Admiral Naismith (admnaismith) wrote in bookish,
Admiral Naismith
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Bookpost, March 2012

This month, in solidarity with an international protest against the big, internet-censoring Irritainment industry, I boycotted/avoided buying their products for the month. No movies, no television, no albums and no games. I also read only public domain books. That’s why, this month, you’ll find mostly older material and one self-published book that benefited no media/Hollywood conglomerate determined to take away your rights.

The Elements of Geometry, by Euclid
In right-angled triangles the square on the side subtending the right angle is equal to the squares on the sides containing the right angle.
Let ABC be a right angled triangle having the angle BAC right. I say that the square on BC is equal to the squares on BA, AC.
For let there be described on BC the square BDEC, and on BA, AC the squares GB, HC.
Through A let AL be drawn parallel to either BD or CE, and let AD, FC be joined.
Then, since each of the angles BAC, BAG is right, it follows that with a straight line BA, and at the point A on it, the two straight lines AC, AG not lying on the same side make the adjacent angles equal to two right angles.
Therefore CA is in a straight line with AG.
For the same reason, BA is also in a straight line with AH.
And since the angle DBC is equal to the angle FBA, for each is right:
Let the angle ABC be added to each;
Therefore the whole angle DBA is equal to the whole angle FBC.
And, since DB is equal to BC, and FB to BA, the two sides AB, BD are equal to the two sides FB, BC respectively;
And the angle ABD is equal to the angle FBC;
Therefore the base AD is equal to the base FC,
And the triangle ABD is equal to the triangle FBC.
Now the parallelogram BL is double of the triangle FBC, for they have again the same base FB and are in the same parallels FB, GC.
But the doubles of equals are equal to one another.
Therefore the parallelogram BL is also equal to the square GB.
Similarly, if AE, BK be joined, the parallelogram CL can also be proved equal to the square HC;
Therefore the whole square BDEC is equal to the two squares GB, HC.
And the square BDEC is described on BC
And the squares GB, HC on BA, AC.
Therefore the square on the side BC is equal to the squares on the sides BA, AC.
Being that which it was required to prove.


And there’s the Pythagorean theorem for you. I’ll bet you’re impressed.

That’s right. I read Euclid’s Elements cover to cover. Took me since last August to do it, one theorem at a time. A little math theory goes a long way. That’s why there’s a Greek book here when my Greek immersion was last year and I’m supposed to have moved on to Rome by now.

Euclid’s book has been called the single greatest textbook ever written, and I figure that may be an accurate description. It came out around 400 BC, and was taught as a standard part of school curriculums well into the 20th century. Probably still is, in some places. Until the 19th century, his theories were assumed to be indisputably true, and those mathematicians who postulate “non-Euclidean geometry” in which, for example, parallel lines sometimes eventually meet, never seemed convincing to me. They seemed like those old paradoxes that “proved” that a spear could never reach its target or that a rabbit could never catch up to a turtle. But then, I never studied those theories in enough depth to say for certain that I really understood them.

Euclid wrote more than just geometry. His books include odd forms of arithmetic and algebra as well, in which numbers are illustrated as lines, the segments of which are smaller numbers that add up to the larger “line”.

I hadn't really studied math since high school, and found that mathematical thinking stretched and challenged me in a way similar to suddenly using muscles you don't normally use. I was able to follow along for the first eight books or so, feeling the hamster wheel turn in my head as I reasoned along with Euclid to figure out why certain things had to be true. By the long tenth book, where he's illustrating binomials with lines and rectangles, I admit I was getting swamped with the unfamiliar vocabulary and unwilling to stretch my horizons beyond a certain point without being given either payment or a degree for my trouble. The readability picks up again in the final book, however, where he constructs our D&D dice for us.

Sappho & Catullus
Rich as you are
Death will finish you.
Afterwards, no one will remember
Or want you.
You had no share in the Pierian roses.
You will flitter invisible among the indistinct dead
In Hell’s Palace, darting fitfully.

--Sappho

Ask me, Lesbia, what the sum delightful
Of thy kisses, enough to charm, to tire me?
Multitudinous as the grains on even
Lybian sands aromatic of Cyrene;
'Twixt Jove's oracle in the sandy desert
And where royally Battus old reposeth;
Yea a company vast as in the silence
Stars which stealthily gaze on happy lovers;
E'en so many the kisses I to kiss thee
Count, wild lover, enough to charm, to tire me;
These no curious eye can wholly number,
Tongue of jealousy ne'er bewitch nor harm them.

