Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Eastside View

YES, I KNOW: the little Milhaud survey is to be completed. I'll probably get back to that in a few days. It's been a busy time, partly with the trip to Los Angeles last week, partly with the sudden arrival of Spring, followed, apparently, by an early Summer. Here's what it looks like, from our ridge, where I walked this afternoon with my 30-pound backpack (I'm in training).

In spite of a very slight rain a few days back, the hills have turned brown — we Californians prefer to call it "golden." The vineyard beyond our house is irrigated, of course; and so is Lindsey's garden, within our hedge. The field this side the hedge is mown and green; it's below our leach-field, which keeps it green.

My own little vineyard over on the left hasn't really been irrigated yet; I always want to let it go dry, but usually give in out of sympathy by midsummer — though this time I won't be here to watch it fry.

On Monday we watched a specialist take down the dead stone pine that used to stand beyond the workshop, at the right of the house; and now I'm worrying about the corkscrew willow to the left of the driveway gate. You can see the left half is far behind the right, downhill half: I think that's the result of ground squirrels, of all things; they've turned that field into Swiss cheese, and the willow's roots are getting mostly air rather than nutrients and water. Well: a willow doesn't belong there.

Today we saw a hawk carrying a snake, always a good omen, though hard on snakes. We like snakes: they eat ground squirrels. We like our foxes, bobcats, owls, coyotes, for the same reason. There aren't enough of them. And now that we're surrounded by vineyards the damn squirrels have probably all moved over here onto our place, safe from irrigation, discing, spraying, and all that.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Don Juan

Glendale, May 21--

MOLIERE'S DON JUAN is truly a wonderful play; if it's neglected here, it's probably because of Mozart and Da Ponte, who did even more with the theme. That's unfair, of course; no one plumbed the depth of the human conditions more, conditions in the plural, than Mozart and Da Ponte. But Molière has some fun with it, and uses it to make some points still well worth considering.

And it made a splendid end to our tour of theater here: five plays in seven days, three of them first-rate, two of them problematic, as noted earlier. We saw it at A Noise Within, the Glendale repertory company we've visited twice annually for a number of years. In the past we've seen other French rep here: Racine's Phaedra, Ubu Roi, Feydau's A Flea in her Ear, Molière's School for Wives and The Miser, Marivaux's The Triumph of Love -- not bad for six seasons. All these productions were truly excellent: together with productions of Euripides, Gozzi, Chekhov, and Ibsen, they persuade me that Noise Within is at its best with theater in translation, however loyal they may be to their Shakespeare survey and their American rep.

We'd seen a version of Don Juan quite a while ago, in 1994, when le Theâtre de la jeune lune brought their adaptation to Berkeley Rep. It was diverting and enterprising: but, like the Figaro we saw there a few weeks ago, it was heavily adapted; deliberately folded into both Da Ponte's version and George Bernard Shaw's. I'd read the original to prepare for that, and revisited it again this last week, in an ancient two-volume edition (Paris, 1873). Noise Within performed a translation by Richard Nelson: except for some judicious cutting (notably in Molière's opening panegyric to tobacco) it was quite faithful to the original.

What always interests me about the Don Juan story is its moral (and ethical) ambiguity. He's hard on women, there's no doubt about it: but that's mainly because of two things: their vulnerability to pregnancy (and, it must be added, STDs), and the considerable apparatus of disapproval society has constructed to keep women from developing their own lives. I'm not a feminist, you may have noticed: but I think I see some misogynist elements in the attitudes we bring to this Don Juan business.

Any good treatment of the theme has to deal with this, from Molière's, the earliest I've studied, to John Berger's, the most recent. (His novel G (Booker Prize, 1972; some useful reader-comments here) provides quite a different take, considering the seduced as well as the seducer.) Indeed the legend has distant roots, having to do with the genetic value humanity received from sexually hyperactive males: the most dominant presumably transmitted their material to the majority of the next generation, insuring strength and versatility among the progeny, assisting the survival of the species.

(And recent investigations have shown, I recall reading somewhere, that women are unconsciously attracted to one kind of man when they're receptive to fertilization, a very different type when they're thinking of settling down. You want an alpha male to conceive by, apparently, but a more supportive sort to provide for the ensuing family.)

