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?

A Friendship for Bedtime

My friend in Zimbabwe is reading Andy Catlett by Wendell Berry.

This morning’s inbox has these lines in response.

I started on Andy Catlett last night.
Oh, what a friendship for bed time.
Is that whole book set  on just one day?
Wendell Berry is truly gifted, to tell a story like that.
I left reading off just where grandma was making a raspberry pie.
I cannot wait for that pie to get out of the oven.

Consume, Produce, Go Out, Stay Home

TV and other media have learned to suggest with increasing subtlety and callousness–especially, and most wickedly, to children–that it is better to consume than to produce, to buy than to grow or make, to “go out” than to stay home.  If you have a TV, your children will be subjected almost from the cradle to an overwhelming insinuation that all worth experiencing is somewhere else and that all worth having must be bought. 

The purpose is blatantly to supplant the joy and beauty of health with cosmetics, clothes, cars, and ready-made desserts.  There is clearly too narrow a limit on how much money can be made from health, but the profitability of disease–especially disease of spirit or character–has so far, for profiteers, no visible limit.

~ Wendell Berry in the essay “Family Work” (1980), The Gift of Good Land

What do you think of this quote?

Wendell Berry’s Mother

To My Mother

by Wendell Berry

<!– (from Entries) –>

I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.

So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,

prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,

and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it

already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed. 

~     ~     ~

I received a keeper Mother’s Day card in the mail yesterday.  Here’s one sentence from it:

I honor you for the hard work, blood, sweat and tears

that you poured into me as a child and want you to know

that these have been small seeds planted in my life;

but they have reaped a bounty of blessings on me.

This same son wrote a Mother’s Day note when we had been reading Milton.  It began

To my precious,

I love you more than false Unas

or a damnéd sprite

a sentiment that made me laugh (you have to read the Faerie Queen to get it) and rejoice both.

Buying the Farm

The Christian doctrine
of the communion of the saints
is simple, really.
All it says is
that once you buy the farm
you still live on the farm.
All it says is
that those who have gone before us
are still with us.
All it says is
that past generations
still count
and must be taken into account.
In other words,
we’re all in this together.
All of us.

~ Mitch Finley
Whispers of Love

The Second World War in Color

photo credit: Imperial War Museum
my favorite photo:  a RAF pilot reading
John Buchan’s Greenmantle while getting a haircut
(I see the book, my son sees the Spitfire!)

Sniffing around our public library, I found The Second World War in Color a companion book to a documentary by the same name.  Initially, I thought I’d just flip through the book and return it to the library.  The pictures, however, were compelling.  Respect demanded more than a flip-through.  Then the diary entries hooked me; soon I started on the title page and read through the book. 

As in this blog entry, the photographs and the diary entries in the book have no relation to one another.

The diary entries and official announcements come from combatants and civilians from most of the nations involved in WWII.  A Russian surgeon writes:

Even those who disliked and dread Stalin have learned to trust him.  Propaganda?  Yes and No.  He has succeeded in transforming the country, though often by savage methods.

A British pilot, killed on his first flight:

The most terrible aspects of Nazism is its system of education, of driving in instead of leading out, and putting the state about all things spiritual.  And so I have been fighting.

The notes of Theodor Morell (condensed here), Adolf Hitler’s personal physician on 20.7.44, the day of the explosion set by Lt. Col. von Stauffenberg which killed four officers, interested me so soon after watching the movie Valkyrie.  Hitler went on the radio later explaning that his survival was ‘a confirmation of my assignment from Providence to carry on my life’s goal as I have done hitherto’. 

Blood pressure [evening after explosion] 165-170
Blister, burns, contusions, open flesh wounds 

Photo credit show me a man reading and I’m smitten

Ivor Rowberry’s letter to his mother, written in the event of his death, won the Best Letter Written by a Member of the Armed Forces during the Second World War contest.  Oh. My. Heart.  Yet the wry humor about grammatical tenses! It begins:

Dear Mom,
   Usually when I write a letter it is very much overdue, and I make every effort to get it away quickly.  This letter, however, is different.  It is a letter that I hoped you would never recieve, as it is verification of that terse, black-edged card which you received some time ago, and which has caused you so much grief.  It is because of this grief that I wrote this letter, and by the time you have finished reading it I hope that it has done some good, and that I have not written it in vain.  It is very difficult to write now of future things in the past tense, so I am returning to the present.

Photo credit British soldier and Italian women doing wash

I particularly liked the glimpse of community (perhaps membership, à la Wendell Berry…in microcosm?) between British liberator and the liberated people of Belgium in this letter dated 9-29-1944

All these people had only a few rationed, foul cigarettes and had not seen chocolate for more than 4 years.  How pleased they are when we give them a bar!  They give us all they can, we give them all we can, there is no mention of money at all, and it is all quite a Christian affair.  For four months now, money has just not meant a thing to me; I rather like it.

Because of this book, I learned of the Imperial War Museum Collections, another place to visit if I ever make it to London.

Membership and Sudoku

I have been loving the discussion and good fun, while dipping my oar in over at The Hannah Coulter Book Club.

The current entry at the HC Book Club is about membership.  Some people are put off by that term and prefer community.  How does “membership” work in modern life?  Thoughts have been careening around in my head as I’ve worked this afternoon.   

Now it is evening; I’m a bit lost since I finished my Christmas Sudoku book last night.  I love, love, love to puzzle out a difficult Sudoku before I sleep. 

The key, I found, to finishing difficult puzzles is to put the numbers together in a “community.”  When I first played Sudoku, I would try to find all the twos until I could go no further.  Looking for groups of numbers changed my approach.  For example, if you have a box (or row…or column) with four numbers in it, figure out the five numbers missing.  Say: 1,3,4,6,9.  Looking for that combination of numbers in every cell gets better results in a shorter time that looking for single ones, single threes, single fours, single sixes and single nines. 

There’s a lesson lurking underneath the surface.

When we are alone it is harder to find each other, harder to see where we fit in. 

Or perhaps it is just time to turn off the light and go to sleep!