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Showing posts from June, 2009

Larkin on a Sunday

After looking for a complete volume of Philip Larkin’s poetry, I found one at our bookstore on Sunday, and bought it hurriedly. It was the kind of day for poetry, so bright you feel the sun radiating from the leaves and the ground rather than the sky. Looking at the spine, I saw that pages were turned down precisely in two places.

It was clear that it wasn’t an accident, or sloppy book handling, but must have been meaningful to the previous owner of the book. It must say something about that person, and oddly enough, I feel that at this juncture, I think it says something about me. A communion with a person, just because of a page turned down. Here is the poem:

Places, Loved Ones

No, I have never found
The place where I could say
This is my proper ground,
Here I shall stay;
Nor met that special one
Who has an instant claim
On everything I own
Down to my name;

To find such seems to prove
You want no choice in where
To build, or whom to love;
You ask them to bear
You off irrevocably,
So that it’s n…

A Last Word

I’ve just finished Harold Bloom’s Western Canon, and shall say goodbye to him. Harold Bloom: a fearful intellect, but nevertheless, a Gnostic and a snob who does not try to appease his critics or attempt to write with epistemological humility. He is emphatically enthusiastic about his loves (Shakespeare! Gnosticism!), and emphatically derisive about those he dislikes (Feminists! Marxists! New Historicists!). Controversially, he asserts in his chapter on Virginia Woolf (as primarily a Reader and not a Feminist) that “A silly song of Shakespeare’s has done more for the poor and the wicked than all the Marxists and Feminists in the world.”

In his conclusion, Bloom writes “The strongest poetry is cognitively and imaginatively too difficult to be read deeply by more than a relative few of any social class, gender, race, or ethnic origin.” But surely, the way to combat the canon’s failing status (as Bloom has bewailed) is to welcome, not exclude? By all means, warn initiates of the difficul…

A New Addition to the Family

I bought a 1929 Underwood #5 Typewriter last night. Apparently, it was one of the most popular typewriters of it's day. It comes from Dayton, Ohio, and the owner's wife said that her grandmother written for the newspaper in Dayton and this must have been her instrument.

Just think: this typewriter came before the Beatles, before television, before the second World War, before Hitler came to power.

I have another typewriter, though it's ribbon has run out, and it's small and blue. This giant has the firmest, most musical keys. It sounds like the typewriter used in the Atonement score.

(Making friends. I think my laptop doesn't know what to think)

Masterpieces will come from this baby.

Small Press Soapbox

I was introduced to Persephone Books incidentally when I read Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day last August. I had been trying to find a copy and the Persephone imprint was the only one I could find. I liked the book so much – a funny, delightful Cinderella story about nightclubs, jazz, and an old maid-ish woman finding joie de vivre quite by accident – that I made my friends try to watch the movie on my birthday. Though, as it was nearly one in the morning when we started, it’s safe to say it was rather a failure, as we fell asleep in the middle.

Since coming across Stuck in a Book’s blog, I’ve been looking out for Persephone books. The square fit, the thick, glossy covers, a challenge for the book collector… (Who doesn’t like sets of things?) There are only nine books available in the US, the Persephone Classics. The publishing house, which has two shops in London, has published another 72 titles which we are not able to access and which are all uniform, bound identically in grey with o…

Will Marry for Money

Today marks the one year anniversary of me being a bookseller. It may not seem like much, but I wore pink to celebrate anyhow. This morning I woke early and walked to Cafe Allegro, and on the way back two hours later staggered out of Magus Books and the University Bookstore with a copy of Elaine Showalter's Jury of Her Peers, Billy Bryson's Dictionary for Writers and Editors (it looks so interesting) and Rose Macaulay's Personal Pleasures. I may or may not have purchased Personal Pleasures already this past Sunday, but this was a far better copy, was cloth bound and had an inscription. And then I ran home terribly afraid and thought about my dwindling bank account the whole time and how I actually may not be able to pay my rent. This is pathetic. This is what my year of being a working women has brought me to.

Blown away by the Western Can(n)on?

Lately, I've been thinking about how much I haven't read in terms of the classics of Western literature and how I should dive into them. I thought a nice introduction would be Harold Bloom's Western Canon: the Books and Schools of the Ages in which he devotes whole chapters on Shakespeare (read some), Milton (on my shelf), Cervantes (terrified to attempt) etc. down on the line through to Jane Austen (Ah! got that) and James Joyce. It's a serious tome: I have to take it to work to make any headway at all, to force myself to read it. It's good, but Dense.

At the back of the book is a list of what Harold Bloom believes constitutes the Western Canon - it goes on for 39 pages. The first night I opened the book, I tried to tick off the books I've read and made the smallest dent, maybe 1/365th of the list. Then I started to run around the room, grasping books off the shelf and determined to plunge into them right NOW starting with Dracula (which is on the list). I mea…

On Books

At breakfast I read Paul Constant’s report of this year’s Book-Expo America (BEA) in the the Stranger, and this has prompted some Thoughts.

