Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I left the office Friday afternoon forgetting to take Wolf Hall with me. I didn't miss it until that evening when I sat down to read. Do you know that sinking feeling of wanting to get back into a delicious book and being thwarted? Of course you do, I need not have asked. I was squarely faced with a dilemma. Do I drive back to the darkened and deserted office at that time of night to retrieve it, or take something else off the shelf? I turned my attention to the new stack of books recently purchased at The Big Book Sale and my hand lighted on Shroud by John Banville. Only a little over 250 pages, I assumed it would be an easy read for the weekend. After 50 pages I realized it was not a novel I could readily settle into for the night; I had no desire to spend that particular evening with Axel Vander, the narrator. After the day I had the thought of strapping him on was just too much. Banville writes so beautifully I will return to it; but, I do not anticipate it will be a pleasant reunion.

"I would lie to her, of course; mendacity is second, no, is first nature to me. All my life I have lied. I lied to escape, I lied to be loved, I lied for placement and power; I lied to lie. It was a way of living; lies are life's almost-anagram." Dissect Axel Vander's person hood and that is what you would find at his core.

Old Axel hit upon one of my raw nerves; I am already not liking him very much - or trusting him very much. Lying is useful to cover bad behavior, obtain something not deserved, or avoid punishment (usually justified). "I need that good grade," "I don't want to go to jail," "I want that job," or the ever popular, "My wife would leave me." Right, right. You're saying we all tell a lie now and then. Yes, certainly not every baby is beautiful and not every hair-style becoming. So perhaps you weren't exactly campus queen (if that sort of thing is important to you) but you did run, and you did come in second - so it's almost true. No, no, no. We are not talking about those kinds of - well - let's call them embellishments of the truth. And telling the Nazi SS, straight-faced, that there is no one hiding in the attic is a lie I would have proudly told (assuming the requisite courage). The lies that deceive the trustful soul - those are the lies I'm talking about, the lies that wound.

Some people find themselves wading through lies every day - trying to sift through facts in the hopeful expectation that truth will pile up in a little heap and untruth will be caught in the fine mesh. We are expected to hold the belief that when someone raises their hand and swears to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but...the oath in itself is the truth. But I've always wondered what good is there in an oath that spews from the lips of a skilled (or in Axel's case a proud) liar? It makes no sense.

Why should truth hold such currency with us? I would offer this: lies have the capacity to destroy lives, ruin careers, end marriages and stab trust in the heart. You only need to look at the headlines for affirmation. Whether it be politics or love or closing the deal, truth is the net below the trapeze. Liar and Cheat, I should hope, is an epitaph to be avoided. So I ask myself, why should I want to spend any more time with Axel Vander? I can't redeem him, and I do not wish to engage him in conversation. But I can pity him and re-affirm my belief that there is something satisfying in speaking truth. I can also take pleasure in the mouth-feel of Banville's prose. Even a cursory reading of Shroud reveals that saving grace in the book. Perhaps I've judged Axel too soon. After all, I've only just brushed shoulders with him. Nevertheless, "I lied to lie," echoes in my ear. The question I have for you, Axel, is this: "Are you lying when you say you lie? If lying is what you do, are you lying about that too?" What a pretty problem. Or more likely, not so pretty one. I guess I'll wait to find out; I'll try to keep a fair and enlightened mind. But between you and me, I'm inclined to believe Axel Vander is a complete and utter tool.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Big Book Sale Re-Visited

On April 10 I attended my third Big Book Sale at the library. This time it wasn't held at the Main Branch downtown but at a brand spankin' new one located about 45 minutes from where I live. But, it was a lovely Saturday morning, the drive was pleasant, and I was listening to a good book so I didn't mind the commute.

When I stepped out of the car I became immediately aware that I had forgotten my canvas bag at home, so it was probably a good thing I had limited myself to spend only $10.

It was my first time in this branch, a bright and open modern structure with lots of windows, high ceilings and plenty of light filtering through the tall Live Oak trees outside - thick with spanish moss. It had a sculpture I'm not sure I understood which consisted of thick glass discs made of different colored whirled glass. At first I thought the discs were designed to catch the sunlight and filter reflected colors into the room, but the discs were attached to a wall above an entry into the main stacks, so light was not able to penetrate them. It reminded me of the bottoms of water tumblers strung together with wire. I liked it.

