Tuesday, February 26, 2013


a clean sweep

About once a month the stack of books on my bedside table begins to teeter, if not actually threaten to collapse, and I must finally remove the hangers-on: those it has become obvious I am not going to read or continue reading, as well as those I have already read but simply want to bask in their residual glow for just a bit longer.  The pile was becoming untenable, so I made a clean sweep and brought the whole shebang downstairs to my computer, to share them with you today (and keep in the spirit of too much information, from last time we talked).  Here we go:

The Letters of Samuel Johnson Volume III edited by Bruce Redford (Princeton University Press 1992).  I bought the five-volume set two years ago, I think, and read the first two volumes immediately, then made the fatal mistake of setting them aside for too long.  So this winter I skimmed the first two again, just to remind myself of the lay of the land, then launched into Volume III.  Halfway though and threatening to stall out once again.  I shall persevere!

Seventh Heaven by Patti Smith (Telegraph Books 1972).  After reading her memoir Just Kids last week I couldn't leave Smith behind so quickly, so I rummaged around in my books and came up with this little book of her poetry, a first edition, a gift many years ago from a dear old friend, and kept for this long for just that reason.  I read it straight through, and hoo boy it is fierce.  Not for the shrinking violets among us.

The Poetical Works of Thomas Traherne (Cooper Square 1965).  The books of Ronald Blythe have led me to chase after many other authors never before read (by me, that is...), poets Thomas Traherne and John Clare not least among them.  Ecstatic religious poetry of a very high order, heavy going at times, but written in such a spirit of praise and exaltation that, at his best, Traherne lifts the reader right over that otherwise difficult stile straight into golden meadows full of blooming wildflowers.  This book has the dubious distinction of being in my bedside stack the longest.  Perhaps six months or a year.  I read a bit then put it back and take up something else.  Similarly, with the following...

The Papers of Benjamin Franklin Volume I, 1706-1734, edited by Leonard W. Labaree et al (Yale University Press 1959).  Of the lives and works of the founding fathers I have frankly read little.  But somewhere in the introduction to this collection of Franklin's earliest writings he is referred to as "the American Samuel Johnson."  Need I say more?  Well, I will, a bit - early in life he wrote some very entertaining essays under the pseudonyms of Silence Dogood, Martha Careful, and Caelia Shortface, and one of his first satirical papers was entitled The Busy-Body, which came out in numerous numbers, reproduced in this volume.  Hilarious!  How could I not read this, I ask you?  I am up to page 100 or so, and this is the book that has been on the bedside table second-longest.  I am almost at the point where I want to track down the other volumes in the set, but have yet to commit to that endeavor.

Beatrix Potter's Art by Anne Stevenson Hobbs (Warne 1989).  Full-color illustrations throughout, of her drawings and watercolors of landscapes, plants, animals, architecture, and many early versions of what would become her iconic book illustrations.  Creepy sometimes, wonderful often.

Lawren Harris: An Introduction to His Life and Art by Joan Murray (Firefly 2003).  Short with some good color reproductions of his paintings.  I've been reading a lot about The Group of Seven for the past few years.  I love his stylized paintings of snow, like this one.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Dell 1991).  What?  A girl cannot survive on Samuel Johnson and Ben Franklin alone...?  I must say, it's been forever since I've read a mass-market paperback, and a real bodice-ripper to boot.  They aren't called that for nothing - her bodice really does get ripped in this novel!  Often!  Also not for the shrinking violets among us.  The feisty heroine wouldn't stand for it.  Gabaldon's own description of her historical romance novel and the popular series that followed is here.  I don't know if I will go on and read the whole series, but you know, I might.  Ryan asked, last night:  "What are you... reading?"  He doesn't often see me with thick shiny-covered mass-market paperbacks in hand.

Postcards from Vermont by Tucker Nichols (Gallery 16 2006).  Part of The Expanding Color System: 1 Artist 1 Concept series of books from this San Francisco gallery.  I bought a secondhand copy after reading a book that had some handlettering and artwork by some guy named Tucker Nichols in it, which I loved, and I wanted to see what else he was up to.  Reproductions of postcards sent to the gallery from an old farmhouse in Vermont.  Using whatever materials were on hand - duct tape, cardboard, index cards, flotsam - Nichols wrote or drew on them and mailed them off.  Strangely minimal, almost nothing to them.  And yet.

Inside the Painter's Studio by Joe Fig (Princeton Architectural Press 2009).  I've already read this three times and here I am reading it again.  Addictive.  Fig's art is fascinating and so is this book.  If you care about the weird minutiae of how painters get their work done, that is.  I'm so excited that there will be a companion volume published in 2014.

This list is getting long.  See why the pile was teetering?  Something had to be done!  Only a few more:

The English Gentleman by Douglas Sutherland (Debrett's Peerage Ltd 1978).  A good companion piece to the famous-and-infamous Noblesse Oblige by Nancy Mitford.  Except, the author tells us in his foreword, "This book, I hope, is different in that it is the first one to be written by a man, almost exclusively for men.  It examines what makes or breaks the gentleman and leaves it to the reader to decide whether he wishes to be part of the upper classes or not.  It is also hoped that this volume will be helpful to ladies who wish to be able to recognize the gentleman when they meet one, and to let them know what they are in for should they be reckless enough to marry one."  Short and overly droll.  In dubious taste but hanging around nonetheless.

Housekeeping vs. The Dirt by Nick Hornby (Believer Books 2006).  More of Hornby's terrific essays about books and reading, from the Believer magazine.  I read his collection More Baths Less Talking (Believer Books 2012) a few weeks ago and immediately wanted to re-read all the earlier books in the series.  Reading and then re-reading books about reading.  That's what it's come to, around here.

That's it.  I'm going to put these back in the book room and start anew, excepting Johnson and Franklin.  The only thing left up there right now is one of Will Shortz's New York Times spiral-bound Sunday crossword puzzle collections.  That always forms the base of the pile.  Words, in a non-narrative format - so soothing.  Sometimes I simply don't want to read anything, but I still would like a bit of quiet time, with words involved somehow.

I've also been browsing in Mark Bittman's massive How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (Wiley 2007), but it's so big that if I'd taken it upstairs to begin with it certainly would have finished off the stack, and with all the rest, perhaps even the table.  It's not a big table.               

Sarah - I also have only a small bedside table. To solve the problem, I stuck a bookcase in the corner - works like a charm - sort of. Books occasional go from the bedside table, to the bedside bookcase and, unfortunately, some of them stay their. Thanks for the Nick Hornby titles - I will have to chase them down. Kathleen
I know, my books migrate from the bedside table to the purgatory on the top of my dresser, and then finally to the book room. And back. Although right now everything is clean clean clean!

The Nick Hornby books-about-books are all still in print from the Believer, and I think the first three were published in an anthology, "The Complete Polysyllabic Spree" (by Viking?). The Believer editions are printed on decent paper and have cool covers. Hint hint.
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