Saturday, July 31, 2010

I Was at the Beach

Days 167 through 173 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I was at the beach, where the basic answer to the "Why?" question is "because I wanted something to read at the beach." But there was great variety in what people were reading.

I saw everything from a MAD Magazine cartoon book to The Passion of the Western Mind, with Oprah and Michael Crichton in between. Oprah was represented by the biography by Kitty Kelley, and the Crichton was there via Next, which I have determined from the illustration, not from being able to read the title from my beach chair. Yes, I did scrutinize and eavesdrop. No, I did not intrude on people's reading, conversations, or family groups.

I saw more hardcovers than I expected to see, and one was a library book, right down at the water's edge. Egad! (My husband took a library book, too, but he left it back at the house when he was at the beach. It's still Last Call.)

One energetic girl swam and played the whole time, then, packing up, dropped her brand new clean hardcover with pristine dust jacket (as they say) on the sand. "Oops," she said, then quietly kept brushing it off with a corner of her towel, while keeping an eye on her dad, who never noticed.

I saw sudoku and crossword books, and many magazines. One woman studied an issue of Handyman for a long while, then turned to Star Magazine. A threesome brought a huge stack of magazines, with various titles, including Traveler.

I saw The Nine Rooms of Happiness, happily set aside by a mother when her young daughter wanted her to come dig in the sand with her. Digging in the sand at the beach has got to be the No. 1 room of happiness!

Overheard conversations included a reference to Nietzsche, a mock scolding--"You ought to be reading better literature than that, like what your husband is reading"--and, from the literary husband, "I'm going to meet this guy next week in Cincinnati at a book signing, not for this book, for another one. They're all short stories about himself...," and then, as if he sensed someone eavesdropping, he leaned over to whisper the rest into another man's ear. I have determined that this was a book by Tucker Max. Beach reading, indeed.

But I did have mini-conversations with a few individuals, including some family members and friends:

Kristi is reading Last Night in Twisted River "because John Irving is my favorite. It takes me a long time to get through books, though, because I read them in bed at night."

"Me, I stay up till one," said Maggie, who, in the summer, sleeps till noon. "I'm trying to read Othello." Maggie, a great reader, who, nonetheless, actually brought no books to the beach, has already read two things on her summer reading list: 1984 and Brave New World.

Judy is reading Blood Orange, by Drusilla Campbell, about an art historian (and Judy herself has a degree in art history) in a midlife crisis (don't know about that) who goes to Italy and then comes home to her husband and child, who goes missing.

Alex is reading Hannibal, by Thomas Harris, and reads Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett over and over in the summer, when he's not teaching.

My dad is reading Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro, not because all the women in his family enjoy Alice Munro, but because he read and discussed her story "Boys and Girls," which is included in a Great Books Foundation anthology, and thought he'd like to read more.

Also brought to the beach, but already read by my mom, was Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, by Munro, which I have read and enjoyed, despite its awkward title. My mom was reading To Kill a Mockingbird, which she finished early in the week, moving on to Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro. "I can't believe this is written by a Japanese man," she said, then read a little about the author, and it made more sense, as he had moved to England as a child. She has the movie tie-in cover, and we had all seen the movie when it came out.

She was in the mood for To Kill a Mockingbird because of its 50th anniversary and because she hadn't read it for years, after teaching it to high schoolers for many. She had snapped up Remains of the Day and The Lovely Bones because there they were on the Select New Arrivals shelf by the door of Babbitt's when she was looking for 1) 1984 and Brave New World (which are always stored there and always hard to come by, as always popular) and 2) looking for beach reading. She's halfway through The Lovely Bones now, which my sister enjoyed (despite the difficult subject matter) for its sustained "realism" ("Realism?" asked my mom) in an imagined voice. None of us has seen the movie. I told them about Lucky, the author's memoir, and hearing about (and then reading) both books in an NPR interview, after having many college students recommend to me The Lovely Bones. I have not yet read The Almost Moon, Alice Sebold's second novel.

My sister Chris was reading Ghostwritten, by David Mitchell, because they did not have Cloud Atlas at the bookstore when she went, and she thought it would be good to read his first novel, anyway. She was loving it, all week, stopping to read sentences to me. She knew she was interested at the very first sentence, "Who was breathing on the nape of my neck?" Then she noticed that each new voice somehow used the phrase "nape of the neck" and soon she was hooked and admiring. I will "inherit" the book when she goes back to Ohio after her high school reunion, in our hometown.

And I was reading Barbara Pym! I read Excellent Women and then started re-reading Some Tame Gazelle, both about funny church women involved in the life of the vicarage. There's much more than that going on, including a kind of wry, subtle feminism that co-exists with the prevailing values of a culture that is sort of pre-feminism, but is therefore a quiet and radical feminism in which, by all appearances, women are happily subservient to men. But not really.

I also finished Level Green, a book of poems by Judith Vollmer, with a more "out there" feminist impulse, and Houdini Pie, a novel by Paul Michel, who is a wonderful storyteller. There is more to say about these, but I will say it 1) tomorrow and/or 2) elsewhere as 3) my hair is sandy.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Big Cheese


Day 166 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Kay is reading The Mammoth Cheese, by Sheri Holman, because she could get a bagful of books for $2 at her library book sale, and it was available. It really is about cheese making on a small farm. And the birth of a bunch of babies. And complications.

One plot element is that the cheese maker wants to take a big cheese to the White House, which really happened once. There's a picture book about that, A Big Cheese for the White House: The True Tale of a Tremendous Cheddar, by Candace Fleming, illustrated by S. D. Schindler. (I think I have seen this one at Babbitt's!)

Meanwhile, Zack, Kay's son, not usually a reader, has been zipping through books this summer! He's already read Because of Winn Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo and Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. Now he's reading Hoot by Carl Hiaason, which is really about owls. Miniature owls!

We sometimes have owls in the back yard. Sometimes hawks. Right now we have caterpillars. A jillion of them. OK, at 7 on one hanging plant. They are green and black and eating themselves huge and should soon, according to Eric Carle, in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, turn into 7 fabulous cut-paper collage butterflies.

Do owls eat caterpillars? I know miniature owls don't. They would gag on these. That, or get squirted, as I did, with neon green caterpillar innards. I was just trying to rescue the poor thing. It had fallen on the patio after eating the thing it was hanging on.

And that is life.

I will be out of Internet access for a while, but still asking people what they are reading and writing it down in my little black book. I will tell you about it later.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Of Boobies and Baseball

Day 165 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Ruthie is reading Fifty-Nine in '84, by Edward Achorn, about Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had, because of the coincidence that Old Hoss Radbourn lived in her town, she likes baseball history more than baseball itself, and a nephew happened to be a producer of the documentary We Believe, about Cubs fans.


