Friday, December 15, 2017

Everything by Kent Haruf

The Main Street of Fictional Holt, Colorado
~ IRL Salida ~

For more information on
American novelist Kent Haruf (1943 - 2014)
see my post

"Not the Husband, Not the Fathe

@ The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker

The Tie That Binds (1984)
"Now I don’t pretend to think that a mere stretch of six years is anywhere near enough time. But I suppose if that’s all you’re given and no more, then six years will have to do. In the end that’s what Edith Goodnough had: she had six years of what you may call fun. Or good times. Or better, just the day - in, day - out mean rich goodness of being alive, when at night you lie down in the warm dark pleased with your corner of the world, and then you wake the next morning still pleased with it, and you know that, too, while you lie there for a time listening in peace to the mourning doves calling from the elm trees and telephone lines, until finally the thought of black coffee moves you up out of bed and down the stairs to the kitchen stove, so that once again you can begin it all afresh, with pleasure, with eagerness even” (165).

Where You Once Belonged (1990)
"At Holt County Union High School -- it was redbrick too and three stories high as the grade school had been, but it stood at the south end of Main Street and it was more ambitious architecturally; it had square turrets at both ends and the roof was red tile so that it looked a cross between a prison and somebody's notion of a Mediterranean palace; you could see it from a distance, risen up above the stunted elm trees and hackberries, standing alone at the end of Main as if blocking passage out of town, the practical and symbolic notion of what Holt County thought about higher education, standing there for fifty years and more until in the middle 1960s it was condemned and they tore it down and sold off the old redbrick for backyard patios and borders for zinnia beds and replaced it with a new low one - story pedestrian affair that had a scarcity of windows . . ." (24 - 25).

Plainsong (1999)
"Let me see if I can stand up. Slowly she began to rise from the chair, pushing back with her fisted hands against the armrests. They wanted to help her but didn’t know where she might be touched. At last she stood erect. It’s ridiculous to get so old, she said. It’s stupid and ridiculous. She took up her canes. Stand back so I don’t trip on you. . . . She shuffled into the next room and came back carrying a flat and ragged cardboard box and set it on the table and removed the lid, then she showed them photographs that had been much-handled in the long afternoons and evenings of her solitary life . . . there was a photograph of . . . a slender woman with dark wavy hair in a white gabardine dress.

Who’s that? they said. That lady with him.

Who do you think? she said.

They shrugged. They didn’t know.

That’s me. Couldn’t you guess?

They turned to look at her, examining her face.

That’s how I used to look, she said. I was young once too, don’t you know.
" (148 - 50)

Eventide (2004)
"She got up from bed with the sheet around her and followed him, watching him drive away on the vacant street, seeing him pass under the corner streetlamp, then onto Main and out of sight. Shadows from the lamp were like long stick figures thrown out behind the trees and all along the street were the quiet mute fronts of houses. She sat down in the dark room. An hour later she woke shivering and went back to her bed. . . .

And farther away, outside of town, out on the high plains, there would be the blue yardlights shining from the tall poles at all the isolated farms and ranches in all the flat treeless country, and presently the wind would come up, blowing across the open spaces, traveling without obstruction across the wide fields of winter wheat and across the ancient native pastures and the graveled county roads, carrying with it a pale dust as the dark approached and the nighttime gathered round
" (224, 300).

Benediction (2013)
"Sounds like a mixed blessing, Lyle said.
Dad looked at him. Yes sir. Lots of things turn out to be blessings that got mixed up.
" (78)

"All life is moving through some kind of unhappiness, isn't it.
I don't know. I didn't used to think so.
But there's some good too, Willa said. I insist on that.
There are some brief moments, Alene said. This is one of them.
" (194)

"Well, you sure got you a real fine nice big house here. You done all right that way, didn't you. This is a real nice big pleasing satisfying house you got here.
I worked for it, Dad said.
Well sure. Of course. I know, the old man said. Had some luck too, I believe.
I had some luck. But I worked hard. I earned it.
Yeah. Sure. Most people work hard. It's not only that now, is it. You had you some luck.
Goddamn it, I had some luck too, Dad said, but I earned the luck.
" (227)

Our Souls at Night (2015)
"Aren’t you afraid of death?
Not like I was. I’ve come to believe in some kind of afterlife. A return to our true selves, a spirit self. We’re just in this physical body till we go back to spirit.
I don’t know if I believe that, Addie said. Maybe you’re right. I hope you are.
We’ll see, won’t we. But not yet.
No, not yet, Addie said. I do love this physical world. I love this physical life with you. And the air and the country. The backyard, the gravel in the back alley. The grass. The cool nights. Lying in bed talking with you in the dark.
" (128 - 29)

"You can't fix things, can you, Louis said.
We always want to. But we can't. . . .

What did you tell me? Something about not being able to fix people's lives.
That was for you, she said. Not for me.
I see, Louis said.
" (144, 151).


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Happy Bookgiving

This classic, as seen in a shop window in Dublin a couple of years ago, would make a great gift. I should have gone in and purchased it, but alas I was trying to travel light and passed up the chance. Looks like amazon has a few vintage copies as well as a re-released edition.


These quaint old - American holiday books,
in reprinted editions make great gifts:

"There is a spell on southern Salem [NC], the spell not of a dead past but of a living one, constantly revitalized, so that as one walks these uneven red-brick pavements, one is haunted by memories of long-past Christmases, thoughts of those far times, when in secrecy and fear, the Hidden Seed kept its feast of candles and of anthems, thoughts of happier festivals in Saxony where young Count Zinzendorf offered the heretics the refuge city of Herrnhut, thoughts of brave long-ago love-feasts right here, when a tiny, intrepid band of colonists sang its Christmas chorales in the midst of endless miles of wilderness, while wolves nosed and howled at the cabin door. Along with these Moravian memories come thronging recollections of one's own childhood Christmases in all their unforgotten wizardry, so that here in Christmas Salem, I seem to be walking again the midnight aisle which leads through a great wood of fir trees looming black beneath high stars." ~Winifred Kirkland



