Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Cold, snowy, overwhelmed

I'm wearing a tank top, turtleneck, wool sweater, Carhartt vest and I'm still feeling the cold, today. It's clear and sunny but there's no warmth. I finished Winter's Tale this morning and must conclude that yesterday I didn't know what I was talking about. Because the story unfolds wonderfully well, if slowly, over the course of the book's 673 pages. It was I who was lacking, wanting it to be something other than what it was. I'd forgotten, you see, how everything came back around in the end. The book is about faith in undying love, throughout, and it's beautiful. One of Helprin's characters says this, near the novel's resolution (p.638):

"'...I will show you who you are, not in words, but in beautiful images that could not ever be counterfeited or forged. And you will know exactly who you are, forever, by knowing what it is that you love.'"

Great writers always seem to be directly addressing us: the careful readers, the lovers of the words, the lovers of beauty. The book slays me with its loveliness. There are ugly bits, too, don't get me wrong, but they all lead to glory. Now, after finishing, I'm feeling like What's next, what's next? January is such a month for wanting, why is that? To cover up the cold, to insulate, protect, gather in, store up? Today, instead of wanting, I'll think about what I'm lucky enough to already have. Back to the first editions - another question - which fine books in your collections are the ones you are happiest to possess, or rather caretake? (Because, after all, they will be moving on to other book rooms someday, so we are merely temporary good stewards.)

In my book room at home, I'm caretaking a lovely first edition of Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa, and a signed Easton Press first edition of Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines (I have the first trade edition, too). I didn't have to pay much for either of these books, and I treasure both of them, inordinately. Chatwin's tiny dark henscratch scrawl is extremely moving. Then there's the signed Siegfried Sassoon book we bought on our honeymoon, The Heart's Journey. Oh, there are others (my Christopher Morley books, for example). But like yesterday, I'd better stop there.

Since you apparently like Bruce Charwin, have you ever read the excellent Chatwin biography by Nicholas Shakespeare? After reading an excerpt in the New Yorker, I bought the book the loved it. Fascinating guy.

I currently reading Vikram Chandra's sprawling novel set in Mumbai called Sacred Games which just came out in paperback. It's a great winter read--lots of characters, plot lines, colorful cityscapes. Very Dickensesque.
Happiest to possess -those would be the books on my bedside nightstand: old editions of Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, The Talisman, a first edition with jacket of Willa Cather's Death Comes For The Archbishop, a first with jacket of Thomas Wolfe's Of Time And The River, a 1900 edition of Whitman's Leaves of Grass published by McKay, a facsimile copy of Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa and a 1930 Random House first edition of Melville's Moby Dick illustrated by Rockwell Kent with facsimile jacket. First edition Steinbecks (with jackets) are downstairs in the library, East of Eden and Pastures of Heaven, to name only a few.

Tomorrow's question perhaps? You have been imprisoned for many years and only allowed access to the bible and one other book to read. What will it be? Edith Grossman's translation of Don Quixote.

Yes, I also bought the biography when it came out - great book. Doesn't flinch from the darker aspects of Chatwin's personality and life (one senses that perhaps Shakespeare discovered more than he wanted to know about Chatwin). Yet still gives us a portrait of a unique bright star, a problematic genius.

One of my other favorite travel books is Peter Levi's "The Light Garden of the Angel King" - in which Levi travels around Afghanistan with the Chatwins (a decade before Bruce published "In Patagonia"). The photos in the book are by Bruce Chatwin. Another great book! God, there are scads of them.

S - if I were allowed one other book - may I stretch the rules and ask for a series of books instead? Because they do read like one long novel, after all. Meaning the narrative is continuous. Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series. Surprised? Well, I find them endlessly enjoyable/escapist/deeply moving. I really get caught up in them. Just what one would want in prison. I thought about the work of certain poets (or Proust?), but must admit I would turn instead to O'Brian. I read them and want to go back in time, and am usually heartbroken because I can't.

I hope I'm allowed pen and paper, too, then I can write books myself.
Can't argue with the O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series because I have not not laid eyes on the material. Are they to be read in order? Where does a 'Seaman Timmy' start?


Are you familar with William Golding's nautical trilogy, 'To The Ends of The Earth'? I have not read the books but watched the 2 disc DVD Masterpiece Theater production recently. Loved it! I'd like to own it.

S, I have not read the Golding books, or seen the series, but that's not to say I never will... I've just not run across them, yet.

The Aubrey/Maturin books should be read in order, in my opinion, because of course the narrative unfolds sequentially in time, but also because the gradual character development is so finely done. The first book ("Master and Commander") was written to stand alone, and some readers tell me they find it heavy going, or not compelling, too odd, or too sea-battle-ish, or something. Not this reader! I loved it! But then, I have a deep affinity for that period of history. I know it's not everyone's cup of tea.
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