Monday, March 4, 2013

Nick Hornby, Jean Webster, Graham Greene, Lydia Chukovskaya and all that.

I've decided to start a book blog for two reasons. One is because I read Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby last year and it was a really keen idea. Secondly, because I almost never have enough to say about a single book, or if I do, I forget what it was as I'm writing the Amazon review and anyway, how much time can one spend creating a well-written Amazon review? It's Amazon. Sometimes it's Goodreads, but the point stands. Commenting into the void is not a useful forum for self expression. (Irony noted.)  If there are only two or three reviews up, and if I'm the first review, woo hoo, then it's fun. But, oh, my opinion on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is worth less than a single drop of rain on the ocean. (Goblet of Fire is fantastic, as everyone knows, except the intentional Harry Potter haters, who do it to stand out. But I can appreciate a hatred of something universally acclaimed as long as it's in earnest. Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight are two easy targets. I personally dislike the general style of Impressionism. I busted out laughing at an exihibit of Degas last year, because it was all thinly veiled naughtiness. Not even thinly veiled. Or naughty. But really. Really, Mr. Degas. Thirty sketches of prostitutes looking fancy and then thirty full on cleanly presented renditions of women getting out of the bath. Women emerging from the bath. For serious. Rows and rows of paintings of women bending over as they exited the bath. It was Art and I started giggling.)

Also, by the way, I'm boycotting Amazon. I'm not forcing that choice on other people and I still reference them a million times a day and when I'm bored at work I read reviews, because we're not meant to surf just anywhere on the interweb, but Amazon is a professional tool. I work in at a chain used bookstore. Guess which one. But Amazon treats its workers badly and they seem be attempting to establish a monopoly on Shopping, so boo!.

Back to Nick Hornby. In Shakespeare Wrote for Money (and several other collections of Nick Hornby's column from Believer magazine, none of which I've read) Nick Hornby starts with two lists -Books I Bought- and -Books I Read-. He is selective about which books he lists, there are no more than five in each column unless he's on a shopping spree. (Authors, like bookstore employees, get poodles of freebie books, on the off chance that they will read them and recommend them to the civilians. So presumably Nick Hornby has books that he neither wants nor cares about arriving in his mailbox every day, and he only occasionally mentions them in his column. At the other end of the book-digestive tract, a used bookstore employee like myself, has a free-flowing tap of books headed for the mulcher to grab and do with as I will. But then I end up with piles of middling books all over my house . Then there are the books that I need to seek out and buy. And the books that other people recommend or give me. So on recycling day, I end up staring at books and making mental calculations that I might kinda wanna read this book in the future maybe, but not enough to pick it up and carry it downstairs to my stash shelf. Books I took home for free yesterday: The Ultralight Backpacking Book by Ryel Kestenbaum and the Backpacker magazine More Backcountry Cooking book. By design, neither of them are the kind of books that you sit down and read for five hours and feel completed by. More Backcountry Cooking might be handy. I'm a solo hiker and I need more savory food ideas. So hopefully the existence of More Backcountry Cooking on my hiking book shelf will inspire me to borrow my aunt's food dehydrator and dry some vegetables before May 12th. The Ultralight Backpacking Book could be read cover to cover, but I probably won't do that because I feel that ultralight backpacking is an exercise in shopping more than it is a form of hiking. I was flipping through that book a while ago, before it didn't sell off the shelf and I nabbed it, and I flipped open at the part where Mr. Kestenbaum says that he does not take a book when hiking and saves five ounces of pack-weight that way. He says that after he gave up bringing books along on a hike, he used to dread the four or five hours between getting into his campsite and going to bed, but he learned to be still or be one with nature or something like that and his pack weighs five ounces less. (He also cuts all the straps off his pack and saws his toothbrush in half, saving himself another five ounces. That's an ultralight thing.) I would rather bring a book. Although I learned this summer that that the book you bring on a solo hike should not be the cute little Penguin chapbook of Thornstein Veblen's Conspicous Consumption.

