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.

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

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 Henry 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