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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Chapter Seventy-Six, in which Everyone wants to own a Bookstore

The Bookologist recently pondered what it takes to run a bookstore. She says, "Having a shop requires patience and organization and a genuine liking for being with people." Then what in the world is Bernard Black doing with a shop?

Black Books is a second-hand bookshop in London owned and operated by a grumpy Irishman. The essence of the Black Books experience is the sign hanging in the door: one side says "Closed" and the other side says "Closed". Though it might seem to the rest of us that selling lots of books and getting on well with customers is vital to a bookseller's business, Mr. Black claims his is "not that kind of shop."

For those who don't know, Bernard Black is the protagonist of a British comedy titled "Black Books," what the BBC calls "a hugely affable slice of lunacy." Though he hates people, Mr. Black loves his books. The only thing he prefers to books is alcohol. And when the two come together, Mr. Black rolls himself in his chair over to the bathroom, unzips, and relieves himself from a distance, never once allowing any of it to interfere with his intense reading.

Edith notes that "almost every other person coming into our shop tells me that owning a bookshop is his or her dream. When I ask them why, they tell me they love books." But what Mr. Black demonstrates, and every bookstore owner knows, is that owning a bookstore is about people, and retailing, much more than about books. There are moments when one is alone with one's books, to read, to caress, to make friends with, but squeezing out those moments are all the other times when people are asking who wrote The C&O Canal Companion, or bills are irritating to be paid, or discussions are to be had with the landlord over the appropriate temperature in the shop, or employees need training, or the little old lady who just spent two dollars on a Cassie Edwards paperback wants to spend forty minutes telling you her family history, or the hours of operation conflict with the hours of the biggest book sale of the year. If one has a passion for all these things, then a bookshop is wonderful; if not, then your Bibliothecary highly recommends a personal library.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Chapter Seventy-Five, in which Terror is Escapism

Time magazine recently published its Top 100 Photos of the year. One, by Matthew Rosenberg, was of a double decker bus damaged by the 7 July terrorist bombings in London. Ironically, on the side of the bus is a poster, probably for a movie, with a tag line proclaiming "Outright Terror... Bold and Brilliant."

This made me think about Stefanie's post concerning the value of genre fiction. She wonders why genre fiction--such as mystery, horror, and science fiction--is so often disparaged as mere escapism. "Good writing is good writing," she writes, "no matter if there is a murder to be solved or an alien race to come to terms with." Or a terrorist bombing to be suffered. She believes such stories ought to be paraged (a doubleplusgood word according to neologeneticists) as much as literary fiction.

Why is it, then, that the same people who suffer the terror of a suicide bombing, or refuse to use an airplane because they are terrified it may be hijacked, also eagerly slap down ten dollars to be terrified by a film, or the latest novel by Stephen King or Jack Higgins? Are such plots so disturbing that they can be accepted only as escapist? And why do the media review films and praise them for their heart-pounding terror, and then wail at the outright terror on a London bus, or in a Tel Aviv discotheque? Sensationalism? Exploitation?

Your Bibliothecary once attended a reading course at a college near Mad About Books International Headquarters. The instructor assigned several books, and then solicited nominations for a final selection. We suggested The World According to Garp by John Irving. The instructor informed us a few days later that the book we suggested was too vulgar--without putting words in her mouth, it was not acceptable to her literary sensibilities. What must she think of This Side of Paradise and Lolita and Ulysses and la morte d'Arthur--escapism or literature?

Shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, our friend Tiresias wondered in public about the terrorists: "Can you imagine the absolute thrill they must have felt watching the building come at them at 400 miles an hour? The god-like power they must have felt carrying so many people to their death? The bravery they must have possessed to prepare for and commit such an act? The incomprehensible faith they must have possessed, to believe they were doing good and they would be forever praised?" What they did was quite literally bold and brilliant. Yet those remarks of Tiresias were disparaged more than a Luke Short western. But he was considering events as a novelist, not paraging the terrorists--he was trying to understand the emotions and the motives involved in such acts. After all, isn't that what people want: four-star bold and brilliant--fear, explosions, terror, unmitigated and unparalleled evil? Shouldn't good writing be good writing, whether the story is a dazzling chronicle of a romantic egotist or a disturbing psychodrama about a suicide bomber?

Might any of this indicate where American civilization is headed? Perhaps we should be more careful of what we wish for. The Roman plebians must certainly have feared an attack by lions on themselves, and yet they relished the spectacle of Christians as lion chow. We refer you, Dear Reader, to Gibbon to learn the end result.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Chapter Seventy-Four, in which Your Bibliothecary gives up reading

Your Bibliothecary reads as much as possible. Of late, we have had a difficult time finding books that are truly readworthy. Though we grew up on fiction, we have been regularly disappointed by almost everything new, and we continue to wait eagerly for the next novel by Thomas Hardy. Our tastes have shifted mildly toward non-fiction, and it is there we have found some good reading in the last year. Unfortunately, it seems as if the bad books have outpaced the good books in 2005.

One can tell something about a reader by the list of books they have read and enjoyed. One can also tell something about a reader by the list of books they tried to read but gave up on. Though we always believed it was important to read a book complete to the end, hoping the author would pull off a miracle on the last page, we now have discovered so many more books that are appealing, that call to us like the Sirens, demanding we leave behind those boring books and pick them up instead. So, inspired by Semicolon, we offer the titles that come to mind (because we didn't maintain a list, and perhaps we ought to) that we did not finish reading.

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears. Somehow we had the idea it would be in the vein of Umberto Eco, and we were deceived.

Science: The Glorious Entertainment by Jacques Barzun. We so thoroughly enjoyed From Dawn to Decadence and a collection of his essays, but, alas, his science was dry.

A Fool and His Money by Ann Wroe. A story set in a medieval city that we hoped would provide great flavor, and now have all but given up on.

A Lover's Almanac by Maureen Howard. Just not engaging.

The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett. This one I really wanted to read, and I may have to give it another chance sometime in the future.

The Floating Book by Michelle Lovric. She put together such a great book on love letters. Apparently the quality of writing she found in those letters did not fully rub off on her.

No doubt there were other books consigned to the forget-it pile. What makes you give up on a book? How long do you continue before ejecting from the doomed flight of literary trash? What, I wonder, was the most gived-up-on book of 2005?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Chapter Seventy-Three, in which We mark an old fashioned Christmas

It is a beautiful arrangement, also derived from days of yore, that
this festival, which commemorates the announcement of the religion of peace and love, has been made the season for gathering together of family connections, and drawing closer again those bands of kindred hearts which the cares and pleasures and sorrows of the world are continually operating to cast loose; of calling back the children of a family who have launched forth in life, and wandered widely asunder, once more to assemble about the paternal hearth, that rallying-place of the affections, there to grow young and loving again among the endearing mementoes of childhood.

--excerpt from "Old Christmas" by Washington Irving

Chapter Seventy-Two, in which Your Bibliothecary settles down to a long winter's Nap

Lo, now is come the joyful'st feast!
   Let every man be jolly,
Eache roome with yvie leaves is drest,
   And every post with holly.

Now all our neighbours' chimneys smoke,
   And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with bak't meats choke,
   And all their spits are turning.
      Without the door let sorrow lie,
         And if, for cold, it hap to die,
      We'll bury't in a Christmas pye,
         And evermore be merry.

--excerpt from a carol by George Wither

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Chapter Seventy-One, in which are considered Books as Films



Woman sitting in easy chair beside fireplace reading book.

I bet Helena Bonham Carter would make a wonderful Helen McGill.

# # #

The Silent Partner and Your Bibliothecary have been spending several nights each week viewing films delivered by a prominent rental service that really doesn't charge late fees. We have experienced a smattering of everything, some good and some not. We have yet to identify a prominent pattern in our tastes.

As far as we can determine, about twenty percent of these films have come from novels. Perhaps our favorite was "The End of the Affair" of 1999. In some ways the 1955 version more tightly followed Graham Greene's novel, but it pales miserably beside the remake. The performance of both leads is brilliant, and the tone of the novel is far more successfully conveyed in this more recent version.

"Dangerous Liaisons" and "Valmont" hit the screens at nearly the same time, both based on Choderlos de Laclos' epistolary novel. Both are good productions, and each sheds a slightly different light on the story. The book, however, revealed the characters as more intriguing, more plotting, more devious than either screen version.

"Camille Claudel" was based on the biographical novel by Anne Delbée. The book does a good job of contrasting Claudel's work with that of Rodin, and leaves us with a profound sense of sadness. The movie covers her career, but only suggests how the rest of her life is spent, and therefore misses that sadness. However, the performance of Isabel Adjani is what we believe to be one of the greatest in cinematic history, and she gives true life to the artist that simply cannot come through the pages of a book.

"The Phantom of the Opera" was wonderful, and easily an improvement over Gaston Leroux's rather dreadful novel.

"The Name of the Rose" did not come close to the level of satisfaction of Umberto Eco's wonderfully detailed medieval novel.

So what makes a good film adaptation? What is your favorite movie version of a novel, and what is your least favorite? What book are you yearning to see brought to the big screen?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Chapter Seventy, in which is presented the first Review of the Slaves of Golconda

There had never been a death more foretold.

