Friday Five: The Literary Travel Edition

I’m still (mostly) adhering to my read-what’s-already-on-my-shelves policy and here’s where the latest five books have taken me:

(1) Japan via KITCHEN by Banana Yoshimoto.
Kitchen cover

(2) England via JEEVES AND THE FEUDAL SPIRIT by P.G. Wodehouse
Jeeves cover

(3) New York City via THE BURGLAR WHO TRADED TED WILLIAMS by Lawrence Block
Burglar cover(4) Haiti via THE COMEDIANS by Graham Greene


(5) And I’m currently in Georgia with a young Japanese seaman (Hiro Tanaka) via EAST IS EAST by T. Coraghessan Boyle


All over the place without spending a dime. Ah, books.

Updates: Reading, Writing & Running

READING: After giving up on The Portrait of a Lady, I went back to my shelves and selected Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. I’m happy to report I read the entire novel and, when I was able to push aside my prejudice against authors who explain-explain-explain their characters’ emotional landscapes, found myself pulled into the story. Hooray!

However, I then started another book (this one published in 1998) and read 90 pages 2515913-lbefore I’d had enough. I absolutely loved this author’s debut novel, but now wonder if it was equally bad and that I didn’t realize it because I wasn’t reading as critically at that point in my writing life. The one I quit today is nearly 900 pages (!) and narrated by someone I find unlikable and whose dialogue is not-at-all believable. Reading it made me angry on several levels (for one, knowing many trees died for this New York Times bestselling book), and when I get angry at the writing, it’s time to look for another book.

I’m plugging away at my YA and have, at least momentarily, quit beating myself up for working at such a slow pace. SONY DSCI’m essentially now writing the first draft because these later scenes are all new to the story, but because I’m being thoughtful and deliberate in my writing I’m confident I’m not driving the story into the ditch (or cornfield).
Also? Thoughtful + deliberate = doesn’t read like a first draft.


RUNNING: Per my PT/rehab instructions, I’m easing back into my running. The rules are (1) that runs must always have at least one day in between and (2) I can add 5 minutes to the run after having at least two solidly good runs at the previous time length. “Good runs” translates to reasonable pain (that can be addressed via stretching, massage, rest) and feeling halfway decent energy-wise. For my last three runs, I ran for 35 minutes each time. This whole thing has been such an adjustment for me, not just physically but also psychologically. I’m learning to cut myself some slack, to celebrate the gains and to not beat myself up when I don’t perform as well as the previous run. The key word here is “learning.” This is all very much a work in progress. Zippy encouraged me to run a 5k with him this past weekend, but because I knew I wouldn’t run nearly as well as I had last year, I declined.

Running hard as I can, but not yet flying . . .

Running hard as I can, but not yet flying . . .

Crying “Uncle!”

A little while back I wrote about feeling underwhelmed by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I surmised that the story contained way too much tell and not nearly enough show. Holy Batcave, I had no idea how much worse it could get.

I just slogged through 60 pages of The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James,portrait of a lady cover and am giving up. Publicly. Because while I felt letdown by Conrad’s penchant for telling his reader how to feel about his characters, at least Heart of Darkness was relatively brief. Not so with The Portrait of a Lady which is a whopping and mind-numbingly verbose 550 pages. And many, many of those 550 pages consist of one long paragraph that continues for another page or more.

I conceded defeat on page 61. James wrote: “When Isabel was interested, she asked a great many questions . . .”

Really, Mr. James? You felt the need to smack this reader over the head, AGAIN, with that tidbit of information? You didn’t think all the time you’d already spent committing mind-masturbation on Isabel Archer would be enough?! I read your words and understood you wanted me to grasp that everyone around Isabel views her as a bright and independent young woman who values her independence, and that Isabel also considers herself to be bright and independent and so lives her life accordingly which means asking lots of questions so she can continue being, you know, bright and independent.

Life’s too short. There are oodles of other books on my shelves I haven’t yet read.

Mark Twain: The Cure for the Blahs

I’m reading The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain.

The Diaries of Adam and Eve cover 2

Every time I read Twain, I crack up. Such a wit.

This is what got me laughing in the opening pages:

Extracts from Adam’s Diary
Been examining the great waterfall. It is the finest thing on the estate, I think. The new creature calls it Niagara Falls–why, I am sure I do not know. Says it looks like Niagara Falls. That is not a reason; it is mere waywardness and imbecility. I get no chance to name anything myself. The new creature names everything that comes along, before I can get in a protest. And always that same pretext is offered–it looks like the thing. There is the dodo, for instance. Says the moment one looks at it one sees at a glance that it “looks like a dodo.” It will have to keep that name, no doubt. It wearies me to fret about it, and it does no good, anyway. Dodo! It looks no more like a dodo than I do.

In Which I Reveal My Own Heart of Darkness

I don’t ever blog about books I’ve read unless I want to recommend them to others. But because the author has long since departed, I think it’s okay for me to be publicly vocalize my feelings of WTF?!

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. A book that feels like a whole lotta tell and not a whole lotta show. We’re told, over and over and over again, that Kurtz is an extraordinary man who holds people in his thrall. But when Kurtz finally showed up in the story, I did not find him believable or compelling. He just felt to me like some guy who’d lost his mind in the jungle. I was given no reason to believe the native people would be heartbroken at his departure. (Unless they were upset because they’d never get the chance to exact revenge on him for putting those heads on those poles.)

So. That’s my take on Heart of Darkness. Deep, huh?

And now, apropos of nothing, here’s a squirrel:
squirrel in peanut feeder 031


Committing Heresy: No More Books!

I have loads of books in my house
and there are overstuffed book shelves in most every room.
While I do try to live a not-so-consumptive lifestyle,
I’ve always given myself a free pass when it came to books;
there was never a whole lot of guilt when I bought more because
“I’m a reader and a writer, so what’s the big deal?”

Image from alltooeasy,

Image from alltooeasy,

Then a funny thing happened.

I got tired of seeing so many titles on my shelves that I hadn’t yet read.
Between buying books and checking out books from the library, I had no motivation to read what was already sitting there and, in some cases, had been patiently awaiting attention for years and years.

My new approach to books is that I may only read what’s already in my home.
So far I’ve read Spalding Gray’s Morning, Noon and Night and The Infinite Plan 
by Isabel Allende, two books that have sat on my shelves for so many years that
I cannot remember where and when I acquired them. I’m glad I read them, but will now
donate them to another reader and, in the process, create a little breathing space on my shelves and in my head. I’m currently reading and enjoying Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King.

So far it’s only three books, but I already feel lighter.
Also? Even though I’m currently not spending a dime in support of the publishing industry,
I feel as if I’m truly honoring books and authors because I’m being deliberate and thoughtful in what I read rather than living in a constant flurry of books that either require space on the shelves or must be read within a certain time frame to avoid late fees.

Moral of this story? My new heresy has resulted in guilt-free, stress-free reading, and I’m loving it.