I turned my concentration to the combinations that $10 made possible. Ten hardbacks; 20 paperbacks; 5 hardbacks and 10 paperbacks; 8 hardbacks and 4 paperbacks; 5 paperbacks and 7 hardbacks with 50 cents left over. Exactly how many combinations could I come up with? The mental exercise became an obsession and I began to drive myself nuts, "Damn and blast," I said to myself. At least, I thought I said it to myself. One of the problems with living alone is that one speaks out loud to dogs, cats, plants and oneself. I don't pay attention to myself at home, I just let myself prattle on. But when heads turned to stare at me in the line, I turned and looked behind me as well in a "who was that" effort at deceit. I doubt it worked.

I went back to staring at the sculpture trying to appear nonchalant; and, as I pretended to ponder its arty-ness, a sturdy and efficient-looking librarian addressed the politely waiting crowd to my complete and grateful relief.

"You will find that this auditorium is much larger than the one at the main branch. Which means you will also find that there are a greater number of books for sale."

Yipee! (I double checked - I had not shouted it out loud). I started salivating; but, also thought "Curse the budget! Curse the canvas bag sitting on the dining room table."

She continued:

"Please note that there are several glass doors inside the auditorium marked 'Fire Exit.' Do not use those doors under any circumstances because the alarms will sound and the fire department will automatically be summoned."

I assumed that the warning would not apply if a fire did break out and that she believed we were all intelligent enough to figure that out without being told. I liked this librarian. She gave the impression of someone solidly in charge of her new terrain, delighted to see so many faces gathered for the sale, but determined to keep order nevertheless.

I studied the crowd. There were a lot of families with children in tow and about the same number of "seniors." There was not as much diversity as one sees at the downtown book sales, certainly not as many art students, but there was the same happy almost festive feeling as the clock ticked down to 10:00 a.m.

The librarian stood sentinel at the double doors, glancing up at the wall clock and then down at her watch in synchronization toward the big moment. She withdrew the key from her pocket turned the lock and swung open the doors.

There was no big rush; we filed in in an orderly fashion. Inside the auditorium long neatly prepared tables held what seemed to be miles of books, displayed pages down and spines up, in two rows per table. One walked up one side of the table to look at the titles, made a turn at the end of the table, and then came down the other side. There were also the dreaded boxes under the tables, which I basically avoided notwithstanding my Total Gym workouts. The books were categorized and clearly marked History, Adult Fiction, Cookbooks, Biography, etc.

I hate to bring this up, but there was a very nice-looking, tall, gray-haired man behind me who had apparently anointed himself with the most odious cologne during his morning toilette. Everywhere I walked, there he was - right behind me. He wasn't following me, but he was definitely on the same trajectory. I wondered if he lived with a woman. Surely not. Surely if he did, she would have set a match to the bottle, or hidden it, or would have insisted on separate bedrooms until he changed his scent. But I was wrong. As I was leaving I saw them walking toward their car. They were dressed exactly alike; both were wearing pink shirts and khaki slacks. They made a perfect pair: he odoriferous/she with no sense of smell. They were a sweet couple (at a distance).

There were almost too many books and I had to be back to the island by noon. So, I basically had only an hour to make my choices. It was impossible to "do" the entire room. There was only one specific book I had hoped to find, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. I was shocked when I walked over to juvenile fiction and it was the first book I saw.

Here's what I came home with:

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (because it was recommended by Janell at Spare Pages and by several other bloggers, and I liked Chasing Redbird)

Strawberry Fields by Marina Lewycka. I grabbed this one for no reason. Since then I've done some checking and it has gotten fairly good reviews, so maybe it was kismet.

Spider's Web by Agatha Christie. No need to explain that one.

Shroud by John Banville. I've not read any Banville and I remembered it was on that list I say I care nothing about.

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. I remembered seeing this book at the bookstore but never picked it up. When I read the cover and learned it was set in the Civil War era I thought I'd give it a try. Just today, I learned that in 2003 it was made into a major motion picture starring Jude Law...a testament to how out of touch I am.

Dinner With Anna Karenina by Gloria Goldreich. I liked the premise of a book club as a theme (and although I've heard that theme has been done to death in novels, I've not read one.) When I got the book home I did a little Google-ing. Apparently it is one of those books one loves or hates (a la The Story of Edgar Sawtelle for which there seems to be no middle-ground). The fact that one reviewer called it a "clunker" worries me a bit. I'll give it a try; it can always be re-donated to the library for the next Big Book Sale.

Red River by Lalita Tademy. Again, I had not heard of this book or author (which doesn't mean a thing, really) but it had a Civil War theme and the description on the book jacket sounded promising.

Wolves Eat Dogs by Martin Cruz Smith. I loved Gorky Park so I took a flier on this one.

The Joy of Chinese Cooking by Lo Mei Hing because the recipes seem easy to follow, the food looks marvelous, and I just might cook something from it.

