19 December 2007

26. Spring Tides by Samuel Eliot Morison

A short little number published in 1965. This is a sailing book that I have never heard of before. I have heard of Morison, though. He's written quite a bunch of books about WW2, especially the War in the Pacific.

The book is divided into six sections: Spring Tides; A Yacht's Cabin; An August Day's Sail; A September Cruise; The Ancients and the Sea; A Summer Cruise in the Aegean.

Some good insights into the beauty of sailing. And Morison tries to explain the mystery of why a yacht's cabin, despite it's cramped quarters and mix of funky aromas, is as cozy as it is. And the chapter on late summer sailing is excellent.

The chapter on the Ancients could be better explained. I mean, reading it made me wish I had studied the Ancients.

25. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad's classic that was turned into a great movie, although mediocre version of this story.

In the story Marlow and his pals are sitting around on the deck of the cruising yawl Nellie, waiting for the tide to shift and the sun to go down. To pass the time Marlow decides to tell a story of the time he was a freshwater sailor and had to taken a steamer up a river in the Congo. He had gotten a position with an ivory trading company through the influence of an aunt and as his first job he was tasked with taking a station manager up the river to retrieve Kurtz.

Now Kurtz is a trader who has gone nuts with his own unlimited power over the natives. His followers are not willing to let him go and attack the steamer as it draws closer to the clearing where he has set up camp. Marlow and the station manager dock the boat and meet up with Kurtz, who, it turns out is quite sick and near death. He resents the fact that he is being called back. After all, he's gotten so much ivory for the Company that it's piled up at camp.

The end of the movie is not exactly the same as the book, so I'll stop here.

There is some really great writing here.

03 December 2007

24. Learning to Sail by H.A. Calahan

Also posted at: http://theredwing.blogspot.com/

First off, let me just say that I have wanted to read this book for a good, good long time. Published for the first time in November 1932, it's not an easy book to find. And by find I mean find, not search for, if you get my meaning.

This book has everything - nice thick paper, great illustrations and photographs, no author bio about his living on the Maine Coast with his wife, three kids, and two cats, one of whom enjoys sailing, and all that modern luggage a new book must ship. This one is just pure salt.

Now, naturally, one cannot learn how to sail from a book. It's one of those learn-by-doing jobs, so this is a book for people who have just finished, say, their third or fourth lesson. They know the vocab, they feel good, and have enough experience to be able to listen to advice.

And this book has a lot of old-time advice. And some plain old good writing.

From the chapter on Helmsmanship:

"After the beginner has learned to maneuver his boat with a fair degree of confidence, he is quite certain to slump and become careless. If at this point he could understand that he has mastered the very rudiments of sailing and the finer touches are still to be acquired, he would progress rapidly. As a rule, however, the beginner continues as a beginner until he starts to enter races. Then with the other boats passing him as if he were standing still, it begins to dawn on him that he has not mastered the fine art of helmsmanship" (135).

And again from the same chapter:

"A sailboat is the most alive creation ever made by man. She has her whims and moods and there must be a sympathy and understanding between the helmsman and the boat" (135).

From the "What to do in a Thunderstorm" chapter:

"A thunderstorm is carried in the direction of the tide and may pass out with the ebb and return again on the flood. When you see a thunderstorm approaching, try to get in the lee of a shore or rather hide behind the shore that will be to windward when the thunderstorm breaks. It is easy to forecast the exact direction of the wind of the storm by watching the movement of the approaching clouds. Rest assured that the wind will not be blowing from the pre-storm direction when the storm breaks. Just before the storm comes, it irons out the wind and you find yourself in a flat, ominous calm. The longer and more pronounced the calm, the more violent the storm will be when it breaks" (176-77).

From "Fitting out:"

"Springtime! What does that mean to the sailor? Not the sinking of the plowshare into the moist, brown earth nor the return of the birds, the first green buds upon the trees or the gay new apparel in shop windows.

"No, spring expresses itself to the sailor in the tapping of the caulking mallet, the pungent smell of copper paint, the good will and the hard work and the cheery good fellowship in the shipyard; the warm sun overhead and the cold, forbidding, empty blue water just beyond. Spring is a joyous time in a shipyard. The boats emerging grimily from their winter covers seem to stretch and yawn and cast an eye seaward. There is a joy in the scraping and painting and puttying; in the overhauling of gear and equipment. And when at last the old hooker slides down the ways and bobs gayly in her new coat of paint, it is a moment of sheer, unalloyed joy" (307).

And finally, from the afterword of the printing I found (at my university's library), from a section called, "What it's all about:"

"There is a fraternity of the sea, not understood by landsmen. You may golf or ride or drink with a man and never see below the surface. But sail with him and you know him. Go through danger and hardship and adventure together and the knot of friendship is firmly tied. Yachtsmen visit one another in the ports they touch. The yacht clubs compete in extending hospitality. Yachtsmen help one another whenever possible. There is more genuine good fellowship among yachtsmen than among among almost any other group of humans. Perhaps it is the salt water in the blood" (318).

23. Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry by Mildred Taylor

The other side of the To Kill a Mockingbird coin - the sad situation of the Jim Crow South with the friction, heat, and armed conflict that is missing from Mockingbird.

Set during the 30s, the Logans own their own farm, 200 acres that have been in the family for going on three generations. They farm but are left with so little money left over that the father is forced to leave the family to work the railroad in Louisiana. The mom holds down the fort, teaching at the local black school (with hand me down books from the white school), and organizing a community boycott of the white grocery.

The main conflict comes from this boycott, which is in response to a half-lynching by the family that runs the store, the Wallaces. They are a mean bunch, and they light two guys on fire for flirting with the checkout girl. One of the guys dies immediately and the other lingers.

Naturally nobody is punished for this crime and the black community is split between the that's-just-the-way-it-is crowd and the we're-not-going-to-take-it crowd.

The story is told through the voice of Cassie, who is about twelve. She's one tough cookie, getting into fights, mouthing off to her elders, and disobeying direct orders from her mom.

It was good, better in many ways than the Watson's book (#22), and would be a perfect pair with Mockingbird.

27 November 2007

22. The Watsons go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

A great book about a very close family who lives in Flint Michigan. Because the oldest son, Byron, is becoming a juvenile delinquent the family decides he should live with the grandmother down in Alabama. So, off they go on a roadtrip.

About 9/10 of the book is dedicated to character development and establishing the close knit ties between the parents and the kids. The oldest brother constantly picks on our narrator, ten-year-old Kenny. And there is a little sister Joetta.

The voice of the main character and narrator is hilarious. Curtis does a great job getting inside the head of Kenny.

The family drives to Alabama and gets there just in time for the church bombing that killed four little girls and blinded two others. For such a climactic moment there is very little politicking and lecturing in the book. Kenny has a hard time with the bombing and the causes and consequences of the bombing, and his bully brother Byron helps him work through it.

It was a very quick read. This book won honors (I guess that means not-first place) in both the Newberry Awards and the Coretta Scott King awards. I think it would be a great companion to the recent Presidential Medal of Freedom Award winning To Kill a Mockingbird.

