Top Ten Tuesday: “Inspiring Quotes from Books”

Over at The Broke and the Bookish, it is once again Top Ten Tuesday, and here I am again taking part!

Top Ten Inspiring Quotes from Books

I don't know how I feel about the word “inspiring” in this context. I'm just going to go with “Quotes I Love.” Actually, yanno, I do know how I feel about the word “inspiring.” I don't like it. It tends to mean trite, and photoshopped, and in pastels. Not for me.

Also, I only have five. Why five? Because that's how many I have. Don't question, mmkay?

(In actuality, these are just the quotes I genuinely love. If I don't have it practically memorized, if I don't think of it frequently, and/or if it hasn't been my email signature at some point in time . . . it didn't make the cut.)

Top Ten Five Quotes I Love

“You like to tell true stories, don't you?” he asked, and I answered, “Yes, I like to tell stories that are true.”

Then he asked, “After you have finished your true stories sometime, why don't you make up a story and the people to go with it? Only then will you understand what happened and why. It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.”

—Norman MacLean, from A River Runs Through It

You can tell a true war story by the questions you ask. Somebody tells a story, let's say, and afterward you ask, “Is it true?” and if the answer matters, you've got your answer . . . Absolute occurrence is irrelevant. A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.

—Tim O'Brien, from The Things They Carried

Men that look upon my outside, perusing onely my condition, and fortunes, do erre in my altitude; for I am above Atlas his shoulders. The earth is a point not onely in respect of the heavens above us, but of that heavenly and celestiall part within us: that masse of flesh that circumscribes me, limits not my mind: that surface that tells the heavens it hath an end, cannot perswade me I have any; I take my circle to be above three hundred and sixty, though the number of the Arke do measure my body, it comprehendeth not my minde: whilst I study to finde how I am a Microcosme or little world, I finde my selfe something more than the great. There is surely a peece of Divinity in us, something that was before the Elements, and owes no homage unto the Sun.

—Sir Thomas Browne, from Religio Medici

I have given my love to what is worthy of love. Is that not the kingdom and the unperishing spring?

—Ursula K. LeGuin, from The Farthest Shore

But yield who will to their separation
my object in living is to unite
my avocation and my vocation
as my two eyes make on in sight.

Only where love and need are one
and work is play for mortal stakes
is the deed ever really done
for heaven and the future's sakes.

—Robert Frost, from Two Tramps in Mud-Time



“Incardnadine,” by Mary Szybist


That's how I would describe this book.

“Oh Dear God What Wouldn't I Do To Have Published This” is another feel I have here. Also, “I will never write like this but I can almost accept that painful truth given how grateful I am that this exists in the world.”

Let's see. How else can I talk about this poetry?

I don't think I can. Luckily, several of my favorite poems from this book are available on-line.

Touch Gallery: Joan of Arc The careful selection of detail is remarkable, and more remarkable are her well-placed similes, like bombs of meaning (sorry). Also, how she evokes a mood with a moment (something I want in any poet, but few succeed so well.) 

On Wanting To Tell [ ] About A Girl Eating Fish Eyes Apparently Szybist knows how to add 2+2 and get 5, a talent I am deeply impressed by. Here she takes a strange moment and makes it about death and life. Like a boss. Also, she shows quite the talent for the Last Line.

How (Not) To Speak Of God There is a creative play with space that would be trite and gimmicky in another poet but is so expertly handled here that it works amazingly well, actually adding to the meaning of the poem, and in fact, adding in a theologically interesting way, instead of being pretentious and intensely dislikable. I might have to print that poem out and hang it up somewhere. And did I mention her imagery? Her imagery.

I haven't fallen so hard in love with a poet since . . . I don't even know since. I have become incoherent with pleasure. I will stop babbling. Just go read her. And then, ideally, buy her books.

The fact that she won the NBA for this book reassures me re: the inherent good taste of humanity. Sometimes I feel that the poetry world is just an enormous echo-chamber and mutual back-patting society, where reward is meted out less for talent and more for writing what everyone else is writing . . . and then work like this comes along and proves otherwise.

Read this book.



Book Blogging Plans and Directions (dear readers: should I also blog about writing and editing?)

