San Antonio 20-25 2006 check back after the 26th for more
Thursday, January 19, 2006 lives
and murmurs and real things
me. Yesterday I started reading Unfinished
life. The beginning was too familiar. I knew I'd read
it before. Apparently so, but I didn't keep on with the book. Wonder
why? This time though, I read it. The story was good but the writing
was basic. When I read a book I get this feeling. It usually corresponds
to the book. Some books are thick and fuzzy and others are... well,
I'm not sure how to describe it because I know the feeling but haven't
analyzed it so much. Books create a mood from the way their words are
cast out on the page and from their complexity of language. This book
was simple; everything was at the surface. I hate it when words fail
me. At the end I read the acknowledgements and learned there is a screenplay.
A screenplay? Oh yeah, this is the Morgan Freeman, Blonde man---what's
his name? Robert Redford, and Jennifer Lopez movie. I watched the trailer
after finishing my reading and I never cast any of those folks in the
story. The girl, Griff, is nine, but she appears to be 13-ish in the
trailer. Griff and Jean, her mother, take refuge with Jean's estranged
father-in-law after Jean's last boyfriend punches her in the face. Einar,
the father-in-law, lives on his farm in Wyoming with his buddy Mitch.
They served in Korea together. Mitch was mauled by a bear and takes
daily morphine injections to deal with his pain. Einar is not happy
to see Jean, who he blames for his son's death. Eventually he warms
to Griff, and teaches her how to drive his pick up and ride her father's
horse, Jimmy. Then there's Roy, the cast off boyfriend who followed
Jean and Griff from Iowa to Wyoming because he wants Jean back. There's
also the bear that mauled Mitch. The local petting zoo, who also has
a snake pit containing at least 150 rattlesnakes, has a new grizzly
that Einar and Mitch think is The One. Mitch asked Einar to feed it.
of the novel (1927) also, but it is dry reading so
far. Its popped up in my reading several times as a classic writing
instruction tome. I've not read any of Forester's work. Soon, I hope,
I shall arrive at the meat of the book. Successfully hunted for and
found the Emily Dickinson book I mentioned yesterday. It is A
murmur in the trees (1998). I bought it as much for
its illustrations as for its words. And then also read one or two short
stories by Doris Lessing last night. They were from The
real thing (1992). I think I liked them alright, I
guess. Will continue on and see what they're about, but am not so sure...
Wednesday, January 18, 2006 something
about the dog & Donovan
skirts was interesting, mostly for its depiction of madness.
Set in Greenwich Village during the Great War, Elsa flits about town
wearing strange fashion, usually sporting postage stamps for beauty
marks. I recall reading about her in the Peggy Guggenheim bio I read
last year and her name popped up elsewhere. Perhaps in the Djuna Barnes
bio? Trouble was: Much of the book's focus was on her NY years when
she lusted after Marcel Duchamp. She opined:
Marcel, I love you like hell, Marcel.
husband, the Baron, left her in NY to travel for Berlin for money from
his parents; he was a gambler and didn't want to work for his money.
She was on her own, couldn't pay her bills, and was thrown out of the
Ritz. It seems he was detained by the French and once released, he hanged
himself. She made money by sending her poems to the Little
Review. Silly to say I was mostly worried about Elsa's dog,
Pinky, a stray who came to stay. I knew Elsa went to Paris and worried
that she would leave him behind. She did not. Really, he was probably
her only friend. The book ended in Paris with her death in 1927 I think.
But, there were no Paris parts to the book.
breezed through Jane Yolen's
last night until
I got to the part where she described voices. Mostly the book is a pep
talk for would be writers. There were several interesting points that
she made. Plus, there's a short chapter on poems, which I really appreciated.
But the voices... they were disturbing. She talks about finding your
voice as a writer and then she gives examples of several styles: Bardic
voice, schoolboy voice, Josephus voice, Boogerman voice, Dark angel
voice, Midtown mab voice, Dave Broder voice, and Hemingway voice. Immediately
I was struck that all these voices are male. That quite ruined the book
for me and I questioned whether I could trust anything else from the
book. Really, it was it's
colorful cover that attracted me most of all. Two bands of green
and mostly red. Its only illustration is a wedge of watermelon. And
then there's it's smart typography.
