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You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.
Southern Voices (Ala.)
SC Book Festival
Friday, January 30, 2004
I've been reading the Vogue cover article on Natalie Portman who sports an alluring new bob ala Louise Brooks. Portman discusses her reading program. She's on a Roth kick, and recently finished the human stain and American pastoral and plans to finish the trilogy. She also mentions Everything is illuminated and Franzen's Corrections.
Last night I read two short stories and a novella. From Richard Bausch's collection Someone to watch over me, I enjoyed "Not quite final." It was filled with complex emotions and longing. The story takes place on one day when a father helps his daughter and her elderly husband move into a new house. The father and his wife, the daughter's mother, have recently divorced, so he's all out of sorts. There's a lot going on within the story. It was a fulfilling read.
Then another baseball story, something called "Sunny Billy Day" by Ron Carlson, whose Hotel Eden I read last year. This was a juicy,plump story as well, despite its baseball setting, it dealt with larger themes. The narrator has recently turned to sportswriting as an occupation because he experiences tremendous stage-fright when he's at the plate, performing in front of a crowd. His former team-mate, SBD exerts an unnatural charismatic power over umpires, and this helps the team make it to the world series.
And then "The Host", a novella published within a collection of stories, Some of us have to get up in the morning, by Daniel Scott was unbelievable. It was about a transient gay man who entangled himself with someone he despised for the sake of shelter. The nuance was incredible. The setting and scenes were so well-crafted. I devoured this novella. I may even read it again. And, now I must read more of his work.
I had one of those
stupid moments last night. When I bought my Dell in June, I received
a free subscription to Wired.
While the covers are exciting and colorful, they're not enough to make
me want to actually read the magazine. I tossed them in the trash because
the content and writers are unbalanced when it comes to gender.
Before I browsed Wired, I read Pafko at the wall. Published as a novella by Don DeLillo, it later appeared as the prologue to his novel Underworld. Despite the dreary subject, the 1951 playoff game between the Giants and the Dodgers, it wasn't half bad. I enjoyed several characters more than others: Cotter, a young black kid who sneaks into the game and ends up catching the ball that Bobby Thomson slammed for a home run in the bottom of the ninth. And then there was J. Edgar Hoover, or Jedgar as Sinatra called him. The sportscaster was boring. The writing was good, enjoyable to a point. But I hate reading about sports and I can't watch them on TV, either. I'd rather be in the stands. Give me live sports or none at all. I have a real failing though. It's impossible for me to engage with a book whose topic I loathe. It's not a book I would read of my own free will, so the only thing I gained from it was a tepid feeling or neither hating it nor loving it. And, I am blind to its merits because of this. I hate when this happens. Gee my mind is such a waste sometimes.
Back to Wired though, there was the creepiest thing on page 118. There are artists who grow skin in a petri dish as a hybrid science/art project.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
New Ken Kesey books published with psychedelic scribbles inside. George Plimton's replacement at the Paris Review is a 31 year old woman. Simply amazing. Brigid Hughes has been called an ideal editor possessing a light touch.
I've got two novellas to read, two short stories, and another Baxter essay. That, along with my knitting, will keep me occupied through Sunday at least. And I've got writing to do as well. It's sad that I haven't picked back up in the books where I left off. I fear another reading dry spell is upon me. I lack the desire to read long fiction. All I can say is, woe. The other thing is that the urls that used to excite me each day, do nothing for me anymore. I'm finding that absence is not making my heart grow fonder for Bookslut. Sometimes we just need a break. Not an enema.
I noticed a stack of magazines in my office and realized that I haven't received an issue of Oxford American since this summer. Turns out, the relocation to Arkansas isn't working out. It's sad when a magazine you like is buffeted around from state to state like a bastard cousin nobody wants to take responsibility for.
Monday, January 26, 2004
Instead of going to Asheville to be in the presence of Haven Kimmel, who I rationalized would present other public opportunities to be in her presence in the future, I spent almost six hours learning to knit on circular needles. I'm making socks and a hat. I did read over the weekend, but nothing of great length; just short stories or chapters of books.
