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.

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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.

And so, February begins

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The blizzard ended Monday morning — the beginning of the week. But the flurry of activities the rest week kept me occupied with matters of consequence and so on and so forth.

Finally, Saturday night, as the sun set, I sat down with a cup of tea to read the Sunday edition of The New York Times and a few other books — Einstein’s Relativity, Sandman Overture #4 and a book on the history of time, or specifically the 365-day calendar.

Reading the newspaper days after Super Bowl amused me as it required an eye of an archivist. The news stories were lead pieces promoting the biggest game in American football. Knowing the outcome of the game shaded the stories in the Sunday edition. Shaded the stories in the way I might read modern history books — or marketing books.

But who really has time for this? Who has time to read heritage media? Who has time to dream? Seemed suitable questions while reading about space and time and dreams. And so, February begins.

NOTE: This was supposed to be posted Saturday night, but I was rather weary and fell asleep.

Help support the Poetry Marathon

Racine poets at last year's poetry marathon

Racine, WI poets represented at last year’s Poetry Marathon

The 21st annual Poetry Marathon Benefit Reading for Milwaukee’s Woodland Pattern Book Center is this Saturday, January 31, 2015. If you are not familiar with Woodland Pattern Book Center, here is an introduction to this non-profit organization from their website:

 Woodland Pattern’s… specializes in literature from small and independent presses and is well-stocked with over 25,000 titles.

The poetry section is among the best in the world, and has a comprehensive blend of classics and contemporary works, translations, and poets from all schools. Several ethnic sections include… poetry from African American/Black, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Native American writers. Nearly half… of our space is devoted to poetry, a commitment that few organizations can claim to match. (continue reading)

Woodland Pattern’s mission is:

…dedicated to the discovery, cultivation and presentation of contemporary literature and the arts.

Our goals are to promote a lifetime practice of reading and writing, to provide a forum and resource center for writers/artists in our region, and to increase and diversify the audience for contemporary literature through innovative approaches to multi-arts programming. (continue reading)

I will be reading during the marathon and would really appreciate your support. Please consider supporting me with a pledge. It is really easy and only takes three steps. Go to the website (here),

  1. under “Pledge a Reader online!” select a donation amount,
  2. add “Reader’s Name” (that’s me, Matthew Mulder) and
  3. click the “Pay Now” button.

And thank you on behalf of the Woodland Pattern Book Center!

Weekend reading

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A light breeze from the south, sunshine, blue skies, and the chirp and trill of birds set the stage for a lovely Sunday afternoon. I am sitting outside the apartment reading a book. Or rather reading through a stack of books.

Across the courtyard a guy enthusiastically shouts at his television regarding the baseball game. To the south, the theme music for the television show Dr. Who is heard from an open second-floor window. Why not sit outside and read a good book? Or two. In this northern climate there have been only a few days like this so far this year.

One of the books I have already read, but wanted to reread a selection of poems. One book I bought because I ran up such a large fine at the public library it made practical sense to purchase a copy and finish reading it. Others were on a list of books I have intended to read. One book I put off reading, but am more than 50 pages into it and wonder why I put it off for so long.

What about you? What are you reading this weekend?

[Podcast] How long it takes to write a haiku?

08 May 2014 Podcast Cover

Welcome to the relaunch of the Coffeehouse Junkie audio podcast. A lot of things have happened during that time and there is much I plan to share with you, just not in this episode.

Yes, it is true. The last two years or so I have fasted from coffee. I almost had to rename this blog and audio podcast because of it. Thankfully, my sister introduced me to Maniac Coffee Roasting in Bellingham, Washington. Specifically, the Decaf Espresso Royale blend. Check them out at ManiacCoffeeRoasting.com. They are the unofficial sponsor of this episode. If you would like to officially sponsor an episode, email me at coffeehousejunkie [at] gmail [dot] com for details. Please include “podcast” in the subject line so that your email doesn’t end up in the spam folder.

Amy Annelle - A School Of Secret Dangers

Amy Annelle – A School of Secret Dangers

Very special thanks to Amy Annelle for granting permission to use her song “Will Try” between the segments. Years ago, the album A School of Secret Dangers introduced me to her work. If you like her song, check out Amy Annelle’s latest album The Cimarron Banks. Visit the website HighPlainsSigh.com for more info about her music or find her music on Apple iTunes.

Here’s what’s coming up in this episode:

  • How long does it take to write a haiku?
  • So many books, so little time
  • Keep Calm and Write Something
  • Last night, I fell asleep writing a poem

 

Listen here:

 

Or listen on:
PodOmatic: coffeehousejunkie.podomatic.com
SoundCloud: soundcloud.com/coffeehousejunkie

 

How did you come to poetry?

Over the weekend, an editor made a comment on Facebook that got me thinking about the question, how did you come to poetry?

My response is not an academic reply. The mechanics of poetry make the art good and great. But the best way to ruin poetry for young minds or new readers, is to have people study the architecture of a poem–its meter, rhyme, enjambment, stanzas, etc. Is this the way you learn about a new home? When you enter a friend’s home for the first time, do you inquire as to house’s foundation (is it a slab foundation?), framing (stick frame or post and beam?) or roof (you get the point)? So why do educators insist on destroying poetry for young readers? Make the home inviting. Make poetry inviting.

