Tuesday, September 11, 2012

from the book pile, 2012: Heather Sellers, Wendell Berry and four vacation novels

to see the book pile from 2011, click here / from 2012, click here

Source: google.de via Tamara on Pinterest

From the book pile posts collect my reading reflections as I work my way through the tower of books teetering off the edge of my nightstand. I post the once a month the books I've read.  In the meantime, the fun little widget on my sidebar includes a "real time" thought about each title I'm reading.

When I first started this blog in 2006 one of my goals was to nurture a forum that kept me accountable for the cultural goods I consume.  Of course, I didn't really know then to articulate the goal in those terms.  The truth dawns gradually.

Every new year, I consider making a number goal for books read in the coming twelve months. (do you do that too?) It's never a good idea; rather takes away the enjoyment of arriving at December 31 and tallying up titles from the previous year.  Feels like an accomplishment no matter the number.  Hope you enjoy!


13Page After Page: discover the confidence and the passion you need to start writing and keep writing (no matter what!)

Author:  Heather Sellers

Genre: non-fiction

Published: Writer's Digest Books, 2005

General Impression:  I'm generally wary of "how-to" books.  Especially people writing and selling books to other people who want to write and sell books -- seems like a bit of conflict of interest.  I gave Heather Sellers' Page After Page a try because Jennifer Fulwiler recommended it and she feels the same way about scorpions as me so I figured that was a pretty good guarantee.  Also, this was the perfect read for our 30 hour drive back to New York for summer vacation.  Not too heady, just enough inspiration, suggested writing exercises that didn't feel too dorky and plenty of good humor.  

I don't know if I'll write better after reading Page After Page, but I'll definitely laugh at myself more in the process. And, in my book, that's a very healthy thing.

One of the best descriptions I've read on the insecurity of a writer's life:
"Writers are people who are comfortable with intense contradictions. They are the people who live with a high degree of anxiety. Becoming a writer means learning how to write, every day, without missing a day.  In order to do this, writers have to gently embrace ambivalence, anxiety, not-sure-ness.
While unpleasant, this practice of writing while in a state of anxiety is key to making a writing life. It's way more important than learning plot or prosody or publication tips.
Many of the productive writers I know believe they are simultaneously shit and undiscovered geniuses. Brilliant shit.  This belief is in itself anxiety-producing.Not knowing if you suck or are the next Anne Tyler/Stephen King/Albert Camus is simply very frustrating and irritating. It's a weird way to live. It's how we live."
 Probably the best writing advice I've ever read:  
"The secret to getting more work done is a little bit tricky, because it feels completely counterintuitive. If you want to pay your bills or get caught up on six months of unbalanced checkbook or start a new writing routine or do yoga, for that matter, the first thing you must do when the inevitable cranky horror mood strikes is nap.
I'm not kidding.
Here is the secret to life, the secret to writing, and to productivity...When you are cranky, down on yourself, behind, overwhelmed, blue, swamped: when you are saying, I need to write! I don't have time! I have to write, I'm behind; when you are sick or getting sick or recently sick, you must nap.
I know this sounds: (a) stupid, and (b) impossible.
I know you don't want to nap; you want to get caught up, and you have to or life will fall apart.
That plan never, ever works. Abandon it.
Stop the madness.
...You aren't going to have a great writing day if you whip yourself into it...Nor are you going to have a good writing day if you drive around doing errands and paying bills and thinking abouthow far behind in our writing you've gotten, how horrible you are.
There is only one solution, and it is this: Nap."

Author:  Wendell Berry

Genre: non-fiction

Published: Counterpoint, 1995

General Impression:  Ever since a friend told me about her doctoral thesis on the Mad Farmer, I started reading Berry's poetry.  Years after I began reading his fiction.  Now I'm starting on his essays.  I'm a fan all the way around.  There's a certain amount of sentimentality he includes in each genre that never felt gratuitous, especially grounded in the soil of the good soil of robust language and story.  Reading this book of essays, I found myself for the first time feeling like the Farmer's prophetic voice for our country signaled too little too late. 

Granted, this book of essays compiled in the mid-1990's may have been right on time and I'm the one late to the conversation.  Still, the social, agricultural and economic changes Berry recommends in many of these essays feel past-due.  My son, Alex, and I read most of this book out loud together -- mostly because I felt like he needed some Wendell Berry thought in his repertoire before he began his undergrad political science studies.  Eventually Alex admitted to me that reading the essays frustrated him more than anything else:  "...I think they run the risk of being irrelevant because they're so demanding/impractical."

