Monday, May 31, 2004

Life's little upheavals have spirited me away from blogging. Ken is leaving his job of twenty years to devote his full attention to a business he's developed over the past eight years or so. It's a scary time; will we have enough money to see us over the initial period of building the business? Will I be successful in expanding my business to the point that it can help us get along? Preparation for meetings with financial people have consumed me of late. With work to do on top of that, I've been straight out.

To calm myself, I have been reading in the evenings. I finished Into the Wild and was fascinated by the theory Jon Krakauer advanced for Chris McCandless's succumbing to starvation in the final weeks of his life. I don't have my copy of the book handy, or I would record the name of the plant McCandless may have eaten. It's certainly plausible, given the final notes recorded in his journal. An absorbing read...

Monday, May 24, 2004

I have already recommended The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Writer's Brain by the neurologist Alice Flaherty, but now that I have finished it from cover to cover, I urge anyone who is a writer and who has suffered from problems with mood in relation to their writing to get this book. I happen to enjoy the science of the mind, and this fact made the case histories and analyses especially interesting. Very weird at times, but fascinating!

At the gym I'm enjoying The Wife by Meg Wolitzer, a book that was published in March a year ago. For the past year the title has been putting me off, and it was only in desperation for a book to read while ellipticalling that I picked it up last week. I'm more than half-way through now, and I can say with certainty that Wolitzer is a clever writer. Sharp, witty, clean prose; the only problem is that the storyline is so old. Joan, a bitter wife of a famous novelist, contemplates divorce during a trip with her husband to Finland where he is to receive the most coveted of literary prizes. The story of their romance and marriage is amusing, but Joan as a character is faceless. Married in the early 1960s, she resents her husband for the fact that she decided (and it was a conscious decision) to take a backseat to his career. So what makes this novel different from the thousands of others with this plotline? I have not found out yet, but am amused just enough so that I will keep reading to find out. I'll let you know.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

It seems more and more time passes between posts. I am busy,yes, but also inundated with allergens, primarily oak pollen, and it leaves me lethargic and out of sorts. May the oak pollen be washed away.

I have had some delightful moments reading lately, especially this past weekend when Ken went to the island (Peaks Island, Maine) to open his aunt's cottage. Jarhead by Anthony Swofford and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer were both on my plate and provided an intriguing juxtaposition. Both are about impressionable young men, trying desperately to nail down their identities as adult males.

I agree with several critics that Jarhead is essential reading for all Americans. I can't think of another book that so clearly demonstrates how military culture and actually, how all cultures, mold young men into warriors whose training leaves them thirsting for violence, revenge, and mayhem.

Friday, May 14, 2004

I was saddened to learn that, according to an AP wire story, 23 million fewer books were published in 2003 than in 2002. Yet Publishers Weekly reports this week that the Book Industry Study Group has projected that book sales will increase 2.8% in 2004. It would be nice to know the number of additional books this is, but to learn that, one probably must pay the $239/year it takes to subscribe to PW.

I bear some responsibility for the decline in book sales, or at the least, I'm part of the reason sales are not more robust. I'm a library junkie, as regular readers of "Musings" are well aware, and a bookstore browser. But I ask myself, shouldn't I support the industry that is the most important to me? What would a further decline in the book industry mean to my life? Fewer publishers, fewer small publishers, publishers of all sizes publishing fewer books and taking fewer risks with their publishing choices. I don't like any of those outcomes. So it's off with me to the bookstore!

In a recent post, I mentioned I would reveal the title of another dud--a book I read that was a waste of precious reading time. It's The Right Address by Carrie Karasyov and Jill Kargman. I am at fault for this reading mistake. An article in the New York Times, a web description of the book, and the bookjacket flap (not to mention the cover!)--all indicated that this was an inappropriate book for me.

But I had to read it because it is about New York, and being enamored of New York City right now, I couldn't stop myself. Yet the book reveals a satiric glimpse at one minuscule portion of the city's population, the most boring mini-group, of course. The Park Avenue socialites, the women who bounce from charity luncheons to plastic surgeons' offices, the stereotype that has been caricatured in movies, television, books, and now in The Right Address. Wall-to-wall stereotypes abound.

