April 22, 2010

Books that changed my life

I am reading galleys now for the book: new title! (Re)Making Love: A Sex After Sixty Story that will be published by 3ones, Inc., as soon as the permissions process is over. I suggest you read David Shields on this torturous process. I will write an essay soon about it all. But in the meantime, Shields has written a controversial, well-reviewed and challenging book that takes on much more than this issue. His book is titled Reality Hunger.

Today I add Human Wishes by Robert Hass, 1989. I will post an analysis soon of the book itself—not as a critic but as a lay reader who adores this poet's work. My favorite of all his poems is "Privilege of Being." In this poem I would argue that Hass is aware of the meter even if he chooses not to use it in a regular fashion. And certainly one could argue that regularity is not germane to the meaning of the poem for it is about the human inability to create perfect form. In terms of imagery, Hass contrasts the angels, the lovemaking, the philosophical musings of the poem with the mundane: The man in the poem runs beside his lover, “ready to be alone again . . . or merely companionable like the couples on the summer beach/ reading magazine articles about intimacy between the sexes”—a sobering, ironic reflection of the longing in the poem and the impossibility of complete connection. This book Human Wishes is well-worth owning and if you buy it, I will assure you that you will read these poems again and again and that they will hold you. They have held me in the palm of this poet's broad hand and wise heart.

Here's a new book for the list below. I quote in the memoir James Hollis: The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Midlife, Inner City Books, copyright 1993. Reprinted in my memoir with permission of Daryl Sharp, publisher, Inner City Books. I'd like to take a moment here to thank the publisher Daryl Sharp, a Jungian analyst, who swiftly responded to my request. We need more good souls like Daryl Sharp in the world. I had permission within three hours of asking. Here's the James Hollis quote that I use in my book. I reread it often for its wisdom:

In a slim little book entitled The Middle Passage the Jungian analyst James Hollis advises: “What is not conscious from our past will infiltrate our present and determine our future. The degree to which we felt nurtured directly affects our ability to nurture others. The degree to which we feel empowered directly affects our ability to lead our own lives. The degree to which we can risk relationship . . . ” depends.

First and foremost I am a reader. Here is the list of books that changed my life and that I am updating as time goes by. I try here to suggest why you might want to own them. James Hollis belongs on this list:

D.H. Lawrence: The Complete Poems by D.H. Lawrence, edited by V. de Sola Pinto & F. W. Roberts, copyright (c) 1964, Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. This glorious book of ALL D.H. Lawrence’s poems is no longer in print. How sad. But you can find it used. Buy it before none are left. Lawrence, as he does in his best novel Women in Love though he is perhaps more well-known for Lady Chatterly’s Lover (a novel I did read and love but that does not compare with Women in Love), will leave you breathless. I read virtually everything he had written when I was seventeen. And then I grew up. Okay, I never actually grew up, but I got older and realized how much he had informed my womanhood. A man did that: Sure my father: more about that soon in something else I’ve written. But D.H. Lawrence put in words much of what my father knew but could not say about both eroticism and ethics and how the two for me are inextricably entwined. What is not so well-known about Lawrence is what a terrific poet he was. Be sure not to miss “Kisses in the Train.” It will spin your heart and is one of the greatest love letters ever written. Remind me to put it on Lovahs.com: a great place to find love letters by ordinary folk and great poets.

Dana Gioia: Interrogations at Noon, 2001 Graywolf Press. I heard Dana Gioia read from this book at the Martin Luther King Library—I live across the street from the library and a couple years ago taught a pro bono class there on writing fiction and memoir: it was a great experience because I learned so much from those who dropped in: the homeless, a bartender, and business folk of all ilk. I hope to teach and learn at the library again soon. Shortly after my class ended and while Dana Gioia was still head of the National Endowment for the Arts, he read there: Not enough people in the audience. But he did not bat an eye over that. He read with heart and soul, the way he writes. Be sure not to miss the poem “Voyeur”—it made me think about love and sex and marriage in ways that both ring true and astonish at the same time. Many years ago I read his book Can Poetry Matter? It has held me in my stead while I delayed writing for work and for reasons I have come through therapy to more deeply understand and that I discuss in a short essay that appears now on ShareWik.com. I expected to find critical revelation that I had been used to trudging through. Instead I found a totally readable book about poetry and life and work. And if you work and think there is no hope that you will write because you MUST work, read Dana Gioia and learn from him. He’s worth it.

