Word and Works

Today I got to write with the writer’s group I used to spend time with and it was just delightful! Schedules change and things happen to make it impossible to go… but then schedules change again and make it possible once more!

The writing prompt for today was Word and Works. The group had been writing using a work of art as a prompt, but I kinda missed that bit, so I did it a little differently. However, they were, as they were in the past, kind and supportive. Looking forward to doing this again and hopefully on a regular basis.

 

Word and Works

The line between didn’t really exist. The line between the word and the action wasn’t really a line at all. It was the breath; that is all there was. A breath between the word and the work. The breath made word into work. Word made flesh and blood and bone, working together. Breath made static word into kinetic work of body.

But first
Breath and word became the perpetual motion of light; working, pressing back the dark. Always birthing, bringing the new.

Then
Breath and word became the work of flow. Flowing water and air. The work of ebbing life, the work of growing green, the work of shinning blue. The in and out of breath was the flow of word into work.

At last
Came the flesh and blood and bone. Finally, came the vessel to carry the breath. Word and work joined in breath became the beat of blood and heart, the soar of the mind, the lift of the hands.

Breath wove through words and became the fabric of work, wrapping up the vessel in life. Filled up the vessel to the brim, seeped into every moment, filled and stretched and pushed outward to overflowing; till overflow was inevitable.

The word rode the breath through the vessel, up and up and out of the mouth and the work was love. And the vessel was love.

But all of this
This was before. Before we drew a line between word and work; before we held our breath and separated the doing from the being; the bold, wide line that cuts us in two.

The Hills Remember

writing assignment: choose a title or cover from a book on a shelf and use that as a starting point.

The Hills Remember

The hills re4member my father. He used to talk to them, imagine them, dream with them, pine for them when he was away for too long. He walked them plowed them, loved them.

“I lift mine eyes unto the hills,” he would say every time he returned home, “whence commeth my strength.” It was not a question as the psalmist would have it. It was his declaration. He knew from whence his help, his strength, his all came frometh; those mountains.

During the time of the great second war he wrote home from France and Germany in words that never pretended not to be homesick. He saw horrible things but also beautiful ones as well. “It is all really pretty,” he wrote from the countryside somewhere between France and Germany, “the Land, I mean. But it ain’t none of it as pretty as our mountains!” All he wanted to do was return to these mountains; these rolling hills that never forget.

I stand on the earth, toes gripping, sinking roots down deep. The ancient hills roll out all around me as far as the eye can see. Soon, as the sun sets, the mountains will leap up and catch the fire ball, pulling him down below their horizons.

If my father were alive he would be 90 years old today. But he does not walk these hills any more, at least not with feet of flesh and bone. But the hills do remember him and so do I.

I lift my eyes to the hills from whence commeth my strength.

City of Thieves

After finishing Game of Thrones, I was totally in book-hangover mode. I wanted to read something completely different but it had to be completely good, too. With that in mind, I chose City of Thieves by David Benioff and was not disappointed. And yet, I often wonder if it is worthwhile to write a review of a book that’s been out for a while. City of Thieves has been out since ’08, so I considered skipping a review. However, it is so good, it’s worth it!

It’s fiction but it has a sort of non-fiction feel to it. Memoir-ish, I guess. Set in WWII Russia’s St Petersburg, the story centers around the journey…that is survival…well I guess journey and survival and friendship of two young men. One, Koyla, is a deserter from the Red Army. Or maybe he’s not. Or maybe he is. The other is Lev, the 17 year old son of a Jewish executed poet. It is Lev who gives voice to the story and his not quite grown up and not quite boy perspective, somewhat jaded by the incredibly harsh realities of war and Russian winter, make the story funny in places, unforgettably cold and truly beautiful in others.

The two are given a unique opportunity to escape execution for their crimes (desertion and stealing from a dead German soldier’s body) by procuring a dozen eggs for a locally powerful leader who needs them so his wife can prepare a cake for their daughter’s wedding. There is a stark contrast between a city so starved that people sell ‘library candy’ made from the glue in books and the comparative luxury of a wedding that includes a cake. Cannibals lure in victims, the dead are pretty much everywhere, and the German planes fly above the city, bombing random buildings. Life is remarkably cheap.

And yet, it isn’t at all cheap. It seems to be, at least in Lev’s telling, precious. Despite all the starvation and daily facing potential death from one of a dozen angles, he is still a young man who worries about whether or not he will ever be brave, the fact that his nose is too big and his shyness around women. Amid an overwhelming mass of inhumanity that would dishearten most anyone, the less-than-jovial Lev seems to have not lost his humanity despite the fact that he certainly isn’t an optimist. One of my favorite scenes is an exchange between Lev and another character after one of their traveling companions has been killed by a German soldier.

