Prelude to an Inaugural Post

July 28, 2009
“In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism, is the main difference. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking.”
—Thoreau

I seldom have good ideas. That’s a fact. But recently as I was hiking through an old grove of walnut trees, I had a very good idea. It happened to me by accident.

I love conversations with booklovers.

There’s something about the format that allows novels (their techniques, plots, and characters) and the people who read them (their opinions, habits, and pet peeves) to emerge in ways that are both informative and entertaining, without devolving into XOXO, gossip girl.

Problem is, The Paris Review and Vanity Fair cannot source, print, and distribute interviews fast enough to satisfy my hunger.

Enter: Between the Lines, a blog exclusively devoted to intelligent, opinionated booklovers and their bewildering array of idiosyncrasies.

Talking about idiosyncrasies.

It’s time to meet The Most Interesting Woman in the World. No, she doesn’t star in a Dos Equis commercial (although she should). But she does star in this our inaugural post, and for a very good reason.

At age 29, Kristine Baker once inspired hendecasyllabic verse from a 15-year old boy on the ski slopes at Northstar.

Who are you?

KB 1_1

Good Night Moon? Try Tristes Tropiques!

I’m a reader; mama; lover of cultural theory who didn’t quite love academia; fan of truly embarrassing television; vegetarian; writer for hire; sleep-deprived, mosquito-bitten southerner with California on my mind.

What was the last book you read? How did you like it?

Home Game by Michael Lewis. So, so good. If you’re a parent, you need someone to say this to you about your baby: It’s because you want to hurl it off the balcony and don’t that you come to love it.

Lewis is so gifted at telling a story by way of the interesting people making it happen. He works inside-out, creating the whole through the details. Read his books about Wall Street or Silicon Valley or parenting. Whatever he writes is funny and brilliant. There’s little that’s more gratifying than being in the hands of a good storyteller.

What’s your favorite literary device? Why?

My favorite literary device has to be the unreliable narrator. This is the anthropologist in me—I simply adore a point of view that’s unhinged from what I take for granted. How is the world to someone with a completely different truth? Is it your job to translate it, or to just let it wash over you and see where you end up? I’m for the latter.

When it comes to marginalia, do you use a pencil, pen, or a finger in the sand?

I happen to enjoy convoluted, nearly impenetrable social theory. If I’m reading it I diligently summarize everything in plain language in the margins. But if it’s a novel, I never, ever write anything. When I come across a passage that is moving to me in some way, I make a tiny dog ear at the bottom of the page. I like to think of each one like a little time capsule, and I periodically get out an old favorite to re-read the marked pages and see if I can still spot the passage that inspired me. Seems to kind of mark the rate at which my world is, or isn’t, changing.

What are your top five favorite books?

These poor books have been dragged with me from one coast to the other and back again. They are alphabetical by title—I don’t play favorites with my favorites:

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Beloved, Toni Morrison
Juneteenth, Ralph Ellison
Lolita, Vladamir Nabokov
Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Moor’s Last Sigh, Salman Rushdie
Olivia, Ian Falconer
Orlando, Virginia Woolf
Patterns of Culture, Ruth Benedict
Tristes Tropiques, Claude Levi-Strauss
The Woman in the Body, Emily Martin

Okay, I admit that’s not five, but I’m not really a numbers person.519N8JQTZ7L

Bonus answer: My favorite book title is: The Hold Life Has. It’s an ethnography I read as an undergraduate. I don’t even remember who it’s about or who wrote it, but that title sticks with me. Just gets to something, you know?

Who is your favorite unknown or under-appreciated author?

My college roommate, Heidi, is one of my favorite poets in the world, but she got distracted on her way to poetry fame and fortune. Seriously, Heidi, if you are reading this, call the publisher back and let them have your book.

Have you found wisdom in novels? Explain.

Absolutely. In the last few years, part of a quotation from Toni Morrison has been kicking around in my head: “oysters suffering their pearls.” Seems to make me feel better when the kids have gone rabid by the end of the day. Your interview made we want to go back and get that bit into context and, wouldn’t you know it? Even more wisdom than I remembered:

“It takes a certain intelligence to love like that—softly, without props. But the world is such a showpiece, maybe that’s why folks try to outdo it, put everything they feel onstage just to prove they can think up things too: handsome scary things like fights to the death, adultery, setting sheets afire. They fail, of course. The world outdoes them every time. While they are busy showing off, digging other people’s graves, hanging themselves on a cross, running wild in the streets, cherries are turning from green to red, oysters are suffering pearls, and children are catching rain in their mouths expecting the drops to be cold but they’re not; they are warm and smell like pineapple before they get heavier and heavier, so heavy and fast they can’t be caught one at a time.” —Toni Morrison, Love

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Self-interview (for prospective respondents)

July 16, 2009

Your name: Kevin. Or Mr. Kevin to you.

When you stare into the camera, the camera stares back.

When you stare into the camera, the camera stares back.

What are you currently reading? Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee. 

Where are you reading it? My favorite coffee shop in the morning, on a wall under the shade of an Elm at lunch, and on the couch or in bed at night.

What do you think of it so far? It’s extraordinary, probably the most important novel since Herzog. Three narrative modes, two points of view, and one hell of a snappy read about the things that matter most: beauty, politics, and ethicsand how to live in a world gone sideways. Do I exaggerate? Of course I do. But when a 70-year old novelist creates a new mode of storytelling, impartial observations are cold and obscene.

What is the one book you love so much that you can’t be objective about other people not loving it as well? Well, if I say Child of God or Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy and rhapsodize about the blind and very often cruel pursuit of something unnameable, I’d be telling you the truth but risking your good opinion of me. Which I’m desperate to court. So I’ll pawn off this nickel-plated truth instead: Song of Myself. Only the morally retrograde don’t like Whitman. That’s a fact. Like hating birdsong or something.

How do you choose what to read next? One part planning (I can be boringly systematic…). One part inspiration (…and whorishly opportunistic.).

Do you generally borrow books or buy them? Why? Buy. Loving, caressing, and smelling the pages of a borrowed book is deviant. Not so when you own them. That’s totally normal.

Kevin's madeleine cookie and lime-blossom tea

Kevin's madeleine cookie and lime-blossom tea

Favourite childhood book? Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. I read it when I was 12-years old in the back of my mom’s brown Buick Apollo, sweltering on the white vinyl seats, as we crossed the salt plains of Nevada. But you know what? That road trip was one kick-ass adventure, collapsing, as if by magic, the distance between here & there at the speed of a turning page. Even now, when I see that tattered, old book cover, I shiver with a child’s joy.

 

Who is your literary boyfriend or girlfriend? Because I’m prone to wild infatuations, my literary girlfriends are many. At the moment, I’m passionately in love with the sighted woman in Blindness. Holy smokes! She makes Hester Prynne look like a grandmother who smells of hardboiled eggs and 10-day old ginger cookies. Best of all, I can call my wife “woman” without raising any suspicions.

What is your favourite either unknown or underappreciated book? Little, Big by John Crowley. I read it last year, and it was a significant event in my life. I looped it, that is to say, turned the last page, only to turn the first page and begin again. Crowley is a master of mood and atmosphere. I’m blown away by his ability to create a cosmology (fairies, worlds within worlds, tarot readings, etc.) that a skeptical bloke like me would take the time to explore.

What book would a prospective lover/marriage partner/friend have to say they loved for you to end your relationship with them immediately?

This isn’t hypothetical! In the long ago, I walked out on a date and stuck her with the check after she gushed about White Oleander. Sure, my behavior was wrong, but there are times — aren’t there? — when aesthetics demands its pound of flesh, and gets it.