“Don’t observe Banned Books Week because a few idiots don’t like The Hunger Games, but instead because our very existence as a free, enlightened society rests on the idea of the flow of information coupled with the skills to understand it.” ~ Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Executive Religion Editor, The Huffington Post


 “We grow up and we get scared of everything — so much so that we try to censor and restrict real life. But that kind of fear keeps us from evolving.” ~ Jeneé Osterheldt, from The Kansas City Star

Saturday afternoon. Sunny and warmer, 77 degrees.

So I just took the new online quiz, “Which Banned Book Are You”,  and for my first result I was American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis. Then I took it again and changed my answers, and I was Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. As these two are quite different, I thought what the heck, and took it again, trying to go with my first gut response, and . . . wait for it . . . Brave New World again.

Anyway, today marks the end of Banned Books Week, and I just want to take a second away from the reposting and the articles and the quotes to tell you why this particular movement means to much to me:

Reading has always been an important aspect of my life. I began to read at an early age, and I haven’t looked back since. But during some particularly dark periods in my life, I was literally unable to read; the very act of sitting down with a book and concentrating on the words was too much for me. I just couldn’t do it, and so for months on end, I eschewed the very thing that has brought me so much comfort in my life. And then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, the drought ended.

This has happened to me twice, and the fact that I was physically unable to read only made the act of reading so much richer for me once I regained the ability. I simply cannot imagine living in a society in which what I can immerse myself in is dictated by a government or a group, in which someone else decides what is best for my mind to ingest. To me, censorship seems like one of the great evils of a society.

Consider an extreme example most people know: Hitler and the pyres of books he burned. Did his attempts at censorship stop people from reading? No. Did it stop people from writing, from thinking, from discussing? Perhaps outwardly, but try as he might, he was unable to completely quash the human spirit. Witness Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel, survivors who went on to write unstintingly about their personal hells.

“Written words running loose have always presented a challenge to people bent on ruling others. In times past, religious zealots burned heretical ideas and heretics with impartiality. Modern tyrannies promote the contentment and obedience of their subjects by ruthlessly keeping troubling ideas out of their books and minds. Censorship can place people in bondage more efficiently than chains.” ~ Time Magazine essay (1981)

If I have my way, my love affair with words will continue until I take my last breath, and until I take that breath, I will continue to buy books for myself and others, to recommend things to read to anyone who asks, to tell anyone who listens about this author or that one. Look, censorship always has the opposite effect, like it or not.

Captain Underpants Banned Book List

Brett’s favorite book series in grade school: The Captain Underpants series was at the top of the American Library Association’s Banned Book List for the second year in a row

You tell someone not to do something, not to see something, not to write something, not to read something? They’ll go to extreme lengths to do exactly what you have forbidden. It’s human nature. Better to ignore something you really loathe; disinterest breeds disinterest . . . sometimes.

We live in a democracy, and for that, we should express our gratitude to the hills, because there are still too many people who don’t have the freedoms we enjoy. We have the right to disagree. We have the right to wear funny clothes. We have the right to tell the president he is wrong. And we cannot be silenced or jailed for exercising these rights.

As far as I’m concerned, anyone who makes it through James Joyce is a trooper. Tweens who read Judy Blume aren’t reading about anything that their friends aren’t discussing. Decide for yourself is Ayn Rand is boring or if Catcher in the Rye really is the best thing ever written (she is, and it isn’t, in my opinion). And if you really don’t want your child to read something? That’s your prerogative; just don’t assume that you know what’s best for the world, because frankly? You don’t, and neither do I, and that’s what makes life interesting.

N’est-ce pas?


“To own ‘Mein Kampf,’ to support its right to exist, is not to endorse its awful venality. Rather, it is to recognize that, as Henry Miller once wrote,’[y]ou cannot eliminate an idea by suppressing it.’ This is a notion that, if we face it openly, offers us a vivid freedom — not to do anything, but to do the right thing.” ~ David L. Ulin, LA Times Book Critic, from “The Implications of Banned Book Week”

From Open Culture:

Today, in honor of this year’s Banned Books Week, we bring you free online texts of 14 banned books that appear on the Modern Library’s top 100 novels list. Next to each title, see some of the reasons these books were challenged, banned, or, in many cases, burned.

This staple of high school English classes everywhere seems to mostly get a pass. It did, however, see a 1987 challenge at the Baptist College in Charleston, SC for “language and sexual references.”

Seized and burned by postal officials in New York when it arrived stateside in 1922, Joyce’s masterwork generally goes unread these days because of its legendary difficulty, but for ten years, until Judge John Woolsey’s decision in its favor in 1932, the novel was only available in the U.S. as a bootleg. Ulysses was also burned—and banned—in Ireland, Canada, and England.

Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare often seems like one of the very few things liberals and conservatives can agree on—no one wants to live in the future he imagines. Nonetheless, the novel was challenged in Jackson County, Florida in 1981 for its supposedly “pro-communist” message, in addition to its “explicit sexual matter.”

Again the target of right-wing ire, Orwell’s work was challenged in Wisconsin in 1963 by the John Birch Society, who objected to the words “masses will revolt.” A 1968 New Survey found that the novel regularly appeared on school lists of “problem books.” The reason most often cited: “Orwell was a communist.”

  • Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut (Audio)

Vonnegut’s classic has been challenged by parents and school boards since 1973, when it was burned in Drake, North Dakota. Most recently, it’s been removed from a sophomore reading list at the Coventry, RI high school in 2000; challenged by an organization called LOVE (Livingstone Organization for Values in Education) in Howell, MI in 2007; and challenged, but retained, along with eight other books, in Arlington Heights, IL in 2006. In that case, a school board member, “elected amid promises to bring her Christian beliefs into all board decision-making, raised the controversy based on excerpts from the books she’d found on the internet.” Hear Vonnegut himself read the novel here.

London’s most popular novel hasn’t seen any official suppression in the U.S., but it was banned in Italy and Yugoslavia in 1929. The book was burned in Nazi bonfires in 1933; something of a historical irony given London’s own racist politics.

The Nazis also burned Sinclair’s novel because of the author’s socialist views. In 1959, East Germany banned the book as “inimical to communism.”

Lawrence courted controversy everywhere. Chatterly was banned by U.S. customs in 1929 and has since been banned in Ireland (1932), Poland (1932), Australia (1959), Japan (1959), India (1959), Canada (1960) and, most recently, China in 1987 because it “will corrupt the minds of young people and is also against the Chinese tradition.”

This true crime classic was banned, then reinstated, at Savannah, Georgia’s Windsor Forest High School in 2000 after a parent “complained about sex, violence, and profanity.”

Lawrence endured a great deal of persecution in his lifetime for his work, which was widely considered pornographic. Thirty years after his death, in 1961, a group in Oklahoma City calling itself Mothers Unite for Decency “hired a trailer, dubbed it ‘smutmobile,’ and displayed books deemed objectionable,” including Sons and Lovers.

  • Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs (Audio)

If anyone belongs on a list of obscene authors, it’s Burroughs, which is only one reason of the many reasons he deserves to be read. In 1965, the Boston Superior Court banned Burroughs’ novel. The State Supreme Court reversed that decision the following year. Listen to Burroughs read the novel here.

Poor Lawrence could not catch a break. In one of many such acts against his work, the sensitive writer’s fifth novel was declared obscene in 1922 by the rather unimaginatively named New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.

American literature’s foremost master of melodrama, Dreiser’s novel was banned in Boston in 1927 and burned by the Nazi bonfires because it “deals with low love affairs.”

You can learn much more about the many books that have been banned, suppressed, or censored at the University of Pennsylvania’s “Banned Books Online” page, and learn more about the many events and resources available for Banned Books Week at the American Library Association’s website.

                   

Field of Dreams book banning scene:

                  

Related content:

“Books were safer than people anyway.” ~ Neil Gaiman, from The Ocean at the End of the Lane


“I do believe that in order to be a writer—to grow and learn and create art—one must read. Read widely. Read whatever makes your heart sing. Learn to be a watchful reader. And in the moments when you need reading for the pure pleasure of it, seek out pleasure the way I seek out doughnuts when I’m having a bad day. (Which is to say, with unwavering determination.)” ~ Dana Staves, from To Write, You Must Read

Wednesday afternoon. Rainy, humid, 70 degrees.

I’m not sure if I’m getting my fall cold, or if I’m on the cusp of one of those weak spells during which I am too taxed to walk to the kitchen, but something is worrying me on the fringes, and I just can’t pinpoint it. Just overall achiness, migraine aside, and a scratchy throat.

After spending a bit here and on tumblr, I’ll probably retreat to the safety of my bed and read a book. At least the dogs will be happy.

Last evening I got a delivery from Amazon, and for the first time, the packaging was crap: I had ordered some pill treat pockets for the dogs, and that package was open, and the roll of packing paper that I had ordered and which they had thrown in the box with everything else, was greasy. My vitamins were open, and overall, it was a mess. Amazon is usually great at overpackaging—sending one tiny thing in a big padded envelope, so I was really surprised at this mess.

I spent an inordinate amount of time on hold for a representative who was fixing the problem, but it was fixed without issue. Say what you will about Amazon being this behemoth that railroads smaller companies, but their customer service is excellent. Anyway, I got the packing paper so that I can start to take things off the walls and box them away as Brett has promised to help me sand and paint, and there are far too many prints and pictures in the way.

