There are so many books to read in this world and life is so short that I almost never reread a book. This week, though, I had to reread Julian Barnes’ novel, The Sense of an Ending. I had read it a couple of years ago, then I reread it to get ready for my book club discussion this week.
The thing is, though, I have this super power. Or a super weakness. It depends on how you see it, I suppose.
I have this ability to forget – almost completely – the plot of the book I’ve read or a movie I’ve seen. Sometimes, I watch a movie and half way into it – a whole hour later – I realize that maybe I’ve seen it? (Yes, with a question mark.) Sometimes I just keep watching… because I don’t remember what happens.
Although I might forget the plot – the who and the what – I often recall the feeling I had or the impression I got while reading a good book like The Sense of an Ending. And I remember loving Barnes’ effortlessly poetic (and smart) lines and being impressed with the compactness of a novel that delves pretty deeply into big questions about memory, history, regret, and “Eros and Thanatos.”
When I opened my copy of the novel this week, I was struck by how clean the pages were – no marks, no underlines, no comments. This is not usually how I read. I felt like this was a gift from my past self to this future self to come meet the novel for the first time again. This time, much was questioned (with question marks in the margins), noted (with underlines and asterisks), and commented on (with words like “how?” or “selfish”).
That old lesson I learned – the first lesson I learned as someone interested in studying literature – came back to me: look for patterns. Mr. Berkowitz at Wilde Lake High School taught us that one – look for recurring themes and patterns in imagery. Reading Macbeth, we had to write down in our “symbolism journal” every instance of different types of symbols or imagery. It was painstaking. It was beautiful.
In The Sense of an Ending, the theme of faulty memory is very clearly – almost obviously – woven into every aspect of the narrator’s telling of his story. Every few pages, he’d remind us that his telling “consists of impressions and half memories.” Recalling the letter from his friend, he says, “to be true to my own memory, as far as that’s ever possible […].” He talks about his life in terms of “the version I tell myself.”
So while reading this second time around, I complained out loud (to myself – because apparently I had forgotten), “How am I supposed to trust this guy?” And yet, I kept reading, to see what this man has to say and to find out what happened (as he’s trying to figure out what happened) and what happens. It’s like a self-punishing feat, isn’t it? Knowing that the narrator can’t be trusted, you just keep going along because he’s all you got.
And that is the beauty of this novel, of course.
For me, not remembering the plot, and only remembering the impression that it was mysterious and that it was poetic meant that I was in for a treat with The Sense of an Ending for the second time.
This is a novel I’d recommend to friends. It’s smart. It’s full of lines you’ll want to underline. Most importantly, it challenges us to question what we think we remember not only about own own lives (the plot) but also how we remember (or imagine) the ways we impacted the lives of others. In the name of “self preservation” – which Barnes’ narrator claims to be quite good at – what or whom do we save or hurt? When that “sense of an ending” approaches, what will we remember and how? And if we don’t have “corroborators” – something Barnes’ narrator is desperate to find – how will we know what we remember and don’t?
“Agains, I must stress that this is my reading now of what happened then. Or rather, my memory now of my reading then of what was happening at the time.” – Julian Barnes
HoCoPoLitSo’s guest for its 40th annual Irish Evening on February 9, 2018 is the award-winning novelist and short story writer Mike McCormack, whose latest novel is a tour-de-force in a single sentence. McCormack’s reading will be followed by new and traditional Irish music by Narrowbacks featuring Jesse and Terence Winch, with stepdancers from the Culkin School. Irish coffee, Guinness and other beverages and snacks will be offered for sale beginning at 7 p.m. and during intermission.
Mike McCormack’s most recent novel, Solar Bones, won the 2016 Goldsmith’s prize, given to fiction with “qualities of creative daring,” and was longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize. The book, which takes place in the mind of a middle-aged Irish civil engineer, has little punctuation and no chapter breaks, and Goldsmith’s chair of judges Blake Morrison said of the book, “its subject may be an ordinary working life but it is itself an extraordinary work.”
The Guardian subtitled their review “an extraordinary hymn to small-town Ireland.” The Times U.K. named Solar Bones one of the best fiction books of 2017 and noted that the novel, “follows meandering memories of his wife, his adult children and his work; these simple materials make for a beautiful and strangely compulsive read.” The Wall Street Journal also listed it as one of the best new books of 2017. Former Irish Evening guest novelist Colum McCann wrote, “With stylistic gusto, and in rare, spare, precise and poetic prose, Mike McCormack gets to the music of what is happening all around us.”
