December 31st, 2018

Books!

And, so ...

2018 was a horrible year.

So many of my fears were realized, and in ways that were far worse than I imagined.

As those of you who have been paying attention may have noticed, after numerous years of writing dozens of book reviews, I managed just one this year, back at the end of January. This arose from a number of factors, all conspiring to silence me. Of course, I did make a valiant effort to at least blog something during July and August, doing daily posts over those months, and four days into September, but that also suddenly stopped, with just a couple of echoes happening in the week following, up until now.

Again, those “following along at home” for a while will realize, the core issue was that we finally “lost our home” (or, “had to sell”, which I guess is a different thing, but less emotionally accurate), after my having dreaded that coming to be for nearly a decade.

The dynamics of this were truly horrible. I have always been a “keeper” of things, needing the physical reminders to keep the past alive. I also (as one might imagine) had built up quite a library over the years, somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500-3,000 books. My wife was quite adamant that these were not going to be moving with us when we relocated, so I spent a great deal of the first few months of the year getting my library boxed and transferred to a storage locker, along with my photography (about 24 linear feet of binders), and music (both records and CDs).

I was still working on sorting and boxing things the day the “junk” people came to haul out everything that I hadn't been able to get to storage. This (the last weekend of March) was when it really got ugly. I had been putting things that “really meant something to me” (out of the thousands of items that had enough significance to me that I had kept them for years) into a couple of boxes, and had done a box of books I'd read but not reviewed yet (more on these below), books from my to-be-read stacks that I wanted to get to next, and some key bits of “must save” items such as my only copies of my first six poetry collections (and their Library of Congress forms), plus a couple of racks of my favorite CDs.

None of those made it here.

There I was, standing in the destruction of my office, trying to grab the last few shards of my past, and seeing everything I cared about unceremoniously dumped into big trash bins. There were two closets full of stuff that I'd not even gotten to yet, and much of my old writing was hiding in there. Now it's all gone.

I knew the process was going to be bad, but I had no idea just how bad it was going to be. Frankly, I had a plan sketched out for suicide last new years eve, as I really didn't want to be around for what was coming. However, I was “too busy to kill myself” then, but the concept was high on my list, and I made the mistake of discussing it in the wrong room, which got me a trip to the ER for a psych evaluation. They didn't “keep me”, but I lost four weeks or more in assorted intense therapy situations, which would have been much better spent getting they key parts of my past to safety.

On April Fools Day, we officially were out of our home (in a building I'd lived in for 37 years), and into our new place, nearly seven miles north of my neighborhood of four decades.

Needless to say, I'm still in shock. I've lost almost everything that anchored me to my personal history. In addition, it appears that both my reading and writing were in large part connected to the parks and coffee shops where I felt comfortable. There have been no replacements found up here. I have tried to develop a sense that I'd been through some natural disaster, a lava flow, a hurricane, a meteor strike, or what have you, that destroyed my home and forced me to evacuate to some totally unfamiliar location with whatever I was able to drag with me. While this puts the level of loss in some sort of conceptual frame, it doesn't really help with the emotional impact – especially given that the key piece in the “disaster” I suffered was my inability to find paying work over the past nine (soon to be 10) years. The level of rage I have percolating under the surface around this taints everything I experience.

Things have not been helped by my having a real bad year on the physical level (man, that new years' eve plan looks like a real missed opportunity), with much of the summer/fall being taken up with surgeries, radiation therapies, and, for the past couple of months, dealing with a broken ankle/fibula that I still am not supposed to put any weight onto.

Anyway, as to that box of books … I spent a lot of time over the past 8+ months churning over how to deal with not having those available to write the reviews. Of course, every time I started thinking about “getting to it”, the emotional weight of the over-all loss would come in and make me psychologically “run away” into almost anything else. However, since I've not gotten the 2017 collection of reviews done, I figured I'd combine it with 2018, and hence I'm writing this post.

The books that disappeared were:

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

Drop the Rock by Bill P., Todd W., & Sara S.

Idiots in Paris by John G. Bennett

Obama Zombies by Jason Mattera

The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects by Alexandra David-Neel & Lama Yongden

The Enlightened Gene by Arri Eisen & Yungdrung Konchok

Ask and It Is Given by Esther and Jerry Hicks

My Father at 100: A Memoir by Ron Reagan

Soundscapes by Paul Robertson

Pep Talks for Writers by Grant Faulkner

One Question by Ken Coleman

The Start-up of You by Reid Hoffman & Ben Casnocha

Masters of Wisdom by Edward Abdill

That list would have been a bit longer, but I still had two books in my bag that I would take out to go write at the Starbucks at Rush & Oak (where I did most of my reviews), so those are in my now somewhat refreshed to-be-reviewed pile.

What I am going to attempt to do in this (sure to be overly-long) post is to do at least minimal reviews of all of these, on recall alone. As you can imagine, this is going to be a difficult thing, and will be necessarily missing the block quotes that I like to build my reviews around. Honestly, as I put in that list, there were several books which I have only scant recall of, which means that I'm going to either have to “tap dance” extensively, or rely on others' reviews to spark my memory.

