Sunday, December 24, 2006
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!
Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend!
He knows our need—to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
Learn about the carol at The Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
Happy Christmas, Everyone.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Imagine two good friends of several years, Paco and Abundio: Paco is going to get married, and he wants Abundio to be his best man. Abundio graciously declines, and then proceeds to not even attend the wedding. Paco decides never to speak to him again.
What kind of friendship is this, if any? Who's behavior is more unfriendly, Paco's or Abundio's? Does it matter why Abundio does not attend the wedding? Perhaps he is uncomfortable at parties. Perhaps he is embarrassed by his lack of formalwear. Perhaps he has a secret crush on the bride. Perhaps he thinks weddings are a silly social custom. Perhaps he is hurt that what used to be Paco's friend-time will now be wife-time. Perhaps he merely got lost of the way to the chapel.
Should Paco forgive Abundio? If a friendship is based on one single act, is it really a friendship? What if Paco is offended? What if Paco suspects Abundio of coveting his wife?Is it wrong for Paco to expect Abundio to attend his wedding? Or should Paco be able to expect everything of his friend? If Paco asks Abundio to do something he does not want to do, is Paco really a friend? Is it selfish of Abundio to not attend Paco's wedding? Is it selfish for Paco to expect Abundio to do something that is not true to his nature? Is Abundio deceiving a friend if he attends Paco's wedding when he doesn't really want to?
Someone reads this blog: is she a friend? Someone reads this blog and occasionally exchanges an email: is he a friend? Someone reads this blog, regularly exchanges emails, and speaks on the phone: is she a friend? Someone vacations with us, but never reads our blog: is he a friend? Are coworkers friends: if one only works with them? if one has an after-work drink with them? if one plays street basketball with them? If we invite our neighbor out to dinner, is he a friend? If we invite him to dinner at our house, is he a friend? If he takes care of our llama and mail while we are out of town, is he a friend? When does an acquaintance become a friend? Are there specific criteria to classify a person as a friend?
If a friend is someone who subjects one to long periods of silence and careless remarks, is she a friend one would want to keep? Why do people find it so difficult to match Emerson's expectations of a friend? Do people generally prefer making friends to keeping them? Can a dog be a person's best friend? Can some indulgent friend help us figure all this out?
But back to the NoWri at hand. We are pleased to update the official counter. As suggested, we have taken the beginning of our first novel Disaster and followed with a page break and the beginning of our second novel NaNoWriMo, and after another page break added the expansions to our ongoing novel The Beggars of Azure (which you can tell is real because it has a real title!). This new total should make the numbers people happy.
Obviously the gimmick of NaNoWriMo (the event, not our novel of the same name) works for a lot of people. Though these are clearly not the conditions under which we feel we can produce a decent piece of fiction, it does work for us, just not according to the rules. The rules say one new novel completed--we have begun two, and carried on with an existing third. The good news is that it's all writing, and those first 700 words that came to a sudden dead end might grow up someday to be something spectacular. They form an idea seed that has yet to germinate. Writers require those, too, as well as the words that go with them. The gimmick works for us because we are thinking about writing more, we are actually putting words down again, and we are moving forward. That's a win for us.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
An intriguing premise and lots of promise does not a novel make. What we began even had a concrete ending at which to aim. Yet after those first few words there was nothing more to come. Which means nothing else bubbled to the surface. Which means we didn't really try, we waited for Inspiration. And with thousands of other writers doing the same thing, Inspiration was busy elsewhere. Inspiration, as we used to remind ourself regularly, is the reward of daily practice.
Wanting to write and writing are not the same thing. Wanting to write merely requires an Idea, which is but a first kiss to the complete consumation of Inspiration. The Idea is a tease.
What we discovered, or more to the point, confirmed, is that we are from the camp which believes this is mainly a stunt. We are not a writer who can produce on demand. And yet...
A week after our late and aborted start of a novel, we Selected All and Deleted, and we started over with something new. This new novel, tentatively called NaNoWriMo, does not have an end in sight. It does, however, have characters who we know, characters we can take from personal experience and plug them in to this new situation, a combination of writers' retreat, The Real World, Survivor, and (the theme of all our novels) affairs of the heart. And in one brief sitting we produced around 20% more words than we did with the start of Disaster. But what did we really know about Greek courtesans? Writing, and the troubles of writing under the pressure of a writing contest in which one writer is removed at the end of each week (but why not more than just removed, why not eaten, or shot, or some more sinister fate, or apparently sinister, like in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory?) falls closer to the realm of what we know.
What ten days comes down to so far is that we have no chance at this. Despite our spotty postings, we would have a better chance at succeeding at NaBloPoMo. Well, the enthusiasm of others can be infectious, and dreams die hard, and the truth is that we still want to write. Among all the other ideas and characters and teases has even been a renewed interest in finishing the favorite novel we have been working on completing for, what, oh, five or more years? That is what really needs to happen here, and if we can put down any words to that end, we will gladly violate the rules of this affair and count them toward our total. Which, actually if we combine the first output with the second output comes to around 1600 words total. Success is defined differently for us all. And maybe we will end the month being the biggest loser of all. Not writing the most words--now that's something every aspiring writer is quite good at.
Thursday, November 9, 2006
1. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure
2. Lady Chatterley's Lover
3. Tropic of Cancer
4. The Story of O
6. Interview with the Vampire
7. Portnoy's Complaint
8. The Magus
9. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
10. Endless Love
12. Carrie's Story
13. Fear of Flying
14. Peyton Place
15. Story of the Eye
16. The End of Alice
19. Singular Pleasures
20. In The Cut
24. An American Dream
25. The Carpetbaggers
Check your score: if you've read fewer than four, you're an old maid; from four to eight, you're a curious teenager; from nine to fourteen, you're a desperate housewife; from fifteen to twenty, you're readily available; and if you've read more than twenty-one, you're a five-star nymphomaniac.
Thursday, November 2, 2006
"If you took this case, how would you approach it?"
"I wouldn't take this case. There is nothing to be gained from it."
"Nothing for you to be gained, you mean."
"Of course. You of all people are not that unselfish."
"But there is a life to be gained for the accused."
Let us call this novel-so-far by it's most obvious title, Disaster.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Remember, freedom allows us to read the books we want without fear.
Photo by Steve Spak
Here is what Manhattan looked like from space five years ago today. The image I really wanted that shows the city today I couldn't figure out how to retrieve, but there is a link to it below.
Thursday, September 7, 2006
A while back Ella came out of her Box to answer a few reader questions. She indicated the possibility that this life might not be all that it seems: "...you and I are fictional characters living in a fictional work a la Jasper Fforde." We certainly needed to find out more about this Fforde character. And we discovered he is a writer, and his first novel features characters who can move back and forth across the boundary that separates life and literature. Characters from Dickens novels cross over into our world, and "real people" cross over into Dickens novels. We ordered this book, and when it recently arrived, we began reading it.
We have mentioned before our way of reading several books at one time. This is a good example: we are already into the second volume of Proust; we have a non-fiction book about creativity going; earlier we had been reading a few of H.G. Wells' stories; and when the Fforde arrives, we immediately begin reading that. The reading does not take place simultaneously, which means for a short time, Fforde takes precedence over Proust--because the Fforde is a simple intermission which can be consumed quickly, and then Proust may be resumed. Proust is presently the main course, if you will, and Fforde is like a piece of bread one might eat between helpings, and the non-fiction is like the wine one might imbibe at intervals to wash it all down.
A whiler back a book called The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers was previewed in the Bibliophile Bullpen. The brief synopsis sounded so intriguing and entertaining, we decided to order it. And when it arrived last weekend, it shot immediately to the top of the reading pile. So now on hold are Proust, the non-fiction, and Fforde, while we explore Bookholm and all its eccentricities. We have been through the first sixty pages, and we will give you a word of warning: this is a fun book, with lots of invention, and subjects and themes (as they are so far) which appeal to book-fanciers, readers and writers. Don't be surprised if all three of you, our Dear Readers, are ordering it very soon.
