Bag of Books

In January I took the Goodreads book challenge. Goodreads is a terrific website for readers where you can read unsolicited reviews for books by other readers. I like it for the ideas of things to read. After I graduated and before I was hired to teach chess I was trying to stay in the groove I had created with my college studies. Goodreads has this challenge thing where you pledgee to read so many books in the coming year. I decided on 100. Two a week I figured, and all the time that gets away from you you can focus on literature.

So it is the end of June and I am at 54. I wanted to read mostly literature but it did not quite work out that way. There is quite a bit of good stuff, I started out with “To Kill a Mockingbird” and went from there. It is an interesting collection of books that is for certain. I read the first book of the “Lord of the Rings,” “Station 11” “Old Man and the Sea” “The Good Earth” in the first couple of months. I have to admit that I included “Green Eggs and Ham” that I read with the Harper and a curious George book too. I stopped buying books and started using the library again as well as reading Kindle Prime books and PDFs online. I found quite a few at the local Goodwill for a buck before the pandemic hit.

I revisited two important books from my young life, “Catch 22” and “Slaughterhouse 5,or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance With Death.” It was amazing to me how much I recalled after 40 years, and how the material seems so much different now to the 21st century me.I can say that after my firefighting career the destruction was much more poignant than when I read them as a child. “Slaughterhouse 5” was certainly the strongest book I have read this year. It was not the most fun. This time I was able to see past the comedic structure and feel Vonnegut’s pain quite clearly.

The best new books included “Station 11,” and “Everyone Brave is Forgiven.” Both were good for different reasons. I Liked but couldn’t finish “The Paying Guests.” The lesbian love story was well written but it just went on and on with so many details. The love story could have been Hetero and it would not have changed much either. It reminded me of how men and women describe things so differently. “The Overstory” came so highly recommended and that one as well I just couldn’t finish for some reason. Oh, and a free book from Kindle Prime “Where the Forest Meets the Stars” was a fun read as well.

I will only mention three more here, “Cat’s Cradle” is still another Vonnegut gem. Really almost anything by Vonnegut has merit. The two others are books that I was always aware of but never got around to reading. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” was almost worth reading for the taboo theme at one point or another, but it failed to do much for me in 2020. Classics are not always classics in other times. The world has passed that book by I think. “The Prophet” by Kahil Gibron, with the charcoal drawn face on the cover is a book I have seen my whole life and never read. I found a copy at the Goodwill and read the damn thing finally. I thought it a waste of paper. Lots of assertions and little in the way of demonstrating the truth of things. I am glad I am done with it finally.

It gets hard to find a steady source of books. The only brick and mortar close to me has these sale bags of books so I went and bought one. It was on sale for $9, I figured if I got three from the bag worth reading I was ahead of the game. That is my pledge for the next week, read at least three of the books from the bag. I will let you know how it goes. They just can’t all be crap.

Not so normal

Before the pandemic I had been taking the Harper somewhere several times a week. Grant’s Trail, Zoo, Science Center, Art Museum, History Museum, all these are free in St Louis. We have a routine, She gets in the car seat and I hand her the toys we keep in the truck. There is an elephant, a snake, a bolt with two washers and a nut, a king figurine and a plastic whistle. We also have a hand bell that we ring as we sing the alphabet song over and over and over. We go to where we decided to go that day and run around a while and then come home. It gives “Ba” (her name for her grandmother) a break. The energy generated by a toddler is amazing.

The pandemic shut us down completely for a while but her mother said we could go out today with precautions so we did. “I want to go to the Art Museum right now!” she said. There were many more people out and about than I anticipated and there were many more bare faces than I thought there would be. We didn’t do our full visit, we skipped most of the 20th century american art and we just walked through and didn’t name all the people in the pictures. We did see the stone girl on the second floor and the Harper’s favorite, the rainbow colored wall mural. The Harper likes it because it is huge and bright. There is always a female couple contemplating the mural when we go to look at it.

We wore our masks. Some folks weren’t and we saw a woman with a mask pushing a baby in a stroller that was not wearing anything. I don’t know what to think. The people were still her favorite artwork really. Afterwards we went outside and looked at the shiny metal tree and the ocean. It was a good day and nice to go back to one of our places.

Omens, hopefully

So I took the Harper (granddaughter) with me to drop a meal off to Marge. The wife had made the excellent meatloaf and some mashed potatoes and sent Marge a substantial amount. The wife has been sending Marge a meal every week since her husband passed. Marge has money and children and even though she is in her 90s she can care for herself just fine. But it is a gesture that surpasses that of a phone call and good wishes. Marge can probably get 4 meals out of what the wife sends each time. My wife likes to take care of people that way.

Since the pandemic the Harper and I have not been able to go on any of our little outings to the Zoo or the Science Center or Art Museum. “Go Pappa, Go” has been replaced with “I want to watch a Nastya,” or “Word Party, Papa.” Nastya is a little russian girl on youtube and Wordparty is a Netflix show for children. If you had little grandkids you might know about them.

But we take the meal to Marge and sit on her patio and talk for just a bit. We are social distanced, mostly. Marge laments not being able to hug children, the Harper and her own grandchildren, but it is what it is. All things considered it is acceptable as the pandemic replacement for human contact.

