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I almost never cull books, since I am shoring them up against the apocalypse. Once in a long while I let myself admit that there are books a) that I will not read and b) that won't be immediately useful after the revolution. I culled my novels on Saturday, and therefore on Sunday there were thirty boxes of free books at the library. They were left over from a rummage sale for the seniors’ centre.1 I took home five books. I call that remarkable self-control (and illness-induced fatigue).

  1. Samuel Beckett, Stories and Texts for Nothing Grove Press, N.Y. A collection of pieces first published in the Evergreen Review. In terms of material culture, this is the score. It has a great cover: fragments of Beckett's name arranged orthagonally in blue and green. The paper's water-damaged and mustier than I usually accept -- but the illustrations!

    The book is illustrated with terrific 60s-era line drawings, and these drawings are all about the line. Geometrical forms somehow give the effect both of rapid work and of obsessive precision, and the image arises out of their intersection -- almost despite the lines rather than because of them.

    I thought I had a mystery in the illustrator’s name (which I was misreading), until a friend pointed out his credit on the copyright page right where you’d expected it.

    The illustrations are actually by Avigdor Arikha. (Cut for biography intersecting with traumatic 20th C history.) )

    Further instances of obsessive precision behind the cut )

  2. James Thurber, Lanterns and Lances I mean, Thurber. This is an odd artefact, a "Time Reading Program Special Edition"3 printed in or about 1962. The cover is of thick immobile cardboard, matte purple inside. There's no jacket copy, just Thurber's drawings blown up. It is also illustrated, by Thurber, natch. You'll be excited to know it has a New Introduction, probably because it's a posthumous edition.

    A thing I like very much is a book with layered introductions which, as we read forwards, take us backwards into innocence and before death. Alternatively, I have, I think, that edition of James Tiptree, Jr's Warm Worlds and Otherwise with the two introductions, before and after.

  3. (Collected by) Sage Birchwater, Chiwid Now this is interesting. It's an oral history of a Tsilhqot'in woman named Chiwid, born in 1904. She lived in the Chilcotin (a region of British Columbia just south of the Cariboo, where I was born a long time later.) Birchwater seems to have been interested in her because she was famous for living independently on the land, and maybe more as a figure around whom stories crystallized than for herself (she'd died before the book was published).

  4. Christina Rosetti, Goblin Market A tiny Phoenix booklet containing the titular poem and a few others, marked 60p. A lot of UK expats fetch up here.

  5. Vera John-Steiner, Notebooks of the Mind: Explorations of Thinking Printed in 1985, this is an obviously dated book about modes of thought, but as I leafed through I saw it had a section called “The Thinking of the Body”, which goes to my preoccupation with embodied mentation, so I snagged it on spec. As well as compiling published research, John-Steiner conducted many interviews for the book with subjects from novelists (Margaret Drabble) to psychologists, poets, and scientists (though fewer of these).


1. I say material culture, but it's just books and ephemera. "Rummage sale" makes me think of a fluted lamp of molded pink glass or a warped cardboard landscape in a heavy wooden frame, but no -- just books.

2. The 5 looks like a 1, but that would be an oddly specific price.

3. More on that imprint here. This edition follows the design specs they detail: "The editions were trade paperbacks, with covers constructed of very stiff plastic coated paper, for durability .... each book had a wraparound cover with a continuous piece of artwork across both covers and the spine".

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (http://radiantfracture.dreamwidth.org/5364.html), where there are comment count unavailable comments. Comments either place are great.
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Early in the year, I vowed (or heavily implied) that I would read only books that, at the end of the year, I'd be glad to have read. Then I got sick, and I guess inasmuch as I'm now glad I've read anything at all that vow is still in force.

Plans of the best-laid varietals.

Here are the top 11 book recommendations I received )


I’ve been listening to the recent Shirley Jackson biography, A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin, using my local library’s Hoopla subscription. It's grand to have effortless access to such a recent audiobook. This doesn't quite count as reading the book since I use it to fall asleep and so have dreamed through many months of Jackson's life. I know the skeleton of her story well enough to be able to pick up wherever I start in again, at least so far. I'm having a little trouble with the voice of the reader; she seems skilled, but a bit mechanical. That could be my brain fog, though.

Books of the paper variety

After Loving, I finished another of the three Henry Green novels in the collection, Party Going. (They are very short novels.) The Howards End re-read is finished in time for book group, but I may not actually go, depending on my health by Sunday. Last time my most insightful contribution was a sporadic hacking cough.