“There will always be non-readers, bad readers, lazy readers—there always were. Reading is a majority skill but a minority art. Yet nothing can replace the exact, complicated, subtle communion between absent author and entranced, present reader . . . When you read a great book, you don’t escape from life, you plunge deeper into it.” ~ Julian Barnes, from “Julian Barnes: my life as a bibliophile” (The Guardian, 29 June 2012)

So much to do before we can even consider putting this house on the market. I try not to dwell on how badly our lives were scarred in so many areas when we were living on just my disability and Corey’s sometime unemployment during those long, hard three years. But it’s hard not to be bitter. We had to let so many things go by the wayside, and now we’re paying the price.

Ah, life. Always such a challenge.

Anyway, here’s a continuation on this week’s theme:

From the Banned Books Week site:

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982 according to the American Library Association. There were 307 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2013, and many more go unreported. The 10 most challenged titles of 2013 were:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
    Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
    Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
    Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

For more information on Banned Books Week, click here.

The sponsors of Banned Books Week would like to give special thanks the Association of American Publishers, DKT Liberty Project, Penguin Random House, and Perseus Books Group for their additional support in 2014.

                   

Music by The Glitch Mob, “Between Two Points” (featuring Swan)

If it’s Friday, it must mean leftovers . . .

This week’s headline:

“Five years down the road, Harry might have become a fornicating, drug-addicted Evolutionist!” ~ Grace Anne fanfiction of Harry Potter

Friday afternoon. Sunny and lovely, 77 degrees.

I had an absolutely dreadful night, and at some point I had a horrible dream about a friend from whom I have been estranged for many years, but I dreamt that his two-year-old daughter had died in a horrible accident, and no one had told me . . . and then I was awakened this morning by some very loud yard machine that sounded as if it needed a new muffler. Egads.

I tend to have an allergic reaction to one of my pain medications: I start to itch all over, even into my scalp, so I try to avoid this particular medication unless I absolutely have to have it. Benadryl helps, sometimes. I bought some of that ointment that I had seen advertised—Tricalm, but I don’t see that it helps any better than plain old hydrocortisone cream. That’s seven bucks wasted. Anyway, I awoke several times during the night and morning because of the uncontrollable itching, do once the noise started, I just gave up and got out of bed.

I consoled myself for the lack of sleep by working my way through a small book: Drowned, by Swedish author Therese Bohman. I’ve been wanting to read more Swedish authors ever since I finished Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy. The story was good, even though the writing was a bit uneven, but I really did not like the ending.

Oh well.

“The couple’s problems might be sexy and Aquarian, but the solution was the same as it ever was: Allie had to ‘hold her tongue’ and ‘mend her ways’ to avoid ‘bossing and manipulating’ Kip.” ~ From a December 1970 “Can This Marriage be Saved?” column

I seem to be on quite a tangent lately, which is, unfortunately, compelled by too many recent news stories concerning domestic abuse, college rapes, and other vile things.

The warped world of 1950s marriage counseling:

Ladies Home Journal Illustration by Coby Whitmore 1959

Ladies Home Journal Illustration by Coby Whitmore (1959)

Do you remember the “Can This Marriage be Saved?” column in Ladies Home Journal? Well a recent article shed light on a patently one-sided vein to the early columns in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. For example, in the case of Sue and her physically abusive husband Joe

But it was Sue who had the most work to do. She showed a lack of insight – she didn’t understand her husband. By refusing to have sex with him after he hit her, ‘she… touched off another almost inevitable explosion. Many husbands endeavour to make up for their misdeeds by such ardour, a fact of life that wise and loving wives accept.’

W-ORD Channel 7 News With John Oliver & Cookie Monster

Ah yes. The Scholastic Book Fair—nothing better. I used to send Alexis in with a blank check and a maximum budget. The librarians loved that. Good times.

Actress Nina Millin’s Beyoncelogues: “Best Thing I Never Had”

Classic Art Meets Magazine Covers:

Barbara Walters- Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 (Whistler's Mother)

Barbara Walters + “Whistler’s Mother”

Kate Upton- The Priestess

Kate Upton + “The Priestess”

From beauty to blegh: Is this not one of the creepiest things you have ever seen?

Say what?

Photo: We'll have more steak in just a momentaneousment.

Brett and I were just discussing the failures of public schools, and then I saw this:

georgetakei:</p><br /><br /> <p>I’m going to need a lot of patience just to not hit my forehead so hard with my palm.<br /><br /><br /> Source: That’s Messed Up - http://po.st/1df5Hk

You put what in my candy?

Photo: The other OTHER white meat.

