Friday, September 30, 2005


Who uses it: Civil engineers
What it means: A roughly-built sustaining wall of stones or concrete, alongside or under a river or stream, designed to prevent erosion
How to use it: To describe something that's just jumbled together, but still effective.

Dizzy and I start our walks most mornings behind the Standard Distributors warehouse, where you can follow a rocky path to a riprap wall by the Cobbossee Stream. It's getting late in the season to climb the rocks, which are already slick with moss and falling leaves. Soon they'll be icy, and we'll have to change our route.

I got a lot of work done earlier this week, and am now reading manuscripts for friends, so my reading list is not yet back up to its usual length. Maybe next week.

Anna, starting yet another trip last week, e-mailed me a list of the books she was taking along, a nice collection of midlist literary novels. "Why don't you ever read books like that?" she asked. I felt reproached.

But writing newsletters for two mystery bookstores has turned a general preference into an obligation, to some extent; I like to read crime fiction, but I also feel I need to read most of the books I'm writing about, even if I'm just writing short blurbs. Through this work I've been lucky enough to meet many authors who are very nice people, and I want to read books written by people I like. Finally, people pay me to read books, either as movie coverage or for research projects.

That leaves me with very little time to read sensitive, well-written books about middle-class people going through ordinary life crises. Frankly, if I want to read sensitive, well-written stuff about middle-class people going through ordinary life crises, I can just go back and read my journals from the 1990s. (Ooh, that sounds bad! I don't care, I'm not taking it back.) I'd rather read about things I'll never do and people I'll never meet... so here's my list of

What I Read This Week

Juris Jurjevics, The Trudeau Vector. Clunky prose and a couple of really dreadful sex scenes did not interfere with my thorough enjoyment of this Arctic thriller. Dr. Jessica Hanley, an epidemiologist, goes to a polar research station in the middle of winter to investigate the deaths of three scientists who appear to have frozen to death from the inside out. Hanley's inclined to rule out an infectious agent, but discovers that an entire submarine of Russian sailors has died from the same cause -- and then two more scientists in the research station die. I'm always fascinated with tales of polar exploration, and the descriptions of the Arctic night are terrific.

Robert Griffin, Affectionately, Wallace: The Life and Work of W.W. Gilchrist. I was unfamiliar with the work of this Maine artist, a student of Winslow Homer's whose work resembles both Homer's and John Singer Sargent's. This is a lovely book written by the artist's grandson, who was nice enough to send me a copy; it's a fine introduction to a gifted painter.

Neil Gaiman, American Gods. I first read this book in the strange, sad summer of 2002, when we were all still processing the events of September 11, and it felt like a long dream, or a recovered memory. I wanted to reread it before I read the sequel, Anansi Boys -- partly to refresh my memory of the book's plot, but mostly to see whether it was as good as I remembered. If anything, it's better. Gaiman imagines a United States inhabited by all the gods, demigods and demons its immigrant settlers carried with them; but as many of Gaiman's characters note, this is a bad country for gods, and only an apocalyptic battle will save them. This book is fantasy, travelogue, survey course of the world's religions, and the best meditation on the American character since de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. If you haven't already read it, buy it this weekend.


Anna said...

I don't even know what "midlist literary novels" might be. Oddly unsettling feeling rushes over me. I feel the need to defend myself - the books I brought to read are (1) The Big House - a non-fiction account of the history of a summer house on the Cape, (2) Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - another piece of non-fiction, needs no summary, and (3) The Bookseller of Kabul - yet another non-fiction book, about the plight of Afghan women. Are non-fiction books novels? I'm out of my league when discussing anything literary with you, Elle. By the way, Vegas is a waste of electricity and Charleston could be my retirement home! Got you a gift at the market yesterday. I hope it works.

AnswerGirl said...

No... were those the only books on your list? I was sure there were some book club novels on it... but I was so scattered last week, maybe I confabulated your list with something else I was looking at. In NO way did I mean to impugn your reading choices -- I felt threatened by them! And thanks for the present, man... is it a freeze-dried alligator head? That's what I remember from the Charleston market when I was little.

Anna said...

I feel much relieved now. No, I think you may have confused my choices with the chick lit I bought for an ailing Jenn. As for the present, it is NOT a dried alligator head but it is handmade by a local and it is not a sea grass basket. Hint: it's designed to bring you something (and it's not a servant).