July 1/365 My Nose In A Book

In Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Belle’s opinion of the Beast begins to change when she first sees his library. This makes sense. A sexy brain must read books, many books, and a well-used library of thousands of books is a very good sign that the Beast has a sexy brain, indeed.

When Belle opens those lovely old texts, her nose will detect a sweet vanilla scent, a touch of almond, and the ghost of something floral. In a flash, Belle will be taken back through memory to every beloved old book, every sacred text, which all opened with the same perfume. How do I know this? Because old books smell fantastic, and speak to memory through scents. It’s an accident of chemistry that the papers and glues used to make books break down with age and the reaction releases these odors.

Now old books can also smell horrible, reeking of sour mildew and cigarettes, their pages stained with unknown liquids, their glue digested by silverfish. Note here: these are unloved books. Belle stands before a promised land of beloved books, and there may be a bit of dust here and there, but the breath of each will be sweet and true.

July 2/365 More, Mom! Another Chapter!

I write at a desk next to Duncan’s bookshelves. A mix of YA mainstays, some sci-fi, interspersed with college texts. (Understanding Vietnam rests uncomfortably between Jacques’s Taggerung and Kendall’s The Gammage Cup, a fantasy involving the Minnipins.) Raising sons involved copious reading, by me as well as them. So much on these shelves was first read aloud: the entire Lemony Snicket series, the Dark is Rising series, the Dark Materials books, Harry Potter through the fourth book. Then the boys took over, and we stole the volumes back and forth between us, so that we could wrangle over them later. That was the best part: the debating about plots and characters, the impassioned arguments concerning flaws or secrets or what could happen next.

Duncan comes home in August for a weekend. We’ll go over the books on these shelves, because Mom is slowly making this her space. I’m sure that some are not in the “forever keeping” category. (Sorry Mr. Jacques and The Minnipins…I wager that you’re both toast!) I will keep the important ones for him, however. My voice is part of them, their laughter woven into the text, our communion adding layers of meaning that authors never intended.

bookshelves

 

 

July 3/365 Unwritten

In the middle of an argument, Conor tossed this Molotov:

“Do you know how much it bugs me, that you are wasting all this time, working a job you hate and taking care of me? That you’ve never written that book that you told me about. Or any of the books that you should have? And all that’s in you, frustrated and empty, you keep pushing out at me, and I’m never going to be that good.”

In truth, that’s a paraphrase, because I didn’t rush anywhere to write it down while the words still were phosphorous. I didn’t write it down, because I don’t. Ever. And my younger son, my doppelganger boy, destroyed me in that moment.

My unwritten works.

Here is a secret. In our basement, in a box that I will probably burn someday, is a letter from an editor from a publishing house dated 1988. I had written one good story, and he had read it. Did I have something longer he could look at? I had fled the MFA program, leaving a wake of work undone and my finished divorce. I had nothing to send.

The silent decades? No writing. A life. And some regret.

July 4/365 Abarat

Abarat picI wish Abarat had been available when I was moping around through my 13th year. I don’t know if Clive Barker intended this to be a girl-empowerment tome, but to adult me, Candy’s journey is Any Girl’s Story. Imagine a teenager wandering out of a nowhere town to be alone in a great big grass prairie. Imagine the strangeness of the day, and the deluge that catches her. I can because I wandered for miles outside of Wellsville, every day, when I was her age. What else could a girl do when she was caught in limbo?

The teaser on the back plate suggests this:

 

 

A journey beyond imagination is about to unfold…

It begins in the most boring place in the world: Chickentown, U.S.A. There lives Candy Quackenbush, her heart bursting for some clue as to what her future might hold.

When the answer comes, it’s not one she expects.

Welcome to the Abarat.

This isn’t a simple fantasy novel, with good and evil clearly delineated. Candy is adrift, literally, in a menacing world where time cannot be depended on, and kindness remains elusive. An object of obsessive desire, she transcends to frame her own passions in the end.

July 5/365 Myths, Part 1

GreekI borrowed the same book from the school library every week, until the librarian finally put her foot down. I don’t know if she wanted others to be able to enjoy the book, or she was just a proponent of children having a wide exposure to literature, but I was banned from signing out D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths.

Without that book, I might never have experienced the canon of a classical education.* The Hannigan household was solidly blue-collar, evangelical protestant, and non-intellectual. Private schools didn’t exist as an option. I would never learn Latin, or Greek, and didn’t know anyone who had. But I had this huge, colorful book at my fingertips. From the Greek myths, I jumped quickly into their plagiarized versions in Rome, and then swung wildly north to frost giants and Asgard. Through these children’s texts, doors opened that led to understanding ancient history, grasping philosophy, and even failing at reading James Joyce.

I am drawn to the mythic, even as I am repulsed by religion. I sense the possibility of dryads in the oaks surrounding my house, and while waiting for Rufus’s nightly rituals, I think about them, and offer thanks for shade and comfort.

