Golden

The peepers are chorusing, my love made made me a surprise meal of my favorites (cheese plate, scallops, israeli couscous salad, roasted brussel sprouts, coffee heath bar ice cream, a bottle of extra dry champagne), a luxurious bath, watching candles flicker, and reading a great book – 13 is a lucky number in my family. 29 on the 29th is looking pretty damn good.

Chapter 13 [1]

Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then-the glory-so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men.

I don’t know how it will be in the years to come. There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good. It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea God. This in my time is the danger. There is great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused.

At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?

 

Our species is the only creative species , and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirt of a man. Nothing was every created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.

And now the forces marshaled around the concept of the group have declared war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by represssions, forced direction, and the stunning hammerblows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.

And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one things which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.

IMG_3508

***

Golden Birthday: Words from Steinbeck, East of Eden. Last year of my twenties, here I come. (Oh, and we went to Austin for 5 days, picture source!)

Recollections

viktorfrankl“Eventually my struggle brought me to this answer: In some respects it is death itself that makes life meaningful. Most importantly, the transitoriness of life cannot destroy its meaning because nothing from the past is irretrievably lost. Everything is irrevocably stored. It is in the past that things are rescued and preserved from transitoriness. Whatever we have done, or created, whatever we have learned and experienced – all of this we have delivered into the past. There is no one, and nothing, that can undo it.” – Viktor Frankl, Recollections

Many of us know Frankl, at least by name, from Man’s Search for Meaning, as well as his work as a psychologist and Holocaust survivor. One of the reasons I picked up this slim volume was to see more into the man himself, and perhaps glean some insight into a life full of early success, horror, recovery and even more lauded success.

“When someone asks me how I explain my accomplishments, I usually say: ‘Because I have made it a principle to give the smallest things the same attention as the biggest, and to do the biggest as calmly as the smallest.'”

Although the manner of writing is stilted (perhaps because it was never ‘written’ as an autobiography as such, and has been translated from German), there are some true insights into the human self and meaning that are powerful alone, but almost haunting given the context of  Frankl’s life experience.

Despite all he lost, and his intimate relationship with the worst humanity can do to one another, he insisted on belief in a supra-meaning, or an overall meaning of life that is beyond our comprehension. Although he does not shroud this supposition in religious terms, it obviously echos with many organized faiths.

What is striking, and was revolutionary, in his thought is that of personal responsibility and drive:

“It is not we who should ask for the meaning of life, since it is we who are being asked. It is we ourselves who must answer the questions that life asks of us, and to these questions we can respond only by being responsible for our existence.” 

Viktor-Frankl-Recollections-9780738203553He was inspired in his life by a quote mentioned to him by a colleague from Soren Kierkegaard – “‘Don’t despair at wanting to become your authentic self.’ It is difficult to believe what decisive turns in our lives we sometimes owe to even casual remarks made by another person.”

Along with personal responsibility, he posits that meaning is never lost – indeed nothing ever is truly gone. He holds the past, both individual and communal to be a wellspring of possibility that should be seen as a fount for recollection of meaning and creation of purpose. Again, no matter hat has occurred.

He distills his overall beliefs into a simple structure:

[I believe there are] “three possible ways to find meaning in life – even up to the last moment, the last breath. The three possibilities are: 1) a deed we do, a work we create; 2) an experience, a human encounter, a love; and 3) when confronted with an unchangeable fate (such as an incurable disease), a change of attitude toward that fate. I n such cases we still can wrest meaning from life by giving testimony to the most human of all human capacities: the ability to turn suffering into a human triumph.”

In this way, despite his truly epic place in history, Frankl posits that fulfilling meaning is open and possible for all of us. Although I struggle with his vision of ‘salvific suffering’ – it is obviously rooted not only in his psychological expertise, but his own base survival of Auschwitz.

And as a great clinician, in the end he again turns to us in his own autobiography and says: well, what are you going to do about it?

