“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

 

 

“Writers ever since writing began have had problems, and the main problem narrows down to just one word—life.” ~ William Styron, from “The Art of Fiction No. 5”

From one of the first interviews in The Paris Review (1954), the young William Styron (click on link for full interview):

INTERVIEWER (Peter Matthiessen and George Plimpton)

What value has the creative writing course for young writers?

STYRON

It gives them a start, I suppose. But it can be an awful waste of time. Look at those people who go back year after year to summer writers’ conferences, you get so you can pick them out a mile away. A writing course can only give you a start, and help a little. It can’t teach writing. The professor should weed out the good from the bad, cull them like a farmer, and not encourage the ones who haven’t got something. At one school I know in New York, which has a lot of writing courses, there are a couple of teachers who moon in the most disgusting way over the poorest, most talentless writers, giving false hope where there shouldn’t be any hope at all. Regularly they put out dreary little anthologies, the quality of which would chill your blood. It’s a ruinous business, a waste of paper and time, and such teachers should be abolished.

INTERVIEWER

The average teacher can’t teach anything about technique or style?

STYRON

Well, he can teach you something in matters of technique. You know—don’t tell a story from two points of view and that sort of thing. But I don’t think even the most conscientious and astute teachers can teach anything about style. Style comes only after long, hard practice and writing.

INTERVIEWER

Do you enjoy writing?

STYRON

I certainly don’t. I get a fine, warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let’s face it, writing is hell.

INTERVIEWER

How many pages do you turn out each day?

STYRON

When I’m writing steadily—that is, when I’m involved in a project that I’m really interested in, one of those rare pieces that has a foreseeable end—I average two-and-a-half or three pages a day, longhand on yellow sheets. I  spend about five hours at it, of which very little is spent actually writing. I try to get a feeling of what’s going on in the story before I put it down on paper, but actually most of this breaking-in period is one long, fantastic daydream, in which I think about anything but the work at hand. I can’t turn out slews of stuff each day. I wish I could. I seem to have some neurotic need to perfect each paragraph—each sentence, even—as I go along.

INTERVIEWER

And what time of the day do you find best for working?

STYRON

The afternoon. I like to stay up late at night and get drunk and sleep late. I wish I could break the habit but I can’t. The afternoon is the only time I have left and I try to use it to the best advantage, with a hangover.

INTERVIEWER

Do you use a notebook?

STYRON

No, I don’t feel the need for it. I’ve tried, but it does no good, since I’ve never used what I’ve written down. I think the use of a notebook depends upon the individual.

INTERVIEWER

Do you find you need seclusion?

STYRON

I find it’s difficult to write in complete isolation. I think it would be hard for me on a South Sea island or in the Maine woods. I like company and entertainment, people around. The actual process of writing, though, demands complete, noiseless privacy, without even music; a baby howling two blocks away will drive me nuts.

INTERVIEWER

Does your emotional state have any bearing on your work?

STYRON

I guess like everybody I’m emotionally fouled up most of the time, but I find I do better when I’m relatively placid. It’s hard to say, though. If writers had to wait until their precious psyches were completely serene there wouldn’t be much writing done. Actually—though I don’t take advantage of the fact as much as I should—I find that I’m simply the happiest, the placidest, when I’m writing, and so I suppose that that, for me, is the final answer. When I’m writing I find it’s the only time that I feel completely self-possessed, even when the writing itself is not going too well. It’s fine therapy for people who are perpetually scared of nameless threats as I am most of the time—for jittery people. Besides, I’ve discovered that when I’m not writing I’m prone to developing certain nervous tics, and hypochondria. Writing alleviates those quite a bit. I think I resist change more than most people. I dislike traveling, like to stay settled. When I first came to Paris all I could think about was going home, home to the old James River. One of these days I expect to inherit a peanut farm. Go back home and farm them old peanuts and be real old Southern whisky gentry.

“You will be identified as thin-skinned and moody; in reaction you will identify yourself as civilized and sensitive. You will barricade yourself in that preposterous condition known as self-respect.” ~ Alphonso Lingis, Dangerous Emotions

"Purple Heather," by Boris Lovet-Lorski (ND, watercolor on paper)*

                   

“We construct a narrative for ourselves, and that’s the thread that we follow from one day to the next. People who disintegrate as personalities are the ones who lose that thread.” ~  Paul Auster

Thursday afternoon. Cloudy and warm, possible evening thunder showers.