“Markov’s not important,” she said. “I’m not important. You’re not important. Winning the war, that’s the only important thing.”

“No,” I said, “I disagree. Markov was important. So am I and so are you. That’s why we have to win.”

Lev’s traveling companion and friend is Koyla and, in contrast to Lev, he is nearly always up beat, full of energy and confidence. His bravado both saves them and puts them in harm’s way multiple times and his charm is an excellent counterpoint to Lev’s less sparkling personality. But there is more to Koyla than just comic relief or counterpoint and by the end of the book, I really liked this character even though I started out thinking he was an irritating jerk.

Every so often, there are passages that will stick with you for both the image created in the mind and the sheer beauty of perception. In one scene, Lev and his companions witness the burning of a little town:

“The fire was silent, the little houses collapsing into the flames without complaint, flocks of sparks rising to the sky. At a distance it seemed beautiful, and I thought it was strange that powerful violence is often so pleasing to the eye…”

I really recommend this book strongly. It is well written without a single extra or un-useful word in the entire thing. However, it is punctuated with violence so it is good to go into it knowing this is no light hearted coming-of-age story. After all, it is WWII Russia, so it wasn’t ever going to be a comedy.

David Benioff has also written The 25th Hour and When the Nines Roll Over, neither of which I’ve read but certainly are worth putting on the list!

Forgive the ubiquitous plug for the local bookstore, but I would never have read this book if it hadn’t been suggested by one of the people at the small indie bookstore in town. I’m certain that the most complex formula Amazonianite programmers could come up with would never have considered this book for me. But a real person who knows me did.

 

City of Thieves

Summer Reading Stack 2012

Summer is here! A new grill sits proudly in the driveway awaiting her next full belly of charcoal, the window AC unit is chugging along full blast and the yard dances with firefly promenades every evening. There’s nothing but flip flops by the door and the cats look for opportunities to escape to the exotic land of birds, squirrels and other small critters. So if all that is happening, then it is once again time for the Summer Reading Stack!  Wooo Hooo!

Actually this is the short stack. I didn’t want to take the time to drag together all the books I’ve got in piles for the upcoming few months, so here’s the ‘best of’ list.

Currently, I am about knee deep in the first of the Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin, Game of Thrones.  It is awesome and I’m a little obsessed. Of course, this is not an uncommon occurrence for either me or for readers of this series.  It is quite good and since this is perhaps my favorite genre, I feel quite at home with this story. The book is in such poor shape, I was almost ashamed to put it at the top of the pile for everyone to see! I accidentally got it soaking wet. But it’s so good, the ruffled pages only add to its charm.

Also, while we’re in the lands of the Starks, Lannisters, Tullys and others, I’ve also got The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook on the stack. Recently I have discovered that there is, in fact, an Official Game of Thrones Cookbook. I’m certain it’s cool as well. I’ll be steering clear of the blood sausage, thank you very much, but there are some quite delicious sounding meals in there I’m looking forward to trying.

Next is City of Thieves by David Benioff.  (Not to be confused with City of Thieves by Cyrus Moore. Probably a fine book, but not really my speed.) It’s set in WWII Natzi besieged Leningrad (which is, by the way, entirely more my speed) and though I’ve only covered the first chapter or so, it’s really good. Reads sort of like a memoir in a way. Came highly recommended from one of my most trusted book sources, so it promises to be great. Also  the author wrote the screenplays for the movies Brothers and X-Men Origins: Wolverine which are fine marks in his favor.

Three books in the stack are loaners. The Grizzly Years by Doug Peacock, and Crossing Open Ground by Barry Lopez are both environmental books that look great. Spunk by Zora Neal Hurston is a collection of her short stories. Since Hurston is the author of one of my life long favorite books, I’m looking forward to that one.

Then there is Across the Universe by Beth Revis. I’ve started and put down this book twice, but it’s not the fault of the book. Met the author and she seemed really great so I am looking forward to reading her book and this time I will read beyond the first chapter!

Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell. Woodrell has written several books, one of the latest is Outlaw Album, but he is probably best known for Winter’s Bone.

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith. He wrote Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and at least one other preternaturally revisioned classic.  This one is about the three kings in the Christmas (or, if you will pardon the liturgical perfectionist in me, the Epiphany) story…. with a twist.

