Said and read – April 2019

Standard

April has been restorative – as the onset of springtime usually is. The gradual introduction of more light into every day makes such a difference even though, until the last few years, I never used to be someone who cared about darkness.

I still have not achieved the same reading pace as the past two years, but I hit 100 books read in 2019 as April ended (about 28 in April). I suppose if I were to tally up all the other things I do in my life and in other people’s lives, this would seem more remarkable.

“Insight” (haha) into what I was reading and rambling about in the past can be found here: 2019 – March, February, January. 2018 – NovemberOctober, SeptemberAugust, July, June, May, April, March, February and January.

Thoughts on reading for April:

April reading was a strange mix of things – some university related and most things that were available as e-books from the library. This means that I may make a dent in a lot of books that I (or someone) feel(s) I should read, but they might not be anything I’d have jumped at. I’d say April has been defined by Joyce Carol Oates mostly because she has been beyond prolific in her literary output, and most of the oeuvre is available at the library in digital form. I have over the years read an Oates book here or there without plowing through everything she ever wrote – first because there have always been too many of them and too few of me and second because, while I often appreciate her style, I find I need a break and something different before coming back to her. It’s often overwrought, but it depends on the book and on my mood.

When I think of Oates I think of a penfriend I had in my youth, a Hungarian woman whose words and tastes (as expressed in letters so long ago) still echo. Many of her impressions have stayed with me, despite how long it has been since we were in contact. She, like many Hungarians I have known, had a cynical, if not judgmental, disposition and seemed never-quite-satisfied with anything. In her case, I recall her disdain for Dublin when she moved there from Budapest, dismissing it as “provincial”. I had at that time never been to either city, so it seemed a rough assessment. I later realized she was right (and she had certainly been living in Dublin when it was far more provincial than now). I recall some of the more sharp criticisms she wrote about her perceptions of how I came across in letters, as I did take them to heart. She wrote at least once about her admiration for Joyce Carol Oates; this too stuck in my mind even if I did not follow through on exploring Oates’s work until years later.

In the case of another Hungarian woman I know, pretty much everything that came out of her mouth was an untempered, unmitigated negative comment on everything around her, e.g., her fellow Hungarians, the fact that I ate jam on bread at breakfast. In fact, you should have seen her recoil in horror when she realized she was going to have to spend three weeks with me as a roommate. (I know I can be quite negative myself, although I tend to think I temper it with humor at times, and balance it with reason, evidence or the ‘bright side’ as well.)

Both women, though, were wells of intelligence, and once you knew them and were in their confidence, you could not have asked for a dearer friend.

None of this has anything to do with Joyce Carol Oates and nothing to do with writing about reading.

Highly recommended

All by Joyce Carol Oates:

*A Widow’s Story

This nearly broke my heart while on a flight to Glasgow. Maybe because it was a personal story and didn’t feel as detached as Oates’s style can.

But isn’t one’s pain quotient shocking enough without fictional amplification, without giving things an intensity that is ephemeral in life and sometimes even unseen? Not for some. For some very, very few that amplification, evolving uncertainly out of nothing, constitutes their only assurance, and the unlived, the surmise, fully drawn in print on paper, is the life whose meaning comes to matter most.

*Patricide

*Evil Eye

*The Gravedigger’s Daughter

Good

*Walking the Black CatCharles Simic

Poetry, of course.

*Bless Me, UltimaRudolfo Anaya

The rest of the summer was good for me, good in the sense that I was filled with its richness and I made strength from everything that had happened to me, so that in the end even the final tragedy could not defeat me. And that is what Ultima tried to teach me, that the tragic consequences of life can be overcome by the magical strength that resides in the human heart.

Adding this to the to-read list reminded me a lot of being in high school, as I seem to recall that this book was an option on the reading list in a world literature class I hastily joined in my final year. I had already completed more than enough English credits to graduate but had a free hour during my final semester. It turned out to be a big mistake because most of the rest of the people in the class were individuals who had somehow not passed English at some other point in their academic careers. We had an assignment, for example, to write haiku, which most people in the class didn’t understand. And ones who managed wrote about their worship of tanning beds. In any case, why do I recall this book from a list of many? I suppose I remember the things I didn’t read more than the things I did. And reading it, although it had nothing to do with high school, reminded me so much of… what high school English teachers wanting to share “multicultural” literature assigned that I can’t help but to have been transported back to the early 1990s.