On January 22, 1951, in the town of Sucre, a handsome medical student named Cayetano Gentile was killed by the brothers of Margarita Chica Salas, after she had been returned home by her husband, Miguel Reyes Palencia, who found her not to be a virgin on their wedding night. Minutes before being stabbed, Cayetano had mailed a letter to the father of Gabriel García Márquez, and had encountered his brother and sister, who invited Cayetano home for breakfast. So the writer, working as a provincial journalist on a local paper in Cartagena, heard the story in intimate detail from his family.

Thirty years later, García Márquez put to paper a similar story: when Bayardo San Román discovers that his bride is not a virgin, he returns her to her home where her brothers Pablo and Pedro Vicario demand to know who has dishonored her. Angela Vicario names Santiago Nasar, a man merry and peaceful, and openhearted, who belonged to a different world than she did, who had never been seen with her, and who was too haughty to have noticed her. Thus, with the inevitability of a Greek tragedy, the unsettling events begin to unfold.

What had happened, Angela Vicario would tell in all its details to anyone who wanted to hear it, except for one item that would never be cleared up: who was the real cause of her damage, and how and why, because no one believed that it had really been Santiago Nasar. The investigating magistrate could not find a single clue, not even the most improbable, that Santiago Nasar had been the cause of the wrong. García Márquez, in the role of narrator, says Santiago Nasar died without understanding his death, a belief confirmed by the statement of Santiago Nasar when he learns the Vicario brothers intend to kill him: "I don't understand a God-damned thing." Though the details change, that is probably the way death comes to us all.

The Vicario brothers were set on defending the honor of their sister and their family. But they did not really want to kill Santiago Nasar. [T]he Vicario brothers had done nothing right with a view to killing Santiago Nasar immediately and without any public spectacle, but had done much more than could be imagined to have someone to stop them from killing him, and they had failed. They announce to everyone their intentions, causing one woman to believe the Vicario brothers were not as eager to carry out the sentence as to find someone who would do them the favor of stopping them. This was the key element of the story that, when eventually struck upon by García Márquez, turned the nearly forgotten subject of Cayetano Gentile's killing into the basis for a novel.

Unfortunately for the brothers, [t]heir reputation as good people was so well-founded that no one paid any attention to them. And those who tried to warn Santiago Nasar were unable to find him in time. The investigating magistrate explained these facts by noting "Fatality makes us invisible."

If the wedding of Bayardo San Román and Angela Vicario had not been such a public event; if Angela's prayers for the courage to kill herself had been answered; if the mayor hadn't had a date for dominoes; if the bishop had stopped--any of these things, and a hundred others, would have changed the fate of Santiago Nasar. Though there were many who could have done something to prevent his killing, they consoled themselves with the pretext that affairs of honor are sacred monopolies, giving access only to those who are part of the drama. The narrator concedes that this was a death for which we all could have been to blame. With the bishop coming to town that morning, and passing right by in his boat without even stopping, it is as if the whole town has been damned by God. For the immense majority of people, there was only one victim: Bayardo San Román.

A strong sense of machismo and honor pervades Latin cultures. "We killed him openly," Pedro Vicario said, "but we're innocent." Unfortunately, for Santiago Nasar and others like him, honor is not always the same as justice. The lawyer stood by the thesis of homicide in legitimate defense of honor, which was upheld by the court in good faith. Such notions seem odd to most North Americans, among whom refusing to get involved is a well-documented practice. One of the most famous examples of this was the 1964 rape and murder of Kitty Genovese at her New York apartment, where at least 38 people had some knowledge of the crimes but did nothing to stop them. The recent passage of so-called Good Samaritan laws are reactions to such incidents. One even sees mirrored in individual blindfoldedness the collective reluctance to become involved in foreign conflicts in places like Bosnia and Iraq.

A blurb inside our edition of Chronicle likens the novella to the performance of a ballet. Indeed, there is the stage of the town, and upon this stage the various characters all move about in a dance of death. What keeps us reading, knowing from the first line the fate of Santiago Nasar, is the details that flesh out the how and why. With his training as a journalist, it is in a reporter's plain and thorough style that García Márquez tells his story. To the basis of truth he adds but a few touches of magical realism--a bullet that penetrates a cupboard and several walls before destroying a plaster statue; a man who does not sleep for eleven months; an aged woman whose beauty is preserved like a rose by sleeping past noon--all characteristically related as simple fact. The supreme talents of García Márquez as a novelist remain in this story in the background, producing a perfect choreography--like a ballet--so the coincidences and fatalities, as absurd as they may seem, work. Even though the fate of Santiago Nasar is known from the beginning, we are still stunned by his death at the end.

In what we consider to be the gem of the whole book, the investigating magistrate summed up the speechless perplexity of the whole matter: he never thought it legitimate that life should make use of so many coincidences forbidden literature, so that there should be the untrammeled fulfillment of a death so clearly foretold.

Crónica de una muerte anunciada was published in 1981, one year before García Márquez won the Nobel Prize. Gregory Rabassa's English translation followed in 1983, from which quotes in italics above are taken.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Chapter Sixty-Nine, in which your Bibliothecary explores the Marvelous Real

In anticipation of the upcoming celebration of Gabriel García Márquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold by the Slaves of Golconda (fully described in the chilling, edge-of-your seat Chapter Sixty-Three), Sylvia has been doing some background research. Your Bibliothecary hopes to further whet the appetites of Slaves and Dear Readers alike by offering a piece written a few years ago in recognition of the thirty-fifth anniversary of the publication of the acknowledged classic One Hundred Years of Solitude.

So, without further preamble, we give you...

One Hundred Years of Solitude

by Gabriel García Márquez
(first published 1967, Editorial Sudamericana, S.A., Buenos Aires as Cien Años de Soledad)

My introduction to Gabriel García Márquez, and to the style termed "Magical Realism," came in 1988 with the publication of his novel Love in the Time of Cholera. I enjoyed it greatly, touched by the love story and enchanted by the everyday "magic." Based on that experience, I decided to try his proclaimed masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude. Although I prefer the lighter touch and tighter focus of Cholera, Solitude has many aspects to recommend itself, and can indeed be considered a landmark literary achievement. What follows, then, is not a critique or review, but one avid reader's appreciation.

One Hundred Years of Solitude has been variously called myth, biography, and history. I find aspects of all these, and others, in the book. What one can say without dissent is that it is a wonderful and popular read not at all dependent upon a knowledge of the history or politics described. This has certainly helped it to become what Gerald Martin has called, "The first truly international best-seller in Latin American publishing history." Mostly for this book did García Márquez receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

Despite its warm reception outside Latin America, Western audiences have yet to truly understand the novel and the style in which it is written. Our emphasis on science and logic ignores a real and potent strain of enchantment that runs through our daily lives. Solitude is filled with these every day miracles. But the term "Magical Realism" is misleading at best. To draw a line between fantasy and reality is to misunderstand the novel completely. Everything García Márquez presents is genuinely real, but seen with a new (to Westerners) perspective. In fact, everything in the novel could more accurately be described as fantasy, because that is the perspective with which García Márquez has us view life. In an interview with Miguel Fernandez-Braso in 1969, García Márquez said, "My most important problem was to destroy the line of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic. Because in the world that I was trying to evoke, that barrier didn't exist." Solitude therefore erases the dichotomy between reality and imagination, history and myth, memory and prophecy. The book itself blurs the boundaries between popular consumerist fluff and enduring literary art. To categorise Solitude as "Magical Realism" is lazy and denigrates the Latin American experience of life, forcing it to conform to Anglo American norms. This novel and others of the same style are more precisely described by Alejo Carpentier's term "the marvelous real."

A fine example of the blending of history and myth (and the precise and sincere narrative tone in the novel) is the aftermath of the banana workers' strike. The government summons the workers to a meeting. One of the main characters of the novel, José Arcadio Segundo, is among the workers:
Next to José Arcadio Segundo there was a barefooted woman, very fat, with two children between the ages of four and seven. She was carrying the smaller one and she asked José Arcadio Segundo, without knowing him, if he would lift up the other one so that he could hear better. José Arcadio Segundo put the child on his shoulders. Many years later that child would still tell, to the disbelief of all, that he had seen the lieutenant reading Decree No. 4 of the civil and military leader of the province through an old phonograph horn. It had been signed by General Carlos Cortes Vargas and his secretary, Major Enrique García Isaza, and in three articles of eighty words he declared the strikers to be a "bunch of hoodlums" and he authorized the army to shoot to kill. (p. 309-10)

Just such an atrocity occurred in Colombia's history. And just as in the novel, the government denied the event ever happened and the victims ever existed. Such a thing seems more like fiction to an Anglo American audience, but it is indeed horribly true. Governments do deceive, inveigle, and obfuscate in their own interests.

That brutal episode aside, there is something clearly magical about Macondo. It is a state of mind as much as, or even more than, a real geographical place. To further underscore the difference in the perspective of García Márquez, the inhabitants of Macondo are unfazed by things that seem plainly supernatural in the Western world, such as a flying carpet or levitation by means of chocolate; but when they encounter electric buses, movies, phonographs, and telephones, they can no longer recognise the boundaries of reality.