* I also have to say here that the King James Version of the Bible saved my ass in any English Lit class concerning texts predating the 19th century. It is perhaps the only silver lining to having grown up among the Bible-beaters that I absorbed the patterns of that language like a sponge.

July 6/365 Myths, Part 2

Once upon a time I loved reading C. S. Lewis. Now his works are a minefield. Like his old friend JRRT, I “cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations,” and CSL enjoyed allegory writing with great abandon. The Lion is Jesus; the Witch is the Devil! The Scientist is the Snake in Eden! I simply can’t go there any more.

TillBut Till We Have Faces is different. It’s a brilliant retelling of the Psyche/Eros myth, from a point of view that baffles me: from a multifaceted, feminine perspective. How Lewis created this, I have no idea; perhaps he hinted in his dedication of the novel to his wife. I identify with the narrator, a strong-minded, loving sister – a woman who faced an incredibly misogynist world and persevered by her wits. Lewis stood the whole myth on its head by not focusing on beautiful Psyche, and therefore removing the supposition that beauty must always generate jealousy among women (we being, after all, just pawns to our emotions). I was nineteen when I read it, in a seminar entitled “The Oxford Christian Writers,” before my own “Great Schism” from Christianity. The book was a thing of wonder to me. And still it glows.

 

NOTE: JRRT’s wonderful complete quote: “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” This is probably why I wince less when reading Tolkien!

July 7/365 Myths, Part 3

Gene Wolfe’s imagination astounds me. Nothing is simple about his ideas, or their execution. When I read his great, fat books, I get lost in his worlds, to the point that I cannot pull myself out easily. I’m sure that my family will tell you that I emerge from a long read disconnected from reality, distracted, and I am unable to speak coherently for a bit. I’ve made the mistake, often, of trying to summarize Wolfe’s plots; each time I sputter senselessly until I realize I sound like a crazy woman. Such is this writer’s power.

latroI knew nothing about him until I found a used copy of Latro In The Mist in the chaotic stacks of my favorite bookstore. I think of Wolfe as a master of “what ifs,” much like Ursula Le Guin. What if you write two novels set in the beginning of Greece’s classical era, set it in the aftermath of a battle with the Persians, center it on a foreign soldier with a head injury that keeps erasing his memories while letting the gods talk to him, throw in the gods and goddesses as they were viewed at the time, and (this is the critical point) wipe out all the history we KNOW about the time, and replace it with the language of events that would have been used then. This isn’t Sparta and Athens, Zeus and Hera, city-states and democracy. Nothing has been codified yet. How does someone who forgets everything remember? He writes down everything, every day, and reads the words at the start of each new day.

Why do I like such complicated books? Books with pages and pages of notes in the back, books with languages I do not speak, books with back histories that recede into their own memories? Why do I like books which require so much of me as a reader? I read War And Peace when I was thirteen, barely keeping the characters’ names, and all their sweet diminutives straight. Tolkien followed, with careful attention to indexes and notes. Then giant fantasy operas of Herbert, Reynolds, Banks, and Wolfe. And Garcia Marquez, Eco, and Borges (who proves that you don’t have to write long works to create endless labyrinths). Don’t just tell me a story; I seem to need a world.

NOTE: Latro In The Mist is a compilation volumn of two novels, Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete.

Apologies for blowing right through the word limit. Couldn’t help myself!

July 8/365 Whose Story Is It?

Ismael is not a great novel. At times the writing clunks along under a heavy burden of SAYING IMPORTANT THINGS. But Daniel Quinn’s argument, his discussion of essential knowledge about the underpinnings of our civilization, was the last straw in my long divorce from Christianity.

No small thing.

ishmael1.jpgAt the heart of the story is a discussion of the seminal text in Genesis of Adam and Eve, and their expulsion from Eden. His question – who does this story belong to, who is the original teller of the tale – resonates with me right now, even as I grapple with my own cultural appropriations. Can a white, cis, straight woman speak about those who aren’t any of the above? I, who have always greedily enjoyed aspects of other people’s cultures, drinking and eating their foods with abandon, dancing to their music, rejoicing in the free movement of their clothing styles, am I stealing something that is not mine to have? And can I produce my art including them, imagining a fully-fleshed version of a trans person, or creating a history for someone I have never been?

In the world ruled by straight, white, mostly Christian men, the canon of WHAT ART CAN DO was established with no input from anyone else. Now all the rest of the world weighs in, with a multiplicity of voices, and I find myself adrift in a beautiful sea.

And I realize that none of this has anything to do with Ishmael, or does it? Questioning Mother Culture is, after all, the fundamental lesson here.

July 9/365 Quintessence of Dust

I couldn’t write about this book yesterday. And this morning, still nothing doing.

