Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category


January 8, 2010

It is the future.  Due to worsening conditions on earth, largely because of overconsumption and global warming, a consortium of nations has established a colony on Mars, now in its fourth year.  Our hero, a teenager named Cornelius with many special supernatural powers, flies on Mars to live with his great-uncle and to intern with a team of archaeologists hoping to discover prior life on the red planet.  He meets a girl on the space shuttle ride, and together they begin internships with an intrepid team of scientists.

To pass the tedious hours of collecting data, Cornelius entertains his love interest by telling her the history of his family from approximately the year 1 to today.  While he frames these stories as a series of heroic escapades about which he is unusually knowledgeable, Cornelius is actually a supernatural time traveling being.  He is reincarnated again and again through time, and his purpose in each incarnation is to find his family and use his special abilities (which include ESP, the ability to see the future, and superior leadership skills) to help them out of whatever trouble they might be in.  These troubles vary from the Protestant Reformation to the French & Indian War to global warming.

After chapters and chapters of this sort of reminiscing, the plot in the present (future) thickens as the colony receives word that the nations on earth no longer have the resources to fund it, and want them all to return home. Meanwhile, Cornelius is slowly discovering that various people (including his great-uncle and the head scientist on the expedition) are also time travelers and have in fact known him in previous lives.  Together, using their common powers of premonition, they determine that the colony must not return to earth.  Why?  The giant volcano under Yellowstone National Park is about to erupt, killing everyone on earth and rendering the planet uninhabitable for at least eight years.  Instead, they must learn to survive independently and sustainably on Mars, all alone.  Or so they think.  An exploratory expedition leads to an encounter with Martians, who have been living quietly on Mars for millennia.  The two groups must learn to cooperate.  They do, and together soon build a thriving multi-cultural society on Mars.  At the same time, all life on earth is destroyed by the volcanic eruption.


There are also plans for a sequel, in which Cornelius and his love interest return to earth and successfully repopulate the planet.

The Writer’s Almanac

April 20, 2009

I just signed up for the Writer’s Almanac by newletter, since I can’t seem to listen to it on NPR in the morning at 8:30.  You can sign up for it online and today’s poem, by Tennessee Williams, is really, and sort of surprisingly, good.  Yesterday’s poem about blueberries was sort of underwhelming.  So here is today’s, you can read it with or without your best Garrison Keillor voice:

Life Story

by Tennessee Williams

<!– (from The Collected Poems of Tennessee Williams) –>

After you’ve been to bed together for the first time,
without the advantage or disadvantage of any prior acquaintance,
the other party very often says to you,
Tell me about yourself, I want to know all about you,
what’s your story? And you think maybe they really and truly do

sincerely want to know your life story, and so you light up
a cigarette and begin to tell it to them, the two of you
lying together in completely relaxed positions
like a pair of rag dolls a bored child dropped on a bed.

You tell them your story, or as much of your story
as time or a fair degree of prudence allows, and they say,
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh,
each time a little more faintly, until the oh
is just an audible breath, and then of course

there’s some interruption. Slow room service comes up
with a bowl of melting ice cubes, or one of you rises to pee
and gaze at himself with mild astonishment in the bathroom mirror.
And then, the first thing you know, before you’ve had time
to pick up where you left off with your enthralling life story,
they’re telling you their life story, exactly as they’d intended to all

and you’re saying, Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh,
each time a little more faintly, the vowel at last becoming
no more than an audible sigh,
as the elevator, halfway down the corridor and a turn to the left,
draws one last, long, deep breath of exhaustion
and stops breathing forever. Then?

Well, one of you falls asleep
and the other one does likewise with a lighted cigarette in his mouth,
and that’s how people burn to death in hotel rooms.

“Life Story” by Tennessee Williams, from The Collected Poems of Tennessee Williams. © New Directions, 2002. (Reprinted without permission, but nobody really reads my blog anyway).

