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I have been alone in Paris, alone in Vienna, alone in London, and all in all, it is very much like being alone in Green Town, Illinois. It is, in essence, being alone. Oh, you have plenty of time to think, improve your manners, sharpen your conversations. But I sometimes think I could easily trade a verb tense or a curtsy for some company that would stay over for a thirty-year weekend. –Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
And Yet the Books | Czesław Miłosz
And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
“We are,” they said, even as their pages
were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
licked away their letters. So much more durable
than we are, whose frail warmth
cools down, with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley,
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.
Czesław Miłosz | „Ale książki”
I dotykane, pieszczone trwać zaczęły
Mimo łun na horyzoncie, zamków wylatujących w powietrze,
Plemion w pochodzie, planet w ruchu.
Jesteśmy – mówiły, nawet kiedy
wydzierano z nich karty .
Albo litery zlizywał buzujący płomień,
O ileż trwalsze od nas,których ułomne ciepło
Stygnie razem z pamięcią, rozprasza się, ginie.
Wyobrażam sobie ziemię kiedy mnie nie będzie
I nic, żadnego ubytku, dalej dziwowisko,
Suknie kobiet, mokry jaśmin, pieśń w dolinie.
Ale książki będą na półkach, dobrze urodzone,
Z ludzi, choć też z jasności, wysokości.
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”
— Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
Skirmishes against the author
Raging along the borders of every page
In tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
They seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.
Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
That kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
My thumb as a bookmark,
Trying to imagine what the person must look like
Who wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
Alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.
Students are more modest
Needing to leave only their splayed footprints
Along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
Fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.
Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
To Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” “My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
Rain down along the sidelines.
And if you have managed to graduate from college
Without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
In a margin, perhaps now
Is the time to take one step forward.
We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
And reached for a pen if only to show
We did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
We pressed a thought into the wayside,
Planted an impression along the verge.
Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
Jotted along the borders of the Gospels
Brief asides about the pains of copying,
A bird singing near their window,
Or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
Anonymous men catching a ride into the future
On a vessel more lasting than themselves.
And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
They say, until you have read him
Enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.
Yet the one I think of most often,
The one that dangles from me like a locket,
Was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
One slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
Reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
And I cannot tell you
How vastly my loneliness was deepened,
How poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
When I found on one page
A few greasy looking smears
And next to them, written in soft pencil-
By a beautiful girl, I could tell,
Whom I would never meet-
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”
― T.H. White, The Once and Future King
“The buying of more books than one can perchance read is nothing less than the soulreaching toward infinity, and this passion is the only thing that raises us above the beasts that perish.” — A. Edward Newton (1863-1940)
… It occurred to me earlier today that I haven’t sold any books, CDs, or DVDs on Half.com or Amazon in more than six months. I can’t help but get chills. I don’t think I’m going to like this brave new world of precious art, literature, and music loaded onto cheap plastic gizmos.
“Oho, now I know what you are. You are an advocate of Useful Knowledge.”
“You say that a man’s first job is to earn a living, and that the first task of education is to equip him for that job?”
“Well, allow me to introduce myself to you as an advocate of Ornamental Knowledge. You like the mind to be a neat machine, equipped to work efficiently, if narrowly, and with no extra bits or useless parts. I like the mind to be a dustbin of scraps of brilliant fabric, odd gems, worthless but fascinating curiosities, tinsel, quaint bits of carving, and a reasonable amount of healthy dirt. Shake the machine and it goes out of order; shake the dustbin and it adjusts itself beautifully to its new position.”
–Robertson Davis, Tempest-Tost
I love, love, love T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (previously). The words, “We shall not cease from exploration” give me goosebumps every time I read them. How does one take those words to heart, to take a visceral experience and illuminate the everyday tedium with it? To just not cease from exploration? Can it be that simple?
I don’t know. But here goes.
When I started blogging in 2002, I would often list what I was reading/watching/listening to/thinking about. (I’m pretty sure this idea first came from Dooce.) Then I moved from updating an HTML doc on my self-hosted site to a blogging platform (shame: LiveJournal), and the practice kind of tapered off. So without further ado, or adieu, here are some recent discoveries:
- To Kill a Mockingbird: yes, it’s completely shameful that I hadn’t read this before. It’s fantastic.
- Elliott BROOD: just discovered them this morning. As you may know, I am secretly Canadian and this speaks to me.
- Laurie Notaro: I am 9 pages into I Love Everybody (and Other Atrocious Lies) and I’m already a fan.
- Carolina: total fluffy movie you can stream on Netflix. I want Julia Stiles’ entire wardrobe. Plus Alessandro Nivola!
- Traditional Medicinals EveryDay Detox tea: See, I can drink a pot of coffee and go to bed, and I tend to ignore a headache instead of medicating… I’m not very sensitive, shall we say. But I actually feel different–better–when I drink this. Go figure.
- Current travel obsession: Cabo San Lucas. The beach under the Arch should be coming back in 2015…
“The truth is, everyone likes to look down on someone. If your favorites are all avant-garde writers who throw in Sanskrit and German, you can look down on everyone. If your favorites are all Oprah Book Club books, you can at least look down on mystery readers. Mystery readers have sci-fi readers. Sci-fi can look down on fantasy. And yes, fantasy readers have their own snobbishness. I’ll bet this, though: in a hundred years, people will be writing a lot more dissertations on Harry Potter than on John Updike. Look, Charles Dickens wrote popular fiction. Shakespeare wrote popular fiction—until he wrote his sonnets, desperate to show the literati of his day that he was real artist. Edgar Allan Poe tied himself in knots because no one realized he was a genius. The core of the problem is how we want to define “literature”. The Latin root simply means “letters”. Those letters are either delivered—they connect with an audience—or they don’t. For some, that audience is a few thousand college professors and some critics. For others, its twenty million women desperate for romance in their lives. Those connections happen because the books successfully communicate something real about the human experience. Sure, there are trashy books that do really well, but that’s because there are trashy facets of humanity. What people value in their books—and thus what they count as literature—really tells you more about them than it does about the book.”
― Brent Weeks