Saturday, January 24, 2009


the twilight zone

Ryan and I attended yet another small winter-madness library sale this morning. It was a strange scene. We waited outside the door for a bit less than half an hour with a few other intrepid local dealers (hi Agnes and Paul), chatting and reveling in the warm weather. It must have been all of twenty-five degrees out, which compared to, say, ten, feels like spring right now. Then the sale opened and we all hurried into the room with the books. I started looking, and kept looking. I looked for a good five minutes before I put a single book in my tote bag. Me! And that book was a paperback. I thought about getting several decent cookbooks, but saw that they were priced at four dollars each, and then I noticed they were all faintly musty. No, thank you anyway. All the books at the sale were priced individually, in pencil, inside the front covers. The volunteers who spent hours doing this must have realized that their books are, in many cases, priced several times over what these same books could be bought for on Amazon. I don't know. But, I don't mean to be critical, because putting on a sale must be a hell of a task, and goodness knows I appreciate what I am able to buy, when I do buy.

More time passed, I had perhaps five books by now. Then Ryan came up to me, wearing a bit of a glazed look. He whispered, This is terrible... In the end, he found two books, I found nine, and I also threw in a few dvds. I was happiest to find Annie Lamott's most recent book of essays about faith, which I'd wanted to read all year but hadn't yet stumbled across a used copy. The only thing of value, though, was a dvd set of Fassbinder films from Criterion. Value in this case meaning resale value. As in I need to make some kind of a living here. I don't particularly want to be a dvd seller, but in this case I will bend, because the set is very nice and I don't happen to want to own it myself. It's easy to list on Amazon, and easy to ship. I also bought a Sigur Rós dvd. That I'll watch, then keep or sell, I don't know yet.

We left the sale feeling sad and a bit disappointed - usually there's something, some sleeper only we recognized, a signed book, something. It did feel like the twilight zone. It reminded me of walking into a used bookshop (now defunct) many years ago, years before my own shop, and I had that naturally hopeful expectation, an excitement dearly familiar to and treasured by booklovers of any stripe, that I would find something decent to buy - the shop hadn't been there long, they seemed to have a real inventory, somewhere north of ten thousand books. But as soon as I started looking around I got this terrible sinking feeling, and I slowly came to realize that there was nothing there for me. And I mean nothing. The inventory was tidy, and mostly hardcover, but up close it looked as if it had been assembled from the books left over from library sales like the one we attended this morning. So today it was déjà vu all over again. Well, that's one great thing about bookhunting - the wonderful anticipation never dies out, and we all dream of better luck next time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Too much information?

I voluntarily turned on the television yesterday for the first time in months. I wanted to see the spectacle in Washington, D.C., and feel like our country was about to make some sort of headway. I can't pin my hopes on one person, but I can witness that person's integrity and willingness to serve, willingness to sacrifice any chance of a normal life because that person believes he (in this case, a he) can change public policy at fundamental levels for the greater good. And I wasn't disappointed. The whole thing was very human and real, despite the grandeur. I ended up watching for a few hours. For what may be the last time for the foreseeable future, since we have a very old tv (one of my sisters got it for us at her recycling center, i.e. the dump) and have not gotten a digital converter box thingy, or a new tv. And don't plan to. Books, internet, radio, that's enough for now. There is such a thing as too much information. I came away from my afternoon of television and realized I'd missed real life, outside. The sun was already setting on a beautiful cold winter day. I felt a bit dazed, but happy to have seen this massive shift in political power for myself. Besides, I really enjoy the desultory chit-chat amongst news anchors and journalists while we all watch the scene together.

Ryan and I braved the cold and went to another small cabin fever friends-of-the-library sale last weekend, and came away with three boxes of books. A lot of new things to read, and much to attempt to resell. Nothing scarce or rare in the bunch, but highlights include a signed David McCullough first edition, a whole carton of decent Civil War history hardcovers, and a first in jacket of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, which I later discovered had part of its title paged sliced away. Was it signed once, I wonder? Arg. I also picked up a copy of Heat by Bill Buford, and have now almost finished reading it. It's good - I love literature about food, and this is a pleasingly rambling narrative about the author's obsession with Italian cooking and the pressures of being an apprentice line cook at Babbo, among other things.

