Posts Tagged ‘books’

I never considered buying a Kindle. Until, well, last week for about five minutes before I bought one.

It could be that I pre-ordered one of the new (cheapest) Kindles because since my house was burgled I’ve been suffering unreasonable urges to buy more stuff.

But I hope I ordered it because of the reason I’m telling people: That it’s uncomfortable for me, now that I’m older, sigh, to hold for long periods of time 500-plus page books. There are quite a few hefty books I’d like to read but won’t buy because I know after a couple evenings I’ll get cramps in my hands or get tired of shifting from side to side, up and down, at each new chapter.

Not to mention the fact, and oh, how I wish I didn’t have this fact to mention,  it’s getting harder for me to read at night. The perfect reading lamp isn’t keeping up with my imperfect eyes.

I am a book person. A book-of-cloth-paper-ink-binding-endpapers-design-bookplate-name-scrawled-in-covers-notes-in-the-margin-booky-smell-loving person. I even grew the herb costmary because I read the leaves long ago were used as bookmarks, with a light lovely fragrance that possibly repelled silverfish and other page eaters. And I used the leaves as bookmarks.


I scoffed at e-readers, agreed with the danger of corporations digitizing books and readers giving up on paper books. I can sit on my library floor and feel incredibly rich because I have a room filled with books. A little room, with books worth little in dollars but immeasurable amounts of contentment and stimulation. A room that says “look around, this is who I am.”

How could I get that from a piece of black-ish plastic? What if I downloaded a book that was so good that I wanted to share it with someone? What about the books not in Kindle format? Would I self-censor because of it?

And how would this –this battery-run, non-book  thing — add to the meaningfulness of my library? How could it enrich me?

Since all Kindles are back-ordered, I have time to wonder. I don’t know how much time. One day I’ll get an email saying my Kindle has been shipped, and it will be too late to stop it. I’ll keep it because I’m curious and a bit of a gadget girl. And because I’ll convince myself I will use it only to read those meaty books. But it’s a betrayal, isn’t it? Of whom or what, I need to decide.

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Oh, the joy of discovery just when you’re turning circles on the straight road of reason. I’ve been pondering In Defense of the Memory Theater, by Nathan Schneider.

His essay explores what we lose as our physical book collections, gathered by mind, heart and soul, are replaced with millions of restless individual books digitized mainly by google and amazon.

“Memory theater”comes from Frances Yate’s book The Art of Memory. I did not know that from the classical period through the Renaissance era people used mnemonic techniques to  retain, and thus pass along, “vast stores of knowledge before the invention of the printed page.”

Schneider writes: “In those millennia between the advent of knowledge worth clinging to and the invention of the printed word, the Western mind had a desperate obsession with memory—or, one could say, a sensible concern. The art of memory made possible the health of one’s soul, the possession of one’s culture, and the means of reaching God.”

He continues:

“In the age of inexpensive, printed books, our memory theaters have become both richer and more banal; we have entrusted them to our bookshelves rather than to tricks of mental contortion or cosmic schemata. As I look over my own shelf, I see my life pass before my eyes. The memories grafted onto each volume become stirred and awakened by a glance at the spine, which presents itself to be touched, opened, and explored. Without the bookshelf’s landscape to turn to, that manifest remainder from a lifetime of reading, how would one think? What would one write?”

And for me: “How would one feel?”

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I found another quote, this time written in a black and white faux marbled mini-notebook that I bought at Walgreen’s a few years ago, three for a dollar.

I almost remember watching a c-span show about Willa Cather and scrambling to find something to write the quote in. Found a page in the middle of “things to pack” and a Christmas shopping list.

“That is happiness, to be dissolved into something complete and great.”

I often lose exact words between hearing and writing, so I questioned… Did she say dissolved? Not absorbed? But of course a web search says dissolved. Dissolve to be happy.

How many of us manage to find that kind of happiness? Perhaps we all do, in brief consuming moments after which we reconstitute into our normal solidified selves.

Can we learn to stay longer in that dissolving completeness?

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Just finished reading About a Mountain by John D’Agata, a creative literary nonfiction book about Yucca Mountain, with Las Vegas, mothers, language and suicide striations flowing through it.

Yucca Mountain, 90 miles from Las Vegas, is the site originally chosen to be the  U.S. repository for spent nuclear reactor fuel.  All the billions of dollars spent on plans, construction and political enticements couldn’t smother the truth that the place was geologically unsuitable, and Obama shut it down. (But who knows if it will stay down for good.)

The Yucca Mountain site was supposed to be able to keep nuclear waste safe for 10,000 years, which is a regulatory compliance period. I think, like oil spill flow rates and handyman estimates, this 10,000 maximum requirement is a bit off. For instance, the  waste from Hanford WA, which gave us most of the plutonium to make our 60,000-plus nuclear weapons, has a half-life of 24,000 years.

