My Trip to the Valley of the Moon

In case you're wondering about my turn around time for blog posts, know that I read The Tin Flute in February 2013, and I just got around to posting the review last month. Not everything is quite so abysmal, but that's why I'm here a year later to post about visiting Jack London's ranch in the Sonoma Valley, California.

Readers with shockingly long memories will remember that back when I read The Call of the Wild forever ago, I ended up falling in love with Jack London even more than I loved the book. I still haven't had a chance to read about him as exhaustively as I'd like to, but the first non-fiction I managed to find on him was John Barleycorn, his so-called alcoholic memoir. I read it in spring 2014. It's a tremendous, fascinating, wonderful book, and I'm going to be compiling my favourite quotes from it in this post, along with some of the pictures I took when I went to Jack London State Historic Park on my mini-tour of California last fall.

The Sonoma Valley actually doesn't even figure that largely in John Barleycorn, except inasmuch as the leisure London enjoyed there turned him into a day drinker in a way that he hadn't been before.  Still, between wine country and the Oakland waterfront (the book's main locale, sort of), my choice was obvious.

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Alcohol was an acquired taste. It had been painfully acquired.
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And I got out to warm by the great stove and get a soda cracker. Just one soda gracker, but a fabulous luxury. 
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And here, at ten, I began on the streets as a newsboy. One of the reasons for this was that we needed the money. Another reason was that I needed the exercise. I had found my way to the free public library, and was reading myself into nervous prostration.
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We were not ordinary. We were three tipsy young gods, incredibly wise, gloriously genial, and without limit to our powers. Ah!—and I say it now, after the years—could John Barleycorn keep one at such a height, I should never draw a sober breath again.
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I knew of no horse in the city of Oakland that worked the hours I worked.
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I would go up to the Free Library, exchange my books, buy a quarter's worth of all sorts of candy that chewed and lasted, sneak aboard the Razzle Dazzle, lock myself in the cabin, go to bed, and lie there long hours of bliss, reading and chewing candy. And those were the only times I felt that I got my real money's worth. Dollars and dollars, across the bar, couldn't buy the satisfaction that twenty-five cents did in a candy store.
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But the other side of the world was a long way to go for a drink.
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To cope with winds and waves, railroad trains, and bar-rooms, one must use judgment.
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One who has been burned by fire must preach about the fire. I might have seen and healthily enjoyed a whole lot more of the Bonin Islands, if I had done what I ought to have done. But, as I see it, it is not a matter of what one ought to do, or ought not to do. It is what one does do. That is the everlasting, irrefragable fact. I did just what I did.
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And yet, in the good time coming when alcohol is eliminated from the needs and the institutions of men, it will be the YMCA, and similar unthinkably better and wiser and more virile congregating-places, that will receive the men who now go to saloons to find themselves and one another.
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I didn't know anything about girls. I had been too busy being a man.
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Also, I still believed in the old myths which were the heritage of the American boy when I was a boy.
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Perhaps, toward the last, I got a bit dotty. I know that at the time I was confident, I had discovered the formula for squaring the circle; but I resolutely deferred the working of it out until after the examinations. Then I would show them.
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Here were the chesty men again, rovers and adventurers, and while they didn't mind a grub famine, whisky they could not do without.
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I tried to become a studio model, but there were too many fine-bodied young fellows out of jobs.
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Sometimes I almost think that it was because I was so very happy that I started on my real drinking.
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It is to be remarked, in passing, that when a man begins to drink rationally and intelligently that he betrays a grave symptom of how far along the road he has travelled.
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Never again will I have the thumbs of my youth. Old fights and wrestlings have injured them irreparably. That punch on the head of a man whose very name is forgotten settled this thumb finally and for ever. A slip-grip at catch-as-catch-can did for the other.
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Read-a-Thon Post #3.4: Closing Survey

Pages read since last update: 50
Pages read so far: 381

Ok, super late closing post about the read-a-thon. I'm guessing I made it 50 pages in to Rat Queens before calling it a night because I read the first two issues. I finished it this morning and it was super great!

