Archive for December, 2008

p1000325Ah, winter canoe camping. Dec. 12-14 me and my buddy Forrest drove about 5 hours east and spent 2.5 days and 2 nights paddling about 40 miles of the Neches River. This sandbar was our first night’s campsite. It was actually pretty mild, weather-wise. The night before, truck-camping at some backwood RV park, our tents iced over.

nechesbook1Our stretch of the river started about a dozen miles below B.A. Steinhagen Lake, which means Paddling the Wild Neches, at left, leaves off just about where we started. Not that the lower river isn’t wild. It’s bounded on both banks by the Big Thicket National Preserve and the only bridges that cross the Neches for 42 river miles are at the put-in and the take-out. In two and a half days we saw two other humans, both in the same jonboat. We saw them going upstream on day two, and back downstream about 20 minutes later.

But the lower river isn’t completely isolated, and the jonboaters were probably headed to or from one of a dozen or so fishing shacks moored along the shores. Most of which seemed to be in pretty bad shape in the wake of hurricane Ike, which blew through here something fierce a couple of months ago.

p1000425A lot of people used this river and its bottoms for whatever the hell they wanted to for years before the federal government kicked them out in the 1970s. The fishing shacks were grandfathered in as a traditional use. Most of them are connected to land by some sort of gangplank, but they’re fully floating on foundations of oil drums and styrofoam block. I assume they’re built this way because it’s the only viable way to build in a bottomland flood zone where a rise of just a few feet would hubbardinundate thousands of acres. There just isn’t much high ground out there.

The camps reminded me of Harlan Hubbard, who spent a good amount of time living on hand-built houseboats he called “shantyboats” on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. His Shantyboats on the Bayous, which I’ve given away, is an account of that life, which seemed like the most romantic thing in the world to me at one time. But even Hubbard — a painter and musician and free spirit — eventually set up camp on dry land. Payne Hollow is his book about that life.

There are MORE NECHES PICTURES on my flickr page in the RIVER TRIPS set.

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Nearly half of all men and one-third of women have lied about what they have read to try to impress friends or potential partners, a survey suggests. 


No word on what happens once those potential partners realize you’ve been shining them on about your literary chops the whole time, and haven’t actually read a book since Dick saw Jane run. (Thanks to Lorie for the referral.)

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snowaustinIt’s trying to snow. In Austin. Isn’t that cute? Incredibly frequent hail has already dinged holy hell out of that truck, and I suspect it’ll survive this blizzard too.

What does this have to do with books? This afternoon while I should have been working I sorta worked by dropping off some old computer equipment from my currently-being-“renovated” office space at a Goodwill out on the freeway that takes such recyclables. While I was there I took the opportunity to indulge in a bit of mid-week book shopping, more or less on the clock.

At Goodwill I found but did not buy, as at every Goodwill I find and do not buy, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. Some nice clean copies, too, and cheap as they could ever be. I don’t know what it is, certainly nothing against Guterson or his work, neither of which I know, but something in me instinctively distrusts any title too commonly available at thrift stores. In fairness, I have to apply this theory as well to Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, which I liked a lot, as I’ve liked a lot of Jonathan Franzen’s work, even though Jonathan Franzen, whom I also do not know, is clearly a dick.

I’d actually kind of like to have a hardback copy of The Corrections with the Oprah sticker on it, just for shits and giggles, and they’re as common as roaches, but so far I can’t bring myself to do it. 

I’ll never buy a copy of The Celestine Prophecy, either, no matter how many Goodwill employees note my double-digit stacks at the register and feel compelled to convey that if I like reading, as clearly I must, I really should read that. It’s invariably the checkout clerk’s absolute fave, a real life-changer.

atlasAny book that a mass audience is willing to read and then effectively throw away smacks of disposability on quite too grand a scale for me, thanks. Yup, I’m a fucking snob.

So, snow falling on stuff = insta-theme for the day. Which makes me honestly sad. Because it’s not really going to snow here. Probably ever, excepting some sort of unpleasant end-times scenario.

