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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Incomplete But Nonetheless True Confessions

Spring is here.

I have not yet (ever) read The Handmaid’s Tale.

 

For any serious reader but especially for a bookseller (female, yet!), this is a pretty serious confession, and two years ago I vowed I would read Margaret Atwood’s modern feminist classic over the winter. I didn’t, though. And I haven’t yet. 

 

I’m not intentionally avoiding the story, but sometimes when any book has already captured the attention of so many other people I don’t feel a huge amount of personal responsibility for hurrying to get to it myself. Bestsellers are already bestsellers, after all, and classics are not going to stop being classics overnight. I’ll get to The Handmaid’s Tale in my own good time, as I’ve gotten around at last to many other long-neglected and worthy works of literature.


My book corner: you've seen it before.


I am usually reading multiple books at any given time. 

 

One of the books I’m currently reading is a different Margaret Atwood novel, Life Before Man, set in 1970s Toronto, a book that came to me serendipitously, as so many of my books do. I couldn’t have sought it out, because I don’t recall hearing the title before. Written in the third person throughout, the story presents multiple points of view, one point of view contained in each short chapter. I find it difficult to stop at the end of a chapter, feeling almost compelled to begin the next.

 

My car book these days is Crazy Weather, by Charles L. McNichols, first published in 1944. Lewis Gannett, reviewing Crazy Weather in Books and Things, wrote of it:

 

Crazy Weather is the story of a white boy who, through four days of torrid weather and cloudbursts, goes glory-hunting with an Indian comrade [Mojave] and returns to discover that he is, and prefers to be, white after all.

 

South Boy’s ambivalence is clear from the very beginning of the story, and no wonder, given the opposition of character presented by his father and mother. Hal Bortland wrote of the story:

 

This is the story of a boy who became a man in four days. Into it Charles McNichols has packed an amazing amount of action, adventure, Indian lore, and satisfying psychology…. 

 

Sterling North loved it, too. I wonder what reputation (if any) the book holds in our own day, particularly among Native American readers.

 

After our nightly pack time and movie, before going to sleep, I picked up another J. A. Jance mystery featuring fictional Sheriff Joanna Brady of Cochise County, Arizona. Part of this particular novel’s action took place on the old Charleston Road between Tombstone and Sierra Vista, and I read the description of the road aloud to the Artist, who instantly recognized the road we had taken to see water in the San Pedro River and been surprised by the locks on the footbridge.

 

I have been known to go on a genre fiction binges.

 

Yes, it’s true. While I called myself “a serious reader” at the top of this post, I do go on these binges from time to time. Presently it’s J. A. Jance. At other times it’s been Lee Child or Alexander McCall Smith or Sara Paretsky or James Lee Burke. Don’t get me wrong, though. This is a confession, not an apology.


Current binge books --


Mystery series books, books that develop a main character through time and through multiple crimes solved, I make little to no attempt to read in chronological order (whether reading for the first time or re-reading the series).

 

As a bookseller, I am very familiar with readers who feel they must begin a series at the beginning. A few won’t even start reading until they have the entire series lined up. I, on the other hand, would be hard pressed to name a series I started with the first book. What usually happens is more like this: I realize that such-and-such a writer is immensely popular and that it would behoove me to have some slight acquaintance of her or his work, so I pick up a book from the series and try it out. If I like it, I reach for another. Eventually I worked my way through the entire Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency series in that haphazard, nonchronological manner and still feel comfortable picking up any book in the series whenever the mood strikes. I dove into Jance’s Joanna Brady series the same way and continue as I find more books in the series.


Arizona dry wash


Escape is probably one of the reasons I read so many books. 

 

There are so many reasons for reading books, and like many readers I can’t say a single reason explains what some might term an addiction. I read for information, for understanding, for pleasure – and, I will not deny it, for escape. But my life is wonderful! Why do I need escape?

 

I am a worrier. 

