Monday, May 31, 2010

Stumbling Blocks

Day 111 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project. Little did I know, when I left for church yesterday, that I was headed for an amazing reflection (we don’t have sermons) by historian Mark Wyman, entitled “How Should We Remember Horrible Events?” which, indeed, reminded us that the Holocaust was very, very real.

It was the perfect thing for the Sunday before Memorial Day, when we remember our fallen soldiers, and thus also the horrors of war, and our ongoing human conflicts.

Mark spoke movingly of how to remember any of our troubling actions of the past, how to honor victims, how to listen to the apologies and accept the restorative actions of descendants of perpetrators. He spoke of avoiding cliché memorials and gestures that lose their meaning. He asked us to consider new and meaningful memorials and gestures.

Examples: Classes in Duluth, Minnesota that teach young people about a horrible lynching in the past, so those 3 innocent men, circus workers, who died June 15, 1920, are not forgotten, and neither is our human capacity for folly and for evil. An empty library in Berlin, to commemorate the books burned by the Nazis, underground, seen through a glass pane in the street.

And the stumbling blocks, or stolpersteine, on streets in Germany, where artist Gunter Demnig has placed plaques on raised stones to remind us who lived where, who was taken, who died, and when, and what small privileges were taken away from Gypsies and Jews in the 1940s. No pets, no buying of pastries or cakes. It starts small, ends in Holocaust.

As I understand it, the stolpersteine make us confront the stumbling blocks of the past, the things we’d rather forget, but can’t, shouldn’t. In a way, we stumble, so we do not fall, again.

In the comments afterward, Becca spoke of a film, The White Ribbon, that has made her think about such things, and a book, a memoir by Christa Wolf called Patterns of Childhood, formerly A Model Childhood, mentioned here earlier because Susan was reading it. (We have Model Childhood at Babbitt’s, along with some of Wolf’s books in German.) There are all kinds of ways to remember.

Mark is the author himself of several books on American history. The most recent is Hoboes: Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West. And check out Wyman’s author page at Amazon for the rest!

Mark’s wife, Eva Goldschmidt Wyman, is the editor of Los Poetas y la General (The Poets and the General): Chile’s Voices of Dissent Under August Pinochet, 1973-1989, a bilingual edition, poems in Spanish and facing page translations in English. She is also the author of Huyendo del Infierno Nazi: La Immigracion Judio-Alemana Hacia Chile en los Anos Treinte, in Spanish, about Germans who went to live in Chile during and after World War II. Her work is available at Babbitt’s, Dan Wyman Books in Brooklyn, and various places online, including Google books.

Let us remember our fallen, those who died in military service for our country, today, Memorial Day. Let us remember the harm we can do when we are not doing good. Let us remember to do what good we can. Let us remember it is not always easy to know what to do.

Thank you for remembering.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Burned at the Stake

Day 110 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Thanks for all the fabulous comments on each other's reading! Great ideas, great suggestions, great brain food for thought.

Charles was about halfway through The Greatest Show on Earth, by Richard Dawkins, not a circus book, when I asked the "What are you reading?" question at Facebook a week or so ago, so he must be 3/4 of the way through or perhaps finished by now! Here's exactly what he said:

I'm about halfway through Richard Dawkins's new book The Greatest Show on Earth, the best assessment I've seen of the evidence for evolution. Although evolution is accepted as scientific fact by all reputable scientists, a recent Gallup poll reveals that 44 percent of Americans believe that God created the earth and all living creatures within the last 10,000 years. With ignorance like that, who needs the Texas school board! Anyway, if you have any lingering doubts about evolution or if you're looking for ammunition to argue with those who do, pick up this marvelous new book. It'll fill you with wonder and awe.

It does amaze me that there are people who don't believe in evolution at all, or who mix religion and science, but hey! Seems to me the evidence for evolution is all around for the looking, as well as in this and other books.

I gather that Dawkins annoys several people by comparing creationists to Holocaust-deniers. I can't comment on that, not having read the book, except to say 1) the Holocaust was real and 2) evolution is real. We can debate and further quibble about how exactly evolution works, and whether Charles Darwin, an early describer and proponent, was correct in everything he thought, and no doubt he wasn't, as science has been wrong before, and then corrected itself, etc., etc., but surely evolution is going on out there in the natural world via genetics and mutations and adaptations.

Dawkins also wrote The God Delusion, and even the title of that troubles a number of people.

I guess I am someone who can live with ambiguity, uncertainty, and paradox. And I guess I must define God differently than the people who can't believe in evolution.

Speaking of God, and perhaps delusions, and also "ammunition," today is the day that, in 1431, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. If not delusions, then visions. I have no trouble believing that Joan had visions, that she inspired an army, and that she shouldn't have been burned at the stake (Wikipedia says she was burned at the stake thanks to a biblical clothing law), but that, since she did, and since she was, she has had a huge and lasting effect on generations since, since she acted on her beliefs, and died for them. (That's a lot of "since.")

Woops! Look at the time. More coffee, le toast, then off to church!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What is the What

Day 109 of the "What are you reading, and why?" and Karl, who just had a birthday, is reading What is the What, by Dave Eggers, who rocks. Karl rocks, too. We also have a fancy hardback copy of it at Babbitt's, but I think the link might just take you to the general search page (for some unknown reason), but you can just type in Dave Eggers. (I think this link to the tote bag will work, though.)

Because I don't rock and am not hip or cool, and was in that no-books-no-movies zone of raising young children when he first hit the publishing scene, I did not know very much about Dave Eggers, just the title of that first amazing book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a fictionalized account of raising his little brother after their parents died. There has been lots of trouble in the Eggers family. Dealing with it via genius and humor is the way to go.

Then I saw McSweeney's Quarterly at Babbitt's and went, "Whoa!" Each one is different. Some look like a conventional paperback quarterly journal, some like hardback books, one like a newspaper, one like something that would come in your mailbox, one like a cigar box, etc. We got some in at Babbitt's (some still shrinkwrapped), and I see some are on sale at The McSweeney's Store.

I think it's wonderful that McSweeney's began as a journal that would publish only stuff rejected by other journals! Now it is sought out by writers who love it, major pagers (made-up term), and writers with that peculiar ingenuity in mind. It really makes me wish I were hip or cool.

I could, of course, become more hip by reading the Believer, the McSweeney's magazine (samples online), separate from McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, and from Believer Books (which does books, book club, used books via garage sale, etc., and McSweeney's also publishes its own Books, separate from the Quarterly and the Believer Book offerings), and maybe I will. But it might be too discouraging, as in litost, that sudden realization of one's own miserable existence, since Nick Hornby (famous, funny) writes a column called "Stuff I've Been Reading" that of course is hipper and cooler than mine.

I realize we have a stack of Believers on a shelf at Babbitt's. I am going to have to look at those when I get back to work, and maybe become a weensy bit hipper. Sunday afternoon. We are closed Monday, for Memorial Day. I will be picnicking and asking my parents what they are reading. We are taking dessert--blueberries, strawberries, Cool Whip & angel food cake torn up together in a red, white, and blue trifle like thing I will make up as I go along. I am so not hip.

I have hips.

Happy Birthday, Karl. Have a wonderful life, Dave. It's time for breakfast, coffee and le toast.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Undersea, Earthsea, Cute Boys

Day 108 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Laura has just finished reading Dark Life, a young adult science fiction "western" by Kat Falls, and is moving on to some Ursula Leguin Earthsea sequels, because science fiction rocks! (I think that's why. Laura, you can tell us more about why.) Is that a jellyfish, or are you just happy to see me?