--Catullus

All right, I lied about the Hot Lesbian Sex!...Whatever habits Sappho the Greek may have had in her private life, they aren’t reflected in her surviving poetry, most of which consists of fragments of matter-of-fact statements in the form of blank verse. The images are vivid, but they are incomplete fragments, maybe best appreciated by people who like haikus and other very brief scraps. The most complete part is a series about a wedding ritual between a man and a woman.

Catullus the Roman is quite wild and passionate, but he is a man writing about a woman, whose name happens to be Lesbia, and who apparently sleeps around, but only with other guys. Sorry about the confusion.

Both volumes are thin and contain much less work than the poets actually wrote; much of their greatness must rest on reputation as described by their contemporaries, since the poems themselves were destroyed centuries ago. I include them because so much of Rome’s literature consists of history, biography, philosophy and nonfiction essays. You take the surviving imaginative lit where it exists.

The Tusculan Disputations, by Cicero
Is this then the life to which you will “recall” the hero Telamon for the relief of his distress? And if you find any of your relatives broken down by grief, will you give him a sturgeon rather than a Socratic treatise, will you urge him to listen to the music of a water-organ rather than to that of Plato, will you set out variegated blooms for him to look at, will you hold a nosegay to his nostrils, burn spices and bid him wreathe his head with garlands and roses? If indeed something else—then clearly you will have wiped away all tears from his eyes.

Plato, while dramatic, was unconvincing on most things, and Aristotle was barely readable and tended to reduce things to categories and definitions. Many of my favorite philosophers were from the Roman era. They tended to keep it simple and to discuss topics that are as interesting and relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago. They are also convincing; when I read the Epicureans, I believe I am fundamentally an Epicurean, and when I read the Stoics, I believe that I am a Stoic. When I’m not reading either, I decide that mine is the Path of the Frosted Mini-Wheat, and that there is no need to choose between being virtuous and enjoying life, since the two are not necessarily opposed to one another. Stoics tend to accuse Epicureans of being hedonists. Epicurus specifically denounced hedonism and stated that enjoyment of life meant cultivating tastes appropriate to a gentleman (but then, a philosophy is also judged by its followers, not just by its founder. Adam Smith was equally clear that the greatness of Capitalism depended on enlightened self-interest, a distinction that most capitalists today seem to have forgotten.). Meanwhile, Epicureans tend to picture Stoics (though Epicurus and Lucretius never said so out loud, being too busy enjoying life) as being sour, judgmental, overly serious wet blankets who never have any fun. A Stoic would say, as Cicero does here, that the benefits of discipline and meticulous attention to duty give a sense of well-being far outweighing mere joy...but again, you can judge the philosophy in part by the results shown in the happiness and well-being, or lack thereof, of the upright, uptight people who claim to practice it and who put more effort into noticing the mote in others’ eyes than into fixing the beams in their own.

Seems to me, it is possible to live by the best of both philosophies at once, carefully avoiding the Scylla and Charybdis of extremism and not exclusively choosing either pleasure or virtue at the expense of the other. It’s not easy, but my path is dedicated to being the right amount of both.

Cicero is a Stoic, and his Tusculan Disputations are the ancient equivalent of a Self-Help book along the lines of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The purpose is to encourage the people of Rome to choose a life of virtue out of enlightened self-interest. The wise man, says Cicero, learns not to fear death, learns to resist pain, and is immune from distress and other base passions. He sees Rome as growing decadent under the Epicureans (keep in mind that he is speaking before Caesar’s assassination and the ultimate rise of Rome into its full scope as an Empire, well before the actual fatal decadence chronicled in Gibbon).

At times, Cicero speaks common sense; as when he speaks of philosophy as a consolation to grief and admires the courage of those who develop a tolerance for pain. On the other hand, he simultaneously misses things. The passage I quoted radiates contempt for the Epicurean approach to consolation, and yet who among us has not, at least once, comforted a depressed friend by taking her to pig out on pizza and ice cream while validating the living hmm-hmm out of her? Similarly, you can logically prove that death is not something to fear, since if there is an afterlife, death is a cause for rejoicing, while if there is not, then death is no more painful than dreamless sleep...and yet, the thought of not existing for all of eternity is scary nonetheless.

The Tusculan Disputations is very readable and thought provoking. Highly recommended.

Love in Excess, by Eliza Haywood
As if she wanted to discover something farther to heighten the indignation she was in, she began to read it over again, and indeed the more she considered the meaning of what she read, the more her passions swelled, 'till they got at last the entire dominion of her reason. She tore the letter in a thousand pieces, and was not much less unmerciful to her hair and garments.

