Saturday, January 30, 2016

Pie-in-the-Sky Cover

I stumbled upon "Confessions of a Book Cover Designer, by Keith Hayes (as told to Tim Murphy), in the November issue of Mental Floss, an issue devoted to books and book lovers. Hayes said, "I like covers that don't look like book covers. My pie-in-the-sky cover would be one without type--just an image-based cover, no title, no author. I think that would be effective branding."

What a thrill. That's exactly what I wanted for my Red Bird chapbook, ABCs of Women's Work! Many thanks to Red Bird founder and designer, Dana Hoeschen, for working with me on the design of the book, and to my son, Hudson Rio, for adapting the 1760 sampler by Elizabeth Laidman into the actual cover! Which, other than the stitched letters and numbers, contains no "type" and "no title, no author." That info is revealed inside! Along with the poems.

I find the cover very pleasing and in keeping with the idea, also revealed within, of the quiet persistence of women, so often doing their work--work of all kinds--invisibly, steadily, without recognition or "reward," often simultaneously noticing and appreciating the work of other women and other creatures...

Hmmm, but as to "effective branding," I confess I still resist branding. I don't want to be a cow, with an owner's mark burned into my hide.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Being Mortal

I am indeed enjoying this book, Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande, and learning a lot from it. I'm glad that doctors may begin to think differently about how they handle death as part of their medical practice, and I am also pondering how we, as humans, handle our own aging and the aging and death of our loved ones. I know I am mortal, but do I truly, madly, deeply know it?

I love it when I read something that applies not just to its stated topic but rings true in other ways, Here, Gawande lays out a common metaphor. "Death is the enemy. But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually, it wins." Too often the sick person has to be a warrior in the battle against a disease, and surrender is seen as weak, as a shameful thing, a giving up. But Gawande is honest about death always winning, and some illnesses and injuries are fatal. Why not be reasonable about that?

He expands the death metaphor this way:

And in a war that you cannot win, you don't want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation. You don't want Custer. You want Robert E. Lee, someone who knows how to fight for territory that can be won and how to surrender it when it can't, someone who understands that the damage is greatest if all you do is battle to the bitter end.

I love Robert E, Lee! (I wrote a poem about him once.*) So the other way I love this battle metaphor has to do with conflict itself. There are people I don't want to fight with because they are this kind of general. What's the point of winning the "battle" or argument if both opponents are metaphorically annihilated and, not metaphorically but really irrevocably harmed or changed by the fight? There are some battles I cannot win, not because I am wrong and my opponent is right but because 1) there is no resolution to this particular conflict and 2) my opponent is a General Custer.

In that kind of conflict, I can still honor the argument and live a life based on my own observations, principles, and beliefs without engaging in a hopeless battle unto obliteration-of-relationship. Indeed, "the damage is greatest if all you do is battle to the bitter end." It's sometimes tempting to engage, so not to appear "weak" or lacking in principles, but it's a temptation I must resist! Thanks, Gawande, for your insights on death, on conflict, and on life. And for alerting me to this guy,** who's in Being Mortal and The Washington Post. A doctor/thespian. On a Random Coinciday.

*Called "Making Love to General Robert E. Lee," published in Poems & Plays

**Dr. Bill Thomas

Saturday, January 23, 2016

End of Your Life

I read a charming book, for a library book club, called The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe. He's telling us about the end of his mother's life--coming via pancreatic cancer--and the books they read together and discussed. She is a generous woman, working hard for refugees, and he is a nice guy, generous in giving us this book. It reminds us to use the time we have to sustain good relationships with loved ones, to learn about others by reading and talking, and to do what good work we can while we can. It reminds us that the loved one lives on in the books, in the shared reading experience.

I love that Will Schwalbe provides a list of the books they read together at the end, and authors they discussed or read short works by (poems, stories, essays). I've read several of the books on the list on my own or with book groups, and I made a short list of things I want to read based on what he and his mother said about them, including People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks, which I just finished last night! I enjoyed moving back and forth in time with Brooks's characters and learning about the Haggadah, book-making and art practices over time, and the lengths people will go to protect what they care about.

The End of Your Life Book Club also made me want to read Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner. But right now, I'm reading Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande, a doctor. The subtitle is Medicine and What Matters in the End. I think the answer is going to be: quality of life. But it will be nice to hear it from a doctor in the 21st century.

Being Mortal was given to me by a doctor who saw me reading The End of Your Life Book Club and also recommended to me by another doctor, who was very moved by it. I sense a transformation-in-progress in how we think about health care here in the United States, a deep reform... I want to get these two doctors together to talk about it, and I want to listen in.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Spool of Blue

It's a Blue Monday (on a "throw-back Thursday") as I just finished re-reading, by way of hearing, A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler. I read the hard copy back when it was brand new and a 7-day book at the library. Now my book group is reading it, I am the host (in early February), and I knew it would be wise to re-read it. The hard copies were out, so I tried it as an audiobook, read aloud by Kimberly Farr, a Broadway actress who, I see from her bio, "created the role of Eve in Arthur Miller's first and only musical, Up From Paradise, which was directed by the author." Neato!