So, having reached the end of this explosive chapter, and the end of the internet, we now push ourself away from the computer and go read a book.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
For extra credit, in addition to the selected title, we also read The War of the Worlds (the translucent review concerning which has previously been posted) and The Time Machine. This second novel began its existence as early as 1888, and reportedly evolved from three distinct ideas into the final form, in 1895, we know today. The distinctive elements we recognise right away are the theory of time travel, the experiences of a Time Traveler, and a future vision.
Wells begins by laying out the theory of travel through time plainly and believably by comparison to travel through space. The experiences of the Time Traveler follow, recounted to a group of friends, though as an uninterrupted narrative for the reader. The vision comes at the end, when the Time Traveler goes back to the future, and beyond, millions of years hence. Instead of the great technology-driven worlds of microchips and interstellar life, Wells discloses a shrouded desolate landscape inhabited by monstrous crustaceans that, we are led to believe, has come about by some withering of man, first into placid leisure, and then into extinction. Having progressed to conquer all challenges and losing the ability to adapt, mankind doomed itself to atrophy.
In The Island of Dr. Moreau, first published in 1896, when Wells was thirty years old, we find the contemporaneous controversy of vivisection mixed with the future controversy of gene splicing; questions in morality of experimentation on animals; the hazards of sea travel; the evils of empire; evolution and creationism; and we also find the more broader issues of religion and existence. There also is the theme of transformation similar to another of his novels, The Invisible Man. The common thread in all Wells' writing seems to be a sort of debunked utopian outlook. Is the striving to reach beyond ourselves worth the trouble?
Poor brutes! I began to see the viler aspect of Moreau's cruelty. ... Before, they had been beasts, their instincts fitly adapted to their surroundings, and happy as living things may be. Now they stumbled in the shackles of humanity, lived in a fear that never died, fretted by a law they could not understand; their mock-human existence began in an agony, was one long internal struggle, one long dread of Moreau--and for what?Prendick, the man whose discovered narrative makes up the tale, is considering the creatures that have been born of Moreau's experimentation; yet he may also be addressing Moreau's condition: as a man, Moreau was perfectly adapted to his station in life, but in trying to understand something he could not--creation--he now faced constant fear, of his own handiwork.
The novel has much of the flavor of a writer at odds with religion. Dr. Moreau is referred to by his creatures as Him. We also watched the film version of the novel, starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, in which the point is taken even further, as the creatures call Moreau Father. Prendick even thinks Moreau has hypnotised the creatures into believing he is their god. For humans today who do not understand, are they not the beasts to God's Moreau? Is God nothing but a mad scientist? The screenplay makes a few adaptations to the novel, most notably the addition of a love interest for Prendick (who is also renamed), a young woman he tries to save from reverting to beasthood, a subplot which adds nothing of substance to Wells' story. In the film, Moreau uses electical implants to control his creatures, while in the book they are heeled only by the whip and the Law--a set of rules unnatural to their beastly instincts, as precarious is the Bible and other religious tracts in restraining
men from their most natural instincts of survival: fear, flight, and fight.
At the end of the novel appears a lifeboat of the ship from which Prendick had been cast off. Inside he finds dead the captain and another man from the ship. The irony is, if Prendick had not been cast off the ship and suffered the horrors of Moreau's island, he would have died. Perhaps there is a message there, that only by facing up to the darkness of men can we hope to survive. Though Prendick has seen the worst, he also nows sees hope. Wells realised much that was horrible in human nature, yet the world's worst conflicts were still far in the future. In this and other stories, he reveals the darker shades of humanity, with hope just a glimmer of possibility. That hope is fragile, as if he wishes a better fate, but has little faith in civilization. The Island of Dr. Moreau, The War of the Worlds, and The Time Machine are works of doomsday fiction.
Though not transcendent works, these novels are interesting and thought-provoking, and in many ways remarkable when considering the time during which they were written. For a reader of broad interests ploughing through two thousand pages of A la recherche du temps perdu, some other of Wells' novels, like The Invisible Man, The First Men in the Moon, and The Food of the Gods might be quick intermissions between Swann in Love and Within a Budding Grove. We will keep those books at hand confident of a good story for when the need arises.
This along with the other Slave reviews can be found at The Slaves of Golconda. Go there to read or join in the mining.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Your Bibliothecary has finished the reading of Swann's Way and The Island of Doctor Moreau. There was no deadline for the first--or the informal one was long past--and the second is due next week, so we have time to gather our thoughts and draft something at least publishable, if not insightful. We have been lax in our fleshing out of The Slaves of Golconda blog, but Stefanie, having selected our current title, has proceeded to gather some information and links which may interest.
Having finished Swann's Way and begun Within a Budding Grove, some further thoughts on Proust are in order. In case you have not read this far yet, I will say only that I was surprised how things turned out for M. Swann.
Read the rest of this mind-boggling chapter at Involuntary Memory.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
The privileged moments experienced by the narrator define his "profoundest sense of reality--a fleeting recreation of the past in the present, conferring a rare and pleasurable sensation of timelessness."
The narrator speaks of looking at his experiences at the Guermantes' dinner party through an "interior stereoscope." He speaks of seeing things double in time as one might see something double in space. This is the basis for Shattuck's theory, that Proust's idea of memory is a "stereoscopic or stereologic consciousness which sees the world simultaneously (and thus out if time) in relief." He makes the meaning of this idea clear, and reveals the form and reason of the novel's structure of interval and forgetting: "Merely to remember something is meaningless unless the remembered image is combined with a moment in the present affording a view of the same object or objects. Like our eyes, our memories must see double;..." The novel is structured, and the narrator's experiences revealed, in the binocular nature of human vision: "the disagreement between the two different versions of space which reach our consciousness from two separated eyes." It is the combination of slightly dissimilar images in memory that provides the most accurate perceptions.
Part of the feeling of intimacy so many have noted may be a result of what Shattuck calls "a series of inconglomerate thought processes" by which we identify and follow the narrator. It is an unusual mixture of personal memories described with the thoughts as they happened, and past events reconstructed with thoughts in hindsight.
Proust's first uncompleted novel, Jean Santeuil, was discovered about twenty years after his death. Justin O'Brien found in it the germ of In Search of Lost Time, although Proust "has not yet learned to orchestrate his themes. The greatest value of this volume ... is to make the world appreciate at last the ingenious composition of his more familiar definitive work--the very quality upon which, as it was least apparent at first, he himself most insisted." In a letter to Paul Souday, Proust wrote, "My composition is veiled and its outline only gradually perceptible because it unfolds on so vast a scale."
Shattuck believes that forgetting in the novel is just as important as remembering, that having forgotten provides the temporal distance between memories that gives relief similar to that rendered by the spacial distance between our eyes. As a working formula for the novel, we can see the reason behind its length, and are provided with a clue in the brilliant final paragraph of the overture, which closes the opening so satisfactorily that it could stand alone, while at the same time acts as the most beautiful opening sequence to the grand drama which follows, most specifically:
I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy....
Read the rest of the sweet and saucy chapter at Involuntary Memory.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
If you haven't heard about this, it may be because eBay did not release this change as a press release. Instead, sellers received this notice directly. You can read the entire announcement here. We are also happy to bring you some highlights, as follows:
The announcement opens stating
in the interest of the eBay marketplace's long-term vitality - we've had to step in and implement new policies, introduce new formats, or make changes to our fee structure to create needed incentives for eBay membersAs we read further, we begin to suspect certain key phrases were deleted from this opening: that the major concern is not the vitality of the marketplace, but the vitality of the company; and that the incentives are for eBay members to refrain from dilution of the company stock price.
