Friday, December 31, 2010

Auld Acquaintance

Day 326 of the "What are you reading?" project, and I invite you to tell me 1) what you are reading as the year ends and/or 2) roughly how many books you read in 2011.  I was trying to count up my own, but I lost track, due to 1) math challenge and 2) odd recordkeeping.  If I estimate, I have read about 75 books in 2010: 28-30 poetry books and the rest fiction and non-fiction of various sorts.  Ten were with my women's book group--9 novels and a memoir.  At Goodreads, I read 54 books (the poetry books included), but I joined mid-year and did not add everything up to that point.  So I think it comes round to the 75ish count, which sounds good to me.

Perhaps you are reading lists?  Or making them?  Or making resolutions?

I resolve to keep reading--everything.  And to keep up with the "What are you reading, and why?" project right up until Day 365...and then do whatever I want here.  Which will still involve reading.  Somehow.

I resolve to keep promoting poetry by reading and reviewing it, whether it's here in my blog, at Goodreads in the Poetry Readers Challenge group, or for various print and online publications.

I resolve to keep working toward the grand acceptance that leads toward peace of mind and world peace, and to try to get over some of my foibles, pettiness, and moments of cynicism.  I remember my own idealism.  And I find myself asking, "Don't we know that already?" about so many things.  It's a sincere question and a real "we"--the human race--but I realize it presupposes that others are as interested in looking hard at the world, its history, and our day-to-day human behaviors and actions as I am, and many are not.  I know I seem like I am not interested in things political, but I am; I am just not interested in talking politics, nor arguing about politics.  I observe a lot of easy demonizing and judging of others, and I don't see how that will move us toward peace.  And, by the way, don't we know that already?

I resolve to keep it light, and allow humor to rescue me from peevishness whenever I can.  Tee hee.

And dear acquaintances, in real life and in cyberspace, have a happy new year.  I've been hearing lots of versions of "Auld Lang Syne" lately, but I highly recommended the one on the album Eddi Reader Sings the Songs of Robert Burns.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


Day 325 of the "What are you reading?" project, and today is a hodge podge of neato stuff somehow related to reading!

As in, you can read this neato burrito t-shirt!!

1.  Typewriter key jewelry!  My mom gave my sister and me typewriter key bracelets and earrings.  There are a bunch of Etsy sites where you can see some, so I will leave that to you!  I like this one which tells you, in case you don't know, what a typewriter is!  And Monkapaws, where you can click on bracelets to see some similar to ours, or, likewise, earrings.  I would just like to say that my bracelet includes punctuation, and my earrings say "Margin Release."  Because I am definitely on the margin and very...released.

2.  On Kelli's blog!  It's very nice to turn up on the blog of Kelli Russell Agodon, along with other neato blogs I read.  She is the author of Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, a wonderful book of poems.  And you can read a neato interview with her at another blog, Poet Mom.  And check the blogroll roll at the right for other fine poet bloggers!  Kelli's blog also lists Bneato, a neato site for stuff that helps you be neat--oh!

3.  A river of stones!  The stones badge on my blogroll now is clickable and you can visit a blog on writerly mindfulness, with a chance to pay close attention to something each day and write about it, maybe a poem.  Plus, a neato river of coincidii!  At work today, I got to catalogue a handful of Wick Poetry Chapbooks, including Stone for an Eye, by Karen Craigo, which, of course, I brought home, because it is 20 poems about stones.

4.  Word of the Year!  Thanks to NPR, I heard about the American Dialect Society's annual choosing of the word of the year, and you can suggest your favorite word or phrase of the year, too.  Go here for the NPR story.  Neato, huh?!

And if you need a Neato Burrito t-shirt, go here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

True Grit

Day 324 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and people have been coming into Babbitt's in search of True Grit, by Charles Portis, because....of the movie remake.  It's exciting to me that people are seeking out the book, and seeking it out in print!

We were out, we got a copy and put it in the window, and the other day a fellow came in and bought The Dog of the South, also by Charles Portis, because that's what we had on the shelf, along with a book of poems by Gary Snyder, because that was among the many overflow books of poetry on the floor!  I see that at Amazon, The Dog of the South is temporarily out of stock.

I love it that a movie remake of one novel might inspire interest in other books by the same author.  In print!

I love movies.  Have I ever mentioned here that I adore movies?  I don't have any problem at all with movies, and sometimes I think the movie is even better than the book (Girl Stieg Larsson, the Swedish film versions, being a case in point), though mostly it goes the other way....but I do love both film and book of To Kill a Mockingbird, that movie being my favorite of all times.

But I do love books in print.  And out of print!

Since people have been going to see the remake of True Grit, please weigh in on 1) how you liked it 2) how it compares to the original film (if you saw that) 3) and/or how it compares to the book (if you read that).

I will confess that I saw the original film and liked it fine and did not even know at the time that it was based on a book.

Also, that I love the band Portishead, which is named for a town near Bristol, England and has nothing to do with Charles Portis.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Land of the Blessed Virgin

Day 323 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and it was a busy day at the bookstore, and I have a general answer to the "Why?" question right now--which is, "Because I have time!"  That is, to cuddle up with a book or hunker down with a stack of books during a little holiday time off work or while visiting, etc.  This is based on the stacks of books that locals and out-of-towners were buying at Babbitt's today!

But a really interesting other answer was "to have something to read between games in the high school basketball tournament," an answer I understand because I read between matches at volleyball tournaments.

This woman will be reading a collectable copy of The Land of the Blessed Virgin: Sketches and Impressions of Andalusia, by William Somerset Maugham.  Not the copy pictured here, with its very lovely illustration, but a skinny red paperback from Alfred A. Knopf.

Turns out this is something my mom could read on her new Kindle if she wanted to, but I imagine she won't.  And I feel honored and lucky now to be able to imagine this lovely woman reading about Andalusia and other women of Spain in between whistles on the bleachers....

