Thursday, January 24, 2008

A victory for low culture

Today I got my boss hooked on He's a computer geek, but apparently not of the low-culture-internet-addict variety. Lolcats win another fan :)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse
In Fes, I froze. I found that the warmest spot in the house was in my bed, well tucked-in under heavy woolen blankets, and so much of my non-class time was spent cocooned in a cross-legged hunch, reading. Hesse's alternate Europe of scholars appealed, and the game distracted me from the surrounding chill. I'm jealous that girls don't get into academic utopia, and I found that reading it made me want to pick up a chessman again. Still, I get the feeling something got lost either in time or translation.

Blindness by José Saramago
Wow. The world goes blind and society falls apart - beautifully. A man at a red light loses his vision, and this milky white blindness spreads as a contagion. He haunted me, and I devoured the novel whole in two days.

The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco
"To survive, we must tell stories." A man sent to spy on the secrets of a ship seeking the solution to longitude finds himself stranded in a cove far, far from home and decides he's discovered the antipodal meridian. He ponders the strange island on the other side of this invisible line, across the date change, an island permanently stranded in the day before. It's classic Eco and therefore automatically a favorite. Unfortunately, I lent it to a classmate who in turn lent it to a stranger and now I doubt my copy will ever return. I hate people who don't return books (and people who lend books that aren't theirs to lend.)

The Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid
Jamaica Kincaid specializes in a sort of angry poetry. I read "Girl" in AP English and "A Small Place" for Carribean Literature, and while The Autobiography of My Mother left me unnerved at times, it also made me pull out my notebook to scribble down quotes:

"A human being, a person, many people, a people, will say that their surroundings, their physical surroundings, form their consciousness, their very being; they will get up every morning and look at green hills, white cliffs, silver mountains, fields of golden grain, rivers of blue-glinting water, and in the beauty of this - and it is beautiful, they cannot help but find it beautiful - the invisibly, magically, conquer the distance that is between them and the beauty they are beholding, and they feel themselves become one with it, they draw strength from it, they are inspired by it to sing songs, to compose verse; they invent themselves and reinvent themselves and they are inspired (again), but this time to commit small actions, small deeds, and eventually large actions, large deeds, and each success brings a validation of the original idea, the original feeling, the meeting of people and place, you and the place you are from are not a chance encounter; it is something beyond destiny, it is something so meant to be that it is beyond words."

"The present is always perfect. No matter how happy I had been in the past I do not long for it. The present is always the moment for which I live. The future I never long for, it will come or it will not; one day it will not. But it does not loom up before me, I am never in a state of anticipation, The future is not even like the black space above the sky, with an intermittent spark of light; it is more like a room with no ceiling or floor or walls, it is the present that gives it such a shape, it is the present that encloses it. The past is a room full of baggage and rubbish and sometimes things that are of use, but if they are of real use, I have kept them."

Sunday, January 20, 2008


The first of the year gave me plenty to do and little to read. After New Year's in Paris, my traveling band went to Grenoble, Geneva and Barcelona before I found myself back at Sarah's apartment half-dead with the flu. Recovering, I unpacked some of the must-reads with which I had weighted down my suitcase and opened an older book by an author I had only recently discovered.

Open Secrets by Alice Munro
I love Alice Munro. I love her Canadians and her sparse prose. My favorite remains Runaway, but in truth I haven't disliked anything I've read by her. She feels like family, telling the stories my mother's mother never passed on about Dakota schoolteachers and Montana isolation. Open Secrets got me through a quiet convalescence and then converted Sarah into a Munro devotee as well.

L'immoraliste by André Gide
I read Symphonie pastorale for the French senior seminar and found myself wanting to turn his commentary on religion and morality into a dialogue. L'immoraliste was interesting, but didn't catch me in the same way. Les faux-monnayeurs is still on my to-read list, but Gide is not yet among my all-time favorite authors. Nonetheless, it made calm train reading that didn't scream "American tourist!" on my visit to Aix.

Switch Bitch by Roald Dahl
I felt homesick for Aix from the moment I left. Once back in France, I had to return to Provence, but Sarah's work schedule meant I had to travel solo. I visited old teachers and old haunts, but only Dahl kept me company at quiet dinners in my favorite quiet restaurants. If you've only read his children's stories, prepare to be surprised by his fiction for grown-ups - it's wonderful and dark and very much adult. The "My Uncle Oswald" stories are vulgar and horrifically funny, and it was the perfect antidote to the Nobel literature I'd just finished.

Carry Me Down by MJ Hyland
One of my favorite bookstores anywhere in the world is Book in Bar just off the Cours Mirabeau in Aix. I went there one evening to buy a tea and browse the inventory. As it happened, the shop was holding a reading by an author I'd never heard of but who had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, so I picked up an Ian McEwan novel off the used-books shelf and settled in to wait. The reading was tiny - a group of about six older Brits and then me in the corner - and Ms. Hyland seemed a bit eager to name-drop on Salman Rushdie and J.M. Coetzee - but it was a fun quiet evening and I bought a book if only because it seemed cool to have a signed copy. Reading it on the trip back to Grenoble, I did get sucked into the story of a boy who realizes that he knows when people are lying and the slow disintegration of his family life as it unfolds around this realization. Nonetheless, I'm with the Booker committee, who gave the 2006 prize to Kiran Desai for The Inheritance of Loss.

El amor en los tiempos del cólera by Gabriel García Márquez
Departing for Morocco, I decided that I might as well embrace my upcoming linguistic confusion and throw everything imaginable into the mix. Settling in with my host family, Sidi Mohammed smiled and showed off his Spanish, while dear Gabriel spun his magic once again. He joins Munro on my always-favorites list.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

2007 : A Year in Books

At the end of my junior year of high school, my English teacher, Mama T, asked the class to keep note of the books we read over the summer. I scribbled mine into a battered notebook still inscribed as as "le cahier mysterieux," a holdout from note-passing in middle-school French. Somehow, I kept listing until it became habit.

Reading tends to possess me in spurts - a semester in Provence inspired any number of cooking experiments, a newfound appreciation for palm trees and swishing skirts, and a prolonged literary spree in which I read 26 books in 6 months. Busier terms back in Nashville afforded far less leisure to spend with my beloved books, but even working 12-hour days on the campaign trail, I found time to read.

2007, however, brought the longest-running book binge I've ever sustained. Looking back over the list reminds me not only of what a good reading year it was, but also simply what a great year it was. It'll probably take me the rest of January to go through the list, but if you're looking for good books, be patient with me as I work my way through them.