Definite face palm Tiger face palmmoment . . .

wtfpopo

Your weekly public service informational announcement:

This is so cool: Pendulum wave demonstration

I would love to own a pair of these jeans:

 

“Doesn’t it make you shiver? | There’s a fearlessness I envy | In the simple soft wavering dark.” ~ Alicia Ostriker, from “Ohio Evening”

Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum, Cincinnati by David Ohmer FCC

Johnny Appleseed Statue, Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum, Cincinnati by David Ohmer (FCC)


 

These things float around in my head
Like a boat that cuts its motor
In the middle of a lake,
Where under a full moon and no wind
The singing of the crickets far away
Goes up and up like a curtain of beads.” ~ Alicia Ostriker, from “Ohio Evening”

Monday afternoon. Cloudy and humid, 73 degrees.

Cooler temperatures have me longing for fall—red and orange foliage, mountain trails, the smell of loam and cold spring water, crisp apples straight from the orchard, wildflower honey. Ah me. I don’t know if I’ll make it through a real post today, so I’ll just start musing and see where it takes me, okay?

So Corey heard from the landowner, and it doesn’t look promising. The owner wants to sell outright, no lease to buy, and that’s perfectly understandable; also,  the other family that is very interested in the property told him that they can have the financing by March of next year. So if we want this property, we need to sell one of these houses so that, we hope, we can secure a new mortgage for the property before March 2015.

Did you get all of that?

Tofukuji Temple, Japan by Ari Helminen FCC

Tofukuji Temple, Japan by Ari Helminen FCC
Even though this image has a copyright symbol on it, it was listed on the photographer’s site as being creative commons

In essence, unless we sell something, we’re not going to get my dream property. And the bummer is that we just cannot put our house on the market without doing some work on it. I refuse to take a loss on this house, which might seem stubborn, but it would seem too much like a failure.

Here’s what we need to do to put it on the market:

  • Rip up the old carpet and make the floors look presentable
  • Install a new back door
  • Replace all of the windows
  • Gut the kitchen and install new cabinetry and tile
  • Paint everything
  • Replace a couple of interior doors
  • Have central ac installed
  • Replace three ceiling fans and install new lighting in the kitchen
  • Finish the bathroom

“And you are left in the end with all that pain cannot take from you.” ~ Carole Maso, from Beauty is Convulsive: The Passion of Frida Kahlo

It actually isn’t a whole lot, and we can do everything except for the AC, and if we do the work, I think that we can get everything done for between 20 and 30K.

I mean, the boys and I can work on the painting while Corey is out. If we’re not staying here, then we don’t need to install the expensive door that I had picked out, and we can save on the kitchen cabinetry as well. Doing a kitchen is not nearly as hard as doing a bathroom; I know this because I’ve done the kitchen in this house before (my ex and I). Installing cabinetry takes a level and two people to handle the cabinets.

Oregan Trail in Autumn by Ian Sane FCC

Oregon Trail in Autumn by Ian Sane (FCC)

Corey has said that he never wants to take on another renovation project himself, having been almost defeated by the bathroom gut and reno; he says that he would rather hire someone to do it, but I think if it means the difference between getting and not getting this property while we wait for funds to do the work, he may see it my way. At least I’m hoping he will. This is one of those situations in which it would be nice if his brothers lived closer so that they could chip in a day or two of help, especially his brother Chad, who is incredibly handy and seems to just know how to do anything.

Anyway, if we start on this work next month, I honestly think that we could be finished by December, and then we could put the house on the market.

Am I not being realistic? Maybe. But this means too much to me to just sit back and accept that we cannot do it.

“A thousand dreams within me softly burn.
From time to time my heart is like some oak
whose blood runs golden where a branch is torn.” ~ Arthur Rimbaud, from “Evening Prayer,” trans. Wyatt Mason

As far as putting the house on the market, I have no idea what the market is like in this area at the moment. I haven’t been in touch with any of my realty contacts in years, so I don’t know if the market is a buyer’s or a seller’s or no one’s. I know that the market has rebounded since the crash of 2007, and I know that it isn’t inflated like it was in 2004-05. Other than that, I have no idea if we can even sell this stupid house.

GE Eastman House, NY by Lisa Cook fcc

GE Eastman House, NY by Lisa Cook (FCC)

I really don’t want to think about it any more at the moment. Let’s see, in other news . . .

I’ve been eating everything in sight for the past few days. No idea where that’s coming from unless it’s stress. It’s stress . . . it’s always stress . . . I throw up . . . it’s stress . . . I eat too much . . . it’s stress . . . I can’t sleep . . . it’s stress . . . I sleep too much . . . it’s stress.

Sheesh. Whatever.

Later this afternoon I’m picking up Olivia, and she’ll stay with me until tomorrow. At least I have that to look forward to. A few hours with le bébé, and almost always it puts me right as rain, even though it leaves me exhausted . . . it’s stress . . .

More later. Peace.

Music by Luke Sital, “Nearly Morning”

                   

So Much of the World

So much of the world exists
without us

the mountain in its own steepness

the deer sliding
into the trees becoming
a darkness
in the woods’ darkness.