Many people think Jane Austen invented the romance novel at the start of the nineteenth century. In fact, there were several published in the eighteenth century by such authors as Anne Radcliffe (See Mysteries of Udolpho, bookpost, July 2011), who Austen satirized in Northanger Abbey (also bookpost July 2011), Fanny Burney, (see below), Maria Edgeworth and Eliza Haywood. Austen merely made the genre classy.

Love in Excess is Haywood’s best known work. In its day, it apparently shared the best seller list with Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe despite being a far inferior work intellectually. It consists of about 250 pages of love triangles, smitten damsels, heaving bosoms, sexual intrigue, intercepted letters, duels over honor, obstructive parents and all the usual tropes readers of bodice-rippers have come to expect. The main difference is that Haywood was one of the first, maybe the first of all, to do it. The writing is pretty fluid, but the social conventions the poor lovers have to put up with strain modern belief. Moderately recommended.

Cecilia, by Fanny Burney
At that moment Sir Robert himself burst into the room, and seizing one of her hands, while both of them were uplifted in mute amazement, he pressed it to his lips, poured forth a volley of such compliments as he had never before prevailed with himself to utter, and confidently entreated her to complete his long-attended happiness without the cruelty of further delay.
Cecilia, almost petrified by the excess of her surprise, at an attack so violent, so bold, and apparently so sanguine, was for some time scarce able to speak or to defend herself; but when Sir Robert, presuming on her silence, said she had made him the happiest of men, she indignantly drew back her hand, and with a look of displeasure that required little explanation, would have walked out of the room: when Mr. Harrel, in a tone of bitterness and disappointment, called out, “Is this lady-like tyranny then never to end?” And Sir Robert, impatiently following her, said, “And is my suspense to endure for ever? After so many months attendance—“
“This, indeed, is something too much,” said Cecilia, turning back. “You have been kept, sir, in no suspense; the whole tenor of my conduct has uniformly declared the same disapprobation I at present avow, and which my letter, at least, must have put beyond all doubt.”
“Harrel,” exclaimed Sir Robert, “Did you not tell me—“
“Pho, pho,” cried Harrel, “What signifies calling upon me? I never saw in Miss Beverly any disapprobation beyond what is customary for young ladies of a sentimental turn to shew; and everybody knows that where a gentleman is allowed to pay his devoirs for any length of time, no lady intends to use him severely.”
“And can you, Mr. Harrel,” said Cecilia, “after such conversations as have passed between us, persevere in this willful misapprehension? But it is vain to debate where all reasoning is disregarded, or to make any protestations where even rejection is received as a favour.”
And then, with an air of disdain, she insisted upon passing them, and went to her own room.


I’ve had a disappointing run of Big Important Books lately that proved how big and important they were by being dry as dust. What a wonderful surprise Burney’s Cecilia was! Whereas Haywood’s popularity of the day must be attributable to her novelty, Burney is actual wonderful literature, not quite on a par with Fielding’s Tom Jones, but pretty damn close. It combines the subtle romance of Jane Austen with the quirky Pickwickian characterization of Dickens, with a nice blend of the morals and manners of both.

Good thing, too. Cecilia is almost a thousand pages long. I was relieved and delighted that, aside from a bit of bogging down in the third quarter of the book, there was hardly any of the incessant hand-wringing and agonizing over the same plot point for pages and pages and pages, the kind that made Richardson’s Clarissa (Bookpost, June 2008) such a chore to read. Richardson’s book has maybe three important plot developments over 1500 pages, with the rest of the book consisting of planning, debating, more debating and aftermaths of those developments. You can summarize the whole book in a paragraph.

Cecilia, on the other hand, has a cast of several dozen richly described and distinct characters, most of whom are essential to the plot and the rest of whom add spice and nice subplots to the mix. Many of them are caricatures, designed to point to a particular foible or annoyance of 18th century London civilization, but they do it well.

The story nominally tells of Cecilia Beverly, an heiress one year from her age of majority, who is sent to London from the country to await her coming of age, and is beset by a small army of suitors running the gamut from Golden Boy to Lump Of Mold, and juxtaposing favorable and unfavorable aspects of the human character. Cecelia has also been given three guardians who similarly personify virtue and vice: the nominally friendly one who can’t control his expenses and who steals from his ward; the self-made rich man who is frugal to the point of ridiculous miserliness and who offends society with his boorishness, and the properly titled decaying aristocrat who is insufferably snobbish. In secondary roles as suitors are the country squire (waiting for his elderly wife to die so that he can actually court Cecilia in earnest), the army officer, the dandy, the lawyer, the tradesman, and the mysterious old gentleman who keeps appearing out of the shadows to admonish Cecilia to take care of her soul.