I’m going to New York this weekend, and I think I’m going to go see the Henry Darger exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum.

afam_2318afam_2314-1I like him for so many reasons.  I love the Vivian Girls, I really like folk art, or course, and 1900s Chicago is one of my top historical time periods — mostly from reading Sister Carrie, William Cronin’s Nature’s Metropolis, and everything about the Columbian Exposition.  Darger’s story was really sad — he had a tough childhood and spent a lot of time in institutions, and as an adult, could never really get over it.  So in his own way, he devoted his life to protecting children, in part by writing the Vivian Girls, his super-fantasy heroines, into being.  All his famiyl was gone, but he did have a friend, one friend.


While Husker Du is playing

April 13, 2009

I went to see Adventureland last night, and you know, I was pleasantly surprised by a pretty good movie!  It was way, way better than the trailer makes it seem.  It’s a good, coming of age movie that doesn’t offend anyone who thinks that women are people.  Or, for that matter, that men are people.  In fact, this movie manages to humanize almost everybody, and there are some really perfect articulations of 22-year-old righteous anger, confusion, and realizing that you have to get your shit together all by yourself.  Set in the 80s, and apparently they took a cue from the sweet coming of age movies of the era (though without the making fun of Asian people, sorry 16 Candles and Pretty in Pink).  I wish that I could have gone to see this movie in high school, instead of going to see movies that lots of dudes thought was funny and made me feel bad and then not talking about it.

Plus a good soundtrack.  Lots of Lou Reed, and then gently mocking the lovers of Lou Reed, all at the same time.  And of course Husker Du.

Don’t you think that we should kiss while husker du is playing? — that could really be the subtitle of this movie.

Is there such thing as insanity among penguins?

March 23, 2009

Just watched Werner Herzog’s movie about Antarctica, Encounters at the End of the World.

I recommend it.


He visits with a lot of dorky, crazy scientists who are doing amazing things — diving under the ice to search for tiny, perfect, single-celled creatures; inflating gigantic helium balloons to measure neutrinos, videotaping volcanic explosions; and leaving tiny, weird mementos behind in the tunnels they’ve dug underneath the north pole so that if alien archaeologists visit us after we all die because of global warming they will have something to remember us by.

I was also really happy to hear some Georgian music in the movie!  Tsmindao Ghmerto, a Georgian hymn, was playing when they explore some caves under the snow created by the steam from the volcano.

And here’s the classic part of the movie, about a deranged, unstoppable, existential penguin.


February 16, 2009

I just joined Ravelry! What’s that? It’s an online community for knitters……….

I browsed through cardigan patterns for about two hours, and then I found this awesome, awesome sweater pattern.  It’s a pullover with a cabled neck, but the cables become owls, with buttons sewn on them.  The pattern is downloadable for free, here at the designer’s blog, Needled.

I also learned that vintage knitting books and patterns from the 40s, 60s and 80s in particular, are totally worth buying.

8686_1Buy them on ebay!

I’ve been listening to the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, reminiscing about their show on Saturday, and reading Judy Blume’s BLOG, where she writes about going to Maurice Sendak’s birthday party with her friend Lois Lowry.

Mavis Gallant

December 18, 2008

I’m reading a book of short stories by Mavis Gallant right now.

Mavis Gallant

The book I have was a remainder, and I probably only bought it because of the Mavis.  But I’m so glad I have it.

Mavis Gallant was born in Montreal and many of her stories are set there.  Others are set in Paris, where she lives now.  In this collection, at least, she’s concerned with the big decisions that young people had to make, mostly in terms of marriage, often without having much real information about them, and the push and pull of families keeping up bourgeois appearances.  Then also, the sort of crumbling apart of life and indignities of older men, and their judgments and befuddlements about children.  She started out as a reporter in 1944, and started writing fiction in 1950.  She lives in Paris and seems to keep pretty private.

Mavis Gallant is now up there for me next to Alice Munro, who was probably my first really major literary discovery.  I started reading Alice Munro in high school and I keep her books with me: they’ve given me a lot and I know they will keep being helpful to me.

I met some elderly ladies last weekend in Montreal at a memorial service, and they told me that they started a book club in 1952 and they have been meeting ever since!  They read 9 books a year!  They were all stylish and intimidating with French names I’ve never heard before.  I could only aspire to this kind of friendship and book discussion, in my dreams.