Wednesday, February 28, 2007
February Twilight - Sara Teasdale
I stood beside a hill
Smooth with new-laid snow,
A single star looked out
From the cold evening glow.
There was no other creature
That saw what I could see
I stood and watched the evening star
As long as it watched me.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
What kind of care do you take of your books? Let's review, shall we?
Are you careful with the spines? Or do you crack your books open to make them lay flat?
Do you use bookmarks? Or do you dog-ear the corners? If you do use bookmarks, do you use those fashionable metal ones? Or paper?
I am very careful with books. I don't crack spines - - "Cracking spines" upsets me, even in inanimate objects. I use plastic bookmarks, though sometimes I use the envelope from a friend's letter. I dislike bulky bookmarks that bulge the pages.
Do you write in your books? Ever? If you do, do you make small marks, or write in as much blank space as you can find? Pen or pencil? Highlighter? Your name on the front page?
I never write in books, although I highlight Bible passages with colored pencils.
Do you toss your books on the floor? Into bookbags? Or do you treat them tenderly, with respect? I care for my books as if they were actual friends.
Do you ever lay your book face-down, to save your place? Oh, no.
Um--water? Do you bathe with your books? Hold them with wet hands? Read out in the rain? Anything of that sort? Never. I once lent a book to a man I had just begun to date. He returned it to me in a wretched state; it seems he read it while in the bathtub, and dropped it in the water. He never apologized, and never offered to replace it. My intuition told me to drop him immediately, based on his treatment of my book. I didn't. I rued that decision mightily.
Are your books lined up on a bookshelf? Or crammed in any which way? Stacked on the floor? Current circumstances leave me without a bookcase. My books are in little stacks here and there until I can secure a bookcase. Then I'll line them in tidy rows.
Do you make a distinction--as regards book care--between hardcovers and paperbacks? No.
And, to recap? Naturally, you love all of your books, but how, exactly? Are your books loved in the battered way of a well-loved teddy bear, or like a cherished photo album or item of clothing that's used, appreciated, but carefully cared for? I love my books in the latter way, like a cherished friend who deserves the best of care. That's how I think of books and always have done.
Any additional comments? I attribute much of my book habits to early childhood training. I was raised by a mother who came from a hardscrabble home, and who emphasized the values of things. I was taught to take care of my belongings, and to make them last as long as possible.
Some years ago, FBI profilers interviewed hundreds of incarcerated killers, the infamous as well as the obscure. They took notes on simple facts such as birth-order, environment, height, weight, parental involvement and dozens of other things. Then they sorted the facts, looking for commonalities, and began the method of criminal profiling. Sociopathy (or psychopathy, as I prefer, also known as the antisocial personality) was a common disorder among those interviewed, especially among the serial killers and mass murderers. In other words, people who killed others were frequently found to be devoid of conscience.
Martha Stout, PhD., submits the figure of population distribution of sociopathy at four percent, or, one person out of twenty-five. Dr. Stout is the author of my most recent read, The Sociopath Next Door. Lest you think, dear reader, that this means that one out of every twenty-five people may just snap and kill you, please know that sociopathy takes a variety of manifestations (personality theorist Theodore Millon divides sociopathy into ten subtypes). Some sociopaths are content to commit petty unkindnesses while others prefer to sack and loot corporations, and still others kill people or rob banks. Perhaps you had a cruel schoolteacher or coach. You might just have known one of the sociopaths next door.
In The Sociopath Next Door, Dr. Stout describes, through composite examples, several sociopathic personalities in action, none of whom is the serial killer type. She situates the sociopath in our neighborhoods, and tells us what kind of behavior he exhibits in day to day living. As chilling as that sounds, it also serves to inform, to put us on our guard.
Dr. Stout states that she wrote this book as her answer to the question, Why have a conscience? She wrote that she also wanted "to warn good people about 'the sociopath next door,' and to help them cope." As I read, I became more and more sure that I know two sociopaths; I am very grateful that there is much distance between them and me! Far from advising the other ninety-six percent of us to avoid judgment and labels with sociopaths, Dr. Stout tells us how to protect ourselves from them. What a relief that position is from the trend to look for "root causes" of harmful behavior, and to keep trying to reach the good that is presumed to be in the hearts of those who would hurt us. Sometimes, there is no such good. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to keep up our defenses.
