Jul 6 2008

the future of the book?

Have you ever run your hands along the spines of the books on a shelf and wished that just by touching them, you could absorb everything in them? This has been a common fantasy of mine since I first realized I would never be able to read all the books in the world–in other words, since about the age of five. I don’t think I’d ever bargain away anything important for money or fame, but I might well sign a Faustian agreement for the sake of a glove like the one in Delany’s Stars In My Pockets Like Grains of Sand:

She made a gesture with her chin over her shoulder. “Back there I’ve got a carton of catalog cubes from the Inter-Sector Broadcast Library.” She laid two fingers on his gloved hand. “Thanks to that, you’re tuned into the compressed textual band. Do you know what that means?”


She snorted. “What are the four largest geosectors on this world?”

“Abned, Rhyon, Cogonak.” He paused to question why she wanted to know. “And Emenog. . .?”

“. . .You see, in terms of data at hand, right now you’re on a par with the Skahadi Library itself–,” which, when her tongue lifted for the initial sibilant, he had never heard of before, but which, by the time it fell from the final vowel, he knew had been founded in ’12 in Lower Cogonak, back when it had still been officially a part of Abned, before the Severence Decision of ’80–which was when the Yellows had won their first major electoral victory. “You’re in touch,” she explained, “at this point, with a good deal more information than I am. . .Anyway, I figured we’d put all that to some use. Like I said, the carton’s filled with catalog cubes–about five hundred of them. They’re not there at random: they’re all texts I’ve wanted to read but never got around to. There’re more than a few in it I’ve discussed in great detail with various people, just as though I had read them. There’re a whole lot that I’ve read the first chapters of and have meant to read the rest for years. And there’re lots I read when I was much too young and have been intending to reread. Oh yes, and there’re about ten or fifteen I’ve read and reread a lot and just like a lot. Anyway. The instructions of the box your glove came in say that I–ordinary mortal that I am–can only absorb texts from the broadcast band at about one every ten minutes. But, as you may have figured out by now, I’m a lazy bitch. It says that if you’ve been through Radical Anxiety Termination, you can absorb them about one every point-thirty-two seconds; that’s without turning your mind into wet sand. You see, what I want to do is talk to somebody who’s read everything I should have read. I want to control such a man, make him lie down in the sand and lick my toes.” She grinned in the dark. “The glove will give you the texts verbatim. On hot, hazy nights, I’ll let you recite choice passages to me so that I can pick and choose. I can always get them myself with the glove later. But I think this way is more useful, more interesting.” She pushed another pedal. “Don’t you?”

–Samuel Delany, Stars In My Pockets Like Grains of Sand

Jul 4 2008

In Hovering Flight

Because it has been so hot here, I’ve been taking my dog for his walk in the evening, at dusk, rather than in the afternoon has we had been wont to do over the winter and spring. And although having a bouncing, energetic retriever pulling you along isn’t really the quietest way to travel, I have noticed the silence of dusk, and I have noticed the birds—the herons flying inland from the sound, the bluebirds and swallows, winging their way to their nests. The dog has flushed out doves, brown thrashers and an endless number of cardinals.

Perhaps the birds were always here and I just wasn’t looking, but in the evenings they are more easily noticed, as the background noise of human activity dies away. Most of the houses are lit with the flickering, uncertain light of televisions as we walk by—the dog, with his nose to the ground seeing nothing, and I, with my eyes peering into the trees, feeling as though I were seeing everything for the first time.

In Hovering FlightSometimes life seems oddly serendipitous. It wasn’t long after Ray (the dog) and I started our evening walks that I was given a copy of Joyce Hinnefeld’s debut novel, In Hovering Flight. It is the kind of book designed to appeal to me—about poetry and painting and birds and artists. But I long ago decided that subject was not as important to me as style—interesting tidbits of information no longer excuses uncertain and mediocre writing. So while I was interested in learning, for example, the proper way to write in a field notebook if you are a bird watcher, or that John James Audubon may have invented the Cuvier’s Kinglet he describes in one of his many journals, it would not have been enough to capture my attention—even with the mention of Audubon, a person I am interested in for many reasons, one of which is actually hanging on the wall behind my head. The style of the section called “field notebooks” however? Oh, that captured my attention immediately. It was quite as beautiful as the walks I took with my dog. Reading it makes me feel just like as if I’m standing on the small sandy rise down the street(soon to be a housing development but it was once a Civil War bunker, so it is a place that knows about battles) —looking down towards the sound, enjoying the wind and resisting the tugging of the dog and just watching the sky for flying creatures:

“Scarlet loved even the great blue herons, which became increasingly common in that protected area nea the Delaware as she grew into her teens, their harsh, ugly screeches piercing their mornings and evenings on the screened porch where they ate their meals. She would never forget the sight of one rising from the creek each morning, the spring when she was twelve, as she let the screen door slam behind her on her way to catch the bus to school. That rush of wins and then the silent, massive span above her head, darkening the sky—every time, it made her catch her breath. And she tried to find a way to describe its rising each day on the bus, playing with words in her head: “giant, silent feathered airplane,” blue-gray cloud with wings.” Tom, to her ongoing embarrassment, kept her spiral-bound notebooks from those years—notebooks full of phrases like these but rather lacking in homework assignments.

“Herons make you reach for words, she told her father…”

In Hovering Flight is a novel about mothers and daughters, poets and painters, and passion—the kind of passion that in an earlier era would have been named a “calling.” Addie is an artist and poet who paints birds. Ted is her biologist husband who thinks teaches science using poetry. Scarlet is their daughter, named for the one bird her mother never managed to capture on canvas. (If she had been a boy, she would have been named Tanager).