Why I Read Less Non-Fiction

Spring                                           New Bee Hiving Moon

Not much up.  Finished the Latin, worked out, worked on my presentation:  Reimagining Faith, watched one TV program and read some.  Vince Flynn, local author of the Mitch Rapp counter-terrorism novels, writes in the foreward to his book, Kill Shot, that he has prostate cancer.  This is the book I began last night.

I’m still poking around in Autumn in the Heavenly City (Taiping Rebellion) and Quest (a massive on energy and security by a guy who’s supposed to be the best in the field).  I read them more slowly.

Why I read non-fiction more slowly than fiction (usually).  During the bulk of my day I work with my brain, writing my own fiction, writing these blogs, studying for MIA tours, doing Latin translations, reading material from magazines and websites and books.

In the evening, when I turn to recreational reading, I find non-fiction often seems like an extension of my day; that is, it requires thought and careful attention, plus I’m learning something.  Most often, in the evenings, I’m ready for something mindless.  Fiction usually (not always) qualifies.  Some TV, occasionally, too.

Reading

Imbolc                                      Garden Planning Moon

Not sure what wiped me out yesterday, but I sure felt crummy.  May be lack of sleep from reading too late into the night.  I don’t read much, fiction that is, during the day, just things for projects.  Art history, research for the novel, news, items for which I have either immediate use or that I consider part of my responsibility as a citizen to stay informed.

After my workout, usually around 6:30 or 7:00 pm, I go upstairs, eat a light supper and then read.  This is time I used to watch TV.  Now you’d think that having a couple of hours to read that I hadn’t used before would make me happy with that and that I’d get to bed earlier than I had in the past.  Nope.

When I read, I get hooked, stay in, read one more chapter, let myself get carried away by what John Gardner called the fictive dream.  I’ve done this all my life and had to stop reading in bed because it screwed up my getting to sleep.  Now I read in the living room, in a big leather chair.  And it screws up my getting to sleep.  Do you see a pattern here?

My best guess is sleep deprivation, accumulated gradually, made me sick.  It used to.  All the time. When I was anxious, couldn’t sleep, had to go to work, drink lots of coffee to stay awake and alert, come home, be so wired that I couldn’t go to sleep and then the next day, repeat.  When I finally put this bad pattern to rest, I was, quite literally, a lot happier.

Slept better last night and took a good nap this afternoon.  So, I felt better today.  Wrote my 1,500 words, studied Latin for two hours after the nap, worked out, now I’m ready for a steam bath and after that supper.  Then, more reading.

What? No TV?

Winter                                     First Moon of the New Year

Business meeting this morning.  Some drastic pruning budget wise to squeeze our spending into line with our post-retirement income.  Example:  dropped cable tv.  I know.  It feels almost unamerican.  My mom and dad raised me to watch at least three to four hours of television a night and I feel like I’m letting them down.  Not to mention CBS, NBC and ABC.

The impetus for this came after the trip to South America.  We watched no TV over the cruise and when we got back I settled in with a good book in the evening.  We still have a blu-ray player, Netflix and I just signed us up for Hulu Plus, so we’re not leaving the big box behind in toto, just the absurdly expensive piped in Comcast version.

The internet connection?  Well, we kept that.  There’s TV and then, there’s the internet.  No comparison.  We’re not totally TV broadcastless as it turns out.  To keep our lower rate for the internet I agreed to a $12 a month “antenna” service from Comcast.  With the broadband the total was lower than internet alone. You get a discount on the broadband if you have any other services.  Weird, huh?

None of this feels draconian, just adjusting things to keep pace with changing reality.

We’ve also decided that with Kate retired we can go with one car.  We’ve done that for a couple of months anyhow since the Celica blew a tire.  Again.  I’ve decided to let it set until warmer weather.  I’m gonna give it away.  It’s been a great car and we didn’t make it to 300,000 miles together, but it still feels like time to let go.  I’ve driven it since September of 1994.

 

Reading Matters

Fall                                                             Waning Autumn Moon

Found these questions on one of my frequent reads, The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Thought they’d be interesting to answer.

Q: What’s the first thing you read in the morning?

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Q: What newspapers and magazines do you subscribe to or read regularly?

