I was in a Border's bookstore a few weeks ago and got hooked by a table of Buy-2, Get-1-Free. I'm reading two of them in tandem and the information in them is like a assault even though none of it is really new to me -- it's well told and feels like so many hammer blows to the heart. One is Diane Ackerman's The Zookeeper's Wife, A War Story. About Warsaw during the German blitz and occupation. She is known for her relentless research. This book is not fiction but "fictionalized" with some conversations. Some information is not needed, like all the styles of lampshades to be found in a store at the time. I tend to want to rush through some such catalogs but, in a way, they lighten the awful story -- which isn't entirely awful for Jan and Antonina were very brave and good and heroic. The awful brutality has been written about and shown in movies and I've been to Yad Vashem and seen photos. Why do I put myself through this? Because she is a good writer and I want to watch how she handles true material in a fictionalized setting as I'm trying to do the same thing in what I'm writing. The second was A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz about the exploration of North America. Again I know the horrors of how Native Americans were treated but that information is less fresh and I am revisiting things that I had partly forgotten, like DeSoto's trek through what is now Georgia and other deep South states. Horowitz interlards it with his own travels -- a style very popular today and which I enjoy. Past and present played against each other and he doesn't hesitate to point remnants of the bigotry that has always been part of the story.
As if I'm not beating myself up enough, I went to a free showing at a senior center of Milk, which I missed this time last year when it was in the movie theatres. Again, I knew the story, which is part of why I didn't make a big effort to see it. But Sean Penn is such a fine actor, and this was free so I thought I should see it. I'm not sorry but my spirit is feeling bogged down at this heavy load of information about man's inhumanity to man, about ongoing ignorance and fear and discrimination.
I have almost finished the fat-ish book of Mary Oliver's that was loaned to me -- it is a balm even though she is definitely clear headed about the nature "red in tooth and claw." She also tells us about some of her own savagery [a word that's not quite true] when she steals snapping turtle eggs and makes breakfast, when she writes of how the mussels recognize danger and pull back, but she chooses the biggest to gather and take home to eat. These are natural acts, she never sees herself as "above" the rawness of nature. Yet she is also tender and observant and loving. And she constantly asks "how to live" -- she means live deeply. Reading such materialalways brings up the question. I guess this is why genre books are so popular and it's so hard to sell "serious" literature.
The mid-70s are a surprise! Part of me remains in the 50s -- age, I mean, not decade of 20th century. It's a joy ride, new experiences land in my lap and I've become a better quilter, poet, writer than I expected. It's a rich life for a person never rich financially. Hey, this is what the mid-70s are like!