I am still hyperventilating over a letter [an email] I received from Emma Donoghue. ← This is Emma. She is one of my favorite contemporary authors. Her work is exquisite, and [in my opinion] not read by nearly enough readers out there. If you yourself have not read her, then that alone proves my point. You are one Emma-less person too many! I have read three of her novels, and I am so glad that there is a lot more of her work, yet to read.
OK, so here is what happened. My reading partner and I [The Surfacing Reading Club. Very elite! Over 3 years old. Membership → A steady 2.]… we decided to write Emma Donoghue a letter, because truly, of the over 100 books we have read together, Emma’s books definitely stand out as like…. top ten stuff! So we wrote this letter, and when I say “we” I really mean that the better half of the Club wrote the thing, and that half is not me. She is a far better writer than I. But the tone and the gist of the letter might as well be the words of both of us. We sent the letter snail-mail. It was returned to us, undeliverable. Next step. Email. BINGO!
The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue. -- Rebecca Solnit –
I agree with Rebecca. For my own whimsical/mythical take on blueness, click here.
Well, I have had quite a weekend of not being around. Was not even near my computer at all, hence, no erudite and witty blogs to offer the world. [Dear Bookpuddle: Does this mean that you are assuming that at other times you are erudite and witty? You should really take a poll on that.....!] Hey! Try being nice, for a change! OK, so I have just gotten home, my cat is meowing his head off [at least someone loves me!] and I got to thinking... [Hey Mildred, get over here.... this should be good...] You know, so often people go on and on talking about their "Must-Read" List... books on the shelf, or on a pile, or on reserve at the library, waiting their turn to be read? But no one ever says very much about books they HAVE NO INTENTION OF READING. And so I thought it might be interesting to show you a few books I have absolutely no intention of ever reading, in my current lifetime.... First, this one. Now seriously, I love a good sandwich as much as the next guy.... but dancing ones, hmmm. I don't know. This one is #1 on my Must-NOT-Read list.
Next up is:Admittedly, it is a theory I have long held to be actually true, but.... other books I have read by this Fred Haley guy, they just weren't all that good. So this one is #2 on my list.
Then, there is, the infamous bestseller:
Sure. That's all I need. To learn how to cook food that is going to make me go BALD! Not likely that I want to see this thing under the Christmas tree this year!
So there you have it. What are some of your "Must-NOT-Reads"? And yes, I mean... besides Bookpuddle?
Whenever a writer puts out a thought, it can be disagreed with vigorously, vehemently, even violently. But it cannot be un-thought. That is the great, permanent gift a writer gives to the world. -- Salman Rushdie --
Today is the birthday of a truly great writer. He once said: I cannot walk through the suburbs in the solitude of the night without thinking that the night pleases us because it suppresses idle details, just as our memory does. -- Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) –
No virus issues. NONE! The iTunes program has revolutionized how I listen to music.
The friend who sold me this thing went and bought the new MacPro laptop, and he loves it. What can one say? No wonder some people get their heads shaved, leaving only the Apple logo visible!
It’s my next scheduled act of Mac-devotion…..
BECOME A BELIEVER! Wanna watch an amazing speech by Mr. Apple? [Steve Jobs] When you get there click on "Watch the keynote address.” Oh yes, and one more thingy…. to SEE it real good, you’ll have to running a Mac!
Every man who amounts to a damn has several fathers, and the man who begat him in lust or drink or for a bet or even in the sweetness of honest love may not be the most important father. The fathers you choose for yourself are the significant ones. -- The character Dunstan Ramsay, in Robertson Davies’, The Manticore –
I met her – my fiddle – in 1963. She is about 250 years old. She’s from Italy. She eats spaghetti. I am really nice to her. Because if I am not nice to her, she is not nice to me. It’s an attachment. She is never out of my sight.
Patricia @ BookLust, recently posted a great blog about how she made a wheelbarrow-type used-book-haul on her Muskoka vacation. One of the books she snagged was Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader.