In 1996, McCormack won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature for his first collection of short stories, Getting It in the Head. His novel Notes from a Coma was shortlisted for the Irish Book of the Year Award in 2006; in 2010, John Waters of The Irish Times described it as “the greatest Irish novel of the decade just ended.” Val Nolan noted in an article in Ariel (April 2012) “McCormack’s fiction is cerebral and often surreal, depicting a west of Ireland that moves beyond narrow, realistic interpretations and into spaces that exist outside of government and history.” McCormack has also published the novel Crowe’s Requiem (2012) and a short story collection, Forensic Songs (2012).
McCormack joins the long list of illustrious Irish authors HoCoPoLitSo has brought to Howard County audiences, including Frank McCourt, Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright, Colum McCann, and Emma Donoghue. For 40 years, HoCoPoLitSo’s Irish Evening has celebrated the substantial impact of Irish-born writers on the world of contemporary literature. The evening program begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith Theatre of the Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts on the campus of Howard Community College. General admission tickets are $35 each; available on-line at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3099986 or by sending a check and self-addressed envelope to HoCoPoLitSo, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Horowitz Center 200, Columbia, MD 21044. Each ticket purchased by January 15, 2018, includes a complimentary adult drink.
HoCoPoLitSo works to cultivate appreciation for contemporary poetry and literature and celebrate culturally diverse literary heritages. The society sponsors literary readings and writers-in-residence outreach programs, produces The Writing Life (a thirty-minute writer-to-writer talk show), and partners with the public schools and cultural organizations to support the arts in Howard County, Maryland. For more information, visit www.hocopolitso.org.
Click here to download a pdf of this press release.
Wrap-up your holiday shopping at smile.amazon.com/ch/52-1146948 and Amazon donates to Howard County Poetry & Literary Society.
A guest post by Ryna May, Professor of English at Howard Community College:
October is LGBTQ History Month. When I think about LGBTQ history, I am of two minds and the poems included in the LGBTQ collection on Poets.org perfectly reflect that split. Some of the poems are so absolutely ordinary in their subjects, like the poem, “our happiness” by Eileen Miles, and on one hand, I think, that’s progress: the lives of LGBTQ people are written and expressed in the same way as other lives. That’s equality, right? Being a gay poet doesn’t mean that you have to write every poem about the experience of being gay.
But if we’re really talking about history, the conversation is incomplete unless we acknowledge that nothing is really the same. Some might say, hey, you won the right to get married, so what are you complaining about? That reminds me of the poem, “On Marriage” by Marilyn Hacker (1942) where the poet talks about the way in which LGBTQ people “must choose, and choose, and choose / momently, daily” to affirm their commitment to one another, “Call it anything we want” when society doesn’t quite know how to accept or handle this kind of “covenant.”
We talk a lot about “White Privilege” in cultural discourse, but we don’t talk a lot about “Mainstream Heterosexual Cisgender Privilege.” It exists. MHCP allows folks to do very ordinary things like hold hands in public without having to do a quick check of their surroundings. Put it this way: there are times when showing affection to my wife in public – just a peck on the cheek – feels like a dangerous political act.
If we’re talking about history, we have to acknowledge that being an LGBTQ person is a unique and still unequal experience in this country. There are subtle and unsubtle ways that society is set up to exclude and marginalize us. And some of the poems I browsed on Poets.org do address that fact. I find myself drawn more powerfully to these poems because I do want to acknowledge the difference that exits. A great example of this is “A Woman Is Talking to Death” by Judy Grahn. The poem was written in 1940, and the lines that jump out to me are:
this woman is a lesbian, be careful.
When I was arrested and being thrown out
of the military, the order went out: don’t anybody
speak to this woman, and for those three
long months, almost nobody did: the dayroom, when
I entered it, fell silent til I had gone; they
were afraid, they knew the wind would blow
them over the rail, the cops would come,
the water would run into their lungs.
Everything I touched
was spoiled. They were my lovers, those
women, but nobody had taught us how to swim.
I drowned, I took 3 or 4 others down
when I signed the confession of what we
had done together.
No one will ever speak to me again.
A friend of mine, Rob, hid the fact that he was gay the entire time he was in the Navy – it wasn’t just that he feared for his job, he also feared for his life, that other soldiers might threaten or harass him for being openly gay. He hid it until he completed his tour of duty, and then he came out to all of his friends. You might think that passing a law abolishing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would end this discrimination, but you would be wrong. This discrimination still exists in the military – though now the target has shifted from being gay or lesbian to being transgender. Grahn’s poem was written in 1940; it is 77 years later, and we are not there yet. And because we live in the age of vindictive executive orders, we are too afraid that the next step in the movement will be a step backward.