China Mieville’s latest, Railsea, was an ARC sent to me by the publisher and so far I’ve been negligent in reading the Man With the Big Words.  Mieville’s massive and artfully used vocabulary is always a refreshing challenge, but one I must be prepared for with dictionary in hand so it may be at the end of the summer before I get to him. In the mean time let me just say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious antidisestablishmentarianism! Take that Mieville!

On the bottom of the pile is Ron Rash’s The Cove. Clearly, this is an indication that the stack is in no particular order! When it was first released, I got about half way through with this but had to take a break. I’d just read Land More Kind Than Home and re read Serena and I suddenly found myself overfull of this part of the state and had to break for a bit. It is, of course, a beautiful, rich, deep and dark story compellingly written so I long to return to it soon.

So, there it is. The short stack.

Prepare yourself, O mighty grill full of charcoal! Chug on, window AC! The Summer awaits!

My Poetry Is Magnetic

Often I have wondered if self-help groups that deal with phobias could be formed around the “anonymous” idea. Sort of like the AA/NA groups.

Hello, my name is Rosemary and I am a shop, craft, book, choco, film -aholic.

Hello Rosemary!

It would be great! No one wants to admit their fears any more than an addiction. Groups could gather together and share in the same sort of safe-space as the -aholics. Except it would be -phobes.

Hello, my name is Rosemary and I am a Poetry-phobe.

Hello Rosemary!

Yes, I’ll confess it here to the great wide gaping electronic masses since there is no PA (Poetryphobes Anonymous). Just remember this is all confidential, ok? I am afraid of poetry.

Years ago I had a refrigerator full of poetry. I mean, of course, magnetic poetry. These tiny slivers of lodestone printed with words gave me hours of joy. They strike me now as a verbal equivalent of disposable cameras or those little all-inclusive crafting kits in bargain book sections of the mega book marts. Cute but not very substantial.

But oh how I loved them! I used to think that if I ever wrote a memoir I would call it My Poetry Is Magnetic. It would have to be published by No. 2 Pencil Press. There is no real danger of this ever actually occurring, so do not bother coming up with apologies for not pre-ordering.

Eventually, all those tiny words ended up in the trash. Stuck together in little clumps, huddled and clinging to one another in their abandoned state and smashed between wet coffee grounds and half empty take out containers. I don’t exactly remember why I threw them out. Probably because some boyfriend made fun of me. Maybe there was some sort of passive-aggressive content by which he was offended and he retaliated with jeering sneers. Maybe I thought it was time to put such cutesy things behind me.

Or perhaps I saw quite clearly that I was not then nor would I ever be a poet and the esoteric delft braiding of words into such a beautiful creature as a poem was as far beyond my fingers as weaving a spider’s web. In defense, I built a wall between me and Verse and said, ‘I don’t understand this.’ I made my own sneering snarks about my lack of ability to become a beret wearing emo girl and, therefore, could never relate to poetry. You see, unchecked consumption of poetry might lead to attending readings in darkened clubs where ultra hip people dressed in all black and lit by a single spotlight recite deeply emotional renditions of their grocery lists composed in iambic pentameter or a series of haiku extoling the virtues of some obscure facet of their intense and dramatic lives.

But the truth is I am afraid of it. I stand before Poetry as a wet-behind-the-ears kid bearing a crinkled lunch bag stands before the school on the first day of the first grade imagining all manner of terrors that lie behind the doors. It is risky. It bears the hallmark of vulnerability. Poetry is, frankly, fraught with danger and the mysterious unknown rhythms with which I do not wish to engage in an undue familiarity. What if I accidentally liked bad poetry? I mean really bad poetry that should be obvious to all hearers is complete drivel and I, in my ignorance, might not realize it. What if I [gasp] wrote a poem and it truly was a horrid thing that left me standing, wounded, open handed and open mouthed before the wizened worldly ones experienced in the gnostic methods of verse who cackled mercilessly at my foolishness?

No. I am safe here behind my wall of not understanding.

A few months ago I accidentally read some poetry. It was not on purpose. When I bought the book, the guy at the bookstore said, “you’ll like it.” Was that some kind of warning or a dare? “Oh, it’s not for me,” I said, reaching out to touch that old familiar safety barrier between me and Poetry. “It’s a gift. I don’t understand poetry.” Then it happened. I was stuck at the laundromat and had forgotten to bring the book I’d been reading. In semi-desperation I opened the only one I had. It was a book of Ron Rash’s poetry titled Waking. Who on earth writes a poem about a fish whose name means “ugly pike” (the muskellunge)? Or about men cleaning their fingers with pocket knives and wearing grooves into porches with their rocking chairs? I guess he does. And it was good. At least in my small world once lined with magnetic words, it was good.

