Saturday morning jazz

No-plan, salvaged-wood bookshelf finally installed

Saturday mornings. The work week is done. Sunrise is an hour or more away. The windows open. And have been all week. Unusual for this time of year and this part of the country. Birds create a pre-dawn cacophony in the evergreens outside the windows to the east.

The oldest kidlinger is up early doing laundry. Needs clean clothes for work later today. We move about the apartment quietly.

Saturday mornings are time for jazz. Brubeck. Coltrane. Evans. Tatum. But it is too early for Saturday morning jazz. It is time for stillness. A time to plan, think, and meditate. 

* * *

Conversations from the week come to mind. What makes a good book?

There are good books. Or at least, interesting books. There are poorly written books. And bad books. Meaning stylistically bad (as in the content is unsuccessfully researched, appallingly argued, or intentionally misleading). There are well-written books with poorly argued thesis statements. There are dull books with good data. And there is a bookshelf that holds them together. 

The no-plan, salvaged-wood bookshelf collects a portion of my library. The space between the work-from-home station and the vintage stereo is the new home of the bookshelf. The summer therapy project was completed so late that the intended use for the bookshelf for school materials was no longer relevant. 

The relevance is now my education. My continuing education in art, science and religion. Essentially, philosophy. What is truth? And, how do I know it? Variations on a theme. A book about technology. Another about project and time management. The top shelf nearly all books of poetry and essays. Some memoirs and novels. Several books on theology and spirituality. Books by American writers. British writers. And German writers.

The second shelf. A mix of poetry, fiction, essays, art and design. The third shelf. Memoirs, classical education, technology, theology, and philosophy. 

Reading an abundance of books does not make an individual well-read. Reading great books does not make one well-read. Understanding the great conversation makes a reader well-read. 

* * *

“I don’t read books,” he said. I did not know what to say. “I read the newspaper. Mainly the sports page. But that’s it.” 

I recalled the conversation from a few years ago. At lunch. On the patio of the Knickerbocker Hotel. The thought appalled me. Not the person. He’s a good guy. But no book reading? How is that possible?

And I know how this happens. Happened. Long days of work. Long commute. Family responsibilities. Community engagement. And other demands. Priorities need to be made in order to set and accomplish goals. 

* * *

Found myself in the recliner. Everyone asleep. It was late. The lamp near the recliner was on. All other lights were off. The apartment was dark. A copy of the New Yorker on my chest. The record player was on. Three records on the platter. Waiting to be reloaded on the center spindle.

I had fallen asleep. Midway through the tables for two section of the magazine. Could not even keep my eyes open. Did I eat supper? Or dream of eating it? Or dream of reading that I ate it?  

Who has time to read legacy publications? Will try again on the weekend.

I folded the magazine cover to the back so that the page I had read was open. And placed it on the top of the bookshelf to read later. Then turned off the lamp. 

* * *

How did it get to be noon? How did it get to be Saturday?

The sun is bright. Warm November breeze rattles the remaining brown leaves on the tree outside. Art Tatum plays from the record player.

I return a small book to the bookshelf. I place it open on the top shelf of the no-plan, salvaged-wood bookshelf I built this summer. The shelves are deep. At least a foot deep. Could hold two rows of standard-sized paperback books.

I place the book open on the top shelf. A reminder for me to return to the passage that captured my attention. Imagination. A bread crumb trail back to an idea.

The next vinyl record drops down the spindle. Bill Evens. Peace Piece. It is Saturday morning jazz slouching toward afternoon.

 

 

Things you will not find in an e-book

Things you will not find in an e-book

12 notable books read in 2019

The book reading routine I was accustomed to six years ago is nearly unobtainable at this present time. However, I did manage to read quite a few thick books both in content and page count. Here is a short list of 12 books read in 2019:

  1. Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman
  2. Bright Moon, White Clouds: Selected Poems of Li Po
  3. The Cellist of Sarajevo, Steven Galloway
  4. Facing the Moon, Li Bai and Du Fu
  5. Hamlet, William Shakespeare
  6. Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare
  7. Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff
  8. Macbeth, William Shakespeare
  9. My Antonia, Willa Cather
  10. The Poems of T. S. Eliot
  11. The Republic, Plato
  12. Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey

This is not a complete list. And a few of the books were a second reading. It is safe to say, there is not a single book on my reading list that appears in the best books of 2019 lists of  Chicago Review of Books, the Guardian, Washington Post, or the New Yorker.

Whether poetry or play, novel or nonfiction, these 12 books are recommended. Which of these books is my favorite? Some of these books challenged ideas, disturbed my understanding of the cosmos, and lead to changes in my life. But which is my favorite?

Work is the curse of the reading class, or the virtue of reading

Work is the curse of the reading class.

How many books did you read last year? According to some reports, one in four Americans did not read a single book in the last twelve months. Three out of the four who did read in the last year read only one book. But the reports are even more dismal when a distinction is made between any books and books of literature. For example, books on business, cooking, gardening or self-help are in a different category from books of literature. Further, books on business and marketing by Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin or Simon Sinek are not considered literary works. Books by Dante, Plato and Shakespeare are works of high literature. Books of literature by American authors include Flannery O’Connor, Robert Frost and Thornton Wilder.

My own reading pattern shadows the national trend. This discourages me. Years ago I read more than 50 books a year. In addition to that, I used to read several literary journals, magazines and newspapers on the bus ride to the office each day. It was a delicious and robust period of time. But life interrupted this reading regimen. A dream job, mega commute, cross-country move, career change, new job at a legacy media organization, and more commuting disrupted my reading habits.

It is a struggle for me to completely read one single book from cover to cover. The desk in front of the window holds eight books. I may have to return all these to the public library partially read. Or renew them. The library must be weary of me renewing a copy of a theological book. I must have renewed it several times over the last few months. One report I read stated the reason people do not read books is due to their busy work/life balance.

Great disruption.

The interruption to the reading habit is due in part to the daily commute. 90 minutes a day spent traveling from home to work. Public transit would be nice. However, no public transit system services the rural communities surrounded by cultivated fields and farmland. Travel accounts for more than 15 days of my time each year. And then there are the long hours of production work. The job is mentally demanding. My fatigued mind only desires to turn on the record player and go to sleep when I return home.

Solution.

Most Americans spend more than two hours each day on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. That equals more than 40 days a year. From an economic stand point that seems like a lot of wasted productivity. What that means in practical terms is that my social media feeds are on life support. I do not spend time on Facebook or Twitter at all. LinkedIn occasionally. And I deleted my Instagram account. Eliminating social media activity allowed me to reclaim some of the time lost to commuting and work.

Great books.

A second action put into practice during the last few years included reading great books of literature. Mostly. Plato’s The Republic, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery, The Autobiographies of Frederick Douglas, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina are some of the books read during the last year and a half. The classical education curriculum of my children helped me form a list of great books to read. I added a few books to the list to include Asian and Near Eastern studies. I explored Basho’s The Narrow Road, an anthology of Rumi, Hafix and Lalla, and Ryokan’s Sky Above, Great Wind. Most recently I attempted to read and compare three different translations of Dante’s Divine Comedy. An ambitious task that I failed. Ended up focusing on selected cantos for comparison before the books were shuffled back to the public library.

The virtue of reading.

Why is reading books, especially, great books, important? The virtue of being well-read is the goal. Do not leave it up to the academics and professionals to read great books. C. S. Lewis wrote that “the simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism.” He continued by encouraging readers to acquire firsthand knowledge of the source material rather than to rely on secondhand commentary. Being a well-read individual has the potential to foster a civilized society. But you must be vigilant, designate time, pick up a book and read it cover to cover.

I am supposed to be doing something important right now

To post or not to post. To repeat old habits, or to start new ones.

That is how I concluded last week’s blog post. Further, I revealed that I wrote multiple drafts of the post. From a few different angles. And did not plan on posting them online.

However, a little bird told me it might be worth reading. So, in the tradition of chapbooks, I pulled together the scraps and assembled a small e-book.

The e-book runs 4000 words. Part one is a preface (basically, last week’s blog post). Part two contains five short chapters of blog extras. Consider it bonus material. Like 90s audio CD hidden tracks. Part three is a collection of twelve confessions.

The e-book is available FREE for those who have Kindle unlimited. Otherwise it is a meager $0.99 to download a copy.

Hope you enjoy it. If you like what you find, please leave a comment below or give it a starred review on Amazon. Much gratitude!

Can money buy you happiness?

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-10-53-44-am-2

This question seems so simple. But, what is money? How is happiness defined? Does the question imply that money means an individual is rich? Is being rich and being wealthy the same? Or different?

My reading list, as of recent, includes a book on business management, two history books and a book researching the characteristics of the wealthiest Americans. Also, included are several books of poetry by Berryman, Bly and Carruth as well as a novel by A. S. Byatt.

Almost every one of those books mentioned either directly or indirectly touches on the subject of money and happiness.

Template layout for a children’s book

This crude sketch is quite popular. A reader commented recently how the layout template helped his poetry book project.[1] The web site Moving Writers[2] posted “A Collaborative Writing Study That Will Rock Your Students’ World: Children’s Literature”[3] and linked to my rough layout template.

The origin of the drawing began at a local meet-up of illustrators and artists. The topic of children’s books came up. Several of the artists felt intimidated by the idea of creating a children’s book. As well they should. But it is not a path of labyrinthian impossibility. The big question is how to do it. At the time, I was a creative director for an international publishing company and had designed children’s books — specifically, picture books.

To encourage these artists and writers, here is a general anatomy of a children’s book:

  • 22 illustrations (five spreads)
  • 18 pages of text (51 lines to be specific) and
  • 32 pages (including title pages, front matter and back matter)
  • intro story and character on page four
  • intro dilemma on page 14
  • how to solve problem (pages 15 to 23)
  • problem solved on page 24 and
  • resolution on page 28

Several artists that night asked to take a photo of this sketch of an anatomy of a children’s book with their smart phones. Since then, several readers have expressed similar interest. So, I share this sketch again.

Like all recipes, what you do with the ingredients (i.e. text, words and pages) is up to the artist and writer. And, like any good disclaimer, results do very.

NOTES:
[1] “Anatomy of a children’s book,” coffeehousejunkie.net, December 10, 2012, accessed June 20, 2016 https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2012/12/10/anatomy-of-a-childrens-book/
[2] Moving Writers, accessed June 20, 2016 https://movingwriters.org/.
[3] Allison Marchetti, “A Collaborative Writing Study That Will Rock Your Students’ World: Children’s Literature,” movingwriters.org, May 30, 2016, accessed June 20, 2016 https://movingwriters.org/2016/05/30/a-collaborative-writing-study-that-will-rock-your-students-world-childrens-literature/.

Interview: Caleb Beissert on Beautiful translations of Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda

Reposting this interview. Enjoy!

Coffeehouse Junkie

Beautiful by Caleb Beissert Caleb Beissert is a poet, translator and musician. His published work appears in International Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, Asheville Poetry Review and Beatitude: Golden Anniversary, 1959-2009.

This week, Poetry at the Altamont celebrates the release of Caleb Beissert’s first book, Beautiful, a selection of poems by Pablo Neruda and Federico García Lorca translated into English. During the last few weeks, Beautiful was well received by enthusiastic audiences at Montford Books & More and Malaprop’s Books & Cafe and is a Small Press Distribution best-seller.

The Altamont theater doors open at 7:00 P.M. for Poetry at the Altamont. Admission is $5 at the door. Beer and wine sold at the bar and lounge will remain open for drinks after the reading. Event link.

UPDATE: Caleb Beissert is the featured guest of the Coffee with the Poet Series, Thursday, February 21st at 10:30 a.m. at City Lights Bookstore. Event…

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Putting the finishing touches on a new book design

Constellarium_Cover_Final
Since the publisher posted the following on Facebook last night, I guess it is alright to unveil a new book I designed:

Jordan Rice’s debut poetry collection, CONSTELLARIUM, a finalist for the 2015 Orison Poetry Prize, is now available for pre-order at a discounted price! Order now and be among the first to receive the book when it’s released in April.

“Constellarium is a bold announcement of a new poetic voice to be reckoned with. These poems make us stare down shame and celebrate transition, celebrate the body inside. Jordan Rice does not flinch from what society would have us try to look away from, instead she carefully constructs a book in which we are forced to reckon, layer by layer, with her being. Let us be thankful that such a voice exists, that it is brilliant and shattering, and here to take us all on her journey.” –Fatimah Asghar

The process of cover design is exciting. Especially when the title of the project is constellarium.

There are so many stories behind the cover design that would be fun to share. Like, for example, how the kidlingers enjoyed the image of cetus — how cetus does not look like any image of a whale they have ever seen in a picture book. And how the eldest kidlinger is writing a report about rhinos.

And how a species of rhino has been reported extinct. And we wonder if these old drawings are accurate. And that maybe the cetus represented in the book cover art is correct. But maybe that species of ceti (is that the correct nominative plural of cetus, Latin students?) is now extinct.

Maybe these behind-the-scenes stories are more interesting to me than you.

See if you can find cetus in the cover art by pre-ordering Jordan Rice’s Constellarium!

Best books read in 2015

BestReadsOf2015

When reviewing the lists of top ten books of 2015 from The New York Times,[1] The Washington Post,[2] The Week,[3] The Guardian[4] or (when the editors get lazy and ask the reader to come up with a list) The Wall Street Journal,[5] I discovered that I did not read a single book on those lists. It is not that I did not read a book this year, but it appears that I did not read what everyone else seems to be reading this year.

The stack of books read during this year include, but are not limited to, the following: Meditations on the Insatiable Soul, poems by Robert Bly; The Moviegoer and Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy; True NorthThe Farmer’s Daughter, and Julip by Jim Harrison; Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor; Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich; The Dharma Bums and Big Sur by Jack Kerouac; Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Sky Above, Great Wind and One Robe, One Bowl (translations of Ryokan’s poetry); and Rabbit, Run by John Updike.

Notable, these books have at least one thing in common: they were written and published prior to the internet. That is not to say that every book I read last year pre-dates the world wide web. For example, Nick Demske’s self-titled release is a modern poetry volume. But what intrigues me by some of these books is that they could never, ever possibly be published in today’s market.

I started reading one author because a writer I met in Racine encouraged me to explore fiction. One book lead to another which opened the door to a different author which lead to another book. And that lead to a year’s worth of following authors and their books.

Currently, I have at least a dozen books I am reading now that will begin the journey for next year.

NOTES:
[1] The New York Times
[2] The Washington Post
[3] The Week
[4] The Guardian
[5] The Wall Street Journal
[6] This whole reading/book list started with: The best books I should have read before 2013.
[7] And here is the best reads of 2013.
[8] The next year is more of a commonplace book list of best reads of 2014.