Zen in the Art of Writing

Zen in the Art of Writing coverZen in the Art of Writing
Ray Bradbury
RosettaBooks (May 2, 2017), 126 pages
originally published in 1990
Kindle edition $14.99
Purchased during an Early Bird Books sale for $1.99

I am always looking for ways to improve my writing, so when this title turned up on Early Bird Books for $1.99 I grabbed it.

Zen in the Art of Writing is a collection of essays Bradbury wrote over a period of years on the topic of, obviously, writing.  He writes about the importance to him of writing every day. He also describes how he would simply make lists of words, nouns mostly, and how much of his work came out of a word that got his attention on the list.

Bradbury writes about the importance of reading broadly. He writes, “I have known Bertrand Russell and I have known Tom Mix, and my Muse has grown out of the mulch of good, bad, and indifferent.”

He makes one point that particularly struck me:

quoteThis does not mean to say that one’s reaction to everything at a given time should be similar. First off, it cannot be. At ten, Jules Verne is accepted, Huxley rejected. At eighteen, Thomas Wolfe accepted, and Buck Rogers left behind. At thirty, Melville discovered, and Thomas Wolfe lost.

Just because I loved Tom Robbins in my twenties doesn’t mean I will enjoy his work today.

Some great stuff here from one of America’s most respected authors.

Returning to Emmaus

Today we have a Sunday morning lectionary occurrence that happens only once every three years: the reading of the Emmaus story. True, the story is in the lectionary for Easter evening each year, but for Sunday morning it is only found in Year A, the year of Matthew, on the third Sunday of Easter. This is one of those oddities perpetrated by those lectionary elves, as the Emmaus story appears only in the Gospel of Luke.

Emmaus stained glassThe Emmaus Road passage is my favorite narrative in the Bible, and I have written about it many times. You’ll recall that in the story Cleopas and his companion encounter the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus, but they don’t recognize him until he has departed. One interpretation of the story suggests that Cleopas’s companion, due to not being named, was a woman. This has to do with the mores and conventions of first century Palestine; since Cleopas is named had his companion been male he would also have been named. I have always rather liked this idea and so for this week’s Good Shepherd e-news I selected the image on your left.

Emmaus stained glass windowIn the days when we were able to meet in person for worship I would always sit in a pew at Good Shepherd near the stained glass window on the right. I always thought that this depicted the Emmaus story, but in a video we created when we were searching for a rector a relative of the person who to whom the window was dedicated said that it was the Last Supper. Oh, well. Then again, as my spiritual director pointed out, perhaps they’re the same story.

What is important about Emmaus, however, is this, in the words of the Rev. Dawn Hutchings, “Each and every one of us has at one time, or indeed for some of us, many times, traveled along the road to Emmaus.”

grilling again

I wrote a while back about how our outdoor gas grill never got used last year. This was due to a couple of factors: we had a new stove that we loved and on account of my surgery I was not allowed red meat until late August. So the grill sat there unused.

grillThis year we decided that we would get back to grilling, but our grill was in serious need of cleaning. Due to social distancing we discontinued the services of our housekeeper, but thinking that she might appreciate the work we told her that we would pay her the regular house cleaning rate to clean the grill. However, she failed to call us on the agreed-upon day after the rain was to have ended, so Terry undertook the task of cleaning it herself. She completed the task and we’re now good to go. Given the current heat spell I think that we’ll probably give the newly-cleaned grill its first use tomorrow. 


Surfacing coverSurfacing
Kathleen Jamie
Penguin Books (September 24, 2019), 254 pages
Kindle edition $12.99, Amazon paperback $12.59

In Surfacing Kathleen Jamie has compiled a collection of her essays that touch upon a variety of topics, although her selections display a particular interest in archaeology.

The first half of the book is an extended essay about Jamie’s visit to an archaeological site in Alaska. She describes not only the archaeological work but the native Americans in the area, their daily lives, and their attempts to maintain a cultural identity in the present day. Other essays in the book describe the challenges of archeology in her native Scotland. Jamie also writes about nature, making sure her father was eating properly, and being stuck in China at a time of social unrest, presumably in the 1989 Tiananmen Square era.

Jamie’s writing style moves the reader along quickly and she maintained my attention throughout. Surfacing may be of particular interest to readers interested in archaeology in the New World.

Dishing with Julia

Here is something tailor made for these stay at home, quarantine, social distancing days. It is a new PBS program entitled Dishing with Julia Child. Simply calling it delightful doesn’t do it justice.

