Thursday, September 30, 2010

Home & Motorcycle Maintenance

Day 234 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Fred is reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig, because his 16-year-old son was reading it.

"My son picked it as a book to read for his Honors English class and I said I'd read it too. I read it about 30 years ago but forgot most of it. The author, Robert Pirsig was a University Professor at U of Minnesota, I think, and doctoral candidate at University of Chicago when he was diagnosed as clinically insane in the early 60s. This book is the true story of his motorcycle trip with his son and two others about 6 years later. He tries to come to grips with his mental illness by describing the process by which he went insane - an intellectual process that takes the reader through a couple thousand years of philosophy. I think my son almost went insane by the end but he grappled with the issues pretty well for a 16 year old. Glad that book is over so I can start reading some Dean Koontz....."

It's lovely when someone emails me about the book, because then I can quote him/her!  

"Yes, you can quote me," said Fred.

I emailed back that I remembered the motorcycles and the philosophy but had completely forgotten the insanity.

"The insanity is the major point of the story. Pirsig went insane trying to develop a philosophy that could encompass both Classical and Romantic views (according to his definition of them). As he talks about this struggle during the book you see that he is starting to show signs of going insane again. At the end you aren't sure if he has turned back into his former self (and gone insane) or has merely incorporated that self into his current personality (and is therefore more whole than he ever was). "

Fred was very patient with me.  I see from the Wikipedia article that Pirsig was purposefully alluding to Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel, a book I loved.  (It is not, I think, about insanity.  It is about learning not to focus on the goal/target/one's desire to hit it but instead to learn how to use the bow and arrow, and to focus on that in each moment, and rather literally let go of the arrow, gently, with beautiful form.)

Today I got a call at work from a woman, a stranger to me, who heard my poem on Poetry Radio today, "A House in Carlock."  She said it gave her goosebumps.  I was so honored and thrilled. 

Then another woman called with a research question, who had heard me on the radio in an interview about the cemetery walk!  So a lot of people heard me on the radio today!  But I was at work, so I missed me.

Which is very Zen of me, perhaps.  And slightly insane.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Day 233 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project, and what was I thinking 232 days ago?  How can I, a math-challenged, technology-challenged person, possibly keep up with a blog in which every single day I tell you what someone is reading, for a full year, or 365 days.

I am sure to lose count (and probably have) and/or cause my computer to explode (a constant nagging worry).

Actually, it is going quite well, and what’s thrilling is that people are reading!!

Here are some of the things people are reading this week, in this hump-of-the-week-hodgepodge blog entry:

1)     Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, by Sandra Steingraber.  As I told you, Babbitt’s ordered it, the new, updated, second edition, and the books are in ($16.95).   I got mine, in advance of the showing of the documentary based on her book to be shown at the Normal Theatre, Sunday, October 17, at 1:00 p.m.

2)     The Used World, by Haven Kimmel, because those books came in, too, delivered by Kim to our women’s book club.

3)     Waiting for Snow in Havana, by Carlos Eire, as I told you yesterday (right before that bird woman got laid in that nest…er, hmmm), in advance of his arrival in Normal.

4)      A big stack of science fiction, found by a guy who comes over from Springfield about every 6 months.  He appears to have found all these books in the regular shelves, not the bathroom shelves.  (Yes, we have spillover science fiction in the bathroom at Babbitt’s.  Perhaps “spillover” is not the best word.)

5)      Max Erhman: A Poet’s Life, a memoir by the poet’s wife, Bertha K. Erhman. 

OK, I don’t know if anyone is actually reading this particular book, the one I handled at Babbitt’s on Monday, but I was reading the first few pages of it to figure out who he was. 

Guess who Max Erhman was?!  The guy who wrote that prose poem “Desiderata” that is everywhere!  For instance, you can click here for it!

He wrote it back in 1927 or so, it circulated among soldiers, it went out in his Christmas greetings, it caught on gradually, was attributed wrongly to others and to another era, as you can read here, and then, in 1965, guess who made it famous and popular again?!

Adlai Stevenson!  By dying.  Apparently, Adlai Stevenson was also going to send out “Desiderata,” which means “things to be desired,” in his Christmas card that year! 

As I have mentioned here, I will be playing Adlai Stevenson’s mother, Helen Davis Stevenson, in Evergreen Cemetery in October.  Looking over at his grave.  And mine.

And guess who rode his bicycle to Evergreen Cemetery for Adlai Stevenson’s funeral?  Carlos Eire!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bird Woman, Ghost Deer, Hummingbird, Shweeb

Extra post because I love this painting by Steven Kenny and these poems by Ron Hardy!  Check out the Ron Hardy poetry feature at Escape Into Life, a fabulous online art and culture magazine!

Then click around on the other fine art, essays, poetry and prose features there.

Great stuff!

An excerpt from "Ghost Deer" by Ron Hardy:

A little light was left,
enough for the ghost deer.
We stood by the fallow
corn field, she and I,
listening until they appeared,
blinking, two, four, then seven
or eight, then fewer, finally just
the color of evening, muted, stretched.

Other cool stuff:
--silvery hummingbird in my own back yard!
--lovely comment by Harlow Flick after this post, including "Bluebird" by Charles Bukowski
--Shweeb (us up in the air in tubes, silvery hummingbirds ourselves!)
--NPR Morning Edition on Shweeb, which plays The Jetsons music at the end, allowing you to hear how The Simpsons theme song is a tribute to it!
--goldfinches in the trees as the leaves turn yellow!
--watching the cardinals and squirrels eat red berries in the pine!

