Herbie Mann Comin' Home

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Yo! Literates!

It being a new year and all, an update of my reading habits seems called for, though I'm not sure by whom.

As a refresher of my habits, let me remind you that there is a stack of books by the bedside.  

I read a bit from each book each night.  They change over time.

Sometimes I read when I get a chance in my work life or waiting for a car lube or killing time in the car outside the mall when others are 'shopping'.

Or even when Lisa, my haircutter, has booked me into a time slot in her schedule too cramped to handle the proper perming of a lady before me who wanted a dye job, also, and conversation about the trip to the shore and how much fun the family had, and I have a choice of reading hairstyling mags, the Enquirer, or why-didn't-I-think-of-bringing-one-myself!

The current list may not represent books I will actually complete.

I don't mandate that of myself.  Sometimes enough is enough.  Sometimes it's better for the book author and me to part our ways amicably, having learned plenty about one another already.

So, the current list, alphabetical by author's last name:

1) Alain de Botton.  The Pleasures And Sorrows Of Work.

2) Northrop Frye.  Anatomy Of Criticism.

3) Amy Gerstler, editor. The Best Poetry Of 2010.

4) Henning Mankell. The White Lioness.

5) Frederic Morton. A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888/1889.

6) Jacob Neusner. Rabbinic Judaism: Structure And System.

7) L. Michael White. From Jesus To Christianity.

A smart list.  Probably too smart for me, so don't draw conclusions.

You might ask what I learn, and this general statement holds so very, very true, and I think holds true for any reader:  

To read well, adapt to style.

Writers write at their own pace, they have their own density.  

To 'get' them, you have to 'get into' them, swim in their waters, that temperature, those currents, the varying depths and dangers. 

Their content depends not so much on how it corresponds to an 'actual world of (wo)men', but on how that experienced world is conveyed.

Rotating the authors through an hour is a mental 'circuit training', running up the bleachers and down, then lying supine on the Bermuda grass to do sit-ups.  Work the parts in the interest of the whole.

I suppose a corollary for those of us blogsters (let alone poets) is:  

To write well, beget a style.



  1. Excellent point about style. That's an ambitious list. I'm partial to Henning Mankell, though he doesn't get the attention Steig Larson gets, not being dead (as far as I know.) The one on Vienna looks very intriguing. I have a similar stack of improving works on my nightstand;
    Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation
    Meghnad Desai, Marx's Revenge
    Wallace Stevens, Collected Poems
    and I've just added the recently published
    Autobiography of Mark Twain.
    Sad to say, I don't make much progress on these, except the Stevens, which is pretty dogeared, but tend to devour junk fiction, thrillers and the occasional bodice ripper instead.
    It's nice to feel them there, though, holding all that knowledge. Maybe I can absorb a bit through osmosis?

  2. Great List, I see Hedgewitch has listed one of my fav's "The Great Transformation"...and your list caught me with #7- but is different - I have read "From Jesus to Christ" by Paula Fredriksen. I have thought about but do not have a current list...need a new look at history, or a refresh on classics..it is time...please leave your reviews and recommendations.....bkm

  3. Joy,

    I remember buying that Collected Stevens (blue dust jacket) in the 60s. I've never looked at a full book of poetry with the same fresh eye. Like falling in love. Really, very similar thrill when you 'feel' it actually is happening.

    November 8, 2009, entry in this blog mentions him and a quick response to one of his poems.

    The Vienna book's author also has done one on 1914, I believe, which I'll get to in time.

    Karen Armstrong has teased me once or twice, and if she winks again, she may make my stack. The Twain bio was brought up to me recently -- sounds 'definitive'?

    Keep reading, gal!


  4. bkm,

    Let me think about possible recs for you. I'm not a historian, but the subject fascinates me as much as poetry, and I've done some reading.

    I think the Fredriksen book caught my eye, but, as with Armstrong, was too shy to wink.

    I'll work on it.


  5. White is on my short list for the early new year, especially his book "Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite."

  6. The Wallace Stevens is also here on my desk as we speak. (under a very tall, leaning stack of 19 other books)

  7. Isabelle,

    I started reading the series when it was new. It grew to represent a kind of 'establishmentism', people who knew people who got to know people.

    Sometimes the poems were awful. Occasionally, very good.

    This 2010 version I've only begun, alphabetically, as laid out, and I've found a couple of good ones. I expect more than a few duds.

    Jaded, am I? Sharp-eyed? Envious?

    I will never know the answer.


  8. Rick,

    I'm not familiar with the title, but I'll check it out. He's knowledgeable, doesn't seem to be 'grinding an axe', and his style is very readable.


  9. Tess,

    The good thing about poetry, lyric poetry anyway, is that you have no obligation to swim a distance. Just linger in a milk bath.

    I'm assuming you're familiar with him, but any 'refresher' or 'fuller sample' might spend time best with is earlier Harmonium.

    (The guy is deep and renders aesthetic notions into lyric form. Really. It was a love moment!)