Next, I went on a bit of an Alan Garner bender, reading Red Shift, The Owl Service, and Thursbitch, all of which I liked – probably Red Shift most. It was the most difficult, and had I not already listened to the Backlisted conversation about the book, I would have had quite a lot more work to untangle the threads.

The three books are all roughly the same kind of spell of deep time and sentient landscape (a term I've just learnt by reading reviews), but each through a different myth.

Some spoilers for Red Shift and Owl Service )

I did have a go at puzzling out the message at the end of Red Shift, and by rights should have got it, since I could see what the first sentence had to be and I had the cipher block, but somehow I became hopelessly muddled. I love puzzles, and books that are puzzles, but I am not that perfect reader who actually works the whole business out. I do, though, enjoy a Mystery as much as a Puzzle, so that’s all right.



I don't think I get to use "equivalenced" as a transitive verb, but I wish I could.

Here's a link to some discussions of / with Garner. I have not listened to them yet.

Unlinked References

Butler, Catherine (as Charles). “Alan Garner's Red Shift and the Shifting Ballad of ‘Tam Lin’”. Children's Literature Association Quarterly. Volume 26, Number 2, Summer 2001. Web.

(I am delighted to discover Catherine Butler whilst down this rabbit hole.)

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (http://radiantfracture.dreamwidth.org/5099.html), where there are comment count unavailable comments. Comments either place are great.
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Thanks for the follow-backs, journalfolk. I have no plan for how to make it worth your while.

I am finished Barchester Towers, and glad to be quit of it.

I liked The Warden very much, and there are many things to like about Barchester Towers, but, having read this novel of his, I cannot say with conviction that I like Anthony Trollope. I wonder if the reason I gave up on the Chronicles of Barsetshire all those years ago was my annoyance with this book and specifically its constant lumbering jocularity about the Nature of Woman.

Some of the good qualities of The Warden are still in evidence; Trollope is very good on the pettier, more self-concerned, but not actually evil side of human behavior -- the way that resentment and pride override charity and compassion, for example. Mr. Arabin, ruefully trying to remake his life at 40, moves me, and the signora, though not precisely adequate as a portrait of a woman with a disability, comes close to being a fascinating character study. I wouldn’t say she tips over, quite, into actually being fascinating, though the ambiguity around her injury and its cause, and the constant speculation about What's Under the Blanket, would provide excellent material for, say, Lacan.

The major characters of The Warden seem to have foregone any further personal growth in the sequel and are content to run the little grooves of their personae over and over, like table hockey characters. That was my feeling; the book group liked them better, and thought that the relentless babbling about the hilarious weakness of women was meant more ironically than I did.

(Some poking at the mass conversation (Look! The Victorian Web is still there!) produces various interesting possible positions on this question.) (When I was a youth nothing pleased me more than nested parentheses, especially if I could wrap them all up together at the end: ((())).)

In The Warden there are really no villains – just short-sighted selfish people, and I like that about it. Barchester Towers is painted in broader, almost Dickensian strokes. Mr Slope is stuck in the begged question of bad guys: why is he the villain? Because he's bad. How do you know he's bad? Because he's the villain. Also, red hair. Watch out.

Next up: Howard's End, last read about the same time as BT, which is to say, a very long time ago indeed.

I got violently winded walking to book group yesterday, though the sticky toffee pudding was worth it. Today a little errand walking similarly exhausted me. It was ten days ago the walk-in clinic doctor gave me the puffer and said this thing would play itself out.

So tired. I think tomorrow will be an ugly shirt day (a day when you're too tired to iron the good shirts).

An invitation, of course, to think about illness and wellness, access and ability. Something to discuss with the senora.


Crossposted from Dreamwidth (http://radiantfracture.dreamwidth.org/1082.html), where there are comment count unavailable comments. Comments either place are great.
radfrac_archive_full: (dichotomy)
I admit I have difficulty telling whether Melville is being sarcastic.

(Sargasso, I almost typed. Are you sincere, sir, or are you being sargasso?)

Nor, considered aright, does it seem any argument in favour of the gradual extinction of the sperm-whale, for example, that in former years (the latter part of the last century, say) these Leviathans, in small pods, were encountered much oftener than at present .... because, as has been elsewhere noticed, these whales, influenced by some views to safety, now swim the seas in immense caravans, so that to a large degree the scattered solitaries, yokes, and pods, and schools of other days are now aggregated into vast by widely separated, unfrequent armies (472).

