Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Myself a book and you a reader

Since tomorrow is the official start date for the Summer Reading Challenge, it ought to come as no surprise that I found the most incredible book on the new book cart tonight and will have to ignore the officially sanctioned ones until I've completed all its 523 pages.

How to resist a book that begins like this:

May I speak candidly, fleshling, one rational creature to another, myself a book and you a reader? Even if the literature of confession leaves you cold, even if you are among those who wish that Rousseau had never bared his soul and Augustine never mislaid his shame, you would do well to lend me a fraction of your life. I am Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, after all--in my native tongue, Philosopiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, the Principia for short--not some tenth-grade algebra text or guide to improving your golf swing. Attend my adventures and you may, Dame Fortune willing, begin to look upon the world anew.

The Principia quickly gives us its history, admits that what's between its covers "isn't Mother Goose," informs us that its father, Isaac Newton, "taught parabolas to pirouette and hyperbolas to gavotte," and a mere paragraph later is explaining that books write other books whether their human scribes are aware of the metaphysics or not: "The twentieth century offers abundant examples, from The Pilgrim's Progress cranking out Atlas Shrugged, to Les Miserables composing The Jungle, to The Memoirs of Casanova penning Portnoy's Complaint."

The line that made me laugh outloud: "After Waiting for Godot acquired a taste for writing Windows software documentation, there was no stopping it."

The Principia tries its hand at a cookbook and an income-tax prep guide before writing the book currently in the readers' hands, and we drop into the main character's life (via a charm) during her eleventh year by the bottom of the fourth page, long before the charm of such an unusual narrator could turn tedious.

Although I do hope the Principia will return.

What's the book? James Morrow's The Last Witchfinder.

George Orwell

Two quotes from Down and Out in Paris and London, which I read over the weekend:

Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised?—for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable. In all the modern talk about energy, efficiency, social service and the rest of it, what meaning is there except "Get money, get it legally, and get a lot of it"? Money has become the grand test of virtue. By this test beggars fail, and for this they are despised. If one could earn even ten pounds a week at begging, it would become a respectable profession immediately. A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a business man, getting his living, like other business men, in the way that comes to hand. He has not, more than most modern people, sold his honour; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.

and

Fear of the mob is a superstitious fear. It is based on the idea that there is some mysterious, fundamental difference between rich and poor, as though they were two different races, like negroes and white men. But in reality there is no such difference. The mass of the rich and the poor are differentiated by their incomes and nothing else, and the average millionaire is only the average dishwasher dressed in a new suit. Change places, and handy dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief? Everyone who has mixed on equal terms with the poor knows this quite well. But the trouble is that intelligent, cultivated people, the very people who might be expected to have liberal opinions, never do mix with the poor. For what do the majority of educated people know about poverty? In my copy of Villon's poems the editor has actually thought it necessary to explain the line "ne pain ne voyent qu'aux fenestres" by a footnote; so remote is even hunger from the educated man's experience. From this ignorance a superstitious fear of the mob results quite naturally. The educated man pictures of horde of submen, wanting only a day's liberty to loot his house, burn his books, and set him to work minding a machine or sweeping out a lavatory. "Anything," he thinks, "any injustice, sooner than let that mob loose." He does not see that since there is no difference between the mass of rich and poor, there is no question of setting the mob loose. The mob is in fact loose now, and—in the shape of rich men—is using its power to set up enormous treadmills of boredom, such as "smart" hotels.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

That was the end. No special point had been made. Did they all say what they had to say? No, they didn't, and of course they did. Up and down the state that day, there'd been five hundred funerals like his, routine, ordinary, and except for the thirty wayward seconds furnished by the sons--and Howie's resurrecting with such painstaking precision the world as it innocently existed before the invention of death, life perpetual in their father-created Eden, a paradise just fifteen feet wide by forty feet deep disguised as an old-style jewelry store--no more or less interesting than any of the others. But then it's the commonness that's most wrenching, the registering once more of the fact of death that overwhelms everything.

