The Books of Summer

July 2017

Books Bought:

  • Jack of Shadows – Roger Zelazny
  • The Game of Life and How to Play It – Florence Scovel Shinn
  • Your Word is Your Wand – Florence Scovel Shinn
  • The Secret Door to Success – Florence Scovel Shinn
  • The Power of the Spoken Word – Florence Scovel Shinn
  • Arguably – Christopher Hitchens
  • American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt – John Beckman
  • The Beauty of Humanity Movement – Camilla Gibb
  • I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President – Josh Lieb
  • Absolutely on Music – Haruki Murakami w/Seiji Ozawa
  • How to Be Like Walt – Pat Williams w/ Jim Denney

Books Read:

  • Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better – Pena Chödrön
  • Ethics – Baruch Spinoza
  • Lone Wolf and Cub, American TPB Vol 15 – Kazuo Koine & Goseki Kojima
  • Schopenhauer – Michael Tanner
  • Jack of Shadows – Roger Zelazny
  • Democracy in America – Alexis de Tocqueville (unfinished…barely started)
  • Annie Get Your Gun – Book by Herbert & Dorothy Fields, Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
  • Ten Years in the Tub – Nick Hornby (Feb ’04 – Jul ’04)
  • Glengarry Glen Ross – David Mamet

Truth be told, I see this list and I feel it’s misleading. For starters, it really seemed to me that I didn’t read much this month. But that list looks to me like I did. Still, Ten Years and Democracy in America lay unfinished. Schopenhauer and Fail were both small books, and Ethics I read, but didn’t fully understand it. That one may need another read.

And, perhaps I went on a bit of spending spree this month. At least that is what it looks like in the bought section. However, I purchased an ebook containing the four works of Florence Shovel Shinn, who I believe to be a sort of early 20th century mystic, or metaphysics practitioner. She was referenced and credited in Tosha Silver’s book Outrageous Openness, and I decided to give The Game of Life a read, when I can get around to it. The whole shebang was $1.99.

I also have a habit of shopping at the Dollar Tree. This started nearly two years ago, my first time attempting The Artist’s Way program, Julia Cameron’s brainchild on creative reinvigoration. It recommended, as a type of “artist date”, or creative activity to do with, by, & for yourself, that shopping at a dollar store and picking up things that could feed your inner child (or artist) would be beneficial. I like picking through the humble book racks. Over that time, I’ve purchased collected essays of David Foster Wallace; a book on Erasmus; a Vampire Hunter D novella, illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano; and most recently, the following: American Fun, The Beauty of Humanity Movement, and I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil. All for $1! (Each.)

Arguably, Absolutely on Music, and How to be Like Walt, all full price. Though, I do get a discount for being a member at the bookstore.  I’ve been interested in Hitchens for a while, but haven’t read anything of his yet. Similar with Murakami.

Zelazny was also an ebook purchase, on sale at Amazon. I’m always amazed at the circuitous routes my reading habits take, and when I first read something by this author, I had to have barely been a teenager. It was on a trip to Tennessee, and my mom stopped at an outlet store shopping center, somewhere in Georgia I would think. I loved books, there was a used book store, and my mother was both supportive of my reading habit as well as being generally doting.

I spotted A Night in the Lonesome October among the stacks of discounted books. A hardback, the dust cover adorned with who I assumed Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein and his monster, the Wolfman, and a rogue’s gallery of other characters. This particular hardback was illustrated by Gahan Wilson (who I later learned was a frequent contributor to Playboy, his comics being equal parts humorous and frightening). I still have the book, and will read it every two to three years at Halloween.

Neverwhere was my introduction to the work of Neil Gaiman, who quickly became my favorite author. Missing out the on the Sandman comic series until much later (I was given the first two volumes of Annotated Sandman, and quickly delved in a few years ago), I found great joy in Gaiman’s prose style. The second book of his I purchased was Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions. The author provides short explanations of each of the stories, including his comments on Only the End of the World Again: “This story came from a number of things coming together… One of them was the late Roger Zelazny’s book A Night in the Lonesome October, which has tremendous fun with the various stock characters of horror and fantasy…”

In Jack of Shadows, we follow the plight of a powerful entity, whose death, rebirth and subsequent search for vengeance is mostly fun. It was a little slow to get into, but once the resurrected Jack is first imprisoned, it begins to feel like a universe created by Zelazny, where possibility and danger are the usual mise en scène. It also hints of political intrigue, and I believe this to be more social commentary than Lonesome October.

