- The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran. I’ll never forget the time I was on an AOL message board about books and literature back in Ye Olde Days of the internet, circa 1998. I made the horrifying gaffe of putting it on my list of favorite books. The sarcastic, condescending swipes and jabs started filling my in-box within minutes. The one that said: “LOL. Wow. You don’t get out much, do you?” was particularly painful, since it came from someone I thought was “cool.” I had no idea at that point that The Prophet was scorned by the Literati, snubbed by Western academics, and mocked by faux-intellectuals. I was humiliated and far too insecure at that point to not care what they thought. If this incident had happened today, I would have doubled and then tripled down. Ah well. Live and learn. I keep this well-loved, hard-back edition (that my dad bought, probably in the 60s) around me because the words often soothe me, and I consider it a kind of talisman. My dad printed and framed Gibran’s words about children along with his own sketch of our family (when I was still a baby) and presented it to my mother – it’s still with us, hung on the wall in our kitchen in my childhood home.
If I could just cut and paste all of it I would, but this will have to do –
“For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.”
“And ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”
And every single word from the parables about Love, Marriage, Children, and Pain.
2. Montaigne: Selected Essays. Michel de Montaigne (Author), Donald Murdoch Frame (Translator). I can pick this one up and flip to a random page and the next thing I know an hour has passed. Montaigne pretty much invented the personal essay, writing about himself, his nature, his observations, his opinions, his doubts, fears, flaws, likes and dislikes and on and on- in such an engaging way it’s almost impossible not to love him. I mean, I can see why some women would (do) get a bit miffed about his observations about them, but 1. consider the time and context, and/or 2. sometimes the truth hurts. Either way, it’s not something that affects the amount of pleasure I gain from reading his essays. He is totally forthright, sometimes serious, and often outright hilarious. Also, I want to build a library up in a tower like he did.
Another thing I love about Montaigne is how, well, squirrelly he can be about settling down to form a solid opinion. The guy is all over the map! He has been criticized for it, but I recognize myself in that trait, which soothes me – so I just bask in the warmth of validation and familiarity.
“I set little value on my own opinions, but I set just as little on those of others.” (Of Repentance)
“Our follies do not make me laugh, our wisdom does.” (Of Three Kinds of Association)
“It is not a matter for a calm mind to judge us simply by our outward actions; we must sound the inside and see what springs set us in motion. But since this is a high and hazardous undertaking, I wish fewer people would meddle with it.” (Of the Inconsistency of Our Actions)
3. The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton. In an odd twist on the typical emotional evolution of a reader’s (female, usually) preferences through different ages and stages – I despised the confessional, angsty poets and authors when I was an angsty teenager. I believed I was “above all of that.” Maybe I was, who knows? Only the emo types liked Plath and Sexton in the 80s, after all. And God forbid I step outside the lines.
In 11th grade (1987) I wrote a flash fiction story about a girl who bungles a suicide attempt, changes her mind, and then dies anyway. I loved it, I was so proud of it. The teacher sent me to the counselor because she was alarmed. In red letters at the top of the paper she wrote: “Are you OK???” My friends and I thought that was hilarious.
I’m a middle-aged mom now, and I don’t care if the books I read are “too emo.”
That said, for now I’m merely flipping through Sexton’s work in bits and pieces, and while I recognize the stunning, breathtaking brilliance braided with madness and despair, I can’t say I’ve found anything that will stick with me (yet).
4. The Diary of Anaïs Nin (Volume Four – 1944-1947). Wow. Wow. Wow. I can’t get enough of Nin’s diaries. Her insights and thoughts are decades before their time, and reveal a mind that never ceases exploring, exploring, exploring. I have less than zero interest in the work she is famous for, the erotica. But her diaries are, for me, simply mind-blowing.
My only complaint is a selfish one: I’m terribly envious of how she bares her soul and lets it all pour out onto the page. I did it for years, and then one day when I was 18 my privacy was violated when an unnamed person found them, read them, and used my deepest secret thoughts as weapons against me. It left me so wounded, so shaken, that I started editing myself. Years later, just when I had tip-toed back into vulnerable journaling, it happened again, with another unnamed person. This time I was enraged rather than wounded, but once again, I silenced myself. Oh, I kept up my journals, but they are happy, smiley ones. Not even a hint of vulnerability or depth. Interestingly enough, that part of me is slowly emerging once again, as I knew it always had to – but with a laser-focus on the seething rage of my youth – which I can coolly dissect with detachment, and damn, it feels good.
“Touched bottom again. Decided to liberate myself… We are never trapped unless we choose to be.”
“I was always ashamed to take. So I gave. It was not a virtue. It was a disguise.”
5. Grist – A Journal of the Literary Arts (Issue 11, 2018). I love this journal. A lot of good stuff in this issue.
My favorite piece in this issue is the essay Epidermis, Dermis, Subcutis, by Thea Lim.
6. Crazyhorse (Number 93 – Spring 2018). I’m enjoying this issue, particularly Anthony Swofford’s nonfiction piece Nobody Loves the Fat Man. The first line just grabbed me immediately:
“The first time I was called a fat fuck by someone I loved I was staying at a five star Spanish hotel.”
I would love to link the journal here, but my Malware is not letting me at the moment (never had a problem before, so this should be temporary), so proceed with caution.
That’s all for now, but I’ve made a category for “current reads,” and I hope to keep it updated regularly.