Friday, December 21, 2007

December Part Three: We Know Not the Smallest Fraction of What There is to Know

I have three things to write about, and they don't exactly go together, so I'm going to write about them in three parts.

On Wednesday at lunch, I started Joan Didion's memoir The Year of Magical Thinking. I finished it at 10:30 at night. The memoir is about the year after her husband died, and I didn't notice till I was halfway through that there were some blue letters in the otherwise black-lettered title: J O H N, her husband's name. For some reason that made me sadder than anything else.

It perhaps goes without saying that Didion's writing is almost perfect. The way she describes grief pretty much is: the way irrationality becomes your state of being, the way other people simply cannot understand. Didion doesn't offer comfort or wishful thinking; she doesn't believe in God or an afterlife. But for some reason I felt better...more informed, maybe?...about death after reading the book. I'll let it speak for itself for a couple of passages.

One of the ideas she talks about is, basically, that every death is sudden:

In each of those long illnesses the possibility of death had been in the picture....Yet having seen the picture in no way deflected, when it came, the swift empty loss of the actual event....Each of them had been in the last instant alive, and then dead. (p. 149)

She also talks about the absolute void of no longer having someone around:

I am a writer. Imagining what someone would say comes as naturally as breathing. Yet on each occasion these pleas for his presence served only to reinforce my awareness of the final silence that separated us....We imagined we knew everything the other thought, even when we did not necessarily want to know it, but in fact, I have come to see, we knew not the smallest fraction of what there was to know. (p. 196)

Finally, the way she starts the ending to the book is perfect.

I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us.

I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.

Let them become the photograph on the table.

Let them become the name on the trust accounts.

Let go of them in the water.

Knowing this does not make it any easier to let go of him in the water.
(p. 226)

All excerpts from The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. New York: Vintage Books, 2006.

December Part Two: Illicit Collection

I have three things to write about, and they don't exactly go together, so I'm going to write about them in three parts.

Before the semester ended, I read this short story by Sherman Alexie called "The Search Engine." (I'm actually not quite sure why it's called this; I'll have to think about it a little more.) The second scene in the story takes place in the library, where Corliss, the protagonist, is looking for a book. I include excerpts here.

She endured a contentious and passionate relationship with the library. The huge number of books confirmed how much magic she'd been denied for most of her life, and now she hungrily wanted to read every book on every shelf. an impossible task, to be sure, Herculean in its exaggeration, but Corliss wanted to read herself to death. She wanted to be buried in a coffin filled with used paperbacks. (p.5)

This is pretty much how I feel when I walk into a library or a bookstore; I want to read every book. (Well, maybe not every book.) There's an inescapable sense of despair, too, that I never will.

Later, Corliss goes to check out the book:

The librarian was a small woman wearing khaki pants and large glasses. Corliss wanted to shout at her: Honey, get yourself some contacts and a pair of leather chaps! Fight your stereotypes!
[Corliss asks how many books never get checked out]
"We're talking sixty percent of them. Seriously. Maybe seventy percent. And I'm being optimistic. It's probably more like eighty or ninety percent. This isn't a library, it's an orphanage."

The librarian spoke in a reverential whisper. Corliss knew she'd misjudged this passionate woman. Maybe she dressed poorly, but she was probably great in bed, certainly believed in God and goodness, and kept an illicit collection of overdue library books on her shelves. (pp. 7-8)

I really like this passage, for many (perhaps obvious) reasons. Does it matter, for instance, that most library books are never checked out? Maybe, maybe not. Also: it seems true that librarians have a hard time remembering to return library books. If I move back to Louisville, it's going to be a problem, because I still have fines on my LFPL card.

Let me also just say for the records: I don't even own khaki pants or large glasses. As for Corliss's other speculations about this librarian, I won't get into them. I won't, for example, make any unsubstantiated claims that librarians are really good in bed compared to those in other professions.

Excerpts from "The Search Engine," in Sherman Alexie's book Ten Little Indians. New York: Grove Press, 2003.

December Part One: Wait! Wait! Don't Judge Me

I have three things to write about, and they don't exactly go together, so I'm going to write about them in three parts.

First of all. Last night I went to a taping of Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me (the NPR news quiz...if you didn't know). It's taped every Thursday night in Chicago, and every time I've been in town I've tried to go...this time I actually planned ahead. And I thought you might like to know some of the gory details.

1. I saw Peter Sagal while we were in line to get into the auditorium. He looks like he's lost some weight, and he had a really nice coat on.
2. The auditorium isn't that big; I guess there were about 500 people in there (that's what the house manager said).
3. Carl Kasell is not amused. He was so professional the whole time while Peter and the panelists (Roxanne Roberts, Charlie Pierce, and Adam Felber) cracked up. Once in a while, Carl would smile, and you'd know that was a good joke.
4. They taped almost an hour and forty-five minutes worth of show - it will be interesting to see what ends up in the edited one-hour-long version.
5. After the show, Peter, Carl, and the panelists all roamed around the lobby. I met Peter and Adam Felber - and got Adam's novel Schrodinger's Ball signed. Adam Felber is kind of cute in this music-geek kind of way. The not-my-job guest was Herbie Hancock, and Adam was totally rapt, and asked about this specific keyboard he'd played.

Basically, it was an NPR dork's dream, and I think I may have creeped out Peter Sagal by telling him that my roommate and I looked up pictures of NPR personalities online this summer. What more could I ask for?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Quick, the year in twenty words or less

Quick update. I'm starting my winter break tomorrow, and I promise I'm going to write about libraries and books - specifically about a passage about libraries in a short story by Sherman Alexie. So STAY TUNED.

But for now, dear readers, I thought I'd share with you a little compulsive exercise I underwent. I was flipping through my journal and realized that each month of 2007 really could be summarized in a couple of words. It's an interesting, if somewhat simplified, thing to do; I recommend it. So to give you even more of a sense than you already had of what the year was like, here you go. The year in review as far as books and music go will probably follow at a somewhat later date.

January: hope
February: upheaval
March: stress
April - mid-May: leaving
end of May - June: revolution
July: evaluation
August: uncertainty/longing
September: truth
October: being taken care of
November: punctuated equilibrium
December: complicated

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Three (hopeful?) thoughts

I'll really do anything not to work on my final presentation, it seems. I just wanted to post three quotations I've come across today; in some way, they each center around the "maybe" feeling I talked about yesterday. Combined, I feel like they should unlock a question for me. Perhaps when I have more time to think. In any case, they're interesting.

1. "I'll think of it as needle and thread.
Or a breathing remnant
restored to a living cloth.
Or scissors
trimming lament
to allow for everything I don't know."
-Li-Young Lee, from "Little Ache"

2. "The happy ones are almost always also vulgar;
happiness has a way of thinking
that's rushed and has no time to look
but keeps on moving, compact and manic...."
-Patrizia Cavalli, from an untitled poem, translated by Geoffrey Brock

3. "...only realization gives indubitable proof of what is possible."
-Simone de Beauvoir, from The Second Sex

Quotes 1 & 2 come from the December issue of Poetry(Volume 191, Number 3).

Friday, November 30, 2007

Quizás, quizás, quizás

It's been over a month since I posted, and I probably won't write a lot even now. The semester is crashing to a halt, and I've got presentations and papers to pull together. I've really loved my User Instruction class, but I'm having a hard time investing myself in a "hypothetical" instruction, rather than trying to fill an actual information need.

Please note, before I forget, that I've added a new blog - Monitor Mix - to my sidebar. It's an NPR blog about music written by Carrie Brownstein of the band Sleater-Kinney, and it's really enjoyable.

It's consistently cold now in Boston, but in this beautiful way. You stand outside, and the trees and air are sharp and delineated, and the sunsets are vivid enough to stick to the back of your retinas. (Retinae?)

Last Christmas was surrounded by Dave Eggers, Rilo Kiley, New York City, Regina Spektor, and Strangers in Paradise. This one is shaping up to be more like Neko Case, Rochester (NY), Girlyman's album Joyful Sign, and whatever books I'm lucky enough to read during the break. (Candidates include Sherman Alexie's Ten Little Indians and Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. I'm also thinking about re-reading The Time Traveler's Wife. You know, if I feel like ripping out my insides.) Last winter this word "hope" kept popping up; this year, it seems to be "maybe."

