Weekend reading

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A light breeze from the south, sunshine, blue skies, and the chirp and trill of birds set the stage for a lovely Sunday afternoon. I am sitting outside the apartment reading a book. Or rather reading through a stack of books.

Across the courtyard a guy enthusiastically shouts at his television regarding the baseball game. To the south, the theme music for the television show Dr. Who is heard from an open second-floor window. Why not sit outside and read a good book? Or two. In this northern climate there have been only a few days like this so far this year.

One of the books I have already read, but wanted to reread a selection of poems. One book I bought because I ran up such a large fine at the public library it made practical sense to purchase a copy and finish reading it. Others were on a list of books I have intended to read. One book I put off reading, but am more than 50 pages into it and wonder why I put it off for so long.

What about you? What are you reading this weekend?

A bookless American library

Empty shelves at the downtown city library

Why can’t I find a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five at a local public library? I’m wandering through the aisles of bookshelves thinking, It’s not an obscure title. Is it? Earlier, I visited a couple library branches and couldn’t find a single copy. How is that possible? Later I would find a copy at a bookstore (actually, I would find copies at three of the local bookstores, but I would be out of cash and wouldn’t be able to afford to buy a copy… more on that later… like, wait-for-my-memoir later…).

Is it possible? Are American libraries moving toward booklessness? At the main, downtown city library I stare at a whole wall of bookshelves emptied of books (see photo). Glancing around the place it appears that the only thing people do at that library is use the toilet, enjoy the air conditioned space on hot summer days, and rent CDs and DVDs. The magazine racks are full and there is an man, probably in his 60s, reading the latest copy of the New Yorker. Beyond the reference desk, I see that every computer terminal is occupied. My mood is turning away from searching for a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five, to mischievous. I want to walk over to the reference desk librarian and ask, “Where might I find a book about Tralfamadore?” From experience, I know what the reference desk librarian will do. The scene will go something like this:

“Excuse me, but where might I find a book about Tralfamadore?”

“Tralfamadore? Let me see,” he says as he opens a web browser on the computer and sounds out the word tral-fam-a-dore under his breath. “Oh, Tralfamadore. From Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five.”

“Did you just google that?” I ask.

He looks at me and doesn’t say anything.

“Shouldn’t that be unholy sacrilege to use Google in a library?” I ask. “I mean, this is supposed to be a house of intellect.”

He folds his hands in front of the keyboard and says, “I used Wikipedia.”

“Wikipedia?” I snort.

The reference desk librarian catches the eyes of the library’s security guard who walks toward us.

The scene concludes with me mumbling something about the democratization of content leaves an intellectual void that is too quickly filled with bits of data rather than depth of knowledge and wisdom.

But I don’t walk to the reference desk. I get lost somewhere in the fiction aisles–somewhere in the section where books by authors with last names beginning with “k” are placed. The whole thing–the search for a single copy of a book and the failure to locate it at a public library–is loathsome to me. I have this uneasy feeling ‪that Ray Bradbury’s‬ ‪Fahrenheit 451‬ may be prophetic. And I want to start memorizing large volumes of literature for the mere preservation of it to share with the next generation. Isn’t that why books are written? To share not just with this present age, but to extend beyond the life of the writer? My eye’s find a book about bean trees–or rather, a novel. It’s not a very thick novel, but it seems to have found me and I can’t just leave it on the bookshelf and I don’t want to leave the library empty-handed.

After the book is processed silently by a librarian, I walk to catch a bus home. Reading the first few pages at the transit center I know I have found a new friend in this book. It’s a feeling I can’t say I have regarding Google or Wikipedia. To me, they are repositories of data–vapid of personality in the same fashion as the  Borg–to be mined or to be assimilated.

On summer or winter in books and writing

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‬ and The Call of the Wild

“Do you prefer Summer or Winter in books and writing?” asks blogger Lea At Sea. What do you think? I had to think about that for a while.

I finished a few books recently by authors Ian McEwan and Barbara Kingsolver. Saturday, On Chesil Beach and The Bean Trees all have specific seasons and locations central to each novel. As I thought of how the seasons permeate a novel, two novels come to mind: ‪

by ‪Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn‬ and ‪The Call of the Wild‬ by Jack London. [1] It never occurred to me to read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‬ because it begins on a cold winter morning. The character and narrative interested me. The gulag in winter is a prominent element of the story, but that isn’t the reason I read the book. It was the story.

