Wednesday, July 30, 2008

July 28 - 30, 2008

The Importance of Music to Girls
Lavinia Greenlaw
2007, hardcover
10 cards

The music issue of The Believer came the other day and in it was an essay by Lavinia Greenlaw. In the essay she deals with issues of relationships, music and being, merging them all into a beautiful telling of life lived. I rushed to the library to find her book which sounded equally wonderful in title, The Importance of Music to Girls (!), and started reading fast and furiously.

It's a good book, it is, but somehow the magic in this essay doesn't carry through the whole book, though some moments are priceless and perfectly captured. It's always odd to me that people who love music, those who listen rather than make it, don't write as universally about its appeal as it seems one could. I haven't figured out the mystery myself by any means. Perhaps by trying to put into words those moments when you listen to music by yourself lets too many other people into the room. I believe someone can do it, and I thought it might be this book, but not so much.

Some excerpts:
14- "For the first time I understood that belonging was a way of escaping myself and of finding a place in the world..."
15- "I could keep up, but I did not belong because I had not learned to contain myself within the figure I was making."
26- records, starting with what's at hand- your parent's collection- Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline and Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water
-"I read the titles and listened to the lyrics as if deciphering hieroglyphics."
28- "On this album, Dylan is feeling out the big words in particular and letting them go only when the edges have been worn down."
38- corduroy
46- (Donny Osmond) "...decided he would be my favorite pop star. Somehow I knew I needed one and as I'd never heard of him, I assumed no one else had either. I was looking for my first musical discovery and wanted it to be as private and singular as my feelings about the boy at school."
48- "I began to understand pop as a construction."
-"Marooned among them were bands I was beginning to classify. Like a child filling a stamp album or collecting eggs, I needed to create order and name names."
49- categories
52- "The waiting of childhood, the waiting to be told what was happening, was replace by waiting for something to happen- the arrival of a bus, the appearance of a friend."
84- "I was becoming a girl as instructed by girls but I knew I wasn't a real girl, at least not of this kind."
100- Eddie and the Hot Rods
101- The Damned
110- "...I realized that I was in a room with boys and music but nothing was meant to happen."
111- "As a rule of thumb, rock was for boys and disco was for girls, but soul was a place where we might meet."
112- "The interesting boys did not sing along, they discussed..."
114- "(Why did girls never play air guitar? Did we sing along because singing was what girls did or was it that girls only sand because they didn't play air guitar?)"
118- Punk- collaging images from NME
122- "God Save the Queen"- #1, blank spot on the charts
-"Jamie Reid's cover was more disturbing than the song itself."
127- Quote from Johann Wolfgag von Goethe, A Theory of Colors: "...color...exhibits itself by separation and contrast, by commixture and union by augmentation and neutralization, by communication and dissolution."
128- "The colors of punk, like its rumor, set off a vibration and cracks began to appear- orange socks, blue hair, lime-green nails, pink trousers."
-"In punk, color combinations were dishwater and vomit. It was a form of aesthetic resistance, a spectrum chosen to remind the world of all that was unnatural or decayed: pink like rubber rather than roses, green like snot rather than leaves."
132- "...while the boys were serious about music, they didn't expect me to be so too."
135- "The strongest impulse I had was toward freedom."
170- Barthes quote (though not an amazing one)
-"The greatest act of love was to make a tape for someone."
-"An LP was something of substance and vision."
172- "I bought two Velvet Underground LPs as soon as I found them..."
-"I declared allegiance, took a position and always had a view."
173- Joseph Beuys
-Pompidou Centre- "but I had never before come across a building (or song, or person...?) that did not hide how it was put together."
181- NME- "Serious music criticism was then very serious indeed. Records were assessed not only musically but also according to their cultural context and philosophical connotations."
-"I liked the way these critics wrote and feel under the rhetorical spell of their semicolons, qualifications and parentheses."
183- "These journalists used a cultural vocabulary that we deployed with the same thoughtlessness as teenage slang: postmodern (good), semiotic (?), eclectic (usually good), esoteric (v. good), moderne (trying too hard), postindustrial (interesting), decadent (usually bad)."
-"Irony protected you from accusations of sincerity- so much for being serious."
190- "Daniel and I discussed the world, but only in theory- Barthes and Foucault."
194- "Was it, after all, that men wanted to tell women things and not be told?"
200- t-shirt in a window- "Fuck Art, Let's Dance. I copied it onto the back of a postcard and sent it to Daniel. It was the first love letter I'd ever written."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

July 15 - 27, 2008

Magic for Beginners
Kelly Link
2005, Paperback
7 cards

Kelly Link, the book's back cover says, lives in Northampton, Massachusetts where I used to live. It would have been wonderful to meet her and talk about wonderful things like Faery Handbags. But then again maybe it's better to read about Faery Handbags, because as she writes, "Meeting writers is usually disappointing at best."

