A Book Snob Finds Love On the Bestseller List

This year I set a goal to read a book a month, which seems pretty wimpy considering that I used to read a book a week in my college and grad school years.

But the thing about reading now, as opposed to then, is that now I am reading for me, for my own edification, curiosity, and pleasure, and not to write a paper about the book.

In college I didn’t so much read, as process books into papers. Armed with a pen, I would take copious notes on thematic approaches, character development, and how this novel might illustrate the philosophy of Aristotle or Nietzche. I was on the hunt for the meaning in those books, and also to be able to manufacture enough verbal garbage to fill up 10 double-spaced pages.

If, god forbid, I got to the end of a novel and I didn’t have a thesis statement and a rough paragraph plan for a paper, I knew I was totally screwed.

Even back then I knew this wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing with these books. Even back then I knew this was a travesty. I longed to let those books marinate, to seep into my psyche, into my life, my soul. I wanted to enjoy them, and understand them, not dissect them like a frog.

But I couldn’t. There was no time. I had a list, a syllabus, other classes to deal with. I couldn’t muse about anything. There was no time to let a book rattle around in my brain for a while, because hot on the heels of one book, was yet another one to be read and “papered.”

When I think back to all the classic Lit. I read between the ages of 16 and 23, I could positively weep. I was too young for Tristram Shandy, for the Red and the Black for Anna Karenina for Ulysses.

I couldn’t even maneuver my car onto the turnpike let alone follow Leopold Bloom around Dublin for a thousand pages.

Now that I am free of academia, I long to go back and re-read everything I read there. Nabokov said that the best reader, the only good reader, is the re-reader, but do I want to start over again? Now? At this late date? I don’t have that much life left, and even if I did, do I really want to go back and re-read the classics? I am out of shape for iambic pentameter. I’d have to work back up to Shakespeare, to Proust. I no longer have the attention span for the semi-colon. I twitter now.

But one thing I have become painfully aware of in the last few months is that, probably due to all that reading of classic Lit in my “childhood” I have become an insufferable literary snob. I expect a lot from books. I may not have gone deep into the classics, but I went wide enough to know what real artistry is, and I know how to appreciate it.

Funny, I am not this picky about any other art: not music, not painting, not theater. But when it comes to books, I have my standards; I make demands.

I expect structure and voice and poetry and beautifully articulated ideas. I want to be lured down the rabbit hole of a book and feel happy to live in that world  for a long, long time.

I don’t pay attention to themes or motifs or character development or (god forbid) meaning anymore, all I want from a book is to learn something new about the world, and possibly a new way to look at my life.

Even though I am not consciously on the lookout for theme and motif anymore, I still care about them. I still care about character development and pacing and poetry. And I especially care about those delicious silences built in between the words, and the way when things are left out, that makes all the remaining things glow.

I am not often disappointed in anything I read nowadays because one, I don’t read much, and two, my policy is if I get to page 3 and I am not entranced, I will close the book and quietly donate it to the library’s book sale. I don’t waste my time on anything that doesn’t thrill me. And this is why I call myself a snob.

I am a snob because I don’t want to be disappointed, and for that reason I tend to limit myself to Pen/Faulkner Award winners, National Book award winners, Booker Prize winners, and Pulitzer Prize winners. (And yoga books, good and bad.)

I get all squinty-eyed and smirky-faced when it comes to the New York Times Bestseller list, especially when it is littered with the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey.

But recently I have read and really enjoyed “Bestsellers” in both the fiction and non-fiction categories that friends have recommended. I found Haruki Murakami on a friend’s recommendation, for example

Recently Emily (my daughter) said she was reading Gone Girl so I picked it up just to see, and got sucked down its rabbit hole. I admired Gillian Flynn’s storytelling, and especially how meticulously crafted her story was, and was flabbergasted when I saw her picture on the back cover. So young!  I could not believe someone that young could craft such a remarkable book.

The book I am reading now, Quiet, is also on the Non-fiction bestseller list (NYTimes) but for some reason I don’t feel as embarrassed reading bestseller non-fiction. Is this just being snobbish? I don’t know.

I recently ordered Louise Erdrich’s The Round House (the 2012 National Book Award winner) so I can compare it to Gone Girl in terms of its artistry. I really wouldn’t mind being called out on my snobbery if Gone Girl holds up against The Round House.

All I know is that I love living in someone else’s dream, in their word world. I love the interiority of reading, the listening inside that it requires. It’s such a relief to have the voice in my head not be my own for a while.

This winter has been especially long, and tiring, and dreary, but I have been consoled immeasurably by the books I have read. I am happy I have mustered the self control to put down the IPad for awhile and let my brain marinate in books. I feel nourished in a new way already, and it’s only the end of March.

Here’s a list of what I’ve read since January.

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a Worlk that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Have you read anything lately that has made you feel nourished? Care to share?

The Bests

Every time I sit down here, I try to think of the standout moments in the day, good or bad. But mostly I look for the “Bests.”  What were the best moments of this day?

