“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

“No manipulation is possible in a work of art, but every miracle is. Those artists who dabble in eternity, or who aim never to manipulate but only to lay out hard truths, grow accustomed to miracles. Their sureness is hard won” ~ Annie Dillard, from “Write Till You Drop”

buonarroti-michelangelo-creation-of-adam-1

                   

From Annie Dillard’s “Write Till You Drop”:

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: ”Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time.”

“Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.” ~ Annie Dillard, from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Blue Whale Fluke
by mikebaird (FCC)

                   

“Do you know the legend about cicadas? They say they are the souls of poets who cannot keep quiet because, when they were alive, they never wrote the poems they wanted to.” ~ John Berger

Sunday afternoon. Cloudy and humid, lower 80’s.

Man, do I love the Berger quote above. I have always loved the sound of cicadas, found it beautiful, but I know that some people find it annoying. Berger’s explanation makes so much sense to me. Of course, you would have to be familiar with my tendency towards anthropomorphism to truly understand this.

Blue Damselfly
by aussiagall (FCC)

Anyway . . .

So it’s a blue Monday—I’ve got my blues playlist going on in the background, and of course, the blue images of different things that I found in various places. I’m just feeling, well, blue.

Not really certain as to any particular cause, more of an overall blue—the day, the atmosphere, my mood, my disposition. I have a sink full of dirty dishes that were not there when I went to bed last night, and laundry that keeps appearing after I’ve done an all-call for dirty clothes. I wonder if anyone in this house ever wonders from where clean clothes and clean dishes come. Does it ever occur to them that the cleaning fairy actually does not exist?

Don’t mind me. I’m tired, and I overdid it this weekend by taking everything out of the kitchen fridge and scrubbing. I wanted to do the old fridge in the garage, but ran out of steam. I managed to cure the leaking washer, but there is still water leaking from the old fridge. One leak at a time, I suppose.

“To hold, you must first open your hand. Let go.” ~ Tao Te Ching

Actually, a better adjective for my mood might be testy. Everything and everyone should be warned. Just not in the mood for anyone’s whims today.

Blue Window
(Source imgfave)

Actually, a whole string of adjectives might be more appropriate: blue, testy, tested, tired, tried, sore, unsure, underappreciated and overtaxed. I’m weary to the bone and wary of what’s to come. My confidence is gone, and my days seem to be running short. And the more that I write here, the less I am certain that I should continue. Not just now, not just today, but tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Hell. I don’t even know what I’m saying. I think that I’ll take a break and go clean something. I’ve remembered why I used to clean so much: it passes the time mindlessly, and when you’re finished, you can look at something and say, “Now that’s a polished dining room table,” not that anyone should really be saying that because it’s the height of mundane and who cares anyway? I mean really. Are you going to get an award because your dining room table now has a great reflective surface? But when you are feeling the way I’ve been feeling lately, these seemingly small victories are just about all that’s available for the taking, so I’ll take them for now.

Oh, and I broke my only pair of glasses in half last night. This sucks.

“When I look at my life and its secret colors, I feel like bursting into tears. Like that sky. It’s rain and sun both, noon and midnight . . . I think of the lips I’ve kissed, and of the wretched child I was, and of the madness of life and the ambition that sometimes carries me away. I’m all those things at once. I’m sure there are times when you wouldn’t even recognize me. Extreme in misery, excessive in happiness—I can’t say it.” ~ Albert Camus, from A Happy Death

So while I was in the shower just now, I tried to think about what has brought about this latest downturn, and I realize that it’s quite a combination of things:

“Seizure” Art Installation, London
Roger Hiorns*

First, Corey is not doing well on this hitch. He is feeling quite down because so much has gone on for his family in Ohio in the last months or so, and he has been unable to be there for any of them. That, and he’s feeling lonely. I send him e-mails in which I try to brighten his spirits, let him know how much everyone loves and misses him, but I feel that it’s a very small band-aid, and with him being physically so far away, I cannot help but worry.

Also, last night I had a very vivid Caitlin dream. I haven’t had one of those in quite a while, but this one was a hospital/doctor/Caitlin dream, and those are the absolute worst. I was fighting with the doctor who was admitting her because he just kind of glanced over what was wrong with her, and I didn’t understand what he was saying. I was telling him not to be condescending, that I needed facts, not kind words. Then, and this was the really bad part, Caitlin was another daughter of mine who was sick, but I kept calling her Caitlin because I couldn’t remember my daughter’s name, so I was terrified that the people at the hospital would think that I was a horrible mother and take her away.

