Friday, April 28, 2006
Is this something we want to read?
I went to a christening last night, for my new niece (also named Sarah, which makes me smile), and became a godparent for the first time. That was joyful. Then I went to a funeral this morning, for the long-time partner of a dear friend. Not joyful. And it's a relentlessly beautiful spring day here, with a high clear blue sky and all the trees almost in leaf and daffodils tossing. So today, I'm looking around the shop, feeling a bit what's it all for, and thinking about beginnings, and endings. Books help. Here's another quote, a hopeful one, from the monster anthology I've been reading (An Editor's Treasury):
"Do you know that your bodies are made of some of the same substances that are found in the sun and the other stars? You are a sample of the great Universe. So do not let little things trouble you but think and act as if you were part of a bigger world than the little earth upon which you live."
- Edwin B. Frost (p.707)
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
I came across this while browsing
"I give hearty and humble thanks for the safe return of this book, which having endured the perils of my friend's bookcase and the bookcases of my friend's friends, now returns to me in reasonably good condition. I give hearty and humble thanks that my friend did not see fit to give this book to his infant for a plaything, nor use it as an ash tray for his burning cigar, nor as a teething ring for his mastiff. When I loaned this book, I deemed it as lost; I was resigned to the business of the long parting; I never thought to look upon its pages again. But now that my book has come back to me, I rejoice and am exceedingly glad! Bring hither the fatted morocco and let us rebind the volume and set it on the shelf of honor, for this my book was lent and is returned again. Presently, therefore, I may return some of the books that I myself have borrowed."
I am of two minds about lending books. When I lend, I always have a sinking feeling that I will never see the book again, so if possible, I set out immediately to find myself another copy, and let the book go to its new home with goodwill and no expectation of return. It's easier that way, for all concerned. Then it is a pleasant surprise if the book eventually comes back, but if it doesn't, I'm not bereft or peevish. I don't borrow books. Friends and customers try to lend me books all the time, and I always say I will instead write down the title and find my own copy. I'm afraid if someone else's book enters my home library... well, you know.
Hazlitt on unrequited love and vanity
"A purple light hovers round my head. The air of love is in the room.... The flowers of Hope and Joy springing up in my mind, recall the time when they first bloomed there. The years that are fled knock at the door and enter.... All that I have thought and felt has not been in vain.... Let me live in the Elysium of those soft looks; poison me with kisses; kill me with smiles; but still mock me with thy love!"
This is not Hazlitt's standard prose style, don't worry! Immediately after this bit of florid effervescence is a footnote, which reads, in tiny print:
"I beg the reader to consider this passage merely as a specimen of the mock-heroic style, and as having nothing to do with any real facts or feelings."
Then there's this, from "On Intellectual Superiority" (p.383):
"I like to be pointed out in the street.... This is to me a pleasing extension of one's personal identity. Your name so repeated leaves an echo like music on the ear: it stirs the blood like the sound of a trumpet. It shows that other people are curious to see you; that they think of you; and feel an interest in you without you knowing it. This is a bolster to lean upon; a lining to your poor, shivering, threadbare opinion of yourself."
Funny, wonderful stuff, very alive and enjoyable, apart from the occasional sentence about the female mind and its weak understanding and capabilities. I wonder if Hazlitt read Jane Austen? He makes disparaging remarks somewhere in this book (I've lost the page) about lady novelists. We can forgive him for this then-common error, can't we?
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
I mentioned in the comments below...
Here's just one line, from the poem "Human Bondage" (p.62):
"I know a night of stars within me..."