Waiting for Snow in Havana

Day 232 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and several locals are reading Waiting for Snow in Havana, by Carlos Eire, in anticipation of his return to Bloomington-Normal, where he spent some time in boyhood after coming to the United States in the Peter Pan airlift out of Cuba.

He will be speaking at the Illinois State University Bone Student Center at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 30 in the Fall Speaker Series.  He will also speak at the Bloomington Public Library, from 2-3 p.m. earlier that day.

This morning I listened to Charlie Schlenker's interview with Eire on WGLT, and you can, too, by clicking this link to the newsroom and looking for the headline, "Memories of a Cuban Emigre."  Then click the listen button there.  Eire speaks of the indoctrination going on in the schools once Castro took over in Cuba, and the uncertainty parents felt about their children's wellbeing if they stayed there.  This is why parents were brave enough to send their children on an airplane to a foreign country in hopes of a better life for them.

That's why my husband's father thought it was best for his children and wife to go to Miami, while he stayed behind to wait out this Castro fellow who would surely not last....

Like Carlos Eire, Tony never saw his father again, and like Eire, Tony has lived in Miami, Chicago, and Bloomington-Normal.  I want these guys to meet!  I hope Tony will go to the Q&A at the Bloomington Public Library and say hola.

Tony can't go to the evening event because, since moving to the Midwest, he's become a volleyball coach, and his Lady Ironmen are playing that night at the local high school.  From lizards and palm trees, to fall leaves and pom pons.

What next?  Learning to Die in Miami, which comes out in November.

Monday, September 27, 2010

One Book Leads to Another

Day 231 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and today a woman came in looking for Charlie Chan mysteries, thanks to Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History, by Yunte Huang.

Actually, it may have been because of this article in the New York Times, by Charles McGrath, or this book review, by Richard Schickel.  At any rate, she had read about the Yunte Huang book and the delights of Charlie Chan mysteries, so now she wanted to read one.

And found The Black Camel, by Earl Derr Biggers!  One book led to another.

Ah, I see she could have found it here, free, part of Project Gutenberg of Australia, but I think she was happy to find it for $5 in hardcover, to hold in her hands.

After she reads it, she might enjoy the film, with Swedish actor (and lush) Warner Oland as Inspector Chan.  I was fascinated to read that the Charlie Chan character only became popular in movies after being played by a white actor.  Why should that surprise me?  It was 1931.  What really surprised and delighted me was that the character was played by Asian actors in the first couple films!

And then there was Jackie Chan!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bonk & Bonkers

Day 230 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and my co-worker Julia is reading Bonk, by Mary Roach.  She said to me, "I think you would like it because you like that book about vibrators."  OK, let's back up here.

I think Julia means The Technology of Orgasm, by Rachel P. Maines, and/or The Vibrator Play, by Sarah Ruhl, which you can find discussed in this previous blog entry. (I may actually have discussed this multiple times.)

Bonk, by Mary Roach, is subtitled The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, a clever title, and is really about the science of sex, just as The Technology of Orgasm is really about the technology of orgasm.  I do think I would like it.  But I am a little bonkers.

What you see here are conkers, or horse chestnuts, strung in readiness for a game of conkers, played in Great Britain, where indeed I first encountered it, the year we lived and went to school in London.  My brother was very good at conkers.  Me, not so much.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Love One Another

Day 229 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and David is reading The Last Night on the Earth Poems by Charles Bukowski, because his mother died last night.

By coincidence, I was with my mother last night at the same time.

We seek comfort, wisdom, beauty, truth wherever we can, and so often in our imaginative literature--poetry and fiction.  Truth in fiction, in poetry.

Kathryn is reading Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner and cannot put it down, because it is good.

People are beautiful, aren't they?  Oh, let us love one another.

Friday, September 24, 2010

That Ship has Sailed

Day 228 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project and my dad is reading the Horatio Hornblower naval novels of C. S. Forester because he just became aware of them!

Indeed, according to the C. S. Forester Society, "C. S. Forester is back in fashion!"

And, according to wikipedia, Ernest Hemingway said, "I recommend Forester to everyone literate I know."

By coincidence, something you know I love, we got a bunch of naval history books at Babbitt's recently.

Also by coincidence, people keep thinking I'm my mom.  Now my mom is a beautiful woman, and I do want to grow up to be just like her.  But this is getting silly.

At the play last Friday, I sat between my parents, confusing our mutual pharmacist into thinking I was married to my dad, and my mom was his mother-in-law.   I don't want to think about that sentence.

And today, two people thought I was my mom in the cemetery.  Er, I was there rehearsing for the upcoming cemetery walk, and one was a newspaper photographer, the other a radio interviewer, and now the whole town will be confused, not just the pharmacist.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pinion & Pink

Day 227 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I am reading Pinion: An Elegy, a book of poems by Claudia Emerson, borrowed from the same woman who let me read her copy of Late Wife by the same poet.  Beautiful, beautiful work.  And perfect for Ginny, my friend, who grew up among tobacco farmers, who feature in Pinion.

The cover is a gorgeous bird wing, but the actual poem "Pinion" is about a man pinioned by a tractor, during an accident with a tree stump.  It's a riveting poem.  He gets to see the world, to understand something about it, and death, and life all around, and the river bank into which he's fallen allows him to breathe, because it, made of earth, wet earth, can give, where the tractor, a machine made of metal, can't.  There's lots more in "Pinion," but that gives you a hint.

