Feel as if the top of my head were taken off

In 1870, Emily Dickinson was said to describe poetry this way:

 “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?”

 And, then you read a book, that does exactly that.

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A good trade.


In mid-November I flew to Madrid. […] In Cartagena we made a pit stop at a restaurant called Juanita. […] I was sitting at the bar, having lukewarm coffee and a bowl of marinated beans warmed in possibly the first microwave ever made, when I realized some guy had sidled up to me.

He opened a well-worn oxblood wallet to reveal a solitary lottery ticket with the number 46172. I didn’t get the feeling it was a winning number, but in the end I paid six euros for it, which was a lot for a lottery ticket. Then he sat down next to me, ordered a beer and a plate of cold meatballs, and paid for them with my euros. We ate together in silence. Then he got up, looked me straight in the face, and grinned, saying buena suerte. I smiled back and wished him luck as well.

It occurred to me that my ticket may be worthless, but I didn’t care. I was willingly drawn into the whole scene, like a random character in a B. Traven novel. Lucky or not, I went along with the part I was targeted to play: the pigeon who gets off a bus at a pit stop on the road to Cartagena, hit on to invest in a suspiciously limp lottery ticket. The way I look at it is that fate touches me and some rumpled straggler has a repast of meatballs and warm beer. He is happy, I feel at one with the world— a good trade.

~ Patti Smith, ‘Her Name was Sandy’ from the M Train


Browse among books like a crazed sheep


Although I steeped myself in an incredible amount of reading material, it merely expanded the void, fattened the darkness inside the cactus. Nothing was born from there… . Despite that, I read more and more, growing endlessly fatter of soul until I could not move because of my weight. Just as the mouth takes in food, my eyes avidly devoured everything. No doubt my brain was swelling up from its morbid, chronic hunger. Even after I came to that cottage, my daily task…was to continually browse among books like a crazed sheep.

~ Kurahashi Yumiko, “Ugly Demons

Notes: Quote: Literary Miscellany; Photo: Tilburg, Netherlands 2015 via Your Eyes Blaze Out

Amateurs. Seeking mastery? Here’s our Truth.


TRUTH. In a second.

He’s the spark for this share.  Greg Cowles, editor of the NY Times Book Review, reviews Mary Karr’s new book The Art of Memoir.  One sentence in his review (also titled The Art of Memoir) summarizes his thoughts on the book:

It is not, alas, a very good book. Repetitive, unorganized, unsure of its audience or tone, it can’t decide whether it wants to be a how-to guide or a work of critical analysis.

Here’s my review of the book review in fewer words: BAH!

Now on to the Truth, our Truth, Truth for anyone seeking mastery of anything – with the most illuminating excerpt from Karr’s new book.

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You’re a Great Man, Charles Schulz


[…] Given the cavalcade of Peanuts appreciation, one might question the need for a new book. This critic questioned it himself, sitting down with a cup of coffee and wondering how best to write something along the lines of “With all due respect to the man’s genius, one might question . . .” and then the coffee was cold and your humble critic was staring at page after page with a silly grin plastered on his face. “Only What’s Necessary” turns out to be exactly what one wants: a reconsideration of Schulz’s work that fits perfectly with its umpteenth delightful conjuring. […]

An appreciation of Schulz’s clear-cut style puts his masterly writing into even more, um, sharp relief. Schulz’s comic sense is a blank one; however hilarious, there’s always something odd or sad around the edges. When Snoopy keeps sniffing around Charlie Brown’s catcher’s mitt, spoiling the game, our hero has to admit that he has been using some extra padding: a slice of bread. It’s a weird punch line, but right: just the sort of childhood logic that’s simultaneously wrong and irrefutable. Juxtaposed with the tidy little shape that Schulz gives us for the padding, the joke has an extra, doughy layer of blankness. […]

But what makes the biggest impression is how invisible his care is, in the bareness of his work. “Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain!!” is the first draft of a speech bubble. Schulz cuts it to “Rain, rain, rain!!” and then, in its final form, makes it “Rain, rain, rain, rain . . .” One has the feeling that every inked line of rain in the drawing was the result of a similar pensive process.

The result of all this care and thought, both from Schulz himself and from Messrs. Kidd and Spear in arranging this book, is a melancholy familiar to anyone who has seen Peanuts in any of its incarnations. Funny things happen to these kids, but the emptiness of the panels, the starkness of the drawings and the sketches, leave a slight but indelible sadness. I closed this terrific book with a regretful sigh, both that I’d reached the end and that there wasn’t even more. There is, of course, so much, much more available, so it was a little silly to feel this way. Silly and sad, both at once. Charlie Brown has a good expression for it: Good grief.​

~ Daniel Handler, ‘You’re a Great Man, Charles Schulz in a Book Review of Chip Kidd’s ‘Only What’s Necessary


A black hole of fleeting intentions


The pile of unread books we have on our bedside tables is often referred to as a graveyard of good intentions. The list of unread books on our Kindles is more of a black hole of fleeting intentions. […]

In the past two years, something unexpected happened: I lost the faith. Gradually at first and then undeniably, I stopped buying digital books. I realised this only a few months ago, when taking stock of my library, both digital and physical. Physical books – most of all, works of literary fiction – I continue to acquire voraciously. […]

The great irony, of course, is that I’ve never read more digitally in my life. Each day, I spend hours reading on my iPhone – news articles, blog posts and essays. […] But what of digital books? What accounts for my unconscious migration back to print?

