Friday, March 31, 2006

After only 40 pages, I've stopped Robert Stone's Outerbridge Reach. For your own sake, stay away from Stone. This was some heavy handed writing if ever. It's the second book I've stopped reading this year. I don't know if I can take another awful book. Hopefully Moon's Crossing will revive me.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Unfortunately, the James Dean Museum has closed. I didn't get to visit it, but I vow to make my way to Fairmount one day.
I've been wrong before. Why should this time be any different? I only proved myself wrong. For awhile, I didn't think I'd like Ozick's Heir to the Glimmering World. It seemed a little too similar to some recent books I've read. Of course my unfounded bias was wildly off base and I'm now an Ozick convert. Heir is part rite of passage novel; part allegory; part historical novel; all literature to the highest degree.

Rose is a young woman from upstate New York whose mother has supposedly died during child birth and whose non-caring father teaches high school Math and gambles with his own students. Rose answers an ad in a local paper to work for the Mitwisser family. Her tacit agreement to work for and live with the Mitwisser's is the turning point in her life. The tiresome, brilliant, crazy clan begin to take over her life. She feeds them, dresses them, cleans for them, but she isn't considered a nanny. All this confusion haunts Rose, but she stays on for lack of a better place to go.

Mrs. Mitwisser is a scientist who has seemingly lost touch with her family. She passes her days in bed, in a worn nightgown, spouting German to Rose. Mr. Mitwisser is a religous scholar of the ancient Karaites, a sect that has been all but forgotten. Rose is ungraciously summoned to his study at all hours to type his rants in his broken accent(for he has vowed not speak German, or allow his children to speak German.)

The children are led by the eldest sister Anneliese, a teen too mature for her age that acts as the mother of the group, ordering Rose around and caring for the children and her father.

It isn't until the mysterious James arrives that the story begins to unfold. Ozick winds the story through James's earlier life as a much doted on child and shows how he progressed to become the benefactor of the Mitwisser clan. Paying for rent, clothes, food and toys, James holds the family on a string, but only Mrs. Mitwisser and Rose are weary of his power over the brood.

I'm not finished with the book yet, but I'll hopefully be able to steal some time with the book during lunch on the Common and enjoy the first beautiful spring day. Then tonight, after work, after 12 hours of work, I'll be able to complete my entry. How coherent I'll be, I don't know, but that's never stopped me before.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

"Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men's bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.

And wrecks passes without sound of bells,
The calyx of death's bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.

Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.

Compass, quadrant, and sextant contrive
No farther tides ... High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps."

- Hart Crane
At Melville's Tomb
I am a new member of the MetaxuCafe Check it out for all your litblog needs.

Here's the hard to find Beat film Pull My Daisy It's not perfect, but art seldom is.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I guess I can breath now, my books arrived this morning. I think I should add a disclaimer...that my three recent arrivals are all published by my company, Houghton Mifflin, and that I got them for half-price. However, I know that I would have paid full-price for these books had Houghton not published them. (Houghton also published People I Wanted to Be, The Plot Against American and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.)

So now I'm on to Cynthia Ozick's Heir to the Glimmering World. It's my first Ozick.

I also got Robert Stone's Outerbridge Reach, which has drawn comparisons to Melville. And speaking of Melville, Stone obviously has an affinity for the man. Here's an article he wrote for the New York Times on Melville and Kerouac.

April 12, the Jack and Stella Kerouac Center for American Studies at UMass Lowell will host the second annual New England Poetry Conference.

Now reading:
Ozick Heir to the Glimmering World
Tobias Wolff Old School

On deck:
Stone Outerbridge Reach
Barbara Croft Moon's Crossing

Monday, March 27, 2006

I'm still waiting for the three books I ordered to arrive. I hope they come today. Can't...wait...much...longer...

(When will you get here?)

But while waiting, I read this article about fellow bibliophiles in the D.C. area. Thanks to Bookninja for the link.