Young adulthood is when I fell in love with science fiction, and I haven't read very much since, though Leguin has been recommended to me frequently. But I did read and love The Sparrow and Children of God, by Maria Doria Russell, after frequent recommendations, and those recommenders were definitely right. The Russell novels are a wonderful combination of science fiction, cultural anthropology, and comparative religion. I learned a heck of a lot about Earth before we went off it.

I loved talking to Curt (of a past entry), who had read a lot of classic science fiction with his mother growing up, because she was in a science fiction book club. I could talk to Curt about Zenna Henderson and The People books! I have Henderson paperbacks on a bookshelf upstairs and may bring them to the beach this summer to entice the kids. (Me, I'm bringing Barbara Pym. And Three Men in a Boat.)

Laura is also reading The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, which is marketed as young adult fiction in the U.S. but was written as general adult fiction in Australia. I think an Australian first told me about it. Narrated by Death, it takes place during World War II and has a child heroine. Dark as that sounds, it looks to be a charming, moving, and even uplifting book, maybe the way The Diary of Anne Frank is uplifting and heartbreaking at once.

Or, since Death is called wry and sardonic by readers and reviewers of The Book Thief, maybe it is more like Dead Like Me, a television series my son found on Hulu, with the amazing Mandy Patinkin in it. Markus Zusak is pretty darn cute, too.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lunar Men and Women

Day 107 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project. Linda, a professor of astronomy, is reading The Lunar Men, by Jenny Uglow (what a perfect name!), about the scientists and engineers of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, England in the late eighteenth century.

“They met on the Monday after the Full Moon so as to have light to travel home by,” says Linda, “and discussed science, inventions, and politics. Many of them also wrote poetry and literature.” A lovable bunch of "lunaticks," these fellows were, as the subtitle says, Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World. Indeed, one was James Watt of the famous steam engine, and one was Joseph Priestley, who figured out what oxygen was! One was Josiah Wedgwood, of Wedgwood china, and one was Erasmus Darwin, who gave us...Charles Darwin, his grandson, and evolutionary awareness. And one was a toymaker, Matthew Boulton. What a powerful bunch of inventive brains!

Wow! And tonight is the full moon, giving plenty of light to travel home by (if it doesn’t storm) or poetic inspiration. I am very touched that many people have been writing, calling, and emailing to say they are reading my new poetry chapbook, Living on the Earth, just out from Finishing Line Press and also available at Babbitt’s Books, which has a little almost full moon on the cover. (See, I told you I would tell you more here in the blog when it came out. Sigh, once again, all about me! But, never fear, I’ll be linking you to plenty of Un-Me.)

The working title for this book was Living on the Moon, and was building itself around what would have been the title poem, first published in Fifth Wednesday. (Thanks to editor Vern Miller for that, and guest poetry editor Nina Corwin of the inaugural issue!) Here is the poem, partly inspired by a news story on National Public Radio and partly by a feeling of alienation, as business and politics “as usual” carried on in our country and my personal life was squeezing the air out of me.

Living on the Moon

When they finally come, they’ll find me
here already. I won’t have disturbed
the flag on its pole,

only a photograph, anyway,
only a memory now.

I’ve received the radio transmission
on Neil Armstrong’s sound glitch, his intended grammar.
They will all want to say the right thing

but there’s not enough oxygen.

I’ve watched the ice caps melt. I know why
they are coming.
They’ll discover on their own how cliché devolves

into truth: you really can’t go home again.
But I can show them how to live here step by step,
small by giant.

I’ve learned how to breathe
with my helmet off.

I’ve learned how to climb out of all the craters.

Then we had another election, people started to go “green,” the local food movement took off, I quit my job and left everything but my husband, and I began to feel more like Living on the Earth. But that’s another title poem, for another day. (Thank you, dears, for reading my book!)

Meanwhile, the cold Martian winter has, as scientists expected, caused the Phoenix to bite the mythically red Martian dust. A mythical Phoenix may rise from the flames, but a NASA Phoenix cannot rise from the carbon dioxide ice on Mars. Is somebody reading The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury?!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

No Simple Victories

Day 106 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Todd is reading Six Frigates: the Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy, by Ian W. Toll. Todd was in the U.S. Navy. What a good book to be reading and pondering as we come up on Memorial Day, the holiday created to honor those who died in military service.

We had only an ad hoc navy during the American Revolution, and it took time and debate to create an official navy in the 1790s, but it was firmly in place for the War of 1812. Looks like this book lays out the issues and isn't just about the battles, and reviewers praise the first book of Toll, a financial analyst before he was a writer. I love the names of the six frigates that formed our early Navy: Constitution, Constellation, Congress, President, United States, and Chesapeake.

One of the Navy websites (linked above) is America's Navy: a Global Force for Good, which brings up something Quentin has encountered. He is reading No Simple Victory, by Norman Davies, about World War II. I'll let Quentin give you his summary:

I've 10 pages left in No Simple Victory, Norman Davies' effort to capture the whole of WW II in Europe Short version: This was essentially a conflict between two horrific totalitarian states. We ended up aiding one of them, which ensured defeat of the Nazis and incidentally established us as a premier economic power. America's sacrifices and strategic efforts were modest, relative to what others did and went through. In hindsight, particularly with the public awareness of the death camps and the repression of information about the gulag, we found a WW II narrative of "a battle against evil" that we still believe. Every other country has a strange and particular narrative of the conflict. Not a ton of laffs, but a very healthy corrective to Stephen Ambrose, etc.

And tonight my book group will be discussing Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford, reminding us that nothing was simple on the homefront, either, even in the United States, distant from so much of that war, but dramatically involved by way of Pearl Harbor. This novel handles gently the rude fact of our concentration camps for Japanese-Americans during WW II. Here is another debate, of course, but the novel shows amazing patience and loyalty in the face of that terrible dislocation of American citizens.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mary's List

Day 105 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project, and Mary, “feeling like a book glutton,” will be reading something from this big stack:

1. Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy by Melissa Milgrom
2. The Professor of Desire by Philip Roth
3. The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel
4. The Ask by Sam Lipsyte
5. Tell-All by Chuck Palahniuk
6. Husband and Wife by Leah Stewart
7. Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter
8. See What I'm Saying: The Extraordinary Powers of Our Five Senses by Lawrence D. Rosenblum
9. How to Be Alone: Essays by Jonathan Franzen
10. That Distant Land: the Collected Stories by Wendell Berry

And then she will move on to another book in the stack! Mary is an amazing reader, and of course now I want to read her stack. At the moment, I mostly want to read See What I’m Saying because it sounds so fascinating! (And it ties right in with something Quentin is reading, which I’ll tell you about tomorrow.)

See What I’m Saying is about the amazing information our senses give us, and how our other senses compensate when we lose one, etc. If I read this book, I can learn to echolocate like a bat! It reminds me of synesthesia, both a medical condition and a literary technique of blending the senses. Some people literally do see what someone is saying, or see colors associated with certain words, or smell things. Because it happens in real life, it can happen in a poem, too, to liven things up or make us “see” in new ways!

And, too tempting, I think we actually have a copy of Distant Land at Babbitt’s, because it is fiction. It is very, very hard to hold on to his nonfiction, which walks out the door as soon as it comes in, if it comes in at all. The time is right for Wendell Berry again, long beloved by reasonable people who love the earth!

If you like Mary’s List, don’t miss Doug’s List, another fine stack.

Dan read Doug’s List and said, “I'm reading Joe the Barbarian from DC Comics. I have issues 1 to 4. I am up to date with the series. I am also reading Audel's Truck and Tractor manual from 1948. And some UFO abduction books."