Faery Handbags is the title of the first short story in this captivating book and while it stands out as the shiniest gem in the bunch, the others are enjoyable too in their descriptions and tales told about zombies and the people who wear cat skins. I am always drawn to writers who notice the minor things that make up life, and sometimes the things that make it seem worth living. Link notices Cadbury Creme eggs, Moon Pies and (perhaps invents) squeezeble pork (which, while not something I would enjoy others might), with the best of them (I remember first noticing such slight mentions of everyday things that fill our lives in Douglas Coupland's books). Link arrives at truisms in her stories with moments in thrift stores and with friends and families, truisms that we all need to be reminded of sometimes, and truisms we hope are indeed true.

Some excerpts:
1- "I used to go to thrift stores with my friends. ... Everything is arranged by color, somehow that makes all of the clothes beautiful."
2- "But the point is, if you're looking for a particular thing, you just have to keep looking for it. You have to look hard."
4- Scrabble
5- faery handbag
7- "purse big enough to hold all of the village and all of the people..."
8- "Even nightmares have to sleep now and then."
9- "He was still way too smart, but he was finally smart enough to figure out how to fit in."
11- "It's better to cook what I want to eat, and clean up when I decide to clean up."
12- "I also know how to say I love you, but I'm not going to ever say it to anyone again, except Jake, when I find him.
14- Cadbury Creme egg
20- "Remember when you don't know what to do, it never hurts to play Scrabble."
37- squeezable pork, Moon Pies
39- "The customer isn't always right. Sometimes the customer is an asshole."
52- "'Nobody ever really knows what they want,' Charley said. 'Why should that change after you die?'"
65- "Summer is the time of ghosts. In winter, ghosts are easy to spot."
-"There is no word for war or travel."
77- donuts
119- "her mother has painted a little door. It isn't a real door, except when Tilly goes over to look at it, it is real."
129- "The witch vomits letters (mislabeled or sent without the appropriate amount of postage and never read)..."
137- "And when you have children you need houses to put them in."
161- "'Do you like museums?' Will says. She looks like a girl who goes to museums."
166- postcard
168- lemurs
170- "Modern art is a wast of time. When the zombies show up you can't worry about art. Art is for people who aren't worried about zombies."
170-171- things Soap has been thinking about
171- Busby Berkeley
176- "Everyone has a zombie contingency plan."
178- olives
179- "He doesn't belong anywhere."
181- shopleaving
206- orange-juice colored corduroy couch
207- "What kind of television shows the characters in television shows watch."
-"She's an enigma wrapped in a mysterious t-shirt."
208- "When the woman who invented Hello Kitty was asked why Hello Kitty was so popular, she said, 'Because she has no mouth.'"
212- Velveeta-and-pickle sandwich
218- "Can I ask you a question?"
220- Meeting writers...
235- "It would be easier if I had a brother ...Or a sister. I'm tired of being good all the time. If I had a sibling, then we could take turns being good...but it sucks having to figure out everything all by myself."
236- (calls to the phone booth) J. "complains about all the things there are to complain about, and the silent person on the other end listens and listens."
243- (Talis) "Somebody has to be the person who doesn't [talk]. The person who listens."
244- "Except secrets can't have secrets, they just are."
249- maps
-corn mosaic
250- "Bob Dylan is singing about monkeys."
251- "He writes in his blog about what he's reading."
256- "...I didn't get any postcards."
262- "Imaginary houses are sexy. Real houses are work."
274- records
278- "Tell me a story so that I'll remember you."
287- kazoo
292- giraffes
297- "I love you, but it's not about love, Ed, it's about timing."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

June 29 - July 14, 2008

The Annotated Hunting of the Snark
The Definitive Edition
Lewis Carroll
edited by Martin Gardner
introduction by Adam Gopnik

Well of course Adam Gopnik wrote the introduction to this edition of The Hunting of the Snark. That's why he's so great. He studied art history, curated one of the best exhibitions ever (High & Low at MoMA with Kirk Varnedoe) and now writes brilliant essays about children, families and books. With each new volume I read Lewis Carroll continues to amaze. While this is a short tome (despite all of the extras added to this version) of 8 fits, it covers a lot of ground. What are you searching for? How will you find it? Where will you go? The answers are only gained through life itself. The Hunting of the Snark also offers one of the most ingenious maps ever created.