Perhaps it was because this is a book of sadness, of loss, of repeating stupidity and rebirth. And it reckons well with the current tides, making me shiver inside.

canticleWill humanity ever destroy itself with nuclear weapons? A few years ago, I would have argued that we had looked that demon in the eye and learned something. We hadn’t. I still feel that it’s far more likely that we’ll just render the world unlivable, or that the biosphere will smack us down with a precise virus percolating from the destroyed heart of a rain forest, an Ebola, only faster with better targeting. But can you imagine the desolate opera of humanity self-destructing, rebuilding from nothing, self-destructing, rebuilding, ad nauseam? Why would anyone endure that story?

And yet I’ve read A Canticle for Leibowitz several times through. Maybe I’m hoping that there will be another ending, or that I’ll finally understand if the pattern has been broken (leaving the Earth for mutant beings, who are strangely beautiful) or if the pattern has just shifted into outer space, where humanity will continue fucking up everything over and over again.

July 10/365 The Cripps Family

Stan sends me lists of mystery novels worth reading. He always has a new one in his pocket. He even gave me a little book that lists mysteries by author and detective, so when we are pillaging a used book store and find a likely volume, I can check if it is already on my shelves at home. I have too many books, you see, and a faulty memory.

anoRichard Jury mysteries. The best.

Here’s what a good mystery needs, if I’m to stay interested: a flawed detective; wonderful side-kicks; humor; a sense of place, and well-developed secondary characters; a cost (I have no patience with sweet-faced crime solvers who are not impacted in the least by the crimes they witness); and a point that goes beyond just connecting the dots

Unfortunately these Jury novels need to be read in order, since the characters and histories build book upon book. But if I was to pick the best, it would be #3, The Anodyne Necklace, and for one reason only: the Cripps family. Slapstick and social commentary rarely come together to render anything half as interesting as Ash-the-Flash Cripps and his wife, White Ellie. You have to read them to believe them.

July 11/365 Ink

I don’t write fan letters. But then one day, I did.

First we read The Thief Lord, a luminous book about two children, Prosper and Bo, who are on a magnificent, often dangerous, adventure in Venice. The author, Cornelia Funke, I had never heard of before, most likely because she’s German, and well, we Americans have limited attention spans.

inkThen when Inkheart hit the American market, our family was primed and waiting. The boys were ready — Duncan would have been eight, and Conor five. We had just moved to Pennsylvania from Kansas, and they were still sharing a room. Their bed was one of those lopsided metal bunkbeds, with the lower mattress larger than the one above. Conor would snuggle under my arm on the lower bunk, and Duncan would lounge above, sometimes hanging his head over the edge. The moment was perfect: I read aloud a book about the magic of reading aloud, to two boys who believed utterly in magic. I couldn’t hope for anything better to happen, ever.

One character, more than any other, caught our imaginations: Dustfinger. We loved his complicated, often untrustworthy nature. Here was a man literally playing with fire, teasing it to his will. We had definite ideas about him. So when we read that the movie rights were sold, and casting was happening, I wrote to the author. Insane, I know. I suggested to her who we thought should play Dustfinger. Suffice to say, they didn’t go with our suggestion, and the movie did not do very well. I think we know why.

But we received a charming response, that I’ve saved in an email file marked “need to save.” Here it is, with no corrections:

Dear Kim,
my name is Insa. I am Cornelia’s “little” sister. Three years ago I took on the job of answering all the fan mail, because Cornelia is snowed under with work. Nevertheless she still reads all the letters (Word of Honor!). They mean a lot to her!

Sorry, sorry, sorry for this late reply, but the letters come by the truckload! In addition, the last months were very chaotic, because of Cornelia’s move to California and the complex revision of Cornelia’s website. Thank you so much for your patience – and thanks a lot for your beautiful letter!

Cornelia is deep into Inkdeath already (the third part of her Inkheart trilogy) – and she promises the book doesn’t have this title, because so many people die, but because you will learn, how Death looks in Fenoglio’s world and whether one can make a deal with him. She is not sure about Meggie and Farid yet – they will tell her, she guesses, in time, but she promises she’ll write the story down just the way it has to be told.
As for the Inkheart movie project, unfortunately nothing has been officially announced regarding the cast so far. I think Adrien Brody would be a wonderful Dustfinger. You are absolutely right. By the way, the shooting of the Inkheart movie will probably start this fall. We will keep you posted on Cornelia’s website: http://www.corneliafunke.de/en/

Warmest wishes from Germany and greetings to Duncan and Conor!
Insa

July 12/365 Praise Be!

My Kindle holds two kinds of books – incredibly cheap ebooks, and books I planned on reading while I recuperated from my knee replacements (I come from a long line of arthritic folk). So that explains why George R. R. Martin’s series is there (the first knee), and most of Naomi Novak’s Dragon series as well (the second).

altoThe liturgical mystery series, by Mark Schweizer, were bargain-basement purchases, but highly recommended by my dear Stan. When I read the first one, The Alto Wore Tweed, I cackled so much that Duncan left his computer game to check on me. I was lying on my bed, rocking with laughter, tears streaming down my cheeks. I sputtered something about angels, mannequins, a boy named after a beer, and he just thought, “Mom’s finally gone bonkers.” Everything is silly about these books, and the writing is uneven. I doubt that anyone raised in a religion-free world would find them more than marginally humorous. But I was marinated in church life: the politics, the long-simmering feuds, the strange ideas that cropped up and failed in services, and the bizarre characters who were often called upon to serve. These small novels are priceless to me.

[It’s] like Mitford meets Jurassic Park, only without the wisteria and the dinosaurs. —

Marty Hatteberg, The InChoirer, August, 2002

July 13/365 China

He’s too cool for me. Just look at him. A better version of Christopher Eccleston, with his shaved head, and ice blue eyes. Pierced, tatted. Studied at the London School of Economics, and wrote his PhD thesis on a Marxist theory of international law. Then he went back to his geeky, D&D playing, monster-loving roots, and started writing truly interesting books, exploring all genres, while breaking some of them. To read China Miéville is to embrace something wild and wonderful, to not be comfortable, but to be thoroughly engaged.

unlundunWhen I wrote “all genres,” I meant it.* Un Lun Dun was Miéville’s young adult novel. Essentially it’s The Phantom Tollbooth meets Alice in Wonderland meets any Tim Burton movie meets the underbelly of the toxic pollution of London. I bought the book for Conor to read. I don’t think he ever did, so I stole it back, devoured it, and keep it on my shelves. Someday, perhaps I’ll gift it to a child of his. Perhaps.

 

 

 

* Although most of his books have an element of science fiction, he has written within the genres of American westerns, steam punk, space exploration, detective noir, young adult, and sea-faring (think Moby Dick melded with Mutiny on the Bounty). Other of his books defy genre and are categorized as weird fiction or urban surrealism. He doesn’t give a damn about any of this. Again, look at his picture.

 

July 14/365 Pages Do Not Lie

book 1.1
Opal and Seneca don’t think I need to get a picture of this book.

This may be a fictional account.

I bought the More-with-Less Cookbook in the bookstore at Nyack College and gave it to my sister, Cindy, for Christmas. Then I took it back, since she wasn’t using it. I don’t think I replaced it with anything else, so I may have shorted my own sister out of a Christmas present. In my defense, I am the youngest child in the family, and well, you know what comes with that turf.

It turns out, I may be an unrepentant thief.

The book lost its cover some years back. Several pages are loose. And you can tell which recipes have been made over and over. I taught myself how to bake bread while still in college from this book. I continue to use the oatmeal bread recipe, my corrections carefully written on the deeply stained page. My favorite recipe for dhal is in here as well, right next to a vegetable curry that can feed a dozen people. The book was commissioned by a Mennonite committee in Pennsylvania, and those Mennonite missionaries brought home some interesting recipes to mix in with their solid, thrifty menus. I look through this book every time I attempt to get the household budget back into sanity, or when I’m feeling in need of something homey, and comforting.

book 3
Some cookbooks…but also pet care and gardening as well 
book 5
The rest of the cookbooks

July 15/365 My People

I grew up a hair’s breadth from White Trash. What kept my family above that line was the incredible work ethic of my parents, combined with my mother’s iron frugality and determination to be respectable. Oh, and luck. Those things that destroy working class economies – catastrophic illness, substance addiction, houses burning down, unfaithfulness, and industries closing up shop – didn’t happen to us. Some of my relatives weren’t so lucky, and their families slipped down into the border ranges of poverty and rage.

bean.jpgGreat fictional literature about White Trash in America seems dominated by southern writers. Thank you, Faulkner and Caldwell and O’Connor, et. al. But their characters weren’t my people. I grew up in the cold lands, where springs can come late, wet fields will bring on a rot that can damn your kitchen garden, children wear bread bags inside their snow boots to keep their feet dry, and cold seeps in through bad windows every night. Mothers rub Bag Balm onto cracking fingers all winter long, hoping that it will stop the pain. Bag Balm, marketed now in trendy outdoor catalogs, is an ointment farmers use on cow’s udders to keep them from getting infected and cracked. It has a strong smell. My parents had a square green tin of it in their medicine cabinet.

So when in 1985, I read The Beans of Egypt, Maine, and found a character described as smelling of Bag Balm, I immediately recognized my people. In fact, I remember this book being full of the smells imprinted from my childhood: cigarettes, sweat, the grease-and-stale-beer reek of bars, wet woolen socks and mittens, and wood smoke mixed with cold Canadian air. Of course, no one like my mother exists in the extensive Bean family, so there isn’t much Pine-sol, bleach, lemon Pledge, or the freshness of sun-dried sheets to be found in the story. She would have been, like me, on the outside of this tale, looking in.

