Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Emily, Ender, and Xenocide Coincide

Day 142 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project, and Emily is reading Xenocide, the third book in the Enders Quartet by Orson Scott Card, after getting hooked on the series when her mom listened to the first book, Enders Game, on audiobook. Emily then found the book at a bookstore in California.

You know I love coincidii, and today a young woman at Babbitt’s bought Enders Game, and we chatted about it, and tonight Emily sent her reply to my “Why?” question at Facebook....and now it is tomorrow and I am posting this, via time travel.

The woman in the store was buying a copy because she didn’t have one, although she had already read and loved the book. “It’s a cool story for middle school boys!” she said. “And then, when you read it again when you are a little older, you see that it is a commentary on life.” She called it a combination of science fiction and religion.

Emily concurs. Here is her summary, in her own words (condensed so I don’t give too much away!):

Orson Scott Card is most noted for his science fiction work, but also writes in other genres, and is an advocate and activist for the Mormon Church (I'm far from being Mormon philosophically, by the way). This is according to his Wikipedia entry. I haven't read anything outside of the Ender Quartet.

In the first book, Andrew, who goes by Ender, after attending and being indoctrinated in battle school, blows up a whole alien species (the "buggers") with several of his former classmates and proteges, thinking he is playing a game.

When Ender travels to another planet, he has a revelation that what he did was wrong, and the buggers were no longer a threat to human life when he blew them up. He writes a story about it, and signs it "Speaker for the dead", which then turns into a whole religion and philosophy.

In the second book, Speaker for the Dead, it's 3000 years later, and due to side effects from space travel, Ender and his sister, Valentine, have only aged into their 30's. We find out here that Ender has go to by Andrew, since everybody hates Ender now. They call what he did a "xenocide", since he killed off an entire alien species, or so they think.

A new alien species has been discovered, called, by lay people, "piggies". Piggies live on a planet chronically [besieged] by a microbe called the descolada. It's fatal to humans, but… piggies don't understand that, for humans, death is permanent.

Toward the end, a revolt happens, where two xenologists (somebody who studies alien life) end up interfering too much with the piggies,… and Andrew starts coming out as both the original speaker for the dead and Ender.

I'm on the third book now, Xenocide. Ender and Valentine are now in their sixties. The starways congress, an intergalactic version of the United Nations, has decided to blow up the planet the piggies live on, and a taoist teenager named Gloriously Bright, along with Ender/Andrew and his crew, are struggling to find out what to do separately. Gloriously doesn't know Ender and his friends personally (and vice versa) yet.

Gosh, I hope what I said was clear.

Emily was quite clear and I hope my edits don’t mess that up! I am now a little scared of buggers and piggies, and the frightening pun of “xenocide.” And, as I told the young woman yesterday/today (time travel challenged here) in the bookstore, I think you would like The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, Emily, and its sequel, Children of God—science fiction, comparative religion, cultural anthropology!

And, by further coincidence, I was just listening to the Beatles song with "piggies" in it, who sound like "biggies" in some of the refrain. Clearly, the Beatles were time travelers, too.

Futuristically, the Ender series has gone beyond 4 books now....

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Revisiting Great Myths + Musical Comedy

Day 141 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Nancy is reading Ransom, by David Malouf, a novel based on events in The Iliad of Homer.

Some other readers of this blog have also had a wonderful time reading this book, seeing these characters come alive again, and Judy B wants to read it next, too!

Not too far back, I revisited the Achilles/Hector/Patroclus moment of the Trojan War in the Robert Fagles translation of the The Iliad, with a Great Books discussion group in Chicago. The same group also discussed sections of the Fagles translation of The Odyssey, too, or we were going to, as I have a copy of it, as well as a copy of the Robert Fitzgerald translation...or they did, and I didn't get to that meeting. Anyway, the great myths persist inside me.

And inside my kids, too, thanks to re-tellings of all the great myths and Bible stories...on The Simpsons. Sigh.... The Simpsons also provides my kids' main contact with the great musical comedies of my youth. Double sigh....(for youth and musical comedy).

Speaking of revisiting, I finally managed to create a "blog roll," or blog list, in my case, since I am using an older editor at Blogger, as I learned through trial and repeated error. (A funny thing happened on the way to the blog list.....Triple sigh... Anyhoo!)

Under the Blog Archive list of past entries is a list of Blogs I Love to Visit, which will appear in the order of the most recent posting. There are other blogs I love to visit, and others I follow, but some are highly specialized, some are more private or family-oriented, and some I just haven't added yet.

You can click the latest entry in a blog on this list and get a new window! Different from clicking the links here, which take you away and you have to click the back button to...get back. (Beatles song!) Probably there is a way to change that--maybe not, with the old blogger editor--but I am technology challenged.

And logic challenged. But mythologically sound.

Monday, June 28, 2010

More Party Girls!

Day 140 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and my book group met tonight, so you get to hear what more party girls are reading: The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. This is the book that so many people are reading that it stays in hardcover. (Or large print paperback, kindle, and audiobook. The trade paperback will be out in January, 2011.)

Yes, we had chocolate pie. Plus Cool Whip and berries. Green chips and salsa. Biscuits and home made strawberry jam. And Beer Nuts Party Mix ("a party in your mouth"), leftover from the Saturday night party.

What a beautiful evening on the patio. Breezy and warm, clear skies, puffy clouds, it gradually got dark around us as we talked about the book and the natural other things that arose from it. It was the perfect blend of book talk and related-to-the-book talk that was free to go anywhere. It felt like everybody got to say what she wanted to say about the book, and we got to hear about personal experiences or ethical or moral dilemmas similar to those faced by characters in the book. Interpretive discussion and a connected personally-resonant discussion.

I know that many, many book groups are mere excuses for social gatherings, and people sometimes 1) don't talk about the book and/or 2) don't even read the book. But we are a lucky bunch. Susan, our fearless leader, formed the group because 1) she wants to read fiction (or, OK, occasionally memoir!) and 2) her other book group was not actually reading the book.

Tonight we had a new member, Suzie, who had come to us as a haven because her previous book group was...well, it was Susan's previous book group! (I hope I am not exposing anybody! Uh...I think we are safe.) Anyway, we discussed the book, which, I hear, is remarkably rare in book groups these days!

Any comments about book groups welcome here.

The images today are collage bookmarks made by me from things found in books, glued to the backings for Swedish cooking utensils. On the left is a collage poem made from lines from other poems cut from pages of an anthology cut out from an old (but abundant, not rare) book, so the inside could be used to put something else (not a gun) in. On the left is an art collage, with ironic content, to be used as a large bookmark. Bookmarks are things found in books! So are newspaper clippings, brochures, playing cards, seed packets, greeting cards, CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) courtesy/complaint cards, etc.

I love bookmarks, I love crafty doo-dads, and I love collage poems.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What the Party Girls are Reading

Day 139 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and since I attended a party last night, I'll tell you what the party girls are reading.

Nancy is 2/3 of the way through the Millennium Trilogy, so she is about to read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, and brought The Girl Who Played with Fire to another party girl because she had just finished it, and Lynn, the recipient, had been hooked by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I saw the Dragon Tattoo film Friday night, and really liked how it cut out extraneous information (and love affairs) and focused on the central characters. It also brought in a bit of plot from the other books, a sort of foreshadowing.

It really is a kind of wildfire, this series. I heard about it first from people in the bookstore looking for it maybe before Christmas, then from a friend in January. Then at a party in February, the hosts were reading it, and about every week since, I've run into someone who is reading it, which is why I finally did, to see what all the hoopla is about. I wonder if the hoopla is partly because of the untimely death of the author.