“Show off,” said Doug.

Dan said, “I always thought that people who could read the classics in the original lingo greco were the real lords of the library. My books have to have exciting pictures and clear declarative present tense language.”

Dan, we have lots of automotive manuals at Babbitt's. And graphic novels. And a fabulous comic book store down the street!

We also have a huge stack of UFO abduction materials and other flying saucer books and ephemera. Sigh... See what I'm saying?

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Hot Ethan & Other Hot Stuff

Day 104 (in the shade) of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Paulette only has 100 more pages to go in the Edith Wharton biography by Hermione Lee. (I am still only 133 pages into it...but maybe I will take it to the beach.) This is when I always recommend Summer, which Wharton liked to call "the hot Ethan." And we don't mean Ethan Hawke. We mean Ethan Frome.

But Paulette's hot summer reading will include romances.

Donna's summer reading will include some Mary Kay Andrews books recommended by her daughter: The Fixer Upper and Savannah Blues. The former looks like a fun read, and the latter like a cozy mystery with romance, and both are probably some kind of chick lit! (Everybody loves chick lit!) Donna just finished Blue Dahlia, but I don't know if it's the romance by Nora Roberts or the screenplay by Raymond Chandler. Probably the romance. She also loves, and often re-reads, The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher. Which Susan also loves!

Susan is reading Patterns of Childhood by "the wonderful, poetic Christa Wolf," also known as A Model Childhood, a novel about growing up in Nazi Germany, and just finished Cousin Bette, by Balzac, who was so hot he scandalized Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn in The Music Man, by Meredith Willson.

An actress in New York, Susan is also reading a lot of plays. And coming up on her summer reading list: the last two Steig Larsson novels.

Kevin, an actor in New York, thinks he may ignore the "three TOMES sitting beside my bed that probably total over three thousand pages to be read" and instead buy "the latest 'the girl that...' book by the dead Swedish author."

Wait! An actress in New York who likes Stieg Larsson and an actor in New York who likes Stieg Larsson. Should I try to set them up?

Because, back at Facebook, Dawn reports:

I'm currently devouring an utterly delectable coming-of-age novel called THE HIGHEST TIDE by Jim Lynch, and slowly savoring TWENTY POEMS TO NOURISH YOUR SOUL by Judith Valente and Charles Reynard (which I understand to be one of the fruits of your successful, if inadvertent, matchmaking effort--nicely done)!

Yes, yes, I accidentally rubbed some poets together, and they caught fire. Hello, Dolly!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Burn Your Bookes?!

Day 103 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Yesterday, after telling you about a dream (proving that, among the female characters on Friends, I most resemble Phoebe), I told you about the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, and what local people are reading to prepare for seeing the 3 plays. (The 3 plays.)

Today, I will tell you that Ron is reading Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro, and that Robert is about to read it, too! (I asked again at Facebook, and got tons of answers, so you will be hearing about that for a while!) The authorship of Shakespeare's plays continues to be contested, and this should be a particularly interesting account, as it's written by the same guy who wrote A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, 1599, "an intimate history of Shakespeare," according to the front flap. In this book, Shakespeare wrote his own plays. So, in Contested Will, what is explored will be the controversies themselves, and why anyone would suppose otherwise. Looks fascinating, as some of the doubters were Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, and Helen Keller!

Robert reported that he was going to see (not read) Burn Your Bookes, a play (meant to be seen & heard, not read) by Richard Byrne, about Edward Kelley, an alchemist, and John Dee, a dabbler, both famous in Czechoslovakian culture. They went to Bohemia (where Perdita is sent in Shakespeare's play A Winter's Tale, as I recall, though that might have been a dream...) and looked into crystal balls, as alchemy and the occult seem inextricably linked.

(I know this rather too well, having handled a lot of occult books recently at Babbitt's. I started to feel queasy and dusty, so there might be something to it.)

I learned from the Washington Post article (linked above) that, according to playwright Byrne, "that whole alchemical tradition of Prague was one of those things Czech scholars could go to England and talk about and not worry about being too political." And here is where I want to hear from Doug (of Doug's List, not Julie, sorry, mistyped in previous-but-alas-published draft), who said that Tom Stoppard plays are usually not political. I always thought that was because he came from a repressive culture, affected by Communism, and had to write in "code," so to speak, as if about other things, in order to comment on society at all. Anyhoo....

Don't "burn your bookes" or yourself this summer. Do wear sunscreen, and do take books to the beach! I will be back with more "hot" summer reading.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On

Day 102 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Well, the madness continues. Previously, in "Wait! I Have a Blog?!" Kathleen knew she was losing it when she started to notice what people are reading in movies and sitcoms.

Now she is:

1) dreaming books
2) speaking of herself in third person

Yes, it has happened. This morning, before waking, I was dreaming a book. I knew who was reading it--Gayla, who had, in waking life, just recently sent me a poem she wrote that helped her decide not to buy a house, a thrillingly practical use of poetry inspired by a little talk I gave for her writing group at the library...but I digress. But try it! If you are trying to make an important decision:

1) ask yourself to think about it right before falling asleep, and/or
2) write a poem about it

So, anyway, Gayla was reading this ex-library book I was handling at the bookstore, getting ready to describe into the database. (You know how things are in dreams.) It still had its library pocket glued to the front free endpaper. It had inkstamps and the librarian's pencil notations.

But what was remarkable about the book was that the endpapers and dustjacket told a different story than the text itself. I knew this without reading the book, knew it was a secret that couldn't be revealed to the database, and knew I should not ever try to tell anybody my dream, especially not in my book blog project. And yet....

We are such stuff
as dreams are made on, and our little life
is rounded with a sleep!

--Prospero, The Tempest

And this brings me to The Illinois Shakespeare Festival, and what some real live people are really reading in central Illinois, to prepare themselves for seeing the plays. Some people in the area also take short courses and attend talks and seminars to get ready for this fine event. This year, people are reading, and seeing:

The Tempest, by William Shakespeare
The Merry Wives of Windsor, by William Shakespeare
The Three Musketeers, not by William Shakespeare, but instead a play based on the book by Alexandre Dumas

And there are also performances for young people of As You Like It. And various "Shakesperiences" involving ice cream, picnic baskets, and jazz saxophone.

So, read on....

Friday, May 21, 2010

Perhaps Women

Day 101 (as in Dalmatians) of the "What are you reading, and why?" project.

I want to know if anyone is reading, or has read, Perhaps Women, by Sherwood Anderson. An olive green copy sprinkled with little offwhite flowers passed through my hands yesterday at Babbitt's, and I was intrigued. Though it is called a novel, Anderson's short preface identified it as a hybrid form of poetry and prose, sort of an essay/essai (as in "try something"), and his concern in the book is "the machine," or man and the machine, and how, perhaps, women might be men's salvation at this turning point in American life.

I will not comment on how women as men's salvation sometimes just means picking up after them. Sigh... But I do notice (in his Wikipedia bio) that Anderson also has a book called Many Marriages and had them (4), so perhaps women were not his personal salvation. I also notice that Ernest Hemingway seems to have skewered him in at least two novels, but what goes around comes around and poor Ernie Kabob has been skewered, too. Hence, The Old Man and the Sea, or so they say. Marlin Kabob.

Speaking of unfortunate skewerings, Anderson is the author who died on a cruise after swallowing the toothpick in his martini. No wonder F. Scott Fitzgerald loved him.

Anderson has been mentioned previously, and recently, in this blog--in Doug's List and follow-up comments, and in the context of a past Great Books Chicago event, but that was his best-known work, Winesburg, Ohio, a set of interconnected short stories.