I bought that album, Joyful Sign, when I went to see Girlyman at Club Passim a few weeks ago. I love it, and many of the songs are catchy and happy, but there are a couple of lines (below) that stuck out uncomfortably for me. It's one of those moments in a poem or song when you think - oh crap. Is that me? Is my basic nature to be cruel or uncharitable or resentful? It's hard to say.

“Maybe I’m cruel just like I seem to be…
maybe I’m mad and wild
underneath all I try to fit”
-Ty Greenstein (of Girlyman), “Easy Pearls”

Monday, October 29, 2007

Speaking of awkward and heavy-handed....

Just got back from a weekend trip to Louisville, where I used to live once upon a time. I often think of Louisville as a place where I detoxify myself, and remember things that I once knew, that have been obscured by stress and time and anxiety and details. This happened on a couple of levels this time; for one thing, a series of migraine-y episodes made me slow way down, pay attention to what I was eating and how I was moving, and be silent. Both when I felt ill and when I didn't, I was reminded this weekend in this spectacular way how many people there are who care about me and are willing to take care of me. I'm afraid I didn't express my gratitude for that often or effusively enough. One lame way I can do that is here, so thanks: for the airplane song mix, the rides, the molasses cookies, the Halloween costume approval, the accommodations to my timetable, the book of poems, and the many demonstrations of affection; for confiding in me, and telling me I'm beautiful and useful and smart.

Okay. Something completely different now. Last month my friend Michelle gave me a whole mess of Neko Case songs, and I really like them. She's got a gorgeous voice and the songs are just really good. So I got my November issue of Poetry magazine, and who's part of this series called "The View from Here" where non-poets comment on poetry? Neko Case. (I've been enjoying the series by the's perhaps an obvious truth that people outside a field can have these spot-on insights about it.) What she says is funny and humble, and I just wanted to share some excerpts.

...I don't want to let poetry down. Poetry is such a delicate, pretty lady with a candy exoskeleton on the outside of her crepe-paper dress. I am an awkward heavy-handed mule of a high school dropout. I guess I just need permission to be in the same room with poetry.
I do know when a string of printed words busts my little dam and the tears spill over and I sponge them up with my T-shirt. I couldn't give you that formula before it happens, it just hits me like a bat to the face. That's a sweet, hot, amazing, embarrassing moment.
What do these poets [Auden, Dorothy Parker, Shakespeare, Lynda Barry, Sherman Alexie] have in common? They don't write sycophantic, roman-numeral-volumed postcards to God. They don't get all "love-ity-love-love" either. I get the sense they imagine their audience and want to comfort them. They are so good at it they even have the ability to comfort us with scariness. Sadness too. I think that is a powerful magic.

-from "My Flaming Hamster Wheel of Panic About Publicly Discussing Poetry in This Respected Forum," by Neko Case, in Poetry, Volume CXCI, Number 2 (November 2007), pp. 141-142. Chicago: Poetry Foundation, 2007.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A handful of made-up sentences

Just a quick note before I have to go to class.

I've been harboring some nostalgia lately for Amherst College. I think part of it is the time of year - homecoming is approaching, and it's the time of year when Amherst looks spectacular and makes you fall in love.

I just finished reading two pieces in the latest Amherst magazine - an interview (by a friend) with the venerable Bill Pritchard (who graduated from AC in 1953 and has been teaching there pretty much forever), and a review of English at Amherst: a History by Theodore Baird, by another alumnus who's also a poet. Here's a quote from the second piece:

"No such dynamic exists in the other places I’ve been as a teacher where students take courses in a range of methodologies without feeling that anything so dire as the fate of their minds (or the fate of literature) hangs in the balance. This seems to me Baird’s idea and the idea that inspires his marvelous English at Amherst: if you can convince a large number of 18-year-olds that making up sentences is an act of deep moral imagination, you do it, no matter how much work that entails...."

Dan Chiasson in Amherst, 59 (4) (Summer 2007)

I never really thought about the uniqueness of English (my major) at Amherst, because I didn't have any basis for comparison. I just knew it was (for lack of a less boring word) wonderful - it's described much better in this review. And, of course, I got to take two classes with Pritchard.

Classes are beginning to speed along, but maybe I'll give an update on them soon.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

This honky-tonk parade

A while ago, I checked out some random selections from the new poetry section of the library; one was Mark Haddon's The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, which no doubt initially attracted me by the pop-up-book spinning wheel on the front which displayed each of those three figures alternately.

In any case, there's this poem in there that I wish I wrote. I wish I thought of the concept, and the examples.

Old, New, Borrowed, Blue

The day we met.
This unexpected envelope.
My San Francisco Mime Troupe T-shirt which you wore to potter in the flat, whose sleeve-trim matched
Your eyes.

That sleepless night.
This sleepless night.
The face I'll wear to shake your hand and wish you well.
The way I'll feel when I do.

"Paper Moon." Our song.
"Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."
My Ella Live at Montreux which I hope he plays one night by accident and makes you cry.
This honky-tonk parade.

from Haddon, Mark. The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea. New York: Vintage Books, 2006.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Behind every good woman....

The other night, I was all set to go to sleep early, and then I caught the last forty-five minutes or so of the latest Democratic presidential-candidate debate in New Hampshire. I'm sure there are lots of things to be said about this event, but I'll just talk about what really bothered me. First of all, half of the questions addressed to Hillary Clinton were about Bill Clinton - things he'd said and done, positions of his set up for her to disagree with. It really is pretty disgusting. I can't remember if they did the same thing with George W. Bush and his father, but I'm willing to bet it's more intense this time because...ding ding ding! She's a woman, and a former First Lady.

The last two questions of the debate, too, made me lose just a little more faith in the "journalism" of most television news. They were "What is your favorite Bible verse?" and "Red Sox or Yankees?" (the latter no doubt somewhat important to New Hampshire-ites). Still. Couldn't the first be rephrased by asking what the candidates think is the most important moral question for the U.S.? I guess they might have to get into moral specifics then.

Anyway, there's my nice disgusted reaction to that. As to the candidates themselves, it really is nearly impossible to get at real beliefs and potential actions in staged situations (which are the only places we ever see them).

Let's talk about library stuff instead - much more pleasant. Here's what I'm taking this semester:

Evaluation of Information. My last requirement. This is basically social science research methods for librarians, and sometimes it's pretty painful going (e.g., three hours about inferential statistics). Hopefully it will be somewhat useful to me in the future.

Database Management. Oh, math and logic, I missed you! I'm learning how to represent data and the relationships among them in a usable way. Extremely useful, and I get excited about it in the same way I used to get excited about diagramming sentences.

User Instruction. The teaching class. I love this class - what we talk about, how it's run. Even though I'm not going to be a teacher, I seem to keep coming back to the theory and practice of education. And even though I think I'd make a very bad teacher in some areas, information literacy and user instruction are subjects I think I can handle. I just read an article for this class on how students, increasingly, don't really care about doing real research and learning; they just care how they can get the highest grade with the least amount of effort. This is certainly at least partially true, and I'm not sure how to combat it. It seems like teachers and librarians are only this small portion of what a student takes in every day.

In any case. The weather has cooled down and September is ending spectacularly here in Boston. I'm going to go do my homework outside.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Me, Librarian - You, Computer Scientist

So here's the sequence of events leading up to what I've been thinking about today. I left one job last week for another, and the lovely librarians there gave me the perfect parting gifts - a tote bag reading "Librarian: the Original Search Engine" (in the Google font) and the movie Desk Set. Then today, working my way through the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I've seen the second and third seasons, and am now getting back to my roots), I watched the episode "I Robot - You Jane." I also attended the first meeting of one of the classes I'm taking this semester - Database Management. Which all adds up to thinking about this conversation that's been going on for many years, about computers/the Internet and libraries - a conversation that's often adversarial. Desk Set was made in 1957 with the premise that computers are going to be smarter than humans, and therefore the librarian and the printed page will soon be obsolete. Well...clearly, that hasn't really happened.