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book or Nook, by Hook or Crook

Day 322 of the "What are you reading, and why" project and today a charming young psychologist came in to Babbitt's in search of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, having just finished a reading a book, on her Nook, about suicide.

"The trouble with a Nook is they don't have anything I want," she said.  That is, she thought it would be really convenient while reading the one book on her Nook to search for the others mentioned in it, but none of those were available electronically.  Also, she likes certain kinds of books in hand, especially poetry, which she likes to discuss with people.

So off she went with The Bell Jar, Ariel, and Letters Home, all writings by Sylvia Plath, and Birthday Letters, poems for Plath by her ex-husband, the poet Ted Hughes.  She will come back for Anne Sexton.

Yesterday I mentioned BookMan BookWoman Books, a used bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee, and today New Pages informs me that another used bookstore in Nashville is closing.  Outloud! which has been serving the  GLBT community.  Here are the reasons why....

And here is the home page, with a photo remarkable similar to yesterday's photo of the storefront with two cars parked in front!  So if you live in or near Nashville, they are liquidating and I'm sure they could use your business as they close.  Sigh....

Sunday, December 26, 2010

BookMan BookWoman

Day 321 of the "What are you reading?" project, and a second Christmas on Boxing Day brought books from BookMan BookWoman Books of Nashville, a used bookstore similar to Babbitt's!  People in our family will now be reading The Noam Chomsky Reader, Leonardo's Legacy, More Stories from The Round Barn, a Bread Loaf poetry anthology, and Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief.

And while some of us watched It's a Wonderful Life, my mom finished reading Lonesome Dove.  Not on her Kindle!

More tomorrow!

Stay warm and happy, and it is a wonderful life!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Kindle!

Day 320, and, yes, my mom received a Kindle for Christmas, loaded with the complete works of Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, and Mark Twain.  My dad is tickled with himself for giving it to her and will probably be the main one using it!  I imagine my mother will still curl up with a book, but the Kindle is a sweet thing, and it looks like it can be sort of curled up with, too, so all's well that curls well.

Other books, actual print books, received included the Lost Works of Jim Morrison, Volume 1, Wilderness and The Intelligence of Evil, or The Lucidity Pact, by Jean Baudrillard, which just sounds scary, but, hey, my husband is an artist fascinated by Baudrillard as art critic and philosopher, so we'll see......

And while Baudrillard sounds intimidating, we once heard him speak in Chicago, and he wasn't.  He was quite straightforward in English.  Warm, appealing.  In fact, he seemed like someone to curl up with.

And, for some, so was Jim Morrison.

Happy Christmas to all and to all a megabyte!

Friday, December 24, 2010


Day 319, and it's Christmas Eve!! Merry Christmas, everyone! I thought it was important to share this mistletoad with you, actually the fire-bellied toad, in case you are over the top with Christmas images.

And to share the fact that lots of people give poetry books as Christmas gifts, a fact I learned from working at Babbitt's. And Emily Dickinson is a fave!  Along with the Romantics. I was also pleased to learn that Mary Oliver and Sharon Olds are in demand, so much so that I had to send people off to the new book stores and hope they are stocking plenty of O poets.

So here's a coincidence of the sort I love. I finished The Death of Adam this year...deep, informative essays on history and theology, among other things, by Marilynne Robinson, who seeks to restore the reputation of John Calvin (Jean Cauvin) and also to give Marguerite de Navarre her due (as women of the past were so often overlooked, and are still neglected), and what to my wondering eyes should appear in my hands yesterday at work but a book of Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation, published in 1846 for the Parker Society, which is dedicated to such things.

I could not resist pausing in my examination and description of this book to read three of the letters to John Calvin, all three written in tones of great respect and acknowledging his kindness and generosity.  I am amazed by the world, over and over again.

And just in case you want to stand under the mistletoe with someone, here's this.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fragments of Marilyn Monroe

Day 318 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Ginny has been reading Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters, by Marilyn Monroe, edited by Stanley Buchtal and Bernard Comment, because of her long-standing fascination with the fragile and talented actress. And so have I, because Ginny gave me the book to keep while she travels this winter, since I am also interested in Marilyn.

More about the book, which came out this fall, here.  And more about the the book and a film, My Week With Marilyn, starring Michelle Williams, here (but you'll be at a site with commercials....).

The book, indeed fragments, handwritten and typewritten, with charming misspellings and bursts of her natural sincerity side by side with marvelous sophistications, sucks you right in.  So do the photographs, as always.

Here's something she wrote: "I love poetry and poets."  There are recipes and business letters, fragments of lines she was learning. (I recognized lines from  Bus Stop, for instance.)

And I was struck by this:

I'm finding that sincerity
and trying to be as simple or direct as (possible) I'd like
is often taken for sheer stupidity
but since it is not a sincere world--
       it's very probable that being sincere is stupid.

She continues with this idea, and it's certainly something I've observed in our cynical and sophisticated world.  If you speak as clearly and directly as possible, some people assume you are just plain stupid.  Sigh....

Right now we are in a simple, direct, and sincere season.  I wish you well as the year ends and another begins.  Marilyn had a sweet little Christmas reunion with Joe DiMaggio, mentioned in Fragments.  May you have good visits with friends and family.  And stay alive.

And if you think diamonds are a girl's best friends, take a look at these Fragments.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Three Wee Things

Day 317 of the "What are you reading?" project, and a bunch of people in New York City are reading books right off the shelves of this guy!

He is Ed Schmidt, the writer-actor of My Last Play, which takes place in his home! He is retiring from the stage and giving away his theater library. You can read about it here.