Cecilia, as it turns out, isn’t interested in marrying just yet; she wants nothing more than to settle down by herself, accumulate a worthy collection of well-chosen books, and use her wealth to help the poor. The trouble is, no one seems to take her wishes at face value because she is a mere woman, whose place in society is to be a Good Catch for some ambitious male. Other than the present time, I’ve often found enlightenment-era England to be the best period of history, where I’d live if I couldn’t live in the here and now, but stories like Cecilia remind me that it isn’t so enlightened after all. The disrespect and arrogance shown to Cecilia by those around her, the way people presume to know what’s best for her and pooh-pooh her claims to know her own interests, is absolutely appalling. Many times I found myself wishing she would go Enough Already and kick ass and cause a scene, but it was not to be. Ladies don’t do those things.

Cecilia is a rich, wonderful meal of a book, in many courses. Very high recommendations.

Eothen, by Alexander Kinglake
No recent census had been taken when I was at Tiberias; but I know that the congregation of fleas which attended at my church alone must have been something enormous. It was a carnal, self-seeking congregation, wholly inattentive to the service which was going on, and devoted to the one object of having my blood. The fleas of all nations were there. The smug, steady, importunate flea from Holywell Street; the pert, jumping ‘puce’ from hungry France; the wary, watchful ‘pulce’ with his poisoned stiletto; the vengeful ‘pulga’ of Castille with his ugly knofe; the German ‘floh’ with his knife and fork, insatiate, not rising from table; whole swarms from all the Russias, and Asiatic hordes unnumbered; all these were there, and all rejoiced in one great international feast.

In 1834, Alexander Kinglake took a trip through what is now the Balkans, Turkey, the Fertile Crescent and Egypt, but was at the time all part of the Ottoman Empire, and yet, strangely enough, was also treated as one big English colony where the visiting English behaved like absentee landlords come to inspect the serfs on their property. English warships would approach the Suez and demand that the arabs fill up the ships’ water tanks with their own scarce water supply, or they’d destroy the entire city. And we wonder why the inhabitants have grown to somewhat dislike western civilization over the centuries.

Kinglake has a nice turn of phrase and a nicely dry wit, but it’s not enough to overcome the nasty terracentrism that runs as a subtext throughout his journal. Kinglake treats the arabs as clear inferiors, and the Jews with the condescending affection you’d expect one to show for a pet. At one point, Kinglake even whines a bit about the need to take a firm stance with those arabs so they don’t get any ideas. It’s rather hard, he says, being forced to commit so many outrages and injustices; it puts an unfairly bad light on the essential goodness and nobility of the English character, and it’s a pity it’s so necessary to kick them around to make them obey you. You think they’d be a bit more grateful and willing without having to be kicked, Wot-Wot?

There are intense passages about life in a city under plague quarantine, and comic episodes about learning to ride a camel. Kinglake’s journal (Eothen translates as “of the East”, assuming you lisp a little) was apparently a great success when published in London. No doubt the English found it a jolly good read, even as they tut-tutted about the uppity peasants poor Kinglake had to deal with.

He Knew He Was Right, by Anthony Trollope
He was quite aware that he should have spoken to her gently, and have explained to her, with his arm around her waist, that it would be better for both of them that this friend’s friendship should be limited. There is so much in a turn of the eye and in the tone given to a word when such things have to be said—so much more of importance than in the words themselves. As Trevelyan thought of this, and remembered what his manner had been, how much anger he had expressed, how far he had been from having his arm round his wife’s waist as he spoke to her, he almost made up his mind to go upstairs and apologize. But he was one to whose nature the giving of any apology was repulsive. He could not bear to own himself to have been wrong.

Once upon a time, before I met The Redhead, I was in a relationship that was having some problems, and my partner and I consulted a Dr. Phil book about rescuing troubled relationships. The book began with a true/false relationship evaluation quiz where if you got enough points for the right answers, Dr. Phil pronounced your relationship healthy, whether you were happy with it or not, as if relationships were like bodies and you had to eat some vegetables you didn’t like in order to feed it properly. In the quiz, you lost points for answering “true” to “I know I am right.” My partner was outraged at losing points for that! “But I am right”, she said. “What’s wrong with being right? Is it better to be wrong? Harumph! Stupid Dr. Phil!”

