New Blog

November 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

New blog: Multo (Ghost). It’s for things that don’t really fit in Ephemera.

Hopefully, I can keep that one going a bit more regularly than this one. I will still post here, from time to time.

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How To Justify A Private Library

November 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

An excerpt from Umberto Eco’s essay from 1990 (collected in How to Travel with a Salmon and other essays). Yes, this really is our library.

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Concentration

August 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

I walked west, into the sun, straight up to the rock formations that sat on top of the hill. The lichen encrusting their cracked and layered sides somehow gave them the look of granite, and weathering, and great age, although I suspect they aren’t that old at all. Nor are they as hard as granite; they’re only the soft and crumbly serpentine and sedimentary rock that make up what geologists call “San Francisco Melange”.

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My eye loved the mottles and textures of the rocks. My camera lens made them boring. I tried to change its mind. No luck. I’d been clicking and snapping for a while when a flash of mustard flickered in the corner of my eye. There was a climber clinging to the side of one of the big rocks, in the shadows. Deep in my fight with the camera, I hadn’t noticed him — and likewise. He hung from a ledge on the rock face, stomach pressed against it, all of his attention lodged in the tips of his fingers and his toes. He had no room left in his brain to process my footsteps on the gravel-like path, or the clicks of the camera shutter.

He scuttled like a spider, a slow, careful spider, across the boulder while I clicked and clicked, looking for just the right angle to capture a deep groove carved into the side of a rock. Neither one of us heard the crunch of the hikers coming up behind us until one of them said, “Look at the hawks.” I looked up and saw one, two, three hawks wheeling in circles, reddish-brown against the blue sky. No — it was two hawks, and something black, a crow or a raven, screaming, screaming as it dove and stabbed at its enemies. How had I not noticed that?

Endurance

August 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Driving home, under the first bright blue sky that I’ve seen in three days, I notice That Tree: the one that clings to the bare exposed north face of Mt. Davidson. It leans far, far forward off the rock shelf that it clings to. All of its skinny branches lean farther forward still. Seeing it, I think of a woman walking in a storm, with her back to the wind, hunched forward to keep warm, with her hair blowing straight ahead, clinging to her face and pointing the way. I’ve never seen a leaf on That Tree. And yet, it doesn’t seem to me that it’s dead. Only beleaguered.

Arriving home, I smell the earthy sharp sinus-clearing perfume that eucalyptus gives off. It comes from the skinned, decapitated tree trunk across the street, the tree that we all thought the incompetent tree trimmers had killed. They hadn’t.

Dominican Hospital

July 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

I notice his feet, shiny and plump, too plump; distended from all the fluids that drip into his system from the tree of IV bags beside him — his “dancing partner,” he calls it. The smooth pink skin contrasts against his yellow untrimmed toenails.

But his voice is stronger than it was last week. He sits up in bed, and later on he even shuffles his dancing partner out to the public sitting room beside his private room, where we all sit and sip coffee and visit. Just like at home. We discuss his discharge from the hospital in the future tense, not the subjunctive. We mean it.

Afterwards, I follow a little girl in a pink and purple tutu towards the lobby. She tiptoes down the hall, hand-in-hand with her father. Outside, the sun has finally burned the fog away, and dead leaves sweep circles on the concrete. They chase each other in the wind, like children.

Novels for the Short Attention Span

July 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve always preferred short form reading — short stories, essays, magazine articles — to the novel. I like to blame this on my busy life; my downtime comes in short intervals, spaced far apart, which prevents me from really swimming in the long, leisurely stream of a novel-length narrative.

But let’s be honest: it’s my short attention span. It’s not that I don’t care about the protagonist’s struggle and emotional journey; really, I do care. Let’s just get to the point already, okay?

But novels are the fiction form of choice in the publishing world, it seems, and my tastes mean that I don’t get enough of authors who prefer novels, or write long form better than short form (Margaret Atwood, say). I also think that the prejudice towards the novel does a disservice to authors who are really much better at writing short sweet pieces than they are at long narratives (hello, Stephen King!).

The compromise: the short-story cycle. Linked short pieces that, together, form a longer coherent narrative. Short-story cycles are good for readers who like their reading in bite-size pieces, but still want the gradual plot unfolding and character development that is best done in a novel. They also work well for for writers who like to wrap their chapters up in pretty foil wrapping, like a chocolate kiss. This year’s Pulitzer prize winner, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad is a short story cycle; I recognized the first chapter as a story I’d read in the New Yorker some time ago. Each chapter focuses on a different character, at a different time of their life. I’m about a third of the way through it now, and I’m enjoying it thoroughly. It should be interesting to see how she ties it all together.

For those of you who are like me, here’s my list of novels for the short-story lover. The list is in no particular order, except maybe how I found them on my bookshelf, and of course it’s completely prejudiced by my own tastes. Some of these are truly novels that feel like linked short stories, some of them are really short story collections pretending to be a novel. I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of great books, but this is a start.

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Urban Legend

July 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

This happened to a girl my mom knew when she was my age. Well, my mom didn’t actually know her, but my mom’s best friend’s second cousin went to school with this girl. It was back in the eighties, when they were all in high school. « Read the rest of this entry »

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