Molière considers much of this, if only between his lines. He also has a lot to say about the societal aspect. The comments on tobacco and medicine and religion are still funny and perhaps jus as pointed; Don Juan's long speech on hypocrisy is as relevant today as it must have been in 1665. (The continuing strength of theatrical social commentary never fails to amaze and impress me: from the Greeks and the Romans, through Shakespeare of course and Molière, to Beaumarchais and Da Ponte and on to Chekhov and Ibsen and so on, theater has constantly re-invented social commentary, irony, protest.)

This Don Juan was directed by Michael Michetti, whose only previous Noise Within outing was with As You Like It in 2006. That struck me at the time as the best Shakespeare we'd seen here, and we'd seen a lot; this strikes me as equally good; I hope Michetti takes a more prominent role within this company.

Two other Noise Within debuts: the tall, handsome, romantic Elijah Alexander as Don Juan; the evocative, deft, extremely funny JD Cullum as Molière -- I mean, Sganarelle, the Leporello-figure, Don Juan's valet. Each was right on the mark, and their ensemble made a third character as inevitable and fascinating as the two who produced it.

I liked Libby West as the lovestruck, regretful, ultimately quite touching Elvira; and Abby Craden, a fine ingenue Charlotte (Zerlina to Mozart fans); and Kyle Nudo as her Masetto-Pierrot. Elvira's brothers were Stephen Rockwell and Dale Sandlin, lithping in the Cathtilian manner, hilarious. The supporting cast was beautifully scaled and ably performed, and the sets -- designed by Michetti -- were evocative.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Test transmission

Here's a test transmission from the TX using the folding keyboard, much as I propose to do this summer from the Alpwalk.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mission, not quite accomplished

Glendale, May 18--
WE SEEM TO HAVE STRUCK A PATTERN: a good play, a problem, a good one, another problem. Today it was an earnest political play, The Mission (Accomplished, adapted by Charles Duncombe from Heiner Müller's 1979The Mission. Müller (1929-1995) was an East German playwright clearly in the Brecht succession; The Mission (Der Auftrag) is a play about the failed insurrection the French Revolutionaries stirred up in Jamaica in 1794; Duncombe is a co-director of the City Garage company in Santa Monica, and his adaptation consisted of framing devices alluding to our Iraq invasion and Abu Ghraib.

The production kept reminding me of The Living Theater's political productions of the 1960s. I suppose it's nice that the flame still burns, that there are those in the theater world who respect the enterprise, passion, and commitment of Judith Malina and Julian Beck, and that theater as political propaganda can still work. But the fact is, there were only fifteen or eighteen of us in the audience; full frontal nudity has lost its politically expressive force, and we've all been lectured at repeatedly and are ready for more reasoned exposition.

Nor did it help that the three ladies (like the Three Ladies of all those operas) were treated more as set-pieces than characters, or that they broke into barefoot heartbeat flamenco to underline a point; or that passages meant to be tender and intimate seemed more like illustrations in a 1970s improve-your-marital-life handbook.

There were some fine portrayals by male actors, notably Troy Dunn as Dubuisson, Dave Mack as Sasportas, and Bo Roberts as Galludec: but Frederique Michel's direction didn't allow them to develop their characters or modulate their lines. Too bad; Müller's verse, in this uncredited translation, sounded as if it might have been affecting.

I'm glad I saw the production, I think. But I wouldn't want to see it again.

Taking measure

Glendale, May 17--

MEASURE FOR MEASURE TONIGHT: what an amazing play! We saw it at the small, community Eclectic Company Theatre: several of the actors were Equity, but the stage was small and somewhat improvised, the company rather uneven. I couldn't entirely agree with the director's take on Shakespeare's intention -- in a program note he suggested the play was a "satire," that the Immortal Bard had been uncomfortable writing the comic pages, and he pared a good bit of that stuff -- but we were certainly persuaded by his pacing and pointing of the two and a half hours that remained.

It's a difficult play, a "problem play." The Duke puts his cousin on the throne but hangs around in disguise to see what will happen. The cousin, given power, is corrupted. People are jailed and sentenced to death. The virgin agrees to sacrifice her honor to save her brother. Disguised as a friar, the Duke weaves a complex plot. In the end justice prevails.

Shakespeare wrote 37 plays, I learned in college; but several of them are really different workings-out of a small number of themes, and Measure for Measure belongs with The Winter's Tale, The Tempest, and (in a curious way) Hamlet, all different views of the Lead Character as Playwright idea. It's tempting, then, to think the ideas in this play, weighted with questions of ethics and justice, are ideas that particularly haunted Shakespeare, who lived in a time of questionable political ethics, a time of global imperialism and reckless human and economic adventure.