I am not yet reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson, because I do not have it, in English or Swedish, but I fear Nora Ephron has read at least one book of the trilogy, as she nails it in this spoof (with a few spoilers, so be warned), "The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut," in The New Yorker online. I love Ephron, her sense of humor, and her own tiny boobies, which she has written about in an essay that appears in some college readers. It is really about bras, not boobies, but boobies go in bras. If they want to.


Speaking of feminism, I am reading In the Next Galaxy, by Ruth Stone, and Level Green, by Judith Vollmer--that is, I am reading two books of poems at the same time, along with The Death of Adam, a book of essays by Marilynne Robinson, as all of these things are intense, and I need to space them out a bit, by alternating--and both poets are steeped in feminism of the late-20th-century sort, its wild waters swirling around us if we grew up in it, its definitions and factions ever-changing. This came home to me in a recent discussion over at poet Martha Silano's blog, Blue Positive, and I will ponder it for a while, and also how lucky I am to be living when I do, where I do, with something closer to equal rights for women than many women ever had the chance to see or enjoy.

I've lived through the backlash, too, but women have worked very hard to secure rights and freedoms, and to be considered equally human, of equal human value. Thank you. (And I don't think a girl in baseball lingerie is a threat to what we've achieved.) I am lucky, for instance, to be able to read humor about boobies by Nora Ephron and shop for a baseball-stitch bra if I want to, and also to have women be called poets, not poetesses, with the old connotations of dismissal in that "poetess," and have their work taken seriously.

I am also pondering a few lines of poetry, from Vollmer, that state the opposite of yesterday's (pre-meme) entry concluding with Dickinson on the too-bright light. Here is a quotation from "Palomas Fountain" by Judith Vollmer:

He tells me poetry isn't so
different from welding:
you shield your eyes too long from the blue flame
you can't shape the iron.

The "he" is her father, evidently a welder. This hit me at the right time, thinking I need to look directly at the blue flame these days, even if it does blind me, or I won't be able to shape the poem.

This must be what happened to Ruth Stone, who is now blind. (Speaking metaphorically about literal blindness, which has its own causes, unknown to me.)

P.S. to Kim: A meme is something that gets repeated, particularly across the Internet, like those sets of questions you answer at Facebook, etc.

P.P.S. to random commercial services related to selling sex who might be attracted to the "boobies" in my title and image: I won't be posting your comments/ads for services. This is something else. I am not selling sex, nor using sex to sell the idea of reading. Sigh.... As if that would work or could happen. I am just mixing things together in a humorous, serious, in-constant-awe-of-the-world way. Everything is out there.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sarian Meme

A little extra Thursday post, inspired by Sarah's meme over at the rain in my purse (her purse).

Sarian Meme

Is half a stone still a whole stone?
It remembers its other half. Jagged or geode, it may now reveal its rabbit heart.

Do grains of sand get tired of being recycled into mountains?
They don’t believe in mountains, or in molehills. They are fine.

If you crossed a bat with a mushroom, would you get an umbrella?
This is what fairies were, before salt Shakers got hold of them.

Do the glasses one wears in a dream require a prescription?
Yes, they are allergic to the dark. They need a tincture of spiderwort sprinkled with rain in illegible scrip.

What songs do they sing in a school without windows?
The same old songs. They drone them.

Do the daisies love us or not?
The black-eyed and brown-eyed Susans lean over to love us until their chins hit the ground.

Is there any reason to believe that we’ll have working mouthparts in the next life?
Maybe not.

What kind of cartilage connects us to the stars?
Some nights you can see those silver webs.

Not Really Cooking with Pooh

Day 164 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and my book group is going to be reading The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman, because Kim and Suzie heard about it on the radio coming to the meeting where we discussed The Wishbones, by Tom Perrotta.

I have read Intuition by Allegra Goodman, and enjoyed it, and so has Kim, who borrowed it from me, but she doesn't remember that right now, because she has been drinking red wine. Intuition is about science, what goes on during research projects, and the male/female competitive aspect. And the different ways men and women may approach science. I found it fascinating and made little marginal notes that I forgot about when I lent her the book, but she enjoyed them, even if they were personal.

Cookbook Collector is about sisters! AND antiquarian book collecting. Oh, gosh, this is going to be one of those books I wish I'd written. AND about business, so I hope to learn a lot about a world I do not understand, just as I did with Jane Smiley's book about real estate and greed in the 80s, Good Faith.

The discussion of The Wishbones was fun. We had:

--wedding cake
--Cheetos (for cheating)
--wine (including Red Guitar and one with a cock on the label)
--almonds (like Jordan almonds but not; instead Almond Joy almonds and York Peppermint almonds)

We mused on whether Dave had done the right thing (at various times, no spoilers here), and the patterns of panic and cold feet before weddings, and whether guys can really grow up in time to marry, or at all. We are a mixed bunch--gay, straight, married, not, etc.--but all women, so we have a fine bunch of experiences and perspectives and appreciated seeing how men think in this novel. Perrotta was compared to Nick Hornby, called an American Hornby, and there was talk of The Wedding Singer, with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.

And then we watched this, made for and shown by the daughter and son-in-law of one of our members:

The Road to the Reception (8 minutes of fun that the wedding guests watched while waiting for the new couple to enter the reception)

You will know which one she is when you get there.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Never-Ending Coincidii

Day 163 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I am going to go ahead and tell you what I am reading because of the never-ending coincidii that I love...and because a week is coming of no Internet access, when I will be interviewing people and writing the daily blog entries in a simple black journal and transferring them here later...and because it is poetry, and I am still addicted to poetry.

I am reading The Never-Ending, by Andrew Hudgins, because it fell into my hands at Babbitt's, and I snapped it up, having read individual poems by Hudgins all over the place in journals and at important poetry websites, and having heard him read at an AWP Conference in Chicago one year. There was something so humble and yet elevated and intense about him when he read his few poems--it was a group reading--and I had this feeling I get that is like (mentioned here before) Joan Didion's daughter saying, "I need to talk to her," about Georgia O'Keeffe.

The cover is a gorgeous painting called "Bultman's Garden" by Michael Mazur, and I have not reproduced it here in case there's a copyright thing, as for some reason the cover does not appear readily at Amazon or Goodreads, but it's there if you click the link to Amazon Marketplace sellers. And the book is not much mentioned at the important poetry websites, so was it shunned, or something? It deals with Christ, civil rights in the South, and gardens, among many other things. Click on "Praying Drunk" for a fine, wild ride!

Anyway, one coincidence I love is that Hudgins teaches at Ohio State University, in Columbus, where I have friends and family, so if I am ever brave enough maybe I can call him up sometime when I am visiting. Or maybe my niece will meet him at Writing Camp. My dad got his masters at OSU. My sister teaches at Otterbein, where she loves the English department and likes to talk to poetry people. It could happen. Maybe someday I will have red wine with Andrew Hudgins and can ask him about praying drunk.

