Mary's Library

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Windhover

I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

-- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Sunday, October 29, 2006

What Am I Reading?

Sharon over at Ex Libris posted a clever little meme the other day. It works like this:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next 4 sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book. I know you were thinking about it. Just pick up whatever is closest.

Here are my results:

“Do you believe him?”

Guastafeste helped himself to another olive and toyed with it between his fingers.

“I’m not sure. We had to conduct the interview through an interpreter.”

It’s from a very good mystery, The Rainaldi Quartet, by Paul Adam, in which a luthier helps his policeman friend track down the killer of one of the members of their string quartet (now a string trio I suppose.) The trail leads them into the convoluted world of instrument making and the collecting of historic violins.

Reformation Sunday

Today, the last Sunday in October, is celebrated as Reformation Sunday in many Lutheran and other Protestant churches. If you are looking for appropriate reading, Roland Herbert Bainton's classic biography Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (1951) still holds up quite well. Also, Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and his Career (1986) by my late friend Professor Jim Kittelson of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota, is another good read.

Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott,
Ein' gute Wehr und Waffen;
Er hilft uns frei aus aller Not,
Die uns jetzt hat betroffen.
Der alt’ böse Feind,
Mit Ernst er’s jetzt meint,
Groß’ Macht und viel List
Sein’ grausam’ Rüstung ist,
Auf Erd’ ist nicht seins Gleichen.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Happy Birthday TR

The incomparable Theodore Roosevelt was born on this day in 1858. If you have never read a book about the 26th President, then by all means drop everything and get your hands on The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris (1979).

"There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: first, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live - I have no use for the sour-faced man - and next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do."
Talk to schoolchildren in Oyster Bay, Christmastime 1898

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Attention les amis de Nothomb

Attention Amelie Nothomb fans. Information has just reached me that Nothomb's latest novel, Journal d'hirondelle (a swallow’s diary), is # 2 on the best seller list in France. Is there an English translation in our future?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Me and Jim Blandings, Part IV

The remodeling continues apace, which has somewhat slowed the pace of reading at Mary's Library. Mary had a headache and general malaise for a couple of days, apparently the result of renovation overload. She is doing better now. So is the house.

The jumble of pipes that previously dwelt, somewhat like the phantom of the opera, in and beneath our basement, now for the most part lies in a pile along side our garage waiting to be hauled away, presumably to a corrosion recycler. Now, we have some beautiful new pipes elegantly adorning the basement. The bright colors of these new plastic pipes do tend to cheer one up and momentarily distract one from obsessing upon the cost of the entire endeavor. Tomorrow, concrete is to be poured to replace the rather large chunk of flooring that was jackhammered out and spirited away.

Of course, getting to this relatively happy stage of development was not all exactly beer and skittles. On Monday and Wednesday, we had the water to the house shut off for extended periods of time while plumbing work was being done. And, the past two nights we have had to turn off the water to the house overnight, upon the advice of plumber, because the rotting old pipes, which had not yet been superseded, had been stressed during renovation and the bursting thereof was not an altogether remote possibility. But, it appears that the major plumbing inconveniences are now behind us. Tomorrow, Mary and I will be off to select fixtures for the new bathroom.

Next week, the landscaper is scheduled to show up and install the brick patio behind the house. This will replace, you may recall, the hideous deck, with metal awning, that had previously been a blot upon the premises. In the meantime, the intrepid Jason has been doing some repair work on the back of the house in the spots where the awning and deck were ripped away.

We are now three weeks into the project and are bloodied but unbowed. No, wait, we are actually bowed but unbloodied.

Monday, October 23, 2006


Did you know that it’s the blue line on your thermostat that controls the heat and that the red controls the air conditioning? How much sense does that make? Red-heat; blue-cold. So logical. So wrong.

I decided yesterday that we didn’t need two lines moving back and forth as we changed the setting on the thermostat so I moved the blue line all the way to the left and put the red one up a bit from around 65 to 68. It’s getting down into the low 30s at night and I figured we needed a little more heat in the house.

It was 36 when I got up at 5:30 this morning. Inside! – No, actually that was outside. It just felt like 36 inside (still does.) It was 58 inside. Wilhelm, who isn’t normally allowed to touch the thermostat decided to step in. Fortunately, because I would have had that red line up to 90 and we would still have had no heat and I would still have had no idea why not.