Nothing much else happening around here, except today I spent many hours stretching and gessoing canvases of various sizes. That's one great thing about painting - when easel-work isn't at your fingertips for whatever reason, you can always work at the other end of things, the prep work or figuring out what, exactly, should happen to what you've already made. Which in my case is piled up all over the place. Stacks and stacks of canvases. They do go quite nicely with the stacks and stacks of books. I appear to have a glut on my hands. What to do.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Winter work

A fine midwinter day here in Maine, but it's cold and getting rapidly colder and another snowstorm is on the way tonight. I'm getting into a regular routine at home now, finally, after twenty years of up-and-out-the-door to go to work. Today, I did yoga in the morning, then worked on a small painting until I finished it, then took a long walk, saw a band of cedar waxwings pillaging frozen fruit off wild rosebushes, lugged in some wood from the woodpile, had a late lunch, and built up a fire in the woodstove. Hodge the cat napped throughout all of this activity. He's still napping, as a matter of fact.

My winter reading program still languishes. But I did finish Stendhal's Love a few days ago. Another note from his First Attempt at a Preface, which prickled my skin, it felt so much like he was speaking right to me:

"Poor disillusioned young woman, would you like once again to live through what engrossed you so much a few years ago, something you dared not mention to a soul, and which nearly cost you your honour? It is for you I have re-written this book and tried to make it clearer. When you have read it, never speak of it without a slight sneer, and thrust it into your lemon-wood bookcase behind the other books; I should even leave a few pages uncut, if I were you."

O that I had a lemon-wood bookcase. A wonderful book most useful for reminiscing about the old days, and whatever or whomever you loved to distraction. Books, a dangerously grand passion in my life, certainly. Otherwise, I'm not telling.

Now, I'm halfway through the collected Letters of Cézanne. The whole first section are letters from his friend Émile Zola, since his letters to Zola are now lost. A fascinating look at two incredible personalities when they were both young and dreaming of fame in their chosen professions.

Speaking of chosen professions, my new painting website is finally up. Hope you like it.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


What's for breakfast...?

I favor oatmeal myself, but here's a very funny story about imaginary breakfast cereal names for bookish households. Oedipus Chex and The Grapenuts of Wrath are my favorites. Trixie Beldens a close third, too funny... Thanks to Robert at RE-BOOKS for the link.

Sunday, January 04, 2009


I've been working on my website...

...all the livelong day. I've been working on my website, just to pass the time away. And now I have this song stuck in my head. I did read Stendhal for a few hours today (two-word review: delicious; heartbreaking) between other projects, not least of which was my painting website - I'm happy to say that is imminent and I'm now searching around for inexpensive web hosting. Any suggestions? I'm leaning toward Host Gator, but would appreciate hearing from anyone who truly loves their host, so to speak. My web designer friend got busy with other projects, so I've been putting together this site on my own using a free template and some basic (also free) software, and it's all turning out kind of goofy but hey, so am I, so there it is. I hope to have the site up by this time next week, if the hosting search pans out. Suggestions welcome.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


small winter library sales and their treasures

We headed out this morning to a local booksale, and came home with a carton and a tote bag full, for thirty bucks and change. I am retraining myself not to buy general stock willy-nilly, now that I no longer have lots of places to stash extra stock. So we were choosy, but as usual I ended up with a short stack of new things to read, among them Bernd Heinrich's nature book about Canada geese, The Geese of Beaver Bog, a darling little first edition of Noel Perrin's Amateur Sugar Maker, about the mysteries of maple syrup, a nautical book from 1931 about the fishing industry, Mariners of Brittany, by Peter F. Anson (I love a fine nautical book, and this one may stay in our home library because some of Ryan's ancestors were in fact mariners of Brittany), two frivolous picture books about England and France, and a 1950s translation of Love by Stendhal - one of those authors who has always fascinated me, yet this fascination is unfounded because I've barely read a word he wrote. Nevertheless, I own a copy of his diary, something else I think is his collected journalism, his biography of Rossini, and now this. I opened it up this afternoon and read the author's First Attempt at a Preface (yes, there is also a Second Attempt at a Preface), in which he defends his choice to write nonfiction pieces in the first person by saying:

"I may be charged with egotism for the form I have adopted. But a traveller is allowed to say, 'I embarked at New York for South America. I went up to Santa Fe de Bogota. Midges and mosquitoes bothered me on the journey, and for three days I could not open my right eye.'"

Stendhal says he is a traveler on a "...journey into the little-known regions of the human heart..." and these journeys have taught him little, if anything, and:

"If he should be thought proud enough to believe otherwise, let him say that an even greater pride would have stopped him publishing his heart and selling it to the public for six francs..."


"Since what goes by the name of success was out of the question, the author pleased himself and has published his thoughts exactly as they occurred to him."

Thank god. That sounds like something Montaigne would have said. Skimming around further in Stendhal, I see that chapter LX is entitled Concerning Fiascos. This is too good. Obviously I just found the next book I must read. That's how book-luck works, isn't it - if you regularly put yourself in the way of hundreds of books, the next ones to read always appear under your fingertips at the right times. Thus the autodidact continues her education.

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