Reading her blog made me recall my own reading of the book. I am a slow, methodical reader. [No kidding! We’ve noticed! Your “Currently Reading” book images stay on your bookpuddle sidebar for like…. months at a time! When do you ever change it? Only on years when Halley’s Comet goes by?] Hey!Be NICE! But seriously, it's painfully true. I read slow. For me to sit down and consume an entire novel in "one go" is something that is quite rare, but that is exactly what happened when I read The Reader. It is a testament to the writer's ability to keep me entranced and involved with the story that once I started, I could not stop. The Reader is a first person narration of the life, from fifteen years onward, of one Michael Berg, in post-war Germany. As a fifteen year old he meets the vivacious 36-year old Frau Schmitz (Hanna), and he will never be the same. Everything about her affects him for a lifetime, in ways that he could never have imagined. In short pithy chapters and an economic style that never bogs down, Schlink separates the major phases of Michael's involvement with Hanna into three Parts. Part 1 is where we learn of Michael's sexual initiation and subsequent emotional attachment to Hanna. Serious page-flipping stuff! In Part 2 we are drawn into a courtroom situation (Michael is a law student) in which he is as shocked as the reader (us) to learn of the horrific nature of Hanna's secrets. Part 3 outlines the way in which Michael attempts to bury the past, as best he can. But it is not possible. It is not possible. Michael's past is exhumed. There were moments in this section that I found gut-wrenchingly sad, yet, presented in a beautiful way. (How does one say it?) It is brutal. Brutal sad and shockingly so. I will not go into WHY the book is called The Reader. That would be saying too much, I think. I enjoyed this book. You will sink into it quickly. But not as though into quicksand. You will walk away from it, perhaps with a heavy heart (that is one thing I should say. There is nothing humorous about this book)... your heart may be heavy afterwards, but only because it will carry the weight of knowing that there are beautiful things to be felt towards those who have done even the most atrocious things imaginable. Love is love.
You can have a good book that isn’t “successful” and doesn’t make a lot of money, you can have a bad book that isn’t successful and doesn’t make any money, you can have a good book that is successful and makes a lot of money, and you can have a bad book that is successful and makes a lot of money. There is no correlation between literary goodness and success and money. All you can do as a writer is try and respect the page. Try and respect the reader. Try and respect who is going to pick up that page. That page is all you have, that is your sole means of communication, so try and make that page as good as you can make it for where it is in the book. That’s all you can do. -- Margaret Atwood –
So here I am today, right now even, settling into my third or fourth hour of a Starbucks stint. Sitting at a corner table. This guy [mid-30’s?] came in and ordered a coffee and a slab of rice-krispie cake. The coffee is for him, and the cake, for his little two-and-a-half-foot tall son. Cute as ten buttons → [The kid, not the tall guy]. They both then sat down on these two poofy-nice velvetty sofa-type chairs, just a few feet away from me. I kept on reading my book. [I am not quite as voyeuristic as this blog is sounding… but yes, I do tend to notice things around me]. The guy sets his coffee down on the little table between the chairs and takes the rice-krispie cake out of its little brown paper envelope. Hands it to his child. For some unfathomable reason… the youngster waves the sticky piece of cake in the air and it flies right out of his little hand and skips along the floor. He chases it and picks it up about eight feet away and quickly examines it to determine its present state of edibility. Dad is saying, “Daniel, do not eat that. Do not touch…. bring it back to Daddy.” The boy toddles over, holding this hairy, dusty piece of cake up to his dad. There is severe disappointment on his face as he gives up his treat.
“Sit down, son.” The boy hoists himself back into the chair. Dad stands up and is rooting around in his pocket for change, turns to go up to order another piece of cake.