A poem called "The Garden Changes" ends with the line "and red, red, red, red, red," something I understand perfectly from the changes in my own being and my own garden and from my summer of red, red, red, red, red, reading Rumi and keeping a red-beaded journal with a gold-beaded heart on it. (I have a poem called "Red Nasturtium" from this summer, that tries to compress the intensity of Rumi's spiritual red in 3 1/2 lines, for a reason.)

So I was pondering the difficulty of being "a religious poet," whether indeed that causes some people to step aside, to shy away. Hudgins is a serious, professional poet, just as Flannery O'Connor was a serious writer of fiction, her work fully informed by her Catholicism but also functioning as fiction on fiction's own terms, rippling out in meaning in the minds of readers thanks to what is provided in the story itself.

There is nothing easy, sentimental, or one-sided about Hudgins's poems. They are as intellectually challenging and humanly gripping as any other powerful poems I've read that don't dwell on a religion-specific set of images and topics. The only time I felt perhaps directly admonished to be his kind of Christian, was, appropriately, in "Crucifixion," about a cross burning in Montgomery, Alabama. The poem ends with a challenge issued as a question, to keep it open: "Or does God simply choose us all?"

Certainly the poem made me feel that I ought to do more for social justice, but I guess, open as I am, I returned to my own questions and open definitions of "God." The poem didn't let me off the hook, in terms of human choice and human action, but it did leave things open, ultimately.

In fact, in the center of the poem, the speaker confesses his own doubt:

I would have said he died for us, our sins,
but I no longer know who Jesus is.
He's someone walking through his life--or hers--
until God whispers, It's you. And God's ignored.

In the context of the poem, the one who "died for us" is not only Jesus, but a boy in the previous stanza who "shotgunned himself." So the It's you just keeps resonating.

And now I should mention the coincidence of a painting I love called Now You of a naked Jesus pointing his long, long arm to his left, my right, at someone outside the frame, who was of course, also me. I saw it years ago at the Aldo Castillo Gallery, where my husband was also showing his work, so I send you there, even though I don't find that painting there.... Maybe it has found its home!

And I love how The Never-Ending opens with Socrates, who never wrote anything down, saying, "If anyone asks you 'what that is, of which the inherence makes the body hot,' you will reply not heat (this is what I call the safe and stupid answer), but fire, a far superior answer." What translation is that? I don't recall Plato/Socrates using the word "stupid," but it's fun to stumble on it in Hudgins.

And I love the poem "Bewilderments of the Eye" and its epigraph by Plato:

The bewilderments of the eye are of two kinds and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or going into the light.

And how this, and the poem itself, remind me of Emily Dickinson:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind--

And now this never-ending blog entry is.....

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Master of the World

Day 162 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and a young man is reading Master of the World, by Jules Verne, because he found a tiny cool vintage paperback copy for $1 at Babbitt's! It wasn't one either of us had heard of before, but the young man has loved other Verne--the well-known, popular stuff like A Journey to the Center of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, so he was glad to have discovered this one.

I had forgotten that Jules Verne (1828-1905) worked in the theatre early on, doing librettos for operettas. When his dad found out, he disowned him, so Verne had to become a stockbroker to pay the bills. Heh. Maybe the dad is eating his shoe in some version of the afterlife now!

According to Wikipedia, Verne's dad was punishing him early on for his non-business minded adventures. At 12, Verne snuck onto a ship called the Coralie, hoping to sail to India, but his dad caught him and whipped him. "I shall from now on travel only in my imagination," said Verne, and that's exactly what he did. (Actually I did remember the Coralie, probably from one of those blue hardcover biographies I read as a kid, from the library!!)

Verne traveled anywhere he wanted in his imagination--under the sea, around the world in 80 days, and to Paris in the 20th century! Master of the World was a late work, published in 1904. The 20th-century Paris book was not published till 1993, tucked away as ahead of its time.

And the sci fi discoveries just continued today at Babbitt's. A regular customer found several things he wanted, "some in the scifi aisle, and some in the bathroom." Regular customers know we keep our excess sci fi paperbacks on the shelves in the bathroom, right under the extra paper towels.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Dog's Life, Google Chrome, and Goodreads

Day 161 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Kat is reading The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, which sounds like a book for those who love both dogs and NASCAR.

Plus reincarnation. There's a dog in it, waiting to be reborn as a man, who gets to take rides in a race car.

Kat is herself a marvelous storyteller who has lived an amazing life, with intermingling journey narratives involving theatre, puppetry, and professional fishing. I would like to read any novel based on her life, and I hope she writes one.

Speaking of rain, we are finally having a much-needed thunderstorm. My husband has his sand volleyball league tonight, behind a restaurant/bar, and I trust he is not playing in the lightning but, instead, using that buy-one-appetizer-get-one-free coupon that was tucked into his birthday card.

I have finally joined Goodreads, after Laura, Sarah, Susan, another Susan, and, as I recall, yet another Susan all recommended it to me, and am trying to catch up on a poetry-reading challenge by adding books I read since the first recommendation.

But, as I am technologically challenged, and am also learning to use tabs via Google Chrome, at the insistence of my kids, it is slow going. I finally figured out

1) how to be a Goodreads author (since some of my books are eligible)
2) how to put the Goodreads widget to those books on the right side (scroll down) of this here blog

I have zero reads/ratings of these books, so if you are a very good friend, who wants to join Goodreads, and who has read my books, feel free to click the widget and say something!

Thanks!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Monkey Business

Day 160 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Gus is reading one of the volumes of The Diaries of Anais Nin, because he was charmed by the interior notation of the previous owner, down to notes all over the bookmark!

Tony will, I hope, eventually be reading Outcasts United, the soccer/refugee book by Warren St. John that I won as a door prize at St. John's reading, because today is his birthday (Tony's), and I will be giving it to him, a signed copy! Right now, he's still reading the library copy of Last Call, the Prohibition book.

I am reading, among other things, The Never-Ending, by Andrew Hudgins, winner of the 1988 Poets' Prize, because of my poetry addiction. Very pertinent: "Heat Lightning in a Time of Drought, " which opens, "My neighbor, drunk, stood on his lawn and yelled, / Want some! Want some!" Not that any of my neighbors would do this, but it is very hot here, and it just won't rain.

I have heard Hudgins read some poems aloud. Gosh, he grips me on the page and in person. A wow poet.

A woman in the store today will be reading Caps for Sale to kids, I hope. She found the one copy I've ever seen come into the shop during my time there, a favorite of mine since the days of Captain Kangaroo, where I first encountered this picture book by Esphyr Slobodkina. It's A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business.