I blog tonight after Volley for the Cure, three exciting matches at a local high school, everyone wearing pink.  My daughter played, my husband coached.  There was much cheering and clapping.  Funds were raised to fight breast cancer.  We did it early, as October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I don't fool myself that wearing a pink t-shirt and a pink bracelet actually helped anyone, but I appreciate that gymful of moral support.

Two powerfully moving things:

1) The moment of silence.

2)  The group singing of the national anthem.

Neither was fake or showy.  The silence was real.  The singing was together.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Living Downstream

Day 226 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and people have been reading Living Downstream, by Sandra Steingraber, the second edition, since it came out in April, but now even more local people will read it, as she's on a book-and-film tour for the documentary film based on the book, so she's coming to our town.

We'll be selling the books at Babbitt's, and I'll be taking my poetry workshop to the showing of the film on Sunday afternoon, October 17.  She is a poet, and I've read her book of poems, Post-Diagnosis, as well as Having Faith, her book on pollutants in breast milk.  (Gave the latter to a midwife.)  Steingraber spent time at both universities here.

I'm linking you to her books here, and the blue image is the movie poster, and it's on the little brochure I'm carrying around to remind me to get my ticket ($8) in advance at The Garlic Press.

I read the edition published in 1997 a few years later when my brother sent me his copy, and will get the new one when it gets here.  In the wonderful-but-dangerously-polluted land of coincidii, she'll go from here to other places I've lived and also to San Francisco, near my brother.

Here is the Illinois Screening Tour, which shows that she'll also play in Peoria, not far from Pekin (where she grew up and got bladder cancer at 22), Springfield, Champaign, and Chicago (where you can get your tickets at the fabulous Women and Children First bookstore).

Here at her website, you can watch the trailer (as you can on the film page), listen to an interview, and see that she's also headed to Kansas, Maine, New York, and my alma mater, Kenyon College, in Gambier, Ohio.

And yet another coincidence.  Years ago I wrote an essay on reading Steingraber for a lovely magazine called Seeding the Snow.  Here is their website, and, in case you are a woman poet, artist, or writer interested in ecology and prairie restoration, their submissions page.


Update:  I just got my movie ticket, $8 in advance, at the Garlic Press.  Earlier, my blog said $12, and I don't know where I got that figure...but it's always good to get tix in advance!  To go to the brunch before the movie, you add $50, so I will stick with popcorn.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Not Bowling, and Not Alone

Day 225, of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and a nice young dark-haired man is reading Bowling Alone, by Robert D. Putnam, because a nice young red-haired man found it for him, in Babbitt's, where I work.

The dark-haired man had been in the day before, and saw the book on a stack on the floor in front of the non-fiction New Arrivals shelf, but now it was gone.

"Is it really about bowling?" I asked, sensing that, indeed, it was not.

"No," he said, and explained that it was an important work of sociology. I then explained where he would be likely to find it, but I also advised checking in Miscellaneous Sports, or on the floor in front of that section, just in case!

Which is, indeed, where the red-haired young man found it.  Who sweetly, quietly brought it to the front of the store and gave it to the dark-haired young man.  Because 1) we are not bowling alone and 2) a sociologist in deed is a sociologist indeed.  (And I do hope the red-haired young man, in town applying for a job teaching sociology at the local university, gets that job!!)  "It's a classic work in sociology," said this young man,  "and you know it when you see it."

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Whale of a Time

Day 224 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Mary is reading a big stack of books--somewhere under the stack of whales--while a fine young man is happily reading a stack of stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Meanwhile, a local Lincoln impersonator took home from Babbitt's today a stack of our newly-acquired Lincoln books...bungee-corded to the basket on the back of his motorcycle!  Life is a stack of amazements.

And over at Whale Sound, Nic Sebastian is recording a stack of poems in her beautiful voice, including one of mine, sort of a scary persona poem called "The Way Back."  If you want to read it while she reads it aloud, she provides the link back to Apparatus, where it was published online, as do I, on the right side of this blog.

Have you seen that commercial where Abe Lincoln is standing behind Mary Todd Lincoln, and she asks,"Does this dress make my backside look big?"  He's Honest Abe, poor guy.  What can he do?

"Does that poem make me sound like a whale?"

Mary's having a whale of a time with her bedside stack:

Phoebe Gloekner: A Child's Life & Other Stories, and The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Mary Karr: Lit
Eve Ensler: I Am an Emotional Creature
Anthony Bourdain: Medium Raw and The Nasty Bits 

And her good news is that she found a poem she was searching for: "Flower of Five Blossoms," by Galway Kinnell, in his book When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone.

Or a long time in a whale....

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Heaven's Undertaking

Day 223 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project and Lindsay has been reading Apparition and Late Fictions, by Thomas Lynch, because she loves short stories.  I send you to her blog, I Heart Short Stories, for her wonderful review, and to learn more about Lynch, also a wonderful poet and an undertaker.  If you heart short stories, too, stay there!

In Lindsay's review, and in the Land of CoincidOZ, Thomas Lynch, like Frasier (mentioned yesterday), says "I'm listening."

Last night my husband and I watched Oliver Stone's film The Doors. I love the scene where we see Jim Morrison and Pam reading!  All those books laid out on the floor, Jim lounging, Pam reading by candlelight.  I recall Jack Kerouac, of course, and Artonin Artaud, a Surrealist, famous for the "theatre of cruelty."