A first edition of Olive Kitteridge, also a set of interconnected short stories, also passed through my hands this week, long enough for me to note that the stories were written and separately published over quite a long span of time, a comfort to me, as I've had to set aside the writing of short fiction during the hardworking/childrearing years, and a bit of time for it is just now coming back.

And this week in vintage sales, a young man headed east bought a copy of The Great Gatsby, which returns to the values of the Midwest; a land surveyor came in search of another hardcover Catcher in the Rye, a book he collects and reads frequently, sharing my love of perennials; and a third random stranger bought a just arrived $2 paperback of Franny and Zooey. It just keeps happening.

And now the sun has come out. I'm off to check on the perennials.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

100 Days of Bookitude!

Day 100 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project! Really, I've been doing this for 100 days! If you are the 100th day reader...hmm, I don't really have a prize, unless you want a copy of my first poetry chapbook, Selected Roles (Moon Journal Press, 2006), as I still have some of those. Cover art is a painting by my husband! (Let me know, and we'll figure out how to send you one!) Image for today is the poster from a past event, the poetry reading at the arts center, during Illinois Arts Week.

Mainly I will celebrate with some bookish news culled from the Internet and National Public Radio.

For example, NPR told me this morning that this day in 1609 brought the first publication of Shakespeare's sonnets! Yay! Oh, that reminds me that I have another thing to celebrate: a nice review of my chapbook Broken Sonnets in Fiddler Crab Review, an online magazine that celebrates the chapbook, or the very slim volume of verse.

NPR also shared the news that George Washington never returned the book Law of Nations to the library, but, lest he be thought a deadbeat, a society has donated a new copy of the book to the library, which has waived the $300,000 fine.

And, as I told you in an earlier entry, the Lost Man Booker Prize was indeed awarded yesterday. And the winner is....Troubles, by J G Farrell. Here's some info about the book from the Man Booker website:

Troubles is the first in Farrell's Empire Trilogy, which was followed by The Siege of Krishnapur (1973) and The Singapore Grip (1978). The Siege of Krishnapur won the Booker Prize in 1973 and was shortlisted for the Best of the Booker, a special award created to mark the 40th anniversary of the prize in 2008. Farrell died in 1979.

So Farrell was a big Booker winner, it appears. I could not find The Bay of Noon, by Shirley Hazzard, also nominated, at work, but I will keep an eye out for it.

Ah! And we will be celebrating at work, too! Not the 100th day of my book-blog project, but a little gathering of current and former co-workers. We were going to go to lunch together, but the boss is headed to Chicago, so, while the cat's away, the mice will play. That is, we will clean off the counter and have a picnic while we mind the store!

I doubt there will be cake, but there might be cookies. And hummus. And my famous pasta salad, with tuna and green olives!

Ah, and my other cause for celebration is that my new poetry chapbook, Living on the Earth (Finishing Line Press, New Women's Voices Series No. 74), is indeed out there in the world, and people are receiving their single pre-ordered copies. I have not yet received my big box of author copies, but you can be sure I'll let you know when I do, in another "all about me" kind of blog entry. Because, you know, it's always all about me.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Blue Carbuncle

Day 99 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Sarah, newly graduated from college, is reading "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" and other Sherlock Holmes stories, by Arthur Conan Doyle, after getting hooked on them in a class.

This is the story in which the rare garnet turns up in a Christmas goose.

Based on the black and white Sherlock Holmes movies she'd seen on TV, Sarah thought Doyle might be sort of a stuffy writer. She was delighted to find that the stories are lighthearted and accessible, which helps her understand the mass appeal in their own time and the liveliness of the most recent movie version. She didn't like the movie much, but she understands it better now, having read the original stories. And they are a fun read, right after college and starting a fulltime job, each one very satisfying but not taking too much of her time.

We chatted about the word "carbuncle" which always calls up an icky hard callous dripping pus, far cry from a garnet but not so far, really, as the root word means "coal" and both the red (or deep purple or blue) gemstone and the bacterial wound are hard, compact.

Carbuncles appear elsewhere in literature, mostly in their gemstone sense, but not always! Wikipedia conveniently tells us there are carbunckles in The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, "The Great Carbuncle," by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the Bible.

Art by Herbert Zohl! I think he is making this available as a print you can buy.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Everything Must Change

Day 98 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and some small groups in my town are reading Everything Must Change by Brian D. McLaren, because they are socially-minded progressive Christians who plan to discuss it. And probably, then, do something, as I gather the oomph of the book is to put beliefs in practice, and help effect change.

It's the title, and the idea of change, that moves me today.

Everything must change--I know that, I watch it, I live it daily--but I am also in tune with cycles of change, so I see how things persist and return. I plant perennials, so they'll come back. They come back differently, responding to the weather that year, what's sprung up near them. I let the cinquefoil, a volunteer wildflower, stand between the bleeding heart and the pinks, because it wants to be there, and it will be there next year, too.

My boss and I enjoy certain Pandora stations at work that play old standards. I love to hear the familiar melodies in all these variations--voices themselves familiar from other songs, new in this one, this one made new.

I love reading new books, and I love re-reading old books, new again in the light of experience. I love reading books about familiar places, re-seen. I love reading books that connect to other books, bringing things together.

When I studied political philosophy in college, a persistent frustration was that, to change anything, really, and deeply, one would have to 1) change human nature (if one had been able even to define it...) and/or 2) raze everything and start anew. But if the human nature thing had been imperfectly handled or understood, starting anew was doomed. And razing everything was violent and devastating, the risk of all revolutions.

And "revolution"--the word itself--contains its own undoing.

Monday, May 17, 2010

*Rampant Abuse of the Asterisk*

Day 97 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project. A regular Babbitt’s customer is now reading The Penguin Book of Irish Fiction, edited by Colm Toibin, and was thrilled to discover it on our shelves. Where it no longer resides.

Published in 2000, this anthology covers a great span of time, and range of writers, including Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, Maeve Binchy (may I just say that my cousin’s baby is named Maeve?!), Roddy Doyle, William Trevor (ah!), Emma Donahue, and Colum McCann. And another decade of Irish writing has gone on since.

Our happy customer had read The Master and The Heather Blazing by Toibin and various works by several of the authors represented in the anthology and was eager to discover more authors and more samples* of those she likes.

Toibin’s newest novel is Brooklyn, which won Britain’s Costa** (previously Whitbread) Book Award in Fiction and was on the Man Booker Prize*** long list in 2009, along with William Trevor’s Love and Summer. (Sheldon is reading the 2009 winner, Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, and so was Mary, in a previous blog entry!)

**Costa Coffee! (This should please Coffee Lovin’ Mom and a number of other addicts. And this, of course, makes perfect sense. If you drink enough coffee, you will not fall asleep reading.)

From reading The Master myself, recommended by Lizabeth, and the reviews of some of his other works, I know that Toibin is a subtle writer, trusting the quiet build in fiction, and knowing the rich complexity of life will present itself if we, the readers, pay attention. So I’m thinking his Irish fiction selections must be attentive, too.

***And now I shall be attentive to the winner of the Lost Man Booker Prize, to be awarded 40 years after the publication of the nominees, due to a shift-in-rules glitch back then, because Shirley Hazzard, one of my favorites, is on the list, although I have not read the nominated book, The Bay of Noon. She is on the short list, winner to be announced May 19, coming right up!!

*Our “regular” (nothing to do with coffee) customer likes the idea of the Irish fiction anthology so she gets a preview of various authors before she spends time and/or money on longer works by someone she won’t like. She pointed to one of the authors listed on the cover and said he was “weird.”