21 November 2007

21. Fallen Angels by W. D. Myers

I also read this for a class, and quite enjoyed it. It's classified as Young Adult literature (one of the things we are discussing is just what YA lit really is), but has some heavy ideas, some very grown up scenes in it, and clocks in at about 300 pages.

The story is about a recent HS graduate who enlists and is sent off to Viet Nam.

With fewer details about the intricacies of basic training, breaking down and cleaning one's rifle, and the irony of war (sent to help but actually harming) it's only just more than your typical VN war book/story, and fits neatly in the genre. What is most compelling to me is Richie's justification for joining: his family needed the money. With no dad and a little brother still in high school, Richie was the bread winner as soon as he graduated from high school.

I think this is important, especially now, as Bush's haphazard, aimless foreign policy puts young men and women in danger who were probably in the same position as Richie - no money for college, no decent job prospects, and few opportunities for upward mobility or economic independence.

20. Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison

Read this powerful little book for a Multi-Cultural Education class.

In it Morrison attacks the representation and lack of representation of black Americans in American Lit. She discusses the demeaning and patronizing portrayal of blacks (think Huck Finn, especially the last third of the book), and the complete absence of effects of black Americans in the books. She asks how, since every single political decision made since the drafting of the Declaration of Independence has been about, or affected by, the presence of slaves, freed slaves, or the legacy of slavery, how can black characters, black people, black-ness not be prolific in literature. She provides some examples from Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway, and gives some praise to Melville.

05 November 2007

William Stafford

"I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life, you know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don't have any sense of its coming to a kind of crescendo, or of its petering out either. It is just going steadily along."

And a poem:

A Ritual To Read To Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

17 September 2007

19. Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

Amazing. Guy's a genius, I swear.

18. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

A great book, short, but my least favorite Steinbeck.

13 September 2007

Steinhardt, the final update

In case you have been following the continuing saga of me working to get admitted into the English Education program at NYU's Steinhardt School of Education (part one and part two) and perhaps wondering "what ever happened with that?", I offer you one more installment. The last, one hopes.

Professor P,

You will recall that I met with you and Professor S on 27 August for academic advising. You told me to submit an ENGP Application to the School of Education. The following morning I brought a complete application over to the admissions director, Mr. M. This application included the application fee, my philosophy of education, a copy of my certificate/license, a copy of my honorable discharge from the Navy, a letter from LW thanking me and my former school for hosting so many Steinhardt students and offering us a stipend, and transcripts from College of St Rose and NYU undergraduate/Gallatin.

Mr. M advised me to not register for classes as a non-matriculated student because "once my application went through, things would get messed up."

After one week I called the registrar's office to find out the status of my application and to get the classroom locations for my courses (Dr B's Teaching Reading and Dr S's Multicultural Ed).

After missing the deadline to register as a matriculated student, I planned to register late.

I went to the SoE admissions office yesterday (10 Sept) to determine the status of the application, and at the least, begin the process for non-matriculated enrollment (figuring that at this point I had to register as quickly as possible).

I was told that VB would not process my application because I had not submited transcripts from community college. Mind you, the community college transcript has been reviewed and processed/included/noted on my undergrad transcript.

So I said fine, let me register as a non-matriculated student until I obtained the CC transcript. Ms. VB said that she would not let me register as a non-matric unless I submitted a letter withdrawing my application for matriculated enrollment.

Considering I had six Steinhardt student teachers, countless observers (literally!), and coordinated the student-teaching program at my former school (including social studies, science, and english STs) I can't see what bearing my community college grades have on my graduate school application. In fact, I took on one of the student teachers, David S, mid-semester as a favor to Mr S and his advisor (Professor S) because his first CT was so unpleasant.

If in fact the community college transcript is that important, I will provide it as soon as possible (Thursday). I did not include it because it was already processed in my undergrad record (and doesn't NYU have an official copy on file?).

I'm not sure what is going on, or what my next step should be. I went to class last night with Professor S and she advised me to contact you this morning. Can you provide any advice or help?

If you need amplifying information please contact me at 718.***.****. I am also providing a list of people you can contact at the School of Ed and my former school if you need to.

Thank you, Professor P, very much for your time and attention. I appreciate whatever effort you make on my behalf and I look forward to speaking with you soon.


The next day Professor P sent this email to the admissions director and a few other professors:

[This] email narrates a horrendous tale of woe regarding a student who we want in the English Ed MA program and who by all accounts is eligible and has completed the paperwork. I realize that some deadline for fall applications may be been violated, but I don't think NYU wants to hit the national news as giving a hard time to a Navy Vet who further wants to serve his country by being a teacher. So will someone clean this up as soon as possible (Unless I am missing something and he is on some home security list--just joking.)

Later that day, the admissions director sent this email to all of us:

From your message it appears you will be able to complete the admissions process tomorrow by providing the requested transcript from Community College. A student copy at this point will be acceptable. If you are not able to hand deliver to Graduate Admissions you may fax it to my attention at 212.***.****.

I look forward to being able to finalize this process.

I had the transcript faxed today and was, FINALLY, admitted as a graduate student in the English Ed program at NYU's School of Ed.

At the advisement I learned that licensed teachers have a separate track that leads to their degree, the Professionals' degree. I have four classes to go, so two this semester and two next and then I am done with my Ed degree. I'm already plotting and planning to start my English Lit at CW Post. Hopefully their admissions department isn't staffed with jackasses.

29 August 2007

17. Billy Budd by Herman Melville

You may have read this in high school. I did not, so I had no idea what was in store.

Set in the 1790s, Billy Budd is a sailor on a merchant ship who is impressed into service on a British warship. Impressment is a forced enlistment - basically warships would stop merchants and pick off some of the crew to serve in His/Her Majesty's service. In fact, the British warships didn't even care if the merchant was English. One of the causes of the War of 1812 was that Britain would not stop impressing American sailors.

So, Billy Budd accepts, even embraces, his service and becomes a foretop man, working one of the yardarms atop one of the masts. So impressed with Budd, Captain Vere has decided to promote him to captain of the mast he works. Billy Budd's meek. He's beautiful. And he's quite popular with the crew.

Except with Claggart, the Master-at-Arms (a sort of the ship's chief of police), who has it in for Billy Budd. No explanation is given except that Claggart has a "depravity" that makes him twisted and evil.

So Claggart falsely informs on Budd, accusing him of plotting a mutiny. This is an exceptional charge because there were two big mutinies in 1797. Normally, and obviously, paranoid about any potential threat of rebellion, commanders were especially sensitive to any hint of it after 1797.

So the captain brings Budd and Claggart to his stateroom to sort out the charge. When he hears it, Budd's is overwhelmed and, unable to answer. Out of frustration he strikes the Master-at-Arms at kills him. This is a crime, for Billy Budd is a mere sailor and Claggart outranks him.

