Sunday, November 28, 2004

Yet another working weekend, but this time I'm having fun. Today I was writing about Iceland, a place I'd love to visit. In fact, I've found a package tour for $449--three nights in Reykjavik, three Scandinavian breakfasts, a few tours, and airfare included. (Look under "Special Tours" and click on "Honeymoon Express." I can't do three nights in a decent hotel in New York for that price. The only hitch? It's in February! And I'll also bet they won't let me do it as a single. (Ken says he'll bow out of this lunacy.) But stay tuned in the days to come for the juicier details that have me actually considering it.

I've been meaning to write about the adventures of Clare Morrall, the first-time novelist who was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 2003. Her book, Astonishing Splashes of Color, was published in the U.S. this year. What I find so interesting is the story of her path to publication. It's the "out of nowhere a writer emerges" kind of story, which I love. Even better, Morrall was fifty-one when she published it. As I've noted here before, there's nothing that gets the old blood circulating faster than a late-bloomer success story.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Ken and I enjoyed an international Thanksgiving yesterday at Tom and Lek's house. Of the eleven people present, only three were native-born Americans. Lek (who hails from Thailand) had invited four young women and a young man from Thailand, a young man from Burma, and, of course, Da (Lek's sister) and her boyfriend Moshe from Israel. We were a spirited, fun group yesterday, and I'm sure I'm not just speaking for myself when I say I had a blast. There were actually two feasts--one Thai, the other a traditional Thanksgiving with all the fixings. Lek is an astounding cook who has mastered the cuisine of many countries. I ate both spreads, since I love Thai food and everything Thanksgiving. What was so much fun is that nearly everyone (except for Lek) knew only one or two of the people present, and everyone was open to meeting new folks.

I spent an amazing half hour talking with Tu, the Burmese electrical engineering student--about his studies, about his family and their business in Burma, about the oppressive Burmese regime. He plans to return to Burma to help develop the nation's transportation system, once a new, democratic government is in power.

Moshe grew up on a traditional kibbutz in Israel, and as such, was raised apart from his parents. He believes that this upbringing has helped him to be a success in the U.S. Moshe's parents were Zionists who emigrated from Poland in 1932. They were the only people in their families to do so, and as a result, not a single person from both their extended families survived the Holocaust. Moshe has been in the U.S. for twenty years, he married an Israeli woman, had three daughters, and is now divorced. Prior to emigrating, he fought in both the 1967 War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. I have only met a few Israelis in my life, and I believe he is the only one that I have had the opportunity to really talk to. Fascinating...

We finished the evening with Charades, which was hilarious because of the difficulty of the language differences. We laughed and laughed. So good.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

I need to summon my most creative self out of the depths--will be writing about the Galapagos Islands, Iceland, and Mongolia. Let that brain expand! Right now I'm coming up for a few gulps of air before submerging onto the next project.

I'd be the last person to recommend USA Today as a daily read for news, but do you know they've expanded their book section? Granted, it's heavily weighted on the side of thriller and chiller bestsellers, but I found reviews and *decent excerpts* of some more literary titles. Makes for an interesting visit. Cynthia Ozick's Heir to the Glimmering World has received some attention this fall. I'm not familiar with her work, but evidently, like this book, her other novels have focused on the Holocaust. Thinking about this, I became curious about her history. She was born in New York City in 1928 (yet another writer in her seventies who's active and still damn good) and, when she was first writing essays and stories, was known as a "Jewish writer," a descriptor she shunned as her craft developed. Here's a revealing, fun interview that's a cut above the standard.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Hang on, the book blogger is still swamped. But until then, you may be interested in the Christian Science Monitor's list of the Best Books of 2004.

Friday, November 19, 2004

I'm glad that the National Book Awards are over because I am so tired of all the redundant literary blogging about the controversy surrounding the selection of this year's nominees. Can't we move on? I will say, however, that I have the winner, Lily Tuck's The News from Paraguay, in my house; last week I snatched it up while at the Westwood Library. I keep hoping I'll find some moments when I can read it--I have such a yearning to find a quiet place where I can just read the afternoon away. That time will come, hopefully in December. I love December reading--dark windows, warm tea, warm dog with head on lap, one hand turns the pages, one hand strokes dog's head. Ahhh.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

I can't wait to read The Future of Ice by Gretel Ehrlich. Not long ago, I read This Cold Heaven, her memoir about her travels through Greenland. It's thrilling reading, and perfect if you like to pull winter up around your ears and hunker down into the marrow of it. Barbara Sjoholm's review in The Seattle Times (no, you don't need to sign up to access the article) calls The Future of Ice "a genre-defying mix of travel writing, scientific fact, poetry and outrage." Ehrlich journeys from the South Andes to locations in the Arctic in this year-long personal examination of the impact of global warming on the earth.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The blogger is bogged down with work. This will be my condition until Friday, December 3. I will still be posting, but... That's all I can say. But.

