Wednesday, January 25, 2006

& more books

I did tell you my shelves were full, right? And that includes the shelves of my mind, as well as the shelves of my store.
So, some more favorites (and, as ever, merely in the order in which they jostle into my memory)

Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (yes, I read more than fiction). Dillard is a Pacific Northwest writer; Pilgrim was her first book and won lots of awards (possibly even the Pulitzer; I'd have to look that up). Exactitude in the Thoreauvian mode.

Also Sally Carrighar's nature books (particularly the one in which she writes of mice singing; she is the only person I have encountered in person or in print that wrote of mice singing--real mice, now--something I had noticed for years and years. Despite our cats we do have mice, lots of mice in season. And they do sing.)

And Barry Lopez (we seem to be on a nature kick today, don't we). Especially the one about ravens; birds that I live with and much like (It says much for The Curse of the Raven Mocker that I liked it despite the fact that ravens in that book are dread critters).

And, yes, Edward Abbey (though he doesn't have a high opinion of librarians and is a sexist curmudgeon)

Ann Patchett. Her novel The Magician's Assistant in particular, though Bel Canto is also good (I haven't read Taft). It is a mark of the niceness of my bookstore clientele that not only do they buy books, but now and then come in and thrust books at me, not for trade, but because they need to share a favorite. My copy of the Magician's Assistant came to me thus, from a guy who walks barefoot summer and winter and loves luminous writing.

Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. One of the most perfect, and saddest works ever. Roy has become a strong voice for the anti globalism movement, but I wish she had more time for her fiction.

Of course Barbara Kingsolver (she is so popular in my region that another bookstore I visit up north has a list posted in fiction: we might not have copies of Kingsolver, but maybe you'd like.....followed by around 10 other author's names). Poisonwood Bible is much different than her earlier works, and I had trouble getting into it (so much trouble I put it down the first time, thinking "Hey, Peter Matthieson covered this ground better in At Play in the Fields of the Lord). The second time I picked it up I somehow got in stride--and found it every bit as good as my many book loving friends assured me it was.

There are more (Robertson Davies! the droll Robert Benchley--another customer gift, and a selfless one too, because he realized by giving me one of those funny, funny collections of essays he was likely never again to see Benchley on my shelves--because I'd hoard them)...
But I'm supposed to be helping my next customer...onward (he looks like a Ludlum type...yep, off to the intrigue section)

Monday, January 23, 2006

The exceptional Marly Youmans, etc.

It was a chance remark to Marly in the comment section of one of her blogs that led to all this listing. I was, and am, so stuck by her work that I said her books--particularly the two tales from Adantis--would enter my lifelist of odd and wonderful books.
She was understandably curious about the books that might rub shoulders with hers. Thus, the days of lists.
My daughter is currently reading The Curse of the Raven Mocker (and I hope she gives it back to me), the first of the two; Ingledove is at my elbow, with its wavery, aquatic cover letters and its cover illustration of two on a perilous boat. Both these books are coming out in paperback--I believe come spring. Now, Marly has written a lot of other books--a harsh and beautiful civil war novel for adults, The Wolf Pit, another two adult novels (I have yet to have these cross my desk), and a volume of poetry (Claire). The Wolf Pit and Claire are excellent. But the Adantis books took hold of my soul and heart.
I'm not sure why--I could give a lot of guesses--these books struck me so intensely. Archetypal, I said to Marly--they each have journeys, and strange people, and exquisite descriptions; they have darkness and danger. But there are many books one could say have darkness, danger, oddness, good description--
The Adantis books stand by themselves. They are listed by publisher and by librarians as "young adult" novels. Young adult, in library and bookstore parlance, means kids from about 10 and up; in my shop it means pretty much all the so called "chapter books". Many books in this category transcend it instantly; Marly's certainly do.
In these books (which stand by themselves; you need not read one first, I think--they are not sequels in the standard sense)--Marly weaves a sense of Appalachian lore (I think that's what it is) and Cherokee tales, and her own witchery. Adantis is a realm that coexists and yet does not coexist with the rest of the world. In Ingledove, which is set in more contemporary times, issues like dams that flood old lands come into play. There is an Adantean language. There is Marly's own vivid language, in which the streams of water off a hillside are "sprangled". There are brave and determined characters--children who are driven by vision, by a need to find--truth? home? lost places?
They leave one slightly dissatisfied--wholly satisfied by the book at hand, yes, but ready for another tale--what became of Bumblebee? Did the Witchmaster and the girl Ingledove meet again in another time?
In terms of iconic imagery, the books that Marly Youmans' The Curse of the Raven Mocker and Ingledove most bring to mind--at least to my casual mind--are George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin (and the sequel to them). There is the light and shadow, and the strong images in MacDonald (or is it McDonald? I am such a bad bookseller, distorting author names)--the rose fire, the beautiful, mysterious, spinning Grandmother, the caverns of the goblins.
But Marly's books really stand on their own. I have yet to read anything else quite like them.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

in which we have a fifth of...literature?