The Buffy episode, made forty years later, sets this up through a series of antagonistic conversations between Giles (the stereotypically computer-phobic, old-fashioned librarian) and Jenny Calendar (the stereotypical computer teacher who thinks technology is the answer to everything). Jenny sees Giles as a snob who wants to withhold information, keep it locked up and controlled - she thinks information should be free-flowing rather than compartmentalized. She points out, "You know, the last two years, more e-mail was sent than
regular mail. More digitized information went across phone lines than conversations." (Which Giles regards with "genuine horror.") Giles, for his part, has this to say about Ms. Calendar's lab (reproduced with all its British hesitation from IMDB):

Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower, or a-a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell musty and-and-and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is a - it, uh, it has no-no texture, no-no context. It's-it's there and then it's gone. If it's to last, then-then the getting of knowledge should be, uh, tangible, it should be, um, smelly.

Of course, anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I'm going to grant truth to both sides of this so-called conflict. The digital revolution can only go so far - we simply cannot spend our entire lives looking at screens. Both the serendipitous and fecund Internet, and the organized and sensory world of offline information, are important. I hear that even Giles moves from date due cards to a scanner in a later season.

In other brief news, the new job isn't that only thing that's new around here. I moved back to the dorm, I have a new operating system (I got an extremely gently used Mac), and of course, it's a new semester. Transition has sort of become my normal state of being for the last two years, so its symbolic sheen has sort of worn off. I'm hunkering down rather than reaching for self-transformation. The closest thing I've got to a central talisman right now is my READ poster with Alan Rickman on it. When I see it, I don't think about Snape or even Colonel Brandon. I see him smiling in this encouraging way, like an uncle or a professor, and if I'm mired in details, I can remind myself that each day adds itself onto the curve of meaningful work and life. Yes, I get all that from that poster - I guess that's why it's a symbol. And that's the power of Alan Rickman.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sexual behavior in the human (fe)male

I'm writing like I did at the inception of this blog. Then again, I've been writing a lot lately, almost to the point of graphomania. Something's come over me lately, some urgent energy, and the way I've been releasing it is in my journal, in writing and revising poems, in here. A friend suggested that perhaps forces beyond me (like the upcoming lunar eclipse on Tuesday) are acting upon me. It's possible. I'm just grateful to have an outlet.

I finished Middlesex the other night. There were parts of it where Jeffrey Eugenides is a little too clever by half, but for most of it, I was completely absorbed. Here's a passage I loved that reminded me of something else I read that I can't place (Kundera? Calvino?). I love it anyway, but it also connects with me in a big way right now, as I brace for each complicated state of mind that comes my way. I'd call my current state "the difficulty and relief of abandoning living in fantasy."

Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness," "joy," or "regret." Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's family." I'd like to show how "intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members" connects with "the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age."

The narrator (this isn't spoiling anything; it's revealed on the first page) is an intersexed person, hermaphrodite, etc. But like any good premise for a book, this is mined for metaphor:

Stephanides, an American, grandchild of Greeks, admires this Turkish immigrant to Germany, this
Gastarbeiter, as he bakes bread on Haupstrasse here in the year 2001. We're all made up of many parts, other halves. Not just me.

In a similar vein, I checked out Kinsey from the library last night and watched it, as I've been meaning to do for quite a while now. According to the film (which was a little artistically heavy-handed sometimes, but the acting was wonderful - especially Peter Sarsgaard's), what fascinated Kinsey was variety: the fact that each organism is distinct from all the others. The character in the movie gives this speech; I don't know if Alfred Kinsey actually said or wrote it:

...everyone is different. The problem is, most people want to be the same. They find it easier to simply ignore this fundamental aspect of the human condition. They're so eager to be part of the group that they'll betray their own nature to get there.

It helps me greatly to watch and read things like this every now and then, to remember the infinite variety of which we are capable, and not to be pushed into ideas of normality just because they're there. And even though I am averse to the idea of living in Bloomington again, I think I would move there if I could get a job at the Kinsey Institute library.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Zen and the Art of Collection Maintenance

I forgot to write about Between the Acts, which I read, well, sort of between the acts of the past month. Leonard Woolf includes this disclaimer at the beginning:

The MS. of this book had been completed, but had not been finally revised for the printer, at the time of Virginia Woolf's death. She would not, I believe, have made any large or material corrections in it, though she would probably have made a good many small corrections or revisions before passing the final proofs.

Virginia Woolf left partially completed a work about the disappointment of an artist's life, and the knowledge of that made the whole thing fairly devastating to read. Miss La Trobe, the writer/director of the pageant that takes up the whole book, is - I think it's safe to say - a stand-in for VW, or at least for the artist in general. After the pageant is over, she thinks:

But what had she given? A cloud that melted into the other clouds on the horizon. It was in the giving that the triumph was. And the triumph faded. Her gift meant nothing. If they had understood her meaning; if they had known their parts; if the pearls had been real and the funds illimitable - it would have been a better gift. Now it had gone to join the others.

This passage is a long way from the pragmatic hope of my favorite VW piece, A Room of One's Own. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what to make of it - except to say that, as far as one human being can approximate another's state of mind, I think I better understand the place VW was in near the end of her life.

On another subject, entirely: I just want to sing the praises, for a moment, of repetitive library-related work. I'm talking about stamping (which I've been doing to theses at MIT all summer), checking in and repairing materials, and good old shelf reading. Concentrating on putting numbers in order puts my mind into this near-meditative state that I appreciate. I'm realizing that after I'm done with school and I get a job as a real grown-up librarian, I probably won't be doing these tasks (at least, not as often). Which is fine, but I'll have to find something to replace it. Perhaps actual meditating - I abandoned fairly quickly my New Year's resolution to do so every day. Lately, the world's kind of been screaming at me not to intellectualize so much.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Falling in love again

Holy crap, it's been almost a month..again. I have some excuses; I had the flu (or something); I went to my sister's wedding in Chicago; etc.

Our title this time comes from some old song we used to listen to in the car. My dad was big on swing and big band; I think the version we used to listen to was by Linda Ronstadt. You know how it goes: "Falling in love again; what am I to do? ...never wanted to; I can't help it."

Lately, I've been falling back in love. Like, for example, with Dar Williams' first commercially released album, The Honesty Room. I listened to it a lot last week, and though I can hear how she's grown in a lot of ways since then, those songs are so well-written and well-done. Like "The Great Unknown," this anti-nuclear song that could feel outdated, but doesn't, and the way she calls love "a storm in a shadowbox." Anyway, I recommend it.

I forgot, too, how much I love the Pioneer Valley, where I went to college. I went there with my friend Amy this Sunday, who's never been there, and I got to see everything again, and realize how beautiful it is, and how much happened to me there.

I start class again after Labor Day, and I've got a lot to do before then. I'm going to start a new job (we'll be delving into the world of academic reference this time!), and I've got to move out of my lovely summer sublet. This summer, I've been working - that's it - but I always feel so busy. It makes me wonder how the people I know with other responsibilities - like children, for example - get anything done whatsoever, or have any measure of peace. Perhaps they watch fewer expurgated Sex & the City reruns on TBS. Whatever. As long as I finish both the books I started recently (The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai; Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides), I'll be golden. Of course, I did buy two used ones at the Book Mill - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and a book of Phillis Wheatley's poems. There should be another law of thermodynamics about the proportion of books bought to books read (and books checked out for months from BPL).

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Omnivore's Dilemma

First of all, the first birthday of this blog came and went without mention. So, um…happy belated birthday, ARFOB! (Wow, that's a crappy acronym.)

It's book comment time, people. ("Review" seems too lofty a term for what I do here.) I've been reading a lot lately, which has been wonderful. Yesterday I pretty much spent ten or eleven hours reading, breaking only to go to the grocery store and make dinner (I read while I ate). That was, of course, the last Harry Potter book, which I'll talk about a little later.

First of all, though, let's talk about
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, mostly because I'm going to a meeting tomorrow for a book club formed at work, and I need to organize my thoughts. I felt this tension when reading – and probably Pollan felt it while writing – between moralizing too much and not enough. I mean - this is one of those literary-journalism-cum-exploration-of-self books like Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief or Stefan Fatsis's Word Freak. Pollan tries to observe himself and his feelings from the outside, and for the most part, he doesn't preach or draw sweeping conclusions - he describes the complexity of the issues surrounding food and our consumption of it. The only exception is his defensiveness about choosing to eat meat - and maybe I'm a little defensive myself because I generally choose not to do so. But consider this passage from page 362:

"I have to say that there is a part of me that envies the moral clarity of the vegetarian, the blamelessness of the tofu eater. Yet part of me pities him, too. Dreams of innocence are just that; they usually depend on a denial of reality that can be its own form of hubris."

