31 January 2016

1. The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude by Howard Axelrod

What I thought was going to be a Thoreua-like meditation on the Woods, Solitude, and Individualism was really an exploration of the Angst Some People Feel as they Graduate College - the big "what do I do now?" Once I figured that out, Axelrod lost me, because, well, to be honest that topic just bores the living shit out of me. Whenever I get a whiff of this kind of story/experience, I just automatically feel like "middle-classer can't hack adversity" and what will follow is some kind of "the world isn't like I expected" story which only tells me that dude's past didn't get him ready for Real Life, which is, at it's most basic, Uncertainty.

The title, sub-title really, and the summary-blurb, and even some of the quotes on the cover left me with higher expectations, that I was going to be treated to some insightful reading of Man through Nature. An updated Thoreau. Modern Romanticism. I regularly reread Thoreau and read Wordsworth for fun. So I was quite excited to receive this as a Christmas present and started into it immediately.

Axelrod retreats to the woods in order to think out and sort out his place in the world. A big goal. A combination of setbacks, or major changes, have left him somewhat adrift: graduation and the feeling of not knowing what's next, a romantic disappointment, and worst of all, a devastating injury to one of his eyes, suffered in the last few minutes of a pickup basketball game during his senior year of college. The confusion of major transitions can be overcome, heart break can heal quickly with some courage and confidence, but physical injury, especially to Essential Components can really crush the spirit.

So, his trip to the woods was designed to heal, physically and emotionally.

The first third of the book is super tight. Lots of walks in the woods, accompanied by lots of notes about the transitions of seasons, metaphors for Axelrod's transitions from student to professional, from Boy-Man to Man.

But after the first third, we got sort of jumpy and disorganized - like the editing pen stopped and the focus that we had was gone. Winters merge, we jump to a scene in Italy - an important one, but seemingly thrown in to explain why we went to the woods in the first place - was it romantic disappointment or physical injury that forced us out of the social order? The physical injury seems an afterthought until after the romantic disappointment.  So we go to the woods, but eventually family pressures pull us back to the mainland of social interaction - where a seemingly innocent Thanksgiving dinner nearly turns disastrous.

Ultimately, I was disappointed.

Some great great sentences, but overall, the only person who would connect this to Thoreau is someone whose only exposure to Thoreau is the Walden wikipedia page. We all go through these transitions: college to professional life, from living with the parents to living independently, and so on. And for the most part, we're all successful, personally or professionally.

As I was reading I had that moment, that I had many times living in NYC, that, the person in front of me was only successful because, somehow, they had a Connection who lifted him or her into place. That I was only reading this because somehow, or some way, Axelrod was connected though his six degrees to some kind of publisher or whatnot, who somehow granted him access to some one who said yes to the first 50 pages every writer has to submit to an agent or publisher. His highest scoring Medium post, or magazine article, or second-date story is now a book.

23 June 2015

1. N by E by Rockwell Kent

Great, great book telling the tale of Kent's trip to Greenland in a 33' sailboat.

I knew of RW from his Moby Dick woodcuts. And I learned a whole lot more about him in the intro: he designed the logo for Random House, Modern Library, and Viking Press.

And not only a visual artist, but a real wordsmith, too.

"Man is, after all, less entity than a consequence and his being is a derivation of a less subjective world, a synthesis of what he calls the elements. Man's very spirit is a sublimation of cosmic energy and worships it as God."

Take, for example, the compactness of the following sentence, as evidence of Kent's style:

"Shunning that coast as if it had the power to pursue us, we laid a course that put us at the bright hour of sunrise so far at sea that not the highest peaks of any land disturbed the far, hard line of the gulf's horizon."

02 September 2013

5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Technically a reread since I read it once when I was designing my Monsters course.

Quite a book!

30 August 2013

4. A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols

It seems weird to me that I read PN's first book, Sea Change, seven years ago. Weird because I have very specific images and memories about the book still in my head, and other books I read at the same time, and recorded here in this blog, I have almost no recollection of. It's been on my shelf for a while, spared from donation, unread, through a few moves, and a few hurricanes. What finally pushed me to pick it up was this short essay by Maggie Shipstead.

This book is about the sailors who competed in the first non-stop, around-alone sailing race in 1968. I became so enthralled with the exploits of the four major competitors that I impulsively went to Amazon to buy a number of Bernard Moitessier's books, and Knox-Johnston's account of the voyage. The excerpted logs and diaries weren't enough, especially for what I have read as complementary material about BM, who seems to have the same religious view of the sea that I have.

At points I found myself looking for some kind of graphic organizer, so I could make sense of the dates and positions of each sailor in the race. And more pictures! But at the same time I thought the interweaving of journal and narrative was done very well. And PN is a master at the end of section foreshadowing that you find in a lot of these narratives of adventurous epics.

Since this 1968 race there have been more single-handed around-the-world races and more fully-crewed around-the-world races, so the idea caught on. I mean, people still want to explore the boundaries of what is capable, and this kind of racing certainly qualifies as a Test.