Good thing he has a sense of humor.

Friday, October 20, 2006

New from Publishers Weekly

Lots of interesting books will be on the shelves in the coming weeks.

I don't reead Alice Hoffman but those who do are devoted. Her new novel, Incantation, set during the Spanish Inquisition, will be published this month.

Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games is still in galleys but it’s getting a lot of attention from discerning reviewers. Be on the lookout for it in January.

On the 23rd of this month Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story will be released. It got a starred review in PW, so if you’re a Stephen King fan you’re in for a treat.

And those of us who loved Devil in the White City should rush out to our local independent bookstore on the 24th for Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck, which also got a starred review. This book, like his last, weaves the stories of two men, Guglielmo Marconi and the infamous Dr H H Crippen.

On the 25th Robert B Parker’s 34th Spenser mystery, Hundred Dollar Baby will be out.

Roddy Doyle will have a new book on bookstore shelves in January, Paula Spencer. It features the return of the heroine of Doyle’s 1996 novel, The Woman Who Walked into Doors, now sober and worried that her daughter is following in her footsteps.

Whitbread award-winner Rachel Cusk has a new book to be published in January, Arlington Park. It gets a starred review.

There also new books by Colm Toibin, Dana Stabenow, and Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, and Stephanie Barron coming, the first two in January and the last two in November and December.

I’m looking forward to a nonfiction title that got a starred review this week: Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. It’s obviously inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and according to PW, it's just as good.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What Wilhelm is Reading Now

In anticipation of my imminent change in status from "retired" to "semi-retired" upon becoming a judge pro tem, I am currently working my way through that page-turner Washington Court Rules -- State Pamphlet 2006 (West Publishing, 2006). It is a page-turner in that I can scan many pages and conclude, "nope, nothing on this page that I need to know." On the other hand, there is an appallingly large amount of stuff that I do need to know.

With respect to literary merits, Court Rules has little to recommend it. There is essentially no character development. In fact, there are precious few characters at all, except for some shadowy figures, sketchily described as "plaintiff", "clerk", or "interested party". While Court Rules is more or less organized by topic, there is really nothing that you could legitimately call a plot. As for literary style, well, I imagine that Soviet reports on agricultural production under the latest five-year plan were a tad more sprightly.

So, why does such a book continue to sell, with new editions each year? For one thing, if you need this book, you really need it. Failure to comply with its edicts could get you yelled at, or even thrown into jail, I suppose, in extreme cases. And, if you get to wear a robe for professional, rather than for fashion, purposes, then you really had better know the contents of this hefty paperback. (I haven't even started yet on that series known to the cognizenti as "RCW", which has more volumes than Tom Clancy. Ach du lieber.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Me and Jim Blandings, Part III

Water, water, everywhere, but -- it's supposed to stay in the pipes. When you have an 83-year-old house and take a jackhammer to the concrete floor in the basement, what you find underneath is probably not going to be a pretty sight. In our case, indeed it wasn't. Any sentence that you hear that starts out "You're going to need to replumb . . . " is not going to be good news. Alas, we (we, again, meaning Jason -- see Part II), found a leaky pipe under the floor. If you look closely at the picture, the small red blotch is an old coffee can that we were using to catch the run-off, until Jason managed to stanch the flow with some duct tape. Seeing these "pipes" (if you can call the remaining cylinders of rust "pipes"), it's amazing that they still hold water at all.

So, tomorrow the plumber will be here to tell us what it will cost to ensure that we continue to have running water in the coming decades. Fortunately, the modifications to the remodeling plan have saved us some money that can now go towards the extra plumbing work. The adventure continues and the excavated dirt and concrete continue to pile up. Actually, the concrete has been mostly removed. Presumably, the dirt will again take its place under the floor, albeit with less water accompanying it.

And, for the time being at least, things are going well with the patio. More on that another time.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tea (SD) and Ice Cream

Wilhelm has been in Tea, South Dakota (that's the town logo on the left) for a few days and I've been scrambling to get my EZ Percentage System raglan sweater sleeve finished in time for my class tomorrow. So there hasn't been a lot of posting to Mary's Library lately.

Soon Wilhelm will report on the results of the jackhammering that Jason has been doing today and I'll tell you about the new books announced in Publisher's Weekly yesterday.

