State of the Bookworm Address

Just a little hello to say what’s going on in my bookish world!

-I’m intensely involved in Our Mutual Friend by Dickens. It’s the last book I haven’t read by him (and his last completed book). What a last first time! I am loving it beyond words. Off the cuff impressions: it’s so strange and sardonic and astonishing. Those that accuse Dickens of being too sentimental clearly are not referring to his later books. In Our Mutual Friend, he is skewering the world of money and society that goes even beyond Hard Times. I’ll save the official word for when I’m done, but this might just wind up being my favorite book by Dickens.

Also — Jenny Wren. “Come up and be dead! Come up and be dead!”  OMG.

-I’m not in school this semester, which is really sad. Long story short: my husband got laid off, then got a new job that doesn’t provide health insurance until November. Thankfully, I was able to put him on mine — it’s exorbitant to do so, but so necessary. There went my school money. My professor kindly shared the syllabus of the class I had to drop with me, so I am still able to read and learn what I was so looking forward to reading and learning. I’m going to crack open Reading Images by Kress and Van Leeuwen today to catch up with the class — semiotics of the visual world. Yes, please!

-At the end of the Spring 2014 semester, my professor and I submitted a joint proposal to write an article for a special issue of Across the Disciplines that will be about Composition and the Arts. We just found out we got accepted! Our article is due January 1, 2015, so I’ll still be doing lots of academic work in the  coming months, even though I’m not in school. This makes me very, very, very happy.

…and that is the state of this bookworm!

image: Jenny Wren with Riah by Thomas Dalziel, done for the serial installments for Our Mutual Friend.

 

Old Fashioned Girls Book Club!

I very much enjoy reading the Old Fashioned Girls blog — it’s a great mix of bookishness, a view into their travels, yummy things to eat, stylishness, and other delights to come! When they announced their new book club, I jumped right on it. I always am intrigued by the books they mention on their blog, and knew I’d enjoy their taste in club selections.

September’s selection is My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier. We convene mid month to discuss to the half way mark, and then discuss the whole book at the end of the month. It’s not too late to join if you’re interested — the club officially opened yesterday. If you’d like to see the future selections, they’re listed through November.

Joining a book club at the start of September seems a joyfully appropriate nudge into fall, my favorite season. Happy reading!

A Musing: At Large and At Small

Anne Fadiman, where have you been all my life?

I picked up At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays at the library, after reading a blog post by Thinking in Fragments about blogging and the familiar essay. I am so, so glad I did — I feel like I found not only my new favorite nonfiction writer but a new-to-me genre that I’m eager to read in and perhaps even try my hand at.

The essays range on such diverse subjects as Coffee, Charles Lamb, Mail, Ice Cream, and the Culture Wars, amongst others. They are compelling, exquisitely written, funny, perceptive . . . but the first essay in the collection, Collecting Nature, made my hair stand on end and gave me goosebumps as I read each of the 22 pages. Thank god it wasn’t any longer or I might have expired from overstimulation! Every word is perfectly chosen, every sentence masterfully crafted, each paragraph brutally, beautifully honest, and the whole shimmers. The essay magnifies so much of life, the world, the funny things people are and have always been, do and have always done that I’m left dazzled and blinking. It is, as the preface states regarding familiar essays — a balance of heart and brain, about the author and about the world. I would add that the ones that get you are ultimately about yourself, too. Collecting Nature? Guilty as charged.

I adore the bookishness of the essays — references to other books abound — literature, science, biography — Fadiman reads both widely and deeply. Thankfully, she has given us the gift of a Sources section — her favorite books about the subjects she writes on, and on the familiar essay. So much good stuff here — and so inspiring. The moment I finished the book I picked up Our Mutual Friend by Dickens (yay — she’s a Dickens fanatic too!) — I hadn’t yet read it and I need to know about Mr. Wegg and his Leg, which he goes to collect from Mr. Venus, “Preserver of Animals and Birds, Articulator of human bones.” !!!!

Of course this little collector couldn’t let the library copy out of her sight before she procured her own copy of this book and Fadiman’s other book of essays, Ex Libris. A book of essays on the love of books and words? I repeat, Anne Fadiman, where have you been all my life!

A Musing: All Souls Trilogy

Yes reader, I read them all. Again.

After finishing The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness, I wanted to stay in the world she created a little longer. I decided to re-read the trilogy: A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life. It was a grand summer vacation in a place very much worth visiting.