 

I wrote once in this blog that I have come to believe needless worry, the kind of fretting that we do completely apart from taking action, is a form of superstition. Here’s some of what I wrote on the subject a while back:

 

As I try to tease apart this mystery, it seems to me that we hold a vague, unconscious, and unreflective belief that by worrying we feel we are making time payments to ward off future disaster. Pay now, play later! The focus of a worry, remember, is an undesirable outcome (or, all too often, multiple undesirable outcomes on a variety of fronts); thus worrying is suffering in advance that we feel should be subtracted from the outcome. If my hypothesis is correct, this same unconscious belief explains our worry over loved ones, as well. If, for example, I worry myself sick over my son’s late return home, I am paying the price that might otherwise have to be paid by a terrible accident befalling him. Or so says my superstitious belief.

 

Anyone who may want to read the entire post can find it here.

 

What I thought and said and wrote then and still believe today is that such worrying is irrational. And yet I continue to do it! I don’t worry that much about myself (What is this rough patch of skin? Should I have it looked it? Okay, when we’re back in Michigan) as I do about others. 

 

Since my former husband died a year ago, I’ve talked to my son nearly every day by phone. He is doing fine. But once a mom, always a mom! When I don’t hear from friends, I worry that something might be amiss with them. Situations of those I love facing surgery or recovering (I hope!) from same: another source of worry. 

 

I worry about drought in the Southwest, race relations across the nation, family, friends, the future of the country, the fate of the earth -- and especially, these days, what is going to become of my rescue dog, the “dog with issues,” little Peasy. I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about Peasy’s future and have to turn on the light and read myself back to sleep ... because ...  


Along the Kansas Settlement Road


I have fallen in love with Peasy. 

 

It wasn’t “love at first sight” when I first laid eyes little Pea. (It was hard to get much more than a glimpse of him, the way he hid from anyone who came near!) He was cute, though, and needed a home, and I needed a dog and figured I could work him through some of his issues. Together we have made great strides! And naturally, gradually day by day, I have come to love him more and more. The way he looks at me! How can I help it?



Good boy!


David and I were absolutely smitten with our Sarah. Besotted! The thing is, though, anyone would have loved Sarah, and quite honestly I think she could have been just as happy in another home, with another family. Not only beautiful, Sarah was also supremely confident and easy-going and able to adjust herself to any situation. (She barely had a startle reflex at all.) When people asked if we had “rescued” her, I used to say we were just lucky enough to find her before anyone else did, and that was the truth. That little puppy spent only a single night in the shelter before we scooped her up took her home, and she was about as easy to train and live with as a puppy could possibly be.

 

Peasy, now -- quite a different kettle of fish! Not easy-peasy! Picked up as a stray, he was held in the pound for over three months because no one wanted him! What a challenge that boy was his first week with us! 


Now people who see him tell me what a beautiful dog he is, and I see him as beautiful, too, where at first he was only a funny, kinda cute, goofy little scaredy-dog, way too skinny and with a coat full of mats. He is still afraid of strangers, though, and just about everyone is a stranger. And so --

 

I could and would give him up, out of love for him, if I found someone who could give him a better, fuller life here in Arizona than I can hope to give him in Michigan. At least I think I could....

 

Because he is so happy here! He behaves and minds me very well. He has an absolutely joyous time when we go out with our neighbor and her two dogs. If the Artist and I leave him alone for a couple of hours, he greets us with happy wiggles when we return. And he blisses out when he joins us for 15 minutes to half an hour of nightly pack time up on our bed. He is, as I say, a happy dog. But still a dog with issues. And back in Michigan I won’t have the freedom of my “seasonal retirement” to devote myself to his training and exercise. I cannot see Peasy leading a rich, fulfilling life alone all day and/or in a cage (call it a “crate,” if you like, but it’s a cage all the same), and he has a very long way to go when it comes to acquiring social skills. 


Clockwise from left: Buddy, Peasy, Molly


I still think adopting him was not only good but the best thing for him. He could have languished in that sterile cell forever! Instead, he has had love and lessons and increasing freedom, and he begins and ends every day a happy, happy dog. (I know I am repeating myself. He is lying contentedly at my feet as I type these lines. How can I help myself?) And that’s what I want to continue: a happy, rich, fulfilling life, with as much outdoor work and play as possible. 


My Peasarino is a good, sweet, loving little dog. Given the right situation for him, for the dog he is, and given a kind, attentive, patient, owner who will love him as much as I do, I think he has potential to be a great dog. It's just that (I can't help thinking) someone else might be better able to bring out his full potential.

 

And yet I’ve done almost nothing to find another Arizona home for him. 

