January — Read More Blog More! A Poetry Event

Since it is officially Tuesday, January 31st somewhere, I’m going to go ahead and publish this post now. I accidentally scheduled two posts to go up on the 31st, so I apologize in advance if you had any difficulty finding your way here! For this first month of the Read More/Blog More Poetry Event, I wanted to share with you why poetry is so important to me.

I found a love of poetry the way most high schoolers do: by writing it. Yes, my high school poems were angsty. I’m the first to admit that. They were often about who didn’t ask me to Junior Prom and family drama and all sorts of things that I’d probably be embarrassed to share with you now. Each year that I wrote poetry, from age 13 on, I also read more poetry. I read more poetry by other teenagers who were writing it, I read more classic poetry, I read more contemporary poetry. I was obsessed with it, and I still am, though perhaps not as fervently as I was in high school.

In a lot of ways, it’s difficult to explain what about poetry makes me so obsessed. There is, of course, the use of the English language in unexpected and clever ways. That is certainly part of it. There are the poems that describe something in a way you’ve never thought of before. I do enjoy that. Then there are the poems that tell a story and I love those as well. None of that, though, really describes what it is about poetry that I love so much.

It’s hard to get into a discussion of poetry without falling into the trap of comparing it to other forms of literature. Poetry is not like a short story and it is not like a novel. It is the concentration of story, language, mood, theme into a small package. Let’s forget about epic poems right now and just think of poetry being everything that a novel or short story is in only a few lines. There are whole stories behind poems, but the poet only lets us glimpse this tiny peek. How much of the whole story we are able to glean from those sparse words is totally up to us and what the poet will let us see.

More than anything, poetry has always been a kind of therapy for me. Reading it, sharing it, writing it has meant a lot to me over the years, through moments of great happiness and sorrow. Reading poetry can often be like recognizing yourself in a character in novel, but instead between the lines of a poem. It’s a way to feel like you are part of something.

Poetry can be beautiful, it can be bad, it can be life-changing. If anything I hope this project will bring people who are already avid readers of poetry closer to the poems they read and I hope it will bring those who are trying to read more poetry the same kind of life-changing connection that reading an amazing book can.

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Thank you for reading and, hopefully, participating in today’s Read More/Blog More Poetry Event! Please link to your post using the Mr. Linky below.


Reminder: First post for Read More/Post More Poetry event is this Tuesday!

This is your friendly reminder that the Read More/Blog More Poetry Event for January is just around the corner! Please post your poetry posts during the day on Tuesday, January 31st,  and check back here for a Mr. Linky where you can register your post.

Not sure what to write about? Here are some suggestions:

– Your favorite poem
– Your favorite poet
– Do you read poetry often? Why or why not?
– Why did you start reading poetry?
– Do you ever write poetry?
– Is there a poet you’ve always wanted to read but never have?
– What do you hope to accomplish through a year of writing about poetry?
– Do you think you’ll read more poetry this year?

As long as your post is about poetry, it is good to go. I can’t wait to read your posts! If you haven’t signed up for this monthly event yet, please see the original post here.

 


Moby Dick Readalong Chapters 27-93

I made it!

I am so surprised that I actually got through chapters 27-93. I was so excited to be reading Moby Dick, because I was actually enjoying it. I’d only heard about how boring the novel was, but I found the first 26 chapters to be engrossing and, actually, hilarious. Then chapters 27-55 happened.

I missed last week because I just couldn’t catch up. I had my book club meeting, which meant a lot of time I usually would have spent reading Moby Dick was spent reading How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive. I finally caught up this week, though. Those hour-long subway rides are good for something. Mainly making yourself read something that makes you want to fall asleep. Not that I haven’t fallen asleep on the subway before, but still.

That’s not to say that all of those chapters were dull, because they weren’t. I enjoyed some parts and still did quite a bit of highlighting and laughed a few times, but for the most part, Moby Dick lost a lot of its charms for me. There was so much information dumping and so little character development, it was difficult to keep my attention for long stretches of time.

Like I said, though, there were a lot of things I did like. The descriptions of whaling were particularly interesting, especially since you’re taught from a very young age that whales are practically sacred. I loved Free Willy when I was a kid. Whales and dolphins and manatees are animals that you just want to save, so reading about how to kill them and how to take them apart bit by bit was unnerving. As boring as some of the discussions on whaling could be, I was also fascinated by them. Ishmael’s obsession with whales and whaling brings you out of the narrative completely. The story seems to have little meaning anymore; the only thing important is describing the whale as completely as possible before continuing with the actual plot. Every inch of the whale is discussed. Every known type of whale is detailed. Drawings of whales are described and critiqued. If not necessarily the most entertaining, the structure of Moby Dick is interesting. I can see why, as our hosts pointed out in their introductory post over at The Blue Bookshelf, Moby Dick has been described as the first modern novel. It really does incorporate many different styles and techniques.