A few excerpts
-xviii- Adam Gopnik- "The poem defeats any of these attempts to restrict it to a single reading... We all go out on our quests with a blank maps..."
-xxxii- Lewis Carroll in 1896, "Words mean more than we mean to express when we use them: so a whole book ought to mean a great deal more than the writer meant."
3- "Inscribed to a dear child: in memory of golden summer hours and whispers of a summer sea."
15- "What I tell you three times is true."
21- "And his enemies 'Toasted-cheese.'"
-"But his courage is perfect! And that, after all, Is the thing that one needs with a Snark."
28- "A map they [the crew] could all understand. ... 'What's the good of Mercator's North Poles and Equators, Tropics, Zones and Meridian Lines?' So the Bellman would cry and the crew would reply, 'They are merely conventional signs!'"
-"Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes! But we've got our brave Captain to thank' (so the crew would protest) 'that he's brought us the best- A perfect and absolute blank!'"
42- saying it in other languages- "But I wholly forgot (and it vexes me much) That English is what you speak!"
- (seek the Snark) "To seek it with thimbles, to seek it with care; To pursue it with forks and hope; To threaten its life with a railway share; To charm it with smiles and soap!"
-"For the Snark's a peculiar creature, that won't Be caught in a Commonplace way. Do all that you know, and try all that you don't: Not a chance must be wasted to-day!"
45- galumphing
55- (Butcher to the beaver) "It had learned in ten minutes far more than all books would have taught it in seventy years."
70- "For the Snark was a Boojum, you see."

July 17 - 20, 2008

When You Are Engulfed in Flames
David Sedaris
2008, hardcover
9 cards

You might think the painting on the cover of David Seadaris's new book is intriguing. (The jacket was designed by the fabulous Chip Kidd.) Perhaps you even looked to see who it was by. That Vincent van Gogh might have painted it as a joke in art school is great. When I've mentioned I was reading this book to people lately, they've mentioned they heard it isn't as good as some of his other books. While maybe the crazy tales of his childhood have been told and stack up differently in terms of a life lived when middle aged, Sedaris's stories still entertain and make note of the minor things in life with acute precision. Living now where I do, references to Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham ring true in new ways. Many of these stories have been published in The New Yorker, but even those still entertain with second reads.

A few selections
3- germs
4- cocktail at a supermarket
9- "every year 5,000 children are startled to death"
10- "No surprises, no practical jokes, nothing unexpected, but a parent can't control everything and there's still the outside world to contend with, a world of backfiring cars and their human equivalents."
15- "I also didn't want to go alone, and this was where our problem started."
21- "...what was a vacation but a chance to be someone different?"
36 Chapel Hill
39- "The idea was that we were different, not like the rest of America..."
40- old-timey, malarkey
46- sweat angel
-"it was hard to live in a college town and not go to college."
48- "Given enough time, I guess anything can look good. All it has to do is survive."
49- "velveteen for everybody"
-"It was only at Halloween that we were allowed to choose our own outfits."
-hobo- "It's a word you don't often hear anymore."
50- "the hobo roughed it by choice"
51- (sweater) "Having been destroyed, it is now indestructible, meaning I can wear it without worry."
-"...if I have one fashion rule, it's this: never change."
52- "What looks good now is guaranteed to embarrass you twenty years down the line, which is, of course, the whole problem with fashion."
61- "It's a pretty sorry world when wearing a bow tie amounts to being 'out there.' I'm just not sure which is worse, the people who consider it out there that someone's wearing a bow tie, or the person who thinks he's out there for wearing it."
62- "Grown or not. I still feel best- more true to myself- when dressed like a hobo."
89- (Chicago) "Never again would I have so many friends, and such good ones, thought I'm not exactly sure why."
107- "her hair, like her face, was the color of old cement."
113- "Never live alone"
135- North Carolina Museum of Art
136- postcards
141- "The idea of matching artwork to decor was, to me, an abomination..."
148- doughnut
152- "the sorts of things that are not for everyone"
153- "It's the things you don't buy that stay with you the longest."
154- (washer and dryer) "they remind me that I'm doing fairly well"
-(skeleton) "You are going to die."
159- "What they do at 6:00 a.m. is anyone's guess."
176- Kate Bush
182- "magpies are constantly searching for a way out"
196- "a single flaming mouse"
213- "Why is it you never see a baby squirrel?"
234- "At a nearby table there's always a couple in their late seventies, holding their menus with trembling, spotted hands..."
243- 4th grade field trip- American Tobacco plant- Durham
244- "My room was clean and orderly, and if I'd had my way it would have smelled like an album jacket the moment you removed the plastic. That is to say, it would have smelled like anticipation."
263- index cards
289- "Japanese is a listener's language. 'What's not being mentioned is usually more important that what is.'"
290- the mass-produced mistakes
293- "But nobody's afraid of moths." "I am."
301- "...and you're not going anywhere until you finish your pickles."
303-(sheet of rules written in Japanese, symbols) "either 'not eating candy hearts' or 'no falling in love.'"

