Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Summer Visitors and the Books

Sally and Terry will arrive on Friday night, adding to my list of illustrious visitors this year. Sally and Terry are my parents and if you’re lucky enough to know them, you know what an adventure they can be. I was just telling a co-worker that the difference between my family and Stoker’s family is like that between the Greek family in (yes) My Big Fat Greek Wedding and the family in The Queen (the one about the queen of England), without the cultural differences. My family’s not Greek and Stoker’s family isn’t British aristocracy, but my family is fiery, loud, and opinionated and Stoker’s family is opinionated but pretty calm and quiet. They talk but it never gets heated. In my family dishes will be thrown.

Just kidding. But they will be.


Stoker’s parents came for a visit this summer. I have no pictures of any of these visits. I just can’t do it. I forget to take pictures, but when I remember to take them, they always turn out hideous. I don’t have the photographer’s eye. And I can’t suspend my disbelief long enough to take them or have them taken of me. I always feel awkward with a camera in my hand.

When Stoker’s parents came, as a parting gift I gave his mom* a copy of the Annie Dillard book An American Childhood. It’s an excellent book and I know that she’ll identify with the kid in it because his mom was once a pixie, I’m pretty sure. The kid in that book is a pixie, a real doll. Stoker’s mom has never stopped being a doll, if you ask me. She has this girlish quality about her that really catches a heart, and you can’t help but fall in love with her. She radiates energy. She sits on the floor if she wants, with her legs tucked under her like a little kid. And she engages with the world, like she still has so much to learn, like the curiosity in her has never died. I love that about her.

I gave Stoker’s dad this book called The Soul of the Night by Chet Raymo. At first the book sounds like it might be a Harlequin Romance, but then you read it and die. It’s perhaps one of the most poetic books I’ve ever read. (I read it in Chris Cokinos’ class and I only mention him as a kind of nod and thank-you for having introduced that book to me. He deserves the credit for the introduction [which is almost as important as having written it]). The book connects the bigness of the cosmos with the author’s small life on the earth. He quotes poetry and relates it to his perception of the night sky and the place of the earth in the universe. I don’t do it justice.

When I met Stoker and was falling in love with him, I gave him two books to read. The Soul of the Night, which he read quickly and enjoyed, and Crossing to Safety, which he also enjoyed. That sealed the deal.
You just know someone is for you when they can read Crossing to Safety and love it, and read Soul of the Night and get it.

I’m probably a jerk for giving people books. like I’m the dispenser of all good books and beauty (I am), but I can’t help it. If I respect someone and love them, on some level I relate to them by sharing the books I love.

Math Matt stopped by for three days on his way to Atlanta a week or two ago. I met Math Matt at some point during my time in college. He’s my intellectual friend and he’s stayed a friend all this time and now he’s Stoker’s friend. We had a great time with him. He can talk about anything with you. I say something that’s on my mind, like if I said, the movie The Departed was good, Matt has a response to that. Most people just say, “Oh,” and that’s it, unless they agree with you. But Matt’s opinion about The Departed was that it was crap and he’ll explain why. You have no idea how much I appreciate hearing other people’s opinions. I’m so surrounded by my own opinions that sometimes I want to scream I need a fresh view so bad. Stoker and I agree on lots of things, you see. Usually we both hate the same movies and love the same movies. Before Matt left, we gave him a copy of We by Eugeny Zamiatin. It’s a Russian book that Matt hadn’t read (surprisingly), and since I had just read it and loved it, I decided that Matt needs to read it ha ha.

My protégé and younger sister, Cassi, spent the 4th of July with us, and we spent an embarrassing sum of money on fireworks while she was here. At first Cassi was unimpressed because in Utah fireworks are sort of lame. Just fountains that whistle Dixie. In Tennessee you can buy Roman candles and other insane fireworks that shoot into the sky and flower. Once Cassi realized this, she secretly loved the fireworks. I didn’t give Cassi a book because the entire time she was here she played Portal on the Playstation, read Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (again), and then read Interstellar Pig, half the time hiding out in the upstairs guest room. It was a real vacation for her. Before she came there had been lots of talk of all the cool bike rides we’d take and other explorations. None of that happened. It was hot out, I guess.

So, my parents will be here soon and I’m wondering what books I’ll give them.

*Also, I was a horrible daughter/daughter-in-law this year and didn't get anyone Father's Day or Mother's Day presents.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Purchased: Carl Sandburg "Honey and Salt"

Tell me this cover is irresistible and I'll say "I know." Because I know. This cover is a beautiful example of 1960s style. What a gem.