The second wee thing I share today, in the busy holiday season, is that new poems are up at Escape Into Life, by Dustin Junkert, a poet I have met only in letters! He wrote one to me at the bookstore where I work, and once I figured out he wasn't 1) a stalker or 2) in prison, I wrote back.  Once I got home, I found his poems in Willow Review, with some of mine, and it all fell into place. I also found him in the New York Times, when I immediately Googled him at work! Anyhoo, enjoy his poems here.

And thirdly, I return to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, to say that wee Francie Nolan is reading her way through the public library.  Having made it through the A's, she is well into the B's when she checks out The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton, and the librarian suggests she take another book, too, "just for fun."

The book in the movie looked remarkably like my ex-library copy, the all English (no Latin) version edited by Floyd Dell and Paul Jordan-Smith, copyright 1927, this one the 1938 Tudor edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy.  I have been advised that this is a book to read around in, not straight through. I hope Francie took that librarian's advice, too, and read the other book, just for fun!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cyborgs, Part 2

Day 316 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and here is Part 2 of the interview with Susan Slaviero about Cyborgia, her amazing book of poems that is also a kind of science fiction, from Mayapple Press.

Me: How did Cyborgia come together?  Did you plan it as a set of poems exploring these issues?  Or did you find yourself writing the poems and then group them accordingly?

Susan Slaviero: Originally, I was hoping to have a small set of poems about female cyborgs that might be enough for a chapbook.  As I began writing the poems, I found I wanted to explore these ideas further.  While I did not plan out the individual sections ahead of time, I did have a rough idea of some of the divisions—such as the reinvention of fairy tale characters as cyborgs and the depiction of cyborgs in film—and the sections evolved during the writing process although the poems themselves were conceived of as a body of work intended to fit together as a kind of exploration of a specific image/idea.

Tell me about the use of these punctuation marks in your poems: ( ), [ ], and < >.  And more!?

Some of the punctuation is intended to imitate the look of code, such as the angle brackets you might see in html tags.  They also suggest mathematical equations, as well as simply create a certain visual ‘look’ for the poems as they inhabit the page.  Just as the bodies of cyborg women are sectioned off, broken, and disassembled, so is the language in the poems.  I think the brackets and parenthesis reinforce the themes of assembly and disassembly, of there being an orderly process to creation (that sometimes goes awry!)

I would like to quote a short poem in full, to give people a taste of the book.  May I quote “Briar Rose, in Cryostasis”?  (And would you like to comment on it?  Suggest another poem as well, and/or instead?) [Susan gave permission for "Briar Rose," from the Boolean Fairy Tales section of the book, and also suggested "Manifesto for Ghosts," from the Ontology of the Virtual Body section, and the very last poem in Cyborgia.  So here are both!]:

Briar Rose, in Cryostasis

Sometimes, the evil fairy wears a lab coat.
She pricks your finger with an infected needle,

suspends your head in a thermos flask.
You might be trapped in a liquid nitrogen

enchantment for a hundred years, surrounded
by cracked class and jagged ice crystals,

waiting for the prince to defrost you,
to kiss the stump of your pretty neck.

Manifesto for Ghosts

What connects is the mechanoid process, a feel for mathematica and puppetry.

            Bio(r)evolution is a vicious spider.
            We sicken & weave in our cocoons.

Mutant. Erotica. Terror. These pixels are haunted.  We are riblocked in this circular citadel.  Some might say we are filaments, a spot on the macula, synaptic disruption.

            [No virus was ever this pretty.]  

Monday, December 20, 2010

I Promised You Cyborgs

Day 315 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and a while back I promised you cyborgs, and today, here they are!  A reminder of the why:  I met poet Susan Slaviero when we were both scheduled as readers at Brothers K in Evanston, Illinois in the RHINO Reads series, and shortly thereafter her book Cyborgia came out from Mayapple Press.  I read it and found it fascinating, and asked her a bunch of questions about it.  Here are some of her answers.

Me:  The book Cyborgia seems like a marvelous mix of feminism +  science fiction +  mythology +  language poetry.  Is it?  If so, why?  What prompted you to do this?

Susan Slaviero: Yes.  I would say that’s a pretty accurate description.  I think we all have our obsessions, and my obsessions tend to appear as recurring threads in the things I write.  I’ve always had a fascination with gender-as-performance, and feminist theory in general.  As a final project for the Women’s Studies program in college, I completed a research project on cyberfeminist theory. I looked not only at the dominant theorists (such as Donna Haraway and Sherry Turkle) but also at poetry, fiction, hypertext and the ways in which technology influences our ideas about gender, work and sexuality in popular culture. Cyborgia is, in many ways, my attempt at explicating these ideas through verse. 

Do you read a lot of science?  Non-fiction, I mean, and maybe medicine?

I enjoy reading pretty much everything.  I do like non-fiction, especially books about psychology—which is more of a ‘soft science’ I suppose.  I read a good deal more fiction and poetry than non-fiction these days. 

Do you read/watch a lot of science fiction?  Favorite authors/films?

I would say I have always loved science fiction!  Some of my favorite authors include Margaret Atwood, Ray Bradbury, Mary Doria Russell*, Marge Piercy, Philip K Dick, Neil Stephenson, and William Gibson, to name a few.  I’m actually a big fan of science fiction television shows, too. I love the recent Battlestar Galactica series that appeared on the scifi channel—I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen on television!—I also admire a number of other science fiction series like Firefly, LOST, and the X-files. 

*[I'm pretty sure I introduced Susan to Mary Doria Russell in this blog!]  Re: above non-fiction reading/knowledge in science, algebra, computer science, George Boole.  I love the Boolean Fairy Tales section of the book.  I’ve done Boolean searches, and understand Boolean logic to be combinations of variables using: and, or, not, if, then, except.  Is this how you composed or conceived of some of the poems in Cyborgia?

