“We can judge our progress by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers, our willingness to embrace what is true rather than what feels good.” ~ Carl Sagan

Got back from Ohio late last night. Trying to catch up with everything. Here, have some Sagan:

Carl Sagan

                   

Music by Poets of the Fall, “Heal My Wounds”

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.” ~ William Styron, from Conversations with William Styron

Literary circles of influence

“Only the very weak-minded refuse to be influenced by literature and poetry.” ~ Cassandra Clare, from Clockwork Angel

Thirty Day Book Challenge

For this meme, I’m only going to talk about fiction, no poetry or drama. So here goes . . .

Day 01: Best book you read last year

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. I was pleasantly surprised by this book, which I began reading as an ARC; however, I dropped the ARC in the pool, so I had to grab a new copy as soon as the book hit the market. Actually, that was probably a couple of years ago. Last year’s favorite was predictably The Fault in our Stars, which was luminous.

Day 02: A book that you’ve read more than 3 times

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. For a while, I read this series once a year. I haven’t done so in the last four or five years, but I plan to bring back this annual pilgrimage to Middle Earth. Coming in at a close second are all of the Harry Potter books, and books 1-6 of the Dune Series.

Day 03: Your favorite series

You would think that it would be #2 above, but it’s not. My favorite series is actually the Harry Potter series. I was a little late in coming to the series as I mistakenly believed that they were children’s books, but once I had read the first, I devoured books one through three and then had to wait for the next one.

Day 04: Favorite book of your favorite series

This one would is hard as I really love books 3 and 5. The Prisoner of Azkaban introduced Sirius Black, one of my favorite characters. The Order of the Pheonix killed Sirius Black. I believe that these two books represent Harry’s headlong rush into maturity as he was buoyed along by circumstances not of his choosing.

Day 05 : A book that makes you happy

Another hard category for me because I rarely read anything with a happy ending, but after giving it some thought, I would have to say Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss. Timeless, the inherent silliness of the wordplay in this book inspires a smile. I once used this particular book in a literature class to illustrate dramatic effect: rising action, falling action, dilemma/conflict, denouement, etc.

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” ~ Joyce Carol Oates

Day 06: A book that makes you sad

Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. The three women in this book all face life-changing decisions, but the way in which Cunningham weaves together the three different streams of consciousness is remarkable. A close second would be Tuesdays with Morrie, but it’s not fiction.

Day 07: Most underrated book

Josephine Humphreys Rich in Love. I loved everything about this book, and it left me thinking for days.

Day 08: Most overrated book

Ulysses, by James Joyce. Oh, I know, I’m supposed to love this book because of the whole English literature thing, and at one point I really did love it, but as time has passed, I have realized that only English majors and professors could really love this book.

Second is Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I just can’t get past the whole cockroach thing. I know that it’s a metaphor about life and alienation and comformity, but still, a bug.

Day 09: A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving

Before I read The Hour I First Believed, I hadn’t touched anything by Wally Lamb. I kept hearing about the book, but didn’t buy it, probably because of the title; it just sounded too uplifting. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth, and equally surprised by just how much this book touched me.

Day 10: Favorite classic book

I am actually very partial to Charles Dickens, especially David Copperfield more than Great Expectations; I still haven’t been able to make myself like Moby Dick. And of course, pretty much anything by Fitzgerald or Woolf is on my top list.

“Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.” ~ Fernando Pessoa, from The Book of Disquiet

Day 11: A book you hated

Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. That’s a few hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

Day 12: A book you used to love but don’t anymore

This would be almost anything by Patricia Cornwell written after book five in her Kay Scarpetta series. Initially, I loved Scarpetta, a tough, intelligent woman, but as the series continued, Cornwell became so formulaic that Scarpetta turned into a whiny shell of her former self.

Day 13: Your favorite writer

This one is impossible. I have a favorite writer for each genre, for example, P. D. James for mystery; J. R. R. Tolkien for fantasy; Frank Herbert for science fiction; Anne Rule for true crime; F. Scott Fitzgerald & Virginia Woolf for classics; J. K. Rowling for young adult; Thomas Harris for thrillers; Ian Rankin for detective stories. Actually, I could probably come up with more, but I think that I’ve completely missed this one.

Day 14: Favorite book of your favorite writer

I love The Great Gatsby. I still believe that it’s wasted on juniors in high school. You need some adult experience and perspective to appreciate all of the nuances of this book.

Day 15: Favorite male character

At the moment, I am completely enamored of Tyrion Lannister (Song of Fire and Ice series). I love everything about him, his wit, his wisdom, his perspective on life and family. Everything.