As for the others. First of all, thank God for Pena Chödrön’s book. It isn’t that my reading  selections were unreasonably cumbersome. Though, Tocqueville is a whopping seven hundred pages, and I’m barely past the editor’s preface and author’s introduction. To wit, Spinoza’s book isn’t really large either, but the language carries weight that requires more time and attention. Chödrön just happened to be very readable. And pretty small.

Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better is taken from a commencement speech given in CO, and the ensuing interview that was a result. I’ve studied Buddhism for much of my life, in my exploration of theology and philosophy, particularly Eastern practices. Reading of the resiliency of human spirit, the way we can pick ourselves up after failure, is to Chödrön’s credit. She communicates her message of failing in magnificent ways, and I as a reader felt better about failing, as I have in both my recent and distant past.

Tanner’s rundown on Schopenhauer is also small, but at barely sixty pages it still turned into a three-day read. Mind you, the first two weeks of the month I had some difficulty in sitting down to get into anything, and was frequently distracted, fidgety, or just interested in other occupations. C-SPAN, for one. (Take that at face value, please.)

Again, I have a love affair with philosophical works, and should have gone into more heady practices than working with NASCAR, or fundraising for nonprofits. Not that either of those, or the numerous other jobs I’ve worked, can’t be rewarding or wonderful. But I like thinking about things that don’t have a clear answer.

Tanner didn’t really seem to like Schopenhauer all that much. The author was Lecturer in Philosophy at Cambridge until 1997, and was educated in the Royal Air Force. I’m apt to take him at his word, but I don’t have much of an opinion on the philosopher as a person. His concepts on art are well appreciated, especially by music enthusiasts. I’ll likely delve into more serious research on Schopenhauer in the future.

B.S. Baruch Spinoza. In the reading, I stumbled more than once. I wrote on one page of my journal as I was note taking: “Spinoza is full of shit.” Now, he may or may not be correct in any of his assumptions, but I was having serious difficulty reconciling the flow of his logical arguments. (Love philosophy. Just keep telling myself that I love philosophy.)

I did make some headway with Mr. Spinoza through, and I’ve turned from complete detractor of process to more of a curious doubter. I’m hoping to read through some of his correspondence over the coming months, to try and get a clearer picture of what he was talking about.

The rest was mostly aperitif. Lone Wolf is a comic series that I’ve yet to read in its entirety. I have the collect trade paperbacks, all 28 of them. I’m halfway through. Those unfamiliar with Kazure Okami, I highly recommend it. A wandering ronin traveling with his son; former executioner to the Shogun, and betrayed by the Yagyu clan. Now he seeks his revenge, while working an assassin in feudal Japan.

kozure-okami-21x28

Mamet’s Glengarry is intensely fun, and the book came in the audio form, from a production done at L.A. Theatre Works. It included such voice talents as Richard Dreyfuss, Richard Schiff, and Joe Mantegna.

Additionally, I sat down to do a read through of Annie Get Your Gun, because I’ll be performing in the show in September. It’ll be my first time on stage in nearly a year, so I’m looking forward to it. This is a musical based on the early romantic endeavors of famous gunslinger Annie Oakley and her to-be husband Frank Butler. I did some early research, to discover that after Oakley died, Butler stopped eating, and joined his wife eighteen days later. How about that?

Expecting a less impressive month for the next post. I’ll be working out of town a lot, and may not have time to read all that I want to. A shame, too, because I’m sure to rack up late fees at the library.

 

 

 

 

Why I write

I was cleaning out some drawers today, and found an old note, possibly ten or twelve years old. It made me laugh.

It said: "I’m struggling to write. I’m searching for inspiration in an automobile drive. ’91 Lincoln Town Car around Chicago. Lights, towering buildings."

Not sure what my Town Car had to do with Chicago, because I don't recall ever driving it there. But, it's possible. There were some crazy weekends back then.

The thing that stuck out was the struggling to write. I don't recall ever wanting to be a writer. But I liked writing. Always. I used to write poetry, and stories. I have numerous scripts and longer stories, started or abandoned. Ideas always popped up, but I never took them to fruition.

I was actually taking all these old papers out of the drawer and getting them on my cloud in a document called Collected Junk Writings.

But, in a way, this blog is the creative interpretation of my enjoyment of writing. Things I think about I get down in a post, I leave it up for whoever happens across it, and I'm honing an activity that I like doing.

