Archive for the ‘Ramblings Off Topic’ category

esteemed friends

November 9, 2015

All around me, writing friends are celebrating their success at getting their novels published. I’m happy for each of them:

Me? A paltry few published short stories, a paltry few unpublished novels, motivation that seems to have contracted a wasting disease, with the days getting shorter and the nights getting longer. Hence the paltry few posts here. But there’s always a glimmer of hope somewhere.

  *   *   *

Currently reading: Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe. A gigantic book. Legend has it that Wolfe’s editor had chopped it down from 1,000 pages into something more manageable. The edition I’m reading is 500 pages — I’m about a third of the way through it — and it is apparently a “restored” edition in which much of the chopped stuff was put back in. Every word is delicious. I’m running to the dictionary constantly (or should be). The metaphors are breathtaking. The comedy is wry and satisfying. But Wolfe’s treatment of blacks, Jews, and poor whites makes me cringe with its outdatedness.

Wolfe was once esteemed in the same cohort as Fitzgerald and Hemingway (two authors I just don’t get the praise for), but in recent decades his star has descended. This novel, and You Can’t Go Home Again, have been on my list for years, nay, decades, but I think once I finish Angel (if I live that long), I’ll be finished with Wolfe as well.


Fiction is not fact

October 26, 2015

“Fiction is not fact, but fiction is fact selected and understood, fiction is fact arranged and charged with purpose.”

Thomas Wolfe

have I read this book?

September 2, 2015

So I completed re-reading The Flight from the Enchanter the other night, and I enjoyed my second trip through it, confirming that Iris Murdoch is worth reading and re-reading. But I must confess that I only remembered one scene and only a few of the characters from my first reading. It was as though I had never read the novel once before.

Granted, I had read it originally many years ago — as much as a decade ago. (I could look it up because, like everyone else in the world, I keep a list of the books I’ve read and the date I completed them.) But can I say I’ve actually read a book, gave it a serious and thoughtful reading, if I can’t remember it years later?

Certainly there have been many books I’ve read that are not worth remembering, and there have been many that are intentionally light weight — “beach reading” is a common term for these — that are meant to be enjoyed at the time and then left behind. But what can I say about myself and my “serious” reading if I can’t remember a novel years after I’ve read it? Did I really read it with the seriousness it deserved? Did I pause and reflect on elegant passages, humorous scenes, unexpected insights? Did I give the novel the attention it deserved?

I suppose that parts of the novel have entered the matrix of thoughts that make up what passes for my consciousness in ways I don’t recognize. (In fact, generally when I have a sudden insight about something, I question whether the thought is one of my own or something I’ve recycled from another but don’t recognize.) I suppose the first reading left impressions I’m not aware of but use in the ceaseless conversation of ideas that goes on in my head. At least, I’m going to tell myself that.

I’ve read Philip Roth’s novel The Ghost Writer more than thirty times. I know that story well. I know the characters. The scenes. The humor. The pathos. And yet, each time I read it, I find something new in it, something I hadn’t seen in my other visits. I’ve often said that I don’t think you can begin to know a novel until you’ve read it a second time. It just bugs me with Enchanter that it is as though my second time is my first time.

Flight from the Enchanter

August 24, 2015

So as you know since you read this humble blog so avidly, I have embarked on re-reading the entire canon of Iris Murdoch fiction. (Her nonfiction, mostly discussing moral philosophy, is so deep that it is over my head, which is a mixed metaphor if ever there was one, right?) I’m now on her second novel, The Flight from the Enchanter, which was originally published in 1956 (and which makes it even older than I am).

In addition to re-reading the novels, I am hoping to rebuild my collection of them (don’t ask me why — I don’t know), having donated most of my first set to a small town library, which actually added them to their collection. Alas, it appears that hardback copies of Murdoch novels are being collected; they are hard to find, and when I do come across them in a store or online, they are expensive. So I settled for a broken-spined paperback edition of Enchanter when I came across it at Powell’s Books on my last visit to Portland. Tattered cover. Tiny print. Brown, brittle pages. Spine barely holding it all together.

And a surprise inside.

The edition I found was printed in 1973. When I reached page 50, still sorting out all of the characters and their relationships and trying to keep the pages from falling onto the floor, I came across a small cash register receipt from the original purchase, back in July of 1973. The receipt was from the Honolulu Book Store. What a find! Someone bought this paperback when it was newly issued, perhaps hoping for some light beach reading during a summer vacation to Hawai’i. And found out that Iris Murdoch ain’t light reading. Apparently the person got as far as page 50 and gave it up.

And had no one opened this particular copy of the novel since that time? Had the receipt lay in wait for my discovery forty years later? It’s tempting to think so; little surprises/mysteries like this hold a fascination for me. (See my guerilla marketing post for something like this.) More likely, this copy has passed through many hands over the decades, in some cases never having been begun and so traded away, or in others started and given up. Or, I like to think, treated as I have. The receipt found during a reading and lovingly preserved in situ for the next reader.

I suspect I will be the last reader of this copy. I intend to keep it on my shelf indefinitely. And should it ever be taken to a bookstore or donated to a small-town library, I think it will probably be rejected as too broken down. It may be that this particular copy never falls into another reader’s hands again, and so the little surprise inside won’t delight anyone else.

