Hold It All


Category: Reading

The Good News of Rereading, 4.2.2017

Tasha Rutledge and I had class together when she was a freshman at SLU in 2007. We read The Book of Mev in that class, and many years later she told me she reads it once a year to re-instill a sense of urgency in her life.


I’m discussing Svetlana’s Alexievich’s Secondhand Time with Lori Hirst and Helen Houlle later today. One of the fascinating threads in this oral history is the emphasis on books in Soviet culture…


My mother wasn’t alone, all of her friends were like this, too–the first generation of Soviet intelligentsia who had grown up on Chernyshevsky, Dobrolyubov, Nekrasov … on Marxism … Could you imagine my mother sitting down and embroidering something or going out of her way to decorate our house with porcelain vases or little elephant figurines … Never! That would be a pointless waste of time. Petit bourgeois nonsense.  The most important thing is spiritual labor… Books… You can wear the same suit for twenty easts, two coats are enough to last a lifetime, but you can’t live without Pushkin or the complete works of Gorky. You’re part of the grand scheme of things, there’s a grand scheme… That’s how they lived…

In tenth grade, I had an affair. He lived in Moscow. I went to see him, we only had three days. In the morning, at the station, we picked up a mimeographed copy of Nadezhda Mandelstam’s memoirs, which everyone was reading at that time. We had to return the book the next day at four in the morning. Hand it off to someone on a train passing through town. For twenty-four hours, we read without stopping–we only went out once, to get milk and a loaf of bread. We even forgot to make out, we just handed the pages to one another. All of this happened in some kind of fever, a stupor… Read the rest of this entry »

A Writer and His Readers

And nothing would make me happier than having made it possible for some of my readers to recognize their own experiences, difficulties, questionings, sufferings, and so on, in mine, and to draw from that realistic identification, which is quite the opposite of an exalted projection, some means of doing what they do, and living what they live, a little better.

–Pierre Bourdieu, Sketch for a Self-Analysis



A big library really has the gift of tongues
and vast potencies of telepathic communication.
Northrop Frye


Wilder Love by April Ulinski

Started rereading The Book of Mev last night. Partially because I needed her reminder that being academic does not mean being disengaged from the world

and from the people behind all those ideas.

Also because I wanted to be near Mev
Though I have never known her.

Thank you for sharing her,
And thank you for sharing you
And the love between the two of you

love draws new dimensions of us love comes to surprise us
Out of our small safe place
Into the wild home we didn’t even think to ask for.

Maybe love is wilder when it is not just for us
But the community too
And loss is love’s coda.

“Do this in remembrance of me”



Interrupting My Life

Scan 39Scan 40

Alex Gaynor worked this past year with the Jesuit Volunteers and is currently a campus minister at Saint Joseph University in Philadelphia. She participated in the Be in Love with Yr Life and Writing Rejuvenation online classes.

Worth Reading

Dear Irina,

Here are some books that may speak to a few of your questions, interests,  and enthusiasms.  I’ll send more later on if you want….



Daniel Berrigan, Isaiah: Spirit of Courage, Gift of Tears. This Jesuit priest was a formative influence on me my senior year in college. His commentary on the biblical prophet Isaiah has many lines worthy of meditation, like this: “It cannot be said too often that the works of justice, the vocation of the Servant, are the preeminent form of honoring and glorifying God. They are true worship.”

Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. Buddhist teacher’s practical wisdom for working with fear and developing compassion. She observes, “Just as alchemy changes any metal into gold, Bodhicitta [awakened heart] can, if we let it, transform any activity, word, or thought into a vehicle for awakening our compassion.”

James Cone, Martin, Malcolm and America: A Dream or a Nightmare? Comparative study of two African-American leaders in the freedom struggle. In this riveting study, Cone stresses, “We should never pit them against each other. Anyone, therefore, who claims to be for one and not the other does not understand their significance for the black community, for America, or for the world. We need both of them and we need them together. Malcolm keeps Martin from being turned into a harmless American hero. Martin keeps Malcolm from being an ostracized black hero. Both leaders make important contributions to the identity of African-Americans and also, and just as importantly, to white America and Americans in general.” Read the rest of this entry »

Summer Reading, 2009

I recently found this in an old file…



Annping Chin, The Authentic Confucius: A Life of Thought and Politics
David Hinton, Selected Poems of Wang Wei
D.C. Lau, trans. Mencius
Andrew Plaks, trans., Chung Yung
Ivan Morris, Madly Singing in the Mountains: An Appreciation and Anthology of Arthur Waley
Stephen Ruppenthal, The Path of Direct Awakening
Simon Winchester, The Man Who Loved China
Mao Zedong, Little Red Book


