Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

The Foreign Secretary was a quite peerless orator. No matter how low the Government stood in the estimation of everyone, when the Foreign Secretary stood up and spoke--ah! how different everything seemed then! How quickly was every bad thing discovered to be the fault of the previous administration (an evil set of men who wedded general stupidity to wickedness of purpose). As for the present Ministry, the Foreign Secretary said that not since the days of Antiquity had the world seen gentlemen so virtuous, so misunderstood and so horribly misrepresented by their enemies. They were all as wise as Solomon, as noble as Caesar and as courageous as Mark Antony; and no one in the world so much resembled Socrates in point of honesty as the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But in spite of all these virtues and abilities none of the Ministers' plans to defeat the French ever seemed to come to anything and even their cleverness was complained of. Country gentlemen who read in their newspapers the speeches of this or that Minister would mutter to themselves that he was certainly a clever fellow. But the country gentlemen were not made comfortable by this thought. The country gentlemen had a strong suspicion that cleverness was somehow unBritish. That sort of restless, unpredictable brilliance belonged most of all to Britain's arch-enemy, the Emperor Napoleon Buonaparte; the country gentlemen could not approve it.
--from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I've just finished the book, which I've been meaning to read since it came out. Not because of the reviews or awards or anything so sensible (in it's way) as that but because I am a complete sucker for a great cover and I think that the cover for the hardcover was really fantastic. It's the simplicity that does it: the single font, the matte paper, the extremely limited palette. Unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of hardcovers. They're too big to carry around (although the trade version of this is also too big to be honest), they're heavy, they're awkward, and generally are just not as user-friendly as paperbacks. So I bought the paperback. But I have to say that I don't like the cover nearly as much. Adding the tree-lined road behind it, along with the somewhat queasy greenish color, takes away the cover's greatest strength. It's far less eye-catching in the trade edition and far more typical looking. I understand why they do it, but still...disappointing.

As for the book itself, I liked it well enough. Some of the reviews said, "Oh, the 800+ pages just fly by and leave you wishing for more." I have to say, I don't remember the last time I finished a book that long and wished for more. I don't mind long books at all, but once you get over 800 pages I tend to think the story is quite long enough. This was no exception. I'm not saying it dragged. Just that I noticed the length, I mean, my goodness, the book is exhausting to hold up, much less read. On the whole, I found the parts featuring only humans to be witty and entertaining, while the parts with the fairy didn't work quite as well for me. It was pleasant enough, but not something I'll be trying to force onto people.

Oh, the excitement.

You know your life is exciting when the best thing you do all weekend is re-upholster a chair. It desparately needed doing though. When I lived with my parents my mother and I had done the chair in a light blue toile It looked nice in the old room but clashed pretty badly with the green in my apartment. And as if that weren't bad enough, the cat (pictured below) adopted the chair as his own and threw up on it a time or ten. So new fabric was pretty much a must.

Came out pretty decent, I think. I added some more batting to the seat, because you could kind of feel the springs before and it's much cushier looking now. The yellow pillow for the back and the little green pillow are my mother's doing as I can't sew much beyond reattaching buttons. I wield a mean staple gun though, and that's really the only skill I needed for this job.

In other news, Monday was my first day back to work and so far, so good. Now that I'm a full-time employee as opposed to just a temp I can actually arrange things to my liking which is a nice change.

My roommate and I are having people over to dinner this Friday and need to learn how to make pesto sauce. It looks pretty easy, but you never know.

Friday, January 26, 2007


Howard Nemerov

Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned into pieces of snow
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.

There came a moment that you couldn't tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Century 21

I had to go to the Century 21 store on Cortlandt Street last week to exchange a sweater I'd been given. The store has the distinction of having the stupidest employees I have ever encountered. It took 40 minutes at the register to exchange the sweater I had with an identical sweater in a different size despite the fact that I had the receipt and was making the exchange within the appropriate time frame. As if that weren't bad enough it was a cold, rainy evening with those misty low-hanging clouds. Took photographs because it seems to make pointless errands seem like less of a waste.

To get there from my apartment you take the 6 train from Bleeker Street:

The station name is on the walls in pretty tiles but that's about the only thing it has to recommend it. It's one of the dirtier stations I go to regularly, and dark with no benches. There's a smell of vomit around the place generally as well.

The 6 ends at the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall station which is a station I don't go to regularly at all. I generally have no need whatsoever to be in that area and generally I'd walk instead of taking the subway. It's a weird station because you come out of it into a high-ceilinged covered area that architecturally seems like it's meant to be grand. But the tiles it's build with and the general state of dirtiness contradict that.

I actually kind of like the area though. As you come out, getting to the street, it's quite pretty:

And then you cross the street by the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge and walk past City Hall and City Hall Park:

Nothing spectacular. The pictures didn't come out as well as I'd like but so it goes.

And Just Like That...