The whole book, really, is an exercise in getting people to confront the reality of where the food they buy comes from and its costs to animals, other human beings, and our nation and planet. Food, like everything else, it seems, has become commodified, but unlike most things, it has such a direct impact on our well-being. To hear Pollan (and other sources...I've heard a lot of NPR stories on this topic lately) tell it, there's a slow tide turning, in small pockets, against it. As usual, though, it's largely being done by those who have the time and money to be thoughtful. One thing this book did was fuel my already-present frustration at the frequent short-sightedness of policymakers. There are times when everyone acting in her own self-interest doesn't work out so well.

The other book I finished recently, for which I have nothing but awe (and gratitude to Clare for sending it to me) is the first trade paperback of Rex Libris, I, Librarian.
It's a comic book about a superhero librarian who makes literary references and has the most kick-ass sidekicks in the world. What's not to love?

Okay, let's talk Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Don't worry; I'm not going to spoil it for you. I'll just say that it's a very solid book, which draws on threads you didn't even know were dropped from the other books. Almost every character from the previous books, too, gets his or her chance to play a role that seems very appropriate. It's not gimmicky, and it went to some dark and (somewhat confusingly) metaphysical places. If you're in my vicinity and want to borrow it before I leave for Chicago on Wednesday, let me know. I only dog-eared a couple of pages where Hermione makes librarian-like comments.

I never thought I would join in so enthusiastically in the rush to buy this book, but I got caught up. They are good, and I didn't want some jerk on the Internet to ruin it for me by the time it came out in paperback. Besides, I got to see Harry and the Potters in Harvard Yard on Friday night, and got my own "Rock the Library" t-shirt. (I can't find an image of it, unfortunately.)

My friend Amy and I were joking about fake spoilers this morning, so I'll leave you with those. They're amusing to me, anyway.

Harry Potter is...a MAN!
Minerva McGonagall has a secret. She's really...THE HEAD OF GRYFFINDOR HOUSE!
Ginny turns out to be Ron's...SISTER!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Lucky in Kentucky, D.C., Massachusetts

Well. It has been a while. I've been out of town a lot, and feeling in general like a chicken running around with its head cut off - albeit a chicken who doesn't have to go to class. I'm finding the thought of summarizing everything rather daunting, so what you're going to get - you lucky reader - is an amalgam of what's on my mind, what's happened, and what I'm listening to (at the moment, "Taxi Girl" by the Nields).

Mid-June was my friend Emily's wedding in Louisville, reminding me how intensely I love that city and its inhabitants - the river and Heine Brothers' and the smell of driving down roads surrounded by trees, and the friends who are really my family. I danced to "Only the Good Die Young" with my friend Eliot, and I hadn't been as happy as I was in that moment in a long time.

After this trip, I made a new mix CD called "Lucky in Kentucky," which includes two songs I'm completely obsessed with lately: "I Want Love" by Elton John and "Careful" by Guster. Listen to these two songs, and you'll have all the details of my dysfunction and current state of mind.

Then came the ALA Annual Conference in D.C. Very educational in several ways; I nerded it up as a librarian, but I was glad when it was over. I did get to see my friend Jo, and get incredibly drunk on sangria, which was good times. I also now have a library card at the Library of Congress.

I most recently read Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, Slam by Nick Hornby (advance uncorrected proofs - a perk of ALA) and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. All three were very absorbing. It's been so nice to be lost in a novel. Special TopicsI found annoying at times in that flashy McSweeney's way, and I don't know how I felt about the plot twist at the end, but the characters were marvelous. And today I couldn't wait to take my lunch break and find out who was employing Croup and Vandemar in Neverwhere. Slam was something I didn't think I'd find appealing, but I did. The voice in it is so honest, you can't help but be charmed at least a little.

There's also been a short excursion to Amherst, a day in Salem and Cambridge with my friend Sam's parents, making lemon squares, watching the fireworks on Wednesday from the back porch of the apartment. I've been dusting off poems, seeing that there are actually a couple of ones with promise in my undergrad thesis.

Finally, dear reader, there's the series of internal and external revolutions that have accompanied all these things. It's as if there are several hinges (geographic, romantic, professional) on which my life is hanging right now, and I have to decide on approaches to take. This involves asking myself what I really want. There was a line in some movie or book I saw or read lately (specific, I know) that wondered how many people actually ask themselves what they want. I'm trying.

Thanks for bearing with my little crises. I know I'm being vague in many ways. I'll leave you with an image of an item from the Joseph Cornell exhibit we saw in Salem; it's called Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall. From

Friday, June 08, 2007

Pray get the stuff

Well, I've been rather silent here lately. The good thing, though, is that I've been reading a lot (and watching shows and films) since the semester ended.

The 2007 summer reading adventure (now I sound like a public library campaign - not that there's anything wrong with that) started with a whimper rather than a bang, with Jane Hamilton's latest novel When Madeline Was Young. I've read her other four books, and thought they had varying degrees of quality - the best being The Short History of a Prince, which is really one of my favorite books. This one, however, felt as if it was written while she was on the phone with someone else. It jumped around in time in a way that wasn't effective, and I didn't really understand what she was trying to say at the end. I did finish it, but I wouldn't recommend starting it.

But then came Ken Jennings' Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. Admittedly, I am in the target audience for this book. I love trivia, and yes, I'd like to be on Jeopardy! some day. (So I appreciated the tips that were scattered throughout.) Jennings is really a very funny writer, and he talks about the good points of trivia, like the camaraderie of a team (about which I still wax nostalgic from high school), and the connections one makes in other parts of life.

There's another thing I've thoroughly enjoyed the past few days. I got Sense & Sensibility (the film) out of the library because my taped-off-of-HBO VHS copy is at my mother's house. I was poking around the special features because it's one of my favorite movies (if not my very favorite), and decided to put on the commentary of Emma Thompson (star and screenwriter) and Lindsey Doran (producer), and I'm so glad I did. Of course Ang Lee looked at Vermeers before directing; almost every close-up shot of Kate Winslet is like that. (At those shots, Emma Thompson often said, "Kate's so gorgeous," with which I concur.) Emma Thompson also has this wonderful dry and somewhat morbid humor, especially about herself - and even though she sometimes debunks the emotion of a scene (for instance, when a horse kept farting while Colonel Brandon tried to speak about Eliza), she and Lindsey Doran are really enamored of this story and talk about the characters with real passion. They also talk about roles of women (then, and now in film), and the difficulties of getting people to improvise in 19th-century dialogue. My favorite is when Greg Wise (Willoughby) apparently tried to toss off the line, "Pray get the stuff." Anyway, connections were made for me, and basically, some of the reasons I love this film, and reasons for plot and motivations in it, were articulated for me. I think I knew these things on some level - at least, hopefully - but it was good to have them say it for me.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Looking backwards

It's summer now. I'm done with classes, it's insanely hot outside, and I'm back at an archives and special collections. Temporarily - it's just some extra hours at one of the many fine academic institutions in the greater Boston area. It's good, though. It eases the transition of me not being at the Newberry, as I was last summer and the summer before. Summer is making me miss places, and of course, the people in them. I was in Chicago this past weekend, and my time there was far too short. Of course, the weather was idyllic, and we were driving through the Newberrry's neighborhood, and I just really wanted to get in there page some rare materials for low wages. And last week, I ordered some espresso beans from Heine Brothers' in Louisville, and when I opened the box, I was overcome by a wave of nostalgia. Anyway. Transit continues; I'm moving across the river for the summer, and I'm sure I'll create lots of new opportunities for looking backwards.

One Art - the book of Elizabeth Bishop's letters I've quoted and talked about a lot here - was the book I had on the airplane coming here. This week, I finally came to the end of it, sitting in a park in Brookline. The last couple years of her life obviously weren't the happiest - Robert Lowell had died; she was struggling for money. She died in Boston - she had an apartment near the aquarium - which I'm sure I'll go stalk morbidly, soon. In fact, I might do a walking tour of EB in Boston & Cambridge - she talks about going to the Cafe dello Sport in the North End; she lived in faculty housing at Harvard, etc., etc.