If we’re talking about history, we have to acknowledge that we’re still in the middle of the story right now. What started with Alan Turing, Barbara Gittings, Christine Jorgenson, Alan Ginsberg, Walt Whitman, the Stonewall riots, James Baldwin, and Harvey Milk has led us to the defeat of DOMA, Proposition 8, the victory of Edith Windsor, the success of Tammy Baldwin. But this complicated history also continues with events like the shooting in the Pulse nightclub and pronouncements that threaten the rights of transgender soldiers and that reinterpret Civil Rights laws to exclude protections for LGBTQ employees. Current events are going to write these poems, and I want to read those poems too, not just the ones that try to normalize our experience.
One of the happiest days in my life was November 6th, 2012. That was the day that voters in my home state of Maryland affirmed the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry, and I knew that I would marry my wife. Then, on June 26th, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that we should be seen as equal under the law. In a stunning closing paragraph, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” To read that, you’d think that we are living in a new era, but in reality, it isn’t quite true.
In “Love Song for Love Songs,” Rafael Campo writes that it is “A golden age of love songs and we still / can’t get it right.” That’s what I think: If we’re going to talk about LGBTQ history and celebrate equality, we have to admit that, despite so much progress in the last few years, the last ten months have shown us that we still have so far to go. Sharpen your pencils – there is so much more to come.
Many, many things.
This past week, we celebrated the National Friends of Libraries Week and these wonderful folks shared their memories of libraries and what the library means to them. Thanks to Tara, Darby, Sandra, Susan, Jocelyn, Sharon, Kristine, Ale, Liz, Annette, Trudie, Kaitlyn, and Lorraine for sharing your memories with all of us. In these stories, we see that the library is a place that offered solace, growth, independence, and of course knowledge for many.
My parents, immigrants from Korea, also found comfort at the Central Library in Columbia because they could borrow Korean books there. For them, borrowing these books allowed them to remember and connect with their homeland. For me, it was a place where I could continue my journey to becoming proficient in English. I devoured the Nancy Drew books, the Hardy Boys books, The Babysitters’ Club, and the Boxcar Children. I also borrowed many cassette tapes and later CDs of Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, Sheena Easton, and the New Kids on the Block. We borrowed movies. The library granted access to these materials – books, CDs, and movies – that were otherwise not available to me.
But it’s not just these things that the library gives us. It’s also the space it provides. When the time came for me to study for the SATs, I went to the Central Library to study. When I needed a computer, I went to the library. Many years later, when I had to study for the GREs, I went there to study in one of the study carrels on the second floor of the Central Library. Now, I take my own children there to borrow books, trying to hunt down the elusive and long-awaited copy of a Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and to sign up for summer reading programs. When we are about to go on a long road trip, we go there to borrow DVDs.
The library may have changed over the years to keep up with the changing times, especially with the changes in technology. Still, the library continues to provide space and access that many of us need and crave.
Read on to see what the library has meant for so many of us.
I have vivid memories of my small hometown library in the 1970s and can recall every section, specific places where favorite books lived, the smells of leather and hot mimeographed paper, even the words on the tiny bathroom wall.
My love of books was born when I was a child, and to me, going into a library conjures up memories of me, twelve years old, digging through bookshelves for something new to feed my imagination. I remember the somehow comforting strain of trying to get my arms around a large stack of books, and the feeling of resting my chin on top of the stack as I hauled it to the front desk. Even today as a college student, I feel peaceful in a library, and standing between shelves, surrounded by old books, is something wonderful to me.
– Darby J.
In fifth grade summer, shortly after we immigrated to the States in the early 90s, my parents decided this summer break thing, unheard of in South Korea, was ridiculous. They dropped my younger sister and me off at the White Oak library in the morning and picked us up close to dinner time every single working days of the week for a while (around the third day or so, they decided we should have lunch and packed us something to eat). We did EVERYTHING in that children’s section in the library from eating, napping, getting to know the two very lazy hamsters we saw for the first time in our life, learning checkers from strangers to list a few. We didn’t speak or read much English at all, so when we discovered comic books, it was as if we had uncovered hidden treasures. There were two kinds, Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes. Naturally, we went with shorter plots, bigger letters, and easier expressions to guess (his eyes said it all): Garfield. I hadn’t realized then, but I was living a dream. As an English professor now, how I wish I could just roll around on the library floor without a care, rummaging through shelves after shelves and chatting away with my sister as if we were the only two in the world.