"Black Elvis," was a short story about a black Elvis impersonator who feels his mortality big time. Anytime Elvis pops into my mind, I think of velvet Elvii I've seen at roadside stands and how much I want one hanging over my guest bed. I've got the space, a large blank avocado painted wall that would do the King justice. But which era? Regardless, it must be one that showcases his famous pelvis.
Raymond Carver's "Cathedral" was so damn good, I'm still trying to get a handle on the nuances. I think this was the first Carver piece I've read, maybe not though. And, the same is true for the E. L. Doctorow story "The writer in the family," which was probably my favorite of the three. It's about a boy whose father dies and his aunt doesn't tell the boy's grandmother (and mother of the dead guy) that her son is dead; because of the grandmother's health you see, to know that her son is dead would send her into coronary failure, for sure. The grandmother is told that they've all moved to Arizona. So the aunt tells the boy "you're the writer in the family," and suggests that he write a letter to his grandmother from the perspective of his dead father.
And then I read a story from Tin House: "Squatters" by Julia Slavin, which was witty and interesting and slightly surreal. It's about this woman removes squatters from Pottery Barn. You know, families take up residence in those home stores all the time, and she polices the malls, gets rid of all those freeloaders. In learning more about the writer, I came across one of her stories online, "Dentaphilia," which seems strangely familiar and is about a woman who has an abundance of calcium in her body and the man who loves her. And also the dentist who becomes fixated with her. I am so hooked. I've got to read more of her writing, so I'm requesting her collection of short stories, The woman who cut off her leg at the Maidstone Club, and other stories, from my public library. But here's another story of hers, "Last rights." I think that if I look long and hard enough, I well may find several of her stories online.
Also read a chapter out of Charles Baxter's Burning down the house: Essays on fiction. "Against epiphanies" talks about our need for a moral to every story, that without an epiphany of some sort, most readers feel let down at the end of the chapter/story/book. I may have to re-read that essay, for there were parts that escaped me.
Oh, okay after re-reading the title I gave today's entry about knitting Elvis, I must include a link to the Knitted Elvis Wig Pattern, which is next on my list of things to knit, depending upon its difficulty. After all, knitting is So rock 'n' roll. And it's not just across the pond, but in the States as well.
Friday, January 23,
Sex advice from cowboys was a real hoot to read this morning. It very well could make my day. And then there were remarkable black and white photos of bullfighters taken from the book Torero by Ruven Afanador; love his aesthetic. Who knew men in high-waisted brocade pants could look so good?
I really want Unexpected knitting but doubt I'll find it anywhere nearby. So yeah, I didn't read much last night, just kept glancing at the instructions in the Debbie Bliss book Baby knits for beginners. I'm making the baby blanket, but in different colors, since I can't get her yarns locally.
I did finish reading Joyce's short story, "The Dead." I picked up on some of his subtleties, but for the most part I didn't connect with the story.
I'm thinking about thinning my bookshelves. I may try to sell books I don't want anymore on eBay or through abebooks or amazon's used area. But, it could get out of hand. I could decide that I like the money more than I like the books and that could snowball. Will have to monitor that closely.
New book called Clinton and me coming out next month. It's written by one of his speechwriters, and the excert I jsut read related the author's experiences in writing jokes for Clinton. I don't know that I'll try to read it. I rarely read political memoirs.
Word for the day: schadenfreude. It means finding delight in the struggle of others. I've encountered it before, but never looked it up in the dictionary and only learned its definition from reading an article on evolutionary psychology that discusses the public's delight in seeing Martha Stewart on trial. After all, she's just Martha from the block, used to have a little now she's got a lot.
From 2blowhards: in the world of books trash and art still don't ride in the same section of the bus; the books mindset -- at least the respectable-publishing mindset -- is still segregationist.