Judy is reading Mohawk, by Richard Russo, because she loved Bridge of Sighs. I love Russo, and so do my parents, who were the ones who told me about Nobody's Fool. I gave Straight Man to my chair when I left an English Department! Party girl Lynn also enjoyed Straight Man. I am way behind on my Richard Russo and must head to the library! The last Russo I experienced was The Whore's Child and Other Stories, on audiobook in my parents' car on a road trip to Ohio, and it made me check out the book from the library to read them all, after hearing a few.

On Judy's to-read stack is the E. L. Doctorow book Homer & Langley, a novel based on the real-life Collyer brothers, famous for hoarding stuff in their brownstone on 5th Avenue in New York, living there, and dying there, having retreated from the world into their own world. Why?!

Kristi is reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, because it was a Christmas gift. On her to-read stack is John Irving's Last Night in Twisted River, because she loves Irving, as do so many people I talk to, including me (yes, I talk to myself!). Kristi also recently enjoyed reading the Nanny Diaries, by Emma Mclaughlin and Nicola Kraus, recommended by party girl Judy, who had witnessed the kind of thing in the novel when she managed a building of fancy condominiums.

Kristi also enjoyed, if that's the right word for a surreal novel about a vague crime, Invitation to a Beheading, by Vladimir Nabokov, which she got for $1 on a library sale book cart!! When Kristi described it to me, it sounded like Kafka, and I see that the mini-reviews at Amazon do refer to The Castle.

Yay for library book sales! And yay for libraries and interlibrary loan, which Lynn thanks for the chance to read The Avengers, by Rich Cohen, and The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright. Lynn said Cohen was someone who grew up hearing that Jewish people did not fight back during World War II, but then met and interviewed a number of Jewish resistance fighters, the "avengers," for this book. She hopes everyone will read The Looming Tower: Al Quaida and the Road to 9/11, a Pulitzer Prize winner, so we can better understand what is really going on with Islamic terrorism, and Osama bin Laden in particular.

In thanking the Chicago Public Library for the opportunity to read these books, Lynn also shared the news that there's a tiny CPL branch now in the actual downtown Water Tower, along with a tiny Hot Tix booth, and a tiny, but very, very good coffeeshop!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mallarme and Celestial Hopscotch

Day 138 of the “What are you reading, and why?’ project and Parisians who play Celestial Hopscotch will be reading Stephane Mallarme, a hitherto unknown manuscript, because it is there! Under the dome at the Temple de Pentemont 106 rue de Grenelle 75007 Paris, some kind of numerical alchemy/performance art. Today, Saturday, June 26.

Somehow this is related to the official opening of the Shanghai World’s Fair, even though it officially opened in May. If you understand it, please explain it to me.

Mallarme is connected to Jean Verlaine as a Symbolist poet, and to Charles Baudelaire, who gave us prose poetry. Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud are passionate and brutal in the film Total Eclipse, very hard to watch, but watch it I did, putting together stuff for a Literature and Film class on how writers are depicted in feature film.*

And they are linked in this Bob Dylan lyric from “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”:

Situations have ended sad
Relationships have all been bad
Mine’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud
But there’s no way I’d compare
All those scenes to this affair
You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go

I am hearing it sung by Madeleine Peyroux, though, not Bob Dylan.

And that’s all I’ve got for you today, because I am off to 1) a poetry reading and 2) a slumber party. For real!

*A favorite film about a writer that I could not get hold of for this course is Stevie, with Glenda Jackson as the poet Stevie Smith.

And I bet she would be fun at a slumber party. Stevie, not Glenda.

Waving, not drowning.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Caliban as a Fiddler Crab, Moral Beauty

Day 137 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project, and today is a hodge-podge, potlatch, tie-up-the-loose-ends-of-random-coincidii-collage entry that I thought of entitling “Caliban as a Fiddler Crab, Moral Beauty, and a Boob Job,” but it would have made an awkward, unwieldy header and might have attracted unwelcome email messages.

Recently I blogged on Oscar Wilde who mentioned Caliban in the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Walter Pater, who spoke of moral beauty in a preface to Dorian Gray. Suddenly last night I got to see Caliban under the stars in The Tempest at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival!

Babbitt’s Books staff were invited to opening night, as we created a bookcase of Shakespeare books for their gift shop, and we offer a discount to actors, crew, and staff who visit the store! I saw one of our customers, who had just been in, and who said he, too, had just suddenly been invited, and wished he’d had a chance to read it first. “You can read it now,” I suggested, “and have this production fresh in your mind!” We both loved the circle of blue sky with clouds on the floor, on the back of the set, and on Ariel’s back, that blue-bodied spirit!

Each time I see a production of Shakespeare, I love to see what will come through most vividly to help me understand a particular element of the play I’ve not understood with my whole body and soul before, even if I “understood” it intellectually or had it explained to me in a class or by a critic. That is, what does the particular production make available to me and to everybody else in the audience, whether or not we all respond to it, or interpret it exactly the same way?

I’ve mentioned the blue sky with clouds aspect of the set (which corresponded to the actual weather yesterday: blue sky, puffy white clouds, transforming gradually into gorgeous clear night, nearly full moon, scatter of stars and lightning bugs) and I’d like to mention that two stairways moved from brown below to blue above as they approached the actor balcony and the ethereal realm. But there was also that circle of sky mirrored on the floor!

Caliban—half human, half monster—was marvelous, blotched, and fishy, with a golden fiddler crab-like claw on one hand. He touched me deeply when he spoke to the human visitors about the music of the spheres, the celestial music of the spirits—Ariel and his blue band—that he hears all around him as a matter of course, and which stuns and frightens and delights the humans hearing it for the first time. This Caliban also moved me in his pleas to Prospero. “I loved you,” recounting the early attentiveness Prospero gave him. Then, human monster that he was, Caliban lusted after Miranda, or that is Prospero’s excuse, anyway, for the withdrawal of love from Caliban…gave me pause!

I was moved, too, by Ariel, in service to the magical Prospero, enslaved, enthralled…. Ariel does everything he is asked, in return for his freedom. (I am reminded of the blue genie in Disney’s Aladdin.) And Ariel teaches Prospero a deeper compassion. Ariel would feel something for these dreadful suffering humans “if I were human,” he says! Gives Prospero pause, and helps him access his own empathy and forgiveness.

Then, deeply touching, Ariel is free. The actor’s body takes in the reality of that, the loss of Prospero as master, friend, and companion on the island, and then, deeply satisfied, runs off, free! There is no sentimental, out-of-character hugging. He’s just gone!

And Prospero, now truly humbled, even wiser than before, with only his human powers, asks for our hands in the traditional epilogue. And we applaud.

So what came through for me this time was that compassion and forgiveness are sweeter than revenge, that we ought to love our monstrous flawed selves, that we ought to behave responsibly and with love (both Caliban and Prospero learn this lesson!), and that our human selves are enough on this earth. We can let our spirits run free.

So, some coincidii:

The Babbitt’s bookcase in the ISF gift shop now displays my first poetry chapbook, Selected Roles (Moon Journal Press, 2006), which contains poems in the voices of several Shakespearean characters, including Miranda! I was in the Illinois Shakespeare Festival way back in 1981! (Selected Roles is also on the local authors shelf, and online, at Babbitt’s—always only $5!)

Caliban as a fiddler crab reminds me of Fiddler Crab Review, a marvelous online blogazine dedicated to reviewing chapbooks, old and new!

I have a chapbook by Susan Slaviero, who tells you what she is reading frequently in her blog, Mythology and Milk.

Likewise, Sarah Sloat in the rain in my purse. People keep telling me they loved what she said in the little interview I posted here, to time with a review of her chapbook, In the Voice of a Minor Saint (Tilt Press, 2009), at Prick of the Spindle, and they want more interviews with poets! So I will try to accommodate.