I do love the idea of variables, of combinations and permutations…I think this is most evident in the third section of the book—Boolean Fairy Tales.  Still, I think it appears throughout the work, particularly as the gendered cyborg bodies are imagined, assembled, and disassembled.

I looked up the Red Queen Hypothesis, title of the first section of Cyborgia, assuming it related to the book’s Lewis Carroll epigraph, “Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place,” and it does!  That is the “red queen hypothesis” in evolution—that sexual reproduction, though prevalent, is sort of inefficient, leaving us “running…in place,” so to speak, partly because it works better in adapting the individual than the species for life on earth.  Is that a fair summary of the theory?  And is that indeed a context for the poems in this section and the book as a whole?

The first section of the book is especially tied to this theory.  I’m thrilled that you looked it up!  I think the evolution of reproduction—which has changed dramatically as technology becomes more advanced—is an important aspect of the book’s opening segment.  In many of these poems, reproduction is asexual, mechanical, violent.  There’s a certain inefficiency to these processes as well. Admittedly, I’m playing with the theory a bit!  I think as we make (human) reproduction a more technological process, we are not so much moving forward as “running in place.”

Specifically, the Red Queen Hypothesis has the “evolutionary arms race” in it—the species fighting each other for life—and I notice how many of the cyborgs have actual “arms” or weapons built into their mechanical arms** or bodies***. 

**Example: In “Gretel Discusses Her Prosthetic Arm,” Gretel’s new “mechanical limb” has fabulously efficient kitchen tools built in and actual weapons: “my ulna is a loaded gun, …the bend in my elbow bears teeth.”

***Example: In “A Cybernetic Mermaid Dreams of the Sea,” the speaker asks, “Would you have me hardwired with finger-guns, / tridents for arms, a death ray behind my uvula?”

Tell me more about this, in terms of individuals (and their relationships) and in terms of “survival of the species” in Cyborgia.

These cyborg women were designed as weapons, and intended to fall under the control of someone else (i.e. the designer or ‘creator’).  In both “Gretel” and “A Cybernetic Mermaid” this backfires upon their creators, as they are sentient beings, capable of autonomy and therefore unpredictable.  It’s a chilling thought, to imagine something we’ve made to suit our own purposes might evolve and become something “other than what (we) intended.”

I love how “Cybernetic Mermaid” progresses in self-consciousness and perhaps changes and the course of events under man’s seeming control:

...I have become something different
than what you intended.  More than webbing and talons, or a nuclear

fishtail. I am fragments of your carefully drawn schematics:
aquatic chimera           water-larynx                endsong.

Are you saying that she can sing her own end to the world, or change the ending, turn it away from the inevitable, possibly nuclear, “endsong”?

I think that’s a fairly astute interpretation.  She is, after all, an autonomous ‘weapon’ and that’s a very dangerous thing. 

[More from Susan Slaviero tomorrow!]

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tree Throws in Brooklyn

Day 314 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I've just watched the film based on the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, because 1) it was my mother's favorite book in childhood, 2) it was just the birthday of Betty Smith on December 15, as noted by Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac, where 3) I read again the throwing-of-the-Christmas-tree scene, and 4) it put me in the mood to see the film.

But I was actually looking through our films for Meet Me in St. Louis for its Christmas scene, with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and the phenomenal crying of child actress Margaret O'Brien, when I came across A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, not remembering that we had it in one of the stacks of CDs left us by a family friend, Grif, who used to come to Christmas dinner every year.

We have several of his books, too, our family, personally, and also Babbitt's Books, and they have his distinctive little faint pencil Xs and curlicues in the margins, at sentences and phrases he loved and would write out or type out later on sheets of paper, the wisdom of the world digested.  The "film version" of Grif's notes would be the various post-its on the CD covers with dates and directors and stars and the occasional tidbit of information.

In the case of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, he wrote that it was directed by Elia Kazan, "his first film."  And a fine one it is, too, with James Dunn, who played Francie Nolan's singing father, winning an Academy Award that year (1945) for Best Supporting Actor.  Lloyd Nolan is in this film, too, and Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell, and Peggy Ann Garner, as Francie.  My mom was known as Peggy Lou as a child, so it must have been fun for a Peggy Ann to play one of her favorite book characters in the movie.

I was struck by the depiction of childbirth--none of that screaming and cursing we see now in sitcoms and comedies.  Just the quiet, patient pain and fatigue of the woman in a long labor, conserving her strength to get through, and finally letting her daughter see her emotional vulnerability because the stress has taken away her defenses.

Makes me want to read the book again!  We don't have it at Babbitt's, but we do have Joy in the Morning.  (A film was made of that book, too, starring Richard Chamberlain and Yvette Mimieux, and click here for an odd tidbit about its premier...!)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Three Cups of Tea

Day 313 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project and Ashley just finished Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, which she found uplifting.  She is also in that delicious period of anticipation before starting the next book.

The subtitle of this book is One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time, and it is about Mortenson's promise to build a school in the village that took care of him after he climbed K2.  He did return to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Amazon blurbed reviews and reader reviews echo Ashley's "uplifting" comment.

I liked the explanation, from Bookmarks Magazine, of the title of the book as a Baltistan proverb: "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger," a villager tells Greg Mortenson. "The second time, you are an honored guest. The third time you become family."

his morning I needed three cups of coffee, after a little collage party--bookmark collages with images and words.  I stuck with my Emily Dickinson lines, and Sarah and Julie brought glue sticks and images and candy canes and wine and their wonderful minds. What fun!

And then a poetry collage arrived in the mail from Sandy!

***pause to look for teacups***

Returned to send you to see this teacup blog post! I hope it makes you as happy as it made me!  And if that's not enough, here is a cheerleading pyramid of teacups. Don't knock it over.

