Wild Arts!

Five books

Books purchased at the Wild Arts Festival in Portland, signed in person by the authors.

 

Litmosphere: 1. the vast domain of the world’s readers and writers 2. a lively literary mood permeating the air ~ sign in Powell’s Books, Portland

Wild Arts FestivalI love the literary scene in Portland. Our Thanksgiving visit there coincided with the annual Wild Arts Festival, a celebration of nature in art and books hosted by the Audubon Society of Portland in the old Montgomery Ward building, now known as Montgomery Park.

Walking into the festival, where hundreds of artists and authors were on hand, was like getting a gigantic embrace from the creative community.

I couldn’t decide among Ursula Le Guin’s many, many science fiction and fantasy books. In the end I chose her translation of Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book About the Way and the Power of the Way, and she graciously signed a copy for me.

Next, we met Robert Michael Pyle, a jolly teddy bear of a man who spent no less than 15 minutes entertaining us with stories about how, in his Honda Civic with 345,000 miles on the odometer, he spent a year searching for as many of the 800 species of American butterflies as he could find. I could have spent hours listening to this man; instead I bought his memoir and travelogue, Mariposa Road, which he signed with, “May these far rambles on bright wings incite your own wild road trips!”

A dedicated ecologist and naturalist, Robert Michael Pyle has written nearly 20 books and is the co-editor of Nabokov’s Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings. (The literary genius Vladimir Nabokov was a butterfly expert and had an extensive collection.)

I purchased another of Robert’s memoirs, Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land, about Washington’s Willapa Hills, whose forests have been plundered by lumber companies. Robert lives on a farm in Grays River once owned by a Swedish immigrant. I’m descended from Swedes, who were attracted to the deep forests of the Pacific Northwest because it reminded them of home; I’d love to see Willapa country one day. Of course, Robert signed Wintergreen, too, with these words, together with a sketch of a snail: “May these moss murmurs and fern-words honor your own hills of home – and maybe urge you Northwesterly!”

I can’t say enough about Floyd Skloot and Kim Stafford. They are both poets, and they’ve both written memoirs. (Actually, they’ve both written more than one, and I look forward to reading all of them.)

Since I’m writing a memoir myself, I decided to go for the memoirs: In the Shadow of MemoryFloyd Skloot’s first memoir (part neuroscience and part autobiography about a virus that left Skloot disabled and bereft of memories) and 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: My Brother’s Disappearance by Kim Stafford (his brother committed suicide.)

Both of these generous writers spoke with me about their work and asked at great length about mine. Kim wanted to know the working title of my memoir and, when I told him, he gave me a writing assignment to try. As I did the exercise Kim recommended, I discovered that one particular word in the title is especially important to my memoir’s theme. It got me thinking about how I could bring out the theme more vividly as I revise.

The authors I spoke with at the Wild Arts Festival were incredibly kind and gracious. I had instant connections with these generous writers, who are among the best in America today. Don’t be shy at these kinds of events. Writers and artists are the most giving and engaged people you’ll ever meet.

Portland is a book-loving town, and as I walked around the neighborhoods with family, I noticed several Little Free Libraries. It’s also a poetry-loving town, and a couple of the homes I passed by had poems on display – including one by Kim Stafford’s father, the great poet William Stafford.

Slipped inside the Kim Stafford memoir I bought was the gift of a poem that begins, “The only heroic thing is to not be a hero.” I believe Kim borrowed this phrase from a poem by his father, William: “At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border.”

Kim’s poem is called “A Few Words, Each Day,” and it includes this line: “The only heroic thing is to be a child of four…of fifteen…of forty…of eighty – trying with the heart and mind to listen to the self, each other, and the earth….”

Litmosphere definition sign in Powell's Books

We stopped by Powell’s Books for good measure, where I learned a new word.

 

Books: Braiding Sweetgrass; Notes from No Man's Land

At Powell’s I bought Eula Biss’s collection of essays and the latest book by Robin Wall Kimmerer, who is a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatoni Nation.

 

Northern spotted owl at the Wild Arts Festival

Northern spotted owl at the Wild Arts Festival

 

Kim Stafford: “That is my story.”