Alexis and I had talked about going with my mother to Babies r Us today  just to look around, but mom isn’t feeling great, and my back is killing me today, so we’ll be putting that off for now. I wasn’t going to purchase anything, not yet. I’m waiting to see what she doesn’t get from other people, and then we’ll try to fill in the gaps. We were going with my mother since mom has a tendency not to shop from gift lists, and since Lex registered at both Target and Babies r Us, it would be kind of nice if mom would shop from the registry.

"Tropical Sunset," by Boris Lovet-Lorski (1960, watercolor on paper)

Anyway, I took Brett to school, and Corey went to work this afternoon. He was originally supposed to work this morning, but that shift was called off; then they asked him to work this afternoon because someone called in, which is good as he only had two shifts for this week.

He’s really beating himself up over the whole MMD thing, and is convinced that everyone is really disappointed with him and secretly upset with him. It’s called a mistake, and they happen, and yes, they seem to happen overabundantly to us, but what are you going to do? Of course, I have no room to talk about carrying around guilt all the time, but it’s so hard to see in Corey, especially since no one really feels the way that he thinks they do. I mean, it’s just as much my fault as it is his that he left the house without his credentials packed. We both knew that he needed them, both knew that they were essential, but neither of us remembered, in spite of checking, rechecking, and checking again.

I think that we were so concerned about the weight of the suitcase, not going over the 50-pound limit, that we got distracted by that. It doesn’t matter, though. He’s still beating himself up. Just for good measure, I’m back to thinking that if I could just go back to work, it would end this damned cycle that we’re in. I don’t know what to think, to be honest.

“The madness of depression is . . . a storm indeed, but a storm of murk. Soon evident are the slowed-down responses, near paralysis, psychic energy throttled back close to zero. Ultimately, the body is affected and feels sapped, drained.” ~ William Styron in Darkness Visible

I know that I’ve mentioned it before, but I read Styron’s Darkness Visible years ago while sitting in the coffee shop at Barnes & Noble. It’s not a very long book, but it’s an incredible read, especially for those of us who suffer from clinical depression. The way in which Styron describes all of the things that I’ve felt at times is spot on, perfect. I highly recommend this short memoir for any of you who are clinically depressed.

"Light through the Trees," by Boris Lovet-Lorski (ca 1960, watercolor on paper)

Anyway, this quote from the book showed up on my Tumblr dash, which brought to mind the book and the way that I was feeling when I first read it. My spirals downward used to be so extreme; I would fall far very quickly, and then sometimes I stayed there for days and days, until the days seeped into weeks, and then months. I don’t do that now, at least, not the way that I used to, and I have pharmaceuticals to thank for that. I know that some people are reluctant to take medicine for their depression, thinking that they can will themselves out of it, or snap out of it with a healthier diet.

And if they can do that, then good for them. I have no problems with alternatives to traditional medicine. I only know that it was a long road for me to find just the right medicine, that I tried at least five or six other kinds before finding one that did not leave me feeling like a zombie, or did not have terrible physical side effects. I just know that I never ever want to feel that way again.

Obviously, I still wrestle with my mood swings, and I know that this is something that will be with me until the day I die. And yes, I still have those moments in which the despair threatens to consume me, but for the most part, I stumble along in life, and sometimes I even remember to notice the beauty around me, and when I do that, it’s a small, silent victory. Some of you may not be able to understand that, and some of you will.

“Solitude has soft, silky hands, but with strong fingers it grasps the heart and makes it ache with sorrow.” ~ Kahlil Gibran, Broken Wings

So on the way home from dropping off Brett at school I took a route that I don’t usually take. I went down a road that goes right past the street on which I lived for a brief time as an undergrad, in the old white house that had been turned into four apartments. I loved that apartment as it was on a dead-end street that abutted the water. Unfortunately, I lived there during a time in which my depression was still not being treated, and living there alone turned out not to be so good for me.

"The Waterfall," by Boris Lovet-Lorski (1950, watercolor on paper)

I do have some good memories, though. I remember opening all of the windows and letting the breeze come through, smelling the slightly brackish water outside. The family who owned the house lived on a houseboat, which I always thought was so cool. In fact, it was what first gave me the idea of living on a boat myself.

My unit had a tiny back porch and a door that lead to a back stairway that I never used. If I remember, it was a bit unsafe. I hung a curtain of wooden beads across the door, and one night, I remember dreaming about this constant knocking sound, and then I awakened to find that it was storming outside, and the old windows, which were not airtight, were letting in a draft that was causing the beads to bang loudly against the door. I stumbled to the door and ripped the beads from the door. It’s a wonder that my neighbors didn’t complain, but I never heard anything.

