Ex Libris Kirkland

Ex Libris Kirkland is my self-centered way to keep track of what I read, what I like, and what I want to remember.


Recently Quoted

  • Doubt and dedication often go hand in hand. And “faith,” crucially, is not assenting intellectually to a series of doctrinal propositions; it is living in conscious and rededicated relationship to God.

    an excerpt from The Abundance, written by Annie Dillard in 2017

  • Earth sifts over things as dirt or dust. If you stay still, earth buries you, ready or not. The debris on the tops of your feet or shoes thickens, windblown dirt piles around it, and pretty soon your feet are underground. Then the ground rises over your ankles and up your shins. If the sergeant holds his platoon at attention long enough, he and his ranks will stand upright and buried like a Chinese emperor's army.

    Micrometeorite dust can bury you, too, if you wait: A ton falls on earth every hour. Or you could pile up with locusts. At Mount Cook in Montana, at 11,000 feet, you can see on the flank a dark layer of locusts. The locusts fell or wrecked in 1907, when a swarm flew off course and froze. People noticed the deposit only when a chunk separated from the mountain and fell into a creek that bore it downstream.

    The rate at which dirt buries us varies. New York City's street level rises every century. The Mexico City in which Cortés walked is now thirty feet underground. It would be farther underground except that Mexico City itself has started sinking. Digging a subway line there, workers found a temple. Debris lifts land an average of 4. 7 feet per century. King Herod the Great rebuilt the Second Temple in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. The famous Western Wall is a top layer of old retaining wall near the peak of Mount Moriah. From the present bottom of the Western Wall to bedrock is sixty feet.

    Quick: Why aren't you dusting? On every continent we sweep floors and wipe tabletops not only to shine the place but to forestall burial.

    an excerpt from The Abundance, written by Annie Dillard in 2017

  • Chert, flint, agate, and glassy rock can flake to a cutting edge only a few atoms thick. Prehistoric people made long oval knives of this surpassing sharpness, and made them wittingly too fragile to use. Some people-Homo sapiens-lived in a subfreezing open air camp in central France about eighteen thousand years ago. We call their ambitious culture Solutrean; it lasted only about three thousand years. They invented the bow and arrow, the spear thrower, and the needle- which made clothes such a welcome improvement over draped pelts.

    Solutrean artisans knapped astonishing yellow blades in the shape of long, narrow, pointed leaves. The longest Solutrean blade is fourteen inches long, four inches at it's beam, and only one quarter inch thick. Most of these blades are the size and thickness of a fillet of sole. Their intricate technique is overshot flaking; it is, according to Douglas Preston, "primarily and intellectual process." A modern surgeon at Michigan Medical School used such a blade to open a patent's abdomen; it was smoother, he said than his best steel scalpels. Another scientist estimated a Solutrean chert blade was one hundred times sharper than a steel scalpel. Its edge split few cells, and left scant scar. Recently, according to the ever fine writer John Pfeiffer, an Arizona rancher skinned a bear with an obsidian knife in two hours instead of the usual three and a half; he said he never needed to press down.

    Hold one of these chert knives to the sky. It passes light. It shines dull, waxy gold- brown in the center, and yellow towards the edge as it clears. At each concoidal fractured edge all the way around the double-ogive form, at each cove in the continental stone, the blade thins from translucency to transparency. You see your skin, and the sky. At its very edge the blade dissolves into the universe at large. It ends imperceptibly at an atom.

    Each of these delicate, absurd objects takes hundreds of separate blows to fashion. At each stroke and at each pressure flake, the brittle chert might-and by the record, very often did- snap. The maker knew he was likely to lose many hours' breath holding work at a tap. The maker worked in extreme cold. He knew no one would ever use these virtuoso blades. He protected them, and his descendants saved them intact for their perfection. To any human on earth, the sight of one of them means: someone thought of making, and made this difficult, impossible, beautiful thing.

    an excerpt from The Abundance, written by Annie Dillard in 2017

Recently Noted

  • Ultimately, the actual crime and its investigation are remarkably secondary to the character arc of our hero, Inspector Chen. The final resolution of the case - which is nearly a fait accompli, is background to the subdued personal drama. Weird, but interesting.

    an note about Death of a Red Heroine, written by Qiu Xiaolong in 2003

  • Recommended by Robin Sloan, this is as he calls it 'a straightforward police procedural.' It's the sort of murder mystery / cop drama that I would never read, except for Robin's recommendation and the fact that it's set in China, which I'm always interested in. The setting is interesting - it's modern Shanghai, but in 1990 - before the incredible boom that's transformed Chinese society and first-tier cities. There's an undercurrent, a rumbling, of that explosion coming, but it's not clear what it might mean for the city's citizens. Our hero, Inspector Chen, is a poetry-loving cop who is surprisingly not 'flawed' or 'dark' or 'damaged', but just a guy trying to solve a murder and make ethical choices that help others around him. Not a page turner, but interesting!

    an note about Death of a Red Heroine, written by Qiu Xiaolong in 2003

  • This is a short collection of essays from Dillard's nonfiction career. I'd read her phenomenal 'Pilgrim at Tinker Creek', of course. But I read her amazing essay about a solar eclipse recently - which was amazing - and knew I wanted to find more. The eclipse essay is featured in this book as well, but the rest is SO good it feels like a greatest hits album of Dillard.

    The essay that parallels polar exploration and (of all things) going to church was incredible. The slow interpolation of the two tracks - a history of polar explorers (intrepid, brave, mostly doomed), and a meandering interrupted tale of attending a church service - was just incredible. They seem as disparate as two topics could be, and she slowly, slowly lassos them together. When she cinches them close enough that you see them connect - magic!

    She is also very, very funny.

    an note about The Abundance, written by Annie Dillard in 2017

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Ex Libris Kirkland is a super-self-absorbed reading journal made by Matt Kirkland. Copyright © 2001 - .
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