Once bought by a reader, a book moves through a routine. It is read and underlined, dog-eared and scuffed and, most importantly, reread. To read a book once is to know it in passing. To read it over and over is to become confidants. The relationship between a reader and a book is measured not in hours or minutes but, ideally, in months and years. […]

Containers matter. They shape stories and the experience of stories. Choose the right binding, cloth, trim size, texture of paper, margins and ink, and you will strengthen the bond between reader and text. Choose badly and the object becomes a wedge between reader and text.

~ Craig Mod, Will Digital Books Ever Replace Print


Flanking us fifty feet away in an aquatic escort

An Atlantic spotted dolphin, An Atlantic spotted dolphin mother and calf, Bimini, Bahamas, 2007

The free-living dolphins of the Bahamas had come to know researcher Denise Herzing and her team very well. For decades, at the start of each four-month-long field season, the dolphins would give the returning humans a joyous reception: “a reunion of friends,” as Herzing described it. But one year the creatures behaved differently. They would not approach the research vessel, refusing even invitations to bow-ride. When the boat’s captain slipped into the water to size up the situation, the dolphins remained aloof. Meanwhile on board it was discovered that an expeditioner had died while napping in his bunk. As the vessel headed to port, Herzing said, “the dolphins came to the side of our boat, not riding the bow as usual but instead flanking us fifty feet away in an aquatic escort” that paralleled the boat in an organized manner.

The remarkable incident raises questions that lie at the heart of Carl Safina’s astonishing new book, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel. Can dolphin sonar penetrate the steel hull of a boat—and pinpoint a stilled heart? Can dolphins empathize with human bereavement? Is dolphin society organized enough to permit the formation of a funeral cavalcade? If the answer to these questions is yes, then Beyond Words has profound implications for humans and our worldview.

~ Tim Flannery, The Amazing Inner Lives of Animals


Rescue Us


“I’d like people to start to look at animals as individuals,” she said. “If everyone did a bit more, if they fell in love a little bit more, so much could happen. It doesn’t have to be going vegan. You can advocate for them. You can show tenderness. You can play music for them. I really hope people can connect with animals the way most of us did as children.”

That’s the thing about animals we grow close to, Ms. Stewart added: “We talk about taking in ‘rescue animals.’ But the truth is, just as often, animals rescue us.”

~ Judith Newman, Tracey Stewart’s Animal Planet

Tracey Stewart is the editor-in-chief of the website Moomah, which provides parents and kids with fun, easy, and effective ways to contribute to varying kinds of nonprofits. A passionate animal advocate and expert (she’s a former veterinary technician), she lives on a farm in New Jersey with her husband, Jon Stewart; two kids; four dogs; two pigs; one hamster; three rabbits; two guinea pigs; one parrot; and two fish—all rescues except for the kids.

Don’t miss Judith Newman’s background story on Tracey Stewart: Tracey Stewart’s Animal Planet

Tracey Stewart’s book will be released on Amazon on October 20, 2015: Do Unto Animals

Growing more itchy and agitated by the day

Sven Birkerts

“Sven Birkerts is an anxious man. By turns he is frightened, terrified, alarmed, filled with dread. On one occasion he shudders in his core; mostly he is just plain worried. What concerns him, a concern he is eager to transmit to us, is the rapid spread of computer, Internet and telephone technologies and more specifically what those technologies are doing to our minds. Forever glued to screens of one kind or another, clicking compulsively on the links others provide for us, we are losing the ability to concentrate, growing more itchy and agitated by the day, allowing our consciousness to be fragmented and dispersed.”

~ Tim Parks. Read his full NY Times review of Sven Birkerts new book here: “Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age.”

Amazon’s Book Summary: “After two decades of rampant change, Birkerts has allowed a degree of everyday digital technology into his life. He refuses to use a smartphone, but communicates via e-mail and spends some time reading online. In Changing the Subject, he examines the changes that he observes in himself and others–the distraction when reading on the screen; the loss of personal agency through reliance on GPS and one-stop information resources; an increasing acceptance of “hive” behaviors. “An unprecedented shift is underway,” he argues, and “this transformation is dramatically accelerated and more psychologically formative than any previous technological innovation.” He finds solace in engagement with art, particularly literature, and he brilliantly describes the countering energy available to us through acts of sustained attention, even as he worries that our increasingly mediated existences are not conducive to creativity. It is impossible to read Changing the Subject without coming away with a renewed sense of what is lost by our wholesale acceptance of digital innovation and what is regained when we immerse ourselves in a good book.”

My Truth


My editor turned it down. She wanted me to write a novel about that marriage, what went wrong, what went right, then friendship, illness, and death. But life doesn’t arrange itself conveniently into chapters – not mine, anyway. And I didn’t want to write a novel. My life didn’t feel like a novel. It felt like a million moments. I didn’t want to make anything fit together. I didn’t want to make anything up. I didn’t want it to make sense the way I understand a novel to make a kind of sense. I didn’t want anywhere to hide. I didn’t want to be able to duck. I wanted the shock of truth. I wanted moments that felt like body blows. I wanted moments of pure hilarity, connected to nothing that came before or after. I wanted it to feel like the way I’ve lived my life. And I wanted to tell the truth. My truth doesn’t travel in a straight line, it zigzags, detours, doubles back. Most truths I have to learn over and over again.

~ Abigail Thomas, Thinking About Memoir