I wonder if this is true. It is an enormously tragic image -- yes, ha, whale, enormous, but then yes, again, enormous, ocean-spanning, a tragedy on a scale above the human and therefore difficult for us to imagine clearly. These pods, families, civilizations (because they are, if we admit it, civilizations, aren't they? Monuments or no monuments) huddling together in the sea for safety -- but there was no safety. And Melville's hubris is a different kind of hubris from the arrogance of kings -- the hubris of the small creature who thinks "I cannot possibly damage this enormous world." Utter confidence in your inability to do harm.

Melancholy reading, this novel, in itself and in retrospect. Not what I expected. The plot is almost irrelevant -- Ahab appears on maybe eight pages in each hundred? It's all about the attempt to calculate the incalculable whale.

radfrac_archive_full: (dichotomy)
Nice Sunday-night thing to do, post a books entry. So many other things I should be writing, or cleaning, or reading -- but I will tell you about some books.

I've read more books this year than last year, according to my GoodReads page, which is there only for the purpose of self-congratulation / self-flagellation and accounting -- although last year I didn't count all the books I read for reviewing, and this year I did.

I've read a lot of novels lately, despite the new job -- or rather because of it. I have an almost violent urge for cognitive escape, not because things are bad but because they are so overwhelming. I need to make my brain do Something Else, which Else is largely made up of midcentury novels by potty British authors. And rare perfumes.

I've burned through most of Penelope Fitzgerald. I can't get into The Blue Flower -- I know it's supposed to be the best one, but it seems so dry. The Beginning of Spring is my favorite. The brilliantly funny and dangerous prewar Russian setting.

Then a couple of the-other-Elizabeth-Taylors chosen at random -- A View of the Harbour sending me on a search for books about the UK seaside, which resulted in a recommendation for J.G. Farrell's Troubles, which may be the best book I've read this year.

Nothing I've read so far this year is a patch on either Satantango or The Hour of the Star, and I'm aware that this is because I haven't really challenged myself to read anything that experimental or style-driven. I mean there was Proust, but The Guermantes Way was the hard work without the world-sundering joy.

Vita Sackville-West's All Passion Spent -- that was only all right. A good idea for a book but not actually all that good a book. A bunch of graphic novels, too, more or less at random.

I notice that my "to read" books are mostly cooler and more difficult than my actually read ones. I suppose it's good to be confronted with the gap between my Ego-ideal and my... me.

Q: Have you noticed that reading a less difficult book at the same time as a challenging one can sort of boost the signal, so that the difficult book reads more smoothly?

- - - - - -

Last poetry group but one we spent two and a half hours solving the first nine of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus like equations of the psyche. I think we all found it very rewarding -- very very close reading of our variant translations plus M's rusty German. As of this summer you can order a beer at the Solstice Cafe, so it's now perfect.

This time -- August-hot October day, no beer -- it was Baudelaire, and also very rich, but two new LOUD GUYS who took up SO MUCH SPACE showed up. One did have smart words in him, and he seemed to work out over the course of the conversation that sharing was good. The other was a pain in the ass. I was so overstimulated by the end from trying to wedge in something resembling equal conversational space for everyone around the table that I had to talk myself down from the anxiety for the next half-hour.

Ok gym. Swim some laps, try to burn through some work anxiety.

radfrac_archive_full: (dichotomy)
I want to keep up more regular posting here, but I've also finally started organizing/writing/creating the Other Blog, and that has left me drained. So here is -- some stuff.

Random Logistical Stuff

I still have not decided what the Next Thing is.

Everything is fine, except that everything about my life is about to be in need of repair and I don't have the funds, even the fake funds, to repair it.

From the ground up, off the top of my head: )

Meanwhile, I am a member of two reading groups now: )

Also am in magical working group and may join editorial collective of the online magazine I review for. Also am taking the film course and theoretically at least writing a conference paper for November. Oh,and taking the massive open online course through the Kelly Writers' House, ModPo (Modern American Poetry.)

Is that enough things? Probably, right? Oh, I have some reviews coming due now that the summer hiatus is over.

Also figuring out that Next Thing. Which is the only important thing in all of this, and the only thing I'm not doing, which I guess means I am doing it, passively. This thought, though, is depressing, so let's return to the immediate conditions of my life, which, as I have said are -- good.