What does an eBay shopper expect from the website? A vital marketplace, probably. We once went there to find auctions on things not available elsewhere; now we believe many people go there expecting to find everything and anything for sale. The announcement claims
we're improving the advantages of selling in core listing formats -- and taking action to manage the proportion of Store Inventory listings - to ensure that the buying experience on eBay stays true to shoppers' expectations.The changes obviously encourage auction-style listings over store inventory listings. Unfortunately, auction-style listings, unless there is some prior advertisement, are generally not advantageous to the book seller. It is rare that those who are interested in a certain title, or any merchandise, will all visit eBay within the same seven-day period to bid. Does eBay have some sort of email alert system, so if we are looking for a DeVity painting, we will receive an email to tell us when one goes up for auction? We don't know, but that would certainly drive more people to bid. A permanent store listing reaches many more buyers. Is a preponderance of auction-style listings really true to shoppers' expectations these days? We thought eBay had grown itself to be more than that, beyond a mere auction site.
And for sellers, these changes will ensure that eBay remains a differentiated and distinct e-commerce channel with fast inventory turnover.Sounding as if they intend to focus primarily on auctions, and giving up the complete marketplace concept to Amazon or other would-be players. Amazon is no longer just books. Amazon has stores with listings from individual sellers. If one wants to bid, go to eBay; but why go to eBay to shop when Amazon will have the most to offer? Also, as most booksellers know, books typically do not have a fast turnover. It is not uncommon for books to sit on shelves for years before being found by the right book-fancier.
What, then, is the cost to the book seller on eBay?
A typical eBay Stores seller who uses Store Inventory format - making no adjustments to his or her selling strategy following these changes - will experience an overall fee increase of less than six percent.They must be using that new math we've heard so much about to calculate these figures. When we look at our inventory and sales, the overall fee increases come to about 215%. This typical seller will continue to use the same selling strategy following these changes, until it can be shown that selling there costs us more than we earn. eBay still remains another selling venue that some people prefer over the rest, and we sell books there that have not sold for years at other sites. However, from feedback we have heard, many sellers will be pulling some of their inventory away from eBay. For us, the decreased competition may be a good thing. For buyers, the decreased offerings will likely be a bad thing--and this may drive buyers away from eBay, ultimately making the decreased competition a bad thing for us.
Maybe we are misunderstanding the changes, simply fearful of something new or unhappy at the prospect of a diminished profit margin. We want to see this impartially, objectively. What do you, the shopper, expect from eBay? As they say in the opening of the announcement, the marketplace will decide the outcome.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
In the digital age, words don't end up in a pile on the floor next to the editor's desk. One keystroke, and they are gone. But where do they go? There is much talk about books that never were written, books that should have been written, books that were nearly not written. But what about books, or more basically, words that were written and no longer exist? Is there a place where rejected or banished books go to live, a literary Island of Misfit Toys?
As we noted, there were some interesting thoughts behind the effortless production of our drivel, and so we thought to post some of them here, to at least get a little mileage out of our fingers' work. Unfortunately, there is no copy of an outgoing submission, and there is no draft or final product saved anywhere on the massive mainframe at our International Headquarters. Without questioning our editor's judgement, questions arise. Did we even write it? Who cared less for what we wrote, we who did not save it, or my good editor who rejected it? Is there some sort of digital limbo for words that were once written and then deleted? Can words become ghosts and return to haunt us? Some posit that when a living being dies, its energy is returned to the great energy supply of the universe to eventually be put to use somewhere else. In Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie imagines a pool of words from which all stories are drawn and to which they can also return.
We have written things and then lost them, because of some glich, or perhaps human error. Rewrites never produce the same feeling of accomplishment--we always agonise that something is missing, and we just can't retrieve it. For one fleeting moment the thought or idea flourished, and then was extinguished. If such a loss is tragic, why does the idea of a manuscript, or any work of art, being consigned to flames seem romantic? Novels like The Shadow of the Wind and Farenheit 451 deal with similar questions.
Today we sit down and blog our thoughts and they are quickly disseminated, probably cached by Google forever, and, comments or not, undoubtedly read by at least one other soul. Try to imagine an ancient time when computers and the internet did not exist, and the countless words people commited to paper, in letters and journals, which were hidden in a drawer and then consigned to a landfill when those people died, forever unread.
Friday, August 11, 2006
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Friends and family often top the list of recipients. Other than that: a good place to start is your local library. If they cannot use them in circulation, most libraries now hold book sales to raise additional funds. If yours doesn't, perhaps you can organise one. Other places we frequently donate to are rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and veterans' homes. There are many national organisations, such as the American Association of University Women, with local chapters that hold book sales with donated books. Schools might be pleased to accept books from a kind reader. Special giveaways are a great way to reward readers of one's blog, and keep the book within a somewhat more personal circle than an anonymous donation. The Salvation Army is a permanent last resort.
Perhaps, though, a university--better still, the Museum of the Weblog--should provide a repository for all the books litbloggers must get rid of. Imagine an international collection in one building made up of books from your Bibliothecary, and Kate, and Ella, and all the others who are faced with deciding what to do with the books they can no longer keep. Let the MOTW Collection stand as a permanent memorial to book-fancying bloggers, a place that belongs to all and serves all, a good home for the books we once loved enough to take them in and make them our own.
Tuesday, July 4, 2006
Today is the day we remember and celebrate the Declaration of Independence from the British Government of The Free and Independent States of America.
"For the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."The following song was written by Dr. Jonathan M. Sewall of New Hampshire, the adopted son of Chief Justice Stephen Sewall of Massachusetts Colony.
Come all your brave soldiers, both valiant and free,
It's for Independence we all now agree,
The cause is so glorious we need not fear,
From merciless tyrants we'll set ourselves clear.
Let's gird on our swords and prepare to defend,
Our liberty, property, ourselves, and our friends;
Still fighting we'll die in America's cause,
before we'll submit to tyrannical laws.
George the Third of great Britain no longer shall reign,
With unlimited sway o'er these free States again;
Lord North, nor old Bute, nor none of their clan,
Shall ever hold sway o'er an A-merican.
Upon our great Congress may heaven bestow,
Both wisdom and skill our good cause to pursue;
On heaven alone dependent we'll be
But from all earthly tyrants we mean to be free.
Unto our brave Generals may Heaven give skill,
Our armies to guide, and the sword for to wield;
May their hands taught to war and their fingers to fight,
Be able to put British armies to flight.
And now, brave Americans, since it is so,
We're now independent, we'll have them all know,
That united we are, and united we'll stand,
And keep British tyranny out of our land.
*photograph and music from New York Ancients Fife and Drum Corps.
*song from Songs of '76: A Folksinger's History of the Revolution, by Oscar Brand.
Monday, July 3, 2006
Following a nearly month-long absence from the blogosphere, we have been loath to skip many more days (for a while, at least) without posting a new emotionally draining chapter. Still, with numerous projects of our own consuming large chunks of time, to conceive, write, and publish something regularly is sometimes more than we can handle. Finally we came up with an idea that we thought would be perfect – a guest interview with Ella. Not only would we get a chance to ask nosy questions back at her, she would be doing all the work of answering them, and therefore writing the post. It was brilliant. We drafted an email the next morning:
Dear Fellow Bookfiend,So, without further ado, we bring you...
I'd like to post an interview of you on my site. The Q&A would consist of answering five questions about books and blogging. Would you be interested in participating?
One of your many projects is reading the Modern Library. Have you ever given up on an ML book that just didn't merit any more of your time? What's next after you have read them all?
