Random Reading Notes

Lots happening in the “Shire” and it. is. glorious.  Our community is celebrating weddings, music, friendship and growth.  I had not factored in how fatiguing glory can be, but surely there will be time to rest in the winter. 

One of my dear ones is getting married this Saturday.  Here is a Tolstoy quote that landed in her invitation:

The goal of our life should not be to find joy in marriage
but to bring more love and truth into the world.
We marry to assist each other in this task.
The most selfish and hateful life of all
is that to two beings who unite
in order to enjoy life.
The higher calling is that of the man
who has dedicated his life
to serving God and doing good
and who unites with a woman in order
to further that purpose.
~ Leo Tolstoy

The irony of that quote is that joy is the byproduct of a life of service. 

I have so many good books on my nightstand I can hardly bear going to sleep. 

You know, if you’ve read this blog for more than a week, how much I admire Wendell Berry.  I have two new book of essays and I love to read them wherever they fall open. 

Love is never abstract.
It does not adhere to the universe or the planet
or the nation or the institution or the profession,
but to the singular sparrows of the street,
the lilies of the field,
“the least of these my brethren.”
Love is not, by its own desire, heroic.
It is heroic only when compelled to be.
It exists by its willingness to be anonymous, humble, and unrewarded.
~ from “Word and Flesh”

Another author in my top five favorites is Neil Postman.  The Disappearance of Childhood is teeter-tottering in my pile of books.  Some quotes such as “Reading is, in a phrase, an antisocial act.” need a bit more background to be appreciated.  My antipathy to television needs no bolstering, but you can’t blame me for chortling a bit over this Reginald Damerall quote on how television erodes the dividing point between childhood and adulthood:

“No child or adult becomes better at watching television
by doing more of it.
What skills are required are so elemental
that we have yet to hear of a television viewing disability.”

I’m revisiting a book that had a powerful impact on me thirteen years ago: Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman.  It is curious to re-read the book at a little more emotional distance.  I asked my husband to read the introduction and the first chapter in order to understand me better.  While he believes Wendell Berry is a better grief counselor, Curt appreciated this:

“How do I keep my mother’s death from being a lifelong lesson?
How do I keep it an isolated incident,
something so overarching, so devastating,
so pervasive in my life still?
How do I keep from being crippled by it?”
The answer, I believe–if there is such a thing
as a concise answer to such questions–
is to slowly learn to live with the loss and not under it,
to let it become a companion
rather than a guide.

Helene Hanff is kick-in-the-butt fun to read. 84, Charing Cross Road is high on my list of lifetime favorites.  She uses a strange and intriguing convention in Apple of My Eye, a book about New York City.  The entire book is a diary about a book she *plans* on writing.  Her friend  Patsy is forever commenting, “Put that in the book.”  Her humor is irrepressible, her writing wonderful.  She is one of those friends who is a walking encyclopedia, able to give you a two minute synopsis of the history of anything.  Thanks to Hanff, I’m am SO ready to visit the Big Apple.  The Cloisters, a collection of twelth and thirteenth century buildings, torn down and reconstructed in NYC, is now on my “must see” list.  I had never heard of it before this week.  Anybody been?

Then you look out,
and the splendor of the city
smites you all over again
with “astonishment of the heart,”
as it says in the Bible.

Finally, I am snuggling into Donald Hall’s memoir of his childhood summers with his grandparents in Maine, String Too Short to Be Saved.  I have to finish this so others (who are not yet aware that their earthly happiness depends upon reading this book) can begin.  When our kids were all together last weekend, we spent an evening reading sections of Aunt Doris’ memoirs aloud.  Whenever it sparked a memory, Grandpa filled in his own memories.  Stuff like his Grandpa who died in a field, sitting next to his tractor. My kids heard about the fine art of burning a page of the catalog and throwing it into the outhouse hole before you did your business so the seat was warm.  This book reminded me of that evening.

The idea of their [Donald’s grandparents] mortality
was never far from the surface of my day,
for a flush or a sigh or a hand pressed to the heart
brought death to me,
as if I had heard someone say the word.
It was a pack on my back,
and I would feel the sharp, physical pain
of their approach to dying,
something becoming nothing–or
was it my own approach to bereavement
that made my side ache?

