A Virtual Book Club - What are YOU reading?!

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Why DO I write here anyway?

“We need to talk.” It’s probably the last thing you ever want to hear from a close friend or family member, right? Sends shivers down anyone’s spine! But we do and don’t worry, it ends well!

About my last post, if you haven’t seen it, you can read it HERE, but all it really says is “Why do I write and post here?” I thought about it all weekend. I’ve thought about it before and I’ll probably think about it again (mostly because I have a cute little squirrel brain that doesn’t hold on to things for very long, but it makes things…interesting).

An existential crisis began on Saturday morning when, in an attempt to catch up on writing my “What In The World Is She Reading” newsletter, I opened a book that I had finished a couple weeks ago and recognized none of the text inside. I flipped through the pages reading here and there thinking, maybe that part wasn’t interesting? Maybe I was thinking of something else when I read that short story? I flipped to another page and started reading. Nope. It’s all gone, slipped out of my mind like those planetary systems Princess Leia said Darth Vadar was losing through his grip.

I slapped the book down, piled up my notebook and my laptop, and went to sit on the porch and stare at the desert. I was out there for an hour.

The rest of my Saturday spiraled slowly down into a mild depression. My heart hurt and I held back tears the whole day. My family began to worry. I watched a movie. I cleaned my closet of extra clothes. I laid on my bed and watched the ceiling.

If I can’t remember what I read, what’s the point of reading at all? And then what’s the point of writing about it? I spend a lot of my day reading, making notes, taking pictures, and posting about what I read. Am I just wasting my time? Is there something more important and lasting that could be done?

Maybe I should spend more time knitting. At least I’d have a product at the end of my time. I recently bought a cross-stitch kit thinking I’d like to make some presents, so I spent an hour trying to learn it. In my mental state of the moment, it didn’t go well, as you can imagine.

I continued to pout and get angry all day and well into the evening. My best friend was off busy all day, my youngest son left for work, my husband and oldest son were working on projects in the garage, and here I was…useless. I’m just killing time waiting to die…yep…I heard myself grumbling to myself. I’m a freakin’ bundle of fun sometimes.

At some point, we ended up on the couch watching a tv show and eating leftovers for dinner, when I laid my head in my husband’s lap and poured my heart out. He patted me and gave me some loves. My son gave me some advice that I grumbled about and then I went to bed.

After a good night’s sleep and a long Sunday morning of yard work, I took a hot shower and then sat down at my desk. Picking up the book, I flipped through it again. I still don’t remember much of those stories. I picked up another one and flipped through its pages. Hold on a minute. I remember a lot of that book! What happened? Why do I remember so little from this book?

All of a sudden something important occurred to me. There were a lot of notes in the book I remembered a lot of but the book that I didn’t remember had very few. I opened up Instagram and scrolled through my pictures to find only four quotes that I shared from the book I didn’t remember and ten from the book I did.

My son was right the night before. The advice I grumbled about…stupid kid…doesn’t know anything…you don’t know my feelings! Like I said, I can be really fun if you love sarcasm, dramatic exits, and self-pity parties. His advice was…Mom, you probably didn’t need any of those words, so your brain dumped them. Some day you’ll read that book again and that’s when you’ll remember because you’ll need it, or you’ll know someone else does so you’ll loan it to them. Kids these days!

He also reminded me, when I cried about wasting time, that no time is ever wasted if you’re doing something you enjoy doing. I don’t know where he gets this stuff.

Here’s the thing, my friends. I like reading books, all of them! Each book has its reason for being there. Some are packed full of information that I need. Some are guidance in troubled times. Some help me help someone else. Some make me smile, and some make me cry. Some are just damn fun. I don’t read because I have to and I don’t read things that I’m not enjoying, even if the information in them is important. I just love the experience!

Getting up before dawn, grabbing a cup of coffee and settling into the couch with my current lover…I mean book…is soul satisfying to me. It feeds me.

So why do I write and post about it here? There are two reasons really. The first is that writing about what I’m reading, while I’m reading it, helps me remember what I read. It helps me link other things I’ve read to what I’m currently reading. Organizing my thoughts on the page also helps me use what I’m reading to organize my life. I’m a better person because of what I read and write about and that cup overflows onto my family and friends. Happy reader…happy wife, mom, friend, PERSON!

