Six months have come and gone since my last blog post. Instead of writing I went on an epic book binge. With each book my heart grew bigger, my soul lighter. Never once did I suffer from a feeling guilt or gluttony. Just happiness. My library–and brain–expand. Shelves overflow. No. Bulge. I’ve run out of bookmarks.
Our living room can now be called our library, with new shelves lining walls, stacked with the potential to run away. A comfy chair, a table, foot stool, warm blankets– I’m ready. Where is the snow to keep me inside? I cancel plans–yes, a confession–so I can turn the page.
Start a book on the history of colors. Pivot to poetry, scattered on the floor around my chair like seeds in earth. Does it matter how many autobiographies of Bowie I own? Novels read in one sitting. Novels begun but not finished. Not because they aren’t well written, but because they are. The idea of them ending, heartbreaking.
So I join a subscription service. Two. Books arrive with illustrated covers. Covers all in black with white block letters suggesting the seriousness of what’s inside. I binge on feminist manifestos, literary journals, novelists from Norway and Brooklyn, mystery novels, classics (ah, Mrs. Dalloway!), and books so heavy I consider reading them an act of physical exercise (thank you Mark Danielewski).
Everywhere I go a book in my bag. An actual book with pages smelling of vanilla and glue. I sneak a peek at what others are reading. Do you like that book? I’ve read that book! Smiles exchanged. Off the plane, the train, I walk with a head filled with narrative: “Mrs. Dalloway would buy the flowers herself” (Woolf) and, “The cat does not offer services.” (Burroughs). My phone pings. A text from my bank: a deposit has been made. Pay day! There is a bookshop 4.2 miles away. Seated in the back of an Uber I anticipate tables of freshly published books. Hoping for a cat, if it’s an independent shop. Definitely my arms filled, wishing I could ignore my obligations, and continue my binge.
First, go out for the flowers yourself. That’s the easy job, getting the flowers. Leave the dirty work to someone else, like scrubbing the kitchen or removing doors from hinges.
Speaking of the help, remember they will become overwhelmed by the demands you are placing upon them. While perfection is a must, keep in mind it’s highly unlikely you will have a Prime Minister in attendance. Therefore ease up on the help.
As hostess you should dress in your most flattering attire. An old love will be in attendance, and you’ll want to remind them of the person you once were.
If you insist on segregating your party after the food has been consumed, might I suggest to not segregate by gender? Instead allow the party to segregate themselves into groups: single people looking for a bit of flirty fun, those who know each other through the work they do, people with kids, etc.
No matter how hard you try and entertain your guests there will always be one person who wished they never came to your party.
As people come and go you may wonder if your party is a success. You will wonder if your presence as hostess matters at all. If people are talking, eating, and drinking, then be proud of your party’s success. After all, the hostess sets the tone.
As you mingle with your guests note how they all appeared to have failed in their lives. A twenty-first century soundtrack might include bands from the New Romantic period. Merely a suggestion.
Guests should never bring up topics like suicide, as death is sure to be a buzz kill. If someone does you have the right to feel annoyed.
If you find you are not having the same level of fun as your guests, that is to be expected. Hostessing, after all, is work–and not for the faint of heart.
A party isn’t the place for the hostess to consider one’s own aging body or mortality. However, if you feel the need to go there please find an unoccupied room where you can retreat and reflect. A quote (or two) from Shakespeare might be in order. Regrets, we’ve all had a few, an acceptance of them can help you press on.
As an English Lit major I suffered through Chaucer but fell in love with Hopkins. Due to my obsession with the Outsiders (the novel by S.E. Hutton) I memorized Nature’s First Greenis Gold by Robert Frost, but cried my way through both the Iliad and the Odyssey. What a misfortune to be taught poetry is painful, something to get through instead of enjoy.
Back in the nineties I participated in a poetry workshop with the poet Tina Barr. Ten of us sat in her bohemian-styled living room while a doctor read, out loud, his epic poem. Slightly lost in his meandering prose, I watched a cat lap up water from a crystal chalice on top of an antique set of drawers. This workshop wasn’t always about avoidance. In fact, I learned to love poetry because of the eclectic voices sharing their feelings and world view in this art form.