For example: I spent most of yesterday reading in parks, which was as brilliant as it sounds. )

Today after the poetry group I went to the beach and had a very brief, very cold swim in the ocean. I wanted to have swum again before the end of the summer (which this only technically is.) Then a long walk not exactly home -- all along Beach Drive, through the golf course, where offshore (or: Offshore!) a red and white sailboat was struggling against fresh whitecaps under an enormous moon.

There was a complicated business involving urination and bushes and deceptively steep slopes and somewhere in there I lost my bamboo mat. but generally -- a good sort of day. That tends to mean walks and books and feats of extremely minor derring-do.

radfrac_archive_full: (dichotomy)
So the read-my-books-in-alpha-order scheme ground to a halt on Book 2, against the slender side of Prochain épisode. No idea why. It seemed like my sort of thing.

In the meantime, I read some review books, and then I read The Universal Baseball Association, Inc. J. Henry Waugh, Prop. I am still on the alpha scheme -- I'm just skipping ahead until I hit something that pleases me. This also means I have yet again escaped Northanger Abbey. Huzzah!

UBA is a genuine literary oddity (I'm setting up an opposition here between literary oddities and merely weird bad books) -- a book for which there really isn't any precedent or any genre label, and its only real descendent could be another book that is wholly its own thing, rather than another book about tabletop baseball games. Maybe it has a very slight aura of Philip K. Dick, but its metaphysical space is both subtler and more claustrophobic. I like Dick*, but I felt like there was more at stake in Henry pissing off his boss than in the end of the world in Dick's SciFi.

I keep reading that it's The Best Baseball Book Ever, which seems almost completely beside the point -- baseball is the starting-point, maybe, but it's about -- well, I think it's about how you start off just trying to agree on the rules of the game you're all going to play, and then your negotiation over the rules turns into politics, and eventually into religion. Or about how wanting God or Dog to cheat in your favour is kind of the foundation of religious faith. Also about being a person who is immersed in fantasy, and how if you're lucky that makes you an artist, and if you're not lucky it makes you a lonely sod who drinks too much and can't communicate what matters to you to anyone else.

You will understand why I had to read it in small doses.


*Har de har har
radfrac_archive_full: (dichotomy)
I haven't had anyone over in a long time, from a combination of passionate asociality and shame about the state of the shed. The state is somewhat better, though it still begs a lot of work -- I had a swipe at the bathtub before [livejournal.com profile] inlandsea dropped by, but I did not attempt the tiles.

State of the kitchen was not improved by my various attempts to make a graham cracker crust. I'd been trying to make meringue and that was disastrous (though I did invent caulking.) Two goes at the crust seemed to do it. I fear I have lost my baking mojo.

Working from home, though, is brilliant -- my own breezy shed instead of the airless office or even the pleasant, but remote, school library. I feel oddly more rooted.

Mind you, that's day one.

The esteemed [livejournal.com profile] papersky has a new book out. I remembered that I admired the prose of Among Others, so I put a hold on the impending copy of the new one at the library. I thought I'd read another while I'm waiting, so I am halfway through Tooth and Claw, and then via LiveJournal archives I am following the process of writing this same book while I read it. This is both pleasurable and melancholy -- the entries are so fresh, but it was a long time ago now.

Tooth and Claw is blurbed as Anthony Trollope but enacted by dragons, and it delightfully is that. To me, one of its strengths is that it also reads like a caustic 18th century satire in the mode of Swift or Johnson or Pope. Or someone even loopier -- Sterne, say. Because human institutions and dynamics have to be translated into dragon behaviours that make sense both within the fictional world and as analogies for human structures, the new structures can't help but become allegorical.

So, for example, the male dragons have claws and the female dragons have hands, and the male dragons are held in dragon culture to be superior for this, because they can fight. Yet a hand is good for ten thousand things, and a set of claws for many fewer. The bond of class servitude is literalized as the physical binding of servant dragons' wings, and there are also the lesser and ambiguous bonds of clergymen -- that's brilliant stuff. The lordly consumption of farmers' nestlings has to make you think of A Modest Proposal -- but also of the mad parallelisms of Tristram Shandy.