The ML project is really my main focus as a reader. It's my hope that by reading the catalog I will get the 'best of the best' - the most important books in Western literature. The really great thing about reading them is that, after a certain point, the books begin to inform each other. Now, of course, with reading Shakespeare, I'm getting a lot of that.
Giving up on a book is hard for me. Even if a book's awful, I feel obliged to finish it, if only to plumb the depths of the awfulness. (And there's always the hope that the last chapter will redeem everything.) Modern Library books I have wanted to give up on include: Nietzsche's Zarathustra, Irving Shaw's The Young Lions, and John Dewey's philosophy. And of course Feuchtwanger's Power, which was terrible on so many levels. So no, I've never been Waterlooed by the Modern Library. Yet.
After I read them all, I'm planning to tackle contemporary literature, especially nonfiction and poetry.
Have you already planned out your boy's reading curriculum? What is it, or what will it be?
I have hopes that he'll be as crazy about books as I am, just for selfish reasons - so I'll have someone to talk about Emily Dickinson with over breakfast. However, my husband is not much of a reader at all, so genetically I guess the baby has only about a 50% chance of being bookish. I'll do my best to push him in that direction, but it won't break my heart if he'd rather be playing baseball.
As for curriculum - I'm trying to wean him off the Seuss. Anything else!
Tell us about The Absent Classic. This is a series that you put together, much like the Modern Library series Bennett Cerf put together. What was his influence on this series, and what makes this endeavor so enjoyable for you?
The Absent Classic is a kind of homage to The Modern Library. It's not a parody, but it's written with tongue firmly in cheek, and intended to amuse rather than educate. Like the ML, my titles include fiction, drama, poetry, biography and a sprinkling of miscellania. I think Cerf and Klopfer's gift was for finding things that were a little esoteric, and TAC takes that one step further into the realm of the weird.
It's enjoyable work for me on a number of levels. First, it's fun just to write something and put it out there for public consumption. And then it's nice to put steady work into a long project, one which (hopefully) will show progress and development over the course of a year. Finally, my subversive little heart likes to toss a little disinformation into the litblog community, not necessarily to fool people, but to make the point that not everything you read on the Internet is true. Really!
Tell us a little more about your shoe collection. How did you begin collecting, and what is your favorite pair?
I started buying shoes when I worked in a fancy shoe store during college. However, after I moved three times and then got pregnant, I stopped. Now I just admire them from shop windows. The greatest shoes I've seen recently were high heels with rhinestones on the bottom of the sole. To walk on diamonds! Genius. My own favorite pair of sandals are lime-green, flat, and horribly uncomfortable. They too have rhinestones, but, alas, on top. I wear them a lot.
Who is your favorite underappreciated author, and what makes them great?
The great thing about the part of the Modern Library catalog that I'm reading (1930-1960) is that it's full of authors who were popular then but maybe not now. I am smitten with Somerset Maugham, for instance, who I found through the ML, but I don't think he really counts as 'underappreciated'. ee cummings, too, isn't exactly an unknown, but his memoir The Enormous Room is, and that's probably the book I'd save from a burning bookshelf. It's a luminescent and wonderful thing.
For really underappreciated writers, I adore WH Hudson, Mary Webb, and George duMaurier. All three have that mix of tension and dreaminess I find particularly nice in a novel.
Sunday, July 2, 2006
As long as there have been publishers, there have been what is commonly referred to as vanity presses. These presses offer the writer some of the same services that a regular publisher does, but they do not assume any of the costs, they pass them all on to the writer. With the explosion of the internet, subsidy publishers have experienced a boom in growth. Writers still accept the costs, but now, with the technology of print-on-demand, a minimum print run, which often leaves stacks of books unsold, is no longer required. A book is formatted and ready to go, so when a consumer wants one, one is produced; when ten consumers want one, ten are produced. The result can be virtually indistinguishable from a book from a traditional publisher.
This new form of publishing has not received good publicity from the establishment. One hears claims that without a traditional publisher, and an agent, readers are more than likely to find the life story of Aunt Mable the Amish goodwife, instead of "a thrilling, heart-pounding murder mystery that left us breathless and craving more killing." Yet perhaps not one in one hundred readers could tell if a certain book has come from Random House or Alfred A. Knopf (or if they are even different companies any more) or Lighthouse Press. Rarely, if at all, has a publisher established a recognizable brand, so that, for instance, a consumer who is looking for a good ChickLit book automatically thinks of Hummingbird Press. For all their claims of quality standards, Simon and Schuster, Doubleday, and Warner still put out books like Lady Boss, The Bridges of Madison County, and The Da Vinci Code--not exactly masterpieces of literature. What those books do, though, is sell to a mass audience, and that usually by appealling to the lowest common denominator. Books that are challenging, unusual, or generally uncategorisable often have difficulty finding a publisher, because publishers are conservative beasts that don't thrive on risk.
All of which brings us to Marcel Proust. One of the sins generally to be avoided by any writer is to have a character fall asleep, particularly at the end of a chapter. Such a lull in the narrative drive of the novel can possibly signal a reader to put the book aside and go to sleep herself. Publishers want a book that a reader just can't put down, that she stays awake all night just to finish. Proust has his narrator go to bed in the very first sentence of his epic novel. Du côté de chez Swann was initially rejected by several publishers, one of whom, according to Joseph Wood Krutch, returned it noting:
"I cannot understand why a gentleman should employ thirty pages to describe how he turns and returns on his bed before going to sleep."In other words, "We don't believe readers will ever buy a book like this."
Proust was undeterred, and arranged with Grasset to pay for the costs of publication himself. What does this tell us about the judgement of publishing houses? They are interested in saleable stories that will turn an immediate profit. Waiting for seven volumes over fourteen years is too long. Writers take note: publishers are not arbiters of good literature.
Among those who had input in rejecting the novel, André Gide eventually apologized to Proust for:
"one of the most stinging and remorseful regrets of my life."Today In Search of Lost Time is regarded as one of the greatest novels ever written.
Saturday, July 1, 2006
Description of a Bindery
Three or four cutting-presses and three or four pins,
Three or four dozen of calf and sheep skins,
Three or four setts of letters and eight or nine rolls,
One or two sqaring shears and a pan for charcoals,
Three or four gilding-pallets and three or four stamps,
Three or four candle sticks, three or four lamps,
Three or four ruling pens, three or four rules,
Three or four sewing benches, and three or four stools,
Three or four setts marbling-rods, three or four brushes,
Three or four burnishers, (agates and tushes,)
Three or four folding-sticks, ivory and bone,
One or two beating-hammers, and one beating-stone,
Three or four shaving-tubs, three or four racks,
Gold, brass and silver-leaf, three or four packs,
Three or four bottles, cups, phials and bowls,
A standing press, press bar and box of charcoals;
One or two polishers and a grind stone,
Three or four skins of Morocco and roan,
Three or four sticks of green, red or blue taste,
A glue pot, a brush, and a bowl full of paste;
One or two knives, scissors, needles and hones,
Type cases, gold cushions and paring stones,
Three or four bottles or cups full of glair,
Triangles and compasses, three or four pair,
Three or four tables for folders and sewers,
Pressing and cutting boards, three or four scores,
Three or four patterns for cutting out leather,
Three or four quires to lay out and gather:
Three or four titles to letter and pare,
Three or four volumes to paste-wash and glair,
Three or four backs to be rubb'd off and draw'd,
Three or four benches of books to be saw'd;
Three or four volumes that are incomplete,
Three or four dozen books all to be beat,
Three or four books to be cover'd and path'd,
Three or four old volumes all to be math'd,
Three or four jobs to be polish'd and mended,
A bindery to hold them and thus th' affair's ended.
