Friday, January 17, 2014

Reading in the Year of the Book (Year 2: 2014 a.k.a. The Year of Traveling)

The Survival of the Bark Canoe - John McPhee

    All parties in the trip remarked that Thoreua's Maine Woods should act as a rough guide to the 5 man birch bark canoe jaunt through the Allaghash Wilderness in Northern Maine.  In all of my years living in Maine I never made it much farther north than Kingfield. For this I have some regret. McPhee's descriptions of the woods and streams and impossible lakes are inspiring and his details of the interpersonal relationships on the trip help to keep the story grounded in the muck, wind, and rain of the north woods. The book follows the talent of young birch bark canoe builder Henri Vallaincourt from New Hampshire. Henri's skills are impressive and his dedication to his craft obviously greatly pleases the author. McPhee does a great job balancing his criticisms of "boutique explorer" culture with his party's own shortcomings as 1970's explorers. They may have hand built bark canoes instead of aluminum or plastic but their culinary habits are often freeze dried. Luckily McPhee is not afraid to grab freshwater clams on the Allaghash and indulge. I want to go camping now.



The Broken Road - Patrick Leigh Fermor


The final part of the trilogy! Written at an amazing time in world history when nations were floating between the world wars with many of the 18th and 17th century traditions in their last throes. In The Broken Road Fermor revels and rides through central and eastern Europe making new friends and expanding conversations on language, culture, and conquest history. What sets this book apart, however, is the tang of regret and sadness. Fermor seems incapable of omitting reflections on the fate of many of the individuals in his travels as they are propelled into the second world war. The deaths, suicides, and losses show the cost of the war on Europe's intellectual promise. I understand more why Fermor worked so long to finish the trilogy. Even here the narrative breaks off without ever reaching Constantinople. As an addendum, the editors included 20 year old Fermor's original journals from a trip to Mount Athos in Greece. Fermor fell completely in love with Greece and it is sweet and inspiring to see into his first journey in the landscape among the monasteries and footpaths.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Do-Nothing House Revival

The Do-Nothing House 'zine is available as a scanned (not great quality) pdf!
I made this 'zine many years ago and recently found it, and a bunch of other goodies, in my record stack.

Download Here and Enjoy:
The Do-Nothing House PDF

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Reading in the Year of the Book (Part 7)

The year of the book is drawing to a close. We have almost made it back around to December and I have read so so so many books. This post is highlighted by some more recent classics as well as one of my favorite novels I have ever read. I am still finishing up a few stragglers and have more books coming...however, I feel that 2014 will be a slightly different year of reading. Peace and Love and Reading.

An Armenian Sketchbook - Vasily Grossman
        




Armenia = stone and the first and last sights of this decayed stone land seem to have given the author a bit of a bathroom emergency. Grossman does an excellent job drawing parallels between the life of the people in Armenia and the traits unique to human beings. Interspersed in the chapters are lessons drawn from the landscape and applied to the human condition: "I think that a perfect theory will be understood by a schoolchild; that perfect music will mean something not only to people but also to wolves, dolphins, grass snakes, and frogs…" Here he is speaking about the perfect simplicity of the Armenian stone churches. Grossman applies the same wonder to all the events he witnesses.



Fiskadoro - Denis Johnson
      



This book is about memory and its relation to death and loss. The survivors of the atomic apocalypse exist, several generations later, in a still temporary society fabricated out of the last remaining bits of cultural identify from the pre quarantine times. But these people are forgetting. Fiskadoro goes through a rebirth and is named, by his clarinet teacher, a "leader." Is this because his rebirth enables him to forget all about the forgetting and only move forward? The quarantine will end, everyone knows this, but it has been three generations of living in the quarantine. Bob Marley, the savior, will return.




Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell


 
  Nesting doll novel destroys human nature and sets "progress" and "civilization" out to pasture. The switching narratives are really well done and very entertaining. I'm not so sure about the "Old Georgie" as devil comparison as the man who caused the atomic fallout of mankind. I'm terrified of the coming corpocracy for sure, even though it is already here and has been for a very long time. I wonder what the author's understanding of Buddhist philosophy, karma, and reincarnation might be? There are several Buddhism references and, in the future when clones are processed as bad as the processed food industry, the big hope are the nuns living out in the shadow of Siddhartha. hmmmm.I bet Bill Moyers loved this one.




The Jeffersonian Transformation - Henry Adams
     


In this abridged version of, and thankfully I didn't have to read them all, Adams' nine volume history of the period between 1800 and 1817 there develops a narrative on the course of American character. The author portrays an early nation that is well divided in all aspects from wealth, politics, art, literature, and religion. This era represents the schisms of character between New England and the South, for example. Adams' America at 1817 is just starting to show its promise and upward slope. There have now been authors, pastors, artists, and politicians to show that the American sensibility is decidedly different from any European model. Americans of 1817 are defined by their intelligence, quickness, and scientific minds…and oh yeah: their accumulation of wealth. The Nation held together and was quickly coming up with heroes to fill the needed divisions.


Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior - Chogyam Trungpa
   
 



I'm glad I finally read this. I know that it is an important work in the development of Buddhism in the West. There is still a part of me that resists the Chogyam Trungpa teachings because of his complicated life history. The path of the warrior follows a Tibetan Tantric line of development with the symbols being paired down and often replaced by ones that may be more easily grasped by a Western mind. I think he was successful in some of these and not others. Changing a fearful mind into a compassionate and brave mind is the hardest challenge in our society and the path of the warrior presents an equally forceful set of instructions to meet that challenge and be a whole human being with fully developed kindness and realized basic goodness.



Stoner - John Williams
     


It seems very fitting to draw closer to the end of the Year of the Book with this great novel. Stoner comes as near to perfection as anything I have ever read. The story is simple with graceful twists but the pace, voice, and sheer beauty of the language are what make this novel so fantastic. Poor Stoner, he knew so much suffering and only the briefest glimpses of love in his difficult career as a Medieval Latin Poetry professor. "He heard the silence of the winter night, and it seemed to him that he somehow felt the sounds that were absorbed by the delicate and intricately cellular being of the snow." This is a great American novel and it is sad as hell. However, the moments of love, triumph, beauty, and passion are so rich that they can never be forgotten. 10/10. 5/5. whatever.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Reading in the Year of the Book: (Part 6: Halloweeen Special...)

Welcome to the Halloween Edition of the Reading in the Year of the Book.  Fall is a magical time and it has been delightful to get deep into some spooky vibes. I do miss the woods and the fall spectacular show in Maine. Plus the apples...

Creative Symbols of Tantric Buddhism - Sangharakshita
       





This is a wonderful step into the history and use of creative symbolism in the development of Tantric Buddhism. The author described the imagery and etc of Vajrayana in a way that helps create a roadmap to the jungle of forms. Sangarakshita does a great job illuminating a few key aspects while providing a lot of helpful advice in to developing your own understanding of the symbols. Set up your own mandala: the figures are for play and in a true J. Campbell sense; if something does not resonate with you, then throw it out. I especially like the chapters on the history of the vajra and the Wheel of Life mandala as mirrored levels of insight. 





The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson


    I wish more happened in this book. I love the characterization of the house and the idea of evil being implanted geographically but the action is a little bit lacking. Jackson's backstory for Hill house is great and there are some spooky moments for sure and I am very fond of the maze like quality of the rooms in the house and how the very structure seems to not want to let you go. Overall a very quick and good October read.








Salem's Lot - Stephen King

  


  This is one vampire story that is creepy and a very enjoyable read. I love Stephen King and 'The Lot' hits all the right notes. The best part of it is that the gory stuff is mostly suggested with a few very bloody exemptions. Also, the small town politics play out in a wonderful way as the pattern of victims grows - the circle of the damned grows but those inflicting the harm are limited by their thirst with the exception here being the centuries old ring leader. King also does a smart thing by adapting the concept of 'evil' straight from Shirley Jackson and the Haunting with the character of the Marsten House whose original evil inhabitants could have easily been the original inhabitants of Hill House as well. Some places stand out…I had haunted places in my neighborhood we would not go in to as kids and this book does a great job bringing that feeling up.
 


It - Stephen King

    This book was long and surprisingly deep. My favorite thing about King is his ability to bring up the old feelings of the monster in the crawl spaces and dark places of childhood. The style of momentum building by creating parallel  story lines between the 27 year difference. The final confrontation seems a bit crazy…I mean…outer macroverse void spaces and the giant turtle who is incapable of helping? Weird. 










The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - Washington Irving

    The legend of the smashed pumpkin! It must have been bold Abraham "Bones" what did the schoolmaster in right? This is classic and to think that when it was written the references to Hessian Soldiers and hung Revolutionary traitors was not so far removed (even with the mention of the "ancient city of Manhattoes"). This story makes me miss Fall in New England; the juxtaposition of the bounty of the late harvest (apples) and the oncoming fear of the dark cold winter.










Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury

    Bring forth the bright antidotes to fear and suffering! It is with laughter that the acceptance of being truly alive comes through. Mr. Dark and his twisted carnival prey on people's knots. These knots are woven out of a fear of time and a stubbornness to accept the march of life. Mr. Holloway-the janitor at the library-is the hero in the end. This book was great and it much surpassed the early teen name I had given it in my head. The way Bradbury moves through a scene by putting the descriptions just enough out of reach is beautiful. So many images seem turned on their heads and yet they fit in so well with the overall feel of the "October people". I know what that means and it suits the season so perfectly as the year progresses in to winter and those things that were green go away. Cool book. 