In general, the history of Macondo follows a linear development, from its Edenic founding, through the military struggles as it becomes integrated into the rest of the world, to its invasion by technology and civilisation, and ending with its decadence and physical destruction. There is clearly a line connecting definite points in history, beginning with the exploration of Sir Francis Drake and continuing until the banana workers' strike. But this line inscribes a circle. Úrsula, the central female character, is repeatedly struck by the conviction that time is going in a circle and events are repeating. Pilar Ternera observes that "the history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle." (p.402) In the case of the room of the gypsy Melquíades, "it was always March there and always Monday." (p.355) And the very first sentence of the novel is constructed such that past, present, and future all exist at once, with time flowing out in every direction. Indeed, the novel is multilayered, telling many stories of many characters often all at once, as if they coexisted all at once. I have found the best way to read and understand the book is to digest it in individual episodes that follow characters and thoughts with no regard at all for time.

Some of my favorite episodes in the novel are the trickle of blood (p.135), the shower of flowers (p.144), and the discovery of a monster or fallen angel or the Wandering Jew (p.349-50). Embedded within the episodes are also synopses of several of the author's short stories.

Many people recognise in the novel a central Oedipal plotline veined with a theme of solitude. At the start of the book, the founders of Macondo are familiar with their family history, how their relatives had produced a male child with a pig's tail. This tail was a badge of solitude and an integral part of the son as a human. When the tail was removed, the son died. This episode of the past is actually a future (or prophecy) which never comes about, despite the fact that the Buendías eventually lose track of their history, and the last couple has no idea how closely related they are. When pressed on the subject of the novel, García Márquez has said that he really wanted to write a book about incest. And so it is that incest becomes the ultimate solitude of the Buendías and ends the family and the town.

The men and women of the Buendía family become the two sides of the marvelous real in Macondo. It is here that the line is most clearly drawn between the fantasies of the men and the realities of the women. Yet they all eventually resign themselves to the failures of their efforts. It is their very acts of resignation that condemn them to solitude of every kind. There is fearful solitude, terrible solitude, miserable solitude, and bitter solitude; a shell of solitude, an aridity of solitude, a cloister of solitude, and a pox of solitude; a solitary bed, a solitary vulture, a solitary chestnut tree, a solitary vocation, a solitary meditation, a solitary window, and solitary frustrations, streets, and hours; there is the solitude of death (which is nothing compared to the solitude of living!); there is a pact with solitude, and even accomplices in solitude. Despite all this, Úrsula believes the downfall of the Buendías can be attributed simply to war, fighting cocks, bad women, and wild undertakings.

The novel is also full of allusions to the Bible. Some interpretations are based on the presumption that Solitude is a reworking of the Book of Genesis. Macondo is initially a paradise in which no one dies. The inhabitants suffer numerous plagues. One of the women ascends bodily into the clouds. A storm of biblical proportions annihilates the town. The discovery of a Spanish galleon in the middle of the jungle elicits thoughts of the ark. And throughout the novel there is an implicit acknowledgment of the power of namery. When Macondo is still a village, many things are yet to be named. Later, a plague of insomnia is combated by inscribing the names of things and their purpose, and the inhabitants realise they are "living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words...."(p.49) By far the most potent example is the names of the characters, which repeat incestuously and doom the characters to the events of their predecessors.

But something else is happening here. Near the end a priest seems to know what is going on, as he tells Aureliano Babilonia, "It's enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment." (p.415) So what exactly does he mean?

In 1965, García Márquez withdrew to the study of his Mexico City home and essentially remained there for eighteen months until he had overthrown a three-year reign of writer's block with the thirteen-hundred page manuscript for One Hundred Years of Solitude. In his novel, the gypsy Melquíades acts in exactly the same manner to create a mysterious quadruple-coded manuscript. There is another famous novel concerning one Don Quixote which is purported to be a translation of an Arabic manuscript, which mirrors life much like Solitude, and in which the author refers to himself. Readers of either book can easily find a copy in English, and thus treat themselves to an extra layer of decoding. For the Buendías, the task of deciphering and understanding the manuscript of Melquíades is not so simple. Generations pass and histories are forgotten before Aureliano Babilonia finally succeeds.

At the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia discovers he is only a character in a manuscript, I realise that the narrator is not outside the novel but within. I survive (though not forever!) to share my appreciation of this fabulous novel. But the self-knowledge Aureliano Babilonia gains means the end of his family and town.
...he began to decipher the instant that he was living, deciphering it as he lived it, prophesying himself in the act of deciphering the last page of the parchments, as if he was looking into a speaking mirror. Then he skipped again to anticipate the predictions and ascertain the date and circumstances of his death. Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments.... (p.422)

It has all been like a dream, seemingly so real when we are in it, until we wake to discover the dream-us doesn't really exist, and it all vanishes.

How does one interpret this novel then? Brian McHale has posited that "a character's knowledge of his own fictionality often functions as a kind of master-trope for determinism--cultural, historical, psychological determinism, but especially the inevitability of death ... being the puppet of playwright and director is a metaphor for being the puppet of fate, history, the human condition." (Postmodernist Fiction, p.123)

But Aureliano Babilonia never dies. He remains in the room, reading about his end, as the city of mirrors is swept away by a warm wind "full of voices from the past, the murmurs of ancient geraniums, sighs of disenchantment that preceded the most tenacious nostalgia...." (p.421)

Melquíades had been through death, but returned "because he could not bear the solitude." (p.50) He was the first one to die in Macondo, and was buried there. "He was a fugitive from all the plagues and catastrophes that had ever lashed mankind. He had survived pellagra in Persia, scurvy in the Malayan archipelago, leprosy in Alexandria, beriberi in Japan, bubonic plague in Madagascar, an earthquake in Sicily, and a disastrous shipwreck in the Strait of Magellan." (p.6) The one hundred years of solitude are his.

A person who exists in solitude also exists outside of time. Melquíades claims to have discovered the means to immortality-it is that of written memory. He is a prophet because he is an author; he knows what will happen because he writes it. His name itself, based on a Hebrew root combined with a Greek suffix, leads, according to Kabalarian wisdom, to writing as a more natural mode of expression than the spoken word.

Alicia Edwards has made another enlightening observation. She draws a comparison of the text within a text to a set of Chinese boxes. Though it is readily accepted there could always be another box inside, creating an infinite history, one rarely explores the possibility of another box outside. With our new Latin American perspective on reality, can we begin to imagine that García Márquez and his readers are merely characters in a much larger text written by a much greater author?

Let me suggest one more interpretation. Milan Kundera has said that all his books are basically transcripts of the discourses he has with the characters he creates. It is possible García Márquez has done this, one step removed, through Melquíades. What Ursula sees as the wild dreaming of the men is their struggle to be alive, to somehow escape the text. Whereas the women are docile and accept their fate as characters in a book, the men attempt to rebel against their author. Indeed, as the book progresses, the women no longer see Melquíades, and they think the men are talking to themselves when they are really talking with him. But try as Melquíades might, García Márquez makes certain that Macondo and the Buendías are not "exiled from the memory of men" as the massacre of the banana workers has been. For this we should all be grateful.

I prefer to read One Hundred Years of Solitude as a demonstration of the magical ability of writing to create a reality.

feather line
All quotes and references to One Hundred Years of Solitude correspond to the 1971 Avon Books publication of Gregory Rabassa's English translation.

Links for further study:
Visit Macondo at The Modern Word.
Read a lecture given by Ian Johnston.
Read a review of the book upon its first release in English in 1970.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Chapter Sixty-Eight, in which Dreams have consequences

Yesterday morning your Bibliothecary had the pleasure of breaking fast with our darling Erato. Sadly misunderstood and eminently beddable, few women are as dear to us, or as fascinating. A keen ability to sense the pain she kept hidden behind her mask of beauty absolutely disarmed her at one of our earliest meetings, and we have been devoted confidantes ever since.

Even before reaching the restaurant, we sensed her elegiac mood. We gave her time to exude her charm and captivate her audience, and then demanded to know what troubled her.

"Dreams," she said quietly.

In an earlier time, Erato had participated in a fast and furious affair of the heart with someone we viewed as a rather common man, and who we shall refer to by the common name of Dennis. Dennis had a commitment, and Erato had many attachments, but somehow these two shared a sense that they were meant to be together. She cherished their bond in a manner completely different from any other we have witnessed. Then, by some tragic event--the only thing we know of that she keeps shrouded from us--they parted ways. Often we have wondered if Erato has not pursued so many other casual affairs in an effort to escape the suffering of separation from the one she is still convinced she was destined to love.

"The other night I dreamed we were reconciled." She woke that morning with such a feeling of fullness, of completion, of at-long-last. "It was," she said, "the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced."

So we returned to the original question: what troubled her now. Without any sense of embarrassment or irony, she revealed that a great melancholy had descended over her because she had woke every morning since unable to dream of Dennis again.

The waitress arrived at just that moment with our food, and we were allowed the time to think before responding, to try to make sense of what Erato had told us, or was trying to tell us. We should have known better than to say to a woman like her, "They're just dreams."

She asked us about the last time that we did something strenuous. Before the snow, we were riding a bicycle daily. She asked how we felt after a ride. We generally returned home sweaty, out of breath, tired, but exhilarated.

"That is exactly how I woke from my dream," she said. What she meant was, she had experienced the dream as real as any of our bicycle rides.

So we wonder: are dreams real? Is reality a dream? If the brain perceives and responds to something, how can we claim that it never really happened?

