Category Archives: good reads

Good Things #43: Being Told “No”

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I got the idea on the airplane to Chicago, reading Dubus’ Townie. He’d lived in a winter rental in a local beach community, and it dawned on me as I sailed through the sky:

Oh my gosh. I should buy a beach house.

If you know me – if you know my job and my life situation – you’re probably smiling and shaking your head, “There she goes again, too enthusiastic and a little bit crazy.” Because I teach at a Christian school. Because I’m only 25. Because FILL IN THE BLANK.

But really, I convinced myself (and my father, and my sister, and whoever else would listen to my rationale) that this was the way to do it. Buy a house that would help pay for itself. Get a roommate or two, rent it out for a month in the summer, and before you know it, you’ll own your home. I envisioned traipsing in the house after a long walk on the beach, me curled up reading in the sunlit evening, my sister (who, of course, would be buying the house with me) baking me delicious brownies, a glass of red wine in my hand.

I had it all planned out.

And when we found a three-bedroom house with a garden and brick walkways, an arbor, a loft (what?! are you kidding me? this is perfection.), and even a laundry chute, I let myself actually think it could happen.

I planned out a budget. I examined my finances and looked at my savings and promised myself “No more Starbucks!!!”.

I got a realtor, we got pre-approved for a mortgage, and then we looked into…flood insurance.

Ever heard of it? It’s this dreaded thing that, when you live in a small island community below sea level, threatens to destroy morale and your wallet.

The total was more than we would pay in taxes and it would only go up, my realtor said. It would be extremely hard to sell, and in one conversation the red wine I imagined sipping was dried up and my sister burned the brownies.

I got off the phone. I was at work when I called the realtor, and I was standing in the hot sun. My hair was on fire. I walked over to my friend who was eating lunch and told her what happened.

“I felt a lot of fear about it,” I said, “but usually my response to fear is ‘Get over it.'”

She laughed and gave me those eyes that mean: You’re psycho.

“Maybe this time it meant it wasn’t for me,” I finished, putting my head on the picnic table.

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I am grateful when I’m told “no.” This has been a long time coming, and it’s not a lesson I want to keep learning. Excitement fills my body so fully I can feel my skin tingling and I’m sure This is it! whether it be buying a house, moving across the country, dating a great guy, or applying for my dream job.

This is it! my body says, but circumstances and Jesus say differently.

I don’t blame God for good and bad in my life, at least not all the time. Sometimes, I do think things “just happen” and God makes good out of those things, too. But there have definitely been times when I’ve felt Him say, “No, Catherine, not this time, not this job, not this person.”

This time, it was “not this house,” and I am grateful in some ways.

I won’t be saddled with a mortgage.

I won’t have to leave my new flock of chickens.

I won’t have a longer commute.

I won’t have to live off oatmeal and yogurt for the next fifteen years.

I can still buy a bottle of wine, and my mom makes more than decent brownies.

There’s no denying, though, that there was a little loft in my would-be-bedroom with a brown ladder. That the tiny window let in sunshine, and I would’ve sat there drinking tea and dreaming, tucked away where no one would find me unless they knew where to look.

Good Things #27: 2013 Edition

What were some of the highlights of 2013? Miley Cyrus, of course. Actually, that isn’t true at all. I made it through the year without laying eyes on her infamous performance, and I hope to keep it that way. (This might frustrate Kate, the queen of the internet, merely because it solidifies my old-fashioned and misplaced irritation with modern technology.)

My highlights might not by Hollywood-worthy, but they’re the best of another sort. And there are only six, not five or ten or fourteen, because six is how many I thought of.

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1. Cafe shopping. There’s something about opening new doors for the first time, wondering what you’ll find behind enchanting names like Breaking New Grounds, The Blue Mermaid, or my favorite, Grendel’s Den. This has been a year of finding new digs, partly because – for the first time – I have a steady paycheck and I don’t live in constant fear of “Oh my gosh, do I have five dollars in my account?” anymore. There’s something about dark wood and dim lighting that makes me want to curl up and pay hand over fist for delicious things. Good thinking, restaurant owners.

2. Making music. My friend sent me a recording. It was me and seven college friends singing “An Irish Blessing” at one of our recitals. It’s an eight-part piece and because sopranos are a dime a dozen and I have a little more weight to my voice I’m Alto I, a part I never feel comfortable singing. I listened to it over and over, remembering how the sound filled the hall, what it felt like to make music with people I’d shared so many memories with. This summer, I’ll be singing an eight-part song at my college roommate’s wedding, five years after we made this first recording.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
until we meet again,
may God, may God hold you
in the palm of His hand.

