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.