Names have been omitted to protect the unknown. The asterisk has been abused because I am linear-time challenged. I like coffee.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Doug's List

Day 96 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Douglas Post, a playwright, is, naturally, reading a lot of plays! Also nonfiction, literary classics, and personal ads.

Doug spent 5 weeks in England this winter for the world premiere of Bloodshot, his one-man mystery play, commissioned and performed by Simon Slater, and well received at the Nuffield Theatre at Southampton. Doug’s play will now go on a British tour.

While he was there Doug read the plays Enron by Lucy Prebble, The Line by Timberlake Wertenbaker, and The Pitman Painters by Lee Hall. “The first,” Doug reports, “is about the rise and fall of the American energy conglomerate. The second and third are about painters and their wares. I also read About Stoppard: the Playwright & the Work by Jim Hunter, which is exactly as it sounds, and National Service by Richard Eyre, which is Mr. Eyre’s diary of the ten years he spent as Artistic Director of the National Theatre.”

Doug continued his theatre reading when he got back to the States: “I reread Stoppard’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, which I had seen performed with actors, dancers, and a large orchestra at the National, and Professional Foul, which is a teleplay and highly political. Actually, both scripts are political, which is unusual for this writer. I then found myself rereading Arthur Miller’s After the Fall and Tennessee Williams’s Camino Real. Both works were condemned in their time, but are now largely considered to be classics.”

Now he’s reading some fiction—The Ghost Writer, by Robert Harris. When I first saw the title, I flashed on Philip Roth’s The Ghost Writer, which I have read, but it’s a different Ghost Writer, and I see that’s a popular title indeed, and titles can’t be copyrighted.

A guy with a great CD collection, Doug is also reading some music history, The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records by Ashley Kahn. “I haven’t read anything else by Mr. Harris, but have read two other works by Mr. Kahn. One was about the making of Miles Davis's Kind of Blue and the other was about John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. For the record, pun intended, Mr. Kahn is a wonderful writer. As is Mr. Harris.”

For those of you who are too young, a record is a round thing. You put a needle on it, spin it around, and music comes out. Trust me, Doug is funnier than I am. I just think I’m funny.

For instance, “For fun, I’ve been reading They Call Me Naughty Lola aloud to my wife and family," says Doug. "This is a collection of personal ads from the London Review of Books. Hysterical stuff.” But he’s not kidding. He really is reading that book aloud to his family!

Doug has also “started putting together this summer’s list of ‘Ten Books That I Should Have Read In School.’ Last summer, I got through seven. Wish me luck.”

Here’s Doug’s List:

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Big Money by John Dos Passos
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Doug says, “I only got through D.H. Lawrence and so will start with Sinclair Lewis this summer. However, I did read Robert Fagles's translation of The Iliad this winter, so I think that counts for something.”

That does count for something! Let’s wish him luck.
And what are 10 Books YOU Should Have Read in School?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

After Many a Book

Day 95 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and it's possible that I should not try to do this for 365 days because 1) readership has declined and/or 2) commentship has declined (where is Mike Peterson?!), but mainly because 3) I might be going a little crazy:

I have started to notice what fictional characters are reading!! Of course Franny was reading The Way of the Pilgrim, and this was crucial to the plot of Franny and Zooey, and maybe part of the hermit-style madness of J.D. Salinger (I resemble that remark), but this is something else.

I noticed that Monica Geller was reading Practical Intuition in Love by Laura Day in an old episode of Friends, as my teenage kids have discovered this series. She had the big red-orange-with-a-rose hardcover, dark yellow lettering, but I have linked you to a handy paperback copy if you, too, want to have Monica's frequently-between-boyfriends love life and then end up with the boy next door.

And George, in A Single Man, is course reading After Many a Summer, by Aldous Huxley, a kind of Hollywood fantasy satire. In the film, he is reading an elegant hardcover, evidently the very first edition of 1939, before the title changed to After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, in the very next printing later that year. I can't even find a picture of that one, except at Wikipedia, which appears to have fewer stripes than the one in the film, but there are many copies out there, ranging from $21 to over $200, and many affordable copies in later hardback and softcover editions. Even the first American edition includes this addition to the title, a quotation from a Tennyson poem, so George must have brought his copy from London!

See, it can't be a good thing that I am this wrapped up in books and their editions, so that I am speculating on the lives of fictional characters, what they are reading, and why.

But George is reading a book about a man who is afraid of death and obsessed with youth, and it's a bitterly comic novel, showing the folly of it all. And he has read it closely, which is interesting to ponder, after having seen the film. Now I am going to have to read this book.

Believe me, I already checked Babbitt's for the pulp fiction cover.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Throw it at the Wall

Day 94 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Jennifer, who is writing a novel of her own, has been reading Stephen King novels ever since she read On Writing in 2008 and liked his writing advice. I liked his writing advice, too, and I see an anniversary edition coming out in July.

Jennifer has read 20 novels during this King binge, but she did not like all of them. She threw Desperation at the wall. She made an actual dent in the wall where she threw it, so that is where she throws other books she doesn't like.

Like the last book in the Dark Tower series. She threw that. No spoilers, as I haven't read any of them, and she carefully refrained from saying why. But that other guy I talked to said you either love it or hate it. (I think he threw his copy, too!)

Jennifer has also been reading Jack Kerouac and likes him a lot, even though "he never met a comma."

And yesterday a young woman came in looking for The Catcher in the Rye. Perennials in the bookstore are coming back like perennials in the garden! Must be spring.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Blogdiggity Dog!

Day 93 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Yesterday I mentioned a dog and time travel, and today I'll tell you that a beautiful random stranger who came into the store is now reading The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, because her friends kept recommending it, and we had a copy! (Now we don't. But another might come in.)

So it turns out that today I am mentioning a dog and time travel, too. Time travel above, "dog" in the expression "Hot diggity dog!" that my grandpa used to say. Or, in this case, blog diggity dog! I have been given a Blogdiggity Award, and hereby pass it on.

Blogdiggity Award

Rules, Such As They Are

1.) Thank the person who gave you the award.
2.) Share 7 things about yourself.
3.) Pass along the award to 15 bloggers you think are hella awesome.
4.) Contact said hella awesome bloggers & let them know you think they are the blogdiggity.

Susan at Mythology and Milk listed me in announcing her own Blogdiggity Award from Coffee Lovin’ Mom! So I will pass the milk/cream and sugar around the coffee table, though I take mine black!

Many thanks to Susan for putting me on her list of Blogdiggity bloggers! And thanks to Coffee Lovin’ Mom for blogdigging the amazing Susan, cyborg poet and cupcake warrior.

7 Things:

1. I read a lot. But you knew that.
2. Inside my head, I am the girl singer in a band called Midlife Crisis, and I lead a church choir called Fishnets for Jesus. Yes, we all wear fishnets.
3. Outside my head, I have mountain bluets blooming, yellow columbine and deep mauve wild columbine, and purple & magenta clematis on the fence.
4. The heating unit on my coffee maker just broke, a minor domestic disaster.
5. I drink way too much coffee at work and I get the boss’s “sad puppy face,” er, business discount at the coffeehouse across the street from the vintage bookstore in which I work, writing about books, the ideal job, other than the low pay and spending lots of it on vintage (or new, gently used) books, and coffee.
6. I have taken an accidental vow of poverty, but hope to exploit that soon by working on my “sad puppy face” expressions in the mirror. (My boss recommended I work on my “sad puppy face” after I asked him if I could just have that poetry book lying on the floor over there.)
7. I have acquired a new poetry book!

