Category Archives: Books Read 2006

>To Another Year of Reading and Blogging….(with Graphs for Emily)


>Blogging review:
I started 2006 by creating this blog, not having a clue how long I would maintain it or if anyone would ever read it. I didn’t know whether I would have much to say. I wondered if I was limiting myself by writing about books. I wasn’t aware that there were lots of others who maintained book-themed blogs, much less familiar with the term “lit blogger”. My only goal in 2006 was to read more, and to write some. Now, 100 posts, 4443 unique visits, and 269 comments later(plus countless comments left on some other great blogs), I can say that I never would have predicted how blogging would change my writing or my reading in the span on one short year.

It wasn’t long before I found MetaxuCafe and discovered several other blogs. I wasn’t alone out in the blog universe and there were people who wrote about things other than what they had for lunch, how rotten their kids or bosses were, the ‘inside dish’ on all things political, or Brittany’s underpants. Gradually, visitors started stopping by my site, and sometimes they’d even leave comments. I’m thrilled anytime my site counter increments and I love it when people comment. Comments are what make the blogging experience great. It isn’t enough to know that someone, somewhere read what I wrote; the dialog provided through the comments is what makes posting something worthwhile.


Here is a map indicating the locations of various visitors to my blog. The map is an combination of several maps that I’ve downloaded from StatCounter, so while it is accurate, it isn’t representative of all visitors to my site. NZ is a little out of proportion, and Alaska is lost of the top left but I’ve noticed my visitors from Alaska too.

Writing review:
I mostly wrote about books and things I was reading. My wish list of things to read grew exponentially once I started reading reviews on others’ blogs. How I wrote about books changed too. At first, I wasn’t sure how to write about what I was reading. I didn’t want to write criticism per se, at least not what I had to write when I was in school. I didn’t like it then; I didn’t see much of a point in doing so in a blog. My first few posts were formal reviews; in re-reading them, I don’t like the tone. Nothing is wrong with what I wrote; I stand by my opinions, although I don’t know that I’d write either of this now.

For example:

In her first book, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, Lynne Truss elevated a spot-on, sincere rant to a book-length argument against improper grammar. In her second book, Talk to the Hand, Truss tries to ride on the coattails of her earlier success to rage against a decay in manners throughout society. However, far from writing an enjoyable sequel to Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Truss has delivered a long, ill-humored, unoriginal whine about how the world is falling apart due to the unruly, ill-mannered Visigoths rallying at the gates, talking on their cells phones, and screaming “Eff-off” at the slightest offense. Society is bad and all that, but Truss’ book, in the end, is an arrogant and rude diatribe.

Or this:

I trod through 30 chapters, nearly 400 pages of plodding prose. ….I felt some twinges of guilt for despising this book so much. The subject, after all, is interesting. But, this book was in desperate need of editing. ….the prose varied widely from overwrought to simplistic as an elementary school composition….Reading [the book] was like being trapped by someone’s aging uncle at your second cousin’s wedding reception: you want to be polite and listen to the stories, but after some time the stories run together and you’d rather make your escape by dancing the hokey-pokey or drinking more of the too-sweet punch. An experienced editor would have trimmed this book by 200 pages and the end result would have been both an interesting and a captivating read.

I didn’t know how to write about a work if I wasn’t being critical of it. When I read some books that I liked, I didn’t know how to approach writing about them. As I read more book blogs, I became more aware of an audience who might be reading my posts, and the tone, approach, and content of my posts changed as well. I was more willing to put more of me in my reviews, even if writing something that was criticism, like this, from a post for A Curious Singularity:

There is a peculiar feeling that I experience from time to time that I like to think of as ‘The Moment’. It isn’t one moment that stands apart from all others; it isn’t necessarily something profound, maybe not even memorable over time. Yet, it is a discernible present, a second or two that seems to last a little longer than a fleeting tick of the clock. Time seems to hang suspended for just long enough to perceive a difference. And, then, nothing is the same again.

Call it an epiphany, eureka, a paradigm shift, or a sudden flash of insight; it is what I call ‘the moment’. It is palpable, perhaps measurable in some strange mathematical system. One’s senses reel as one’s brain steps quickly to rearrange all of the pieces into a new understandable pattern. It is this kind of a moment that is the culmination of James Joyce’s The Dead.

I think this was one of my best-written posts this year. Here is the full post.

Last Spring, I wrote a poem, after not having written one in several years. Posting it was a scary step, but I still didn’t have many readers at that time. I’m not sure why I would have more angst around posting a poem than my opinion about a book. Soon I found Poetry Thursday and wrote more poems and posted a few of them. Some of my favorites are Twisting Physics Makes A Poem, Archeology and 80 feet deep.

A review of my year of blogging wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the amazing experience that was the Poetry Meme. I’d thought about creating a meme previously, but hadn’t given it much thought before I developed this. Writing it was spontaneous and little thought was given to whether anyone I tagged would complete it. Now, more than 6 weeks later, I am still getting hits on the Google Alerts I set up to track this. I tracked the spread of the meme for a short time (see here), but I soon lost count of how many people had completed it. More amazing than the sheer number of people who have done this meme, is the wonderfully varied responses. Google “Poetry is like….” and click on the “I feel lucky” button; you’ll land on the sites of some terrific poets and enthusiastic poetry lovers.

