Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Category: New Reads Page 1 of 21

Conversations with Friends: New Read

The system finally worked! What system? My notecard system to keep track of why I put a book on my TBR list! I have a pile of notecards nearby and when I find a book I need to read, I write the title/author on one and below it I write where and when I learned about it. Then, when I get the book, I put that card inside of it so I can write about it later.

conversations with friends
My Afternoon Read – I DESERVE this!

I needed a short, lighter book to read, so I picked Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney off my overburdened TBR shelf. It was late at night, I couldn’t sleep, so I sat up late reading. Two hours later, I was nearly halfway through the book wondering why I had added it to the list. It didn’t seem like my kind of book.

My card had no other notes than the title (something I have vowed to change), so I went to the original book, How to Live. What to Do by Josh Cohen. I just went back looking for a post about that book and it’s one I didn’t write about. I must have been in a blogging slump when I read it back in June. Thank goodness for his notes in the back of the book. I found where he had mentioned it and read the section again. Ahh… here we are.

It was in Chapter 4 – Adolescence Part 2: First Love. The book is clever because he is a psychoanalyst and uses characters from books as case studies. He brings up Frances in her story Conversations with Friends, mentions the relationships and their communications styles. “Roony’s novels turn on a similar problem: the weird and unsettling proximity of love to cruelty.”

Is that love? Really? We can be very cruel to each other when we are fearful of being vulnerable. The dance between new people is dangerous. If I open up to you, will you hurt me? It’s terrifying and delicious.

“In novels, as in life, we find the inner self is annoyingly uncongenial to the maintenance of a steady state. It is divided, pulled in different directions by different impulses – it wants safety and risk, consistency and change, to say yes and to say no.”

I’m trying to remember that he’s talking of adolescents, but Conversations with Friends characters are all over twenty-one years old, some are over thirty. When does he think we come out of this phase of our lives? I guess it depends on how much work we put into growing up. It’s something I feel we’re not encouraged to do these days. Many of us remain childish our whole lives, never learning our inner selves and knowing what real love is.

This was not what I was getting from reading Conversations with Friends. At halfway through, I was more drawn to the politics of these girls and their so-called “friends.” The way they talk to each other and treat each other doesn’t seem like friends at all. They seem closed off, never opening up to themselves or the people they call friends. They hide their true feelings, always pretending to be something they aren’t.

Also from How to Live. What to Do, “Frances, the complex, spiky narrator of Sally Rooney’s Conversation with Friends (2017), is immersed in this ether of doubt as she wanders the treacherous landscapes of love and sex. Her Dublin is a wired global city of big banks and coffee chains and trust fund kids, a far cry from the shuttered repression of the city of James Joyce’s Dubliners.

But much as we shouldn’t understate the place of historical change in determining the ways we love, perhaps we should be equally ware of overstating it. If Conversations shows us how our post-liberation age has transformed the conduct of love, it also reminds us how much stays the same. Confusion, anxiety and volatility are as present for Frances as they were for Werther.”

THAT book is sitting on my TBR shelf as well, and it’s on my reading list for The Classics Club, so guess what I’ll be reading next?

This morning I read more and my feelings about them are starting to change. The author is revealing them to me, and I like it. I seem to remember the same feeling when I read Normal People.

One thing I’m not liking is the lack of quotation marks in the dialog. I’m having a terrible time following who said what or just thought it. I know this is a new thing. Call me old, but I’m not a fan. I’ll post more about the book when I finish reading it.

Sapiens: DNF

Remember that book I talked about yesterday that made me sad? Here’s that story.

I received an unexpected book in the mail last month. When I opened my mailbox, there it was. I wondered…did I order a book and forget? Hmm… I checked my Amazon orders just in case but found nothing. And then I remembered! I have a friend that loves to send random books from time to time, ones he thinks I haven’t heard of, but I might enjoy. Yeah, I’m lucky enough to have a friend like that!

sapiens

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

This book is heavy, and I don’t mean deep and wonderous. It’s literally heavy and it’s not even that thick of a book, only around 400 pages. It’s printed on thick semi-gloss paper, which makes it heavy AND hard to see under my book light because of glare. I wonder at publisher’s choice.

About a week after the book came to me, I happened to see a podcast interview with the author on People I (Mostly) Admire, a podcast I regularly listen to, so I added it to my playlist. The interview was wonderful, and it made me look forward to reading the book even more.