--Philip Roth, Everyman

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Three books added to my library holds list this weekend after a quick look at Overbooked and the local Sunday paper:

The Adventures of Johnny Vermillion by Loren D. Estleman. Bank robbers by day, a Shakespearean acting company by night, the Johnny Vermillion gang sound like the type of Old West outlaws I'm partial to.

Winkie by Clifford Chase. A teddy bear goes on trial for being a terrorist. Sounds awful, but if it works it could be quite interesting.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Young man drops out of vet school after the sudden death of his parents and becomes part of a Depression-era touring circus. An Algonquin title, it already has a long wait list. Maybe the library will order more copies.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Spies of the apocalypse


Louis turned in to Pigeon's street and noticed a cat in a bakery window passively taking in the world. He smiled at it: the rescued dog had given him a feeling of communion with animals. Paris was full of cats, he realized, who held that aloofness of looking down from a height. But mostly they were asleep in wine- and cheese-shop windows. They were silent witnesses, spies of the apocalyse. Louis suspected that cats, like the souls of the dead, could not be photographed.

--Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre

Carnival of the Cats will be at Niobium on Sunday. In the meantime, check out all the animals boarding the Friday Ark.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Summer Reading Challenge


Amanda has set up a forum for the Summer Reading Challenge.

Not on hand for the summer reading photo-op at my house:
Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut (currently misplaced)
Triangle by Katharine Weber (not yet published)
and the books on my offical reading shelf.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Pack horse librarians (and mercury, too)

Now this is a job I would have enjoyed:

Established in 1935, the Pack Horse Library Project was aimed at providing reading materials to rural portions of Eastern Kentucky with no access to public library facilities. Librarians riding horses or mules traveled 50 to 80 miles a week up rocky creekbeds, along muddy footpaths, and among cliffs to deliver reading materials to the most remote residences and schools in the mountains. Some homes were so remote that the book women often had to go part of the way on foot, or even by row boat.

---Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (hat tip to John)

And how weird is it that while I'm reading a book about a man dying from mercury poisoning, my daughter is being trapped in a library possibly contaminated by mercury?
What can you do, thought Winston, against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy?

--George Orwell, 1984

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

There have been too many real life distractions for me to be a good book blogger lately, but I'm hoping to be back on track in a day or two with at least a brief reaction to all the books I've read this month. The problem with being this far behind is I resist catch-up efforts and wind up even further behind. Get thee behind me, Inertia!

At the moment I'm reading Dominic Smith's The Mercury Vision of Louis Daguerre. I'd been waiting for the university library to finish processing it for a couple of weeks now, but when I was in the public library on Friday picking up my hold on Abide with Me, there it was in New Fiction looking all lonely. I'm only five chapters in, due to Black Swan Green , which kept me engrossed over the weekend, and the need to catch up with S. in 1984, but I should be able to spend a lot of time in 19th-century Paris this evening.

A word to the wise: if you tell your daughter she can have the speakers to your computer to take to her new apartment, please make sure that she doesn't wait until the last minute to get them. We were home from the three vehicle plus U-haul trailer moving-in extravaganza before we realized R. had somehow managed to take the router cable along with the speakers. Fortunately L. was able to perform computer voodoo after I went to bed Sunday night to restore phone service and internet connection to one of the computers.

And belated public congratulations to R., who ended the semester with a 4.0. Her essay on "The Lady with the Toy Dog" was outstanding, too.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Best Fiction lists

Did the New York Times Best Fiction of the Last 25 Years list leave you underwhelmed/ disgruntled/ aggrieved/ in harmony with the universe? Beth of Book of the Day is taking nominations from book bloggers until the end of May for an alternative list.

Meanwhile at Readerville, the voting is complete.