Reading Review:
So how did I do on my reading goals? I didn’t have a specific reading plan for the year. The only goal was only to read more. More than — what? I hadn’t kept a record of what I had read for several years. I think I might have been happy if I had read all of the books I received for Christmas, plus most of the books for my reading group. I wouldn’t have predicted that I would join another in-person reading group & two on-line groups by the end of the year. Nor would I have dreamed that I would finish more than 40 books this year. I started 31 works of fiction and 45 nonfiction books. I abandoned 6 of them. 17 are still ‘in-process’; some may be that way for a long time before I make a decision to throw them in the ‘never open again’ heap or give them another go. Some just haven’t been completed not because of some inherent flaw in the work, but just because something else piqued my interest; they’ll be finished at some point in time. 9 were memoirs, 6 were books of poetry. I heard readings from 4 of the authors I read (Mary Oliver, Chris Abani, Nick Hornby, and Anne LaMotte) and have books I haven’t started yet by two others I heard speak (William Least-Heat Moon, Zadie Smith). 24 books were written by females. 11 works were from the 20 & 21st centuries, 5 from the 19th, and 2 from the 18th (only works of fiction & poetry counted). Nonfiction subjects covered a variety of topics, including history, art, politics and religion and travel. The largest category was ‘culture’ — which could include all of these topics!

And, now, the graphs…..
Since Emily requested it, following a comment I made on Dorothy’s blog, here is my reading review in six graphs:

G1:Reading Timeline in Relation to Blog Posts
G2:Books Read/In Process/Abandoned

G3:Fiction/Nonfiction Books

G4:NonFiction by Subject Category
G5:Fiction/Poetry by Century


G6:Works by Gender of Author

>Favorites of 2006: Survey Results


>My First Annual Favorites Survey of 2006.

16 people completed the survey (12 US, 4 international).

Here are the results. Only unique responses are listed; if more than one person referenced the same work, the number at the end indicates frequency for that specific answer. More than one response was given to some questions.

1. Favorite fiction book of 2006

Straight Man, Richard Russo

Everyman
by Philip Roth

The Birth House
by Ami McKay

The Thirteenth Tale
– Diane Setterfield (3)

Breakable You
, Brian Morton

The Historian
, Elizabeth Kostova

Winter’s Bone
, Daniel Woodrell

Arthur and George
, Julian Barnes

Lisey’s Story
, Stephen King

Dreamtigers
, Jorge Luis Borges

Also Mentioned: Uses of Enchantment, no author cited. Uses of Enchantment, by Bruno Bettelheim, is the only book I found and it is non-fiction. Perhaps there is a fiction work with the same title?


2. Favorite non-fiction book of 2006

Me Talk Pretty Some Day, David Sedaris

Curse of the Narrows
, Laura MacDonald

Devil’s Teeth
, Susan Casey

Sweet and Low: A Family Story
, Rich Cohen

Marley and Me
, John Grogan

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
, Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin

Blithe Tomato
, Mike Madison,

Enrique’s Journey
, Sonia Nazario.

Assassination Vacation
, Sarah Vowell

City of Falling Angels
, John Berendt

The Mighty and the Almighty
, Madeleine Albright

On Beauty and Being Just
, Elaine Scarry

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
, Michael Pollan

How Reading Changed My Life
, Anna Quindlen

3. Favorite book-related controversy

Critics vs. Book Bloggers (3)

Oprah no longer leading a book discussion.

Judith Reagan (3)

Frey-Gate (4)

The one about bibliographies in novels because it was so irrational.

One participant cited the Judith Reagan/OJ Simpson controversy as a dis-honorable mention!

4. Favorite Blog Post

Lima Stew and Blender Tuna Mousse: Unrescued Recipes, Lily at Bloglily.

BlogLily’s Saying Farewell to Illness, Lily at Bloglily

The pitfalls of receiving free books, or how not to risk your book blogging credibility, Kimbofo at Reading Matters.

Pay it forward…and Win a Venator Survival Kit!, Colleen Gleason, For All the World To See.

Simply Wait, Patry Francis

interview with Patry Francis, Susan Henderson’s LitPark

Race report; or, isn’t it great when we all help each other out?, Dorothy, Of Books and Bicycles

“On Richard Russo’s Straight Man”, Litlove, Tales from the Reading Room

“Deliver Us From Thinking” Tim Sterne, Sarsaparilla


5. Favorite Daily Read

A Work in Progress (4)

P-S Shelf Life

Pesky Apostrophe (2)

SciFi Chick

One Whipped Mother

DoveGreyReader Scribbles, DovegreyReader

LitPark

The Hobgoblin of Little Minds, BikeProf

Bloglily, Lily (2)

Tales from the Reading Room, Litlove (3)

Box of Books, Ella

Of Books and Bicycles, Dorothy W.

Cam’s Commentary, Cam

Telecommuter Talk, Emily

Metaxucafe

6. Favorite Group Blog or Blogging Community

A Curious Singularity

BlogHer

Pop Goes the Library

Metaxucafe (4)

The Slaves of Golconda (2)

The Valve

Two comments which didn’t specifically list a group blog, but defintely refer to a community:
“Not sure I visit alot of group blogs. I use A Work in Progress as the hub and …I consider all her blog links part of the book blogging community which is far and away my favorite.”

“All of those bookbloggers listed above.”

7. Favorite Blog Controversy

Critics vs Book Bloggers, summarized here (4)

Free Books at Reading Matters (3)

Anything to do with the romance blogs.

8. Favorite Commenter — the one who makes the comments almost as great as the post (on your blog or others)

Kate S, Kate’s Book Blog

Litlove, Tales from the Reading Room (4)

Booklogged, A Reader’s Journal

Carl V., Stainless Steel Droppings

Dorothy, Of Books And Bicycles (cited as ‘most dedicated commenter’)

Danielle, A Work in Progress

Jay, Kill the Goat

9. Favorite Litblog-related Meme or Challenge

Cam’s Poetry Meme (3)

The Halloween Meme Em didn’t start it, but she loves a good meme. Here is her post.

The Summer Reading Challenge by the bookjunkie. (her new blog home).

Carl’s RIP Challenge (3)

Litlove’s Reading meme There was also this one, “The Aspirational Meme”

Five things you don’t know about me. Cited because “it gives insights into my fellow bloggers”. This one was everywhere.

Kate’s Early Reading Memories meme, This originated with Kate.

One response to this question really made me laugh. It was this: “Yuck!”

