Monday, February 28, 2005

A couple of links I meant to post last week

The Firefly comic that was supposed to come out this summer prior to the release of Serenity in the fall? It's actually three comics:

"Joss Whedon announced at WonderCon that he was supervising a three-issue comic book series (from Dark Horse Comics) that would serve as a prequel to the movie Serenity, which is due out from Universal Pictures on September 30th. The Dark Horse comics, which are being written by Brett Matthews (Angel), will be released this summer and will serve as a bridge between the cancelled Fox TV series Firefly and Whedon's new Serenity film. Each of the three Dark Horse Serenity comics will come with three variant covers, each of which will feature one of the nine principal players in the film. John Cassaday, who is currently illustrating Whedon's Astonishing X-Men series for Marvel, will be drawing Mal (Nathan Fillion) for one of the covers of the first comic in the series." (ICv2News)

And Robert Fagles discusses how his translation of Virgil's Aenid is coming along in the Daily Princetonian:

"Aeneas, a Trojan soldier who escapes with a band of neighbors from the burning walls of Troy, is initially guided by gods on his quest for a new home. But in Book Ten, the god, Jove abandons humanity, leaving Aeneas shouldering a sudden burden of free will in an indifferent universe, a state that seems existential to the modern eye and that prompted critic Matthew Wyser to call Aeneas 'the loneliest man in literature.'

"'I don't mean to make him contemporary, but Aeneas has a very modern predicament, very timely,'" Fagles said."

I Just Wanted To Tell You This

I just wanted to tell you this.
Now you can have a restless night.

Ragged, scattered clouds
like notebook pages hastily put together
pass through the lenses of a telescope.
Each hazy cloud
which has long been lumped together with the stars,
makes its small circle in the blackness
but you have nothing left.
What could you have selected from that pattern?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Just poetry.

-----

IN THOSE WINTERS WHEN. . .

In those winters when the electricity died
And the broadcast disappeared quietly over the
Luxurious disorder of everyday buckles and clasps and powder
I sat one morning by burning candle light
And listened to the music a comb played
With a woman's hair.

The flashing little sparks crackled silently,
Almost imperceptibly,
Brightening, again and again,
The world that was only dark before.

--Jaroslav Seifert, The Casting of Bells

Chickens as the grand prize

And the winner in the first annual TMN Tournament of Books is--the Heifer Foundation!

Needless to say, I am extremely happy with the way things turned out in the tournament.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Sometimes doubt beats one word against another
To forge certainty,
But it is never the one truth in this world.
And heated words walk limp
A brief distance, until death,
Where they remain an unspoken secret
Setting fire to a darkness that does not move
In the enormous grave
But only clings
To miserable bones:
The mark of fire
Which they left in the pocket
Of the shot victim.
But I am not him.

--Jaroslav Seifert, The Casting of Bells

Saturday, February 26, 2005



I first heard of Bohumil Hrabal from C. last June, who placed an ILL request on Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age based on something she'd read somewhere. C. didn't read Dancing Lessons (as far as I know), but determined that I ought to since I was the one with a trip to Prague in the immediate future. But after determining that the entire book was one long sentence I decided I was a bit too flighty at that point in time to muster the concentration necessary for such an undertaking. I returned the book unread.

Then in Prague, in the Kafka bookstore that no one went in except for R. and me (because you had to pay to enter), I saw some books by Hrabal again, and chose a couple while R. was selecting an Ivan Klima. I started Klima's No Saints or Angels on the flight home, but ignored Hrabal until this morning when I was feeling the pangs of having too many books in progress—too many books to feel I'm making progress in any of them. Why not start yet another one, but a short one, one I could finish in a few hours? Closely Observed Trains is a mere 91 pages? Perfect!

And it was. I love this book. It's the story of a young Czech, Milos Hrma, who is just returning to his job at a railway station after a three-months leave following a suicide attempt. It's 1945 and the Germans have lost command of the air-space over the town and the country, but the trains, although not running on time, are still carrying S.S. escorts and getting ammunition and other supplies to the front lines.

There's a fabulous chapter that juxtaposes Milos being taken prisoner aboard a close-surveillance military transport with his earlier suicide attempt and the reasons behind it. Milos had traveled by train to a town where he was unknown to kill himself. He passed a bricklayer installing a fire extinguisher in the hall of the hotel who was whistling a waltz and began to whistle the same waltz himself as he got out his razors in his room and ran his bath. Before getting in the bath, he opened the door a crack and made eye contact with the bricklayer. It was this moment of connection that led to his rescue, and it's that moment of connection with the scar-faced German captain on the train, who notices the scars on Milos' wrists, that results in Milos' release.

A similar moment of shared humanity comes at the end of the novel after Milos becomes involved in an attempt to blow up a train loaded with ammunition, the very night Dresden is air-bombed and the station is flooded with Germans "who looked as though they'd escaped from a concentration camp, for they all had on striped trousers, but when they came into the office we could see that these were people in striped pyjamas, with only coats thrown over them, just as they had got away with their bare lives, and they all had fixed eyes that never blinked." Milos feels no pity for them, much less than he has felt previously for mistreated livestock, but after a more personal encounter with a German soldier of low rank comes to the realization that "surely if we could have met somewhere in civil life we might well have liked each other, and found a lot to talk about."

I'll be getting the movie based on the book, Closely Watched Trains (also the American title of the book), from the library in a day or two. It evidently won a few awards back in the 60s. Hrabal helped write the screenplay.

I still have I Served the King of England to read. From what I've heard it's supposed to be even better.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Just as I predicted earlier, it's now Cloud Atlas vs. The Plot Against America in the First Annual TMN Tournament of Books.

Links over coffee

Remember the puffy shirt? Jerry's puffy shirt?

According to Smithsonian Magazine, "The puffy shirt, one of the most memorable props in one of the funniest half-hours of 'Seinfeld' was recently donated to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History by the man who wore it with such memorable unenthusiasm, Jerry Seinfeld."

It's always interesting to see what television artifacts wind up in the Smithsonian. We saw "Star Wars" stuff, the ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz," Fonzie's leather jacket the last time we were there, and, if I'm remembering correctly, Archie Bunker's chair was still on exhibit.

And

"'The first time I opened Peter Singer's Animal Liberation, I was dining alone at the Palm, trying to enjoy a rib-eye steak cooked medium rare.' The Palm is a restaurant known for its beef, the sentence is the opening of an article in the New York Times Magazine, and the author, Michael Pollan, is now a professor of journalism at Berkeley. The sentence shows how Pollan works as a writer. He doesn't lecture or assume a superior position; instead, with a comic juxtaposition, he places himself (and, by extension, the reader) directly inside a cognitive dilemma, setting up a tension for the article to resolve. "

Michael Pollan, who wrote the wonderful The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World, is interviewed in Mother Jones. He talks about his next book and how he's preparing to write it (e.g., taking a course in gun safety and then going to the vineyards of Sonoma to hunt wild boar with a couple of chefs); genetically modified food; journalism; science journalism; and compares himself to a character in Middlemarch during his discussion of the cornification of America.