The second reason is you. The book is already read. The page is already written. The photo is already taken. Why not post it all to the internet on the off chance someone out there might need it or at least enjoy it? It’s a little like sending a message in a bottle. I’m out here on my desert isle, writing out little messages, rolling them up and stuffing them inside my empty whiskey and tequila bottles, throwing them as far out into the sea as I can. Hopefully the tide will catch them and bring them to you…although, I know some do get washed back up onto my shores, but I just brush them off and throw them out again!

So here we are. I’m glad you’re here to listen to me rant about these things. I can tell you’re a great listener, so thanks. Let’s get back to books!

What are you reading?

Riddle Me This

What is the point of writing and posting any of this? Personally, I’m starting to think it’s a waste of time.

Does Change Have to be Violent?

Change… “will come to pass by violence and upheaval, by flame and by fury, for no change comes calmly over the world.”
“It will be so. We do not will it so.”
“Ignorance is king. Many would not profit by his abdication. Many enrich themselves by means of his dark monarchy. They are his Court, and in his name they defraud and govern, enrich themselves and perpetuate their power.”

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

In the story, I totally agree. A big change is coming and it’s yet to be seen whether or not it will be a good one; good in the “better for all of mankind” kind of way.

But I don’t think change must be violent. Big dramatic changes can disrupt everything, but small, steady, almost unnoticeable changes can be just as good and for more people. The Grand Canyon was slowly eroded into what it is today, or was it? Children are can be born and grow up without violence and pain. A tree grows from seed into a towering pine over hundreds of years.

But I like the small line in the middle most. “It WILL be so. We do not WILL it so.” Inevitability. He believes he’s stating a natural law. He doesn’t want violence, but violence will be the natural consequence of the changes that are coming to their world.

Is progress always violent? Growth spurts are inevitable, I suppose. The more we try to reign in the changes of technological advancement, the more problems we cause in the long run possibly; the old adage of ripping the bandage off quickly.

New Book Started – Chernobyl 01.23.40

I took it as a sign that I HAD to read this when I saw this on an Instagram feed. He said he read it because he saw the HBO series. Well, I saw that series too and I loved it and was thinking about reading more about it, so here I am with the book in my hot little hands!

That series was stressful. I don’t know how accurate it was about what happened, but since we’re not passive tv watchers, my sons were looking things up, reading articles, and commenting throughout the series, so I felt like it gave us an entertaining overview of it.

I grew up in the 80s. The only thing I was worrying about was whether or not my skates were working well enough or if some boy in my class liked me. I really had no real idea about what was going on outside my neighborhood, let alone way over in Russia.

Riveted by the tv show, I wondered…how did I not know anything about this?! I know about it now, even before the show. I knew it was a nuclear meltdown in Russia, and that the area was still closed off and unlivable. I heard recently that you could take tours of the area from my teenage sons. How they hear about these things, I really don’t know. They seemed to know more about it that I did. My husband, who is a few years older than me, remembered hearing something about it when it happened.

I just cannot imagine dealing with this kind of a situation, working in a nuclear power plant, responsible for so many people’s lives. And then the people they brought in to mitigate the damage?! I can’t even… The most stress I ever had to deal with at work was how we were going to stop a light from falling onto the stage in the middle of a live Elvira performance. True story. Don’t worry, it ended well. No one got hurt because we were damn lucky, but to say it pales in comparison to trying to figure out how to stop a nuclear meltdown from potentially burning to the earth’s core and destroying the planet, is beyond putting it lightly. And this is not science fiction! Yikes!

I can’t wait to share my favorite quotes from this one!

We Take What We Want

“Most of us take from books and articles that which we need, or want, leaving the rest, often including the author’s intentions, behind.”

From “Paul Goodman in Retrospect” by Joseph Epstein (1978)

We take what we want, that’s for sure. I’m guilty. Sometimes I don’t even know it until I’m quoting and explaining something from a book I read and the person I’m talking to tells me that it’s not what the author meant. We all have an agenda in our minds, our backgrounds, opinions, and personalities help us interpret what we see and read. If we know something about the author of the book, we have a better chance at interpreting what they meant, but usually we’re going into reading things one-sided.

Recently, I learned that George Orwell was a Socialist until his dying day and that Animal Farm was not condemning socialism at all (like I grew up believing) but remarking on how good socialism was hijacked by power hungry monsters.