And for the biblio - anglo - philes on your list:

Book ~ Charlecote Park
An almost idyllic reminiscence of growing up
in the Elizabethan / Victorian grandeur of Charlecote Park,
as told by the last family of children to live there:
"One by one the children would grow old enough to being dining regularly with their parents in the evening. None of them would enjoy it. All this lay ahead. But the children knew that the summer holidays just past were probably the last of a kind. . . . So very much was always expected of the children of the house . . . they knew they were growing up because of the childhood memories that seemed to be accumulating behind them. When they were together, they quite often began sentences with, 'Do you remember--?' " (63, 84, 97).
Their childhood innocence is overtaken by a
growing awareness of gender and social inequity,
the coming of World War I, and the fruitless resistance
to the inevitable arrival of the 20th Century:
"The last carriage left; the park gates were shut. A great silence wrapped Charlecote Hall again; the whole place seemed to sink into sleep, as the sun went down. Even the cooing of pigeons and the occasional notes of other birds had ceased. Only the gentle sound of the River Avon continued. It was difficult to believe that the world outside this world was not also at peace" (111).
". . . The house remembers . . . " (126).

Matching Gift Tin
Charlecote Gatehouse

Yes, I do in fact own one of these tins, purchased as a souvenir
in 1979, when I visited Charlecote on my first trip to England.

[Another old house book by Philippa Pearce ~ Tom's Midnight Garden]

Sunday, October 29, 2017

October Light, October Heavy

A Series of Postcards from Victoria:

31 August 2002
The East Window ~ by William Morris
Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin
Great Brington, Northamptonshire

"I visited Althorp as well as this church
where Diana's father / family crypt are.
It was elegant, moving, poignant
-- an interesting and sweet experience.
Up the Republic!"

2 July 2002
"I never have felt any connection to Spain, to the
Spanish language, to Silver City. But Paris . . .

21 September 2002
The 13th Century Chancel
Dornoch Cathedral
Sutherland, Scotland

"Happy Autumn Equinox! How I love fall
. . . beautiful sweater weather.
DIY is a fact of life: painting, steaming wall paper,
removing carpet, hanging blinds, new flooring.
Madonna christened her son here -- it's lovely."

27 September 2002
"Happy Autumn! Is it beautiful in Philly in September?
I start teaching on Monday . . . not overly excited.
I really do envy you your freedom, and while I know
you have responsibilities, they're such lovely ones.
I just feel . . . so very weary of attitude . . .
But don't you just absolutely love this time of year:
Is the ghost in the window?"

28 October 2002
"Happy Halloween!
Happy Samhain!
Happy All Souls Day!
Happy Dia do los Muertos!
Happy Wiccan New Year!
Have a marvelous & scary time!
Boo! Boo! Boo! Boo!

Well, it wasn't Paris, but I enjoy being back in Romania.
Next year I am doing the Transylvania Tour!
I didn't see any ghosts, but I certainly met a lot of odd people.
It has triggered a renewed interest in ghosts and paranormal activity.
What's your take on the afterlife?
Are there famous haunted sites in Philly?"


I responded to all the postcards at once,
sometime in late October 2002

Dear Vickie,

I still laugh whenever I read your card from the summer: "Spain . . . Spanish language . . . Silver City." Such a brief yet far-reaching list; seems to say it all! How was it spending the summer there, in Silver City, I mean? Well, and Spain too if you found yourself there? I know what you mean, though, how is that Spain and Spanish didn't make it onto our academic landscape? Is it just our Brit - Lit snobbery? Hmmmm.

How are your DIY projects coming along? I know that they can be very stressful . . . not like those chirpy little shows on the Learning Channel! Gerry thrives on his Home Depot projects (he loves that place!) and always feels hugely satisfied upon their completion. Me, I just do what I'm told and vacuum up the aftermath!

Have you come across any new ghost poems yet? How did you like "Edith Conant"? I'm so glad that you went to Althorp. Was Diana's ghost there?

You asked about Priscilla, my lace house ghost? I've just changed her bow, and she is hanging bravely in the entry foyer, a bit bedraggled, like Faulkner's Miss Emily or Miss Havisham. Maybe I should spruce her up a bit, get her one of those Betsy Ross caps that all the colonial ladies wore. I feel pretty sure that at night, she can glance out the window and see Wm. Penn, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin out on Pine Street -- so close you can just about reach out and touch them. It wasn't all that long ago, was it?

Here in Philadelphia, I often have the eerie sense that there are plenty of ghosts in the woodwork! Not to mention dozens lurking right outside the door! I was hoping to make some of the old occupants feel welcome to stop by and pay a visit from the afterlife! Looking over all the old real estate records for the house, going back to 1805, seemed like an appropriately mystical exercise for Halloween, when the veil between the two worlds is stretched to its thinnest.

Just finished The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Gerry and I both enjoyed it, especially the dual setting: the Midwest (which for better or worse I can always relate to) and Philadelphia (always very intriguing to read about fictional characters living in the very houses that you walk past every day of the week!). He does a great job of describing Philadelphia in the autumn:
" . . . the October angle of the yellow light, the heart-mangling intensities of the season" (p 315).
I loved Franzen's novel for all the beautiful and beautifully accurate descriptions of autumnal Philly. It really is so lovely now, truly the best time of the year. All I have to do is walk outside and glance upward to be filled with the significance of Samhain.

Teaching? Yes, at times it can be such a drain on the spirit. Can you pick texts that you will enjoy for yourself? Movies, poems, novels? Shall I send you a list of my recent favs? You are right that I am so lucky to be at home with my flexible schedule and my piano, and my books, and my e-mail, and my grocery store just around the corner, and my kids across the street in their little brick school house. I can live without practicing my profession, though at times I do feel rather useless and non-contributory, and non-revenue-generating. Still, it's hard not to love such a great life.

