Mouse-Eaten Book Reviews

When I live in the country, I become totally obsessed with celebrity gossip. It’s like an addiction that waits just under the surface. It breaks out when I am away from concrete and chainlink fences and peeling paint, car exhaust and traffic sounds. When I am away from dance clubs, fashion, and performance.

I miss the performance. That must be it. The human drama.

Celebrities work hard to seem inhuman. To appear sterile and empty. That’s why it’s so much fun to fill in the blank. To color them in and make them real. It’s like a game- they work hard to stay impossibly young and thin, to appear sane, and to get richer. And we work hard to break them down. As they ascend away from the dirt of humanity, we fight to bring them back. It’s like a tug-of-war. We love to put people on pedestals and then knock them off.

So I’m a sucker for human drama. And there’s not really a whole lot of drama out here in the woods. Which is good for sustainability, but a little boring overall.

There’s a group here for the week, and one of them works at Breitenbush. His village is just over the ridge, and they have hot springs. And yoga. But our food is better. I think. I was telling him that folks from his village should hike to ours, and we could trade goods. I said-

“You could trade us hot water! For…”
“Cold water!” piped in J. “We have plenty of that!”

Occasionally students who come here for a week at a time will freak out because they can’t get alcohol. I joked to the Breitenbush guy that one day his village would set up a trading post in our town, selling alcohol and guns. It would be the beginning of the end.

Tomorrow I get to move into my new room, in the attic of the lodge. Just earlier today it was filled with cobwebs, old jawbones and glass vials of stream insects, along with dusty stacks of old brochures and armloads of field guides. There’s a mobile someone made of a few pinecones and a feather, strung up where my bed will be, and a single window that looks out onto the dirt turnaround. The room is long and narrow, and I’ll share it with the chipmunks that live in the walls. It’s hot in there in the middle of the day, but I’ll have a heavy old desk and space of my own, finally.

Things found in my new attic room-

-rocks of all sorts. A box of rocks, to be specific. Also a windowsill of rocks. Shelf of rocks. Rocks moonlighting as bookends.
-two staplers
-electric pencil sharpener
-jar of screws
-old whiskey pint of dried flowers
-corroded metal tin of… souls?
-plastic relief map of Oregon (cool!)
-antique wooden paper cutter (double cool! I can further my ‘newsie’ image by cutting my zines with this!)
-laminated topo map of the area, reassuring me that we are, in fact, in the middle of nowhere
-Native Trout of the West- the poster
-Smoky the Bear lizards poster, also butterflies
-stack of (phonograph?) records in faded paper sheaths, containing such hits as “Regimental March of the 7th U.S. Infantry” and “Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming” by the 108th Infantry Swing Band
-curled black & white photo of baby deer (for Nicole?)
-yogurt tub of old marking pens
-stack bumper stickers- “America’s National Forests- Love Them, Don’t Log Them” in captivating green
-floppy disk. Label reads- “Furniture Inventory. Risk Management Assessment.”
-Compass! (the kind to draw circles.)
-assortment exacto knives, collection wooden rulers
-bag of acrylic yarn
-lamp made from “Yuban” coffee can
-Hard Hat
-Jar- lid says “smell”. instructions on label say- “Close your eyes. Stick your smeller in the jar. Take a whiff. Take a guess. What is the mushroom? Flip over the card to see the mushroom. Peek in the jar to see the mushroom.” The card says “Brown Almond Waxy Cap.” There is no mushroom inside.
-old metal wastebasket, corroded in just the right way
-old slide viewer. “Kodaslide Table Viewer.”
-box of very, very old books (most of them circa 1910 or so), spines eaten away by mice. Cool! My favorite- Penrod, by Booth Tarkington. Penrod is a young lad of 1914, he works an elevator. There are illustrations of him, wearing woolen knickers and with his faithful terrier, Duke. I wish I had a digital camera, I would show you this shit. From the first chapter, A Boy and His Dog-

Penrod sat morosely upon the back fence and gazed with envy at Duke, his wistful dog. (get this next sentence-) A bitter soul dominated the various curved and angular surfaces known by a careless world as the face of Penrod Schofield. (The illustration is of Penrod reading by oil lamp on the street, next to a box of cigars.) Except in solitude, that face was always cryptic and emotionless; for Penrod had come into his twelfth year wearing an expression carefully trained to be inscrutable. Since the world was sure to misunderstand everything, mere defensive instinct prompted him to give it as little as possible to lay hold upon. (Whoah- that’s a heavy start for a chapter titled “A Boy and His Dog”!) Nothing is more impenetrable than the face of a boy who has learned this, and Penrod’s was habitually as fathomless as the depth of his hatred this morning for the literary activities of Mrs. Lora Rewbush- an almost universally respected fellow citizen, a lady of charitable and poetic inclinations, and one of his own mother’s most intimate friends.

The plot thickens!

The book goes on. I am curious, but glad that people do not write like this anymore.

Another gem of a mouse-eaten book- Five Little Peppers and How They Grow, by Margaret Sidney. Much more readable! It includes such amicable passages as-

But she had met life too bravely to be beaten down now. So with a stout heart and a cheery face, she had worked away day after day at making coats, tailoring and mending of all descriptions; and she had seen with pride that couldn’t be concealed, her noisy, happy brood growing up around her, and filling her heart with comfort, and making the Little Brown House fairly ring with jollity and fun.
“Poor things!” she would say to herself, “they haven’t had any bringing up; they’ve just scrambled up!” And then she would set her lips together tightly, and fly at her work faster than ever. “I must get learning for ’em someway, but I don’t see how!”

And then the third, and most promising book from the cardboard box- The Mysterious Island, by Jules Verne (author of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, which I have not read.)


The storm of 1865.-Voices in the air.-A balloon carried away by a whirlwind.-Five passengers.-What happened in the car.

“Are we rising again?”
“No. On the contrary.”
“Are we descending?”
“Worse than that, captain, we are falling!”
“For heaven’s sake heave out the ballast!”
“There! The last sack is empty!”
“Does the balloon rise?”
“I hear a noise like the dashing of waves!”

And so on.

Wouldn’t it be incredible, if someone out there started a blog, and filled it with chapters from old books like this? As their most personal diary? With lines like-

The returning students, that afternoon, observed that Penrod’s desk was vacant- and nothing could have been more impressive than that sinister mere emptiness.


2 thoughts on “Mouse-Eaten Book Reviews

  1. carrot!
    attics are best, and better with molded and bitten things left behind by bibliophile rodents.
    thanks for the good words, sad i missed you town trip and was all swept up in my own business. smell the woods for me, i miss them.

Comments are closed.