Wait!  Jim and Pam?!  Like Jim and Pam on The Office?  Is this some popular culture in-joke that passed me by?  Or am I still wandering around in the Land of CoincidOZ?

Speaking of being over the rainbow, this beautiful bird painting is Heaven-sent, by Pamela Callahan.  She and her husband run Otter Creek Arts in Wisconsin.  I have seen Callahan's birds at Woman Made Gallery in Chicago, and she granted permission to use them in my blog, so there are more to come!

Maybe Heaven undertook to wake me at 3:38 a.m. this morning. Maybe Heaven sent me into my daughter's room to check her blood sugar.  It was low, 42; 140, fasting, is normal.  But I think it is mother's intuition.  I am the one who fed her a brown sugar poptart and milk.  Not the healthiest of snacks, but it does raise the blood sugar quickly.

Waiting to test her again, I returned to A Civic Pageant, by Frank Montesonti, a book of poems I read too quickly in amazement, knowing I needed to come back to the two long poems in the middle.

So last night I re-read "Heaven's Undershirt" and was rewarded with a smack in the heart:

Dear  Reader.  One night when I was still becoming a man, the moon threw down its white wet underclothes on the tree branches in my front yard

And since then I've been shocked.

Dear Frank.  Of course you are a poet.  I understand completely!

Inside man is how he disappears, flashes on this wide, wronged earth and lets his life go up and out. 

Inside woman, too.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Wicked Funny Origasm

Day 222 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and David is reading The Clown, by Heinrich Boll.  Hence, Sideshow Bob.  Who, however, has nothing to do with The Clown, by Heinrich Boll.  But Sideshow Bob seemed a safe clown image to present, as so many people are afraid of clowns, and because I also want to get to the phrase "wicked funny" today, which I keep encountering in blogs, on Facebook, and in popular culture.

For instance, "wicked funny" comes up in this blog entry from Lemon Hound, or in comments, etc.--lots to click around and catch up on, once you get there--about very funny negative poetry book reviews.

Now Sideshow Bob really is wicked--he wants to kill Bart Simpson--and funny, as drawn by Matt Groening and played by Kelsey Grammer.

But "wicked funny" seems to refer to sarcasm used to make fun of people, their flaws, and their work.  (One might even want to be wicked funny about Kelsey Grammer's life and recent woes, but, fear not, I am not going to link you to TMZ, and Wikipedia takes care of that, anyway.  Poor Frasier.)

And "origasm" is a made up word meaning origami orgasm, as when the brain folds get so intense your hair corkscrews out the side of your head.

Last night, for example, watching Woman in Mind, the play by Alan Ayckbourn, I heard Gerald, a not-so-sympathetic-till-you-get-to-empathize-with-him character, played sympathetically by Todd Wineburner, say something about sarcasm being the last defense of the mediocre mind.  That's not it, but Julie will correct me.  And there are many excellent quotations for and against sarcasm, some of them sarcastic!  Anyhoo....

1) I have indeed noticed sarcasm used to easily dismiss writers, especially threateningly successful or popular writers who have worked very hard...

2)  Being wicked funny is a way to get your own work read, or maybe that's just me being frankly cynical...

3) I am backing further and further away from sarcasm...because Sideshow Bob has a knife.

Meanwhile, the way-above-sarcasm-mentioned David just finished Hunger, by Knut Hamsun, and is reading a poetry book by C. K. Williams.

And Caroline is reading The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, by Peter Akroyd, which seems to tie right in.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Treasure

Day 221 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Oprah Winfrey and a lot of other people are reading Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, and I think you already know why.  It's the Oprah pick.

I appreciated The Corrections, and I see why people longed for a follow-up.  You care about the people!  You wish they wouldn't waste their lives.  But, hey, lots of us waste our lives.  That's why we care about these people!

Meanwhile, I am finally getting around to reading the Summer 2010 Granta, a literary treasure.  At least I am in the right year, and, yes, the right season, as fall has not quite struck, even if most of the ads in the journal are already outdated.  Excellent writing, as usual.  I always learn so much!  Stories about Khartoum, about Nigeria....

But I was blown away by "The Last Thing We Need," a short story by Claire Vaye Watkins, a story in letters, even!  I love reading fiction that makes me ache, that makes me want to connect to other people while I can, while we are alive together.

I wrote a poem today.  And tonight I will see a play, Woman in Mind, by Alan Ayckbourn.  I get to sit with my mom and dad.  Life is a treasure.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sweet Balm & Silly Putty

Day 220 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project and today--and here's why I love my job in a bookstore--a man bought an old book, just barely holding itself together, called The Science of Art and Music.

He wants to read it because "there are some things in there I need to learn."  Turns out he's a composer.  He's almost there, he says, but he wants to get better.

And then!!  He recited his song to me!

It's a lovely song, based on a historical letter.  I won't say more, because it's his song, and he will offer it to the world someday.  But he said that it was all letter in its first life, and he listened to a friend who said he needed to set it up better, so now the first verse is a sort of prelude to the plot revealed in the letter!

And I can say from listening that he does a good job with that, as the transition is seamless.  It must be quite lovely set to music.

Plus, there were lots of kids in the store today, probably visiting the children's museum down the street.  One toddler in a stroller could hold Goodnight Moon (the washable board version) with his eager feet as easily as with his very excited hands.

One little girl was enamored of Joan Walsh Anglund while her mom was looking for a particular edition of Good Wives, the sequel to Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott.  I didn't know there was a sequel.  That is, I somehow thought Jo's Boys was the sequel, and Little Men, the equal time for men book.