“This book was involuntarily researched. I have lived poverty. I didn’t CHOOSE it. No one would choose humiliation, pain, and rage.”

Caroline Chute, 1985

 

 

July 16/365: Ernest Matthew Mickler

Some days you just have to learn something new. I wanted to write about White Trash Cooking, a cookbook that makes my heart glad, but that I hardly ever use. I love the photographs, especially the ones of the refrigerators and front porches, and the gleeful writing. And if I was ever to go whole-hog planning a Southern-based party, I would turn to it before looking up Paula Deen online. Without a doubt, I would trust that these recipes would work, because these people cooked every day of their lives. But my heart, and my entire body, cannot afford to cook from this book. (See my note below.)

whiteSo today I go online, before writing, to see what else Mr. Mickler has been up to. I bought WTC in the 1980s, so there must be more out there to consider. There is. He died of AIDS right before his second cookbook was published, in 1988. There’s an excellent essay on The Bitter Southerner, that dwarfs anything I was going to write. So now I am mourning a loss that happened 30 years ago that I never knew a damn thing about. I find myself tossed back into the bleakest part of those scourging years.

So go read the essay, and then enjoy this, the first paragraph in the Introduction to WTC:

“Never in my whole put-together-life could I write down on paper a hard, fast definition of White Trash. Because, for us, as for our southern White Trash Cooking, there are no hard and fast rules. We don’t like to be hemmed in! But the first thing you’ve got to understand is that there’s white trash and there’s White Trash. Manners and pride separate the two. Common white trash has very little in the way of pride, and no manners to speak of, and hardly any respect for anybody or anything. But where I come from in North Florida you never failed to say “yes ma’m” and “no sir,” never sat on a made-up bed (or put your hat on it), never opened someone else’s icebox, never left food on your plate, never left the table without permission, and never forgot to say “thank you” for the teeniest favor. That’s the way the ones before us were raised and that’s the way they raised us in the South.”

Ernest Matthew Mickler

NOTE: There are perfect recipes in this book, first-class roots-inspired recipes. But there are ten times as many that are composed almost entirely from cans of condensed soup, saltine crackers, jello, and other processed nightmares. Some boggle the mind. But then, I am reminded of my mom’s “Bavarian Cream” dessert that was composed of strawberry jello, frozen strawberries, Cool Whip, and chopped walnuts. We loved it.

July 17/365 My Literary Years

I must clear this shelf someday. I will put the books into a box and haul them to the library for the annual book sale. Some other blooming feminist, Marxist, quasi-surrealist chick is waiting for them.

During my graduate school years, I had a Poetry period, a Smoking-and-Drinking-with-Kate-and-Others period, and a Feminist Criticism period. (They overlapped a bit.)

I’ve dragged these books from Virginia, to Pennsylvania, to Kansas, and then back to Pennsylvania, and I haven’t opened them once. Dickens would tell me they are my chains, rattling after me all these years.

fem

July 18/365 Linda’s Gift

midsummerLinda gave me the ancient red-covered copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream when I transferred from Nyack to Hopkins. It was fragile then; now 39 years later, the binding has totally failed, and the covers are loose. A previous owner, Elizabeth Mayberry, confidently signed the first page. Her script looks old, and formal. Under that Linda wrote, in tiny, precise letters:

To Kim

Act V, scene i

ll. 7-27

The little volume is from the collection The Temple Shakespeare Books, with a print date of 1915. Priscilla Guthrie’s Book-Shop, at William Penn Place in Pittsburgh, sold it. I know this because inside the back cover is a tiny glued stamp advertising the shop.

I wish I had wrapped it up in acid-free paper, and stored it carefully against time. But instead the small book bounced along through all these years, unprotected. I wouldn’t dream of leaving it behind. It will be with me at the end of all words.

midsummer 2

July 19/365 Grammar For The Doomed

If I hadn’t read widely, I would never have learned how to “pass” as educated. Even with the help of the Brontës, Miss Austen, Louisa May, and untold others, my grammar is an unsteady knowledge, and based far too much on what “sounds right” rather than what simply is correct. So when I stumbled upon The Transitive VAMPIRE: A Handbook of GRAMMAR for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed, I knew I had found the perfect resource for me. Years later, when I took upon myself the education of my sons for a few years, they found the book to be hysterical. For example, in a discussion of subordinate clauses:

If Lucifer confesses, we’ll let the rest of you go.

After they removed the leeches, she showed him to the door.

If God exists, why would he want to hang around?

They dropped the subject before it got too hot.

I took an instant liking to him even though his hands were covered with fur.