We’re not together any more. I was very much affected by that one question and by her response to it, and have made considerable effort since then to pay careful attention to the points of view of others, and to consider that maybe I don’t know everything. It’s been a handicap in a world where aggressive assertions of dominance seem to be rewarded in public life while wishy-washy compromise is scorned and derided, but it has helped to make better relationships with those closest to me. The Redhead and I have apologized to each other even when we believed one another to be wrong about something, because our love is worth more to us than our egos. My ex, meanwhile, became a life coach, and is presumably still busy being right.

Which leads us to Trollope’s novel about a man who, as the title suggests, Knew He Was Right, with consequences that Dr. Phil could have predicted. In fact, the title is misleading. Louis Trevelyan, Mr. Awlays-Right, is just one of six major protagonists in the novel, no fewer than four of whom contribute to the misery of themselves and one another by choosing to be right rather than happy. There’s Louis, the stubborn paterfamilias who insists on being obeyed Alexander Kinglake, above, would probably identify with him. There’s his stubborn wife Emily, who holds grudges until they die of old age and then takes them to the taxidermist. The two of them want to be together but neither of them will make the first move toward conciliation, in a display of stupid righteousness reminiscent of the old folktale about the couple that sits passively while burglars loot their house because neither will be the one to get up and shut the door. Then there’s stubborn old Aunt Jemima, the rich conservative biddy who alienates her family by shaking her will at them and making obnoxious demands on them, with the result that they’ve all left her lonely by herself, with only the maidservant to confide in; and her stubborn niece Priscilla, the bookish, intelligent Velma of the group, who probably really is right, but who is so bitter at the behavior of those around her that she can’t resist exacerbating situations by twisting the knife. Rounding out the main cast are Priscilla’s brother Hugh and Emily’s sister Nora, whose remonstrances with the other four are ignored but who are either not stubborn enough or too unconvinced of how Right they are to kick the others into submission. Hugh and Nora would make a great couple, but can’t marry because Priscilla believes Nora should hold out for a rich older man, and Jemima has cut Hugh off without a shilling (cut-cut-cut!) for not abiding by her will, so that he can’t afford to support a wife.

When a group of people, all of whom are Accustomed To Having Their Way, are in close quarters, Bad Things are bound to happen. By the time we reach the climax, Louis has become downright pathological in his jealous stubbornness and affectations of wounded martyrdom because his wife will not obey him in all things, becoming a caricature of Othello who thankfully does not kill and who damages himself more than he does anyone else. Thankfully, there are many subplots that offer comic and romantic relief.

Tarka the Otter, by Henry Williamson



Already the celandines were old thoughts of the spring, their leaves hid by rising docks and nettles and flowering dog’s-foot mercury. Badger cubs had been taught to use the latrines outside the tunnels. It was mid-April, swallow time in the West Country. Otter cubs romped in a big stick-heap resting on the nose of an island above a bridge, eager to play with the moon on the water. Their mother, who was Tarka’s sister, attacked him when he looked on them in the stick-heap, and bit him in the shoulder, for she was most anxious, and did not remember her brother-cub.
Though the birds scolded, the foxes snarled, and his own kind drove him away, Tarka had many friends, whom he played with and forgot—sticks, fish, stones, water-weeds, slain fish, and once an empty cocoa-tin, a bright and curious thing that talked strangely as it moved over the shallows, but sank into the pool beyond, sent up three bubbles, and would play no more.


This is one of those books that is hard to classify. You could make a case for shelving it in general fiction, naturalism, or kid lit, although I suppose general fiction would win. It uses a story format to describe nature cycles.

I love otters. When I visit the aquarium in my state, I’m capable of ignoring most of the exhibits and spending hours watching the sea otters. They’re incredibly curious, energetic and playful, and I was glad to read a book about the life of an otter (full title: Tarka the Otter: His Joyful Water-Life and Death in the Country of the Two Rivers ) The book is anything but joyful, however. The state of nature is a cruel one, differing from Jack London mostly in that it takes more time to describe the scenery. Death is everywhere, and people who sniffled at the sad parts of Bambi are not going to have a good time with Tarka. As usual, the parts with humans are the worst. In early 20th century England, it seems, hunting otters for sport was about as common as hunting foxes. The majority of the book consists of Tarka and other otters fleeing from hunters and other predators and avoiding or getting caught in vicious traps.