– Sandra Lee
I would visit our community public library everyday because it was the midpoint between my junior high school and my sister’s elementary school. We spent hours reading in the quiet corners of the library! I believe that my love for reading was fostered by my parents and the wonderful librarians.
– Susan Y. Williams
There was this feeling of a borderland for me as a young teenager in the library. I was able to be older, to be smarter somehow among the stacks. A Stephen King READ poster, a microfiche machine, a wide staircase, and low windows brushed with leaves. In the library, I was studious in wooden study carols, while the names of the Grateful Dead danced in my sight line, etched in pen years ago. In the library, I did my research with the help of those titans of knowledge behind the tall desks, their faces blooming with joy at my questions. In the library, I saw homeless men sit and read the newspapers with dignity. In the library, I saw my life stretch out before me, echoed over time, echoed under the hanging lights, layers of books and memories forever in the same borderlands of my old heart today.
– Jocelyn Hieatzman
1. My childhood library was a big stone building with stone lions guarding the front door. It made the institution impressive and important . As a child, we couldn’t borrow “adult” books, and it seemed like they must hold some secret knowledge. 2. The bookmobile came to our neighborhood every Monday afternoon. We were allowed to take 7 books, and it was air-conditioned. It was the 1960’s.
– Sharon O’Neill
I love the library. It’s a quiet place to work or explore new authors! I love the creativity with displays.
I moved to the United States when I was 13 years old. In Mexico libraries were not an everyday thing for me. If we went, they were usually surrounded by homeless people or too far from our home. However, once I moved to the U.S, libraries became my escape from a place I did not understand. At first I hated the library. Mostly because of my limited English and low reading level. I felt embarrassed when my teacher told me all I could read were elementary level books. It wasn’t until a lunch monitor saw me with one these books, The Ugly Duckling, that I learned the value of reading. She told me that the fastest and best way to improve my pronunciation and understanding was by reading out-loud to myself. After that day, I visited the public library and read as much as I could. I read through all the R.L Stine, Goosebumps, romances, mysteries, and many others until I was finally able to challenge myself and read the Harry Potter series. Thanks to the welcoming environment of my public and school libraries, I went from reading picture books at the age of 13 to 1000 pg Stephen King books by the time I was 16.
– Ale M.
I grew up in Ellicott City, MD, so I went to the (old) Miller Branch library when I was young quite often. My first memories are borrowing toys from the kids’ section, which was directly to your right when you entered the library. My mom loved that she could borrow toys for my sister and me since kids can be so fickle; I’m sure my family saved a lot of money by not having to buy us as many toys! In elementary school, I remember creating my own fantasy story about the small enclosed garden area directly across from the circulation desk (although I don’t remember what the story was now). In middle school, R.L. Stine novels engrossed me. I remember spending many weekends searching through the R.L. Stine books directly to the left when you entered the library, at the back. I also bought some of his books from the area to the left of the circulation desk at something like 25 or 50 cents per book. I loved that I had enough money to buy my own books! I didn’t care that they had clearly been read many times before. Finally, I remember doing a couple of research projects at Miller Branch and Central Branch. Unfortunately, I moved to another state before high school started and didn’t have such a fabulous library nearby anymore. I’m so glad to be back in Howard County with a renovated Miller Branch and an almost-ready renovated Elkridge branch within walking distance of my new house!
– Liz Campbell
Every Saturday when I was growing up, my dad and I would drop my mother off at the grocery store and walk over to the Randallstown Branch of BCPL which was in the same parking lot. While she shopped, my father and I would return the books we signed out the week before and take out new ones. We would walk back to the store and find my mom in one of the aisles and help her finish up. This is one of the fondest memories of my childhood and I remember many wonderful chats with my dad before curling up in an easy chair to read my newest treasures!
– Annette Kuperman
When I was a little girl, I lived in a small blue collar town just north (on the mainland) of Galveston, Texas. Hitchcock had a grocery store, a small bank, a doughnut shop, Mr. Charburger, a drug store and some other small local businesses! We also had a book mobile every three weeks or so, that parked in the bank’s parking lot. A large trailer with books, books and more books! I didn’t even know “libraries” existed, until one day Mother took all of us four little girls to Galveston Island to THE library. It was beautiful; with what I remember to be massive, dark-stained, ornate rails leading up the many steps to the magnificent entryway of the building. And books! Who knew there were that many books in the world? What pure, giddy joy I felt that day.