And

Has anyone read James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men? I've read only A Death in the Family. Dale Maharidge writes on the former and the importance of "living" journalism in Columbia Journalism Review.

And Jon Carroll, writer of the always funny cat columns in the SF Gate, turns his attention to the One Thing books.

And I'm also exploring several links R. sent me concerning her upcoming field research trip to Austria, Bosnia and Croatia--she was accepted into the study program yesterday afternoon.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Re: Don Quixote:

But nagging guilt is a poor motivator for reading (or you'd have finished Ron Chernow's "Hamilton" by now). So here's something to tempt you toward this intimidating classic of Spanish literature: a debut novel called "Tilting At Windmills" that reimagines Miguel Cervantes and Don Quixote as friends in a beguiling blend of biography and fiction. (Ron Charles review at CSM)

The Branston book looks interesting, but Charles is wrong in assuming people only finish the Chernow out of guilt. It takes awhile to read because it's so dang heavy, not because it isn't engrossing reading.

And in the I laughed so hard I cried department: If William Faulkner were writing on the Bush White House (Slate)

More Fowles

Well, I've had to resort to a second quote by the mystery author at Readerville. Let's see if this one turns out to be a dead giveaway--I think it will.

"To most Englishmen of his age such an intuition of Sarah's real nature would have been repellent; and it did very faintly repel--or at least shock--Charles. He shared enough of his contemporaries' prejudices to suspect sensuality in any form; but whereas they would, by one of those terrible equations that take place at the behest of the superego, have made Sarah vaguely responsible for being born as she was, he did not. For that we can thank his scientific hobbies. Darwinism, as its shrewder opponents realized, let open the flood gates to something far more serious than the undermining of the Biblical account of the origins of man; its deepest implications lay in the direction of determinism and behaviorism, that is, toward philosophies that reduce morality to a hypocrisy and duty to a straw hut in a hurricane. I do not mean that Charles- completely exonerated Sarah; but he was far less inclined to blame her than she might have imagined. "

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

I love my alma mater

Lunatic Alabama representative Gerald Allen, who, as reported earlier, wants to ban novels with gay characters from public and university libraries in his state, has evidently been advised that coming across as as large a lunatic as he does doesn't exactly advance the conservative agenda. Before, when asked what would happen to books that presented homosexuality as normal, he said, "I guess we dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them."

These days he's insisting, "We're just looking at future spending. We're not going to take any books off of anybody's shelves -- today."

Okay, so that "today" indicates he's still just the same old lunatic he always was. Never fear. College students from around the country are beginning to protest his lunacy. Students and faculty at the University of North Carolina staged their 24-hour protest earlier this week by reading Allen's bill and works his bill would ban outside the student union. Go Tarheels!

No mention in the article, however, as to how the pit preachers reacted to having their turf taken away from them by the godless Plutarch and Wilde. Perhaps Chapel Hill's pit preachers aren't near as wacky as Rep. Allen?

New meme

There's a new meme I've seen several times in the last few days--by which authors have you read at least 10 books. I could only think of a couple off the top of my head--Anne Tyler (16 plus her children's book Tumble Tower) and Margaret Drabble (15), but thanks to my- not- totally- comprehensive- but- at- least- extensive lifetime reading list I came up with the rest. I have no clue how many books I read in my early teens by Zane Grey, Alistair MacLean, Emilie Loring or Grace Livingston Hill (probably as many as my aunts and uncles owned), but I know I've read at least ten by:

Margaret Atwood
Margaret Drabble
Anne McCaffrey (from my cross stitch years)
Larry McMurtry
Iris Murdoch
William Shakespeare
Lee Smith
Anne Tyler
John Updike
Kurt Vonnegut
Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes counts in my world)

I can bring A.S. Byatt and Carol Shields up to 10 this year by reading short stories.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I've been angsting for most of the day over what poem I should post in honor of Edna St. Vincent Millay's birthday. A fig or two; "Recuerdo," which is probably my favorite; a sonnet; a political poem I'm particularly fond of? I should mention that Johnny Cash (his birthday's this week, too) was cool enough to cover her "Ballad of the Harp-Weaver" years ago and the Bookshelves of Doom has posted "Spring"today--go read Vincent put beauty in its place. Plan on reading Nancy Milford's wonderful bio Savage Beauty if you haven't already.

I'm posting the following poem because it's one I didn't read until just a couple of years ago and it's just unsettling enough for me to really, really like it.


Intense and terrible, I think, must be the loneliness
Of infants--look at all
The Teddy-bears clasped in slumber in slatted cribs
Painted pale-blue or pink.
And all the Easter Bunnies, dirty and disreputable, that deface
The white pillow and the sterile, immaculate, sunny, turning pleasantly in space,
Dainty abode of Baby--try to replace them
With new ones, come Easter again, fluffy and white, and with a different smell;
Release with gentle force from the horrified embrace,
That hugs until the stitches give and the stuffing shows,
His only link with a life of his own, the only thing he really knows. . .
Try to sneak it out of sight.
If you wish to hear anger yell glorious
From air-filled lungs through a throat unthrottled
By what the neighbours will say;
If you wish to witness a human countenance contorted
And convulsed and crumpled by helpless grief and despair,
Then stand beside the slatted crib and say There, there, and take the toy away.

Pink and pale-blue look well
In a nursery. And for the most part Baby is really good:
He gurgles, he whimpers, he tries to get his toe to his mouth; he slobbers his food
Dreamily--cereal and vegetable juices--onto his bib:
He behaves as he should.

But do not for a moment believe he has forgotten Blackness: nor the deep
Easy swell; nor his thwarted
Design to remain for ever there;
Nor the crimson betrayal of his birth into a yellow glare.
The pictures painted on the inner eyelids of infants just before they sleep,
Are not pastel.

Monday, February 21, 2005

A metastory

You know you have a problem when all the books you're reading start informing on some larger story that you just need to piece together and interpret just the way a soothsayer reads a bird's entrails:

They were riding along, then, the night dark, the squire hungry, and the master with a desire to eat, when they saw coming toward them, on the same road they were traveling, a great multitude of lights that looked like nothing so much as moving stars. Sancho was frightened when he saw them, and Don Quixote felt uneasy; one tugged on his donkey's halter, and the other pulled at the reins of his skinny horse, and they came to a halt, looking carefully to see what those lights might be, and they saw them approaching, and the closer they came the bigger they seemed; seeing this, Sancho began to tremble like a jack-in-the-box, and the hairs on Don Quixote's head stood on end; then, taking heart, he said:

"This, Sancho, is undoubtedly an exceedingly great and dangerous adventure, in which it will be necessary for me to demonstrate all my valor and courage."

