Archive for the ‘autobibliography’ Category

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A Poem Is Never Finished, Only Abandoned.*

April 11, 2011


A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. • Robert Frost

I told someone I lost my mother, but I find her everywhere. She’s lurking at the grocery store and at the movie theatre. She’s hidden in the pages of the books I used to buy and send to her. I see her among the bargains that she loved, like necklaces and earrings discounted seventy-five percent from their lowest marked price. We say the one who’s gone is lost, but I am the lost one, adrift in a world where I founder in the shoals of sadness, snagged by jagged rocks of memory that hide beneath the normalcy of life-goes-on. I try to find the poetry in my remembrance.

I am never sure when a poem begins because the words I write are not usually meant to be poems. I seldom sit down and say “I will write poetry today.” More often, I say “I will write,” and sometimes what emerges is the seed of a poem. Very seldom, a poem springs into being, words rushing onto the page or screen as fast as I can write. Instead, fragments arrive unbidden to be captured, saved, revisited again and again until they spark some resonance within. In my life, poetry cannot be forced and almost never flows no matter how much I might wish that it would. Right now, I very, very badly wish it would.

How do poems grow? They grow out of your life. • Robert Penn Warren

It’s almost three months since my mother died and I have begun many poems since her death. Most have been abandoned and I do not think that I will ever finish them. Revisiting the words is painful, leading me to sorrow, immersing me in grief when I want to remember joy. My mother was asked to leave a grief group shortly after my youngest brother’s unexpected death because she was not sad enough. Her upbeat attitude brought the group down, she was told. She would not want me to wallow in sadness either. “Remember me,” she’d say, “but it would make me sad to see you sorrowful. Enjoy your life and focus on the fun we had together.” I want to. I really do. It is not easy.

A poem might be defined as thinking about feelings—about human feelings and frailties. • Anne Stevenson

I do not want to hide these words where I can find them and be tempted to wrestle them into poems. Instead, I’ll abandon them here and call them done.

February 12, 2011. I wanted to play with the meanings of the word rest, the euphemism for death, the remainder, the break or relaxation, but it won’t come together as I make notes on the back of an envelope while I’m in the car. It’s a perfect example of a notion that could become something but likely never will.

A final heartbeat, a last breath,

and all my life becomes the rest.

Eternal rest

is followed by this daily rest when

life shifts into

days without and every day

I find no rest from emptiness.

I am ambushed by little things , a song on the radio, a pair of ticket stubs in a winter jacket I pull out of the closet when the weather unexpectedly turns cold, daffodils in the snow. I am adjusting to the bigness of forever, but these small reminders pull me back into my grief. As I am looking for course materials, I find something written by the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette who authored the novel Gigi on which one of my mother’s favorite movies was based. She wrote: “It’s so curious:  one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief.  But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.”

Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions known what it means to want to escape from these things. • T.S. Eliot

February 14, 2011. I get emails from Disneyland addressed to my mother—an annual passport holder—because she didn’t have a computer. Their offers often begin with her name and I cannot bear to cancel them. My jewelry boxes are filled with rhinestone-encrusted landmines of remembrance and letter bombs await in the bookshelves where I secreted mothermail to read again. In the Goodwill, I begin another poem about these unexpected reminders:

I am ambushed by your absence and

every time I forget that you

are gone, you find me.

You lie in wait in the thrift store

where the empty sleeves of sweaters

in your favorite pink grab me

as I troll the aisles.

In the front yard the violets breathe

your name and I know that lilacs will soon

scent the air with your memory.

There are reminders everywhere and I cannot escape them. I do not know if I want to.

Poetry is all that is worth remembering in life. • William Hazlitt

February 26, 2011. I love wordplay and make these notes while we’re on the way to the grocery store:

Rest in peace, we say,

but in their end, it is our own

peace we seek:

a piece of precious remembrance without tears,

a piece of happiness without regret,

a piece of delight in what once was and

never again will be.

Yes. Rest in peace while we pick up

the pieces and move on.

March 2, 2011: The poet Robert Frost said that poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. I am still looking for the words that will help me remember and forget.

Forgetfulness is easy

if the heart is hardened,

if every thought of you is

abandoned,

if the mind refuses to

stoke the fires of memory and

lets the embers grow cold

from neglect.

Forgetfulness is easy

if all reminders are ruthlessly

purged, brutally

neglected, systematically

destroyed, efficiently

deleted, rooted out, leaving

nothing, not even ghosts of memories

behind.