– Trudie Myers
When I was in late elementary school, I loved going to the Central Library with my mom. I loved the weird shape of the building and the nooks and crannies of the library. The library was also the first space I was allowed to be “alone” in a public space. I would look for my books while my mom would look for hers. We would meet at the check out line, her with her reasonable amount of books and me struggling to balance a stack that piled to my nose.
– Kaitlyn Curtis
I remember the Book Mobile routinely coming through our military Navy Housing in Bremerton, WA when I was in 6th grade. My two younger brothers and I so looked forward to the Book Mobile! It was such a different experience to walk-in to a library on wheels. It was a pleasurable experience I will not forget.
The week of September 25th, we celebrate our RIGHT TO READ! In celebration of Banned Books Week 2017, we asked several educators and librarians about their favorite banned books. Here’s what they said.
To Kill a Mockingbird has influenced me as a reader and a teacher. As a young reader it brought me into a world I knew nothing about. As a teacher it has opened the same door for hundreds of students. It is only controversial because it depicts an ugly truth- which is also its value. – (a Howard County high school English teacher)
“It depicts an ugly truth – which is also its value.” Agreed. For my own part, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has had a similar impact for me, both as a teacher and as a reader. Our literature is our history. Regardless of genre, our literature reflects who we were, are, and could be. I have always found myself drawn to those authors who have been willing to paint in honest brushstrokes, an image of humanity that requires taking stock in the complexities and contradictions, pressing us to face the mirror. Often lost in the controversy surrounding “Huck” is the wink of hopefulness gained from the novel’s final passage. – (a Howard County middle school English teacher)
My daughter read Al Capone Does My Shirts last year as a 5th grader and it was her first experience of being “hooked” by a book and rushing to read the next book and the next in the series. It totally changed her from being a reluctant reader to being someone who devours books! Having taught it in the past I do not see why it would be controversial. Many books have characters with huge flaws. But having characters that possess both positive and negative qualities is what makes them multi-dimensional, interesting, and realistic. – (Howard County secondary literacy coach)
As a middle school teacher, I would have to choose The Giver and The Outsiders, two books that really touched kids and elicited deep and honest discussions. I loved teaching those books. – Beth S. (Howard County middle school English teacher)
Favorites to teach and/or read: Hunger Games, To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, In Cold Blood, Leaves of Grass. Favorites to read to my kids: And Tango Makes Three, The Paper Bag Princess, The Lorax, Where the Wild Things Are. – Amy P. (High School English teacher in Hudson, MA)
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. Both novels are stories of the horror and dehumanizing effects of war (WWI, to be precise), and the relentless pursuit of an ill-defined victory at all costs. Reading these books in high school caused me to question a lot of the assumptions I had about politics, war, religion, and conflict more broadly defined than I had before. Or since, for that matter. They literally changed my outlook on life in a span of a few weeks, and I continue to wrestle with these ideas to this day. – Jeffrey M. (English Professor at Howard Community College)
And Tango Makes Three. My two children enjoyed this book when they were just 3-4 years old. It’s a book about penguins! But here’s the thing – now that my older son is 8 year old I am wondering how he might experience and “hear” the book today. That’s the thing about books (good books), right? They challenge us to these questions – and this book forces me to be thoughtful about how I would teach my children about family diversity and help them become accepting, welcoming people in the world. In the Night Kitchen was a gift from our friend and neighbor (Tim!) – of course the children just love that Mickey is naked – butt and penis and all – in the illustration and they giggle and laugh. But they also enjoy Mickey’s adventure. It’s fun. For my kids – who like to tell fart jokes all day long – this book delights them. And I’m really, really good with that. – Laura Y. (English Professor at Howard Community College)
Strega Nona is one of my favorite books of all times. This book has been challenged and banned due to the magical or witch-like abilities of a magic pasta pot. Strega Nona’s objective is not to be a book about witchcraft, rather a book that is full of whimsy, allowing children to engage their imagination. Challenging or banning books can stifle creativity and imagination. When a book is challenged or banned because one person feels that it is against their morals, it can lead to an entire community of readers having restricted or no access to a book. – Christina P. (Librarian at Howard Community College)
The Things They Carried: it challenges ideas of morality, truth, courage, and patriotism. I come from a military family (going back generations), so this really resonates with me. The narratives never stop feeling relevant. O’Brien creates a web of fiction, memoir, history, and memory that always ensnares us us readers, leaving us in the best possible state: uncertainty. That is where all good inquiry comes from. – Ryna M. (English Professor at Howard Community College)
It was much more banned in the past, but definitely The Handmaid’s Tale! Even when I read it in the 8th grade (?), I remember being shocked at the story–not because of content, but because of so many similarities and so much truth. I thought how not so unrealistic this society was, and I still think that now. – Sylvia L. (English Professor at Howard Community College)
For my kids… Hop on Pop!! This is such a great book to start children reading on their own. The simple rhyming text is perfect.
