Tags: books

new year

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

Couple blogs I've read lately remark on the realization of the limits of so many books, so little time. Maybe you're not a worm's-eye-view person; but at our house, it was no great shock for me to follow an online link to a table of Average Life Expectancies, canoodle over that a bit, and realize by a bit of simple mathematics that I am only going to have time to read about another three thousand books. More or less. I mean, sure, I could live another ten years beyond the average, what with clean living and long-life genes -- maybe four thousand.

Maybe that sounds like a lot of books to you. I grew up in a household that contained four times that many books, most of which I hadn't read. I regret already not having kept a Life List more carefully from an early age -- only the last 25 years or so. I suspect the greater part of what I have yet to read will be the less stylish or demanding kind of work that I can gulp down in a day, in a condition of total immersion, which is what I have been wanting from my book reading lately. Nonfiction and poetry, not so much.

This is only one narrow aspect of the thoughts such a countdown inspires. (Yes, I even found a countdown timer to run on my desktop, and if I was at home I'd get all linky on ya.) But I'm at the library, with another four genre books checked out, so I thought I'd mention it.
new year

My Own Fifty-book Challenge

I sort of missed the boat when these started, so if anyone could point me at an explanation of where the format came from, I thank you kindly. I haven't been writing much about my reading lately. Seems like too much work, and it's not required, for a grade you know. But I firmly believe reading should be its own reward. I had stopped reading entirely by the time I got out of college, but recovered in only a few years.

Book pruning is terribly overdue here. I had some progress last year, with actually reading a pile of newer acquisitions, and gave some kick-ass small press stuff to the library (and then had the pleasure of actually seeing some of them on the shelves). As I have perhaps explained before, the only method I ever learned of sorting my books involved moving across country, sorting them into boxes to keep and boxes to be disposed of before moving. So living in the same house for twenty-hum years, it's gotten a bit out of hand.

Today I have in fact counted the unread books. Oh dear I think I forgot the poetry and plays bookcase, but lots of those are references and need not be read cover to cover. Oh dear I forgot the cookbook shelves... Nonetheless, the totals are sad enough. I have 196 books THAT I HAVE NOT YET READ here in the living room. (That doesn't count the dozen library books. The library has given me some very helpful training in deciding when to let go.) Then I went downstairs, and found another 256. Give or take. Considering the reference problem, and the art book Just Look At The Pictures problem, books I have purchased and looked at and not actually read.

A reasonable goal would be to dispose of fifty of these books, one way or another. Read them, decide not to read them, give them away, or read and keep for whatever reason. That's only ten percent of the available unread stock (many of them have bookmarks in them already part way through). Worry about the rest another time. Over ten years, though, it is conceivable that in this way I could reduce this category to current acquisitions. I can start with the easy ones, right?
new year

Ur Doin It Rong

Today I was about to go for a walk -- I hadn't yet quite put my shoes on -- and then I opened Justine Larbalestier's new YA novel, Liar, which bibliofile had left conveniently on the coffeetable book pile. A hundred pages later I looked up and remarked to her that this was indeed a goood book.

Rather late in the afternoon I did get out for my walk. And then I came home, and have just finished reading it. Stunning. It went by so fast, I am not sure how the author did that, although I would desperately like to know so I could do it too. The sentences are generally shorter than mine, I am pretty sure that is one thing.

I don't know if this total re-thinking of the last few days, of everything I am doing, from point of view to beginning and endpoints to narrative purposes, is (strictly speaking) catwaxing and idleness, when there are words to be written, or entirely essential resistance: my subconscious digging in heels again to say, Ur Doin It Rong, All Rong.

In the afterward, the author recommends the writing software Scrivener, for those of us with non-linear type creative minds. This sounds like something I have heard favorable things about before. Unfortunately I find it is still not available for Windows computers, but only for Macs. Word processing alone was a great enough gift, when I think of the ribbons of typewritten pages I had to tape together in college in order to draft a three-page paper.
new year

(no subject)

I was having a little safely-non-spoilered discussion with the_magician about the fantasy FBI show Criminal Minds which is now in summer re-runs here, so I am catching things I missed. More likely forgot, my brain being what it is lately. Bones is also repeating and has conveniently shifted to Friday nights, and I suppose my credulity at the babe coroner was worn down by sheer repetition, since I like the babe forensic scientist although in Crossing Jordan the babeness caused the chief failure in my suspension of disbelief. NCIS is still my favorite, with the original Vegas CSI close behind, although I can't tolerate the other iterations of CSI. I'd really like to just watch CSI Miami now cause they're doing really interesting visual stuff with the pumped-up colors and weird abstract camera work, but every time David Caruso enters the set with his creepy flat delivery I want to reach for the vodka bottle. It occurs to me that in each of the shows that I particularly like it is the characters and the ensemble story-arc that appeals to me. I find I can easily just say no to the Law & Order channel, having absorbed everything thoroughly the first two times through and finding the politics of it annoying (much more liberally positioned than CSI Miami, but that's not saying much is it). When did television seasons start repeating themselves in the middle.

