March 1, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Has this ever happened to you? Because it’s happened to me a few times of late. I start to read a book, usually one that has won some award or another, or has come highly recommended by a friend or a reviewer, only to find myself slogging through, 50 odd pages in (sometimes only 30 pages in). I keep picking the book up, knowing I should be enjoying it, but I’m not. Then I find myself not reading for a few days, a serious no-no if you’re a writer, until finally I talk myself into putting the book aside. Guilt consumes me. I get over it (more quickly now). I go back to the bookshelf or the bookstore and select my next literary adventure.
Then, maybe four or six months or even a year later, the castaway reasserts itself. It falls off the nightstand, is unearthed from the pile on the floor, is mentioned on some best-of list, and my curiosity piqued. I pick the book up, usually dust it off, and begin again. This time I get caught up in the story, am moved by the language, and fall in love with the characters. I can hardly believe that I’m reading the same novel.
Books I fell in love with the second time around: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Book of Negroes (Someone Knows My Name ) by Lawrence Hill, The Sea by John Banville, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortens0n, and even Saturday by Ian McEwan (I am still flummoxed by that one).
Why did the book draw me in, enchant me, and move me the second time but not the first? Is there some chemistry that is required between the reader and that which is being read that was missing in original attempt? Since it’s the same book, the same words printed on the same pages, it would follow that during the fallow period it is the reader that changed in order to meet the reading of the story in a different way, to create the right chemistry. Maybe I’m over-analyzing this. But knowing that I almost missed the pleasure of reading all five the titles above, this has required some thought. Now I know that if there’s a book that I really do believe I should appreciate, but don’t, I put it aside and return to it at some point when it tugs at me, really tugs at me. At that point, whatever needed to change in me, must have changed.
So here’s my suggestion: if there’s a novel or fabulous non-fiction book that you’ve set aside and, after some period of time, you find yourself thinking about it, make a cup of tea, open the book to the first page, and read.
You never know what might happen the second time around.
February 12, 2010 § Leave a Comment
There is a saying in Italian, “Meglio spendere soldi dal macellaio che dal farmacista,” which means that it’s better to spend money at the butcher than the pharmacist. In other words, eat well.
The Italian saying is found on front flap of Douglas Gayeton’s fabulous book, Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town, published late last year. Which also happens to be when I came across it, browsing the bookstore as I have a tendency to do much too often. It’s large, and it stuck out from the shelf, or at least it stuck out to me. If you’ve read other posts on this blog you’ll know that’s probably not all that surprising given my love of food, and Italian food in particular (although I do have a French bistro fetish, but that is another post altogether).
Douglas Gayeton is a filmmaker, photographer, writer, and now organic farmer in Petaluma, California, who was sent to Italy by PBS to make a documentary. The film never did get made, but the photos he took were arresting, and PBS posted them on its web site. Gayeton’s genius was the concept of a “flat film” image created by combining multiple photographs captured over a period of time into one photo which portrays a meaningful representation of the event, and then layering each with “handwritten notes, anecdotes, recipes, quotes, and historical facts and that cleverly bring context and color to the subject of each sepia-toned image and draw us deeper into this romantic, rewarding, and progressively rare way of life.” He describes the process, which he discovered one afternoon during a long family lunch, in a short video.
As you page through the book, a narrative unfolds, slowly. Just as it should. Each photo tells a story. You’ll have to turn the book around to read many of the quotes and sayings. You’ll want to meet Marino who makes marble funeral stones with his two sons, Fiziano and Luca, and Guiseppina, the egg lady who knows her chickens (Conosco i miei polli – I know my chickens). You’ll want to learn a few new Italian words, like una scampagnata (an outing) and i funghi (mushrooms) and la moglie (the wife). You’ll want to eat, well. This gem of a book is an homage to a way of life that, even in Italy, is disappearing.
There’s a reason so many of us flock to Italy. Almost anyone I know, after returning from a trip, says it’s the food, it’s the quality of life. It’s about the pleasure of carefully choosing, preparing, and eating real food, and taking the time to appreciate it and those with whom we’re eating. In America, this is known as “Slow Food.”
If we choose, we can incorporate elements of “Slow” into our lives here. We can make an effort to know where our food comes from, and, whenever possible, opt for produce grown close to home or meat from animals raised in humane environments on small, local farms (more on this in an upcoming post). We can cook and teach our children to cook. We can sit down at the table, together, and enjoy a meal (A tavola!). Douglas Gayeton reminds us of this, and that sometimes:
“Il troppo stroppia”
More than enough is too much.
December 17, 2009 § Leave a Comment
On January 16, 2010 the B. Dalton Bookstore in Laredo, Texas will close. This item would not be noteworthy if it weren’t for the fact that the B. Dalton Bookstore is the only bookstore in Laredo, Texas, and the closest city with a bookstore is San Antonio which is 150 miles away. This is a city of almost a quarter of a million people and a high rate of illiteracy.
Not surprisingly, the residents of Laredo are upset. An outing to the bookstore is entertainment, it’s an event, especially for kids. According to the Associated Press article, “Schoolchildren even wrote letters to the parent company, Barnes & Noble, begging for the store to stay open.”
What’s incredibly frustrating is that it’s not an issue of money – the B. Dalton location is turning a profit – but simply a planned closure of one of 50 remaining B. Dalton stores owned by B&N. The company has plans to open a new large-format Barnes & Noble location, but that is at least 18 months away, making January 17 one sad day in Laredo.
I can’t imagine life without a bookstore … can you?
November 18, 2009 § Leave a Comment
It was my natural inclination to call this section of my blog “On Writing.” When it dawned on me a week or so after setting up the category that I’d used the same title as Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, I knew I needed to modify the title (my title that is). You see, I had read Mr. King’s On Writing this past summer and was profoundly impressed and humbled. As a writer I found it a fantastic read, full of wisdom, insight, and just plain interesting life stories. I underlined, I dog-eared, I re-read.
Coincidentally, while I was delving into Mr. King’s real, writing life in late July and early August, my brother was spending his time engrossed in the invented world of The Stand. A novel of roughly 1,000 pages, it has long been considered a favorite of readers and critics alike. My brother, it turned out, was no exception.
In contrast, and quite frankly afraid, I had not picked up Stephen King’ s fiction since my teens. Then it was his short story collection Night Shift. After that book, I never looked at my closet or the space under my bed the same way again. Truly. (I didn’t read The Shining, but I saw the movie and am still, on occasion, haunted by the words “red room.”)
This week Stephen King’s latest, Under the Dome, arrived in bookstores. At 1,100 pages, it’s a doorstop to be sure (I needed two hands to lift it from the bookshelf). But according to the reviews, it’s up there as his best work yet. In Janet Maslin’s review for The New York Times, she says:
“Under the Dome gravely threatens Stephen King’s status as a mere chart-busting pop cultural phenomenon. It has the scope and flavor of literary Americana, even if Mr. King’s particular patch of American turf is located smack in the middle of the Twilight Zone. … On a beautiful autumn day in Maine a transparent dome materializes over the town of Chester’s Mill. Once the Dome falls, all vestiges of normal life are suspended. Things run amok. They get scary. … The premise provides so many options that Mr. King’s decisions about how to tell this story are of special interest.”
Now, I think I’m curious. I think I want to know the direction in which he chooses to move and how he chooses to tell this particular story. I think that, after too many years to divulge here, I might just be ready to jump back into Stephen King-land, boogeymen and all.