The Participants:

Thanks to all who participated. It was fun reading and compiling the results. Only those who indicated in the comments that they had completed the survey are listed here. I lost some comments during blogger conversion recently, so if I missed your comment, please accept my apology for not listing you here. If you participated and are not listed, add your name in the comments section.

Imani at The Books of My Numberless Dreams
Carl V at Stainless Steel Droppings
Dorothy W at Of Books and Bicycles
Litlove at Tales from the Reading Room
Maggie, at Maggie Reads

>Favorites of 2006 Survey, new blogger, and other things….


>Recently, I invited readers to complete a survey on their favorite books and blogs of 2006. There is still time if you would like to participate. I am extending the survey deadline until 6 pm Pacific time tomorrow 12/27. I will post the results on Thursday or Friday. Click here to take the survey.

You will not be asked to leave your name when you complete the survey. If you would like to be listed as a participant in the survey, please leave your name & blog url in the comment section.

If you have already completed the survey and left your name in the comments, please verify that your name was not changed to ‘Anonymous’ when I converted to the new Blogger platform. New comments are working, but I may have lost the link to your blog in the older comments. This happened to several comments on recent posts.

A bit of a rant. Skip this section if you don’t want to read my whine.

I’m sure my voice is will hardly raise the din in the criticism of Blogger, but I am extremely disappointed in this upgrade. Blogger offers no assistance, poor help screens, and comments from blogger employees so sarcastic, belittling, and defensive in tone that any Customer Service/Technical Support personnel in any place I have ever worked (and they would be technical support people too) if not fired, at least put on probation. I really don’t care to hear that they are overworked. I don’t want to be admonished for starting a new thread, cross-posting, or posting in the wrong one without any other comment. I don’t want to have to rely on other users in the forums to solve what is a Blogger problem. And I don’t want to be told ‘it’s free’, as if that means I should be happy that my blog is messed up, corrupted, or lacks promised functionality. I don’t want to be told to ‘be patient’ when I read of others who have been waiting over a week for Blogger to fix their blog and that I haven’t waited long enough. During the upgrade process, Blogger displayed a message indicating that it will be a few minutes, maybe a little longer. My blog disappeared for 9 hours. I don’t think that ‘a little longer’ nor that one shouldn’t question whether you’ve experienced the same thing as others.

But my biggest complaint is that I haven’t been told any of these things. These are from the comments in the Blogger Forum. I have yet to receive a reply to any of my requests — either the initial one after 3 hours of conversion wondering if I would ever get my blog back, or my inquiries regarding the anonymous comments, which, btw, did not apply to only certain users. In fact, I had at least one commenter who posted on the same day on two posts — one is now anonymous, the other accredited. The Blogger forum suggests (as if this is an answer!) that it is because the user switched from old blogger to new blogger.

OK, rant over.

I have been experimenting with new customizations for my blog. A bit frustrating if you don’t use Blogger’s pre-defined layouts, but I’m dealing with it. Still trying to figure out a means to include tag links in the sidebar. It appears that this has to be hand-coded if you aren’t using Blogger layout widget. I’d like it if they gave the code for doing this without the widget, but I’ll wait until they fix some of the other larger problems.

Would be interested to get feedback on the changes I’ve made. Also, if anyone knows how to turn off the active link in the header on an archive page, I’d appreciate it. I don’t like how Blogger is underlining the subtitle on the archive pages and I can’t find the place in the html where I can comment this out, or (a possibility) where I am missing/have extra curly brace that is causing blogger ignoring my comment marks around the necessary code.

Wine not whine: Recent books

I received a few books for Christmas and of course I had to jump right in yesterday as time allowed. A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine by Jay McInerney is a collection of columns McInerney has published previously on one of my favorite topics. In the introduction, he writes the following:

I was more comfortable comparing wines to actresses, rock bands, pop stars, painters or automobiles than I was with literal parsing of scents and tastes a la “bouquet of American beauty roses”.

I like that approach to wine. While I understand what a connoisseur means when he states that a good Sauvignon Blanc tastes like freshly cut hay or a big Cab is like old leather and spice, I wonder why the novice drinker would willingly want to drink something described as such. Of course, that means more for those of us who have ignored the unapproachable descriptions and discovered how wonderful wine is.

More later on other books I’m currently reading. What books did you give or receive for the holidays?

>Breathing Space


>

My office is located in one of the most beautiful office parks (an oxymoron if ever there was one) that I’ve ever seen. Lots of green grass and trees. Two lakes at the edge; just beyond, a river. Not much traffic: the lay of the land is such that it hides the nearby expressway. Only now that the last leaves have fallen can I look out and see other buildings and an apartment complex. Nothing hints that this is located in a busy city of over a million people. It is a good thing to have beauty so readily at hand during the day. It makes it a tranquil place to pass the time, if one needs to be at work in an office building that is.

Sometimes, though, in the course of business, I need to be at my employer’s other offices. Unlike my regular work location, there aren’t any nearby trees or greenspaces to camouflage the city. Like my office, there is water nearby: the building sits adjacent to the bank of a river. And, though in a much different way, one can look out the window and see a breathtaking landscape, it isn’t the same. When I sit in the ‘guest’ office, I look at a marvel of an urban cityscape. I have always looked in awe at the skylines of the great American cities — Chicago, San Francisco, and the daddy of the them all: New York. But, I can’t look out that window, gazing across the river at what is there without seeing what isn’t there. You see, the river is the Hudson, and the office is directly across from lower Manhattan.

I’ve been to New York a few times since 9/11 and have stood in silence at the WTC site, trying to re-imagine the space as it had been. I last saw the towers about a month before the attacks, while staring out the window at Newark International, waiting to catch a plane. On 9/10, I saw a photo taken of my son a few months earlier, sitting in the same airport, the towers in the distance rising above the planes on the tarmac and the river and the other buildings. He is looking the other way, the photo’s background one that should have remained inconsequential, just a part of the steel and glass skyline, not something that was a symbol of anything, not something that would, beginning the next day, forever dominate that snapshot. They were just buildings, impersonal concrete, no thought given to the commerce that occurred there, the people who worked and would die there. It wasn’t until this fall, five years later, that I had looked at the Manhattan skyline from the New Jersey shore. My mind’s eye kept trying to fill in where the towers had stood.

Shortly after that last trip to NJ, I was browsing at the library at church. Perhaps I unconsciously thought about the scenery that I had looked at for the preceding week as I looked for something to read. Maybe that is why I picked up Rowan Williams slim volume Writing in the Dust: After 9/11.

Rowan Williams, now the Archbishop of Cantebury, was two blocks away from WTC attending a meeting when the planes hit. This book, written in the weeks immediately after the attacks, is his reflection on the meaning of that day and what he suggests should have been the appropriate response to the events of 9/11. The title, as Williams writes in the epilogue, refers not only to the dense dust he was surrounded by after the buildings collapsed, but also to the temporary nature of his reflections. “This isn’t a theology or a programme for action”, Williams writes, “but one person’s attempt to find words for the grief and shock and loss of one moment. …[I] hope only that they may help to take forward someone else’s mourning. “.

What strikes me though, having read the book twice through in one sitting, is that these words should not be temporary; or at least, they are not ready for dissolution yet. They are as relevant today, while we are embroiled in the war in Iraq with no easy or clear-cut way out of the mess we have made, as it was in the days immediately following the terrorist attacks on WTC and the Pentagon.

Williams first writes of the nightmare of being in the area of the attacks, of escaping only to feel the rumble of the second tower collapsing, and breathing in the thick debris-filled air. He writes of a void, “the emptiness and anaesthesia”, in the midst of terror and death, but how we shouldn’t be eager to fill that void too quickly, with easy answers. He writes of the perversion that would make someone do such an incomprehensible act, how it couldn’t be in the name of religion despite the terrorists’ claims. He warns of what he calls the “great lie of religion: the god who fits our agenda”. He contrasts the truly heroic actions of the responders, working for the secular goal of community health and safety, with the wrongly self-proclaimed heroism of the religious zealots who hijacked the planes. And, in his first chapter, Williams calls for a ‘breathing space’ to consider what happened and how we should respond.

It is this idea of a breathing space that Williams returns to throughout his reflection, encouraging a breathing space to understand what happened and to know an appropriate response to and punishment for such unspeakable violence. We need breathing space to know how to move forward and prevent such angry violence from happening again. We need breathing space to speak of, and maybe to redefine, our belief in God. That is what he wrote at the end of 2001; I don’t know if he was right, but I do believe that if our country had done what Williams suggested, we might not be in the current situation in Iraq.

At the time Williams was writing this, America had just begun the campaign in Afghanistan. Williams writes of the decision to go to war, questioning whether it was an act of ‘just war’:

A good deal of the moral capital accumulated during the first days and weeks has been squandered. From a situation where Muslim nations, even Iran, expressed shock and sympathy, we have come to a point where the shapelessness of the campaign leads Muslims to ask whether there is any agenda other than the humiliation of an Islamic population. We may think this an outrageously wrong perception, but it becomes — or should become — a rather urgent factor in calculating how to restore a sense of lawfulness that would sustain some coherent action to punish and to secure a future that will be more settled and just for everyone.

But terrorism is not a place, not even a person or a group of persons; it is a form of behaviour. ‘War’ against terrorism is as much a metaphor as war against drug abuse. It can only mean a sustained policy of making such behaviour less attractive or tolerable. As we’ve been reminded often, this is a long job; but there is a difference between saying this, which is unquestionably true, and suggesting that there is a case for an open-ended military campaign. (p. 37).

He continues:

We could ask whether the further destabilising of a massively resentful Muslim world and the intensifying of the problems of homelessness and hunger in an already devastated country were really unavoidable. We could refuse to be victims, striking back without imagination.
The hardest thing in the world is to know how to act so as to make the difference that can be made; to know how and why that differs from the act that only releases or expresses the basic impotence of resentment. (p46-47).

By attacking a country that was not the attacker, Williams reasons, we have only deepened the gulf of misunderstanding between the West and the Arab world:

Every transaction in the developed economies of the West can be interpreted as an act of aggression against the economic losers in the worldwide game. However much we protest that this is a caricature, this is how it is experienced. And we have to begin to understand how such a perception is part of the price we pay for the benefits of globalisation. (p. 55)

So, there is a particularly difficult challenge here, to do with making terms with our vulnerability and learning how to live with it in a way that isn’t simple denial, panic, the reinforcement of defenses.( p 57).

The most important point, though, in Williams brief book (at approx 70 pages, it’s really a long essay), is that it is important to understand the misuse of symbols. Symbols, Williams writes, can be manipulated, and abused to the point where it is the symbol one supports, rather than the reality behind it. Just as the twin towers became, for al-Qaida, a twisted symbol of Western greed and gluttony, the towers or the terrorists can be a symbol of our fear, and hatred of others we do not understand, veiled behind the symbol of an outrageous act.

‘Using other people to think with’; that is, using them as symbols for points on your map, values in your scheme of things. When you get used to imposing meanings in this way, you silence the stranger’s account of who they are; and that can mean both metaphorical and literal death. Death as the undermining of a culture, language, or faith, and, at the extreme, the death of tyranny and genocide. …The collective imagination needs the outsider to give itself definition — which commonly means that it needs somewhere to project its own fears and tensions.

Living realities are turned in to symbols, and the symbolic values are used to impression the reality. At its extreme pitch, people simple relate to the symbols. It is too hard to look past them, to look into the complex humanity of a real other. (p. 64-65).

It’s tough to think of the WTC towers as a bad symbol, but that isn’t what Williams was suggesting, and I don’t mean it either. Rather, Williams means that anything, when reduced to a symbol can be negative, representing only the distillation of our own misinformed interpretation. It’s like the flag: it can be a symbol of patriotism, of loyalty to one’s country. But, it can also represent the bullheaded idea of ‘my country as I see it, my country right or wrong, my country as my agenda’. Here is where we get caught in symbols and they begin to define us, rather than the other way around.