Right before dinner last night I had a heavenly thirty minutes of non-work time when I started reading The Murder Room by P.D. James. This is the first of her mysteries that I've picked up, and so far it's doing what I hoped it would--distracting me from the pain of overwork.

There's much more I'd like to say--my regrets.

Until later...

Friday, November 12, 2004

The sleet is pouncing on the window by my desk, my tea is getting cold, and I promised I would cook tacos tonight--all are conspiring against bloggerdom this evening.

I was digging the web high and low for recent information about Michel Faber, and failing at that, I finally discovered that The Courage Consort, the three novellas just published by Harcourt to rave reviews, came out years ago in the UK! This is somehow a disappointment, though in no way should it be, I suppose. I should be glad that the US is publishing more of Faber's work. It's just that I've been waiting for the book that will follow his tour de force, The Crimson Petal and the White. I should give the guy a break, though. After all, it was just a year ago that The Crimson Petal was published here. With more time, I'm sure I can scrounge up some really good Michel Faber links. More tomorrow.

In the meantime, I offer the Booksense Best of 2004 Booklist. Though not comprehensive by any means, it is an eclectic collection (both literary and not) of works published during the past year. It always saddens me to realize how many I've missed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Welcome to my friends in Walpole who are reading a blog for the first time! Click on the highlighted text to be instantly transported to interviews and articles. And scroll down to read my previous posts.
So who else is from Zimbabwe? Why, Alexander McCall Smith. Of course, when he was born there, Zimbabwe was Rhodesia. Readers of my knitting blog (visit if you dare, but remember, it's only interesting if you're crazy about yarn) know that I recently listened to The Sunday Philosophy Club, which introduced a new heroine, Isabel Dalhousie of Edinburgh. I loved it, but I should preface that remark by mentioning that I am most definitely not a fan of the mystery genre. The book was amusing, thought-provoking as far as the moral issues confronting Isabel are concerned, and very relaxing.

Reading it piqued my interest in its author. Who is this man whose lead characters are so convincingly female? Smith teaches medical law at Edinburgh University, and has written dozens of books, some of them on topics relating to his professional specialty, such as Forensic Aspects of Sleep. (I may have little interest in crime literature, but that does sound fascinating.) From cruising his website, I'm curious about his collection of stories, Portuguese Irregular Verbs.

To listen to an NPR interview with Smith, which was broadcast in October 2004, shortly after publication of The Sunday Philosophy Club, go to the NPR website and search "Alexander McCall Smith."

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The future of my naked template is totally in the hands of Blogger! As of yesterday, Blogger has been faster. But is it more stable; i.e. will "Musings" disappear if I touch the template? As soon as I'm not juggling three projects, I'll experiment.
I was in error yesterday when I said that the blogging panel would be available at WAMC for listening online. I emailed the director of the program this morning and she indicated that they wish they had the capacity to stream all of their offerings, but they cannot. Yet I was correct that you can listen to the Book Show's interviews with Gish Jen (this week's program) and Susanna Clarke (last week's program).

Monday, November 08, 2004

I visited WAMC, Northeast Public Radio, today, in the hopes of listening to the roundtable panel about book blogging with Maud Newton, Jessa Crispin of Blog of a Bookslut fame, and Dennis Loy Johnson, head writer at MobyLives. The show was broadcast this morning but hasn't been archived yet and is not available as of this writing. I'll bet it'll be ready tomorrow.