Wired, Scientific American, Scientific American Mind, The Economist, Funny Times, The Sporting News  (dropped this year long term subscriptions to Orion, Parabola)

What do you read in print vs. online vs. mobile?

All of the above I read in print with modest exceptions.  Online I read Dissent, Arts and Letters Daily, New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post and, as the election season heats up I read several political blogs (see below).   Big Think, TED and Connections give me a quick injection of creative, new ideas when I need them.

Q: What books have you recently read? Do they stand out?

Game of Thrones (4 volumes).  This is one of the best written fantasy novels I’ve ever read.  No competition for Tolkien, but very good.  Monkeys Journey to the West.  Another Chinese classic, a picaresque novel about Monkey as he guards a monk journeying to India to retrieve copies of Buddhist sutras.  The Sibling Effect.  Understudied in the past, this book recounts recent work on siblings.  All Things Shining.  How to find resources for living in the Western classical tradition.  Stumbled on their appreciation of the sacred and the holy.  Reading the Classics.  A very good book by Italo Calvino.  In the tradition of the Renaissance humanists.  Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  As any frequent reader of this blog knows, I’m reading this one line by line in Latin and translating as I go.  And learning Latin as I go.

I listened to Wolf.  A Booker Prize winner novel about Thomas Cromwell.  I also listened to a lecture series on existentialism.  Wonderful.

Q: Do you read blogs? If so, what blogs do you like best?

The Perseus Project

Not a blog, but if you love the classics, especially Greek and Latin classics, this website is a goldmine of resources.

What Should I Be Doing With My Bees This Month?

A Stillwater bee-keeper with common sense advice of northern bee keeping

 

All of these website offer analysis and strategic thinking about national and state level political matters.

Beyond the Polls,

Cook Report

Real Clear Politics

Politics: Analysis, Polls

 

Julia Bennet

Blog of a philosophical Australian model.  No kidding.

The Bottom of Heaven

An African-American woman writes this young black experience blog.

The Deoxyribonucleic Hyperdimension

This one exists in its own dimension.

 

Q: Do you use Twitter? If so, whom do you follow?

Twitter proved too much of a pain for me.  Dropped it long ago.  Facebook.  I’m sorta there.  Check in once in a while.  Post less frequently than that.  Use none of the digital sharing technologies.

A Carnegie Library

Fall                                                   Waxing Autumn Moon

Reading.  Alexandria, Indiana had a Carnegie library, one of those brick and limestone buildings sprinkled throughout American small towns, so ubiquitous we give them little thought.  Like the water tower they’ve always been there.

Ours had a long flight of steps that went up to the solemn, curved stacks of the adult library, a place visited by kids only when they needed something up there, a rare occurrence.  The library also had a concrete ramp with a slight curve that led down, below ground where the children’s books were.

In the spring and early summer the concrete had a musty scent, cement and soil, a comforting, familiar smell that greeted me often as I made regular trips down the ramp.  The library had summer reading programs complete with prizes and stickers and I loved them.  Prizes for reading!  A thing of wonder to this boy bookworm.

The hours I spent down there, reading or finding books, fed a now lifelong habit and a love of books, not rare editions or signed first editions, but of books themselves, purveyors of wonder and mystery.

My favorite book was the Silver Llama, a story of a young boy and his llama, somewhere in the Andes.  I remember its silver cover, the rounded spine that always felt smooth against my thumb.  Even after I quit reading it, I would visit it from time to time, just to fell the spine and see the dull shine of its silver.

Libraries are still among my favorite places on earth, temples to generosity, human creativity and self education.

The Woollys of September

Lughnasa                                                       Waning Harvest Moon

Woolly Mammoths on reading.  We had a meeting focused on current books, readings underway or accomplished during the summer.  Guys brought out books recounting the Battle of Little Big Horn hour by hour, the agony of the war in Vietnam, a Chinese classic with the attendant multiple volumes, the built in adaptive structures in the below consciousness part of our awareness.  Woollys are readers.