I wonder how many things are misinterpreted or used to support one person’s argument when the whole text doesn’t support it. Scripture from various religions is often used that way. Statistics and research reports, as well.

I often worry that quotes I post from the books I read may be interpreted opposite of why I shared them in the first place. I can’t stand politics and sometimes I post things and think…is someone going to read this and use it to support some asinine law or tax?! Or what if they think I support something that I don’t? But that’s the thing about creating and putting your thoughts out into the world. Once it leaves your mind, it goes out into the world and starts a life of its own.

Translating Thoughts into Words

“For Man was a culture-bearer as well as a soul-bearer, but his cultures were not immortal and they could die with a race or an age, and then human reflections of meaning and human portrayals of truth receded, and truth and meaning raised, unseen, only in the objective logos of Nature and the ineffable Logos of God. Truth could be crucified; but soon, perhaps, a resurrection.”

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

ineffable: too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words

I only recently discovered this word and now here it is again! Thoughts don’t need words. We use words to translate our thoughts to others. Some thoughts are simply too complex for words. God can be described that way.

Let’s say that I have an idea, a complicated plan to create a machine to do something that you can’t conceive of needing. And you, well, you’re not that educated. Your vocabulary is limited because you’re just a simple farmer. It’s not that your stupid or unintelligent. It’s just that I have more experience with machines and all the words that go with them. (You can see my lack of an extensive vocabulary already, right? I know. I’m working on it.)

I explained this to my son this morning. “You mean like when you ask me what I’m doing and I just look at you because I do not EVEN have the time to explain…because…well…(sheepish look, is mom going to kill me)…it’s beyond you?” He has an honest way of talking that gets him in trouble sometimes. But he’s right, that’s exactly what I mean. It’s not an insult, it just is what it is.

Anywho…back to the quote…

This book is awesome. It’s effectively describing what has happened on earth several times over the millennia that humans have been on it. We build up a world, a culture, destroy it, live in the dark, and then resurrect it. I’m devouring this book and I’m hoping someone around here reads it too so we can talk about it!

Points of View

“”Vulgar” is the word intellectuals use when they mean “vile,” by which they actually mean in disagreement with their own views.”

From Commentary by Joseph Epstein (2010)

Vulgar: lacking sophistication or good taste; unrefined

Vile: morally despicable or abhorrent

I had to look those words up. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. I may read a lot, but I’m definitely not a scholar but I’ve been trying to do a better job of actually understanding the meaning of a word, sentence, or paragraph, instead of just going with the feeling I get from reading into it. In the past, I would have thought “vulgar” and “vile” meant basically the same thing, but maybe had a different intensity of feeling. Obviously, from the definition of the words, that isn’t true.

Something can be vulgar but not vile. Blowing your nose at the table may be considered bad taste or ill mannered, but not morally wrong.

I snickered at this line in the essay because I saw in my mind’s eye, a snooty English professor type from an old melodrama, looking down his nose at a young backwoods auto-didactic attempting to discuss his political views. “A man like THAT can’t possibly have anything intelligent to add to OUR learned conversation!”

The thing about views, though, is that everyone’s view is slightly different. Even people on the same mountain top have a slightly different view because they all have different backgrounds that they brought up with them, different baggage from their childhood’s, different intellects and personalities. Not one of those “views” is morally superior to another, none can be “vile” or “vulgar.”

My conclusion: behavior can be described as vile or vulgar, not points of view.

Doubt vs. Denial

“If you doubt it, why bother studying the Leibowitzian documents?”
“Because doubt is not denial. Doubt is a powerful tool, and it should be applied to history.”

From A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

There’s something I hear all the time lately. Any time anyone tries to question anything they hear, they are shouted down with the word, “Denier!”

Holocaust Denier. Global Warming Denier. Covid Denier. Racism Denier. The hits keep coming.

I personally don’t know anyone that denies the existence of any of these things, but there are probably some out there. I do know many people that doubt things as they are presented to us on media outlets, myself included.

The news media, tv, newspapers, and magazines alike, are not the scientists or researchers. Politicians are also not scientists, doctors, or researchers. They are told things and then they present them to us in a way that gets them elected or keeps them in office. It seems to be that every “problem” they find has only one answer, “Give us more money and power.” So, yes, I doubt what they present to me. Call me crazy.