My notes from that podcast are pretty sketchy. I was taking notes as I drove home from a few days in Arizona. I didn’t even do a Podcast Roundup about that drive. It had been a long, emotional week for me and I just didn’t have the energy to do much of anything. I did get the vague idea that he was no Pollyanna, he could see clearly the human race does have some big problems, but still felt hopeful because he said some things I’ve been thinking myself.

This world is all about suffering and there isn’t some big overarching meaning or direction to existence. That shouldn’t depress you because to your family and friends you are everything, and that’s where you have the most influence in this world. And that’s where you should be focusing your energy.

The best way to live is to be amazed by the most ordinary things.

Take time off. You don’t need to be ON all the time, even though through technology we CAN.

There was so much more on this podcast, and he said it so well. I highly recommend listening to it. He talked about why he wrote this book and how it came into existence. It was a wonderful conversation, and that’s why the book was such a disappointment. After only page 75, I’m putting it down and marking it DNF.

Why? Several reasons but the biggest is that it has this underlying hatred of humanity and it colors everything in the text with negativity. It’s depressing. Yes, humans have an amazing capacity for destruction (so do most animals from the prey’s perspective), but you know what else we have: the capacity to notice, change, and create. I’m fairly certain that if you follow any other animal through time, you’d find that they overpowered other species, changed the environment, and made space for themselves, until another species did it to them or learned to live alongside them. Humans were not dropped here on earth from another planet. We are not an invasive species. We are part of the ecosystem like any other animal. We will evolve or die out, as any other animal has.

The sad part is that I want the information. I’m curious about the science of this world: how long the planet has been making creatures, how some groups may have evolved and spread, how the weather and geology was created and changed. There’s so much to learn that it overwhelms me. Sometimes I think maybe I should take a class or at least start watching some lectures about these things, but there’s just so much I don’t understand. And so many different perspectives and theories, all of which believe they are the RIGHT one. You know, in a past life I considered a geology major. Crazy right?

But the style of writing in Sapiens just made me sad, far too sad, and it read like a textbook. I knew I’d be in this book for weeks, and I just couldn’t take it. I’ll keep it on my shelf for reference. It’s an easy book to look up a topic and get an overview from. But I just can’t read it cover to cover. I’m moving on.

Journal of a Novel: New Read

I almost didn’t write today. I let the world get in and started to sink again. Again, I’ve realized something important, something we all probably see and advise ourselves about over and over again. Do the hard thing first. I need to write first, then go about the rest of my day.

It’s 10:50am. This morning started with great intentions. I read, felt like I had a lot to say but wanted to get my exercise out of the way. That done, I did my morning meditation, journaled, and then thought…I’m too hungry to write now.

During breakfast, I ignored the teaching in my meditation and instead of doing one thing (eat my breakfast) I decided to mulitask and answer a few texts. I got another cup of coffee and thought…I’ll read some of that other book and then write. Sapiens…ugg… I’m giving up on it. Life is too short to be depressed by a human hating history that reads like a textbook of doom. Another DNF on the list and I’ll write more about that later.

NOW I’ll write. I get my laptop from my desk and sit down to tap out words. What was I going to write about? Oh yeah, that other glorious book I started over the weekend. What a beautiful weekend that was! Rain and thunder, the windows all open, nothing to do but read and work on a quilt. But I’ll do that right after I check my email. Nothing there. I’ll check Facebook. There was a quote I wanted to share.

Then a “friend” messaged me. That didn’t go well. I guess I’m not acting like the person he would prefer me to be. I’m good at losing so-called “friends.”

Watch a funny video, click on an ad for stickers, find a cool one with an Oscar Wilde quote.

‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’ and then find an article about the quote. I’ll read that later.

Maybe I’ll just give up today and head to the grocery store.

And then…hold on. This is ridiculous. What would Steinbeck do?

journal of a novel

That’s actually what I thought. I started reading Journal of a Novel by John Steinbeck over the weekend and it’s filled with some wonderful insight from the man, about his life, his time, and about East of Eden. I’m already halfway through it this morning. And THAT’S what I wanted to write to you about.

