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Friday, April 30, 2010

Out with the Old

Our neighbors' old truck, which has been parked, unmoving, alongside their house for many years has suddenly acquired a very dapper appearance.  I think its about to read The New Yorker.

We are running out of space in the bookstore, with about 12,800 books in our database, and thirty or so boxes of books waiting to be described and priced.  Tim, who is Pistil's official shelver, has been pulling books off the shelves that he's noticed have been sitting there forever to make room for the new, and he's also re-arranging as he goes.  Somehow, like magic, he manages to fit more books than should be possible on to the shelves.  When the Seattle weather becomes reliably sunny (ha!), I plan to do a big cull of a few hundred older titles and have an outdoor book sale.

Reading Notes

I just finished reading a novel by  Mischa Berlinski called Fieldwork, which as the title suggests is the story of an anthropologist, but also involves a bit of a murder mystery.  The narrator (who has the same name as the author, though the story is definitely a work of fiction) is a journalist living in Thailand who becomes caught up in investigating the story of a missionary murdered by an anthropologist, both of whom are involved with a Thai hill tribe (one converting and one studying), until the anthropologist becomes the lover of a native man and participates in a mystical corn ritual, leading to the murder and her downfall.  Several stories interweave and overlap:  the story of the narrator and his  teacher girlfriend; the story of the missionary family, the story of the anthropologist, and a look into a different culture.  The journalist/narrator throws in excerpts from anthropological history and  memoirs and the whole thing makes for an absorbing, enjoyable read.

I've also been reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, which is an account of what will happen to the physical world after humans are gone.  Once I hiked to a hot springs that was formerly reached by a paved road.  The road had been closed for ten years or so, and it was completely falling apart and disintegrating; barely visible in places, covered with greenery.  Seeing that was pretty cool. I've only read forty or so pages thus far of The World Without Us (and I'm not sure I'll read the whole thing), but reading about how nature (microorganisms, plants, animals, and the effects of weather and time) will basically take back the human made world, no problem, is actually pretty heartening to me.  Here's a couple of sentences from the chapter on what will happen to Manhattan:  "In the first few years with no heat, pipes burst all over town, the freeze-thaw cycle moves indoors, and things start to seriously deteriorate.  Buildings groan as their innards expand and contract; joints between walls and rooflines separate.  Where they do, rain leaks in, bolts rust, and facing pops off, exposing insulation.  If the city hasn't burned yet, it will now."  Yippee.

And I've started Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.  I've read a lot of similar-themed food books in the past few years (and food movies-- I highly recommend Our Daily Bread, a European film which has no commentary, only a depiction of industrial food production at work), including In Defense of Food (also by Pollan), so it's more of the same important information.  Namely, don't eat processed foods.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reading Fits and Dribbles

I'm back to my old "bad" reading habits:   picking up books randomly, reading a bit, then losing interest and starting something else.  I've tried several novels--  Immortality by Milan Kundera.  This seemed not to be a novel to me, but scenes of contemporary characters interspersed with authorial discourse on the nature of immortality, the kind famous people get for being famous, along with some imagined scenes of conversations between Goethe and Hemingway.  I was somewhat interested, but not enough to keep going after about a third of the book.  I also started In America by Susan Sontag, whom I've never read.  This was the story of an actress and her friends who are planning to move to America in the 1870's to start a new life.  The first chapter was amusing because the narrator (who seems to be the author) crashes a party and warms herself, invisible, by the fire while eavesdropping on the characters of the subsequent chapters, trying to figure out what their stories are.   After this, the story gets pretty sappy (though again, I only read the first third).  For instance, one of the Polish crowd's scouts sent ahead to find a place for them to start their Utopian community is sailing first class on a luxury ocean liner.  He's an aspiring writer, and goes down into the bowels of the ship to experience the riff raff.  There he visits a prostituted girl (her father is her pimp) and feels so bad about her predicament, that he only penetrates her thighs...  Let's see, then I read the first chapter of After This by Alice McDermott, which I liked.  It was a realistic day-in-the-life depiction of an unmarried thirty year-old woman who works as a secretary right after World War II.  Then suddenly in the next chapter, she's married with several children... damn!  For whatever reason, I like the gritty day-to-day details and it disturbs me to suddenly jump forward in time.  Though of course it happens all the time in fiction.  Now I'm reading (or at least starting!) The Magic Kingdom by Stanley Elkin.

We have been buying many books recently.  We've added about 600 new titles from a recent estate purchase, and we have about a thousand more new books to be valued and catalogued waiting in boxes in the wings.  Our shelves are already full, with no more room at all in the oversized book sections.  This means culling old stock and getting ready to have an outdoor book sale at the first opportunity.

Meanwhile, in our neighborhood Elliott Bay Book Company will be opening tomorrow with a street party celebration.  And Open Books on Madison Street is closing its doors.  Book-It Repertory Theatre, a company that produces plays based on books is having free readings this weekend, a Novel Workshop.  I'm planning to go to the Alice in Wonderland reading for sure.  And the Seattle Public Library is having their big book sale in an airplane hanger at Magnuson Park.  It's crowded, dirty, and filled with non-readers scanning ISBN's with their electronic devices telling them which titles to buy for the evil megalisters based on robot pricing, but hey, there's lots of cheap books.