Saturday, January 4, 2014

December Reading (Part One)

Here's What I Read in December (Part one of two)
Prologue: The books I DNF'd.

Before getting into the books I read this month, I have to start with the books I did not finish. First was Morrissey's autobiography, Autobiography, which I wrote about in a previous post. But I also DNF'd Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, which is really inexcuseable, especially considering I spent five hours of my life in December proctoring exams. That means sitting in a silent room, watching kids take tests with nothing better to do than read a book. And yet I still couldn't find the energy to finish Siddhartha

One of my colleagues saw my paperback sticking out of my back pocket. "Reading Siddhartha?" he asked?

"Yeah. At least I'm trying to get through it."

He seemed confused. "Isn't that a book that you can read in a few hours?" 

Yes! It is! And yet I still couldn't get there. I divide the book up into three sections:

     SECTION ONE: A lot of boring mumbo-jumbo.
     SECTION TWO: Sex!
     SECTION THREE: back to the boring mumbo-jumbo.

Anyway, I'm holding out hope that I can finish this book in the new year. Please tell me it gets better.

1. "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg

Renee and I went to see Kill Your Darlings, the movie about Allen Ginsberg when he was a student at Columbia University. While it was a decent movie--nothing too special--it did not have much to do with poetry. I was talking to Renee about the little bit I knew about "Howl," and how I had never finished it, and I decided to read it once for all.

I've never been much of a fan of Ginsberg, but then again I was never much of a fan of Whitman. "Howl," though being only 20 or so pages long, is a chore to read. (All those exclamation points! Oh, my!) It effectively captures the energy of a band of boehmian outsiders searching for enlightenment and inspiration in a world full of squares who could care less, and it made me homesick for the years in my early twenties when I wore a mohawk and devoted myself to my "art."

But there's plenty of poetry more insipiring to me than "Howl" and there are plenty of poets who I admire more than that weirdo Ginsberg. Still, it's amazing to think that this poem sparked such an obscenity conflict. Lay off Ginsberg, squaresveille 1950s America!

2. Perspectives on Modern World History: The Challenger Disaster

This book, which includes an essay of my own culled from this very blog, arrived at my house at about 6:00 on Christmas Eve night, just as we were about to sit down to our roast duck. It was a perfect little present, and I was so grateful for the UPS man who rang my bell and wished me a merry Christmas.

This is one in a series of reference books by Greenhaven Press that covers events of modern world history.  The books, intended for high school and college readers, cover topics from The Rwandan Genocide to the Holocaust to the attacks of September 11th. They all include color photographs, world maps, and lots of primary sources. I've only read this volume, but it was colorful, informative, and fun to read. I'd gladly sit down with a stack of others from this series.

As you might imagine, I know quite a bit about the Challenger disaster. However, I indeed learned a lot from this text. Some of the new information I learned concerns what happened to the seven astronauts in the time between the malfunction and their deaths, and it's just really, really heartbreaking. I won't go into it.

Boisjoly, holding the O-ring tubing that
failed on the booster rockets.
Also fascinating was the story of Roger Boisjoly, an engineer from the company that built Challenger's booster rockets, who was vociferous in his warnings that the O-rings in the rockets would fail at low temperatures and fought to postpone the mission. His advice was considered for a moment before being rejected. Boisjoly wouldn't even watch the launch, certain that the whole thing would explode on the launch pad.

I also learned that the famous words that Ronald Regan said in his televised address the night of the disasters, about the astronauts who "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God," were an allusion to the poem "High Flight" by John Magee. Who knew?

But the most important lesson I got from reading this book is that many people remember the Challenger explosion as being a particularly difficult episode to handle. History is a constant stream of tragedies and catastrophes that result in the loss of life, but there was something especially devastating about this disaster and these seven lives that were lost that affected many people the way it affected me.

3. Lots of poetry journals

As I have been focusing on reading and writing more poetry this last year, I have started subscribing to literary journals. The benefits are obvious: they're cheap, they're beautiful, they arrive in your mailbox, and they often contain some wonderful, inspiring poetry. My favorites so far are 32 Poems Magazine and A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.


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