Wednesday, May 30, 2007
e-books... no no no no no. No. I can't say I never will read one, or that an e-book isn't a real book - but as long as there's a scrap of paper left on this earth... Sorry. Deep breath. Remember "the medium is the message"? WRONG. Change the medium, and you change the message.
Take audio books. I've come to like them, but not to believe that they are the same as a Real book. When I read a Real book, the characters come to life, or the information reveals itself, in my imagination or intellect, unfiltered. It's between me and the words. When I listen to an audio book, it's the same character, or the same information, but someone else's inflection factors in. Sometimes that's a good thing - maybe I catch more of the character's pacing or inflection, or maybe I learn how a word really is pronounced. Even so, part of the experience has been taken over by the reader, and by the technology.
How's this for an analogy? Give a child an old-fashioned doll, and she will create the doll's world: her name, her family, her identity. Give a child a character doll, or a talking doll, and the imaginative part of play will be reduced. It's still a doll, but the technology has changed the nature of play.
An e-book would contain the same words, information, plot - but staring into a screen, having to scroll back instead of ruffling pages to re-read a passage, not being able to take it into the bath tub -- no, it wouldn't be the same.
Believe me - I see the irony - instead of writing with a pen about my love of paper, I'm typing words onto a screen --
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Monday, May 28, 2007
Everyone knows the stories of Dorian Gray and his exquisite, doomed creator. I do not need to elaborate on the perfect and paradoxical prose, or the sweet and foul decadence of Dorian's world. Even as the downfall of Oscar Wilde at the hands of his true love's father always has horrified and appalled me, I have revered Wilde for refusing to abandon or deny his love for Lord Alfred Douglas, his Bosie. Would that the prejudices that informed that hideous episode existed no longer!
As I read the novel, the opulence and hint of decay so beautifully depicted in the 1997 film "Wilde," combined with the voice of Peter Egan, who portrayed Wilde in the British production, "Lillie." The effect, I assure you, was delicious.
Allow me to state a personal belief here: both journeys are awesome. Equally awesome. Karen Armstrong believes that reading about myth without experiencing (even at an historic distance) the accompanying ritual gives "as incomplete an experience as simply reading the lyrics of an opera without the music." I don't agree. If the reader participates, imaginatively, in the act of storytelling, then the ancients who transformed their questions and awe into stories are as modern as we are - which is to say, a few thousand years of time have not changed human psychology one whit.
What are the domino theory, the red menace, the Cold War, and the information superhighway but modern myths, meant to tame our fears, awe, and perceived helplessness against overwhelming power? And what are the arms race, HUAC hearings, wars, and the creation of pc icons but rituals to propitiate that power?
Armstrong says that the presence of myth posits a belief in a future similar to our own - a means to allay the consciousness of mortality and its despair. "Myth," she says, "looks into the heart of a great silence." Myth and religion also explain (or bring us to) transcendent moments when logic quiets, and experience narrows and expands. (I would call them Zen moments, the ultimate detachment of one's personal ego from the cosmos, both the ultimate surrender and relief.)
This parallel universe is one where the gods and goddesses have dealt - as badly, at times, and as egotistically - with the same problems of mortals. Jealousy, greed, ambition, and arrogance damage the gods as much as they do humans. Every culture has believed in a lost paradise and a powerful, single god whose remoteness has spawned lesser deities or landscapes where the two worlds are linked. Both the Australian Dreamtimes and the Elusinian Mysteries, for example, provide links between the worlds, as do the Burning Bush or Jacob's Ladder.
Myths transform and symbolize the seasons and agriculture (Persephone and Demeter), rites of passage, humanity's punishment for arrogance or attempting to transcend the natural order (Icarus, Prometheus), and disrespect for the Mother (Ianna), who forever retains her fearful power over reproduction and the food supply, and who must be propitiated. Agriculture and death intertwine (Osiris, Persephone's stay in the Underworld), heroic quests are undertaken (the search for the Grail).