Yolen quoted Aidan Chambers "Reading is an act of contemplation.
Writing is simply a part of that ritual activity. I write that I may
read, and so contemplate what I have written." She quoted
Emily Dickinson a few times and that reminded me that I ought to drag
out my favorite ED book from my shelves and immerse myself in it for
a bit. Oh yeah, like many guides to writing, Yolen quotes other folks,
though that was established two sentences ago. Happy accidents are something
to be prepared for, she says. And then she quoted Louis Pasteur: "Chance
favors the mind that is prepared." Actually, her suggestions
were helpful. I'm stuck with a story I'm writing and don't know where
it's going, but her guidance may pull me out of a rough spot. It doesn't
hurt either that I'm listening to Donovan
and the phrase "electrical
banana" tumbles through my brain every fifteen seconds. It's
that kind of Wednesday.
yesterday off from work was a most wonderful thing. I read all day.
Before that though, I finished From plain fare to fusion
food and started a history of the Art Students League
but am not going to finish it as it is overdue at the library. Instead
of attending to it I picked up Love,
work, children. Set in Morningside Heights, NY it
follows a sixty-something successful lawyer who wants his children to
be happy. After his wife, and their mother, lingers in a coma for several
months, he determines that he's lived an unsatisfying life and cuts
back on his time at the law firm for pro bono work with an arts foundation.
Though he's supposed to be the main character, there are dozens of characters
the reader meets; mostly folks with whom lawyer and his children come
into contact. The thing I didn't like about the book is the frequent
shift in perspective. It wasn't so much an omniscient thing because
the story is told from the perspectives of several characters, but in
one paragraph I went from being in one person's mind into another's.
I got used to it, but still don't like it. Otherwise, the story was
engrossing. I pulled for the characters and hoped for happy endings.
Besides the good story there were a lot a class issues popping up in
the plot. The focus on upper middle class characters reminded me of
I saw Brokeback
Mountain. It was stunning and sad and disturbing. Having not read
the short story prior to seeing the movie, I was eager to compare the
two. Yesterday Ian and I went to a bookstore where I pulled the book
from the shelf--because it's published as a stand-alone book instead
of being inside a work of short stories--and read it in 10-15 minutes
and did not but it, but may do so. Am trying to figure out whether I
feel guilty about doing that or not. Not really. I buy so many books
from my local bookstores that I should receive a year-end bonus or recognition
of some kind. Reading the story clears up one or two ambiguous things
about the movie. And most of the movie's dialogue is word for word from
the short story. Plus, my curiosity about how one covers twenty years
time in a short story was satisfied as well. Oh Annie Proulx, you are
reading-related resolution I made is trying to memorize poetry. That's
all part of my plan to make over my life into something resembling musical
theater or a work of fiction. Folks break out into dance and song and
quote long stanzas to each other. Another thing is that I've re-read
old journals and discovered, or remembered, that I used to copy down
poems (and most excellent pick up lines) for safe-keeping in my journals.
I haven't done that in years. The poem that moves me most, that resounds
in my head is Auden's
"Funeral Blues". John
Hannah's recitation of it in Four
weddings and a funeral was brilliant. But the thing about memorization
is that I've forgotten how to do it. I recall memorizing the "Rhyme
of the Ancient Mariner" and parts of Shakespeare's "All
the world's a stage" from As you like it,
but they didn't stick in my long-term memory. I've forgotten how to
memorize. So much of my schooling was not about rote memorization. I
asked Ian how to memorize, but he didn't remember, either. I'll take
it line by line and go from there.
my reading about the Greenwich Village art scene in the teens of the
twentieth century I came across references to Else
von Freytag-Loringhoven. She
contributed to Dada. There's a fictionalized account of her life
skirts that I'm reading. It began with a bang when
Elsa admits she's never been squeamish about her body.Her father is
abusive and remarries three months after her mother dies. She leaves
home for Berlin where she works at a cabaret and goes with men after
hours. When she sees the doctor about strange bumps on her leg, he tests
her and tells her that she was born with syphilis. Her mother died from
it eventually because she was embarrassed to seek treatment.