Friday, December 17, 2010


Day 312 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Dick and the SOBs (a men's book group) just read and discussed Generosity: An Enhancement, by Richard Powers, because they have liked his work in the past.  Previously they read Galatea 2.2 and Three Farmers on the Way to a Dance.

Generosity is a book about discovering the "happiness gene" and the various risks and dangers (some of them emotional, and involving innocence) of that--of the knowing, of science getting involved in happiness, etc.

Galatea 2.2 also engages science, this time in the effort to understand the nature of intelligence, re-seeing the Pygmalion/Galatea myth, where a sculptor falls in love with his statue, in a sort of man-falls-in-love-with-a-computer kind of way.

The man, like the author, is named Richard Powers, so this may be a self-reflexive postmodern kind of thing.  There are various other associations with the name and myth/s of Galatea, and I haven't yet read the book, so I won't make any assumptions here. Powers is known as a very "cerebral" author, so I'm sure he has incorporated whatever ideas and allusions actually pertain.

But I do love that her name, in Ovid's myth (of Acis and Galatea) means "she who is milk white," so here is a milk-white version of her, though from the Pygmalion myth, in which the statue came to life, and they married and had a child.

Three Farmers on the Way to a Dance is about the intersecting stories of people seeking information about a photograph from World War I. Its title sounds so homey and simple, but this appears to be one of those "cerebral" discursive novels that defies traditional linear storytelling. As Library Journal puts it, "Because of its complex plot, this first novel will appeal mainly to sophisticated readers." Still, the SOBs liked it. So I might like it, too. Not that we're not sophisticated and cerebral, er, but....anyhoo...!

Dick was reading Generosity on his iPhone and started highlighting phrases. He liked how the phrases that stood out to him (mentally, and as electronically highlighted) looked and sounded like they could be lyrics in Bob Dylan songs. Oh, my, I do love what people notice when they are reading!

'Tis the season for many appeals to our generosity. May you find your own happy ways to give what you can to anyone in need.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Frigate Bird

Day 311 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and, while I will no doubt learn what some other people are reading when I get to work today, I am posting early to share with you the frigate bird, an image sent by faithful reader Kim, related to yesterday's "no frigate like a book" Emily Dickinson-bookmark* and Marilynne Robinson-book-of-essays post.

The male of the species puffs itself up to mate.

Almost enough said.

However, you know me, so I will say a little bit more.  The frigatebird (one word in Wikipedia) is also sometimes known as the Man of War bird, which also relates to Robinson's observations and hopes that we will cease the relentless making of war machinery, and Pirate bird.  No more pillaging of the earth, please.

And, while I thought I would continue my Marilynne Robinson trend by reading Home, I am instead reading The Secret of Lost Things, by Sheridan Hay, that Christmas gift from Sarah.  Already I am in the bookstore, The Arcade, where the main character has just been hired, meeting the eccentric employees, and watching the owner price books and write the price in pencil lightly on the first page in his own distinctive handwriting.

The writer has lived in Australia and New York and worked in bookstores!

*Bookmark given to a high-school English teacher last night!  (Along with a listening ear, so she could vent a bit about the lack of reading going on in today's classrooms.  And I told her about Figment, for literary teens, which might also inspire non-literary teens a bit, eh?!)

And Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

No Frigate Like a Book

Day 310 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I return today to The Death of Adam, by Marilynne Robinson, because I finally finished this amazing book of essays by a wonderful historian and novelist, and because of the marvelous mention of Emily Dickinson on page 211. This comes in the essay titled "Marguerite of Navarre, Part II, " which is really mostly about Marguerite, while the essay "Marguerite of Navarre" (understood to be part I) was mostly about Jean Cauvin, whom she sheltered and nurtured.

In addition to revealing Robinson as an excellent historian and compassionate moralist, this book reveals her as a feminist and environmentalist. I remember that when I started this book, I kept wondering why The Barbaric Heart, by Curtis White, wasn't full of references and citations to Marilynne Robinson. Her book was first published in 1998, and his in 2009, a full decade later. I still don't know why!

Her last essay "Wilderness" heralds a book like his: "I think we are desperately in need of a new, chastened, self-distrusting* vision of the world, an austere vision that can postpone the outdoor pleasures of cherishing exotica, and the first-world pleasures of assuming we exist to teach reasonableness to the less fortunate, and the debilitating pleasures of imagining that our own impulses are reliably good." She points out that our own impulses quite often foist nuclear waste onto the wildernesses of Utah, Idaho, and the Lake District in England, so beloved of the Romantic poets. In fact, she has a whole book, Mother Country, about environmental pollution in Britain, evidently so ignored or so unpopular as to be out of print....

People want pictures of koalas. They want to "Save the Whales" on bumper stickers. They don't want the cold hard truth.

"I am bold enough to suggest [that], to this point, environmental successes quite exactly resemble failure. What have we done for the whale, if we lose the sea?  If we lose the sea, how do we mend the atmosphere?" And so on.

*And Curtis White, in The Barbaric Heart, criticizes the environmental movement itself for falling short of the real change, which must come in the heart.

"Every environmental problem is a human problem," says Robinson. "Civilization is the ecology being lost. We can do nothing that matters if we cannot encourage its rehabilitation." She wants us to civilize ourselves enough not to keep up with the current money-based industrial and military practices that require the relentless dumping of dangerous garbage into our seas and wildernesses, even to "surrender the idea of wilderness," especially of wilderness "as an escape from civilization," and instead become civilized enough not to destroy it and each other.

But what about Marguerite and Emily?! Marguerite gathered scholars and writers together and promoted French as a literary language and advanced civilization in the time she lived, and herself wrote poems and stories that today read as modern but were neglected in her own time and "read as lady's poetry and therefore as all she asked of herself, or the best she could do. Emily Dickinson comes to mind." And the dismissing of her innovations in language and punctuation.