I did get a $69.95 atlas that looks like it was published (but wasn’t) by the Left Behind franchise (speaking of reliably overstocked Goodwill titles), and is a third again bigger than my scanner bed, for $3.99.

It’s bound to be snowing in there somewhere.

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img152The book borrower of real stature whom we envisage here proves himself to be an inveterate collector of books not so much by the fervor with which he guards his borrowed treasures and by the deaf ear which he turns to all reminders from the everyday world of legality as by his failure to read these books. [That’s an impeccably put-together 57-word sentence, btw.] If my experience may serve as evidence, a man is more likely to return a borrowed book on occasion than to read it. And the non-reading of books, you will object, should  be characteristic of collectors? This is news to me, you may say. It is not news at all. Experts will bear me out when I say that it is the oldest thing in the world. Suffice it to quote the answer which Anatole France gave to a philistine who admired his library and then finished with the standard question, “And you have read all these books, Monsieur France?” “Not one-tenth of them. I don’t suppose you use your Sevres china every day?”

—”Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting,” in  Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, by Walter Benjamin

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onion creek


Took a BIKE RIDE along Onion Creek with my new camera today. No books.

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1974 Photo © By Jill Krementz as published in the Washington Post

1974 photo © By Jill Krementz as published in the Washington Post

Cultural critic John Leonard got the standard POSTHUMOUS OVATIONS on the occasion of his lung-cancer death November 5 — (and wouldn’t it have been fun to read a John Leonard piece, maybe in New York, dissecting what the flapping-gum salutes to his recently departed self had to say about recent tilts of the landscape in the American business of literary letters?) — and that’s when I found an exhumed 2000 Nation essay that I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t read before, despite the fact that it must surely be one of the best things ever written about the odd thing that I’ve spent most of my professional life — on stages far smaller than those Leonard strode — doing: reviewing books and stuff. In the Nation essay, titled HOW A CAGED BIRD LEARNS TO SING, Leonard writes:



We may belong to what the poet Paul Valéry called “the delirious professions” — by which Valéry meant “all those trades whose main tool is one’s opinion of one’s self, and whose raw material is the opinion others have of you” — but reporters, critics and “cultural journalists,” no less than publicists, are caged birds in a corporate canary-cage. Looking back, I see what I required of my employers was that they cherish my every word and leave me alone. If I understand what Warren Beatty was trying to tell us in the movie Reds, it is that John Reed only soured on the Russian Revolution after they fucked with his copy.


leonardI am aware that my own regard for books is overly worshipful — one part Hegel, two parts Tinkerbell, with garnishes of Sacred Text, Pure Thought and Counter-Geography — at a time when most of the dead trees in the chain stores have titles like How I Lost Weight, Found God, Smart-Bombed Ragheads, and Changed My Sexual Preference in the Bermuda Triangle. But I also know it’s just as hard to write a bad book as a good one, and a lot easier to review one than achieve one, and if book critics in mainstream newspapers and magazines seem to have appointed themselves the hall monitors of an unruly schoolboy culture — this one gets a pass to go to the lavatory; that one must sit in the corner wearing a dunce cap — then it is a condescension and a contempt passed down and internalized from bosses . . . for whom the whole process is a whimsical scam. 

Sing it, sister. I’ve got some catching up to do.

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img150I was probably in junior high school when my dad gave me T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, which I remember being a 3-book trilogy at the time (this copy comes from a recent Goodwill expedition). I’d already read the Lord of the Rings, and this pretty much ended my youthful experience of sci-fi/fantasy/whatever. I just never developed the taste. Never felt starved for it. My loss I’m certain.

What’s weird about this is that after I finished it, for the first time, my dad asked me who, in the story, I most related to. I said Merlyn. It became apparent, in the subsequent conversation, that he’d have preferred I develop a stronger affinity for Arthur, the boy king.

Alas, alack.

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