This is the top book of a stack I'm reading down through in layers, like my own performance of Cloud Atlas (and making this connection made me thing of how cleverly Cloud Atlas mirrors the act of reading multiple books at once, the way you find interconnections even when they aren't intentional.)

radfrac_archive_full: (dichotomy)
I recently took an English course called “Sexting through the Ages.” I am not making that up. It was a survey of erotic writing from ancient Sumeria to the Internet age. As we worked through the readings in the course, from the Biblical “Song of Songs” to the searing modernist provocation Story of the Eye to the queer erotic standby Macho Sluts, it occurred to me that I’d never formally worked out my view of erotica.

What is erotica for? To turn you on, of course, which is a perfectly good reason all by itself for erotica to exist. Hopefully, it is also meant to give you aesthetic pleasure. Can it do more than that? I would argue yes, if it’s done right. That’s especially true if you’re queer, trans* or otherwise marginalized by the mainstream idea of what’s sexy. I think it can change not just your ideas but your consciousness. Erotic pleasure, aesthetic pleasure, and ecstatic states like trance are not separate conditions, but three means of reaching the same goal.

My first experience with erotica was based on reading (a little belatedly) the surge of sex-positive feminist writing from the 1990s. It was called “sex-positive” to distinguish it from anti-pornography theory like Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women. The movement included writers and editors like Carol Queen, Patrick Califia, Lawrence Schimel, Susie Bright, Annie Sprinkle, Wickie Stamps, Tristan Taormino, John Preston, and many other writers, often published by the ground-breaking Cleis Press. They were staking out a new territory: erotica as self-discovery and self-creation.

These writers showed me a therapeutic and ecstatic view of erotica. Some said it outright and some merely implied it, but most clearly imagined erotica as a vehicle for healing and empowerment – including stories or images that on the surface could be read as violent or degrading, because these reach deep unconscious forces in us. In this way of thinking, erotica is a tool (pun accepted) to support the identification of our desires (What do I like?), the exploration of those desires (How do I like it?), and, if we want to live them out, the integration of our desires into our lives (How can I find someone else who likes it too?). Goal: Ecstasy for Everyone. These writers remind us that a given text or image—even one that might bore, disturb, or amuse one of us—could be for another of us the exact thing that opens up self-discovery and pleasure. You know: “don’t yuck my yum.” Making fun of someone else’s turn-on is an attack on their well-being. The literal content of erotica is not as important as how it makes you feel – hot, hopefully, and in the best case, happier.

My bookshelf filled up with volumes like PoMoSexuals: Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality, Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice, Switch Hitters: Lesbians Write Gay Male Erotica and Gay Men Write Lesbian Erotica, and The Leather Daddy and the Femme. These books don’t make utopias out of erotica. They don’t depict an idealized future when no one is confused or conflicted. Instead, they try to address the incredible range of real desires and practises in a joyful way. What they do idealize (in the good sense) are the real-world activities that enable us to get pleasure in ways that builds our sense of wholeness rather than undermining it. Clear consent, good negotiation, and safer sex are near absolutes. Those are still lessons we can all benefit from, always.

These books weren’t always perfect. For example, while many writers were insightful about the ways race can get stereotyped in erotica, others made well-meaning but awkward attempts at ethnic and cultural diversity. For another, as a trans person, I wasn’t always thrilled by the depiction of people like me, even in books I otherwise liked. Since then, a lot of erotica has been written. Many more people have had the chance to represent their desires directly, rather than relying on a few published authors (however talented) to filter it for them.

The sex-positive wave hit just before the Internet came of age as the repository and generator for a pretty much infinite set of erotic stories and images. Yet we each still have to go through that same process of exploration and discovery, and we do it in layers: What do I really like? What do I just think I’m supposed to like? What do I want to do and what do I only want to fantasize about? Does anyone else like what I like? These writers are still accomplished guides and mentors in that process of self-discovery. We all need teachers.
radfrac_archive_full: (Ben Butley)
Further launch trivia: there will be a book launch in Vancouver as well. I'm definitely coming over if I can manage it, because my family will be there --

Pause for anecdote. --

Remember that I said my mother was giving a sermon with me as a story in it? She did; it was v. good. I said to her -- that's the danger in our family. Other people, they write about their families, their families just get mad. I write about my family -- they write about me.

No control of the discourse.

-- End anecdote. Anyway, depending on the day, maybe I can make a weekend of it and see Vancouver folks. Yes? Maybe?

Speaking of those elusive creatures, tonight, of course, is dinner with [livejournal.com profile] foxymuffins and [livejournal.com profile] onlynarisse at 5th Street. Tomorrow, B's sister is auditioning for local theatre, and I am going along for moral support. I would audition myself if I had any time whatever. It looks to be a very silly murder mystery. Where would local theatre be without murder mysteries? And I think somehow I have to get in to work for as much as I can manage.