Thursday, January 22,
I started reading a novella by James Joyce last night, The Dead. I'm not sure I care for it. It's a story about two maiden aunts who have a party at their home. It seems that the guest of honor is their favorite nephew Gabriel. I haven't finished it, so I'm curious about how it will end. I'm not terribly impressed so far.
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
Literary gem hidden behind prison walls.
Profession aside, I'd still be interested in organizing my home library. But, the NYPL Library Shop site is down today, so I can't read more about it. Though this similar title by the same author, a special collections librarian at NYPL, I found at Amazon isn't exactly what I read about in the latest American Libraries, I'm sure it is the same product. What an amazing gift this would make for several people I know. Also in the same issue of AL was a blurb about the reference librarians at Carleton College (Minn.) who have their own librarian trading cards.
Brrrr. A third dog to lie at my feet would have been appropriate last night as one on either side of me did not keep me toasty all hours of my slumber. Though I've known for a while that working for money in something that you aren't passionate about sucks, it really hit home just as I turned out the light after reading last night. If work didn't take up so many hours, then I could focus my attention on things that bring me joy, or a fair amount of flow. So I only got in thirty or forty minutes of reading before I thought I should try to sleep, you know, so that I could get up for work the next morning like a good little girl. I didn't have Our lady handy, it's in a bag somewhere from when I toted it around with me on errands just in case I found a few spare moments to read, so I picked up the book on the top of my beside table, The hazards of good breeding. I'm drawn to the dustjacket cover; it seems cozy, but I actually appreciate the combination of natural and artificial lighting. The prose is witty and practically jumps along the page. There aren't any slow moving parts... oooops, yes, i guess there are. So far in the first two or three chapters, the reader is introduced to five characters. It's a bit much, especially when I'm not at all interested in the mother or the father. Especially not the father. Boring. This book is about.... a girl? I read the front jacket leaf so long ago that I can't recall what it's about, exactly. This twenty-something girl had returned to Concord, Mass. from college. Her mother and father recently divorced and her younger brother lives at home with their father, while their mother lives in NYC. And then there's the girl's friend, this boy who has a crush on her and wants to stay in their house while the girl and her brother go to his school play. Then this boy sniffs around the rooms, kind of like red riding hood, before depositing himself between the father's sheets in his dark and cluttered bedroom. It's not that kind of book. I didn't get a sexual vibe from all this, I think the boy is just weird and wants to do something atypical. Publisher's weekly describes it as a social comedy about an upper-crust Boston family.
Part of the reason why I didn't spend much time reading last night is that I found an engrossing word game at yahoo. Text Twist is addictive. I played for at least two hours solid, maybe even longer. I also like Tumble Bees, but it's not as challenging as TT. Ever since they removed Scrabble from Playsite (Games.com), I've been sad.
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Our lady of the forest is good. I'm hooked. A virtually homeless mushroom gatherer who pops antihistamines like they're going out of style, sees the Virgin Mary in the Washington (state) woods. Before long, thousands flock to watch her enraptured state. The story is told through multiple perspectives, and it works really well. First there's Ann, the mushroomer, who ran away from home after her mother's boyfriend repeatedly raped her. Then there's Carolyn, Ann's cynical "manager" whose next goal is making enough money to get down to Mexico for the winter. Oh, and then there's Tom Cross, the logger who is underemployed and although he's a bastard, he's also a good Catholic whose son is a quad. So far, Tom seems like the most interesting character. He's the evil one having all the fun, and his psychology is so well-developed. The reader totally knows what motivates him, what his issues are. The others? it's not so clear. I must be halfway through it by now. I would be done, but I'm knitting a baby blanket. I fear that my interest in knitting may decrease the amount of time that I spend reading. Have considered doing a knitting blog. Yes, there are tons of them out there, believe it or not.