I mentioned it when I started reading East of Eden and thought I’d read it while I was reading the novel, as he wrote it. But I couldn’t. I was already trying to finish The Portable Atheist and Reflections on a Mountain Lake. A person can only have so much input at once. I saved it and was soon as I finished the novel, I jumped on that journal like a cat on a laser beam spot.

I’m not regretting it. Reading a highly regarded author’s private thoughts is enlightening in so many ways. And even though I don’t consider myself an author, I do write, and I consider myself a “creative” of sorts. His words are soothing to my soul.

“Perhaps that knowledge is saved for maturity and very few people ever mature. It is enough if they flower and reseed. That is all that nature requires of them. But sometimes in a man or a woman awareness takes place – not very often and always inexplainable. There are no words for it because there is no one ever to tell. This is a secret not kept a secret, but locked in wordlessness. The craft or art of writing is the clumsy attempt to find symbols for the wordlessness. In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. And sometimes if he is very fortunate and the time is right, a very little of what he is trying to do trickles through – not ever much.”

I should not be so hard on myself. This is no easy task and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. What is it that I am trying to express? I may simply be trying to express who I am from my own point of view, from inside. Each day I read and think. I journal thoughts. I find the courage and discipline to open the laptop and fill a blank screen. Some days I find the courage to share it. But where is it going?

Nowhere in particular, just like Mr. Toad. And he’s certainly happy, as long as he doesn’t forget his friends.

Tomorrow I’ll be pulling a few more quotes to share with you. If you’re a writer, you might really like Journal of a Novel. He wasn’t writing to share his process or teach anything. They are just letters he wrote to his agent each morning before he got to working on the novel. A sort of “warm-up” exercise. He didn’t write them to publish, but he knew at least a few people would read them. It’s a raw glimpse into the author.

The Reader: Final Thought on Journal of a Novel

East of Eden: New Read

I love it when a plan comes together!

What plan? Michelle, you never have a plan. You just run into life head on, no regard for consequences, and then see what happens. Later, when things slow down, you sit back and put the puzzle pieces together as if you had a plan all along.

Yeah? So? I bought a book.

No! Really? You?

Yes, I did. And it was a book I didn’t need. I have a whole shelf of books to read. In fact, I have four shelves of books to read, even though I swore that I would never have more than one. That…well… it wasn’t working out for me and it all started when a friend moved out of state and gifted her library to little ol’ me.

east of eden
My brother said I find books in my yard like an Easter Egg Hunt.
I should try a better storage system. Always the comedian, my family is.

There I was, relaxing in Big Bear, out for a day in the (slightly) cooler temps of the mountains and a dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant. I can’t be there and not check out the used bookstore. That would be wrong. I don’t need more books, but then again, “need” really is subjective. Isn’t it?

I try to keep my spontaneous book purchases to used books, preferably classics. I need to find a way to create a list on my phone of what I already have though. Suggestions are extremely welcome in the comments. I picked up five books that day, one of which was a disappointment. I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Probably the extra margarita. And it turned out to be an abridged version of a book I had been wanting to read. I don’t like those. But at least I only paid $4.

I came home and posted a picture of my haul on my Facebook page, and my brother mentioned he wanted to read one of them, East of Eden. I told him I’d send it to him and then rethought it and told him to buy one of his own. That way, maybe we can read it at the same time.

Sidenote: Searching for a link to East of Eden on Amazon, I found this: Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters. And now THAT is on its way to my house as well. I may have a problem, but how can I pass that up? Steinbeck wrote letters to a friend as a warmup while writing East of Eden. I’ll be reading this alongside the novel; as it should be, make it so, engage!

The next week, I stumbled across The Classics Club and immediately joined it. Looking through their classics list to create my own five-year reading list, I saw East of Eden and decided it would be my next read, the first one to check off the list. I started reading it this morning and lost my mind.

The only thing I knew about East of Eden before I started reading it was that it was by John Steinbeck. I wasn’t a fan of Steinbeck. I read Of Mice and Men when I was in high school, by force, and it was depressing and boring. And this book…wow…it’s a thick one, like Stephen King thick. 778 pages. I only hoped it wouldn’t be as terrible as I remember Of Mice and Men being.

I had a vague recollection there may be a movie of the same name. My husband confirmed it. East of Eden? Yeah, babe… James Dean? You don’t remember that?” I looked it up and, of course, it’s not on any of the streaming platforms that I pay for. Nothing that I search for directly ever is. But you bet I’ll be watching it once I finish the book.

