Sunday, October 19, 2008

surrounded by books

So, I've just started a job at Kepler's, which is an excellent, friendly, well-stocked, and independent (gasp!) bookstore. I spent 40 hours this week learning how to sell, find, and shelve books (something that started to frighten me when I had a dream about looking for a book on the history of economics in Europe. Oh please don't let mundane dreams--even mundane dreams about books--hijack my imagination!). I also discovered the joys of advanced reading copies. I feel immensely gleeful about the three ARCs that I've picked up and (greedily) already dipped into:

Descartes' Bones by Russell Shorto comes out this month and is a "skeletal history of the conflict between faith and reason."

The Seance by John Harwood comes out in February and is a Victorian mystery.

Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R.A. Scotti comes out in April.

They are joining the immense (and slightly embarrassing ) pile of books next to my bed. They all have bookmarks stuck between the pages partway through, and while I'm happily reading them all, the new ones keep appearing.

I went to Samovar last night with Heather and Miguele. We had the most delicious chai, which tasted of real black tea and nose prickling spices rather than mystery powdered something or other, and wonderful little sweets. The bread pudding was my favourite: a creamy golden circle of buttery pastry with a layer of caramelized sugar on the bottom. The tea menu is a tiny piece of delight, with descriptions that blithely use words like "velutinous" and "viridescent" and "vegetal" to describe their oolongs and whites and blacks. The music, however, somehow reminded me of belly dancing and Christmas carols at the same time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


The interesting thing about looking at a story again, after you haven't looked at it in a couple of months, is how alien it is, how strange and full of unfamiliar people who you can't quite imagine making up.

The nice thing is being able to strike things without too many pangs of regret, to ruthlessly circle things for being too ambiguous, or not thought out, or just clumsily written. It's like getting let loose with a pair of scissors and a red pen and going to town with no compunction.

The slightly less exciting thing is too look at all your gleeful notes ("confusing!" "what?" "unnecessary" "quite silly") and then realize that now you have to actually fix the broken bits. And the question now, in sizes large and small, is "how?"

Thursday, October 9, 2008

trompe l'oeil, butoh, and the similarities between oysters and stories

I'm reading, in bits and pieces, a collection of Rudyard Kipling's short stories as chosen and arranged by W. Somerset Maugham. The story that I'm reading right now is called "The Village That Voted The Earth Was Flat," which is an irresistible title, but so far seems to be a strange story about a wild bunch of newspaper men who are out to discredit an irritating M.P.

Maugham says something very likeable in his introductory essay though. "No one," he says,
is obliged to read stories, and if you don't like them unless there is something in them more than a story, there is nothing to do about it. You may not like oysters, no one can blame you for that, but it is unreasonable to condemn them because they don't possess the emotional quality of a beefsteak and kidney pudding. It is equally unreasonable to find fault with a story because it is only a story."

Tomorrow, well, later today actually, I'm doing a second workshop with Shinichi Iova-Koga. He is teaching us about butoh. Last time, my understanding was that butoh is a dance that is motivated from the interior, ideas bleeding out gradually to the outer layer of your skin, where they become visible to anyone who is watching... but I think that the definition of butoh is a bit liquid, and I'm sure it'll mean something else today.

I may not know what butoh is, but my neck muscles are very sore from it. Mainly from trying to not use my muscles, which my body apparently interpreted as hauling itself upright by the neck.

And I have discovered a new favorite artist. I have a postcard that my friend sent from Belgium many months ago up next to my desk because it has a pair of boots with water fountaining up from them, and it only occurred to me tonight to look up the artist responsible for the mind prickling image. His name is Roman Signer and he does many extraordinary things, often involving explosions. There is a video of his work, "Action With Sheets of Paper," here, but I like the still photograph because it looks like a grove of white trees with people wandering between them, and it's only when you look closely that you realise it's a shower of white paper falling on a crowd.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

spiders, gravestones, and the inevitable pizza

On Saturday, I went with three extremely wonderful people (Dana, Emily, and Lauren) to see Neil Gaiman read from The Graveyard Book in Palo Alto. It felt strange, but good, to sit in a theater with about 600 people of all sorts--old and young, alone and in big, cheerful groups-- who were all there to listen to someone read them a story. Everyone leaned forward in their chairs, laughed at the funny bits, and held their breaths at others, and listened as Neil told us about a young boy named Bod who dances with the ghosts and the living, and sees the first of the winter snow. It was a magical kind of thing, the sort that I wish could happen more often.

There's a video of the reading here, though it's more fun to start with the first chapter (we got the fifth, "Danse Macabre"). We also got an interlude, which is called "The Convocation," one of my favorite words. It makes me think of witches and crows, for no good reason, really (I think the proper words are, "coven" or "congeries" and "murder," respectively). And then, as an extra treat, we got some bits from Henry Selick's film of Coraline, and "Blueberry Girl."

The stage was full of gravestones, and Neil had a leather armchair with a funny looking lamp and a fake crow. There was also a spider that drifted down from the rafters and almost landed on a small boy's head.

Before the reading, we had pizza. Not ordinarily something to be boasting about, though I love pizza madly, but this was a delectable pie that introduced me to the thrilling combination of ricotta and lemon zest. Fluffy cream cut with bright yellow sourness. Not something you'd expect on pizza with all the fixings, but astonishingly delicious. Pizza Chicago.

It was a good evening all round, but the very best part was standing around in our little foursome, talking about Clarion friends and writing and books, and enjoying each other's company.

Oh. Have also discovered that Saint-Saens's Danse Macabre is even more infectious than usual when played on a banjo. It sounds mad and a little funny, and it begs you to get up and dance.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Have recently been arguing with myself about art, about dancing in particular, and about what it is that I want most at this very moment. Self-indulgent, circular thoughts. But I ran across a quote, in Gourmet magazine of all places, that translates a Turkish saying as, "What the heart wants most is intimate conversation, the rest is an excuse."

And now that idea has exploded across my head, and I can't stop thinking about it. Sometimes, I think dance doesn't have that capacity, and sometimes I watch things like this and am all wrung out and confused.

I'm obsessed, and thinking round in a circle, and prone to pacing. Maybe I'll wear a hole through my floor and fall on my head, and then, like magic, everything will be clear when I wake up.