This is a list post, partly inspired by Miss Quaint.
But first: On Sunday, my mother wasn’t feeling well, so my father made us eggs and she stayed in her room reading. During breakfast, my dad related a story about a baby rabbit he had met on his morning walk. The animal was frozen in place, a condition I recall from my jailhouse reading of Watership Down. (I was just trying to get the exact phrase when I found that there is a plethora of weird Web sites featuring information on rabbits; two distinguishing features are poor design and fey bunny jokes.) My father is smart and sort of an animal whisperer so he knew that rabbits are easily scared to actual death, particularly babies. After watching it quietly for a bit, he approached and gave the lickle thing a nudge with his shoe to make it move away from the 50-mph road. He thinks the rabbit hopped into the ditch and my dad continued on his walk. On the way back, there was no sign of the rabbit. He believes the baby made it safely back into the forest and away from fast-moving vehicles. I sure hope so.
This story is pertinent in that it reminded me of Watership Down, so get off my back.
When I was in Jail Number One, I could have any kind of book I wanted except hardbound editions and plain notebooks because they made you buy their overpriced crappy paper (the jail put my soft-bound, cranberry Moleskin notebooks in my property until I was transferred and The Old Man had to pick up my things). A long-term cellmate there was a teacher and a Mormon and she had a million books and they kept on coming, at least ten a week, so I had her stash, too. Her sister in particular had good taste in books. My mom sent me the Moleskins, a book on drawing animals, and Botanical Drawing in Color by Wendy Hollender. It’s a gorgeous book but the “drawing” paper was so crap in jail and I am such a perfectionist/procrastinator, that I didn’t draw a damned thing.
I brought these titles in with me:
- East of Eden, John Steinbeck
- The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan (a gift from Kid)
- The Oxford English Dictionary, paperback edition from 1989
- The Tao of Sobriety, David Gregson & Jay S. Efran, Ph.D.
- The Art of the Personal Essay, An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present, Selected and with an Introduction by Phillip Lopate (a companion book to the one whose virtues I was extolling on the last post)
- Don’t Tell the Grown-Ups: The Subversive Power of Children’s Literature, Alison Lurie (another gift from Kid)
- Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman (A gift from Vincent, who I think is an Aspie, so it makes sense for him to consider the book jail reading—Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences, for crying out loud. He also sent me Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment—and Your Life, Jon Kabat-Zinn, but it was hardbound and apparently the jailers believed I might dirty a book with the blood of one of my cellmates. Pshaw!)
- Onward and Upward in the Garden, Katharine S. White
- A Supposedly Funny Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments, David Foster Wallace
- The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (a gift from Quaint)
- A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
- The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron
- Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett (in my defense, somebody gave this to me)
- My AA stuff—Big Book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Daily Reflections.
- A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf (heh)
I picked from my shelves thick books, books I should have read ages ago, books I adore (DFW), and stuff to help me not freak out too much. This was for the first January “commit,” which means you check yourself into the jail to serve your sentence instead of being brought in hand-cuffed and in your shabbiest pajamas.
I didn’t read Dickens. I tried. I found his diction confusing and peculiar in a way I could not absorb.
After I came back under protest to the jail in February, I had The Old Man bring me a bunch of books, including the ones listed above plus others including The Russian Revolution by Leon Trotsky. I love that book. He included from his own collection a German beginning grammar book, apparently hoping I would start to learn that melodious language. My mother brought me about a dozen books when she visited in March, including Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose (which is beautiful), Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King, and The Van Gogh Blues, The Creative Person’s Path through Depression, Eric Maisel, Ph.D. My mom didn’t know that I worship Brunelleschi for a number of reasons—the Duomo and his grouchiness not the least of them. She is thinking of visiting the niece in Florence so I will have to retrieve that book from a shelf in Tiny Town.
From the cellmate, I borrowed a number of books that are of the Oprah Book Club variety and while decent reading, they were largely forgettable. The most enjoyable borrowed books I read were The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series—four of them, I think—by Alexander McCall Smith and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.
I’m sorry I can’t remember all the books I read and that I failed to write them down.