As I wrote my own poems, I began to realize poetry was more about feeling–aroma–less about uncovering deeply hidden meanings. Poems were a way to connect with others, to be part of a community outside my own bubble.There is more than one way to write and experience a poem. To write poetry we need to understand poetry’s past in order to create something new. But to be a reader of poetry we need only to come to the page open minded, leave taking what you need.
I left the workshop armed with questions to bring to every poem I read, and now share with you:
How did this poem make me feel? Why? What words inside the poem lead me to my understanding? Did I read the poem out loud to let the words come from my tongue, to hear the rhythm?
If you haven’t read poetry since high school or college, don’t be afraid or hesitant. Not all poetry is difficult. When the poet does her job well she has created a poem for us that is communal, with language invoking a feeling or sentiment. Advice: read only poems which speak to you–why waste your time otherwise?
I’ve complied a list of my favorite, easy-access poets (no dactylic hexameter here) and poetry sites. Enjoy your venture into this art form!
Poetry is meant to be heard, which is why Poetry Slams are an awesome experience. A person cannot help but get swept up in the emotion of a slam.
Check out the United States Poet Laureates. The current poet Laureate is Juan Felipe Herrera. Our libraries are well stocked with the works of our poet laureates. Of visit one of the many poetry websites, like the Poetry Foundation, to both read and hear our nations best poets.
Literary Magazines are a fantastic way to discover poetry. Often overlooked in the magazine rack of your local bookshop, these gems house emerging writers and famous names. Not just poetry, you will also discover short fiction and visual art.
My recommendations for Poetry are a few contemporary poets whose work I find easy to access (no headaches here) and don’t overtly rhyme (I kinda hate when words overtly rhyme). My list includes: Mary Oliver, Anne Sexton, Erica Jong, Charles Bukowski, Billy Collins, Maya Angelou, and Ocean Vuong. To read poems, by these and hundreds of others, right now, visit the Poetry Foundation
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.
If you want to get the most out of a bookstore there is one rule to follow: enter through its doors blindly. As in, without reason. Mindlessly. No determination needed. In fact, leave all thought in a bin by the door, along with the umbrellas. When you enter, reckless, you will find yourself thumbing through books you’ve longed ignored, who grab your attention. They speak to you. Now you are impulsive. You find yourself, strangely, thumbing through a poet’s book, eyes landing on words: springy, morning air, rebels, smoke. Now you are lost in a memoir, where you might find strength, empathy. Stock up on page turners, new authors discovered because covers entice. Don’t question your impulsivity, or the titles in your stack, or the way they make you feel when you touch their spines. Why consider the cost when you never wonder how much is spent on lattes or lunches out? Just take your stack, tuck them into your oversized leather bag, walk proudly by the umbrellas, but don’t forget to collect your thoughts! Once outside you will need them. Go read! From the seat of your old car, under the bare tree in a ray of sunshine, stuffed at a small table at a crowded, loud cafe, or while perched on the top step of an old school building. Read as you ignore the slamming of car doors, children calling out to parents, to the beating of your own heart. Nothing matters, for you have blindly entered the pages of another world–you have begun to run away.
All but one of the last five books I have read are hardback
Two of them are nonfiction
All five are written by women and about women
One was written by a new author
Their covers are shades of blue, white, and gold
Three of the books were written in 2017. One in 2016, one in 2014
Of the five, all are well-written page turners that left me feeling something at the end of the experience.
Men Explain Things to Me,Rebecca Solnit. Found this book while visiting Burlington, Vermont. Men explain things to me often, so the title drew me in. Read this book to ignite your voice. If you are a women you may be feeling defeated in this New World Order. Solint’s book is a rallying cry: We will Persist!