When I started reading this morning at 4:30am, I was instantly pulled into the story. I was there. Forty-five minutes later felt like an instant to me when my husband walked in and reminded me we were going to go for a walk. All I could think was that I needed to get back there as soon as possible.

This is going to be a great read.

Want to read more of my thoughts about East of Eden? Check out:
Fiction Can Transport You
The Power in Stories
The Gift of Choice: Final Thoughts on East of Eden

Chatter by Ethan Kross

Where did I hear about Chatter by Ethan Kross? On The Happiness Lab podcast! As you probably know, I’m a huge fan of podcasts, and before I get in the car for any trip, I load up my playlist with a few hours of “my shows.” When I saw the title “How Do I Stop Negative Self-talk?” I put it at the top immediately.

chatter by ethan kross

Negative self-talk is one of my most intrusive and upsetting habits. If you could hear it…ugg…you’d call social services and report abuse. It can get pretty bad. Something happens, I feel stupid and start to berate myself, then I get madder at myself for being mad in the first place, and then the spiral downward begins. How do I pull myself back out? I’m not sure. I know I’ve done it because I’m still here, but I have never been able to do it on purpose, until I read this book!

What was it that got my attention and helped me embrace some new practices? Science!

This book isn’t spiritual. It also doesn’t get so deep into the science of the brain that you get lost. It’s light and practical, as if a good friend (a smart one that has their shit together) is sharing some insights that they’ve found. The subtitle of the book is another clue to why I felt I could trust it, The Voice in Our Head, Why it Matters, and How to Harness It. We all have a superpower locked inside us. It’s time we start using it for good instead of evil.

While reading, I took eight whole pages of notes. Don’t worry, I’m not going to copy them all out here! Most of them are only important to me, personal thoughts and ideas. What I hope is to share enough with you to get you to go out and read this book. In my world, it’s required reading for the course!

The book took off like a shot for me with this glorious bit of encouragement.

“Introspection simply means actively paying attention to one’s own thoughts and feelings. The ability to do this is what allows us to imagine, remember, reflect, and then use these reveries to problem solve, innovate, and create.”

That’s such a better way to explain what my mind does all day long. I have been accused of “overthinking” so many times in my life and every time I hear that word I cringe. Yes, I am aware of the world around me, my actions in it, how they affect the people in my life, and consider how I can do better. I wish more people would.

Here’s another one.

“This pattern of hopscotching through time and space in their inner conversations highlights something we all noticed about our own mind: it is an avid time traveler.”

We’re time travelers! I knew it! And we all know that time travel can be a tricky thing. We don’t want to get stuck in a time loop!

“The ability to engage in mental time travel is an exceedingly valuable feature of the human mind. It allows us to make sense of our experiences in ways that other animals can’t, not to mention make plans and prepare for contingencies in the future.”

I read a lot about staying present, another skill I’ve been working on, but while reading about that I had a thought. If we stay in the present moment at all times, not considering the past or future, wouldn’t that make us the same as any other animal? One of the things that makes humans so amazing is that we CAN learn from our past and plan for the future, right? Maybe there’s a balance we can find.

In the last chapter, Kross (in his infinite wisdom) listed out the tools he had been describing in detail throughout the book, a sort of cheat-sheet! My favorite tools, ones that I have written down to practice, are:

“Distanced self-talk:” using your name and second person you. Sounds crazy, but it works immediately. Several times already, I’ve come up to some feeling I wasn’t thrilled to have and stopped in my tracks. “Listen, Michelle, you know this is only temporary. Take a deep breath and calm those nerves of yours, you can handle this.”

“Reinterpret your body’s chatter response.” This is much like meditation practice, feeling whatever you are feeling in your body and accepting its presence. When I feel sad or scared, I FEEL it all over my body. It starts as pain in my chest and radiates down my arms and into my hands, up into my throat, and into my stomach. I feel like I’m dying and panic to stop whatever I think is causing it, usually causing even more painful problems. Lately, I’ve been sitting with that pain and letting it flow over me. Instead of succumbing the negative chatter, I speak kindly to myself, “You’ve felt this before. It is not death. Just wait.”

This one is my favorite.

