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Showing posts from January, 2010

Climb Every Mountain

I picked up Francois Augieras’s Journey to Mount Athos because of its Greek monastic location and luxurious writing. And also it’s purple cover.

A man awakens, dead, and though a woman in a Greek forest offers to “make him a child” (reincarnate him), he decides to take the boat to the Land of Souls, the Holy Mountain, Mount Athos. He is allowed, by writ, to live on the mountain forever, and he can hardly believe his luck. He journeys from monastery to monastery, enjoying whatever hospitality the monks spare him, being nibbled on and willingly sexually used by voracious monks, finding more sexual experiences with young lovers from his previous lives, and eventually trying to attain a Nirvana, an AWAKENING (in annoyingly emphatic capital letters), with a second death.

I was disappointed. I found that, though the writing was sensuous and ornate, it felt repetitive, vague, and frustratingly double-minded. I lost count of how many times the narrator mentions the aromas of “resin,” the faer…

Notes From Behind the Desk

When I imagined being a bookseller - looking through the glass window pane to Life Outside of College - I saw myself in a tiny, dusty shop a la Beauty & the Beast, nose in a book, feather duster in hand; a combination of a young Mary Poppins, Kathleen Kelly, and Patti Smith (who, I'm sorry to say, I resemble the least of all three, but did inspire me to work in a bookstore as she did in New York before fame.)

Sadly, I have become none of these women. (I do, however, put on a good show of a tearful "Streatfeild - S-t-r-e-a-t-f-e-i-l-d," after the purchase of any of Noel Streatfeild's Shoes books.)

My plan was to observe the common customer. I would take notes. I would watch the human condition from my till and write all these observations on lined cards and shuffle them around for the Great American Novel. What better to teach me human foibles than working retail in a suburb? The widows who need chairs laid out for them like toadstools all the way to the counter, th…

M is for Mitford (Mania)

Debo, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, has written a funny, pithy little book. The perfect bathroom book really. She is on the cover, a dignified old woman with chickens in her arms and her grand stately home, Chatsworth, in the background.

Chatsworth, the house used for Pemberley in “Pride and Prejudice” and in the recent film “The Duchess,” lurks in every photo and in her writings as another family member - like a dependent, though famous, uncle. Debo herself has been instrumental in turning the home from financial ruin by converting it into a location for tourists and visitors eager to see it, and it is their money which keeps it afloat. Chatsworth has a dairy, livestock, chickens (Debo’s, as seen on cover), makes its own butter, sells produce and meat, offers facilities for weddings and events, and must make a little pocket money from filmed costume dramas.

Debo is a different sort of Duchess, a person who as a young woman milked her pet goat in a London station, and who admits to n…

Et in Arcardia Ego

Again, I have come to affirm that the history of one's reading life is the history of discovery, like little explosions that detonate, like pop rocks in the mouth, sparking ideas and sensations and connections; an individualized map where all the world is dark, but little red lights glint on different coasts and a something spidery journeys from point to point to form a road.

Last Friday night I turned on NPR as I drove home, my illicit late-night entertainment, and it seemed like an interview about gardening. But then I thought it too formalized to be an interview: the recording was too clean and there was too much vocal inflection. So it must be a radio play about horticulture. There was something about geometry and sentimentality and game books and Capability Brown - and by the time I heard the name Lord Byron, I was hooked. I contemplated sitting in my car outside the house to catch the author's name, but ran inside to sit by the radio until midnight instead.

The play was A…

From the Other Side of the River

Chris was the one who mentioned Angela Carter. I had read part of her retold fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber, and he had read somewhere that he would like her as she has a streak of magical realism. That reminded me that I wanted to read more of her, so I picked Wise Children, mostly because of the cover FSG edition and because I experienced a sudden interest in the theatre. No reason why.

Wise Children, Carter’s last novel, didn’t miss a beat – the sharp, cocky, Cockney voice of Dora Chance, one half of the famous singing-and-dancing Lucky Chances, carried through the book. I never forgot who was telling this story; each word seemed individually chosen because it fit her vocabulary. I suppose that it is the writer’s responsibility, but it is rarely carried off so thoroughly and with such sport.

Dora tells the story of her and her twin, Nora, unrecognized illegitimate daughters of the great Shakespearean actor, Melchior Hazard, from their birth at the beginning of the century, to Melc…


I’ve just finished Adam Thirlwell’s book of literary criticism, The Delighted States: a Book of Novels, Romances, & Their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set on Four Continents, & Accompanied by Maps, Portraits, Squiggles, Illustrations, & a Variety of Helpful Indexes.

That paragraph is the title. People don’t write titles like that anymore. Titles like, as Vlad from Third Place Press shared here, Walking, a fine art as practiced by Naturalists and explained by Original Contributions to this volume, and by Quotations from the published works of those who Love to Dally alongside Country Lanes.

The book has been a hit at the bookstore. Robert, the manager, was very passionate about it when it came out. Since returning in hardcover as a bargain book, no less than six staff members have put it on hold or are seriously flirting with it. It mentions the authors that are so popular with a certain sector of the bookstore staff: Witold Gombrowicz, Boromil Hbrabal, Br…

This October

Come visit. We'll ride around on trains and have tea.


Resolutions severely tested (so soon!) by large volume of "The Letters of Noel Coward." Observe the pure insouciance of his smoking profile.


Imperative: Only buy books with credit. Read the books on my shelves.

Other resolutions include more explorations of the city, simplifying my cupboards and wardrobe, eating more fruits and vegetables, cooking experimentally, buying less, keeping track of finances so that there are No More Hellish Overdraft Charges, and writing daily. Good luck.

The Passing Year

Never has a year been so anticipated as 2010, chasing out the gloomy dreariness that was 2009. Usually spending New Year's on an airplane, I was delighted to spend it instead with new and old friends bursting out of our front door, glasses to the cloudy Seattle sky, yelling "The year is dead! Long live the New Year!"

Simon Winchester recently wrote a piece praising the practice of soberly and sincerely celebrating New Year's by waking early, sitting down to eat, and greeting the sun. This looks commendable. In fact, I will put that on the To Do list for the next New Year's Day. It is not, however, what we did this year. And I'm not sorry at all.

There are great things ahead this year: the longer hours of sunlight, the Winter Olympics in Vancouver (just up the road), the Soccer World Cup in South Africa (can they put it on?), camping trips, weddings, and exciting, expensive adventures overseas.

So here's to this gladsome year - may it fulfill all the possibi…