I've got a job once more. The same job actually. The assistant who was back from maternity leave transferred to a different department and before I even got around to applying for a new job, they asked me to come back. Which is nice and all. It'll be a full time job this time around, which means I get things like sick days and vacation days. I have a week off and then I start back. It's not particularly what I want to be doing for the rest of my life (because we all want to be assistants for ever and ever, right?) but it'll allow me to pay my half of the rent and kitty-care. My roommate is mostly amused that I managed to get a job by sitting around in my pajamas watching Midsomer Murders. It's really not my fault she bought all those DVDs though. I blame her entirely for the fact that I'm now spending my time at home watching British murder mysteries. The picture of Radio City Music Hall is just there because it's near my past and future place of employment. And I liked the steam.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

On Bad Pick-Up Lines, Books, and Joblessness

Last week I was exchanging a book at McNally Robinson Books because I had bought my sister The Omnivore's Dilemma only to remember that she doesn't like getting hardcover books. (I bought her a very pretty teapot instead) While I was happily glancing through their discount books a man comes up to me and compliments me on the kindness I have done people by wearing a rather boring blue cardigan. He thought it was so lovely that I'd worn this color that he thought he should do me the honor of coming up and introducing himself. I thought that he should stand at least ten feet away from me at all times. "I figure you're just like me," he said, "shopping for books you have no place to put and no time to read." If he'd added on, "And no money to buy," he'd have pretty much hit the nail on the head. He was looking for a book similar to the self-help book he'd just finished and wondered if I had any suggestions. I was no help because the closest to a self-help book I've ever voluntarily read is Finding the Right Dog for You. Sadly dogs are another thing I have no time, space, or money for. I wished him luck and headed away just as fast as I could. My mother would tell you that reactions like this are the reason I don't have a boyfriend. I maintain that I'd rather be a cat lady at 22 than talk to people who read self-help books and think their presence is an honor. The former I can handle, the latter not so much.

The only reason this stuck with me, to be honest, was the whole "books you have no place to put and no time to read," thing. Granted, I'm sure he practiced that bit while gazing dreamily at his own reflection in the bathroom mirror and it's an easy guess because most people living in NYC have no space for anything. Still, my book obtaining habit is a bit of a problem. Not only do I buy books I have no time to read, I also get them as gifts. And as if that wasn't bad enough, for the past year I had a job that provided me with a massive number of free books. There are take shelves all over the office with piles of books that aren't being used so, hey, help yourself. There's really no excuse for turning down free books. Leaving aside the books I store at my parents, I still have an awful lot more books than I need. At present I have 180 books sitting around my bedroom. That's not a lot, really. It sounds like an obsession under control. But it's more than I have shelf space for and it's more than I need. 10 are stacked up waiting to go to the Housing Works Used Books Cafe. They've been in that stack for about 3 months now with no movement. 23 I've read. 3 I'm in the middle of. So that leaves something like 144 to read. And yet does my rate of acquisition slow down? Not really.

The one thing with the potential to intervene is the fact that I am now jobless.(former palace of free books and paychecks on the right) This isn't a surprise. I began my former job as an intern last February and was asked to stay on because the assistant in the department was going on maternity leave. She came back last Thursday and after a brief catch-up period, my last day was yesterday. The intelligent person would have looked for a job prior to the end of their current job. I am not the intelligent person. So now I need to find a new job. Until I have gainful employment, no new books.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Translator

It's always a surprise and a wonderment when our plane breaks through a ceiling of cloud and, as though shedding some huge entangling dress of tattered lace, comes out naked into the naked blue sky and the sun. We on earth think there are blue skies and gray skies, but in fact of course the sky is always clear.

Then the reverse too. Christa Malone's plane descended out of the clear desert air and was clothed again in clammy batting; came down through the ceiling into the house. There a light rain was falling: steely ocean, colorless heaped-up city, air of tears. Remembering what earth is like. Auden once said that it shocked him that airplane passengers, able to look down like gods on clouds and the earth, so often paid it no attention: pulled down the blind, read a thriller.
--John Crowley, The Translator

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Thursday Poetry and

My computer has been taking a nice little vacation with Apple but it's back now. Just in time for my forthcoming unemployment (last day of work is Tuesday). So it's not surprising that this has not been my best week in recent memory. And the next few probably won't be much better, fun though job hunting is. And right this instant there's a fairly icky looking oreo cake on the television. Does anyone honestly believe you can get a half-way decent 3 course meal for $12.99. I suppose if they do, then they should head to Fridays.

In other news I'm going make these this weekend:

So I might be unemployed but I will at least have a roommate who's happy with me. And can manage it without trekking across town in the cold.

Anyway, on to the poetry...

Mark Strand

When the moon appears
and a few wind-stricken barns stand out
in the low-domed hills
and shine with a light
that is veiled and dust-filled
and that floats upon the fields,
my mother, with her hair in a bun,
her face in shadow, and the smoke
from their cigarette coiling close
to the faint yellow sheen of her dress,
stands near the house
and watches the seepage of late light
down through the sedges
the last gray islands of cloud
taken from view, and the wind
ruffling the moon's ash-colored coat
on the black bay.

Soon the house, with its shades drawn closed, will send
small carpets of lampglow
into the haze and the bay
will begin its loud heaving
and the pines, frayed finials
climbing the hill, will seem to graze
the dim cinders of heaven.
And my mother will stare into the starlanes,
the endless tunnels of nothing,
and as she gazes,
under the hour's spell,
she will think how we yield each night
to the soundless storms of decay
that tear at the folding flesh,
and she will not know
why she is here
or what she is prisoner of
if not the conditions of love that brought her to this.

My mother will go indoors
and the fields, the bare stones
will drift in peace, small creatures --
the mouse and the swift -- will sleep
at opposite ends of the house.
Only the cricket will be up,
repeating its one shrill note
to the rotten boards of the porch,
to the rusted screens, to the air, to the rimless dark,
to the sea that keeps to itself.
Why should my mother awake?
The earth is not yet a garden
about to be turned. The stars
are not yet bells that ring
at night for the lost.
It is much too late.

It's about as far from late summer as you can get of course, but there you go.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Thursday Poetry

Jean Follain trans. W.S. Merwin

At the world's end
on worn-out ground
the one talks of the flowers
adorning Argonne china
in their red pigment is mixed
the gold of old Dutch ducats
dissolved in aqua regia.
How soon the night falls
the other answers
time goes so fast
in this empty country.