my shelf tippeth over

photoForget what Stevie Smith said in that poem.  I am waving AND drowning.  In a steady wave of essays.  It’s just that season, and while at times I feel I’ve barely crested one wave before another crashes on my head, I remember what a good swimmer I am and just float through the rough patches, on my back, looking up into the sky.  There’s always an end to it.  The hardest part is not the grading.  It’s this bad book buying habit.  All of these books, and so little time.  About half way through Flamethrowers and still interested, but . . . will it pick up the pace once she gets to Italy?  Where will I make room for this book review I promised to do for that marketing rep at Little Brown?  And from there, what to read next?


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january books

I just had several glorious weeks carved wide for reading, and my nightstand piled up — more than usual.  I spent the early part of December in Chechnya dodging grenades and stepping over splintered hearts with Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.  Now I don’t know about you, but after a book like that, I need some cheap laughs and bawdy dancing.  The Ancient Greeks understood this well, which is why at their earliest dramatic festivals, tragedies like Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex or Euripides’ Medea were followed by Satyr Plays, silly comedies rife with drunkenness and sexual merriment and mockery.  After laying the audience on the floor with all that incest, betrayal and murder, these comedies raised them right back up.

My comic relief came pretty swiftly with A. M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven.  The first thirty pages of this book are brilliant — a delicious train wreck full of ironic wit and sarcasm, jealousy, marital intrigue and comedic trysts.  But Homes is unable to sustain that comic tension for the rest of the book, and I got bored with it.  You know that scene in Election when Mr. McAllister gets stung by a wasp and swells up?  ferrisThe film version of Tom Perrotta’s novel is one of my all time favorites and I never get tired of watching it, but at that point in the story, McAllister just can’t be brought any lower.  It’s painful pity you just want to end, and luckily it does.  But Homes’ book gets to that point too quickly for me — around page 75 — and with so many tense and tragic mishaps still to go, I just couldn’t soldier on.  Next!  Something shake me . . . make me laugh!

JanuaryBooksGeorge Saunders Tenth of December has gotten rave reviews and when I asked The Book Buyer at Powell’s, they suggested I should give it a try.  I’m a few stories in and enjoying it.  Inventive, funny, and short!  I’ve also started the YA dystopian fave Divergent by Veronica Roth, which is way outside my comfort zone, but I am falling on the sword here and reading this along with my basic writing students.  Biggest love devoured this trilogy a few years ago, and my hope is that these non-readers might get into an accessible coming of age story they can relate to.  And if nothing else, they will have been exposed to the book when the movie comes out at the end of March.  I’m only on page eight and have already predicted the faction Beatrice will join at her choosing ceremony, but I will try to enjoy watching that all unfold with my students.  And finally, since the steady stream of summer weather here in California has everyone worried about drought and water rationing, I’m staging my own rain dance with Carl Hiaasen’s Stormy Weather.  This is a madcap comedy set in Florida after a hurricane, and with its dark hilarity and fast pacing, I can pick it up for a perfect escape in between Saunders and Roth.

What books are you juggling in January?



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out of hopeful green stuff woven

Surely Walt Whitman’s daily ritual consisted of walking barefoot in the damp grass, along a gravel path and down to the shoreline, scruffy beard and wild breath all mist and warmth, his mind a pent-up aching river ready to splash onto the page.  I am not sure at all how my wanderings led me to his “Song of Myself” this morning, but re-reading it is fuel for the spirit, hunched over and sulking at this stack of student papers.  May you also find some unexpected moments of joy this day!

from Song of Myself


A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any
	more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
	green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we
	may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of 
	the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the
	same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,
	soon out of their mother's laps,
And here you are the mothers' laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths
	for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men
	and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
	taken soon out of their laps.
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
	at the end to arrest it,
And ceas'd the moment life appear'd.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and

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