Even so, Gerry and I have lately been haunted by the feeling that it's time for a drastic life change of some sort and that waiting for the accepted retirement age might be too late. What then? At any rate, after our travels this summer, I think we have ruled out leaving Philadelphia for the cozy hometown life of southern Missouri! It was quaint to visit but too sad and, as you so rightly point out, there's no going back, only forward. I'm not sure why we are feeling so restless here in Philadelphia these days. We were determined to make a go of it in the city and we did. Then we were curious to try moving right down into the heart of things (from 48th St. to 3rd St.). Now we've done that. Things are not altogether better here, just different. E.g., the city services are better, the historical significance and beautiful architecture; but the taxes are high, the park bench loitering is worse (hey - no park benches to speak of in our old neighborhood, thus no park bench loitering). The good things about city life are intensified here, but so is the bad side.

So now the question is do we commit to city schools for the boys and enjoy the life we have made here for the next few years or move ahead to that new goal, whatever it may be? Should we re-locate to the UK? Gerry always swore that he would never go back. The puzzle is how to know whether you're leaving, in good faith, the path that has no heart or just randomly walking away from the meaning of life. The logistics seem so complicated. Whatever happened to Simplify, Simplify? Where is the quiet life and the big bowl of cabbage soup that Pasternak longs for at the end of Zhivago?

I've been reading an autobiography, Expecting Adam, by Martha Beck, who is awaiting the birth of her Down Syndrome Child. She says
"I did, at long last, realize that it didn't really matter what anyone else's opinion of my decision might be. What mattered was that I had made a choice that felt as though, in the end, it would bring me to the place I needed to go."
I guess that's what it means to make a decision. If you had all the information you needed before the fact, then it would be obvious; it wouldn't even be a decision. I know the truth that all of our choices add up to where we find ourselves at the present moment, yet I still find it impossible not to play the "shoulda coulda woulda" game inside my head. Probably not too healthy, but so seductive.

Well, that's enough heavy - duty introspection for now! This was supposed to be a short light-hearted note to let you know that fall is in the air and that I received and loved both of your recent post cards: Dating Advice from Colgate Toothpaste -- hilarious! And the Cathedral where Madonna's little son was baptized -- v. touching!

Enjoy the season of "yellow light" and "twilight"!
XOXO, Kitti


"The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky . . . "

~ W. B. Yeats ~ "The Wild Swans at Coole" ~

Autumn Birches, 1916 ~ by Tom Thomson, 1877 - 1917

Golden Autumn, 1895 ~ by Isaac Levitan, 1860 1900

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Cate: Books & Cats

Another good one from Bruce ~ thanks!

And another book - based photo essay from Cate,
who loves the public library more than anyone I know!

The Book Table -- and Coloring Stuff!
And yes they are all being read or have been. Lol.

Kitchen Table:
Launching pad for library return today.

Close - up of Titles
A few annotations:

Fingersmith: Fabulous!

The Woman in Cabin 10: Good twist
but could have been a novella.

I Am Pilgram: 5 ***** Stars!

Since we Fell: Reminds me of Expats,
a book from last summer's list (see below). A must read.

The Expats & The Accident
Chris Pavone

Dark Places [also Gone Girl]
Gillian Flynn

The City & The City
China Miéville

Blood of the Oak

Elliot Pattison

Stuart MacBride

Summer Pics of Cate Reading With Her Sweet Pets
~ Dear Mrs. Tyla (RIP) ~
Also Mr. Duffy & Baby Sammy

Sammy = Samuel Manjushri Diamond DeLong
Manjushri is for an enlightened being of higher "prajna" or wisdom.
Diamond is for the Diamond Sutra.
Every Sutra begins with, "Thus have I heard."

For more insight & input from Cate,
see also my Fortnightly Post ~ September 14
Read A Book About Reading

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


Old Reliable Teaching Anthology

The HBJ Reader includes so many great essays, by Eudora Welty, Langston Hughes, Barry Lopez, Isak Dinesen, Lewis Thomas, George Orwell, Alice Walker, William Styron, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Stephen Jay Gould, James Baldwin, Joan Didion, Bertrand Russell, Barbara Tuchman, Loren Eiseley, and Paul Tillich

I recently took it off the shelf to reread a couple of long - time favorites: "Salvation" by Langston Hughes and "The Riddle of Inequality" by Paul Tillich. Despite Tillich's inconsistent use of inclusive pronouns [see my note below*], his observations have always helped me to appreciate how I take my mental health for granted, how, even in the worst of times, I don't know my own strength.


final paragraphs from
"The Riddle of Inequality"
Chapter 3
in Tillich's book
The Eternal Now

We cannot tell somebody who comes to us in great distress about himself -- "Make use of what was given you," for he may have come to us precisely because he is unable to do so! And we cannot tell those in despair because of what they are -- "Be something else," for the inability to get rid of oneself is the exact meaning of despair. We cannot tell those who failed to conquer the destructive influences of their surroundings and thence were driven into crime and misery --"You should have been stronger," for it was just this strength of which they were deprived by heritage or environment. Certainly they are all men, and freedom is given to them all. But they are also all subject to destiny. It is not for us to condemn others because they were free, as it is also not for us to excuse them because of the burden of their destiny. We cannot judge them. And when we judge ourselves, we must keep in mind that even this judgment has no finality, because we, like them, stand under an ultimate judgment. In it the riddle of inequality is eternally answered. But the answer is not ours. It is our predicament that we must ask the question, and we ask with an uneasy conscience -- why are they in such misery? Why not we? Thinking of those near to us, we ask --are we partly responsible? But even though we are, the riddle of inequality is not solved. The uneasy conscience asks also about those most distant from us -- why they, why not we? [You can see here why I was reminded of Bertrand Russell's "Three Passions."]

Why did my child, or any one of millions of children, die before he had the chance to grow out of infancy? Why was my child, or any child, born crippled in mind or body? Why has my friend or relative, or anyone’s friend or relative, disintegrated in his mind, and thus lost both his freedom and his destiny? Why has my son or daughter, gifted as they were with many talents, wasted them and been deprived of them? Why do such things happen to any parent at all? And why have the creative powers of this boy or that girl been broken by a tyrannical father or a possessive mother?