 

It’s so hard even to think of giving him up that I don’t look much more than a week ahead, if that, telling myself there’s no need to rush, that I still have time to work with him. But as hard as it is for me to think about his long-term future, it’s equally hard to banish those thoughts or worries from my mind, because there’s no way I’m going to “surrender” him, even to Aussie Rescue or the well-run shelter in Willcox, without knowing where he might end up. I am the one who adopted this dog, and that makes me the one responsible for his life.

 


And so continues the unfolding saga of Peasy, dog of the desert.

Monday, April 12, 2021

What Can I Call This Potluck of a Post?

Intriguing window treatment, no?

Bisbee, AZ

It post is a miscellany, but I'll back and start with our 2021 trip to Bisbee, which is where my eye was drawn to that Kafka book set against a brown paper-covered display window. Some of you might remember a time when I warned against going to Bisbee on a Monday. Lesson learned. So this year we prudently waited until Tuesday to make the trek -- and found the town was closed up just as tight! The high point of the trip was being allowed to sit on the outdoor gallery of the public library (library itself closed; pickup only) to try to read a New York Times (available nowhere else in the county) in the wind. 




There are always interesting sights to see while walking around Bisbee, however, so the long drive was not a complete loss. There was that Kafka book in the window, after all. Not many posters advertising events, but a utility pole studded with staples caught my eye. And I don't remember this attractive building from other visits to Bisbee.


Now home of a recording studio, we were told


The amazing part of this thin-on-plot story is that we didn’t acquire a single book the whole day. Library, FOL bookstore, and Meridian Books (down the Rabbit Hole), all highlights of former trips to the county seat, were each and every one closed and locked. But yes, we do have plenty to read as it is. 


 

Reading -- and a Book Review

 

In general, I’m not one to observe a lot of official days and weeks and months, but I’ve made more of an effort for Black History, Women’s History, and National Poetry Month this year – really, don’t you think history should be inclusive every month of the year and that poetry should be part of our daily lives? Anyway, be that as it may, think what you will, I’ve been reading Thomas Lynch, Jim Harrison (always), Judy Juanita (below), Marge Piercy, and Anne Sexton the past couple of weeks, and it’s Judy Juanita I want to write about today. 

 

When a young friend asked me once, “What were the Sixties really like?” I told her it depends on who you were, how old you were, and where in the world and country you happened to be. Virgin Soul, Judy Juanita’s semi-autobiographical novel, published in 2013, was my first introduction to her writing, when an ARC from the publicist found its way to me at Dog Ears Books. Like her fictional protagonist, Juanita found herself “where it’s at” during her junior year of college. She had joined the Black Panther Party in 1967, and when Huey Newton was jailed he appointed her editor-in-chief of the Panthers’ newspaper, which began as a strike journal, resulting in the first Black Studies program in the United States. Since then Juanita has published a number of plays, poems, and essays, and now a new book of her poetry, Manhattan, My Ass, You’re in Oakland. 

 


The title is a preview of the poems in the book: Here is a poet who pulls no punches. Whether her subject is love, sex, or friendships, violence against women or racial injustice, her distinctive voice tells the story in a way you’ve never heard it before and might not have the nerve yourself to repeat. She has the nerve, though. Her voice is clear and unhesitating, her command of a variety of poetic forms sure, as she uses those forms in her own new ways. Juanita has performed her poetry on occasion, and though I’ve never seen her in person or heard her with my ears, I hear her voice in my mind when I read her work. I’m not alone, either. Kirkus Reviews has called her poetry “unsettling, important, and unforgettable.”


Manhattan, My Ass, You’re in Oakland

by Judy Juanita

EquiDistance Press

Paper, 101pp

$9.95


 



Horse and Dog Stuff


WJRA lineup


It isn't only books that take me to exciting places, though, and the Artist and I don’t have to drive all the way to Bisbee to have a good time. This past weekend was once again WJRA – Willcox Junior Rodeo Association meeting out at Quail Park. As we were leaving, after a very satisfying couple of hours watching and admiring and walking around with my camera (see my completely incomplete visual story here), I said with a happy sigh, “There’s nothing about it that I don’t like!” My happiness of the day included a very dusty little dog that reminded me of a smaller and much older and wiser version of Peasy. “Wouldn’t this be the perfect life for Mr. Pea?” I asked earnestly. 


