Wednesday, February 25, 2015

For Ivy Annalise

 
 

Here we sit
sorting our lives
like the daily mail,
measuring our progress
by old photographs,
judging our worth
by unseen gain.
 
Then here you come
waited, wanted, already loved,
beautiful and perfect in your own right,
and more important than any
unseen, unfelt, unwritten belief.
 
That you are here,
that you are ours,
that you are loved,
forever now,
no matter.


 

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Woodpecker


 

The woodpecker brash and brawny
plans his attack on the cat food,
darting up and down and in and out,
snatching at the morsels
like avian ambrosia.
 
Red-hooded, white-throated, bodkin-beaked,
he flings his chirruping song into the air all around him.
 
How like him we are,
perpetually darting,
snatching at shards of bliss,
grasping, clutching, grabbing,
and the slivers slip ceaselessly from our hands.
 
 

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Sun Also Goeth Down

 

“It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.”   --from The Sun Also Rises

This week, I had to shelve David Copperfield to read with my daughter.  As this is her last year at home, and one of our favorite things to do is co-read, I decided I would try to keep up with her AP English reading.  It's like having homework.  I don't like someone dictating my reading choices and schedule (that's why I don't join book clubs). The sacrifices we make for our kids!

Don't tell the teacher, but I am behind.  I'm about half-way through what is a re-read of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises for me, and so far I am yet again underwhelmed by Hemingway. I read an assertion once that readers like either Faulkner or Hemingway but never both.  Well, I LOVE Faulkner, so you see where that puts me with Papa.  I need someone to tell me what is so great about Hemingway.  I'm trying to keep an open mind here.  I'm trying to like his work.   I even went into this reading determined to like this book.  I just don't get it.  Maybe I'm not hip enough.  Maybe it's my small-town naivete, my lack of cosmopolitan flair.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I see no value in it, and I'm not saying it's not good.  It's just not great to me, and I really want someone to explain to me what I am missing.  The dialogue is abrupt, terse, even brusque and disjointed.  He writes like drunk people think...scattered and overestimating their own wit.  Reading Hemingway makes me feel like the only sober person at the party.  Maybe that's the problem.  Maybe I need to be drunk to appreciate it.  I'll try that with the second half of the book and report my findings next week when I wake up.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

David Zhivago and Yuri Copperfield




photo by Anna Reavis


"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see." John Burroughs

 
I’m sure some of my blogging friends think I’ve fallen prey to the dragons at the edge of the world, but I promise I have been reading.  I just haven’t been finishing anything.  For some ungodly reason back in December, I thought it would be a good idea to read David Copperfield to myself concurrently with reading Doctor Zhivago aloud with Ken...because the plethora of characters in either of these novels individually wasn’t challenging enough, I guess. 

Shortly into this literary equivalent of scaling two sheer granite facades at the same time, one with one half of my body and the other with the other half, I realized I would have to study character maps and make profuse notes on each novel to maintain some semblance of clarity.  (This was soon after I imagined David Copperfield heading toward Yuriatin to help Lara hide after she shot Mr. Murdstone.)    So, as if the reading of these two door stops wasn’t enough of a time suck, now there were the notes to make.  Then I got the flu.  Then Ken went into atrial fibrillation for a week and ended up in the hospital.  Let me just say that sickness and hospital stays do not, in fact, lend themselves to reading.  I spent a lot of time staring out the window like someone in need of a lobotomy.  Or a strait-jacket. 
And now we are both on the mend so it's time to head back to London to see how Pasha is getting along with Mr Spendlow.  One day I will finish these books and actually write about them.  In the meantime, I’ll just complete novels vicariously by reading book blogs at work.  (That is NOT true, Mark.  I do not read book blogs at work.  I only work prodigiously on insurance matters at work.  Except at lunch.  At lunch I download porn.) 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Will I Read All of Willa?


photo by Anna Reavis
What was any art but a mold in which to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself -- life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose. 
Willa Cather

Let me begin by saying I love Willa Cather.  But I'm having a hard time figuring out what to say about Sapphira and the Slave Girl.  Maybe part of the problem is that I dislike so many of the characters.  And while there is some element of redemption in the fate of one of the main characters, Nancy, there seems to be no change of heart or growth of character in the others.  It's really strange to me that the same person who wrote this also wrote My Antonia.  Some of Cather's works seem more simple and entertaining, while some transcend entertainment and become art.  I have also read Death Comes for the Archbishop and O Pioneers!, and while I don't remember loving them as I did My Antonia, I do remember them as more complex and more...literary?  Is that the word I'm looking for?  Sounds so pretentious to pass judgment on the "literary merit" of a work, but I guess that's what I am doing. 

As a rule, I shy away from using the phrase "favorite book," as it would be impossible and I think unjust to choose a favorite, but My Antonia is certainly one of my favorite books, and it was pure serendipity that I read it at all.  I had read Sapphira and the Slave Girl at Wake in some upper level English class (maybe Literature of the South), and I had read O Pioneers and Death Comes for the Archbishop at some point along the way on my own.  Because I had not remembered loving any of the three, I may never have sought out more Cather.  But...when travelling, I usually read some or all of a random book I find in the house or condo I am in.  On a trip to Alaska in 2000, I found an old, slightly battered copy of My Antonia in the house I was in, started reading it, and fell in love.  I have since shared it with my daughter, and it is now also one of her favorite books.  I'm almost afraid to re-read it.  What if it doesn't live up to the hype I've created in my head?

