Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ellstrom Award for Literature - 2010: The Field

Dear Readers of All Stripes,

Last weekend was the event called, The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports. It's the Run for the Roses. It's the Kentucky Derby.

Well, perhaps, the announcement of the Ellstrom Award for Literature, 2010, is not the most exciting two minutes in literature, but it is one that I prepare for during the course of a full year. The Derby and the Ellstrom award have two things in common. They both have a great field! By that I don't mean the track, for the Derby track was pretty soggy this year. I mean the "horses" in the running.

I studied the horses that ran in the Derby this year. And then I placed a bet ($6.00) on Paddy O'Prado to win, place, or show. At the end of two minutes, I was $3.40 richer. (Paddy showed.)

During the course of the 2009 year I studied a different, but equally pedegreed, field. And I was far richer for the activity. This field of authors includes some of the very best. (See full list.) The contenders for the award are:
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky on The Brothers Karamazov
  • Diane Setterfield on The Thirteenth Tale
  • W.E.B. DuBois on The Quest of the Silver Fleece
  • Sylvia Plath on The Bell Jar
  • Bertoldt Brecht on Mother Courage
  • Leo Tolstoy on The Death of Ivan Ilych
  • Antoine de Saint-Exupery on The Little Prince
  • Kurt Vonnegut on Slaughterhouse Five or the Children's Duty Dance with Death
  • John Steinbeck on Grapes of Wrath
  • Thomas Hardy on Jude the Obscure
  • Victor Pelevin on Oman Ra
  • Zora Neale Hurston on Seraph on the Suwanee

The also-rans were notable with William Faulkner, Theodore Dreiser, and Joseph Conrad being eliminated at the gate.

So now is the time to place your bets. Which of these stellar authors, new and old, will take the prize, will win the roses?


P.S. To sweeten the pot--for anyone betting on this race who also comes to visit me at my house before I announce the winner of the 2010 Ellstrom Award, I will give you a book from the DeGeorge family library. And, yes, I will inscribe it appropriately!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Catch-22 (A Review Continued)

Dear Joseph Heller,

Perhaps you were aiming at this.

And in a way, you succeeded. Certainly, you called into question the military machine. Still in a landing pattern after the second war to end all wars, the machine was gearing up for Korea, then Vietnam, without so much as a touch-down or reverse thrust. It was, is, as illogical as your Catch-22. We were desperate for an anti-war novel and absurd was the correct form, with your story and sentences wandering around and around popping out from insane fox holes. In a way it is an appropriate bit of banter.

And you did discuss some important issues: justice, fate, mediocrity, the frailty of humanity, non-conformity, perseverance, but the pacing is pretty unendurable. My reaction was that you would have to be under orders to read the whole of this.

Our cultures do need the words against war so desperately, and your book doesn't fall apart, it maintains its form, excruciatingly, to the end. So that is something. But the book ends where it begins. It talks against war, but in the end, there is no alternative offered. You have gone AWOL. One by one the troop is taken, shot down, mutilated, and we are left yawning. You have not even made us care.

And in the meanwhile you have uglified life, uglified women in particular, ascribing no dignity, even off-handedly, to any female character in the book. You may, like Henry Higgins of My Fair Lady, defend yourself and say that you gave no dignity to any character in the book, but that is not true. Your ending does grant dignity to Orr, Yossarian, and the chaplain, but ends with one last denouncement of a female character as, at best, maniacally dangerous.

Catch-22 is unkempt, unfair, and ridiculous. Absurdity is not inappropriate, but it does not stand on its own. You have given us a few helpful vignettes with Clevinger revealing an underbelly of injustice, Wintergreen posing as the erratic hand of fate, Major Major exemplifying the horrifying result of exulted mediocrity, and Milo Minderbinder giving us a frightening look at unbridled capitalism. However, I am mystified that it is rated highly on either of the Modern Library lists.