None of these questions concern our own misery. At present, we are not asking -- why did this happen to me? It is not Job’s question that God answered by humiliating him and then elevating him into communion with Him. It is not the old and urgent question -- where is divine justice, where is divine love, for me? It is almost an opposite question -- why did this not happen to me, while it did happen to another, to innumerable other ones, to whom not even Job’s power to accept the divine answer was given? Why, Jesus asks also, are many called but few elected? He does not answer the question, but states simply that this is the human predicament. Shall we therefore cease to ask, and humbly accept a divine judgment that would hurl most human beings out of community with the divine and condemn them to despair and self-destruction? Can we accept the eternal victory of judgment over love? We can not, nor can any human being, though he may preach and threaten in such terms. As long as he is unable to visualize himself with absolute certainty as eternally rejected, his preaching and threats are self-deceptive. For who can see himself eternally rejected?

But if this is not the solution of the riddle of inequality at its deepest level, may we go outside the boundaries of Christian tradition to listen to those who would tell us that this life does not determine our eternal destiny? There will be other lives, they would say, predicated, like our present life, on previous ones and what we wasted or achieved in them. This is a serious doctrine and not completely strange to Christianity. But since we don’t know and never shall know what each of us was in a previous existence, or will be in a future one it is not really our destiny developing from life to life, but in each life, the destiny of someone else. Therefore, this doctrine also fails to solve the riddle of inequality. [My note: As I've always suspected, what is the use of learning the lessons taught by time, if we have no consciousness of our accruing knowledge and no ability to carry it on to the next life?]

Actually, there is no answer at all to our question concerning the temporal and eternal destiny of a single being separated from the destiny of the whole. Only in the unity of all beings in time and eternity can there be a humanly possible answer to the riddle of inequality. "Humanly possible" does not mean an answer that removes the riddle of inequality, but one with which we can live.

There is an ultimate unity of all beings, rooted in the divine life from which they emerge and to which they return. All beings, non-human as well as human, participate in it. And therefore they all participate in each other. And we participate in each other’s having and in each other’s not having. When we become aware of this unity of all beings, something happens to us. The fact that others do not have changes the character of our having: it undercuts our security and drives us beyond ourselves, to understand, to give, to share, to help. The fact that others fall into sin, crime and misery alters the character of the grace that is given us: it makes us recognize our own hidden guilt; it shows us that those who suffer for their sin and crime suffer also for us, for we are guilty of their guilt and ought to suffer as they suffer. Our becoming aware of the fact that others who could have developed into full human beings did not, changes our state of full humanity. Their early death, their early or late disintegration, brings to our own personal life and health a continuous risk, a dying that is not yet death, a disintegration that is not yet destruction. In every death we encounter, something of us dies, and in every disease, something of us tends towards disintegration. [My note: Precisely! Here is John Donne's message -- see below -- nearly word for word, but without the metaphor of clod, mainland, and sea.]

Can we live with this answer? We can to the degree to which we are liberated from seclusion in ourselves. But no one can be liberated from himself unless he is grasped by that power which is present in everyone and everything -- the eternal, from which we come and to which we go, and which gives us to ourselves and liberates us from ourselves. It is the greatness and heart of the Christian message that God, as manifest in the Christ on the Cross, totally participates in the dying of a child, in the condemnation of the criminal, in the disintegration of a mind, in starvation and famine, and even in the human rejection of Himself. There is no human condition into which the divine presence does not penetrate. This is what the Cross, the most extreme of all human conditions, tells us. The riddle of inequality cannot be solved on the level of our separation from each other. It is eternally solved through the divine participation in the life of all of us and every being. The certainty of divine participation gives us the courage to endure the riddle of inequality, although our finite minds cannot solve it.


* from John Donne's “Meditation XVII”

This bell calls us all. . .
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
When Donne says "man" does he mean women too? Hard to say. I rarely make that assumption, since I don't believe that most male writers, apart from a few exceptions, deserve that benefit of the doubt. Yet something inside me wants to embrace Donne's otherwise humane message.

I still remember reading Donne's famous passage to Ben and Sam in their early teens and young Ben, bless his raised consciousness, saying, "Mom, those are sexist pronouns."

In despair and resignation, I answered him, "Yes, I know, but, lo, after all these centuries, dare I edit the Master John Donne?" Heaven knows I'd like to, and it wouldn't be hard to do. It we didn't live in such a broken world, those male writers would have done it right in the first place. Can the damage ever be undone? In my linguistic frustration, I have indeed taken the liberty of slyly editing whatever needs fixing: William Blake, D.H. Lawrence, The Holy Bible, numerous Psalms and Hymns. Bird by bird. Pronoun adjustment may not right all the wrongs of the world, but it's a place to start.

I know Donne and Tillich should have been able to do better, but even Martin Luther King, Jr. failed miserably when it came to the use of inclusive pronouns. Another learning experience for the boys and me was listening to recordings of King's speeches every year on MLK Day. I had to do a lot of oral editing for them: changing "men" to "people" and "brotherhood" to "humanity," and so forth. King never says "men and women," only "men." Once or twice, in reference to children, he says "little boys and little girls" but that's it; grown women weren't on his linguistic spectrum. I'd like to think that had he lived on, he would have sooner or later eliminated the sexism from his language. But so many others still haven't and apparently don't intend to, as if it doesn't matter. We need a constant reminder of that line from "The Spinx" by Muriel Rukeyser (another old favorite from teaching days): "When you say Man . . . / you include women too. Everyone knows that. / . . . That's what you think." It's certainly not what I think!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Like a Sentence Deep Within a Book

A toast to Harry Potter on his 37th Birthday!
No Butterbeer on hand?
Camelot Mead ~ Honey Wine available at Walmart!

"The truth lies buried like a sentence
deep within a book, waiting to be read."

~ Madame Sybill Trelawney, Professor of Divination ~
from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
(film version, text differs slightly from book)

I particularly like this snippet of dialogue, in which
Dumbledore's magical description of dreaming
is equally applicable to reading:

Snape: "What about Potter? Should he be warned?"
Dumbledore: "Perhaps. But for now, let him sleep.
For in dreams, we enter a world that's entirely our own.
Let them swim in the deepest ocean
or glide over the highest cloud."