old dog at rodeo


For now, however, we are making the most of our silly little snuggle-bug, whose "pack time" personality could never have been guessed by the skittish, fearful performance he put on in that cold, bare cell at the pound. 


silly boy at home


Thursday, April 1, 2021

Spring Break Trilogy: Poetry, Dog, and Sunsets

another dawn


Until it does no longer more (an hour that comes eventually for us all), life goes on, here in the high desert and mountains as well as back in northern Michigan and everywhere else that that shelters family and friends. Sunrise, sunset, both moving north now that the equinox is past. Who knows how long we will be here or if we will be here again? But we are here now. 

 

Spring has played hide-and-seek this year in Cochise County, Arizona (as it always does back in Leelanau County, Michigan), and I see in my photographs of previous springs that wildflower blooms are tardy this year, compared to the last two. This is also the dustiest year we (the Artist and I) have ever seen here, though not necessarily the dustiest that has ever been. Dry, dusty, and very windy. I attribute late wildflower bloom and more frequent dust storms to a common source, drought, but that is not one of my three topics for today, so let’s move on. 

 

Poetry

 

Bone Rosary: New and Selected Poems

by Thomas Lynch

Boston: David R. Godine, March 2021

Hardcover, 256pp.

ISBN: 978-1-56792-701-6

$25.95

 

When a mature poet offers us “new and selected poems,” it’s cause for celebration, but such a best-of-plus album is not to be hurried through in an evening or two. Initially I wanted to publish a post about Thomas Lynch’s new book for St. Patrick’s Day. Then for the book’s March 23 release date. And now – well, here I am, still gratefully reflecting as I linger over pages and turn back and forth to re-read.

 

Reflection invades poems that first appear to be simple snapshots. All the “heaving, tidal pulses of creation” are here. Do they rise from quiet hours of preparing bodies (the poet a funeral director in the family business since 1973) or simply any Irish man or woman’s penchant for dreaming and regretting? Or, most likely, the gift of poetry itself, bestowed unpredictably, like grace and then refined and distilled by the earthly craftsman. Particular poems pull me back to church, to Michigan waters, and then across larger salt waters to the land of my mother’s father, land I’ve never seen,

 

                                          …the land

between hayricks and Friesians with their calves

considering the innocence in all

God’s manifold creation but for Man,

and how he’d perish but for sin and mourning.

two parishes between here and the ocean:

a bellyful tonight is what he thought,

please God, and breakfast in the morning. 

 

The Sin-eater fills his belly at the bedsides of the dead, consuming their various sins along with bread and beer provided by the family of the deceased, that their dear departed might not languish forever in purgatory. After he“feasted on Easter Duties missed,” along with more repulsive sins that upset his digestion and gave him bad dreams, from time to time he considered retirement (or raising his rates, at least) but feels his living to be a mission equal to that of the priests. Although the twenty-four pages of poems selected from an earlier collection, The Sin-Eater: A Breviary, initially struck me as longer than I wanted to spend with old Argyle, I find now that it is these poems that haunt me, much as Argyle himself was haunted by the dead whose sins he had consumed by their bedside.

 

Which is not to ignore new poems that stopped me in my tracks. America and Ireland; families and outsiders; landscapes, realities, and fantasies (the fantasy of “Casablanca”); the quick and the dead; cats, cows, dogs, and horses – not only the Bible-inspired but all Lynch’s poems are about “the spiritual life” as he understands it, which (he tells us himself) is faith in “the life of language and its power to make us known to one another and to ourselves,” a faith in the possibility of connection. And to a poet, more than the meanings of words matters in making connections with language. Vowel sounds matter, line lengths matter, enjambment or its absence, internal rhymes rather than an end-of-line rhyme scheme. There is so much here, so many levels, that the table at the rich ongoing feast is fuller every time one looks. Thus does art work miracles.

 

As I’ve already said, this is not a book to hurry through (no book of real poems is), and I salute not only poet Thomas Lynch but also Boston publisher David R. Godine. Thank you both so much!

