Tuesday, December 16, 2008


It's as good a theme as any at this holiday season. Everything seems to have come up short -- shopping, decorating, cooking...and books. I was reading Cloud Atlas, which I never did grow to love. I read half way and decided life was too short, and in my humble opinion (no, I'm not using the texty shorthand), it did not deserve the Booker Prize. Overly clever, if not pretentious, no heart, which isn't the same as having no talent. I skipped-read through the latter half and decided I did myself a favor. The profound thesis at the end -- something about the human race being rotten at bottom, or maybe it was inherently good, whichever way he ended up, was -- you guessed it -- lame. It seemed so unimportant, I've forgotten. I'm being harsh. Much better-read people than me thought it was marvelous, I guess. As noted, Chabon said he loved it (or cleverly disguised that he did not) on the book jacket blurb.

So, I haven't started anything else. I have Reservation Road, which someone described as "the bleakest" American novel ever written. Probably not, but I'll save it for the beach anyway. Meanwhile, I read some of Davis McComb's second book of poems, Dismal Rock, and still love him. Ultima Thule was beautiful and I still go back and read those poems. For such a wonderful poet, he seemed strangely well-adjusted and nice when I met him at a book signing. He signed my favorite poem in Ultima, "The River Under the River."

...Tonight the river is at work dissolving, solving
over and over the riddle of its loosening.
I want to know how to hear it, and what it might teach me:
how to inhabit this thing of bone, gut, and blood,
this part of me that would not vanish if I vanished.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Winter days

I went for a walk today during lunchtime -- my usual laps around the old manse property, marooned in the midst of an office "park." On the way back I cross the divided four-lane to the pond and see what's going on over there. It wasn't that cold, 40s, a little gusty. The longer I stay out, the better it feels, and I don't really want to go back to the office. The leaves have flown and all of the color has faded, but winter has its own melancholy charms.

Today, I noticed the muted shades of December without snow. The clouds were thick and layered like blankets, the color of slate, iron, and new bruises, pushed down over watery blue patches of sky. The ground is marbled green and brown and covered with the little wooly heads left over from fall aster blossoms. Doves settle down in the willow branches and a little flock of dark juncos flit in the undergrowth by the pond -- winter birds themselves with little frock coats of dark black and soft gray. Geese sit on the pond and a ring of ducks circle in the middle, dabbling, and seemingly chasing each other's tailfeathers. The water is lapped in the wind, blue-black to the white rocks on shore. Windblown branches are everywhere and among them, the bare, scarlet stems of a brambly shrub. I think I looked it up once and have forgotten again what it is. They are beautiful in winter -- as bright as male cardinals.

I spent November in Donne territory, appropriately enough. I finished the Stubbs biography, which took me most of the month. It was very good and I think it definitely gives me a better context for the poetry. I'm reading David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. I'm only into the fourth section (story?), and it strikes me as a bit of showing off. "Now I shall write in the style of a nineteenth-century English adventurer and now in the style of a rather louche 1930's man-on-the-make," etc., etc. It would be more fun if it were Michael Chabon (who plugs it on the back cover); still, it's well done, and I may grow to love it.

I made peanut-butter fudge -- one of my white whales of cookery. Okay texture, but not peanut-buttery enough. I have another recipe to try still. I'm going to bake cookies, as usual. And I unearthed my mother-in-law's old cookie cutters -- some of which I'm sure my mom also has somewhere. Not an old one, but I found a camel-shaped cutter in the stash. I love camels! I'm going to do a little Christmas decorating by the end of the week. I'm auditioning tree alternatives.