In fact, the latter part of the books lists "Thirteen Rules for Dealing With Sociopaths in Everyday Life." Some of those rules simply waste paper and print (such as the last rule, "Living well is the best revenge"), but others are useful in identifying sociopaths and dealing with them when we must.
Dr. Stout muses at length about what constitutes conscience, what causes it to develop and what prevents it from developing. She weaves her enthusiasm for Buddhist views into this book as well, though I would prefer less philosophising and more hard fact.
Although I still can't put myself into the mind of a sociopath, this book provided an enlightening view of what makes such people the way they are.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
A couple weeks ago, we asked about how you take care of your books, with one of the questions asking whether you write in your books. Well, what about books that are meant to be written in? Like, say, a journal or diary? Do you keep one? Obviously, if you're answering this, you have a blog--do you just let your blog be your journal? Or do you also keep one for private stuff also?
Yes, yes, yes. I keep one for myself. I've kept a journal for 37 years, give or take a few periods of silence. (As always, silence roars.) The notebooks are in my closet, in two large pieces of luggage. Although I've never reread them, there are some entries I can see as clearly as if they were in front of me. I know where I wrote, what I wrote, which pen and which ink I used. Taken together, they probably would be a Cubist sort of memoir - some overlap, some clashes of color, some movement (but very little organization, alas).
Will I ever reread them? Probably. Will I ever share them? That's a hard one. I'd like to say yes, sure, but I'm not sure.
I have purposely avoided using fancy notebooks as journals, although I'll use them for story ideas, commonplace-type books, repositories for haikus, even lists. For journal writing (does anyone really like the verb form, journaling??), I want to be comfortable, even sloppy, without the psychological impediment of a formal environment. The same does not hold true with my pens, however - if the paper is fountain-pen friendly, I'll use one from my collection (especially if it was a gift).
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Welcome to the Bizarro World edition of Possession. Where once the literary sleuths sought the mystery of a Victorian poet, now the sleuth seeks to escape the Laputa-like world of modern literary criticism. He wants things - facts - tangibles.
Steered by his orotund advisor (who doodles random, obscene runes during lectures) and stirred by a three-volume biography of Elmer Bowles (a Victorian polymath whose own writings may or may not have been, shall we say, reliable), Phineas Nanson decides to write a biography of the biographer, Scholes Destry-Scholes. Destry-Scholes becomes Phineas's guru, inspiring him to write as he wrote by retracing his subject as Destry-Scholes had followed his multifaceted and peripatetic subject all over the world, learning the same languages, and, possibly, dying in the pursuit of Biography.
Byatt is devilish. In Posession, literary factions flung themselves into the chase for Cristabel's secrets. In this book, nobody flings himself at anything - except, perhaps, a zealous Swedish bee taxonomist, whose assistance in translating some of Destry-Scholes's notes on Linneus prefigure her zest for - well, for Phineas.
Notes rescued from the bottom of a file drawer seem to show that Destry-Scholes was in the process of a work - or works - on three men who seem to have little in common: Linnaeus, the taxonomist whose travel-writings betrayed a singular desire to catalog the sexual organs of everything he sees, whether human or plant; Galton, the inventor of fingerprinting and a zealot for eugenics; and the great playwright.
As Phineas tries to follow the biographer's notes, his confusion begins to resemble one of Galton's passions: creating composite portraits of people by selecting features of each and blending them, creating, in Phineas's eyes, "something that had been taken away by being added." The same process begins to afflict Phineas, who loses focus as accumulated facts begin to blend into an unsatisfactory whole.
Vera, a niece of Destry-Scholes, allows him access to shoe-boxes filled with note cards and a collection of her uncle's marbles, which she tries to match up to lists of unrelated words in one of her uncle's notebooks: maidenhair, bum, lamplight, tendril, gloop, gentian, spitfire, goosefeather... His employment at Puck's Girdle, a fey, blue-green travel agency, introduces him to a sinister gentleman who offers snuff Phileas as a sly requestfor a rather perverse tour -- but is this desire any less perverse than the celebrated taxonomists's prurient focus?