As a poetry reader, I approach a poem (or body of poems) as I would a new home of a friend I just met. I enter the door, look at the paintings on the wall, run my fingers along the spines of the books on the shelf, scan over the vinyl collection beside the stereo and sit on the futon near the front window. This is how to see what the poet sees through the window of the poem. This is when I see what the poet says about love, injustice or various other subjects and topics.

Not all poems are created equal. Sometimes I get the impression that someone or something is shouting at me from an open door. I tend to quicken my steps along the street and find a more inviting home–a more inviting poem.

Poetry is not something I studied in school. There were, of course, the required literature classes, and some teachers that opened the landscape of great poetry and prose. But for me, someone left the back door to the house of poetry open and I slipped in to explore. A house doesn’t seem so intimidating or formal when you enter, casually, from the backdoor.

September 16, 2012: poetry at Malaprop’s

Writers at Home – Sept. 16th

This Sunday at the Malaprop’s cafe at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 16, join the following poets as they read from their recent books: Holly Iglesias (ANGLES OF APPROACH), Sebastian Matthews (MIRACLE DAY: MID-LIFE SONGS), and Katherine Soniat (THE SWING GIRL). More details here. Link.

Letter writing, a vanishing art

A book is more than a collection of letters and pages.

The week before Fathers Day I completed a book design project that is a “legacy of letters from a decorated World War II hero…” Or so the back copy states.

Reading a manuscript like that, at times, seems voyeuristic. The compelling part of the book is the context of knowing that the author was three when his father passed away suddenly. He grew up hearing friends and family tell him “You sure look like your Daddy” or “I knew your Dad, he was one of the best.” The letters that the author collected for the book shares who is father was and what kind of man he was. But most importantly, for the author, it was the only way to hear the voice of a father he never knew.

At times, during the process of designing the cover and page layout, I glimpsed that boyish tenderness of the author (now in his sixties) as he ached for the presence his father. I cherished Fathers Day all the more as I thought of the author.

A couple of things come to mind as I wrap up this project and send it to press. First, the art of letter writing seems non-existent. The last letter I received was from my oldest child who placed it in my boot for me to find one morning. It was a simple note written in colored pencil. It is placed in my journal. I glance at it periodically.

Last time I received a hand-written letter was years ago. There are the seasonal holiday letters that begin filling my mail box every year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. They usually arrive as letters printed out on decorative stationary purchased at Kinkos or Office Depot. But hand-written letters? Do people still do that in our culture?

Secondly, the legacy left behind of those letters written prior to, during and after a major historical event impresses me. What kind of legacy might we leave our children and grandchildren with a mountain of un-memorable text messages. What will our tweets and status updates mean a half century from now? Will Twitter be obsolete by then? Or Facebook? Can you imagine your grandchildren asking you, “What’s Twitter?” After you explain the whole social media birth of micro blogging they giggle and say, “Twitter is so 2012. I can’t believe how primitive that seems.”

Emails may convey some of the gravitas as a written (or typed) letter. However, as Luddite as this sounds, I still have hand-written letters from family and friends placed in an old shoe box. Letters and notes from a woman who became my wife are stored in a similar fashion. A typed note from my grandfather, when age had crippled his hand-writing, is placed in a book of his poems as a reminder and memento. As a child, my grandmother wrote a brief letter to me each birthday and placed a stick of gum in between the folds. I looked forward to that letter each year. You can’t attach a stick of gum to an email.

Besides, I doubt anyone in our culture would wait, anticipate and enjoy a letter that arrives annually. Everything is so urgent… almost panicked. Why isn’t someone responding to my emails, texts, tweets? It’s been 30 seconds! (Place emoticons here.) In my own life, I notice how differently I process social media and online content. There lacks a linear stretch of the intellect when processing clusters of data points from Twitter, Facebook, HuffPo, etc. My attention span fatigues when I have to wade through a barrage of emails, updates and tweets.

Yet I enjoy the long articles in the Atlantic Monthly, London Review of Books, The New York Review of Books or the like. It stimulates my mind. 700-word news articles for the most part bore me. There’s nothing there but a nut graph. No context. No history. No personality or narrative trajectory. Just a Google-like, or Wikipedia-like, democratized collection of information. There’s nothing there to engage my mind. Nothing that challenges my mind, beliefs or values. A book on the Battle of Agincourt offers nuances that blog posts, tweets and texts don’t offer.

Reading through a legacy of letters, like the book I am ready to send to press, captures the exchange of ideas in a sustained, generational conversation between a father and a son. The more our culture engages in the scatterbrained conflagration of data items, I suspect civil, engaging conversation (like letter writing) may become obsolete.

Literature takes a habit of mind that has disappeared. It requires silence, some form of isolation, and sustained concentration in the presence of an enigmatic thing.

Philip Roth (via libraryland)