“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” ~ Carl Sagan

Day 16: Favorite female character

This is so hard, so very very hard, but if I must narrow it to one, I think it would have to be Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander from The Millenium Trilogy. Lisbeth is incredibly smart but terribly flawed. She is seemingly unafraid and simultaneously uncomfortable and ill at ease.

Day 17: Favorite quote from your favorite book

“There are betrayals in war that are childlike compared with our human betrayals during peace. The new lovers enter the habits of the other. Things are smashed, revealed in a new light. This is done with nervous or tender sentences, although the heart is an organ of fire,” from Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient

Day 18: A book that disappointed you

This may sound strange, but I was disappointed in Dr. Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak. I saw the original movie when I was just a girl, but I fell in love with the characters, the story, and especially, the scenery. So years later when I read the book, I just couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed that I didn’t come away with the same feelings that the movie inspired in me.

Day 19: Favorite book turned into a movie

Sorry, but this has to be the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I know that I’ve already mentioned this, but truly, Peter Jackson’s interpretation was brilliant. But a close runner-up would be A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess. The eye scene still haunts me. And third would be The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink. Honorable mention: Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence.

Day 20: Favorite romance book

Oh this would have to be Wuthering Heights. I don’t read romance in the vein of Harlequin romance, but as far as a love story, this one wins. Heathcliffe.

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” ~ C. S. Lewis

Day 21: Favorite book from your childhood

Another tie, this time between A Secret Garden and Island of the Blue Dolphins. Both books featured adventurous female protagonists, and I read and reread each of them many times between the ages of 8 and 14.

Day 22: Favorite book you own

You might as well ask me who my favorite child is, or who my favorite dog is because this one is completely impossible to answer.

Day 23: A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t

I feel that I should read something by David Foster Wallace, like Infinite Jest, yet I can’t help but feel that he’s highly overrated, which is purely a gut feeling and probably unfair. And I’m also shocked to say this, but I haven’t read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

Day 24: A book that you wish more people would’ve read

Carson McCullers’ Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I know that it shows up as required reading in some college courses, but still, the characterizations alone make this simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking.

Day 25: A character who you can relate to the most

I’m basing this on a book that I just read, Chez Moi, by Agnes Desarthe. The protagonist in this book is a woman who is in the middle of trying to figure out her life. She has made mistakes, has suffered losses, but throughout, she survives, and eventually thrives.

“My personal hobbies are reading, listening to music, and silence.” ~ Edith Sitwell

Day 26: A book that changed your opinion about something

Sho-Gun by James Clavell. I first read this book while I was an undergraduate. It wasn’t the length that made me wary, but the things that I had heard. I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted a historical novel. I was so wrong. This book was a sweeping epic of feudal Japan, and I’m heartbroken that I cannot find my original two-volume hardbound set.

Day 27: The most surprising plot twist or ending

I hated what happened at the end of Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. McMurphy is erased as a human being; however, the redemption comes through Chief Bromden, who finally releases himself. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Griffin & Sabine trilogy, by Nick Bantock; everything about these books is surprising.

Day 28: Favorite title

Their Eyes were Watching God. I love everything about this book.

Day 29: A book everyone hated but you liked

I’m actually going to switch this around to a book everyone liked but I hated: Gone with the Wind . . . boring . . . Second would be Catcher in the Rye . . . seriously?

Day 30: Your favorite book of all time

Heart of Darkness Catch22 The Shining The Handmaid’s Tale Kafka on the Shore The World According to Garp Lolita Member of the Wedding The Alchemist Silence of the Lambs The Bone Collector The Naming of the Dead A Game of Thrones The Hunger Games The Golden Notebook A Wrinkle in Time Gorky Park Ethan Frome Remorseful Day The Weight of Water The Godfather Red Dragon The Blind Assassin Snow Falling on Cedars…………………………………..

