Thursday, September 01, 2005

Books & Friends - A Memory

I lost a friend to lung cancer a couple weeks ago. She was a friend I "walk-talked" with on a weekly basis, an irrepressibly charming travel agent who was an avid reader as well as raconteur. Can you imagine a more entertaining walking companion? She lived with the diagnosis for six years, participating in support groups to help others adjust to their diagnoses. Her endurance surely set some kind of record, but I think her upbeat attitude set an even more important record, and made a great impression on me.

In the last six months, Beverly organized a small (I mean diminutive: three of us) book club, and began to charmingly dominate our selections. Basically, we read Beverly's favorite novels and travel memoirs. And it was wonderful! I wish I had gotten a full list from her of everything she would recommend reading, because her selections never disappointed.

There was the white camel in Towers of Trebizond, who became one of my favorite long-suffering and slightly insane characters in fiction. There was the girl who came of age in I Capture the Castle, writing a journal to stay sane while her insane writer-father holed up for years in the castle's tower and read murder mysteries but did not write a word that would feed his family. There was the Jane Austen Book Club, whose characters began to resemble us as we discussed them.

What was even better than discovering great and often overlooked books through Beverly was discovering their authors. Created by authors of high imagination and skill, these gems were among many worth reading by Dame Rose MacAulay, Dodie Smith (of 100 Dalmatians fame) and the up-and-coming Karen Joy Fowler. So many more hours of excellent reading lie ahead of me this fall.

I'd like to add my own small contribution to our book club's list: My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, surely one of the funniest and most lyrical memoirs ever written. Why has no one ever made a movie of this wonderful story of a curious English child running loose in the fields of Cyprus with a magnifying glass, baetted by a truly bizarre assortment of tutors? Makes me want to write protest letters to filmmakers. And of course, there are scores of other books Gerald Durrell wrote, though none quite as good as this one.

It's one thing to discover a great book; it's another to discover a great writer. I have had a satisfying literary year in this regard. I just wish I had more time to read. And more time to read with Beverly.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Poets in hurricane country

If anyone is seeking to get in touch with poets in the hurricane area, there's a blog site keeping track of inquiries and responses. I just saw several names of people I know on the list. This is a wonderful service right now, helping to connect people who have lost touch. One million displaced people was a number I heard on the news recently. It just boggles the mind.

Here's another useful blog related to Hurricane Katrina and the rescue and recovery efforts. About a million people -- and about as many pets and animals -- are in my prayers today.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Radiance

Reading Barbara Crooker's new book and feeling the urge to pull poetry back to sanity. Too much language-bending, cutesy difficult writing out there now. It's refreshing to read poetry with music and purpose that doesn't strain your analytical abilities, but does deepen your feeling of connection to life. Life is difficult enough -- why do poets so often want to make poetry another difficult layer? Not that I don't like linguistic effect and here and there some imagistic ornamentation -- "costume jewelry" I heard Annie Dillard calls it -- but when did literature veer so far in the direction of the daily newspaper that it's only "if it bleeds, it leads" or if it's unintelligible it's marvelous?

Rant over. Take a look for yourself at Barbara's site. Or go over to Wordtech's page for her book, Radiance, and read sample poems. "Some October" is my favorite. I'd stack it up any day against Mary Oliver's "Fall Song." In fact, there's a lot in Barbara's work that reminds me of Oliver's.

I'm in a celebratory, radiant mood. It's Sunday, my day of as much poetry as I want to read, and as little as I can manage to write. One has to have a day off, even of writing. It's also a week in which a friend of mine was just ordained a Bishop in the Catholic Church. The ceremony was in Baltimore, so I wasn't able to attend, but I heard that blessings rained liberally on all and a great party was held afterward. Yay, Denis!

Blogging is my distraction from goal-oriented writing. It's becoming my journaling, though I never want it to veer into the lane of boring to others kind. I can use paper for that. Or my head. I've thrown out years of journals, so why write more? I'd rather read. Once you turn a certain age, the specter of your heirs having to pore through the stuff and decide what to do with it is horrifying. Let all the drafts, dreams, journal pages and half-revised, unfinished pieces of work be burnt! Let the ashes turn into birds of inspiration to fly through someone else's head or simply, beautifully vanish.