On that, I am thinking I might review/interview here in the blog if you to send me your poetry book or chapbook c/o Babbitt’s, so let me check with my boss about that. I would like to receive the book at the bookstore, have the option of reviewing it here or at the bookstore blog, and also have the option of keeping it, passing it on to a poet friend, or selling it gently used at the bookstore so a poet who can’t afford it new can afford it used, so it gets another reader, and so the boss can receive a bit of economic return for housing it, and for listing it online at the store database. Your thoughts on this?

Likewise, that would carry on the spirit and tradition of my reviews at RHINO, and I am waiting to hear whether they want me to do something similar again for them!

And what about the boob job? OK, I am now reading The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson, having finished The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in time to see it tonight at the local theatre, and somebody gets a boob job. Why?! There is a reason, but I am dubious about it, and don’t want to be a spoiler, etc., but it is making me think hard about how much of the trilogy is truly devoted to feminism, and how much is sex-sells-and-makes-for-a-blockbuster-movie-version. So I send you to Seana’s blog entry on another book, using the Steig Larsson phenomenon as a contrast. Much to ponder!

And, finally, one of our Babbitt’s customers yesterday was the woman who ran the spotlight for The Tempest last night! And Julie Kistler was in the opening-night audience, too, to review the production for her blog, A Follow Spot! (Don't know if her review is up yet, but it will be, and there's plenty of fun stuff to read in her blog!)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Courage, Redemption, and Pee

Day 136 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Mary is reading The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman, who is very, very funny. The subtitle is Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee, and I am a little afraid to read it...in case I laugh so hard I pee.

A couple days ago, Nene commented that I was "erudite and cerebral." I bet he doesn't think so now.

Here is an example of Silverman's book marketing, at Amazon:

Dear Reader:

My name is Sarah Silverman. I was once primarily known for saying the word "poop" and getting paid above market rates for it. But those days are over, because I am now going to be known for having written a book. Why did I write a book, you might wonder? Because it just seemed like the right time to be getting into the publishing industry.

I'm kidding. Publishing is rotting like an abandoned possum carcass on the shoulder of I-95. I know that for a fact, because shortly after my book deal was announced, I kept hearing people lament the imminent demise of literature. These days there is only one reason to write a book: to be taken seriously. And that is exactly what is about to happen to me. I'm an author now! Like Ernest Hemingway and Fyodor Dostoevsky!

When I was asked to provide text for an author page, I decided to approach it in a scholarly manner, because that's what authors do. I looked to other author pages for inspiration, and I learned so much. For example, while Hemingway and Dostoevsky do not have their own author pages on Amazon.com, Paris Hilton does.

See, doesn't that want to make you read the book? And Sarah Silverman does have her own Author Page. Interesting to learn that she struggled with depression, in addition to the bedwetting thing. Funny people are so often funny with sadness in the background.

As the summer reading catalogue continues, I'll mention some books people are reading now that other people were reading earlier:

Ron--Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James S. Shapiro

David--Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Judy--The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

Melissa--A Widow for One Year by John Irving

Lisa--Last Night in Twisted River, also by John Irving

I'm pretty sure those books have some courage, redemption, and pee in them, too.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Day 135 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Kim K* is reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, because Ivan Albright made her do it!

"First I should explain," said Kim K, "that in this case I'm 'reading' it via audiobook."

"Aauugghh," I replied, since I am focusing on reading books in print in this blog, curious about the concentration and thought processes involved in reading from the page, rather than through the ear....Interestingly, Kim K's experience applies!

"I have to say that being nearly through it now, I'm likely to go follow up by reading it in print soon. It's compelling, and I'm really enjoying a lot, but I inevitably feel that I miss some things in audiobooks, and I think I want to take it at my own pace as well. (That said, I also think audio makes some parts easier, especially when it's well read, as this one is.)

"So, there are probably 3 reasons why I picked it:

"(1) Circumstance: I need audiobooks for my auto commute, which is why I was looking in the first place. I'm backed up a mile and a half with print books** waiting to be read, but that 35-90-minute commute demands audiobooks.

"(2) It's a classic, and I don't believe I've actually read any Oscar Wilde before.

"(3 - and I really think this is the main reason) I have loved Ivan Albright's painting by the same name in the Art Institute for years and years and years. It's probably one of the first things I ever fell in love with there, right along with the Monets. I could sit for hours and look at it, and never tire of it. I love Albright's painting in general, and this is absolutely one of my favorites. An utterly astonishing painting. If the book could inspire that, then it had to be worth reading."

In the Wonderful Land of CoincidOz that is my mind and this book blog, I handled a copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray at the bookstore yesterday, a volume in the Connoisseur's Edition of Wilde's Collected Works, introduced by Coulson Kernahan with a preface by Walter Pater. Both Kernahan and Pater praise Wilde for his geniality and generosity as a person, and wit and beauty as a writer.

Pater also says Wilde carries on "the brilliant critical work of Matthew Arnold," referring I think to pursuing "sweetness and light" as the aim of a culture, beauty over function, intangible values over utilitarianism. This also fits with Bertrand Russell's sound bite (who knew Russell and "sound bite" would ever be in the same sentence?) at the end of that youttube clip (previous ungodly entry) saying we should value what is true, not just what is useful. (Hmmm. Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain. Arf, arf! What is it, Toto?) In his own aphorism collage preface to Dorian Gray, Wilde says, "All art is quite useless." And, coincidOzally, in another volume of that same Collected Works, Wilde comments on Pater's Imaginary Portraits.

Anyhoo! The Picture of Dorian Gray is a compelling "horror" story, adapted for film a jillion times, about a man who sells his soul to retain his youth and beauty, but, as literature, cliche, and Bertrand Russell might tell him, the truth will out. Ivan Albright "outs" it wonderfully. Albright's portrait is used in the 1945 film version.

The horror is not just supernatural but also psychological, and, as Pater argues, moral. Pater says that Wilde's heroes tend "to lose the moral sense" and thus "to become less complex, to pass from a higher to a lower degree of development." So, even in the world of art-for-art's-sake, beauty is not merely aesthetic. There is moral beauty. Sigh. My brain hurts.

Oh, I know! Wilde can help me out. Here are some of the aphoristic claims in his preface:

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass. The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.

Here, in the 21st century, in my little town, and my Wonderful Land of CoincidOz, I can go see Caliban rage in The Tempest at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival this summer. Under the stars.

OK. *Kim K is not the Kim addicted to hummus, at Hummus Anonymous. **I hope Kim K will tell us what's in her stack of print books, maybe giving us a list like Doug's List! Or Lizabeth's on the road reading list. Lost in the world of coincidLinks? Just hit the back button.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sailing on into Summer

Day 134 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and random people I talk to in the bookstore are sailing on into summer with their summer reading.

A lovely man with a British accent was in yesterday, buying a stack of Patrick O'Brian novels in the Aubrey/Maturin historical naval series, including The Commodore and The Mauritius Command.

His wife had a stack, too, and was hoping for a cheaper copy of the S. E. Hinton book, Hawkes Harbor. We have a signed first edition at Babbitt's, and I think she just wanted to sit in the sun somewhere and read it, and it's often best not to spill beverages and sunscreen on signed first editions. I didn't even know Hinton had written this horror novel for adults--I see we have it in general fiction at Babbitt's, not in horror, but hey. And I see that Elizabeth Hand, who reviewed it for the Washington Post, did not like it much and compares it to an Ed Wood movie.

But Hand admired Hinton's young adult novels, and I did love The Outsiders, Rumblefish, Tex, etc., which would all be good poolside reading.

