Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The screw-up, my eminent demise, and perfect clarity

Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference." - Robert Frost

The end is nigh.

My grandmother called me Sunday night. She informed me that God may take my daughter away from me because she was at home by herself before the age of 16. Either God, or my ex-wife's parents.

After getting divorced and re-married, I can no longer claim the "head of household" tax status, and Scout's mother can no longer receive as many college grants, or any government subsidies to pay for Scout's daycare. Living in sin, by contrast, is much more cost effective. The higher tax obligation and new funds requirement for little Scout coupled with other financial support of my family (both cars, mortgage, the usual home expenses) has drained me of disposable income.

Tack onto all that the downturn of the American economy, AEP did not give raises to anyone this year, and the loss of my long-time roommate. No raise, no help with the mortgage, no tax refund, and an unexpected $130/wk daycare expense. I have since drained my emergency savings account trying to stay above water.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Indefinable Influence - Books that nurture the right-brain

"Lying on a stack of straw on the threshing floor, I had been reading for a long time – and suddenly I revolted. Once again reading all morning, once again with a book in my hands! And it’s been that way day in, day out, since I was a child! I’ve spent half my life in a world that doesn’t exist, among people who never lived, invented people, being as agitated about their fates, their joys and sorrows, as if they were my own, linking myself to my dying day with Abraham and Isaac, Pelasgians and Etruscans, Socrates and Julius Caesar, Hamlet and Dante, Gretchen and Chatsky, Sobakevich and Ophelia, Pechorin and Natasha Rostova! And how can I now distinguish between real and imagined companions of my earthly existence? How can I divide them, define the degree of their influence on me?" - книга("Book"), Ivan Bunin

I was once a fulltime reader, a book nut who, in my sparsely furnished apartment, had an easy chair with a stack of books on both sides. The year was 1992, I was 21, living alone, and perpetually broke - but didn't really notice. I had no computer (save a beat-up and ageing Apple //c) and no television, just a CD player with which to play my Jimmy Buffett and Led Zeppelin, and a Half-Price Books habit. When I would get home from work, I would put on some music, cook and eat dinner, clean the kitchen, and then sit in the chair to read until I was too tired to continue. When I had finished a book, I would place it on top of the stack on the right side of the chair, and then grab the next book from the stack on the left.

Since then, life moved on, and I lost at first the time to read, and then the habit. Now I'm lucky to finish three physical books in a year. I have cheated on reading by listening to audiobooks in my car on long trips, or on the commute to work - a habit I picked up when I delivered pizza and got tired of the radio.

I stumbled across the above quote last week, and it really struck a nerve with me. I reflected for a while on the days of the simple apartment that I lived alone in, the chair, and the stack of books. And then I began thinking of my Hamlets and Dantes - Siri and Miles Teg, Fiver and Joseph Knecht - and the fantastic worlds opened to me from the stack of books, and the books read to me in my car. So like we geeks do, I made a list. Below are some of the more creative or personally influencing works I've come across. I expect everyone has heard of some of these, possibly most of them, but some of them are gems I stumbled across that I have never heard discussed, which is a shame, because they're all brilliant and everyone needs to read them.

Here, then, are my 15 recommendations of books worth reading. Ideally, you should read all of them, and we should get together at the local pub and talk about how awesome they were over brews and greasy food... but I'll take what I can get. I'll write some basic setting details and impressions, and I'll do my best not to ruin the stories by revealing too much plot.

1) Across the Nightingale Floor - Lian Hearn