Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bits of Books and Life

The sky and this cloud formation washed over me. I almost didn’t take the photo. I went to unzip my bag to get my iPod Touch out to snap a photo, then I stopped. I continued admiring the sunset and the electric clouds framed by the pines and the sky. And then, there I was, I couldn’t resist and I took several photos and this one is “the one.” When I looked at it on the screen I thought of the art of William Blake, the intensity and light that is found in his pieces.

I see a woman and she is dancing and she is rising up through his trunk—through and around this Cloud King. She is in rapture as she spreads into his being, exchanging light for light. This moment she will keep and she will revisit in her dreams and she will dream and dream and dream.


A short story collection that I picked up a few weeks back while searching the science fiction/fantasy shelves of Barnes & Noble is Stories: All-New Tales Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. I haven’t read a whole lot of science fiction or fantasy and I thought this would be a mellow collection. I’m trying to read the stories in order but I did skip to the shortest story to see what that was like. I didn’t care much for it. It didn’t seem like there was enough there at three pages. I’m going to read it again. Not too soon though. I did skip over one story because I wasn’t in the mood for characters to be going back and forth saying, “shit” and “fuck” in the dialogue. Maybe I’m exaggerating. Just wasn’t in the mood for profanity in short story that day. I’m fine with some cursing. I’ll come back to that one much later, though, when I’m in that kind of a mood.

I have about a handful or maybe two handfuls of various short story anthologies. One is from an English class and the other is from a creative writing course. It’s interesting how many stories don’t get read and discussed in a class. The instructors have to pick and choose and though I did read other stories beyond the instructor’s choices, I hardly read them all. One of my favorites is Junichiro Tanizaki’s “The Tattooer.” That made me go out and buy his other books. I read The Key and a few others sit on my shelves to be read another time. The psychological depth pulled me in and kept me there. One other short story that comes to mind that made me laugh is Woody Allen’s short story The Kugelmass Episode. I’m a fan of his movies and humor and I enjoyed this one very much.

I’ve had a mixed relationship with short stories. Even though they are short, if it doesn’t grab me, I get impatient—more impatient than with a novel. With a novel, I’ll keep going until page 60 or 100 before I give up. But with a short story, as short as they are, I want something to happen fast; I want to like the characters and I want to love the words and I want to feel satisfied when I reach the end. It seems that, as in a game of chess, the ending is often the most challenging part. Opening, playing the middle game, these tasks offer their own challenges but to be able to bring your reader satisfaction and to not feel that you’ve reached a stalemate in an otherwise good game—story—but to create an ending that makes you feel that it was worth reading—that is art. This is something for me to think about if I decide to write short stories of my own. Something needs to happen and we need to come of changed in some way or relived or...

Of the short story collections I have, I’ve dipped in and out of them over the year’s barley making a dent. There are some stories I loved and many that I didn’t connect with. It’s not realistic, but a part of me would like to connect with all the short stories I read. That’s not how it works, though. I know better than that. 

Reading is such a personal experience and no two readers are alike, but I still wonder about this one. It’s also interesting to note all the different ways to tell a story, even though there are certain rules, I never know what it is about a story that will take me in and hold me there. This changes too. I’m looking forward to my upcoming class. We have a large anthology of short stories we will be reading and I think we are expected to read it all. This is good because at times I need motivation for certain things. That must be why I put myself in situations where I will be maintain motivation. Part of writing about these books and short stories brings me back and it always pushes me forward. So I think the anticipation for the class and other events is causing me to think of and pull out these anthologies and collections that I have.

