Tag Archives: literature

Snow in the Summer

That Stings!
Franz Kafka said, “we ought to read only books that bite and sting us.” What’s the last thing you read that bit and stung you?



That last book was “Snow” by Orhan Pamuk. His books give me a glimpse into a land and culture that I am blind to and gives me inklings of understanding.

“Snow” explores the author’s country of Turkey. His land has been and is at the crossroads of the east and west where a complex pull of secular and religious ideologies struggle for power.

The whole book had a scorpion effect on me, but I remember a particular bite and sting in Chapter 32, “I Have Two Souls Inside My Body.”

In this chapter Ka,the main character, writes a poem that speaks of a “. . . sadness of a city forgotten by the outside world and banished from history.” He imagines that he is in a Hollywood movie, the image of the earth spinning pans in, the camera moves closer until you see only one country — Turkey — with its surrounding seas, Istanbul, trees. and laundry, until the film stops at Ka’s own bedroom window.

I received a bit of a jolt when the camera settled in on a location several thousand of miles away from my personal view of the same Hollywood movie. My earth stops spinning on the Great Lakes, Detroit, a Ford motor plant, a birdbath. This may be my American egocentrism at work here, but it is probably a natural vision most people go to in their minds.

I love to read books that take me out of my skin and for a second puts me in another’s place. To me this is better than physical travel. Travel may take you to tourist spots and remove you from controversial images or people. Your mind can take you more places. I prefer Dickinson’s room to Melville’s open seas.


Do Not Disturb the Boring

Nothin’ But A Good Time
Imagine that tomorrow, all of your duties and obligations evaporate for the day. You get the day all to yourself, to do anything you please. What types of fun activities would make your day?




Coffee again.

Egg, fruit.

Sweating, exercising, showering.

Book reading, reading, and reading.

Salad, crackers, maybe sandwich, maybe soup.

Some combination.

Bird watching, bird feeding, bird watering.

Bird seed, hummingbird nectar.

By bird bath spying.

Flower and plant eyeballing.

Insects, squirrels acting squirrelly.

Reading, fiction or non.

Writing and inadequacies explore.

Salmon and broccoli.

Clean, wash, some home upkeep.

Read, Read.

TV, perhaps.

Resist overdose on Internet.

Resist. Reflect.


Stepping Away From the Abyss

On the Edge
We all have things we need to do to keep an even keel — blogging, exercising, reading, cooking. What’s yours?


I will share some things I do that keep me from going off the edge.

Number one must be exercising. Yoga helps my arthritis and calms my mind. The weight work I do must keep my bone density as strong as it is even at my old age. It also keeps the old arms from flapping too much in the wind. Elliptical machines keep my heart pumping without stressing out the knees. I enjoy watching the plants, animals, and people go by from my bicycle. Going out in the flower and vegetable garden is calming and surprisingly a good workout. Gardening makes me sore in ways that my other activity doesn’t.

A close second is reading. If I only sat and read (tempting at times) I would be depressed. Between contemplating my navel with philosophy and contemplating the infinite universe along with the minuscule particles of physics, I’m sure I would run off screaming at some point. For a necessary easy-going escape, I love my mystery novels and historical fiction. A bad reality or just a boring one can be solved by a book. By reading books written by people very different than myself, I can empathize and get away from myself. I felt like a pile of bricks fell on my head when I read the last page of “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. I think that is the way the book should have hit me.

Writing must be third. Writing things out helps me learn. People tell me to stop taking notes and just look and listen. I’m not wired that way. The act of writing and rewriting allows me to understand new concepts. Writing  is also my therapy to work through bad memories and new stresses. It can modify my thoughts and opinions, maybe for the better. Writing makes me think through ideas and conclusions can change. Writing (and reading) has allowed me to feel that “Cleaving in My Mind” that Emily Dickinson expressed in her poetry. I totally enjoy that.

Tutoring in a literacy program, I would place fourth on my list. It keeps me doing something useful and keeps me from becoming too self-absorbed. Another good reason to get up every morning. I want to share not just the practical aspects of reading and writing with another person, but also the sheer joy. A world without books, paper and pens is in itself too sad to think about.

Gotta go, plants to trim, weeds to pull. Moving farther from the edge.

A Life of Reading Dangerously

In the third grade, I fell in love with Nick Naroni. Nick had black hair, green eyes, and was actually a taller third-grader than I was. He also read Greek and Roman mythology or at least versions of those stores that could be found in a public elementary school library. So being in love as I was, I adopted his interests and also began reading mythology. Nick failed the fourth grade and I lost sight of him, but literature remains a passion of mine.

