My favorite Illustrated Faith page so far, with a favorite verse

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“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; struck down but not destroyed…”

2 Corinthians 4:7-8

(As for the page itself, I find myself preferring a simple entry rather than a complicated one, a watercolor entry vs. slathered on acrylic; one word rather than many.)

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Richard’s Literature of Doom; a spark of hope for my dying interest

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Behold the left corner of one of my shelves of Russian literature. It carries on, of course, into my shelves, nook and kindle. I have a deep and abiding affection for those Russians.

So Richard’s announcement of the Argentinian Literature of Doom, also including French and Russian authors, appeals to me intensely. It is just what I need after finishing what I consider to be the three best of the Man Booker list and dragging myself through the final remaining titles. More on that later.

For this particular event, the participants are asked to read one fiction and one nonfiction work of an Argentinian, French or Russian author. I believe there is something to do with being “allowed” to watch a film in those categories, as well. Richard will link up every month to those reviews.

As for me, I will finish the reread of Anna Karenina I began before the Man Booker long list was revealed. And surely I could fit in Volume 1 of The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn, something I’ve long been meaning to read.

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I may even have something Argentinian in the wings.

The Timer Has Begun

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I used to go to Institute Day and wonder where all my friends had gone. I would joke to my team, most of whom could be my daughters in terms of age, “They’re either dead or retired.”

And now that’s me.

Not dead, of course. But looking retirement square in the face.

“Happy last First Day!” my old student, turned student teacher, turned teacher himself, said. “Happy last First Day!” resounded through the halls on Thursday when the children first entered the building.

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My friends and colleagues are happy for me. Certainly, I am happy as well. I have an air-conditioned room for the first time in 34 years. More importantly, I have a classroom of beautiful children. They are polite and sweet and smart; one of the girls asked me (asked me!) if she could turn over the hour glass above, as I bought one for my room, too.

But, I see the time running out as it has a way of doing. Time, so elusive. Time, so quick. A time for everything.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh,;
a time to mourn and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek and a time to lose;
a time to keep and a time to cast away;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”

~Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

This year I will be making many memories in my classroom.

One last time.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King (about the story this time)

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Roland, the gunslinger, isn’t any one I can admire right now, even though he is clearly the hero.

He isn’t a hero as I would define one: honest, fearless, and loyal.

He wanders through the dry desert, following the tracks of the man in black, leaving  destruction in his wake. Allie, with whom he has slept (for information) is dead; the town, Tull, is destroyed behind him.

He meets a boy, a brave boy named Jake, who has somehow withstood the heat, the lack of food and water. They go together, the boy clearly admiring the gunslinger and asking for stories from his youth. How, for example, did Roland become a man?

The answer is less than pleasant. The gunslinger used a trick against his teacher, choosing a weapon which was perfectly admissible and yet most difficult to take a position against. The battle is bloody, and I can tell this is just the beginning of many such battles.

For there are hints that Roland will exchange the boy, use him as “a poker chip” which Jake himself knows, when next they meet the man in black.

It ain’t no Girl Scout camp, this journey to the Tower. The fact that Roland came from New Canaan ought to be enough to tell you that, for as anyone knows, Canaan was not a land of the noble or good. No matter what Stephen King may tell you.

It will be interesting to see where this series takes us, if I continue in reading all 7 books. After I get back to the Man Booker list, of course.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King (the most interesting line is in the foreword)

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Those of you who know me know that I rarely finish a Stephen King novel. I begin with the best intentions, hungry for a good story, but Stephen King knows far too much about the enemy (and the Bible) to be playing around. His novels can cross from being entertaining to being demonic because of this familiarity.

I’m enjoying The Gunslinger because it mimics The Lord of the Rings, a little bit, by King’s own admission. I, personally, would never equate him with Tolkien. But, there are the elements of a quest through interesting landscapes, foreboding events, evil and good characters.

I’m enjoying that part.

Yet the most interesting thing to me so far is this quote I read in the foreword written by the author:

Before I close, I should say a word about the younger man who dared to write this book. That young man has been exposed to far too many writing seminars’ promulgate: that one is writing for other people rather than one’s self; that language is more important than story; that ambiguity is to be preferred over clarity and simplicity, which are usually signs of a thick and literal mind.

Fascinating! I think that he has described the difference between the American novel and those in translation with that one quote. I found Japanese literature so frustrating when I first began to read it. “What?” I thought, “there’s no beginning, middle or end?” I had been trained, you see, from the teachers at Naperville Central High School in the 1970s, not to look outside the lines. Japanese literature is more typically a “slice of life” style of writing, jumping into the moment and leaving before everything is resolved.