One thing that losing that box made clear to me is that I really ought to write down the info on books as they show up in my to-be-read piles, as I know there were several titles that I was quite eager to get into (heck, some I paid retail for!) but are now only hazy memories. Unfortunately, some were books on which I “owed” a review, which is a problem.

The worst part of losing that box was those early poetry collections of mine. Last year I'd put out new editions of my second six chapbooks, and was fully planning on doing the earlier ones once I'd fished them out of whatever nook or cranny of my office they'd gotten to (I knew I had a shoulder bag with copies in one of the closets – that I didn't have time to get into). Losing them has been one of the deepest cuts to my psyche.

OK, not wanting this to be 100% woe-is-me … let's get to the reviewing:


Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson, M.D.
(finished 10/30/17)
I'd been aware of this title for quite a while, but ran across something somewhere that was highly recommending it, so picked up a copy. Now, as regular readers of my reviews know, I have very little patience with “parables”, but being one of those sorts of things (it deals with mice in a maze) it's a reasonably painless read, with some fairly worthwhile bits and pieces. Of course, no longer having the book (and my bookmarks pointing out the good parts), I can't reference these, but it struck me as a worthwhile title.



Drop the Rock: Removing Character Defects - Steps Six and Seven by Bill P., Todd W., Sara S.
(finished 10/31/17)
This is a book in the wider A.A. Canon (hence the use of last name initials for the authors), and deals with two of the 12 Steps that only get passing mention in “the big book”, Six (“were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character”) and Seven (“humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings”) … which follow the Step 4 “moral inventory” and Step 5 sharing of same. The title refers to releasing elements in one's psyche that are related to long-maintained “defects”, and it's a helpful expansion of these parts of recovery work.


Idiots in Paris: Diaries of J.G. Bennett and Elizabeth Bennett, 1949 by John G. Bennett
(finished 11/11/17)
If I still had this one, with my notes, this would be a very long review. I had wanted to get a copy of Idiots in Paris for a long time, and only recently (well, in relation to when I read it) scored a used copy. I've read/reviewed a lot of the Gurdjieff material, which has included a number of memoirs of his followers … this is certainly in that niche, but far more intensely so. John G. Bennett was one his main students (and became a famed teacher in his own right), along with his wife Elizabeth Bennett whose notes comprise more than half of this. One of the main differences of this compared to the other memoirs is that it covers a very brief period – the last few months of Gurdjieff's life – and deals with the Bennetts being called to be with G. in Paris at that time. I had a lot of little bookmarks in this, with “juicy” bits highlighted to share with you, as the narrative here is so direct and raw that it throws a whole new light on Gurdjieff's teachings, with many rather remarkable revelations (and re-contextifying framing) on what had been somewhat murky points. It is also a fascinating look at the thoughts of the Bennetts as they dealt with the demands leading up to Gurdjieff's passing.


Obama Zombies: How the Liberal Machine Brainwashed My Generation by Jason Mattera
(finished 11/17/17)
I hated the previous administration, and so any book casting them in a bad light is likely to be of interest to me. I'm not sue how this one got into my hands (dollar store?), but I looked forward to getting into it. Unfortunately, it primarily served to get me pissed off, with the slimy tentacles of that vile crew getting into every interest area of the younger generation and driving their falsehoods into “common knowledge” territory. I had a lot of notes in this one as well, but it would have just ended up as a rant more than a review.



The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects by Alexandra David-Neel & Lama Yongden
(finished 11/30/17)
Over the past few decades I've read a lot of Buddhist material, and especially Tibetan material, so the broad strokes of this book were not unfamiliar. The author was a mystic seeker and adventurer who sought out “hidden knowledge”, and ended up reporting fairly straight forwardly on what she encountered. The title here is not really representative of what's in the book, which is more of an “explanation of Mahayana Buddhism” (to use Alan Watt's description) than “secrets”, oral or otherwise.



The Enlightened Gene: Biology, Buddhism, and the Convergence that Explains the World by Arri Eisen & Yungdrung Konchok
(finished 12/15/17)
This was a LibraryThing.com “Early Reviewer” program book, so I really regret losing it and my notes on it. This grew out of the Emory Tibet Science Initiative, with half of it being the science side trying to engage the Tibetan traditions, and half of it being a Tibetan monk learning the Western scientific model. It was a fascinating read, and I was sharing bits from it with friends while I was working my way through it, so I know I had a lot of bookmarks in there highlighting “the good stuff”, which I wish I could be bringing to you at this point.



