Archive for the ‘books’ Category

This is not a country-and-western song (yet)

January 15, 2010

OK, that header is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the last time I posted something that ranged as far as I think this post will I got a rather snarky note from someone suggesting that I had put far too may topics in one blog post. I suppose he was trying to educate me on blog etiquette, but hey, that’s the way my days go. If yours don’t, I’m a bit sorry.

If I were going to do a post about cancer or some very serious topic, I probably would restrict it, narrow it a bit. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to do that, but I’m getting readier. But when I’m writing about life in the country, I think it should include all the wildness that goes with life in the country. If I throw in a little technology or other stuff, well, for me, that’s life in the country, too.

But I just wrote him back and said I’d add trains and pickup trucks and maybe I’d have a country song. If you’re not a David Allan Coe fan (or a Steve “?” who actually wrote the song), you probably won’t get that.

However, there are no trains and pickup trucks in this post. And no Mama, either. She died more than a decade ago, which is a little startling to recognize, frankly.

I went to town today. I really hate doing that, but I had reasons I had to go, and I knew if I put it off any longer, I’d forget them.

I stopped on the way in at the feed-and-seed in Toledo to get Ben two new work shirts. He hinted strongly a couple of weeks ago that he needed them and suggested I check out the Carhardt’s at this store. Well, Carhardt doesn’t seem to manufacture any “work shirts” with a zipper closure, as I found out with the assistance of a nice young clerk who offered to order for me anything I couldn’t find on their shelves. So I got him two hickory shirts (that funny blue and white striped cotton cloth that only serious workers wear). He was very happy, even though the same nice young clerk told me he couldn’t pre-wash them for me to get the itchy sizing out. “It never hurts to ask,” he said.

From there I went on to Newport to the public library to try to get some books I need. I ordered two.

Then I went down the street to the Visual Arts Center. They’re setting up a display of Lincoln County authors to run for about 6 weeks starting in February, and they actually asked for some of my books to a) display, and b) sell. Of course I accommodated them. I’m not sure what books have to do with visual arts, but anyone who wants to sell my books will get my cooperation.

From there I meandered through town to Freddy’s. I got a few groceries (and a couple of puzzle books-I’m out of Crostics). I didn’t get all I should have because I frankly blew off the need to make a list. I did get the critical stuff–two pounds of butter (I was down to only three pounds in the fridge and getting nervous), some ground beef (currently in a pot of chili waiting for us to be hungry), some yeast (I used the last of my non-fast-acting yesterday), some Pepsi (Ben was down to only a can or two), a new block of Bandon cheese, some of Kroger’s outrageously good bacon, some Jimmy Dean sausage for Sunday’s guest breakfast of biscuits with sausage gravy, an “Oregonian” newspaper. . .this list is depressing me a bit as I write it, but you should know I have copious quantities of salad stuff, vegetables, several kins of fresh fruit, and homemade bread already at home.

Then I went across the highway to the liquor store, but I got sidetracked by the fact that there was a Radio Shack next door. So I went there first, bought some batteries to try (saving me a trip to Home Depot in Corvallis which is an hour plus the other direction). Then feeling adventuresome, I bought a Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse to go with my new computer. I’m determined to get rid of all these fricking cords. If anyone out there knows a reason I shouldn’t use this keyboard or mouse (or Maxwell batteries for that matter), please write ASAP. I haven’t hooked it up yet.

Now off to the liquor store for scotch, brandy, and various tobacco products. While there I learned the names of the various clerks that frequently wait on me. I asked because sometime this week it occurred to me that I didn’t know them after years of interaction. I thought that was a bit sad, so I set out to remedy it. In return, Joe, for the first time, called me by what he thinks (based on my debit card) is my first name. I liked that.

Then I pulled into Burger King for a Whopper Junior with extra pickles. This is not food exactly, but it’s closer to it than the 1000-calorie options they prefer to sell, it only cost $1.00, and it kept me from passing out before I got home.

Then to the bank to deposit three small checks, one book-related, one utility refund, one brandy rebate–total under $50.00, but I’d been carrying them around for some time because it’s a lot of trouble to go to the bank. They don’t give me enough deposit slips with my checks, so at a certain point, I have to park, go in, fill out a counter slip, and so on. I am offended by the counter slip that says something like “To serve you better in the future, please use your preprinted deposit slips that come with your checks.” That’s like salt in a wound. I would if I could.

Before I even went to town, I finished Jon Raymond’s short story collection Livability. Whew! What great stories. Read this one for sure.

Then I made about my fifth call to the manager of the Marylhurst bookstore. One of the professors there shot me a note last week to let me know they were down to only one copy of my book and needed some more. But since the prof isn’t paying the bills, I feel a little odd just sending them and thought I should talk to the manager first to confirm. But I’m about to give up.

OK, this is what a day in the country looks like. I’m going to go eat some chili. If there are typos here, I’m sorry, but I’m too tired (the main side effect of going to town) to go look for them.

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I just finished reading “The Crying Tree,” and I have a few words to say

January 13, 2010

Actually, I’m reconsidering this as I write. What I was thinking about saying sounds a little mean, even to me, so I think I’ll just say this: It’s a first novel and it got finished and published, two pluses right there. It’s a decent read. I would probably consider reading another of Rakha’s books when she publishes one.

It’s unfortunate (for comparison purposes) that I just finished Prince of Players, a rather extraordinary biography of Edwin Booth. Ben’s been going through some old books, and he came down with this one in his hands. “I know you like Shakespeare,” he said (this is somewhat typical of his perception of my engagement with literature), “so you might find this interesting.”