Sunday, January 18,
The Time Traveler's Wife was an engrossing novel. I started is yesterday, or perhaps Friday, and had a hard time ever putting it down. I read reviews of it when it was first published and knew at once that I would have to read it. The main character is a librarian. And, he's not a stereotypical one at all. A bit of a Lothario in his youth, and then there's the time traveling bit. His colleagues at the Newberry Library are bemused and dismayed by his random nude appearances in the stacks. Basically though, this is a love story between Henry, the librarian, and his wife, Clare, an artist. Henry travels through time to Clare's childhood, so she meets him when she's six and he's thirty or forty-something. The author completely succeeds at managing such a squirrelly plot. The writing is good, the characters are multi-dimensional, and...well, it's just an enchanting tale.
Then last night I began this book called Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology. I finished it just an hour ago. There are scads of questionnaires on Seligman's site, so that the book can be quite interactive. I'm opposed to taking inventories in books, you know, marking them up when they don't belong to you. Since this is a library book, and the web scores the tests, there's less hassle, etc. This is one of those pop psych books that gives you all the reasons in the world why you should maintain a positive mental outlook. Not many steps to it, though. I heard about the book while reading Art of happiness at work. Seligman designed a battery of tests you take and the results tell you what your three greatest strengths are, and recommend that you order your work life around your greatest strengths. Mine were: Love of learning, humor & playfulness, and appreciation of beauty & excellence. Then fourth and fifth were: Social intelligence and creativity, ingenuity, & originality. I hoped that the website would list careers that correlate with those strengths, but I haven't discovered those there yet. As far as librarianship though, I'm always learning something new. But the beauty bit and the playfulness bit don't ever occur in my personal librarianship. It could be my workplace and not the profession.
I'm thinking that I'll start David Guterson's newest book, Our lady of the forest, in the next few hours.
I finished There are Jews in my house on the plane from Atlanta to San Diego. While there was little time for reading, I did try Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee. The first few chapters were good, and I kept reading with the promise that there would be some dramatic revelation at the end. Like an illegitimate child or some great secret in her past. I struggled with this book. It's quite philosophical and theological, and frankly it made my brain hurt. I really wanted to read it, and tried to do so. It is a short book, and I may regret never finishing it since I did read up to page 145 before deciding No More. It's a story of this author most famous for a book called "the house on eccles road". Since I've never read Joyce, and wasn't a lit major, I didn't make the immediate connection. This author is Australian, and just got an award from some university. She's old and makes strange speeches and alienates her readers and audiences. She has a passion for animals and is a vegetarian. Campaigns and rails against meat eaters. Her sister is a nun working in South Africa. I read to be entertained and to learn more about others and myself, not to feel like my head is bludgeoned in each time i turn a page. The writing itself was lovely, but the themes and content was not my taste.
Surprisingly, there really is a book called The House on Eccles Road. I stumbled onto it in a quaint bookshop called Libros and had to give it a second look because encountering it was surreal since I was reading about it fictionally as well. I bought Entrada: Journey in Latin American Cuisine mostly for the coconut ice cream recipe, but after looking through the book, it seems that there are lots of lovely recipes that I shall have to try. The photography in the book is excellent. And the text does a good job of introducing the city or region which recipe follows.
I got several reader's copies of books, and a regular copy of Lucky Girls: Stories by Nell Freudenberger. I picked up the book to read it sometime ago and can't recall exactly what happened. I think it was because most of her stories take place in Asia and deal with characters living abroad. That's something that I can't really relate to, but would like to. Since I now own a copy of the book, I can read it at my own pace.
Bought When the messenger is hot, the Barbara Ueland writing book (if you want to write), and something else that I can't think of right now, but it was another collection of short stories. I'll have to find the title. I've read the first four or five stories in the Crane collection, and while they are interesting and clever, each story seems written by the same character. Or every female character is in recovery and has an opera singing mother.
A new issue of Tin House arrived in the mail. I have it in my bag, but probably won't be able to read it for several days. Too many things to catch up on first.
January magazine published a list of Best books of 2003. I haven't looked very closely at it just yet. Here's something interesting about whether book titles make a difference in a book's success. Not connecting to the internet for a week has been such a blessing. I don't think I would miss it so much if it went away for good.