Also finished Gina Ochsner's People I Wanted to Be during lunch. It's a great collection of short stories, mostly based in the Northwest. Ochsner has a precise and haunting writing style that is enchanting and melancholic.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Now I know why Kate Atkinson's Case Histories was so highly recommended. Though Mitchell's Cloud Atlas broke my all expectations for a novel, Atkinson's Case Histories was one of the easier and most worthy reads. For two days, I was held captive by Atkinson's ability to spin a great mystery novel within a family drama that turned out to be four or five family dramas intersecting and weaving throughout. My interpretation of the novel was akin to an Altman film if he did mystery. I don't know why I feel this way. I know it's really nothing like an Altman film, but I couldn't get the thought out of my head. Although Jackson Brodie's the protagonist and we see the story unravel through his eyes, much of the time the reader is led into behind the doors of the families' lives. Like Altman, Atkinson seems to just hover above the action allowing the audience to view the ongoing scene, the characters acting and reacting and by doing this we don't feel pushed or lead one direction or the next. And though Altman doesn't 'tie up' his films in a bow, but since Atkinson's novel is also partly mystery, or detective really (even noir,) she has to tie up the ever important plot. Atkinson had the opportunity to fall into the trap of writing a too sentimental ending, but she was able to write a unique, gut wrenching drama by using one of the most novel ideas (in literature today.)

Now reading:
Gina Oschner People I Wanted To Be

Listening to:
Tom Waits The Early Years Vol. 2

Friday, March 24, 2006

"Can't find the time, to write my mind, the way I want it to read." - Wilco

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Some Jack

My books and a plastic frog

History and politics

Where I blog and write (and daydream)

Yes, that's a James Dean bobblehead

There are times (often) when I wish I was a better writer. After reading Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, I wish I could write better if to only write a decent review of this genius novel. Five narrators transcend time, space and the page, leading the reader through a maze of dialogue, characters and intrigue. The sixth part has yet another narrator with an odd Irish brogue-like diction that somehow makes the preceding chapter and thus, all the other chapters, make sense. Then, Mitchell deftly takes us back to the other narrators in descending order tying up loose ends along the way. More often than not, Mitchell neatly depicted the fine way each narration and story line was intricately linked to the prior one, as well as to the next. What may appear to be six separate sections of a novel are six distinct voices, each telling their story directly to the reader, making an immensely universal story, personal. And to me the hallmark of a great writer is being able to make the specific universal and the universal specific.

I could possibly have more to say on this book, but I have to think about it a little more before I try my hand at explaining it. I think better at night, when the quiet of night is broken only by my laborious typing and Coltrane's guidance.

Currently reading:
Kate Atkinson Case Histories

Just bought/on deck:
Cynthia Ozick Heir to the Glimmering World
Barbara Croft Moon's Crossing
Robert Stone Outerbridge Reach

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us."
Marcel Proust

I was a pretty good student, but loved school so much that I was a full-time student until I was 26 years old. Yet, I believe that I learned most outside the school walls, outside the confines of curriculum. I was never taught Proust, Herodotus, Plutarch. I was never taught Maeve Brennan or E.B. White. No one took time to teach the origins of the Beat Generation. Instead, my education, my informal education came from libraries and used book stores. My education took place after school hours. At night under a reading lamp that cast shadows more than it illuminated, I read about the Battle of Thermopylae and the Hamilton Burr duel; I read Flannery O'Connor and Gary Snyder while my friends talked on the phone or went to the mall. I read Hemingway, Wolfe and F. Scott. Without knowing why, I read Henry Miller and Ezra Pound who I didn't understand. Pound still confuses me. I don't know what all this means or what it's supposed to mean. I do know that I found myself in these books, in other people's words, in other people's lives. I found my voice in their language. I found my way by following them down side streets in Paris, in the Gothic South and along the California coast.

David Mitchell Cloud Atlas

Currently reading:
Kate Atkinson Case Histories

Monday, March 20, 2006

I should have started reading contemporary writers awhile ago. My attempt to read current books is a new phenomena. I can only imagine what I've missed during my odd snob period. I'm still a book snob, but now I'm at least attempting to read newer books, though I still find it difficult to buy a new hardcover book for $30 when I can buy two paperbacks for the same price.