So much of an open field
lies somewhere between the grass
and the dragonfly’s drive and thrum

the seed and seedling,
the earth within.

But so much of it lies in someone
standing alone at the edge of a field
with a life apart

feeling for a moment
the plover’s cry
on the tongue

the curve and plumb
of the apple bough
in limb and bone.

So much of it between
one thing and another,

days of invitation,
then of release and return.

~ Gregory Djanikian

“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.” ~ Annie Dillard, from The Living

book chart the atlantic

“Unsurprisingly, several children’s books appear in the top 20 on the list; as Adamic and Patel point out, we tend to read these books at a very impressionable age. Favorite books from those early years are likely to lodge themselves deeply in our memories.” ~ Claire Fallon, from “‘Harry Potter’ Tops Facebook’s ’10 Books That Stayed With You’ Meme And No One Is Surprised” (Huffington Post)

Thursday afternoon. Sunny with climbing temperatures, 87 degrees.

My goal is to clean today . . . but first . . . not.

Ah, to meme or not to meme . . .

The above graphic (click for larger) is taken from an article in The Atlantic based on a recent meme making the rounds on Facebook in which people have been asked to “List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way . . . Don’t take more than a few minutes, and don’t think too hard. They do not have to be the ‘right’ books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way.”

Another article (have forgotten writer, sorry), glibly stated that the addition of Harry Potter to so many lists proves that adults don’t really read books. Um, what? I read all of the Harry Potter books as a bona fide adult. At first, I had wanted to see what all of the commotion was about, the naysayers saying that it was demonic, and the supporters saying that it was a wonderful series. Of course, I agreed with the latter. Reading the series with my kids became a family rite of passage that I wouldn’t trade for anything, and truthfully, I miss the anticipation of the next release date, getting in the car with Brett early on a Saturday morning, hitting Krispy Kreme for hot donuts, and then making our way to the almost pristine cube of books placed immediately in the entrance. Good, good times.

“Indeed, if there is a backlash, I imagine it will be fuelled by accusations of elitism. Weirdly, reading is seen as a middle-class practice . . . This is one meme that has nothing to do with showing off. It’s a place to be honest about what brings you personal delight” ~ Daisy Buchanan, from “Facebook’s ‘Share 10 books’ meme shows that social media doesn’t have to be vicious or bullying” (The Telegraph)

I’ve been reading snarky comments from different people about how people are padding their lists, how most people haven’t read the things they claim to have read. Well . . . maybe. Who knows, but more importantly, who cares?

My point is (and yes, I have one) this: Does it really matter which books have stayed with people? Does it matter if they’ve padded their lists? Does it matter if childrens’ books and YA books appear frequently on peoples’ lists? No. These lists are proof of several key things:

  1. People read. People of all ages read all kinds of things. How can that be perceived in any negative light?
  2. Even if they haven’t read what’s on the list, they are thinking about things they want to read or things they think they should read. There’s nothing wrong with that.

  1. The fact that childrens’ book show up on these lists is wonderful. Study after study show that children who are introduced to reading from very young ages will continue to read on their own. A groundbreaking study found that “having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit” (from The National Literacy Trust).
  2. The people who participated in this meme are proud of their reading, and they should be. So who cares what they read? Bear in mind that unfortunately, access to books, or the lack thereof, directly ties to a person’s success. According to The National Commission on Reading, “The single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school.”

I could go on and on as I am wont to do, but you get the point. All of those naysayers out there who are making fun of the lists need to shut it. Instead of criticizing, donate some books to a school, or donate some money to First Book, a wonderful organization that helps to connect books with children who don’t have any.

And my final point is this: In this society that places people on pedestals simply for being famous or for having a pretty face or for dunking a basketball or whatever, this meme is a refreshing change. Instead of reading about bullying on Facebook, or hearing about a group of teens who posted directions on how to kill someone (yes, this is true), we are being treated to something real in people’s lives, something that matters, something that adds to the world in which we live: Reading.

“But passionate readers believe books are for all people. Many of us have grown up feeling obscure and alone. Books were our friends when we had no human ones . . . the best literature educates by stealth. Books are there to make us more empathetic and kinder—and in times of emotional turmoil, they can comfort.” ~ Daisy Buchanan, from “Facebook’s ‘Share 10 books’ meme shows that social media doesn’t have to be vicious or bullying” (The Telegraph)

Listen, books saved me—not just once but time and again. Being an only child is lonely. I found friends among the pages. And when I hit my teens and began to suffer from clinical depression, books helped me to understand what was wrong, and they helped to comfort me. And when I lost my beautiful baby girl, books (not self-help books) helped me to escape from the pain.

