Tag Archives: reading

Touring a house of endless rooms.

BOOKS

From the heart of this dark, evacuated campus
I can hear the library humming in the night;
a choir of authors murmuring inside their books
along the unlit, alphabetical shelves,
Giovanni Pontano next to Pope, Dumas next to his son,
each one stitched into his own private coat,
together forming a low, gigantic chord of language.

I picture a figure in the act of reading,
shoes on a desk, head tilted into the wind of a book,
a man in two worlds, holding the rope of his tie
as the suicide of lovers saturates a page,
or lighting a cigarette in the middle of a theorem.
He moves from paragraph to paragraph
as if touring a house of endless, paneled rooms.

I hear the voice of my mother reading to me
from a chair facing the bed, books about horses and dogs,
and inside her voice lie other distant sounds,
the horrors of a stable ablaze in the night,
a bark that is moving toward the brink of speech.

I watch myself building bookshelves in college,
walls within walls, as rain soaks New England,
or standing in a bookstore in a trench coat.

I see all of us reading ourselves away from ourselves,
straining in circles of light to find more light
until the line of words becomes a trail of crumbs
that we follow across a page of fresh snow;
when evening is shadowing the forest
and small birds flutter down to consume the crumbs,
we have to listen hard to hear the voices
of the boys and his sister receding into the words.

-Billy Collins

Johan van Hell – Boekenstalletje

This poem was the perfect one for me to find right now, because I myself have been acting out all the verbs: following, straining, hearing and touring… and listening hard, to the humming of a choir. This choir of authors aren’t all consciously “singing” in harmony, or even intending to write about the same things, but their voices, the sounds, the crumbs I am following “across a page of fresh snow” all seem to be parts of a whole. The rooms I am touring are all in one house; it must be the place where the human soul lives.

My “circles of light” sometimes seem like a 60’s light show, beautiful and confusing, when I am waiting rather for illumination and clarity. So many authors have shined their little lights out into the world, but how many reveal the reality of things?

Over the last several months I have been reading a lot, with no resulting book reviews and few even small illuminations of the sort I might write about here. The Eucharist was very focused and wonderful and I do want to say some things about it eventually, but instead of stopping for that I kept working my way through Irrational Man, which is such a tour de force that it’s hard to know what to say about — everything.¬† It mostly makes me want to read more books that William Barrett reminds me of.

Like Flight From Woman by Karl Stern, which I read some years ago and thought brilliant; but at the time I knew I needed to read it a second time to digest it. Barrett explains the duality of selves in Sartre’s philosophy, how he considers not the “fruitful, excessive, fruitful blooming nature” to be the true self, but only that of the radically free and active man who has projects. Now I want to go back and read Stern on this topic.

But I am determined to finish a couple more books first. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is like another long chapter, maybe the closing chapter, of Western Philosophy, so it will be good if I can move right on to finishing it after Barrett.

On my recent road trip I listened to Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story, by Christina Thompson, a title so embarrassing on several fronts that I considered leaving this accomplishment unrecorded. But even this book, which was about as deep as I could go on all that freeway driving, provided a few revealing glimpses of how ideas from the other books I mentioned play out in real life, especially the central one: What is the self?

About halfway through The Cross of Loneliness I began to have a difficult time knowing what these two men were talking about, but I will finish that book, too, before long. My really easy, small book to read under the covers right now is The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald, which I found in the little free library up at the lake.

And then, the sweetest, which will be easy to finish, as it’s like swimming slowly through a small and refreshing pond to the other side: The Scent of Water, which our book club is reading together. It is coming to an end way too fast.

Oh, yes, there are a dozen more sitting nearby, that I plan to continue with eventually, but they are not at the moment as current as these, these rooms full of delicious crumbs that I trust are leading me always to brighter places.

In regard to my own life and reading, I don’t relate to the progression of Collins’s poem, in its hearkening back to the experiences of childhood and youth, and the mood of evening and shadow descending. I am just very thankful for all the good writers I have at my disposal, and for the lovely song that they are trying to learn and to sing.

Joanna and the sleeping bees.

It felt very coastal this morning with high fog and chill breeze. Along the front walk where I have allowed a volunteer sunflower to grow in the middle of the germander, one flower was close enough for me to notice the cluster of bees.

How did they happen to all bed down for the night on that one flower? Were they even alive? A half-hour later on my way to the car to drive to church I stopped by again; one or two had left, and the others had shifted position, but were quite motionless. About noon, not one remained. [Update: the next morning they were back, and after watching them off and on for an hour, I think they are not bees, but hoverflies. I’ve mistaken them for bees before.] [UPDATE No. 2: I was right the first time. They are bees. They fold their wings over each other, but flies leave theirs splayed out. I think I’ve learned this more than once, on a site such as Beekeeping Like a Girl. And other differences…]

Today was the day we celebrated St. Joanna, and it was also the meeting of our parish women’s book group — in my garden! The weather was as perfect as could be for that. Our group of six included several gardeners who didn’t sit down until we’d discussed borage and the borage flowers hanging into the pathway. The bees draw your attention to them! I quickly dug up a few of the many little borage volunteers for a couple of women to take home later.

It just so happened I had made two trays of borage ice cubes and it was time for me to add them to the lemonade so we could start talking about Frankenstein.

The table where we sat is near my garden icon stand with the stone icon of Christ’s mother; for the day’s commemoration I nestled a TV tray under the olive tree to hold a few more icons. You can read here why I included St. John the Baptist among them.

Early in our talk about Frankenstein I showed the group this adaptation of the novel that had been given to me, and it got passed around the table so that everyone could take a look at the illustrations.

We had a lively discussion about elements of the story, and also concerning ethical questions about the uses of science that are still pertinent in our day. I read only a few lines to the group from this article in the current issue of The New Atlantis about recent questionable experiments.

