A dear friend called. She was feeling a bit depressed, aggravated, like life was not being fair on this particular day. “On this particular decade,” I think she would interject. I listened. I empathized.
When I ran out of supportive words, I offered to read her a Wislawa Szymborska poem. She agreed, which is one of the reasons I love her–she knows what she needs. I said I was just going to open the book and read whatever I open it to.
“It might depress you even more…”
“Go ahead. Read.”
This is where we landed:
It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened sooner. Later.
It happened not to you.
You survived because you were the first.
You survived because you were the last.
Because you were alone. Because of people.
Because you turned left. Because you turned right.
Because rain fell. Because a shadow fell.
Because sunny weather prevailed.
Luckily there was a wood.
Luckily there were no trees.
Luckily there was a rail, a hook, a beam, a brake,
a frame, a bend, a millimeter, a second.
Luckily a straw was floating on the surface.
Thanks to, because, and yet, in spite of.
What would have happened had not a hand, a foot,
by step, a hairsbreadth
by sheer coincidence.
So you're here? Straight from a moment still ajar?
The net had one eyehole, and you got through it?
There's no end to my wonder, my silence.
how fast your heart beats in me.
“Beautiful,” she said and then added. “They should read that poem to returning soldiers.”
She thanked me. I thanked the poet.
(Above poem: There But for the Grace by Wislawa Szymborska – (c) 1972)
A beautiful post about humanity’s relationship love affair with the book:
Ever since Gutenberg invented the printing press which enabled everyone to read books, artists have tried to portray the relationship of a reader and his/her book. Garrett Stewart’s book, The Look of Reading: Book, Painting, Text, explores the relationship of reading and art. We are familiar with words describing images, but not so familiar with images describing words and the impact reading has on our lives.
Sherman Alexie has won the PEN/Faulkner Award, the PEN/Faulkner Foundation announced Tuesday morning. Alexie’s 2009 novel, “War Dances,” came out on top of a list of finalists that included literary greats Barbara Kingsolver and Lorrie Moore, along with Coleson Whitehead and Lorraine N. Lopez.
Sherman Alexie has previously won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, awarded in 2007 for “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” as well as the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 for his contribution to Native American writing. Alexie’s writing, which includes four novels, three short story collections, and poetry, focuses on Native American characters and issues, though he is well known for making these topics widely accessible and relatable.
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive….” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”
From Adam Wilson’s Favorite Opening Lines in Literature. The other 29 are here.
Those of us living in snowbound Washington, D.C., this past week have found ourselves starting to run out of words to describe all the white stuff that’s buried the city, shut down the federal government and paralyzed a big swath of the East Coast. So we decided to turn to writers who have described snow in especially evocative ways over the years — in the hands of a good storyteller, snow can be magical, or monstrous.
There are different kinds of book clubs. Some focus on nonfiction; others love novels. Some are very serious, considering it bad form not to finish the assigned book. Others are more laissez faire. I know one woman who reads about 50 pages of every book. If she likes it, she finishes it; if she doesn’t, she uses the meeting to find out whether everyone else thinks she should continue.
From my experience, it’s not necessary for the whole group to like the book at hand. Some of the best conversations occur when people don’t agree. So on this list, I’ve tried to include a couple of books that will spark debate. I’ve also included a couple that I love. Most are pretty quick reads. Two are short-story collections, which means, in a pinch, you can read a few stories and still join in the discussion. One more thing: All of them are fiction, because it’s my list and I love fiction. So have a glass of wine, maybe a bite to eat, and let the conversation begin.
I beat myself up sometimes because I haven’t read more of the world’s literary masterpieces. I hate lists like the “Best 100 Books of 2009” because I get to see just how few of those that made the cut I actually own. No matter how much I actually read, I never seem to make a dent in that enormous library.
There’s only one advantage to having a reserve pool of great titles that I can think of: the infinite pleasure of stumbling, for the first time, upon words that the literary angels channeled through a chosen author.
I had never read Letters to a Young Poet. If there are no coincidences in life, I am not yet clear why it was only this past weekend that I found the thin volume. And inside I found nourishment and inspiration and a reminder of the righteousness of my choices.
I share with you a small sampling of the bounty:
You ask me whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them to other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (since you have allowed me to advise you) I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write. This above all–ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.
—Rainer Maria Rilke, Paris, February 17th, 1903 (Letter One).