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
    I take a pretty relaxed approach to this event, so nothing was particularly daunting.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
    Everything I read was great, actually!
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
    Everything about the read-a-thon was great, too!
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
    Hm. As far as my personal approach, the shorter stuff was a good choice. It was nice to be able to read more than one thing over the course of the day, rather than getting stuck on one thing like I did in April.
  5. How many books did you read?
    I finished two, started three more.
  6. What were the names of the books you read?
    Everything I picked out yesterday!
    • FINISHED Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
    • Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs by Wallace Stegner
    • Horror Story and Other Horror Stories by Robert Boyczuk
    • FINISHED Sheltered Vol. 1 by Johnnie Christmas and Ed Brisson
    • Rat Queens Vol. 1 by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch
  7. Which book did you enjoy most?
    Honestly, Rat Queens deserves every bit of the hype that it's gotten. It's tons of fun.
  8. Which did you enjoy least?
    The short story in Kitchen, but even that was good. I really made a lot of good selections!
  9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
    I have no idea what my April is going to be like yet, but I'm definitely going to try to participate next time I'm able :)

Read-a-Thon Post #3.3: Bedtime-ish

Pages read since last update: 51
Pages read so far: 331

After reading the first story in Horror Story and Other Horror Stories (fun!) and the first essay in Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs (wonderful!), I took a break for several hours to shower, go see Crimson Peak, and then also have drinks. So it's midnight and I'm going to read as much of Rat Queens Vol. 1 as I can in bed, and then I'll probably be posting the end of event meme late tomorrow morning sometime when I wake up. I am not hardcore, and I'm perfectly ok with that.

Read-a-Thon Post #3.2: Sheltered Vol. 1 by Ed Brisson and Johnnie Christmas

Pages read since last update: 128
Pages read so far: 280

Sometimes I'm not sure why I keep trying to read graphic novels and comics when I find them so, so hard to get into. Part of the problem is how quick they are to read, which makes it hard for them to leave an impression the way a novel does.

I must say, though, that I really enjoyed this one a lot! Sheltered is a story about a group of doomsday preppers who descend into chaos before any doomsday event happens, because one guy thinks that the Yellowstone caldera is about to erupt. I don't want to give anything away, so that's about all I'll say about the plot.

It might just be because I met Christmas at Sask Expo and I found him really affable, but the art was my favourite part of this. The issue covers, including the cover of this volume, are so good. The style is also really dynamic, in a way that e.g. the art in Locke and Key isn't. One of the characters, Victoria, has hair that moves in a way that no woman's hair moves, that every man wishes women's hair moved, that I don't begrudge at all.

I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next.
- - -

After I read this, I took a break to run a few errands that I had. Unfortunately they were time-consuming and unproductive. My sister and I had some books to get rid of that I was going to drop off at a donation centre, but it closed about ten minutes before I arrived. Then I was going to buy some cat food from the vet, because Mr. Kitty has been ill recently and is eating some special food (Greebo, of course, is eating it too), but I arrived there about twenty minutes too late. So I went to the pet store and got some stuff that hopefully will still do the trick, then admired the cutest tabby cat I've ever seen and its grey brother, and their matching orange eyes. And then I went to get myself some food, and some toiletries, and remembered that I needed to book myself an eye appointment because I was watching Daredevil last night and the subtitles were blurry, and I don't want to hit a moose on the highway because I can't see it, so.

Read-a-Thon Post #3.1: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Pages read since last update: 116
Pages read so far: 152

Not gonna lie, one of the main reasons why I wanted to get to Banana Yoshimoto's Kitchen first today is that I needed to finally read something for my Year of Reading Women. I'm semi-certain that this is the first time I've read a prose book by a Japanese woman, having read at least three by Japanese men, and I must say it's already a good illustration of the value of reading women writers. Battle Royale is a cartoon (a great one), Shusaku Endo's Silence is spectacular but ultimately nothing to do with women, and whatever Haruki Murakami is up to isn't really concerned with women's experiences on their own.