Friday, January 13, 2006 bars
& British fare
tender bar was a fabulous coming of age story. I recommend
it highly, and my mind is racing to pinpoint someone to share it with.
One of the author's revelations was:
saw that we must lie to ourselves now and then, tell ourselves we're
capable and strong, that life is good and hard work will be rewarded,
and then we must try to make our lies come true. This is our work, our
salvation, and this link between lying and trying was one of my mother's
many gifts to me, the truth that always lay just beneath her lies.
for a bit of dry reading, I tucked intoFrom
plain fare to fusion food: British diet from the 1890s to the 1990s.
It's rather interesting once you get around all the charts and
tables and boring bits. I'm afraid that my ideas of British wealth and
diet were dashed by this book. I learned that the majority of British
meals consisted of bread and scrape (butter, jam, etc.). Unbeknownst
to me, the major part of British foodstuffs were imported by the 1890s
and a large percentage, something like seventy or eighty percent, of
their grasslands lay fallow. Most folks bought their food from shops.
Only the rare folk in the country grew their own veggies. And then it
was less expensive to buy bread from the baker than to spend money on
fuel to bake one's own bread. Before the Great War many Brits were malnourished.
Their diets were mostly bread, potatoes, sugar, and a bit of meat, if
you were male. Now I'm midway through the century and reading about
rationing during the Second World War, which was also done on a smaller
scale during the Great War. Every dozen pages or advertisements appear
so the reader gains a sense of how food products were marketed to the
mass consumer audience.
Thursday, January 12, 2006 200
books & still one boy
Book Standard lists the top 200 best selling books of the year.
I've read eleven of the top fifty. But, it doesn't surprise me that
I don't have a taste for best selling literature, er, books.
what else? Still reading The tender bar. Mostly
the men saddle up to the bar and complain about the bitches. Some are
perceptive about alien super powers possessed by women:
"Ever notice the peripheral vision broads have" he said.
"A man sees a woman, say, on the train, he stares like a bird dog
staring at a dead duck. He can't help himself. But a woman can size
you up without turning her head. When you're staring at a woman, she
knows, pal, she knows, and she's staring right back, even it it looks
like she's reading her paper. They're aliens, I tell you."
passage I connected with dealt with the perception of control that books
offer readers. It was earlier in the book, when the author worked at
fourteen I felt more vulnerable than ever to chaos. My body grew, sprouted
hair, shuddered with urges I didn't understand. And the world beyond
my body seemed equally volatile and capricious. My days were controlled
by teachers, my future was in the hands of heredity and luck. Bill and
Bud promised, however, that my brain was my own and always would be.
They said that by choosing books, the right books, and reading them
slowly, carefully, I could always retain control of at least that one
Wednesday, January 11, 2006 boys
of reading more of the engrossing tender bar,
I had to turn my attention to yet another book that must be returned
in no short time to the library. This time it was Twentieth-century
Britain: A very short introduction. I have another
book from the series, probably the one on Nietzsche. The series is put
out by Oxford University Press. They're handy and brief; everything
in a nutshell. Some parts were difficult to follow. For example, I have
no clue about their political parties and whether Left and Right mean
the same thing in the UK as it does here. Nor do I have an inkling of
how their government is organized. It seems similar to the US, but different
as well. What else? I was disappointed when the book mentioned the Beatles
in the Sixties, but was mum on the punk movement of the Seventies, yet
touted the Spice Girls as a British export. England has much the same
regional problems as does the USA except the axis is reversed. Its the
south of England that prospers and the industrial north that decays.What
else? Oh, yes. The remarkable similarities between the USA and the UK.
After the war Britain experienced a severe imbalance of trade with North
America. And its retreat from Empire plus its entering with the US in
NATO virtually bound the two countries together. We enjoy a special
almost symbiotic relationship.
tender bar makes for good reading. I'm halfway through
it, and it's not the terrible testosterone-dripping tome I imagined.