So Vere has to decide - does Billy Budd swing for his crime, or does he (and the jury) consider the circumstances and the actors involved in the crisis? Should they consider the crew's reaction to a death sentence for the very popular Billy Budd for killing the not so popular Claggart? Should he wait and refer it to the admiral?

A good book with some excellent writing, but my intellect has bruises on it from being clubbed repeatedly with the Christ/Satan and Adam/Serpent symbols.

16. The Road by Jack London

This was quite an excellent little book. The text I read is buried in one of those thick American Library compilations, this one is London's "Novels and Social Writing." This was published in 1927 and accounts for a time probably about ten years earlier. Maybe even earlier, I don't know - there is no context given in these books (though I have not read the Introduction because of the inevitable prejudicing that occurs, and to avoid any spoilers).

First, the road that London is writing about is the railroad. I have no evidence to suggest it except for the books themselves, but I suspect that Kerouac named his 1957 classic after London's.

The first few chapters discuss how to beg for food. Tons of good hobo slang here. And he tells about how he can make up stories on the fly, making judgments about the people at the door in order to tailor his story for maximum effect. Later on, he regrets telling such whoppers because he may have been wasted his fiction.

The next section gets down to the railroad. Very interesting chapters on how to avoid getting thrown off a freight, where to sit, more importantly, where not to sit, and how to get on the good side of the engineer (offering to shovel coal for him). Also a lot of techniques about how to catch a freight, too.

And then, a section on how he got into tramping in the first place. When he began his life on the streets he was a thief. Then he met some kids who rode the rails and they taught him how to beg. He found the begging to be more noble than stealing - the begging was relying on your wits, charisma, and ability to spin a yarn.

Overall it was a pretty cool book. Lot of adventure running scams and avoiding scams, lots of lingo, and techniques about the tramp life. Seems like he saw a lot of the country, and saw a lot of the country that not many people ever even think about - the tramps, hoboes, and various outsiders who live away from the mainstream's conciousness.

20 August 2007

15. The Great Gatsby by FS Fitzgerald

Technically this is a reread, but since I had completely forgotten even the ending, I felt like a virgin, touched for the very first time, while I was reading it.

And since I had a vague idea of what happened I let myself be lazy and left the interpretation of the book to the simple line of chasing the false dream of wealth. It's closer to chasing the false dream of a girl, but you probably already knew that.

Some great writing there, though. Fitz has an eye for the insightful line...concise, succinct, clear, efficient, etc...

19 August 2007

14. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

Another sad book.

Jude Fawley grows up in a small English village, a burden to his aunt, and feeling generally out of place. He has great respect for his schoolmaster, Phillotson, and when his teacher moves to Oxford he vows to follow in his footsteps. He reads and has a passion for learning, which is out of place in his small farming village.

One day, on his way back from his wanderings, he meets a fresh-faced, beautiful Arabella. They soon start courting and soon enough Arabella says she is pregnant. Jude abandons his scholarly ambitions and settles down to be a husband. Arabella turns out to be not at all what she seemed - false hair, false dimples, and false pregnancy. As Jude and Arabella try to slaughter a pig by themselves (instead of waiting for the slaughter man) they have the fight that ends their relationship. Arabella packs it in, moves back to her dad's, and then ships off to Australia for a new start.

As for Jude, he decides to resume his scholarly pursuits and so moves to Oxford. When he looks up his old professor Jude finds that ol Phillotson doesn't even remember him. He gets work as a mason and studies at night. Eventually he realizes that the mighty Oxford is never going to let him study there. It's a bitter blow for Jude.

While he is adrift in Oxford he runs into his cousin Sue. Who he falls in love with. She is a school teacher, working with none other than Mr Phillotson. Worse yet, for Jude, she has promised to marry him.

Jude is in love with her, but technically he and Arabella are still married.

Sue does marry Phillotson, but she is so unhappy (she thinks marriage does nothing more than enslave the soul) that she asks for her freedom. Despite good advice from his friends, Phillotson agrees. It eventually costs him his career as a teacher (because he is not a good moral example).

Now that she is free, Sue and Jude get together and move far away from anyone who knows them. She is a new thinker and even though Jude wants to get married she resists. And so they revolve around and around.

Ah, but did you think that Arabella was going to just fade away? Hardy thinks not. And so she returns, with a child she swears is Jude's. She sends the kid on a train to Jude, who has since moved back to his original village. Sue and Jude adopt the strange little boy, who they call Father Time. This is called symbolism. Jude and Arabella divorce so she can remarry. Sue and Jude have two kids. The family falls on hard times (because they are not married).

The kids die (this is on the back of the book, so I'm not sure the reveal qualifies
as a spoiler). This oh-so-Victorian tragedy sends Sue toward religion.

As a consequence of this religion she decides she belongs with Phillotson and so she moves back with him.

Jude is desolate. He turns to drink. He is rescued by Arabella, of all people. She brings him home, keeps him drunk for three days, and then marches him off to the preacher to remarry him.

Jude sobers up.

And then he catches cold. Relies on Arabella to take care of him. He visits Sue one last time.

So the book is about a lot of things - an editorial on marriage, on duty and responsibility, about the battle between philosophy of intellect and the call of religious study and work.

I have to say I have very little pity for Sue - her stubborn, willful and selfish defense of her ideas that contrast so radically with society that it seems like Hardy is shortchanging her in some way - like how can she not see the damage she is doing to her family (families), and herself. She's a walking Pyrrhic victory.

As for Jude, it's a little more complicated - he's a victim of his desires, society's rules, and stronger characters like Arabella and Sue. But he does allow himself to be manipulated by these characters and society.

Hardy's poems are dark, and his novels have a reputation for being so too. This was his last novel - some say because of the harsh reaction it received at the hands of critics.

I'm still thinking about this one, and I guess that means it was meaty.

04 August 2007

13. Caught by the Sea by Gary Paulsen

Although it is very short, at 100 pages of large font, I'm counting it.

You may know Paulsen from his most popular kid book, Hatchet.

This one is about his history of sailing. It's told in a I-don't-know-how-I-didn't-get-killed style. And if everything that he told us in his book did happen, I don't know how he didn't get killed either.

He buys a 23' boat (the same size as Persuasion), buy a couple of cans of Spaghetti-O's and tries to go for a sail in the harbor. No experience, no sailing lessons, no trips out with someone who knows what they are doing. Naturally, it goes badly and he has to get towed back to his slip.

That night he sleeps over on the boat and is awakened by some weird boat-noice (there are many) and he sees how beautiful the moon looks on the water, and so on, so (get this) he decides to go sailing.

Out the harbor he goes. No weather report. Still no useful skills despite his brief experience. No idea what condition the boat is in, is rellay in, I mean.

Then, of course, there is a squall (a short, gusty storm) - he gets knocked down, beat up. The boat doesn't sink, but it gets the worst end of the storm. I think the main sail blows out, but I'm not sure. Then he is becalmed for four days. He's got a couple of cans of food and a few gallons of water in his water tank.

Mind you, he has supposedly done no maintenance to the boat. He's owned it for two days.