Friday, June 30, 2006
Thursday, June 29, 2006
If you don't mind something not quite so serious, there are a couple wonderful shows geared toward children. Between the Lions is about a family of well-to-do lions that lives in a mansion and likes to read books. There are a lot of segments that are similar to what we remember about Sesame Street: a recital of words ending in -at, a celebration of the letter e; sounding out words. There is also a white-haired man who makes noises and is generally a little bit creepy. But then there are the wonderful parts that delight the viewer: Brian McKnight sings a love song about homonyms; Dr. Ruth Wordheimer helps troubled readers; and the antics of the lion cubs are fun. In today's episode, they followed a treasure map that told them to "Turn left" then "Turn left" then "Turn left"--at which point they were baffled, bemused, and resigned--then "Turn left again" then "Take twenty-seven steps to the left." They end up in the library and are instructed to remove the seventh book from the left on the second shelf. They find it, entitled, appropriately enough, The Seventh Book from the Left on the Second Shelf. Our favorite regular feature is "Gawain's Word" hosted by Sir Gawain in full armor. He introduces us to two knights who will ride at one another and form a word. Sir Gr and Sir Ape charge hard and crash into the word grape. Excellent!
An even better show is about a dog named Wishbone. This little Jack Russell loves to sit, stay, and read. (He also has his own series of books, with titles like The Hunchdog of Notre Dame.) And as soon as his paws start turning the pages, his mind begins imagining himself in the story. A voice-over tells the audience what is going through his canine cranium. He might become a four-legged Robin Hood, complete with pointed green feathered Erroll Flynn cap, bow, and arrows. In the mean time, his pack leaders are involved in some sort of drama that is similar in theme to the book Wishbone is all barked up over. This dog enacts all kinds of classic literary scenes and makes them fun. After he turns the last page, he lays his head down and, one would assume, dreams about cats or bones or the Eukanuba World Championships. The pack leaders learn something from their experience, and we learn that a tired dog is a good dog. Roof!
We were surprised to learn Muriel Spark just died two months ago. In 1993 she became Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, in recognition of her services to literature. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is Ms. Spark's sixth novel, originally published 1961. Time magazine recently listed it among their 100 Best English-Language Novels since 1923. In her autobiography, Ms. Spark identified Miss Christina Kay and the James Gillespie School in Edinburgh as the models for Brodie and the Marcia Blaine Junior School where she teaches. Loitering With Intent is Ms. Spark's sixteenth novel, published in 1981.
Let us dispense with the second book first.
Loitering With Intent
The narrator, a novelist called Fleur Talbot, is enlisted by a wealthy old man called Sir Quentin to help ghost-write the autobiographies of his circle of friends. She finds their stories boring, and so proceeds to embellish them. The more she comes to know the members of the Autobiographical Association, the more they remind her of characters in the novel she has been writing, until she begins to suspect she has been hired merely to mine her fiction. When Sir Quentin accuses her of misusing him and his friends as models for her novel, she must quickly figure out who is on her side and who is not in order to prevent Sir Quentin from destroying the manuscript.
Fleur seems to be a good woman, befriending the elderly mother of Sir Quentin when everyone else tries to shut her away. She maintains a casual relationship with the wife of her former lover, even after she discovers the woman has betrayed her. She completes her novels, she perseveres, she is not a victim. She learns from her experience, which she marks as the end of her poverty and her youth. Still, she is just one of a strange lot of people who seem to deserve one another. None of the Autobiographical Association seem to have a purpose in life, and perhaps it is thus they are so easily lured in by Sir Quentin.
This is a novel that contains a bit of mystery, a hint of suspense, and much reference to the writing life. It was easy to fall into, quick to read, and confusing only if we tried to keep accurate track of time--Fleur is in the present, beginning her story in the near past, from where she flashes back to the distant past, and then freely refers back to the present now and again.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
There is near the end of the novel a paragraph that succinctly describes Jean Brodie:
She thinks she is Providence, thought Sandy, she thinks she is the God of Calvin, she sees the beginning and the end. And Sandy thought, too, the woman is an unconscious Lesbian. And many theories from the books of psychology categorised Miss Brodie, but failed to obliterate her image from the canvases of one-armed Teddy Lloyd.Though Miss Brodie teaches her students many things outside the standard school curriculum, she does not reveal everything. The girls begin to fill in the spaces in their instruction with their own imaginings, much like the other teachers do in their knowledge of Miss Brodie. Two of the girls fabricate a series of love letters between Miss Brodie and Gordon Lowther, the music teacher. The last letter of the series is the only one presented, and provides a moment of great humor. Ms. Spark does a wonderful job of capturing the thoughts of pre-teen girls on the edge of obsession about sex. They have Miss Brodie recall a moment of passion with Lowther, and then go on to say:
"I may permit misconduct to occur again from time to time as an outlet because I am in my Prime."And the closing:
"Allow me, in conclusion, to congratulate you warmly upon your sexual intercourse, as well as your singing."We have a soft place for unorthodox school teachers. To a great extent, modern public education in America has devolved into mere skills training so that students will become productive members of the economy. Anyone who teaches critical thinking to students, as Miss Brodie clearly does, gets a gold star beside their name on our classroom poster. We had the privilege of a teacher who would take class outdoors on fine days; a teacher who taught algebra in advance of the curriculum; and a political science teacher who showed murder/mystery films in class, and who would discuss anything. What joy to have John Keating for a teacher.
Unfortunately, it feels as if Miss Brodie goes a little too far. We had an uneasy feeling when she would speak of her personal life with her grade-school girls. And she seemed to prefer the company of these girls, who she so easily influenced, and over whom she held a position of authority, to the company of her peers, by whom she felt mainly threatened. She does engage in a love affair, yet it does not strike us as genuine, and she suggests with determination that one of her girls become the lover, in her place, of her true love interest, Teddy Lloyd. While Miss Brodie is dismissed in the end because of politics alone, and she regularly champions her strong morals, her influence over the children borders uncomfortably on exploitation.
Lurking hidden by her prime, hypocrisy clouds much of Miss Brodie's thoughts and teachings. Why does she believe it would be unseemly for her to become the lover of a married man, but it would be fine for one of her students? Why does she urge her students to be individualists, but try to keep them together under her wing--the Brodie set--and sing the praises of the fascisti?
Several things struck us about both novels. First, they are brief in length. They might be called novellas--The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was published first in a magazine--and yet they feel to us more like an expanded slice-of-life short story, or maybe even a whole pie of life. They do not create a world, though, as most of the best novels do.
Second, Miss Brodie and Sir Quentin are both characters who aspire to gather others around them and manipulate, if not control, them. In these two cases, the end result is not in their favor. According to the Literary Encyclopedia, these are both personifications of a control figure that Ms. Spark uses frequently in her fiction.
Third, Ms. Spark's narratives moved back and forth in time. Though we began The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie with the mildest of confusion, the shifts were done extremely well. Within the space of a few sentences, even within the same paragraph, the reader would move from past to future and then back to present. For aspiring writers who desire to do the same, Ms. Spark provides a fine example of how to accomplish it smoothly, clearly, and without disruption to the story. Time is so fluid in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, it would require careful study to plot the events in chronological order and determine whether or not the skips are purposeful to the novel, or merely an omniscient style with which Ms. Spark is comfortable, and proficient.
Finally, Ms. Spark writes in a style in both books that to us is reminiscent of John Gardner. Both writers seem completely in control of their stories. Their books read pleasantly, with a careful workmanship flavor. The language is correct and exact. Despite all these qualities, their books stir little emotion. There are no characters we identify with or root for. We would probably not recommend them for enjoyment, yet we wouldn't offer them up at the next book burning. We struggled to find much to say beyond a synopsis of both Ms. Spark's books. Though Julie enjoyed Loitering With Intent, Suzanne commented that she had read the book but had no recollection of it at all. That is how it seems to us to be with Ms. Spark: we read her books, and then we move on to the next book in the TBR pile.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Throughout the year we have improved our selection of books, and increased the categories, like history, that our customers have asked for. On our book hunts we have located many specific books people have asked for. When people have asked us to order a book for them, we have done that for them as a service, not for profit. The accounts for our first year have closed in the red. Expenses have been steady and what we expected, with the exception of a high electricity bill. We also had the unexpected expense of repairing a malfunctioning "S" in our neon "BOOKS" sign. We offer fresh coffee nearly every day, which most people pass on, as well as mints at the counter, and classical music in the air.