Yes, onward. I have begun to worry about the books left out (and not left out in the rain, though that has indeed happened in my life). And also about how very long it is taking to draw near to current tomes.

But again, in no apparent order (who would believe the shelves in my bookstore are carefully arranged by subject and author--and by my partner's concept of philosophic proximinity; whereby philosophy must be across the store from poetry, yet next to literary criticism, and natural history needs be beside biography)...

but revealing that I am fondest of stories, of fiction (though I read with indiscriminate gluttony)

more favorites

But first--an aside: my favorite thing to do with customers is to guide them to their next Perfect Book. It may not be mine; indeed it often isn't. But if they give me two of three of their own favorite titles, themes, or authors, I can usually hand them the next delight. Sometimes it takes a couple false starts. And over the years there have been a few readers I just couldn't quite suit. But mostly it works. Partner calls it "Jarvenpa's book therapy sessions" (although of course he uses my much less unusual given name.)

Old favorites: I read and reread Jane Austen, whenever all else in life fails, because she is funny and witty (not the same thing) and it is good to escape into another time in which people behaved with passion and foolishness, just as in our own. And the works of the Bronte sisters (yes, I made a pilgrimage to their bleak countryside once long ago). Wuthering Heights, that cruel, excessive, amazing book was a favorite from the time I first read it, when I was much too young--13, perhaps.

And when I was a senior in highschool I sat on a windowsill, barefoot, in the rain, during a break between classes. An extremely uptight teacher witnessed this thoughtless act, and sent me to the principal's office. I was weeping by then, hysterically upset. My perfect record, my honor student status, my recent acceptance at a good college, my entire life--destroyed because I could not restrain myself. Well, it was a high window ledge, third story up, with the trees outside swaying in the warm rain. And it was beautiful.
Principal shuttled me off to my counselor, whom I had last met as we reviewed the options for a fairly impoverished but bright student.
I was still crying.
He brought me a glass of water, gave me a moment to compose myself, and asked what the situation was. I told him: rain, trees, bare feet, wind, joy.
He went to his shelf and brought out a book by a man I hadn't heard of
John Muir.
Yes, I like the works of John Muir very much. My counselor was right--there is a kindred spirit. His stories of wandering the mountains of California, of sitting in trees through storms, of the loveliness of the wildflower abundance of the spring time and the harshness of the high regions are still delight and balm to my spirit, as they were when I was still a barefoot, impulsive teen.

Yes, we'll need a sixth post. And likely a seventh. I haven't even begun to come close to the works that started me making these lists--but you, dear reader, may check out her blog, for which there is a link at outside the windows--her's is that mysterious Palace at 2AM. Her books, The Raven Mocker and Ingledove, are remarkable. (so are her others, but these entered straight into my heart). More on them, and others, next time.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

going forth into the book stacks

Okay, bad pun. But here is indeed a fourth section of those favorites, again in no particular order. Or no conscious order, perhaps.

My partner and I read to our children a lot. Indeed, I read to my children before they were born, and while they were tiny babies (in those days poetry mostly; lots of Yeats). In the process of finding things to read we discovered a number of books neither of us had discovered as children. Yes, there were the stacks of picture books (I can recite Goodnight Moon by heart even now, and also the Runaway Bunny), but more fun by far were the so called chapter books, to be read a chapter at a time (but often chapter after chapter into the early, early morning, if a book was particularly exciting).

In this group were all the Edward Eager books (these, actually, I had encountered as a child--at least one, my favorite, The Time Garden); the Green Knowe series by LM Boston (a mix of magic, gardens, an old house, ghosts--throw in a gorilla and a Chinese boy as well); Susan Cooper's five book Dark is Rising series (they have their base in Celtic mythology), and E. Nesbit's fantasies (Five Children and It, and more). And LeGuin (her Left Hand of Darkness is a private favorite, maybe more about it later) with the Earthsea Trilogy. We also read Lloyd Alexander's series based in Welsh myth with a lot of pleasure, and all the Narnia books, which were not my favorites, but the kids gobbled them up. Gabe hated Tolkein. We'd read the series to my eldest and began reading to our daughter and Gabe; Gabe is 4 years younger than she. He'd hide the books, after the Hobbit (he liked the Hobbit).