So I’ve been caught on the horns of a dilemma: is writing to be clear and simple versus ambiguous? I know that I have been at turns frustrated and thrilled with the ambiguity found in some of my favorite novels: Kafka on the Shore, for example, or Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me. I know I prefer Haruki Murakami and Javier Marias to Stephen King. Maybe he’s justifying his straightforward storytelling with that comment, and I do appreciate his ability to entertain with a book that reads like a film unfolding in vivid technicolor.

But as to the quality of writing, give me an ambiguous novel full of gorgeous language any day.

My mind is neither thick or literal.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Man Booker Prize long list 2017)

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XXII

After perhaps thirty minutes the unkempt man left the white stone home and stumbled away into the darkness.

Entering,  I found the boy sitting in one corner.

My father, he said.

Yes, I said.

He said he will come again, he said. He promised.

I found myself immeasurably and inexplicably moved.

A miracle, I said.

the reverend everly thomas

February 25, 1862

President Lincoln has returned to the cemetery where his son, Willie, had earlier been interred in his sick-box. The father is overcome with grief for his son, holding him and arranging his hair and creating a dreadful longing amongst the ghosts already there, for they yearn to be touched by someone from “that other place.”

The ghosts: roger bevins iii, hans vollman, the reverend everly thomas, converse amongst themselves thereby filling us in as to the goings-on in the Oak Hill Cemetery. Their voices are interspersed with other ghosts, all indicated by names which are not capitalized, a perfect way to show how “unsubstantial” they are.

As for a bardo…in Tibetan Buddhism, a bardo is a state of existence between death and rebirth. It is in this bardo that the ghosts exist, discussing amongst themselves the woes of death, the way that people have arrived to dwell in the bardo with them. Their conversation is rich in imagination, lush with detail. Who among us does not wonder about how it will be when we depart from this world?

When Mr. Lincoln mourns his son, one of the ghosts imagines what he is thinking:

Because I love him so and am in the habit of loving him and that love must take the form of fussing and worry and doing. Only there is nothing left to do. Free myself of this darkness as I can, remain useful, not go mad. Think of him, when I do, as being in some bright place, free of suffering, resplendent in a new mode of being.

Thus thought the gentleman. Thoughtfully combing a patch of grass with his hand.

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Yet the perspectives which Saunders has written about President Lincoln could well apply to those felt toward our own President Trump today. Look at the irony within these sentiments:

The Presdt is an idiot. ~In “The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan,” edited by Stephen Sears

Vain, weak, puerile, hypocritical, without manners, without social grace, and as he talks to you, punches his fists under your ribs. ~In “The War Years,” by Carl Sandburg, account of SherrardnClemens

Evidently a person of very inferior cast of character, wholly unequal to the crisis. ~In “The Emergence of Lincoln: Prologue to the Civil War, 1859-1861, by Allen Nevins account of Edward Everett

These disparaging points of view go on for much longer than I could type them, or perhaps than you would want to read them. We all know of the negative perspectives people have toward our current leader. I only mention them here to point to Saunders’ apt imagination and research, applicable to more than the character of whom he writes.

While I found Lincoln in the Bardo clever and imaginative, ultimately it does not hold up to either Solar Bones or Days Without End, both of which will be hard to beat in my mind.

Autumn by Ali Smith (Man Booker long list 2017)

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All across the country, the country split in pieces. All across the country, the countries cut adrift.

All across the country, the country was divided, a fence here, a wall there, a line drawn here, a line crossed there,

a line you don’t cross here,
a line you better not cross there,
a line of beauty here,
a line dance there,
a line you don’t even know exists here,
a line you can’t afford there,
a whole new line of fire,
line of battle,
end of the line,
here/there.

When she is young, and talking to Daniel who is old, Elizabeth gets to see things in her imagination while Daniel sees them in his memory.

They have a relationship of great beauty,  built on truth and understanding. It is absolutely opposite the relationship she has with her mother, which has been eroded by lies and deceit.

Elizabeth is 13, and David is 85, and they are friends. When they walk, they talk. David tells her about books. Songs. Poets, like Keats. Or, Sylvia Plath.

But now she is trying to visit him in the hospital, and she can’t get the Post Office to process her passport so that she has proper identification. Her picture is all wrong: her head is the wrong size (!) and that bit of hair shouldn’t be touching her forehead. (Oh, sister, have I been there! Bureaucracy, officious officials, ridiculousness at every turn, thwarting the honest person simply trying to follow the rules.)

Within their story are lovely games with language. Like this:

Isn’t it a bit too far, to walk as far as the river? Elisabeth said.

She didn’t want him to have to go so far if he really was as ancient as her mother kept saying.

Not for me, Daniel said. A mere bagatelle.

A what? Elisabeth asked.

A trifle, Daniel said. Not that kind of trifle. A mere nothing. Something trifling.