But the entire time, from my vantage point, I could see that from the very moment the cake took flight the Starbucks barista-girl had gone into immediate disaster-recovery mode. Without hesitation, she had reached into the glass case and removed another piece of cake. And now, as the man turned, there she was, bending down, and handing the envelope to the boy.
“Here you go,” she says. He takes the crinkly package and looks inside. “What do you say, Daniel?” “Thank you,” he says, reaching in to the cake. Dad also says “Thank you,” and moves toward the counter to pay for the cake but the girl stops him. “No, no. No problem at all,” she assures him.
Just a little scene, I know. Nothing that is necessarily going to change the entire world or anything. But still, I may draw upon it tonight. May want to recall it, as I sit and watch the evening news.
I think that these are some excellent words about success. About maintaining a healthy perspective on achievement. Think of it. → Marvin Hamlisch has won three Oscars, four Grammys, three Emmys, a Tony, three Golden Globes and a Pulitzer for songs such as “The Way We Were” and the Broadway musical The GoodbyeGirl. And he says: “If you came to my apartment, you would not see the Oscar. The truth is, it’s really not about that. It’s really about wanting to do what you can do as well as you can do it for as long as you can do it… Yeah, the penny dropped when I got my three Oscars, but you know how long the penny drops for? You have a great evening, you’ve got all these people around you, you come home and you’ve got these three Oscars – which, by the way, you have to give back so they can put your name on them, which, by the way, you have to pay for – and then the next day, it’s basically business as usual, you get the twenty calls of congratulation and on you go.” -- Marvin Hamlisch –
There are two kinds of cigar smokers – patrician fellows, who look as though they had been born to smoke the finest Havana, and people like myself, who look like cannibals gnawing a finger from their latest victim. If one does not belong to the very small first class, one should smoke cigars in private; nothing makes a man look so degraded as a drool-soaked, tattered, burning stump of tobacco stuck in one corner of his mouth. -- Robertson Davies, in Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack –
Ann-Marie MacDonald, speaking of her novel, Fall On Your Knees: I spent five years on this book, and when I write something it’s like my child and, of course, I love it. And I want it to be a precious gift that I will give to the reader. I want the reader to feel like nobody wrote it, that it’s their own. Because that’s how I feel about my favorite books. I have an intimate relationship with them. And God knows, I don’t want to meet the author, so why anybody wants to meet the author is beyond me. It’s going to wreck it. -- Ann-Marie MacDonald –
When I left the Mall I set out on the freeway, and while still on the on-ramp I noticed a small lump on the road, and drove over it. Sort of like, “tha-whump-a.” [paraphrasing]. Totally committed to the freeway now… I thought about that glimpse of the lump, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a wallet. A black wallet. “Yep. That’s exactly what a wallet would sound like, if I drove over it.”
I took the next exit. Then backtracked around about ten blocks, through the Mall parking lot again, and this time, as I approached the freeway again, I pulled over, got out, and retrieved what was, in fact, a man’s wallet. Full of credit cards, driver’s license, medical card, calling card, all kinds of junk. [No cash. Rats!] So when I got home I called the number on the calling card. No answer. Looked in the phone book. This guy has a second phone number, same middle initial, in fact same address as the residence one. But here he is listed as a lawyer, in bolder print. Hmmm… I call the man’s law office and left a message…. “Umm, I just ran over your wallet on the freeway and it looks like at least 900 other people ran over it before I did, but my phone number is……”
About an hour later I get a call, and the guy wants to come over and pick up his wallet. No probs. Give him directions to my place. Soon he rings me up, and I take the elevator down to meet the man and his wife. He doesn’t even shake my hand. Grabs the wallet from me. His hands are shaking as he rifles through the thing. Then he looks at me and says, “There is a credit card missing.” Oooooh. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good thing to do,” I am now thinking to myself. Good Samaritan, Good SHMARMARITAN! All I want now is to get back up to my apartment.