Life is full of these little mysteries, I think, and the trick is to be open and on the watch for them.


my haul at Powell’s

July 21, 2015

I was instructed to report on the books I gifted to myself after visiting Powell’s in Portland. We had a busy agenda for the day, but the bookstore was only blocks from where the day started, so we managed to get one of my two goals for the week checked off. (The other is a visit to the Nike Factory store with the remote hope that I can find a new hooded jacket to supplement the one I mostly wear non-stop right now — yes, even in the summer since I am always cold.)

I tried to restrain myself some at Powell’s since I still haven’t worked through some of the books I bought there last fall when I was in Portland. There were certainly a lot more books I had my hands on today and then put back on the shelf.

So here they are:

  • The Flight from the Enchanter by Iris Murdoch – I am slowly rebuilding my Murdoch collection, and I am hoping to re-read her entire output (fiction) in order. This was her second novel, and it’s not commonly found, so I grabbed the one copy Powell’s had and will read it soon.
  • Iris Murdoch by Richard Todd – Essays about her earlier novels. I can use any enlightenment I can get. (I actually already have a shelf of books like these, and some are much too scholarly for me to get through.)
  • Thoreau: the Complete Individualist by Robert Dickens – Because Thoreau!
  • Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick by George Cotkin – Because Moby-Dick!

I had deliberately saved some space in my luggage to have room for the books I hoped to bring back with me. (The last time I was here, my son had to lend me a bag.)


July 20, 2015

Of course I’m still around, not doing much but hanging out and wishing I was doing some work or something or anything. The thoughts keep coming, ideas for developing my stories, for news stories, for old stories. But the mental discipline to sit before the blank screen to struggle and strive has abandoned me,  I hope for only a while.

I found that one of my published Fathers and Sons stories, “Men at Work and Play,” has disappeared from the internet. The site is completely gone. I realize this happens all of the time, but I wouldn’t have expected it from this site; it was one of the few that have taken my stories that had me complete and sign a contract. Seemed professional to me, and I guess it was. But all things must pass, as George Harrison has said.

In other news, I am currently in Portland where my doctor son and doctor daughter-in-law live. We’re here to see them and my grandson from New York (also, his mom and dad) who are here this week for Dad’s work. On Thursday of last week, my youngest son (he’s the twin on the doctor son, so he’s youngest by five minutes) and his wife announced that they are expecting and due in March. That was great (and unexpected) news. Then, two days later in Portland my doctor son and his doctor wife announced that they are expecting and due in January! By next year at this time, I will have three grandchildren. I honestly had given up hope that I would ever have any, so life is good. (Both couples have not made a general announcement of their pregnancies, so if you see any of my family, please don’t bring it up.)

meanwhile, in suburbia

May 5, 2015

We’ve lived in our current house for 28 years. And for 27 and a half years, we’ve had a picket fence enclosing our back yard. We hired a local company to build it. Originally it was intended to contain our little children and their toys. Then came dogs (and even a bunny). We stained it dark green so that it would blend into the grassy color of the open yards behind and around ours. This was, apparently, unheard of. Even scandalous. No one stained a wooden fence in these parts! Cedar fences are apparently supposed to bleach into a uniform gray (uniformity being a hallmark of suburbia, of course). Even the man who built our fence couldn’t believe it when we had him out years later to talk about repairs. (He did not get the job!)

To me, a gray wooden fence just looks uncared for, like an unmown lawn or peeling paint. I suppose it was the way I was raised. I can remember spending good parts of my St. Louis boyhood summers, when I wasn’t in Kentucky at my grandparents’ farm, staining the privacy fence of our backyard. I can remember going to my sister’s house for a party and her husband being unable to join us because he had to finish staining his fence. Tom Sawyer is famous for his fence staining acumen. And as I’ve driven around suburbia, I have spotted the occasional stained fence. I’m not alone.

In the nearly three decades of the fence’s life, I’ve replaced at least half of the pickets, many of the posts, and most of the rails. It is my own Ship of Theseus. The wood rots. Insects invade. Plants grow in and through. Mishaps with bats and balls. (One neighbor boy used our fence as his backstop for pitching practice, and he openly stated that his goal one summer was to knock off the top of each picket. Fortunately, he was a poor pitcher.)

But in all of that time, I’ve never encountered the danger to the fence’s integrity that has suddenly arrived this year.

As you probably know, we have two dogs: Flike and Queequeg. No one has told them they are dogs, so they don’t consider themselves to be such. And so they will bark at other dogs with disdain. Our neighbor (beyond on green picket fence) now has two dogs. (One her son left with her after he moved out, though he’s moved back in again. The other she got because she didn’t want the first dog to be lonely.) They do know they are dogs, and they recognize Flike and Queequeg as dogs despite their airs. These two neighbor dogs would love nothing more dearly than to play with our dogs.

In our yard.

And so they have. One of the dogs, Archie, has learned that he can grab the 27-and-a-half-year-old pickets in his jaws and wrench them free. All he needs to do is get one of them out and he and the other dog can slip into our yard and romp through the flower beds. Great fun.

Flike and Queequeg go nuts at this intrusion, and we are out there ushering the dogs back into their yard and slamming a few more nails into the pickets. A couple of years ago we had bought a hundred spare pickets to use as the occasional need arose. Now with Archie at work, the few I had left are rapidly being put to use.

My neighbor apologizes for this, but it is happening now almost daily. Eventually, (after I buy more pickets I guess) I’ll have that entire side of the fence replaced. Sturdy enuf to withstand Archie for a few years, I hope.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 29 other followers