Book Fever and Other Autumn Ruminations

If I saw the Hoarders tv show and one of their clients had nothing but books, I’d think: What’s wrong with that? Like the trundling out of sweaters and warmer socks, autumn sets my brain on fire with the compulsion to accrue books. My husband and daughter just roll their eyes at me and make jokes about my inability to leave the library or bookstores without a stack of acquisitions. I am happily surrounded by books and read incessantly. This is my childhood dream come true.

Unintentionally, I had prepared for a huge book bender. I updated my reading glasses, whittled down my schedule, and started to acquire books at an alarming rate. I’m looking forward to a winter of Oscar Wilde, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, Helen Oyeyemi, James Baldwin, Louise Erdrich, Jonathan Lethem, Joyce Carol Oates, and any other writer who trips my fancy.

31522415The warmup to heavier tomes has been a lot of pithy reading. I read Austin Kleon’s trio of books (Steal Like an Artist, Show Your Work, Keep Going), Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals, and story story collections. Lesley Nneka Arimah’s short story collection What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky was full of thoughtful, if not disturbing, storytelling.

47635917I also read another book sent to me by JKS Communications, Blood Creek by Kimberly Collins, an ambitious novel that wasn’t quite my taste, but will resonate with the historical romance crowd – those who like their vixens fiery and their men stoic and often criminal. It reminded me of the books I used to sneak out of my mother’s collection when I was 13 – like Rosemary Roger’s Sweet Savage Love, where the main character is selfish, but too waif-like with a cavernous decolletage to not get her own way, at the expense of everyone around her.

Writing is ramping up as well. I just finished the online Masterclass with Joyce Carol Oates. While her story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” is one of the creepiest stories I’ve ever read, her prolific career is an inspiration and her low-key but dedicated approach to writing resonates with me. 2019 has been a year of nearly constant rejection, from publications and even a mentor program. One would think I’d want to call it a day. But Ms. Oates has some wise words for rejection which I’ll paraphrase here: it’s likely a blessing when one’s work is rejected. It’s not your best work and you don’t want it out there. It forces you back to revisions again and again and again, until what you have left really is good.

*****

So I soldier on. And at the mention of soldiers, I just want to leave this public service note: Flag-worshipping does not make you a hero or a saint. As a vet who served for a wide variety of reasons, including an adolescent sense of loyalty to my country, I’m finding that performative patriotism in this country has gone off the rails – in the old sense, like nutter-level.

canstockphoto6552217I was on a treadmill at the Y the other day. In front of me, an older man was wearing a t-shirt with an American flag that said If this flag offends you, I’ll help you pack. I know it’s not good to wish heart attacks on people peddling on stationary bikes, but it briefly crossed my mind. If you’re a flag worshipper, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t flail about screaming that everyone else is being disrespectful to the flag and then wear it as a crackled, worn decal on your sweaty carcass. I mean you can, but the paramedics are going to have to cut it away to attach the defibrillator pads. I’m sure they’ll be respectful, though.

*****

37941609Fall is often a season that brings about feelings of bittersweet melancholy, much like being in your fifties and still trying to get published. It is a season, though, that begs for poetry. I consider myself a blogger, novelist, and short story writer, but on occasion I hail back to my adolescence and write a poem. Now they are less about being ignored by the boy I liked or morbid poems about dying and more about just fading away. I’m reading Adam Zagajewski’s collection of poems, Asymmetry and they are the kind of poems that make you ache just a little.

*****

It’s been such a tough year, for me, for we humans out in the world. Some of us manage to remain unscathed. We keep our eyes forward, don’t get distracted, know what we’re about on the planet. Some of us have been buffeted by the winds of chance – medical emergencies, financial crises, devastating diagnoses of our health, our portfolios, our relationships. Some of us have internalized the existential dread of what the future holds – dictators, natural disasters, scarcity, randomized violence. We’re taking the news intravenously and it eats away at our sense of wellbeing.

I need hope and so do some of you. Where do we find it? Where is the solace, the palliative, the hospice for the walking wounded? I find it written by authors who apply poultices through words, in the faces of people who love me, in telling stories, in walking with the crunch of leaves beneath my feet. We fashion our own life preservers and hope that it’s enough.

23 Comments on “Book Fever and Other Autumn Ruminations

  1. It’s autumn here too. Its bringing in trees blooming in splendor before they take a break. I am also striving to write before the leaves turn to brown and a book changes color!