30 July 2013

3. REAMDE by Neal Stephenson

I love Neal Stephenson and I love long books  (This one also clocked in at over 1000 pages!).

REAMDE is a computer virus that encrypts all of the users files and holds them hostage until a ransom is paid. And not the kind of ransom that is put in a briefcase and tossed off a bridge, but a ransom paid in an online game. So imagine hundreds, thousands of computers infected with this virus, and all of the users forced to pay a small ransom of in-game gold to the virus writer in exchange for the password.

That's the premise of the book, and so over the next 1000 cinematic and descriptive pages we meet an assortment of characters including Russian gangsters, Russian "security agents," hackers, jihadists, and gamers, all of whom wind up on one of the longest chase scenes in modern fiction!

I can't wait for the movie!

18 July 2013

2. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

I like long books.

The main character in this long book - almost 1000 pages - is the cathedral that is being built in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England. I read this book when it first came out and I was in HS and I have thought about it every once and a while since then. It's nothing like the first three books of the Dragonlance series, but somehow the characters in this book and those books have stuck in my head like people I actually met and know.

1. Crime & Punishment by F. Dostoevsky

Great book - though I had a little trouble with the Russian names - with a very satisfying ending.

09 April 2012

6. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

I read Crane's short story The Open Boat and was so taken with Crane's voice and style, that I immediately wanted to get into this classic which, despite loving war books and having thought a great deal about my own time in the Navy, I hadn't ever read. It's one of those books you can get by not reading because so many other people have read it, and refer to it, that you kind of know what it's about. Gatsby's like that, too.

I loved it, mostly, for Crane's sentences. Sturdy, light, strong, and efficient. If you're an English teacher and you want to show a kid some powerful sentences with a varied structure, Crane's your man.

30 September 2011

5. Fortunes of War by Patrick O'Brian

Dear Meezly,

You are going to absolutely LOVE this one!

I loved it mostly because everything that happened so far has consequences in this novel. Up until now I felt like the books have been telling stories, but the events and actions have been independent of each other. Sure, they are sequential, and certainly there are links between the causes and effects, but in Fortunes of War, which begins on the eve of the War of 1812, O'Brian locks everything up tight. And in some really nice ways: some characters return, some characters are new, but are associated with old ones, and we have some new locations, too. And a lot of surprise turns that frustrate Jack and add a lot to Stephen's story. In the some of the earlier books I found myself merely enduring Stephen's story, but on FoW, man oh man, it gets good! Spy stuff!

I also especially liked the way O'Brian highlighted some of the conflicts I hadn't thought of: the new Navy and the old both in technology (the guns, for example), the clothes, and the character/attitude of the officers. Jack's old school and at the start we meet another old school captain and then, near the end of the book, we met a new school captain. There are a few others, but I don't want to tip into spoiler territory.

There are some good sea battles, but most of the novel takes place on shore. That might sound boring, but Stephen's troubles kept me so stressed out I had to keep reading.

And I see that the next book, The Surgeon's Mate, takes place directly after this one. In truth, I've started it, but I'm still in the first dozen or so pages, fighting through the annoying, but necessary review that begins sequels. But I expect the dovetailing to continue, at least until we get to those books that don't exactly fit into real life's timeline

24 September 2011

Kindle @ the library

This week Amazon announced that Kindle owners could finally DL books from their local libraries. I tried the night of the announcement, but somehow I let my card lapse. I just used it ten days ago, but since then it had run out. After a quick stop to renew I was back in business.

I tried from school, but the student wifi account doesn't allow access to Amazon, and you have to DL your books via wifi.

But I tried again this morning and had success!

If you have a Kindle and a library card for a LI library here's how you do it:

Go to: http://live-brary.com/

Click "free downloads" on the list on the left
Click "My Account" from the toolbar across the top
Select your local library from the list
Put in your barcode

Then search for books and follow the directions...

I was happy to see four Patrick O'Brian novels - Books 1, 2, 11, and 12.  That's an odd place to start, but I'm looking forward to seeing the rest go online.

But why can I borrow a digital edition from my library, but can't buy one from Amazon. It's a mystery. Anyone know the answer?

I checked out The Atlantic by Simon Winchester and Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World by Maya Jasanoff.

11 September 2011


We completely survived Hurricane Irene. We were sweating it out pretty good at Allison's parents house, getting text updates from neighbors, and then from the TV news once they showed up on our corner/block. That was a little stressful: "hey! you're house is on TV showing the flooding in your town." But after everything was over, we fared very well. The water came close to the house but never came inside. This is the street in front of the house; that's our white fence.


And this is our driveway. You can see how high the water got, there at the rubble line on the front lawn.

We didn't lose our magnolia tree, either!

Here's a link to our friends' house - two videos showing the storm's fury, one inside and one outside the house: Miss Gracie's page.