Sunday, March 16, 2008

Turn to Page 123, Now, Class

Sarah from the excellent and contemplative book blog, Sarah's Books, tagged me with a reading meme. Normally, I politely turn down these Internet chain letters, but I think highly of Sarah's writings and the topic interests me. In this meme, tagged bloggers are invited to share the contents of the whatever books they are currently dipping into and divulge lines 8 through 10 of page 123.

Here's what's on my nightstand and in my car:

1) Madame Bovary's Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature, by David P. and Nanelle R. Barash, ( NY: Delacorte Press, 2005).

This is the book I stop and start and am carrying around in my car for reading while waiting for my daughters to get out of softball practice, eye doctor appointments, art lessons, etc. Despite the bad photoshop design of the front cover,

I would recommend this book as an interesting view of great books themes and their basis in biological imperatives (Othello: Male Sexual Jealousy, Pride and Prejudice: Female Nesting, Catcher in the Rye: Parent-Offspring Conflict, The Three Musketeers: Friendship as Reciprocity, etc.).

p. 123 quote

"And in deference to entropy, rooms should never be tidied. As to "fitness," this biological concept simply indicates a living thing's capacity to pass on genes, in a given environment. Thus, being "fit" may mean being big and strong, or perhaps smart and cunning, or it might be the weak and suitably frightened or the sneaky and unprincipled who reproduce successfully."

2) "The World Without Us", by Alan Weisman (NY: St. Martin's Press, 2007)

A fantastic but very depressing book. Weisman roams all around the world to let us know how different regions would change if humans vanished from the earth. We find out how Manhattan's skyscrapers would implode from groundwater-flooded footings, how Kenya's wildlife would blast out of their impossibly small refuges to eat up coffee plantations, and how it would take huge swatches of geologic time to allow all the little nurdle-lets of plastics to blast their way through the marine food chain to settle into oceanic floor sediment (see p. 123 quote above). Weisman's prose is vivid and more easily digested than any polymer, but I find that I cannot abide reading more than a chapter at a time. As a Homo Sapiens with a perhaps 70-80 year life span, I am saddened about the dire long-term effects my species is unleashing for others to clean up.

p. 123

"However, what Moore refers to is a type of runoff and sedimentation that the Earth had hitherto never known in 5 billion years of geologic time-but likely will henceforth. During his first 1,0000-mile crossing of the gyre, Moore calculated half a pound for every square meters of debris on the surface, and arrived at 3 million tons of plastic. His estimate, it turned out, was corroborated by U.S. Navy calculations."

3) Johnny's Selected Seeds 2008 Seed Catalog (Winslow, Maine: Johnny's Selected Seeds, 2008).

I love to order my garden seeds from the Johnny's Catalog. If a plant can grow in Maine, I figure the odds are good that it can grow in our more southerly, if more windswept garden micro-climate. They specialize in heirloom varieties, with their wild colors and extra delectability. While I normally focus on vegetable and herb seeds from Johnny's, page 123 brings me to the flower section:

p. 123 quote:

Ageratum: Tall Blue Planet (Annual)

80-100 days. New! Tall, upright sturdy stems.
Comparable to Blue Horizon with tight flower clusters.

4) The Mauritius Command, by Patrick O'Brian (Glasgow: Fontana, 1989).

The Master and Commander series by the late Patrick O'Brian is a wonderful, dense nautical series with great humor, and a cast of complex characters to satisfy me for several years to come. I keep reading chapters and then putting the book aside to enjoy when I have absolute quiet for an absorbed reading session so that I don't miss all the details. I'm only on Book #4 after a year now, because the noisy, bothersome parts of life keep interrupting my concentration, but that only means I get to backtrack and savor chapters all over again. The movie version of O'Brian's opus, which smashed together bits of "Master and Commander" and "The Far Side of the World", while an entertaining piece of costume drama, only scratched the surface of the fascinating friendship between Captain Jack Aubrey and Ship's Surgeon/Spy Stephen Maturin.

p. 123 quote:

"She was a beautiful craft, beautifully handled, and she sailed closer to the wind than he would have thought possible; yet his anxious, worn expression did not lighten when she rounded to and lay there under the Raisonable's quarter, her captain looking up at her lofty poop with an inquiring face.

Jack nodded absently to the schooner, told the signal-lieutenant to summon the captain of the Sirius, stepped aft with a speaking-trumpet and hailed the Boadicea, desiring her acting-captain to come aboard. The Commodore received them rather formally in the fore-cabin, where Mr Peter handed Eliot written orders to proceed to the Mauritius in company with the Sirius, there to lie off Port-Louis, the capital and the chief port, in the north-west of the island, and to rendezvous with the rest of the squadron on that station: in the intervening time they were to watch the motions of the enemy and to gain all the information they could."

*After transcribing these but three sentences, I see why I am having a longish time reading through the series. The writing is dense and O'Brien's sentences are LONG. But I still attest to their savor!

I hope you have enjoyed this biblio-appetizer from my reading pile. Thank you Sarah for this enjoyable romp.

I now tag Bruised Reads and Laird's Books for a turn at this booklover's meme.

Old Saratoga Books/Book Trout


Marmarth said...

I'm not too impressed by the "Survival of the fittest" quotation. This was first used by Herbert Spencer in his Principles of biology, 1864, vol. 1, p.444. "Fittest" as used by Spencer, means "best fit" i.e., best adapted to the environment. People now think of it as "fit" as in strong, as do Barash & Barash. This is a major error, for it supposes that the strongest literature survives. The failure of many bestsellers from the 19th century onwards to become part of the "canon" suggests that the "strongest" literature does not necessarily survive. Rather, it is literature best adapted to - or "fits best" in - a cultivated, literate, reading environment that survives best.

sarahsbooks said...

Rachel, I too love Patrick O'Brian's books - you have many happy hours of reading ahead. I wish I could read the books again for the first time...

I also read the Johnny's catalogue a few weeks ago.

Thanks for playing along -

KimJ said...

Thanks for tagging me, Rachel! It was fun reading your blog.

Bruce from the Bookshop Blog said...

Hi Rachel,

Just had to poke my nose in when I saw that you're reading Patrick O'Brian. As owner of a little bookstore in Montreal I'm often asked what I like or what I recommend. Patrick O'Brian has been my favorite author since I first read M & C a few years ago. I also read them slowly, digesting the magnificent scenes. I'm on book 6 myself and love the fact that I have years of enjoyment ahead. His short stories are also terrific.

Bruce from The Bookshop Blog