So you know that whole blogging-every-book-I-read idea? Not working out so hot, mostly given my lack of planning. In the future, I am pretty interested in another go at blogging every book; I think it would be really fun. HOWEVER, I have also learned that it will require a lot of planning, especially setting aside dedicated chunks of time to blog (as opposed to just blogging when I can), and carefully pre-scheduling posts.

I have lots of ideas on how to accomplish this, but you know when I am NOT going to accomplish this? April. And why I am not going to accomplish this in April?


April is National Poetry Month, and I have been participating in a poetry-writing challenge with some friends. Each of us is committing to writing a draft poem a day during the month of April. Periodically we plan to meet (we haven't yet) and go over each other's material with an eye towards picking out drafts that have something to them. All of us are interested in potential publication.

I'm really enjoying this, but it is obviously taking up scads of my reading and writing time. I don't see any reason I won't be able to keep up my semi-regular book-blogging, but I CERTAINLY won't be blogging every book.

But here's a thought I had: would you, lovely readers, be interested if if I ALSO began blogging about the process of writing and preparing work for submission to lit journals, complete with depressing rejection letters? I think I could have some interesting perspectives on the subject, as I also work on the other end; I read poetry for one mag and edit poetry for another.

What do all y'all think? And if I have to choose between blogging every book and blogging about writing and editing, which would you choose? One would mean a much higher volume of posts from me; the other would mean a wider variety of subject matter.


Alison Bechdel's “Fun Home”

I whole-heartedly loved this book.

I'm not a big believer in the virtue of Identifying With Books. That's not why I read. I read to be stretched intellectually and also to have a beautiful aesthetic experience. I don't need or even, really, want to identify with the characters in a book or the themes of a book in order to enjoy reading it. In fact, I think that overly strong identification with a book can blind me to the faults in a book.

The books I identify with most strongly are Middlemarch, The Age of Innocence, Gaudy Night, and Mrs Dalloway; certainly several of these do stand on their own as works of art but if they didn't I'm not sure if I could see it (I would love them anyway), and I think I see their merit less clearly for how strongly I identify with them.

Books that I love but don't identify with so strongly I have a much easier time picking apart intellectually; The Divine Comedy, Pale Fire, Paradise Lost, and Bleak House are four more of my favorite books that I love but don't really identify with at all, and therefore am able to stand back and consider them as art much more easily.

All that to say: I loved Fun Home, but I also identified with it strongly, and so I am a little unclear how much of my love for it is due to my identification with it, and how much of my love is because it's a damn fine book.

Fun Home is Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir about her relationship with her father. She has a tense, fraught relationship with her father in early childhood, a relationship that gradually grows closer until it was truncated by suicide in Alison's* young adulthood. What bridges their relationship is in part their mutual realization that they are both gay, and in part their mutual love and sharing of books.

My dad is not gay and is also alive (and will be so for many years, I hope!), but I similarly had a fraught childhood relationship with him that has become close and warm over the years, mediated by our mutual love for books. Just like Alison and her father could talk about books even when they couldn't talk about anything else, me and my dad have also always been able to talk about books even when we weren't able to talk about anything else. So this book made my eyes water which is my equivalent of full-on sobbing (I am not a crier in any way shape or form) and yeah, I identified with it.

But I think it is also damn fine art.

The narrative is very cleverly multi-layered. I've read any number of books that do the flipping back-and-forth-through-time thing, and usually I find it clunky and contrived. (I particularly dislike it where it is used as a way to avoid disclosing some Tragic Incident.) Not so here. Bechdel** uses a fairly tight narrative structure focusing on theme, and adduces incidents anywhere on the timeline she is using to elucidate that theme. Therefore, while the narrative does flit around in time, it does not flit around in terms of the story it is telling. In fact, the story Bechdel is telling about her life is more coherent than most memoirs I have read.

About that. So all memoir is the author imposing meaning on a sequence of life events that may or may not have inherent meaning — but that's the way our lives are, right? We have to tell a story about ourselves, or we find ourselves facing down into the terrifying nihilistic maw of our own mortality.

