It's Happening Again

The stack on my nightstand is in a vertiginous climb. I do actually wonder if it could topple over and hit me in the head in the middle of the night. Every time this happens I think to myself I should really find a better way to store the books I'm reading; but in keeping with my strategy for Organizing On a Budget--which is: Don't Do It-- I never do find a better way. I just let the pile grow, and when it gets too tall I move it to the floor next to my bed. Sorry, no photo of that. But please do note the lovely pumpkin and tissue paper decoration put on my bedpost by AJ -- "So your bed can be Fancy, Mom!" Just what I wanted...... a Fancy bed..... complete with jack-o-lanterns and tissue paper.....but, I digress.

My purpose here today is to fill you in on what I've been reading lately. So here goes:

1. The Shtetl, Joachim Neugroschel, ed. This is a book of Jewish legends, folktales, and other stories that came out of Jewish shtetl life and traditions of Eastern Europe. The shtetl way of life is all but gone because of the Holocaust, but the literature remains. Many are tales from the Tsene Rene, or women's bible, an adaptation of the Pentateuch written in Yiddish. There are tales of the prophet Elijah, scriptural interpretations of the Creation, and short stories centered on various elements of Jewish life. The stories are interesting, wise, and often funny. I'm enjoying them so far.

2. The Odyssey by Homer. This is the classic tale of Odysseus' epic return journey from the Trojan wars to his homeland of Ithaca. I had the good fortune of taking an entire class devoted to The Odyssey as a sophomore in college. Sadly, I remember almost nothing of what I learned in that class (I could kick myself now), but I still enjoying reading and re-reading this tale. Full disclosure: I harbor a strong suspicion that Odysseus could've made it home a lot more quickly if he'd made it a priority. But then again, I'm always trying to convince Husband to come home from the office in time for dinner, too.

3. Open Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996 by Seamus Heaney. Seamus Heaney is one of those rock-star poets whose name is familiar to at least a few people outside the poetry world. A native of Ireland, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. There's a very strong connection to the Northern Irish landscape in his work, and the political struggles (referred to in Ireland as "The Troubles") and Irish history are a strong themes for him. But he also writes beautifully, hauntingly, of love; here's one of my favorites:

Wedding Day

I am afraid.
Sound has stopped in the day
And the images reel over
And over. Why all those tears,

The wild grief on his face
Outside the taxi? The sap
Of mourning rises
In our waving guests.

You sing behind the tall cake
Like a deserted bride
Who persists, demented
And goes through the ritual.

When I went to the Gents
There was a skewered heart
And a legend of love. Let me
Sleep on your breast to the airport.

4. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. This is the story of a Mexican-American boy who begins to write his life story after a visit to an underwater cave shows him the wonders of hidden things. His story is an epic one, like our friend Odysseus', and he survives a difficult childhood, then becomes involved in the lives of famous artists and revolutionaries. The jacket text says: "Through darkening years, political winds continue to toss him between north and south in a plot that turns many times on the unspeakable breach --the lacuna-- between truth and public presumption." A lacuna, by the way, is "a gap or missing portion" (OED). I started The Lacuna a couple weeks ago when my friend, The Poet A.O.D., offered to lend it to me (the waiting list at the library was hundreds long), and I'm enjoying it. But not so much that I couldn't put it down to read a couple of other books I'd been waiting for, also at the library. I am looking forward to getting back to it, because I trust Barbara Kingsolver to tell a really good story. Her book The Poisonwood Bible is one of my all-time favorites.

5. Two Journals - one meant to record family happenings, which is mostly empty; and one given to me by AJ for Christmas, which is completely empty. For AJ, everything is imbued with meaning. This journal he gave me has to be really special in order to live up to his expectations for it. I feel all this pressure to do something really special with it. So far, no great ideas, although I am considering keeping a reading journal in it, with a list of titles, passages I particularly liked, and maybe a short reflection on each book.

6. Willow Room, Green Door: Selected Poems by Deborah Keenan. Deborah Keenan is a local poet here in the South of the River metro area. She has been writing and teaching around here for many years, and I am taking a class from her starting in March. "This class is for poets who wish to work seriously together at their craft," says the course description. Sounds kinda.... well, serious. So, I thought it would be wise to read some of her work before taking a class from her. Truth: I haven't started it yet, but it's there waiting for me. It will be read by the Ides of March.

7. Moment by Moment by Jerry Braza. A book sent to me by my good friend Susan, which discusses the concept of mindfulness and strategies for living mindfully (e.g., breathing techniques). I'm glad to have this book. Living mindfully -- that is, living in the moment you are in, now -- doesn't come easily to me, and here's why: I'm constantly thinking about what I have to pull out of the freezer for tomorrow's dinner. Or about the check I have to send to school for the after-school clubs this month. Or how I can't forget to text my favorite high-schooler to come and clear the driveway. Or how I also can't forget to wash AJ's green and gold shirt so he can wear it to school of Friday for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. You know, the little details of life. They get in the way of my Mindfulness. Which, of course, is exactly the point of this book: learning to live mindfully amidst the many demands of real life. Gonna keep this one nearby for a while.

8. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. I find it hard to believe that I have never read this book, at least not that I can remember (And yes, I have had the experience of reading an entire book and then realizing in the last chapter that I'd already read that book. There was a time in my life when I would not have been able to conceive of forgetting that I had read a book. That time is past.). Most of you probably know that this book is an excerpted diary of a young Dutch and Jewish girl who, with her family and some others, hid from the Nazis in an annex of the building where her father ran their family business. They were eventually discovered, and none survived but Otto Frank (the father), who eventually published his daughter's diary. The Dutch title of the book is Het Achterhuis, meaning "the house behind." An interesting metaphor for the life they all lived in a house hidden behind a bookcase. At any rate, I checked this out of the library in order to read it before the PBS screening of The Diary of Anne Frank in April.

9. Persuasion by Jane Austen. Speaking of PBS, I am also reading Persuasion in advance of the Masterpiece version of this Jane Austen story, which airs on February 14 (gonna have to hurry and finish this one). So far, I'm through the part where Louisa falls and injures herself in Lyme, and Capt. Wentworth and Anne rush back to Uppercross to deliver the news to Louisa's parents. Oh, the suspense! What will bring Capt. Wentworth and Anne together again after all these years? "You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope." Thus writes Capt. Wentworth to Anne in Chapter 20. I confess, I'm a sucker for romance.

10. My little blue book for catching snatches of poems that drift into my consciousness in the middle of the night. The latest entry: "holoalphabetic sents - like the quick brown fox." My cryptic scrawl for exploring the idea of a poem made up of pangrams or holoalphabetic sentences, which are phrases or sentences that employ all the letters in the English alphabet. Not sure I could ever really come up with a poem of pangrams, but hey, those middle of the night ideas can be kind of crazy.

11. Selected Poems by Denise Levertov. I confess, I have a hard time buying just one book at a time, especially when Amazon keeps going on and on about FREE Super Saver Shipping! So, when I bought the Deborah Keenan book, I also bought Denise Levertov because of these beautiful Denise Levertov words my friend, Ms. W-K, sent to me last week:

"Let me walk through the fields of paper
touching with my wand
dry stems and stunted

I have also recently read Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, and Too Much Happiness, a collection of short stories by Alice Munro. They were both great reads. Happy reading, everyone, and let me know what's on your nightstand (and what's decorating your bedpost) these days.

1 comment:

Ms. W-K said...

Thanks for sharing! Always a pleasure to look into the nightstand.
I recently finished Teddy Kennedy's memior and am back immersed in "The Bartimeaus Trilogy" in constant search to find YA books for my students to read.
I have started to kep a book/ reading journal and have thoroughly enjoyed making it (filled with Susan Branch stickers :-).