What I would really like to do is find out more about Cather and her life and then read all her works in order of publication to see if I can gain some understanding of the variance in her work.  Maybe that can be a summer reading project.  January will be spent finishing Dr Zhivago and David Copperfield, both of which I am loving, but neither of which is a quick read.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Unbroken: "Out of the Whirlwind"

 
photo by Amy Brandon

"Then Job replied to the Lord: I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me. You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."     Job 42:1-6
 

(I've convinced Ken to write a guest post on Unbroken,
 because I know I will never read it.  Hope everyone enjoys
hearing from a different voice.)
 

In the Old Testament, there is a story about a man named Job who endures incredible suffering and loss. It is a grand work of literature, wrestling with deep and perhaps unanswerable questions about the whys and wherefores of the agonies that plague humanity. Much of the book revolves around the issue of the fairness of an omnipotent, all-loving God who would allow such unrelenting woe.

Job's epic came to mind as I read Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken. Having previously read her novel, Seabiscuit, I was looking forward to another good story and was not disappointed. For me, another draw to the book was the subtitle, A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, as the concept of redemption is one of my favorite subjects to savor.
 
The well-documented story line is a biopic of Louis Zamperini who grows up poor in Depression-era California in an Italian immigrant family struggling to make it. The survival aspect begins early as somehow Louis makes it through a childhood and youth of hell-raising. He is rescued from this period of perpetual trouble-making by his supportive family, particularly by an older brother who guides him through (and sometimes joins him in) shenanigans and who eventually steers him into a more productive form of release:  competitive running. Success in track propels Louis to a college scholarship where he meets with great success and then on to Olympic competition in Berlin, which lent a particularly interesting historical aspect to this segment. He is competitive but doesn't win, so he sets his sights on the next Olympic games in Tokyo where he will be more seasoned and primed for victory.
 
World War II intervenes, and Louis hangs up his cleats and is soon flying with a bombardier squadron. When his plane is shot down, he floats with three survivors of ten original crewmen for 47 days across 2000 miles of the Pacific. The writing is so compelling that you feel you are there! Starving, sun-roasted, shark-attacked, typhoon-lambasted...it's all there, even an albatross omen allusion. The ingenuity, resolve, tenacity, and sheer willpower to live are showcased. They are strafed by a passing Japanese Zero warplane for good measure, but somehow they endure. Finally they bump into the Marshall Islands, only to be captured by Japanese troops. And then the real nightmare begins.
 
I'll not detail the horrors of this episode, except to say it is one of the most graphic portrayals of brutality I have ever read. There is one gut-wrenching scene of monumental abuse of Louis and other POWs after another, seemingly ever more cruel and unusual. They become emaciated, humiliated, and dehumanized in all manner of ways. Yet somehow, somehow, somehow they cling to life and to some semblance of dignity. A sidebar on the importance of maintaining dignity is one example of the thought-provoking offerings from the author to augment the plot.
 
Then suddenly with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (again you feel as if you are there), it's all over. After the euphoria of release from all these tormented months, yet another perhaps more distressing crisis afflicts Louis. After reuniting with his family, whom we have kept up with throughout the tale, and marrying, he succumbs to PTSD:  horrible nightmares, flashbacks, fits of rage and the whole bit. At this point, I had to recheck the title. Unbroken? This man is obviously broken. His marriage falls apart. He becomes a bitter, uncaring, mean drunkard. What plane crash, ocean peril, and hellish pit of POW camp could not do to him appears to be carried out by everyday life in crushing this man's spirit. His desire to compete in track is dissolved by injuries inflicted in captivity. He has no resolve to work toward a future. What do you say, Job?
 
Then God speaks, but not out of a whirlwind as to Job.  Or perhaps it is a whirlwind...a human whirlwind -- one evangelist named Billy Graham. I will have to say I was "blown away" as this scene unfolds. Graham, at this point a relative unknown, came to Los Angeles and set up tent. Sparse crowds became larger. A staunchly resistant Louis (and we know FULL well by now how stubborn he can be!) is  badgered into going. He scoffs, and he dismisses. And then he remembers.  He remembers miraculously being released from wires that entangled him as his plane slipped beneath the waves while he was unconscious, and no one else was around. He remembers bullets peppering the raft as the men lay defenseless, and somehow, the bullets missed. And he remembered promises made to God if he survived, and something clicked. Louis Zamperini came to faith. He found his redemption. He then dedicates his life to helping others find the same, even going so far as to a return to Japan to forgive his tormenters.
 
 
~ Ken 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Well and There is Always the Land


photo by Anna Reavis

"But still one thing remained to him and it was his love for his land."
from The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck


Well and I surely do miss Old Wang Lung.  Ken and I finished The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck early last week, and I realized a few nights ago that I missed my nightly visit with Wang Lung, the main character.  Certainly he was an imperfect man, and sometimes hard to pity, but he was such a fully developed, well-rounded character that I feel as if I truly knew him, and now I miss him in my house.  I miss hearing about his adventures and misadventures, his ups and his downs, and his endless, fruitless striving for peace in his house.  And in the vein of most of the best novels, I miss a place and a time I've never actually experienced but feel as if I have.

So many themes were explored in this book: urban life versus rural life; leaving the land and returning to it; mobility versus being tied to the land; new ways and old ways; progress versus conventional wisdom; family values and loyalties and how we imperfect humans so often rip those suckers out and stomp them flat.

One strange thing about The Good Earth was the constantly repetitive use of the word "well" in the dialogue.  I'd be willing to bet this book contains the word "well" more than any other book ever published. At first I found it distracting, but then I, well, I guess I just came to accept it.  If anyone can shed any insight on this odd word overuse, I'd appreciate it.

The Good Earth is the first book in a trilogy about the Wang Lung clan, but the second and third book seem to be readily available only on Kindle.  My mountainous TBR pile warns me against buying them.  If anyone has read either of them (Sons or A House Divided) and would like to offer an opinion, please do so.

Well and I think I've said my peace for now.  Happy Hibernative Winter Reading!