Have you ever fallen asleep in or under a tree?!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Book of Bebb, Bub

Day 159 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Candace is reading The Book of Bebb, by Frederick Buechner, because Ginny told her about this series of 4 short novels and brought them to her. The individual titles are Love Feast, Open Heart, Treasure Hunt, and Lion Country. They sound like very funny novels on Christian themes.

That Amazon link takes you to an all-in-one-volume edition. As borrowed by Candace, they are 4 small books held together by a rubber band.

Hey, I saw a necklace made of rubber bands today! It was very beautiful. Bouncy and fun! On a live human being. At a poetry reading/art opening sponsored by the Northwest Cultural Council at Arlington Green Executive Center Atrium & Gallery.

P. S. Kim's handy link to "The Rubberband Man" by The Spinners! (Turn on your speakers!)

Friday, July 16, 2010

The History of Men's Wishes

Day 158 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project and the local men's history book club is reading Hoboes: Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West, by Mark Wyman, because they are history buffs, and this is great history! I've mentioned the book here before, because Wyman is a local historian and author, but I mention it again because one of the book club members came into Babbitt's yesterday, hoping for it. Hoping perhaps the boss, who is in the local men's history book club, might have ordered in bulk, at a discount, but no..... We don't really do that.

This fellow can't make this month's meeting, but he wants to read the book anyway. "Well, after the meeting, a few copies will probably come in," I suggested, knowing these guys are good about clearing their shelves, making room for more, sharing with the less affluent but just as avid readers.

"Then I've got to be reading the next book!" he said.

I've finished The Wishbones, by Tom Perrotta, and I loved it. In fact, in addition to making me laugh, it made me cry, unexpectedly. It is subtle and real. I love books like that, especially if they are also hilarious. It taught me a lot about men's wishes, and that tendency to hang back and be boys, man-boys, forever. How, inside a man-boy, even a man-boy with a desire to be a rock star, there can be a sensitive, goofy, aware, mistake-making real man.

You know, I am easily pleased. Sort of like the dead duchess in "My Last Duchess." Sigh.... I will read anything, and I am open to the unexpected. I have set books aside...to read later...but the only book I never got back to that a bunch of people told me was wonderful was The Lost Father, by Mona Simpson. I'm sorry, Mona. Maybe I should give it another try. But I don't want to.

Other than that, though, I am able to set aside judgement, for the most part, even if what I am reading isn't grabbing me. Oh, dear, Julie, I have set aside Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome. I know I will pick it up again, on vacation. I am taking it with me to water. Along with Barbara Pym, just in case.

Speaking of the duke who was speaking of his last duchess, while preparing to marry the next, in the mall today (where I had gone for Beer Nuts treats, including Insane Grain, to take to an upcoming poetry reading, coming up tomorrow, in fact, in a gallery in Arlington Heights, Illinois), and waiting for my daughter and her friend, who were looking for shorts and did not find any, I saw a man reading The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert A. Caro. More men's history. Not unexpectedly about power. And the wish for it.

I observed him, imagined him waiting for his wife to shop, as might a character in The Wishbones, got interrupted in my imaginary history of this stranger in a St. Louis Cardinals shirt by a call from my daughter in a dressing room, and suddenly noticed he was up and walking ahead of his pregnant wife, who had no shopping bags. Where had she come from? He was walking very fast, and ahead and away from her. That was sad, until I realized she had nothing to do with him. Her real husband appeared. And the power broker was power walking the mall.

And now, for some odd reason, I offer "Opal Innocence," a poem that seems unlikely to be published anywhere else but here, and seems both pertinent and off topic.

Opal Innocence

It keeps on blooming in the big green pot:
pink bonnet, fat white lip, yellow eye.

An ugly baby
if that’s what you pictured in the stroller

of line two. I can’t pretend
this is not a poem. We all know it is

unwise to hang on too long
to innocence. It’s a kind of arrested development

say fathers and psychologists
(also a favorite TV show, cancelled—

too smart, too quirky—
but we have it on DVD, because, yes!—

I grew up, my reproductive organs functioned,
and I have a family that watches TV….

Remember the ugly baby
episode on Seinfeld, the show about nothing?

Now, be kind. Consider the poem’s parenthetical emptiness
and what it might possibly mean.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Before OnStar

Day 157 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I have been reading Before OnStar, a poetry chapbook by Sarah Carson, from Etched Press. Sarah is an editor with RHINO and a communications specialist with Switchback Books. She answered some of my questions by email, and here they are:

Sarah, your book just came out from Etched Press of Wilmington, North Carolina. Can you tell us a little about the press, and how you got involved with it?

I found Etched Press in the Poet’s Market when I was looking for a publisher for the chapbook. The mission statement of the press is "writing that remains." It actually goes against the nature of chapbooks, because chapbooks aren't meant to last forever, so the goal is to publish writing that remains in the reader's memory. The chapbooks come from open and solicited submissions, and both are completely free.

Are all Etched Press chapbooks this handy 6 ½” by 4 ¾” size?

All of the chapbooks are supposed to be 5" x 7" J But, yes, they are all in that same, handy size. J

[I guess I am ruler-challenged, as well as math-challenged in general. 5” x 7”—yes, that makes sense. Sigh….]

The book is “for GG—who has been fictionalized in these poems.” Can you tell us a little about GG and your inspiration for the poems in the book?

The poems are all semi-autobiographical about growing up in Flint, Michigan—a city that’s undergone a massive shift from prosperity to poverty in the past few decades. GG is my grandmother, and she appears in one of the last poems in the collection: “In Buick City.” In the poem I tell the story of her being robbed at gunpoint but then depict her as afraid to continue with her normal routine because of it. I make a point to say she’s been “fictionalized” because the real story is that while she did get robbed three times at gunpoint at the same grocery store, she still goes and gets her groceries there every week. The inspiration for these poems (and what I hope readers take away) is that same spirit—that unwillingness to give up on yourself even when it seems like everything that was once familiar is lost. I think there’s something beautiful about that desperation to move forward.

They are all prose poems. What drew you to that form for this book, and what are your thoughts on prose poetry in general, its distinction (if/when there is one) from “flash fiction,” and the blurring of genres we often see these days in poetry?

I’m not sure what ever drew me to prose poems. I know I tend be drawn to them both as a reader and a writer more than traditional poetry, and for the types of stories I like to tell, the prose form seems to fit well. My poems tend to be narrative, but I think they differ from flash fiction in that I pay a lot more attention to rhythm and density than I think a flash fiction writer is required to. I always want the reader to understand the story, but I let the reader fill it in for themselves from one image to the next. I also pay a lot of attention to the way my poems sound—which I think is biggest distinction between the two genres: a poem is about the music, and I hope there’s music in my work even if it’s written a paragraph.