***

The Art of the Everyday – April 3: Weekly Book Review! Wherein I attempt to reach my goal of 63 books this year:

The Books Around: 2014

1. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
2. Home by Toni Morrison
3. Grandville by Bryan Talbot
4. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
5. Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott
6. Viktor Frankl Recollections by Viktor Frankl
7. How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
8. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett
9. Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
10. A House for Mr. Biswas by VS Naipaul
11. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
12. On the Mystery by Catherine Keller
13. In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz by Michela Wrong
14. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
14. King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild
15. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
16. The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
17. The Journey Home by Radhanath Swami
18. Quantum by Manjit Kumar
19. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
20. Dispatches by Michael Herr
21. Living Thoughts of Kierkegaard Edited by WH Auden
22. The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson
23. Wool by Hugh Howey
24. Black Boy by Richard Wright
25. Embracing Defeat by John W. Dower
26. Cane River by Lalita Tademy
27. The Paradise of Bombs by Scott Russell Sanders
28. kira-kira by Cynthia Kadohata
29. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
30. The Permanent Revolution by Leon Trotsky
31. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
32. Trinity by Leon Uris
33. Omaha Blues by Joseph Lelyveld
34. Airships by Barry Hannah
35. Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
36. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser
37. Passionate Nomad by Jane Fletcher Geniesse
38. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
39. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaurder
40. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
41. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
42. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
43. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
44. The Brothers K by David James Duncan
45. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
46. Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
47. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
48. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
49. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
50. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
51. Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler
52. Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey
53. The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch
54. World War Z by Max Brooks
55. Blindness by Jose Saramago
56. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre
57. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry
58. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
59. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
60. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
61. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
62. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
63. Dune by Frank Herbert

Cover It

The cover doesn’t make the book, but it doesn’t hurt.

As someone who truly does not have that one book they return to, again and again, my favorite books are ones that find me at the right time.

Sometimes that is through the power of its design, but regardless it’s some type of resonance I feel when I pick it up – either from a quip on the back cover, a leading sentence, or a recommendation.

I picked a few of my favorites above, and yea, I think they all meet the cover test.

Except Gibran – come on buddy, creepy almost police sketch? Not attractive.

(go find a hard copy, though, pro tip: the book itself is gorgeous)

***

The Art of the Everyday – March 29: Judgment day, If you were to judge your favorite book by its cover, would you still read it?

 

Letters to a Young Poet

rilke sassThis is a book I should’ve read earlier. Yet somehow didn’t.

From college spirituality retreats to Lady Gaga, this guy is everywhere. I mean, look at that sass.

In all reality, however, I have used Rilke’s words about life’s questions since I was first given them at around age 20 – and have been trying to follow his advice:

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart.
…live in the question.”

Just as the seeming simplicity of that excerpt, Rilke’s writings in Letters to a Young Poet, can at times hide the true struggle and complexity of the ideas he conveys so beautifully.

Rilke wrote these letters in response to a young man who attended the military school Rilke had once studied at. Although there is an age difference, Rilke writes his reflections from the ripe old age of 28 – my age now.

His wisdoms feel hard-won, and based on his sickly constitution and near-torturous childhood, that appears to be the case.

“And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must becomeknowing, it must become criticism. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perhaps bewildered and embarrassed, perhaps also protesting. But don’t give in, insist on arguments, and act in this way, attentive and persistent, every single time, and the day will come when, instead of being a destroyer, it will become one of your best workers–perhaps the most intelligent of all the ones that are building your life.”

letters-to-a-young-poetRilke is preoccupied with the pursuit of living itself. Of finding one’s moorings within the practicalities of life, and directing always one’s life beyond them.

He does not encourage this young poet toward writing, but only to write if he ‘must.’

It is the encouragement to find that motivation that is in and of itself satisfying. That sustains the soul beyond any outside attachments.

In this way, the majority of the letters are directed at a type of self-discovery that is inherently spiritual. A spirituality that encourages no buy-in with the world’s attitudes, but only is culminated within the ‘solitude of the self.’ (and a somewhat nebulous God).

