As I sit to write this, my fingers feel rusty and can barely usher the words out. I often feel as though words flow from some inner source right through my hands, as long as I take myself out of their way. This morning, for want of writing much, that pipeline appears dreadfully rusty. My brain is trying too hard to intervene, instead of just being the conduit.

At some moment late in August, after my Nana passed, I found a need to return to bound paper books. The heft and feel in my hands, the scent of the page: these are the healers, along with Nature. On a whim, I also decided to make a challenge for myself that I would purchase no new books for an indefinite period, at least a month. Or more. (Diana Nyad’s book comes out this month, and I might have to make an exception). I’d read only what I already owned, or better still, I would savor the stacks of the library again.

I don’t think my Kindle is even charged at this point.

That crinkle of protective plastic on the library hardbacks is a music that soothes my mind.

So in addition to Rule 1 (Do not buy any new books), I also decided upon a second parameter: Rule 2: Augment your knowledge of the postmodern cannon.

I’ve read decently widely, but I am thinking in particular of those free response lists on the AP English exams. I also need to catch up on some of my Man Booker Prize winners as of late.

Last year I had an obsessive interest with nonfiction and still do, but it occurred to me that I’ve let quite a bit of canonical fiction remained unexplored.

At any rate, here is my reading list for September:

1. Beloved by Toni Morrison (fiction, 1987)

“Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore. And though she and others lived through and got over it, she could never let it happen to her own. The best things she was, was her children. Whites might dirty her all right, but not her best thing, her beautiful, magical best thing — the part of her that was clean.”

Here’s a novel to rend a person into a thousand pieces. Can’t believe I didn’t read it until now; probably couldn’t have begun to receive all it offers if I had. 316 brutally heartbreaking pages. Any discussion, or attempts at disavowal, of the history of slavery and racism in these United States ought to begin with this novel as required reading.

This may be one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read in many ways and now, also, one of my favorites. Between this book and the research we’ve been doing above and beyond that required for Katie’s Native American unit, I am looking more critically than ever at the truth that much of our country was settled on the backs and blood of slaves, as well as the massacre of thousands of natives. These are facts that we know—if we’re able to extract them from the way American history is typically presented/taught in this country’s public school system—yet I have to say that in my mid-30s, everything is much more personal to me now. These narratives shape my perception of current policy and politics, to be sure.

2. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (historical fiction, 1935)

“There’s no great loss without some small gain.”

We have continued on with the series because Eric has been begging us to! These are the first chapter books with which Eric has truly connected. Although Katie and I have read them before, what we’re doing with them now will be a family memory for the rest of our lives. We’ve been taking all the Little House books with us on our hikes and adventures. We’ve been reading them everywhere and making deliberate, calculated memories of cozy reading. From Mount Palomar to Idyllwild to the Santa Rosa Plateau (where we finished Little House on the Prairie early one morning, by the old adobe house), we’ve tried to forge a connection between the words and the natural world around us. We’ve also been cooking pioneer recipes, making button strings, and dressing up.

3. White Noise by Don DeLillo (fiction, 1985)

“Isn’t death the boundary we need? Doesn’t it give a precious texture to life, a sense of definition? You have to ask yourself whether anything you do in this life would have beauty and meaning without the knowledge you carry of a final line, a border or limit.”
It’s completely possible to love a book for intellectual reasons and not personal ones, and Don DeLillo’s _White Noise_ (1985) reaffirms this to me. In my quest this year to augment substantially my knowledge of the postmodern canon, DeLillo is essential. Parts I found totally brilliant; however, there is none of the laughter at it all that I find in Vonnegut, nor the playfulness of Murakami. Pleasurable? Prose often excellent and so many many moments of practically cooing out loud “Ooooh, look what he did there!!” with respect to literary analysis. Richard Powers’ forward tickled my mind. You have to be careful with postmodern works, though. Hold them at a remove; otherwise they can become unbearable and existentially critical. Some of the reading experience was painful with this one: probably the point.