And one little boy came in with his mom just to wait for their ride.  He promptly set up his toys on the floor in front of the New Arrivals shelf.  When I heard, "Where's your Silly Putty?" I appeared with a gentle reminder that a vintage bookshop is not the best place for Silly Putty, and the mom understood right away.

The nice thing about Silly Putty is that it holds together and doesn't stick much!  The bad thing is that it can remove some illustrations.  Anyhoo, all was well.

Then, of course, there's Napalm & Silly Putty, by George Carlin.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pencils & Punctuation Potpourri!

Day 219 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and, while I have finished reading The Correct Spelling & Exact Meaning, a book of poems by Richard Jones, I cannot part with the pencils!  You can click on sample poems on either of those links to book or poet at Copper Canyon Press.

I am preparing a poetry feature on Jones for Escape Into Life, where you can see all sorts of fabulous art and read wonderful essays.  Today's poetry feature is Diane Lockward!

As Wednesday is usually my hump-of-the-week hodgepodge of coincidii, today we get a pencil & punctuation potpourri:

1) Richard has a poem called "The Napkin." (So do I!) In it he mentions the Wailing Wall.  (So does Sue Monk Kidd, in The Secret Life of Bees, which I just finished!  In both cases, sad individuals cope by writing their troubles down on scraps of paper and tucking them into the cracks between stones.  Personal versions of the actual Wailing Wall.)

2)  Richard has a poem called "Walking in a Cemetery, My Children Ask about the Markings on Tombstones."  I have been in rehearsal for the annual local cemetery walk, and one year the guides focused on what the markings mean, and I have handled booklets about that where I work.  The poem is wonderful, of course, and does it in a poem-y way.

3)  Richard has a poem called "Affronts" that begins with a list of dislikes: "weeds, litter, graffiti, tattoos."  Of course he goes on to praise those things and would even forgive me the terrible affront of a word like "poem-y."  But the coincidence that tickles me is that he calls those blue roadside flowers at the edge of fields "cornflower," as do I.  They grow beside corn!  Officially they are chicory, but they are familiarly known as cornflower and are the cornflower blue of the Crayola crayon.  Another plant, also known as habry and bachelor's button is the official cornflower, as I understand it.  But I can tell from this poem that this "spindly yet thick-blooming blue weed" is the same one I know and love.

4) Many of the poems are about reading!  Reading the dictionary, for example.  And/or actual letters of the alphabet.  (See pencil alphabet above!)

5) There are short poems in the center of this book in tribute to and titled with pieces of punctuation:


I swear!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Correct Spelling

Day 218 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project and I am reading The Correct Spelling & Exact Meaning, by Richard Jones, because he is one of my favorite poets, and a mentor!

And because I love correct spelling, punctuation, and exact meaning.  I like the comma before the "and" in a list.  Business punctuation, that trend that took the comma out, destroys the exact meaning.  Sigh....

And I love these pencils, posted by Dorianne Laux at Facebook.  Another favorite poet.

And I love the alphabet.  And erasers.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Day 217 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Rebecca is reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley, because she found it at Babbitt's a couple weeks ago and had never read it before.  She is riveted by the story of his life, glad to know of it.  (She is very young, and grows vegetables.)

Meanwhile, her friend Charley is the one who is reading Travels with Charley, by John Steinbeck, mentioned a while back, I think, when he bought it.  Since my daughter, about to read Of Mice and Men in school, mentioned Travels with Charley in passing, my brain has been folded up in many interesting (to me) ways, yes, like origami.

Speaking of origami,

1) a piece of it fell out of a book today at work, smashed flat and used as a bookmark, and

2) the beautiful origami morning glories seen here can actually be purchased at dancusa's etsy site!

Speaking of morning glories, my white ones are opening, alongside the blue!  And a giant moonflower, too!

Speaking of Malcom X, as soon as Rebecca mentioned him, I came upon him in the book I am reading, The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd, on p. 216, as the bee-tending character Zach is thinking about him.

I know, everybody else read The Secret Life of Bees in 2002, a year I was torturously busy.  But I'm glad I am reading it now, seeing how it paved the way for the phenomenal success of The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Book & Church Repair

Day 216 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project and now, thanks to Betty, even more people in central Illinois will be reading Saving Jesus from the Church, by Robin Meyers, mentioned here way back in May, because now he is coming to town, for sure, in late October, to speak, and she is telling people to read the book in advance, which of course makes perfect sense.

Free Lecture, Friday, October 29, 7:00 p.m., Astroth Education Center, Heartland College, Normal, IL.
Paid Workshop, Saturday, October 30, 8:30 a.m.-12:30, also at Heartland College, RSVP October 15.

On the cover the book, Jesus is wearing duct tape.  You can dress appropriately for a lecture or workshop, but if you really want to, you can wear duct tape on Sunday, October 31, for Halloween.

If it is your books and not your church that might need repair, you can attend free lectures or paid workshops about that via the Book Arts Lecture Series of Milner Library, Illinois State University, Normal, IL.

Tuesday, October 4, 4:30, Main Floor, Milner Library, Karen Hanmer will speak on the history of the Guild of Book Workers.

Tuesday, November 2, 7:00 p.m., Main Floor, Milner Library, Dr. Betty Bright will speak on Book Art in America, 1960 to Today.

Thursday, November 11, 7:00 p.m. Circus Room, Bone Student Center, Illinois State University, Don Etherington will speak of his Sixty-Year Odyssey in Bookbinding and Conservation.