I can go several weeks without reading a book, and then I can read six books in four days. It doesn’t matter. My to read stack has tripled in size this year, and I know that is mostly as a result of Corey’s new schedule.

Hey, I don’t need to go to bars or hang out with people who aren’t really my friends. I have my one true love, my kids, my dogs, and my books. It may not work for some people, but it works for me.

So even though I don’t do Facebook, I do do bookish memes, so here’s mine, off the top of my head, without any second thoughts, and I know that my list is longer than proposed, and I know that I have two lists, but whatever. So in no particular order, here are the books that have stayed with me, and by that I mean the books I have read over and over, the books from which I can quote, even the books that just thinking about make me pause and smile:

  • The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje
  • The Harry Potter Series, by JK Rowling (I’m cheating in counting these as one, so sue me)
  • Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien (same here)
  • The Little Prince, byAntoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
  • Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
  • Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt
  • Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden
  • Rich in Love, by Josephine Humphries
  • The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Things they Carried, by Tim O’Brien
  • The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
  • Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
  • Sherlock Holmes (all the collected works), by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Fault in our Stars, by John Green
  • The Alchemist, by Paul Coehlo
  • Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
  • Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom
  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Richard III/Henry V, by William Shakespeare
  • Hunt is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers
  • The Shining, by Stephen King
  • The Weight of Water, by Anita Shreve
  • Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris
  • A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf
  • Shogun, by James Clavell
  • The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak
  • Children of Men, P. D. James

” . . . reading novels as a child — implying literary engagement with life’s social, cultural and psychological complexities — can have a positive impact on personality development and social skills. A study published last year in Science found that reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or nonfiction, results in keener social perception and increased empathy” ~ Bret Stetka, from “Why Everyone Should Read Harry Potter” (Scientific American)

Here are my runners up. I will admit that I cheated for this list; I went to my Goodreads list of books and did a quick scan and was surprised by the titles I had forgotten. So again, in no particular order:

  • Reflections in a Golden Eye, by Carson McCullers
  • Cover her Face, by P. D. James
  • Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer
  • The Bone Collector, by Jeffrey Deaver
  • Dr. Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe
  • Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton
  • Dune, by Frank Herbert

  • The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
  • Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey
  • The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster
  • 1984, by George Orwell
  • Song of Ice and Fire, by George R. R. Martin
  • Murder Must Advertise (Lord Peter Wimsey), by Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Mystic River, by Dennis LeHane
  • A Child Called It, by Dave Peltzer
  • Darkness Visible, by William Styron
  • The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
  • Heart of Darkness, by James Conrad
  • Dubliners, by James Joyce
  • The Hours, by Michael Cunningham
  • The Velvet Room, ZK Snyder (has stayed with me since 7th grade)
  • The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway
  • In the Woods, Tana French
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins, Scott O’Dell (has stayed with me since 6th grade)
  • Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger (wish I could find my copy of this)

And yes, I have read all of these, even James Joyce.

More later. Peace.

Music by Zedd, featuring Foxes, “Clarity”

                   

The Pleasures of Reading

On his deathbed my father is reading
The memoirs of Casanova.
I’m watching the night fall,
A few windows being lit across the street.
In one of them a young woman is reading
Close to the glass.
She hasn’t looked up in a long while,
Even with the darkness coming.

While there’s still a bit of light,
I want her to lift her head,
So I can see her face
Which I have already imagined,
But her book must be full of suspense.
And besides, it’s so quiet,
Every time she turns a page,
I can hear my father turn one too,
As if they are reading the same book.

~ Charles Simic

“How do we forgive ourselves for all of the things we did not become?” ~ David ‘Doc’ Luben, from “14 Lines from Love Letters or Suicide Notes”

/Portals/14/EasyDNNRotator/61184/2vmm2jv5.jpg

September 8-14 is Suicide Prevention Week

“You were said to have died of suffering. […] You died because you searched for happiness at the risk of finding the void.” ~ Édouard Levé, from Suicide

  stigma_2

Monday afternoon. Stormy and cool, 74 degrees.

I’ve been holding on to the center of this post in anticipation of this week. You see, this post began as a reflection on Robin Williams, but after doing some pondering, I decided that the subject matter was so much bigger than one person. To that end, I have included lots of links that I hope may be useful to anyone just wishing to learn more, anyone looking to help a friend or family member, or anyone feeling a bit lost.

If the information I have gathered here helps even one person, then the entire reason for this blog and some of what I try to do here will have been validated.

This week is Suicide Prevention Week, and September is Suicide Prevention Month for the military. You might be surprised at the statistics related to suicide. Follow this link for a detailed list of suicide facts. Go here to learn more about military suicides, or call the Veterans’ Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, option 1.

Suicide Oncoming2

If you think someone you know may be suicidal, here are some key warning signs from AAS (American Association of Suicidology):

How do you remember the Warning Signs of Suicide?
Here’s an easy-to-remember mnemonic:

IS PATH WARM?