I'm passionate about so few things right now, in this awkward between state that I'm in. Now I'm looking for a job, having quit my other one. I'm thinking about whether I want to stay in Central Florida or move away. About whether to try and start a Ph.D. program next fall, or wait another year.

All these things rattle on in my head, and still I give this blog weekly attention. Now, it's three posts a week, and I'm ahead (for the most part) by about a week. Which means I'm writing this on Tuesday, and you may not see it until next Friday.

I'm sure that when life comes crashing in, and the Universe points me in that direction, I'll not be so ahead on my blog. I'll probably be scrambling for deadlines.

51YdazcA5yL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_I love the bit in Terry Pratchett's A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Nonfiction, where he describes what he calls "A bit of writing about writing."

"Get up, have breakfast, switch on word processor, stare at screen.
Stare at screen some more."

This staring at screen, plus elements of procrastination come in for about the next thirty paragraphs. Finally: "Midnight…"

"Stare at screen. Vaguely aware right hand has hit keys to open new file. Start breathing very slowly. Write 1,943 words. Bed. For a day there, thought we weren't going to make it."

This is my blog. I write I because I like it. It's not an exceptional blog, and it's not terrible. But it's mine, and I get to share with you, the reader.

Call me nostalgic

We’re reducing the tactile sensations of our world to nothing more than keyboard and screen interactions. Consider:

Music early on was heavy; weighty. You picked up the albums and loaded them into gramophones, into record players. You lowered a needle. You would wipe the needle down, and the record off, lest you get the bumps and whine of interference. Perhaps you could listen for thirty minutes, then it was either flip to the B side, or repeat Side A. Then came the cassette, with it’s unique little flip-case. Crack, pop. Crack, pop. Unique sounds and feelings of taking a tape out, inserting it into a tape deck. 

CDs digitized the whole system, and suddenly sound quality changed drastically. Still, you had these CD cases, or maybe you put them in sleeves. You could bring a whole disocragphy with you, if you were so inclined. And then it went further digital with the advent of the digital music player, and multiple discographies were available in something the size of a cassette. 

Similarly books, whose only transitions have been to audio, and then to digital. It seems a bit harder to invent new ways to read rather than listen to music. 

Video also is all stored on the web now, and is available to watch or download at the click of the button. What started as the tactile sensation of adjusting rabbit ear antennae so that the signal would come in clear, then became inserting beta or VHS; laser disc; DVD; HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. Now streaming. 

I think that’s why there’s a return to older sensibilities. Record players becoming en vogue again. Letter writing and stationary. Long has it been said that digital books would kill the print copy, yet even booksellers seem to be feeling the resurgence. We are beings that like touching things, and when too much exists in cyberspace, we just don’t know what to do with our idle hands. 

On the reading bug

Started reading a book (the intro really, plus a few entries) that I had purchased a few weeks ago. Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub: A decade soaking in great books. First, I love books. The idea of what Hornby did for The Believer, where each month he would just talk about the books he read and ones he bought, was entirely captivating to me.

So, this being the first entry of the month, I’d like to take a cue from Nick Hornby:

June 2017

Books Bought:

  • The Republic – Plato
  • Atlantis: The Eighth Continent – Charles Berlitz
  • Designing Your Life – Bill Burnett & Dave Evans
  • Conversational Spanish in 20 Lessons – Cortina Method
  • Light on Yoga – B.K.S. Iyengar
  • The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
  • Thinking: The New Art of Decision-Making  – Edited by John Brockman

Books Read:

  • Do the Work! – Steven Pressfield
  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams
  • Outrageous Openness – Tosha Silver
  • The Perdition Score – Richard Kadrey
  • Sept. ’03 – Jan. ’04 of Ten Years in the Tub – Nick Hornby
  • Worth Dying For – Lee Child
  • The War of Art – Steven Pressfield (started)

What can I tell you about the books I’ve read? Or bought? Why do we do this? I found a beautiful passage in the intro to Ten Years in the Tub, written by Jess Walter:

“That the books we buy are almost as important as those  we read. From the beginning there were always two columns [referring to Hornby’s monthly article], Books Bought and Books Read. By my crude math, Nick spent somewhere around ten or fifteen grand on books he hasn’t even read. Besides showing that he did his part to support publishing during a tough economic period, this suggests something important about reading. Looking around my own obsessively crowded shelves, I see there are two categories of books I tend to keep: those I love and those I hope one day to read. If the books we read reflect the person we are, the books we hope to read might just be who we aspire to be. There is something profound in that.”