I just finished reading Andy Miller’s book “The Year of Reading Dangerously.” Last year I read “My Life in Middlemarch” by Rebecca Mead. Both of these authors reflect on how a book or books can affect a person’s life. What a goofball I am, I read about other people reading. Or so my husband thinks I am.

In Andy’s book sometimes you can’t make out where the books he writes about end and where his life begins. His book reading propels him through a sort of mid-life crisis. After many years where parenthood, the hectic pace of life and work interfere with his first love of reading, he becomes determined to make the time to read fifty great books (and two not so great). The books truly connect with his life.

One time, Nick did an oral report in class on mythology. He started asking questions about the ancient gods and I answered every one of his questions. As you know, I’d been reading. Then he asked a question about something that I didn’t read about: “Why is the month of January named after the god Janus?” Janus was a Roman god with two faces. The probable answer clicked in my head right away. “Because one face looks to the old year and the other to the new year,” I responded. All my correct answers surprised the teacher and Nick. I was so proud of myself. Decades later I’m still reliving my moment of glory!

Anyway, the books through my life are precious and have become part of my essence. Thanks Andy (and Nick) for providing me with a blog post topic. I’ve got stories about my book reading too.

I Have a Bone to Pick With Language Teachers

Reading is my first love and writing is a second love. I have the wanna-be-a-writer disease even though I let few people read my stuff and receive no paycheck from my painstaking arrangements and rearrangements of those same 26 letters across a page.

So I’m no expert but I beg to differ with many experts that I have run across in the past. The language teachers I have met have given me both good advice along with some advice that I bristle against even to this day. Cases in point:


Almost Always

My high school composition teacher singled me out for both my good writing and bad writing. One time I used the phrase “almost always” in a sentence. I don’t remember the context, but there it was. He wrote the phrase on the board and said that this combination of two words is an impossibility and should never be used. Over the years I heard these two words used constantly in the electronic media and in literature. Sometimes these two words make perfect sense. I almost always use it in my day-to-day life.

Brevity and Clarity

That same high school teacher used “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White as a textbook. One time he asked the class a question, “What is more important, according to Strunk and White, clarity or brevity?” He then called on me to answer this question. I  believed that both writing virtues were important, but since I was given an either/or question I answered “brevity.” He said, “Wrong.” Clarity was more important and that I should have clearly known it.

According to the Introduction of the book, the importance of brevity is mentioned first. Then later on in the Introduction it is noted that,”Strunk loved the clear, the brief, the bold.” And that, “boldness” is perhaps the textbook’s chief feature. But boldness was not in my multiple choice. In my copy of the book: Chapter II, rule 13. Omit needless words; Chapter V, rule 16. Be clear.

I quickly rest my case.

How Goes It

My high school German teacher translated a sentence into English. He said that sentence meant, “How’s it going?” But the literal translation meant, “How goes it?” He proceeded to add that no one would ever say it this way when speaking in English. Over the years since I last set foot in that class, I have heard the phrase, “How goes it?” spoken in English many times. Then I hear Herr W’s voice claiming the impossibility of this utterance and I laugh.

To Boldly Go 

William Shatner has angered a college English professor in the Midwest. Ever since he spoke those words “to boldly go” in the introduction of the television show Star Trek in the 1960’s, people refuse “to go boldly.” To boldly go splits an infinitive. The powerful voice and popularity of Shatner and Star Trek have made her teaching life hell since she tries in vain to correct this error in her student’s writing.

In class we argued that this grammatical rule applied to Latin and not to English. Or this just sounds right even though it may be wrong. She refused to listen to our protests. As for me, I will almost always be ready to boldly go.

And Another Thing

A high school English teacher friend of mine gives poor marks to her students if they start a sentence with a conjunction. Conjunctions can be great transitional words. She didn’t like her students to end sentences with a preposition either. What’s the harm if it makes sense? Like a good cook don’t overuse one spice in your recipes. Let those kids mix it up.


I love the sound of the written word. I’m not talking about the sound of pen on paper, although I like that too. I love the way the written word sounds to the ear. I would rather break rules than offend the ear.

Or maybe I just want those teachers to leave me alone. Too much Pink Floyd coupled with my problem with authority.

So I will write boldly but won’t forget to be clear and brief. Stop me now before that word count climbs any higher.