We have met some interesting, odd, irritating, and wonderful people. We have discovered that some (older) people do not want to pay any more than garage sale prices for a book. A few people have happily used us a convenient way to find books that they have wanted in places far away, and bring them to them. Many of our regulars come in regularly and purchase a couple books at a time. Tourists--we are located on the back road to a popular state park--who stop unexpectedly usually find something they want, or purchase something of mild interest simply to have a book at hand while they are traveling. Occassionally someone comes in and buys everything we have by one author, or about one subject. A few people have said they would come back, and asked us to hold books, and we have not seen them again.
We had one bad check from a woman who had come in a few times, brought others in with her, and made previous purchases. She asked us to order some books for her on the internet, and when the check bounced, she had left town and was no where to be found. Though the internet payment terminal we use has been easy and trouble-free, credit and debit cards are costly, and we lose a big chunk of those sales to fees and commissions. We had a liberal trade policy last year, which we refined and tightened at the start of this year, and trades are still a regular part of our business. We have acquired very good books in this way, some that sold the next day. We have also received donations, books left at the door when the store was closed, and books that people asked us to pass on to charitable organizations. When we first opened, we made a handful of outright purchases, and have since stopped that practise completely.
To celebrate our first year, we put on a week-long Anniversary Sale. We arranged to be open every day, for extended hours. Based upon the successes of other booksellers, we decided to take a percentage off our prices every day, beginning the first day at 10% and gradually increasing, ending the last day at 75%. Book-fanciers who had shopped our store in the past received in the mail an announcement with details of the sale. We also took out two newspaper advertisements, in each of the two largest publications in our area, which announced the event and hours, but did not specify the discounts. We constructed an A-frame sign announcing "Used Books" to display on the sidewalk to attract a bit of attention from the street. On the windows we used a washable paint stick to shout out "Storewide Sale" and the percentage off for the day.
The special announcements were prepared long in advance, using Constant Contact, and sent by email or snail mail. The Constant Contact service is free below a certain threshhold, was easy to use, and produced a nice result. We also created our newspaper ads using Adobe, and were able to email them to the newspapers and have them printed in two days, which was much more convenient than having to drive out to the presses and then approve copy. One newspaper billed us, which is nice, and the other required payment up front because we did not have a contract with them. Our choice was to run the ads on Friday, the day before the start of the sale, but due to a few last-minute changes we made, the earliest we could run was that Saturday, which may not have been as effective for us.
We are not normally open on Sunday. We have tried it several times, and except for the Grand Opening weekend, we have never had any business. This Sunday was different, and proved to be one of our best sales days that week. Pulling that day out of the sequence, we realized progressively larger sales every day despite taking a progressively larger markdown. The number of books we sold, however, fell far below our expectations. If the sale solely accounted for the business on Sunday, should we continue to open a few hours that day and offer special discounts?
There was also concern from advisers that advertising the increasing discount to the public would simply encourage everyone to wait to shop until the last day. Though our ads suggested the possibility that someone else might buy the book one wanted at a slightly smaller discount, we agreed to make the change. Though the number of sales we did on the last day exceeded the other days, we also saw regular customers come early in the week, and several of them come in two or three times during the week. Our number one interest was in generating sales, turning our books (which our landlord and creditors do not take as payment) into cash (which they do). If we had publicized the increasing markdowns, would we have had more receipts?
We wondered at the start of the week if we should pull off some of the higher-priced books as the days passed, so that a particularly valuable or rare book was not selling for a particularly meagre amount. Ultimately, we left the books on the shelf, and the scenario above did not occur. In the past we had someone comment that our books were priced high. Based on an informal survey of other book dealers, half the cover price is the norm for a used book, and we are typically priced at and below that. Do the results of our sale then mean that the books we offer are not priced too high, but are not of interest?
After expenses, the sale yielded a decent profit. We have also had several good days since then. Several people asked if we were closing. There is no feeling that the venture has been a failure, or that the shop cannot be a profitable business. As long as time and other commitments allow, we will continue to refine our model, serving the basic needs of our book-fanciers as well as exposing our community to better books, we will continue to get the word out through mailings, newspaper, billboards (one of which has been up for over six months now thanks to a special contact), and maybe trying radio as well. Most of all, we will continue to enjoy books.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
A few years ago we found ourself in the position, for a variety of reasons, of needing a dog. After looking around for a little while, we finally splurged on a purebred beagle puppy. He is a beautiful dog and a warm companion, and he brought joy and comfort to our life. He also enjoyed chewing the couch. We had limited experience with dogs, though the Silent Partner had veterinary experience. The extent of our training was the common steps: No, Sit, Stay, Come, and Good Boy. This was adequate until last year, when another puppy became available, and joined our family.
Our second dog was reputedly a cocker/springer mix. In appearance and behavior he quickly contradicted this lineage, proving himself much more some sort of collie/wolf mix. He introduced a more aggressive dominant trait into the family, manifesting itself in jealousy over toys and bones or affection given to anyone else, and a determined willfulness. He also enjoyed chewing the couch. The extent of our training was the common steps: No, Sit, Stay, Come, and Good Boy. This was adequate until last week, when another dog was spotted at the shelter, and joined our family.
The first two dogs were Good Boys sometimes. They played together well. They would dart out the door given a chance and run around the four surrounding houses. The first particularly enjoyed ripping things apart, and they often growled over a favorite blanket. We did the best we knew how in raising them.
Some time last winter we were surfing across the vast wasteland of television and happened to see a dog, so we stopped to watch. The dog was appearing on the National Geographic Channel program Dog Whisperer, by Cesar Millan, who "rehabilitates dogs and trains people". We were immediately hooked.
The first thing that amazed us about Cesar was the ease with which he took control of any dog in any situation. He would literally walk into a home and break a dog of an unwanted behavior--something the owner had fought for over a year--within two minutes, with a look, a finger, and a "Shhhh." Based on a life lived among dogs, and the experience he has gained operating his Dog Psychology Center in Los Angeles, Cesar has an uncanny ability to identify symptoms of imbalance in a dog, figure out what is causing the imbalance, and offer a prescription for returning the dog to a balanced state.
His theory of dog happiness boils down to three things: Exercise, Discipline, and Affection. Given in that order, he believes all dogs will be able to achieve the balanced life they lead in their natural state. Issues that he sees in dogs typically arise because dogs are given affection first, or exclusively, with little or few rules, boundaries, and limitations. Dogs also follow only calm assertive leaders, and in the absence of one will attempt to fill that role. The centerpiece of this theory is the Walk. A twice-daily walk of one hour replicates for a dog the natural process of migrating in a pack for food and water, followed by a period of play and rest. A tired dog is a good dog.
Cesar does not teach the common No, Sit, Stay, Come, Good Dog commands. Those are more like skills a dog can learn. He simply brings a dog out of any issues it has developed, and then teaches the owner to be a calm assertive leader. People go wrong when they try to apply human psychology on dogs. For instance, petting a dog that jumps up on you reinforces its dominant behavior. Picking up and soothing a frightened dog nurtures its frightened state of mind. Pack leaders do not tolerate fights, or weakness; they do not ask their followers if they are ready to go, or threaten to withhold dinner if they misbehave; they do immediately correct any unwanted behavior and then move on. Time and again Cesar demonstrates, almost exclusively by the energy he projects, any dog will follow in a calm submissive manner any calm assertive leader.