I see in this book a lovely, tender, gritty truth about “lives of quiet desperation.” I care about the people, even as I cringe at some of the behaviors, and wish it would work out for them. So I see the book as expanding my compassion, which is one of the reasons I read. What are some of the reasons you write?

When I was writing the poems in this collection, I feel like I was probably writing out of an instinct towards self-preservation. When I left Flint and went away to college, I often felt out-of-place and homesick for the kind of lifestyle and culture that I eventually began to write about. I would read books about factory life or Midwest poets like Philip Levine, so when I began writing seriously I tried to imitate the spirit of those writers who I thought really wrote about the heart of living in the Midwest or in industrial/de-industrialized places. Even now as my poems are becoming less autobiographical, I think the heart of the work is always to share something about my experience with a reader—which is the same reason I read, to share in the experiences of others.

Do you think poetry has any special tasks in our world right now? Are you drawn to poetry, or prose poetry, over other forms—fiction, essays—for reasons you can identify?

I think I’ve always been drawn to poetry in general over other forms of writing because of its capacity to do so much with so little. Both as a writer and a reader, poetry gives me the opportunity to find new ways of looking at the world. People become so consumed with such stupid stuff; we need more people who are looking for beauty and meaning in unlikely places. I think that’s what a good poet does—uses language to open a part of us up to something we’ve never thought of before.

Your writing is very accessible, which I appreciate. Sometimes these days “accessible” is a bad word in poetry, as if only the hard-to-understand stuff is really worth reading. And some poems are clearly not meant to mean in the usual ways, or not meant to mean at all. This is a big topic, but what are your thoughts on this as they pertain to Before OnStar? I find each poem quite subtle and provocative, along with its accessibility!

When I was writing these poems I meant for them to seem accessible—meaning that they contained a story that was easily understood, but that there would be more under the surface if you went looking for it. I had some grouchy people in writing workshops tell me they were too accessible and that they didn’t get the point. I wanted to tell a story with these poems, not try to make people solve a riddle. Personally, I find poems that are intentionally confusing pretentious and annoying.

Each time I read it, I am moved by “Us at Fifty.” Did you observe an actual couple walking hand in hand, eating peanuts, or did this happen in your imagination as you wrote? How did you know the poem was finished? I think the ending is perfect: “something must happen in the future that changes everything.”

I did observe this couple. I was pulling into this seedy little grocery store and this couple was passing through the parking lot. This doesn’t come through in the poem, but they both looked incredibly weathered—sunburnt, as if they walked everywhere. I was struck by how happy they seemed to be together. When you’re young you often get distracted by things that end up not mattering very much. I think the poem used to end “or maybe they were just having a good day,” but that seemed too snarky for that moment.

Likewise, I was moved (and gasped!) at finding the book’s title quietly hidden inside “In Buick City.” Was Before OnStar always the working title of this chapbook? Or did you discover it as you were writing “In Buick City”?

Before Onstar was always the title of the chapbook. I named my master’s thesis (in which a lot of these poems appeared) “Before Onstar,” as well as my portfolio that I wrote as an undergraduate. In the poem “In Buick City” the phrase is used to describe the time that preceded the current situation in “Buick City”—one where a woman who has lived her whole life in that town is now afraid to go get groceries because some people have become desperate. I always thought the phrase worked well to set up the poems as a collection. Probably “After OnStar” is a more fitting title since all of the poems take place in the aftermath.

I find that Sarah Carson's Before OnStar evokes that whole "before" period in both Flint, Michigan and American culture, even while presenting the stark aftermath. You can hear Sarah slinging her words with Wordslingers on WLUW at 88.7 FM in the Chicago area Sunday night, July 18, 8:00 p.m., or stream live at www.wluw.org.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Balsam & The Grassy Knoll

Day 156 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I am reading Mid-American Review, the fat giant 30th Anniversary Issue, because it came in the mail today, and, specifically, the Tony Trigilio poetry feature, "I'm Going to Bust This Case Wide Open," because it is a set of poems about the grassy knoll and I have just come to The Grassy Knoll section of The Wishbones, by Tom Perrotta.

Actually, I have gone past The Grassy Knoll section, because I am loving the book--so funny, so tenderly human, all at the same time. A very fine, spare prose style here--people and their behaviors acutely rendered. People and their vulnerabilities gently exposed. And there's a poetry reading in it.

I don't think it is a spoiler to tell you 1) that The Grassy Knoll is a musical or 2) that the Trigilio feature looks at people who died (suspiciously, even if it looked like natural causes) during the conspiracy investigations into the JFK assassination.

As a lover of coincidii, I just looked in the New York Times for a grassy knoll musical, which I vaguely remembered, but I was probably vaguely remembering a play by Tennessee Williams, recently mounted on Broadway with Elizabeth Ashley in it, not a musical. Has there been a grassy knoll musical? Someone let me know!

This is yesterday's balsam, from the My Girls entry on Austen and Alcott, the A-list girls. Remember Wella Balsam? Shampoo that smelled pretty good, like a forest, so I always got it confused with balsa wood, and model airplanes. Farah Fawcett sold it with her popular hair.

Anyway, balsam is that flower I told you about yesterday, and pictured above, also known as Touch-Me-Not, as I learned from my favorite wildflower book, Wild Flowers of North America, by Pamela Forey, which pretty much has everything in it, meticulously drawn in color by Norman Barber, Angela Beard, Susanna Stuart-Smith, and David Thelwell, all of Bernard Thornton Artists, London.

"Touch-Me-Not" is perhaps the opposite message if you want to sell a nice shampoo, but it's possible Farah's hair had a lot of hairspray on it. Anyhoo!

Anyhoo, nothing.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Louisa May Alcott and Jane Austen, Perennials

Day 155 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and young women are still reading Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott, because they are perennial favorites.

We go through surges of interest in Austen, at Babbitt's, where I work, that wipes us out temporarily, and then we get some new ones, line them all up on the shelf, put some on the new arrivals cupboard by the door, and put one in the window. Most recently Sense and Sensibility, a new edition in hardcover, was in the window, plucked out by a woman who walked by, and off it went with her.

By coincidence, Julie is following Austen with A Follow Spot today, too! How you can read her in her own hand!

Today a young woman was in the shop with maybe her grandpa, who was helping her look for Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. Hard to keep hold of that, too. But, as she had already read Little Women, she was thrilled to find another Alcott, My Girls. I've found the exact red cover, but I'm not finding much about what this particular book is, unless it brings together things from Aunt Jo's Scrapbook, where there is also a title, My Boys. Grandpa gave her money for My Girls, because he had bought her brother comic books down the street. So everybody was happy.

