Monthly Archives: February 2009

Submitted to the Big Sur Roundup, and here for those of you outside of its readership

Life at the Henry Miller Library is busy despite the season – preparations for the upcoming summer concerts, work in the archives, writing workshops, and, of course the massive amount of leg work for the Big Sur International Short Film Screening series that we all love so well.  Just a few things we want to make sure you know about:

We are introducing a new regular event – Second Sundays at the Miller!   So come by for an all day concert on the second Sunday of every month from June to September.  Likewise, we are very interested in featuring local bands and musicians for these events, so if you’d like to play, come down to the library and talk to us, there’s an application on our website (  We really want to be able to feature all you wonderful local musicians!

Also, look forward to May 30th when we will bring Alisa Fineman and Don Usner (author of Natural History of Big Sur) to the library to attack the question “Where is Big Sur?”  Those of you who knew about this program that was set to run last year will remember that it was scheduled for June 28th, a time when the answer to that question was largely, “at the Carmel Middle School.”  Keep in touch for more information about this community gathering.

Work in the archives is buzzing along, as well.  We are looking for new interns for the summer.  If you know students interested in library science, please let them know to visit our website to find more information about our internship in the archives. Keely has been in hiding among the wealth of letters, manuscript pages, and notes that passed between Henry Miller and Emil Schnellock from Paris to Brooklyn in the time around the 1930s.  So if you haven’t seen her in a while, trust she’s doing well and is in her element amidst engrossing Miller history.

Also!  If you haven’t seen Magnus for a while you can trust that he’s been busy, among other things, planning and carrying out two successful writing workshops.  The annual children’s writing workshop was held in December, and the young adult and fiction workshop in March.  Participants come back year after year for these unique and important workshops in the rapidly growing genre of young adult writing.

And, if you have been missing Eric it’s because he’s been in the thick of the planning stages of the Big Sur International Short Film Screening Series.  With invitations out to 2000+ filmmakers internationally, submissions are already streaming in.  This year we are proud to announce a slight change in the regular program – we have invited guest judges to have a say in the process.  We’ve not found just any guest judges, but Academy Award winning (and local!) cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, Academy Award nominee and legendary composer Philip Glass, cutting edge musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson, Academy Award nominated actor Woody Harrelson, feature film editor Susan Littenberg, and film producer Lawrence Inglee.  So get ready for Thursday nights!

We are all very busy, but we promise that if you’ve been missing us there are two things you can do to solve this problem: you can get ready for all of the wonderful events we are working so hard to bring you, or you can come on down to the library, which contrary to popular belief is open and we are excited to see you all.  Don’t forget about our local discount.  We’ve got a wonderful selection of books now and will have even more soon – if you want to see something on or shelves, let us know, we love suggestions.


The Omnivore’s Dilemma

I finally let myself pick up The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I admit. When I went to the grocery store, Pollan in mind, I bought grass-fed ground beef (I have maybe twice before bought beef for myself, and would not have picked it up had it not been for my interest in beef beyond the feedlot, a la Pollan) and organic milk. I report this to you as someone, after having seen the movie Baraka with what I can remember being about a 30 second clip showing a chicken factory became a vegetarian for nigh on a decade. I think it speaks volumes to Pollan’s abilities as a writer and storyteller that I do not feel compelled to swear off meat or dairy this time. Avoiding the standard “end is near” scare tactics that are too prominent in the non-fiction section of any given bookstore, Pollan tells the “natural history of four meals” as the subtitle indicates. He studies four meals from earth to plate – a fast food meal, a meal with ingredients purchased entirely out of Whole Foods (where I came to own grass-fed beef and organic milk), a meal with ingredients purchased from one organic farmer, and a meal entirely hunted and gathered by Michael Pollan himself. He does not resort to damning potential readers who may have the occasional McDonalds value meal (and indeed has one himself during the book – much to the disgust of his wife who opted for a “premium salad”). He has a healthy understanding of what is standing in the way of society returning to the position as that of hunter/gatherers. He does, however, clearly examine these things, allowing the reader to make their own informed decision. This style of informing without preaching is what I am most impressed by in this book.

