Books, Books, Books!

I apologize for my lack of posts in the past couple of weeks, but life has gotten crazy recently. But now I’m back and hopefully will have a few months of regular updates until things get crazy again. We’ll see.

A couple of weeks ago, I was given some free furniture from my aunt who is upgrading, and it included a couple of bookshelves, which when added to the bookshelf we bought from a friend moving last summer, allowed us to finally unpack all of our books and CDs, which was about ten boxes. And this is after we’d weeded through and removed several boxes to pass on and donate. So yes, we’re crazy about books. For me, I really do like to re-read series, and there are some series I’ve revisited so many times in my life, so it was like unpacking old friends. I still had several books I had saved from my youth that I put up in my son’s room, as we started reading chapter books together (a chapter a night, plus two picture books before bed – his first chapter book was The Little Prince). I’m excited to share the books I loved with him, and also it is definitely intentional that I am reading books with both male and female protagonists. I want him to love stories about every body.

Anyway, my big mother’s day gift that I asked for, since we’re still recovering financially, was time to alphabetize the books. So I did that. It’s the first time all of our books are together and organized since 2011. And 2010-2011 was the first time we ever had our full collection together in one spot. So it feels good. Because I’m a dork, I wanted to start reading through the shelf, reading one book in between two works on my Kindle (which is generally heavier works or indie books or whatever I can get for free that sounds interesting) but couldn’t decide if I wanted to start at the beginning or the end, so my husband suggested doing a random letter generator and I got ‘R’. So I just finished a short story collection of Kim Stanley Robinson called The Planet on the Table which I had never read. It was good. Really deep. There was one particular story that was a “what-if” about American WWII military involved in dropping the atomic bombs in Japan that dealt heavily with the notion of personal responsibility. It’s an important question to ask – who holds more responsibility? Who has more blood on their hands? The person giving the orders or the person pushing the button/pulling the trigger? To say “I was just following orders” does not erase culpability. Ever. But which carries the bigger burden?

I don’t get to read as much as I did when the baby was nursing more, but I still manage 10-20 minutes a day usually. Sometimes a little more. So now that the short story collection is done, I’m going back to the two I was flipping back and forth on the Kindle – a book on Qigong energy which I’ve been reading in segments and incorporating bits of what I’m learning into my little time for meditation I still manage to squeeze in during the week and Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea, volume 1 of 3 volumes, which is super long and intense but really good. I got up to a section on art that I’m going to do a post about eventually, but I don’t know how to cut down the section in the book. I’m about halfway through both of those, and then when I finish them, I’ll move on to re-reading the Harry Potter series, which I haven’t touched since I was given the 7th book when it first came out. So that will be a fun palate cleanser in between the heavier works I’m tackling.

So yeah, I’m a lifelong learner and I love exploring topics deeply, but I also enjoy disappearing into a good work of fiction. I’m glad that I am going to try to balance both moving forward. It may help inspire me to start writing fiction again.

A Few Book Recommendations

I used to be a voracious reader. A couple of years ago, I noticed that I wasn’t reading as much as I had in the past. It started in grad school, then working crazy hours, becoming a mother, trying to create… somehow, there wasn’t much time left for reading. When I noticed I was reading less, I made an effort to read for at least 10-15 minutes every day, and very rarely missed, and now one of the nice things about having a nursing baby, though, is that I have a lot more time to read in short chunks. And I’ve been trying to read a wide variety of books. I’ll always love fiction, but I’ve been really alternating between fiction and non-fiction, old books I’ll get off of the Project Gutenberg site (and as soon as I have a more stable income again, I intend to donate) and new books from authors that I “meet” online… everything that might expand my mind and make me think.

I had two books that helped me a lot leading up to my losing my job and in the aftermath that followed.

The first is Coffee for Consciousness by Vito Mucci. This is one of those times that soft marketing techniques worked. Vito and I were in a Facebook group together and I had liked some of the excerpts and memes he had posted and made a few comments, he friended me, and I’ve enjoyed his life views for a long time before purchasing the book. Going through the stress I was, reading this book when I did was perfect. It has a very conversational tone to it, which I enjoyed because it really feels like you’re just sitting down and having a conversation about life and the way humans and the universe work. The book just gave me some really strong reminders about how to look at the situation I was finding myself in, and also some new perspectives that really helped me to face my “big meeting” with the strength and conviction in myself that I deserved to give myself.

The second is Arthur Schopenhaur’s On the Basis of Morality, which you can find for free from many sites online. I chose to read it as a follow up to my tackling Kant a while back, and I was actually chuckling out loud at moments while reading, which I did not expect from a 19th century essay on ethics. And reading the response of the committee at the end (because he wrote the essay to enter it into a contest) was priceless. Even if you don’t have the same sense of humor that I do, though, it is an incredibly worthwhile read because of the argument for morality being based on compassion and for his views on ego and self-will. It gave me so much to think about about humanity as a collective group that I was able to not think about myself and my problems. And in turn, I have the feeling that my writing is going to taking a deeper look into things, which is cool.

How about you? Read anything lately that really makes you think?