After waiting so long to read, Rilke did not disappoint and I came away with a new reading of these near-poetic letters that I don’t think I would have understood ten years ago. The right book finds you at the right time, or at least that’s what I’ve heard.

rilke love

***

The Art of the Everyday – March 15: Weekly Book Review! Wherein I attempt to reach my goal of 63 books this year:

The Books Around: 2014

1. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
2. Home by Toni Morrison
3. Grandville by Bryan Talbot
4. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
5. Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott
6. Viktor Frankl Recollections by Viktor Frankl
7. How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
8. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett
9. Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
10. A House for Mr. Biswas by VS Naipaul
11. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
12. On the Mystery by Catherine Keller
13. In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz by Michela Wrong
14. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
14. King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild
15. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
16. The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
17. The Journey Home by Radhanath Swami
18. Quantum by Manjit Kumar
19. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
20. Dispatches by Michael Herr
21. Living Thoughts of Kierkegaard Edited by WH Auden
22. The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson
23. Wool by Hugh Howey
24. Black Boy by Richard Wright
25. Embracing Defeat by John W. Dower
26. Cane River by Lalita Tademy
27. The Paradise of Bombs by Scott Russell Sanders
28. kira-kira by Cynthia Kadohata
29. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
30. The Permanent Revolution by Leon Trotsky
31. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
32. Trinity by Leon Uris
33. Omaha Blues by Joseph Lelyveld
34. Airships by Barry Hannah
35. Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
36. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser
37. Passionate Nomad by Jane Fletcher Geniesse
38. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
39. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaurder
40. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
41. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
42. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
43. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
44. The Brothers K by David James Duncan
45. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
46. Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
47. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
48. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
49. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
50. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
51. Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler
52. Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey
53. The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch
54. World War Z by Max Brooks
55. Blindness by Jose Saramago
56. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre
57. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry
58. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
59. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
60. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
61. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
62. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
63. Dune by Frank Herbert

Ghostwriter

ghostwriterWho better to write the story of my life?

A runaway slave communicating to a rag-tag group of racially various pre/teens? Obviously.

Any story of this life has to have random dance breaks, enviable special effects, pens on neck-strings, and horrendous fashion choices.

Beyond that cultural touchstone, though, I’d have to say Alison Bechdel.

Fun Home is one of my favorite books – evocative, honest, raw, and intelligent.

And even better? It’s a graphic novel.

I absolutely can’t imagine a better way to imagine my story being told – in all its vivid words and images. At least that’s how it seems to me – what I remember most clearly of it are those visceral, sticky, real moments.

The moments that are snapshots of an entire story – reflective of a whole experience.

I’d love to see what she could do with that bus ride in Kosovo.

***

The Art of the Everyday – March 11: Ghostwriter, If you could have any author –living or dead – write your biography, who would you choose?

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight

“How you see a country depends on whether you are driving through it, or live in it. How you see a country depends on whether or not you can leave it, if you have to.” – Alexandra Fuller

9780375758997Alexandra Fuller’s prose seared through me.

Her memoir of growing up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) is unforgiving, relentless and unflinching.

The seemingly unbelievable events of her childhood pile on top of one another at a breakneck pace – but never seem unreal. Truth breaks through every event, conveying the innocence of the child Fuller once was.

She is unapologetic in her memories – stating horrific events, incredibly taboo actions, and visceral experience with equal weight.

Throughout the book, Fuller’s recollections seem to pour out of her – the traumatic death of her younger sibling, the stabbing assault of her family’s maid, her mother’s alcoholism, her sexual abuse – it all comes flying off the page.

I got the feeling that once she began, she couldn’t stop. She squeezes all the heat, sweat, booze, violence, laughter, absurdity out of each moment – and then quickly moves on.

“This is not a full circle. It’s Life carrying on. It’s the next breath we all take. It’s the choice we all make to get on with it.” 

There is not one page that feels excessive, burdensome, or trite. Quite the opposite, I often found myself rereading pages attempting to parse all the complexities conveyed in a short anecdote or seemingly offhand comment.

Although I have not yet been to sub-Saharan Africa, Fuller presents her life there through the unique vision of a young child experiencing a microcosm of African colonial history. She makes no excuses, frames it all unapologetically – for her, this is how it was. How it is. How it will be.

“The land itself, of course, was careless of its name. It still is. You can call it what you like, fight all the wars you want in its name. Change its name altogether if you like. The land is still unblinking under the African sky. It will absorb white man’s blood and the blood of African men, it will absorb blood from slaughtered cattle and the blood from a woman’s birthing with equal thirst. It doesn’t care.” 