My Saturday begins and I do not think of loss, but then the phone rings early—my mother was the only one who called me early—but, of course, it is not her and all the work I do after this wrong number bears the imprint of distraction. I cannot find the words today.

What words do you seek? What words do you find?

Poetry is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them. • Charles Simic

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal. • From a headstone in Ireland

* Thanks to French poet Paul Valéry for the title quotation.

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Happy Rabbits Farm*—Home Of Rapidly Multiplying Stacks And Shelves Of Books And The Endless Ideas They Inspire, Support, And Challenge

October 24, 2010

Note: I’m publishing this post on Zinnfull, but it can also be found as the first post at a new blog I’ve begun, “Shelf Analysis,” at http://www.autobibliography.wordpress.com/

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you will have a dozen.
• John Steinbeck

Without sufficient money for a meal I have spent the few pence I possessed to obtain from a library one of Scott’s novels, and, reading it, forgot hunger and cold, and felt myself rich and happy.
• Hans Christian Andersen

I am obsessed by books. They are my greatest indulgence. I seldom go on a trip without buying books. I almost never leave a thrift store without a book or two. Deliver me from the shelves of sell-‘em-for-a-dollar-each library discards. I will take some home. I am endlessly amused, inspired, comforted, educated, delighted, confounded, transported, and overwhelmed by books.

My first collectable was a book. Most of the trouble I got into as a child can be traced to books, whether I was challenging a teacher because of something I’d read, reading the wrong book when I should have been reading something else, reading inappropriate books, or just plain reading: “You always were a little shit,” my stepfather told me not too long ago, “always your nose in a book, and always wanting a ride to the library to get more books.”

I don’t doubt that I was a little shit. I was a smartypants and a smartmouth who hadn’t learned the kinds of discretionary skills that now moderate my smartiness, although I did learn to keep quiet and keep my ideas to myself. This is not necessarily a good skill for students—or children—to develop. Be warned. If you want students of any age to read, you should probably be prepared for them to think and wonder and question. Books are dangerous that way.

In Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg (1926) wrote, “The farm boys in their evenings at Jones’s store in Gentryville talked about how Abe Lincoln was always reading, digging into books, stretching out flat on his stomach in front of the fireplace, studying till midnight and past midnight. . .The next thing Abe would be reading books between the plow handles, it seemed to them.” I grew up in Springfield, Illinois, surrounded by Lincoln lore and learned from a National Park Service brochure that some of the books Lincoln read were Parson Weems’ Life of Washington, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, Robinson Crusoe, and The Arabian Nights. I wish that Lincoln had been an autobibliographer.**

An autobibliographer tracks her or his reading and revisits these tracks, following the trails that lead to self-understanding. Through “shelf analysis”—the exploration of reading preferences and avoidances—passions and interests are revealed and deeper understanding of personal intellect is possible. Researching your reading choices is one way to begin to know your own mind. As tastes change and mature—or stay the same—these attractions and repulsions continue to be revelatory. I am the same person I was when I collected my first book, and I see in its pages the origins of some of my current reading obsessions.

That first book I collected, Dante’s Inferno, a folio edition with engravings by Gustave Dore depicting the nine circles of hell, began my fascination with the grotesque and gory. Coupled with regular revisitings in Springfield newspapers about the Donner Party and their cannibalistic scandals, as well as the radio spookiness I shared regularly with my grandpa, I grew up loving Cinderella, but loving all kinds of creepy stuff more. I understand why my latest acquisitions include the following from the stacks sitting in the living room waiting to be filed, all of them for Yuckology 101: Vile and Disgusting Literacy Activities for Children of All Ages:

Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum (2008). “There’s a lot of them./Enough for us to eat well,/and then keep eating.” (p. 114). Who can resist poetry celebrating the undead? Not me.

The Munsters and the Great Camera Caper by William Johnston (1965). This “Authorized Edition based on the well-known television series” is one of those dandy Whitman Publishing Company shiny-covered books celebrating schlocky TV. It’s chockfull of Munster wisdom like this from Herman, “Things are always darkest before the nightfall. I guess nothing seems as bad in the dark as it did in the daylight” (p. 205).

Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology by Lawrence Weschler (1995). Weschler’s book celebrates the odd and wonder•full and visits David Wilson’s Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles.

Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett (2007). “I get edgy near sharp knives,” Little Mouse writes, while above him, the page informs readers that aichmophobia is the fear of knives and the facing page shows a triumphant farmer’s wife on the front page of the newspaper, holding three mice tails. This participatory children’s book invites readers to record their fears on its pages.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies! A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols by Michael P. Spradlin (2009). Fair warning, “Zombie Claus Is Coming to Town,” and “He eats you when you’re sleeping;/He bites when you’re awake./He chews if you’ve been bad or good,/So just hide for goodness’ sake!” The kids will love singing these.

• And finally, I love black and white artmaking and I get inspiration paging through books of copyright-free images. Mostly this stuff is only available on the internet now and that’s just not the same as looking through books where serendipitous discoveries await. Dover Publication’s (2010) Spiders, Insects and Crustaceans is the latest addition to my collection.

Of course, I bought some cotton candy books too, but since I read five or six of these a week, they don’t really count except to reassure you that it’s not all serious stuff around here.

Consider beginning your own autobibliographical studies. Record the books or magazines or newspaper articles you read or your web searches or other literacy activities. Be sure to date everything and keep track of bibliographical data. In time, revisiting these records is bound to be interesting!

Books are becoming everything to me. If I had at this moment my choice of life I would bury myself in one of those immense libraries that we saw together at the universities, and would never pass a waking hour without a book before me.
• Lord Macaulay

* Because ideas are always blossoming at The House of Stuff, my husband and I call our home Happy Rabbits Farm, home to The Amuseum of Un-Natural History, Keep Smilin’ Music, Dr. Z’s House of Fun, and more.

** For insights into Lincoln’s reading, see Robert Bray’s (Summer 2007), What Abraham Lincoln Read: An Evaluative and Annotated List (Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Vol. 28, No. 2).

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Reading Is To The Mind What Exercise Is To The Body*

July 14, 2010

A large, still book is a piece of quietness, succulent and nourishing in a noisy world, which I approach and imbibe with “a sort of greedy enjoyment,” as Marcel Proust said of those rooms of his old home whose air was “saturated with the bouquet of silence.” • Holbrook Jackson

The alarm on my phone will soon be melodically reminding me to shower and get ready for work. I’ve been reading my way into the day. Sometimes this is simply a relaxing time of mindlessness and other times, I nibble at several books at once, taking small bites and chewing on them, doing a bit of writing as well.

The time to read is any time: no apparatus, no appointment of time and place, is necessary. It is the only art which can be practised at any hour of the day or night, whenever the time and inclination comes, that is your time for reading; in joy or sorrow, health or illness. • Holbrook Jackson

These nibblebooks are usually related to Collectory topics I’m interested in, and they are the ones I collect, the ones that line the shelves in every room. They’re mostly non-fiction. Cottoncandy quickread books are mostly fiction and are usually only brief guests in my home. The volumes of fiction that settle in on my shelves are those I want to read and reread because of the lyricism of their language or the connections of their content.

Books are delightful society. If you go into a room and find it full of books – even without taking them from the shelves they seem to speak to you, to bid you welcome. • William Ewart Gladstone

I’m not sure where the myth comes from that says once you begin a book you should always read it from start to finish. Do schools promote this fiction? I seldom do this with non-fiction. I choose a chapter that interests me and begin there. Or I search the index for a particular topic and read all the references to that area of interest first. Or I look in the index for topics I’m not familiar with. Or I just flip through the book, waiting for something to catch my eye. Almost always I’ve finished the entire book before I realize there’s nothing I haven’t read. I just haven’t read it in the order it was written. Instead, I read it in the order of personal interest.

An ordinary man can… surround himself with two thousand books… and thenceforward have at least one place in the world in which it is possible to be happy. • Augustine Birrell

I also quit reading books that don’t interest me. This is particularly true for fiction since I’m aware that with non-fiction, especially books related to something I’m exploring, I may bring different eyes to the task later. Still, once you’re not in school and have no academic or professional reasons for reading something, it’s okay to close the covers and say adieu.

What are your reading patterns?

Books support us in our solitude and keep us from being a burden to ourselves. • Jeremy Collier

* The title quotation is provided by Richard Steele from The Tatler in 1710.