Are any of these stories outdated? Of course not. Therein lies the power of myth - as metaphor of the original story, the Jungian idea of collective consciousness, the Christian concept of original sin, the folly of those who worship wealth (the Golden Calf), the quest for the fire that might illuminate our path away from death. We always will have Mysteries, Eleusinian or not.
This is a mighty little book that combines a concise overview of myth with an invitation to discover the very modern ancients. I recommend it for its information, style, and the provocative questions it invokes. melanie
Sunday, May 27, 2007
This quotation appears at the beginning of Berton Roueche's book, The Medical Detectives. Imagine a time when only about 1,500 diseases were thought to plague mankind.
This book spans approximately forty years of American medical history, beginning in the late 1940s. Journalist Berton Roueche, known in medical circles as the master of medical detection, serves twenty-five mysteries, each of them a gripping read. Each case pits epidemiologists, medical doctors and local health authorities in races to discover causes of strange and baffling symptoms before lives - - or, more lives - - are lost.
A friend, familiar with my love of true-crime books, recommended this book. She knows it's not the gore and suffering of true-crime that draw me but the detection, the forensics, the solutions of puzzles that keep me paging through such books. Roueche's book also kept me turning the pages to see how bizarre symptoms can result from seemingly benign sources. Who would have guessed that tomato cultivation or oatmeal for breakfast would plunge people into baffling and life-threatening situations?
Each of these stories is true, though the author uses pseudonyms for the patients involved. The information is presented in accessible ways, highlighted by exacting, instructive writing. I understand that this books and Roueche's others are unofficial texts for medical students, and it easy to see why. One case history surprised me by offering helpful information on something relevant to my own situation.
If you enjoy the detection of true-crime but dislike the inevitable violence, try this. It's good for puzzle-lovers of all kinds.
(posted by Moon Rani)
Saturday, May 26, 2007
How could anyone write about the sudden death of a husband and the simultaneous critical illness of a daughter with the same approach? Could you? Could you step back from the moment when your husband of 40 years collapsed and died at the dinner table? Could you write about having to keep this from your daughter to avoid further endangering her fragile health? Could you remember, sort through, and write enough of the details of that first bereaved year, moment for moment?
"It's ok... she's a pretty cool customer," says a social worker before the hospital gives back her husband's silver clip, watch, cell phone, clothes. She wonders "what an uncool customer would be allowed to do. Break down? Require sedation? Scream?" At home, she places the cell phone in its charger before she goes to bed.
Much of the book details the life they had lived with their only daughter, Quintana Roo: their travels, their work, their homes on two continents. Past and present and past cycle through the pages, stopping for details that would unhinge many. Has her daughter sustained brain damage from her illness? Did John Dunne have a presentiment of his death?
The "magical thinking" of the title represents thoughts that a child might have, thoughts that one might not expect of a "cool customer." The most striking : her inability to discard her dead husband's shoes because "he would need shoes if he was to return...The recognition of this thought by no means eradicated the thought. I still have not tried to determine (say, by giving away the shoes) if the thought has lost its power."
To me, the questions raised by these simple sentences define the book. When I first read it, I wrote one note that was based on a question that Didion found written in one of her husband's books (in blue, fountain-pen ink) - What is the experience and what is the meaning?
There it is, the basic existential question. I think that neither the experience nor the meaning exists on its own. Only the observer is real. The observer determines both history (the event) and its consequences (or, its meaning).
What Joan Didion has done here is to include us in her observations, responses, and thoughts on a brutal experience. Is she a "cool customer"? I don't think so. I think she has used her skills to show us what we might neglect to see in the aftermath of a personal tragedy. I hope she has taught me to do the same, to allow all of my own skills to inhabit and define my responses, and to avoid judging those responses whether of not they fit anyone else's definitions of emotional reality.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
"I had an idea for a BTT question when I was taking a peek at one of my bookcases yesterday and spotted my old copy of the Aeneid in Latin sitting there. Maybe this question has already been done—but if not… Do you have any foreign language books and if so can you (still) read them?"