"There is no frigate like a book," wrote Emily Dickinson. When I first heard that phrase, I did not know a frigate was a sailing vessel, often light and swift, that could carry me away to far-off places, like a book, and sometimes a war vessel, that could "arm" me with knowledge. But I had heard the phrase "frig it," one "f" word substituting for another in a frustrated curse, so I thought I was hearing something I shouldn't have heard when someone, my dad, I think, first quoted that line in my hearing.

But I have sailed backward into history, and forward into the inevitable deterioration of the environment if we do not veer off our present course, via The Death of Adam, by Marilynne Robinson. And still I look around at our present world, as she does, with childlike wonder and hope and ripples and waves of compassion.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sisyphusian Endeavors

Day 309 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Ben will now, once again, begin the task of reading and taking notes on The Myth of Sisyphus, an essay about life's absurdity by Albert Camus, because his already annotated copy of it was left behind at work...and, alas, lost.

As I understand Wikipedia's interpretation of Camus on this topic, Ben should have no real hope of changing his lot in life, even if he keeps losing his book, but he is allowed to contentedly accept that fate.  Hope would make him absurdly Kafkaesque.

Which reminds me of Sarah's wonderful description of a certain rare technology book's cover as Copernicus-esque.  Alas, that did not help our customer who was searching for a book on Copernicus.

And I am making another Sisyphusian stack of books to read, including The Secret of Lost Things, by Sheridan Hay, a "charming novel about the eccentricities and passions of booksellers and collectors," as the front flap tells me, a gift from Sarah.  Along with a beautiful holiday basket.  "I was feeling crafty," she said.

And all she got was this bookmark!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Resisting Temptation

Day 308 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and, while New York Times reviewer Dwight Garner has been reading Humorists: From Hogarth to Noel Coward, by Paul Johnson, I have been resisting the temptation to buy all the "new" (fine-looking used) books by Christopher Moore that have come in at Babbitt's recently, 3 paperbacks and a hardcover.

I am a sucker for humor and one of them is even titled You Suck. Yes, it's about vampires.  I resisted the temptation to buy this for my niece, a vampire connoisseur.  I thought it might be too risqué, but she is familiar with risqué vampires, too, so it might have been OK.

I did not resist the temptation last Christmas to give my parents a humor book: In a Word--words by Margaret Ernst, and drawings by James Thurber--because it was too perfect.  She is a retired English teacher who loves words, and James Thurber is one of my dad's favorite humorists.  They have Columbus, Ohio in common, among other things.  Thurber, in fact, is one of the funny guys in Humorists, along with Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, G. K. Chesterton, and....Nancy Mitford?

And I did not resist a skinny funny book on the history of toilets for some lucky kid in my acquaintance (who does not read this blog).

What helps me resist temptation is a basic lack of cash.  Hence, today's bookmark reminder, and the fact that some of my gifts this year are indeed Emily Dickinson collage bookmarks.

This one is made with a giant 500 bill folded over a piece of cardboard, with butterflies on front and back.  My son scanned both sides and then put the images together to recreate the whole bill and make the butterfly wings touch!  Isn't that cool?

The Emily Dickinson lines are these: "Each life converges to some centre."  The cut up phrases that make this line do converge on the center, McKinley's head.  "A narrow fellow in the grass" hides along the narrow margin.  (My son loves how the color of the money matches the color of the printed poetry page.)

Above the butterfly on the other side: "I measure every grief I meet."  And below: "Heaven is what I cannot reach!" At the utter bottom: "It dropped so low in my regard."

I find that rather funny.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

We Play at Paste

Day 307 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Cody, delightfully, is soon to be reading a stack of musical comedies in hardcover first editions!  I don't know why, but I do know that he and his two friends braved the blizzardy weather and dropping-to-zero temps to obtain these playscripts at Babbitt's, as one of the day's three customers!

The stack included The Fantasticks, by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, based on Les Romanesques, by Edmond Rostand, also famous for Cyrano de Bergerac; Mame, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, with music by Jerry Herman, based on the play Auntie Mame, by Patrick Dennis; Applause, by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, lyrics by Lee Adams, music by Charles Strouse, and based on the movie All About Eve (which I had completely forgotten!); and The Sound of Music, the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, and based on the actual Trapp Family Singers and the memoir by Maria von Trapp.

And, also braving the weather, three of us met for the Sunday afternoon poetry workshop. We met not in the rare book room, our usual haunt, but across the street at the Coffeehouse, so we could have hot liquids.  Alas, any time the back door opened, we got hit by the cold draft.

Poetry is the occasion for today's images, two of my collage bookmarks, with first lines by Emily Dickinson: "We play at paste," "Victory comes late," "The nearest dream recedes, unrealized," and "We outgrow love like other things."

I did not take pictures of the ones I gave to by book group, but my son, home now from college, scanned these for me and gave them pale gray backgrounds, and saved them as images I can use in my blog!!

Yay for technologically savvy children!  Who help their mommies.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Figments of Our Imagination

Day 306 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and today I return to The Death of Adam, by Marilynne Robinson, because this is a book of essays I have been reading slowly and carefully, as required by the author's content and style. She has depth and breadth of knowledge as a historian, and specificity in providing evidence for any claim and in building a subtle argument, and a clarity of style and slow flow that help it all come through. If you have read her novels Housekeeping and Gilead, you know that you need to read them slowly and pay close attention. There is such beauty! There is such wonder! (I am going to read Home, the follow-up novel to Gilead, next, if circumstances allow.)

But today I offer Robinson in a compare/contrast mode to Figment, an exciting new writing website for literary teens, that might interest Donna and Nancy (and other blogger teachers). You can read about its founding in the New York Times, here, and visit some of its offerings here. I think this might be very fruitful (heh heh, see apples above) in a classroom, to spice things up and encourage reading and writing, as well as outside it, for teens who already love reading and writing.