 

 

Books from Around the World, Under Our Tree

The Narrow Road to the Deep North Book CoverThe Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan. This World War II novel about an Australian surgeon in a Japanese POW camp won the 2014 Man Booker Prize.  (The purpose of this UK prize is to bring quality fiction to intelligent general readers who might otherwise not hear about the work.) The prisoners helped build what became known as the Thailand-Burma Death Railway. The Narrow Road to the Deep North book cover The books is named after one of the most famous books in Japanese literature, written by the 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho. I plan to read the books together. I’ll let you know how that works out.

 

 

 

 

A Platter of Figs cookbook coverA Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, by David Tanis I like this cookbook because it’s about eating with the seasons, and it features uncomplicated family meals you can easily make at home. Sections include “How to Cook a Rabbit,” “Feeling Italian,” “Nuevo Mexico,” “Peasant from a Parisian Kitchen,” and “Hot Day, Cold Chicken.” David Tanis is the head chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley six months of the year; the other six months he lives in Paris, where he prepares meals in a tiny galley kitchen for his private dining club. I will read any cookbook affiliated with Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. My son bought this book at Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers in Williamsburg.

 

                                                                                                                                                        

Cereal magazine coverCereal: Travel & Lifestyle Magazine, Vol. 8 Click on this link right now and visit Cereal, a stunningly photographed and designed magazine and online journal. This volume features, among other things, a section on Yukon, Canada with spreads on Kluane National Park & Reserve and the Demptster Highway which leads to the Arctic Circle. (Someone in the family has been to the Arctic Circle via the Dalton Highway.) This mag’s style and visual aesthetic reminded me of a cookbook and lifestyle book I received last Christmas, The Kinfolk Table: Recipes for Small Gatherings. (Kinfolk is a magazine, too.) So I got out the book and saw there are a couple of recipes and a profile of food writer Rosa Park, who happens to be the editor of Cereal. Both Cereal and Kinfolk are beautifully designed and photographed, wonderful for browsing.

 

 

Southern Light: Images of Antarctica book coverSouthern Light: Images from Antarctica, by David Neilson. Someone in our family dreams of visiting Antarctica.  This is a luscious collection of black and white and color photos, including several gatefolds that open up to three panels of photos on each side. At least seven kinds of penguins, all the major mountain ranges, Deception and Elephant Islands, historic exploration sites, and essays on climate change, too. Our son bought this book at Strand Books in New York. (“Come for the books and stay for the synth musik.”)

 

 

RHS Vegetables for the Gourmet Gardener book cover

RHS Vegetables for the Gourmet Gardener, by Simon Akeroyd. To feed my gardening habit and enrich my gardening and nature writing. RHS stands for Royal Horticultural Society, the UK’s leading gardening charity. This beautiful book was designed and produced by Quid Publishing in England, the same publisher that produced another volume I own, RHS Latin for Gardeners.

Our son purchased this at Daunt Books for Travellers in London. On the bookmark tucked inside:  “The heart of Daunt Books is an original Edwardian bookshop with long oak galleries and graceful skylights. Its soul is the unique arrangement of books by country – where guides, novels, and nonfiction of all kinds will interest traveller and browser alike.” If I ever get to London this shop will be on my bookstore list.

 

 

Four Seasons in Rome book coverFour Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World, by Anthony Doerr. If you read my blog, you know I’ve been wild about Anthony Doerr lately. His novel, All the Light We Cannot See, was a National Book Award finalist and has become a bestseller. He happened to visit Rome when Pope John Paul II was dying and attended the vigil. I can’t wait to see Doerr’s take on this fabulous city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gorgeous Nothings book coverEmily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings, by Marta Werner, a scholar of poetry, and Jen Bervin, a visual artist. No other book is quite like this one – a work of art, a facsimile publication of Emily Dickinson’s poems as she wrote them on fifty-two envelopes. These artifacts let the reader see Emily’s original line breaks and words spread across the entire space of a page, together with variant word lists that are meant to be part of the texts themselves. Reading these poems in their original medium, as opposed to in a traditional typeset book, is an entirely different experience.