I've been reading Fiedler's Love and Death in the American Novel, so it quite naturally occurred to me how all this relates to the tropes of the nineteenth-century potboiler. These cop shows are clearly the bastard children of gothic romance novels, sprung from an unholy marriage with heartless Rationalism and raised secretly in underground laboratories by the embittered maiden aunts left at the altar of technology, with the constant purpose of outraging bourgeois mores. The teevee shows get it both ways: they get to show eeyew sorts of nasty stuff and shocking crimes, and then take a proper outraged attitude and punish the evildoers (or not, times being what they are).

Exactly the same as Mrs Radcliffe's works, and The Monk, in the 1790's. It is not enough that his protagonist commit rape; he must commit it upon his mother or sister; and if he himself is a cleric, pledged to celibacy, his victim a nun, dedicated to God, all the better! Similarly, if he commits murder, it must be his father who is his victim; and the crime must take place in darkness, among the decaying bodies of his ancestors, on hallowed ground. It is as if such romancers were pursuing some ideal of absolute atrocity which they cannot quite flog their reluctant imaginations into conceiving. For the abominable, to be truly effective, must remain literally unspeakable... the gothic is an avant-garde genre, perhaps the first... one of whose functions was to shock the bourgeoisie into an awareness of what a chamber of horrors its own smugly regarded world really was. (p 134-5)

Everything is in summer re-runs, so I got a giant pile of videos and DVDs from the library. Last night We attempted to watch an Almodovar movie, but the subtitles wouldn't work. Instead we watched Wonder Boys, closely based on the Michael Chabon novel, about a feckless English professor of creative writing, which featured Michael Douglas, and Tobey McGuire as brilliant student, and many writing jokes. It's a subgenre, the novel about academia and the business of writing, which tends to insularity (writers writing about what they know about writing), but this one opens the window just a crack for fresh air.
new year

God bless you, Mr Vonnegut

Well, yes, my friends, so it goes. Many clicky things elsewhere will tell you all about Mr Vonnegut.

After the NewsHour story this evening on the unprecedented number of brain-injured vets coming back from Iraq, whose care, god willing, should cost us literally billions of dollars for years to come, it was practically cheery to hear the news of his passing. It reminded me of so many things. At the same time I was thinking about the copy I just ran across of Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, which we read back when, and will still tell you all about the point of view of a person inside one of those basket cases, although it was written about the WW1. The written word remains.

Then there were archived interviews with the man, and comparisons to Mark Twain. Clips from the movie of Slaughterhouse-Five. My mother taught the book in her freshman lit classes before the movie came out. I lived in a co-op house we named Tralfamadore (it has only one L), named after the planet where Vonnegut's protagonist Billy Pilgrim lives in the zoo, after he becomes unstuck in time, following the firebombing of Dresden, which was a real thing that Vonnegut lived through and wrote about. A chronosynclastic infundibulum, that's what he called it, the being unstuck that is.

And what was the naughty thing with the feet we used to do, from Cat's Cradle, the book that told us about Ice-Nine and how one tiny intrusion into the ocean's ecology could spread catastrophically to engulf all life in the consequences. And we thought nuclear chain reactions would be the worst!

I clearly remember reading Venus on the Half-Shell, at least I think that was the title, although I recall nothing of the story, and am not entirely certain whether he wrote it or whether it was written by his fictional author Kilgore Trout, or someone pretending to be fictional. Maybe the interweb can clear that up for me. At last, all is revealed!

One of the clever people being interviewed on the NewsHour called this "the third life of the writer" and I think I knew what he meant. There is the first life as it is lived, which is gone now, and there is the life as it makes it onto the page, messily and with imperfections, and then there is the reputation that survives. I think I must go back and read a bit of him just for style, although all I have on the shelves I think is his essays. If his language is plain enough to be assigned to high school English classes, and still carry all the weight it does, that is something to review.
new year

Nature notes

1. At the coffeeshop the baristas now apparently identify me with the Snowy Owl that I told them about, when I saw it in the alley behind the store. Told the whole story again for one of the new kids. I am a regular (twelve ounce medium roast to go), with a pink umbrella, a fuschia colored coat and snowy hair, and I am having some very Good Hair Days.