By nature I’m a fall/winter sort of person. Maybe that’s why I recalled those two books:One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‬ and ‪The Call of the Wild‬. But my reading choice is not directly influenced by that predisposition otherwise I would not have picked up a book set in spring/summer of the American southwest. However, I am curious to learn if your reading selections are influenced by that perimeter. Do you choose a book because it is seasonally based? Further, if you are a poet and/or writer, do you specifically write for a specific season?

NOTES: [1] Technically, ‪The Call of the Wild‬ and On Chesil Beach are novellas. Maybe I should refer to the works as books rather than their literary distinctions. Writing Forums offers distinctions between short story, novella and novel lengths. Basically, word count. Short Short Stories & Flash Fiction; usually under 1,000 words; Short Stories, 7,499 words to 15,000 words; Novelette, 7,500 to 17,499 words; Novella, 17,500 words to 39,999 words; Novel, minimum word count of 40,000 words. It is my understanding that a proper novel runs an average of 80,000 words. Since we’re on the topic of word count, Fiction Factor offers How Long Should Your Story Be? by Lee Masterson and Writer’s Relief presents Short Story Or Novella? What’s The Difference And Where To Publish Shorter Fiction.

The English novel versus the American novel

Which do you prefer, the English novel or the American novel? I’ve been thinking about that after reading some of Ian McEwan’s and Barbara Kingsolver’s books. Maybe it is the difference in the writers and not so much the country from which they live. There is a tone or manner that seems a marked distinction between the two styles. What do you think?

Literary reading series continues at Posana Cafe this weekend

Saturday night, March 17,  6:00 p.m. at Posana Cafe in downtown Asheville, NC. The literary reading features writer Elizabeth Lutyens and poet Tina Barr.

From a press release:

Elizabeth Lutyens teaches the Prose Master Class in the Great Smokies Writing Program of UNC Asheville and is Editor of The Great Smokies Review, its online literary journal. A former journalist, she got her MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College, and since has been at work on a novel set in the mid-19th century in Boston and the Port Royal Islands of South Carolina.

Tina Barr has received Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Her awards include the Editor’s Prize for book publication from Tupelo Press. Her poems are published in anthologies and journals like The Harvard Review, The Southern Review and The Paris Review.

Poetrio at Malaprop’s

The monthly poetry reading series Poetrio continues Sunday, March 4, 2012, 3:00 p.m. at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café. The March Poetrio features Megan Volpert with SONICS IN WARHOLIA, Rupert Fike with LOTUS BUFFET, and Jethro Clayton Waters with SOUTH OF ORDINARY.

Please note that UNC-A has a champion basketball event downtown this weekend and the public parking garages will charge a special daily “event fee.” Park away from the center of downtown Asheville and enjoy a lovely Sunday afternoon stroll to Malaprop’s. They have a wonderful café with refreshments and poetry for after a nice walk through the city.

POETRIO readings and booksignings:
Megan Volpert, Rupert Fike, Jethro Clayton Waters
Sunday, March 4, 2012, 3:00 p.m.
Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, 55 Haywood Street, Asheville, NC 28801
www.malaprops.com

Literary Reading at Posana Café

Later this week, a literary reading featuring Catherine Reid and Valerie Neiman. February 18, 2012, at Posana Cafe, at 7:30 p.m.

Catherine Reid is the author of COYOTE: SEEKING THE HUNTER IN OUR MIDST, as well as essays in such journals as GEORGIA REVIEW, MASSACHUSETTS REVIEW, FOURTH GENRE, and BELLEVUE LITERARY REVIEW. Currently, she directs the undergraduate creative writing program at Warren Wilson College, where she also teaches creative nonfiction and environmental writing.

Jane Alison calls  Valerie Nieman‘s third novel, Blood Clay “both a tense, plot-driven story about complicated issues of race and guilt, and a meditation on solitude, history, and ways of living.”

A former newspaper reporter, Nieman is also the author of a collection of short stories, Fidelities, and a poetry collection,Wake Wake Wake. She teaches at the John C. Campbell Folk School and serves as poetry editor of Prime Number magazine.

From an email from Mark Prudowsky and Katherine Soniat

Juniper Bends Literary Reading

This week the Juniper Bends reading series continues this Friday, February 10th, at 7:00 p.m. at Downtown Books and News. The event features readings by: Kate Zambreno, Katherine Soniat, Jesse Rice-Evans and Adam Jernigan. Visit the Facebook event page for more details. (link)