So, is a bad thing that I look at the skyline of Lower Manhattan and re-image the outline of the towers? No…as long as I hold that symbol as something to make me think about what happened, and not just how I might have reacted to it initially. It is the moral and spiritual thing to do; the right thing. To quote Williams again:

What use is faith to us if it is only a transcription into mythological jargon of the mechanisms of that inhuman grief that grasps its own suffering to itself as a ground of justification and encloses the suffering of others in interpretations that hold it at a safe distance?

And Christian faith? Can we think about our focal symbol, the cross of Jesus, and try to rescue it from its frequent fate as the banner of our own wounded righteousness? (p 72-73).

We are beyond taking a ‘breathing space’ now with the war. If we had in the initial days, or even sooner, the conditions in Iraq may not have deteriorated to the state they are in now. A louder voice would have been crying out sooner regarding the steps taken to put ourselves in the middle of a war in the Middle East. But are we not all to blame for not listening to those who were the loud voices, not to blame for not hearing them, for not being reflective instead of reflexive?

We need to evaluate all symbols and sloganeering that we encounter. What is really meant by a War on Terror? What is meant by an ‘axis of evil’? How can we move beyond stereotypes, to foster true understanding with others elsewhere in the world? While that might not answer the question of how we pull our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, it might help us post-deployment with finding the path forward.

>Book Review: Hell and High Water


>Hell and High Water: Global Warming — The Solution and Politics — And What we Can Do Joseph Romm. William Morrow, 2007.

I so wanted to give this book a hearty recommendation. Its topic is one that I am very interested in –I think we all should be concerned about the global warming and need to take individual grassroots-level action to help find remedies. I was curious by the subtitle. Besides being one of the longest subtitles I’ve come across recently, I was concerned that the book might do a little over-reaching in it’s purpose. And that was confirmed as I read through it.

Romm’s book presents a worse-case scenario for the implications of society not doing anything to curb the effects of global warming. This book presents lots of well-footnoted facts — facts I’ve read elsewhere, ones I find convincing, although I do not have the technical background to refute any scientific flaws that may exist. In addition, Romm’s book is a analysis of what hasn’t been done by our government to implement means of reducing activities that are leading to global warming. It is this part — the attack on politics — where the book disappoints. While Romm is good with presentation of the data supporting the global warming trends, he relies more on unsupported (although not untrue) and suggestive attacks on the current administration, than on persuasive argument to convince the reader that the government is not doing enough to enact needed legislation. (Note: I’m not a supporter of the Bush administration, and can’t disagree with Romm’s premise, so bear with me here….)

Most of the facts on global warming have been presented elsewhere (Gore’s recent movie, An Inconvenient Truth comes to mind although it is not the only example), so Romm isn’t adding anything new to the body of knowledge for the lay reader who is aware of the situation and the overwhelming support in the scientific community for the need to address causes of global warming trends. But, Romm’s writing slants so much to attack — at points even seeming to contradict the point he is making. (e.g., at one point Romm writes of how a government representative made a statement which contradicts his (Romm’s) point in the previous chapter, but then states that they only agreed as a delaying tactic, not because they sincerely want to believe there is a problem.) I think that it is here that Romm could have been most effective if he hadn’t relied on attack-ad style tactics and hyperbole. He isn’t going to convince anyone who doesn’t already believe the facts about global warming that the US government is burying our collective head in the sand. But shouldn’t that be the point? If not, he is no better in advancing arguments for correcting the situation than the vocal and attention-grabbing mouthpieces of some oil companies who manipulate the data to disprove Romm’s scientific allies. The data about global warming is convincing enough that he should have changed the tone here. Instead, a reasoned voice is one that is more likely to be heard and to encourage action.

Another way in which the book disappoints is that it is very slim on the ‘what to do about it’ portion suggested by the title. A few paragraphs in the closing chapters is all that is presented. As someone interested in the topic who has read enough to convince me that something needs to be done, I was looking for something that would give reasoned, valid options for moving forward, rather than finger pointing.

I’m tired of divisive politics. I don’t think the issue is so one-sided that we can only blame one political party — I don’t see the other political party stepping to the forefront on this either.

The chapter, “Missing the Story of the Century”, did grab my attention though. Romm makes the point that as news media seek to ‘balance’ stories, they often give equal footing to both sides of the debate despite the preponderance of evidence. This is a different twist on the lament about so-called ‘media bias’, and I think that Romm has a valid point here. If the overwhelming number of scientists agree with the data on global warming and are in concurrence as to the root causes, why does the media give equal footing to those who oppose such data, including those that may be funded by the same industries that have the most to lose if we impose stricter governmental regulations? Romm uses the example of a recent (2005) segment on Meet the Press where there were four experts discussing avian flu. Romm’s point was that all were in agreement regarding the potential for a catastrophic bird flu outbreak, yet there are some who might disagree with the likelihood of such an occurrence. His point, specifically, is that the press wouldn’t think to have an opposing view since the majority concur; yet with global warming, they always give air to those who disagree. This may explain why studies show that few Americans think there is concurrence among scientists on global warming, while there are also studies that show that the majority of scientists do concur. I don’t know what the solution is — what percentage constitutes a majority opinion that dictates that we should listen to flat-earthers, regardless of the topic? Romm doesn’t offer a solution either, and I’m not sure that Romm’s reasoning behind the equal opportunity media time is because the media doesn’t want to be blasted for bias. This chapter could easily be a book; I’m sure that this isn’t the only topic where this is occurs.