What does this guy think? I stole his ONE credit card and then figured I’d call him up to return the rest of them? I say to the guy…. “Sir, I assure you. That is exactly as I found it. I touched nothing inside there except to find out your name and phone number.” He said something like, “No, of course. Of course. OK.” Then added a mild “Thanks” and that was about it. He hopped in his shiny red SUV and barrelled away. I still do not know if his wallet was stolen or if it landed on the highway earlier, as his wife tried to maybe throw HIM out of the car! It was strange. If that was me…. if someone had returned all of those hard-to-replace items to me, voluntarily taken the time to rescue the wallet and all, I would have been much more effusive in my gratitude. But what can I say? I’m a real creamsicle of a guy. And some other people… more like yellow ice-cubes on a stick. Yellow. If you know what I mean…
I noticed a real similarity in one aspect of a couple novels I recently read. → Opening lines. First, there is this opening line in Zadie Smith’s novel On Beauty:
One may as well begin with Jerome’s emails to his father.
Smith has been rather severely criticised for her mimicry of other authors, case in point being Harper’s editor Wyatt Mason [I think, harshly] slamming her style as being “the literary equivalent of karaoke”. [I wrote of this in a previous blog]. Sure enough, E.M. Forster’s classic work, Howard’s End does open with an ominously similar line:
One may as well begin with Helen’s letters to his sister.
Thing is, Zadie Smith has made no secret that her latest work is heavily influenced by Forster, and she even calls it an “homage to Howard’s End.” But I disagree with Mason’s cutting remark. For one thing, as an accomplished karaoke singer myself, I know that there is a lot more to any song than the opening line. And really, arguing that On Beauty is LIKE Howard’s End is sort of like saying that umm… “Laura Ingalls Wilder writes a lot like…. William Peter Blatty!” Please! Some critics need an exorcism or two!
On Beauty is a great novel. It’s gutsy. It’s hip. Real hip. [Do people still say “hip”? Like… to mean groovy?]
I regret to say that I have been too lazy [there is no other excuse, really] to write appropriate reviews of my most recent reads. Honestly. Lazier than ten snakes, I am. So, here is a wickedly brutal synopsis of the last little while…
On Beauty by Zadie Forster → Superb. Funny. Witty. Sharp. Sexy. A must-read. So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell → Good. Not remarkably good, though. Memoirish, stylewise. A bit confusing at times. Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho → Not all that great, really. I cannot recommend it, and yet be honest with my inner bookpuddle. Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro → Pretty much goes without saying that I am going to love it and suggest that all living humans read it. Maybe even dead ones! The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl → I preferred his first one, The Dante Club, over this one, but still, a really great read. Well done. For lovers of Edgar, essential. My Life As A Fake by Peter Carey → Superb, and my favorite of all the books listed here. I literally could not put the thing down.
OK, so now [currently] I am reading what is shaping up to be a great story. Pearl, by Mary Gordon. It is real good, real interesting. Powerful strong narration. And back to my opening topic… check out this opening line, of Pearl:
We may as well begin with the ride home.
I kid you not! I’ve gotta go now and write an article about how Mary Gordon is… as the French might say it…. “tres Forsterian”!
And, in summary, if you want to go and read a great, worthwhile book, “one may as well begin with On Beauty!”
Well, today's blog has absolutely nothing to do with a "book" but it almost did involve a "puddle"... I laughed so much at these two crazy girls, shown here. I just happened to stumble across one of these lip-synching videoclips that seem to be all the rage nowadays. At first, as it began to play I thought,"What the hell?" but then as it kept going, getting into some of the more visceral lyrics, it really cracked me up. I have not seen such great acting since.... since Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. So, grab the Kleenex! Or even a knife! Sit back, and take a few moments for a real tearjerker of a tune.
What would dear old Eric Carmen say, if he could see his song so brutally exaggerated and abused?