Music by Jackie Greene, “I Don’t Live in a Dream”


 

Sections in the bookstore

– Books You Haven’t Read
– Books You Needn’t Read
– Books Made for Purposes Other Than Reading
– Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong to the Category of Books Read Before Being Written
– Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered
– Books You Mean to Read But There Are Others You Must Read First
– Books Too Expensive Now and You’ll Wait ‘Til They’re Remaindered
– Books ditto When They Come Out in Paperback
– Books You Can Borrow from Somebody
– Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too
– Books You’ve Been Planning to Read for Ages
– Books You’ve Been Hunting for Years Without Success
– Books Dealing with Something You’re Working on at the Moment
– Books You Want to Own So They’ll Be Handy Just in Case
– Books You Could Put Aside Maybe to Read This Summer
– Books You Need to Go with Other Books on Your Shelves
– Books That Fill You with Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified
– Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time to Re-read
– Books You’ve Always Pretended to Have Read and Now It’s Time to Sit Down and Really Read Them

~ Italo Calvino, from If on a winter’s night a traveler

 

 

“She loved the sea only for the sake of its storms, and the green only when it was scattered among ruins.” ~ Gustave Flaubert, from Madame Bovary

I didn’t notice until today that the system posted this in April. I knew that something funky happened when the power went out, but didn’t realize it had moved it…..

Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida 1909 oil on canvas Promenade by the Sea
“Promenade by the Sea” (1909, oil on canvas)
by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida

                   

“All we are is representation, what we appear to be & are, & are not,
And representation is all we remember,
……….
We go without a trace, I am thinking. We go & there’s no one there,
No one to meet us on the long drive lined with orange trees,
Cypresses, the bleaching fronds of palm trees” ~ Larry Levis, from “Elegy For Whatever Had A Pattern In It”

Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida GIrl with Flowers nd
“Girl with Flowers” (nd, oil)

First, let me apologize for the dearth of original material. It’s just not flowing from my fingertips. Second, thanks if you’re still sticking with me in the hopes that I do something interesting soon.

In that vein, I’ve decided to do this list of questions that I copied and modified from tumblr a few weeks ago in the hopes that it will jump start my juices. So here goes . . .

  • The last five songs you listened to on whichever device:
    • Birdy, “Not About Angels”
    • M83, “I Need You”
    • Elenowen, “No Such Thing as Time”
    • Ed Sheeran, “All of the Stars”
    • Lily Kershaw, “Maybe”
    • Ólafur Arnalds, “Beth’s Theme” (Broadchurch OST)
  • If you could meet anyone on this earth, who would it be? Neil deGrasse Tyson, just because he seems like he’d be fascinating to spend some time with.
  • Turn to page 23 in the book closest to you; what is line 17? “I still wasn’t looking at him, but I felt him tighten to hold back a wince.” (Tana French’s Broken Harbor)
  • What do you think about most? How my life is slipping by so quickly, and I still haven’t done anything purposeful.
  • Ever had a poem or song written about you? Two poems and one song
  • Do you have any strange phobias? Centipedes freak me out; I cannot take crowded elevators (claustrophobia), and I fear that someone will stab me in the eye.

“She had studied the universe all her life, but had overlooked its clearest message: For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” ~ Carl Sagan

  • What’s your religion? I’m a pantheist if I’m anything.
  • What/who are you missing right at this moment? That’s actually a list: talking to Corey, sleeping with my dog Shakes, arguing with my mother, and having friendship on a daily basis.
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida Rose Bush at the Sorolla House 1918 oil on canvas
“Rose Bush at the Sorolla House” (1918, oil on canvas)
  • What is the last book that you read? Reconstructing Amelia, by Kimberly McCreight. I didn’t like the ending. It felt rushed and staid.
  • What was the last lie you told? I really don’t remember because I try very hard not to lie to my loved ones. Strangers are up for grabs.
  • Do you believe in karma? Hmm….I think so. I would like to think that the ills that we do people will come back to us threefold, but I don’t think that it actually happens nearly enough to nasty people, like the guy in the red car who followed me.
  • What does your URL mean? It’s the moniker that I have been using for years, and it’s an ancient Greek word for poet or maker.

“A thick frenzy of blossoms shrouding the riverside,
I stroll, listing dangerously, in full fear of spring.” ~ Tu Fu, from Alone, Looking for Blossoms Along the River

  • What is your greatest weakness; your greatest strength? My greatest weakness is my lack of self-confidence, and my greatest strength is my undying loyalty.
  • Which of the five senses affects you the most? That’s a hard one—a tossup between smell (fresh flowers and herbs) and sound (songs closely associated with certain memories can absolutely slay me in an instant).

    Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida Coast at San Sebastian 1918 oil on canvas
    “Coast at San Sebastian” (1918, oil on canvas)
  • How do you vent your anger? I’m a door slammer, but I don’t resort to it very often. When I was young and immature, I threw things, like teacups, and there was that one vase, all directed at my ex. Now, I mostly write it out of my system.
  • Do you have a collection of anything? Hmmm….booksbooksbooks, nail polish and DVDs
  • Are you happy with the person you’ve become? Not really because I don’t feel that I’ve become anything tangible. I feel unfinished, if that makes any sense.
  • What’s a sound that you hate; a sound that you love? I hate the sound of loud machines, especially jackhammers and leaf blowers, but in the spring, the sound I hate the most is the ice cream truck that plays Christmas carols loud enough to shatter glass. I love listening to thunderstorms and pre-dawn birdsong.

