Thinking Ahead to the New Year

December 22nd, 2010

FD loves New Year’s Resolutions.  Some people might associate New Year’s Resolutions with unpleasant recognitions that one must diet, exercise more, spend less.  But FD sees the tradition of New Year’s Resolutions as an opportunity to underscore the need to do fun things and have more pleasure in life.

So, for 2011, FD is thinking of adopting the following New Year’s Resolutions:

1)  As in earlier years, always have a shopping bag available.  That way, if an impulse to purchase something hits, FD will have a bag and will not need to accept one from the merchant.  FD dislikes having to figure out if there’s a way to recyle or reuse bags that accumulate from shopping.  Also, FD likes to shop locally and help local small businesses, and providing a bag is also a way to reduce the merchant’s costs.

2)  Like last year, FD is hoping to discard/donate/repurpose at least one item every day.  FD wasn’t able to fully achieve this resolution in 2010, but every item that was discarded, donated, or repurposed help to either make room for something wonderful and new or to simplify and uncomplicate FD’s life.  Lots of satisfaction and pleasure from that.

3)  A new resolution for 2011 is to write a mailable letter every day.  FD’s way to support the post office and to keep in warm touch with friends.  Sure, phones and email etc exist.  But letters are special.  Also, FD loves to make homemade envelopes, and wants to use them, not just make them.

4) FD has the beginnings of four mystery novels.  FD likes the plot development, character development aspects.  What FD isn’t so fond of is actually writing.  But, FD is sure that small writing stints will result in some progress, so for 2011, FD hopes to write just a few hundred words a day.  If nothing else, guilt about those unfinished projects will be reduced.

So, no resolutions to reduce chocolate consumption or increase exercise. Just a few easy and fun habits.

History Mysteries

December 9th, 2010

FD has a friend who enjoys historical mysteries and has especially enjoyed a series by Victoria Thompson, set in New York City during the “Gas light” era (here’s a link to VT’s homepage).  The idea makes sense — it should be doubly pleasurable to have both a mystery and history to read about.  But FD has not found historical mysteries as interesting as reading mysteries written in times that are now historical.  That is, it seems to FD that when one reads a mystery written in the 1920s or 30s, or 40s one can often get a better feel for the period than when one reads a mystery written today but set in the past.  Too often, contemporary writers seem to be too consciously placing the period details into the narrative and the reader notices them in a way that isn’t true in the same way when reading a novel written at the time.  Mystery novels of the 30s and 40s use the slang of the time in a much less self-conscious way, and describe homes, clothes, cars, and food in ways that are much more “natural” than what happens when a contemporary writer chooses to write a historical mystery.

Of course, the mystery novel has a pretty short history, so it’s not always possible to find mysteries written in a particular time period.  If one might enjoy a mystery set in the Roman Empire, or during medieval times, or even in Colonial America one must look to current authors.  There are many historical series being developed today; it seems that no historical personage or time period is safe from mystery writers — everyone from Freud to Abigail Adams is being pressed into sleuth service!  But FD is not sure that any of these novels will have achieve long-term popularity.

Holiday Reading

November 29th, 2010

FD and Mr. FD always include at least a few books in our gift-giving.  But we don’t buy things that are designated as “holiday” reading.  No copies of A Christmas Carol — or any of its descendants!   No books, even for the youngest readers, about snowmen or santa, and none of the “coffee table” books that are specially designed for the shopper without any actual ideas.

This year, we’ve bought some books of poetry (despite Chad Harbach’s recent comment in n+1, as quoted in Slate, that “it has become almost inconceivable that anyone outside a university library will read them”) and some books about art, and Mr. FD’s present to himself was a copy of Antonio Damasio’s new book about consciousness.  And it is still early; we’ll probably be back in the bookstore before the end of the gift-giving season.

Bookstores and Libraries

November 15th, 2010

Here in this University town, there’s a good relationship between the Public Library and the bookstores.  In fact, just last night FD and Mr. FD went to a wonderful benefit sale at the local independent bookstore, held to support the public library.  We bought a number of holiday presents, from children’s books to calendars, and also something for ourselves:  Life, by Keith Richards.  After what seems like an incessant drumbeat (or guitar lick) of articles about and interviews with Keith Richards, it seemed inevitable that we would buy the autobiography.

FD and Mr. FD  both choose “Rolling Stones” when faced with the “Beatles or Rolling Stones” question.  Perhaps not one you use to judge whether you will have a lot in common with new acquaintances, but one that actually works quite well, at least for the baby-boomer generation.