And there is a mass of 5 or 6 handsome young men--hard to tell how many as they move, well, en masse--that come into the bookstore regularly, and chat in various aisles--lots of time in the literary fiction aisle, lots of time in the science aisle. Yesterday I noticed tans, black shorts, red shirts; they smiled, etc. I was not the one at the register when they bought their summer reading selections, so I can't tell you what they are reading, but it always quietly thrills me how much these guys like books.

I promise that reading is the source of the quiet thrill.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Godly & Ungodly & the Summer Solstice

Day 133 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Sarah is reading Why I Am Not a Christian, by Bertrand Russell. Meanwhile, Bob is reading The Case for God, by Karen Armstrong. They can strongarm,* or arm wrestle, each other!

Sarah says, "Unlike many vociferously off-putting secularists or atheists, he's gentle in his critiques. I like his calmness and rationality in addressing arguments and tenets of the Christian faith. He's also quite honest about the fact that Jesus said and did good things, but at the same time, he doesn't acknowledge that Jesus was the wisest man who ever lived. I find it a refreshing and enjoyable read."

She also provides this interesting youtube clip from an interview with Russell that shows his gentleness as well as his firm dismissal of "nonsense" and what is merely useful, but not true:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrxSkc68Ci0

*The "strongarm" humor above is not meant to make light of a terribly serious situation--when advocates of one religion strongarm believers in other religions, or nonbelievers. Russell even suggests at the end of this little video that some believers would lie--strongarm the truth--about some nonbelievers' supposed deathbed conversions. That gave me some pause.

Meanwhile, Bob appreciates Armstrong for being such "an excellent scholar and writer." I was fascinated by her accounts of life in the convent, and her decision to renounce her vows and do her search-for-God work in the secular world in her books Through the Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness. The latter uses T. S. Eliot's spiral staircase image from Ash Wednesday. She has a bunch of thick books on a number of religions that I yearn to read!

And today is the Summer Solstice, celebrated by pagans! No, really, it is a "pre-Christian" fertility holiday, honored and celebrated in various ways, as well as an astronomical event! Some of us love the longest day of the year, the stretching out of sunlight, and some of us welcome the shift back from sunlight to gradual darkness, as we move toward the Winter Soltice.

But right now, some of us are still deeply engrossed in our summer reading, some of it godly, some of it ungodly. Krystal is reading The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. Maria is reading Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, and Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, with her son, joining him in his summer reading assignments. Susan is reading The Sparrow, by Maria Doria Russell, having discovered it here! (And I know she will want to read the sequel, Children of God, as soon as she's done!) And Rebecca is reading The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters, a ghost story.

So, whether you enjoy the natural or the supernatural, and whether you are godly or ungodly, happy summer solstice, and happy summer reading.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Last Child in the Woods (on Father's Day)

Day 132 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Lisa is reading The Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, about nature-deficit disorder. I've linked you to his website, where you can learn more about him, the book, and the Children and Nature Network, which helps get kids back outside.

I'm so glad the book has got people thinking and talking about this, about how kids would be healthier and happier with more outdoor play, and truly immersed in nature. I understand parents' fears these days about letting kids run loose--our American society seems much less safe than when I grew up--but I had not considered an aspect mentioned in the Scientific American review of the book: kids have less access to some land due to landowners' fear of lawsuits. Sigh...

We moved from a big city to a small town in part so our kids could be freer and more independent, and get out there on their bikes and play in the park with their friends, and they do, or did, for a time, age appropriately, but my kids, like a lot of kids, are also wrapped up in electronic media, and find it more exciting that the slower pace of how things grow. They tolerate my little tours of the yard to point out what's blooming now. But they do still like walking or biking on the trail, and things are growing and blooming there, birds are nesting, etc.

But here's a strange development: my son prefers produce from the grocery store to something straight from the ground because 1) it has dirt and 2) bugs were on it. Egad! If I explain that the grocery store food was also in the ground and probably bugs were on it, he just won't eat any fruit or vegetables at all. "This stuff is picked ripe," I can say about food from the Farmers Market or the grandparents' garden, and "We have mint growing in our own back yard!" but there is still resistance. When I stress how we don't use herbicides and pesticides in our yard, so the mint is really clean, he'll just say, "Yeah, no pesticides, so bugs were on it." Sigh...

Just last night at a Father's Day dinner out, my husband and the kids were talking about camping. (They've been talking about it for years, not actually doing it. I haven't been camping since the Appalachian Trail, before kids. Have I sighed lately? Anyhoo!) I've got news for my kids: there will be bugs!

My neighbor's kids love bugs and recently hatched and released a zillion praying mantises into the yard. I took one (or a few, they were crawling on me) home to our yard, too, and I remember how awed my kids were each time we'd find a praying mantis or walking stick in the back yard here, in our postage stamp yard in Chicago, or visiting friends in Michigan, with hummingbirds! Yes, there is still wonder and delight in nature, and I hope my kids will stay open to it.

And now, because it's Father Day, I'll tell a little story my dad tells about searching for my brother Jeff in the woods in Florida. We had the run of the neighborhood in Gainesville, but we weren't supposed to go into the woods alone, as there were various dangers. Quicksand, for one. Barbed wire (at the edge of privately-owned land, I realize as a grown up, but we were climbing through it as kids.) We had gone on family hikes, though, so Jeff and his friend knew where they were headed on that shared tricycle. To the woods, the creek, an adventure!

But Jeff and Kenny did not return when called, so off the dads went on a search. And then, high up on a ridge, my dad looked down on a tricycle submerged in the creek, no sign of two little boys, and came the awful way home, heart pounding, to start the next stage of the search.

And there they were, safe, afraid to speak of the lost tricycle, but not sucked down by quicksand.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sarah J. Sloat--Minor Saint, Major Talent

Day 131 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I have been reading and re-reading In the Voice of a Minor Saint, by Sarah J. Sloat, because I have loved her poems when I read them individually in print and online magazines and in order to review it for Prick of the Spindle, an online literary and art magazine. The new issue is just out, Sloat has new poems in it, and it's all around wonderful.

In the Voice of a Minor Saint was published by Tilt Press, and you can see other reviews of it and their other chapbooks at the Tilt blog. The fabulous cover art is by Emmanuel Polanco. Sarah posts poems or links, neat images, and fascinating observations in her blog, the rain in my purse.

Because Sarah lives in Germany, I have never met her, but I asked her some questions and she kindly answered them. (I'm bold, she's saintly!)

The title of the book makes me ask, “Are you the minor saint?” Do you speak as a saint in some way—someone quietly going about her humble business in service of something mysterious and huge? Likewise, the title poem, “In the Voice of a Minor Saint,” makes me wonder if the speaker is a real or imagined “minor saint” from Catholicism, or someone similar to you? Or both.

I’m not Catholic but I think the saints are adorable. They all start out small, and then inflate. The minor saint is probably a projection, and I am him/her insofar as I’m called on every day to remember my insignificance. It’s a good thought - it staves off despair and generally makes life a lot easier.

I love the lines, “My heart is small, like a love/ of buttons or black pepper.” That couplet has a perfection to it, and I identify with it. How did you find that couplet?

I was under the impression that that couplet had been part of the first draft of the poem, but I went looking through my notebooks and it wasn’t. It crept in gradually. In the first instance black pepper was ground pepper, which is obviously wrong. Along with the saints I like their inventories: hailstones, teeth, horses, boats, the peanut crop. I decided on a couple things small and manageable, but important in their particular ways.

Tell me about how you handle speakers in general. And specifically, in “Europa.”

I wish I could do speakers better. I rarely set out to put words in someone’s mouth. In most of my poems in some way it is “me” talking. In “Europa,” the speaker gives voice to the frustration I’ve often felt having to listen to how great Old Europe is, and how it’s the root of anything good in America. Ideas like New York is European. Woody Allen is European. Tom Waits is European. Oh, come ON!