"Woe is me!" Sancho responded. "If this adventure has anything to do with phantoms, which is how it's looking to me, who has the ribs that can stand it?"

Eidothea, now,
had slipped beneath the sea's engulfing folds
but back from the waves she came with four sealskins,
all freshly stripped, to deceive her father blind.
She scooped out lurking-places deep in the sand
and sat there waiting as we approached her post,
then couching us side-by-side she flung a sealskin
over each man's back. Now there was an ambush
that would have overpowered us all—overpowering,
true, the awful reek of all those sea-fed brutes!
Who'd dream of bedding down with a monster of the deep?
But the goddess sped to our rescue, found the cure
with ambrosia, daubing it under each man's nose—
that lovely scent, it drowned the creatures' stench.
So all morning we lay there waiting, spirits steeled,
while seals came crowding, jostling out of the sea
and flopped down in rows, basking along the surf.
At high noon the old man emerged from the waves
and found his fat-fed seals and made his rounds,
counting them off, counting us the first four,
but he had no inkling of all the fraud afoot.
Then down he lay and slept, but we with a battle-cry,
we rushed him flung our arms around him—he'd lost nothing,
the old rascal, not of his cunning quick techniques!
First he shifted into a great bearded lion
and then a serpent—
a panther---
a ramping wild boar—
a torrent of water—
a tree with soaring branchtops—
but we held on for dear life, braving it out
until, at last, that quick-change artist,
the old wizard, began to weary of all this
and burst out into rapid-fire questions:
"Which god, Menelaus, conspired with you
to trap me in ambush? seize me against my will?
What on earth do you want?"


She told me that eventually she wanted to become an ambulance driver, and I could picture her doing it, riding on dry land the same waves of adrenaline that she rides now. I spent a lot of time trying to picture where these girls might be in ten years. Hardly any are likely to make it as pro surfers—even though women have made a place for themselves in pro surfing, the number who really make it is still small, and even though the Hana girls rule Maui surfing, the island's soft-shell waves and easygoing competitions have produced very few world-class surfers in recent years. It doesn't seem to matter to them. At various cultural moments, surfing has appeared as the embodiment of everything cool and wild and free; this is one of those moments.


Aw, come on. You know the notion of a metastory sounds a lot more interesting than one more post that says today I read two chapters of Don Quixote, Book Four of The Odyssey, and the surfer girls piece from The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup.

Benjamin Franklin

In reality there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history. For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.

And

And now I set on foot my first project of a public nature—that for a subscription library. I drew up the proposals, got them put into form by our great scrivener, Brockden, and by the help of my friends in the Junto procured fifty subscribers of forty shillings each to begin with and ten shillings a year for fifty years, the term our company was to continue. We afterward obtained a charter, the company being increased to one hundred. This was the mother of all the North American subscription libraries, now so numerous; it is become a great thing itself and continually goes on increasing. The libraries have improved the general conversation of the Americans, made the common tradesmen and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the stand so generally made throughout the colonies in defense of their privileges.

-- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Mystery quotes

So I just won the latest round of Mystery Quote at Readerville. How could I not--someone posted the first paragraph to True Grit.

CS wanted me to post this next bit. It's from a book I gave her for Christmas. Anyone recognize it?

'Night fell again. There was war to the south, but our sector was quiet. The battle was over. Our casualties were some thirteen thousand killed. Thirteen thousand minds, memories, loves, sensations, worlds, universes--because the human mind is more a universe than the universe itself--and all for a few hundred yards of useless mud.'

And on the following page:

'You are not ashamed to be the guest of a traitor to his country?'

'I don't think you were a traitor to the human race.'

We moved towards his bedroom windows.

'The human race is unimportant. It is the self that must not be betrayed.'

I suppose one could say that Hitler didn't betray his self.'

He turned.

'You are right. He did not. But millions of Germans did betray their selves. That was the tragedy. Not that one man had the courage to be evil. But that millions had not the courage to be good.'

Things that interested me over coffee

"According to the report, the average American household spent $40,817 in 2003. Of that, just $127 was spent on reading newspapers, magazines or books, or 0.3 percent, while $290 was spent on tobacco and $391 on alcohol. Spending on consumer electronics was $2060, or 5 percent. Housing ($13,432) and transportation ($7,781) costs accounted for over half (52 percent) of total spending. " (Folio)

We are so not an average American household. . .

"If Bowen is not read now as widely as Henry James and Virginia Woolf, to whom she is often compared, it may be not because of her hyphen (since the specific concerns of the Anglo-Irish are not so widely understood these days), or the intricacy of her style. It may be, instead, that it is difficult to read a writer who bears down so hard on intimacy -- among not only men and women, but men and women and their country, their houses, their pasts and themselves -- and with an overwhelming, Irish sense of a bottomless, ancient pool of loss. She is as ruthless as James, as stylistically uncanny as Woolf, but with an ineradicable sense that history is made of other people's dirt." (Stacey D'erasmo reviews Neil Corcoran's insightful, slender Elizabeth Bowen: The Enforced Return.)

I've been reading Elizabeth Bowen short stories this year and I haven't hit a dud yet.

I can't decide if I want to read Ian McEwan's Saturday, but Barbaric Document takes McEwan quite soundly to task.

A new Kazuo Ishiguro! Yay! While I won't be rushing to purchase it, I'm sure I'll eventually get around to it. The Guardian reviews it, profiles Ishiguro, and presents an extract.

The Shelia Variations covers the Alexander Hamilton exhibit at the New York Historical Society with great enthusiasm.

Susan Sontag finished an introduction to the recent translation of Halldor Laxness's Under the Glacier shortly before her death. I need to finish World Light and read the other two Laxness novels I own before I get around to this one.

And, thanks to some encouragement from Book World and a recent post at The Millions, I have entered the 21st century and can now access many of my favorite links via RSS feeds. In what direction will I channel my nervous energy now that I have no reason to click obsessively on my favorites? Will I put all the time saved to productive use? Will I, in time, come to resent this new technology?

Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

R. has been nominated to join the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. At first, after a quick scan of the materials sent to us in the mail, I thought this was just another one of those Who's Who come-ons that we throw straight into the trash, but then I caught the signature of a gal I know from high school, who works for the university, and realized it was legit. There's opportunity for scholarships and travel abroad, networking and internships. We'll have to go Chapel Hill in the fall for the convocation ceremony. Who knew that there was an organization to recognize high performing college freshmen?