Literature and Politics

November 11th, 2010

FD has just begun reading Daisy Hay’s new study, Young Romantics.  This book (yes, it has its own website) reminds us that the poets Byron, Keats, and Shelley, were members of a highly politicized community and that they often wrote literary works specifically based on their politics.

FD remembers earlier times in the US, not so long ago, actually, when poets got together to create anthologies against war — most recently in 2003, when Sam Hamill started an on-line anthology, but earlier too, when poets joined to protest the Vietnam war (see this essay by John Clark Pratt) and when Neruda called for “Nixonicide.”  Similarly, issues like equal rights for women, for ethnic groups, and the rights of workers were all explored by US writers.

But, sigh, FD doesn’t see much happening at the moment — which seems as political fraught as any other time in our history.  Oddly, the Right seems to be more connected to the literature of politics — Glenn Beck writes his own political novels and has helped keep Ayn Rand’s novels (which needed no help!) selling briskly.  But where are the leftist novels and writers to compete??

On Biographies

October 14th, 2010

When FD was a child the local public library had an excellent collection of children’s books, including the Andrew Lang collections of fairy tales (each book bound in a different color) and many others by both US and British authors.  FD has especially fond memories of books by the English writer E. Nesbit.  FD has not dared to revisit these books, for fear that they might not be quite as wonderful as remembered, though it is a positive sign that Gore Vidal approves of them (see his essay in the New York Review of Books).  Less known in the US, Nesbit is still celebrated in England, where there’s even an E. Nesbit Society.

Last December when reading The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt (not Byatt’s most successful effort, but FD enjoyed it.  See here for one viewpoint with some interesting comments), FD was reminded of having long ago read a a review of a biography of Nesbit.  It was clear that Byatt was drawing on Nesbit’s life for her novel, so FD decided to track down the biography.  It turned out to be Julia Briggs’ A Woman of Passion, originally published in 1987 (FD was amazed to have remembered a review for that long!).  Fortunately, the local University library had a copy.

FD has read a number of biographies of writers (most recently one of Daphne du Maurier), even owns a few (of Cavafy and Seferis, and Virginia Woolf) and yet it seems to FD that biography is never as satisfactory as a good novel.  The most scrupulous biographers, after all, cannot really tell us what the subjects actually felt and thought, and unscrupulous biographers soon lose our trust with assertions that we cannot trust.  So, one finds oneself gazing at the photographs, hoping to see something in them, as one does in the photographs in one’s own family albums.

Food Memoirs, again

September 28th, 2010

So, FD has finished reading both of Julie Powell’s food-life memoirs.  As noted, Cleaving was not well received by most readers.  It reminded FD of an old (well he wasn’t at the time) hippie FD knew back in the 1960s.  This fellow was convinced that anyone/everyone was incredible if you only looked closely enough.  Powell certainly tried to look closely at herself in Cleaving; the problem for reviewers seemed to be that she couldn’t look as closely enough to make herself look quite as incredible as readers wanted her to be after the sweet story she told in Julie and Julia. And maybe no readers really wanted to look even as close as Powell managed.  The patho-biographic memoir (to play off Joyce Carol Oates coinage) has been being decried since at least 1996 (see this essay by James Atlas)  and perhaps it is now actualy in decline.  At any rate, Powell’s blog hasn’t been updated since April 2010, so there’s no recent report on how she’s dealing with a particularly unfortunate case of “second book syndrome.”  SBS can be hard on any author; it seems to be an especially real problem for food writers.  Even Elizabeth Gilbert’s follow-up to Eat, Pray, Love (which actually was only partially a food memoir) was less successful.

Speaking of “second book syndrome, here’s a link to an interesting blog post about a different sort of second book syndrome:  how reading the second book by an author’s whose first book you loved can be a, well, why not read the post…

Food Memoirs

September 23rd, 2010

A friend recently suggested that FD is reading a lot of mysteries and not much else.  So, yesterday FD went to the great public library in our fair city and checked out the two Julie Powell memoirs, Julie and Julia and Cleaving. The first was pretty universally lauded, the second was generally lambasted.  FD expects to enjoy them both.