“If what Proust says is true, that happiness is the absence of fever, then I will never know happiness. For I am possessed by a fever for knowledge, experience and creation.” ~ Anaïs Nin

  • Most sensitive spot on your body? Nape of my neck
  • Earth, air, fire, or water? Water and air. I love looking at the sky, and I love hearing the water. I cannot imagine ever living somewhere without some kind of water, and one of my biggest goals is to live somewhere where I can really see the night sky.
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida Esmeradas de la Cala San Vicente
“Esmeradas de la Cala San Vicente” (
  • What’s your biggest “what if”? What if I had gotten my doctorate way back when when I had planned to do so . . . what if I hadn’t had to go out on disability . . . what if I had been able to have another baby . . . I could do this one all day . . .
  • Your five favorite movies, in descending order:
    • Lord of the Rings (I know it’s three, but I count it as one)
    • The English Patient
    • Silence of the Lambs
    • Braveheart (I can ignore Mel Gibson’s horribleness for this one)
    • Gladiator
    • (five runners up: Henry V, Pride and Prejudice (Kiera Knightly/Matthew McFadyen version), Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, The Usual Suspects, and all the Harry Potters)
  • Favorite movie or television genre? I’m not big on comedies; I prefer action or fantasy or sci fi. I’ve also developed a renewed interest in horror movies thanks to my spouse, and I really, really have an obsession (probably unhealthy) with true crime.
  • What’s the worst place you have ever been? Stuck on an overcrowded city bus in Mexico. My claustrophobia kicked in big time.

“I carry deserts in my chest,
the hot sand of silence.” ~ Edmond Jabès, from The Book of Questions: Volume I

  • Do you participate in social media? Although I have this blog and my tumblr, I stay away from Facebook and Twitter. No one needs to know that I’m in line at Target, and I think that Zuckerberg is an ass.

    Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida The Yellow Rosebush of the Sorolla House c1920 oil on canvas
    “The Yellow Rosebush of the Sorolla House” (c1920, oil on canvas)
  • Truth or justice? There is no justice without truth.
  • What’s the last thing you downloaded? Helmer Ossland’s “Torne Träsk”
  • What was the last movie you saw? Did you like it? Divergence, and I liked it a lot more than Noah.
  • What’s the worst injury you’ve ever had? The one I keep doing to myself: wrenching my back
  • Do you have any obsessions right now? Finding the perfect mascara (lame, I know)

“Overflow gently — don’t drown.” ~ Albert Camus, from Notebooks

  • Have you ever had a rumor spread about you? I’m sure that most everyone falls victim to this at one time or another, but I did work with one colleague who took great liberties with the truth, especially when speaking with my boss.

    Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida On San Sebastian Beach circa 1895-1900 oil on canvas
    “On San Sebastian Beach” (c1895-1900, oil on canvas)
  • Do you tend to hold grudges against people who have done you wrong? See above . . . Seriously, though, I’ve mellowed quite a bit over the years, but I will admit that I still hold grudges against three people who caused me great pain, and I honestly don’t know what I would do if I ran into one of them.
  • Do you and your significant other have a special song and/or place? “Amazed” by Lonestar, and anyplace in which we can spend quality time together, like a beach on an island with an umbrella drink.
  • What’s the last thing you purchased? Besides groceries and prescriptions, nail polish.
  • Love or lust? Lusting after the one I love
  • Paper or pixels? I’m a purist—paper all the way.

“Make a name for the dark parts of you.” ~ Lisa Marie Basile, from “Paz”

  • If you could move anywhere in the country, where would it be?  I would love to move to Oregon or Vermont, but don’t ask me why; they just seem like they would be so different from where I am now, and that appeals to me greatly. I do not want to spend another decade in this house in this city.
  • If you could move anywhere in the world, where would it be? If I could move anywhere in the world, it’s a tossup between Ireland and New Zealand.
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida Storm over Peñalara, Segovia 1906 oil on canvas
” Storm over Peñalara, Segovia” (1906, oil on canvas)
  • Where is your best friend? My best friend from high school lives in the same city; my best friend with whom I have kept in touch the most lives outside of Richmond, and my soul compatriot lives in Massachusetts.
  • What were you doing last night at 12 AM? Watching the remake of “Rosemary’s Baby”
  • Are you the kind of friend you would want to have as a friend? I believe so because I am loyal to a fault.
  • You are walking down the street on your way to work. There is a dog drowning in the canal on the side of the street. Your boss has told you if you are late one more time you get fired. What do you do? This is a stupid question.

