you can’t get there from here

One of those projects I thought would take an hour, tops, sucked me in and I just now came to remember something basic: you can’t get there from here.

The saying originated (it seems) in Maine as an example of typical downeast humor. If you’re my age or older, you might remember “Burt and I” — two dyed in the wool Mainers who recorded their bone-dry humor skits. They actually have a website, with audio clips. Here’s a good one, but unfortunately they don’t have the “you can’t get there from here” skit up.

All that long backstory comes down to something simple: a tourist asks how to get someplace, and after long discussion he’s told sorry, you can’t get there from here.

Which sounds nonsensical, but really what they’re saying is: there’s no direct route. In fact, it’s such a difficult round about route that you might as well just sit here and have something cold to drink instead.

All I wanted was a webpage which listed, in some kind of organized fashion, all the editions of all the books. If I were as widely published as Stephen King, sure, that would be a big project. But I’ve got seven novels in print. Yes, there are multiple editions and languages, but I thought, how hard could it be?

I’ve already done this in part, by way of Amazon (the link in the nav bar above), but I wanted a page with a simple list including cover images, publication data, and short remarks without a mercantile link. You’d think I was asking for the moon. Not even LibraryThing will let me do it, because the widgets work by means of Javascript, and you can’t customize what data gets pulled. Besides that, LT’s links go to Amazon, too.

So phooey. I don’t even want to go there, so I’ll stay right here. With a cold drink.

be still my heart

Over at LibraryThing they’ve launched the new groups feature. Anybody can set up a group for people with a common bookish interest, and anybody can join. There’s a group discussion board, and group statistics, and all kinds of lovely geeky things to make my heart beat faster.

I just set up a new group called Romance, from Austen to Byatt to Crusie. All you need is a free LibraryThing account and you can hop on over there and join.

Can you see this as a challenge? As people are scrambling to set up groups and get members to join, the romance community could kick some butt. Some thriller-butt, some baseball-butt, some aviation-butt, even poetry and theology and numismatic butt.

The Camerons, Robert Crichton

The Camerons
This is one of those novels that I had forgot about, unearthed in the quest to catalog all our books on LibraryThing.

I read it in 1974 or ’75, shortly after it came out. When my old copy showed up in a box the other day, I had an instant jolt of recognition: ah, a good story. So I sat down to read it again, but very carefully. My copy is brittle and the binding is loose, but you most probably can find a hard cover copy at your library. I just ordered a used hardcover, as the book is long out of print.

So, historical fiction set in a mining village in Scotland. Maggie, born into a family that has been digging coal for generations, wants more. The first step, she believes, is to find the right husband, and that means going elsewhere. On her sixteenth birthday she sets off for a resort town where she finds and beguiles an empoverished highlander who lives on kelpie soup and seaweed, but he’s tall and blond and strong, and he can work. His name is Gillon Cameron.

She exacts a promise from him, that he’ll come back home with her and take up coal mining until they’ve saved enough money to move on. Twenty years later, their five boys are now working in the mines along side Gillon.

Gillon is the most intriguing character here. He makes a life for himself, reads books about coal, comes to understand the geology, stumbles across a tiny and unvisited library and begins to read more widely. He gains the respect of the town and the miners, and he acts quickly and courageously to save the life of a young man caught underneath a slab of coal.

Little by little he comes to a place where he understands he has to challenge to mine owners, which puts him in direct opposition to Maggie, who is so focused on saving money that she can’t bear the thought of any disruption. This is the heart of the story, and the resolution is not the one you might expect.

This is a first class historical novel, closely observed, excellent detail, but most of all, a story that works in all its parts.

book mania

When I’m having trouble writing (which, yes, I am having today. And yesterday, and for about five days now) my mind skitters around like a rat in a maze.

Usually one little thing will lodge in my head to distract me from working on what’s wrong and fixing it. I am very aware when this happens. It takes huge effort to stop the avoidance cycle and get back to work. Often the thing that I obsess about instead of writing has to do with books.

LibraryThing, which is wonderful in so many ways, enables my book mania. Or maybe I should say it launches my book mania into the stratosphere. There’s something about wandering around a thousand libraries that puts me in a hypnotic state, until I focus on one book.

This weekend that book was War and Peace, which I saw on one list or an other. (Longest novels? Novel with the longest names? Novel everybody owns but nobody reads?)

Well, I read it. A long time ago, but I did read it. And, here’s where the mania comes in: it wasn’t in my LibraryThing library. Which means I had to trot off and try to find it and figure out why it wasn’t in the LibraryThing library. Except I couldn’t find it. Somehow I lost Leo Tolstoy, and I never even noticed. He may have been missing for years, and I went on blithely.

Obviously he must be replaced.

Now the real problem: which edition?

You can’t just order any edition of Tolstoy. Asking Amazon for War and Peace, you never know what piece of poorly translated dreck they’ll send you. What you need is, a recommendation from somebody who knows Tolstoy really well. And I happen to know a scholar of Russian literature who fits that bill… except where is her email address?

You see? The chase is on.

Even after I settle on an edition (in this case the 1942 Simon & Schuster Inner Sanctum edition) I still have to find one. And I have to find one that is in fairly good, but not collectible shape. However, I do want the original bookmark that came with this edition, because it has all the names of the characters on it in order of appearance.

It’s off to abebooks to see if I can track a copy down for a reasonable price.

All of this takes time, you must realize. Lots of time. Time in which I could be delving into the stuckedness of the chapter I’m trying to write.

So I found Leo (with the helpful bookmark) and I paid the ransom so he’ll be delivered here to sit on a shelf in my library. Right there, on that spot, between the Norton Critical edition of Mansfield Park. And now I have to forbid myself any more glances at anybody’s library for fear I’ll notice some other book I’m missing. And back to to work.