*FiguringMaria Popova

We spend our lives trying to discern where we end and the rest of the world begins. We snatch our freeze-frame of life from the simultaneity of existence by holding on to illusions of permanence, congruence, and linearity; of static selves and lives that unfold in sensical narratives. All the while, we mistake chance for choice, our labels and models of things for the things themselves, our records for our history. History is not what happened, but what survives the shipwrecks of judgment and chance.

What makes a person “the same” person across life’s tectonic upheavals of circumstance and character? Amid the chaos and decay toward which the universe inclines, we grasp for stability and permanence by trying to carve out a solid sense of self in our blink of existence. But there is no solidity. Every quark of every atom of every cell in your body had been replaced since the time of your first conscious memory, your first word, your first kiss. In the act of living, you come to dream different dreams, value different values, love different loves. In a sense, you are reborn with each new experience.

Having read her site, BrainPickings.org, faithfully for many years, I can only express a kind of gratitude. Popova’s style has nudged awake feelings in me when I thought they were numbed forever, I could not help but be inspired and definitely had to get this book. Popova’s singular and thoughtful voice, eloquence and competence in weaving stories from what must only have been a string of dull facts, bringing historical events to life, shine through in this work as well as her incomparable way of putting complex feelings and observations into words.

Are we to despair or rejoice over the fact that even the greatest loves exist only “for a time”? The time scales are elastic, contracting and expanding with the depth and magnitude of each love, but they are always finite—like books, like lives, like the universe itself. The triumph of love is in the courage and integrity with which we inhabit the transcendent transience that binds two people for the time it binds them, before letting go with equal courage and integrity.

Few things are more wounding than the confounding moment of discovering an asymmetry of affections where mutuality had been presumed.”

Entertaining/informative/thoughtful or some combination thereof

*EmbassytownChina Miéville

It felt like being a child again, though it was not. Being a child is like nothing. It’s only being. Later, when we think about it, we make it into youth.

A book of language and science fiction, this book, like much of Miéville, is engrossing and difficult to describe. I won’t say every Miéville hooks me, but they are all interesting regardless of whether I like them or not. In this case, I liked.

“I admit defeat. I’ve been trying to present these events with a structure. I simply don’t know how everything happened. Perhaps because I didn’t pay proper attention, perhaps because it wasn’t a narrative, but for whatever reasons, it doesn’t want to be what I want to make it.”

*The OtherDavid Guterson

“The early leader in a half-mile race rarely finishes first, but he wants to have had the experience of leading—that’s part of it—and he’s perennially hopeful that, this time, things will be different in the home stretch.

I can’t say I actually enjoyed this book, but it was nevertheless interesting. Guterson has an elegant way of creating characters and breathing life into them. I also appreciate the setting here (Washington state scenes), so much so that I’d argue that the Pacific Northwest setting is its own character.

*Naive. SuperErlend Loe

My existence is developing some distance from itself. Perspective. Perspective is one of those things one ought to be able to purchase and administer intravenously.

Caught up in the media whirlwind of the Pete Buttigieg moment, I, like everyone else, heard the story of Buttigieg learning Norwegian simply to be able to read more books by Erlend Loe. I’d never read Loe in English or Norwegian, so I started with this, until now apparently the only one translated into English. I didn’t find anything ‘special’ about it that would cause me to learn Norwegian if I didn’t already know it, nor anything that would necessarily lead me to seek out more Loe works. That said, there is something deceptively simple and direct about Loe’s prose that is probably appealing.

This is a completely different life. People must think I’m a dog owner in New York. That I live here and have an apartment and a dog. That I pick up dog turds like this one every day, before and after work. It’s a staggering thought. Seeing as I’m not a dog owner in New York, that also means everybody else could be something other than what they seem to be. That means it’s impossible to know anything at all.”

I suppose it is fittingly cynical to state as an aside that everything about Buttigieg seems designed to be politically appealing, as though every action he has taken has been a cynically strategic move to position himself as a political leader, but in a robotic, “I followed the handbook” kind of way. It seems as though every story that has been planted in the media has painted him as a hope-driven, anti-Trump, and yet I cannot shake the feeling that so much of what I am seeing is so by design. (We all do things in our lives by design, or think we do, and we all do things to appear a certain way, of course, but this is to an extreme.) The biggest standout is Buttigieg’s having gone into the military when he didn’t need to to be deployed to a conflict that is both supposedly over and has been judged as an unnecessary and destabilizing failure. But the handbook says military service plays well with X part of the base and might mitigate objections to his being gay or being the son of a Maltese immigrant or being relatively inexperienced in national politics. I don’t want to pick it all apart, but it just feels like a packaged cake and frosting mix: too sweet, a little too easy.