Meanwhile, here is some sage advice from Thornton Wilder: "[don't] inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate."

Friday, October 13, 2006

The World's 500 Greatest Books

Today I want to tell you about a book I found about 20 years ago by Philip Ward called A Lifetime’s Reading: The World’s 500 Greatest Books (New York: Stein and Day, 1983.)

It’s divided into 50 years and it starts with Alice in Wonderland and finishes with Immanuel Kant. I’ve been reading some of the books from two years at a time and will start on Year 47 in January.

The 500 books part is misleading because under a single title he will sometimes include many books. Under Dickens, Pickwick Papers, for example, he includes all of Dickens’ novels. And he sometimes suggests you go see a ballet or an opera or listen to particular music or visit an art museum or read some history as you read a particular book.

Ward also has a trick of listing the works of an author, like Plato (right after Alice), then saying something like this: “The Classical Greek of Plato is so majestic and clear that it merits any amount of effort in the learning. Luckily there is an abundance of good grammars and dictionaries, such as Wilding’s Greek for Beginners . . .” He does the same thing with the Old Testament (R K Harrison’s Teach Yourself Hebrew.) And this is on page 2, so you have another 49+ years to go!

Nonetheless it’s excellent and includes a great deal of literature from non-English speaking countries, especially the East. The list of titles is online but the book has a short discussion of each title and lots of the references I have mentioned and it’s worth getting your hands on a copy.

And thank you Pamela for sparking this idea and sending me the online address.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Me and Jim Blandings, Part II

Like capitalism, home renovation includes a great deal of creative destruction. At present, the destruction part is most apparent. Jason, from Integrity Remodeling, is coming up with some great ideas as he proceeds with what is resembling an archeological dig. There is some question whether the final remodeling job will contain any elements of the original plan. I am beginning to know how Jim Blandings felt, though on a much smaller scale.

Anyway, the hideous downstairs bathroom has been ripped out. It turns out that the bathroom was not only hideous, but was remarkably non-compliant with just about all applicable building codes. This, presumably, is the heritage of a do-it-yourself project by a prior owner of the house. The plumber took lots of pictures and commented on what great training materials those photos will make for teaching plumbers how not to do things. At least we will have both a properly functioning, as well as reasonably attractive, bathroom downstairs when we are done.

The back deck has been quite an adventure in itself. The plan was to rip off the metal awning over the deck and rip out the built-in benches, then build a new wood awning, build a railing around the deck, and paint everything to match the house. Only the ripping out part of that plan survived.

As we progressed, we (whenever I say "we", assume that I mean Jason, unless the context suggests otherwise) discovered that there was a step, and concrete path, and a brick patio under the deck. Also, it turns out that the back of the house looks much nicer with no awning. So, now the plan is to restore and to expand the brick patio and to leave off the awning.

There have been a few other tweaks made to the renovation plan, but I'll leave that for another post.

Moran Prairie Library

On Saturday, I made it over to the Moran Prairie Library, where the Friends of the Moran Prairie Library were having a book sale. Our good friend, Jan, is quite active with the Friends. This event was not to be missed. The Moran Prairie Library is part of the Spokane County Library System. That means that Mary and I have County library cards, as well as Spokane City Library cards. Two library cards, however, are not nearly enough for Mary, so she has library cards for Washington State University and Eastern Washington University. WSU and EWU have branch campuses in Spokane.

Anyway, I did find three books to purchase. The book sale featured books from the personal library of the late press secretary for former U.S. Representative Tom Foley of Spokane (a former Speaker of the House). From that collection, I acquired Where Water Falls, by Clarence C. Dill (1970). Mr. Dill was a U.S. Representative and then a U.S. Senator from Washington in the 1920s through the 1940s. After retiring from the Senate, he practiced law in Spokane for many years. I met him briefly back in the 1970's when I was right out of law school and he was about 90 years old and all but retired from law. We had a delightful conversation. I doubt that I have ever had a greater encounter with living history. Mr. Dill told me about highlights of his career, such as authoring the original Federal Communication Act (which he still called the Radio Act) in the 1920's and negotiating with President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930's to get the Grand Coulee Dam built. Mr. Dill became a rather passionate advocate of public power -- especially hydro power -- and his legal career involved working on public power projects around the world. He was a very prominent lawyer in Spokane, and the house he built near Cliff Park is a Spokane landmark. Where Water Falls is his political memoir and I am eager to read it.