Interestingly, in Little Altars Everywhere -- more on my Fortnightly blog -- Rebecca Wells describes a similar sensation: "When I'm reading . . . I'm always somewhere else." Yet, she draws the opposite conclusion: "Life is not a book."
“Sidda can't help herself. She just loves books. Loves the way they feel, the way they smell, loves the black letters marching across the white pages.” (51)

"Sometimes I watch my daughter smuggle an extra book out, and even though I know I should, I just cannot bring myself to stop her. Sometimes you just have to reach out and grab what you want, even when they tell you not to." (53)

"See, she goes places when she reads. I know all about that. When I'm reading, wherever I am, I'm always somewhere else.(54)

“I am her mother, though, and it is my job to teach her that you cannot escape from life. Life is not a book. You can't just set it down on the coffee table and walk away from it when it gets boring or you get tired.” (65)
Still, I prefer to think that
"The World is a Beautiful Book"
where "the truth lies buried like a sentence . . . "

Thanks to my reading buddy Cate
for sending along this wise little
feline literatteur!

Friday, June 30, 2017

The World is a Beautiful Book

Neverending Stories ~ Colin Thompson

I recently found the following
excellent fortune inside my cookie:

Sometimes the fortunes don't seem to make much sense and appear to have been randomly generated by a confused fortune genie; but other times, they truly hit the spot. This one is so perfect that I have tacked it on my kitchen wall along with a few other favorites from previous years.

The vision of the world as a beautiful book took me back to some picture books that used to be such a treat to enjoy with my kids:

How to Live Forever & Pictures of Home
these two and so many more
by illustrator and writer Colin Thompson

Speaking of beautiful books, lately, I've felt too rushed to read much of anything more than once, but glad I took the time to re-read:

Badenheim & The Iron Tracks
both by Aharon Appelfeld

The History of Love
by Nicole Krauss

Summertime is always a good time to catch up on various books that I never got around to in my own youth or when my kids were young. It seems that even two childhoods is not enough time to read it all!

Roald Dahl

Misty of Chincoteague
by Marguerite Henry

Dog Friday
by Hilary McKay

The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials
by Philip Pullman

Save the Colors: A Civil War Battle Cry
by Joanne Anderson Reisberg

And finally, no summer is complete without

1. some true crime:
Love You Madly
by Michael Fleeman

True crime is always somewhat eerie and this one even more so because my old friend Marvin Hamilton (1955 - 2011) served as a public defender during the trial, back in 2005. Another long - time friend of Marv's let me know about the book, and we both read it this summer but were disappointed to find only one specific reference to Marv's work on the case: "The attorney bolstered his argument by reading from Clarence Darrow's Attorney for the Damned and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." I wish the passages from Darrow and Twain had been included in the text!

2. some post - apocalyptic science fiction:
Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel

Summer preparatory reading for rapidly approaching Dawn or Doom '17. I approached this bleak depiction of the United States in the near future with some skepticism, but references to Czeslaw Milosz, Shakespeare, and Yeats kept it interesting.

3. and a memoir:
Oblivion: A Memoir
by Héctor Abad

Thanks to Gerry for looking up the original title, El olvido que seremos, and providing a more elegant translation than mere oblivion: "The forgetfulness that we will be."

Or as Borges writes: "Already we are the oblivion we shall be" (233).

This biography / autobiography was recommended by our sweet friend Alma, when Gerry and I were in Medellin last December. It is the author's memoir and tribute to his father who was a medical doctor and professor of public health in Colombia -- and his struggle to impart common sense and leave the world better than he found it.

For excerpts, see "Magical Typing" & "Judging Time Aright". As Alma observed, both of these posts sprang from conversations with my brothers, thus bearing out the theme of family connections that runs through Abad's writing.
More magic coming up . . .

Photo from The Spiritual Warriors

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

My Strange Quest

Favorite Library Notice Ever!

The other day, in search of summer reading, I pulled My Strange Quest for Mensonge by Malcolm Bradbury down from the shelf. If you're unfamiliar with this brief, hilarious novel, here's a funny review to give you an idea of what's in store for the reader. This title came to mind recently, along with other examples of academic satire, and I have also included it on my Eclectic Course of Must Reads.

Adding to the sardonic humor was the post card that fell from the pages, where it has been lingering for the past twenty - eight years. I must have felt back then that it would be an appropriate bookmark -- or perhaps a footnote or an additional very short chapter -- for a book about a quest for a missing author and mislaid manuscripts.
" . . . the death of the Author leads of the rise of the auteur, showing that even in an ungoverned universe there is usually someone in charge. By having the scenery fall down a great deal and keeping other cameras in shot they proved that the films were fictions simply about themselves, and indeed this was a time when all art became about itself, books being about the writing of books and buildings about the building of buildings. Thus architecture became postmodern too and form stopped being a slave to function . . . . All art became a fund of eclectic quotations from all other art and it was clear . . . that we now lived in the age of the imaginary museum, when all styles were simultaneously available" (46).
If Powers of Horror by Julia Kristeva was truly "on a list of books that are so far overdue that it is doubtful they will be returned," where oh where could it have been? Did it ever make its way back home again?

I'm further mystified by own notation, faintly in pencil: "The Death of the Book." Another lost text? A chapter or an article by Kristeva? A confirmation that Powers of Horror was dead to the Purdue Humanities Library? Or was I telling the future?

When I check google / amazon, the most likely possibility that pops up is a book that was published only last summer: The Death of the Book: Modernist Novels and the Time of Readingby John Lurz. Sounds like a good one for the perpetual reading list.

Long Live the Library Book!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Suggestions for Sam

Wrapped Up Books at Auntie Tina's

"Books are the way that
we communicate with the dead."

