. It's unusual that I take "work" on vacation with me, but I've been curious about the book since it was published earlier this year. Mary Roach's irreverent and witty style livens up what could be a sobering leaden topic. There are twelve chapters and in each one she writes about the ways in which the dead usefully serve the living. The body farm at UTK is mentioned several times. She discusses grave robbing and early autopsies, cremation, ballistics testing, organ harvesting, crash test dummies, and then some. Fun, fun, fun! Mortuary workers need better PR, because they were accused of some pretty heinous things, most of which isn't true. Roach dealt with necrophilia in a note that I can't find now because there isn't an index! Good bibliography though.
As long as I'm thinking about philias, the next book I read, and actually am still reading, just need to finish up the last story, was Bibliophilia: A Novella and stories. So yeah, I bought it because the novella is set in an academic library. The librarian is pretty stereotypical at first. I was peeved because Griffith was giving librarians bad press with all this sensible shoes and OCD about sparkling clean counters. But, then as the character developed, fleshed out so to speak, she didn't seem so cardboard as at first. There are some things that librarians will find objectionable, and I'm still not sure that I completely approve of her characterization. Okay, so Myrtle is hired at this academic library to police the stacks after she's been let go from the law library that she ran for twenty or so years. She's the heavy who carries around a bulky flashlight and is charged with breaking up sexual shenanigans of students among the shelves. The novella takes place in southern Louisiana, as do most of the stories. (More JK Toole. Only, not so depressing. It's a trend, I tell you, I read an unpublished short story last night that is set in Louisiana, and even if it was set in Idaho, I'd still declare that it reeked--in a good way--of Toole. Perhaps I should re-read Confederacy of dunces.) Madcap, zany, bizarre stuff going on in these stories. They were so much fun. Engrossing. Rich in details and description. A character in one of the stories is a former wrestler who works at a landfill. These are the kind of characters I care about, not Kiki mincing around the Upper East Side in her Ferragamo shoes (just one reason why I refuse to read chick lit). Griffith's characters are real and quirky and meaty. Oh, actually I've got three stories to go before finishing Bibliophilia. But, I have Alice Hoffman's new book to get me through another scintillating evening at the reference desk.
Oh yeah, I did read Bitch in the house: 26 women tell the truth about sex, solitude, work, motherhood, and marriage. The essays were very interesting, all except for maybe three or four that I skimmed. The subtitle is misleading, there's little about sex in the collection, lots about the other four things though. I'm not sure that the mothers told the truth, I doubt their stories. Although they wrote about the demands of being working mothers and the myth of co-parenting, I still think they weren't sharing the bleakness and misery of their limited existence. Felt like they had to pretty it up for print, just in case their husband might read it.
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
Finished at least five books while resting in Key West and will update this in the next day or two. Only bought two books at a super-neato bookstore, Key West Island Bookstore. Their prices were amazing. The selection was fairly good as well. Amazing when a semi-isolated place with a population under 26K can support five or six bookstores.
Tuesday, September 9, 2003
One more story to go and I'll have Orringer's book finished up. Still think that "Pilgrims" is the best I've read of her work. Its macabre ending can't be beat.
Instead of buying a book for an immobile friend, I ended up buying three books for myself (and got a discount, that's justifiable). That should teach me to shop for books for others. What do 22-year old men like to read? Probably not the same stuff as I. BASS was the text for a class, so it doesn't really count. But, how could I pass up Romancing Mary Jane: A year in the life of a failed marijuana grower? With a title like that, whew! Then I also got a memoir by Lauralee Summer called Learning joy from dogs without collars. She spent time in homeless shelters, was on her school's wrestling team and ended up at Harvard. Sounds like a great how'd she get from here to there type of story. Anymore, true life stories appeal to me more than fiction.
Whipped through Tea and green ribbons last night. Tried the Grimes book. It didn't hook me which is a shame because I'm interested in learning more about the publishing industry even if it is thinly-veiled fiction, so I've read. Tea and green ribbons was fairly interesting. It's about the oldest of six, Evelyn, whose mother runs off with their father's cousin Gerry. Evelyn's dad has to put the children away in industrial schools so that he can find work in England as a painter and hopefully get them back. About half of the book describes her father's struggle with the courts in Ireland of getting her home from the convent where she likes living. Good story, but all the legal moments were boring. There were so many setbacks, but ultimately the courts make a decision.
I was told that readingroom is difficult on the eyes. Improvements have been made.
