Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Stack from the Stacks

Ah, we love our libraries.

Dragonstar has gone with her dad on their annual Memorial Day weekend camping trip, first heading to Alabama for the Acoustic Cafe music festival, then to Murfreesboro, Tennesee for the Renaissance Faire. My other sweetie has a gig in New Harmony tonight. That leaves me to my books, and such books they are!

The urge to try a new art form has prompted me to grab a couple dramatic anthologies, Laugh Lines and Talk to Me, one containing contemporary short comedic plays, the other a collection of monologues. No, it's not acting that intrigues me. It's play-writing. So of course I'm reading plays. Lots of plays. Both anthologies are Vintage paperbacks edited by Eric Lane and Nina Shengold.

Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek has been on my Must Read list for years. Why has it taken me so long? An excerpt:
Nature is, above all, profligate. Don't believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn't it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place? This deciduous business alone is a radical scheme, the brainchild of a deranged manic-depressive with limitless capital. Extravagance! Nature will try anything once.
I am a long-time fan of Margaret Atwood. One of my early attempts at writing a novel was inspired by her wickedly wry exploration of girlhood and the tentacles of girls' relationships, Cat's Eye. Her latest work, The Penelopiad, is a reworking of the myth of Odysseus from the perspective of Penelope. Of her marriage to the suitor from the "goat-strewn rock" of Ithaca, the Spartan princess tells us, "And so I was handed over to Odysseus, like a package of meat . A package of meat in a wrapping of gold, mind you. A sort of gilded blood pudding." Yummy.

Two books to inspire the writer: one from the amazingly prolific Joyce Carol Oates, another from Mary Pipher, who gave us Reviving Ophelia a few years back. Oates grew up near my home town in western New York state. We have that much in common, anyway.

Several years ago I read two books by Susan Chernak McElroy, one called Animals as Teachers & Healers, the other Animals as Guides for the Soul. Both books take for granted the rich emotional life of our fellow creatures. Is it as astonishing to you as it is to me that science still doubts the full and complex emotions of dogs and chimps and birds and gazelles and, yes, elephants? Jeffrey Masson's When Elephants Weep is scholarly and fascinating. If the field biologists who describe story after compelling story of animals in love or in grief are commiting the sin of anthropomorphism, what but arrogance can you call the dismissive response of those scientific court stenographers who claim that only humans -- the vaunted "anthro" -- can love and grieve? Anecdotes are not science, say the scientists. So? Anecdotes are stories. To dismiss the story is to miss the point entirely. The story is the thread that weaves human culture. It is not an inferior way of knowing, it is an other way of knowing. Not either/or, but both/and.

Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (some names ought to come with pronunciation guides) is a follow up to his book Flow. My favorite bit of advice contained in this later work: "Start doing more of what you love, less of what you hate." Brilliant. And I only had to read 357 pages to get to it!

But then, I do love to read.

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