Yes, when it rained, it poured today. And afterward, out came the sun again. Sarah got blooming balsam, something from Emily Dickinson's garden, at the Farmers Market. I got mine there earlier this season, and it is thriving!! Balsam is a perennial by way of delicate seed pods that burst open at a touch. Hence, its familiar name in some circles, Touch-Me-Not!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hot Under the Skirt!

Day 154 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project and Judy and Arlene, sisters, of Swedish ancestry, are reading The Emigrant Novels, by Vilhelm Moberg. In specific, Judy is about to finish Settlers, Book 3, of what used to be a trilogy, and today bought Last Letter Home, Book 4 of the "quadrilogy," so it will be ready and waiting.

Arlene got Judy hooked by calling her up and telling her something Moberg had written (and I quote Judy quoting Moberg) about the sisters' ancestors' actual home area in Sweden, "where the men are hot, and the women are hot under the skirt!" (Judy's exclamation point!) Books 1 and 2 are called Emigrants and Unto a Good Land.

So, you know, now I want to read about these Swedes!!

And, in one of those freaky-deaky coincidii, today at work I handled a lovely book of poems by the Snell sisters, Cheryl Snell and Janet Snell, a poet and artist team. The book, Memento Mori, has beautiful color reproductions of Janet Snell's paintings.

A few minutes later, taking a little work break, I visited Sherry O'Keefe's blog (clickable on the blog roll!), where she had just interviewed...Cheryl Snell of the Snell Sisters!!

And now I am seeing Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye singing "Sisters, Sisters" in my head. Aauugghh! (But, fortunately, hearing Rosemary Clooney and Vera Allen/Trudy Stevens.) Time for The Huge Medley ("Sisters" & "Stepsisters Lament") by Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway, on Sibling Revelry!! But it's not an individual MP3 song. It's on the album only! Which I gave to my sister for Christmas!

Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye it is, then, with large feathery fans.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Living on the Earth

Day 153 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and a bunch of new people are reading my recent chapbook, Living on the Earth (Finishing Line Press, 2010, New Women's Voices, No. 74), because I had a release reading for it today in my general hometown area.

At the exact same time as the World Cup soccer finals.

OR a few more people would have been there, who love poetry AND soccer.

Also simultaneous with the Sugar Creek Arts Festival, a fabulous gathering of artists and craftspeople. And county fair foods people (corndogs, funnel cakes, kettle corn, of which I ate none. ) I did, however, purchase a melted beer bottle (Rolling Rock), with blue beads on it, from Total Meltdown.

I am very grateful, and pleased. Some people who came announced themselves afterwards as poetry reading "virgins." Wow! And, while I did explain much of my attire...

1) Batiked silk shirt, bought at a previous Sugar Creek Arts Festival

2) Earrings made from recycled rolled paper, from the Beads of Hope project, Africa, purchased at Printers Row Book Fair, Chicago

3) Shoes worn for Clean House, at Heartland Theatre, the reading venue...

...I did not tell them I was wearing polka dot underwear. I am telling you that, faithful readers.

Some old faithfuls came, including my mom, who rocks. And a guy from church, with fabulous blue eyes, a guy I keep trying to set up with single women.... (It's OK, he doesn't read my blog...he doesn't own a TV, either.) The virgins. My dad, who gave up the first part of the World Cup to hear me.

Julie, of A Follow Spot, the sweetie.

Some of my students. And fellow area poets. Amazingly, it was a fabulous turnout, filling the center section of the theatre!

Thank you, all.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Mockingbird Collage

Day 152 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Ginny is re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, because she just read a book of essays about it, how important it was in the lives of various readers, and it made her nostalgic for the classic she had long loved.

If you are a reader of this blog, you know I love coincidii (made up Latinesque plural of coincidence.) Here are some coincidii (and extrapolations) pertaining to To Kill a Mockingbird:

1) A young woman in Babbitt's recently fondled and bought the lavender paperback edition of it, as reported in Nostalgic Potpourri.

2) Kim recently pointed out the very same lavender edition in Border's, where we had gone for iced coffee.

3) Seana just wrote about To Kill a Mockingbird in her blog!

4) It is the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird, with a new edition out echoing the cover of the first (pictured here).

5) Harper Lee has been almost as silent as J. D. Salinger....(also a topic in this blog and an author in the women's book group I'm in).

6) To Kill a Mockingbird was recently the book chosen by Chicago (and probably other cities) as the book for everyong to read that year.

7) Calpurnia, a crucial character in To Kill a Mockingbird, is also the name of Julius Caesar's wife, which I know from playing Portia, who is Brutus's wife, in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Sigh... It's always all about me, isn't it?

Anyhoo, I notice that the brief Amazon review of the book of essays by Mary McDonough Murphy, called Scout, Atticus, & Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird, advises people to go back to the book itself, which is exactly what Ginny did, but it was the book of essays that inspired her to re-read the original!

The essays are by Oprah Winfrey (who has done a heck of a lot for books with her book club), Alan Gurganus, Wally Lamb, Richard Russo, Tom Brokaw, and Roseanne Cash, among others.

Further coincidii:

8) Ginny was just in Babbitt's, making a fabulous literary collage from Things Found in Books,

9) and so was Kim,

which is how I got my information...

I have to say it was amazing to watch adults get wrapped up in (go into a trance involving glue sticks) making bookmarks. Ginny said she was just encouraging someone else to make one, and then she got hooked. Kim came with kids, one of whom made 4 bookmarks in 5 minutes and then went back outside in search of free frisbees (me following as temporary shepherd), one of whom ignored her, getting wrapped up in the sports books aisle, while Kim herself rummaged through the box of things found in books.

Ultimately, Kim and kids left...and Kim came back, alone, having safely deposited the children elsewhere, to work on her bookmark collage.

I love people! I love books! I love bookmarks! I love collage!

My mom made one, too. A poem collage. My mom rocks.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Return to Dick Lit + Poisonous Berries

Day 151 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and the women's book group is reading The Wishbones, by Tom Perrotta, because Suzie had the excellent idea of reading the first sentence from each of a stack of books under consideration, and Tom won.

So we return to dick lit.

Here is the first line: "Buzzy, the bass player, had a suspended license, so Dave swung by his house on the way to the Wednesday-night showcase."

That was definitely more appealing as a quick summer read, if the group is to meet again in July, on a pontoon boat, than this:

"The Ettrick Valley lies about fifty miles due south of Edinburgh, and thirty or so miles north of the English border, which runs close to the wall Hadrian built to keep out the wild people from the north."

Sorry, Alice Munro, but I promise I will get back to The View from Castle Rock eventually. Likewise, Marilynne Robinson, I will read Home, which we didn't pick because Kim has already read it. You too, Carol Shields, and Unless, which Kim and Janet had both already read.