 

 

 

My Struggle book coverMy Struggle, Book Three, by Karl Ove Knausgaard. My son has read the first two autobiographical novels in the hugely popular series (there are to be six!) by the Norwegian author, published in 22 languages. I hope to tackle the first two volumes myself this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Berlin Wonderland book coverBerlin Wonderland: Wild Years Revisited 1990 – 1996 Amazing photos by seven photographers documenting the wild, artistic subculture that bloomed after the Berlin Wall came down. One of our sons is studying in Germany and bought this at Hundt Hammerstein in Berlin, a gift for the photographer in our family. The text is in English and German.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manage Your Day to Day book coverManage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei. This is a great little book about how to meet creative goals and fulfill your calling rather than spend your days reacting to the demands of social media and new technology – a huge issue creative souls in the past did not have to deal with. Creative work, in the context of this book, can be anything from painting to starting a business to launching a volunteer effort or charity drive.

These very short articles by creatives and thought leaders like Seth Godin and Gretchen Rubin are practical and full of wisdom. I love this tiny red and black book and decided to pass it on to my photographer son (the industrial designer has browsed through it, too.) The most important take-away for me: disconnect from the Internet and get creative work done first thing, NO MATTER WHAT. Produced by Behance, which “is on a mission to empower the creative world.”   (See: http://www.99u.com; http://www.behance.com)

 

 

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

“I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism….I do not like genre mash-ups a la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and – I imagine this goes without saying – vampires. I rarely stock debuts, chick lit, poetry, or translation….Above all…I find slim literary memoirs about little old men whose little old wives have died from cancer to be absolutely intolerable.”   A.J. Fikry, bookseller, in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry bookcover

This is a quick, funny, sweet read about a bookseller who is down on his luck and turning quite bitter in his middle age. It’s a tribute to booksellers, book lovers, beloved authors, and their stories.  A Good Man is Hard to Find” (Flannery O’Conner), Lamb to the Slaughter” (Roald Dahl), The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” (F. Scott Fitzgerald), The Tell-Tale Heart” (Edgar Allen Poe), Ironhead” (Aimee Bender), What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” (Raymond Carver), Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace), and many others have little parts to play in Gabrielle Zevin’s clever story.

After something good follows the tragic turn in A.J.’s life, he begins to change.

He’s inspired to write pithy little reviews for someone he loves. This is what he has to say about A Good Man is Hard to Find”  – 

“It’s Amy’s favorite. (She always seems so sweet on the surface, no?)…When she told me it was her favorite, it suggested to me strange and wonderful things about her character that I had not guessed, dark places that I might like to visit.”

You can tell a lot about a person by the books she loves.

 

The story of a happy marriage & the right to read

When Ann Patchett came home from school one day, there was a boy she’d never met in the kitchen. Turns out, he was one of four new step siblings. Her mother and his father had married, but they hadn’t yet told the six children who were now part of a blended family.

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage book coverThis might be why Patchett likes to write novels about people from very different walks of life thrown together in extreme circumstances – such as in Bel Canto, my favorite novel of hers about terrorists, an opera singer, and political and business leaders in a hostage situation. (See also my post about State of Wonder.)

It may also have had something to do with why, for a long while, she’d been committed to staying single. Ann’s mother had twice divorced and her grandmother had divorced. In fact, divorce was scattered liberally throughout her family tree.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a collection of Ann Patchett’s personal essays, one of them about her early divorce and her relationship with the man who eventually became her second husband. It’s an honest, personally revealing, and entrancing story about love and commitment.

Marriage is a metaphor for the many happy relationships in Ann’s life, including relationships with her writing, her bookstore, her grandmother, the strong and nurturing Catholic nuns where she went to school, and her dog. There are essays about all of this and more in Ann’s new book, a fine collection of meditations about life, love, and fulfillment.

I especially enjoyed Ann’s essay about writing, “The Getaway Car,” and those of you who write will like it as well. She is not of the school that everyone has one great novel in them, as a woman Ann met at a family reunion insisted. Ann usually has enough good sense to avoid such conversations, but this time she gave in.

“Does everyone have one great floral arrangement in them? One five-minute mile? One algebraic proof?”

