Thursday, August 14, 2014


bedside table hodgepodge

Another rainy day and I am taking this opportunity to mention yet again some bedside table books.  Actually, I should say, those that were my bedside table books, since they are no longer.  I have assiduously copied notes from many of them into my journal this morning, and am now making a clean sweep.  Michael Palin's two volumes we already discussed.  The new Diana Gabaldon novel Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Random House 2014) I have not yet mentioned, but here we are, doing so right now.  I bought a secondhand copy from a booth in a local antiques mall - it was almost the only book in the entire booth and was $20, more than I might ordinarily spend, but I didn't think I'd find another used copy anywhere nearby.  So, bought, then consumed in a quiet but greedy rush like multiple boxes of confectionery.  And immediately lent out to my sister, who got me hooked on the Outlander series in the first place.

That takes care of the three 600+ page books, all read in the past month, all hogging prime real estate on the aforementioned diminutive table.  However, there was more.  At the very bottom of the pile lingered The Family Mark Twain (Harper 1935), weighing in as ballast at 1450+ pages.  I was reluctant to move this one, I've enjoyed his company so much, but it has stayed unopened for months now.  The note I took from it today is a little bit in his over-the-top essay "The Awful German Language" (p.1154):

"There are people in the world who will take a great deal of trouble to point out the faults in a religion or a language, and then go blandly about their business without suggesting any remedy.  I am not that kind of a person."

After this gauntlet of a statement, he discusses at length his proposed reforms.  Outrageous and insultingly wonderful.  I still hate to banish him back to the hinterlands of the book room.  I just picked up a recent biography of him, however, so that may be coming to the fore in the very near future. Later today, most likely. 

Next in the pile - a stack of re-reads.  Word from Wormingford: A Parish Year by the peerless Ronald Blythe (Viking 1997).  I got halfway through and moved on to other things.  Time to re-shelve him with his other works.  Similarly, The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater (Fourth Estate 2005) - gosh I love him, and his recipes too - today I copied out one for a radish, mint, and feta salad.  Sounds perfect for the dog days of summer, see page 195 for details.  I also re-read most of painter Emily Carr's memoir Klee Wyck (Douglas & McIntyre 2004), and remembered how perfect some of her sentences are.  She is quoted in the introduction, about learning to write (pp.1-2):

"I did not know book rules.  I made two for myself.  They were about the same as the principles I use in painting - get to the point as directly as you can; never use a big word if a little one will do."

Advice I don't always follow myself - I do appreciate a good meander now and then, in art and writing both - but if I ever get around to assembling more memoirs I will heed her advice.  Such an exceptional little book.  If anyone tracks down a copy, make sure to buy this reprint, since the older hardcover edition was severely cut without Carr's permission (details about this are in the scholarly introduction).

Just a few more books in the pile.  The penultimate - I'm re-reading Patti Smith's book about herself and Robert Mapplethorpe and their lives and times, Just Kids (Ecco 2010).  I wrote in detail about this once already, when I first read it, so I will just say that I still find it utterly compelling and beautiful, and it will be staying until I finish.  Again, probably later today.  And the final book is The Consolations of Philosophy by Boethuis, translated by David R. Slavitt (Harvard University Press 2008).  I have a small bookshelf of Greek and Latin classics, and am determined (perhaps this winter's long-term reading project...?) to better acquaint myself with them.  John Wilson, in Books & Culture, is quoted in lovely blurb on the back of this copy:

"This is a beautifully made little book that I have taken with me on a number of trips, partly just for the pleasure of holding it.  At any time I would be glad to have it."

Isn't that fine!  As is the book itself, which is easy to hold in the hand, and a pleasure to look at, with a picture on the cover of of a fifteenth-century girdle book, in fact a manuscript copy of the book in question.  And I can attest, along with John Wilson, that it makes a good traveling companion.  A few weeks ago I was sitting on a bench in North Station in Boston, alongside two members of my family, awaiting the departure of the Downeaster to take us home to Maine.  I am not among those who travel without something to read, so I had this little book in my bag, and read bits of it aloud as we sipped smoothies and waited for the boarding call.  It had been a difficult day and the poetry and ancientness of the words felt entirely appropriate, and even uplifting, in a plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose kind of way.  Consoling indeed.  Now I want to read it from cover to cover.  It will form the basis of my new bedside table stack, come to think of it.      

Hi, Sarah.
Sipping some iced tea and enjoying your posts. 95 degrees F, right now.
Summer indeed.

Struggling with Targ's book and more.

CDM always had a poetry book around...
Thankfully we never experienced a heat wave like that around here this year! And now the tide has really turned - just had the woodstove going yesterday evening, and wore a flannel shirt today, while it was cool and rainy. But now, a beautiful clear evening and the crickets are talking it all over as dusk approaches.

I hope the Targ book isn't too much for you - such a strong personality he had, larger than life! The book is a real mish-mash of everything, from gems to... otherwise. But the title says it all, so you were forewarned!

Yes, and I think Morley wrote about wanting to have a prescription pad handy, to be able to dispense poetry as needed (cures what ails us). Was this in Parnassus on Wheels or The Haunted Bookshop? Elsewhere? I need to revisit this old friend of ours and find out.

Thanks for your comment, dear Antony.
This hit home for me, as I have around a dozen books on my nightstand right now, as well as piles here there and everywhere. Time for a purge, but only to make room for the wonderful more that come my way. Books are so wonderful that way.
They are indeed - although today I am shocked that I only have three new books on the bedside table. I mean, four whole days have passed since my clean sweep! I'm sure this will not be the case for long, however. Thanks for reading and commenting, ccr.
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