Friday, February 26, 2010

It's a Catch-22

Dear Joseph Heller,

I was a victim of circumstance, you see, and I never wanted to be a victim of circumstance. It was a catch, a Catch-22. I had decided to read each of the novels on the Modern Library's two "Best 100's" lists. (The Board's and The Reader's Lists) Actually, it is Annie Dillard's fault. In her book, An American Childhood, she talks about how difficult it was, as a child, to decide which book she should choose from the shelves of books at the Homewood Library. She finally found a way to choose good books. Dillard says,
"On its binding was printed a figure, a man dancing or running; I had noticed this figure before. Like so many children before and after me, I learned to seek out this logo, the Modern Library colophon."

So, I read your novel, Catch-22, which holds place number 7 on the board's list and 12 on the reader's list. I didn't read Ulysses, the most highly rated double-listed book (Board-1, Reader's-11). It is very long. Plus Annie Dillard said that it's awful, although my son-in-law loves it, so I may, yet, give it a go. Anyhow, I was stuck, for weeks, slogging through the amputated prose of Catch-22.

I kept asking myself, "Who would actually like this book?" Don't get me wrong, I was raised with runs and reruns of MASH within hearing, but this was too, too. . . long. It was a bit like hearing the Who's on First sketch repeated 500 times consecutively.

Now Yossarian and Doc Daneeka of your novel are the revealers of the Catch-22 concept.
Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. "Is Orr crazy?"
"He sure is," Doc Daneeka said.
"Can you ground him?"
"I sure can.
But first he has to ask me to. That's part of the rule."
"Then why doesn't he ask you to?"
"Because he's crazy," Doc Daneeka said. "He has to be crazy
to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he's had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to."
"That's all he has to do to be grounded?"
"That's all. Let him ask me."
"And then you can ground him?"
Yossarian asked.
"No. Then I can't ground him."
"You mean there's a catch?"
"Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy."

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.
I am not the first to quote this portion of the Catch-22 text. After I had read that, I could have said, "No need to slough through more." I use the word slough, because I must say, it is a pig-pen of a book. Is that what gave it the enormous popularity during the early years? That, plus quite an advertising splash in the New York Times. Those were the days. Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti were lighting censorial fires.

The 60's were a time ripe for disrespect, obscenity, and absurdity. It was a time for hatching such things as Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969). It was the best of times and the worst of times. The worst of things were released and tolerated in the name of the best of things.

Perhaps that is what this was about, with the old lady playing the part of Alan Ginsberg.

I guess this letter has become quite disrespectful to you. I'll take a break and see if I can finish in a more respectful tone later.

. . . to be continued

I'm Fifty and I Don't Know Nothing

Dear Alice and Violet,

I heard about you quite a while ago, and I thought about you deeply at that time. Toni Morrison is the one who was telling me. . . about you, about your lives, about the songs your lives were singing in a blue, blue melody with overtones so pure and so sad.

Well, dears, I just want you to know that I understand and the questions you raise are. . . well, I just wanted to tell you you're not alone.

Here's what you said that caught my ear. Toni was talking, telling me, and I just started writing it down. I was driving at the time. (My writing gets so squiggly when I'm driving, like the line of a saxophone solo, and the sentences get out of place.)

For instance, "I'm 50 & I don't know," is what near-onto stopped me in my tracks, that is, if I hadn't been driving about 70 miles an hour past the big Watt Road truck stop. Now, there is a place NOT to stop in your tracks, with those double-semis roaring across lanes. The lanes from Nashville join in right there. Some lanes hot-foot-it up from the south and some come in from the west. Those drivers are not fooling when they hedge you, in a flash, with a blinking light saying, "Want over! NOW!"

"We born around the same time, me and you," said Violet. "We women, me and you. Tell me something real. Don't just say I'm grown and ought to know. I don't. I'm fifty and I don't know nothing. What about it? Do I stay with him? I want to, I think. I want. . . well, I didn't always. . . now I want. I want some fat in this life."