“No,” the woman said. But everyone has one great novel in them “because we each have the story of our life to tell.”

Ann does not agree and writes about how difficult it is to convey what we know on paper. This is what she has to say about writing a novel:

“I make up a novel in my head…I don’t take notes or make outlines; I’m figuring things out, and all the while the book makes a breeze around my head like an oversized butterfly whose wings were cut from the rose windows in Notre Dame. This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life…..

…I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page….Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV…What I’m left with is a dry husk of my friend, a broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book……The journey from the head to the hand is perilous and lined with bodies.”

It stops most would-be writers cold.

Ann writes about the panic that set in when she sat down to write her first novel at a fine arts retreat, a story she’d been constructing in her imagination for a long while:

“Now that I was sitting still in front of a blank screen, I was appalled by all the things I hadn’t considered….until that minute I had never considered the actual narrative structure….what in the hell had I been doing all that time?”

She was tempted to throw out her idea altogether and start fresh, but an experienced writer told her to stay with her story.

“It was life-saving counsel,” Ann writes. “Without it, I could have spent the next seven months writing the first chapters of eighteen different novels, all of which I would have hated as much as I hated this one.”

There is another essay in the collection, “The Love Between the Two Women Is Not Normal,” that especially stands out for me. Ann had been best friends with Lucy Grealy, the acclaimed author of a memoir, “Autobiography of a Face.”  Lucy had cancer of the jaw at age nine and 38 reconstructive surgeries. She died of a drug overdose, and Ann wrote a book about their friendship, Truth and Beauty. The book had been assigned to the incoming freshman class at Clemson University in 2006, and Ann was invited to speak there at the beginning of the school year.

All was well until a Clemson alum, whose nieces and a nephew were students there, objected to the book assignment. “The book contains a very extensive list of over-the-top sexual and antireligious references…The explicit message that this sends to the students is that they are encouraged to find themselves sexually.”

A hue and cry ensued. Many angry parents wanted another book chosen and Ann’s invitation rescinded, while most of the students and Clemson’s administration supported Ann and the book selection. The Clemson alum held a press conference the day before Ann appeared, distributed copies of bad reviews of her book posted by Amazon readers, and took out a full-page ad in the local paper. The ad, among other things, accused Clemson of the sexual harassment of freshmen students and suggested the assigned reading of Truth and Beauty was insensitive because a Clemson student had recently been raped and murdered.

When the day came for an extremely nervous and alarmed Ann to speak in Clemson’s coliseum, there were protests, and the administration had arranged for her to have a bodyguard. 

Ann has included her Clemson speech, “The Right to Read,” in this collection of essays. Among other things, she said most of the freshmen students were old enough to vote and go to war and could make their own decisions about what to read and how they’d be influenced by it. She pointed out that if they had to be protected from Truth and Beauty, they’d most certainly need to be protected from Lolita and The Great Gatsby and Anna Karenina.

Weeks after her speech, it occurred to Ann many of the students in the audience had likely never read Tolstoy or F. Scott Fitzgerald or Nabokov, and so they probably hadn’t understood what she was talking about.

As for me, I’m disturbed every time I hear about a protest of this nature over a book. If Patchett’s Truth and Beauty can cause such a furor, we live in a frightening world indeed.

On the fifth day of Christmas: The Quivering Pen

12 Days of Christmas

The Quivering Pen has been my happiest blog discovery of late. It’s a rich, beautifully written site about books, writing, and the literary life by David Abrams, a former Army journalist and author of The Fobbit, a comic novel about the Iraq War.

David is an expansive, passionate reader who writes eloquently about new, backlist, classic, and “lost gem” titles. You’ll find unusual and off-the-beaten-path books to add to your to-read list, and if you’re a writer, you’ll appreciate David’s generous sharing of his own journey and the wisdom of other writers.

I’m looking forward to reading David’s enticing backlist of posts. Among other attractions, he features Trailer Park Tuesday (new book trailers), Friday Freebie (a book giveaway), Sunday Sentence (the best sentences he’s read that week), My First Time (writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers), and Bookstore of the Month.