In Jail Number Two, we were only allowed three books per week from the library cart, excluding religious texts (meaning the Bible as apparently they only have Christians in that jail) and “self-help.” Self-help is definitely a relative term. I employed my scanning technique (sort of like a science fiction character in a cartoon) to quickly find readable possibilities while the other girls were fighting over Nora Roberts. I retrieved:
- C.S. Lewis: A Biography, Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper
- Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
- Watership Down, Richard Adams
- The Confession by Charles Todd, an Ian Rutledge mystery
- Part II of Jennie: The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill, Ralph Martin
- Howard’s End, E.M. Forster
- A biography of Brahms
- A biography of Agatha Christie
- Best of the West: An Anthology of Classic Writing from the American West, edited by Tony Hillerman
- Nothing But Blue Skies, Thomas McGuane
- A couple of mysteries by Michael Connelly, featuring Harry Bosch—not bad for its genre
- The Kite Runner, Khaled Hussein
- The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, Bernard Lewis (mostly to bug the guards, but it was fascinating)
- Distant Neighbors, Alan Riding—an outstanding book on Mexico that I’ve tried to get my hands on again for years
- In the Memory of the Forest, Charles T. Powers
- High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
- How to be Good, Nick Hornby
- The Russian House, John le Carré
- Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson
- The Long Walk, Sławomir Rawicz
- Fall of Giants, Ken Follett
- One of the Lucas Davenport books by John Sandford, who I think is a perfect match for Smarty, because he lives in Minneapolis and is into really good music. Davenport owns a collection of super-cool band t-shirts.
I was not allowed to transport any of the books from Jail Number One, including my Big Book and Daily Reflections. My loverly sponsor bought me replacements and had them mailed. Heh! We foiled again the master plan of the jailers! My mother sent me three self-help books from a retailer, which are allowed at Jail Number Two:
- Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom, Rick Hanson, Ph.D. with Richard Mendius, MD
- The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Workbook for Depression, William J. Knaus, Ed.D.
- Mindfulness and the 12 Steps, Thérèse Jacob-Stewart
Meh on the CBT workbook but the others she sent are awesome, particularly the first one which has a lot of helpful scientific-type information. I recommend it for people who want to retrain their brain to follow happy paths and not negative ones, if that is a vague-enough description for you.
I know this is not particularly healthy but I derived pleasure from those daily inspections when certain persnickety, unenlightened correction officers (COs), informed me that I had too many books. Prisoners can keep in their cells the books sent to them as well as the allotted three per week. Also, I got a Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions and a Holy Bible from the cart and they didn’t count.
I think the three literary books which most affected me (other than the ones, like DFW, which I’d already read) were East of Eden, Snow Falling on Cedars, and Watership Down. Steinbeck covers a lot of territory in Eden and it’s not at all what I was expecting, remembering that it was a film starring James Dean. I expected the tragedy to be more James Deanish, or something, rather than epic, which was dense of me considering the title. I have deliberately avoided reading Snow because for some reason, I don’t like David Guterson. I think it was because he’s a “Seattle writer” but I thought he wasn’t from Seattle and just moved here and acted like he was from this area. Now that I actually look him up, I find that he was born here, before me. That’s kind of embarrassing but it makes a bit of sense why his book, which is incredibly sad and beautiful, so clearly evokes this area, particularly island life. It’s just simply a great novel.
While I was reading Watership Down, I was in an open cell for “trustees”—now called “worker inmates;” these are people who pass a physical exam and don’t have a violent criminal history or pending warrants so are able to work in the jail and therefore receive more “good time” than the rest of the raggedy inmates. In the open cell, there were six bunkbeds and we had a private bathroom and 16-hour access to the telephone and television. This was before we had to be moved because there were too many “female criminals” in the jail. So, I was in a cell with up to seven other women (two mats were allowed on the floor) and the non-semi-comatose ones were mostly amused by me and my emotional reactions to the constant dangers that rabbits face in that book. After awhile, they got used to my sighs and grunts and sounds of fear. I mean, the ones related to reading the book.
As usual, this post had gone on too long. I just finished reading A Test of Wills, another Ian Rutledge mystery. I have 12 books checked out from the local library, most of them about World War I but also a couple of memoirs by Mary McCarthy, another famous pissy lady.
And nah, that’s not me. It’s the Avett Brothers from their latest release, Magpie and the Dandelion. Quaint reminded me how much I like those fellows. I think I’ll just get back to my open-ended life now. Thanks for listening.
P.s I’m still not ready to write about the cats. Also, it’s 29 days and a wake-up until The Canadians hit Seattle. Anyone want to join us for dinner?