Ask and It Is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires by Esther and Jerry Hicks
(finished 12/31/17)
A friend of mine is deeply into the whole “Law of Attraction” thing, and highly recommended this title to me. While my cynical mind has a hard time with the genre in general, I found that reading this was not the battle that it often is with this sort of book. Frankly, I found a lot of concepts/tools in this appearing quite useful, and am quite miffed not to have it and my notes on it anymore. Because of the nature of this (sort of a self-development workbook), it has a reasonably good chance of being something that I might buy a replacement copy of – which is high praise indeed, coming from me.


My Father at 100: A Memoir by Ron Reagan
(finished 01/12/18)
I was a bit hesitant to get into this, as I'd heard that, unlike other reviews, Ron Jr. had been “not too kind” in addressing his father's legacy. I was pleased to find that, while not wholly glowing about the elder Reagan, the book was in no means an attack piece. In fact, the first part of the book was more of a genealogical survey of how the family found its way from Ireland, and got established in the U.S., before tracing his dad's growing up in various contexts, from sports to early jobs (including pics of R.R. as a teenage lifeguard), to discovering acting. What stood out most to me were tales of his early years, with the younger Reagan doing road trips to experience the places where his father was from.


Soundscapes: A Musician's Journey Through Life and Death by Paul Robertson
(finished 01/22/18)
Another LTER selection, I have to admit that this was one that I was a bit hazy on the recall of. It's not that the book didn't get to me (I actually ordered a CD of a piece mentioned in it), music is something that I have never quite figured out on a conceptual basis, and the author here was a musical prodigy, who basically lived it. The basis of this is his surviving a died-on-the-operating-table experience, including recall of hallucinations he had while in a long-term coma. It has reminiscences of his childhood, his musical training, his career (he was a violinist), and various other flotsam of his life, including other dream/hallucination stories. It's an interesting read, but one of those books that's not satisfactorily in a particular niche (I take it that it was a bit too weird for those looking for a “musician's memoir” title).


Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo by Grant Faulkner
(finished 01/27/18)
This LTER acquisition didn't make much of a lasting impression on me. That's not to say that my now-missing copy didn't have a bunch of little bookmarks pointing me to useful stuff, just that it didn't stick in my head. Obviously, with 52 chapters there must have been the thought that one would work on a chapter a week … not a bad idea ... and some of these deal with major writing issues (snagging from the Amazon “look inside” view of the TOC): “Embrace Constraints”, “Treating Imposter Syndrome”, “Sleep, Sleeplessness, and Creativity”, and “Trusting in The Absurd”. The author is the Executive Director of NaNoWriMo – the National Novel Writing Month – and much (as it's coming back to me now) of this is tilted towards fiction writing.


One Question: Life-Changing Answers from Today's Leading Voices by Ken Coleman
(finished 02/09/18)
I seem to recall that I didn't care too much for this dollar store find. The author is a radio interviewer, host of his self-named program, and evidently gets to chat with a lot of interesting and semi-interesting folks. This book covers three dozen of primarily the latter, nearly all noted to be a “New York Times Bestselling Author”, of which I recognized about a third. In the Introduction he notes that “Occasionally, someone asks the right person the right question at the right time in the right way and magic happens ...”, which seems to be the thesis of the book. I guess the “magic” exhibited is a question of personal taste.


The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career by Reid Hoffman & Ben Casnocha
(finished 02/16/18)
OK, I have no memory of reading this book. I just bought it off of Amazon last fall, and evidently read it in the chaos of the early months of this year, but the more I dug into other reviews of it, the less I could place it. How odd. The author has recently been in the news for having funded some really sleazy election shenanigans. Currently, that's the most focused thing I can say about it. Some of the other reviews mention it was about running your career like a start-up, but I guess one might have been able to get that from the title.



Masters of Wisdom: The Mahatmas, Their Letters, and the Path by Edward Abdill
(finished 02/25/18)
An interesting delve into the Theosophical materials … which is likely best taken with the proverbial grain of salt. The “Mahatmas” of the sub-title are the beings who produced missives to Madame Blavatsky in variously colored crayon, as well as notes to other Theosophical Society folks. The first half of the book deals with these entities, and their communications, while the second half is a very lucid outlining of “The Path” as envisioned by the T.S. … which is certainly worth the cost of the book. This is another of the lost titles that I really wish I had back, as I'm pretty sure the stuff that I marked in it was not only info that would make for an interesting review, but material that I'd like to have floating around in my wet storage.


And, so, those are the books that I'd read before the move, put in a box (with other “best of the to-be-read piles” books, and some essential files, that ended up getting into the hands of the junk haulers rather than into mine.

Sorry that I've sort of fallen off the map this year, but things have been so terrible, that I often find myself regretting not throwing myself out the windows of our 46th floor apartment, or going through with my more complicated plans for offing myself a year ago tonight.

I won't promise anything for the new year. I still have no comfortable place to read, no functional place to write (my reviews). I'd love to get back to doing a daily post like I managed for two months earlier this year, but that met a sudden end when the pointlessness overwhelmed me, and the level of baseline depression I live with, the emptiness, feeling adrift, hopeless, makes any plan iffy. We'll see what comes.


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