“I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul de sacs of shadow. There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadows under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people’s eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth.” ~ Sylvia Plath, from The Bell Jar

  • You are told that you have approximately one month to live. Do you tell anyone/everyone you are going to die? What do you do with your remaining days? Would you be afraid? I would only tell my family. I would travel to as many places as I could in the time I had left. And of course I would be afraid.

    Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida Playa 1906 oil on cardboard
    “Playa” (1960, oil on cardboard)
  • Which song always makes you happy when you hear it? “Across the Universe”
  • Which song always tugs at your heart strings? That’s hard to narrow to just one: “Colorblind,” by Counting Crows; “I’m Already There,” by Lonestar; and “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” by Bonnie Raitt. Those three always, always get to me.
  • What does it take to make a lasting relationship? Trust, loyalty, friendship, and passion
  • Can a lie ever be justified? No.
  • Do you believe in revenge? See grudges above . . . well, actually, I do believe in revenge in theory, but not sure about in practice.

“Listen to me. I am telling you
a true thing. This is the only kingdom.
The kingdom of touching;
the touches of the disappearing, things.” ~ Aracelis Girmay, from “Elegy”

  • What is the single best decision you have made in your life so far? To allow myself to love again after hurting for so long
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida Rocks and white boat, Javea 1905 oil on canvas
”Rocks and White Boat, Javea” (1905, oil on canvas)
  • What would you want to be written on your tombstone? I’m going to be cremated, but if I were to have a tombstone, I would want a quote by Woolf or Fitzgerald
  • Name the one thing that has been on your bucket list the longest. Riding in a hot air balloon.
  • What is your current desktop picture? “Rocks and white boat, Javea” by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida
  • If you could press a button and make anyone in the world instantaneously explode, who would it be? Well obviously Pol Pot or Hitler, but they’re both dead. I wouldn’t mind giving a serious jolt to the Koch brothers, Fox Noise, and most of Congress.
  • What is the first childhood memory that pops into your mind? A marketplace in Morocco

I have the sluggish inertia of a great big ship. When the port’s in sight there’s no point aiming for the harbour, I’ll pile straight into the sea wall. Even though it’s slow and unremarkable, my existence has caused terrible damage. And yet I did see the lighthouse flashing its anxious message in the distance. I got its warnings and said, yes, yes, I know, I’m going to break everything; but it was too late.” ~ Agnès Desarthe, from Chez Moi

  • Superpower of your choice? Flying
  • If you could relive any half-hour period in your life, what would it be? The first half hour I held each of my children
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida The Waves at San Sebastian 1915 oil on canvas
“The Waves at San Sebastian” (1915, oil on canvas)
  • If you could erase one horrible experience in your life, what would it be? The suffering and death of Caitlin
  • If you had a TARDIS, where and when would you go? I’d go to France in the 1880’s and buy a van Gogh.
  • If you were offered a free plane ticket to anywhere, where would you go? And if you had to leave in half an hour, would you still take the ticket? I’d go to Ireland, and of course I would still go.
  • If you could choose anyone in the world to be your mentor for a year, who would it be? Tana French because I love the way that she writes; her prose is so lyrical that I often find myself pausing after passages just to drink them in. I would choose her because she has become successful in writing the kinds of fiction that I would love to write myself.

All images are by Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923)

Music by Birdy, “Not About Angels”

                   

May Day

I’ve decided to waste my life again,
Like I used to: get drunk on
The light in the leaves, find a wall
Against which something can happen,

Whatever may have happened
Long ago—let a bullet hole echoing
The will of an executioner, a crevice
In which a love note was hidden,

Be a cell where a struggling tendril
Utters a few spare syllables at dawn.
I’ve decided to waste my life
In a new way, to forget whoever

Touched a hair on my head, because
It doesn’t matter what came to pass,
Only that it passed, because we repeat
Ourselves, we repeat ourselves.

I’ve decided to walk a long way
Out of the way, to allow something
Dreaded to waken for no good reason,
Let it go without saying,

Let it go as it will to the place
It will go without saying: a wall
Against which a body was pressed
For no good reason, other than this.

~ Phillip Levine