Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dressed All in White

Day 265...and it's Halloween!  As I write, I realize I will soon be interrupted by the teenie weenie Halloweeners, er, trick-or-treaters, who start while it is still light out.  I have some Dum-Dums for them.  Usually I have Beer Nuts, but Kiwanis has switched from a peanut day in fall to a flower day in spring, so I don't have any leftover spring flowers or Beer Nuts to hand out at Halloween.

Now some of us might be scared of our own pasts, but Connie has been reading The 13th Hour by Richard Doestsch, and says she doesn't have too many regrets.  It did make her ponder some of the choices she's made, wondering how things might have turned out differently.  I send you to her blog entry, If I knew then what I know now, so you can see more about what she thinks.  You'll see that she's now reading The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown, and pondering that, too.

Looks like The 13th Hour is a thriller with time travel, so a fun way to ponder the past.  Watch out that you don't kill anyone, though.

Here's another wonderful blog entry about books, by Mark Kerstetter, of The Bricoleur.  He shows us ten favorites, covers and all, and a bit about the editions and why he loves them.  I looked for the John Ashbery book with the Joseph Cornell cover at work today, but alas....  We had other Emily Dickinsons, but not the one he pictures.  I have my pink paperback Final Harvest, of which I am very fond.

But, as Mark warns, and in honor of Halloween, we should be scared of editions that present the poems not as Emily wrote them!!  Instead, hacked, maimed, and disguised by editors who chose to conventionalize her.

And it's always fun to see what Seana is reading or discovering over at Not New for Long!  (Currently A Corpse in the Koryo, by James Church.)

I just remembered I have an Emily Dickinson dress in my closet, from past performances of The Belle of Amherst.  I could go as Emily Dickinson for Halloween!!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

What Would Epictetus Do?

Day 264 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I am still reading Epictetus, because he was a favorite of the Glass family created by J. D. Salinger, and because a former colleague of mine wrote about him in a book review, mentioned in this earlier blog entry, which also, probably by not-so-random coincidence, also mentions Saving Jesus From the Church, by Robin Meyers, a book being read by even more of the local community after his speech last night and workshops this morning (going on even as I write!).

That is, I am reading The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, a new interpretation of Epictetus's manual by Sharon Lebell.  This reads like a self help book; gives me the insight that many, many self-help books are revisiting older, wiser, deeper books of ancient philosophy; and makes Epictetus seems like the ancient Greek Dr. Phil; but it's still, distilled to its essence, good stuff.

It's good in that it helps me review and re-evaluate my life, and ask myself the question, "What would Epictetus do?"

For example, this passage gave me pause:

By considering the big picture, you distinguish yourself from the mere dabbler, the person who plays at things as long as they feel comfortable or interesting.  This is not noble.  Think things through and fully commit!  Otherwise, you will be like a child who sometimes pretends he or she is a wrestler, sometimes a soldier, sometimes a musician, sometimes an actor in a tragedy.

Since I have done a lot of things, and have actually been an actor in a tragedy, I had to think about this for a bit.  (Also paused to consider, "When I was a child, I spake as a child....")  Indeed, in my little essay in Her Circle, I recount all the things I tried in the arts on my way to being a writer, and I became aware that some readers, never having known me or worked with me, might dismiss me as a dabbler or dilettante (those dreaded "d" words)!

But Epictetus would remind me not to be concerned with what others think of me, as that is out of my control (and ignoble).

Unless we fully give ourselves over to our endeavors, we are hollow, superficial people and we never develop our natural gifts.

Again, I pause to remember my father's advice, "You have a responsibility to your talent," very Epictetan, as it turns out, as I began my life in the arts, and both my parents have deep respect for people who nurture and develop their natural gifts, and have provided moral and practical support for their own and other people's children all their adult lives.  What a lucky girl I am to have parents like mine!

We've all known people who, like monkeys, mimic whatever seems novel and flashy at the moment.  But then their enthusiasm and efforts wane; they drop their projects as soon as they become too familiar or demanding.

We probably do all know people like this, and once I got to this passage I found a mix of relief and consternation.  I probably stayed a bit too long at some projects.  Patience is a dubious virtue at times, perhaps, and persistence, too!  If I had been truly responsible to my talent, as my father advised, and realistic in my goals and views, I might have left some of my pursuits sooner!

Be honest with yourself.  Clearly assess your strengths and weaknesses.  Do you have what it takes to compete at this time?

I don't think I have the vocal instrument to be a stage actress.  I worked in small intimate theatres, mostly, hmm, but also school gymnasiums, where my voice carried just fine.  And I could have developed my physical voice, seeking out a voice teacher, et cetera, as my sister did, but I didn't.  I think my inner voice told me otherwise, and I developed my writing voice instead, daily, as I have since childhood.

Likewise, I recognize now, as I did not when starting out, that I do not have the right kind of ambition to succeed as an actress in the put-yourself-out-there world of auditioning and selling oneself.  I am not good at it, and cannot make myself do it.  In fact, I do not have the right kind of ambition to succeed in any conventional endeavor during the time I happen to be living!  I like doing the thing, not selling it, not striving for the next thing.  That may make me childish still, in a way, but, if so, it is also a joyful way to be.

But it doesn't seem as childish, really, as having an enthusiasm and dropping it.  I like doing the work.  In acting and in writing, the work IS play for me, and I love doing it.  An actor friend, now also engaged in a more bookish life, had the insight that he loved rehearsing, doing the work, as well as performing, but that he met many actors who hated rehearsing and just wanted to perform, and, of course, it was rather hard to work with them in rehearsal!!

Different people are made for different things.

I think I am on the right path.  Now and always, or back on the right path.  I loved poetry from childhood on, and learned about it in immersion in dramatic literature as well as other kinds.  Being an actor helped me overcome personal shyness and taught me about what I love.

"Fear not," said Robin Meyers in his speech last night, quoting all the angels and Jesus, the teacher.  I must not fear laying it all out like this.  I must not fear being called, considered, or dismissed as a "dabbler."  I must not fear being called or considered an amateur, another word for dilettante.  An amateur is someone who does it for love.  I am that.  And I am professional in all my pursuits.  I remember that, I know that, and I have worked with "professionals" who merely "phone it in."

(Do not compare yourself to others, Epictetus would here warn.)

I am mostly patient, mostly persistent.  Mostly, with moments of grave doubt, I know what I am.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Evening Primrose

Day 263 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Terry Gross has been reading Finishing the Hat, by Stephen Sondheim, in preparation for her Fresh Air interview on NPR, and probably in sheer delight.  It's newly out, a book of lyrics and the stories behind them.

I had a driveway moment on Tuesday night, listening to the NPR story about Evening Primrose, a Sondheim musical made and aired for television that hasn't been available till now, when we'll be able to snatch it up on a DVD!  This delighted me because I play and sing "Take Me to the World" on my piano--just love this song--and  had asked my musical-comedy-and-Sondheim-knowledgeable friend Doug about Evening Primrose, learning that it takes place in a department store, after hours.

Indeed, as David Bianculli says, "Evening Primrose is kind of Twilight Zone episode set to music."   Bianculli tells us the musical is "based on a short story by John Collier, whose creepy, fanciful tales inspired not only episodes of The Twilight Zone, but a handful of Alfred Hitchcock Presents installments as well."  

