Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Susie Asado

I have started to have a daily poem. I read a poem in the morning and then the same one again in the evening. Here is the first poem I did. I am rather fond of Gertrude Stein.

Susie Asado
Gertrude Stein

Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.
Susie Asado.
Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.
Susie Asado.
Susie Asado which is a told tray sure.
A lean on the shoe this means slips slips hers.
When the ancient light grey is clean it is yellow, it is a silver seller.
This is a please this is a please there are the saids to jelly. These are the wets these say the sets to leave a crown to Incy.
Incy is short for incubus.
A pot. A pot is a beginning of a rare bit of trees. Trees tremble, the old vats are in bobbles, bobbles which shade and shove and render clean, render clean must.
Drink pups.
Drink pups drink pups lease a sash hold, see it shine and a bobolink has pins. It shows a nail.
What is a nail. A nail is unison.
Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I am currently in Holden Village. They have a library (could I really spend a summer somewhere without one?) but it is a bit small and without computer catalog.* That means if I'm in the mood for a particular type of book (summer makes me crave fantasy, for instance) I must rely on my eyes for colors and fonts to spot it on the shelf as I pass by. But one of the reasons I love libraries and fear the coming E-Book age is that choosing something to read is much more spontaneous. You stumble upon treasures you never would have using a catalog.

My favorite find in the Holden Library so far:
The Wicked Marquis, with a protagonist named Esme. Could it get any better?

P.S. Since I know I have Holden fans reading my blog now, I'll give a few notes on Village doings. 1. I did my first day of Garbo, which involves sorting trash and chopping compost. 2. We're having pizza for dinner and they spelled out Esme in bell peppers on the vegan one. 3. I've been trained for the hose house, but we were low on water that day so I didn't get to shoot the fire hose. All the same, from now on I would like to be addressed as Ms. Firewoman. 4. I pester the mailman everyday but I have yet to get a letter. Ahem.

*Wait. Maybe that's a lie; I have noticed a computer down there and I'm sure it's not for internet.


At that time the opinion existed that it was beneath a gentleman to write legibly.
-George Eliot, Middlemarch

Mrs. Eliot, I am sorry to say people are of a similar opinion nowadays as well. How many times have I heard someone speak of their illegible handwriting with a note of pride in their voice? I must say, it vexes me. What good does it do anyone if your writing can't be read? What is there to be proud of, when that--reading--is the whole point? I, too, used to write illegibly, but enough teachers threw my papers away that I realized I would have to put some effort in.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Wilhelm Reich

I am well aware of the fact that the human race has known about the existence of a universal energy related to life for many ages. However, the basic task of natural science consisted of making this energy usable. This is the sole difference between my work and all preceding knowledge.
-Wilhelm Reich

This summer I'll be reading Wilhelm Reich and related articles and books.

There are a lot of hypotheses as to what evolutionary function the female orgasm has. My favorite (though I don't think it's likely) is that it helps women to choose patient and creative mates. But this little information about Reich in the video says the function is to maintain energy equilibrium.

This video also tells me that adultery causes suicide and tuberculosis.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Summer Vacation Begins

This is in reply to Katie's last comment, inquiring after Middlemarch. I take some time in getting there, so if you are only interested in bookish matters I advise skipping to the end.

Picture this:

A house, a garage, an orchard, and a woodshed on five acres of land, nested among ten acres of woods. From the house porch these five acres seem to be cradled in a dome of sky and tall evergreens. I can hear the wind in the trees, birds singing (especially in the evening), and echoing through the trees the bray of a donkey or the bark of a dog. The honeysuckle is blooming orange, the small laburnum is trailing its golden chains, the pink rhododendrons are wilting. The land echoes with my childhood thoughts and dreams, books read and stories planned, so that each blade of grass here seems to carry a mythology.