Finally the wind comes up and he can sail home. Along the way he meets some lady on a wooden sailboat who shows him what to do. 400 miles out in the Pacific.

Not so much recommended, but if you are into Paulsen or into rookie sailing stories, I guess you might find this interesting.

17 July 2007

12. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Another excellent book.

First, a word about the copy I have. I took it from the book room at school, a virtual used book shop. I am going to be teaching this book next year and so I took a look at the copies we have available. I found a bunch of copies that date back to the 60s. They have the covers that are glued stitching, the ones that if you hold it in your hand long enough your hand gets tacky from the glue leeching out from the humidity of your grip. I like to look through the old copies, checking out the names of the kids who checked them out, looking at the dates, wondering where those kids are now...and the teachers too. I found a copy of Ethan Frome that I am going to keep forever - a few months after my birthday someone with my own last name signed out the book. Bizarre.

So, the tale is about Ethan Frome. His wife is a malingerer who uses her "illnesses" as a weapon against him. She is so sick and needy that she needs a helper around the house. Her family sends Mattie Silver along to tend to her. Ethan and Mattie were made for each other and the mutual attraction between them draws them closer and closer together in that Wharton-glacier like way. Maybe less glaciers than tectonic plates. If you have read Age of Innocence then you know what I mean.

Everyone talks about how sad this book is. I didn't find it half as depressing as AoI. Ethan is no Archer and Mattie Silver is no Ellen. Sure, it's has a sad ending, but it doesn't hold a candle to Victory by Conrad or The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. Them are some sad books.

I won't discuss the ending any furthur in fear of giving away too much.

Ultimately, I recommend it.

10 July 2007

11. The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

A great play and the first I have read by him.

Tom and Laura Wingfield live at home with their single mother Amanda. Their father, "a telephone man in love with long distances," deserted the family when they were young.

Amanda rides herd on Tom, telling him he smokes too much, eats too fast, goes to the movies too much, drinks too much, doesn't work hard enough, is too selfish, and on and on.

Tom works at a warehouse and writes poetry on his breaks. He does go to the movies a lot, but simply to get away from the house and have some adventures, if only by proxy.

Laura, unfortunately, is a very, very shy girl. She doesn't work, doesn't have any friends, and for the past six years since she graduated from high school, seems content to listen to old records and polish her menagerie of little glass statues.

All Amanda wants to do is get Laura set up with a gentleman caller.

That's all I'll say about the plot. The writing is exquisite. Check this opening description of their apartment building:

The Wingfield apartment is in the rear of the building, one of those vast hive-like conglomerations of cellular living units that flower as warty growths in overcrowded urban centers of lower middle-class population and are symptomatic of the impulse of this largest and fundamentally enslaved section of American society to avoid fluidity and differentiation and to exist as one interfused mass of automatism.

Like a crowbar to the side of the head, man!

A really excellent play; I wish someone would read it and then have a dialogue with me.

I'm very much looking forward to reading Streetcar Named Desire. And I understand that Williams also wrote a number of short stories and some of them he used as mannequins for the dressmaking of his plays, but I still want to read them. The guy can really turn a phrase.

10. Anthem by Ayn Rand

This old classic...is is more a philosophical tract disguised in a thin plot than an outright story.

Living in some future hyperorganized state, the main character, Equality, is not like the others. He is smarter and more sensitive to the missing element in his society. His whole life is planned for him, right down to the schedule of his daily activities. One day in the midst of his job as a Street Sweeper he and his coworker Equality discover a secret tunnel leading down to some long-forgotten subway platform.

During the next few months he spends his evenings in the tunnel doing experiments and trying to discover some secrets of Mother Nature. He winds up rediscovering electricity.

Bringing his discovery to the Council of Scholars sets the book toward its not very surprising conclusion.

This is a philospohical tract about the evils of collectivism, or, as I read it, the evils of recognizing that we are a community and that we are in fact responsible for our brothers and sisters. In Rand's super-organized state, human emotion is suppressed and social interaction is limited. At one point, Equality reminds Liberty that "anything not permitted is automatically outlawed." Even friendship, because it prefers one individual over another, is banned.

I think this book/author has done more damage to the socialist movement by its gross misinterpretation of what socialism and communism are. Certainly if Rand wants to rail against totalitarianism, that's one thing, but to dismiss and satirize a philosophy that recognizes that we are a community is another. Equality's main goal in the story is to build his house into a fort where he is not obligated to any other person.

Unfortunately for Equality and for Rand we are not a world of self-involved, self-centered two year olds who can't think, feel, or see beyond our own limited field of vision.

22 June 2007

9. Pierre by Herman Melville

This was a book I read for a short-lived English-teacher book club. Three of us agreed to read this virtually unknown book by Melville specifically because it was virtually unknown. Only two of us finished it, and it took me a long, long time (blame the book itself, the boat, and the wooing of the new woman).

It was written right after Melville finished Moby Dick, and was looking to go in a different direction. The historical notes say that he had, "exhausted his supply of experiences from his stint in the U.S. Navy." (How the hell they, or
anyone, knows that, I have no idea.)

Pierre is a privileged, rich kid living on his family's grand estate with his widowed mother. He is a great outdoorsman, has a great mind, dotes on his mother, and is engaged to be married to the local beauty, Lucy Tartan. But he longs to know his long-dead father better and wishes he had had a sister to grow up with.

And guess what happens? From out of nowhere Isabel, a long lost sister turns up with some stories about his father!

And guess what? Pierre is absolutely smitten with her! For real. He comes apart and unseams his life from top to bottom: he breaks the engagement to Lucy, abandons his mother, runs off with Isabel, pretends to be her husband and sets up house in the city. His family abandons him - his cousin pretends to not know Pierre when he arrives in the city seeking lodging, and his mother cuts him out of the will (and then she dies of heartbreak, leaving all of the family's riches to the cousin).

But guess who doesn't abandon him?

That's right, Lucy!

She sends him a letter that she loves him so much, and she has figured he is doing something secret, yet brave, and that because she loves him and his secret project so much she is going to move in with Pierre and Isabel and tend to him with "nun-like devotion."

I won't tell you how it ends, but be assured, you can live without knowing.

8. Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki

This book was absolute crap. Total.

For some inexplicable reason this book is on the reading list for the 11th grade curriculum. It's a great book for 8th grade and would fit perfectly in that curriculum, especially in a Humanities class.

Set in California just as WW2 is starting for America, FtM is a memoir of Wakatsuki's experience in the largest of the American concentration camps. Her father is a fisherman who is accused of supplying oil to Japanese submarines - totally false charges. The family, along with thousands of other people of Japanese descent are ordered to be evacuated from the West Coast.

This book had the opportunity to be a rivetting memoir of a harrowing time for so many people. In fact, the conditions were so bad at one point that there were food riots at Manzanar. Wakatsuki gives this riot about three paragraphs, one of the them setting the context for the riot and the other two describing what went down.

