August was a perfect month for reading on the front porch, so that’s exactly what I did. I read 18 books in August, mostly poetry (8) and nonfiction (6) with just a few (4) fiction books in the mix. Most of the books were short—only two of them were over 300 pages and 14 of them were less than 200 pages! One of the fiction books I read (and one of my favorites for the month) was Winnie-the-Pooh (which I wrote about last week).
Nearly all of the books were related to the August reading theme, which was “time.” What a great theme! Scads of poetry books fell under this umbrella. Here are the ones I read:
- The Time Tree, by Húu Thinh
- Quick, Now, Always, by Mark Irwin
- When it Came Time, by Jeri McCormick
- Timepiece, by Jane Flanders
- Why I Wake Early, by Mary Oliver
- Sleeping Late on Judgment Day, by Jane Mayall
- The Last Usable Hour, by Deborah Landau
- Time & Money, by William Mathews
Among the nonfiction were two standouts. In the Beginning, by Karen Armstrong is an excellent exegesis of Genesis. I have a great appreciation for Armstrong’s scholarly but very accessible writing, and In the Beginning is no exception. At the outset of the book, she says,
What we need to understand is that the Bible does not present its truths to us in this [straightforward, or factual] way. Reading it demands the same kind of meditative and intuitive attention that we give to a poem. We often have to wrestle with the text, only to learn that we are denied the certainty of a final revelation.
And a few pages later: “The first chapter of Genesis . . . was not intended to be a historical account of the beginning of life but a meditation upon the nature of being itself.” If you are even a teeny bit intrigued, I urge you to read this book. It’s short (only 195 pages, and nearly 100 of those pages are the book of Genesis, which she has included so you don’t have to scamper for a Bible every time you run across a passage of interest).
The other nonfiction standout was The Measure of My Days, by Florida Scott-Maxwell. Published in 1968 when the author was in her 80s, the book is subtitled One Woman’s Vivid, Enduring Celebration of Life and Aging. This is a multilayered book that will reward many readings. On the first page she says, “Being old I am out of step, troubled by my lack of concord, unable to like or understand much that I see. Feeling at variance with the times bust be the essence of age.”
And just in case you are dreading old age as a time of boredom and drawing down:
Age puzzles me. I thought it was a quiet time. My seventies were interesting, and fairly serene, but my eighties are passionate. I grow more intense as I age. To my own surprise I burst out with hot conviction.
Here is something that surprised me, and made me wonder if it will be true for me in my latter years as well: “Sensuous pleasure seems necessary to old age as intellectual pleasure palls a little.” Here I have all these books I’m saving up for my old age. What if they no longer interest me? More short bits:
“This love and pain and energy that are so strong while I am so weak, what do I do with them?”
“It is the unexpected, the unknowable, the divine irrationality of life that saves us.”
And a sentence that makes me laugh out loud every time I read it: “Excessive talk must be based on vanity, an assumption that you are the fountainhead of interest.” Another highly recommended short (150 pages) book.
Early in August I started two long tomes, No Ordinary Time, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (> 700 pages) and Blackout, by Connie Willis (500 pages). Once I realized that No Ordinary Time won the Pulitzer, and Blackout won the Hugo and the Nebula, I decided to stretch them into September, since they also fit the new monthly theme of “prize-winning books” which I think I might enjoy every bit as much as the time theme.
In the garden I’ve continued to harvest tomatoes and cucumbers (only a very few) as well as calendula, chamomile, basil, sage, and thyme. I haven’t done much with any of them yet (except the tomatoes and cucumbers which we’ve eaten). That will wait for the cooler months. But my hops are nearly ready for the first harvest and I’m excited about that.
I’ve continued writing—both the blog (6 posts in August) and the daily haiku for the 10th month (though I broke form on one so it wasn’t a haiku at all, but rigidity isn’t everything in life). And of course, the weekly postcard missives to President Obama. Most recently: Dear President Obama, Time to take the military equipment and attitude out of the
police force. Replace with respect.
Most of the leaves have fallen from my crabapple tree, and I’ve seen the first scarlet leaves on the
maples. Fall is just around the corner.