I think she must have been in the University of Michigan staging of it in Ann Arbor, to have created the role, so to speak, because someone else plays Eve in the New York Times-reviewed version that has Len Cariou as God and Austin Pendleton as Adam. (It looks like it was a flop, as was The Creation of the World and Other Business, the non-musical version of Genesis by Arthur Miller, but I do remember that being a big hit in speech tournaments around that time!) Sigh... Making a living in the theatre is hard.

Anyhoo, back to the spool of blue thread. I was so glad I listened to the book, for now the image of the actual spool of blue thread, used for mending a dashiki shirt, is salient in my mind. So is a Swedish blue porch swing, and all the kinds of love and forgiveness we might witness or long for in the world. I love Anne Tyler. I remember how an excerpt from Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant first wowed me. Oh, and that reminds me of fried chicken, made by more than one woman in more than one generation in A Spool of Blue Thread. But, most recently, in my mind (and ears), Nora. As the host, I might conceivably make fried chicken for my book group, but I think we will all be better off if I don't.

Now, stop reading to avoid a spoiler, but I am also going to try to avoid it by not telling you who did what and why.... Instead, I'll ask this blend of an interpretive question (as it applies specifically to a character and action in the book) and an evaluative question (as we might apply it in our lives): When is it (or is it ever) a good idea to "pretend not to see" the deep emotion of one of our fellow passengers in life? And why, or why not? If and when you have read the book, you will know why I am asking, and you can answer for this character as well as yourself!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Must Dash!

Reader, I finished it. I refer, of course, to the book I was reading—Between You & Me, by Mary Norris. Loved it through and through, and enjoyed learning where the name "the Bronx" came from. Not telling, no spoilers.

You'll all want to read the Confessions of a Comma Queen (subtitle):  People who like the play Wit would like the chapter on the semi-colon. My niece, Jessa, would appreciate the chapter on the apostrophe. My Ohio relatives and friends would enjoy Norris's references to Cleveland and the Hocking Hills. Some of us actually vacationed together for a week in the Hocking Hills but not, it turns out, when the pencil-sharpener museum was part of the visitor center there. Must go back!

And my mom will enjoy the whole book, so I will let her borrow it, and she can keep it as long as she wants, the way I kept The Triggering Town, by Richard Hugo, so long that she had to replace it. Sigh.... Sorry, Mom. 

One year for Christmas I got her The Elements of Style, her favorite style manual, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, but this was the version illustrated by Maira Kalman. Then, the very next year, I think, she gave me a copy! So now it's sort of coupling on my desk with the Norris book, a red and yellow coupling that, I guess, would produce orange babies.

I am making liberal and, I trust, correct use of commas here—in celebration! Along with the dash, which also gets a chapter in the book. Some copy editors would disapprove of my frequent exclamation points! Some would hate my sentence fragments. But I think Mary Norris would permit me my foibles….if I ever got published in The New Yorker.

For now, I share with you one of her paragraphs on Emily Dickinson, queen of the dash. Norris had earlier made this comparison: “Dashes, like table forks, come in different sizes, and there is a proper use for each.” She likens the longer, one-em dash to a dinner fork and the shorter, one-en dash to a salad fork. (My use of commas in the previous sentence matches that of one writer whose commas she let stand; forgive me, I am under the influence.) Anyway, here you go:

The most famous proponent of the dash was, of course, the poet Emily Dickinson, and it is because of her that, for me, the dash has a feminine slant. With Emily Dickinson at the table, my simplistic division of dashes into table forks and salad forks falls apart. She used dashes for everything, and sometimes for two things at once. If a different size and style of fork were assigned to each of her various dashes, the table setting would require not just dessert forks and fondue forks and those tiny forks used for teasing out snails but also tuning forks and pitchforks. (Norris, page 137)

Confessions: I had to compose in Word, not in Blogger, to get my em-dashes to work; I looked up “manual” just to be safe; and I almost always have to look up the word “niece” to get the “i” before the “e,” thanks to a misapprehension of a mnemonic device about nieces and nephews. Sigh…. The commas and semi-colon in my Confessions above are a combination of Walt Whitman’s and Henry James’s usage of commas and semi-colons, and, yes, that is how to make James’s name a possessive!

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year's Books

I got some books for Christmas! But even before that, I got hold of The Accidental, by Ali Smith, recommended by Sarah J. Sloat, who knew I would like it and was so right. It is perfect for someone who labels her blog posts "Random Coinciday," and that someone is me. By chance (!), I had just re-seen Love, Actually (an actual Christmas present from my daughter this year!) when a character in the book was seeing it! This young man thought the movie was crap...*...and yet!--he cared for the girls who were moved to tears by it. Girls like me!

*...the way a character in the movie thinks the song he is singing is crap...

Now I am reading Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris. It makes me laugh out loud. She is honest, funny, and endearing in all kinds of ways. She was a milkman and a copy editor for The New Yorker. I'm agreeing with her and learning from her, and I am delighted and comforted to have made some of the same mistakes over the years. There are words I always have to look up. Mary Norris actually looks things up in a physical dictionary. So do I!

Thanks to my daughter for the movie, my husband for the book, and my son for this new keyboard, as I was typing the letters off the old one! And for this new computer! (My old one was dying...) And for setting it up for his dear old sentimental technologically-challenged book addict of a mom. Happy New Year!