David Mitchell is such a writer that I would have passed over and read a supposed classic in his place. Since he's compared to Pynchon, I may have read The Crying of Lot 49 or Gravity's Rainbow. Both classic novels in their own right, but I would have missed the genius of Mitchell. Each chapter of Mitchell's Cloud Atlas changes narrator, but has the perfect continuity of a novel. Each chapter, though completely different in form, is linked, touched, to the previous section and the reader passes through nineteenth century New Zealand, 1970s California, some futuristic Asian setting and I can only imagine what's to come in the second half of the book.


Today in Boston, the wind is shooting chills through our layers of clothes and tingles our spines. The beginning of spring taunts those of us that brave the below normal cold. Carrying my book to work today, I thought my hand would freeze to the binding, but I didn't think this would be a problem. Having your hand forever on a book, bliss? The book didn't freeze, my hand and mind heated up, slowly for sure, and today we long for the spring to come. Not tomorrow, but to come.

Now reading:
David Mitchell Cloud Atlas

On deck:
Kate Atkinson Case Histories

Friday, March 17, 2006

Yesterday was pay day and with the money in my account, without missing a beat, I fell off the wagon. My two week hiatus from purchasing books, new or old, was over by 1:15 p.m. Normally I walk up Newbury Street to the Trident bookstore, but yesterday I wanted to, needed to, buy some books asap. Thank you MBTA. Hopped on the Greenline and two stops later I was in the store. I could have bought four hardcover sale books for less than the price I paid for my two paperbacks, but I wasn't in the mood to lug four hardcovers around. (Hardcovers could have been
Adventures of Augie March
by Bellow, two Banville novels and something else.)

I bought David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Kate Atkinson's Case Histories. A little behind in the game, I know, but I've been wanting to buy them for awhile. But first I wanted to go through some books that I had laying around at home. If I didn't read Plot and Extremely Loud when I did, I may never have.

I may only be 50 pages in to Cloud Atlas, but my man can write. I didn't necessarily love the first chapter, but I liked how it was written. It seemed like an attempt to make a Melvillian entry. The second chapter is great so far. A struggling musician throwing himself at the door of his idol should be revealing. (I guess if Kerouac were still around, I'd have been at his door.)

Though I wanted to finish Cloud Atlas this weekend, I probably won't. There are pubs to go to today right after work, then my second job tomorrow, leaving only Sunday.

It's cool outside, but the smell of spring is in the air. The sidewalks are strewn with peoples in green today, the day everyone's Irish.

And thanks to Bookdwarf, we have the heads up that David Mitchell will be at the Harvard Bookstore April 19.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I didn't hate it. Not a glowing endorsement, I know. Philip Roth's Plot Against America was better than I was led to believe, but not as good as I hoped. If that makes any sense. A friend of mine read it. Well, she read most of it, but stopped with about 30 pages left. That's not a good sign. And still, I chose to read it. The first 100 pages are pretty good. In a weird way it reads like a non-comical version of Woody Allen's Radio Days. Depictions of 1930s and 1940s New Jersey interlaced with history. Franklin Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh, La Guardia, Hitler, Walter Winchell and other historical figures play important roles throughout the novel.

After the first 100 pages, Roth loses me. Though the idea of Lindbergh winning the 1940 presidential election and signing a treaty with Hitler is intriguing and horrifying, Roth's language bores me. It's tiresome to read the middle part. It's too history bookish and not literary enough for me.

The anti-semitism that begins to ruin America is astonishing and still, all to real. And even though you know the story is false, it reads like the truth. That seems to be Roth's point throughout the novel...figuring out what the Truth is. Is Lindbergh trying to wipe out Jewish Americans like his counterpart in Germany? Or is Roth's family and their friends taking it all wrong?

I like how Roth shows how easy it would be for our greatest fears to become realized. That what we hold dear and sacred could become our grave undoing. Though I felt it was a struggle to read, I know that not all good things come easily.