We also learned Charlie has a solid offer on his condo atop a warehouse district building.  Scott has still not come back to Minnesota from his time in Colorado and Utah.  Frank still doesn’t like the nuns in the Catholic school he attended.  Bill’s focused on Regina’s needs rights now.  Stefan attended the Men’s conference this year and brought back Zack, an aspiring actor and writer, who read a powerful example of his work.

Ode’s knee has gone from good to worse and now will require a third operation.  Frank’s new granddaughter is roly-poly. Warren, in the humor highlight of the evening, realized he had not yet signed up for Social Security.  Why humor?  Well, he does cover aging for the Star-Tribune and has done so for a long time.

We also discussed, a favorite topic, our retreat.  Some want to be near water, others want tradition at the Dwelling or Valhelga.  We agreed on the last week of April, the first week of May.  That’s a start.

 

Weather Complaint

Spring(?)                                                    Waning Bloodroot Moon

Well.  About a foot of new snow.  A foot.  Heavy, heart attack snow, too.  It’s hard to imagine a less welcome weather pattern at this time, with the exception of a hard rain.  Oh, yeah, we had a hard rain most of yesterday.  Both of them up the ante for the flooding season and seem to put the growing season still further and further away.  These kind of complaints often come in Minnesota about this time, stimulated not so much by the fact of snow or the extension of winter weather, but from a calendar encouraged yearning for a new season, a different form of weather.  We temperate folks like our weather, all four seasons of it, but we want all four seasons.  You know, a cool clear fall, a cold snowy winter, a bright colorful spring and a hot productive summer.  If it appears the weather gods have forgotten a season and just might skip one, we can get cranky.

Kate came into my study this morning and said, with some surprise, “You’re putting something together!”  And she was right.  I ordered another editor’s desk from Levenger’s so I now have a continuous run of inclined desk space about three feet long.  When juggling books, note pads and more books, these inclined desks make work a lot easier.  Now I have enough space at the same height.

More Latin, translating the Metamorphoses, and later, the legcom call for the Sierra Club.

Not Stepping In The Same River Twice

Samhain                                                      Waning Thanksgiving Moon

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  You, too, tiny Tim.

Stayed up late last night reading a novel about a Chinese detective in Chinatown, NYC.  Not sure how it happened but China has become my favorite country, much like Germany used to be and Russia before that.  Instead of Buddenbrooks I read Romance of the Three Kingdoms, instead of Steppenwolf I read Chinese mysteries.  No more War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, though I could read them again, I choose, as I always have, to plow new ground, read things I have not read before.

I tend not to read things twice, except poetry.  A big part of reading for me is the journey to somewhere new, following a trail with no known ending, a similar joy to the one I find in traveling, especially to countries where the culture disorients me, leaves me little room for my old ways.

New disciplines give me a similar boost:  art history, Latin, writing, vegetable gardening, bee keeping, hydroponics.  I’m sure I miss something in my search for the novel, which may explain why I find living in the same house for 16 years, driving the same car for 16 years, being married to Kate for 20+ years soothing.  As Taoism teaches,  life is a dynamic movement between opposites, the new and the old, the familiar and the strange, the taxing and the comfortable.  The juice flows as the pulls of masculine and feminine, life and death, youth and age keep us fresh, vital.

My buddy Mario uproots himself and moves along the earth’s surface, finding new homes and new encounters.  He changes his work with apparent ease, finding new friends and new experiences as he does.  Brother Jim, Dusty, constantly challenges his present and his past, leaving himself always slightly off balance.  Both of these men take the juice and mold it into art.

There are many ancientrails through this life, including intentional disorientation, familiar surroundings, ambition, compassion, politics, nurturance, keen observation, delight, dance.  The key lies in finding yours and staying with it, getting to know it and to be it.

When you can, you will find every day (well, most days) are Thanksgiving.

Books Along the Way

Fall                                  Waxing Harvest Moon

I have begun to accept that I will never read everything I want to read.   Books sit stacked up on the floor in my study; they lie on top of rows of other books on bookshelves;  all my 6702010-10-09_0461bookshelves are full and many have books piled on top of them.  Each one I want to read.  Some I want to use only as reference, but most I want to read cover to cover.  The books range in topic from fairy tales and folklore to basic scientific texts on biology and geology, from philosophy to theology, art history to renaissance life, china, japan, india and cambodia to single dictionaries and the multiple volumes of the OED and the Dictionary of Art.  Of course there is fiction, too, and poetry, works on historiography and works on the enlightenment.  This doesn’t count the 90 books I now have on my kindle, many fiction, but many non-fiction, too.