Tell me about the construction of “Naked, Come Shivering.” I see all the notes at the end, references to other poets, so I assume it’s a collage poem.

“Naked, Come Shivering” is a cento, or collage poem. I am a huge lover of modern French poetry. The Random House anthology 20th Century French Poetry is my plastic Jesus. Pierre Reverdy, Robert Desnos, Guillaume Apollinaire, etc., etc. My cento is a love letter to them. I had another cento published in DMQ called “Quite At Home” that also took its lines from the French. You pretty much can’t go wrong with them.

Tell me, too, how you came to write ghazals and why you like that form.

My first interest in ghazals came from reading Lorca’s gacelas, which are ghazals, if not in the strict form most people are familiar with. His “Gacela of the Dark Death” is one of my favorite poems. It has a rich, dark strangeness to it, and a weariness. I think of it often.

I’ve written a number of ghazals. It looks like an easy form and in a way it is, but it’s hard to write a good ghazal because there’s a certain monotony built in – the reader knows how every couplet is going to end. It’s a challenge to keep it surprising and engaging and have it hang together. What I find most appealing is how each couplet can be its own poem – that gives the poet focus.

I was at RHINO when we took the poem “The Silent Treatment,” but I loved your whole submission, wanted to take others as well, and have recognized other poems from it, I’m pretty sure, when I see them in other journals—for instance, “Tinder Box,”* the crayon poem in Apparatus. Tell me about your submission process—how you decide to send what where, if/when you revise after rejection or keep sending, and whether you are surprised at what a particular magazine decides to take.

I like to think I do my homework. I don’t submit if I’ve no idea what the editors are publishing. I was thrilled when RHINO took “The Silent Treatment,” and I submitted again the following year with poems I thought would fit, but was turned down. I have two poems in the new issue of RHINO 2010, “Steam” and “sPonge,” the latter being an homage to Francis Ponge. French again!

I often let a poem sit. Just as often I go on a campaign, sending out multiple subs. I never submitted “Tinder Box” again after RHINO turned it down. When Apparatus started up about five years later, I went through some older poems to decide if I just wanted them to die, and gave “Tinder Box” a second chance. They took it, and even nominated it for a Pushcart, so you never know. Still, it’s most important the poet like the poem. You can hear it praised to heaven and if you don’t like it, it’s going to sit poorly in your gut.

Because you are in Germany, do you seek out online magazines? Or print magazines that now have online submissions? And has your life as a poet gotten easier with online submission managers? (Any horror stories? Never hearing back, etc. You don’t have to name names.)

When I started submitting I went with online because it was easier. It’s still easier, but I submit to print sometimes, too, although it really is a postal hassle. I’m lucky now that many do take online submissions because it costs me six euros in postage to submit by snail mail if every poem is on a separate page, which it is. If I have to withdraw a poem, I have to send another letter. And then, yes, after all that time, trouble and money, you get journals that never answer. I’d like to think something went wrong with the post but mostly I suspect they couldn’t be bothered despite all the postage I slapped on the SASE.

I appreciate the editors’ conundrum, though – it’s way easier for everyone to use online submissions, but suddenly the journal has poems out the wazoo. I’m sure it blisters.

I love “Opportunity,” the opening poem. How did you come to write that one?

Someone was telling me about a call they missed because their cell phone was turned off. It’s just a poem about missing the cue, or being too wound up in something that seems more important, like making yourself marvelous.

Is “Folk Art” about a relationship as well as art?

Yes. I love naïve and folk art and the imperfections they breed. I made quilts myself for a while, very badly. I always find it sad and funny to see a painting of someone whose head is way too big or whose arms are too short. I get a great comic rush of empathy. There’s something truthful about it. In the poem, that typical image is the jumping-off point for a failed relationship, the speaker having been painted by a handicapped mechanic, her lost lover more a product of John Singer Sargent.

Many hot poems here—lots of heat and humidity. Were several indeed written in a hot and humid spell?

I’ve never liked hot weather. It stems from my teenage reluctance to be seen in shorts. I just enjoy being fully clothed! “Summer’s End” was inspired by heat, or rather the ebb of heat, and the comfort that brings. We had a very hot summer in 2004 and again in 2006 and you know the Europeans don’t do air conditioning, which I’m kind of glad about.

“Humidity” is more about misunderstanding and incomprehension, but found a good metaphor in the weather. “Humidity” was one poem I wasn’t sure would fly, but I was lucky it was taken by the first journal I sent it to. Other poems in the book – “Folk Art” for example – almost died in the no-go file. I submitted “Folk Art” about 12 places before a print journal took it, then Verse Daily ran it, which made me really happy.

I love the ugly sunglasses in “Shady” and the “idiot mittens” of cell phones. We are in contemporary time, then suddenly there’s Jesus, shoeless, by way of comparison. I love the helplessness in the center of the poem, the stripping away. How did you get this poem?

"Shady” is a happy accident poem. I’d lost my sunglasses and my mother gave me hers, which were incredibly awful, but did the trick, sunwise. On one of the days I resorted to wearing them, my sandal fell apart while I was going the short distance to the sandwich shop across from my office. A distance in which I was completely destroyed – my ego, my attire. There I stood persecuted by life, humble and victimized. It was hard to believe, as shady as the story of Jesus.

“Idiot mittens” is a steal from Bill Cosby, who talks about them in a skit on his 1960s record “Why is There Air?,” referring to those mittens kids wear that are connected by a string. He joked about pulling on one hand and the kid smacking himself in the face with the other hand. Which brings me to the cell phone.

Then, from barefoot to “High Heeled” on the next page. Is this a persona poem, or are you a constant striver? Comfortable with/troubled by your own amibitons?

That’s definitely a persona poem, and more about vulnerability than ambition. Weirdly enough, it started out as a Sept. 11 twin towers poem. I know all that is erased. Still, it goes to show, start writing and you never know what you’ll end up with.

I ask because the voice, and problem, sounds so different in “The Problem with Everything,” where there is a kind of wide, ongoing, indiscriminate empathy with things & people.

I’m a great believer in things, like the child who believes her doll is real, or the grown man who talks to his gun. The speaker in the poem doesn’t want to care but she can’t help caring. Even the gum stuck to her shoe is symbolic of something horribly sad, and everything that goes wrong goes wrong with her specifically in mind.

Tell me anything you want me to know about the book. And ignore any question that troubles you, or rewrite it to answer as you wish. I am asking the naïve questions, because I am like that.

I found it a bit difficult to choose poems for the chapbook. I didn’t have a bunch of poems that seemed to naturally belong together. So I chose by feeling rather than topic or theme or form or anything. With all but one of the poems in the first person, I think it ended up well, but it’s still not that cohesive mass of glue that some chap publishers seem to favor.

I do have a number of poems now that use household items as a springboard (toaster, kettle, faucet, etc), which I hope someday to publish. “Steam” and “sPonge” are among them.

[Now I can’t wait for Sarah’s household item chapbook!! ]

*”Tinder Box.” Did you have a house fire? I ask because we did.

Yes, years ago when I was 23 or 24. But no one died, and the house wasn’t destroyed, just badly damaged. With the insurance money, I was able to pay off a chunk of my student loans, and I used the opportunity to switch from cassette tape and LP vinyl to CDs, which is where we were in technological history at the time. As much as a house fire can be a terrible thing, and it was for my parents (I was in grad school and living with them), for me it was a very freeing experience to lose everything but whatever I had in the trunk of my car.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Innocents Abroad, Books Galore, Laps to Swim

Day 130 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Dustin is reading The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain. I hope he will tell us why! (I owe Dustin a letter, snail mail (!), but I hope he will forgive me for writing not to him but about him...for the moment.)

