Thursday, November 29, 2012

Just Shelved

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and LossThe Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You may want to become familiar with the words "vitrine" and "bibelot" before beginning this marvelous journey into the past and into objects.  They come up a lot.  Indeed, de Waal does not shy away from rarefied diction throughout, but his artistic choices seem altogether suited to his subjects, which include Paris, Vienna, Impressionism, Proust, dynastic families, what it means to be a collector, post-War Tokyo, and what, exactly, happened to his own powerful Jewish family's legacy in the wake of World War II.  Oh, yes, and this is also a book about netsuke--marvelous, rare, and yet simultaneously quotidian Japanese objects.  Their journey into de Waal's hands is remarkable.  His reflections on what it means for them to have been first collected, then displayed, and finally, passed down, are equally remarkable.  Never completely comfortable with the easy angle, de Waal's own ambivalence often soaks onto the page, and while some reviewers have found this frustrating, I found it absolutely authentic.  Trusting the reader to draw his/her own conclusions, de Waal's nevertheless takes us on a entirely unique journey.  I highly recommend this book.

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TracksTracks by Louise Erdrich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another stunning, indelible book from Erdrich.  What can I say, this book saw me through a dark hour.

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ArcadiaArcadia by Lauren Groff
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two stars seems a bit harsh for a book that is quite well-written and populated with rounded, unique characters.  However, of the three Groff titles I have read, this novel was the least strong, and though I finished it quickly, I really resisted her choice to tell the entire tale in the present tense.  It made the whole novel, especially the beginning, seem hazy and overly precious.  I'm still waiting for the gorgeous, darker novel that I feel is up Groff's sleeve.  In the meantime, I hope to read more of her sparkling short fiction.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Potent Quotables

After the passing of poet Jack Gilbert, my friend Jessica wrote a beautiful tribute to him on her blog, and mentioned that his Paris Review interview was one of her favorites. Intrigued, I read it myself, and it's full of wisdom and just the kind of love we should wish from great artists.  Here is my favorite quote:

"I think serious poems should make something happen that’s not correct or entertaining or clever. I want something that matters to my heart, and I don’t mean “Linda left me.” I don’t want that. I’ll write that poem, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about being in danger—as we all are—of dying. How can you spend your life on games or intricately accomplished things? And politics? Politics is fine. There’s a place to care for the injustice of the world, but that’s not what the poem is about. The poem is about the heart. Not the heart as in “I’m in love” or “my girl cheated on me”—I mean the conscious heart, the fact that we are the only things in the entire universe that know true consciousness. We’re the only things—leaving religion out of it—we’re the only things in the world that know spring is coming." --Jack Gilbert
We are also the only things in the entire universe who know winter is coming.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Winter's Teeth

It seems only yesterday that I was rhapsodizing about autumn.  Then this happened:
You may be able to make out the Wyoming flag flapping in the breeze.  A metallic edge is in the air and crystals are forming on our windshields at night.  In high school, I drove my sister to school in the mornings and we were always running so late (totally my fault) that I would scrape the tiniest little square using my driver's license and then force her to roll down the window and watch the edge of the road as we careened into the school parking lot and tried to make it to class before the 7:55 bell.  We were successful about 50% of the time.  Scraping a windshield in 10 degree weather on a dark, moonless morning with snow clogging the bottom of your flats? Probably not the most romantic part of Wyoming.  But, of course, even with the trees bared and the grasses grayed, a beauty of desolation remains.

In the past two weeks, a lot of things have happened, some of which I am choosing not to write about here.  I visited my grandfather and family in Dayton, Ohio; I started reading a book about the tracing of a family heritage through objects.  I started writing a children's book.  I wrote a description of Seymour, Indiana for a hotels website.  I want to write at length about stories and families and the beautiful sculptures of glass, light, and stainless steel that I saw at the Dayton Art Museum. Several friends have been blessed with new joys, and some have met new griefs. And, the other things that have happened...well, they have renewed my gratitude for life and for the people I love in ways I could not have imagined.  It truly is a gift, this life, and being able to see it as a gift...well, at the risk of sounding trite, that's a gift, too.

Also, I got a library card.

One thing I love about my life here is the repetition of my walks.  Readers of this blog may even notice that many photographs are taken from the same areas.  Each time I tackle Game Creek or Cache Creek
or what is fondly known in town as "the high school butte," I feel rewarded with the incremental changes to the landscape I see.  Geese were migrating, and now four swans are flapping by like white linen on a windy day.  No more two-stepping herons in the field; but on a still night, the coyotes whine.  The yellow leaves I love are also gone, but in their place are bundles of ice, binding the grass together in little clumps, little secrets.  The stars, even, seem colder and more inscrutable.  The characters in my book feel ignored; they, too, are cold and fractious and on edge.  That's what this in-between season is all about.  It's about the portent of changes, and oddly, amidst the tumult, about settling in.  It will be a long winter.  Better keep writing.  Better keep walking.  Better keep pausing to say thank you, under my breath, and yet loud enough for the world to hear.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

More Publication News!

My story, "Going," is now up at DISTRICT.  Check it out HERE.  This is the first of two stories that will be featured at this rad literary magazine.  Not only is the work great, but the editor was gracious enough to track me down on Facebook and ask me for a story.  That never happens!  Until now.  So, needless to say, I am a huge fan.  Enjoy reading!