What an interesting question. My books do not predate 2006 owing to some changes in my life. But before that, I had a few books in German, a language I studied for five and a half years, beginning in eighth grade. One was a collection of Rilke poetry. I don't recall the others. Like TeaBird, I'm sure I could still read the words, but I'm less sure I could actually make sense of them.
Beginning in 7th grade, I studied Russian for 5 years. Except for one forgettable year when the teacher was a Brooklyn gal with a heavy Brooklyn accent, my teacher was Gospodin Gogotsky, a Tatar who had been a choreographer in Russia. He fascinated me, even when he was, shall we say, impaired during his last year of teaching.
I had an idea for a BTT question when I was taking a peek at one of my bookcases yesterday and spotted my old copy of the Aeneid in Latin sitting there. Maybe this question has already been done—but if not… Do you have any foreign language books and if so can you (still) read them?
I own two books in Russian. Anyone who knows me is going to laugh, because the titles are so *me*: one is an anthology of poetry, and the other is Winnie the Pooh. The poetry is beyond me at this point. I'm sure I still could read the words, but I could not understand them. Winnie? Maybe.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
(contributed by Moon Rani)
(Moon Rani's reply) I never read in the bathroom. I don't understand why people read there. There are many comfortable seats in my home, and there are pleasant rooms, so why would I read in the w.c.? If you come for a visit, be sure to pack your own bathroom library because I've none.
(Moon Rani's reply) On occasion I have found myself in this situation, unlikely as it seems. When I was younger, I took it as a sign of paucity of books, and I would buy or check out more as soon as I could. But now I take it as a sign that my mind is digesting my most recently-read book, and I allow myself time for that. It's a little like leaving a superb meal and thinking, Oh dear - - that was so good that I must eat again right now! But what the situation really calls for, in my case, is a long walk or drive or just solitude and something that works my hands while my mind roams. It might take a day or it might take a month, but I see no time limit to savoring books.
When I was in my teens, I had an endless, aching hunger for reading. I read shampoo bottles and toothpaste tubes. I read recipes on name-brand foods and directions on vacuum cleaners. I read instruction manuals on things for which I was unsure of the uses they had. My voraciousness was indiscriminate, as you can plainly see, and nothing was beneath my craving to read. This is how I discovered that the best way to care for an imported blouse was to "wash in snow flakes and dry with hands." Of course I knew it meant to wash in soap, not detergent, and preferably Ivory Snow flakes, and to let it drip dry, but what a wonderful mental
image it gave me of dashing about in snow flurries, catching as many flakes as I could to wash my blouse, then waving it gently until it was dry.
Oh, dear - - as usual, I've taken the scenic route to get somewhere, and this time I've taken you with me. Suffice to say that I now see seasons in my reading, and I try to appreciate them as they come.
Tea and honey are like David and Jonathan, longterm, dear companions. A variety which is new to me is black locust honey. I got it from the local grocer, and it's tops! I like it best in an assertive black tea such as PG Tips or Twining's Irish Breakfast, but it would make delightful friends with milder tea such as Republic of Tea's Vanilla Almond. Black locust is my current choice as I knock back many hot cuppas to see me through another nasty cold. I think it would make excellent tea toddies (as per directions in a winter post). In fact, I think I'll find out about that tonight. I can never sleep when I am flattened by a head cold, and a tea toddy may be just the thing for comfort.
Not long ago, I tried cranberry blossom honey. By itself, it was good. But as the sole sweetener in cranberry pear breakfast muffins, it was nonpareil! Add a lovely, hot cuppa likewise sweetened by cranberry blossom honey and then, as some folks down South say, then you have something.