If I die first, will you tuck me into my casket?

vampire

July 20/365 Cats, Before Webber

I wish that Andrew Lloyd Webber had never discovered T. S. Elliot.

elliot.3I have a paperback copy of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, illustrated perfectly by Edward Gorey. I wish it was a hardback because the poems deserve whiter paper, stronger ink, and more durable covers. Instead, the book is a slim little nothing that gets lost on my shelves. (Luckily, I sort by author, and Elliot’s other books are wide enough to find.)

Webber’s Cats takes all that is perfect in the poetry, and drags the maudlin to the forefront. There is nothing as sappy as Grizabella in the OP, and indeed, nothing that cloying exists in the real world of cats either. Can you imagine an ordinary housecat watching the expert, supposedly-feline movements, the excessive grooming licks, the grotesques of humans cavorting as some perversion of the singular, sinuous grace that is a Cat? Elliot didn’t write any of that. And I’m sure, that housecat, when presented with all that fuss, would do, as any good cat would do. A leg would be lifted, and her back curved away, as she would delicately clean her ass.

 

July 21/365 Why Do I Have This Book?

I met Uncle Teddy twice. At least that is what I remember. When I tried to track down the dates, and confirm that I was not fabricating anything, I found little to support my memories. First, I know I went to the funeral, in Dorchester, for his brother, the non-famous one, whose name I cannot find anywhere. There were three brothers: Teddy, the journalist; Robert, the scientist; and some dead guy I went to mourn with my ex-husband a life-time ago. Teddy’s obituary references Robert. Robert’s references Teddy. The third brother, the one I mourned that miserable day in Boston, died first and is not mentioned. So I say I met Teddy at a funeral that I cannot confirm for a brother I cannot name on a date I do not recall. Teddy spoke at the funeral, of that I’m sure.

The second meeting, in the spring of 1982, was at an engagement party before my first wedding. Mavis and Bob threw the party for their fancy Washington friends and family, who could not be bothered to attend the actual wedding in the outback of upstate New York. I know I had at least a passing conversation with the famous man, after all I was supposedly one of the celebrated engaged people, but I don’t remember anything about it. I wore a typical 1980s dress with poofed sleeves, made from a lovely silk madras plaid. Teal, silver, and fuchsia. Years later I donated it to a community theatre for their costuming department.

And there was a summer week, during one year of our brief marriage, when my ex-husband and I vacationed at Uncle Teddy’s cottage in Fire Island. The mosquitoes were horrific, the cottage was basic, and I thought that we’d vacation there again someday, and be better prepared for the whole experience. We never did. Teddy died suddenly of a stroke, and the cousins were not inclined to offer.

teddySo why then, do I have this book on my shelves? I’ve never read it; and doubt that I will suddenly want to understand the presidential election of 1960. Why didn’t my ex grab it up, and claim family privilege?  Today, on a lark, I checked to see if it was worth anything on the used book market: it’s worth less than it cost when published, even with the pristine book jacket and the slipcover. Oh, dear Uncle Teddy, what will I do with you now?

July 22/365 Viggo’s Art

I am rarely a fangirl.

My defense: a certain scene in A History of Violence. There was also the character he played in A Walk On The Moon, you know the one: The Blouse Man.

So when I discovered that Viggo Mortensen ran his own publishing house, Perceval Press,  I became a book groupie. If you’ve never fallen into the Viggo universe, you need to understand that he wears many hats: poet, art photographer and painter, actor, horseman, thinker of deep thoughts, musician, and on and on. Perceval Press is not a vanity press. It is quite the opposite: a deeply earnest, rigorous outlet of disparate voices. You cannot submit manuscripts to them for consideration. You cannot pay them, and I doubt that they will have much to pay you with either, if they seek you out.

viggoViggo’s photographic journey, The Horse is Good, is dedicated to Hildago and Frank T. Hopkins. There is much to love here. A sense of place. A way of looking at a part of the creature, and embracing the whole. The grainy nature of the desert riders. The sudden brightness of an eye. And then there is Coincidence of Memory, poetry and photography combined. I am still not sure of his poetry. At times I find myself reading his words, and thinking that if he read these lines with the film running, pausing as he does, nervous in interviews, and then half-sheepishly grinning, that women and men, both in unison, would fall in deep love with each syllable that passed from the screen to their ears. I am not sure that I can separate The Blouse Man from the poet enough to judge.

 

July 23/365 Famous

“When will she write about me?” Austin asked his grandma. “They’re famous!” he added, pointing at his cousins. Before he came to talk with me, I watched the boy following at the heels of his grandpa. “Jim has a mini-me,” I told Mary, as the menfolk walked through the farmer’s market.