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Chapter Sixty-Seven, in which Books make great Gifts

Today I woke up and discovered the postman had stuffed my mailbox with the new Common Reader Holiday Catalog. And I didn't even leave any cookies and milk!

In the address to his readers, James Mustich says books "charm, strengthen, and inform the mind and heart."
Making a gift of a book speaks of our desire for significant conversation. It's an emblem of respect between giver and recipient.
Last week we donated over 400 children's books to be distributed with annual holiday food baskets given to those in need. Your Bibliothecary made a formal presentation to the local Rotary Club, whose members were absolutely thrilled. After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer, we saw photographs of New Orleans from a pastor who had volunteered there for two weeks, and listened to his story. We then talked a little about our shop and made the donation. We had the means, and we wanted to make a gesture of community.

The local newspaper printed a picture and story about our event. Response has been positive. We have two billboards in town right now, and a third to go back up at the end of the month. We have extended our hours to give those who work all day the opportunity to visit in the evening. Internet sales are very good, and the website is getting hits. Waldenbooks has even sent readers to us in search of out-of-print books.

Despite all this, traffic in our store is all but non-existent. What we hoped would be a strong month has begun, since Thanksgiving, with less than a whimper--it's been a whimp! Is reading such a solitary activity that reader's do not even share books with loved ones any more? Haven't people heard that books make great gifts?

We are enjoying the catalog from A Common Reader, using it to make our own list for Santa. We are also searching for the gifts our loved ones will be receiving with best wishes. Milton said, "A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life." What better gift could one make?

Friday, December 2, 2005

Chapter Sixty-Six, in which your Bibliothecary is a Punctuation Mark


There's no denying that you have a certain flair. You don't mind being around others, especially your little brother, the hyphen, but you rarely emerge except when needed. You respond well to those who know how to treat you, but have only contempt for those who don't--you tend to embarass them every chance you get. Your only enemy is the colon--he will sometimes try to move in on your turf.

Ahthe Dash. Why not use a comma? Why not a colon? Why not the perfectly serviceable period? Is there a punctuation mark that is any more misunderstood?

In appearance, the dash is long and straight. However, according to Patricia T. O'Conner in Woe Is I, the dash is, in actuality, a detour. Okayso I am off the beaten path. One begins along a sentence and then suddenly I appear, pointing in another direction. In this way do I add emphasis to key components within a sentenceI cause one to pause and really concentrate on what is to follow.

Chapter Sixty-Five, in which the Poem of the Month is featured

One day late, but, nevertheless--the bloggods perhaps wanted to balance the day-early posting by Karie.

Edna St. Vincent Millay is one of America's foremost poets. Recognition of her talent came early from Christopher Morley, by whose influence she was first published. Today her poetry is acclaimed for its lyrical perfection.

What follows is an excerpt from "The Poet and His Book".

When this book is mould,
   And a book of many
Waiting to be sold
    For a casual penny,
In a little open case,
    In a street unclean and cluttered,
    Where a heavy mud is spattered
From the passing drays,

Stranger, pause and look;
    From the dust of ages
Lift this little book,
    Turn the tattered pages,
Read me, do not let me die!
    Search the fading letters, finding
    Steadfast in the broken binding
All that once was I!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Chapter Sixty-Four, in which Books are donated

Mad About Books Donates 400 Books
Bookstore contributes to Ottawa Rotary Book Drive

30 November 2005 (Oglesby, Illinois) – What do the less fortunate children of our community have to look forward to this holiday season? Books!

As part of the annual Ottawa Festival of Lights Parade, the Ottawa Sunrise Rotary Club sponsors a float which collects from generous spectators toys, books and donations for less fortunate children ages 0-12. In an effort to help one of the Rotary International projects, fighting illiteracy, Mad About Books offered to match the number of books collected at this year’s parade. Since turnout was light, apparently due to the blustery weather, and only 184 books were donated, Mad About Books is bettering their initial offer to help cover some of the shortfall, with a contribution of 400 books.

“We think it’s important for every child to read,” says bookstore owner Sharon-Fay Hill, “because literacy is the first step toward a life of success.”

Eldon Leemhuis of the Ottawa Sunrise Rotary Club emphasizes, “if we get the books in the hands of children whose parents are having trouble making ends meet, we are helping the education process of those who need it most.”

Mad About Books, located on Walnut Street in Oglesby, sells used, as well as rare and collectible, books. Since opening in June 2005, they have made donations to the Oglesby Public Library, LaSalle Veterans Home, LaSalle Healthcare Center, Salvation Army in LaSalle, and Shelter Care Ministries in Rockford. The books collected by the Ottawa Sunrise Rotary Club will be given to the Ottawa Salvation Army office to distribute with their Christmas food baskets.

“We believe giving in our community is the right thing to do,” says bookstore owner Jeff Hill. “And books make great gifts.”

Mad About Books will make a formal presentation of books to the Ottawa Sunrise Rotary Club on Friday 2 December at 7:15am at Ottawa Community Hospital.

For more information about the Ottawa Sunrise Rotary Club, email leemhuis@theramp.net
For more information about Mad About Books, email info@madaboutbooksonline.com.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Chapter Sixty-Three, in which the Slaves of Golconda are introduced

Coleridge divides readers into four kinds. The first three he believes are to varying degrees lazy, casual, and inattentive. "The fourth," he says, "is like the slaves in the diamond mines of Golconda, who, casting aside all that is worthless, retain only pure gems."

Over the past few months Your Bibliothecary has become acquainted with many thoughtful and articulate readers who regularly share their insights on their own blogs. Each is after one thing in their reading, and have a compulsion to pursue it. Nearly every day one can find reactions to a literary classic, a new release, a modern romance, a poem, a pop-up book--the variety is endless. We thought it might be interesting to gather these readers who toil without recompense in search of the crystalline truth, and all mine the same book at the same time.

The first book on the agenda is Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Each person will be reading this over the next few weeks and collecting thoughts. On Sunday 18 December each person will post their reactions to this book on their own blog, in their own personal style. Discussion may ensue.

This event is open to anyone who wants to participate. Registration is not necessary; simply read the book and blog about it on the designated day. And if your reading is not as the sand in the hour-glass, or the sponge, or the jelly-bag, then you may truly join the eminent ranks of the Slaves of Golconda.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Chapter Sixty-Two, in which We mark Thanksgiving

"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors."

Today we mark a holiday that is not political, and yet has a distinctly American flavor, second only to Independence Day; not religious, and yet, as the name indicates, often features prayers of thanks; and not invented, like Mother's Day, though the day was arbitrarily set long after the event it was meant to commemorate.

Football and parades being attached to this day only recently, the main observance of the holiday is the meal, a re-creation and remembrance of the first harvest in 1621 at Plymouth Colony, as noted in the above quote by Edward Winslow (first colonial groom and future governor); and therein lies the beauty of the holiday.

Though President Lincoln officially established the last Thursday of November as a national day to give thanks, the basis of the day has one element that is a standard feature of many religious celebrations. Harvest festivals are traditional in cultures throughout the world. For Christians in particular, thank offerings abound in the Bible, and the communal meal is the first noticeable feature of early Jewish-Christian worship, a supper party of fellowship, which usually took place in the homes of followers. Besides the passover Seder feast, a meal offering of thanks to God which antedated Moses, Jesus often participated in communal meal sharing with publicans and harlots, a bringing-together of diverse peoples just as the colonists and native Americans of this country would do many hundreds years later.

When you sit to Thanksgiving dinner today, take a moment to reflect on the sacredness of the meal. No special class of person is required to perform the rites of blessing or feeding. No special place is required. The holiday is truly one of fellowship. When you pass the potatoes or turkey, you are testifying to a community, not by words or faith, but by deed.

Thanksgiving conjures images of Pilgrims, football, and harried days of shopping madness. Behind it all, whether we are aware or not, we carry on the tradition of the communal share-meal. In secular form we all rejoice together.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Chapter Sixty-One, in which Knowledge is truly shared

And now, back to the subject of Google.

If you have just tuned in, Chapter Forty-Six offered a rousing defense, embellished with gratuitous sex and violence, of Google's plans to digitize books. The thoughts of Your Bibliothecary then were on one's enhanced abilities to search and find information one is looking for.

While casually browsing Anirvan's Bookfinder Journal, we followed some binary breadcrumbs and arrived at a discussion of metadata by David Weinberger. What is metadata? Basically, it refers to the way we organize information such as books. Read the entire article if you are interested, but it matters little to our point here.

With only a passing mention, and a brief follow-up at the end, Weinberger notes what we now believe could be the most important benefit of a complete digitization of all books. If this is not in Google's plans, it needs to be.

Imagine Google has digitized a book Tiresias has written about farm implements. A student in Estonia searches for some keywords, and he is sent to the relevant snippet from Tiresias' book. As we understand the program now, the student will also find a link to be able to purchase Tiresias' book if he needs more information from it.

Let's say he acquires this book, and finds it lacking some important information, information the student from Estonia possesses, but which Tiresias had been unable to obtain in his own research. The way the wheel spins now, the student from Estonia will write and publish his own book with more thorough information. Or perhaps he will contact Tiresias, who will then be able to publish a revised edition with the updated information. But what if the student was able to add comments and annotations to the complete digital text?