And part of me cringes, as it might just encourage more of the "all about me" mode of personal and expressive writing and sharing that I see out there in the web-based world of writing and blogging, and in the truncated print-based world of education. It was a thrill to read that teens were not interested in just more "social networking" at a website like this, but I've got to hope that there is sustained actual reading going on somewhere, whether on screen or in print, that strengthens the muscles of attention and clear thinking.

I see a lot of clicking going on these days, the search for images, and the insistence on minimal text. And now, back to Robinson, who is discussing the guy we in America call John Calvin and tend to disparage as a super-prim religious prude, but who, according to her sustained scholarship, was not like that at all!! His real name, in France, was Jean Cauvin, which Robinson uses to distinguish him from his reputation.

On the topic of images and idols, Robinson says, "Cauvin rejected the 'old saw that images are the books of the uneducated' remarking, 'I confess, as the matter stands, that today there are not a few who are unable to do without such "books"...those in authority in the church turned over to idols the office of teaching for no other reason than that they themselves were mute.'" OK, it's true that he is saying the educated are the ones depending on images, not words, here, a sort of insult, on the one hand, but, on the other, he is saying that those unable to read (unable to be educated in their times) have a right to the images if no one will take the time to teach them in words.... And, hey, some of us are visual learners! Cauvin wouldn't use that term but was certainly smart enough to imagine that concept, that real possibility.

Robinson doesn't pretend that Cauvin was some kind of angel, or model human. She discusses his shameful association with the death by execution of Michael Servetus for religious heresy, an event wrapped in various ironies as 1) Cauvin opposed Servetus's views, but authorities used Servetus's trial as a weapon against Cauvin! 2) Cauvin was all about religious reform and religious freedom and was himself hounded out of various places for his views, including Geneva, where this trial took place, which had banished Cauvin and then brought him back, and 3) Cauvin's refutations of Servetus prove his great respect for God's covenants with various peoples, including the Jewish people, even though he is now associated, by wrongful reputation, with a particularly stringent and unforgiving Puritanical version of Christianity. Sigh...

But (still with me? as this is rather a lot of text), Robinson notes that slow burning and other horrific tortures and styles of execution were common, not made up by Jean Cauvin. The Wikipedia article I've linked here even clarifies that Cauvin suggested beheading (a quicker death) rather than slow burning for Servetus, but the angry town burned him at the stake "atop a pyre of his own books." This is what people did back then. We have hanging and electric chairs, and death by injection. Until we get rid of capital punishment altogether, we are stuck with whatever versions of barbarity we choose. And whatever mistaken executions.

And now to Robinson's conclusion of that particular essay in the book. She has noted all along that we take the easy digested version of history, however wrong it might be, instead of reading closely and carefully all of what's actually there, and making real choices based on real scholarship. "Yet, lacking curiosity and the habit of study and any general grasp of history, we have entered a period of nostalgia and reaction. We want the past back, though we have no idea what it was." And this is a definition of nostalgia--a longing for a sense of well-being in the past that might never have really existed.

A figment of our imagination.

"Our ignorant parody of history," Robinson goes on, "affirms our ignorant parody of religious or 'traditional' values." This is important, because despite the beheadings and burnings at the stake, it turns out that the real Jean Cauvin was rather more tolerant than some of today's fundamentalist Christians. "This matters, because history is precedent and permission, and in this important instance, as in many others, we have lost plain accuracy, not to speak of complexity, substance, and human inflection. We want to return to the past, and we have made our past a demonology and not a human narrative."

We have made our present such a thing, too. Look at all the demonizing that goes on in the news.

Demons are figments of our dark imaginations.

And this particular Adam and Eve is a projection of Albrecht Durer's imagination.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Echoing Emily

Day 305 of the "What are you reading, and why? project, and today is Emily Dickinson's birthday and also Human Rights Day, so Sarah and I, and Babbitt's Books, are celebrating this in the store blog by offering up our books by or about Eleanor Roosevelt, who led an international committee in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Emily Dickinson, who wrote a jillion poems and sewed them up in little packets and stored them in a chest in her closet.

I celebrated in advance by making some collage bookmarks, each with the first line of an Emily Dickinson poem glued somewhere into the collage.

Dave is celebrating in his blog today (Via Negativa in the blogroll) by airing some podcasts of various people reading poems by Emily Dickinson.  If I can master my technology challenge, or get someone to help me, I will send along a recording, too!  Here, by the way, is his Woodrat Podcast for Thanksgiving, as I am thankful for Human Rights Day!  (Which I will celebrate by writing some letters for Amnesty International.)

I suggested to Dave that he contact Kelli Russell Agodon, who wrote the book Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, for a recording, and I am further celebrating by returning to my reading of that book.  (I read around in it when it first arrived so I wouldn't just race through, and then last night I gorged on it.  I must have been really hungry for poetry after reading Loving Frank.  I promise I will re-read more slowly and carefully, and chew each bite 35 times, Amanda Wingfield...and Helen Stevenson.  OK, enough of that.)  Anyhoo....

I am delighted that the Emily Dickinson Room is a real place not just in Amherst, at Emily's family home, called the Homestead, but in Oregon, in the Sylvia Beach Hotel!

Kelli's poems are also delightful--clever, wise, funny, and oh, my God, the anagram poems are amazing!  Here is a snippet from "Xanax Prescription Goes Unfulfilled."

Let me trust my emotions
          because even in my nuttiest rooms,

I find safety in words.  I satisfy wonder,
to alphabetize is to baptize and heal.

And then, utterly resisting "Dr. Xanax," she insists:

Let me get through this
without you.
Let me

echo poems

as with that
as with that

comes hope.

