A Journal of Life Pursued

Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Woolf’

Of Writers

In Books, Literature, Memoir, Travel, Writers, Writing on September 4, 2012 at 6:00 am

I am traveling, in the mountains of Colorado. I leave you with a favorite post, published earlier this year in April.

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Bruce Chatwin observed that there are two types of writers, “the ones who ‘dig in’ and the ones who move.” Chatwin was a mover. When I read him I hear the cadence of his restless feet traversing ancient causeways, just as when I read Melville, I smell salt air.

Once, in London, traipsing around Bloomsbury, I sought out the home of Virginia Woolf.  It is not open to the public, and is now converted office space. But the brass plague confirmed the address. I was reduced to peering in through a barred street window. There were fax machines and furniture, a woman in a beige sweater pounding away on a computer and the flurry of activity one associates with commerce. I tried to imagine Mrs. Woolf there but failed–a “dug in” writer who slipped through my fingers. The failure was particularly poignant in that she had so famously observed, “A woman is to have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Likewise, I found Gertrude Stein’s Paris house, her salon at 27 rue de Fleurus, the place she shared with Alice B. Tolkas. Stein called Alice “Pussy” and Gertrude was “Lovey.” There is that awful scene in A Moveable Feast, where the young Hemingway, standing in the foyer of Miss Stein’s house, overhears her upstairs: “Then Miss Stein’s voice came pleading and begging, saying, ‘Don’t, pussy. Don’t. Don’t. Please don’t. I’ll do anything, pussy, but please don’t do it. Please don’t. Please don’t, pussy.’” She was dead eighteen years when Hemingway’s memoir of Paris and being hungry was published–”But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.” Of his writing, Miss Stein said, “Hemingway’s remarks are not literature.” He got her back in the end.

Hemingway is nowhere to be found at his Key West home, despite its well-preserved museum condition. I suspect his spirit has been trampled by hoards of tourists over the years. Papa too was plagued by their presence and had bricks shipped from Baltimore, where they’d been taken up from newly paved streets, to construct a wall around the place, protecting his privacy.

I went to Prague seeking Kafka, the writer who perhaps more than any other, ushered us into the modern era. But he too had disappeared. The City of a Thousand Spires, however, remained true to a fashion and I gave myself to its dark alleys and endless cobblestone streets. “Prague doesn’t let go,” he wrote. Though Prague invites the exercise of transmutations, to this pilgrim the city is more given to music. Smetana and Dvorak are easier to find than the man of The Castle. I do not think this unusual as music, once released abides ripe in the atmosphere, whereas the written word must be sought out.

The spirit of Joyce is to be found in Dublin, though ironically he wrote in self-exile. Thoreau’s cabin at Walden is lost to history, but Emerson’s house in Concord remains and it is easy to imagine the great man dug in, to use Chatwin’s phrase, surrounded by his books and working intently.

And of Chatwin? I found him a desert stretch removed from the Minaji Plain in Rajasthan. But that is another story for another time.

 

My New Library Card

In Books, Reading, Technology, Writing on November 12, 2010 at 2:59 pm

There are books I want to read and own. And there are books I want to just read. So, there being a “read only” book currently in my purview, I marched up to the newly renovated Portland public library and got a library card. I am embarrassed to admit that it is the first library card I’ve had in, maybe, twenty years.

I live in a small place now, already filled with enough books, such that book overflow is beginning to occur in my man-cave office-study in town. Too, there are hundreds of books still back in Maryland, books which presumably will never make their way north to Maine. Also, libraries are green. It is a benchmark recycling notion, this business of taking a book, reading it, and returning it for someone else to enjoy.

I have been thinking a great bit about the impact of technology on modern life. The theme has been explored in a number of posts here. There is a book, Hamlet’s Blackberry, by William Powers which explores this question. Here’s the jacket blurb:

At a time when we’re all trying to make sense of our relentlessly connected lives, this revelatory book presents a bold new approach to the digital age. Our computers and mobile devices do wonderful things for us. But they also impose an enormous burden, making it harder for us to focus, do our best work, build strong relationships, and find the depth and fulfillment we crave.

Using his own life as laboratory and object lesson, and drawing on such great thinkers as Plato, Shakespeare and Thoreau, Powers shows that digital connectedness serves us best when it’s balanced by its opposite, disconnectedness.

Exactly! Powers has been interviewed on PBS & NPR, the book has been discussed in the Wall Street Journal, by Diane Rehm and Katie Couraic. It’s been on the Time’s Best Seller List. Where am I going with this? The library doesn’t have a copy! Nor can they get me one! (I do not use exclamation marks arbitrarily, I want to point out.) I suddenly am feeling as if I live in a remote backwater outpost. Okay, a bit of an exaggeration, granted. It’s just a disappointing first library experience. When I pointed out to the librarian, a congenial woman with a terrible hacking cough, all of the above, the press notices, the interviews and so forth, she as much as challenged me, wondering out loud if it really was on the best seller’s list.

I know my reading tends to the esoteric, but this is mainstream, for god’s sake.

Enough ranting. In a follow-up visit I picked up Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Chatiwin’s The Songlines–both books I need to refresh myself with for a piece I’m working on. They had the books. No surprise there. I should point out: both books were likely purchased long before the library budget started to get directed to DVDs and audio books, movies and CDs, which were the articles everyone was checking out at the front desk. It would be ironic if libraries were, in the fashion of my experience, to contribute to the death of the written word, being presumably the last bastion of orderliness in the messy digital war of ideas (or lack thereof).

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This just in: “Nearly 2,000 volunteers lined up on the Akoni Pule Highway on Saturday to form a human chain, so they could pass the thousands of books – or huki puke, in Hawaiian – over a mile and a third down the road to the new library.” Check out: Good library news.