It's sobering to read someone's life from start to finish. Some events feel inevitable; some mistakes are apparent to the reader but obviously not to her. It makes me feel as if I know her, when clearly I don't at all. I know what she wrote to people, and what Robert Giroux selected from that. The saddest part is that all her letters to Lota (her partner, as we'd say today, for many years) were all destroyed by Lota's relatives after her death, except for one very everyday one. I don't know if they'd be that evocative of their relationship, though. When you live with someone, you say all those things to them.

ANYWAY. My obsession will continue when I go to D.C. later this summer and try to look up some of the recordings she made while she was in residence at the Library of Congress. And I'll end here with a quotation from a letter she wrote back to a "fan." Next time I'll write about another recent obsession...Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

"It can't be done, apparently, by willpower and study alone - or by being "with it" - but I really don't know how poetry gets to be written. There is a mystery & a surprise, and after that a great deal of hard work."
-Letter to "Miss Pierce," 28 May 1975.

Monday, April 30, 2007

The more things stay the same

It's the last day of April, so you get one more poem. Then I go into homework-hibernation until the semester ends.

I was walking back from class tonight and the moon was brilliant and almost full, and it was really windy. Everything was, you know, stirring. A lot of things have come at me lately from my past in one way or another (like the girl wearing the Kentucky shirt on the bus today), and to go along with a quote from Clare's Facebook profile, I've been trying to separate a sense of history from a sense of nostalgia. I've been thinking about the inverted and faux-deep sentence: the more things stay the same, the more they change. All this has something - though certainly not everything - to do with this poem. Wallace Stevens can be impenetrably abstract, in contrast to his detail-oriented day job (insurance executive). But I fell in love, hard, with this poem last fall. I hope you like it too.

Re-Statement of Romance by Wallace Stevens

The night knows nothing of the chants of night.
It is what it is as I am what I am:
And in perceiving this I best perceive myself

And you. Only we two may interchange
Each in the other what each has to give.
Only we two are one, not you and night,

Nor night and I, but you and I, alone,
So much alone, so deeply by ourselves,
So far beyond the casual solitudes,

That night is only the background of our selves,
Supremely true each to its separate self,
In the pale light that each upon the other throws.

from The Collected Poems by Wallace Stevens. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A poem full of lies

The other day, I went into a bookstore with a friend who was looking for something. She didn't find it, but I bought something that I've been meaning to buy, and just never did: Matthew Zapruder's second book of poems, The Pajamaist. I saw Zapruder read my sophomore year (I think) in college; we share an alma mater. I stupidly didn't buy the book (American Linden) he was reading from. But I thought I'd share some excerpts (from the beginning and the end) from a poem called "Haiku," which isn't...well, not really. I guess I would say the syllabic structure approximates haiku. Anyway. These poems are being posted kind of as they organically remind me of my life, or vice versa. It's very self-directed, as usual.

from "Haiku" by Matthew Zapruder

Yesterday for you
I wrote a poem so full
of lies it woke me
stunned like someone
bitten in the middle of the night
or a bird that just
smashed into a very clean window.
Now it's so early
it's still night
and this time I'm hardly
trying at all, holding carefully
in my palms
the knowledge that
I don't know anything about you.
You keep sleeping
and I'll stop trying
to decide if it's better
to change other people
or how they see us,
or what's more
urgent and futile,
to unlock
or to invent the past.

from The Pajamist by Matthew Zapruder. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2006.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

We drowned in Eden

This weekend the weather finally broke from its wet, gray, cold, hunker-down-and-use-your-umbrella-as-a-shield streak. Yesterday, a friend and I went to sit in the Public Garden and do homework, and pretty much the whole city--from bridal couples to anti-war protesters--was out, just so glad not to be wearing coats or huddling. Even though this poem is about this "drowning in Eden" eventually ending, I was reminded of it yesterday, and how much I love it. I wrote a (mediocre) paper about it in college, in which I talked about the tension between motion and motionlessness. I'm definitely feeling that tension lately, both in a day-to-day sense and a bigger life sense. Birthdays will do that to you, I suppose. Anyway, here's your latest National Poetry month installment. (I should probably post a poem next that doesn't belong to this particular generation of poets, just for variety. Stand by for updates.)

The Public Garden by Robert Lowell

Burnished, burned-out, still burning as the year
you lead me to our stamping ground.
The city and its cruising cars surround
the Public Garden. All’s alive—
the children crowding home from school at five,
punting a football in the bricky air,
the sailors and their pick-ups under trees
with Latin labels. And the jaded flock
of swanboats paddles to its dock.
The park is drying.
Dead leaves thicken to a ball
inside the basin of a fountain, where
the heads of four stone lions stare
and suck on empty fawcets. Night
deepens. From the arched bridge, we see
the shedding park-bound mallards, how they keep
circling and diving in the lantern light,
searching for something hidden in the muck.
And now the moon, earth’s friend, the cared so much
for us, and cared so little, comes again—
always a stranger! As we walk,
it lies like chalk
over the waters. Everything’s aground.
Remember summer? Bubbles filled
the fountain, and we splashed. We drowned
in Eden, while Jehovah’s grass-green lyre
was rustling all about us in the leaves
that gurgled by us, turning upside down. . .
The fountain’s failing waters flash around
the garden. Nothing catches fire.

Text taken from Poets of Cambridge.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Two more poems.

Last night, I came across two short James Merrill poems I wanted to post here. The first is about (among other things) a storm in April, which is superficially timely. The second struck me, because I was trying to write a poem about a moment like this, but of course, Merrill does it more neatly and easily.

Another April

The panes flash, tremble with your ghostly passage
Through them, an x-ray sheerness billowing, and I have risen
But cannot speak, remembering only that one was meant
To rise and not to speak. Young storm, this house is yours.
Let your eye darken, your rain come, the candle reeling
Deep in what still reflects control itself and me.
Daybreak's great gray rust-veined irises humble and proud
Along your path will have laid their foreheads in the dust.

After the Ball

Clasping her magic
Changemaking taffeta
(Old rose to young spinach
And back) I'd taken

Such steps in dream logic
That the Turnstile at Greenwich
Chimed with laughter--
My subway token.

from Collected Poems by James Merrill. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kindness, philosophy, art, vampires

I've got a lot to write about tonight. First, I just want to say that this was one of the best weekends in recent memory. I had a number of very different cultural experiences, encompassing Joe Pesci movies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, prom, the Gardner Museum, and the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich - all wonderful. I'm so lucky to know the people I do, and that they're (for some crazy reason) my friends.

As everyone knows, Kurt Vonnegut died this week. His obituary in the New York Times was very good, I thought. I kept thinking about one line they quoted from his book God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: "There's only one rule I know of, babies - 'God damn it, you've got to be kind.'" It echoes for me the Philip K. Dick line painted large on the wall of my English classroom in high school: "It's how kind you are." These two are both - generally - known as science fiction writers, and I wonder if it takes the artificiality of imagined backdrops to throw into relief what humans are really about, what damns and redeems us. Vonnegut's and Dick's philosophy is one to which I can wholeheartedly subscribe - and one I could definitely be working on a little harder.

My readings for cataloging this week have also been on the philosophical side lately. The subject this week is classification, and I've seen quotes from George Lakoff and Michel Foucault as well as the usual commentators from the library field. Classification is all about the categories people make - the classic example cited in my textbook is of different cultures' conceptions of color - some have names for seven colors (roygbiv), and some have names for two ("cool" and "warm"). I'm terribly excited about the whole thing; I love this kind of stuff.

Last week, though, we were talking about subject headings. These are a lot of fun to play around with. This blog, for instance, could have the following subject headings:
********, Elizabeth - Navel-gazing.
Literary criticism - Amateur.
Dysfunctional relationships - Over-analysis.
Bishop, Elizabeth - Obsessed fans.
Library science - Graduate students - Complete and utter nerds.

Finally - I can't leave you, this month, without a parting poem. I think something by Philip Larkin would be appropriate, since he was a librarian.

Reasons for Attendance
The trumpet's voice, loud and authoritative,
Draws me a moment to the lighted glass
To watch the dancers - all under twenty-five -
Solemnly on the beat of happiness.