In random coincidii mode, I refer you to yesterday's blog on scary stuff, including Alfred Hitchcock.  Aauugghh, remember the Twilight Zone episode where the little girl falls out of bed and through the wall into another dimension?!! This musical is not based on that!  (But a Simpsons episode is!)

Evening Primrose is about a poet (yay!) who lives in a department store at night because the real world, the daytime world, is too scary.  And, as Pam told me, right after my driveway moment just before book group, the evening primrose is just that, a flower that opens in the evening, and can be watched opening as if "in time lapse photography."

And guess who is in Evening Primrose?!  Anthony Perkins, post-Psycho (also scary) and Charmian Carr of The Sound of Music (scary only to those who fear musicals), who wrote the book Forever Liesl, also featured, back when it came out in 2000, on NPR.  (Maybe she would not have been forever Liesl if Evening Primrose had been more readily available.  Maybe there will be a live production of it now, and Graham Norton can seek out a new actress for it.  See Nancy Devine's blog entry on this!)


To learn more about evening primrose and its health benefits, go here.  To learn more about the zen biz of evening primrose, go here.  And you can find song lyrics books by Cole Porter and Oscar Hammerstein, II at Babbitt's at the moment.  I look forward to Finishing the Hat, and you'll find Sondheim in fine form, 80 and fiesty, in the NPR interview.  He is bleeped a lot, talking about some lyrics he wanted in West Wide Story, but I really, really like the clever subversive charm of "Gee, Officer Krupke, krup you!"

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I Want to Drink Your Blood

Day 262 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and a young woman who has already read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is now reading Bram Stoker's Dracula, because she wanted something scary for a long train ride a few days before Halloween.

But look at the cheerful yellow of the cover of the first edition of Dracula!  Nothing too scary there.

As I recall, though, it scared the bejeezus out of one of my friends who was reading it late at night.  (What is the bejeezus?  Oh, a curse.)

By coincidence (and the coincidence of Halloween) Dracula is the book recommended on Facebook this week by Goodreads.  They are showing an ebook version.

Sort of elegant scary cover there:

I was in the play version of Dracula in high school, as Lucy, and somewhere there is a picture of--uh oh, I found it!--me fainting into the arms of...an old boyfriend as Dracula.  What I had forgotten was another picture of me about to bite the neck of poor, innocent Harker.  And Curt, there you are with wild hair as Renfield, eating a fly.

High school yearbooks are very, very scary.

I remember being truly chilled by In Cold Blood, reading it in a farmhouse way too similar to the one in Holcomb, Kansas.  And, in second grade, scaring myself by reading stories in an Alfred Hitchcock anthology when my parents were out and we had a babysitter who couldn't really comfort me.

What's a book that scared you?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Bookish Sister

Day 261 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and my book group was reading The Used World, by Haven Kimmel, and discussed it last night in the summer world of women, to use a lingering image from the novel.

Hazel Hunnicutt is the bookish sister in that book, and characters are often found reading novels she has recommended, borrowed from her.  A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, out of which an important snapshot falls.  To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf, which makes Rebekah weep.  Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote.

I have an ex-library first edition of Other Voices, Other Rooms on my own bookshelf at home--well, actually, right in front of me now--rescued from Discard (inkstamped on title page, alas!) from a school library.  Schools sometimes just throw these books away.  They don't recycle, donate, or take any special measures for them--no staff, no time for special efforts on behalf of books or readers, except that certain teachers and librarians put them on a cart or table for a time in the hall, free books for the taking, thank goodness!  (See Nancy Devine's blog today for more reflection on what's worth saving.)

Joyce Carole Oates was a bookish sister, evident in The Faith of a Writer, her collection of essays on reading and writing.  Here is an excerpt from the tiny, powerful opening essay, "My Faith as a Writer."

Through the local or regional, through our individual voices, we work to create art that will speak to others who know nothing of us. In our very obliqueness to one another, an unexpected intimacy is born.

The individual voice is the communal voice.

The regional voice is the universal voice.

I do believe that, too.  I see that it has been true in literary history, and I feel it in my heart.  I note the irony that some writers and readers tout the virtues of locally grown food but sometimes ignore or neglect the local or regional voice.  But a Winesburg, Ohio will always speak to someone at the right time in hir life!  (hir = the neutral-gendered "her" or "his" I just learned!)

I also believe that patience and persistence can see a writer through the long meandering process of finding a voice and living the writer's life.  I am honored to have my take on this featured in Her Circle Ezine at the moment, here another circle of women quietly, patiently, persistently supporting one another.

The Bronte writing women were all three bookish sisters!  And for a humorous excellent television version, see Modern Family, in which there's a bookish sister and a popular sister, and almost never the twain shall meet, except in love and fierce family loyalty and instructions involving how to talk on a cell phone.  (I see it on hulu.)  Alice James was a bookish sister in a bookish family!  And her book is her diary.

Next, my women's book group will be reading Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan, related by marriage to someone in my local wine-drinking circle of women.  Loving Frank, which I read when it first came out in 2007, and look forward to re-reading, as re-reading is what made The Used World astoundingly lovely to me, is a fictionalized account of the real relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney, seen by some as scandalous, by others as unconventional.  I don't send you to Wikipedia for her as that will spoil the suspense of the novel!  Actually, so will the Frank Lloyd Wright article, if you read it all, so don't read the midlife controversy part if you don't know it already!

And now let me send you to further delight.  The strawberry painting is by J. Bernard Kroch, who has given me permission to use his work. Here is his new website if you want to see more, or buy one of his spectacular small paintings!!

And here is the new Richard Jones poetry feature at Escape Into Life! You can find more great poetry features--Sarah J. Sloat, Nin Andrews, Susan Rich, Kelli Russell Agodon, Diane Lockward, Jannett Highfill, etc., etc.!--on the Poetry page.  And also, me, from before I was poetry editor!! I like being a bookish sister.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ruby Fruit Wind Event

Day 260...and, depending where you live, you might be having a wind event today.  We are, in the Midwest, and O'Hare Airport was closed.  The Babbitt's Books sign banged loudly the wind, and we did not put the half-price cart out on the sidewalk.

A number of customers blew in and out, one twice: a charming young man thrilled to purchase Shelby Foote's trilogy on the Civil War....for his dad's upcoming 60th birthday, until he called his mom and realized his dad would only want hardbacks, new.  But he'll be back for more for himself, as we just got a lot of Civil War books, and he is particularly interested in Stonewall Jackson.

Carrie is reading RubyFruit Jungle, by Rita Mae Brown, because she loves that book, had always wanted a copy, and found one at Babbitt's.  Thanks to Wikipedia, I finally know what that means.  Why am I always the last to know?  In the random coincidence zone, the mother in the novel is named Carrie, but she is not a likable character, I gather, and Carrie the reader probably is.  She was very cheerful when I chatted with her.

In the wind event zone, I am tickled to share again with you "Wind Disorder," a poem by Ron Hardy read by Nic Sebastian at Whale Sound; you can hear it here in her wonderful voice, with just the right amount of slightly eerie wind disorder in it.  Whale Sound is always clickable in the blogroll on the right, and there are new offerings daily.

An amazing variety of clouds flew past the picture window all day long at Babbitt's--white heaps on pure blue, dark gray flannel blankets, blankets with white lace.