“Reframe your experience as a challenge.” Reframing in general is one of my favorite thought practices these days. It works wonders! Social situations are perfect for this. Instead of attempting to flee immediately, or move through it, head down, hands clenched, I can say to myself, “Can I get through this without losing my shit? Possibly. Let’s see.” The last few situations I’ve been in have been progressively better. Sure, I had a few small panic attacks, and I yelled a bit about this thing, BUT I did GO, I didn’t complain every moment, or work out different ways to get out of it, and no one looked like they were afraid I was going to explode. Progress!

One more thing before I go, and you go out and get this book.

“The human mind is one of evolution’s greatest creations, not just because it allowed our species to survive and thrive, but because in spite of the inevitable pain that comes with life, it also endowed us with a voice in our head capable of not only celebrating the best times but also making meaning out of the worst times. It’s this voice, not the din of chatter, that we should listen to.”

Our minds are amazing, and we should be using them, not letting them use us. We all tend to hyper-focus. We all think we are the center of the universe. There are ways to help ourselves and those around us to put some distance between us and our problems, sense the awe and wonder in the world, use our physical world to bring us peace and order, use mind magic to heal ourselves through placebo, and remind ourselves of the big picture through personal rituals.

Another piece of the puzzle set in place because I listened to a podcast on my way into the city.

Some Much Needed Douglas Adams

You’ve probably been wondering what happened to me. “She was writing every day for so long and then it petered out and she disappeared into the ether! What could have happened? Did she suffer an enormous blow to her charmed life? Was she not able to cope with the devastating effects of ennui? Anything could have happened?!”

douglas adams

Never fear. It was nothing serious. Just life happening along its happy little path, catching the big toe of its clown-sized Converse on a small pebble and tipping forward, catching itself but then, realizing it was being watched, deciding to make a big show of a small mishap and do a double somersault, attempt to land on its feet but land on its head, knocking itself unconscious for a moment. When it came to, there was an overwhelming amount of work piled up around it, so it stood up, dusted itself off, stuffed its hands into its parachute pants pockets and sauntered off whistling a tune and hoping no one would notice.

I think I’ve OD’d on Douglas Adams lately. Looks around sheepishly. But what else can you do when you get in a funk and can’t seem to find your way out? It all started when I took a few days off from my entire routine to visit with my parents, and when I got back, I just couldn’t get back on track. Much was achieved during those four days, many notes were taken, a-ha moments were had, and I came back a slightly different person. On top of that I was still reading, still thinking, still listening to podcasts, gathering books from bookstores, and adding more titles to my ever-expanding TBR list, but I hadn’t had any intelligent way of sharing any of it.

It’s happened before and I know it will happen again (because it is happening now), but here I am wondering where and how to jump back in and restart the flow. That thought has been overwhelming, so true to form, I just didn’t. Like my friend Life, I stuffed my hands in my pockets and sauntered away, but instead of whistling, I got another giant glass of iced coffee and picked up The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and hid inside.

Remember when I went into Barnes & Noble (I swear for the last time) just to pick up that book and then walked out so much poorer in cash and not much richer in books?

Hitchhiker’s is the book I jump into when I “just can’t” anymore. Can’t what? Can’t. Just plain can’t. It’s fun and hilarious and has brilliant lines like, “I’m so hip I can’t even see over my pelvis.” I originally started reading the books in high school, I think. My dad shared it with me, and we’ve been laughing about it ever since. We know the answer and have been helping to look for the question. We’re real cool froods, man.

douglas adams 42

Although I haven’t been able to get my sons to read the books, they are far too serious, when they were younger, I did get them to carry towels with me on Towel Day. And they are well aware of significance of 42.

douglas adams towel day

For the past week, I’ve been spending my morning hitchhiking with Ford across the galaxy. Time not wasted. My brain needed the break. I’m halfway through this collection of “five novels in one outrageous volume” and, believe it or not, it isn’t all random craziness. There is reason and depth.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Marvin, the terminally depressed robot, and I think I may write a whole post about it. The meaning of life, the concept of sentience, improbability, and so much more all comes up to make you laugh and (if you’re paying attention) think in these books.