Melanie Korn, the new bride of the owner of one of the nation's largest funeral home conglomerates, desperately tries to break into Park Avenue society. Hailing from a childhood spent in a Florida trailer park, she has much to overcome. But Melanie is resourceful, clever, and blind to her incorrigibly gauche ways. One is supposed to laugh at the caricatures of New York's elite, but I couldn't crack a smile. This book is vapid. Nothing happens for pages and pages. I was on page 90 and no major plot set-up was in sight. A bounty of meaningless conversations leading nowhere. A flawed book, providing insights into a world that I've read too much about already, the least interesting people in New York.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

It's so sad--I wrote such a long post, and with the new Blogger format, I managed to lose it--forever. I will do better tomorrow. I will.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Let's see...Blogger has revolutionized itself and I'm not sure at all I can deal with the "c" word--change. So bear with me, please.

I just brought home a new book, The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. I had high hopes for it--what a title! I figured as a Jane Austen fan I'd have to love it. I started reading it last night and after the first chapter, quickly scanned the rest of the book to see if it offered more of the same. It did. And back to the library it goes. I realize from all the reviews that I have managed to miss the beauty of this book, but if Fowler is trying to create Austen-like characters, there is an essential ingredient missing, and I think it is sympathy, that understanding or regard for one's characters that makes them worth reading about.

None of the characters interested me in the slightest, mostly because they are presented as boring, superficial people. The narrator, who is not and cannot be identified in the first thirty pages, is condescending in her/his descriptions of each character she/he introduces, appears to have no sympathy for the entire cast, and is supercilious to boot. Out! Out! Out of my house!

The Midnight Disease, mentioned in my previous post, is so fascinating that I can even block out the distractions of "24," which I think is the most difficult program to try to sit and read by. (Ken and Sophie feel abandoned if I don't sit on the couch with them.) I have only a wee bit left to read and I'll be sorry it's over; in fact, the most complex sections which discuss the brain and how it affects the ability to write and to be blocked from writing, should definitely be read more than once.

And I'm sorry to say that I have one more dud to report. But I'm only blogging on one flop per post. More later.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Bill Clinton is reportedly "writing around the clock" to finish his memoir. I don't see how it will be any good at all, considering he's written most of it in the last four months. Is this possible, or is this one of those internet exaggerations and urban legends? Of course, the proof will be in the pudding. And it will be out--published and on bookstore shelves--in late June. If Clinton writes like he talks, he needs massive amounts of editing and there's no way that there's time to do it. Oh, well. How soul-baring can he be, when he has no time to reflect on what he's writing and what he's censoring?

He can only hope and pray that he will come down with a severe case of hypergraphia, a new disorder I discovered as a result of reading The Midnight Disease:The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain by the neurologist-writer Alice Weaver Flaherty.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Mount Auburn Cemetery

Last night, at long last, I finished reading The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization by Brian Fagan (see entry for April 18). The effect of climate on the rise and fall of civilizations has always fascinated me, and I learned more about what recent archaeology and technology has concluded about past climates over the centuries. If there was a major conclusion, it was that periods of prolonged drought, say ten or more years, have destroyed more Western civilizations than any other climactic event. The interesting thing, too, was that vibrant, apparently healthy, advanced civilizations fell as hard, if not harder, than those less advanced. The governments of Sumer, the Maya, the Egyptians, and many more could not hold together after a number of years of unrelieved drought. People went hungry and abandoned the cities and villages, or they starved and died of disease and malnutrition. End of story.

"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" by Ernest Hemingway held me enthralled a few nights ago. Of all the Hemingway I have read, somehow or other I missed this remarkable story. My mouth was agape through the entire reading. I was there at their camp near the broken-down truck in Africa. I was mesmerized by how tightly controlled the whole story was--the descriptions, the dialogue, the interior or emotional inner landscape of the protagonist. Positively spine-tingling.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Oracle Night by Paul Auster is back in my hands. The last time I held it, I read it forward and backwards, literally. It was on the shelf at the library this morning and I did not hesitate. Before I began writing fiction this afternoon, I read a paragraph, and I was hooked again--hooked and excited beyond measure.

Sometime last week I spent an evening reading The Da Vinci Code. I'd ordered it from the library at Christmas and it took all this time to get a hold of a copy. I'm delighted I didn't buy it because 38 pages into the novel I knew it wasn't for me. Priests, bishops, the Opus Dei, symbologists, goddesses of fertility--I could see the book was headed into subjects that are, for better or worse, of no interest to me. Religious themes are the kiss of death, from my point of view.

I was intrigued, though, that more than a year after The Da Vinci Code was published, this article appeared in The New York Times this week. Some Christian leaders are upset that The Da Vinci Code is causing some people to question the divinity of Jesus (think of it!). What surprises me is that this is bothering church leaders now, so long after the book has been published. Did they just wake up or what?