Augusten Burroughs reading aloud and signing books
I closed up the shop after five o'clock and headed up to the Maine Center for the Arts to get my ticket right when the box office opened, just in case I had to wait in line or something. This is my usual modus operandi (I'm a bit of a worrier). Well, I was the first person there, so I bought my ticket, went next door and had a sandwich for supper, then went back early to make sure I got a good seat. Again, I was the first person there. The auditorium was empty. I did not let this discourage me in the least. I figured if no one else showed up, Augusten and I could have a chat about books and reading. So I sat in the center of the front row and wrote in my journal for a while. Other people did show up, thankfully, because I am actually too shy to talk to a published author (face to face) that I admire, without sounding like an idiot. Trust me on this (I will provide evidence to this effect shortly - see below). Not a huge crowd, one hundred people, I'd say. The dean of students introduced AB by saying that we all can benefit by hearing the truth of someone's life spoken aloud, especially when that life has been filled with adversity and the person has made it back to tell us about it. He went on to say that he'd just met AB backstage for the first time and that he was charmed by him. I think the whole audience was too, by the time AB's talk ended.
AB came out wearing jeans, a wide silvery belt, a button-up oxford-type shirt, and a suede jacket with long fringe up and down its arms and sides (this fringe waved and moved throughout his talk, and was strangely hypnotic). He drank bottled water continuously, pausing to swig it during certain dramatic or funny pauses, giving us time to laugh or respond. He started out by saying he would read an essay from his new book, and answer questions afterwards, but before he read anything he was going to tell us a little bit about how he got this way. I think most of the people in the audience, including me, had read Running with Scissors and Dry so we knew what to expect. He told us that he had a G.E.D. but didn't go to high school or college. His father told him that he'd never amount to anything, that he'd be lucky to be a gas station attendant (his father was a college professor - he taught philosophy). He said he'd taken an I.Q. test and gotten an 80. After starting at a community college and realizing how awful it was, he got a job in advertising. He practiced for it by rewriting all the ads in magazines. At age 18 he started drinking - he had unlimited access to alcohol, every night, because of where and how he was living. He drank heavily, for years. When he stopped drinking, he said he had never lived 24 hours of a day before: what to do, how to fill all those huge fat hours... alcohol had filled up the big holes in his life. He knew he was an alcoholic but didn't have a problem with that at all - life hurt too much so it was best to be an alcoholic. It was a sensible response. When he went to rehab and AA, he realized that all the other people there, the alcoholics, were just like him: same patterns, habits, and obsessive thinking. He went there because it was a choice between rehab or his job, not because he wanted to stop drinking.
About his writing, he said that he wrote in journals as a kid, then when he drank he didn't write a word, except for the advertising work he was doing. Then as soon as he stopped drinking, he started writing again, sometimes for six or seven hours a day. Life was horrible (read the books), and he said that he thought dying would be fine, but the only thing he regretted was that he'd never tried to be a writer. As a kid his mother had told him he was going to be a famous writer someday, and he was angry that he'd never even tried to really write. So he sat down and wrote a book in seven days. It was 150 pages long, and was the first draft of Sellevision. It was enough of a book so that he found an agent for it. He said when he got the ms back from the agent, there were red pen marks on every sentence. Basic things like "the punctuation goes inside the quotation marks," things he said he would have known had anyone cared enough to keep him in school past the fourth grade. Then he spent six months or more expanding and revising the ms. Then he showed his journals to his agent. He'd been keeping journals for seven years, since rehab, recording events as they happened. The agent said, "Why didn't you show me these first!" and this is what would later became the book Dry. His agent and editor also asked him what else he had going on, and AB said, "Well, I had a horrible childhood..." and told them a few things, and they said, "Write about that!" and that became Running with Scissors.
He talked a little about his new book, Possible Side Effects, due out in a week or two, before reading an essay from it. He had the audience choose; he asked which we would rather hear, a story about John Updike, or a story about his and his partner Dennis's vacation. We overwhelmingly chose the vacation option, and did not regret it. I won't go into it, we'll all just have to go and BUY THE BOOK as soon as it comes out - but I will say that it was laugh-out-loud funny (and AB's delivery as he reads is straightforward and droll) and involves an island b&b run by a doll collector.
