Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Talk: Favorite Books About Books and Reading, posted by Nancy L. Agneberg

After writing the previous post, I realized there is a whole genre of books about books and reading. The books themselves give great pleasure on their own, but the hidden treasure is how one book leads to another. Reading about someone else's delight in a specific book often makes me want to read it myself and thus, the list grows longer and the shelves get fuller.
Here are some of my favorite books about reading and books:
1.     The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs. "The extreme reader, to coin a phrase, is a rare bird indeed. ('I have done what people do, my life makes a reasonable showing,' Lynne Sharon Schwartz writes. 'Can I go back to my books now?') Such people are born, not made, I think; or mostly born and only a little made. They take care of themselves; they always do go back to their books." 
2.      Howard's End is on the Landing, A Year of Reading from Home by Susan Hill. "A special relationship is formed with books that have been on our shelves for years without being read. They become known in a strange way, perhaps because we have read a lot about them, or they are books that are part of our overall heritage. I think I know a lot about Don Quixote. I do know a lot about Don Quixote. I have just never read it. I doubt if I ever will. But I know what people mean when they talk about tilting at windmills; I recognize a drawing of Quixote and Sancho Panza. I believe Cervantes to be a great European writer. Why do I believe that? What possible grounds have I for believing it? Other people's opinions, the fact that it has an honorable and permanent place in the canon? So, Don Quixote has an honorable, permanent place on my shelves. It would be wrong to get rid of it and, besides I should miss its red leather binding."
3.       Reading Lolita in Tehran, A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi. "The best fiction always forced us to question what we took for granted. It questioned traditions and expectations when they seemed too immutable. I told my students I wanted them in their readings to consider in what ways these works unsettled them, made them a little uneasy, made them look around and consider the world, like Alice in wonderland, through different eyes." 
4.       Walking a Literary Labyrinth, A Spirituality of Reading by Nancy M. Malone. "So what is it, this appetite for reading? I have often thought when watching nature programs on TV that the most basic act of animate nature is eating--not mating, which most animals do only when the female is in estrus. Everything living is eating something else in order to stay alive. That is why I read, I guess, to stay alive, to be as fully alive as I can be. In books, almost the whole world and everything in it are available to me to feed that life. The words we usually use to name that appetite--interest, curiosity--aren't good enough to describe the impulse and pleasure doesn't adequately describe its satisfaction. It is the need to know and understand--myself, others, the world beyond me, God--to ask about what is real and true and good and of value, about how we should live our lives. "
     Then of course, there are books of book lists like SuperLibrarian Nancy Pearl's Book Lust series and a teasingly fun book, Between the Covers, The Book Babes' Guide to a Woman's Reading Pleasures. There are many other books I have read and enjoyed in the past: Book and Islands in Ojibway Country, Traveling Through the Land of My Ancestors by Louise Erdrich; Ex Libris, Confessions of a Common Reader by Ann Fadiman; The Yellow-Lighted BookShop, A Memoir, A History by Lewis Buzbee: So Many Books, So Little Time, A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson; and a favorite from last year, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, My Year of Magical Reading by Nona Sankovitch. 
     And finally, there are the books waiting to be read, including The Reading Promise, My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma; A Jane Austen Education, How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship and The Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz; and a brand new title just reviewed in the New York Times this past Sunday, When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson. 

Are books about books and reading part of your personal reading canon? If so, tell me about your favorites.  I am always eager to add another title to the list. Happy Reading! 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Birthdays, Books, and Being, Spiritual Reflections on Time and Choices, posted by Nancy L. Agneberg

I recently celebrated my 64th birthday and am now in my 65th year,  as "kindly" pointed out by a teasing friend. I was celebrated in many ways and am so grateful for my loving family and friends. I must admit, however, that this birthday has raised some mild panic and anxiety in me. Of course, the days of our lives are always numbered, but the number of days left, while unknown, feel tangible.  I know, if I stay mindful, calm, and aware, these feelings can be a valuable teacher for me.  What am I noticing and what am I learning?
As always, I turn to books for guidance, but here's the dilemma. Too many books, too little time. I used to say that with glee and great anticipation, but now each book I choose to read feels more like a decision of what I won't have time to read.  I stand in front of my bookshelves after completing a book and agonize about what to read next. I want it to be absorbing and worthwhile. I want to know that when I read the last page, I will want to recommend it to my reading friends and will feel blessed by the words and thoughts. I want to be enriched for the time spent in its pages, its world and wisdom.  However, more and more often I read 20 or 30 pages and then toss the book in the "Help Yourself" basket in our first floor bathroom. I wonder, as I shop my shelves, if my tastes have changed. I am more attracted, for the first time in my life, to nonfiction than fiction, but nonfiction feels more like a commitment, and I am cautious about making the right commitment. 
     One recent read has complicated the issue, On ReReading by Patricia Meyer Spacks. http://www.hup.harvard.edu/ Spacks makes a strong case for rereading favorite books. 
      Reading a book for the first time can rarely if ever offer the kind of relaxed pleasure that comes with previous knowledge of how everything is going to turn out. It is equally true that reading a book for the first time rarely stimulates the kind of subtle discriminations that become possible when much in the text feels familiar. (p. 34)
      Second and subsequent readings can intensify the delight by diminishing concern for how the plot will work out...We want to see more clearly the steps by which the plot achieves its intricacies or we look forward to re-encountering a delightful character, or we hope to revel in the language of a narrative when we no longer need to pay such close attention to events. (p. 140)