How amazing would it be for us to publish Chapter Sixty-One and then return to it four weeks later to find it has been fully annotated and duly expanded by everyone with an interest in the subject and access to the Internet?

This is how we see a true sharing of information. This is what Weinberger suggests is the cause of publisher's fears over Google's plan. The process needs refinement far beyond the simple "post and comment" routine of blogs, and perhaps the technology is not yet even available. But by this, everyone with knowledge on a subject can participate in the exchange of information, and the growth of knowledge will be at the speed of the digital age.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Chapter Sixty, in which We find Ourselves in the digital Renaissance

What do Erasmus, Bacon, Jonson, Milton, and Locke have in common with Sylvia, Julie, Ella, Stefanie, and Your Bibliothecary?

The Renaissance provided the backdrop for the height of popularity of what is known as the commonplace book. The times had seen a sudden flood of information, and commonplace books became one means of organizing and remembering items of personal significance. Wikipedia broadly defines commonplace books as "essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas."

The term was originally one of rhetoric, signifying a passage that could be generally applied in the locus communis, or the common place. By using these books to record items of particular interest, readers became the center of their own books, what Barbara M. Benedict, in Making the Modern Reader: Cultural Mediation in Early Modern Literary Anthologies, calls "the locus of meaning from which the collected texts differ." For the average reader who recorded their thoughts and criticisms with each passage, these books became a social skill as well as a personal pleasure. And though many modern researchers pay them scant attention, such commonplace books are printed guides to the cultures of their times.

The 2001 exhibition Commonplace Books: Manuscripts and Printed Books from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century, at the Beinecke Library at Yale University featured the collections of Seneca, Saint Bernard de Clairvaux, John Locke, Edward Gibbon, and W.H. Auden among many others. But, in Bell's Common Place Book, for the Pocket: Form'd generally upon the Principles Recommended and Practiced by Mr. Locke (London: 1770), John Bell noted that a commonplace book

...is not solely for the Divine, the Lawyer, the Poet, Philosopher, or Historian. . . . It is for the use and emolument of the man of business as well as of letters; for men of fashion and fortune as well as of study; for the Traveller, the Trader, and in short for all those who would form a system of useful and agreeable knowledge, in a manner peculiar to themselves, while they are following their accustomed pursuits, either of profit or pleasure.

Dougj provides a fine explanation of commonplace books, and how to make and use one, in One and Two parts. His site also gives one a good sense of how a commonplace book was normally organized, with each entry indexed by heading for easy reference. He cites Robert Darnton ("Extraordinary Commonplaces," The New York Review of Books, December 21, 2000), who said that, for compilers of commonplace books, reading and writing were inseperable acts in an effort to make sense of things. In other words, keeping a commonplace book was a way of damming up the stream of experience and swimming in it, another necessary act of devotion.

Darnton goes on to say that "commonplacing as a practice probably began in the twelfth century and remained widespread among the Victorians. It disappeared long before the advent of the sound bite." Perhaps he hasn't visited any of the blogs Your Bibliothecary noted at the start. What more is there to blogging than copying a pithy passage under an appropriate heading and adding observations made in the course of daily life?

The allure of the weblog today is the same as the allure of Bell's blank manuscript books that offered a person the opportunity to participate in printed culture, both as writers and readers of their own identity. His quote, too, would fit well in any blog's "ABOUT" category. Thus we come to know ourselves and one another with each blog entry, posting, or chapter--literal entries into the thoughts and feelings of the person who wrote them.

We embrace the digital age and call it our own, but the roots are firmly planted in the Renaissance, and we find ourselves now still coming to understand the universe and our place in it by means no different than people did then.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Chapter Fifty-Nine, in which We learn to dam the Stream

In Pipefuls (which I have just finished enjoying), Christopher Morley quotes his own John Mistletoe on the passing of time, the flow of one's experiences like a river: "The urgent necessity is to dam the stream here and there so we can go swimming in it."

I can think of two quite pleasurable ways of damming this stream: reading and writing.

Reading (unless you are Evelyn Wood) causes us to absorb words one by one. An experience being described usually takes more time than the actual experience itself--think of the description of a fistfight in any western novel--and with possible intrusions of feelings, reactions, or other viewpoints, events that might pass as quickly as a day in the life of Leopold Bloom can take 1076 pages to recount. Reading allows one to savor a story, and slip deep inside a character, in a way a two-hour film can not.

Writing forces one to slow down even more. To write about an event, one must reflect upon it, think for a while, try to come to the essence of the thing so that words, once set on paper, will convey that experience as fully as possible. In a way, writing about an event causes us to relive it, even rescue it and preserve it, safe from the raging flow of time.

Dam the stream: Read and Write!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Chapter Fifty-Eight, in which Leander desires Erato

Leander is not the type of man who talks about his feelings, so Your Bibliothecary must talk about them for him.

For all you first-time Readers, Leander and Erato are two of our dearest friends. Both are writers, and we have all shared many a literary experience together. They have previously appeared in Chapter Fifty-Two as two of the four unknown contest judges. They also share a famous, on-again/off-again romance--on because Erato can behave with knee-buckling appeal when she wants to, and off because she often wants to with more than one man. Morals and analysis aside, they are a fine couple when together.

Many years before meeting Erato, Leander saw a film that he considered brilliant. The name doesn't matter--what matters is his appreciation of the performance of the leading actress. So moved, he even went on to write a biography on the character from the film.

Fast forward, if you will, to last weekend: Leander and Erato find time to rent a movie. Leander suggests that film that touched him so, and to his surprise Erato had never seen it. Well, she has to see it. (Remember, Ladies, often one of the only ways a man will share his feelings with you is through his appreciation of a film, book, or work of art.)

Leander recounted all this at lunch the other day, in what seemed like fewer than ten words. We have, not so much embellished it--he embellished it with an abundance of detail concerning the rest of their weekend together--but edited and translated it, so the meaning will become clearer. He captioned this snapshot of one part of their weekend by saying that the actress in the film seemed to him just like Erato.

We can tell you there is some resemblance in appearance between said actress and said lover. And having seen the film, we can affirm that the actress displays some mannerisms and ways of bearing that are similar to Erato's, likely even more to one who knows her as Leander does. The film, he said, inspired quite a night.

This all brought us to thinking about why Leander is so drawn to Erato. Even when he is angry with her, he still desires her. Indeed, he excuses all her faults just to have as much of her as she will allow. Though we know Erato's charms to be powerful, there must be another reason, something deeper, a feeling that Leander won't discuss.

Is it possible that many years before meeting Erato, the actress in the film made a strong, searing impression on Leander? And is it possible that when he finally did meet Erato, she reminded him of the actress, though completely subconsciously? Is it possible that Erato fit perfectly into the impression left upon Leander by the actress, and that is what makes him so drawn to her? Was Leander somehow conditioned to want Erato to the exclusion of others?

Are all the hopes and desires of our mature years really only shadows of our younger years, attempts to fill the emptiness of our past?

Monday, November 7, 2005

Chapter Fifty-Seven, in which the Book Catalogue Fairy visits

Ella L. recently shared her excitement over a book catalogue, and I went ahead and ordered the same. Today your Bibliothecary was also visited by the Book Catalogue Fairy: two catalogues and a magazine in the post box. Let's find out what's inside.

"A Common Reader" is as Ella advertised, exclamatory! There is offered Bibliotopia which has garnered the SMB endorsement. The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer is "highly recommended" as an "absorbing guide to both the concept and the content of classical education," something which has been all but forgotten in the curriculum of today. Paul Woodruff writes about rediscovering the virtue of Reverence. And from Magic Beach by Crockett Johnson, our favorite of those special descriptions that so appeal to Ella:
In the chambers of the literary imagination, no truth is more telling than the revelation that every word is an act of faith, and every tale a suspension of disbelief. Stories will worlds into being, and in the words that make them we discover the dimensions of our hearts and minds.

The second catalogue we received was that of Edward R. Hamilton, the venerable mail-order bookseller. Here the prices are a bit more reasonable, and the best feature is the flat shipping rate, regardless of how many books one orders. A quick glance through the pages, and we have already marked to buy Frontier Skills: The Tactics and Weapons That Won the American West by William C. Davis; The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution by Linda R. Monk; and The Write Stuff: Collector's Guide to Inkwells, Fountain Pens, and Desk Accessories by Ray and Bevy Jaegers. Other notably alluring books are on Steichen, Vermeer, and science fiction art. And if we are ultimately unable to acquire all these titles, we still read of them and imagine our personal collection enriched by their inclusion.

Finally, the new issue of Fine Books and Collections magazine arrived, full of articles to stir the passions of any book collector. Perhaps in another chapter your Bibliothecary will comment further on some of the contents if we can ever escape the enchantment of the advertisement on the inside front cover for The History of the Library in Western Civilization by Konstantinos Sp. Staikos.

Sunday, November 6, 2005

We interrupt this Blog...

...for an announcement from the Emergency Broadcast System. This is NOT a test.

Callisto brought the news to our attention this morning. In brief, a school principal will suspend any students who maintain a personal blog. Read the complete article (and a more extensive one) and then take action.