Other food memoirs FD has read and enjoyed:  anything by MFK Fisher, including the material that’s not much good!  Fisher was a working writer, who needed to keep writing, even when she didn’t have as much to say.  FD can appreciate that.  Much less well known (perhaps almost completely unknown to most foodies?) is poet Martha Ronk’s Displeasures of the Table, published by Green Integer Press.  This collection of short pieces is mysteries, funny, and moving by turns.

Another FD favorite is Richard Klein’s Eat Fat, published back in 1996.  Klein’s book is really fun, as was his earlier Cigarettes are Sublime. Klein has also written a meditation in the form of a novel about  jewelry, called Jewelry Talks. FD hasn’t read that one yet, but plans to.  Klein works at Cornell University as a Professor of French, but his interests are wide and his books are well worth your time.

Labor Day Literature

September 6th, 2010

On Labor Day, FD does not think anyone should work for pay, so, instead of joining those who went to the mall today, FD stayed home and cleaned the study.  Really, even took the broom to the floor, once the floor could be seen.  Despite what felt like significant work, there are still piles of post cards, yarn, notebooks, and (behind the closet door, but not forgotten) FD’s summer hats.  And yet, some progress was made, a few items discarded, a few papers shredded, and some correspondence attended to.

While working, FD thought about work and fiction.  Was work ever really a literary focus?  Well, there’s Hesiod, Works and Days (available on line, and still in print after centuries…) but FD has not read it, in Ancient Greek or in English.  FD does remember reading George Gissing’s New Grub Street and the (to FD at least) the even more interesting The Odd Women.  (Australian academic Peter Morton maintains a page on Gissing) But like many other writers, Gissing’s insights into work are most keen in terms of the work of writing — and writing is a profession that, while it is well represented in fiction, is probably one of the smallest of all professions.   It seems to FD that another literary fiction also includes professions like soldier, farmer, explorer, and the like [mostly, but not exclusively male] who in are land/hand related professions.  Least represented are the jobs of the majority of workers of this late capitalist era — sure there have been some recent novels of the cubical class (Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End comes to mind but, again it’s set in an advertising agency — more writers!).  But novels are much more likely to focus on love and death (as Yeats and Faulkner both noted) than work.  Where are the novels about secretarial work, or call center workers, or department store clerks?  Not reviewed, perhaps, or perhaps not written…

On A Recent Acquisition and the Peril of Topical Collecting

September 1st, 2010

Mr. FD had a birthday recently, and since he is a wit and hot stuff, FD bought him a “new” book:  Hot Stuff by Famous Funny Men. This compendium, bound in red and black cloth, was published in Chicago by the Geo. M. Hill Co. around 1901  (A few copies are available on ABE which we recommend as the first search for most books!).  It may not be a book that Mr FD reads cover to cover — and in fact the spine is a bit weak to consider this a reading copy, but it is a nice addition to our collection of humor anthologies.  We did not see any copies on the Americana Exchange sale pages, but that site is one that we often visit.  The on-line magazine usually has one or more articles of interest, and if FolioDeux ever gets really serious about selling our small press collection, we would probably opt to become a selling member of the site.

The book topics FD and Mr. FD collect seem to endlessly expand.  Mr. FD has started reading about, and thus collecting, books about the first and second world wars — an offshoot of an earlier focus on the Civil War, and his collection includes a few books on ancient warfare as well.  FD has started collecting books about choosing pleasure over work — including The Hedonism Handbook and similar titles.  Books about writing and the mail are also of interest; FD is hoping to acquire a copy of Catherine J. Golden’s Posting It:  The Victorian Revolution in Letter Writing. Her publisher has a page for the book, and an on-line  search turns up a talk on You Tube by Golden at the National Postal Museum.

FD has a postcard sent from the NPM, which, in the opinion of FD should give postcard collecting a bit more space — at least as much as stamp collecting! As with the topics represented in the FD book collection, the topics in FD’s postcard albums have increased over time, even though FD has been trying to streamline and organize the boxes of postcards accumulated over the years.  But, instead of mailing or trading away more cards, FD seems to be adding cards to the collection.  Recently, FD decided to start actively collecting “Corn Palace” postcards.  So, as of today, FD is collecting not only poetry on postcards (especially small press poetry cards) and cards related to books and writing, but also cards featuring Knitting and other kinds of fabric arts, Sheep, Squirrels, the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, older cards with flowers, older cards of birds, anything having to do with Lincoln and the Civil War, and Marshall Fields department store.

And who knows, perhaps tomorrow some other new topic will be added to the book or the postcard lists!