Saturday, October 13, 2007

Rearranging stacks, lost book, new books, and Gardner

I spent several hours trying to rearrange my books so that they would all fit...on top of my bookshelf. My current bookshelf's 25 cubbies have been completely packed, double booked, since I first bought it 2 years ago. Since then, I've been putting book on top and stacking books on the floor by my bed. I am also holding off on buying another bookshelf as I am considering whether to move in a year or not.

One of the most distressing things I realized during my book-rearranging is that I've misplaced Frank Kermode's book on Shakespeare's language. I've been reading Shakespeare at the rate of a couple of plays per year for the last couple of years, and Kermode's essays are a perfect companion to such a venture. I spent a hour looking for the book through the 11 stacks currently on top of my bookshelf without any success. Urgh. This means I might have to go and buy another copy.

Sadly, I just spent a large sum of money on four books at Borders. While I generally like to shop at independent bookstores, particularly as independent bookstores in San Francisco are plenty and well-stocked, I was at Borders doing a little scouting for a freelance gig I have with a publishing house. This retail venture cost me more than I will earn. The books I bought were as follows:

Latest issue of Foreign Affairs
William Easterly's White Man's Burden, looking at why aid to developing nations have failed
Alain de Botton's Architecture of Happiness. I enjoyed de Botton's Consolations of Philosophy when I read it years ago; it's a good introduction to some of the main philosophers. I like architecture, but don't know enough about it even in spite of the many architecture books I own from having worked with art publishers. So, I thought this would get me caught up a little on the topic.
And a real gem: Discovering Korean Cuisine, Recipes from the Best Korean Restaurants in Los Angeles. I only own one Korean cookbook, mostly because it's difficult to find exciting Korean cookbooks. The one Korean cookbook I own is one I bought when I lived in Korea for a few months, and covers more home basics. Discovering Korean Cuisine is wonderful in that it has innovative recipes from chefs in LA. I am particularly excited about the rice cake recipes as I love rice cakes and have long wanted to make my own. Additionally, Discovering Korean Cuisine also has recipes that include using Stone Pots which I've always been curious about. I am looking forward to making many of the porridge and hot casserole dishes as we head into the rainy season here.

Finally, some last thoughts on Gardner's Nickel Mountain. I finished the book this afternoon after a nap, and enjoyed the beautiful prose and compelling characters thoroughly. One aspect I appreciate in this novel is Gardner's attention to human emotions and human motivations. An example of this occurs after the main character, Henry Soames, believes he has caused the death of a man staying in his house. Soames falls into a depression, and his closest friend, George Loomis says this to Henry and Henry's wife:

George reached over, not even looking up, and put his hand on her shoe. "No, wait," he said. "It's true. He says he made a choice, the choice to go on yelling, which makes him to blame for Simon Bale's dying. But he knows that's only word games. He didn't know Simon would fall downstairs, and even if he did, it's one time in a thousand you kill yourself that way. It was an accident. Henry was the accidental instrument, a pawn, a robot labeled Property of Chance. That's intolerable, a man should be more than that; and that's what Henry's suffering from-- not guilt. However painful it may be, in fact even if it kills him, horror's the only dignity he's got."

Which makes me wonder about horror and our reaction to it. Many years ago, I attended a lecture by Edward Said. Oddly, more than the lecture, I remember the man giving the introduction to Said, a fellow professor at Columbia, who said something along the lines of irony as a strong action against atrocities. Over the last couple of years, I have wondered if helplessness is the last thing we want to face in ourselves as human beings, particularly in America where so much of the culture is embellished with optimistic dream-making. Yet, I feel that if we faced that part of our lives is about being helpless, it would make it easier for us to help others and to be compassionate towards others. But I do agree that there is horror too, for there are situations for which there does not seem to be any solution, particularly considering the war in which we are enmeshed.

And one final passage from Nickel Mountain. This concerns the rebuilding of Henry's diner into a restaurant at the behest of his wife, Callie. The description of the relationship is worth considering:

He'd felt a kind of awe, watching the place [the new restaurant] go up: not only awe at the looks of it (a gabled building like an old-fashioned Catskills barn, twice the size of Henry's old diner, with planter-boxes inside and out, and twelve tables, and fireplace at one end), but awe, too, at what his wife had done to him, scooping up his old life like wet clay and making it over into her own image, and awe at how easily she managed it all and how easily, even gladly, he had accepted it, in th eend. It was as if it was sojmething he'd been thinking all along and had never quite dared-- though God knew it wasn't. Her idea had given him the willies, ,set in his ways as he'd been by then, and they'd probably have given him the willies even if she'd caught him younger; but he'd found there was no stopping her: She was hard as nails and mean as her mother when there was something she had to have. So he'd given in, and when he'd done it, not just in words but totally, freely choosing what he couldn't prevent, he'd felt a suddent joy, as though the room had grown wider all at once (which by that time as a matter of fact it had), or as if he'd finally shoved int he clutch on the way down a long straight hill it was no use resisting.

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