Friday, April 10, 2015


The P. G. Wodehouse I’m reading, The Mating Game, has the most complicated plot of all the harebrained complicated Wodehouse plots I’ve encountered. I think there should be an insert at the front like you get in War and Peace—not detailing the various Kuryagins and Bolkonskis but giving a brief explanation why Bertie Wooster shows up at Deverill Hall pretending to be Gussie Fink-Nottle, why Gussie appears pretending to be Bertie and attended by Jeeves while Bertie has as his man his friend from the Drones Club, Claude Cattermole “Catsmeat” Pirbright, and so on. I’m also reading my second William Maxwell, The Folded Leaf, which is good, but not as good as They Came Like Swallows—probably the best book I’ve read so far this year, although Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto is also in the running.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Desert April

The desert is stunningly beautiful right now. I was struck by it on the way back from Ryan Airfield, on the other side of Gates Pass in the Tucson Mountains a few days ago. All the Ocotillo have huge orange blooms, and the Staghorn Cholla is blooming in every hue at the red end of the spectrum: yellow, pink, orange, bright red. There are still Mexican Poppies, Globe Mallow and Brittlebush blooming. And I came upon stands of Foothill Palo Verde, microphyllum, that are completely yellow with blooms. Sometimes a whole wash will be full of bright yellow.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tucson Festival of Books II

            I signed copies of my essay collection A Place to Read at the Tucson Festival of Books on Sunday, March 15th. This two-day book fair is held on the University of Arizona campus under old palm trees in the warm, dry air of southern Arizona. Already in just its seventh year, the festival has grown to be the fourth largest in the United States, attracting 130,000 readers, who come to see their favorite authors, 350 of whom give individual talks, workshops, and panel discussions. Many more authors can be found autographing their books at the authors’ pavilions and the booths of publishers and booksellers. Over three hundred exhibitors show their wares at the festival. Attendance is free for the public, but proceeds from booth rentals and other fees (over a million dollars so far) are donated to local non-profit organizations that promote increased literacy.
            This year a visitor could have attended talks by Joyce Carol Oates, Noam Chomsky, Iris Johansen, Dave Barry, Scott Turow, Amy Tan, Jim Harrison, Alice Hoffman and dozens of other best-selling authors. The emphasis was on books, but Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva and columnist Katha Pollitt spoke on a panel celebrating the 150th anniversary of the liberal weekly The Nation. Promoting her memoir and spy fiction was Valerie Plame, the ex-CIA covert operative who was outed by Dick Cheney’s chief-of-staff Scooter Libby (who went to jail for it) after Plame’s journalist husband had published articles critical of the Bush administration.
            Genre writing of all kinds was well represented at the festival, and so were children’s and young adult fiction. There was a little something for every reader’s taste. For most of the two-day festival, a stiff breeze shook the white tents of exhibitors up and down the university mall, but the crowds were undeterred.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tucson Festival of Books

I will be signing copies of my new essay collection, A Place to Read, at the Tucson Festival of Books this Sunday. I’ll be at the central authors’ pavilion, which is in the mall facing Bear Down Gym, from 10:15 until 12:30. If you’re in Tucson, please drop by and say hello. If you’re not, please let your Tucson friends who might be interested know.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Into the Sun

Getting to Arizona this February was harder than it ought to have been. Two snowstorms in Murray delayed us, and one of our cars was stuck fast on snow that turned to ice under the wheels when we tried to negotiate the thirty yards or so uphill to the street out of our driveway. Triple A wasn’t taking residential calls and local towing services refused to come out on uncleared county roads, so we waited a couple of days until the road was plowed. Then, with the help of a tow truck and a tractor with a blade to clear some of the six-inch slush-turned-to-jagged ice in the areaway, we were ready to go. Then freezing rain overnight and another six inches of snow ambushed us in Texarkana, so we had to stay a day there. We got to Big Spring in time for more freezing rain overnight and a couple of inches of snow. We agonized over whether to get on the road again, finally leaving at midmorning. One lane was mostly clear on the freeway, and we drove through startling landscapes: first swirling mist coming from the roadbed and a horizon whited  out by snow and mist in every direction; then freezing mist building up ice on the windshield in a landscape of a million mesquite trees covered with heavy frost. The mist turned to freezing fog before we came suddenly down the mountain into Van Horn to sunshine. Sunshine the rest of the way.

Monday, March 2, 2015

No Irony Here

"Why is it, do you suppose, that an Englishman is unhappy until he has explained America?" I love this question from E. B. White, and quote it ignoring any ironies about my being an American who taught British literature for 35 years.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

William Maxwell

I have discovered William Maxwell. I knew vaguely that he had been a New Yorker editor working with such writers as Salinger, Cheever, and Updike, but I knew nothing about his fiction. I just read his second novel, They Came Like Swallows, which is a delightful book. You can tell he was a fan of Virginia Woolf, and the Midwestern family he shows us has a similar kind of dependence on the mother to keep their world right-side up that you see in To the Lighthouse. That’s all I’ll tell you, in case you haven’t read him. I’ll be reading The Folded Leaf next.