The Innocents Abroad is sort of a travel book, one famous for a version of "the ugly American" and for spoofing just about everything, including religion, as the tourists are headed to the Holy Land. So keep that in mind as you embark on summer travel.

Mark Twain is famous for his humor, of course, and for his sadness later in life, for being the father of American literature as the author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (sometimes banned these days, for using the language of its time), and for coming in and going out with Halley's Comet.

I am just now reading about Mark Twain's feud with Bret Harte! They were friends early on, and I'm not sure yet what happened, but I will find out in the Literary Feuds book, by Anthony Arthur, which I did pick up off the floor in the bookstore above.

So far I know that Harte was successful first, and that some think he veers toward the sentimental in pleasing readers with the good side of the West, keeping silent about the bad. And that Samuel Clemens was very ambitious, and had to get the heck out of Nevada for insulting a lady...and having her husband come after him with a gun. And, as in The Innocents Abroad, Clemens (Twain) was not very tolerant of anything sentimental. So, we'll see....

(Some people think I am sentimental, maybe because I cry at Hallmark commercials. But I promise you that, while I can be jerked around, I will not jerk you around.)

Now I am 1) very hungry for breakfast, but 2) off to swim, as I was advised to try the later time, to avoid the crowds. Yes, there are crowded lap-swim lanes at 6:30 in the morning.

More books, and more feuds, to come!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Unearthing the Dragon

Day 129 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project and Beth, who does not read blogs, is reading Dorothy Sayers and Unearthing the Dragon, by Mark Norell and Mick Ellison, about Chinese feathered dinosaurs.

I feel like I have been to CoincidOz and back! I just finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, and a character in it reads a lot of mysteries, including Dorothy Sayers. My kids are on a Friends kick, and Ross has just been going on and on about paleontology, and Joey somehow did not realize chickens were highly-edible-Kentucky-fried birds, and Unearthing the Dragon is about how dinosaurs are more like birds than lizards, and the research that supports this relatively new discovery.

Childhood--I remember all those books about dinosaurs as the "great lizards." And, yes, dragons. They were always reptiles in my mind. To think of them also as birds is really neat! I love revision, and revision of knowledge. That's all for now. But I'm sure something will get revised tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Icarus Syndrome

Day 128 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Tina Brown is reading The Icarus Syndrome, by Peter Beinert, one of her writers over at The Daily Beast.

How do I know? I heard it on NPR! Morning Edition. Twice! Once very early, on the way to the pool for lap swimming, and once not too much later on the way back from the hospital for a fasting blood test. (Yes, doughnuts and highlander grog coffee on the way home.) Our local radio station repeats Morning Edition twice...in the morning, or it wouldn't make much sense.

Anyway, The Icarus Syndrome is about flying too close to the sun in terms of hubris, or getting too big for our britches...and their waxed-on feathers. In fact the subtitle is A History of American Hubris, which suggests we just keep doing it, that neither myth nor experience has taught us how to avoid it.

Tina Brown, in her Morning Edition interview, was noting that "learning the lessons of Vietnam" is hard to do, as warnings not to get involved in recent wars were not heeded and proved unfounded...but then, as Beinert explains, America got in a "cycle of hubris" and did try to do too much, namely Iraq and Afghanistan at the same time. To use yet another cliche, America bit off more than it could chew.

Which brings me to chocolate pie. My friend Kim has offered to bring some to our book group discussion of The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. If you have read it, you know why I am thinking, "Ick-R-Us."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ayn Very Randy

Day 127 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project and Fred is reading The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand because his daughter made him. He is reacting as some of the first reviewers did, finding it very long--heh heh, "a whale of a book," to tie in with all those baleens in earlier entries--with not very pleasant characters.

It is, however, a very popular book, especially among young people seeking a heroic philosophy of life and/or older people seeking to justify a life of rational self-interest. I remember when my uncle insisted that I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, which I did find intriguing in my 20s, and which I did see entwining with the philosophies of Aristotle and Nietzsche, having just read them in college. However, my uncle was also a follower of L. Ron Hubbard, the science fiction writer who created a religion.

I asked Fred if The Fountainhead was the one with the excellent roll-your-own cigarettes, but it isn't. That's Atlas Shrugged, where the really smart people, the best people, who know how to make good things, retreat to a mountain and make the rest of the country's economy fall apart since they are no longer contributing to it. Oops! I think this plot spoiler is OK, as Rand's Objectivist philosophy is well known, and laid out nicely in Wikipedia. (I love Wikipedia, even though college students are not allowed to use it as source. It's a great place to go and have things all together, listed and summarized, and then you can go to the other sources to track things down and verify them.) Anyway, although smoking is bad for us, and we shouldn't do it, I remember intensely how good those roll-your-owns sounded in...Atlas Shrugged. (Plus, the title itself is a spoiler!) She's smoking one in her portrait above.

I had forgotten, till Wikipedia reminded me, that Rand was a Hollywood screenwriter, and even an actress--an extra, anyway. But she did not like the film adaptations of her novels. Sounds like she was a hard person to please, and had a falling out with her libertarian friend Isabel Paterson, of The God of the Machine. Which reminds me of that book about literary feuds that I saw lying on the floor at Babbitt's. I wonder if these two are in it! (I'll let you know. I am getting paid in books for labor & display of two poetry/art collages I made as samples for an upcoming workshop at the store in July, so maybe I will pay myself with the feud book. I have already paid myself with The Life and Mind of Emily Dickinson, by Genevieve Taggard, which I have already read but didn't previously own a copy of; I read it back in college, as research for The Belle of Amherst. And I would have paid myself with Sylvia Beach's book on her Shakespeare and Co. bookshop, which I held for myself for a couple days, but which I then released and of course somebody bought it.)

I would just like to say, parenthetically, but outside the parentheses, that I forgive everybody for their love lives, Rand included. Speaking of feuds, she was not very forgiving, even if she was randy enough to marry a fine-looking actor and later have a romance with Nathaniel Branden, also married, with the OK of the respective spouses (if we are to believe Wikipedia), because later, when Branden fell in love with somebody else, he and his wife (again trusting to Wikipedia) thought it best not to inform Rand, which turned out to be right, as when she found out she blasted him in print for his personal life. Sigh...

In the words of my friend Tom, who was defending a guy a bunch of other people were ridiculing, "He's just a guy trying to get by," which might also be said of Rand, ridiculed as much as she is revered. Alas, my kids know of her in glancing references in The Simpsons and South Park. (Yes, I let my kids watch these things. They are 20 and 15. The 15-year-old doesn't watch South Park.)

And now a whimsical discussion of the pronunciation of her first name. In my 20s, when I was reading her books, I always heard it in my head as AYn, long "a" sound, as in Ayn Misbehavin'. Later, one of my college students insisted it was just a quirky spelling of Ann. And Wikipedia tells me it should be pronounced EYEn, long "I" sound, putting the "I" of her "rational egoism" and the "eye" of her visionary status right there in the sound of her name.

Wikipedia also says this about another of her books: "Her novella Anthem was published in England in 1938 and in America seven years later. It presents a vision of a dystopian future world in which collectivism has triumphed to such an extent that even the word "I" has vanished from the language and from humanity's memory."

And now, late for work, I must vanish.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Swim Undone: Tudors & Thunderstorms

Day 126 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Judy is reading The Tudors, by G. J. Meyer, presumably because she enjoyed this author's book A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, mentioned at Facebook in connection with this one.

