This Reader’s Bookshelf – 1

stacked shelves

“So many books, so little time,” defines me.

Here’s a list of my in-progress and intended reading, right now. It’s not everything waiting on my shelves, by any means, or even everything I have checked out from the library. Just what’s by my bed right now…

Selected Poems, W. H. Auden
Selected Poems of Ezra Pound

Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event That Changed the World – William Ryan & Walter Pittman
God’s Universe – Owen Gingerich

A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning & Life – Nancy Peacock
Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distractions, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life – Bonnie Friedman
[I just found a few writing books, including these, in a thrift shop]

Your Knight in Shining Armor – P. B. Wilson [for a class through my church]
Lessons of Lifelong Intimacy – Michael Gurian [I’m not married, but live in hope]

My Neighbors, the Billy Grahams – Betty Frist
Footprints of a Pilgrim – Ruth Bell Graham

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World – Cal Newport
Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love – David Sturt

My stacks, and HOPE, are high. But where to find TIME for them all?



Edna St. Vincent Millay vs. Early to bed

Millay candle, drips

This is the last day of National Poetry Month. It’s been great to read a different poet daily for the last nine days. Going forward, I plan to continue getting my recommended daily allowance of poetry.

Today, as I dipped into a collection of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, I remembered the well-known poem that describes my usual modus operandi:

“My candle burns at both ends,
It will not last the night.
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,
It gives a lovely light.”

Then there is the famous saying, “Early to bed and early to rise…”

Years back, I sang in a choir that performed two pithy pieces by Norman Luboff. His amusing collection, “Much More Ado About Nothings,” includes his take on the “Early to bed” proverb.

Luboff’s version goes:

“Early to bed, early to rise,
makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,
and dull,
and a terrible bore.”

Ouch. More like Millay’s point, actually.

Still, tonight, I’m opting for an early night and dullness. More lively brilliance to come next week!


Danger: Life-Changing Reading Ahead!

signposts, past - future

Maybe, after most of what you read, of novels or poems, you walk away unchanged. Sure, great scenes or lovely lines may stay in your mind, but overall, the reading was just a pleasant diversion.

And that’s alright. Most of my own “literary” (as opposed to “practical”) reading has been like that too. But then there are the oeuvres which, if only in some small way, changed the course of my life.

My great love of travel was born partly by reading Jules Verne novels as a child.

In high school, after reading Ayn Rand’s We the Living, I went to the Art and Music Department of the Beverly Hills Public Library, where I worked, to learn if Kira’s “Song of Broken Glass” really existed. This was before the Internet became prevalent, and we didn’t find it. But that search was a small part in that librarian’s eventually becoming my friend Stefan.

At Bryn Mawr College, I chose to take Physics for my lab science requirement—and not Geology, which most English majors took—not just to be contrarian,  but also influenced by a character in Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s novel Greensleeves.

And then there was William Butler Yeats. Starting my last year of high school, I read his poem, “A Deep Sworn Vow:”

“Others, because you did not keep
That deep-sworn vow, have been friends of mine:
Yet always, when I look death in the face,
When I clamber to the heights of sleep,
Or when I grow excited with wine,
Suddenly I meet your face.”

It was love at first read. I was smitten. I continued to read Yeats, and a bit of other Irish poetry. Because I fell in love with Yeats’ poetry, I spent the summer before starting at Bryn Mawr in Ireland. There, in Galway, sometime during the June Bank Holiday weekend, I became a Christian for myself. I knew about God from having grown up in a Christian family. So maybe, possibly, I’d have taken this big step elsewhere, at another time. But I always remember that I made the most important decision of my life in Ireland. And what prompted my being there in the first place was a small poem by Yeats.

It’s your turn. What’s something you read—poem, novel, or play—that affected the course of your life?


Nosy Writers and Other People’s Routines

Nosey Parker parrot

Mind your own business

I have a relative who often asks people how much they paid for something. To me, these questions seem inappropriate. When they’re addressed to me, I usually choose not to answer. But one evening, when this relative asked me how much I’d paid for my cookstove, I promptly, and gladly, gave him the information.

Why was I willing to dish?

This time, my relative’s question wasn’t idle nosiness. He himself was in the market for a new stove. He now was collecting information about the kind of stove he might want, and how much he’d have to pay for it.

What operates in us when we want to know about other people’s work routines? Nosiness, or legitimate interest?

Sure, we’re curious. How do they do life in that household? What is their normal?

But I think we writers, and creative people of all stripes, want to know about other people’s creating routines to learn. To be inspired. To have questions raised whose answering might transform our own lives, our work.

Many of us know Mason Currey’s wonderful book, Daily Rituals, which took off from his blog, Daily Routines. Both document the creating habits of 161 writers, artists, philosophers, composers, scientists. The other day I came across a related website, My Morning Routine. Here, people who create (artists, businesspeople, writers, parents, designers, etc.) answer a series of interview questions.

I look forward to learning much as I read and ponder others’ answers, as well as the questions themselves. These include,

“What time do you go to sleep?”
“Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?”
“How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?”
“Do you have a morning workout routine?”
“What are your most important tasks in the morning?”

