Leave it to the BBC to store bits of Virginia Woolf’s psyche for us mere mortals to sift through on a whim. The broadcast of Woolf’s essay, “Craftsmanship,” was first heard on April 20, 1937. Five years later, it was published in a book called “The Death of the Moth, and other essays,” the year after she walked into the Ouse River with rocks in her pockets.
In “Craftsmanship,” Woolf insists that “words never make anything useful” and “tell nothing but the truth,” contradicting both meanings of “craft” in the dictionary. She says that words “hate being useful, that it is their nature not to express one simple statement but a thousand possibilities…”
Further into the essay, she says that “a useful statement is a statement that can mean only one thing. And it is the nature of words to mean many things.” Hence, words combined into statements cannot be useful. Writing is not useful.
Should I just end my life now?
After reading Nick Owchar’s review of The Demonologist at Call of the Siren,
I ran up the hill to my local bookstore, Christopher’s Books in Potrero Hill, and bought a copy. Being a lit snob, I’m usually not one for a “genre” novel, but this one is built on the foundation of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Intriguing, yes?
The main character, David Ullman, a professor in the English Department at Columbia University, is a certified expert in mythology and Judeo-Christian religious narrative who’s also an atheist. The Call of the Siren covers the significant plot points in his review, so I won’t do that here.
I just want you to wrap yourself in the book’s engaging metaphors, intelligent observations, and Death Valley humor. Continue reading
I don’t know why I picked up this memoir, The Lost Carving, at my local bookstore (Christopher’s Books).
Maybe I was attracted by the blonde wood shavings juxtaposed against the dark chocolate cover, or maybe it was the subtitle, A Journey to the Heart of Making, that seemed so promising.
I do know that when I ran a finger across the cover, the subtle suede-like texture titillated my fingertips. So I pulled it off the shelf. Continue reading
For those of you who haven’t checked out the June 10, 2012 NYT Book Review, I feel compelled to share the cover page paragraph with you:
Willa Cather once wrote that “a creative writer can do his best only with what lies within the range and character of his deepest sympathies.” By that measure, and any other, Richard Ford is doing his very best in his extraordinary new novel, Canada,…Here, Ford is clearly writing within the range and character of his deepest sympathies–in this case, from the point of view of an abandoned 15-year-old boy–and he’s doing it with a level of linguistic mastery that is rivaled by few, if any, in American letters today.
This review, written by highly acclaimed author Andre Dubus III (House of Sand and Fog), salivates to the point of drooling. Please, Andre, wipe your chin. Continue reading
Warning: seafaring metaphors abound in this book review!
Looking for a summer read? Go no further than Treasure Island!!! No, not the one by RLS, Continue reading
Tonight, I worship at the altar of Denis Johnson. Yes, I had read his short story, “Work,” in The New Yorker a long time ago. I tepidly recalled that I had enjoyed it.
But how could I have forgotten one of its most exquisite sentences?
“Where are my women now, with their sweet wet words and ways, and the miraculous balls of hail popping in a green translucence in the yards?”
Nothing like getting slammed broadside by a book to transform tepid appreciation into acolytic fervor.
The book in question? Continue reading
And so it came to pass that I fell into the ambivalent well. Trouble is, I can’t tell if I’m drowning or being reborn.
Why did I wander past a bookshelf and feel the need to caress this little book, On Ambivalence, by Kenneth Weisbrode. Was it the black satin cover, the photo of an old train crossing a Peruvian mesa, or the MIT imprint? Heady stuff, eh? I suppose its beauty is an apology for putting the reader through the wringer of ambivalence.
From page 28:
“Desire and desirability, once again, are the basis of ambivalence, just as the appearance and reality of desire, the object and the idea of the object, beat almost indistinguishably in the human heart.”
I am in love. Or is it lust? I’ll let you know when I finally crawl out of the well.
I am highly skeptical of suggested “group reads.” Why does someone think that entire cities should be immersed in a particular book? Is it a form of group grope? Group hypnosis? Group drumming? I am a bristling porcupine, can you tell? So when Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void was chosen as a “must read book” for San Francisco, I gave the display at our branch library wide berth.
Fast forward several months:
My son’s school had a silent auction in March, and I “bought the opportunity” to spend the evening with a group of others (who also donated their $$) and Mary Roach, the author of numerous books (none of which I had read) such as Stiff, Spook, and Bonk—as well as the title listed above. I am cranky (bet you hadn’t noticed) and not a fan of these titles. Although I have a science/math undergrad degree (as a foundation for my MFA in creative writing, ha!) and was the buyer for the science section of a bookstore in San Francisco when Stiff came out, I couldn’t get past the title to read it. It didn’t matter that it was well-received. Do I sound like Maggie Smith’s character in Downton Abbey?
But I thought that this time around I’d do my part to raise funds for our school, and perhaps the evening would be entertaining (fingers crossed). So I picked up a copy of Packing for Mars at Green Apple Books in San Francisco. I didn’t want to insult the author by showing up completely ignorant of her book’s content.
WELL! Eighty-six pages into the book, I am LOLing and ROFLing and getting asked in doctors’ waiting rooms just what it is that I am reading—it is that funny. And yes, that well written. And yes, filled with fascinating science info (as well as insights into various countries’ space programs—more funny than flattering). And I will now be reading all of Roach’s backlist titles.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa…