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.

Strange Throwback Thursday

Comic Stroll 2013

 

After nearly a six-year hiatus, I was excited to see a project that began with notes and sketches transform into a published comic strip. Even if it was a one-off. Even if I had to hand the responsibility of drawing each panel to someone else. It was done.

I had imagined that the creative non-fiction comic story I crafted would earn some interest. Maybe it would open a few doors to an audience. And allow me to write and illustrate. Even earn some money. Maybe I would quit my day job and provide for my household by doing something I loved. Telling stories. And drawing pictures.

That was five years ago.

A few weeks ago I found a box in the garage. It had several copies of a publication that printed my comic strip. I glanced over the pages and then placed them back into the box. I also found several books. Opened one book I remembered enjoying.

“What’s that?” asked one of the children.

“It’s a collection of comic strips.”

“Oh.”

I pulled a copy from the box and gave it to the child.

“There’s a story in there I wrote.” I said. “See if you can find it.”

The child took the copy of Comic Stroll and headed off to the couch in the living room.

I flipped through the pages of the book I had found. Read a few highlights.

Yeah, I resemble that, I thought to myself after reading a few lines at the end of the book. The author referenced a friend of his who gave up an art gig for a corporate job in order to provide for his family.

Yeah. I know what that is like.

How many comic pages might I have written and illustrated if I had. . . Well, what-ifs and might-have-beens are dangerous paths to pursue. What you did, great or small, is what matters.

Watching my progeny spend an afternoon reading comic strips I had a hand in creating was a pleasure.

NOTES:
Comic Stroll, a publication of the Southeast chapter of the National Cartoonist Society, featured a collection of previously unpublished comic strips. You can read the whole journey of what started in November 2005 as a couple drawings and became a creative non-fiction comic strip:
[1] Comics and Narrative Non-Fiction
[2] Comics and Narrative Non-Fiction Continued
[3] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 3
[4] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 4
[5] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 5
[6] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: UPDATE
[7] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: UPDATE
[8] Strange Familiar Place comic series
[9] Strange Familiar Place returns
[10] The return of Strange Familiar Place to print

Poetry reading list for National Poetry Month, part one

The best way to share poetry with people — who do not know that they may like poetry — is to start by reading the works of living poets. That is the basic idea of my poetry reading list for National Poetry Month.

Most books lists of are just lists. Promotional bullet points. Usually there is an image of the book or photo of the poet, a brief description or summary, sometimes even a list of credentials and awards, and a hyperlink to the poetic work or an online retail store. That is an approach I will try to avoid.

I read recently that the ancient Greeks and Romans enjoyed literature in a very different way than our modern culture — where we silently read books. The ancient poets read and/or recited their work out loud to a public audience.

So, my poetry reading list for National Poetry Month is designed to encourage you to seek out the influence of living poets — where they live and and where they read.[1]

NOTES:

Poetry reading list for National Poetry Month, intro

The best way to share poetry with people — who do not know that they may like poetry — is to start by reading the works of living poets. That is the basic idea of my poetry reading list for National Poetry Month.

Most books lists of are just lists. Promotional bullet points. Usually there is an image of the book or photo of the poet, a brief description or summary, sometimes even a list of credentials and awards, and a hyperlink to the poetic work or an online retail store. That is an approach I will try to avoid.

I read recently that the ancient Greeks and Romans enjoyed literature in a very different way than our modern culture — where we silently read books. The ancient poets read and/or recited their work out loud to a public audience.

So, my poetry reading list for National Poetry Month is designed to encourage you to seek out the influence of living poets — where they live and and where they read.

The Woodland Pattern Poetry Marathon is this weekend

This is my third year contributing.

Here is a Twitter pic from last year, 2016.

Heather captured some great photos from the 2015 poetry marathon. Those photos are lost somewhere on Facebook. It was the first time I read at Woodland Pattern. And the first time I read along side the best poets in Racine. It was a magical night.

The Annual Poetry Marathon & Benefit at Woodland Pattern, Milwaukee, begins at 10:00AM. $10 donation taken at the door. I will be reading between 4-5PM. I would love to see you there and say “hi” and “thank you.”

Sponsor me by donating $5 or whatever using Woodland Pattern’s PayPal donation button (click here). Any amount helps. Make sure you enter “Matt Mulder” in the space provided for “Reader’s Name.” And thank you for your support!

Can money buy you happiness?

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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.

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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