Phineas describes himself as "a very small man.. but perfectly formed." This book is a perfectly delightful stew of things, facts, and intangibles that might not satisfy the cravings of the would-be biographer, but satisfied me completely.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Ah, Anthony. Anthony is my favorite character (outside of Aloysius, but let's no go there) in the book, and in the mini-series. Maybe I just have a Thing for flamboyant magi, but one must find truth where it is. Is anyone else as fascinated by this character's perfect observations as I am?
I just reread the section where Anthony and Charles are having dinner, and Anthony is telling Charles about Sebastian's "gruesome" family. In retrospect, wasn't he perfectly correct? Did he not have (especially) Lady Marchmain down in every respect? Were not (are not) the aristocracy far more decadent than the most florid commoner?
I'm also a sucker for anything that mentions the Bloomsbury crowd, and even their tangents, so I love the comment he throws off about having to read Antic Hay before he goes to Garsington. He would have fit in perfectly at Garsington! Lady Ottoline would have loved him, and how he would have loved her home, the colors, the Orientalism, the pugs -
... and gracious - can you imagine a conversation between Anthony Blanche and Lytton Strachey? It would have been so d-d-delicious.
Friday, February 09, 2007
Booking Through Thursday
What kind of care do you take of your books? Let's review, shall we?
- Are you careful with the spines? Or do you crack your books open to make them lay flat? I'm both careful AND I crack the books - depends on the book (and, needless to say, whether it's mine!)
- Do you use bookmarks? Or do you dog-ear the corners? If you do use bookmarks, do you use those fashionable metal ones? Or paper? I use bookmarks. Many of them were gifts, and some are hand-made (embroidered, knitted). The only metal one I use is William, the hippo from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on a blue ribbon.
- Do you write in your books? Ever? If you do, do you make small marks, or write in as much blank space as you can find? Pen or pencil? Highlighter? Your name on the front page? Sometimes I use an address label on the inside front cover, and sometimes I write in the book. If the paper is fountain-pen friendly, I use a fine-nibbed pen. Otherwise, a ball point. If I write, it's usually on one of the blank pages at the end - I take notes, and indicate the page number.
- Do you toss your books on the floor? Into book bags? Or do you treat them tenderly, with respect? On the floor!?!?!?!? I carry books with me in my knitting bag, or in a tote with my notebooks and journal. My books, c'est moi. If anything, I treat them more tenderly, and with more respect, than I treat myself!
- Um--water? Do you bathe with your books? Hold them with wet hands? Read out in the rain? Anything of that sort? No. No. No.
- Are your books lined up on a bookshelf? Or crammed in any which way? Stacked on the floor? On bookshelves or piled on furniture. Never ever ever on the floor (see #5).
- Do you make a distinction--as regards book care--between hardcovers and paperbacks? Not really.
- And, to recap? Naturally, you love all of your books, but how, exactly? Are your books loved in the battered way of a well-loved teddy bear, or like a cherished photo album or item of clothing that's used, appreciated, but carefully cared for? Both. Some are well-loved stuffed rabbits, and some are cherished like a pair of velvet gloves. (Wine-colored velvet, or forest green. I know this is more information than you want. I have a thing for gloves.
- Any additional comments? Not now - I'm reading.
Friday, February 02, 2007
What: A blogger's silent poetry reading
When: anytime February 2
Where: your blog
Why: to celebrate the Feast of Saint Brigid, a/k/a Groundhog Day.
How: select a poem you like- by a favorite poet or one of your own - to post February 2.
If you plan to publish, feel free to leave a comment and link on this post. Last year, Reya put out the call and there was more poetry in cyberspace than she could keep track of. So, link to whomever you hear about this from and a mighty web of poetry will be spun.
To Japanese Incense - Sara Teasdale
The wind that rings the temple bell
Is far away,
And far the brazen incense urns
Of ashes grey.
And far the carven temple gates
Of red and gold --
The dreamy temples where the gods
Have long been old.
The dragonflies and irises
Beside the stream,
Are far away in lands of dawn
And lands of dream.