Today on the way over the Harper and I went through the drive-through at the wife’s bank. I couldn’t see the teller through the glare of the sun on the glass but she sounded young. Harper was overjoyed at the idea of things shooting through tubes from inside the bank to the truck. “Did you see that one? Zoom!”

At some point I told her they might giver her a lolly pop and she was pretty interested in that idea. I asked the teller if they gave lolly pops to good little girls and she said “only if they sign an autograph and tell me what color they want.” The Harper scrawled an H on an envelope and said purple and we sent it through the tube. When the Lolly Pop arrived I asked the teller her name so the Harper could thank a personality and not just a window and the teller said it was Destiny. She told the Harper she might be the cutest little girl she had ever seen. As we pulled past her window we could see she was pretty with biggish hair. She and the Harper waved and smiled at each other.

I had to laugh a little and hope. Destiny gave the Harper a Purple Lolly Pop. Nice.

Rhysling, the blind singer of the spaceways.

My wife had the lens of her left eye removed this morning and replaced with a little piece of plastic. It cost us $4000. We had them put in the lens that allows for seeing close as well as far even though it was quite a bit more. She can see better now than for many years now. Her glasses are useless to her.

I recall thinking as a young child how unfair it was that I was so near-sighted. I was one of those athletic kids, football, wrestling, a little fighting. I was always breaking glasses. I recall thinking how great it would be if my vision were normal. As an adult I got the surgery and haven’t worn glasses for 20 years. This is something that would have been counted as a miracle in another time and place.

It put me in the mind of Milton and his end of life blindness. Nothing was to be done then, as is still the case in many parts of the world. I got then to thinking of the idea of a blind bard and Heinlein’s character came to me. I hadn’t thought of that for years and read Heinlein as a teen that did not know that Milton was blind or that Heinlein was paying him homage.Let’s not even continue to Marvel using Chaos as a character.

It is all a re-write. Anyone that thinks humanity is going to evolve out of the meanness and destructiveness that is inherent to mankind is playing a poor song badly. All the stories and all the behavior is always going to remain the same because we are still the same animal. There is more to this but it is much too large a subject for this blog.

My head gets so full

I take a chess lesson for an hour on Sunday mornings from a russian chess teacher in Irkutsk. I chose her from the teachers listed on lichess. She has little english, that is to say, compared to the average american’s ability in russian, she understands quite a bit. Americans are so compartmentalized, they don’t seem to understand there is a whole world outside of the US. Almost everyone else you come in contact the world over has some ability in another language. Makes you wonder.

In the beginning I thought it would be more of a russian lesson that I was paying a chess teacher for, but she teaches chess for a living and is quite serious about teaching the game. We don’t talk about anything but chess. My russian is not really all that good, but we manage to communicate. I think my chess is getting better, but it is like studying a language, it takes a lot of time. I understand most of what she says, I can understand conversational russian fairly well if I know the subject matter, but responding is tough. It is easy to get discouraged in language training and chess as well.

Russian speakers are always so complimentary to americans who have a little russian. Unlike english in russia, russian is not widely studied in the US. It is easy to think you are something when you are really not. This chess lesson is my only contact with a source that I can’t immediately look up or reference if I don’t understand. It is hard. After the hour is up I am done. I can barely speak english at that point. An amazing thing to me is that she is charging 800 rubles for this. Right now that is about $12. I always want to pay her more for the trouble of dealing with the language barrier but I don’t know if I would offend her. Maybe when the Club opens up I can get a shirt to send to her.

Stevie is starting to think we are in the end times.

I talk to a guy on the phone now and again. We knew each other a for a couple of years generation ago now, 40 years it has been. At the time we were a part of what ended up being a cult, though when we joined when it was mostly still just a fellowship of christian athletes, the kind you find on every college campus anywhere.

That was an interesting time in both our lives. I have not been face-to face with him since that then but the internet lets you get ahold of anyone you want nowadays, and I called him on a whim a couple of years ago. We chat on the phone about life and children and relationships and what is going on in the world right now. He still believes in a god and is maybe a little right of most of America without being a red-hat Trumpeter. I am a little left, and sometimes wish the political cup could pass from me. Much has happened to the both of us since that time but he is still pretty much the guy I remember. Life has been interesting.

He said something the other day though, that he felt as if we were in the end times. I laughed and he mistook my laughing for ridicule, but I laughed because I sometimes feel that way too, but without an omniscient god behind it all. I launched into my bit about humans being a mono-culture and how all aspects of human society are completely alien to the evolved ape that we are. I talked a little about how humans had lived in small groups of 100 to 150 for millennia and only made cities the last 10k years or so and how our world is without meaning to a small group hominid. I don’t think he heard any more than he wanted. As always our conversation was pleasant and fun.

I don’t know though. We might be coming to and end. Vonnegut wrote in “A Man Without A Country,” that global warming was the earth’s immune system trying to throw off humanity. That is an interesting way to think of things. That Vonnegut was a deep think who presented everything as a joke. A really good comedian has to have an understanding of humans to be funny. All the great comedians are actually philosophers. With everything that is going on you have to find a way to laugh or hope dies.