My yoga practice this morning wasn’t “the best”–it was hard and I was frustrated with my limitations and my weakness, but today I practiced to my new playlist, which is a mix of modern and more “typical” yoga music, and I really liked where it took me.

(If you want, I will give it to you, but you’ll have to ask.)

The next to the last cut is a Joni Mitchell song I love called “Shine.” Here’s a YouTube of it. The person did a nice job weaving in lots of vintage pics of Joni with the lyrics.

I really appreciated this song today, because man,  I really needed a little light to shine on all those Astavakrasana prep poses that killed me.

“Shine” was a “best.”

My “affliction” (which is how I am referring to this cough/cold/low energy thing that I’ve been battling all week) started lifting today and although I am still congested, the brain fog is finally lifting.

Best, number 2.

The weather is nothing short of crazy-spectacular. I think I should move here. If this was the way winters were all the time, and we got a “spring” like we are having now? And if I could shine a little light on all the gas drilling activity and make it go “poof!” and disappear? I could totally live here.

Weather: Best #3

All my Best People came to Happy Hour Yoga tonight, and what did I do to show them my undying love and appreciation? I lied to them, and then I freaking killed them. They died, then rose like little Phoenixes. It was awe. some. You should have been there.

Best, #4.

My Emily got an Ipad today and we Face Timed! Oh my god! I got to see my kid! I got to see her laugh and smile and push back her bangs and everything! She is amazing.

Best, #5.

I walked Boomer this evening up Cardiac and as we were passing the football practice field I heard….

Peepers!  Spring Peepers!  There’s a diversion ditch that runs along the edge of the field and that’s where they were. Peeping their little hearts out.

Holy moly. March 16th. Peepers.

Best, #6.

And now it is Friday night and I am nestled on my comfy couch with a glass of red at my elbow, and A Path With Heart beckoning.

Best, #7.

 

A Good Place

Do you know the Holstee Manifesto? It’s amazing, it really is, (I have a copy of it hanging in my studio).

It has even, so I hear, sparked a small movement of people trying to write their own manifestos;  trying to write down, in list style, what they stand for, even if they often fall short of putting these things into practice.

I tried to write my own manifesto once, and I put it in terms of personal “Commandments.” I wrote this about 3 years ago:

Thou shall be kind.

Thou shall look in the eyes of others and see there you own eyes.

Thou shall be focused of mind and strong of body.

Thou shall take care of yourself and of everyone you love.

Thou shall forgive.

Thou shall be patient.

Thou shall write thy book.

Thou shall write thy truth.

Thou shall create beauty and order in your surroundings.

Thou shall express gratitude daily.

Thou shall develop sweetness and kindness and focus and strength.

Thou shall practice incessantly, with reverence, for a long time.

Thou shall be an agent of change.

Thou shall expand the sphere of thy concerns.

Thou shall not worry about outer geography.

Thou shall travel deeply inward and that will take you everywhere you want to go.

Thou shall know thyself.

Thou shall be intense.

Thou shall be disciplined.

Thou shall pause often.

Thou shall love everything extravagantly!

This was part of a post on this blog, and one of my readers questioned me about “Thou shall not worry about outer geography.” “What did I mean by that?” she wanted to know.

I have never felt connected to the place where I live. Never. And I am not the only one. The other day I ran into a woman who I’ve known for almost 30 years. Our daughters went to school together. She said, “You know, I have lived here for 30 years, raised my family here, and I realized recently that I really don’t have any friends here. We have our house on the market now. I am moving back to Illinois, where I grew up, and where I have deeper friendships than I’ve ever managed to make in 30 years here. What’s wrong with this place??”

Answer: Wrong tribe. If you can’t find your tribe, you will always live on the outskirts, always feel estranged, always be the minority.

If you can’t resonate with the predominate paradigm, you will spend a lot of time “screening” and “filtering out” stuff you just can’t bear hearing and seeing.

Then, when you happen to find yourself in a place where you don’t have to screen and filter, you feel wonderful, like you fit, or at least the fit is better.

There is no perfect place. I will say that again: THERE IS NO PERFECT PLACE.

But there are places that are better “fits.” When I wrote that I shouldn’t be concerned with outer geography, I was trying to find my true home inside myself, and it IS there. I know that and I believe that.

But I also think that where you live and the people you live among DO matter. Why spend all that energy screening and filtering and practicing patience and forbearance when you don’t have to? When you might find a place that is a better fit? Where there are more people who share your values and your worldview?

I really need to find that place.

Reading

Back in December I made a reading list for myself. One book a month.  Thanks to Leap Day tomorrow, I will be on track.

My January book was 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. This was not on my original list. Somebody handed me this 900 page tome in early January, and I thought: Aw, Shit!  I am such a sucker for a long novel, and this was going have to be added to the list. There were no novels on my original list, so, “Here you go!” the universe seemed to be saying.