Well-behaved dogs are a joy to see and be around. It is the transformation of the owners that is truly amazing and wonderful. In nearly every episode of his program, there is a revelation for the owner, and from the moment they understand and accept his theory, everything falls into place. Could it be tricks of television, crafty camera angles and lighting effects, or careful editing so the audience only sees the success? Possibly. The absolute proof would be witnessing Cesar in action.
Small business owners do not typically have a lot of spare money with which to purchase triple-digit tickets to dog-training seminars. Our situation is no different, but when we saw on the Cesar Millan Center website that one of the stops on his 2006 Summer Tour would be only 100 miles away, we had no choice but to splurge.
So we now take you back to Saturday 10 June. The scheduled four-hour seminar also included a half-hour lunch of chips, beverages, fruit, bread, and muffins. The event was held in a performing arts theatre that was filled to its approximately 700-person capacity. When we arrived we purchased a "Pack Leader" shirt and a training DVD. We also met Cesar's wife as she walked among the vendors and volunteers to encourage and thank them. Programs were distributed, announcements were made, and a brief introductory video was shown.
Cesar came onstage to a round of applause. He is in person exactly as he is on television. What we only glimpse on television, though, is his wonderful sense of humor, and his uncanny talent for impersonating dogs. Throughout the seminar, he acted out the various moods of dogs which he described, to great fanfare. He talked about his theory and methods, and gave specific relatable examples of every situation. He revealed much of his own life, in story as well as in following the cues from his wife, who sat in the front row with head set and watch so she could keep her husband on task and on time. And finally came the proof: a dog from the local pet rescue that was hosting and benefitting from the event was brought onstage. The volunteer walked around with the dog as Cesar talked, and then he began to point out what he saw as the problems in the volunteer's behavior and the resulting issues with the dog's behavior. The volunteer had her head down and her shoulders drooping. She was being led by the dog. The dog was curious but a bit unsure of his new surroundings. Cesar took the leash and walked across the stage chest out, shoulders high, head up, and the dog was immediately in step right at his side. He stopped, and the dog sat beside him. Then he imitated the posture, and more importantly the energy, of the volunteer; the dog immediately was pulling on the leash and wandering as they walked. He explained what was happening, demonstrated once again, and when the volunteer took the leash back to take the dog offstage, the dog took her. She hadn't learned a thing. But we had!
The third dog to join our pack is a cocker spaniel rescue. Though not a puppy, Cesar reminds us that dogs live in the moment, and this new member is being treated from the start the Dog Whisperer way. We have improved our relationships with our other dogs, and are all melding into a nice pack. After only a week of daily walks, we can now allow our dogs to walk with us without touching the leash. The walk beside us, pay attention to our calm assertive energy, and if they need a correction, they are still dragging the leash behind them, and a step on the end snaps them back in place. Amazing enough, especially for the second dog, who bucked and resisted the leash like a wild stallion when we first began walking him.
Poeple on the television program are typically speechless, amazed, awed, embarassed, and always thankful. One woman called her experience with Cesar "personal and spiritual growth". To us, this is the strength of Cesar's methods, that he does not merely train one's dog, but he empowers one, builds one's confidence, and makes one not just a better pack leader, but a better person as well. Our experience of him is totally uplifting, a complete joy. We watch his television program every time it is on, reruns too. And as in one episode, when he helped a dog overcome its fears and begin to socialize with special needs individuals, both people and dog learning from and being enriched by the experience, Cesar's unabashed joy is obvious, as he commented with tears barely held back. He shows how dogs are here not just to be our companions, but also to teach us about life and to help us become better human beings. That is what makes him special.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
The size of this sale means it is a year-long project. Volunteers are needed to collect, sort, and store books continually. When the time comes, books need to be moved and displayed, then maintained and tallied for the thousands of book-fanciers who flock to the big tents. Regular volunteers have aged beyond these capabilities, and the numbers of new volunteers are few.
We have attended this huge sale all but one of the last eight years, and it has always been something to look forward to. Typically the sale runs nine days, and our attendance was always on the first Monday, after the crowds subsided, and the out-of-towners have returned home. There has always been a good selection of books still available after the opening weekend, and we would usually spend about four hours filling a shopping cart. This year, however, travel had taken us in the vicinity of the sale on the opening weekend, and so we take you back to Sunday, 11 June.
There were considerably more people than during the week. The line to get inside just before opening stretched around three sides of one circus-sized tent. Still, this sale accomodates the crowd easily, with books displayed on large sturdy tables spaced wide apart so people can pass with two shopping carts and still leave room for browsers on either side. The books occupy two of the huge tents, and there is a smaller tent for sorting, and a medium-sized tent for checkout. By the time we had our cart full, the line to check out was forty-five minutes long. Several people (or perhaps one person several times) were overheard saying the crowds were "the worst they have ever seen in their life." We presumed they meant that the number of people was the most ever seen at this book sale. Of course, this is a charity event, not meant as a service to book-fanciers, or to offer good books at low prices, but to raise money for the cause of education, so we think it would be more appropriate for people to look beyond their personal experience to observe that turnout for this event was the best ever seen.
We did not mourn the closing of this event. We did, however, think: every year this group collects close to a half-million books donated by the community; and wonder: where would all those books go in future years? Without a group to collect books, would people simply leave them to rot in their cellar, or throw them in the dumpster? And, unable to turn such a fund-raising project into a full-time career, was there something we could possibly do to help ensure these books still had a place to go?
Flash back not quite so far to Friday, 16 June. Palatine's Little City Foundation announces it will be taking over operation of the labor-intensive fund-raiser. They will use the same storage facility, and hope to pitch the grand tents in the same location. The books are saved!
Now look to the future and mark your calendars for the first week in June 2007. We will see you there.
Saturday, June 17, 2006
The week before last we had been given an advance look at many of the books by the librarian, and bought a handful. The price she asks is ridiculously low (more on that to follow) and we were happy to pay a bit more for the privilege of an early private shopping experience. Still we wanted to make an appearance, and to check for anything that might have been overlooked.
Just before the opening at 9:00am we walked the block and a half to the library, and there was already many people filling up their arms and bags and boxes. A few people who had come to our bookshop were seen and greeted. We plucked about five books that caught our eye. The librarian saw us and introduced us to one of the board members, who shook our hand and commented that we had helped the library in many ways. In just the past month, we have raised over $175 for the library, and donated about 500 volumes for the stacks and the sale.
The volunteer who added our books up at checkout said we owed $1.25. We questioned that number. She pointed out that a couple of the books were hardcover and cost fifty cents each! We told her to get out of town. She recalculated and decided the correct price was probably $2.25. She was probably correct, but we had already written out our check for ten dollars. No, thank you, we did not need change. There is no conceivable reason not to take possession of a few nice books and make a nominal donation to support the library and its programs all at the same time. The librarian thanked us enthusiastically for coming.
The event was well attended, and we need to try to ride that success at our bookshop. Perhaps next year we can hold a sale on the same day and donate half of the proceeds to the library. In addition, we would like to help improve the sale. An indoor venue would be invaluable, obviously to avoid another postponement due to weather, but also to allow more set-up time, a longer selling period, and an overall better shopping experience. A greater number of donations would also be pursued. The community has lots of potential for growth, and this book sale is just one example and an easy step to take.
A full-time job that pays for a full-time habit, along with managing a household and leading a pack of five others leaves us with precious little time to devote to anything else. Obligations to the Slaves of Golconda and Estella's Revenge consume more time. This is not to say that nothing else has happened, but blogging about them is typically a weight that sinks directly to the bottom of the priority list.