These poems treat the huge subjects of poetry--God, love, death--as did Emily's, and echo and allude to other great artists.  She explores the letter form, as the book's title promises, in such poems as "Letter to Vincent Van Gogh, Who Loved Silence" and "Letter to Walt Whitman, Who Painted Butterflies."  And, as I love coincidence, I just have to mention that some of my bookmark collages included cardboard butterflies, which feature in Kelli's Whitman poem, that starts off with this newsy epigraph:  In 1942, Whitman's handmade cardboard butterfly disappeared from the Library of Congress.  It was found in a New York attic in 1995.

Of course, Emily Dickinson loved butterflies, too!

And, of course, my cardboard butterflies came from a Kleenex box.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Frankly Loving

Day 304 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and, as I told you a while back, my book group was reading Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan. It's about Frank Lloyd Wright's love affair with Mamah Borthwick, from her point of view (in a third person telling). We met last night to discuss it.

And here's a dilemma. Kim had trouble discussing it as fiction because it is based on real incidents. That is, it is historical fiction, but not just a story set in historical times, but one where the outcome is necessarily pre-determined by what really happened. There's no fiddling with this "plot," nor making the events that lead up to the ending actually make fictive sense. So there's not a good interpretive question related to the arc of the story or the characters' motives, and there is the dangerous tendency to ask, "Did she deserve her tragic ending?"

Using the word "tragic" in its commonplace sense of "a really, really bad thing happened" rather than its classic sense of a fatal flaw bringing the character to his (usually his, as the classic definition is from Aristotle, based on the ancient Greek tragedies) inevitable fate. Frank Lloyd Wright has enough hubris, in history and in this novel, to be a classically tragic character, but it's not about him; it's about her. So did she invite her fate? Did she deserve her fate? Is "fate" even a function of this novel?

So I came round to the question, "Why did the author want to tell us Mamah's story, from the inside?" Did she want us to judge Mamah, as American society did in the time she was living? Did she want us to understand her better? And find a way, frankly, to love and forgive her, rather than judge her? Is it a cautionary tale for readers (especially women) living now, specifically warning women not to get caught up in the man's goals and needs, but, if you want a frank and true love match, be whole yourself?

We had a lively discussion of the book and also those reverberations in life--looking at how double standards still pertain, how the layering of generations still sends a lot of mixed messages to women, and how important it is, indeed, to find one's proper mate, if mating, or lifelong companionship of some sort, are in this mix.

Susan pointed out that "your soul mate isn't always the best life mate." Of course, she has a great life mate in her husband, Bob, and a great soul mate in her dog, Kayla.

Book group gals, you might want to click here to see more pictures of Mamah, copies of some of the actual newspaper articles, and even the covers of the Ellen Key books she was reading and translating!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Babette's Totes + Pamela's Birds

Day 303 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and today I also ask, "And what are you carrying your books in these days?"

Here is Babette the bookstore cat and behind her, on the wall, three of the new totes you can find at Babbitt's Books now.  Not to mention t-shirts. For more views of these, see the new Babbitt's Blog, where Sarah continues in her 30 Days of Christmas project.

Oh, all right.  Here's one:

And here's a gift idea for your writer friends of hybrid genres--one or both of the field guides from Rose Metal Press.  Which reminds me of The Rose Suchac Ladder Company, as in The Santa Clause.  Anyhoo....

You may recall these wonderful bird paintings by Pamela Callahan on the two covers!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Confrontation, Transformation

Day 302 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and subscribers and contributors to Confrontation are reading the Fall 2010 issue because it just arrived in the mail. (And I've got 2 poems in it!  Yay!) The theme  of this issue is Transformation, and that's Daphne on the cover, transforming into a tree to escape Apollo, who's chasing her.

(Cover used by permission of Terry Kattleman, publicity director.)

Confrontation has been around since 1968, publishing many writers early in their careers whose names you know now! Their mission is eclecticism, as they say here on their homepage.

You can also visit them at Facebook, where 3 poems from the current issue are posted for discussion.  (One of them is mine!  The harmonica poem, not the icky poem, which stays in the print version, please.  It's really icky.  But, hey, so is the voodoo lily!)

Why do women have to change into trees to get away from men who pursue them?  This always troubles me.

Why did Elizabeth Edwards have to suffer emotionally in her marriage, just when she did not need extra suffering?

I need to warn Kim, who found out about Ron Santo in my blog, that there is more bad news.

Elizabeth Edwards died.  She is finding out about the next transformation.  Or not.  Her family is, for sure.

Monday, December 6, 2010

What the Dickens?

Day 301 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and a bunch of television viewers will now be reading Dickens, because, as Border's tells us, it's the new Oprah Book Club pick.  Just in time for Christmas!

Evidently they will be reading A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, bound as one?  Or not?  I'm not sure, as when you click the Buy Now button, it says "no image available," but this image is available.

Anyhoo, Dickens is great fun.  And 'tis the season for Dickens, too.

Another list, the 2010 list from Lemon Hound.

Books inspired by Alice in Wonderland, via Chicago Sun-Times.

Ditto the source, books about Hanukkah, for kids.  (I also wrote about a vintage Hanukkah book at work today.)

A young woman got 33 books for her dad for Christmas, in the Perry Mason and Nero Wolfe mystery series.

And I just read Figure Studies, a book of poems by Claudia Emerson, because I need to return it to the person I borrowed it from.  Wonderful.  And I loved her books Pinion and Late Wife, too.  Figure Studies accomplishes a quiet feminism somehow, by examining life in a school for girls and speaking in a community voice--the "we" voice--in the "Gossips" section, which is not so gossipy as to lack compassion.  The epigraph for that section is from "A Rose for Emily," by William Faulkner, famous for its "we" voice.

Plus, this book mentions Atticus Finch in a poem!  My hero!  And Harper Lee in an epigraph, speaking as Dill: "I'm little but I'm old."