Neil Gaiman

from his essay:
"Why our future depends on libraries,
reading and daydreaming"

Playing Chess & Daydreaming in Auntie Jan's Library

"I am not solitary whilst I read and write,
though nobody is with me."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

from his essay
Combining these two thoughts, from Gaiman and Emerson, I love the idea that we are not solitary when reading, because we are communicating with the dead!

When my son Sam asked for some reading recommendations to have on hand, here is the initial batch of titles that immediately sprang to mind:
Take the Cannoli (part memoir, about growing up in the Midwest: Oklahoma, Montana, then Chicago; part American History, tons of wit)
The Partly Cloudy Patriot (how to love the United States of America, even when you're feeling sad and worried)
Assassination Vacation (about Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley)
All three by Sarah Vowell
(see American Historians)

Washington Schlepped Here: Walking in the Nation's Capital
by Christopher Buckley

Perfect for airplane reading if you're on your way to Wash DC, or perhaps as a follow - up to your trip. I read it in just a couple days and learned a lot of U.S. history, even though Buckley couldn't resist bragging about being a Republican (after all, he is the son of the late Wm F Buckley, Jr.), plus the occasional sexist innuendo that I could have done without.
(see Highlights 2003)

by Edith Hamilton

(see SSR)

Playing for Pizza
by John Grisham

An American / Italian football novel. In addition to detailed play by play narratives of the game, it is also filled with mouth - watering descriptions of gourmet dining that will have you planning your next vacation to Italy if at all possible.
(see Thanks Dave)

The Last Picture Show
by Larry McMurtry

One of the saddest lines in all of American literature: "He was sweeping . . ."
(also the movie)

And the following from my long-standing
Bright Lights, Big City
Brightness Falls

both by Jay McInerney

The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint Exupery

Summer’s Lease
by John Mortimer

The Daughter of Time
by Josephine Tey
Sam, here is a close - up of the chess board:

Monday, March 6, 2017

Evening ~ Timing ~ Floating
Poetry by Leonard Orr

by Leonard Orr
Publisher: Cherry Grove Collections
2010, 110 pp., $18.00

In case you have ever wondered Why We Have Evening, these poems by Leonard Orr offer a succession of beautiful reasons. We have evening for finding love and losing it and getting it back again; for breaking and mending and rebuilding, stronger than before; for cloud watching, stargazing, looking at old photographs, collecting rocks, updating our calendars, filling in blanks, marking time.

We have evening for learning lessons from the secret world of insects, more complex than we know:

"They seem so alike to us, these brood - ten cicadas, but
they have their passionate dreams and so filled with hope,
a lesson to me."

~ from "Cyclic" (15)

for reading in bed, in manner of Italo Calvino:

"Would we ever be so used to sharing a bed
we would spend the last half hour
reading our books and saying good night
without making love one more time?"

~ from "Asking" (17)

for joining in with the crowd, on a good day, on the way home:

"Inching along I mouthed to those around me,
'Record high temperature! Not bad!' showing
thumbs up, wanting to celebrate with my community."

~ from "Aftereffects" (21)

for dreaming, uroboros - style:

"You were reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead and I was finally asleep. . . . In my dream you were asleep beside me and I was lying on the propped up pillows reading the I Ching and I thought about chance and contingency, randomness and the shaping forces of the universe. . . . I watched your sleeping face . . . In the depth of your sleep . . . you dream you were reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead and I was finally asleep."

~ from "Reading" (23)

for contemplating the cosmos, with no heavenly body left unturned:

"Space exploration, what a waste, planet after planet,
the moon and the stars, comets and asteroids,
it is all a black hole, for you are somewhere on earth."

~ from "In Your Absence" (25)

for finishing manuscripts, yours, mine, ours:

"I place your page neatly on top of mine,
tapping the edges to line up perfectly,
taking a pleasure in this, our pages on the desk,
lying there together, glowing warmly, edges
aligned . . . "

~ from "Papers" (26)

for holiday dinners and delicious desserts:

" . . . the Persian eggplant
with tomato and yogurt sauce.

Anticipating your smile, your kiss,
I fill ramekins with whole wheat memories,
bake for an hour and melt dreams in a sweet topping.

I cut a thick slice of evening
and serve it fresh and steaming before you
on a dark blue plate with glazed yellow stars."

~ from "Thanksgiving" (27)

for synaesthesia:

"In your absence I swoon, overcome with synaesthesia,
my fingertips hearing the aroma of the yellow, a scent
of desire, I sniff the red grapes and hear their smoothness . . . "

~ from "Psychosomatic" (28)

for art appreciation:

" . . . just that perspective, all brown toned, pencil,
sepia ink, thousands of wavy lines as the wind
blow through the dry field, the undulations . . ."

~ from "Sun and Wheatfields" (30)

for practicing yoga, even if your mind wanders:

"I am instructed to count, to think
only inhale, only exhale, but my thoughts
sink and rise and search you out . . . "

~ from "Yoga Practice" (33)

for watching the geese fly overhead, like a prayer:

"I hear their foreign phrases
before their milling
gray black figures emerge
emerge from the mist, davening,
a minyan dutifully
gathering to say Kaddish."

~ from "Familiar" (46)

for grieving the death of pet:

"So I knew you would understand that when my sheltie died,
my first dog though I am so ancient, I knew you would not laugh
to know I recited the mourner's Kaddish, though he wasn't
strictly speaking Jewish; still he loved challah and leaped
ecstatically every time he heard the blessing over the bread.

~ from Grieving (54)

And, most importantly:

"This part of the day is to soothe
and calm, to wring out any unpleasant thoughts
to strain out the nightmares through the
holes in the black and blue sky.

That is why each night we have evening.
Unhappy extremes of day or night are wiped
clean . . ."

~ from "Why We Have Evening" (66)

Publisher Cherry Grove Collections
2012, 90 pp., $18.00

Looking for a book to read on a cold dark night when the light of day is hours away? This is it. Looking for some poems to read in the bleak midwinter when the vernal equinox is weeks away? These are they. When a loved one has gone never to return, or you yourself are never coming back. That's the time to read these poems because, as the poet says, Timing is Everything.

