02 April 2011

Defying Time's Authority Figure

If I still kept a commonplace book, here's a passage I would copy into it. It's from last week's New Yorker (March 21, 2011), p. 54, in an article by Dana Goodyear (an improbable name!) called "Hollywood Shadows: A Cure for Blocked Screenwriters":

By far the most common problem afflicting the writers in [therapist Barry] Michels's practice is procrastination, which he understands in term of Jung's Father archetype. "They procrastinate because they have no external authority figure demanding that they write," he says. "Often I explain to the patient that there is an authority figure he's answerable to, but he's not human. It's Time itself that's passing inexorably. That's why they call it Father Time. Every time you procrastinate or waste time, you're defying this authority figure." Procrastination, he says, is "a spurious form of immortality," the ego's way of claiming that it has all the time in the world ....

Has the blog taken over the realm of the commonplace book, as it has that if the personal journal? I rather hope not; the paper-and-ink version is a tradition worth preserving. I still have my grandfather's commonplace book, which he started as a Harvard undergraduate in about 1910. If I get to it, I'll post a picture of it here once I'm at my "real" computer, the one that I can upload photos to. (Note to Father Time: Sometimes procrastination is simply a matter of not having the right technology.)

(Posted via BlogPress from my iPod)

26 March 2011

Coming Late to the Table

Because book group is tomorrow (at my house!), I stopped reading everything else and read this book instead, practically in one gulp:

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007, 2006; from SPPL).

Such a tour de force; I am amazed that it took me four years from its American published date for me to find it. I faintly remember the reviews at the time, and possibly the subject matter put me off: bloody murder, half-breed Indians, mystical wild animals, the Canadian wilderness, eh?

(I once read somewhere that the certifiably most boring headline in the world is "Canadian bond issue funded" — but really, anything with "Canadian" in it will fit the bill. See? You're falling asleep already.)

So it was more out of duty to book group than eagerness that I opened the cover. But soon the voice of the main narrator, Mrs. Ross, captivated me. That, and the way Stef Penney skillfully brings in other voices in short bursts, quickly immerses you in the frozen north of an 1867 winter — a thoroughly unsentimental yet (true to the title) tender view. You think, That must have been the way it really happened! I have the dubious joy of knowing, better than most people, how fiendishly difficult it is to make a fictional 19th century real to a modern audience, yet Penney accomplishes the magic seemingly without effort. Wow.

Although on principal I love a book that creates more questions than it answers, after I got to the last page of this one I found I really needed to know Mrs. Ross's first name — a question posed just seven paragraphs from the end. Because I had waited so long to read it, Google easily yielded the answer, along with a nice blog-review of the book; you can see it here.

So sometimes it's good to come late to the table: more dessert.

(Posted via BlogPress from my iPod)

24 March 2011

A New Platform!

Today's post is an experiment. I'm using an iPod/iPhone/iPad app (you know I still refer to my iPod as an "iPad nano," a joke I totally stole from a former colleague) to create this blog entry. So I'm not sure how to control the HTML formatting, or even how to upload pictures. Might be pretty plain-looking.

But we're way overdue for an update. Here's what I'm reading right now:

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (Viking, 2011 — but I'm reading it on my Kindle). Yes, I succumbed to Amazon's "book of the month" (hey, it's set in Oxford! The protagonist is a scholar in the Bodleian!). So far it's a well-written romp, though I'm not sure it deserves the "grown-up's 'Harry Potter' " sobriquet. At least it's finally bringing me up to speed on the current glamorousness of vampires. Not having been captivated by the "Twilight" series, I was still in "Dark Shadows" territory. Now Deborah Harkness has fast-forwarded me 40 years, for which I am grateful.

Louisa May Alcott by Susan Cheever (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010; requested through inter-library loan). Cheever knows what it's like to grow up in a literary family (apropos of nothing, I just heard her father's story "The Swimmer" on the New Yorker podcast — what an amazing piece!), and she takes Alcott's work seriously but affectionately. Now I want to go back to Concord. (Ms. Bachmann, that would be the city in Massachusetts.)

Put Out More Flags by Evelyn Waugh (Boston, New York: Little, Brown, 2002, 1942; from SPPL). Recommended by a Scottish blogger as one of the books she'd like to be reading in her deathbed. I'm finding it a bit too roman a clef for my tastes — am I supposed to recognize T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound in the oddly named cast of characters, here in 1940s London's twilight zone between peace and war? But as always with Waugh, the flashes of brilliance keep me going.

There's more, but I'll sign off here and see what all this looks like online. Maybe I'll figure out how to add images next time!