Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Print sale: possessed owls, bristlecones, moths, weird bears and much more

Since moving back to Santa Cruz, I've added a new tradition to my life: heading up the hill, jostling for parking, and making my way to the UCSC student Print Sale, which is coming up next Friday. Some of the stuff is dirt cheap. Other stuff is quite expensive. All profits go to the artists. They have all kinds of handmade books, posters, children's illustrations, portraits and lithographs. Last year I saw pictures of bristlecones, moths, Easter Island heads, dancing bears, possessed clowns, and recreated old-time California maps. Last year I bought a wood-block print showing five owls standing in the crook of a moonlit yew tree. It's hanging above me as I write this. Below the owls, there are five dangling ribbons with an inscription running across them in French. I have no idea what it means.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Read these next: Stewart O'Nan and Francisco Goldman (and more)

Here are a few new or new-ish books that you -- both of you -- might like.

Stewart O'Nan's Emily, Alone is marvelous. In this slender book, old people live in an in-between world. Just driving across town -- braving roundabouts, moving in and out of tight garages in a big clunky boat of a car -- is an Odyssey in itself. Emily, the title character, lives in a crooked piece of time. She's trying hard to hold on to her routine, her memories, and her vitality. At the same time, she's moving toward resignation. At one point in the story, Emily is filling out holiday cards, a task she despises but can't bring herself to give up. She glances at her address book and notices a near-perfect split between the list of friends who are still alive and those who died years ago, or moved away. It's just one of the many quiet and powerful moments in this book. Reading through this, I asked myself, "Why hadn't I heard of this author before? Looks like he's written many other books before this. Who has been hiding him away from me for all these years?"

I've just started Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman, who recently spoke at the Capitola Book Cafe. In just a couple of lines, he sets up the story: from the first few opening lines, we know (in this autobiographical work of fiction) that the protagonist has lost his much-younger wife in a freak accident and that her mother blames him for what happened. Then, flip the page and see how the narrator particularizes their relationship with a description of an axolotl, "a species of salamander that never metamorphose out of the larval state, something like polliwogs that never became frogs." We learn that Aura, the young wife, was fascinated by these creatures, and loved a famous short story by Julio Cortazar in which an axolotl, and a man staring at the creature through the glass of a terrarium, swap souls; the man is trapped behind the glass, and the axolotl, in its new human skin, walks away. It's a strange and beautiful way to begin this story about love, grief, art, and identity slippage. Sarah Bakewell's How To Live is a terrific introduction to Montaigne, his essays, his adventures, friends and antagonists. I plowed right through this so quickly that I wanted more. Maybe the paperback version will include an addendum chapter in which Bakewell maps out one of those crazy, rambling, shape-shifting essays from beginning to end, stop by stop, like a tour guide. Speaking of "tour guide" and "shape shifting," Karen Russell's book Swamplandia is a jungle-boat cruise through an enchanted bog. All for now.

Also, here's an addendum: one of my readers told me that she didn't want to read Francisco Goldman's book because "it's about some lady who turns into a salamander. That sounds scary to me." That is a bit of a misreading of my blog post. His book only refers to salamanders (in a specific context) in that one scene. It is about the arc of a relationship and coping with loss, and while the book does have some fantastical elements, the work, as a whole, is most certainly not about amphibians.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Banana slug stampede in Nisene Marks

If you've never been to Nisene Marks, get in your car and go there now.

It just rained, and the place is oozing with giant banana slugs -- skinny ones, fat ones, short ones, curly ones, straight ones, green ones, yellow ones, old ones, baby ones.

I was only there for an hour, and I saw 25 of these slime-covored creatures without trying.

Strange that I saw exactly that number, considering this is the 25th anniversary of Sammy the Slug, the mascot over at UC Santa Cruz.

Coincidence? Yes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"How come you guys never touch me on the knee?" Drunk neighbor's list of grievances

On Cinco de Mayo, one of neighbors got really drunk, staggered out into the street and began to shout a list of specific grievances to his housemates. Since I couldn't sleep anyhow (he woke me up at 1:55 in the morning with his shrieking, bellowing and sidewalk stomping), I took out a pen and wrote down his rantings, verbatim.

Here is his list of grievances:

1. His friends are insensitive to his needs.
2. His friends (male as well as female) refuse to touch him in affectionate ways. He was especially concerned that his housemates touch each other's knees during conversations but rarely if ever touch him on the knee. In fact he cannot remember "one freaking time" when they've touched him on the knee.
3. His friends rarely hug him.
3. He has low self-esteem. His friends are responsible for his lack of self esteem. The lack of knee-touching and hugs makes it worse. If his friends would only massage his knees on a regular basis, he would feel good about himself.
4. His friends do not understand him.
5. On certain occasions they will do "fun things" without alerting him to their plans. Then, when he'll find out about the fun plans, they will lie about it and cover it all up. "You make it seem like you've assembled spontaneously, when in reality, you've planned ahead and gone somewhere and never told me."

I hope my neighbor gets the comfort and knee-petting that he craves. I'll upload an illustration soon.