New Year -- New Resources

Monday, February 23, 2009

I am intrigued by the number of people who answer the question "What do you read?" with: "I don't read [newspapers] [magazines] [books]. I get my news on the Internet."

If the question were "what do you read on paper"? that would be an answer.

This is, by the way, apparently, Sarah Pallin's excuse for why she couldn't answer Katie Couric's question about what magazines and newspapers she read. Mail delivery to Alaska is slow; so she has to read stories on her computer.

But the question really has nothing to do with whether you read a paper page or on a screen. The question is What not Where do you read.

You are really being asked: "What sources for news do you trust"?

If you get your news on the Web, do you click through on Google News headlines to articles from the Washington Post, CNN, Reuters, NYTimes, National Review, Atlantic Monthly, ABCNews, NPR?

If you do, then you are reading magazines and newspapers, and you even "read" TV news on their web sites.

And if you read news "free" on the Web, who pays the people who write it?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I strongly urge people to listen to the podcast of NPR's Connecticut program, "Where We Live" today, which was a discussion of the future of the book in a world of electronic media:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The movie of Virginia Woolf's novel MRS. DALLOWAY is an amazing translation of book to film. British actor Eileen Atkins wrote a screenplay which uses the camera to follow the characters exactly as Woolf used her "stream of consciousness" method to describe one day in London. Probably the only significant difference in the adaptation is that Septimus is clearly shown to have PTSD flashbacks of combat, while in the novel he merely has paranoid delusions that he is “pock-marked with vice.” If you have read MRS. DALLOWAY and never quite understood why Septimus is ill, the movie will make that clear.

The parallels between shell-shocked WWI soldier Septimus Warren Smith and society hostess Clarissa Dalloway are intentionally subtle in both book and movie. There is no universal symbolism behind it all. They are a simple example of synchronicity, a random proximity between people or things that exists only because an outside observer notices the similarities. There is no deep, preordained reason these people meet, as there is the entire backdrop of the history of Ireland, the myth of the Wandering Jew, and the evolution of Catholic liturgy, when Joyce’s Stephen meets Bloom.

MRS. DALLOWAY is simply the story of one day in London when several old friends happen to reunite – and to reconcile -- after long separations. They end up together at a dinner party, where their hostess overhears a self-important doctor complain that he was late because an inconsiderate patient killed himself, and only we readers know the man was Septimus. As readers, we even know why he did, and we credit Clarissa for guessing why Dr. Bradshaw might drive a man to prefer suicide to treatment.

When I taught MRS. DALLOWAY to sophomores, the women would often ask how Clarissa could possibly be happy to have chosen Richard over Peter. They couldn’t imagine not preferring a romantic failure. They rarely noticed Clarissa had been at least as much in love with Sally. There are no meaningful coincidences as in a Dickens novel; Septimus is not revealed to be the son of the woodcutter who accidently killed Clarissa's sister, who was actually their bastard brother. Unlike a 21st-Century fantasy novel, Clarissa wasn't Septimus's lover in a previous life. Richard is not a secret Death Eater. Nor does Peter actually live in an alternate universe where Clarissa married him, and Septimus is the son they never had.

Sometimes the best plot is life as we live it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I heard a piece on NPR's "Morning Edition" today about poverty among the Navajo nation and their hopes for using "stimulus" infrastructure money to improve roads, provide clean, in-door water, and construction jobs to reduce the 50% unemployment rate which is sure to rise in this recession.

It made me think of Tony Hillerman, whose mysteries remain for me my most vivid portrait of the landscape and culture of the indigenous Southwest. Like many mystery writers, Hillerman had a devoted following but no bestselling success until many books into his series. When SKINWALKER got a New Yorker review (at the time a rare place to praise genre fiction), I was working for a university press, exclusively on non-fiction, and mysteries had become the fiction I read for pleasure.

I was delighted to discover a contemporary writer whose books were set in the rural West, as opposed to post-industrial inner-cities or evil-sheriff controlled small southern towns. I worked with a woman who knew a lot about Native American cultures, and she gave me an enthusiastic endorsement for the way Hillerman's books describe ancient Navajo and Hopi rituals and every day 20th-Century reality.

I was hooked. When the pollution from uranium mines became headline news, I already knew about its devastating affect on Navajo miners. When I met an artist and filmmaker who made remarkable discoveries about astroarcheology at Chaco Canyon, I knew why the original theories about what destroy had Anazasi civilization were being turned on their heads. I learned the public health lesson -- listen to your elders -- from how the Navajo told doctors that the Hantavirus became epidemic any winter after a bumper crop of acorns. I heard about code talkers well before Hollywood honored them in a movie.

Most of all I came to respect the enormous diversity and continuity of the many Southwestern tribes, the Hopi, Apache, Pueblo, and Dene (as the Navajo call themselves). While Sergeant Jim Chee learned the "Blessing Way," I learned about a culture of herders who survived without warfare and whose poeple understood why one had to keep trying to keep nature and humans "in balance" before "Earth Day."

When Tony Hillerman died in 2008, I was sad there would be no more books, but I know of few writers who have left behind a legacy which documented so well a way of life through such enjoyable storytelling.

I believe his stories will last well into the the 2100s as a history of this part of America during the last few decades of the 1900s. His mysteries will have more to tell us about our past than Agatha Christie does about rural English villages or Dashiell Hammet about corrupt Hollywood police.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I learned how to make friends and get over enemies from books.

If someone takes advantage of you when you thought you were doing them a kindness, you may just have to chalk that up to "paying rent to your ideals," as Margaret says in E.M. Forester's Howard's End.

It is sometimes "the tender pain of unfulfilled possibilities" which binds friends together, as Anna says in Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook.

And sometimes, as Virginia Woolf says in The Waves, "When we sit together close, we make an unsubstantial territory."

Sunday, February 8, 2009

How I read to survive.

I have been addicted to books since I first read "Look, look Dick. See Jane run." I took a book to my first elementary school "slumber party," and my high school yearbook tag was "Have you read?" If you've never asked that question at parties or you wouldn't think to answer it while watching the Super Bowl, you probably won't want to read my blog.

If you already know of something you have read which you'd love to tell me about, let's blog. I'll be talking more my favorite books (listed below) next week, beginning with Virginia Woolf's MRS. DALLOWAY, which also has one of the best movie-versions of a novel I've ever seen. (No, the movie is not THE HOURS, as good as that and the book it is based on are .)