Tag Archives: reading

4. Read a lot, forget most of what you read, and be slow-witted

I think it goes without saying that my life has been full of books. But reading goes beyond literature, doesn’t it? Newspapers, magazines, comic books, bumper stickers, cereal boxes, email, blog posts, novels, short stories, poetry, music scores, instruction manuals, they all come in formats other than what we traditionally call books. And honestly, most of it I have forgotten. Except, as they say, you never forget anything; it’s only misfiled. My archive storage room must be packed to the gills.

As far as being slow-witted. Well, I suspect that in myself, and also in Montaigne, the appearance of slow-wittedness is more a propos. In the same way that Jack Benny worked extremely hard, with no small amount of technical ability, to appear as a horribly bad violinist, I believe the trick here as it applies to living well is to not appear quick-witted, that is, to not be the first to interject with a barbed comment, to be slow to engage in sarcasm or irony – since they are so often, particularly in print, misconstrued and/or deliberately misinterpreted. I cannot remember where I read it now, but somewhere two rules of true victory were imparted to me: first, to understand that you cannot understand everything, and second, that being right is the most effective way to lose an argument. It is enough, I think, to be perceived as dark, pessimistic and peevish, simply for insisting upon a doctrine of personal responsibility. To be completely without friends, all that is required is adding a sharp tongue and speaking with irony or sarcasm about those sacred cows that others find dear, and about which they permit no humor or levity. The obvious targets here are government, politics, religion, morality, life’s purpose, the sanctity of the home, work or marriage, and other life and death issues about which people are so often willing to extemporize or sermonize, and find it extremely difficult to remain objective.

I recommend reading. I would go so far as to say that if by the end of the third grade, you do not love to read – not merely to complete assignments, but to gain access to knowledge and ideas beyond those provided in the “nurture” that surrounds you – your lot in life will be more unpleasant and boring than necessary. Reading gives perspective, no less than physical traveling. Both take you out of your comfort zone – if you read or travel well. And perspective is essential to understanding both yourself and the world in which you exist. Of course, some will say that a single book, like the Christian Bible, is sufficient unto itself as a sole reading subject. In my experience, no worldview than cannot stand being seen from multiple angles, that cannot manage scrutiny from external, non-affiliated sources, is capable of free-standing.
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I will never deconstruct another poem
in search of hidden metaphor, by line
eviscerating some writer’s creation
to satisfy some professor of mine.

These exercises do not help the reader
connect to what is said, or truly why
in given circumstance one word is better,
or how one’s own perspective may supply

a wealth of connotations beyond measure.
Too many now who read seek just what caters
to their limits of taste or frame of mind;
and would have poets soft and built for leisure.
Why use the stairs, when there are elevators?
Because some things are NOT a waste of time.

17 FEB 2005

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A Score of Reading

Based on an entry from my friend the juice, I’ve put together a few short lists, related to my earlier post on the College Board 101 Books Your Child Should be Reading.

In no particular order …

Ten Books I Wish I’d Never Read: (the second hardest category for me – after glad not to have read; because I’ve learned something from everything I’ve read – including some things I didn’t want to learn)

Masks of the Illuminati — Robert Anton Wilson
The Satanic Bible — Anton LaVey
Just As I Am — Billy Graham
Helter Skelter — Vincent Bugliosi
The 21 Lessons of Merlin — Douglas Monroe
Juliette — Marquis de Sade
The Siege of Troy: A Modern Retelling of the Iliad — Greg Tobin
Magick in Theory and Practice — Aleister Crowley
Circle of Stones — Anna Mae Waldo
Centennial — James Michener

Ten Books I’m Ashamed to Say I’ve Never Read:

Ariel — Sylvia Plath
Finnegans Wake — James Joyce
The Federalist Papers — Alexander Hamilton et al
Das Kapital — Karl Marx
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee — Dee Brown
In His Own Write — John Lennon
The Bonfire of the Vanities — Tom Wolfe
The Executioner’s Song — Norman Mailer
The Sun Also Rises — Ernest Hemingway
Les Miserables — Victor Hugo

Ten Books I’m Glad I’ve Never Read: (and this was the hardest one, because frankly there aren’t really any books that I would refuse to attempt to read)

