There are “Books You Can Live Without“? Really?
The NYT’s Room for Debate blog makes this claim, and asked six book enthusiasts how they go about the task of choosing what stays on the bookshelves, and what should go.
My own attitude is closest to that of Joshua Ferris:
“Books are notes from the field, bound and domesticated, life brought into narrow focus. Get rid of a book? No way. Every one is a brick keeping the building standing. Books are my life. I leave and come back, and the books I find there tell me I’m home.”
I can only hope he’s joking about piling books on top of his wife — well, unless she’s into that kind of thing.
And Fred Bass, co-owner of The Strand Book Store, summarizes the economic conundrum that lurks within every book-purging project:
“When you’re all finished, think of selling your books to the Strand! Though we’ll definitely buy the quality books you plan on discarding, we really want the books you’re keeping.”
Final de Año
Neither the symbolic detail
of a three instead of a two,
nor that rough metaphor
that hails one term dying and another emerging
nor the fulfillment of an astronomical process
muddle and undermine
the high plateau of this night
making us wait
for the twelve irreparable strokes of the bell.
The real cause
is our murky pervasive suspicion
of the enigma of Time,
it is our awe at the miracle
that, though the chances are infinite
and though we are
drops in Heraclitus’ river,
allows something in us to endure,
– Jorge Luis Borges (translated by W.S. Merwin)
Gary Snyder, quoted in the book “Where Inspiration Lives”:
Another key principle in this creative stewardship is waking up to “wild mind.” He clarifies that “wild” in this context does not mean chaotic, excessive, or crazy.
“It means self-organizing,” he says. “It means elegantly self-disciplined, self-regulating, self-maintained. That’s what wilderness is. Nobody has to do the management plan for it. So I say to people, ‘let’s trust in the self-disciplined elegance of wild mind.’ Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking, brings us close to the actually existing world and its wholeness.”
From the back cover of Haiku Year:
“In 1996, seven friends agreed to write one haiku a day and mail them to each other. At the end of the year, they realized that their collection of simple, critical observations had given them a new way to look a the details of their lives.”
The Smiths on
Starbucks’ sound system
another dream over
Bitter stamp taste
Licked for a letter
that will get no reply
People in cars
telling life stories
in red light glances
the father pushing
the kid on the tricycle
when it’s easier to tell him to pedal
we fall asleep
You can even post your own to their guest book.
From My Muse, My Self by Hazel Dooney:
“I am still both artist and muse. Because of my feminist upbringing, I used to interpret the role of muse with scepticism. It was, I used to think, related to looks, not intellect, and so inevitably ephemeral and ultimately destroyed by time.
Now I’m not so sure. In the muse that is myself, I am only just beginning to penetrate layers of 20-something years of tightly woven emotional, psychological and intellectual fabric that are enriched, not eroded, by the slow decay of the physical self.”
From Best Thought, Worst Thought by Don Paterson:
“What kills the writer, in the end, is the absence of a direct causal relationship between effort and reward. Thus it is rarely true *work*, in any way our bodies can understand. A free day, all the kids off to their grandmother’s, the house deathly quiet; half an hour’s meditation; a cafetière of Costa Rica in the study; no sound but the rain dripping from the trees in the back garden through the open window….And I cannot introduce two words to one another without them falling out immediately. Today, feeling exhausted, ill, overweight, the house full of yelling, my mind a roiling broth of fear and resentment and professional jealousy — a dozen problems I have pored over for weeks have been solved in twenty minutes flat. I end the day feeling worse than ever, as if I had accomplished nothing at all.”
From the Songs for Drella collaboration between John Cale and Lou Reed, which reflected on their time with Andy Warhol:
“No matter what I did, it never seemed enough,
He said I was lazy, I said I was young.
He said “How many songs did you write?”
I’d written zero, I lied, and said “Ten.”
“You won’t be young forever –
You should have written fifteen!
Andy said a lot of things,
I stored ‘em all away in my head.
Sometimes, when I can’t decide what I should do
I think: “What would Andy have said?”
He’d probably say: “You think too much!
That’s cause there’s work — that you don’t want to do!
It’s work. The most important thing is work.
It’s work. The most important thing is work.”
MacArthur Fellow Heather McHugh, in a recent Newshour profile:
“If you look around, the surface of the water is never the same any two moments, much less any two days. Any skyscape is never the same thing. You can’t possibly see it all.
We narrow meaning to make our meanings of it.
For me, the whole point of poetry is to liberate the larger sense. The great paradox of poetry is it’s the smallest unit of language you can make that releases the greatest number of readings.”
