Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Article on Roger Ebert brings me to tears. (What's new?)

I've already been on the computer too long, need to get myself changed and on the treadmill and ready for Lost (wahoo!), but I just read this WHOLE article and it's just fantastic. It's a feature article about Roger Ebert in Esquire, and dammit, it made me cry in a few different places! The article (written by one Chris Jones) is here. The first place I cried was this quote from Ebert, on page 4:

When I am writing my problems become invisible and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be.

I remember my dad loved to watch Siskel and Ebert, so very many years ago.

Sometimes it's hard to remember, because remembering can hurt. I'm sitting here now thinking of my dad laying sideways on the bed, watching TV, and me watching with him, and an ashtray never too far away, and I remember the blanket my parents used to have on their bed. I must be seven or eight years old. My dad loved that Siskel and Ebert were in a theater and had a balcony, and he liked how they'd tell it straight, what was good and what they hated. I can't think of the two men together without then thinking of my dad. My Daddy.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Some thoughts on reading, on my son's birthday

Today is Valentine's Day, and also my son Kyle's 10th birthday. Jeff and I have been parents for a whole decade. This is too frightening to contemplate for too long, so I'll quickly move on from there... But anyway, Kyle had three friends over last evening, and two of them spent the night, and one of them is still here, for another half hour (it's 230pm). So, both Kyle and Ryan have been involved with their company and haven't required a lot from Jeff or me, but at the same time, we've had extra kids here, and that can affect the general mood of the house, or make it a bit harder to just relax. But, it's been all right.

So I feel in a bit of a funk with regard to my reading. Since I began the POC Reading Challenge, I've read a memoir called Once upon a Time When We were Colored by Clifton Taulbert, and this morning I finished a poetry collection by Audre Lorde called The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance. The Lorde book also counts for the Clover, Bee, and Reverie poetry challenge, and both books count toward RYOB 2010. In fact, I think I'm off to a decent start all around: five completed for the RYOB challenge, and two finished for each of the other challenges. I have my next audio loaded on my MP3 player, The Keep by Jennifer Egan, a novel I've had for a couple years that's been calling to me from the bookshelf. I'm looking forward to starting it, but haven't done any cleaning today (see: my son's birthday, other kids in house, and whatnot), so it might be a few days before I dive into it. I have more titles in mind for my challenges, including a second memoir by Taulbert that I believe is a sequel to the first one I read.

This all sounds pretty good, like I've made an okay start and have ideas to make further progress, but there's something holding me back. Specifically, it's Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. I've had it for several years, started thinking during 2008, "Hey, I really should read that sometime," thought I'd get to it during 2009, FINALLY started it in late November, and here it is, halfway through February 2010, and I've been sometimes reading my print copy (800-page mass market paperback, not too easy on the eyes or comfy to hold) and sometimes reading it on my iPod Touch, and often enjoying it but sometimes just trying to get through the next chapter, but all the while with the feeling deep in my heart that it will take me forever to finish this book. The Stanza app on my iPod shows a percentage indicating where you're at in the book, and after two and a half months, I've read less than 60% of the book.

So what now? Do I try once more to push on and see if I have mostly "Hey, I like this!" chapters from here on, and less "Who is this character again and what is he doing here?" chapters and "Should I be reading something else?" moments? Do I put it "on hold" again for a couple weeks, read through a couple other (shorter!) books, then pick it up again? Or, just put it aside indefinitely, and try not to feel like a quitter? Or perhaps... try to find an audio version and see if I have more luck with that than the mmpb and iPod e-book versions? That last one might be a good option if I can find one with a decent narrator. Yes, I'll try to locate an audio version and give that a try before giving up. I'm not done yet... not quite done, anyway!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Joining two more Reading Challenges for 2010

There is never never never enough time for me to get all my stuff together. I started a post LAST Friday about a reading challenge I'd decided to join, and here it is, Friday again, and I figured I should just start over, and talk (briefly) about BOTH of the challenges I'm starting, in one post.

First is the POC Reading Challenge, short for Persons of Color Reading Challenge. It just launched in late January, in response to yet another occurrence of "white washing" in a book cover's image: although the main character is a person of color, the cover design shows a white person. The POC Reading Challenge is a commitment to read books by and/or about persons of color. The levels are:

Level 1: Read 1-3 POC books
Level 2. Read 4-6 POC books
Level 3. Read 7-9 POC books
Level 4. Read 10-15 POC books
Level 5. Read 16-25 POC books

I've decided to commit to Level 3, because I know I've got books by authors of color on my shelves that I haven't read, and that will help my RYOB Challenge too. I've already read one, will likely start a second one soon, and have a few others in mind for the next few months. Oh -- and why am I signing up for this challenge? Because I believe in this project and the message behind it. The challenge sign-up post is here, and if you click around the blog, there are lists of books to help people get started, and links to other pages of interest and many helpful resources.

The other challenge I'm joining is called Clover, Bee, and Reverie, and it's a challenge to read more poetry. I'm pretty psyched about this one, because I have MANY poetry books on my shelves, still waiting to be read. Most of them would be "quick reads," and would (of course) also count toward the RYOB Challenge. Especially after my enthusiastic response to the Eavan Boland book I read in January (yes, one down!), it just made sense for me to pursue more poetry reading this year. The levels, and some additional information:

There are four levels of participation:

Couplet: Read 2 books of poetry

Limerick: Read 5 books of poetry, and finish at least one badge

Octave: Read 8 books of poetry, and finish at least two badges

Sonnet: Read 14 books of poetry, and finish two badges, and one expert badge

What is a badge? A badge just means you need to read two books of poetry that are connected in some way: same time period, some subject matter, same form, same author, etc. An expert badge means four books, same constraints.