Coincidences

*Hag-SeedMargaret Atwood

Not a coincidence per se, but the premise of Hag-Seed is a retelling/take on Shakespeare‘s The Tempest. Why I find it sort of coincidental is more comparative. That is, Helen Oyeyemi has reimagined many fairy tales and symbols in her work, such as Gingerbread and Boy, Snow, Bird, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Atwood’s take on The Tempest is entirely novel, and when I look at both Atwood and Oyeyemi’s attempts, the richness of Atwood’s characters feels lived-in and real; there is something that always feels artificial in Oyeyemi’s characters, and I wonder if this is intentional.

Biggest disappointment (or hated/disliked)

*GingerbreadHelen Oyeyemi

Helen Oyeyemi’s work is always hit or miss for me. In some books, such as Boy, Snow, Bird, I am immediately drawn in, and in others, like Gingerbread, I find that I just wanted it to end. Strangely, reading about the process of the book’s creation in interviews with Oyeyemi is far more interesting than the book itself. Something comes from the experience, but it’s not the book itself providing that experience, making it something of a disappointment.

*The Good EarthPearl S. Buck

I read The Good Earth when I was in high school and remembered it so differently from how I felt about it now. It did indeed still evoke feelings, but mostly angry ones of hating the main (male) character and wondering exactly how Pearl Buck decided to offer such a condescending colonialist take on something she could not possibly have understood as an outsider. It reads now so much as the impressions of someone on the outside projecting their surface-level misconceptions onto an entire people.

unseen

Standard

Blind Words
Rolf Jacobsen
-are words that lovers say with their skin
inside night’s space, where thoughts are without form.

-are words the dying person forms in his throat
and never gets said before the candles have burned down.

-are words the fetus says when it dreams
about sounds it cannot hear and colors it doesn’t know.

-are words the wind says to the tree and sorrows
say to our heart.

-words that were here before words were created,
words that the earth is made of
and that the stars exhale as light
in their timeless breathing.

Original

Blinde ord
Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 02.30.25

anesthetizing

Standard

Marshes
Rolf Jacobsen
Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 17.52.22

Original

Myr
Spettet ut over landet ligger de gule myrer
som flekker av pest.

Gråbleke i regnet og med tåkehette brer de sin
tristhet som endeløse hav mellom tynne skoger.

Rødflammet og mosegule ligger de i solskinnet
med stank og slikker himlen med sin tunge
av søt os.

Og noen kranser sig med unge bjerker, som
flokker av lyse piker står de og grer sitt hår
over lyngtuene.
Og noen hyller sig i en krave av brennende
blomster som de lokker til sig ut av
skogene, i en have av mjødurt, storkenebb
og hvit skogstjerne.

Og alle har de denne besettende ånde,
og denne bitre lukt av søt vin. Mange mil
gjennom skogen kan jeg kjenne den som
en bedøvelse for min tanke.

Photo by Troy Taylor on Unsplash

cobalt

Standard

Cobalt
Rolf Jacobsen
Colors are words’ little sisters. They can’t become soldiers.
I’ve loved them secretly for a long time.
They have to stay home and hang up the sheer curtains
of our familiar kitchen, bedroom and den.

I’m very close to young Crimson, and brown Sienna
but even closer to thoughtful Cobalt with her distant eyes and
untrampled spirit.
We walk in dew.
The night sky and the southern ocean
are her possessions
and a tear-shaped pendant on her forehead:
the pearls of Cassiopeia.
We walk in dew on late nights.

But the others.
Meet them on a June morning at four o’clock
when they come rushing toward you,
on your way to a morning swim in the green cove’s spray.
When you can sunbathe with them on the smooth rocks.
-Which one will you make yours?

Original

Kobolt
Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 18.05.00.png

you

Standard

Oh, this one makes me ache. Ache. Ache. “Surely this/is the only thing we’ve never/wanted to talk about”.

