Tag Archives: Opinion Posts

In Praise of Risk

I’m convinced that in life we are either moving forward or backward, and that rarely are we standing still or static. Even when we think we are stuck, we are being dragged downwards and backwards by a variety of thoughts, circumstances, people, etc. I was talking to a friend who astutely pointed out that Covid and the sudden change in circumstances for many people have exposed now more than ever the tendencies of individuals to move forward or backward.  Those who can adapt quickly to a loss or a lack, and who think about things from different aspects, are more likely to take risks and move forward despite what appear to be insurmountable obstacles. 

I’ve been mulling over lately what it is that compels me to more forward after a sudden tragedy that completely altered my life.  We can guess and speculate all we want, but it is true that we never know how we will react until we are faced with a difficult challenge or a loss.  Why do I get out of bed everyday? Why do I feel the need, the urge even, to move forward, to make a new and different life for myself? What compels me to find joy and happiness, even in simple things? Am I just wired this way? Is it for the sake of my daughter? Is it because of the people with whom I have chosen to surround myself, like the friend I mentioned above who encourages  and inspires me to write?

The French philosopher Anne Dufourmantelle’s book In Praise of Risk has struck a cord with me as I think about this choice between moving forward, or backward in life.  Dufourmantelle points out that in spite of the 21st century obsession with zero risk, extensive insurance policies and 100% guarantees, life is a risk.  There is no way around it.  Dufourmantelle emphasizes throughout her book that love in particular—and the desire, passion, fear and sadness that come with it—is always a risk.  Whether it be familial, platonic or romantic love all relationships will inevitably end through separation, estrangement or death.  Durfourmantelle writes, “Love happens in spite of violence, stupidity, style, envy, and our dreams; it is also constantly ill-timed.”  And we continue to seek out and move towards love in spite of the risks of pain, of heartache, of sadness and, even more surprisingly, love happens without regrets or second thoughts.

“Snowdrops,” a poem composed by Louise Gluck, the recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, captures perfectly the desire to move forward, to live, to seek out new risks:

Do you know what I was, how I lived?  You know
what despair is; then
winter should have meaning for you.

I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring–

afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy

in the raw wind of the new world.

Gluck’s placement of those four words together at the end of her poem—crying yes risk joy—makes us feel the author’s forward movement into her “new world.”

Every single day brings for me the renewed risk of finding love, joy, happiness. And lots of questions. So many questions. What was I thinking adopting a puppy, beginning major renovations on my house, filling two 30 yard dumpsters with years worth of accumulated junk, putting my career on pause or welcoming new relationships/connections into my life? But all of these things represent a way forward for me; and I could not have moved any way but forward. A friend wrote a note to me over the summer that keeps playing over in my mind: “…the arrival of an unsought and unthought-of future alone is just an ongoing perplexity. But I believe, perhaps more on a hunch than anything else, that you have a natural buoyancy that will emerge and keep you from sinking under all of this.”

And so I carry on and, perhaps stupidly, ridiculously, I take more risks.

I think that maybe I’m just wired this way.

Our golden retriever puppy, Phoebe.


Filed under American Literature, French Literature, Opinion Posts

Sifting Through the Ruins of an Abandoned Library

I teach Latin and Ancient Greek at The Woodstock Academy, an independent day and boarding school in northeastern Connecticut.  At a time when schools are shrinking and slashing budgets, we have had the good fortune to purchase an additional campus.  A private school in town closed and we bought the entire school, lock, stock and barrel in order to expand our facilities and programs.  Among the many things left behind by the former occupants of the school was their entire library.  They had originally intended to pack it up and ship it to Maine where they own another boarding school.  But at the last minute they abandoned it.  When our administration sent a message that we were not keeping the library, that any and all books from the library were free to anyone for the taking I couldn’t resist.

I walked away with a trunk full of books—the trunk of my car could not have fit another book.  They are packed into four boxes and are currently sitting in the garage where I can sort them and figure out how they should be shelved and arrange for more space.