And now I am off to my book group, and will report on that, and more, in this blog tomorrow.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Farewell Indian Summer

Day 259 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and David is reading Farewell Summer, by Ray Bradbury, a sequel to Dandelion Wine, and "good seasonal stuff."  He likes the titles of both books and says "the prose is poetic."

(I am linking you to the large-print paperback edition because it is easier to see the blowing seeds on the dandelion puff on the cover, and to read that it is the "eagerly-anticipated sequel."  Plus, I like the hourglass better than the mass market paperback's clock.  Plus plus, we don't get a lot of large-print paperbacks at Babbitt's, as we take what comes in, so here's your chance!)

Meanwhile, our Midwestern Indian Summer has lingered, but some much-needed rain has fallen, conveniently after most of the harvest.  Today will still be warm, and the rain may not come again till nightfall, as in Camelot.  The moon has moved from full to lopsided, high in the morning sky, the blue and white morning glories are open, and the sun is turning everything pale gold.

Yes, the pale gold of the cover of The Beforelife, by Franz Wright, a color more intense, book in hand, than here in the image.  I dimly remember reading about this book when it first came out, as an intense, terribly honest look at the legacy of abuse, at the self at rock bottom, and at some kind of redemption.  Yes, it is brutal and beautiful.

I wince to realize that the poet's father is poet James Wright, father of some lovely poems, but  also the father in "Primogeniture" who beat his son.  And the son says this:

and may my hand wither

may it forget how to write

if ever I strike a child.

(And fear not, it really does say "wither" in the book, not "whither," as in the Amazon review.  You think I should not be concerned with The Correct Spelling & Exact Meaning?  Oh, but I am!)

And, recalling a lovely conversation between people of different faith traditions, I offer Franz Wright's poem "Based on a Prayer by Rabi'a al-Adawiyya," whom he identifies as "an early Sufi poet.  She died in 801."

God, if I speak my love to you in fear of hell, incinerate me in it;
if I speak my love to you in hope of heaven, close it in my face.
But if I speak to you simply because you exist, cease
              withholding from me your
              neverending beauty.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Conversations about Books

Day 258 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and today I'll report on some mini-conversations about books, and give a tip on where to send some creative writing if you are an Illinois teacher.  So heads up to Donna, Susanna, Alice, Chris, Amy, Tom, et cetera!



OK, one conversation was about why this book was $40! Otherwise, the guy would have bought it, and I know he will seek it out, because he was very intrigued by reading around in it.



Here's what the author said about it:  A surreal semi-autobiographical blackbook record of a semi-mad period of my life, in that mindless, timeless state most romantics pass through, confusing flesh madonnas with spiritual ones.  (According to Amazon.com.)  Know who and what it is?




Yes, Her, by Lawrence Ferlenghetti. It's $40 because it is a first edition hardcover copy in very good condition, with its dustjacket also in very good condition. 
I'm glad that he'll be able to find it at Amazon in paperback as cheap as $5, new, and $1.83 used, and see that it would have been a good deal at $40, since the only hardcover offered in the Marketplace at the moment is $137. But it's signed.



And Lawrence Ferlinghetti would probably be happy about the cheap paperback, too, as he co-founded City Lights Books for softcover books! We checked our paperback fiction shelves at Babbitt's, and even the poetry shelves (just in case) for a softcover edition. But I think A Coney Island of the Mind was somewhere in the stacks on the floor.



Another sweet conversation was with a very young girl who likes very old books. She has some at home.  Her dad says our bookstore looks like his house, with full shelves and piles on the floor that make it hard to get to the shelves.  I was glad I had explained the trade policy to his daughter. They might be able to bring in more than they take back out, reducing their floor clutter....and adding to ours. Uh oh.



And, indeed, some of today's conversations with were people who brought in bags of books and who will be back once somebody has a chance to look at them.  I got only a tiny stack done because on Sundays I teach my little poetry class in the rare book room.



And that's how I got a copy of New Scriptor, published at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois as "A Forum for Illinois Educators."  (I will peruse it and return it to the group, to be passed around among educators, next week!)  According to the inside rear cover, "Any Illinois educator may submit ficiton [sic], poetry, drama, art, and expository writing."  Typographical error in the guidelines notwithstanding, this issue does contain poems by Martha Modeana Vertreace-Doody, well-known Illinois poet and educator.



Gosh, I better not make any typos in this blog entry!  Oh, wait, it's a blog entry.  I can relax!



Anyhoo, you can get more info about the journal here.



And numerous conversations today were actually about Babette, of Babette's Books.  (That would be the very cute kitty you see here, who now lives in the bookstore.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Write Your Heart Out

Day 257...and Candace has been reading The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art, by Joyce Carol Oates, because she is a writer herself, of fiction and poetry, and this is a book that helps you have faith in yourself as a writer.  She wanted me to read it, so I am, and it's such fine clear writing in several short--some very short--essays written for various purposes and published elsewhere, here gathered.

For example, I have already read "To a Young Writer," which begins and ends Write your heart out, because it appears in Letters to a Young Writer, edited by Frederick Busch, and I enjoyed that book.  Loved reading Oates again, because Write your heart out is good advice.  If you've got a heart, and you're a writer, what else are you going to do?

There's some repetition in the book--of childhood stories or locales, of favorite books, like Alice in Wonderland--but that's OK.  It ties things together, and this is a quick read.  I loved "Notes on Failure," because, yes, failure or just "not making it" in the eyes of the current culture or marketplace, so often deepens us, as writers or any kind of artist, and frees us to do what we do in our own way, anyway.

I'm halfway through the book and feel that Joyce Carol Oates is the Barbra Streisand of writing, in versatility, perfect pitch, and pure, clear voice.  Also they share some sensitivity and honesty.  I recall that Barbra Streisand had severe stage fright for a time, preventing her from doing live shows, and the "Notes on Failure" chapter applies here.  Also, these two women share perfectionism, I sense, or intense devotion to their art.

I was reading it between matches and during warm-ups at the Big 12 Junior Varsity tournament today, where other people were reading, too!  A coach was reading a mass market paperback mystery.  Parent spectators were reading hardbacks, library books, trade paperbacks.  One was 1776 by David McCullough.

And one of the players, the one who writes poetry, was reading while lying in a heap with her teammates, resting after eating during the long break.  I'm not sure, but it might have been The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Blind Assassin

Day 256 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and a young woman will be reading or re-reading a stack of bestsellers that includes The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood, The Hours, by Michael Cunningham,  The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd, and The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and here's why:

1) She is going on a long trip and will have hours to read!

2) She is working on an assignment to examine issues of appearance, specifically dress and behavior, in a recent bestseller.

What a great assignment!  Now I want to read or re-read a novel with that in mind.  She was particularly excited about The Blind Assassin, an Atwood novel she hadn't read yet, which she found next to The Handmaid's Tale, the one she had asked about. (I had just placed them side by side on the floor, where they tend not to be an alphabetical order.  They are [supposed to be] in alphabetical order on the shelves, and are sometimes in alphabetical order on the floor, our overflow spot, but not always.)

She hadn't read or seen the film of The Hours, which I had recently watched (half of), so I alerted her that the three main female characters are explored in three different time periods, so behavior, dress, and "appearance" in multiple meanings of that word are intensely present in that novel.

She had read and remembered The Secret Life of Bees, and was excited to compare child and adult, black and white cultures, and matters of "appearance" in that novel.