Some Thoughts On “Democracy Incorporated”

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I finished reading “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism” by  the now deceased Sheldon S. Wolin. It is written as a series of thoughtful essays, and it provided me with some new thoughts and facts to chew over. If you actually think America is still (or ever really was) a democracy, then I highly recommend reading this book with wide open eyes. It may help you start questioning our modern lives with a little bit more scrutiny. The notion of inverted totalitarianism is an apt describer of our current state, I think.

However, I don’t think the author went far enough. He points out the problems without really looking into the mechanics or offering any concrete solutions. He is almost an apologist for the Democratic party, effectually laying the evil, power-hungry blame on the Republican elite while claiming the Democrats were merely weak and ineffectual, and almost willfully ignoring the Clinton years (there was maybe one paragraph in the entire book). To ignore the fact that the ruling elite has it’s fingers in both parties is perilous to enacting any real change. And I don’t know if he really kept his blinders on and believed that if only the Democrats were stronger, everything would’ve turned out different, or if it was a deliberate attempt on his part.

Anyway, again, the book is still relevant today, and I would have been interested to know Sheldon’s true thoughts of the years he lived during Obama’s administration. He’s someone I would have loved to have drinks with and really probe his mind.

Tricking Yourself Into Creativity

I am ashamed to admit that it is almost November, and aside from necessary reading for work, I’ve only managed to read three books this year. Me, who used to devour 1000+ page novels over a weekend, have had to limit myself, first since returning to work after having a child (oh, those handful of weeks of maternity leave, I read SO much, propping a book or the Kindle one-handed while nursing my son and holding him while he slept) and even further restricting myself since freelancing. It becomes a choice, after all – do I take this twenty minutes to read or to write my own work? Do I use the time my son is watching a show to try to catch up on housework that’s fallen behind, do I read, or do I just sit and cuddle him for a while? Do I use my precious time that I carve to occasionally soak in the tub to reconnect with myself or to escape in a book? And, this past year, book time has been losing.

But one of the three books I’ve managed to read was Steve Martin’s autobiography Born Standing Up. It’s a few years old now, but it was a relatively quick and fascinating read. This quote has been sticking with me.

I was in a conversation a few years ago with a friend, the painter Eric Fischl. We were comparing psychoanalysis with the making of art. I said, ‘Both require explorations of the subconscious, and in that way they are similar’. He agreed, thought about it, then added, ‘But there is a fundamental difference between the two. In psychoanalysis, you try to retain a discovery; in art, once the thing is made, you let it go’. He was right. I had not looked at or considered my stand-up career until writing this memoir; I had, in fact, abandoned it. Moving on and not looking back, not living in the past, was a way to trick myself into further creativity.

There is something in the phrase “trick myself into further creativity” that rings so true to me. The impetus to delve into the subconscious for inspiration, tapping that to actually do the physical creation itself, and then the risk in sharing that with others often requires some trickery. I often play mind-games on myself to convince myself to do what I should be doing, which (and I think I’ve mentioned this before) is vastly preferable to my playing mind-games on other people. It’s this strange kind of inward dance to shut the inner critic down, at least for a little while.

Even tonight, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to post here, but I told myself I had to post something. And here it is, after midnight, and I’m posting someone else’s quote because I didn’t feel quite up to being vulnerable enough to share any of my works-in-progress or older works. So I talked myself into “something is better than nothing” and am posting this. A little vulnerable is better than no vulnerability, but I still feel like I’m falling short lately on a lot of fronts. I think I’m just tired. But I continue to trick myself and create, and that makes everything worthwhile somehow.

If You are a Writer of Stories, You Should Focus on Storytelling

I’ve read several blogs lately that as a self-published author, you need to get ‘good karma’ by reading and reviewing other self-published works, you need to be active on forums, and you need to help spread the word about other indie authors.  My biggest issue is this: if you are a writer of fiction, your time should be spent writing fiction.  If you are someone who loves to read books and then write reviews of them, then you should be a book reviewer.  I’m not saying you can’t do both (look at me try to write, make music, and create art) but they are two VERY separate ways of writing.  And if you ARE a writer of fiction, you probably shouldn’t be taking the time to go out of your way to read some nebulous magic number of self-published books to review them.  You should be reading works that will inspire you to better your own writing, which may include other self-published ones, and you should be writing the best stories that you can and honing your craft.  Do actors in independent movies have an obligation to watch other independent films and then go on IMDB and review their fellow actors’ performances?  No!  It doesn’t mean they don’t support independent films at all.

Quite frankly, indie authors don’t need this additional stress or guilt added to them.  As an indie author, it may build me some goodwill if I do reviews for other authors, but it may not.  It’s more important in the long run to be courteous and caring and honest and genuinely interested in the people you interact with, whether they be readers or other writers or friends or coworkers or strangers you meet in the coffeehouse.  Real interactions will both help your writing and build your fan base far more than writing reviews for other books.

That being said, if you read a book you love, regardless of whether it’s indie or not, you should write a fast review of it on Amazon (and Smashwords if applicable), if you’ve got the time.  Send a tweet or retweet.  And if you read a self-published book that you hate, maybe consider not leaving a review.  But don’t feel pressure to do so.  Don’t let people prey on your insecurities.  Do the best work you can, constantly improve yourself, and be honest.