Audience members asked questions after; the few that stuck with me were these:
1. I work in advertising. How can someone work in advertising and survive? He said by training yourself not to care about it. Which is difficult. And by having another area of your life that you care about so deeply that it won't kill you not to care about your job.
2. How was/is your A.A. experience? He said that he won't discuss A.A. except to say that until we have a pill to cure alcoholism, it's the best we have. It works, no matter where you are on the spirituality spectrum (from total atheist nonbeliever to holy roller). He won't say how often he goes, because he doesn't want anyone to use his answer to justify how often they might need to go.
3. Truth in memoir-writing. No one said James Frey, but it was implied. AB said that it's hard to tell the truth sometimes. In his books, when he talks about his friend Pighead's death, AB makes his friend's death all about himself. Which is what actually happened, to AB's shame - he would have liked to make himself look better. He said, "But oh well, there it is." He also said that for example, he telescoped ten advertising jobs into two, or one, in Dry. This was an editorial decision, because the book wasn't about his jobs per se, and he felt it would just distract the reader unnecessarily from the real points of the book.
4. Do you find it hard to write, do you like to write, etc.? AB said he LOVES to write. He writes every day and he has to write about things and events to be able to experience them fully as they happen. He does know writers who HATE to write, to whom it's torture, very famous big-selling writers that are friends of his, and they bribe themselves with little Tiffany boxes lined up on their desks: "Finish this page, and I can open one Tiffany box..." He also said that he writes for himself, because he has to, and it's great if other people find they can relate to what he's written. He said reading is just, if not more, important than writing. He said to read the great books, and also read the really awful books (to see what they look like). Skip the ones in the middle.
5. How has becoming famous/well-known affected your life? He said he isn't that well-known. And the more people he meets the more he thinks people are great. They are friendly and good and say kind things to him.
In closing, he said he's written two novels, which he will never publish (but they were fun to write, he likes writing fiction), and he is working on a book about his relationship with his father, who died last year. He said when he was younger he wanted to learn French, and bought a set of tapes, and his father told him that he couldn't learn a language, that the science of the brain was such that only young children could learn languages easily, that it was too late for AB to learn. And AB said he listened to the tapes and they were indeed hard, so he stopped. Then he found out when his father died that his father knew FIVE languages, all of which he had learned as an ADULT. He also said that his father never believed he was a real author until he saw a stack of AB's books in the front of a bookshop next to a big pile of John Grisham's new book. But he never read any of AB's books. (I'm really looking forward to reading this book, when he finishes it.)
The book signing afterwards was easy and in less than five mintues it was my turn in line and he inscribed and signed my first editions of Dry and Magical Thinking, and a softcover of Running with Scissors (it's all I had - I couldn't find a first edition on short notice - though I tried), and the poster from the reading. I was bright red and stammering a bit, but I managed to blurt out that Dry meant an awful lot to me, and I loved his writing and his talk (oh god, the mortification of not being able to find anything else to say), and I would come to see him again if he was anywhere nearby, and oh yeah, I have a bookshop, and I recommend his books all the time. He was friendly and interested and looked right at me and asked about the shop, and inscribed the poster "To Sarah's Books" etc. I felt great about this, although when I got home and examined my books, I saw that he had inscribed the paperback of Scissors "To Michelle..." which was the name of one of the women in line in front of me. The others all say "To Sarah." Perhaps he was nervous too. I don't mind. The experience itself is worth more to me than the books. He was witty and funny, fearless and honest in about talking about his own thoughts and behavior, positive and happy about his life in general, and completely adorable about how much he loves his partner and their two French bulldogs. I wish I lived closer to a big city so I could see events like this more often, although AB is one of a kind, so I'll think I'll just have to go find him again, specifically. He's starting a book tour soon. Go see him if you can.
Monday, April 24, 2006
And on an unrelated note, Ryan beat me at Scrabble on Saturday night, by bingoing with the word "squishy" at the last moment. He had hoarded the two blanks. Oh, it was ugly...