My point, I think, is: busy weekend.

I happen to be posting at all, and from the coffee shop in particular, because I had a feeling I ought to check my waitlist status. I was right -- there's only a 24-hour window to register, and there was my Offer, with only 3 more hours until it expired. Mind, I expect there were other spaces, but I felt vindicated.

They gave me a free dry-erase calendar at UVic, so I have written on it all of the various seminars I am supposed to go to on how to apply for SSHRC, and one on PhDs, just because (green ink). Also assignment deadlines, etc. (black). And of course the MA deadlines (red).

I always feel like I am missing some very obvious point in all of these processes. Experience has not contradicted this impression.

Took myself to the Superior for lunch in order to get myself to read Molloy. I find this method works quite well provided the lunch is very good, which it was. (Spinach, goat cheese, proscuttio & crunchy onion salad; yam-coconut-chipotle soup, abuse of VISA as am cash-poor, well, cash-absent, just now. Stupidly paid my bills on a rent paycheque.)

Now: more reading, with only Knowledge as my reward.

Here is the reading list:

Absolute Beginners
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
The Rachel Papers
A Clockwork Orange
The Buddha of Suburbia
Brixton Rock


book talk

Jul. 13th, 2008 08:40 pm
radfrac_archive_full: (Default)
The Clayton Eshleman translation of Aimé Césaire finally came in at the library, and [livejournal.com profile] inlandsea brought it home to me. Eshelman is another of the genuinely great poetic translators, and Césaire, o.

I found the book accidentally. I was browsing the poetry section at Central. There was something I couldn't find, and something else that wasn't as good as I was hoping, and there was a Don Domanski, Stations of the Left Hand, which is good in its own right. Then there was this big white book translated by Eshleman, whose own work I have been trying to find (frustration so far) -- and it was one of those books that you open and know immediately that this is more than greatness. I've been waiting impatiently for it to arrive ever since.

Now I see that Césaire has just died.

Q: If you found the book at Central, why put a hold on it and make them drag it all the way out to Nellie McClung?

A: It's a large-format hardcover, and I feared injury. [livejournal.com profile] inlandsea assured me that it was acceptable to misuse the system in this case. She said lots of people do it.

Yesterday, lying down in virtuous attempt to promote healing -- having slightly reinjured myself in lifting a small (but not small enough) child at Linabeet's Healthy Herbal Garden Party -- I started to re-read 84, Charing Cross Road, and had to get up and immediately go out to a bookstore. There were only four minutes until closing, so I glanced, saw nothing compelling and only one possible, and left. Went back today before studying. Told myself I had to keep to $20. Very nearly obeyed. No sensible reason to buy books, especially now in the midst of studying. Nevertheless, here they are (heavy on the CanLit):

The Great Victorian Collection - Brian Moore (Great potential to be an Oddity)
The Diary of a Nobody - George & Weedon Grossmith (Orange-era Penguin)
The Portable Coleridge (Had to compare two different Coleridges -- this was a dollar more, but much more complete - though really just needed "Christabel")
The Blazing World & Other Writings - Margaret Cavendish (Yellow-era Penguin Classics) (17th-C female writer)
The Black Book - Lawrence Durrell (Cover: Nice obsessive-looking white line drawing on black background, street scene) (I am not a Durrell fan in general, but this is his first book and the voice quite different)
Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada - Anna Brownell Jameson (New Canadian Library - ugly cover, interesting text - Moodie but not so Moodie)

I tested the prose of all in several places (& the poetry of C.) and though they were all very different, they were all engaging and didn't pall -- Jameson was fresh, Durrell was lavishly surreal, Cavendish was remarkably lucid, the Grossmiths made me laugh, and the Moore had an engaging opening and might be dirty.

I left behind a lovely old Penguin patterncover of Hardy's poetry because I don't really love Hardy's poetry -- I'd just be buying it for the cover -- and a 39 Steps, ditto, and a volume of M.R. James' ghost stories just because I had to put something back. Which makes me fear I am not a real Gothic aspirant.

Otherwise: studying, but not enough. Being sore. Sleeping in too late. Exam tomorrow. & so on.

radfrac_archive_full: (Ben Butley)
From today's discussion with the delightful Bee:

Top five famous(ish) literary characters you would have liked to marry/be involved with?