And I said, "Oh, I have been wanting to read The Shadow of the Wind," and her friend sweetly showed me that we have another copy of it there at Babbitt's on the Select New Arrivals shelf!

While the cover art and content of Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi, directly address issues of clothing, behavior, and appearance, it is indeed a memoir, and she must read a novel for this assignment.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

To the End of the Land

And to the bottom of the soulful coincidii....Kim has informed me that the NPR story she actually heard was about The End of the Land, by David Grossman, an Israeli activist, so here is his book and a link to an article about it.  You can read or listen; it's NPR!  With related articles here.

It's a novel.

And here it is at Amazon.

Speaking of Compassion....

...and soulful coincidii, you might want to watch this wonderful 10-minute animation, which you will also be reading!  (You'll see.)  It's by Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis.

I recommend also cell biologist Lynn Margulis, who says we are like this down at the cell level--and she's the co-author of Mystery Dance, with her son Dorion Sagan, mentioned earlier in this blog.

And to Richard Rorty (R.I.P.), a wonderful philosopher sociologist.

And, of course, back to Living Downstream, by Sandra Steingraber, and the new documentary film based on the book.

You can find all these things on your own, and this is a much shorter entry, eh?!  Many thanks to Bill Harrison, who posted the youtube link at Facebook!

Soulful Coincidii

Day 255 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and this will be a random linking up of yesterday's soulful coincidii, with a glancing reference to this book, Crossing the River: A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany, by Victor Grossman, which someone must be reading, because NPR replayed yesterday evening in our area, and this morning, on the website, a five-minute interview with Grossman on his 2003 book, in their Americans Abroad series.

Victor Grossman is an interesting man, an American soldier who left the army, swam the Danube, and lived in East Germany, getting a new perspective on the events of World War II and its aftermath, and at the end of the NPR interview you can hear his criticism of the current religious-political agendas that continue to stand in the way of world peace and, his concern, a world without poverty, which is, to him, I gather, primarily a social justice issue.

This must be the part of the interview my friend Kim heard, driving to the interfaith panel last night at New Covenant Community in the Campus Religious Center in Normal, Illinois, where a packed room listened to the kind, honest, generous, thoughtful conversation of 3 people of different faith traditions--Islam, Judaism, and Christianity--all descendants of the Abrahamic tradition.

What an amazing and beautiful evening that was!  Such vision, such generosity of spirit!  I learned so much, and, of course, the Muslim man was Pakistani!  (See yesterday's colorful coincidence!)

Kim mentioned the interview and book to me because I mentioned to her a brief conversation with my husband, before leaving the house, in which 1) I invited him to come to the panel discussion because 2) he mentioned Noam Chomsky in connection with South Africa and Israel, and how we, the United States, might be at the same juncture now with Israel that we were with South Africa, as the only country standing by at the last minute, before real change...I will let you put that together on your own.  But Jimmy Carter was the President who finally said, "No," and South Africa, through long hard work and suffering, and with the long patience of Nelson Mandela, achieved its change with and without us (U.S.).

The interfaith panel, arranged by New Covenant pastor Susan Ryder, and moderated by retired Presbyterian minister Dick Watts (a co-writer with John Dominic Crossen of this book, Who is Jesus? Answers to Your Questions About the Historical Jesus), came about in response to the negative press and reactions to the building of a community center and mosque (I am using the terms from last night) near the site of the World Trade Center.  (You will recall the very public threats of Koran burning and the Florida pastor [who has now won a car?!], and, as I learned last night, there was a private back yard burning of the Islamic holy book by someone somewhere.)  Our local Christian and Jewish faith groups stood vigil at the Islamic center right after the 9/11 attacks, a difficult time for everyone, and this interfaith panel emerged as a similar show of moral support as well as an educational opportunity, and the packed house and compassion in the room make me think it worked well.

What I learned last night will also send me to some books by Karen Armstrong that I've not yet read: A Short History of Islam, Muhammad: A Prophet of Our Time, and  A History of God: The 4,000 Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. (You can find them all at Amazon, but here is a link to the book pictured.)  You can imagine some of the opposition Armstrong faced when some of her books, or new editions of them, came out in 2002 and in the 9/11 terror and aftermath.  But she is the founder of the Charter for Compassion.

This is such a delicate topic, and it's true that life is easier if we avoid talking about religion and politics, at least at dinner parties (or potlucks), but this is a conversation that needs to happen and happened last night in loving and compassionate, reasonable and honest ways.  And I hope we keep 1) talking and, of course, 2) reading!!

And lest you be a secular humanist or an atheist, you were represented lovingly, too, though not on the Abrahamic panel.  Moderator Dick Watts reminded us of the recent religion quiz (Internet-based) and that the highest scorers were atheists, and speaker Dave Hirst mentioned his secular humanist friend who asked, "Why isn't there a secular humanist on your panel?"  That can be a conversation to come!

And if you like drama, and I mean theatre, you might want to read Via Dolorosa, written and performed by playwright David Hare.  (I have seen a filmed version of him performing his one-man play based on a visit to the State of Israel, when both he and Israel turned 50.  Talk about a midlife crisis!)

And if you like quirky but amazing, thoughtful movies like Wings of Desire, Adaptation, and Being John Malkovich, you might like Cold Souls, starring Paul Giamatti as himself, which ultimately shows another way of learning compassion.  I watched it with my friend Kim on Tuesday night and with my husband last night, upon returning home from the interfaith panel (OK, I watched half of it before falling asleep and woke up at the end), but it was my second viewing that enlightened me to this: actors are indeed mules of the soul, bearing many in the course of their work, and that is why we sometimes break down and sometimes don't know exactly who we are: Christian, atheist, secular humanist, hollow body?

Forgive me the long entry.  Thank you for bearing with me.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pakistani Potluck

Day 254 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Sue is reading the first Harry Potter book because she has never read one, nor seen any of the movies, and the 7th movie is about to come out, so she thought it was time.

I just watched the trailer to the film, and it scared me a little.  That guy's nose!  Or lack thereof.

My parents must be reading the new Granta, because it came in the mail a couple days ago.  The beautiful colorful cover to the Pakistan issue reminds me of a wonderful summer day several years ago when a young man walked onto our grassy volleyball court one Saturday afternoon, joining our motley crew of actors, artists, and dubious athletes in a friendly regular pickup game.  We invited him to the evening barbecue potluck, gave him address and directions, and he came, bringing the 3-hour video to his recent wedding in Pakistan.

And he put it in the VCR and invited us all to watch it!

He was so sweet, so excited, and so friendly.  As it was my home, I spent as much time as I could watching, and asking questions, and smiling and praising, and then I would wander to the kitchen at the back of the house, tending to people, on out the back door to the grill, et cetera.  I do think the video was on for all three hours of the party....

And people would wander in and out politely chatting and watching a few moments of the professionally filmed wedding video, bringing him food and drink.  It all worked out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Book Finds, Lincoln Logs

Day 253 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I am blogging early due to plans later in the day, after blogging on Calculus, Carson, and Camus last night, so I am stepping on my own toes.  Fell over.

Anyhoo, I am enjoying some books passed along to me by co-workers, one borrowed, to be returned to our reference shelf at the bookstore, and one a gift: Writing Illinois: The Prairie, Lincoln, and Chicago, by James Hurt, a scholar and English professor who, alas, died just this past June.  This is a work of literary criticism and historical inquiry that I will place next to Lincoln's Favorite Poets (picked up in a vintage bookshop in Ohio) on my special Lincoln shelf at home.

