The American Day of Mother

Second Sunday in May. Books were given (two Du Plessix Grays, novel and memoir; an essay collection, Best of the Century; and a thick volume of letters from Flannery O’Connor, which made me realize that if you write mostly short stories unless some/one is made into a film most folks will not likely remember your signature work as we could not, deciding in the end that ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find‘ might be the most well known, but then this led to also thinking that her story title ‘Everything that rises must converge‘ while pretty doesn’t always work as a statement of fact).

I am reading ‘The Forever War‘ by New York Times-er Dexter Filkins and liking it and remembering, in this time of blogs and articles and tl;dr, a book is a different thing, in its making and its reading. As are books as objects. I have no argument with e-readers, but they do already mean that there will be less made books in the world moving forwards. An environmental positive perhaps, but watching The Boy observe his mother unwrap her sudden collection this morning I scrolled back in the head to the research that says those who grow up surrounded by books are more likely to X, Y and Z.

I have always thought of this as the straw man, an example how a single piece of information or statistic can be used for a chosen perhaps misdirected purpose. Truth is that the existence of books in a house are not the sole reason that Little Johnny is more likely to grow up degree-ed, less likely to beat his partner, spend more money on associated cultural artifacts, support liberal causes or tolerate vegans. It’s what typically goes with the bookcases, the conversations, the likely belief that smart is not uncool, that ideas are for discussing, for reading. More immediately powerful might also be the stark fact of discretionary income. I buy books after I have bought food.  Butter before guns, Hermann etc.

They also remind you, the good ones, that a blog or magazine piece, however well done, is a relatively ephemeral object, as much for the writer as the reader. Filkins in particular is obviously released from the style and necessities of filing from the (various) fronts for The Times. Now, and with the house quiet, I am switching between pomodoros of work I don’t want to do and reading. Half an hour of each at a time with a countdown clock on my phone racing through the first thirty minutes and dragging like an animal with no legs through the mud of the second.

His stories from Iraq in 2003 make the video editing I am trying to get done seem completely without consequence. On the other hand, the simplicity of my task (not in terms of the work but the content, a man in a suit explaining his company’s support of an industry group’s environmental program) causes me to feel fortunate. Here I sit, on a porch in the Austin afternoon sun without obvious gunfire and with no family members currently under threat of torture, even if my own dear mother is very far away. It would seem churlish not to make an honest effort.

In Orissa, on the eastern coast of India, after the cyclone, the dead were piled up so high and for so long that the dogs couldn’t eat any more; they just lay about waiting for their appetites to come back.