“I must confess that I am not afraid of the word ‘tension.’ I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”
Hi y’all. I have been busy being depressed about my holidays ending. Gotta face the fact that it’s over. It’s over. Back to reality here, I am thinking of doing a sort of a series of bloggatry on books that have greatly influenced my taste in great literature. One of the first authors that comes to mind is Alexander Solzhenitsyn. His novel, Cancer Ward, published [in English] in 1969. I have written previously, of his novel The First Circle, and also, on Solzhenitsyn in general, but tonight, a few words about Cancer Ward…
"All I want is... to sleep on a camp-bed under the stars... to live just this one summer..." That is the simple sentiment of the patients of the Cancer Ward... expressed by one, but felt by all. Through a study of the diverse lives of the characters here assembled, Solzhenitsyn probes with searing exactitude the process of living with cancer, and more specifically, the treatment of cancer in Stalinist Russia. He had reason to be acquainted with firsthand knowledge of the topic. In 1954, the 35 year old Solzhenitsyn was himself diagnosed with a rare form of cancer known as seminoma, and was admitted for radiation treatment. The importance of Cancer Ward lies in its ability for us as readers to consider that aspect of life which we all have in common... our mortality. Here we see all the possibilities of response: initial denial, hope, fear, loss of freedom, reluctance to accept treatment, despair, eventual resignation... we laugh and we cry with those who laugh and cry. These are REAL fictional people. In fact, the character of Oleg Kostoglotov is very similar to that of Solzhenitsyn himself. Kostoglotov is the optimistic realist, and one of the few who ever leave the cancer ward on their own two legs. The biographer D.M. Thomas has noted that Solzhenitsyn seemed to have defeated his cancer by his own "iron determination to live", as does Kostoglotov. Often in the novel, K is pitted against Rusinov, a high-ranking government official who has the most prolonged struggle with accepting his own diagnosis. One significant verbal exchange between the two is as follows:
Rusinov: "We musn't talk about death! We mustn't even remind anyone of it." Kostoglotov: "If we can't talk about death here, where on earth can we?"
On September 22, 1967 a session of the Union of Soviet Writers was convened to discuss the degree of censorship to which Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward should be subjected... some came to revile and berate him, others were there to offer a sort of restrained praise. At that meeting, the author stated: "...I absolutely do not understand why Cancer Ward is being accused of being antihumanitarian. Quite the reverse is true: life conquers death, the past is conquered by the future... In general, the task of the writer cannot be reduced to defence or criticism of one or another form of government. The tasks of the writer are connected with more general and durable questions, such as the secrets of the human heart and conscience..."
After Solzhenitsyn had left to catch his train, it is reported that one of the committee members (Surkov) said: "Well, now we can relax over a few vodkas. I'll tell you what I really think. It may be that when the Soviet empire has gone the way of the Third Reich, Cancer Ward will come to stand even higher than First Circle among his novels. The latter is perhaps just a bit too enclosed, so to speak, within our political system, whereas the former, by dealing with something universal in human experience - cancer, pain, the certainty of dying - will never lose any of its relevance."
I could not agree more wholeheartedly.
Cancer Ward. Definitely re-readable. Indispensable, in the canon of who I am.
Essayist Sven Birkerts, writes: The past feels slow and stodgy to us because that's how people lived before they knew what we know. The condescension implicit in our bemusement - bemusement whipped to a fine froth on every television set in the land - is a terrible betrayal of origins.I am often struck by the following paradox: We celebrate these enormous strides of progress, but it is not as though we had ever begun to exhaust the possibilities of the earlier technology. Content and depth and understanding, remain largely imprisoned in our pages of print. We never really ever set them free. We are not really adequate to our radically improved technologies.
In reference to this passage, an Illinois High School English teacher writes [to me]: "I deal with students all the time who carry on their intellectual business seated in front of high-powered computers, but who cannot make their way with any confidence through a relatively straightforward paragraph of literary prose."