And yet, Tarka and the others do indeed seem to enjoy life in spite of it all, in an environment described in rich natural detail. The language is onomotopoeic: annimals are forever yimmering, yikkering and tissing at one another. I’ve never been to Devon, but I had the illusion of knowing the countryside intimately by the time I was done. The woodcut illustrations of river scenes had a lot to do with that.

Berlin Alexanderplatz, by Alfred Doblin
Here Franz Biberkopf, who is a respectable, good-natured man, suffers his first blow. He is deceived. The blow carries.
Biberkopf has vowed to become respectable and you have seen how he stayed straight for many a week, but it was only a respite, so to speak. In the end life finds this going too far, and trips him up with a wily jar. To him, Franz Biberkopf, however, this doesn’t seem a very sporting trick, and, for a considerable time, he finds this sordid, draggle-tailed existence, which contradicts his every good intention, a bit too thick.
Why life acts this way, he does not understand. He still has a long way to go before he will see it.


This is an odd, extremely sylized German novel. It reminded me a bit of those Weill/Brecht operas where the characters step back a bit at the end of a scene in a “See? Such is the condition of Man” sort of way. It is simultaneously a Job parable where the lesson gets in the way of character identification, and a story where the morality enhances the empathy one feels for the characters, and never mind that it seems impossible for both of those things to happen at once. Good literature often makes up its own rules.

The protagonist is Franz Biberkopf, a sad sack everyman, just released from prison and trying to do good, pursued by “something like fate”, which continually punishes his resolve and gets him caught up in the underworld he tries to leave, despite his best intentions. From time to time, the omniscient narrator has us step back from the action to “observe our friend Franz” and the various women, gangsters, officials and working stiffs in his life. He assures us when Franz seems to be getting his life together, that the hammer is about to fall once again, or, when he’s down and out, that the worst is yet to come. And indeed, the hammer does fall cruelly, culminating in what is either a conversation with Death or a hallucination that has about as much satisfaction as God’s original address to Job about why evil is allowed to happen.

In between, there are further digressions in which Doblin interprets what happens to the characters in terms of parallels with epic tragedies: The Trojan War, Prometheus, Adam and Eve, and of course, Job. The effect is to make Biberkopf and the others seem both larger than life and contemptibly small, sometimes both at the same time. Not a book for everybody, but it made me think.

Navigation, by Brittney Corrigan
I am listening to the woman
being interviewed on the radio.
Her son has been killed in Iraq.

She has another son who says
he would still go, if called. When
the interview begins, I expect

hysteria. A choked voice. At least
tears. But she is entirely calm. She says
I am completely at peace.

God has a plan. It may be different
than my plan. But he has a plan.
I am in awe of such faith.

Since my son was born, I cannot
imagine anything more immense
than my love for him. Anything

more terrible than him being taken
from me. If there is a god who can
overpower such love—

I never want to meet him.


The newest (in fact, the only new) book I read this month is a book of poems that was self-published and sent to me in the hopes that I’d review it in my bookpost. (I love getting books, and will read and review pretty much any book that someone cares enough to send to me. Message me for contact information if you’re interested).

As you might have guessed from the short treatment I gave Sappho and Catullus, above, I tend to be a little flummoxed at poetry. Unless it tells a story, I have trouble thinking of anything to say about it. Fortunately, that isn’t a problem with Navigation (Habit of Rainy Nights Press, 2012), which is a succession of little vignettes with a common theme that, taken together, do tell a story about the author’s life and the lives of those close to her.

The vignettes are autobiographical, and concern events most Americans can relate to, as seen through eyes that strive to be at harmony with nature, the world, and the collective human spirit. A church service. A yoga class. A highway accident that might have been fatal. Changing homes. Pregnancy. Birth. Death. Children and ancestors. Autism. Epilepsy.

Storms, both natural and emotional.

In Corrigan’s life, which begins in Colorado and transitions to Portland, Oregon, with many stops in between, everyday objects, when loved or observed enough, become talismans that comfort and protect. Birds and other animals that appear opportunely during milestone events are messengers, daemons maybe. There is a thread from ancestors to self to offspring, elusive but there, with a pattern that can be discovered, if one is in tune with it. Some of the poems mention places I have seen, that I will want to take a fresh look at now. The best poems in the book are about the observations of an autistic child, the efforts to communicate with him, and the urge to understand his sensations vicariously (see also Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark and Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, both of which were evoked by Corrigan’s poem “Sensory Profile”). If you like poems, or even if you just like insights into life through another’s eyes, Navigation is well worth the reading.
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