Monday, November 24, 2014
It's that time of year again, around here. The annual holiday of thankfulness approaches. And while I continually attempt to live life from a place of gratitude, this year I find myself feeling more thankful than ever. Difficult times have come and gone, and I weathered them all somehow, and emerged with a renewed and heightened sense of appreciation. For peace and contentment. For those days when nothing in particular happens and everyday chores and tasks become lustrous and shining in their pure ordinariness. I could almost weep over being able to read a stack of books for pleasure, or follow a line of inquiry through a series of paintings, or bake gingerbread, or put up some pretty curtains and recognize the cheerfulness they bring to an already sunny room. All the stuff of daily life. How ridiculously grateful I feel for the smallest things! When a blizzard passes by, as it did last week, and then the snow finally melts away, as it did this week, and I see underneath all the small green things still growing - still going - I have to think That is the way to live. Storms arise. And they also depart. Meanwhile all the small things of life continue, regardless, in their due season. It's up to us to notice, take heart, and say thank you.
These are such old chestnuts, aren't they, the commonplace thoughts that make up traditional holiday fare. But what is sweeter, truly, than gratitude for what arises, storms and peace both. One illuminates the other. Blessings on your thanksgiving table, whatever your personal forecast.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
The books on my bedside table remain the same, since last we spoke. At least the authors do; the Patrick O'Brian novel at hand changes its title every few days, as I work my way through the entire Aubrey/Maturin series once more. I don't feel the need to expound on plot points and timelines and history, as I read: instead I simply bask and let the prose flow by in waves. So much happens, just as in life. And yet, "...salt water washes all away..." (The Commodore p.249); and besides, as Stephen Maturin himself said at one point, "...very highly detailed accounts of war at sea reduced him almost to tears after the first hour." (ibid p.9). Thankfully the case is not the same for this particular reader. I remain enthralled.
And I will mention that Maturin continues to exhibit all the signs of a classical eduction, one I am attempting to emulate this winter, albeit in a desultory minor way. I suppose I have made a beginning already, having read the Iliad and the Odyssey some years back. Maturin says,"'...never was such a book as the Iliad!'" (The Far Side of the World p.127), and my heart warmed even more when he mentioned reading De Consolatione Philosophiae by Boethius (ibid p.249). Then, at one point, he mentions in passing that he knows the Aeneid in its entirety, having learned it by rote as a child (The Wine-Dark Sea p.166). I took his hint and brought a copy of the Aeneid home, from my own book booth. Whenever I do finish the O'Brian series I will surely need something ancient and strong, as a sort of chaser. I have the Robert Fitzgerald translation (Random House 1983), and the opening lines make my flesh creep (p.3):
"I sing of warfare and a man at war.
From the sea-coast of Troy in early days
He came to Italy by destiny,
To our Lavinian western shore,
A fugitive, this captain, buffeted
Cruelly on land as on the sea
By blows from powers of the air - behind them
Baleful Juno in her sleepless rage,
And cruel losses were his lot in war..."
Brrrr, how frighteningly wonderful.
Away from the bedside table, a few other books are waiting in the wings, not least among them Michael Palin's third volume, Travelling to Work: Diaries 1988-1998 (W&N 2014) which is being so polite and patient: Read me next, please and thank you. And a few days ago I visited my bookseller friend Vicky at her lovely little bookshop, Front Porch Books, and came away with Electric Delights, a book of essays and occasional pieces by William Plomer (Godine 1978), and My Ideal Bookshelf, a collection of gorgeous paintings of book spines by Jane Mount, accompanied by mini-essays by all sorts of amazing people (Maira Kalman! Dave Eggers! Jonathan Lethem! Patti Smith!) about their quirky influential favorite books, edited by Thessaly La Force (Little, Brown 2012). I saw this elsewhere when it was first published and was so happy to find a secondhand copy. The opening lines of the preface are tantalizing (p.xi):
"The assignment sounds straightforward enough. Select a small shelf of books that represent you - the books that have changed your life, that have made you who you are today, your favorite favorites."
That might be a good topic for another day. I suspect I would have trouble picking only a handful (you think?). Meanwhile I will enjoy reading 200+ pages about other people's favorite books. And the paintings are so very pleasing, I have to say. After more than 25 years in or around the book trade I recognize so many of the specific editions she paints (like this entire shelf of poetry), and it's neat to see the books themselves in this new way, yet have them feel so familiar at the same time. I will consider what my own shelf might hold, and report back here soon. I mean, I can think of several right off the top of my head. But, a tricky question immediately arises - may I count the Patrick O'Brian series as one book...?