"Readerville Survey: The best Work of American Fiction from 1980 to 2005

"The winner, with four votes: Gilead -- Marilynne Robinson (2004)

"Runners up, with three votes:
Housekeeping -- Marilynne Robinson (1980)
Love Medicine -- Louise Erdrich (1984)

"Runners up, with two votes:
Little, Big -- John Crowley (1981)
Blood Meridian -- Cormac McCarthy (1985)
Empire Falls -- Richard Russo (2001)
Beloved -- Toni Morrison (1987)
A Thousand Acres -- Jane Smiley (1991)
Mason & Dixon -- Thomas Pynchon (1997)

"Honorable mentions, one vote each, listed by year:

1980
The Transit of Venus -- Shirley Hazzard
1981
Sixty Stories -- Donald Barthelme
1982
The Color Purple -- Alice Walker
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant -- Anne Tyler
1983
Winter's Tale -- Mark Helprin
1984
Lincoln -- Gore Vidal
1985
Lonesome Dove -- Larry McMurtry
1986
Golden Days -- Carolyn See
The Prince of Tides -- Pat Conroy
1987
Rock Springs -- Richard Ford
Gone to Soldiers -- Marge Piercy
1988
Where I'm Calling From -- Raymond Carver
1990
L.A. Confidential -- James Ellroy
The Things They Carried -- Tim O'Brien
The Gold Coast -- Nelson Demille
1991
The Gold-Bug Variations -- Richard Powers
1992
All The Pretty Horses -- Cormac McCarthy
Lost in the City -- Edward P. Jones
1993
Einstein's Dreams -- Alan Lightman
Cryptonomicon -- Neal Stephenson
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven -- Sherman Alexie
1994
What I Lived For -- Joyce Carol Oates
1996
Martin Dressler -- Steven Millhauser
1997
American Pastoral -- Philip Roth
1998
The Hours -- Michael Cunningham
The Intuitionist -- Colson Whitehead
1999
Close Range -- Annie Proulx
2000
Gertrude and Claudius -- John Updike
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay -- Michael Chabon
Lying Awake -- Mark Salzman
The Last Samurai -- Helen DeWitt
2001
Bel Canto -- Ann Patchett
The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse -- Louise Erdrich
Demonology -- Rick Moody
The Evidence Against Her -- Robb Forman Dew
2002
Miniatures -- Norah Labiner
The Time of Our Singing -- Richard Powers
2003
The Kite Runner -- Khaled Hosseini
Sleep Toward Heaven -- Amanda Ward
The Known World -- Edward Jones
Pattern Recognition -- William Gibson"

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Summer Reading



Since I have completed a scant four titles off of my 21-item reading priorities list for the year I ought not be making an additional reading list for the summer. Because really, what use is it to plot out an entire summer's reading when I prove every single month that I can't stick to a reading plan to save my life?

But it's a tradition I have, although not a sensible one, and many others are doing it this year as well.

Why not list 21 more books that I'd like to give some attention to this summer?

The House of Spirits. Isabel Allende
Emma. Jane Austen (reread)
Anything Goes. Madison Smartt Bell
The Penderwicks. Jeanne Birdsall
Marcovaldo. Italo Calvino
Water Wings. Kristen den Hartog
David Copperfield. Charles Dickens
A Sudden Country. Karen Fisher
Suttree. Cormac McCarthy (reread for Readerville)
The People's Act of Love. James Meek
The World I Made for Her. Thomas Moran
A Dead Language. Peter Rushforth
The Scapegoat. Mary Lee Settle
Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre. Dominic Smith
The Finishing School. Muriel Spark (Slave of Golconda)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Muriel Spark (reread for Slaves of Golconda)
Abide with Me. Elizabeth Strout
Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living. Carrie Tiffany
Galapagos. Kurt Vonnegut
Triangle. Katharine Weber
The Return of the Soldier. Rebecca West

Telescope

There is a moment after you move your eye away
when you forget where you are
because you've been living, it seems,
somewhere else, in the silence of the night sky.

You've stopped being here in the world.
You're in a different place,
a place where human life has no meaning.

You're not a creature in a body.
You exist as the stars exist,
participating in their stillness, their immensity.

Then you're in the world again.
At night, on a cold hill,
taking the telescope apart.