Add to that my screwy sleep schedule, the ongoing melodrama with Social Security, my upcoming home visit with the disability people, the fact that another huge pane of glass fell out of the sliding door in the middle of the night, and well, you have a recipe for major doldrums.

“What is it about us human beings that we can’t let go of lost things?” ~ Leslie Marmon Silko, from The Turquoise Ledge

In addition to the Caitlin dream, I followed it with a dream in which someone was chastising me for still grieving. I was trying to explain why my grief never ended, but I couldn’t find the words, and I have to wonder if I will ever, ever, ever get over my keen sense of loss of not only my daughter, but also my inability to have another daughter.

Hanging Rock, Baltzer Lookout, Blackheath, NSW
by JIGGS IMAGES (FCC)

For those of you who may be tired of this song, feel free to fast forward, not that I can promise that it gets any better in the next section . . .

I can say that this section and the previous one share one good thing: Camus and Silko, two writers I adore.

Anyway, back to trying to decipher my mood: When I looked in the bathroom mirror this morning when I first awoke, I saw a face that looked unfamiliar. Without the daily dose of beauty cream and under eye dark circle cream, my face bare, I looked, well, old. Older than I have ever looked. Apart from not having my miracle cream, I also do not have my daily dose of Corey telling me that I’m beautiful (which I never believe, but which helps, nonetheless). And for a nanosecond, I feel as if I’ve become my mother—the woman who has tried to stave off time with multiple operations, who has treated her hair so much that its texture resembles fine straw (ooh, I also dreamed that I was losing my hair), the woman who never wanted to be called grandma.

Oh. My. God. I have become my mother.

“We are silhouettes, hollow phantoms moving mistily without a background.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from The Waves

I never, ever wanted to face aging in the way that my mother faced it: full retreat. I wanted to be one of those strong, secure women who never lied about her age, who never went under the knife, who displayed her crow’s feet like a badge of honor. That’s what I always told myself I would do, who I said I would always be.

Blue Bottle Tree Sculpture, Seattle WA
by ingridtaylar (FCC)

When did I become this huge bundle of insecurity? Was it when I married a younger man and began to see each year as another 365 days that separated us? I think so, or maybe not. I mean, I’ve always been insecure, but I was able to hide it behind a demeanor full of bravado.

You must understand, the age thing has never bothered Corey. And as regards my heart, it has never bothered me. And actually, it’s not the physical in so much as it is the counting of the days, which makes no sense. I, who have always felt so much older than my number, am at a loss to explain this discrepancy. I’ll share this with you, though, as I suddenly remembered it a few days ago, and now that I think of it, this memory barreling out of nowhere is probably what precipitated everything: When I told my mother that Corey and I were going to get married, she said this: “Well you can probably get away with it now because you don’t look your age, but that’s not going to last forever.”

Once again, thanks mom. Can you imagine being told such a thing by a parent? But that’s how it has always been between us, a kind of generous love tempered with a bit of spite. It’s not a pleasant thing to admit.

I guess that break in which I did more laundry, cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom helped because I’ve written the last three sections in less time than it took to write the first two.

More later. Peace.

Music by Fiona Apple, “Sullen Girl” (“my blue oblivion”—perfect)

*A note about one of the pictures: SEIZURE is by British artist Roger Hiorns who pumped 75,000 litres of copper sulphate solution into a London council flat to create “a strangely beautiful and somewhat menacing crystalline growth on the walls, floor, ceiling and bath of this abandoned dwelling.” To see more images of this installation, click on the link. Beautiful.

                   

The Hay Devil, Section V

And now
this evening’s sky:
the seep of cloud through cloud so black
it looks like wreaths of ink
unfurled in water
dock-lights
spotting the further shore:
quicksilver
gold
and crimson
one white boat
dissolving in the firth.
It’s gone before I’ve seen it: details
changing
light
imagining a world:
the play of wind
and traffic
voices
footsteps on the streets
intruding on my thoughts like some
perpetual film of space
or coming home
or counting out a lifetime’s worth of sails
and other people’s gardens smudged with rain
or wisps of drifted hay
that catch the light
and vanish
as I never quite arrive
at absence
which is presence somewhere else
in some bright field
some miracle of air.

~ John Burnside