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Some Books Are To Be Tasted, Others To Be Swallowed, And Some Few To Be Chewed And Digested,* And Some Books Just Slide Right Down The Gullet, Lubricated By Silliness And Seasoned With Absurdity

July 7, 2010

The covers of this book are too far apart. • Ambrose Bierce

I’ve confessed many times to reading middle-of-the-night books that few academics would brag about, but as a teacher who’s concerned with literacy issues, I feel compelled to reveal my bookish secrets. I read lots of stuff just for fun and I read lots of books and articles that most people would have little interest in. I reference the serious ones in other venues, since they represent the kind of reading that only the interested would be interested in. I love this intellectual stuff too, but I don’t feel compelled to impress you with my erudition. If it isn’t enough that I use the word erudition correctly in a sentence, clearly you are people who will never be pleased, so I might as well not worry about it.

There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it. • Bertrand Russell

When I write about books here, I hope to remind people that reading can be fun. That isn’t always the message students get in school where reading can be boring and tedious and can require intense concentration in order to take away requisite knowledge. This is a skill students need—the ability to persist even when the reading is less than entrancing—but they also need to learn how amusing books can be.

Every night, I have to read a book, so that my mind will stop thinking about things that I stress about. • Britney Spears

I wear a quiet hat in class to get students’ attention. It’s a horned plastic helmet and I’ve just discovered that Vikings never wore such headgear. This piece of historical myth-information is debunked by Michael Powell’s (2010, New York: Fall River Press) Lies You Learned at School. Page 18 reveals that “the Viking fighting style actually precluded their [horned helmets’] use.” I unlearned much more—you’ll have to buy the book.

I was reading a book…’the history of glue’ – I couldn’t put it down. • Tim Vine

How could anyone who collects old sex books pass up The Best of Sexology: The Illustrated Magazine of Sex Science? This book, edited by Craig Yoe promises on its cover that readers will be treated to “kinky and kooky excerpts from America’s first sex magazine.” I am hooked before I open it and can only hope that there will be breast stuff within. And there is, a whole article devoted to “Polymastia. . .Multiple Breasts” by Sara R. Riedman, Ph.D. I also find a picture of a spiked blouse designed to protect women from contact with those who might wish to cop a feel. What treats!

A bad book is as much of a labor to write as a good one; it comes as sincerely from the author’s soul. • Aldous Huxley

I’m a sucker for first sentences that grab my attention, so I love this one from Daniel Waters (2008, New York: Hyperion), Generation Dead. “Phoebe and her friends held their breath as the dead girl in the plaid skirt walked past their table in the lunchroom” (p. 1). This tale chronicles the story of “living impaired or “differently biotic” teens who won’t stay dead and who just want to fit in. I’ll use this for reading aloud at the start of class.

There is a great deal of difference between an eager man [or women] who wants to read a book and a tired man [or woman] who wants a book to read. • G.K. Chesterton

Twisted: Tales from the Wacky Side of Life is the kind of you-had-me-at-hello title that always appeals to me. This 2006 (New York: MJF Books) book from Bob Fenster is packed with strange quotations, facts, anecdotes and other odd stuff I hadn’t seen before. For example, I learn on page 178 that First Lady Patricia Nixon “was named Macaroni Woman of the Year by the American Macaroni Institute” and was even “sculpted in pasta.” I drift off into thought for a moment thinking about this. The only pasta art I’m familiar with is macaroni necklaces. Do pasta sculptors use cooked or dry noodles?

I’ve never known any trouble that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage. • Charles de Secondat, Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, Pensées Diverses

“My first conscious recognition of being abducted [by aliens] was in 1988” (p. 106). This is the opening sentence from one of the chapters in How It Feels to Be Attacked by a Shark and Other Amazing Life-or-Death Situations!, a book of real-life stories edited by Michelle Hamer (2007, New York: MJF Books). If you’ve ever wondered how it feels to choke to death on a cheeseburger, to be shot in the heart with a nail gun, to win the lottery, to be caught in a cyclone, or to have quintuplets, this is the book for you.

So there they are, a few of my recent summer purchases, books that will entertain me and my students, books I claim proudly as my own, knowing that my choices will impress no one.

There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs. • Henry Ward Beecher

What kind of summer reading do you secretly—or openly–enjoy?

Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it. • P.J. O’Rourke

* Thanks to Frances Bacon for the quotation at the beginning of the title.

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The Book That Changed My View Of My Education And Got Me Into Trouble When I Asked My U.S. History Teacher Why We Hadn’t Read About This Topic In Our Textbooks

June 10, 2010

For Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach. • Upton Sinclair about his book, The Jungle

When I was in middle school, I accidentally read Upton Sinclair’s (1906) The Jungle. I wasn’t looking for a book about conditions in the meat-packing industry. I was in my rainforest, Amazon, South American, piranha, big-huge-scary-snake, jungle phase of reading, the one that followed my fascination with all things Egyptian.