You realize afterward
not that the image is false
but the relation is false.

You see again how far away
each thing is from every other thing.

--Louise Gluck, Averno

Sunday, May 14, 2006

One of the problems with having your daughter move out of the dorm and into an apartment is that she'll decide that she has room for all the books you thought would be in your possession for a few more years and that it's imperative that she take them now because she actually has time to read before she starts her summer session in Prague.

She works in a library! She works in a library bigger than the one you work in!

You follow her around yesterday as she gap-tooths the shelves.

"Are you going to take that copy?" you ask her at one point.

"You bought it for me," she maintains.

Well, yeah, you don't say, but shouldn't she be more sentimentally attached to the mass market edition she read first instead of the nicer copy you got her for Christmas that year so that you and she and her best friend could attend the lecture series on The Brothers Karamazov that the Davidson professor gave at that church in south Charlotte? The way that she is with that mass market copy of The Catcher in the Rye that you've had since 1975 and that she dropped in the swimming pool instead of the nicer trade paper edition you found on the free books table in the library break room and that she's welcome to take?

You introduce her to Library Thing, which she of course thinks is way cool. You show her how you've already started tagging her books there. If she keeps her books there, she won't have to pay a lifetime membership fee, you suggest, not adding that if she keeps them there you can visit them.

"Don't you have an extra copy of Anagrams?" she asks. You go to find it, pleased she appreciates it, even though it means you'll be down to only a first edition hardback that you keep behind glass.

Good-bye Stanley Elkin, Kurt Vonnegut, Heinrich Boll. Good-bye Naipaul—no, wait. He's not on the shelf where he's supposed to be.

"You can borrow them any time you like," she says generously, boxing everyone up.

How about right now?

You don't say it.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Claudie listens to a story at nap time



When he got to heaven, it was a large field. There were a lot of little pink things running around that he thought at first were mice. Then he saw God sitting in a tree. Angels were flying here and there with their fluttering white wings; they were making sounds like doves. Every once in a while God would reach out with its large furry paw and snatch one of them out of the air and crunch it up. The ground under the tree was littered with bitten-off angel wings.

--Margaret Atwood, "Our Cat Enters Heaven"

The 112th Carnival of the Cats will be at Watermark Sunday evening

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Two more quotes from The Ox-Bow Incident:

Most men are afraid of being thought cowards than of anything else, and a lot more afraid of being thought physical cowards than moral ones. There are a lot of loud arguments to cover moral cowardice, but even an animal will know if you're scared. If rarity is worth, then moral courage is a lot higher quality than physical courage; but, excepting diamonds and hard cash, there aren't many who take to anything because of its rarity. Just the other way. Davies was resisting something that had immediacy and a strong animal grip, with something remote and mistrusted. He'd have to make his argument look common sense and hardy, or else humorous, and I wasn't sure he could do either. If he couldn't he was going to find that it was the small but present "we," not the big, misty 'we," that shaped men's deeds, no matter what shaped their explanations.

and

Having heard myself speak I realized that queerly, weak and bad-tempered as it was, there had been something in the kid's raving which had made the canyon seem to swell out and become immaterial until you could think the whole world, the univese, into the half-darkness around you: millions of souls swarming like fierce, tiny, pale stars, shinging hard, winking about cores of minute, mean feelings, thoughts and deeds. To me his idea appeared just the opposite of Davies'. To the kid, what everybody thought was low and wicked, and their hanging together was a mere disguise of their evil. To Davies, what everybody thought became, because everybody thought it, just and fine, and to act up to what they thought was to elevate oneself. And yet both of them gave you that feeling of thinking outside yourself, in a big place; the kid gave me that feeling even more, if anything, though he was disgusting. You could feel what he meant; you could only think what Davies meant.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Ox-Bow Incident

For those of you who read The Virginian, remember how the judge brought Molly around to accepting that mob-hanging a rustler was perfectly justifiable? His stance was that "far from being a defiance of the law, it is an assertion of it—the fundamental assertion of self-governing men, upon whom our whole social fabric is based."