I have the very real privilege of being a part (a very small part) of an industry which many consider to be on its last legs. The game of publishing is changing, book sales are decreasing, independent bookstores are closing. Many liken the future of bookshops to vinyl-selling record stores, vinyls being a collector’s hobby. The difference is, I feel, that records and CDs and tapes all need accompanying technology to play the records and CDs and tapes. The book is accessible to those who can physically open the pages. It is for this reason that Sherman Alexie has recently denounced e-readers and Kindles as “elitist.” Once upon a time, books were difficult to come by and extremely valuable; this is no longer the case and books are by and large affordable to many, especially with the plethora of used bookstores.

The late John Updike wrote a meaningf…

June Sixteenth

Happy Bloomsday! ( a friend on facebook reminded me) and I have been thinking about this ever since. The sixteenth of June is the broad stage that the action from Joyce's Ulysses plays on, Leopold Bloom, Molly Bloom, and Stephen Daedalus...

June is so literary, like April and September. The mention of June makes me plunge into Clarissa Dalloway's ecstasy: "life; London; this moment of June. For it was the middle of June."

And here's a toast to my friend and co-worker Jessica, whose birthday it is today on this moment of June. And her middle name is June: Jessica June, Queen of the Moon.

New Destinations, Old Friends

Tonight I took a bus downtown to see philosopher/writer Alain de Botton at the central branch of the Seattle Public Library, talking about his new book the Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. As a new work person in the whole work world, I was interested in his philosophical thoughts about the concept of work and why and how we do what we do.

Getting to my stop quite early, I had the chance to discover a new bookshop downtown. Arundel is a bookish bookshop, the sort that Belle from Beauty and the Beast would frolic in with a set of lovely but fearful stairs curling up to a loft in a spiral (I thought I might fall off, or my skirt would fly up.)

Very tall shelves, little nooks, dust jackets, the smell of old spines, the books priced a little higher than I would have anticipated, but the ambience was worth it. Nearly late for the reading, I dashed up the very steep four blocks to the library, which is a very impressive and sterile and ugly example of Scandinavian-chic (in my uneducated opini…


When it comes to reading, I find that balance is the key. I have to follow Jane Austen with Nick Hornby, and Louisa May Alcott with Roberto Bolano, or my brain will fizzle out or I'll become convinced that the only reality is Netherfield and dances and young men dependent upon rich uncles. Sometimes, though, one can get stuck in a particular vein (eg. anything involving Greeks) and go on forever. Like mid-twentieth century middle-brow English novels. I can't explain it.

As the result of a complete and utter coincidence involving Cold Comfort Farm, I stumbled onto the blog of Simon from Stuck in a Book and have become hopelessly and embarrassingly addicted. It has:

a) confirmed of my deep and abiding love and longing for Oxford
b) allowed me a vicarious window into English life
c) introduced me the Persephone books series, in the same manner as my co-worker Jessica introduced me to the NYRBs.
d) reaffirmed old loves like Dodie Smith
e) contributed new introductions: Ivy Compton-Bur…

Taking a Camel

In keeping with my current life goal to move to Greece and amble around Turkey on camel, I read the Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay, now one of my top ten and forever on my Highly Recommended list.

Written in 1957, in a semi-autobiographical book quirky, comic, and tragic, a woman travels through Turkey (by camel and jeep) with her adventurous zealous Aunt Dot who, enabled by the Anglican Missions society, has a vision of emancipating Turkish women from their Muslim enslavement by tempting them with the freedoms of the Modern West and the Anglican church (hats, tea parties, education etc.) They are joined by the septuagenarian Father Chantry-Pigg, who dreams of converting Muslim heathens to the warm bosom of Christianity with his High Church relics and simultaneously discovering those long lost Byzantines (Greek; Christian) in the heart of the new secular state of Turkey (Muslim usurpers of Byzantium). And of course, the Church of England missionaries find exasperating opposition…

Hundred Acre Woods Lovers

The best thing about books is that as it passes from hand to hand, one is able to get a sense of the book's previous owners. This is not always a case, but as I've mentioned before, I am thrilled by finding ticket stubs and photographs and invitations etc inside used books I buy. Inscriptions are the best.

Yesterday I discovered an inscription in a beautiful, shabby 1954 copy of Winnie-the-Pooh:

To Sandy
Your beautiful wind flows across
my face and kisses my lips.
It softly overlaps its currents
and two seeing softly beautiful eyes -
the color of the floating, dreaming blue -
form in the circle of the center.
I look into the smiling eyes
and they suck me, flow me
into the circle
of their infinite kaleidoscope,
and I am hurtled into, through
the wall...
and explode into reads and lavenders.
I enter the night-blue
and become the stars.
The Oneness of your eyes kisses my glow -
and the eyes and the stars
smile at each other and glisten
as a blue-silver infinity.
The Oneness sparkles and smiles
and …
"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"
"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting to-day?" said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
"It's the same thing," he said.