Important note here: He is alive and well. Don’t ever buy a used book by an author who is alive: If you do, not only does he never earn a penny for his work but neither does the press that made him available to you and me.

Wendy Doniger: The Bedtrick, Tales of Sex & Masquerade, University of Chicago Press, 2000. The Bedtrick, I say, masquerades as a scholarly text—and indeed it is that: the notes and footnotes go from pages 493 to 598. But I didn’t let Doniger’s scholarship fool me. She writes with wry humor and perfect clarity—sentences that ring like bells and that I reread to learn how to write one—but more to understand the paradoxes of sex. While reading The Bedtrick, I watch movies (The Filmography alone on pages 567 to 576 startles with its range), read the Kamasutra and Shakespeare with her—and everything she (and now I) can get our hands on. She knows so much about sex that I keep this book near me the way I keep Joyce’s Ulysses near me, but for different reasons: Doniger is a helluva lot more fun. And she’s alive and well: don’t you dare buy her used.

John Updike: Self-Consciousness, First Ballantine Books Edition, NY, 1990—and all of his short stories. I wept when he died. Not to see him on a regular basis in The New Yorker, his home away from home where most of his short stories were published and where he regularly wrote enlightening essays on art and books hurts—and I mean that: I ache for him. In the chapter “Getting the Words Out” in Self-Consciousness, his candid memoir, he talks about the burden of his stammer and the psoriasis that plagued him in his youth. But what he does with this is tell us what he learned from both. And throughout this gem of a book, Updike lifts the curtain, as I like to say, on the autobiography inside his fictions. His book gives me courage.

Salman Akhtar: Broken Structures: Severe Personality Disorders and Their Treatment, 1992 by Jason Aronson, Inc. Available through Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. Okay this one is a psychiatric text. But Salman Akhtar is a poet and a psychiatrist. I found this book enlightening on more levels than I can express. He reaffirmed that when I was broken, I could be whole and stronger for the struggle. He also is alive and well: Remember my dictum.

Maurice Blanchot: The Writing of the Disaster, translated by Ann Smock, the University of Nebraska Press, 1986. He was both a fiction writer and a critic and I suppose is now studied as a philosopher. But you don’t have to be a philosopher to read this thin book. I surely am not. Blanchot reads to me like poetry. I don’t always know what the sentences mean but the organic whole of his words invade me, invoke me, inspire me and hold me the way poetry does. Okay, he’s dead, but he’d never be available to us if the University of Nebraska had not published Ann Smock’s wonderful translation of him. So, let’s support the arts and buy the book.

John Hitchcock: At Home in the Universe: Re-envisioning the Cosmos with the Heart Chrysalis Books, 2001, the Swedenborg Foundation. Hitchcock has a doctorate in physics and became a Jungian analyst. This book is for some reason hard to find. But Hitchcock is alive. He made me see the physical world anew. My heart ached so when I first read him that I thought I was losing my mind. He taught me about the heart and its openness. He lives inside me. You can find his book here www.swedenborg.com This site appears to be a Christian spirituality site and maybe it is. But I am Jewish and Hitchcock’s book speaks deeply to my heart and in no way attempts to convert me. This is not a self-help book. Let me be clear: I hate the how-to books on fixing your life. This is a book about self-discovery and the world. It’s worth it.

Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest by R.H. Hudson, Illustrated by McKnight Dauffer, Random House, New York, 1944. My father gave me my first book: Green Mansions by R.H. Hudson with its heroine the sylph, Rima, who he always said I was. This book that I still own is boxed in a black protective folder that sheds, crumbles in my hand when I remove the treasured gift, the book still perfect, that my father gave me when I was a child. I traveled without passport to the erotic and the primitive, to the wilderness and came back changed.

As time goes by, I will add to this list. Your comments are, as always, welcome. Please comment.

And I will keep you posted on my book, its hope.

With hope,

Mary