Wednesday, January 7,
Best books of 2003 ala The Guardian. I did begin but didn't finish Curious incident of the dog in the nighttime, Peter Carey recommends it. And Mark Haddon suggests Things you should know; devoured that. But, gosh those are the only two. Again, I feel as though I don't read widely enough this past year.
I have several books checked out from as many libraries, it seems. But two that sit on my desk are Tobias Wolff's Old school and Jeanne Ray's Eat cake. I read Ray's previous book Julie and Romeo, and was not impressed with the plot, though the writing was good. And how about that, Nashville is her hometown. So, we'll see about this eating cake bit. Have never read Wolff, this will be a first.
I totally forgot to mention finishing Richard Russo's The whore's child and other stories, which was quite good. Someone mentioned that they were reading it, and the title attracted me. All of the stories were just so damn good. I consumed the collection as much as read it. Russo is masterful and quite likely will become one of my favorite writers. The title story, "The Whore's Child," was terribly interesting. I laughed out loud and read a line to Ian. The story tells both the story of the whore's child, a nun, as well as that of her writing teacher at the local college. Sister Ursula sits in on a creative writing class and basically writes memoir disguised as fiction. Part of the story talks about the other student's reactions to her story, and the other part is her life story. At some point Sister comes to visit the teacher in his office, or perhaps at home (he lives near the convent), and she says something to him about hoping he never had bad experiences with nuns. His reply is something like "A nun bit my hand once." Charming, classic, and oh so witty. You had to be there, though. And, too, that's also indicative of my oddball sense of humor. Looks like I read Straight man in 2002. Must track down his other books and read them as well.
It's hard to read about DVDs taking over library collections. One librarian says "The library is about people,' said Ann Cress, associate director of public services at Jefferson County. "We try to build the collection that our population wants.' I agree and disagree with the statement. There's a huge chasm between theory and practice, any philosopher or practitioner learns that lesson early in her education. Public library collections are somewhat different than academic collections, but it is a mistake to say that the library is about people and their desires. That's totally false. It gives the impression that collection building is done from a populist scheme, and that just ain't so. I browse the shelf that holds DVDs at my public library, but its more of an afterthought than the driving purpose of my visit.
And I hate to openly be snobby about my profession, but this article at CNN regarding new software that "analyzes search results and automatically sorts them into categories," riled me. One of the workers described himself as a "superfast librarian who can instantly arrange the titles on shelves in a way that makes sense." Bad analogy. Librarians don't physically arrange titles on shelves, pages, or shelvers do that. While it is a necessary job that requires some skill, care, and intuition to do it well, it is not a "higher order" function of librarians. To liken himself to librarians is blasphemous. Further, why bother comparing oneself to a profession whose members are underpaid, taken for granted, and ridiculed if the intent is to assume their societal roles and replace them entirely by programmers?
I've read a chapter or two of the True story of Hansel and Gretel. Set in WW II Germany, two Jewish children escaping Nazis on motorcycles are abandoned in the woods by their father and step-mother and taken in by a kindly crone. I'm returning the Calligrapher to the library. I can't renew it, and I can't regain my interest in it either. And, there are so many other books to read.
Just when I get my semicolon groove on, punctuation rebellion begins. Oh, and I decided to return Cold mountain to the library as well. Another book I couldn't renew, and I couldn't in good conscience keep it out for another week while some poor soul who really wants to read the thing exists in agony. I may see the movie, but this is one book that I've tried to read three times and just couldn't do it.
Tuesday, January 6,
No reading of books last night, but I failed to mention a new book I bought a few days ago. I read one of the stories from There are Jews in my house: stories by Lara Vapnyar several weeks ago. But I cannot recall where. Ah, a quick search on the web shows that "Love Lessons-Mondays, 9 a.m." was included in The New Yorker's most recent Début Fiction Issue. The title story is about a librarian; obviously a must read for me. The book itself is small and will travel easily on planes, in cabs, and aboard public transportation. Another of her stories, "Mistress" is at Open City.