    Like

  2. I am also a book hoarder. I have gotten myself to the point where I can happily and easily part with “things” I never thought I could give away or sell. I find it liberating. But I cannot part with a book.

    Like

    • I am much the same. But I also find that books, like one’s wardrobe, are often representative of a period in one’s life. Sometimes letting them go seems like letting go of a piece of yourself. These days, I try to send more onto better lives, rather than allowing them to collect too much dust. It’s an excuse to read more before I let go (it’s housekeeping!).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I want to write just like you!!!! You truly are not only entertaining (important), but absolutely a master at putting a sentence together poetically, grammatically correct, and seemingly without trying! (even more important). Your sarcasm is top-notch. (Maybe the most important!) Yes, I want to write just like you, but then that isn’t my style, it wouldn’t be me. Darn! Keep it up, dear writer.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice, Michelle. Books are falling off my bookshelves, and there’s no place to put more, so I’ feel forced to read what I already have or go to the library, or get rid of some, but it’s painful. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Like

  5. LeVar Burton read a story from Lesley Nneka Arimah on his podcast (LeVar Burton Reads) a while ago, and I loved it so much I bought What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky basically the next day. In true “me” fashion, I have yet to read it; thank you for the unintentional reminder!

    Like

    • She’s a writer who lives in Minneapolis, so the library had her book on display. Since I’ve been reading more Joyce Carol Oates, I see the similiarities to other writers everywhere, but Ms. Arimah does have an inclination towards mundane violence that gives one chills.
      I have piles of books yet to be read, but I have to admit that it might also be part of my interior decorating style. There’s a quote by Jorge Luis Borges that I like: “I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books.” Ditto!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The crunch of the leaves, heard while wandering down a path, is good for the soul. Autumn is good for the soul, come to think of it. A time of letting go. And enjoying colors.

    I agree with you about the man wearing the t-shirt with the flag on it while exercising. The flag is a symbol of a concept you apparently hold dear– so why not show respect for the symbol, you old fool?

    Like

    • There’s something about the season that gives you permission to slow down and meander. That’s the part I really like.
      I don’t care how a person feels about the flag, but it’s the hypocrisy of castigating others while clearly not understanding what respect means. This does seem to be an era of symbolism over substance, so likely indicative of that mentality.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Believe it or not, just the other evening I was wondering when there would be a new post from you. 🙂
    Joyce Carol Oates was at the Brooklyn Book Festival a few weekends ago. I didn’t attend the event where she was a panelist, though. I do respect that she participated—they’re not paid an appearance fee or anything. It’s all for the love of books and writing.

    Like

    • When looking for inspiration, I really look to those working writers who have consistent work ethics and a down-to-earth approach to writing. I’m less inspired by frou-frou talk of art and inspiration or magic or divinity. I like the nuts-and-bolts approach, which is the majority of one’s time spent writing. Ms. Oates fits that bill.

      Like

  8. Enjoy the books. I rarely get rid of a book. There are always odd places you can put books if you don’t rent. Shelves up near the ceiling everywhere including the hallway is a favorite.

    Like

    • I have to keep saying this mantra to myself: “Possession is not knowledge”, in order to remind myself that if I don’t actively work my way through these books, they would find a better home elsewhere. Not suggesting it actually works, if my study is any indicator!

      Like

  9. I enjoyed this post, Michelle, and it increased my excitement for getting the library/den/office put into order at our new home. Right now all of my precious books are in boxes waiting for the new shelving. Your comments made me relish the thought of reading a lot throughout the fall and winter seasons. As far as what balances the daily anguish, I find that getting together with close family members and close friends helps me. Glad to know that the class by Oates was good. Luanne might recall when she came to speak at UC Riverside when we were there. The story you mention is indeed dark, and it is one that has stayed with me over the years. Happy reading!

    Like

    • I am weird, I know, but the most fun “task” I do is to rearrange and shelve my books. Sometimes I forget what I have and flopping on the floor with a pile of books is sometimes a day-long project – preferably with a rain/snow storm raging outside and a hot drink at hand.
      I have to admit to only having read a few of Ms. Oates’ stories before I took the course, but now have added the book “Blonde” to the list, as well as a few others. The online Masterclass mimics her Princeton freshmen fiction writing course (according to her), but I really like her very dry, get-down-to-brass-tacks approach to writing. There’s a lot of woo-woo talk out there about writing, but the mechanics are the foundation for improving anything.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The storm makes it all the better! I hope you get to have a day like that soon. The class sounds like a real treat. She has so much material, it would be challenging to read it all!

        Liked by 1 person

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: