Wednesday, August 19, 2015

pile of reading

Why Religion Matters: the fate of the human spirit in an age of disbelief by Huston Smith
I’m reading Why Religion Matters on my breaks at work. I agree with Huston Smith somewhat, he seems a nice enough fellow, but he has yet to lead me to a place where the evils of religion are clearly outweighed by true goodness. It’s not that I’m totally convinced religion is worthless or necessarily monstrous, rather I’m agnostic on the matter. I know there are good and gentle (and fierce) people who are inspired by religious beliefs to do extraordinary and good things. Yet there are so many who seem inspired by their religious beliefs to hack at people with machetes or blow themselves up in crowded marketplaces. As a gay man I pay attention to the role conservative religious beliefs continue to play in forcing people to live inauthentic, stunted, and tragic lives. How mean-spirited many religious seem to be. Still, while genial folks like Smith insist there’s something to it, I will keep open an ear.

In Other Lands Than Ours by Maud Gage Baum
L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, went with his wife Maud to Europe and Egypt in 1906. Maud wrote letters home. The letters were lively and evocative so they were collected and published (privately, I believe). I downloaded the Pumpernickel Pickle e-book version from and am reading the book on my iPad.

Gaysia: adventures in the queer east by Benjamin Law
Law is an ethnically Chinese Australian. He devotes a chapter each to Indonesia (although Law doesn’t explore beyond Bali), Thailand, China, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, and India. I hadn’t heard before that Bali was a gay destination. That seems to be a new thing. But the locals are more friendly to it than you might expect. I am now reading about Thai ladyboys (the term is not an insult, Law is told).

The Bedside Guide to the No Tell Motel: second floor edited by Reb Livingston and Molly Arden
An anthology of poetry themed (but not terribly strictly) to the sensual and interpersonal. No Tell Motel was an ezine that I visited for a while.

A Byzantine Journey by John Ash
John Ash was a visiting poet-teacher at UC Berkeley one of my years there. I took his workshop. Lately I’ve been catching up on what he’s written in the 20 years since. Ash long had a fascination for Byzantium, what’s often called the Holy Roman Empire. Rome didn’t fall, as far as the Byzantines were concerned; it just contracted a little. I’ve read Ash’s poetry books. A Byzantine Journey is prose, travel literature, the kind of thing I’ve gotten a taste for recently. The writer moves about taking down impressions, complaining about food or transportation, limning the locals and the ruins, and weaving in library research.

Eating Fire: my life as a Lesbian Avenger by Kelly Cogswell
The Lesbian Avengers formed in the wake of AIDS activist group ACT UP, eager to put a strong feminist voice on the streets again. For one action Kelly Cogswell teaches herself to spew fire like a circus performer. She and her colleagues make TIME Magazine flaming up in front of the White House.

A Year of Rhymes by Bernard Cooper
I enjoyed Bernard Cooper’s My Avant-Garde Education, which was billed as memoir. I knew I had a novel on my shelf so I pulled it down.

Two Lines: world writing in translation issue 22
In earlier issues Two Lines featured introductions to the English versions written by the translators who talk about what attracted them to the task, what special challenges were faced, and some biographical info about the non-English-writing author. The intros have been dispensed with, mostly. I miss them.

Variety Photoplays poems by Edward Field
I bought this a long time ago. I even got Edward Field to sign it. But, as much as I like Field’s poetry, I held off reading Variety Photoplays because so many of the poems contained spoilers to old movies. Field basically retells the plots of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein and SHE, and I hadn’t seen them! I still haven’t seen SHE — and now I don’t have to! I had a hankering to read Edward Field’s newest book, After the Fall: poems old and new, but when I opened it I remembered that I hadn’t yet read Variety Photoplays. So I’m reading Variety Photoplays.

Selected Poems by W. H. Auden, edited by Edward Mendelson
I’ve said before that I won’t read a selected when I can read a complete. I have the feeling I’m going to renege on that commitment more often than I’m going to comply. I’m reading Auden rather the way I read Emily Dickinson. I read at least two pages at a sitting. I read at least two pages so I can physically turn a page and know when next I open the book I will be reading a poem new to me. I was doing that thing where I open to the placemark and find myself rereading the poem I read last time then stopping because one poem was all I could handle. One does need to move along.

The Flayed God: the mythology of Mesoamerica by Roberta H. Markman and Peter Markman
I’ve returned to The Flayed God after a long pause.The worldview of the Mesoamerican empires can be, well, unsettling. The Aztecs are known for human sacrifice, but did you know they would strip the skin off a victim and wear the skin around for a month? I know there are intense, world-preserving mystical justifications for this, but — shudder — it still looks like butchery, doesn’t it?

The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon translated and edited by Ivan Morris
Sei Shonagon was a contemporary of Murasaki, the woman famous for writing what may be the first novel, The Tale of Genji. In her Pillow Book Sei Shonagon records anecdotes, impressions, and likes and dislikes. For instance, in a list titled “Depressing Things,” she mentions, “A dog howling in the daytime. … A cold, empty brazier. An ox-driver who hates his oxen.”

From the Other Side of the Century: a new American poetry 1960-1990 edited by Douglas Messerli
An 1100 page anthology. I’m going to be at this one for quite some time. Messerli’s project focuses on the experimental, the innovative. Lyn Hejinian, yes; Robert Hass, no. Allen Ginsberg, yes; Robert Lowell, no. Rae Armentrout, yes; Louis Gluck, no.

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