***

The Art of the Everyday – March 8: Weekly Book Review! Wherein I attempt to reach my goal of 63 books this year:

The Books Around: 2014

1. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
2. Home by Toni Morrison
3. Grandville by Bryan Talbot
4. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
5. Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott
6. Viktor Frankl Recollections by Viktor Frankl
7. How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
8. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett
9. Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
10. A House for Mr. Biswas by VS Naipaul
11. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
12. On the Mystery by Catherine Keller
13. In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz by Michela Wrong
14. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
14. King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild
15. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
16. The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
17. The Journey Home by Radhanath Swami
18. Quantum by Manjit Kumar
19. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
20. Dispatches by Michael Herr
21. Living Thoughts of Kierkegaard Edited by WH Auden
22. The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson
23. Wool by Hugh Howey
24. Black Boy by Richard Wright
25. Embracing Defeat by John W. Dower
26. Cane River by Lalita Tademy
27. The Paradise of Bombs by Scott Russell Sanders
28. kira-kira by Cynthia Kadohata
29. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
30. The Permanent Revolution by Leon Trotsky
31. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
32. Trinity by Leon Uris
33. Omaha Blues by Joseph Lelyveld
34. Airships by Barry Hannah
35. Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
36. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser
37. Passionate Nomad by Jane Fletcher Geniesse
38. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
39. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaurder
40. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
41. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
42. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
43. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
44. The Brothers K by David James Duncan
45. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
46. Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
47. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
48. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
49. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
50. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
51. Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler
52. Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey
53. The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch
54. World War Z by Max Brooks
55. Blindness by Jose Saramago
56. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre
57. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry
58. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
59. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
60. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
61. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
62. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
63. Dune by Frank Herbert

How to Be a Woman

“I want a Zero Tolerance policy on All The Patriarchal Bullshit.”
– Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman

I was raised feminist.

15moran-articleLargeNot that my parents were burning bras or anything, but it came without question that I was just as strong, powerful, and great as the boys. Growing up, my mom and dad advocated for me when I pushed some gender-traditional boundaries (but yes, I may have also been the one to push them too far…I still hold that the entire talent show laughing incident was Dusty Robinson’s fault, but I digress).

For these and many other reasons, reading Caitlin Moran’s feminist reflections/memoir/soapbox was such a treat.

With raunchy snark she dispatches with many of the central assumptions of someone who picks up such a provocatively titled text:

“But, of course, you might be asking yourself, ‘Am I a feminist? I might not be. I don’t know! I still don’t know what it is! I’m too knackered and confused to work it out. That curtain pole really still isn’t up! I don’t have time to work out if I am a women’s libber! There seems to be a lot to it. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?’
I understand.
So here is the quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hand in your pants.

a) Do you have a vagina? and
b) Do you want to be in charge of it?

If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.”

While I find putting her in the same mold as Tina Fey (A British Tina Fey! the book jacket attests) is a gross mismatch, it actually proves one of her central points – you can’t essentialize what any of this means. To be a ‘feminist’ is different for everyone and can be empowering for everyone. As Moran puts it, she just “thumbs up for the six billion” rather than pro or anti anyone.

A bit of an autodidact, she also frankly reflects on growing up incredibly poor, struggling to find herself and eventually realizing how to be herself: “as the years went on, I realised that what I really want to be, all told, is a human. Just a productive, honest, courteously treated human.”

In fact, this is my central take-away from Moran: if what we do comes from joy and freedom, then it is most likely an empowered act that begins to tear down the constructions that keep anyone from their true potentials.

“Any action a woman engages in from a spirit of joy, and within a similarly safe and joyous environment, falls within the city-walls of feminism. A girl has a right to dance how she wants, when her favourite record comes on.”

And although it’s far from a ‘perfect’ text or a reflection of everyone’s views, Moran adds her voice to a group of modern women so sadly underrepresented in literature: those who protest, who contradict, who struggle – and still live.