To You
Rolf Jacobsen
Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 02.24.14.png

Original

Til deg
Tiden går (hva skal den ellers ta seg til).
En dag hører du den banker på døren din.
Den har banket på hos oss,
men jeg lukket ikke opp.
Ikke denne gang.

Vet du,
jeg har ofte stått og sett litt på deg,
sånn om morgenen foran speilet der
når du kjemmer håret ditt, det
knitrer i det, som i sne i påskefjellet
og du bøyer deg litt frem (jeg ser det godt)
– er det kommet en rynke til?
– Det er det ikke. For meg
er du ung.
Det er sevje i deg, skog. Et tre

og med fugler i. De synger enda.
Kanskje litt lavt i høst, men likevel.
– Ikke en dag uten en latter i strupen,
eller det sakte streifet av en hånd.

En gang
må jeg holde den enda fastere,
for du vet, vi skal ut å reise snart,
og ikke med samme båt.
Noen har banket på døren vår, men gått igjen.
Dette
er visst det eneste vi aldri
har villet snakke om.

telling time

Standard

Reminding me of an old Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode in which the entire crew went crazy for some reason, and Captain Sisko becomes obsessed with a clock, exclaiming emphatically at one point, “It’s a clock!

Old Clocks
Rolf Jacobsen
Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 03.45.10

Original

Gamle ur
Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 03.47.16

never quite said

Standard

Did I Know You?
Rolf Jacobsen
Did I know you
really. Things
you never quite said or
we let lie. Half-thought
thoughts. A shadow
that passed over your face.
Something in your eyes. No,
I don’t want to believe that.
But it comes back. Night
has no sounds,
only strange thoughts. Words
that rise up from my sleep:
Did I know you?

Original

Kjente jeg deg?
Kjente jeg deg
egentlig. Noe
du aldri fikk sagt eller
vi lot ligge. Halv-
tenkte tanker. En skygge
som strøk over ansiktet.
Noe i øynene. Nei
jeg vil ikke tro det.
Men det kommer igjen. Natten
har ingen lyd,
bare rare tanker. Ord
som stiger opp av søvnen:
Kjente jeg deg?

Photo by Rares C. on Unsplash

Said and read – April 2018

Standard

My April was filled with reading, but a lot of it was not anticipated. In recent months, I started to take action on a lifelong dream, and in setting that into motion, I also realized that there were loose ends from the past I wanted to tie up. In this case, I had an almost-finished MA degree that I started in 2012 but hadn’t completed the final thesis project. I wondered if maybe I could quickly wrap this up, so I wrote to the program administrator to see if there were any way to rejoin the course. In less than 14 hours, I was re-enrolled in the program and on my way to finishing the degree. So… yes, I have had a lot of reading to do, but almost all of it has been connected to my newly (re)claimed identity as a student. Now I have become one of those students I always hated when I was young: the dreaded “adult learner”. Anyway, this course is all research methodology in the lead-up to researching and writing the thesis. Therefore, not much material I would list here.

 

 

However… I did still find the time to keep up some of my reading for pleasure activities, albeit not as aggressively. Still, at the close of April, I had completed 150 books in total for 2018 (so far) with modest progress made toward my ultimate goal of reading 26 in non-English languages. (In April I did manage some Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic and French.)

Reading recommendations for April:

*North in the World: Selected PoemsRolf Jacobsen

Norwegian, dual language. I had to order the actual book! I loved receiving it. Sadly the poem I bought it for (to get the Norwegian original) wasn’t even in this volume but that is a good excuse to get another.

*Crossing to SafetyWallace Stegner

I would say that this is highly recommended and great, perhaps if it were the first Stegner I had ever read. And in truth, I do recommend this. Stegner’s natural, realistic way of writing is rare and engrossing. But his Angle of Repose was one of my favorites of all I read in 2017, so it’s hard for me to say that this book is its equal even though it’s still beautiful.

“Leave a mark on the world. Instead, the world has left marks on us. We got older. Life chastened us so that now we lie waiting to die, or walk on canes, or sit on porches where once the young juices flowed strongly, and feel old and inept and confused. In certain moods I might bleat that we were all trapped, though of course we are no more trapped than most people. And all of us, I suppose, could at least be grateful that our lives have not turned out harmful or destructive. We might even look enviable to the less lucky.”

*Several books by Danish poet, Henrik Nordbrandt: 100 digte, Omgivelser, and Selected Poems (in English)

It required a long, maze-like effort to find original (Danish) language e-books that I could both buy (many sites only allowed customers in Denmark) and buy affordably. Then I finally succeeded and loved these.

