Stormwind tagged me with the book meme. I’ve never done this before. Thanks, Stormwind, for asking me to share this stuff. It was a powerful reminder of what books shaped me.
Total number of books I’ve owned: Reading has always been work for me, because I’m so slow. The words move around, and my mind wanders. So my library has always been spare. I use the library regularly. Then I can check out 20 books and try them on for size. When a book earns a place in my library, it becomes part of me. If I lend it out and misplaced, I mourn its loss. A good many of my books are poetry, since it’s denser than prose.
Last book I bought: I just bought Random Family by Adrian Nicole Le Blanc. It’s a vivid, novel like reportage of 80’s ghetto life in the Bronx. Love, sex, early motherhood, drugs, drugs, drugs, in a vicious cycle. If I didn’t know it was fact I’d call it pure cliche. I’ll be looking for books like it in the future.
Last book I read: That would be Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Saul Bellows 1952 review is here. This is not to be confused with THE Invisible Man by H. G. Wells. The Ellison novel was written in 1947, and it explores the complex, layered, desembodied existence of the Negro in 40’s America. The protagonist is un-named. The writing is both insightful and poetic. The structural faults are easily overlooked when a brilliant passage shows up, of which there are many. Some of my favorite parts are pure description or reflection. The plot is secondary. I returned my library copy, but I want to buy a copy soon. Then I’ll quote my very favorite passage here.
Five books that mean a lot to me:
- The Bhagavad Gita, which means “Song of the Lord”. Eknath Easwaran’s translation is the only one I’ve read, but his clear explanations were helpful with terms such as atman, brahman, karma and dharma. The text is a spiritual classic dating from somewhere between 700 to 1000 B.C.E. It’s teachings influenced Sakyamuni, who became known as the Buddha. The yogic approach to life is scientific, analytical, which appeals to me. The Gita is a spiritual dialog which takes place before a great battle. The conversation is between the warrior Arjuna and the god incarnate Krishna, who has taken the form of Arjuna’s charioteer. Here again, the “plot” is not relevant. Their long poetic conversation is a metaphor for the dialog in each of us, between the divine and temporal selves. I’d like to learn Sanskrit, or just listen to a recording of the original Sanskrit, just to enjoy the sounds.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig. I read this a long, long time a go, but it affected me deeply. The story is about his motorcycle trip with the author’s son. That didn’t interest me as much as his philosophical explorations of reality. He intellectually discerns the nature of the present, the moment, which is often discussed in Zen teachings. His theory is called the Metaphysics of Quality. Actually, Andy’s description of the book is much better than mine. I need to read it again. I read Lila, the sequel, years later. It was the same kind of book, where he continues his exploration into the nature of “quality” as the defining motive of all existence.
- Dune by Frank Herbert. I read the whole series in on summer. Me, a slow reader, read 6 books, each 400 plus pages, in one summer. How’s that for a good review? The world he creates is fantastic, believable, and often implies our own twisted, violent history here on Earth. I love the Bene Geserit priestesses who are wise, manipulative and very, very powerful. But even they mess up. The result is the creation of a super being, a Bene Geserit male. I found it most intriguing that, at the end of the last book (he intended to continue the saga), women run the universe. The Bene Geserits are matched with an equally powerful counterforce, the Honored Matres. Men are reduced to hard laborers and sperm carriers.
- The Man with the Blue Guitar by Wallace Stevens. If one single poem could be my favorite, this is it. I first read it aloud, feeling the word and rhythms, more than understanding. Like music’s notes, the meaning flows with the sound. (I’ve included a photo of Picasso’s Old Guitarist, which some say inspired the poem.) The last section is:
Throw away the lights, the definitions,
And say of what you see in the dark
That it is this or that it is that,
But do not use the rotten names.
How should you walk in that space and know
Nothing of the madness of space,
Nothng of it’s joclar procreations?
Thow the lights away. Nothing must stand
Between you and the shapes you take
When the crust of shape has been destroyed.
You as you are? You are yourself.
The blue guitar surprises you.
The generations’s dream, aviled (sic)
In the mud, in Monday’s dirty light,
That’s it, the only dream they knew,
Time in its final block, not time
To come, a wrangling of two dreams.
Here is the bread of time to come,
Here is its actual stone. The bread
will be our bread, the stone will be
Our bed and we shall sleep by night.
We shall forget by day, except
The moments when we choose to play
the imagined pine, the imagined jay.
It’s about everything, the big picture and the tenuous connection between words and reality. It’s about the power of the poet. Another favorite short poem by Stevens is “Of Mere Being”. See below
- The last book is a toss up between Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. The Rilke letters influenced me in my twenties, and perhaps had a deeper affect. A sentence such as this is hard to forget: “…it is so important to be lonely and attentive when one is sad: because the apparently uneventful and stark moment at which our future sets foot in us is so much closer to life than that other noisy and fortuitous point of time at which it happens to us as if from outside. “
I haven’t been blogging long, so I don’t “know” many bloggers yet. I’m sending this meme to:
- Angela at Fluid Pudding. She’s a got a hilarious sense of absurd humor, and I’m curious what appeals to her. Her young children provide most of the material for her blog.
- Alex at Fictioneer . He’s a noted writer, and I’m curious what he’s put on his list.
- Brian at Shadow Footprints. He has a beautiful photo of an open book and glass of wine as the background photo on his blog, so I’m wondering what book that could be.
- Weez at Weez Blog. Weez is fun. What does she read?
- Guusje at On Life, Ebay, Education, Travel and Books. What more do I need to say.
There’s no obligation. Just a little nudge to tell us more about yourselves.
Of Mere Being
by Wallace Stevens
The Palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
in the bronze decor,
A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.
You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.
The palm stands on the edge of space.
the wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.