S. and I have begun--for real this nth time--reading The Odyssey.

Spent some time in a bookstore yesterday. I took a list I'd compiled that morning after reading recent posts at Bookgirl's Nightstand, So Many Books, and Book World; fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, I found none of the books I was looking for and came away with only the SAT and chemistry study guides S. was in need of. And my own itty-bitty Moleskine since I gave the one I bought in December to R., who was not up on all the Moleskine lore and therefore not properly awed by being presented with one. My lack of personal greed at the bookstore means I'll keep the copy of American Brutus that showed up in the mail, although I ought to do a better job about keeping up with my "do not send" clicks at the book club websites.

One thing that entertained me at the bookstore (and at home afterwards, reading reader reviews at Amazon: did you know the best way to know what the U.S. constitution says is not to read the Constitution, but to read this book?) was an politically incorrect guidebook to American history that was given prominence on a display table. If I had money to waste it would have been a fun one to have on hand to mock, I think. I only read the sections on those wonderful, wonderful, extraordinarily wonderful settlers at Jamestown and how the Indians did-so-too share the concept of land ownership that the Puritans had, but that was enough for me to conclude that this is the type of history that will definitely lead high schoolers to conclude the First Amendment does indeed Go Too Far.

I am supposed to be writing, not blogging, all weekend. It would help if members of this household wouldn't see fit to knock on my door every three or four minutes. Or meow.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Friday morning bird blogging


Ezra herself.

Friday morning egg blogging


From the left, a chicken's egg, the first (and only uncracked) egg from December, and the two eggs from this week. Note how none have the same shape or size.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The New York Times covers the TMN Tournament of Books, but Sarah Boxer goofs and says Ben Jones' The Rope Eater won in its round against Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Strange goes up against Heir to the Glimmering World tomorrow. I want them both to advance to the next round.

The Rope Eater is waiting for me at the public library.


I'm writing again. I'm not going to even admit to how long the last logjam of words lasted, but it's finally been washed on down the river.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Eggads, er, egads. . .

There was another egg in Ezra's cage when I came home from work. This one is almost completely round in shape. Very strange.

And egads, this is the poem I resorted to ILL to obtain. It's hard to justify the effort many people had to go to provide me with it:

BEAUTIFUL WOMAN

The spring
in

her step
has

turned to
fall.

A.R. Ammons, Brink Road

I think we'd find more to discuss in this Ammons poem:

GOOD MORNING, THIS MORNING

Death is very common but not,
I hear, 100% effective; one,

once, unjustly, I suppose, hung
up, downed, rose, a rising

that delivered death to plenitudes
in scatterings, swingings, stakes

of grubbed up flesh (set afire),
limbs, heads cut off, etc.: is

this a small price to pay for
something to believe in: nature

is just here, a lovely if careless
spread, and its dynamics, seen

to and smoothed out, can be
suggestive: otherwise, the fridge's

clean but for what we ourselves
devise: belief, at any cost,

serves life: let life do without.



Otherwise, I read fanfic. I feel no remorse.
I particularly enjoyed Corny Library Pickup Lines in light of the odd calls we got last week from a guy who assumed his phone manners were so charming we'd rush to do his research and fax all the information to him if a) he promised me a deal on furniture and b) he promised he'd be student worker's new boyfriend.

Wolff, Orlean, Thoreau, Almond (joys)

"There's a famous paragraph in one of Chekov's letters to his brother Nikolai in which he talks about writing description. In it he says, 'When describing a starry night, don't just talk about the beauty of the heavens, and the beautiful pinpricks of stars all over the inky sky.' He says, 'describe a piece of broken glass and the moonlight shining in that, and all of a sudden a wolf runs past you like a black ball in the night.'

"It's that kind of odd angle of vision that really captures those unexpected things that you would find in a good story, that broken glass. That's something very distinctive with Chekov. I translate that into the description of character as well. You can illuminate character by a similar kind of sidelong glance that you can use to illuminate that moonlit night.

"There's a kind of stock repertoire that comes out of drama, mainly of gestures and actions that people perform in stories. You know: the mixing-of-drinks, the-crossing-of-rooms, the-lighting-of-cigarettes. What's wrong with them is they're essentially anonymous. They don't tell us that much. What you want is a gesture that tells you something particular."

--Tobias Wolff (Continuum)

Finished Wolff's second story collection Back in the World last night. Woke up thinking about how especially fine "Leviathan" turned out to be.

Started Susan Orlean's The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup yesterday. She has an interesting website.

"What we call wildness is a civilization other than our own. The hen-hawk shuns the farmer, but it seeks the friendly shelter and support of the pine. It will not consent to walk in the barn-yard, but it loves to soar above the clouds. It has its own way and is beautiful, when we would fain subject it to our will. So any surpassing work of art is strange and wild to the mass of men, as genius itself. No hawk that soars and steals our poultry is wilder than genius, and none is more persecuted or above persecution. It can never be poet laureate, to say 'Pretty Poll' and 'Polly want a cracker.' "

Added The Blog of Henry David Thoreau to the sidebar.

"Because what really bummed me out about the Amazon haters wasn't that they disagreed with my politics, but that they immediately summoned such genuine outrage at me for deigning to express a political opinion at all.

"They regarded Candyfreak as entertainment, which meant, basically, that I was supposed to serve as a candy monkey for them: swinging from my zany licorice ropes and making funny gibbering noises.

"By including my political views, I was in direct violation of The First Law of Social Apathy, which holds a popular culture should exist divorced from any of the moral facts of its current political condition.

"What folks want from the pop — hell, what we deserve as tax–paying Americans — is a nice soothing mind bath. A few chuckles. A nice melodrama in which to park our emotions for a couple of hours. In a word: opium."

Last year, anytime anyone mentioned Steve Almond's Candyfreak I stuck my fingers in my ears and chanted "la la la," since the last thing I needed was to read about someone else's issues with the sweet stuff, but now he's writing about one of my pet peeves: those who let their politics direct how they respond to those in the entertainment and creative fields. (Moby Lives)

Let me put it as succintly as I can: I don't like George W. Bush, but that doesn't mean I'm going to throw Chernow's Alexander Hamilton against the wall once I discover Bush is touting the book, or bash it on Amazon, or even stop reading it, and I'm certainly not going to take part, were it to be held, in some strange bulldoze-the-cds radio station-sanctioned ritual because Lyle Lovett played at an inauguration ball (although I like to imagine he did so ironically). As Thoreau said (on this date, in 1859), the hen-hawk ain't gonna walk in no barnyard, folks. Some people ought not to take "only connect" quite so much to heart, but instead erect a few compartments in their brains. They'll enjoy life a whole lot more.

