Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Summer Reading List

When I was a kid, I would bike the blocks over to the library (making sure the creepy old man of the neighborhood wasn't following) and take my pick. I was a cautious reader, relying heavily on old favorites. I read a lot of outdated books- those books written before WWII, that the library was stocked with. Everyone always seemed happy in those, ready for adventure and ready for escapades. I still have a few of these old books in my own collection, picked up from library sales.

I find their allure is rather gone and their happy worlds a trifle tiring. I finally read "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" last year and loved it. I couldn't read it as a kid- I was too shaken by the deep depression that hung over the family in the book. Not surprising I couldn't read it then, after all, I was an undiagnosed child with deep depression myself. Sometimes things hit too close to home. And though I was an avid book reader and pedaled to the library more times than I could count, I never considered a Summer Reading List. No, summer was the time when you could read whatever you wanted and not be hampered by things like Ten Boom's "The Hiding Place" or Richardson's nauseating "The Peace Child." No more dull christian biographies or equally dull fiction. I read books by George MacDonald, allured by the idea of fish leading someone to a fairy woman and hardly understanding what Unitarian (as MacDonald was) could be. They were happy days when I poured over Beatrix Potter (even at twelve, I would sneak into the kid section and read them one by one), MacDonald, Agatha Christie and biographies on Mary, Queen of Scots, Katharine Hepburn (who knows) and Rose Wilder of Laura Ingalls Wilder fame. All this to say: this is the first summer I have created a list for myself of summer reads. There are only two entries but I think that's enough.

1. Jane Eyre: for month's now, St. John Rivers has been an illuminating figure in my life. He deeply believed that God would have him go be a missionary and yet, this belief only made him rigid and unhappy and in essence, a dangerous person. Stepping away from the branch of christianity I was born into, I can't help but seeing this in every person I encountered in that religion, including myself. Rivers allowed himself to be a person only in a very particular way (using God as the justification) and because of that decision, he refused to realize his self. So anyway, it's time to reread Jane Eyre and read over Rivers again and since I have a Norton Critical Edition of Jane Eyre, I'm ready to go!

2. Tess of the d'Ubervilles: I've held out on Hardy for a long time. Reading archaic dialect is not my idea of a pleasure reading but hells. I recently read a short story about a girl reading Tess and Wuthering Heights for Her summer reading and lets just say I've been inspired. Besides, if I read Tess, I know I'll understand the aforementioned short story in a much deeper way. And that's like swinging candy in front of a candy addict. So does anyone out there have a Summer Reading List too? Show and tell!

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The Willows Converse Among Themselves

I look across the river and catch sight of the willows, lost in their own world. They have no regard for me. They are speaking to each other in whispers so I hear nothing clearly but I see their long golden-yellow chains wavering over the water. It reflects their light.

There are presences in this world that are not human but sometimes, a human being comes across one of these presences and this is when poetry happens—when we interact with the strange divinity that moves through the world.

I caught sight of the willows and so complete were they within themselves, so beautiful to behold, that my mind stopped dead in its tracks and my heart eased. In the presence of an Other, human commotion becomes impossibly silly and pointless. The past and future converge into the present and there is only now.

I exhale the stress I’ve held this morning as I watch them. The willows, their long hair hanging over their faces, disregard me totally and completely and talk in their slow tree way, something to do with the air, water, and earth. I cannot hear much but what I do hear makes me recall there were other beings on this earth other than myself, older than myself. They exist in this time, in many times, living, dying, always reappearing. The willows hang their hair over the water as they have done for centuries, listening to the currents and moving with the breezes and eddies of the wind.

With a gratefully diminished self, I thank the universe for the ancient poetry that is the willow tree and move forward, reborn, into the bright day.

 

茶の煙柳と共にそよぐ也

the tea smoke

and the willow

together trembling

Issa

(Trans. David G. Lanoue)

Beautiful Dirty Summer

The thick green groves of cup-plants (silphium perfoliatumare) stand eight feet tall and are in their late summer glory. I look up at their bright yellow ray flowers and shield my eyes, the bright flowers sway so high and run so close to the sun. When I squint, the flowers darken into forms without color like the outline of the sun beating through closed eyelids.

I take a step nearer and peer into the leaves. Tiny pools of still water collect where the thick cup leaves meet the stems. It has not rained in the last few weeks and I’m surprised there is any water here at all. For leaves that are not broken or rotted, thimblefuls of water weigh without movement, rimmed with the detritus of summer: a fly’s wing, a wad of spider web, bits of dead grass and portions of pollen.

These tiny pools are water for goldfinches, tiny birds that flash by like rays of light. It hasn’t rained for weeks and this is left, tiny pools of water full of dirty summer. I consider drinking it. With one quick gulp, I’d drink the essence of a passing summer, imbibe what August means, and taste the bitter part of the growing season. This is living but rotting part that underlines all our lives but that no one likes to see, much less taste.

I shift my weight from foot to foot. The sun beats heavily down. The yellow flowers tumble in overhead breezes and the goldfinches live nearby, finding water where they can as the dry weeks pass. My hands drop to my sides and I pass back through the grass, ready for the shade. Perhaps when it rains and all the cup plants are full, I’ll take my drink along with the many others.