Not so different from our own, and the director, Morgan Nichols, took pleasure in the fact that David Bardeen, who played the villainous Angelo, bore a physical resemblance to John Ashcroft. His corruption grows slowly, softly, but steadily, tumescent; he's as much a victim of it as is his victim.

Laura Lee Bahr was the victim, Isabella, in a beautifully scaled and detailed performance, fully fleshed out, good-humored, patient, alert: the role grows to rival Portia and Viola. Oded Gross was an interesting Duke, off to a tentative start where more authority seems needed, but deliberately emphasizing the disengagement this artist-figure must convey as he retires behind the plot he has set in motion -- while still steering it, like the Don Alfonso of Mozart's Così fan tutte.

There were nice performances elsewhere: especially Christine Krebsbach's Provost and Kerr Seth Lordygan's Lucio. Lori Meeker's costumes were effective, as were Nichols's sound cues. Ultimately it was Shakespeare himself, as usual, who turned in the greatest performance. Measure for Measure is a great play, complex and difficult as ethics, direct and inevitable as difficulty. Like so much great art, it's completely relevant to our time. It's good to see it honored at this level.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Mannered Shakespeare; shapely Messiaen

Glendale, Friday, May 16--
LAST NIGHT'S PLAY at A Noise Within -- The Night of the Iguana -- was so good, tonight was bound to be a disappointment. The odd thing was, tonight's flaws were last night's virtues. Geof Elliot, who was such a superb Shannon last night, was a mannered Falstaff. I mentioned yesterday that I disagreed with Variety's complaint that the Tennessee Williams play was "overwrought and undermodulated": that exactly describes tonight's Henry IV, Part 1.

The problem, far as I'm concerned, was the direction. Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott direct a good many of NW's plays. Since Geoff Elliott also takes a number of the leads, NW risks seeming almost a vanity company. We've been coming here for years, so we obviously like it; NW isn't, of course, simply a vanity company. But.

The first half of the evening -- the first two acts of the play -- suffered the most. Interesting, virtually all my complaints have to do with things heard: Laura Karpman's music cues are overblown and uninteresting, and further compromised by the cheap-sounding synthesized "orchestration." Much more serious were problems with declamation and accents.

The biggest problem was Elliott, who singsonged and chanted and declaimed and orated Falstaff's lines to the point that fascination with the vocal delivery overtook every other dimension of the role. Too bad, because physically and intellectually it was an interesting portrayal of a difficult part.

Beyond that, J. Todd Adams, as Hotspur, twisted his lines through an accent that may have been aimed at Scotland but seemed to mediate between Virgina hill country and the Beatles's Liverpool. You never really knew where you were. And that too was too bad, because he was otherwise remarkably good in the role.

Robertson Dean was an understated, dignified Henry IV, thank heavens; and Freddy Douglas was a marvelous Hal, youthful, hesitant, observant, aware, ultimately blossoming into the future king. Steve Weingartner was a complex, rewarding Percy, and other roles were ably taken by Eric J. Stein and Apollo Dukakis.

Best of all, perhaps, was the Bardolph of William Dennis Hunt, who looked like Bert Lahr starring in a goofy Michael McClure play. Come to think of it, Noise Within should let him do exactly that.

EARLIER TODAY WE HEARD a concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the newish Gehry-designed concert hall. Peter Serkin was on hand, a late replacement for an ailing pianist, and the piece that had most attracted us to the concert, Leos Janacek's Concertino for Piano and Winds, had been scrubbed; but the substitution was Olivier Messiaen's "Petites esquisses d'oiseaux" (Little Sketches for Birds), for solo piano; Messiaen's last composition for that medium, one I hadn't heard before, and a beautiful, perfectly persuasive piece.

It was a perfect complement to the other Messiaen piece, Oiseaux exotiques for piano, winds, and percussion, a much earlier piece which also manages to avoid those aspects of Messiaen that to my mind weaken much of the rest of his music: exaggerated sentimentality, unpersuasive mysticism, swoopy postWagnerianism.

Serkin played both pieces magnificently, separating pitches and phrases out of complex aggregates of sound, finding the true music in the bright, percussive piano writing; and in Oiseaux exotiques both the musicians of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and their music director, Christoph von Dohnanyi, supported both Serkin and the composer with real distinction.