Anyhow, in 1990 the DOE became concerned that humans living near nuclear waste repositories 10,000 years in the future (with the actual buriers long forgotten) wouldn’t be aware  of the potential danger simmering underground and could innocently set off a life-ending disaster. So, to prevent “inadvertent intrusion” they created a panel of experts in various fields to determine what kind of marker would warn people to stay away.  Assuming humans are around in 10,000 years. And that whatever language or symbols the marker uses could be understood in 10,000 years.

The official Sandia Report called “Expert Judgement on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant”  is here.  From D’Agata’s book it sounds like the experts enjoyed the experience.

And this is what they wrote about the message for whatever intelligent life stumbles onto our deadly gift to the future:

“The message that we believe can be communicated non-linguistically (through the design of the whole site),  using physical form as a “natural language, ” encompasses Level I and portions (faces showing horror and sickness) of Level 11. Put into words, it would communicate something like the following:

This place is a message.. .and part of a
system of messages …pay attention to it!

Sending this message was important to us.

We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.

This place is not a place of honor.. .no
highly esteemed deed is commemorated here
. . .nothing valued is here.

What is here was dangerous and repulsive to us.
This message is a warning about danger.

The danger is in a particular location.. .
it increases towards a center.. .the
center of danger is here.. .of a
particular size and shape, and below us.

The danger is still present, in your time, as
it was in ours.

The danger is to the body, and it can kill.

The form of the danger is an emanution
of energy.

The danger is unleashed only if you
substantially disturb this place physically.
This place is best shunned and left uninhabited.”

But it’s a clean energy, right?

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I was cleaning my desk, a drop leaf with cubbies crammed with once-important papers now immobilized into clutter. Amidst receipts, subscription offers and communications from credit card and insurance companies I found half a yellow index card with writing on it.

I occasionally jot down bits of things I read and like, and tuck the notes…somewhere. Most of the time I never see them again but I found this one before it had the chance to get away.

My son gave me this Proust print for Christmas

Before I write on, I should talk about Proust and me. I’ve read all the volumes of In Search of Lost Time, some parts more than once, but I doubt I could have an in depth intellectual conversation about any of it. What I can share are the memories of that first reading: going into “training” by reading books about the book;  beginning and pushing through the challenges of long sentences; being surprised that I laughed out loud at his humor; getting irritated at those pages that made me want to slap the Narrator upside the head. Oh, and the gift of transcendent moments.

Many readers say they love the book because they encounter characteristics of people in their own lives in those living in Proust’s population. I used to say that too, but honestly (and thankfully) I can only agree with that as a very broad concept. I mainly love the book because after I’ve spent time reading it I feel I can see better. It’s not just that I’m more aware of what’s around me, but that I actually feel like my vision has improved. So now it’s become a form of therapy for me, when I need a shot of wake-up-and-look-around. Proust pulls me into a painting in motion that revivifies my reality.

Anyway, on the card I found in my desk was a quote from Proust, writing about remembering his beloved grandmother. No notation where I copied it from, but since he usually wrote about remembering and loss, it may not matter:

“We acquire a true knowledge only of things that we are obliged to re-create by thought, things that are hidden from us in everyday life.”

I probably was thinking of my father who died almost five years ago when that passage reached out to me. Reading it now,  the dim literal reader I am thinks there’s no such thing as  “true knowledge.” And as for  “…things that we are obliged to re-create by thought…” I wonder if the translation is exact. What was the French word he used? Why obliged? Obliged because there is no physical alternative? Obliged because you cannot let something go, even though you want to?

Mostly I read Proust like I’m skating on a river. If I try to see too far beneath the ice, my brain ends up in a vortex swirling without end. Unlike Proust’s sentences, which swirl with scenery and a map before dropping you back at your destination, only not quite.

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In Rebecca Solnit’s book A Field Guide to Getting Lost there’s a section called “The Blue of Distance” in which she uses maps as metaphor.

In early maps California appeared (or rather, didn’t) as “Terra Incognita.” Gradually, pieces of the geographic puzzle were placed, but their names, locations, and shapes were not always grounded in reality.

She writes, “To imagine that you know, to populate the unknown with projections, is very different from knowing that you don’t, and the old maps depict both states of mind…When someone doesn’t show up, the people who wait sometimes tell stories about what might have happened and come to half believe the desertion, the abduction, the accident. Worry is a way to pretend that you have knowledge or control over what you don’t…”

Worry is a way to pretend that you have knowledge or control over what you don’t…A mantra for 2:00 a.m.

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