Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Talking Books

pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven...
Jack Kerouac

...my dad had a flirtation with radicalism in the late 60’s...apparently....as far as I can tell, it never went beyond buying the books that, at one time, lined the top level of our living room bookshelf...before I found them, that is, and, deciding they’d be a perfect alternative to whatever crap was being assigned by my teachers in high school, took them: The Autobiography of Malcolm X and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, providing an angry, alternative history badly needed in the days of morning in America...Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and other poems, introducing the notion that reading and writing could be really, really cool, particularly in the midst of endless road trips, cheap wine, tea-smoking, jazz, radical politics, and sex...Siddhartha by Herman Hesse (gotta confess, actually, that, at that point, I didn’t get the nonattachment thing at all...and, actually, I’m still workin’ on that)...and, most insane and influential of all, Woodstock Nation by Abbie Hoffman...We shall not defeat Amerika by organizing a political party. We shall do it by building a new nation—a nation as rugged as the marijuana weed born from the seeds of the Woodstock Festival...sounded cool to me, never mind that most charter members of the Woodstock Nation had cashed in a decade earlier, roughly around the time the draft ended, and helped create the Reagan Nation I was then so desperate to rebel against....

And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
T. S. Eliot

...more recently, when visiting my mom, I comb through the shelves in my dad’s den...finding, to my surprise, in the midst of countless volumes on psychoanalysis, Quakerism, and the history of Christianity, things like Stephen Batchelor’s Buddhism Without Beliefs and Elaine Pagels’ Gnostic Gospels, along with Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron, and Jon Kabat Zinn...often featuring copious underlining and notes, which, along with the very presence of the books themselves, feel like a special kind of posthumous communication...with areas of surprising agreement, as well as the same old arguments, which had something to do with why we talked so little during his last years...so, I underline and make notes myself, but always make sure to do it in pencil when he used pen, just so it’s clear who said what....

9 comments:

Erik Donald France said...

Beautiful thoughts, really. My father turns 75 next week, my mother 74, so I commune with them over a tape recorder; but my grandfather left *his* books with notes, so I go through them in a similar way, sorry he died at 57. Hey, even similar tastes. Life's too short. Happy Tet'

Aggie said...

And so on down the generations? What an interesting take on a book review ... margin notes from multi-generation readers.

Lydia said...

"just so it’s clear who said what.... " The posthumous communication you describe is really touching.

You would go and remind me that some in my generation rocked Woodstock then later developed rocks in their heads. I'll never understand why they changed the way they did, how they ever could have embraced Reagan.

Ann said...

That's a touching story. My friends and I have passed around a copy of Black Spring by Henry Miller since high school, and it has notes and underlinings from everyone, including diary type entries in both covers. It's been to Brazil and Europe, and I'm waiting for it to come back around to me again.

I'm not even really into Miller anymore, but that book is precious to me for the history of my circle of friends.

Seeing Eye Chick said...

I write in my books as well. I have a whole room with shelves. I hope my daughters enjoy them as much.

I am so glad you had access to the works of these firebrands. How incredibly inspiring.

Your post inadvertantly made me feel very validated. Thank you.

Ed T. said...

That's cool that your dad was into so much cool literature. I am the only in my family that ever really got into things like Kerouac, Ginsberg, Buddhism, Burroughs (William Burroughs lived in my town in his last years; Lawrence, KS)and all the other great stuff that came out of that American cultural revolution. Also, I've been listening to some Lou Reed lately, very cool stuff.

Mista Jaycee said...

Very nice observation of books!
Jaycee

kathleenmaher said...

Fascinating, Yoga Cynic. I wonder what mental gates kept you and your father from talking little during his last years?
His reading suggests an open and interesting mind, the kind that I imagine would welcome his son's thoughts with respectful and considered responses.

svasti said...

So intimate and special... did you ever think perhaps your dad considered that one day you might just read his notes?

And you? Who are you leaving your notes for??

Is it a sign of hope? A consideration of the past only, or also, of a possible future?

Who will read these two sets of notes? And what will they conclude?

Beautiful...