Ezra lays another egg

How many has this been? I can't even remember.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Serenity: the Comic

S. just told me there's going to be a comic book based on Firefly that comes out this summer! I wonder if this is why the film's opening was pushed back until September. The comic is supposed to be a prequel.

Sea Violet

by H.D.

The white violet
is scented on its stalk,
the sea-violet
fragile as agate,
lies fronting all the wind
among the torn shells
on the sand-bank.

The greater blue violets
flutter on the hill,
but who would change for these
who would change for these
one root of the white sort?

Violet
your grasp is frail
on the edge of the sand-hill,
but you catch the light--
frost, a star edges with its fire.

Collected Poems 1912-1944 had to come all the way from Louisiana. . .

Sublimated collections

"Collecting is a species of insatiable desire, a Don Juanism of objects in which each new find arouses a new mental tumescence, and generates the added pleasure of scorekeeping, or enumeration. Volume and tirelessness of conquest would lose some of its point and savor were there not a ledger somewhere with one's assorted mille e tre (and, preferably, a factotum to keep it updated), the happy contemplation of which at off-moments counteracts the exhaustion of desire that the erotic athlete is condemned to and against which he struggles. But lists are a much more spiritual enterprise for the athlete of material and mental acquistitiveness.

"The list is itself a collection, a sublimated collection. One does not actually have to own the things. To know is to have (luckily, for those without great means). It is already a claim, a species of possession, to think about them in this form, the form of a list: which is to value them, to rank them, to say they are worth remembering or desiring.

"What you like: your five favorite flowers, spices, films, cars, poems, hotels, names, dogs, inventions, Roman emperors, novels, actors, restaurants, paintings, gems, cities, friends, museums, tennis players . . . just five. Or ten . . . or twenty . . . or a hundred. For, midway through whatever number you settled for, you always wish you had a bigger number to play in. You'd forgotten there were that many things you liked.

"What you've done: everyone you've gone to bed with, every state you've been in, country you've visited, house or apartment you've lived in, school you've attended, car you've owned, pet you've had, job you've held, Shakespeare play you've seen. . .

"What the world has in it: the names of Mozart's twenty operas or of the kings and queens of England or of the fifty American state capitals. . . Even the making of such lists is an expression of desire: the desire to know, to see arranged, to commit to memory.

"What you actually have: all your CDs, your bottles of wine, your first editions, the vintage photographs you've purchased at auctions—such lists may do no more than ratify the acquiring lust, unless, as it is with the Cavaliere, your purchases are imperiled.

"He wants to know what he has, now that it may be lost to him. He wants to have it forever, at least in the form of a list."

--Susan Sontag, The Volcano Lover

Monday, February 14, 2005

The 2005 American Library Association list of notable books. (Previous years' lists are in the left sidebar.) I've read three (Mitchell, Munro and Wolff), have one in progress (Chernow), and own another that's waiting patiently on the shelf for me to get around to it (De Bernières).

The misfortune end here

After the Revolutionary War ended, Alexander Hamilton served in the New York Assembly. Chernow mentions a couple of Hamilton's votes that seemed relevant to his horrendous childhood. Hamilton "supported a bill making it impossible for people divorced due to adultery to remarry" although such a law back in the West Indies had kept Hamilton's parents from being able to legitimize his own birth. His second vote also addressed a situation women such as his mother could find themselves in and it reminded me of a recent bill in the Virginia legislature.

Remember the furor at the beginning of the year over Representative John Cosgrove's bill to require any woman who suffered a miscarriage at any point in her pregnancy to report the miscarriage to the police within 12 hours or else be guilty of a misdemeanor offense? After a deluge of email and bad publicity Cosgrove said he would include language that would indicate that the bill applied only to those babies that are claimed to have been stillborn and that have been abandoned. The bill is an attempt to determine if an abandoned baby was born alive so that the mother could be charged with more than improper disposal of a human body. (Democracy for Virginia)

When Hamilton was in the Assembly there was a similar bill, "a bill that aimed to deter mothers of illegitimate children from killing them at birth. One controversial clause stipulated that if the child died, the unwed mother had to produce a witness who could corroborate that the child had been stillborn or died from natural causes. It bothered Hamilton that the mother would have to admit openly that she had given birth to an illegitimate child."

Why have we lost the compassion and empathy Hamilton expressed for such women? This is the account The Daily Advertiser gave when Hamilton addressed the Assembly:

"Mr. Hamilton observed that the clause was neither politic or just. He wished it obliterated from the bill. To show the propriety of this, he expatiated feelingly on the delicate situation it placed an unfortunate woman in. . . . From the concealment of the loss of honor, her punishment might be mitigated and the misfortune end here. She might reform and be again admitted into virtuous society. The operation of this law compelled her to publish her shame to the world. It was to be expected therefore that she would prefer the danger of punishment from concealment to the avowal of her guilt."

Wow. Not only wow because of what Hamilton understood, but because the Assembly sided with him.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Links to lists of February 14-appropriate reading:

What authors read on Valentine's Day (CSM)

Favorite love stories (WP)

Most romantic novels (BBC)

Frankland

East Tennessee, western North Carolina--what's the diff? Purt near none for all general purposes. Reading Frankland was like going home for the weekend. Marketing strategy for the book involves comparing it to A Confederacy of Dunces; however, narrator John Tolley is not anywhere near as obnoxious as Ignatius J. Reilly. In fact, I rather liked him. But then, I have a soft spot for the socially awkward and the ineffectual. Bless their hearts, they have tough rows to hoe.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

I'm off the wagon. Never mind that I started a new book just this morning, had several already under way and holds waiting for me at the public library--I had to go to the used bookstore this afternoon. I hadn't been since before Christmas. I bought Susan Sontag's The Volcano Lover, James Wood's The Book Against God, Halldor Laxness' Paradise Reclaimed, and, the one I most wanted, after getting my appetite whetted for that sort of thing by the Wendy Brenner article earlier in the week, Susan Orlean's The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup.

Hey, they cost no more than the Chinese R. and I had for dinner last night. That's my justification and I'm sticking to it.

I've just finished reading 12 forum-pages of background info and squee (lots of squee) about the Alias Smith and Jones book due the end of June. I don't know when I've been so psyched about a book. I may very well hyperventilate when my copy arrives.