For me one of my favorite books growing up was Are you There God, It’s me Margaret. It’s one of the first books I could relate too. – Melissa P. (Preschool teacher at the Children’s Learning Center)
A guest blog by Claudia Dugan
Sipping coffee at my desk last week, I tried to gather a list of favorite Latin American or Spanish books and I felt raptured into a labyrinth.
Should I go this way, or that? Which of the intricate paths should I take first? Should I do it in chronological order? But then again, the themes, like the paths in a maze, seem to meet each other, reoccur, and from time to time, give an opportunity to skip to another side… Chale! Is there an actual exit to this? Is it the task or is it me who, in an attempt to reflect about the books I love, often enter an identity labyrinth, similar to the one Octavio Paz describes?
I thought about The Broken Spears which invites the reader to be immersed into those ancient stories on the cosmology of the Aztecs, and to understand how ancient philosophies played an important role in the Spanish occupation of México, and in its current syncretism. Then, I thought that maybe Malinche by Laura Esquivel could be a better choice since it is written more like a love story, and who doesn’t love love.
But a different title kept knocking at the door of my thoughts. The one that most of us who have taken a class that requires Latin American Literature had to read: Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien Años de Soledad.
The first time I read it in high school, it almost took me cien años to finish reading it, but the magic was worth it. You see, my classmates and I had transformed the book into a scavenger hunt. Our whiskers were wet. We looked for clues inside the book that would lead us to the next book to read. How excited I was to discover Artemio Cruz in Cien Años de Soledad, and I shared it with my friends. That served as a launching point to the next author, Carlos Fuentes, who believed that history would always provide revolutionary characters like Artemio Cruz.
But if you think such findings sparked enthusiasm and idealism inside us, you have not read much of Latin American literature. My goodness, just when your hopes get high, it begins to rain – in almost every single darn book. Fuentes, who introduced us to Artemio Cruz, reminded us in “Old Gringo” to be aware of the ugly-self-interest-seeking-human that lurks inside of each one of us, idealistic or not.
Another of my favorite on the subject of revolution is Mariano Azuela’s Los de Abajo written in the early 1900’s and centered in the Mexican Civil War. In English, the title is The Underdogs but it really does not evoke the same images that the Spanish title Los de Abajo does. Los de Abajo refers to “those who are at the bottom of the pyramidal structure of so many human social configurations throughout history.
When reading Latin American literature, you will always find those comedic chapters on the absurd, such as Capitan Pantoja and the Special Service by Mario Vargas Llosa, which provide much needed relief during raining seasons.
And of course in reading Latin American literature, there is the important question of language and translation. When I read the book Malinche in English, I noted that the culturally-rich word “temazcal” was merely translated as “hot-bath” (jacuzzi). If you knew what a Temazcal represented for Mezoamerican cultures, and its role in new-births, in healing, in cathartic ceremonies, then you would understand its significance in that chapter in which Malinali and Cortez bathe their fusing souls in it. I am sure you would be able to smell the copal and other aromatic fresh herbs when reading about it. Or, if you have studied Latin American history, you would notice the weaving of the threads that joined the voice of Oscar to the authors’ footnotes in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz, or the universe in the word Quetzalcóatl, in Juan Felipe Herrera’s Half of the World in Light.
So, during this Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, connect with a book by a Latin American writer, maybe one from my list.
But more importantly, connect with a person of Hispanic or Latin heritage. What you might learn from them about the cultural values and practices, history, and character will enrich your reading experience. And of course that could lead to enriched relationships with your neighbors of Hispanic or Latin heritage as you hear their stories. After all, as Jonathan Gottschall points out in The Storytelling Animal, it is stories that make us human.
~ Claudia Dugan is an Associate Professor of Spanish at Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland.
A little kindness goes a long way in a writer’s life
We don’t ask much.
Twenty minutes quiet.
A red pen.
Writers and editors — and I count myself in both those groups — are fairly undemanding types. Unobtrusive, even. We’d much rather observe than be observed. We just need a little space and time to be alone with our mortal struggle with the writing gods. Though we wouldn’t say no to a cup of tea.
