Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Those chain stores

So, I was going to leave work early and head over to spend my giftcard at Bloomingdale’s. The truth is, though, that I really dread shopping for clothes, especially solo, so I frittered my time away until I really couldn’t justify the cross-town excursion.

Still, I wanted a small diversion on the way home.

A book. I was talking books with my father this morning and we agreed that The Kite Runner which I gobbled is very diverting. He’s enjoying the new one now and said that another one I might like is A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian.

Well, when I was browsing around The Tattered Cover in Denver last weekend, I had seen Strawberry Fields recommended, had considered it, having heard good things about the first, but ultimately didn’t buy it.

My father said that he enjoyed the story of feuding sisters and a father slowly descending into senility. He said that it rang bells for him. (Did I mention he is a Yankee? A very dry one.)

So, I popped into the Time Warner Center (ugh—but between work and the subway) and up to Borders. But what was the book called? I got on their information computer: a search of “tractor” yielded board books on farming for children. “Ukraine” got me to guide books. A combination got nothing. I asked a clerk. He was using the same exact computer as I (shouldn’t employees be connected to a better database—an industry one, or books in print, or WorldCat?), had never heard of the book, and assured me that he knew a lot about contemporary fiction and that this book just didn’t exist.

I whipped out my iPhone and got trapped in the evil welcome message from T-Mobile.

I left the store.

On the escalator down, I googled “tractor ukraine” and the first hit was to an amazon page about Marina Lewycka’s novel. (The Complete Review’s coverage is here; an interview with the Guardian, here.) I rode the train down to West Fourth, walked through the Village (all abuzz for the coming of Pride Week, rainbows everywhere), walked into Three Lives (Best. Bookstore. Ever.) where the clerks were deep into heated discussions of a) alternative cold remedies and b) the Mets, found the book, bought it, an essay collection for my husband, and I was told there would be cake for me.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Do you always look for the longest day of the year...

...and then miss it? I always look for the longest day of the year and then miss it.--misquoting Daisy Buchanan.

Like Cam, I have been happy, busy (tenure, a conference in Seattle--where I saw my family & played with my daughters & their cousins, a summer school course on Woolf, another conference in Denver) and wholly unmotivated to blog.

On Saturday, we head to upstate New York for the annual five weeks of messing about in boats. Will there be writing? Yes! Blogging? I think so!

In the meantime, well, I am still here, hale and hearty, training for the Boilermaker (15K!), using all my "points" on Weightwatchers for white wine...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Woolf & Spies

Via the vwoolf listserv, from a week or so back.

Seems I'm not the only one obsessed with Woolf and James Bond....

If I could bring an author back to life...

In the week that Sebastian Faulks revived the work of Ian Fleming, we asked five writers to do the same for their favourite novelists

Katy Guest chooses Virginia Woolf

A plausible charmer once told me that my email style reminded him of Virginia Woolf's obscurer essays. He later said that I looked like her, which spoiled the compliment, but of course I wish I could write like that. Who else could be so thrilling in a story in which hardly anything happens? Sebastian Faulks says that Bond was difficult to write because he has "almost no internal life". Then Woolf's novels are the anti-Bond: her characters have interior life – to the exclusion of much else. In fact, Bond would be about the same age as the six year-old James in To the Lighthouse. Which could explain a lot...

To the Spy Who Loved Me

"Yes, of course, if it's fine tomorrow," said Mrs Bond. "But you'll have to be up with the lark," she added.

To her son these words conveyed an extraordinary joy, as if it were settled that the target practice were bound to take place, and the karate lesson to which he had looked forward, for years and years it seemed, was, after a night's darkness and a quick fumble on the beach with the lighthouse keeper's crippled daughter, within touch. Since he belonged, even at the age of six, to that great clan of English public schoolboys who cannot express any emotion at all, and must let future prospects, of mutilating mackerel and throwing them back into the sea, foreshadow what is actually at hand, since to such people any expression of suffocating motherly compassion or paternal disapproval has the power to crystallise and fix the moment somewhere only the best-paid Harley Street shrink could ever find it, James Bond, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated catalogue of Italian-made Beretta 418s, endowed that picture of cold steel with heavenly bliss. It was fringed with joy. The Aston Martin DB5, the Rolex submariner, the sound of heavy breathing, a naked girl softly singing on a beach – all these were so coloured and distinguished in the mind of this image of handsome British manhood unformed, though there was something a bit cruel in the mouth, and the eyes were cold, so that his mother, watching him guide his scissors with deadly skill around the pictures, imagined that it might take only the slightest disappointment to this childish sensibility, the smallest snub from a figure of authority, to turn this sweet, rumple-haired child into a ruthless killer.

"But," said his father, stopping in front of the drawing room window, "it won't be fine."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More Woolf

Elisa Sparks is working on a Second Life Woolf project and blogging about her progress here. (I’ll confess, I had no idea what Second Life even was, but Elisa’s site is informative: it’s a virtual world, like video gaming sites or Webkinz, but without all the ads, presumably. You can see more here.