Our hope for the next year is to simplify and gain some time in which to relax, sit back and look at the stars or chase squirrels in the yard or--dare we dream!--read. For now, we would like to take you on a trip to the recent past. The next few posts will flashback progressively further in time, so those who have not yet lost all interest can catch-up and continue to follow the adventures of this book-fancier.
Monday, May 29, 2006
Take a moment today to remember those who have served the United States and helped to guarantee and secure our freedom to read any book we choose and discuss it openly.
Friday, May 19, 2006
A recent article in the Sun Herald says "Religion scholars have been whacking The Da Vinci Code like a low-hanging piñata. The swings have come from the establishment... and from the fringes...." The newspaper goes on to report there are currently forty-four books available at Amazon that claim to debunk the fictional story.
Let us for one moment accept as fact the belief that Jesus never fathered a child by anyone. If Mr. Brown claims otherwise in his book, the only way he can be wrong is if that claim is out of place in the fictional world he has created. If he has done his job as an author properly, then what he has written is true, despite the possibility it is not the truth. If people believe his premise, then he has written a novel of the highest verisimilitude.
The culture of reality television has bled its way into the book world. On the one hand, people are outraged when what is purported to be a memoir is not all together factual, and on the other hand, people are outraged when a novel is believed to be fact. Are fans of category romance the only ones who know reading as entertainment any more? Would people be just as offended if they found out most reality television shows are as carefully scripted and edited as "Seinfeld"?
The only thing Your Bibliothecary knows for certain is there is no certain proof that Jesus did or did not father a child. Those reacting with fury over Mr. Brown's novel seem to betray a fear of things striking a bit too close for their comfort. Does anyone really question the "facts" of Mr. Verne's novel--or Catch-22, or One Hundred Years of Solitude, or The Time Traveler's Wife? Has something about the nature of literature changed, or are some people feeling a little bit threatened? We thoroughly enjoy the controversy, though there is little information, either in support of Mr. Brown's premise or against it, that is new to our experience. In fact, Tiresias, Leander, Erato, and Callisto outlined a novel based on the exact same premise in 1998, with the wild hopes of causing a ruckus at the dawn of the new millenium.
Professor Darrell L. Bock, author of Breaking the Da Vinci Code has called Mr. Brown's book "dangerous." Sounds ominously similar to the mysterious yellow book Lord Henry gives to Dorian Gray, by which Dorian is thoroughly corrupted. Bock has worried that Mr. Brown's "few factual references are heavily interlaced with fiction or outright falsehood." What more can one ask of a writer? In The Last Courtesan, by Jeffrey K. Hill, Lenin is placed in the company of one of the lead characters during an actual visit he made to the opera. Can one bemoan the interlacing of that fact? Surely the provocative leader was not the only person to attend the opera that night. Such is the task of any author, to create a seamless marriage of fact and fiction. Even stories of outright fantasy are crafted to be believable--within their fictional world.
The newspaper report concerning the brouhaha about Journey to the Center of the Earth is fiction, a parody of the Sun Herald report. A few facts are gathered and embellished with fiction in the appearance of being truthful and smart. Only those who do not write could fail to appreciate what fun such writing is.
The Sun Herald article reports that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is so concerned about Mr. Brown's novel that it has created a Web site with official Catholic responses to the issues Mr. Brown raises in the book. But these are Catholic issues, not Mr. Brown's issues. Reverend Timothy Friedrichsen fears Mr. Brown is muddling people's thinking in ways that could shake faith and affect the reputation of real institutions. Such statements sound as if church leaders believe people do not think for themselves, and can be easily swayed into muddled thinking. If these pious people are privy to the truth, why are they not content with it? Why have none of them come out and directly accused Mr. Brown of being Satan's hand-puppet? Is the church fearful of a secret being revealed? of losing power? of losing money? or, despite God's infinite forgiveness, do they truly believe they are concerned only for our eternal souls?
We take no side on these "issues" and have no patience for anyone who believes they possess the One Truth. God bless Us, Every One.
*[editor's note]For any one who is seriously interested in writing the "next Da Vinci Code," we are seeking collaborators. Send us an email, or leave a comment so stating, and we will get back to you with details.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Experts agree: Jules Verne got most of his facts wrong. Using the ancient Heimskringla (the Chonicle of the Kings of Norway) as his basis of fact, Verne claims his character discovers a Runic manuscript inside. Written in code, it tells how to journey to the center of the earth.Interesting stuff. The story later quotes Frida Adalbjorg, an historian at the Vilhjalmur Institue at Sneffels, who asserts that Verne is muddling people's thinking in ways that could shake the scientific disciplines and affect the reputation of real institutions.
Critics say Verne's book reeks of truthiness and smartiness, the appearance of being truthful and smart without necessarily being either. But the pages are full of factual errors large and small: temperature anamolies within the earth's crust; an interior Central Sea with an atmosphere dotted by clouds; forty-foot mushrooms; a human body perfectly preserved; a herd of mastodons grazing inside the earth being watched over by a twelve-foot shepherd; an epic battle between a fourteen-foot gorilla and a shark-crocodile; and the riding of a raft like a surfboard atop a volcanic upheaval of magma that expells the characters unscathed from the bowels of the earth.
Leading his fellow critics, Professor Jurgen Reschke of the University of Angstadt has been adamant about the importance of tearing down the credibility of the book because he worries many people, mostly ignorant of what is known of the earth's core, accept Verne's fictions as scientific truth.
"This is why Journey to the Center of the Earth is so dangerous. Many readers assume that all of the... geologic detail is true when it is not. Rather, the few factual references are heavily interlaced with fiction or outright falsehood."
Unfortunately, these experts seem to overlook the most important fact: Journey to the Center of the Earth is fiction. A novel. It says so right on the cover. That means the writer made stuff up.
We can't help but shake our head at such serious people taking the book so seriously.
Friday, May 12, 2006
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
For the anniversary of our birth we received in the mail P.D. Ouspensky's novel Strange Life of Ivan Osokin. Ouspensky was a Russian philosopher who wrote this book in 1905 as a “cinema-drama,” and first published it as Kinemadrama (St. Petersburg, 1915). It was translated to English in 1947, and reprinted in 2004 by Lindisfarne. The story concerns Ivan Osokin's attempt to correct his past mistakes when given the chance to relive his life, based loosely on Nietzsche's idea.
We were eager to read this, evidenced by it's immediate promotion to the top of the TBR pile. Unfortunately, the idea is better than the book. Osokin is given the opportunity to relive his life by a magician. He returns to his school days, and we learn in boring detail how he repeatedly makes the same bad decisions, even though he knows what the outcome will be. About halfway through the novel the pace picks up, and time passes with the understanding that Osokin continues in his erroneous ways. In the end, when he encounters the magician once more, he learns the only way to escape the wheel of time is not to relive one's life and try to change things--that is impossible--but to live one's life.
Scenes open in a dramatic style, giving a description of the setting in phrases. Though this was written that way by design, to appropriate some of the interest in the new cinema, it is a dry and dissatisfying way to write a novel. We are almost completely in Osokin's head, and through much of the novel he is busy thinking to himself. This new edition is also poorly edited, with missing words and punctuation, and perhaps what appeared to us to be misnamed chapters. We also would have enjoyed an introduction or commentary.
The issue that plagues us now is how one man can relive his life. If his life recurs in exactly the same way, then don't all the lives that touch his recur as well? More specifically, if the magician sends him back in time, does he also send everyone else back in time? And if so, where is the magician left? If Osokin goes back in time leaving Zinaida behind (or in front), then are there parallel Zinaidas, one living in the present Osokin just left, and one living in the past Osokin just returned to? And if there are two parallel Zinaidas, why are there not two parallel Osokins? Can someone please explain to me how time travel can possibly work on an individual level?