September was named Be Kind to Editors and Writers month by a low-rent Texas publishing house in 1984. Gentleman Vampire is one of their titles, and whew, that bloodsucker sure is handsome on the book cover! How that itty-bitty publisher got to name a month, I don’t know, but I guess they fall into the same category as the group that named February as Sweet Potato Month and May as Good Car Keeping Month. The editor in me wants to lower-case all those words, because they’re really not worthy of a whole month’s worth of honor, not to mention capitalization.
But we’re into marketing here at HoCoPoLitSo, and so we are wholeheartedly behind Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month. In fact, we’re kind to writers all year here at Let There be Lit headquarters; we’re known for our warm treatment of the ink-stained masses. There are clots of Irish authors, apparently, who sit around in pubs, drinking warm beer and raving about HoCoPoLitSo’s welcome. (Make sure you save the date for our fortieth celebration of Irish poetry and literature, the Irish Evening on Feb. 9, 2018.)
And as for editors – we are necessary nitpickers. It’s hard to be nice to someone who slashes away at your precious words. In fact, William Faulkner once wrote: “Only Southerners have taken horsewhips and pistols to editors about the treatment or maltreatment of their manuscript. This–the actual pistols–was in the old days, of course, we no longer succumb to the impulse. But it is still there, within us.” But sometimes, editors make good writing great.
So here’s to a month of kindness to editors and writers. Send us good thoughts of inspiration and hope. Buy your favorite editor a new pen. Watch the kids while we go to the Baltimore Book Festival (starting Sept. 22); they have terrific panel discussions (on the historical novel, and science fiction romance, and finding an agent, for example) and great readings (the Black Ladies Brunch Collective is reading from its new, hilarious and moving Not Without Our Laughter on Sunday, Sept. 24).
And this month – maybe not all year – give the editor or writer in your life a little respect.
Susan Thornton Hobby
Recording secretary, writer, and editor
Laurie Frankel’s Goodbye For Now
A Howard County Book Connection Event
Wednesday, November 1, 2017 • 1 p.m.
Rouse Community Foundation Student Services Hall, Room 400
Howard Community College
10901 Little Patuxent Parkway
Columbia, MD 21044
If you could connect with your beloved dead through technology, would you? Laurie Frankel’s novel, Goodbye for Now, is a love story with technology at its heart. Join us to hear Frankel read from her ground-breaking book at HoCoPoLitSo’s series celebrating ground-breaking poet and HoCoPoLitSo artistic advisor Lucille Clifton. Gather with a group of curious minds for this intriguing discussion. The New York Times said Frankel’s book, “extends the reach of technology just beyond our fingertips, where it feels possible.” This program is brought to you by the Howard County Book Connection; a partnership between Howard Community College, the Howard County Public Library System, and the Howard County Poetry & Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo). A book signing will follow. Tickets not required.
Seniors can request transportation by calling 410.715.3087. For other accommodations, call 443.518.4568 by October 16
This event is free. Click here to register and let us know you are coming.
Wilde Readings, Columbia’s literary reading and open mic series, eagerly launches season two on September 12th at the Columbia Art Center. When poet and author Laura Shovan approached Linda Joy Burke and myself about starting a reading series in Columbia, we offered our full support. Because Wilde Readings is funded through private donations and a generous grant from HoCoPoLitSo and is housed in the Columbia Art Center in Long Reach, any concerns about funding and a venue disappeared. Before the three of us could begin the daunting yet exciting task of selecting authors for our first year’s lineup, we first solicited naming ideas from several of our friends in the writing community. While there were many names we liked, we selected Patricia VanAmburg’s suggestion to use Wilde Readings—a dual homage to Wilde Lake, Columbia’s first village, and Oscar Wilde, a writer known for both his wit and his bravery. His words, which appear as a tagline on our promotional materials, “A writer is a person who has taught his mind to misbehave,” capture the spirit of what we hope good writing encourages.
It was especially important to all of us that we present a variety of voices and styles, as well as represent the demographics of our area and balance male and female voices. With those parameters in mind, I hope you’ll agree that our 2016-2017 inaugural series fulfilled those goals and provided our audience with ten evenings of engaging, thoughtful, and provocative voices. Fiction was well represented when Jen Grow, Jan Bowman, Austin Camacho, and Susan Muaddi Daraj shared short stories and novel excerpts. Poetry and spoken word performances, both with political undertones, captured our audience’s attention when Michael Rothenberg, Ron Kipling Williams, Ken “Analysis” Brown, Maritza Rivera, and Shelly “Says So” Washington performed. Le Hinton had a most unusual approach to his rendition of poems from his “Cotton” collection—he passed around real cotton bolls for the audiences to feel both the velvet smoothness of the white fiber and the contrasting prickles of the supporting stamen and leaves. The remaining readings featured the impressive and highly regarded poetic voices of Grace Cavalieri, Merrill Leffler, Sally Rosen Kindred, Michael Ratcliffe, Nancy Naomi Carlson, Sue Ellen Thompson, Virginia Crawford, Sam Schmidt, and City Lit’s own Carla Dupree.