 I  Ideation
Substance Abuse

Purposelessness
Anxiety
Trapped
Hopelessness

Withdrawal
Anger
Recklessness
Mood Changes

A person in acute risk for suicidal behavior most often will show:

Warning Signs of Acute Risk:
Threatening to hurt or kill him or herself, or talking of wanting to hurt or kill him/herself; and or,
Looking for ways to kill him/herself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means; and/or,
Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary.

These might be remembered as expressed or communicated ideation.  If observed, seek help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional or calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a referral.

Additional Warning Signs:

  • Increased substance (alcohol or drug) use
  • No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all of the time
  • Feeling trapped – like there’s no way out
  • Hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and society
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Dramatic mood changes

If you are looking for a crisis center near you, click on this link.

Suicide StickFigures5

Here are a few key facts to ponder:

  • According to the New York Times, suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade, prompting concern that a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of economic worry and easy access to prescription painkillers may be particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted harm.
  • The Center for Disease Control reports that U.S. suicide deaths now outnumber deaths by automobile accident, the rate has jumped almost 20 percent in the last decade The suicide rate among Americans 45 to 64 has jumped more than 30 percent in the last decade.
  • One person dies by suicide every 40 seconds around the world, the World Health Organization says in a new report that finds few countries have specific policies focused on preventing suicide.
  • According to SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices in Education), there are twice as many deaths due to suicide than HIV/AIDS.
  • There are four male suicides for every female suicide, but there are three female suicide attempts for each male attempt. (AAS)
  • Each year, 1 in 65,000 children ages 10 to 14 die by suicide.(SAVE)
  • Last year, 185 active-duty Army soldiers died by suicide, surpassing the 176 soldiers killed in battle in Afghanistan that year. The Army’s annual death toll from suicide has more than tripled since 2001, when 52 active-duty soldiers took their own lives. (Huffington Post)
fenway

“And the whole landscape seems littered
with fallen dreams.” ~ Richard Jackson, from “Possibility”

A few weeks ago, I encountered an emotional body slam the likes of which I had not experienced in quite a while when I heard of Robin Williams’s suicide, and while it may seem a bit strange that I was so affected by the suicide of someone I had never met, you have to understand that I grew up with Robin Williams, first as the alien Mork, and then later with all of his various movie incarnations and one-man shows.

To me, the comic/actor’s frenetic energy belied his incredible wit and intellect. Williams could improvise instantly on any given topic thrown at him by the audience. In the Disney movie Aladdin, Williams first improvised his lines, and then his character was animated. His performance in Bird Cage with Nathan Lane makes it one of the few comedies that I will rewatch. Williams was a throwback to the very physical comedians of the 40’s and 50’s.

Robin Williams in Las Vegas

Robin Williams in Las Vegas (Reuters)

Of course, like any actor, Williams had his hits and his misses, but even in his misses there were moments of pure genius.  It’s as if no one project could contain him, his persona always bigger than the vehicle. But I loved his turns in dramas as much as I loved his comedies. It was his face, his ability to move his face in improbable ways, and his deeply sad blue eyes. Like many people, if I had not already read of his depressive episodes, I never would have associated the man with suicide.

Yet as we now know, on August 14, the funny man chose a final exit, one from which he would never return. And that isn’t funny at all.

Of course there was the morbid reporting, the details of the death, the rampant speculation, including some bizarre claim about the Illuminati. Nothing can hold the vultures at bay. Yet within all of this were a few nuggets worth notice: Williams was talking about future projects. His family was unaware of his suicidal thoughts.

And what this means is that Williams, in death, was much the same as any other person considering suicide: how much is hidden from everyone, how much is faked, how little is actually shared—until it’s too late. Although his unrestrained demeanor was on display for the public, we can never know of the great sadness he kept private.

And that is the very nature of suicide: its two opposing faces.

“Silence. Everything here is now clothed
in strict grief; and this passion,
like bad kerosene, barely burns.” ~ Cesar Vallejo, from “Plaster”

As I’ve said, I loved so many of the man’s projects, but I stayed away from his recent television show simply because the previews seemed a bit forced. I really don’t know what I mean when I say that, only that it just didn’t appeal to me. I loved him as the killer in Insomnia, and the creepy stalker in One Hour Photo, and as contrived as it was, his turn in Jack broke my heart. Unlike many, I loved the fantasy of What Dreams May Come, and he remains my favorite Peter Pan from Hook.

But I won’t hesitate to say that my favorite Robin Williams’ movie was Dead Poets’ Society

Years ago when I was teaching an American literature class, I used the movie Dead Poets’ Society to discuss place as it influences characters. I invited the students to view the movie in a different way, paying attention to the time period in which it was set, the cloistered effect of an all-boys’ elite boarding school, and the different roles of the three main characters (Keating, Neil, and Todd) and what made them outsiders.