The Naked Chef Takes Off because Jamie Oliver is just plain adorable (and was only 25 when he wrote this - not his first - cookbook - bloody under-achiever!)

One last note - my total should have been $9.50 because Cold Mountain is a paperback, but the volunteer charged me a dollar. I was tempted to correct her - on principle - but I behaved myself and said "Thank you" instead. I might regret that decision the next time I get a $5 parking ticket for want of a quarter.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ten Things

"I wish to thank the Academy..." Oops - wrong award. The Beautiful Blogger and Honest Scrap Awards have been graciously bestowed upon your humble servant by the most perceptive (wink wink) Bibliophiliac (have not figured out how to do links, but you can find that delightful blog in the list over yonder) with the instruction to tell 10 things about myself, and then to award the same honors to 10 other blogs that I admire. (Which will be the easiest thing about this entire endeavor).

I don't much like myself as a subject. I am truly boring. So, we'll start with the obvious:

(Grad climbs upon her soap box and clears throat and speaks):

"As mayor of the Munchkin city, in the county and the land of Oz..."


"Hmmm? "

"No, wrong script. This is the one 'ya want."

"Oh, quite right.

(Applause, applause - hoots and hollers)

Grad, feigning to waive the crowd to silence ("Might as well milk this one to the last drop") as she "tut-tuts" the honor bestowed - with false humility and wondering if she remembered lipstick - addresses the adoring throng. "Thank you. Thank you my friends. We are gathered here - today - at this momentous moment of momentous-ness -- Err - to pay homage to..Um...ME! Yep! ME. I accept these awards with a fulsome heart. Ten delightful and hitherto unknown facts about Oh so wonderful wonderful Moi are as follows:

1. I am as boring as watching dust settle; but

2. My children think I am the best mother that ever walked the planet. Of course, I brainwashed them unashamedly. In my defense, loyal fans can be hard to come by so sometimes we just have to grow our own.

3. Twenty-one years ago I built a house that was supposed to be the home of my dreams. The dream turned into a big, hungry elephant that eats peanuts by the shovelful; alas, my shovel is often too small. I spend most of my free time devoted to its care and feeding. At times I am certain it hates me; at other times I think it merely loves to play tricks on me. Still, it's home and it is where I am happiest.

4. True and enduring love has eluded me all my life. I'm not sure why. Perhaps I've been lucky in so many other things my dance card was deemed full by the powers that be. could be (refer here to #1).

5. I have a happy soul and I am pretty good at making people laugh.

6. I believe in God and in heaven. If I'm wrong, no harm done. If I'm right, I hit the jackpot.

7. I've kissed the Blarney Stone.

8. I love people and have wonderful friends; but, I am a very solitary person. Having to go to work everyday probably saves me from being a recluse.

9. I want to be a writer when I grow up.

10. I want a red Hula Hoop, just like the one I had as a kid. And after I bring it home, I'm taking it into the backyard to practice (to the utter horror of my neighbors to be sure) until I become just as good at it as I was then. (I won a neighborhood Hula Hooping contest one summer. That I even remember such an un-auspicious occasion is probably number 11 in this list, but that would exceed my quota).

Well, dear friends I could go on, and on, and on about ME...What? What's that? Did I hear someone shout, 'More'?'" (She hadn't but mused "what the hell.")

Then I shall gladly bow to popular demand and proceed to start from the beginning. Ahem. There were gale force winds on the day I was born to poor but proud parents who were descended from the royal line of the House of Scrabowski in the county of Droznovia, nestled in the hills outside..."

Expounding prolifically, she failed to take notice that the crowd had slowly dispersed to a little pub around the corner. Apparently everyone was in need of a good, stiff drink. Grad, as was her wont, went home alone - in the rain - to eat a bowl of cold gruel.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Just as I pulled into the parking lot of the library on Saturday morning for The Big Book Sale, I listened to the last lines of Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. The most I will say about the book is that it was profoundly moving and I recommend that you read it. No. That's not quite right, either. I urge you to read it. I would almost pay you to read it. Why? Because I care about you. As you begin to read you may wonder how the whole thing will tie together in the end. But be patient. Thou shalt be rewarded.

The audio book I listened to was beautifully read by several voices - at least three that I could discern. It might actually be the sort of book better experienced in audio than read in the traditional way. I'll leave that up to you.