The Twelve Days of Christmas Song Poster by Xavier-Romero Frias is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Twelve blogs for Christmas: Word by Word

Partridge in a pear tree

I thought it would be fun to feature twelve of my favorite blogs, one each for the twelve days of Christmas. These are among my favorites because the authors are passionate about something – books, gardening, nature, cooking, art, spirituality – and they consistently draw me in, even if I know nothing about the topic. Always, I find renewal and a deeper appreciation for life thanks their insights and unique perspectives.

On the first day of Christmas I’ll highlight a book blog, Word by Word. Claire never fails to come up with a book I know I’ll love. Often it’s a book off the beaten path, one I wouldn’t encounter on my own, and her reading is international in scope. She lives in France, and I enjoy when she tells us about the literary scene in Paris, London, and other places she visits. Often, I learn something new about a writer or a moment in literary history.

I’ve never been to the Cité du livre, which must be a book lover’s dream. In this post Claire offers us a tour.

(“Partridge in a Pear Tree” photo by Cindy Mc is licensed under CC-by-NC 2.0)

Books by drone?

Holiday gifrs

Do you want your books and holiday gifts delivered by drones?

Please leave a comment and tell us what you think.

(Photo from FreeFoto.com)

Traveling orchardist country

Traveling in Oregon’s Hood River Valley, we’ve had marionberry syrup on pancakes at the B & B we’re staying at and huckleberry smoothies at an arts & crafts fair. Peaches, apricots, pears, cherries, strawberries, blueberries and grapes also grow in this land of orchards, vineyards, and farm stands.

I just finished Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist, set in early 20th century Washington, where an orchardist takes in two pregnant, runaway teenagers. Amanda’s prose is as lush and beautiful as the land she writes about.  The Orchardist is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time. Amanda is a major new talent, and she’s young, so we can look forward to more of her books.

The Orchardist book cover

We stopped at The Old Trunk Antiques , which has an excellent collection of used and older books. I found a rare edition of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth that had a book jacket with promotional photos from the 1937 movie. (See a previous post on The Good Earth.)

The Old Trunk book and antiques

That was too expensive for me, but I bought Buck’s, Peony, a novel I’m unlikely to encounter in my everyday book browsing. The Old Trunk proprietors are gracious and very knowledgeable about the history of the Hood River area.

Peony book cover

Every reader has a “My Bookstore”

Just had to tell you about a new book to be released on November 13 by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop, edited by Ronald Rice with an introduction by Richard Russo.

My Bookstore features essays by 84 authors, including Ann Patchett, Ian Frazier, Chuck Palahniuk, Rick Bragg, and Terry Tempest Williams.

So far, I’ve visited three of the bookstores: Powell’s in Portland, Oregon; Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle (see my post about Elliot Bay and a few other Washington bookstores); and The Strand in New York City.

Looks like California and New York are well represented, as you might expect. Sorry to see nothing listed for Cleveland (my hometown) or Rochester, NY.  Suggestions, anyone?

I’m adding this book to my holiday wish list.

Oh, and if you have a favorite bookstore, tell us in the comments.

Bookstores (of course) and tombs in Recoleta, Buenos Aires

Cuspide Libros

We visited Recoleta, a well-to-do neighborhood in Buenos Aires, and browsed at Cúspide Libros, a popular chain in Argentina. Here we found a collection spanning many subjects – politics, history, travel, art, design, cooking, current fiction and nonfiction, the classics, and more.

Cúspide Libros is in an upscale shopping mall.  In the U.S., you might not expect to find a bookstore with such a broad, deep selection of titles.

Our traveling companions, who live in New York City, commented that Buenos Aires seems especially devoted to bookstores and reading.

La Recoleta Cemetary is across the street, where many Argentinian notables have elaborate tombs. It’s a fascinating place, a dense grid of narrow walkways lined with mausoleums, some crumbling and in disrepair, others pristine. Despite the somewhat morbid undertones, it’s quiet and peaceful, a stunning outdoor art gallery.

Recolate angel

recoleta statue

Mother and children statue

Recoleta vault

recoleta angel

Recoleta cemetary

Recoleta angel

Recoleta cemetary

Eva Peron's final resting place

Eva Peron’s final resting place

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