"Farther south, in the District of Columbia, I spent an hour outside the Smithsonian Institution's Arts and Industries Building eating two peanut butter sandwiches and trying to make myself feel, with all its fullness, this brief moment of my presence in the nation's capital. History is a difficult thing to imagine. Is it a line in which our lives form a tiny segment? Or is it a massive live beast to whose hump we cling? Andrew Johnson, I recalled, had in early days proposed converting the Smithsonian into a national trade school offering courses of study in carpentry, dentistry, and plumbing. What kind of man had thoughts like that?"

and

"There are two kinds of historians: those who ascribe agency to vast impersonal forces, and those who give the credit and blame to individual humans. I hold the latter view, though I sometimes have to remind myself of it. I did this now. For a change, I had a plan, and I also had an advantage. Many had studied the scandal-torn presidency of Andrew Johnson; some had the backing of universitites and endowed foundations, but I had a secret lead all the others had overlooked. The lead concerned a set of Johnson papers that had been deliberately mislaid, and had stayed lost for over a century. I had reason to think I could find them. All I had to do was stay on task with an animal tenacity. Setbacks and reversals would come, but I would deal with them, drawing on my life's experiences and my bit of self-knowledge as needed."

Well, I'm off to east Tennessee with John H. Tolley, who's just left NY and is intent on making his name by writing a bio of Andrew Johnson. I'm only five pages in, but I have a feeling James Whorton's Frankland is going to be a whole lot of fun.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Yes! Yes! Yes! Cloud Atlas takes the win in overtime!

A conversation I wish I were making up

Student worker (looking at my copy of Don Quixote): What's this about?

Me (assuming she's not serious—she's a smart girl, I know--and thus being VERY melodramatic): You mean you don't know? What are they teaching you kids these days?

Student worker to student walking up to the desk: Do you know who Don Quixote is?

Student: Donna Who? Does she go to school here?

(Student worker holds up Grossman's Don Quixote)

Student: Is he, like, a Mexican conquistador?

Me (serious): What ARE they teaching you kids these days?

Though, now that I think about it, I'm not sure I was taught anything about Don Quixote. It was just there—illustrated children's versions in the school library which I'm sure most of us must have picked up. Tilting at windmills was a phrase people used. People saw "Man from La Mancha," though I never did. I knew all the words to "The Impossible Dream" without having to.

Was knowing about Don Quixote something we just picked up via osmosis? Why is he no longer a cultural reference? Do we need a Will Smith and a Tommy Lee Jones to make a blockbuster about him to bring him back?

Maybe the exchange signifies nothing. R. did say she wanted to read DQ a few years back—why would she know or care about it if she hadn't heard it mentioned somewhere? S. brought books home about DQ from the library; and heaven knows he isn't one to choose a book at random.

Anyway, here are some interesting links I came across last night when I should have been reading Don Quixote:

The Little Professor explains why she thinks the Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools lists are a mistake.

Katharine Weber provides the "backstory" for her The Little Women at M.J. Rose's site: Weber didn't read Alcott until she was in her 40s.

Librarian Kathie Coblentz employs a cataloging system in her home that no library would use: "Your system doesn't have to be logical, it just has to work for you." That's what I keep saying about my system!

Shooflypie talks about the fabulous short-lived series Firefly. I've been boycotting Fox since the show was cancelled. We're all anxious to see the movie in September.

Did you know that all the transcripts from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are now available at Buffyology?

And, turning serious here, Jane Mayer writes about the secret history of America’s “extraordinary rendition” program in The New Yorker.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Hamilton read widely and accumulated books insatiably. The self-education of this autodidact never stopped. He preferred wits, satirists, philosophers, historians, and novelists from the British Isles: Jonathan Swift, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, Oliver Goldsmith, Edward Gibbon, Lord Chesterfield, Sir Thomas Browne, Thomas Hobbes, Horace Walpole, and David Hume. Among his most prized possessions was an eight-volume set of The Spectator by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele; he frequently recommended these essays to young people to purify their writing style and inculcate virtue. He never stopped pondering the ancients, from Pliny to Cicero to his beloved Plutarch, and always had lots of literature in French on his creaking shelves: Voltaire and Montaigne's essays, Diderot's Encyclopedia, and Moliere's plays. The politician who provoked a national furor with his firebreathing denunciations of the French Revolution paid tutors so that all his children could speak French.

--Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton

Yes!

Heir to the Glimmering World makes it to the next round! (TMN)

Dreams about snakes

"Dean dreams about snakes all the time. Sometimes they are good dreams: that he discovers he owns snakes he didn't know about, that aliens abduct him and take him to a secret part of North Carolina that was incompletely glaciated (there is always a scientific explanation in Dean's dreams), revealing a colony of rare snakes. He also has nightmares that his snakes are dying, that they're eating one another, that he forgot to feed them, that he must protect them from some unseen danger. He almost never dreams that his snakes bite or kill him: it is always the snakes that are in jeodardy, that he must save."

Wendy Brenner writes about Dean Ripa, owner of the Cape Fear Serpentarium in downtown Wilmington, in the winter issue of Oxford American (remember, I mentioned weeks ago it was back). A lifelong collector of exotic snakes, a performer of Frank Sinatra songs, a writer and an artist, a friend of William Burroughs (quoted often and extensively in the article), Dean is an all-around fascinating individual. He's been bitten by potentially lethal snakes a total of 11 times. Did you know antivenom is practically as deadly as snakebite itself?

Lots of discussion of art and philosophy and literature and religion (he won't sell to snake handlers, incidentally--"They don't have enought faith for my snakes, believe me") in the article, but for those only interested in snakes you can cut to the chase and learn about the Serpentarium here, or Dean's snake collection here.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Not only do I like bobbleheads, but I'm going to confess to being an avid follower of the First Annual TMN Tournament of Books. So far every judge has chosen the book I'd have chosen from the pairing. I'm pulling for Heir to the Glimmering World tomorrow and Cloud Atlas on Friday and predicting Cloud Atlas over The Plot Against America in the championship. Anyone willing to bet against me?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

While Stefanie takes the lead in the actual reading of Don Quixote and Sandra provides links to Edith Grossman interviews (Hey, W.: Read Yeats!), I humbly bring you what no other blogger dares. . .

BOBBLEHEAD

DON

QUIXOTE

Isn't he cute?

Doesn't he make you want to read more than three chapters a week?

Don't you feel so intellectually stimulated now that you've seen him?

The little guy casts a mighty big shadow!

Let's burn some books

"Remember, Mr. Montag, the public stopped reading of its own accord. No one wants to be a rebel anymore."

--Faber, in Ray Bradbury's Fahreneit 451

The children's theatre here puts on one production geared toward high school students each year. Last year's was Oedipus Rex, and after having read the play the previous month, and having studied Greek drama and watched part of Agamemnon (the tape hissed and flipped to the point that we just had to give up) complete with masked all-male performers, I thought S. was primed to have a quality experience. Who'd a thunk the costuming would wind up being so off-beat and weird all our conversation afterwards would be centered around that aspect of the play?