A Word for Love, Emily Robbins. The book arrived in my monthly subscription box. The author went to college in my town, won a lot of prestigious awards, and makes me feel like a sloth. A page-turner because the story (set in the Middle East) took me out of my known world. Good for the beach or subway-ride reading.
South and West: From a Notebook, Joan Didion. While in Cleveland, Ohio I paid a visit to a bookstore that employed a cat to greet and chase mice. The cat sat at my feet while I paged through Didion’s book. The cat kept interrupting me to force me to pet him. A nearby clerk reminded me it was International Women’s Day. To celebrate I bought the book. I find Didion’s prose relaxing, like finding shade on a porch after during a smoldering hot day. She (and I) spent more time in the South then the West, but that was fine by me. This is Didion–and why you read this book.
All Grown Up,Jami Attenberg. Another book that arrived in my monthly subscription service, along with a candle we had to toss because the smell made me want to puke. The characters in the novel are strong, fully developed, and familiar. I’d recommend this to any Gen-Xer still trying to figure out who they are and where they are going.
Transit, Rachel Cusk. Cusk is my current author crush. I want to be her intelligent protagonists. Her novel’s themes are always moving and reflective. What most intrigues me about Cusk’s writing is her use of the protagonist as a conduit of non-reactive observation on the characters around her.
Who reads a book’s introduction? I ask you since I cannot bring myself to do the reading of an introduction, a preface or even a forward (I *might* read the forward if written by someone I admire who isn’t the book’s author). An afterword, prologue or epilogue–of course! But all that nonsense at the start feels only like work to get to the meat of the thing. Can we not just dive into the content, head first?
When did we start with the forward, introduction, and preface? Where is a librarian when one is most needed? Google provides no answers, and I’m frustrated. Perhaps if I understood the historical significance of such a thing I’d be more open to spending my time reading this neglected part of my books.
To neglect any part of a book seems sacrilegious. To confess, I often skip over lots of parts of poorly written books. Or books that are long-winded. Or are just boring as hell….
….but this is a digression. No one reads my blog. I don’t read introductions. Are words wasted when no one reads them? Now I’m getting philosophical. I’m highly unqualified for philosophical thought.
Do you wonder over the difference among the preface/introduction/forward trinity? Oh, does it even matter? Be honest, you aren’t reading the front matter anyway.
So, dear book writers and publishers. Please know more people don’t read your introductions than do. This is an educated guess. But since I recently read a post online which provides the template for the writing of an “attention-grabbing” forward, I can’t be far from wrong.
PS My apologies to anyone who either loves an introduction or has written one. I’m sure there is value to doing so or there wouldn’t be so damned many of them.
When I was a child my parents had the brilliant idea of taking my brother and I to the local bookshop after church each Sunday. We didn’t have a lot of cash, but what we did have my parents were willing to spend on a book each–no matter the cost. Once through the doors of our local independent bookshop, our family of four would disperse: Mom hid in fiction, Dad lost in Sci-Fi, brother on the hunt for books to make him laugh while I gorged on classical literature; These were the happiest days of my young life.
As I look back on these memories I am thankful to have been born into a family of readers. Books were everywhere in our house: the landing of our stairs, piled on bookshelves, and on the back of the toilet. Books arrived by mail via book clubs, passed amongst aunts and uncles with powerful endorsements, borrowed from our library. Once in our possession we’d retreat to our favorite reading spots. My parents favored their brown floral sofa, each tucked into their respective corners of the sofa, table lamps casting warmth onto pages, my brother at their feet. Me in the chair opposite, legs dangling over the arm while I chewed my hair. We didn’t often read together as a family, only when the mood struck us individually to collect ourselves and our books did we end up in the same room reading together.
Books have an incredible power to bring us together. Doesn’t matter what types of books you like to read. The mutual enjoyment of reading is a bridge-builder. When I sit beside someone reading a book on a train or plane I instantly feel a connection. Too often I ask what they are reading, would they recommend their book and why. In a way my curiosity is a form of Book Store Sunday, where there are never-ending possibilities for running away, growing empathy and understanding of the world.