Noam Chomsky, American Power and the New Mandarins
Noam Chomsky, What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World–Interviews with David Barsamian
Donaldo Macedo, ed., Chomsky on Mis-Education
Peter Mitchell and John Schoeffel, eds., Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky
Assaf Khoury, ed. Inside Lebanon: Journey to a Shattered Land with Noam and Carol Chomsky Read the rest of this entry »

For Example, The Brothers Karamazov, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, and The Diamond Sutra

“The fault I find with our journalism is that it forces us to take an interest in some fresh triviality or other every day, whereas only three or four books in a lifetime give us anything that is of real importance.”

–Charles Swann, in Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, pp. 27-28
trans. Moncrieff, and Kilmartin

Books I’ve Given to Others

I wrote this for a former student in late 2010, who wanted a list of recommended titles. I decided to give her a list of books I saw fit, for one reason or another, to give to others.

Woolf, The Common Reader, 2 v.
Roy, The God of Small Things
Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living
Kolsbun, Peace: The Biography of a Symbol
Proust, Cities of the Plain
Farmer, Partner to the Poor: A Paul Farmer Reader [3 people]
Young-Bruehl, Why Arendt Matters
Kerouac, The Dharma Bums: 50th Anniversary Edition
Easwaran, Gandhi the Man: The Story of His Transformation [several people]
Bei Dao, The Rose of Time: New and Selected Poems (Bilingual Edition)
Mahouz, The Cairo Trilogy [3 people, one in Ramallah]
Zamora, Riverbed of Memory
Washington, Haiku (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets)
Proust, The Fugitive
Hachmyer, Alternatives to the Peace Corps: A Guide to Global Volunteer Opportunities [at least ten people]
Steiner, After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation [2 people, polyglots]
Musico, Cunt: A Declaration of Independence [3 people]
Nhat Hanh, Being Peace [let’s just say, “many”]
Bolaño, The Savage Detectives [thanks to Erin, at Left Bank Books]
Chomsky, The Essential Chomsky
Arendt, The Jewish Writings
Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (Pevear & Volokhonsky translation) [5 people]
Kerouac, You’re a Genius All the Time
Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities
Neruda, 20 Love Poems and a Cry of Despair
Cao Ngoc Phuong, Learning True Love: How I Learned and Practiced Social Change in Vietnam
Easwaran, Take Your Time: Finding Balance in a Hurried World
Gerassi, Jean-Paul Sartre: Hated Conscience of His Century, Volume 1: Protestant or Protester?
Zinn, Emma: A Play
Beavoir, Letters to Sartre
Roy, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers
Ophir, The Order of Evils: Toward an Ontology of Morals
Arenas, The Color of Summer 
Follmi, Wisdom: 365 Thoughts from Indian Masters (Offerings for Humanity)
Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East [3 people]
Proust, Swann’s Way
Arenas, El Color del Verano
Besancenot & Löwy, Che Guevara: His Revolutionary Legacy
Eliot, Middlemarch
Proust, Within a Budding Grove
Robertson, The New Laurel’s Kitchen
Johnstone, Impro: Improvisation and the Theater [4 people]
Barks,  The Soul of Rumi [4 people]
El Libro de Mevelina [a couple score]
Aristide, In the Parish of the Poor: Writings from Haiti [5 people]
Slezkine, The Jewish Century
Brainard, I Remember [4 people]
Maurer, One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way [3 people]
Miller, Henry Miller on Writing
Wang, One China, Many Paths
Proust, The Guermantes Way
M., The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna
Galeano, Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone
Cott, Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews [3 people]
Matisoff, Blessings, Curses, Hopes, and Fears: Psycho-Ostensive Expressions in Yiddish
Sachs, The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824
Gilbert, Eyes in Gaza
Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer [7 people, all pre-med]
Goldberg, Writing down the Bones [8 people, going back to 1988]
Zinn, The Bomb
Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
Adonis, Selected Poems
Proust, The Captive
Nhat Hanh, Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices [3 people, at least]
Hirschman, Open Gate: An Anthology of Haitian Creole Poetry (Creole and English Edition)
Library of America edition, Walt Whitman, Poetry and Prose [2 people]
Waldman, Fast Speaking Woman: Chants and Essays [3 poets]
Ellsberg, ed. The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day
Proust, Time Regained
McQuade, An Unsentimental Education: Writers and Chicago [2 people]
Carson, A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen Read the rest of this entry »