When it comes to books and learning, I seem to not have an off button.  Maybe it’s a pathology, an escape from the world, from day to day responsibility, could be, but I don’t think so.  Reading and learning feel hardwired, expressions of genes as much as personal choice.  So it’s tough for me to admit that I have books here, in my own house, that I may never read.  A man has only so many hours in a day and I find spending any significant amount of them reading difficult.

That always surprises me.  I love to read, yet it often feels like a turn away from the world of politics, the garden, connecting with family and friends, so it takes discipline for me to sit and read for any length of time.  Instead, I read in snippets, chunks here and there.   Even so, I get a lot read, finishing the Romance of the Three Kingdoms took a lot of dedication, for example.  One year, I put the books I finished in one spot after I finished them.  I don’t recall the number or the number of pages, but it caused me to sit back and wonder how I’d done it.

Sometimes I fantasize about stopping all other pursuits, sitting down in my chair and begin reading through the most important books, the ones on the top of my list.  Right now that would 6702010-10-09_0460include the histories of Herodotus and substantial commentary.  The Mahabharata. Several works on Asia art.  A cabinet full of books on the enlightenment and liberalism.  Another cabinet full on calendars and holidays.  I will never do it.  Why?  Because I do have interests, obsessions maybe, that take me out into the garden or over to the State Capitol and the Minnesota Institute of Arts, the homes of the Woolly Mammoths and our children.  Kate and I will, I imagine, resume at least some of our SPCO attending when she retires and there will be travel, too.

This relates to an odd self-reflection occasioned by Lou Benders story of my first day on the Ball State Campus.  According to him, there was a picture of the Student Body President, I reached out and touched it and told him, “I’m going to do that.”  Three years later I ran and lost for Student Body President.  The year was 1969.  Recalling this, I wondered if my intention, my ability to clarify my direction had waned.  Had I defocused, living my life with no clear intentions, drifting along, letting life happen?

Then I recalled the moment I told Kate I wanted to write, the moment four years ago when I realized I had to put my shoulder behind the Great Work, creating a benign human presence on the planet, the moment I began to pester Deb Hegstrom for a spot in the junior docent class of 2005, the time when Kate and I decided to push our property toward permaculture-the harmonious integration of people, plants and animals in a specific spot in a sustainable way.  No, I’ve not lost my ability to focus.  Not at all.6702010-10-09_0462

This life, the one I’m living now, is the one I’ve chosen to live, a life Kate and I have made together.  And that feels good.

Who knows, maybe I will finish these books?  Who knows?

Important Document? Read While Driving.

Spring                                                 Awakening Moon

Warning:  Rant ahead.  Not texting, not brushing teeth, not combing hair, not eating cereal or drinking coffee, no, this young woman I passed on my way to the MIA yesterday read while driving.  By reading I do not mean look down, then follow the road, but eyes glued to page, peripheral vision guiding her used buick down Highway 252.  I encountered her three times on 252, each time her head and eyes had the same position, eyes on the page, head tilted down.  Each time.  Then, after I had put her out of my mind, as I drove on 94, the last stretch of the drive in until city streets, she passed me on the left.  Yep.  You guessed it.  Still reading.  At this point I honked several times and pointed.  Exasperated, she looked at me, then put the several page document on the seat beside her and drove on.

I have a clump of daffodils in bloom, tulips with broad leaves and iris beginning to peak back above the ground.  I put cygon on the iris yesterday.  This is my one remaining chemical. It kills the iris borer which lives in the soil and wrecks havoc on iris rhizomes.  If you’ve ever lifted iris rhizomes after an attack of iris borer’s, you will know why I continue to use this one pesticide.

The parsnip and the garlic look good.  I poked into the carrot patch where I left the carrots in past ground freeze last fall.  Sure enough I have carrots composting in the soil already.  Very mushy and yucky.   The garden and my spirit for it are gradually coming to life.  I hope we get some rain.  The plants need it.