Then I actually went to a poetry reading. I have no idea how I ended up going because I never remember saying I’d be there. But there I was. Not a beret in sight. The room was brightly lit. The woman who read was just about as far from emo as I am. (For the record, I doubt Rash has ever donned a beret either.) It was so…… normal. I thought maybe it wasn’t real poetry. After all, I kinda liked it and I don’t understand poetry so there must be something amiss. No, I learned from an objective source, it was indeed real poetry and pretty good at that.

I have to be cautious now so that I don’t accidentally end up at another poetry event. However, I have conceded to an invitation to attend one in the future. So far I’ve felt no urge to don any kind of French headwear but at the first sign of this, I will run away as fast as my legs will carry me! I may have read another book of poetry, too, but I’m not ready to confess that just yet.

I still don’t understand poetry…. but maybe I don’t have to.

Name of the Wind

I’ve been waiting for a good book for a long time. Not that I haven’t read good ones lately, mind you, but I’ve been waiting for a particular kind of book; a particular kind of story. A book that’s like eating a really good meal. You’re drawn into the experience immediately and you want it not because you have to or ought to or are supposed to but because it’s just so good, plain and simple, you can’t help it. I loved this book in a way that one loves a meal that has some delicious item they’ve been craving a very long time. It doesn’t have to be a five star dinner to be something your heart desires and that’s what this story was for me: My heart’s desire. Except the ending which did not leave me satisfied but wanting more. And thankfully there is more!

The Name of the Wind: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One by Patrick Rothfuss
 

This book was recommended to me by one, maybe two, people. I am convinced that you can learn something about the way a person sees the world from the inside of their head by reading books they like. Of course, it’s not an exact science, but it does sometimes influence which recommended books I choose to read. My first thought, however, was that it would be another D&D style book. You know the type I mean. A group of assorted flotsam and jetsam meets at an inn or tavern and goes out adventuring, slaying dragons, finding gold and rescuing maidens along the way. Not that there’s anything wrong with that at all, simply that I assumed this to be in that genre. It sort of is and sort of isn’t.

The basic premise is this: a man named Kvothe (or Kote or Reshi or who knows what else he calls himself), a simple innkeeper, is retelling the story of his life to the Chronicler so that there will be a genuine account of his life rather than just the heroic or notorious mythology that seems to have grown up around him. Simple enough. But you see, he’s not really just some innkeeper.

First clue that things aren’t what they seem is the somewhat strange and intriguing employee/student, Bast, who calls the innkeeper Reshi. Fairly early in the book, through their conversations, we realize that they are hiding from something. At least Kote is. And while he wishes to keep his identity hidden beneath the guise of mild mannered average guy, he still goes out to kill some devilish spider-like nightmare creatures in the middle of the night. Well, I suppose someone has to do it. It is on this little outing that he meets and saves the life of the Chronicler.

After some coaxing and prodding, Kote (or Kvothe) sits down with Chronicler and Bast and begins telling the story of his life. He says that he will need three days to tell the whole thing. “…let us pass over innumerable boring stories: the rise and fall of empires, sagas of heroism, ballads of tragic love. Let us hurry forward to the only tale of any real importance,” Kvothe says. “Mine.”  If I had to pin point it, I believe I fell in love with this character right there.

As a child Kvothe meets a man who can call upon the wind to obey his wishes. This man knows the name of the wind and young Kvothe is so impressed with this that he wants to learn how do this, too. Who wouldn’t? After a horrific and devastating encounter with the Chandrian, a well-fabled and chillingly evil group, Kvothe’s young life is turned upside down and hurdled headlong into chaos.

From an unorthodox yet love-filled childhood to heart breaking poverty, from several unexpected kindnesses, friends and mentors to higher education and varying degrees of high and low adventure, Kvothe’s life unfolds before Chronicler, Bast and our eyes. Oh, and there’s the girl. In fact the whole second half of the book circles in no small part around her. Denna, Dianna, Rosanna Bannanna Danna (ok, not the last bit). Her name, like Kvothe’s, keeps changing. She proves to be as wild and unpredictable as the wind itself and more than a fair match to Kvothe in all areas.

The educational institution where he goes to study to learn the name of the wind, and everything else he can manage along the way, has a faint echo of Hogwarts. However, I think it is likely that any school of magic will henceforth be reminiscent of the Potter Alma Matter. It is not a distracting characteristic of the story but it is there none the less.

Throughout the story there is music. Kvothe’s childhood was woven through with it, he spends the darkest times of his life either pouring himself into it or pinning for it like a drug addict weeping for another fix. His musical ability provides him with a bit of much needed financial support and adds to his already mounting notoriety. It also provides his first real connection with Denna.

