Monday, January 28, 2008

Carlos Ruiz Zafon's THE SHADOW OF THE WIND

I generally try to concentrate on one book at a time, but as I am reading the Katha Pollitt book I am making my way through THE SHADOW OF THE WIND, loaned to me by a co-worker.

There's a section close to the beginning of the book in which a colleague takes the protagonist, then a young boy, to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a Barcelona library. His father, a bookstore owner, tells him, "In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day they will reach a new reader's hands. In the shop we buy and sell them, but in truth books have no owner. Every book you see here have been somebody's best friend."

While I have tried to thin down my library at home to manageable levels, I keep some of them around because they feel like old friends. And I worry, perhaps irrationally, perhaps not, that some of them might be forgotten, just like the books in that mysterious library. After I read the passage in the book, I pulled down my copy of THE BOOK OF BRIAN ALDISS. It's an old 1970s paperback anthology of short stories by a science fiction writer. I read it when I was in college and I've kept the book over the years because I liked it so much. Does anyone else remember it?

Sunday, January 27, 2008


I've just started Katha Pollitt's book of essays, LEARNING TO DRIVE. (I fell in love with her writing years ago, reading "The Nation" magazine. Here is her weird blog, where she refers to herself in the third person and links to recent "Nation" columns, which seem to be just as good as ever.) Here's a passage that captures her style, from the first essay in the book (the title essay):

Observation is my weakness. I did not realize that my mother is a secret drinker. I did not realize that the man I lived with, my soul mate, made for me in Marxist heaven, was a dedicated philanderer, that the drab colleague he insinuated into our social life was his long-standing secret girlfriend, or that the young art critic he mocked as silly and second-rate was being groomed as my replacement. I noticed that our apartment was becoming a grunge palace, with books and papers collecting dust on every surface and kitty litter crunching underfoot. I observed ... that I was spending many hours in my study, engaged in arcane e-mail debates with strangers, that I had gained twenty-five pounds in our seven years together and could not fit into many of my clothes. I realized it was not likely that the unfamiliar pink and black-striped bikini panties in the clean clothes basket were the result, as he claimed, of a simply laundry mix-up. But all this awareness was like the impending danger in one of those slow-motion dreams of paralysis, information that could be processed. It was like seeing the man with the suitcase step off the curb and driving forward anyway.

The reference to her philandering ex-boyfriend is one of the major themes of the book -- do we really know the people we think we know? -- but it's typical of Pollitt that she makes the point so vividly, with the tell-tale bikini panties. I also love the sly way she slips the knife into her rivals -- the "drab" ex-colleague, the younger woman who was mocked behind her back.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Robert Shea's SHAMAN

Robert Shea's SHAMAN is a historical novel about the Black Hawk War and the days when the state of Illinois was a frontier. It's very different from the ILLUMINATUS! trilogy Shea wrote with Robert Anton Wilson. Written in straighforward prose, the book details the adventures of a man who is half Native American, half white and who has a foot in both camps. (I knew I was nearing the end when he finally had to choose between his white wife and his Indian wife.) Allowing for lots of writerly invention, the book does have accurate details on the war, and it's also a really good read, although I suspect the exploits of one sharpshooter in the book have to be taken with a grain of salt. I'm curious whether some of the other books bear a closer relation to ILLUMINATUS.

The official Robert Shea site is here. For my interview with his son, Mike Shea, who maintains the site, see here.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ron Paul link removed

I've taken down my link to the Ron Paul campaign. That's what you get for supporting an anti-war politician, I suppose. You can probably guess why the link is gone, but if you've missed the news look here.

Also here.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Books read 2007

1. 9-11 Commission Report.
2. Virtual Music, William Duckworth.
3. Rules for Old Men Waiting, Peter Pouncey.
4. Talking Music, William Duckworth.
5. Thermopylae, Paul Cartledge.
6. Joe College, Tom Perrotta.
7. Play by Play, Neal Conan.
8. The Burglar in the Library, Lawrence Block.
9. Look to Windward, Iain M. Banks.
10. 20/20: 20 News Sounds of the 20th Century, William Duckworth.
11. The History of the Ancient World, Susan Wise Bauer.
12. Radicals for Capitalism, Brian Doherty.
13. A Thousand Deaths, George Alec Effinger.
14. Hot Ticket, Janice Weber.
15. Justinian's Flea, William Rosen.
16. The Beatles in Cleveland, Dave Schwensen.
17. The Day of the Barbarians, Alessandro Barbaro.
18. Email to the Universe, Robert Anton Wilson.
19. The Peculiar Exploits of Brigadier Ffelowes, Sterling Lanier.
20. Searoad, Ursula K. LeGuin.
21. The Malacia Tapestry, Brian Aldiss.
22. The Blue World, Jack Vance (re-read).
23. The Hellenistic Age, Peter Green.
24. The Eye in the Pyramid, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (re-read).
25. The Golden Apple, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (re-read).
26. Leviathan, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (re-read).
27. Tales, H.P. Lovecraft (Library of America).
28. The Stonehenge Gate, Jack Williamson (audiobook).
29. A Greek Roman Empire, Fergus Millar.
30. The Pursuit of Alice Thrift, Elinor Lipman (audiobook).
31. The Rest Is Noise, Alex Ross.
32. The Abstinence Teacher, Tom Perrotta.
33. Overblown, John Muellar.