I checked out Do the Work! and Dirk Gently from the library. Both came precariously close to being returned unread, but something about each grabbed me and made me change course. The library and, by extension, book stores, are sort of a second home to me. And in this in-between period, where the old life I lived has fallen away and the new one is just breaking out of its cocoon, they function more as my first home than the place that houses my stuff.

Do the Work! walks us through the creative process, highlighting the role of resistance in creation. Now, I’m a big fan of Seth Godin. Have been since I first stumbled across The Icarus Deception, oh, three years ago. At that time I was creatively stifled, my professional and personal lives not working out the way that I had intended. He begged his readers to do the work, fight resistance, and ship! Yes! I can get on board with that.

Pressfield’s book does much the same, but not as effectively. I do feel inspired to do the work, yet I get stuck on syntax when he delves into his theory on the contradictory nature of the Universe’s role in Resistance/Assistance. I’ll likely come at this book again a year or two down the road, and see if I agree or disagree more with the sentiment. The War of Art has been on my reading list for a few years, so it was time to pull the trigger and buy it. I’m just starting it, and seeing the themes revisited from Do the Work!

Adams is always fun, and Dirk Gently’s was no exception. The thought and connectivity he puts into a book about interconnectivity gives enough laugh-out-loud moments that I found myself flying through it.

Atlantis and the course on Spanish weren’t bought, per se. Rather free books in a stack at the library. There’s a girl from Barcelona I wish I were better able to communicate with, though she speaks  English more fluidly than I do. Atlantis, eh. Always curious about the esoteric and metaphysical.

In The Perdition Score, I got to resist the character Sandman Slim, aka James Stark, as he moved up and down a supernatural Los Angeles, and back into Hell. I began reading Kadrey’s series last February, what is that, fourteen months ago? Since then, I’ve read eight and just committed to reading the ninth when I saw it in the bookstore. Perdition is probably the best of the series since Sandman Slim, but I’m a sucker for watching Stark get even when someone goes after his friends.

Another series that I just began last year but have managed to put a considerable dent in is the Jack Reacher collection, by Lee Child. Worth Dying For is well-plotted mystery, and I had trouble putting it down as well. I spent the better part of two days catching up with Mr. Reacher in a little Nebraska town run by some no-goods that were, par for the course, up to no good. It’s a satisfying read, and moves the story towards him heading back to Virginia, which they adapted for film in last year’s Never Go Back.

Tosha Silver and Iyengar’s books are part of my required reading for the yoga practice. I bought Light on Yoga from a Los Angeles Goodwill on Amazon, so it’ll arrive soon. It was like five bucks. Outrageous Openness we discussed at the yoga studio, and it seems to be of big help to those of us who have trouble letting go and trusting that Divine help will be coming.

My first experience with that concept was back in November, 2015, when I started Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I know some crazy things can happen, once you say okay and let the Universe/Divine/God/Source start working on you.

I made it though five whole books this month, with two solid starts, and a few dips into other assorted writings. I can’t guarantee that many, but there is that new Sandman Slim out there, as well as a Reacher novel someone loaned me. Plus, there’s a stack of library books on philosophy that need to be returned this month, so it may be more likely that I get a sit down with Spinoza and Kierkegaard.

Can’t sleep, vol. 2

The light from the screen is blinding my near-darkness-adjsuted eyes. I’m having trouble falling asleep again.

I’m thinking about the On Being interview with physicist Brian Greene. And about the book Do the Work! by Steven Pressfield. (I’m also thinking how much computers, for all their infinite wisdom, can’t tell when something should be capitalized or not, damn autocorrect!)

In the book, Pressfield talks about thoughts. About what Buddhists call “monkey-thoughts”, or all that noise that occurs in the primitive lobes of the brain. And about the other thoughts we regurgitate from sources. 

What has me up tonight is, where do my thoughts, if any are original, come from? I’m laying in bed, and I’m hearing Brian Greene talk about string theory and quantum mechanics. I’m thinking about the origins of the Universe, as I’ve learned from theology, spirituality, Darwin and physics. I’m wondering, what the bleep do I actually know?

Perhaps this is all a bit heavy for midnight contemplation on a Sunday/Monday post-meridian interchange. But I’m just so darned perplexed. My feet won’t stop shaking, and my brain is going a mile a minute. Hence just plopping some thought vomit out on the internets. 

I’m working on a short document, exploring where I believe thoughts to come from. I doubt I’ll get to any firm answer, but at least I can muddle through these thoughts I’m having on thoughts. 

Good night… I hope.