Sunday, April 29, 2007


From the first page, I was completely mesmerized by this story of a Greek American family, spanning 80 years from a fateful incestuous union in 1920's Asia Minor to Prohibition era Detroit. I had seen the movie The Virgin Suicides, but not read the book, so this was my first knowledge of the work of Jeffrey Eugenides.

"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974."

Cal Stephanides, a 41-year-old hermaphrodite was raised as Calliope, a seeming girl. His grandparents each carried a single mutated gene on the fifth chromosome. Its expression may go underground for decades only to reappear when everyone has forgotten about it. This is a strange unsettling story with generous amounts of humor and an aching adolescent love story.

Cal says "In the end, it wasn't up to me. The big things never are. Birth, I mean, and Death. And love, and what love bequeaths to us before we're born."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Q's Legacy

Helene Hanff discovered Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch at the Philadelphia Public Library when she was 18. When she ran out of money and had to leave college, she took her education into her own hands.

She was impressed with his credentials and the simplicity and clarity of his writing. Reading ON THE ART OF WRITING, she says, "In the first chapter he threw so many marvelous quotes at me ... from Walton's ANGLER and Newman's IDEA OF THE UNIVERSITY and Milton's PARADISE LOST ... that I rushed back to the library and brought home all three, determined to read them before going on to Q's second lecture." And so it went. From PARADISE LOST to the New Testament to ... ad infinitum.

When Q died, she felt as though she'd lost a friend. And sets out to buy the books he taught her to love. In the Out-of-Print books column of the Saturday Review, she found an ad: "Marks & Co., Antiquarian Bookseller, 84 Charing Cross Road, London." And so began her long correspondence and friendship with Frank Doel and the staff at Marks & Co.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Nine Gates

Entering the Mind of Poetry
Where the voice of the natural and the voice of the poet meet

Jane Hirshfield has written nine essays geared toward the creative writing student, which I'm not. I bought the book because I loved the beautiful cover and the translations of classical Japanese verse, particularly those of Komachi, Shikibu and Ryokan, and the influence of Zen Buddhism

I was drawn to the poems and the poets rather than to the "talking about poetry".

She describes herself to the late poet, Richard Hugo, whom she did not know: "I don't write much about America, or even people. I'd often enough rather talk to horses."

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut died on Wednesday. "Like Mark Twain, he used humor to tackle the basic questions of human existence: Why are we in this world? Is there a presiding figure to make sense of all this, a god who in the end, despite making people suffer, wishes them well?" from the New York Times

His experience in the fire bombing of Dresden in 1945 was the basis of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” which was published in 1969 against the backdrop of war in Vietnam, racial unrest and cultural and social upheaval.

I'll be re-reading some of his books soon - Cat's Cradle, and Breakfast of Champions.

John Steinbeck

I've been re-reading John Steinbeck recently - Sweet Thursday, Cannery Row, The Long Valley, Tortilla Flat, The Log from the Sea of Cortez.

The last chapter of Travels with Charley broke my heart. The images he presents to us of the first integration of schools in New Orleans - the tiny black girl, the military guards, and the cheerleaders ... oh, the cheerleaders. As I write these words, the tears are spilling over still.

I thought I'd read them all, but then was surprised to discover one I'd not ... The Moon is Down

I've been reading an extraordinary number of novels about war recently ... Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels was the current selection for our book club ... from Poland in WWII to Greece to Toronto. Resistance by Anita Shreve, the Maquis in 1943 move Jews to France and freedom. And another recent re-read, Too Young to Fight. Priscilla Galloway compiled a book of recollections from Canada's best-known writers. The contributors were children and teenagers during WWII

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Helene Hanff

I've read all of her books and own most of them. This one is my favorite ... and the movie is wonderful ... Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, and a very young Judi Dench

Daniel Wallace

Wallace wrote The Big Fish, one of my favorite movies. I found the book in our library and looked for others he had written

Barbara Hodgson

In the exotic world of Morocco, Lydia writes daily in her journal ... later, when she disappears, Chris takes up her diary to record his search for her

A clever murder mystery, an acute study of human nature ... and a dark, sly fairy-tale quest

a local author

Eudora Welty

I love this anecdote about Eudora Welty and the email system ... it's the same one I've been using for many years now