Wilde Readings’ lineup of literary artists for the fall of 2017 promises to be as engaging and diverse as our opening season. We kick off the series with Debbi Mack, New York Times best-selling author of the Sam McRae Mystery Series and Pat Valdata, whose most recent work, Where No Man Can Touch, is a book of persona poems in the voices of female aviation pioneers. In October, Michael Salcman, poet, physician, and art historian, will speak about his latest work, A Prague Spring, Before and After, along with his photographer, Lynn Silverman, a professor of photography at MICA. In November, we will feature the work of D.C. poet Henry Crawford reading from his inaugural collection, American Software, and Susan Sonde, author of several books and a two-time Pushcart Nominee and winner of numerous prizes and awards. We close out 2017 with Doritt Carroll, D.C. native and author of a new chapbook entitled Sorry You Are Not an Instant Winner and poet Alan King, Bowie, Maryland, resident and author of Point Blank and Drift.
This year, in addition to lining up an exciting roster of literary guests for Wilde Readings, Laura, Linda Joy, and I plan to reach out to local teens who aspire to become writers. We’d love to put together a roster of interested writers to participate in a dedicated teen night as part of Wilde Readings. Last year, Mahitha Vijily, a teen writer from Marriotts Ridge High School, saw our event in the local papers and decided to bring her family and her book of poetry to the April Wilde Readings event. She blew us away with her provocative voice and skillful use of language and even sold a few copies of her book, Thoughts of a Wildflower. We hope to engage more voices in the coming year.
When we open the fall series on September 12, 2017, at the Columbia Art Center at 7pm, Laura, Linda Joy, and I will be there to welcome everyone, sign up open mic readers, and introduce our featured authors. We hope to see many attendees from last year and anticipate welcoming new folks as well.
By Ann Bracken
Today – September 6th – is National Read a Book Day. And on this occasion, I’m sharing with you 30 books that changed me.
These are the books that exposed me to new things (like about racial passing in Nella Larsen’s Passing), changed the way I felt about a subject or what I knew about the subject (like about death and dying in Ann Lamott’s Hard Laughter), or seemed to push the conventions of literature (like the way Laurence Stern’s Tristram Shandy experiments with structure and narrative voice). These are the books that made me say, “What? A book a can do THAT?!?!”
For most of these works, though, I don’t remember the exact plot or the details that made them so impressive. For some of these books, I bet the timing was what mattered. When I read Crime and Punishment, for example, it was right after high school. And I read it for fun. I think I was pretty proud of myself for reading a Dostoevsky for leisure. That made me an official adult.
Though I don’t remember the details, I remember the sensation. I remember the sense of awe inspired by Waiting for Godot and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. These books blew me away with their deep investigations of humans – about who we are, what we want, what we believe, what we lack, and what we could be (both beautiful and hideous).
I remember feeling very grown up after reading books like The Laramie Project and Middlesex. These books introduced me to the things that happen in the world to real people that I might otherwise have been shielded from.
I remember feeling envious when reading works like Playing in the Dark and Between the World and Me. These are the books that showed me what a human mind can think through and what a human mind can then articulate into language. The envy comes from recognizing these writers’ genius as well as the fact that I will never achieve that.
I remember the labor that went into studying Paradise Lost and Macbeth. So much to excavate and discover – again and again – in pouring over works like those. And the sense of accomplishment that comes from cracking the code in some small way to understand the text.
I also remember specific lines from these books that stay with me. Like “There is no story that is not true” from Thing Fall Apart. Like “A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe” from The Things They Carried. And these unforgettable words: “Let me imagine … what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say” from A Room of One’s Own – and I never forgot about Judith Shakespeare.
Oh, and of course – I remember the laughing and the crying. Really laughing out loud while reading Me Talk Pretty One Day. And really sobbing while reading The Kite Runner.
My literature students are writing this week about why we read and study literature. As for me, I read because I want to be changed. Even in some small way. By the time I read the last page of the book I want to feel a little different and be a little better than when I started the book.
Why do you read?