Runners Who Read

Who knew? A bunch of runners who enjoy reading and discussing what they read.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Study guide for The Second Coming available

A summary and study guide for The Second Coming is available here.

I've never used Bookrags, so I can't vouch for the quality of their materials -- but if you're really interested in getting another perspective on the book, it might be worth gambling $5.99 (good for access to The Second Coming summary/study guide only for one year, I think). I intend to give it a shot ...

I'm nearly through with the novel and have enjoyed it -- not without its wickedly satirical side, but also very warm and human. Eccentric and memorable characters, major and minor. Once I finish, I'll post more (with spoiler warnings!) -- and I hope you will, too.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A good Walker Percy research portal

Jonas' thoughtful posts on his early impressions of Walker Percy and The Second Coming inspired me to find a decent Walker Percy resource on the Internet. This one seems a good place to start, although like many academic websites it's organized somewhat oddly. (Oh, those academics -- eh, Paula?) And a quick Google search on "Second Coming Percy" yields a lot of tidbits, some useful and others not.

If you find any other potentially useful links, please post them!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Philosophication

Serendipitous convergences can charm, bemuse or astound. I was struck by the timeliness of having The Second Coming come to me at a time when I’ve been pondering Heidegger.

Trust me, I don’t ruminate about philosophies very often (why, oh why, must philosophers be so pedantically obtuse?). I read Heidegger’s Time and Being more than 30 years ago for a college class. God, what a dense, arduous read! I read the book, hated it, answered the essay questions on the final exam, passed, and immediately jettisoned Heidegger’s work from my consciousness. That is, until a month or two ago. I’ve been haunted by Heidegger ever since. Funny how lectures heard in youth are sometimes only understood in old age.

Frankly, I don’t remember all that much from Time and Being. I hesitate to summarize the teachings of the “father of existentialism.” I do remember this: Heidegger concluded that we must encounter the world/reality/life twice. The first time we confront reality we are made anxious (are filled with “angst”). We suffer and retreat. It then falls to us, if we are to be truly “authentic” beings, to confront life again. It falls to us to discern our heart’s desire and then strive to satisfy that desire with courage and determination…a “second coming” if you will. It is then, and only then, that we become whole, engaged and authentic. Come to think of it, wasn’t that the moral of the movie “City Slickers”…discover the “one true thing” and be happy?

Anyway, here I am, heart, mind and soul haunted by Heidegger, and along come Will and Allie: two beings, filled with angst, suffering death in life, trying to find what it is they wanted. Thanks, Nels, for recommending this book. Thanks to all of you who voted for it. It packed a huge emotional wallop for me…this serendipitous convergence.

I have now taken to pondering what happens if you find your heart’s desire and, despite all the courage and determination you can muster, you realize you will never be able to satisfy that desire? What then? What then, Martin Heidegger, what then? Sigh. If anyone can recommend a book or two addressing that theme, pass it along.

Incidentally, I just finished reading I Don’t Want To Talk About It by Terence Neal. The book deals with male depression. What I found most interesting were the author’s observations about the way we raise our children, the subtle gender differences we express and reinforce…and their consequences. Lots of food for thought.

Happy B-Day Ernie

Ernest Hemingway's birthday is today. Frankly, although I think I at least generally understand the reasons for his importance, I personally haven't ever felt compelled to spend a lot of time with most of what he wrote -- although one of my favorite books is undoubtedly A Moveable Feast, his short, sweet memoir of life as a starving writer in Paris during the 1920s. There is a passage from that book where he describes being very hungry and eating a meal of beer and potatatoes in a Paris cafe, a passage so vivid and delicious in its simple description that reading it always makes me want to immediately drink a cold beer and eat a few potatoes myself.

"The way to start writing fiction is to sit down and write the truest sentence you know," someone (I forget who) advised Hemingway during his time in Paris, and at his very best he always did just that. At his very best, it was more than enough. Happy birthday, and pass the beer and potatoes.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Reading books that are... less than classics

We've all admitted some pretty lofty reading habits, naming books that are well written and well regarded. I'm wondering, though, about the other side of reading. The side that comes out in mass-market paperback with no hardcover edition. The side that isn't reviewed by the New York Times.

Maybe I'm taking a mental break since I feel like I'm on summer vacation, but my reading choices lately have been of the less-than-lofty variety. Ranging from the slightly tawdry (Alexandra Robbins' Pledged, an expose about sororities), to the slightly tawdrier (Plum Sykes' Bergdorf Blondes), to the downright no-holds barred just plain tawdry (Jessica Cutler's The Washingtonienne*). Right now I'm beginning Nedjma's The Almond, which I really really hope is tawdry.

My reading habits are usually very snobby. I don't like mysteries and I avoid romance novels. That said, I have to confess that I enjoy some good chick lit from time to time. I resent the formulaic, no woman is complete unless she's engaged to be married to a perfect man plots. I can't relate to it at all. Yet I eat it up. I try to intersperse my heavy reading with some light reading, although it usually ends up being like 2 to 1 in favor of the light reading. I think it's something in my head about keeping my numbers up: I can feel like I've read a book a week or so if most of those books are remarkably quick.

What are your reading habits? Poetry for some, nonfiction for others. But what about the, um, lesser well-written tomes?


* The Washingtonienne did receive a favorable review from the New York Times.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Dark Side of Poetry Addiction

I used to be a fast reader. Ever since grammar school, I would read a book per day, sometimes two. And so it was for thirty years or so.