A time to be born, a time to die:

"When they approach dying in their mountain fastnesses
the exiles from Tibet have shamans reading urgently,
from long, loose woodblock printed pages, passages
urging the soul not to cling to the useless body, to
give it up, to accept the next phase, the new life. . . . "

~ from "Stubborn Soul" (13)

A time to embrace:

" . . . we turn
over and over in the rain, trying to keep the other dry,
trying to keep the other out of the mud,
trying to breathe deep into the lungs of the other.
How I love you! How I miss you!"

~ from "Cold Outing" (16 - 17)

"We leave only our tiny shadows . . . and jump
into some better other dimension where
everything is the way it should have been,
where there is no Bush administration and
President Gore stopped global warming,
and of course there was no war in Iraq
and everyone likes us. In that we new dimension
we are together every day, we spoon together
every night, not remembering that trillionth of
a trillionth of a second after Big Bang,
our expansion outward, our luminous
numinous bliss."

~ from "They Are Firing Up the Large Hadron Collider" (31 - 32)

A time to refrain from embracing? No! Please, no, not that:

" . . . O love, my teeth rattle with ululations;
how did it happen we are not together tonight?"

~ from "Empty" (70)

"I am the Mummy waiting for
someone to soak those dry leaves so I can
at long last embrace you again after these
twenty - five centuries we have been separated."

~ from "How I've Adjusted" (75 - 76)

The title poem, occurring second to last in the book, warns the reader of leaving things too late. Despite what we've been taught all of our lives, there will not always be time:

"You send note after note after note: Come to me, Love!
I'm ready now!
. . .
. . . Then you learn
I died a decade or two earlier and you didn't
even realize, you heard nothing, your heart
didn't pick it up through the ether. . . . "

~ from "Timing is Everything" (86)

by Leonard Orr
Publisher: Cherry Grove Collections
2015, 92 pp., $18.00

If you would like to be transported by loveliness for an hour or so, might I suggest sitting down with a copy of Leonard Orr's third book of poetry A Floating Woman and listening to Brahms' Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115 -- you can actually do both at the same time (click here to enjoy the Quintet in the privacy of your own home).

I made the connection quite by coincidence a few days ago when I set aside my reading at the behest of my friend Katie to attend a concert of chamber music. Browsing through the program, I came across the following description of the clarinet quintet:
"The work as a whole possesses a unique collection of affects. It is an oversimplification to describe it as melancholy and autumnal, although this is part of the truth; in fact, there is a great depth of sadness in the piece, which may not be felt in every bar but is never far from the surface. At the same time, though, the music is constantly energized by rhapsodic, wild gestures and flickering textures; our tragic hero, if there is one, is driven to wander restlessly, not stay at home."
~ Misha Amory
Had the music reviewer been reading Orr's poetry? It seemed so! Just think "book" instead of "piece," "line" instead of "bar," "poem" instead of "music." I spent the remainder of the concert drifting back and forth in my mind from the sometimes keening, sometimes joyful clairnet to various poetic passages from Floating:

" . . . I swayed
rhythmically forward and back,
though I hummed a tune that seemed
given into my throat from the sun.
Telephone lines above were mandolin strings
I plucked and strummed to reach you
where you were, hemidemisemiquavers
rapidly expressing my Sehnsuch, the notes
floating out over the river where gulls
swooped in to grab them. . . . "

~ from "Rapture" (36)

The poems in this collection follow the mysterious trajectory of a narrator and an elusive lover who float through air, water, dreams, space; appear in photographs and manuscripts; travel highways and byways both real and surreal; wandering at last through your own backyard or perhaps drifting in a nearby marina:

"Perhaps all of this time you have been nearby
in one of those graceful white boats tied to a pier
in what had been our river. The white
sails are furled but can quickly be set
for the winds to take you away. The
anchor can be lifted in minutes, the lines
cast away, should you want a new episode.
The lights of the boats in the river are
festive, the bounce in the tide
matches your heartbeat. You are
here and not here. You are attached
so tentatively you think you are free."

~ from "A Floating Woman" (83)

See More:

Poems: "Past Tense, Future Tense" ~ "Yiddish for Travellers"
"The Loop" ~ "Desperate Times" ~ "Optimist" ~
"Sun and Wheatfields" & "Russian Olives" ~ "Monet's The Magpie"

Links to various paintings by Leonard Orr

Christopher J. Jarmick's review of Why We Have Evening

Facebook commentary and response

And Thanks To Katie!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Short Books for a Short Month

Incredible Brick Sculptures ~ Brad Spencer

Thanks to Chapel of the Good Shepherd for introducing
me to the work of this unique and amazing sculptor!

If you want to make some great artistic discoveries,
stop by the Purdue Episcopal Campus Ministry
and check out the Sunday Bulletins!


Quick Reads for February

1. Dear Committee Members
by Julie Schumacher

Academic humor and satire at its finest. It has been a long time since I indulged, but this one is right up there with Moo, Straight Man, The History Man & My Strange Quest for Mensonge, and everything by David Lodge (not forgetting their forerunners: Hurry On Down & Lucky Jim).

Schumacher has concocted an hilarious set of memos to various nonsensical committees (also businesses and individuals) during a semester given over to a departmental renovation and construction project:

Ted, in your memo you referred briefly, also, to the need for faculty forbearance during what we were initially told would be the "remodeling" of the second floor for the benefit of our colleagues in the Economics Department.* I'm not sure that you noticed, but the Econ faculty were, in early August, evacuated from the building -- as if they'd been notified, "sotto voce," of an oncoming plague. Not so the faculty in English [aka Engli_h]. With the exception if a few individuals both fleet of foot and quick - witted enough to claim status as asthmatics we have been Left Behind, almost biblically, expected to begin our classes and meet with students while bulldozers snarl at the door. . . . While I am relieved to know that the economists -- delicate creatures! -- have been safely installed in a wing of the new geology building where their physical comfort and aesthetic needs can be addressed, those of us who remain as castaways here in Willard Hall risk not only deafness but mutation . . . One theory here: the deanery is annoyed with our requests for parity and weary of waiting for us to retire, has decided to kill us. Let the academic year begin!