Wakatsuki misses every chance she has to make us sympathetic to her plight, and makes Manazanar sound like sleepaway camp - and I'm not even exagerrating: at one point she complains that she hates her piano lessons, at another tells us she is so mad at her dad she is going to break her baton in half (her one, favorite hobby is baton twirling), and that she hates ballet classes because the teacher is too fat and awkward.

And she is overly fond of the phrase, "it's as if" which removes the meaning/gravity/merit of whatever she is describing that much further.

You could read it in less than two hours, but shouldn't.

It's especially disappointing that this book is in the 11th grade crriculum because putting it next to Huck Finn, Othello, or Salesman makes it look even weaker, yet I have to get up there and pretend it's worthy of deconstruction.

I did do a lot of context stuff with this book and we did discuss Executive Order 9066 (FDR), the apology (Reagan) and the reparations (Bush I). That helped a lot and gave the book some meaning.

Still, the whole experience of "teaching" this book left a bad taste in my brain.

14 May 2007

7. Black Boy by Richard Wright

I read this book to teach it.

I did a crap job teaching it, but will do better next year.

My kids thought me writing "Bring Black Boy" as HW was funny. And they pretended that Black Boy was a superhero name, pronouncing the title of the book boldly, like the movie announcer guy.

Autobiography about Richard Wright growing up in the Jim Crow South. What a crappy life.

The language was amazing though; the guy can really write.

"(The essence of the irony of the plight of the Negro in America, to me, is that he is doomed to live in isolation while those who condemn him seek the basest goals of any people on the face of the earth. Perhaps it would be possible for the Negro to become reconciled to his plight if he could be made to believe that his sufferings were for some remote, high, sacrificial end; but sharing the culture that condemns him, and seeing that a lust for trash is what blinds the nation to his claims, is what sets storms to rolling in his soul.)"

and from the page before:

"Our too-young and too-new America, lusty because it is lonely, aggressive because it is afraid, insists upon seeing the world in terms of good and bad, the holy and evil, the high and low, the white and the black; our America is frightened of fact, of history, of process, of necessity."

Strongly recommended. And get the copy that has both parts, Part One: Southern Night and Part Two: The Horror and the Glory, the way Wright intended it to be published.

01 April 2007

Alive to all things and forgetting all.


IT was an April morning: fresh and clear
The Rivulet, delighting in its strength,
Ran with a young man's speed; and yet the voice
Of waters which the winter had supplied
Was softened down into a vernal tone.
The spirit of enjoyment and desire,
And hopes and wishes, from all living things
Went circling, like a multitude of sounds.
The budding groves seemed eager to urge on
The steps of June; as if their various hues
Were only hindrances that stood between
Them and their object: but, meanwhile, prevailed
Such an entire contentment in the air
That every naked ash, and tardy tree
Yet leafless, showed as if the countenance
With which it looked on this delightful day
Were native to the summer.--Up the brook
I roamed in the confusion of my heart,
Alive to all things and forgetting all.
At length I to a sudden turning came
In this continuous glen, where down a rock
The Stream, so ardent in its course before,
Sent forth such sallies of glad sound, that all
Which I till then had heard, appeared the voice
Of common pleasure: beast and bird, the lamb,
The shepherd's dog, the linnet and the thrush
Vied with this waterfall, and made a song,
Which, while I listened, seemed like the wild growth
Or like some natural produce of the air,
That could not cease to be. Green leaves were here;
But 'twas the foliage of the rocks--the birch,
The yew, the holly, and the bright green thorn,
With hanging islands of resplendent furze:
And, on a summit, distant a short space,
By any who should look beyond the dell,
A single mountain-cottage might be seen.
I gazed and gazed, and to myself I said,
"Our thoughts at least are ours; and this wild nook,
My EMMA, I will dedicate to thee."
----Soon did the spot become my other home,
My dwelling, and my out-of-doors abode.
And, of the Shepherds who have seen me there,
To whom I sometimes in our idle talk
Have told this fancy, two or three, perhaps,
Years after we are gone and in our graves,
When they have cause to speak of this wild place,
May call it by the name of EMMA'S DELL.
William Wordsworth - 1800.

30 March 2007

jacob and julia

just wanted to let you see how they were getting along...

28 March 2007


My cousin is in the April issue of Coastal Living. Chris and Beth. Pg 178.

My brother KC is going to be in some British magazine owned by Conde Naste. Updates to follow.

Respect beer: an article today in the NY Times about a website dedicated to beers, the beer-making industry, and all other things beer. I figured there had to be a million of them out there, but this one seems alright. And since I mentioned that I keep a notebook for my beer tasting, I thought I'd pass this one along.

27 March 2007

songs unable to be made Loud Enough

You know those songs you just can't get loud enough, no matter headphones, car or house speakers, it just doesn't get real enough, and maybe even in concert, when even on the floor it's just not cutting it because you can't get the music to actually break your skin and get all through you and it almost makes you forget you're a body?

These are mine; feel free to play along (no judging, beauty is in the eye of the eye of the beholder):

Dimuendo and Crescendo in Blue - Duke Ellington (live)
Eyes Of The World - Grateful Dead (live)
China Doll - Grateful Dead (live)
Sugar Magnolia - Grateful Dead (live)
Big Fat Hen - W Marsalis (studio)
Don't Follow - Alice in Chains (studio)

[edit 28 March]
Tupelo Honey - Van Morrison (I have a live version by Galactic that Kills)
Apparently Bob Dylan himself said that "the song Tupelo Honey always existed, it was Van Morrison who brought it to earth."

23 March 2007

and you know how much I love musicals...

Lyrics from the song "An English Teacher" from Bye Bye Birdie

He's going in the Army
It's the best thing he could do
Now we're free to start to do
What we wanted to
Albert, Albert, A-A-A-Albert!
I remember how you told me
I should trust you for a year
It would just be for a year
But it's eight years, Albert!
Eight long years, Albert!

Rosie, it takes time to go to business.

It was only a sideline
That's what you said
You just needed some money
That's what you said
You were going to college and get ahead
Instead of being a music business bum
You were going to NYU
And become an English teacher
An English teacher, an English teacher.
If only you'd been an English teacher
We'd have a little apartment in Queens
You'd get a summer vacation
And we would know what life means
A man who's got his masters
Is really someone
How proud I'd be if you had become one
It could have been such a wonderful life
I could have been Mrs. Peterson
Mrs. Albert Peterson,
Mrs. Phi Beta Kappa Peterson,
The English teacher's wife!

Oh Rosie, I told you as soon as I get a few bucks ahead...

You said it before, Albert!
And along came Conrad Birdie...
And it was goodbye Jeffery Josser
Hello William Morris
Goodbye NYU,
Hello all ALMAELOU
'Cause when you wrote Canard's first hit
Then I knew that was it
You were through with English
An English teacher is really someone
How proud I'd be if you had become one
It could have been such a wonderful life
I could have been Mrs. Peterson
Mrs. Albert Peterson,
Mrs. Phi Beta Kappa Peterson,
The English teacher's wife!

18 March 2007

How dull it is to pause...


Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron (1809–92)

IT little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That lov’d me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vex’d the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known: cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life. Life pil’d on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is sav’d
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle—
Well-lov’d of me, discerning to fulfil
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls’ that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and oppos’d
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil;
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
’T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Mov’d earth and heaven, that which we are, we are:
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

17 March 2007


Long Island is iced over. Today Crumbolst and I went for a drive out east a bit (I wanted to buy some notebooks, but this was really just a front to hang out and go exploring) and saw some very cool stuff: we stopped in Port Jefferson - it's where the ferry goes to Bridgeport - and we walked the icy, snowy dock, and at the very end of the dock we saw a sailboat mast sticking out of the water! A boat had sunk at the dock! I have never seen anything like it. The boat was so deep underwater we couldn't even see it.

We also stopped at one of the small tiny beaches to throw rocks in the water and at iced over trees.

It was a good guy day.

11 March 2007

Thermopylae by C.P. Cavafy

Honor to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do
but showing pity also, and compassion;
generous when they're rich, and when they're poor,
still generous in small ways,
still helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hating those who lie.
And even more honor is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee)
that Ephialtis will turn up in the end,
that the Medes will break through after all.

Written January 1901.
(from this site here)

03 March 2007

6. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

I have wanted to read some Ford since I found out he was BFF with Joseph Conrad. In fact, FMF wrote a book called Joseph Conrad and in it says that everything he wrote after meeting Conrad was written with the idea of reading it aloud to him.

What a great book! What Deft Mastery of Language.

The plot: a wealthy American couple permanently in Europe because the wife's heart condition will not allow her to travel. A British couple of the liesured, landed class. They meet up and spend the next 9 years worth of vacations and travels together.

Ashburnham, the Brit, is a soldier, has a regiment of some kind, and is a generous, benevolent landlord to his various farming tenants. And he has an eye for the ladies, but not in a predatory, lecherous way. He truly has a kind heart and wants to ease an other's suffering, whether it be an old farmer down on his luck, or a servant girl in the next train compartment. This being the Victorian Era, scandalous behavior is looked down upon. Any suggestion of outrageous behavior could be devastating to one's professional and social reputation. So any misbehavior is covered up with bribes, hush money, and favors. Ashburnham's wife, desperate to live the easy, socially respected life of a Landed Lady, does everything in her power to curb her husband's spending and his...indiscretions, of which there are not that many (for our day). To compound their problems he is a Protestant and she a Catholic.

Dowell, the narrator, is a Nice Guy, but I have to wonder if he is some kind of First Class Dimwit. He has a wife who is more than selfish. I feel bad for Dowell but to explain why would be to burn down the plot.

I strongly recommend this book for its use of language, and for the sheer joy of the exposition. It was delicious. The image comes to mind of an umpire brushing away the batter's box dirt from home plate after a high intensity play, each brush stroke clearing more of the dirt away, but requiring yet another and another and another swipe, until all the layers of dust and sand are swept away and the Whole is Revealed. Archeology. Quantam Mechanics.

I will definitely be looking for more FMF. And specifically to read what he wrote after 1898, when he met Conrad.

"a compulsive diarist"

A few days ago I mentioned that I had been carrying around some notebooks with me when I got the Jeep stuck and then unstuck. I wanted to say a word about that here, which may be like one echo remarking on another. Or something.

I have always been keeping track of what I have been doing, logging my activities, in one form or another. My brothers and Mustapha (redundant) would know that I have a whole mess of calendars that I have kept since high school, jotting down a note about each day. Some days I was very verbose and even put down what I had for dinner, or who I hung out with and what we did. Other days simply get a simple "Islander game." Whether that means I went, watched it, or just that there was one, I have no idea.

When I got my old boat I started an online work/sailing log, and also kept a paper log that I thought I would give away with the boat. In that log were all the receipts, what I did, who I went with and what the weather was like. Much more information than the online version. When the boat was sold I kept that notebook and I'm glad I did as it had morphed into a personal document.

Lately I have been keeping about a half a dozen paper Moleskin notebooks on me at all times. I am still doing the calendar filling in, though I have a full page for each day. In addition to that I am tracking how each of my dollars is spent. The bank tracks a big part of that, true, but not where the cash I withdraw goes, and I'm telling you it's an eye-opener and has helped me achieve a measure of fiscal discipline I have never had (I have it planned so that by the end of the school year I will be completely debt free (private, personal, public), excepting my student loan (which I am ahead on)). I have a notebook for the boat. For beers I drink (so I can make good recommendations and recall what I liked and why. What's more annoying than having a breadth of choices and making a bad one, or repeating a bad one?). For the D&D. And for copying out cool Lit.

Maybe it's just my OCD, but I like being able to look up a date and have a pretty good recollection of what I did, no matter how long ago it was.

When I was buying the new boat, I showed the seller the online work journal for Persuasion. He followed a few links and remarked that I was a compulsive diarist. I always linked the sound of that and took it as a kind of compliment.

going down the road feeling old and domestic...

You know you are getting old when you get excited about buying vacuum cleaner bags.

(Note to self: make sure vacuum cleaner works before buying bags.)

20 February 2007

Lost by Carl Sandburg

DESOLATE and lone
All night long on the lake
Where fog trails and mist creeps,
The whistle of a boat
Calls and cries unendingly, 5
Like some lost child
In tears and trouble
Hunting the harbor’s breast
And the harbor’s eyes.

18 February 2007


I had a frightening, yet wholly exhilarating, experience yesterday in the Jeep. Everytime I go see Lukeman and co I look forward to doing a little off-roading. He lives out in farm country and right by his house is a race track. The parking lot of this race tracks abutts some trails, powerline access roads, and a huge field with giant mud puddles in it. I'm sure all of this is off limits to idiots like me who want to go splash through some puddles and drive around in the woods. So far I have been safe and discreet.

Well, yesterday the snow was melting a little and this meant that the ground was wet and sloppy out by Lukeman's. I tore it up in the field and then went to try to get a new radio installed (a whole disappointing debacle of a corporation trying to not take my money). After I left the Best Buy I headed to Luke's. On the way I spotted an access road for a new fleet of condos (there goes the neighborhood), and decided to investigate.

So, up I go, clicking the 4 wheel drive in, and eager to see if there were puddles or any muddy slop to get into. I like having the Jeep look like it's been doing Jeepy things. As I drove to the top of this access road I could see into the upcoming development: a road, a bulldozer of some kind and more piles of dirt. Nice. So over the top I go.

And drop the Jeep off a 3' cliff. Or at least the front half. The resulting bang alone should have had Emergency Service vehicles headed my way. It sounded like a car accident. I stopped with the Jeep on about a 45 degree angle, nose down. I tried to drive off the hill, but the back left tire was in the air. The back right tire was on dirt and sand, but the back bumper and bumperettes (you can see them beneath the spare tire in the top photo) were still sitting on what was left of the top of the cliff. So I jumped out and gave a hearty push. Nothing. The mouth was dry and my bones felt like they were made of Jello. I got up behind the Jeep, standing on the top of the ledge and pushed as hard as I could, and slowly the Jeep slid off the sandbar.