[This is a similar recording of the arrangement we sang by Graeme Langager, only ours was mixed voices.]

3. Friends. I read this quote in Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, and I paused because I have felt this intensely this past year:

They say – or maybe I said – that a good marriage is one in which each spouse secretly thinks he or she got the better deal, and this is true also of our bosom friendships. You could almost flush with appreciation. What a great scam, to have gotten people of such extreme quality and loyalty to think you are stuck with them. Oh my God. Thank you.

I am so grateful for friends who understand me. I am also grateful for friends who, when they don’t understand me, love me anyway.

4. Christian Wiman.

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When I first encountered Christian Wiman, I was so overcome with overwhelmed-ness that I emailed an old art professor to share my joy. It was this article that first introduced me to this man of faith and art, and what was it that caught me so immediately? This man who was faced with his own death (cancer) slowly and carefully examined his latent faith and found it there, curled deep inside him, even when he thought (and maybe hoped) it was dead. My Bright Abyss, Wiman’s collection of thoughts on faith, may very well get a post of its own, but here are some of my favorite quotes:

Life is short, we say, in one way or another, but in truth, because we cannot imagine our own death until it is thrust upon us, we live in a land where only other people die.

…it involves allowing the world to stream through you rather than you always reaching out to take hold of it.

Falling in love seems at the same time an intensification of consciousness and the loss of it. Never are the physical facts of existence more apparent and cherished, and never is their impermanence more obvious and painful.

I think of this when I hear people say that they have no religious impulse whatsoever, or when I hear believers, or would-be believers. express a sadness and frustration that they have never been absolutely overpowered by God. I always want to respond: Really? You have never felt overwhelmed by, and in some way inadequate to, an experience in your life, have never felt something in yourself staking a claim beyond your self, some wordless mystery straining through words to reach you? Never?

He is currently in remission, and his latest book of poetry, Every Riven Thing, is on my list.

5. Boots. This might not seem to fit with the other things in this post, but this year I discovered the beauty and ease of boots.

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They immediately transform any mediocre outfit into a work of, if not art, at least style. Oh, you’re wearing THAT again? Wait, what are those? Oh my gosh, I love them!

Crisis averted.

6. Recommendations. This is a blend of numbers three and four because good friends recommend good things. I get most of my music from other people, from my city-friend to my brother, and a lot of my books are recommendations, too. My friend Bryn who blogs over at All My Roads, recently wrote a post of 14 Books for 2014, and I was struck by how great they are. Not only had I loved the ones I’d already read, but I wanted to rush out to the book shop and grab the ones I hadn’t.

[And miracle of miracles, my city-friend went and bought me Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal – with no prompting from me – and I wonder if my friends who don’t know each other are in cahoots.]

It’s good to have people you trust in your life to tell you what to read. And listen to. And do.

So, there you have it. Enjoy your Wednesday!

 

Good Things #24

Percy Jackson. I’ve been teaching Latin for almost a year and a half, and for almost a year and a half, I have heard the name Percy Jackson.

“Magistra, have you read Percy Jackson?”

“That’s just like in Percy Jackson! Except…”

“In Percy Jackson, Ares is evil!”

It was unending. Every time we read a Greek myth or talked about the gods, it came up. Finally, after months of prompting, I have picked up The Lightning Thief. It’s a small dark green hardcover, and I like the way it feels in my hands.

It’s pretty good.

And this from a lady who skipped YA books entirely (I’m kind of regretting this, but there’s still time to make it up). It helps that Percy reminds me of one of my 7th graders, only I’m pretty sure this kid isn’t a demigod or half-blood or anything so unique.

And which teacher has starred in the book so far?

The Latin one, of course. And his hard Greek myth tests and the chanting of Latin declensions and conjugations. No wonder they always bring up the books in class!

The son of Poseidon is about to embark on a terrible mission…glad Riordan wrote a whole series. I hate when you start liking something but then *poof!* they’re done.

Lord Huron. My brother texted me this band the other day and because it was during a prep period and because I’m getting tired of the same old same old, I looked them up on Spotify right away. You might know them from their song “Into the Sun” that’s been on the radio lately. Check them out.