You will have to forgive the mess in the background since the books are all in the garage and that is where I took these photos.  I found lots of classics books.  I took away two large boxes of Ancient Greek and Ancient Rome titles.  Some of them are duplicates, like the three volumes of Greek Tragedies translated by Richard Lattimore.  But I couldn’t very well just leave them there:



A wonderful surprise among the ruins were these four volumes of Civilizations of The Ancient Near East.  Something I would love to have owned but would not necessarily have invested the money in:


I also collected a very lovely stack of poetry books. The essays about the poems of William Carolos Williams especially intrigued me. And it is nice to finally have a large volume of Robert Frost poems sitting on my shelves.  Gibran’s The Prophet was a nice find since I had not owned a copy of that previously.

And finally I rescued several stacks of literary classics that are duplicates of books I already own but couldn’t leave behind.  I now have three different translations of Kafka’s The Castle, for instance.  But I think most bibliophiles would agree that one can never have too much Kafka.

And some Thoreau, and Hardy and Dante and Chaucer and….

As I was driving over to what is now our South Campus, I was excited at the prospect of sifting through books and I thought it would be akin to browsing through a used bookstore.  But the experience was much more sad and melancholy than I had expected.  The books were strewn on the floors and counters of the former library.  The large room will now serve as the new band and music room, so all of the shelves and fixtures were removed and the books were lying everywhere, haphazardly abandoned.  There were even books sitting on carts that were recently returned by students and under normal circumstances would have been reshelved.  It made me think that each collection of books, whether public or private, serves a specific purpose or a specific community.  And it is unfortunate when a collection is broken up and no longer serves that need.  I, personally, would like to have kept the collection together, to be able to brag about a school with two libraries.  But, we really needed the space for music, so I did the next best thing and rescued a least a few of the books.


Filed under Opinion Posts

A Bibliophile’s Conundrum: How do you organize your books?

There have been complaints recently by my family members (i.e. my husband) about the piles of books that have taken over various parts of the house.  The kitchen table has two stack of books that are getting so high they are threatening to topple over and crush one of the cats.  The book piles are also in the way of the cats’ favorite window from which they view the yard; notice the picture of Henry attempting to navigate around the books in order to watch a chipmunk that has made a nest under his favorite window.

Current stack of books on the kitchen table


Henry attempting to navigate around the current stack of books on the kitchen table

Then there are the various piles on the coffee table, the top of which table can barely be seen because of the amount of books. (As I look at this photo I realize it’s probably not a great idea to have so many candles among my books.)

But it is not that I am lazy or unwilling to move my books.  My issue is one of organization and trying to make decisions about which books go where and oftentimes these important decisions paralyze me.  I like to keep the pile of books that I really want to read immediately (which has grown impossibly large) as close to me as possible, thus all of the Vergil books currently hanging out on my coffee table.  I also like to categorize books by my favorite publishers: thus I have a handsome collection of Seagull Books and New York Review of Books.  But then I also like to collect books by author and by topic.  And finally, my Classics books are organized by subject—Greek tragedy, for instance, and within each of those categories books are further organized by author—Aeschylus, Euripides, etc.

Some of my Seagull Books Collection


Some of my NYRB collection

The conundrum I have comes when a book falls into more than one shelving category; for instance, I have collected many Ann Carson books, but one of them is a NYRB publication, so where do I put that book?  It seems that it ought to go in the Carson section, but then my NYRB collection seems lonely and incomplete without it.  And what should I do with the Bachmann/Celan Correspondence book that I recently reviewed?  I want to put it with the other Seagull titles, but then again I have a growing section of Bachmann books and a small section of Celan poetry.  Oh, and I also have a shelf of books all about letters and correspondence (the Letters of Virginia Woolf, Love Letters of Great Men, Nabakov’s Letters to Vera, etc.)