Booth was the older brother of John Wilkes B., whom every Anerican older than 35 has heard of (somewhere in there they quit teaching American history, or at least the unexpurgated version of it). But few outside the realms of literature or drama have heard of Edwin. Yet in his day he was the premier American man of the classical theater. He had a career that spanned decades, and even in his waning days could draw crowds who brought their grandchildren to see the “great man before he died.”

This book was fabulously engaging. I’m sure it’s many years out of print (one of the advantages to hanging on to a lot of old books is that you never know when something will tweak your fancy, or tweak someone else’s), but if you can find it somewhere, I give it five stars.

But I’m afraid The Crying Tree suffered a bit by comparison. Dang it, I said I wasn’t going to be mean, but Rakha dragged out a lot of cliches to assemble into a plot. If you didn’t know very early in the book that the son was gay but nobody else seemed to know it, you just weren’t paying attention. She also relied very heavily on physical description of her characters, which I didn’t care for at all. That may be a personal prejudice, but I find myself often not caring what someone looks like (unless there is some gross deformity that has an impact on the action), and all those print dresses and ravishing locks really slow the action down. A man making a joke about his thinning hair tells me a lot more about the man than someone pointing out that the man’s hair is thinning.

But it was a noble effort, and I’m willing to give her another chance. She’s very young and can only get better, unless the success of this book convinces her that she’s already cracked the code. Which, IMNHO, she hasn’t.

On a lighter note (well maybe not lighter but more cheerful), I talked with an old friend last night, an Army buddy of Ben’s. We haven’t spoken for months and months, but we had a terrific visit. He said he went this year to a 101st Airborne reunion and took my book of poetry with him. When he got his five minutes in the spotlight, he read the assembled three of the Vietnam poems in the book. He said a 93-year-old man cried because “someone got it.” Made my night. . .

And I got a note from a professor at Marylhurst noting that the bookstore was down to one copy of my book and I should get them some more. I will do so.

I am an anachronism

June 6, 2008

The truth can now be revealed, and it isn’t pretty. I’ve suspected this for some time, but I couldn’t really confirm it.

However, the new ( July/August 2008 ) Atlantic (formerly Atlantic Monthly—hmmm, July/August (?), maybe there’s a reason for the name change) arrived today. The cover article, by Nicholas Carr, is: “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” It’s a fascinating read.

Carr explores the ways in which extensive use of the Web is changing the ways we read and think. It’s frankly, for someone like me at least, a little scary.

I’m not a Luddite. I actually enjoy being able to search for things on the Web from the comfort of my home office. I’ve had enough experience to know at least some of the ways you can validate (or invalidate) what you find there.

But I also really enjoy a good book or magazine that requires me to digest pages of material, mull it over, and then try to integrate what I’ve read with what I knew before. I like to think deep AND wide, and I take great pleasure in synergy, especially in apparently unrelated topics.

That’s what makes me an anachronism.

Notable quote from the article: “In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive.”

I would agree with much of that last sentence, but not at the costs that the article points to. These changes do not come in a vacuum.

Carr doesn’t demonize Google. He rather attempts to reflect on the changes in thinking and brain function that are being observed as a byproduct of extensive use of the Web.

It’s well worth your time to browse this piece. You may be able to find it online at www.theatlantic.com. I don’t know. I haven’t checked. I have the hard copy, you see.

And I’ve found another reason to be very happy that I bought the second edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, all 20 volumes and four feet of books. It may not be available too much longer.

Of course, we are all busy dying

February 10, 2008

That is not meant to be flip. The amazing thing is that we also get to cram so much living into the process. But every seven years, your body has replaced every cell in it with a new cell generated for one that has died off. How many bodies have you had?

One of my all-time favorite movies–perhaps my VERY favorite–is Zorba the Greek. The story is taken from a book of the same title by the Greek writer Nikos Kazantkakis. I suspect I must have mentioned this before, because my dear friend Phil sent me a copy of Kazantkakis’s Report to Greco that occupies a treasured place on my bookshelf. I share so much philosophy with this man. But that reflection is for another post.

It’s impossible for me to think about dying without thinking about Zorba. The movie is brilliant, with incredible performances by Anthony Quinn as Zorba, Alan Bates as “the Englishman” (a bookish sort who comes to this small Greek island with visions of imposing his orderly logic on the project he’s sent to manage), and Irene Papas as the young Greek widow who is stoned to death for canoodling with the Englishman. Then of course there is the unforgettable performance of Lila Kedrova as the aging courtesan, a character I seem to relate to more and more as the years pass.

There are many influences of this movie I can picture in my life. One of the most vivid is an evening drinking ouzo in a tavern in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District with a bunch of Greek sailors and dancing all night to bazouki music until I could hardly walk to my car, let alone drive home. I’m not sure I would have braved the dancing without the memory of Zorba resonating in my brain, but I can say that it was a highlight night of my life.

It also taught me not to drink ouzo. No matter how much I like the taste of anise and the mysterious way this crystalline liquer turns cloudy with a drop of water or melting ice, the next morning’s head isn’t worth it.

This really is relevant.

The young Greek woman played by Irene Papas is stoned to death by the villagers after spending a night with the Englishman. What follows is this (probably loosely paraphrased):

Zorba:  “Why do the young die?”

Englishman: “I don’t know.”

Zorba: “What the hell is the good of all your damned books if they don’t tell you that?”

Englishman: “I don’t know.”

As a book person, I don’t know either. I do know that books are important to me, that they give me a window into other people’s minds and other ways of seeing.

But I, too, still don’t understand why the young die.

I also don’t understand why sending this message off into the ether gives me comfort, but it does. And when I get notes back, the comfort is doubled. Thank you, Phil and Jeff.