I’ve always loved non-fiction and my childhood search strategy was to read everything related to a subject that I could find. I used the card catalog as my primary search tool, although I also hunted through the stacks using the Dewey Decimal System. The Jungle is fiction, a fact-based exposé that didn’t have anything to do with the topic I was currently exploring, but I took it home because of its title and because it interested me when I paged through it.

Once I really began reading, I was repelled and fascinated. On my next visit to the library, I looked up more about the topic and found out that the conditions in the United States meat packing industry that Sinclair exposed in his book led to the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. I asked my history teacher why we hadn’t learned about this in class and why it wasn’t in our textbook and he told me to be quiet, that it wasn’t possible to cover everything. And that was the end of it.

There’s a new food safety act before the Senate—The Food Safety Modernization Act—that would overhaul a system that’s over a century old. According to an article in The Oregonian (Portland), May 31, 2010, p. A1, “One-size-fits-all reforms may not fit small farmers,” by Lynne Terry, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention “estimates that every year 76 million people get sick and 5,000 die from food poisoning.”

Small farmers, including many growers who sell at small farmers’ markets, believe the bill needs exceptions for local growers, saying that this bill and one already passed by the House, could put them out of business because of related expenses. I’m torn. I love our local growers’ market. Saturdays are special when you can buy produce directly from its grower. I don’t know enough to take a stand on this issue.

I’m reminded that research is always necessary if you want to make an informed decision about something and that school doesn’t teach you everything you need to know.

Write about significant book from your childhood.

Children don’t read to find their identity, to free themselves from guilt, to quench the thirst for rebellion or to get rid of alienation. They have no use for psychology…. They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff…. When a book is boring, they yawn openly. They don’t expect their writer to redeem humanity, but leave to adults such childish illusions. • Isaac Bashevis Singer

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Don’t Miss This Recipe For Hard Cooked Egg Cobbler That’s Yummy Or Yucky Depending On Your Tastes Since I Realize That While I Find It Repellent, Apparently Others Considered It Quite Tasty

June 10, 2010

For Tuesday, June 8, 2010

As life’s pleasures go, food is second only to sex. Except for salami and eggs. Now that’s better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced. • Alan King

The kinds of books we read sometimes depend on what’s happening in our lives. Sometimes they’re school-related or work-related or project-related. Some reading passions are ongoing, though, and cookbooks are one of mine. Once upon a time, I wrote a twice-weekly cooking column in the newspaper and I’m still a sucker for collections of recipes.

Although I enjoy looking for cooking instructions online when I know what I want to make, when I read cookbooks, I find recipes for things I’d never considered making. Since we like eating at home, both my husband and I look for recipes we think we’ll enjoy trying. We Post-It® or print or bookmark these possibilities. And I find Collectory stuff among them.

I just bought a new cookbook, Kay West’s (2007) Around the Opry Table: A Feast of Recipes and Stories from the Grand Ole Opry®. I couldn’t resist the $2.49 price tag, especially when I found it full of so many things I wanted to remember. This is one of the ways I decide whether or not to buy a book after it passes the cost test. If there is just one thing I want from the book, I copy it down. Two, and I copy them down. Perhaps even with three. But once I pass the three mark and the book’s affordable, I figure I should just buy it. I found multiple things I want in West’s book.

The first I’ll share is a recipe I’ll use in two Collectorys: Food of the Clods and Yuckology. Bless her heart, it’s country singer Kitty Wells’ recipe for “Hard-Cooked Egg Cobbler” and it repels me just to read about it. Perhaps you will not feel the same way and will want to try it, so here it is, direct from p. 79:

Hard-Cooked Egg Cobbler

12 whole eggs

2 cups sugar

½ cup (1 stick) butter

Fresh grated nutmeg

2 pastry shells

Hard cook 12 whole eggs. (I’ll skip the directions for doing this). After draining them and immersing in cold water, immediately remove the shells and slice the eggs directly into a pastry-lined shallow casserole dish (8-by-12-inch is fine.)