It's an artifact of a time period and I'm in love. The bookstore owner asked me why I didn't get the collected works because it was right there on the shelf next to it and I said because I like this one better. I like the little paperbacks that say things on them like "50¢ slightly higher in Canada." And that feature cutting edge graphic art. Can you see the butterfly in that line drawing? It's too good to be true.

This collection has a poem that goes like this:

"Love is a door we shall open together."
So they told each other under the moon
One evening when the smell of leaf mould
And the beginnings of roses and potatoes
Came on a wind.

Late in the hours of that evening
They looked long at the moon and called it
A silver button, a copper coin, a bronze wafer,
A plaque of gold, a vanished diadem,
A brass hat dripping from deep waters.

"People like us,
us two,
We own the moon."
That poem is called "Moon Rondeau" and it was the first one I read when I found the book on the shelf. I bought it for the poem, which I really enjoyed, but also because the cover is so great. I paid four dollars for it. Can you believe that? I could have saved three-fifty if I'd been alive in the sixties and bought it then. THAT'S why they'll never invent time machines. Because then you can get around inflation and the government won't have anything to do with that.

One more thing. This collection features a poem with these line that I'm sure are famous, somehow:
Love is a deep and a dark and a lonely
and you take it deep take it dark
and take it with a lonely winding.
From the poem "Love Is a Deep and a Dark and a Lonely." Beautiful. For some reason, I think it's true. Love IS a deep and dark and lonely. But not just dark and lonely, A dark and A lonely. They're things that deserve articles because they're not just adjectives here. They're nouns.

Sometimes language baffles me and so I'm not entirely sure that adjectives can't take articles. Usually they don't. Usually articles only go with nouns. I think. Don't quote me on that. This isn't a grammar blog, this is more or less a bull shit blog. As in full of b.s.

So anyway. I really like buying books.

p.s. Not all poems in this collection are love poems. I just happened to find both of them first off because I'm a love magnet.

p.p.s. HEY! When did they take the cents symbol OFF the keyboard? Oh, right, when anything less than a dollar became an artifact of inflation. Or maybe it's never been around on keyboards? I don't remember.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


There's something about Chekhov. I remember reading a review or an essay about him in The New Yorker a long time ago, back when I read The New Yorker (I don't anymore, pretentious jerks ha ha ha), and I remember finding it interesting. But I assumed that Chekhov would be a stuffy old bookish writer whose work I would find boring. And then I began reading, recently, some of Anna Karenina. A sort of fever started in me to consume as much Russian literature as possible. So I bought this small used copy of Chekhov's work, the Signet edition, from my favorite used book shop in Nashville (Books). The first story I read was "The Father." I read it quickly and then I read another story, "Peasants," and I was enthralled by his writing and the portrayals of the Russian people. He has such skill with language and my only regret is that I can't read his work in the original Russian.

At the same time I read A Moveable Feast by Hemingway (an amazing book), and I was very pleased to read his impressions of the Russians. He said of Chekhov that people had told him that Katherine Mansfield wrote great short stories, but once he had read Chekhov, Hemingway realized that Mansfield's stories were the equivalent of an old maid's tales (to recall from memory). One man's opinion. I have not read much Mansfield, but I can say that Chekhov is so widely read for a reason. I love his writing and have bought many more collections of his writing since then.

I'm not a huge fan of the short story genre, necessarily. But if you read his work it feels loosely strung together, a vast mural of the late 19th century Russia. It's quite beautiful.

My favorites so far are "Peasants," "He Understood," "The Dance Pianist,"In Exile," and "A Cure for Drinking."

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cheating in the Olympics

I can't believe the Chinese are cheating at the Olympics. Oh wait, what am I saying? It's "for the good of the country."

At this point it's pretty obvious to everyone watching that the Chinese women's gymnastics team is full of twelve-year olds, and yet, no one seems able to stop them from lying to the entire world and continuing on as though they've done nothing wrong.

Honestly the rest of the Olympic community should have known they weren't ready to host the Olympics. Normally I'd say, "Hey, the fake fireworks display? No big deal. The lip sync fiasco? I mean, yeah, that's pretty insulting and cruel. But I'm over it." However, as I watched the women's meet last night, I realize that all of it matters and I'm NOT over it.

The picture China is painting is, for me at least, one of a nation full of automatons who are stripped of their will and free agency in order to do what is best "for the country." For a minute, I was feeling good will toward China and their efforts to impress the rest of the world. But as the Olympic games continue, I am compelled to no longer overlook the sins of their government. And I can no longer hold my tongue about the pollution in Beijing. From now on, when it's smoggy in Nashville and anywhere else, I'm going to say, "Where are we, Beijing*?"