The author switches back and forth between the “current timeline” of the inn with Kote (Kvothe), Chronicler and Bast as well as a few visitors to the establishment from time to time, and the timeline of Kvothe’s story. This can be a technique that is disconcerting to me because it is often either jarring or affected but Rothfus does it smoothly and just frequently enough to maintain the storyteller motif and leave you hungry for the next chapter. The book ends, unsurprisingly, with cliffhanger and many a loose thread because the whole story is meant to be in three parts. After all, Kvothe said it would take three days to tell the whole story of his life.

The next book in the series is The Wise Man’s Fear and, for the first time in a long while, I actually went to purchase it before I completed the first one so I would not have to wait to begin it as soon as I completed Name of the Wind. In the first book, Kvothe says that a wise man fears three things: the sea in a storm, a night with no moon and the anger of a gentle man. Sure sounds like wisdom to me.

While reading this book I could not help from thinking about so many legends and stories, superstitions and fables that I have heard my whole life. Every time a character touched a piece of iron as a protection against demons I was reminded of so many superstitious rituals that I or someone I know feel compelled to enact, even if we rationally know they are not particularly powerful. With every awe inspiring legend that grew up around Kvothe (Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane) because of some much less awe-full event, I was reminded of stories like Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, King Arthur and Robin Hood. All most likely rooted in real people but touched with some sort of magic.

Obviously, I love the book and would highly recommend it. But there is something more here than just a good tale well spun. I have always thought that we are, in no small part, the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell others about ourselves. Kvothe became who he was not only because of factually based events but also because of story. Story carries with it so much more truth than factually based accounts. I am not convinced that facts can bear as much truth as story. Are we not all in some way like Kvothe? Are not the stories we tell ourselves with our own particular view of the world and of our lives who we really are?

I believe, even though it is a sort of genre that is often assumed to be more targeted for males (though I’ve never taken much notice of that assumption myself) it would readily appeal to both men and women. It is a well written adventure with a good dose of human nature and relationships. And, above all else, a damned good story! It is also my sincere hope that it is never, ever made into a movie. I have in my mind what Kvothe is like and I never want to see anyone else’s image of him.

Remarkable Creatures

Quite behind on some book reviews and a few other update posts. Today we’ll start with a review of Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier.

 

I read this book as part of one of the three or so bookclubs of which I am a part. Chevalier also wrote Girl With A Pearl Earring and The Lady and the Unicorn, among others. The group in the bookclub wanted to read something a bit lighter than some of the heavier, meatier things we had all been reading lately. This was a good choice for just that. When I say light, however, I don’t mean that it wasn’t worthwhile, merely that it wasn’t too elaborate or complex nor was the material itself emotionally dense.

Based on the real life of Mary Anning, a fossil hunter from the 1800’s whose discoveries contributed to the continued scientific analysis of ancient creatures and their, as well as our, place in history. Along with Mary there is her somewhat unlikely friend, Miss Elisabeth Phillpot, a spinster among spinsters who has moved to Mary’s area of the English Coast in her and her sisters’ marriageless exile and discovered her own love of ‘curies’ or the fossils that she discovers ‘upon beach.’

The story is about both the amazing discoveries made by Mary and the friendship between two women of different ages and social groups. It was a well told story revealing many sides to the restrictions and freedoms in the lives of women of different social strata and shone light on the obvious disregard given to women of the time from the scientific community. There is a bit of Jane Austin here, not only because it is set in the same time and deals with the same financial, social and emotional issues she addressed, but also in the general flavor of the novel. Miss Phillpot’s internal commentary on being a woman, and particularly a spinster, in the world with comments like, ‘It is so tiresome being a lady’ seem to be a gentle tip of the bonnet to the Austin canon.

In all, a good and worthwhile read. I read this not too long after reading Room (though with some others in between) and there was a common theme, albeit dramatically different setting, of the helplessness of these women and seeking freedom from circumstances beyond their control.

In general, I have had a difficult time getting into books lately. I read a portion of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and while the character of Lisbeth is definitely compelling and, in her dark way, heroic, it took forever for me to feel I was in the story. Also, I had a similar experience with Stones From The River. Both of those are good books, but you must begin them with a sense of commitment. Remarkable Creatures was no different. However, I am currently reading a book that on the first page I was curious, by the 10th I was asking questions and shortly thereafter I was hooked. Now that’s the kind of book I’ve been looking for! The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

 

 
 
Reviews forthcoming on
Light Boxes
 
 

The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking: Book One