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Showing posts from September, 2010

Literary Pilgrimage

Raymond Carver, master of the blue-collar blunt American short story, is buried at the Ocean View Cemetery, overlooking Port Angeles and the Straits of Juan de Fuca. When I went to find his grave last Wednesday, it was the first time I’d looked for the grave of someone I admired, aside from the accidental run-ins with beloved poets and historical figures in Westminster Abbey.

I’ve always liked cemeteries. There is something about them that makes one feel both surrounded and also utterly alone. It’s the best place to be alive, the graveyard. Every step and breath and laugh and word emphasizes the quickness of us above, the silence of those below. I like to think that the dead cheer us on in our youth. Do something, they urge beneath the plastic flowers, the stone, and the mulch.

When confronted with the whole cemetery, we worried we wouldn’t find Carver. But in the end it wasn’t difficult: his grave was set apart from the others, marked by a double grave (the spot for his wife, Tess Gal…
I found this article by Lindsay Johns on Arts & Letters Daily on the importance of the canon for black people (and, by extension, I presume for other minority groups). I'm a sucker for discussions on the canon, and for the canon itself.

Here's an excerpt I found particularly apt:

"Naturally, if someone has me in shackles, is holding a gun to my head and denying me my basic human rights because of the colour of my skin, I would choose to firstly devote my intellectual energies to addressing that injustice. But it is undeniable that man’s inhumanity to man is only one part of the human condition.

The dead white men never had to face the evils of slavery or the physical and emotional oppression of racism. Thus their minds were freer to range over the great philosophical questions, metaphysical quandaries and cosmological dilemmas. In short, they have been allowed to address man in relation to the macrocosm, as opposed to just the microcosm."

It's just how I feel ab…

C is for?

The English writer Tom McCarthy, short-listed for this year’s Man-Booker Prize for his third novel C, dropped into the bookstore yesterday to sign our copies of his books. Booksellers orbited him like bashful satellites. His cleverness, his reputation, and his involvement with semi-fictitious organizations like the Necro-Nautical Society make him an intimidating person to shake hands with. (I satellited for a few minutes and then fled.)
I did, however, see him read at Elliot Bay Book Company Tuesday evening, and the experience completely merited any parking fees I paid.

McCarthy read emphatically and metrically, with sharp spaces between the words. This is a sign of a well-educated man, a man accustomed to poetry read aloud. (I found out later he was educated at New College, Oxford.) He stood with his right leg bent up against his left, like a halfway flamingo, hunched slightly and casually over the podium. I wondered if he is surprised by his comprehensive imagination every time he re…
To those who have had to put up with me as a morose and touchy and collicky fanatical email-checking credit-obsessed neurotic - my apologies. I've needed your support. I got the email from the British Consulate in L.A. yesterday with the news that my VISA had been approved, on the heels of the news that my loans had come through. This cannot sound miraculous enough.

So: in two weeks today I'll be on the plane to London with all of my possessions in two shabby bags. In the meantime lists are being formed. Movie Bingo Nights, compline, honey mead and Pimm's at the White Horse, museums, the continuing hunt for Raymond Carver, the quest for the perfect sweater, paying bills, seeing friends, Victoriana, and more David Attenborough.

(A still of a bird-of-paradise trying to impress a drab female. Voice over from David: "But sometimes your best just isn't good enough." I just can't stop talking about Planet Earth.)

From the Vaults

My first passport.

The private lives of famous men

I've been waiting for months and today it appeared: Alan Bennett's The Habit of Art. It's a play-within-a-play about W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten, two men I admire but don't know as well as I'd like. And it's set in Oxford.

I loved Bennett's History Boys; Bennett's economic elegance and wry self-conscious Englishness makes me think of Auden (I just came across the phrase "lunefied landscape"). It's going to be hard not to justify buying this slim little book.

Hand-holding in Public

On Tuesday morning I drove south to Tukwila to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to have a Biometrics Scan. While this sounds like an intimating test of potential robotics (and A. suggested it meant converting me to the metric system), a Biometrics Scan is simply (disappointingly) a set of finger print scans and a photograph.

It occurred to me as I sat in a chair with my number and VISA application waiting for my turn with the complex and mysterious machines that I had missed something by not working at the counter for the Department of Homeland Security. I don’t mean the money or the hours, or the unfortunate position of power in the face of hundreds of desperate individuals who need name changes, or naturalization, or extraditing. To be the person who admits or refuses the ability for people to make a new life must be a heavy thing.

But the faces that passed through the office were definite and interesting, a parade of nationalities and circumstances: the middle-aged Indian wo…

Peering into the Vase

I've heard that people who read for pleasure as adults very often had a parent who read to them as a child. What is it about settling oneself down into a relaxed position, in a bed or on a stair, and stilling all movement, inclining one's head to hear a story, that is so comforting? (Or it might be news, or a letter, or a poem.) Whatever the document and its intention, reading aloud - or being read to - is rare and rich.

Reading aloud last week led me to a rediscovery of a writer whose oeuvre I intended to read in its entirety (and haven't). I read Bolano's magnum opus 2666 (a collision of Europe and Latin America, of detectives, whores, murderers, victims, and literary critics) first. Challenged by its girth, lured by the enthusiastic reviews, and tempted by the dusky sunshine of Latin American literature, I sat myself in the corner of Allegro's on a melancholic November afternoon and began. And then I read The Savage Detectives, which I thought a better book, t…

Reading at Chez Ball

Erin has been nice enough to let me stay at her house in the gap between now and the future (which I hope will resolve itself soon.) It's a reading house - and here's what it's inhabitants are sinking their teeth into.

That heavy tome is a symbol of the weight of the law on which E is daily feeding. Strangely enough, the texts are mostly all black and red and weigh ten pounds.

Opal (O'Mitten) is very much into the first volume of Malcolm Muggeridge's Chronicles of Wasted Time.

Brody has a surprising interest in Victorian literature, with a penchant for Hardy and Bronte. And yet, both cats have absolutely no tolerance for Tennyson. When hearing any of his poems, they both run into another room. (E says they much prefer Wordsworth...)