Magnus told me this morning that Pollan has suggested that the lawn in front of the White House be turned into a productive vegetable garden. I am wildly enthusiastic about this idea – what a thing would that be?! If President Obama went out to the garden to pick some tomatoes and greens for a salad for he and his family, what a message would that send to the world about the priorities of this country. It would undoubtedly raise more consciousness about where food comes from than the lengthy tomes written on the subject, even ones as popular and accessible as Pollan’s. It might be a largely symbolic statement, but what a statement it would be.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma studies the Polyface farm in Virginia, which is self-described as beyond organic, which is a movement more interested in knowing the farmer raising the food one consumes, and disregards the idea of government certified organic labeling. The idea is that such policies would not be necessary if people were just more connected to their food. There is such a wide spectrum of food from the TV dinner in the deep freeze chest at Safeway than there is from the weekly share of a CSA (a system of agriculture where the consumer pays a couple hundred dollars directly to the farmer at the beginning of the year and gets a share of each week’s harvest as it is collected), all the way to wild mushrooms and game. Pollan looks at each step along the way in detail, discussing both the pros and the cons.

I could no more strongly suggest this book to people interested in learning more about where all kinds of food comes from. After reading this book, I believe that people will be sufficiently equipped to consider what the best way for them to eat will be. Pollan describes the omnivore’s dilemma as being the boon and burden of being able to eat more or less anything that lives, and how we have evolved to such a status on the food chain. How we all use that knowledge is up to us – does the fact that the actual cost of most processed food is well beyond what we pay at the supermarket checkout stand matter? Or is it more important to pay more money for unprocessed food that has not traveled 1500 miles to get to us? It may sound pretty black and white, but the grey area is the crux of Pollan’s book, and is vividly interesting. Call us here at the library and we’ll make sure you get a copy of the book. As for me, I’ve got a list of books this one has made me want to read: I will be reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle as well as Pollan’s other book In Defense of Food. My friend Joe told me that if The Omnivore’s Dilemma interested me that Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle would as well, so expect to hear some more from me about these food-reads that I can’t get enough of.

As a side note, in addition to reading about food I have been wildly preparing food of my own. Lately I’ve been throwing myself headfirst into bread baking. The power went out during a storm lately (which due to my lack of a woodstove means that I freeze in the dark when this happens) and I decided to bake a loaf of multi-grain bread (which did not rise properly because it was too cold!) and a big hearty barley and vegetable soup. Curled up, reading by candlelight with a pot of homemade soup and a still warm, fresh from the oven (albeit a little more dense than expected) slice of bread I remembered how much I love Big Sur. Here’s hoping you all find the same joy in where you live. And if you don’t, come have a vacation in Big Sur and find joy in where I live.

I promise I won’t forget how much I love Henry Miller again

I have fallen back in love with Henry Miller today.  I do it about once every couple of months.  I will admit, I have not read an entire book by Henry Miller in a long time (I did pull out Sexus a few months ago and started in on that, though not too long after that, became too engrossed in Angels and Demons by Dan Brown).  Today, though, I want to go home and curl up with Tropic of Cancer, which I haven’t read since I was in high school.  I want to re-read Black Spring, and I want to sink my teeth properly back into Sexus, and then read the entire Rosy Crucifixion.  I want to read it all again!  I normally find myself picking through my two favorites: Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch and The Colossus of Maroussi, but today nothing but the sordid tales of a hand-to-mouth living, sex crazed, dingy apartment dwelling, wine slugging, chain smoking, letter writing fool will do.  I don’t care how peaceful he felt in Big Sur or how majestic he found Greece and all he met there.  I want to know how warped he was by the loss of his June, and I want to hear him borrowing money from friends, acquaintances and sometimes, complete strangers.  I want to hear an account of eating food and drinking wine and staying up in bars until dawn.  I want to hear the earth shattering philosophy that he tucked into these accounts.  I want to place myself with Henry in Paris, and I want to live through it all, and I want him to take me there.

Why this sudden rebirth of the love I have always felt for Henry Miller’s writing?  I have started to import onto my computer the scanned images that we have of the Emil Schnellock Collection in the archives here.  As it takes around five minutes for each CD to transfer, there is wait time that I am more than happy to spend by reading selections of each disc.  The first one I popped in had an eight-page letter that Miller had written to Emil Schnellock, his childhood friend who he wrote numerous letters to during his time in Paris.  There is no better way to understand someone’s life than by reading the letters of someone who Wrote Letters.  Miller, a pathological writer, would write prolific letters to his friends when he could not figure what to add next to whichever novel he was working with at any given time.  They act as extensions of his novels – it is easy to select portions of his novels that stemmed from portions of his letters.  Miller’s work is all based in a romantic ideal of his own autobiography (with the exception of Smile At the Foot of the Ladder), and so it is no stretch to connect his letters with his novels and his life.  It is an incredibly organic and interesting relationship, and makes the pieces in this archive even more interesting, I would say, than the letters from a writer for whom the work and life and correspondence was more separate.  Henry’s zest for writing manifested itself in not only a huge body of work, but also an astounding number of letters to an incredible number of correspondents.

