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Wednesday, August 14, 2013


It is a time in the life of looking back over the life as a unit in time, a series of chapters, each one leading to the next. It just now occurred to me for the first time that I could divide it up into chapters and give each chapter a name. That could be very interesting in terms of interior examination. This one I'm in now I could not have foreseen, nor any of them. Each chapter followed the one before in the continuum. Russian writer Anton Chekhov wrote a short story, My Life, that is an allegorical summary of his life as a housepainter instead of playwright. I find I'm in a time of the life when I want to reread certain books. Chekhov is one. Patrick White another. Tolstoy another. The Greek playwrights, Shakespeare, Joyce's Ulysses, John Berryman's poems, Robinson Jeffers' poems, Elizabeth Bishop's poems.. A lot of the books I've read have been special friends. I like being able to see my books. The spine in the bookshelf with the title and author on it is a reminder to me of what I found inside it. The world has so many really good writers, it doesn't do to even try to  know who they are, let alone read them all. I'd like to read Camus again, everything. And Wallace Stevens again. Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled again. There are so many.

I've enjoyed so many books so incredibly much that I look back over some of the titles happy to have made the acquaintance of whoever it is. Chinese dissident writer Xao Xingjian gives an in-depth look into living under the Chinese bureaucratic system that penetrates everywhere, and the brooding dark cloud that covers the entire land. Mo Yan's Red Sorghum tells the story of the Japanese invasion of Nanking before ww2. The devastation was so intensely cruel it is still an issue of contention between China and Japan. At the moment I'm reading NASCAR Legends by Robert Edelstein. He also wrote Full Throttle, the story of legendary NASCAR driver Curtis Turner. Also reading in Chris Hedges' War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning. I like the prose style of these two writers equally, Edelstein and Hedges. They write of radically different themes and are very different personalities. It's their prose styles I like. Both are sparse with their use of language, pared down to clarity like Danish furniture styles. Edelstein writes about the people who race cars on weekends. He tells the history of car racing at the same time he tells other stories, like in the one book, Curtis Turner's life. Turner's life pretty much amounts to the history of the beginnings of track racing. Edelstein's writing is fast and exciting in the reading. He writes with such involved engagement you feel like you're on the inside of the story, seeing it subjectively. It's a you-are-there sensation.

     Coming back around the straightaway, eighty laps into     
     a hundred-lap event and nearly in the lead, Turner
     suddenly blew two tires at once.  He jerked and spun
     and the car slammed hard into the wall, now wrecked
     beyond racing use. A fantastic run had come to an end.

     "But the people were just ecstatic," Naman said. "They
     were standing and screaming. They felt they saw something
     you only see once in a lifetime."

     Turner navigated the now-broken car into the pits during
     the yellow flag, got out, ran across the track, jumped back
     over the guardrail, and returned to his plane with another
     wave. By the time the field was taking the green flag once
     again, he was gone, off into the night like a specter.

      ---from page 58 of NASCAR Legends by Robert Edelstein

I offer this as an example of a few paragraphs I enjoyed reading, and it's all the better in context. If I did not read, I would have missed Robert Utley's biography of Sitting Bull, which I think of as one of the more significant books of my lifetime. I've read it twice and could happily read it again. I haven't really examined what it is that made reading so important when it wasn't anything to anybody in my immediate or extended family. I was "the reader." Mother and grandmother read to me pre-school, children's stories, bedtime. At age 4, the war was over, daddy came home, no more being read to. All the fun went out of everything. I was not allowed to read in the house if it wasn't homework. Finally, by my senior year, I was living in the garage and could read all I wanted. I didn't know what to read, so I read novels current movies were made from, Ben Hur, Splendor In The Grass, Doctor Zhivago, and then I heard about the beatniks, On The Road and Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. Found Allen Ginsberg's Howl in a bookstore in Wichita. I felt like I'd entered the Bohemian zone going into a bookstore. It was somewhat overwhelming. It was another world from any I knew before. The atmosphere was new to me; it has a bright glow in my memory, like intense lights inside. Then I discovered Henry Miller, whose Tropic of Cancer was made a big deal of by the Supremes because it had the word fuck in it, the 1950s. That's not all Miller wrote. The Tropics were just the beginnings of one of America's great writers.

I'm enjoying going back over poetry books, picking one up and reading in it casually for awhile. One I intend to spend some time with soon is Robert Lowell's Notebook 1967-68. I'd like to spend some time with Elizabeth Bishop, the French Surrealist poets, Ted Hughes, Rilke, Neruda, whose bones were recently exhumed to see if he'd been poisoned by the Pinochet American puppet government. He had. I'd like to go back through Harold Pinter's plays. The Caretaker has been in my mind recently as one I'd like to read now. It happens in an attic. Two brothers and a vagrant. Pinter's plays are some of the great enigmas of the 20th century, along with the plays of Jean Anouilh in France. I like to be able to read a history of China and come away with at least a cursory understanding of the country and its culture. It seems like a renascence of fiction is happening in China now. I like being able to read contemporary Chinese fiction and poetry. I like being able to read a history of Africa that starts with geology. I like to read fiction and nonfiction from all over the world. I see inside a given culture,  people live, what's important to them. Naguib Mahfouz's novels of Cairo come from a world quite other from mine. And discovering Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk was as satisfying a discovery as when I first read Mahfouz. I love discovering a writer who really lights me up, like RK Narayan of India. He tells a beautiful story. I'm glad for whatever it is in my past that gave me the reading bug. Reading has been the primary blessing of my life.

I'll not read all these books again. I'll go on like usual and read whatever I feel like at the moment. The books sit on the shelves in my mind representing many hours of some of the best enjoyment of my life. 


1 comment:

  1. Ah "the reader" so all is revealed. I was told, or "read" many years ago that good writers are first, good readers.....this explains your extraordinary gift of words, you have prefected it over your life. Wonderful cultivation, wonderful, boutiful harvest! You have reached such a pinncle of page at a time.