Approximately fifteen years ago I began to read poetry almost exclusively. Poetry ineluctably changed me. Instead of dashing through dramas and tales and biographies and comedies and histories…I would explore a poem or two. Time stands still when I do that. Each poem has its own rhythm, its singular magic. Sometimes a verse, sometimes just a deft or breathtaking combination of words, sometimes the work as a piece transports me to feelings, thoughts or experiences echoing deep inside. More often than not, I gain insight into the human condition. I may savor a poem for days on end…rolling it about inside my heart, experiencing it, and pondering the meaning of it all. There are sacred poems, and individual lines of poetry, that remain with me always, as if some potent Buddhist koans created to enlighten or inspire me. I have become a slow, slow, slow reader.

Anyway, this pace of mine manifested itself as I read The Second Coming. I give Walker Percy a lot of credit for making it a “poetic” experience. I have my thoughts (quite a few, actually) about the story as a whole, but for now I just wanted to share a few of the words that stopped me in my tracks for one reason or another, made me pause and think and feel. Now, I know poetry is very much a personal thing. We have our unique velocities and perspectives. These words may not resonate with you, but I found them intriguing, beautiful, insightful and meaningful:

“A fit by chance is romance…”
“After you make a living, then what do you do? How do you live?”
“My mother refused to let me fail. So I insisted.”
“Even sitting still she shimmered.”
“…was that her real sickness, that she was embarrassed for everybody?”
“I was somewhat suspended above me, but I am getting down to me.”
“Is it possible to stand next to a stranger at a bus stop and know that he is a friend?”
“Voices can be understood without words.”
“Is it possible for people to miss their lives in the same way one misses a plane?
“They looked at each other curiously and wondered how they could have missed each other, lived in the same house all those years and passed in the halls like ghosts.”
“What is the word for a state which is not life and not death, a death in life?”
“When you leave a house for the last time and take one last look around before closing the door, it is as if you were seeing the house again for the first time. What happened to the five thousand times in between?”
“There is a space in him where a space shouldn’t be, where parts were not glued together.”
“He married her because he pleased her so much. It is not a small thing to be able to make someone happy so easily.”
“Why was not goodness enough for marriage?”
“Haven’t you troubled yourself and fretted needlessly over the years? Did you ever really know your times and seasons? Were you ever really a splendid tiger burning in the forests of the night?”
“Some people use their looks to impale.”
“Are people necessary? Without people there are no tunneling looks. Brooks don’t look and dogs look away. But late afternoon needs another person.”
“A home is a place, any place, any building, where one sinks into one’s self and finds company waiting.”
“…the trick lay in leading the most ordinary life imagineable, in itself a joy in its very ordinariness, and then be as extraordinary or ordinary as one pleased. That was the secret.”
“…he didn’t bother to listen, or rather he listened not to your words but your music.”
“How good life must be once you got the hang of it…”
“Now she knew what she did not want: not being with him. I do not want him not being here.”
“Then why is it that I live this life as if it were a dream and as if any minute I might wake up and find myself in my real life?”
“Was he saying the words for the words themselves, for what they meant, or for what they could do to her? …Though he hardly touched her, his words seemed to flow across all parts of her body. Were they meant to? A pleasure she had never known before bloomed deep in her body. Was this a way of making love?”
“Facets of glass flashed blue and white. It was like living inside a diamond.”
“Death in this century is not the death people die but the death people live. Men love death because real death is better than the living death.”
“What happened to marriage and family that it should have become a travail and a sadness, marriage till death do us part yes but long dead before the parting…”
“She can only live if every day is Christmas morning. But she doesn’t know how to live from one Christmas to the next.”
“Again the past rose to haunt him and the future rose to beckon him. Things took on significance.”
“Do you feel a smiling ease with me as well as a sweetness for me in the deep regions?”
“Now I know what it is I wanted. Before I only wanted.”

Well, anyway…that Walker Percy is pretty damn good.

By the by…I get the feeling that Heidegger would have befriended Will Barrett.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Clearing the Decks ...

… so I can read the RWR Reader’s Choice(s). I recently finished Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian, an elegantly poetic and richly detailed fictional memoir of the Roman emperor, one of the best and most unusual historical novels I’ve ever read. Stacey Schiff’s A Great Improvisation is a fascinating look at Benjamin Franklin and his efforts in France to secure and keep a French alliance with America during the Revolution, with lots of political intrigue, espionage, secret missions, infighting and character assassination among the American commissioners and Franklin, and a dash of sex to spice things up. I learned a lot from this one and enjoyed it thoroughly. The Raft Is Not the Shore is a record of an actual series of engaging, thoughtful conversations between a Jesuit priest (Daniel Berrigan) and a Buddhist monk (Thich Nhat Hanh) in the 1960s. It’s centered on the tragedy of the Vietnam War that both were living through at the time but filled with timeless wisdom and understanding, both spiritual and secular. Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, Volume One is a rich collection by one of our best contemporary American poets, focused largely on the natural world – expertly crafted, burning with quiet intensity and subtle depth. Her work stays with you long after you’ve finished reading. I have fallen in love with this woman and can hardly wait for Volume Two to be published this fall. Last but not least, Volume 3 (1955-1956) of The Complete Peanuts. It’s amazing how quickly Charles Schulz “found” the personalities of Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, et. al., and also revealing to realize how the best of his work often dealt with the darker side of suffering and pathos. Yet he was also one of the best pure sight gag/slapstick cartoonists in history. Hats off to Fantagraphics for their commitment to this ambitious and long-awaited project.

Now, on to The Second Coming -- just in time for our annual trip to Boulder. It’s turning into a good reading summer …