These  questions (especially the last!) prompt me to consider changes I may want to make to my life.

So what’s something you recently considered—or, better yet, that transformed your daily pattern—after learning of someone else’s routine?


Stand Often for Health

1914 Pegasus & Bellerophon

You know that advice, to get up from your work regularly and stretch?

But in deepest flow, the body’s needs become immaterial. The night might have grown quiet as you catch your third wind, your bladder be near bursting, food something you meant to have hours ago… Yet you keep working. The one thing that matters is the present vision, the scene unrolling before you. Your mind is beyond clear. The pen skips on the page, fingers dance on keys.

You’d stand up if the angel’s trump sounded the end of time. But to stretch? Fuggedaboudit. When things fall into place, who cares about well-being?

I’m all for flow. When Pegasus shows up, I too ride him as long as I can. I limp back to my body, attend to it as to an importuning acquaintance, only when the Muses’ friend departs.

And yet. And yet…

On normal days, getting up, moving often, is something I want to start doing more. Recently I dipped into Staying Sharp: 9 Keys for a Youthful Brain Through Modern Science and Ageless Wisdom, by Henry Emmons, MD, and David Alter, PhD. The authors reference Dr. Joan Vernikos, at one time Director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division, charged with keeping astronauts healthy.

Here’s what they say on page 71:

“We need to constantly interact with gravity and engage our large postural muscles to maintain healthy functional movement, muscle tone, and flexibility. The simplest way to do that is to stand up from a sitting position. That’s really all there is to it—just stand up! You don’t need to keep standing. You just need to stand up frequently.

The key is not how MANY TIMES you stand up, but rather how OFTEN you stand up over the whole course of your day. It is far more beneficial, Dr. Vernikos says, to stand once every few minutes throughout the day than it is to stand up many times in quick succession. Doing thirty squats in a row may seem more worthwhile because it feels like EXERCISE, but you get far more benefit by standing up thirty times spread out over the course of the day.” [bold emphasis mine]

Isn’t that fascinating? There’s an argument for having my drinking water, or papers I need, away from my desk, and finding more reasons to periodically stand up.

And maybe, over time, I can even train the Muses’ friend to continue beating his wings while I stand, now and again, for the well-being of that pesky friend, my body.


Poetry Reading and William Stafford Archive

rainy night

These last few days, I read poems by:

-Dylan Thomas (listened to some, too)
-William Stafford
-and Robert Frost (including some of his pages-long ones)

I learned that it’s a good idea to note the titles of poems I liked or otherwise want to revisit, and perhaps a pertinent line or note about why. Otherwise, given that I’m reading poems out of order, in books that aren’t even mine—how will I find again the poems that resonated with me?

I learned, too, that there is a William Stafford archive, in which you can see manuscript pages, and listen to readings, of his poems. Here’s one I liked:

Mouse Night: One of Our Games – from Stories That Could Be True

We heard thunder. Nothing great—on high
ground rain began. Who ran through
that rain? I shrank, a fieldmouse, when
the thunder came—under grass with bombs
of water scything stems. My tremendous
father cowered: “Lions rushing make
that sound,” he said; “we’ll be brain-washed
for sure if head-size chunks of water hit us.
Duck and cover! It takes a man
to be a mouse this night,” he said.


April Is the POEM Month

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower-2Large-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-Logo

I have this… umm… This…well, let’s call it my little problem. Books. Sometimes, despite great intentions, books can derail me. My younger sister knows to grab a good hold of me, in order not to lose me, when we pass by libraries, Friends’ bookstores, or those enticing carts set outside secondhand bookstores. You know the ones I mean?


Today I met with writing buddies at a library I seldom frequent. I was going to be GOOD. Write only. Not look at books, oh, no. Especially as last time I checked out a book there, it took some doing to return it without fines.


But… April is National Poetry Month. Did you know? If I had, I’d forgotten. The library had a table displaying poetry anthologies as well as works by solo poets. Glancing down on my way in, I thought, Oh, yes, I’ve always meant to read Beowulf. Someday. And more of T. S. Eliot, and Dylan Thomas and Edna St. Vincent Millay, Tennyson and Christina Rossetti… But not now, I don’t have time. Someday.


I greeted my friends, opened my laptop, took a swig of water, and began the bit of journaling with which I sometimes ease into writing proper. I noted things I needed to do afterwards, including something Writerly as part of my 100 Day focus. Like read some Shakespeare, or more poetry. POETRY!


Ray Bradbury, among others, whetted my appetite for more poetry in my life when I read his Zen in the Art of Writing:

Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. It keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your ear, your tongue, your hand.”
So, there it was. Someday could be Today. I would read lots of poetry this National Poetry Month. Or, anyway, in the ten days left this April. Maybe even a different poet each day, half an hour’s worth.


I left my friends, went back to the poetry table, and gathered up a good stack of books. Tiptoeing to my chair, I set down my finds unobtrusively. My friends noticed anyway and laughed. “Busted!”


This evening, I began with poems by Dylan Thomas, because the cadence of his The force that through the green fuse drives the flower” echoed in my mind, from all the way back in my English major. I read some of his poems, then listened to Thomas himself read others.


What poet do you want to read more of soon?