21 November 2009

A great book: We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich

One of the joys of examining another person's library is finding treasures. We Took To the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich, published by J. B. Lippincott, Philadelphia and New York, was, from the inscription, a gift from mother to daughter when it was first out, in 1942. Now in the daughter's daughter's library, its quiet oatmeal-and-brown-sugar cover had a plain appeal, but the memoir is nothing short of exotic.
In the woods the first question you ask anybody, no matter what time of day he arrives, is "Have you eaten?" . . . In the country, and even more in the woods, a kitchen is much more than a place to cook. It's the place where people sit, for warmth or sociability, or to do odd jobs . . . Often my pots and pans have to find what space they can around a soldiering iron thrust into the firebox and my pot roast is shoved back in the oven to accommodate a pair of newly oiled boots that must be dried.
There are many recipes and truisms, such as "People are so easy to fool. The real test comes when you try the fly out on a fish" and "Blueberries are apt to be flat."

There are many recipes, including this one for Mock Tripe:
It is an old home recipe of that almost legendary Norwegian guide, Travis Hoke, and is very useful in disposing of otherwise unusable odds and ends. If you have a fresh salmon you can put its skin in a light brine until you are ready to use it, or the skin of a baked fish, carefully removed, will serve as well. Save the daily leavings of the oatmeal pot and spread them out about a half inch thick to dry. When you have amassed a sufficient quantity and it is covered with a heavy brown crust, season well and wrap in the fish skin. Dredge this with flour and pit it in your roasting pan with a small amount of water or milk, cover, and bake at least an hour in a medium oven. The result is truly amazing.
Not everything in this great, wise book is so foreign.
I don't want my child ever to feel as lost in the world as I do right now; nor do I want to inculcate in him the doctrine of force and aggression at no matter what sacrifice of the rights of others . . . I don't want to raise my son to be a soldier—but if he has to be one, I want him to be a good and capable one. I want him to know what he's fighting for—and Freedom and Democracy won't mean a thing to him, unless they are all tied up with memories of things he has loved ever since he can remember—things like the sound of the river, and the way Kyak [the dog Rich calls her other son] lies and dreams in front of the open fire on a crisp autumn evening, and the picnics we've held at Smooth Ledge.
In the magic world of here and now, within half an hour of opening this book I had to have it so I bought it used on the internet, shopping for the cheapest postage, as there were several places that listed the 1942 edition for $2. I've got it now, and the only difference between it and the copy my friend has, is that the fly leaf has been torn off on mine, which is often the case when personally inscribed books lose their library.

19 November 2009

The Extraordinarily fine Arts Auction, and Interfictions 2

The Auction is on now, and a marvelous assortment of handmade books, wearables, and other inspired pieces can be yours—or ultimately possessed by the recipients of these one-of-a-kinds that would make great gifts.

See, for instance, this gorgeous being below, by the artist C. Jane Washburn. (This is only one view. The site shows many other views.)

Auction #12: The Ordinary Made Alien

The Child Empress of Mars by C. Jane Washburn
Based On:
“The Child Empress of Mars” by Theodora Goss

in Interfictions 2 edited by Delia Sherman & Christopher Barzak, published by Small Beer Press, and reviewed by amongst others,
Bibliophile Stalker Charles Tan. Although all of the reviews have been laudatory, and I enjoyed every story in the book, I am mentioning Tan's review because of what he says about my personal favourite—Elizabeth Ziemska's "Count Poniatowski and the Beautiful Chicken".

Although the stories in this anthology are said to be "Delving deeper into the genre-spanning territory explored in Interfictions", I must disagree in the case of this story.

Only recently, when prospecting in two rich fields, that of food-in-literature and animals-in-literature, I found a seam that contains both. Since I found it, I claim the right to name it: Chooklit

But even though "Count Poniatowski and the Beautiful Chicken" deserves a place in some forthcoming genre anthology "The Best Chicken Tales of All Time", I'll ignore that fault as I should for several other stories in Interfictions 2, and (1)—stories that could themselves, be the basis of new genres, the borders of which could be the "hot-button issue" basis of delightfully obscure future wars.

A Pocket Book

This pocket-size book is doing very well on Asteroid *, though the astroidians have no clothes nor the teachings of sin.

They do now understand, however, the purpose of clothes: Clothing with no pockets is like a home with no books.

Hunger, Fear, and The Novel Surplus

The advice was free, so I'm sure he hasn't taken it and I don't have to feel guilty for possibly killing a Great Someone-to-be in his own womb. I didn't know him. He just came up and started talking to me. He looked so unhappy, he said he was ("always") "so depressed". He told me that in a few days he was going to have his second nano something after his first, only a year ago.

Anything nano sounds suspicious at the least. His eyes squinted in at the nose with what looked like dread, or was it raw fear—of what? I imagined some cutting-edge foray into the guts of him in which nanowarriors slash at hordes of cells that must have repopulated him after the first war last year, and was anyway, going to kill him soon—or would it be the nanoslashers he feared more than the disease? Whatever, the prognosis didn't look good, and I really didn't want to get to know him well enough to ask his name, as I'm overbooked in sympathies—but curiosity made me want to know more about the warriors inside his body—or his brain.


"You don't know?"

Someone touched my arm. "They have to write 50,000 words in 30 days."

He nodded. "For National Novel Writing Month."

"I feel so depressed all the time," he said. "Every day I sit there . . . "

Eventually I asked, "Do you have anything you want to say?"

"No." He not only didn't elaborate, but seemed to have run out of words.

"Do you get out and observe?"

"How can I? I've got to write." He told me that everyone in his writing group agreed. That he felt such a failure. All the time. That he wakes up every day feeling like a failure.

I told him to quit trying to write the novel. To live, get out and listen, observe, feel, think, engage himself in the world and stop thinking of himself as a writer in any form, to stop thinking of himself any more than a real journalist should—at least for a while. I told him to, when he feels refreshed by the act of being in the world, learn to write haiku. That then he could learn the power of a few words, and the lack of being able to write a good haiku if there is nothing to say, but only words to state. I told him (me being in full unproductive rage, and unable to control myself then. If only I could have kept myself to say, 25 words or less—not that free advice is taken no matter how many words misspent) that while writing haiku, he could next begin to learn how to write something else harder to write than a novel: a short story.

Not that I was raging against him. He was as hard not to adopt as a sweet dog from a bad home, at the pound. I just hate the way the prevailing culture smothers what is natural in all of us—curiosity, the ability to be quiet so we can listen, watch, and learn; to reflect and deliberate instead of communicating either in reactions (often group-determined) as if the brain were a leg meant to kick when the knee is hit with a hammer, or "writing" with the purpose of putting as many words as possible out and writing fiction just to do it (plot? no matter. a reason for a story? to write—a circular reason if there ever was one), because the technology to do it, exists.

We all, humans that we are, have such a wonderful gift, and all the great stories that move us stem from the storyteller using this: the ability to climb out of the first person (and the present tense), to think and feel, What would it be like to be this other person (or life-form) living this other life?

We didn't get into the advice he's probably also following or feeling a failure about because he isn't tw'ing. Even though we humans haven't translated what birds say, their twitters are far from mere comforting noises, and come in endless variations, even from birds with brains smaller than the thought that goes before the average sms.

All this reminds me of the time that I advised a smoker who'd stopped five weeks before, to smoke and live.

Overheard dialogue, October 2009:
Prospective novelist: "We try to top each other. I won with 10,000 words one day."
Novelist: (after about ten seconds silence) "I don't believe you."