15 Blogdiggity Bloggers:

Hummus Anonymous

We Are Family

There are many more blogdiggity blogs out there that I visit and read, and some of these may be private, etc. or I am not able to link them due to my technology challenge, but these are a few fun blogs…though, like Susan, I am too shy to tell all the bloggers….sigh.

Meanwhile, I am reading: the poetry book I found on the floor, the next novel for book group, and (re-reading several times) a poetry chapbook I love and get to review for an online magazine. I will tell you more about it when I can post a link to the review!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Post Mother's Dayism, To Say Something of the Son

Day 92 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Oh, the sweetest thing happened!--a mother-son story. I will tell you about it, and about what Curt is reading.

Curt is reading a lot of science fiction, because he grew up on it. His mother was in the science-fiction-book-of-the-month-club, so he grew up on the classics--Burroughs, Verne, Asimov, Bradbury, etc.. After he had read a book, his mother would make a pot of tea, and they'd sit down and talk about it.

"What was it about?" his mother would ask. At first, he would start in on the plot, but she'd say, "No, what was it really about?" and they'd talk about ideas, and character motivations, and the real stuff of life, as handled in science fiction, which can go anywhere. Go anywhere they did, in these conversations! So he understood science fiction and fantasy not as escape-from-life reading, not as diversion or entertainment, but as deep immersion in the true stuff of life.

"She got me through my master's degree," said Curt. "I never took a formal course in literary analysis in college. Because of these conversations, I just knew how to read literature."

Yay! (This reminds me of the Great Books Chicago event I told you about in here, with regular people from all walks of life gathering to talk about readings in common, and, indeed, the Great Books Foundation's Great Conversations series of anthologies.)

So now Curt enjoys the "alternative histories" and "future histories" of writers like Bruce Sterling and Connie Willis. (And I know Rebecca will agree about Connie Willis, whose books keep "following [Rebecca] home" from the library!)

Curt recently enjoyed To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, its title taking a phrase from Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome (a book that Julie keeps telling me about). So much to read, so much to read! According to Curt, Willis writes regularly about "serious time travel as an academic pursuit" and this book involves rebuilding Coventry Cathedral, and therefore time-travel visits to Victorian England, medieval times, and World War II, to say nothing of the future.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Peculiar Crimes of the (Cross Out Fart) Heart

Day 91 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Gus has been reading The Victoria Vanishes: a Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery in the series by Christopher Fowler, because someone in Babbitt's, probably Jo, recommended it. "It's a scream!" said Gus, who also really enjoyed "the smarmy look on the author's face" in his photo on the book jacket. I don't know if it's the same photo as on Fowler's author page at Amazon, and I probably don't fully know what "smarmy" means, but the guy looks really satisfied with his success.

These books sound hilarious, just the thing if you love mystery and comedy. The only mystery I have read since my Nancy Drew days was The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey, also recommended by someone formerly at Babbitt's, Julie--about the mystery of Richard III--so maybe I should try some Christopher Fowler. (And, of course, the Stieg Larsson, waiting on the shelf.)

Almost all of us at Babbitt's are soon to be formerly, as it's a tough time for independent bookstores, as we all know. We were noticing, though, that people are buying $4 hardbacks out the wazoo, as that is still a great deal. (I don't really know what a "wazoo" is, either, but I vaguely recall an actual conversation about its likely offensive connotations--sorry!--and its inoffensive resemblance to a kazoo.) Hmm, a comedy/mystery occurs to me: The Personnel Vanishes, set in a bookstore. Employees keep mysteriously dying, so the boss doesn't have to fire them. Or set fire to them. The plot quickens. Subtitle: Up in Smoke, or Out the Wazoo.

I have too much fun in life.

Gus also loved Just Kids, Patti Smith's memoir, just out in January. I should read it to find out how to transform myself, as one review says, "from a poet to a rock star," or at least to the girl singer in my imaginary band, Midlife Crisis.

I have too much fun in my head.

Really, I should read this, as I have always wanted to know more about Patti Smith's romance with playwright Sam Shepard, and I have seen the astonishing and controversial photography of her first lover and dear friend Robert Mapplethorpe. The book is also a tribute to him.

So maybe if it comes in to Babbitt's, before I go out (the wazoo), I will!

Monday, May 10, 2010

What's Cricket in Netherland?

Day 90 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Willemina, who is from The Netherlands, is reading Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill, because it was a Christmas gift and because it won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Not because Joseph O'Neill is really handsome. I am the one mentioning that. I have my reasons....

When I asked Willemina about the meaning of "Netherland" in the title, she said it has multiple meanings, relating indeed to The Netherlands (as the narrator is Dutch), going "down below" as into deep stuff under the surface of life and into the psyche, and to a place between two worlds. There is cultural displacement in this novel--a character from Holland and his wife from England displaced to New York and then from their current home, due to 9/11. There is a character from the Underworld of crime, who goes to the underworld of death. This is not a spoiler, as it happens up front in a novel of flashblacks, and even the reviews tell us of this character's death. They also mention the similarities to The Great Gatsby in this regard!

And there's a lot of cricket. Maybe too much cricket for Willemina, who says she doesn't know the game well enough to get all the sybolism of cricket in the novel, but maybe that won't matter as she continues to read. The narrator plays cricket with other immigrants to the U.S. but in a less "polite" version of the famously gentlemanly game.

Speaking of international sports and famous gentlemen, I lent my current issue of Vanity Fair, the one with handsome shirtless World Cup soccer players on the cover, to my friend Kim. No further comment. From me. On World Cup quality men. I only mention it because Vanity Fair is a print magazine to which I currently subscribe...because of the great articles, yeah. No, really. And I always want to know what print magazines people are reading. Or drooling over.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Not So Random Strangers

Day 89 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. A not-so-random stranger--that is, a young man who is familiar to me, because he comes in the store often--is reading some Daniel Quinn. I'm pretty sure the book he chose this time was The Story of B, sort of a sequel to Ishmael, because I remember the snail cover and the subtitle, An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, but I might be mistaken, as I have been looking at the Daniel Quinn page at Amazon, and now all the covers are vaguely familiar.

Like all the people in my town! It's nice to live in a place long enough that all the people look familiar and not like strangers. Oddly, this happens when I return to Chicago for a visit, too. Everybody looks familiar, as do the houses, neighborhoods, and flowers in the median strips, and it's like I never left. Then, say, at the zoo, I will see somebody who looks super familiar, and it will turn out to be somebody from the small town I live in now.

I have not yet read Ishmael, borrowed from my dad because he is modeling a novel structure on it--that is, the kind of novel that is a way to present the author's philosophical ideas. I think it is OK to say that, as I think that is exactly what the both of them are doing, or want to do, and I think my dad is up front about that.

Me, I am 1) not a novelist, though 2) I have the usual novel-in-progress that many writers keep in a drawer/computer file, and 3) every time I look it over, I think, "Hey, I want to know what happens next!" which is 4) probably a good thing, and might mean I actually finish it someday, but 5) probably not, because 6) I no longer believe in linear time, and most people do, and 7) poetry uses a different part of the brain. 7 seems a good place to stop this paragraph.

But I have been musing on that novel as thinly-disguised-autobiography thing again. I hate that! I mean, it's OK, and I am always interested to learn the "where I got that novel" story behind a novel, from the novelist, but thinly disguising one's autobiography, especially when used to snipe at people, just annoys me and seems to lack imagination. Plus, it confuses people, especially aspiring writers, who then think that "Write what you know" just means write a story or novel that is thinly-disguised autobiography. It also confuses readers, some of whom think that every single novel ever written is actually real life with the names changed.