So many people have been fascinated by the Tudors, and so many books and films have told us the Tudor stories. Meyer suggests that legend has entwined with reality in the various accounts of Henry VIII and his wives and the reign of Elizabeth I, so he wanted to present a truer picture:

"The true shape of the Tudor story has been long obscured, even for leading historians, by religious controversy and differences of political ideology. It is only in the past couple of generations, as ancient passions have cooled, that the story has come into clear focus, and too often it has done so only for the historians themselves. For the public at large, the truth has continued to be overwhelmed by old legends with too little basis in fact. My hope for The Tudors, as it goes to press, is that it will help to bring popular understanding of one of history’s most deservedly famous dynasties into closer alignment with reality."

Hence the subtitle The Complete Story of England's Most Notorious Dynasty.

And I am blogging this morning thanks to the thunderstorms rumbling all around me. I drove to the pool as usual early this morning, but now it's not just lightning seen but thunder heard that delays, in 15 minute increments, our ability to get into the pool for early bird lap swimming. So this early bird caught no swim.

And the daisies, just opened, have taken quite a pummeling lately, as have the fragile golden columbine. But it's great not to have to water everything, and to see how everything is thriving and green! And I loved my train trip this weekend, all the blooming fists of spiderwort along the train tracks.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Reading on the Road (to CoincidOz)

Day 125 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project and Lizabeth is reading The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins, because she needed to something to read while parked near Union Station, waiting for me to arrive in a delayed Amtrak train. It wasn't that much of a delay, the usual pause to let freight trains go by, and traffic had been terrible, so Lizabeth was relieved to stop at a Barnes & Noble, pick up a paperback of a book she'd always wanted to read, continue on to Clinton Street near the station, and sit with the window open, a cool breeze having followed the drenching rain at 11:00 a.m., clearing off the awful heat and humidity of the day before.

Then we headed off to Printers Row Lit Fest (previously known as Book Fair) on a beautiful, cool, breezy afternoon. Of course the 11:00 rain could not have been fun for the all the booksellers, but it was gorgeous later in the day.

We arrived to hear a sweet folksy voice singing "Puff, the Magic Dragon." It was indeed Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul, and Mary, there to sing and to sign copies of his children's book. It was so moving to hear him sing, ad lib lyrics/verses, and speak of the memorial service for Mary Travers. He will be at Ravinia this summer, on July 20, singing with Paul (Noel Paul Stookey).

I picked up my contributor's copy of After Hours, their 10th anniversary issue, a double issue, and the new RHINO, to sell at Babbitt's. Actually I will buy a copy, because it has Sarah J. Sloat in it! And Lynn Pattison! And Steven Schroeder. Oh, and so many other fine poets!

OK, but I am here to tell you what Lizabeth will be reading on the road, after The Moonstone. She has a stack of paperback books and an excellent plan. She has to do some extensive traveling for work, and will leave the book behind once she has read it, to make room in her luggage for souvenirs! So, if you are lucky enough to be in the one of the cities she visits, in the land of CoincidOZ, you might find:

The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak
Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay
You Must Remember This, by Joyce Carol Oates
The Inheritance of Loss, by Kira Resai
or any of these Alexander McCall Smith books from the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series:
In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
Blue Shoes & Happiness
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
The Miracle at Speedy Motors
Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

I think The Miracle at Speedy Motors is the one my parents were listening in the car to on a road trip to Ohio recently. And Tea Time for the Traditionally Built sounds especially delicious. I am imagining scones with lots of butter.

There were no delays on the train trip home. There were donut holes, a baker's dozen, of which, I promise, several remain, for tea time.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

All Sex, All the Time

Day 124 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. My dad is reading The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge, by David McCullough, because he enjoys learning the history and background politics of great events. Dad is particularly fascinated by the figure of Boss Tweed, finally getting caught in various shenanigans, and thereby helping to tell the larger story of this great engineering feat.

Sounds like a good family story, too, as the son takes over work begun by his father, Washington Roebling.

And Father's Day is coming up, you all!

My mother has finished her latest book, so she is reading Glimmer Train and Granta, two of the print magazines she subscribes to. Glimmer Train is all stories, all the time. Granta is an always fascinating literary magazine, each issue generally exploring a particular theme, and I am lucky enough this year to have received a gift subscription to it from my parents.

Yes, my mom is reading the sex issue. Is it all sex, all the time? I asked, using different words.

"Yes," was her answer, after a pause to calculate. "Some were remotely about sex."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Horine and More Baleen

Day 123 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project and Karen has been reading History of Richwoods Methodist Church, by Norma Horine, because her family founded it. The church. Of Horines!

This is a plastic ring binding of photocopied typescript, published for an interested audience. We have lots of this kind of thing--family history, church history, church ladies cookbooks, memoirs, etc. at Babbitt's and it was wonderful to hear from Karen what is in one of these, and a bit of what is left out. There is a lot about Miss Mabel, a bit of a rival perhaps to Mrs. Norma? Great anecdotes. Brief accounts of all the preachers over the years, church dinners and picnics (Dinner on the Ground), descriptions of the stained windows, and how each came about. Sadness, the loss of a child. Even murder in the small town.

The Horines of Missouri are one branch of the family, pronounced horEYN, and another branch lives in this area, pronounced horEEN, the piano people. The church in the area dates back to 1829, in the itinerant preacher days....which reminds me of that Eudora Welty story, where the preacher meets the bandit and they both meet Audubon. This church history also reminds me of Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson, which I've read, and Home, which awaits me.

The baleen whale has nothing to do with Horines. I had just discovered it in my entry on scrimshanders...

Tomorrow I'll tell you what my parents are reading, and then I head off on the train to Printers Row Book Fair in Chicago, and I'll find out what people are reading there!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Wonderful CoincidOz

Day 122 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and two more random women are reading, or will be soon, the first in the Stieg Larsson trilogy, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and so am I, because the movie is coming to town in two weeks. We did not have it in the shop, but the next day book two appeared...and is gone again already.

And people who entered the Anabiosis Press Chapbook Contest are reading Fragrant Inferno by Meghan Brinson, the winner, because it just arrived in their mailboxes. This is a fascinating book of contemporary poems that echo various myths of the Garden of Eden. An introductory note lays out the main characters of Adam and Eve, Lilith, Lucifer, and Samyaza, in the Book of Genesis, Book of Lilith, and Book of Enoch.

And today I handled a bunch of Oz books. Some were later printings of books in the series by L. Frank Baum, and some were written by other authors, based on the originals. One of the authors is John R. Neill, an illustrator, but not the original illustrator, who was W. W. Denslow. Others included Ruth Plumly Thompson and Jack Snow, with various illustrators other than Denslow and Neill, including Jack Kramer and Dirk.

Coincidentally, I also handled books by Gregory Maguire in the Wicked Years series, that re-see Oz from the witches' perspective.

And, by further coincidence, I pondered all this in the context of the upcoming cemetery walk in our town--upcoming in October, but auditions are in June--that takes place in the cemetery where Dorothy is buried, the real Dorothy, who died young.

And I got to experience my own joyful good fortune by way of the arrival, on roller skates, of my children on the sidewalk outside...come to borrow the car and receive some baklava. What a wonderful life! Anyway, it's my son's birthday. And Judy Garland's.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Save the Scrimshanders

Day 121 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and this is one of those entries following up on previous entries, including random coincidii (made up plural of coincidence, which has its own perfectly good plural) and other whimsy.

Like Emily Dickinson, I love words. And, like myself, I love coincidii. Yesterday I told you about Late Wife, a book of poems by Claudia Emerson. Early in the book, in the "Divorce Epistles" section, is a stunning poem called "Photograph: Farm Auction" that focuses on a hayfork that resembles "a plate of baleen / from the mouth of a whale." So today it is the word "baleen" that I love, a synonym for "whalebone" in one of its dictionary meanings, but specifically the plates in the mouth of the "right whale," the kind of whale it was "right" for whalers to catch because of its abundance (and therefore profit potential), baleen being the whalebone of whalebone stays in women's corsets (for which there is a less of a market these days. Save the whales!) They are also called baleen whales, or just whalebone whales.