- Or so I fancy, sensing the smoke and sweat,
The wonderful feel of girls. Why be out there?
But then, why be in there? Sex, yes, but what
Is sex? Surely to think the lion's share
Of happiness is found by couples - sheer

Inaccuracy, as far as I'm concerned.
What calls me is that lifted, rough-tongued bell
(Art, if you like) whose individual sound
Insists I too am individual.
It speaks; I hear; others may hear as well,

But not for me, nor I for them; and so
With happiness. Therefore I stay outside,
Believing this, and they maul to and fro,
Believing that; and both are satisfied,
If no one has misjudged himself. Or lied.

from Collected Poems by Philip Larkin. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2004.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Cold Spring

In my collection development class the other night, we had a guest speaker - a librarian from Lesley University. There's no other way to put it--she was awesome. She was informed, informative, funny, and very practical. There's this man in the class who's always going on long, self-important ramblings about the nature of the historical object and how we should save everything because it might be important or relevant to someone in some capacity somewhere, someday. And she answered his questions and eye-rolling calmly and intelligently, explaining that reference books from the 1980s need to be weeded--as do many other books that aren't relevant to the needs of the population your library is serving. Sometimes books (and other resources) become irrelevant over time, and so you weed them. You don't have to pitch them in the trash; you can find new homes for them. But this, to me, is the key to so much in library science/school: the user/patron/whatever you want to call her is why we're there, why we're gathering and organizing information and providing reference to it. (S.R. Ranganathan - one of the deities in the librarian pantheon - knew this. I really want to read his autobiography, A Librarian Looks Back.)

Anyway, those are my thoughts on that subject. I think Lesley would be a really interesting place to work, and the librarian who spoke to us has worked her way into my own personal librarian pantheon. I hope you'll stay tuned to A Room Full of Books the next couple of weeks, because it's too late in the evening now to write about Library of Congress Subject Headings and the fun to be had with them, and the messing to be done with them. That will be coming soon.

Now for some poetry. It is National Poetry Month. I've been thinking about this poem a lot lately, partly because it's so literally apt; it's supposed to snow here in Boston tomorrow. But I love it for many reasons. "The violet was flawed on the lawn," for example, is one of my favorite lines of poetry of all time. And I hope you stay with it until the fireflies at the end, because that part is so utterly lovely. Well, here you go. Any typos are mine and not Miss Bishop's.

A Cold Spring by Elizabeth Bishop

for Jane Dewey, Maryland

Nothing is so beautiful as spring. -Hopkins

A cold spring:
the violet was flawed on the lawn.
For two weeks or more the trees hesitated;
the little leaves waited,
carefully indicating their characteristics.
Finally a grave green dust
settled over your big and aimless hills.
One day, in a chill white blast of sunshine,
on the side of one a calf was born.
The mother stopped lowing
and took a long time eating the after-birth,
a wretched flag,
but the calf got up promptly
and seemed inclined to feel gay.

The next day
was much warmer.
Greenish-white dogwood infiltrated the wood,
each petal burned, apparently, by a cigarette-butt;
and the blurred redbud stood
beside it, motionless, but almost more
like movement than any placeable color.
Four deer practised leaping over your fences.
The infant oak-leaves swumng through the sober oak.
Song-sparrows were wound up for the sumer,
and in the maple the complementary cardinal
cracked a whip, and the sleeper awoke,
stretching miles of green limbs from the south.
In his cap the lilacs whitened,
then one day they fell like snow.
Now, in the evening,
a new moon comes.
The hills grow softer. Tufts of long grass show
where each cow-flop lies.
The bull-frogs are sounding,
slack strings plucked by heavy thumbs.
Beneath the light, against your white front door,
the smallest moths, like Chinese fans,
flatten themselves, silver and silver-gilt
over pale yellow, orange, or gray.
Now, from the thick grass, the fireflies
begin to rise:
up, then down, then up again:
lit on the ascending flight,
drifting simultaneously to the same height,
--exactly like the bubbles in champagne.
--Later on they rise much higher.
And your shadowy pastures will be able to offer
these particular glowing tributes
every evening now throughout the summer.

from The Complete Poems 1927-1979, by Elizabeth Bishop. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Totally unprofessional, first-impression album review.

I bought Erin McKeown's (relatively) new album Sing You Sinners tonight. I love Ms. McKeown's albums; they're all different, but all thoughtful and audacious and very enjoyable. This one is a collection of jazz and swing standards, ranging from 1930 to 1956 - to put it in archival finding aid terms - with bulk dates 1930-1941, with one EK original, "Melody." It's pretty delightful. I'm not crazy about the opening song, "Get Happy," but I think that's an issue of mine with the song, not her interpretation of it. I also don't think I would listen to "Thanks for the Boogie Ride" just to listen to it, but I'd love to dance to it. I love "Rhode Island is Famous for You," a song I guess Blossom Dearie popularized, but which EK has been singing at concerts for quite a while. There are also songs I grew up on (in Sinatra and Connick, Jr. incarnations), like "Paper Moon," "Something's Gotta Give," and "They Say It's Spring."

A nice surprise was "Just One of Those Things," which has this slow, sinister, private-eye-ish musical setting. It's like, it was just one of those things...just one of those dangerous things. After all, the song is about an intense and short-lived affair, which can be a little dangerous. On a personal note, I appreciated "I Was a Little Too Lonely (You Were a Little Too Late)" - a song about surrendering your hangups on people who don't respond, even when they belatedly decide they like you, too. I need to work on that.

Anyway. I recommend it. There are bonus tracks on iTunes, too, which I'll probably buy as soon as I finish this. Erin McKeown had an inaugural concert for this album at Club Passim in January (I think), and I didn't go because of some lame reason. I wish I had...I bet these songs are really great live.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Lives of Others

This semester has got to be one of the busiest on record. It's up there with my junior year in high school. Like that year, there are these labor-intensive classes alongside personal events - this time, it's this steady stream of visitors, which I am really happy about, but my attempts at planning and getting ahead are somewhat foolish in the face of it. That's why sometimes I just have to halt everything and spend evenings like I did last night. I went to a movie alone, which is something I like but haven't done in a long time. The movie was Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others), and while it was sort of depressing (could a movie about the Stasi be upbeat?), it was very good. (My friend Katelyn made the excellent recommendation.) I waited for the last T; Coolidge Corner was very quiet, and I didn't have to bother anyone with my sillinesses.

Anyway. We went on a real live field trip for archives class the other night, to the Massachusetts Historical Society. We got to see the conservation lab, the stacks, the gorgeous rooms upstairs. They just finished digitizing the fifty-one volumes of diaries that John Quincy Adams kept during his life. Apparently, he had several going at once: a line-a-day, a longer one, and one somewhere in the middle. I have to say -- and I know I'm prejudiced because I worked there, and I'm overly romantic/idealistic about the place -- but the Newberry really is my favorite library. It's beautiful, and I love the collections, and their policies are most in line with my fledgling ideas on access, copyright, etc. Or maybe they influenced me in the first place; it's hard to tell.

Okay, one more thing, and that's another passage from Elizabeth Bishop's letters, which has a lot of pages dog-eared in it by now. They're so funny. And maybe other people don't find her stories as amusing as I do, but I'll post them anyway. This one's from when she was living in Brazil, in a house she and Lota (her "companion") were constantly renovating.

"I just locked myself in the studio toilet. Shrieks & screams finally brought Sebastiao, Joao, and Albertinho to my rescue. They have been handing all the screwdrivers in the house through a slit in the shutter to me and I have been taking the door off its hinges, very clumsily. Lota was off helping Mary build her new house -- she arrived just as the door gave way at last. I was imprisoned exactly one hour and everyone had an awfully good time."
-letter to Lloyd Frankenberg, 22 March 1960, from One Art: Elizabeth Bishop Letters, ed. Robert Giroux. New York: The Noonday Press, 1995.

Well. I have to go read about ways of determining the aboutness of an item. I love cataloging class, with a passion, and I'm not ashamed to say it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

You need some Rilke.

Last night I once again took a book off the shelf, and read the passage that was perfect timing for me. If only I could do this with such accuracy with other people -- it would bode well for my library career. Here it is. The part about "our own terrors" echoes What the Bleep do we Know a little bit...I think so, anyway.