Beethoven's Eroica Symphony sounded out quite well -- we were sitting behind the orchestra, seats I always like, and which in this case helped further differentiate the important differences between first and second violins, seated opposite one another in this hall. The interpretation was unremarkable and straightforward.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Night of the Iguana

ON A TRIP TO LOS ANGELES back in 2002, having a spare evening on our hands, we noticed Noël Coward's Hay Fever was playing at a theater in Glendale, and we went to see it. It was so good we returned the next year for the full season, because the company, A Noise Within, not only does plays in repertory, but schedules them in such a way that if you're careful you can catch three plays in four days twice in the year -- usually in late November and mid-May.

We've been back every year since, often with a friend or two, and we've rarely been let down. We've seen some interesting plays, including Moliere, Racine, Feydau; Ibsen, Chekhov; Shakespeare a couple of times each season; and American notables: Inge, Wilder, Miller. We've seen Euripides and we've seen Beckett. And many of these productions have been very good, right up there with what you see in Ashland, for example, but in a small thrust-stage theater where nearly every image is a close-up.

Last night we saw The Night of the Iguana, Tennessee Williams's study of repressed obsession and expressed craziness in a seedy 1940 Mexican beachfront hotel. Play, production, and performances are all three memorable: it was as good a night in the theater as I can remember enjoying, anywhere, any time.

Much of this is because of Geoff Elliott's absolutely riveting portrayal of the lead, Shannon: his voice, face, gestures, pacing, visual expression all completely on the mark in every second he's on stage -- which is virtually the entire evening. His emotional and physical range are encyclopedic. But masterly as his individual performance is, he's always part of the ensemble. His portrayal, and those of the rest of the cast, are utterly persuasive: but in nearly every case the interactions among the cast, the moments of brittle or pungent or suddenly tender contact, seem to take on life themselves, becoming extra, unseen personages, enriching Williams's essentially poetic drama.

Deborah Strang was a marvelous widow Faulk; her own story, greatly described but barely plumbed by the script, becomes as big a component as that of Shannon. Jill Hill played the ultimately strong female character, Hannah, with considerable resourcefulness, carefully attuned to the long line of the evening.

The production has been faulted as "overwrought and undermodulated," but I don't agree. It's often loud and always detailed, but though high-keyed, both Williams's script and Michael Murray's direction seem to me both accurate and evocative. It's a Big Evening of theater, full and strong. Only two performances remain, on the afternoon and evening of May 25.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


NO; IT'S NOT A LOVELY SONG by Richard Strauss I'm thinking of this morning. A glance at Language Lab this morning turns up some comments on a subject even dearer to my heart: procrastination.
'Morgen, Morgen, nur nicht heute,' sagen alle faulen Leute
("Tomorrow, tomorrow, not today, all you lazy bastards say") is my quick translation.)
Mom used to mutter that under her breath as she moved among the strawberries, the tomatoes, the chickens, the firewood, the tall grass under the clothesline; as she dealt with snarling piglets, truculent sons, and an errant husband. I never really knew what it meant: I never did learn German.

Poor Mom: in those days our life was tenuous, a study in improvisation and, well, procrastination. There were some things could be postponed only so long, like feeding and milking; but most things could be postponed indefinitely, displaced by the unforeseen arrival of more urgent matters.

As the twig, so the tree. Upstairs from the study is the loft, an architectural mistake for me though undoubtedly useful to many. Here we stash things. There's more than one paper bag labeled "To Do On Return." There are piles of read books, most of them fairly recently read and awaiting their next orders -- annotate? summarize? shelve? deaccession (that dreadful word)?

Well, the hell with all of it. We're off today for a week in Los Angeles, seeing plays, hearing a concert or two, seeing friends. Tonight, it's The Night of the Iguana at A Noise Within. If I get around to it, I'll tell you about it tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ouf! it's hot...

GETTING READY FOR A WEEK out of town in May should not involve worrying about a heatwave "without historical precedent."

Well: I don't know that it's being billed thus, in fact. The weather, God knows, has been worrisome: cyclones, earthquakes, tornados, floods -- globally, things are out of kilter. Here in Sonoma county, the heat's come on so fast the ground's confused: there are still green patches on our hills, the vetch is still in bloom on the east-facing hill, but the soil is dry and hard in my little vineyard.

So it's the usual last-minute three-way scramble: try to clean up all the accumulated postponed busywork; try to button the place down for a
week's absence; prepare and pack for the week to come. We'll be seeing four, maybe five plays, and hearing a concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and exploring a little.

And I'll be experimenting with the blog, preparing for a longer trip in month or so...