At the same time, I desperately missed the Ishmael I had come to love, prone to long rants about religion, yes, but also focused on describing his surroundings and moving the story forward. Up until the last ten chapters of this big chunk, it felt like the plot was going no where. That’s a lot to read without really learning much about the characters or the story.

My favorite quote from this section actually comes from the very end of chapter 93:

“[…] and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man’s insanity is heaven’s sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God.”

There’s the Ishmael I missed from the first section! At this point, though, I’m not sure I feel comfortable talking about what anything means. I have to get to the ending first. I have to see what happens.

And that’s all I really have to say about this section. I’m hoping that there’s a little bit more action in the last 150 pages and I hope I connect with Moby Dick more than I did in this middle section. I want to finish Moby Dick feeling accomplished, but also like I read a classic that I was surprised to find I really enjoyed.

To think! This time next week I’ll have finished Moby Dick. That’s awesome!


How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive by Chris Boucher

I’ve gone and joined a book club. It’s a very diplomatic book club, in the sense that every week, six of us nominate books (first come first serve) and then those books are put to a vote. We read the book with the most votes. Every few months, the book club leader has us nominate books that were nominated before, but didn’t win. That is how I came to nominate How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive by Chris Boucher.

You see, I had it in my head that it was a graphic novel.

It isn’t.

It’s a strange novel, probably one of the strangest I’ve ever read. Essentially, the book is about the nameless main character (literally — he sold his name for some hours), and his Volkswagen son. His father is killed by a heart attack tree while he is waiting for the narrator to meet him for dinner. Then the tree runs away with the diner and his father. The narrator and his Volkswagen son never know if his father is alive or dead. The novel goes back and forth between stories like this and also holds onto a manual structure, teaching you how to keep your other-worldly Volkswagen running.

Words take on entirely new meanings in How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive. I spent most of the book thinking about Lewis Carol’s poem “Jabberwocky.” We studied that poem in linguistics because it shows something very interesting about language. Even though the words are completely made up, you can mostly point to them and say which ones are verbs, nouns and adjectives. You can also get some kind of meaning out of it. When you read that poem, you picture something happening. You “understand” it to a degree.

In that same way How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive isn’t about Volkswagens or trees or anything particularly shocking. It’s about family. It’s about love. Most of all, it’s about grief.

I don’t want to mislead you – How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive is an incredibly frustrating book and there are parts, especially the more manual-like parts, that I skimmed. It’s like a work out for your brain, though, and one that I actually enjoyed, even when I was frustrated. You see, in Boucher’s alternative world, objects are people and people are objects. The narrator’s son is a Volkswagen. He dates a stained glass window. He gets into a fight with a leaf and a toaster. When you are reading, it’s difficult to imagine and your brain kind of goes back and forth between picturing the actual objects and the people they represent.

Many of the people in my book club were frustrated by this book. Many people dropped out of the meeting because they couldn’t finish it. I had some problems with it. Even though I thought it was well done, I think Boucher got bogged down in the conceit of the manual by trying to mimic the style of the original How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive. Those parts were mostly unnecessary and I think they would have been far more interesting if they had been fewer and farther between. I was probably the only person at book club who admitted to actually enjoying reading the book.

I liked the challenge. I liked that Boucher, despite speaking nonsense for most of the book, was able to so accurately represent grief. But as someone else pointed out, there just wasn’t much story here. People are born, people die, people grieve. I think that was actually a conscious decision on Boucher’s part. Anymore and the confusing language would have been too much, too strange. If your language and the way you tell your story is going to be complicated, the actual plot has to be pretty simple.

It’s not perfect, but this strange novel was exciting to read. I can’t wait to see what kind of novel Boucher writes next. Perhaps he’ll surprise us all and write something very mundane and normal, but I hope not.


Moby Dick Readalong – Chapters 1-28

Whoa, there, guys. If someone had mentioned that Moby Dick was both hilarious, insightful, blasphemous, and beautiful, I would have picked this book up a lot sooner. All I’d really heard about Ishmael was that he was a long-winded, confusing narrator, but the truth is, I absolutely adore him.