It's quite good. The author presents his life sensitively. He and his
mother moved to Arizona, but he came home to Manhasset each summer to
work and spend time at the bar with his Uncle Charlie. In Arizona he
worked in a bookstore and the manager and assistant manager turned him
on to good reading; got him set onto a program. They encouraged him
to apply to Yale. That's where I left him. He's not doing well there.
LIke many students who excelled in their pithy public school, he's just
one of many bright students at Yale.
Monday, January 9, 2006 after book club(-ish)
evening my book club met. I didn’t provide much input about Case histories. I enjoyed it and
perhaps read it with blinders on, as I read everything. It satisfied me, but
most everyone concurred that it failed as a mystery, but worked as a novel of
loss. Also, most everyone agreed that Jackson was a
sympathetic character, which is a good thing, for Atkinson has another
Jackson Brodie book coming out sometime this
spring. Actually, Amazon UK gives
its publication date as August; it’s called Jolly
murder mystery. I fear I shall never be savvy enough to read
books and say whether they work or fail. My analysis rarely goes beyond if I
enjoyed it or not. Attending book club is a healthy exercise, for I benefit
from the wisdom of folks much better-read and better-versed than I.
my dinner I read Tales
from fish camp. It was short. Henderson
chronicled her experiences at a fish camp in the Bristol
Bay region of Alaska. She
cringed at the squalor in which she was supposed to live. She ferried the
wounded workers to the clinic. Sometimes she drank whiskey and performed karaoke.
She outran two brown bears who woulda made a short
snack of her. The trouble is that her book was so short. It was a collection
of vignettes rather than a full-scale memoir. She lives in Anchorage. Surely
her life there is filled with interesting things. She should meld the two
into a “My years in Alaska”
tome that gives the reader something meaty. Still, it was humorous and
my Edith Wharton plan (I brought Touchstone
home with me on my last library trip), I wish to read more British writers. I
have a list. I just need a strategy. Also brought home a collection of Doris Lessing’s stories, Real thing:
Stories and sketches with just that in mind. Almost picked up a
Rose Tremain title as well, but there were a dozen
on the shelves and I had not the first clue which one to take.
things on my list for this month include: The next title that the book club
is reading, Cormac McCarthy’s Orchard
keeper (1965) and Elizabeth’s
George’s For the sake of
Elena(1993), which was given as an example of an excellently
executed mystery. I read In pursuit of
the proper sinner (1999) in 2000, but that was before I wrote
about what I read and I cannot recall anything favorable about it. Since I
haven’t tried another George book since, perhaps I did not care for it.
once, I’m rather excited about reading and hope than none of my slumps
overtake me. I have dozens of books in my possession and lists of others to acquire.
I shall keep busy.
Last week I read an article in the Washington
Post about A
thousand years of good prayers: stories. Its author seeks
residency in the US, but is turned down. She attended the Iowa Writers'
Workshop, boasts James Alan McPherson for a mentor, and was called "the
real thing." Li's stories were excellent. They're unlike anything I
normally read. Most are set in contemporary China, but two feature Chinese
immigrants in America. Each one deals with big issues, not like much of the
short story fluff produced by American writers of the same generation.
Two years ago I read a
biography of Mary Heaton Vorse. The Provincetown Players got their start on
her wharf. Last year I read biographies of Dorothy Bryant, Edna St. Vincent
Millay, Djuna Barnes, and Oona O'Neill Chaplin. The first three had their
plays produced by the Provincetown Players and Millay and Bryant starred in
some productions. Chaplin's father's work saw its first success at
Provincetown. That bohemian group in Greenwich Village just after the turn of
the twentieth century interests me, and many of its denizens were part of the
PP. Naturally I needed to read Women
of Provincetown: 1915-1922.
Besides remembering the women I'd read about, I learned of dozens of other
women who were involved in the theater. Black's
study is the first to focus on women's contributions. In fact, she
discovered that most of the women associated with PP were involved in the
feminist movement. One of the conclusions she makes is that women's
participation in PP declined as men asserted direction over the theater as it
started drawing in big bucks. It wasn't that the PP was unsuccessful when
women had more control over running it. In its early days plays produced were
more experimental, but in its last years the focus changed and plays were
produced for commercial appeal.