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Vexing Issue of Books

A FEW PARAGRAPHS DOWN I'll tell you something about an Internet Book Thing I like. But by way of introduction, here's a list of books, each entry followed by a code I'll explain in a bit:
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (236/9041) n

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (211/8954) r

One hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (183/11973) n

Crime and punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (176/10687) r

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (162/12137) f

Catch-22 a novel by Joseph Heller (158/10886) r

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (155/8789) n

Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra (152/6654) r

The Odyssey by Homer (136/10954) r

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (136/7174) r

Ulysses by James Joyce (135/6255) r

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (132/6267) r

War and peace by Leo Tolstoy (132/5953) fp

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (124/13765) fp

A tale of two cities by Charles Dickens (124/7460) r

The name of the rose by Umberto Eco (120/7706) n

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (119/7719) f

The Iliad by Homer (117/8723) r

Emma by Jane Austen (117/8949) r

Vanity fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (115/3827) r

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (114/7115) n

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (110/4806) n

The Canterbury tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (108/6165) r

Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen (108/18293) f

The historian : a novel by Elizabeth Kostova (108/6447) n

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (106/8595) n

The kite runner by Khaled Hosseini (106/13572) m

The time traveler's wife by Audrey Niffenegger (105/11414) n

Life of Pi : a novel by Yann Martel (105/12692) n

Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies by Jared Diamond (104/7493) r

Atlas shrugged by Ayn Rand (102/5984) n

Foucault's pendulum by Umberto Eco (101/5616) n

Dracula by Bram Stoker (100/6873) f

The grapes of wrath by John Steinbeck (99/7812) r

A heartbreaking work of staggering genius by Dave Eggers (97/6451) n

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (97/9127) f

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (97/5565) r

Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books by Azar Nafisi (96/4404) f

Middlemarch by George Eliot (96/4159) n

Sense and sensibility by Jane Austen (96/8591) f

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (95/5167) n

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (94/11617) p

The sound and the fury by William Faulkner (94/5043) r

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (93/12421) r

Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle I) by Neal Stephenson (92/3525) n

American gods : a novel by Neil Gaiman (92/10319) n

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (91/8871) n

The poisonwood Bible : a novel by Barbara Kingsolver (91/7461) n

Wicked by Gregory Maguire (90/8905) n

A portrait of the artist as a young man by James Joyce (89/6646) r

The picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (89/7165) r

Dune by Frank Herbert (89/9222) n

The satanic verses by Salman Rushdie (88/3251) n

Gulliver's travels by Jonathan Swift (88/4857) r

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (88/5360) f

The three musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (87/4127) n

The corrections by Jonathan Franzen (84/5066) n

The inferno by Dante Alighieri (84/5873) r

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (83/4378) n

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (83/5795) n

To the lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (83/4608) r

A clockwork orange by Anthony Burgess (83/6754) n

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (83/4735) n

The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay : a novel by Michael Chabon (83/5956) n

Persuasion by Jane Austen (82/6479) r

One flew over the cuckoo's nest by Ken Kesey (82/5908)n

The scarlet letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (82/7746) r

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (82/4437) r

Anansi boys : a novel by Neil Gaiman (81/6534) n

The once and future king by T. H. White (81/4293) r

Atonement: A Novel by Ian McEwan (80/6966) n

The god of small things by Arundhati Roy (80/5509) n

A short history of nearly everything by Bill Bryson (79/6266) n

Oryx and Crake : a novel by Margaret Atwood (78/3976) n

Dubliners by James Joyce (78/5530) r

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (78/5385) n

Angela's ashes : a memoir by Frank McCourt (77/6349) n

Beloved : a novel by Toni Morrison (77/5523) n

Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed by Jared Diamond (76/3822) p

The hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (75/2520) n

In cold blood by Truman Capote (75/5473) n

Lady Chatterley's lover by D.H. Lawrence (73/3169) r

A confederacy of dunces by John Kennedy Toole (73/6061) n

Les misérables by Victor Hugo (73/4694) n

Watership Down by Richard Adams (72/6255) n

The prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (72/6363) r

The amber spyglass by Philip Pullman (72/6645) n

Beowulf : a new verse translation by Anonymous (72/6350) r

A farewell to arms by Ernest Hemingway (71/5122) r

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance : by Robert M. Pirsig (71/5554) r

The Aeneid by Virgil (71/5057) f

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (69/4625) r

Sons and lovers by D.H. Lawrence (69/2563) r

The personal history of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (69/4311) n

The road by Cormac McCarthy (67/5099) n

Possession : a romance by A.S. Byatt (67/4128) n

The history of Tom Jones, a foundling by Henry Fielding (67/2131) r

The book thief by Markus Zusak (67/3554) n

Gravity's rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (66/3261) n

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (66/3046) n

Tender is the night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (66/3131) r

Candide, or, Optimism by Voltaire (65/5083) r

Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro (65/4317) n

The plague by Albert Camus (65/4610) p

Jude the obscure by Thomas Hardy (65/2944) n

Cold mountain by Charles Frazier (64/4160) n

Okay: here's the code. r=I've read it. n=No intention to read. f=I intend to read it. fp=I hope to read it. p=perhaps I'll read it. m=I've seen the movie.