Tech Week. Yes, it’s coming. Starting Monday, we will be in tech week of Aladdin, Jr., and I can’t believe the show’s almost over. It went so much faster than Alice last spring. I want everyone and his brother to come see the show for a few reasons:

1. I can’t believe I’m directing musicals. It’s fun. And hilarious.

2. I absolutely LOVE some of the numbers. “Prince Ali” is awesome – the kids come down these huge stairs and march through the audience and the parents are gonna love it.

3. The kids are so adorable. It’s true. Sometimes I watch their faces and I just start laughing. It’s crazy how much they’re their own little persons already, in those tiny bodies.

4. Because I always want to go out and celebrate after a performance. It’s been that way since high school and I was in Beauty and the Beast and Kiss Me, Kate and whatever else I was in. We’d sing our hearts out then head to the diner and eat pie and french fries. So come to the show and then we can toast to our success with a chocolate milk shake.

Bedtime Stories

“Would you be able to babysit? Even though you have a grown-up job?”

I got a text Sunday from a friend in a bind, so of course I said yes. Monday night rolls around and I find myself kneeling by a Thomas the Tank Engine bed. His nose is red and runny, but his spirits are high and he talks with excitement in mumblings.

After I say, “Here, put this one away,” he looks me in the eye, calculates his risk, and says, “No.” Of course I make him, and I don’t even correct him when he puts the Dr. Seuss in backwards, which is a big deal for me. He picks out a second story and settles into his cozy blankets. I look at the book and immediately know what it is by its green:

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The Giving Tree

I want to hide it quickly under his bed where he won’t find it and make me read.

But I know it’s too late.

So I open the hardcover, its paper slipping off, and begin reading. It’s not so bad, I think, enjoying the simple pencil drawings, the smooth repetition of words. Maybe it’s not the way I remember.

He’s engrossed in the story and my face is turned from him as I start to cry.

“I’m sorry,” said the tree, “but I
have no money.
I have only leaves and apples.
Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in
the city. Then you will have money and
you will be happy.”
And so the boy climbed up the
tree and gathered her apples
and carried them away.
And the tree was happy.”

My voice wavered a little and I could feel him looking at me with his big gray eyes. I kept reading and the story kept going and the boy kept taking and the tree kept giving. He wanted a house, so she gave it to him.

“And so the boy cut off her branches
and carried them away
to build his house.
And the tree was happy.”

By now the tears were pretty thick and I knew I should have been embarrassed in front of this boy in footy pajamas. I glanced at him – did he notice? And he whispered in a little voice, “It’s sad,” and I said, “Yes, it is,” and I wiped my cheeks and kept reading.

I finished the green book, the little old man sitting on the stump of what’s left of the apple tree, and I closed it. He didn’t say anything, but he watched me quietly, and I wondered what it would do to him to see a woman cry over a children’s picture book.

Ode to My Library

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Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Thomsen

I forgot about libraries for a little while. I think it happened because studying English in college bombards you with reading, and whatever fun reading I did was in snippets and chunks and I had more than enough of my own books to fill those few moments.

After graduation, I rediscovered the library.

Wait, you’re telling me there’s a place where you can read books and watch movies FOR FREE?

[insert snarky remark from father about “nothing’s free” and “taxpayers” and “argh”]

I walked to the library swinging my arms and I walked back home with them full.

~     ~     ~

The library of my childhood was a tiny one-room schoolhouse that had been converted. The children’s room was in the basement, and I remember the musty smell and the red shag carpeting. The librarian was sharp, as all children think librarians are, and the books I remember most are the long shelf of yellow-spined Nancy Drew books, the Little House books, and the audio books to help me learn French (I was a little precocious).

[I was reading On the Banks of Plum Creek on a bright summer afternoon. I left it in the seat of the swing – to do what, I don’t know – and it poured overnight, huge sheets of rain. I was horrified at the puffy, destroyed mess, and when I returned it with my head hanging, I didn’t think they’d let me check anything out ever again.]

[I repeatedly checked out the movie Fern Gully, even though it terrified me. I loved the woods, maybe, that’s why. I kept doing it, over and over. Very strange.]

[We discovered a Your Body book, me and my best friend, and we huddled in the corner, giggling. The librarian didn’t say anything, but her eyes burned me when she walked by. That was probably the worst thing I had done to that point.]

When I was in third grade, my Laura Club gave a presentation during the Summer Reading Program. We talked about pioneers and the Little House books. We made sugar cookies from Laura’s cookbook and homemade lemonade. We felt like grown-ups, and when I look at the pictures, I can’t believe how little we were.