*PachinkoMin Jin Lee

I didn’t have high expectations for this book – and in fact didn’t really know what it was about. I would not say it’s a great work of literature, but it was undeniably readable and hard to put down. Following several generations of Koreans in Japan during the 20th century, it’s quite fascinating.

*Poésie africaine – Six poètes d’Afrique francophone: anthologieAlain Mabanckou (ed.)

A number of poets from Africa – some really great stuff. But then, I’m partial, you know, to poetry.

Good – really good – but not great

*Year of WondersGeraldine Brooks

“For the hour in which I am able to lose myself in someone else’s thoughts is the greatest relief I can find from the burden of my own memories.”

*Poèmes et rêvasseriesFiston Mwanza Mujila

French-language poetry from a Congolese writer I have appreciated for his prose work in the past.

*The DoorMagda Szabó

An unexpected and complex Hungarian book about an unusual and strangely demanding servant/housekeeper who comes to dominate the life of the story’s narrator.

“In my student days, I detested Schopenhauer. Only later did I come to acknowledge the force of his idea that every relationship involving personal feeling laid one open to attack, and the more people I allowed to become close to me, the greater the number of ways in which I was vulnerable.”

Entertaining/informative/thoughtful or some combination thereof

*I Am a Strange LoopDouglas R. Hofstadter

“So, to the extent that we can be chameleons and can import the “spices” of other people’s life histories (the spices that imbue their self-loops with unique individuality), we are capable of seeing the world through their eyes. Their psychic point of view is transportable and modular — not trapped inside just one perishable piece of hardware. If this is true, then Carol survives because her point of view survives — or rather, she survives to the extent that her point of view survives — in my brain and those of others. This is why it is so good to keep records, to write down memories, to have photos and videotapes, and to do so with maximal clarity — because thanks to having such records, you can “possess”, or “be possessed by”, other people’s brains. That’s why Frédéric Chopin, the actual person, survives so much in our world, even today.”

*Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practicebell hooks

A reading for the study program but certainly important above and beyond academic reach.

Coincidences

*The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling and the Making of the Cultural MindAntonio R. Damasio

Just as I rejoin the student world, much of what I am looking at/reading has a component of this: construct of culture. I had just finished reading this when I re-enrolled and thus would like to take a look at this comparatively against some of the uni readings.

“The idea, in essence, is that cultural activity began and remains deeply embedded in feeling. The favorable and unfavorable interplay of feeling and reason must be acknowledged if we are to understand the conflicts and contradictions of the human condition.”

Biggest disappointment (or hated/disliked)

*American TalibanPearl Abraham

I didn’t hate this book but I didn’t like it either. It isn’t anything I looked forward to or anything about which I had any expectations, and am not sure why I read it. I just found it sort of boring.

Images by SD 2018

here

Standard

It Was Here
Rolf Jacobsen
It was here. Right here
beside the brook and the old rosebush.
A late spring this year, the roses are still pale,
almost like your cheek
the first morning beyond death.
But it’s coming,
only the light, only the fragrance, only the pleasure
won’t be coming.

But it was here,
it was an evening with a moon,
the brook trickling,
like now. Take my hand,
put your arm there.
And we’ll set out
together in the summer night,
silently, toward
what isn’t.

Original

Det var her
Det var her. Akkurat her
ved bakken og det gamle nypekjerret.
Sen vår iår, rosene er bleke ennå,
nesten som kinnet ditt
den første morgenen bak døden.
Men det kommer,
bare lyset, bare duften, bare gleden
kommer ikke.

Men det var her
og det var kveld og måne,
bekkesildr
sånn som nå. Ta hånden min,
legg armen der.
Så går vi da
sammen i sommernatten, tause
mot det som
ikke er.

I slept with the wind

Standard

Crust on Fresh Snow
Rolf Jacobsen
My soul is hard as stone. I slept with the wind.
He’s an unfaithful lover. Now he’s with someone else.
He hummed words, prattled in my ear
and stroked my hair. I gave him all my whiteness.
I let him chisel dreams in my soul—of clouds,
fierce seas, and soft flowery hills.
Now I see, cold, it was them he loved.
Where is he now? Tonight my heart froze.

Photo by Hide Obara on Unsplash