     Oh great, not only do I have shelves of books I haven't yet read for the first time, but now I am thinking about all the books I want to reread: all of Jane Austen's books AGAIN, Possession and also The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt, the Harry Potter books,  Madeleine L'Engle's memoirs, Romantic Education by Patricia Hampl and many, many more. 
   There's another problem. Bookstores. I love good bookstores and want to support them, especially since independent bookstores are not much in evidence these days. Last week I made a pilgrimage to Garrison Keillor's bookstore Common Good, http://www.commongoodbooks.com/which has recently opened in a new and larger location in St Paul. Yes, I came away with a new pile to add to existing piles. Never mind that only days earlier I had been to Arcadia Books in Spring Green, WI http://readinutopia.com/and had helped boost their daily profit. Plus, I am thrilled to say that several people gave me books for my birthday. All terrific titles that tantalize me with taunts of "Read me next." 
     Theoretically, I have more time to read and that is a good thing, but there is so much more to read and that includes blogs and other online material and newspapers and magazines. I have always been addicted to magazines, but there is simply not enough time left to devour it all, and I am painfully aware of that fact.  
      I turn to Thich Nhat Hanh for advice.
                    In; out.
                    Deep; slow.
                    Calm; ease.
                    Smile; release.

Ah, I am ready to choose my next book and to live my 65th year, but   I must admit I wonder what will be the last book I read!  

     So what's on your Book Bucket List? What do you want to reread and what books are waiting to be read for the first time? I would love your list, even though it makes me shudder to think about how my own book lists and piles could grow as a result. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Melting Down in the Apple Store, The Spiritual Practice of Going Deeper, posted by Nancy L. Agneberg

Sometimes it's not easy being a spiritual director! A week or so ago a friend, while exercising at Curves, shared a recent story about losing her temper. She told the story in great detail, laughing a bit at herself and the situation, but also showing some righteous indignation about the precipitating issue. I listened quietly, but was then asked to comment on what had been shared. After taking a deep breath and asking myself, "Do I really want to go there?", I responded.  "More than likely there is an underlying reason you lost your temper at this time." "You're probably right," my friend agreed, and then I was prodded to offer ways to do the necessary discovery work -- on the spot spiritual direction. 
     I suggested time for quiet reflection to ask herself the question, "What's underneath what happened?" and to keep repeating the question after each answer.  "What's underneath that?" "And what's underneath that?" When one hits the core of the issue, it is clear. Oh, and I laughingly suggested she make an appointment with me!
Turning the Question on Myself
     Little did I know how soon I was going to have the opportunity to dive deep into that question myself.
     Yesterday as part of getting to know my new MAC Air laptop, I had a one to one session at the Apple Store and early in the session my entire address book on the laptop and on my iPhone were deleted. I was stunned, and my teacher was mortified. The details aren't important, except that something similar had happened when data was transferred from my old phone to the new phone. That time, however, the technicians were not apologetic and only said that with the cloud this would not happen again. Well, it did, and I sat there in utter disbelief. Initially, I remained calm. I didn't lose my temper. I didn't rant and rave. I didn't throw my purse at the nice young man. No, instead, as he attempted to explain what happened and what we might do about it, I felt the tears form. I told myself I would cry later, but with each apologetic expression, I felt myself enter the no-man's land of crying in public. Soon I was flooded with tears --not sobbing or heaving, but my voice was shaky, and dabbing at my eyes with my handkerchief solved nothing. I was embarrassed and apologized to this young man whom I sure wondered what to do with this out of control old woman. 
     True, there was reason to be upset, but even in the moment I knew the reason for the tears was deeper than what had just occurred in the Apple Store. There is always more to the story than the story. After leaving the store, I recovered and continued with my day, a day of many errands. and frankly, I was pleased that I interacted well with all I encountered. I fixed a good dinner at the end of the day, and I slept well without replaying the scene at the Apple Store or agonizing about how to deal with the loss of data.
     This morning, however, the work began. After sitting quietly and then reading a chapter in Thich Nhat Hanh's You are Here, Discovering the Magic in the Present Moment and a few pages in Choosing Happiness, Life and Soul Essentials by Stephanie Dowrick. I opened my journal and I began to write.
     "I cried instead of showing anger, instead of throwing a temper tantrum. In a way I  behaved myself,  but still I let my teacher know that what had happened was no small thing. I wonder what would have happened if I had expressed my anger instead.
     I cried because I felt betrayed. I trusted him -- his knowledge and expertise and experience in an area where I feel vulnerable.
     I cried because of the lost time: the wasted session and the need for another one, the time it will take to recreate what had been lost. Using time well is a huge value for me, and I resent when time is wasted. And more and more I realize the passage of time.
     I cried because I have not cried for a long time and lately, there have been times when I have shown great calm, but underneath have felt myself swirling and swaying."
     That's when I started getting to the core. Underneath the emotion in the Apple Store are complicated questions about retirement and the timing of selling this house and buying a house in St Paul with getting an apartment here in-between. I dug down to questions of regret and forgiveness and trust and choosing love over fear.  
     Big stuff! Much bigger than what has happened to my address book. The kind of stuff I need to continue to excavate and no doubt will write about more in this blog. I leave you with this quote:
     If you are not facing one of your tigers, it's already eating you
       John J. Scherer
       Five Questions That Change Everything

