- ericaceous and plasticsturgeon swooped in from Philadelphia and sacrificed their lunch break to take me to an afternoon of shape note singing in Sunderland. Sixty-nine singers were announced (and forty something song leaders, including a young girl in braids), but I didn't sign in, so there were at least seventy. They use The Sacred Harp songbook, which includes many hymns with lyrics by Isaac Watts, who was important to Jonathan Edwards and his congregation, so this was research for the novel. I sat next to ericaceous among the altos (which I appreciated for the cover for my soft, clueless, untunefulness) although she would have preferred the front -- another bit of generosity. The sing was highly structured and efficient, with leaders being called to the middle one after another. They called out song numbers and verses (often repeated by loud voices from the bass section), and somebody started hitting the pitch, then they ran through the whole song singing fa la mi so based on the shapes of the notes -- an activity at which I was hopeless -- before doing the intense floods, God, pain and joy verses.
who I fix my hopes upon...
...what timorous worms
People chopped the air to keep the beat, and were intent and serious. One guy, who made an announcement about a Manhattan sing, had spiky hair, black jeans, a silver chain hanging from his studded belt, and a pop-eyed, raw-boned look that was kind of perfect. He moved from the tenors to the trebles and back. It was an eighteenth century church, small room, and the wood floor vibrated with the songs, which were very loud, and, some, very fast. The music being made there shook me (like the floor) a bit.
There was a baby in the row in front of me who grinned at me over her grandmother's (?) shoulder at the end when we were supposed to pray. The woman next to me seemed shy, and didn't do the la la mi so fas either. There was a light sheen of sweat on my face and arms, a smell of ham from lunch, and a huge black fly walking across the floor. Everyone's face was so distinct (we were sitting in a square, facing each other), and I was working too hard to try to be part of the music to get completely lost (did get a little swoony), but it swelled up very big.
- On her website, Janet Mason has posted a review of Venus of Chalk that she did a while ago for the syndicated lgbt radio show This Way Out.
- Friends from that great, collective-run, community-minded Amherst bookstore, Food for Thought, sent me a link to an essay written by Jessa Crispin, who is the editor and founder of Bookslut, which is a blog about books and the book industry that I think is fascinating ( and there's an lj feed, too).
In this essay, for another online publication, Crispin takes issue with those who emphasize the importance of supporting independent bookstores -- she claims that insisting that pitting chains versus independents is a useless debate and has little to do with the nuances of how people actually buy books -- using as one of her examples the fact that she bought Venus of Chalk, small press published and under the radar as it is, at a Barnes and Noble.
I'm really delighted that her friend recommended my book to her and that she was easily able to find it -- that's kind of huge, since it's certainly not always true for my work -- but the increasing concentration of power in all aspects of the publishing industry -- from the big bookselling chains to the enormous multinational corporations that control the vast majority that books that get published (if I remember right from the magnificent Business of Books by Andre Shiffrin, it's six companies that publish more than -- was it 80 percent? maybe more -- of the books in the US); and certainly almost all of those that most people have a chance to hear about -- it's frightening and dangerous for the culture as a whole. As I said, I'm really, really happy to have my books where people can find them -- especially since I bought my first lesbian book in a chain store at the Cinderalla City Mall in suburban Denver -- but my books -- and a lot of other books -- wouldn't exist without independent presses and bookstores (especially, in my case, feminist, queer and progressive presses and stores). They matter, a lot. Remembering that, and making a conscious effort to suppport them, matters, too.
- I'm loving the work of Canadian novelist Helen Humphreys. I just read Afterimage, and thought it was completely amazing -- gorgeous, dramatic, and unforgettable about love, art, place and class. I loved The Wild Dogs so much that I talked Lambda Book Report into letting me review it for them. Humphreys is brilliant, and she's written five novels and four books of poetry, so there's a lot to explore.
- I feel a spell of lj reticence coming on. They don't always linger, but, unless the fat girl flea or other events overwhelm it, this one might.
In other news: