Complete Poems 1904-1962 by E.E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage, 5/5
By turns beautiful and baffling, these poems seem less made to be read than absorbed. Many passages that stoutly resisted my best attempts at analysis revealed their meaning at a careless second glance, like stepping back from a painting far enough for the brushstrokes to blend together. Brushing aside petty rules of grammatical convention, Cummings covers the whole spectrum of poetic possibility, from grotesque to delicate, brutal to erotic (sometimes both at the same time–no judgment here), simple to incomprehensible.
Here’s one of my favorites that captures most of the things I love about Cummings:
the great advantage of being alive
(instead of undying)is not so much
that mind no more can disprove than prove
what heart may feel and soul may touch
–the great(my darling)happens to be
that love are in we,that love are in we
and here is a secret they never will share
for whom create is less than have
or one times one than when times where–
that we are in love,that we are in love:
with us they’ve nothing times nothing to do
(for love are in we am in i are in you)
this world(as timorous itsters all
to call their cowardice quite agree)
shall never discover our touch and feel
–for love are in we are in love are in we;
for you are and i am and we are(above
and under all possible worlds)in love
a billion brains may coax undeath
from fancied fact and spaceful time–
no heart can leap,no soul can breathe
but by the sizeless truth of a dream
whose sleep is the sky and the earth and the sea.
For love are in you am in i are in we
Why I read it: I hoped to find more poems like his famous “i carry your heart with me,” which I did! The following poem reminded me of it most because of its sweetness and simplicity:
skies may be blue;yes
(when gone are hail and sleet and snow)
but bluer than my darling’s eyes,
spring skies are no
hearts may be true;yes
(by night or day in joy or woe)
but truer than your lover’s is,
hearts do not grow
nows may be new;yes
(as new as april’s first hello)
but new as this our thousandth kiss,
no now is so
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, 5/5
All my words are insufficient to convey how exquisite this semi-autobiographical novel is; I am reduced to a string of mere adjectives…raw, beautiful, funny, insightful, uplifting, bittersweet…none of which can fully capture this story of two sisters, one a struggling writer with a history of failed relationships and the other a beautiful concert pianist who possesses everything happiness requires…except the will to live. Intensely personal, defiantly human, undeniably humorous, this book is a masterpiece and a privilege to read.
Why I read it: The first chapter is in McSweeney’s No. 48.
Beach Stones, photography by Josie Iselin, text by Margaret W. Carruthers, 5/5
Great photography and informative descriptions make for a book that is as beautiful as it is interesting.
Why I read it: a random library find.
The Best Life Stories: 150 Real-life tales of resilience, joy and hope–all 150 words or less! collected by Reader’s Digest, 5/5
I enjoyed the wide variety of writing styles, perspectives and meaningful experiences represented in this concise collection. The fact that these stories were collected from the general public via Facebook just goes to show that you don’t have to be a famous writer, poet or personality to express beautiful insights about the human experience.
Why I read it: found it while wandering through the library looking for something light and inspirational to read while cutting weight for my first MMA fight.
The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, translated by William Scott Wilson, 5/5
It is absolutely stunning how relevant this book remains to today’s students of combat sports, though it was written almost 400 years ago for Japanese swordsmen. I recognize so many of the techniques and concepts that Musashi describes from my own kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and MMA sparring experiences. In fact, I believe such review and recognition is likely where this work’s main interest and value lies–I certainly don’t feel able to learn subtle martial arts concepts from a book (certainly not from a picture-less book!), but it is fascinating to see what I have learned from my coaches and through experience reflected on the page. Perhaps this is why the ever-practical Musashi ends each lesson with a comment like “You should make efforts in this,” or “You should practice this well.”
Why I read it: I came across Musashi’s “21 Rules of Life” online, read a bit about him and remembered that though I had given my brother a beautifully illustrated copy of The Book of Five Rings many years ago, I had never actually gotten around to reading it myself.
Big Mushy Happy Lump: A “Sarah’s Scribbles” Collection by Sarah Andersen, 5/5
I love the Sarah’s Scribbles webcomic and this book is more of the same laughs. My boyfriend looked at the first illustration, of a small girl with big eyes cozied up in a comically huge hoodie, and was like “This is written about you?” Then he turned to the first comic, about procrastination, and was like “This is written about you!”
Why I read it: saw it advertised on the webcomic site.