Sprinkle two cups sugar over the eggs, [this is where the recipe went south for me—hardboiled eggs sprinkled with two cups of sugar just sounds disgusting] dot this with 1 stick of butter and sprinkle generously with nutmeg. Have ready 2 cups of boiling water and pour this over the egg, butter, and sugar combination. Place a top pastry over all and place in a medium-hot over (400 degrees) and cook until the top crust is nicely browned and the syrup formed has bubbled up around the edges. Serve warm or set aside and serve cold. It’s good either way.

I learn as I read about Miss Wells that “she was known among family, friends, and colleagues for her skills in the kitchen” (p. 77) and that she wrote The Kitty Wells Country Kitchen Cookbook (1964). I also learn something that I’ll add to my music Collectory, the one where I save band names: although Wells’ 1952 recording of “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” (written by J.D. Miller) was a number one Billboard hit, it was banned by the NBC radio network and Wells wasn’t allowed to perform it on the Opry. Its raciness seems quaint by today’s much, much looser standards.

But wait there’s more. I have a candy Collectory too, and West’s book reveals how “GooGoo Clusters” got their name. The clusters were created in 1912 by Howell Campbell and were the first candy bar with multiple ingredients. At first unnamed, the candy got its name during a conversation Campbell had with a schoolteacher who said that it was “so good, people would ask for it from birth.” Campbell then named the candy after the sound his newborn son made: GooGoo (p. 20).

One of my friends calls cookbooks pornography for dieters. I suppose they are. But they’re also pieces of history that show social and cultural changes over time. The exploration of food histories is a species of autoethnographic research that can reveal many aspects of familial and personal history.

What’s your favorite recipe or favorite food?

I’ve decided life is too fragile to finish a book I dislike just because it cost $16.95 and everyone else loved it. Or eat a fried egg with a broken yolk (which I hate) when the dog would leap over the St. Louis Arch for it. • Erma Bombeck (And I am delighted to include a quotation that I already loved that includes books and eggs, not easy to find!)

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Medicine For The Soul* And A Prescription For Happiness

June 10, 2010

For Monday, June 7, 2010 (I have been unable to access my blog for posting for several days, so I’ve been writing, but not posting and hoping for better luck.)

People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading. • Logan Pearsall Smith, Trivia, 1917

I’m shopping with my grandsons and they want books. I do too, although I hesitate because I know I’ll have to schlep them across the country. I’ve done this before, seeding the volumes among my clothes, weighing my suitcases down until I can scarcely lift them. I always promise myself I won’t do it again, but I break this promise every time I leave home. Books are the addiction I cannot resist. They delight, comfort, inspire, and inform me daily.

I pass up many enticing volumes, making lists in the notebook I carry everywhere (remember my hunt for cargo pants with pockets?). I see them in bookstores and in the Smithsonian’s gift shops. I read about them in the newspaper: John Horgan’s Bookshelf column (p. A17) in the June 4, 2010, Wall Street Journal is devoted to a discussion of Nicholas Carr’s (2010) The Shallows. This book will be one of my first purchases when I return home. I won’t be able to wait for the paperback and I know I’ll want my own copy to write in as I continue to collect inspiration for The techNObots, an artmaking project that focuses on the human costs of technology.

Digression: I know it’s not advisable to write in books that belong to schools or libraries or other people, but I love to converse with books. I date my comments and can see the progression and origins of my thoughts over time as I reread and continue to reference my favorites. This form of journaling is relatively painless since it doesn’t require thinking up something to write about nor does it require finding something in which to capture your thoughts. Inspiration and margins are right there.

Horgan reports that Carr’s book explores what the internet is doing to our brains, quoting from the book: “When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.” I’m in a motel with unreliable internet connectivity, so slow that many of the systems I’m working with time out before I can complete my work and I am unable to whiz around cyberspace in ways I’ve become used to.

This is frustrating since I feel beset by expectations that I’ll be able to work anywhere, anytime. It’s also freeing now that I’ve gotten my grades in and I’ve read students’ final essays posted online. I’m not going to worry about connecting while I’m out of town. If I’m able, I’ll post. If I’m able, I’ll check my email. But I won’t be spending hours trying to do what should theoretically take minutes. If I do, I’ll be spending all my time off in the frustrating quest for connection instead of exploring the historic city I’m in, thinking about what I’m presenting, and processing what I’ve heard from other presentations.

I’ll also have more time to look for books.

What kinds of books do you find it hard to resist?

Good as it is to inherit a library, it is better to collect one. • Augustine Birrell, Obiter Dicta, “Book Buying”

* Inscription over the door of the Library at Thebes