Saturday, July 12, 2008

May 29 - July 9, 2008

Bob Dylan The Essential Interviews
edited by Jonathan Cott
2006, hardcover
35 cards

Quotes from Bob Dylan's interviews reminded me of Andy Warhol's approach to the interview, playing with it and making it into something greater than it started. While there are a lot of interviews to read here one sees how true Dylan stays to his approach to meaning what he says and saying what he means both with interviewers who get it and those who do not.

Select lines:
ix- "To live is to be slowly born." Antonine de saint- Exupery, Flight to Arras
23- "I looked around and saw all the people pointing fingers at the bomb. But the bomb is getting boring, because what's wrong goes much deeper than the bomb. What's wrong is how few people are free. Most people walking around are tied down to something that doesn't let them really speak."
24- "All I can do it be myself. I can't tell them how to change things, because there's only one way to change things, and that's to cut yourself off from all the chains. That's hard for most people to do."
25- "Just because you're free to move doesn't mean you're free."
38- "songs are songs...I don't believe in expecting too much out of any one thing."
44- "There aren't any answers, man. Or any questions..."
45- French guy, unpaginated book in a box
48- "Most people who don't like rock and roll can't relate to other people."
49- "You don't necessarily have to write to be a poet. Some people work in gas stations and they're poets. I don't call myself a poet because I don't like the word. I'm a trapeze artist."
51- collecting
53- "You gotta listen to the Staples Sisters, Smokey and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas. That's scary to a lot of people. It's sex that's involved. It's not hidden. It's real."
54- "Great paintings shouldn't be in museums. Have you ever been in a museum? Museums are cemeteries. Paintings should be on the walls of restaurants, in dime stores, in gas stations, in men's rooms. Great paintings should be where people hang out."
-"Just think how many people would really feel great if they could see a Picasso in their daily diner."
58- "If it happens, it happens. Whatever my hopes, it never turns out."
84- "Happiness is a kind of cheap word."
86- "Despite everybody who has been born and has died, the world had just gone on."
"I think a poet is anybody who wouldn't call himself a poet."
96- "Art, if there is such a thing, is in the bathrooms, everybody knows that."
101- "My older songs, to say the least, were about nothing. The newer ones are about the same nothing- only as seen inside a bigger thing."
104- "You can't lost what you never had."
106- "People have one great blessing- obscurity- and not really too many people are thankful for it."
108- "There doesn't seem to be any tomorrow. Every time I wake up, not matter in what position, it's always been today."
116- "No, I think it was Ben Franklin. He said (I'm not quoting it right) something like, 'For a man to be (something or other)- at east, he must not tell all he knows, nor say all he sees.'"
128- "You know, you might sometimes be with someone who's got no song to sing, and I believe you can help someone out..."
175- "The highest purpose of art is to inspire."
206- "But, you know, sometimes you get too close to something and you got to get away from it to be able to see it."
215 "...I see beauty where other people don't."
218 (truths) "One is that if you try to be anyone but yourself, you will fail; if you are not true to your own heart, you will fail. Then again, there's no success like failure."
220- "Art is supposed to take you out of your chair. It's supposed to move you from one space to another."
228- "People are people to me."
229- hearts beating in the same rhythm
232- "The only true mirrors are puddles of water."
235- "Uncompromising, that's what makes a good artist."
248- "The simple things which are true usually astound people."
259- "Everybody sees in the mirror what he sees- no two people see the same thing."
262- (soul mates existing) "Sure they do, but sometimes you never meet them."
-"Your real feelings come out when you're free to be alone."
298- "Protest is anything that goes against the ordinary and the established."
299- "I never really like The Basement Tapes..."
300- "People need a leader more than a leader needs people, really."
306- "I'm always in love." (Jeff Tweedy read this interview)
312- "So I had to write what I wanted to sing 'cause nobody else was writing what I wanted to sing."
336- "Never give 100 percent"
400- "It's anything you want it to be."