For Mary, I found The Young Brontes (can anyone tell me how to do an umlaut in Blogger?), by Phyllis Bentley (1960). This is a children's book, but Mary has been on a Bronte kick lately, and she likes children's literature, so I gave it a shot. Mary seems to be pleased with it.

Finally, I acquired, for both of us, Twenty Years at Hull House, by Jane Addams (1910). When I was in grade school, it seemed that Twenty Years at Hull-House was a book that all of the girls read. That, of course, meant that a boy simply could not read it. It just wasn't the done thing. But, I always wanted to read it. So, now I have my chance. In the 1880's Jane Addams travel to Europe and was both appalled by the poverty that she saw in London and elsewhere and was inspired by the settlement house movement in England. Upon returning to the United States she worked to found a settlement house in Chicago. This effort resulted in Hull-House, the most famous of American settlement houses. Hull-House provided opportunities for Chicago's poor (especially immigrants and children of immigrants) to pursue mental, physical, and cultural development.

What I'm Reading

I’ve finished Charlotte Bronte’s The Professor, Anthony Trollope’s Cousin Henry, Zola’s Pot Luck, and Ruth apRoberts’ The Moral Trollope.

After that heavy reading I deserve a break, so I picked up the first in Caroline Graham's Inspector Barnaby series, The Killings at Badger’s Drift. Last night Wilhelm and I watched an episode of Midsomer Murders on DVD from Netflix, which is what inspired me to read Graham’s mystery. I have a serious crush on John Nettles.

We are, as Wilhelm has told you, having some work done on our 1923 bungalow and as we discussed with the folks from Integrity Remodeling what we were going to do with the deck in back the suggestion was made that we simply rip it out. A circa-1970 deck on a house like ours just doesn’t do.

So Jason ripped it out and he found beneath a brick patio, probably put there at the time the house was built. What a find! I’ve begun dreaming of the landscaping I’m going to do next spring in our much changed back yard, and to that end I've been reading (well, mostly looking at the pictures in) Outside the Bungalow by Paul Duchscherer and Douglas Keister.

Besides hundreds of pictures of plants and trees, walks and patios, seats and arbors, the book explains what materials were most often used in bungalow gardens and walkways (wood, concrete, and brick) and what plants were popular in early 20th century gardens. There are hundreds of plants listed and organized by zone, sun conditions, soil type, and more.

When I get through having fun with these books I’m going to begin reading the next selection for my trollope group, The Duke'sChildren, and for my not-trollope reading group, Zola’s The Ladies’ Paradise, which is a sort of sequel to Pot Luck.

Friday, October 06, 2006

James Lileks

It's Friday! The weekend is here. We know what that means. Two days for us retired people to stay home and read books, while the gainfully employed frantically run around doing all of the things they don't have time for Monday through Friday. Even though I have actual serious reading that I'm doing (see What Wilhelm is Reading for details), it's always fun to have something a little lighter to dip into on the weekend. So, let's look at the works of James Lileks.

Mr. Lileks is a newspaperman, blogger, and author. And, he is a very, very funny man. I'm always amazed, and more than a little intimidated, by the quantity and quality of his work. His Daily Bleat, on his blog, is always a treat. I really don't know how he does it. Anyway, James Lileks has been making a career of poking fun at popular culture of past (but not that far past) decades. As the caption to his blog says -- "Humiliating Defenseless Ephemera Since 1996".

He seems to take special delight in skewering the domestic arts with books such as The Gallery of Regrettable Food (2001), Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible 70's (2004), and Mommy Knows Worst: Highlights from the Golden Age of Bad Parenting Advice (2005). The Gallery of Regrettable Food is a tribute, so to speak, to the "cookbooks" of the 40's, 50's, and 60's -- especially those books published by food companies in order to hype their own products ("You're not just cooking. You're cooking with 7-UP!"):

They're not really recipe books. They're ads for food companies, with every recipe using the company's products, often in unexpected ways. (Hot day? Kids love a frosty Bacon Milkshake!) There's not a single edible dish in the entire collection. The pictures in the books are ghastly - the Italian dishes look like a surgeon got a sneezing fit during an operation, and the queasy casseroles look like something on which the janitor dumps sawdust. But you have to enjoy the spirit behind the books - cheerful postwar perfect housewifery is taught in every book. Sure, you'll fall short of the ideal. But what's an ideal for if not to show up your shortcomings?