Monday, September 8, 2003
The Orringer book, along with the others, arrived Friday, but I waited until last night to start reading the stories. I've read three before, the ones that were published in the Paris Review, Yale Review, and Ploughshares--at least I think that's right. I didn't get home until almost 8 p.m. Friday because of various errands and dinner, but I stopped by bigboxbookstore and noticed it (Orringer book, again) on the new arrivals shelf. I was almost sick with envy because I saw it and had not received my copy yet. I wondered if I'd be able to wait until my postal carrier delivered it. If it wasn't at home when I got there, thankfully it was, my course of action would have been to run back out to bbb, purchase and read the thing and then return it within a day or two. Such is the book-sickness that afflicts me. Fortunately, I wasn't reduced to book baseness. That is pretty ugly.
Two books that I must read by the eleventh are: Tea and green ribbons: a memoir and the new Martha Grimes book, Foul matter. The first, hopefully, will be a good story about growing up in Dublin. This will be the first Grimes book I've read. While I'm a fan of mystery (and sci-fi, but not romance) and have tried many of the standard writers in the genre, I've not sampled any of her books. They're both due back to the library on the 12th and I can't renew them, drat!
Exciting news, I got a phone call from a distant cousin today, probably 4th or 5th cousin--I'll have to figure out the exact relationship later (my great-grandfather and her great-grandmother were siblings). She's eager to research her family history and I'm trying to think of what book to recommend. I'll have to browse my shelves and see if there's anything I can send her. I consulted this chart, and from what I can make out, we're 3rd cousins. We discussed a research trip to Baltimore where her cousin lives.
Friday, September 5, 2003
Finished Lullaby last night, and it was good. Strange, unusual, but very palatable. I can probably stomach more of his work. My hesitancy stemmed from his writing Fight Club, and I didn't like the movie so much. Of course, the book is probably better and different: an essential lesson one learns. There was great paragraph that caught my eye. I marked it and meant to leave it here, but I forgot to bring the book along. Will have to be done later.
I've been wanting to read Family history for weeks now. I've had the book from the library and kept looking at it, wishing I could move it forward in the queue, but I did not. Started it last night and did not put it down, okay, maybe once to use the bathroom. Didn't start reading it until 10 or 11 p.m. and finished it up around 1 a.m. It's about a family that comes undone. I can't be more specific without giving away the plot, nor do I have the book with me so that I could share the info on the book jacket.
Excellent book. The writing is seamless, no difficult points, nothing that halts the eye. Brilliant characterization, believable dialogue, oh and what else? Great foreshadowing. So much tension in the book, it really hooked me in from the beginning and I wanted to find out what happened to the characters. That's pretty unusual. I didn't care a whit about any of Palahnuik's characters because they weren't too loveable, nor were they accessible. But, the supernatural element was so wacky that I was charmed nonetheless. Shapiro's characters though, you really felt them, their emotions; you were inside their hearts.
It's a shame I can't recall how I heard of the book, and an even greater shame that this is the first of Shapiro's books that I've read. I'm sure I saw the book reviewed somewhere and then searched the opacs I have access to for it. Found it, hurrah! I can't wait to read the rest of her work. Oh, and the blurbs on the back were from three or four of my favorite writers. Once was Elizabeth Berg, but I can't think of the others. Her web site is commendable as well. And, the novel will be made into a Lifetime movie, which could be the kiss of death.
I have a slight idea that I'll begin Harlan Coben's latest novel, No second chance. I've forgotten whether I enjoy his books. Checked it out because of its reviews. I read Tell no one, and wasn't for it or against it. At least I'll give it a go, read the first twenty pages and see how I take it. And, there's always a new book shipment just 'round the corner, so I might have no choice but to read something I've passion for instead.
I'm not sure that it's a coincidence that I'm always misspelling first as frist, but I'm not sure of exactly what it means, either.
Thursday, September 4, 2003
Round Ireland with a fridge was great fun, most entertaining. I was nearly to the end before there was any mention of sex. Since it never came up in the early parts of the book, I figured there would be none at all. Maybe there was more but he wasn't at liberty to write about it. Who knows?
I'm almost done with Chuck Palahnuik's Lullaby. It's unusual. The elements of the supernatural are what hooked me. There's a real estate agent who deals strictly with haunted houses. Our protagonist is a journalist. While doing a story in SIDS, he discovers a culling poem in a book of children's poetry. He tries it out and people he cannot stand start falling dead. Now he and the agent along with two other people visit libraries across the country to rip out page twenty-seven so that nobody else will use the poem, so that no other infants will die.
