Thursday, June 29, 2006

love post to John McPhee

I'm going away for the weekend to a place where there will be no computers, no email, no novel (well, actually I'm taking the 8 disks that my novels parts and notes are on because I am paranoid; suppose a novel--stealing burglar broke in while I was gone?)
But I had to put up these links to John McPhee-abilia.
Here's an interview in the NYer online and another on NPR.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

from my horror reading list

Warning to my sister: I posted this already on the bookchat blog we're both on (I can hear her whining: "I've read this already!")--reposting here because I'm lazy and also because it really is such a good book.
I love global warming. Yes, it will be a bad thing, but I still love reading about it. My newest fix is Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe, part of which was 1st published in 3 installments in the NYer. This is the best written one I've read so far--it's lucid, has both statistics and human data--her research is from books, monographs, interviews, travel.
She goes and looks at the permafrost (which is decreasing rapidly, causing houses in Alaska to sink or fall apart in some places) and visits the Netherlands to see firsthand how a finger in the dike isn't going to work anymore (they're building amphibious houses, that will float in a flood: seriously).
Some of the stuff in here I've read before (the 300-year drought in the Middle East that turned the mighty kingdom of Akkad into a 3-foot layer of sterile soil [dating from 2200 to 1900 BC] where there weren't even any earthworms; or the abandonment of the Viking settlement on Greenland, ditto the mystery of Roanoke), but of course this is like the 7th or 10th book I've read on GW, so that's not surprising: no one can resist Akkad. Not even me--did you know that archaeologists found a wall that had been abandoned halfway through, as if the workers said "Hey--what's with this 300-year drought--we're out of here; a kind of Marie Celeste of the desert. Kolbert quotes from a poem written about a century later--"The Curse of Akkad," which is a litany of ecological disaster. **
I highly recommend this book if you're at all interested in global warming, or the ecology, or horror.* One of the things that I've been coming to realize in all this CO2-fed reading is the fragility of what we think of as our normal climatic state. Even beyond the dire facts of the impending global warming and our sorry part in it, I've started to see that the climate of the Holocene (where we are now in the great march of geologic ages) has been very unusual in the history of the world--highly benign and conducive to the rise of civilization, etc. It's as if humanity has been unknowingly living on an extended vacation, which could be cut short at any time when the world reverts to one of its states of extreme variability.

*Scary quote: "the last time carbon dioxide levels were comparable to today's was 3.5 million years ago... and it is likely that they have not been much higher since the Eocene, 50 million years ago. In the Eocene, crocodiles roamed Colorado and sea levels were nearly 300 hundred feet higher than they are today." If I move to Cleveland Heights will I be above water?

**from "The Curse of Akkad":
The great industrial tracts produced no grain,
The inundated tracts produced no fish,
The irrigated orchards produced neither syrup nor wine,...
He who slept on the roof, died on the roof,
He who slept in the house, had no burial
People were flailing at themselves from hunger.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

551 pages

Which is how many there are now (double-spaced, if they were printed out, but they're almost all virtual pages). Will it never end? Sometimes being a writer seems self indulgent, as when I write 3 pages (as I did this morning) and come to the end of a section and feel as if I've accomplished something. Did I save the world? No. And (as per the Coupland quote, see here) I'm not boiling the carcass of the old order either.
Possibly I'm thinking these thoughts because I've been reading Field Notes on the Compassionate Life, which is just the kind of book to make you feel as if all you ever do is eat chocolate and think about what color to dye your hair. I'm planning on reading some Hunter Thompson and the new Janet Evanovich to counterbalance it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

writer's un-block

I started on the novel again after a break (week in SE Ohio, grandchildren, auction, the Washboard Festival, etc., etc., etc.), and 1037 words rolled off my fingers. I think this might be the first time I've come back after a hiatus and was able to start right in w/o a lot of grief, doubt, psycho-wrangling, and all that other not-fun stuff. It was helpful that I knew where I was going--that I was going to start writing the scene where Jason goes to the abandoned prison (the section is called, helpfully, "The Abandoned Prison").
I'd thought I might go and visit the actual prison this is based on while I was down there, but I totally forgot about that until I was sitting in front of the computer this morning. But I have a lot of notes from when I visited it last time, also some pictures (unfortunately not digital, or I'd post one).
I took a lot of books down there to read, but I found myself reading the same essay in Nobody Knows My Name (James Baldwin) every night in the 2 minutes before I fell asleep, although there were, of course, numerous readings of Moo, Baa, La La La* and other classics.