PS: I have just returned from an another one on one appointment and while all is not perfect, there is a workable improvement. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Spiritual Lessons From The Bunny, posted by Nancy L. Agneberg

The mystery is solved. My husband is the Easter Bunny. Well, maybe not THE Easter Bunny, but he takes on the role for an hour or so at our daughter's neighborhood annual Easter Egg hunt, and I think you will agree he is adorable. He says, other than not being able to see well and getting terribly hot inside the rabbit fur, it is a good gig.  Hearing "It's the Easter Bunny," as he saunters up the street waving his greetings followed by hugs from delighted children, even the shyest and youngest, means he will more than likely volunteer to be the bunny again next year. Besides, he doesn't have to talk and the hugs from the moms is a bonus benefit!  
     Yes, I know the Easter bunny, a symbol of fertility, is a pagan tradition, but as with many pagan traditions, it has been added alongside religious holiday celebrations and remembrances, and need not detract from the core of Easter's resurrection message. The Saxons' honored the goddess of spring and fertility, Eastre whose sacred animal was the hare, and it seems no accident to me that the Christian celebration of the resurrected Christ should be in the same season as spring. 
      "Spring and Easter are almost synonymous. The new life of spring, such as the flowers springing up in our gardens, is a symbol fully realized in the springing up of divine life in the inner depths of our hearts. The season of spring and the mystery of Easter, celebrated together, bring us from sorrow and death to the affirmation of hope and the experience of the renewal of life in our daily existence."
                A Monastic Year, Reflections from A Monastery
                Brother Victor-Antoine D'Avila-Latourette 

     The Easter Bunny, as part of the springtime and Easter renewal,  reminds me to welcome God in every form, even one in a bunny costume.    

Thursday, April 5, 2012

One More Journal for the Shelf, The Spiritual Practice of Reading My Journal, posted by Nancy L. Agneberg

Thursday, April 5, 2012. My last entry in my current journal, and how appropriate that this entry commemorates the 9th anniversary of my mother's death.  I wrote, "The actual date no longer seems quite as important, but missing her is always on the rim of my life, and her presence is in my very core. She is with me like light and gauzy sheer curtains, but also like a missed meal. I sometimes feel hungry for her." 
         The first entry in this current journal was on January 3. "Here I am. I have been home tending for days, it seems, but moving the house into the new year is also moving me into the new year. I don't feel as if I can clear my inner space until I clear my outer space." Soon after this entry I begin my adventure with this new blog. And here I am.
     I have kept journals for over 35 years with few gaps longer than a week or so, and one thing I have learned over the years is that reading my journals is as important as writing them. Whenever I come to the end of a journal, I remember a woman in one of my journal writing classes who gave herself a birthday present to spend the entire day re-reading her journals. She was overwhelmed by what she learned about herself and her life and thereby, added the practice of re-reading to her journal writing habit.  I whole-heartedly endorse that practice. And so I read, and I noted, along with the many events of these busy months, what seem to be the key words and phrases during this time period. 
             Present and Presence
             I am clear.
             I am calm.
             What can the eagle see?
             There is more than one good and right answer. 
     I am aware that I use these words and phrases in conversation and writing.  I appear to be living with these words, investigating and exploring them, rehearsing them, uncovering their many layers. What do these words say about how I live in the world? What direction do they give me? How do these words participate in my ongoing intention (There is that word again!) of deepening my relationship with God, the Sacred, the Holy?
     Today is Maundy Thursday, the night during Holy Week designated in the Christian tradition as the Last Supper.  Jesus gathered his disciples to celebrate the Passover meal, and he gave them a new commandment.
               Love one another.
               And you're to love one another the way I have loved you.
               This is the way all will know that you're my disciples:
               that you truly love one another.
                                  John 13:34-35
Such important words--no matter what your religious affiliation or faith tradition or life philosophy may be. Love one another. One way or another, what I write about in my journal and what's revealed to me as key words and phrases is all about love, about learning to love myself as I am loved and to love one another. 
     What are the key words and phrases in your life right now? I invite you to comment on this post and share your key words and phrases. How do your words reflect who you are and whom you desire to be? Are they words that deepen your understanding of yourself as a spiritual being? Are they words of love? 
    My prayer for you is that today and every day be days of love.