As Keating in Dead Poets’ Society

I always thought that casting Robin Williams in this period drama was genius. The fact that he wasn’t completely restrained only added to his characterization as the prodigal student returned in the role of faculty member; his interjections of John Wayne impersonations only cemented the fact that Keating would never really belong at Welton Academy, no matter how much he tried.

And while some of my colleagues criticized the movie for being too simplistic and predictable, I found myself loving it for so many reasons—watching the moment Todd sounds his barbaric yawp, seeing the young Josh Charles as the lovestruck teen. And who can forget the final scene when the boys stand on their desks in an homage to their captain . . .

To this day I cannot watch DPS without weeping at the ending, at the loss of the artistic tortured Neil, at the forever changed idealistic Todd, and at the tempering of the inspirational Mr. Keating for the sake of the status quo. Williams’s Keating was the kind of teacher few of us ever encounter in real life, but the one whose classroom we all wish we had sat in, even if for only an hour or two.

But I would be remiss if I did not address the elephant in the room:  the irony of the plot is not lost on me now as I write this. The character Neil commits suicide rather than be forced into a role he cannot play, and everyone is left to pick up the pieces and go on. It is the coda that we do not see: Mr. Keating walking out the door knowing that a beautiful light has been extinguished forever.

R. I. P. Mr. Williams. We are all poorer for your passing.

If you’d like to find out how you can get in involved in the fight against suicide, please contact AAS’ Central Office at 202-237-2280, email us at info@suicidology.org, or reach out to us via Facebook or Twitter. If interested specifically in making a donation to further suicide prevention, or in the U OK? t-shirt campaign, click here.

Music by Richard Walters, “Infinity Street”


                   

Post Hoc

It happened because he looked a gift horse in the mouth.
It happened because he couldn’t get that monkey off his back.
It happened because she didn’t chew 22 times before swallowing.
What was she thinking, letting him walk home alone from the bus stop?
What was he thinking, standing up in the boat like that?
Once she signed those papers the die was cast.
She should have waited an hour before going in; everyone knows
salami and seawater don’t mix.
He should have checked his parachute a seventh time;
you can never be too careful.
Why didn’t she declare her true feelings?
Why didn’t she play hard to get? She could be out at some
nice restaurant right now instead of in church, praying
for the strength to let him go.
It all started with that tattoo.
It all started with her decision to order the chicken salad.
Why was he so picky?
Why wasn’t she more discriminating?
He should have read the writing on the wall; listened
to the still small voice, had a lick of sense. But how could he when he
was blinded by passion? Deaf to warnings? Really dumb?
Why, why, in God’s name, did he run with scissors?
If only they’d asked Jesus for help.
If only they’d asked their friends for help.
If only they’d ignored the advice of others and held fast
to their own convictions, they might all be here, now,
with us, instead of six feet under; instead of trying to adopt
that foreign baby, instead of warming that barstool
at the Road Not Taken Eatery and Lounge, wondering how it might all
have been different, if only they had done
the right thing.

~ Jennifer Maier

 

 

“Choose your words meticulously and then let them rumble up from some deep furnace of conviction.” ~ Ron Suskind, A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League

The richer and more copious one’s vocabulary and the greater one’s awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one’s thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grow together. If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing.” ~ Henry Hazlitt, from Thinking as a Science

“He also taught us hundred-dollar words as playthings: Why say “a little” when you could say “a paucity”? Why say “a lot” when “a plethora” was so much more fun? One of our summer games involved him in instructing me and my brother, Hank, to “mosey”, “sidle,” “amble,” “strut,” and “skulk” across the room—forcing us to put physical sensations to those words we only read. How did it actually feel to sidle? Do you do it sideways?” ~ Robert Lane Greene, from You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity

 


 

The Word

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between “green thread”
and “broccoli,” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”

Resting on the page, the word
is beautiful. It touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent from someplace distant
as this morning—to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing

that also needs accomplishing.
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue,

but today you get a telegram
from the heart in exile,
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

—to any one among them
who can find the time
to sit out in the sun and listen.

~ Tony Hoagland

                   

Words

The world does not need words. It articulates itself
in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path
are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.
The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being.
The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.

And one word transforms it into something less or other—
illicit, chaste, perfunctory, conjugal, covert.
Even calling it a kiss betrays the fluster of hands
glancing the skin or gripping a shoulder, the slow
arching of neck or knee, the silent touching of tongues.

Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot
name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica.
To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper—
metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa
carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.

The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds,
painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving
each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it.
The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always—
greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.

~ Dana Gioia

                    

Music by Seether, “Words as Weapons”