All of these things sound fabulous, and I hope I will be able to fit a few in between volleyball games and standing around in the cemetery as Adlai Stevenson's mom.

And the wonderful book art you see here is by Samantha Huang, featured in the current issue of Sow's Ear Poetry Review and in January at Escape Into Life.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Book Burning & Book Banning

Day 215 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project and, ironically, a bunch of people in Stockton, Missouri are reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, because it has been banned in the public school. The controversy has generated a lot of interest in what was chosen as a good "community read" in the first place, but opposed by some parents and students who were offended by its "true diary" content, the life of a teenage boy.

Learned all this thanks to the New Pages blog link to this news article in the Springfield, MO News-Leader (which, alas, has ads).

So, while some people are not reading the book, it has turned out to be a community read, after all.

Reminds me of all the banned books my students looked into for a research paper assignment and how interested they got in what was banned, or proposed for banning, and why. Reminds me that one of them was Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo, which we hardly ever have at Babbitt's, because of its persistent popularity, but which I put on the Selected New Arrivals shelf by the door this week.

Meanwhile, that pastor in Gainesville, Florida (one of my hometowns, the one with the alligators) has vowed never to burn the Koran, thank goodness. He's flown to New York, and perhaps that is a good place for him to be on this particular day.

Let us hope someone, this sad, fine day, is reading Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. (I've linked to a large print edition because Pastor Jones appears to be an older man, who might prefer it.)

And let us hope someone is reading some O. Henry today, his birthday. To circle back round to the public schools, I read "The Gift of the Magi" with my daughter for her English class last year. She likes to read it herself and then, as a way to study it, have me read it aloud to her, so, as I said way back when I started this what-are-we-reading-and-why project, another area of the brain is stimulated. Eyes stimulate one main area, ears another....

And O. Henry allows us to circle back to irony, the opening irony here, the central ironies of our lives, our ongoing community read.

P.S. The books-are-cooked image comes courtesy of USC Law School, where my brother learned to be a lawyer!

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Rather Elaborate Kimono

Day 214 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Michael, who was taking my measurements in the cemetery, told me he was reading a book called The Trouble with Life is Someday You Die, but I could not find that book by Googling, so perhaps he was reading How We Live and Why We Die, by Lewis Wolpert, subtitled The Secret Lives of Cells.

Anybody can correct me if I'm wrong!

Michael described the book as full of "factoids" about life that show how we are going along, since the moment we are born, programmed to die.  One of the freakiest factoids is that, with medical advances and stem cell research, it's possible there are people alive today who will still be alive in 400 years!

Michael doesn't want to be here to see that. And probably won't be.

Why, you might ask, was a man taking your measurements in a cemetery?

Well, I might answer, this year for the annual cemetery walk in Evergreen Cemetery, Bloomington, Illinois, where Dorothy Gage (the Dorothy Gale of The Wizard of Oz) and Old Hoss Radbourn (of Fifty-Nine in '84) are buried, along with the Adlai Stevenson family, I will be playing Helen Davis Stevenson, Adlai's mom, and Michael is the costumer as well as an actor this year.

In the Wonderful Land of CoincidOz, I see that a movie might be in the works based on the book by Ed Achorn, subtitled Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had, mentioned earlier in this book blog!

Additional coincidii: the name "Lewis," as Helen Davis married Lewis Stevenson, who was always "on the wing," off taking the cure.  There is a picture of Lewis Stevenson in a rather elaborate kimono that suggests a few things about that marriage.

Wikipedia tells me that Adlai Stevenson is referenced in two episodes of The Simpsons, "Lisa the Iconoclast" (the one about the real Jebediah Springfield) and "The Secret War of Lisa Simpson" (the one about hazing at military school) and Adlai Stevenson II is indeed just the kind of witty intelligent true statesman that Lisa would idolize.

Adlai, known as "Laddie" by his mom, acted in plays in school. McLean Stevenson, the actor from M*A*S*H, whose character famously died in on his plane home from the Korean War to his beloved Bloomington, Illinois, is a cousin of the famous political family.

There are more coincidii, but my brain is folding unto death...

I will not be wearing a kimono.

The kimono you see here--a detail of two cranes--is found in the Special Collections of the W. Frank Steely Library of Northern Kentucky University.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pearly Gates & Spotted Dogs

Day 213 of the "What are you reading, and why?" and Ciel is reading The Diary of Anne Frank for a special project at school.   Later in the day, a woman commented on the wonderful decision by those who took Anne Frank and her family to leave her papers behind.  Still later, a man came in and bought a book on Hitler, still trying to understand that horror, and how it seemed obvious from speeches and gestures that the man was full of hatred and anger.  "Of course, I have hindsight," he said.  He acknowledged that many people were trying to work against him from within.  "But he had them all killed, early on."

So it was a day of trying to understand horror and paradox.  A young man came in asking for books on Christianity.  He walked out with the Koran. My co-worker Sarah said she hoped he wasn't going to burn it.

Another man walked out with A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, by Robert Olen Butler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

OMG, Robert Olen Butler is tweeting from Hell, and collecting books with inappropriate titles, like Invisible Dick! Who knew? Clearly, not me, not until today.

I might have to create a new genre: invisible dick lit.

A lot of Lincoln books came in, including Manhunt, by James L. Swanson, among the books I bought to put on reserve for my students when Abraham Lincoln was the general topic for the research paper that semester.

Happily, a young woman found I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith, for a friend. Dodie Smith, I always forget, wrote 101 Dalmatians!