I knew what I wanted to do, on that day. I wanted my own shop. The realization hit me like a ton of books - people do this, for a living, oh my god, I could do this... There was a place for me in the world. Well, it took me some time to get there. I started selling books on eBay in the late 1990s, and I rented a booth in an antiques group shop, and a table at a local flea market, and that's how I got started in the business. I had a few part-time jobs between the time that I started selling used books and the time I opened my shop - I have that hackneyed yankee fear of debt and I didn't want to have to take out small business loans or the like to do what I wanted to do. So I spent a few years working to make sure the bills got paid, while I bought books for stock and accumulated stuff for my future shop. When things reached critical mass, five years ago, I found an inexpensive and spacious retail space in downtown Bangor, on a street which already has a large used bookshop, a new bookstore, a children's bookstore, and a comics/graphic novel shop, and a few busy restaurants. I'm on a second floor above an antiques shop. I've got perhaps five thousand books in stock right now, mostly hardcovers. My customers are a mix of locals and tourists/summer folk, and students, staff, and faculty from the University of Maine, which is five miles away, in Orono (which is a classic crossword puzzle word, by the way). I have many repeat customers, and I do love them dearly. I want to respect their privacy, so I won't go into great detail about who buys what and what they are like in person. Suffice it to say that people READ here in Maine, for which I am grateful, because it allows me to provide them with books from time to time.
So, Maine. I'm in Maine for a number of reasons; here are a few: my family is here, my husband's family is here, and my heart is here, in the landscape of my home. I go downeast whenever I can - it's about an hour and half away, and it's scrubby, hardscrabble, all granite and salt marshes and spruce trees, and I love it. I can get away from the busyness of the shop and of downtown, and be alone for hours outside, even at the height of the summer season. I paint outside when the weather is good, and I'm mostly painting the landscape of my childhood. I was in Bar Harbor yesterday, and Ryan and I spent three hours walking on one of the trails in Acadia National Park. We saw more birds and animals than we did people (three people, three deer, many talkative birds, a woodchuck, evidence of beavers). It's almost inexpressibly beautiful here - I say almost, because I'm always trying to express its beauty, in pictures and in words. How hokey is that, but it is true, so I don't care. I love traveling and visiting other places, but when I come home I feel like I can breathe again.
The current state of affairs here at the shop: I sell online from time to time, a little on eBay and a little on Amazon, to make sure I can pay the bills. But I started selling online so I could have an open bookshop. I didn't get a shop so I could close up and sell only online. Selling online is fine, it's great to be able to find out-of-print books in a few seconds, instead of in a few years, but I'm not in this business to do mail-order. I like conversations over the counter, and I love sitting here surrounded by books all day, and I love helping people find good books to read. I'm busy enough to continue doing what I do, but not so busy that I don't also have time to devote to writing and painting. I've written a book about the book trade, and my shop and background in books, and am trying to find a agent or publisher for it. I'll let you know how that goes, dear readers. As far as the painting goes, I paint purely for pleasure, although I am beginning to think about selling my work, as it piles up in the studio room I have in the back of the shop. I'll post some pictures soon.
I'll close by saying I've got to get some work done today, and apropos of that, add this quote from Hazlitt's Table-Talk (I'm reading a small Oxford hardcover from 1933, but the essays were originally published in 1821-22): "'Fine words butter no parsnips,' says the proverb."
Friday, April 21, 2006
I'd particularly like to hear from some folks who I know are reading, but who rarely, if ever, comment (you know who you are, and I do, too), as well as from the more talkative regular readers (many thanks, it's been a pleasure to meet you). I've enjoyed writing here, and sounding off about this and that, and waxing enthusiastic about books both specific and general. Thanks for reading, everyone. I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it.