What are you reading this summer?


12 thoughts on “Random Reading Notes

  1. What am I reading this summer?  Lots!  But thanks to you, I am savoring my quick-in/out trip to NYC by reading Helene Hanff’s Apple of My Eye.  It’s delightful and a charming way to relive moments, as well as dream of future ones.Augusta Jane Evans, Alexander McCall-Smith, and Muriel Barbery are on the nightstand at the moment.  Plus there are lots of online articles that I print out to read at my leisure.  See Cindy’s definition :)Just sent DD#3 & #4 back to Hillsdale this morning…. guess that means I’ll have more time to _____.

  2. @toomanyhats –  You’re welcome, of course!@hiddenart –  I have thought of your trip to NYC the entire time reading Hanff.  Like London, New York intimidates me.  There are so many things you just can’t get to them in a week or a month or even a year.  I took a stack of printed-out-essays with me on my last trip.  Then I ponder if I should keep and save or what?  What do you do?  @sonskyn – Sonya, Beuchner has hovered in the suburbs of my reading…a reference here, a suggestion or quote there.  I’ve only read excerpts.  I did read the link you gave.  Thanks.Wow, I am always impressed whenever anyone makes it through The Brothers K: that IS an accomplishment.  When I read it, so many summers ago, I was hungry to discuss it with another reader.  (those were the days before blogs!)  It’s on my list to revisit.  I’ve had Fearfully on my shelf for two long and need to read it.  Thanks for the reminder.  The Warden….deeep and happy sighs.  Don’t you just love “our dear Mr. Harding?”

  3. You take my breath away. No wonder I thought you were Dr. Carol. This was so brilliant. Summer reading for me: Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (again after thirty years), A Chance to Die, the Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael, (again after twenty years) and the entire Chronicle of Narnia (again after about a year). A good thing about reading things twice is you find our how much you’ve learned (or not!) since the last time you read it. Add to that several Cadfaels and some mindless Louis L’Amore books just for the fun of it; for someone just slightly missing the west and the shire you so blissfully inhabit. Blessings to all in that beloved shire.

  4. Love reading your posts about what you’re reading! I am reading some books for review, but also making my way through Wives and Daughters by Gaskell (she’s a bit wordy, but good) and Age of Innocence by Wharton, which I’m adoring.I read 84, Charing Cross Road for the first time at the beginning of the summer – one sitting at a picnic table while the kids played at the park. It instantly became one of my all-time favorites. I’m definitely going to pick up Apple of My Eye. Have a wonderful weekend!Carrie

  5. I’m trying out reading more than one book at a time. Not all that crazy about it, but will give it a chance. I’ve got Screwtape Letters (my dad has read it NINE times!), Edgar Sawtelle, The Giver (DD#3 had to read it for college and asked me to read it, too), just finished The Color of Water, which I really enjoyed. Just 2 weeks of freedom left to read what I want till I have to go back to textbooks!!!

  6. Well, my dear friend, thanks to you I entered a new world yesterday.  I began reading my first Wendell Berry book, That Distant Land.  The first story was so powerful that I had to put the book down and say, “That’s enough for one day.” I’m even thinking about re-reading that story before going on to the next one.  Amazing!  Thank you so much for recommending Berrry so highly.

  7. Beautiful post! Many Years to the newlyweds, they chose a beautiful quote.We went to New York last year, and The Cloisters was on my “must see” list – it was absolutely amazing.  I loved seeing the unicorn tapestries.

  8. @hopeinbrazil – Hope, you can’t know how wonderful it was to read this comment.  Satisfying on many different levels.  I’m DELIGHTED you are enjoying That Distant Land.  Overjoyed.  I read it aloud to my family on car trips.  We feel like we know Burley Coulter.  And Andy Catlett.  Curt had the same reaction that you had after the first story.  That is enough.  We must process this and talk about it and think about it.

  9. Dear Carol, I am wondering how I can be in love with two such disparate characters as Berry’s gangly Tol Proudfoot and Trollope’s dignified Mr. Harding.  Outwardly different, maybe, but, oh, those steadfast hearts!I’m only a third of the way through the book and Tol has played a large part in most of the stories so far.  I don’t feel like I know the Catletts or Coulters very well yet.

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