Tag Archives: Opinion Post

In Praise of Defeat

In Ancient Greek boxing, if a match was a draw the athletes could choose to do what is called a Klimax in order to determine a clear winner. One boxer would deliver a punch to the other while undefended, back and forth, until one of them dropped.

Yesterday as I was standing at the side of the road in the cold and the dark after hitting a deer with my car I was thinking that I felt like one of those ancient boxers—taking blow after blow after blow to the face, to the gut, to the heart…

At what point will I collapse? At what point do I admit defeat?

The past week and a half has been especially difficult and the car accident felt like another defeat in a string of defeats, both large and small. From the Latin de and facio, defeat literally means “to unmake” or “undo” something. Is it really a bad thing to admit defeat in some cases? Can we learn something from admitting defeat?

Moroccan poet and author Abdellatif Laabi, who was imprisoned and tortured by his government because of his writings, composes a poem in the midst of his suffering entitled “In Praise of Defeat.” The content of the poem and the striking title have been on my mind all week. Laabi acknowledges the balance in the universe—we can’t truly enjoy or appreciate victory if we haven’t first experienced defeat:

In this world so disparaged
you have everything
The sun, the moon
cows, pigs
the sea, the soil
love, hate
joy, sadness
peace, war
highs and lows
What more could you ask?

Defeat reduces a situation, a relationship, a circumstance, a life to a void, a nothingness. As I was standing in the dark on the side of that road with my daughter and my puppy in the car, scared for all of us, my mind started slipping toward a sadness—a kind of longing even—for my old life. I never had to take care of issues like this, they were taken care of for me. And I certainly never had to deal with stressful situations like this alone.

But I had to quickly adjust my mindset—and accept defeat. That previous life no longer exists for me. I had to accept its defeat. And if I didn’t I would be stuck, and sad, and consumed by grief indefinitely. How to take care of Claire and Phoebe, who to call for help now, how to get the car fixed—these are my tasks now.

I keep thinking about what is next for me. My life feels so completely different, and although fate has dealt me several unexpected and painful blows I am still standing. And I’m convinced that if I had never admitted defeat then I couldn’t begin to think, to have hope, for something different. Paul Valery writes about emotions in his Notebooks and his ideas about pain and suffering especially resonated with me after experiencing the defeats I mentioned this past week. “The simplest characteristic of pain is its capacity to force the attention, to distract, to deny freedom,” Valery writes.” An important result of embracing my defeat is gaining my freedom back—my freedom to decide what comes next for me.

“Just keep rolling with the punches,” he said.

He’s absolutely right.

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The Bookshop and The Beach: My Vacation to Maine

Harding Books on Route 1 in Wells, Maine

My family and I went on our annual summer vacation this year to Kennebunk Beach in Maine. This has been our favored destination for the past few years and I thought I would say a few words about my favorite bookshop in Maine and my recent finds there. Harding’s Rare and Used Books is located one town adjacent to Kennebunk, in Wells, Maine on Route 1.  The staff is kind, friendly and very knowledgeable.  I was told by the employees that they buy books every day and their owner, a very nice gentleman named Douglas, also buys books from auctions and dealers.

One realizes this is a serious bookshop when, upon opening the front door, one encounters two gigantic piles of their newest acquisitions.  It took me a while to sift through these piles, but my patience was greatly rewarded by finding a first edition of I, Claudius by Robert Graves. I also dug out a copy of Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor and William H. Gass’s Reading Rilke from these piles.

 

The rest of the store is like a maze with rooms of various shapes and sizes piled with books from floor to ceiling.  Harding’s has a wide variety of first editions as well as signed books and they also have  the largest selection of books about New England that I have ever encountered.  I found a first edition copy of Within the Harbor by Sara Ware Bassett, a New England author whose books are set in two Cape Cod villages that she created.  This is an interesting little find that makes visiting this store so much fun.

A view of part of the hard copy fiction books at Harding’s

 

I spent most of my time in the Latin and Ancient Greek, Poetry and Classic Fiction sections.  Among the classic fiction books, I found two titles to add to my ever growing collection of New York Review of Books classics and I also found five Virago Modern Classics to add to my shelves.