Still, Berry's words are full of a wisdom that add hearty nutrients for any reader.  Perhaps, like the wisdom our parents and grandparents handed down, we benefit by rehearsing their words together, mining them for every amount of practical advice for our current time.

One of the passages where I thought "Oh...I think someone paid attention to this warning!":
"If a safe, sustainable local food economy appeals to some of us as a goal that we would like to work for, then we must be careful to recognize not only the great power of the interests arrayed against us but also our own weakness...
...we should also understand that our predicament is not without precedent; it is approximately the same as that of the proponents of American independence at the time of the Stamp Act -- and with one difference in our favor; in order to do the work that we must do, we do not need a national organization.  What we must do is simple:  we must shorten the distance that our food is transported so that we are eating more and more from local supplies, more and more to the benefit of local farmers, and more and more to the satisfaction of the local consumers. This can be done by cooperation among small organizations: conservation groups, churches, neighborhood associations, consumer co-ops, local merlchants, local independent banks, and organizations of small farmers. It also can be done by cooperation between individual producers and consumers. We should not be discouraged to find that local food economies can grow only gradually; it is better that they should grow gradually. But as they grow they will bring about a significant return of power, wealth, and health to the people."  (from "Farming and the Global Economy", p.6)
 An example of Berry as a dooming prophet:  
"This essay owes its existence to anxiety and to insomnia. I write, as I must, from the point of view of a country person, a member of a small rural community that has been dwindling rapidly since the end of World War II. Only the most fantastical optimism could ignore the possibility that my community is doomed by the overwhelming victory of industrialism over agrarianism (both North and South) in the Civil War and the history both subsequent and consequent to it...I can not see how a nation, a society or a civilization can live while its communities die." (from "Private Property and the Common Wealth", p. 47)
Words that will never be outdated:
"We know that we need to live in a world that is cared for. The ubiquitous cliches about saving the planet and walking lightly on the earth testify to this....For we not only need to think beyond our own cliches; we also need to make sure that we don't carry over into our efforts at conservation and preservation the moral assumptions and habits of thought of the culture of exploitation....
...And certainly we must preserve some places unchanged; there should be places, and times too, in which we do nothing. But we must also include ourselves as makers, as economic creatures with livings to make, who have the ability, if we will use it, to work in ways that are stewardly and kind toward all that we must use.
...We must include ourselves because whether we choose to do so or not, we are included. We who are now alive are living in this world; we are not dead, nor do we have another world to live in. There are, then, two laws that we had better take to be absolute.
The first is that as we cannot exempt ourselves form living in this world, then if we wish to live, we cannot exempt ourselves form using the world.
...If we cannot exempt ourselves from use, then we must deal with the issues raised by use. And so the second law is that if we want to continue living, we cannot exempt use from care.
...A third law...is that if we want to use the world with care, we cannot exempt ourselves from our cultural inheritance, our tradition. ...we are in it because we are born in it...But that only means that the tradition too must be used with care.
...And so I am proposing that in order to preserve the health of nature, we must preserve ourselves as human beings -- as creatures who possess humanity not just as a collection of physical attributes but also as the cultural imperative to be caretakers, good neighbors to one another and to the other creatures.
...When we include ourselves as parts or belongings of the world we are trying to preserve, then obviously we can no longer think of the world as "the environment" -- something out there around us. We can see that our relation to the world surpasses mere connection and verges on identity. And we can see that our right to live in this world, whose parts we are, is a right that is strictly conditioned. We come face to face with the law...we cannot exempt use from care. There is simply nothing in Creation that does not matter.  ("The Conservation of Nature and the Preservation of Humanity", the bold font is mine)

Summer vacation means some fun novels 'round here!  Just want to list the titles here for the record-keeping's sake.

15.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Book 3), J.K. Rowling
16.  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4), J.K. Rowling
17.  The Moon by Night (Austin Family), Madeleine L'Engle
18.  Three Blind Mice and other stories, Agatha Christie


I'd love to hear what YOU are reading! 
 Leave me a couple of suggestions in the comment box, won't you?

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