And somehow it seems appropriate that, finally, the white morning glories have begun to open, the ones called Pearly Gates. I haven't seen a moonflower yet, also planted from seed this spring, but the white morning glory that opened today was open in the shade all afternoon.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Extra, Extra!

Dick Durbin was in town, and happened to call the pastor of my church, who happened to record his phone message on her cell phone, and then blog about it.

Dog is Her Co-Pilot.

I'm pretty sure she will ask me to accompany her to the White House.

So, I am proud to live in a little town called Normal.  (Just don't read the comments at The Pantagraph website.)

I'm not sure how I feel about once having lived in a little town called Gainesville.

But I know I will be very glad to meet George Clooney.


Day 212 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I continue to find, in a brain-folding origami kind of way, what people are reading in books.

For instance, in Like Happiness, a book of poems by Michael Hettich that I am still reading, he is reading The Winter Sun, by Fanny Howe, in the poem "The Burning Door," which I should have known from the epigraph:

If a bird has a problem with its whistle,
it has to whistle to fix it.

--Fanny Howe

...But which I did not actually realize until section 9 of this long, amazing poem. So now, of course, The Winter Sun, a memoir, subtitled Notes on a Vocation, is on my wishlist.

Pause to digress, and fold brain: I have a poem called "Silver Sun," based on a painting by Arthur Dove, and published in an ekphrastic magazine called Beauty/Truth, which, with its editor, suddenly dropped off the edge of the earth. I worry about that guy.

I have a poem called "Virga," and so does Diane Lockward, in her book, What Feeds Us. They are completely different--hers is about the virga of snow, mine about the virga of rain--and this kind of coincidence, of title and topic in poems, happens frequently, no cause for alarm, only for astonishment, joy, and brain-folding.

I missed church on Sunday, staying home with my family, my son home from college for the Labor Day weekend, then going off to work, seeing the man on the bicycle who wants to read Franzen, etc., but I read the reflection later online, so I know Susan was reading A Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born To Do, by Thomas Moore, a book that has been on my wishlist so long I finally took it off, figuring I'd get it at the library.

Notice how the subtitle folds the brain back to Fanny Howe...

And on the morning drive to the high school (deprived of school bus, thanks to redistricting, though one reason we moved here to central Illinois was safe, free public education and free school transportation with non-drug-using-non-drug-dealer-non-pimp school bus drivers) I pondered, in addition to opium-financed terrorism (NPR story on NATO), the fact that Helen Degen Cohen's chapbook, On a Good Day One Discovers Another Poet, is entirely about what she is reading--poetry, mainly, but also film--an intertextual, brain-folding, saddle-stapled work.

I don't think I ever stopped digressing, so now that I've got my panties brain in a bunch, it's time to return to the ongoing euphoria of blue morning glories in my own backyard.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hand Sewing Wild Oates

Day 211 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Candace is reading a big stack of Joyce Carol Oates, perhaps the most wildly prolific writer ever! Several in the stack were trade paperback size, a mix of literary fiction, short stories, etc., but one was a mass market paperback of Bellefleur, an example of her historical fiction.

What an interesting writer, willing and able to try so many things.

The same day Candace splurged on fiction, thanks to a coupon, Judy bought that Jonathan Franzen memoir, The Discomfort Zone. Here is the New Times review, which finds it annoying. But I think Judy was interested in reading about his relationship with his mother.

That morning, Sunday, I'd seen the man who was looking for Franzen earlier in the week. He was wearing his bicycle helmet and climbing back on his bike, presumably after breakfast at the coffeehouse, and a little too far ahead on a Sunday morning for me to call out, "Hey! I have a Jonathan Franzen book for you!" but he'll come back, and we'll have another.

And now to the hand sewing. I sewed a torn seam on a beach chair, that low kind that sits on the sand. It sat on the sand in the Gulf of Mexico when all the kids were little, and it sat on the sand in Michigan on the lake this summer, where the pebbles and a wild tide day got the better of it. I repaired it with doubled-up cotton-coated polyester thread and a thick gray thread strong enough to mend a coat or a carpet. It was so lovely to sew!

And this beautiful Spool of Thread painting (already sold!) comes from the website A Small Painting, which artist Jonathan Bernard Koch is reconstructing. So be sure to visit it and keep an eye out for the new site!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cradle to Cradle

Day 210 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project and my son is reading Cradle to Cradle for his design class in college because the teacher was wise enough to use the students' lab fees to provide this wonderful text. Subtitled Remaking the Way We Make Things, it is a completely waterproof and highly durable book by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, an architect and a chemist who advocate making high quality products in safe ways and to eliminate harmful waste that comes not only from many production processes but also from some forms of "recycling."

My son's example is that making carpet from recycled plastic bags just makes a carpet that 1) involved toxins in its making and 2) will still end up undecomposable on a dump.

These guys advocate stuff like edible plastic bags, non-toxic materials, soil-based roofs, and designing "eco-effective" products from the start, not the "down-cycling" that is a re-use of eco-ineffective products.

I am so glad that my son is getting this exposure to a kind of environmentally aware kind of industrial design as part of his education! Seems to me the USA would surely benefit from a return to an ethic that respects the product, the worker, and the customer, and involve everyone in the making of something they can be proud of, reversing the current practices of making the cheap/disposable/designed-to-go-obsolete product that disrespects the worker and the customers and junks up the environment. I hope we don't just "go green" in the pseudo-jump-on-the-bandwagon way that simply continues business as usual, which would just give us greed combined with "feel good" green labels. We know better, but we don't always do better. Sigh....