"Wake up. Fat or lean, you got just one. This is it."

"You don't know either, do you?"

"I know enough to know how to behave."

"Is that it? Is that all it is?"

"Is that all what is?" There's more of this conversation excerpted here.

I do understand, Alice, Violet. Getting old is no trick. And sometimes you look up from your reading, or driving, or laundry, or sewing, or music, or writing of blogs and say, "Hey, wait a minute. Is this it?" And you're not sure what "behaving" has to do with it.

Well, I want to encourage you, not that I'm sure of everything, because I'm just me, but I've lived and come from a family of folks who have lived a long time.

My husband calls me a Communist, but I'm not. I'm just a socialist. And I'm not even a good socialist. I haven't even read Karl Marx. But I kind of believe that in some ways all things are equal. The sky up above our heads and the solid pavement or earth beneath us lend some equality to all things. And, it is the embrace of this equality and availability of good things that can grant to us the opportunity to say, "Yes. That is all there is. Isn't it fine!"

My mother said, the other day, that she was thinking about heaven. She said, "It's so close!" She wasn't fearful. She meant, "Isn't it grand." I was out the other day and saw eight deer in a field. My children were together at Thanksgiving and played kickball in the cold. They let me play even though once they observed my running style, they thought I'd better be the pitcher for both teams.

In spite of what you hear from various sides, both conservatives and liberals, "behaving" does have something to do with living a happy life. You can't spend up your capital. . . energy and money and emotional engagement on foolishness. You can't shut your window and breathe fresh air. You can't run after what doesn't exist and find it. How do I say that in the terminology of behaving? You can't covet something you don't have and enjoy what you've got. You can't be unfaithful to your husband, wife, and family and experience the delights of your husband, wife, and family. You can't lie and still believe. You can't curse and be blessed. You've got to behave yourself.

I'm way over fifty now. I don't know much. But, as much as I know anything, I know that love and faithfulness, beauty and truth, goodness and justice, with a good dose of humility thrown in are investments whose payback is the only payback. So that's what you invest in.


P.S. Christianity is, by the way, about second chances. That's why I believe in the gospel of Jesus. The story there is of redemption. A second chance at the fat of life. Today is always the day for new investment in that which is the real fat.

There is a commonly known passage from the Bible that talks about enjoying the beautiful fields of our lives and following after God and spiritual things in a way that brings fulfillment. It ends with these words, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." How fat is that?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Crossing the Partisan Divide

Dear Republican Senators Scott Brown, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, George Voinovich, Christopher Bond and Democratic Senator Ben Nelson,

The Continental Divide of the Americas, frequently called the Great Divide, is a hydrological divide of the Americas that separates the watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean from those that drain into the Atlantic Ocean. There are other continental divides on the North American continent, however the Great Divide is by far the most prominent, well, at least hydrologially speaking. One blogger posted a picture of himself at a sign in the Rockies that announced "Continental Divide". He noted that if he spit in one direction, his saliva would wend it's way to the Pacific. If he spit in the other, the expectorant would find itself reaching the Atlantic Ocean.

There is only one greater divide cutting through the United States at this time, and you, Scott, Susan, Olympia, George, Christopher, and Ben, are our only hope for eroding it. That Greater Divide is the partisanship that defines and divides all of politics these days.

And I want to say "Thank You", to you six, for taking your pick axes and shovels and, at least for one day, one vote, making rubble of the partisan divide that is rendering our political system impotent.

My New York Times headlines this morning recounted the story of your defection from politics as usual. With G.O.P. Help, Senate Advances Jobs Bill, it said. "A rare bipartisan breakthrough," the article stated. It said the Republicans broke ranks and that one Democrat did too. I cannot thank you all enough. What I am impressed by, is your willingness to do what the rest seem unable to do--THINK FOR YOURSELVES!