So that memory flitted through my mind as I was driving home, down a street lined with Bradford Pear trees, all of which are heavy with blooms. I had the sunroof open and all of the windows of the Rodeo open, and the air smelled of spring.

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” ~ Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum

I only stayed in that apartment for six months. My rent was $125, and that included heat and water. I had roommates for a few months, but that didn’t work out. I moved from there to move in with a woman with whom I worked at the newspaper—it was not a good move on my part, but hindsight . . . We moved into a new townhouse in Virginia Beach, which was owned by the man she was dating; it was within a community that was full of Navy pilots, right out of the academy. I had so many pilot friends and spent a lot of time at the officer’s club on base. Two pilots lived four units down from us, and I became very good friends with one of them. He actually rescued me one night after my roommate and I had a huge fight, and I walked out into the night with nothing but my dog and my keys.

"Tropical Sunrise," by Boris Lovet-Lorski (1960, watercolor on paper)

I actually still remember his name. Over the years, I wonder what happened to all of them, him especially. For a long time, I would see a Tomcat flying overhead and wonder if the person in the cockpit was someone I knew. Those were heady days, but the roommate turned into a nightmare too impossible to deal with, and I ended up moving back home with my parents. But I left my mark on the townhouse, unintentionally: I spilled dark red nail polish on the off-white carpet in my bedroom. Oops . . .

It was my sophomore year in college, and I cut off all my hair and gained about 20 pounds. I was juggling two boyfriends, both of whom worked at the newspaper, one of whom was dumber than a box of rocks. Why? The things that we remember . . .

“Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering, in order that they may have existence.” ~ Léon Bloy

Not really sure what has me journeying into the past, unless it was all triggered by driving past that street. Then again, it may have been triggered by the remembrance of the anxiety attacks. Who knows.

"Reflections," by Boris Lovet-Lorski (1940, watercolor on paper)

What I do know is that I do revisit the past probably more frequently than most people, and I find that a bit odd, as so much of my past is rooted in pain and sorrow. Even the good memories are bittersweet. The past is not necessarily a good place for me, yet I go there again and again. In search of what, exactly? Answers? Questions? Both?

Has this been triggered by my daughter’s pregnancy, the fact that she is due to deliver right around the same time that she was born, the same time that Brett was born? Remembering my own pregnancies, July in northern Virginia with no air conditioning in my car. Pregnant with Brett in July during a heat wave with temperatures above 100° for seven days in a row.

Here’s something I may have never told you, probably from embarrassment: My ex and I had two cars while we were in northern Virginia, my old Sunbird, which was a three-speed manual with no air conditioning (the first car that I bought with my own money), and we also had a Mazda 626 LX, fully decked out. I drove the Sunbird even though I was pregnant, hot, and uncomfortable, even though it was so low to the ground that getting in and out was well-nigh impossible. Do you know why I drove that damned car? Because my ex said that he should have the air conditioning because he had a longer commute . . . and I went along with that.

I would arrive at work wet from sweating in the car and on the way from the parking lot, which was about half a mile from my building. I went along with that. What the hell was wrong with me?

So Alexis is having her baby in July, but at least she has a new Accord that is cool and comfortable. Her little apartment only has a small window unit, and she’s already complaining about being hot even though it’s still mild outside.

So am I maudlin because of her? Because of Corey? Because of a drive down a street? Everything? Nothing?

Enough. Laundry and dishes await. Be still my heart.

More later. Peace.

*Images by Boris Lovet-Lorski  (1894–1973), Lithuanian sculptor, lithographer, and painter

Music by Peter Bradley Adams (yes, another, love this guy), “From the Sky”

                   

I Would Like to Describe

I would like to describe the simplest emotion
joy or sadness
but not as others do
reaching for shafts of rain or sun

I would like to describe a light
which is being born in me
but I know it does not resemble
any star
for it is not so bright
not so pure
and is uncertain

I would like to describe courage
without dragging behind me a dusty lion
and also anxiety
without shaking a glass full of water

to put it another way
I would give all metaphors
in return for one word
drawn out of my breast like a rib
for one word
contained within the boundaries
of my skin

but apparently this is not possible

and just to say—I love
I run around like mad
picking up handfuls of birds
and my tenderness
which after all is not made of water
asks the water for a face
and anger
different from fire
borrows from it
a loquacious tongue

so is blurred
so is blurred
in me
what white-haired gentlemen
separated once and for all
and said
this is the subject
and this is the object

we fall asleep
with one hand under our head
and with the other in a mound of planets

our feet abandon us
and taste the earth
with their tiny roots
which next morning
we tear out painfully

~ Zbigniew Herbert