This morning I’ve spent quite some time procrastinating…again. I’m very good at it, so I’m not all that sure why I spend so much time practicing, but I do. Suddenly, it came to me. I’ve reached critical mass. I know exactly where I’ll pick up and start writing. Right exactly where I am. The past is gone, the future is unknown, but right now, right here…that’s real, at least as far as my senses can tell. I could be dreaming, but as Mickey says, “This is MY dream!” So, I’ll do what I want. And what I want is to tell you, once again, that I’m back and I’m reading, and I’m excited to start sharing what I find with you again.

One more thing before I run off. So much of Douglas Adams is quotable. This time around, I find myself reminded of Dr. Who and Rick & Morty, both shows I hadn’t seen when I’ve read the book before. I’ve been putting down a mark at lines that I literally LOL’d at and this one… you’ll love it.

“All right!” bawled Vroomfondel, banging on a nearby desk. “I am Vroomfondel, and that is not a demand, that is a solid fact! What we demand is solid facts!”
“No, we don’t!” exclaimed Majikthise in irritation. “That is precisely what we don’t demand!”
Scarcely pausing for breath, Vroomfondel shouted, “We don’t demand solid facts! What we demand is a total absence of solid facts. I demand that I may or may not be Vroomfondel!”
“But who the devil are you?” exclaimed an outrage Fook.
“We,” said Majikthise, “are Philosophers.”
“Though we may not be,” said Vroomfondel, waving a warning finger at the programmers.

Reminds me of a Monty Python skit.

The Portable Atheist: New Read

The Portable Atheist – Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever – selected and with introductions by Christopher Hitchens is another one of those books that I didn’t write down why I ordered it. There was a reason. It came to me through another book, or a podcast…something. Every book on my TBR list has an origin story. I hate when I lose track of them, and yet I can’t seem to create a system that helps me.

Anyway, it’s been on my shelf for a while now and I’ve been meaning to pick it up. It’s filled with some of my favorite authors: Thomas Hobbes, Percy Shelley, John Stuart Mill, Mark Twain, George Orwell, even Penn Jillette! So why has it taken so long for me to start reading it?

Fear of being mis-judged.

Even writing this, I’m afraid to admit how I really feel, what my real thoughts are. Why? Because not everyone that reads this will understand and some may be disappointed. These are two my biggest fears in life, two things that have held me in mortal terror. I wish they didn’t and I’m trying to repair that rip in my soul, but you probably know how complicated that is.

This morning I posted the picture of the book on my Facebook page with this,

I debated for days whether to post about this book here for fear of being seen by my friends and family as a member of one team or another for exploring a point of view.

I’m not having it. Think what you want. I know my own mind.”

If I could get one thing through to the whole world it would be that I’m not on one team or another, anywhere. I don’t believe in teams at all. In fact, I think the idea of teams is one of the biggest problems we have right now. This whole “if you’re not with me, you’re against me” crap is killing us. From politics and religion to lifestyle and race…please, just stop.

Why am I reading this book? Because I respect the opinions of others and wish to learn more about them, possibly even adopt some of them as my own.

This morning I finished reading the introduction and it was hard. The tone is what I’m not appreciating. It’s something I dislike about believers and nonbelievers alike. This “holier than thou” attitude, as if anyone that does not agree with them is clearly an imbecile and should be ashamed of themselves. It’s not the way to win friends and influence people. In the first few pages, I’ve already found much that I don’t agree with and much that I do. I’d love to sit and talk about it, page by page, with someone who is genuinely curious about humanity and religion.

Why is it that we create religions in the first place? It seems today we’ve created brand new “godless” ones to fight about and beat people with; science, politics, culture, and lifestyle. I honestly think it’s something about human nature, some evolutionary thing that drives us to make an authority outside our own selves and create community and belonging around it. And then we take it and fight to the death over it to stay safe from “others.”

I’m looking forward to reading all these essays. I know it will take me quite some time to read and digest it all. I hope you’ll stick with me and hear me out, maybe even chime in with your own thoughts from time to time.

Heart of Darkness: New Read

I read Heart of Darkness in my early 20’s…geez that was a long time ago. Why did I read it? I’m not sure. It wasn’t for school. I had dropped out of university the year I turned twenty. I remember Barnes & Noble having a series of hardbacked classics at the time. They were relatively cheap, and I had decided to buy a new one each time I went in and then…wait for it…read them. I couldn’t live forever on Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I was trying to broaden my horizons.