Water runs downhill. The continental divide marks something that is inexhorable. But people, even congress people, can walk uphill. You have demonstrated that this is possible. I can't thank you enough.


Saturday, February 06, 2010

When I learned to curse...***with added cursing fun***

Dear Sailors all over the world,

You have been given the status as the worst cuss-ers ever, so I address this letter to you, hoping you may find it an interesting break from the monotony of your ocean voyages.

So, we all know the scene from a Christmas Story, the one where Ralphie is helping his dad change the tire and something happens and he lets out the F-bomb (nicely disguised as FUDGE!) loud and clear for all to hear. And when his mom asks where he learned such a word, but he can't give the obvious truth that his dad swears like a sailor all the time. So he blames it on a friend.

So I was listening to an interview about a new book called the Hidden Brain today, and I don't know why but it got me thinking about when I learned curse words. I don't mean learned how to curse. That, obviously, happened at the dinner table when I had immunity. But I mean learned what curse words meant.

I find this interesting (and understandably you may not) because it seems that I had some pretty strong emotional responses to these words, or else how could I remember these scenes so clearly?

The first scene is when I learned what the D-word means. I remember being probably 8 or 10 and being in our kitchen. My dad and Aunt Dee were sitting around making jokes about the "dam road", literally talking about a road that runs by a dam. And I couldn't understand what was so funny (well, it wasn't actually that funny, but a lot of laughing happens when DeGeorges get together). So I remember asking "What does that MEAN?" and finally my Aunt leaned over and whispered in my ear "it means being sent to Hell." Enough said for me. But the thing that is so wild is how I can still almost feel the breath as she whispered in my ear. The memory is just that clear.

When I was working as an intern with a psychologist, she told me the story of a woman who had extreme difficulty talking. She stuttered and could not clearly say words.
Except for swear words. She almost had tourettes, but when she would start swearing, she did not stop or stutter as she usually did, but could go on clearly with no problems. But why, I want to know. What is the difference with those words. They mean the same thing as many other words, so what gives?

It makes me think about the Sh word. I mean, what is the difference between these words? (Note, as you can tell by how I type, I am SPELLING here, so this is allowable...) S-H-I-T, C-R-A-P, P-O-O-P...I mean they all have 4 letters and mean the same thing. So what is the emotional difference of the first?

So here is what my brother said about curse words in our family...As I said before, spelling is OK, and quoting is OK, too.

So now for a biggie. The F-bomb. I don't actually remember this one, but I have been told it so many times that it is part of my history. Just imagine your young kindergartner riding in the back seat. And you hear her using her phonics skills

newly learned in school. eff---uhhh---kkkk. YEa, don't sound that out loud!! First the sounds are separate and slow, then, as the child grows in confidence, they are slurred together to form the word. And then it is proudly repeated with confidence. I can just imagine my mother going, "No no, honey no, we don't say THAT word. But good reading!"

I do remember, however, asking my dad what the F-word means. We were out at the barn dealing with the animals and he turned toward the rabbit cages. "Remember", he said "when we saw those rabbits trying to make baby rabbits?" "Yea, dad, I remember". "Well honey, that was what the F-word is."

Do parents mess with kids minds on purpose or what? But really, that was sufficient. Between that and Websters dictionary, I got it. Thank you Webster, for your clear concise definitions! After that experience I stuck to Noah for further definition needs. But you know, thank goodness I had the book and not the online dictionary, because who knows what would have come up!

Sucks, which used to be a curse word, but apparently isn't anymore, was written on a sign near my school. The graffiti said "School Sucks". I got that one without any explanation!

I could go on about when I learned the word bitch and proceeded to go to school the next day saying to other kids and telling them it was not bad because it's just a word for female dog, but I think I should stop here and do some real research about this phenomenon. And maybe I will read the Hidden Brain too. Any interesting stories about how you learned how to cuss?