***

The Art of the Everyday – February 27: Weekly Book Review! Wherein I attempt to reach my goal of 63 books this year:

The Books Around: 2014

1. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
2. Home by Toni Morrison
3. Grandville by Bryan Talbot
4. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
5. Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott
6. Viktor Frankl Recollections by Viktor Frankl
7. How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
8. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett
9. Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
10. A House for Mr. Biswas by VS Naipaul
11. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
12. On the Mystery by Catherine Keller
13. In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz by Michela Wrong
14. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
14. King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild
15. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
16. The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
17. The Journey Home by Radhanath Swami
18. Quantum by Manjit Kumar
19. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
20. Dispatches by Michael Herr
21. Living Thoughts of Kierkegaard Edited by WH Auden
22. The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson
23. Wool by Hugh Howey
24. Black Boy by Richard Wright
25. Embracing Defeat by John W. Dower
26. Cane River by Lalita Tademy
27. The Paradise of Bombs by Scott Russell Sanders
28. kira-kira by Cynthia Kadohata
29. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
30. The Permanent Revolution by Leon Trotsky
31. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
32. Trinity by Leon Uris
33. Omaha Blues by Joseph Lelyveld
34. Airships by Barry Hannah
35. Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
36. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser
37. Passionate Nomad by Jane Fletcher Geniesse
38. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
39. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaurder
40. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
41. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
42. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
43. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
44. The Brothers K by David James Duncan
45. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
46. Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
47. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
48. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
49. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
50. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
51. Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler
52. Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey
53. The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch
54. World War Z by Max Brooks
55. Blindness by Jose Saramago
56. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre
57. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry
58. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
59. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
60. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
61. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
62. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
63. Dune by Frank Herbert

Why I Write

The books you have, and choose to keep, say a lot about you.

My books are my companions, my conversation partners, my fellow travelers and my teachers. I love meandering through other people’s bookshelves and reading paragraphs, chapters, sometimes even the whole book.

This past weekend I picked up an old voice, in a new form: George Orwell. In Why I Write, a 1946 collection of short essays, Orwell expresses himself in a way I’d never heard him – as, well, just himself.

george-orwell

His raw honesty, tongue in cheek delivery, and sense of purpose are all qualities I’ve admired in him as a reader, but until this piece I never matched a part of my vocation with his. As he outlined in broad strokes everything from his personal ambition, to the nature of writers in general, to the notion of being a part of a nationality (English for him), his words resonated with me in a new, deeper vein.

First, he breaks writer’s motivations into three broad categories:

1 – Sheer Egoism;
2 – Aesthetic Enthusiasm;
3 – Historical Impulse;
4 – Political Purpose

For better or worse, I find these components pretty accurate. It takes a fair bit of initial pride to think you have something worth saying that should be written down and heard by all (or even some).

To commit to writing, however, takes a passion for language. For flow, cadence, vocabulary and beauty. Some might stop there, perhaps the more ‘artistic’ of writers or poets. Orwell adds two explicitly public aspects that move him beyond writing for writing’s sake. He feels responsible for acting in the world:

“My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship,  a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to my self, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”

He is quick to state that if he had been born in peace time, his life would have been different – perhaps he would’ve been a vicar, content to live out his days quietly. However, he was not, and to write anything outside of that social justice impulse is unthinkable.

Yet, again, he hedges this passion with an awareness of human nature’s selfish motives and the continued mystery he finds in his role as a writer:

“All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist or understand.”

As a fledging writer, Orwell’s brilliance is inspiring and edifying. He doesn’t attempt to glorify the position, but to couch it within real experience. To orient his own, and other’s, writing toward a clear purpose.

To find, in whatever sense, the efficacy of words to take ownership of “your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it.”

Even in blogging, something people tend to sneer at, it is that type of drive I seek and struggles I encounter. I’m happy that Orwell is my newest companion in that journey.

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The Art of the Everyday – February 16: Shoulda, woulda, coulda – Tell us about something you know you should do . . . but don’t. [edit on this prompt: this year, I am writing! I should be working out more, but that’s boring]

Good Omens

“God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.”

GoodOmens_MassMarketPaperback_1185845373

Set aside the fantastical semi-alternate universe drawn from the Bible, Revelations specifically, and at the heart if Good Omens is a soft-hearted, hopeful look at the end of the world.

Sound awesome? It is.