What we, or at any rate what I, refer to confidently as memory – meaning a moment, a scene, a fact that has been subjected to a fixative and thereby rescued from oblivion – is really a form of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling. Too may conflicting emotional interests are involved for life ever to be wholly acceptable, and possibly it is the work of the storyteller to rearrange things so that they conform to this end. In any case, in talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw. -- William Maxwell –
All I know for certain is that reading is of the most intense importance to me; if I were not able to read, to revisit old favorites and experiment with names new to me, I would be starved - probably too starved to go on writing myself. -- Penelope Lively --
Well, it sure has been a glorious week of frivolity, here on Vancouver Island. [<-- I know, I know. I should look into the Jenny Craig program, right?] But soon it will all be over. I've only got two more days left of it, and then it will be back to the drudgery of actual work. Alarm clocks. Eegads! I shudder at the reality of it all.
We've been having such a great time boating, wakeboarding, tubing, floating, snorkeling, eating, drinking, staying up late, sleeping in late... stuff like that. Just a couple of days ago we spent an afternoon zipping about along Gabriola Island, looking at the bald eagles and the cormorants, breathing tons of fresh air. Taking it all in. Basking in sunshine. Making waves. Then, when going through an inlet known as Dodds Narrows, we happened upon these two seals that you see here. A mother and a pup. [Could be a father I guess, it is hard to tell, huh?] Aren't they cute? As soon as I saw them I knew that I had to share them with you. We floated right up to them and they were not concerned in the least. Maybe they thought we were cute?
I love hummingbirds. Yesterday a friend emailed and told me that hundreds of migrating hummingbirds flew into the plate glass windows of the John Deere World Headquarters Building in Moline, Illinois. And died. So, in honor of these wonderful creatures, I splash out the following poem… Humming-Bird by D.H. Lawrence
I can imagine, in some otherworld Primeval-dumb, far back In that most awful stillness, that only gasped and hummed, Humming-birds raced down the avenues.
Before anything had a soul, While life was a heave of matter, half inanimate, This little bit chipped off in brilliance And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.
I believe there were no flowers then, In the world where the humming-bird flashed ahead of creation. I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak.
Probably he was big As mosses, and little lizards, they say, were once big. Probably he was a jabbing, terrifying monster.
We look at him through the wrong end of the telescope of Time, Luckily for us.
About a year ago I attended a reading given by one of my favorite authors, Jane Urquhart. At the end of the evening Jane fielded questions from the audience, and when asked about her own favorite authors, she named William Maxwell first. I took note, for I had never even heard of Maxwell prior to this. Revering Urquhart's opinion as I do, I put a few Maxwell items on my wishlist. My good friend and reading partner was already aquainted with Maxwell's work, and sent me a couple books, one of which I intend to begin soon. Last night she emailed me, saying how she had been reading a collection of his short stories, entitled, All The Days And Nights. In the preface, Maxwell tells how he was going to go to sea because he thought, if you were going to write, you needed "something to write about." He had abandoned his quest to become an English professor and, thinking it was necessary to have some kind of adventure in order to become a writer, set out to garner experiences before settling down to write. Turns out that the position he thought he could get on the ship was not open and so he gave it up. And henceforth, concluded:
"I had no idea that three-quarters of the material I would need for the rest of my writing life was already at my disposal. My father and mother. My brothers. The cast of larger-than-life-size characters -- affectionate aunts, friends of the family, neighbors white and black - that I was presented with when I came into the world. The look of things. The weather. Men and women long at rest in the cemetery but vividly remembered. The Natural History of home: the suede glove on the front-hall table, the unfinished game of solitaire, the oriole's nest suspended from the outermost tip of the outermost branch of the elm tree, dandelions in the grass. All there, waiting for me to learn my trade and recognize instinctively what would make a story or sustain the complicated cross-weaving of longer fiction." -- William Maxwell (1908-2000) --
I thought that this was a fabulous way of saying that all of our lives contain the stuff of novels. The stuff of story. I think he is right.