2. The beavers are hellbent on damming up Wingra Creek. Collapse )
new year

"skillfully stuffed memories"

As my lurkers point out in email, that last e.e. cummings pome is about sex. He made me start reading poetry in high school (buffalo bill's defunct) and stop using my old friends, Standard Punctuation and Capitalization. After doing without them entirely for a while, one learns quite a lot about their possible uses. When I was in college I found in the basement stacks of Memorial Library cummings' The Enormous Room about where he was a prisoner in France when he had been an ambulance driver in the WW1 (instead of staying in school so he could get a good job have lots of money and be able to buy all the nice things around him). By the time I started learning calligraphy, and practicing on my old favorites, I had other new e.e. cummings favorites. His lectures i; six nonlectures are also fun.

(Dammit something has to be done about these books, I have lost my Complete Collected. (Did I ever have the cummings complete doorstop, or was that just a fond fantasy? I recall craving it in college when I didn't have the twenty bucks.) (And the old lettering projects, sometimes they surface in the file they are supposed to be in, and sometimes not.) Fortunately here is a backup anthology to check the punctuation and spacing.)

it is so long since my heart has been with yours

shut by our mingling arms through
a darkness where new lights begin and
since your mind has walked into
my kiss as a stranger
into the streets and colours of a town--

that i have perhaps forgotten
how, always(from
these hurrying crudities
of blood and flesh)Love
coins His most gradual gesture,

and whittles life to eternity

--after which our separating selves become museums
filled with skilfully stuffed memories

e. e. cummings
new year

Losing traction

It is taking longer than I expected to recover energy and focus after the draining of March. Apparently I haven't scheduled enough time to allow for my merely mortal capacities. I'm reading, lying down, walking, and doing yoga, and that's about it. Go make dinner now. Didn't even manage that yesterday -- we had ribs from the soul food take-out place around the corner which were very good.

Yesterday? I finished Liz Williams' The Ghost Sister, her first novel, very impressive. I can think of a few other novels with this weird of an alien viewpoint, but not many. Parts of Sheri Tepper's Grass, and the groupmind dog-animals sections in Vernor Vinge's Fire Upon the Deep. There's a paper in there, something about deep-ecology themes.

Now I'm reading Mary Gentle's 1610 which is as we say here in the future like crack. Can't put it down. (There should be more sexy musketeer swashbuckling alternate history novels.) So this morning I skipped ahead and read the ending, so that I could have a hope of getting out of the house. This does not impair my enjoyment of the parts in between, only satisfies the suspense of first reading.
new year


Once again, this year I have managed to put off doing my taxes, despite my best intentions and resolutions to get it done earlier. I know it is only going to take a couple more hours, but the only way I seem to be able to do it is fifteen minutes at a time. If I go on for a whole half hour, like I did this weekend when the first fifteen minutes was spent literally waiting for the software to load, I can't seem to face it again the next day. And don't tell me to take them to someone else: I might actually have to do that next year, if the retirement income sources get any more complicated, which they are likely to when Mr S' Social Security kicks in this May. But in any case I first have to complete my Schedule C for the art business income and expense, which is the thing that has been holding up the whole works since January. Honestly, who needs the minimal income that generates? Maybe I should retire too.

However I did most everything I expected of myself today. I made a certain phone call I knew I needed to make, which is always very hard for me, and it turned out to be quite a joyous occasion. I wrote a little, and typed a little, and cleaned off my desk again. I made a clever plan or two, and took a long walk, and had several good ideas that I noted down so they don't get away. Last night I finished reading a silly book, and read Alison Bechdel's brilliant Fun Home. Now I have an apple cake in the oven, and leftovers poised to make chicken curry and rice when Mr S gets home from burning prairies.

Oops! forgot to do yoga! neglected to practice Roman letters! The days are just not long enough. Maybe I can still squeeze those in before I fall over and watch television.
new year

Happy accident

Last night we watched a fun little romantic comedy, Happy Accidents, that I found in the video store while looking for something different. It starred Vincent D'Onofrio and I am a big fan of him on Law & Order Criminal Intent which is why I picked it up. In fact we had just watched a re-run of the show, which often enough we can't recall the plots of anyway, although in this one it was just a pleasure to watch him work the classic scene where the detective reveals the killer in the drawing room to all the assembled suspects. In the movie (2001) he plays another character who is very smart and possibly somewhat crazy, but so charmingly. There is a science fictional element too, although not necessarily, which is my favorite kind, like in K-Pax.

Then we had a little flood in the basement that had to be dealt with. Usually the basement doesn't leak, only every ten years or so like with the ice dams a few winters ago, but with the torrential rain we had a little stream running across the middle of the room from under a sofa and a couple bookcases, and had to track it down and rescue boxes sitting on the floor. Nothing damaged except cardboard boxes, but I am increasingly interested in getting rid of several boxes of fanzines that no one has looked at since I filed them some years ago. Suggestions welcome.