Not sure what I'll read next, though a short story by Rick Moody is in the queue. The books I ordered Tuesday have been shipped and I am anxious to read Orringer's stories. I nearly forgot, I finished up the A.M. Homes collection, Things you should know, that I started in July.
I'd like to read more about the Flagler guy who owned most of Florida. I watched Modern Marvels last night which featured the Florida East Coast Railroad: the train that served the Keys. On our drives to Florida, we always stop at Flagler Beach and walk out to the end of the pier. And, we usually stop in St. Augustine as well, home of Flagler College.
No doubt I'll have to stop at the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach. It has a suggested reading list about Flagler and the Gilded Age, though the book I'm interested in reading is not listed (Last train to paradise). What fascinated me most about the show last night was when it described the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 which hit the Middle Keys. The FECR sent in a rescue train, which I found amazing. A rescue train? It made it as far as Islamorada. There've been a few books written on the subject (and disasters, oh my!). I can't wait to read one, or two.
Tuesday, September 2, 2003
I read four books this weekend, and one short story. First was Pamela Duncan's Plant life. I'd been wanting to read this for months, and my public library finally bought it. I've had several opportunities to buy it, direct from the author at the Southern Kentucky Book Festival this year, but I showed restraint in my book purchasing and didn't buy a thing. A feat for sure. The book was long and slow-moving at first. The main character's 15 year marriage splits up and she returns home to NC. I expected more back story about why her marriage fell apart. Instead, there was a lot of inner dialogue. Laurel is the first in her family to go to college and when she returns to her working-class roots, she has some adjustments to make. The library had a featured role throughout the novel, and Laurel spoke highly of reading and books. There was one honky-tonk scene, but no sex. A fair amount of the book takes place at the plant where her mother works. Laurel takes an office job there after she makes her rounds and can't find anything better with her fancy degree from Chapel Hill. The characters that she works with, her mother and grandmother's friends, are the strongest and most interesting.
Then I read Dan Brown's Da Vinci code. I read it in about five hours, from about 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Yeah, it was that interesting. I couldn't put it down. The story covers four or five days, so reading it in one sitting was the right thing to do. It's about this professor of symbology and a cryptologist who try to solve a murder, learn about a secret society, and search for the Holy Grail. Okay, so it might sounds a bit hokey, but since its been on the bestseller list for 23 weeks, I'm not the only one who found it smashing good fun.
Next was Kimberly Shaye's Stronger than dirt : how one urban couple grew a business, a family, and a new way of life from the ground up. It's the story of how she and her husband moved to the country and started a flower farm. Good writing, good reading. She eventually chucks her journalism job. Her husband decided upon this course after an economic downturn in '98, I think. He was in construction. It was the cover that drew me to the book.
Autobiography of a Geisha was sad. Sayo Masuda didn't know her name until she was 12 or 13. A bastard child, her mother sent her out to work as a nursemaid her first 6 or 8 years. They called her Low, because she was the lowliest servant in the household. Then she was called Crane because she had no shoes and when her feet were freezing, she would stand like a crane with one foot pressed into her thigh for warmth. Eventually her uncle came for her and then sold her into a ten year indenture as a Geisha. She met her mother twice. She lived a life filled with hardship, though her days as a Geisha were the best as far as being clothed, fed, and sheltered. This is the first autobiography of a Geisha. The translator mentioned that most fade into obscurity and try to lead normal lives. Now 75, Sayo lives quietly in Japan.
Last night I started Tony Hawks's Round Ireland with a fridge. I've giggled out loud two or three times, it is that funny. Before I closed it last night, I read about his fridge surfing. It accompanied him to a pub as well. It's a great bit of travel writing, and I can't wait to read the rest. More fun, so doubt. Hawks was bet that he couldn't travel around Ireland with a fridge in one month's time. He goes to a lot of trouble for a £100 bet.
Julie Orringer's collection of short stories came out today. And so September's book buying begins. I've ordered her collection, one by Michael Griffith called Bibliophilia: A novella and stories, and the classic Becoming a writer by Dorothea Brande. Apparently, a book that the library can't keep and won't replace.
Bookmunch might be interesting, but it won't save me from ANOTHER 11-12 at the reference desk. I did three last week. I was taken advantage of in a most disagreeable manner. This really must stop. It screws up my routine of having an early lunch. I'm at the brink of being a lot less accommodating in my daily schedule.