Monday, December 29, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
St. Louis Today: Best Books of 2008
Amazon.com: Best Books of 2008
Publisher's Weekly: Best Books of 2008
NPR: Best Books of 2008
Washington Post: Best Books of 2008
NYTimes: Best Books of 2008
The Ten Best Books I've Read in 2008 (not necessary published this year)
1. Jeanette Walls, The Glass Castle - an astonishing memoir of her upbringing by rootless, utterly unorthodox, and finally homeless parents
2. Jeffrey Toobin, The Nine - a fascinating account of the current Supreme Court justices
3. Anthony Swofford, Jarhead - an honest, searching memoir of a marine in the Gulf War
4. Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains - an admiring profile of the amazing Dr. Paul Farmer
5. Sheila Weller, Girls Like Us - life stories/careers of Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Carly Simon
7. Jennifer Finney Boylan, She's Not There - a memoir by an English prof. who underwent a sex-change operation
8. Natasha Trethewey, Native Guard - poems elegizing her mother and the Louisiana "Native Guard," a group of black soldiers during the Civil War
9. Philip Roth, Exit Ghost - apparently his final Nathan Zuckerman novel
10. Ron Rash, Serena - another masterful novel chronicling events in Western North Carolina
Monday, December 08, 2008
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
My favorite poet of snow and cold is Robert Service, whose poems my dad enjoyed and read while in the Navy in 1945, the year of my birth. I discovered Service's The Spell of the Yukon on Dad's bookshelf--the only volume of poetry to be found there other than A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad. I knew even then that Service was not a great poet, but I couldn't get enough of "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" or "The Cremation of Sam McGee," which begins with these haunting lines:
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Legarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
I loved the word "moil," which sounded so much more desperate than "toil"--and the word "marge" as a kind of combination between "margin" and "verge." Mostly, I just liked the grimness of story set against the rollicking rhythm and pitch-perfect rhyme. Doggerel, perhaps, but not bad. When I took a poetry course with James Dickey, I was pleased when he mentioned Service as one of his favorite "bad poets."
My first wife once gave me a first edition of The Spell of the Yukon (1907), which I still cherish. I see online that booksellers are getting upwards of $150 for those now. When my sister-in-law writes from Fairbanks that the temperature is 30 below, I'm glad I'm not there. I'll take my sub-zero weather in the form of Robert Service's verse.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
His art was exhilaration, fearlessness, a wild grab at life. The wire he and his friends strung at night between the two towers formed the intersection of recklessness and precision. And those buildings, those silent supporting actors, you can’t help marveling at how young they are. In August 1974, when Petit took his morning stroll, they were still raw on their upper floors, not completely finished. I would wish for those buildings that they could someday be remembered for how they began — with the felonious act of a young man who was madly in love with them, their height, their audacity, their doubled beauty — instead of how they ended. “Man on Wire” gives those towers back to us, at least for a little while. It also reminds us of all that art is capable of when what is risked is everything.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
In the end the only events in my life worth telling are those when the imperishable world irrupted into this transitory one. That is why I speak chiefly of inner experiences, amongst which I include my dreams and visions. These form the prima materia of my scientific work. They were the fiery magma out of which the stone that had to be worked was crystallized.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Over the next couple days, Ethan Canin, Valerie Martin, Sara Gran, Robert Wrigley, and Dorianne Laux held sway. Each did a reading/presentation, and each took part in at least one panel discussion or informal session. We combined the two poetry classes for a meeting with Wrigley and Laux, whose work we had read and who were captivating for students. They're good friends, and this was evident in their easy back and forth discussion. A great bonus for the weekend was the presence of Joe Millar, Laux's husband and a wonderful poet in his own right.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
It's been 3.5 months since my last blog entry, over 100 days. I took a break because I was busy reading other blogs, because other projects intervened, and because of blogger's angst: not so much the lack of anything to write as an excess, the need to be selective--that and the sense that no one looks at this compendium of miscellany anyway. Not that I'm addressing an audience here. Some blogs seem calculated to start or perpetuate a conversation, but I've never quite seen this one in this way, though I welcome the few readers I have.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
The villages that we captured and turned into our bases as we went along and the forests that we slept in became my home. My squad was my family, my gun was my provider and protector, and my rule was to kill or be killed. The extent of my thoughts didn't go much beyond that. We had been fighting for over two years, and killing had become a daily activity. I felt no pity for anyone. My childhood had gone by without my knowing, and it seemed as if my heart had frozen.