I have only got to two. Seymour Glass, OBVIOUSLY. Am pondering the others. I fell hard for Billy from the Regeneration trilogy, but I can't see marrying him.

My trouble is that I tend to fall for tragically brilliant villains who oppress the protagonists in subtle intellectual ways. Casaubon. Dean Priest. Clever men who are very bad for you. I am, by type, the noble but misled sidekick to the villain, the one who adores him but either betrays him for the cause of Good or is sacrificed for his escape.

radfrac_archive_full: (Ben Butley)
I don't know why I didn't read Life of Pi when everyone else was. It might have been because everyone else was, though I like to think I really did graduate from high school all those years ago. I think I was worried that Martel wasn't going to pull off a difficult thing. There seemed lots of ways it could go wrong.

I think if I had read the book when I was seventeen it could have entered my pantheon of Amazing Books. At twice seventeen, I thought it good -- successful -- which sounds like a dull praise but is a high -- and its images resonant, worth turning over and gnawing at for a few days. It hasn't entered my system, though, as some books do, changing your chemistry forever. I do not seem to have begun believing in god.

In the spirit of fair play I should mention that my critical faculties (such as they are) may still be blunted by physical recovery -- Mark Strand's A Blizzard of One seemed dull and full of unremarkable insights a few days after surgery, but has gained in poetic merit as I have become more alert. An account of my reading may say more about what a recovering brain is like than what any of these books are like.

Have started Gail Tsukiyama's The Samurai's Garden which, as it begins with a convalescence at the seaside, appeals. Various biographies float towards me through the library hold system, kindly navigated by [livejournal.com profile] inlandsea -- or borne on her currents we could say, if we were in the habit of saying things like that -- and, let's be honest, we are.


book stand

Jun. 6th, 2008 08:25 pm
radfrac_archive_full: (Ben Butley)
Two weeks since surgery. Took my first walk of any real length today -- to the bank and library. Library a bit abstract as a goal, since I am forbidden to carry more than 5 lbs for six more weeks.

Feel more human today. The last few days felt oddly like setbacks -- lower energy and general tone. Today better, though of course I therefore did too much.

Can finally read for extended periods, thanks to the book stand from [livejournal.com profile] inlandsea.

Have read Anne Enright's The Gathering, which is not a bad book, but I don't know that I'd go giving it an international award (Man Booker 2007). It's lyrical -- almost too lyrical -- too much lyric for the narrative, so that it becomes repetitive. It needs more verse and less chorus. The book is about memory and ambiguity, so I wouldn't expect to be given a definitive picture of any character, but what's missing are memory's luminous moments, its indelible images of these people. The book invokes the paradoxes of recollection and storytelling, but on examination its storytelling is fairly conventional, despite some speculative moments, and its ambiguities are rather straightforward.

That said, it is really quite a good book. It just isn't extraordinary. I'd say, if you want the terror of family and memory, read Fall on Your Knees, and if you want the agony of quotidian human misunderstanding, read On Chesil Beach.

Also The Great Man by Kate Christensen, which is a Mediocre Book. It isn't what it's trying to be, which is a clever book about clever people -- it's a middling book about largely unconvincing people. Points gained for showing people over seventy as passionate and interesting; points lost for dealing very awkwardly with racism. It begins and ends with faux newspaper articles -- an obituary and a book review -- both of which fail to strike the right tone for their genres -- and that is not a bad summation of the book. (2008 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. I'd call this Adequate Airplane Reading.)

I must be feeling better: I'm highly critical.

radfrac_archive_full: (Ben Butley)
A recent (but prolonged) ambition met: I have finished Daniel Deronda, albeit with some vigorous skimming (so fallen am I). I was going to go right on to Silas Marner, but I think I need an interval of some other, probably later and more minimalist, century's prose. Prosewise I feel as thought I have eaten a number of ropes coated with molasses.

Eliot is a bit of a paradox for me so far. Her characters are fantastically vivid in my mind, and live on there in retrospect. Casaubon, Dorothea, Ladislaw, Lydgate, Rosamond; and now Daniel, Gwendolen, Mirah, Ezra/Mordecai, Grandcourt. Reading the book that puts them there, though. It's not that I don't enjoy it. It just seems like a dauntingly elaborate spoon for the very good soup.

Spoiler for classic 19th-C novel. )

Anyway, now I am reading The World Without Us.