It's one thing to have a coach who lies to his players (which is also bad, don't get me wrong), but it's another thing to have your government making passports stating you're sixteen when you're really only thirteen.

And it's even another to censor the press. That irks me too.

Am I a sore loser? Yeah. It's disgusting. But listen. How else is China cheating? In what other matters are they lying to us? All of them, probably.

So everyone has complained and complained about how the Tour de France has lost its glamour and appeal because of doping. Same here. It was no fun to watch the other gymnastics teams who were following the age restrictions competing against a team of eight-year olds. It would be the same as pitting a lightweight against a heavyweight. Where's the fun in that? The point of an age restriction is to even the playing field. When the restriction is ignored, the game loses its point.

I'm boycotting the rest of the games until the IOC does something about China's blatant disregard for the rules. I suggest the rest of the world do the same. Come on, now. Do as I say. It's for the good of the country**.

*I was overlooking the pollution in order to be polite.
**In this sense country means world. You'll no doubt agree with me that world wouldn't have had the same sarcastic ring to it as country.

I will probably keep watching the Olympics because I'm spineless.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Summer Is Just Another Word for Torture

The heat is ruining my life. I may have said something similar when I was living in Arizona, but only because it was. And it is now. At least in Arizona we had central air conditioning. Right now we're keeping our house cool with electric window units and fans. It's very ineffective and very trashy. The house we bought was built in the forties and none of the previous owners had felt inspired to get central air. We're inspired to, but first there are other pressing matters, like the roof.

Anyway, the heat is killing me. Each day that brings me both high temperatures and high levels of humidity wipe me out. The only thing I can do is swear, curse Tennessee, long for Utah and sometimes cry in frustration. Not to give you the wrong idea, I don't really cry. We have this air conditioner the previous owners left us and it sucks. Something is broken about it, I'm not sure what, probably the temperature gauge because it fluctuates so drastically, one minute it's 54 degrees and the next it's 83. When it thinks it's 54 it turns off and I swear at it and cut the power to it and then restart it. Stoker thinks it doesn't help, but I know it does.

Another thing that's killing me is the hills of Tennessee. Oft cited as beautiful in song, these hills are a bane and a curse and I curse them. The extreme heat and humidity and the hills have put the brakes on exercise. Last year I could tolerate it because I ran by the river amidst the trees and that lowered the temperature a little. Plus I ran home to the central air conditioner. This summer I run home and never cool down and I want to die. And there's no river and very few trees and everything is a hill. Stoker thinks I overdo it, but I assure you I do not. If you came to my house and we took a run on a day at 92 degrees and 65% humidity, or even 40%, you'd melt with me. And it wouldn't resemble a romantic song. It would be like a house of wax. There would be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. And swearing at Tennessee.

Stoker says there are lots of hills in Utah, but there aren't. There are mountains. When there's a sort of hill, it looks like a hill and feels like a hill. In Tennessee, there's some kind of weird optical illusion going on and you can't tell it's a hill with teeth until you're running up it and dying in the extreme humidity and heat.

Long ago my pioneer ancestors tried to settle in Missouri and then Illinois, but things didn't work out. So they moved on and eventually set up camp in the Utah territory. It was hard for them and stuff, but after living in a humid climate and having been to some of the places that didn't work out for them, I thank my lucky stars things didn't workout in the Midwest. The desert is a superior climate. So maybe water was scarce and harder to come by and maybe it was grueling to drag those rocks out of the quarries to build with because there weren't a lot of trees, those things worked out, right? Once you live in a swamp, it's always a swamp and it breeds swamp creatures. The desert breeds hearty stock. Tall, lean, strong people. I can't decide for sure if this holds merit, it's just my perception, I'm sure.

I'm telling you, the heat is killing me. I'm very depressed right now. That's probably not super obvious because I'm being so hilarious at the moment. But I am. I'm wilting like a flower in a damn car out in the sun.

I tried to find scientific proof that extreme temperatures cause depression and other problems in people. I don't have time to rummage through all the studies, so I let the BBC do it for me. They came up with this article on the effects of extreme heat on moods. So I'm right, then. Thanks for playing. Now I'm going to go cry and melt in the pointless heat.

p.s. Recently I read this line from a short story by Chekhov ("He Understood"): "It was a stifling June morning; the air was sultry, the leaves drooped, the dry ground cracked." And I finally understood the power of that word sultry. Sultry only has power if you've been exposed to extreme humidity. I hadn't until Tennessee. Do I obsess? I do, I know I do.