So S. approached this year's Fahrenheit 451 with a bit of an attitude. He could not be bothered to reread the book before hand. He was ready to blame me for subjecting him to something just as offensive as last year's Greek chorus of strapless dresses and Oedipus' trench-coated bare-chested attire (and then he turned around and loved Ethan Hawke's Hamlet. Go figure). Fortunately the Fates smiled upon us this year, and there was nothing to distract or disappoint him. The effects, the cast, all were just marvelous. It took us till the intermission to figure out that Montag was played by Oedipus' Teiresias, whose strange birdlike costume had been the hit out of all the misses last winter.

He's now happily rereading and pointing out the ways the play differed from the book. And my attention can't help but be snagged by all the nonsense going on in the news: a Kansas school superintendant giving copies of Bless Me Ultima to parents to burn (ALA); the usual run of parents trying to get books removed from reading lists; last week's announcement that high schoolers think the First Amendment goes "too far."

I found the complete survey given to high schoolers and its subsequent 92-page report at the John S. and James L. Knight site. General student and administration demographics are given; it's interesting to see how many are getting their news primarily from television these days (why didn't they ask which station?). It was also interesting to see that a higher percentage of public school students than private school students take classes that deal with the First Amendment. For comparison purposes, the University of Connecticut conducts a yearly State of the First Amendment poll for those 18 and over.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Bookstall

Just looking at them
I grow greedy, as if they were freshly baked loaves
waiting on their shelves
to be broken open--that one
and that--and I make my choice
in a mood of exalted luck,
browsing among them
like a cow in sweetest pasture.

For life is continuous
as long as they wait
to be read--these inked paths
opening into the future, page
after page, every book
its own receding horizon.
And I hold them, one in each hand,
a curious ballast weighting me
here to the earth.

--Linda Pastan, Carnival Evening

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Michael Moore and Mel Gibson aside, the purpose of art is not always to send messages. More often, it's just to tell a story, move people and provoke ideas. Mr. Eastwood's critics don't even understand what art is. Politics - not art - is about finding consensus with the majority of the audience. Art is not about avoiding controversy or ensuring that everyone leaves feeling morally uplifted.

What I love about movies and plays is seeing fictional characters behaving in ends-justify-the-means ways I never would. What I hate about politics is seeing real officials behaving in ends-justify-the-means ways on the W.M.D. "crisis" in Iraq, the Social Security "crisis," and the spread of federal disinformation from paid "journalists." Now that's worth howling about.

--Maureen Dowd, writing about the culture cops in today's NYT.

Linda Pastan

I should be shot, yes, taken outside and shot. I bought Linda Pastan's Carnival Evening based on L.R.'s recommendation more than a year ago, I'm sure, a recommendation I trusted, yet I still allowed the book to sit never opened on the shelf until yesterday. There is no explanation for my own colossal stupidity, because this is my kind of poetry book: an ample number of poems based on mythological personalities and events, the writing and reading life, being female, and individual goodies such as a poem about Emily Dickinson, visiting Anne Frank's house, free will, and my own personal favorite, one about a safecracker (a nitrogylcerin reference!) that turns into a poem about sex.

This isn't the best poem in the collection, but certainly the most typical for me to post here:

Realms of Gold

1. RECESS

I used to think
the cover of a book
was a door I could pull shut
after me,
that I was as safe
between pages
as between the clean sheets
of my bed at home.
The children in those books
were not like me.
They had the shine
of bravery or luck,
and their stories had endings.
But when Miss Colton called
"Yoo Hoo, Third Grade,"
and I had to come running,
the book suddenly
slippery under my arm, sometimes
those children ran with me.

2. THE QUARREL

"What are you doing,"
he asks, and I turn a page,
then another.
"Are you still reading?"
And I pile page
after page, like sandbags,
between us.
I'm going to tear
that book out of your hands,
he says, but I don't hear him,
the sound of pages turning
is like a far train approaching,
and Anna has just
entered the station.

3. FINAL INSTRUCTIONS

When the time comes,
make my grave
with clean sheets
and a comforter of flowers.
If you come to call, rest
against the stone
which will lean
like a bookend
over my head.
Make yourself
at home there.
Read to me!

--Linda Pastan, Carnival Evening



Saturday, February 05, 2005

During the winter encampments [at Valley Forge], Hamilton constantly educated himself, as if equipping his mind for the larger tasks ahead. "Force of intellect and force of will were the sources of his success," Henry Cabot Lodge later wrote. From his days as an artillery captain, Hamilton had kept a pay book with blank pages in the back; while on Washington's staff, he filled up 112 pages with notes from his extracurricular reading. Hamilton fit the type of the self-improving autodidact, employing all his spare time to better himself. He aspired to the eighteenth-century aristocratic ideal of the versatile man conversant in every area of knowledge. Thanks to his pay book we know that he read a considerable amount of philosophy, including Bacon, Hobbes, Montaigne, and Cicero. He also perused histories of Greece, Prussia, and France. This was hardly light fare after a day of demanding correspondence for Washington, yet he retained the information and applied it to profitable use. While other Americans dreamed of a brand-new society that would expunge all trace of effete European civilization, Hamilton humbly studied those societies for clues to the formation of a new government. Unlike Jefferson, Hamilton never saw the creation of America as a magical leap across a chasm to an entirely new landscape, and he always thought the New World had much to learn from the Old.

--Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton

So Many Books: "Eclectic and absorbing"

Stefanie's made the Guardian's top ten literary blogs list! Congratulations! Buy books to celebrate!

Friday, February 04, 2005

A public service announcement for the person searching for "Lorrie Moore + drop baby": the story is called "Terrific Mother" and it's in the Birds of America collection.

This is another book I bought for its cover. That and the fact that L. and I both thought Under the Skin was just incredibly fine and creepy. Unfortunately, the cover's turning out to be what I like best about this book. More below.

First, Alice Munro’s Runaway. I’ve been reading the stories slowly since the middle of January. Munro, of course, writes characters who follow you around once the story’s completed and insist you fret over them. Because of the way most of the stories are written the reader knows long-term how things have turned out and can really only grieve for the glimpses of lives other than the ones the characters ultimately were left with due to decisions reached; impulses unchecked; actions feinted, then renounced. Things could have been so different, but, as a character concludes, “Move an inch this way or that, in such a case, and you’re lost.”

“Runaway” is hands down the best story in the collection. I want to reread the Juliet series of interconnected stories once I finish The Odyssey, although I have a better sense of what was going on with the daughter Penelope now that I’ve reread the Lorrie Moore review. And I wonder if the climax of “Tricks” would have hit me in the gut the way it did if I’d known As You Like It a little better; maybe it’d have been even more intense:

“Shakespeare should have prepared her. Twins are often the reason for mix-ups and disasters in Shakespeare. A means to an end, those tricks are supposed to be. And in the end the mysteries are solved, the pranks are forgiven, true love or something like it is rekindled, and those who were fooled have the good grace not to complain.”

