Teaser Tuesdays: The Living by Annie Dillard

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

the living

As is the new norm with audiobooks, I am working my way through Annie Dillard’s novel about my new place of residence very slowly. Set in the region including and surrounding what is now the town of Bellingham, The Living is about the early days of settlement. It is a large and sweeping tale that spans generations, which will give me some challenge when it is time to write about the whole, since I’m taking so long to listen to it. But no worries. It remains an engaging story, and it’s always stimulating to read about a place that you know. Today’s teaser involves a settler to Washington state traveling back east for a visit.

Minta considered the Rockies inferior to the Cascades and dull, for they lacked form, height, and glaciers. The volcanic cones she loved, Mount Baker and Mount Rainer, had enormous forests at their skirts, and waterfalls that drained the meadows above the forests, and precipitous snowfields and glaciers that rose above the clouds.

Indeed. As I am a new resident of Cascadia, this is something to think about in a country enamored of the Rockies.

Thanks for stopping by today. I’ll get around to reviewing this novel one of these days…

Teaser Tuesdays: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

my life on the road

I was intimidated to read this book by Steinem – my first of hers – because she is such an accomplished, impressive woman. But I shouldn’t have been. She is warm and approachable on the page. Her story is not only of interest and worth reading (which of course I knew going in), but also well and simply told.

The book is a series of stories, and for today’s teaser, I’ve chosen one very short one for you.

On another campus, some women tell me about men who leave their own underwear on the floor and don’t feel compelled to pick it up – or even notice what they’ve done. By now, the shouts and laughter have become quite rowdy, and I’ve begun to worry about a silent young Japanese woman in the front row. Perhaps we are offending her.

As if summoned by my thought, she stands and turns to face all five hundred or so women. “When my husband leaves his underwear on the floor,” she says quietly, “I find it useful to nail it to the floor.”

Amid laughter and cheers, this shy young woman seems surprised to find herself laughing, too. She tells the group this is the first time she has ever said anything in public.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Teaser Tuesdays: Mary McGrory: The First Queen of Journalism by John Norris

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

mary mcgrory

I am reading a delightful biography of a groundbreaking newspaperwoman, who wrote book reviews (ahem!) before her political coverage began; she would cover 12 political campaigns (and everything in between) in her lengthy and influential career. I am reminded somewhat of Newspaper Titan. But John Norris can tell it better than I can, of course.

In many ways, Mary was as much an anolmaly at the end of her career as she was at its beginning. When she broke through, during the Army-McCarthy hearings, she was the lone female reporter in the room. On the campaign trail, she was one woman surrounded by a hundred men. By the end of her career, she was working in an environment where there were more and more women, most female reporters were married, and employers like the Post provided maternity leave and benefits. To this new generation of women, Mary was a throwback: the woman who took on McCarthy and Nixon; the pioneer who was forced to decide between career and love; a beloved relic from an earlier era who drank with the Kennedys and crafted handwritten thank-you notes. Mary had gone an entire career without ever being the norm.

Stay tuned for my review of the book, followed by my interview with the author.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

writing life

Annie Dillard is wonderful. I am glad to be back with her funny, wise but slight self-deprecating voice – and about writing this time! Wonderful. Check out these words of “comfort” to writers disappointed with their slow pace of production.

It takes years to write a book. Between two and ten years. Less is so rare as to be statistically insignificant. One American writer has written a dozen major books over six decades. He wrote one of those books, a perfect novel, in three months. He speaks of it still with awe, almost whispering. Who wants to offend the spirit that hands out such books? Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks. He claimed he knocked it off in his spare time from a 12-hour-a-day job performing manual labor. There are other examples from other continents and centuries, just as albinos, assassins, saints, big people and little people show up from time to time in large populations. Out of a human population of four and a half billion, perhaps 20 people can write a serious book in a year. Some people lift cars, too. Some people enter week-long sled dog races, go over Niagara Falls in barrels, fly planes through the Arc du Triomphe. Some people feel no pain in childbirth. Some people eat cars. There is no call to take human extremes as norms.

This, I feel, is a great example of her voice: funny and filled with factoids while simultaneously being entirely serious, and empathetic. Of course I am enjoying this audio edition. Strangely, since I mention voice, the voice doing the reading is not Dillard’s. I guess I don’t know what her literal voice sounds like, but the reader here is suiting me fine.

Teaser Tuesdays: Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

dakotaWarning: rave review coming. Dakota is an amazing feat of essays exploring ethics, community, a sense of place and belonging and the meaning of home, geography, the unique features of the western Dakotas, and yes, spirituality (a subject usually sure to turn me away). This teaser post is just that, a preview of what I love about this book. For example,

The word ‘geography’ derives from the Greek words for earth and writing, and writing about Dakota has been my means of understanding that inheritance and reclaiming what is holy in it.

or, quoting Benedictine monk Terrence Kardong,

We have become as indigenous as the cottonwood trees… If you take us somewhere else, we lose our character, our history – maybe our soul.