"Only he who can expect anything, who does not exclude even the mysterious, will have a relationship to life greater than just being alive; he will exhaust his own wellspring of being.
We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our own terrors. If it has precipices, they belong to us. If dangers are present, we must try to love them. And if we fashion our life according to that principle, which advises us to embrace that which is difficult, then that which appears to us to be the very strangest will become the most worthy of our trust, and the truest."

-Rainier Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet
(copyright New World Library, 2000)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Signs of green

Just a quick post, I'm afraid. This semester has swallowed weeks whole before I can turn my head, and I've been intensely stressed about it at moments. But after an alcohol-accompanied viewing of Happy Endings with my friend Ryan last night, and a return to the well-intentioned New Year's resolution of meditation, I'm a little less psycho.

Also. Apparently in Boston, Saint Patrick's Day lasts the whole weekend. I went up to Davis Square today, and the T was packed both ways, with people who were dressed in various stages of green, and/or clearly racking up consecutive hours of intoxication. I was standing in the snow and ice of the square waiting for my friend, and noticed a lot of other people standing around, even though it was very cold; then I noticed Holland Street was closed. And then all of a sudden: a huge mass of runners, most of them in green, just appeared: no preliminary sound or anything. The people standing around were cheering them on, and I guess I'm writing about it because I happened to be somewhere at the exact moment something happened, something I never would have known about otherwise (apparently, the Ras na hEireann USA).

Couple this with the bushes and trees that were tentatively blooming last week (before the six inches of snow), and basically, they equal the light at the end of (or along) the tunnel for me. I always think of the Richard Wilbur poem "Winter Spring" in this interim, and I love the last two lines, so I'll post it. I'm not sure what book it's from, otherwise I'd give that credit. (p.s. Speaking of poetry, as a preview to National Poetry Month, check out the Academy of American Poets' poster here. And yes, it took me forever to see the shape.)

Winter Spring

A script of trees before the hill
Spells cold, with laden serifs; all the walls
Are battlemented still;
But winter spring is winnowing the air
Of chill, and crawls
Wet-sparkling on the gutters;
Walls wince, and there’s the steal of waters.

Now all this proud royaume
Is Veniced. Through the drift’s mined dome
One sees the rowdy rusted grass,
And we’re amazed as windows stricken bright.
This too-soon spring will pass
Perhaps tonight,
And doubtless it is dangerous to love
This somersault of seasons;
But I am weary of
The winter way of loving things for reasons.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Our show today has two acts:

Act One: This American Life Live, the Boston Opera House, tonight, with my friends A and B. I'm not trying to make you jealous. (Well, maybe a little bit.) It's just that there are few things I love so completely as this show. It's so fucking well-done I sometimes cry. (As, apparently, Ira Glass did at the last episode of The OC. He and his wife sing along to the theme song. As if I weren't in love already.) Now they're coming out with a TV show on Showtime, and if the previews/excerpts/hilarious outtake of Ira Glass nodding are any indication, it's going to be just as beautiful.

Also, this was said by one of the contributors: "If friends were easy to take and made you feel good, they wouldn't be called friends. They'd be called drugs." Plus there was Joe, a kid from Western Mass. who doesn't believe in love, except maybe if his relationship were based around fighting monsters.

Oh, and Sarah Vowell and Dan Savage were there, too. Okay, now I'm just trying to make you jealous.

Act Two: "Book Meme"

It seems only fitting that the blogger of A Room Full of Books should post this, from Into the Wardrobe. AW is a reader I didn't even know I had, but now I know who AW is, and I will be reading ITW from now on as well. Anyway, here it is. And before you glaze over the list, let me just say: A Room Full of Books is distributed by Blogger, produced by Elizabeth, and funded by the federal government (via student loans), and readers like you.

Look at the list of books below. Bold the ones you’ve read, italicize the ones you want to read, cross out the ones you won’t touch with a 10 foot pole, put a cross (+) in front of the ones on your book shelf (I'm taking multiple crosses to mean multiple editions), and asterisk (*) the ones you’ve never heard of.

(AW added “indifference” as a category by not marking some at all). (And I don't know how to cross things out, so I'm going to put an "x" on either side of the title.)

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
+2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
+3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
+8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry) *
+11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
x12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)x
+13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
+16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)*
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
+20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
+22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
+23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
+25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
x30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)x
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
x32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)x
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
+34. 1984 (Orwell)
+35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
x36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)x
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)*
+38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
+42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
x43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)x
x44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)x
45. Bible (bolding the amount I think I've read)
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
+48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
+50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
+51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
+53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
+54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
+55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)*
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
+59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
+60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger) (extra bold for obsession)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand) (Okay, I want to read one of the Ayn Rand books, for educational purposes. But not both.)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
x64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)x
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davies)*
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
+70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
x71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)x
+72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
+75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)*
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)*
+80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)*
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
+84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
+++85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down (Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)*
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)*
+92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
x95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)x
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford) *
x99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)x
x100. Ulysses (James Joyce)x (Yes, I can pick both options for this book.)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Freezing and forgetting...and controlled vocabularies

"And February was so long that it lasted into March,
and found us walking a path, alone, together.
You stopped and pointed and you said, 'That's a crocus,'
and I said, 'What's a crocus?'
and you said, 'It's a flower.'
I tried to remember, but I said, 'What's a flower?'
You said, 'I still love you.'"
-Dar Williams, "February"

I couldn't let this month end without quoting from this song. A lot of people hate February, and I have to say, I kind of agree with them this year. It's not that good things didn't happen. But I did have this sense of frozen slumber that Dar sings about. And I'm not just talking about - in the literal sense - the vicious ice storm that got slapped on Boston, and all the sleeping in I've been doing. I forgot things that I'm trying to wake up and make myself remember; for example, that the conventional ways of love are (most likely) not going to do it for me. That is, the whole dating, small talk, straightforwardly romantic approach. I've been underestimating love lately, its complexity and possibility. (Although Kahlil Gibran was trying to help me out earlier in the month.) As far as possibility goes, I'm glad I watched What the Bleep do we Know? this weekend. I'm not sure how much of that theory of the universe, consciousness, and autonomy I completely buy into, but it's fascinating to think about.

On another note, my favorite class by far this semester is The Organization of Information, aka cataloging. In college, I wrote this paper for a linguistics class on how the Dewey Decimal System was a constructed language/grammar/or something (it was underdeveloped). But I think that's why I love the structured ways librarians have organized and can search for information: my love of grammar is resurging. That analytical part of my brain I don't tap into often enough is putting on her glasses, sharpening her pencils, and is ready to bust out of the cortex where she's been hanging around. Hopefully, I'll have more time later to delve into cataloging, and into my archives internship, during which I get to hang around the papers of Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and other brilliant minds.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Belated book report

I did read before the semester started. Not as much as I would have liked, but it was a good opportunity to give Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski the attention it demands. Look, I even feel compelled to stick to the color schemes of the text - and I've messed up my usual text color in the process. I read his House of Leaves last year, which nests narrative inside narrative; this book has two narrators, Sam and Hailey. They each begin speaking from a different end of the book, so that there are two sections of print, one upright and one upside-down (depending on how you look at it). The recommended way to read it is eight pages at a time, alternating Sam and Hailey. Their stories dovetail in many ways, both in page number and on each physical page. Sam's Os are green; Hailey's are gold.

I was frustrated at times that none of this actually means anything, that Danielewski was just trying to make me look at the text as text without anything behind it. But that's not accurate, I don't think. The reader just has to work much harder than usual--although it helps that, like House of Leaves, there is a forum of readers that discuss OR's various mysteries (some a trifle obsessively). For example, there's the stilted language. He's clearly drawing from some kind of word- or alphabet-based dictionary that only allows him to use words or letters a certain number of times. It's like a giant poem in that way; part of the point of writing it is the test of what you can accomplish with constraints. The word "or" is important - it's the initials of the title, it's always in bold, and the programming symbol for "or" appears on the spine.

Anyway - I realize this is getting a little into detail for those who haven't read it. There are rewards to it, even for the non-obsessed reader. Even though the language is odd, it's beautiful. It's easy to see that all the Os represent eternity, rings, circles, etc. (Each story has 360 pages; the two characters are most synchronized around page 180.) It's an epic about the history of the United States - anytime the characters say "us," it's capitalized. And most of all, it's a love story that acknowledges (and yet still fights against) the ultimate constraint of time. (Sam's story runs from 1863-1963, Hailey's from 1963-2063.) If you yourself have time...and patience...and you know what you're getting yourself into, I highly recommend it.