My haul from Harding’s

The Latin and Ancient Greek section had a nice selection of Loebs as well as ancient authors in translation.  My favorite find was a dual language edition of Oedipus by Sophocles with an introduction by Thornton Wilder.  The illustrations in this edition are also quite interesting.

I also found in the Ancient Civilization section a copy of Michael Grant’s book on Nero which is in mint condition; not only is it an excellent introduction to this enigmatic and misunderstood emperor (and my favorite), but it also contains some gorgeous color plates to go along with the text.

Among the poetry books I found a hard copy edition of the Collected Poems of W.H. Auden that was only $5.00.  I have to say that all of the books at Harding’s are very reasonably priced, including the first editions and signed books.

But I didn’t spend all of my time in the bookshop.  I also enjoyed the beach very much, worked on my tan and did a little swimming even though the water was quite chilly.  My daughter did some surfing (I only watched and took some pictures.)  My beach reads were Henry Green’s Party Going and Clarice Lispector’s Agua Viva—more thoughts on those to come.

Surfing at Kennebunk Beach

Finally, we had some truly fabulous meals in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport.  One of our favorites is David’s KPT in Dock Square whose selection of raw oysters is spectacular and decadent.  It is no surprise that the seafood dishes, in particular, are wonderful no matter the restaurant.  I will spare everyone pictures of my food as well as a picture of myself wearing one of those goofy lobster bibs.  The picture below is a view we had during Sunday Brunch.

Where have you spent your holidays this summer?  Have you found any interesting books or bookshops?

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My Personal Canon of Great Books

There have been lots of fascinating lists of personal canons of great books among lit bloggers and I’ve succumbed to peer pressure and made my own list.  As I was thinking about my list I realized that the ancient authors are embarrassingly predictable.  So I’ve broken my canon into two parts, ancient and everything else.

Ancient Authors:

Homer, Iliad

Presocratic Philosophers, The Main Fragments in Ancient Greek

Aeschylus, Agamemnon

Euripides, Trojan Women, Medea

Sopocles, Oedipus, Antigone

Plato, Symposium

Aristotle, Poetics

Catullus, poems

Vergil, Aeneid

Seneca, everything he wrote, especially The Trojan Women

Cicero De Senectute, Pro Caelio

Ovid Metamorphoses, Heroides

Propertius, Elegies  (Many read Catullus and Ovid and unfortunately bypass Propertius.  But his poems are just as good and important.)

Lucan The Civil War  (A very underappreciated epic from the Latin Silver Age)

Everything Else:

James M. Redfield, Nature and Culture in the Iliad

Pascal Quignard, The Roving Shadows and The Sexual Night

Jean-Luc Nancy, Corpus and Coming

John Wiliams, Augustus and Stoner (Stoner is his more popular novel, but Augustus is brilliant!)

Anne Carson, Nay Rather, The Bakkhai (This is being published in the US in the fall and it is stunning.)

Christopher Logue, War Music

Antal Szerb,  Journey by Moonlight

Christa Wolfe, Medea

Alexander Pushkin, Eugene Onegin

R.D. Blackmore, Lorna Doone

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

George Eliot, Middlemarch

Sandford Friedman, Conversations with Beethoven

Derek Walcott, Omeros

Georgi Gospodinov,  The Physics of Sorrow

Sergei Lebedev, Oblivion and The Year of the Comet

Stuart Shotwell, Edmund Persuader, Tomazina’s Folly (a little know author, both books are 1500 pages each and some of the best modern writing I’ve ever encountered)

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

Jane Austen, Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice

Teffi, Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others and Me

Of course all of this is subject to change according to the year, my mood, the weather, etc.  What are the books on your personal canon?

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Guest Post: The Anatomy of a Book Review

Today I am so excited to have a guest post on author Suanne Laqueur’s website.  I talk about my approach to writing a book review.  Also, Suanne’s book, which I highly recommend is on sale on Amazon all this week.

Here is the link to my post:

http://www.suannelaqueur.com/guest-post-anatomy-book-review/

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