Aauugghh, both are first editions!  Must get mylar jackets!  This I have learned from Book Finds, by Ian C. Ellis, and from working at Babbitt's for three years.  But I wasn't working there when I put my address label on the front free endpaper of Lincoln's Favorite Poets, by David J. Harkness and R. Gerald McMurtry.  Sigh....  On the other hand, these are books I want to keep and read, not resell.

I have a jillion books.  Someday some of them may be very valuable, so my home library may turn out to be the legacy and inheritance I leave my children, who are quietly laughing behind their hands at me much of the time, because I am a poet.  No, really, my kids are sweet about all that, but they know I will never be rich and famous.  I love coming across phrases like "much ignored" in Book Finds, applying to writers now immortal because their work stood the test of time and their first editions are very valuable, et cetera, because then there is hope for the "much ignored" me!

Because I am a great reader, and love to discuss books "shared inquiry" style, and because I have read How to Read a Book, by Mortimer J. Adler, I do indeed underline and write marginalia in many of my books!  But, now that I know better, not in any more first editions or advance reader copies.  This is my legacy, kids!

Another thing I love about Book Finds is that I can identify things about it!  It is the first printing of the Updated 3rd Edition, which does not increase its value one whit because it is a remaindered trade paperback, with a black remainder mark in the spine corner of the bottom textblock edge, and full of Sarah's pen notes.  I am reading all the chapters, including the ones that say, "Skip" beside the chapter title!  It is a book that must frequently be updated, as prices and trends change, and the specific examples must change even if the core information holds true.  And it has some typographical and proofreading errors!

Which reminds me!  I got to handle a Louisa May Alcott first edition yesterday, with a typographical error in it--a repetition of the word "at--or a "point" that distinguishes it from other states and editions of the book.

So, Sarah, when you are a famous bookstore owner, like Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company in Paris, your pen notes are going to make that little remaindered trade paperback very, very valuable!

And, if I keep at it, I may leave a legacy in books, if not in poetry.  But I'm still committed to the poetry, "much ignored" as it is!

Please visit the blog of Bill Radawec, and see his art and read accounts of his work and exhibits.  You'll want to read about the Slightly Altered show, the John Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright connection, and all about Lincoln Logs.  This is his log cabin.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Calculus, Carson, and Camus

Day 252 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I met a man who wants to be reading Stewart's Calculus, 6th edition, in a nice affordable used copy, because he is going to be teaching math and tutoring chemistry at the local community college, and he wants it handy on the shelf for students, but we didn't have one.

Amazon, of course, has various editions, custom versions for particular universities, and volumes in a series, and Abebooks had a really cheap used copy, but he doesn't like to order online, and we don't provide that service at our little store, now with little cat, still named "Little Stranger," until the proper name of the cat appears.  Yet another person suggested Camus, and another customer suggested October as that's the month she was found and also she is all black, with glints of white on her chest and the tip of her tail is white.  Another possibility is Moraine, as she was found on the moraine, walking down the white line of a country highway, but would she be nicknamed Mo?  Would it be misheard as Lorraine?

Anyhoo, we might have to pull Old Possum's Books of Practical Cats off the Poetry Cart...And, in the land of coincidii, of course today I handled a cartoon book by Beverly Guhl called Cats are Better than Men.  Beverly was pretty convincing.

Oh!  The guy who wanted Paul Auster last week turned up as a waiter at the local organic foods brunch before Living Downstream.  The film is amazing.  I urge you to see it if it comes to your town and to seek it out if it does not.  An educational DVD is available now, and some of us hope to get this into the local schools, to build awareness.  It would go along with the healthy food information my daughter is already getting in her consumer science and physical education classes, and it would counter some of the status-quo information coming out in agriculture courses.  But Steingraber comes from farmland, her cousin is farmer, three of the speakers after the film were organic farmers.  She is not opposed to agriculture!  She is opposed to poisonous pesticides that harm us, our earth, our air, and our water.

I was very moved by the scenes in which Rachel Carson, of Silent Spring, testified before Congress, making this a human rights issue.  We have a right to a clean environment and not to be poisoned in our own homes, in the midst of our lives, she said.  And Sandra Steingraber is carrying on that human rights fight.  "Never give up," she wrote in our books.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Today's the Day!

Day 251 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and today's the day!  The day of the screening of Living Downstream, a documentary based on the book by Sandra Steingraber, which many people are now reading in its second edition, or will be soon, as Babbitt's is selling copies of the book at the screening!

Here is a link to my earlier blog entry on this, with some details.

So far I am reading the foreword to the second edition and then the source notes and end matter (like Bob, the great reader, who sometimes reads endnotes first) as I read the first edition a few years back, and then I will revisit the  whole book in light of the documentary, hoping all the ways of seeing and receiving the information help make it indelible.  I remember how Steingraber's excellent writing made all the complex science so clear!

I have my Great Books Foundation blue and yellow cloth book bag to carry the book with me to today's events.  It is big enough to hold the other books I am carrying, too: 11 little Beatrix Potter books for Phyllis's grandbaby and Favorite Poems, Old and New, selected by Helen Ferris and illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, for that same grandbaby!  I will deliver these at church and then head over to the....

....fabulous local food brunch at Medici, as a sweet and generous woman who cannot attend has given me her ticket.  I will get to eat fresh, healthy, and, one dearly hopes, not-polluted food grown on local farms, and perhaps brush elbows with the author and filmmaker.

My tote bag will be lighter on the walk home, with just Living Downstream in it, by then signed!

And perhaps I will stop by Babbitt's on my way, to visit the new tiny kitty!  Yes, Brian was out in the country, I think in the book van on a book buy, when he saw a teeny tiny kitty walking down the center line of the road.  He picked her up, she has her shots, and she will be living at the bookstore for 6 weeks.  In our laps by day and in a crate by night.  And we have two large sunny picture windows, so we will set up various soft places for her there, too, for when she decides she is safe enough to venture out of a lap.  I see major dusting and cleaning in our future, so she will be absolutely certain what is a litter box and what isn't.  And, by the way, what is a scratching post and what is a stack of books on the floor.  I see major shelving in our future.

Because she is a stranger, some of us want to name her Camus....but the boss is not convinced.  So her name is TBA.  For now.  (I'm calling her a she, but I don't know what she is.  Maybe she's a he.  Our little stranger has arrived to help us celebrate LGBT History Month, too!)

And, for those of you who read "An Empty Nest" yesterday, daughter had fun at homecoming dance and is home and still asleep.  And we had Skype time with son!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

An Empty Nest

Day 250 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and a character in a poem I just read is reading The Lonely Planet, one of a huge travel guide series, while traveling.

Ron, of the blog fruitflyby, is evidently reading Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery, by Chogyam Trungpa, on aloneness.

And I am re-reading a fellow poet's manuscript-in-progress--looks done to me!--while tonight's pizza cooks--looks done to me!--while my daughter and my parents are all dressed up and off to their respective homecoming events this evening.  I just took a zillion pictures of boys and girls in a lovely park on this lovely fall evening.  Ah, now it is dark and they are eating at Mandarin Gardens.  And soon they will be dancing barefoot in the gym.

We are not alone.  And I am never lonely.

But aloneness, yes, and solitude are lovely things sometimes.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Jesus Loves Me, This I Know

Day 249 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and my dad, too, is reading Saving Jesus from the Church, by Robin Meyers, mentioned at least 4 other times in this blog, because my mom and lots of other people in town are reading it in preparation for the author's arrival in town later this month for a lecture and workshop.

"There are two copies of it in this house, if you want to read it," said my dad.  "But borrow your mom's copy, because I've got two chapters to go."  Nonetheless, he already knows he will take issue with Meyers on at least one main thrust of the book.  "There's a lot I like," he says, "but there's one thing I disagree with."

That's my dad.

"I still have some questions to answer," said my mom.  She's in a class on the book, and the conscientious teacher always has a handout or questionnaire.  A conscientious retired teacher herself, my mom always does the homework!

Dad's in a class on the book, too, but it meets at lunchtime, and they never discuss the book.

Sometimes--there's childhood--so quickly!*

Lyrics of a Sunday school song return:  For the Bible tells me so.

*I always knew I was meant to play Blanche Dubois.  (Study Guide, scene six, Streetcar Named Desire.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pearls Before Canine

Day 248 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Ariel is reading a collection of short stories by Carol Shields because "I have a short attention span and short stories are good for me."

I told her how much I liked Carol Shields and then pointed out that Ariel has an Uncorrected Proofs copy, truly the book in its first state! "Hang on to this," I said.

It might become valuable, and, because of the possible typos, it might hold Ariel's attention for more reasons than excellent writing.  It's fun to find the little errors!  She said she would share the book with her friend who is majoring in publishing, which must be a new emphasis in the English or Communications degree. Hmmm!

Ariel picked up three other books, novels, and says she'll be back (to Babbitt's) the next time she gets paid.

Another college student, or graduate student, walked out with Brooklyn Follies, by Paul Auster, and another with The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway.  The latter will be doing his student teaching soon in a troubled school system in his hometown of Rockford, Illinois, and then hopes to teach overseas for a while, to keep gaining in life and teaching experience.  I have to say it's a thrill to talk to the these young men and women who love to read and hope to teach.

And a couple with a Jack Russell terrier on a leash spent quite a bit of time in the store and walked out with a huge stack of fine books!  The dog, the runt of the litter, according to her mistress, was very well behaved, wore a pearl collar, and knew when she needed to go out.

Babbitt's is a dog-loving store, and Jackson the dog used to live there.  But, sadly, not any more.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Escape Into History

Day 247 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Bob says he's "sifting through" The Last Stand, by Nathaniel Philbrick, and that, of course, he has read the end notes. Of course! Bob loves history, and mystery, and knowing things, and beauty, and scenery, architecture, and beverages! What doesn't Bob love?

The Amazon link above lets you click on a video of the author talking about the book, which really is about Custer's last stand, and is subtitled Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of Little Bighorn. This of course puts me in mind of Little Big Man, the novel by Thomas Berger, and the film, starring Dustin Hoffman. Long time no see.  I don't actually remember ever seeing it, but something tells me I must have. Or maybe I saw half of it. Or clips....  Anyhoo!

And here is a full account of the battle itself, Wikipedia's interpretation. Each book and film will have its own.

And the Jannett Highfill poetry feature is up at Escape Into Life, under the wonderful piece you see here, by artist Sarajo Frieden. (Click her name to see more art, and to read a blurb about her.) Highfill's poems (click above!) are a wonderful mix of personal history, art history, the history of a marriage, and some recent American history (of disaster). Frieden's art is an amazing mashup of multicultural history.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Sorrows of Middle-Aged Matchmakers

Day 246 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Sarah is halfway through Emma, by Jane Austen, because she is on an Austen kick, as are many, many people, still, with this perennial favorite among readers.  Just today a young woman came into Babbitt's looking for "classics," meaning Jane Austen.

In addition, a gentle young man was made happy discovering other classics, and how cheap they were, and walked away, for example, with The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

I am now a bit worried about the gentle young man, as I have reminded myself of the plot of Young Werther via Wikipedia.  Aauughh, suicidal romantic youth.

It is an epistolary and autobiographical novel, although Goethe himself survived.  The book made him very famous, everybody loved and read it, the author later distanced himself from it, and that'll teach you to write about unrequited love and to write to your beloved and ask for pistols.  That is, don't!

Oh, gentle young man, maybe have the satirical Joys of Young Werther, by Friedrich Nicolai, on hand as an antidote.

Or Emma, by Jane Austen, about a sort of clueless matchmaker.  (Hence, Clueless, the film with Alicia Silverstone.)  And possibly an inspiration for The Matchmaker, by Thornton Wilder, revised from his own earlier version, The Merchant of Yonkers, with The Matchmaker then leading to Hello, Dolly, which I watched half of last night before falling asleep.

Then I woke up and attempted a little crazy middle-aged matchmaking in the fantasyland of my own clueless head.  And by email.  Please, please forgive me.  If you do, I promise not to turn my life into an epistolary musical.

Monday, October 11, 2010

One Secret Thing

Day 245 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and my mom is still reading Saving Jesus from the Church, by Robin Meyers, for a class and in preparation for the author's visit here in late October.  She is also reading plays for the play selection committee at Heartland Theatre, to help determine next year's season.

Having recovered from The Unswept Room, by Sharon Olds, I am now reading her 2008 book, One Secret Thing, and, oh my God, the long poem "War" is devastating.  It is in several parts, each separately titled, each giving us a glimpse of war through individual suffering or horror.  After this large look at war, I know the poems to come will be about the private family war documented in other poems...but I know love is coming, too, and reconciliation, and some kind of peace.  I see it in the stars.

I saw others in the bleachers reading, too, in between volleyball matches today at the Columbus Day no-school v-ball tourney...some with post-it tabs and bookmarks, but I left people to their private reading moments.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Walk in the Cemetery

Day 244 of the "What are you reading, and why?" and Rachael is no longer reading the third book in the Anna Pigeon series by Nevada Barr, because she put it down.  She was reading this series about a Park Service ranger, because 1) she likes books about wilderness and 2) she herself was working with the National Park Service.  She read the first two books in the series, but found herself uninterested in the third and troubled by some factual errors, though not overly troubled, as she understands slights allowances might be made in fiction.

But she felt guilty not finishing a book, until her husband, a great reader, told her it was OK.  "That's what's great about a book.  You can put it down."

You might pick it up later, or at a better time, and like it more, and finish it, as Rachael did with A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson.  She started that one and didn't like what he was saying about what the Park Service was doing wrong, or wasn't doing at all, but then she picked it up again when she was actually working for the Appalachian Trail--the subtitle is Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail--because the Trail people had a big display on it.  She ended up liking the book a lot, and was glad she'd read it.

Rachael is now an educator with the local history museum, and one of the coordinators of the Evergreen Cemetery Walk, so I was able to talk with her today, my last day as Helen Davis Stevenson, mother of Adlai Stevenson II.

As we walked along the cemetery path, she told me her new husband, the great reader, had read 3 books on their honeymoon!  (No joke here.  That's for a sitcom.  This is a book blog!)  Now he's reading Larry McMurtry.  And she will be reading something soon, as she has a gift certificate for Babbitt's Books.