Mein Kampf — Adolf Hitler
The Way Things Ought to Be — Rush Limbaugh
The Confesions of Aleister Crowley — Aleister Crowley
Teen Witch — Silver Ravenwolf
Fight Club — Chuck Palahniuk
Summa Theologica — St. Thomas Aquinas
Summer of My German Soldier — Bette Green
Warlock: A Novel of Ancient Egypt — Wilbur Smith
The World of Rod McKuen — Rod McKuen
Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison — Jim Morrison

Ten Books I’ve Started But Probably Will Never Finish:

Beezlebub’s Tales to His Grandson — G.I. Gurdjieff
Prometheus Rising — Robert Anton Wilson
The Decline of the Roman Empire, Vols. 2 and 3 — Edward Gibbon
Confessions of St. Augustine — St. Augustine
Walden, or Life in the Woods — Henry David Thoreau
The Republic — Plato
Critical Path — R. Buckminister Fuller
Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh — Vincent Van Gogh
Three Books of Occult Philosophy — Cornelius Agrippa
Faust — Johann Goethe

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College Board and the Great Books

Found this link at The Rage Diaries.

Apparently the College Board (you know, the folks that gave us the SAT and ACT) has put together a list of 101 Great Books recommended to be read by those entering freshman year college. Well, it’s actually 101 novels, 19 miscellaneous (uncategorized and non-Fictional works), and various works by 15 identified poets.

On a whim, I evaluated my own performance, reading-wise:

Novels:   71 of 101 (70%)
Miscellaneous:   14 of 19 (74%)
Poetry:    11 of 15 (73%)

Now, as I recall, the 70% range is either a C or D. That’s not good. And even if any of the identified works I actually still own, 21 years out of high school, that still doesn’t put me on the College Board’s “Dean’s List”, does it?

But they have a short list (I guess, if you’re only going to read a LITTLE). On that one, I got 9 out of 10 (90%). A solid B, by my reckoning. Not much room for error on a 10 item quiz, is there?

Of course, there are many, many, MANY authors and poets not represented here that I consider essential reading. But this is the College Board, after all. You can’t expect them to be TOO avante garde, can you? Standardized reading lists and standardized tests go hand in hand. If you want to pass their tests, you have to read their books. Or pretend to have done so, or at least have slept with the Cliff Notes under your pillow.

But that brings up an important point. While a great many of these books I actually read in high school, I would not have had room to complete anywhere near the entire list considering my other reading. Who does the College Board suggest that I should have given up in order to accomplish their curricula? Allen Ginsberg? ee cummings? Krishnamurti? Julius Caesar? Ken Kesey? Rimbaud? Baudelaire? Henry Miller? And what if was more interested in reading “The Idiot” than “Crime and Punishment”? Do I get a point off for that one? It’s strange the authors they include, versus deliberately seem to exclude. Dickens is nowhere to be found. Jack London likewise. Ambrose Bierce — how would I have survived high school without the “Devil’s Dictionary” I ask you …

Fortunately, my reading requirements are not dictated by the College Board’s vision of an educated and well-read young person. But I worry about my step-daughter, who is a high school senior (almost) looking at colleges. I know for a fact that she’s not interested in reading most of this stuff. And neither are any of her friends. Sadly, reading is not one of her great pleasures. So it goes with this generation. I’m almost surprised that the College Board doesn’t require some kind of minimum television show exposure. That seems more appropriate.


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On TS Eliot

I’ve read you, T.S. Eliot,
and one thing I don’t get
is why between such lovely lines
you’re such a pompous twit

while sharing arcane references
lost on non-scholar types
you wail and moan the loss of myth
with poncey, highbrow tripe

it makes me wonder about schools
that teach us to ensnare
the young and willing eager mind
and leave it gasping there

its arms around a load of Greek
its tongue on Latin tripped
and by the time the poems done
the joy for life is whipped

but then a line of simple truth
comes gleaming through the mire
and makes the confused, convoluted
spirit catch on fire

for these small fragments, tiny gems
I bother with your stuff
and leave the rest: the posturing,
and clever dreck and fluff.