Various of the readers in our group knew more than I about the historical and philosophical context in which Frankenstein was written, which made it a pleasure to be with them and muse about much more than what had impressed me personally. I think we all were glad to have read the book, especially those who before had only known the movies, but no one exactly loved it.

It didn’t have a satisfying ending, in that, as our moderator said, she had hoped for redemption and there was none. We all agreed it was too long and repetitive. Several women said they definitely wanted to read something “lighter” next time. What constitutes a light novel? Here are the (not necessarily light) possibilities we had brought with us. As we went around the table making our suggestions, it seemed to me that the enthusiasm mounted with each one.

  1. A Long Walk with Mary by Brandi Schreiber
  2. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne De Maurier
  3. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  4. Shades of Milk and Honey
  5. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  6. The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge

My Cousin Rachel and The Giver were deemed too heavy. Milk and Honey didn’t engender any discussion, and I was personally torn between Potato Peel Society and Scent. Several had already read Potato Peel so they were leaning toward Scent; I was the only one who had read it, and I told them what I loved about Goudge’s books generally. A Long Walk with Mary seemed like a good one to read during our Orthodox Dormtion Fast.

So, we voted in a very informal way, and decided that in six weeks we will meet again and discuss two books: The Scent of Water and A Long Walk with Mary.

Before everyone went home, we toured the other side of my garden, and I told them about acanthus and why I used to not like it, but now I do. The acanthus is more beautiful than ever, its spires taller, and in their prime right now. My 24 lavender bushes are at the height of bloom, too. We got to hear from our sheep farmer lady how she made lavender simple syrup to use in cool summer drinks.

How sweet it was to have these friends to be with me for my name day. After they were gone, there was still lemonade left in the pitcher, and floating among the melting ice cubes, the lemon-bleached borage blossoms.

Abibliophobia – is it a problem or not?

I think of Deb at Readerbuzz as omnilegent,¬† someone who has read everything. There’s no denying, in any case, that she reads a lot of books. She is a librarian who often comes up with much more than book reviews on her blog, like this recent post about words for book lovers. One of the words is abibliophobia, the fear of running out of reading material. At first I thought, Ha! I don’t have that, although I am a little sad (not fearful) that I’m running out of time to become omnilegent. But maybe abibliophobia is exactly what I am demonstrating when I obsess about which and how many books to take on a short trip, when I will probably not have time to read a chapter of anything.

If I had a vade mecum, it would take care of a good deal of book angst. Well, perhaps I do, if you count the pocket-sized one I sometimes carry in my purse. You might like to go read Deb’s list, with definitions, for yourself. But for me, it’s time to move on to other less mind-y work. Please tell me if you have, or ever did have, a vade mecum. My friend Di told me recently that when she was in high school, hers was Sartre’s Being and Consciousness. I had planned to use that bit of trivia in a future post but in case I don’t get there…

Enjoy your reading and your whole life.

Lists, letters, and taking leave.

During a 20-minute phone call with a friend last week, I mentioned all of the books pictured above, only one of which I have read, long ago. After he asked me about a couple of them, “Did you finish ____ ?” I blurted, “I don’t read books, I only buy them!”

It’s partly true; three of the books pictured I am in the middle of reading. I think I will take The Cross of Loneliness with me on my travels this week, because it is little and is likely to be encouraging to my spirit, without demanding too much of my analytical abilities. It sets down the correspondence of Saint Sophrony and Archpriest George Florovsky from 1954 to 1963. These illustrations from the book of their kind faces make me eager to peek in on their friendship.

I’ll be flying to Colorado to visit my son Soldier’s family, and from there to Idaho to see friends Jacob and Rosemary, before heading back to California. Both of these families are in new towns since I last visited them! The excitement of navigating airports, riding in airplanes, being in strange places and beds; playing with grandchildren and chatting¬† with everyone will keep my mind plenty busy. It’s already buzzing with the challenges of getting myself ready for the big day, and incrementally taking leave, in my heart, of my home, and my garden with all the plants I have been nursing along; like the first golden zucchinis that will ripen while I am far away. I will say farewell to my stack of To-Read books, which if it actually were just one stack would be higher than my house.

But I know that I will like to read on the plane, and read in my room before going to sleep at night, so I must choose what to take along. This book that I discovered in my Kindle, Make a List, looks appealing for a few summery reasons.

(List of) Reasons why it’s a good book for this summer:

1 – Only a couple hundred pages.

2 – Not demanding content:

2a – No long list of fictional characters to keep straight.

2b – No complex-thinking philosophers to follow.

3 – It will help me keep engaged with my philosophical self and my life back home by simply jotting down a list here and there.

4 – It will prompt me to keep writing without my always having to make quality whole sentences, which are a lot of work. I might even compose travelogues entirely of short lists!

It occurs to me that my attempt at Bullet Journaling was kind of list-y. Unfortunately I always felt the need to elaborate and my bullet points swelled into paragraphs. It will be necessary to keep these lists in a different category from journaling altogether. I haven’t written one thing in my journal for a month or two, which feels scary. Maybe I’ve already made the break?

My college roommate Ann has been an inspiring list-maker all her life. She makes lists of the lists she needs to make. You might say that is the idea that Marilyn Chandler McEntyre has elaborated on; you can hear her talking for three minutes on the subject here.

Now I need to get back to the lists I have recently been working from, like:

1 – To-Do Before I Depart, and
2 – Carry With Me On the Plane.

Once I add “Kindle Reader” and “Notebook for Writing Lists” to that second list, I’ll be good to go! …. or will I…? One more very important list must be completed, before I shut the door on my tottering stacks:

Books I Really Want to Read Soon But Must Sadly Leave at Home.

But I’ll come back, Dear Friends!