I wonder how Judge Henry would have fared in a debate with Walter Van Tilburg Clark's Arthur Davies, who believes otherwise:

And he went on to prove how the greater "we," as he called it, could absorb a few unpunished criminals, but not unpunished extra-legal justic. He took examples out of history. He proved that it was equally true if the disregard was by a ruler or by a people. "It spreads like a disease," he said. "And it's infinitely more deadly when the law is disregarded by men pretending to act for justice than when it's simply inefficient, or even than when its elected administrators are crooked."

"But what if it don't work at all," Gil said; and Winder grinned.

"Then we have to make it work."

"God," Winder said patiently, "that's what we're tryin' to do." And when Davies repeated they would be if they formed a posse and brought the men in for trial, he said, "Yeah; and then if your law lets them go?"

"They probably ought to be let go. At least there'll be a bigger chance that they ought to be let go than that a lynch gang can decide whether they ought to hang;" Then he said a lynch gang always acts in a panic, and has to get angry enough to overcome its panic before it can kill, so it doesn't ever really judge, but just acts on what it's already decided to do, each man afraid to disagree with the rest. He tried to prove to us that lynchers kenw they were wrong; that their secrecy proved it, and their sense of guilt afterward."

Davies goes on to say (as if in response to Judge Henry, who believes ordinary citizens, who made the courts and laws, can take the law back into their own hands when dealing with a cattle-rustler) that "time, precedent, and the consent of the majority" are what enable an ordinary citizen, no better than one in a lynch gang, not to commit a "sin against society" while serving on a jury.

Did the Virginian head up a lynch party? Did he have the consent of the majority behind his actions? Can a jury, to use Judge Henry's parlance, be "a withered hand?"

I love it when books argue! I'm not even half-way through the second chapter ofThe Ox-Bow Incident, but I'm very happy I stumbled upon it last night--and upon this Guardian article, "A Bullet in the Back," that traces the evolution--and demise--of western film.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Hard work

It's harder than you realize, being American," he told her. "Don't suppose we aren't aware how we appear to the rest of the world. Times I used to travel abroad, I'd see those tour groups of my countrymen and flinch, even though I knew I looked pretty much the same. That's the hell of it: we're all lumped in together. We're all on this same big ship, so to speak, and wherever the ship goes I have to go, even if it's behaving like some. . . grade-school bully. It's not as if I can just jump overboard, you know!"

"Whereas we Iranians, on the other hand," Maryam said wryly, "are invariably perceived as our unique and separate selves."

--Anne Tyler, Digging to America

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The 111th Carnival of the Cats

Welcome to the 111th Carnival of the Cats. Claudius, Ellie, and Nicholson wish all cats a pleasant week with their photo-crazy humans and extend special birthday greetings to Kamir at So Many Books, who celebrated his sweet 16th on Friday, Rhett at No Deep Thoughts, who celebrated his second on the same day, and to Jack, at Book Puddle, who turned six last Monday.

The Robot Vegetable happens upon Houdini "enthroned in the about-to-be mown."

Henry proves he has the chops to be the ultimate power in the hemisphere, reports Blueberry.

Boo displays catitude; Debra documents the occurrence.

Shhh! Sasha's napping and Kimberly's snapping.

From Flightless in Cape Town comes this photo of Truly Scrumptious.

Sebastian and Yaffa send dirty looks from Furry Paws: don't take our picture when we're being super cute!

SRP captures Nicky keeping an eye on the world.

Look, Claudie! Another Russian blue! Barnikle is having a Furry Sunday with Nik and Barney.

Joybell chases a mouse; Adam shares the video.

Tinker takes a nap on the mantle underneath Michael's Otsuka painting.

Dream Dancer adopts Brigit from an animal shelter. Hope you enjoy your new home, Brigit!

Patricia, the Mad Goat Lady, presents Miss Electra, clawing her way to the top now that she's been rescued from the pound.

Gratuitous Siofra pictures, according to Julie, but how can anyone resist either taking them or viewing them?