Kind regards to all, from one happy bookshop owner:
p.s. This month also marks the five-year anniversary of the week I opened my shop. And what a great five years it's been - the best of my life, thus far. I trust it will only get better.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
One sad thing I saw in Boston...
But here's the specific thing that made me sad, aside from the general move. I took the far-away photo, then crossed the street to look at the doorway of the building, and saw the following:
There are the shadows and holes where the brass letters were, which for decades read "Little, Brown & Co." I think it was David Sedaris who said that when he was first published he was so proud to be a Little, Brown & Co. author that he wanted it on his gravestone when he died: "Published by Little, Brown." Those little holes and shadows made me sad, and I thought about the person who removed them and how he or she must have felt. I'm sure some of the offices in this building were inconvenient and poky while others were spacious and elegant. So, with growth, and mergers, a move was inevitable. But tradition, and beauty... Sometimes I hate change.
Brattle Book Shop, and a dedication
The second photo is the alley lot to the right of the building. I tried to get all of the literary wall mural in the picture while also showing some of the outdoor book stalls and sale carts which fill the lot. I spent more than an hour here going through the one dollar, three dollar, and five dollar carts and shelves, hunting for both bargains and booksellers' tickets. I found lots of each. The best item I found was a two-volume set of stories signed by occult-supernatural author Arthur Machen, but I also came home with Christopher Morley's play-tale The Trojan Horse, a few Siegfried Sassoon books, A Traveller in Italy by H.V. Morton, and Casuals of the Sea by William McFee. I bought two grocery bags of books in all. When I visited Brattle in February I didn't look outside at all because of the freezing wind, so it was good to revisit so soon and get a chance to really take my time there, and be thorough. The photo only shows a fraction of the books out there:
I feel like Brattle is carrying on the ancient tradition of the outdoor bookstall here. The kind clerk let me leave my books inside and come back for them after watching the marathon finish, so I wouldn't have to haul my heavy bags up and down several blocks.
This post today, about the joy of bookhunting at a favorite shop, is dedicated to a very dear bookish friend who is having a difficult time right now. In fact, I'm having a tough time thinking about much else, so I will cut this short and say to my pal: my love and best wishes are winging from me to you, today. Thanks for being a friend and mentor of sorts in this fine business. I hope for many more years of trading book-tales with you.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
A few finds from Boston
I already have a smaller version of the Gardenside Bookshop ticket, but this new one is over twice as large. I particularly like Judd's, from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1845. This may be the oldest ticket I have in my collection. A virtue, apparently: cheap books.
The second item is an almost unreadable novel (I took in the first few pages and couldn't go on) whose cover design I happened to like, because it depicts the view up Park Street toward the Massachusetts State House, and Goodspeed's bookshop was once located in the center of the row of buildings on the right:
The book was three dollars, so I picked it up for sentimental reasons. Goodspeed's occupied several locations around the neighborhood, but this is the one place I pass by again and again, while wondering what books (and patrons, for that matter) passed through those doors. So I bought the book. Here I go, judging books by their covers again, ah well. It's not the first time. I'm sure it won't be the last.
Back to business
Ryan bussed out to the marathon start line early in the morning, and we stayed at a hotel just a block off Boston Common, so I had hours to spend walking around town in the morning, and I put this little pocket guide to good use:
This was published by Starhill Press in 1991 and although some of the bookshop information is outdated, I didn't mind that. The essentials are unchanged. I walked around Beacon Hill and beyond, and saw the houses where various literary lights once lived, including Louisa May Alcott and family, Thoreau, Henry Adams, Robert Frost, and Sylvia Plath. And I looked longingly at the former home of publisher Little, Brown & Company, on Beacon Street, and thought about all their authors coming and going over the years. I also peeked in the windows of Beacon Press (closed for Patriot's Day, as was the Athenaeum), visited sites of famous bookshops now closed and gone, and trolled for good books at two open shops, before heading down Boylston Street to watch the marathoners come in. A great trip. More tomorrow.
