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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Books on the Road: What We Are Reading

I already confessed to two nights with Stephanie Plum in Joliet. My third night away from home (first night truly “on the road”) I took a deep breath and dove into Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, by Atul Gawande, while David relaxed with television. That reading gave me a lot of physical exercise—grimacing, wincing, recoiling, etc.! The operating room is not a place I want to be, in any capacity; reading about it, though, is fascinating (albeit graphic), not only for the medical details but also for Gawande’s thoughtfulness and candor, and so I wince and read on.

David and I took turns driving south yesterday, and since the beautiful prairie is (it cannot be denied) somewhat monotonous after a while, while one of us drove the other generously read aloud for many miles, David from Andrei Codrescu’s The Disappearance of the Outside and I, from the introduction, Inagua: An Island Sojourn, by Gilbert C. Klingel. From the repression of thought in Stalinist Russia to a storm-battered sailboat on the Atlantic in 1929, we took turns keeping whoever was driving in a state of high alert rather than succumbing to road fatigue.

When the book (whichever it was) was set aside, topics of conversation arose, and since it is now winter and we will soon be in Florida, the only time and place in my life where my sketchbook and pencils really come into their own, I have been thinking about drawing. As we crossed the frozen landscape, I told David that when I am using my camera—or even just thinking about taking photographs--I am concerned with line, color, light and composition, but when I think about drawing the color aspect drops out of consideration, its place taken by the solidity of objects, i.e., volume. How to show all the not-flat things of the world in their reality? David then suggested that the landscape we were traversing was excellent for thinking about perspective. I’ll say! I mentioned the lines of telephone or electric poles and wires angling off across the fields, growing smaller and smaller. Also, he pointed out, the difference between dark trees close to us and those farther away, seemingly lighter in value (is that the correct term?) across the intervening atmosphere. He described to me an exercise set for beginning drawing students. An egg is set on a table, lit from one side by a candle. The candle can be moved around the egg, lighting it from different sides, changing the look of the object to be drawn, and the candle is also burning lower all the time, effecting different changes. I pictured the egg and candle in my mind as he described the setup. Our surroundings, I should add, were far from a single-light-source exercise: cloud-covered sky and snow-covered ground made a kind of light sandwich--light being the pieces of bread, that is, not the sandwich filling. But it was the filling, too, wasn’t it? I need to reflect on this a bit more. Anyway, it's interesting the difference in concerns between photography and drawing. With drawing, one must endeavor to create an illusion rather than simply capturing a scene. With photography, on the other hand, one must be aware of what the camera is "seeing" that the eye could easily overlook, e.g., the phone pole or stop sign that could look to be growing out of a friend's head. What needs to be put in, what needs to be carefully excluded--different problems for different media.

I also read aloud to David the excellent, excellent piece by Jesse Jackson published Tuesday morning and clipped (with her permission) from my mother’s Chicago Sun-Times. Jackson has hit this one right on: it isn’t enough to bail out banks; they need to be reformed. Read the article and see if you don’t agree.

Weather has been very cold in the South this past week, and everywhere we looked in Kentucky we saw a frozen world. Small “waterfalls” we are accustomed to see spilling over limestone cuts were motionless stalactites. Ice-covered lakes and frozen creeks looked more like Michigan than Dixie, and snow on the ground continued, at least in patches, on into Tennessee.

Tonight in Georgia I saw two dandelions in bloom, as well as our first palmetto of the trip, but I’m unable to offer documentary evidence, for my camera batteries had run too low. That will be fixed by tomorrow, and we will be making our way down Hwy. 19 in a leisurely fashion. No more expressway—yea!!!

Oh, I must congratulate myself on an exemplary attitude having to do with that expressway travel business. Before we left home, I had resigned myself to the necessity of covering ground fast, minimizing meals on the road and nights in motels. (Like everyone else, we have our belts cinched tight this winter, which is part of our reason for heading to Florida in the first place.) But David knows how much I love two-lane travel and local food, and when we got off I-75 tonight and got settled in our motel, he found a fresh seafood take-out restaurant, where our catfish and shrimp—also French fries and hush puppies—were cooked while we waited. Now that’s what I call “road food”! The cases with all the different kinds of fish (whole, eyes in, and fillets), shrimp, scallops, alligator meat, etc., with fresh fruits and vegetables in boxes in front of the cases, are another scene I must leave to your imagination this evening.


dmarks said...

Great photos. There's an area of waterfalls off a roadside cliff that looks a lot like that on Highway 61 on the Minnesota side across the Mississippi River from La Crosse, Wisconsin.

dmarks said...

Interesting article from Jesse Jackson too. In the 9th paragraph, he addresses a problem that was actually encouraged by the government through its Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae agencies. This problem can easily be solved by stopping these agencies from rewarding banks for making these types of loans.

But for now, it looks like the mess is continuing.

There's also still something seriously wrong here when the heads of these Federal agencies are still being paid about $4 million per year.

Dawn said...

Great trip! I love road trips! Haven't read the Jackson article yet, but if it deals with the mortgage mess I probably don't want to. I lived the mortgage mess for years before I escaped and found solace in grad school.

Back to road trips. We drove, once not so many years ago down US 23 from here in lower Michigan to Ashville NC. It was a wonderful trip. Every day we'd get up and say.."HEY! Let's drive on US 23 today!" We saw lots of little (and bigger) towns and it was so peaceful. Some of it is expressway but much is not. Try it sometime!

P. J. Grath said...

That drive along the northern Mississippi is spectacular, too, dmarks. We have done it a couple of times and will, I hope, do it again sometime.

Dawn, the Jackson article is on more than mortgages. It addresses the whole banking industry. You should excuse the term "industry," which I think only applies to businesses that make products, but then, don't banks call most of their services "products" these days? Another nismoner. Oh, well. Thanks for your road trip tip. If we are ever heading over that far east--and why not someday?--23 sounds like a winner.

dmarks, the government did encourage did encourage subprime loans, but did it set the terms? Maybe. Maybe another example of the double-edged sword. On the other hand, a friend of ours who used to run a savings and loan (he would tell you, before Reagan killed S&Ls) had an innovative loan package with safety features for the borrower to keep the loan from going into default. Which would be, you would think, a safety feature for the lender, too. But other banks shouted him down because the margin of gain wasn't high enough for them. I'll have to get details from him and have him do another guest post in the spring when we are back in Michigan.

Anonymous said...

My eyes played such a trick on me when I opened this post. That first photo seemed to be of draped figures standing along the roadside. It was only when I saw the second waterfall photo that I realized what it was. The very concept of seeing offers a lot to think about.

P. J. Grath said...

Wouldn't THAT be something? Figures in long, white robes standing like columns against the rock face? You're so right about seeing, though. The surgeon whose book I'm reading makes the same point.