From The Gallery of Regrettable Food

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Transcendentalism and Chocolate

This week’s Publishers Weekly has some ads and announcements that make me want to hustle to the bookstore. Among the more interesting ones:

Susan Cheever’s new book, American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work, about which PW says: “she keenly analyzes the positive and negative ways they influenced one another's ideas and beliefs and the literature that came out of "this sudden outbreak of genius.” I plan to read that one.

The photo on the cover is of Lava, the dog about which Jay Kopelman writes in From Baghdad, With Love. Dog books seem to be all the thing lately, but I’m not reading them. (The cats wouldn’t like it.)

Gene Wilder has written a novel, My French Whore (to be published in March 2007.) It’s about a 30-year old train conductor in Milwaukee who enlists in WW I. He speaks excellent German so when he deserts and makes his way to the German lines he is treated as a hero. Sounds promising, but I think I’ll wait for the movie.

A novel about the Jamestown colony called The Weight of Smoke by George Robert Minkoff interests me, just because I’m eager to read a story in which Pocahontas plays a starring role. Unfortunately, PW calls it “a noble but unsuccessful effort.” Too bad. It should have been a fine book.

The most interesting book reviewed in this issue is Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers by Amy Stewart, the author of the prize-winning book, The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms. I’ll have to ask Sarah if either of these is assigned reading in her horticulture class.

And the most significant book, The Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate. I’m particularly intrigued by this one because the co-author is John Scharffenberger of the justly famous Sharffen Berger company. That one comes out in November and gets a red star from PW. Irresistible.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Me and Jim Blandings

Today, the remodeling work on our house began. Our house is a gem. It's a beautiful 1923 bungalow in Spokane's wonderful Manito-Cannon Hill neighborhood. The house was nicely renovated about six years ago by a prior owner. The prior owner, however, we suspect, started to run short of funds during the course of the renovation project, and so a few flaws were left in our gem. A big flaw -- the antiquated wiring -- we had taken care of immediately. A few other flaws have persisted until now. These consisted mainly of a ghastly downstairs bathroom and metallic exterior touches from the 1950s.

Fortunately, we are having the work done by a very fine local company, Integrity Remodeling. (The two fellows doing the initial work are Jason and Troy, as if this weren't enough of an odyssey already.) Whenever work of this scale is done, though, I cannot help but think of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, by Eric Hodgins (1946). I have to admit, I have never actually read the book, but I love the classic 1948 movie that was made from it, starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy. Jim Blandings and his family have outgrown their New York apartment. So, they buy a house in Connecticut, not far from the city. Of course, everything goes wrong and the project ends up costing a fortune, by the standards of that day. (But then he ends up with what would ultimately amount to a multimillion dollar estate, which makes the movie even more amusing to watch now).

Fortunately, we've seen examples of the work done by Integrity and are very happy with the work they done for us so far. The cats, on the other hand, are not pleased about being barred from the basement for the time being.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


A new book has arrived, John McPhee’s Uncommon Carriers (2006.) I’ve been a McPhee fan since I read Encounters with the Archdruid in the New Yorker back in about 1971. If John McPhee wants to write it I want to read it. That includes the collection of geological books, Annals of the Former World.

Uncommon Carriers, like so many, perhaps all, of McPhee’s works was published originally in the New Yorker magazine, where I first read about the Mississippi pilots and truck drivers who are described in this latest McPhee book.

I’d recommend almost any of McPhee’s works, but I especially like Oranges, La Place de la Concord Suisse, A Sense of Where You Are, and A Roomful of Hovings. Most of his books are still in print.

Monday, October 02, 2006

That's Entertainment

On Sunday, Mary and I and a couple of our good friends went to see the Spokane Civic Theatre performance of Singin' in the Rain. That was great fun. It was also a musical theater adaptation of a movie that was about making movies. So, I suppose that it was only appropriate that today's batch of e-mail brought us some photos of our godson, Colin, who is studying movie-making at the College of Santa Fe (New Mexico). Singin' in the Rain and That's Entertainment are now in our Netflix queue.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Just Wait

Everything's funny if you just wait long enough. - W K Drew