"While the rest of the family was rushing about preparing for the weekend," David says, "Sherman snuck quietly back into bed. I discovered him several hours later and took a few shots for my Friday cat-blogging subject."

Kimberly captures Riley and Blossom in various spots through their home.

Pixel gets all cute and snuggly with a patchwork quilt and then does her duty as a foot warmer. Smudge gets a belly rub. Thanks for sharing, Romeocat.

Jack provides a photo "in which Judge (the big black one) and Boo (the tiny white one) work out the intricacies of why burying a cat is a great idea and a whole lot of fun (or not)."

Kiri discovers packing tape! Clare Eats snaps the shot!

Beezer is bribed by LHK.

Mr. Gato doesn't mind if he travels as excess baggage if it means he gets to go to California with Barry.

Martin showcases Morris' new hobby, gardening.

Judith discovers that Velvet has a penchant for jewelry.


Anjill presents the new guy kitten picture, plus many more.

Marissa-Cat encounters a shrew; Ayden hopes it recovers.

Mycah prefers the polo box to the polo shirt Russ thoughtfully provided for her.

Sophia types a message to her special person, Sue tells us.

Even a kitten as adorable as Wicket qualifies as a terrorist if he uses you as a human scratching post, Carry reports.

ACM catches Yogi baking herself senseless in the sun.

Kamikazee is shocked that Jelly thinks he ought to go on a diet.

Ellison swears there's a RFOAC buried somewhere in this post. . . See also, the International Kitty of Mystery.

Daniel spots a visitor on his deck.

Kat encounters a stray.

Chocolate Chip begs for cheese, Peaches reports.

JT disturbs Pearl's nap for a extended photo shoot. No wonder she's grumpy!

Blame it on "les chats sauvages." Aloysius does. And remember, a tuna is a tuna no matter what language you speak in.

Mog shares Kitties Meet Birds; Pure Comfort; Little Pest; Heating Up; and Kitty Movie Monday.

Leigh provides a gorgeous close-up of Anastasia.


Beautiful beasties go a-gardening with leucanthemum b.

Tommy's diet Coke is claimed by a kitty who knows that licking something makes it yours.

Don't know what tri-noodled means? Zuleme explains this very important cat-blogging word with a lap-full of assistance.

Rahel's Missy discovers the truth behind slightly reworked proverbs.

Butterscotch exhibits 60 seconds worth of patience; Mensa Barbie gets the shot.

Maruschka is totally hypnotized by the insect activity outside. Rosa tells us she goes bananas as all those potential "flying snacks" make her lustfully hunger...

Yikes! KeeWee startles her kitty.

Thalia watches a wrestling match between Jackie and Pedie, Jeff captures the events.

Julie says Smoke has been helping with the spring cleaning.

Huckleberry smolders with Tabby sensuality, Wes says, while Bagheera gives us a regal look.

Prayer meeting time and an Ivy update from John.

Tagg the Maine Coon and Tessa the Poodle, sharing secrets. From To the Hilt.

Musery loves company.

Cats Church and Snowball and hardwood floors, from Josh.

Masters of the lap dance, from Elizabeth.

Valerie reports that Tigger takes guarding the door very seriously.

Niobium captures Tom and takes him to the vet.

Mr. Toast gives an update on Lewis.

K T Cat's friend photographs Ramses, just back from a bird hunt.

R.I.P, Pash. Condolences, Judy.

SB at Watermark will be hosting next week's Carnival. We'll conclude this carnival with Boo and Spike demonstrating how cats socialize. Let us know in comments if we've messed up any links or libeled any cats!

Monday Morning Additions to the Carnival:

Laura Lee shares how Captain and Sabby snubbed her after she returned from a two-day trip.

