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Wednesday, November 25, 2015


After finishing Pat Conroy's novel, South of Broad, I'm stuck in a place of having a hard time finding something to read. I pick up one book and it's too slow. Pick up another and the writing is nowhere near up to Conroy's. This happens with a book I like so much that reading in it is the best part of the day. Tolstoy's War and Peace warped my mind. It is too long to even think about reading, yet I dove in and loved it so much I took a break from it in the middle for a month to make it last. Finishing the second half, I could not read anything for over a month. All writing I picked up was dead compared to Tolstoy's writing, even in translation. Patrick White's, Eye of the Storm, did me the same. I could not read anything else for awhile afterward. Something I like that much, I have a way of slowing down toward the end, reading fewer pages per sitting to make it last longer. Then, near the end, I go into hi gear and read right on through to the end.
In a biography of sculptor, Alberto Giacometti by James Lord, I came out of it feeling like I knew him as a friend. When he died at the end, I sat with closed book in lap and wept for half an hour, as I would after putting down the phone when told someone I cared about has died.  Andrew of the Daily Creative Practice has been putting together a list of books most important in his life. He has me thinking about the titles that mattered most in my life. The ones mentioned above are from the top of what would be my list. It is a matter of diving way deep to think about such books from the past. One that comes to mind right away is Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone? the story of the Carter Family, Appalachian singers from the late 1920s and early 1930s. They came so alive for me in the reading that I can't listen to their songs now without tears of joy. Next to it on the shelf is hillbilly singer Ralph Stanley's memoir, Man of Constant Sorrow. I'm not an autograph collector, but I carried my copy to a Ralph Stanley show and asked him to sign it. It is one of my treasures.
I went to the bookshelf to look at the Carter Family book to get the spelling of author and saw beside it Crazy Horse, by Thomas Powers. A feeling sweeps over me every time I see the book. It is the finest writing I've found on the Indian Wars, the Lakota. He told the battle of the Little Big Horn with new knowledge discovered from studying the battlefield and accounts of Indians who were there and descendants of ones there. In  this account, one white army survivor ran away on his horse. Some Indians watched him go. They thought of killing him, but decided it would be more fun for him to return to the fort and tell what happened. Riding away on his horse, he took his pistol and shot himself in the head. The Indians laughed. Another one in the Indian Wars I loved was Sitting Bull by Robert Utley, originally published as The Lance and the Shield. Read it twice. Another about Sitting Bull is a collection of stories passed down in the family, Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy, by his great grandson, Ernie LaPointe. Sitting Bull was something of an enigma to me. He was familiar in that I felt I already knew him.
cairo trilogy by naguib mahfouz
Naguib Mahfouz of Cairo, is someone I've read several stories by. There was a time when I finished one of his stories, I only wanted to read something else by him. His Cairo Trilogy comes to mind, three novels, awfully long, and not long enough. He tells a good story of life in Cairo. Someone I know who has been to Cairo said it smells like a sewer. When you live with a smell day and night there comes a time you don't smell it anymore, so Mahfouz could not tell in his stories how it would smell to me. Someone I know went to Shanghai for a couple of weeks. The only question I had was, What did it smell like? He said it smells like a Chinese grocery store. The scents in the air I cannot get from reading. Riding the Orient Express from London to Athens, I noticed crossing the border from Italy to Yugoslavia at Trieste, the scent in the air was Turkish tobacco. Europe smokes mostly Virginia tobacco. At Trieste, I entered the world that was once the Ottoman Empire, very different from the European world, the scent in the air Turkish tobacco. I came to think writers don't write about how the air in a place smells, because they don't know. While they live there, the scent is neutral. I step out into the barn lot and smell donkey, the familiar, sweet scent of home I don't notice most of the time. Someone drops by and remarks about donkey scent and I'm surprised because I don't smell it.


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