Three more recommendations now, of a more amusing nature. First, if I haven't bugged you about it in person yet, the TV show Veronica Mars. I'm almost done watching the second season (the third season is on the air right now on the CW). It's witty, and gripping, and even those not as gullible as I are prone to being surprised at the plot twists -- though not in an unfair way. There are always clues available to you, and you will wonder afterwards why you didn't see them. Oh yeah, it's because the writing is really good. I want to thank Amy and Ryan publicly for sucking me in.

Second: as Clare mentioned in her blog, Mountain Man Dance Moves: the McSweeney's Book of Lists, which I was lucky enough to come across randomly in the Strand when I was in New York two weeks ago. Many of the lists, for no reason, have to do with unicorns. An abbreviated example:

Song Titles, Before Editing for Efficiency and Clarity
"It is Impossible for You, or Anyone Else for That Matter, to Purchase Love for or from Me"

"Hey, What's Up? It's London"

"Baby, You Hit Me Once, and When You Did, All I Could Think Was That I Would Relish Your Doing It Once More"
(pp. 88-89)

Third: Hipster Haiku by Siobhan Adcock. I saw this book and simply had to own it. (Student loans? Eating? Pshaw.) I'll give you a short selection, and you'll want it too. Youll see.

Writ on my tombstone:
"Never bought a Greatest Hits
compilation disc"
(p. 43)

Why are you dancing?
Just stare gravely at the band
Act appropriate
(p. 57)

Hand-rolled cigarettes
You call everything "po-mo"
I think I love you
(p. 7)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Laying waste the garden

I promise, I'll have a good book-related post soon. I'll write about the crazy book I read before the semester started, and about the semester itself. (I know you're going to find the organization of information just as fascinating as I do.)

And this is about a book. I have these three non-school books sitting next to my bed with accusing bookmarks pointing out of them: The Second Sex (which I was supposed to finish in January), Fiasco by Thomas E. Ricks (which has been there since September), and One Art, the letters of Elizabeth Bishop. But last night before I went to bed, I took something newly acquired off the shelf, and was rewarded with a timely passage. A couple of weeks ago, I was early meeting a friend in Central Square, and stopped into this used bookstore called Rodney's. There was this lovely copy of Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, which I've never read, for $7.50, so I bought it. This prophet is about to leave a city where he's been living and go back to the land he came from, and the people in the city ask him to speak of different subjects before he goes. The first he talks about is love. You know, that day with the sugar and the hearts and stuff is tomorrow, and these words seem to me as appropriate a counter-remedy as any: to be grateful for love in its various forms, and not whine about the parts of it that hurt.

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love....
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Boston coffee shop post

Anyone who knows me knows that a good local coffee shop is fairly essential to my well-being. It's somewhere to meet my friends or to write papers and poems; somewhere that I can sit for hours without being rushed out, whether with or without people. And then, of course, there's the coffee itself. Pastries/other food are another consideration, but I consider them more of a bonus. The point of all this is, I've now frequented a number of coffee shops in the greater Boston area, and I'd like to offer a short, unscientific rundown of them, now that you know my criteria. If anyone has any suggestions for me, please offer them. I've mostly stuck to what's fairly near to where I and people I know live. I hope it's helpful in some way to someone....

1. Diesel Cafe - 257 Elm St., Somerville (Davis Square)
I've never really been one to worry about whether I blend in with the crowd at a place, so I don't care that at Diesel, I'm often the only non-tattooed one there. I like their coffee a lot - I think they brew Intellegentsia, and they foam soy milk better than anywhere I've ever been. The sandwiches and pastries are a little overpriced, but good, with lots of vegetarian items. I don't think I would go here to write a paper, since it's kind of a trek for me to take my laptop, and I'd have to pay to distract myself on Facebook.

finding a space: not that hard - lots of tables, probably the most on this list
outlet situation: I haven't noticed, actually, but fewer computers here than other places
wireless: you have to pay
bonus goodness: pool tables, photo booth, random vintage typewriter

2. Espresso Royale - 286 Newbury St., Boston (near Newbury Comics)
I wrote a paper here one afternoon, but I was lucky to find the space/outlet. There was a line there the entire time, of people ranging from students to people who'd clearly just shopped at the Armani store. They also ran out of bagels, and a couple of other things, fairly early in the day. Definitely not for the claustrophobic, but once you're settled in, it's not that bad. And oh, right, the coffee. Their espresso has this slightly burnt quality that I happen to like, but others may not. Also, there's an excellent tea selection.

finding a space: quite difficult, since it's tiny, but people generally seemed willing to share/be accommodating
outlet situation: basically one power strip that everyone uses and then they trip over everyone else's cords
wireless: they technically don't have it, but there are plenty of local networks
music: The baristas have good taste. They were playing the White Album and there was a mutiny to skip "Piggies."

3. Espresso Royale - 44 Gainsborough St., Boston (near Symphony Hall)
Obviously a lot of things carry over from the other ER - bagels, tea, coffee. This one is about...oh, five times the size? It was busy, but my friend and I had no trouble finding a table (with C. Montgomery Burns painted on it!). It's in a lovely old building with tall ceilings and lots of tables/chairs of varying size, and the customers are mostly NEC, Berklee, and Northeastern students and their skeptical-looking parents.

finding a space: no problem
outlet situation: I meant to check it out and didn't, but lots of tables against the wall
wireless: okay, seriously not doing my research well...I'm not sure
employees: I have to say, I love when the barista types aren't snobby, but instead are quick with a smart joke and dance (well) to Prince. (The Police was also on at some point.)

4. Trident Booksellers & Cafe - 338 Newbury St., Boston (near Newbury Comics, but the other way)
This isn't as much a coffee shop as a breakfast/lunch place, but I sat for about an hour and a half at a table one afternoon doing homework, and over the course of that time I ordered a cup of coffee and a bagel & cream cheese, and they didn't seem to mind - though it was mid-afternoon and a little slow. You can always sit at the bar; it seems less conspicuous. The coffee is average - that's not really an insult, but it's not fabulous either. Plus they don't have skim or soy milk, so I avoid the lattes, etc. Oh right, and there is one bathroom and it's far away from the restaurant part, and always has a line.

finding a space: depends on the time - I wouldn't recommend going during lunch unless you're actually going to have lunch
outlet situation: nonexistent
wireless: also, I think, nonexistent - but it's close enough to Espresso Royale that you could probably get onto one of those networks
in other news: the bookstore itself is fantastic - the best sale table around, great periodicals, etc.

5. 1369 Coffee House - 757 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge (Central Square)
Good espresso, really good foam, and really really good cheesecake. That's enough for me, but I'll add that the place was...I guess cozy is the word. Red walls, interesting art, good lighting. They also had a lot of non-coffee drinks, like hot cranberry cider. It was quiet - people were talking quietly or reading, as opposed to the Symphony Espresso Royale, which was full of energy.

finding a space: pretty easy; there are probably twenty tables, maybe? (I'm so bad at estimating)
outlet situation: seemed good, lots of people with computers and lots of tables against the wall
wireless: again, I think so, but don't take my word for it...why did I make these little categories?
bonus goodness: They make that leaf shape in the foam - I love that. Plus, two used bookstores reside between the Central T stop and 1369.

6. Mr. Crepe - intersection of Elm St., College Ave., and Holland St., Somerville (Davis Square)
This is brand new, but apparently there is/used to be one somewhere else in the Boston area. I went there on a Saturday afternoon, drawn by the sign on the wall that said "Serving Rao's coffee." I went to college in the Pioneer Valley, and spent much of my waking life at Rao's in Amherst. When I got my latte, I almost cried because it tasted exactly the same - Rao's, also, has a slightly burnt taste to their espresso, but it was worth the nostalgia. It started out calm, and eventually filled up - it's kind of a high-traffic area. We had a strawberry-and-Nutella crepe, and it was really good, and not bad price-wise. Lots of good teas, too.

finding a space: easy when we got there; packed when we left - not cramped, though
outlet situation: pretty good; probably about half the tables have access
wireless: maybe?
parking yourself: I did see one table there for the long haul, but it seemed like most people came, ate crepes, and left.