Feeling the need for something totally light-hearted after Extremely Loud, and on the advice of the librarian, I picked up the audio version of The Well Of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde and am loving loving loving my daily commute because of it. (Remind me to send that librarian flowers). Why oh why haven't I heard of this series starring literary detective Tuesday Next? I think I should probably have started with the first book, The Eyre Affair, but it's too late now. No jumping out of the roller coaster in mid-roll. Thursday, a JurisFiction agent, has applied for a vacation assignment through the Character Exchange Program (a program designed to allow bookpeople a change of scenery; there had been a spate of characters actually escaping from their books, you see, and one simply can't have that!) and she has been assigned to Caversham Heights, an unpublished crime novel in the Well Of Lost Plots. The Well is comprised of 26 floors of "dingy sub-basements" beneath the Great Library. It is here that unpublished books are "constructed, honed and polished" to make them ready for a place in the library, where they can then be read by Outlanders (people in the real world). As Tuesday explains, "The failure rate is high."

An added delight is the reading by Elizabeth Saztre, who has a lovely voice and a bright British accent absolutely perfect for the task.

Bibliophiles of the world, rejoice. From thought provoking and wrenching to sheer unbounded fun - what a wild ride is reading!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What Have I Been Doing?

Like the Alice's White Rabbit, I am always running late these days. "No time to say, 'hello,' 'goodbye,' I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!" And I am also buried in time sensitive projects. But, dear Curious Reader, I really did want to drop you a line to let you know that (a) I am not trapped under a heavy object, (b) I am not in jail, (c) I have been reading.

I couldn't bear to continue with the last chapter of House of Mirth via the audio book because I trusted the reader would screw it up. Instead, I went to the library, pulled a copy off the shelf, and sat in a quiet corner to finish it. And as I always do when I come to the last sentence of a well-loved book, I closed the cover and sat holding it for a while. I wanted to cry; I was also quite angry at Edit Wharton.

After I finished The Glass Palace, I jumped right into In The Woods by Tana French. I avoid stories that involve child rape or murder. My reasoning along those lines is that I sadly cannot avoid learning of these events in the stark reality of life; but, I can certainly avoid rubbing elbows with the subject matter in a novel. Nevertheless, so many people were raving about it I decided to give it a try and concur with my friends that it was a good and suspenseful read. I look forward to reading more by this author. In the library copy I had, someone has drawn a "?" below the last paragraph. I think I know what he or she meant. Not all mysteries had been solved, and I am speculating we will see Adam Ryan again someday.

I began Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu and settled in comfortably - enjoying it more and more with each page. But then...a package came!! From half-way around the world. I couldn't wait to get into the house to open it; so, I sat on the front steps and carefully pulled the "to open" tab. There was Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel sent to me by the lovely Fugitive Pieces. I get excited every time I get a new book. Especially when it's a gift. But a gift from someone I've never met - how kind and thoughtful was that? I mean, really. (Pssst. Come closer. She may slip into the room without me noticing. I don't want to spoil the surprise. But I thought and thought about what I could do to say "thank you." It had to be something unique. Something she can't come by where she lives. I came up with "a something"...not much...but it will take an afternoon. A sunny one. I might slip out this Friday to do it. I can't say anymore. Just in case there are spies. But...I can't wait.) Ahem. So, there was Wolf Hall and there was Uncle Silas. Thankfully, Uncle Silas is so good and so worth savoring that I will not be tempted to storm through it just to start Wolf Hall. But it gives me a warm and satisfying feeling to know that something good awaits, and that my immediate reading future looks bright.

I tried listening to An American Wife on audio, but returned it to the library after a couple of discs. I really didn't care for it very much. I guess I felt that if one is going to write fiction, then write fiction...not an unauthorized biography masquerading as fiction. There was something about it which gave me the feeling I was wasting precious time. The same feeling I got as a kid eating too many marshmallow Peeps. But the bottom line is I wasn't finding it very interesting. (The reader was very good, however.) At present, my commute is taken up with listening to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer - which is hilarious, and touching, and sad, and very very good. So good in fact, I bought the paperback edition of Everything Is Illuminated.

Well, that's about it folks. O! One last thought. I shredded the poxy list! Why? The new 1001 Books To Read blah-blah-blah came out and The Plot Against America by Philip Roth has been removed! As far as I can discern it was the only one removed. Wouldn't you know it had to be the only book on the list I read which post-dated I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. I guess it makes some bit of sense. After all, books are published every day and when one of them makes the list, another has to be lost if the list is to be limited to 1001.

On the horizon - April 10 - another Big Book Sale at the library. Before I became anti-list, I would have definitely carried it with me. God forbid I should rely upon my own sense of taste! So I will NOT be tempted to print off another copy, and the author of the list can "Succotash my Balzac, dipshiitake!" as Oskar Schell, the nine-year old narrator of Extremely Loud would say. (Gosh, that felt good.)