I know just enough about Japan that I'm uncomfortable making any broad statements about it or trying to discuss the culture there in an informed way, either. Kitchen is a wonderful window into mid-80s Japan, though, without being too explicit about its setting. It's not really a novel, but a novella, bound up with a short story called "Moonlight Shadow." I liked the novella better, finding it more interesting than the story's magical realism. Both works are ultimately about loneliness, love, and living after loss. Yoshimoto seems to be intrigued by men in women's clothes in both, as well. A young man wears his dead lover's school uniform. A transwoman works at a gay bar, with what might be drag queens or other transwomen. The portrayal here is thirty years old and probably not perfect.

Anyway, I've had cause to feel alone lately and this book helped.

The traffic signal changed, and the river of light formed by the cars continued on its way. The signal shone brightly, suspended in the darkness. Hitoshi had died here. A feeling of solemnity slowly came over me. In places where a loved one has died, time stops for eternity. If I stand on the very spot, one says to oneself, like a prayer, might I feel the pain he felt? They say that on a visit to an old castle or whatever, the history of the place, the presence of people who walked there many years ago, can be felt in the body. Before, when I heard things like that, I would think, what are they talking about? But I felt I understood it now.

Read-a-Thon Post #3.0: Intro Survey and Books

I stayed up too late last night, so I got a late start reading this morning, and am posting this intro stuff late.

Anyway, I'm doing Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon again this year, and here is some intro stuff for you.  I'll be back again later when I've read more.  Here's the intro survey.
  1. What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
    I'm in Saskatchewan, as usual!
  2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
    I'm really excited about the Sheltered comic!
  3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?
    I dropped the ball and bought zero snacks, so I'm going to have to take a break eventually to go and do that.
  4. Tell us a little something about yourself!
    To quickly rehash my blog gimmick for any new readers: I'm an engineer who loves to read. I live with my sister and we have two cats who will probably show up at least once today. When I'm not reading, I'm usually watching tv, crocheting, making a costume of some kind, or working on my house.
  5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what's one thing you'll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
    I picked a shorter novel this time, as you'll see, so I'm looking forward to reading more than just one thing this time around.

I took this at midnight last night, so please pardon the awful photo quality.
These are all my own books except one!  From top to bottom:

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

152 pages
I've had this on my list of books to read for quite a while, and I've had it checked out from the library for quite a while, too.  This is the perfect opportunity to read it.  I started it before starting this post this morning.

Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs by Wallace Stegner

227 pages
This is a book of essays about living and writing in the West, by one of the List book authors I've been wanting to read more of for a long time.

Horror Story and Other Horror Stories by Robert Boyczuk

310 pages
This is, obviously, a book of short stories, to suit the mood of October.

Sheltered Vol. 1 by Johnnie Christmas and Ed Brisson

? pages
A comic about the "pre-apocalypse" which I'm super excited to read.

Rat Queens Vol. 1 by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch

? pages
I barely even know what this is about, other than that people love it.

Pages read so far: 36

Five Years Ago This Month: October 2010

Five years ago this month...

...I wrote a little bit about textspeak/netspeak. I haven't thought much about the theory I came up with there about the "vulgar English" of the internet lately, but it still makes sense to me. (You can see the origins of "OK" for proof that the English language hasn't just started on the road to hell recently.)

...I reviewed Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It was another old, reposted review. Basically I think that The Goblet of Fire is the high point of the series, and that's one of my only opinions about Harry Potter.

...I wrote about my participation in NaNoWriMo. After being called out for my romnov reviews, I decided to actually try to write one myself.

...I was distracted. I linked to a couple of other Modern Library reading blogs, both of which now appear to be defunct, so that's something to be proud of, I suppose!

...I reviewed Lord Jim. Gorgeous writing and some cinematic qualities didn't save this book from being a bit boring.

Perhaps best of all, though, I got a pair of orange Converse shoes like I'd been wanting forever.