I love having muffins for breakfast. Since early spring I have experimented with making muffins using honey as the sweetener, and I am very pleased with the results. In fact, I recommend it.
I'd love to share my muffin recipes with you so you could turn out a golden-brown batch for your next tea time, but I am, for the most part, an extemporaneous cook and baker. I can tell you that I once cooked pork loin in a tea-based liquid, but I can't recall exactly how I did it. But here's what I recommend: experiment! Once you find a honey you like, see what else you can pair it with. I am about to try a salad dressing that uses tea. Maybe it will be good, or maybe it will be fit only for, um, flushing, but the experiment will be of interest. Perhaps I'll find a variation I prefer.
Cook with honey! But be advised: consider where your recipe originated. Not long ago, I did something uncharacteristic and used a recipe. It was for spicy chicken with peanut sauce. I had only half the large amount of honey the recipe specified. When my housemate and I dined that evening, we were almost crying from honey overload! The recipe came from a honey company. What does a honey company want to do more than anything? Sell honey. Hence we ended up with chicken that swam in honey. As Housemate said, "Imagine if you'd had all the honey it called for. We'd have passed out!" Later, on a peanut butter jar lid, I found a tasty and affordable recipe for peanut sauce which called for no more than a modicum of honey. Have fun experimenting, but do be careful about your recipe sources.
When I am sick enough, even books bring me no comfort because I lack concentration. But magazines are just the things for times such as these.
An especially lovely and cheerful magazine is "Birds and Blooms," which you can find at www.birdsandblooms.com
It's chockful of beautiful color photos augmented by informative writing and bits of whimsy. It's perfect for times of illness or sadness or bad weather, or in happier times and just because you, too, love birds, gardens and flowers.
Some people go to amazing lengths in their backyards. I recall stories about miniature railroads and cottages and tropical gardens built in back yards. Some people combine artwork and gardening while others construct special back yards for their children or grandchildren.
There are gardening and birdwatching tips, plus many reader submissions from poetry to prose and photos. Be prepared for lots of photos of children in gardens.
I have one advantage when I read "Birds andBlooms," and that is I get the magazine free. A friend's father gives me his old copies. I even use them to help teach a developmentally-delayed child for whom I care.
If this publication is not at your local newstand or bookshop, request it there, or visit the pretty Website. In fact, visit the Website anyway because it's well kept, just like the gardens in the magazine.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Nothing to read in the house? Whose house is this? Certainly not mine. Maybe I'm visiting a non-reader's house? Even she would have something to read - a cookbook, a magazine, a newspaper -- Worst-case scenario: I take out my memo pad and a pen, and I write notes for aa poem, an essay, or a blog entry. I've even been known to write little letters in my little handwriting.
Nothing in my house that I'm in the mood for? See above... If I'm too depressed or anxious for sustained reading. I can always read a poem, an essay, or a novel by Barbara Pym. If I can't read Jane and Prudence, my brain must be well and truly fried!
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
I confess: the only reason I included this book on my list was its presence on best-seller racks in Borders and Barnes & Noble. I suppose I got what I deserved. At least I had the sense to stop reading it when - well - I'm getting ahead of myself. Be patient.
Gilbert is a seeker. I'm a seeker. (Wouldn't you like to be a seeker too? ) In a memoir, as in life, I seek clear-headedness. In a travelogue, I seek - well, clear-headedness and a sense of Being There. In a spiritual memoir, I seek - well - how about perspective? Some evidence of growth?
Here's a quote that says it all:
The other day in prayer I said to God, "Look - I understand that an unexamined life is not worth living, but do you think I could someday have an unexamined lunch?"Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for this book. (In fact, I just gave a copy to a friend who will like it very much.) What the world needs now isn't love as much as reason and clarity. Without those, love is just an impulse. I need more than the evidence of impulse to want to read a book.