We can not allow this to go without a response. McHugh needs to let parents decided what is right for their children. In this country liberty takes precedence over security. Does his decision show respect for parents? Does his decision show respect for children? No, no, it is all about making himself feel good: "If this protects one child from being near-abducted or harassed or preyed upon, I make no apologies for this stance." He ought to quit acting like God and start TEACHING, if he wants children to learn about civility, courtesy, and respect.

Use the school feedback form here as well as follow the links for further contact information to send letters or telephone. Ask for answers. This encroachment on their liberty is an encroachment on yours as well.

Sam Adams would have tarred and feathered the good Revered.

Friday, November 4, 2005

Chapter Fifty-Six, in which a Writer's Life is examined

Today, dear two readers, you will be treated to another insight into the life of our good writer friend Tiresias.

It has been said that writing is a solitary pursuit. Yet deep inside every writer is the need to communicate something to another, and most writers need some measure of feedback to maintain the focus and drive necessary to complete a good piece of writing, whether a concise essay about Exactitude or an epic novel about recapturing lost time.

In Judy Reeves' book A Writer's Book of Days, she offers a prescription for maintaining this drive:
By integrating regular writing-practice sessions into your life, notebooks will get filled, stories will be written, or poems or whatever surprising forms your writing takes. Your writing will improve and so will the quality of your life. That irresistible urge that brought you to the page in the first place will be fulfilled. The longing stilled. Even if you continue to need a day job to support yourself--and most of us will--your spirit will be glad.

Tiresias has his own version of this bit of wisdom, in the form of a motto: Inspiration is the reward of daily practice. He does not sit back and wait for fickle Inspiration to hit him over the head and drag him to his desk to write. He goes to his desk and writes every day, another necessary act of devotion, and soon enough Inspiration is lured to his side, begging to be his. Good, bad, or otherwise, he says the important thing is to get words on paper once a day, every day.

For those mere mortals who write, there lurk demons more disruptive than Inspiration and her indifference. Reeves notes that "many who want to be writers--who are in their hearts, writers--have followed the same beaten path that doesn't come to a dead end so much as it peters out." Often this fade-out is the result of dark thoughts that lurk in the solitary mind, that say "You're wasting your time" or "That isn't any good" or "What makes you think anyone is ever going to want to read some silly elf story?"

Recently Tiresias confessed to us that even he has suffered from a lack of regular constructive feedback. When one is so pressed for time that one can barely carve out twenty minutes to devote to one's own writing, how can one find time to read, critique, and help with the work of another writer? Tiresias believes the efforts he puts into helping another writer help himself as well, because he learns from it, and often he can objectively spot some defect in another's writing that he will subjectively overlook in his own. Daily practice is much easier done when someone else is expecting it from you.

The subtitle of Reeves' book is "A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life." I believe Tiresias when he says every writer can benefit from such a thing, whether person or book or amulet. He told us that someone has recently appeared to him, an angel from the great Bookstore in the sky, who shares his passion for writing, who yearns for inspiration, who wants to give as much as receive. His excitement is evident in his broad smile, the lightness in his step, the eagerness with which he says, "I can't wait to see what she has written today!" His mind romps. He is more than ready to reclaim the title of writer that has languished beneath a layer of dust for several years.

Tiresias has found his Spirited Companion and Lively Muse. We should all, one bright day, be so lucky.

Chapter Fifty-Five, in which recent Acquisitions are listed

Your Bibliothecary loves books, and especially books about books. Reading about every facet of a book, from its creation to its construction, from its history to its future, serves to increase our appreciation of books themselves, as objects, as communication tools, and as entertainment. Today, in the great tradition of riffing off another's blog (as well as a healthy dose of oneupsmanship), we are pleased to present our most recent book acquisitions. Eventually some will be discussed, some will be given away, and some will be sold (if you name the right price), so stay tuned.

Here, then, without further ado:

Fowler's Modern English Usage
Nancy Pearl--Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason
Jack Matthews--Booking in the Heartland
Vicente Blasco Ibanez--A Novelist's Tour of the World
Mortimer J. Adler--How to Read a Book: The Art of Getting a Liberal Education
Bonnie Friedman--Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life
Gail Sher--One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers
M.H. Abrams--A Glossary of Literary Terms
Judy Reeves--A Writer's Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life
Julia Cameron--The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

So we will begin this week's book giveaway by asking a question, and the avid reader who can answer correctly will win one of the books listed above, but which one will be a surprise.

Who is the following quote attributed to?
I have sometimes dreamt ... that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards--their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble--the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, "Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading."

Tiebreaker goes to the one who can also name the books in which that quote can be found. Post your answers as a comment and bon chance.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Chapter Fifty-Four, in which a Feature of Poetry debuts

Your Bibliothecary travels far and wide, and memory does not serve him well. He recalls somewhere a poem to begin each month, but knows not where or to whom to give credit for this chapter.

And so in remembrance of that blog and blogger, and in appreciation of verse, we offer a poem as a sort of ritual, another necessary act of devotion.

Thomas Hardy was a brilliant novelist whose Wessex novels are full of a strong sense of setting, a multitude of carefully and fully drawn characters, and moving moods of melancholy. If you have not done so, we urge our two readers to pick up Tess of the D'Urbervilles, or The Trumpet-Major, or Far From the Madding Crowd, or Jude the Obscure and lose yourself in an amazing story.

His fiction, however, was not well-received. Hardy did not take criticism easily, and finally he gave up the novel form completely, and turned to poetry. Many critics today argue that he is a better poet than novelist. Here is a sample of his voluminous output.

The Letter's Triumph

(A Fancy)

Yes: I perceive it's to your Love
You are bent on sending me. That this is so
Your words and phrases prove!

And now I am folded, and start to go,
Where you, my writer, have no leave to come:
My entry none will know!

And I shall catch her eye, and dumb
She'll keep, should my unnoised arrival be
Hoped for, or troublesome.

My face she'll notice readily:
And, whether she care to meet you, or care not,
She will perforce meet me;

Take me to closet or garden-plot
And, blushing or pouting, bend her eyes quite near,
Moved much, or never a jot.

And while you wait in hope and fear,
Far from her cheeks and lips, snug I shall stay
In close communion there,

And hear her heart-beats, things she may say,
As near her naked fingers, sleeve, or glove
I lie--ha-ha!--all day.

Chapter Fifty-Three, in which Names have been changed

Revision comprises a large chunk of a writer's experience. Often what we begin with is not what we end with. Shakespeare, for example, constantly reworked his plays, to improve them for his audience.

A close associate of your Bibliothecary, a writer we shall call Tiresias, doesn't like to slow down for speed bumps. When he has a character, he needs a name, and he picks one: Penelope. Now as Penelope develops, Tiresias may discover different qualities about her that he didn't know existed in the beginning. One hundred pages later he comes to the conclusion that Penelope would be better named Persephone.

Tiresias is regularly active in an amazing writer's group in which your Bibliothecary had the pleasure of participating several times. I cannot recall how many times he would come to a meeting and begin reading about a character, only to have someone stop him mid-sentence to ask, "Wait--who is Persephone?" And casually Tiresias would say, "Oh, she used to be Penelope, but she changed her name."

Tiresias is not one for writing out a detailed synopsis and outline for a novel before he begins writing. This results in more time needed for revision, but also allows him greater freedom of discovery. One thing he does usually begin with, though, is a concept of where the novel will end. And so the same principle applies to your Bibliothecary's humble blog.

After the revealing Chapter Fifty, your Bibliothecary decided it was time to rename the blog to better reflect what it was all about. After all, did anyone really know where "Beggars of Azure" came from? So, the old blog title will one day find new life in another form, and the new blog title comes directly from Morley, the man who set the standard for appreciation of all things literary.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Chapter Fifty-Two, in which our first Winner is announced

Well, the competition was fierce. Creative reasoning was thin, so ultimately the selection must be made on who will benefit most. Your Bibliothecary assembled a panel of four unknown judges to review the applications, and the selection was made following a three hour deliberation, and a Twinkie break. The envelope please...

And the winner is...


[Aside]:Please email your mailing address so that we can post your prize promptly.

Though this was not a unilateral choice, Stefanie clearly made an attempt to appeal (which was part of the criteria) to your Bibliothecary, by reading his blog and coming to understand him as fair-minded, kind, and generous. She was also able to discern his appreciation of humility and honesty. She already possesses the other of what works well as a pair of books on writing, and together they should be. And she did skirt the creativity condition by stating "My artistic future just might be in your hands."

All judging aside, your Bibliothecary has been stirred to thoughts on Stefanie's comment. When is one a novelist? If you read a book, you are a reader. If you write a novel, you are a novelist. We who write should not need validation of who we are from anyone.

Or does one only become a novelist when one's novel is read? This harks back to my earlier musings in the action-packed Chapter Forty-Seven. Is it a novel if it is merely written but never read, or does it fully become a novel only when read?

What if you self-publish? Unless one is also a successful promoter, one's novel might still remain unread. What if one's novel is published by a small press? Or does it truly require the acceptance by a major publishing house for one to finally congratulate oneself for being a novelist?

When one begins to think in terms of novel-length fiction, to conjure characters and ponder plots, to envision scenes and tinker with titles, one is already becoming a novelist. When one puts pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and begins the writing process, one is a novelist. Perhaps one will cross the finish line of NaNoWriMo but never write again, and then one will be a former novelist. Perhaps one may never finish the novel that is begun, and then one will be a failed novelist. Perhaps one will earn a $400,000 advance from Random House, and then one will be a successful novelist. But the very fact of writing the novel gives one the title.