Books from my Classics collection

Nothing aggravates me more than when I can’t find a book because I forgot where I shelved it.  I have been looking for my copy of Jean-Luc Nancy’s Listening for weeks.  Did I put it with the philosophy books?  It isn’t with the other Nancy titles.  I bought a translation of Propertius’s poetry that has the exact same cover as the Nancy book.  Should I have a section of books that have the same covers?  It’s really exhausting.  My husband has generously offered to build me another bookshelf or two; although this also further enables my habit of book hoarding.

How do my fellow bibliophiles organize books?  I would love to see some photos!


Filed under Anne Carson, New York Review of Books, Opinion Posts, Seagull Books

Celebrating School Library Month

islmonthlargeIn order to celebrate School Library Month I was asked by MyVoucherCodes to write an opinion piece about e-books and their role in reading.  I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to throw in my two cents about e-readers versus good, old-fashioned, paper books.

I recently posted an article on my Facebook page about the use of e-readers versus paper books and it was one of the most viewed and commented on articles that I have posted.  Readers are very passionate, it seems, about being able to obtain paper versions of their favorite books.  I have to admit that I am definitely a book hoarder and that an entire room in my house is dedicated to my books.  I have had a collection of books going back as far as high school.  When I moved to a new city to attend graduate school in my early twenties, my car was filled with mostly books and very few other essentials.  And when my family and I were house hunting several years back, we opted for the four bedroom so that one room could be devoted to our precious books.

I have amassed quite a collection of paper books of which I am very proud.  Although these books would have little value to anyone else, I love the fact that I have many Latin and Greek books that are out of publication.  I also have the rather worn copies of some of my favorite classics like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre that I first read when I was in high school.  I also love walking by my shelves and perusing the various collections of books I have gathered, such as my ever-expanding New York Review of Books selections, my growing collection of Persephone Books and my new collection of signed Indie author books.

But I also own an e-reader for many reasons, the most important of which is the offering of books in the ever-expanding world of self-publishing.  I currently have over 300 books on my Kindle, many of which are books from self-published authors.  My favorite author actually publishes his books on Amazon first as a Kindle edition only and if I didn’t have an e-reader then I would still be waiting to read his latest book.  This reason alone is worth it to me to own an e-reader.  And as much as I love my room full of books, it does cut down in a small way on the number of paper books in my house.  In addition, many publishers offer galley or early copies of new books to book bloggers as electronic copies only through sites like NetGalley and Edelweiss.  So if one is a blogger and wants to accept galley copies of books then an e-reader, particularly a Kindle, is a necessity.

This year the school at which I teach has given all of the students I-pads.  The I-pads also come with reading apps such as the Kindle app and I definitely see the convenience of such apps in my students’ lives.  In general students can have access at their fingertips to literally hundreds of books that they don’t have to carry around.  In my opinion, getting students to read and even getting them excited about reading is much easier when they have easy access to a variety of choices.  With that said, the most popular place on our campus to study and hang out is still the school library and in all of my classes I still see kids carrying around their favorite old-fashioned paper books.

I would love to hear my readers’ opinions on this topic.  I am sure you all have passionate feelings about the use of books versus e-readers, so leave me your comments below!  And don’t forget to celebrate School Library Month by visiting and supporting your local library.



Filed under Opinion Posts

Happy Holidays

Christmas MessageThis time of year is one to reflect on and learn from what the what the year has brought us.  Although I had been writing book review on various sites, this was the first year I decided to put my thoughts down in a specific place for people to read.  It is a daunting task, since one is essentially putting one’s thoughts, tastes and ideas in a very public place for the whole world to see.  Believe it or not, I have always been a naturally shy person so exposing my thoughts and a small piece of my life on a place like The Internet has been a great personal challenge.

My goal has been to spread the love of reading, connect with likeminded lovers of books, and to give away a few books in the process.  I could never have anticipated how much I would learn through this endeavor or make such meaningful connections that would enhance my life.  There are a few special people in particular whose acquaintance I have made through my blog for which I am eternally grateful.  Thanks to everyone who has made a comment, read a post or even picked up a book because of my recommendation.  May your holiday season be happy and merry and bright.  -Melissa


Filed under Opinion Posts