I totally fell in love with Haruki Murakami and fell down the rabbit hole of this books for weeks.  It’s one of the best novels I have read and I recommend it highly.  I just found this interview with him, and this is what he said about his work habits:

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.

Love this.

This is sort of what I am trying to do with all of my daily “fundamentals” and especially with my meditation practice.

My February book is helping me immensely with this.  My February book is Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha by Daniel Ingram and is changing everything I have ever thought about meditation.

I am now, thanks to the clear instructions in this book, training in concentration practice.  No more sitting there wondering, “Is this what I should be doing??”

Nope. Now, thanks to this generous, sane, often hilarious, book, I know how to work on the cushion.

Good times.

17 Things I Need To Be Happy

I’ve been obsessed with Pinterest lately.  It’s making me aware of things I like, things that make me happy,  and places I would love to visit.

But mostly, Pinterest has been making me think of things.

Except that it’s not things that make me happy.  Mostly what makes me happy are when “conditions” are right. Like weather, only on a psycho-spiritual level.

As I’ve been creating Pinterest boards and pinning things onto them, I’ve been thinking about what might be my “recipe” for  personal happiness on a day-to-day basis.  What floats my boat?  What would be the “minimum daily requirement” for my personal contentment, satisfaction, and happiness.

So I sat down this morning and rapped out these 17 things off the top of my head. There are probably a hundred things I’ve left out, but these are definitely key.

So, what are your things? What do you need to be happy?

17 Things I Need to Be Happy

Enough sleep. (9 hours, preferably.)

High quality food, and a good grocery store nearby to buy it.

To sweat and detox daily.

Yoga. (Every. Single. Day)

20 minutes of Meditation. (Every. Single. Day)

Regular fun and play.

Order in my surroundings.

A clean kitchen.

Sun.

Warmth.

A hot bath. (with bubbles, and a wind-up duck)

Wine (in moderation)

Inspiring people in my immediate neighborhood. (Real people. Not online “friends.”)

Beautiful, natural surroundings to live in.

One large cup of extraordinary, extra bold coffee, every morning.

A big, warm, soft bed to sleep in. Alone.

Somebody to speak my soul to, to share my neuroses with, and to tell me (even if it’s not true) that I’m not nuts. Every. Single. Day.

2012 Reading List

Today I gathered together the books I intend to read this year and amassed them next to my winterized Space Chair for this photo-op.

Winterized Space Chair

It’s a good list, I think, but a long one.

reading list (with Vishuda)

(Vishuda is my gargoyle hand puppet, in case you were wondering.)

The 2012 stack

I have had these books in my possession for a long time but have not “gotten around” to them.

One, the Tantra one, I read awhile ago but feel the  need to re-read now that I have been through so many trainings.

I have also started the Daniel Ingram book multiple times. I have gotten through one chapter doing the exercises in the Contemplative Photography book, as well.

So here’s my rather daunting  list from top to bottom:

Yoga Spandakarika

The Spiritual Teachings of Ramana Maharshi

The Great Good Place

Bringing Home the Dharma

What We Say Matters

A Path With Heart

Tantra: Path of Ecstasy

Transformational Speaking

Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha

Yoga Body

The Beauty of Different

The Practice of Contemplative Photography

The Practical Encyclopedia of Feng Shui

If you made a reading list for this year, care to share?

The First Post of the New Year

It’s been a slow day. Kind of introspective. Spent a lot of time going back through archives just to see what I was resolving to do this time last year.

This is the day of resolutions and I like resolutions, but I always wind up not doing them. I don’t feel bad about that mostly, because I end up doing other wonderful things instead.

Who can know in January, how things will be in June? So I am getting more relaxed about resolutions and goals, thanks in large part to reading Zen Habits and really resonating with Leo.

But to briefly recap: The two things I am happiest about this year are my ongoing and unbroken streaks: 400 days without a miss in 750 words, and nearing 100 consecutive days of personal yoga practice, not teaching yoga.

I just got back from a 5 Day training at Kripalu with Yoganand, and the training and the timing could not have been more perfect. I left the day after Christmas and returned the day before New Year’s Eve.

I now feel de-toxed from all the butter cookies and other holiday indulgences, and am happily back to my usual diet of kale, brown rice and lemon water.

I have decided not to make resolutions this year, but instead, try to envision the psycho-spiritual place I would like to be in next year and figure out the steps and behaviors it would take for me to get there.

Here’s what I have come up with thusfar:

  • I want to continue to deepen my yoga practice and add a consistent meditation practice to it.
  • I want to continue with 750 words and also with the writing in my Scrivener Project
  • I want to read at least 12 books and write about them here.
  • I want to finally learn my camera and take more, and hopefully better, pictures.
  • I want to gradually change the focus of this blog so that it reflects more accurately, and vividly, my real life. In line with this, I also want to post more regularly, but keep the posts to 200 words or less, (but include more pictures, and maybe even video.)

That seems like plenty, given the hours in the day.

Care to share what you have up your sleeve for this year?