Meanwhile, my daughter is also learning about food health issues, but when I recommend Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, she rolls her eyes and says, "Don't tell me to read about food!" Her brother laughs and says, "You read about food all the time on the Internet!" Etc., etc. They are both learning good stuff at school, in whatever ways they read, listen, learn, and think.

And the rocking boat cradle is from Nerd Approved!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My Brain is Origami

Day 209 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and today book recommendations came in the comments on yesterday's entry--please read them for more detail--and I came across what a character is reading in a book I am reading, so my brain is origami.

Plus, I discovered a new website, with panspermia on it (which contains life not seen on earth). What the Heck! (Stuff to Talk About at Work When You Are Not Working). (I am not at work, and I am not working.)

So my brain is even further folded.

Ron is reading The Brief History of the Dead, by Kevin Brockmeier, which sounds amazing (see his comment), and I know I will love Laura, a character who free associates even more than I do!

Seana directed me to The Voices, by Suzanne Elderkin, which takes place in Australia, where the spirit world intersects with the tangible world perhaps more readily than here in the American Midwest, where I am taken by the wind.... Seana is great for international recommendations, so see her wonderful book blog, Not New For Long!

And a character in The Used World, a novel by Haven Kimmel, is reading A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, out of which an important photograph falls. I like this book except that I am having a hard time keeping track of all the characters, partly because I set the book aside so I wouldn't have one novel overlap another novel (The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman) before my book group meets to discuss it, but I am reading it early, anyway, because it is due back at the library, and partly because it folds back in forth in time, like origami, and like real life in various suspended states: alpha state between sleep and waking, death, dental procedures if you are given gas (and just happen to finish reading The French Lieutenant's Woman, by John Fowles, in your mind, giving it a few more variations.)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Intercity Volleyball

Day 208 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I was not the only one reading before and between volleyball matches at the intercity tournament today, but 1) I might have been the only one reading poetry and 2) I was too far away to read titles.

I am still reading Like Happiness, by Michael Hettich, and today the poem "Awake Before Dawn" struck me for two main reasons.

1) I have also written a poem in "awake before dawn" mode, as have many poets, who, probably, are often awake before dawn.

2) It helped me. I love it when poems help me. Stanza two begins, "Another kind of man could turn into a tree," which is interesting in itself, and goes on, "and still be a man," which did not exclude me even though I am a woman and also made me empathize with the speaker who is, evidently, not this kind of man...but maybe wishes he was, so he could "take pleasure in the wind," something I did yesterday, "in the water that flows up into his body," and, whoa! he is turning into a tree!, "and out through his leaves like happiness" (the title of the book!), "refreshing/ that wind with its green life, that wind that travels everywhere," (and here tonight, writing, I recall that strange fact that we are breathing the same recirculating air of history, all over the world), "poking its nose into root-crotch and grotto" (ew!), "calling who's there, who's there into the emptiness / and moving off quickly, before anything replies."

And that was the part that helped me. I could be 1) more like the wind, by 2) "moving off quickly, before anything replies," and then 3) I wouldn't be troubled when nothing replies.

But once I was the wind. I had the visceral certainty of this, like memory. I remembered being the wind. Now that's a little freaky, and something I usually keep to myself, except for the poem I wrote about it, that I keep sending out. Nobody wants to know you were once one of the four elements. Sigh.... But once I met a perfectly sane, lovely, stable woman who knew it was time to pull back when she experienced being a river.

I'm sure there are reasons why I was the wind and she was the river. Mine had to do with fatigue and hunger, evidently pretty common among people who see visions, et cetera. But it was a wonderful feeling, amazing, pretty literally mind expanding.

And not at all like volleyball.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Like Happiness

Day 207 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I am reading Like Happiness, by Michael Hettich, a wonderful surprise in the mail!  I had just featured Michael's poems at Escape Into Life, so this was a sweet gift in friendship from a man I've only ever met through his poems, which are beautiful and endlessly amazing.

I happened to be reading the poem "Housekeeping" in my back yard, as I watched the big wind wave the trees hugely, revealing over and over the blue sky between the branches.  You should read the whole poem, but the parents are doing "ordinary chores" while the children sleep, and singing, and... we sing softly, across their dreaming bodies,
of happiness we haven't ever really known
but want to make possible for them, our children,

at least while they're sleeping, by singing these songs
whose words we make up as we sing, and whose melodies
we compose like the wind composes in the trees,
simply by moving our bodies.

The sweetness and innocence in Hettich's poems always amazes me, the sudden transformations into animals or trees, the frequent immersion in water.  Oh!  It's like happiness.

An excess of which I am fortunate enough to suffer.

Jeff and Lisa are soon to be reading What We Have, by Amy Boesky, an author in whose family the women tend to suffer and die from uterine cancer, and who is herself a breast cancer survivor, and the author of a remarkably uplifting memoir about it all.  Boesky will be their daughter's graduate advisor, and their own family has dealt with breast cancer, genetic vulnerability, the relentless survival of joy and hope!

And, in the Land of Coincidii, Housekeeping is one of my favorite films ever, based on the book by Marilynne Robinson, whom I admire for many reasons.

And for any of you who were worried about the Virginia Quarterly Review, here is rubble for thought at The Rumpus about it by Steve Almond, which I read thanks to a post by Nina Corwin at Facebook.  He holds the mirror up to poets & editors, and sees the complexity of it all, preserving sympathy for the men involved.