For your Bibliothecary, reading about writing, its rules and craft, fascilitates inspiration. Writing is a craft and requires practice. Stefanie has already been published, making her work public on the internet. She is already a competent essayist. And it would seem she has become a novelist, too.


Sunday, October 30, 2005

Chapter Fifty-One, in which your Bibliothecary is an obsolete Skill

Like Sylvia, I don't normally take these quizzes. I once was looking for a fun activity for the Job With A Paycheck, and I discovered the Disney character I am most like is Minnie Mouse. Anyway, this one intrigued me, and if Sylvia can play along, so can I. And my results are in:

Songs of Innocence, Introduction

You are 'regularly metric verse'. This can take many forms, including heroic couplets, blank verse, and other iambic pentameters, for example. It has not been used much since the nineteenth century; modern poets tend to prefer rhyme without meter, or even poetry with neither rhyme nor meter.

You appreciate the beautiful things in life--the joy of music, the color of leaves falling, the rhythm of a heartbeat. You see life itself as a series of little poems. The result (or is it the cause?) is that you are pensive and often melancholy. You enjoy the company of other people, but they find you unexcitable and depressing. Your problem is that regularly metric verse has been obsolete for a long time.

Interesting, considering regularly metric verse, especially blank verse, is my least favorite of all forms of poetry (although William Blake is not half-bad). I do, however, appreciate the beautiful things in life.

What Obsolete Skill Are You?

Chapter Fifty, in which your Bibliothecary enjoys a Pipeful of Christopher Morley

We have mentioned this wonderful all-around literary man in previous chapters, and it seemed like a good time to add a little depth to the praise.

Morley began as a reader for Doubleday and was adept at identifying promising writers such as William McFee, Pearl S. Buck, and Stephen Vincent Benet. He became a regular newspaper "colyumnist" which gave him the opportunity to roam and discover or invent things literary and fun. His published novels are what he is best known for today. He also was a great essayist, speaker, and a prolific founder of clubs: the Three Hours For Lunch Club is one to which we all would like to belong, and as a member of the first panel to make selections for the Book of the Month Club, he set the standard for every mail-order service to follow.

So why isn't he more popular? Morley lived life and wrote with vivacity, naivety, and charm. His novels have a slow-paced, old-fashioned aura to them which is comforting. His greatest works, even when dealing with life's hard realities, are whimsical and enchanting. Rudyard Kipling characterised Morley's writings as being "about the insides of things." But in his prime, there was a galaxy of other writers producing gritty, realistic books which garnered more attention: Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O'Neill, Theodore Dreiser. While Morley's books were just as good, if not better in some respects, as those of his peers, his were rarely regarded as important, serious works of art.

Morley was a lover of all things literary, and he gave special reverence to bookstores. He was a great advocate for independent booksellers as public servants. The shops they ran, he said, afforded one pastimes as well as the chance to "discover the bread and meat of life." In an essay called "On Visiting Bookshops," Morley wondered why people only go into a bookshop when they need a particular book. "Do they never drop in for a little innocent carouse and refreshment?" he asks. It would be good to remember that, though you may not be in need of any books at the moment, there may be a book in need of you. And the right book can change one's world: The sky was sluiced with a clearer blue, air and sunlight blended for a keener intake of the lungs, faces seen along the street moved us with a livelier shock of interest and surprise.

Morley closes his essay with one of the most beautiful and moving passages in literature, one of the very "rare and sensational delights" which he is describing, those
...that set the mind moving on lovely journeys of its own, and mark off visits to a bookshop not as casual errands of reason, but as necessary acts of devotion. We visit bookshops not so often to buy any one special book, but rather to discover, in the happier and more expressive words of others, our own encumbered souls.
After all the day's tribulations, the go-go-go pace, the disheartening news stories--all the barbaric struggles of mankind--the best books are those that take us "home to the bedtime of a child." Christopher Morley is one of the greatest writers of those invaluable books.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Chapter Forty-Nine, in which an Interlude of Quotations appears

"The production of a book is an accomplishment, but it has not fulfilled its mission until that book is in the hands of the reader and until it is read." --C.D. Nicholson

"Bookselling is a very pleasant way of making a very little money." --Alfred Goldsmith

"The Bookstore is one of humanity's great engines ... one of the greatest instruments of civilization." --Christopher Morley

from "Ballad of the Antiquarian Bookman" by Willie Penmore:
Biography, Geography, Astronomy and Tides,
Astrology, Pathology, and Chemistry besides,
Longevity, Passivity, how to manufacture wine;
And Religion with precision aspires to heights divine,
To say nothing of the Novels, 'detective,' love, and more--
You'll find them if you grovel in an Antiquarian's store.

Abundance of all Knowledge, without surcease or stop,
In the Universal College of the Antiquarian's shop.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Chapter Forty-Eight, in which a Prize is offered

Inspired by the generosity of Stefanie, I am going to begin giving away books to a lucky one of my two readers. Stefanie took names and drew from a hat (leaving me one of the dejected losers), but I am going to give away my first book in a much more subjective manner.

To win Book #1, please send your name and a brief statement about why you want this book. The winner will be judged solely upon the creative appeal to your Bibliothecary.

The first book offered is a Vintage paperback edition of John Gardner's The Art of Fiction, subtitled Notes on Craft for Young Writers. I have recently upgraded to a hardcover copy, and so it is a perfect opportunity to pass along this essential work on writing.

Good luck to both of you. I will announce the winner at the end of the weekend.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Chapter Forty-Seven, in which Books are not written in Stone

Julie's comments in everyone's favorite Chapter Thirty-Nine have stirred thoughts in this chapter. If a book wows you when you read it the first time, and disappoints you when you read it a second time, what does that mean? Does a book have one set meaning, or can the meaning change with the reader?

When you were a child and read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a great portion of it must have been nearly indecipherable as well as meaningless. When you mature and read it again, suddenly you find the wit and wisdom brilliant and cannot sing enough praise. In such a case our sensibilities change, and so our reception of the book.

A book such as Dracula was, in its time, bold edge-of-your-seat terror and unlike anything ever before published. Today, a young reader raised on Lestat and Buffy might find the classic silly and unconvincing, or slow and boring. In this case society has changed, and so our reception of the book.

I read The Great Gatsby for the first time many years ago. I still read it regularly. For me, this is a near perfect novel with sparkling prose throughout. And even though I know what is coming, every time Tom strikes Mrs. Wilson, I still wince. On the other hand, when I first read First Love by Turgenev, I was positively thrown. Now, when I read it again, I think it has lost its edge for me because I know who Zinaida's lover is. The story is no less well-written, but the shock of surprise is gone.

Finally, think of the many books that have been panned by highly-regarded critics when they were released, only to be praised as classics and masterpieces now.

Should our reviews and judgements of books be life sentences upon them? Perhaps if we enjoy a book we ought not to read it again, for fear it will lose its luster, or be revealed as something less than we had once thought. And perhaps if we are disappointed with a book, we ought to give it another chance after life has given us a few different perspectives. Could it be that books are not what authors make them, but what readers make them?

Chapter Forty-Six, in which Google is praised

Who wants to sell more books? One of the best things to happen for booksellers--but more importantly, for readers--is the Google Print Project.

Why the fierce opposition? Last week the Association of American Publishers (AAP) announced a suit against Google in an effort to stop what they are calling copyright infringement. This action, claims AAP President and former Colorado Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, was forced upon the AAP by Google's rejection of one proposal the AAP made during negotiations. Reality is Mrs. Schroeder is not doing anything she doesn't want to do. While a discussion of copyright laws could be healthy, this fight seems misguided.

Mrs. Schroeder noted that while “Google Print Library could help many authors get more exposure and maybe even sell more books, authors and publishers should not be asked to waive their long-held rights so that Google can profit from this venture.” But authors and publishers are not being asked to waive any rights. In fact, Google has promised to respect the rights of anyone who asserts them over any individual work. Clearly, the scare tactics and scenarios of doom Mrs. Schroeder used while in Congress are still part of her repetoire.

Google calls the project a "historic effort to make millions of books easier for people to find and buy." Couple that with the first part of Mrs. Schroeder's statement above, and you begin to see clearer to the truth. David Drummond, Google's general counsel and vice president of corporate development, said in a statement that "creating an easy to use index of books is fair use under copyright law and supports the purpose of copyright: to increase the awareness and sales of books directly benefiting copyright holders." [italics mine] How do they plan to do this? Instead of searching for just an author or title or keyword in some cases, users will now be able to search complete texts of books and determine if the results are relevant to their needs. A brief inclusion of, say, Natalie Barney in one book might now be revealed to a biographer who can determine, by the context, whether it is inconsequential or enlightening. If the latter, then the biographer can go forward and purchase the book. The process will be little different from my inclusion of this quote from Google:

when you preview [an item still under copyright protection] on Google Print, you'll only see snippets of text directly around your search term. This snippet view is designed to help users find the book in their search results and make a decision about whether to go find a physical copy of the book with just bibliographic information and a few short sentences around their search query.