My doubt prompts me to do a little research and critical thinking of my own. No, I don’t conduct experiments, but I do go looking for a few articles to read and think about. Some things, though, I don’t bother with. I only have so much time and energy, so I must ration it.

Once again, I’m fascinated by a character from a novel written in 1959. Sixty years later, I’m thinking, “Yes! Dammit!”

What’s Your “News” Source?

“I guess I had this naïve notion that we had a very intelligent audience that didn’t need to be told how to think, how to vote, what to do,” Kolatch told the Times.

From New Leader Days: Can You Have a Political Magazine without Politics? By Joseph Epstein 2006

Where is THAT news source? I’d love to watch/read a source like that, one that gives information, “reports” on what’s happening and doesn’t project its feelings on it.

Why have things changed so much? Why does every news source assume passive consumption of other people’s thoughts on events is what their audience wants?

My husband likes to say, “If you think something should be run in a different/better way, then go open a business of your own.” In my case, my first response is, “I’m not a journalist or a businessperson. I just know what I want to read!” My second thought is, “I know that even if I was capable of creating, marketing, and running my own actual news outlet, it wouldn’t sell. There just isn’t a big enough market to sell to.”

The truth of the matter is that the largest audience isn’t “intelligent” and that isn’t a new thing. Most people in the world are simply trying to get through their day, pay the bills and take care of their families. They don’t have the time to read, study, and debate all that’s going on in the world. They just want to be able to trust that the guy on the news, or writing the article, is going to give them useful information and maybe a little entertainment as well.

I don’t know what the answer is. I just know that something is terribly different these days. I sit here wondering what happened, where are we headed? Very few of my friends and family members read anything other than some popular fiction. Most everyone I know gets their news from articles shared by friends on social media.

I’ve been trying some new things lately. I subscribed to the Wall Street Journal but ended up cancelling after a few months because I got tired of reading the same “news” every day. I wish they had a weekend only version! I live in a small town, so getting my local paper is out of the question…it’s just so badly written. I think I’ll look into the Register and Times again, but they are usually so biased one way or the other.

Magazines are a hopeful source and there are a lot to choose from. The only downside is that it feels slightly wasteful to have them pile up…maybe I can share them?

How about you? Where do you get your news? Is it important to you?

Unachievable Goal – Understanding the World

Unachievable goal? Maybe. But it is still the reason I read, write, question, and explore the world around me.

“I am a man committed to understanding the world and how it operates, all the while knowing that I haven’t much chance in succeeding in this endeavor. What I do know is that the world is too rich, too various, too multifaceted and many-layered for a fellow incapable of an hour’s sustained thought to hope to comprehend it.”

From “The Personal Essay: A Form of Discovery” by Joseph Epstein

Lately, though, I’ve felt more overwhelmed than usual. There’s just so much coming in from so many directions that I have no time to process and reflect. I find myself needing to take several steps back, limit my exposure to the world, and refocus. What is currently most important for me to focus my energy on? What/who needs my immediate attention? I’ll tell you right off the bat what’s not…any present moment’s crisis outside my home.

Yes, I know…pandemic…forest fires…election…my high school friend’s cat…my ex-co-worker’s girlfriend…my distant cousin’s dinner plans… I’m sure they are all important to someone, but I just can’t right now. I need to start smaller. I need to focus here at home.

Myself. My family. My home. That’s what comes first during “SHTF” times, most times actually. Like Mark Manson writes about, there are only so many fucks to give, only so much energy each person has to deal with what life throws at them.

I’m limiting my input to books and a small group of friends and family. Social media, other than posting my reading quotes daily, is gone. My output focus will reflect those inputs alone for the foreseeable future.

“It is unlikely that many of us will be famous, or even remembered. But not less important than the brilliant few that lead a nation or a literature to fresh achievements, are the unknown many whose patient efforts keep the world from running backward;…”

F.L. Lucas “The Value of Style” quoted in Joseph Epstein’s “Heavy Sentences”

And that quote is why I write here instead of simply in a notebook at my desk. It helps me keep my mind right, which helps me run my life in more peace, and in the long run, helps my family and closest friends run theirs. While I’m at the work, I might as well share my discoveries here. You never know whose hands it will land in.

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