CaDh 8

PS. I almost forgot to tell a story of my first use of the word "Ass". Now, I must say that ass is a word that I learned early... "The ox and ass kept time, pah rum pum pum pum..." One of those duel purpose words that you learn once and then you learn again. They are confusing words to children. But I was truly an innocent child and really did keep my mind fairly clean for about as long as it is possible. So one day our teachers at school told us that we were not to call each other "inanimate objects". Yes, it sounds silly, but anyone who remembers junior high and has any imagination can see how some fairly good teasing (we'd probably call it bullying today) could be done and hidden by using code words of common classroom items. So apparently this was going on. Of course, as soon as we were told NOT to do this, we went onto the play ground at recess and started calling each other every name in the book. Think of a play ground..."You kick ball!" "You shoe!" "You lunch box!" "You asphalt!!!"...I think the whole playground got quiet after that left my mouth. But I was clueless. I didn't even know what I said. The recess monitor came and got me and told me I was in big trouble. Why? I mean, yea we were doing something we had been told not to, but why just me? Thinking back it is kind of funny that that woman had to tell my father (the principle) what I had said, and was more embarassed to tell it than I was! I really innocently thought that my dad would understand that I would NEVER intend such a double meaning, but that I was just using the proper term for the pavement we were standing on!
Well, I don't know if my dad believed me. I would not have. But the worst behaved boy in class did come to my defense and told him I would never do such a thing. I thought that was pretty cool. Now it is a standing joke in the family and it is always OK to call someone an asphalt!!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

And the Prize Goes to: Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

Caption: Vladimir Nabokov receives the J.J. Ellstrom Award for Literature, 2009.

Dear Vladimir Nabokov,

When the applause dies down, every award winner, sits down. Their smiles twitch and relax. The tight buttocks widens on the seat of the chair. Still nodding to their peers and compatriots, still squeezing the hand of the one they love, still tightly gripping the statue, certificate, or badge, they think the thought, the one thought that is not really a spoiler, any more than winter is a spoiler to spring.

They think: "Why me and why this?" For you, the question, certainly becomes "Why this work, when I wrote Lolita and Pale Fire?" This work is hard to find. It is obscure and indeterminate. It is the least of these, my brethren. But of course, you know the answer, for this was, perhaps, your favorite work.

Timothy Langen from the University of Missouri says: "Of all of Nabokov's famously fertile works, Invitation to a Beheading has yielded perhaps the greatest bounty of plausible interpretation." Yes, I think that is true. As Invitation is an ambiguous book, providing for students and experts such a slippery surface for academic pursuit, I have put on my skates and worked my figures on the ice. Here is what my mind has etched as I thought and thought, like Cincinnatus C., over the past year.

I think that Invitation to a Beheading is a very personal internal portrayal of the topic of obsession. Like Humbert Humbert, in Lolita, our protaganist is manacled by and absolutely defenseless against his own personal obsession. HH's fixation is delineated for us. But CC's is left to our imaginations and our soul's empathies. We may fill in our own blank. Hopefully, ours will be less horrific than the one described in Lolita, but the imprisonment is the same.

The prison analogy that you, Vladimir, have used in Beheading, is a reversal of the one you chose for Lolita where HH is only freed, really, once he is behind bars. CC, on the other hand, eventually works through his obsession and in a final decapitation of much that he conceives to be himself, he finds himself free to live once more.

It may be CC's inability to fit society's mold, his "gnostical turpitude," that is the precipitating cause for the obsession that confines him to the cell of his unreal reality, but it is the obsession itself that holds him there, awaiting and hoping for the end of both the obsession and the only life that he can embrace while in it's grip. What day will this end? How long will this beloved horror continue? That is the question you have raised, isn't it? That is the tale you have woven in this curiously beguiling novel. Here you have analyzed the perverse intrigues of the heart and mind that is incarcerated by a forbidden enchantment.

One of the most interesting moments of the book is when it is revealed that CC can leave his prison, and that he does so, briefly, only to return rather accidentally but deliberately.