Translation: additional book sales.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Chapter Forty-Five, in which your Bibliothecary is revealed to be a Gambler

When is a book seller like a gambler? When he doesn't have a list of specific wants.

Your Bibliothecary attends a book sale with a list in hand of books his clients are looking for: Dean Koontz's first novel, for instance. If, along the way, he decides this client, or someone as yet unknown, might also be interested in the Lever biography of the marquis de Sade, and so acquires that book, he is engaging in pure speculation.

A good bookseller will study his clients. He will learn their interests, their habits, their shopping frequency. He will know if they have the stamina to make it through 800 pages, or if they start to give out after 200. And he will also keep track of previous results, know the records of authors and plots, and watch for their reappearance. He looks at all the odds--"What are the odds someone will want this book?"--and if the odds are good, he places his bet. The book is acquired. The book is placed upon the shelf. Now your Bibliothecary waits for his horse to come in.

The odds are usually good his bet will bring some return. But to do this one needs patience. A horse race is over in less than two minutes. A book may not sell for two years. Ocassionally one may not even make it to the finish line. But even those losers can be donated, so some good can come from a bad bet.

Doesn't one of the thrills of the book hunt come from finding a hidden gem for fifty cents and selling it a few days later for fifty dollars? How is that different from stalking a table until finding three queens and two aces in your hand and then cashing them in for several stacks of chips? Why do gamblers have a bad reputation and a support group, but book sellers don't? And then, why do gamblers have a popular show on ESPN, but book sellers don't?

Chapter Forty-Four, in which a Comment is overheard

At one of the four sales your Bibliothecary attended yesterday, a woman was overheard making the comment, "Someone said people are buying these books and then selling them on eBay," in astonishment and near indignation. I couldn't help but wonder to what she objects.

Perhaps she believes no one should ever part with a book. And yet someone parted with the books she chose to purchase, or they wouldn't have been there. Perhaps she dislikes the profit motive. Yet the potential for profit is what drives the book trade, and there would be no sales like that she was attending if there wasn't a market for the books, and publishers would quickly get out of the business of publishing books if they were not able to sell their products to this woman. Was she merely upset with herself for missing the opportunity then?

Maybe she was concerned for the authors of those books, whose works were being sold without royalties being paid. A noble sentiment; however, anyone familiar with marketing could tell her that a free or inexpensive sample of an agreeable product will often lead consumers to purchase more or similar products. You can see this principle in action every weekend at the sample tables inside your local grocery. If I can try The Infinite Jest for less than a penny a page, and I like it, I will be likely to want to purchase Wallace's next release at full retail, and maybe even buy a new copy of Jest to keep. But if I have to pay thirty dollars up front just to try something I might not find to my liking, I probably won't try it. That makes what this woman may see as a lost royalty actually a potential royalty.

Let us hope this woman is not being selfish. Shame on her if she is only thinking of her own offended values, or the profits of a book seller. She ought to think of the poor, housebound woman in Australia who, having received as a gift and read this week's new release from Nora Roberts, now wants to read her way through this prolific author's entire bibliography, and must hope to find copies available for purchase and delivery through eBay, or Amazon, or www.madaboutbooksonline.com.

Modern Western civilization is built firmly upon the foundation of capitalism, and it is spreading. Is she equally upset with the car dealer who bought a vehicle from General Motors and then sold it to her so she could drive to the book sale? What about the clothing manufacturer who purchased materials and refashioned them into her pretty garments? And doesn't Barnes and Noble do the same thing in their book superstores, purchase books directly from publishers and then resell them to consumers just like this woman?

There are likely some book sellers who simply process a sale, but there are many more who take the book they purchased and research it, clean it, repair it, and protect it, thus turning it into a new product before selling it. From the one Bible whose provenance can be traced back to Gutenberg himself, to the ten millionth copy of Dianetics, the market is the driving force of a book's life. And unless it's the duc de Montausier, no writer produces a book without the intention of taking it to market.

I hope the woman enjoys her purchases and returns next time for more.

Chapter Forty-Three, in which is shared some random Thoughts about technical Failures

We have been experiencing technical failures, those unwanted side effects of the miracle drug of the electronic age. All systems have been crippled, and while we try to repair, we are operating on a pieced-together backup, which itself is having circulation troubles. Let's hope it keeps working long enough to post this, at least.

Correct me if I am wrong: spyware and adware programs are supposed to watch a computer and report on what activities take place. If I visit the library website, I will receive ads and offers which are different from those targeted to users who visit the Silver Slipper website. How, then, do these programs do that when they completely cripple a computer? If my computer keeps shutting down, how can I do anything with it? If I can't connect to the internet, I won't be surfing anywhere to receive ads of any kind. Are these crippling programs designed by mischevious college kids with either a shortage or abundance of beer? Or are they maliciously introduced into the digital world by hawkers of spyware killers and adware cleaners?

Beyond these concrete queries, there are larger metaphysical questions to be answered. We have not been able to post anything since last week. Do any of our experiences in the last seven days count? If one cannot blog about it, has it really happened?

Last week we signed off on the way to a book sale with the promise to explore how gambling related to book hunting. Today we return from a different book sale, and will be able to use it as a launching point for the same exploration. The blog will continue today just the same as if it was still last week, and without this posting, no one would know the difference. It is as if everything that happened between last week's book hunting and this week's blogging is canceled, or lost, or deleted from the virtual world. Today is today, but I have been electronically stuck in last week. Am I existing in the past, or the future?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Chapter Forty-Two, in which is a brief Interlude

The Silent Partner gave your Bibliothecary a few days off. While I was gone there was reading and playing with the Barking Beggars and watching baseball and relaxing. I am reassured this was the right thing by the sales growth in the store while I was not there.

On Tuesday our billboard hit the streets. If you are not able to drive by and take a look, here is a peek:

Tonight I am going gambling. More on that tomorrow.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Chapter Forty-One, in which a Bookstore is saved

From the San Francisco Chronicle comes this story. Here is a key portion:

Kepler's, founded 50 years ago, had been struggling financially in recent years, due to declining sales -- like other independent bookstores, it had lost customers to the Internet -- and rising costs.

If customers want the bookstore to survive, they will have to change their buying habits, said Kepler, citing a survey that found people who patronize independent bookstores buy 20 books a year, but buy only eight of them from independent booksellers.

"We need customers to say, 'I'm going to buy two, three, four or five of those books at Kepler's,' " he said.

Fewer and fewer people supported the store when it was open. When it suddenly closed, the lament and outpouring of support was tremendous. Why are people so complacent? The cost of a cure is always more than the cost of prevention. This story has a happy ending, and that's not always the case.

Here is my plea to book lover's everywhere: Don't take your local independent bookstore for granted. Support them. Buy your books from them. Buy your books through them. Tell your friends.

Feed the Need to Read::Buy a Book a Week

Friday, October 7, 2005

Chapter Forty, in which your Bibliothecary discusses unread Books

Yesterday's post about books that have produced life-affecting changes required me to peruse my collection carefully, and in so doing I was able to come up with a list of books I have not yet read but want to, or why would I have added them to my collection in the first place? Why I haven't yet read them probably cannot be well-explained. Perhaps a list here, made public to my two readers, will prod me into reading them soon so I can note progress being made; and perhaps two readers does not attain the critical mass needed to produce a good prodding. At any rate, I have this list, so here it is, with books that have been longest on the list first.

Top Ten Books I Want to Read
The Wandering Jew, Eugene Sue--from my period of indulgence in decadence and French literature. Then it seemed too long, and perhaps now my interest has waned.

Marius the Epicurean, Walter Pater--same as Sue above.

Rememberance of Things Past, Marcel Proust--coming from roughly the same time period, I made a valiant start, and bogged down somewhere within a budding grove. I did not lose interest, but I have a habit of reading more than one book at a time, and so one book apparently led to another and I was distracted away. I would have to start over from the beginning now. And I am not interested in reading In Search of Lost Time or whatever the new English editions are; I absolutely adore the intricate and flowing translations of Scott-Moncrieff.

Gargantua/Pantagruel, Rabelais--suspected classics of wit and fancy that I believe would be a pure joy to read, along the lines of Carroll's Alice books.

King, Queen, Knave, Vladimir Nabokov--Lolita is number three on the Yahoo list of best-selling books for what seems like the eighty-second week in a row. It's good, but I think Nabokov has done better, such as The Gift and Bend Sinister. This title looks and sounds like a potential masterpiece.

The Story of Civilization, Will Durant--on the heels of my enjoyment of Barzun's survey of history, the sheer volume of this series suggests to me it would be richly rewarding.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, Peggy Noonan--this perhaps dating earlier than Durant, after seeing what appeared to be a televised version of her essays. I found her surprisingly soft-spoken, thoughtful, and grounded.

Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, Alfred Jay Nock--a title highly recommended by a dear friend whose opinion I value to no end.

The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene--suggested by my great appreciation of The End of the Affair, as this is often claimed to be Greene's masterpiece.

Silent America, Bill Whittle--introduced to me through The Nation of Riflemen, this is a marvelously articulate and insightful writer who has collected and expanded some material from his blog. He seems to genuinely have his finger on the pulse of America today.

So when will I read these? Well, for now I am rereading The End of the Affair, working through A. Edward Newton, and studying Christopher Morley. Perhaps one day in my spare time I will open one of these great unread books and...