Most of us want to read something we haven't read before, unless 1) we tend to fall asleep reading at night, and find it hard to finish a book in the time allotted and/or 2) we are a very, very busy pastor off at a big wheely-deal, telling the Presbyterians to ordain gays and allow clergy to perform gay marriages. (The pastor is reading my old, used copy, which was at hand, and I am reading her new, orange copy, which arrived miraculously quickly from Amazon, in a small bulk order, and was left, by Kim, at my front door, between the glass and wood doors, on the 4th of July! So I am reading it now, cringing and laughing.)

Hmm, I wonder if I will think of us now as the "small bulk" book group, the way I think of the local men's book group as the SOBs, because that's what they call themselves. One of the SOBs, conveniently named Dick, came into the bookshop yesterday, but he was not looking for dick lit. He was not looking for anything. He was waiting for his Polish sausages to cook down the street. But he bought a cool book on symbols.

Anyway, Dick asked if I had read Olive Kitteridge yet because he wanted to discuss it with me, having just read it with the SOBs. I said I'd been waiting for a copy to come in, and he said a bunch would come in now, now that the SOBs are done with it. He's right!

And Mary tells us, in a comment here (on perimenopause), that she has "just started reading Jim Harrison's new collection of novellas called The Farmer's Daughter and it's wonderful. I read a review that described his protagonists as 'lusty' and that's exactly right! They are smart and capable and sexually charged. And the rural western landscape is lovely to imagine. Great summer read." (The SOBs also recently read some Harrison.)

As I was telling Kim the other day, I like the idea of short stories or novellas for book group summer reading. People can read what pulls them, turn away from what doesn't, and we can discuss the one(s) we all have in common! Maybe in August!

And now, since you are all waiting, my lantana is blooming and making its tiny blue-black poisonous berries, and re-blooming, thanks to the early rain, the long, hot week without rain, and its own life cycle. Don't worry, I am not going to make any tiny poisonous lantana berry pies.

These are not my lantanas, by the way, but mine look a lot like them. So do the lantana along Linden Street, which used to have a lot of linden trees, including the one I grew up climbing, out on Linden Street Road, the rural extension of Linden Street, now, unromantically given an impossible-to-remember number, for emergency-services reasons. Linden trees are called lime trees in Isak Dinesen....

No links today. I am cranky and lazy, thanks to terminal perimenopause.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Terminal Perimenopause

Day 150 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project, and I am still reading Literary Feuds, by Anthony Arthur, where I have most recently completed the “cranky women” chapter on Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy, followed by the “cranky men” chapter on Truman Capote and Gore Vidal. Oh, my.

Meanwhile, while I hope I don’t actually die from it, I am suffering from “terminal perimenopause,” a phrase I made up. It is based on “terminal adolescence,” a phrase I grew up on, uttered by my dad*, and “perimenopause,” an awkward term made up by medical professionals to describe that ongoing terrible transition to the real end of menses.

Oh, I should have put up a TMI warning.

Why did they call it “pause” in the first place? When we are in it, we want it not to pause, but to end.

Peri-menopause. “Peri” as a prefix meaning “around” or “about” or “near.” “Menopause” meaning “the period of natural and permanent cessation of menstruation, usually occurring between ages 45 and 55”—who knew it would be all 10 years?!—and “pause” being a confusing word meaning “temporary cessation,” which is of course probably why they called it “menopause” in the first place and there is no need for the word “perimenopause.” Menopause already means the menses will stop and start, erratically, for a decade and drive the woman and anyone near her crazy.

Pertinent here: Freya Manfred’s poems “The Husband Speaks of Menopause” and “The Wife Speaks of Menopause” from her book My Only Home, which I am also reading.

Anyway, Lillian Hellman (1905-1984) was 75, sick, almost blind, and surely past menopause, when she got pissed off by something Mary McCarthy said in a television interview and sued her. McCarthy (1912-1989) was younger and terminally sarcastic when she said the mean things, and both of them had their reasons. I am amazed and admiring of author Anthony Arthur’s compassion and evenhandedness as he writes about these feuding literary types, but this is a case (literally, a legal case) in which, despite his respectful presentation of Hellman’s career and performance during the era of McCarthyism (interesting that two McCarthies—made-up plural—plagued Hellman), he comes down firmly on the side of McCarthy, who accused Hellman of lying.

Apparently, she did lie. Or misrepresent the truth. I have read Pentimento, Hellman’s memoir, and seen the movie Julia, but it seems probable that Hellman took someone else’s story as her own in the “Julia” case, namely that of Muriel Gardiner. It’s all over now, the court case, the quibbling. Muriel Gardiner has told her own story. But why do people do this kind of thing? Insecurity, literary ambition, the yearning for some kind of power?

The fiddling-with-truth seems always to have been an aspect of memoir, but also of history. Arthur points out that even the New Journalism, and Capote’s invented form, the “non-fiction novel,” were not really new, after all, just ways to label and market things. In Cold Blood.

Anyway, Capote and Vidal were not suffering from perimenopause, just from spurts of mean-spiritedness, which could afflict any of us, perhaps, for various circumstantial, hormonal, and personality-based reasons. And both suffered from literary ambition, which seems the basis of most literary feuds. Sigh…

Anyway, I have read The Group, by Mary McCarthy--happen to have a first Avon printing, I see, now that I work in a bookstore and notice such things—and Arthur’s book tells me it was based on a real group of women, her own “liberal intellectual set” (quoting Michiko Kakutani), the kind of thing that ultimately got Truman Capote in trouble, commenting on his own glamorous celebrity set. And not to call any of these writers lightweights (that’s the kind of thing they do), but I am glad I have paperback copies, due to my terminal lower back pain.

Since I admit I never really grew up, but did get boobs and a period, it occurs to me that I have indeed gone from one painfully awkward long transition stage, terminal adolescence, to another awkwardly painful long transition stage, terminal perimenopause, and may well die of the two combined.

*The phrase “terminal adolescence” was uttered by my dad, who attributed it to a friend, well before Kevin Leman wrote the book Adolescence Isn’t Terminal—It Just Feels Like It and long before Cheaper Than Therapy turned “Terminal Adolescence” into a song. Where did that phrase originate? Was it my dad’s buddy, as he claims?!

But I’m pretty sure I just originated the phrase “terminal perimenopause.” Let’s see if it sticks. Meanwhile, I am happy to direct you to this blog on perimenopause, which turned up when I searched for the phrase and does seem pertinent. Oooh, and here's another! The Scandalous Women blog has an account of the quarrel!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Nostalgic Potpourri

Day 149 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project and today, Garbage Day on my particular street and Hodgepodge Day in my meandering mind, I will report that several random strangers are reading wonderful books they remember from childhood or youth! (These are random strangers in a vintage bookshop, so not entirely random.)