June 21 - 28, 2008

Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There
The Pennyroyal Edition
Designed and illustrated by Barry Moser
10 cards

Anytime is probably a perfect time to read Carroll's books but with the notions that surround summer and this edition's quote by James Kincaid, "dreaming as summers die" and the beautiful lines that complete the text, summer indeed seems to be a "frabjous" time to pick this volume up. Such a book, filled with of secrets, which, when whispered or discussed in the summer, could intoxicate many a mind.

Alice's encounter with the Jabberwocky poem reminds me of my own experience reading Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange in high school. The words were unlike any I had encountered before, but somehow but continuing to read, some sort of sense and meaning took shape, and like Alice, my head filled with ideas even though I wasn't exactly sure of anything. The secret is to keep going forward. While I still need to learn more about chess, I love Carroll's questions posed about language, words and meaning, "Callooh! Callay!"

Some excerpts:
xi- "For Alice, the story is a magic potion to ward off the storm-wind of adulthood and death; for Carroll, it is a holding and freezing action. Words are a cabalistic stay against loss, growth, forgetting and betraying."
xi-xii-"The hope to hold and contain is counteracted by a recognition that such a hope is futile."
xii- "The gain is really a loss, the advance a decline"
xiii- "names are 'useful' to the namers."
xiv- "words mean more than we mean to express when we use them"
-Carroll; "Poesta fit non nascitur"
-"Next when you are describing
A shape or a sound or tint,
Don't state the matter plainly.
But put it in a hint:
And learn to look at all things with a sort of mental squint."
-James Kincaid, 1982- "dreaming as the summers die"
4- Footnote- Alice's birthday is May 4th (3 days before mine!)
5- (snow against the window panes) "Just as if someone was kidding the window all over outside."
6- "Let's pretend"
10- "Imperials fiddlestick!"
11- "Mind the volcano!"
13- Jabberwocky
"O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
14- "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas- only I don't know exactly what they are!"
15- "We can talk," said the Tiger-lily, "when there's anybody worth talking to."
22- "It's a great game of chess that's being played- all over the world- if this is the world at all, you know."
23- "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that."
24- "Speak in French when you ca'n't think of the English for a thing- turn out your toes as you walk- and remember who you are!"
27- "Better say nothing at all. Language is worth a thousand pounds a word!"
30- "What's the use of their having names," the Gnat said, "if they won't answer to them, "said Alice; "but it's useful to the people that name them, I supposed. If not, why do things have names at all?"
32- "'I suppose you don't want to lose your name?' 'No, indeed,' Alice said."
34- "...And now, who am I? I will remember, if I can! I'm determined to do it."
38- contrariwise
44- (Alice) "If I wasn't real...I shouldn't be able to cry."
52- (Queen, living backwards) "...but there's one great advantage in it, that one's memory works both ways."
54- (Alice lonely) Queen: "consider what a great girl you are. Consider what a long way you've come to-day. Consider what o'clock it is. Consider anything, only don't cry!"
-Alice, "one ca'n't believe impossible things."
-Queen, "...Why sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
62- "'Must a name mean something?' Alice asked doubtfully. 'Of course it must,' Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: 'my name means the shape I am...'"
-Alice, "'Why do you sit out here all alone?' Humpty Dumpty, 'Why, because there's nobody with me!'"
64- Alice, "' ca'n't help growing older.' said Humpty Dumpty, 'but two can.'"
65- un-birthday present
66- ''When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less.'"
-"'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean different things."
-"'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master- that's all.'"
67- asks Humpty Dumpty the meaning of Jabberwocky
-"You see its like a portmanteau- there are two meanings packed up into one word"
-toves- live on cheese
68- "In winter, when the fields are white, I sing this song for your delight-
In spring, when woods are getting green, I'll try and tell you what I mean.
In summer, when the days are long, perhaps you'll understand the song:"
69- "In autumn, when the leaves are brown, Take pen and ink, and write it down."
-"I sent a message to the fish..."
79- (Unicorn to Alice) "if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you. Is that a bargain?"
82- Looking-glass cakes
83- Alice- "'So I wasn't dreaming, after all,' she said to herself, 'unless-unless we're all part of the same dream.'"
84- Punch and Judy
-Alice, "I don't want to be anybody's prisoner. I want to be a Queen."
88- "It's as strong as soup"
100- (Red Queen) "Always speak the truth- think before you speak- and write it down afterwards."
102- (White Queen) "What is the cause of lightning?"
-(Alice) "It's exactly like a riddle with no answer."
103- hippopotamus
116 "In a Wonderland they lie, Dreaming as the days go by, Dreaming as the summers die: Ever drifting down the stream- Lingering in the golden gleam- Life, what is it but a dream?"