Reading list from the Lost Course, and tentative plans. )

Tuesday [livejournal.com profile] leirdal came over to receive the two Women's Press books I scored on the dog trip. They are not scifi, so I pass them on to her. Only the grey gradient for me. Zebras and sundries go to her. We must learn to contain our obsessions, lest they fall on us from a great height and we are not found for weeks.

"I'll feed you," I said, "But I have nothing in the house." Except, it turns out, fresh tomatoes and prosciutto from Ottavio. With fresh sage on pasta. And hunks of bakery bread on the side.

Just at the end we talked about the thing I'd like to write about here, but am worried I can't get right -- the change in how I feel about death and endurance.

All insights apart, I find I can still be made intermittently miserable by a sore tooth (to be examined on Monday). But that is the difference between insight and practise. Once you know, you still have to do, and that takes as much effort as before.



Apr. 11th, 2008 04:52 pm
radfrac_archive_full: (Ben Butley)
I'm glad the library is open again. [livejournal.com profile] inlandsea, I'm not sure, but it seems like on fairly good terms for the employees?

I spent yesterday afternoon at Central to celebrate. I used the computers. I wandered the stacks. I picked up completely random books and smelled them. I did some writing upstairs in a carrel, with the light slanting in through the vertical blinds, shining on the laminate. Every so often I'd look up and see who was going into Smith's.

I can READ ANYTHING I WANT NOW. To celebrate, I brought home The History of Street Literature. Though I have The Indian Clerk in my bag.

radfrac_archive_full: (And you wonder...)
I wonder how many works of literature dating between about 1750 and 1900 are having a resurgence of readership because they are out of copyright and are available as free etexts?

I have just gleefully filled my Palm with free copies of such titles as: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; all of the Anne books; various works of the great Jane; and anything else free that even slightly overlapped with my reading habits. The Odyssey, even.

They finally found a tie-in application that would interest me. Am considering purchasing eReader Pro & eBook studio. You can make your own ebooks with free apps, but it looks a bit laborious.

radfrac_archive_full: (Harold Ross of the New Yorker)
The Hurt Penguin sale at the UVic Bookstore left me unimpressed. It was a series of smallish heaps of contemporary remainders, average price about $6.99, their main injury being the black marker strike that indicated their status as remainders. The advertisement suggested books "From $1" but all the ones I saw were several times removed from that ideal unity.

I realize one ought not to be surprised by this sort of wan intellectual betrayal, but when you advertise with clever variations of the Penguin logo in various states of injury -- water and smoke damage, fading, etc. -- I expect to see said logos upon said books. There weren't above three Classics in the lot. I was hoping for, you know, obscure Jacobean dramatists. Secondary gothics. Modern near-classic oddities. Not fourteen copies of a low-carb cookbook and one Catherine Parr Traill.

The Shakespeare class discussion today was about The Question of Authorship, which made an interesting 10-minute presentation but a tedious discussion, since none of us have the scholarly background to say anything useful or even identify the chief arguments.

My knee kept going out as I tried to walk to class. And I burnt my mouth on my coffee. I hate everything.

radfrac_archive_full: (robot love)
Listening to Michael Silverblatt interviewing Anne Carson about tragedy. Having discovered a seventeen-year online archive of audio files of Bookworm, his interview show.

Which could be something like 400 hours of recordings, assuming some time off for vacations. Or seventeen days of interviews.

It isn't as cheerful as his usual interviews, but they've attained a kind of equal focus and gravity, and the interview has as astounding weight, as though it were spoken in some heavier material than air, some more substantial wave than sound.

radfrac_archive_full: (dresden files)
On Beauty and Being Just is a little book, short enough to have been delivered as a Tanner Lecture on Human Values. I'd imagined an enormous text, comprehensive, large enough to contain all of Beauty itself somehow. No. It is wee. Beauty, as Elaine Scarry says, is in the particular.

I gather there was a debate in the humanities about the Value of Beauty which I completely missed. I think I'm relieved.

What I like most in a book is when an author identifies an experience I have had, but not fully examined. )

That is excellent, especially for those of us who feel like the sort of beauty that is often confidently repudiated. (Sorry, sorry, I read Hermia's lines last night and am still feeling a little residual self-pity.)

I carried the book about with me all day. It's small enough to disappear in my satchel and be pleasantly rediscovered.

This has been just the right sort of day. )


*Technically this is a Love Icon, but I love beauty, and besides, it's new.


radfrac_archive_full: (Default)

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