Thursday, April 19, 2012

from the book pile, 2012: Annie Dillard, Veronica Roth

I've been working my way through the tower of books teetering off the antique writing desk that serves as my nightstand.  Working my way through reading and working my way through the thoughts and learnings each title provokes.

When I first started this blog in 2006 one of my goals was to nurture a forum that kept me accountable for the cultural goods I consume.  Of course, I didn't really know then to articulate the goal in those terms.  The truth dawns gradually: as in in worship so as in culture -- I did not make it, but it is making me.

Having also gotten quite clear with the truth that I will never be a professional book reviewer, I've let myself off the hook and changed up the way I document my reading.

Every new year, I consider making a number goal for books read in the coming twelve months.  It's never a good idea; rather takes away the enjoyment of arriving at December 31 and tallying up titles from the previous year.  Feels like an accomplishment no matter the number.  Hope you enjoy!


Author:  Annie Dillard

Genre: non-fiction, essay

Published: Harper & Row, 1977

General Impression:  It's only 76 pages, so why in the world has it taken me this long to read this well-loved volume of essays by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dillard?  I don't know, but now that I've read it I guess it really doesn't matter because I've tucked the words and images from this slim volume right into place between all the other Annie Dillard treasures already sunk away into my memory and imagination.  And a shimmery store of treasures it is!

Reading these essays felt almost like an epilogue of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  Once again the author is hidden away in a pleasant burrow of nature -- this time an island in the Puget Sound.  Once again Dillard cuts herself off from all distractions threatening to blind her vision what's really going in this dusty earth.  In Holy the Firm, she sits in a wooden room furnished with "one enormous window, one cat, one spider and one person" and writes minutia and tragedy with the same pen, the moth in the candle flame and the girl falling out of the sky, each receiving the same deft touch.  And, thus, adds her voice to the immortal conversation of how much good is in a God.  

Speaking of that spider... (from chapter 1, "Newborn and Salted"):

"There is a spider, too, in the bathroom, with whom I sort of keep company. Her little outfit always reminds me of a certain moth I helped to kill. The spider herself is of uncertain lineage, bulbous at the abdomen and drab. Her six-inch mess of a web works, works somehow, works miraculously, to keep her alive and me amazed. The web itself is in a corner behind the toilet, connecting tile wall to tile wall and floor, in a place where there is, I would have thought, scant traffic. Yet under the web are sixteen or so corpses she has tossed to the floor."

Another favorite excerpt, of the sort both anomalous and particular (from chapter 3, "Holy the Firm"):

"I know only enough of God to want to worship him, by any means ready to hand. There is an anomalous specificity to all our experience in space, a scandal of particularity, by which God burgeons up or showers down into the shabbiest of occasions, and laves his creation's dealings with him in the hands of purblind and clumsy amateurs. This is all we are and all we ever were; God kann nicht anders.  This process in time is history; in space, at such shocking random, it is mystery."


Author:  Veronica Roth

Genre: fiction (technically YA Fantasy & Science Fiction)

Published: Katherine Tegen Books, 2011

General Impression:  Good golly, what a fun read!  Although, I have to confess I was reading this while everyone else in the world seemed to be reading a certain other trilogy.  Just another example in a long line of how I'm never quite in the right place at the right time.  It was my mother-of-teenagers ego that drove me to read this book in the first place.  Natalie reads through YA fiction series faster than Harry Potter rides a broom, Katniss shoots an arrow,  Percy takes on a duel and Bella changes beaus. You could almost say reading through YA fiction series is her superpower.  And she doesn't just read, she lives the stories.  Takes up the calls for justice, suffering of the underdog, angst of the unrequited love.  

So, I thought I'd earn some points by beating her to the next series on her list.  I entered the world of YA fiction and it was glorious.  I couldn't put the book down, yelling updates through the house with each turn of fate, racing through the pages describing the first kiss, imaging what tattoo I would get if I belonged to the Dauntless faction. (which I'd never, ever -- no matter how many days left to the end of the world as we know it -- would be a Dauntless.  Candor, maybe, even though I fancy myself making it into the Erudite.)

Natalie's learned a skill as a YA reader that she failed to pass along to her bumbling mother.  Never, ever invest yourself in a series until at least two of the books are already available.  Now I'm left waiting for the sequel.  The wait will be over.  Soon

synopsis from Goodreads:
In a future Chicago, 16-year-old Beatrice Prior must choose among five predetermined factions to define her identity for the rest of her life, a decision made more difficult when she discovers that she is an anomaly who does not fit into any one group, and that the society she lives in is not perfect after all.

Excerpt from really excellent opening page:

"There is one mirror in my house. It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs. Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair.

I sit on the stool and my mother stands behind me with the scissors, trimming. The strands fall on the floor in a dull, blond ring.

When she finishes, she pulls my hair away from my face and twists it into a knot. I note how calm she looks and how focused she is. She is well-practiced in the art of losing herself. I can't say the same of myself."

Speaking of excellent opening paragraphs, here's a note about the author Veronica Roth:

She's 23 years old.  What more do you need to know?  

Here's the story of how she got a book deal after only being on submission four days.

Here's the story of how she sold film rights to her very first published book.  AND she's 23 years old.  

I wanted to hate her but then I watched this video of her jumping into a bathtub full of marshmellows and decided to like her instead.  And to follow her blog.


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