Gilbert's travels took her to Italy, India, and Bali. Italy was mostly about food. Even if I, personally, would starve before I ate octopus salad, I can appreciate someone else's appetite. (After all, M.F.K. Fisher wrote about, shall we say, non-standard foods, and her work is stunning.) I can't tell you about Bali, because I bailed out in the middle of India. That's not like me.
I love reading about India. I love Indian music, Indian food, Indian art, Indian thought and spirit. I've read Autobiography of a Yogi, books by Krishnamurti, the Bhagavad-Gita, Rabindranath Tagore, countless books about the Raj. It's difficult to put me off if you're writing about India. Gilbert managed. It wasn't that she arrived at an ashram wanting to pick and choose amongst the necessary disciplines - one expects resistance in a spiritual memoir. It wasn't even the presence of a wry Texan whose comments reminded me of a cross between the late, great Molly Ivins and The Stranger in "The Big Lebowski." It was the moment of enlightenment that involved being bitten half to death by mosquitoes.
Sometimes I can get past mosquitoes. Sometimes I can't. Oh well.
By the way, "The Big Lebowski" is one great film. The Dude abides, you know.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
--and now I shall - one book per week, beginning 9 June. I bought the English editions for my birthday last year (cars have "bonnets" instead of hoods), and I have ordered book 7 from Amazon.uk.
Total immersion - excellent!
Thursday, May 10, 2007
So, judging by last week’s answers, apparently the question I should have been asking was:
Where DON’T you read??
I do not read in the shower, in the dentist's chair, in the car (unless I have an audiobook), under anesthesia, in a movie theater once the film starts, in a restaurant if I'm eating with someone. Really, I can't come up with that many situations where I'd never read. Or breathe.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
That I love the work of Katherine Mansfield probably is apparent from the way I've rattled on here, here, and here. How I wish for a new biography of this doomed and brilliant miniaturist! In the meantime, I recommend this 1987 work by Claire Tomalin.
Tomalin can always be counted on for clarity and an unbiased rendition of a life. In the case of Katherine Mansfield, both must have been difficult. Not only did Mansfield try on various personae and artistic identities, not only did she hide and lie about some of her past - she even changed her name several times, finally alighting on the name we know today.
She was, for her times, more sexually adventurous than many. Her early lovers may have included women. Some of the physical suffering she endured before her death from tuberculosis may have been the result of an STD she contracted, relatively early in her life.
Even as her strength ebbed, she flung herself into her art and the artistic life, socializing with such luminaries as Lady Ottoline, Virginia Woolf, and Aldous Huxley. She and her odious husband lived with the volatile D.H. Lawrence and Frieda Lawrence for a tumultuous period. (Lawrence later based two characters in Women in Love on Mansfield and Lady Ottoline.) Her stories, crystalline and (sometimes) bitter, caught the attention of Virginia Woolf, who considered Mansfield her only true literary threat.
Mansfield's death in the enclave of the mystical Gurdjieff was part of a desperate search for a cure when conventional medicine failed her. Tomalin takes the reader through the last days and last hopes with the dispassionate details that make Mansfield's decisions tragically clear.
Tomalin's biography brought me closest to feeling that I was in the presence of this complicated woman. I recommend it to all who love Mansfield, and all who admire a good biography.
Monday, May 07, 2007
Everyone believes in something, be it God, alchemy, market forces, or mutability. Meyer Maslow, high-profile Holocaust survivor and founder of Brotherhood Watch (BW), believes in all of the above, and then some. As head of an organization that uses publicity and moral pressure to free political prisoners and dissidents, he is surrounded by acolytes who staff his offices and follow his central belief: "peace through change."
The eponymous changed man, Vincent Nolan, leaves his van in the top tier of a parking garage, descends to the gritty heat of Manhattan, and rides the elevator (along with a dwarf - his description, not mine!) to the cool BW headquarters. The women who serve as gatekeepers for Meyer are wary, but they do allow him access.