A young woman caressed that pale lavender paperback copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, saying, "I used to read this over and over, and now I don't think I have it in my house," so she bought it, so she would. The fondness for the book was so sweet, and her nostalgia almost had the aroma of lavender. Plus, that background uncertainty--where is that book?--suggesting various leavetakings from various homes. Sigh....

A man returning to the area for the summer, on break from a professorship in the Middle East, visited the bookshop for old times' sake, bringing his wife and two young children, looking for books from his own childhood to give to his kids--particularly Dr. Seuss, and he found some. Meanwhile, his kids were vocal about their own non-Seuss finds, and he eventually gave in and got 3 books, one for each child, including his "inner child."

And a young man bought 100 Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a nostalgic favorite of mine, because people keep telling him to read it, so now he will. I love that book. I'm holding (well, now I'm typing, but I was holding) my mildly dampstained Avon Books paperback copy, 16th printing, in my cupped hands, as the lovers caress in their intense red and green jungle on the cover. Ah, 100 Years of Solitude. When I least expect it, the beautiful bald girl ascends to heaven in my mind.

And last night, I grew nostalgic for books I don't even have yet!--a paradoxical emotion. Just arrived from Amazon, where it waited on my wishlist till I had saved up, is What Feeds Us, by Diane Lockward, a poet I enjoy every time I find her work in the journals. Finally, I have this book. But her latest, Temptation by Water, is just out, and now I lust after that one. I say "lust" appropriately, I think, as this book seems to be about desire! And water, where I feel at home. And I still desire another Lockward book, Eve's Red Dress

Likewise, I yearn for The Alchemist's Kitchen, by Susan Rich, which sits in my cart till I save up again for poetry! But these two wonderful poets have given us all a treat. Diane interviewed Susan in her own blog, Blogalicious, which you can click on my bloglist, and you can read the interview, a poem, a meditation on the poem, and hear Susan read another poem via a link to youtube! (Or you can click Susan's blog, The Alchemist's Kitchen, on the bloglist, and find her link to the interview. Ah, the wonders of technology. Which reminds me, I signed up for Goodreads but haven't done anything there since. Sigh....)

Bloglists, aka blogrolls, are great. You see the latest entry, and they're so adorably clickable. Blogrolls sound edible.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Prohibition, Socks, and Bathtub Gin

Day 148 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Tony (aka my husband) is reading Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, by Daniel Okrent, because he wants to know more about the money and power behind prohibition and connect it to the current debates on legalization of marijuana.

The book just came out in May, so Tony requested it at the library and got an email when it came in, and I hope he is able to renew it so he can finish it. So far he is impressed by the bombardment of facts, including one he didn't know: some of our elected representatives used to be appointed. "Think of the corruption!" he said, pulling on his socks this morning. Then, revising his cynicism a tad, "Think of the potential for corruption!"

(These were clean socks, but they will be sweaty later, as Tony was on his way to volleyball camp. Tomorrow is laundry day, which happens to coincide with garbage day in my household. Speaking of which, I cleaned up my office, and rearranged the book stacks, to impress my daughter, who has not yet noticed.) If he doesn't finish it in time, and can't renew it, maybe he will watch the upcoming Ken Burns documentary on prohibition. But I think he is really enjoying the reading, despite the tendency to fall asleep. (He's a hardworking, physical labor, volleyball coach of a man. Who likes a good Cuba libre at the end of the day.)

But reading, to return to our main subject, is a pleasure all its own. To hold the book in hand, to concentrate, to look up and ponder, to re-read that last paragraph....to....zzzz.

OK, but I, too, am interested in how the do-gooders and temperance ladies, together with the activists for women's suffrage (sometimes the same people), coincided with the powers that be (not, then, the women, but they were clearly gaining power) to produce legislation and an era, bound to be revoked, and residual good & ill. The dustjacket flap promises rich detail and the truth about Joseph P. Kennedy! And The Great Gatsby! And Dorothy Parker. Who is reading Dorothy Parker? Who is drinking bathtub gin?

Monday, July 5, 2010

On the Media & On Math

Day 147 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I'm glad to report that National Public Radio is rebroadcasting its "Book It" Series on On the Media. You can hear stories on the publishing industry, the future of reading, comparative reading, and innovations in reading. For all you aural learners and audioreaders, NPR is a wonderful thing.

When I was teaching, we'd do essays on early reading experiences to make that connection between reading and writing, and, in some cases, try to figure out where it all went hooey, when they stopped loving reading. Main answer: when they had to read for school and write papers. So many students told me about their joyful library "Book It" programs--a different "book it"--with prizes including personal pizzas.

I was always a happy youngster at the library, with no incentives but the reading itself. I would sometimes agonize over the choices, though, not wanting to be disappointed. Sometimes I yearned for something magical, fantastic, or scary. I was in second grade when I read a book of Alfred Hitchcock (was he the editor? did he write the intro?) stories when my parents went out and we had a babysitter. My mom warned me not to, but I did it anyway, and scared myself silly--then had to wait for them to get home to be comforted. Meanwhile, I was scared and, as the oldest, embarrassed.

Today, continuing in the Anthony Arthur book Literary Feuds, I read about C. P. Snow and F. R. Leavis and the "two cultures" (science and literature) debate. Snow was a scientist and a novelist, and mainly a generalist. Leavis was an academic and literary critic, and a specialist. Snow was wildly popular and successful. Leavis was not, comparatively speaking, and was known for his sharp, witty, and pretty mean reviews.

I had been pondering the "two cultures" thing--from the early 1960s--pretty recently--that is, in the 2000s--because a buddy in the Great Books biz had brought it up again, noticing that indeed many scientists he knows are rather well read in literature while the literary bunch is not very well read in the sciences. The science journalists and generalists and literary science types have done a lot to change that in recent decades, making many scientific concepts clear to lay people. Why can't we all get along? (Boy, would Leavis make fun of me!)

It is so nice to be unimportant. No one will feud with me!

Anyhoo, the science vs. humanities debate brings me to Taye, who is reading math. A big 3-volume set of mathematics essays, covering the history of mathematical thought and also special kinds of math. He told me that books 6 and 7 were intentionally left out of this fantastic set of writings when it was translated from Russian to English, and these are the books that make sense of everything. Why?! Why were these books left out?!

Fortunately, they were later published in English in a journal, harder to find than the books. Taye says that you open most math books and see lots of numbers. Not these. These have words. He hated math as a kid in school. He says you have to force yourself to think in math ways, and once he did, he understood things better, everything. He saw connections. He teaches political science and thinking with math logic has changed his life and his teaching.

Sigh.... But I do possess and have read around in Poetry of the Universe: A Mathematical Exploration of the Cosmos, by Robert Osserman. At Taye's urging, I will read around in it some more.
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