Would I recommend Plot? Yeah. Though it may be a bit tedious, I think I gained something from reading it. And that's all I can ask.

Currently reading:
Dashiell Hammett The Thin Man

On deck:
David Mitchell Cloud Atlas

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Death be not proud When you lose a loved iPod that is.

Reading and old article by Jonathan Coe in The Guardian on Billy Wilder

"The verbal dexterity of Wilder's screenwriting seems to imply, for some critics, that there must be some corresponding visual paucity. They seem unable to acknowledge that the films are both visually and verbally rich, which is surely what must be asked of an art form that has had the capacity to combine both sound and vision for all but the first few years of its history. Wilder began his career as a writer - a journalist, in fact - working in Vienna, the city of his birth, where he wrote profiles of celebrated contemporaries including Freud. (The main thing he remembered from his visit to Freud's consulting rooms was that the famous couch was much smaller than he expected. Later in life, this caused him to dismiss Freud with the observation that "all his theories were based on the analysis of short people".) His early journalism has recently been anthologised and published in Germany, although it remains untranslated."

Thanks to Bookish for the link.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

I haven't read 10 pages of anything, other than the new Entertainment Weekly, since Friday. I feel...strange.

"I was leaning against the bar in a speakeasy on Fifty-second Street, waiting for Nora to finish her Christmas shopping, when a girl got up from a table where she had been sitting with three other people and came over to me. She was small and blonde, and whether you looked at her face or at her body in powder-blue sports clothes the result was satisfactory." - first paragraph of Hammett's The Thin Man

Friday, March 10, 2006

Saying I was hesitant to read Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredible Close would be kind. I was dreading it. I work in publishing at Houghton Mifflin, which publishes Foer and I got the book for free. But I couldn't stand his Everything is Illuminated. Like an albatross circling over head, I knew I needed to read Extremely Loud if I wanted to swear off Foer forever. Good thing I did. I wouldn't say he won me over, but I really enjoyed the novel. Foer certainly grew as a writer and storyteller with his second book. He got a lot of attention early on with his debut novel, but there was no sophomore slump. With a keen ability to write about the loss of a loved one, Foer made his narrator, 8 year old Oskar Schnell, a well rounded, odd, guide.

Showing signs of autism (as a fellow reader noted,) Oskar, wearing all white, all the time, finds a key that he thinks belonged to his father who was killed on 9/11. The rest of the novel follows Oskar as he tracks down all the people in the New York City area with the last name of Black. In his travels to Queens and Brooklyn, Oskar wants to find the lock to match the key so he can find some answer. Like many child narrators, Oskar is often too insightful, too cynical and too smart for his own good. Still, Foer doesn't let Oskar's countless quirks weigh the story down. Instead, in Oskar, we have a young boy, trying to deal with the murder of a loved one the only way he knows how.

Now reading:
Philip Roth The Plot Against America

On deck:
Dashiell Hammett The Thin Man

Next purchase:
David MitchellCloud Atlas

Listening to:
Deathcab for Cutie Crooked Teeth
For a fascinating look into the art and creativity involved in publishing a book, read William Gass's instructions for publishing his novel The Tunnel

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Testing out the new google blogger widget 
I should finish Extremely Loud today. Has Mr. Foer won me over?

On deck:
Philip Roth Plot Against America

Listening to:
Last week's Prairie Home Companion

Monday, March 06, 2006

Kerouac's grave in Lowell
Ti Jean's birthday is less than one week away
Started reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and fear that my disdain for his first novel has carried over. His first novel was like a comedy skit that went on too long. And though I'm only 40 pages in to Extremely Loud, it seems like he was continued to beat the dead horse. I can see why people may think he's creative and that his storytelling is unique, but I think it's tedious. He takes the easy way out.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Yesterday, one of my friends, a fellow blogger, asked me if I was ever going to post something on a topic other than books. Since I'm trying to keep this a book blog, I told her no. Though I often get the urge to write postings about politics, sports, work and other generalities of my life, I have refused to do so. Until now it seems. But I'll let it end here. I know a lot of bloggers out there, and I'm still a neophyte, who want to become the next Julie Powell (author of Julie and Julia : 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment ) and have their blogs discovered and be asked to write a book. But this is a dream akin to one I had growing up and wanting to be a space cowboy. It isn't going to happen. And we know this. Still, we stay up late writing our blogs that only our friends read when they're bored at work. We still wake up early to send out an e-mail letting our family know we posted again. While cooking dinner we try to remember that quote from some book so we can post it and sound witty. Pseudo-intellectual am I. And for no other reason than biblio-vanity, I will post again. And again. For that I'm not sorry