While the above paragraphs might make you think that I wouldn’t recommend this book, that isn’t completely accurate. I think that Romm adequately lays out the facts regarding global warming trends, environmental impact of melting polar ice, and the reasons why we should reduce CO2 emissions (and sign the Kyoto treaty). He does make an argument about the dissembling actions of our government, although he seems more interested in painting the Republicans with a broad brush as ‘bad guys’ than in honest debate about how we should go about changing the situations and what types of economic plans we should have for doing so. He just seems to have taken on too much in one small book to make a strong case for how to change the problems — both politically and technologically/environmentally.

TWO NOTES: 1) If you are interested in a concise Q&A regarding environmental issues and how to defend against contrarians, check out this link. Courtesy of Rev Sam at Elizaphanian.

2) Some in the blog universe have posited recently that it’s important to disclose if a copy is a review copy. Here is my disclaimer in case you didn’t notice the 2007 pub date indicated above. I received this book as part of HarperCollins’ FirstLook program. Disproving, at least in this one case, the opinion that only positive reviews are done by bloggers when the book is free.

>Guess the book (I can never play by the rules even when I try….)


>Dorothy did this meme today & since I had just finished cataloging my newly acquired books into LibraryThing and they were sitting nearby the keyboard, I had to do this. And I hated the results on page 123, but here they are. But, you’ll have to guess the poem rather than the book (at least without any hints, but I’ve got that challenge for you too further down the post).

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next 4 sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don’t you dare dig for that “cool” or “intellectual” book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line

Yeah, pretty easy and you could probably google it if you didn’t know. But since this could be in any one of several anthologies, your challenge is to figure out what book it is in. Here are your clues regarding the book this appeared in.

1. American female poet who often writes about nature and spirituality.
2. Book is on craft, is not strictly an anthology, and its title is derived from a famous line by Pope.
3. Percy Bysshe Shelley is one of her favorites.
4. She gave a lecture this evening in city where I live.
5. Neither of the other two volumes I bought have 123 pages, so I added page total of 2nd book to 3rd book to find the page (e.g., 123-109=page 14) to get this from one of her own poems:

I see it still;
and there was once, oh wonderful,
a new horse in the pasture,
a tall, slim being — a neighbor was keeping her there —

Make your guesses Friday. I’ll want to post my answer soon, as well as writing about the reading!

>Fear Stretched Thin: Some initial thoughts about the horror genre in fiction


>”It’s the other side” I had corrected my friend a few days earlier, not the “wrong” side of the road. But, as I rounded the bend and saw that the car coming towards me on the narrow Welsh road was not passing another vehicle, I realized it was the wrong side — at that particular time. I was in the wrong place. The “other” was the wrong.

The adrenaline rush sent my heart racing and every muscle in my body was shaking uncontrollably. I was clammy from the sweat, a result of the near collision, not the sweltering 95-degree heat. And, then, after skidding to a stop, the parched fields returning from a green-and-fawn colored spinning blur to a crisp clear focus that showed not just the fields but each planted row, while the putrid smell of burning rubber still lingered in the air, I noticed a slightly jarring, almost eerie, sound: crickets. Song birds. A gentle rustling of leaves from a slight breeze.

It took a few seconds to catch my breath, to realize that, despite the heightened sensory awareness, all was okay. But the fear stayed with me for awhile. I trembled as I thought that I might have died alone, in a strange country, my loved ones helpless to comfort me. And that I might have been responsible for ending the lives of the man and his young daughter on that lonely country road where one would rarely expect to pass a car, and never expect a head-on collision. “They didn’t see it coming around the curve” people would have said at the funerals. And others would shake their heads in agreement.

There was no damage to the car, but I had already been having mechanical problems. When I reached my destination, rather the exchange cars as intended, I left it at the rental shop and headed for the train station. Four and a half hours on a hot train seemed a better choice than three or more hours of additional stress in traffic on the M4. The train pulled into Paddington at rush hour. I made my way through the crowd and headed to the hotel. Fatigue had so settled into every bone of my body that I didn’t have the energy to complain about the ground floor room, or about the closet-door style lock that would not have stopped any would-be intruders. The air conditioner worked — and worked well — so cold that it seemed to mist the air, microscopic water particles hitting my body as I collapsed on the bed. I didn’t notice until I woke several hours later that at regular intervals, there was a muffled rumbling as the trains, just a few feet below my room, slowed on approach to the Underground station nearby. I felt like I had a hangover, a preferable state to being dead.

That was the last time that I felt real fear. Fear isn’t always met on the highway, but it is something that lurks around the corner ahead. We don’t know when we will encounter it, but we expect to at some time. We know the adrenaline rush, the ancestral fight or flight response. And we want to think that we will come out on the other side. The Other side — the right side — as if fear resides in a parallel universe, crossing over at unlucky times to inhabit our space.

I once heard anxiety described as “fear stretched thin”. Anxiety is fear’s half-sibling, twilight to fear’s night. It bears similar characteristics, a familial resemblance, a safer variety like a quickly moving stream that you think you can surely navigate although you know there is a slight possibility that you might slip and fall into the unswimable rapids. It is the feeling, rather than the knowledge, that fear is around the next bend of the road, on the other side, waiting for us to cross the center line.

I am not a reader of the horror genre. Yet, when Carl V suggested the RIP challenge, I couldn’t resist. What is this genre? I thought. What do I expect? Is it all the creepy zombie/vampire/blood-n-guts stuff of late-night B movies, the kind that we watched as kids on Nightmare Theatre with Sammy Terry, designed to scare us out of our wits? Does horror fiction only function on that juvenile level or is it something more?

It’s fitting that the RIP challenge is timed to coincide with the Halloween season. All Hallow’s Eve, the Christian version of the Celtic holy festival Samhain, is the acknowledgement of the other side of life, a time when souls can return to this world. I see it too as a recognition — perhaps a recognition of the associated fear — that not all souls are settled in the after-life, that sometimes death is not a finality bringing balance, peace and oneness in a spiritual hereafter. In its origins, All Hallow’s Eve involved customs meant as means to frighten away the unsettled and evil spirits, to conquer those fears and overcome the horror of an eternal unsettled life, before honoring the eternity and the presence of All Saints and All Souls in the following days. “Trick or Treat” is a way to laugh at our luck in escaping that unsettledness of our anxieties and fears. To feel some semblance of control over that which we cannot control — the unexpected and the unknown.

