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Jun. 29th, 2017

1. North

Waking at 5:30, just on that borderline between "much too early" and "interestingly early," I put books and vests into my backpack, and carrying in one hand a small green paper bucket of strawberries (a little aged but still edible), I went out to seek my fortune.

I peered into a couple of Little Libraries and left a few books here and there, happily disburdening myshelf. Then I walked up to H.'s to drop off the vests and the strawberries, since she leaves for work around 8.

Then, because I was in a good mood, I climbed the hill to the Secret Park, where the scattered playground equipment stands hip-deep in wild grasses.

From there, up even higher to the aquarium store. It was not open, but I like to visit the salt-water tank in the window. At first, you think you see some dark rocks and a few bright fish flickering between them. Then you realize that everything you thought was still is moving, and everything in the tank is alive. Every surface is really a living skin. Everything is twisting, very gently, in the artificial current -- leaning, opening, retreating, closing. All sorts of eyeless mouth-riddled life.

There were some new crabs, white as delicate living bones of the inner ear, and something like a crayfish with a bright stripe and shocking white antennae typing out rapid messages on the rocks.

If I'd had my notebook and provisions, I'd've set off into the world, but I didn't and I was hungry, so I went home and checked on the no-confidence vote (no result until this evening).

I knew H. wanted strawberries because we ran into each other last night at the neighborhood market; she was hoping for berries but found none, and I knew I wouldn't eat all of mine before I left to visit the fam (today or tomorrow -- tomorrow, as it rolled out).

I know that writing "I can't eat all of these strawberries" makes sense only grammatically, but I can't help it. I cannot account for myself. I will not try.

It's a fine feeling to have done so much before nine o'clock in the morning, though I never can sustain such motion over a full day.

2. East

For the day's second walk, the Walk Proper, after much map-checking and bus-aligning, I simply followed one of my usual routes, more or less due east towards the sea.

(I mean, it's the sea in all directions, obviously, though north would take you a while. It's more that the only thing of note to the east is the sea -- north is tracts of suburb and farmland and tech park (and sea), south is gardens and castles (and sea), and west is downtown-and-sea. So -- east to the sea and the white sand.)

The beach was very crowded for mid-day on a Thursday, but then normal people are probably on vacation. I bought a cherry popsicle, which broke as I walked, thereby requiring some nearly obscene acts of consumption.

Then I lay down under a tree and dozed to podcasts of clever conversations until the shade moved, and the sun, clapping me full on the face, ordered me to rise and walk again.

To the library to return a shamefully unread volume of poetry, and then home. I washed all the dishes and put away all the clothes, so the house won't run wild in my absence.

I've spent a number of the sunnier days over the last few weeks inside, working -- and perfectly all right with that -- feeling even a bit mole-ish, a bit dim-underwater-denizen-ish, a bit relieved to have a reason not to go out -- but I had full use of the sun today.

3. South

This is only an errand -- to get a bus pass for me and bus tickets for LB, but the day is so fine that every errand risks translation into some almost ethereal, light-soaked realm -- you might, at any moment, suddenly and helplessly transubstantiate into your radiant plasmatic true form.

It's pretty out, is what I'm saying.

I ought to have a fourth walk west to round out the compass, but I may simply end up returning to center.


ETA: Oh, also it is moving season, and the curbs are piled with treasure. I found four brown IKEA bowls and three semi-matching IKEA plates on the way to H's. This is a great boon from the universe, as I would very much like to have simpler dishes, but I have no funds to replace my existing set, which I bought while in a post-divorce fugue.


4. West

And then LB roused S. and I to drive West, towards the sunset (and the cruise ships) for a last night walk, so in the end the compass is complete.
This was a busy month at work, without much time for pleasure reading. The rest of the summer is less officially busy, but contains plenty of requirement for self-motivation in the direction of reading things and also understanding them.

I've got two academic reviews to write. Both books tie directly into my courses for the fall, so this also counts as prep. And there is much prep. My reading may of necessity become less haphazard in July and August, or at least that is the plan, so I've enjoyed letting it take hazard for June.


Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book (1972), because it is a sure pleasure. I had remembered the simplicity of the prose and a few of the incidents — the water tank, the rich man’s house — but I had forgotten its complexity, or else not registered its intricacy fully in that first reading.

What strikes me this time is the celebration of the grandmother's perspective — her intuition about how to be with and of the land. There's an obvious connection to the North American ecological and Indigenous writing that I've read.

Books of the Moment

George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo (2017). I liked this, though not the ending, which seemed interminable and unnecessary. However, my reading was rushed because I was about to get on a helicopter, so I can't say I gave it the ideal level of contemplative attention.

Quietly Uncanny British Novels

This is the genre closest to my slowly thumping heart: ordinary events told with such clarity and intensity that they seem irreal. Two more Barbara Comyns — The Skin Chairs (1985) and Our Spoons Came from Woolworth's (1982). I think Comyns has joined Penelope Fitzgerald and the Other Elizabeth Taylor among my favorite novelists. I liked both of these novels better than The Vet's Daughter, and maybe Woolworth's best because it is about Bohemian Life in the 1930s.


Ben Blatt's Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve (2016). This is data-driven literary criticism/journalism. I believe it is a collection of pieces from It reads like that: a series of short statistical studies of various literary works and genres.

Blatt's conclusions are generally thoughtful and generous. I wanted a bit more critical complexity on both the literary and the data side -- for example, he analyzes the use of -ly adverbs and finds that, indeed, prose broadly considered as having higher quality does use fewer such adverbs. However, I don't recall his drilling down on the precise use that is most often objected to — describing how people say things. It seems to me there's a distinct literary difference between over-description of speech attitudes and modifying action in general — but maybe I speak inaccurately.

Blatt uses a lot of fanfiction for his analysis, which I liked — as a paraliterary genre, it often doesn't get that kind of attention, and yet it's an enormous galactic body of collective imaginings. He also scrupulously points out interesting exceptions to the rules, even the -ly one, which leaves room for hope.

Some of the pieces I found illuminating, and some dull. I'd recommend reading the bits of this that look interesting to you and skipping out the ones that don't.

I think of myself as a reader of Serious Nonfiction, or maybe a Serious Reader of nonfiction, but GoodReads tells me otherwise: this was my first nonfiction book of the year.

The Enchanted Places (1974). This is Christopher Milne's account of his childhood and youth as A.A. Milne's son and as the inspiration for the Winnie-the-Pooh books. I'm just finishing it. It's very English. Quiet, melancholy, celebratory of the countryside.

I like it. I knew some of it contents as literary rumour before reading it. And once I saw a Fringe play in which Christopher Robin goes off to the War and betrays Pooh to the Germans. "Das ist Ihr Schwein?" they keep shouting at him.


Anansi Boys. (2006) I think that ends my Neil Gaiman revisit. I liked the mythworld in the novel very much. I found the main storyline rather flat. It also has some problems with the narrative's portrayal of consent, which I suppose can be explained by a) its having been written before the latest iteration of that conversation, and b) its being about gods, who aren't very good on that sort of thing where mortals are concerned.

Oh, and we have a new government! The Liberals lost the non-confidence vote, so the Lieutenant Governor has asked the NDP (with the support of the Greens) to form the government.

A positive change from business as usual. I hardly know how to account for it.


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