C. Ann leash-trains Mojo.

Josh provides info on animal cruelty and provides a petition to China.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Her books usually take place in a closed world, a school or convent or a hostel. But Spark's novels always have a central figure who is in the grip of a delusion, and is in some way trying to play God, whether it be Brodie with her schoolgirls or the Abbess with her nuns. Not that the central character is usually the only person to be deluded: many, or even most of the ancillary characters are always in the grip of some degree of fantasy or misapprehension. Any one of her books could take as its epigraph TS Eliot's line, "humankind cannot bear too much reality" - though we should add the qualification that in Spark's world, it's by no means clear that humankind can bear any reality, ever.

--John Lanchester, "An Act of Faith"

Friday, May 05, 2006

Peace easy feeling


It's the calm before the storm. Claudie has no idea that we'll be attempting to herd cats here Sunday evening when we host the 111th rodeo, er, Carnival of the Cats. No need to brand or rope your little mavericks, just send your entries here.

And remember to check out all the cute little varmints at the Friday Ark.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Wide Open Spaces

Sylvia has selected Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as the next Slaves of Golconda group read. We'll be convening to discuss the book in the MetauxCafe forums "at sundown" on June 30 and we'll also be posting on our blogs about other Muriel Spark works that same day. Sylvia's keeping track of who's reading what on her sidebar, so stop by to let her know which one you want to read. Everyone is welcome to participate. I'll be reading The Finishing School, which appears to be about the study of creative writing in Switzerland.

But before everyone bids adios to Wister and the western genre, I wanted to provide a list of fiction with a western setting that I've enjoyed over the years. Anyone whose appetite for wide open spaces has been whetted by exposure to Wister is likely to find something of interest here:

Rick Bass—The Diezmo
Doris Betts—The Sharp Teeth of Love
James Carlos Blake—Wildwood Boys
Willa Cather—O Pioneers!
Pete Dexter—Deadwood
E.L. Doctorow—Welcome to Hard Times
David Anthony Durham—Gabriel's Story
Marilyn Durham—The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing
Clyde Edgerton—Redeye
Leif Enger—Peace Like a River
Louise Erdrich—Tracks; Love Medicine
Brian Hall—I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company
Ron Hansen—Desperadoes; The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Kent Haruf—Plainsong; The Tie That Binds
Cecelia Holland—Railroad Schemes
Cormac McCarthy—All the Pretty Horses
Larry McMurtry—Lonesome Dove; Horseman Pass By; Leaving Cheyenne; Moving On
Tom McNeal—Goodnight, Nebraska
Bruce Olds—Bucking the Tiger
Charles Portis—True Grit
Anne Proux—Close Range
Russell Rowland—In Open Spaces
Jane Smiley—The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton
Diane Smith—Pictures from an Expedition
Claude and Michele Stanush—All Honest Men
John Steinbeck—The Red Pony
Guy Vanderhaeghe—The Last Crossing; The Englishman's Boy
Larry Watson—Montana 1948
Richard S. Wheeler—Second Lives
Sorry for the scarcity of posts this week, ye loyal readers. In addition to it being a migraine week, I've had a crick in my back and neck and not a lot of sleep. Maybe I'll manage a major catch-up post or two this weekend.

Three point six percent of the registered voters in Charlotte could be bothered to vote Tuesday, a record low. We had about 85 show up at our precinct. It was such a slow day that even the workers who bring a book but never open them actually made some progress. There was a Ruth Rendell, a Nicholas Sparks, a Reader's Digest Condensed Book, a Harlequin, and a book by the guy who shouts on Mad Money.

I read Stewart O'Nan's The Good Wife, then skipped about in the Smiley.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

I like the uneven way novels control one's awareness. For a moment or two there is nothing but the action of the setting of the story. In the next moment, the words themselves stand out, some felicity of phrasing bouncing off the pages as words, as a sentence, simultaneously obscuring and revealing the action and characters, and then in the next moment the novel subsides into a book, not quite compelling enough to stand out against the chocolate beside the bed or a dog's bark outside the room. I like the languor of laying the book down, glancing around the room, and picking the book up, the quiet sounds of one's hands against the paper, of one's own breath and the rustling of one's clothes. And then the characters emerge again.

--Jane Smiley, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel