August 19, 2010

Book Chi Part 2

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Every year I have a yard sale where I attempt to get rid of the year’s accumulation of capitalist effluvia.  Since I have lots of storage space, I have merchandise still in stock from years’ past as well as much of the stuff that didn’t sell in my mother’s estate sale 3 years ago. One of my yard sale rituals is to go through all my books and decide which ones I have read for the last time and no longer need to keep.   Here are some of what made this year’s cut:

A stack of books for my morning read when I can manage complex sentences and ideas.  This is when I read Freud or Shakespeare, most recently Civilization and Its Discontents and King Lear. I have just come off a 6 month orgy of literary theory; for some reason I could not get enough of it.  (I came out of Lit Crit at Whitman College and couldn’t have told you what it was; same with high school algebra.)  I read three literary theory texts; I downloaded all the transcripts from Paul Fry’s Intro to Literary Theory at Yale Open Courses, and read them.  (I had listened to the lectures but had missed a lot because I kept playing Free Cell solitaire at the same time.)

In the morning, I also read books with those titles like “I Be Where I am Now.”   Currently my favorite writers in this genre are Pema Chodron and Mark Epstein.

As the day progresses, the sentences need to get shorter and the ideas less complex.  But that is not to cast nasturtiums at authors like Anne Morrow Lindbergh (her diaries and letters) who I have re-read since I was 18.  I am drawn to British women authors; I re-read books by Angela Thirkell (Before Lunch is my favorite) Margery Sharpe (the 3 Martha books), E.M. Delafield (the Provincial lady books), Joanna Trollope, Susan Howatch, and Elizabeth Jane Howard.  Every few years, I re-read the Lucia books by E.F. Benson, A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens), A Passage to India (Forster), The Raj Quartet (Paul Scott), and To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee).

My favorite books in the past several years amongst current writers are Gods Behaving Badly (Marie Phillips), Three Bags Full (Leonie Swann), Eat, Pray Love (Elizabeth Gilbert), and The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)

Poetry I can read any time of the day or night.  I had forgotten all about poetry and its power until Billy Collins was the Poet Laureate.  Through him, I was re-born.  My favorites among his output are Sailing Alone Around the Room and Nine Horses. Other poets I love are Stephen Dunn, Mary Oliver, Jack Gilbert, W.S. Merwin, Robert Frost, and an interesting guy—or maybe I should say 4 interesting guys—called Fernando Pessoa.

Another author I can read any time of day, even though his sentences and ideas are complicated, is Adam Phillips.  He’s the enfant terrible among the psycho-analytic set.  His provocative ideas are just what I need to open up new states of mind, to remind me there are many different ways of constructing my experience.  Here’s a sentence from Promises Promises: ‘To presume something is an error is simply to look at it from a point of view that makes it one.”  And another: “What we call a culture or a tradition becomes the way we go on running imaginary errands for the dead.”

By evening humor is about all I can take in but that can be rather like swimming at a beach where there’s no lifeguard.  I read at my own risk; it can be too entertaining when I need to be thinking about sleep.  I am partial to the Blandings Castle series by P.G. Wodehouse and I love Bill Bryson (A Walk in the Woods, I’m a Stranger Here Myself, Notes from a Small Island). With Wodehouse, if I have anything liquid in my mouth, I generally have time to swallow before I burst out laughing, but with Bill Bryson, it doesn’t matter if I am drinking something or not;  One of his asides will– without warning — provoke laughter accompanied by spontaneous discharges from any or all bodily orifices.

Murder mysteries are doubled edged nighttime reading, too.  I like Dorothy Sayers, Robert Barnard, Conan Doyle, Minette Walters, and Elizabeth George.  If it’s really late, M.M. Kaye, Nancy Baker Jacobs, and Alexander McCall Smith have good plots and short sentences.  For something like a Lifetime Movie Network experience, there’s always Mary Higgins Clark. These books are easy on a tired brain but can also give a second wind.  I’ve never stayed up til 2:00 AM reading literary theory just to see what happens next.

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