I don’t think that horror fiction’s intent is only to scare us. It provides us with a vicarious experience of anxiety, echoing fear by showing us the other side that we know is there. The side that isn’t quite what we want to experience, but that which we cannot look away from. We understand the adrenaline rush. We imagine the pounding heartbeats, the clammy skin, the shortness of breathe when we have escaped and overcome the fearful. We know the heightened sense of awareness and enjoyment in our known world afterwards, having sensed what it might be like to lose it all.

Horror fiction may be the embodiment of fear stretched thin, wound around like a rubberband ball, ready to be catapulted across the page to the other side and into our souls, and then released in laughter and affirmation of life as we approach the final pages of the book. At least, that is what I expect to find as I begin reading some creepy, terrifying horror books for the RIP challenge.

>Readers and Writers as Translators


>I started to post the following excerpt about translations almost a month ago, but never finished it. Originally, I thought it relevant to the discussion at the Reading War and Peace blog on which translation of Tolstoy’s novel was the “best”. But, reading BikeProf’s post yesterday at The Hobgoblin of Little Minds, brought to mind again the following excerpts from Michael Cunningham’s introduction to a new translation of Mann’s Death In Venice (Ecco, 2004). I think it’s relevant to BikeProf’s comments about literature evoking an emotional response: the writer creates–or translates as Cunningham suggests–and the reader re-creates. The writer/writing is evocative, the reader/reading emotive; both use the process of interpretation, the translation Cunningham writes about. The following excerpts are a bit long. I highly recommend not only reading Cunningham’s intro, but also Michael Henry Heim’s translation as well.


All novels are translations, even in their original languages. This has been revealed to me over time, as I’ve worked with the various dedicated (and inevitably underpaid) people who have agreed to translate my own books. When I started working with translators, I couldn’t help noticing that many of the problems that vexed them — questions of nuance, resonance, and tone, as well as the rhythms of the sentences themselves — were familiar to me. I’d worried over the same things when I wrote the book in the first place. It dawned on me, gradually, that I was a translator, too. I had taken the raw material of the book in question and translated it into language.

Every writer of course works differently, but I suspect that most novels begin in their writers’ minds as confusions of images, impulses, scattered meanings, devotitions, grudges, fixations, and some vague sort of plot, to name just a few. A novel in its earliest form, before it begins to be rendered into language, is a cloud of sorts that hovers over the writer’s head, a mystery born with clues to its own meanings but also, at its heart, insoluble. One hopes — a novel is inevitably an expression of unreasonable hopes — that the finished book will contain not only characters and scenes but a certain larger truth, though that truth, whatever it may be, is impossible to express fully in words. It has to do with the fact that writer and reader both know, beneath the level of active consciousness, something about being alive and being mortal, and that that something, when we try to express it, inevitably eludes us. We are creatures whose innate knowledge exceed that which can be articulated. Although language is enormously powerful, it is concrete, and so it can’t help but miniaturize, to a certain extent, that which we simply know. All the writers I respect want to write a book so penetrating and thorough, so compassionate and unrelenting, that it can stand unembarrassed beside the spectacle of life itself. And all writers I respect seem to know (though no one likes to talk about it) that our efforts are doomed from the outset. Life is bigger than literature. We do the best we can.

…..

Fiction is , then, at least to me, an ongoing process of translation (and mistranslation), beginning with the writer’s earliest impulses and continuing through its rendering into Icelandic, or Korean or Catalan. Writers and translators are engaged in the same effort, at different stages along the line.

……

Still, a handful of blunders does not seem likely to alter the fundamental tone of a book, or seriously subvert its meaning. Any assertion that a translation can be rendered “accurate” if its blatant errors are corrected underestimates the art and magic of translation. A translation, any translation, is filtered through a particular sensibility, and so the discrepancies, as they accrue, must be, at least to some extent, an expression of whatever the translator brought to the job. However multilingual we may be as readers, we find ourselves faced with a fundamental, inescapable responsibility. We must understand that any book, and especially a great one, is a complex and highly personal exchange between its writer and its readers. None of us reads precisely the same book, even if the words are identical. Readers, too, are part of the ongoing process of translation, the one that originates in the author’s mind.

Introduction to Death in Venice, Thomas Mann, Michael Cunningham, 2004 (p, v-vi, viii, xiii-xiv)

As for War and Peace, I’m so far behind I’m not sure that I’ll catch up with the rest of the group to participate in the discussion. In using terms that BikeProf might appreciate: I crashed on a Cat 1 climb. I tried reading some of W&P using an on-line edition I could access away from home, and another version when I was at home. That proved very difficult; the translations were different enough in feel that it was odd switching from one to another, even if the transition was at a chapter.

>Travel guides and travelogues


>Yesterday, Danielle at A Work In Progress and Dorothy at Of books and bicycles wrote about the nature of the essay as compared to other genres of writing. While I had been not been thinking about essays, I had been contemplating various forms of non-fiction writing as most of my reading has been non-fiction for the last few weeks.

On the work front, I’ve been reading an informative but dry book related to project management. In my real reading life, I’ve been immersed in travel books, which led me to thinking about the various types available for both the “armchair traveler” and one planning a journey, as well as books that are not guides, but capture in words an unforgettable feeling of place.

There are travel books that provide useful, practical information that a traveler needs to know: transportation, museum hours, eating and sleeping options. There are several imprints available, and each tries to distinguish itself from others by appealing to a certain sensibility. For example, the Rick Steves’ guides, popularized by the PBS series, appeals to the “backdoor” traveler, someone looking for an authentic, less Disneyfied experience while traveling frugally. The Cadogan and Michelin guides tend to be very heavy on background information. These are the types of guide books that I want to read before I go, and refer to later if I want more information, but they tend to be too heavy to tote with you. Rough Guides fall somewhere between the two — placing in context various sites, but giving tips on best values for the independent traveler.