 

 

Dog: Peasy Tales Continue

 



I’m not sure what to report about my rescue dog. “You’re a better dog every day,” the Artist tells little Peasy in all seriousness, and it’s true that my sweet Pea is much calmer and quieter in the mornings now (usually) ... and that we are able to take him with us in the car or leave him alone for hours at a time, as weather and inclination dictate ... and that the three of us adore our evening “pack time” cuddling and snuggling. Such a good dog in so many ways! But you know how some people will say, “I’m a people person”? Well, Peasy is not a people dog. He is in love with me and looks up to the Artist and is happy being part of a family and having a home but still very fearful and skittish of other humans. Not a take-anywhere dog like Sarah. So (words of my mother that I dreaded above all others), we’ll see

 

 

A Sunset Drive

 

Sometimes, if we have an early supper and don’t immediately sink into our reading chairs with current books, the Artist and I like to drive a few miles to the east and take quiet leave of another day with the long, open views down across the buttes of the Sulphur Springs Valley to the the Chiricahua Mountains and Cochise Stronghood in the Dragoons, driving back to the ghost town after sunset. I’ll let images tell the rest of the story and wish you a pleasant, restful, and safe spring break, however you will be spending it.








 


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Excuse Me, I Have Been Distracted – and Focused


 

There is always time for reading, it seems. I’ve heard people who don’t find it so, but they have demanding fulltime jobs or immaculate homes with nothing out of place. Their concern for career or housekeeping translates, in my case, to a jealous guarding of my reading time. Much else, though, has fallen by the wayside in my life in recent months. Writing, drawing, new recipes, exercise (other than walking)....

 

Writing, primarily: sadly neglected! I manage to get a blog post together now and then and to write letters to friends, but my Silas project, part of each morning, has been on the back burner now for – how long? Here is the last time I wrote anything related to Silas, this chapter of mine the first with not a word transcribed from Silas’s diary:

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

A Week Without Silas

 

 

2/5/2021, 10:20 a.m.

 

Reading now The Great Hunger, Cecil Woodham-Smith’s history of the Irish famine, a book that did not come into my hands purely by accident. When we learned that the Friends of the Library bookstore over in Sunsites (Pearce) was open to the public on Monday, though the library itself was offering only curbside service, we made that our destination and spent $25 between us on books, worth much more to us than the bargain prices we paid. 

 

It was a couple of Silas’s throwaway lines in January and the first of February that sent me looking for material on mid-century Ireland. His remark about being “tickled” when the Irishman was disappointed to find American equality more myth than reality was the first nudge. The second was his choice of the Know-Nothings as a topic in his newly formed debate society. 

 

The 19th-century movement called the Know-Nothings began as a secret organization (any member asked about it was instructed to say, “I know nothing”), their anti-immigration and virulently anti-Catholic position a response of fear and resentment to the flood of 1840s immigrants from Ireland and Italy. Is it any surprise that the foremost leader and first martyr of this cause also found women’s suffrage an abhorrent and unnatural idea? The Know-Nothings’ nativism found plenty of support among elected officials as well as among a white working class, and what began in secret as the Order of the Star Spangled Banner (OSSB, formed in 1849) soon morphed into the very public – and briefly very successful -- American Party, the first serious third-party challenge in American politics. Between 1852 and 1854 they won elections at every level. The party split soon afterward, however, over the issue of slavery, a matter even more incendiary than immigration.

 

The situation in 1840s Ireland had been unlike anything every known in the United States, starving Irish sheltering as best they could in muddy ditches after being evicted from cottages they themselves had often built, improving the land they rented to the profit of their landlords. Many in England believed reports of the potato famine to be a “false alarm,” the “invention of agitators” – in other words, what our recent former president would have called “a hoax” and “fake news.” 

 

It was no hoax. Since deaths went unrecorded, with uncounted numbers literally dying of starvation in the open, there is no way to arrive at a precise figure for the tragedy, but population numbers between 1841 and 1851 show a drop of two and a half million. Allowing for the roughly one million Irish who emigrated during the years 1846-51, this puts the death toll from starvation at approximately a million and a half. At first there were attempts at public relief, as well as a long effort made by the Society of Friends (Quakers) to save lives, but in the third and fourth year of the famine soup kitchens were closed, government work projects stopped, and the government in London held to a strictly laissez-faire policy, saying the Irish must help themselves. They were told to collect taxes -- in a land of bankruptcy and financial ruin, where no one any longer had the ability to pay taxes – and to provide locally for the relief of the destitute. 