In the meantime, I did find a program I'm eager to hear. The Book Show is hosting Gish Jen this week and Margaret Drabble in two weeks. I was so hoping the show has archives, but alas, they have only this week's show and last week's. The program on November 1 hosted Susanna Clarke, author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Alexandra Fuller's second memoir, Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier, has not received the accolades that were showered over her first book, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. In fact, most critics have called Scribbling a disappointment. Is this glum reaction inevitable considering Fuller's first book was so often heralded as the best nonfiction book of the year? (2002)

I have been wondering about this as I've turned the pages of Scribbling today. I'll be honest here; Don't Let's Go to the Dogs was my favorite read in 2002 and is certainly one of the most intriguing memoirs I have ever read. To experience, however vicariously, the life of a child in a white British family in the former Rhodesia is to enter a world that is in every way different than the one I inhabit. Simply put, this book was a mind-blowing read.

So, given that background, I did not have high expectations of Scribbling the Cat because I knew it was unlikely that Fuller (or any writer) could surpass the wonders of that first book. The intense, painterly descriptions that I loved most in Don't Let's Go to the Dogs are plentiful in Scribbling. On the other hand, just as critics have claimed, Fuller's relationship with K., the white African soldier, is an unresolved, messy aspect of the book. Yet her explorations of themes of war, trauma, loss, and transformation more than compensate.

Fuller's problems with Scribbling could have been corrected if she had delayed publication and consulted with the writers she trusts. The pressure to publish quickly after a huge success is extremely difficult for a new writer to resist. The phenomenon has limited the potential of too many books and harmed the careers of their authors.

Friday, November 05, 2004

I have never blogged a word about Alice Hoffman, and it is not for a lack of admiration. While at the library in Weymouth picking up Geoffrey Stone's new book, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime, From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism, for the article I'm writing on the history of the ACLU, I pounced on Blackbird House, Hoffman's latest.

Blackbird House is a small farmhouse surrounded by meadows and woods on the outer Cape (Cod), and is the cornerstone of a series of stories that extend from colonial times to the present, all of them concerning the house's occupants. Hoffman's hand is sure and steady in this, her sixteenth full-length work of fiction, and the vehicle of the house is perfect fodder for her imagination.

If there is anything that has made me hesitate to read Hoffman in the past (and I have read just a few of her novels), it is the somewhat "New-Agey" mysticism that she sometimes melts over her plots. Now this is a personal thing; I just happen to cringe if I get too close to anything that even reminds me of New Ageism, but interestingly enough, the mystical or spiritual elements in Blackbird House really work. Really. It's a short and fast read, just 225 pages.

The web is full of Alice Hoffman websites and interviews, audio and otherwise. She lives in Boston.

Even the willows are weeping in Boston

Thursday, November 04, 2004

As a devoted T.C. Boyle fan, how can I get any work done with The Inner Circle sitting in my house? By exercising discipline, of course. I have not even turned to page one. I'm not bragging; I'm just suffering from the ardent library junkie's complaint of "too many books." It seems that all the books I reserved last month came rushing in all at once. The only cure in this case is to return The Inner Circle and reserve it once again. Yes, it is painful. Reviews have been so mixed that I'm terribly curious about how Boyle pulled off this bird's eye view of Alfred Kinsey, the famous sex researcher of the forties and fifties.

Boyle has updated his website, which makes for a rewarding visit. I love the "What's New" section, which is Boyle's blog. He posted an entry as recently as yesterday, concerning his thoughts about the outcome of the election.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Over the past six to eight months, I have made a point of trying to keep politics out of this blog. I want readers to enjoy the commentary about books and contemporary literature and have tried to make Musings a sanctuary from the flotsam and jetsam of our times. That said, I must tell you that this task has not been an easy one. The angst I feel about the direction of our country is at such a fever pitch that all I can say today is that I am very, very, very nervous. I also find it necessary at this time to make plans for the post-election future. How will I live in the world once I know who will be president? I must prepare.

Walden Pond

Henry David Thoreau's Walden appeared in my brain this morning, seemingly out of nowhere, but probably related to my need to prepare for the future. Walden is a how-to book for those who want to "live deliberately," and I will seize the next copy that comes my way. Maybe it will give me a framework for how to be in the world when everything seems so chaotic.

Published in 2004 are two new editions of Walden. One is a comprehensive, somewhat scholarly annotated version published by Yale University Press. (I love annotated editions of my favorite classics.) The other is the 150th Anniversary Edition, published by Houghton Mifflin. I have just placed an order for both at the library. The 150th is illustrated with beautiful photos of Walden throughout the seasons. I will report again when they arrive.

But I need Walden today! A web search has produced a perfectly adequate online edition. I'm all set!