Also yesterday, in the bookstore, I handled a book called The Yankee Scrimshanders, by Fredericka Alexander Burrows, about the art of scrimshaw, or carving on whalebone, with images of the carvings on whalebone stays for women's corsets! (Save the scrimshanders!)

The coincidii just continue. We got another copy of The Technology of Orgasm, by Rachel P. Maines, a paperback for $5, shelved in Women's Studies, and it sold immediately, as I knew it would, so I didn't even try to talk about it here, or provide a link to our search page.

I had bought the hardcover a while back...then couldn't find it in my house and wondered if I'd hidden it or loaned it out, but it is just that the lettering on the spine is squeezed in such a way as to make it not immediately readable, sort of like camouflage, I think. Anyhoo! I found my home copy. This ties in because the technology of orgasm, those machines doctors could use to relieve the "hysteria" of women, so they didn't have to do it, er, manually, or keep hiring midwives and other female assistants to do it for them, was big in the age of women's corsets! As explored in Sarah Ruhl's new play on Broadway, In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play. (Save the orgasm!)

Speaking of hayforks, my little Poetry at Babbitt's workshop will be reading poems about farming implements and the Farmer's Market and statues of Abraham Lincoln, at "Fresh From the Farm," an event Saturday morning, June 26, 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., during the Bloomington Farmers Market on the square, in the McLean County Museum of History. (Save the small farms!)

I should stop now.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Claudia Emerson, Late Wife

Day 120 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I am reading Late Wife, by Claudia Emerson, because the same poet friend who wanted me to read The Painted Bed, by Donald Hall, wanted me to read this, so I borrowed it, and now I don't want to give it back. Sigh...but I will.

This won the Pulitzer Prize, and those Pulitzer prizewinners are good! The Wild Iris, a favorite of mine by Louise Gluck, also won the Pulitzer Prize.

I am about to start the last section, the actual "Late Wife" section, which 1) is subtitled "Letters to Kent," so it is epistolary, as was the first section, addressed to an ex-husband and 2) begins, I see, with sonnets. Googling, I found plenty of info on Emerson, and blurbs that tell me Kent is the new husband--first section was "Divorce Epistles," second was "Breaking Up the House"--and that Kent is the one with a "late wife," as in dead wife, though the first two sections of the book make the speaker into a "late wife" of her first marriage, too, dead and resurrected, in a way.

You can read "Artifact," the first sonnet in the "Late Wife" section, or book the author to speak, here at Blue Flower Arts. This is one of those lovely random things for me, as I am working on a poem with a quilt in it, too!

You can also read "Biology Lesson," about the link between the turtle and the bird, a poem from her next book, Figure Studies, which will now call to me as I love science as well as poetry, and here I get two, two, two mints in one! But I am a bit astonished at the number of typos in the poem on the Blue Flower Arts website--hope they fix that! Of course, I see how it can happen, as my pinky often does the same....

Here, at her own website, are Emerson's other books. Look at the gorgeous cover on Pinion. Oh, there is so much poetry I want to read. I have friends' books yet to order, and now these. How will I ever keep up? Many thanks for these borrowed books!

Holy cow! Her new husband is a musician, and she also writes songs with him and performs! Yay! Folk, bluegrass, jazz, blues, and more.

For the rest of the day, I will be musing on my own imagined band, Midlife Crisis. It could happen.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Early Bird Catches No Blog

Day 118 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project, and Kim is reading Ladder of Years, by Anne Tyler, because 1) blogger is down and 2) her camera is lost, so she has to read! Presumably she hoped to upload pictures from her lost camera into her blog, etc.

I am hoping that 1) blogger is up again, since I am blogging now and 2) that MSN will keep working, as I only thought I was blogging now…and am/was not…

I couldn’t blog this morning because 1) I was swimming laps (pool opened for Early Bird Lap Swim!) and 2) blogger was down. I will have to get a new summer routine now that I swim in the morning when I used to be blogging. Maybe I will write the blog entries in my head, while swimming, and then come home and write them down. I have composed poems that way!

Of course 1) I have a good imagination and a gradually poorer memory, so it’s possible that I’ll think the blogs I swam are blogs I wrote… and/or 2) maybe I could get one of those fabulous computers that works underwater. Heh.

I love Anne Tyler. I remember reading a section of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant in a magazine, offered as a short story, and then recognizing it when I read that chapter in the book. Loved The Amateur Marriage. Can’t tell you why.

Rebecca finished Strength in What Remains and had The Little Stranger and In a Sunburned Country waiting for her. Are these more books that followed her home?

Strength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder, is the amazing story of Deogratius of Burundi and his persistent hope in the face of terrible experiences and haunting memories.

The Little Stranger, a novel, by Sarah Waters, might seem to be lighter reading after Deo's story, but it is haunting, too, a ghost story, set in England in the aftermath of World War II.

But at least there should be some relief from humorist Bill Bryson as he recounts of the horrors of sharks, gigantic earthworms, and being baked alive in Australia in In a Sunburned Country.

And Kim is supposed to be reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, for a book group. She can read my copy, if she takes very, very good care of it, because I have finished it. Really good story. Revisited my childhood in a way, since I even spent 5 years of it in the South, with a woman helping with children and housework in our home, a woman I loved. She had come highly recommended by the county welfare agency, where my mom worked.

But wait a minute, Ladder of Years is about a middle-aged woman who runs away from home, husband, and kids. I've felt like that at times. I've actually 1) walked out the door and around the block when really miffed or 2) driven down the road and had a glass of wine with my mom, instead of moving to from Baltimore to Delaware, as Delia does in this novel, which now seems like something I had better read. Maybe, if I take really, really good care of it, I can borrow it from Kim.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Education Sunday

Day 117 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and today is Education Sunday at my church. My mom and the other Sunday school teachers will speak, and whatever kids are there will be included. Several are on vacation. School's out!!

The mom-in-church thing is one of the reasons I did not make it to Ohio this weekend to visit my alma mater, pun intended, on a reunion weekend. Sigh... I am so not hip in my humor. (I make myself laugh, though. Sometimes through my nose. Anyhoo....! Gesundheit.)

Also, my mom is my real alma mater. She's why I'm a poet. (For college buds, she told me to do The Belle of Amherst as my senior thesis project, so I did, and I have been in love with Emily Dickinson ever since. So that's why I'm weird! And spend a lot of time in my own back yard. Looking at flowers. Again, anyhoo...!)

What was I saying? Oh! Marty is reading The Death and Life of the Great American School System; How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch. Marty teaches theatre at the local community college, and says this is a very good book, based on Ravitch's 40 years of experience observing education, sometimes as historian, sometimes as Assistant Secretary of Education. Ravitch has changed her mind on education issues, seeing both sides politically and all sides realistically, and now understands that standardized testing, as the foundation for learning and funding, does more harm than good. Marty says it took Ravitch this long to figure out because she didn't have kids in the schools, herself, going through it.

Ravitch has written lots of books. Here's her website.

Richard is reading Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, by Jane Bennett and his written about it in his own blog, where he mentions a "blog-chain reading group." Wow, what a great idea! The Bennett book looks really important, presenting a philosophy of "vital materialism." (I don't want to apply my weird punnish humor, but I do want to say "vital.") Looks like Bennett, like Sandra Steingraber, handles all the complexities in environmental issues, their science, their politics. But I'm not sure. If you are reading Jane Bennett, and/or Sandra Steingraber, you tell me!

It's Education Sunday. Go read something.
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