“…I know how difficult it is to refrain from searching. It takes long hours of waiting, indecision, boredom, exasperation, presence and hope. Hours in which one is mainly occupied in being attentive, letting things come, fighting against bad ideas, or against ideas, full stop. Rejecting inadequate words, and learning to recognize and welcome the right word. So writing, more than anything, is a matter of not writing, and of attend attentive: attentive waiting.”
– Anne Weber, in this episode of the Guardian Books Podcast
My brain finds connections I can’t completely explain between the Shu Ting poem I posted last week and this passage by bell hooks:
“I did not wait for desegregation, for college, for creative-writing classes, for grown-ups to show me the way. I found my vocation. It called to me and I was determined to answer the call. I began to write in my girlhood. And I am writing still, moving swiftly into midlife with a body of words I have made into books beside me. No passion in my life has been as constant, as true as this love. No passion has been as demanding. When words call, to answer, to satisfy the urge, I must come again and again to a solitary place — a place where I am utterly alone. In that moment of grace when the words come, when I surrender to their ecstatic power, there is no witness. Only I see, feel, and know how my mind and spirit are carried away. Only I know how the writing process alchemically alters me, leaving me transformed. Other writers tell of how it works within them. Written words change us all and make us more than we could ever be without them. Still the being we become in the midst of the very act of writing is only ever intimately present to the one who writes.”
– from the preface to “remembered rapture”
- Reply to the Loneliness of a Poet
Perhaps our hearts
will have no reader
Perhaps we took the wrong road
and so we end up lost
Perhaps we light one lantern after another
storms blow them out one by one
Perhaps we burn our life candle against the dark
but no fire warms the body
Perhaps once we're out of tears
the land will be fertilized
Perhaps while we praise the sun
we are also sung by the sun
Perhaps the heavier the monkey on our shoulders
the more we believe
Perhaps we can only protest others' suffering
silent to our own misfortune
because this call is irresistible
we have no other choice
– Shu Ting (Translated by Tony Barnstone and Newton Liu)
Writing about music is difficult. How many times have you read a well-written review of a concert or recording, and then still had no idea at all what to expect when hearing the music?
That’s why I find this excerpt from a Tang Dynasty poem so remarkable:
“The thick strings splattered like a rain shower,
the thin strings whispered privately like lovers,
splattering and whispering back and forth,
big pearls and small pearls dropping into a jade plate.
Smooth, the notes were skylarks chirping under flowers.
Uneven, the sound flowed like a spring under ice,
the spring water cold and strained, the strings congealing silence,
freezing to silence, till the sounds couldn’t pass, and were momentarily at rest.
Now some other hidden sorrow and dark regret arose
and at this moment silence was better than sound.
Suddenly a silver vase exploded and the water splashed out,
iron horse galloped through and swords and spears clashed.
When the tune stopped, she struck the heart of the instrument,
all four strings together, like a piece of silk tearing.
Silence then in the east boat and the west.
All I could see in the river’s heart was the autumn moon, so pale.”
From “Song of the Lute” by Bai Juyi (772-846)
Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping
It's in stone, so it must be true...
It’s a little hard to read, so here’s the transcription:
There ain’t any answer,
there ain’t going to be any answer,
there never has been any answer,
that’s the answer.
– Gertrude Stein, 1946
“Staring into the blaze had been a tonic for me, confirming tendencies that I had always had but never cultivated. Gradually some of them were becoming comprehensible to me.
Even as a young boy I had been in the habit of gazing at bizarre natural phenomena, not so much observing them as surrendering to their magic, their confused, deep language. Long gnarled tree roots, colored veins in rocks, patches of oil floating on water, light-refracting flaws in glass — all these things had held great magic for me at one time: water and fire particularly, smoke, clouds, and dust, but most of all the swirling specks of color that swam before my eyes the minute I closed them.
To the few experiences which helped me along the way toward my life’s true goal I added this new one: the observation of such configurations. The surrender to Nature’s irrational, strangely confused formations produces in us a feeling of inner harmony with the force responsible for these phenomena. We soon fall prey to the temptation of thinking of them as being our own moods, our own creations, and see the boundaries separating us from Nature begin to quiver and dissolve. We become acquainted with that state of mind in which we are unable to decide whether the images on our retina are the results of impressions from without or from within.”
– from Demian by Hermann Hesse
quite a bit,
and I would have
I don’t want
to sell anything
I don’t want
to sell anything
or repair anything
as a career:
I don’t want
to do that.”
– Lloyd Dobler (played by John Cusack) in Say Anything, outlining the aversions that led him to choose a career in kickboxing.