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Showing posts from July, 2010

Goodbye to All That

Change defines the present: movings, weddings, births. This is the season of clean carpets and filthy fingernails, ants in the cupboards, spiders under the toilet. The only good thing about today (K & I agreed) is that it means that yesterday - and its hours of shuffling, restacking, packing, boxing, cleaning, swiping, scrubbing, daubing - is over. Like a tortoise, all my possessions are now in boxes and in my car. And dismantling the house K & I shared has been difficult. As I was selling my library I came across The Fellowship of the Ring (in the wake of its Hollywoodization I'd forgotten how good it is) and as I read the beginning I was struck by Frodo's leaving of the Shire. Of course we know it's a small thing compared to how he will be involved with the fate of the Ring, but still. Something about it made me feel sad, and also understood: "Frodo walked round the familiar rooms and saw the light of the sunset fade on the walls, and shadows creep out of th…

So are the days of our lives

The disassembling is in early stages of earnestness now. My walls are bare - I thought that white walls would prompt my subconscious to disengage - and the battle-axe desk is gone. All its contents have been disgorged and are in piles on the floor: pens, papers, plastic folders, piles of sheet music to be put in boxes, photographs, electric cords. All my sins heaped on a pile in the middle of the floor - things I've held onto for necessity or want or laziness or for lack of a better place to put it.

And then the bookshelves are moving out next Wednesday so I must get rid of those dear friends in droves. It's hopeless. Just as I start to wean myself from the herd, I look down and pick up a book and think But I never READ this one. The fact is that once they're out of the house it'll be better. I look forward to this paring down of possessions as a simplification of the spirit.

Wishing for the Road

When K & I read the beginning part of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, the part where Gilbert is asked to cover a story in Bali and she goes (of course), we expressed our sense of the unfairness of it all and the desirability of a job where you are paid (even minimally) to both write and travel. K moved on with her life but this thought – to be a travel writer! - fermented in my brain.

Following Spain’s psychic-octopus-predicted World Cup Win on Sunday I put together a list of books on Spain for a bookstore blog post. I was prepared for this ever since watching Vicky Christina Barcelona several months ago and developing a one-day Spanish literature fever, running around the store putting together a list. I didn’t actually read any of these books. But when a couple asked me for Spanish literature to take with them on a trip to Spain, I knew it had all been worth it. To these novels, I added a history book and a travel book, the Dutch novelist Cees Nooteboom’s book on Santiago and…


There are many reasons to read Robert Burton’s book The Anatomy of Melancholy. One reason is to experience the 17th century diagnostic mind, which gives medical information that we in the post-enlightenment, scientific twenty-first century find arcane and humorous. Take this for example: Burton discusses lycanthropy, the disease of the brain by which men are convinced they are wolves. “This malady, says Avicenna, troubleth most men in February.”

A second reason to read the Anatomy is to laugh at Burton’s fanatic citations. In some of parts of the book, I can barely finish a sentence as it is so tangled with references to classical thinkers, philosophers, artists, historians with snippets of Greek and Latin which are sometimes translated and sometimes left to my own powers of deduction. Here’s an example: “In eo pleraque perniciosa, saith the same Fabius, many childish tracts and sentences he hath, sermo illaboratus, too negligent often and remiss, as A. Gellius observes, oratio vulgar…

Multa Nocte

There was never a chance of me learning Greek or Latin at my primary or high school, and New Testament Greek was offered at college for Religion majors not Music students. When I graduated and began working at the bookstore one of the first books I bought myself was a Wheelock's workbook. From time to time I am struck anew with the inclination to teach myself and begin again at the First Declension, but I paddle against the tide. I need a teacher and I need fellow students.

The poet and translator Anne Carson fills me with envy. "She translates and teaches Greek for a living," her bio says. To stand up and stretch back thousands of years and publicly acknowledge that though we think them obsolete, they are us.

Carson's newest publication is called Nox. Published by New Directions, Nox is housed in a box designed as an epitaph, and reminds me of an assignment K once had to do for her Wisdom Literature class. The gray lid opens like a chocolate box and the "book&…

On the River

I have just finished the first book on my Victorian reading list, George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss. I read Middlemarch last year and enjoyed it – it reminded me of a provincial forerunner to A Portrait of a Lady. I loved Dorothea Brooke’s intelligence and idealism, even in the face of a stupendously foolish marriage.

I preferred Middlemarch to Mill on the Floss, but enjoyed Eliot’s portrayal of a sister and a brother at odds with each other and, in the sister’s case, with herself. Of course, as A.S. Byatt said, Maggie Tulliver, the novel’s impulsive, passionate and feeling young protagonist, deserves a better ending. I was impressed by the psychological sensitivity of Eliot’s characters, the battles of wills and of conscience, the conflict between self and community, between love and duty, between experience and renunciation.

I think Maggie’s stumbling self-doubt is largely a result of the cruel strictures historically placed on young women. From a young age she is denigrated by f…