Somehow our hero reaches the end, his end, the end of his obsessed form of living. (And so does HH. And so do you, and me, and all of us.) By an act of will, or circumstance, or chemical recession, the obsession subsides and we walk away, finding that the spider was not real after all, though the experience certainly was. And life, though bereft of obsession, is once again his own.

Vladimir, because you have woven such an interesting psychological explanation of that which is impossible to explain, I have awarded to you the 2009 Ellstrom Award for Literature. Congratulations!


Friday, January 29, 2010

The J.J. Ellstrom Award for Literature, 2009

Dear Readers Everywhere,

All of this year I have been putting off a decision. It has been too hard. It has been fearful. I was scheduled to make this decision last March, but I delayed.

The Ellstrom Award for Literature is auspicious. It is the award for the best book of all the ones I read during the course of a year. 2008 was a competitive year. See the list of potentials at Books and Music in 2008.

The competing authors are like a list of who's who in writing: Ayn Rand, James Joyce, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Langston Hughes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Juan Rulfo, Harper Lee, Toni Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Cormac McCarthy, Zora Neale Hurston, Don DeLillo, etc. And the books are among the best of the authors in question. These are some of the best books in the canon of American Literature. So before I announce the winner, let me do homage to those who also ran.

J.J. Ellstrom, for whom this award was named would want the other renowned authors named here to receive their proper nod. I remember his sense of respect. My grandfather was straight and gruff. To me he was tall, though I have no record of his physical measure. The house in which he lived in Altoona was light green. The wooden kitchen table was also green. I remember that table covered with flour and dough while my grandmother kneaded a sticky rye bread dough. I remember sitting at that table, spooning up delicious chicken noodle soup. And at that table my grandfather taught me to respect.

We never had much money, so a dollar bill was wealth. One afternoon, my grandfather called my sister and me to the table. He was prepared to bestow upon us a fortune. In his hands were ten crisp dollar bills. One by one, he counting them out, alternately placing one before my sister and one before me. Five dollars! For me! Then he called for our wallets and began instructing us how to place those bills into the pocket. "Never," he said, "place the head of our president upside down in the wallet. Make sure every head is up and facing front. These were the leaders of our country. Treat them with respect."

So, with that same measure of respect, I want to give homage to the greatness of the works of literature that I have read, not this last year, but the year before, during 2008.

Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo is an incredible example of Latin American magical realism. It held me fascinated. I am not sure I totally understood it and so may reread it next year. Perhaps it will take the Ellstrom honor second time around.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville is held in such high esteem that I must mention it here. I was extremely impressed by parts of it. I loved most especially its description of courage in Chapter 26. As a whole, however, I didn't think it held together. Some call it the Great American novel. I think that perhaps it is the Great Ocean novel.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald was a good read for me, but I loved, better, Fitzgerald's Babylon Revisited, which I read in 2009.

If any book contended for the 2009 Ellstrom Award, it was, for me, Harper Lee's, To Kill a Mockingbird. This truly is one of the finest stories that I have ever read. When Harper Lee was asked why she never wrote another book, she stated that she had said everything she had to say in To Kill a Mockingbird. And she said it well.

Huckleberry Finn, likewise, is a wonderful story and a great novel. Mark Twain gave a great gift to literature in this book. The ending kind of falls apart, deteriorating into some kind of tall tale. I'm not sure why Twain let it peeter out. It's unfortunate.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is a stunning book. I liked it very much. This book, as well as the study by Brannon Costello in the book Plantation Airs led me to her other, more mature book, I think, Seraph on the Suwanee, which is in contention for the 2010 Ellstrom Award.

Tambourines to Glory by Langston Hughes is perhaps not the weightiest book in all the world, but I think it is one that is overlooked. I would recommend this book highly.