A lot of memoir, though, isn't very self-conscious in the way this is done. A lot of memoir I have read imposes the meaning (like we all do, like we must) but carries on blithely unaware of how the way we cathect these experiences is itself an artistic or personal choice, not something inherent to the experience. Right?

For instance, I have read other memoir or personal essays about difficult father-daughter relationships that interprets an externally similar father-daughter relationship very differently than Bechdel interprets her relationship. Often those authors have a sort of unspoken assumption that there is something inherent in the relationship or experience that obviously must be interpreted that way. In a way that's fine, because it reveals the author's unexamined assumptions about the world and that's interesting, but in a way it is frightfully irritating because I rather feel that someone who lacks that sort of insight into their own basic assumptions doesn't have much business writing memoir. Sorrynotsorry.

Bechdel doesn't do that at all. She has great insight. She is perfectly, consistently aware of the way her own personality, values, and of course desire for meaning are imbuing her memories and feelings about her life with a meaning that may have been external to the actual events. And then she talks about it in the memoir which is a level of self-awareness I have rarely seen in memoir (maybe I don't read enough memoir; the lack of this self-awareness was something that has turned me off to the genre).

It was fantastic. Omigosh I loved it. I loved the layering of reflection: this is what happened, this is what I felt at the time, this is the meaning I imbue it with now, but these are my assumptions that cause me to so imbue it.

I loved following her trails of thought and the way they crisscrossed her life. I loved her awareness of how her current knowledge influences her memories of childhood. Oh, and did I mention how I loved the way she discusses literature here? I loved that too.

Frankly there wasn't much I didn't love about this book. Bechdel has also written a memoir about her relationship with her mother, and I can hardly wait to read that one, too. And then to read everything she has ever written, ever.

Anyway. Um, I recommend this? Could you tell? If you have any interest in memoir, father-daughter relationships, the experience of coming out, literature, or any combination of those things . . . read this book.

*sorry, usually I respectfully call authors by their last name, but since I am talking about an author and her father, who share the same last name, it feels too cumbersome. I don't want to talk about Bechdel and Bechdel. I will switch to my usual respectful distance when I am only talking about Alison Bechdel.




Atul Gawande, On Being Mortal

I was worried I wasn't going to like this book.

Silly, I know; aging and end-of-life issues are one of my Huge Main Interests and I never really get tired of them.

But, I dunno, I've read so much good on this subject recently, I was worried Gawande's book would feel repetitive.

It didn't. First of all Gawande is just a thoroughly competent writer. Man knows how to write a compelling bit of medical non-fiction. I am bit of a connoisseur of doctors writing things (is anyone surprised? please tell me no.) and while Gawande is not quite as delightful as, say, Oliver Sacks . . . he has his craft well in hand.

Second, most of the reading I've done re: end-of-life issues has been very focused on the very end of life, usually the last six months as that's what's covered under the States' paltry “hospice” benefit (and don't even get me started on that!). Here, though, he expands the focus a bit to also discuss issues of ordinary aging. I really enjoyed the perspective he brought to this.

One of the ways our culture is unintentionally cruel to the elderly is in our obsession with safety. We tell the elderly, “no, you can't eat that; you have to eat purees; you might choke!” We stop them from having relationships because we are worried they might be abused. We tell them not to live alone any more because they might fall and hurt themselves.

The thing is, though . . .if you're 98, perhaps being able to just eat a sandwich is worth more to you than avoiding chocking. Perhaps choking to death at a sandwich at the age of 98 (or, more likely, getting aspiration pneumonia from it) is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Perhaps, at the age of 85, you're willing to take your own risks with relationships rather than being warned off — even if you're “demented.”

Perhaps living independently is more important to you than safety. Perhaps, as the end of life nears, what matters most is not planning to be around for five more years but to enjoy the time you have now.

Gawande talks about this sort of thing — about how all our good intentions sometimes (often?) conspire to make a misery of our elders' waning years.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, and he did good work with it. If that was the only good part of the book it would still be worth reading, but there is even more going on. My verdict: well worth the time you might put into reading it. Just do it!


March Reading Wrap-up and my April plans . . .

Sorry for the radio silence; my stomach bug relapsed on me and I was out of commission for a while.