On the recommendation of a friend, I read Julia Glass's novel, Three Junes. It's a departure from what I normally read, but it was an enjoyable and quick read. It's told in three parts, by three different narrators.

The first section of the book, which was originally published as a novella, was narrated by newly widowed Paul McLeod. A newspaper publisher from Scotland, Paul is traveling through Greece on a tour. Along the way he forms a strange bond with an energetic woman who acts like a den mother and he finds himself attracted to a much younger American art student, Fern. However, Fern's attentions are drawn to the travel guide, John. The most memorable part of Paul's passage, was when one of the woman mentioned that he wasn't buying any souvenirs or taking any pictures. Paul said he took the trip to lose memories, let them go, not make new ones.

Paul's oldest son Fenno narrates the second section of the novel. Fenno, who is gay, guides us through the deaths of his mother and more recently his father. A bookstore owner and caretaker for a friend dying of AIDS, Fenno journeys back and forth from Scotland to New York; from artist lover to deathly ill friend; from pedigree dogs to parrots. Glass's description of the epidemic of AIDS was well constructed, showing the reader the demise of a once active man's body. Fenno's friend, Malachy "Mal" Burns, may be Glass's strongest character. His dry wit and biting observations, make the dying music critic a strong focal point to Fenno's sometimes undefined life. Mal's seeming courage in the face of death has just enough sentimentality to sustain the emotion.

In the third sections, Glass returns to Fern to lead us home. Fern is now in her mid thirties, also a widow and now pregnant with her new boyfriend's baby. The entire episode takes place in a summer house, in which her friend Tony is house sitting. Drawing the story together, Tony is Fenno's former lover and house sitting for Fenno's friend and business partner. When Fenno shows up at the house unexpectedly, he and Fern are drawn to each other, building and an immediate relationship. Fern even says that if it were ten years ago, she would have fallen in love with him. But perhaps she still has. Perhaps this is the friendship we all look for, but seldom find.

Glass manages to intertwine the lives of numerous, mostly fully realized characters. And though the story itself centers on predictable themes of love, death, birth and hope, Glass is able to make them her own. And because of that, we are grateful readers.

Now reading:
David Liss A Conspiracy of Paper

Listening to:
Travis Invisible Circus

Thursday, March 02, 2006

My new favorite book blogs are... Bookdwarf, Tingle Alley, Fresh Eyes and Pages Turned. Please check these out, they will be worth your while.

Bookdwarf is a bookseller in Cambridge who has all the info you'll need on Boston based book events, such as author readings. She's also posts her 'current reads' frequently. And unlike me, she's reading books that are either on the cusp of being published or on the verge of becoming noticed. In other words, she's on the frontline of books.

Tingle Alley is a wickedly smart reader in North Carolina. As far as book blogs go, hers is in depth.

Fresh Eyes is a now retired master bookseller from Vermont. His experience selling books, reading books and talking about books, make his blogs one of the best. He's also a great writer. Reading his blog makes me want to be a bookseller.

And Pages Turned is a blog I just started reading and now I'm reading the archives. A great blog to read while I act busy at work.

I just wish all these writers posted every day. Every hour of every day.

Oh yeah, and check out my friend (non-book blog) Blogalicious

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Associated Press has reported that the New York Public Library has bought the official collection of the William S. Burroughs archive. Now, Burroughs's letters, correspondence and notes will be within the same walls as Kerouac's. However, Ginsberg's archive is 3,000 miles across the country at Stanford.