Friday, July 04, 2008
Yesterday I had lunch with my friend Claudia, former newspaperwoman and now an English/journalism teacher at a local college. I gave her a copy of Bain's book--a meager repayment for all the review copies of books she's given me over the years.
Monday, June 02, 2008
Then, Saturday night we joined a handful of middle-agers and oldsters in the theatre to see The Visitor. This one isn't exactly a blockbuster, but for my money it was much more engaging than the histrionics of Indiana Jones. A burnt-out, apparently depressed college economics professor (Richard Jenkins) has to travel from his Connecticut home to his little-used apartment in Greenwich Village to deliver a boring paper at a conference. He discovers a couple has moved into his apartment; someone has rented it to them in a scam, knowing it was seldom-used. They are unmarried and in the U.S. illegally, he from Syria and she from Senegal. In the unlikeliest turn in the movie, the introverted prof befriends them, neglecting his teaching to take up the cause of the young Syrian interloper when he is arrested and jailed as an illegal alien. This relationship, and his introduction to drumming (taught by the Syrian), bring the widower to life. The plot becomes more interesting when the young man's mother suddenly arrives from Michigan. The whole story is restrained, understated, and achingly human, with a strong political message thrown in. Excellent.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Thursday, May 29, 2008
One of many gorgeous live oaks on Daufuskie Island
First Union African Baptist Church - 1882
Mary Fields Elementary School (1930) , where Pat Conroy taught
I've spent the past three days in and around Hilton Head. The occasion was the annual meeting of representatives from the 11 universities in the Peach Belt Athletic Conference. It took place at the Crowne Plaza Resort. I was one of four reps from my fine institution. I had little expertise to bring to the discussions of athletic scheduling, conference expansion, annual budget, and so on. But I found the deliberations interesting and early next week will pass my notes along to our president (whom I was sitting in for). Plus, the food and accomodations weren't bad.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Who lay down at evening
and woke at night
a stranger to himself?
In the dark, a child might ask,
I never claimed night father me.
Say night is a house you inherit,
and in the room in which you hear the sea
declare its countless and successive deaths,
tolling the dimensions of your dying.
Another word for father is worry.
The birds don't alter space.
They reveal it.
Someone's thinking about his mother tonight.
The effect of this uniformity of interlocking themes and motifs is powerful and cumulative (even obsessive if not excessive) through the book. Lee's other work shows that he ranges far beyond these concerns, but the concentration here makes the the volume read almost like one continuous poem. I'd like to get that sort of intensity into my own work, which to me seems sprawling, unfocused, all over the map. Maybe others could see in my poems a uniformity that isn't evident to me. Certainly, I've found that others' comments and suggestions can be startlingly perceptive, teasing out threads or problems I don't initially see.
Some writers seem to return to a set of obsessions repeatedly, in work after work. I think of Ron Rash's frequent returning to Lake Jocasee and how when it was formed it covered over a number of rural communities and forced the disruption of a culture. His first novel, One Foot in Eden, addresses this in part, as do some of his poems and stories. Most recently, in Chemistry, his stories nominated for Pen Faulkner Award, the story "Not Waving but Drowning" returns to that theme. To sustain a novel or even to cultivate a successful body of work in any genre, a writer needs to confront and make use of obsessions.
Today, Kathleen Parker's column addresses the issue of a "boys' crisis" or a "girls' crisis" in schools
In the May 26 New Yorker, Ian Frazier writes about his experiences teaching writing once a week at the biggest soup kitchen in New York, located in the Church of the Holy Apostles, at the corner of 28th St. and 9th Ave. He writes, "... I am one of the teachers of a writers' workshop that meets there after lunch on Wednesdays in the spring. I started the workshop fourteen years ago, with the help of a grant. I wanted to do something with the soup kitchen because I admired the people there and the way it is run and the whole idea of it. There are so many hungers out there; the soup kitchen deals, efficiently and satisfyingly, with the most basic kind. I consider it, in its own fashion, a work of art." Frazier discusses this work in a 14-minute on-line interview.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
She never gets out of bed.
Her lifeless left side
keeps her there at the mercy
of her daughter and her nurse,
providers of food, drink,
cleanliness, fresh bedclothes.
But this one afternoon
she stirs and seems to hover
in the air, suspended,
as a parade of visitors
comes bearing cards
and good wishes: for comfort?
a long life? the year ahead?
She asks, “Aren’t we lucky?”
I photograph the guests
entering in clusters. She never tires
of posing with them,
her good right side smiling
to spite her passive left.
For once, her appetite is enormous.
Monday, May 05, 2008
Katrina Vandenberg's Mix Tape on Organizing a Poetry Collection