So, I’ll leave you here as I head home to read some Henry Miller (I will also be picking up Letters to Emil edited by George Wickes, which are more letters written to Emil Schnellock by Henry Miller.  If you’re interested in a copy of this book we have a few at the library, so come on down or give a call) and maybe I’ll even write a letter.  I will also leave you with an image of my favorite find of the day.  This is the closing of a letter to Emil Schnellock from Henry Miller from March 16, 1931.  It makes me realize that I would have been good friends with Henry.  Good friends, indeed.


The Internet is unreliable – read a book

In all likelihood you will be reading this at the same time that you read yesterday’s post. This is because the internet at the Henry Miller Library is so.incredibly.slow these past few days. I haven’t been able to upload my posts lately, so I assure you that if the internet doesn’t come back to life before 6pm today, I’ll head over to the Big Sur River Inn for a post-work cocktail and uploading session (oh, what a hard promise to keep). This is my public plea for high speed internet at the Henry Miller Library. I understand that there is a roadblock in the process of obtaining high speed on this particular section of the coast, but I do not understand why. I will completely admit that I’ve never spent too much time trying to find out why we don’t have high speed, and this is entirely because I am surrounded perpetually by tech-heads who I trust want high speed even worse than I do. I know that Magnus is daily trying to figure out a solution to the turtle-charging-through-molasses-with-a-bum-leg-after-a-big-meal paced internet. The poor guy gets so frustrated with the satellite internet here that he stays home frequently and works on his dial-up because he knows that if he waits 20 minutes for a page to load that it WILL actually load, whereas at the library we wait for 20 minutes and then get a page spitting at us some jargon about a satellite linkage failure and says, “refreshing the page may solve this problem.” It’s days like today, when I cannot get a single webpage to load for an hour and a half (a problem I surmise will continue until this evening), that I think that refreshing the page won’t solve the problem; but putting the satellite dish through my landlords woodchipper just might.

I think our unnamed satellite carrier got a hold of the library’s motto and thought it might be funny to carry it over into our internet. The Henry Miller Library. Where nothing happens. I’ll tell you what, satellite: no one’s laughing.

The satellite unpredictability just stands to remind me that there is nothing more reliable than a book. As long as there’s a little bit of light you can enjoy a book. You can read when the power goes out, you can read on the beach, you can read if you run out of gas and you have to wait for someone to drive by, you can read on a bus during a busy commute, you can read while you cook. You can read on a cruise when the economy is booming, and you can read at home listening to the news of the recession. If you read enough, you don’t even have to know a damn thing about the economy.

Eric and I had a wonderful chat about books again this morning, we discussed a few of our favorites with each other, and different ways we had been asked to write about books in school. Eric shared with me the crux of a 20-page paper he wrote about a comic character as it related to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I told him about the blessed professor I had my senior year at Smith who, after reading a paper I had written him on Allen Ginsberg and Henry Thoreau and giving me a (much deserved) bad grade, he asked me to write him another paper in the form of a special studies the next semester. Eric told me about how he discovered Milan Kundera in Prague and how he quickly became his favorite author. He told me about his favorite novella of Kundera’s found in Laughable Loves that is about lovers on a long drive who run out of gas and when the woman returns with a gas can, they make a game out of pretending they are strangers and in the process realize they more or less are. I told him about when I read Alice in Wonderland as a student in a comparative literature class and applied to it Freud’s theories of jokes (which is the only set of ideas of Freud’s that are worth a serious look, in my opinion. You should absolutely look at Freud’s Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious).

I am sure you are all familiar with those times when you’re in a good bookstore with a good friend and you’re talking about this book and how it made you read that book and you were on vacation when you discovered so and so, and she’ll always make you think of that place and so on and so forth. It’s the best part of being in a bookstore, it’s why a bookstore is best if it serves coffee and tea. It’s why shopping online for books is simply not the same. It’s thumbing the pages and selecting a random page as a litmus test for whether or not you want to read more. It’s looking across the room at your friend who is doing the same thing. Now I hope you’re all thinking about being in your favorite bookstore with a good friend. I get to do that everyday.

