September 23, 2009

Far away from these winter streets


Well, my summer is over with a bang and a strong gust. The wind outside has a wicked bite to it that chills down to the skin as if my layers weren’t even there. I don’t mind letting this gorgeous, whole summer slip off into memory — it was a good one, a summer where I grew my first (thriving) garden, spent time down in the rich damp soil with the crickets chirping around me at sunset, while I could often hear the bells from the college chapel tolling a reminder of where in the evening hours we found ourselves. It was a summer where I got back the gift of quiet contentment in the late, warm nights.

I read several wonderfully rich books over the summer as well, sometimes sitting out on my back porch with my feet on the railing while my kiddo ran and played with the other little people in our neighborhood, blazing past as a whir of lanky legs, bare feet, and often a collection of eew-inducingly-large bugs in his bug carrier. The two books I completed on the porch in these summer months that will stick with me are Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger. Both cast off sparks and loaned me great joy with their vocabulary and writing style, seamlessly knitting me into the worlds they created. Gilbert’s journey through a year of recovery and self-care in Italy, India, and Indonesia was a wellspring of simple strength and enjoyment on my bedside table, and Enger’s book consistently delighted me with unexpected beauty in the simplest turn of a sentence, weaving Cormac-McCarthy-worthy characters with a richer innocence. This summer, they nourished me.

I can smell smoke in the air tonight from a neighbor’s wood fire, out somewhere in this old neighborhood. I wrap the dense warmth of this sweater around me, and listen to this Marah song that has felt like a constant anthem of my last few winters. It’s a song with some thoughtful sadness in it, but also a solitude, a strength, and that wistfully warm harmonica that cuts through it and makes me think of driving over Highway 17 in California, towards the ocean on a clear October day.

Walt Whitman Bridge – Marah

Far away from these winter streets
On a cloudless day
Your memory, your memory
Your memory blows away from me…

[top image, Gustave Caillebotte]

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March 7, 2009

Nick Hornby thinks you’ll like it


Nick Hornby, author of High Fidelity and my favorite Songbook, enjoys the occasional blog and keeps one of his own. This week he’s written about the table of book recommendations that he gets to populate for the ubiquitous British bookstore Waterstone’s throughout the month of March. Nick explains:

It can happen anywhere: a dinner table, a pub, a bus queue, a classroom, a bookshop. You have struck up a conversation with someone you don’t know, and you’re getting on OK, and then suddenly, without warning, you hear the five words that mean the relationship has no future beyond the time it takes to say them: “I think you’ll like it.” This phrase is presumptuous enough when used to refer to, say, a crisp flavour; if, however, you happen to be talking about books or films or music, then it is completely unforgivable, a social solecism on a par with bottom-pinching. You think I’ll like it, do you? Well, it has taken me over fifty years to get anywhere near an understanding of what I think I might like, and even then I get it wrong half the time, so what chance have you got? Every now and again I meet someone who is able to make shrewd and thoughtful recommendations within the first five years of our acquaintance, but for the most part, the people I listen to I’ve known for a couple of decades, a good chunk of which has been spent talking about the things we love and hate.

We are asked to believe, usually by critics, that the most important factor in our response to a book should be its objective quality – a good book is a good book – but we know that’s not true. Mood and taste are important, self-evidently, but mood and taste are formed by educational background, profession, health, amount of leisure time, marital status, state of marriage, gender (men don’t read much fiction, depressingly), age, age of children, relationships with children, and parents, and siblings, and, possibly, an unfortunate experience with Thomas Pynchon’s ‘V’ as an overambitious and pretentious teenager. All of these and thousands of others are governing factors, and many of them are wildly inconstant.

As it happens, I have been asked to choose forty-odd books for a writer’s table at Waterstone’s, and I think you’ll like them.

With so many varied recommendations, I suppose I will like several of them. At least I look forward to the prospect of giving it a go; I’ve read woefully few of these selections but my nightstand can always use a few more books stacked atop it, longingly imploring me to get off the damn computer and pick one of them up already. I do so love to read. Today the weather outside has dipped back down into the 30s, as if to remind me that it ain’t quite Spring yet. Colder weather means a good day for this massive new fuzzy blanket I bought, a couch, and a good book.

Check out Nick’s book recommendations.

[header image actually belongs with this totally unrelated book]

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

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