Deciding I had had enough for one day, and that I was lucky to be able to get the Jeep off at all, especially by myself and without a shovel, I headed down the road that the construction guys had built. At the only intersecton I could see houses and a real road off to the right. Off to the left I could see the road I had left to get to the new construction. So I went right and almost immediatelly realized I was in more trouble than I thought. They put up a gate and built sand hills all around the perimeter (probably to keep idiots like me from tearing up their site). So I turned around, hoping to avoid being spotted by the neighbors. Back to the intersection to find that straight ahead (what was a left turn originally) didn't access the road at all, and was in fact quite far away. I should have realized this since I didn't see it on my way past the site in the first place. And without jet power there was no way I was going to be able to get out the way I came in. I was trapped.

I quickly went through a gear list of what I had on board: dirty laundry (one bag); two recently-purchased books of poetry (the Norton Shelley's Poetry & Prose and Everyman's Library's Poems of the Sea; two hoses for Redwing's head; a bottle of water; and my work bag (pens, a pencil, and a few of my notebooks).

I thought of my options and this is what I came up with:
a) try to break the gate
This might/not: break the gate, constitute vandalism (to add to any potential trespassing charges), or break the Jeep

b) try to create a big enough gap in one of the sand hills near the gate to get through or over
I didn't have a shovel, or even a piece of board

c) call Lukeman (home with Rick and the kids)
I didn't know where the hell I was or even how to describe how I got here in a manner in which he could find me. I didn't know road names or any landmarks and I was mostly invisible from the main road I came in on.

d) call the cops
Not seriously considered because: 1) that's something someone from Wussbaggia would do; 2) I'd be in deep shit with the law dogs once they finally showed up; and 3) I didn't know where the hell I was or even how to describe how I got here in a manner in which they could find me (and still suggest I found myself here by accident or in an other legal manner). I didn't know road names or any landmarks and I was mostly invisible from the main road I came in on.

e) try to navigate the woods between the site and the road, if I could even get into them.
Offered the most hope, considering the cirumstances

So I drove around for a second trying to find a spot to enter the woods and I spotted a trail that pot-smoking kids (or as Selena noted, more likely crack addicts from the nearby trailer park) must have blazed (get it) before capitalists needed lebensraum. I didn't fail to note that at the cliff, if you looked at it fast enough and from the right angle it looked like the Jeep dropped in from space, the tire tracks appear to be just coming out of nowhere. Oh, wait, that is what happened.

I climbed the very high curb and tried to make my way out on the trail. Unfortunately it narrowed to the point to where I basically had to drive through the deep leaves and sand of the woods.

No problem! The Jeep is tough! We (the Jeep and I) popped out onto the road and tried to look normal, and headed right to Luke's without any more detours.

12 February 2007

5. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

I loved this book. I might have skipped over it though, since it's new, and the author has a kind of pretentious name, but it was recommended by someone I trust to pick good books, and who hadn't failed me in Book Recommending.

After losing his dad on September 11th (in the WTC), Oskar Schell is feeling bad, or in his words wearing heavy boots. As he wanders through his father's stuff he finds and breaks a vase. Inside the vase is a small envelope labelled "Black" with a key inside. Young Oskar treats it like a riddle, or like a message from his dad. Determined to find out what the lock is keeping safe Oskar travels NYC to find the owner of the lock, from Black to Black.

Across the street from Oskar and his mother's house lives Oskar's grandmother. The story is as much hers as it is Oskar's. When she was a little girl she survived the Dresden bombing. So we get parts of her and her husband's (Oskar's grandfather) story. And it is an interesting contrast and one I would have liked to discuss in greater detail the the Recommender, but alas. That city's worst moment and this city's worst moment. How a city survives and how the people who survive the worst moment recover. If they do. And the emotional echoes that ricochet despite the generations in between. There is all so much to talk about (with her).

All the while I was reading it, over the past week and a half or so, my relationship with my SO has been disintegrating before my eyes with all the rapidity of a low lying sand castle and I kept thinking, "I don't really need to be reading this book" or, "this is not catharsis."

I have to say that while it has not helped me cope with my own grief, I am happy to have read the book. I found the character of Oskar so compelling and real and funny and likeable, that I was hoping to see his pain healed. And I felt so sorry for the grandfather, that I wanted his story to end in a good way, too. Characters that believable don't come along that often, so I have to say that this was a well-written book about love, families, communication, and healing.

All that sounds corny as hell, but I stand by it.

06 February 2007

The Invitation by P.B. Shelley

BEST and brightest, come away,—
Fairer far than this fair day,
Which, like thee, to those in sorrow
Comes to bid a sweet good-morrow
To the rough year just awake         5
In its cradle on the brake.
The brightest hour of unborn Spring
Through the winter wandering,
Found, it seems, the halcyon morn
To hoar February born;  10
Bending from heaven, in azure mirth,
It kiss'd the forehead of the earth,
And smiled upon the silent sea,
And bade the frozen streams be free,
And waked to music all their fountains,  15
And breathed upon the frozen mountains,
And like a prophetess of May
Strew'd flowers upon the barren way,
Making the wintry world appear
Like one on whom thou smilest, dear.  20

Away, away, from men and towns,
To the wild woods and the downs—
To the silent wilderness,
Where the soul need not repress
Its music, lest it should not find  25
An echo in another's mind,
While the touch of Nature's art
Harmonizes heart to heart.

  Radiant Sister of the Day
Awake! arise! and come away!  30
To the wild woods and the plains,
To the pools where winter rains
Image all their roof of leaves,
Where the pine its garland weaves
Of sapless green, and ivy dun,  35
Round stems that never kiss the sun;
Where the lawns and pastures be
And the sandhills of the sea;
Where the melting hoar-frost wets
The daisy-star that never sets,  40
And wind-flowers and violets
Which yet join not scent to hue
Crown the pale year weak and new;
When the night is left behind
In the deep east, dim and blind,  45
And the blue noon is over us,
And the multitudinous
Billows murmur at our feet,
Where the earth and ocean meet,
And all things seem only one   50
In the universal Sun.

28 January 2007

4. The Ship that Sailed the Time Stream by GC Edmonson

Published in 1965 this little gem would make a great movie!

Joe Rate is a young, ex-history professor who is fed up with academics. He joins the Navy and is appointed skipper of one of the Navy's last sailing vessels, the Alice. While returning from a training exercise off the coast of San Diego the ship is struck by lightning, and they find themselves off the coast of Ireland and under attack by Vikings.

While trying to extricate themselves from the fight with the Viking they wind up saving Raquel, a beautiful, voluptuous brunette who was taken into slavery. She and Rate dance around romance for the remainder of the book.

They try to find a safe harbor but come under another attack. Hit by lightning again they find that they have been sent back in time another 1000 years. But now they are in the Aegean. They find a safe cove and stumble across a harem of nubile blondes, led by Ma Trimble, a bootlegging American from the Prohibition days who found herself in a similar situation as the crew of the Alice. She had a still set up on a houseboat on Lake Michigan that was hit by lightning. As they try to escape from the cove, the Alice is captured by a Roman war galley and the crew (and passengers) are put to work as galley slaves. Through some quick thinking and luck, Joe is able to free the entire lot.