But I also wanted to tell you about a wonderful woman I met in the cemetery Saturday morning.  She was passing through on her way from Champaign, Illinois, to Madison, Wisconsin, and had always wanted to visit the grave of Adlai Stevenson.  When she saw the signs on U.S. 51, she stopped, drove to the monument with the aid of the cemetery signs and arrows, and found the plot, the plaques, the light blue United Nations flag.

And that's where I found her as I approached.  We had a lovely chat, and I was able to show her where the actual bodies lie, Adlai next to his father and mother, his grandfather, the Vice President, set apart under a big monument.  You can see the monuments here, though the sidewalk is newer now, the flagpole out by the street path.

This woman, who is 80, had voted for Stevenson when he was presidential candidate, twice, and was sorry that we don't have people like him in politics anymore.  She is convinced that money runs things now, and people vote to hold onto their personal money.  Sounds about right.

But I see things changing, finally, gradually, some.

And then, just before I left today, I had such a nice talk with a man in a motorized wheelchair, chugging over to see a pile of walnuts.  He lives next to the cemetery, harvests the nuts, and sells them at a local farmer's market!  We talked about the big commercial walnut place in Missouri, about how walnut hulls stain the skin, and all sorts of things.  His wife is buried in the mausoleum, only a few feet away from his house, but he has a new wife now.  People are beautiful!

Well, for instance, here's Nicole Kidman, and the United Nations flag:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Time of Passion

Day 243 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I have been reading The Unswept Room, by Sharon Olds, because I had the opportunity and because I like her as a poet.  I've learned a lot from her.  I stand amazed at how she can write about sex, love, family dysfunction, spiritual matters.

I had heard that her marriage broke up, but I still don't know the circumstances.  There are poems in this book that just break my heart.  She is as astonished as I am.  Here are 2 lines from "A Time of Passion":

It never crossed my mind that he no longer 
loved me, that we had left the realm of love.

She's just stating it.  It is so simple and so stunning all at once.  It comes at the end of a sex poem, one of those she does so well, that, on its second read, contains all the ambivalence, threat, and evidence.  All the stuff she doesn't see while it's going on but does see as a poet, later.

I find this frightening.  It's the way the still-married couple is frightened in the play Dinner With Friends, by Donald Margulies.  It's also a movie with Andie MacDowell, Toni Collette (a favorite of mine), Dennis Quaid, and Greg Kinnear.  It might be time for me to watch that again.  I was in the play once.

In the cemetery walk, I am a woman who had an unhappy marriage.  Maybe I am too sensitive to all that right now.  Wooee.

OK, I cheered myself up.  By finding that picture of me upside down.

Friday, October 8, 2010

So You Think You Can Howl

Day 242 of the "What are you reading, and why?' project, and so many people came into Babbitt's today that I could not keep track of all the books!  The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen went out, numerous children's books, some history, and a gigantic Shakespeare...to China!

Plus, Ron will soon be reading Rilke's Book of Hours!

But I know people are reading Howl, the long poem by Allen Ginsberg, or the book that contains it, or the Collected Poems, if not that original book, thanks to the movie now out about Ginsberg and the obscenity trial involving the book.

For instance, Courtney Crowder, editing assistant at Chicago Tribune Books, might be reading it now, having seen the film before she knew much about the poet, and tells us about 5 biographies of Ginsberg in this article.

The film Howl showed in my town last night as part of the Normal LGBT Film Festival, but I didn't get to see it, as I was watching volleyball.  But tonight I got to see Leading Ladies, a marvelous dance movie!  It's really sweet and funny, and one of the writers and three of the producers were there to talk about it.  It was fun to learn from the writer that she wanted to write a PG-13 movie with strong gay characters because there weren't any when some teens wanted to have an event a few years back.  The other co-writer kept imagining Benji Schwimmer--a winner of So You Think You Can Dance--in the role of Cedric, and it happened.  I like this kind of thinking: imagine it, and it comes true.

It's just like what Jiminy Cricket sings in "When You Wish Upon a Star."

And speaking of songs, a book I handled today was Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, with a preface by Richard Rodgers.  Just the lyrics, to many songs from musicals.  I fell in love with that book, wrote down the lines I always forget from "Out of My Dreams" from Oklahoma, and now I will be singing that to warm up for the last weekend of the cemetery walk tomorrow.....

Full List of Nobel Prizes in Lit

Link to list of Nobel Prize Winners in Literature here.  (Thanks to S. Jane!)  Congratulations this year to Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru.

Yesterday, the day of the announcement, was mostly my random riff on palladium, chemistry, poetry!

But I do want to know more about that literary feud! (Vargas Llosa & Garcia Marquez.)

Back to work (in bookstore) today, on our day off from the cemetery.  So, I'll be back later today with what someone is reading!

Maybe I can see what Vargas Llosa we've got, and we can set up a little display!  Or one of past as well as current winners.  It's nice to work in a used bookstore.  The old guys (and occasional gals) are there, too.  I'm pretty sure we have some Selma Lagerlof and Pearl S. Buck!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Nobel Prize Winners

Day 241 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and, as of today, some people are reading, for the first time, or re-reading, for the umpteenth time, some work by Mario Vargas Llosa, because this Peruvian writer is the winner of the Nobel Prize!

(You'll see that Wikipedia is already up to date on this, and will probably be altering the article rapidly as new info comes out.)

Yesterday's winners in chemistry, for their work with palladium, put me in mind of Palladium, this book of poems by Alice Fulton, with its gorgeous palladium print by Ellen Foscue Johnson, "Woman in the Grass."

I loved the NPR story yesterday, on the chemistry winners, when the Morning Edition host Steven Inkskeep said, "You lost me at 'palladium,'" and expert Joe Palco went back to define it.

Inskeep was thinking of the theatre definition, but Palco was speaking of the metal, used mostly as a catalyst.

That is the definition that serves in the first section of Fulton's Palladium, followed by poems that, in some way, riff off that.  And then she provides the other definitions, section by section, including the one about theatres and music halls.

Palladium process returns to the chemical definition and a print process in photography that produces beautiful rich blacks, and a precision and mystery, as in the black and white photo on the cover of the poetry book you see here.

Other definitions are mythological.  Athena made a palladium, a kind of talisman in honor of her friend Pallas, whom she accidentally killed.  Athena's palladium is associated with a cult object, the kind that fell from the sky in Troy, meaning safety, later called palta and connected with meteorites.  We always want to turn the scary thing--a sudden hot rock falling from the heavens--into something that insures our safety, don't we?

And, generally, the Nobel Prize secures the safety of a reputation, and honors a body of fine and valuable work.  But I definitely want to know more about this "literary feud"!!  Why did Vargas Llosa punch his friend Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the nose?!  Garcia Marquez is a Nobel Prize winner, too, from 1982, but the nose-punching incident was in 1976....still, professional rivalry, jealousy, or some personal issue?  Eh, Wikipedia...?!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Neuromancer and Atrocity Exhibition

Day 240 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Stephanie's boyfriend is reading Neuromancer by William Gibson, a cyberpunk novel that he was happy to find at Babbitt's.

But I learned this when I asked Stephanie, who is a museum intern and tour guide at the cemetery with me these days, "Is your boyfriend reading J. G. Ballard?"

"Yes!" she said, "Neuromancer!"  Then we had a conversation about Atrocity Exhibition, by J. G. Ballard.

So we are both a bit confused.  (I'm sure Stephanie's boyfriend will set us straight.  Or set me straight, the next time he is in Babbitt's.)

