Saturday, September 24, 2005

what I bought at Watershed

The new issue of Bay Nature, a magazine that covers the greater San Francisco Bay area. I was interested in reading their article about the Laguna de Santa Rosa, a marsh between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol. I grew up in Sebastopol and my mother got involved in saving the Laguna from development. There's also a piece on the shore parks of the East Bay.

I paid for a 3-issue subscription to a new literary magazine, Parthenon West Review. I put the first two issues under an arm. The third will be sent to me when published.

There was a table for Sixteen Rivers Press so I bought the new book by Lynn Trombetta, a poet I knew slightly from the Sonoma County poetry scene. I was surprised to see it described as, "her first full collection."

I bought Joanne Kyger's Again: poems 1989-2000 and had her sign it. I would have said I'd heard her read before but once she was on stage she didn't look or sound familiar. Her name certainly is.

These join the great book drifts that ebb and flow (though there's precious little ebbing involved) through our house.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Half Price Books

Half Price Books used to have two stores in Berkeley, one on Telegraph, a short four blocks from UC campus, the other on Solano Ave between the Oaks Theatre and Peet's Coffee. Both locations were odd-nook-and-cranny stores.

In the Telegraph Ave store you had two second floors -- one above your head as you came in, then there was a gap and another more substantial second floor began. Both second floors were served by separate staircases. The fiction room was in the back and down a step. It wasn't exactly a basement but felt like one.

The Telegraph store shut down a few years ago.

The Solano Ave store also had two storeys. Just inside the front door a staircase spiraled down past mirrors to the basement. Fiction and children's books were on the ground floor, everything else was snuck away downstairs and if you didn't have to brush cobwebs aside as you ducked toward the clearance shelves at the back you wouldn't have been surprised to.

The Solano store closed up and reopened downtown in the Kress Building. It looks like a Barnes & Noble or something. Everything is on one floor. It's airy, well-lit.

I hate it.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

what'm I reading?

So. What's in my current stack? Can I remember without going to grab it and read off the titles?

Let's see ... I just started Dora, Doralina, a novel assigned more than ten years ago in my Brazilian Literature class at Cal. I'm reading an English translation. I like the voice -- grumpy but philosophical. The narrator is recalling herself as a young woman living on her mother's fazenda (ranch). She met the man who became her husband when he came to survey the property line. She often fights with her mother, whom she calls "Senhora" rather than "Mama".

I'm reading a book on the Ba-Benzelle pygmies written by an American who has been living with them for the last ten or fifteen years. He fell in love with their music and traveled to central Africa to record it and stayed. The book accompanies a CD of music.

Have two or three poetry anthologies going, a huge one of poetry from around the world that was published a few years ago by the Book of the Month Club. It's not bad. But I'm indifferent to most of the poems. I started another anthology to get some contemporaries in my head, The Heights of the Marvelous, a gathering of poets in New York City published in 2000. It's more fun than the world stuff.

I just finished the second volume of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Did he write it after the Hollywood movie adaptation of the first volume? The movie seems to have been based more on Moore's concept than any story he wrote. Anyway, I wonder if anger at Hollywood led Moore to kill off two of the Gentleman ... the pages seem cluttered with 19th century fiction's fantastic elements and the result rather a mess. There's a long prose travelogue at the back of the book which I guess I'll read. Also reading Grickle, a collection of short comics starring very expressive stick figures.

Anything else? ... A book by a man who wanted to see what the contemporary Maya are up to. A thousand years ago they were the height of American civilization -- one of two (or was it three?) cultures in the world that invented the zero, had a calendar more accurate than any in the world, built grand pyramids and domesticated chocolate. So far the accounts of his travels have been superficial. Am I on the fourth chapter? He's only spoken at length with one contemporary Mayan person, and that man was quite Americanized having grown up in (I think) Chicago.

Volume two of Kafka's diaries. So unhappy! So dissatisfied!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Mars trilogy

This morning I finished Green Mars, the second volume of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. The story traces the settlement of Mars and the terraforming of the planet. Robinson invents a longevity treatment that allows him to follow the same set of characters for decades. At the conclusion of Green Mars the characters are about a hundred years older than at the beginning of Red Mars. They're old and wrinkly and achy but I wouldn't be surprised if they had 600 pages of life left in them.

Robinson's prose? I don't know that there's much to say about it. He does description tolerably well, though mostly avoids metaphor (and, thankfully, knows to step over a cliche). His dialog is believable and the characters distinct. When style doesn't call attention to itself it's easy to forget that poor style is too ready to fill a page. And, of course, one reads a book about settling Mars for the ideas, doesn't one? How do people live in such a hostile place? How do they get there in the first place? Once settled in, how do they relate to their home planet? Toward the end of Green Mars Robinson describes a common graffito, "You Can Never Go Back".

I think I'll take a rest before I start the third book but I'm looking forward to it.