The titles are the 106 top unread books on LibraryThing. LibraryThing is an online book-logging service that's come recently to my attention. With it you can easily:
  • find data on books
  • list books (e.g. your own collection, your to-read list, etc.)
  • annotate books as read, with or without reviews or other comments
  • share the above information with other users of LibraryThing.

    I've been reading, buying, borrowing, collecting, selling, and forgetting books for, oh, sixty-eight years now, I suppose. The first book I remember reading — actually recall the act of reading it, I mean — was The Last Flower, by James Thurber. It was published, apparently, in 1939, when I turned four, so that's about right. My Aunt Olive owned it, and its drawings fascinated me. But I distinctly recall that I actually read it, as well as looked at its pictures. I have quite conflicted feelings about the subject of "intellectual property," and don't easily assist those who flout it (or those who defend it, for that matter), but I'll steer you to this in case you don't know the title.

    In the course of those years I've tried various ways of keeping track of my books, for two basic reasons, one embarrassing, the other practical: 1) it's reassuring to see a list of books — "databases" — that might lend some hope for my eventual coming to understand things 2) it's useful to carry a list in order to avoid buying things I already have. And recently a third reason has eventuated: for insurance and inheritance purposes, it seems to be useful to have an inventory.

    I began, of course, with pen and paper. In the middle 1980's I graduated to a computer-based database, which alternated between a Hypercard database and an ordinary text file. What with the rapid obsolescence of one text-processor after another, and the lamented final demise of Hypercard, not to mention the mounting numbers of books, what was once a Good Intention has become a Fool's Errand. But still.

    The most recent high-tech solutions seemed to have been
  • Delicious Library — which reads ISBN barcodes beautifully, but seems to have a clunky way of managing my data
  • Bookpedia — I like the Macintosh interface better, but the damn thing won't read my barcodes
  • LibraryThing — it's web-based, so depends on your internet access; and who knows what will happen if they go out of business? But ...

    LibraryThing seems to be an intelligent alternative to another web-based book site recently brought to my attention by grandchildren — and their parents: Goodreads. This isn't a book listing or cataloguing service, at least not in its apparent primary intent, but a sort of Facebook or YouTube, a web-based social site to bring readers together, to facilitate their online discussion of books.

    I tried Delicious and Pedia for a while; and I signed on to Goodreads; but none of them really did it for me. I think LibraryThing may be the answer. The first result is the addition of a new element on this blogpage, at the bottom of the column over on the right: a display of five random titles from my own bookshelves. There's not much point in that, of course; it's just a silly little random window on something. But it's fun and harmless, and may tickle the curiosity of occasional visitors here (if such there be).

    I've bought a few books lately related to this summer's walk, across the Alps from Geneva to Nice, and today I entered them into a database I'm trying out on LibraryThing to see if it'll be the final solution (dreadful phrase) of the vexing problem of Listing my Books. And having entered them I was able to see who else had them; and that led me to an interesting fellow usernamed Megamorg who lives in Australia, I think; and that led in turn to a discussion of some books, in the course of which I ran into ginnyday, who wrote to Megamorg, a little over a year ago,
    You and I are the only two people on the site who have Greek through Reading. I actually have 2 different copies; the older is more beautiful. I learned classical Greek in the 1960s using this book, which I think is more inspired and inspiring than any other vaguely similar book. I still spend time reading Greek.
    I don't know how things can get much better than this. The idea — of course it is only an idea — of reading Xenophon while walking with an adolescent grandson through the Alps is irresistable. The Vexing Question, that's better, not Issue, Question, of Books — read, not to be read, waiting to be read — leads to this abstract conversation; perhaps to that eventual coming to understand things.

    In the meantime I tote up those recently bought, and intend to set them aside for quick perusal. There used to be a shelf of Books To Be Read; then it became a Case; now it threatens to be a Room.