I think a book like Moby Dick comes with a lot of preconceptions and I spent most of Chapters 1-10 unpacking them. Here’s a list of everything I knew to be true about Moby Dick:

1) Matilda read it at the end of Matilda, the movie.

2) The first line is “Call me Ishmael,” because that’s the line Matilda read.

3) It’s an allegory.

4) There was someone named Captain Ahab in it.

5) As ridiculous as this is, I may or may not have thought Ishmael and Captain Ahab were the same person. You know, he was just getting friendly at the beginning of the book. “Oh, don’t bother with that silly Captain business. Please, call me Ishmael.” Why thanks, Captain Ishmael Ahab, I will!

Here is what I now know to be true of Moby Dick:

1) Matilda read it at the end of Matilda, the movie.

2) The first line is not “Call me Ishmael,” it’s “The pale Usher– threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now. Was he ever dusting his old lexicons and grammars, with a queer handkerchief, mockingly embellished with all the gay flags of all the known nations of the world. He loved to dust his old grammars; it somehow mildly reminded him of his mortality.”

3) The religious metaphors and references are fascinating.

4) There is someone named Captain Ahab in it and he is Mysterious with a capital M.

5) Ishmael and Captain Ahab are most certainly not the same person.

All joking aside, I was not prepared for how much I would truly enjoy Moby Dick. It’s a fascinating novel so far, that has never felt too wordy, difficult or boring. Ishmael is a hilarious narrator, but Moby Dick is surprisingly beautiful. Take this passage for example:

Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to  sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all. (3)

I found myself with highlighter ready, marking up every page with funny, beautiful or possibly important lines. I remembered why people carry a pen with them when they read in the first place. I know I keep repeating it, but I just had no idea. What other classics are sitting on my shelves that I haven’t picked up because I think they’ll be boring? If nothing else, the classics I have read recently have shown me that I love reading them. So why don’t I read more classics?

Anyway, back to Moby Dick. I am a fan of short chapters! And really, who isn’t? Is Moby Dick the first postmodern novel? I don’t know about that. Plot-wise, Herman Melville does a lot of interesting things, but I’m not sure the right word is postmodern. It’s difficult to really form any opinions after only 120 pages. There is still so much to come! They only just got on the boat after all.

I’m endlessly fascinated by the narrator’s religious opinions. I know that religion and religious imagery will play a large part in Moby Dick, but I don’t know how, exactly yet. I’ve managed to stay quite ignorant of the classics I haven’t read. I hate spoilers. I know some people don’t mind them, but I like to come into a story with nothing but myself. I prefer having no expectations. I mean, you saw the kind of expectations I had going into Moby Dick: they were almost all wrong. Anyway, I don’t know how Moby Dick is going to play out, though I imagine there’s a whale in there somewhere. All I do know is right now, our friend Ishmael says some very interesting things about religion. This is one of the most interesting quotes:

“All our arguing with [Queequeg] would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending” (79).

The relationship between Queequeg and Ishmael was also very interesting to me. It just never played out exactly like I expected it to. While there are definitely aspects of his portrayal that border on caricature, his description as a cannibal and a savage for one, he is also a very interesting character and Ishmael shows him genuine respect. Their relationship often leads Ishmael to discuss religion, and I fear that this may be his primary importance. I wonder if he’ll still be as important a character once Captain Ahab and the great white whale take over.

Moby Dick continues to be a very enjoyable read and it is never quite what I expected. I’m excited to keep reading and I’ll see you back here for a discussion of chapters 29-55 on January 19!

This Moby Dick readalong is being hosted by The Blue Bookcase. I will be updating this page with links to fellow participants blog posts this evening. 


Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende

This book came at a perfect time for me. You see, I’ve been a little obsessed lately with the idea of living on a self-sustainable farm. I like city life, but I miss wide open spaces. I want to be able to garden and raise animals and be as reliant on myself and the food I can grow. This is something that I’d like to do sometime in the future, but right now, I’m content to read about other people making the plunge, like Eric Brende and his wife.

Eric Brende is a highly educated man (he has degrees from three universities, including MIT) who, one day, realized that he was relying too much on technology and it was actually hindering his life instead of helping it. To complete his graduate work, he decided to join a Mennonite-like community in an undisclosed location for 18 months to see what it was like and if people who lived without technology really are better off. He married his girlfriend and rented a small cottage in a closed-off, modern technology-free town.