03 FEB 2004

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So ends another weekend. We (stardances and I) were hoping to have a quiet weekend to ourselves, just cleaning and organizing and having a very quiet, uneventful time of it. But the lives of teenagers are SO uncertain – it turns out that the Troll Queen decided to stay with us rather than visit her father this weekend. And so there were three. It wasn’t really too much noisier, however, since she had a number of activities to participate in that didn’t include us, and also had quite a bit of homework to do. We all have a bit of home work, when it comes down to it. There is so much to do around the house that needs attention.

I’ve just ordered a new computer for work (hurrah, because this one won’t run Neverwinter Nights, it’s just THAT ancient) and it should be arriving within the next five to seven days (right about the time that Hurricane Isadore will arrive, I’m sure). In preparation for that, we are trying to organize the foyer so that I can have my “office” isolated a bit more from the rest of the house; that way, everyone gets to use the front room while I’m working, and I’ll have a bit of space that I can set up as my writing area for those hours that I’m not working. Think of it as my study … I’m looking forward to figuring out all the organization, and I’m also looking forward to getting the Painting Room organized so that Star can have her bit of creative space as well. I think it will do us both a world of good. I’m thinking that what Star needs for Yule this year is a drafting table … 🙂 This weekend after payday I’m going to run out and find her a wonderful magnifying glass so she can examine the flora close up and personal…

I’ve immersed myself in a very intense reading program right now, trying to prepare myself to begin writing new material with a vengeance >:->. My current reading list is as follows:

Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I — This is a very wonderful book. Gibbon is one of the only non-contemporary historians (a contemporary historian would be someone that wrote about their own time, like Herodotus or Julius Caesar) that wrote before this century that is still considered a valid source of information. His prose is a bit dry, but I find it good reading and his philosophical interpretation is tenable. Right now, I’ve just finished up with Severus and am heading into the first of the Barbarian incursions.

Kenneth Lyon, Hemingway — This biography is quite thick; because I am a VERY fast reader (for example, the Lord of the Rings trilogy takes me about two days to read), I like to find books with a bit of heft to them, and this one certainly fit the bill. I’ve become interested in reading about writers, and trying to figure out where they were in their lives when they wrote whatever they wrote. Hemingway is a great study in contradictions; reminds me of my father at times, and at other times, reminds me of myself, particularly at those times I don’t particularly care for myself. But his writing style I like very much. Less is more. Sometimes, much more.

Lady Charlotte Guest, The Mabinogion — A classic of Celtic mythology, albeit due to the time of its translation, perhaps a bit over romanticized. I try to keep at least one culture’s mythos nearby to dip into – Edith Hamilton’s Greek Mythology was something I had to read in high school and I’ve liked it ever since.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays and English Traits — I admit it, I’m a bad scholar. I inherited the five foot shelf of books that comprise the Harvard Classics Library a few years ago, and sadly have not read too many volumes. For some reason, when I was looking for something to give my reading variety the other day, I picked up the Emerson volume. Two essays in particular, The American Scholar and Self Reliance I am particularly struck by. Many of Emerson’s interpretations of books and their uses is echoed in Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind … amazing how the course of 150 years has not changed the basic outlook for American intellectualism all that much.

e.e. cummings, 100 Selected Poems — I’ve always liked cummings as a poet, even mimicked him to some degree during my Memphis years, particularly regarding capitalization, sentence run ons, etc.

Lewis Turco, The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics — This book I highly recommend for anyone who is interested in learning about different poetic forms, particularly if you’re interested in being a poet who writes verse (i.e., lines that have a specific word count, meter, emphasis, etc.) as opposed to prose (i.e., unmetered text).

I’m still anticipating with bated breath the arrival of my two new books, Heny Miller’s On Writing and The Books in My Life. I foresee that just as he was a turning point for me at 28 (the year he started writing, too) when I first picked up the Tropics, Miller will get me started on something more grandiose that I probably can currently imagine. Through Henry Miller I started accumulating a repertoire of authors and really began to become well-read.

To close, here’s a thought from one of my journals about a year ago:

A sentence represents a period of time.
Within that period of time,
the verbs are the lessons,
and the nouns are the tests.

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