The Green Man - Kingsley Amis


Lord Underhill has a messenger on the prowl to do his bidding while Mr. Allington of the Inn "The Green Man" has another whiskey to contemplate his wishful damsel bedding. Allington is a drunk and this blocks his ability to communicate the state of ghostly affairs going on in his Inn. The novel does a great job setting a devious ghost mystery in a social commentary framework touching drink, lust, the role of the priesthood, and unsatisfied desires. Plus: does God show up and give a little lecture? Weird. It took a while to get going on this one but it was well worth it in the end.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Reading in the Year of the Book (Part 5)

Summer is in full swing and I have managed to get a little bit of reading done between trips up to MDI, PEI, Woodstock, BVT, and planning the big move out west. The next entry will be from Colorado! Yikes.

Moravagine-Blaise Cendrars

"I had raised and nourished a parasite at my own expense." This is true of the narrator of the novel but written in explanation of the  troubled process of writing Moravagine by the author. This book is about death, idiocy, and adventure-characteristics behind the murderous revolutions and wars of the early 20th century. There is even a bit of a POCIII reference in a malarial episode up the Orinoco basin involving a tribe of "amazons" adopting Mora as their sex king. The most disturbing episodes of this book are two: the sauerkraut train ride suicide escape and the first meeting of Moravagine (hint: masturbation and a fishbowl). Whats up with the weird self-referencing when the author appears as a very minor character? Alter egos of alter egos of a pseudonym (maybe the original Fight Club...)




Pinochio - Carlo Collodi


 Poor Pinnochio. What a rascal and miscreant. He treats everyone like crap, kills the friendly Cricket in their first encounter, and thankfully has a blue haired fairy godmother to clean up his messes. Gepetto has to spend the whole book eating hardtack in a shark gut because of this little twerp. Perhaps this 19th century children's tale is not quite as PC as it would have to be today (dead schoolmate, brutal donkey bashings, the ghastly hanging of a puppet by a recently handless cat) but the point gets across: study, work hard, be generous, and listen to good advice.





The Japanese Chronicles - Nicolas Bouvier 


 The author in Japan is noticeably an older man from the person who wrote The Way of the World. Bouvier steps widely into the emerging world of "East meets West" during his time living and traveling around Japan. I especially like the 1/3rd of the book on traveling around Hokkaido with excellent commentary on the disappearance of the Ainu, the loneliest fog-bound north coasts, and the finely developed dance of a drunken all night small village party. This was a quick and simple read and very enjoyable for Spring night relaxing.





Names on the Land - George R. Stewart


An old school romantic history of the names on the map in America. This book is interesting because the author, through an obvious obsession, goes deep into the processes and perspectives that lead to the variety of names on the American continent. It is truly amazing to look deeply at the unique circumstances surrounding the "discovery" of the continent from the earliest Spaniards, through the heavy colonization, revolution, native and classical renaissances, and gold rushes. My favorite sections deal with the Dutch and Swedish naming along the Southern (Delaware) river and mid-Atlantic areas (especially since I read much of these sections deep in the Catskills along the Hudson river). Gotta love names and maps and history!




Weather Predicting Simplified - Michael William Carr


 A great resource for information on understanding longer weather patterns and the nature of frontal systems, pressure systems, the jet stream, and wind factors. An essential part of my new weather fascination.








Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart - Mark Epstein


 In this "Buddhist perspective on wholeness" Epstein does a wonderful job on weaving aspects of psychotherapy with lessons from Buddhism and meditation practice to shed light on what makes us, as human people striving through life as all do, miss the key points to feeling complete. The key being to cultivate the ability to "go to pieces" without "falling apart." To work with our emotions and situations as the tools of the trade on the path to wholeness. I especially like the imagery of the temple or mandala as unfolding outwards from a complete center with even the seemingly disparate objects on the far petals containing traces of that central radiance.




Roumeli - Patrick Leigh Fermor

The last of the Fermors! Done and I am very sad to see it go. These books will make a wonderful addition to my collection right next to the Heyerdahl's. Roumeli is PLF's final mark on the majesty and diversity of Greece as it appeared through his war, love, meditation conquests, and extensive ramblings. This is the good stuff. I love the section of seeking the source for the boliari language of the beggars and swindlers from a specific region. These swindlers created their own language to remain in contact with each other as they rambled, perhaps, all the way up to Siberia and back in single voyages. Amazing! These Fermor books are wonderful.