Jazz by Toni Morrison is, I think, one of Morrison's best, at least in it's form. It mimics the Jazz form. I loved that about it and thought it was a marvel in that way. But the story wasn't as compelling. I'll have to reread it one of these days to figure out why it is both great and not quite so great.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand hugs the top of the list of best one hundred populist-rated American novels. I find that quite curious. I was fascinated by it, for sure, but the writing itself is not great. The combination of philosophy and novel is what makes it fascinating.

Dubliners by James Joyce is an amazing collection of short stories. Certainly if I were giving an award for the best short story, it would be The Dead from this collection.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy, stands with To Kill a Mockingbird as a book that certainly deserves an award. It is probably the best post-apocalytic book ever written. Though the movie was a bit disappointing, the book is spectacular.

So, that was the field. You can see why I was flummoxed.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Above the Eastern Treetops, Blue

Dear Libby Falk Jones,

I am so happy to hear that you are publishing a new book of poetry!

Publishing is an amazing thing really. I have spent the last few years facilitating publication, both print and online. Publication, I have often said, is a public form of communication. It is the transfer of ideas from one individual to another using some medium of exchange.

When that medium is poetry, well. . . the communication is pretty special. The poet condenses and distills ideas and then communicates and publishes abroad. The words become powerful, like nectar, like espresso, or like a dagger.

I love this poem that you have allowed me to post here.

October Tenth: For My First Son

At a surprise T’ai Chi class (the yoga
            teacher was sick) I breathe in, hold,
                        breathe out, willing my ribs to

expand, focusing on the knot
            in the floorboard, circling my hands
                        over the energy flame in my navel

as eighteen years ago today
            I panted your life into life,
                        my fingers circling my knotted

belly, my focus down
            and out, my core expanding, my
                        center sliding forward, until

there you sat, upright
            in the doctor’s palm, your arms
                        circling the universe.

                                                —Libby Jones

Again, congratulations on your new book: Above the Eastern Treetops, Blue, from Finishing Line Press!


Thursday, January 07, 2010

Books and Music 2010

Dear Lovers of Books and Music,

This year, as in the past, I've decided to keep a record of the books I've read and significant pieces of music that I have listened to. I am not a fast reader, so this list won't grow quickly. However, I like keeping a record. My goal last year was to read a book a week. If you want to count, you will find that I did accomplish my goal, although, I had to search my memory to pull one last book out of the hat. (A children's book, but a book nonetheless.)

I'm rather committed to keeping most of my reading on a classic level. I am trying to catch up on the best of literature. Plus, I really do prefer books that have a lot of substance, even when I miss some of the points, which I often do. Other readers sometimes help me understand, and for their insights I am grateful. Regrettably, I don't have too many musician friends to help me with my musical passion.


Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman
Beowulf by Anonymous, Translation by Robert Kay Gordon
Manga Messiah published by Tyndale House
A History of God by Karen Armstrong
The Shack by William P. Young
What Now? by Ann Patchett
The Runaway Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
The Lifted Veil by George Eliot
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
The Niagara River by Kay Ryan
Japanese Children's Favorite Stories compiled by Florence Sakade
The Illustrated Anansi compiled by Philip Sherlock
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Puck of Pook's Hill by Rudyard Kipling
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer
Cinderella Tales from Around the World compiled by Ila Lane Gross
The Heidi Chronicles by Wendy Wasserstein
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card
The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman
We Make the Road by Walking by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire
Dracula by Bram Stoker
American Mind Part II by Allen Guelzo
American Mind Part III by Allen Guelzo
Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Tinkering Toward Utopia by David Tyack and Larry Cuban
The Life of Our Lord by Charles Dickens
Silas Marner by George Eliot
The Castle by Franz Kafka
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
The Amazing Mrs. Polifax by Dorothy Gilman


L'Enfance du Christ by Hector Berlioz
The String Quartets of Shostakovich
Love's Twilight by Anne Sophie von Otter
Dvorak Symphony #9 conducted by Arturo Toscanini