February 26, 2011

I was thinking of doing a post about how I didn’t really like Never Let Me Go as a book but really did as a movie, or a post about choosing books because they’ve been reviewed positively by other authors you like (or not, because you don’t like them). But then I just decided to do this.

I’m eager for spring.


February 11, 2011

The Best Thing I Did

by Ron Padgett


The best thing I did
for my mother
was to outlive her

for which I deserve
no credit

though it makes me glad
that she didn’t have
to see me die

Like most people
(I suppose)
I feel I should
have done more
for her

Like what?
I wasn’t such a bad son

I would have wanted
to have loved her as much
as she loved me
but I couldn’t
I had a life a son of my own
a wife and my youth that kept going on
maybe too long

And now I love her more
and more

so that perhaps
when I die
our love will be the same

though I seriously doubt
my heart can ever be
as big as hers


“The Best Thing I Did” by Ron Padgett, from How Long. © Coffee House Press, 2011.


February 9, 2011

From the reviews of Jane Goes Batty, the second novel by Michael Thomas Ford that imagines Jane Austen as a vampire:

“I feel that the author succeeded in capturing Jane Austen’s proper personality, as well as how the legendary author would have reacted had she found herself an immortal vampire.”


Current reads

February 9, 2011

I’m throwing in the towel on another one: Peter Filkins’ translation of H.G. Adler’s holocaust novel Panorama. I can already tell it’s beautiful. I think I’m just not in the mood, with the cold weather and stress of other things. And on Kobo I’ve been reading the Anne series one more time. So that’s a bit easier to pick up. Mostly looking forward to Anne’s House of Dreams. My print copy’s a lovely first edition, so it will be nice to be able to fall asleep reading it without being scared of hurting it.

I’m very much enjoying Philip Ball’s The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It. Sufficiently technical, sufficiently readable. He has a knack for explaining difficult things.

I’ll go back to Adler in the spring, when I’m ready for another challenge.


February 3, 2011

I’m not sure what to make of this year’s Giller Prize winner, Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists. I usually like stories with shifting perspectives, connecting the present with the past, becoming cohesive only later on. And, at least through Tim O’Brien, I have become a devotee of literature “about” the war in Vietnam.

But I don’t know that The Sentimentalists ever did become cohesive…even within its un-cohesive-ness. I didn’t find it particularly memorable in style or in story. It was almost like an impressionist painting, rather than a novel.

By the end, though, there were a few beautiful lines:

“It made me sad then, and it still does, to think of it. And also not a little afraid. To think that despite our best intentions we may, in the end — and necessarily — leave the people that we love quite extraordinarily alone.”

I love that it could be “love quite extraordinarily”, or “quite extraordinarily alone”. Or both at once. That’s the sort of ambiguity I think the book was striving for, but somehow misses.

And this:

“And so, in these pages, I have also tried to record what I know to be true; the truth, anyway, as it exists at this, my own particular intersection of it; at this singular and otherwise obscure point along its complicated and transitional course. As it pauses here, I mean, almost imperceptibly, and for only so long, before continuing on, in its uncountable directions.

I think now that that’s really the most — the best — we can do: answer the questions that pose themselves to us, and describe, if only to ourselves, the things that we have loved, and believed in, and the actions that we have or would have liked to have taken, and will take now, and do take, over and over again, in the quiet parts of our minds.

But really, I find it hard to imagine any method at all of understanding the events of the twenty-second of October, 1967.  Or of the way that afterwards they repeated themselves, and continue to repeat themselves: in same or in variant forms, charting again their recurrent course. Among those who (long after the events themselves had shuttled into other moments, and other lives; disguising themselves in divergent sadnesses, misunderstandings, expectations and desires) witness them still. And among those who…were not aware of them at all, but likewise witnessed, and continue to witness them. Who likewise still hope to uncover, recognize, and subsequently comprehend their otherwise inexplicable presence in our lives.”

I can’t make up my mind whether that conclusion is beautiful in style and in thought, or whether it’s that the thought is significant enough to carry through the style. But I know that I don’t think the rest of the book lived up to this ending.

What, or how?

February 1, 2011

When I saw All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age, I was intrigued enough to pick it up. It’s an interesting idea, and it’s based on some of the most significant works of literature ever written.

The style’s a bit overblown, but I was willing to give it at least enough of a chance to get through the chapter on “David Foster Wallace’s Nihilism.”

But when I got into it I found it lacked the depth of literary analysis I’d been looking for. I realize it’s a short book, and the authors say it’s intended for a non-specialist audience. But when you’re discussing literature, in whatever context, you can’t just describe “what” a work says…the “how” of it is just as significant.

Maybe I didn’t get into it far enough, but the philosophy, too, seemed to lack depth.

They should have followed Wallace’s advice (and I think, for the record, they’ve done him a disservice calling him a nihilist): “Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”

Flitting from one little tidbit of literature or philosophy to another isn’t the sort of meaningful human experience Wallace cries out for us to have.