Yesterday when I grabbed the two hiking books, I did not want to add any more chapter books to my life because I already have four books going and two on audio. Thankfully, this morning I finished one. A chilling tale of Stalinist Russia by Lydia Chukovskaya called Sofia Petrovna. Are there any tales of Stalinist Russia that aren't chilling? (Besides the boring Socialist Realist ones that Stalin approved of?) Sofia Petrovna, the book, is about Sofia Petrovna, the citizen. She's a metaphor for Soviet society; the author was pretty adamant about that in the afterword. As a piece of dissident literature, Sofia Petrovna was carried out of the USSR and into Western Europe in the '60s, where it was published as The Empty House, and Lydia Chukovskaya didn't like that one bit. Sofia Petrovna is a metaphor for the ailments of a society gone mad and not a book about the whole everyone-was-arrested-and-she-is-all-alone-now thing, evidently. So, one reading and not the other. Still the afterword was better than the forward that Graham Greene wrote for The Third Man. I read that a couple weeks ago and it was full of spoilers. Evidently, Graham Greene assumed that everyone was so well acquainted with his work that he could reveal a character's death in the forward and not ruin the ending. Or maybe he assumed they'd seen the movie first. Graham Greene wrote The Third Man just to have a book to base the screenplay off of and my co-worker, whose literary tastes I strongly respect even though he's rocking a mustache, assures me that The Third Man is an incredible movie, Orson Welles' lost film, great whodunit, etc. I read The Third Man because I read Pierre Bayard's fantastic book How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read quite a while ago, and in that book he recounts a humorous scene from The Third Man. The protagonist (whose name I've already forgotten) is mistaken for a famous author by the Austrian liaison for cultural affairs, who brings him to an evening of the Austro-British Literary Circle to discuss the modern novel and answer reader questions. Mr. Protagonist goes on about his love for Zane Grey , and the Austrian cultural liaison watches in horror as all the bespectacled readers listen to him describe, the shame!, popular fiction. Turns out this is the only funny scene in The Third Man and the rest of it is a conspiracy thing.

What's funny all the time, and I keep laughing really hard, are Jean Webster's books. My friend Missie said she'd heard that Daddy-Long-Legs was a good book so I downloaded it off Librivox and listened to it nearly all the way through while playing Tetris. (I'm hooked on Librivox and Tetris right now.) In letters, orphan Jerusha Abbott tells about her college experiences to an anonymous benefactor that she calls Daddy-Long-Legs, he being anonymous. There's nothing preposterous, she's a high-spirited young woman with suffragist leanings, “Oh, I tell you daddy. We we women get our rights, you men will have to look alive to keep yours.” She knows nothing about he man but that he is tall, has sent two boys from her orphanage to college, and on the strength of her comic essay about washing day at the orphanage, he intends to send her to college too. She tells him stories. She summers on a farm with an old Methodist couple of his acquaintance, “Some of the farmers around here have separators, but we don't care for these new-fashioned ideas.” Letters are long, quick updates, terse, short, slow, and funny. The sequel, which I'm listening to right now, is about her Jerusha's roommate taking over the orphanage. You can see the surprise ending coming a mile off, but it doesn't matter. It would be disappointing if it didn't end tidily, wouldn't it? Scottish doctor indeed. As for other books I'm reading: The Kids' Table by Andrea Seigel, which I put aside because I want to finish The Wicked and The Just first. The Wicked and The Just by J. Anderson Coates, which I want to read before I really get into The Kids' Table. I have no idea where The Wicked and The Just is going. I'm on page 200-something and anything could happen. All I know is that the oppression of Wales continues. And then I'm reading Flashman by George McDonald Fraser, which is the most casually misogynistic thing I've ever read, and less swashbuckling than I thought it would be so far. And I've got Medieval Europe, Crisis and Renewal from the Great Courses going in the car. I have an overwhelm-ment of books as usual. Hence, the blog. Read and enjoy.


  1. hey hey! a blog! wooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    can't wait for your commentary!
    <3, Ronit

  2. I'm breathless! You're even more verbal and rapid-fire than your mum! Fun. Funny and silverquick.

  3. I'm not sure I could keep up with you in a book discussion group, but I love your blog! I agree with you about Amazon and I'm now looking up Nick Hornby's Shakespeare Wrote For Money. Thanks!

  4. You are too damn smart for me but I think I could learn a thing or two from you...especially if I have readily available to look up your big words. Go Emily!