~     ~     ~

In high school, a new library was built, bigger and more modern. It was even closer to my house, and when I was sixteen the same best friend and I got a job shelving books. Every Thursday night and one Saturday a month, you could find me in the stacks trying to remember how to shelve “Mc” and “Mac” and which went first and shoot! I got extremely well-versed in the alphabet. I also timed myself to see how many books I could shelve in ten minutes. Sometimes the job got a little too quiet…

~     ~     ~

This past week, I walked to the library to check out Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close for my book club. I also found a book on writing nonfiction, and I checked out two movies, Skyfall and A Few Good Men (simultaneously feeding my love of British things and my love of Tom Cruise). My mind is being opened up with four pieces of art, and other than taxes, I didn’t pay a dime.

Libraries are one my favorite things about the modern world. So much knowledge under one roof.

If this nation is to be wise as well as strong, if we are to achieve our destiny, then we need more new ideas for more wise men reading more good books in more public libraries. These libraries should be open to all—except the censor. We must know all the facts and hear all the alternatives and listen to all the criticisms. Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors. For the Bill of Rights is the guardian of our security as well as our liberty. – John F. Kennedy

Reading and Trains and the Beauty of Timing

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I bought another book I didn’t need today. It called to me from the stack at the used bookstore. I popped in (against my better judgement and against the wisdom of my wallet), thinking I could poke around and leave without buying anything. I should’ve known better.

It was a paperback copy of Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood.

I reasoned for a moment: You’ve already read this. You do not need to buy this.

But I knew even as I held its soft covers in my hands that I would buy it. That I should have my own copy. You really shouldn’t keep recommending a book that you don’t own. At least, that’s what I told myself as I went up to the cash register.

When I think of this book, I see myself on the train. I’m holding a hardcopy from the library, and I’m reading as the brakes squeak and smash me against the side of the train (this happened only a few times, I’m sure, but in my mind it was a constant interruption). I consumed this book with a fervor that surprised me; I’d tried reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek the year before and I’m pretty sure that I will never get further than three pages into it.

There is something to be said for timing.

Dillard’s book spoke to me from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where a little blonde girl discovered the world and her place in it. I was a barely-bigger blonde girl, interning at a large publishing house for the summer before heading back to college. I rode the train every day, and every day I thought Is this what will happen to me? as I watched middle-aged men and women silently board the train, silently ride the train, and silently get off. Was this what life had in store?

“I discovered myself and the world, and forgot them, and discovered them again”
― Annie DillardAn American Childhood

[a poem wrote itself hurriedly on the back of a receipt from lunch. it was about being little and memories and contradictions. it was born out of Annie Dillard and the receipt is still in a book somewhere.]

The train moving forward, the hardcover book in my hands, my feet propped up on the runner. My stomach growling because I hadn’t packed a big enough lunch (again!), and my mind wandering to my senior year of college and what the heck am I doing and what the heck am I gonna do? The city slowly slipping away behind me and Annie’s world opening up.

“In short, I always vowed, one way or another, not to change. Not me. I needed the fierceness of vowing because I could scarcely help but notice…that it was mighty unlikely.”
― Annie DillardAn American Childhood

There was too much of me in her and it scared me. How important is it to be unique? I started hoping it wasn’t too important, because my uniqueness was being written away.

Every day I went into the city and every day I worked in a little gray cubicle. The words began to blur on the screen, blur on the page, blur in my mind. I longed for my lunch hour when I could take my little peanut butter and jelly sandwich (yay for cheap meals!) and eat in the gardens and watch poor unsuspecting people and yell at audacious squirrels. I loved words. I loved learning about publishing. But not talking for eight hours a day WAS KILLING ME.

So I escaped to Annie.

“As a child I read hoping to learn everything, so I could be like my father. I hoped to combine my father’s grasp of information and reasoning with my mother’s will and vitality. But the books were leading me away. They would propel me right out of Pittsburgh altogether, so I could fashion a life among books somewhere else.” ― Annie DillardAn American Childhood

Annie Dillard was to my 21-year-old self what Joan Didion was to my 23-year-old self. It’s all about timing. Who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t love either of them if they’d switched places.

~     ~     ~

So I bought another book I didn’t need. I think I bought it for the memories as much as anything; they’re all wrapped up inside. The book’s sitting beside me without a line or mark in it. Who reads their own paperback without marking it up? I don’t understand it. I can’t wait to get my hands on a pen.