Austin is a Lego builder, a movie critic, and a memorizer of dubious limericks. He didn’t shy away from this old lady asking him silly interview questions. “Tell me about yourself,” I said, and he did. At 9-years-old, he’s clearly ready for those adventures that all children must have. He needs to climb tall hills, and swim out to the floating docks on the lake; he needs to test himself just to see if he can reach the next branch on the tree, if he can swing just a little farther out over the creek on the tire swing than he’s ever done before. And he needs to be silly, to laugh when he hears a fart, to sing when a song wells up in his soul, and to dance with abandon. (That is something that the cousins can help him learn to do.)

dangerousTo aid him on his way, I recommend The Dangerous Book for Boys. Stan bought a copy for my sons, and while some of the information in it still doesn’t seem important to me, the boys devoured it. What didn’t appeal to them, they skipped – so no, they still don’t know much about famous baseball players. What did apply, they relished. I hope they read the section about girls. Today I did, and was pleasantly surprised.

Duncan says that I can send his copy of TDBFB to Austin, so I will post it out tomorrow. Until then, he’ll just have to be content that, for now, he’s as famous as the girls.

July 24/365 Hope

I waffled between The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. Both are foundational texts for me, one addressing sexual identity and the minefields of gender, and the other…well, convincing me to hope that we are more than our history shows. The Dispossessed won.

I love considering big “what if” questions, and I’m sure that is what propels me into reading so much science fiction and fantasy. What if gender and sexuality weren’t fixed? What if dreamers could change reality? What if we were able to take possession out of the mix, to negate the idea of laws (which are based on the protection of what is mine and what is yours), and where would that lead and what kind of language would we speak? Le Guin’s answers always manage to strike a clear bell in my soul, a clarion of hope.

le-guin.pngIf I write that The Dispossessed presents an anarchist world, no one will understand, because anarchism is defined commonly as the opposite of law-abiding. Everyone will think of Mad Max movies, which actually are all about rampant micro-capitalism and dictators enforcing their own laws. Since law-abiding is culturally endowed as a virtue, law-erasing must be a sin. (This is Mother Culture’s unarguable whisper, Daniel Quinn would say.) But we’ve known of peoples in the past, peoples our civilization wiped out or corrupted, for whom the idea of static laws had no validity; these were people of the world, who never considered owning it. Le Guin builds a different kind of world, based on different structures than we are used to, and then imagines a fully-formed protagonist that such a world might create. She then throws him, and everything he embodies, against a futuristic representation of our own political/economic systems.

Why does this book effect me so? I’m not sure. There are things that seem sacred, even in my atheist heart. The ground we walk on, the life around us, the clear sweet air and water. There is something also between us as humans that transcends our societies and structures. We express it in our art, our music, especially for me in the beating of drums, and our voices, our joy. That is holy. Everything we build around us, to hem in what is ours, to mark our territories, to determine who is not one of us, everything that breaks us from communion, is profane. If Le Guin can imagine Anarres, and if humanity can survive our infancy…yes, the slimmest of hopes.

July 26/365 Do Not Follow The Link

Sometimes I let the djinn out of the bottle.

After writing about The Transitive Vampire, I discovered how many other grammar-related books Karen Elizabeth Gordon had written. You must have these!

So I went online to abebooks.com. Two hardcover copies for almost nothing, and the shipping would be less for each additional book purchased! Oh happy day! Frolicking and dancing begin!

Then I found a Martha Grimes nonfiction book about her battle with alcoholism, co-written with her son. A bargain at $4.00 including shipping – I put it in the cart. Then there were a couple of Laurie R. King’s mysteries that I needed. Then two collections by Le Guin. More! the djinn roared.

An Alistair Reynold’s Doctor Who book? I didn’t know that was even possible! The little number over the cart icon clicked higher.

Finally, the djinn rested, satiated. He took a nap on some other books that are waiting to be shelved.

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I prefer to find books like this, but the djinn prefers the instant gratification of online purchasing.

 

Image from Pixcove.com.

July 27/365 The David A. Howe Library

Every child should experience this. A grand entrance, taller than the tallest person she knows can reach.

entrance

The ceilings should shoot up, even higher, so that when the child steps through the doorway, past the solemn doors, she should feel like she has entered a cathedral. All the furniture should feel small. And the lights, especially on cold, dark days, should hang like beautiful beacons.

children's room

The chairs should be just the right size for little girls and boys, and there should be lots and lots of them, because more children might want a place to sit and read. The shelves should be low in the children’s rooms, and full of books. No one should say, “Shush!”

But if the child is very good, and very grown up, then she can go to read in the main room, where the giant world globe is, where the map books are shelved, and where the wing-back chairs are deep enough to snuggle into.

main reading room

This was my first library. Mr. Howe, the man looking over the librarians’ shoulders all these years, probably didn’t know the impact his fine building would have on a little girl. I have been in good, modern public libraries with many more books, with wonderful programs for children and adults, but they could not impart the elegant image of Library that this building gave to me. Nothing compares to my childhood experience of opening a good book, while curled into a tall chair, beside a finely leaded window, in a pool of light, surrounded by the velvet quiet, the polished wood, the Library.

library 2

All images are the property of the David A. Howe Library.