*a thrilling and transgressive book dealing with the importance of the animal voice

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

quote of the week

“If you’re not spending every waking moment of your life radically rethinking the nature of the world—if you’re not plotting every moment boiling the carcass of the old order—then you’re wasting your day.”
From Girlfriend in a Coma, by Douglas Coupland

Saturday, June 10, 2006

thoughts chasing themselves

Thoughts of the novel are running around in my head, even (especially?) when I'm not sitting in front of the computer. Some ideas about time—how it should probably start at the beginning of summer, more or less, and have events distributed so as to fill up the summer more equitably. Or, maybe my thing of having it end at Halloween is silly? misguided?? Or maybe it should start later, in July? Nothing pragmatic is occurring to me.
Isabel and Jason go to the prison?? is this at all believable? What else is happening at the same time? What are Carl and Nancy doing? do they talk about what happened at Mr. Six’s? Or avoid each other?
Carl should see Lily in some way or other; maybe she asks him to come over and move some stuff for her; and gives him something as a keepsake. Nancy—I have no idea what she’s doing. Her mother comes to visit? Or one of her friends from Cleveland???
Remind myself that the end of June is a goal, not a whip to beat myself with.
To avoid the above questions and others, I spent some time trying to read Erich Heller's "The Artist's Journey into the Interior" but sentences like this discouraged me:
From Winckelmann through Keats and Holderlin to Nietzche's own Birth of Tragedy and Rilke's 'Torso of Apollo,' European poetry and aesthetic speculation assumed again and again, as if under compulsion, the stance and posture of Goethe's Iphigenia as, exiled to a barbarous coast, she seeks with her inmost soul the land of the Greeks.
Now that I've typed that out, though, I have to say it makes more sense. And I quite liked "the art that, in all its scenes, shows... the scenery of the farewell bidden to the external world by the soul of man," which is about the Romantic vision, I think.
Hegel is mixed in to all this somehow--he's in the subtitle ("A Hegelian Prophecy and Its Fulfillment"), but I haven't figured out how yet.
But maybe I'll give it at least one more try.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

what I'm reading now

Jinx High, Mercedes Lackey. Second of a trilogy about Diana Tregarde, witch, sorceress, and Guardian of the helpless and innocent. Imps, demons, body-jumping evil sorceresses, etc.--all the paranormal fun you could wish for.
Collected Poems, Edna St. Vincent Millay. Still making my way through this--both highlights (poems about her lovelife) and lowlights (poems about death).
Tolkien's letters. More interesting than I thought they'd be.
The Soul of a Chef, Michael Ruhlman. 3 chefs, 3 philosophies, much time spent in the kitchen, plus some recipes at the end.
Bookmarked to Die, Jo Dereske. A mystery: the amateur sleuth is a librarian. Another library patron has been murdered! A cozy of the new sort.
The Artist's Journey into the Interior, Erich Heller. I picked this up when a colleague of mine put out the books he didn't want to take with him when he moved to New Zealand. It's the kind of book that I sometimes think I should read, but then when I do, I find insufferable. But I'm giving it more time.
Another Country, James Baldwin. Rereading this for maybe the 5th time--it's my favorite of his books. The first chapter is 78 pp. that stands among the best writing of the 20th century. One of the back-of-the-book blurbs says "The book itself is... an act of violence," and maybe it was perceived that way in 1960--possibly because it says (implicitly) that American society is a killer of black people; and possibly because it features a black-white romance; and maybe incidentally because some of the (sympathetically portrayed) characters are gay. But it seems to me to be a tender and intimate book that focuses on the importance of love and friendship in the face of despair and horror. Also, one of the characters (Vivaldo) is a writer, which I'm always a sucker for.
A Multitude of Sins, Richard Ford. Short stories--I just started this although I bought it in April. The synopsis claims that each story focuses on "liaisons in and out and to the sides of marriage," and the last seems to be a short novella (I love novellas).
The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs. Jacobs died recently (last month?) and I got interested in this book from reading all the encomiums in her obituaries. Have only read the first chapter so far, but I can tell anyway that she's a good writer, and likably passionate about her subject.
Finally, a lot of vintage cookbooks that my son-in-law found for me at a garage sale last week--one is entirely filled with recipes using Knox's unflavored gelatin.

Friday, June 02, 2006

passing a pagestone

I went over 500 pages today, which is good. But shouldn't I be more excited? I guess I'd be more excited if I was done.