Anyway, Neuromancer won the 3 biggies of science fiction, the Nebula Award, the Phillip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award.  I'm sure it's a wonderful novel.

But as I continue in The Common Review, I am reading "Like Pain to a Knife: Reading J. G. Ballard's Fiction," by Paul Youngquist.  I have got to read some Ballard, as we both grew up during the violence of the 60s (race troubles, assassinations, war), having our childhood innocence spattered with civil blood, even as we continued on in a fairly sheltered existence.  As the violence, and its commercialization and regularity continued, the world changed around us, like a shattered windshield nobody ever fixed.

As Paul Youngquist explains it, Ballard went ahead and turned the psyche inside out in his fiction, since all that supposedly repressed stuff was clearly out there already.  And Youngquist himself could identify with that.  He says, "It's not me who needs a shrink.  It's the world."

I love the boldness of that.  Yes, the world is screwed up.  If you have a bit of borderline depression or generalized anxiety disorder, and Youngquist says he does, isn't that the most appropriate reaction to a world in which human life is valued very little, violence is commonplace, and no one really wants to fix things?

Oh...yes, that's always been the dark side of reality.

And the world could get blown up in a moment?  We have nuclear war.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Trashy Mystery, Poignant History

Day 239 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and, according to Kim, Tim "bought some trashy mystery to read on the airplane" at Babbitt's, where they went to find me, while I was in the cemetery.

I am exhausted, people!  (It's not your fault.)  I love this cemetery walk thingey.  I've done it since 2001, and I know this because the director came to my house to pick me up for a rehearsal on September 11, saying at the door, "Do you have your tv on?"  I did not, but we went inside and saw the second plane hit the tower.  No rehearsal that day.

In this cemetery walk, we bring back to life ordinary and extraordinary people who lived in our town and/or are buried here, and it's just amazing.  Townspeople come on the weekends, schoolchildren come on the weekdays, and everybody learns a lot, and it is a joyful and moving experience every year.

I was telling the radio interviewer how each year, to write the script, I read all the research and then wait for what comes back, what I remember about that real person's life, not necessarily the public history nor the readily-available facts.  This way, we all get to know the person buried there.

Today I found a letter in the mail from a stranger who had attended the walk on the weekend.  What a sweet thing.  He had gotten to know Helen Davis Stevenson, mother of Adlai the governor, later appointed to the United Nations by President John F. Kennedy.  She died before all his accomplishments, but she helped make him a great man.

And to see the sweet faces of children...ah!

Well.  I am exhausted because we do this 16 times a day on the weekends, and 24 times a day on the weekdays.  Whew!  But they feed us.

When I get home, I am too tired to read anything but magazine articles, and then, to make sure I fall asleep, I watch half a movie.  Last night it was Mrs. Parker, and the Vicious Circle, because 1) it is long 2) it has a lousy soundtrack 3) people talk at the same time and 4) I am in love with Campbell Scott.  Oops.  That doesn't put me to sleep, but the other stuff does.  Anyhoo....

It's possible that we are all mysteries to each other, yes, but we aren't trashy.  This cemetery walk was begun, in part, to reduce vandalism in the cemetery, and it has worked.  People love it, schools love it (and Illinois history is part of the curriculum), and we learn to value one another.  Yes, let us value one another.  Alive and dead.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Elephants Can't Read

Day 238, now, briefly, of the "What aren't you reading?" project, thanks to Henry Miller and his list of Books You Will Never Read.  Bob has already answered that question, clarifying that a book he will never finish is Elephants Can Remember, by Agatha Christie, because 1) he says, quoting the article, it was "full of errors and poorly plotted" 2) she appears to have been suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's when she wrote it, as is her main character.

Bob also points us to this NPR story about Christie, and the quantitative evidence of more indefinite nouns in this book--words like "thing," "anything," "something"--and fewer precise nouns, and the Nun's Study, which tracks dementia in the writing of a population of nuns.

If you click the link to read the story, you will also see two photographs of origamic brains.  One is labeled a Healthy Brain, the other a Brain with Alzheimer's.  I would just like to point out that an optional caption for the Healthy Brain might be Slightly Scrunched Origami Brain and an optional caption for the other might be Smashed Origami Brain Collapsing Because Somebody Sat On It, just to make clear that a tightly folded brain is actually a good thing.

OK, it's true Alzheimer's does run in my family, but I don't say "thing."  I say "thingey."  I also say "out the wazoo" a lot, to indicate abundance, and this is nowhere mentioned in the article.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mystery Dance

Day 237 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Dorion Sagan has been reading Erewhon, by Samuel Butler, in search of a core text for an undergraduate liberal arts curriculum and in search of Butler's book-within-that-book, The Book of Machines.

Yes, I am still reading the current issue of The Common Review, and this is in his article "Samuel Butler's Willful Machines: The Lost Wisdom of Erewhon," but I started reading it without paying attention to the author.  I loved the funny, personal style, and then got overly excited when he mentioned--calling it "his nonclassic"--The Books in  My Life, by Henry Miller.  Apparently Miller made 3 lists: Books You've Read, Books You Will Read, and Books You Will Never Read, and, frankly, that sounds like fun, but, as you know by now, my brain is slightly scrunched origami.

Then the article mentioned philosophy, literary criticism, sheep farming in New Zealand (Butler's day job), and evolution, and I flipped back to find out who the author was.  Dorion Sagan! That guy who co-authored Mystery Dance: On the Evolution of Human Sexuality, with his mother, Lynn Margulis, my favorite cell biologist.  I loved that book!

Two things thrilled me about this article, in addition to all the things I learned:

1)  Dorion Sagan folds in all sorts of tidbits of knowledge, like blueberries into pancake batter, so his brain must be a) stained blue and/or b) origamic, like mine.

2)  Samuel Butler was funny and serious at the same time, also like me.

So I am deeply comforted, delighted, brain-scrunched, and eager to seek out Erewhon and The Books in My Life.  If I find the latter, you know I'm going to ask you, "What are some books you will never read?!"

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Print Matter

Day 236 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Leslie Haynsworth has been reading and re-reading Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, since she was 10 years old, as I learned from reading her essay "Unbecoming Jane: Jane Eyre as Alter-Ego Gone Wrong" in the latest issue of The Common Review.

This is one of the print magazines I receive in the mail--some are subscriptions I maintain, some are gift subscriptions.  A note to poets and writers who read this blog: I know we cannot afford to subscribe to all the literary magazines to which we submit, but I try to 1) order a sample copy and 2) subscribe for at least a year if the magazine publishes me, in good faith and to help support that literary venture.  If I can't subscribe, I try to order some extra copies of the issue I'm in to send to writer friends who might submit or subscribe.  All this fluctuates with my budget, as does my ability to buy books by poets I want to support.  Sigh...  But I am trying to do the right thing!

Haynsworth's essay is delightful.  She recreates that first wonderful reading experience, at 10, that awakened her to this wild and romantic world.  And then she recreates her first college reading experience of the same book, during which she had to reconsider everything.  It's marvelous to see how she handles the challenge, and the interpretations and re-interpretations that she finds necessary.

No wonder this is a perennial.  People keep grappling with it, at all ages, and through cultural ages.

What is a book you've had to reconsider?  Loved, loved too much, learned to hate, learned to love again?
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