Neil Gaiman, of Sandman and general geek-dom fame, and Terry Pratchett, creator of Discworld and a cult favorite, paired together almost unintentionally on this project first published in 1990 before they were either “Neil Gaiman” or “Terry Pratchett” as they say in the notes. Alright, I’m hooked. I’ve read one book of these authors apiece, but together? Magic.

Despite my relatively obvious passion for all things sci-fi, religion, and humor-centered, there is a lyrical, snarky and somehow perfectly honest tone to Good Omens. I often found myself with a goofy smile on my face, then hit with some real, resonate wisdom:

“It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.”

The book doesn’t take itself too seriously, and in that way might be ignored for the intricate work it accomplishes. Not only does it balance the tone, style and writing of two authors, it handily takes apart any fundamentalist claim, Christian or not, with the aberrant wisdom of a young child (who also happens to be the Anti-Christ).

After devouring it in my first reading, I know this is a book I will return to again and again.

“If you stopped tellin’ people it’s all sorted out after they’re dead, they might try sorting it all out while they’re alive.” 

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The Art of the Everyday – February 13: Weekly Book Review! Wherein I attempt to reach my goal of 63 books this year:

The Books Around: 2014

1. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
2. Home by Toni Morrison
3. Grandville by Bryan Talbot
4. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
5. Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott
6. Viktor Frankl Recollections by Viktor Frankl
7. How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
8. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett
9. Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
10. A House for Mr. Biswas by VS Naipaul
11. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
12. On the Mystery by Catherine Keller
13. In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz by Michela Wrong
14. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
14. King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild
15. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
16. The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
17. The Journey Home by Radhanath Swami
18. Quantum by Manjit Kumar
19. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
20. Dispatches by Michael Herr
21. Living Thoughts of Kierkegaard Edited by WH Auden
22. The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson
23. Wool by Hugh Howey
24. Black Boy by Richard Wright
25. Embracing Defeat by John W. Dower
26. Cane River by Lalita Tademy
27. The Paradise of Bombs by Scott Russell Sanders
28. kira-kira by Cynthia Kadohata
29. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
30. The Permanent Revolution by Leon Trotsky
31. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
32. Trinity by Leon Uris
33. Omaha Blues by Joseph Lelyveld
34. Airships by Barry Hannah
35. Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
36. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser
37. Passionate Nomad by Jane Fletcher Geniesse
38. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
39. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaurder
40. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
41. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
42. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
43. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
44. The Brothers K by David James Duncan
45. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
46. Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
47. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
48. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
49. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
50. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
51. Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler
52. Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey
53. The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch
54. World War Z by Max Brooks
55. Blindness by Jose Saramago
56. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre
57. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry
58. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
59. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
60. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
61. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
62. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
63. Dune by Frank Herbert

Week of Happy: Bookstore Day

Books and trees – either end of the paper spectrum – are my peace zones. From indie Powell’s to chain Borders to the public library, I  have made some of my most pivotal memories surrounded by books.

Here in Norway, we’re lucky enough to have a small independent bookstore run by Erica and her chubby puggle.

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It’s tough to make it, but Erica keeps up a great selection of bestsellers, classics, kids books and the most thorough section of Maine-related books I’ve ever seen. From ice fishing to deer-only cookbooks, it’s provided some lessons a transplant needs (chiefly: you will always be “from away”).

One of the best things about Books n’ Things is that even if they don’t have it, they’ll get it for you, no extra charge. It’s like a super request machine, okay like Amazon, without the guilt of funding enslavement.

Also like other Main Street staples, it’s a place to run into friends, get forced into conversations with that one old lady you see everywhere, try to escape getting roped into yet another volunteer task, and watch out-of-towners try to get directions:

“Maine is well-known for its disdain for anyone not from Maine (that is, “from away”). These are commonly called “flatlanders,” even though most of the populated sections of Maine are flat and most of the surrounding states and provinces are not. Mainahs delight in giving them driving directions, which always boil down to, “Ya cahn’t git they’ah from he’ah.” Many Maine towns and landmarks are given difficult names for this exact purpose. Others, such as Mexico, Norway, and Peru, are little tricks to scare the tourist into thinking he has overshot everything.”

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The Art of the Everyday – February 6: Week of Happy – Enjoy this series of simple (and some not so simple) things that make me happy while I’m on vacation!