Tony keeps calling In Cold Blood a novel, and Truman Capote is surely a self-absorbed author who did that sniping kind of thing, but he openly sniped, in other works, and In Cold Blood is "a non-fiction novel," a new thing in journalism at the time, about things that really happened, in places and with names that are not fictionalized.

That this kind of thing exists, a hybrid form, surely led the way to the recent confusions involving "fictionalized memoirs," or whatever we should call them--fictions presented in the form of memoirs, because the sensationalism of real life...sells. Sigh.

That said, I notice that Salinger has a persistent dead brother in the background in his fictions, and John Irving, likewise, has motifs of loss and wrestling, and plot patterns, etc. that probably relate in some way 1) to his real life and 2) to bestseller status (repeat what sells), and both of them had to find a way to 1) make a living and 2) live with themselves (or not) while doing it.

I was even reminded at the recent discussion of The Scarlet Letter in Chicago that Nathaniel Hawthorne may have had a dalliance with a woman stikingly like Hester Prynne...which makes him, what, as measly and weak and eloquent and angelic and hypocritical as the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale? But I can prefer to think that while feminist Margaret Fuller may indeed have been a model for Hester's character, there didn't have to be a dalliance for that to be so.

I can also prefer to believe, about "The Custom-House," the essay that precedes The Scarlet Letter, that Hawthorne really did find a folded-up fabric letter "A," and that this really was the inspiration for the novel! I can prefer to believe almost anything.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Girl in Translation

Day 88 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. I don't know anyone who is reading this book right now. If you are, let me know.

I just love the cover and the title, and I use it as an example of the ongoing hope, despite the expression to the contrary, that you could judge a book by its cover!

You can learn more about Girl in Translation, by Jean Kwok, at Amazon, where you can even click a link to hear the author talk about it. And here's where I'd like to clarify something. This is not a "monetized" blog. Every now and then, I get a message from this site telling me that if I link to Amazon, as I often do, I can monetize my blog and take a cut whenever someone clicks the link here and buys the book there. Aauugghh!

I link to Amazon because it is easy for you to get info there, you can choose various formats and prices, and because they offer Marketplace options for used copies, etc. If I link to a used bookstore's copy of the book, and it sells, the link will no longer be useful, but Amazon will usually have other options. So that's that, housekeeping and full disclosure.

I will soon be reading, for my book group, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford, another book with the idea of "translation" from one culture to another in the background. In Girl in Translation, a girl from China has to adapt to her new life in the United States. In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a Chinese-American man recalls young love in recent history, with a Japanese-American girl. Both contain coming-of-age themes, which can be, of course, bitter and sweet.

And that is certainly true of The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger, one of the great almost-ready-to-come-of-age novels of all time! It makes me feel like I am almost ready to come of age, too, and reminds me why I am still childlike at heart and can't really grow up. Sorry! Anyway, I did just finish re-reading that, because it was time. I had loved re-reading Franny and Zooey, so I thought I should return to Catcher in the Rye, recently read by the SOB book group, as noted earlier here.

Holden Caulfield is a kind of "boy in translation" to adulthood, having some trouble confronting the crap of real life, with its constant "phoniness" and lying (of which he partakes) and the awful truth that the strong beat up on the weak, and can't help themselves. None of them can. The strong can't help but beat up on the weak, and the weak can't help themselvees against the strong. Plus, stuff happens, life has cliffs, and that's why we need catchers in the rye.

But, of course, the novel also suggests that we can help ourselves, and each other, and should. So, daily, I am going to re-dedicate myself to that idea, which, again, is why I read: to learn how to live in this world, and to be as decent a human being as I can be.

I will try not to judge a book by its cover, if that "book" is a human being, but only gently open it and turn the pages, by asking questions and listening. Sometimes it turns out to be heavy reading, indeed, and sometimes the content remains mysterious; sometimes I can't read the language nor find a good translation, and sometimes I have to walk away. But mostly people are wonderful to get to know.

And books are wonderful to read!

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Christ Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Day 87 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Kim is reading Saving Jesus from the Church, by Robin R. Meyers, because she is interested in Jesus the man.

"Zooey would like it," says Kim, referring to Franny and Zooey, by J. D. Salinger, which we recently read together in our book group. (And, yes, this is yesterday's Kim, the same Kim of Hummus Anonymous, the blog.) "I'm not sure about Willie B."

The "Willie B." Kim is referring to is William B. Irvine, author of A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, reviewed recently by James Fulcher in The Common Review. I was telling her about the book in the context of classical Stoicism as a way of making the best of life's suffering, and finding peace and equanimity with whatever is at hand.

For Jesus, of course, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. In my view, it is at hand in the present moment. (But, as I've mentioned, I don't believe in linear time...so all we have is the present moment, and that's not so far from existentialism, either. Topic for another day.)

According to Kim, in reference to Saving Jesus from the Church, "The premise of the book seems to be that followers of Jesus the man are getting it right, whereas 'believers' in Christ the Savior are not." I'm thinking followers of Jesus the man are in touch with their Stoic joy, their Buddhist suffering, and also that they understand the value and risk of practicing what you preach. But I will have to read the book to find out.

Or ask the man himself. Kim also reports that "the author Robin Meyers will likely be here in the fall to speak, sign books (a new one coming out) and lead workshops. "

Meanwhile, Amazon tells me you can now pre-order The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson, in hardcover, and/or get it in various formats (Kindle, Large Print, or imported). The movie of the first book in the series is coming to our town, before Robin Meyers comes to town, and is already playing in a nearby town, and has freaked out an area blogger, Julie, due to its violence. Here is her review of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

And I think Zooey would also like the Irvine book, and understand the Stoic joy thing, because Epictetus is in it, and he was a big Stoic. But Zooey is a fictional character, and so is Biff, Jesus's childhood friend, a fellow I rely on to tell me most of what I know about Jesus the man. I'm pretty sure my research has something to be desired.

But watch out. According to some, desire is the cause of all suffering. (I think they might have it a little wrong... Desire is fine. The problem is thinking you can attain/obtain everything you desire. Ah, another topic for another day! Heh heh, leave 'em wanting more.)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Supreme Hummus

Day 86 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Robert has finished Supreme Power, by Jeff Shesol, and moved on to Empire of Liberty, by Gordon S. Wood. Whew! Robert reads a lot! And he reads an amazing variety of books--these are history, but, if you read this blog fairly regularly, and also his comments, you see is also a connoisseur of mystery!

The Shesol book, as the subtitle tells us, is about Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court, and the interactions of the President, the Senate, the judiciary, and the New Deal. It's complicated. Whoa. Oddly, the current Amazon page for Supreme Power also has a pictorial ad for It's Complicated (on blu-ray & DVD), showing Meryl Streep in bed with Alec Baldwin. Politics: who's in bed with whom, eh?

Speaking of legal tangles and past Presidents, I just learned from the blog Hummus Anonymous that today is the National Day of Prayer, thanks to Harry S Truman. (If you click the link you may 1) drool over the list of Cinco de Mayo party foods, and 2) be reminded of the ironies of U.S. citizens celebrating a minor Mexican holiday with margaritas...in the Midwest and, of course, Arizona. (These links may also 1) make you a fan of Kim, blogger, and 2) addict you to hummus.)

Empire of Liberty is about (its subtitle:) A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, by a scholar of the American Revolution, and is Volume 8 in the Oxford History of the United States. I have a feeling Robert will read the entire series! It looks closely at that crucial and confusing time after the astounding American political revolution toward personal liberty to see if the new Constitution and its republic can indeed survive. The year 1789 reminds us of the French Revolution and the danger of excess, chaos, and confusion when people throw off the powers that oppress them. Wood documents a more peaceful enactment of a political system founded on respect for personal liberty.