Friday, April 14, 2006
Too busy! Too busy to blog!
I've had a wonderfully busy few days - many customers actually buying books, imagine! In local news, my friends up the street at BookMarc's (a fine independent bookstore) are blogging, so we can keep track of what we're all reading and doing here on Central Street in Bangor. Marc's blog is here.
More local news: a nearby shop, The Book Shelf, in Ellsworth, had some water damage last week after a fire in the apartment above. I just read about it in my paper copy of The Ellsworth American, but the story doesn't seem to be available in their online version. The quote that really got me, in the paper, was this: "The scene at the bookstore, where so many rare and old books were protected and cared for over the years, was that of total literary devastation." My heart aches for the owner, Pete. When you sell books for a living, you dread fire and water. All the elements, actually. Coming into contact with your books. I can't even think about it too long, I'll get upset.
And last but certainly not least, an author I love is coming to town next week - Augusten Burroughs will be speaking at the University of Maine this coming Wednesday evening. His books certainly are edgy, even shocking in places, but boy, can he write. I loved his books Dry and Magical Thinking. Haven't read his novel, did also read Running with Scissors, but loved Dry more - it just felt like he had settled into his prose style more. I hope to attend his talk, with my hardcover first editions in tow for the book signing afterwards. I only found out about his lecture by accident - I was at BookMarc's picking up a book (I buy indiscriminately, at all nearby shops) and the woman next to me in line was waving a postcard advertisement for it, as she bought her copy of Running with Scissors. Serendipity.
That's all for now - sorry for the lack of posts this week, dear readers, I was off to a good start and had the best of intentions, but time got away from me. More next week - I've been reading some new (to me) books...
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
More booksale news
My land is bare of chattering folk;
The clouds are low along the ridges,
And sweet's the air with curly smoke
From all my burning bridges.
It also has a lovely blindstamped pink-purple cloth cover, which wouldn't scan well, so here's the equally well-designed title page instead:
So, not a first. But, another discovery: an early hardcover reprint of W. Somerset Maugham's The Gentleman in the Parlour: A Record of a Journey from Rangoon to Haiphong (Doubleday, 1033), which I've wanted to read for some time, and which begins with Maugham selecting books to read on his journey:
"...one day, about to start on a long journey, I was wandering around Bumpus's looking for books to take with me when I came across a selection of Hazlitt's Essays. It was an agreeable little volume in a green cover, and nicely printed, cheap in price and light to hold, and out of curiosity to know the truth about an author of whom I had read so much ill (courtesy of Charles Lamb) I put it on the pile that I had already collected." (p.3, I've added the words in italics)
Maugham becomes enraptured with Hazlitt to the extent that the title of his book is taken from a passage in one of the Essays entitled On Going on a Journey:
"Oh! it is great to shake off the trammels of the world and of public opinion - to lose our importunate, tormenting, everlasting personal identity in the elements of nature, and become the creature of the moment, clear of all ties - to hold to the universe only by a dish of sweet-breads, and to owe nothing but the score of the evening - and no longer seeking for applause and meeting with contempt, to be known by no other title than the Gentleman in the parlour! (p.6, the italics are Hazlitt's)
Except for the sweetbreads (shudder), how delightful. I look forward to reading the rest of the book, even though, sadly, I won't be reading it on a steamer to Rangoon. At the booksale I also found a small Hazlitt book, a 1930's Oxford edition of Table-Talk, perhaps I'll read that next. And finally, while sorting books yesterday, I found one more book I'd bought with a bookseller's ticket that I didn't know about. Riches! Life is good.
Monday, April 10, 2006
When I say I like scholarly books...