Dishing with Julia ChildThere are six episodes in the series. My local PBS station, PBS SoCal, is airing them in batches of two each Friday evening. If your PBS station isn’t showing the series it is available through your cable provider’s on demand service, or via streaming for PBS Passport and Amazon Prime members. In each episode professional chefs watch an episode of The French Chef and comment on it.

I DVR’d the first two episodes and mistakenly watched the second episode first. In that episode Julia shows how to bake bread. Sara Moulton and Carla Hall comment together, as do Marcus Samuelsson and Vivian Howard. They note how Julia loves butter, sneaks in tangentially-related cooking techniques, and provides alternate methods for doing a given task in the kitchen. In the first episode, which I watched second, Julia demonstrates preparing fish while José Andres and Eric Ripert point out how the camera started and just kept running. The program was not edited; if Julia made a mistake she recovered and went on.

If you’re looking for something to put a smile on your face in these bleak days Dishing with Julia will do it.

Listening for America

Listening for America coverListening for America: Inside the Great American Songbook from Gershwin to Sondheim
Rob Kapilow
Liveright (November 5, 2019), 472 pages
Kindle edition $19.24, Amazon Hardcover $22.49

Rob Kapilow is a renowned music educator and in this book he has done a first rate job of educating his readers about the history of the Broadway musical. He delivers what he promises in the title, starting before Gershwin, in fact, with Jerome Kern and Cole Porter and taking us right through to Stephen Sondheim. He points out in the epilogue that the most popular post-Sondheim shows have either been from overseas (for example, the many shows of the British master of spectacle Andrew Lloyd Weber or French productions such as Miss Saigon and Les Misérables) or Disney movie reincarnations (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and the like).

Each chapter focuses on one song from one show, for example George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” or Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns.” Before getting to the song, however, Kapilow discusses the life of the composer, tells us about his collaborators, and explains where the show from which the song came stood in the history of Broadway and the country. When he gets to the song he describes, in fairly technical terms, what makes it special. He has an associated YouTube channel in which he offers clips from the songs, and demonstrates how the composer was innovative in contrast to how the song might normally have been written. The marvelous thing about the Kindle edition is that the book links directly to the clips.

The notes are done in a rather odd way. The references are numbered footnotes and are in the back of the book. There are also notes that use symbols: asterisk, double dagger, the section sign (§), and the pilcrow (¶, the paragraph marker – I’ve been waiting for the chance to use “pilcrow” in a sentence). These add additional details and are at the end of each chapter. Fortunately in the Kindle edition both types of notes pop up seamlessly at the bottom of the screen. This convention, however, must be very annoying in the print edition where the reader must constantly flip back and forth.

There is a lot of interesting detail in the book. For example Kapilow tells us that Richard Rodgers “collaborated exclusively with [Lorenz] Hart from 1919 until Hart’s collapse and death at the age of forty-eight in 1943, and then with Oscar Hammerstein II from 1943 until Hammerstein’s death in 1960,” while other composers frequently changed collaborators. You might be interested in knowing that Fred Astaire would adhere scrupulously to what the composer wrote, while “Judy Garland, for example, scarcely sings a single rhythm of “Over the Rainbow” as [Harold] Arlen wrote it.”

While the book discusses in detail only sixteen songs out of the entire Broadway canon, it provides, in a highly readable manner, a fairly comprehensive history Broadway and how the musical has evolved.

oh, that’s very different

Emily LitellaI wrote here not long ago about cutting back on our streaming subscriptions. I dropped Hulu and CBS All Access. That was just before we were all told to stay home except for grocery shopping and medical appointments.

And, of course, the library is closed so that cuts off a source of DVDs for Terry. She asked me to subscribe to Acorn to which I agreed when I saw their thirty day free trial and their very attractive annual rate. (For BritBox fans, I have read that Acorn has a larger selection of shows, both BBC and ITV, and they stream the Lucy Lawless series, My Life is Murder, in which she plays a detective in England, something that Terry wanted to see.)

Given current circumstances I had to rethink dropping Hulu. They do have a great selection: Xena (speaking of Lucy Lawless), seventies comedies such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Bob Newhart, quirky series such as The Mindy Project, and originals like the new favorably reviewed mini-series Little Fires Everywhere. So, sipping a Scotch and Crystal Geyser (my standard weeknight drink) on a recent evening I reinstated my subscription. And bless their technological hearts, everything I had stored in the My Stuff section was there and preserved for me. Thank you, Hulu.

So in the words of the marvelous Miss Emily Litella, “Neevvverrr Mind!”