The nice thing about spacing your children at wide intervals is that you get to reread all the wonderful things over and over and over again.

My partner ventured off on his own book passions: reading Alice to our daughter when she was a bemused two year old (she laughs and claims any oddity in her soul dates from those days); reading Moby Dick to my eldest son--though he never got far in that. Eldest son loved Tintin and Asterix and comic books, and learned to read by reading masses and masses of comics. The Secret Garden (Burnett) was a favorite of all my family--how could we help it? A walled, neglected garden; a spoiled orphan, an invalid, a wise old gardener....And the illustrations (Tasha Tudor's, I think) were charming.

My eldest was particularly fond of books in which poor families kept it together and loved one another despite tragedy or difficulty: the first of the Boxcar Children series, the Little Peppers and How They Grew, the Laura Engel Wilder series.

Ah, and The Wheel on the School (DeJong). Children bring the storks back to their little village by changing the environment. (not as sticky as it sounds; it is funny and thrilling).

a third wander through the book treasures

And, I think there will be a fourth, if not a fifth. I could never really decide on a favorite color, either--so much to choose from.

In no order, save as they come to mind, some more of the quirky or influential books of my life:

Middlemarch, by George Eliot, surely one of the best novels ever written.

The Wings of the Dove, by Henry James. I love all of Henry James, with his thick, clotted cream sentences and his characters so delicately poised, and the deep tension of scenes in which much is revealed by the placing of a teacup. In my store, alas, it is rare that I can get anyone to read James these days. "Too many words".

Riders in the Chariot, by Patrick White. As with James, I do love almost all of White's work. He wrote a number of novels, and even won the Nobel Prize, and had a passionate life long relationship with another man, and kept little pug dogs...This one, though, is my favorite, with its disconnected, passionate, spiritual, crazy, heartrending characters. And that writing.

Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. And more than Walden, his letters, and his journals, which I have in two enormous volumes (still available, I think, from Dover in hardcover and very expensive). Walden was probably the most important book in my life in shaping a world view and desire for a life that made sense. The journals are wonderful, full of bits of nature lore and walks in the pouring rain.

The novels of Iris Murdoch. I think Nuns and Soldiers is my favorite. They have much repetition, once you gulp down several in a month, but are somehow deeply engaging, strange, poignant. I once summarized the typical plot of one of these as A loves B who loves C who is involved with D but actually wants to be a priest or desires turnips instead of humans. It is an overstatement--but not much of one.

The novels, and other writings, of Colette. Such sensuous detail. Yum. (and she also kept pugs. Interesting. No, I have never had a little pug, or any other little dog. All the dogs that come into my life are enormous.)

The novels of Virginia Woolf, and her letters, and particularly the little paperback Diary of a Writer or whatever it was called--excerpts from her journals, came out years ago. Of the novels I loved best The Waves. You have to surrender to them.

The writings of Virginia's friend Vita Sackville-West (many of her blithe, offhand garden writings have been collected in various books, some with lovely illustrations). Vita was an intrepid gardener-and quite a traveler as well, and a very engaging, vibrant writer. The book about her marriage (Portrait of a Marriage) is also interesting. (Yes, I am a Bloomsbury lover).

Frog and Toad are Friends (by Arnold Lobel). It's an early reader. I love Lobel. Frog and Toad have a special place in my heart.

More anon...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

those treasured volumes, second part

Still in the realm of childhood favorites:

The Book of Revelations (yes, from the Bible). I spent my playground time in my 11th year pondering this book, in my tiny New Testament and Psalms. I had been told that all the books in the Bible were true, to be taken literally, the word of God. I was a literal minded if somewhat fey child. This book puzzled me extremely. I read the rest of the Bible as well, Old and New Testaments. I suspect the language, if not the meaning, steeped deeply into me.

and yes, I did love Nancy Drew. What can I say? My taste was, and is, very undiscrimating.

Gene Straton Porter--ah, what was that book called? The Girl of the Limberlost, I think; it was the second of the Limberlost books, steeped in swamplands, melodrama, struggle, and--moths. My copy came to me from my grandmother's shelves.