Here today is the summary of my reading month in March, as well as a look forward to April. I prefer to do these big discussions with lots of books on YouTube: so much easier! The videos are below, but here's a summary:

I read 22 books in March.

6 were murder mysteries, three of them re-reads.
6 were works of non-fiction, encompassing journalistic work as well as memoir.
4 were books of poetry.
4 were speculative fiction (sci-fi and fantasy)
and only 2 (sad!) were literary fiction.

I think the reason I read so much was that I read so little literary fiction! Those naturally take me a bit longer to get through.

So far as format goes, I read 8 ebooks; the rest were physical copies (though I did read 2 ebooks of books I own in physical form).

Re: diversity, I decided to stop aiming for 30% authors of color across the board; I decided instead to just try and read at least 50 books by authors of color in 2015. If I read more than 150 books this year that will work out to less than 30%, but if I read more than 150 books this year . . . God help me.

This is to avoid book guilt. I have had the problem two months in a row where I plan to read (say) 12 books in a month, 4 by authors of color. Then, towards the end of the month, I have finished the planned list, am at my 30%, and want to do some re-reading of old favorites, often by a white author. Then I am in an upsetting situation where I feel like I'm Not Allowed to read whoever it is because it will mess up my percentages. So . . .that isn't going to work for me. 50 books it is.

Anyway, I read four books by authors of color this month so that will keep me on track for the 50 in a year goal, so yay!

As far as gender diversity, I read 11 books by women and 10 by men. One book was co-authored by a mixed-gender team. I know I read one book by someone who identified as LGBTQ but I didn't go looking up bios, either.

I list all 22 books in my video below, but I will say here that the three books I most enjoyed reading this month were (not in order):
Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf (this was a re-read for me and it was so much better the second time around!)
Transformations, by Anne Sexton
The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham.



Top Ten Books From My Childhood To Revisit

A bit late on the Top Ten Tuesday, and a bit behind generally with blogging: busy times at work aaaaaand I just am getting over one of those vicious stomach bugs that prostrates you for 24 hours plus.

I am feeling better but am still on the “cautiously nibbling dry white toast to see if it will stay down” phase of my recovery. Therefore, though I am well enough to blog a bit, I am home from work today because I did not want to risk my toast and ginger ale coming up all over my patients!

Anyway, what better way to coddle myself into recovery than to pick my Top 10 Childhood Books I Love to Revist?


I slightly redefined this in my mind by deleting the “would” in the heading provided by The Broke and the Bookish.

These are not books I theoretically would love to revisit one day. These are books that I have revisited; books that I do revisit. The proof is in their covers and spines and battered pages. I restricted myself to books that I acquired before high school, and books the same physical copies of which I have dragged from home to dorm to apartment to apartment to home over the course of a good twenty years.

I will give you a photo tour.

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Yes, Fellowship is bound entirely in duct tape. DON'T JUDGE OKAY.  These just sneak in under the cutoff; I started with these around eighth grade. Yep. Lord of the Rings. It's all been said before. I loved and love and will always love these books.

The Deryni Chronicles, by Katherine Kurtz

These have aged less well as literature than the others, but these are in fact the original library books that I checked out repeatedly as a child. The library deaccessioned them and I got them. These are precious artifacts of my reading youth! 

The Curse of the Blue Figurine, by John Bellairs

I read a fair amount of John Bellairs in my misspent youth, but this is the one that has stayed with me. Nerdy, bespectacled, bookworm, Catholic school-child, altar-server protagonist? Say no more! This may not have aged well as literature either (better than my beloved Deryni books — sorry, Katherine Kurtz!), but the Edward Gorey covers are timeless. 

A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter

It might be time to give this one another go. There's also a TV adaptation I've never seen, but would like to. Elnora Comstock is often a bit too good to be true as a protagonist, but I love the way she goes about life. 

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle 

As an adult, I am more fond of L'Engle's memoirs than I am her fantasy, but A Wrinkle in Time was my all-time favorite from about second grade until about eighth grade, when, if I recall correctly, Lord of the Rings finally displaced it. I liked all of the books about the Murray family but Wrinkle was by far my most loved. 