Again, it's complicated, and, again, the movie ad appears, a movie I saw with blogger Kim, as a matter of fact, in the wild world of wacky coincidence and random hummus!


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Poems and Plays

Day 85 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. I am reading Poems & Plays, because I'm in it! I do love to have poems in a literary journal, because then, when the contributor copy arrives, I get to read poems and stories and essays by all the other writers in it, too, or, in this case, poems and plays!

Yesterday's entry included a gushing of lush spring beauty, and this one must include a gushing of praise for both the contents and the cover of this issue. You see the gorgeous roses, but this is full summer's lush beauty, fading and wilting, after being cut and enjoyed indoors in glass. Oh, the gorgeous dripping of the helpless petals. Ah, vanitas!

In fact, vanitas seems to be shedding the only light on the subject of roses, by way of a pull chain! This cover is a painting by Barry Buxkamper called Vanitas: Flora (2009, watercolor on paper), and I hope it is OK to reproduce it here! (I guess he or the Poems & Plays editor, Gaylord Brewer, will let me know if it isn't, but generally people want to get magazine covers out there to entice people to buy the magazine! And/or the painting! Which, if I could afford it, I would buy! Hmm...it is possible to buy paintings over time. I remember a young woman bought one of my husband's paintings over 5 years, in faithful random installments! And I bought one of Lauren Levato's paintings that way, thanks to an arrangement with Woman Made Gallery in Chicago, where it was exhibited. All is not vanitas! One can enjoy beauty, and find meaning in it! And have I mentioned how much I love watercolor?--the perfect medium for these fading petals, this blurry light...sigh....)

Anyhow, now to gush on the book inside the cover. I was delighted to find one of my poems, "Excursion into Poetry," across the way from James Doyle, "Meeting Under the Streetlight," a sly, sexy poem that ends in a delightful faithfulness. We took some James Doyle poems for RHINO, back when I was an editor there, and I also got to review his book, Einstein Considers a Sand Dune (Steel Toe Books, 2004). His wife, Sharon Doyle, is also a wonderful poet!

Poems by Albert Haley--"The Bottom Line Is" and "Reduction in Force"--work not only as poems but also as social criticism, and the man fired ("crucified") in "Reduction in Force" reminds me of all those people who lost their jobs in the U.S. recently, and on the big screen in Up in the Air. Likewise, Suzanne Roberts let us imagine "Apocalypse at the Safeway," with its looting of exotic vegetables.

As the title tells us, this journal also carries short plays, so we have The Crucifixion of Moe and Ira, a 10-minute play by Lynn-Steven Johanson, and Geek, by Crystal Skillman, which takes place at a comic book convention.

And Poems & Plays publishes within it the winner of the annual Tennessee Chapbook Prize, this year, The Hard Grammar of Gratitude, by Judith Sornberger, which indeed finds many hard things to be grateful for, because life isn't easy.

I had picked up my mail as I headed to work the other day when this issue arrived, so I showed it to my boss, who said, "Oh, William Trowbridge! I know him," about one of the contributors. I leave you with a couplet, the opening image, from his poem, "A Small Bouquet of Poets":

Here's Roethke: big pink
peony bouncing in the breeze.

Because peonies are in bud and will be bouncing in the breeze very soon!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Prodigal Summer

Day 84 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Karen is reading Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver, after reading The Poisonwood Bible with her book group. I hope she will comment here on what her book group thought of Poisonwood Bible, as they were also looking into another book mysteriously similar in construction, as I recall!

Karen is my neighbor, so I know we are both experiencing the spring-as-herald-of-summer- coming-on in its full Midwestern lushness. The grass is tall, violets are spreading, dandelions are rampant. Karen and I both like dandelions; they are pretty, and you can eat them. Our other neighbors are not so fond of dandelions, so it's best to dig them out or mow before they get to the wish-puff seed stage.

Of course, most of the other neighbors use pesticides and lawn services. We do not. Rabbits love it here. (And I expect a return of praying mantis, Karen!) The lawn service guy for the neighbor on the north now scoots some of his little pesticide balls into our side yard, but it's OK, and he hasn't killed any lily-of-the-valley, oh so sweetly blooming right now, along with the mountain bluets.

Blue hosta and two-toned hosta are thriving, their leaves jubilant, raucous. Clematis is opening on the fence, while the bleeding heart is dripping to earth. On Mother's Day weekend I'll choose a few more blooming plants for the garden beds--from a Kiwanis fundraiser garden event that will send kids to camp--and then just try to keep up with the weeding and gentle maintenance of perennials. Next, if they are as astonishingly accommodating-to-the-printed-human-calendar as last year, day lilies will start opening, right on time, starting June 21, the first day of summer.

Wasn't there going to be some talk of a book? Yes! Prodigal Summer is set in Appalachia, with plants and bugs and coyotes. I fondly recall a big fallen hollow tree. The neighbor/pesticide issue weaves into the plot. Here's a book you can judge by its cover (pictured above) and its beautful endpapers, illustrated with moths, including the lovely green Luna.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Underground Grammarian


Day 83 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Gary, a perpetual reader, is perennially reading The Gift of Fire, a book of essays by Richard Mitchell. He read aloud from his paperback copy of it Sunday morning, over coffee, to delight some houseguests.

Richard Mitchell is the beloved founder of The Underground Grammarian, "an unauthorized journal devoted to the protection of the Mother Tongue," and is the Underground Grammarian himself (rest in peace). You can read (and freely plagiarize from) all of The Underground Grammarian online, but I am crediting him here, using quotation marks (or italics in the extended quotation below), and encouraging you to read the various books available in print format, as well, because that's what I do here.

I think Mitchell would forgive me for my curling of the Mother Tongue here in my goofy blog, but heaven forbid I should commit some of my grammatical errors in formal writing or in print! He would, if alive, stick out his tongue at me.

Because permission is given at the Underground Grammarian website, I will quote a hefty hunk of his practical advice on what, beyond sticking out your tongue, literally or figuratively, you, too, can do when you witness abuse of the English language:

What Can We Do?

The Underground Grammarian does not advocate violence; it advocates ridicule. Abusers of English are often pompous, and ridicule hurts them more than violence. In every edition we will bring you practical advice for ridiculing abusers of English.

This month's target is any barbarian who says advisement. We can advise, or give advice, or even do some advising. Advisement permits nothing beyond what we can already mean with the words we have. Perhaps, by analogy to confinement, it might name a condition in which we suffer the consequence of having been advised; or, like government, it might indicate some cloud of loosely related abstractions and institutions. Those who say it to us must simply mean advising, but they fear that a clear naming of what they do will reveal how little it needs doing, and they will find themselves in the streets selling wind-up toys. Such people feel degraded unless what they do ends with -ment or some other official sound such as -ation or -ivity. Work that ends with -ing makes them nervous.

Do not boo and stamp your feet when some barbarian says advisement; it will bring reprisal, for barbarians are vindictive. Simply mutter, just loud enough to be heard, "Clickety-click-click." This requires no lip movement and suggests a wind-up toy. With a female barbarian, an equally good response is "Ding-dong," familiar to all television-addicted barbarians and suggesting some more appropriate career in cosmetics.

When advisement appears in a document sent by campus mail, smear it with something foul and return it to the sender.

Do NOT take this under advisement. As ever, happy reading!
Related Posts with Thumbnails