"Participation springs from this disruptive potential, an indeterminacy of representation internal to the performance. If writing and documentation cannot recuperate the disruptive effects of work of participation found in performance minimally, they can recognize the disruptive effects of the work of participation lost to representation.... What a fuller elaboration of these narratives would want to show was that the performance event could only be grasped through an exchange consisting of the mutual interruption and displacement of narratives.... This perspective simulates a relation of perfomance and audience where performance pertains to the execution of an idea implicit in the notion of 'agency' and audience suggests a mobilized critical presence intended by radical notions of 'history.' This distinction points to a conception of history where historical project as the formation of an identity and historical possibility as the capacity for continued mobilization are joined..." blah blah blah-de-blah blah.
Lordy lord. All my apologies and sympathies go to the undoubtedly embattled and beleaguered PhD student who had to write this article in order to publish or perish. This is NOT the scholarly stuff which I am enamoured of. I mean, instead, a sweetly weighty hardcover two-volume history of nineteenth-century France, published by Oxford University Press. With fold-out maps. And crisp dust jackets. Mmm, mm, that's what I'm talkin' bout.
A weekend of many books
Best finds unearthed so far: ten Anthony Powell hardcovers in jackets, including fine copies of some of the novels in A Dance to the Music of Time series, which I will read someday; nice firsts by Eugene O'Neill, Robert Lowell, and Dorothy Parker; a fine collection of early Maine town histories (Ryan stumbled on the Maine-book table shortly after the sale opened, and since he was the only person in the vicinity, he put every book on it into his box); an entire carton of the published papers and letters of FDR; and parts of the collection of a retired history professor, who left the bulk of his books to the AAUW - his books are on wonderfully obscure topics and are in (mostly) impeccable condition. We spent a few hours at the sale, and before I tallied up and paid for the books, I looked through the dregs of the old fiction for booksellers' tickets - I came up with ten more for my collection. All in all, a success. Sometimes I think I got into this business just so I could spend hours buying all the good books I possibly could. Shopping. Is this a bad thing? I love selling, don't get me wrong, but buying contains that magic combination of treasure-hunt and book-rescue which manages to simultaneously feel like bank robbery and virtuous recycling. Off to work - I've got to get these books out on the shelves.
Friday, April 07, 2006
When you open the jewel case and take out the cd, underneath it is a great photograph of Walker's old Royal typewriter, which is pink and has a basket of flowers painted on the side - a beautiful relic, like these songs made new by Willie's unique voice and the sheer bravado of the musicianship evident on the record. Favorite songs, after a few listens straight through: Don't Be Ashamed of Your Age, You Don't Know Me (I've always loved the Ray Charles version and Willie's is different but just as moving), Sugar Moon, Cherokee Maiden, The Warm Red Wine, and Miss Molly. But the best, I think, is the dust-bowl cowpoke campfire ballad Dusty Skies. A sad sad sad cowboy song. So good, if you like that kind of thing, which I do.
Sample lyric, from the swinging Miss Molly (1944):
"Oh, have you seen Miss Molly
Her cheeks are rosy, red
Her lips are soft as satin
And they taste like gingerbread"
This makes me smile! Boy, if someone had told me twenty years ago (when I was listening to Joy Division, The Smiths, and Black Flag) that I'd become a country music lover, I wouldn't have known what to think (most likely How could such a thing ever come to pass!). Although I shouldn't be surprised in retrospect, because one of my parents had Hank Williams records, which I loved to listen to. Still do. And now I wouldn't have it any other way. Willie's in town next month, I think I'm going to go... Back to books soon, I promise.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
I'm through with Nick Hornby for now, having finished Songbook, his book of essays about some favorite songs and their resonance both in his life and in our collective cultural life. The hardcover of the book comes with a cd - and listening to it is like receiving a mix tape from your secret best friend. The one you wish you had, who would make you mixes like this. One of the essays is about a haunting and beautiful Rufus Wainwright song, One Man Guy, and contains this passage, on the phenomenon of songs such as this containing moments of out-and-out Divinity which make your skin prickle:
"...as a writer, I don't normally have much patience for the ineffable - I ought to think that everything's effing effable, otherwise what's the point? But I'm not sure there are words to describe what happens when two voices mesh.... All I can say is that I can hear things that aren't there, see and feel things I can't normally see and feel, and start to realize, that, yes, there is such a thing as an immortal soul, or, at the very least, a unifying human consciousness, that our lives are short but have meaning."