All of these nice conversations came about so that we could select new staff picks. However, because the internet is so abysmal at the Henry Miller Library, I can only share with you my own staff pick. When email once again works at the library, I will share with you Magnus and Eric’s picks.

I’d like you to look at Henry Miller’s Smile at the Foot of the Ladder. It’s the only work of true fiction that Miller ever published. It is a short story about a clown, and stands in stark contrast to his longer more lurid works like the Rosy Crucifixion or the Tropics. It is not lacking in Miller’s ever-present philosophical musings. It would be a nice morning with this short work and a cup of tea.

Sea Tales and Lost Friends

Folks, meet Waylon.  He sits in the sink.  awww.

Folks, meet Waylon. He sits in the sink. awww.

Well, folks, I did it. I took my little cat into the vet and he is now a completely vaccinated eunuch. A completely devastated, tired, groggy, and pissed off little eunuch. And because he’s been recuperating from the loss of his two little buddies, I’ve been babysitting him like a sick child on my two days off. I’ve been watching him sleep and making him eat, but my most important job has been to make sure that he doesn’t lick his stitches right out. Now, when the vet tech says, “alright, just make sure he doesn’t lick himself, and if he does then you can come on back and get a collar,” she has clearly never a. owned a cat or b. lived in Big Sur. First of all, cats do pretty much one thing: they lick themselves silly. Also, for those of us who live in Big Sur, we understand that, “come on back” means “next week when you make your town trip.” I drop things off at the dry cleaner and the nice man is almost apologetic when he says that it will take a few days. Two and a half weeks later when I make it back into town, it is me apologizing for using the dry cleaner as my personal closet for close to a month.

I don’t blame the vet tech; because even though I heard her say those magic words that should spark any Big Sur resident’s mind to ask further questions about how to perhaps avoid the 2 hour round trip and possible lost time at work to pick up a piece of plastic from the vet clinic, I walked merrily to the car with my pissed off cat and no small plastic cone. Waylon then proceeded to moan the whole car ride home, and when I let him out of his little hot pink carrier, he walked without his usual swagger to my bed where he promptly laid directly on my pillow and tried to lick his stitches out. It took me a while to convince him that if he licked his stitches I’d have to take him back to the butcher shop, I mean vet clinic.

Enough about my poor little cat’s “Great Matter.” All the time in the house meant I had plenty of time to a. bake up a storm (I though homemade bread cured what ails you, but Waylon was sad to find out it’s not true if what ails you is a sudden lack of testicles, and homemade oatmeal cookies are for sure what is missing from a joint birthday party at Open Mic at the Maiden Pub) and b. finish the Jimmy Buffett book I started last week. I don’t know what prompted me to pick it up in the first place (perhaps it was because my mother is a proper Parrot Head and I am the daughter of a fan of a son of a son of a sailor, or it might have had more to do with the $3.99 price tag on the book in the bargain bin at Borders and my aforementioned problem with leaving books in bookstores). Pick it up, I did, and put it down I could not.

I have, since working with Magnus who is both a sailor and a wonderful storyteller, really REALLY gotten a taste for the tales of seafarers. It is a style of storytelling unique unto itself – formed out of days and days on a boat designed to include not much more activity than drinking strong coffee, staring at the horizon, and of course swapping stories. Now, I say all of this as someone who has never been on a boat of any kind. I can only imagine, but boy do I imagine.

Magnus pipes in with stories from his years of travel through the South Pacific; the islands he went to, people he met, the way the mail boats work, and the differences between the sailing he did and the completely unromantic modern day version with GPS. There is a specific cadence to his stories, and a way that they are told. When Magnus starts a story, you should get your cup of coffee and take a seat. Jimmy Buffett’s stories have a similar rhythm and pace. This was both the curse and the gift of A Salty Piece of Land. The stories were whimsical and fun, they just weren’t a cohesive work.

A Salty Piece of Land does not stand as a particularly good novel; there is very little in the way of beginning, middle, and end, there is no climax, the plot is not as action based, and there is no subtle character development. It is, however, a nice ride on the waves of sea story telling. I imagine that if I were on vacation drinking rum on an island, the pace of life and my interest in the book would coincide and manifest in perhaps The Most Glorious Reading Experience Ever. However, pulling it off the shelf from next to another travel story – Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines; a book which sucked me in to the world of the Australian outback so thoroughly and with such an appropriate tempo that it didn’t matter whether or not I was down under– I think A Salty Piece of Land falls short of making me feel like I am someplace other than in a relatively cold trailer trying to make sure that my newly neutered cat doesn’t furtively lick his stitches.