 

July 28/365 Shedding Memories Like Skin

Be ruthless. I sorted through five boxes of children’s books. This is the third time I’ve done this. I did manage to pull out one box full to give to Owen.

Then I got to the cartons marked “Kim’s Stuff.”

I looked at school photos, locks of hair, high school plaques, Bobby Sherman pictures, two diaries, packets of old letters tied in ribbons (a very Victorian affectation for me), silk flowers that I wore in my hair in 1982, the bead bracelet they snipped off my baby wrist, a bill from the hospital when I had my tonsils out in 1961, two other bills for my mother while she was pregnant with me, my report cards, two physical fitness charts, and hundreds of birthday/holiday cards (odd, considering I don’t like cards). In the midst of all this, I read the worst poem I ever wrote. It involved me being an ice cube and wishing that someone would put me in a cup of hot water so I could feel warmth. There was more going on than that: angst, woe-is-me, no-one-loves-me, etc. I was probably fourteen years old.

So I was ruthless.

I saved a couple of mysterious letters that might help me locate some lost friends. I saved every bit of paper from three women, my wise witches: Vara, Kate, and Mare. And for now, I am holding onto my little blue notebook from the seminar on James Joyce, the one I failed so utterly. Eventually the book will go into the fire this summer with all the rest. But first I’m going to see if any of my painstakingly neat notes makes sense now that I’m older and tired, and perhaps a little wiser.

July 30/365 Listen

A month late for this whine: cicadas looking for love send a metallic rising note out over the neighborhood.

Ah summer.

No books today. Longing is in the air. Hopes will be dashed, but the singers are determined. Don’t you love how, with July waning, the fatalism creeps back into all voices, and summer, long before her end, suddenly seems filled with portents?

 

July 31/365 What Was Down There?

A woman walks by the New York City Library’s card catalog, which begins to explode, cards flying everywhere. In terror, she runs through the library stacks until she stops in the glow of a ghost. Everyone around me laughed, as the Ghostbusters theme started. I didn’t.

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The view from Shuman Hall down to the Hudson.

I worked in Shuman Hall, a lovely Tudor-style mansion repurposed by Nyack College as administration offices and a college library. Mansions don’t really make good libraries – the rooms are often too small, too unusual, and randomly arranged – but the college worked with the odd building as best as it could. The first floor contained reading rooms (one octagonal, with beautiful tile work), the reference area, the circulation desk and card catalog. The second floor was entirely office space. And the bulk of the books were in the stacks, down a narrow staircase leading from the circulation desk into the catacomb-like basement. There was only one staircase down. I sat at the circulation desk, often reading assignments for classes, while pretending to work. I remember once making a theology student trip down the stairs when I loudly informed a co-worker that “shit” was the clearest word to read in Chaucer. (I should add that Nyack College is a terribly conservative, fundamentalist, evangelical college – Liberty University on a smaller endowment.)

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Shuman Hall

The back story for certain of the buildings on the campus, especially the Tudor ones, sounds like a script for a B horror movie. Creepy millionaire with a penchant for eastern mysticism and kinky, perhaps deadly sex, and a fascination about (I’m not kidding) elephants, buys property in a country club up the Hudson. And then, well, he dies, everyone dies, and some crazy Christians purchase his home and property to use as a library and a men’s dormitory. Oh, and the elephants might be buried under the playing fields. That’s the legend.

This was in 1978. Whoever worked the closing shift for the library was responsible for making sure that everyone was out of the building, that lights were shut off, and that the door was locked. The old mansion had ancient wiring. You could not simply turn off one switch on a floor. You had to go room by room on all three floors. One person took care of the second floor, which was the easiest. Another went down into the stacks. You had to walk all the way to the room furthest from the stairs. Flip one switch, and the room went to black. Walk back out one room, flip switch, blackness grew behind you. And through each of the basement rooms, darkness growing, and a coldness, and you began to move quicker, until you hit the bottom stair at a full out run. Every night I tumbled out of the stairwell, heart racing and totally afraid. The closing crew would turn the first floor lights out, nervously waiting for security to arrive to lock the doors and deposit us back at our dorms.

Then the next day, a supervisor would ask why we had left the lights on.

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The back of Shuman Hall. Reflections in windows probably caused by nothing whatsoever ominous. Probably.

NOTE: I found this treasure online as I was trying to verify my memory of Nyack’s history. You simply have to check The Paranormal Pastor out. I didn’t know that there were non-Catholic exorcists practicing, and as a long-time Buffy The Vampire Slayer fan, I’m not sure that their practicing knowledge of Latin is up to snuff. Also, if he was any sort of kick-ass exorcist, shouldn’t the shades and ghouls be gone from the campus by now? Strange reading, but it does in some ways validate my memories.