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women (and all her work, eventually). Given me by my great aunt (who, by the by, had led a scandalous and interesting life in her youth, before settling into what seemed dour age). In my childhood circle of friends from say age 10 to 14 we always tried to determine which of the four sisters we wanted to be (I wanted to be both Jo, who was, after all, a writer, and Amy, who was pretty and got to marry Laurie. No one I ever met wanted to be Meg, the good older sister who got married and had babies. And darling Beth died...). I still reread Alcott in moments of self indulgence. Alas, my daughter and her friends found Louisa May unbearably oldfashioned.

Childhood blends imperceptively into adulthood; many of my favorites of the past years are actually children's books, discovered as I sought books for my own children--one of the blessings of parenting. And many of my childhood favorites were supposedly adult fare. At one point--I was, I think, 11 or 12--my mother interceded with the librarian at the tiny military library. Librarian had been scandalized by my checking out piles and piles of adult historicals---Thomas Costain and his ilk, and lesser known ones that these days would have shiny gold letters on them and ladies with clothes perilously close to falling off their heaving bosoms. Dear mother wrote, in her Spenserian hand, "My daugher may check out any book she pleases, with my full permission". There were certain perils to this liberality: when I read Lady Chatterly's Lover at 12 or 13 I wondered if people always ran about in the rain and twined forgetmenots in their pubic hair after sex. Since I was then living in the high desert it appeared the adults around me must be very deprived: it hardly ever rained there.

More to come...

Monday, January 16, 2006

those enduring books, part one

I wrote recently to an author whose works are on this list that I had to add those remarkable books to my all time favorites.
But then the list was in my head, and scattered through years of notebooks and accountbooks.
And so, I thought, why not an adjunct blog, where lists, and oddments can safely live.
So, here it is.
You must understand that I write surrounded by books, books on shelves and tables, books stacked at my feet, books in my imagination...but there are, always in the lives of the bookish, some handfuls of treasures. Like beach glass gathered on the shoreline, translucent, luminous, forever lovely.
The Tomes of Childhood:
Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit. Because it was the first book I read, because I longed for chamomile tea, because I wanted to live at the roots of a tree, because the little paintings were so lovely, and Peter so naughty. (I went on, as a mother, to get all the Potter books for my offspring. They did not greet them with the same enchantment.)

Palgrave's Golden Treasury. It is not a children's book by any means, but my mother had a red bound copy with black and white drawings, and from the age of 3 I took it for my own. I still have it, this anthology of a peculiar slice of British poetry. It was there I met Wordsworth, and Keats, and Shakespeare. I memorized many of these poems, the good ones and especially the sad, bad ones. I used the book to tell fortunes, to determine if the boy I loved at 11 loved me. I scribbled on the drawings when I was 4, to improve them. This year I found a very early edition of Palgrave and gave it to a young man I know, the son of a dear friend. He wishes to be a poet; what better gift?

The Encyclopedia Americana of the year of my birth. My mother was convinced to use the rent money to purchase this for her four month old baby girl; by the time I was old enough to read it of course much was out of date--but literature wasn't, nor was early history, nor a whole lot of random amazing facts. Many a summer's day I spent reading a volume or two, purely delighted.

Easy Stories. I have no idea who the author of this was; it was a little brown paper leaflet of a book, given me by my Japanese maid (in Japan, post world war II). It had been designed to help the speaker of Japanese learn English. There were fables, and brief stories, all illustrated in black. Also of the time, and lost to me, was a collection of Japanese folk tales--the little peach boy, the badger who was a tea kettle, a version of Cinderella, Japanese style, and others, printed in green on soft rice paper.

All of Andrew Lang's Fairy Tale books--the Red, and Blue, and Orange, and Yellow,and so on. The school library when I was 10 had these. Pure dizzy delight.

Tennyson's Idylls of the King. This was my grandfather's book, and at his death came to me--but as a little girl I would sit for hours reading it, the stories of Camelot, of passions and honor and betrayal and loveliness.

Eleanor Estes The Hundred Dresses. It was given me by my aunt; with watercolor pictures; the story of a poor girl who wears the same blue dress each day to school, yet boasts she has a hundred dresses at home (and she does, in the triumph of art over life). I cherished this book greatly--partly because my aunt was one of the few who took me seriously when I asked for books. But alas, like Potter, this book did not impress my own little ones.

and more soon (including those come on most recently)