I'm going to aim for the "Octave" level, again focusing on books I already own and haven't yet read, as much as possible. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

FreeVerse: Against Love Poetry by Eavan Boland


A few weeks ago, I read a book of poems by Eavan Boland called Against Love Poetry. I got it after Thanksgiving 2008, so I’d only had it in my TBR Mountain a little over a year – not bad for me! I attended a poetry reading when I was in Tucson for library school, and Boland was one of those who read. I enjoyed her poems, and her wonderful Irish voice, rolling like light out of the desert.

In the years since, I’ve kept my eyes open for Boland’s work, but haven’t sought it out. I actually own one other book by her, a longer one called An Origin like Water: Collected Poems, 1967-1987. I probably purchased it at the Friends of the Library book sale a few years ago, since it’s an ex-library copy – I’ll say 2006 or a bit earlier, since there’s no “Date acquired” in my LibraryThing catalog, and I joined LT in summer 2007. But clearly, I haven’t been a true devotee of her writing.

Against Love Poetry could change that. I really enjoyed this book, and there were lines in the latter half of the collection that had me near tears – and I finished reading it at my son’s basketball practice! The poem “The Burdens of a History” is only a few pages, but it’s broken up into five short numbered sections. It moves, it wants to travel, but it’s treading and retreading the same area. These lines are from section IV:

Distances were less ambitious.
Car parts and wheels in the ditches
seemed to say that travel was an error
whose starting point would end back here

(p. 38)

I found section V completely striking, and I want to quote the whole thing.

When the storm broke they were under it.
The heat cracking. Rain hissing on the car.

They counted from the thunder on their fingers.
And waited in the freshening, lifting air
for the first strike of lightning which –
if it did not kill them –

would show them exactly where they were.

(p. 39)

The poem “Limits 2” contains only one sentence, and though I’ve never been in “the Dublin hills,” I can see and hear the scene Boland paints:

the season in, season out
sound of
the grind of
my neighbor’s shears:
beautiful air of August,
music of limitation, of
the clipped
shadow and
the straightened border

(p. 33)

Boland explores the changes of voice and accent that often occur when people move away from their homelands in the poem “Emigrant Letters.” I’ve long been intrigued by the endless varieties of speech, especially since college and graduate school introduced me to people from all over the U.S. and from other countries. I didn’t really know what a Massachusetts dialect was until a few years after I moved away. In the poem, the speaker hears an Irish voice while in a Detroit airport. She continues,

Its owner must have been away for years:
Vowels half-sounds and syllables
from somewhere else had nearly smoothed out
a way of speaking you could tell a region by,

much less an origin. I reached the gate, boarded,
closed my eyes and rose high over
towns, farms, fields—all of them at that very moment
moulding the speech of whoever lived there:

An accent overwritten by a voice. A voice
by a place.

(p. 42)

All the poems I’ve quoted from above are from the second part of the book, called “Code.” The first part of the book is a poem sequence called “Marriage,” and the book is dedicated to Boland’s husband. Traditionally, a comedy – one of the Shakespeare or Jane Austen sort – ends with a wedding, “and they lived happily ever after.” The curtain closes, and the audience doesn’t see the day-to-day scenes of married life. Traditionally, love poetry is about courtship, about passion, and sometimes about unrequited love. (Cue the violins!) Boland’s poems are “against” that kind of love poetry, and instead shed light on what happens after the play ends.

“Against Love Poetry” is actually a prose poem, the second poem in the “Marriage” sequence. It begins:
We were married in summer, thirty years ago. I have loved you
deeply from that moment to this. I have loved other things as well.
Among them the idea of women’s freedom. Why do I put these
words side by side? Because I am a woman. Because marriage is not
freedom. Therefore, every word here is written against love poetry.

(p. 5)

Near the end of the poem, she adds, “It is to mark the contradictions of a daily love that I have written this.” Time and again in this sequence of poems, Boland includes those details that are part of “a daily love”: husband and wife in the same room, each silently reading his and her own book or magazine; husband reading the newspaper, wife speaking to husband but he doesn’t hear her; children asleep in the next room; the excitement and anxiety of buying their first home. In “Thanked Be Fortune,” she writes, “[W]e learned by heart / the code marriage makes of passion -- / duty dailyness routine” (p. 16, italics in original).

Having been married for over 12 years myself, I know too well the thoughts and feelings Boland expresses in these poems. The centuries-old idea that getting married is the goal – the end of the story, or at least of the “interesting” part of it – and the more modern idea that the same passionate kind of love people often experience before marriage should continue much the same during married life (although there’s now a kid crying in the next room, etc.), both do a disservice to the complicated love that many married couples share. The journey of many years together, valuing one another on multiple levels, respecting the commitment made to one another, and occasionally annoying the hell out of each other – a truly good marriage is everything and the kitchen sink! Boland doesn’t paint a thirty year marriage as paradise, but as a solid, trusting, and rewarding relationship between two people who know each other completely, and still enjoy being together.

Against Love Poetry has certainly increased my appetite for more poetry, and specifically more by Boland. I’m thinking that I’d make great progress in my RYOB Challenge if I resolve to read more poetry collections in the next few months, because I own a significant number that I haven’t yet read … and because they’re usually quick reads!

FreeVerse is a weekly meme hosted by Cara of Ooh...Books! Head over to her blog to see her FreeVerse posts, and find other bloggers who are reading or writing poetry.