 

Nor was starvation the only plague on Ireland during those years. Typhus and cholera contributed to the tragedy, spread all the more rapidly in workhouses, soup kitchens -- and on ships. As there looked to be no future for the Irish in their own land, those who were able sought to leave by any means possible. Passage to Canada was cheaper (some sold all they had; others had fares paid by landlords eager to be rid of them) than passage to the United States and entry into Canada easier, but most Irish had no wish to remain any longer under the flag of England, and so the vast majority who landed in Canada and survived crossed the border to the United States as soon as possible.

 

Such was the background in Ireland that led to the most massive emigration ever from any European country – and the entry into the young United States of vast numbers of desperate, unskilled immigrants, eager and willing to work for almost any wage offered. Such was the wave of a population movement that created fears triggering the rise of nativism and unsurprising political opportunism, much like what we have seen again in recent years a century and a half later. 

 

So now, as you see, it has been over a month for me without Silas, a month that has flown by. The nineteenth century, recently so immediate in my thoughts, has receded to a far and misty horizon. 

 

Last Saturday a group I call “ghost town ladies,” a group the Artist refers to as “your coven” and the ladies self-reference as “the riff-raff” met for lunch for the first time in well over a year. A red-letter day, long awaited! The following Monday the Artist and I drove to Benson to rendez-vous with Leelanau friends currently spending a couple of months in Tucson. Another lunch date! In both cases, all had had their double doses of vaccine. But I cannot blame those welcome distractions for my neglect of Silas.




No, it’s all the darn little dog, little Peasy, that stray from the pound, whose training and domestication has so absorbed my daily attention and focus. He has come such a long way! Given a full year…. But I don’t have a full year, only another couple of months, at most, and little Pea, while madly in love with me and tentatively fond of the Artist, is still afraid of almost everyone else. A bookstore future for this dog is the most unlikely scenario. 

 

What is his likeliest future? I’m still working on figuring that out, but while he is in my care I work daily on lessons to civilize the little love-bug.




Silas is long dead, and Peasy is very much alive. No one other than me cares if Silas’s diary is every transcribed, and hordes of more qualified writers than I have written of 19th century America. But Peasy was ignored and passed over for three months in the pound in Safford. And – he loves me. He cares!

 

While Peasy distracts me from writing and much else, though, he also focuses my immediate attention and gives purpose to my days. The progress we have made together gives me a sense of accomplishment and deep satisfaction. Besides that, he is my daily companion in rambles over the range, out in the sun and the wind and the dust. 




“How was it?” the Artist asks when the dog and I return to the cabin, tired and thirsty and happy. 

 

“It was great!” 

 

We’re here now. That has been my mantra for years, wherever I am: we’re here now. And I don’t want to miss being here.




Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Books in the Car

On the trail, looking up --

Over the weekend, although we traveled no farther from the than Willcox (14 miles north-northwest), the Artist and I had, as always, books in the car. I set out Saturday morning with The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild, by Craig Childs, only a few pages left unread. The Artist had two or three books with him, but having begun Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (not for the first time but for the first time in many years), he stuck to it faithfully from beginning to end, knowing that his other car reading selections, books that could be picked up at any time and opened anywhere, would wait patiently as long as necessary.


Already, however, I have so far glossed over the “books in the car” story as it unfolded on Saturday. 

 

You see, I was picked up by a neighbor and carried my book with me in a bag, while the Artist drove to town separately to be about his own business while I was meeting with a group of “ghost town ladies” (my name for the group; they refer to themselves as “the riff-raff”) for lunch, our first gathering in over a year. What fun! It didn’t matter that our orders took a while to arrive, because we had plenty to ask of and say to one another, and when a call came on my phone from the Artist as we were lingering over our checks, there was still no hurry, but it was agreed that Edna would eventually drop me off at the Friendly Bookstore, where David and I would rendez-vous and ride home together.

