The Book Life


April 3, 2011
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I’ve had mantras before. I’ve written poems about them.
Although admittedly the translation didn’t take
and the whole thing turned into an epigraph.
But that’s a little bit of the point, I think, to a mantra.
It should be shorter than a poem.
The other bit of the point is to say that I can do this,
the mantra thing. It’s familiar to me.
It’s supposed to be a tool.
In the past it’s just been words I love,
phrases on repeat like the chorus at the end of a pop song.
An ideal embodiment.
Something solid to grasp when feelings crash fast.
An incantation to make them come.
Something to make them easier to carry.

What you are asking of me, here, is new.
How I imagine it would feel to pray the rosary
if I were a more sincere Catholic. Calming. One word
for each breath. I’ve always connected with symmetry.
Searched for it. But I am not a sincere Catholic,
and I’m concerned here about my ability to remain
sincere. But this seems easier to return to. Seems to ask less
of me. Seems, oddly, like a scythe, clearing the brush from my mind.
Before, the mantras appeared in the midst of my flailing,
more a tool of steadying. Reaching for the nearest word,
taking what I found there.

Today’s mantra was granted to me. Gift-like,
but me, free to decline. The breathing, alone,
has been a gift from the start, even the strangest of exercises.
But even at its best depths, it seemed shallow.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it was the words that finally filled the exhale.

It was bound to happen, the poem about yoga. I hope it’s not too… yoga. You know what I mean. Because I really like the breathing, and I find the mantras unusual. But they seem to do nice things for me. I just don’t want to interrogate that too much – I’d rather enjoy it.


April 1, 2010
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I am throwing stones out
the window, out of town, out
to sea. I am throwing
stones instead of bricks,
instead of bells, because
bricks and bells are too
heavy and too loud. Too much
effort. I do miss
America, it’s general contours,
the shape on the map,
familiarity with least one of its lakes,
and who could blame me?

I am throwing the stones
more like skipping rocks,
just to see if I can. I
do not really want
to throw bricks
or bells, particularly bells,
which are better rung. And
bricks are better
for walking on, and over.

I never knew much
about Quasimodo, I missed
that particular tale, somehow,
and I think now that I’d rather
not know. I remember something
hunchbacked, and bells, better rung,
did he ring them? And Paris?
That’s where I am now and I do
miss America
but I am not trapped
in any towers
and I don’t miss the bricks
where you are. I am throwing stones
like messages
just to see if I can, if I still care,
to see who might notice, or applaud.

[PROMPT: Shuffle – put the iPod on shuffle, take the first five song titles, put ’em in a poem.]


March 29, 2010
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Because I need a poetic kick in the ass and because April is National Poetry Month and because I need somewhere to channel my emotional overflow and because law school hasn’t killed my soul yet but I am foundering on the edge: NaPoWriMo. Aka writing a poem every day in April. Daily prompts helpfully provided by Read Write Poem, though perhaps I’ll wander as well.

Starting Thursday, April 1, I will write one poem per day. This is the only promise. They do not have to be good. But maybe I’ll finally start to do something with the phrases I write down like “I am tired of talking / about geography.”

This isn’t actually about reading books, but perhaps there will be tie-ins, perhaps writing poems will help me read more non-law books, which is something that just really hasn’t been happening. If nothing else, summer is coming; it begins for me on May 7, the day after my last exam. This is a good way to slide in.

Posted in Poetry, Words
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July 22, 2009
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The title is my favorite word from last week’s pages. I found something deeply amusing about seeing that all spelled out and capitalized and squished together like that. So… appropriate.

The rest of this is going to be disjointed, which might be fitting, given the amount of time spent in the endnotes from p. 242 to p. 317.

  • Orin’s feelings about footballs: “like most tennis players, [he] had always found the misshapen ball’s schizoid bounces disorienting and upsetting to look at.”(p. 289) –> Simply put, hilarious. Also, I’m not a tennis player, never have been, but I also find the bounce of a football strangely unnerving. I played rugby for a season, and I had the same problem.
  • “destiny always leans trenchcoated out of alley with some sort of Psst that you usually can’t even hear because you’re in such a rush to or from something important you’ve tried to engineer.” (p. 291) –> Destiny wearing a trenchcoat? Makes me think of a femme fatale, and/or Goth teenagers. What if destiny were a Goth teenager?
  • “Nothing in Poor Tony’s grim life-experience prepared him for the experience of time with a shape and an odor” (p. 302) –> I found the entire Poor Tony section completely riveting, and I must have been holding my breath throughout, because I sighed and took a deep breath when he finally had the seizure. Which I guess is a weird response to someone having a seizure.
  • My other new favorite word, this one I might actually use: candent, as in “not exactly the most candent stars in the intellectual Orion,” (p. 306) a sentence that made me laugh out loud.

Footnote 110 is brilliant. I found a lot of it frighteningly absorbing, and I underlined and noted more of it than of the actual text for this week. I think I enjoy Hal most when he berates Orin. The tone Hal takes is just pure gold. (Makes his inability to communicate at the beginning even more terrifying to contemplate, in my opinion. He’s so quick and witty, here.) I also love when the brothers don’t directly answer each others’ questions, but just each forge blindly ahead into their individual points.

  • “It’s poignant somehow that you always use the word Subject when you mean the exact obverse.”
  • “She’s Strategy-resistant because she knows too much to fall for a persona.”
  • Another great word: swivet
  • “I’m a privileged white seventeen-year-old U.S. male. I’m a student at a tennis academy that sees itself as a prophylactic. I eat, sleep, evacuate, highlight things with yellow markers, and hit balls. I lift things and swing things and run in huge outdoor circles. I am just about as apolitical as someone can be. I am out of all loops but one, by design. I’m sitting here naked with my foot in a bucket. What exactly is it you hope to get from me on this?”


June 20, 2009
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I do my very obssessive-compulsive best to finish books, once I’ve started them. Even when I don’t like them, I push through to the end. Sometimes there’s something worthwhile at the end, and I hate leaving things unfinished.


I cannot get through Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris. I cannot come to the end, much as I’d like to. This book was recommended by Nick Hornby, in one of his Believer columns, and I have to say, I disagree.

The entire novel is told in the collective first person; i.e. “we.” This is fun for one chapter, and less so from there on out, and is too close to the gimmick line for me. And I think, because of this collective voice, I cannot distinguish, remember, or care about any of the characters, which is sort of essential to enjoying a book. It’s set in an office, and is meant to be humorous, sort of in the style of Office Space or The Office – and it’s occassionally funny. But the thing is, offices are actually really boring. And I work in one. So reading about it in a novel was the opposite of interesting. If this was a “classic” or required, I would put more effort forth.

But it’s not, so I can’t finish it.

And I’m weirdly proud of myself, as I take the bookmark out, and place the book in the to-be-returned pile.

I’m not good at not finishing things, which is usually a good trait. But not all things must be finished. In general, if you don’t like a book that you’re reading on you own time, you can stop reading it. Put it down and find something better.

This is applicable to life outside of reading. Things in your life you don’t like? Put them down, and find something better. How’s that for profundity? Profundity is probably the least profound-sounding of all words.