More was written about Stephen King receiving the National Book Foundation's 2003 lifetime achievement award. It's the same old debate between popular verses proper, which really boils down to a class issue in the great scheme of things.
Passenger train marketing may be a new way to get your book out there.
Oh, to compulsively read personal ads in "highbrow" literary publications.
But really, nothing noteworthy to write about on this cold, wet Tuesday.
Monday, January 5,
Pleasure of my company was good; a quick read. The main character has an obsessive-compulsive disorder, he counts, and has trouble crossing streets at the curb; he can only cross streets at opposing driveways. The book satisfied me, all except for the ending, which I thought was rather quick. It wrapped things up a bit too tidily. Otherwise, fun and entertaining. Without ever having seen or read (or written) a screenplay, I have a suspicion that Pleasure would work remarkably well as a screenplay.
Art of happiness at work was helpful, but ultimately disappointing. I can't say I learned anything new, yet it was stimulating in that Tibetan sort of way.
Kevin Canty's Honeymoon and other stories was quite good. The story that sold me on it was the first, called "Aquarium." It was about an aunt and her jail bait nephew visiting the Seattle Aquarium and then heading back to her hotel room for a different kind of family relationship. Actually, all the stories were very good. "Red Dress" was another good one that still haunts my mind, especially since I have my own alcohol-related boo boo on my finger. And that was the end of books in 2003.
The first book of 2004 was Virgin Blue. I loved two of Tracy Chevalier's books, Falling angels and Girl with a pearl earring, so I was anxious to read The virgin blue, her newest book. There are two stories intertwined. The first takes place in the 16th or 15th century in France, just around the time of Calvin's Truth. Isabelle is a midwife with interesting powers that she must hide to keep from being persecuted as a witch or catholic or who knows what. She marries Etienne, they move in with his parents, she has several children. They move to Switzerland to flee religious persecution. It's an oppressive household and Isabelle is prevented from attending church or leaving the house for any reason. The other story is contemporary and places Ella in a small village in southwestern France. She and her husband, Rick have moved there from San Francisco so that his career as an architect can take off. Ella feels snubbed by the locals and can't practice midwifery in France until she takes the course and earns her certificate. Bored out of her mind, she visits the library to delve into her genealogy. With help from two librarians, Ella eventually discovers a nasty family secret. The librarians are both lovely and decidedly non-stereotypical. Mathilde is a single mother who wears leather to work, and Jean-Paul is the rakish town librarian that Ella lusts after. Generally, the story was good, but the elements of the supernatural were sometimes a bit much. The most problematic part of the story was the husband, Rick. I didn't believe his actions were realistic. He's just a lump on a log. As a plot device, he doesn't do much work for the story.
Haven Kimmell writes so beautifully. I read an early reader's advance of Something rising (light and swift) and other than the typos, it was fabulous. Okay, there was some action around page 221 that I completely missed out on. It lacked a transition. So how does Cassie get from sitting in a New Orleans coffee shop to Thomas's truck barrelling down towards Gulfport? Something was left out, or their connection was far too subtle for me. Maybe I'm not used to subtlety working in the real world, perhaps it does in fiction. Cassie takes care of everyone, she's very responsible and world-wise. She's a pool shark but her day job is any kind of construction; houses fascinate her. The novel spans about 15 or 20 years of her life, so the reader sees her grow into adulthood. That transition is technically smooth, though fraught with all manner of conflict for Cassie. She's a remarkably strong character. Another Cassie book would be great. How will we know if things work out for her in La.?
I'm about fifty or so pages into the calligrapher. I'm not sure that I'll finish it. It is promising, especially with all the Donne parts, but there's a certain type of NeoBritLit that's a bit too perky, too self-conscious, and too clever. Contrived, that's it. Can't tell just yet if this is one of those. Anyway, it's written by a fellow, last name of Docx.