The Earthsea Cycle, by Ursula K. LeGuin

Somehow my set is missing The Tombs of Atuan, which was my favorite of the four growing up (LeGuin put out a fifth many years later, which I also own). Perhaps I loved Atuan to pieces? I do not know. These are actually much better coming to them as an adult. There's all sorts of theological insight here that I did not get as a child. 

The Dark is Rising Sequence, by Susan Cooper

If you love YA fantasy, especially YA fantasy set not in a past, mysterious world, but the here-and-now, and especially if you love contemporary YA fantasy with a wide and interesting cast of characters: you should have already read these books. If you haven't, I weep for you. Go read them now. 

James Herriot

Herriot wrote, I believe, four collections of short stories: All Things Wise and Wonderful; All Creatures Great and Small; All Things Bright and Beautiful; The Lord God Made Them All. I only seem to own two, but I know I went through these over and over. We had them on audiocassette with Christopher Timothy narrating and I would play them at night as I fell asleep, night after night after night. My grandfather was a small-time farmer and watching the BBC adaptations of these on TV together was one of the few things we could enjoy together (I loved my grandfather, but he was a gruff New England farmer out of Ethan Frome and bonding with his grandchildren was not something he did, really.) 

Not only do I want to go through these again, I need to buy his other collections of stories! If anyone doesn't know James Herriot, he — no, just Google. I will go on for far too long otherwise. 

Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson

If you do not know Calvin and Hobbes, pretty much I weep for your childhood. This is just one of his many collections. I should, perhaps, attempt to methodically collect all of them, but I haven't gotten there yet . . . 

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle

These are in better shape than many of the others because they are a box set (a gift from my Dad, again!) The box itself grew too tatty for me to keep using, and so now the books are just on my shelf. They're actually gorgeous editions and the box was bringing 'em down. Anyway I adore Sherlock Holmes. Always have, always will. Last night in between bouts of throwing up my toenails, I found myself too miserable to focus on a book . . . so I watched the Jeremy Brett adaptation of Hound of the Baskervilles. The love goes deep. 

That's all for today! This week I will be playing catch-up with book reviews, so watch for those, for sure!



Walter Mosley, “Devil in a Blue Dress”

Reading Mosley on lunch break!
Those are my feet in argyle socks at the bottom
of the photo. 
Well this was fun.

It's been a darn long time since I have found a new (well, new-to-me) mystery series that I can whole-heartedly enjoy. The Easy Rawlins mysteries are now officially on the list!

I just love me some good detective fiction. I am a bit picky. I tend to strongly prefer whodunits and am a big fan of Golden Age detective fiction. I read a lot of British authors, but I also really enjoy American authors like Rex Stout.

And now Walter Mosley.

I wouldn't say this is a perfectly classic whodunit, but it comes close. It is written in a gritty hard-boiled style, rather than a “cozy” style, which is a change for me, but one I definitely enjoy (I don't like cozies because they're cozy; I like cozies because they're whodunits).

Anyway, our sleuth Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins is a reluctant sort of sleuth. He's just been fired from his job for standing up to his racist boss. He needs money or the bank will foreclose on his house. So when a mysterious stranger approaches him in his friend's bar and offers him a hundred bucks just to find a girl . . . it's hard to say no.

Adventures ensue.

This series is set in the 1940's through, I believe, the 1960's (obviously I haven't read the whole series yet, so I don't know what the full time-span is). This one is set in the late 40's. Easy is a black man living in L.A., just back from combat in WWII. And Walter Mosley? Damn fine writer. The last murder mystery series I tried was the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. I like historical series a great deal, and I like female protagonists, so I hoped that one would be up my street, but no. The prose was painful, the historical background was poorly considered, and the lead was a Mary Sue. Ugh.

Walter Mosley, however, just nails it. if I didn't know better I'd say this book was written in the 40's. His writing is crisp and compelling and never ridiculous. His characters are vivid and well-imagined and his dialogue is snappy. His descriptions are evocative and never wind on pointlessly. The story was well-plotted, carefully paced, and just damn good overall.

If you like noir-style detective fiction, you will. like. this. book. Highly recommended.