And the Woolf Society of Great Britain is sponsoring an essay contest in memory of the late, great, and much missed Julia Briggs: 3,000 words on Woolf as a common reader. The prize is £250.

My copy of the Virginia Woolf Miscellany arrived at last and with it, my review of the Glendenning biography of Leonard. Opposite that, Suzette Henke’s review of me. It’s positive and eloquent, so I am really, really pleased. But most stirring of all—these first two are not stirring at all, just a little exciting—were the remembrances of Julia. They were so moving that I could not finish them. I have gone for months without thinking of her often or with much emotion, but then to read remembrances of her kindness by friends and Woolf scholars whom I admire brought it all back. It is amazing how many lives a good person can touch.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Jolie Woolf: Passing Glances

So, I bought the June Vanity Fair in order to read Todd Purdum’s article on the end of Bill Clinton (scary, good). As a bonus, Angelina Jolie is on the cover and there’s a nice interview with her about how happy she is to be pregnant, how much she loves motherhood, blah, blah, blah. It’s embarrassingly riveting. For all my education, I still do love reading celebrity profiles and there is something especially fascinating to me these days in reading those of the “I’m a working mom, too” variety. Shame!

But there, in tiny six-point font on the magazine’s cover, on Jolie’s left upper arm, is this quotation: “As a woman I have no country. My country is the whole world.”—Virginia Woolf.

You have to smile.

The quotation is from Woolf’s 1938 pacifist pamphlet, Three Guineas. It was wildly unpopular when published for it linked patriarchy to fascism, forcing the English to look inward at their complicity with the rise of Hitler precisely when it was most convenient and expedient to demonize the fascists. Women have no country, in Woolf’s argument, because a country offers benefits in exchange for loyalty and women have gotten nothing from their country—no citizenship rights, no legal standing as individuals, no inheritance, no right even to serve.

So it’s askew of the original context, but not completely perverse, to apply it to Jolie, the current poster child for UN Refugees and international adoption. It’s very weird—and non-Woolfian—to make this quotation so earth-mother-y, but it’s right and very Woolfian to recall us to global connections beyond politics, to remind us of the real lives of people who are at once utterly without a voice in politics and, at the same time, grossly affected by—made homeless by—politics.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Closer to Fine

My friend and former colleague Meri Weiss’ novel, Closer to Fine is about to come out. If you’re looking for a take on contemporary bohemian New York, this is one to check out: it’s the kind of book that might once have gotten the nod from the Lit Blog Co-op, the kind of book that deserves to find readers. If you know anyone just graduating from college, get a copy for them. The book is deliciously, astutely in touch with the kind of relationship angst that sets in in the early twenties: not just about lovers, but about questioning sexuality, figuring out how to get along with siblings, sorting friends who can stand in for family from those who are just fun to have a beer with. I read it in manuscript and you can find my blurb buried deep on Meri’s website. It’s a quick, fun read though I think I’m probably a little old for it. Still, it is a really sincere, moving look at the life of a smart/dumb young woman trying to figure it out. At her best, Meri channels a Bloomsbury ethos, a James Baldwin in Another Country vibe.

Curious? She’ll be reading at McNally Robinson on June 24th. And you can befriend her on facebook, too…

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Editor! Editor!

My father remains my best line-editor. Others--my husband, my writing group, my colleagues around the world--are wonderful for helping me with the big ideas, the implications of theory, the allusions and notions that I've missed or wrongly emphasized, but for elegant styling, my father remains the best.

So, when I sent him a copy of my paper on Kim Philby's memoir, I was not surprised to receive, in response, a brief nod of praise followed by five or six instances where he noted an inconsistency, a moment of confusion. This one, in particular, however, continues to amaze me. My paper has a long meditation on the ironies of Kim Philby taking his name from the Kipling novel, Kim. My father thought it might be worth a footnote to add:
Of course, the fictional Kim spies for crown and Empire, while Philby successfully did the reverse.
When I went to add that lovely small observation in my paper, I grew self-conscious about lifting his language entire, so I momentarily put:
Of course, the fictional Kim spies for crown and Empire, while Philby worked against it.
Not nearly as good, is it? My flat-footed pairing of for vs. against lacks the elegance of "did the reverse."

I can't quite figure out why his is so much better. Can you?

Needless to say, his phrasing now stands.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Where I've been, etc...'s been a little while and, with summer school underway and a Woolf conference coming up, things are still pretty busy around here. But I haven't forgotten about this poor little neglected blog.

I was in Seattle for a week, visiting family and giving a conference paper. And, just before leaving, I got the official word: I have tenure. Hooray. And phew.

It wasn't ever really in doubt, I guess, but I must say, I haven't enjoyed the process of awaiting the official word.