Cordially and with a hearty welcome to the madhouse, Jay

*Under whose aegis was it decided that Economics and English should share a building? Were criteria other than the alphabet considered?
(4 - 5)

The absurdity mounts with each passing memo! Just one quick question -- does she really mean "Econ" or does she mean "Finance"? Of course, to fully appreciate Dear Committee you should also take an hour to re - read "Bartleby the Scrivener."

2. The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead
by David Shields

See my recent Fortnightly Post ~ A Date With Data

And also on the Quotidian Kit ~ SSRIs & Walking Upright

3. Lolita
by Vladimir Nabokov

See my recent Fortnightly Post ~ Work, Play, Wordplay

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Three Christmases: Barbara G. Walker

Felt Skate, Cowboy Boot, Cowgirl

December's post, Three Christmases,
featured memories from Harry Leslie Smith & Ruth Wolff.
Now for number three:

3. In The Skeptical Feminist: Discovering the Virgin, Mother, and Crone, Barbara G. Walker (b. 1930, Philadelphia) describes the "typical middle - class American Christmases" of her youth:

40 - 42: "I used to be mystified by the slogan, 'Put Christ back in Christmas.' As far as I was concerned, Christ had never been in Christmas very much except as its mispronounced first syllable. At best he was only the infant portion of the formal mother - child symbol, representing the foundation of human -- not divine -- love.

"Had I been aware of the old pagan name of the Yuletide festival, matrum noctem or Night of the Mother, and the meaning of its ancient pre - Christian madonna and child idols, I would have understood more about my own special feeling for Christmas.

"My family treated Christmas as an intrinsically secular holiday celebrating the best in human feelings of kinship, love, joy, kindness, and appreciation of blood bonds without any reference to the Christian myth except for an appearance at church services. Our celebrations had their own rituals, meaningful for us, and a generally Dickensian - English, old - fashioned Christmas atmosphere of indiscriminate goodwill. My mother was the Fezziwig who made it work.

"My mother was the youngest of three sisters, all of whom raised their families within reachable distance of each other in different suburbs of the same city. Consequently aunts, uncles, and cousins were inevitably involved on Christmas Day. Christmas Eve, however, belonged to our household alone.

"Of course the festival began long before that: as soon as we began drawing up lists and keeping secrets, when mysterious packages were hidden away on high closet shelves and when rolls of bright wrapping paper and ribbon appeared. About a week before Christmas my mother and I had a wrapping session. Sitting amid a litter of paper string, tape, tags, cards, and assorted decorations, we happily toiled together for hours over the gifts, remaking prosaic boxes and other objects into things of satisfying, if ephemeral, beauty.

Court Jester and Blue Angels

"The end result was magic: perfectly ordinary things transmuted into shining, dreamlike talismans. . . . There can be no doubt that the gift - giving custom was and is the major source of children's happy memories of Christmas, the custom that fixes it in their minds for life as a benevolent, enjoyable time. Nonetheless, our traditions included much more than gifts.

"The real excitement began on Christmas Eve, the matrum noctem of our pagan ancestors, who revered the mystery of birth above the character of the one born. I would wake on the morning of December 24th with the pleasantly squiggly inner feeling that this would be one of the best days of the year: a day of fun, irradiated by anticipation of the morrow.

"The first project was setting up the tree . . . For a few years when I was very small, I believed that Santa Claus trimmed the tree in the night because it appeared like magic on Christmas morning: a whole fairy - tale world of light and color where an ordinary end table had stood the day before. My parents soon dispensed with Santa Claus, however, and enlisted my aid in building this particular fairy - tale world."

Geisha, Nutcracker, Court Jester
[I would love to simply type up this chapter in its entirety because Walker so beautifully and thoroughly describes the perfect Christmas! I'm sorry to leave out a single detail, though I should probably move along a bit more quickly and gloss over the next few pages, in which Walker describes so many lovely activities and customs, but one in particular that was entirely new for me this year: " . . . lighting the bayberry candles in the bathtub where they could safely burn unwatched all night!]
45- 46: "On the whole ours were typical middle - class American Christmases: not unique, not sacred, not particularly religious. They could easily be criticized as commercial, and overindulgent. My mother used to say, 'Christmas is for the children.' Children were hardly expected to comprehend the improbable doctrine of a woman impregnated by a god without sexual intercourse or to recognize in the resulting infant a future man whose death would be ordered by that same god to induce himself to accept human beings into heaven. Perhaps such doctrines would have strained even the uncritically receptive childish imagination.

"My cousins and I were not burdened by any such incredulities. At Christmas we simply and openly reveled in our childish acquisitiveness and sensual enjoyments, through which, somehow, the festival was transmuted into beautiful memories and tender sentiments, which we carried forward in time to our own children.

Glow - in - the - dark Stoplight ~ A Childhood Favorite

"I suspect that even people who think they put Christ in Christmas treat it, in practice, as a celebration of family feeling, bodily indulgence, and a catering to children's shallow joy. At Christmas most people pity the poor and lonely because they lack material goods and human relationships, not because they lack the salvation supposedly engineered by the Christ child, which was said to belong to all. In this we demonstrate an awareness that Christ is not going to make anyone happy in honor of the season. This responsibility must fall on human shoulders."

47 - 48: "But perhaps the very fact that Christmas has gone secular and commercial is directly related to the practical reality of its more recent implications. . . . Children really are delighted by their gifts. Grown - ups really do enjoy watching their pleasure. The decorations really are pleasant to contemplate. The family feasts really are fun. The warmth of friends and relatives reaching out to one another really exists. Though a Christ child may be taken as mere myth or symbol, children are certainly real and motherhood certainly is, psychologically and physiologically, the fountainhead of love: a fact that stands in need of much wider recognition in a patriarchal and alienated society. . . . Perhaps, after all, Christmas is not about gods or miraculous births or world - saving infants threatening evil kings. Perhaps it is only about people."

Gold Filagree Coffee Pot & Tea Pot