When I'm reading, I'm always searching unconsciously for signs of hope such as this. I bought a new book yesterday, a softcover to read, called Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times, edited by Kevin Smokler (Basic Books, 2005), partly because of the essays in it by Paul Collins and Dan Kennedy, but mostly because, like Nick Hornby's books, it looks to be full of such signs. Here's the quote from the back cover that made me buy the book:
"The sky is not caving in on American letters. Far from it. The immensely talented writers in this collection all came of age professionally in the last decade - and all chose reading and writing over another (sic) more lucrative and decidedly flashier pursuits.... Why? How did they come to writing as a calling? What's the relevance of literature when the very term seems quaint?"
I know the answer already, I see the hard evidence every day (Bulgakov!), but I'm interested in hearing what writers of my generation have to say about it, too.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
The white stuff
I didn't read a book last night, because my new issue of Paste magazine came in the mail yesterday, and I spent three hours with my nose in it. I've subscribed for two+ years now, and I don't think there's a better music/culture mag out there, it's quite something. I read it straight through: great writing, tons of quality reviews of music, movies, books, cultural happenings, general cool stuff. And it comes with a music cd sampler (usually over 20 songs) and often with a dvd, too, of music videos, short films, and indie film trailers. This issue has The Flaming Lips on the cover, and contains articles on Calexico, Googie architecture, Josh Ritter, Wim Wenders and Sam Shephard, Alejandro Escovedo, etc., plus the first in a series of articles by author Hollis Gillespie. I played the dvd at work today, loudly (again, no customers, because of the snow) - it includes videos by The Decemberists, Bright Eyes, KT Tunstall, Amos Lee, Liz Phair, Beth Orton, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash... What's not to love. Have I mentioned Paste before? Well, if so, here it is again, because it's that good. If this kind of thing is your cup of tea, I'm just passing on the good news, not trying to sell this to anyone. I recommend it in the same spirit that I might recommend a local family restaurant that serves the best lobster stew and homemade gingerbread in the area (Angler's, in Searsport). Delicious and filling. Yum.
Back to the books, tonight, though, I'm reading the aforementioned Nick Hornby's Songbook again. I can rarely stand to read one good book without then reading everything else I also have by that author - call me compulsive. Favorite quotes to follow, stay tuned.
Monday, April 03, 2006
One more *compulsive* thing to do
More about memoirs
"...of course I feel nostalgic, even if I am longing for a time which never really belonged to us: like I said, some things were better, some were worse, and the only way one can ever learn to understand one's own youth is by accepting both halves of the proposition."
As I've mentioned before, I love memoirs written by novelists. I like trying to understand how writers got the way they are, what life events were their Waterloos. In this instance, I can identify, as a sports fan, with Hornby's obsession. As a teenager, and a Mainer, I was obsessed with the Boston Celtics. Then the Pats in recent years, although I particularly loved the Pats during Steve Grogan days, again, when I was a teenager. And of course the Sox. I understand why Fever Pitch was gutted and made into a film about a Red Sox fan. It translates, because Sox fans have always had that same combination of despair, loyalty, and die-hard faithfulness that Hornby had/has for his own team. You love them because they are your team and that's that. Bottom line: a great book because it shows us that loving whatever you happen to love is just fine. No excuses necessary for your obsessions. Lucky for us, as readers, Hornby's are football, music (his book of music essays, published by McSweeney's, Songbook, is very fine, particularly for fans of his novel High Fidelity, or the film of the same name), and of course, BOOKS. I read his bookish articles with great glee and delight in the Believer magazine. I hope you do, too, dear readers.