I realize that my reading habits are scattered and I will read five pages from this book, then however many pages from that book, and another and…Do the stories start blending together? Does the fiction and non-fiction become entwined? It does allow me to see what’s calling to me strongest. There’s a book that I want to get back to and it’s going to be due back to the library soon, but something is stopping me. My main book right now is Rebecca (there’s a story and a blog behind this one when I’m done with it), and I’m reading a short novel by Alexis M. Smith called Glaciers. I haven’t gotten back to Aging with Grace, but I keep adding it to the daily rotation shuffle. I just picked up Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors. I saw this one when I went into a small bookstore over the weekend. It saw it there on one of the tables. Current nature writing and reflection combined into one. I had to have it. And then a few weeks back I started reading Muriel Spark’s Reality and Dreams. I’m half way through and as I look at the book and see where I am, I wonder, do I need to start this one over or has enough of the plot stuck with me. The first sentence of the first chapter got me: “He often wondered if we were all characters in one of God’s dreams.” I can repeat this to myself over and over and I feel that any one of us could take that sentence and weave our own tale. I was enjoying this short novel and then I stopped because other books pushed their way through and lately I’ve had a harder time finding longer pockets of time to devote to reading. And I want to read Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders by Mary Pipher, Ph.d.  I came to this one reading another book. I keep finding I have to re-check out The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma. Each time I recheck it out, I get further. Progress. And I may never get back to So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading because I’m trying to get through my own reading. And I started Animal Farm. Attention span is all over the place. The book I mentioned earlier that I seem to not be coming back to but want to is called The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker. I must say this one is interesting, different, and witty. And do any of you have a bathroom book? I know that may seem odd, too personal—I don’t know. I have certain books that I take to keep me company and the one that has been that book on and off for years is Inevitable Grace: Breakthroughs in the Lives of Great Men and Women: Guides to Your Self-Realization by Piero Ferrucci. This is a special book and even if I only read a paragraph or a few pages, I come out feeling or learning something and nodding my head yes or thinking and reflecting further. Once I spent a longer period of time in the bathroom than was necessary and my significant other asked, “What were you doing in there all that time?” And I said to him, “I was reading.”

I had to take myself to the library yesterday to study and do homework for my accounting class. It was difficult to not look at books. I quickly looked in the new section and found a newer Thich Nhat Hanh book and a new astrology book that discusses signs born on the cusp of another sign. I took those books and set them aside and got down to accounting. Then after about an hour of work, I cracked the books. I decided to leave the astrology book behind. I got what I needed from it. Back to accounting. When it was time to go I took one last look—a sort of reward for sticking to my work—at the fiction on the new shelf. I did find one book that caught my attention. It’s a debut novel called South of Superior by Ellen Airgood. Under her photo, her bio says: “Ellen Airgood runs a diner in Grand Marais, Michigan. This is her first novel.” Well all be darn. Simple. It was nice to not see all the publications and educational accolades for a change. I read the short prologue and like the writing. I think this is going to be a good story. I’m will have to make the time and be assertive with myself and weave it into the reading mix. There are probably books that I forgot about or got buried in piles, but these are the ones that I would really like to finish in the next few months and if I don’t at least I can remember then and come back to them later.

I almost forgot. A few days ago I did finish Don DeLillo’s short novel, The Body Artist. The receipt is still in the book so I know that the first time I tried to read this book was in January of 2002. I bought this one at Orinda Books and thank goodness that small bookstore is still around. I had trouble with this one the first time I began reading it. I put it away, tried from the beginning again years later and then because when I went to see Jonathan Franzen speak and he mentioned DeLillo, it brought me back to this book, which I kept. The opening is beautiful and calls me right in:

“Time seems to pass. The world happens, unrolling into moments, and you stop to glance at a spider pressed to its web. There is a quickness of light and a sense of things outlined precisely and streaks of running luster on the bay. You know more surely who you are on a strong bright day after a storm when the smallest falling leaf is stabbed with self-awareness. The wind makes a sound in the pines and the world comes into being, irreversibly, and the spider rides the wind-swayed web” (page 9).

I’m ready to read this book again. If you haven’t read it, I would say make sure you’re in the mood to suspend whatever you think will follow that captivating opening. The dialogue can feel like walking through thick mud at times, but if you keep going—slowly and taking it in with all your senses, you may just want to start over again too.

Listening to conversations, going to watch authors speak, taking classes, reading blogs—interacting with life in some way—listening, observing—all of these experiences lead to more books, to more worlds—to new found connections.

Pulled into the web of life, if I see the silk lowered to me, I take it gladly—I hang on and enjoy the ride.

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