Let’s get this out of the way: Eric Brende is opinionated and he can come across as bit of an ass. Though he brings it up once or twice, he rarely addresses how the community felt about him being an outsider studying their actions. He invaded their life to learn about self-sustainability, but also to finish his graduate work. He began the project with the intention of writing a book and it seemed a little disingenuous. I wonder how many of the people he lived with really knew what he was doing? Do they know he’s written a book about them and their lives? Does it matter? He’s self-righteous and not shy about blaming all our modern troubles on television, the internet and cars in that order.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think those opinions are necessarily radical or offensive. They’re not, but he presents them in such a way that they are indisputable. TV is always damaging. Nothing good can come of the internet. Your car will kill you, or at the very least, make you die faster. He never acknowledges the good that can come out of having a television, the internet, and cars. Good television shows are as engrossing, stimulating, and interesting as a well-written novel. The internet is a wealthy source of community and education. While I understand that stress from driving can make your blood pressure rise (trust me, I’ve commuted in two of the worst cities for commuting… I get it), it’s also good to have a car around sometimes.

Ignoring his opinions about everything from religion to technology to relationships to gender roles, I thoroughly enjoyed Better Off. I was intrigued by the “Minimite” culture and I was interested in learning about their relationship with technology and outsiders. Their community is strict about a lot of things, but it was kind of hard to figure out some of their reasoning. They disapproved of bicycles, but I never really understood why. My favorite parts of this book were actually the parts when Brende described how he and his wife survived without technology. The physiological changes were fascinating, including adjustments to extreme temperatures in the summer and the natural circadian rhythm that occurs when you don’t rely on electrical lights. I loved his descriptions of simple household tasks, like canning and farming and barn raising. The community that develops when you rely on each other was also fascinating to witness, though I’m not entirely sure how closely Brende really got to the members of the community or how accurate his descriptions really were.

Better Off is lucky. I’m fascinated by this topic right now, so I’m being rather lenient; I’m not sure I would have liked this book much at all if I hadn’t been so intrigued by its subject matter. Apart from Brende’s absolute stance on technology, the storytelling and writing is clunky and confusing throughout most of this book. When Brende is on, he’s on, but his narrative felt strung together and disconnected. It was chronological, but other than that not very coherently organized. It was difficult to keep the people straight and I was sometimes confused by the narrative. I often felt like I had missed something, but I would go back and reread and find I had read everything there. One thing that bothered me the most was the way he discussed his wife. I’m sure they have a very loving relationship, but it would feel like he would forget he had a wife for dozens of pages and then his editor would remind him to talk about her a little bit. She was definitely secondary in this story and I would have liked to see a little bit more of her perspective throughout.

I wonder how much of what they learned during those 18 months applies to their lives now. They talk about their current lives a little bit, but not much. They don’t have a television. They do have a car, they just don’t drive it very often. They do have electricity. They make their own soap. Brende drives a rickshaw. Over all, I think Better Off succeeds in taking the whole quest/goal memoir to a new level. It’s very difficult to join Mennonite/Amish/Anabaptist communities with any kind of success and Brende did it, more or less respectfully. Whether or not I agreed with him on all of his opinions, he certainly practiced what he preached for those 18 months and it made for an interesting, if not a terribly well-written, memoir.


A Moby Dick Readalong for Your Winter Blues

So when I posted my TBR Dare/Challenge post, I cheekily listed Moby Dick on there, thinking there was little chance I’d actually read it. But then so many people commented saying that they loved Moby Dick and that I should start of 2012 with that particular novel. Of all the books I listed, more people mentioned Moby Dick. Then it seemed to be everywhere. People were writing blog posts about it, saying how much they loved or hated it. Finally, I just decided that Moby Dick will be one of the first books I read in 2012. Someone (Jillian, perhaps?) pointed me toward the Conquering Moby Dick Readalong by The Blue Bookshelf and I’m thrilled to join in.

I’ve already started reading and let me just tell you, I love it so far! It’s so interesting and actually funny in some parts, though I’m not entirely convinced it’s supposed to be funny. Most of all, though, I love the narrator and his voice and I think there are some truly beautiful passages about the sea. I can’t wait to keep reading more. So if you think you might like to join in, the first post goes up on January 12! I know it’s soon, but I’m surprised how quickly I’ve been reading Moby Dick. We’ll see if I still feel the same way when I’m 200 pages in, but so far, so good.

Thanks for convincing me to read Moby Dick, y’all!


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