Anyway, a wonderful collection, and I’ll be loaning my copy to my mother-in-law.

This week I’ve also continued reading stories from the quirky Michel Faber collection, but they’re irritating me so much I’m about to reshelve the book. Maybe I’ll appreciate them more if they’re not dovetailed with stories written by a woman at the height of her abilities, because these are most definitely the work of a writer at the beginning of his career. The cover blurb claims Some Rain Must Fall is the “monstrous, magnificent first-born” of Somerset Maugham and Ian McEwan, but it’s reminding me more of second-rate Vonnegut and early Robin Hemley. And Hemley would never, ever have broken the tight third person perspective of the young protagonist of “Somewhere Warm and Comfortable” to toss in one throwaway line of perspective from his older sister that adds NOTHING to the story. Where, oh where was the editor on this one? Yes, I do have Princess and the Pea sensibilities when it comes to nonsense like this—one mistake like this is enough to ruin a story for me. Grrr.

Otherwise I’ve read a couple of Elizabeth Bowen stories which did not upset my ever so finely-tuned literary sensibilities and I’ve read almost a hundred pages in Alexander Hamilton. I’ve read the first several pages of Julian and through chapter 11 in Don Quixote.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Another "Booked by Three" book meme from Shelly's Book Shelf:

1. Name the titles of 3 books (not necessarily the books, themselves) that you particularly like.

Being Dead. Jim Crace
Werewolves in Their Youth. Michael Chabon
The Primate’s Memoir. Robert M. Sapolsky

2. Name 3 characters you found memorable and the books they appeared in.

Unnamed narrator in Do the Windows Open? by Julie Hecht
Augustus McCrae in Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Benna Carpenter in Anagrams by Lorrie Moore

3. Give 3 favorite first lines and the books they came from.

My parents seemed to believe in letting everyone do whatever they wanted until they became very good at it or died.

--Robin Hemley, Nola

When my nose finally stops bleeding and I’ve disposed of the bloody paper towels, Teddy Barnes insists on driving me home in his ancient Honda Civic, a car that refuses to die and that Teddy, cheap as he is, refuses to trade in.

--Richard Russo, Straight Man

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

--Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

Reach the conclusion that S. should be taught a thing or two about poetry, but acknowledge that reinforcements might curtail the kicking and screaming that’s sure to ensue if you try to do it all on your own. Order the How to Read and Understand Poetry lecture series from the Teaching Company; it’s on sale.

Receive the series the afternoon that you have a migraine nagging your left temple. Turn straight to the section in the back of the course guidebook that lists which poem is discussed in which lecture. Feel relief that most of the poems—barring the ones for the first lecture—are in poetry anthologies you already own.

Pick up S. from drama. Ignore his look of panic when you mention poetry.

Back home, look on the poetry shelf for said anthologies. All—except Contemporary American Poetry-- have gone missing long enough to have their spots filled by individual poets. Wordsworth is not going to be found in Contemporary American Poetry. Turn to the internet for “Solitary Reaper,” et al. Your head still hurts, so you intend to stop once you’ve found the first week’s worth of poems.

Start to feel equally annoyed that your books aren’t where they’re supposed to and ashamed that you’ve never even heard of A. R. Ammons before. A North Carolina poet! Plus, the poem you need from him is not available on the internet. Look up the call number for his collected works so you’ll have it when you go to the library.

Look on the poetry shelf again and all the shelves that hold mass market paperbacks. Check in R.’s room to see if she has them on her shelves; didn’t she take them all in her room for a project two or three years back? Get really desperate and look under everything in S.’s room.

Talk to your poet friend on the phone. Discuss how sons hate everything they’re supposed to read for school, even stuff that’s boy-oriented. Feel a vague twinge that you’ll think about in more depth later—Gabriel Zaid saying that there are too many writers and not enough readers. But all the males you know who like to read are also writers. If no males read, won’t reading become even more devalued in our society? Discuss Lord of the Flies. Exchange reading recommendations.

Now the migraine has moved forehead dead center; take an Imitrex. Search shelves all willy-nilly. Find the plastic after-surgery collar for the cat. Find the remaining half of the D’Aulaire’s mythology that S. loved to pieces years back. Attempt to visualize where you’d last seen the anthology C.H. gave you in high school; search the bathrooms thoroughly.

Finally find the anthologies—laid flat and spine-inward on a shelf with photos taken at the Tate and What Shall We Name the Baby? Whew.

Rush to get ready to go to work. Take a supplementary handful of over-the-counter since the Imitrex is just sitting in your stomach; it might be lonely.

Transmogrify into someone competent by the time you reach the library. The guidebook says most of the poems are in Norton; that’s easy to check out. Once you determine which poems aren’t in Norton, which aren’t in the collected or selected or specifically named volumes the library owns, you place a couple ILL requests. Piece of cake.

Your headache goes away for the rest of the evening.


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Scientists learn "bird-brain" is no insult

Avian brains get the study they deserve and are found to be equal in ability to mammalian brains, reports Sandra Blakeslee . (New York Times)

"New Caledonian crows create more complex tools with their beaks and feet. They trim and sculpture twigs to fashion hooks for fetching food. They make spears out of barbed leaves, probing under leaf detritus for prey.

"In a laboratory, when a crow named Betty was given metal wires of various lengths and a four-inch vertical pipe with food at the bottom, she chose a four-inch wire, made a hook and retrieved the food.

"Apes and corvids are highly social. One explanation for intelligence is that it evolved to process and use social information - who is allied with whom, who is related to whom and how to use this information for deception. They also remember.

"Clark nutcrackers can hide up to 30,000 seeds and recover them up to six months later.

"Nutcrackers also hide and steal. If they see another bird watching them as they cache food, they return later, alone, to hide the food again. Some scientists believe this shows a rudimentary theory of mind - understanding that another bird has intentions and beliefs.

"Magpies, at an earlier age than any other creature tested, develop an understanding of the fact that when an object disappears behind a curtain, it has not vanished.

"At a university campus in Japan, carrion crows line up patiently at the curb waiting for a traffic light to turn red. When cars stop, they hop into the crosswalk, place walnuts from nearby trees onto the road and hop back to the curb. After the light changes and cars run over the nuts, the crows wait until it is safe and hop back out for the food.

"Pigeons can memorize up to 725 different visual patterns, and are capable of what looks like deception. Pigeons will pretend to have found a food source, lead other birds to it and then sneak back to the true source.

"Parrots, some researchers report, can converse with humans, invent syntax and teach other parrots what they know. Researchers have claimed that Alex, an African gray, can grasp important aspects of number, color concepts, the difference between presence and absence, and physical properties of objects like their shapes and materials. He can sound out letters the same way a child does."