 

Full disclosureThere was a big book sale going on at the Friendly!Although prices were dirt cheap, we exercised massive self-restraint -- and only filled a single box to load into the back of the car! One slim paperback I kept out of the box, a book to follow that of Craig Childs (so soon to be finished), was Wendell Berry’s Life Is a Miracle




Berry’s subtitle to this small volume, published in the year 2000 and still pertinent and not widely enough read today, is An Essay Against Modern Superstition. Perhaps (and I say this in full recognition of the fact that making a big splash is not Wendell Berry’s way of being in the world) the book would have made a bigger splash, garnered more media attention, had the subtitle read: An Essay Against E. O. Wilson’s ‘Consilience’ – because while Wilson is not the only target of Berry’s criticism, Wilson’s notion of what he calls ‘consilience’ and his advocacy for it give a sharp focus to Berry’s larger criticisms of a materialist culture that values market efficiency over all else. And that’s fine with me, both the general and the more specific “against” targets, as I find arguments for materialism self-defeating and have always found Wilson’s know-it-all posturing annoying in the extreme.

 

Wilson’s book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, makes an argument. In roughly 150 pages, Berry carefully analyzes the argument to lay bare its contradictions and basic incoherence. Wilson knows a lot about ants, but he falls dismally short as a philosopher (shoemaker should have stuck to his last), and I confess to a devilish delight at Berry’s skewering of Wilson’s straw man argument: 

 

In his chapter on “Ethics and Religion,” he has “constructed a debate” between “the transcendentalist” (a straw man) and “the empiricist” (a stuffed shirt).

- Wendell Berry on E.O. Wilson in Life Is a Miracle 

 

Touche! Berry’s well-aimed arrow here is only an opening salvo in his lengthy and detailed critique, which I will not review in its entirety but urge you to read for yourself in Life Is a Miracle, particularly if you consider yourself an admirer of or apostle for E.O. Wilson’s “unity of knowledge.” 

 

My delight in other pages was more generous, delight not only in Berry's ideas and statements, but recognizing that he and I share admiration for other writers. Encountering a quotation from Stephanie Mills, a writer from back home in Leelanau County, Michigan, someone we know personally, made me happy, as did a paragraph on the work of Jean-Henri Fabre, “the Homer of the insects” -- and one of my favorite nature writers.

 

Maybe you would have preferred a photograph or two of the new stacks of books that made their way from sale tables to back of car to shelves and stacks in our ghost town cabin? I’m sure one or two of them will find their way into this blog in future posts. One, I’ll just hint, was about horses….

 

For now, as the Artist has read the last page of his Steinbeck, closing the book with a great sigh of satisfaction, I’m wondering -- will one of his next car books be Cannery Row? I’ll leave that one on top of the stack on the little table between our reading chairs and see if it gets picked up and carried along in the next day or two.




Friday, March 19, 2021

We Never Have “Too Many Books”

Artist reading Hemingway's A MOVEABLE FEAST

 

Some people (I’ve heard them say these words) have a concept they call “too many books.” In my birth family, and in the household the Artist and I share, that concept has never been recognized, even here in our rented winter cabin that is basically one large single room. Yes, we sometimes run out of shelf space. And we don’t always want to keep every book we read forever. In the latter case, we pass books along to friends and family (I just shipped off a box this morning), donate (or re-donate) to thrift shops, or take to bookstores for trade credit, if we can get to such a place easily. (In the past year of COVID, getting to those Tucson bookstores has not been easy.) But there are many books we want to hold onto. “I need another bookcase,” the Artist says to me. Oh, how quickly they fill up!


The dog and I share a library and R&R corner, where my Western, Spanish, and French books are in one case, miscellaneous books in another, nature field guides now moved to the desk.


My books

My books

My books

 

The Artist also has two bookcases, but, as you see, books are also piling up on the tops.


His, his, his, his


Then there is the little table between our respective reading chairs: each with a different book, we often interrupt the other’s reading to share aloud something from our own.


Neutral territory


And my shelf of cookbooks, of course. Can’t forget those.


Cookbooks


And the books on my bedside table, some for reading aloud and some for reading myself to sleep. Will I ever get around to those other Jack Kerouac novels? There are a few waiting for me here:


Bedtime reading


We always have between two and half a dozen books in the car with us, also, and I’m not showing you the big, heavy box of books in the closet or the stacks of books on top of that box (enough to fill another carton). I make no excuses. We are not wealthy people, but we have what feels to us like a very rich life, and books are a big part of our satisfaction.