What do I love about these books? They are full of little details. I loved knowing what wines the characters are drinking, what each creature smells like (I was so intrigued by Matthew smelling like clove pinks I started growing them in my garden), every particular about their homes and clothing, what they’re reading, what art they are surrounded with, what they like to eat (Diana is a toast  AND tea fanatic like I am!),  what they listen to. Harkness is a trained historian, and I enjoyed both the sense of history and the playfulness with history she weaves into the books — I totally loved how she portrayed the toothachey, cranky Elizabeth I, for example! I loved her respectful and powerful portrayal of magic and the supernatural. I loved how bookish the books are — palimpsests, traveling all over the world and back in time to look for a book, libraries, universities — ah!

The thing that I loved most, though, is the message of the trilogy: your family are not necessarily related to you, and they are the most important thing in the world.  Loyalty, bravery, intelligence, and strength are to be cultivated. It’s not only ok to be different, but often your difference is your finest quality – never hide it.

And love. Don’t forget to love, no matter how heartbreaking it can be.

Thank you, Deborah Harkness, for a wonderful summer vacation.

Local Library Love

 

I have been so busy taking out books from academic libraries that I hadn’t visited my local library in (I am so embarrased to say) two years! I started visiting again this summer, and boy have things changed in two years!

The most wonderfully surprising thing was that you can now check out museum passes! Isn’t that neat? Visions of visiting the Morris Arboretum and Grounds for Sculpture as soon as the weather gets a little more bearable are dancing in my head! The other cool thing is that they have an independent film streaming service called IndieFlix. Not only can you watch all kinds of off the beaten path films, but if you’re a filmmaker, you can even submit your own films for others to view. They have also expanded their eBooks and have two services to choose from.

The schedule for happenings is jam packed: I can hang out and paint in an adult art class on Sundays, go to the local Shakespeare meeting once a month, organize against genetically modified food, join a creative writing or poetry writing group, or even a film screening and discussion! The stuff they have for teens and kids is incredible — everything from zombie apocalypse groups to wee story time. They are even having a dance to raise extra funds in November. I may never attend any of these events as a hermit introvert ;) but I’m so glad to know that they are offered.

Of course, all of the everyday magic that has always existed at the library is still there — I struggle home every time I visit with an armful of books. My latest trip has me learning about the familiar essay, reading what Harold Bloom thinks are the best poems ever written, baking whole grain bread, and getting to know Emily Dickinson better.  I never leave the Friends of the Library sale table without getting some book I’ve been wanting for fifty cents. The staff always have a smile, offers of help, and a bit of bookish chit-chat for me.

I can’t help but clutch my heart, get a little misty, and marvel about how democratic and uplifting this all is. Freedom, knowledge, world-opening, and doing it yourself goodness — all of the things I hold most dear — are happening every hour of every day  through my local library. What a great example of a vital community resource done right. My tiny white plastic card that doesn’t involve money is the most valuable thing in my wallet.

To Be of Use

Marge Piercy

As I sat knitting hand towels to be used next to my sinks for drying dishes and hands and countertops, I thought of this poem I love very much by Marge Piercy. I encountered it for the first time over 20 years ago. The words resonate more and more as the years go on and I collect experiences, interact with others, and do my own work in the world.

I want to share it with you.

To be of use
by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

“To be of use” by Marge Piercy © 1973, 1982.
From CIRCLES ON THE WATER © 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and Middlemarsh, Inc.

The Book of Life, and Then Some

I am on my summer vacation, in France, England, and upstate New York amongst other places. No, I haven’t left my house! I am immersed in Deborah Harkness World.

Her latest, The Book of Life, was released on July 15th (my birthday! Thanks!! This used to happen with the Harry Potter books and films too. Magical!). I grabbed it and started reading it immediately, eating, breathing, sleeping Diana, Matthew, and the rest of the witches, vampires, and daemons I have come to know and love (or hate!) in this series. I loved the book. It was wonderful, heartrending, enriching, funny — I didn’t want it to end. Luckily, there was a way to make it not end: I could read the entire, glorious, each book almost 600 pages trilogy again, one after the other.

I’m almost done  my re-reading of the first book, A Discovery of Witches, and all I will say is Best. Vacation. Ever. It feels like such an indulgence to do this (especially when my partner in reading is a glass of wine!), but I am enjoying every minute of it.

I’ll write more about these books after I’m back from vacation ;)