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Reading Slump

There is a stack of books by my bed that keeps toppling over. Okay, 2.5 stacks. My sister has been gracious enough not to say anything, but I’m sure it’s bugging her. There’s no possible way I could read so many books at once, so why do I insist on having them haphazardly flung around my bed?

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I spend a lot of my time wishing I had more time to read. If only I didn’t have to drive so much! I could be reading RIGHT NOW! The storm this weekend gave me a glorious snow day (!), so I had three days to fill with movie-watching, coffee-drinking, and book-reading (and it was impossible to go anywhere for the first day and a half, so I couldn’t throw my books aside for live friends, like I often do to the poor things). I was ecstatic. I piled books high on the coffee table, eager, unsure of which to start first.

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It didn’t matter which one I chose though. Cost of Discipleship was challenging (and embarrassed me a few times, actually – more on that later), but I got tired quickly. Mary Oliver, with all her beautiful expressions of nature and its inhabitants, could not take me outside my own head, and at the end of each poem, I was unsure of where I’d gone and how I got there. Jeffrey Eugenides, no matter how hard he tried with his characters’ 20th century woes and struggles with depression, could not keep me even half-engaged. Ruth Reichl, in all her food-love and witty descriptions failed to transport me to the world of the New York Times.

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I felt out of sorts, and I didn’t know why.

My book club met this week, and I was (again) the book club delinquent, arriving without having read the extremely interesting Quiet: The Power of Introverts. We had a fabulous time of birthdays and talking, but I hated that I keep not connecting with books.

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Books have been my friends since I was five years old. The first book I read was Fun with Dick and Jane, an old green copy my mom and I bought at an outdoor flea market. Since that day, I’ve devoured all kinds of books, with the exception of science fiction (Sorry, K, I can hear you groaning. I tried.). From Little House to Anne of Green Gables to Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, I read all the classics. And then came the high school standards, followed by four years of collegiate-level reading that sometimes made me want to gouge my eyes out.

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[This was literally the worst book I read in college. It was for an Irish Literature course, and we had to write a two-page journal response to each reading assignment. I remember sitting in the library, looking down at the quad, and realizing life was too short to read such horrid stuff.]

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[We sang a setting of Thomas’s poem “Fern Hill” my senior year of college. I remember asking our conductor, “But what’s going on? What does it mean?” He looked at me and said, “Isn’t that your job, English Major?” I was sufficiently humbled. Here’s a recording of this amazing piece.]

I’ve been reading for nineteen years, but for the past few weeks, books have not spoken to me. I’ve tried. I’ve opened them gingerly, carefully, admitting them into my consciousness. I’ve focused on one book at a time, to see if that helped at all. It didn’t; I felt even more scatter-brained and self-focused while I was reading. I listened to music while I read. I turned the music off. I committed to a chapter a night. I made no commitments.

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[I didn’t discover Auden until the fall of my senior year. “Stop all the clocks” and “The More Loving One” still make me cry.]

My relationship with books is cooling. Or, at least, it seems we’re on a “break.” It’s an awful thing to say about my dear friends of so long. I wonder if this feeling of distance – of complacency – is at all what a long, tired marriage feels like: you have loved deeply, but now you barely recognize your own love.

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[This was for my British Lit class my junior year. I had a skinny little paperback that I riddled with sophomoric notes, and that has since been lost in the abyss that is my bedroom. I refuse to buy another copy.]

I’m hoping it will come back. That my eagerness for books and characters and interesting stories will surge up and remind me of all the wonderful things that can be learned, all the beauty that comes from reading. I’m hoping that a magic book will rest in my hands, transforming my view of the world and my place in it.

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[I read all the Austen novels when I was around 15 or 16. That’s probably the perfect age to read them for the first time. I think I’m almost ready for round-two.]

Until then, I’ll keep reading. A page here and there, at first. And then a little more, and a little more. Again, I see a kinship with that long marriage – a working-at-it until it brims over with new life.

Books teach me new things every day, even when I’m not reading them.

[Weekend Thoughts]

How do you know when you’ve read a book that’s changed your life?

You want to give a copy to all of your friends.

Unfortunately, that isn’t financially feasible for me at the moment, but here’s a shameless plug for a book that’s probably out of print (and therefore deliciously difficult to find among wobbly stacks at little used bookstores):

“Decision Making by the Book” by Haddon Robinson.

Ignore, if you can, the horrendous title and the equally ugly book jacket, because let me tell you, IT’S WORTH IT. The whole time I was reading, I thought of moments in my life when I wish I’d already had this sucker in my back pocket.

