Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Amateur Marriage

Today I finished Anne Tyler’s novel The Amateur Marriage. This is her sixteenth novel out of seventeen, but my first Tyler novel.

I only knew a little about this book before purchasing it. This may sound horrible, but I will sometimes purchase a book just because of the title or how it looks. (I get overwhelmed with the beauty of books.) I saw The Amateur Marriage, along with Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, on a table at the bookstore last week. I purchased both. There is a haunting simplicity to the titles and the design of the editions I purchased (Ballantine quality paperbacks).

Now that I’ve finished The Amateur Marriage, I’m glad I also purchased Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Tyler is a master of her craft.

The Amateur Marriage is not about anything spectacular; the plot revolves around everyday life. It is in everyday life, however, that things really do happen. Tyler illustrates this beautifully.

The novel follows the marriage of Pauline and Michael Anton, beginning with their first meeting. An excerpt of a review from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the back cover describes the book as “…disarming, deceptively rich…” I find this accurate.

The Amateur Marriage cannot be described as a happy story. It is better to label it a slow, unfolding series of small tragedies. The tragic elements are not unique, but common, which makes the novel even more moving. It rings with truth.

When I reached the end of the book, I had to read the final paragraphs a few times. It was difficult to allow the story to end. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Frederick Douglass

Last night was my monthly book club meeting. We discussed the classic autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. It was the first time all of us read the book in its entirety. There was agreement that this is a memoir for all Americans to read.

One image that will remain with me is Douglass’ mother walking twelve miles each way to be with him in the evening when he was a small child. This was the only way she could see her son, since they were separated when he was an infant. I can't imagine working all day, walking twenty-four miles with little rest, and then resuming work the next morning. His mother died when he was just seven. He reports her death ended "her hardships and suffering," but he experienced her death, due to their separation, as he might experience the death of a stranger.

Douglass' autobiography is short and poignant. There is unbelievable cruelty, as can be imagined, but hope prevails above all.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Jane Kenyon's Poetry

Tonight I read Jane Kenyon's first book of poetry: From Room to Room. It was published by Alice James Books in 1978. It is a slim volume (59 pages) with simple and elegant, but haunting poems.

In the poem titled "Leaving Town," Kenyon weaves images together that would resonate with anyone who has reluctantly moved. She describes listening to a baseball game on the radio until the signal becomes too faint to hear. At this point, she writes: "I felt like a hand without an arm."

In "The Circle on the Grass," a man comes to chop down a tree that was damaged the previous night by wind. The sounds of the man's tools are disturbing and create anxiety. Kenyon captures the feeling perfectly with lines like "I keep busy in the house" and "I clean with the vacuum / so I won't have to listen." After the man has finished, she writes: "When it's over, there is nothing left / but a pale circle on the grass, / dark in the center, like an eye."

I recommend these poems to anyone who enjoys poetry that is stripped down and concerned with the events of daily life. I also recommend reading the poems as I did - at night - in bed - and with a cup of coffee (or tea if you like).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bhagavan Das

I'm familiar with Ram Dass' spiritual journey from America to India that led to his encounter with his guru Neem Karoli Baba. What I did not know until recently is that Bhagavan Das (formerly Michael Riggs) traveled to India first from his home in Laguna Beach and it was through Bhagavan Das that Ram Dass met Neem Karoli Baba.

I thoroughly enjoy reading memoirs. My favorites are women's memoirs and spiritual memoirs. While I was at the Bodhi Tree on Sunday, I picked up a used copy of Bhagavan Das' It's Here Now (Are You?) : A Spiritual Memoir, which was originally published in 1997.

Sometimes I think I have too much of a Western skepticism within me. I've read of a two-headed dog attacking Bhagavan Das (he awoke the next day to find his wound completely healed by a Buddhist master) and of him witnessing Neem Karoli Baba perform many astonishing acts, including multiplying apples, eating more food than a human being could possibly digest, disappearing into thin air, and creating paper money out of fire. I'm sure more is to come, because I'm only about one-third of the way through the book.

I asked my husband last night what he thought of all of this. He responded that he believed it was probably true. Perhaps it is.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Library Plans Ahead

I've just lined up visits to check out some interesting libraries to possibly include in my book.

Later this month I'm visiting the Helen Hawkins Memorial Library and Research Archive located at the San Diego Women's History Museum and Educational Center. The library has over 7,000 volumes with the majority written by or about women, including many hard to find and out of print titles.

I'm also visiting the Philosophical Research Library described on the library's website as "virtually unique in the United States as a wisdom literature resource."

How can one ever find life boring with libraries and books around every corner?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Everyday I Write the Book Blog

The other day I heard from Gayle Weiswasser who has a most fantastic blog: Everyday I Write the Book Blog. Very cool on her blog are "Now Reading" and "I'm Done" areas. It's a great place to check out.