The book is called Autumn, and within its pages Daniel is taking leaf of his senses, the images of leaves is woven throughout; from the very beginning where he sews himself some clothes from leaves to cover his nakedness, to the end where a leaf talks to him, telling him that falling is the very thing leaves do.

We’re in a never ending leaf-fall.

It’s amazing what Ali Smith is able to do: tell a story that encompasses age and youth and friendship and the fragile times of our history, (the stories unfolding in front of us right now) which seem to make no sense, but still deserve to be examined.

Loved it.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Man Booker Prize long list 2017)

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Here’s a hint: do not read this book after Solar Bones or Days Without End. While on any given day it may be considered a fine book, after those two it becomes merely ordinary.

The writing feels jagged, the story cumbersome. I’m frankly not so interested in this young misfit of a girl who lived in a rundown cabin with very weird parents. She babysits Paul, who stuffs an old leather glove with leaves, and befriends his mother, Patra, who is only 26. Her full name is Cleopatra, and she was once called Cleo, but that would never work with her 37 year old husband named Leo.

And then there’s Lily, a girl from their school who became involved with their teacher, Mr. Grierson, who was discovered to be a pedophile when dogs searched his old apartment in California, from which he fled to teach in Minnesota.

So there is a certain tension within the first 100 pages as all this is set up, but the point for me now is, “Who cares?” I’m eager to reach the end so that I can move on to another book from the Man Booker long list. Autumn, by Ali Smith, to be exact.

 

Addendum: I have just finished the book, a day after I published this post, and my feelings about it have not changed. I’m baffled as to how it managed to land on the Man Booker long list, curious as to what the judges saw in it that completely eluded me.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Man Booker Prize long list 2017)

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It’s a dark thing when the world sets no value  on you or your kin, and then Death comes stalking in, in his bloody boots.

And now I come to another book with incredible writing, a turn of phrase, or an expression, that will make me alternatively pause to think or smile or both.

Thomas  McNulty tells us his story, that after fleeing Ireland he caught up with John Cole, and these two became inseparable first working in a bar dressed as young girls so the men would have dancing partners, and then signing up to join the army.

They fight the Indians on the frontier in the 1850’s, and there is a ghastly retelling of each misunderstanding and massacre the soldiers encounter.

You can’t have nothing good in war without you punishing the guilty, the sergeant says with a savage air and no one says nothing against that. John Cole whispers to me that most times that sergeant he just wrong but just now and then he’s right and he’s right this time. I guess I’m thinking this is true. We get drunk then and the sergeant is clutching his belly all evening and then everything is blotted out till you awake in the bright early morning needing a piss and then it all floods back into your brain what happened and it makes your heart yelp like a dog.

For who is the sergeant to say what is right and what is wrong? Plus, these soldiers are at a disadavantage as they are in the “awkward position of being clumsy-footed Europeans near a village of geniuses when it comes to tracking and vigilance.”

Only after awhile John Cole’s body isn’t quite right, somehow, and it is decided that they will not sign up again when the time comes round.

They take a young Sioux girl, Winona, and set off for a new life, hoping at the same time that they can form a family since her father had been killed. They are a group of misfits to be sure, but misfits who love one another all the more for their lack of belonging elsewhere.

Next thing you know, they are called into service for the Civil War, a situation which seems as bungled and bloody as fighting the Indians ever was.

Nothing too tricky about dying for your country. It’s the easiest item on the menu. God knows the truth of it. Young Seth McCarthy he come up from Missouri to be a drummer boy in the Federal army and what does he get only his head took off by a Federal Shell.

When they end their time serving in that war, they are mere shadows of their former selves, skeletal men who hunger for more than food. They answer a compatriot’s call to come to Tennessee and help with the tobacco farm he cannot manage on his own, and so Thomas, John and Winona go there while we hope that this is a place where they can at last find a normal life. Or, at least some comfort from the hardships they have endured.

This is a beautiful book, a story of much more than war and poverty and loneliness. I found it quite moving; my mother liked it so much she is presenting it to her Book Club this August as a “must read”.

Indeed.

“Flip Through” of my Midori for July

I may have told you, through my blogging years, how much meaning an analogue life holds for me. Which is an interesting thing to note on a digital format. There is so much pleasure in looking back over one’s day, or week, or month, or years(s). Better than a scrapbook is the Midori Traveler’s Notebook, for it holds a calendar, a journal and photographs; a paper trail of that which is my life.

So why tell you that here? Because as summer draws to a close, and fall is showing up ever increasingly in the darker morning, the bits of red edging the leaves, the ads for Back To School, I suggest this system for you.

My Midori holds my “calendar” as pictured above, but also an insert for the Bible studies I do each day, as well as a commonplace book for the reading I do.

I can’t imagine how I managed life without it.