Vincent tells Meyer his story, mixing truth with wary selectivity. He has, indeed, escaped from the ranks of the American Rights Movement (ARM), a neo-Nazi organization, after an ecstasy-fueled flash of insight in the middle of a rave. He also has stolen his neo-Nazi cousin's van, money, and stash of drugs, details he omits, knowing that they would block his plan to offer himself as a symbol of the type of change dear to Meyer's heart and soul.
Also omitted is the shaky basis of his altered philosophy and the struggle to change his inner vocabulary of borrowed neo-Nazi lingo. He is determined. (" "Attitude is everything,' he reminded himself as he navigated the hot and multicultural streets of Manhattan - the very essence of the evil against which the Aryans fight.") His decisions are fortified by his totem books: Crime and Punishment, and The Way of the Warrior.
At this stage, Vincent is a chameleon in the guise of a changed man, trying on the identity of redemption as he once did with ARM (although without a drug hit). He has drifted from one identity to another, from his mother's New Age airiness to the ARM, on currents of disappointment and neediness, taking on coloration as needed.
Bonnie Kalen, Meyer's fundraising assistant, is a witness to the moment that bonds the two men. Both have tattoos, coloration, as it were - Vincent's death's head and SS thunderbolts vs. Meyer's tattooed numbers. Meyer believes in the alchemy that can transform evil into good, and sees potential where others might suspect a scam.
Bonnie agrees to give Vincent temporary refuge in her home. Her disaffected sons accept the stranger as another peculiarily in their lives, already changed by their parents' divorce. The elder, writing a school paper about Hitler, takes Vincent's hint about Hitler's sexuality and takes it too far, resulting in a minature version of the plight of the dissident journalists that BW deplores. Bonnie, numbed from her divorce from a self-absorbed cardiologist, takes on the challenge of making Vincent ready for his closeup as the new face of BW.
The transformation is not easy. What transformation is? A dress rehearsal for the upcoming glittering fundraiser begins when Vincent spills red wine on his shirt. It ends with Bonnie, drunk and asleep on Meyer's bed. Meyer, who knows that he has burdened Bonnie with the task of taming the rough-edged stranger, looks at his sleeping aide and "feels like a different person. Purified. Washed clean. It's as if he's come through to the other side... he can experience pure love for a fellow human being... This is what God gives you in return for trying to be conscious and do the right thing."
(Yes, even secular saints can lose their way and begin to fret about drug busts at Pride and Prejudice camp, or insert phrases like "moral bungee jump" into their speeches.)
The newly-tamed Vincent has a weakness that almost ends his new career - an allergy to nuts - and he has to fight the effects of a single nut in a salad to deliver his speech about - well - about his escape from a nest of nuts. His escape from ARM has not escaped his cousin's notice, and his desire for cover is destroyed as his heroics are publicized. Raymond, the neo-Nazi cousin, hunts him down and confronts him on a live, Oprah-like talk show...
Francine Prose has conjured a story that uses fairy tale and archetypal situations and characters in a very modern cautionary tale. The reader will encounter Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, The Princess and the Pea, dwarves (both physical and moral), Ice Princesses, and the solitary rites of passage that prepare a person to emerge and survive in a new life. The twin devils of political correctness and bigotry are personified in high school classes as well as Raymond's Homeland Encampment. Can it be as dangerous to follow a charismatic leader whose goals are saintly as to follow a demonic historic figure? If Meyer is eager for publicity, is he selling his soul by agreeing to a live appearance with a charismatic talk show host?
I loved this book.
(Please visit the page I've set up to track my reviews for book challenges.)
Friday, May 04, 2007
(must - not - buy - this - book - unless - I - see - it - in - Borders - tonight -)
(So why don't I just check out the library's copy? Oh, please...)
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!
Yes yes yes yes. I read in public, I read in private, I read unless I'm knitting or writing or sleeping. Gracious, what would I do if I weren't reading? I'd starve, I'd fade away, I'd become someone else, I'd stagnate.