What if “What’s God’s will in this situation?” isn’t even the right question to ask?

What if “How can I glorify God?’ is a much better one?

I wish I could force my friends to read it, but my powers are only so strong.

~     ~     ~

Went to a museum Saturday with my city-friend. We got lost on the way (Surprise! I stink at directions!), but we didn’t panic, which is a vast improvement and I think shows that we’re maturing. They asked if I were a student, and for a second I thought, Yes, and then I realized, No, and had to pay the entrance fee. No photography was allowed, but we furtively snapped some photos of the cool bathroom. So retro.

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~     ~     ~

This afternoon, I went to a coffee shop to get work done, found a too-tiny table without a plug nearby, and plunked down, hoping to get at least some of it finished. Sent some emails about the musical (Alice in Wonderland, Jr., by the way!), and was able to just start writing my midterm exam for Latin I when WHAM! my computer died. So sad. But I thought I’d truck on, using good old pen and paper, when a girl’s tiny voice rose above the din and said, “Just so you all know, we will be closing at 3:00.” She paused. “That’s in two minutes.”

Oh well.

Headed home, made some Genmaicha tea, sat down to finish writing the midterm…and started writing this blogpost instead.

So now, according to the bizarre countdown on pbs.org, I have roughly 3 hours and 31 minutes until “Downton Abbey” starts. Can I finish the test?!?! We shall see.

Book Heaven

Saturday I got to go back to one of my favorite places. All through college, I worked at an independent bookshop in a small town near my school, and if it had been even close to financially possible, I would’ve rather worked there full-time after graduating than anywhere else. But, as all cynics will tell you, the book industry is going through hard times (is that euphemistic?), and I thought after graduating, I’d never be able to work there again.

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But two weeks ago, I went back to the shop-from-my-dreamworld to buy some books, and my boss was happy to see me. So happy, in fact, that she asked if I could come work some Saturdays before Christmas.

That was exactly what I wanted to happen.

IMG_0963Yesterday was my first day back. I walked in to the twinkling lights in the window, the books lining the shelves, my coworkers so sweet and kind. They asked me how I was, what life was like after graduation, what it was like teaching Latin to 100 students (okay, I rounded up – it’s only 99). I work with six women who share my love of books and it’s heavenly.


IMG_0964(Seriously, this place couldn’t get any quainter. The train from the city runs through, and the sound of it chugging up to the station on gray winter days makes me think I’m in Narnia or something.)
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I sold The Art of Fielding to a man for his wife’s birthday (“She loves baseball. This is perfect!”). I sold two beautiful picture books for a 3-year-old girl about adventure. And I sold four books – to myself.

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My latest discovery in my attempt to read as many different poetic styles as possible.

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And finally. After thinking we already owned a copy and not being willing to pay for another, I ordered my own copy. Let’s see if I fall in love.

(I haven’t decided yet if I am keeping the fourth book or giving it as a gift, so that will have to remain a secret.)

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And yes, I’ve met John Updike himself.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

I finished Joan Didon’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem and I LOVE HER STILL. Or more, depending on how you look at it.

The preface begins with Didion’s explanation of the title: “This book is called Slouching Towards Bethlehem because for several years now certain lines from the Yeats poem…have reverberated in my inner ear as if they were surgically implanted there.”

I love the way she ties everything in, what she sees, smells, reads, talks about.

One of my favorite essays was the last, “Goodbye to All That.” Didion writes about her time in New York in the sixties, how little things like the smell of Henri Bendel jasmine soap or the perfume she wore transport her back to that place.

She talks about the changes New York wrought on her in a short time, how she wondered what happened to that old self:

I know now that almost everyone wonders something like that, sooner or later and no matter what he or she is doing, but one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before.

When I read this, I thought, No, I’m not like that. I mean, other people are, sure, but I know there’s nothing new. I know we are all the same.

And then I look at how I actually operate, and it seems like Didion knows me without having met me. I wish I were so levelheaded, so logical and able to weigh evidences, but it seems that the feeling of uniqueness is built into us.

Ha, what a contradiction.

I think Didion’s strength (or one of her strengths) lies in her ability to be honest but not whiney. Honest but without begging for pity. She is removed enough from her subject – her self – that she can bring the reader in with nods of agreement, of recognition. I felt this even with the memoirs of her darkest times, Blue Nights and The Year of Magical Thinking.

I like her because she gives a voice to so much of what I feel.