Then there are travel guides that are glossy, picture books featuring highlights of various areas of a country. While beautiful to look at, most I’ve read tend to not give you things in context. Featured sites may be miles apart, or inaccessible to the casual traveler. These are the kind of books I like to peruse when I’m considering a trip to a certain destination: what might I see if I go there? where in a country should I travel? I find that these are great for fueling my wanderlust but I’d never plan the logistics of a trip with one.

I have a variety of each of these kinds of books in my library and use all types when I plan a journey. Last December, a holiday gift for a family member was an assortment of books on Ireland for planning her next trip: an “ahh! Look at the pretty pictures; I want to go there!” type, a practical guide listing B&B’s, restaurants and golf courses throughout the Emerald Isle, and a book that I skimmed while in the bookstore that made me laugh aloud — Round Ireland with a Fridge about a man who hitched around Ireland with — you guess it — a refrigerator! That’s the kind of book that I think can be most valuable for learning about a place, whether you ever travel there or not. Being careful to not break the bindings, I couldn’t help but skim through each book before I wrapped it in gift paper, even though I have no plans to travel to Ireland in the foreseeable future.

Which brings me to my current reading: The City of Falling Angels, by John Berendt. The first few pages captured me, painting a picture of Venice that no travel guide could. In the first few pages of the prologue, Berendt retells a conversation with a Venetian:

Everyone in Venice is acting…Everyone plays a role, and the role changes. The key to understanding Venetians is rhythm–the rhythm of the lagoon, the rhythm of the water, the tides, the waves….

The rhythm in Venice is like breathing…high water, high pressure: tense. Low water, low pressure: relaxed. Venetians are not at all atuned to the rhythm of the wheel, that is for other places, places with motor vehicles. Ours is the rhythm of the Adriatic. The rhythm of the sea. In Venice the rhythm flows along with the tide….

Do you see a bridge as an obstacle–as just another set of steps to climb to get from one side of a canal to the other? We Venetians do not see bridges as obstacles. To us bridges are transitions. We go over them very slowly. They are part of the rhythm. They are the links between two parts of a theatre…We cross from one reality to another reality. From one street…to another street….

Sunlight on a canal is reflected up through a window onto the ceiling, then from the ceiling onto a vase, and from the vase onto a glass, or a silver bowl. Which is the real sunlight? Which is the real reflection?

What is true? What is not true? The answer is not so simple, because the truth can change. I can change. You can change. That is the Venice effect.

Then, with an air of finality, he said, “Venetians never tell the truth. We mean precisely the opposite of what we say.

In the next 20 pages Berendt not only describes the physical aspects of Venice, but also writes about it’s history, the burning of its famed opera house in 1996, politics, the canals, Murano glass-making, rats (both human and animal varieties), and its fall to Napoleon, while reminding the reader that Venice is just barely twice the size of Central Park. While I could gather this information in a guide, Berendt is attempting something other than just information. He writes that his interest is “…not Venice per se but people who live in Venice, which is not the same thing. Nor apparently, had it been a comon approach in books about Venice”. Yet, he can’t separate the people from the place and writes that he chose Venice because it “is uniquely beautiful, isolated, inward-looking, and a powerful stimulant to the senses, the intellect, and the imagination….And, because, if the worst-case scenario for the rising sea level were to be believed, Venice might not be there very long”.

I’ve only read about 40 pages of Berendt’s book, so I can’t say whether he lives up to his stated purpose, but it certainly has captured me and perhaps I’ll find time to finish it before I board a plane for vacation in a few days. In flight, I’ll have time to think about the differences between the kind of book that provides you with useful, factual information and the informative writing that goes beyond journalism, beyond description, to provide you with much more.

>Reconsidering an ‘abandoned’ author


>A few weeks ago, I was reading comments on a post of Susan Hill’s regarding books one can’t finish. Like Susan, I have such a list; sometimes it seems longer than the list of books I’ve read. And despite making silly New Years’ Resolutions like ‘I’ll read everything I start this year’, usually there is still snow on the ground before I start appending ‘except this one…or this one’ to my resolution. Before the first daffodils bloom, my unkeepable promise is long forgotten.

The problem with abandoned books, at least for me, is that I typically abandon the author as well. So, when I read The Magic Mountain on Susan’s list I thought, ‘Me too!’ Mann makes me shudder. But, wait, she liked Death in Venice? In fact, she followed up to my comment telling me to not to be kept away from a ‘clean and clear’ masterpiece.

So, in one of those book serendipity moments, while trying to avoid an unruly, whinny child dripping cola from a sippy cup, I detoured through the bargin bin tables at B&N recently. My intent to only buy the book I had come for quickly faded as I spied a lone copy of Death in Venice. Short. Novella. $4.95. Why not? A few minutes later, it was mine!

And I couldn’t stay away from it. If I had 5 minutes, I read a page or two, lingering over each page, savoring every word. For a week or so, I would grab it out of my bag at traffic lights to re-read passages. I can’t remember reading anything that captures so perfectly the elation and foolishness of an infatuation than Mann does in this slim book. And that is not all: the descriptions of Venice and the sea, the spell of wanderlust Aschenbach falls under in the first few pages, the portrayal of the bureaucratic officials denying the presence of disease, the suspicions of the Aschenbach, his inability to leave even as he fears the epidemic because it will remove him from the presence of the unattainable object of his affection, the lingering doom of death and disease … and unrequited love. It’s all in this thin book. A clean & clear masterpiece, indeed!

How sad it would have been if I had always left Mann on my untouchables list. I may never reconsider The Magic Mountain again, but I may read Buddenbrooks.

The edition I read, published in 2004, is a new translation by Michael Henry Heim, with an introduction by Michael Cunningham. Cunningham has some interesting things to say about translations. I’ll post at another time on his comments.