I would love to share the entire 16 pages of “Where I Am,” which include the factoid that

the absolutely temperature range record for the Western Hemisphere [was] set in 1936 when a town in western North Dakota registered temperatures from 60 degrees below zero to 121 above within the same year.

or “Rain,” a single-page poetry-in-prose listing of the types of rain experienced there. Mind-blowing, right?

I am very impressed, and hope you’ll go looking for your copy of Dakota, too. My review is coming.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

I am loving Mary Karr’s well-regarded memoir about growing up in small-town East Texas. She is amazing in many regards, on which more to come soon; but today I want to talk about describing place. I have a special fascination with a “sense of place” in the books I read, whether they are fictional descriptions of real places (James Lee Burke and Michael Connelly, on Louisiana and Los Angeles respectively) or made-up places (Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, or du Maurier’s Manderley), or nonfiction.

liar's clubAs an example of the latter, I think this paragraph-and-a-half near the beginning of The Liars’ Club is as good as it gets.

If Daddy’s past was more intricate to me than my own present, Mother’s was as blank as the West Texas desert she came from. She was born into the Dust Bowl, a vast flat landscape peppered with windmills and occasional cotton ranches. Instead of a kitty for a pet, she had a horny toad. She didn’t see rain fall, she said, for the first decade of her life. The sky stayed rock-white and far away.

About all she later found to worship in Leechfield was the thunderstorms, where were frequent and heavy. The whole town sat at a semitropical latitude just spitting distance from the Gulf. It sat in a swamp, three feet below sea level at its highest point, and was crawled through by two rivers. Any hole you dug, no matter how shallow, magically filled up with brackish water. Even the wide ditches that ran in front of the houses, where I later learned that sidewalks ought to be, were not enough to keep the marsh from burbling up.

This is an astounding piece of writing. So much is communicated, and much of it we take in without even noticing. On the surface, we see that Mother is from West Texas, where it is dry, and East Texas, where the author grew up, is much wetter. But just below that surface, we get a time-frame (implied by the Dust Bowl reference), and a visual cue from “rock-white”: rocks aren’t white everywhere, but now we have a blinding tone for the “blank” West Texas desert. I love that Leechfield is “spitting distance” from the Gulf of Mexico: another reference to wetness; and “was crawled through” by two rivers? That’s a passive voice usage to compete with Hemingway’s famous one that I keep referring to. I like what is implied by that last line: Karr didn’t know about sidewalks til she left town. Not to mention the onomatopoeic effect of burbling…

Creative Nonfiction magazine has a special issue coming out on the theme of Weather. If they get to publish any passages remotely as communicative and deceptively simple as this one, I think they’ll be glad.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

Full disclosure: I got this tattoo, below, after reading this piece by Kingsnorth. (It’s more complicated than that, and Kingsnorth did not supply my first exposure to the green man, for the record; IMG_5964but he was a significant inspiration.) If you poke around his website, and his larger presence as a writer, you’ll see that he’s written a good deal about the Norman invasion of 1066; and now, a novel (released last year in Kingsnorth’s native Britain). But there is something different about this book: it is written in a “pseudo-language,” a hybrid between the Old English of the time in question, and the language we speak and understand today. Somewhat in the spirit of the “Landspeak” article I recently posted, Kingsnorth feels that the language in which we express a thing changes the thing being expressed: in other words, it matters.


wake

I am on board with the concept, but I confess, it would be a mistake to underestimate it. The Old English-ish language is a challenge, and casual readers will be dissuaded. It is worth the effort, however. The story inside is riveting and, yes, improved in tone by the impassioned voice of the narrator in his native tongue (or a slightly more readable version thereof). Pro tip: try reading aloud to get the full flavor, and to hear cognates come clear.

I have a few lines for you today that struck me especially, and which are almost understandable.

the fugols that sang here was the fugols i cnawan and the heofon was the heofon of my cildehood and for a small time i felt that my heorte had cum baec to where it sceolde always be. the mist cum round the secg cold as we walced saen lytel and sounds colde be hierde that was lic the sounds of my eald lands when i was still a man

Or, in my own translation,

The birds that sang here were the birds I knew, and the heaven was the heaven of my childhood, and for a small time I felt that my heart had come back to where it should always be. The mist came round the sedge, cold, as we walked saying little, and sounds could be heard that were like the sounds of my old lands, when I was still a man.

I love the sense of place and of belonging to a place – which is one of the losses of the Norman Invasion, in Kingsnorth’s telling – and the tone of mourning. Try it again in the original text. Go ahead. I know I threw you into it in the middle, but a full book of this actually comes to be quite compelling, if you can put in the effort.

Stay tuned for my positive review to come.

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