I did not enjoy this book as a personal balm. My favorite character was Heinrich, an awkward yet brilliant 14-year-old son of the main character. As a thought exercise? I would have loved to discuss this one with some of my favorite thinkers.

4. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (fiction, 2005)

“How does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?”

“You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.” 

““If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?”

“He shook his head. You’re asking that I make myself vulnerable and that I can never do. I have only one way to live. It doesn’t allow for special cases. A coin toss perhaps. In this case to small purpose. Most people don’t believe that there can be such a person. You see what a problem that must be for them. How to prevail over that which you refuse to acknowledge the existence of. Do you understand? When I came into your life your life was over. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is the end. You can say that things could have turned out differently. That there could have been some other way. But what does that mean? They are not some other way. They are this way. You’re asking that I second say the world. Do you see?

Yes, she said sobbing. I do. I truly do.

Good, he said. That’s good. Then he shot her.”

My friend Karen M. recommended McCarthy to me after reading my Facebook posts about Vonnegut. I don’t know how it is possible to fall in love so often and so hard all the time with words and new authors. Every month I claim to have a new favorite. Richard Powers! Murakami! Vonnegut!

McCarthy!

People are going to stop taking my claims seriously. Perhaps “favorite” does not work as a term anymore!

Powers, Murakami, Vonnegut, and McCarthy all meditate on same kinds of heavy themes: chaos, redemption, luck, destiny, and so on. I could eat these ideas up all day.

Cormac McCarthy’s oeuvre is my newest obsession of the mind. Anton Chigurh may be my favorite “villain” ever written. Where have I been?

IMG_4669

5. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (post apocalyptic fiction, 2006)

“Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.”

This novel haunts me in all the best ways. Couldn’t help but think of the father leading the son as I am leading my children up and around Mt. Baldy to the Ski Hut, or through Doane Valley on Palomar.

Because McCarthy allows breathing room in his words for events to unfold slowly, the reader takes the invitation to think in the spaces. Quite quickly in this book, the reader should become aware that the road is of course the trajectory of our own lives. If we aren’t asking, “What makes life worth living?” within the first couple dozen pages, we are missing the point. Just because the world in this book has been decimated, it is not that much different from our own: we may say there is hope for our future generations because we are not yet on the brink of annihilation…but we WILL be. Even if we human beings do not undo ourselves, surely the Sun is going to wipe us out at some point. Now, we could take the Neal Stephenson Seveneves route; and I hope we do. We need to be figuring out as a species how to get our genetic information dispersed into space.

But the point McCarthy makes—or doesn’t make, and allows us to realize—is that in some ways we go on living our lives as a sort of McGuffin exercise: what is it we’re carrying and why? For the characters in this book, they “carry the fire” inside of them. They carry the good, or so they say. This epic journey shows us parts of humanity in all its forms. These characters purport to be good, but are they? McCarthy also offers room to meditate on altruism, selfishness, and survival.

I loved this novel.

IMG_5097

6. On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder (historical fiction, 1937)

“One morning the whole world was delicately silvered. Every blade of grass was silvery and the path had a thin sheen…. When the sun came up, the whole prairie sparkled. Millions of tiny, tiny sparks of color blazed on the grasses.”

This happened to be the first of the series I ever read as a child, so I came to them a bit out of order. Plum Creek always was a favorite of mine. Katie, Eric, and I made many good reading memories together with this one in September, including taking it with us to Idyllwild one day.

IMG_4206

As we roll into October, I just finished another McCarthy book this morning, and I have been reading up on state and national parks, as well as botany books. I might pause the Border Trilogy for a week or so and try to finish Carson’s Silent Spring, which has been on my reading list for years.

Happy reading to everyone! (I might try to be better about updating my blog this month, too, although I am finding my days packed with all kinds of shenanigans at the moment)!

IMG_4667

I have been reading in the library every Tuesday during Katie and Eric’s enrichment classes (choir and art) for two hours. It is paradise. Give me a library for my mind and flowers for my hair above all the material objects anyone could possess.

Advertisements