I’d heard that the movie Apocalypse Now was based on that book. I still can’t stand that movie. It’s so depressing. I’m not sure what it is about any Vietnam era anything. I can’t discuss it calmly. “Understandable,” you think. Sure, but I swear it’s different for me. I don’t know. The feeling is strange. There’s no other subject that I am this averse to. It’s like a memory of a traumatic experience, and I wasn’t even born until 1972, so maybe it’s past life thing…who knows.

But Heart of Darkness! The first time I read it, I didn’t get it. I had no clue what was going on or what I was supposed to be understanding. And how, in the name of “based on the book,” was this related to Apocalypse Now? I don’t think I was paying close enough attention to either. I moved on.

Fast forward thirty years and I read Lord Jim, also by Joseph Conrad. I loved it, so I thought maybe I’d give his other books a try. That’s when I found this edition. It’s a used Barnes & Noble Classic and includes “selected short stories.”

This morning I read the introduction. Do you read those? I didn’t used to, but I read the one for Frankenstein and boy did it really make the story feel different. It meant so much more to me. I suppose if you’re reading a modern book, one written in your own time, from your own culture and language, it would be easier to see what the author was trying to get at. But the farther from my experience an author is, the harder it is for me to understand. Our vantage points on humanity are different, like someone on the other side of the universe pointing out stars to guide each other. Introductions move us closer together.

The introduction to this book was long, but great to read. Understanding where the author came from and the world he lived in, gives context to his fiction. It went into his life, when he was writing, and the controversy that followed his work then and now. It did get into some of Heart of Darkness and pointed out the similarities to Apocalypse Now, which was very helpful. I thought I might have to watch that movie again (torture) and now I don’t.

I’m looking forward to reading this. It starts with the short story, Youth, then Heart of Darkness, Amy Foster, and The Secret Sharer. I’ll be trying to post some thoughts daily. Have you read this? Was it for a class? Some people have said they had to read it in high school. We never read anything in high school. Literature wasn’t important, only grammar, again and again and again. But that’s another story.

The Dictionary of Lost Words: New Read

It’s not like me but, I guess I’m just in the mood for fiction right now, any fiction. Lucky for me, I just happen to have a lot of fiction on my TBR shelf! I picked up The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams this morning after reading about ten pages of Haves and Have-Nots by Mortimer J. Adler, saying to myself, “Nope. Not happening.” I’m just not in the mood for politics or government, especially older ones. This one was written in 1991 and within a couple pages, I knew it would just depress me, so I shut it and looked for something else.

The Dictionary of Lost Words is another book I picked up at Barnes & Noble while “just browsing” and getting a cup of coffee, a.k.a. “escaping the heat.” This morning when I started reading, it sounded so familiar. A garden shed at a university used as a workshop to sort words and meanings to create and update a dictionary in the late 1800’s.

I googled, of course. Yes! The Professor and the Madman. Different story, same subject. But the movie was based on a true story, and there was a book. Yes, it’s now on my TBR list.

It was huge relief to find that movie. I was starting to think this was another one of those books I’ve read in the past and had completely forgotten about. And it would have been doubly bothersome because I paid full retail price for this novel.

So far as I’ve read this morning, only about twenty pages because my son is here visiting and we have BIG plans for pancakes and bacon when he wakes up, it seems like an adorable story. The professor’s young daughter plays under the table in the morning while he works and discovers lost words that drop from above and no one retrieves.

The back cover says, “As she grows up, Esme realizes that words and meanings relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences often go unrecorded.” And “Set in the early twentieth century during the height of the women’s suffrage movement, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a missing narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men.”

The title is what prompted me to pick the book up off the table, and description is probably what prompted me to buy it.

The Mary Shelley Reader

I read Frankenstein years ago and fell madly in love with it. Always meant to go back and read it again and now I MUST!

Another book I picked up at Dog-Eared Pages in Phoenix, The Mary Shelley Reader. Frankenstein is first in the book, since it’s the first she published. I’m excited to get to Mathilda and her letters, too!

But first…a warning:

“A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquility. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections, and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind. If this rule were always observed; if no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquility of his domestic affections, Greece had not been enslaved; Caesar would have spared his country; America would have been discovered more gradually; and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed.”

Probably should go get the house cleaned up and go to the grocery store, not just sit here and read all day…again.

The Mary Shelley Reader
@desertdreamer72

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