After reading No country for old men, I suggested
that Ian read it. He said, "That doesn't sound like your type of
book." It wasn't, really. I sold it to him on its constant gunplay;
an H & K here, a Colt there, clips and safeties and submachine guns,
etc. He asked how authentic McCarthy's descriptions were and I told
him I couldn't tell, that it was for him to determine. I read it because
McCarthy is a great writer and though not a native (he was born in Rhode
Island) of Tennessee/Appalachia/the South, he grew up here and attended
school in Knoxville. McCarthy got his start by writing about Appalachia,
but then made the transition to writing Westerns. No country
for old men is a western, but not the typical cowboys
and Indians story that one thinks of. Horses appear in one scene only.
This is more like law enforcement verses Mexican drug lords/dealers.
After an unsuccessful shot at a herd of antelope, Moss, a Vietnam vet,
stumbled upon a drug deal gone bad: vehicles, bodies, heroin, and blood.
He follows a bloody trail and finds a case containing $2.4 million.
He takes it. And then it is on. Two warring parties are after Moss to
recover the cash. Sheriff Bell, a WW II vet, tries to protect Moss but
only manages to show up at motels after the fact; after shoot outs occur.
The story was good, but the writing was excellent. Heck, I guess McCarthy's
storytelling is pretty excellent, too. The fact is: I started this book
Sunday morning after 1 a.m. and could not put it down until I finished
it at 4:30 a.m.
As a Barbara Ehrenreich
fan, how could I not read Switch
and bait: The (futile) pursuit of the American Dream?
This time Ehrenreich went undercover using her maiden name to investigate the
dearth of white collar corporate jobs. While searching for a corporate
position in PR she undergoes career counseling, attends networking events,
and submits her resume to various online websites. All to no avail. The only
job offers she received were from AFLAC, in sales, and Mary Kay, also in
sales. It seems that corporations got rid of jobs in the $50K-$100K range and
those folks struggle in their "survival" jobs at big box stores.
Ultimately they get fired for giving one too many suggestions for improvement
to management or because they can't dress down and get into the jeans and
t-shirt workplace uniform.
There's a new short story by Aimee Bender at Nerve. Got to have that premium
scrip though to read it.The problem is that I don't enjoy reading short
stories at a terminal. It's only three pages. Better to print it out and read
it for real than stumble along not enjoying the experience.
Since 2005 is not so far
in the past, I'm tempted to deem Case
histories as the best book I read in 2005; I liked it
that well. It outshines the other book I've read this year. I loved
Atkinson's writing. It was plucky and smart. The bits in parentheses verged
on snarky. As early as page three I loved the narrative voice:
Sylvia had recently
developed an unhealthy obsession with religion, claiming that God had spoken
to her (as if God would choose Sylvia).
This was unlike any other
mystery I've read. Mostly because it was excellent and that genre is
formulaic and written for a mass audience. Seeing how the stories intersected
was breathtaking as well. Naturally I had certain plot elements worked out
ahead before truths were revealed to the characters, but then certain other
aspects surprised even jaded-by-mystery-plots me. Not having been around many
persons born in Cape Town I was taken with Jackson's mimicking of Binky
Rain's accent. She's the woman with all the cats. She talks about "bleck
men" and "men in the benk." But my favorite was:
Binky said. “Efrican?” “Sarth Efrican. Diamond mines. In
charge of the blecks.”
However, all of
Atkinson's characters are rich. The richest I've met on paper in a long time.
Even the most boring person who appeared for a sentence or two had some verve
about her/him. They were complex and their personalities quite detailed. Am I
falling in love? I cannot wait to read Atkinson again. She makes me want to
read more British writers. [1.9.2006: Jackson listens to my kind of music:
Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welcj, Emmylous Harris, and Alison Moorer.]
