The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

When an author becomes really famous they earn the right for first editions of their subsequent books to be more opulent than their earlier efforts. and Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things (TSOAT) is gorgeous. Since the book is set in the 18th and 19th centuries, the look of it is antique, with unevenly cut, thick ivory pages and a dust jacket printed to look like aged parchment. There are dreamy colored illustrations of orchids on the end papers and the hardbound cover is a soothing green-tinged ivory with an olive colored spine, the author’s initials stamped in gold on the front. The feathery edges of the pages are soft and the book is very sensual, befitting some of the subject matter. My copy is even signed!

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The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

The winter solstice is still ahead of me but it has been freezing and I am dreading the next four months of short, cold days and long, cold nights. I have a buffalo hide on my bed that makes me feel like a pioneer and I snuggle under it to read the winter away. I love the book The Snow Leopard, but I wish I’d chosen a book about the Tropics. Author Peter Matthiessen’s melancholy account of his trek through the Himalaya with his leaky tent and snow-sodden sneakers only makes me feel colder, and also unadventurous and guilty.

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The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

I’ve been through peaks and valleys with my admiration for Hemingway. Fact is, when I read about him I like him less but when I read his actual writing, I admire him enormously again. He left all these astonishing books–so what if he, like his compatriot Picasso, wasn’t faithful. To take a Tom Robbins quote about the rich and apply it to geniuses: “A lot of geniuses are assholes, but a lot of idiots are assholes too and at least a genius can contribute something great to the world.”

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Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung

Go into any person’s house who has a liberal education and you will probably find a copy of Jung’s Man and His Symbols. I found my nice, hardbound edition in a used bookstore in San Francisco; I think it was in the Mission district, or the Castro, on the way home from an Ntozake Shange reading (I also found a book of hers there). I have flipped through MAHS many times but never read it. As I am working on a book that has to do with Jungian psychology, I am finally cracking it for real–for the words, not just the pictures.

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The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

Gardening has become my new favorite hobby. I’ve had a lot of resistance to gardening, but on an acre and a half in the country, especially with the added threat of wildfires nearly year round, I’ve had to pay more attention to my landsaping than ever and have finally, after a ton of work, relaxed into it and started to enjoy it. As Pollan discusses in Second Nature, his first of many excellent books relating to plants, a dislike of gardening is usually rooted in childhood experiences.

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One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Although I remembered One Hundred Years of Solitude as one of my all-time favorite novels, when I reread it for The Selfish Book Club I found it very frustrating. If you’ve kept up with this blog, you’ll remember that I’m a survivor of Donald Trump’s election in 2016. I climbed out of that black pit of depression only to confront horrendous wildfires in 2017 and 2018. The pandemic, of course, struck in 2020 along with another huge wildfire that got within a quarter mile of my house. Now, in 2022, Russia has invaded Ukraine and all my childhood Cold War fears are coming up (although not as strongly as you’d think, since I’m so used to bad news by now that I’m not taking as hard as I might be). Considering all of that, the magical realism and Circle Game of Jose Arcadio’s, Aureliano’s, Remedio’s, Ursula’s and Amaranta’s didn’t delight me as they once had. My reality was too hyper-real and bleak to allow stories about flying carpets, alchemy and women who smell like smoke to hold my attention. My fearful and impatient mood made it feel a little like going from an in-depth seminar on black and white Bergman films to watching an episode of Friends.

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My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Brene Brown, author of the two self-empowerment books Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, must love Karl Ove Knausgaard. My biggest takeaway from this six volume, 3,500 page autobiography is how brave Knausgaard is, how naked. The books are like a grove of winter trees, dour, stark and beautiful, and, at 3,500 pages, it took at least a grove of trees to produce them. Continue reading “My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgaard”


Resolved: no more brown amazon boxes until I read through (and weed) my own library.

I’ve gotten a little more apprehensive each time an amazon package arrives with a new book. It’s far too frequent, unfortunately, for me to keep up with the influx. Beginning July 19, 2017, I resolve to not order another book until I read through and digest all the books I already own. That is, approximately, 685 books, those on my library shelves that for some reason have been deemed worthy to sit in my permanent collection, and 20-40 other stragglers–new, as yet unopened books and a few oldies that have migrated to a potential give away pile. Continue reading “Introduction”