I'm at my parents' house for a week. I love to sit on the porch and eat breakfast, the blue heeler pup putting his paws in my lap, or do yoga, trying not to trip over the cat. In the morning my brother makes tea in the metallic elephant-trunk spouted teapot he made himself, and I check my email for word from my boyfriend in Indonesia (nothing yet). During the day I clean out my childhood bedroom, which has become sort of a storeroom since I left, sorting through puzzle pieces, notes from my middle-school best friend, and brightly colored fish lures, which had lured me as well as the fish.

In the evening I make dinner for my family, excited to have a proper audience for my culinary exploits. Fresh baked pitas with grilled artichoke, basil aioli, and an assortment of vegetables. Vegetable curry and coconut plantains. Spaghetti with tempeh, eggplant, shiitake mushrooms, and onion. Pecan coconut carrot cake to celebrate my brother's graduation from high school.

After dinner I watch CSI or Bones with my dad, the murder mysteries creeping me out pretty easily, the commercials quite interesting since I spend most of the year without a TV. At the beginning of the week I felt like I should watch the commercials to get a taste of mainstream America, but it only took a couple days for me to be sick of them.

Before bed I read Middlemarch. Eliot is wonderfully articulate and each sentence is well crafted. When I first started reading it I wanted a pen and paper always at hand to write down beautiful quotations. But sometimes she seems simply to be stretching her writing muscles, enjoying listening to herself talk, and the content seems pointless. I've been wondering if the gems of sentences outweigh the long-winded parts, if the insightful character portraits outweigh the boring ones. Since this novel goes on for over 800 pages, perhaps I would be better off with a book where my personal gain from reading it was more obvious. 800 pages is a lot of time to devote to a book which feels tedious to read about half the time. But for now I'm sticking to it, and it is probably better not to be reading a book that draws all my attention like a magnet, because I have things to do before I leave for Holden Village next week. Then again, maybe I need a fast-paced novel to distract me from my empty Inbox.

Monday, June 14, 2010


"Boy George is a man, isn't he?" said Rachel.
"Yes, he is," said Nick.
"Not like George Eliot."
"No, not at all."
-Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty

I've decided George Eliot is the appropriate thing to read after The Line of Beauty. I'm 135 pages into Middlemarch.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Line of Beauty

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst. If you want a proper summary of this book, you can go to your friendly neighborhood Wikipedia or Amazon, but I'll try to do it in one sentence just to give you a vague idea: In Thatcher-era Britain, a middle-class just-out-of-the-closet young man with a passion for Henry James (Nick) moves into the home of an upper-class family headed by a politician (the Feddens).

The Line of Beauty is an elegant seduction. Hollinghurst is able to describe and articulate subtleties and nuances without making them the opposite--no easy feat. His prose is like a ray of sunlight which clarifies what it touches while making it seem to glow in its own golden way. Like Nick, the reader settles into the home of the Feddens that Hollinghurst paints, so that by the time the 400-page book ends the reader finds herself nostalgic for the beginning. The Line of Beauty won the Man Booker Prize in 2004, and for good reason. The Line of Beauty is a masterpiece, and please don't mistake this for the usual hyperbolic book review.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Orgyan Chokyi

"I have good reason to write a few words on my joys and sufferings," I said some time ago. "Therefore I pray of you master, write it down."
When I said this [the master] said, "There is no reason to write a liberation tale for you--a woman."
And thinking on this woman's words he added, "You must be silent!"
Many tears fell from my eyes, for I did not myself know how to write.
"If I knew how to write," I said, "I would have reason to write of my joys and sufferings."
Later, when I was dying, amazing omens of my death arose, and I thought, "I have been struck with the spiritual instruction of the dakini."
The impediment of not being able to write disappeared, and I wrote.

The Life of Orgyan Chokyi is the oldest known autobiography by a Tibetan woman. Orgyan Chokyi lived from 1675 to 1729 and was a Buddhist nun. Her autobiography is thought-provoking in its depiction of the woman's intense compassion for all living things and her depression over the innate sufferings of life. I particularly find interesting her perspective on gender roles: She seems to believe that women (mothers especially) naturally suffer more than men, and prays time and again that all women and female creatures be reborn as men.

When I ponder our female bodies
I am sorrowful; impermanence rings clear.

When men and women couple--creating more life--
Happiness is rare, but suffering is felt for a long time.

May I not be born again in a female body.
May the mare not be born as a mare.

The tales of her studies in meditation make me want to delve deeper into my own meditation practice. Occasionally Chokyi's words are humorous to a modern reader. Take, for instance, the subtitle of chapter two: "Chapter Two relates how at age eleven I became a goatherd and suffering arose for me."

The Life of Orgyan Chokyi is a quick read, and I recommend it to anyone interested in Buddhism or gender studies.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Anti-Word

And what he yearned for at that moment, vaguely but with all his might, was unbounded music, absolute sound, a pleasant and happy all-encompassing, over-powering, window-rattling din to engulf, once and for all, the pain, the futility, the vanity of words. Music was the negation of sentences, music was the anti-word!
-Milan Kundera, The Incredible Lightness of Being

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book Buy Back

Sometimes you think your house is being taken over by books and teacups. You can't cross the parlor without tripping over them. They are the true owners of these rooms, not you.

You go through your bookshelves. To separate the wheat from the chaff? No no, each spine you pull off the shelf puts a weight on your consciousness. You're not going to read all of them, but you want them around you like photos of your loved ones on the wall. You want them on your shelves like trophies of your good taste and verbal promiscuity.

Postcard Memoir you are not sad to see go, in fact you think of the book in shades of contempt. Woe is I you consider keeping as a grammar reference. But hey, isn't that what the internet is for?
You pull out Houellebecq's The Elementary Particles. You thumb through the pages, looking at the understated pencil lines around the words that resonated with you. Too many pages of resonance to quickly jot down your favorite passages. You put it back on the shelf.
You put Camus's The Fall in the To Sell pile with a sigh. You often think of it with nostalgia, and sometimes when you speak of it you pretentiously call it La chute, as if you and it were on a first-name basis, as if you could fool people into thinking you knew French. But it's unlikely you'll read it again, and so into the To Sell pile it goes.

No, you can't keep them all: You need the money that comes from selling them. You want less boxes and less weight when you move out; you want the cloying freedom that comes from lack of possessions. The tabula rasa of empty bookshelves. But really, you need the space for new loves.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Pause to Digest

I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside of you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It's hollow.
--E. L. Konisburg, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

After reading a good book, particularly a long book, I sometimes have the urge to wait, to pause. Not to jump into another book, but let the first book settle in. If it is a truly good book, allowing space is a way of honoring it. Give it a couple days, maybe even a week. Great books take time to digest. This is especially true if the book is rather long or takes a while to read; you've spent a lot of time in the world created by the author, likely your vision is colored by this book; to jump straight into another book and another world would be to get something like jet lag.

I finished The Line of Beauty today.

Our Lives Trembling and Shivering

"Those Days"
Mary Oliver

When I think of her I think of the long summer days
she lay in the sun, how she loved the sun, how we
spread our blanket, and friends came, and

the dogs played, and then I would get restless and
get up and go off to the woods
and the fields, and the afternoon would

soften gradually and finally I would come
home, through the long shadows, and into the house
where she would be

my glorious welcoming, tan and hungry and ready to tell
the hurtless gossips of the day and how I
listened leisurely while I put

around the room flowers in jars of water--
daisies, butter-and-eggs, and everlasting--
until like our lives they trembled and shimmered

Friday, June 4, 2010

On Esme's Bookshelf

Books I Read in May

Always Maintain a Joyful Mind: And Other Lojong Teachings on Awakening Compassion and Fearlessness by Pema Chodron, translated by the Nalanda Translation Committee.

Magical Kids II: The Smallest Girl Ever and The Boy Who Could Fly written and illustrated by Sally Gardner.

The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf by Kathryn Davis.

Footsteps by Leon Garfield.

Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud. The last in the Bartimaeus Trilogy.

Summerhouse, Later by Judith Hermann.

And fourteen children's picture books.