Then yesterday while
flipping through research notes I made for a paper about General Wilder I
came across Consuelo Vanderbilt's name. She's the one who married the Duke of
Marlborough. A few weeks ago I learned that Edith
Wharton wrote the Buccaneers
based around Consuelo. I popped in at the public library to borrow the book,
which I returned approximately a week ago unread. It seems I am on the
Wharton program path without any goals or objectives. Not sure structure
would work. Discipline is a problem for me. If I outline a course of study,
it's likely that I'll refer to it disdainfully and cast it aside for good.
Another thing is that
instead of keeping Buccaneers
with me, as if to actually read it, I brought Love walked in along today
in case I take a break, get caught in traffic, or there's a devastating
network crash, and I catch a chance to read. SJP blurbed
it, but that's not why I bought it. I skimmed the first few pages and found
the writing agreeable. I found it's cover aesthetically pleasing.
Wednesday, January 4,
2006 on the case
Made it through the dread
last night. It was a miracle. While in Rome Daisy cavorts with an Italian
man. All of good and proper society turns their back upon her. Somehow she
falls ill from the night air, dwindles, and dies. She got what was coming to
her, ignoring the strictures of polite society and flaunting herself in
public. Oh, how dreary. But, it is done. I may never try James again after
this. However, I am drawn to Edith
Wharton and may embark upon a reading plan featuring her writing. I read Ethan Frome years ago and always
remembered it as a favorite. Even had a gorgeous hardcover special edition of
it that I got while working at the long-gone Book Place, only I haven't seen
it since I moved out of my mother's house.
It was after 1:30 this
morning (then I should have stayed up to read because I didn't fall asleep
until 3:30 and then Ian came home at 4:30, thus making for a morning of
much-disturbed sleep) when I reluctantly put down Case
histories. Something about it, oh excellent plotting,
maybe? Atkinson's cool touch upon the pages? made me go on and on. Had to
stop though. The hour grew disreputable in light of my impending workday.
First, I was introduced to three stories, case files, if you will. The first
involved the disappearance of a little girl, Olivia. In the second, a
lawyer's daughter's throat was slit by a mysterious man wearing a yellow golf
sweater, and the third case file described a new mother splitting open her
husband's head with a wood axe. Then there's Jackson, of course. He's the
private investigator who investigates these three dead cases. One of his
clients is an old lady with dozens of cats in her home. She swears that her
black cats are being taken. The first one to disappear she called N_____ (you
know, the "n" word). The stories are set in East Anglia, which
thankfully I can point to on a map of England. The cat lady, whom all
children in the neighborhood regard as a witch, arrived there by way of
Africa and treats anyone she encounters as though he/she was her servant. The
book is delightful. I love the narrative voice. If I could, I might actually
kick myself for not reading this sooner. But, Atkinson has four or five books
published. All is not lost.
Tuesday, January 3,
2006 new year with Henry &
First, I'm such a dunce.
Somehow I overwrote my file so that the last entry (12/29) I made from 2005
no longer exists. Reconstruction will come eventually, but I can't worry with
it today. Maybe it exists in a temp file on my home pc. I can hope.
Second, I'm reading Daisy Miller.
That's Henry James. I didn't finish The
Aspern Papers and I'm not motivated to finish Daisy Miller, either. The
trouble is all mine. I cannot determine what makes James' writing so great.
It's rather boring. The story plods. The dialogue is redundant. His physical
characterizations of DM are hard to follow because I don't know what they
mean, exactly. About her face he wrote:
It was not at all insipid, but it was not exactly expressive; and though it
was eminently delicate.Daisy
Miller is about an American girl who travels to Europe
and gives all American girls a bad name because she's so common and
flirtatious. I've heard the book described as the "classic"
American girl abroad story that all others are based upon.
Third. Is there a third?
Oh yeah. I'll read Case
histories soon; I've got six days. I've had the book
for months and didn't get to it. But, one of my NY resolutions is to get out
more, not be so insular, so party-of-one. I'm the youngest person of the
folks attending that particular book club. The others have children my age.
These are the books we're reading:
January 9: Case Histories by Kate
February 13: The Orchard Keeper by
March 13: Beowulf translation by
April 10: Everything Is Illuminated
by Jonathan Safran Foer