As Joe discovers how the time travel works a plan develops. And that is where I will leave it.

A fast read at about 185 pages. Recommended. And it has a cool cover.

23 January 2007

3. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I do love some of Mark Twain's writing, but I'll be fixed if I can figure why this load of tripe is a masterpiece. I found it powerful boring and I feel bad forcing my 11th graders to read it. This is why they don't like to read.

Not recommended.

21 January 2007

2. The System of the World by Neal Stephenson

Clocking in at nealry 1000 pages, this book took me about six months to finish. And I am glad I am done. In all, the trilogy was about 3000 pages. Quite a tale.

This is the conclusion to the Baroque Cycle, chronicling the adventures of the natural philosopher Daniel Waterhouse, the Vagabond King Jack Shaftoe, and their various satellites. I posted on Book 1 and Book 2 in September.

The story spans about 80 years - from the mid 1600s to the early 1700s.

The writing was great and the plot details were, uh, many and various. Sometimes it was difficult to keep up with the sheer number of characters as we plodded along with the machinations of the Royal Society (of Natural Philosophers) and the various Vagabonds and vagabond deals. It became especially difficult as some of the characters became Landed or Titled or came into their Lands and Titles, the Earl of that and the Duke of this and so on became burdensome.

I quite enjoyed the Jack Shaftoe sections of the book and where the philospher stuff overlapped I submitted patiently. But when it was exclusively the infighting between, say, Isaac newton and Gottfried Liebniz, well, I just didn't really care.

Glad I read it, happy to be done, and I look forward to Cryptonomicon.

1. My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir

I have been interested in reading some Muir for a good long time. I had stumbled across references in magazine articles and other books about his travels, his books, his ideas for years. It's somewhat difficult to find copies of his books in used books hops here in the Northeast for some reason. I thought it was because so few were produced. I mean, I couldn't really find that many in big chain bookshops either.

Well, when I was in Colorado for the December break I stumbled upon pounds and pounds of his books. I grabbed this one for $5. And there were plenty more copies where that came from, too. I also grabbed a copy of The Mountains of California.

I should also admit here that my mind, philosophy, worldview, whatever you want to call it, is already sympathetic to Muir's. While I have no idea what the Sierra Club's politics or tactics are, I support any sort of nature preserving. I find the British Romantic poets compelling for the same reason, and on this side of the pond, Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Melville. Deep in my heart's core I feel like there really is little we see in nature that is ours, that truly we ARE out of tune, and if I had my druthers I would be a pagan suckled in a creed outworn standing by a small cabin of clay and wattles made.

This book is about Muir's first summer in the Sierra where he gets a job helping a shepherd herd a 2000-head flock of sheep. Delaney, the overseer, is a Fellow Traveller (he's not a Communist, I just mean he is sympathetic to Muir's goals) and allows Muir to have few responsibilities as possible to allow for notebook writing and sketching.

The descriptive powers of Muir (remember, I warned you that I am predisposed) are beautiful. He seems to sense the ephemeral and seductive powers of Nature without commodifying it in any way. Each mountain pass, mountain flower, every variety of pine is unique to Muir - "every tree calls for special admiration." What's more, he describes them in a way that suggests that Muir recognizes that we (animals, mountains, bugs and vegetables) are all linked in a complicated relationship. I imagine most people, especially capitalists, think it's hokey to think of a waterfall singing to a person. Or that the mountains would extend an invitation to the explorer.

"Our flesh and bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams and rocks, in the waves of the sun, - a part of all nature, neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal."

His descriptions of trees and flowers were particularly compelling. I have always half-thought of trees as sentient beings. Ridiculous, I guess, and perhaps I read The Giving Tree too many times, or took the Ents too much to heart.

"Here we are camped for the night, our big fire, heaped high with rosiny branches, is blazing like a sunrise, gladly giving back the light slowly sifted from sunbeams of centuries of summers; and in the glow of that old sunlight how impressively surrounding objects are brought forward in relief against the outer darkness!"

I mean, I could quote passages that seduced me all day here, but suffice it to say, the book moved me. I was reminded of the feeling I get when I am at the beach or sailing - that I am in and with Nature, like I have just landed the canoe on Innisfree. I do find mountain and hiking stories compelling for their man-and-nature quality, and I feel like that's why I like so much of Thoreau and Wordsworth and, now, Muir.

I will leave you with one more quote:

"Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day: whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever."

15 January 2007

a lil' Bobby Burns fir ye

from Epistle to Davie, A Brother Poet. I strongly recommend you read the whole thing.


What tho’, like commoners of air,
We wander out, we know not where,
But either house or hal’,        45
Yet nature’s charms, the hills and woods,
The sweeping vales, and foaming floods,
Are free alike to all.
In days when daisies deck the ground,
And blackbirds whistle clear,        50
With honest joy our hearts will bound,
To see the coming year:
On braes when we please, then,
We’ll sit an’ sowth a tune;
Syne rhyme till’t we’ll time till’t,        55
An’ sing’t when we hae done.

11 January 2007

Where My Books Go by WB Yeats

Stumbled across this little Yeats poem while I was looking for something for Olman...

ALL the words that I utter,
And all the words that I write,
Must spread out their wings untiring,
And never rest in their flight,
Till they come where your sad, sad heart is,
And sing to you in the night,
Beyond where the waters are moving,
Storm-darken'd or starry bright.

And check this out, Librivox, whose "volunteers record chapters of books in the public domain and release the audio files back onto the net. Our goal is to make all public domain books available as free audio books. We are a totally volunteer, open source, free content, public domain project."

03 January 2007

Kona Brewing's Pipeline Porter

If you like beer, and I know you do, and if you like coffee, and I know you do, you'll absolutely love Kona Brewing's Pipeline Porter. We had a bottle of it while vacationing and it was quite excellent - like drinking a beer and a coffee at the same time. Not too heavy, not too malty, and not too Portery, if you know what I mean. If you see some, get some.

2005 v 2006: fight!

I read 23 books in 2005, among them Olman's and Mustapha's.
I read 18 books in 2006, among them Paul N's (the art teacher at my old school).

My goal for 2007 is 25 books.

18. Othello by William Shakespeare

Ah, the green-eyed monster!

Iago is mad (at his boss Othello) that he has been passed over for a promotion (in favor of Cassio) to a position he feels he was more qualified for (he makes a strong case) vows to destroy Othello. Iago is also mad because he thinks his wife, Emilia, has slept with Othello, so he vows to match him "wife for wife" or create a situation that ruins Othello and Desdemona's marriage.

And he does. Of course, Desdemona is innocent of any extra-marital hijinks, but pays a high price for Othello's suspicions, as does Emilia and Othello himself.

(I finished this in December, hence a 2006 book entry.)